Art, Music, & Film: January 2007 Archives

Support Your Local Orchestra


A logical followup to the post below.

Particularly with classical music it is important to make the effort to get out and hear the performance in person. No recording I have ever heard reproduces every nuance of a live performance. Each suffers from a curious deadening effect of dynamics. It's rather like looking at an art print that has been too long exposed to the sun. You can get a sense of what it was all about, but it is pallid, washed-out.

Linda and I took Samuel to hear Mozart's Symphony 41 and Holst's The Planets on Saturday evening. I had forgotten some of the tonalities and all of the dynamics of The Planets and was very happy to make their acquaintance again. It is remarkable how even in a mediocre performance, they overwhelm anything you've heard on CD or vinyl (despite the latter's reputed "warmth").

Symphony Orchestra's need care and feeding. They need the support of the local community. And they need an audience. Help do the truly conservative thing and preserve the great pieces of the past and do it in a progressive way--locally. Then you can boast to all your progressive friends about how progressive you are in your retrogressive fashion.

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Dancing About Architecture


“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

– Frank Zappa

Nevertheless, despite the genius of Mr. Zappa, I intend to write about music--but what I have to say is less about music and more about true conservation.

Classical music has fallen on hard times. It's hard to make money with performances live or on album. There are any number of explanations for this; however, the reason matters little--we are in serious danger of losing a great heritage if we do not pay attention.

Many people seem to think that classical music is "for the few, the proud," . . . the snobs. Not so. One of the reasons people may come to this conclusion is that music may be the most underappreciated art. Most people don't know how to listen to music, or don't care. Erik Satie noted that the way in which most people listen to music turns it into wallpaper or furniture. When we see the number of people strolling around with iPods or glued to their headsets at work (I admit to being among them), we can see that there is considerable truth to the statement.

Even when people begin to listen to music rather than just hear it, the reactions tend to be on one plane--"I like it, I don't like it." Now our reaction to almost any form of art begins with this simple dichotomy; however, for most of us, we do not remain there. "I like The Violent Bear it Away because. . . " "I don't care for the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe because. . . " What follows the because begins to enter the realm of analysis if it consists of anything more than mere surface impressions. But most of our reaction to music come down to, "It's got a great bit, good, kicky melody, really danceable, I give it an 8 out of 10."

Music, classical or otherwise, requires attention. In fact, because its impressions are fast and fleeting, it can require more attention than any of the other arts. Unlike walking through an art gallery where you can choose to stand for as long as you wish in front a a painting, a live performance of a piece of music is a fleeting, ephemeral experience. If you are not trained to listen, the experience can be exhausting. And yet. . . to experience music it is necessary to really listen--and despite what many people think, you can listen even if you have no real idea of how the music gets to be the way it is.

So, you can't read a note and you've had no music appreciation courses. What's a person who wishes to listen to do? I suppose it might be wise to start small. Pick something you really like and listen to it. Observe how the notes go up and down, get faster and slower, louder and softer. If it's vocal music, listen to see how the voice interplays with the instruments. You may not have the words to describe this interplay, but you can hear and understand it.

All music has depth. Some pieces are deeper than others. You'd be surprised where you might find musical depth if you listen. Just listen of "Eleanor Rigby" or "Take me home, Country Roads." There is more to them than what most people ever know. They hear it, but they do not really understand or listen to it.

Music is great for creating a soundscape conducive to other activity; however, this is a secondary function, but like hanging a painting to "decorate" your house. Indeed, the painting does "decorate" but its primary function is to stimulate the mind and the heart. When we allow either music or art to become wallpaper, we've lost a source of contact with God. (You knew I'd get there sooner or later.)

Music and Art speak either directly or indirectly of the creator. Often they speak of the creator despite the express intentions of the artist. It cannot be otherwise because it is an act of co-creation. The creation of art is a participation in the divine life and so will always reflect the divine life.

What a tragedy then, when we deny ourselves some part of the good that has been laid out before us.

So today, before you do another thing, take a short break and begin the practice of really listening to music. Turn your musical lawnchair or William Morris into a piece of art again and begin to appreciate how it is turned and fashioned, what went into its making. If you've any musical ability at all, sit down at a piano and try to compose just six or eight bars of melody--forget harmony for the moment. Begin to understand that music, like art and writing, truly is an endeavor requiring an incredible talent and precision.

Then do yourself a favor and start to listen--really listen to the music that you love. Don't use it for a background for something else--or if you do get to know it first so that it can transport you, even as a background, out of the world as it is and into the world as it can be.

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Following in the line of my much "admired" and frequently sited "award-winning" "Devotional Reading of H. P. Lovecraft," I present for your delectation and delight and short excursion into In the Court of the Crimson King. Partly this was driven by the discovery of Robert Fripp's magnificent Pie Jesu album, which is apparently a compilation of other bits and pieces. And there are frequent hints throughout his oeuvre of a religious background if not of a religious feeling. Working on the premise that God uses great art often despite the intentions of the artist, I present this consideration of the first song on In the Court of the Crimson King.

I have no idea who composed the lyrics for this song, but as Fripp was always a leader of the group, no matter how many people swirled around it at a time, and considering that the album is a work of musical genius, we can find in it the fingerprint of the Creator. (All one needs to do is squint and look hard enough.) {Also a caveat: I won't pretend that this is a profound musicological understanding of the work as a whole--I haven't the background for that. I work with words, and so it is the interplay of the words and the music that I shall try to look at and open up for you what I see there.)

For our first class let's consider the first song: "21st Century Schizoid Man." For those who have not heard it, it is a rather grating introduction (as befits the subject matter) to a magnificent album. There is a very astringent guitar line with a voice altered in some way to create the sense of growling or screaming. The song proceeds for the first two verses indicated below in a very rigid, tense semi-melodic line--yes, there's a sort of tune to it, though I don't think one would typify it as hummable.

21st Century Schizoid Man
Robert Fripp/Ian McDonald/Greg Lake/Michael Giles/Peter Sinfield

Cat's foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door
21st century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Politician's funeral pyre
Innocence [Innocents?] raped with napalm fire
21st century schizoid man

Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed*
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man

Now, if you haven't heard the song, you need to know that the first three lines of each stanza should be read as accented/stanzaic poetry in which there is a pause in the middle of the line--very common to Celtic Epic Poetry. Thus the effect is

Cat's foot
Iron Claw
Scream for more
at Paranoia's
poisoned door
21st Century Schizoid Man.

This detail merely contributes to the image of the song. In addition, this first stanza (as well as the title) give us the immediate indication that whoever the Crimson King is, his court is not a thing of the past, but a very modern, very relevant occurrence. This is in opposition to some of the songs that follow in which there is a vaguely medieval or ethereal sense to what is happening. "I Talk to the Wind" seems a perfectly appropriate follow-up to this song, because to whom else will a schizoid (who, as we shall see, experiences a total psychotic break) talk to?

After the first two stanzas of this song, the music enters into a instrumental break that initially takes the form of a fugue, mimicking the state of some schizoid patients. The saxophone and guitar take off on their own and begin chasing one another in a free-form jazz mode. Initially the structure is quite tight, but the fugue state breaks down to bring about the musical equivalent of a total psychotic episode.

The patient recovers briefly--long enough for the final stanza, which may be the key stanza of the whole song, and perhaps one of the keys to the entire album:

"Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man"

And within this one line on which hangs much of my thought about this as a fundamentally religious song--"Nothing he's got, he really needs." At once a biting criticism of modern society and the true schizoid state of the person who is a materialist and who has acquired all that he has through the pain and hardship of others and still seeks to fill the emptiness inside. None of it will. Ever. It cannot. You cannot put gold into the hole in your soul. And everything you acquire trying to fill that emptiness only rips the hole wider until it becomes a wound at the surface of the mind--the materialist becomes a schizoid personality, constantly fleeing reality in the pursuit of filling the void that he only succeeds in making larger.

Now, this is just as easily a secular criticism of a plutocratic society in which the pursuit of wealth is regarded not only as laudable but as something nearly holy. However, as I am a Christian, I tend to place a great deal of weight on "Nothing he's got he really needs," which conversely indicates that what he really needs, he does not have. If he does have all this wealth, if he really is within the Court of the Crimson King, what could he possibly be lacking?

Peace--peace that comes when the mind assents to the soul's prompting to look for what really matters. The 21st Century Schizoid Man lacks knowledge of God and desire for God. And what is truly frightening about this is that from my survey of many people within the Church, this is as true of them as of the hard-core materialist. We have surrendered, in many cases, the one-track, express-train pursuit of God for the pursuit of the legitimate, lesser goods of our present life. While we aren't in the full fledged auto-drawing-and-quartering that occurs to the ardent materialist, we have been sufficiently affected by his disease to have lost our own sense of belonging to God and pursuing His ends over our own. I can think of countless examples just from the blogging world, and I think each of you can as well.

Okay, to finish up--the last verse is sung, brought to a resounding screeching, scraping end, and then there is a total break. The interlude between verses two and three are a fugue state--a loss of self-control and self knowledge. The very end of the song, which features every musician flying off on their own riffs--the saxophonist not so much playing notes as torturing the instrument--the schizoid man has gone psychotic. And then, he "talks to the wind."

The ultimate end of pursuing material things is a total break with reality. In our language, were we to die in that state, it is called Hell. Hell is a state of being utterly opposed to the only reality. Hell is the continued anguish of trying to fill up a gaping hole, when all you are is that gaping hole. Hell is what is left of us when all we have done with our lives is to seek to make more of ourselves.

And the music seems to nicely mimic this as well. Hell is cacophony, the cacophony of self in the total absence of boundaries and freedom. Hell is being chained to our own wills for all eternity. "Neuro surgeons SCREAM for more at paranoia's poison door." All because we cannot surrender to love--we seek love from created things and create more pain for ourselves and for others in our pursuit.

In the Court of the Crimson King is a hard album. It has an adamantine brilliance--a high gloss that results both from the genius of the musicians and from the truth they manage to convey so clearly. Whether or not they buy into the truth, God has nevertheless used their music to convey a strong message to the person who takes it seriously. The flaw with the album is that no way out is shown--the Court of the Crimson King is simply the prison entered by the 21st Century Schizoid Man. In the title song, "In the Court of the Crimson King", the last song on the album, there is an initial promise of freedom:

The dance of the puppets
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.

But that is all done away with by the end of the song:

On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

I cannot say where they were going when they composed this modern masterpiece, but I can say where they go for me. When we surrender to our materialist urges we are made puppets by the things we desire. We will do anything to have them because they will fill the void, or so we think. But that void, unless fill by the One, is a black hole--all that is fed into it strengthens it and enlarges it.

The only way out is to negate "nothing he's got he really needs," and to find the one thing necessary--Our Lord.

*Later Upon rereading this, I found this line very interesting. although it is pronounced

Poets starving
children bleed

I wonder whether it isn't a single thought regarding the starving children of poets? Thus:

Poets' starving children bleed.

Fascinating the way punctuation or lack thereof can lead to a productive and fruitful ambiguity. It works that way in scripture often as well.

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Annie Haslam was the lead singer for the progressive group Renaissance (I don't know if some version of Renaissance still exists.) On the album A Turn of the Cards, they introduced the idea (or at least perfected the idea which had actually been made prominent by Procol Harum in "A White Shade of Pale") of singing lyrics to classical music that wasn't meant to be vocal. The song, "Cold is Being," was sung to the tune of Albinoni's famous Adagio.

Still Life (1985) is an album of such songs. It features songs sung to the tunes of Mendelsohn's Overture to the Hebrides (aka Fingal's Cave), St. Saen's "The Swan," Wagner's "Seigfried's Rhine Journey," and Satie's "Trois Gymnopedies No. 2." She reprises the use of Albinoni's Adagio in a song titled "Save Us All." There are other melodies that I can't so easily place--famous and immediately familiar if not leaping directly to the memory. In addition she does a treatment of "Ave Verum Corpus."

Annie's voice may require a bit of getting used to for some. I find it pure and lovely while not so ethereal as the voice of, say, Sissel or even Sonja Kristina. There is a robust quality and roundness of tone. While I'm not wild about some of the vocal choices she makes, they do tend to grow on you as you listen.

The classical melodies do tend to make for overly dramatic lyrics at times and occasionally some overly dramatic vocal choices. However, overall, it is very pleasing to hear familiar melodies with an interesting overlay of words. Annie's voice has always had a tremendous appeal for me--it is pure and clear, light and delicate, while still being robust and full bodied. It's an interesting combination.

When I first heard her solo work, I was so used to her work with Renaissance, I didn't care for it; but now, upon a relisten with years between and the memories of Renaissance not nearly so close to the surface, these are very appealing and lovely songs. It is so nice to make their reacquaintance without the patina of ingrained preconceptions.

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One I Left Out


You know in all that blather a couple of posts down, I managed to leave out a real favorite:

Alan Parson's Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

I first encountered them with I, Robot and never liked Tales as much--but I've concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that I was wrong. I'll need to listen to I, Robot again and see where it falls out.

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In The Court of Excess


People truly love King Crimson. Things I found while looking for lyrics:

In the Court of the Crimson King
and for those who can follow it better than I can,

An Analysis of In the Court of the Crimson King

If you get a chance, you really should listen to this album, most particularly the title song which is at once quite lovely in ways that I cannot give proper voice to and a bit melancholy. When I listened to this album again, I was reacquainted with brilliance. I believe this is the version of King Crimson that includes Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on both bass and vocals.

And you know, considering that there is a fair amount of a type of Jazz that I absolutely dispise on some of the tracks, this recommendation might be regarded as some fairly strong stuff. If you find yourself initially put off, skip the first track--or better yet, listen to the last track, "In the Court of the Crimson King" and after you have a sense of the group, come back--it makes better sense. (In fact in the context of "21st Century Schizoid Man" the endless tootling of the acid jazz, or whatever it is called makes perfect sense and gives the whole song interesting context, vision, and power.

"Nothing he's got he really needs,
21st Century Schizoid man. . ."

After which we have complete breakdown.

Followed by , "I Talk to the Wind."

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Vinyl Review


In the course of converting vinyl to mp3, I've made some interesting rediscoveries. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed some King Crimson albums--In the Court of the Crimson King and Lizard are standouts for me. I had also forgotten small treasures like Hero and Heroine by The Strawbs, Pawn Hearts by Van der Graaf Generator and 666 by Aphrodite's Child.

In looking through the collection I dug out 801 Live, Night after Night by UK, and Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) by Brian Eno. I also pulled out the eponymous The B-52s and once again visited "Planet Claire." (Same recognized this cut from a Hallowe'en album we have.) Echo and the Bunnymen and Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, mixed in with Dazzle Ships (OMD) and Chameleon in the Shadow of Night--Peter Hammill. I renewed my acquaintance with "The Pothead Pixies" who appear first on Camembert Electrique and then drive the entire Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy.

We mustn't forget the electronic side of things--Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese (particularly Aqua), Cluster, Roedelius, Klaus Schulze.

But, what was most gratifying is to hear that despite youthful pretensions, the real talent and drama of Genesis was there, right from the beginning. From From Genesis to Revelation right on through to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway there are, at first flashes, and then a sustained high level of art, intelligence, and real beauty. Foxtrot is still the standout, but I had forgotten some of the beauties of Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Selling England by the Pound.

All of this before the stranger realms of This Heat and From a View to a Scream by Tuxedo Moon. Snakefinger and Nash the Slash make appearances before we arrive at the pinnacle of oddness and interest--The Residents. I got through The Residents, The Third Reich and Roll Album and Fingerprince--I have yet to get Diskomo, The Commercial Album and whole "Eloi and Morlock" trilogy of Plutonian Jazz.

Next up--I hope--The Unfortunate Cup of Tea, The Tain, The Book of Invasion, The Man who Built America and other treasures from the nearly forgotten Horslips. And perhaps some YMO, more Peter Hammill, Gentle Giant, Gryphon, Renaissance, Curved Air, and bits and pieces from more renowned but less preferred sources--The Cars, Focus, The Human League, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet. And then there's the standout of Ultravox and John Foxx. They still await electronic transformation. And given Metamatic I don't know why I didn't pull these out first--perhaps deferred gratification.

It's very nice to visit past greatness and it gives me pause to wonder why I stopped listening. And then I remember--I got married and everything else faded in importance. Now, I hardly know a modern group or a modern sound and somehow, I have no real sense of deprivation. That's a good thing.

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Supper's Ready

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As a result of You-Tube exploration, I went back to the vinyl collection that I have kept from my early interest in music and wondered, other than the fact that the technology is now so primitive as to be nearly outmoded, why I didn't listen to these things what were so formative for me at the time.

So I turned back to several favorites and listened to them as I thumbed through the Amazon Catalog (and finally contacted a friend who had been ripping vinyl to MP3). Chief amongst these early works were Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project, Phantasmagoria by Curved Air (the You-Tube cut by Sonja Kristina, "Melinda (More or Less)" is from this album) and Foxtrot by Genesis (with Peter Gabriel).

Foxtrot is something of a "concept album" with the second side consisting of a single song in multiple movements. I remember listening to this over and over again at the time it was issued. I thought it one of the most profound pieces of music ever written. You won't be astonished to hear that I was wrong. But the people who wrote the lyrics knew how to pull strings and how to set up certain expectations. Much of this is youthful pretension--one can end up reading all sorts of meanings into the song, but much of this is an exercise in reading the overstuffed and vague lyrics in a certain way. All of this amounts to a certain amount of pretension--a pretension that comes of youth.

"He watched with reverence as Narcissus
was turned to a flower. . .

A Flower?. . ."

And the next song bounces along "happy as fish and gorgeous as geese" hops along in its odd sort of way.

And take this delightful bit of nonsense:

Lyrics from "Supper's Ready"

Apocalypse In 9/8 (Co-Starring the delicious talents of Gabble Ratchet)

With the guards of Magog, swarming around,
The Pied Piper takes his children underground.
Dragons coming out of the sea,
Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me.
He brings down the fire from the skies,
You can tell he's doing well by the look in human eyes.
Better not compromise.
It won't be easy.

666 is no longer alone,
He's getting out the marrow in your back bone,
And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll,
Gonna blow right down inside your soul.
Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon,
In blood, he's writing the lyrics of a HIP brand new tune.

And it's hey babe, with your guardian eyes so blue,
Hey my baby, don't you know our love is true,
I've been so far from here,
Far from your loving arms,
Now I'm back again, and babe it's gonna work out fine.

As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)

Can't you feel our souls ignite
Shedding ever changing colours, in the darkness of the fading night,
Like the river joins the ocean, as the germ in a seed grows
We have finally been freed to get back home.

There's an angel standing in the sun, and he's crying with a loud voice,
"This is the supper of the mighty one",
The Lord of Lords,
King of Kings,
Has returned to lead his children home,
To take them to the new Jerusalem.

And we're to make what of this? I remember back before they published the lyric sheets just trying to figure out what the heck they were singing. Now that I know, I'm little better off. And yet there is such a tremendous sense of fun about the whole thing--sheer delight in verbal wordplay. "666 is no longer alone. . ." such an interesting observation that can be taken so many ways depending upon one's perspective.

That said--it is still solid and interesting. One can forgive the excesses of youth and even engage in them from time to time. This is the kind of thing that true geniuses look back on and say, "Oh well, youth, what can you do about it." The music moves in all sorts of interesting symphonic ways and rock ways--there are about 20 styles and segues that lead through a labyrinth of possible meanings to result in sheer entertainment.

So rather than faulting meaning or lack thereof, it's far better to sit back and enjoy the sheer loveliness of some of the treatments and let the rest go. Yes, some of it is silly, some pretentious, some overblown. But there are delicate interludes and a real sense of unity and organization in a piece that goes on for about 22 minutes--a true symphony of sorts. And it still charms.

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Okay, One Step Beyond Lene

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Possibly inspired by her, possibly part of the zeitgeist Nina Hagen was Germany's response to Lene Lovich. And here you see her at her best.

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The Proof of the Pudding

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In the arena of too much information--my wife endured this grueling test of character prior to our marriage. After she agreed to attend a Lene Lovich concert I knew that she was the girl for me.

(Among Lene's true admirers her style was known as Transylvanian Boogie. Perhaps another reasonable characterization might be a deranged Pippi Longstocking.)

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Curved Air, "Melinda More or Less" featuring the remarkable voice of Sonja Kristina

The equally remarkable Annie Haslam with Renaissance

I entered the musical world at a date later than these bands and discovered them in retrospect. Those I discovered as they came along include:

Camel and The Snow Goose, their finest effort:

And then there is:

"In the Court of the Crimson King"

Eddie Jobson, who worked with, among others UK and Ultravox--here with Memories of Vienna

The weird, even for me, even at that time, The Residents with "The Simple Song"

And Gentle Giant giving us the odd poetry of psychiatrist (and bad poet) R. D. Laing in a modern-day madrigal--"Knots"

The Strawbs with Rick Wakeman at the Keyboard--"The Hangman and the Papist"

And Peter Gabriel in his previous incarnation as the Leader of Genesis

The guitarist, Steve Hackett, on his own. . .

Finally, because the fifth amendment is insufficient protection for some of the excesses of youth, the remarkable John Foxx, one of the talents behind Ultravox.

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Things Seen, Things Read

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Okay, first beware:

The dreadful tedium of yet another animated mess--Happily N'ever After. This pallid attempt to capitalize on the genuinely clever Hoodwinked starts from the wrong premise and from there makes ever choice in precisely the incorrect manner to assure maximum adult tedium. The kids may get something from it--but not enough to endure except perhaps on DVD as the iPod gently lulls the mind.

Now to the excellent: Apocalypto. When I first heard that Mel Gibson intended to make another film in which dead languages feature largely, I thought, "Oh goody. More pretension."

Don't judge a film by its pretensions. By turns amusing and truly ghastly; high-school locker room and abbatoir, the film has heart and meaning for anyone trapped in the grinding soul-breaking toil of much of the American Corporate system. The message, in a sense boils down to a simple Simpson's episode. Those who watch it will know what I mean when I say "Do it for her."

A love story, a survival story, an historical epic--the true brutality and horror of life among the peoples of ancient North America is exposed for what it likely was. No PC approach to living in harmony with nature, although that is also shown for what it is.

I haven't said much, but I was moved and enjoyed the film despite the gory and ghastly images that can linger behind. Intense, but intensely meaningful and really beautiful.

And now, for reading. I finished one last book during vacation, a book by an author I had long ago abandoned and thought never to pick up again. The author: Dean Koontz. The book Odd Thomas. I believe I first saw a positive word about it at Julie D.'s Happy Catholic and as our tastes have large areas of overlap and her enthusiasm was evident, I thought it good to try the series. Well, I must confess myself surprised and satisfied. This is not the usual stamped-from-the-same-fabric plot that Dean Koontz churned out in so many early books that he finally alienated me as part of his audience. Odd Thomas has many clever ploys and dodges that wind up in a most satisfying, if somewhat unexpected conclusion.

Odd Thomas, you see, sees dead people. He sees the ghosts of those who pass on--including Elvis who has as many unique features as a ghost as he had as a living person. These ghosts, and other, more unpleasant entities, cue him on on happenings or about-to-be-happenings in the spirit world that affect the world of the living.

A remarkable and entertaining diversion that contains hints of something more. As I continue to read the series I am hoping to see that something more develop. But as it stands, Odd Thomas is recommended reading.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from January 2007.

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