Review: Draw a Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young by Jeremy Grimshaw Print E-mail

lamonte young(Contrary Magazine Winter 2013)

What Is the Sound of One Note Droning?

Minimalism. Art’s 50-year-old movement. A force of stasis. Of repetition. Of the barest materials. In writing. Ray Carver. Language eviscerated of ornament. The impact: disturbingly hollow. In painting. Frank Stella. Primary colors, perfect shapes. The response: purely dispassionate.

In music. There is the bell-like wistfulness of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies.” There is the repetitious ecstasy of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” And there are the sound environments of La Monte Young—the conceptual pieces (“One or more butterflies is let loose in the performance space”) and the long-tone drones (“Chronos Kristalla”).

After Many a Summer Still Writing My Parents Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

size1(Michael Steinberg's Blog November 28, 2012)

When I began life-writing in earnest, in the early 1990s, I turned to my dead father—my first, natural subject. Why first? Why natural? In a word, access. Our intimacy was special, almost motherly on his part; better yet, it was still on my skin. I listed a dozen moments I had with him as a boy in which he transferred some male potency, sorrow stirred with wisdom, to me. I wrote many of these episodes quickly, discovering that this skin-activated memory, attuned more to a felt frequency than any consequential event, had kept our relationship wired and alive.

Those several episodes, time-stopping, lingered like a burn—his scratchy-glancing kiss goodnight; his smell of Aqua Velva, soap, and coffee; his telling me I was, of his three sons, his favorite, though my older and younger brothers, reading my work or hearing me talk much later, disagree. Teaching memoir, how often I have demonstrated memory’s rash—stroking my arm and saying, "I can still feel him/his touch on my body. He’s right here."

Review: A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi by Aman Sethi Print E-mail

free man(Los Angeles Review of Books November 1, 2012)

Let Us Now Praise Free Men

If you're one of the unorganized working poor who inhabit the grimmest parts of Delhi, India, you’re probably a mazdoor, or laborer — late teens or early twenties, male, unskilled. To earn your rupees, you carry bags of cement at building sites, whitewash a staircase, paint a house. If you make enough in one week, you take the next week off. Then, you can eat, drink, and smoke the money away, in part, because there’s not much of it and because the jobs are plentiful; you just have to show up every day by the side of the road at six in the morning. You might work one season, lay off for another, ride the trains or catch a bus for another menial job elsewhere. You’ve been known to leave (abandon, some might say) a needy family, a nagging wife, a brood of children you’ve grown tired of. You might also blow off your birth family, live anonymously in Delhi’s (or Calcutta’s or Mumbai’s) frenzied quarters where no one knows (or cares) whence you came.

The Shifting Self Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

oxam_78(Oxford American Issue 78: August, 2012)

Seven months before September 11, Donald Morrill and his wife, Lisa, endured an invasion and robbery in their Tampa, Florida, home. Their assailant held them naked for twenty minutes during which they were threatened, humiliated, and locked in the bathroom. Their car was stolen, and the culprit was never caught.

In a ninety-nine-page book, The Untouched Minutes, which won the 2004 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, Morrill mingles the story of the assault with other violent incidents of that and the following two years: the September 11 attacks, the anthrax scare and murders, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the stabbing deaths of two Dartmouth professors, Half and Susanne Zantop. In the same week that Don and Lisa were terrorized, two teenage boys, caught in the act of stealing money for a trip to Australia, killed the Zantops. Their murder runs as a counter-theme throughout Morrill's book, suggesting a horror that might have been, which he and his wife escaped.

Review: The Guardians: An Elegy by Sarah Manguso Print E-mail

manguso_opt(Contrary Magazine July 9, 2012)

Suicides Are Painful

Many who read Sarah Manguso’s first memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay (2008), were in awe of the tale and its teller. At twenty-one, Manguso contracted an autoimmune blood disease that grew into nine years’ of transfusions, paralysis, and depression. It seemed the only way she could write about the debilitation was in short chapters, each a high-wire act that combined medical fact, incisive description, and intense but transient emotion. The terse style seemed to be holding back a floodgate.

Much of the same approach structures The Guardians, an ode on the suicide of her college friend and Platonic companion, Harris. Hospitalized three times for bizarre behaviors and depression, Harris was given antipsychotic drugs. It’s theorized that one side effect of those drugs is the rare akathisia, a kind of psychotic restlessness, which intensifies any driven behavior into mania. Escaping from a ward, the thirty-four-year-old wandered all day then leapt in front of a speeding train.

Year-Round Santa Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20120627(San Diego Reader June 27, 2012)

Benito Cristobal is surveying the house he lost last year to a foreclosure defrauder, and he is emotional as he recalls the $30,000 worth of improvements he made to the home. The 51-year-old Mexican-American maintenance man, his son Efrem, a high school senior, silent by his side, steps slowly around what he once possessed, his gestures grand, his voice regretful. He says he got rid of the garden and laid concrete walkways. He covered the ground under the three lemon trees with redwood chips. He bought a new water heater, new windows, gutters. He built a patio with a roof, though he had to remove the roof and saw off the struts once the city discovered the unpermitted structure. He built a low cement-block wall, with a black wrought-iron fence atop, to surround the four 30-foot palms. For seven golden years, this three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car-garage abode was his and his family’s — at least on paper.

Music, Memory, and Prose: On Joan Didion's Memoirs Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

joan-didion(Puerto del Sol Volume 47, No. 1: Summer, 2012)


With the 2003 publication of Where I Was From, Joan Didion began what may be the final phase of her fifty-year-plus writing career—the first of three memoirs, a loose trilogy centering on geographical exile and personal loss that reveal a master composer of prose. Close behind Where I Was From came The Year of Magical Thinking in 2005. Then, at the end of 2011, Blue Nights. This decade-long memoir period caps a Leonard-Bernstein-like run with Didion scoring several hits among a host of genre, each of which overlaps. There's the novel phase: five books, published between 1963 and 1996, among them Play It As It Lays. There's the nonfiction phase: six books, several of which are essay collections, beginning in 1968 with Slouching Toward Bethlehem and ending with Political Fictions in 2001.

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