Have some taste

In which I try to define serious art and alienate Firely and Megadeth fans

My quest as a writer, and to a larger extent as a reviewer, reader, and participant in aesthetic culture, is mostly consumed with figuring out what distinguishes one work from another in terms of a very hard-to-define quality. Whether I am socializing around music, science, or science fiction, there are certain qualities that distinguish one fan from another and the reflection of those qualities in the works that we socialize around. There is some criterion by which I look at music, movies, television shows, short stories, and novels, that reflects its quality better than anything else, yet this criterion is not specifically related to execution of the story or music.  It’s often not a matter of skill, but of choices made by the artist of what to talk about, or what to take seriously.  It’s very hard to place, but I think I have arrived at calling it “taste.” Continue reading “Have some taste”

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Getting into Lovecraft

Reading H.P. Lovecraft requires, ironically, going beneath the surface.

h-_p-_lovecraft2c_june_1934
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937)

The stories of H.P. Lovecraft have a dedicated following in the Fantasy and Science Fiction community, and are canonical in Horror, along with Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s corpus enjoys a certain unity, which some might call repetition, unparalleled except in more recent authors who aren’t afraid to cite Lovecraft as an influence, or even hail him as a genius. The works of Stephen King and Clive Barker, for instance, have so many crossovers that readers often conclude each work is part of a larger whole, an entire fictional universe. Just like Stephen King’s fictional analogue of the state of Maine, Lovecraft’s work takes place in a New England of his own creation, with its own universities, towns, and publications.

These repetitions and allusions build up to a world that is haunting and creepy, but not because of what you might expect. We have to take a look at Lovecraft’s style of narration and the psychology of those narrators to really figure out why Lovecraft’s stories are indeed weird, enduring, and influential. Lovecraft’s stories get under your skin but not for anything on their surface. I have been reading At The Mountains of Madness for the past few days, and while I’m reading I don’t sit there thinking “oh God, I’m terrified,” or even “that’s sick!”

But I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that lurking in the corner is something whose terrible presence so chills me that I cannot sleep. To keep typing this blog post is so deeply against my nature that it may result in a complete nervous breakdown, terrifying my very soul and giving rise to the persistent thought that I should stop typing, delete my WordPress account, and drift into anonymity…but it’s a warning you all must have before you make the same regretful choices I have made. Oh, how I wish I had never opened the 2014 publication of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger with an introduction by Alan Moore, and published by W.W. Norton. Oh, the regret… Continue reading “Getting into Lovecraft”

How to Tune a Banjo

In which I alienate readers by talking about music… .

I’ve posted a brief video on a new channel, with a few tips on how to tune a 5-string banjo. If you’ve come here via search, enjoy the video and check out my other posts on books, movies, storytelling, and the writing process.

The take-away from the video is that if your banjo is too difficult to tune to itself then it needs to see a professional luthier experienced with banjos.

Let’s Get Serious!

In which I alienate Phish fans

What is it that makes readers connect? Sincerity and honesty. The kind of sincerity I’m talking about might be called being “serious” but as Alan Watts pointed out, the word “serious” has a sort of dry unfunniness about it, and that isn’t what I’m getting at. Fantasy literature in particular has this problem, much less than it used to, that it’s hard to take seriously a book about wizards and dragons. Ursula LeGuin seems to have eventually convinced everyone to take such books seriously, but not without plenty of books getting written to convince people otherwise. Wizards and dragons sound like childish topics, until you read Gene Wolfe, Stephen R. Donaldson, or dare I say Robert Jordan?

Continue reading “Let’s Get Serious!”

A man, not a god, wrote “Stairway to Heaven”

“Good artists copy, great artists take something anybody could have thought of and transform it into something no one has ever dreamed of.”

Jimmy Page early
Jimmy Page in the early seventies (Wikimedia Commons)

On Thursday a jury of eight of the rarest sort of people—those who’ve never heard the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven”—cleared Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of the charge of stealing the intro to the song from Spirit, a band that many more people have never heard of. The executor of the estate for the author of “Taurus” sued Page and Plant after a bunch of online comparisons showed up (look for them on Youtube). The plaintiffs did a lot of research and put a lot of effort into establishing that Page and Plant had heard the song before writing “Stairway to Heaven.”  I would love to see the transcripts, as both sides called expert witnesses to testify about the creative process.  They may have even proven that Page and Plant used the material from “Taurus” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t write “Stairway to Heaven.”

 

 

Continue reading “A man, not a god, wrote “Stairway to Heaven””