Monthly Archives: August 2016

The High Window (YGtCTO Words #16)

Book written by Raymond Chandler

Reading Chandler in large volume can be an overwhelming experience. I speak from personal knowledge as I just finished the first volume of his collected writings, containing all the short stories and the first three novels. I had read some before, but it gets to be like eating potato chips. You just go for the next one as long as the book is sitting there. In fact, I have felt at literary loose ends since completing the last novel. Volume 2 is sitting upstairs like a maiden aunt needing attention but maybe asking for more commitment than anyone in the house is up for.

Chandler may be best known for all the parodies of his hard bitten style. The combination of similes and interior monologue have pretty well defined the private eye mystery since Chandler began publishing. Through movies based on his books or that he wrote, the approach spread throughout the common cultural milieu. Other than Hemingway, I cannot think of another writer so universally made fun of.

Chandler came to writing late in life, finding success in pulps and then Hollywood. Throughout his life, he seems to have been determined to be his own worst enemy, chasing women and drink. Like Fitzgerald and many others, he set an example that has been a pox on young would-be writers ever since. The reality seems to be that he was able to separate his drinking and writing lives, such that the two did not intersect. Chandler worked hard and respected the words that he was putting down on paper. We can only wish he had respected his body half as much the rest of the time.

I rarely read short stories or novels more than once, so I find Chandler’s pull on me interesting in a navel-gazing way. His prose is powerful and his plots are interesting. The protagonists are mostly heroic with the ability to surprise. Phillip Marlowe proves to be a charming companion. But still…

Other pulp detective writers have failed to last in popularity or even in scholarly circles. Chandler probes moral dilemmas without the accompanying sense of pandering that ran through so many of his peers. Sure, the tales walk through the muck of life, but Marlowe proves a fair minded knight errant traversing the landscape of the dirtier corners of depression era LA. Marlowe’s code of chivalry hearkens back to the days of knights and damsels. Somehow Chandler tapped into his better angels as he probed the darker sides of humanity.

One interesting thing about smart discussions on moral matters is that our views change over time (both our lifetimes and across generations). Any interesting dissertation can provide fodder for meditation at those different junctions when our opinions change.

Maybe Marlowe was Chandler’s better angel, allowing the author to be the man he wished for himself. Perhaps the tougher truth is that Marlowe is that guide to our best behavior even under duress. If he can do the right thing facing his trials, then maybe there is hope for us.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 253 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

Black Coffee in Bed (YGtCTO Music #16)

Song written by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook
Performed by Squeeze

So the pitch is this- we’re going to take the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and put them in a virtual world like The Truman Show, except they’re intelligent like the gorillas in Planet of the Apes. We’ll get big stars to do the voices and then have the dinosaurs escape and discover they live in a world of people. I guarantee a busload of sequels. It’s going to be the next Matrix Trilogy, only better. And we can film it anywhere because of blue screen technology and CGI.

Or how about this? We have two great songwriters in a fantastic band that do creative arrangements topped by real singing with harmonies and stuff. They’re going to be the next Beatles.

This is how praise becomes a curse. We oversell because the people controlling the purse strings are so used to hyperbole that anything less feels like a disservice. More than that, strong words are always a challenge. Sure, Lou Christie is fantastic. Frankie Valli is, too. They both can be, but you only have the money for one or the other. Does “fantastic” mean anything anymore as a word? What if I said one of them was “really fantastic”? Obviously, that would be where you bet your money.

Difford and Tillbrook were the songwriters behind Squeeze though the rest of the group were no slouches. They were going to be the next Beatles. (They were not the first nor the last.) Nowadays, people might be looking for the next Beatles, but I doubt it. The Beatles had too much control and too many personalities to fit into modern corporate needs.

I could have gone with the one absolute standard that Squeeze created (Tempted) or that song that never leaves once you hear it (Pulling Muscles From the Shell), but I went with the epic mood swings. Like the Beatles and REM, Squeeze mined that deep vein of sweet music telling tragic stories. You always had to pay closer attention than most of the audience wanted- sort of like that shocking discovery that the biggest hit for the Police might not be the best wedding song ever.

Squeeze did not last and they never reached stratospheric heights. They have been relegated to the pop music attic where they are occasionally taken out and dusted off for a quick pass on display on the mantel before they are packed up again. To their benefit, they existed when music was recorded and we have the technology to preserve them, better off than those old traveling troubadours who wandered into the king’s palace and heard “why can’t you play like that guy we had in here last week?” (“Perhaps if you hum a few bars, I can try.”)

All things we do are in the shadow of our forerunners. We are doomed to comparisons. I think that, as consumers, we do ourselves a disservice if we allow the comparison to make our decisions for us. Everything must be viewed afresh (perhaps with lessons learned from past experience) but neither praised nor condemned for existing a little later.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 254 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

Empire of Light (YGtCTO #45)

Painting by René Magritte

It’s the middle of the night and the shapes in the shadows are playing tricks on my mind as I hover between wakefulness and sound sleep. Images coalesce from sense memories and random extrapolations of experience. When the fear of darkness is held at bay, and we can cuddle up to the weirdness at play in our field of dreams, I think we are staging our own surrealist shows. At least, I think it comes closest to being captured by some of the more way-out there visual artists.

Rene Magritte is certainly way out there, but he is too concrete to qualify as a false champion of dream stuff most of the time. You might disagree, but then your dreams are probably not like mine. The amazing thing about Magritte is his ability to take those half-remembered images and turn them into commentary and humor. Ultimately, he massages them into something fresh to populate our night time tales told to ourselves. I suppose that I am trying to say that Dali tried to capture what our dreams had been while Magritte creates images for our dreams to come.

Van Gogh is absolutely glorious, but there is something about his work that makes logical sense. There is a coherence of composition. Sure, you might not make colorful swirly backgrounds if you were painting, but once you started, then it makes sense to carry the motif through. The idea behind it seems almost comprehensible in a logical way. (Once again, you might disagree and decide that my state of mind is a little too close to Van Gogh.)

With Magritte, masterful technique is on display. His canvases positively glisten in person. The colors and layout capture the poetry of the visual. The question that comes to my mind most often is where did he get that idea? (Well, sometimes it’s more “where did he get the chutzpah?”) The Treachery of Images is simple in execution and seems to clamor for dismissal as a gimmick. But then it draws you in like a well that seemed so much more shallow above ground.

Magritte is that sort of artist that you either really like or you go “ehh, ok.” I don’t know how to tell someone that the subject is a rainfall of derby-clad men holding umbrellas and make that seem as wonderful as it is.

And that, I think, is where it gets interesting. You don’t make paintings as intensely realistic, completely personal, and well-crafted as Magritte’s work without investing a great deal of yourself in them. He is a great example of the artist being all in. Imagine hearing an explanation of what he intended to paint beforehand. He just had to make it first. He had to commit to that apple in front of that face.

Without that emotional and intellectual commitment (no matter how emotionally detached and intellectually playful the final work might seem), I don’t think Magritte becomes or remains the significant artist that he is. The demands on our brains by certain artists sometimes make us forget the heart that was opened and revealed before that brush was first dipped into paint.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 255 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.