Earth from 35,000 Feet (Hex : Or Printing In The Infernal Method)
I seem to only get reading done lately while traveling, and while I recently praised the allure of train travel, airplane travel is also an opportune time to get reading done (though not nearly as romantic as it used to be). Air time is also a good hang time to step back (and up) and get a fresh perspective of where you lay in the scheme of things. This particular trip was from NYC to New Mexico by way of Dallas one way, and Chicago on the return. Hovering above the clouds was also the perfect environment to listen to a new album I recently purchased by Earth -- Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method.
I heard a track from it recently on KEXP and had to get the album. It appears I missed the Earth boat as after a bit of googling and a check of AMG I found out that Earth has been around for over 15 years (or 4.5 billion years depending on which Earth you are talking about). Earth is essentially Dylan Carlson, whose humungous guitar forms the curving backbone for the caterwauling metal juggernaut of noise. Earth is not your ordinary "metal" band. Even death metal is an understatement. It's dark yes, and violent enough to cause rivers to flow backwards with blood and lightning to burn a hexagonal hole to the core of the earth. This is a healthy violence, a necessary and cyclical rebirth, as necessary as the storms and erosion that form the landscape below me now, as vital to the American Landscape as Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Anyone remember the Toiling Midgets? That's the only musical comparison I can think of. Reverb so thick it will knock you off your feet or drop a barn on you. Notes sustained, delicately balanced, hovering on the verge of control, a tornado, never spiraling into decay but brooding euphorically in the ether, putting the "earth" in ethereal. The beat is a consequence, the drums a punctuating afterthought, pulling and pushing the thick notes into planetary motion, as sure as gravity, as sure as the sun, as sure as the earth. A well lubricated machine that grinds, hums and fucks (in the literal sense of putting a stick in the ground). Stick Earth in your ear.
With a guitar that is so omnipresent, vocals are not needed. And with the suggestive overtones and imagery the droning cacophony evokes, lyrics are not needed either. The titles say enough: Land of Some Other Order, The Dire and Ever Circling Wolves, An Inquest Concerning Teeth (which you can sample for yourself by clicking here) and Tethered to the Polestar. The beefy sound billows and builds, the sound waves pile and bunch up into a sustained sonic boom, exploding with harmonic light that refracts and hums with the underlying sustenance of a hive of droning bees. A sustaining dance with circling rattlesnakes in the devils bushes, provoking your own images, your own soundtrack to your life. The sound of pulling teeth. A pensive architecture with billowing bells and rock gongs tolling, toiling, sculpting hollow spheres and canyons, eroding, pulling order out of chaos. Punishing, pushing the envelope, broadening the sky, putting the sphere in atmospheric. This is the sound of Earth.
Get Earth From or from Southern Lord.
As I look around at the people in the airport and on this plane I am always reminded that we are just a bunch of monkeys trying to act civilized. Jess informs me that of the 2% genetic difference between us and chimps, most of this difference lies in the testes.
Another side note, why does most everyone (me included) crave Bloody Mary mix on airplanes?
While I was on the plane and in New Mexico I also caught up on some reading. I finished Dale Peck's Hatchet Jobs, which provides a good context for lit reviewing. His harsh and almost exclusively negative criticism gets attention in the same way that people are intrigued by Simon on American Idol. Maybe someone has to do it to keep things honest, but I don't see the point. If a book isn't worthy of being read, why read it (and all the other books by that author) and waste time finding what's wrong with it? Even a negative review will attract attention to the work. Sure, I guess you should know what you're talking about before you diss it, and if Peck is actually paid to do this, hats off. But for me life is too short to read and understand why a book is "bad" and I would rather put it down after 20 pages if it isn't doing anything for me, and spend more time on a book that is doing something. That's really all it amounts to in my book is that it either works or doesn't, and that depends just as much on the reader as the writer.
You also can't trust other writers that review, even as Peck says, "remember that a novelist wrote them, not a critic, and that novelists lie for a living." Not only do they lie, but they are blinded by jealousy. His hatred of writers like David Foster Wallace or Rick Moody makes you wonder if this means they are passing the jealousy test? If I had never heard of these authors I would probably be intrigued to check them out. Especially when Peck says things like "I hate Rick Moody's book, but there's always a moment in each one of them when I get mad at myself for hating them."
Maybe that's the point, maybe it's reverse psychology. But I'm not really sure why I decided to subject myself to these Hatchet Jobs. Then again, I couldn't put it down without finishing it. I guess, because of Peck's popularity, I was trying to figure out the audience that likes this kind of stuff. Perhaps people are just looking for material to reuse so they sound knowledgeable at literary shin digs. Or maybe it's just that people just want to be told what NOT to read rather than just read. And that's fine I guess to weed out the crap you know you won't like. But I think there's more to it than that. People want to see crashes more than they want to see the checkered flag. People watch hockey for the fights. That's human nature. Maybe it's the 2% in our testes.
All I know is when I am reading something that isn't doing anything for me, I won't waste any time with it. The nice thing about lit journals with a variety of works, is that you can easily just skip the stuff you don't like and discover writers you do. So here's some brief reviews of some lit journal I read in the hang time and what authors stood out for me.
Chicago Review 51:3 -- Peter Larkin's "Leaves of Roots," works for me because the language was alive and growing, implanting thought, morphing compost heaps of sentences in my head. But this could be because I have a personal fascination with plant morphology. Diana George's "Filzbad" was also engaging. Then again, I skipped most of the fluff that came off as "poetry" so if you want to read about CD Wright's "Rising, Falling, Hovering" I refer you to Silliman's Million Man Blog. If he says it's good it must be (if you are one of the silly million).
Land Grant College Review #3 -- for a lit journal that you can find in suburban B&Ns (when I was in Albuquerque I was given a B&N gift card. Really, I swear.) it's not half bad. I guess. And this time I don't have the boring poetry preferential excuse to fall back on -- it was mostly "stories" that bored me, all encased in slick craft-fair packaging that made the stories even moreso crafty or workshopped. Exceptional exceptions, the short piece by Diane Williams (that left me begging for more), Terese Svoboda's "Live Sacrifice" and Padgett Powell's "Solitude," though sentences in the latter, like:
Would be even stronger (for me) rewritten as:
Denver Quarterly, vol. 40 no. 2 -- lots of good stuff going on here, I felt honored to have my work between the sheets with the likes of Michael Boyko, Ben Lerner, Timothy O'Keefe and Kathryn Rantala. I had the privilege recently of a sneak peak at Boyko's entire Hour Set manuscript (of which an excerpt appears in DQ) and can't wait to see it get published in its entirety.
Fourteen Hills -- lots of strong prose here, packaged with more campy and prosaic craft-fair art (seems to be a trend with lit journals these days). Pieces that stood out:
* Brian Leary "On Failing to Pick a Lock"
* T.M. McNally "from the Goat Bridge" (made me want to read the entire novel)
* Joyelle McSweeney's "Bounce Pass"
* James Grinwis "Signatures"
* Joe Meno "Then the Savages Rise in a Small, Armed Conflict" (good longer story in the spirit of George Saunders)
* Alexai Galaviz-Budziszweski "Blue Magic"
* Stacy Doris "from Knot" (even though it's poetry, it works in visceral and liminal ways)
* Anne Germanacos "Boundaries". A morsel from this piece:
buffalo below the watermelons
House in Madrid, New Mexico
Window at La Guardia
over Brooklyn looking at Manhattan
Touching down in the Bosque by the Rio Grande
Billboard in Albuquerque
Exotic Junk Shop in Albuquerque
Marlin Million Buccaneer Pinball
If only NYC had the Frontier-- nothing beats green chile huevos ranchero and black coffee for breakfast
(c) 2006 Derek White