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April 2017 Archives

PC LIVE! 2017 Part I

It's been a wild week of live performances here in RVA. With the end of my spring break, I expected things to get busy, but they did did so rather more suddenly and more completely than I'd expected. Let me tell you all about it...

A little over a week ago, I found out through a Twitter message that Robyn Hitchcock was not only touring in support of his new self-titled album, but was coming through Richmond. Unfortunately, it was on a Wednesday night, when Kelly works late, so if I wanted to go, it would have to be solo. On the other hand, this would be a chance to see RH in my hometown, an opportunity I hadn't enjoyed since 1990, when he played the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. (The last time we saw him, it was in Annapolis, Maryland, which involved a six-hour round trip.) So yeah, I bought myself a ticket, and on Wednesday, April 19th, I headed down to the Capital Ale House.

The CHA is a venue I've patronized before, but never by myself. As a result, I was somewhat surprised when I was guided to a table already occupied by a couple. We didn't exchange much conversation, but before the opening act began, we all ordered food--a burger for him, an artichoke sandwich for her, and a Cuban with sweet potato fries for me. When our food arrived, the couple took a moment to check on which sandwich each of them had, and passed me the other. As they dug into their sandwiches, I munched on some fries for a bit--the ramekin of BBQ sauce on the side was doing very pleasant things with the sweet potato flavor--and then took a good look at my own sandwich, which appeared to be on pita. Odd, but not unheard of for a Cuban. As my tablemates continued to enjoy their orders, I was beginning to have my doubts. Those doubts grew when my first bite did not deliver the expected flavors--no mustard, no pickle, and most notably no pork or ham. The couple still said nothing, so I took another bite, just to be sure, and this time I got a full taste of what was undeniably an artichoke.

The woman had stolen my dinner.

I quickly flagged down the waitress, handed her my plate, and simply said, "This is not the sandwich I ordered." After a rapid apology, she raced off to get me a Cuban. My tablemate said nothing, but later, when I spotted our waitress on my way to the restroom, I hastened to point out that the fault had not been hers.

"I'm pretty sure the woman at my table took my Cuban," i explained.

"She did," said the wait. "She admitted it." I left a good tip, and found myself hoping our wait spit into my tablemate's drink or something.

The opening act was a perfectly nice young Nashville singer/songwriter named Cale Tyler, but if you're going to impress me with your twangy first-person songs of love and pain, you'd better be able to outdo American Aquarium's B.J. Barham or I'm just not going to be impressed. Let's just say B.J. continues to rule that particular realm of the larger songwriting empire and leave it at that.

Robyn himself was in fine form, eager to share a few songs from his new album, but to remind us of the many delights he has provided his fans over the last forty (!) years. His hair remains thick but is totally white now, and his taste in shirts remains decidedly vivid. Unlike past shows where at least a few songs were done on electric guitar, this performance was all acoustic, and though he enjoyed making absurd requests to Joe, the sound man, at nearly every opportunity ("Joe, can you put a bit of reverb on the vocal?" "Joe, I'd like the guitar to sound like a particularly well-played twelve-string." "Joe, can you make me sound like Graham Nash? Preferably with a bit of David Crosby... no, no, just Graham Nash will do.") the accompaniment was varied purely because Robyn can play a remarkable variety of styles without using so much as a guitar pick.

The song choices included a number of my favorites, including a handful of tunes he'd played in 2005; indeed, one of those tunes, "Victorian Squid," was such an obscurity that I'd been pleasantly shocked to hear it live the first time. To hear it again twelve years later practically defies the laws of probability. Two songs from the album ("I Want to Tell You About What I Want" and "Mad Shelley's Letterbox") were included, and he bookended the show with a couple of covers, opening with a tune from his beloved Bob Dylan (Peco's Blues" from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack) and closing the encore set with Ray Davies' "Waterloo Sunset."

In between, there were plentiful examples of Robyn's ability to improvise surreal narratives and even miniature essays. At one point, sipping from a cup of coffee, he opined, "One of the best things about being alive is all the great stuff you can put in your mouth." At another, he noted how upsetting it would be to have your aunt fall off a cliff into the sea, only to be seized by a passing guillemot (thus becoming the first person I've ever heard use the word "guillemot" aloud in public, which is surprising when you consider the number of birders I hang out with).

Here's the annotated set list, wi
th the songs he did on 3/22/05 in italics:

*Peco's Blues/Life is Change (Dylan cover/part of RH's 2016 duet with Emma Swift)
*My Wife & My Dead Wife (Fegmania!, 1985)
*When I Was Dead (Respect, 1993)
*Chinese Bones (Globe of Frogs, 1989)
*Full Moon in My Soul (Spooked, 2004)
*I Want to Tell You About What I Want (Robyn Hitchcock, 2017)
*Madonna of the Wasps (Queen Elvis, 1989)
*Queen of Eyes (Underwater Moonlight by the Soft Boys, 1980)
*Beautiful Girl (Eye, 1990)
*Aquarium (Eye, 1990)
*Victorian Squid (You & Oblivion, 1995)
*Be Still (Love from London, 2013)
*I'm Only You (Fegmania!, 1985)
*Airscape (Element of Light, 1986)
*Mad Shelley's Letterbox (Robyn Hitchcock, 2017)

*The Lizard (Black Snake Diamond Role, 1981)
*I Wanna Destroy You (Underwater Moonlight by the Soft Boys, 1980)
*Waterloo Sunset (Yes, the Kinks song)

After the show I lined up at the merch table and tried to buy a CD of the new album, but alas, they had only vinyl, and I am between turntables. Instead I bought a t-shirt, and though I had to opportunity to get it signed, I opted not to; I don't really like wearing things that people have signed, since every laundering makes the signature fade. I settled for a few moments' chat with Robyn, telling him how much I enjoyed the way his shows vary, and how much he pleased me by including "Victorian Squid." I hope the album does well, and that the tour is a success as well, and that next time he comes through town, Kelly and I can both see him. And yes, I'm kind of hoping he goes for a third performance of "Victorian Squid."

NEXT: What Happened on Thursday!

11:18 AM

All and Sundry

I did a little math at the end of 2016--not something I do all that frequently, at least not in a voluntary fashion--and discovered something about my recent reading habits. I finished 62 books last year, some new (I finally got around to reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X) and some familiar (the first five books of Roger Zelazny's beloved Chronicles of Amber), some long (Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton) and some very brief (Kelly Luce's 132-page short story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail), some illustrated (the final volumes of Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key) and some not (Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown). But all were dutifully recorded in my reading list, allowing me to examine the data and reach a conclusion:

I read a lot of books by white guys.

This isn't shocking, really. As a white guy myself, I find it very easy to look at the books written by my brethren and see my own interests and concerns reflected in the topics they address. At the same time, I am very aware, particularly in light of the events of November 8th, that the interests and concerns of non-white/non-guy people aren't always given much consideration. When I add to that the amount of pleasure I've gotten out of the work of female writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Edith Wharton, Octavia Butler, A.S. Byatt, etc.) and male writers of color (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Salman Rushdie, Alex Haley, Ralph Wiley), I found it hard to justify the reading choices I made in 2016. 

Of the 62 books I finished, over 67 percent--a full 42 books--were the work of white guys. And on the other 20 books, white guys were often collaborators, either in the role of artist or writer for a comics narrative, such as Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Hill, John Layman, etc. Let's be clear: I have no desire to give up reading writers I like just because they're white guys--I enjoy Neil Gaiman and James Hynes and Mike Carey just fine, thanks--but there's no question that I can do a better job of reading the work of other people.

So that's been my challenge to myself this year: make sure at least 50 percent of the books I read are written by women or men of color.

How am I doing? So far, not too badly. Though I started 2017 with Both Flesh and Not, an essay collection by one of the whitest guys in the white-guy world, David Foster Wallace, most of the new full-length books I've read this year have been by women. I finally located and put into the proper order the last three volumes of Kage Baker's novels of The Company (whose chronology the publishers have unconscionably left very unclear to her readers) and plowed through them back to back to back. I also recently finished Helene Wecker's debut, The Golem and the Jinni, which began as a deliberate but vivid set of scenes in 1899 New York City and gradually picked up steam before closing with a rush. The only other new book by a white guy that I've read was Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke, which I tucked into my pocket for the bus ride up to DC and back on the day of the Women's March on Washington; given the circumstances, I don't feel too chauvinistic about that particular option.

Graphic novels have been fairly evenly split; I've read comics where the artist was female (Fiona Staples on Saga, Tess Fowler on Rat Queens) and where the writer was (Kelly Sue DeConnick on Bitch Planet), and where one woman did both the script and the art (Liz Prince's Tomboy).

It's really only the re-reading where the white guys keep cropping up; as I sometimes do during the school year, I found an old favorite to keep me going without forcing me to think too hard, and in this case it was all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. You're not going to find a writer with more Female Issues than C.S. Lewis, but I can't ignore Narnia's impact on my reading habits or my childhood, so there you have it.

As of today, I've finished 23 books in 2017, and 13 were solely the work of white guys. I can do better, clearly, but I'm a lot closer to fifty-fifty than I was last year. And if I can get myself to that perfectly balanced state by December 31st, I'll feel as though I've done something to broaden my horizons. And who knows, I might just discover something new and exciting. It's happened before, after all.

5:05 PM


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