Seen Live: a balladeer @ Fluor

Between the first time I saw a balladeer and the 25th time, last sunday, twelve years, four months and ten days have passed. That first time, they were a band, opening for Stevie Ann in the now-defunct De Kelder in Amersfoort, just after “Swim With Sam” was all over the radio. Now, it is just Marinus de Goederen, with two guitars and a keyboard in the cafe of De Kelder’s successor.

While band-version-a balladeer remains my favorite a balladeer, solo-a balladeer (previously known as mr. a balladeer) is very, very good a balladeer as well.

Marinus played for an hour and a bit, and—oh joy of joys—the audience was all quiet and appreciative. I had been under the impression that this fall tour was an excuse to try out new tracks he has been writing this year, but I must have been mistaken: there was only one new, as yet untitled song. Did it matter? Of course not. With songs like “Wishes, Horses” (played un-amplified in the middle of the room), “Trust Fall”, “Poster Child”, “Noah”, “Robin II” and “Mob Wife” (along with war horses as “A Little Rain…”, “Superman Can’t Move His Legs” and of course “Swim With Sam”) we got a slightly down-beat, but excellent set list.* It’s always a joy to see him play, and I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to get better every time.

Seen live
a balladeer, Fluor, Amersfoort on September 30th, 2018
Set list
Wishes, Horses / A Wolf at the Door / A Little Rain Has Never Hurt No One / Beechnuts / Oh, California / Superman Can’t Move His Legs / Trust Fall / Untitled new song / Poster Child / Swim With Sam / Noah / Plan B // Robin II / Winterschläfer / They’ve Shut Down Marks & Spencer / Mob Wife / Incompatible

* Okay, so he did not play my favorite track “Jesus Doesn’t Love Me on account of not having rehearsed it … but then again, in the words of the great philosopher Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want …”

First Lines: Lincoln in the Bardo

Where Ibid: A Life did not quite convince me with the execution of the story, it did prepare for what turned out to be one of the more interesting books I’ve read this year: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo.

It is 1862, and Willie Lincoln has died. His grief-stricken father, the president, returns to his tomb to hold the boy’s body. This, apparently, causes much consternation in the Bardo, that mystical Buddhist place that exists between death and rebirth, where Willie lingers.

That’s the story, and that is, indeed, not very interesting all by itself. But like Ibid, the form makes the story: it is told in a cacophony of voices, citations from sources both real and fictional. There’s a 166 of them, and together tell a many-layered and compelling tale.

Book read
George Saunders — Lincoln in the Bardo
First line
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

First Lines: Funny Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror

Where Alex Shvartsman’s Unidentified Funny Objects collections (mostly) contain all new funny fiction, his series of Funny Fantasy / Science Fiction / Horror anthologies contain reprints of humorous genre fiction.

Now, of course, the boundaries between these genres is vague at best. And with the recurrence of several authors across all three volumes, read in rapid succession, in the end it all got a kind of samey. But there were definitely some good stories:

My favorites from Funny Fantasy include Tim Pratt’s “Another End of the Empire,” in which a Dark Lord gets the end of his reign foretold by an oracle; “A Mild Case of Death” by David Gerrold that gives the so-you-died-and-this-what-happens-next tale an excellent spin; and finally “Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel” by Shaenon K. Garrity, which takes on Borges’ infinite library of Babel (you know, the one which contains all possible permutations of all possible books) and contains the excellent line “…to me all books are ‘Moby-Dick,’ it’s just that some of them are really badly misprinted.”

In Funny Science Fiction Garrity’s “Flying on My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog” proposes a new energy source, making interstellar travel possible. “Miss Darcy’s First Intergalactic Ballet Class” by Dantzel Cherry delivers just what its title promises, “Whaliens” by Lavie Tidhar was delightful and contains Alien Whales from Outer Space, an finally there’s “Chicka-Chicka-Bow-Wow” by Mike Rimar, about an interplanetary porn star sent on a diplomatic mission.

Finally, from Funny Horror: “Kvetchula’s Daughter” by Darrell Schweitzer is about a daughter who has completely had it with her jewish vampire mom. Amanda C. Davis’ “Good Neighbors” was weird, but good weird. Tarl Kudrick’s “Hot Fudge and Whipped Cream” features a genie who gets tricked, and in “The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis, Jack has a unruly little War God who needs some training.

Book read
Funny Fantasy, edited by Alex Shvartsman
First line
IT WAS WHEN a rat rose up on its hind legs and spoke to me in the middle of the street at one o’clock in the morning that I realized that this night was going to be different from all other nights. (Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger, by Laura Resnick)
Book read
Funny Science Fiction, edited by Alex Shvartsman
First line
Diary entry #17: It has been a long, hard struggle, but of course if the conquest of the galaxy is your goal, you don’t expect it to come easily. (Observation Post, by Mike Resnick)
Book read
Funny Horror, edited by Alex Shvartsman
First line
I AM EMMELINE. I am six. (No Children, No Pets, by Esther Friesner)

First Lines: Ibid, A Life

The reason I put Mark Dunn’s Ibid: A Life on my list of 40 books to read before my 40th birthday, was its novelty value. As explained in the introduction, the author wrote an biography of Jonathan Blashette (a circus performer born with three legs who goes on to make a fortune in the deodorant business and becomes a famous philanthropist) which accidentally got destroyed. All that was left were the end-notes, which his publisher wanted to publish anyway.

So, a biography of a fictitious, three-legged entrepreneur, told through nothing but end-notes. While I do believe that the concept could work if played straight, I was not that impressed by the execution. The author seems to have had a lot of fun making up all the references and events, but the whole thing was often too far-fetched, too on-the-nose, and, to be honest, not all that funny if it was supposed to be humorous. Conceptually it succeeds, but as a story, it under-delivers.

Book read
Ibid: A Life. A novel in footnotes by Mark Dunn
First line
1. “Turned out that womb of his mother’s wasn’t barren at all.”

First Lines: Desperation / The Regulators

As the story goes, my wife first spotted me reading a book by her favorite author while waiting for a show by her favorite artist. As I had finished my previous book on the fifteenth occasion of that historic moment, and I still needed to read it in the original English to count towards #66, I decided to pick up that book again.

Desperation is probably the last gory supernatural horror story Stephen King put out. Sure, later books have a bit of gore, or a supernatural angle, and pretty horrific things do certainly happen, but this seems to be the last one where all of that is so front and center. It is cruel and bleak and pretty horrible, and I can imagine King having a blast writing about this an aeons old demon (quite literally from The Pit) of unspeakable evil. He puts him a bunch of people in a remote and isolated mining town in Nevada, and from there on, they have to deal the best they can, while the casualties pile up. It might be middle-tier King at best, but it is still damn amusing.

As it doesn’t make sense to read Desperation without its ‘mirror’ piece The Regulators, that’s where I went next.

Richard Bachman’s widow found the completed manuscript of The Regulators in a box in the cellar. The cast of characters is, quite curiously, very similar to that of Desperation. Heck, even the bad guy, some demonic spirit from a pit in Ohio possessing an autistic boy, caries an uncanny resemblance. But other than that, the books are nothing alike. Well, okay, the casualties pile up here as well. It’s also an amusing read, but the other one’s my favorite.

Book read
Stephen King — Desperation
First line
“Oh! Oh, Jesus! Gross!”
Book read
Richard Bachman — The Regulators
First line
Summer’s here.