03 September 2006

On music and words

A few more holiday snaps for you.

My two favourite albums this year are The Avalanche by Sufjan Stevens and Moo, You Bloody Choir by Augie March. As I was searching for hyperlinks to them, I discovered a curious connection between the two. Sufjan has undertaken a project to write a tribute album to each of the 50 American States. He managed two for Chicago, the first being Illinois, which led me to The Avalanche. Illinois is an amazing album, it's a poetic symphony, and that ain't no hyperbole.

The Avalanche has a track on it called Saul Bellow (not one of the best mind you), but it turns out he is an author who wrote a novel called The Adventures of Augie March. Apparently, it is an example of bildungsroman. You have to hand it to the Germans, their language has a je ne sais quoi. Consider schadenfreude. Let me get back to you on Saul Bellow, I will try and read some.

My favourite novel is The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, published in 1961. Fittingly, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1962. I have read it at around ten times. It was a text for highschool English but I didn't appreciate it then. Ten years later I found myself reading The Grapes of Wrath by chance, which I found profoundly affecting at the time. (The music of Woody Guthrie really made sense!) Afterwards, I read nearly all of Steinbeck's oeuvre and came back to The Winter of Our Discontent. I consider it his finest work. It is the story of a man struggling with conscience and responsibility, but the protagonist, Ethan Hawley, is a mirror to his nation. Steinbeck is an expert at dealing with emotion, from the lowest to the highest, and The Winter of Our Discontent gently reaches the summits of human emotion. I highly reccomend it.

The second time I read The Grapes of Wrath, I really didn't enjoy it as much; but when I was about halfway through it I found myself having a long phone conversation with an Aussie dairy farmer about the minutiae of his life. Over sixty years later the struggle was the same. It was all there: the attachment to the land, the endless cycle of toil for bare financial reward and the close knit family. Steinbeck knows people. The Grapes of Wrath is a difficult book for highschool students, according to my sister. Teachers should use Woody Guthrie's music to stimulate interest. Okay, I admit I always wanted to be an English teacher!

To complete this post, I am hanging out for Sufjan Stevens to release his tribute to California, as much as the one for New York. If you haven't heard his music and want to check it out then search for him on elbo.ws. If you haven't been there before, it is great site that searches all the music blogs for whatever you like.

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