I was organizing. Like an adult does.
Why doth he protest too much? Because I’m supposed to be finishing a short story that’s been holding my writer’s block for ransom for the last six months. But I am writing, and I did work on it last night. In any case, I spent an hour reading old chapbooks, essays and lost thirds of short stories I think I should probably finish, then I put them into the most non-distracting filing system I could. Basically, if I open any folder other than “Open Projects”, I’m wasting time. I have already done so tonight, but to make it worth everyone’s while, here is a never-before-seen essay on being a pretentious wanker. It’s never been seen before because a bunch of pretentious wankers didn’t publish it.
A Spoonful (of Pynchon) Weighs a Ton
One of the best methods for a successfully snarky exit from a bad scene at a bar is pumping the jukebox with a fiver and selecting as many incredibly long songs as you can find and blowing that fascist pop stand, so to speak. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is one friend’s recommendation, although a little “Stairway” never hurt anyone, especially if you’re leaving anyway.
Of course, another nice exit is to leave a note reading something like, “don’t pet wet dogs” or “don’t whiz on the electric fence” for a tip. It is valid advice after all.
The goal behind playing these drawn out songs is, of course, to infuriate the folks who thought it would be cute to play the Pogues all night. The funny bit about it is that upon arriving home to have that last beer, you might put on one of those forever tracks to unwind. My roommate demands of guests that “I’d Do Anything For Love” be sung (always drunkenly and usually at three in the damn morning) at least once a month.
The funny thing is, despite the superficial annoyances of these long songs, we do enjoy them, somewhere, sometime and somehow.
Thomas Pynchon is a, if not the, master of the literary equivalent of these jukebox weapons.
Early this summer, I became ambitious in my leisure reading. I had swallowed a dozen books in the months prior, but all the while, my virgin copy of V. was taunting me. I keep a decent library and take pride in the general lack of showpiece books; I’ve knocked out most of the targets on my shelves. But not V.
And the last thing I want is to be that guy.
So, this summer I picked up V. And promptly strained my back doing so.
Appreciating Pynchon’s work is like actually wanting to put on a Queen record, even anticipating “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It’s like appreciating Bitch’s Brew or a Tortoise record. It can be nice on its own, but to really be able to digest that sort of thing, you need a bit of background.
In Pynchon’s case, that background is every little niggling detail about the whole of Western history up to this day. Having a good sense for music doesn’t hurt either- characters, at least three times the population of Centralia, sing imaginary songs roughly every twenty pages.
V. somehow melds sewer alligators of a fifties New York city with dawn of the 20th century European intrigues and, why not, the island of Malta circa 1941, among other things. Don’t ask me how- I don’t want to spoil anything. And also, I’m not completely sure anyway.
This weird alchemy is why our jukebox weapons are, given the right mindset, so damn appealing and so much more than thumbing your nose at Los Lonely Boys-happy bar patrons.
Admittedly, being down with this sort of thing makes you a little pretentious, but then, why shouldn’t it? It’s hard work to enjoy this stuff. You gotta do a little bit of stretching, some warm-ups if you want to do some heavy lifting.
Not that there’s ever been much wrong with the standard fare in your literary stereo, your Vonnegut, your Plath. Even the most ambitious art-rock is generally pretty digestible; Kafka may be a pain in the ass sometimes, but he never went on more than he needed to, and barely did that.
But sometimes, sometimes you want to live inside a book for a few months and not really bother with anything else. Sometimes you just want to listen to an Olivia Tremor Control album, straight up, and pal around with the little details that magically appear and multiply with every successive listen.
Whenever you feel the need to reaffirm your credibility, intellectual, indie or otherwise, these touchstones make great security blankets to wrap yourself in.
The thing to remember is that as you leave the bar, you’re leaving a small legacy that will haunt the ears of patrons for the next hour. You’re saying, “Fuck you. I get this. And I’m laughing my ass off, because it’s about the last thing I want to listen to. But I could.”
When you drop Pynchon’s name, you’re laughing even harder.
J. Endress, circa 2007ish.
Well, now that that’s settled, I should probably get some writing done instead of leering at the past like it’s wearing a swimsuit, talking about Pavement and drinking bourbon.
This has been fun.