On Radiohead and Writing

I’ve never considered myself a music guy. Growing up, I didn’t live or die by the likes of MC Hammer, Madonna, Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre., or any other music icon that so many of my friends adored. I was too busy hounding over the countless new experiences at Blockbuster, discovering the likes of John Woo, Joel and Ethan Coen, Jim Jarmusch…you get the picture. Then college and the proverbial musical right of passage; Classic Rock. Does everyone go through Led Zeppelin, Creedance, and Hendrix during these impressionable years? But still, not a music guy. Then two different roommates from different years of University (both of whom turned out to be lifelong friends), introduced me to Radiohead. Hook, line, and sinker, I was a music guy. Or at the very least, a Radiohead guy. The music spoke to me in a way no other artist had, creating a visual world out of thin air, concocting one haunting line after another. I can’t remember how many times I’ve written film papers on Terrence Malick, Godard, and others listening to The Bends or Kid A. Their music seemed to propel me toward creativity, toward a sense of confidant analysis I’d never felt. I could see the songs, Black Star, Iron Lung, Airbag, Subterranean HomeSick Alien, Optimistic, rage through my finger tips like some hidden nightmare streamlining itself onto the page. Great music, I’ve since learned, is a personal reckoning in opinion. Maybe it’s because of the duration, being short bursts of longing and love which make an immediate impact on the most instinctual part of your mind. So flash forward – Radiohead’s newest album, In Rainbows, was released last year over the Internet as a “name your own price” bundle of wonder. It’s since been released on CD, and after listening to it countless times, and writing even more papers doing so, I feel reborn yet again. It’s slow build through the heartbreaking narrative of loss and need make for an overall hypnotic experience. Listen again and you’ll hear something different. Radiohead has always felt cinematic to me, a long tracking shot of emotion waiting to reveal something unimaginable. It’s a shame more filmmakers haven’t utilized this quality (the only two I can think of are Cameron Crowe’s stunning opening shot in Vanilla Sky and Tran Anh Hung’s dreamy bar scene in Cyclo). I might not be a music nut (I’m glad movies chose me!), but Radiohead’s piercing sounds have shown me I don’t have to be. With this band, types, categories, and absolutes just don’t matter.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

A relentlessly paced psychological horror piece which dissects the vampire myth and pushes it swiftly through the apocalypse scenario. Many have called I Am Legend one of the masterpieces of Science Fiction writing and the story itself certainly warrants that consideration. Matheson builds Robert Neville’s world of isolation with ripe anger and guilt instead of bombed out mass destruction, an enviable decision which looks to be tossed to the wind for the upcoming Will Smith film remake. However, the idea often trumps the actual writing, making this a quick and fun read with plenty of pulp symbolism to mull over. Neville truly thinks he’s the last man on Earth, and his own ignorance toward the life cycle makes him a completely sympathetic and dimensional character. After losing a family and seeing Vampires take over the world, I think anyone would be consumed by their own situation and miss the forest for their own particular rotting tree.

1984 by George Orwell

“Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”- Big Brother makes Winston a promiseI’ve spent the last four months reading this book, not because I’m a slow reader or the story is complicated to follow. No, this book just scares the hell out of me. It’s uncomfortable and relentless, timely (as ever!) and disturbing. But that’s been said before, and the true wonder of 1984 comes in the gift it gives to the reader personally. Like the dreaded Room 101 in which Winston faces his gravest fear, Orwell’s transcendent work signifies something different for each reader, and in turn defeating the very mental apocalypse it foretells. To me, 1984 represents blind self delusion at it’s most dangerous, an attribute everyone of us can use to dignify horrific actions, no matter the side. I have faith that upon reading it again this work could show me a different part of myself, which all great art inevitably achieves.

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

A brutal, relentless novel with prose so bare and sharp one wonders if Joel and Ethan Coen changed anything for their film adaptation coming in November. McCarthy’s personal vision of the modern Western frontier descending into crime, murder, and hell makes quite an impression. With each intimate scene of violence, some so bloody I can’t imagine the Coen’s showing everything, the novel embroiders a deep pattern of psychological malaise defined by solitude, regret, and soullessness and representative of a devastating generational transition. Chigurth, Moss, Bell et. al exist in a foreboding world, where blood and dirt mix with ease, a place stained by greed and corruption in the very worst ways.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons

Hailed as one of the best graphic novels of all time, Watchmen offers a brutally engaging experience, shifting between detailed history, destructive violence, calm transitions, and personal reflections surrounding the de-mystification of the super hero. I’m not going to reveal story here, because I knew nothing about this classic work going in, so I won’t ruin it for those who still haven’t read it. However, staying away from individual characters, I will entice you with the world Moore and Gibbons brilliantly construct. Watchmen (now being made into a full length feature film and the first image resides above) delves into a parallel nightmare New York City set in 1985, where Nixon holds a seemingly permanent presidency, the Cold War suffocates all, fear and tension reign supreme. Super-heroes are outlawed, unless sanctioned by the government, and those still fighting crime on their own are simultaneously being hunted by the police for breaking the law. It’s a dire world, one which Moore’s illustrations explode with dark colors and surprising moments of primary hue. It’s a complex portrait of nationalism at it’s most devastating and honorable, and stays true to the relationships established no matter the extreme savagery or far fetched actions represented. “Who watches the Watchmen?” It’s a question meant for everyone, and fearing to answer produces inevitable tyranny. As Rorschach would say, “No Compromise!” A brilliant piece of literature.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I’m a little upset I didn’t read this at a younger age, because the dense, rhythmic, and meandering prose seems revolutionary to me now, and I can’t imagine what it would have felt like at a more impressionable time. Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s rambling and traveling hero (and one of my best friend’s pen name – Chris!), experiences more life in this book than many can hope to in their lifetime. On the Road is relentless in it’s structure, taking minor breaks between Sal’s colorful, explicit, and joyous journeys across America, only to focus almost completely on the sights and sounds and smells of Americana, from New York, to Denver, to San Francisco, and finally into the feverish belly of Mexico. With Sal’s constant pursuit of new experiences and inevitably new and uncompromising characters, Kerouac seems to be saying there’s only the road, and everything in between, the down time, is essential but not worth the attention. Many filmmakers from Terrence Malick to Walter Salles have tried to bring this book to the silver screen, but it might be one of those impossible adaptations, a work so thick with moments of character and rightfully void of traditional plot points, that it might be left alone to explore and re-explore solely through Kerouac’s words. A great book of adventure.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and Let it Be by The Beatles

Hold the presses – this entry has nothing to do with film! Holy sh@t, Glenn’s not watching movies? What the hell is he going to talk about? Well, plenty. In fact I haven’t been this happy with the creative process in a while, and it has everything to do with expanding my horizons. I’ve been a movie nut my entire life, which has left only minor temporal moments for other mediums, most regrettably literature and music. So, more often than not, I’ll be shifting to the novels I’m reading and the music in my CD player, attempting (this is new for me folks) to comment on totally different forms of artistic expression, and I think it will make me a finer human being!, and more importantly a better writer. Don’t worry, the film stuff will keep coming.Let’s begin with a book I read with the simple purpose of preparing for the filmed version. See, Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) is directing the cinematic interpretation of Alice Sebold’s sublimely fascinating The Lovely Bones, a story about the life and afterlife of Susie Salmon. Susie’s a 14 year old girl who is murdered in Sebold’s first chapter, spending the rest of the book watching the aftermath from her own personal heaven. A slightly shortsighted Starbucks coworker of mine commented roughly that The Lovely Bones is a “girls book”, which I recorded in the “f-ing ridiculous” file in the back of my mind. But this lame comment did bring up a point Sebold dissects throughout – that POV, both the living and dead, male and female, is a fluid and unpredictable topic, one that should be celebrated instead of judged. Throughout her novel, Susie makes harrowing observations that flow off the page at a moment’s glance, forcing a slight gasp of fear, then a realization it’s one in a long line of trauma’s filtered through an innocent’s loving, tender eyes. It’s not Susie’s story, or for that matter the story of her murderer, or Susie’s family, but all of them and none of them. The Lovely Bones reflects an openness and meandering spirit, which will be a key for Jackson to capture visually, and defines the book as a superb read.High Fidelity (which I of course has seen the Frears film adaptation), astounded me. It’s exactly what I needed to hear at this crossroads in my life. I don’t want to say too much because every man who is reading this and hasn’t read Hornby’s masterpiece, should run to the local B/N and by it now! Hornby and his Rob Fleming showed me someone else is feeling exactly how I am, right now, and survives the doubt and desperation which infects growing up. Love, lust, marriage, commitment, failure, destiny, all become intertwined with Rob’s sense of pop culture, resulting in a beautiful, nasty, loving, jealous hero. High Fidelity will always hold a faithful place as a personal manifesto to a moment in my life where indecision overwhelmed reason, but never reigned victorious.And Let it Be, what else can be said for this record. In honor of the protagonists in High Fidelity, yeah you Rob, Barry, and Dick, here are my Top Five Songs off The Beatles’ Let it Be.1. Get Back2. Let it Be3. Across the Universe4. Two of Us5. I’ve Got a FeelingAs they say on The Writer’s Almanac on local KPBS,”be well, do good work, and stay in touch.” And start expanding your horizons.