Posts from 30th March 2004

Mar 04

Andrew Vachss – Safe House

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 247 views

Andrew Vachss – Safe House

One of the things I like about Richard Stark’s Parker novels is the sense of a man taking care, an expert in his craft; also the sense of a world more or less coexisting with the one I know of which I am completely unaware – the criminal underground. Vachss’s Burke (two characters, one name each, both surnames of other crime writers!) makes Parker look fancy-free and slapdash, and his world is as far beneath, as largely invisible to, Parker’s as his is to me.

It’s also a very appealing mix of the real and the fantastic. The grounding in this novel is what’s still termed ‘domestic violence’, and he shows a deep understanding of this – his usual territory, abused children, is not dissimilar, so this doesn’t surprise me. His targets are always child abusers, rapists, Nazis, never ordinary killers let alone routine criminals – since Burke is a professional criminal himself. Vachss is a lawyer, in his other life, specialising in the area of child abuse, and he plainly knows and feels very deeply about it.

On the other hand, Burke’s ‘family of choice’, i.e. the people he gives a damn about, are about as extravagant a cast as Batman’s foes (sadly I’ve not got around to reading any of Vachss’s Batman stories – he might do him superbly), and the climaxes of these stories tend to be very explosive. This would put some off, but for an old comic fan who also likes serious fiction, I find the combination of colourful characters and tough action with deep understanding of psychology, and the engagement with a kind of evil that I understand (unlike that of most fictional murderers and serial killers, say) and that most crime writers don’t touch, completely irresistible.

He writes with sparse and controlled prose, getting into his memorable characters (though his women do follow a bit of a template and convince less than the men) and their thoughts in a compelling way. But the heart is Burke himself: a paranoid with good cause surviving in New York City, as invisible and protected as possible, guarding his identity almost like a Batman. There is a pattern to his novels, and when I read three or four quickly after first reading him, they lost some force, but read less frequently they are a major thrill.

Tom’s post below

Do You SeePost a comment • 328 views

Tom’s post below made me think that mayeb an issue here the vanity of the writer; after a time, being a top-class gag crafter just isn’t enough. They wish to be seen as dramatists, commentating on the human-condition through the eyes of noble members of the working class who populate their scripts. The more they push forward this, the more they forget gags and push character emotional plotlines, not situations (it being a sit-com, after all) where the character of the character is a crucial part of the set-up of the gag.

Take Frasier (no, missus, please!) where they don’t indulge the melancholy of the Cranes. They want us to feel sympathetic to the Cranes, so they let us know it’s there. It ultimately a classic farce with the humour on the gentle and affectionate spectrum, not abrasive and scabrous. But they are pompous and that’s where the gags come from; most arise from the failure of the Cranes to do something really, really simple, such as say ‘excuse me’ to someone and the humour moves forwward until it arrives at the end point of a farcial new timeline than started off at a tangent from reality when Crane pomposity made sure something really simple didn’t happen. The melancholy is a crucial comedic device, not a conceit for the writers.

All of which make me think here that there’s something here about collegial writing as common with US shows and the single-writer model favoured here. A writer on their own is more likely to feel the need to get ‘arty’ and less likely to have someone remind them that ultimately, it’s about the gags, stupid.

PAY TV – “Trendy Discoteque”

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 372 views

PAY TV – “Trendy Discoteque” (aka PopNose4): An object lesson in how context can change my reactions to a song. I was recommended this song on a Europop ILM thread by Edward O. I like a bit of Europop, and also it turned out that this track was one of the rejects for this year’s Swedish Eurovision entry. Cool! There is a shady subculture on P2P servers of people trading Eurovision files – I myself have all the winners from 56 onwards, acquired from an ex-editor of The Wire. But there are deeper levels – people sharing every entry and one lunatic/saint who has painstakingly aquired not only the entrants but the songs that didn’t make it through their countries’ preliminary rounds, including UK wannabes back to 1980! Some of these songs no way got a proper release so will have made the arduous journey from TV recordings to MP3s for a select few to admire and wonder what might have been.

When I heard Pay TV in this context I couldn’t help but smile: bubblegum electroclash on Eurovision! It would totally work! Well, it wouldn’t win neccessarily but it would add hugely to the gaiety of the occasion, like the ranting Austrian last year and the people who sang in an imaginary language a la Magma (musically the similarities were fewer). Unfortunately the Swedes thought better of it and Pay TV (great name!) crashed out in the semis. The bit of the record I liked most wasn’t the faux-jadedness – done much better by Komatrohn on “Mirrors And Chrome” and by a thousand others no doubt – but the “ooh! woo!” bits on the chorus which gave me the charming impression that these people were having Real Fun despite all attempts to the contrary.

Then, digging around for this write-up, I made a terrible discovery – Pay TV is in fact none other than house bod Hakan Lidbo and one Ulrike Lidbo. Now, granted, if I was “one of the world’s most prolific tech-house producers” I’d be tempted to throw it over and write a Europop song too, but there’s a strong suspicion that the people recoiling in the comments box from “Trendy Discoteque”‘s smirky irony are right, damn them. Of course maybe the song’s Lidbo-ness will make people like it more – who knows!

(You can buy “Trendy Discoteque” here.)