January 05, 2010


Read last night from the marvelously entertaining Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, the sort of stuff that is so intrinsically interesting that you're amazed you found it. Read two chapters, one about David Foster Wallace, and I got a look inside the writer's fraternity. Chabon talks about how even though suicide is the farthest thing from his mind, how nevertheless the subject fascinates him and is a thread present throughout all his books. He also writes on the cheerier subject of how songs bring back memories in a fabulously powerful way and how a song can be associated with a "nothing moment" way in the past, something you otherwise wouldn't remember except via its association with that song. That's so true - I can recall riding to baseball practice with my dad and "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" was on the radio. Forever after I recall that moment.

He articulates exactly what I've long thought, that it doesn't matter if your iPod has every song on it - there's something different about hearing a song serendipitously:
"No medium is as sensuously evocative of the past as radio...But for the power to have its maximum impact, the process of remembering has to be randon at both ends."
He writes about how the
"iridescent bubble of the music and the air of the past that it randomly traps" [is] "the magic of an accidental conjunction, a flitting moment and the resin drop of a pop song transformed by luck and alchemy into amber. The radiant shins of a girl named Jennifer Dagenais, for example, as she oiled herself with Bain de Soleil at the Phelps Luck swimming pool in the sumer of 1978 are retained in the opening riff of 'Hold the Line' by Toto."
Update: I might add that Chabon's views of religion in general and Christianity in particular are traditional, meaning traditional for a modern literary man-about-town, a man utterly of his time. He's an agnostic who admits that "learning to doubt everything has created a condition strongly akin to fierce belief," a belief strong enough to write "if there was a Jesus", thus holding Jesus to a standard no other ancient figure would be held to. But I suppose it's not surprising given the headwind of the current age.


Bill White said...

That is awfully well-written. I tried to write a post last night about Led Zeppelin III, which I heard last night for the first time since a high-school all-nighter in 1983. Chabon nailed it perfectly.

TS said...

Yeah it's like a 2-fer: beautiful prose that would stand alone on its own, but also saying something I wanted to say but couldn't quite articulate.

Tom said...

Ah, nuts. "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" is such an obnoxious earworm now I'm going to forever after recall you riding to baseball practice with your dad.

TS said...

Uh-oh, now I've got it ringing in my ears too and will forever remember your comment saying you'd recall my riding to baseball practice... :-)