Friday, November 30, 2007

This Is Just A Tribute

Your dad is not only famous but adored, revered, often beyond the bounds of common sense, by a large, loyal and vocal fan base. You're an excellent musician in your own right, but you've inherited little of the old man's creativity, and your recorded output is patchy. In terms of public perception, at least, you're destined to live out your life in your father's shadow. How on earth do you deal with this?

Here's a novel idea: why not embrace it?

It's tough to evaluate Dweezil Zappa's Zappa Plays Zappa, which I saw last night at one of Melbourne's least rockin' venues, Hamer Hall. I went in expecting...well, I don't know what I was expecting. As a friend put it, the show was either going to be a cheesy cash-in or a loving tribute; fortunately it turned out to be the latter. I didn't like everything about the show - there were things I wish they'd done differently, songs I wish they'd played but didn't, songs I wish they hadn't played but did - but I liked most of it and thought a good deal of it was brilliant.

Basically what Dweezil has done is put together a killer band, rope in some old stagers from Frank's various touring outfits (the Australian tour features vocalist/guitarist Ray White and fretboard-wanker extradinaire Steve Vai), and absorb as much of Frank's soloing technique as possible to provide a familiar anchor for the audience. Last night's setlist was mostly dirty rockers and extended guitar jams, which I found a touch disappointing given the show started with an incredible performance of "Dog Meat" (link is to a video of the orchestral version). Still, it was all good. The band were great (marimbas! whammy bars! Scheila Gonzalez playing two saxophones at once!), the set was varied, the jokes were (mostly) funny, the audience enamored. The only thing missing was "Inca Roads" - and, of course, Frank.

In contrast to his father, live footage of whom was projected judiciously throughout the show, Dweezil is relaxed, even self-effacing, on stage. It was touching to watch Dweezil tearing through a guitar solo while he watched Frank tearing through the same solo up on the big screen. But Dweezil is no dummy - tribute was paid to Frank, but for the most part the music was allowed to stand without overt reference to its composer. Zappa Plays Zappa was entertaining but it was also admirable in its restrained but genuine sentimentality, its playful yet subtly deferential approach. Dweezil deserves respect as musician and band leader, but also as custodian of a particular strand of Frank's music. It's hard to imagine anybody other than Frank himself doing the job better.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"I used up three silicon-lined vaginas..."

Norman Mailer has been posthumously awarded the 2007 Bad Sex In Fiction Award for this touching depiction of the incestuous conception of Adolf Hitler, as found in Mailer's final novel, The Incestuous Conception of Adolf Hitler:
'Are you all right?' she cried out as he lay beside her, his breath going in and out with a rasp that sounded as terrible as the last winds of their lost children.

'All right. Yes. No,' he said. Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.

Nothing like a Hound driving into your piety, eh ladies?

The stated purpose of the Bad Sex Award is to discourage "authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." In fact, the award's real value is to give juvenile-minded sub-editors and lit bloggers the chance to roll out some obvious innuendo. I recommend "stiff competition", "between the covers" and, if you're desperate, wanton use of the phrase "offending passage".

The Bad Sex Award is good for a laugh an' all but it's a shame that the organisers can't be bothered doing it properly. So to speak. Tom Fleming, who helps run the thing, says, "It takes a reading of the whole novel to decide the winner - only then can the sex be seen in context." Yet the nominated selections lack any context whatsoever. Mailer's offending passage looks like bad sex writing to me, regardless of its context, but the same can't be said of Jeanette Winterson's nominated excerpt:
To calm myself down and appear in control I reverse the problem. 'Spike, you're a robot, but why are you such a drop-dead gorgeous robot? I mean, is it necessary to be the most sophisticated machine ever built and to look like a movie star?'

She answers simply: 'They thought I would be good for the boys on the mission.'

I am pondering the implications of this. Like a wartime pin-up? Like a live anti-depressant? Like truth is beauty, beauty truth? 'How good? I mean, I'm assuming you're not talking sexual services here.'

'What else is there to do in space for three years?'

'But inter-species sex is illegal.'

'Not on another planet it isn't. Not in space it isn't.' ...

'So you had sex with spacemen for three years?'

'Yes. I used up three silicon-lined vaginas.' ..
I haven't read The Stone Gods but I suspect this excerpt shows Winterson indulging in the ancient Japanese art of pisstaké. The BSA doesn't distinguish between deliberately tasteless or clumsy writing and writing that is tasteless or clumsy because its author has gotten carried away with his or her own magniloquence. (Paul "a demon eel thrashing in his loins" Theroux, I'm looking at you.) Have a look at the excerpt from Against the Day that made the 2006 shortlist. It's over the top and B.R. Myers would hate it but it's so obviously deliberate that even those unacquainted with Pynchon would surely get the joke, especially when he ends the scene with, "But here let us reluctantly leave them, for biomechanics is one thing but intimacy quite another, isn't it..."

It's ironic that the organisers of an ironic writing award can't seem to recognise ironic writing. While I enjoy chortling immaturely over such unlikely combinations of words as "She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet", the BSA is, not unlike Uncle Alois' "battering ram", a bit soft and ultimately pointless.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Shorter Terminator 2

John Connor: You've come from the future to protect me? Who sent you?

Arnie: You did.

John Connor: So...if I sent you then obviously I'm not going to be killed by the other terminator, or by anything else, at least until I've sent you back from the year 2029. So why worry? Let's just kick back and listen to some Gunners.

Arnie: Um...

The End

Friday, November 09, 2007

PM Denies Ordering Sandwich

Prime Minister John Howard has denied ordering a sandwich from a Sydney café yesterday afternoon.

While campaigning in the seat of Wentworth, Mr Howard was overheard telling staff at the La Dolce Veleno café that he "would like to order a sandwich". When presented with a ham and salad sandwich and a bill for $6.40, Mr Howard refused to pay, claiming that he hadn't placed an order.

"Look, I don't want to get into a debate over semantics," Mr Howard said today. "Clearly, however, there are those who for political reasons choose to interpret the phrase 'I would like to order a sandwich' as constituting an order for a sandwich. All I intended to express was that ordering a sandwich would – were I to do it, which I didn’t – be something that I would enjoy, or like, if you will. Unfortunately I left my senior citizen discount card at home yesterday and there was no way I was paying six dollars for a sandwich that Janet could make for seventy-five cents.”

Mr Howard then delivered a stinging attack on the media for “misleading the Australian people by accurately reporting my statements”.

“I’m no English teacher, and as previously stated I’d like to avoid a debate over semantics, but it does strike me that if you lot [the media] are going to report what I say as if it actually means what it sounds like it means, then this kind of trouble is inevitable. ‘I would like to order a sandwich’ could mean a lot of things. I might have been expressing a desire to place the ingredients of a sandwich in some kind of order, or to place a sandwich in order with other items on the menu, say from healthiest to least healthy. I might even have been suggesting that I would like to order – that is command – a sandwich to serve its country in the fight against terrorism. In fact, I now recall that that's precisely what I was doing. And Mr Rudd, by criticising me for doing this, is guilty of politicising the troops. By whom I mean the sandwich I was ordering. And for that he should be ashamed."