Jaime Hernandez, The Love Bunglers

bookcover_lovbunI haven’t actually read the entirety of Love and Rockets, start to finish, but I have read the bulk of Los Bros Hernandez‘ work. I began my relationship with their work–and at some level I think the work becomes richer when I see Love and Rockets as a collaboration among individuals rather than the work of separate people who happen to be brothers–with a collection of Gilbert’s Palomar stories. My first exposure to Jaime’s work was in hist very first stories, which, though fun and interesting, feel as if he was chasing something he had not yet quite found. It’s a natural process: Ornette Coleman‘s first couple records are great, but nowhere near The Shape of Jazz to Come.

So, I had pegged myself, internally, as a Gilbert man, with great respect for Jaime, and I made this explicit in my piece on Chelo’s Burden. Maybe it’s the passing of time, and my own development–getting older, to me a good process–that has refined my opinion, but I’ve been drawing a lot from Jaime’s work over the past couple years. I’ve allowed myself to connect more openly and closely to people, and to myself. I think that in some sense Jaime’s relatively close focus over three decades of work on a small number of characters, particularly Maggie Chascarillo, fits comfortably with changes in how I try to be in the world, and how I am.

So I’ll echo any number of reviews of The Love Bunglers and say that I’ve read no better work in the medium. I struggled to find a negative review of the book, but found one piece–link lost, actually–in which the review, on obvious grad student in the most pejorative sense, kept going on about Lacan while insisting that Jaime, who uses such techniques as “narrative” and “characterization” was not worth all the hoopla and was something on a drag on the forward formal momentum of the medium. Let me point out that Joyce‘s innovations were all–all of them–a function of characterization. More to the point here, the common thread among responses not only praise the work but report the reader breaking out into tears, sometimes at the denouement alone and sometimes at various points throughout. I myself am no exception and fall into the second group.

No real sense in rehearsing the plot of a book that anyone with any sense ought simply to read, or read twice in rapid succession as I did. The second time I was more overwhelmed than the first. Despite the suggestions of the Lacan-name-dropping reviewer, the emotional weight of the work is not at all melodramatic. My sense is that for really uptight people any type of emotional response is evidence of passe literary technique or willful manipulation. It can be. In the case of The Love Bunglers, though, it’s the evidence both, as any number of reviewers have correctly commented, of thirty years’ accumulated experience with the characters, and an exceptionally well-executed storyline in the particular.

This last is something that I haven’t seen emphasized enough. It is true, as I have said elsewhere, that I like comics as a medium precisely because of its serial, open-ended form. As such, always building on prior, if rarely complete, knowledge of characters and milieu, the work provokes a different type of response from a reader than a self-contained novel would or can. Neither better nor worse, but certainly different. I can’t say what it would be like for a reader with no prior experience with Love and Rockets to read The Love Bunglers, but my strong sense is that it would be powerful. If you haven’t read Love and Rockets before, my sense is that, while this one does indeed tie together a long development, if you started here you’d make it a point to read the entire thirty years-plus of the project.

As an aside–possibly–while Jaime’s work is justifiably praised for the deep characterization of its people, the importance of the greater Los Angeles area in the work struck me in this read. It’s true that the particular town names are fictional, but the place of everything is in the very real Los Angeles. Much has been made of Los Bros as chroniclers of Latino life, particularly Jaime, and without question this is the case, though putting it that way almost seems to diminish the achievement. More accurately, there is no universal outside of a particular, and it is a mark of Jaime’s real achievement that he documents not only the people he does, but the time and place. The levels of specificity are profound: cultural, temporal, spatial, individual and ultimately within each individual character.

A last note. It is incredibly heartening for me that work of this quality continues to be produced and, against odds, make its way to an audience. To be sure, Love and Rockets began at a time when Love and Rockets could begin. There was a lot of posing and silliness in early punk, but the sense of DIY, that was real and Love and Rockets more than anything else is its finest exemplar at least as far as the heritage of the L.A. punk scene is concerned. I’m reading another book about Anthony Braxton (et al.):

In T-a W 2 Braxton considers the relationship between creative music and what he names “the spectacle diversion syndrome,” or “what America has rather than culture.” (Graham Lock, Blutopia, p. 174)

This is right. What we’re dealing with is the spectacle diversion syndrome rather than culture. It’s not that there’s no culture at all, but rather that real culture, which is what people do to process life emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, is very often suffocated or supplanted by diversionary spectacle. Love and Rockets generally and The Love Bunglers particularly is culture, not diversion. It points to who and where we are, now, as people.

I can’t praise the book more highly, except possibly to point out that, without making any conscious, explicit connection, within a week of finishing the book I recommenced work, dormant for months, on my own long-term recording project. In hindsight, I can’t see it as coincidence.

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Graham Lock, Forces in Motion: the Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton

I had known of Anthony Braxton for decades, but it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve really been able to connect to his music.  Partially, this is because I have a newfound living situation in which I can listen to what I want when I want to.  Bouncing around the internet, I read a post on the man’s work that made me realize that for most of us, digging Braxton or, really any of the avant-garde so-called, is a solitary pursuit, most often on headphones.

The single, blissfully single life affords this possibility.  That’s meant that I’ve gotten back to exploring the “free jazz“–we know the label isn’t ideal–movement of the 1960’s forward.  Lots of late Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, John Carter–a lot of John Carter–and Ornette of course, though especially Skies of America.  I’d heard much more of the New York school as opposed to Chicago, so opening up to Braxton was something of a revelation: there is a lot more to this music than just “energy.”  To be clear about what we’re dealing with, here you go.  Not exactly the same quartet, but the same year and 3/4 the same personnel:

Lock followed Braxton’s quartet on its 1985 tour of Britain.  The resulting book, Forces in Motion, takes the form of tour diary interspersed with interviews, primarily of Braxton but also of each of the group’s other members, followed by three postscripts on relevant topics.  Lock has other books, and one at the library here, that are more systematic overviews of the music, but this is what it is and the relatively unvarnished text preserves a spontaneity that among other things puts Braxton in a great light.  The man may have a reputation for forbidding music, but personally he’s very engaging with an enormously sweet quality to him.  He comes off as a very, very kind individual.

The takeaway from the book is very simply that it serves as what seems to me an ideal introduction to the deep significance of Braxton’s project.  It’s, for lack of a better word, a spiritual endeavor, among other things, and though he doesn’t put it in precisely these terms Braxton is trying, through sound, to turn back the world-nonsense of these last five hundred years.  As quick as he is to draw influence from white musicians–Braxton is generous even to those, like Phil Woods, who critique him viciously–Braxton demolishes the philosophical, musical, and spiritual underpinnings of white supremacy.

I took a class once in, more or less, critical theory, and the professor really wanted us to understand and engage the ideas at hand.  She assigned a fair amount of Foucault, but mostly from Power-Knowledge, a collection of, mainly, interviews.  She noted that when Foucault just talked, he said what he meant, and it made everything easier.  The same, I can glean from the excepts from Braxton’s Tri-axium Writings, would be true of Braxton.  If you want to really get everything, read the Tri-axium Writings, just like if you really want to understand Marx, you need to read Capital.  That said, Braxton can sum things up and give a person a lot to go forward with.  The book provides this.