Here’s the first review for my new novel “Swing State.” Whoah! thanks to Library Journal.
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“Yell Boss” (Don Giovanni Records)
I just read “Doctor Sleep.” I still check in with Stephen King when his books materialize on the library’s new release shelf– this one finds the kid from “The Shining” struggling to overcome alcoholism as other demons, the supernatural kind, swirl around a psychic teen in a small New Hampshire town. I can safely file this tale in the “pretty good” column, not a book in which the protagonist winds up in a mystical, imagined land speaking a semi-phonetic language to vanquish a supernatural foe.
So yeah, Dan Torrance hits his rock bottom, and starts attending AA meetings. And there it is, plopped into an otherwise unassuming paragraph:
“He’d wake up thirsty and miserable—wanting—which wasn’t.”
Ol’ Steve has professed his love for punk rock many times over the years, but goddamn, Stephen King must be into Black Flag.
Pool-pissers everywhere might beg to differ, citing coincidence: after writing so many words, it’s a near-inevitability that the guy would say something, sometime, which sounded like something else. And that’s fine. I can see it. Maybe he managed to nail the chorus Dezzo (and, later, Hank) barked out so well because the lyrics draw from the particular well of human experience from which Stephen King has experienced, and so publically discussed. It’s possible.
But why would you want to warm up a pool like this? Goddammit, isn’t it more fun to think that it was an Easter egg dropped in there? Lord knows I do that sort of thing all the time – shades of blue, in my books, are bruise-colored; the biggest jerks are always names Richard Johnson. Nods, both.
“Yell Boss,” the new full-length by Black Wine, is a dynamic record, but not a record which relies solely on dynamics. Take “No Reason,” which starts off hammering down math for just long enough to trick you into thinking it’ll be a syncopated neck acher – and instead, a snaky lead as backdrop to drummer Miranda Taylor’s fuzzed vox. It’s a neat trick: the juxtaposition of parts and personalities winds up being more jarring and effectual than the intro duh-duh-duhduh threatens. Plus, you know, it rocks.
“Rime” trumps “No Reason” in terms of sheer whip-snapping oomph: the chug contained in the opening salvo “Komrades” is reprised, daring you to look up from your phone and headbang – to have fun, the way band obviously is, with their three-part vocal harmonies. Its heft gains velocity after propelling out of a weird, gentle feedback intro, vocals subdued and sing-songy, better suited to the nursery than the pit.
And to end the record, the tom-heavy verses of “Love Chain” form a backdrop for downright spooky Faith-era Cure guitar before the band gleefully pushes the atmosphere aside to bash out a kickass ascending two-ton figure. Then it ends. The song, the record. Over. Awesome.
I thought these cats were at the height of their craft even before the second-to-last song spun under the needle. Again: heavy, with great poppy vocals and Superchunk-y guitar leads straining through the din. Thing is, the prechorus rolled in, and a vocal line sent me back to age eight, driving around in the back of my parents’ Rabbit, listening to the radio. “No Time” – of course. The Guess Who. Bad rock critic!
But their cover, in my zillion subsequent listens, reinforces what I think is the overall point. The signifiers are all there, the little nods and full-throated howls to the band’s many influences. I remember the first time I saw them play, acoustic in a New Jersey basement—they played another song I know from driving around with my parents as a kid: “Windy,” by the Association. Of course, they nailed it.
Such is the way of Black Wine – each of the three band members brings their particular sonic palette and blueprint to the table, add their own contributions, sand off (or, to be fair, tack on) rough edges, and the alloyed final product is set loose. Sometimes the nods are there. And who the hell knows whether the bits that I’m hearing in there are intentional – maybe these cats don’t even like the Cure, you know? But I believe this band, and I trust them. And even if you’re peeing in my pool, telling me that they can’t possibly be as smart and musical and intentioned as I think, it’s more fun to believe. Especially now, when everyone is too worried about being cool and well-versed to actually like stuff. To be a fan. Fuck that. I’m in. And if you’ve got beef, I won’t invite you to listen to “Damaged” with me and Stephen King.
Michael T. Fournier
I’ve caught so much shit from the older generation for writing an installment of the 33 1/3 series on the Minutemen. How could I possibly know what it was like Back In The Day when I wasn’t there? The simple answer, of course, is (and always has been) I have no idea. All I know is “Double…
GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE
A Review of Hidden Wheel A novel by Michael T. Fournier
(Trade paperback; Three Rooms Press, 2011.)
By Francis DiMenno
This is an intriguing fiction by the author of the 33 1/3 series monograph on the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. It is a short novel which is, in essence, a mock biography of two artists. Of course, nearly all fiction is a form of mock biography. But, ultimately, a novel is also a machine for explicating a philosophy. Hidden Wheel might be of particular interest to fans of Philip K. Dick, and/or Don DeLillo (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Devotees of Dick’s dark, dystopic works such as The Man in the High Castle and A Scanner Darkly would be likely to relish the author’s narrative strategy, a series of brief, skillfully arranged, quasi-documentary chapters in which the story of an eclectic arts scene is reassembled from the point of view of a chronicler writing centuries hence. Admirers of DeLillo novels such as Great Jones Street would likely find an affinity in the subject matter of Hidden Wheel, with its wide range of arts world characters, each one concisely sketched.
Protagonists include the dipsomaniacal Max, a half-reformed graffiti artist turned gallery pro, and Rhonda, a semi-reclusive chess prodigy with a sideline as a dominatrix-for-hire who spends her life assembling fewer than a dozen enormous, autobiographical canvases. The side cast includes a tax-dodging old-money gallery owner and “micro visionary” named Ben Wilfork; a scene-making editor of an arts magazine who calls herself Lara Fox-Turner; Bernie, a drummer reduced to taking some very odd jobs in order to buy a new kit; and Amy, a fading bass player still trading on her one-time affiliation with a widely revered (and wildly reviled) novelty act called Dead Trend.
The broad theme of the novel seems to be the evanescence of artistic endeavor in a digital age–and the central narrative revolves around the respective fates of Max, the prolific and obsessively self-promoting minimalist, vs. Rhonda, the prodigy-genius whose lifespan-encompassing works take place on a far greater canvas. Max, the artist who floods the market with lazy, derivative work, considers himself a trendsetter to the very end. Rhonda, the capital-A Artist, is an ideological purist who is imperious and cold. The methodology of the novel partially mirrors its theme: the story is told with an ingenious collage of narrative techniques which in part replicate the subject matter.
Yet for all of its narrative inventiveness, this is also a novel which is grounded in the real world. Particularly interesting is its exposure of all manners of scams: self-promotion in the digital age; the marginally scrupulous business practices of arts promoters; the inside machinations of the media and its star-making machinery; and the venal strategies employed by corporate majordomos to promote dubiously “hip” brand extensions. But this is also a philosophic novel which gives the reader insights into the nature of the creative impulse; as such, it ought to be required reading for that class of artisans who also consider themselves cognoscenti, members of a select tribe known to marketers as “influentials.” This novel would also be of interest to those who want to know more about how such people operate and what really makes them tick. Hidden Wheel is not so much a hipster manifesto as a dissection of hip–we might even be talking about a new genre here, “meta-hip.” Three Rooms Press is an eclectic publishing house which has made a shrewd investment in what may well become an influential and pioneering literary work.