'Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.'

-- Plautus

13th of February, 2005

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Maria Nutick here. Happy Valentine's Day! And Happy Lupercalia! Happy Chinese New Year, and Happy Islamic New Year! And Happy Birthday to the State of Oregon!

We here at Green Man are always eager to find reasons to celebrate -- to decorate the Great Hall and lay a feast, to dance to the Neverending Session, to raise our glasses to -- well, to anything, really. We're always up for a party. Jack Merry likes to tell stories about one weekend back in the '40s when the Neverending Session musicians invited Benny Goodman and his boys in for a swing dance that started on Friday night and wrapped up sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning! That's the sort of party we like here.

I don't think we're alone in this. Every culture finds reasons to celebrate. Festivals held 'in the bleak midwinter' date back as far as memory. When the dark and cold crush us we need color and light and music to hold them back. With wine flowing freely and cheerful decorations on the walls, we recover our hope and joy. Our best writers write about it, our best musicians make songs about it -- like Oysterband says:

Some died in ecstasy...
some died in poverty...
but they all died with their boots on
at the shouting end of life
Roll me out a barrel, I'll toast you to your knees
Take away this safety net, bring me my trapeze
Order me a stretcher, for midnight if you please
Give me sheet music and strife;
Anything could put me in that long black wooden box
Gunpowder, whisky or the two-tone Chinese pox
But I'm not going quietly, I do not feel the call
I want to stay at the shouting end
So honey, let's not go at all
I will not go
As long as the room keeps swaying to and fro
As long the band can play
Here is where I'm gonna stay
I'm gonna stay at the shouting end,
The shouting end of life!

David Kidney has our featured reviews this week. Yes, both of them. And both of them are biographies. And both of them earn Excellence in Writing Awards. Huzzah David!

Oh...you want to know what they are...indeed. Well first up is an autobiography, or more specifically, the first part of a long awaited autobiography -- Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume 1. David muses 'Bob Dylan. His name resonates throughout the hall. Is there a more important singer-songwriter? Has there ever been? When first I heard he was writing a book, another book, I worried. Would this be Tarantula revisited? I remember Tarantula all too well. 1966: the bookstore where I shopped had a window promoting Bob Dylan's new novel months before it ever appeared. They had Tarantula shopping bags, coffee cups, book jackets when there was no book! I imagine these collectors' items are valuable now, making lots of money on Ebay. The book itself? It's being reissued to accompany Chronicles, and you can check it out. A slight volume of free verse, with wacky rhythms and wordplay that was too dense to read . . . and not dense enough to apply too much meaning to. Would Chronicles follow in those spidery footsteps?'

In his second review David explains 'If you want to fit in around the offices of the Green Man Review there a couple prerequisites. First of all you'd have to be seriously disturbed in one way or another, requiring the regular medication provided by a fine ale or lager. Then you should appreciate the music and careers of Fairport Convention and all associated musicians (especially Richard Thompson). You should be familiar with the work of Emma Bull. And last, but certainly not least, you must pay homage to Mister Neil Gaiman, writer extraordinaire . . . the Dream King.' Read his review of Joseph McCabe's Hanging Out With the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman for a taste of why that's so.

In addition to his column, this week Letters Editor Craig Clarke reviews an anthology of music writing: 'I had my doubts about the title of this anthology when the name of my go-to writer for insightful pop music criticism, Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker, didn't appear in the table of contents. His subsequent listing in an appendix of other notable articles of 2003 did little to quell my fears; and unfortunately, the actual contents of Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004 -- selected by drummer/author Mickey Hart from a cache of 100 articles given to him by series editor Paul Bresnick -- were too uneven to impress entirely.'

David Kidney has another one for us this week -- LOCAS, by Jaime Hernandez. Comic aficionados will be ecstatic: 'This HUGE treasure trove of Jaime comics that makes up LOCAS compiles all the Maggie and Hopey stories from the beginning. That makes it the 4th version of the Mechanics story I have: the original black and white version from L&R, the coloured version in the Mechanics set, the black and white reprint softcover L&R issue and this one. Glorious black and white on fine paper, bound beautifully into a Bible-sized hardcover edition. Last year Fantagraphics published a similar volume of Gilbert's Palomar stories. Together they make an indispensible collection of some of the best comic book work available.'

Science fiction gets short shrift at GMR, because much of it lacks connection to the folkloric themes that our readers search for. But when a novel takes place partly 'neverwhere and neverwhen', we want to know about it! New reviewer Moira Russell joins the roster of reviewers who've won Excellence in Writing Awards for their very first Green Man effort with her lovely review of Elizabeth Bear's Hammered: 'Although a careless reader might be lulled by the presence of drugs, the hard-edged narration, and the run-down setting of the opening scene into thinking this novel is dystopian or even cyberpunk in nature, such expectations are quickly undercut by Bear. Jenny Casey isn't a glamorously outfitted beautiful siren of the William Gibson variety; she's a month from fifty, has a twenty-year-old scratched and battered steel left arm courtesy of the Canadian Army, and the burn scars and prosthetic eye on the left half of her face contrast with her Mohawk features and skin color. She has a nervous system so jacked up that a slowed-down, nightmarish 'combat time' in response to perceived threats is never more than a second away, and those threats themselves are never far away, as she hides in a junk-filled, violent United States racked by religious conflict, avoiding the Canadian government, her own past, and her dubious future.'

Robert Tilendis has more in music writing for us, with a look at Setting the Record Straight -- A Material History of Classical Recording by Colin Symes: 'One of the fundamental concepts of contemporary critical theory, whether it be post-modern, feminist, post-colonial, queer theory, or whatever subset one has chosen, is 'discourse.' Discourse in this sense is not to be taken as mere converse employing words as they are employed by people speaking in everyday ways, with all attendant ambiguities. It is to be understood, rather, in the sense of a 'metaconversation,' what Michel Foucault characterized as, in Colin Symes' words, 'engines of meaning underlying 'regimes of truth'.'...Colin Symes, in Setting the Record Straight, has turned this engine upon the phenomenon of sound recording, specifically on the recording of classical music, and on the social discourse surrounding this phenomenon.' Robert takes an Excellence in Writing Award for this thorough and erudite review.

Master Reviewer Gary Whitehouse tells us about another autobiographical work this issue, The Language of Baklava from Diana Abu-Jaber. Gary says 'There are memoirs, and there are cookbooks. A few authors have combined the two, but none that I've read have been so successful at it as Diana Abu-Jaber with her delightful The Language of Baklava.'

Letters Editor Craig Clarke here. The most interesting letters (and the ones most likely to get reprinted) are those where the letter writer goes on about himself for a while after making his point. For example, art director Steve Lovering appreciated David Kidney's review of The Art of Modern Rock and then reminisced about his own experiences in the album-designing business. In addition, Jeffrey Carr shared his memory of a version of 'Mercury Blues' far superior to the one mentioned in David's review of a David Lindley album. Also, Russell Smith aficionado David Haines' letter, containing his positive thoughts about David's review of Smith's Sunday Best, led into a conversation.

Sometimes, though, even a short mention in GMR can be enough to give a struggling artist a welcome boost. For example, Corneilius Lookwood thanked SPike for giving his music some attention, even though it was less than positive.

Elsewhere, Dan Vaillancourt thanked me for my review of Live & Funktified while checking up on a faulty link; Andy Mullen told fellow Warren Zevon fan Gary Whitehouse his thoughts on Gary's Zevon career retrospective; Pete Coe was gladdened by Peter Massey's look at Coe's CD In Paper Houses; and Charles Vess called Cat Eldridge's review of Vess' The Book of Ballads (a revision and expansion of the original four-volume set) 'splendid'.

Based on the majority of writers who choose to respond to our negative reviews, a thick skin is somewhat of a rarity, which makes it all the more refreshing to see that Will Graham took it well when Cat insulted Graham's story in Murder by Magic.

Of course, somebody is liable to take exception to anything we write. Lucky for yours truly, some of them feel strongly enough to let us know about it. A possible language misunderstanding caused George Philhower to comment on David's opinion of a Donovan concert, in a situation that perfectly illustrates how individuals place themselves into their reviews. Also, David B. Evans wrote in with a Welsh correction regarding Cat's interview with Nancy Carlin.

Meanwhile, Sandy Mathers does his best to keep his music out of the public domain with his letter regarding Jack Merry's review of a Widdershins album.

Green Man Review, in addition to being the last word in criticism, is, for many people, a respected reference source. If they can't find the information they need readily in our pages, they ask us questions. Kernan Davis wrote in to ask about the meaning of the word carabas; Michael Fox asked where he could get hold of that icon of motorcycles, the 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (as made famous by Richard Thompson), prompting a detailed response from David; and Martin Reynolds has a question relating to a play he saw that was similar in content (and revelation) to The Others.

Unfortunately, we aren't always able to answer the posed questions, but we invite our expert readers to suggest answers that occur to them. Send them, or anything else you want to get off your chest to GMR in care of the Letters editor. More continue to come in and the next posting will include yet another mistake correction and a 17-year-old's take on my review of John Fowles' debut novel.

We'll see you next week, dear readers, and in the meantime, we hope you find something to celebrate. Happy Charles Darwin's Birthday, and Charles Dickens Birthday too! Happy Get a Different Name Day! Happy Lost Penny Day (really)!


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Updated 13 February 2005, 07:00 GMT (MN)