Had To Have It

It’s New Years Eve on a closing decade and we’re feeling a certain obligation, though not because of any clamoring demand to, to….. We’ve never liked top-ten lists,- year-end lists, best-of-the-decade lists, that sort of thing. And for all the usual reasons. Now, as the old song goes, everybody’s doin’ it.  (Matthew Yglesias,  discussing top-ten lists,  says “One of the pernicious impacts of the rise of the internet is how everyone gets to publish their own list.”) Pernicious? In the interest of helping drive the stake in this monster’s heart, here we go. What qualifies the Rabbit? Not much. Sure, we had a long publication history back when but our appetites have always trumped taste. And our tastes tend toward the strange and eclectic. Most of all, even with our ears and wiggly nose, we could never hear/read everything we wanted let alone things we never knew. Nor do we want to be held to release dates limited to the last 365 days (see March Hare) even though we cycle through a lot of the new and now.  But in the spirit of recognition, as a means of thanks (we couldn’t have done it without you), here are the books and recordings that helped us to get through it all. Because good books and good music make life worth living.


The Shaghai Gesture by Gary Indiana; Two Dollar Press. For the cleverness and laughs not to mention world-wide conspiracy.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon; Penguin Press. Genius confirmed. Did we mention world-wide conspiracy?

The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin; Copper Canyon Press. The natural world reminds an old poet what’s left to learn. Punctuation not included.

My Father’s Tears and Other Stories by John Updike; Knopf.  Mature themes (you know what I mean)  and grace from one of the great man of letters. He’ll be missed.

Report On Myself by Gregoire Bouillier; Mariner Books. And I thought I had problems.

What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems by Ruth Stone; Copper Canyon Press. The later poems in this volume make real and worthy connection to the natural world.

The Bear from Go Down Moses by William Faulkner; Random House. What we lose when we lose wild places.

The Undiscovered Self by C. G. Jung; Atlantic, Little Brown; and The Basic Writings of C. G. Jung; The Modern Library. To understand symbol, image and archetype and because I dream.

The Future of the Image by Jacques Ranciere; Verso. Image and politics. See above.

The Complete Crumb Comics: Volume 6 “On the Crest Of a Wave” by R. Crumb. Helps us to remember when.

The Right Mistake by Walter Mosley; Basic Civitas Books. A wise man seeks patience in a cruel world.

In Search of Small Gods by Jim Harrison; Copper Canyon Press. Poems in which the mundane becomes magnificent.

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre and Frederic Lemercier; First Second. Part photo collection, part graphic novel…what makes us think our experience in Afghanistan will be different than the Soviets? 


Up Popped Two Lips by Henry Threadgill’s Zooid; Pi Recordings. A twisted puzzle, with oud. How does it all go together?

Cartography by Arve Henriksen; ECM. Poetic electronic and percussion landscapes from the speech-inflected trumpeter.

75 by Joe Zawinul; Heads Up. Sure, we like Brown Street better but as the last recording by a great innovator (with Wayne Shorter on a cut no less) and, well, we miss you, Joe…

Blood From the Stars by Joe Henry; Anti. The songwriter who sinks his faith in image and rhythm recalls Katrina with blues-inflected (natch) seriousness.

New York Days by Enrico Rava; ECM. Moody, intellectual, beautiful.

The Complete On the Corner Sessions by Miles Davis; Columbia. We have a weakness.

Set the Alarm For Monday by Bobby Previte; Palmetto. Keeps us in real time.

Bartok: The Six String Quartets by the Takacs Quartet; Hungaraton. Always. There’s no better way to start the day than to try and figure these out.

Radiolarians II by Medeski, Martin & Wood; Indirecto Records. Take away the groove…

The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu by Carla Bley; ECM. Jazz–now and then–and more. That’s Paolo on trumpet

The Essential Leonard Cohen; Columbia. Poetic nostalgia; don’t ask.

…and all the other life-sustaining words and sounds my addled mind has, for the moment, lost.–Cabbage Rabbit

Sad Song

Like much of Nick Hornby’s work, Juliet, Naked is not a book about love in the traditional sense. It’s a book for those of us who are obsessively in love with music, so much in love that it defines us when so little else does. We identify with someone’s art, and them as well, without any defining, creative acts of our own. Our identification with them tells us who we are.  Part of the reason we love some music so much is that it talks about love. There’s no real love in Hornby’s characters, just attachments of convenience, stops against loneliness, occasionally sexual attraction. Okay,  hardly any sexual attraction. Sad, really.

Sad like a lot of Juliet, Naked. Hornby revisits familiar territory here-who can forget High Fidelity?–and again music stands in for the emotions that seemingly can’t be generated any other way.  The people here aren’t falling in love, even with music, as much as they are falling out of love. Maybe there’s no such thing as love after all. Even for music.

The book falls into three sections, roughly divided as its three main characters rotate their third-person narration duties. On its first page, Duncan from the washed-up-town of Goolness, England is in a Minneapolis bar taking a picture of a urinal with help from his live-in of 15 years, Annie. They have come to America on a pilgrimage, as obsessed fans will, to view the landmarks in the career of mostly-forgotten rocker Tucker Crowe. The urinal, as legend has it, is the place where Crowe in 1986 decided to chuck his career. Duncan later sneaks into the Berkley home of one of Crowe’s many women, the one who inspired Crowe’s “sixth and… last studio album” (according to a fictional Wikipedia entry) Juliet. Singer-songwriter-Crowe has been (mostly) invisible since that year but it doesn’t stop his consumed-with-him fans from speculating on the meaning of Tucker’s music and that important epiphany, if there was an epiphany, at a Minneapolis urinal.

This first part of the book, focused on Duncan’s captivation and how it defines his life, is the most interesting. Then, Duncan receives an advanced copy  of  Juliet, Naked, Crowe’s masterpiece “unadorned,” before it was mastered, shorn of strings and percussion. Annie, who is at home to receive the package, listens before Duncan has the chance, and Duncan’s reaction to that not-so-innocent act opens flood-gates in their relationship.

When it’s Annie’s turn to take center stage, we learn of her disappointment, or more specifically, puzzlement at not having children during her long relationship with Duncan, years that span Tucker’s public absence. Then, after Tucker sends Annie an e-mail about her blog-post reaction to Juliet, Naked (she doesn’t like it, further alienating Duncan), the two strike up an unlikely relationship. Crowe, it turns out, is incapable of love as well, though he’s gone through numerous relationships and fathered a few children. Suddenly, the story loses momentum.  Better, as novelist Julie Meyerson’s review in The Guardian suggests, that Tucker remain an unseen presence.

But he does turn up, crowding Duncan and Annie aside. Though his presence isn’t required to do it, he provides contrast to Duncan. Here is someone who has actually accomplished something before disappearing, who psychologically abused several women not just one. It’s as if we know much of what will happen in this middle section–short of a heart attack–before it does.

The end of the book turns back to Annie, the only character we have real sympathy for. In tying up the plot, Hornby goes for the maudlin: “The two biggest parts of a man’s life were his family and his work…” Do we need to be told at end that it’s too late for Tucker or Duncan to do anything about them?

Still, there’s joy and insight to be had in the getting there. There are nuggets like this: “Loving art…involved a lot more ill will than one might have suspected.”  As he does with that phony Wikipedia entry and the Annie-Tucker e-mail exchange, Hornby is a master of making meaning out of the contemporary, of relating technology, old school or new, to human experience:

“The first time Duncan had watched his computer fill in the track names of the CD he’d put into it, he simply didn’t believe it.  It was as if he were watching a magician who actually possessed magic powers…Shortly after that, people from the message board started sending him songs attached to e-mails, and that was every bit as mysterious, because it meant that recorded music wasn’t, as he’d previously always understood, a thing at all–a CD, a piece of plastic, a spool of tape. You could reduce it to its essence, and its essence was literally intangible. This made music better, more beautiful, more mysterious, as far as he was concerned. People who knew of his relationship with Tucker expected him to be a vinyl nostalgic, but the new technology had made his passions more romantic, not less.”

It’s for passages like this that we read Hornby, even when his storytelling isn’t at best. Juliet, Naked has too much dressing. Still, it’s worth a listen.–Cabbage Rabbit