Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I haven't posted in a while so here are some James Baldwin quotes because he was a much better writer than I'll ever be

I started reading James Baldwin's collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, yesterday, and I'm finding much to admire. I'm only 45 pages in, but here are a handful of quotes that appeal to my sensibility.

"... Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. ..."

"...the avowed aim of the American protest novel is to bring greater freedom to the oppressed. [Writers of protest novels] are forgiven, on the strength of these good intentions, whatever violence they do to language, whatever excessive demands they make of credibility. It is, indeed, considered the sign of a frivolity so intense as to approach decadence to suggest that these books are both badly written and wildly improbable. One is told to put first things first, the good of society coming before niceties of style or characterization. Even if this were incontestable -- for what exactly is the 'good' of society? -- it argues an insuperable confusion, since literature and sociology are not one and the same; it is impossible to discuss them as if they were. Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions. ..."

"It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. ..."

"... Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle. ..."

"... Leaving aside the considerable question of what relationship precisely the artist bears to the revolutionary, the reality of man as a social being is not his only reality and that artist is strangled who is forced to deal with human beings solely in social terms; and who has, moreover, as [Richard] Wright had, the necessity thrust on him of being the representative of some thirteen million people. It is a false responsibility (since writers are not congressmen) and impossible, by its nature, of fulfillment. The unlucky shepherd soon finds that, so far from being able to feed the hungry sheep, he has lost the wherewithal for his own nourishment: having not been allowed -- so fearful was his burden, so present his audience! -- to recreate his own experience. ..."

Monday, November 07, 2011

A song for every year of my life #16: 1992

Guided By Voices' "Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox" is the greatest anthem of Midwest teenage bedroom air guitar stale beer ditch weed unrequited emotion explosion church of rock and roll praise and worship in the history of sound, recorded or otherwise, on this planet or any other, in any time predating, concurrent with, or postdating 1992, forever and ever. I can say, without hyperbole, that this song will destroy an entire metro area if played on more than 20 simultaneous ghettoblasters.

Alternate Choice: Faith No More - "Caffeine"
I don't really understand why Faith No More is such an object of sneering derision for most people I know. I think their music has aged better than a lot of other stuff from the 1989-1996 era, and I also think they were a boundlessly creative band that wrote really good songs and played those songs really well. Too many people lump them in with either the horrible funk-metal or even more horrible nu-metal thing based on their one novelty hit, but these people are categorizing the band inaccurately based on their own limited knowledge and experience of their work. The essence of their sound, to me, was a singular and unexpected combination of the best parts of heavy metal, prog rock, mainstream pop, and late-night cable access TV, and an openness to try anything. This was a band, in the true sense of that term, made up of disparate, contradictory individuals with different musical tastes and interests who somehow managed to collaborate effectively. As Andy Rooney said, moments before passing away: "Faith No More are way better than most of that other shit. I could never say shit on television."