Among the more delightful features of The New Yorker are the single-paragraph "Critic's Notebook" blurbs that run along the margins of the "Goings On About Town" section in front of each issue. Composed by the magazine's staff contributors, they mostly consist of ruminations on upcoming musical, theatrical, cinematic, or otherwise cultural events. Restricted to a single paragraph - not unlike, say, Robert Christgau's occasionally koan-esque Consumer Guide record reviews - the contributors are forced to exercise those two most precious writerly commodities: precision and economy. Hence Richard Brody's five sentence meditation on Hitchcock's Vertigo on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, in which he expounds on a vintage print screened by the Cinematheque Francaise made with a dye-transfer process, develops a cogent single-sentence synopsis of the film's convoluted plot, delineates the parallels between the film's central conceit and the Hollywood star factory, notes the critical indifference to the film at the time of its release, relates its current stratospheric station in the canon, and speculates on the reasons for this stunning reappraisal. Bing, bang, boom. If you aren't at least curious about Vertigo after that whirlwind romance - I am and I've already seen the movie several times - then you are unreachable.
Also in this week's issue (already made famous by Seymour Hersh's latest exposé on the Bush administration's attempts to engineer a war with Iran) is a Notebook from fan favorite Sasha Frere-Jones, who recently appeared on Jezebel's "Pot Psychology" video feature, although it is unclear if he partook. In his more reputable day gig, Frere-Jones writes about a free upcoming show this July 4th at the Battery featuring '80s indie stalwarts Sonic Youth and the recently reunited Feelies. By way of introduction to each band, SFJ splits their chief influence at the atomic level: "...the Feelies are the logical extension of the breakneck strumming in the Velvet Underground's 'What Goes On,' while Sonic Youth are the logical extension of Lou Reed's solo." Jones' real goal is to prompt a reevaluation of the Feelies (who hail, it should be noted, from Haledon, NJ), the far-lesser known of the two acts; a difficult task, given that their records, including 1980's seminal Crazy Rhythms are well out of print. No matter: SFJ suggests that you can check them out live for free on the 4th. Which is true, kind of: turns out that while tix were free, there were tix, which were gobbled up virtually the instant they became available. As Chris "Mad Dog" Russo would say, that's a terrible job by Frere-Jones, getting my hopes up only to be completely and utterly dashed; I only hope that legions of less rigorous bespectacled latte-sipping NYer subscribers don't end up being turned away en masse.
Back, though, to Sonic Youth - who are a Downtown indie rock institution in much the same way that Nathan's hotdogs will always be a Coney Island institution - I was reminded of an excerpt from Stevie Chick's new tome on the band I had recently read over on The Quietus describing the Bad Moon Rising era - 1985, or thereabouts. In the book, Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story, Chick describes a date at London's Institute of Contemporary Art on the band's concomitant UK tour:
Sonic Youth were a shock to the system for a London live scene that could only muster the comparatively puny Jesus & Mary Chain by way of competition for the group’s brutally artful attack. “I’d seen the Mary Chain, William Reid standing there with his back to the audience, the weight of the world on his shoulders, making his racket. I’m a fan, but its very English, very non-confrontational. The Youth were completely in your fucking face. Thurston was this huge guy, whacking the shit out of his guitars, and the noise they made was fantastic. I loved Kim’s lurching bass-playing, it wasn’t ‘technically good’, but it was emotionally brilliant. She was doing this weird, very sexual frug. It was so striking, this petite girl handling a massive Thunderbird bass, having to throw her whole body-weight into it to get what she wanted out of it.”