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Out Now


My first book of poetry available through Amazon and other online booksellers

Saturday, April 27, 2013


George Jones was one of the greatest singers of all time.  He certainly had the greatest range of any singer I've heard and that fact it seemed to be effortless for him made this all the more incredible.

Best thing I can do is post the chapter on Jones from my unpublished book of music essays TRUE IS THE DREAM MIXED WITH NOSTALGIA copyright Raj Dronamraju 2011. RIP George Jones.

          It’s the voice that hits you first.  This is true of great music.  The voice is after all the connection between us who are non-musicians and the music which is played on instruments.  We can marvel at the technical expertise of a virtuoso guitarist but he is as alien to our daily experience as the astronauts landing on the moon.
            However, when we see another being singing and we see the effort and we know we can make noises with our mouth although they don’t sound anything as good as these singers we enjoy listening to, we can somewhat relate to it.  It is after all the human body on some level like our own producing music directly.
            With George Jones, it’s all about the vocals.  The fact that he records in the country music genre is almost irrelevant.  If he’d been born in other circumstances and in another cultural situation he would have still been a great vocalist in a different type of music.  George Jones has the range of 100 vocalists and his voice never fails to hit any of the notes.  Jones’s voice is a precision tool.  He alters it for every change of emotion in the song’s lyrics.  He knows when to let it out and when to lower it for maximum effect.  That is not to say Jones’s voice is not powerful.  At full throttle it is commanding but it is not bluntly used to bludgeon the listener.
            Classic country music, which is the country music post World War II pre-1980’s, was a songwriter’s medium.  The wordplay found in many of the songs was light years ahead of what was being done in rock and roll pre-Beatles.  This is wordplay as it fits into a song similar to English Music Hall or Broadway not what Bob Dylan would bring to rock and roll although Dylan himself had country music influences.  After all, he would later make NASHVILLE SKYLINE.  This perfectly suits the intelligent vocalist who knows how to interpret material and get the most out of it.
            Country music today has unfortunately become something else.  It has lost all its soul and country music was all about soul as “real” soul music was about soul.  It was music for people who worked hard, who endured hardship.  It was as much about escape from a tough situation through the escape provided by music as it was about connecting with their life and finding something to cling to and even to celebrate.
            Elvis Costello has said that modern country music is like “Journey in cowboy hats”.  It has gone from being music with a lot of character shaped by the giants of the genre to slick nothingness performed by interchangeable muppets.  Part of it is who is making the music.  Hard times made for great music as if life experience is something that could be communicated through the music itself.  Although the life experience of growing up poor usually with only one parent or in a household struck by adversity doesn’t necessarily preclude greatness, it does make for a set for experiences that art can readily communicate.
            George Jones grew up poor with an alcoholic father.  Merle Haggard’s father died when he was young and he spent time in prison.  Tammy Wynette grew up in a sharecropper family and picked cotton.  Contrast that with someone like Garth Brooks who was the captain of his high school football team and grew up in a middle class home.
            George Jones’ voice is partly the voice of a life lived but it is more than a glorious expression of self.  Jones uses it for maximum effect.  One of the main ways he uses it to strangle the delivery for an emotional punch.  Instead of a clear full throated tone, Jones has the ability to wring his voice into knots like wringing a wet towel to get out the water.  It’s a mystery how Jones is able to do that and keep the volume of delivery the same as he slips back into a more normal singing voice.  This ability allows Jones to express anguish in a more effective manner than any singer I’ve ever heard.  It’s as if this was a live event and he was fighting through his tears to sing back going back and forth between a state of reasonable calm and bouts with emotion.
            A perfect example of this is the song “The Door”.  Again, songwriters have crafted the perfect song for Jones to sing.  It should be noted that a significant contribution to Jones’s career as this point was his producer Billy Sherrill who knew that a voice as expressive and powerful as his deserved the appropriate instrumental arrangements.  While there is a pedal steel and other traditional country music instruments, Sherrill bathes Jones’ voice in a sea of strings.  Rather than making the feelings expressed maudlin or overly sentimental, this creates a tension in the music.  Sherrill also co-wrote a number of songs that Jones sang.
            “The Door” starts off like more than a couple of songs with a list of woes that have befallen the narrator.  He tells of leaving his family and going off to war but those are shrugged off as events he was able to buck up and take like a man.  However, what is worse than earthquakes, guns, and wars is the closing of the door when his wife or girlfriend leaves him.  This is because her leaving means the relationship is really over.  At this point, Jones’ voice which had been on autopilot so far rips into strangled sobs of regret.  The lyrics of exaggeration find the perfect voice to sing them.
            One of Jones’ most famous songs “A Good Year for the Roses” shows that he is also perfect in his restraint.  His voice whether chugging along smoothly or in strangled full emotion mode or or simply singing at the top of his lungs is a big weapon.  In “Good” he ruminates on all that’s left behind when his wife leaves him.  Here Jones is an actor playing the part of the stunned dumped spouse only able to recite what he sees in front of him and then a meaningless pleasantry that despite everything it’s been a good year for the roses.  Jones uses his voice sparingly but very effectively.  The second recitation of the chorus at the point which describes the moment his wife left and the door closed behind her allows Jones, however fleetingly, to flash some emotion.  That speed in which he comes back to the final chorus and the numbed acceptance mouthing the “roses” platitude creates a tangible feeling of loss and sadness in the listener.
            This is not to say that every song Jones records is a downer.  It is often customary of a country music song to be a litany of complaints or descriptions of sad incidents in the performer’s life.  This has occurred to the point wherein it’s become an object of parody and in some people’s minds has become a cliché.  Jones is able to show joy with the same strangling of voice although now it sounds like a man who can’t believe his own luck after getting something he had waited for a very long time and after suffering much adversity.
            An example of the happy Jones would be “We Can Make It” in which the joy of love fills him with optimism that he and his new partner can beat any problem and create a relationship that lasts.  There is some reference in the lyrics to the problems in the past (most notably drinking) but now the love of another person heals him and keeps him safe and prevents him from going backwards to past unhappiness.  The stop and start arrangement of the verses is perfectly suited for this as it allows Jones to attack the chorus with full voice making the love felt.  Jones was not only able to utilize his voice in this manner on this song but also in the many songs he recorded with female singers especially his ex-wife Tammy Wynette.
            Jones’ voice is at its most comfortable though in a song like “These Days I Barely Get By” where the hardship reaches hitherto unimagined levels.  His wife has left him, his car has broken down, he walked to work and it rained all the way, he is going to be laid off from his job, he lost what little money he had betting on a horse.  Of course, the worst part is when his wife told him goodbye.  Jones’ voice caresses this song.  He nudges it forward and is able to extract every last bit of emotion from the vocals.  As usual, among all the misfortune, the worst one, the one that stands out is when the woman in his life told him goodbye and it is here that his voice strikes.  It is here that his voice goes in for the kill.
            George Jones’ discography is gigantic.  The box set ESSENTIAL GEORGE JONES THE SPIRIT OF COUNTRY which came out in 1994 is perhaps the best place to start as it neatly packs the best examples of Jones’ voice into two CD’s covering the beginning of his career in the 1950’s up to the early 1990’s.  He is the ultimate voice of despair.  He is perhaps the best “reader” and interpreter of a song’s full intent.  He also has the single greatest range of any singer I’ve ever heard in any genre of music.     

Friday, April 26, 2013


Have recv'd the three books listed below which I will start on once I finish the rest of my last reading list

A FEAST OF SNAKES by Harry Crews
SPEEDBOAT by Renata Adler

Of course will post reviews once finished (unless they are totally awful)

Monday, April 22, 2013


Just read  that Scott Miller, singer/songwriter and leader of the bands Game Theory and The Loud Family, passed away last week.

That’s too bad.  I was a fan.  His main strength was as a clever, talented songwriter, in particular a fabulous lyricist influenced by Elvis Costello (An artist I’d read Miller acknowledge in interviews and in his book MUSIC WHAT HAPPENED?).

With Game Theory, Miller pursued a catchy jangle pop style. To me, they were like America's answer to the Go Betweens.  The 1987 double album LOLITA NATION is often cited as his masterpiece but the album before it BIG SHOT CHRONICLES and the album after it TWO STEPS FROM THE MIDDLE AGES are also excellent.

With The Loud Family, his music had more of a heavier guitar sound and more of a sense of experimentation.  Their first album PLANTS AND BIRDS AND ROCKS AND THINGS was widely acclaimed and I also always really liked their later album ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE which has a great kick to it.  Many of the songs there remind me of the Canadian band the Pursuit of Happiness.

Neither band had widespread success and the problem was how Miller was marketed at the beginning.  Game Theory was lumped in with moody mumbling alternative folk like REM but in fact they had nothing in common with them and were closer to power pop or British style New Wave (keyboards were often pronounced on both Game Theory and Loud Family records).

Commercial success often eludes the talented artist for any number of reasons most of all due to the commercial tastes of the masses or what they perceive as commercial.  That’s their loss.


Saturday, April 20, 2013


This story got me thinking about “voice” assuming a character for the purpose of learning someone else’s point of view

Granted, in the linked example, a history class would have been a better place for this rather than an English class and one could also argue what the acceptable age is for students to do such a task but assuming the “voice” of someone or something is a well recognized and effective teaching tool.   

It is also responsible for some great art....I often write poetry in the voice of others very different than myself in outlook or personality as do great songwriters like Stan Ridgway and Randy Newman.

One of the most effective courses I had in college years ago was an International Relations political science course wherein our instructor asked us to take on all manner of different people in different political struggles around the globe.  It was an eye opening experience. 

But Americans have a hard time with “voice”.  They are black and white people with no room for gray and they don’t understand an opinion different than theirs.  Maybe refuse to understand it would be a better description.

In addition, political correctness means that “voice” in the minds of tight ass Americans means you automatically agree with whatever you are studying instead of simply trying to understand why an event happened or why a group of people feel a certain way.

There’s no solution for this and the increased reliance on testing in US schools and the downplaying of critical thinking is only going to make this worse I fear.


The importance of The Stone Roses to British music is as a link.  They came along at the end of the 1980’s as the waves of great bands of the New Wave and after era gradually died out and before the Britpop explosion which they partially inspired of the mid 90’s.  With their airy 60’s type vocals, big guitar, and funky rhythm section, they hit on every musical sub genre popular at the time and started their own mini- scene Madchester which did not last very long.

GRACELESS the debut album by the band Sulk is the most directly Stones Roses inspired record I’ve heard since Blur and The Bluetones and Shed Seven’s first albums.  Listening to it transports one back to 1995.

“Flowers” the current single off GRACELESS perfectly sums what they are doing....Guitar swagger anchoring a spacey harmony and a Reni-type drum figure.

The rest of the album distinguishes itself from its influences by some truly heavy guitar work (above what would be expected by a band like this) – power chords loud and proud on songs like Marina Shrine.

In the end this album is deeply satisfying on two levels 1.) As melodic Britpop 2.) As heavy British rock - for air guitar enthusiasts.  A nod to Ed Buller who produced Pulp and Suede among others and who co-produced this record.

A really enjoyable debut. A nice shot of retro!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I wasn’t sure where the plot of THE POWER OF THE DOG by Thomas Savage was going.  The loose conversational style of the writing with an almost mock seriousness and characters who are described down to the condition of their hands and their choices in footwear relaxes the reader so when the ending comes, an ending that knocks the wind out of you, it’s so perfect, so chilling, so powerful, it instantly elevates DOG for me as one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

That sounds like a big statement I know but most works of fiction, even great and near great novels, meander along and one can feel the writer struggle with the plot and how best to express it.  One can feel the language pulled from within the writer and as the author of a couple of books myself I know this can be an effort.

So when a book comes along like this without a hint of effort, with gears meshing like the perfectly executed literary machine, it's striking.  

The Burbank brothers own a ranch in rural Idaho.  Their parents have retired to Utah after an unspecified conflict with older brother Phil.  Phil is one of the most complex, fully realized characters in fiction I’ve come across.  A master of everything he attempts be it playing the banjo, making arrowheads, managing men or just keeping up on world events, reading books etc.  He is an alpha male but one who neither cares for nor seeks the approval of others.  Phil does not like people but this dislike is not caused by any sense of victimization but rather by a sense of his own superiority coupled with a secret he is hiding (I’ll get to that).

His younger brother George by comparison is affable and easy-going.  Whereas Phil handles the ranch’s inner workings, George is the exterior guy - handles the purchases of supplies and the selling of what the ranch produces.  Phil and George have an unspoken relationship that works for them.

What changes is the introduction of a woman, Rose, who George marries.  She is the widow of a local doctor who had failed to make a decent living for them, turned to alcohol, and committed suicide after being publicly embarrassed in a bar by a rancher.  One of the great twists in this book is that George turns out to be the rancher.

Phil treats Rose (who moves out to the ranch) with disdain ignoring her except for the occasional rude comment.  He does however towards the end of the book strike up a relationship with Peter her effeminate son by her first husband.  This proves to be his downfall.

The last 50 pages or so of this book remind me of another of my favorite novels THE MAN WHO LOVED CHILDREN by Christina Stead.  Both books have carefully crafted narratives and fill their ending cycle of death, of one of the main characters, of the unhealthy status quo with razor sharp tension.

Annie Proulx in her afterword makes a big deal about Phil being a repressed homosexual (his secret).  I do agree with this analysis but I don’t believe that is as important to the story as she thinks it is.  If he had been allowed to express himself, he still would have been a petty bully.

In retrospect, the character of Peter totally passes the reader by until his final action then understanding hits full force.  Unlike say the boys in a book like THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA by Yukio Mishima, there are not as many hints as what’s going to happen.  Well played, Thomas Savage!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


There are four main characters in PROUD BEGGARS by Albert Cossery.  The first three who know each other are Gohar a former university professor now drug addict who picks up money working in a brothel writing letters for the illiterate prostitutes and doing bookkeeping, Yeghen a poet and drug dealer with a very homely appearance, and El Kordi an incompetent clerk in a government office in love with a prostitute who is dying of tuberculosis and filled with revolutionary dreams.

What these first three share is a belief in a sort of a deliberate poverty – As a means of knowing peace, having a life that is maximized for leisure and enjoyment, and as form of rebellion against a system they dislike.  They encounter Nour El Dine, the fourth main character a policeman with a secret of his own – he is a homosexual, after Gohar at the beginning of the book strangles a prostitute while under the throws of addiction.  

I believe the idea based on his interactions with the three friends together and apart as well as the end is despite El Dine’s efforts in investigating the case underneath he is one of the proud beggars.  I know the various scenes where he tries to find the real murderer by questioning the three main characters feels like Doestoevski’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT written by Moliere.

Cossery’s spare prose is so minimalist but still rich in expression.  The little world he creates is easily visualized and the perfect characters that populate it you know immediately.  In addition, his anti-materialism, his nonconformity is perfectly translated into a story.  I wish this book was longer but Cossery knows the perfect length for a story.  A great read.  Shocking, emotional, funny, entertaining.  Makes me want to give it all up and become a bum panhandling folks for spare change.

This book has similarities with the two books I’d read previously by Cossery.  The attitude and antics of the characters are a bit like THE JOKERS and the setting is like MEN GOD FORGET.  I wrote about them here  What I wrote there goes double for PROUD BEGGARS.


Monday, April 8, 2013


MRS. BRIDGE by Evan Connell is written in much the same style as its companion novel MR BRIDGE which came about a decade later.  I wrote about MR BRIDGE here

A clever idea such as showing a marriage and family life from the differing perspectives of a husband and wife through two novels doesn’t mean anything without good writing and Connell delivers.  Written in the exact same style as MR BRIDGE with short chapters and brief, punchy sentences, MRS BRIDGE tells a slightly different story.

MRS BRIDGE is a woman who has allowed her husband to totally dominate her life.  She is a relentlessly passive marshmallow who still retains some interest in doing something different but never acts on them other than attending woman’s group meetings (where she is scolded by a speaker representing pre-feminist thought).

Therefore the view of their world and the world at large is presented slightly differently.  Some events Mr Bridge experiences are not discussed in MRS BRIDGE as they pertain only to him.  Ditto for Mrs. Bridge.  There is not as much discussion about politics and the world situation, the growing world war etc. (The Bridges novels take place in the 1930’s) but that makes sense as Mrs Bridge is much less interested in world affairs.

MR BRIDGE ends at an earlier time than MRS BRIDGE.  In MRS BRIDGE we find out about her daughter Carolyn’s unhappy marriage, her son Douglas’s military service and SPOILER the death of Mr Bridge.  MR BRIDGE ends before all these things happen.  Ruth the oldest daughter is not as big a character in MRS BRIDGE as we get a less explicit take on her sexual promiscuity.

In addition, Mrs Bridge’s take on events that happen in both books are slightly different as she is a different person.  For example: Grace Barron’s suicide and The Bridges’ European vacation.  Mrs Bridge is more sensitive and her reflection is deeper.

All in all, taken together, the two books are a masterwork, a master class in form and character development and telling a story.  However, MR BRIDGE which was written after MRS BRIDGE with Connell writing a few books in between is the slightly better more realized novel.  Connell totally captures the powerless passivity of Mrs. Bridge but perhaps he developed and grew as a writer between the writing of these two books.