Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stevie Jackson on the West Coast

ONE of the things we have to do from time to time here is to admit that not all of the finest 21st century culture comes from the West Coast. (Okay, just most of it.) Exhibit A is the Scottish band Belle & Sebastian, who have been perhaps our favorite band since the fadeout of (West Coast band, sort of) Pavement in the late '90s.

And one on the key members of that excellently melodic indie rock combo is guitarist Stevie Jackson, sometimes known as Stevie Reverb for his signature retro style.

B&S of course, started out as a folkie vehicle for singer Stuart Murdoch, but several other members have since put their respective stamps on the band. Jackson has brought a snappy '60s tune-manship to the group, and he's written some of their best songs -- "Seymour Stein," "Jonathan David,"  "To Be Myself Completely."

Not long ago, Jackson brought out the LP (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson, which is not as consistent as a B&S record but has its share of gems. (I'm especially fond of the opening track, "Pure of Heart.")

And this week, the Glaswegian axe-slinger is way out West. Tonight he's in Austin; Thursday night he is in LA to play the Bootleg Theater. He's in San Francisco Portland before heading back to Scotland.

Here's a video of Stevie playing an acoustic 12-string.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ric Burns and the Civil War

IT'S not a pretty picture: The Civil War saw as many people killed as all American wars put together. In some places, the proportion of  young men killed was quite high: Parts of the South essentially lost a generation.

But the huge number of deaths, and the need to count the fallen, bury them, contact loved ones -- and to make moral/ spiritual sense of it all -- remade this country, says Ric Burns, whose documentary, Death and the Civil War, goes up next week on PBS's American Experience.

He's working from a book by historian Drew Gilpin Faust called This Republic of Suffering, which is a model of accessible but rigorous history.

Read about the doc is my LA Times story here.

I liked Ric a lot and found him quite passionate about his subject in an unforced way.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Brilliant Chamber Music Series

SINCE I first fell hard for classical music in my mid-20s, my favorite style to see live is chamber music. Early on, I think that came from my love of seeing rock n roll and small-combo jazz in small clubs. The intimacy of a string quartet in, say, an old stone church had some of the same energy and directness.

In recent years, perhaps the best venue for chamber music I've found is the Clark Library which is and isn't part of UCLA. (Okay, it's part of the university but on an archipelago closer to USC's campus than to Westwood.) I'll probably always remember the performance by the Takacs Quartet, especially their Janacek.

The Clark itself is a long and fascinating story -- lovely old Italianate building, built by local eccentric, now known for its holdings of 17th/18th c. British materials as well as more stuff on St. Oscar (Wilde) than you can believe. It's worth strolling the grounds, checking out the architectural details, and staying after for the receptions with the musicians.

But go for the music (and the acoustics.) The release and schedule is here. (NOT easy to get into -- there's a lottery.)

I'm especially pleased to see the series commitment this year to Shostakovich, one of my favorite composers and one who could turn pain into beauty and perhaps vice versa. (The Russians have a knack for that.)

And here is a video on youtube.

See ya there, gang.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue"

LONGTIME Californian is one of our favorite writers here at The Misread City.

I had the pleasure to speak to him the other day about his new novel, set on the Berkeley/Oakland border. It's a long, rich book centered around a used vinyl shop that specializes in various styles of black music from the '60s and '70s. (If Brokeland Records really existed I would go digging for an original Blue Note pressing of the early works of Grant Green. And I bet they'd have it.)

This Q & A was my first piece for GoodReads. Here it is.

The interview is fairly long, but here is one more exchange exclusively for Misread City readers.

The other thing that strikes me about Telegraph Avenue is that there’s this buzz and hum to the street life, a kind of Jane Jacobs city life with its love of density. But at least going back a decade or more you’ve written at an artist’s retreat, at which you also have a role as chairman of the board. Why is that valuable to you and to other writers and artists.

I can just get more done, be completely disconnected. When you’re at MacDowell, you have no Internet access – that’s the heart of it. When I started going there, there was barely an Internet; it didn’t play anything like the role it does now in distracting me from my work. But that is what it has metamorphosed for me. More than any kind of getting away I do there, I get away from the Internet.

But a close second is having the opportunity to only be thinking about your work. When you’re not thinking, you’re reading, or walking – nothing else gets in the way. So even when you’re at dinner, and chatting with a composer and a sculptor, the things they say to you somehow feed into the work that’s your doing.

That level of immersion, 24 hours a day, even in your dreams – it’s feeding into the work. You end up using much more of your brain.

While when I’m home, I work all night, I hit my word count… But then I wake up the next morning, there are all this piddly things I’ve got to take care of, from housework to childcare to shopping for dinner, planning the menu, and the Internet, the greatest distraction of them all. I’m not working during those periods. There’s no subconscious work being done.

"Creative Destruction" Announcement

GANG, yesterday the Los Angeles news/media website LA Observed made the first public announcement of the book that grows out of my Salon series. Here it is.

The book's working title is Creative Destruction: How the 21st Century is Killing the Creative Class, and Why It Matters.

There's a lot up on the LAObs post, so I'll leave that to explain the project. (Here are links to individual parts of the creative class series as well as my interview on Studio 360 With Kurt Andersen.)

I should add that the photo of yours truly was taken by Steven Dewall, a photographer I've long been acquainted with who will have at least an occasional presence here on The Misread City.

Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Long Shadow of John Cage

ONE hundred years ago today, a child was born in Los Angeles who would go on to... well, what exactly was Cage's impact anyway? I've been trying to figure that out since I studied experimental music at Wesleyan two decades ago.

Whatever it is, part of what interests me about Cage is how his influence -- ideas like indeterminacy, his reworking of certain Asian ideas including the Tao, prepared instruments that extended the innovations of Henry Cowell -- reached outside classical or experimental music. He even inspired, albeit briefly, the Beatles.

In this story, from Sunday's LA Times, I speak to a wide range of artists, including Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields and Mac from Superchunk, about the composer's long reach.

Here's what performance artist Rachel Rosenthal, who knew Cage a bit in New York in the '50s, told me about him:

His presence was peculiar – unlike anyone else’s. He was always either smiling and laughing – or extremely serious. Nothing in between.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Remembering David Foster Wallace

DAVID Foster Wallace's life was brilliant, tormented, and short -- cut off by a 2008 suicide. Because your humble blogger was going through complicated matters of his own -- an incompetent gnome had just crashed the newspaper I wrote for, hundreds of colleagues and I were soon out of work -- I never entirely engaged with the sudden death of the man who is likely to stand as the greatest writer of our generation.

D.T. Max's Wallace biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, gets into the novelist's life and death, as well as the ideas that animated him and his times. The tale comes across as a classic generational journey between theory and irony on one hand and sincerity and... something else on the other.

HERE is my long Q+A with Max, on Salon.

Let me put in a plug, by the way, for a lively, recent anthology of work about DFW, The Legacy of David Foster Wallace, which includes pieces by novelists Don De Lillo, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, etc., as well as DFW's editor at Little, Brown.

I also asked Max a question we did not have room for on the Salon interview. Here it is:

ST: What kind of long-term impact do we expect Wallace will have? My guess is that he opened the door to a certain kind of literary voice: Would we have gotten Dave Eggers and the McSweeney's empire without him? Anything else, generationally, culturally, or otherwise? Where do we see his influence?

DTM: Wallace definitely broadened the idea of what the "literary" could be in American fiction both in terms of the sentence and the novel itself. How many young writers today pattern themselves after him? But I think literary styles change and what is of the moment today is going to be passe tomorrow. in some ways we are already seeing a backlash. Where DFW continues to grow stornger is in what you might call almost-literary writing, on the web, on blogs, in journals, where he liberated a generation to write more the way they thought.