Comics

Tomorrow: On the Day Before 'Tales of Woe'

Remember The Old Watering Hole: In his latest offering, Tales of Woe Reed directly confronts the most ubiquitous source of intellectual pollution; unbridled optimism and the dreaded happy ending.

Tomorrow sees the launch of John Reed's Tales of Woe, a book that will undoubtedly come define our generational zeitgeist, in it's overturning of the thrall of commercialist catharsis.

Noh Music for the Masses

We appeal, not to those who reject today in the name of a return to yesterday, not to those who are hopelessly deafened by today; we appeal to those who see the distant tomorrow--and judge today in the name of tomorrow, in the name of man. Zamyatin, Tomorrow

In the 2002 novel, Snowball's Chance author John Reed posits a tantalizing prospect. What if, by quirk of fate, Snowball in George Orwell's famous novel Animal Farm had somehow managed to elude his captors? And it had returned triumphant to the Farm? And successfully ousted Napoleon's regime? Tantalizing of course, since before long, Snowball reacquaints the Animals with capitalist principles of production and competition. And while the profits swell, there's a nasty ending with Beaver's destroying the Farm's twin silos.

Speculative fiction molded on satire from a generation prior. The conventional wisdom of course, for those readers who prefer to name names, casts Snowball most likely as Trotsky. Forced to flee the encroaching Stalinist regime, Trotsky was fairly certainly subject to a purge, outside the borders of the USSR. But what if (and Reed's novel is entirely about speculation) Snowball represented an entirely different class of citizen; the artists who found themselves subject to Stalinist purges.

Among those artists who died in ignominy outside the borders of their homeland, Yevgeny Zamyatin stands out. His novella Tomorrow sounds a warning bell against mistaking the recent October Revolution for any kind of victory. Far from it, Zamyatin's warnings were of an inherent ideological collapse he foresaw in Communism itself.

More importantly however, Zamyatin sounds a death-knell for the High Age of the Russian novel, and marks the birth of the popular in the Russian imagination. Rather than vest his work in the formal structures of the Great Masters, Zamyatin borrows from the political moment. Tomorrow reads like the kind of pamphleteering Marx did in his own youth. Convincingly then, the spell of the high strictures of Russian literature is finally broken. The Russian people are freed from that thrall and a mythology-factory (the same one that produced notions of a fabled Russia) is finally brought heel.

For John Reed's tomorrow, there is no less a confronting of a cultural mythology-factory.

This mythology-factory offers what writer Grant Morrison described as 'conquest by illusion'; the notion catharsis.

Catharsis today feels different. It's more saccharine. It's about learning lessons. But in the original Greek context, catharsis was about when bad things happen. It was about you as a reader breaking free, going home, knowing that deep down you're just plain lucky to not have to suffer like those characters did.

Greek catharsis was about establishing a profound and a severe link between the audience and the fictions they became involved with.

Tomorrow, with the launch of John Reed's Tales of Woe, MTV Books rekindles that kind of relationship. And sets out to break a similar thrall. These are not easy tales to read, things really go badly wrong.

'On the whole the project took 2 and a 1/2 years,' Reed confesses in an interview with PopMatters, 'but 2 and a 1/2 really long years. At the end of each day I was glad to come home, to see my kids, my wife'.

Like all of his works to date, Reed's Tales of Woe cautions against unbridled optimism. The same kind of devil-may-care that ends in expeditionism, incursion and adventurism. It's the kind of optimism that made Viet Nam just feel wrong, even in the hearts of the most ardent supporters of that war.

And with tomorrow's Tales of Woe, it feels like finally that old spell has been broken. With artwork by 11 collaborators, challenges another convention also; the unquestioned separation of prose and art. 8Pussy, Michele Witchipoo, Kiki Jones all bring their substantial talents to carving out the story of our time.

After the first Gulf War, after the demilitarizing of the GPS system, after Friends and The X-Files, Boston Legal, House and The Corrections, reading Tales of Woe feels like a beginning, like the fertile soil of a generational nightmare has at last been properly tilled and readied for something to grow.

'I worry about the heavies in Woe', Reed says a few moments before the curtain goes up. 'I worry what might happen tomorrow. If 8 people find the book definitive, I'll be happy. If only 7 do, I'll fall into bottomless depression'.

Which might well work out happily for Reed. Bottomless depression might be just the thing for the sequel.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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