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September 22, 1993 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-09-22

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8 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 22, 1993

John Prine has survived long past the "new Bob Dylan" stigma. Now, comes an anthology of his twenty-year career.

RECORDS
Continued from page 5
- and the result is not unlike what
"Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Band" or "Magical Mystery
Tour" might be like if they were re-
corded today.
"Giant Steps" opens with the bril-
liant "I Hang Suspended" a catchy,
punk-tinged song that one could ei-
ther dance or meditate to; "Wish I was
Skinny" is a pure pop jewel reminis-
cent of vaudeville tunes; "Butterfly
McQueen" has ajazz-inflected groove
and loud, crazy horns and sounds like
a gorgeously messed-up "Penny
Lane." "Leaves and Sand" melds a
quiet, mellow verse with a loud, bois-
terous chorus and "The White Noise
Revisited" is a beautiful update of
"Strawberry Fields.Forever."
This album is 17-songs strong but
doesn't seem overly long; the songs
are short but fully-realized composi-
tions. Songwriter Martin Carhas cre-
ated an interesting aural mix of techno,
psychedelic pop, punk and classical
music; the mix of classical instru-
ments (such as cello, trumpet, clarinet
and flugel horn) with modern ones
(like electric guitar and keyboards)
gives the album a timeless, full sound.

Sometimes the songs blend into a
nondescript wash of psychedelic bliss,
but for the most part "Giant Steps" is
a huge success.
- Heather Phares
John Prine
John Prine Anthology: Great
Days
Rhino
Many singer-songwriters were
saddled with the burden of being the
"new Bob Dylan" in the early '70s,
but only a handful were able to sustain
a career. Out of all these emerging
songwriters, the most accomplished
artist has proven to be John Prine.
Over his twenty-plus year career, he
has recorded a series of albums that
have been graced with his incisive,
intelligent and humorous songs.
Prine may not be the most prolific
recording artist, but as the superb new
2-CD set "The John Prine Anthology:
Great Days" illustrates, his
songwriting has been consistently bril-
liant. From the beginning, his skills
were highly developed - Bill Mon-
roe, the godfatherofbluegrass, thought
Prine's "Paradise" was a song from
the '20s that he had forgotten. "Para-
dise" is indeed that good and nearly
every other song on his debut album,
"John Prine," equaled its power.

Where Dylan's lyrical strength is
in his poetic imagery, Prine's style is
direct and conversational, heavily
dependent on detail. That is the very
quality thatmakes "Sam Stone,"atale
of a war veteran addicted to drugs,
haunting and also drives home the
Over his twenty-plus year
career, he has recorded a
series of albums that
have been graced with
his incisive, intelligent
and humorous songs.
humor of "Illegal Smile."
While his songs were stunning
from the beginning in their lyrical
depth and sophisticated musical amal-
gam of country, folk and rock, Prine's
albums became more confident as his
career progressed. As "Great Days"
winds through its 41 tracks, his writ-
ing becomes more refined and his
music explores its roots more deeply;
the anthology proves that Prine has
only gotten better throughout the years.
All of Prine's best songs are featured
on "Great bays" - it serves as the
perfect introduction to one of
America's finest singer-songwriters.
-Tom Erlewine

For Country, Cause &
Leader (1993)
Landscape Turned
Red (1983)
Stephen W. Sears
Ticknor & Fields
When Charles B. Haydon attended
the University of Michigan, he never
thought he would be a soldier. After
he graduated, he wanted to be a law-
yer in Kalamazoo, his hometown.
But then came the war. The presi-
dent needed volunteers to bolster the
army. Haydon, 27, quit shuffling pa-
pers as alaw clerk and soon was trying
to kill enemies he could rarely see in
a part of the world he could barely
understand. Haydon risked his life to
fight for the Union in the American
Civil War.
Haydon recorded his experiences
in 21 pocket diaries, most of which
are in the Bentley Historical Library
on U-M's North Campus. Historian
Stephen W. Sears has collected these
diaries in one book, "For Country,
Cause & Leader."
Haydon's diaries read like
someone's class notes, intended to
refresh the mind of the note taker at a
later point. Sears has edited Haydon's
diaries forclarity andreadability. Sears
also has footnoted Haydon's more
obscure references. While these addi-
tions are helpful, Sears leaves out
Haydon's letters to his father and
brother, which are in the original dia-
ries. Maps also would have been use-
ful, but Sears does not include any.
But Haydon's own words are the
book's most illuminating feature.
Haydon recorded his views on a
myriad of topics: his commanders, his
comrades, the Union, Southerners,
women, slavery and more. His diaries
show that a soldier's life was not all
marching and fighting.
Though he could not escape his
own Victorian, Midwestern preju-
dices, Haydon observed the world with
a Twain-like sense of irony. Early in
his diaries he noted that if his fellow
soldiers "pursue the enemy as vigor-
ously as they do the whores they will
make very efficient soldiers." Unlike
some of his peers, Haydon was an
able, conscientious soldier, and rose
from Sergeant to Lieutenant-Colonel
in only three years.
In September 1862, Haydon's unit
- the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regi-
ment - helped man Washington's
defenses, missing the Battle of
Antietam, the subject of "Landscape
Turned Red." In this book, Sears
weaves the accounts of generals, sol-
diers and civilians into an entertain-
ing and informative narrative about
America's bloodiest battle.
Like most battle histories, "Land-
scape" has a limited perspective and
value. It's difficult to find broad his-
torical implications in the tactical tri-
umphs and blunders that occur on a
battlefield. But Sears does give a vivid
sense of what Civil War combat was
like. Rebel gunfire was do deadly at
Antietam that one Union soldier
thought "the whole landscape for an
instant turned slightly red." Sears sug-
gests that both sides suffered heavy
casualties because they fought on open
ground at short distances with weap-
ons "that could kill at half a mile."

Compared to Sears' history,
Haydon's diaries lackpolish. But "For
Country" is a realistic, first-hand ac-
count of a soldier's daily life, and for

this reason it is more interesting and
enlightening than "Landscape."
Haydon, in his journals, shows what
life was like away from the battle-
field; Sears, in his battle history, does
not.
- Oliver Giancola
The Gripping Hand
Larry Niven and Jerry
Pournelle
Pocket
Imagine that if you don't have sex,
you'll die. Now imagine that every-
one else has the same problem. With-
out birth control, people like you
would rapidly fill a planet.
This is the problem of the Moties,
an alien race created by Larry Niven
and Jerry Pournelleintheir book, "The
Mote in God's Eye," published in
1974. "The Gripping Hand" takes
place in 3047, thirty years after
"Mote." As is the case with many
science-fiction (SF) sequels, "Grip-
ping" pales in comparison to its pre-
decessor.
In "Mote," humans have estab-
lished a star-spanning empire. In 3017,
the humans have their first encounter
with sentient aliens, the Moties. The
Moties look like the Ewoks in "Re-
turn of the Jedi," except that they have
five limbs: two legs, two right arms
and a strong left arm for "the gripping
hand."
Sexually, the Moties are like hu-
mans on fast forward. Because the
Moties die if they don't reproduce,
their home planet has become quickly
overpopulated. Although they have
no birth control, the Moties do have
spaceships, and thus present a threat
to their human neighbors.
By 3047, the humans have con-
tained the Motie threat - or so they
think. "Gripping" presents a new
Motie/human conflict and a potential
solution to the Moties' population
problems, but this novel lacks the
sense of awe and mystery that Niven
and Pournelle captured in "Mote." In
"Mote," Niven and Pournelle let read-
ers discover what the characters dis-
cover - a new alien race. The authors
even gave readers a peek into the
Moties' thoughts and conversations.
"Gripping," in contrast, is more
human-centered than the earlier novel.
The Moties are seen mainly through
the humans'pointof view. Motie poli-
tics are also important in "Gripping."
One character aptly describes the
Motie political situation as "Byzan-
tine." The Moties' political relation-
ships are indeed confusing and com-
plex, but are not very interesting.
Niven and Pourmelle also fall into
some conventions of SF literature,
conventions which they apparently
have not rethought in the twenty years
since they wrote "Mote."
For example, the authors devote
200 pages of this 400-page, hard-cover
book to describing a space battle,
which is tedious reading. The charac-
ters are so busy shouting commands
at one another that they have little
time for in-depth interaction with each
other or, more importantly, with the
Moties.
Despite this novel's human focus,
Niven and Pournelle are unable to
envision female participation in space
combat. While the male characters
are piloting the ship, one women
makes coffee and another exercises in
the kitchen (of all places). War, it

seems, is still a male pursuit in the
authors' universe, even though the
novel is set 1000 years in the future.
The sequel is itself a SF convey-
tion, and "Gripping" is like other SF
sequels. "Gripping" does not add any-
thing to the story Niven and Pournelle
began in "Mote." For this reason,
"Gripping" is disappointing.
- Oliver Giancola
A Lesson Before
Dying
Ernest J. Gaines
Knopf
Jefferson was in the wrong place at
the wrong time. He was walking to
bar in Bayonne, La., in the late 1940s,
when two black men dffered him a
ride into town. Jefferson accepted.
The two men stopped at a liquor store,
and Jefferson followed them inside.
Short of money, the two men began
threatening the white store owner. The
two men exchanged pistol shots with
the store owner. Seconds later,
Jefferson was the only one still stand-
ing.
Dazed and confused, Jefferson was
captured in the store. The prosecutor
easily convinced the all-white jury
that Jefferson, an African American,
was guilty of murder. Jefferson's at-
torney asked them to be merciful:
"What justice would there be to take
this life? ... Why, I would just as soon
put a hog in the electric chair as this."
The jury wasn't moved. Jefferson got
the chair.
Enter Grant Wiggins, a Black, uni-
versity-educated school teacher and
the novel's narrator. At the behest of
Jefferson's godmother, Grant must
change Jefferson from a "hog" into a
man. "I don't want them to kill no
hog," she says. "I want a man to go to
that chair, on his own two feet." Grant
must teach Jefferson a lesson before
dying.
This lesson is lost in the 256 hard-
bound pages of Ernest J. Gaines' first
novel in ten years. His weak plot and
simplistic characters do not convey
any meaningful insights, morals, or
meanings. As a result, "Lesson" is
neither dramatic nor inspiring.
Gaines reworks a tired theme: bad,
rich white men kill a good, poor Black
man in a courtroom lynching. 16
Jefferson really as innocent as he
claims? One has to assume that he is,
since the very fact that the jury is all-
white seems to prove he is falsely
convicted. Unfortunately for
Jefferson, no one explains to him that
he can appeal the jury's verdict; the
author fails to tell us why Jefferson
does not or can not appeal. When the
trial is finished, so is Jefferson. Only
Grant can save him.
Grant is hardly a hero. Since he
graduated from college, Grant has
become cynical about life. He has
abandoned Catholicism, but thathasn't
stopped him from teaching elemen-
tary school in a Catholic church, where
he likes to vent his frustrations on his
pupils with his trusty Westcott ruler.
After six years of living with his nag-
ging aunt, Grant wants to leave Loui-
siana.
But then there's Vivian, also a
teacher. Vivian is the reason Grant
stays in godforsaken Bayonne. Grant
loves her, but his love does not come
from his heart: "We left the table, and
I took her my arms, and I could feel

her breasts through that sweater, and I
could feel her thighsthrough that plaid
skirt, and now I felt very good." At
least Grant is honest.
Grant's complaining aunt and fal-
tering sex life eventually force him to
help Jefferson in a strikingly mun-
dane and unmoving way. This may be
realistic, but it also is boring.
- Oliver Giancola

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If you are interested in
writing for the theater staff,
please call Liz at 763-0379.

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