Monday, December 5, 2022

Christine McVie

So, I was sorry to hear the news about Christine McVie's passing. She was my favorite of the many talented singer/songwriters who were part of that protean group Fleeetwood Mac over its many years. If I had to pick a single song of hers as my favorite, it'd be "Homeward Bound", from BARE TREES (1972) -- which, not coincidentally, is my favorite of their albums.

Second place wd probably go to "Brown Eyes" from TUSK (1979). The album is a self-indulgent mess* but this song, where she was backed up by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, stands out along with a few others.

 I got to see her once (this wd have been around 1984), when she was performing in small venues in places like Milwaukee in support of her solo album, which stays in the memory as pleasant. In those days I was deeply interested in rock music's version of the phenomenon that I have since learned is called Theseus's ship. If something is in continual use, and is repaired and maintained  throughout that time, so that at what point it consist entirely of replacement parts, is it still Theseus's ship at that point? Or, in the rock n roll version, in rare cases, a group would be stable, with the same line-up of the same personal). More often a long-lasting group will be ever-evolving, so that the line up would change over time: Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Starship were typlical examples.  In some cases an old group continue to tour without a single remaining original member (there was a point in the early seventies in which there were two rival versions of Fleetwood Mac on tour). 

In any case, McVie's passing has put me in the mood to, in the words of Bob Seger, "take those old records off the shelf; I'll sit and listen to them by myself". I think over the next few days I'll be listening to all the Fleetwood Mac albums I have on vinyl (plus one on cassette and two I only have on cd):

 

THEN PLAY ON (the standout tune here is the blistering "Oh Well").** when they sounded like Santana before there was a Santana.

KILN HOUSE (for which McVie did the cover art). back in the day when they did Buddy Holly covers.

FUTURE GAMES (a transition album; an uneasy combination of Danny Kirwan and Bob Welsh)

BARE TREES (dominated by Danny Kirwan; their best album of them all)

MYSTERY TO ME (dominated by Bob Welsh)

HEROES ARE HARD TO FIND (still v. much Welsh's band)

FLEETWOOD MAC (the first of the albums made by the classic line-up most people think of when they hear the name 'Fleetwood Mac: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, & Stevie Nicks. second in sales and reputation only to the follow-up, Rumours)

RUMOURS (one of the best-selling albums of all time and the high-water mark of their career)

TUSK (Buckingham's folly: a rambling hodge-podge that proved Rumours was a hard act to follow.)

LIVE (essentially a live album of the concert tour to support Rumours, plus a few others, like Beach Boys cover "Farmer's Daughter")

MIRAGE (going through the motions)

TANGO IN THE NIGHT (more of the same)

SAY YOU WILL (something of a comeback for the group: Buckingham/Nicks without Christine McVie)

--So there it is: not a complete discography, but a lot of music on a dozen albums, plus a few solo efforts (two by Kirwan and two by Nicks, in addition). I'm grateful the Christine McVie for the songs we have thanks to her that we wdn't have otherwise.

--John R.


*It's one of those albums that proves just how hard it is to do a worthy follow-up to a best0selling career-defining album; the Eagle's THE LONG RUN is another example.

**Here are the lyrics to Green's little ditty:

Can't help about the shape I'm inCan't sing, I ain't pretty, and my legs are thinDon't ask me what I think of youMight not give the answer that you want me to
Now when I talk to God I knew he'd understandHe said "stick by me I'll be your guiding handDon't ask me what I think of youI might not give the answer that you want me to"
Oh well.


Saturday, November 26, 2022

the Day After Thanksgiving cat report


 


It was a very busy day within the store, with a fair number of customers (and dogs) that increased throughout the shift. I’m glad to report that our cats who encountered dogs when out walking went on alert but held their ground. We even had one dog make a stress-mess  on the floor outside the cat room, much to the cats’ incredulity.

We currently have eight cats, in four bonded pairs, mostly black:

BINGO & BONGO

ELANOR & IRWIN

SEVERUS & ONYX

BLOSSOM & BUTTERCUP

Of these BONGO had the first walk. Last week he didn’t go far, doing the step-step-plop, step-step-plop, and so forth. This week he went all over the store, walking up to everyone and rubbing against their legs, wanting attention. 

By contrast, BINGO refused to leave the room, much preferring the cat-cave. I meant to go back at the end of shift and give her another try but ran out of time, so it’s be great if someone cd give her some extra attention.

ELANOR and IRWIN outdid themselves in being goodwill ambassadors, venturing all over the store, walking up to people and asking to be petted. Be warned that Irwin is showing great interest in doors, particularly the store’s front door to outside. Clearly he remembers doors from his earlier days as something you walk up to, sit down, and wait for a human to open. As for toys, I think the laser pointer was their favorite. It was a hoot watching them slipsliding around in pursuit.

As for the four kittens (SEVERUS & ONYX, BLOSSOM & BUTTERCUP), we didn’t have any walks here but the gray and black pair had a grand time chasing each other and sampling all sorts of toys (she finds a toy and he claims it). As someone observed, they don’t mind being picked up but don’t like being held. It was hard getting the Onyx/Severus pair to come out, and when they did they at once began exploring and looking for interesting hiding places.


That’s about it, but I have to add how glad I was to see the people who work at PetSmart being so attentive of our cats. At one point when Bongo was walking away from the checkout line where he’d been laying on the charm, I heard the person at the register explaining to the customer in line about bonded pairs. It’s nice to know they’re rooting for the cats too.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.
—John R.


Friday, November 25, 2022

Kuang's Dilemma

 

So, I was queried in the comments (Hi Paul W) to the effect that using a header like 'Something Kuang got right' implies there are other things she got wrong. It seems like my response to that is better treated in a post of its own (hence this) than in a comment.  --John R.

  

re. 'Something Kuang Got Right'


It wd be more fair to say I disagree with her than that she got it wrong.

 

A key fulcrum in the book is the hero's dilemma: if you find yourself part of a repressive regime, one that you've come to feel is a force for evil in the world --such as the British Empire during the Opium War of the 1830s, is it 

 

(1) better to stay in the organization and work to change it from within

 

or

 

(2) rebel against the group, acknowledging "the necessity of violence".

 

In Kuang's book the hero vacillates between these two poles for the first half of the book before committing himself absolutely to one of these options  throughout the second half.

 

A secondary point I wd have expected her to make more of was the issue of collateral damage, but it's a relatively minor concern.

 

 

As a pacifist, I'm not sympathetic to "the necessity of evil".  I think violence shd not be our starting point but our last resort. Hence I struggled with this book.

 

--John R. 

--current reading: THE ROOK

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Something Kuang got right

So, I found a lot of things about R. F. Kuang's BABEL problematic. In retrospect, I shd have kept the book's subtitle, THE NECESSITY OF VIOLENCE, front and center when reading the novel. But one thing I whole heartedly find myself in agreement with are the closing words in her introduction:


"Some may be puzzled by the precise placement of the 

Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel. 

This is because I've warped geography to make space 

or it. Imagine a green between the Bodleian Libraries,

 the Sheldonian, and the Radclilffe Camera. Now make

 it much bigger, and put Babel right in the centre.

If you find any other inconsistencies, feel free to 

remind yourself this is a work of fiction." (emphasis mine)


In short, she has followed Pullman's example of basing a story in Oxford but changing some things so that the Oxford described in her book does not correspond in every particular with its real-world counterpart: she alters things as needed for purposes of the story.

--John R.

--Happy Thanksgiving, all


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Lembas is Cornbread

 So, about a week ago I picked up RECIPES FROM THE WORLD OF TOLKIEN by Rbt Tuesley Anderson (Thunder Bay Press, 2020). Tolkien cookbooks and Middle-earth recipes have been around for a long time; I was curious to see how this one handled the balancing act of what to leave out and what to put in, given that Tolkien includes some New World ingredients in his Middle-earth works. Despite the examples in LotR and H (potatoes, tomatoes),  it's disconcerting to see Anderson's claim that lembas is a kind of cornbread.  This he justifies as follows:

According to The Silmarillion, Lembas is first made by Yavanna,

 the Valarian queen responsible for all things that grow on the earth, 

using a special corn that grows in Aman. It is therefore likely that 

Lembas would have been similar in texture and appearance to a 

deliciously comforting cornbread (.54)

This they back up by listing a cup of cornmeal alongside a cup of flour in the list of ingredients (.55).

--It seems pretty obvious here that the folks who put this book together didn't know that in UK usage, which we have no reason to doubt Tolkien follows,  'corn' refers not to New World corn (maize) but is a generic term for grain in general (e.g. wheat).  

As for the claim that maize grows in Valinor, my memory has a vague recollection of a line about 'corn-lands of Numenor' but a quick search of THE SILMARILLION failed to turn it up. 

Cram, by the way, is mainly made of oats (.52).

'Dragon Eggs' (their version of deviled eggs) is described as having 'Chinese-inspired flavors' (.35), which seems to me rather to break the book's premise.

I think they're on much more solid ground when they ascribe Gollum a sushi dish ( .90-91), though I'm doubtful re. Smeagol's access to vinegar and wasabi.

So far as I cd tell, there are no ent-draughts nor any orcish cuisine, which is perhaps just as well.

--John R.

Charles Williams' biographical dilemma

So, while I was thinking about Williams (cf. my last post), I came across a passage by Wms himself that sums up nicely the difficulties faced by Wms and his designated biographer:


When the devoted Raymond Hunt proposed writing his biography,

 Williams sent a brief outline of his life, centering on a paradox: 

his love for Phillis was of immeasurable value, yet it must never

be mentioned. 

'If I were to choose now, I should, I fear, still say: 

"Never, never that. Let all the work go; let us lose Taliessin & the

Dove and the E. P. M. & all—only never that." But 'for god Almighty's

 sake never mention it to anyone unless I say they are safe. And 

especially never to my wife.' And he stipulated, 'no word like

Celia or Celian or Phillida or Phillidan should appear in your MS.

and any reference to the Masques should be small. I don't like 

saying so for myself; I would write it over the earth & sky.

But there are others.'  

Lindop, THE THIRD INKLING, page 324)


The core difficulty here was that Wms wanted his biographer to omit any mention of what he considered the most important event of his life -- the Beatrician moment in which he experienced the love of his life --because he didn't want his wife to find out.

--John R.



Monday, November 21, 2022

TERROR OF LIGHT

 So, recently my attention was drawn to a piece of mine published as far back as 1996: an essay on what I consider to be Charles Williams's best play, a Pentecost piece called TERROR OF LIGHT.* It's an unusual play, in a much more colloquial idiom than most of C.W.'s drama. In fact, it's his only play in prose, which I argued was one reason for its success. Success, that is, as a work of art: it's generally been dismissed by Wms scholars --unfairly, I think.

 I hadn't looked at my essay for years and found the experience of going back and reading it now an interesting one. I think my critique of the play and my arguing that it merits praise stand up well pretty well, thought I think I've improved a good deal as a writer and cd do a better job of it today.**  

This being the first of three pieces I've written about Wms has made me want to go back and reread the other two: 

The second, delivered at the Wheaton Mythcon in 1985 and collected into the informal proceedings from that conference, was my piece arguing that Tolkien and Williams were friends -- which is generally agreed upon today but was going against the consensus at the time.

The third was my Mythcon Guest of Honor speech for the Colorado Springs Mythcon in 2015 where I really went out on a limb, suggesting a whole new way to read Williams that I thought solved a lot of difficulties and contradictions in his life and works.

The first of these three essentially disappeared like a pebble thrown into a puddle.

The second was favorably mentioned in a number of places and helped Inklings scholars get a better understanding of Tolkien's and Williams' relationship.

The third, the most radical and I think most important, had the misfortune to come out right about the time two major books on Ch.Wms. came out, which more or less buried it. But it wd have been a hard sell in any case, since it goes against the current.

Still, it's been interesting to go back and look again at old work. 

--John R.

--current reading: THE ROOK by O'Malley (re-reading), BABEL (just finished), PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE (just started).


*this appears in the volume THE RHETORIC OF VISION, edited by Charles A. Huttar and Peter J. Schakel; my piece was originally titled "TERROR OF LIGHT: Williams' Prose Play", changed by the editor to "Rhetorical Strategies in Charles Williams's Prose Play"

**I had the same experience when I went back and revised "SHE and Tolkien", my first essay of Tolkien criticism (1981 & 2011)