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March 15, 2005 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-03-15

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Tuesday
March 15, 2005
arts. michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

RTeSitigan tii
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BERNIE
NGUVEN

MARS
ATTACKS

Proud to read
litism exists. I've accepted this.
And yet, I have to wonder why.
Why is it that some things are
considered more intellectually "valu-
able" than other things? Why is it that
anything that is popular is automatically
lowbrow and bad taste? Whether in lit-
erature, music or art, there seems to be a
specific definition (or a widely accepted
concept) as to what constitutes literature.
My friend Tom once told me that he
doesn't bother to read fiction. "Why read
something made up," he said, "when you
can read something that is true?" This
logic applies not only to fiction vs. non-
fiction, but also to this strangely amor-
phous yet absolutely immutable idea of
good literature. Why read a murder mys-
tery when you can read Virginia Woolf?
Stephen King, one of my favorites,
was considered by my high school Eng-
lish teacher, Mrs. Read, to be pulp - a
way that uneducated people pass the time
while sitting in airports or waiting for
their kids at swim class. Another look,
however, reveals much more: intricate
plots, fascinating characters, layered
themes that weave in and out of the parts
of humanity that lurk somewhere below
the level of waking consciousness. Isn't
that what books are about, when it comes
down to it? Something that can touch
you, move you, change your life to the
extent that you no longer see things the
same way after the last page is turned?
Isn't that why we read?
Books have a sense of magic that is
lacking in other forms of artistic expres-
sion. Film is mental images projected
onto a screen. Music manifests itself in
discrete melodies, rhythms and words,
and art is physical expression in its most
raw form. Unlike these, books require
active participation. To truly experience
a novel to its fullest extent is to accept
the fact that another world can, and does,
exist. It is Coleridge's "willing suspense
of disbelief," King's "truth within the
lie," the power that the written word has
to take on a life and shape of its own, to
the extent that even the physical presence
of a book has the potential to inspire or
threaten. I still hide my horror novels
behind my socks sometimes when I'm
too scared to finish reading them.
It is this odd, strangely unexplored and
unrealized phenomenon that makes a

pulp fiction
book so powerful. Historical precedents
exist in all cultures. The Bible requires
faith as its foundation, an acceptance of
a higher truth. Harriet Beecher Stowe's
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" is famously known
as the book that helped instigate the
Civil War. This mysterious influence of
the written word is what made the Nazis
burn books during the 1930s and what
led to the uproar over censorship during
the latter years of the 20th century.
It is precisely this emotional effect that
should define the value of a work. "Anna
Karenina" didn't become a classic because
of its vast exploration of human themes.
"The Sound and the Fury" isn't read in
English class because of its unique struc-
ture. Their status as literature emerged
from the fact that someone, somewhere,
read them and became a different per-
son. Only now can we say that they have
intellectual merit because they have lasted
for so long. In 50 years, I believe that Ste-
phen King will have as good a reputation
as Dickens. After all, in his time, Shake-
speare was adored by the masses.
Forget reading "literature." Forget
those books that people told you to read
because they would edify your mind or
make you seem more intelligent at cock-
tail parties. Throw away your precon-
ceptions about paperbacks. Literature
should not be predicated on the number
of long words used in the text. It should
never be about the remoteness of the.
subject or the complexity of the motifs.
Literature should be something that
makes you want to read more. It should
be the cumulative capacity that words
have to transport you to distant realms or
teach you about yourself. I will not stop
reading Stephen King for the same rea-
son that I won't stop listening to Sarah
McLachlan or appreciating "Spongebob
Squarepants." They have provided me
with those rare moments of happiness,
when nothing else exists except what I'm
feeling at the time. They have terrified
me and they have made me laugh, and in
defiance-of all who tell me I should read
something more worthwhile, I will say it
now: I love horror novels.
Take that, Mrs. Read.
Bernie still can't accept the fact that
Stephen King is the worst writer ever. Con-
vince her at languyen @umich.edu.

FORMER PUNKS
RELEASE DENSE
CONCEPT ALBUM
By Aaron Kaczander
Daily Arts Writer
Msic REVI EW
Don't even try to place The Mars Volta in a
category defined by Rush-esque prog rock or
meticulous concept albums.
True, their dense, elaborate
records require patience to The Mars
get through, and their eerily VOlta
devised tales of mortality Frances the Mute
and verbose adjectives mixed Universal
with multi-lingual titles are
downright confusing. Yet this
electrified chaos is precisely how lyricist Cedric
Bixler-Zavala and producer/guitarist Omar Rodri-
guez-Lopez avoid classification. The Mars Volta
have finally offered up Frances the Mute, one of
the most anticipated records in an already com-
petitive 2005, and it rocks with screeching passion
and intensity.
After putting the kibosh on their successful
punk rock outfit At The Drive-In, Bixler-Zavala
and Rodriguez-Lopez created The Mars Volta to
explore the space between musical genres. Sonic
limitations were lifted with their 2003 debut, De-
loused in the Comatorium, an epic sci-fi adventure
based loosely on the memory of a departed friend
and guru to the band. Frances the Mute follows suit,
though not identically, chronicling a late band mem-
ber's discovery of a diary containing inspirational
material. Cygnus, the protagonist, searches for his
biological parents while learning the importance of
family. Bixler-Zavola and Rodriguez-Lopez preach
heavily of the record's moral message, relying on
the listener to decipher it out of more than 75 min-
utes of mind-boggling noise.
Five major tracks make up the album. Contrary
to rumors, they are broken down into subsections of
the ambitious storyline. "Cygnus ... Vismund Cyg-
nus," "The Widow," "L'Via L'Viaquez," "Miranda
That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" and "Cassan-
dra Gemini" are the major headlines, while small-

courtesy of Universal

"You say something? Yeah, we didn't think so."
er sub-tracks are numbered like a lecture outline,
boasting titles like "B. Umbilical Syllables" and "B.
Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream." Don't expect
to be stuck with only five forward skips for an hour
of music: Store-bought versions of the album break
down into the colorfully named sub-tracks quite
efficiently.
Creating an album with such odd sequencing
seems like a snooty slap in the face to the casual lis-
tener, but Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez don't
seem to care. Instead, they conduct their production
like a masterful Hollywood film. Rodriguez-Lopez
plays director with his screaming guitar and sprawl-
ing arrangements. Bixler-Zavala is the seasoned
actor, wailing and yelping to convey innumerable
moods under the direction of Rodriguez-Lopez's
master plot. Three tracks clock in at more than
12 minutes, but don't expect any spacey jam band
fluff. The cinematic opener, "Cygnus ... Vismund
Cygnus" transitions from a lone acoustic guitar riff,
which recurs throughout the album, into a poly-
rhythmic extravaganza of shrill harmonic vocals
and prickly guitar bursts.
Regardless of the conceptual hype surround-
ing Frances, the album boasts searing guitar solos
with enough sizzle and punch to fill the test room
at the local Guitar Center. "L'Via L'Viaquez" offers

a trademark taste of Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-
Lopez's Puerto Rican heritage, complete with beau-
tiful Spanish vocals and a salsa-fused breakdown.
The backing members of The Mars Volta, though
often hidden in the shadow of the skinny, afro-
and glasses-wearing duo, shine with just the right
amount of multi-instrumental accents.
Frances is loud when it wants to be and incred-
ibly soft when it needs to be; Bixler-Zavala often
sings with a hollow whisper. Lead single "The
Widow" evokes a fast-paced swing-along, with a
half-tempo droop and explosively screeching cho-
rus. But Frances is marred by the slower, ambient
sounds in more experimental tracks like "Vade
Mecum." These noise-filled outros often last past
their welcome, tacked on to the end of high-octane
tracks that would fare better without the whirring,
clicking and general robotic atmospherics.
Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez may have
taken a daring and often ridiculed step by disbanding
At The Drive-In, but the ideology behind The Mars
Volta 's work conjures a similar level of appeal and
credibility. Look past the silly titles, verbose lyrics
and lack of distinct tracks, and you'll find a brand
of rock'n'roll that just isn't available anywhere else.
And they certainly don't give a fuck if Frances the
Mute doesn't shuffle well on an iPod.

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