1.18.2015

THIN LIZZY Post for the Uninitiated Who Only Know "The Boys are Back in Town"



Thin Lizzy were not a heavy metal band, so please don't tune out if you hate heavy metal.  They were simply a rock band; a dynamic rock band with a unique singular sound instantly recognizable the way Led Zeppelin or Queen were dynamic and unique and instantly recognizable.  They were virtuosos. They were never some sludgy, sinister, smash-mouth band like Black Sabbath (not that there's anything wrong, of course, with being a sludgy, sinister, smash-mouth band like Black Sabbath!).
Thin Lizzy's fourth studio record, 1974s Nightlife
Infused with Celtic imagery and an underdog's sensibilities, Thin Lizzy composed melodic hard rock tunes filled with warmth and humour, with clever elegant hooks.  Phil Lynott, lead singer and bassist, had a great sense of humour, and it showed in their songs and lyrics.

Thin Lizzy were huge in their homeland Ireland, as well as the UK and most of the countries on the Continent, but they never quite made it huge humongous huge in the States.  And not making it huge humongous huge in the States, in the 1970s, meant the record company's inevitable withdrawal of sponsorship and promotional support.  The band was so close -- they were like this close, right on the cusp -- of breaking big time (humongous huge) in the States in 1976, just a couple months after their Jailbreak record came out and became their first there to crack Billboard's Top 40 album chart on the strength, mostly, of their first (and what would become) only U.S. hit single, "The Boys are Back in Town."  But on the eve of a U.S. tour to support Jailbreak -- their only record, also, to reach gold/platinum status across the pond -- Phil Lynott became gravely ill and the tour had to be scrapped; the tour that would've made them Stars in the States, sadly, never materialized.  Unable to strike while the iron was hot, Thin Lizzy's iron in the U.S.A. never glowed so molten orange again like it did during those brief glorious months in 1976.  Had they toured the U.S. in support of Jailbreak, they may have inspired a similar long lasting popularity here as Rush eventually did when they toured in support of their 1976 breakthrough record, 2112; instead, Thin Lizzy's career trajectory -- speaking commercially, certainly not creatively -- had hit its peak and thereafter began a slow decline not at all dissimilar to their contemporaries, U.F.Os., sales slide -- bands, both, that should've broke huge, stayed huge (humongous huge) for years and years and lasted, but unfortunately didn't.  Though at least their phenomenal musical legacy will remain forever. No doubt I'll still be rocking out to Thin Lizzy when I'm ninety-nine, blowing out the amplifiers in my hearing aids!

Here's an early Peel Sessions recording of an underplayed and under recognized Thin Lizzy classic, "She Knows".   "She Knows" was later refined a bit for their fourth studio record, 1974s Nightlife (pictured above), but I like the energy on this rawer version better.

Phil Lynott statue, Dublin, Ireland. (Would James Joyce have loved Thin Lizzy?)

What are your favorite Thin Lizzy records and songs?

1.11.2015

Preliminary Impressions of One of the Children is Crying by Coleman Dowell



Yesterday I lucked out and found a copy of the debut novel by a writer I'd heard mentioned a time or two over the years, but otherwise had known nothing about: Coleman Dowell.  His first novel One of the Children is Crying was published in 1968 when he was already forty-two years old.  He'd been a songwriter and had some previous, notable success, here and there, on Broadway and in television.

Last night I read the first chapter of One of the Children is Crying and was impressed. Impressed enough, in fact, that I've made perhaps the dubious decision to blog about the book after having read only that -- its first chapter.  But I've read enough to know beyond any doubt, because it's so blatantly obvious to me, that Coleman Dowell wrote sensitively and brilliantly on potentially touchy subjects for his time such as homosexual relationships, alcoholism, child abuse and incest. I totally get the blurb comparisons to Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers, but do know that in Dowell's case, the comparisons are likely true and not just his publisher's wishful hype and hyperbole. Too bad the honest-to-God-true blurbs never resulted in many sales for Coleman Dowell's books.  But blame the blurbers and his publisher's marketeers for not being effusive enough in their praise, not Coleman Dowell. Blame, too, perhaps the "southern" or "southern gothic" labels that have seemed to shadow his largely unknown legacy in the limited criticism about him which has likely accomplished little more than limiting the scope of his potential and present readership rather than accurately defining the kind of writer he ever was in the first place. Because in my (now granted) limited reading of him, my first impression is that this super-talented craftsman / word-smith, Coleman Dowell, transcended his southern roots and the "southern gothic" even as One of the Children is Crying is wrought deep there and shoots out from its swampy soil.

The author Sumner Locke Elliott said of Dowell: "He is an artist.  He has an ability to project even horror with both beauty and tenderness."

One of the Children is Crying opens with a brother (Robin) receiving a call on Christmas from his sister (Erin) whom he's not spoken to in three years.  Abruptly, she relays him the bad news (though in this family I suspect it may in fact be good, no, great news), "Daddy is dead. Will you come home?"

Come home?  Robin'll need to board a train.  But, first, he'll need to get dressed.  First, he'll need to brood...

"Buttons and shoelaces took longest.  He found it endlessly interesting that the flooded brain of a drunk could philosophize, compose poetry and music, remember with terrible clarity, while its servants --fingers, feet-- had to be cajoled, with, at best, childish results.  He visualized alcohol as the Great Regressor; finally, if he is lucky, the alcoholic regresses to a place of fluids and silences; until then, there are buttons and shoelaces --but no neckties; he could not take on a necktie..."

One of the Children is Crying is going to be good. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, check out Coleman Dowell's page at New Directions.

1.04.2015

The Ten Best Short Stories I Read in 2014




"The Inner Room"
by Robert Aickman,
from The Wine-Dark Sea.









Have you ever wanted to live in a doll house inside a remote gothic-like mansion in a forgotten English moor?  So have I!  Swear this story would've made a great Twilight Zone episode.

"Taxi Driver, Minus Robert DeNiro"
by Fernando Ampuero,
anthologized in the excellent The Vintage Book of Latin American Stories.
A very different take on what amounts to human-trafficking ... of drunks.

"Ben-Tobith"
by Leonid Andreyev,
collected in Jorge Luis Borges' classic anthology The Book of Fantasy.
Set in Jerusalem just prior to and literally on the night Jesus Christ was crucified.  Poor man had a maddening toothache that nearly drove him to jump off his roof, to suicide, the very moment the three "malefactors" (Jesus & the two thieves) were being beaten and whipped, driven by the enraged mob up the same lane where he lived, carrying their crosses, toward the summit of Golgotha.  Weirdest thing.  The man's throbbing toothache, heretofore not even pacified by the then popular home remedy of "rat droppings", went away just like that, lickety split, the very hour Christ was crucified.

"The Shunammite"
by Ines Arredondo,
 in Underground River and Other Stories.









I'd rate this story as the best one I read this year.  Find a copy of Arredondo's book, or find an anthology that has it (there are many, because it's apparently one of the most anthologized stories ever published by a Mexican writer) & hopefully be as mesmerized by it -- as creeped out by it -- as I was.  A young woman's sense of family duty is exploited to the extreme by her supposedly "dying" uncle, who twists and then perverts her loyalty in a way unimaginable and shocking.

"The Church of No Reason"
by Andrea Barrett,
published in American Short Fiction, Spring 1991

"Night Talk in a Cabin"
by Nagai Kafū,
collected in American Stories.









"Swans"
by Janet Frame,
collected in the anthology Some Other Country: New Zealand's Best Short Stories.









"Friendship"*
by Steve Katz,
collected in 43 Fictions.
The funniest, most darkly twisted story I read this year. It was hysterical black comedy to the max, the way I like it. Imagine what a writer with a twisted, demented sensibility could do with this opening paragraph below and then multiply that imagination by at least ten or thirteen.

"My friend Sadie was a closet cannibal and that was why I introduced her to Herman in the first place.  At the time I thought it was best for people to get these propensities out in the open, at least on some level.  Express yourself.  Let it all hang out.  I thought Herman might do that for her because among all my friends he was the one who tended to be most willing, even driven, to sacrifice himself."

*originally collected in Stolen Stories, but I read it in what's like the equivalent of The Portable Steve Katz -- 43 Fictions.

"House of the Sleeping Beauties"
by Yasanari Kawabata,
in House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories.

"Sign"
by an online friend,
an unpublished story, though likely soon to be.

"Thunderstruck"
by Elizabeth McCracken,
in Thunderstruck & Other Stories.







In the beginning of the story, both parents are disconnected from their daughter's reality in ways I get: they're both shocked when Helen sneaks out for a nitrous oxide party and is brought home by the police.  Helen's mother, Laura, interrogates Helen with the who what where when & hows, but not the whys:  "Laura wanted to know everything.  No, that wasn't true.  She wanted to know nothing, she wanted from Helen only consolation…." Ignorance is bliss--I get that.  But rather than address the reality of their daughter sneaking out & using drugs; rather than ever analyzing why Helen is doing these things, they jump straight to how can we fix this problem right now, and the next morning they decide that fleeing to Paris is the answer.  And that I don't really get though I can still sort of imagine some parents being that screwy with their discipline.  And McCracken's narrator is so good at letting the parents rationalize their Paris decision, you almost believe, reading it, that it might work:

"The plan was to disrupt their lives, a jolt to Helen's system before school started again in the fall.  The city would be strange and beautiful, as Helen herself was strange and beautiful.  Perhaps they'd understand her there.  Perhaps the problem all this time was that her soul had been written in French."

But it doesn't work.  Helen behaves the same way in Paris right under her parent's noses --surprise surprise-- until one night she winds up in the ICU with serious head trauma.  Finally, when it's almost too late, the father, Wes, experiences a parental epiphany and tells his comatose daughter bedside that he wants to know everything, all her secrets, he wants to just plain 'ol know her for a change, and that she can tell him anything.  But not so with Laura.  She wishes her daughter had rather died than be kept alive on life support.  And even when Helen comes off life support, and is conscious but unable to talk or move very much unassisted; even though Helen is making progress in her recovery, albeit slowly, it's still not good enough (or maybe it's just Helen isn't a plain good enough daughter) for Laura.  Laura's lack of hope, faith, belief in her daughter, and how over the top it went -- wishing she had just died when she struck her head -- is what I wasn't able to imagine could exist in the mindset of a parent, being one myself ...

Such a thought provoking story, and I zeroed in, above, on merely one tangential aspect from it.