Issue 081
June 15, 2023

A Jazz Tour, Literary Deaths, Sylvia Plath

I'm launching a new pop-up newsletter, heading north, exploring the jazz cafés of Tōhoku and Hokkaido

Rodenians —

I am swaddled in The Great Busyness. The great swirl and swoop of book production and editing and launching new projects and fielding late night phones calls with folks in New York and folks in Amsterdam and folks in London. I am feeling both very full and very used up!

Because I have a penchant for running myself into the ground (we can rest when we’re dead, etc.), I’ve decided to launch — amid this Busy Moment — a new Pop-up Newsletter: BASIE!BOP!JAMAICA! It starts tomorrow (as of sending this), on Friday the 16th. Sign up here:

subscribe to BASIE!BOP!JAMAICA!

For sixteen days I’m going to explore a few of the best jazz kissa of Tōhoku and Hokkaido. Read more about the project over on Ridgeline: “A Northern Japan Jazz Kissa Tour.”

What I’m hoping for: Sixteen days of pure listening. Simple, blissful, listening. I’ll be reporting back on what I hear. I’ll be trying my best to walk the heck out of the towns and cities that house these jazz kissa. I’m returning to a few places I’ve been to many times before, a few I’ve only been once, and a handful of towns I’ve never spent any real time in at all. A couple I had never even heard of (side quest towns)!

These pop-ups have always felt a bit like improv jazz itself (to strain an obvious analogy). I don’t know precisely what’s going to happen. I have the broad strokes of the trip planned (I book all the hotels in advance, check the general schedule of the shops I’m going to visit, and make sure I don’t have any obvious flubs in timing — FWIW it took several days to hammer out BASIE!BOP!JAMAICA! logistics; all spreadsheets and blackboards), but I don’t tell most of the folks I’m coming (some are friends, though, and know), and don’t know how receptive folks will be to my presence (sometimes: bad vibes). And — quite frankly, I don’t do too much research about the places I’m going to be passing through. I like the stumbling-forward quality of getting off a train in an unknown town, without much of an agenda. It’s the feeling brought about by embracing what Kevin Kelly rightly notes as: the “time is more important than money” style of traveling (sixteen days feels so indulgent). It’s part of the fun (and terror) of these endeavors, and part of what makes them feel “performance arty.”

So, come on — join in if you’re interested in rural Japan, music, and people who’ve devoted their lives to proselytizing swung eighth notes.

BTW: I’m Craig Mod and this is Roden, a monthly newsletter that I’m late with this month. I got sidetracked by California. And had a big essay about Steve Jobs I wanted to publish here, but haven’t had a second to revise it properly. It’ll arrive, eventually!

Otherwise, I have been reading a few great books this past month. In particular, Tower Wells’ one and only book: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. It knocked my socks off. Not sure how I missed this short story collection back from 2009 (!!). He’s since become a TV / film writer as far as I can tell. It’s a shame he hasn’t worked on more stories. This collection pulses with craft and care. A book well-hewn on a sub-sentence level, cover to cover. They’re dark stories, yes, but also hilariously vulgar and brilliant. I legit laughed way out loud many times late at night reading in bed. If you’ll indulge me some quotes:

… it looked like the turd of someone who’d been eating rubies.

Those teeth! It was like trying to kiss a sand shark.

I carry a little imp inside me whose ambrosia is my brother’s wrath.

She also said that he had a huge banana, that he did breathing exercises beforehand, and that afterwards he’d gone in the kitchen and whipped up a big beet salad.

But I wasn’t thinking about God in that hospital, and I don’t think about him now.

He went to the hole in the rock and saw that the last tide had filled it with amazing things. A quivering halo of vermilion minnows hung near the surface. Hugging the side of the rock was a little blue octopus no bigger than a child’s hand.

Derrick came back into the living room. “Gotta take a ride over the bridge,” he said. “Need to go pull something out of a horse’s pussy.” “What kind of a thing?” Bob asked. “A baby horse, I hope.”

The fabric of my shirt felt new against my skin, and I shrugged one more time for the feeling.

This is how he’ll have to remember Henry for a good long time: one shoe on, eyes dull as nickels.

Anyway, you get the idea. There’s a real closeness and precision happening (attention, attention, attention), an ear for spoken language, that makes the whole damn a book a joy. It’s touching the southerny gothic-ish pantheon, a little Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, a little John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Upon This Rock. Bad stuff happening at carnivals. If you’re into that particular sort of literature, you’ll love this.

I also started (and am midway through) Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963). Christ, I’m embarrassed to have only now picked this up. Voice voice voice. It feels freakishly fresh, like it could have mostly popped out of some sharp Millennial mind last week. New York City is all over the pages. Also filled with great lines: “The poet made eating salad with your fingers seem to be the only natural and sensible thing to do.” I am in awe and feel silly for only now feeling this awe.

Just as I was about to hit send on this issue, I saw that our previously discussed editorial maven, Robert Gottlieb had just passed. He was 91. The co-subject of his daughter’s documentary, Turn Every Page (2022), he had the unique position of editing Robert Caro for some fifty+ years. What a relationship, and one, as I noted previously, that would be almost impossible to conjure/seed today.

In death news, you probably also saw that Cormac McCarthy has passed. Confirmed: The old white men were old and not immortal. He was 89. Again — someone with a body of work that I’m not entirely sure would be possible today, given the changed nature of the industry vis-à-vis funding and timelines. I always admired how McCarthy a) did almost no media his entire life (save maximally impactful blips like The Oprah Show), and b) lived mostly on the outskirts of things, eschewing the typical Brooklyn Slash Park Slope Writer Life. He rarely responded to interview requests. But he responded to some high school students in 2014. He is impressively free of bullshit:

CM: Writing is very subconscious and the last thing I want to do is think about it.

Interviewers: We are being tasked with conducting a rhetorical analysis of All the Pretty Horses. As a novelist, do you think that’s even possible, or is it a good way to ruin the reading experience?

CM: I think it is a good way to ruin the reading experience.

Interviewers: How do you feel about the movie adaptation of All the Pretty Horses?

CM: I feel I shouldn’t comment on someone else’s work, even if it is based on mine.

What a stance. Just shut up, and get the work done. If the work doesn’t speak for itself, work harder on the work.

And with that, I have some hard work ahead of me in prepping for BASIE!BOP!JAMAICA!. Sign up. Hope to see you out there over the next few weeks.