Thomas Pynchon and Billy Joel

When you write a post about Thomas Pynchon and Roy Orbison, I suppose you can’t be annoyed when only six people read it. (And I thank you). But, I mean, it’s Roy Orbison.

Here’s a 40-page essay about The Crying of Lot 49 written by Edward Mendelson at Yale in 1975. (Just to show you I know how to have a good time).

One of the things going on in Lot (now see, that’s probably intentional, too) is a message about muted communication. Is communication futile, or is fiction? Is revelation muted in the world of “ones and zeros, twinned” or is the dampened horn (again, on purpose?) a stand-in for a certain kind of expression? Had Pynchon foreseen the world we live in now? Was he warning us about the eventual, inevitable, impotence (the muted horn) of mass media?

I may not be thinking so much of these horn symbols if I had not heard Billy Joel talking about the composition of “Christie Lee” last night on, of course, satellite radio.

“There’s a lot of clever stuff in there. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of that one.”

Let me tell you a story
About a woman and a man
Maybe you will find familiar
Maybe you won’t understand

The man’s name I don’t remember
He was always Joe to me
But I can’t forget the woman
She was always Christie Lee

He was working in a night club
That’s where he played the saxophone
He used to fake to stock arrangements
He left the customers alone

But one night before the last song
About a quarter after three
He saw her standing at the coat check
And made his move on Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee

She was a nice piece of music
She had a rhythm all her own
He blew a solo like a blind man
She really dug his saxophone

She wanted more than just an encore
And he could play in every key
He left the stage and packed his alto
And he took it home with Christie Lee

Oh I heard the man knew “the Bird” like the bible
You know the man could blow an educated axe
He couldn’t see that Christie Lee was a woman
Who didn’t need another lover
All she wanted was the sax

It took a while for him to notice
It took a while for him to see
He was never in control here
It was always Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee

Oh the man took a calculated gamble
Yes the man had the power to perform
But Christie Lee was more than he knew how to handle
She didn’t need him as a man
All she wanted was the horn

hey say that Joe became a wino
They say he always drinks alone
They say he stumbles like a blind man
They say he sold his saxophone

Even the band must face the music
That’s what the moral is to me
The only time you hit the high note
Is when you play for Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee….

I’m just old enough to have bopped around the basement to the Innocent Man LP when it was new. Another track, “Keeping the Faith,” describes the whole project. Billy Joel is not mired in the past, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love it:

 If it seems like I’ve been lost
In let’s remember
If you think I’m feeling older
And missing my younger days
Oh, then you should have known
Me much better
Cause my past is something that never
Got in my way
Oh no…

etc.

Synchronicity is a key theme in Lot. It’s also the name of a Police album whose most famous song is about obsession. We can stop there for now.

In Dreams (The Crying of Lot 49)

I’ve been looking forward to finishing The Crying of Lot 49.

I’m not someone who cares very much about being hooked by intriguing plots. One of my favorite books, The Sun Also Rises, is mostly about people going to cafes.

The Crying of Lot 49 spends four chapters piquing my interest in a potentially sensational plot, but chapter 5 is a slog. Shame on me.

The chapter is partly a dream sequence, but it gets to be too much. I start suspecting that I’m about to be had, and that this plot, now that it’s something I care about, is not going to pay off. You’ve got me very, very interested in the promise of some centuries-spanning conspiracy about who controls the mail (of all things), and then you grind things to a halt by building deftly crafted nods on looping city bus routes into something so off-puttingly ponderous that I wonder if I’ve just finished the book 50 pages before it’s over because, I mean, come on.

But the effect is brilliant in a very precise way. See, the first four chapters of the book are quick. They’re not quick in the sense of slight or spurious, but what I mean is that they move. Chapter 5 does not. It slows everything down. It distorts time. It’s a morass that takes far too long to get through. It’s an incredible trick, and I’m certain it’s intentional. It’s very much like sleeping and very much like dreaming. It’s a slog, and it’s too much, but it’s annoyingly well-done.

Something I’ll take with me from this particular dream is the idea that miracles are the intrusion of one world into another:

“You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world’s intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there’s cataclysm.

This is Milton. This is the Gospels of Mark and John. This is true.

Milton’s Nativity Ode is all about the intrusion of heaven into history and the breaking of temporal strictures and the fleeing of the idols in the presence of eternity. John talks about the Word becoming flesh. For Mark, everything is immediate, everything has equal weight (the weight of exceeding urgency), and everything is coming and everything is here.

Speaking of miracles. Roy Orbison:

(A follow-up post…post!…here).

Medleys

Happy Thanksgiving from the Cocca Internet Array.

Two kinds of medleys on my mind. The vegetable kind, for obvious reasons, and the musical kind. I was playing with a chord progression/strum pattern just now, and decided that “We Are Going to Be Friends” and “Rock Around the Clock” make an excellent medley (play them both in G).

“We Are Going to Be Friends” is also a prequel to “Thirteen” by Big Star as far as I’m concerned.

Enjoy having all of those songs in your head today. I know I will.

On Made Mistakes and Making Them

Twenty years ago, Charles Baxter named the unsettling traits of America’s then-adolescent “culture of deniability” and what its “dysfunctional narratives” meant for politics and fiction.

I recently read “Dysfunctional Narratives: or: ‘Mistakes Were Made,’” the first essay in Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House. This collection on the craft of writing was published in 1997, which means the discussion about who, precisely, is to blame for the prevalence of what Baxter calls a culture of deniability in politics, life, and fiction (he thinks it’s finally Nixon), was written before Bill Clinton parsed the manifold definitions of the word is. Certainly, his warnings about the passive language behind statements like “mistakes were made” have not been heeded in what passes, now, for the exchange of moral and political ideas emanating from centers of institutionalized power. That said, there’s an absolute brilliance to Baxter’s synthesis of the mores native to what wasn’t, after all, the end of history.

(Read the rest on Medium).

Where to Submit Short Stories in 2020

“In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you’ll dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it to the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.”

-Ernest Hemingway

It’s romantic, maybe, or idealistic (perhaps), or naive (probably) to think that getting published was so much easier back then. Fewer literate people, after all. No MFA programs. No teeming ranks of well-read, well-educated, would-be writers, all very talented, all very good, all very hard-working, all with great ears. All dulling their instruments, all competing. It must have been, after all, a matter of picking the right Parisian cafe. Ford Maddox Ford, Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein…they would have championed your work, too, if you’d been around then.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume we’re all very dutifully dulling and sharpening our instruments. And after?

Every Writer has a very good top 50 list here. I’m sad to note that since this list was created in February of this year, both Tin House and Glimmer Train have ceased to be.

I’m not sure what to make of this contraction. Certainly, there is no shortage of good work in the submissions queue. It could be that most of the people who read literary journals are people who want to be published in literary journals, and that we’re so busy, after the writing, with managing the massive numbers game of getting published that we have very little time left to support the market. I don’t think that’s it, but it’s interesting to think about. Of course we buy the journals (although we can’t afford to buy all of them), and of course we pay the submission fees.

And it’s only two journals. But they’re two of the most celebrated. They’re two that consistently appear on everyone’s list. And they’re two of the more recently-established heavy hitters.

It’s a little disheartening. But, thankfully, there are still plenty of whetstones.

Alright. Back to work.

90s B-Side: I Will Believe

Noel Gallagher had a habit of writing great songs that most people (at least in the US) never really got a chance to hear.

This one’s called “I Will Believe.” It’s not on Definitely Maybe (I listened to that album about 100,000 times) but it’s on the recent deluxe release. I love how you can hear the exact moment it becomes an Oasis song (as 00:23 becomes 00:24). And Liam’s voice! Some of the stuff they cut leading up to Definitely Maybe but never properly released could chart right now.