MUSIC: The Year In Music, 2012

Our Town’s Top Music Mavens Take On The Year In Sounds

■ Jim Manion‘s Best Albums of the Year     

As Music Director of WFHB, I listen to music pretty much all day, every day. My favorites of 2012 had to be records I listened to many times over by choice and will continue to listen to for the rest of my years.


New music created with roots music samples can be brilliant, or it can be stinky cheese. Kid Koala scores brilliance with this electronic tribute to the blues. The Kid’s secret: hitting the dusty blues samples in real-time (on a vintage E-mu sampler) to capture that elusive blues feel. After my first listen (in a rental car), I listened another five times in a row.


Uncle Neil got mixed reviews for this epic, sprawling journey into the Crazy Horse zone. To my ears, this is as fresh as 1970’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere but ten times as exploratory in the sonic realm. Neil and The Horse are definitely driftin’ back and waving their freak flag. In the process they create spaces of aural imagination that are truly psychedelic.

Psychedelic Pill


Mardi Gras Indians + Stanton Moore + edgy funk electronics + New Orleans music samples = one wildass Mardi Gras album for the ages. My neighbors will hear this a lot again in January and February. Hey Na Na!


Still in her early 20s, this classical cello/guitar virtuoso composes and performs a visionary fusion of classical and electronic that is stunning and mind-expanding. Shannon records off-the-grid with wind and solar power at her family’s organic farm in central Illinois. If you get a chance to see her live, go!


Southern belle Lera Lynn sings with a big, clear, timeless voice that evokes shivers when it rings. Her lyrics are full of spooky Southern Goth, while her song forms open up to release the tense but resigned anxiety those lines create. A modern day Bobbie (Ode to Billy Joe) Gentry, Lera’s music is heavy-duty whether she plays solo or with her scorching electric band.

R&B Mojo and Rasp-Rap Rushes ■ Jason Fickel‘s Best Albums of the Year     


Raw, dark songs with some R&B mojo. Catchy, but it shouldn’t be.


A blast of horn and percussion exuberance with pieces that begin vaguely familiar, but end up someplace you never expect.


This monster truck of Aussie pop instantly invited covers and parodies (is there a difference?); there was no way to separate it from the year 2012.


When Bobby “Blue” Bland’s words come out of Rihanna’s mouth and Gil-Scott Heron’s rasp-rap rushes out of pop radio all in one jam, you know something has happened.


Another awesome collection that yet again brings it all back home and then hurls it right back out.  The title cut is a 13-plus minute titanic ballad, because, really, why not?

■ Abe Morris‘s Best Albums of the Year


Madge has been much maligned in the press this year, still this is my pop record of the year. Madonna seethes in post-divorce purgatory, but she ain’t sittin’ still. Girl can still get her groove on putting together her best record this millennium by far.


I actually heard this for the first time last year while I was in New York, so I bring a bias of this album being my soundtrack for that trip. But 13 months later, I don’t think there’s any album I’ve listened to more. The acid-trip version of Pretty Woman featured in the video for “Sinful Nature” is an added bonus.


Matthew Dear sounds like he records himself singing backwards and then grabs the final audio track by playing back the record at half speed. This voice set a top an utterly lush and gorgeous bed of beats makes for an album that keeps pulling your ear back into the mix.


Toeing the line between rap and R&B, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is the most complete record of the year. Often times hip hop albums tend to load the back end with lots of filler, but not this one. The surprising observational and confessional tones of this record make it a stand out in a hip hop world often over-saturated with braggadocio.


The mad music wizard from Nashville is probably the best in the biz at finding new and inventive ways of delivering music and keeping fans on their toes. And it goes without saying that Mr. White and his perennially be-suited entourage is one of the most stylish men in America. But on Blunderbuss, Jack White shows us just how cool he is, bringing 13 songs relatively simple in form, and slathering them in layers of swagger. No other person on the planet can make these songs shine like Jack does.

Honorable Mentions:

◗ Tindersticks “The Something Rain”

Grizzly Bear “Shields”

Here We Go Magic “A Different Ship”

Tame Impala “Lonerism”

Die Antwoord “Ten$ion”

Chris Swanson‘s Best Albums of the Year

◗ Father John Misty “Fear Fun”

Finally a new chapter in the great American bathrobed SoCal beautiful loser songbook, and it’s a great one.

◗ Grimes “Vision”

Along with Frank Ocean, Claire Boucher’s Grimes is one of 2012’s great emergent musical personas. A truly gifted songwriter/producer/performer.

◗ Killer MikeR.A.P. Music”

The best hip hop record of 2012. It is wizened (but not jaded) and has the most politically urgent song of the year in “Reagan”.

◗ Merchandise “Children of Desire”

This is what happens when three hard core kids from Tampa let their guard down and let their Anglophilia take hold.

◗ Tomas Barfod “Salton Sea”

The debut solo album by this Danish producer mixes vocal-driven hook-heavy pop songs with gorgeous Kraut-inspired instrumentals.

Best in Blues by Cathi Norton


Taj Mahal’s road band, heavy-weight musicians bristling with chops. This CD features horn backup, lots of keyboard/organ, soulful vocals and urban blues/rock—loaded with style and maturity.


Fourteen great players from Delta Groove stable of musicians with a double disk release of blues that is solidly based on the roots of the masters while building new branches on that tree. GREAT players like Jimi Bott, Frank Goldwasser and Kirk Fletcher, along with fine vocalists like Sugar Ray Rayford and Finis Tasby.


Authentic blues dawg, James built a guitar in high school, played on the road as a one-man band in the blues for 15 years and here puts together a trio to round out his rollin’ blues—live in one take. Solid playing, original attack.  Smokin’.


Ex-Freddie King guitarist Joe Kubek  and Louisiana guitarist Bnois King have had a hard-rockin’ blues career for 20 years. Here they take a wicked left turn and put out an acoustic disc, featuring fine, fine blues players from the West Coast. Great players, and without the loudness as distraction, it’s clear these are fine blues artists.


Son of famed guitarist Eddie Taylor, Sr., Junior has picked up his traditional blues guitar style and unlike Eddie senior, sings most tunes. His guitar work (like Eddie Sr.’s) features a beautiful old traditional blues attack. Saweeeet guitar work.

Best in Electronic ■ by Markus Lowe


Electronic pioneer of self-described “bass music” culture returns with more brilliant bass anthems sure to keep your head rumbling and your body moving.


Indie-dance favorites dive deep into love, taking the quirky, idiosyncratic experimentations of their early career and distilling it into groovy, heartfelt dance songs.


After 3 days with an E-mu SP-1200 sampler, Koala takes the blues on a journey back to hiphop’s electronic sampling roots to produce a really raw, immediate and strangely beautiful album.


The one-man music machine slings psyched funk-soul from the far side of the moon; 1970 has arrived at 2001.


Berlin-based Alex Ridha delivers his requisite style of in-your-face electro-bang with choice elements of early influences of old school house tracks, B-Boy cuts, and acid records.

Best in World Music ■ by Michael McDowell


This two-disc compilation is the result of a five-years hunt in Barranquilla, a sprawling city in the middle of the Colombian Caribbean Coast, one of the planet’s musical hotspots. It’s irresistible, incredible, and immoral, even, to have music this good.


He’s still got it! Cliff is the rare talent whose voice ages beautiful. This one goes back to his roots a la The Harder They Come, but exudes the fresh energy of real rejuvenation and rebirth.


Traditional Andean cumbia and folklorico roots + electronic soundscapes and street beats = cumbia digital. The best of the best from the contemporary dance scene in Buenos Aires, perfect for the next time you turn your residence into a nightclub.


Seamless fusion of ancient Persian poetry, traditional folk from Iran, and sumptuous electronic grooves; Niyaz delivers thick music.


Remember Lotus Festival 2010? Lanky and magnificent West African roots reggae as per usual, here the All Stars take on Congolese soukous as well, and there is no doubt they are some of the best afropop players on the planet.

Best in metal ■ by David J. Smith


Reverb-drenched guitars, violins, and disturbing spoken-word samples lead the listener on a beautiful, exhilarating journey into darkness.


Controversial political and religious views aside, Gaza plays a brutal, supremely creative, and thoroughly enjoyable brand of blackened crust.


This Utah band’s perfectly-produced sophomore release is a ferocious, complex, and sublime amalgam of doom and drone.


Another avant-garde black metal masterpiece of meticulous chaos.


Harsh, dense, and precise melodic black metal mark this band’s finest release.

Best Traditional Roots, Bluegrass & Celtic ■ by Jamie Gans


Originally recorded live in 2005 and 2006 at The Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC but only now released in 2012, multi-instrumentalist and singer, Tim O’Brien with singer-songwriter, Darrell Scott harmonize in power and passion a full palette of inspired songs.


Kathy is in great company blending heartfelt vocals and dazzling musicianship with her band mates as she treats us to one of the sweetest albums in her 40 year musical career.


From Ireland, Scotland, the US, and Canada The Outside Track provides traditional lush vocals and driving Celtic tunes with rich complex arrangements on fiddle, harp, accordion, flute, and guitar.


They are part of a new generation in a stylistic break from the traditional and commercial bluegrass world along with groups like The Infamous Stringdusters and Town Mountain.  The Hillbenders have their own stamp of originality and instrumental virtuosity. Great pickers, great singers performing all their own material.


Bann simply means band in Scots Gaelic. Breabach hails from the Highlands and they weave together an amazing tweed of pipe tunes, fiddle tunes and Gaelic songs with youthful finesse and fury that is finer than the best of an aged single malt.

The Ryder, January 2013

MEDIA: The Year In Television, 2012

■ by Dan Melnick

2012 was a year of antiheroes and villains; single mothers and scientists.  While there is no shortage of dark, morally ambiguous worlds to choose from, there are also the twinkling lights of literal fairy tales and family-friendly shenanigans to save viewers from an otherwise ominous netherworld. If anything, 2012 has provided a wide spectrum to choose from. Perhaps the trend then, is in its diversity. Cable television has never been better. Many shows now offer film-like quality with the longevity and luxury to delve deeper into their characters than any movie ever could, to create a truly immersive experience for the viewer.

If nothing else, the following list below is a perfect example of this. Each show is unique in its own right and there’s no emergent pattern to find, except darn good programming.


Taking a page out of Lost’s playbook, OUAT pairs flashback stories with a current one, but unlike Lost, these fairy tale flashbacks actually advance a plot, and a plot that makes sense at that.


It’s easy to dismiss the show as silly, but 16 seasons later and delving into topics from recurrent Apple “User Agreements” to the train wreck that is Honey Boo Boo, South Park’s social commentary is just as poignant as ever.


Its one of the most watched shows on television, so can millions of viewers be wrong? Discussions of astrophysics may fly over most of our heads, but heart of the show is simple enough that anyone can understand.


This show doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s not only a cartoon, but it’s a cartoon with lousy animation. Sound like anything else you know? But the humor is sharp, the comebacks are witty, and the dialogue is impeccable.


Dakota Johnson is perfectly cast as Kate, a believable, quirky single mom who’s the grounding rod for the lightning storm of side characters around her. Johnson’s sense of realism makes everything else funnier.


For most shows a season is essentially meaningless, just a bunch of episodes, but BB grows. Each season is another perfectly crafted arc, continuing the story of a conflicted chemistry teacher and transforming him into a ruthless villain.


Like a house of cards, Modern Family stands on the shoulders of the entire cast. It wouldn’t be the comic powerhouse that it is without the delicate interplay between each of their unique voices and styles. Put them all in a white room with nothing to do and even that would be entertaining.


The Sopranos on motorcycles. Each episode is shocking, the characters are engaging, and underneath it all, there’s still a moral code keeping it all together. Everyone’s favorite bad boys have never been better.

Sons Of Anarchy


Zombies and an apocalyptic Earth are just the backdrop to tell true tales of humanity at its best and at its worse. Now that they’ve left Hershel’s farm, each episode gets better and better as the actual zombies for which the show is named, become the least of their problems.


Proof that strong characters are the most important aspect of a show. At a glance, it may appear to be a show about swords and sorcery, but that idea couldn’t be further from the truth. GoT is rife with intrigue, turmoil, courage, and fear delivered by an amazing cast and can hold an audience’s attention like nothing else on television.

The Ryder, January 2013

FILM: Lincoln’s Moment

Leading by Example: Lincoln’s Rhetorical Strategies ■ by Tom Prasch

After recounting of an ominous dream to his wife in Steven Spielberg’s magisterial unbiopic Lincoln, the President reaches for a handy quotation: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” His wife Mary, while complaining “I’m your soothsayer, that’s all I am anymore,” nevertheless dutifully tries to interpret the dream’s portent: perhaps the campaign against Wilmington, or no, it’s the struggle for the amendment.  But her interpretive work would have been speedier had she heeded the quotation. The lines Lincoln quotes are from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a conversation between the Danish prince and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the theme is ambition. As Guildenstern notes in the lines that immediately follow, “dreams indeed are ambition,” and at this point in the film’s condensed chronology Lincoln’s own ambition is being made abundantly clear: to secure the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.

But beyond the explication of the dreamwork, the quotation also highlights Lincoln’s central, time-honored rhetorical strategy, which becomes a centerpiece of Tony Kushner’s screenplay for Lincoln: when commenting or seeking to sway, Lincoln’s constant recourse is to exempla, stories or quotations that illustrate his point. He opens with a joke (even if his dark-edged humor sometimes falls flat, like the apocalyptic pigeon tale he tells to a couple of clearly baffled constituents). He offers up stories about past heroes, like the jocular tale he tells of revolutionary-era hero Ethan Allen, with its crude punchline: “nothing’ll make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of George Washington.” He shares a personal anecdote, tending to favor humorous tales from his law career, but recalling his own epiphany on slavery to convince one wavering congressman. He reaches for an analogy, as when he draws on Euclid’s First Theorem (using an older translation, he calls it a “common notion”) to convince a telegraph operator about the principles of equality, or when he compares his cabinet to whalers with their “harpoon in the monster’s back.” (Senator Wade complains after Lincoln’s exit: “The man’s never been near a whale ship in his life!”)


And he quotes (or nearly quotes) from sages past. When Lincoln intones, as the naval bombardment of Wilmington commences, “Old Neptune, shake thy hoary locks,” it recalls the deluge scene in Ovid’s Metamorphosis (in Dryden’s translation); in the same scene, his “Thunder forth, God of War” echoes Milton, unless it’s Horace; shadows of the Bible, in the poetry of the King James version, are everywhere, most directly in the Second Inaugural Address that closes the film. And then there’s Shakespeare: Hamlet for that dream scene; Macbeth as he argues with Seward about the timing of the push for the amendment (Banquo’s address to the witches: “If you can look into the seeds of time/ And say which grain will grow and which will not,/ Speak then to me”); and when he meets with Bilbo and his crew late at night, he quotes from Falstaff (“We have heard the chimes of midnight, Master Swallow”), appropriately enough for that boozy crew.

Lincoln never footnotes his references; the quotations presume a common (now largely lost) cultural legacy, and a common strategy of lessons through exempla. He is not, after all, the only one given to quotation in the film. The soldiers he encounters in the film’s second scene conclude their exchange with him by reciting his own Gettysburg Address (and it is indicative that the uppity black in the scene—the same one who complains that black troops do not get equal pay and cannot attain officer’s stripes—knows it all the way to the “of the people, by the people” closing). Senator Sumner drags out a fragment of Washington Allston’s period poem “On the State of an Angel” (1842) when he praises Mary Lincoln’s “celestial face.” But in Lincoln’s case, the constant recourse to quotation and example illuminate both his own tactics and those of the filmmakers.

Constructing History

Lincoln is not, despite its title, a biopic. The stories Lincoln tells may illuminate his past (we can tell he was a lawyer; he confesses his self-education and its gaps when talking Euclid; the tale about his epiphany on slavery also notes his difficult relations with his father), but that’s not the point here. This is Lincoln without logsplitting (even if, when the fire gets low, he puts a fresh log on himself), Lincoln without log-cabin backstory, Lincoln without that “Honest Abe” epithet mentioned even once.  Brief scenes do convey the personal beneath the political—Lincoln’s struggles with his moody wife, his own grief over their dead son—but they constitute mere asides. Daniel Day Lewis wonderfully conveys the burdened character of the President (Grant notes at the surrender: “By outward appearance, you’re ten years older than you were a year ago”), but the burdens, like the rest of the backstory, are incidental to the business at hand.

Other figures are even less fully filled in; we never even hear the stirring story that gives Thaddeus Stevens his limp and his cane. Nor is this a broad portrait of America in the last year of the Civil War. A bloody opening scene captures the dire, personal dynamics of hand-to-hand combat, and a visit to a military hospital (with a trench filled with amputated body parts), a brief view of the bombardment of Wilmington, and a post-battle landscape of the dead near the film’s end re-anchors the “war is hell” point, but battles occur mostly offstage here. Only the magic-lantern slides young Tad Lincoln obsesses over (drawn from Alexander Gardner’s portfolio) suggest the actual horrors of slavery in the United States. But these allusions to the wider picture all figure as mere asides.  Rather, Lincoln focuses in on a single year—and really a single month—of a politician’s life, and it centrally depicts the complex struggle to pass that amendment.

In this sense, the only odd thing about the range of Shakespearean quotes is the relative absence here: except for jolly Falstaff, no echoes of the history plays through which Shakespeare constructed an argument about ideal kingship (as well as largely less than ideal kings). In those plays (and perhaps especially in the Second Tetralogy that takes us from Richard II’s failures to Henry V’s triumphs), Shakespeare excerpted and twisted his history to meet his ends, compressing chronologies, dropping out inconvenient facts, reworking historical events and figures in the interest of an argument. Nothing in Tony Kushner’s screenplay comes close to Shakespeare’s willingness to bend historical fact; indeed, the film showcases a care with its construction of a historical past unusual for Hollywood, and, aside from quibbles (how many stars are there on that flag?), historians critical of the film have complained less about distortions of record than about less focused and more debatable issues of interpretation (how important was this amendment?).

But still: Kushner’s tactics are strikingly Shakespearean in at least one respect: in the use of careful selection to construct from the material of history a clear argument. Taking from Lincoln’s career the single year (his last, the war’s last), just as Shakespeare ignored a couple decades of Richard II’s rule to focus on his deposition, and further detailing a day-by-day account of the few weeks between his second inauguration and the passage of the amendment, allows Kushner to make an argument about the mechanics of power brought to serve a greater end.

That end is the abolition of slavery. And no, the Emancipation Proclamation did not finish that work. Kushner’s Lincoln carefully lays out the issue in a meeting with his cabinet; it’s a long speech, but one worth lingering over, for the care with which the key issues are elucidated. After a story, of course, Lincoln plunges in: “I decided that the Constitution gives me war power, but no one knows just exactly what those powers are…. I decided I needed them to exist to uphold my oath to protect the Constitution, which I decided meant that I could take the rebels’ slaves from ‘em as property confiscated in war. That might recommend to suspicion that I agree with the rebs that their slaves are property in the first place. Of course I don’t … [but] if calling a man property, or war contraband, does the trick, why I caught at the opportunity. Now here’s where it gets truly slippery. I use the law allowing for the seizure of property in a war knowing it applies only to the property of governments and citizens of belligerent nations. But the South ain’t a nation, that’s why I can’t negotiate with ‘em. … And slipperier still: I maintain it ain’t our actual Southern states in rebellion, but only the rebels in those states, the laws of which states remain in force. The laws of which states remain in force. That means, that since it’s states’ laws that determine whether Negroes can be sold as slaves, as property—the Federal government doesn’t have a say in that, least not yet…. I felt the war demanded it; my oath demanded it; I felt right with myself; and I hoped it was legal to do it, I’m hoping still. Two years ago I proclaimed these people emancipated—then, thenceforward and forever free.” But let’s say the courts decide I had no authority to do it. They might well do it. Say there’s no amendment abolishing slavery. Say it’s after the war, and I can no longer use my war powers to just ignore the courts’ decisions, like I sometimes felt I had to do. Might those people I freed be ordered back into slavery? That’s why I’d like to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the House.”  In other words, the executive power seized in wartime to proclaim emancipation could not be sustained when the war (as it soon would) ended. Thus the push for passage.

And two other notes, implicit in Lincoln’s argument, should be clear as well. Abolishing slavery through constitutional amendment would place abolition above judicial review; it could not be overturned, Marbury v. Madison style. And passing the amendment by the mandated two-thirds vote could only be accomplished if the war was ongoing: if the House held no Southerners.

Making Sausage: The Political Process

If you want to enjoy your sausage, the old saying goes, don’t look too carefully at how it got made.  Politics, when it comes right down to it, looks a lot like sausage-making. As Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln’s reluctant ally, puts it, after the amendment abolishing slavery has finally passed: “The greatest measure of the Nineteenth Century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.” Complicated stuff .

Lincoln’s instructions to his cabinet make the political problem clear. He needs two thirds of the House to approve his amendment, which requires keeping all his own party in line (both the conservative and radical wings of the Republicans, each with their own rather different agendas) and pulling in a handful (or, well, a few handfuls) of additional Democratic votes (looking especially to those Democrats who, in the congressional lame-duck session, had already lost re-election votes).  To appease the conservative wing of his own party, he has to seem to be making efforts to end the war, but he also has to ensure that those efforts do not bear fruit too soon. He has to have the support of the radical wing, but he simultaneously has to depend on them to “temper,” as he puts it to Stevens, their own message. The centerpiece of that project is Stevens’s floor-debate insistence that the amendment is only about “equality before the law,” not equality of condition (that is, not racial equality). Meanwhile, through a combination of patronage quasi-bribery (with recourse to the skulky Bilbo to do the convincing) and personal appeals (lots more stories told), he has to bring around (or to abstention) enough Democrats to secure the needed numbers. And he has to keep the peace delegation at bay in the meantime, and almost (but not quite) lie about doing that, to keep the timetable.

The great body of the film—broadly everything between the two opening scenes of battle and interaction with soldiers on the one hand and the quickly limned post-vote surrender, assassination, and Inaugural Address gracenote—center on the struggle to get the votes. Against the major task at hand, everything else is mere aside. And the film’s climax comes with the vote, not with Appotomax or Ford’s Theatre after that. This is a film, less about Lincoln, than about Lincoln’s crowning political achievement, and the complex coordination of multiple strategies it took to accomplish that.

Lincoln’s Moment

Spielberg, it has been reported, deliberately held back the release of Lincoln until after the election because he did not want the film to become “political fodder” during the campaigning season. Was it concern over all that talk about enfranchising blacks, or perhaps worry over what people might make of the very different Democrats (and even more different Republicans) of the 1860s? Spielberg didn’t say. The film was released, instead, in the election’s immediate wake: as petitions urging secession circulated, and as the fiscal cliff loomed.

For this moment, the film constitutes a different sort of political fodder. It offers up a closely conceived argument over the combination of strategies—from the compromising to the coercive—that the mechanics of capitol politics sometimes require to accomplish change. The question it leaves us with is whether we have a Lincoln, or even a Thaddeus Stevens, with us today.

The Ryder, January 2013

STAGES: January (& More)

■ by Ryan Dawes

◗ Father John Misty with Magic Trick
Friday, January 10 / The Bluebird / 9pm / $15
A former member of the Seattle-based Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty performs a warmly oaken folk-rock with swaggered bits of C&W.  Like so many beloved artists from the Northwestern US, Misty was guided by “immobilizing” depression in creating his first solo album Fear Fun.  However, rather than licking his wounds through song, Father John emerged with a new narrative, more mischievous, independent, horny, and weird.  Warming up the stage will be the pet project of Tim Cohen, Magic Trick, which combines 60’s psychedelic rock and 70’s folk.

Father John Misty

◗ Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) with Tall Firs, The Briars
Tuesday, January 15 / The Buskirk-Chumley Theater / 7:00 pm / $33.50
While Neutral Milk Hotel released only two full-length albums, the band’s success and influence was expansive throughout the late 90’s and continues to be heard in bands like Arcade Fire and the Decemberists.  Mangum himself has largely avoided fame and only very sporadically tours, making this appearance in Bloomington a rare treat.  The evening will also include sets by cousins Jeremy Thal and Gideon Crevoshay of The Briars of North America and the Brooklyn-based Tall Firs, who plays mellow, guitar-centric indie rock.

Jeff Mangum

◗ Percussive Dance Extravaganza
Thursday, January 17 / Rhino’s / 7:30 pm / $15
This particular extravaganza features the fiery feet of local dancers specializing in flatfooting, clogging, tap, French Canadian and English wooden shoe, and Long sword dancing, which originates in early 20th century England and uses “rapper swords.”  Traditional folk/old-time dance music will be supplied by a makeshift band of all-stars, led by fiddle master Brad Leftwich.  Featured dancers include Annie Bartlett, Suzannah Edgar, Mary Beth Roska, Allana Radecki, and Tamara Loewenthal (that lady from the farmer’s market). Tickets are available at Bloomingfoods, who will also supply the evening with refreshments.

◗ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Friday, January 25; Saturday, January 26; Wednesday, February 6 & Thursday, February 7 / Ivy Tech Waldon Arts Center / 7:30 / $15-$25
Set within a high-brow university after-party, this US American play by Edward Albee was first performed in 1962 and won several Tonys, including Best Play in 1963.  Considered Albee’s best production, this emotional work confronts and exposes domestic abuse, alcoholism, and embarrassment within two relationships.  This particular production is cast by, among others, Bill Simmons and Diane Kondrat, who have acted together in several productions and have both worked under local acting teacher Martha Jacobs.  This will be Kondrat’s final performance in south central Indiana before moving to Portland, OR.

◗ Old Blue Eyes: Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack
Saturday, January 26 / Brown County Playhouse / 7:30 pm / $22.50
Summoning the showmanship of Frank, Sam, and Dino, this performance will feature many hits by the Rat Pack, with choreography by Cynthia Pratt and David Hochoy.  The evening will also serve as a memorial to the late Brown County-based philanthropist and entrepreneur, Howard Hughes, who passed away just over a year ago.  The services supported by Hughes includes a venerable list of who’s who in the NPO realm of south central Indiana, including Dance Kaleidoscope, who is co-producing Old Blue Eyes with the BCPH.  Tickets are available online.

◗ Dark Star Orchestra
Wednesday, February 6 / The Buskirk-Chumley Theater / 8 pm / $27.50
Come all ye Wookiees, Wharf Rats, and Spinners to behold the transformation of Kirkwood Avenue into Shakedown Street, albeit a more wholesome version. This Grateful Dead cover band places as much focus on precise historic accuracy as it does on jamming out.  Each DSO set is based on a particular concert from the Dead’s extensive touring history.  During each concert, they announce the venue and date of the Dead show to be replicated and strictly abide by that night’s set list and stage setup.  Tickets to this living rock-history lesson are available one door east of the Buskirk, at the Sunrise Box Office during normal business hours.

Dark Star Orchestra

Thursday, February 14 / The Bishop / 8:30 / $12-14
Incorporating sax, brass, piano, synth, and abundantly intricate percussion, this Portland, OR-based experimental pop group might remind you of outfits like Islands or tUnE-yArDs.  Recently reshaped into a duo, Menomena’s latest and fifth album ‘Moms’ contains five songs by each member, one whose mother passed away and the other raised by a single mother.  This diversely orchestrated set will be preceded by the New York City band Guards, whose most recent album included contributions from members of Cults and MGMT.


The Ryder, January 2013

FILM: The Perks Of Being A Critic

■ by Andrew Behringer

As 2012 finishes its run, my annual craving for Best of the Year lists and awards starts to kick in.  This year however, the films that have affected me the most aren’t getting the recognition that they should.  So instead of trying to make a list of the year’s best all-around films, I will talk briefly about the three films that have most moved me.  They each have elements that make them must-see movies for any filmgoer who appreciates filmmakers who do not play it safe.

◗ Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik’s follow up to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford continues the director’s pattern of subverting genre conventions. Dominik has put a new spin on the gangster movie.  The movie is deliberately slow-paced and filled with conversations that don’t further the plot, but instead focus on developing characters and establishing mood.  Sharp social commentary adds an element of intellect absent from most mob movies.

◗ Amour

Michael Haneke’s latest left me greatly appreciating a European approach to an oft-tackled topic of American cinema. Both the characters and the universe they live in are devoid of the clichés that often accompany movies that explore love. Rather than distract the audience with busy camera work, Haneke frequently lets the camera sit motionless for an entire scene. This encourages the viewer to focus on the subtlety in the acting, which is the driving force behind Amour’s success.

◗ The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Without a doubt this is my favorite movie of the year.  I was surprised by the level of maturity found in the film’s tone, as well as the tremendous performances from the gifted ensemble cast.  Originally a novel, author Stephen Chbosky not only wrote the screenplay, but also directed the film.  One gauge of the success of a novel-to-film adaption is the extent to which the film is able to make the viewer forget the book.  Movie adaptations are often characterized by uneven pacing and rushed character development; these are difficult-to-avoid pitfalls when adapting a long-form novel into a two hour movie. Chbosky has risen to the challenge.  Chbosky does not attempt to clone his novel; he understands the constraints of storytelling in film form, and gives the film a heart of its own. After watching Perks, I feel more authors should learn the art of filmmaking so they can ensure the success of their work across all mediums.

The Ryder, January 2013

Vinyl Revival

Record Collectors Preserve The Past ■ by Dan Melnick

They’re leftovers, clutter that needs to be dealt with. Vinyl records sit in the basement on dusty shelves waiting to be unloaded at the next yard sale. It’s been years, in some cases, since they’ve been removed from their sleeves. But for passionate music lovers and collectors, the hisses and pops embedded in the grooves of the vinyl sound better than the polished digital tracks produced today. Many of these collectors amass vast museums of vinyl comprised of thousands of disks. More than a hobby, record collecting is a livelihood that defines who they are.

With purchases these days just an Amazon or eBay click away, one of the vast appeals of record collecting is in the thrill of the hunt. Whether one seeks records, comic books, or even ceramic figurines, half of the fun is in assembling the collection. “I don’t do anything online,” vinyl collector Jonathan Richardson says. “It seems like cheating. It defeats the purpose. Almost 100% of my collection is from me scavenging yard sales and thrift stores. I normally do not pay more than a dollar for a record. I would much rather be digging through dusty bins in an antique mall. That’s the fun part of it, going out and finding these little treasures.” Richardson owns anywhere from 10 to 12 thousand records and his collection is valued at over $100,000. That’s a lot work and a lot of antique malls.

Jonathan Richardson

The hobby of collecting vinyl records has been around since their inception in the fifties, but the concept of assembling a collection, as opposed to simply buying records for their music value, didn’t take off until the mid-eighties and the birth of the CD. That’s when most replaced their collections with the new media form and the easier to store compact disk. But while many embraced the new technology, there were still those who would always be attracted to the vinyl medium. Records weren’t the first way to record music and they certainly aren’t the last, but there’s something about this format that many still find intriguing.

People collect whatever speaks to them, but when it comes to music, vinyl collectors stand out from the crowd. There’s a certain mystique and air of knowledge that surrounds the record collector that’s missing from other musical hobbyists. Collecting 8-track tapes for instance, just doesn’t have the same allure, same inherent coolness, about it that record collecting does. Record collecting has developed into somewhat of a loaded term these days thanks to many music gurus and true hipsters who have inadvertently left their knowledgeable mark on the discipline over the years. Putting together a discerning, comprehensive library is careful and painstaking work. So, what is it about vinyl that continues to attract both listeners and collectors to what would be an otherwise dead medium?

“For me it was always about the music. It’s not about the material that it’s made from,” says Ron Resur, an avid record collector of the past 60 years. Resur has been adding to his collection since records were first invented, taking great pride in discovering rare records. Sometimes, these can be popular albums of famous musicians. Resur’s most prized pieces however are records that most people may have never heard of: the remains of limited print runs and masterpieces of forgotten artists. He spent almost forty years looking for Dino Valenti’s self-titled album, having to settle for a CD until his son presented him with an original vinyl copy as a Christmas present. Finding these “little treasures,” as Richardson describes them, isn’t just about increasing the number of records one owns, it’s about adding another piece to the puzzle in a never ending quest to explore the past. Each record collection is a carefully chosen tapestry of musicians, put together disk by disk. Record collectors aren’t just hobbyists, they’re historians. “I wouldn’t call myself a record collector as much as a music lover,” says Richardson. “I’m really fascinated with recorded music and the amount of cool, interesting stuff that’s out there that hasn’t been heard by the general public.”

Ron Resur

Ron Resur calls this practice “audio archeology.” Over the past 60 years, he’s diligently cataloged his collection of over 800 artists and arranged the records for easy reference complete with music chronology and printed biographies of the artists. “I find it fascinating,” Resur says. “It’s really keeping a record on social mores through the music. What is the attitude of society at the time?” Like any work of art, the recorded music of any time period reflects the social issues and cultural trends relative to that era.

Resur’s point of view is shared by many avid vinyl collectors. Each record they find is an artifact of another age. “I like sincerity,” Resur says. In regard to music, “the rawer it is, the closer it is to the initial expression it is, the better. The purity of the idea coming through in the music is what I look for. I listen to the content more than anything. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be the words. It’s the way the person expresses himself through the instrumentation of the music and through the writing of the music.” He uses Neil Young as an example, explaining that not only is he a great musician, but “he has an intensity and a specific philosophical point of view that I have an affinity with.”

While Bloomington may boast only a half a dozen of serious collectors, each person has his own version of the Holy Grail. Like Richardson says, they’re “music lovers” interested in lost artifacts, not financial gain. Much like Resur’s Dino Valenti quest, these obscure objects of desire  hold a personal connection with the collector; what makes them valuable is the record’s genuine rarity. If you collect long enough, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for. “The record that I have been searching for my whole life is the next one that I have never heard of that I find,” Richardson says.

In terms of vinyl collecting and records in general, it’s impossible not to talk about the actual medium or mechanism by which the music is experienced, the delivery system if you will.

While being a potential thorn in the side of music completionists, the modern delivery format favors individual songs as opposed to entire albums.  Artists still record entire albums of music, but unless you’re a big fan of the artist, most of us only hear a hit single or two. Ten years ago, this single would attract a buyer to a music store and if the person wanted to own the music, he or she would have to purchase the entire CD. But now with mp3 files and iTunes, consumers can cherry pick their favorites for 99 cents. As the music industry evolves, making content more accessible to consumers, the concept of an entire collection of thematically related songs — an album — is losing its relevance.

Albums used to tell a story, either literally like The Who’s Tommy or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or figuratively, marking a specific era of the band’s growth. Take the work of any musician or group who’s been around for a long time and compare something they did 10 years ago to something they released last year. Remember when people used to say, “Man that was a good album?” That doesn’t happen anymore. We download, rip, and burn our music, put it on a mobile device and that’s the end of it. Sure, some may still want to listen to an entire album’s worth of music, but for many, they can’t even name what album the newest hit even came from.

Many music collectors like Richardson, trace the deterioration of album oriented music to the invention of the CD. “I think records have a little more permanent feel to them as opposed to a CD,” Richardson says. “You can burn a CD. But you can’t burn a record. It’s solid. It has a life. CDs and mp3s are disposable to me. They all look the same. You rip it and put it on your iPod and throw it away. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’d rather have an album than a CD,” Resur agrees. “With a CD there’s a thing called compression where it’s been remastered to take off the high end and the low end and you’re not getting the original sound. You’re getting part of it. It might be cleaner, but you’re only getting part of the original intent. And I want to hear what the artist intended, not what some engineer thought sounded better.” This is also an issue with all digital music, not just the CD. Digital media platforms may make music more ubiquitous, but only those recordings that companies have uploaded to their libraries and deem marketable.

These are complaints that most vinyl collectors share about modern music. As lovers of the art form, the more removed they get from the original sound, in this case, by the intervening technologies, the less they like it. It would be like a museum curator cleaning up the colors on a Picasso because he thought the blue wasn’t bright enough. The key distinction here is what Resur refers to as “intent.” Some artists can only record with modern technology. You couldn’t make electronica or dub step music without a computer. Other artists happen to like layered vocals and autotuning. Collectors like Richardson and Resur are fine with all of these methods as long as they meet the artist’s original intent for the music, as long as the recorded product is faithful to the authenticity of the music creative integrity of the artist.

Indiana has a rich musical history. Vinyl collector and music enthusiast Rick Wilkerson runs a website in which he has compiled a massive database of as many Indiana artists and their records that he can find.  We all know that John Mellencamp is a Hoosier. But there are others. Wes Montgomery was born in Indianapolis. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop was a native of Gary.  Axel Rose is from LaFayette. Van Halen’s David Lee Roth and of course, Hoagy Charmichael, are from Bloomington. Their work alone makes quite the record collection.

Wilkerson co-owned the record store Irvington Vintage on Indianapolis’s east side for 15 years and is no stranger to audio archeology. His newest project takes his collection up a notch as he seeks to chronicle Indiana’s vinyl history. Most of his research is secondary as he scours various books and websites confirming the origins of many artists and their music. “If I started this before the internet, this would have been a nightmare,” he says. Wilkerson’s project grew out of his personal record collection and like Richardson and Resur, he feels that there are still lessons to be learned from the past. If anything, his website chronicles a shared history with Hoosiers and other popular artists, bridging the distance between the two. Ultimately, his plan is to write a book. “The website that’s up there now is not even close to approximating what I’ve got,” he says.

Wilkerson will list popular artists and expensive work on his website because they have a connection to the state of Indiana, but he’s much more interested in finding those “little treasures” that others don’t know about, excavating forgotten or unheard of vinyl for others to experience. As many collectors like Richardson and Resur agree, the art and motivation behind an impressive collection is to provide others with a taste of something they may not have heard before. So often, the best records, aren’t always the most popular ones, but the least popular.

With the format and delivery method of music changing numerous times of the years, what is it about LPs and 45s that still has hobbyists coming back for more? Few records are made anymore, and only then largely for novelty’s sake, yet the medium is attractive enough for some to spend thousands of dollars on a rare find. The initial pressing of The Freewheelin’Bob Dylan and Velvet Underground and Nico’s Acetate haves sold for $25,000 to $35,000.

The Quarrymen (John, Paul, and George pre-Ringo) — “That’ll Be the Day”/”In Spite Of All The Danger” (UK 78 RPM, Acetate in plain sleeve, 1958) Note: Only one copy made, owned by Paul McCartney. Value: $200,000

As auditory historians, delving into the past for music unheard of today has tremendous appeal for Resur. We still have record parties,” he says. “Some of the folks here in town, we get together and everybody brings their own stuff. You get so many different points of view and of course you might hear something you hadn’t heard before. I like to play things that the other people in the group maybe haven’t heard because I’m so much older than everybody else.

“I’m 70 years old. I’ve been listening to some of these records for a long time. It’s interesting to me to listen to something today that I originally listened to in 1958. You hear something so many times that it’s ingrained in your memory; you don’t listen to it for a while and when you listen to it again, it sounds totally different. It’s a way of relating to the past and gaining a new perspective because the sound hasn’t changed, I have.”

Resur referred to the records as points of view, but he might as well have used the phrase “social mores.” That’s really the root of it. Each record is a fragment of a lost history. Many of the artists have long-since died, their voices forever recorded in the grooves of spinning vinyl.  What’s left behind is a legacy for future generations. And it is thanks to the efforts of audio archeologists like Richardson, Resur, and Wilkerson, sifting through a hodgepodge of crates and boxes in haphazard flea markets and rummage sales, that their legacy is preserved for future generations.

The Ryder, January 2013




 [P1]The hobby of collecting has been around since the 50s but the concept of collecting took off in the 80s. Since the hobby waw around in the 50s, wasn’t the concept around in the 50s?

 [MD2]You had these two highlighted. I know they’re awkward, but this is a direct quote. Should I edit them down anyway?

 [P3]I’ve added the word recordings. But a larger issue is how does this differ from pre-digital, pre- mp3s? Haven’t music co execs always based their decisions of what to release based on the artist’s marketability?

BOOKS: James Joyce

A New Biography of an Old Master ■ by Brandon Cook

The publication of Gordon Bowker’s new biography of James Joyce, last year in Great Britain and this year in the United States, did not occur on a particularly auspicious date — a fact that might very well have set the famed Irish writer quivering in the fear of bad juju.

In 2011, the most renowned literary figure of the 20th century celebrated his 129th birthday. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the work that gave Joyce his definitive claims as a modern literary icon, turned 95 while Ulysses, the perennial “greatest novel ever written” but more commonly known as a bane to book clubs, required reading lists, and ambitious readers, marked its scorching debut 89 years ago .

Seventeen years went by after that, through which Joyce suffered the treatment of his schizophrenic daughter, a milieu of crippling debts, and the outbreak of the Second World War, not to mention years of 16-20 hour workdays. At the end of these travails came Finnegans Wake, a volume so dense with linguistic erudition (there are a purported 60 languages at work) and cultural polytonality that even the writer’s closest disciples abandoned him. Ezra Pound, that quintessential mad genius with Lucifer beard and manic eyes who first serialized Ulysses in his magazine, promptly abandoned the writer with the claim that he was wasting his genius. Joyce, spurned by readers and critics alike, mentally flushed and physically exhausted, died less than a year after its publication.

Sylvia Beach, Who Published Ulysses, And James Joyce

Faced with these ostensibly random dates, it’s curious that Bowker believes that now is the time that we need a new perspective on Joyce to merit an all-inclusive biography. Any serious devotee of the Irish writer, when asked about biographical material, will point immediately to the 1959 work by Richard Ellmann (revised in 1982) as the source from which the purest Joyce flows. Novelist Anthony Burgess even dubbed it the “greatest literary biography of the century,” and all those who have read it are inclined to agree.

Ellmann foregoes the listing of dry fact and spurns the tired, pedantic diction that dispels so many readers away from biography. Equipped with the unequivocal mastery of language, his subjects yearn to speak for themselves and unlike most writers Ellmann is able to let them do so. The numerous letters, journal entries, and corresponsive limericks that Joyce shared with his acquaintances and that Ellmann picked, painstakingly, like grapes from the vine, provide a portrait of the artist in three crystal clear dimensions.

But Ellmann is a rare case, with a passion centralized on Irish modernism and little else. The biographer, sensing Ireland’s literary revolution when he produced his first two volumes on Yeats, ended up serving all four of the nation’s masters: Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, and Wilde, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

By no means does Bowker’s biography attempt to outdo Ellmann’s and this is a good thing. There are obvious nods to the master text when he borrows from it, liberally quoting the same anecdotes, exclamations, and even textual interpretations (his rendering of young Joyce’s Et Tu Healy reads almost verbatim). His portraits of the Joyces owe much to Ellmann’s conception as well. Father John Joyce begins the text highlighted as a witty Parnellite while adoring Stanislaus fervidly dog tails and copycats every action of his older brother James, from his precocious interests in literature to his dramatic sundering with the Church (Stanislaus, in typical little-brother fashion, took the action too far and abandoned God whereas James merely abandoned man’s corrupted perception).

Bowker’s eye for detail serves him well in many of his corresponding episodes with Ellmann. One such episode takes place with Joyce’s former medical peer, literary admirer, and one-time roommate Oliver St. John Gogarty, forever immobilized to readers of Ulysses as the doggedly cynical, “stately plump Buck Mulligan.” Each biographer  lets the reader know that this literary eternity was a fate the young Buck had coming to him. Following recent quarrels in their already strained relationship, in 1904 the destitute Joyce nevertheless allowed himself to be housed in Gogarty’s ridiculous, militaristic Martello Tower along with one of his lackeys, Samuel Trench (Haines in Ulysses). Trench, prone to horrible nightmares and screaming fits, kept a loaded gun by his side. It was during one such terror that he awoke and, in hysterics, fired his gun several times against the back wall, narrowly missing the startled Joyce. Bowker, preferring a continuation of this scene, asserts that Gogarty later awoke and repeated the gesture as a ruse so that the brooding, disdaining Joyce would move out of the tower.


Unfortunately, many of the relationships become increasingly dense with Bowker’s chunks of fact-driven prose. When John Joyce begins to decline from amiable jokester to failed father and hapless drunk, the tragic loss of his verbal wit to the consumption of spirits (which so hauntingly foreshadows James’s future struggles) can easily pass the reader unregarded. Ellmann, who quotes from John’s brilliant pub chat and ample limericks that he shared with James, presents a far more life-loving spirit than Bowker.

So it goes for many of the dynamics that exist in the relationship between Stanislaus and James. Bowker’s description of the brothers’ intermittent stay in Trieste between the years 1904 through 1920, fails to capture Stanislaus’s complex and contradictory emotions. Summoned in order to provide company to James’s beloved Nora while he completed Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist, Stanislaus arrived enthusiastic, only to become one of the countless many from whom Joyce would siphon money to pay for lavish meals, tips, and shopping sprees. Readers will wonder why he suffered his pockets to be picked for as long as he did, to which Bowker meekly posits filial duty and admiration for James’s talents. What’s missing is Stanislaus’s fascinating diary, wherein the brother records how his duties to the capricious James reflect a greater duty to literature itself. James’s lauding as ‘literary genius’ did not spring from the Pound/Yeats/Eliot brigade, but from wholesome, second-best Stanislaus.

James fairs better under this at times toilsome prose, but not by much. In the midst of the controversy surrounding the Ulysses publication, Bowker writes that Joyce was “becoming [more] famous for being spoken and written about than for being read.”

One is tempted to think that the biographer might take note and allow more of the authentic Irishman to be heard, instead of reining  him in and paring his statements down to increments seldom exceeding three or four sentences. Joyce, in several documents, provides the best interpretation and criticism of his work anyway, showing that once freed from the words of intellectuals and pedagogues, the text is actually much simpler and accessible to the reader than before. Such is true of the Nausicaa episode, in which the resting Bloom pleasures himself to the exposed stockings of the simple-minded soubrette Gerty McDowell. Joyce writes the chapter in what he calls “namby-pamby jammy marmalady drawersy (alto là!) style.”

A part of the author seems to want to keep its figure shrouded in mystery. How does the man who guffawed boomingly at farts and funny-sounding words become the century’s literary mastermind? Why did this man, who once scooped up dirt and declared it in a hushed reverence to be “wonderful,” continually empty his pockets for a life of inflated decadence? How did a mind whose contents more often resemble the residue found in a vacuum cleaner bag grapple with man’s most sprawling questions? Bowker may have the answers but he won’t say so, just as he won’t allow Joyce out of the lenses of his scope.

Even so, there is at least one moment when this tactic is beneficial to the reader. Finnegans Wake is treated by Bowker with bold hypotheses and then tidily explored: something for which more readers are likely to clamor than the confusing textual excerpts that Ellmann offers or the expansive Finnegans Wake Skeleton’s Key by Joseph Campbell

Contrary to the belief that the unconscious ‘dreamscape’ of Finnegans Wake, (Work in Progress as it was known until publication) was the natural point of development from the monologue intérieur of Ulysses, Bowker asserts that Eliot’s The Waste Land is the true inspiration, providing the “fractured” and “unstable” form while encouraging the necessity of the various portmanteaus. It’s a valid argument that one may push further, contrasting even the drought and dearth of Eliot’s parched, dead ground with Joyce’s cyclical “riverrun” of life, the river Anna Livia Plurabelle.

There are other such strong scenes upon which Bowker lingers that other biographers have passed by. This is the outbreak of World War II. Ellmann dismissed it as Joyce did: unrelated to and disturbing the production of art, and therefore unworthy of much consideration. Bowker’s war blazes across the book’s last thirty pages, reminding the reader that Joyce’s singular artistic obsessions, admirable in their way, were nevertheless far from realistic. Lucia, his schizophrenic daughter, was being treated in a French mental hospital during Nazi occupation of the country and could not be brought out despite the family’s frantic efforts. Joyce could forget about the war, but the war never forgot about Joyce.

One of the most poignant scenes in the biography occurs in the beginning of the now-famous treatment of Lucie in the early 1930’s, when Joyce’s obsessive work on Finnegans Wake had to be halted so that his daughter could receive treatment for a condition the doctors would only say was baffling (and still is; perhaps the most accurate diagnosis came from Joyce himself, who believed she was suffering a combination of megalomania and an inability to transform artistic vision into reality). Years of doctor-hopping and expensive bills had got the couple nowhere and only after much pressuring did Joyce reluctantly agree to treat his daughter with the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, an admirer of Joyce’s genius who ambiguously declared that Ulysses “could be read the same backwards as forwards.” The meeting of these two mental geniuses reads as two wolves sizing the other up; for the palpable tension Bowker quotes Jung: ‘ “it was impossible not to see and feel his resistance.” ‘

“There is nothing your hand wants to reach for except a volume of Joyce,” reads Chris Proctor’s endorsement on the biography’s dust jacket. This rings truer than one might expect. Bowker’s book still manages to provide small insights that one will not find elsewhere. Less so than Ellmann, the book is effectual. One will look to Joyce afterwards and see that nowhere else in the English language can such humor be drawn from words, and such powerful life as from Molly Bloom’s final, affirmative “Yes.” Bowker’s biography breathes no new life into Joyce but the reader cannot expect this. The 20th century’s greatest literary innovator needs no new life–he resonates with as much vitality today as ever.

The Ryder, January 2013

Photo caps (Joyce in bookstore)

Sylvia Beach (who published Ulysses) and Joyce in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

Photo cap (Beach and Joyce standing)

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach (who published Ulysses) outside the door of Shakespeare and Company on the Rue de l’Odeon in Paris in 1920

Use one of these bookstore pictures and or/one of the posed headshots.

I’ve also attached two versions of the bookcover. I don’t think the bookcover or the headshots require photo caps. And I’m not sure it’s necessary to reproduce the book cover – neither image does much for me, although I’m certainly not opposed to using one of them as space permits.

Peasant Happiness

Celebrating the Cultural Revolution in China ■ by Molly Gleeson

It all started with a phone call.  “Do you want to go to Peasant Happiness with my mother this weekend?” my friend Marsha asked.  I thought perhaps this was the greatest oxymoron I had ever heard.  “What,” I asked, “is Peasant Happiness?”

“It’s a place that celebrates the Cultural Revolution,” she said.

“But Marsha,” I said, “wasn’t the Cultural Revolution a really terrible time for China?”

“Oh, it was really bad for the country, but for individuals it was really quite fun,” Marsha said.

This is the same well-educated, well-traveled woman who said to me when I balked at “registering” at the local police office, “It’s just so if anything happens to you you’ll be treated like a citizen.”  I said I wasn’t sure I wanted to be treated like a citizen.  In any case, I wouldn’t go to Peasant Happiness that weekend, but Marsha had put it in my mind and I was curious.

I convinced my student friends Alice and Ida to join me one spring weekend to visit one of these Peasant Happiness’s, just outside Chongqing.  We took a bus and then motorcycle taxis up a mountain and arrived around 9: 00 p.m.  There are hundreds of these places in China, and dozens of them around Chongqing.  However, only a handful of them have the Cultural Revolution as their theme.  This one was called Longjishuanzhuang or “The Spine of the Dragon Peasant Happiness.”  We met the manager, the indomitable Mrs. Luo.  She told us this that “old intellectuals who worked on farms during the Cultural Revolution” pass through its gate every week.  Indeed, from looking around it seemed that most people there that weekend were between the ages of 50 and 70.  I certainly was the only laowai (foreigner) and Alice and Ida seemed extremely young in this company.  Most people would only stay a night or two, watching a performance about the Cultural Revolution one night and playing mah jong the rest of the time.  Mrs. Luo said these old-timers come here to “remember history and to renew their memory” and although they were “tough times” it makes them “appreciate what they have now,” she said.  Over a meal of preserved duck eggs, sour vegetable and fish soup, egg and tomato soup, fried corn kernels and a local vegetable known as kongxin cai, Ida proclaimed: “I think these people come here because the food is very delicious.”

We got a room to ourselves, and proceeded to play mah jong.  I was getting pretty good at it.  When we got tired of that Alice and Ida borrowed my camera and took endless pictures of themselves while I read Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn.  The next morning my friends got up early to explore the place and then came to wake me up.  It was Friday morning and the place started to fill up.  We took a walk around the grounds – full of fruit trees in bloom and a spectacular view of the Jialing River and the district of Shapingba beyond.  There was a large pagoda with tables for mah jong along this route.  A group of older people were already hard at it.  We were curious about them, and they were a little curious about us.  We weren’t the average visitors to this place.  I asked one of the men, a Mr. Xu, why he was here.  “We’re here to honor our memories,” he said, and added, “We’re here to remember and celebrate our youth.”.  Mr. Xu is 58.  He said he and his friends go to different Peasant Happinesses every month.  He said they were teenagers during the Cultural Revolution, and were sent to work in China’s burgeoning natural gas industry.  Mr. Xu’s education was delayed ten years because of the Cultural Revolution.  However, he considers himself “very patriotic” and is proud of what he and his friends did for China.  Mr. Xu admitted that Mao Zedong made a mistake with the Cultural Revolution, but that he was still a great leader.  He went back to playing mah jong.  So did we.  I won three times in a row.

Later I went for a massage, a service provided on the grounds of this Peasant Happiness.  I attracted quite an audience.  The masseuse assured me that it could help me lose weight.  I thought, well, it sure beats exercise.

That night was the performance.  I counted on my friends to translate for me, but they had a difficult time of it because it was all in Chongqinghua, the local dialect.  The show began with the entire cast, all in Red Guard uniforms, singing popular songs of the time.  The audience was encouraged to join in on “All the Members are the Flowers Facing the Sun” and “A Song for Zhiqing” (“Young Members of the Community”).  The emcee for the evening said that the performance was meant to “remind us of the Cultural Revolution”.  The players chanted that the purpose of the Cultural Revolution was “to fight against the imperialists and to build China like Mao said.”

The performance went through the various stages of the Cultural Revolution.  There was an actor praising Mao but it was difficult for my translators to grasp.  There was a story of a young girl, forced to marry the feudal lord’s son because her father had no money for taxes.  There were scenes of “materialists” being punished.  One poignant scene was a teenage girl having to leave her parents to go work in the countryside.  An audience member walked up on stage and presented the actress with flowers.  Anytime an audience member was moved, they would go up on stage and give flowers to the actors.  Plastic flowers were provided in front of the stage.  I thought if there was one thing many of these audience members could relate to, it would be leaving their parents to be “re-educated” in the countryside.  The performance soon ended, with rousing songs and flags flying.  They marched through the audience.  And then the disco lights came down and there was a “dance party”.  We didn’t stick around for it.  I went back to reading about materialists and imperialists in Phineas Finn.


Karl Wu, who owns a bar in Shapingba, has gone to many Peasant Happinesses.  He was only a child when the Cultural Revolution happened, but he does remember that his parents sent him to live with his grandparents in the countryside because the situation in Chongqing was precarious.  Wu said he doesn’t agree with the politics of the time, but goes to these places because he wants to re-live his youth.  He said young people today don’t know the history of the Cultural Revolution, and they should.  He said Mao is “like a god in our minds.”  People don’t think of him like that anymore, however, he added.  ”It’s not to say he didn’t make mistakes, I’m not saying that, but he is the most important person in recent Chinese history.”

I contacted Dr. David Arkush, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Iowa.  I asked him if he thought it was weird to “celebrate” the Cultural Revolution in this way.  He said he could understand it because people have a need for nostalgia, and that was certainly what Peasant Happiness was all about.  In spite of the terrible things that went on during that time, he said it was a more innocent time.  There wasn’t the corruption that there is today, he added.  There wasn’t the disillusionment.  He said it was great for young people – they got to travel when no one was traveling.  They got to see some of China and to try new things.

Alice, Ida and I stayed until the next day.  We tried to get lunch, but Mrs. Luo said it was only for the groups that came and we weren’t part of a group.  So we left.  As we were leaving some of the workers there told us that we had been cheated badly – we were charged separately for our room and for meals, when everyone else just paid one fee.  This fee was considerably lower than what we had paid.   Laowai beware.  We took a bus down the mountain and back to our lives.

The Ryder, January 2013

BOOKS: James Joyce’s Day Of The Dead

A Latino Reading of Finnegans Wake ■ by Carlos Bakota

The Irish were the first Mexicans in the United States – at least, that’s what I tell my good friend John, a bartender at the Irish Lion.  Both of our ancestors were thought of as lazy and a threat to the culture and institutions of America.  This summer, after reading Gordon Bowker’s new biography of James Joyce, I revisited the novels and stories of this literary giant. In struggling through Joyce’s work, I was struck by the recurrent themes of colonialism and identity.

Dublin’s Joyce Statue, Known As “The Prick With The Stick” (Photo: David Pace)

But can we talk of Joyce’s dense, often impenetrable body of work—the work of an Irish author—and the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations in the same breath? The Latino celebration of the Day of the Dead is also important in Celtic myth. In fact, the Vatican incorporated All Saints Day from the Celtic traditions. There are indications that the Celts absorbed Egyptian and Phoenician as well as Germanic forms of early cultural practices.  Looked at from Joyce’s historical, transcultural and multicultural perspective, the dead were important to all ancient and modern cultures of the world. To fully understand the significance of both the Irish and Mexican relationship to the dead it is useful to keep in mind, as Joyce reminds us, the long history of our shared humanity.

Joyce’s work stubbornly rejects the 1900’s racist discourse of the occupying British when speaking of the “Irishman.” A line in Finnegans Wake reminded me of the Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes, who saw himself caught in a colonialist trap. To paraphrase: the European writer is born as if in the highest floor of the Eiffel tower; the Latin American writer is born as if in the core of the earth. After a colossal effort, he is barely able to peek out of the surface of the ground.

James Joyce in Finnegans Wake similarly wrote: “When the soul of a man is born in this country [Ireland] there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight –those that remain are destined to die or suffer spiritual decomposition.”

I don’t think I could have made my way through Finnegans Wake without first understanding the fairy tale of the Mookse and the Gripes, Joyce’s retelling of the Fox and the Grapes. In Joyce’s version the Mookse represents the British and Roman colonizers while the Gripes represents the Irish.  What is striking to a Latino reader is that the Mookse uses all of the same colonialist stereotypes that the British and Romans used to describe the Gripes, who is portrayed as an essentially one dimensional, lazy, worthless individual.

One possible moral can be found in the fact that neither the Mookse nor the Gripes can sympathize with the point of view of the other. This is the central problem in colonial societies and was the central problem until very recently in our country when Americans of color engaged xenophobic Americans in conversation.  It seems as if our country kept being swept back into the 1850s and the creation of the xenophobic, secretive Know Nothing Party. (When a member of the party was asked about its activities, he would reply, “I know nothing.”)

Most important is the fact that the Gripes refused to let the Mookse define who he was. Today, Latinos are empowering themselves by refusing to allow xenophobic minorities define who they are.

Joyce found that by leaving Ireland and working in exile, he could escape the identity imposed on him by the occupying British. Working within a larger transnational, multicultural, and fluid community freed him from the limiting constructs of both British imperialism and the nationalist Irish revivalist movements.  Those two forces formed the two sides of the binary opposition which disfigured clear representations of the Irish and the British.

In the British magazines at the turn of the century, the Irish were often characterized as Paddy, the brutish uncivilized ape. This racist discourse served to cover and justify the occupation of Ireland by Britain. Sadly, many Irish escaped to the United States only to find that the majority of Americans continued to see them through the old Irish-British dichotomy, lazy brutes, violent drunks, story tellers and jokers versus the industrious, religious (the true Protestant religion), civilize and sober British citizens.

James Joyce reacted unsympathetically to the nationalist revivalist movements in Ireland, viewing their conception of Ireland and Irish nationalism as backwards. Basically Joyce said “I am what I am today.” Today Latino are what they are now. We are a mixed group of nationalities with infinite shades of Latino-ness.  The vast majority are American citizens.  In the late seventies I would have had a difficult time writing that last sentence without some reference to the colonial framework. But today, demographics, social mobility and politics have changed significantly.  There are even plans to build a National Latino Museum in the Smithsonian Mall. Because of such rapid change on the national scale, the question of how to represent the Latino becomes more and more critical. In this context, Joyce’s rejection of a limited view of his own identity constructed by a dominant group becomes of greater relevance to the Latino community, as well as all excluded groups on the planet.

So Joyce, for all his genius, difficulties and his personal ordeals which are rather harshly presented in the recent biography by Gordon Bowker (who spends a lot of time on fornication and flatulence in the personal letters of Joyce) can easily be seen more and more as a political writer of sorts, a voice against racism and colonialism.  This may be a welcome turn away from the efforts to try to explicate his enormous, erudite, and complex works.

Junot Diaz, in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, takes Joyce as a sort of model to free himself from the constraints of the Eurocentric canon. Joyce’s influence on Diaz is obvious even without such aesthetic similarities. Diaz references Joyce in two of his works: once when a character is advised to become the Dominican Joyce, and another when a character enrolls in a university course on Joyce. Moreover, in interviews he has spoken of Joyce as a source of inspiration. The influence is clear. And there are a growing number of writers who, like Diaz, set their works within transnational frameworks, frameworks that shatter the self-inflicted, deprecating Latino stereotype so prevalent in American culture. Joyce’s reluctance to subscribe to the nationalism of turn-of-the-century Irish literary movements was due, in part, to his belief that they would be unable to escape their own romanticizing of a clichéd Irish past, one that no longer existed outside their own writings.

Now that Latinos are roughly a quarter of the US population and a major pillar of the Democratic party, and now that the GOP is slowly weeding out its half-threatening, half-condescending  Latino discourse, some Latinos are rethinking the colonial framework of their history and moving towards a framework  that would appeal to Joyce’s sense of justice: economic democracy.

Francisco Vazquez, a Latino philosopher at Sonoma State College, in the concluding essay of his book, Latino/a Culture, points out: “If America cannot move away from the exclusionary racist discourse of fear and xenophobia, it may signal the death of inclusive participatory democracy not only in our country but throughout the world.”

Joyce stated that his work was his personal attempt to escape the nightmare of history, and now the American people have a chance to escape the nightmare of American racism by finally recognizing the fact that Latinos and other citizens of color are as American as Taco Bell. James Joyce, for all the talk of his contribution to modernism, is still a potent voice against the nightmare of colonialism, racism, and fear.  Like Joyce, Latino writers have opened themselves up to transnational perspectives in which the individual can express who he or she is within a much broader framework than the colonial oppositions of a racist discourse. Latinos have been here for centuries and our realities and political and economic values and culture are made in America.  I am what I am because what I have been; this story of becoming is what Joyce was telling us in his own transcultural, deeply historical, experimental and wonderfully beautiful way.

The Ryder, January 2013

FILM: Top Picks From The Multiplex To The Arthouse

■ By Craig J. Clark

2012 had plenty to offer the discerning moviegoer, if only they knew where to look for it. Sure, there were plenty of flashy action movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, and such adventurous fare as Prometheus, Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi, but there’s more to the movies than big-budget spectacle (although I do count the crazily ambitious Cloud Atlas among my favorites of the year). In order to get a handle on the vast array of good-to-great films that came our way last year, I’ve separated them into categories. There are a number of films that I haven’t gotten the chance to see, though (like The Loneliest Planet, Django Unchained, Amour and Zero Dark Thirty), so this round-up is at best a work in progress.


Before he teamed up with Lana and Andy Wachowski to bring David Mitchell’s sprawling Cloud Atlas to the screen, Tom Tykwer turned out 3, his most stylistically inventive film since Run Lola Run, which follows the lives of two men and one woman, observing how they intertwine in unexpected ways. As confounding as those connections can be, though, they have nothing on the plight of the protagonists in The Turin Horse, which is the film Hungarian master Béla Tarr has chosen to retire on. An ultra-bleak drama, which Tarr co-directed with Ágnes Hranitzky, The Turin Horse recounts the hardships faced day in and day out by a cab driver, his daughter and their broken-down horse. Not an easy film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one that rewards those with the patience to see it through to the end.

It’s impossible to sum up the achievements of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation in a couple of sentences, but the one thing I will say about last year’s Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards is that its tightly constructed screenplay was robbed. (As much as I liked Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, its comparatively lax script can’t help but pale in comparison.) At the other end of the spectrum is Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, which is all over the map, but in a way that’s completely exhilarating. An unabashed love letter to cinema in all its permutations, Holy Motors is without a doubt my favorite film of the year, built around a virtuoso performance by the incomparable Denis Lavant. A Best Actor nod, as well-deserved as it might be, is probably too much to hope for, though. (Incidently, if you missed it at the IU Cinema you’ll have a second chance to see it in January when it returns as part of The Ryder series.)


On the horror front, Daniel Radcliff attempted to break out of the Harry Potter mold with Hammer’s The Woman in Black, which had atmosphere to burn but was a lot creakier than it needed to be. Much better was the genre-busting The Cabin in the Woods, which director Drew Goddard co-wrote with Joss Whedon (who had an exceedingly good year between this and The Avengers). A clever deconstruction of slasher-movie tropes, Cabin stands as a rebuke to those in the industry who think the lowest common denominator is something to aspire to. And while not every segment in the horror omnibus V/H/S worked, it was another reminder that Ti West (whose The Innkeepers sadly never made it to theaters here) is an up-and-comer to watch.

Cabin In The Woods


Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see all the documentaries that came through town last year (which means The Queen of Versailles and The Imposter are conspicuously missing from my list), but leading the pack was Oscar nominee Pina, which was Wim Wenders’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch, a daring choreographer who never stopped taking risks and pushing herself. That could also be said about the subject of David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about an 85-year-old sushi master and the son who’s very eager to take over the family restaurant. And family matters were also front and center in Ross McElwee’s Photographic Memory, which charts the acclaimed documentarian’s difficult relationship with his adult son while giving him the opportunity to explore his own past.


In the field of animation, 2012 was a very strong year, with robust offerings from Studio Ghibli (The Secret World of Arrietty), Aardman (The Pirates! Band of Misfits), and Pixar (Brave). It also brought us Czech animator Jan Svankmajer’s latest, the gleefully anarchic Surviving Life (Theory and Practice), which was screened as part of a retrospective of his work at the IU Cinema. And Tim Burton expanded his early short Frankenweenie to feature length using the medium of stop-motion (an improvement over his previous such effort, the listless Corpse Bride). The biggest surprise of the year, though, was Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, with its fully realized video-game world and well-developed characters. It’s also the strongest indicator of the influence Pixar has had on its parent company to date.


After a long absence, Whit Stillman emerged from the wilderness with his campus-set comedy of ill manners Damsels in Distress, which hopefully heralds a Terrence Malick-like renaissance for the much-missed chronicler of the upper crust. He was joined by Richard Linklater, who returned to form with the wickedly funny Bernie, which gave Jack Black his best role in years (as a beloved mortician who’s so charming, he almost gets away with murder). Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love was less substantial, but still enjoyable, and it was neatly counterbalanced by Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse, about the aspirations of less worldly individuals. When it comes to dark comedy, though, nothing this year came close to William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, his second collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts. Not a film for everyone (there’s a very good reason why it got slapped with an NC-17 rating), but its most infamous scene (involving a piece of fried chicken) will be talked about for years to come.


When looking for dramatic source material it’s hard to go wrong with Shakespeare, as Ralph Fiennes proved with his directorial debut, which transformed the less-heralded play Coriolanus into a dynamic war film. And with the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, fresh in people’s minds, I imagine Lynne Ramsay’s chilling We Need to Talk About Kevin is due for a reevaluation. At the very least, it should be more widely recognized that Tilda Swinton turned in a riveting performance as the mother of an unrepentant high school shooter. Failing that, if Rachel Weisz doesn’t score a nomination for her work in Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea, based on the play by Terence Rattigan about a love affair that’s essentially doomed from the start, we can officially declare the Academy completely out of touch.


Finally, we come to the place for directors with such singular visions that they transcend genre. The ever-industrious Steven Soderbergh delivered a powerful one-two punch with the ass-kicking Haywire (which re-teamed him with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, late of Kafka and The Limey) and the buns-baring Magic Mike (which Matthew McConaughey effortlessly stole out from under Channing Tatum). I loved Guy Maddin’s existential gangster fantasy Keyhole and Wes Anderson’s whimsical coming-of-age tale Moonrise Kingdom so much I saw both of them twice. And Japanese humanist Hirokazu Kore-eda continued his winning streak with the down-to-earth I Wish, about two brothers trying to reunite their divided family.


Unsurprisingly, the second half of the year was just as strong as the first. Newcomer Benh Zeitlin burst onto the scene in a big way with the Sundance favorite Beasts of the Southern Wild. David Cronenberg took on Dom DeLillo and the challenge of trying to get Robert Pattinson to act in Cosmopolis. Paul Thomas Anderson took on Scientology-by-proxy with The Master (which featured mesmerizing performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams). And David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook proved that you don’t have to be nuts to fall in love with a mentally ill person, but it doesn’t hurt.

I could go on at length about any one of these films, but I’d like to close by highlighting Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise, which was restored and re-released to great acclaim last year. For as great as 2012’s crop of films was at times, I don’t think any of them transported me in quite the same way as Carné’s 1945 classic. If you managed to see it when it screened at the IU Cinema, you should count yourself lucky. I know I certainly do.

The Ryder, January 2013

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