Can't Get You Out Of My Head
OPE! No. 2: Adam Curtis, "public" writers, Gravity's Rainbow, a song about dating hot plumbers
Well hello there. This is Brady Gerber, and welcome to the OPE! newsletter No. 2. It’s Monday, March 13th, 2023.
This week on OPE!
“As a container of historical facts and figures, art is useless and debatable. As a container of historical emotions and feelings, art is unbeatable.”
This week, I blogged about Adam Curtis’s 2021 BBC documentary Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it documentaries with plenty of contradictions and flaws. I imagine that some of you might hate it, which is fair. I also think it’s the best documentary I’ve seen yet in this decade. It’s surely the most ambitious. I wrote more about what I mean by “best” and “ambitious.”
Anyway. Onto the dang links and music.
Obviously, there are more than four types of writers, but this is a fun reminder that there are so many different kinds of “writers.” These overall buckets can be helpful, too. For example, John Warner picks Malcolm Gladwell as an example of “The Popularizer,” where Gladwell’s goal is not to speak the gospel truth on any particular subject but to be a storyteller on behalf of academic research.
If I had to pick a category for myself, I think I would be closest to “The Illuminator,” but mostly because I can’t picture myself in the other types, and this implies that I can be successful in my attempts to connect with y’all :p
“In a previous newsletter I explored the question: “Is Malcolm Gladwell full of crap or what?” And my answer was, “sort of, pretty much, yes.” But, for his readers it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to Gladwell either.”
Living the writing life means living with failure
Not every artistic failure leads to something great. Often, a rejection is just a rejection, and that’s it. Most importantly, it’s up to you and me to define our own definitions of “success” and “failure.”
“To confess failure messes with the narrative that writers have collectively built around success. That narrative fittingly resembles Freytag’s Pyramid, a classic shape for dramatic structure: rising action with some complications along the way, building to a triumphant climax and gently returning back to earth. For a writer, that means long solitary hours toiling away, then collecting rejections, until that magic moment when you can share your Publishers Lunch deal announcement on Twitter. (At which point you might safely joke about those past rejections.)
But like everything else in life, literary trajectories aren’t usually so straightforward and triumphant. Writers’ moods certainly don’t work that way; after all, Malamud wrote at least a half-dozen deathless short stories and a couple of classic novels … and still felt sunk. The literary life is less like Freytag’s Pyramid and more like a sine wave — peaks and valleys, small victories alternating with strings of failures. If you’re lucky.”
The most boring number in the world
“Now you may wonder if there can be any number at all that is not interesting. That question quickly leads to a paradox: if there really is a value n that has no exciting properties, then this very fact makes it special.”
“Why are manhole covers round?”
Think about your answer for a second before you click. This might be the ultimate (or most annoying) interview mind trick.
A pretentious American classic. I think everyone should try it at least once, even if they don’t finish it. It’s a mess, and its failures and few perfect sentences feel more timeless than most books I’ve ever read. A novel that reminds me how wonderful and surreal language can be.
“First of all, it’s 50 years old. It’s also a historical novel, set during World War II. It’s a dense, difficult challenge, the kind of book posers carry around to look smart. It is unabashedly, rambunctiously, arrogantly smart, and deeply, confoundingly experimental. It seems to resist total intelligibility, preferring rather to suggest, evoke, gesture toward, wink at. It’s got all the flavors of meaning, but few of its calories. It wants to feed you in other ways. It wants its words to do more than mean.”
You don’t need expensive tools for valuable thoughts.
“I always find myself drawn to the cheapest notebooks I can find, spiral and composition ones that you can get at Staples for a quarter during back to school sales. I don't feel nervous about messing these up—they're dirt cheap and eminently replaceable. As long as the paper can handle my fountain pens with minimal bleed (you'd be surprised how many cheap notebooks have decent paper) and the binding doesn't disintegrate with use, I feel invited to write as many pages as I can, to fill them up with inky loops and dots.”
The Last of Us Part II, and Naughty Dog's game design, are outdated (NSFW)
One of the best videos of game criticism I’ve seen yet. Major spoilers for both The Last of Us games. Even though this very-long video mostly pans the second game, it nails what makes both games good.
I haven’t watched the finale yet — I watched the Oscars last night instead — but this might be especially good for those who are already excited about season two and don’t mind spoilers.
The pulse of pop music is changing
“Really, the No. 3 song on the Billboard Hot 100 is the culmination of a few trends, technologically driven and taste-bound. In many enclaves, music is getting faster and more fidgety. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s getting more energetic or extroverted. Welcome to the age of lo-fi beats to take stimulants to.”
Ratboys - “Black Earth, WI”
I’m a fan of Indiecast, one of two podcasts I actively listen to, and after last Friday’s episode after being somewhat indifferent toward past songs, I gave Ratboys another shot. Now I’m hooked.
Dougie Poole - “High School Gym”
I’m pretty numb by this point to Springsteen-inspired indie synths, but dang. This really grabbed my attention.
Alex Lahey - “Good Time”
Strong Courtney Barnett vibes until a glossy chorus.
Island of Love - “Grow/Blues 2000”
Spooky! Island of Love are Third Man Records London’s first signing and they’re a solid bet for anyone in love with the Jack White multiverse.
Dream Wife - “Hot (Don’t Date A Musician)”
The most seductive song about dating a plumber. Good life advice, too.
PNAU and Khalid - “The Hard Way”
Not usually my cup of tea, but I dig anything that sounds as shiny as vague diet Weeknd.
White Stripes - “Hotel Yorba”
Speaking of Jack White. I picked up White Blood Cells on vinyl on a whim last week after not listening to it in maybe five or six years. I'm historically pretty cool on White Stripes — I think Jack and Meg were (are) talented musicians and artists, and I think I’d like them more if I saw the White Stripes live — but there’s such earthiness and charm here that feels missing from all modern music. (I will admit that this record on vinyl sounds notably much better than this YouTube link below or even my original CD copy.) This sounds like you’re in the room with Jack and Meg while they’re playing five feet away from you. I also thought this song was called “Hotel Yoda” for many years. I think I still prefer it.
The Avalanches - “The Divine Chord (ft. MGMT & Johnny Marr)”
Since I Left You is the bonafide classic. Wildflower and We Will Always Love You are so good, however, that they’re weirdly more compelling now to argue for their greatness. Same situation with any My Bloody Valentine album not Loveless.
Big Thief - “Little Things”
I still think the last Big Thief album is 12 tracks too long, and “Little Things” is not the best song by Big Thief, but this might be the best Big Thief song. That or “Not.”
Gabriel Gundacker - “guy who likes music”
Shout out to Sean for reminding me of this classic Vine. I also can’t get enough of that sweet music.
And that’s it! Until next Monday.
With love and all the other good things,
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