Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Here is a repost by popular request. Journey with us now to yesteryear...
a clip from a rare documentary on reclusive writer Thomas Pynchon

A screaming comes across the desk. It's happened before but there is nothing to compare to it now. The rumors circulating in weirdo literary cults are true: Pynchon is back. He has a new book. Voices echo the news and shoes clatter on cobblestones. Newsboys run, weaving through traffic, waving the extra edition, shouting, Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Publishers' Weekly confirms an August 16th release date for Inherent Vice:

"Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon — private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog."

Oh, come on. What's the big deal? Another sad sack shut-in burning the midnight oil? Dime a dozen, you say. You don't see his books at the airport with shiny, embossed covers, so how good could he be? I've never heard him chatting with Terri Gross on Fresh Air. He's never shot the bull with Conan, with Dave, with Jay, with Jon...

A rare shot of P, many years ago

Nope, he wouldn't do that. Pynchon writes well-regarded award-winning books nobody reads. OK, a few people read them, but mostly trainspotters and writers and drifters and edge dwellers; most civilians catch a whiff of all that sulfur and the sickening sweet smell of burning leaves and steer clear. Pynchon doesn't care. He's holed up somewhere in Tangier or Mexico City, a recluse, a shut in, a genius. This guy makes Salinger look like a social butterfly. Our old friend Amy Hungerford sheds some light on this man of mystery, but first here is the opening of Inherent Vice:

She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn't seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish t-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she'd never look."

Professor Hungerford teaches The American Novel Since 1945 (ENGL 291) at Yale. She's whip smart and looking for trouble. Gotta love her. Here she places Thomas Pynchon firmly in the context of the political upheaval of the 1960s, and argues that Pynchon "is deeply invested in questions of meaning and emotional response." The Crying of Lot 49 is "a sincere call for connection, and a lament for loss, as much as it is an ironic, playful puzzle."

For more Pynchon, check this previous post.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


This is the year's best song in a year of great music--a year that included great new records from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, Neil Young, Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Japandroids, R. Kelly and Gary Clark Jr. But "Hold On," by Alabama Shakes, takes the cake.

Over a loopy, swampy vibe, Brittany Howard's rough and soulful voice soars from a whisper to a growl in a garage blues gospel soul song of hope and perseverance.  When she sings "didn't think I'd make it to twenty-two years old" you believe it. She's not your typical rock diva, no piece of pop tart confection, no producer-designed telegenic product designed to shift units; Howard looks more like a checker at the Safeway (she's not the other Brittney, in other words) but who cares? She's real and she nails it.  Some might dismiss this tune as retro, or lump it with some neo-soul or R&B revival, something derivative of old Stax/Volt sides, but this feels real, just listen, and in this age of sampling and auto-tune, when irony rules and pop pastiche is the watchword, we can forget what "real" sounds like.  Just listen.  Feel it.  This is a song of hope and struggle and ultimately triumph--part of a tradition, to be sure, but entirely its own thing and something we could all use a little of, don't you think?