Monday, July 23, 2007

books: Harry Potter wraps up

I realized Friday night that if I didn't read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows immediately I'd be exposed to spoilers from sick and twisted people with no lives (aka Dementors that suck the joy of life). So I walked the dogs down to the local bookstore at 12:30am and bought a copy.

Man. It doesn't quite have the power and tenderness of the scenes with Dumbledore at the end of book 6, and lacks the near-perfection of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It has a ton of "Harry shouted" reported speech (though not his endless ALL-CAPS whining in Book 5). No matter, it's a brilliant, exciting, packed, rich end.

At the start I used Wikipedia to remind me of plot points from book 6 and characters from earlier books, risking an errant spoiler, but soon gave up and just plowed through. Which Weasley is Charlie? Is Slughorn good or bad? The books need a special online companion that lets you search the entire series from the start up unto as far as you've read and no further.

J.K. Rowling's pacing is all over the place, the characters spend weeks doing nothing between breathlessly intense scenes. I'm not sure why, as the book doesn't need to be tied to the flow of the terms at Hogwarts.

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Saturday, July 7, 2007

music: big men sing of heartbreak

I'm a sucker for big man laid low by the power of love. You expect women to write of such things, but when a rocker does it, he's compelled to craft a solid, ultimately uplifting song so as not to come across as a tearful whiner. To me the original is Led Zeppelin's Going to California from 1971, where Robert Plant torturously emotes
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems. ...
Going to California with an aching in my heart
(supposedly written about Joni Mitchell).

Steve Perry's Street Talk (another gem from 1984!) has some lovely aching ballads despite overly glossy production, including "Foolish Heart":
Foolish heart, heed my warning
You've been wrong before
Don't be wrong anymore

I'm feeling that feeling again
I'm playing a game I can't win
And this of course is reminiscent of "What a Fool Believes" by a master of the genre, Michael McDonald. From inside the underrated Doobie Brothers, he wrote a string of heartsick songs, climaxing in the desperate, great "Real Love":
Darlin, I know
I'm just another head on your pillow
If only just tonight, girl
Let me hear you lie just a little
Tell me I'm the only man
That you ever really loved
Well we've both lived long enough to know
We'd trade it all right now
For just one minute of real love
I have his first two solo albums, and he pens even deeper depths of misery, such as "That's Why":
Look back loneliness, you won't see me behind you
Hey now emptiness, no more leading the way
Go on desperateness, I don't need you beside me no more...
That's why, I won't be down very long
That's why, I'll be all right from now on
But he needs at least the memory of a hard-rocking band to make this bearable. It's easy for it to descend into "in the cabin of my BMW, I laid down and wept" sentimentality (that's my line, I'm saving it for my group). Or as Elvis Costello put it in a 1986 interview:
Two types of rock 'n' roll had become bankrupt to me. One was 'Look at me, I've got a big hairy chest and a big willy!' [obvious reference to Robert Plant] and the other was the 'Fuck me, I'm so sensitive' Jackson Browne school of seduction. They're both offensive and mawkish and neither has any real pride or confidence.
True, Elvis, true, but put them together and a hairy-chested big-willy man sings of love, and it can be magic.

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art: upcoming religious pilgrimage to Serra

Richard Serra at MOMA, can't say no. I saw experienced his work at Dia:Beacon, first a room with a boat-like presence packed into it, and then the former train dock with three giant torus shapes. It's just you in a room with some heavy-duty steel plate, but it's intense, primal, serious joy."Union of the Torus and Sphere" Richard Serra sculpture, picture by diana saragosa
©2005 diana saragosa, used without permission (I tried to contact her!)

That boat hull (Union of the Torus and Sphere, article) was the most intense marriage of art-in-space I've had the fortune to feel, along with Damien Hirst's dual sectioned cows in vitrines spread diagonally across a room (Some Comfort Gained from the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything) at the Sensation show. (And any encounter with a Rothko, gazing into a canvas the size of a man, suffused with pure emotion.)

I already know what it'll be like. Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker describes what I will feel better than I can.
At the same time, the work is poignant with reminiscences of the two centuries past. As an affair of big, rusty things without practical use, it evokes derelict ships, locomotives, and heavy-industrial factories. It also recalls times when miracles of human invention were still spectacular, like the Brooklyn Bridge, rather than spectral, like the Internet. More generally, Serra conserves a battered modernist confidence in the collective genius of experts, a priestly class that confers meaning and direction on society. Hardheaded secular culture can make no greater claim to spiritual efficacy than it does in this show, appropriately housed in the high church of the twentieth century that is MOMA. The measure is the childlike feeling which the work rewards, a sense that the world’s order and progress are being seen to by sensationally competent adults.