Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July — Chicago
Care to sample our newest Summer ale? It’s called White Chalk Horse IPA and has a nice, light taste. It’s been very popular. It’ll go well with the whole hog barbecue that’s being cooked right now for serving up this evening after the contradance that the visiting Snow on the Mountain band’s providing the music for. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, doing the calling.
It being summer, I’m reading several titles at once, so I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. about an agency in our future which has developed time travel and recruits an agent to assist it in its quest to alter the past in order to bring magic back. Need I say that things don’t go as planned? Even at seven hundred plus pages, it’s a fast read.
I’m also reading Theodora Goss’ The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter, a delightful romp in a feminist version of Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in novel form only with better realised characters.
Now enjoy your drink and give a listen to the Swedish tunes that the Neverending Session while I finish this edition off…
Crow Mother and the Dog God, a Retrospective gets reviewed by Grey: ‘Meinrad Craighead has spent her long life creating images and words in her search for the deepest sources of the divine. As the girl christened Charlene Marie Craighead, she spent her summers in North Little Rock, Arkansas, running with packs of dogs, digging holes and listening to the stories of her beloved grandmother, “Memaw.” When she took holy orders as a Benedictine nun in England, she was given the name Meinrad, in honor of St. Meinrad, one of her own ancestors. Leaving the convent fourteen years later, she came to her heart’s home in New Mexico, where she has lived with dog companions and human friends ever since. In all that time, she has never stopped drawing, painting and writing about the images she has discovered.’
Robert was somewhat ambivalent about Elizabeth Hand’s Black Light, which he notes ‘is a foray into the world of dark gods, misty legends, and deep secrets.’ But you’re going to have to read his review to find out what the problem was.
He was much happier with Generation Loss: ‘Generation Loss is a foray into, for lack of a better term, “mainstream” fiction by Elizabeth Hand, many of whose previous novels have been marked by a decidedly mordant view of humanity (an attitude this one shares) and somewhere in the works, an apocalypse of some sort or another. They have also pretty much been easily identifiable as “science fiction.” The fantastic elements here, however, are the people and circumstances — the world at large is fairly normal, if not very pretty — and if there’s been an apocalypse, it’s been intimate and incremental.’
Robert also has a look at a trilogy that should be a classic, if it’s not. Describing George Alec Effinger’s Audran Trilogy, he says: ‘Effinger’s series builds a rich picture of a place (the Budayeen, the red-light ghetto in a Middle Eastern city that remains nameless ), a time (the late 22nd century), and a context (the political map is largely composed of the fragments of earlier superpowers, while it seems only the Islamic world has any coherency). The driving forces in the Budayeen are the same as the driving forces in any such place: money, sex, drugs, and power.’
I should note that D.O.D.O. is 750 pages long, a svelte length for a novel by Neal Stephenson, as the work Wes looks at, the first novel in The Baroque Cycle is 925 pages: ‘Quicksilver certainly doesn’t fall under the traditional conceits of science fiction, instead falling into something resembling ‘history-of-science fiction’. Set during the heart of the Baroque period, Neal Stephenson’s carefully crafted book follows fictional and historical characters through a world torn by conflict and plague. Those familiar with Neal Stephenson’s earlier novel Cryptonomicon will recognize the Shaftoes and Waterhouses, and the imaginary Qwghlm islands. Quicksilver, while exploring the state of alchemical study during the years of the Royal Society, focuses on the contributions of the ancestors of the protagonists of Cryptonomicon. Even so, you don’t need to have read Cryptonomicon to enjoy Quicksilver.’
Andrew notes that ‘Some stories are merely bad — dull, uninspired, or simply misformed. Others are bad in entertaining ways — bad movies, outsider art, and demented pulp fiction. Some stories are so horrible that it’s physically painful to read them, such as the work of Rob Liefeld. And then there’s Witchblade.’ It is now your solemn duty to read his in-depth review of the Witchblade Compendium, Volume 1 to see just why you should really, really avoid this work.
Elizabeth answers our question of favourite libation and says ‘To be honest, these days my libations don’t change much from season to season. It’s nearly always red wine. But at some point during the summer I usually have one margarita, on the rocks, salt — I had one while in San Diego — in honor of all the margaritas I used to mix for myself back in the day. I had enough then to fuel me for the rest of my life, plus it’s hard to get a decent margarita in a bar or restaurant — they all use a margarita mix, even in places like San Diego, and I don’t believe in frozen margaritas, strawberry margaritas, or some such. The one I drank in SD was the real thing. Rose’s lime juice, Cuervo, triple sec, salt. At the beach I used to do shots with salt and a slice of lime, but that was another century.’
John went to see a legend among Irish bands: ‘Ending the Irish leg of their 2005 European Tour, Thin Lizzy arrived in Limerick to play at the University of Limerick Concert Hall to a capacity house. During the halcyon days of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Thin Lizzy were regular visitors to Limerick during their many Irish tours. For this re-constituted line up, this was their second time in the University of Limerick Concert Hall, as they played here before on their 2003 ‘Global Chaos’ tour.’
Robert shares some thoughts on tradition in music, specifically as it relates to a group of CDs featuring the cedar flute: ‘As I listen to more traditional music and more music from non-Western sources, I begin to realize that the blithe use of the word “traditional” is tantamount to making your own noose and putting it around your neck. This was brought vividly home to me while listening to a group of CDs from Native American and Native-derived artists. Historically, American Indian music has been viewed as being an integral part of a whole, residing quite inextricably with dance, religious ritual, singing, and drama. Music, in this situation, is functional rather than being purely aesthetic, in that it almost invariably accompanies some other activity: North American Indians did not have “concerts.”’
Robert’s next offering is a look at several recordings by two artists who start with the cedar flute and take off from there: ‘I learned a very important concept about making art in a dance class, studying butoh, the contemporary Japanese dance-theater that is at once highly abstract and fundamentally impressionistic: evocation. Our movements were not to describe an action, but to evoke the image of the action. This applies to works done in many mediums, from dance to poetry to fiction and, of course, music. Coyote Oldman (Michael Graham Allen on flutes, Barry Stramp on recording studio) has explored a range of possibilities inherent in this idea, basing their music on the sounds and textures of New World flutes (for the most part, made by Allen).’
We round off our music reviewing this week with Sean taking a look at yet another Clannad anthology, A Magical Gathering: ‘For those unfamiliar with the full panorama of the Clannad sound archive, these two discs might come as a surprise, as they contrast the band’s acoustic roots with more recent, perhaps familiar work, which is all too often formulaic, elegiac and in the hands of their most successful scion, Enya, totally commercial.’
In keeping with our opening quote, not to mention our Coda, our What Not this week is a ramble through a nature reserve — in the middle of Chicago. Here’s Robert’s take on the North Pond Nature Sanctuary: ‘Chicago, perhaps surprisingly to most people, has a number of nature sanctuaries in Lincoln Park, which stretches along the lakefront from North Avenue in the south up to Hollywood Beach in the north. I say “perhaps surprisingly” because Chicago’s lakefront happens to be on a major flyway for migratory birds, part of the Mississippi Flyway, and given the city’s commitment to green space, nature reserves are pretty much a no-brainer. The “reserve” part is the result of Lincoln Park being one of the most used parks in the city, so we’ve had to set aside some places for the visitors.’
There are bands for which I’ve deep liking for pretty much everything they’ve done such as the Old Blind Dogs or Steeleye Span, though the former used a full drum kit for a while that put me off those recordings. And then there are performers for which I can only blame radio play in heavy rotation for the song when I was working.
So it is with Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park’ which I’ve heard playing off and on over the past forty years. It’s certainly an upbeat, feel good summer song much like ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s. It was recorded on 6th of August 1982 at the Park West in Chicago. It was released on Chicago V in 1972 and peaked on the Billboard carts at number three which is bloody impressive. It was lovely enough that I didn’t get tired of it. But I’ve prattled on enough about it, so here’s that song for you to have the pleasure of hearing performed live.