Trevor Abes: Writer

Tag: writing

Silver Linings Playbook: A Review

Silver Linings PlaybookOn paper, a manic episode can read like a tantrum. A few hours before dawn, Pat Solitano, a man in his 30s, wants his wedding video. He could describe it frame for frame, but he will turn his parents’ house upside down, waking them and the rest of the neighborhood up until it surfaces. Move in a little closer, though, and you’ll find that video in Pat’s mind, enclosed along with his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” in a safe of infinitely layered neuroses. The tokens are insignificant next to his inability to stop returning to them through a narrow, obsessive, and unproductive focus on Nikki, his Cthulhu-like wife.

What Pat (Bradley Cooper) wants is to find room in the safe where nobody will bother him again. He thinks Nikki will take him back –despite an eight-month stint at a mental hospital– and is desensitized by her memory, an expert ignorer of how her absence has crushed him. She is his family and his friends, and all the strangers staring back at him for self-assurance that he hasn’t somehow given them bipolar disorder too. Pat is a hazard at their door, their real-life A&E.

Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is similarly stuck, except she’s a little farther along in her recovery from trauma. She already let her husband’s death astonish and confuse her as to where to turn for relief. Now, past denial, she seeks self-expansion, to struggle with a thought process foreign to her own.

The differences between Tiffany and Pat are rooted in perspective. She listens to the whole orchestra, while he only hears the keyboards. He sees individual strokes and can tell them apart without knowing what the painting represents, that is until he gets curious and asks her. Their reactions to the world are pre-planned, dull and unchanging. They don’t have to live in the moment or be critically aware of their behavior, because good and bad are already rigidly defined.

What I take from Silver Linings Playbook is that you’re not supposed to know how to live through a broken marriage or a death in the family before those things happen (and hopefully they don’t). No matter what you do, you’ll be caught reeling, and the part of your brain that works free of insights and logical thinking will tell you to simply grit your teeth and hold on. It’s that moment of desperation when the ground beneath your feet dissolves and you’ll want nothing more than to make sense of what’s happening, however bizarre a story it takes. Pat’s delusion, revealed in the therapy scene, represents the human reaction to hardship, one far less difficult than the appropriate reaction of letting adversity make its own sense that can overcome you and force you to understand it.

Then, with any luck, you’ll be exhausted, left with football, your friends and loved ones, a good book, sleeping in, small things that can carry a life if afforded space among other less tangible things, like dreams and inherited images of what a good life entails, that can get in the way of what’ll be there when it’s time to start over or try something new.

Hail MarySilver Linings Playbook is uncomfortable to watch without the self-justifying comfort of reality television. It is a movie about the unavoidability of loss and stress and weakness, and how preparing for each one has more to do with experiencing them than browsing the Self-Help isles. Or to put it another way, a playbook is %99 guide, %1 Hail Mary. Its prescriptions can be broken at a moment’s notice if your players fail to get open or hold off the charging defensive line: in these cases, you are allowed to depend on whomever is available, even if you’re all that’s left. But if a long-ball prayer of a touchdown is the last hope for a win, your faith best reside in the familial faces crowding the end zone.

If we’re left with a moral, it’s an urgent, humble reminder that life is appeasable for those who realize that Hell is other people, but Heaven is too.

Toronto Trio Heater Girl Releases Debut Album

Heater Girl’s first L.P., Nouveau, is a punk/indie pop adventure hosted by two poets, Darren Hutz and Aaron Florendo, with Stewart Byfield’s joyous ruckus on drums (particularly on “The Archfiend’s Haven”).

Hutz starts things off with “The Love I Was Waiting For,” an enlightening and side-splitting song about what concupiscence can do to one’s worldview. His delivery is clear, tragicomic, and Johnny Cash rich as he declares, “I found my Holy Grail, rubbernecking and chasing tail/ And there’re a few fine arts that I’m mastering/ Grab-assing and finger-blasting in the women’s bathroom.”

Then, a shift in diction. As if in response to Hutz’s libido-driven aspirations, Florendo takes the mic on the heart wrenching “What’s So God Damned Scary About Being Loved For The Rest Of Your Life,” a grungy look at losing his band-mate’s tardy ideal without expecting it.

The two vocalists operate on different wavelengths that intersect and maintain their essential features. Florendo’s verses, constrained by form, offer confessional narratives metaphorically bent, and his raspy tone has a tendency to transpose harmonies, tying them together much like a trombone in a brass band. Meanwhile, Hutz’s preference for explosive riffs and earnest aggression guards an emotional depth his intonations are quick to imply; it’s depth, or the feeling of being young and ahead on mistakes, that runs through Nouveau’s 10 song set.

On “The Archfiend’s Haven” (which opens like an R-rated version of The Lion King), Florendo is poised and contemplative. Over a pointillist battlefield dotted with drumsticks, he describes how “the illusion of endless joy” (as of today a pretty multifaceted commodity) is best applied to someone you can argue with. On “Sleep Is For The Weak,” Hutz argues with himself; whether he wins or not depends more on how he sounds than what he says.

Turning to clairvoyance for a moment, I foresee that some people might call the album disjointed and conclude that what we’re really listening to is a collaboration between two solo artists and a bad ass drummer. Maybe we are. The same people might raise a similar point about Lou Reed and Metallica’s recent effort, Lulu; and while Nouveau isn’t nearly as abstract, the avant-garde is definitely a core value by number of tackled genres alone: punk, pop, rock, grunge, country, indie and an acoustic ballad all find their places on the polycarbonate. Disjointed or not, the album’s alternating structure allows Florendo and Hutz (a great name for a cop drama) to 1) show off their personalities, and 2) embody Wilde’s gem of a notion that you have to be yourself, because everyone else is taken.

Nouveau is available on Itunes and Amazon.

For a lengthy and detailed history of Heater Girl, penned by Florendo himself, please visit www.heatergirl.com

Here they are performing “Aches and Pains,” a fan favorite.

Turning Darlings Into Words

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s compulsive about writing is that your words can affect the world and the pieces stories need to be good are universally the same, yet adaptable to all individual personalities, even lazy ones, just not those easily prone to embarrassment.

The sexiest, most breathtaking chocolate-cake-level gift a writer can receive is motivation. There may be medical reasons behind your obsessive interest in Victorian England; you’ve recently finished an entire encyclopedia of jazz in two sittings, stifling back tears when Coltrane died; gardening is your life and it worries your family: surely it doesn’t, but that’s the passion-driven material you will hone with care and without self-doubt.

I’d be interested in reading gardening fiction. Flower personification could be charming. No? Says you.

It’s fun to think of readers as a shifting soup of expectations, because trying to please every drop is impossible and  inadvisable. Imagine a friend or a fresh acquaintance telling you he likes “all music;” now imagine turning into him. Taste works by exclusion. You don’t like everything, so don’t spend valuable typeathons trying to make everyone like you. Yourself included.

I am not saying write things you don’t like. I’m saying allow yourself to write badly about things you really, really like. Transferring perfection onto a computer screen is more evacuation than careful assembly,

More murder and miracle resuscitation than nip, stitch, done,

Which is OK considering the mental image is still there to be your model in the aftermath.

When putting darlings into words, the careful get left behind: spew, cross out and redo.

Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE: A Review

Frank Ocean, r&b singer and member of Odd Future, released channel ORANGE, his debut album, on July 10, 2012.

The first single, “Thinkin’ Bout You,” tackles the inherent fickleness of relationships. It’s what Maxwell would sound like without his tacky approach to romanticism.

On “Super Rich Kids,” Ocean shows how deep his pop roots go by offering a track that develops a predetermined subject (same goes for “Forrest Gump”); this method of song-writing is akin to poetry, in that the artist limits his subjective scope like a ballad or Shakespearean sonnet form limits verse; he cannot fill up time by spitting loosely associated mental wanderings without veering off topic. It is by focusing on this class of kids, and the substantial repercussions their money brings to the table, that Ocean and a haunting Earl Sweatshirt force themselves to and succeed at tailoring their skills to an existing semantic mould to produce an example of Darwinian hip-hop adaptation.

Around the 3:50 mark on “Pyramids,” Ocean turns up the Scissor Sisters and lets it be known that he can get down too; his overreliance on repetition to sustain this nine-minutes-plus mammoth is quickly evident, and can be forgiven on nerd credentials, namely the use of Cleopatra/Ancient Egypt as an allegorical device that doubles as a framing device for the story of a lover turned prostitute. Brilliant.

The album is full of prospective moments of brilliance: “Fertilizer” could easily be extended into a full song riding on its unexpected blend of bawdy and Motown. The memorable “Bad Religion” seeps  tangentially into politics with the refrain, “If it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion,” and is backed up by Ocean’s agony-ridden high-register harmonies  His relaxed and sombre delivery on “Pilot Jones” matches emotion with context, aiding listeners in occupying the space of an addicted dope dealer, in feeling her isolation; this is the difference between Ocean and someone like Chris Brown or Ne-yo: Ocean’s minimalistic production values and narrative-driven lyrics are not aimed at tween masses but at everyone old enough to find joy through the expression of personal pain: in this way, channel ORANGE dishes out as much blues as old-school soul rhythm.

The Short Life Of Shapes On Sun-Kissed Eyelids.

black-red-green-backgroundShe sees Connick Jr. now has a microphone. He is singing “All of Me” as if he meant her to take all of him. The other two players are sitting cross-legged, stage left, and their instruments are playing  themselves. Harry drops to the floor and maintains a spontaneously splayed position, as does his microphone. The song continues.

“It was a perfect lip-sync,” Harry bellows from the floor. “Those ain’t in my nature, dahlin’, but I did one for you.”

She remembers that she is in hospital, dying, and prone to dementia. Her name is Mabel Woodhouse, 89, born in the month of May.

She forgets.

She thinks someone is listening.

She would like you, whoever you are, to know that she has learned diddlysquat during her 89 years on Earth. Why? Because moments of clarity like these are all she has to look forward to anymore, and they only come every few weeks. She may have seen too many retirement-home commercials, but she thinks she deserves better. At least basic motor skills.

She does not believe that you are God or any other high holy being, although your lack of kindness is not here supposed. She’s simply trying to say that she remembers that she was talking to someone, but since she can’t exactly see you, she’s going to stop talking now.

Her room is off-white and smells like it’s caked in ammonia. It is Christmas.

She turns on the TV and sees Harry Connick Jr. singing “Danny Boy” in a bright red turtleneck. She smiles and sighs at the serendipity.

Miles Duke’s Zone Out (EP): A Review

There’s a new rapper on the scene, and he’s got an English degree.

On June 19, 2012, Miles Duke released Zone Out, his first EP, available for free download on Media Fire here . And ‘personal’ is the word from the first lyrics spat. From his eating habits, to his taste in women, to his sometimes manic delivery in search of a solid meaning for life itself, Duke’s heart beats out his chest in every song with freshness and vulnerability. Yet, what’s most personal about Zone Out is the raw clearness of Duke’s thought-process. Here’s an analogy: “Pop Champagne” provides virtually no insight into Jim Jones the person; the song wasn’t made to get to know him, but to feel a little hood while admiring how well he’s done for himself. Conversely, Duke’s approach to song-writing takes having nothing to prove as its starting point.

You’re not supposed to know that Ghostface Killah’s real name is Dennis Coles for a reason. It contrasts with Wu-Tang’s image. So, in the absence of an image, Duke takes to making his own one tune at a time.

His lyrics are surrealist, stream of consciousness poetry that reward in proportion to the attention you put in. It becomes clear after a few minutes that, as listeners, we are meant to follow Duke’s thought process much like we are the protagonists of David Foster Wallace stories: we are asked to be entertained by the act of communing. The opening track, “Inspiration,” begins with atmospheric synths with vocal harmonies on top; Duke promises a “positive space ” with “dollops of taste,” thus setting the album up as an aesthetic affair, a Nabokovian series of explorations of how rhythm and poetry can affect the senses.

“Now” is an energetic, head-banging piece that contains an important meta moment for the album as a whole: the line, “my cadence is far from basic,” coupled with Duke’s proclamation of his “mission with diction,” forms a mission statement that is for diction as well. Specifically, for a change in mainstream hip-hop’s underestimation of the power of words to affect people’s behavior. Zone Out is composed of fragmented, semantically saturated confessions that demand listener participation rather than passive consumption; it is largely brand-name-free.

If a sliver of meaning is unlocked, or if a petal of beauty successfully crosses Duke’s cerebral bone barrier into yours, his purpose of reaching you with his soul rather than with guns and girls is validated.

Beginning from the two-minute mark, the tittle track contains the most memorable bars of the album. As soon as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is name-dropped, the rapper is clearly sparked by it, unleashing deconstructed stanzas with complete confidence in himself (as well as the rare mid-bar pause). The absence of choruses, a hallmark of underground hip-hop, affords Duke this explosive freedom and, when coupled with the pop-crossover beats that take up most of the album, reveals his mainstream influences under the veil of a challenge: to determine whether there would ever be a context in which what we’re hearing is a hit song. If not, why?

Check out the Zone Out album cover.

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