Tuesday, 14 August 2007

John (Ash)Berryman, the Most Important Influence on Literate Living Lyricists (despite being Dead himself) Jonathan Lethem once called The Hold Steady "the John Ashbery of rock bands." The man must have mistaken his berries. He surely meant to call them "the John Berryman of rock bands." Consider the opening stanza of Berryman's "Dream Song 1": Huffy Henry hid the day, unappeasable Henry sulked. I see his point,—a trying to put things over. It was the thought that they thought they could do it made Henry wicked & away. But he should have come out and talked. You can graft that onto many a Hold Steady tune and hear Craig Finn singing it. From the forced alliteration to the stilted colloquialisms to the jarringly sudden last sentence, it sounds like something off Separation Sunday. Plus, the first track on Boys and Girls in America mentions Berryman by name: "Stuck Between Stations" [mp3]. The influence is obvious and I think Lethem must've meant Berryman of course. I admit: Finn's phrasing's damn contagious. It comes from the Berry Man, however, not the Ash of Berries. An understandable mistake. But I come not bury Lethem, but to praise another band which chose to honor Berryman's breakdown and eventual suicide. I'm not the biggest fan of this band, but I must give praise where praise is due: this song haunts me. The band's Okkervil River, the song "John Allyn Smith" [mp3]. ("John Allyn Smith" being Berryman's birth name.) The song's innocuous and pleasant for the first two and a half Berrymanian minutes, but turns brilliant when, for a reason desperately demanding interpretation, it turns into "Sloop John B" [mp3]. That's a traditional song, recorded by many an artist, but Okkervil River break out into the Brian Wilson version, which surely means something. I'm not sure what. Give it a spin and see whether or not you can enlighten me.
Unemployed Clouds of Sentient Ambiplasma and Your Tenure Review Every other blog I read linked to John Tierney's "Our Lives, Controlled from Some Guy's Couch" today. The article and the work it describes dutifully scream the strained lyric required of all academic appropriations of popular culture: SCIENCE FICTION MAY BE SCIENCE FACT! Don't get me wrong. In all probability, we do exist only in the damp basement of some posthuman slob's parent's housicle, orbiting a dilapidated artificial planetoid in a once posh sector of subspace.* And in all probability, the housicle dangles from an asteroid which only exists on the backup server of a quantum computer floating in the depths of a gas giant orbiting a dying sun, under the care of a shiftless cloud of sentient ambiplasma.** This is a given. Much more interesting are the comments of Jonathon Von Post, which appear on all the blogs which link to the Tierney. Von Post complains that the article's subject, Nick Bostrom, fails to note that he, Von Post, beat him, Bostrom, to the we-are-simulated-by-positron-electron-entities a-googol-years-in-the-future punch. I'm not able to evalute his claim, since the article in question, ""Human Destiny and the End of Time," published in Quantum Science Fiction in 1991, isn't available online. But Von Post's crusade for acknowledgment, however superficially narcissistic it may seem, is a compelling reminder of a couple of things: In academia, precedence matters. There's no official means of establishing it. Given that this is the case, I'm led to these thoughts: If Quantum Science Fiction was online and linkable, Von Post's claims could easily be verified. If all scholarship was available online, our judgments wouldn't be influenced by who turned out to be the better popularizer. I admit that Von Post sounds like a crank and behaves like a troll. Still, there's a chance his embitterment is justified, that he was steamrolled by a duplicitous colleague or ignored by an unethical careerist. A freely available, easily searchable scholarly database could put such issues to rest. If establishing precedence were but a Google Toolbar away, how much festering animus could be lanced clean? I don't know, but I'd love to. *When s/he thinks about us on hir thog, hir co-thogger rolls eleven eyes and wonders, not for the first time, whether he should do hir a favor and unplug us already: "S/he slithers around the basement in that hideous sweatpant for 3,971 hours a day and it's not healthy. S/he'll be dead before s/he's twenty-two centuries if s/he keeps this up." **Its psylog (pronounced "slog" by the mouthed) is currently devoted to Lindsay Lohan's recent legal troubles, from which it's two simulated realities removed. This should come as no surprise. It really loved Mean Girls, and thinks knows "Linds," as it calls her, will still be the next Glenn Close.

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