on David Mitchell, writing lyrics, and celebrity deaths

Between Bowie and Rickman alone, I’m just shredded to bits.  I have work to do, and I can’t focus.  I have emails to respond to, and I don’t know what to say.  I’m writing this post if only so that I can remember how to put words together.

I have completed my chronological journey through David Mitchell’s work, tidying up my second read of “Bone Clocks” during this morning’s commute.  Even though I’m a little sad that this “project” is over, and that there’s nothing of his imminently appearing on the horizon (even if there are a ton of things coming out eventually), I’m glad that I took the opportunity to read it all.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that he’s become my new favorite author.  I haven’t felt so overwhelmingly book-nerdy since finishing “Infinite Jest” back in college.  Certainly my 2nd reading of “Cloud Atlas” was much more enjoyable than the first, if only because I now have a much better sense of the grander scale that Mitchell is working in.  And seeing familiar characters pop up in different contexts is always neat, and yet it never felt particularly gimmicky; given that all these books are connected, it really just makes them feel somehow truer.  For example:  you already get a really thorough sense of Hugo Lamb when you read his chapter in Bone Clocks, but when you read Black Swan Green, you see him as a teenager through the worshipful eyes of his cousin, and suddenly you have a greater sense of how deep Hugo’s charm is (as well as a brief glimpse of his cunning manipulations).  Similarly, it’s only once you read everything that you see how deep a character like Marinus actually is; it’s one thing to hear him recount his history in Bone Clocks, but it’s quite another to actually be with him in the 1800s in “Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”.  And it’s also interesting to see how larger-scale events correspond throughout his work – one can suddenly see that the futuristic, very troubled Earth presented in the two late sections of Cloud Atlas are part of the same cataclysm that takes place in the coda of Bone Clocks.

Speaking of which – against the recommendations of all my Facebook friends who are also hard-core Mitchell nerds, the wife and I ended up watching the filmed version of “Cloud Atlas“.  Although, if I’m being honest, we only made it through the first hour or so, before we both started fading out.  I have seen enough of it to know that I probably don’t have to finish it, and my wife (who hasn’t read the book) had little to no idea what the hell was going on, and so I don’t think she’s inclined to finish it either.  That being said, I don’t outright hate it, though there’s plenty of things to be intensely disappointed by.  Yes, the chopping up of the book’s structure is terrible – though I suppose I can understand why the filmmakers felt that they had to do it, given that the book is not necessarily jam-packed with excitement and that fitting this entire book into a 3-hour package is going to mean you need to amp up the pacing a bit.  I suppose I can even get behind the idea of having actors playing multiple roles, although that’s not really what the book is about, and it also means that Tom Hanks is horrendously miscast in nearly every role he steps into.  (To be fair to Tom Hanks, though, I’m also dangerously close to overdosing on him, because my son is obsessed with “The Polar Express“, another film in which Tom Hanks plays multiple roles; I think I’ve seen Polar Express at least 30 times since Christmas.)  And to the film’s credit, I am somewhat astonished at how closely some of the film’s visuals matched my own imagined set design – the Frobisher segment in particular is nearly note for note.  Indeed, for all the film’s flaws, you can’t say that the filmmakers weren’t passionate about the project; this is clearly a labor of love.

The problem, really, is that the book’s most visceral appeal (for me, at least) is in its use of language, and in seeing how language evolves in each of the story’s eras, and in the futuristic sections of the film the viewer is never really given an opportunity to let the language’s evolution sink in.  This is most notable in the post-apocalyptic future, which is damn near unintelligible without subtitles.  If I were scoring this using Nathan Rabin’s “World Of Flops” system, I might feel generous enough to give it a “Fiasco”… but I haven’t finished the film, and it’s probably best if I don’t.  But in reading Rabin’s WoF column about the Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending“, this paragraph seems pretty close to capturing what’s up with Cloud Atlas:

…the Wachowskis are auteurs whose failures are as audacious, ambitious, heroically sincere, and achingly romantic as their extraordinary early successes.

As far as filmed adaptations of David Mitchell go, though, I would very highly recommend checking out the 13-minute short film “The Voorman Problem“, which is an adapted excerpt from Mitchell’s second novel, “number9dream” (and which is also later referenced in “Bone Clocks”, as a matter of fact).  It’s very short, excellently cast, exceedingly faithful to the source material, and feels very much like some sort of Twilight Zone nightmare.


 

I was home with my son on Tuesday – he had a bit of a fever – and during his nap I downloaded and started playing Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India.   I’m playing it on XB1 instead of PS4, if only because, for whatever reason, it was available for download on XB1 several hours before it was on PS4, and I needed something to do.  (I suppose I also bought it there because I needed to further justify my purchase of the XB1’s Elite Controller, which is, without a doubt, the greatest game controller ever made.)  I like these sorts of 2.5D stealth platformers, and I just wish I wasn’t so goddamned terrible at this particular one; I can’t tell if the game is really difficult, or if I’m just very bad at it.  It could be both, frankly, for all I know.  It’s certainly very pretty to look at.  If nothing else, it makes me very hungry for Mark of the Ninja 2, which I very much hope is a thing that exists.

I’m not really playing anything else, though, which I’m strangely OK with.  Like I said at the top of this post – I’ve been very much a book nerd for the last few weeks/months, and I haven’t felt so excited about reading in years, and it’s a really pleasant feeling to have.


I’m hell-bent on getting some lyric-writing done, because once I have lyrics I’ll be able to finish this album, and I need to get it out the door while I still like the music.  Have I talked about my struggles with writing lyrics here?  I might have, which is why I’m reluctant to repeat myself.  In any event, the album was conceived under some heavy-duty emotional stress, and even as I’ve managed to extricate myself from within all that baggage, I still have to look at it in order to write about it.  And it’s hard to write about parts of your past when you’re not particularly proud of yourself.  I feel like I need to apologize to everyone I know, which is difficult when the two people I most need to apologize to won’t respond.  (This is actually true; last year I sent out some emails which were quite difficult to write, and never ended up hearing back.)  That said, it’s still gotta get done, and so I’m pleading with whoever’s in charge of this stuff to PLEASE STOP WITH THE DEATHS OF IMPORTANT PEOPLE.  This is hard enough as it is.

 

Weekend Recap: The New Year

1. In case you missed it, I wrote up some quick off-the-cuff thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night.  Now that I’ve slept on it, I can say with confidence that I still feel the same; it’s a very good Star Wars movie, and as far as rankings go I’d put it in my top 2 along with Empire.  In fairness, that isn’t necessarily saying all that much; the prequels are garbage, and both New Hope and RotJ have moments that we’d all rather forget.  Even if Episode 7 is simply a reboot of Episode 4, it’s really well done, and I feel like it’s OK to be excited for Episode 8 now.

2. My wife had attempted to buy me the Xbox One Elite Controller via Amazon, but even 3 weeks later there was no sign of it shipping any time soon.  As it happens, though, I was running some errands over the weekend and happened to be in a Best Buy and – lo and behold – there were three (3) Elite Controllers just hanging out, ready to be bought.  I bought one.  I had a tough time justifying the expense, especially since the XB1 isn’t my primary console, but.. I mean.. goddamn, once you hold this thing in your hands it makes as strong a case for itself as you can imagine.  It’s pleasantly heavy, the buttons and triggers have a remarkably more pleasing feel, and even if I never use the alternate buttons and back-panel triggers, I’m happy to know they’re there if I change my mind.

2a.  On a related note, I now feel contractually obligated to get back into Halo 5.

3.  I also bought Rock Band 4 for the XB1, and my old drumset and 1 of my 2 guitars still work, so there’s that.  I’m happy to have Rock Band back in my life, but HOLY SHIT the game feels barely half-built at this point.  How is it that in 2016, I can’t program my own setlist?  And the process of re-downloading songs I already own is beyond tedious; thankfully, I only have to do it once.

4.  I’ve read all the David Mitchell novels now, and so I’m back to re-reading Cloud Atlas, which was the first one of his that I’d read.  I didn’t necessarily see what all the fuss was about the first time out; I could certainly recognize his talent as a writer, and I appreciated how each story tied into the next one, but I didn’t really understand the point.  (I also felt similarly about Ghostwritten, his first novel, although the interconnected stories in that novel at least have a vague sort of butterfly-effect thing happening.)  This second time through, however, I’m feeling much more at home with it – and I also recognize many more of the characters from other novels, so that stuff makes it a bit more interesting.  All that aside, I feel like I need to read Bone Clocks again, and immediately.  I know I’m one of the few people on Earth who prefers Bone Clocks to Cloud Atlas, but what can I say?  That book affected me in a deeply profound way that few books ever have before.

5.  I’d been meaning to put up a Music of 2015 post – I even have a draft here, but I’m not particularly happy about it, and in any event all the navel-gazing I was doing about it is probably less interesting than all the other navel-gazing I do here as it is.  So, instead, I’ll cut to the chase and post two Spotify playlists: