Monday, September 23, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt one)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

I was happy to put the Handmaid away in the box because the real Handmaids made me nervous. We would pass them on our school outings, when we’d walk in a long double line with an Aunt at each end of it. The outings were to churches, or else to parks where we might play circle games or look at ducks in a pond. Later we would be allowed to go to Salvagings and Prayvaganzas in our white dresses and veils to see people being hanged or married, but we weren’t mature enough for that yet, said Aunt Estée.

There were swings in one of the parks, but because of our skirts, which might be blown up by the wind and then looked into, we were not to think of taking such a liberty as a swing. Only boys could taste that freedom; only they could sweep and soar; only they could be airborne.

I have still never been on a swing. It remains one of my wishes.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

the last book I ever read (Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie, excerpt fourteen)

from Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’S Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie:

Warner Bros. offered R.E.M. an appropriately artist-friendly deal. The band would have complete artistic control over its output—not just over the music itself, but also the album artwork, videos, and selection of singles. As with the previous deal with I.R.S., the Warner agreement was for five albums, which R.E.M. would deliver to the label completed and ready to go.

None of this was particularly new for the band. They already enjoyed a similar degree of freedom with I.R.S. What was different was the far greater promotional capabilities (and budget) Warner Bros. could offer, as well as a guarantee that I.R.S. would not have been able to accommodate: R.E.M. would own their master recordings. This marked a break with industry tradition: typically, the record label owned an artist’s recordings as a kind of insurance for the label putting up all the money in the first place. Whatever might transpire down the road—a falling-out, a public meltdown, even the death of the artist—the label could potentially recoup at least some of its investment via long-term sales of the recorded work. Under the R.E.M./Warner deal, the band agreed only to lease its recordings to the label for a predetermined period of time. Thereafter the band could either re-up with Warners for another stretch or take its product elsewhere.

It would have been difficult for any artist to walk away from such a deal. Warner were required to release whatever R.E.M. gave them. And R.E.M. could decide how much, or how little, they wished to promote that work; they wouldn’t have to tour, do interviews, or make videos if they didn’t feel like it. And, at the end of the day, R.E.M. would own every note of music they produced while under contract to Warner Bros. These factors, plus the warm relationship that had developed between the band and Lenny Waronker, gave Warners the edge over I.R.S.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

the last book I ever read (Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie, excerpt thirteen)

from Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’S Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie:

The new Mrs. Buck moved into her husband’s quasi mansion just outside of downtown: a large, turreted house with a long wraparound porch that Billy Holmes refers to as “the Ghost and Mr. Chicken house,” due to its resemblance to the haunted mansion in the Don Knotts film of that name (it was more popularly known as “Buck Manor”). Perhaps in an effort to complete the gothic vibe, Buck purchased a hearse from a local funeral home, which passersby would often see parked in the driveway.

All these years later, Barrie is no longer married to Peter Buck, but she still lives in the house. She owns and manages the 40 Watt, as she has done since the late ‘80s—first in partnership with Jared Bailey and later on her own. Her ex-husband still plays at the Watt from time to time. The current whereabouts of the hearse are unknown.

Friday, September 20, 2019

the last book I ever read (Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie, excerpt twelve)

from Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’S Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie:

The interior of Jeff Walls’s house is tricked out in early-‘60s retro-futurist chic: lots of white, curvy plastic, squiggly glass, and white shag carpets, incongruously set against brick and wood-paneled walls. It is a house entirely befitting the lead guitarist of the Woggles, Athens’ premier garage-soul rave-up combo. Walls himself is an imposing presence: stocky, broad-shouldered, decked out in a tan jacket and a cap bearing the socialist red star. His hair is jet black, an indication of either excellent genes or a ready supply of hair dye. If it went gray, he would look a bit like Southern author William Styron, with his full cheeks and round nose. He leads me from one wroom to another, shuffling along with a certain lumbering grace. We arrive finally at a den overstuffed with guitars and books on all manner of pop-culture detritus: a Robert Mitchum biography, a critical study of film noir, biographies of various ‘60s icons (the Who, the Beatles, etc.). Walls motions me to a seat, produces a bag of weed and a pipe, and asks, “Do you smoke?”

This sort of question always puts me in a quandary. I’m not overly fond of pot, but I’ve learned that it can be a good icebreaker in interviews. So I say, “When it’s offered to me.”

Thursday, September 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie, excerpt eleven)

from Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’S Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie:

Stipe had more of a love/hate relationship with the road. He clearly didn’t mind it –after all, he’d elected to spend a significant amount of time in 1986 performing with the Golden Palominos—but there seemed to be a big difference between the low-pressure situation of chipping in with a pre-existing collective and fronting his own band. With R.E.M., it usually took him a few shows to regain his “loud shy” performing persona, and the transition phase could sometimes be awkward. At the band’s first show of the Pageantry tour, at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham, Alabama, Stipe told the crowd, “If anybody’s read the back of the T-shirts that are up there, this is our first show, and we haven’t played in a bit of time, since, um . . . “—Berry broke this pause with an impatient tapping of his cymbal—“ . . . seems like about a hundred and fifty years. The, um . . . “—another pause—“I’ll tell you later.” Stipe had become adept at accentuating his awkwardness for humorous effect, but it was nevertheless clear that this was an off night for him. Later in the show he commented, “Everything’s kind of falling apart up here,” and, still later, “We’re hoping by next week that we’ll be able to keep the time between songs down to under five minutes . . . “—more impatient drum taps from Berry—“This is our showcase song for the evening, featuring the inimitable . . . Bill Berry!” Stipe gave an embarassed laugh; the song in question, “Superman,” featured lead vocals by a different member of the band. “I mean Mike Mills!” he yelled over Buck’s guitar intro.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

the last book I ever read (Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie, excerpt ten)

from Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’S Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie:

By mid-1986, it’s quite likely that Peter Buck was itching to get back on the road. In the short span of time he’d been home, he had been forced to deal not only with the end of his relationship with Ann but also with the death of his father, with whom he’d had a somewhat problematic relationship, at least when it came to discussions of his career. Whereas the parents of Stipe and Mills had been tremendously supportive of R.E.M. from the beginning, Buck’s parents had not hidden their disappointment at their son’s chose occupation. Buck’s father ultimately came around to a kind of bemused pride at R.E.M.’s success, but the way he chose to express this to his son proved hurtful. “We weren’t really close in a lot of ways,” Buck later told an interviewer. “The last thing he said to me before he died was, ‘Make sure you make a million, because there’s nothing else on earth that you are able to do.’ He was trying to kind of say ‘Stick with it,’ but he was saying it in the nastiest possible way.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

the last book I ever read (Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie, excerpt nine)

from Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’S Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie:

Beyond the Harris stories and the surfeit of local inspiration, Stipe was also fixated on the novels and travel writings of British author Lawrence Durrell during this period. A protégé of Henry Miller (author of Tropic of Cancer and other acclaimed/controversial novels), Durrell was cut from the same cloth as many of Stipe’s other heroes; like Patti Smith, John Barth, Man Ray, Lou Reed, and Lillian Hellman, Durrell was a freethinker who challenged prevailing social norms in both his life and his work—particularly those related to religion and sexuality. But what Durrell also brought to the table—and what undoubtedly influenced Stipe—was his strong affinity for place (in Durrell’s case, the Mediterranean and Egypt), his impressive vocabulary, and his lyrical, somewhat ostentatious deployment of that vocabulary in the service of his muse. In an interview a few years later, after the bloom was apparently off the rose, Stipe seemed to rue his fixation with this author. “Oh my God,” he said. “He’s so sappy and thick, I’m embarrassed. Lawrence Durrell. Before I traveled to Greece. His prose was so thick and tactile, no country could live up to that.” But during 1985 Stipe cited Durrell frequently. In an August 1985 television interview in Toronto, Stipe claimed that he had read “everything” by the author. The fact that he made a routine of publicly name-checking Durrell, much as he had done with Patti Smith a couple of years earlier, may be seen as some indication of the depth of Durrell’s influence on the songwriter.