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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Since finishing Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia a few weeks ago, I’ve had a hard time finding fiction to dig into; everything I’ve started has felt a little precious by comparison. (I cannot say loudly enough: you must read this book.) Instead, I’ve been getting my fix by weaving in and out of Always Apprentices, The Believer’s fantastic anthology of conversations between writers. The pairings for the conversations, and often the settings where they take place, are like something from a dream: Bret Easton Ellis and Don DeLillo catch up in a Louis XIII room in Paris! Wells Tower rides shotgun in Barry Hannah’s Jeep, and they skulk around together beneath the windows of Faulkner’s old house! What’s really moving here, though, is the way these writers talk about each other’s work and about the craft they both love. Even when the two are meeting for the first time, there’s intimacy in the way they speak that seems to come from a sense of being members of the same club.
And another set of conversations that have been inspiring me this month: the collaborative art being made over at Ten Paces and Draw. [http://www.tenpacesanddraw.
Desiree Andrews (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): My bother sent me a text the other day saying I had to watch The American Astronaut on Netflix. He called the black and white space musical “messed up and awesome.” Of course I streamed it right away. I should start off by saying that this movie doesn’t seem to be meant for women. Being a woman, myself, I found this a little hard to get over. There are very few female characters. The ones that do exist are either only defined by their sexual appetites or are actual objects (a “Real Live Girl” grown from a box, who is also solely defined by her potential sexuality). The main female character is known as “the girl with the glass vagina.” Maybe there’s a comment on gender politics that I’m missing but this film gave off a pretty “for boys only” vibe for my taste.
Putting the hyper masculinity aside, there are at least two scenes that make the whole movie worth watching. The first is a dance scene in a public men’s room where two men sing to torment the hero, trapped in a toilet stall. The second: a stark image of a mad scientist walking among the bodies he’s just killed. The bodies have all turned to piles of ash. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize that every scene has something pretty spectacular or utterly weird to offer. Although I’m not sure how this film hung together as a whole, it was definitely a better use of my time than watching all 26 episodes of The Killing.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): Brilliant guitarist Django Reinhardt, whose first name literally means “I awake” in Romani, grew up in the Romani camps near Paris in the 1920s and received his first banjo-guitar when he was twelve. Luckily for jazz lovers and music aficionados, Reinhardt was hooked. He explains, “Jazz attracted me because in it I found a formal perfection and instrumental precision . . .” In the 1930s in Paris, he played regularly at le Hot Club de France with his Quintet that included fantastic violinist Stéphane Grappelli. They continuously enchanted audiences with tunes like their 1930s zippy version of “Tiger Rag” or their swingy 1937 “The Sheik of Araby.” Perfect music for sitting out on the porch or terrace with a little glass of cloudy Pernod or an iced lemonade.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): I’ve been listening to Milk Music’s debut LP, Cruise Your Illusion, ever since my brother passed it to me last month. Our childhood friends Joe Rutter (drums) and his younger brother Alex Coxen (guitar and vocals) make up one half of the quartet. I’m clearly biased, but about halfway through the first song, I forget I’m listening to former Trick-or-Treating allies and enjoy the album for what it is—a skillfully crafted piece of rock.
Growing up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest does something to a musician; it breeds a sort of nostalgic punk aesthetic and lends a grimy lilt to the tightest of melodies. It encourages a mixing of genres. The members of Milk Music are scholars of music. They know their influences and they honor them with a sincere lack of irony. Drawing on its punk predecessors, the Olympia music scene (past and present), and of course, Neil Young, Cruise Your Illusion is a solid album that warrants multiple listens.
And here’s a link to their site: http://www.milkmusic.us
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I have not been the most fascinating consumer of culture this month, but I can tell you this: Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers is so far so authoritative, unexpected, and compelling—my favorite in my early reading of it is a scene in which the narrator happens upon a couple in a bar and just stays with them throughout the evening as it expands and moves from one place and crew of people to another, and it captures so perfectly the way these nights can occur when you are at a certain age, a certain unfetteredness, naivete and openness, and maybe a certain sheer foolishness and bravery too.I feel as if a lot of people were recently talking about the BBC series Call the Midwife, and I have not yet watched it but have been reading the book, choosing for some reason to do so when I cannot sleep in the middle of the night. Sometimes it soothes and sometimes it doesn’t, but what it demonstrates, again and again, is this unalloyed truth: inventing birth control is probably the single best thing the human race has ever done. When I read an account of these women in 1950s East End London held hostage to baby after baby and think of the Republicans trying to actually take it away, it makes me want to tear someone’s face off. See, now I won’t sleep tonight, either.