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Monday, May 21, 2007

I Tell Ye Sorr ...

Judged by any of the normal standards, William Hope Hodgeson was a bad writer. He had a tin ear for prose (he sounds most artful when he’s writing in a strange Ye Olde mix, doubtless inspired by the same current of social thought that led to Lord Dunsany’s stories, William Morris’ handiworks, and the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites) and his characterisation is thin to the brink of fatal anorexia. The people in his books are often little more than names (Tonnison, George, Monstruwacan) or accents (“I tell ye sorr, ‘tis no use at all at all thryin to reclaim ther castle. ‘Tis curst with innocent blood…”). It’s easier to remember them for what they go through (grim battles with Yellow Things; disorienting trips through time) than who they are.

But Hodgson the writer (I have no idea if this extended to Hodgson in everyday life) dwelt in a state of extraordinary and vivid terror, and it is this emotion that gives his stories their power. To read his books is to watch a man fighting to dig an elusive core of fear out of his mind and see it in daylight. He does not wallow in it, as a Stephen King does. He does not revel. When King describes a boy’s brains sounding like snot as they hit the wall in Needful Things, he seems to be standing aside and almost chuckling at the overdone grimness of it all. Hodgson didn’t have King’s facility with words; he never manages a throwaway tone; he is not funny. “I want you to try to understand,” his narrator cries urgently in Carnacki the Ghost-Finder as he describes the advent of the evil Hog. “I wonder if I make it clear to you,” he says. “Can you understand ... Do you understand at all?” Hodgson was serious about his monsters, as Lovecraft was serious about his Old Ones even when he was giving them ridiculous names.

The Hog is “a seemingly motionless, pallid swine-face rising upward out of the depth.” A page later it is “a pallid, floating swine-face” and then “the dreadful pallid head.” Like Lovecraft, Hodgson is trying to write about forces so alien to nature that they can’t be described with any accuracy. Our human language can only grope around them, throwing out the word “pallid” again and again in the frustrated hope that it will give the reader a faint idea as to the colour of this unearthly thing.

No wonder H.P. found him inspirational. “Despite,” he wrote, “a tendency toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it and to his fellows, Mr. Hodgson is perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality. Few can equal him in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the spectral and the abnormal.”

Hodgson died in 1918, which means that he is not around to complain about copyright and some helpful people have put large parts of his work on the internet. You can find him at Project Gutenberg, but I prefer the cleaner-looking site at Adelaide Uni. I’d recommend that you start with The House on the Borderland and move on to Carnacki the Ghost Finder, then The Night Land. After that, take the rest at your leisure.

(On a tangent, the Adelaide University site also has Virginia Woolf’s wonderful Two Parsons, which stays in my mind like no other book review I have ever read.)

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Two newish sites that I hope you’ll visit as they promise to be forums for intelligent conversation via music:

- Jazzcorner’s Speakeasy: From the fine jazz website comes this message board with Top 10’s, reviews and discussions about ECM Records, Musicians Resources, festivals, politics, classifieds and even a place to chat with jazz musicians.  Great idea and it’s already getting a lot of traffic (thousands of posts there at last count).

- Bluegum blog courtesy of “black rock critic Kandia Crazy Horse & performance studies scholar Tavia Nyong’o” where they’re now discussing the recent Black Performance Theory conference.  Admittedly, I work with KCH sometimes at my zine but even if I didn’t, I’d still be a fan of her ultra-thoughtful critical work.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

It’s a shame that news organizations are using the Internet mostly as a hurry-up medium, leaning on already-overworked reporters to feed morsels of information to their websites while struggling to complete daily news assignments.

Instead, news organizations should be telling more complex and longer stories and presenting the results of more investigations online – a setting where content can take many forms and is not limited by page length.

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Monday, May 21, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

All this week PopMatters is offering exclusive excerpts from the new Chris Salewicz biography of Joe Strummer, published this week in the U.S. by Faber & Faber.

Monday [5/21]: In the first installment, beginning with news of Strummer’s death, Salewicz remembers Joe’s drive, humor, and constant internal conflict. [read article]

Here we offer some of the best videos from Strummer’s career with the Mescaleros:

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Johnny Appleseed

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Coma Girl

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Safe European Home [Live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York (1999)]

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - White Man in Hammersmith Palais [Live in Cologne, Germany (1999)]

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Tommy Gun [Live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York (1999)]

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Rudie Can’t Fail [Live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York (1999)]

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - London Calling [Live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York (1999)]

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Well, I’m back (which is actually Eminem’s line, not Freddy’s). I wonder if you’ve wondered about what happened and where I’ve been . . .

Pregnant pause and bruised feelings later, I move to explain.

I had this idea, you might recall, of helping you along with hints to let you know where I’d been. As if anyone cared. But it was something to do with my brain, to keep it peripatetic, a way to spend some time – or so I thought. What I found, though – aside from being much too busy to sit and spin tales sufficient to connect the dots—was that it was hard to locate enough clues that wouldn’t immediately give it away; places being specific enough as to tag their essence. When it comes to locale, there are few generic ontologies – every city, every country, has its own cultural fingerprint. There are dialects, license plates, weather patterns, indigenous foliage; even MacDonalds has its regional cuisines.

At the same time, curves can be thrown. The image above, of Freddie, from Elm Street fame, was actually snapped on a street in Sendai, Japan. Imagine that. And, in fact, though I had intended that Freddie shot to serve as my last ironic clue in the hide-and-seek game of where I was (as Freddie’s place of origin was basically where my peripatetic feet had planted my bod), it was something more than irony that the sign of the “there” I visited was encountered in the “here” where I generally roost. More than irony, though; there is something in that statue about confluence, about unity; in short, about our modern condition.

”Global connectedness” being the intellectual shorthand. The conclusion: that this is not a hermetic place, this world we share. Elements of one culture can, and often do, exist in others.


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