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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Sunday
Feb202011

In Which When I Went To Iowa I Had Never Heard of Faulkner

flannery's desk and typewriter

The Thing She Did Best

Somebody was telling me that Malcolm Cowley had delivered himself of an essay in the last Harper's magazine on the state of the novel. He didn't find them now as good as in the 30s when folks were protesting. I didn't rush out to buy one.

I hope if I am eating salt in august I can get to see you before you start off in the airplane. I don't make no plans.

- Flannery O'Connor in a letter to Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, 5/7/53

Before Milledgeville, Georgia was just another place for Ben Roethlisberger to degrade women, it was the country home of Flannery O'Connor, one of the finest writers we have known. Flannery wasn't exactly the most politically correct person, and her political and religious views held her apart from the hoity-toity cultural decacons of that age. Nevertheless, respect for her incomparable prose style and mastery of the short story form was generally acknowledged by her critics and her naysayers alike. She was a devout Catholic, and her faith in God sustained her through countless medical difficulties before she passed away from lupus at the age of 39. In her letters, she proves to be the among the sauciest pen pals of the era, and in the following excerpts, she reflects on her influences.

To Sally Fitzgerald

mid-September 1951

I certainly enjoyed Catcher in the Rye. Read it up the same day it came. Regina said I was going to RUIN MY EYES reading all that in one afternoon. I reckon that man owes a lot to Ring Lardner. Anyway he is very good. Regina said would she like to read it and I said, well it was very fine. She said yes but would she like to the read it, so I said she would have to try it and see. She hasn't tried it yet. She likes books with Frank Buck and a lot of wild animals.

To Robert Lowell

2 May 1952

I was powerful glad to hear from you and I am pleased that you liked the gorilla. I hope you'll like the whole thing. I asked Bob Giroux to send you one.

I've been in Georgia with the buzzards for the last year and a half on acct. of arthritis but I am going to Conn. in June to see the Fitzgeralds. They have about a million children all with terrific names and all beautiful. I'm living with my mother in the country. She raises cows and I raise ducks and pheasants. The pheasant cock has horns and looks like some of those devilish people and dogs in Rousseau's paintings. I have been taking painting myself, painting mostly chickens and guineaus and pheasants. My mother thinks they're great stuff. She prefers me painting to me writing. She hasn't learned to love Mrs. Watts. Harcourt sent my book to Evelyn Waugh and his comment was: "If this is really the work of a young lady, it is a remarkable product." My mother was vastly insulted. She put the emphasis on if and lady. Does he suppose you're not a lady? she says. WHO is he?

To Ben Griffith

13 February 1954

Thank you so very much for your kind letter. I am much more like Enoch than like the gorilla and I always answer every letter I get, at once, at length. This may be because I don't get many.

I don't know how to cure the source-itis except to tell you that I can discover a good many possible sources myself for Wise Blood but I am often embarrassed to find I read the sources after I had written the book. I have been exposed to Wordsworth's "Intimation" ode but that is all I can say about it. I have one of those food-chopper brains that nothing comes out of the way it comes in. The Oedipus business comes nearer home. Of course Haze Mote is not an Oedipus figure but there are the obvious resemblances. At the time I was writing the last of the book, I was living in Connecticut with the Robert Fitzgeralds. Robert Fitzgerald translated the Theban cycle with Dudley Fitts, and their translation of Oedipus Rex had just come out and I was much taken with it. Do you know the translation? I am not an authority on such things but I think it must be the best, and it certainly is very beautiful. Anyway, all I can say is, I did a lot of thinking about Oedipus.

My background and my inclinations are both Catholic and I think this is very apparent in the book. Something is usually said about Kafka in connection with Wise Blood but I have never succeeded in making my way through The Castle or The Trial and I wouldn't pretend to know anything about Kafka. I think reading a little of him perhaps makes you a bolder writer. My reading is botchy. I have what passes for an education in this day and time, but I am not deceived by it. I read Henry James, thinking this may affect my writing for the better without my knowing how. A touching faith, and I have others.

The following is excerpt from a letter to one of Flannery's longtime readers and letter correspondents in August of 1955:

I didn't really start to read until I went to Graduate School and then I began to read and write at the same time. When I went to Iowa I had never heard of Faulkner, Kafka, Joyce, much less read them. Then I began to read everything ay once, so much so that I didn't have time I suppose to be influenced by any one writer. I read all the Catholic novelists, Mauriac, Bernanos, Bloy, Greene, Waugh; I read all the nuts like Djuna Barnes and Dorothy Richardson and Va. Woolf (unfair to the dear lady, of course); I read the best Southern writers like Faulkner and the Tates, K.A. Porter, Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor; read the Russians, not Tolstoy so much as Doestoyevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and Gogol. I became a great admirer of Conrad and have read almost all his fiction. 

I have totally skipped such people as Dreiser, Anderson (except for a few stories) and Thomas Wolfe. I have learned something from Hawthorne, Flaubert, Balzac and something from Kafka, though I have never been able to finish one of his novels. I've read almost all of Henry James - from a sense of High Duty and because when I read James I feel something is happening to me, in slow motion but happening nevertheless. I admire Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. But always the largest thing that looms up is The Humerous Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. I am sure he wrote them all while drunk too.

young flanneryTo Elizabeth Bishop

2 August 1959

I have at last got my novel out of the house and on the train and haven't yet self-employed myself back on anything serious. After you have worked on a thing seven years, it is too close for you to see it with precision. I see my stories much more clearly because they haven't exhausted me by the time I finish them. My book is about a boy who has been raised up in the backwoods by his great uncle to be a prophet. The book is about his struggle not to be a prophet - which he loses. I am resigned to the fact that I am going to be the book's greatest admirer.

Yesterday I sold a pair of peacocks, the first time I have sold any. These people showed up in a long white car, the woman in short shorts. They obviously had plenty of money that they weren't used to. She flew a Piper Cub, kept two coons, and what she called a "Weimeraw" dog. He was going to start in on pheasants, peafowl an dbullfrogs. They came in and admired the house and she said, "We was in Macon looking for some French provincial furniture. I want me a love seat." The man was a structural engineer. He said he had a friend who was a writer in Mississippi and I said who was that. He said, "His name is Bill Faulkner. I don't know if he's any good or not but he's a mighty nice fellow." I told him he was right good.

Flannery O'Connor died in 1964. You can purchase Flannery's selected letters, The Habit of Being, edited by Sally Fitzgerald, here.

This Recording Presents How and Why to Write

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Gene Wolfe, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

"So Sleepy" - Fiona Apple (mp3)

"Why Try To Change Me Now" - Fiona Apple (mp3)

"I Walk A Little Faster" - Fiona Apple (mp3)

Friday
Feb182011

In Which I Was Feeling Some Feelings You Wouldn't Believe

The Deepest Shade of Mushroom Blue

by JESSE KLEIN

Listen to Nine Inch Nails for a week and see what happens. Only Nine Inch Nails. At first, everything becomes serious. The smallest slight feels like a slap in the face, another reminder that they just don’t understand you. Roommates, cashiers, people on bikes become enemies and you’re all, ‘I’d rather die than give you control’. Then the music just becomes silly, the lyrics too literal. You drift out of NIN World and back into the arch, cynical posture you’re used to adopting. If "God is dead" as is claimed in "Heresy", I’m not so sure I wouldn’t care, and I would definitely be upset if I were in hell, whether you were there or not. Then things become really serious. Once you "take the skin and peel it back", it does not make you feel better. Everything is so sad and mad and bad in NIN World. And what if Trent is right?

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails’ first album, Pretty Hate Machine, went three times platinum nationally and sixteen years later in 2005, his album With Teeth went gold. And of course there's The Downward Spiral and The Fragile in between going platinum a combined six times. He has just won a Golden Globe and very well might win the Oscar for Original Score for his work with Atticus Ross in The Social Network. So he must be right at least some of the time.

For someone who has based a career on being the outcast, Reznor is very good at being very popular. And therein lies the trick; everybody wants to be a member of the club that says that clubs are for losers, for everyone else. Reznor has done something if not impossible, then really really hard to do: he’s stayed culturally relevant for over twenty years. In an industry and a medium that change by the week, by the city, by the new mashed-up genre somebody just made up. As far as I can tell, he’s been able to do this for two reasons.

Trent Reznor (now) puts all of his crazy into his music, not his daily life. In the years following The Downward Spiral he suffered from depression and abused drugs but beat his depression and cleaned up. Since that period, he has the same adolescent rage in his music, but doesn’t need to live it to prove its validity.

By the late 90s, he shed his tattered, stringy hair for a more distinguished Goth look ("Perfect Drug"), then moved on to an even shorter haircut and no facial hair (With Teeth), and finally shaved his head altogether. If not for his fame, he could now easily be mistaken for a car mechanic or high school chemistry teacher. In other words, a far cry from the guy in the tights and the leather and the Industrial Tefillin who’s hanging out with Bob Flanagan. Or the dude with the Milli Vanilli haircut in 1989.

You can also take his music seriously and not seriously at the same time, listen to it literally and ironically in the same sitting. The lyrics are silly, but they’re kind of true. There’s a little bit of Nine Inch Nails in all of us. And like almost every white male in North America, I had a Nine Inch Nails phase. I started listening to NIN when I was eleven. My older brothers listened to them but talked about it in hushed tones; his satanic verses were not meant for kids. So, of course, I couldn’t not. I was drawn to all of it. The cover of The Downward Spiral looked like it was made by an agoraphobe in a barn in Iowa (it was made by Russell Mills at the Glasgow School of Art.) It was confusing but in a way that said that it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand; it could be someone’s back, it could be a wall, or neither. The fact that I was looking at it was enough.

Unlike most other bands, I could understand every word he said. He enunciated so well! I spent hours trying to decipher what Kurt Cobain was saying; for years I thought he was chanting a man’s name, "Robbie Naya", at the end of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." And best, I understood the lyrics. Gone were the vague allusions, the coded phrases, the metaphoric imagery. Nine Inch Nails spoke a language an eleven year old could understand. "Everyday is exactly the same." And "why do you get all the love in the world"? So, "I became less concerned about fitting into the world. Your world, that is." By fourteen, I was too cynical to listen to them anymore. What I once worshipped as naked emotion I coolly dismissed as sappy heart-on-your-sleavery. Too many years had passed, everyone sitting around waiting for The Fragile got bored and moved onto his perverted protégé, Marilyn Manson, or changed direction and got into Smashing Pumpkins or Phish.

Around ten years later, my brother and I started texting each other Nine Inch Nails lyrics. We didn’t have much to say to one another, and when we did it often was not simple. Instead of treading in these awkward waters we opted to make light of the situation, to send it up. He was in L.A., I was in Montreal and so we would spend around a buck a text to say things like "I am a big man yes I am/And I have a big gun" and "I was feeling some feelings you wouldn’t believe." But it allowed us to change the subject; to not like, to make fun of ourselves for ever liking, and really still like, his music.

And all this without mentioning the fact that he made one of the most important albums of the 80s and definitely of the 90s. Pretty Hate Machine was a revelation, a confessional voice but one packaged in a harsh exterior, a smiley face with crossbones. The album sounds dark from afar, but somewhere amidst the pain is pure pop. The convincing whine, the needy screaming, the pouting silence—every teenager you’ve ever met. It wasn’t all darkness like other industrial music; there was a lot of light that peeked through.

I went to one Nine Inch Nails show, it was during the With Teeth tour in 2006. I hadn’t purchased tickets, didn’t even know there was a show until that night. A friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to go. With nineteen dollars and nothing else to do, I went to the show at the Bell Centre, the biggest venue in town. Filling nearly half the arena, Reznor and his road band thrashed through songs, new and old, the old better received than the new. At the encore’s close, Reznor sat down at the keyboard and played the first few notes of "Hurt." Ten seconds and ten thousand lighters later, the room was silent. "I ran away to this song," a girl behind me told her date. "I know exactly what you mean," he answered back. My friend and I pinched our noses to not laugh out loud. But, I guess, we laughed because we knew it was true. We were uncomfortable with her sincerity. She did run away to that song. So did Johnny Cash. I run away to "Hurt". Everybody does.

Jesse Klein is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer and filmmaker living in Austin. He twitters here and tumbls here.

"Cars" - Nine Inch Nails ft. Gary Numan (mp3)

"Closer (live)" - MGMT (mp3)

"Wish (live)" - Linkin Park (mp3)

Thursday
Feb172011

In Which We Think About A Move To Houston

An Analytical Mindset

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Big Love

creators Mark V. Olsen & Will Scheffer

The magical key to unlocking the female analytical mindset. Tap directly into her hopes, her wants, her fears, her desires, and her sweet little panties. Learn how to make that lady "friend" your sex-starved servant. I don't care how you look. I don't care what car you drive. I don't care what your last bank statement says.

Frank 'T.J.' Mackey

It's nice to have a lot of people around. Accidents in the home are less often fatal. Tibetans practiced polyandry, a form of plural marriage in which a woman has many husbands. Stuck-up people gave them copious shit about it. Big Love would be a great show if it were just about regular people living in America, but the series' fifth and final season concerns irregular people living in Utah. As time has gone on, the aughts have hit the erstwhile home improvement chain owner hard. Each of Bill Hendrickson's wives has grown increasingly attractive while he no longer seems lively enough to hop on Apollo 13.

Extreme survival circumstances encourage the destruction of monogamy, which explains John Edwards' love affair better than I ever could. Robert Heinlein imagined line marriages in space, where the eldest wife could select any man to her bed, and marriage back into a line is accepted rarely, perhaps only once or twice in a generation. Precautions against incest licensed a variety of exciting arrangements. Did you know that Dennis Hopper once had seven women with the same last name convinced he was in love with them at the same time?

Chloe Sevigny spins like a dervish amidst the various plotlines. The fact that I am able to keep track of the show's characters is an indictment of my own. There are over 60, and these are just a few: Bill's mom, Bill, his three wives, his friend and CFO, that man's three wives, many children, Wayne, Roman Grant (deceased), Kara-Lynn, Frank 'T.J.' Mackey, Heather, Nicki's mother (Mark Kay Place), Margene's mother (deceased), Bill's demon spawn fresh from a Ukranian emigre's belly, Bill's father, Aaron Paul, Albie, a BYU intern, Bill's brother, Benny, Sarah, the man who works in Bill's warehouse and hates him, Bill's Senate colleagues - there is no end to the sheer number of people in Utah.

How many people does the average person know in their lifetime? This is the ideal question for a wisdom of the crowds, which effectively amounts to a conflict of interest. In Utah, many things are different from how we have come to know them on the other side of the world, really. Bill's third wife Margene managed "Why don't we just live in Houston?"

Bill Hendrickson spent his youth stealing because he was cast out from Juniper Creek, the compound where everyone's hair looks like early Elaine from Seinfeld and young women are offered in a book to the men who are effectively their pimps and sperm origin points. Bill (or "Beeeeeeeel" if you're calling him from another room) didn't have a dollar to his name and that was 40 percent of his charm. To solve this social problem, in the fiction of Big Love, Utah authorities persecute the compound and all those who live in this fashion. Joseph Smith had a lovely looking family:

It is no longer precisely who we are supposed to sympathize with, or against. Sunday's episode showcased a set of stodgy LDS officials — with their weird, muted pleas to Bill, they seemed more like psychic representations of his inner struggle than actual characters. Their status as apparitions is the ludicrous exception that proves the rule. At the end of some scenes, the audience cannot be entirely sure whether they are supposed to feel empathetic or hateful towards the heroes of the drama. This reconstructs the soap opera of Big Love as a moral mindfuck, where the antagonist is a constantly rotating ephemeral idea. It's too bad you have to follow along with a scorecard, but it's not really that difficult as long as you're clean and sober.

Everyone on Big Love always is. The luminous Jeanne Tripplehorn sampled some wine and her housemates reacted as if she had ripped their hearts out. When the actress-wives found out Bill was schlepping a waitress who ruined the show's previous season they weren't half as indignant. (He only put it in a little.) Not that the show's creators wish to paint a broad brush, but it seems fair to conclude that for Mormons, sex is okay, but not pornography, unless it is devoid of sex, when it is renamed the Oxygen Network.

At this point in his life, Bill doesn't seem very interested in women. He gets more excited by a vote on the floor of the Utah State Senate, and he no longer has sex scenes with any of his actress-wives, although he repeatedly watches Chloe Sevigny's scene from The Brown Bunny to stimulate himself to orgasm. Once he achieves it, he usually moves on to the intercourse of a flooded planet in Waterworld. His son and fellow-priesthood holder showcases similar passions.

There is something very noxious about the tendency of people to interfere in each other's business. At the same time, the frontier was a dangerous place and Joseph Smith probably couldn't stop after the third wife or so. Opinions about polygamy are more mixed than even Big Love allows; opinions about the abuse of women in plural marriage aren't mixed at all.

In the time he spends between writing memoirs about the Holocaust, Daniel Mendelsohn found the time to recently denigrate Mad Men for its sanctimonious view of the 1960s, a point of view akin to the conviction that he hates monkeys because they eat too many bananas. It's not just Leonardo DiCaprio in every single movie who is losing his grasp on reality, the simpleton who confuses satire with real life remains complicit. Don't ask me which Big Love is from scene to scene; it would be impossible to rightly tell without a magnifying glass.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing here.

"Service Animal" - Women (mp3)

"Grey Skies" - Women (mp3)

"China Steps" - Women (mp3)