Sunday, February 28, 2010

Song for Sunday

Bowerbirds – Northern Lights

Band/artist of the week: Efterklang
Song of the week: Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore – Something, Somewhere, Sometime

Efterklang's new album Magic Chairs was released this week and it is excellent. Hence the large number of plays on Geography of Hope's iPod this week. If you want a preview there is a fantastic live set of four songs here and you can find out more about all the songs on the album here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Misplaced childhood

My father told lies all his life and, because
I knew no better, I repeated them.
A lie about my father... A son's version of the truth...

John Burnside's memoir about his father is a brilliant, but brutal account of what it was like for him growing-up in the fifties and sixties in Cowdenbeath and Corby. As well as being a liar, his father is a drunk and a bully who is singularly ill-qualified for fatherhood, even by the standards of 1950s Scotland.

A Lie About My Father covers the time from John's birth to his early twenties when his dad dies. It is tough going – his dad burning his teddy bear at six, his mother bundling him out of the bedroon window late at night to avoid drunken beatings, the broken arm from a holiday in Blackpool that goes undiagnosed for three weeks, the teenage obsession with fire-lighting – but not at all gloomy. He seems to cope remarkably well with his lot and there is a complete lack of self-pity or wallowing in his predicament. Like millions of other teenagers he survives with the help of books, music and a complete rejection of his father's principles.

Of course, however, it all takes its toll and as the book ends he is diagnosed with mental illness, hospitalised and losing himself in serious drug abuse from which it takes him a decade to escape.
When they warn you about all that bohemian stuff, they always talk about the seductive properties of alcohol, or drugs, or loose morals, but they never say how seductive falling is, what a great pleasure it is to be lost. Perhaps they don't know. Perhaps only the lost know. Far from home, far from the known, the imagination starts to play beautiful, terrifying tricks on us. Maybe it is the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom which is just another word for a certain kind of crazy. Being lost, being crazy: while I was falling, I knew I was on to something. I knew I wasn't anywhere near there yet, but I also knew that I couldn't get there from where I was.
His recent memoir Waking up in Toytown covers this lost decade and his escape into suburbia of all places. A Lie About My Father ends positively and, although I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, it is safe to say that he isn't going to repeat the mistakes his father made.

P.S. What is the difference between memoir and autobiography? I couldn't really have told you until recently, but according to Diana Athill (in issue number 7 of the consistently interesting Five Dials) the two have diverged recently and autobiography is the official, public version of events while memoir is the private version. Thus the key to memoir is that its success or otherwise depends on how true the account feels to the reader. A Lie About My Father certainly fits this description.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Song for Sunday

The Twilight Sad – I Became a Prostitute (acoustic)

I almost put the official video up late last year, but it is a bit rude and definitely NSFW. (I could just see myself clicking on it by accident and having a bit of explaining to do to the IT police. Not that I would look at my own blog or update it or anything like that at work ...)

Band/artist of the week: Land of Talk
Song of the week: Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore – Something, Somewhere, Sometime
(Click on the link above, download the mp3, enjoy. My pleasure. Don't mention it.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Things We Didn't See Coming

Maybe I wanted to love Steven Amsterdam's Things We Didn't See Coming too much. Unfortunately I finished it feeling that I should have enjoyed it more than I did.

The nine chapters (or are they actually short stories?) are inventive and disconcerting, challenging and constantly surprising; all set in an indistinct, post-apocalyptic future which at times seem temporally near, but at others extremely distant.

Initially it looks like we are in for an alternative reality, starting with a Y2K millennium panic that really does go bad, but then we start skipping through the twenty-first century glimpsing nine snapshots of lives that seem to reference what has come before but how it is hard to tell. The connections between the stories are too tenuous or not there at all and I was left lost and a bit puzzled by each subsequent one. The book group questions on his website suggest that all nine stories are narrated by the same person, but this doesn't feel right to me – it just doesn't make sense or ring true.

Individually the nine stories are all great pieces of writing – thought provoking and haunting in many places – but regrettably the holes and gaps and disjunctures meant that I couldn't believe in it as a complete narrative.

I do love the cover design: simple, but powerful and intriguing. And his website is a great example of how a you can make the most of a tiny marketing budget to enhance and promote the book. Just don't click on the What are you so worried about? link.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Song for Sunday

Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can't See Land

New album The Winter of Mixed Drinks is out on March 2 ...

Band/artist of the week: We Were Promised Jetpacks
Song of the week: We Were Promised Jetpacks – Quiet Little Voices