Monday, July 16, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read-Along : "The Church of Vinyl" Edition

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Well huzzah and praise Buddha, Chabon's finally hitting his stride.  After a first chapter stuck in first gear, weighed down by a freightload of expository and stylistic baggage, "The Church of Vinyl" slams on the gas and takes off into a full-fledged, multi-faceted plot while deepening our understanding of independent record store owners Nat and Archy, as well as Archy's pregnant midwife wife, Gwen. We're even treated to a few pages inside the venerable dome of Mr. Randall "Cochise" Jones, the Hammond-genius jazzman who's both wise and eccentric in equal measures.  Now Chabon's focusing on just a few core characters rather than bopping around among a crowded cast as he did in the first section: Again, huzzah.  And his authorial stylings seem far less obtrusive than they were in "Dream of Cream": More matter with less self-conscious art.  Yay.

There is much to applaud in this chapter, so in the interest of time - and with the hope that those not participating in this read-along will purchase the novel when it debuts in September - here's a trio of passages that raised an appreciative smile:
  • Of the oily yet powerful councilman Chan Flowers, funeral chapel owner, erstwhile best friend of Blackspoitation star Luther Stallings, and ominous presence in the Brokeland neighborhood:  "A smile opened, thin as a paper cut, at the bottom of Flowers's face."  (So much shown, so much characterization implied, so economically.)
  • I just kept chuckling and shaking my head during Nat's first COCHISE neighborhood meeting. It seemed painfully realistic (given Nat's email list) that 90% of his crowd turned out to be white Berkeley-esque types, that he had to "bribe" Singletary to be there, and that he forgot to tell Archy about the meeting.  The "Juddhists" among the aging hippies in attendance codged a particularly broad smile too as I thought, "If such a New Agey hybrid religion exists, it would have to be born in Berkeley."  Then I looked it up.  It's real, sort of, and the term was supposedly coined in 2005 at Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace Today" retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.  Then I found this light-hearted thread with "Juddhist" sayings: Zen Juddhism.  It made me wonder if Chabon himself might have found this religious hybrid personally appealing.  Enjoy.
  • And here's a lovely extended analogy that also feels organically right. It's Aviva Jaffe reflecting on the impeccable manners of teenage, Texas-bred houseguest, Titus Joyner:
She had to admit that she loved the "sirs" and "ma'ams" that aflowed from his lips so readily, drawled out like pats of butter smeared across a biscuit.  She remembered hiking in Yosemite with Nat and Julie a few summers back.  Climbing to the top of the Mist Trail up a preposterous stairway of stones proposed, cut, hauled, and fixed immovably into place, proof against time and earthquakes, under the auspices of the WPA.  She remembered feeling grateful to those long-dead men, the planners and the workers, for their foresight, their labor,  the heroic absurdity of that granite stair.  That was how she felt, whenever he would "ma'am" her, toward the dead grandmother of this boy.

What?  I'm Not The Only Reader In The Blogospheres?  To find out if other book bloggers shared my enthusiasm for the second chapter in Telegraph Avenue and to enjoy their trenchant, humorous, and thought-provoking commentary, just hop to the linky-list over at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads).  Last week's "conversations" provided a wonderfully welcome diversity of perspectives on this novel, and I trust that the same will be true today.

A Prediction and a Question for Read-Alongers:  Call me crazy, and I've been wrong once already, but I'm guessing that "A Bird of Wide Experience" is Fifty-Eight, and I was indeed wondering what would become of him.  Will Titus take him on?  Will Archy?

MFB in The Church of Vinyl,

Report from Film School:  We Netflixed the 1973 Coffy, Pam Grier's first film, from the list of Kill Bill influences in "Dream of Cream".  Well.  Now I have a new reference point for many action films today, and I can certainly see how it might be a Tarantino influence.  Not exactly deep or well-acted, but plenty of violence and sexiness and funky music.  In the "Coincidence? I think not." realm, when we finished watching Coffy, Cat Woman starring Halle Berry was just finishing on TV, and the parallels in both the action and the characters were too many to ignore.  Then on came Hustle and Flow.  I loved that film the first time around, but saw so much more cinematic history behind it after watching the '70's flick. So thanks to E. at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads) for hosting this read-along and to Michael Chabon for piquing my interest in Blacksploitation films, which in turn led to a fully fulfilling 'night at the movies'.  Next in the queue from the Kill Bill syllabus: Vincent Minelli's 1953 musical The Bandwagon.  I'm intrigued to see what that film might have contributed to Tarantino's choices.

TA Pilgrimage Update: I've been planning my Telegraph Avenue trip via Google Earth maps.  Even though I've visited the Berkeley end more than once, I had a completely inaccurate mental picture of what the Neldham's/Brokeland Records neighborhood looks like.  The bakery actually closed and was re-opened by its workers as Taste of Denmark.  You can bet that'll be stop number one!


Anonymous said...

Oh, dear! I quite forgot about Fifty-Eight! If left to the hands of a different author, I might be afraid that he would just disappear about of the book. With Chabon, I know that Fifty-Eight will reappear in full glory. You've done a great review and it's been a pleasure to hop around and read all the different perspectives on the book. It's helping me make sense of it all.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Wow, I really love that you watched the blaxploitation films and reported back here--you just might inspire me to do the same.

Totally agree with Chabon's finding his stride in this section. The first section felt like the necessarily complicated set-up and now, instead of being confused about who is who, we can fully immerse ourselves in the lives of these wonderful people.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...
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Nicole said...

I feel like I'm the only reader who was completely jazzed (pun intended) with this section. What did I miss? I hate missing out!

Is Coffy available through Instant Streaming? Maybe I'll get on that this week. I definitely want to watch through the Kill Bill curriculum.

Kerry M said...

It took me the better part of Part I to realize that Fifty-Eight was not, in fact, Cochise Jone's nickname. Now that I know he's a bird, it's making a lot more sense! I though Part II picked up a lot from Part I, too, and am excited to keep reading.

Laurie said...

BB - I surely hope your predictions for Fifty-Eight come true, and I agree with your sentiments about the quality and fun of all the bloggers on this read-along.
E - I agree, and hope you'll sample a film or two. Pretty sure The Band Wagon won't be of the same genre, though. :-)
N - Looks like you can play the trailer on your computer or TV. Not sure if Coffy is available en toto to stream, as I don't have that option.
K - Ha! Looking forward to next week...

Marie said...

I hadn't heard Juddhists before but there's another similar hybrid i've heard of, "jewfi", or jews who are fascinated by sufi islam. I'm glad the plot picked up in part 2 as well!

Amy said...

Maybe I'm just crabby from the extended heat spell we're having, but this section left me feeling meh. I didn't like the Obama appearance, and I wanted to spend more time with the women than the men.

Lindsey said...

I too thought the Concise meeting was really funny. The descriptions of the people were wonderful, even if it was a sort of 'pan around the room quickly' description.
I didn't consider what would happen to Fifty Eight! I'm glad you reminded me.

Audra said...

I definitely felt warmer on this section than before, but I still just can't stand Archy -- and so his whole plot line maddens me. I just want more Aviva and Gwent and Titus and Julie. I'll even take Luther and Chan flashbacks.

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