Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Listen, America!

Listen, America! The Conservative Blueprint for America’s Moral Rebirth by Jerry Falwell (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1980. 237 pp)

Jerry Falwell was an evangelical, fundamentalist preacher. He founded Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virgina, Liberty University, and the Moral Majority. Falwell attended Baptist Bible College and became an outspoken voice for conservatism in the United States. Falwell died in 2007.

Thank You, Sir 

Well-behaved children do not find trouble. If they speak kindly in a crowd, no offense is taken. If they covet nothing, no jealousy or harm of property could ever occur. To a certain extent and from the condescending tone of the title, Jerry Falwell’s Listen, America! flows from this reasoning. If a person, community, or country acts well, what could go wrong?

The Supposed Dangers of Moral Decay 

The former leading voice of the disbanded Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell urges Christians to establish morality through political action. Although Listen, America! does not flow deductively (or inductively, for that matter), Jerry Falwell’s core thesis surrounds the concept of moral decay in the United States.

For Falwell, the prosperity of a nation is directly related to the morality of a nation. He writes,
“History books are replete with illustrations of how, down through six thousand years of human history, empires, governments, kingdoms, and nations have ceased to exist when they have fallen into sin” (22).
Setting aside the debate around what qualifies as sin (many could argue that the supposed pristine lifestyle of the founding fathers carried much sin), Falwell believes that the rise of liberalism and its acceptance of unhinged sin is a recipe for the downfall of the United States.

In order for America to avoid a precarious downfall, Falwell believes that all of society must realign with Christian morals.
“God is the Author of our liberty, and we will remain free only as long as we remember this and seek to live by God’s laws” (41).
Directly related to his belief in the core reasons for societal decay, Falwell contends that societal success exists only in correlation with enacting proper morals. Interestingly, these two premises do not elaborate on what to do. Jim Wallis, a Christian living on the opposite side of the spectrum could agree with these premises.

Christian Morals Defined 

What differentiates Falwell from Wallis is the definition of Christian morals. Whereas Wallis sides with the poor, disenfranchised, and exploited, Falwell affirms the status quo. He states,
“The free-enterprise system is clearly outlined in the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. Jesus Christ made it clear that the work ethic was a part of His plan for man. Ownership of property is biblical. Competition in business is biblical. Ambitious and successful business management is clearly outlined as a part of God’s plan for His people” (12).
Charitably granting that Falwell has sources to back up these claims, capitalism becomes Biblically mandated.

The Morality of the Founding Fathers 

Falwell traces these principles back to the moral superiority of the founding fathers of the United States. Hinting at America’s role as a present-day chosen society of God, Falwell asserts that the actions of the founding fathers create some sort of covenant with God. These principles, for Falwell, are diametrically different than the way government currently runs. He argues:
“When America was founded, the legitimate purpose of government was to protect the lives, the liberties, and the property of the citizens. It was not the purpose of government to redistribute resources or to enforce any particular results in the relationships and dealings of the citizenry among themselves. Simply stated, government was to protect the God-given rights of the people” (59).
Much like John Locke’s position on property and government, Falwell believes that God gifts humans with labor, property, and free enterprise. Government’s role, then, is to divorce itself from wealth creation and maintain the rights of the people in case of dispute.

Christians in Politics: A Social Engagement 

Photo by Mark Trammell
Given Falwell’s premises, he urges Christians to right the proverbial ship, exerting the strength of the moral majority. He believes that God mandates Christians to remain active in politics and to legislate ethics in order to avoid the decay of immorality. Falwell suggests,
“The political process is really nothing more than a realization of the social process. For us to divorce ourselves from society would be to run into the kind of isolationism and monasticism that characterized the medieval hermits” (226).
Despite his clear opposition to the Christian communism of Walter Rauschenbusch, Falwell agrees with Rauschenbusch’s tenet of engaging with society. Where Rauschenbusch urges us to engage with society in order to alleviate social evils, Falwell, to a certain extent, wants Christians to engage with society in order to maintain the social ideals that Rauschenbusch would label evil.

In all honesty, much of Listen, America! bothers me. Logic is applied sparingly to the book and much of his assertions about communism seem to come from a position of fear. Born in 1985, I am not cognizant of communism and the fear it instilled in the West. Perhaps, the best modern analog is Islam? Nevertheless, Falwell’s claims seem wide-sweeping and unsupported.

God’s Covenant with America 

Yet even if I grant him the overwhelming fear of communism and his questionable truth claims, Falwell’s assumptions regarding the superiority of the United States and capitalism feel absurd. Throughout Listen, America!, Falwell writes as if the United States holds exclusive rights to prosperity, economics, and salvation. I get the feeling that Falwell believes that God has selected the United States as his chosen nation, which, in some way, is similar to the relationship Israel held with God in the Old Testament, America’s citizens must follow God or face undesirable outcomes. I reject this position vehemently. God’s covenant through Jesus extends globally. To proclaim that one nation holds a privileged status with God is discriminatory at best and a grave sin at worst.


Intuitively, a well behaved group of people will achieve better societal results than a lawless group. Falwell believes that an America without a moral backbone is an America that doesn’t exist. In order for America to survive and thrive, the nation must return to its Christian morals. Falwell defines morals as a return to the conservative ways of the founding fathers and the free market economy. Yet, I critique Falwell for his misplaced assumptions in the covenantal relationship God carries with the United States. The U.S., while successful and certainly blessed, has no moral superiority to the rest of the world.

In short, don’t read Listen, America!

Verdict: 1 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Album Review: Come Back As Rain

Come Back As Rain by Good Old War (Sargent House, 2012. 38 minutes)

Good Old War is Keith Goodwin, Daniel Schwartz, and Tim Arnold. The band started after they recorded free demos in a late night session at a studio. Good Old War have played at the South by Southwest festival in Texas, and toured with both Anthony Green and Alison Krauss. They are currently signed on the label Sargent House.

Americana Pop 

Good Old War has been active since their 2008 release of Only Way To Be Alone. With an album in 2010, Good Old War didn’t change much. But, this new release, entitled Come Back As Rain provides evidence of a maturing, sophisticated sound. The band’s sound is beginning to develop in a positive direction. The song, “Better Weather” offers proof. The song features tight, three-part harmony, which once you hear it, you’ll understand why I think the band might be on their way to join the folk/Americana greats like Alison Krauss.

One downside with Come Back as Rain is that while it is definitely a folk/Americana album, it errs too much on the side of pop. Following the trail of many tight-harmony bands like Mumford & Sons, Good Old War tries, perhaps too hard, to gain popularity.

Lyrical Depth 

Given the band’s sound, Good Old War clearly spends time tightening vocal harmonies reminding the listener of the Beach Boys. Such a position is something I’m thankful for, but I think Good Old War lost the proper amount of depth. In a close listen to the lyrics “Better Weather” the band, in their three-part harmony, sings the following:
“Our little house at the top of the hill / Was made with love / And four tons of steel”
Yes, the lyrics rhythmically work; they are catchy. But the lyrics also drip with cheesiness that makes it hard for me to muster the strength to listen to the whole track despite the musical goodness behind it. To push the point a little further, in the track “Loud Love” the lyrics might induce vomiting.
“Things are getting dark, they’ve been scaring me / Now the moon’s gone, and I can’t see / Do you remember, when the sun was out? / Light was all around, we climbed a tree / High up in the tree, you made a nest for me”
And just a few lines later, these lyrics appear.
“Will you wait for me underneath the sea? / Can you hold your breath until I’m free?”
The harmonies are really nice, and the melodies are catchy, but the depth certainly isn’t there.

What’s more is the album repeats the same Americana-sounding track over and over, in roughly the same tempo. What makes Come Back as Rain okay for me as a listener, is that the tracks vary enough, and the songs are a fun listen. To end the album, the band plays “Present for the End of the World” which has a new drum beat, but toward the three-minute mark, the singer just repeats the same melody continuously, and needless to say that gets a little old.

I like Come Back As Rain. So what if it’s not the most thoughtful lyrically or the most varied of albums, I’m partial to well-sung harmony. The record also hums along, which gives me the impression that maybe the band knew that it would be a simple record. It’s my fear that despite Good Old War’s growth, the band is setting themselves up to be known as a band with all fluff and no substance. I think if the group continues to grow, this is a band to watch out for. However, if they stick where they’re at now, I would start to avoid them, as they might go the way of the Jonas Brothers (eew), a boy-band craze that few outside the stage of female adolescence enjoyed.

Verdict: 2 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: The Street Sweeper

The Street Sweeper: A Novel by Elliot Perlman (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. 640 pp)

Born to second-generation Jewish Australians of East European descent, Elliot Perlman studied at Monash University. While working as a judge’s associate, Perlman submitted a short story that eventually won The Age Short Story Award. Upon becoming a full-time writer, Perlman’s debut novel, Three Dollars, won The Age Book of the Year and the Betty Trask Prize. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

History as the Spoils of War 

History is written by the victor. When peace arrives and diktats emerge, the narrative that develops often becomes one sided. For this reason, we can never conclusively know history because our narratives carry bias. I vividly remember surprise upon hearing my high school physics teacher—born and raised in the southern region of the United States—indicating unease regarding Abraham Lincoln. Although my teacher affirmed the goodness of liberating slaves from the South, he rejected the notion that Lincoln was a great president.

In The Street Sweeper, Elliot Perlman somewhat unsuccessfully seeks to tell the story of the marginalized.

The Street Sweeper 

Centering on two heterogeneous characters, The Street Sweeper explores both the holocaust and the civil rights movement. On one end, Perlman ponders the difficulties facing Lamont Williams, a poor, black ex-convict sweeping streets and taking out the trash at a Manhattan cancer center through a correctional pilot program. If Lamont lasts six months, he will earn full-time employment and the opportunity to focus his resources on finding his daughter, a metaphorical casualty of spending years in the joint. Would you want an infant to remain relationally connected with a prisoner?

Early during his probationary period, Lamont encounters a cancer-ridden holocaust survivor named Henryk Mandelbrot. Striking up a friendship, Henryk shares with Lamont the harrowing story of Auschwitz and his involvement in the Sonderkommando, a slave labor unit forced to work the gas chambers in the death camps.

At his core, Lamont is an innocent man. He earned six years in prison for a crime his friends committed. Having agreed to give a ride, Lamont’s life took a turn for the worst when his friends, unbeknownst to him, held up a convenience store. Describing Lamont’s obliviousness as a personality trait consistent from childhood, Perlman writes,
“Lamont liked to read the magazines but Michael had always been more interested in the candy. Michael was the first to steal and it had been candy, Now and Laters and Hershey bars, he’d stolen. Lamont had his head buried in a magazine and hadn’t known what Michael was doing until they’d left the store” (67).

The Historian

On the other end of the character spectrum, Perlman contemplates the civil rights movement and the holocaust through the lens of a Columbia historian named Adam Zignelik. The son of a prominent Jewish lawyer who contributed to the legislation that paved the way for the civil rights movement, Adam gained scholarly acclaim for a book praising the role of lawyers in civil rights.
“But worrying if [Adam] would ever have another sufficiently good idea was now a luxury he could no longer afford because it wasn’t enough to have a good idea one day. It probably wasn’t enough to have one even now. He really needed to have had one before now because, having spent five years at Columbia with only one book to show for it, an untenured academic seeking tenure was in very big trouble” (52).
Desperately in need of an idea and with his job on the line, Adam inspects a lead from a close friend regarding the potential link between black World War II soldiers and the liberation of concentration camps. If the link exists, it’s possible that World War II could function as a harbinger that provided the necessary strength for returning African-American troops to stand up for civil rights.

During Adam’s search, he uncovers original wire recordings of displaced persons—the title before holocaust survivor—created by a Chicago psychologist, Henry Border. With the wire recordings unveiling potentially the earliest historical record of the holocaust, Adam’s research begins to shift toward these stories. In learning more about the psychologist that traveled to Europe in the summer of 1946, Adam draws nearer to Henryk Mandelbrot and Lamont Williams.

Overt Racism 

For the most part, Perlman’s prose is engaging and at times masterful. Especially in the early stages of The Street Sweeper, I marveled at Perlman’s ability to link stories and to write poetic sentences. But as the novel developed, I found certain holes difficult to overcome.

First and most worrisome, Perlman sets the current events in this novel in a somewhat parallel state where Columbia University is willing to host Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and race relations are tense.
“The day before, someone had left a noose hanging on the door of a black professor from Columbia University’s Teachers College. The professor, a woman who hailed from a disadvantaged southern background, now a professor of psychology and education, was known for her particular interest in the psychological effects of racism on victims. Now she was a victim of it herself” (411).
Lithograph by holocaust survivor Leo Haas
Yet descriptions such as this one refuse to probe deeper, existing as a hanging thread. Despite heartbreaking explanations of the holocaust and the civil rights movements, Perlman refuses to expand on these imagined current issues. To a certain extent, Perlman’s densely packed narrative provides little space to expand on these complicated parallel issues. In my mind, the novel would have been better served without complicated current events.

Additionally, Perlman’s race discussion teeters between relevant and dangerous. A white Australian of Jewish descent, Perlman’s depictions of the African-American condition could easily be mistranslated. Interestingly, Perlman admits the danger in the acknowledgement section of the novel confessing that any description of another race inherits risk although he intends not to offend.

What Is Life if We Can’t Remember? 

Nevertheless, The Street Sweeper portrays some compelling characters. The reader wants Lamont and Adam to find success in their endeavors and such a position is the first order business of a good story. The Street Sweeper asks us to remember people when we consider history. Certainly, events exist on an institutional level, but we should always remember that history happens to people.
“Lamont Williams was desperate for people to remember other people. If they didn’t, what did anything mean, what had anything been for” (553)?
Despite certain reservations, The Street Sweeper is an entertaining and enveloping read. If you are interested in historical fiction and willing to read about heartbreaking topics, The Street Sweeper is for you.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guest Album Review: Wrecking Ball

Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen (Columbia Records, 2012, 62 min.)

Bruce Springsteen, nicknamed “the Boss”, is an American songwriter and guitarist/vocalist that is best known for his working-man albums of the last 30 years, including Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A. and The Rising. Mr. Springsteen has 21 Grammy awards and an Oscar in his celebrated career. Wrecking Ball is his 10th chart-topping #1 Album, trailing only Jay-Z and the Beatles.

Post-9/11 Revitalization

Bruce Springsteen has hit a stride since the 9/11 tragedy re-awakened him, revitalizing both his songwriting and his purpose with the album The Rising. With similar purpose and drive, Wrecking Ball finds Bruce fighting for blue-collar Middle America in response to the Wall Street greed that has crippled this country in the Great Recession.

On his first single, “We Take Care of Our Own”, Bruce critiques the government for their lack of response to the New Orleans tragedy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
“From Chicago to New Orleans/From the muscle to the bone/From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/There ain’t no help, the Cavalry stayed home”.
 But in Springsteen-esque style, he calls on the country to pull together, to “take care of our own”.

Vengeance on Wall Street

The track “Death to My Hometown” is considered by many to be the angriest tune of Springsteen’s career and I agree. Springsteen chides corporate greed and the fact that it has brought down the factory jobs of the heartland; he states that Wall Street has taken The United States into recession and has yet to be punished for it:
“The greedy thieves that came around / And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found / Whose crimes have gone unpunished now / Walk the streets as free men now”
This album finds Springsteen including some old audience, crowd-pleaser songs never before introduced on a studio album, including the title track, which was written for the closing of Giants Stadium. This also includes one of my favorite tracks on the album, the uplifting “Land of Hopes and Dreams”.

The Land of Hopes and Dreams

The song, "Land of Hopes and Dreams", features Springsteen’s famous backing band, The E Street Band, in what may be their final track ever, as their saxophonist and Bruce’s second-hand man, Clarence Clemons, passed away in June. This song is a fitting tribute to his amazingly soulful saxophone playing.

As touching is the mini-eulogy included in his liner notes:
“....Standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest on the planet. We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself. And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music. Clarence carried it in his heart. It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly.
...I’ll miss my friend, his sax and the force of nature that was his sound. But his love and his story--the story that he gave to me, that he whispered in my ear, and that he gave to you--is going to carry on.
Clarence was big and he made me feel, think, love, and dream big. How big was the Big Man? Too fucking big to die. You can put it on his gravestone, you can tattoo it over your heart.
Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die.”

Genre Defying & Virtuosic Playing

The songs of this album are well-written by Springsteen, but what is more impressive is his willingness to stretch and include new styles of music, as evidenced by his use of hip-hop and gospel on the second single, “Rocky Ground”.

He effectively uses the genre of Irish folk on “Easy Money” and “Death to my Hometown” as well as the use of Mariachi on “Jack of All Trades”.

Equally impressive to his songwriting and use of varying musical styles is Springsteen’s virtuosic ability on a multitude of instruments. On the album, Springsteen plays guitar, banjo, piano, organ, percussion, drum loops and live drums (including on the first single, “We Take Care of Our Own”, equalling his E-Street counterpart, Max Weinberg of The Conan O’Brien Show fame). He was also smart to include some very good guest artists, among them Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, and violinist virtuoso Soozie Tyrell.

After 30 years, Bruce Springsteen continues to push himself as an artist and to push our country to be a little better, from the top to the bottom. I sincerely recommend Wrecking Ball to you.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Ben Kromholtz

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Ben Kromholtz is a musician and teacher. He studied at the University of Washington, receiving a BA/BM in Music and Music Education in 2002. He has taught choir and piano all over the Puget Sound region. As well as being a musician, he is an avid sports fan and enjoys good beers and wines, movies and reading. He lives in Bothell, WA with his wife and four children.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: The Shipping News

The Shipping News: A Novel by Annie Proulx (New York: Scribner, 1993. 352 pp)

Born in Norwich, Connecticut, Annie Proulx earned her B.A. at the University of Vermont and her M.A. from Concordia University. While working as a journalist, Proulx published works of fiction in various magazines before publishing her first novel, Postcards, in 1992, winning her the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Of her many awards, she notably won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for The Shipping News and she adapted her short-story, Brokeback Mountain, into an award-winning feature film. She currently resides in Wyoming.

The Dinner Table 

There’s something pristine about a populated dinner table. The scent of freshly prepared food. The peace of a successful day finally completed. The joy of hearing about a family member’s day.

In many ways, a meal functions as the focal point of our social lives; we unite under the common need for sustenance. While reading The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, I couldn’t help but think that the dinner table unites the threads of this novel.

But before we explore the importance of food, let’s develop a plot. Set mostly in Killick-Claw, a small town on the wind-battered coast of Newfoundland. Our protagonist, Quoyle, contributes “the shipping news” to the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird. Escaping the drama and pain around the death of his scorned wife, Quoyle journeys with his daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, and his aunt to the eastern Canadian island of his ancestors in hopes of beginning life anew.

An Average Man 

By all definitions, Quoyle is an average man. In fact, Quoyle’s only positive contribution to society resides in his effect on others:
“The truth was Punch had noticed that Quoyle, who spoke little himself, inspired talkers. His only skill in the game of life. His attentive posture, his flattering nods urged waterfalls of opinion, reminiscence, recollection, theorizing, guesstimating, exposition, synopsis and explication, juiced the life stories out of strangers” (9).
Having found gainful employment in Killick-Claw at The Gammy Bird, Quoyle seeks to integrate his family into community life. His daughters befriend children their age; Quoyle creates relationships with his co-workers; and he becomes enamored with a single mother named Wavey Prose.

Abrupt Descriptions of Natural Beauty 

Photo by Thibault Roland
Aside from all these strange names, Proulx spends extensive page-space amplifying the natural and dangerous beauty of this Newfoundland town. With terse descriptive phrases escaped from verbs, Proulx’s writing style is distinct.
“These waters, thought Quoyle, haunted by lost ships, fishermen, explorers gurgled down into sea holes as black as a dog’s throat. Vikings down the cracking winds, steering through fog by the polarized light of sun-stones. The Inuit in skin boats, breathing, breathing, rhythmic suck of frigid air, iced paddles dipping, spray freezing, sleek back rising, jostle, the boat torn, spiraling down. Millennial bergs from the glaciers, morbid, silent except for waves breaking on their flanks, the deceiving sound of shoreline where there was no shore. Foghorns, smothered gun reports along the coast. Ice welding land to sea. Frost smoke. Clouds mottled by reflections of water holes in the plains of ice. The glare of ice erasing dimension, distance, subjecting senses to mirage and illusion. A rare place” (209).

Food Means Family

Having considered the plot, food truly unites this novel. Every chapter revolves around breakfast, lunch, or dinner. As characters interact and plot progresses, the events remain disproportionately glued to the dinner table and the rhythms of sustenance.
“A platter of fried herrings with bacon rashers and hashed potatoes. A quart jar of mustard. Beety back and forth, stepping over Warren the Second who wished to live forever beneath the tablecloth or with the boots but could not decide. Quoyle and Wavey were supper guests, full of kind laughter and praise for what they ate. Boiled cabbage. And blueberry tarts to finish, with cream. Double helpings from every dish for Quoyle. Although the cabbage would produce gas” (325).
In all honesty, I did not love The Shipping News. Despite intriguing characters and a beautiful setting, I found the plot rather boring and Proulx’s terse writing style crafty, yet laborious. Nevertheless, I affirm Proulx’s attempt to root her story around the dinner table. Quite often when we pause to remember our day over a steaming platter of goodness, we generate an element of thankfulness. The Shipping News is well-written; its prose and characters offer ample evidence for its place as Pulitzer Prize winner. But, the book wasn’t for me.

Verdict: 3 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Album Review: Barchords

Barchords by Bahamas (Universal Republic, 2012. 39 minutes)

Bahamas is the stage name of Afie (AY-fee) Jurvanen, who is a Canadian guitarist and singer-songwriter. He is a self-taught musician who has toured with Feist and Beck. His freshman release, Pink Strat, won the 2010 Juno Award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year.


Barchords is the sophomore album released by Bahamas, and it’s usually around the second release where I start legitimately listening to a musician. I’ve found that the growth from the first to second album is generally a good indicator of how successful a musician’s career will be overall. If Barchords serves as any indicator of Bahamas’ future success, he surely will be challenging the soul-and-roots greats with his musical prowess soon. Afie Juvanen’s vocal delivery and soulful, Black-Keys-esque guitar playing create a sound that is hard to categorize: the sound of both subtlety and intensity.

Quintessential Canadian 

If I were to categorize Barchords and give it genre, I would call it “Quintessential Canadian” because the album is extremely polite and quaint; Juvanen even has a song labeled “Montreal”. Barchords is incredibly thoughtful, but at the same time communicates a sense of subdued urgency. The best song on the album, “Lost in the Light”, communicates these qualities well. There is an inextricable, lush beauty within, and with the sparse, grooving backtrack the song is pure auditory nirvana, especially once the chorus enters. The track becomes a near-religious experience with all the perspicacious texture behind it.

Bahamas then goes on to give homage to George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” in his original tune, “Okay, Alright, I’m Alive”. The song’s sentiment is of a woman for whom he’s smitten; it is just enough to have her warmth nearby. And, with the velvety warm vocals that Jurvangen provides, I’m sure there’s plenty of warmth to go around. The song begins with a simple drum beat, and then a single sustained atmospheric, reverb heavy guitar note; it’s just plain good.
“Every time the phone rings, I run / Every time George sings here comes the sun / Every time I feel like it’s all been done / That’s okay, that’s alright I’m alive”

When a Cover Transforms a Song 

Lastly, I’ve never liked Sonny and Cher. So the song “I Got You Babe” has never been a favorite of mine. Bahamas’ version of the song has completely re-done lyrics and melody; Bahamas' version is nothing like the original. One might say it’s a completely different song with the same title in the lyrics. The track carries a simple guitar riff throughout, and adds a bit of complexity to the dark, yet saccharine lyrics.
“I sang loud / My voice cut through the crowd / As if I was anybody that might have something to say / Standing tall I seemed to know it all / But the only thing I know is that I’ve never known someone like you / I’m gonna figure out how it is”

Barchords is the kind of album that you want to play at a party—not the rave kind of party—but the sipping-wine-and-having-good-conversation kind of party. The album, if spun in the background is unassuming, but still powerful enough that someone will inevitably turn to their neighbor and utter “this album is really good, who is the artist?” It’s Bahamas, and you really should get the album—there isn’t a bad track on it.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Film Review: Hugo

Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount Pictures, GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, PG, 126 minutes)

Starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloё Grace Moretz, and Emily Mortimer.

We Always Need More Drinking Games 

When the cast of Bridesmaids introduced a category at this year’s Golden Globes, they ushered in a new era of award ceremony watching. Humorously, the cast suggested a “Martin Scorsese Drinking Game”, in which one takes a shot every time someone mentions Scorsese during an award ceremony telecast. The inherent joke in this game revolves around the notion that Martin Scorsese seemingly has his hand in every part of the movie business; by default, anything Scorsese touches garners critical acclaim.

A Boy Named Hugo 

Case in point: I’m not sure if this year’s award darling, Hugo, is that good, yet it still received a nomination for best picture. Based on the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and set in Paris during the 1930s, Hugo follows its eponymous protagonist, orphaned Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) as he lives in the walls and winds the clocks of the rail station, Gare Montparnasse. Surviving on stolen goods, Hugo spends his downtime repairing a broken automaton in order to remain connected to his deceased father (Jude Law) who considered the broken machine an important project.

Hugo’s work, clock winding, must remain secret since the job is filled by his drunk and absent uncle. Always dodging the somewhat puerile security guard (Sacha Baron Cohen), Hugo develops an affinity for an elderly toy maker, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).

Spending time with Georges, Hugo befriends Georges’ goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloё Grace Moretz). Together, the children find a mutual affection for cinema. For Hugo, film reminds him of the influential father-son outings of better days. Isabelle, on the other hand, feels the pull of the movies because her godparents refuse to allow her access.

As the children discover more about early cinema and seek to rebuild the automaton, they learn more about themselves and the meaning behind family.

Martin Scorsese = Critical Acclaim? 

Despite a reasonably high entertainment level, I question the critical merit of Hugo. Having seen many of the Academy Award nominated films from this year, nothing from Hugo suggests that it operates at a higher level than the rest of the field. Of course, I must note that I am not Hugo’s target market. But, compared to the rest of the films I have seen, I am not particularly impressed by Hugo. In all honesty, it seems like the attachment of Martin Scorsese to this film gave it the critical street cred necessary to reach the pinnacle of the movie business. Hugo is pretty good for a children’s movie, but not above and beyond others in the movie business.

Don’t get me wrong, Hugo displays wonderful visuals and grand élan. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think of the witty cast from Bridesmaids making fun of the critical elite and their attraction to Scorsese. I am positive that without the visionary filmmaker, Hugo would have received less acclaim and no Oscar nods whatsoever. An entertaining work, Hugo is worth watching, especially for those interested in touching family fare. But don’t assume that its Oscar nominations make it one of the best movies of the year.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: Hark! A Vagrant

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (New York: Drawn and Quarterly, 2011. 160pp)

Kate Beaton was born in Nova Scotia, and has a degree in history and anthropology from Mount Allison University. She publishes a new comic to her website about once a week.

Call Me Pretentious 

Call me pretentious, but I don’t do the whole graphic novel/comic book thing. It conjures up images of greasy-faced nerds with coke-bottle lenses eating potato chips, their mom doting on them, hand and foot, while they play another “fascinating” game of Dungeons and Dragons. Literary supremacy it most certainly is not. But, an English-teaching friend of mine instructs a graphic novels course. Upon learning of this course, I figured if it’s good enough to be taught at school, I might as well give it a shot. Hark! A Vagrant has been getting a lot of hype in the press lately, so I thought I’d check it out.

Having read the book, I face the hard truth: I liked Hark! A Vagrant quite a bit. I probably liked it because of its satire, the purpose for which the graphic novel was intended. In the introduction to the book, the author states,
“I think comics about topics like history or literature can be amazing educational tools, even at their silliest. So if you learn or look up a thing or two after reading these comics, and you’ve enjoyed them, then I will be pleased” (5).

History and Literature Made Fun! 

Historian-turned-comic-cartoonist Beaton presents a giddy romp through history in a Monty Python-esque nature that is silly to its core. The comics she writes are nonsensical, and yet at the same time somewhat educational. To give some sense of connectivity, I’ve kept the review only circulating around The Great Gatsby, but there’s more comics circulating around literature, general culture, and history. Here’s an example from page 154 of the book.

I think that comic gives you an idea of the content within the book. There’s no real plot, but there is a theme: history and literature constructed in pretty laughable and interesting terms. She also offers author’s commentary throughout the book, providing a generous backdrop to her comics. On the following comic, she writes,
“Everyone has had to read The Great Gatsby in high school because it’s the best example of constructing a novel with themes and symbols, like legos, only not legos but The American Dream and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. Fifteen-year-olds can really get behind an essay on what the green light means, which is good, because they sure as heck won’t relate to any of the characters, who are all huge jerks with enough money to be wasted most of the time on top of being miserable” (151). 
Give it a Try 

Hark! A Vagrant changed my mind about comics and graphic novels. I learned through reading it that there is some satire, humor, and intellectual benefit from some comics. Much like anything else in life, hasty generalizations don’t work. So, to my nerd friends, I apologize. I sincerely recommend you either check out her website (which has all these comics available) or purchase the book. It’s great for a laugh.

Verdict: 4 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Agenda for Biblical People

Agenda for Biblical People: A New Focus for Developing a Life-Style of Discipleship by Jim Wallis (New York: Harper & Row, 1976. 126 pp)

Jim Wallis is a bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, and international commentator on ethics and public life. He serves as the chair of the Global Agenda Council on Faith for the World Economic Forum. President and CEO of Sojourners, Wallis contributes columns in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. He teaches a course at Georgetown University and lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Joy Carroll.

The Sins of Prosperity 

In the wake of victory in World War II, the United States encountered unprecedented prosperity. Of course, the menace of communism loomed in the distance, but the economic boom after World War II led the United States to a position of leadership in the world. While many Christians uncritically accepted good fortunes, some began to seek the root causes of American prosperity. In particular, Jim Wallis became an outspoken promoter of a refocused Christian discipleship that recognized the institutional sin of the United States and engaged in solidarity with the poor. With Agenda for Biblical People, Jim Wallis outlines a counter-cultural way of Christian life.

Decidedly Evangelical 

Decidedly evangelical, Jim Wallis begins Agenda for Biblical People with Scripture. Beginning in the 1920s, Protestantism saw a schism between liberalism and fundamentalism. On one side, the collective aims of the social gospel movement resulted in a de-emphasis on personal salvation. On the other side, the desire to lead a pious life worthy of eternal salvation forged a neglect for worldly aims supposing that earthly endeavors carried little everlasting significance. Jim Wallis, however, refuses to recognize this schism. He writes,
“The proclamation is not a personal gospel, not a social gospel, not even a gospel of ‘both,’ but rather the gospel of a new order and a new people. The evangel is not merely a set of principles, ethics, and moral teachings. It is about a Person and the meaning of his coming” (16).
Jim Wallis (Photo by J. Miner)
To Wallis, the quibbles between liberal and conservative theologians regarding the nature of the gospel constitute a fight between parties for an interpretation that best fits a worldview. Instead, Wallis contends that a focus on Jesus will orient our social and eternal agendas.

Aligning with the Poor 

Having presented the case for a Christ-centered gospel, Wallis contends that Jesus, in particular, and the gospel, on the whole, are both in favor of the poor and in opposition to the rich. Wallis simply states,
“To live in radical obedience to Jesus Christ means to be identified with the poor and oppressed. If that is not clear in the New Testament, then nothing is” (94).
The Jesus observed in Scripture aligns with the poor. Therefore, for a Christian seeking a Christ-like life, similar alignment with the poor must become realized.

Sadly, American citizens in the 1970s during the period of this book—and arguably even more in present times—were addicted to consumerism and in favor of a capitalistic process that exploited poorer nations. Wallis notes,
“We are finally coming to understand a discomforting but central fact of reality—the people of the nonindustrialized world are poor because we are rich; the poverty and brutalization of the wretched masses in maintained and perpetuated by our systems and institutions and by the way we live our lives” (84).
As such, American Christians act decidedly “un-Christ-like” when they promote the practices that exploit the poor.

A Counter-Cultural Community 

Christians, then, need to break from this cycle in order to affirm the radical notions Jesus presents in the gospel. Wallis ponders,
“If Jesus was so concerned about the danger of money and possessions in a simple agrarian society, how much more do we, living in the most affluent nation the world has ever known, need to break radically with the power and authority of money and possessions in our lives” (90).
Clearly, the gospel promotes a lifestyle in discordance with American culture and a laissez-faire marketplace.

As a remedy, Wallis suggests that the church act as a revolutionary counter-cultural community. Wallis contends,
“The Christian community is the ultimate parallel institution, a group within a society constantly confronting all other groups with models of life and hope while demonstrating the possibility of human community” (135).
The church, then, functions as an alternative to the powerful institutions of culture. Within a community, Christians find the solidarity necessary to seek justice for the poor and oppressed. With the early Christian community in the book of Acts as an example, Wallis believes that Christians can unite in order to break the trends of consumption, share everything in common, promote justice for the poor and exploited, and break in the Kingdom of God.

A Challenge

For Wallis, the time of uncritically accepting the position of the United States in the world is over. He rightly argues that Christians ought to situate their gospel around Jesus Christ. As a promoter of the poor and oppressed, Christians must realize that the institutions that comprise the United States serve to exploit and afflict. As such, Christians must form counter-cultural communities that function in alignment with the poor against oppressive institutions. Agenda for Biblical People is challenging in our current context. To remain true to Scripture, one must take into account the life-altering example of Jesus. If you are interested in Christian living and a critical look at American culture, Agenda for Biblical People is for you.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Film Review: The Joneses

The Joneses directed by Derrick Borte (Echo Lake Productions, Premiere Picture, R, 96 minutes)

Starring: Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Lauren Hutton.
The Hype 

I’m anti-hype, or what my sister-in-law would call “hipster”. When the band, Mumford & Sons, wasn’t popular, I loved them. Now that they’re huge and trendy (at least here in Seattle), they’re no longer my favorite. Additionally, I bought a Nintendo Wii instead of the Xbox. But, American consumerism, and our economy as a whole, is based on hype, and what’s popular. In the satirical commentary on American consumerism, The Joneses, everyone looks to a picture-perfect family to discern what to buy.

The Joneses (played by David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, and Ben Hollingsworth) are good looking, friendly, affluent, and always seem to stay ahead of the fashion curve. Everyone in the neighborhood wants to be like them.

But, in the first few minutes of the plot, the audience notices something is different about them; they aren’t really a family; they’re a huge marketing ploy by a large corporation. Husband and wife don’t sleep in the same room, and the children act more like adults than angst-ridden teens. They instead, are moving into the neighborhood to try to sell as much cutting-edge fashion, cars, golf equipment, or whatever to their new neighbors.

The Perfect Sale 

Steve Jones (David Duchovny) is the worst salesman in the family. He only sells moderately well, displaying his golf clubs to the local golf fetishists. He also is beginning to hate his family life. He realizes his life is a sham, and feels somewhat repulsed by his trivial and shallow lifestyle. He wants a real family and a real wife, with real children; he doesn’t want a shallow scam put forth by a large corporation. Perhaps his conscience protests too loudly and affects his influence.

Kate Jones (Demi Moore), as the family team leader only seeks to increase their overall referral rate for sales. She is, in short, a cold-hearted, single-minded individual. She entertains her female neighbors brilliantly, and manages to sell all the girly products out there. She’s the saleswoman of the century; she also lacks a conscience, only seeking to make the money she wants.

The children, Jennifer (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), also sell well because they wear cool stuff. You can watch the fashion shift in their fictitious neighborhood drastically as the teenagers exert more influence on their angst-ridden counterparts. But, they begin to feel a sense of inner worthlessness. Their cynicism begins to show, and their inauthentic lives begin to fall apart.

Artistry and Conviction 

While this movie is far from perfect, and lacks the conviction that a more artfully considered movie would provide, the message remains clear, and director Derrick Borte did a good job with the cast, all things considered (Demi Moore never really does it for me). The noose tightens around The Jones’ inauthentic lives, and their complicated emotions unravel in an elaborate, emotion-filled way.

The message that is portrayed is clear—in our society you have to play to your Joneses. Whatever influence it may be, whether family, commercial, or other, there is always an outside influence telling society what is cool and important. You may choose to ignore the hype, but generally you’re susceptible to it whether you know it or not.

In the end, this movie is a great idea; it tells of the pitfalls of consumerism through a drama. But, I think the film fell short because it isn't as artfully and intentionally executed as it should have been. Nonetheless, I think The Joneses is worth a view.

Verdict: 3 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 128 pp

John D’Agata is the author of About a Mountain and Halls of Fame, and editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives.

Jim Fingal worked for several years as a fact-checker at
The Believer and McSweeney’s, where he worked on the titles What Is the What, Surviving Justice, Voices from the Storm, and others. He currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he designs software.

Evaluating Truth

Recently, I engaged in an existential debate regarding the meaning of book evaluation. My considerations began in December as I compiled my year-end lists. Surprisingly, I found that I rate fiction higher than nonfiction. As I explored the reasons behind my presuppositions, I learned that the rating scale is calibrated differently per genre. On fiction’s side, I rated a book on entertainment value, quality of language, and character development. On nonfiction’s side, I based my rating on the truth value of the thesis. The more closely I found a nonfiction work aligned with my view of reality, the higher I rated the book.

This debate of art versus fact becomes realized in John D’Agata’s and Jim Fingal’s, The Lifespan of a Fact. The tome announces the dialogue around a rejected essay submission on a teenager who committed suicide in Las Vegas. In 2003, an essay by John D’Agata was rejected by the magazine that commissioned it due to factual inaccuracies. In The Lifespan of a Fact, that essay appears in full with the argument between D’Agata and fact-checker, Jim Fingal, dotting the margins.

Accuracy and the Meaning of Suicide 

The essay, in short, speaks of Levi Presley, a teenager who committed suicide in 2002 by jumping off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. While detailing a true story, D’Agata’s essay flows impressionistically around the cultural climate of Las Vegas and the meaning of suicide.

The text of The Lifespan of a Fact
By privileging artistic expression, factual accuracy becomes a secondary concern. For example, Fingal and D’Agata argue about the number of seconds it took Levi to fall from the tower:
“’We therefore know that when Levi Presley jumped from the tower of the Stratosphere Hotel at 6:01:43 p.m.—eventually hitting the ground at 6:01:52…’ Factual Dispute: Although the incident did happen at ’18:01,’ according to the Coroner’s Report, Levi Presley’s fall supposedly only took eight seconds, not nine. So the actual time frame would be more like ‘6:01:43-6:01:51.’
John: Yeah, I fudged that. It doesn’t seem like it should be that big a deal, though. It’s only a second. And I needed him to fall for nine seconds rather than eight in order to help make some of the later themes in the essay work.
Jim: John, changing details about stuff like Tobasco sauce bottles and thermometers is one thing, but it seems a tad unethical to fiddle with details that relate directly to this kid’s death. In my book, it just seems wrong, especially since the coroner clearly states that Presley’s fall only took eight seconds.
John: I don’t think it’s unethical, particularly because I wasn’t alone in assuming that his fall took nine seconds. For a while his parents also assumed that he had fallen for nine seconds. In fact, that’s where I initially got the number from. Do you think I’d just change this willy-nilly to suit some sort of literary trick I wanted to pull off? His parents and I had a fairly explicit conversation about these nine seconds with Levi’s old Tae Kwon Do coach. So with that little bit of information, I began thinking about some of the ways that the number nine could play a thematic role in the essay.
Jim: OK, I’ll grant you that at one point you didn’t know the correct number, but now you do know better, so shouldn’t it change?
John: ‘Nine’ is too integral a part of the essay at this point. And I admit that I’m wrong about ‘nine’ later on anyway. So the essay’s not changing. It would ruin the essay.
Jim: It would ‘ruin’ it to make it more accurate?
John: Yup” (19).

Must History Be Accurate? 

Photo by O Palsson
Strikingly, D’Agata finds the artistic representation of the number nine more important in the essay than the fact that the actual event occurred differently. Depending on your view of art and the purpose of truth in communication, your response to such an idea will differ. For some, the truth factor matters above all else because the event is real. Fingal, the fact checker, takes this stance:
“I don’t disagree that these facts are trifling, John, but don’t you think that the gravity of the situation demands an accuracy that you’re dismissing as incidental? This isn’t just about the name of one slot machine. I mean, even if there was no inherent meaning in these details, you’re giving them meaning by calling attention to them… You are writing what will probably become the de facto story of what happened to Levi, and so every detail you choose to [alter] will become significant, because your account will be the one account anyone is ever likely to read about him. And that’s why to me this is serious business, because the record you’re creating now, however minor, will be regarded as the authoritative one, if only because there is no competing narrative anyone else is likely to read or write about this kid” (107).

Artistic License Draws Upon Deeper Themes in Life?

Others more inclined to the thematic artfulness of creative writing will contend that the truthfulness of the event does not change. Whether Levi fell for eight seconds or nine seconds, he still committed suicide. D’Agata would argue that through an essay, a life can be memorialized whether or not it tells the story with accuracy to the second.
“An essay is not a vehicle for facts, in other words, nor for information, nor verifiable experience. An essay is an experience, and a very human one at that” (111).
Ultimately, I find it difficult to choose between the two sides. Accuracy matters. Nonfiction as a genre prospers on the foundation of truthfulness. To intentionally alter facts with artistic license is to insert falsity into a true story. Yet, the narrative function of a story requires emotion. When accuracy forces a story into clunky prose and too much detail to qualify a story’s progression, is not artfulness capable of maintaining the theme and keeping a story readable?

The Lifespan of a Fact: More Dadaist, Less Rembrandt 

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp
For me, The Lifespan of a Fact feels like some of the early 20th century dadaist art. Much like Duchamp’s Fountain or In Advance of the Broken Arm, The Lifespan of a Fact elicits an intellectual response. In my mind, I laugh and say, “I get it.” But that response about covers the topic. The Lifespan of a Fact does not offer the depth of an intricate Rembrandt painting where each subsection of the piece carries interest to the smallest brushstroke.

My evaluation of literature remains schismatic. Fiction leans toward evaluative tactics that require consideration of writing technique and plot development. Nonfiction needs a level of truthfulness. But, The Lifespan of a Fact alters my perception in the principle of accuracy versus truthfulness. Levi Presely tragically chose to commit suicide in 2002. If D’Agata’s essay sheds light on his life in a respectable manner (of note, all profits from this book go to Levi’s family), I’m at peace with sacrificing accuracy.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Guitar Zero

Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning by Gary Marcus (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012. 274 pp).

Gary Marcus is a professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Language and Music at New York University, where he studies language and cognitive development. He is the author of Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind, which was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice.

I’m a Pretend Guitar Hero

I confess that I’ve spent countless hours playing the popular video game, Guitar Hero. Fostering the illusion that I, too, can be a guitar legend, it is no wonder why I, along with countless others, gravitate to the game. The popular television show, South Park, even based an episode off of the phenomena.  In the clip below, they hit the proverbial nail on the head.

But, some, like author Gary Marcus, take Guitar Hero to the next level and actually pick up a real guitar as a result. Soon they find that playing a real guitar is nothing like pushing the plastic buttons on the video game.

Many get frustrated, and decide to give it up. Inspired by the game and his attempts to learn the instrument, Gary Marcus in Guitar Zero takes a scientific approach to learning to play music. Marcus ponders what it takes to become a musician, and what needs to occur for him to shred on the guitar like Van Halen.
“All my life I wanted to become musical, but I always assumed that I never had a chance. My ears are dodgy, my fingers too clumsy. I have no natural sense of rhythm and a lousy sense of pitch. I have always loved music but could never sing, let alone play an instrument; in school I came to believe that I was destined to be a spectator, rather than a participant, no matter how hard I tried” (1).
Practice Makes Perfect

It may seem obvious, but Marcus proposes that practice really does make a difference in the abilities of an aspiring musician. But, practice isn’t enough.
“[A] constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths [is needed]. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect. Sooner or later, most learners reach a plateau, repeating what they already know rather than battling their weaknesses, at which point progress becomes slow” (12).
Marcus really proposes in the end that a musical mind only develops over years of intentional practice. One must form neural pathways over time, similar to the pathways that are needed to learn a language.
“To the degree that we ultimately become musical, it is because we have the capacity to slowly and laboriously tune broad ensembles of neural circuitry over time, through deliberate practice, and not because the circuitry of music is all there from the outset” (33).

Born or Made?

According to Marcus’ thinking, musicians aren’t born, but rather made. Marcus argues that while genetics certainly play a role, practice over a period of time allows musicians to become stars. And, for the adult learner, like Marcus, it’s never too late. If the goal is perfection, no matter the pursuit, it would no longer be of interest. Because, as Marcus states, the goal isn’t perfection, but rather pleasure. It is the pleasure that drives us, and perhaps the minor imperfections in each performance is what makes music so special. Marcus also spends time talking about the benefits of knowing music in regard to overall intelligence and IQ, but his main point is that music provides something that many things cannot: simple bliss. To him, and so many others, that is why music really matters.

As a music teacher, I’ve found the blissfulness of music to be true. Sure, I know the statistics on why music matters, why it helps brain development, why it helps you succeed more in life. But, we all know why music really is something special. It’s because music touches the soul, and because music simply brings out a part of us that makes us feel like we are caught in the throes of a religious experience.
“[M]aybe, just maybe, the art of reinvention and acquiring new skills can give us a sense of a life well lived” (201).
Anyone who has played Guitar Hero knows the bliss of accomplishing a song on a difficult level. Practice in that game makes perfect; practice in life makes perfect. If you’ve ever wanted to be better at something, or wonder if you could perform well as a musician, I think Guitar Zero is a wonderful read for you to endeavor upon. My only critique of the book is it could have been longer.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by:  Andrew Jacobson

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