Finished reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty yesterday. It's a series of interiors with a family's disfunctions as its plot, with an intergenerational, somewhat idealized view of the United States, or it remains an English novel about America, Boston's version of that illusory notion. Which is another reason Less Than Zero resonates with me two decades later, the awareness of a disappearance, a central absence in American culture, whole histories or languages lost, maybe made extinct by greed and evil. What is it destroys the idea of America in Less Than Zero?
Smith's focus on class & race in a transatlantic context rings true and is well-developed. Although the book indirectly deals with poetry it does so with an outsider's simplification of a near-untranslatable form of writing. Her dialogues and exceptional minor characters keep the pages lively. I also enjoy the interplay between so many disparate characters, spread across London and Boston, many of them never crossing paths.
In 1985 I was also listening to R.E.M.'s great first and second albums, Murmur & Reckoning on cassette. Their Chronic Town EP too. All three records can be read as belonging to a specific time in their sound. As U. and I were speaking tonight about a zeitgeist specifically belonging to an indeterminate era, by my own calculations approximately 1990-1995, but with a whole decade's worth of "underground" culture to acquire before those years. What defines and constructs an era? On the new edition of Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, Pavement sing about R.E.M. on a B-side:
"Some bands I like to name check,
And one of them is REM,
Classic songs with a long history
Southern boys just like you and me.
R - E - M
Flashback to 1983,
Chronic Town was their first EP
Later on came Reckoning
Finster's art, and titles to match:
South Central Rain, Don't Go Back To Rockville,
Harbourcoat, Pretty Persuasion,
You were born to be a camera,
Time After Time was my least favourite song,
Time After Time was my least favourite song.
The singer, he had long hair
And the drummer he knew restraint.
And the bass man he had all the right moves
And the guitar player was no saint.
So lets go way back to the ancient times..."
At La Teresita in West Tampa tonight to pick up dinner and coffee, 3 old men were playing Cuban songs on 2 guitars & voices, maybe a refrain that Severo Sarduy used for the title of his famous novel De donde son los cantantes (1967), published in an English translation by Suzanne Jill Levine at Sun & Moon Press. The singers are from West Tampa with unnamed songs under fluorescent cafeteria lights, for free while you wait for food. Toasted Cuban sandwich, black beans & yellow rice with a cafe con leche for $8. Sunset neon psychedelia across the Courtney Campbell causeway driving West.