Thursday, May 10, 2018

April's Reads

Between giving tours of Rome, Pompeii and Tuscany and writing a script for my tour company, I only had time to finish two books last month.  I DID manage to read a handful of stories by M. R. James and H. P. Lovecraft as well as the latest issue of Pulp Literature.  Anyway, April's shelf consisted of...

John Steinbeck - The Grapes of Wrath

They never gave us Grapes in high school.  Then again, they didn't have very high expectations for us.  I love Steinbeck.  I love his ability to draw characters and paint scenes that feel so undeniably real, and his knack for making the most shocking acts of his protagonists seem perfectly natural.  The most common gripe I hear about Grapes is that it's too slow.  Jesus Christ, it's about Depression-era migrant workers making their way out of the Dust Bowl.  What the hell were you expecting, car chases?

Gillian Darley - Vesuvius

Interesting look at Europe's most dangerous volcano.  Darley not only covers its geologic history and the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, but its impact on Italy's cultural landscape.  Both Goethe and the Shelleys visited Vesuvius, prompting Goethe to write Faust and Shelley to write Prometheus Unbound.  I was intrigued by how the volcano became a symbol of political upheaval after Spartacus' gang of renegade slaves defeated a Roman army at its base.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

April on the Turntable

I've been obsessively collecting vinyl for years.  Here are my recent scores...

The Smiths - Louder than Bombs

Despite spending my adolescence and twenties devouring everything I could get my hands on from Manchester in the 80's, I never got into The Smiths.  In fact I've spent most of my life actively hating Morrissey.  I always saw him as the poster child for self-absorbed middle-class youth wallowing in self-pity on top of a mountain of privilege.  Maybe I was projecting a bit.  Anyway, for whatever reason, they've been hitting the spot for me lately.  I can see now that I was missing out on how tongue-in-cheek a lot of those lyrics are, and how they allow you to simultaneously laugh at your own first-world problems while acknowledging those very real personal struggles.  Plus a lot of those tunes are just plain fun.  You're all right with me now, Moz.

Suicide - Suicide

It might be a cliche to say so, but in the case of Suicide's first album, you truly haven't experienced it until you've heard it on vinyl.  There's a physical effect to this record that just can't be conveyed over a digital transmission.  It's a remarkable album.  What's even more remarkable is that a record comprised solely of one synthesizer and a vocalist who practically whispers everything is hailed as a milestone of punk rock.  I picked up the Superior Viaduct reissue which contains liner notes by Thurston Moore.  Get it.  Smoke up.  Cleanse yourself in the feedback.

The Cure - The Head on the Door

I share a birthday with both Iggy Pop and Robert Smith.  It's been a tradition of mine these past few years to pick up something by both of my birthmates on the 21st of April.  Birthdays are for nostalgia, so this year my pic was the first album I ever bought from The Cure.  THOTD isn't marked by the doom-laden post-punk of Pornography or the lush brilliance of Disintegration.  Instead what you see here is the band taking the gloomy world-view of the earlier albums and shaping it into a deliciously eccentric pop sound.  It might not be their finest moment, but it's still a damn good one.  And 'In Between Days' is one of the greatest opening tracks of the 80's.

The Stooges - The Stooges

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I've always preferred the Stooges' eponymous debut over Fun House.  '1969', 'No Fun', 'Anne', 'Little Doll'... this is stoner-rock bliss, and I knew I was gonna need it this summer.