Friday, December 26, 2008

On New Order's "Run"

"Answer me," begins New Order's "Run," the song that threaded itself through my head during my last months at my old job. "Why won't you answer me?"

I liked New Order as a teenager; 1989's Technique (on which "Run" makes its home) was the last album of theirs to hold my interest. Now that song was in heavy mental rotation, as it never had been before, outlasting all the theoretically more exciting youngbloods. I want to find out why.

In 2006, things were going downhill at the office and everyone knew it. People were jumping ship at alarming rates; more alarming was the number forced to jump. "Run" isn't quite an office song—not the way Fountains of Wayne's "Hey Julie" ("I've got a desk full of paper that means nothing at all") or the Modern Lovers' "Government Center" ("a lotta lotta lotta nice desks and chairs, uh huh!") are explicitly about the joys and terrors of the workaday word.

But "Run" was my theme song, and I didn't even know what it meant. It has the virtue of being intimate yet ambiguous, and the music is a thrilling mix of guitars and machines. Even the title is up for grabs: a directive to flee, or simply to hit the treadmill? The lyrics are among the most potent in the New Order canon, admittedly a songbook in which much sounds tossed off (a trait I admire).

Maybe it takes fifteen years of not hearing the song—of being swept along by the airtight weave, or not thinking about it at all—but "Run," I'm realizing, is a horror story of sorts, an incident of amnesia in the corridors of power: "I don't know what day it is or who I'm talking to." It's not far from there to the land of This is not my beautiful house/This is not my beautiful wife. "I can't recall the day that I last spoke to you." A guitar figure just this side of sour tears through it all again and again. There is tremendous violence—and freedom—in this line: "You work your way to the top of the world/Then you break your life in two."

The epigraph to Personal Days comes from "Run"; that last couplet seemed appropriate for a book in which the brutality of downsizing was dramatized in the broken structure itself—the voice changing, dramatically, twice.

The penultimate verse seems to hold a measure of hope—"I haven't got a single problem now that I'm with you"—but do we believe the speaker? (The last line, tellingly, is "What do you want me to believe?")

I'm getting the sinking feeling that the singer is talking to a ghost—or the singer is a ghost, just like in New Order's story-song "Love Vigilantes."

Without giving too much of Personal Days away, I'll just say that the idea of the ghost in the machine is significant, if not central to the novel. Quick sample from the book: "Our machines know more than we do, Pru thinks. Even their deficiencies and failures are instructive...."

New thought about the title: Is "Run" a command for a computer—or from one? And what is the program?

—from Book Notes at Largehearted Boy, July 2, 2008

Video directed by Robert Frank:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Authors Pick the Best"

A massive graphic novel called "Bottomless Belly Button" -- I'm not going to tell you who wrote it, because that was part of the experience -- arrived in the mail incognito, and the cover didn't name the author, or at least not in a way that was immediately legible. I opened the book and did not recognize the style -- scratchy, intimate, sad. (Later I would learn that I had indeed seen some of this artist's work online, but I didn't make the connection at first.) I read on and tried not to read too much, tried to savor this familiar yet odd chronicle of nuclear family meltdown, with one of the members -- the artist's stand-in? -- depicted as a frog. I wanted to ration "BBB" like Charlie Bucket does with his chocolate bar. I couldn't help myself -- I kept reading, small revelations everywhere, thanks in part to this accidental anonymity.

—Louisville Courier-Journal

"Books We Love"

A single page of Don Paterson's collection of aphorisms, "Best Thought, Worst Thought," contains enough philosophical conjecture, elegant bile, and cold hard truths (or facile lies) to power three regulation-length novels. The misanthropy on display here alternates with humor, or simply merges with it ("You've made a blog ... Clever boy! Next: flushing"), making for irresistible sampling. Some of the aphorisms read like surreal microfictions ("Sex is better in dreams as the prick has an eye"), others like entries in a journal intime. Just when he has you chuckling, he'll whip out a line that reads like a freshly translated fragment from a distant epoch ("Imagining the worst is no talisman against it"). You get the sense that Paterson both stakes his life on every sentence and wants to distance himself from it almost before the ink has dried, and these impulses give the book its perfect rhythm. As he puts it, "A style is a strategy of evasion."


"A Year in Reading"

covercoverReviewing two very good rock and roll novels - Martin Millar's Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me and John Darnielle's Master of Reality - I finally cracked open Lewis Shiner's Glimpses (1993), an amazing, sustained performance, which I savored over the course of a month or two - the chapter as nightcap. In contrast, I basically inhaled the University of Chicago Press's three republished Parker books by Richard Stark. They came in the mail one day; I opened up The Outfit, just to see what it was like (I was very busy and had no time for pleasure reading), and read into the wee hours. A few chapters in, I realized I'd started with the second book in the series, but it didn't matter. There was simply no stopping me. After it was over, I read The Hunter and The Man With the Getaway Face. Now I'm just waiting for spring and the next batch of reissues.

—The Millions, Dec. 11, 2008
A Year in Reading: Ed Park