September 23, 2013

Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line.


Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury

"The room was blazing hot, he was all fire, he was all coldness; they sat in the middle of an empty desert with three chairs and him standing, swaying, and him waiting for Mrs. Phelps to stop straightening her dress hem and Mrs. Bowles to take her fingers away from her hair. Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line, and his voice went out across the desert, into the whiteness, and around the three sitting women there in the great hot emptiness.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
In melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, 
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems 
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So curious, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Mrs. Phelps was crying.
The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered with her display. She sobbed uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken."
(pp. 96-7)

September 14, 2013

He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water.


Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury

"He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact."
(p. 5)

September 12, 2013

Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time.


Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

Questlove names at least 299 tracks throughout the course of the memoir. I know because I wrote down every single one and then tried to find them on Spotify. I only found 299; there were 10-12 (about?) tracks that were not listed. And that's also not counting the albums he mentioned, and all of the songs within those albums. I am only one person, after all. So ya. A lot of music. Super enlightening. I think most of the people who read Mo' Meta Blues will appreciate it differently, having been more familiar with the genre. I was just really excited to learn something new.


"And so that's how it goes. I keep moving through time and time keeps moving through me. And through that process, life takes shape. The question is what shape it is. I'm not the first person to ask this question, or to see how absurd it is to think there's a real answer. Maybe life's a circle. Maybe what goes around comes around. Maybe there's karma and an account ledger that balances off all debts and credits. Part of me believes that: the part of me that remembers that my drums are circles, that turntables are circles. But drumsticks are straight, and there are times when life seems like an arrow that goes in one direction and one direction only, toward a final target that might not be a final reward. Part of me believes that, too: the part of me that sees the "dun" in undun, and that believes that the story of that record, the life that ends before it's properly told, the life that has to unspool in reverse to exist at all, is the more common form of life. Music has the power to stop time. When I listen to songs, I'm transported back to the moment of their birth, which is sometimes even before the moment of my birth. Old songs, rock or soul or blues, still connect with me because the human emotions in them, whether jealousy or rage or hope, are recognizably similar to the emotions that I'm feeling now. But I'm feeling all of them, all the time, and so the songs act like a chemical process that isolates certain feelings at certain times: maybe one song helps illuminate the resignation. Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time. Drummers are time keepers. Music conserves time and serves time, just as time conserves and serves music. I think I have to believe in circularity, even if I know that the arrow's coming in on the wing. I think I have to cast my lot with cycles, and revolution, with the Beach Boys' "I Get Around" and Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" and James Brown's "World Cycle Inc." Will the circle be unbroken? That's not the only circle that's a question. Every circle is. Lines are statements. Arrows are especially emphatic statements. They divide and they define. They count up and count down. Circles are more careful. They come around again. They overthink. They analyze. They go back to the scene of the crime. They retrace their steps. That's where I end up, definitely maybe, always circumspect, always circumscribed by questions, by curiosity, by a certainty that I need a certain amount of uncertainty."
(pp. 271-2)

They were making loud music, putting it into a space where there had been no music before.


Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

"At the same time, though, I wrote that manifesto to fax over to the Source, which means that I thought that there was a principle at stake. It's still a principle, I think, and it's still at stake. Just recently, I was talking to a book editor about hip-hop. "Right," she said. "Is that the period where rappers were talking all about how they wanted to rape and beat women?" At first I bristled at the characterization. Then it hit me that I see hip-hop in much greater detail than most people. I've devoted at least half my life to it, so I'm connoisseur even if I don't always think of myself that way. Pick any era and I can retrieve a vast array of awesome thought-provoking hip-hop artists who were genuine political thinkers, artists who were genuine comedians. A more casual observer will only see what's put in their face. That was the problem with hip-hop in the Biggie era, and it's the problem with what passes for hip-hop now.
In general, I don't like to blame the creators. They are making work that appeals to them and the people in the room with them. They are making something that is, at some level, genuine. But the distributors, the networks that bring art to the population, they are the ones who ensure that there's a flattening and narrowing. The younger me may have sat up all night with bandmates raging against Puffy or DMX or whoever, but the fact is that they were never the problem. The problem was that someone in the corporate chain of command felt that there was a need to play those songs fourteen times a day and to eliminate alternatives."
(pp. 152-3)

"As I started to enter this alternate world of sound, where human error was perfection, where warmth and organic playing mattered more than precision, my relationship with D'Angelo became more and more central to my work. We had started work on his next album, which was now named Voodoo, and I knew I wanted to see that through to the end. The Roots were a dicier proposition, especially after Illadelph Halflife stalled, like its predecessor, after three hundred thousand copies. That's when Rich had a brainstorm. He decided that since we had a new label president--we had been transferred to MCA, still under the Geffen umbrella but a different part of the company--it was time to make some new demands. He told the label that we had simple needs: we wanted them to spring for a bunch of jam sessions at my house--I had my own house by now, a modest place on St. Albans in South Philadelphia--and two fifteen-passenger vans. We hired a chef to cook the best food, and that was the siren song that started bringing people in. Before I knew it, there was round-the-clock music: singers, musicians, MCs.
Some of the people there were from the Roots, but most weren't. Most were normal people who aspired to careers in entertainment. All were welcome. And so the next thing you know, the girl who worked at Jeans West wanted to sing. That was Jill Scott. The pizza delivery guy, Jamal, thought that maybe he'd take his turn on the microphone, too, because he had done some singing, and he thought he had something to contribute. That was Musiq Soulchild. The little teenager up past his bedtime, wailing jazz songs out of his mind, was Bilal. The stripper girl was Eve, who was still calling herself Eve of Destruction. A friend of mine visited from Atlanta and brought a girl with a guitar, and that was India.Arie. Jazmine Sullivan was there, ten years old but with the voice of a grown woman. Common was there. All of this was unfolded in my living room in South Philadelphia in the late nineties.
It was a madhouse. People were milling around outside, waking up the neighbors, playing loud music until all hours. But it wasn't people playing loud music on boom boxes or stereos. They were actually playing it on guitars and singing with microphones. They were making loud music, putting it into a space where there had been no music before. By the seventh week, I was calling the police to say "There's a disturbance at 2309 St. Albans." Just to get some sleep, I was calling the cops on myself! But when I think about that time, the most amazing thing is how many of those artists made it. There were at least eighteen record contracts in the room, and at least nine of the people who became recording artists ended up bigger than us. And yet, it was an indisputably magical time, a kind of rebirth. If hip-hop had died at the 1995 Source awards, I felt like something new was being born on St. Albans."
(pp. 154-5)

"I laugh so hard at those shows now. I have told Jimmy a million times that when we get to our thousandth show, we should air the first practice episode. Now we have such a perfect rhythm, almost telepathic, but back then everything was awkward in the extreme. Plus, Jimmy was dealing with pressures from the other side; I remember watching the way Lorne walked around the set pointing at things, and thinking how anal retentive he was about every little detail. He didn't like the cuts of the intro montage. He hated the curtains. He wanted certain lights to point in a different direction. At the time, he seemed like a fussy uncle; it didn't really occur to me that he was a guy who had run a late-night empire for almost forty years. As it turns out, those fixes weren't just minor details. They were major improvements. The difference between what the show is now and what it was in practice is vast, and more than a little was due to his initial detail mongering. Lorne used to say that the average late-night show didn't really catch on for about four years. It took us about a year."
(p. 147)

"We went back to work the next day. We asked permission not to wear our suits, to wear Michael Jackson-related stuff instead. I got my T-shirt company to make me a quickie shirt, what I call Helvetica in Harlem, that had the six names of all the brothers. Other members of the band wore leather jackets and studs. Erykah Badu joined us in New York to sit in with us and we spent the day making sandwiches and trying to come to terms with Michael's death. And we played his songs on the air. Usually, they would be too expensive to use, but there is special stipulation, a death memorandum, that grants a 48-hour grace period where songs can be used for a standard rate for news purposes. I don't know if the full weight of the loss hit me then, or later, or if it has hit me yet. It wasn't that I expected him to make more great music, necessarily. I figure that with everyone who's designated a genius, especially people of color, has an expiration date. But Michael was so woven into the fabric of my life that it was painful and also unthinkable to have him suddenly gone."
(p. 253)

She thought that a father was just supposed to do those things for a child without asking for something in return.


Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

I loved Questlove's memoir. Great person who's had a pretty incredible life. I learned so much. I don't know too much about hip-hop, so it was a learning experience and I still feel like I need to go & listen to all of the songs he referenced, familiarize myself with them, and then reread the book to get a better understanding of him & the genre. (Though have to say, I'm at least a little familiar; I've seen him DJ twice and The Roots perform once on Jimmy Fallon and had a blast all times.) More excerpts to come, but the one below resonated with me because it reminded me of my dad. We've mostly had a good relationship but we disagree on certain things and he holds grudges. He hasn't been speaking to me for the past six months due to an argument we had (one we've had many times before). It's far too complicated to even begin to explain, but essentially the most recent argument came down to the below. He thinks we owe him because he was a good father, because he stayed with my mom (and us) when he (presumably) did not want to stay with her. Makes no sense to me. I didn't ask to come into this world. I am grateful to my parents, of course. Will always be grateful. They were/are good parents. But I thought it weird he felt we also owed him for doing the things a father should do. And I don't feel I owe him for my own personal accomplishments. Anyway. It's easy to feel sometimes that you're the only person in the world going through something, and it's comforting to realize that someone out there had a similar experience.

"That insecurity spilled over to the way he treated his kids. My sister wanted to act, but she ended up in the family band instead, partly because my father controlled everyone with such a tight grip. I felt it firsthand. After I got my advance for Do You Want More?!!!??!, my father came to me and told me that I owed him. I was confused. "You owe me," he said, "for all those years in private school, all those lessons. I sacrificed for you. I want a cut." I gave him the money, but it broke my mom's heart to see me handing it over. She thought that a father was just supposed to do those things for a child without asking for something in return."
(p. 127)

September 07, 2013

If you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.


Why I Write
By George Orwell

"Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned, and saw, under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in Modern English:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account. 

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit 3, above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrase 'success or failure in competitive activities.' This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like 'objective consideration of contemporary phenomena' -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyse these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes."
(p. 110-1)