On the eve of next week’s release of Wilco: Wilco (The Album), Jeff Tweedy and the boys dropped by The Tonight Show on Wednesday to play this new song.
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My mom only had two albums in her car when I was growing up—the Eagles’ Hotel California and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And given how many soccer practices, guitar lessons, and tennis matches I was shuttled to as a child, I can pretty much hear these albums from start to finish in my head. In fact, if I’m being honest, I’ve probably heard Hotel California and Thriller more than any other two albums in my life.
But at some point in my early 20s, Thriller vastly eclipsed Hotel California—and all others for that matter. Rightfully so.
Anyone even remotely familiar with the British music scene of the 1990s might have heard of Adam Franklin who played an instrumental role in Swervedriver, a band that teetered around the shoegaze movement with a slightly more aggressive sound than many groups in the genre. If bands like Slowdive provided the dream pop lullabies, Swervedriver recalled the most visceral points in any live My Bloody Valentine set.
Inspired by John Hodgman’s speech at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, in which he interrogated President Obama about the Kwisatz Haderach, I decided to read (okay, re-read) Frank Herbert’s Dune. I’ve seen the David Lynch movie at least a dozen times, to the point where snippets of its dialogue are part of my conversational repertoire, but I haven’t read the book probably since I was 12 or 13.
I was expecting it to be slightly silly—and it is—but it turns out that it’s also surprisingly absorbing, despite, or maybe because of, its peculiar tone of haute solemnity, as if Spengler decided to try his hand at pulp sci-fi. Herbert seems to relish not only inventing superfluous terminology and casually throwing out details from the millions of years of epochal galactic history that he’d like readers to believe he has worked out in full, but he mixes in an ersatz Hegelianism, with occasional evocations of the master-slave dialectic, the ideas of totality and species being, and a grand transcendent design in history. What’s brilliant about all the quasi-philosophical jargon is that Herbert doesn’t try at all to use it coherently; he just seems to like the way it reads tonally. That’s enough to endear the novel to me, though I suspect if I knew more about Herbert’s pretensions, I’d be less seduced.
So far, a 100 or so pages in, the narrative seems preoccupied with capturing how the characters read so much out of various minute phenomena—it’s like a manual of hermeneutics rendered as fiction. Preposterous feats of intuition and prophetic dreams are blended in with painstakingly methodical deductions about other characters’ emotional states and what behavior they will prompt. Strategic problems are never far from the surface, virtually no details are given without a gloss of their tactical import, or alternatively, an intimation of its mythical portent. What emerges from this is a schizophrenic view of human character that alternates between ultrarationality and supernaturalism. I can’t think of anything else quite like it.
What I’m trying to resist though if reading the book as camp, though I’m not sure if this is possible, not sure if one can turn off the irony part of the brain. But it helps to regard the language not as accidentally bathetic but as a specific accomplishment of a mood through somewhat unlikely means, a fog of abstractions and interior monologues to conjure what ends up gripping readers as a kind of physical sensation —does that make any sense? Wait, it doesn’t matter, Michael Jackson might be dead…
It is not the kind of scene readers have come to expect, over the short course of 8 issues, from Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority. The narrow focus on two lead characters, the slight worms-eye view, the slight Dutch tilt of the image, all make for a very personal moment. This is not at all the kind of comics that has become hailed as ‘widescreen’ format, the kind of comics of sleek, near-Tarantino-esque ultra-violence that depicts ever-widening vistas of blasted landscapes. But with this subtle inversion, Ellis and Hitch seem to offer a proof of principle for ‘widescreen’ comics.
In this panel The Doctor, a global-level shaman operating with super-team The Authority, prepares to flood the Italy of a parallel reality. Always struggling with the scope of his planetary-wide powers, The Doctor has faced the unique challenge of never fully unleashing his power. When the expeditionary forces of this parallel reality invade Earth, the expeditionary forces of a ‘military rape culture’ in Ellis’ own words, The Doctor must harness his full power to destroy their powerbase. Hitch depicts a literary staple of the superhero genre. The moment where the superhero embraces rather than withdraws from his power. The psychological curtain is lifted, and the hero stands on the threshold of destiny.
Such a moment seems at odds with the cultural project of ‘widescreen’ comics. At first glance, the ‘widescreen’ format appears to depict violence and mayhem on both sides of the superhero battle. The heroes of the ‘widescreen’ format do not simply fall out of skyscrapers only to save themselves at the last minute with the help of a propitious flagpole. These heroes hurl skyscrapers at alien armada to prevent the invasion of cities. But the use of a typical ‘widescreen’ panel, one that occupies the full width of the page with a bidirectional left-right bleed, to tell the story of the actuation of personal superpowers creates a very different set of expectations for the format. Just as the format is about the panorama of ultra-violence, so too can its tools be focused on the personal moments of the superhero genre. This use of ‘widescreen’ paneling makes the format much more a meditation on the superhero genre than a simplistic relishing in the postmodern exaggeration of its themes.
// Notes from the Road
"Although sound issues delayed their set on the second night, Slowdive put on an unforgettable show in Brooklyn, or rather two shows.READ the article