Daily Archives: October 11, 2011

How I Buy Music, 2011 (Featuring John Wesley Harding)

I’ve been a fan of John Wesley Harding (aka author Wesley Stace) since he was nothing but a snide punk covering Madonna and Depeche Mode songs among his own acerbic tunes 20 years ago, so it’s not terribly surprising that I was interesting in getting The Sound of His Own Voice, his latest, when it came out today. Here’s how I did it: I went to Amazon, bought the MP3 version, and then as soon as I did, I popped up Spotify and started listening to it there.

Why didn’t I bother to download it?

1. Because Amazon will happily store it the cloud for me, where I can download it whenever I feel like getting around to it;

2. Because Spotify (or Rhapsody, to which I also subscribe) lets me play it even quicker than downloading it would, and these days there’s almost nowhere I’m going to be where I can’t stream it, either through wifi or my phone’s unlimited data plan — and if I am going somewhere these things aren’t possible, I’ll probably know about it ahead of time and can prepare accordingly.

3. Also, and I think probably most importantly from a philosophical point of view, the money I paid for the album at this point is not for a physical object or sole possession of electronic files but as an affirmative act to Harding/Stace to say “Hey, thanks for work.” I’ll note that this sort of thing doesn’t work for all forms of consumable media, but for music in 2011? Shit, man. It’s hard not to find everything you could ever possibly want to listen to out there in the aether. Harding’s entire discography pulls up on Spotify in less than a second; i.e., less time than it would take for me to locate the actual files on my computer. Music’s ubiquitous to the point that it’s simply not worth the bother to download and clutter up my hard drive. So, in this case: Money for the effort, not for the object.

(Which is not to say I won’t pay for physical objects associated with musicians; I just punted $100 to Jonathan Coulton for one of his Artificial Heart bundles, for which I understand I get t-shirts, a CD, and also, perhaps, a pony (I’m a little unclear on the details). But the music? Heck, JoCo streams it off his own site.)

And you may say: But what if Amazon goes out of business/stops keeping things in the cloud for you/is hit by a meteor that vaporizes the whole of western Washington state? In the former cases, I’ll have time to download; in the latter case, we’ve got bigger problems, now, don’t we. Today, the cloud works. I’ll keep this album there for now. The money, on the other hand, goes to the artist. Hope he enjoys the cup of coffee I paid for.

(Also: the album in question? Pretty darn good. And if you’re a bundle sort of person, check these out.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Sun Dogs for Today

Handcrafted for your delight. Yes, ice fairies launched themselves into the sky to make them. You can see their trails crisscrossing below the sun! What? You don’t think those are ice fairy tracks? Well, believe what you want, atheist.

The Big Idea: Kirsten Kaschock

Author Kirsten Kaschock didn’t make things easy for herself in her novel Sleight. In it, she creates an all new art form, and then, having created it, she has to describe it to her readers — who have never seen of heard of this new art form before its appearance in the book’s pages. How does one do that? And why would one make that much work for one’s self as a writer? Kaschock has her reasons, and here she is to explain them.

KIRSTEN KASCHOCK:

Sleight is the name of my novel; it is also the art form that is central to the world the novel describes, and in some ways it is the main character.  Sleight combines elements of dance, circus performance, poetry, and sacred geometry.  It is one hell of a chimera to get onto the page.

Art forms don’t monologue about their identities (at least not by the rules of my novel), and art forms made of transmuting parts that don’t and probably can’t exist are difficult to picture.  Sleight is impossible to fully describe because it reaches into the sublime—the peak experiences that all art strives for—those moments of absolute transcendence when you are no longer thinking about what you are hearing or seeing but only experiencing it.

This book is about that, about the people whose lives revolve around those magics—its creators and performers—and how their art is like a drug to them.  But how do you give a form to something that is always just there at the edge of your peripheral vision?  How do you make the ineffable visceral?  Sleight needed a body.  And I had to be the Frankenstein who would provide it.

I used footnotes.  I used play-dialogue, some poetic language, obituaries and reviews and letters: I used the kitchen sink.  I also used people: Lark and Clef Scrye are semi-estranged sisters brought back together by a pregnancy, by their love of sleight and their need of each other; Byrne and Marvel Dunne are two brothers drawn to the visual and verbal elements of the art and warring over their different understandings of their father’s death; West is the svengali-like director of one of the sleight troupes, and he orchestrates the collecting of human talent and pain that drives the novel to its inevitable end.

I have reasons for chronicling artists.  My four siblings and I were all trained in ballet, then I left that world to study literature and write poetry.  I entered fiction.  I returned to modern dance.  I married a molecular geneticist and became the mother of three young boys.  I know now that I can never not make.  But I also like to be engaged with the world in a way that all my disparate identities somehow weave together to make sense.  There are elements of Sleight (as I imagine there are in every novel) that are autobiographical, and probably the biggest one is this: the book unabashedly pieces together ideas of family, spirituality, history, artistic responsibility, and the daily horrors brought to us through our various screens.  I admit to large ambitions, and that containing them requires a science fiction sensibility I’ve had since childhood, thanks to Saturday morning Star Trek reruns.

When I was first drafting this book, I was in school in Athens, Georgia with a kindergartner, a toddler, and an infant.  During the day I discussed literary theory and aesthetics, and at night I swum among the bodies of my boys—feeding, cleaning, swaying, bathing, burping, lullabying.  My life affected my studies and my fiction profoundly: no theory, no novel that could not address my whole world was going to resonate with me nor tap itself into existence across my keyboard.

Sleight grapples with grappling, with making sense of things in the midst of chaos, and sometimes letting the chaos wash over you until, nearly drowning, you finally catch a glimpse—and the invisible web of connection shimmers out over the waves.  What could tie the never-quite-gone images of the confederate south to the crescent smile of my infant to the alien grace of a dancer exiting a tour bus at the alley backdoor of hundred-year-old theater to the clean elegance of an Erlenmeyer flask brought home from the lab and filled with daylilies?  If I could tell a story that connected those dots—that would be something.

Sleight is my chimera.  Speculative fiction, familial drama, and serial killings all wrapped into the plot of one of the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies: let’s put on a show.  This is its Big Idea: if looking for meaning is a profoundly human experience, then creating meaning out of shards of a broken world must also be—only even more so.

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Sleight: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book’s page at Coffee House Press, including trailer and tour information. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.