My photo
Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Sunday, January 31, 2010

L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être

Milan Kundera (récemment dans les actualités de nouveau à cause de son passé apparemment collaboratrice avec le service secret tchèque) a avec L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être un bouquin très difficile à décrire. Très bien, mais très difficile à capter. On y trouve des nouveaux chapitres tous les deux pages. La perspective change entre quatre caractères parfois racontant le même incident et un narrateur qui se réclame d'être l'auteur lui-même. De plus le roman traite au moins deux sujets majeurs, c'est d'abord un décrit du printemps de Prague en 1968 et la répression des intellectuels après mais au même temps une narrative philosophique sur les humains et les relations amoureuse entre eux.

Tomas n'est pas seulement un docteur qui souffre de ses (peu d') actions politiques mais aussi le compagnon de long-terme de Tereza qui n'arrive pas à vivre sans elle mais la trompe constatement. Tereza est une photographe de la rue et des manifestations et la femme qui se pousse dans la vie de Tomas, qui souffre énormément de ses infidélités sans qu'elle peut se laisser de lui. Sabrina est la légèreté, la concubine, jamais la compagnon; Franz est la pesanteur, jamais l'amant, toujours le mari.

J'ai beaucoup aimé les monologues intérieurs et philosophiques de ces caractères. Je ne sais pas si on peut retirer beaucoup de leçon du livre (les êtres humains sont très différents? la vie est vain? ainsi l'amour? les régimes autoritaires ne sont pas bien?). Mais je crois que d'un certain sens c'est cela le message, qu'il n'y en a pas nécessairement.

Ma citation favorite du livre (qui au contraste de ce que je viens d'expliquer clairement prend position et est un message):
"Elle voulait leur dire que le communisme, le fascime, toutes les occupations et toutes les invasions dissimulent un mal plus fondamental et plus universel [...]. L'image de ce mal, c'était le cortège de gens qui défilent en levant les bras et en criant les mêmes syllabes à l'unisson."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The European Union's Strategic Partnerships

In case any of you guys need an update on what the strategic partnerships of the EU are up to. Not the most exciting read of all times maybe, but it was interesting to research and write and even if I'd prefer to do more of my own analysis I felt it was a valuable exercise.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Carl Smith

Looks like this might be becoming a habit. Just two days after Bobby Charles, Carl Smith died in Nashville. I'll be honest enough to admit not knowing much about him, but I like his music. He was June Carter's first husband and it is one their solos which I recommend as one of his best songs: Time's a wastin'.

NY Times

Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull

"Es ist ein etwas leichtsinniges Buch, dessen Scherze man mir zugute halten mag" meinte Thomas Mann zu diesem, wohl halb bewußt ohne zweiten Teil gehaltenen, Roman. Er erzählt die Geschichte eines jungen Mannes, der das Schöne, Reiche und Edle liebt; das Hässliche, das Durchschnittliche nicht goutiert. Da seine finanziellen Umstände zu wünschen lassen, Felix aber durch sein blendendes Aussehen und ein Talent zum Verkleiden zum Hochstapler wie gemacht ist, ergreift er rechts und links die Möglichkeiten die sich ihm zu seinem (de facto) gesellschaftlichen und finanziellen Emporkommen bieten. Ein seltsames Buch, inklusive einer seitenlangen Abhandlung der Ursprünge menschlichen und tierisches Lebens, ein Erzähler beschönt und sich verkaufen will und ein Leser, der am Ende nicht weiß was ihm eigentlich genau gesagt werden soll. Es erscheint kaum eine moralische Verurteilung des stehlenden und verführenden Krulls zu sein, auch die Gesellschaft als solche fällt als Ziel Manns Spottes wohl aus in diesem Fall. Vielleicht sollte man das am Anfang stehende Zitat einfach wörtlich nehmen und den Roman als amüsantes Lesematerial betrachten, welcher beim Lesen zwar beschäftigt und vergnügt, aber keine weitergehenden Lehren beinhaltet.

Bobby Charles

I don't usually do obituaries, especially not for people whose life my knowledge is rather limited of, but Bobby Charles seems like a good enough exception to begin with. Most of you will most likely be tempted to ask who Bobby Charles was and I'll respond that most (if not) all of you know at least something about him. Namely his biggest (only?) hit: See you later Alligator. Now of course this song was covered by Bill Haley and in that (by far worse) version became famous, but Bobby Charles' version is not just better he also penned it himself. What is astonishing about Charles' version is that it sounds black, like Rhythm and Blues, not like the white Rock and Roll that was emerging as popular with Bill Haley and later Elvis around the same time. Chess records actually signed him unseen, having assumed he was a black artist after listening to him perform the song.

Bobby Charles never became a Rock and Roll star, but he became a prolific songwriter penning quite a few classics of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues. But I do for Clarence 'Frogman' Henry and Walking to New Orleans for Fats Domino for example. He also kept on recording, producing a beautiful self-titled début album (check out Street People off of that album), even recording some Cajun-tinged country sides in the 60s. Finally, he came out with a beautiful album in 1999 containing one of my favorite songs of these last few years: I spent all my money my loving you (I cannot find this in a streamable version sadly enough).

He passed away last Thursday. He should (and will) be remembered.

NY Times
Times Picayune

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Top 10 of 2009

I'm obviously quite late in comparison to most other best of 2009 lists, but in all reality I would have preferred to do this list even later. How can I judge an album after only having listened to it once or twice and cursory at that? This list might look completely different in a few months then, but I tried anyway:

10 - Beausoleil - Alligator Purse
Even while also Americana, this is to some extent and outlier on this list. A truly appealing Cajun album, with an absolute killer, the French/English Bobby Charles cover 'Spent All My Money Loving You'.

9 - Levon Helm - Electric Dirt
No, this is not on the same level as the 'Dirt Farmer' (but then what could feasibly be?). Yet, it is a good album and Levon Helm covering one of my favorite Muddy Waters titles (You can't lose what you ain't never had) is a sight to behold (well, you know what I mean).

8 - Wu-Tang Clan - Chamber Music
The Wu is back. Even if it might sound surprising, they are quite simply still really good. Not even that there is anything extremely outstanding, just another confirmation for me that these older guys are quite simply better than their Hip Hop successors. On a related note, there are only two rap albums on this list. I am not sure whether this is a reflection of my age or the state of Hip Hop today, that is up to the beholder I guess.

7 - Wayne Hancock - Viper of Melody
Honky tonk music from 2009. Sounds quite incredible I know. Yet, that's what Wayne Hancock does and he is real good at it. His topics don't really change, neither has he innovated a lot since Thunderstorm and Neon Signs, but then why change a winning formula?

6 - Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
Dylan. Again. Even coming out with two albums in 2009, one of which is an actually listenable Christmas album! Together through Life is a blues tribute album really. There is only one non-Dylan composition (a collaboration with the (dead) Willie Dixon, but the Chicago Blues Spirit can be heard throughout and while an unusual Dylan album I really liked it.

5 - John Fogerty - The Blue Ridge Ranger Rides Again
I often (well, sometimes) wonder with regret what John Fogerty would have done inbetween his decade-long hiatus from the music industry after having been sued for plagiarizing himself. As the title implies this really is a return to this solo-act roots debut The Blue Ridge Rangers. Another wonderful album of his.

4 - BK-One - Rádio do Canibal
The highest placed non-Americana guy on this list and the only semi-non-American one (I should maybe branch out a bit more, but then there is simply so much good stuff already). BK-One basically produces Brazilian-tinged beats and has guys like Brother Ali rap over them. Works really well I found.

3 - Justin Townes Earle - Midnight At The Movies
This guy is without a doubt my young discovery artist of the last few years. Another beautiful melancholic album (why is good music of literature most often sad and pensive). He is his father's son, he (luckily) never knows when to shut up.

2 - Steve Earle - Townes
The father (still?) before the son. Playing songs by the guy he named his son for. I love Steve Earle. I adore Townes Van Zandt. I didn't like this album on the first run through. I've listened to it repeatedly by now and it seemingly becomes better every time I listen to it. At first I only enjoyed the first disc (which includes band-backing), by now I also find the second disc (with just an acoustic guitar) amazing. This guy has really become one of my most favorite musicians alive and kickin, I hope he won't let up this kind of quality anytime soon.

1 - Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi
Finally, a true gem. I would not be able to tell you whether Mr. Toussaint has had even one big hit in his life (Southern Nights maybe?), but he has been instrumental for the development of New Orleans RnB like no one else, as a compositor, an arranger, a producer, a musician. His new album (I only have two others anyway) is nearly exclusively instrumental and simply great. It cannot be overheard or in any case I seem to be incapable to reach that point. Some of the songs are well-known classics (St James Infirmary), others I didn't know (but might of course very well be such classics as well), but if you like music of any kind you need to get this album. If you know who Professor Longhair is and what New Orleans means to rhythm and blues ever more sos.

Not yet heard often enough/honorable mention:
Buddy & Julie Miller - Written In Chalk
Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt II
Booker T Jones - Potato Soul
Brother Ali - Us
Kris Kristofferson - Closer to the Bone
Loudon Wainwright III - High Wide & Lonesome
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel - Willie and the Wheel
The Flatlanders - Hills and Valleys
Wax Tailor - In the Mood for Life

Older editions:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell (whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair btw, in case you didn't know, I found out only just now) seems to me one of those authors who is virtually synonymous with his best-selling novel, 1984 in this case. It has been a long time since I read that dystopian vision of his future (and our past I guess), but I had also admired Animal Farm when I read it as an adolescent. Additionally, Down and Out in Paris and London seemed to be a good precursor to my move to Paris, so...I picked it up on my dad's shelf.

Orwell describes his life as a menial worker in France and as a tramp in England (in the areas surrounding London). It does not seem to be quite certain, whether he inadvertently tumbled into such a dire financial state that he was forced to lead that kind of life, or whether he exposed himself voluntarily to it in order to obtain a glimpse to a world which would otherwise be closed for him. In either case, the novel (is it even a novel?) is written very prosaic, Orwell is not one to impress with convoluted phrases, thoughts or ideas, yet this seems to fit his subject matter more anyway. The book is a very good read, what is problematic is that it's a very journalistic work, one which doesn't necessarily contain a lot of lessons or information on today's world. It offers a snapshot of poverty in Paris and London in the 1920s. Nothing more but then of course nothing less.