“But what’s in an epigraph? And couldn’t Speedboat as a whole be read as a steeplechase composed entirely of epigraphs? The book’s parts, though, seem to bear the same relationship to one another that an epigraph does to a text: they comment, and shed a kind of elliptical light, but they fail to establish a sequential relation from one paragraph/scenelet/sentence to the next.”
“Until quite recently I had known joy only five times in my life, perhaps six, and each time tried to forget it soon after it happened, out of the fear that the memory of it would dement and destroy everything else.”
— Zadie Smith in the NYRB, on visceral/sensual pleasures, ecstasy (the drug), ecstasy (the state of being), love, Q-Tip, birth, and more: “Joy”
I first learned about Sibylle Baier while working at Anthology Recordings, a small record label that trafficked in digital reissues of rare and out-of-print vinyl. Anthology was conceived as a paradise for crate diggers, and it hosted a phenomenal collection of high-quality (and DRM-free, because hi, target audience) albums that included records from Abner Jay, Moondog and Dick Dale alongside every Can album imaginable, super-niche international music like Malaysian teen pop, and some ultraweird, goopy-awesome stuff likeAndy Goldner (recommendation: start this video at 2:00). It really was an amazing library, one that I am still sifting through on my own hard drive, but ultimately it seems the thrill of the hunt just didn’t translate over to the digital space.
Anyway, Sibylle was one of those quietly badass musicians whose songs carry the casual intimacy of work that was never intended for a wide audience (at the beginning of the song below, you can hear her lips part; I mean…!!). She is German, and recorded in the 1970s on reel-to-reel and distributed the tapes to friends and family. At some point she may have disappeared into the woods? I am not totally clear on these details. In any case, an album of SB’s music wasn’t released until 2006, and it’s damp and gray out and I’m in the office preparing 1099s, so it seemed like the right moment to pull this out of the drafts folder.
Below is a song that deploys one of the more wonderful lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” (Turning a blind eye on her misspelling of Eliot.)
Last week I wrote a piece about Renata Adler’s Speedboat for the Paris Review blog. A few people have asked where to find copies of the book, which is one of the best feelings, I think — convincing someone to read or see or listen to a piece of work you believe in. If eBay and Powell’s can’t provide, NYRB Classics is reissuing both Speedboatand Adler’s second novel, Pitch Dark (with an afterword by Muriel Spark — !!), in March of 2013.
As a side note/because the worlds we inhabit are always smaller than we like to think: this weekend I went to Philadelphia to visit a friend. We spent most of the day walking through the city, but as it grew dark we entered a used bookstore. Everyone I know seems to have a different methodology for used bookstores; I am lazy, so I just start at the beginning of the alphabet and go on down the line. Needless to say, the first book I pulled from the shelf was a first edition of Pitch Dark. I have never seen any of Adler’s books in stores before, not once. The cover is faded and yellow around the shape of what was once, presumably, a smaller book. The first lines are: “We were running flat out. The opening was dazzling. The middle was dazzling. The ending was dazzling. It was like a steeplechase composed entirely of hurdles.”
“‘Take off everything except your slip,’ the nurse said. ‘Doctor will be with you in a moment.’ Nobody under forty-five, in twenty years, had worn a slip, but nurses invariably gave this instruction. There they all are, however, the great dead men with their injunctions. Make it new. Only connect.”
— From Renata Adler’s Speedboat, which contains, essentially, everything.
Hilton Als has a personal essay in the December issue of Harper’s, “I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love: A Paean 2 Prince,” about Prince and sexuality and race and love and gender, and it is a complete knockout. Needless to say there is a lot going on here (including the fleeting curiosity about whether this is the closest a Harper’s headline has come to a rebus), and Als’s memoir is complicated, simultaneously energizing and devastating. There is a lot of heartbreak: Als’s personal heartbreak(s), but also the larger heartbreak of feeling abandoned by someone in an elevated position of power — here, a pop culture icon, but I think it can be more universal — who seems to finally emphasize and embody some necessary, but hitherto unarticulated, truth. Thinking you have an advocate, realizing you don’t. It’s all tangled together here, and what emerges are parallel narratives (of Als, of Prince) alongside a portrait of 1980s New York, and some commentary on the often cruel and irreparable seduction of the music industry / the muting influence of commercialism on art.
In any case. I’m throwing a lot out there at all once but not really doing this justice. What I’m getting at is, this is a fantastic piece. Here, especially, I felt something snap:
“I saw the Lovesexy show with a white boy I was very much taken with who was not as taken with me as he was with his fear. I made him a peach pie I thought we might like to eat during the performance, but the performance irked him: it took away from his drama, from the centrality of his maleness. He ‘loved’ Prince but not his power. And that is what it must always have been like for Prince: Black queen (if only in spirit), how dare you walk into the room and suck us all up in you? How dare you suggest, as you did in ‘Controversy,’ that you were neither male nor female but possess the power of both? Can’t you see I’m here? A white queer (or straight) man sitting here, the natural custodian of the world’s attention? What gives you, Prince, the right to take that spotlight away from me and shine it on that fine ass of yours, which no flat-assed white man could ever hope to approximate, let alone compete with? The pie grew sticky in my lap. He refused to eat it.”
“Another time, my wife and I were in a tub on a hot July night drinking gin and tonics when the alarm sounded. We didn’t budge. We figured we were safe in the water. The other day I sniffed around the entrance, smelled no smoke and saw no familiar names on the mailboxes. Everything looked pretty much as it did then, except older and shabbier and, unlike years ago, as quiet as a tomb.”
“The progression of a house track, and one plausible reason for house’s ascendancy, goes like this: There’s some twinkly pirouetting melody in the higher registers, then some bass for a while, and then the introduction of a soaring, optimistic vocal track about saving the world or, for the slightly less ambitious, having a feeling re tonight’s bestness, then the simultaneous near-crescendo of the twinkles and the all-out vocal redemption, and then, right at the moment of presumed climax, the bass goes away for a few beats, everybody misses the bass so much and can’t wait for it to come back, maybe the snare reintroduces itself after a few seconds to remind you to get excited for the prodigal bass’s triumphal homecoming, a good DJ takes just longer than expected to bring the bass back, 20,000 or 50,000 hearts stop as one, lever arms hanging anxiously in midair, and then, when the bass kicks back in, the crowd goes out of their motherfucking minds, just like they did the time the bass disappeared and came back four minutes ago, pumping their right arms in genuinely exhilarated unison, survivors all of the briefly yet catastrophically lost bass. ··· The guy standing next to me says, through the accelerating wind, that these are the only days a year he gets off from the grind—he’s a computer technician—and he’d fucking kill to have a job like Bassnectar’s. From what I can tell, the main differences are that this guy stands at a computer during the day while Bassnectar stands at a computer at night, that this guy stands at a computer in an office while Bassnectar stands at a computer in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and that Bassnectar’s skill or, more probably, luck at computers has put him in great in-real-life demand, such that he gets to stand at his computer in a different city each night to be revered for a few hours by people who, in all likelihood, have been less lucky at computers.”
“The man generally held responsible for internet dating as we know it today is a native of Illinois called Gary Kremen, but Kremen was out of the internet dating business altogether by 1997, just around the time people were signing up for the internet en masse. Today he runs a solar energy financing company, is an elected official in Los Altos Hills, California and is better known for his protracted legal battle over the ownership of the pornography website sex.com than he is for inventing internet dating. Like many visionary entrepreneurs, Kremen doesn’t have very good management skills. His life has passed through periods of grave disarray. When I met him, at a conference on the internet dating industry in Miami last January, he asked where I was from. ‘Ah, Minnesota,’ he said: ‘Have you ever been to the Zumbro River?’ The Zumbro flows south of Minneapolis past Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic. It turned out that Kremen had once driven, or been driven, into the river. He used to be addicted to speed.”
— Emily Witt, “Diary” (London Review of Books, October 25, 2012)
Hi, I'm Anna, and this is my Tumblr. Things I write can be found at annawiener.com. To get in touch, please drop a line (annawiener [at] gmail) or say hello on Twitter, where I go by the very creative handle @annawiener.