The much-celebrated novel, The Goldfinch, by American author Donna Tartt has now been made into a much less celebrated movie. Knowing that the movie was due for 2019, I finally cracked open the Pulitzer Award winning book originally published in the fall of 2013 that had been sitting on my shelf for a few years. It is well worth the wait and worthy of all the acclaim. The Goldfinch centres around the 1694 painting of the same name by Carel Fabritius. Teenager, Theodore Decker’s mom makes them stop in at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where a terrorist explosion happens several minutes later. Decker’s mom dies in the explosion but, in the confusion, Theo steals The Goldfinch painting and later takes it to live in Las Vegas with his deadbeat Dad and step mom where he then meets Russian teenager, Boris. The story follows his life from that point on, through many ups and downs and several scenes where Theo is not the most likeable character. Mixing Catcher in the Rye with art heist caper and art history lesson, The Goldfinch is a gripping novel throughout its 784 pages.
Life with My Sister Madonna was a small gift from my now fiancé… that also sat on my shelf for a few years. Written by Christopher Ciccone, Madonna’s younger brother who you can see dance in the “Lucky Star” video, it follows life with the Ciccone’s through the rise of Madonna up to her marriage to Guy Ritchie. There are certainly some interesting tidbits in the book of their upbringing in Michigan, move to NYC, behind the scenes at concerts, etc. If all is true, Ciccone has several talents of his own – he directed two major Madonna concert tours, designed the interiors of many of her homes, and directed a music video for Dolly Parton. What isn’t clear is why he is more interested in just being in Madonna’s orbit rather than following his own star. Surely someone who was a main player on several Madonna tours could work on other tours or events. Unfortunately writing is not one of his talents as the many pointless celebrity mentions are followed up with stories that amount to “I met this person, they were nice, they passed away, I was sad”.
Like The Goldfinch, The Shining Girls from South African Laura Beukes also came out to high praise in 2013. The story follows Harper, a time travelling serial murderer, as he hunts down one “shining” victim after another. His plans begin to unravel when journalism student Kirby survives one of his vicious attacks and starts researching who he could have done this to her. Beukes really makes the streets of Chicago come alive while bouncing through various eras. Horror fiction is not my typical style but the “Shining Girls” was very entertaining throughout.
Our Bob Dylan journey continues as we work through The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1. Here we arrive at his first classic disc, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Released in May of 1963, a year after the self titled debut, it sees Dylan make a startling leap forward as he moves from mostly covers to mostly originals including several of his most important songs. I did own this album before buying the box set but had never given it more than a few scattered listens throughout the years.
The first three songs alone seal the greatness of this album. “Blowin’ in the Wind” takes the tune of “No More Auction Blocks” and creates one of the greatest folk songs ever written. One that seems like it has been around forever, not just since The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do”. “Girl From the North Country” is influenced by old folk tune “Scarborough Fair” and is a lovely track of looking back on an old love, perhaps a high school sweatheart from back in Minnesota. “Masters of War” is laser focused on the politicians in charge of pulling the war strings. The anger at those who send kids off to war comes through in several scathing lines – “come you masters of war… you that hide behind desks…I just want you to know, I can see through your masks”
Recognized by music scholars as one of his most complex, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is episodic in nature. Upon hearing it performed at the Gaslight Café, singer Peter Blankfield commented that “every line kept building and bursting”. It’s hard not to stop what you’re doing while this plays and just listen. Still powerful 50+ years later. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” speaks of the loves that pass through one’s life for a short but intense time then disappear. “I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul” ….but that’s alright, it was good, now it’s time to move on.
The first half of the album hits harder but the second half does have a few understated gems. “Oxford Town” is a short two minute track about James Meredith being the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962. “Corinna, Corinna” is refreshing after the much longer “Talking World War III Blues”. A traditional song with a few Robert Johnson lyrics thrown in. All the other songs leading up to this just feature Dylan so it takes a few seconds to realize there are drums and a band playing behind his impressive harmonica work. Based on a Leadbelly song, “I Shall Be Free” adds a bit of levity at the end of an album that addresses many serious topics that were at the forefront of 60’s culture.
The cover photo of Dylan walking down a street in the West Village with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo is iconic and one of the best album covers of all time. Still ranking high in most lists of the greatest albums of all time, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan has not diminished at all. While not perfect, Dylan’s first classic album containing several towering songs is one that should be in all serious music collections.
One of our favourite tracks from 2016 was the cosmic “Do You Need Me” from 24 year old American singer-songwriter Natalie Laura Mering who goes by the name Weyes Blood. Earlier in the year, she released her fourth studio album Titanic Rising on Sub Pop Records. Listeners are greeted with just vocals and piano to start album opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” which is teleported from the early 70s and would fit in well on any radio station playing The Carpenters. First single “Andromeda” has a hazy, off kilter sound that is balanced by an uplifting chorus. “Everyday” ‘s jaunty bounce really shows off Mering’s vocal range.
“Movies” sounds like a slowed down Muse track and might be the most epic song written about a love of popcorn summer movies. “Mirrors Forever” states, “no one’s ever gonna give you a trophy for all the pain you’ve been through”. I made the mistake of listening to the album a lot while walking the dog where the sumptuous sound of tracks like “Wild Time” did not fit. At home, listening on headphones as the music envelopes you, fits the mood much better.