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Archive for the ‘music’ Tag

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Bawdy, excessive and slightly unbelievable are my first impressions of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl.

Set mostly in Wolverhampton, England, Joanna Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl going on 35 who is certain she has outgrown the life into which she’s been born. Joanna is intelligent, funny, overweight and practically exudes anguish since she is still a virgin; in fact, she’s never been kissed. There’s also an awkward, embarrassing moment when she’s on TV. So, she does what most teenagers attempt: she reinvents herself. This involves a new name and a career; that’s right, a career. As a music critic.

At first, Joanna, now known as Dolly Wilde, manages to remain true to herself while projecting a much more confident demeanor. However, the need to fit in eventually overwhelms her and her journey of self-discovery leads to predictable consequences – especially since it involves sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The Morrigan family relies on government assistance to get by. When Joanna innocently mentions this to a neighbor she worries this could mean an end to their life on the dole. This is, in large part, the reason she decides to pursue a career, so she can help financially. This, of course, means quitting school.

Moran’s writing is vivid, albeit at times also lurid. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to compensate for the exasperation Joanna/Dolly causes.

My initial reaction to the novel doesn’t change much by its end.

How to Build a Girl
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2014
341 pages

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Street Life   2 comments

While wondering at the necessity, I marvel at the kind of concentration and craftsmanship it takes to write a single sentence that makes sense and holds interest as it spans 12 pages rife with characters, each distinctly different, who share a common struggle against fate, karma, some elusive and nebulous hand manipulating a game board with varying designs and obstacles; yet this engaging contest in Michael Chabon’s most recent novel, Telegraph Avenue, is played with swagger and fear by men, women and teenage boys fighting to hold onto dreams while desperately needing to relinquish the realities of their colorful lives.

I lack the skill, and inclination, to take a 100+ word sentence any further. Chabon can, but that’s the least of his mastery. Set in Oakland, his story about two men who run a (old school vinyl) record store in danger of being razed to accommodate a mega urban renewal project is a tribute to friendship, music and, oddly, especially family.

The novel is drunk with sensory images. Consider: “At 9:45 a.m. the first batch of chicken parts sank, to the sound of applause, into the pig fat.” Or: “… the loose weather stripping that peeped like a gang banger’s drawers from the seams around the back door.”

The major flaw lies in the glut of characters; initially, it’s difficult keeping track of who’s who. Nonetheless, it’s clear everyone, from actors to midwives, is just trying to get by in life while a poor economy, outdated technology and children get in the way.

Telegraph Avenue
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2012
465 pages

Artistic Personas   1 comment

Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is more than an autobiographical look at the relationship between the two artists. It also examines life and culture in the late 1960s and 1970s.

I’m just young enough that Smith was never on my radar when I was growing up. And, I’m just old enough to be aware of the controversy caused by a retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work with the National Endowment for the Arts – long after his death. I might have skipped this book if not for a friend’s recommendation. I read it, and I’m glad.

Smith and Mapplethorpe met and lived together in New York City when they were  kids (twenty-year-olds) at a time when the underground music and art scenes were beginning to materialize. Their timing was perfect: she became part of the former and he part of the latter. Their paths crossed with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Todd Rundgren, Sam Shepard, Andy Warhol and many others.

Just Kids reflects the impressive strength of friendship Smith and Mapplethorpe created with one another. This is a love story, even though each went on to have different partners; it’s also Smith’s homage to her late friend and the era in which they emerged. Her voice is honest and unrestrained. It’s easy to imagine the romance of their early lives as they lived hand-to-mouth, meeting other up-and-coming artists all while discovering their own artistic personas.

Just Kids
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2010
283 pages

Posted August 26, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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