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Author Michael Chabon dishes up overripe Rococo

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Author Michael Chabon dishes up overripe Rococo | Thaiger

PHUKET: Michael Chabon’s third novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. This exuberant romp about two young Jewish cartoonists during the golden age of American comic books in the 1930s and 1940s is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve ever read.

Now we have Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (HarperCollins, New York, 2012, 468pp), and I’m sorry to say that this big novel is a disappointment. Not because the characters are not sympathetic or the plot not intricate and tight, but because the style is wordy, over-the-top, self-indulgent and the dazzling but ultimate turgid display of a literary show off. Sentences are serpentine and run on for thick paragraphs and even pages. Section III is a single sentence that rambles for 12 pages and is told largely from the point of view of a parrot. The jokey narrative tone, ripe with hip nods to movies, TV shows and pop songs, is reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon, but if Pynchon is the High Renaissance Michelangelo, Chabon is overripe Rococo.

The time is late August 2004 and the place is the borderline between Berkeley and Oakland, the birthplace of white radicals and Black Panthers, where a used vinyl record store, Brokeland Records, is the hangout for a multiracial group of musicians and neighborhood characters. The store is owned by two bandmates: Nat Jaffe, third generation Jewish socialist who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, with a black stepmother, black friends and black enemies, and Archy Stallings, African American Iraq war vet and son of Oakland native Luther Stallings, washed up kung fu star of Blaxploitation movies. Their wives, Aviva and Gwen, are partners too in a thriving midwife service, Berkeley Birth Partners.

The plot kicks off as the little record store is threatened by a prospective mall, complete with giant record department, to be opened by developer Gibson Goode (G. Bad), ex-NFL quarterback and the fifth richest black man in America, who does business aboard a black dirigible named Minnie Riperton.
The midwife practice is also threatened with a lawsuit and a hospital review board hearing following a sudden medical emergency during a home birth. Gwen Stallings, nine-months pregnant and upset by Archy’s infidelity, didn’t help things along at the hospital with her hot temper. Into the mix comes 14-year-old Titus Joyner, Archy’s long-lost illegitimate son, who has turned up from Oklahoma, and Jules (Julie), son of Nat Jaffe, who has fallen in love with him.

The plot grabs you, as do the characters with their snappy dialogue, but the reader has to wade through chunks of overwrought description that slow the narrative pace to a crawl. Thus:
“Daylight was taking its sweet time fading into dusk, and the street at suppertime seemed to be holding its breath, torn into patches of deep shadow and sunshine, motionless but for the little white moths stitching their loopy crewelwork in the honeysuckle. In the sand-pit of the tiny playground, dozens of toy vehicles and appliances lay bleached and upended, primary-colored plastic ruins as of some toddler cataclysm.”

There are honest bravura passages, though, like this passage describing how the organ player Cochise Jones, a record store regular, approaches the song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”: “Cochise began his vandalism in earnest, snapping off bright bunches of the melody and scattering it in handfuls, packing it with extra notes in giddy runs. He was ruining the song, rifling it, mocking it with an antic edge of joy. You might have thought, some critics felt, that the meaning or spirit of the original song meant no more to Cochise Jones than a poem means to a shark that is eating the poet.”

The novel reaches a climax with a ten-page description of Gwen’s labor pains. I can’t recall anything so intense about the birth process in all of literature. The novel should have ended there instead of a tacked on scene two months later which ties up all the plotlines into nice happy bows – like chick lit. But my primary reaction was one of relief. Having trudged to the last page, I could read something else now.

— James Eckardt

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

World

Is this the next big change in pop music? The winners of the IFPI Global Recording Artist of the Year Award, BTS

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Is this the next big change in pop music? The winners of the IFPI Global Recording Artist of the Year Award, BTS | Thaiger

2020 IFPI Global Recording Artist of the Year Award. In the past 8 years the IFPI Global Recording Artist of the Year Award has been given to Ed Sheeran, Adele, One Direction, and Taylor Swift and Drake. BTS are backed up by ARMY, their huge fanbase.

The power of ARMY. The IFPI represents the recorded music industry worldwide. It’s not a Grammy or a popularity vote. The award is calculated according to an artist’s or group’s worldwide performance across digital and physical music formats during the past year. Everything from streams to vinyl, CDs and downloads…. and covers their entire body of work. The award was announced last week at the culmination of the IFPI Global Artist Chart, which counted down the top 10 best-selling artists of the past year.

And it’s certainly been a great year for music… not so much for going to live concerts but we’ve certainly had a lot more time to listen to our favourite artists and stream their clips on YouTube.

The group that won this year, based on their pure sales, actually came second in 2018 and 7th in 2019, so it isn’t some statistical blip on the music radar.

The win also represents somewhat of a quantum shift in world music… the sort of thing that only happens once in a generation. Rather than the popular cross-over style shift represented by the George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1924, the brith of rock with Bill Haley in 1955 or the rise of British pop in the 1960s, personified by The Beatles, this year’s IFPI signals another generational milestone in tastes, method, world reach and engagement with fans.

In all the right-hand turns of the popular music genre, there has usually been a technological breakthrough that has accompanied them, or at least been a key aspect of their success.

In the case of the the Great American Songbook, the foundations of the pop music genre, it was the recorded record and the start of radio-as-entertainment in the 1920s that provided a method to reach a huge audience with the new sounds and tunes for the first time.

Then it was the 7” single that made music cheaper and easier to play, that revolutionised the radio music formats of the 1960s and provided the perfect vehicle of the British pop revolution to spread around the world.

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Tourism

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

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Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO | Thaiger

There was the original Covid-19 outbreak and lockdowns back in April and May in 2020, then again just before Christmas and New Year when the new clusters emerged in Samut Sakhon and the eastern coastal provinces, Patong’s nightlife was quiet enough, almost non-existent.

Now when the restrictions are lifted, Nimz will take you through Phuket’s famous nightlife spot Bangla Road, Patong Beach and Phuket Town. It’s quiet, but there are still clubs open and operating and ready to welcome you.

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Bangkok

DUMBO the rooftop bar in Bangkok, a hidden gem | VIDEO

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DUMBO the rooftop bar in Bangkok, a hidden gem | VIDEO | Thaiger

Located in the heart of Bangkok City, Thailand. Just a few metres away from the Saphan Khwai BTS station, ‘DUMBO BKK’ offers a fine mixture of jazz, great food and original cocktails. Bringing you back to the urban tenors of the late 1940s – early 1950s, New York. Som, one of our new Thaiger Vloggers sneaks in, and brings us her impressions of the place. Let’s check it out!

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