Table-Talk for February 16, 2009
I. The curious case of the Benjamin Buttons.
II. My kind of book? Richard Milward's Ten Storey Love Song:
is written as one continuous paragraph, a device that allows Milward to slip into the heads of multiple characters, including Bobby's girlfriend Georgie, local hard man Johnnie and the pitiable figure of 40-year-old Alan Blunt. —Guardian
III. Adorableness alert! Lev Grossman (aka the best book critic in the world) and Sophie Gee's playlist:
IV. I like writing constrained by time. At a recent Q&A with director Hong Sang-soo, he related how he'd write each day's script in an hour, because everyone would be waiting around on the set and he didn't want them to get too annoyed. (More soon on HSS's Night and Day, an amazing film.) And here's the first half of Ange Mlinko's essay on an Elliott Smith song, written in the time it took to listen to the song (read it all at Sugar High!):
I’m picking Lou Reed’s Goodnight Ladies for my next track. Enjoy that lite swing jazz backing band, Lev! It’s the last track on “Transformer,” Reed’s second solo album, and it makes me feel as though life is happy and excellent, and it also makes me feel — and this is indispensable in all music used as a creative accessory — as though I am a TOTALLY GREAT writer. When I listen to this song, I feel as if my prose is reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s and Hemingway’s. and as though my characters are like Daisy Buchanan and Brett Ashley. The only problem is that “Goodnight Ladies” only lasts for 4:21, so even in the time it’s taken me to write this I’ve had to listen to it three times.
When Elizabeth Peyton paints the young men that come into her ken—both through her social circles and magazine photos—and turns them even more red-lipped and dreamy-eyed and lithe, the question critics ask (in strict denial of the obvious) is “Elizabeth, why do you paint these attractive guys?” And in response, she says something along the lines of, “Because they live a Beautiful Life that inspires me.” That sounds either very Third-Century C.E., if you’re a Neo-Platonist scholar, or very 1960s trust fund Bohemia. But I think she is talking about Autonomy, that which Beauty underwrites for itself. Money is one of the least interesting ways of guaranteeing it. Take her early portraits of Napoleon: autonomy for him meant no less than conquering Europe and crowning himself king. But as Belle and Sebastian sing, “If my family tree goes back to Napoleon / Then I will change my name to Smith.”
“Now I’m a crushed credit card registered to Smith / Not the name that you call me with,” replies Elliott Smith. Supposedly, I’m here to explain why “Waltz #2 (XO)” once occurred to me as the Greatest Song Ever, and avoid either reliance on the ineffable (e.g., it’s just a transcendent melody!) or the literary (e.g., I’m doing critical karaoke on a song about karaoke, in which Smith deftly imbeds song titles to tell the backstory for him. Clever!). So one of the reasons is how I experienced it the first time I heard it: Live, 8 months before the record came out, in a tiny packed bar with a handmade ticket for an almost secret show. And the last time I had seen him there had been only 40 people or so in the audience—he was practically an unknown. This, to me, was privilege. I was in grad school, hiding out from the world, eking out my meager stipend in the presumptuous, not to mention anachronistic, role of Poet. I was living a Beautiful Life.
IV. Not completely the same thing, but thanks to Dzyd Mike I'm listening to a whole slew of Sleng Teng songs (which clock in between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half minutes), all pegged to the same keyboard rhythm (or as we like to say, riddim).CHANGESONEBOWIE a lot. Well, about once a day. Why now? Why not! (More on this later.) Idea for possible piece: Greatest hits collections are preferable to official albums. Discuss!
VI. Andy Warhol paints Debbie Harry on a Commodore Amiga. (From L.G. Thos.)
VII. And finally—at FiveChapters.com, a new story by...John Cheever!