Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Birds And Three Pretty Birds

I’ve just got a couple of little things today.


Last week I posted about a new kind of bird I’ve been seeing in a large parking lot around here. I thought it was some kind of plover, but I wasn’t sure. I’ve looked around a little more and now I think the new kind of bird around here is a kind of plover called a “Killdeer.”

Wikipedia says they’re fairly common birds. I’ve never seen one before this spring, but I’ve seen a lot of them recently. I think the Killdeer is the only plover with two bands, so that seems to be the distinguishing characteristic. I’m not a birder, but I think this bird is identified.

They sure do like to run around on asphalt.

Three Pretty Birds

Against my own advice—Can We Reboot The World?—I went to a library and checked out a book I’ve been thinking about reading for a long time. This book:

I really like all three of these women. They’ve all written great songs. I think I admire the songs of Joni Mitchell the most, but of the three, Carly Simon was always my favorite. Her voice is just so beautiful and she is so pretty.

This is one of those books, though, that I’ve kind of been saving.

A Place To Read Books I’ve Never Read

I would actually kind of prefer to be reading this book when I was, say, a hundred miles offshore on a blue water cruising sailboat making waves for Africa or something.

What I mean is that I know I’m going to be really depressed reading this book and I wish I had the resources to put the whole contemporary world out of my mind and just move on to some place else where the issues raised by reading a book like this just would be a thing of the past.

What I mean is that these three women wrote and performed such beautiful music, but I know this book is going to be about how fucked up their personal lives were and that stuff is just so depressing that, in general, I would just rather not know about it.

But sometimes if you put up with all the nonsense you get some interesting back-story about the music business so it is good, every now and then, to buckle down and force yourself to wade through all the tribulations some woman had to go through just to sing a nice song.

I guess.

Anyway, I’m going to give it a try.

The reason I decided to buckle down and try to read this book now is one night I was flipping around at Amazon and I looked up this book to see what readers were saying about it. I jumped right to the complaints and right away I saw a very funny review.

The funny review kind of confirmed some of the things I thought I would discover about the book if I ever read it, but the tone of the review was so funny that it kind of gave me courage and reassurance that someone else out there would complain about the very kind of things I’d be complaining about.

Here is the review that cheered me up even before I looked into the book and got depressed myself:

I have never seen writing quite like this. Others have mentioned the mile-long sentences, the paranthetical digressions that rip apart sentences and paragraphs on almost every page and the general herky-jerky nature of the narrative. All true. But what really got to me were the author's strange use of strange new adverbs ("pioneeringly," "karmically," "welcomely," etc.) and the overuse of hyphenated composite adjectives. Surprisedly, I began keeping a list of these in-contemprary-American-English-unfound expressions. For some this might seem like nit-picking, but I don't think I've ever read a book in which the writing itself intruded so much on my experience of reading. By the time I was reading about "mountain-life-idled Carole," I was beginning to feel like "Weller-writing-addled" Daniel!

But it wasn't just the writing. Others have pointed out the excessive attention paid to who was sleeping with whom, and the fact that the author did not interview two of the main subjects of the book. The latter really is a problem and at times the book reads like a series of short biographies of people you have never heard of who had some passing acquaintance with one of the three subjects. In general, there is a lot of irrelevant information and I thought the author had an unfortunate tendency to name-drop. For example, in a book about these three women, you would expect to see attention paid to James Taylor. But why do we need to know that some other girlfriend of Taylor later went on to date Woody Allen and other celebrities? Who cares? Likewise, it seems like everyone mentioned in the book who went to Harvard - no matter how fleeting the reference or how irrelevant to the context - is identified as "Harvard educated." Now, I know there is a class and priviledge argument being made about Carly Simon, but who cares if the bass player who intruduced Carole King to some musician or other went to Harvard? You have the feeling that the first questions in every interview were: "What celebrities have you slept with?" and "Did you go to an Ivy League school?"

More fundamentally, though, the premise of the book is a little forced. The women are very different artists. Joni Mitchell was never a Top 40 hit-maker like Carly Simon and early-70's Carole King. When those two women were riding high on the charts, Mitchell was already artsy counter-culture by comparison. And the author does very little to explore her significance in popular music, relying instead on period reviews and cliches about Mitchell's career. A more interesting group of subjects would perhaps have been Laura Nyro, Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. But then the whole sex-partner overlap story would have been out the window.

For readers born after 1980, the book might make some interesting connections between pop music and wider cultural history. Otherwise, though, the cultural history here is pretty superficial. The 50s folk scene was dominated by men. Well, sure. The sexual revolution was a mixed blessing for women. Yep, read about that too.

Still, I read the book from beginning to end and was never seriously tempted to put it down. (If I hadn't been reading it on my Kindle, though, I would have thrown it across the room a few times!) Once I decided to take absolutely everything in it with a grain of salt, I just let it happen. My main interest was in Joni Mitchell and I think the treatment of her work was probably the weakest in the book. But I found the discussion of Carole King's environmental activism in Idaho surprising and quite interesting.

So, I cannot recommend that you not read it, but you should go into it with your eyes open.

I don’t know who “D. Watson” is, but I strongly suspect that I will enjoy that review more than I enjoy reading the book. But I’m trying to be strong.

The author of this book, Sheila Weller, apparently writes for Vanity Fair magazine a lot. Yech. I’ve mentioned Vanity Fair once not too long ago. In an internet sort of way, I know someone who works there—Things Libraries Throw Away

Still, I’m trying to be strong. So I’m trying to read this book. Maybe I’ll do another post, someday, recounting how far into the book I got before I gave up and couldn’t take all the grief and heartbreak the women think they had to put up with. Or maybe I’ll enjoy reading the book. I’m nervous, but I’m giving it a shot.

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