Archive for August, 2012

Bill Graham Presents My Life Inside Rock and Out

Monday, August 27th, 2012

BGPMLIRAO

BGPMLIRAO


Bill Graham Presents My Life Inside Rock and Out – The life and times of the legend, a Russian Jew born in Germany who escaped the Holocaust by walking from Germany to Spain, going to America, growing up in a foster home, becoming American, learning English, working in the Catskills hotels (scams), seeing movies (art), trying to learn acting and brek into films, joining a mime troupe as a manager before becoming history’s most famous rock promoter. Associated with the most legendary acts of all time, organising the most amazing concerts and tours of all time – incredible.

I didn’t know that he’d been in the army, and there are interesting anecdotes about him here – how he was enlisted before he became a US citizen, how he was seeking citizenship so that he could bring his sisters over to the US, and how he nearly got blown up a bunch of times. Interesting story about one regular Army clown who had shined his helmet and rifle so brightly that he was easily shot and killed by the enemy during a raid (too easy to spot him).

When he got into promoting rock acts, in the early days there was one act he really adored, and that was Otis Redding. There’s a great anecdote about how one time, when Redding needed ice, Bill ran down the street to buy a bag to replenish the supply. Otis found out and from then on Bill never had a problem booking Otis for anything (sadly, Otis Redding died a few years later at age 26).

Bill met all of the greats, and was tight with Bob Dylan, The Band, The Who, The Grateful Dead, and especially The Rolling Stones, eventually also Sting and The Police, Peter Gabriel, everybody. But he got his start with the early psychedelic bands, such as Janis Joplin, and he has good anecdotes:

She was a little loaded. Her life was not going so well. She had some personal problems. Mainly, she wanted a new relationship with a man. She talked about her life in the road. She said, “I go on the road and I”m in the HOliday Inn in Toronto. After the gig, all teh guys go upstairs to freshen up. Then they come down and score chicks.” There was this long pause. Then she said, “What does a woman do?” That always explained it for me.

Janis was among the very few who on a given night could be an erupting volcano on stage. She’d give the kind of a performance that you could never capture on record. Like the Dead. Very few artists have the talent and the hunger to go for it every night. To convince the audience that their performance is as important and meaningful to them as it is to those who watch them perform. For an entertainer, that’s the ultimate challenge. To put it out there every night. The very best they can.

Then there’s the crazy time that they tried to put The Band on, but Robbie Robertson was sick so bad with a terrible cold. They couldn’t postpone the show, since so much work had gone into it and so many people had done so much, so they brought in a hypnotist to convince Robbie that he was perfectly all right. And eventually… he was.

Bill was against Woodstock, but he went there. And he warned them about Altamont. According to Ken Kesey, “Hell’s Angels weren’t supposed to be at the top. They were supposed to be at the bottom. They couldn’t handle the top. But they worked really well at the bottom. And that’s what Altamont was. They got up on top and it was a horrible scene. I knew Altamont would happen. I just didn’t know where or exactly how.”

There are great anecdotes about bands like Ike and Tina, who would play there all the time:

Alan Arkush: Some street group was tryin to break into Fillmore East one night and there was a riot going on out there and I was on the back door. Who walked up but Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes. And they were all in these white mink coats. Ike said, “Let me out.” I said, “I’d love to, Ike, but…” He said, “Step aside!” Now, when Ike Turner said “Step aside” and he had all the Ikettes behind him, you stepped aside.

I unbarred the door. Ike opened his coat and pulled out a silver revolver with a pearl white handle. He stepped out on to the street and turned and said, “Tina.” Not “Tina, let’s go.” Just Tina. He motioned to her with his finger. Tina and the Ikettes stepped right out into the street and they had no trouble at all.

Then there’s the Chuck Berry story. “Chuck was talking to a guy while eating a sandwich as a girl was going down on him. I said, “Chuck?” He said, “Let me finish. ” I didn’t know if he was talking about the sandwich or the shoe [or the conversation].” Then there’s the anecdote about the coke room, all white, full of Groucho Marx noses and sniffing sounds.

According to Bill, the food prepared for The Last Waltz concert was:

We had two hundred and twenty turkeys weighing almost six thousand pounds. Five hundred extra turkey legs that weighed six hundred pounds. Stuffing made from seventy bunches of parsley, five hundred pounds of onions, and five hundred pounds of celery sauteed in a hundred pounds of butter mixed with three hundred and city pounds of croutons, five quarts of garlic, ten quarts of sage, and one quart of thyme. Ninety gallons of sauce made form drippings. Forty crates of letuce for the salad. Twenty gallons of salad dressing. Eighteen cases of cranberries. Two thousand pounds of peeled yams. Three hundred pounds of Nova Scotia salmon donated by Louis Kemp and Bob Dylan. Six thousand brtead rolls. A hundred pounds of butter patties. For dessert, four hundred pounds of pumpkin pie as well as four hundred pounds of mincemeat. Rock and Roll’s last supper.

Bill closed first one of his clubs, then all of them. “Nobody seemed to miss Fillmore East then,” said Joshua White. “Now, they miss it terribly. But not then. Now, Fillmore East is like a piece of the true ark.”

Ironic quotes, such as from Nick Gravenites in Rolling Stone magazine: “Graham will not cop to the fact that he did some ugly shit in his life. His memoirs are going to be like the history books about the Americans and Indians written by the American. He won’t accept the fact that he’s been an asshole too.”

His chapter detailing the villainy of Led Zeppelin was interesting, particularly the stupid feuds that they had over honor and pride. The band sold, and it sold quickly, but brought with it evil thugs and other scary elements. Strange story about how the Grateful Dead’s drummer Bob Weir found a way to call Bill “Uncle Bo-bo”… by announcing it from the stage. Great. “I loathe that name,” said Graham. “It’s like Uncle Shit. I’ve asked Bob Weir, ‘ pleases, at some birthday, give me another present. Give me my name back.’”

There is a fantastic quote about putting on the last Sex Pistols show:

Would I have wanted to earny my living putting on bands like that? No. They were an epression of an attitude which I abhor to this day. But as a piece of theater, it was extraordinary. There were no shootings, there were no beatings, there were no deaths. Who am I to set myslef up as a censor concerning what the public wants?

It was their last concert They never worked again in public. They joined the list. Led zeppelin and Lenny Bruce and Groucho Marx and The Sex Pistols.

Or the Iggy Pop show, when he opened for the Rolling Stones in 1981:

Never in the history of rock and roll have more material objects been thown at any artist. Hair brushes, combs, lots of Bic lighters, shoes, sandals, bras, sweaters, hats. Tons of shit. I had never seen anything like it.

He has long sections where he talks about the Rolling Stones:

In every town, they had to live up tot he myth of being the Rolling Stones. MOst of their shows were tens and elevens. Sometimes, a nine and a hahlf. But they never backed off. Two hours and fifteen minutes. All the old songs and the new plus encores like they had never done before. Truthfully, they got to me every night. They were that strong. Fucking monsters

Funny anecdote about Keith putting a bowie knife to a German DJ’s neck for playing bad music (I think this is described in a hospital.

What’s with Greenfield getting Ozzy Osborne’s name wrong – “Ozzie”?

Great anecdote about playing the first rock festival in Russia, and the nightmares that entailed in terms of logistics and agreements. But it’s great that Santana got an encore – a very emotional matter.

One of the quotes is sadly ironic, no more so than the fact that it comes from 1990, just before the helicopter crash that cleaned his life.

I feel so good now that I really don’t want to say how much I grieved. But they changed my life. That’s the irony. Now I love the fact that I’m alive. A year ago If I was gong to live. I couldn’t function.

Of course, Bill dies in a helicopter crash. “For the benediction, Carlos Santana played a very raw, gut-renching version of “I Love You Too Much Too Much, ” the plaintive and very schmalzy song from the forties that Bill had first taught Carlos int eh studio to humming the mlelody to a tape. When Bill took Santana to play in Israel, he had insisted that Carlos perform the song at every show.

But the show always went on. “Bill had always old everyone who worked for him never to cancel a show unless they heard from him personally. When managers, agents, and musicians asked if perhaps it would not be better to postpone concerts which had been scheduled long before Bill’s death, they were told that no one had heard from Bill personally. Therefore, the shows would go on as planned.”

Scary times, like when he put out a personal appeal to Ronald Reagan to stay away from Bitburg cemetery, and got his office burned down as a result by people who probably sided with the Nazis.

The book is build out of a series of articles; since Bill is the most-quoted (at one point, the transcript runs for over 10 pages), it becomes his autobiography. Every famous star (Robbie Robertson, Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Bob Geldof, and many many more) is quoted, even Robert Greenfield, and he’s supposed to be the author of the collection! But none of them are as important or as interesting as Bill, who’s quoted as if he’s alive today, remembering things from only a few years ago; the point is, though, that he’s been dead now nearly as long as he had his career in music. And yet, Bill Graham the icon lives on in our minds.

The book’s closing lines are beautiful:

n terms of the music business Bill Graham had helped create, it was a historic occasion. For the firs time ever, all those many peole had turned out for a man who played no instrument, who could not really sing. Who had not written a single words of any song performed form the stage that day.

At long last, the crowd had finally come for Bill.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

TSHDT?

TSHDT?


They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Great movie, with some questionable over-acting in various scenes. People turned into animals and circus performers, with the scam only shown at the ending. Jane Fonda the ultimate bitter Dustbowl survivor, “Ch-rist!” Pregnant woman, old sick man, “Folks can’t stop having babies just because they got no money.”

I’m keeping an eye on you.
Which one?

“Sixty-five… I hope I never live to be that old.”

The entire film is tragedy, bitter and hollow, zombie faces of the living dead. The mysterious title of the film is also the last line of screenplay dialogue.

I made a bunch of notes about the film that I now cannot read, it’s too bad because while I remember the film well I really don’t remember what I jotted down there. Too bad.

One of Sydney Pollack’s first films, the film is shot on a gorgeous, huge sound stage. The Rolling Stones used the same stage in 1969 to practice for their upcoming US tour, the one that ended on December 6th, 1969 at the infamous Altamont Speedway free concert; the film opened four days later.

The Year Of Living Dangerously

Monday, August 20th, 2012

TYOLD

TYOLD


The Year Of Living Dangerously – I watched this many years ago, but wanted to see it again since I now live in Singapore, so close to Indonesia. I wondered also if it would give me any insights into life there.

Lots of great narration by the asexual actress Linda Hunt, who is a caucasian woman playing the role of an Australian-Chinese man named Billy Kwan. “We add our own light to the sum of all light.” He also quotes Luke and Tolstoy. Great cinematography – shadow on window, sound of dripping water, the faces of old men in Jakarta. “The unseen is all around us, especially in Java.”
“That’s the great thing about being a dwarf – you can be wiser than anybody, but no one envies you.” Then, when talking to Mel Gibson’s Guy Hamilton character, some wicked humor/sarcasm: “We make a good team. We even look alike. People have noticed – same colour of eyes.” Then there’s the line “and so it begins,” which I’ve heard used in The Fantastic Mr Fox film, I wonder if Wes Anderson has that in there as a sort of homage. The Maurice Jarre electronic music is pretty funky, I like it. They run the roadblock like fools. Very sexy driving.

Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver have great chemistry, and their romance is interesting, but it’s still a film about Billy Kwan, who’s the only person in the film who really does anything at all. Gibson is a failed human being, someone who tries to make an impact, but who ultimately betrays his ideals, his friends and himself (making excuses the whole while). A complicated person, like Gibson himself. That’s why Billy tells Hamilton “I created you!” Maybe that’s why I like this film – it leaves you feeling uneasy because of the terrible things that happen. Hunt’s academy award for acting is richly deserved – just watch the fading glint in her eyes in Billy’s death scene.

Kwan’s apartment is full of great photographs, and lush life. He visits a poor young woman whose son is dying. The film is full of scenes of water – the source of life, but too often contaminated – and in the end the young boy who dies is prepared for burial with a sponge bath.

The Princess Bride

Monday, August 20th, 2012

TPB

TPB


The Princess Bride – Great film, I saw it many years ago, now I watched it again with my kid and my wife, who both loved it! Adored it! We now crack up by yelling the word “inconceivable!” to each other.

The film is wonderful, even more so with Peter Falk narrating to Fred Savage, winning him over. We had a laugh at the primitive 1988 Intellivision baseball video game on the screen (Zen’s never seen something like that before). Funny rhyming game. “I really mean it.” “Anybody want a peanut?” “AAAARGHH!!” Vizzini’s taunt to Andre The Giant: “Do you want to go back to where I found you? Unemployed? In Greenland!?!?” Andre the Giant speaks – lots of dialogue (different from his role as Jaws in Moonraker). Funny lines. When Wesley’s boat is catching up to them, Inigo Montoya says “I wonder if he’s using the same wind we are.” Later, in reaction to Vizzini’s constant use of “inconceivable”, Montoya says “I don’t think it means what you think it means.” “Rest well and think of large women.” Buttercup describes Wesley as “poor and perfect.” “Life is pain; anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” Wesley calls Prince Humperdinck “You warthog-faced buffoon. You miserable, vomitous mass.”

I love how the phrase “as you wish” is a code phrase for “I love you.” The grandfather even uses the phrase on his grandson, nice. The way the two young people fall in love is very sweet.

The DVD comes with a few extras: 20 years later interviews, the art of fencing, and an academic visitation of the art of the fairy tale through the ages that is very good. The interviews are with a bit more than half of the cast, Peter Falk, Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are absent (as was Andre The Giant, who passed away in 1993, but the rest are there (including a radiant Robin Wright). Great anecdotes of working with Andre The Giant, including how he mollified Wallace Shawn in the cliff-scaling scene, as Shawn has a terrible fear of heights. “I can’t even look down at my feet”, one of the other actors quotes the short man has having said on the set.

Monday, August 20th, 2012

MA

MA


Mars Attacks – Watched Mars Attacks from a scratched-up library DVD. Sadly, the second half was nearly un-viewable since it skipped through nearly the entire movie. Big bummer, man. Some problems with pacing – for the first 30 minutes of so, we observe everyone on earth anticipating that the Martians are friendly, that they won’t attack. We know better, of course, which makes that whole section a bit pointless. Even after the first attack there are some laughs that the slaughter was based on some sort of “cultural misunderstanding”. The evil-ness of the Martians is unsubtle and one-dimensional. They are, simply, evil. Independence Day plays this seriously, but I prefer this one. Ha ha… Martians.

Lots of great lines: like the translator that comes up with “For dark is the suede taht mows a harvest.” Or the kid when he talks to his grandmother: “I bet people were pretty scared when they invented the train.” “I’m not that old.” Grandma calls all her grandkids Thomas. First question from a reporter in the press conference: “Do the martians have two sexes like we do?” Boxing match: The Quaker in Jamaica. Danny DeVito’s appeal to the pitiless Martian: “I’m a lawyer. When you take over the Earth you’re going to need lawyers.” “Liberals, intellectuals, peacemongers, idiots!” Each dummy gets the end they deserve, but Jack Black (“I surrender!”) and Michael J Fox get it first. Dross from the president: “We will soon come out with a very real outcome.” That whole sentence is just so wrong!!

Incidentally, this is what the original Mars Attacks trading cards from 1962 that the film is based on looked like:

MA

MA

Bill Graham says: best concert ever

Monday, August 20th, 2012

According to Bill Graham’s autobiography, this was the best concert ever. Hard to believe that Otis Redding died at age 26, one year younger than Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Curt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Pigpen and the other 27 Club members were when they died.

ORATF

ORATF

Edwin and Miyoko’s wedding reception

Monday, August 20th, 2012

We went to a reception for our friends Edwin and Miyoko, after having already been present for their civil service last year in September. Great reception at a colonial building in the Singapore botanical gardens’ orchid garden, nice. But boy was it hot!!!

Our top-floor apartment from a distance

Our top-floor apartment from a distance

Our top-floor apartment - close-up

Our top-floor apartment - close-up

Edwin! Miyoko!! Naoko!!! Zen!!!!

Edwin! Miyoko!! Naoko!!! Zen!!!!

Nice place!

Nice place!

Nice place!

Nice place!

Nice place! Waitresses on the lookout.

Nice place! Waitresses on the lookout.

Nice staircase!

Nice staircase!

Nice reflection.

Nice reflection.

Second-floor Zen

Second-floor Zen

Second-floor Zen

Second-floor Zen

Naoko and friend

Naoko and friend

Zen looks like he should be in an 80s band

Zen looks like he should be in an 80s band

Out on the lawn - it was hot!!

Out on the lawn - it was hot!!

Window, the scenery looks like a painting hanging on a wall...

Window, the scenery looks like a painting hanging on a wall...

Zen took a picture of me...

Zen took a picture of me...

Zen took a picture of his papa

Zen took a picture of his papa

The gang's all here - too bad the pic is a bit blurry...

The gang's all here - too bad the pic is a bit blurry...

Supertzar live, Crazy Elephant, August 19th 2012

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Supertzar live, Crazy Elephant, August 19th 2012

We played, we rocked!

Rock 'n' roll couple!

Rock 'n' roll couple!

Supertzar

Supertzar

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Supertzar live, August 19th 2012

Romancing The Stone

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

RTS

RTS


Romancing The Stone – A great 1984 action adventure that can easily compared to Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), except that it has more heart, there are no Nazis (in fact, with the thrust-together spoiled entertainment queen/adventurer combo it’s more like a much improved version of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, ironically also released in 1984).

The film starts off with a fantasy scene from the pages of unlucky-in-love romance writer (no men in her life, but her cat is named Romeo) Joan Wilder. Great, cheezy dialogue: “That was the end of Grogan, the man who murdered my father, raped my mother and sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog and stole my Bible.” Great mud-slide scene with Michael Douglas landing in the swamp face-down between Kathleen Turner’s legs. Wow. Nice arguments between Douglas and Turner. “You’re a mondo-dismo. A man who takes money from stranded women!” Great scene in the smugglers’ crashed plane (Grateful Dead t-shirt, mummified pilot, keys for the fire, old newspaper, “Oh no – the Doobie Brothers broke up!”). Hilarious drug smuggler village scene, the head smuggler has all of Joan Wilder’s books, big smiles on all the hard-ass faces. “Juanita!!” To Michael Douglas: “Get the door.” Lupe’s escape river jump. “I can go no further – after this village I am a wanted man!”

Great movie, wonderful how Kathleen Turner saves the day more often than Michael Douglas does. Also like how Turner starts off the film dowdy and buttoned-up, but then gets looser… and hotter. Too bad the music is just so horribly awful, though. Danny De Vito is wonderful, calling his cousin Ira “bullet-head.”

I learned that the screenplay was by one Diane Thomas, a Malibu waitress who died in a car crash shortly after the film’s release. Tough break. Comparisons to Raiders Of The Lost Ark were inevitable in 1984, although the screenplay was actually five years older (and is probably the better film in an acting sense – Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas nearly get equal screen time, and she’s just as much a heroic figure as he is, doing all the same stunts, and dispatching the bad guy on her own – Douglas has trouble scaling a rock wall and arrives too late to help her, ha ha ha…).

This DVD contains nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes, but nothing special there. There are also scenes from some sort of useless agent that Joan Wilder has, he doesn’t appear in the final movie at all.

Atomised, by Michel Houellebecq

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

MHA

MHA


Atomised, by Michel Houellebecq – This is Michel Houellebecq’s big breakthrough novel. It is about two half-brothers (they share a mother) and both of them highly unappealing, but each in their own way. Michel is a molecular biologist, a cold fish, and ultimately a freakish social thinker. Bruno is a confused, rudderless, self-centered and hormone-riddled man, his only apparent goal to find a truly magnificent sex partner (Houellebecq revives Bruno effectively in Platform); and in true Houellebecq fashion, the book is a long chronicling of both men’s pattern of masturbation and sexual escapades, as well as those of the women in their lives. The book contains a few superfluous passages, such as the one that describes how the son of one of the book’s minor characters has become a thrill killer/ritual murderer a la Martin Vanger in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (why is this important to the book, other than to introduce the downturn society has taken in its tolerance of casual cruelty since the 1960s performances of the Viennese Actionists?). The other superfluous section is the one describing Bruno’s exploration of orgy and wife-swapping clubs in Paris, an experience that is ultimately unsatisfying due to his insecurities over his small-ish penis (all this achieves is to reinforce the already-established point that Bruno really just doesn’t fit in anywhere, and maybe also to titillate the reader a bit).

The book occasionally breaks out into interesting episodes with good dialogue and intriguing ideas, but it is mostly a chronicle of cruelty as Houellebecq gives nearly everyone a bad end (there is an unusually-high percentage of suicides among the book’s characters; the only book I’ve read that comes close to it in this regard is Murakami Haruki’s Norwegian Wood). He also mixes in a lot of bizarre science when he tells about Michel’s story, and the passages break into near stream-of-consciousness, possibly to re-create his scrambled thinking process. By the end of the book, Bruno is phased out of the narrative, and the book moves rapidly into the near future. Houellebecq really doesn’t follow any known structure for this novel.

The characters are generally semi-repulsive; a good sample comes from Houellebecq’s description of a night in the life of Bruno:

In general, however, he was not unhappy with his body. The hair transplant had taken well – he had bene lucky to find a good surgeon. He worked out regularly, and frankly, he thought he looked good for 42. He poured another whisky, ejaculated onto the magazine and fell asleep, almost content

Ditto for Michel’s drunken first foray into sexuality. “He was surprised to discover that he could get a hard-on and even ejaculate inside this woman’s vagina without feeling the slightest pleasure.” I am not sure if this is sad, or merely un-authentic. Houellebecq uses his characters to air his views in one particularly quirky scene where Michel is trying to score with a girl he’s just met who tells him that she doesn’t like African dance, but is okay with the music of Brazil. Bruno reacts to this in strange, but telling fashion:

He was starting to get pissed off with the world’s supid obsession with Brazil. What was so great about Brazil? As far as he knew, Brazil was a shitheap full of morons obsessed with football and Formula One. It was the ne plus ultra of violence, corruption and misery. If ever a country were loathsome that country, specifically, was Brazil.

“Sophie,” announced Bruno, “I could go on holiday to Brazil tomorrow. I’d look around a favela. The windows of the minibus would be bulletproof. In the morning, I’d go sightseeing. Check out eight-year-old murderers who dream of growing up to be gangsters; thirteen-year-old prostitutes dying of AIDS. I’d spend the afternoon at the beach surrounded by filthy rich drug barons and pimps. I’m sure that in such a passionate, not to mention liberal, society I could shake off the malaise of Western civilization. You’re right, Sophie; I’ll go straight to a travel agent as soon as I get home.”

Sophie considered him for a moment, her expression thoughtful, her brow lined with concern. Eventually she said sadly, “You must have really suffered…”

Lots of goofy faux intellectual non-sequitars: “As [Bruno] wandered through the [supermarket] aisles he thought about Aristotle’s claim that small women were of a different species. ‘A small man still seems to me to be a man,’ he wrote, ‘whereas a small woman appears to me to belong to a new type of animal.’ How could you square such a strange assertion with the habitual good sense of the Stagirite? He bought a bottle of whisky and a packet of ginger biscuits. By the time he got back it was dark.”

Later, Michel has a funny conversation (monologue?) with a priest at his brother’s wedding:

“I was very interested in what you were saying earlier…” [said Michel.] The man of God smiled urbanely. He began to talk about the Aspect experiments and the EPR paradox: how two particles, once united, are forever an inseparable whole, “it seems to be pretty much in keeping with what you were saying about one flesh.” The priest’s smile froze slightly. “What I’m trying to say,” Michel went on enthusiastically, “is that from an ontological point of view, the pair can be assigned a single vector state in Hilbert space. Do you see what I mean?”

“Of course, of course…” murmured the servant of Christ, looking around him. “Excuse me,” he said abruptly and turned to the father of the bride. They shook hands warmly and slapped each other on the back.

Later Bruno talks on in a rare conversation with his half-brother about what a bad father he was. It says a lot about what a creep he is (and what a creep Michel is too):

“I was a bastard; I knew I was being a bastard. Parents usually make sacrifices for their kid – that’s how it’s supposed to be. I just couldn’t cope with the fact that I wasn’t young any more; my son was going to grow up and he would get to be young instead and he might make something of his life, unlike me. I wanted to be an individual entity again.”

“A monad…” said Michel softly.

This level of introspection seems highly unlikely for an individual as selfish as Bruno – Houellebecq is dishonest in the way that he makes Bruno appear, in this passage, to be much more thoughtful than such a vain individual could possibly ever be.

He is regularly capable bouts of philosophical insecurity nonetheless:

If industrial production ceased tomorrow, if all the engineers and the specialist technicians disappeared off the face of the earth, I couldn’t do anything to start things off again. In fact, outside of the industrialised world, I couldn’t even survive; I wouldn’t know how to feed or clothe myself, or protect myself from the weather – my technical competence falls far short of Neanderthal man I’m completely dependent on my society, but I play no useful role in it. The only thing I know how to do is write dubious articles on outdated cultural issues. I get paid for it, too – well paid for it – much more than the average wage. Most of the people I know are exactly the same. In fact, the only useful person I know is my brother.”

The vulgarity and repulsiveness of his characters is probably summed up in this passage from Bruno’s lover Christiane as they arrive in town on their way to a nudist colony; she is someone who should be interesting and we should feel sympathy towards, but who ultimately betrays her loathsomeness:

“I have to send my son some cash,” she said. “He can’t stand me, but I still have to support him for another couple of years. I just hope he doesn’t turn nasty – he hangs out with a lot of dodgy people – neo-Nazis and Muslims… D’you know, if he had an accident on his motorbike and was killed, I’d be heartbroken, but I think I’d probably feel relieved.”

“Neo-Nazis and Muslims”? Is he serious, or is he trying to be absurd/ironic/humorous? Some of his descriptions are kind of funny, like when Bruno and Michel arrive in Nice at the house where their mother lies dying. “The front room had an indeterminate, clearly Dutch creature with blondish hair knitting a poncho by the fireplace and an old hippie with long grey hair, a grey beard and an intelligent goat-like face.” Of course, the book often deals with death the dying, details of the body 20 years after death and burial, and other hard subjects, although there’s always a sense of aloofness here, and Bruno is openly hostile to his dying mother and the people who dote on her; Michel is just cold. Another non-sequitar phrase is indicative of this theme: “In cemeteries all across the world, the recently deceased continued to rot in their graves, slowly becoming skeletons.” Quantum mechanics and quantum physics is another topic of the book, along with sex and death. This book is deep!

Near the end of the book the narration begins to mutate, and suddenly turns subjective and biased. “Anabelle died two days later, and from the family’s point of view it was probably for the best. When death occurs it’s usual to come out with some shit like that.” Huh? Who’s narrating this story now? Very close to the end of the book it becomes even more clear that what we’re reading is a vast textbook. “Hubczejak rightly notes that Djerzinski’s great leap was not his rejection of the idea of personal freedom (a concept which had already been much devalued in his time, and which everyone agreed, at least tacitly, could not form the basis for any kind of human progress, but in the fact that he was able, through somewhat risky interpretations of the postulates of quantum mechanics, to restore the possibility of love.”

And so, what do we make of earlier passages, such as “At the time, Michel had only the modest idea of what happiness might be,” which are clearly phrases of an omniscient narrator, the storyteller and author, Michel Houellebecq, not some mysterious narrator-of-the future. How would a narrator as is revealed at the end of the book know what a character was thinking, just as we wouldn’t be able to write this in a biography of Sigmund Freud or Albert Einstein? A very strange, flawed book indeed.