by Jonathan Raymond
Photography by Justine Kurland
(Artspace Books, 63 Pages, $20)
The back cover of Jonathan Raymond's Old Joy loftily claims that the Oregon-set story is a "meditation on cosmic themes of purification and desire" in which twin seekers "Kurt and Mark enact a pilgrimage of consciousness replete with mystical insights, wonderment, and intimations of subtle spiritual battle." Sadly, a more fitting summary might state: "Two estranged friends get stoned and lost on their way to Bagby Hot Springs while maundering about life, nature and friendship. It's like Dude, Where's My Karma?"
Considering New Age writing's trend to find sacredness in mundanity, Old Joy could not intuit a better plot and setting. Most of Portland's outdoorsy types live some variation of its story every summer.
Unfortunately, Raymond's writing is not as inspired as his ambition. Capturing his characters' voices perhaps too successfully, Raymond's first-person narrator tells the story as your stoned 27-year-old neighbor would: in a stream of consciousness that suffers from simple, repetitive dialogue ("No shit," I said. "No shit!" Kurt said.), gratuitous use of simile and metaphor ("the shrill sound of the telephone, like a tropical bird in the corner"), and, most importantly, an aching dearth of editing. Without more exceptional insight, a stronger conclusion and the red pen of a discriminating editor, Raymond merely skims the spiritual surface, giving little reason for his story to be more interesting than your own weekend traipse through the greenery.
In a further artistic flourish that can only be explained by the heady aroma of patchouli and marijuana, Raymond's fiction is paired with Justine Kurland's photos of naked hippies gamboling through the underbrush. Presumably a meditation on the relationship between humans and nature meant to complement Raymond's story, most of the photos instead come across as snapshots from a nudist camping trip in the '70s. Lamentably for all their earnestness, the combined pieces work better as satire than spiritual meditation. Scott Aarons
(Fantagraphics, 71 pages, $12.95)
At first glance You Can't Get There from Here, the new graphic novelette from mono-monikered Norwegian cartoonist Jason, appears to be deceptively simple. But beneath the surface simplicity of Jason's clean line drawings and duo-tone coloring, there is constant simmering of emotional complexity.
Told with a minimal amount of words, You Can't Get There from Here is an offbeat mix of classic gothic horror, romance, heartbreak and existential crisis. In a classic cartoon world where dogs, cats and birds replace humans, a mad scientist has created a bride for his earlier creation--a man stitched together from dead bodies and brought back to life. But when the scientist begins to lust after his female creation, a tragic love triangle develops. Meanwhile, the hunchbacked lab assistants of two mad scientists converse at a diner, discussing the disappointment that has clouded their lives.
You Can't Get There from Here is a work of deadpan comic brilliance, reminiscent of Matt Groening's Life in Hell. At the same time, Jason's work draws from a deep pool of resources, evoking the cinematic work of Jim Jarmusch, Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki and the classic Universal horror films, all mixed with a healthy dose of master animators like Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. It's a short book and a relatively quick read, but still a graphic novel that begs to be studied and appreciated for its emotional depth and resonance. David Walker
By Kenneth Turan
(Public Affairs, 320 pages, $25)
Need a good movie guide? Well, Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan has issued a handsome edition of reviews of films worth seeking out. The book is a compilation of 150-plus reviews collected from the past decade of Turan's illustrious career. The selections inside serve as a testimony to all that the critic finds inspirational and entertaining in modern film.
Divided into such sections as "English Language Films," "Foreign Language Films," "Classics" and "Documentaries," the text is easily accessible to the casual reader. Each section has a thoughtful introduction that discusses in depth its respective milieu. A final section on "Retrospectives" allows the author to go more thoroughly into a handful of individual filmmakers and movements, from Max Ophuls and Robert Bresson to Chinese martial arts and Yiddish film.
So often critical essays venture into the esoteric realms of Theory and Aesthetics, but thankfully not here. Turan sticks to the first and second tenets of popular criticism: Subjectivity and Consumer Function. He provides ample detail and description for those readers in search of a recommendation (the sure sign of a professional), while remaining firmly grounded in the ever-fresh enthusiasm of an amateur.
Turan's insights are fresh and well-reasoned. The individual films he has chosen to include represent an odd mishmash of the seminal and the obscure. He covers Hitchcock's well-known masterpiece Vertigo and the never-discussed Japanese film After Life practically in the same breath. One may disagree at times with author in terms of taste, but the reviews themselves are nonetheless revelatory to read. Never Coming is the perfect companion to drag along to the video store. James Walling
By James Carroll
(Metropolitan Books, 286 pages, $25)
For most Americans, including our current president, "crusade" is just another word. For James Carroll, a devoted Catholic who has written at length about the Crusades and the ethnic hatred they engendered between Christians and Muslims and later Christians and Jews, it remains a bleeding wound. So when George W. Bush used the word to describe the U.S. war on terror, Carroll and others lambasted the president for the provocative effect his choice of words might have on the Muslim world.
Carroll, whose newspaper columns for The Boston Globe are collected in the present volume, also titled Crusade, has a point, of course. But is it really so shocking that a president whose memory of events gets a little shaky prior to, say, 1973 should be so utterly clueless about world history dating back to 1095? Not at all. In any case, such nuances will doubtless be lost on that part of the American electorate that has just pulled the lever for Bush.
There's a larger indictment here, namely that the Bush administration's response to the events of 9/11 overturns decades of American foreign policy--both Democratic and Republican--that until Bush took office had hindered the spread of nuclear weapons and ensured world peace.
Unfolding in real time without benefit of hindsight, Carroll's columns show how the United States has trashed international law--the best possible response to terrorism--with Bush's destructive new policy of preemptive war. Carroll portrays an America where personal experiences of grief and loss after 9/11 have been replaced by a "national memory" that erases villains who evade capture, like Osama bin Laden, and replaces them with ones like Saddam Hussein. For George W. Bush, "crusade" is just another word for nothing left to lose. Matt Buckingham
By Matt Love
(Nestucca Spit Press, 272 pages, $20)
It was 1970. Nixon was coming to Portland, and talk was that thousands of young anti-war demonstrators would descend upon the city and engage in Chicago '68-style riots. In an effort to prevent violence, activist groups proposed holding a free rock festival. Gov. Tom McCall bought in, and Vortex I, what writer Matt Love calls the first state-sponsored rock festival in American history, was born.
Pieced together from interviews and rambling primary-source materials, the book at times resembles a box of dishes crashing down a staircase, which is appropriate because the most intriguing elements of Vortex I are its loose ends. The book zags and zigs among narratives ranging from the FBI's infiltration of Portland anti-war groups to the event that could well have signaled the dawn of the hippie-fest movement.
Love also creates an engaging portrait of those involved with the festival, including transcripts of an email conversation with former "hippie entrepreneur" Bobby Wehe, who asks Love for a 25 percent cut from book sales for sharing his story, as well as a Portland police undercover surveillance report based on intelligence taken from a delusional informant. The hero of the book, though, is Tom McCall, the Republican governor who sanctioned the event at great political risk during an election year and who emerges as an unlikely champion of peace, love and rock 'n' roll.
The Far Out Story of Vortex I is peppered with festival photographs and includes a CD of songs from the era by Portland jam band Jacob's Ladder, which played at the original Vortex. Love's book could well serve as the document of record on a nearly lost chapter in the rich lore of Oregon's '60s-era flower-power counterculture. Richard Melo
Jason will present
at CounterMedia, 927 SW Oak St., 226-8141. 6:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 4.
Love reads Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave., 306-5223. 6 pm. $8, for Oregon Historical Society members.