Sunday, May 24, 2015

Notes for a commonplace book (15)

Glenway Wescott:

"There were two albums of embossed leather studded with buttons which resembled shoe buttons, and one with celluloid roses glued upon a velvet binding. There were daguerreotypes in cases closed by a metal clasp or a loop of worn cord, which Alwyn opened and tried to read as if they were a library of miniature books. At the left a leaf of red satin, at the right in a mat of beaded gilt the portraits: heads and busts and family groups, pygmy men and women as if seen through a telescope — the men in a daydream, the women anxious about their children, their lovers, their clothes. Mouths like bits of carved wax, nostrils of an insatiable arrogance; eyes long closed in death — or the young, suspicious eyes of men and women who were now old and patted Alwyn's head and peered at him dimly and benificently — staring out of the picture frames as if he were an enemy in disguise ... The lifeless light (in which innumerable photographers had covered their heads with large, black handkerchiefs and imitated a bird with their hands) half hid and half revealed all the possible combinations of all the motives there were — greed and sensuality and courage and compassion and cruelty and nostalgia; all the destinies there were — manias, consolations, regrets.

"The same motives and similar destinies existed still; but these people whose playgrounds they had been were gone. Nothing came back from the oblivion into which they had vanished (for old age and death were equally oblivion) not a sound came back but a little slightly exultant, unhappy laughter — Alwyn's grandmother laughing for them.

"He listened to her comments — old-fashioned maxims, scraps of tragi-comic narrative, implicitly mocking, explicitly compassionate — and what she told revealed little more than the photograph albums themselves: another set of pictures, photographs of actions and opinions, also noncommittal and badly focused. But he knew what she knew and tried to forget: that each picture was a tomb where a dead heart (or merely the youth and freshness of a heart which was now old) lay buried — buried with its affections, its apathy, its fury. He knew that on each insignificant grave there stood (though he could only guess what it was) a secret like hers, wild and perfect as a wild flower, nodding in its everlasting leaves, or dangling from a broken stem ..."

The Grandmothers (1927)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Notes for a commonplace book (14)

Glenway Wescott:

"There was a shell on the sideboard, a conch shell in the shape of a horn, which, when held to the ear, repeated the surge and collapse of breakers, infinitely faint, as if heard across the great width of America which separates Wisconsin from the sea. It seemed to the boy that in the same way every object in those rooms echoed the forces which had once been at play around it, very faintly, from a distance of years instead of miles. The pleated fabrics and sheets of old paper enfolded little, agitated ghosts; and the odor of unfamiliar clothes, beds, and pillows, the residue of spiritless perfumes and bouquets long since thrown away, suggested energies now exhausted and passions now forgotten: the energy which had chosen this farm in the wilderness, cut down the trees, uprooted the stumps, built and demolished the log cabins, and founded this home; the long series of passions which had in the end produced himself."

The Grandmothers (1927)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Armed with a Broken Heart

Singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston doesn't exactly flood the market with releases of new material, and Neon Repairman, just out, is only his second CD of new songs since 2001. Like many of his peers among major-label refugees (or even minor-label refugees), he's more or less on his own these days; this CD was issued by Singing Magnet Records, which I suspect means that he put it out himself.

There are pluses and minuses to going it alone, but at this point in the evolution of the pop music industry a lot of talented people don't have much choice. Happily, this is a fine CD, one that can comfortably be set beside records like Can You Fly and This Perfect World that Freedy made in the 1990s when it was still possible for someone like him to get promotion and airplay. Freedy continues to tour and I hope at least a few people get a chance to hear this one.

As melodic and jaunty as Freedy's songwriting is, I doubt he's ever been accused of sugarcoating things, and this record is no exception. In addition to drug dealers, waitresses, and damaged war veterans, his characters run the gamut from the ordinary lovelorn to the borderline creepy. The gentlest song on Neon Repairman is sung in the character of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, and even that one looks back to "that hole in the ground we lived in during the war." Not that Freedy has cornered the market on dark material, but there are few songwriters who can combine romanticism, down-and-out grit, and human sympathy quite this successfully. Plus he just flat-out knows how to compose a pop song.

Neon Repairman is available from CD Baby (which has audio samples), and presumably at Freedy's gigs. You could do worse.