Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Three Words - An Anthology of Aotearoa/NZ Women's Comics - Edited by Rae Joyce, Sarah Lang & Indira Neville

This book is a lie.  A falsehood.  A deceit.  The brief: contributors were invited to create a comic around three words, provided by, error someone, such as 'Deep, And, Meaningful' or 'Electric, Tapir, Dreams'.  Firstly, WTF is a 'Tapir' ? And how can you make on 'Dreamy electric'?  What a crock.  Seriously, how pretentious!  Yeah, Yeah.  The white middle class male reviewer doesn't understand.  Why should he?  He was brought up on Spider-Man and Marvel comics with all the overdrawn, exaggerated objectification of women and minor players to the outer under-pantied, bubble biceped heroes toking out on kryptonite and radioactive spider venom.  Ok.  Yeah, you got me.  'Love and Rockets', Jamie Fernandez, 'Tank Girl', never happened. 

Truth is, graphic novels have moved on since Stan Lee ruled the universe - though he still owns a fair chunk of misogynist Hollywood - but I, as a reader still need to connect with great art and even greater writing.  Much of the work in here, this book, has the sentiment, but simply falls flat because it's either too weird, too, surrealist or just threw the brief out in lieu of doing their own damn thing, regardless. One example is artist Pritika Lal who approaches her three words - Sickening, Baste, and Scoops - with a one page graphics of a woman screwing a PC with the legend 'NB: You can't imbibe anothers success by fucking them' (no comma on 'anothers').  It's a cheap, tacky throwaway with bad grammar.  20 year's ago it was punk.  Now it's just crap.  And there's no association to 'scoop' either. Sharon Murdoch, a political cartoonist, on the other hand, does know how to succeed on the brief.  Her words: 'Scales, Kind, Prerogative' are very well explored in three pages of mini novel.  Her panels explore popular media commentaries of young women (Boozy, liberal, ambitious), the glass ceiling, and the politics of sun hats.  Her work is poignant and reflective.  It works on all levels.

Sill in other places like Miranda Burton's exquisite dream state illustrations that rip off Robert Crumb completely, the word theme is just abandoned completely in favour of simply showcasing a significant talent.  Ok, all in good.  So why not just commission Burton and forget the rest.  Including zine writers, artists, etc. is all wonderful but and action of democracy without direction. 

Ok, so some other pages work.  As a white middle class male I'm probably not the most objective reviewer.  But I want intelligent, effective writing for women to get totally obsessive with.  To take down the establishment and totally stick it to the male bastion.  Some of this book does that. That portion is inspiring and leading.  The rest is complete fish'n'chip wrapper and not worth the price.  Editors should have refined their agenda and focussed more.  Like modern political movements all inclusive diminishes the credibility to a cause - although what that is lost on me.  It all feels like this was edited by committee, where success criteria was that you were simply invited to contribute in the first place and 'quality' was an option, not a prescription.  Perhaps that's the point.  Valuing art is a beholder thing,  'Quality' is a fluid idea.  Or is the point that you don't need a point.  Either way it's a blunt success.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave / Text Publishing / or

Despite its queasy title, this is not a poem about illness.  It’s an epic, if rambling poem chronicling Cave's 2014 tour of North America with The Bad Seeds - an account of a 22-city journey began life scribbled on airline barf bags that grew into a restless full-length narrative epic poem that goes looking for the roots of inspiration, of love and of meaning.  Coleridge woulda been proud.  
Cave started working on the book last year, during a flight to Nashville   Originally, it was a song, albeit a long one but it exploded into something else entirely.  There are snippets of life imagined and real.  There are a mix of stylistic name checks – Philip Larking and WH Auden, especially.  Plus deep analysis of the tour van’s soundtrack, the tour’s soundtrack really: Elvis, John Lee Hooker, James Brown.  Plenty of roots references as they travel through the Deep South.  Oh, and a tiny dragon makes an appearance (No, I won’t explain that one.  It’s a surprise).
Now 57 Cave’s got a fair body of work under his belt.  Aside from the Birthday Party, Bad Seeds and Grinderman projects he’s also published two novels, “And the Ass Saw the Angel,” a Southern Gothic tragedy about a town full of religious fanatics, and “The Death of Bunny Munro,” a dark comic novel about a sex addict who sells beauty products door to door.  Both are gritty and challenge the reader to the extreme.

With “The Sick Bag Song,” Cave has a crack at is experimenting with a new literary form to make a sort of jumbo of prose, poetry, song lyrics and some elements of autobiography.  His ‘poetry’ traverses the imagined child, on a railway bridge, leaping into the muddy Mississippi – juxtaposed by the icon rock singer heading off to the venue to become a one night deity in the eyes of fans and critics.  “And I will walk onstage at Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn., and become an object of great fascination to almost no one,” he said, reading from the book. “The dazed crowd will drift back and forth across the fields and the sinking sun will flood the site with orange fire. After the show, I will sit outside on the steps of our trailer and smoke.”

Of course, Sharon Olds and her fellatio poems get a look in, Cave always adds a little perversion to unsettle you.  It's part of the journey through the exploration of muses in famous hotels like the NY Bowery.  Places where music came to writers like Cohen, without warning.  In Cave's case it's Dylan that steals the muse, not the hotel.  But that's another story.

It moves from childhood memories to more intimate moments from his marriage to unvarnished behind-the-scenes episodes from the life of a rock musician.  Some will make you blush a little.  Some are more about tedium, like waiting in heavy traffic for 2 hours. 

Always there’s procrastination, loneliness, creativity, and more prosaic things like throwing up on bad seafood or dying his black hair in a Milwaukee hotel bathroom - “I carefully concoct a paste in a bowl and I paint my hair black,/So that it sits like a sleek, inky raven’s wing/On top of my multi-story forehead / The bathroom light is brutal./ I reposition my face so that I stop looking/Like Kim Jong-un and start looking more like Johnny Cash/Or someone.”

His lists are some of the most intriguing moments, possibly written in the early hours of a flight, with scotch in hand and wit on fire: "The Nine Secondary Bedevilments of Creativity", The Nine Muses, "the Choruses of the Angels"....they are all reminders of Cave's extraordinary fascination with literature and the Classical world as it lives today.

His stuff has been compared to ‘the unhinged lyricism’ of Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman and Mr. Berryman.  I’d agree there.  It’s more deft than, say, Jim Morrison and I think should be taken seriously by those that look down on musicians.  After all, lyrics are poetry, too.  And more accessible sometimes.  As a stand alone, I don't think it would work.  But removing Cave from the work would be very hard even if the reader were a Martian.  It is very much a work of Cave's and a great tour diary, too.