Turntables on Las Ramblas a Generic Bore

Turntables on Las Ramblas
Wonderwheel Recordings

False advertising! The title of the new compilation from DJ Nickodemus suggests he’s going to show us how the Catalonians party. Instead it’s just a mix tape of stuff he played on a recent trip to Barcelona, only the last of which actually comes from local artists. The opening track, “Palenque Barcelona” is actually from Colombia’s Los Chicos Altos, whose sweaty, bright brass rhythm section is easily the best thing on the album. Track two, a remix from DJ Vadim of “Flyaway/Mariella” is also catchy, but the rest is as generic as no-name paper products. If this is the future of Hip Hop, House, and Dub, label those genres “days of future past.” Even if I were inclined to drop some Ecstasy and crank up the suds-making machine it would be a hard to get excited about this collection. I’m not and was bored to distraction.
Rob Weir


Richard Ford's Canada a Quiet Masterpiece

CANADA (2012)
By Richard Ford
Ecco 97800611692048
* * * *

In chaos theory, the “butterfly effect” is a series of nonlinear occurrences set off by an initial action that would be, by most measures, benign and inconsequential, as in the flapping of a butterfly’s wings that begins a chain of events that end with a devastating hurricane. Richard Ford’s latest novel, Canada is such a book. It takes one decision made by one person and looks at the cyclonic and haphazard consequences that occur in three other lives.

Official history holds that the 1950s were an American golden age in which economic opportunities abounded for World War II vets and the families they started. That story is equal parts true and mythic, though Beverly Parsons buys into the PR behind the American Dream hook, line, and sinker. He’s a man’s man, despite his feminine name–an undereducated lad whose wartime fighter pilot heroism was destined to be his only brush with greatness. He’s a likable lout whom everyone likes, though they quickly tire of him once they see there isn’t much lurking beneath the surface. His charm, though, was good enough to woe and wed the birdlike Neeva, a smart, artistic, and sensitive woman. Let’s just call it an unlikely match on all levels, including the fact that she’s under 5 feet and Bev is a hulk, she’s Jewish and he’s not, and Neeva is temperamentally unsuited for motherhood, though she births twins Dell and Berner shortly after Bev is demobilized.

The butterfly effect begins in 1956, when Dell impulsively chucks his Air Force career to prospect for some of that 1950s economic gold. Four years later the Parsons family is eking out a precarious living in Great Falls, Montana, and most of the family income comes from that oldest of Old West activities: cattle rustling. When Bev gets in over his head, he just as impulsively ropes Neeva into a scheme that’s just as bad as his previous ones. What do a pair of barely adolescents do when their parents are in jail? Unleash the butterfly effect. Dell’s sister, Berner, runs away to avoid falling into the clutches of juvenile authorities and we know about the social upheaval looming on the 1960s horizon. Dell, however, stays behind awaiting instructions from a woman his mother told him to trust.

Canada is Dell’s story and he is our 60-year-old omniscient narrator telling his tale from back to front and back again. As the book’s title suggests, Dell makes his way to Canada, but a part so remote that it makes Great Falls seem like New York City. He ends up under the laissez-faire care of Arthur Reminger in the middle of the big sky wheat belt some 500 miles north of Winnipeg. Reminger is also an ex-pat Yank–think a dust-covered Jay Gatsby. Reminger is a dandy who quotes philosophers, but says nothing of himself. He runs a seedy hotel, a whorehouse, and a hunting business; he also harbors a secret or two (or three). Dell’s only constant companion is a Métis man who might or might not be a cross-dresser. That’s unclear, because this and the mystery Dell reveals are related in the non-judgmental voice of the immature boy he was at the time. Dell also takes us forward in time to discuss the varying paths of his and Berner’s lives–all events of which were set in motion by Bev’s decisions. These too are told in a laconic matter-of-fact way.

Ford, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1995 novel Independence Day, has established himself as a major force in American literature. He has done it through a decidedly old-fashioned way: with language. Things happen in Canada, but it is not a plot-driven book. Dell’s voice is mostly descriptive and detached, dialogue is sparse, and the things Dell dwells upon are often small details rather than cataclysmic events. Dell, in fact, is something of a fatalist–he longs for things to work out well, but he is more of a leaf on the stream than an engineer seeking to reroute the water’s course. Canada and the lives therein are expansive in the same way that the Saskatchewan wheat fields are expansive. There is a surface sameness, but how well the endless fields of grain and those who live among ripen depends on outside forces–sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy. And, like the butterfly effect, it is often the smallest of things that precipitate the most dramatic results. Canada is a poignant story masterfully told with words that whisper across the pages. --Rob Weir


Star Trek Into Darkness: To Shamelessly Go Where Better Writers Have Gone

Directed by J. J. Abrams
Paramount, 132 minutes, PG-13
* *

Star Trek Into Darkness is an early candidate for the most overhyped and disappointing film of 2013. I do not make such a statement lightly. Maybe I’m not a get-a-life Trekkie who speaks Klingon, but I’m enough of a junkie that if a future episode sends the Enterprise off in search on intergalactic kale, I’ll probably go. Star Trek Into Darkness has exciting action sequences, Benedict Cumberbatch, and dazzling special effects, so what’s not to like? The script and the direction for starters.

When Abrams, et al. decided to reboot Star Trek in 2009, they turned to the original series (TOS) and recast it with younger Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley/Doohan/Nichols doppelgangers. Abrams also took us back to the characters’ pre-Star Fleet Academy days, though he certainly didn’t take us back to the cheesy TOS sets of 1969. Although the Enterprise is technically older than any of the various TV series versions of the ship, it’s far more sophisticated. Fine; this is science fiction, not history, so we can forgive a few anachronisms. The Enterprise is a toy of beauty. Now the bad news–director J. J. Abrams has also signed aboard to reboot Star Wars, and Into the Darkness suggests he’s already closer in style to George Lucas than TOS creator Gene Roddenberry. Despite its acclaim, Star Wars bored me in that it was all explosions, interstellar dogfights, and optical tricks. Trek has always been special because, like a soap opera, its characters develop in relationship to one another. Not so much in Star Wars, unless you think there’s depth in a beeping tin can or a metal-encased obsequious British butler. In the new Trek, things blow up–a lot! The non-stop action sequences leave less time for relationships, so what does Abrams do? He steals–shamelessly and ham handedly.

I could go on about the Into the Darkness story arc, but if you’ve seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you’ve already seen the alternative universe version of Into Darkness, including numerous shot-for-shot remakes and verbatim lifted dialogue. The only switch is that Kirk and Spock reverse roles. It’s all there–immanent destruction at the hands of Khan (Cumberbatch this time), the ship saved when an officer sacrifices his life to crawl inside the reactor core (Kirk instead of Spock), and even the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” speech. There’s even a stowaway­–young Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), whom TOS fans will recognize as Kirk’s future wife and the architect of Project Genesis. There are four “writers” listed for Into Darkness, but Harve Bennett and Gene Roddenberry’s heirs should sue for theft of intellectual property. Simply flipping roles from Wrath of Khan reminds me of a clueless college frosh who thinks plagiarism is avoided simply by changing a few words.

Is there anything new in Into Darkness? Not much. By now we know that Zachary Quinto is an amazing Spock, that Karl Urban and Simon Pegg can inhabit the roles of Bones and Scotty, and that Chris Pine positively channels Kirk-á la Shatner. (He even has limited range, just like Shatner.) I suppose there are a few changes. First of all, Roddenberry never left threads untied, as Abrams does by forgetting to tell us what Scotty sees when he investigates coordinates given by Khan, or revealing how Spock manages to solicit advice from his older self. (Yes, I know that one is also a recycled plot line that insiders will get, but it’s really there so Abrams can toss in a gratuitous Leonard Nimoy cameo.) The biggest departures are that Spock seems to have swallowed the emotion chip Commander Data so desperately wanted in The Next Generation TV series, and that he wants to have sex with Kirk. We see Spock kissing Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and witness Kirk checking out Carol Marcus, but there’s so much homoerotic longing between Spock and Kirk that one expects to see them buggering in a bulkhead.

Into Darkness is all flash, no substance. Ticket receipts suggest Abrams’ thrill-a-moment pacing is popular, but one should never confuse boffo box office with originality. Nor should one confuse art with artifice, the latter of which is the most appropriate term for what Abrams has done with Star Trek. My fervent hope is that he gets so sucked into Lucas World that he passes on the next Trek film. We can label the current effort, “To boldly go repeatedly where better writers have gone before.” –Rob Weir