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Golden Gate Bridge

Since its completion, the Golden Gate Bridge has been a strange kind of killing machine, with a few people jumping off it every month, on average. Part of the reason is its lack of a barrier: You can hop over the short rail, and you're off. But part of it too must be the momentum of notoriety; the more it is known for suicide, the more seductive it becomes as a suicide destination. One's self-destruction takes on the grim glamour of the bridge's entire history, which is as outsized and romanticized as a suicidal person's perceptions of his own condition often are.

This reputation seems like it can only grow. Recently a documentary was made about the suicides, featuring some jump footage surreptitiously captured for the express purpose of the film. (Jason Kottke has a rundown of the controversy this aroused here.) The upshot -- if you were filming someone jumping off a bridge, aren't you morally obliged to stop filming and go and prevent their death? And if that attempt fails, shouldn't you destroy the footage out of repesct for the family? (You could then style yourself like Werner Herzog in Grizzly Man filming himself listening to tapes of a man's death that he then deems unfit for the rest of the world to hear.) As fascinating as I find the subject, I couldn't watch this film, I don't think. Am I being unnecessary squeamish? What fascinates me about the subject is the close connection between the sublime perspectives the bridge creates and the urge to end it all -- the idea that certain forms of beauty can be annihilating. But then again I am also fascinated by people who throw themselves in front of moving trains (another under-reported but all too common occurance), which seems somehow more grisly and desperate. In both cases, death becomes a peculiar public performance -- what David Blaine toys with in his deprivation stunts. In a culture that sometimes fetishizes the appearance of authenticity, these performances (unlike Blaine's) are the ultimate. It makes me wonder if the concern with authenticity ultmately dignifies suicide, makes it seem a noble option, a dignified refusal to compromise rather than a tragic waste.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

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Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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