wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Month: August, 2019

JACK GLASS! By Adam Roberts!

Last year (i.e. in the Year of Our Lord 2018) I read Jack Glass by Adam ‘ARRRRRRRoberts’ Roberts and felt very strong things about it which I was completely, humiliatingly unable to put into words. Instead I wrote this shit. I considered revising it before posting, but let’s be honest: I hate you, and hate revising even more. tl;dr: Please read this vexing book. –wa.

Days later, I still don’t know what to say about this book. I’ll get back to you.

(days pass)

Jack Glass is a story in four (not three) parts, and the first one is the perfectest. Indeed the first sentence of the introduction is so good that I had to put the book down to laugh hysterically before I reached its first full stop.

Things then do not hesitate in growing grimdark, which (I suppose) in Adam’s corkscrewed writermind is funny on some other level altogether.

Jack Glass‘s second (not first) (I mean it’s ‘Part One’ or the like but, see, those first two pages are doing a lot of work) part is so claustrophobically intense that I had to put it down several times for reasons quite other than laughter. It is a ‘bottle episode,’ as certain TV-addled types might say, a prison-cell drama in one act.

(days pass)

Adam Roberts is a Difficult Writer, and Jack Glass is a Difficult Book. Not like, say, A Storm of Wings or Ulysses or Riddley Walker, where the prose itself wanna go slow for its own reasons — quite on the quite contrary, Jack Glass is written with what one can’t help but feel is a totally inappropriate jauntiness, which (I suppose) in Adam’s triplehelically contravoluted writerthoughts is funny yet again on some, are we at third? some third level, yes. Therein dries the snifficulty. It is perverse, or I suppose by now we can just admit that The Englishman, He Is Perverse, and/but that perversity serves a private purpose which shouldn’t be stained with the label of ‘ideology.’ I think he thinks it’s funny to press a point he hasn’t made, for An Absolute Fucking Lark; also that it matters, that matters Matter, that thinking-games make you beautifuller. Adam’s books are capital-duh Difficult in that they (1) clearly announce that they are one sort of thing while (2) refusing, in a kind of blithe cheery (or in JG‘s case, grimblithedark) Prisoner-by-the-sea way, to collapse into the loving arms of that that-sort-of-thing’s conventions, creating (3) an overall effect (4) of (5) sidebar, I coined the term ‘grimblithedark’ not to equip or advance the critical discourse but because out in Adamland, in the 89-degrees-bent conceptual universe which his books seem to wanna create, (6) perverse invention of this sort is part of the world-game. His worlds aren’t worlds in the gag-me ‘worldbuilding’ sense, Christ no! He seems more to want to nelsongoodman you, or maybe I mean to earlytomstoppard you, to present what swivels and bops like a story but poisons the brain like a something else.

Which (I suppose) is to say that Adam’s books, the ones I’ve read anyway, the correct ones, have tended to offer the passing pleasures of SF novels but the horrible lingering joys of, oddly enough, …

(days pass)

No, that’s not it.

The second (not third) part of the book is a whodunit starring a teenage girl and a Jeeves-of-a-sort, which I chose to read as a sort of aggressively weird tribute to Adam’s own daughter. By halfway through I had stopped giving even two fifths of a shit about ‘FTL,’ the book’s Macguffin, and had begun to focus properly on the goofy autocatalyzing logic of the investigation, and then Jack Glass was revealed to be who/where/what I thought, and I was hooked again, just like Intro said I would be. How this book works as a mystery, I couldn’t fucking tell you.

(some weeks pass)

Some weeks have passed and I remember Jack Glass as a book with the courage of its convictions.


Night Tripper.

Sometimes I ‘review’ records. –w.

Dr John, Gris-Gris (1968), Babylon (1969), Remedies (1970), The Sun, Moon & Herbs (1971)

Before he died this year, I knew Dr. John only as a somewhat corny figure of ‘bayou’ fun — the idea that he was ever a serious musician, attempting something interesting in his work beyond what I took to be his ‘cultural ambassador’ schtick, never occurred to me. Then the inevitable crop of too-little-too-late celebrations of his passing led me to these early albums, from the period when ‘Dr. John, The Night Tripper’ was a stage character, explicitly defined and named and distinct (as it would later cease to be) from Malcolm Rebennack the man. Fifty years(!) after Gris-Gris kicked off the former session man’s career as a solo artist, nearly 15 years after Katrina, the Doctor’s first batch of LPs now play as experiments in hyperlocal psychedelia, never unaffected (it was a schtick, then) but not compromised or fallen into conventionality either.

Gris-Gris itself is the ‘purest’ presentation of the Night Tripper character, now legible (its original hustling intent notwithstanding) as a more lived-in answer to the era’s too-urbane ‘exotica.’ Whether the production is muddled or ‘vérité’ or what have you is, at this point, immaterial: it sounds like the field recording of voodoo weirdness that it’s pretending to be, cousin to Jobim and Bonfá’s Orfeu Negro soundscape. As a concept album about swamp magic it risks ridiculousness, as a white-dude-with-funky-drums hangout it risks banality — but those drums, I mean god damn. The star of the whole show isn’t Dr. John, it’s the whole show, the enveloping estranging atmosphere, the rhythmic message, and the Doctor’s role here is less singer-songwriter than ringmaster at some ceremony overheard but not quite fully seen.

Babylon, then, is the Doctor’s encounter with then-coalescing rock convention, a backwoods Valentine Michael Smith emerging into the daylit world, courting disaster with lines like ‘There ain’t no need / For all this greed.’ The opening track links the more open-throated Babylon to the hermeticism of Gris-Gris — the Night Tripper has made it to the street corner — and the sound remains too strange for the microphones to catch. You can pair tracks like ‘Glowin” with Andrew Hill’s extraordinary Lift Every Voice (or for that matter some Captain Beefheart!) and hear a mysterious continuity. But already Rebennack seems to be stretching the limits of the Night Tripper character, wanting to go further than the headdresses and stage show (or at least to score a radio hit, which would take another couple of years). To move from character to persona to personality, you might say. Babylon is full of odd rhythms and dense sonic fog but it’s clear we’re not going back to the swamp; good as the album is, it’s a little bit caught between two worlds.

In Remedies, though, the Night Tripper is out in the streets, speaking not only for his hometown (remember that Gris-Gris was a Hollywood production) but to it — less tense, less weird, more at home. NOLA-in-exile evocation and modern psych-rock language are more fully integrated, with an assured studio sound. ‘Loop Garoo’ could be a Joe Cocker song, which is to say it’s a Mac Rebennack song more than a Night Tripper song, which is to say the conceptualist phase of Dr. John’s career can’t go on forever. On the other hand, the last 17 minutes of Remedies play like a reunion of the Gris-Gris crew, bringing the old-bones vibe (excuse me: concept) of that album ‘up to date,’ so to speak. All of which is to say it’s a fine, odd album.

And The Sun, Moon & Herbs kicks off with one of Dr. John’s best tunes, his setting of ‘Black John the Conqueror,’ while ‘Craney Crow’ reprises ‘Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya’ in a less hermetic register, signifying the complete integration of the theatrical Night Tripper concept into an identity no less coherent for being more or less ‘real’ (or at least realistic). It even cracked the Top 200. Mick Jagger’s here, and that Clapton fellow on guitar, but Dr. John himself is now the star rather than the ringleader; after this he’d join forces with Allen Toussaint and the Meters to make altogether friendlier Crescent City funk/soul/blues, and while that’s a great idea — anything involving the Meters is a great idea — and Rebennack’s instinctive communalism does keep ego at bay, I’m less compelled by the rest of Dr. John’s career than by this unique run of albums. Entertained, sure, at times moved. But it’s the weird singularity that draws me back to the swamp, the nighttime.