Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Juliana Hatfield

There is no reason why Juliana Hatfield should have made such a great new record, one where her sharp, tart songwriting and still-girlish pipes outshine most of the singer-songwriter schlock out there, with nice slick-but-not-too-slick-musta-cost-somethin' production and great performances throughout.

Not having been a smart girl in the 90s (seriously, I'm just now having my Jordan Catellano [sp?] phase) I was never super mad about Hatfield or Blake Babies or any Boston-area trust fund rock, all that much. So why does this new record (How to Walk Away) have top-ten of my year all over it? Maybe it's because JH even bothered to do it, when radio is a void and she's way too smart to even make it as "popping into Pinkberry" music on The Hills. This is a grown-up record that doesn't fully blow. AMAZING!

EB White

Be prepared to be met with juvenile remarks when carrying around a copy of One Man's Meat, the book of EB White essays. It is exactly this sort of facile wisecrackery that White himself abominated. Still, White's elegant essays are tonics in these vulgar times.

It's interesting as well that White's occasional testiness can be scene as either the last vestiges of old-school Yankee hardheadedness or as a brand of proto-snark, as in this passage on topics of modern (1939) childrens' books [bearing in mind this was years before he himself famously wrote such things]:

Indians, animals, faeries, these old reliables still occupy the key
positions. Indians seem, if anything, to be gaining - gaining in
and in numbers. The child of twenty-five years ago had his
Fenimore Copper
Indian, his cigar-store Indian, his lead-soldier Indian with
a feather
headdress; but he thought of the Indian as an agreeably
bloodthirsty but bygone
creature of history, definitely suspect. Today,
thanks to progressive
education and some appreciative artists and writers in
the Southwest, the Indian
stands reborn - in a fine clean region
of his own, halfway between
DiMaggio and Christ.

Some of his descriptions rank with the best of Cheever and Updike, as in this from a piece on a visit to Walden Pond:

A fire engine, out for a trial spin, roared past Emerson's house, hot with
readiness for public duty.

On raising a seagull from a hatchling:

The gull was a present from Mr. Dameron, who wore an odd look of guilt on his
face as he approached, that evening, proffering the chick in a pint-size ice
cream container as tentatively as though it were a bill for labor.

These mild-ass topics fairly pop, sentence by sentence. Plus the way in which White describes his gentleman farmer labors leaves one with a feeling of envy at his comfort with both himself and his surroundings. Says me.