Terry Pratchett


I’ve mentioned my love of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series here before.  His satirical fantasy world helped poke good humor and righteous outrage at human foibles and failings, small and large.  I have fairly limited patience for most science fiction and fantasy, but anyone who makes me laugh as hard as Pratchett did transcends any bias I might have against the genres.

So you can imagine how heavy my heart is right now.  Sir Terry Pratchett died today at 66, far too young.  He was diagnosed in 2007 with a form of early onset Alzheimer’s.  He fought the disease with the same good humor and righteous outrage found in his books.

I suppose I could’ve found something musical to post.  Several of the Discworld novels were adapted for the screen, and I’m sure there was music in them.  But I think I’d rather share with you my first exposure to Pratchett’s weird and wonderful flat world floating on the backs of four elephants, who are in turn floating on the back of a giant turtle.  Reaper Man is centered around the character of Death, which is all I’m going to tell you about it.  Audiobooks are a form of album, after all.  (Although I personally recommend you read the books instead.)

“There’s a saying that all roads lead to Ankh-Morpork. And it’s wrong. All roads lead away from Ankh-Morpork, but sometimes people walk along them the wrong way.”   —Terry Pratchett

“Dear Mr. Fantasy”


We got a much-needed new garage door a couple of days ago, and I’ve been rustling through some of the junk that’s currently taking up space in there.  A lot of it isn’t ours.  My dad arranged to let our yard guy keep some stuff in there in exchange for a discount for mowing our yards, etc.  And either my late uncle or my aunt’s complete waste of space ex left some old furniture and ephemera in there.  (There is a pretty nice console table I’m thinking about claiming, and a really squeaky tea cart that could be fun if I cleaned it up.)  I’m mostly only interested in my childhood leftovers that I know I stored in there at some point.  But I made a fortuitous discovery right away.

When I got some decent bookcases and set up the office in the extra bedroom, I was dismayed to find that some of my Rock & Roll books were missing.  I figured they must have been damaged or stolen, but I was thrilled to find them in a box near the front of the garage.  Both my late uncle and the wast of space ex lived in the house at different times, occupying the room that used to be mine.  I’d left some things in there, and I guess one of them moved the books out to the garage without telling me; I know I didn’t put them there.  Fortunately, they were dirty but mostly undamaged, which is great considering that I’m pretty sure they’re all out of print now.  I happily rediscovered some Rolling Stone anthologies of articles and interviews, and a number of nice photograph collections of U2.  But the real treasures were the only two books I had specifically missed when I stocked the shelves.

One was The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, which was the first present BFF ever gave me (it was for my 16th birthday).  It’s a fanciful collection that I still thoroughly love.  The other was a collection of photographs by Ethan A. Russell.  Dear Mr. Fantasy features much of the work Russell did with the Rolling Stones and Beatles, along with a lot of his other famous photos and album covers.  It also features his recollections of his life from the mid 60s though John Lennon’s death in 1980.  It’s one of my favorite books, and I was a little heartbroken to think I’d lost it forever.  I’m so freakin’ happy to have found both these books.

I’m not just a music fan, I’m a collector–although my collection doesn’t really add up to anything of monetary value.  I’ve got a lot of books and CDs, a small amount of vinyl, and a couple of posters/prints that are pretty awesome.  Mostly, I have ticket stubs and programs from concerts, candid photographs found at record stores, odd little ephemera, and some old magazines.  These things mean the world to me.  They’re my little attempt to keep track of this world that I love.

“Blinded by the Light”


I’m currently reading Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce, the biography of The Boss he published last year.  I’m just up to the spot where his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. has been released.  The portrait of Springsteen that’s emerging is fascinating, but I’ll refrain from much more comment until I’m done with the book.

One thing that’s being reinforced by the book, however, is what a charismatic figure Bruce Springsteen is.  Virtually everyone in his life is willing to follow him through the gates of hell; everyone can see his potential.  At least that’s how Carlin is making it seem.  But he’s also not pulling too many punches.  The Springsteen of his book is a troubled, flawed man.  (It’s also pretty clear that he was a terrible romantic partner when he was younger.) There seems to be a conscious decision to show a more complete view of the kind of person Springsteen really is, although it’s obvious the emphasis  is on his musical career.

That’s as it should be.  I’ve felt for a long time that Bruce Springsteen is probably the iconic American musician.  His vision of America–all its glories, and all its failures–is so intrinsically true.  Whether there is factual truth to his songs doesn’t matter (although I’m already seeing just how autobiographical a lot of his music really is).  Springsteen captures the spirit of what being an American is.

His early stuff is more imagistic and poetic, but there’s an indefinable quality to songs like “Blinded by the Light” that make it compelling.  I’ll probably be singing Springsteen’s praises again this week, so be prepared for more Boss.

“Smoke from a Distant Fire”


I’ve been feeling unsettled.  Residual from the Santa Anas, maybe.  Or maybe because I just spent the weekend rereading The Shining.   That’s probably behind the slightly unsettling dreams I’ve been having (which I can’t really remember, but leave me vaguely out of sorts).  I haven’t read The Shining since I was in ninth grade, and boy, was I wayyy to young to be reading it.  Not because of the violence or anything, but because I missed a lot.

Stephen King knows how to tell a story.  (So does his son, Joe Hill, in case anyone’s interested.)  He knows exactly which buttons to push to scare people (kids, pets, everything you love suddenly turning on you like a poisonous snake).  He takes innocuous things and asks, what would happen if this or that turned out to be, well, evil.  Your car.  The beautiful hotel you vacation in.  The nerdy girl at the end of the street.  There is malice aforethought just under the surface of everything in King’s world, even our own minds.  He knows how to scare people because he just thinks about what scares him.

The Shining is probably his scariest book.  Most critics, and not a few fans, think it’s his best.  Having just read it again (I finished it not an hour ago), I realize how intricately detailed and carefully plotted his books are.  His characterizations are the best thing about his books, though.  He builds whole personalities, whole backstories, with just a few carefully placed sentences.  That’s why his books never quite work as movies.  It’s difficult on film to convey the same things with the same detail he does.  (I’m gonna go on record here and say I like the film version of The Shining, but for entirely different reasons.  It’s the only Kubrick movie I enjoy, but he changed it so drastically from the novel, that I’ve learned to think of them as two wholly different things in my mind.)  The novel builds slowly, but steadily, and you can see what’s going to happen, but you don’t know exactly when everything is going to explode (literally).

The smell of smoke has me a little unsettled today, too.  I thought I kept smelling wood smoke last night, from a brush fire in the OC maybe, and today there was smoke and the smell of burning fuel (like charcoal lighter, not gasoline) coming from somewhere behind our house.  I can still smell it now.  Fires scare me.  I’m one of those people who’s always afraid the house is going to burn down while I’m not home; I’ll occasionally call the answering machine just to make sure the house is still standing.

This song has nothing to do with any of that, of course.  Except maybe in the whole “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” concept.  These guys never really did anything else.  This one song is the best of their abbreviated oeuvre.  That’s okay, because it’s one terrific tune.  Kinda jazzy and snazzy, with some nice saxophone.  It’s so good, and everything else by the Sanford Townsend Band so nondescript, it almost doesn’t seem real.  As if it’s some hazy dream, half remembered, a trick done with smoke and mirrors.  Which I suppose fits my mood, after all.

Music I Ought to Love, but Don’t


I really wished I liked Jack White more.  It’s not just because he’s absolutely everywhere, although he does seem to have his grubby little hands in virtually everything these days.  And it has nothing to do with the fact that I think he’s a pretentious git most of the time; I think being a pretentious git comes with the territory he inhabits.  He is undeniably, monumentally talented–quite probably a genius.  I own a couple of White Stripes albums, and I enjoy the music very much.  (“Seven Nation Army” is like a revelation, one of my favorites by them.)  But when I listen to Jack White’s music, I don’t connect to it. In a very real sense, he doesn’t speak to me.  It’s good music.  Hell, it’s great music.  I know objectively that with his talent and style, I ought to be half in love with him; but I just feel cold.

I don’t mean to pick on Jack White in particular.  He’s just a ready example of Music I Ought To Love, But Don’t.  I know that my life will be enriched by this music, that I might even be a better person if I listen to it.  The Critics tell me repeatedly that I should run out to my local, independently owned music shop and buy it now.  My collection will be incomplete unless it includes all these CDs (or even better, vinyl LPs).  There’s a lot of artists that fall into this category.  Arcade Fire.  The Decemberists.  Pink Floyd.  The Doors.  (Aside from a couple really tight singles on the radio, if I never hear another Doors song again, I will be a happy, happy girl.)  I could probably list a lot more if I thought about it, but I don’t like to think about it.

I’m reading a great book right now, a gift from my BFF, Mr. BFF, and their Amazing Child.  Love Goes to Buildings on Fire is about five years in New York City, from 1973 to 1977, that changed the musical landscape irrevocably.  Everything from disco to punk was being developed and musical landscapes were being rewritten.  There’s a picture of Patti Smith, Lou Reed, John Cale, and David Byrne performing together in a club in 76; I almost fainted at the thought of all that musical greatness in one place at one time.  As I’m reading this book, I’m learning and relearning about music that is truly great and revolutionary.  I’m also getting ideas of things to sample on itunes–and I’m finding out that I don’t like some of this music that by all rights I should.  Take Televison, for example.  Tom Verlaine’s proto-punk, proto-New Wave rock band is terrific; I can hear the roots of a lot of music I love in Marquee Moon.  I just don’t want to listen to it.

Will I feel different about all this music eventually?  Yeah, probably.  It’ll become must listen to on my iPod.  Or not.  I don’t know.  I know it’s great music.  I also know Mozart and Ella Fitzgerald are great, but I don’t listen to them, either.  Music is something that has to connect with me somehow, touch off some emotion or memory.  (That’s why I love so much bad 70s music; it reminds me of my childhood.)  That’s how it is for everyone, I suppose.  Until a song clicks for whatever reason, it’s just noise to me.