Susan Sontag was more than just a writer. Her topic deeply touched her life (she wrote about her battle with breast cancer in the early 70s) and the lives of others. A lifelong avid reader and writer, Sontag never liked being called “an intellectual” – instead, she preferred to be described as “a lover of books.” For Sontag, books were a source of learning for anyone who chose to dive. They were his escape from a lonely childhood. They opened the doors for her to leave high school early and study at prestigious universities like the University of Chicago and Harvard.
Experience is also part of his learning. She taught philosophy to Sarah Lawrence and even published her first book in 1963 – “The Benefactor”. Sontag wanted to be a novelist, but her experience turned out to be her entry into the world of writers. In 1964’s “Notes on Camp”, the first essay that brought him fame and notoriety, Sontag gives us an examination of his personal life – taught as a lesson in philosophy and a common thread that would tie all his works together.
Most people regard sensibility or taste as the realm of purely subjective preferences, those mysterious, mostly sensual attractions which have not been placed under the sovereignty of reason. They admit that considerations of taste play a role in their reactions to people and works of art… Because taste governs all free human response – as opposed to rote.
This language that Sontag is constructing is the pursuit of a universal explanation of how we work. The experiential lens she sees through will include photography, AIDS, cancer, culture, media, art and her own personal ‘preferences’. Writing about these “sensual” attractions in 1964 was very rare in his time. In “Against Interpretation” from 1966 and “On Photography” from 1977, she pushes even further this idea that things are what they are not or that they are “represented” or “symbolic” perhaps. be without the consent and knowledge of the author.
Looking at photographs in “Regarding The Pain of Others” from 2004 (his last book published before his death that year), Sontag describes photos as having the power to influence your opinions based on your knowledge and reactions – and captions under someone else trying to impose their opinion, or worse, sway yours. This state of “representation” in the art seems to be a big part of what fueled Sontag. His questions weren’t “What does the skull that reappears in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ represent?” Instead it was “Why should this symbolize anything?” Moreover, she concluded that in photography – “Everything was photographed.”
Sontag and his journalistic quest for knowledge broke down barriers. When Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against writer Salman Rushdie, Sontag led the charge by inciting other American writers to protest. She protested against communism in the early 80s and documented the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in 1986 in her book of essays “The Way We Live Now”. However, she was never more militant than in Eastern Europe living in Sarajevo under siege from 1992. Sontag helped gather supplies and even organized a performance of “Waiting For Godot ” of Beckett by candlelight for those who were besieged a month later. the dispute. Sarajevo would be a constant source of passion and compassion for Sontag, even in the 21st century.
Finally, there is his fiction. His dream was to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. As she wrote her four novels, she engaged in voluminous days of research before she even wrote – as if she needed it to develop her “character” as a writer. When she finally wrote, she was able to add the necessary details to the story to make it historically correct. Its 2000 National Book Award winner “In America” is the story of famous Polish actress Helena Modjeska leaving her country for a fresh start in California around 1876. In her prose, Sontag connects history with history and talks about our destiny as we reinvent ourselves. Although this has been controversial (four incidents of plagiarism reported, possibly other books on Modjeska), the continued pursuit of ideas of identity, representation, and even a person masking the person they are in becoming someone else is prevalent.
Sontag argued that “a lot of people have talent – but temperament is probably what drives writers to write”. Of course, she could have written more novels when she was younger – but her search for ideas and her personal devotion compelled her to write essays. As she eliminated “self-awareness” from her writing, it became easier to write about her beliefs. On the other hand, Sontag has referred to writing for literature as “writing out of will.” In his nearly 40 years of writing, Sontag was clearly in search of the truth.
To quote Sontag (transmitted by Oscar Wilde): “Everything you say about writing is true. Also, the opposite of everything you say is true.
Mik Davis is the Record Store Manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
New music this week
HERD OF HORSES – things are big[LP/CD](BMG Rights Management)
We listen to the track “Lights”, and we quickly guess that the optimistic title is sarcastic. Still, the South Carolina band knows its harmonies and its hooks. The tracks here are a bit more pop (the jangly “Crutch”) and Seventies Rock (“In Need of Repair” follows that Fleetwood Mac chord course) than the ethereal emotions conjured up by the days of yore. Nonetheless, as the band has aged, they’ve improved their lyrics – which carry that air of dissatisfaction here that we’ve all been breathing for the past two years.
MIKE CAMPBELL AND THE DIRTY BUTTONS – External combustion
Former Tom Petty guitarist/producer Campbell gives his meat and potato rock band a dose of “Full Moon Fever” on their second LP. Campbell gives everything. “Wicked Mind” works around its rasp in the upper register and releases a great solo. While “Electric Gypsy” shifts its production from the 80s towards a slight psychedelia. The long outro with solos will definitely be their live highlight. Finally, the first album benefited from the vocal assistance/composer of Chris Stapleton. The legendary Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople lends fire to “Combustion”.
THE DIP – stick with it[LP/CD](dual tone)
Seattle’s The Dip is a seven piece New Soul band with bold horns and a hint of Blues. Tom Eddy is the Paul Janeway-esque soul singer – although more of a crooner. They’re at their best on “New Contender” as his voice blends beautifully with the horns and backing vocals. The band really gelled on last year’s instrumental EP (“The Dip Plays It Cool”), but “Sticking With It” trades their Daptone/Colemine sound slightly for a Seventies Stax vibe (“Paddle To The stars”).
DOLLY PARTON- Run, Rose, Run[LP/CD](Butterfly/Universal)
The legendary Parton and writer James Patterson collaborated on his first written novel “Run, Rose, Run”. As always with Dolly and her projects, she follows her inspiration wherever it leads. So the story needed a soundtrack. “Run, Rose, Run”, the album is a companion to the tale with its classic country and bluegrass songs updated with the help of Joe Nichols and Rhonda Vincent. Parton (as Rose) plays a young songwriter on the run – doing whatever it takes to survive. The book also comes out on Friday.
PINK FLOYD – Piper at the gates of dawn[MONO LP](PinkFloyd)
After all these years (Piper in Mono was a Record Store Day 2018 release – but in such limited pressing, they disappeared almost instantly), the first chapter of Pink Floyd’s story returns to wax. Released August 5, 1967 during this Summer of Love/Happy Days of Swinging London. Pink Floyd gained traction as one of the first psychedelic bands with shows at the UFO and various underground clubs. Chief Syd Barrett was an electric force leading those brave enough to experience the light show and loud music on a trip. With two hit singles under their belt, “Piper” was recorded and released without incident. Then a month later, Barrett’s long, sad mental breakdown began. During their tour, Barrett’s condition and behavior worsened. On the first US tour, their early television appearances were barren and tense, as Barrett often gave one-word answers or simply stared at interviewers. In December 1967, Pink Floyd was forced to add David Gilmour to the lineup to keep the whole machine moving.
Along with history, “Piper” resonates today as a moment of clarity. Barrett’s songs oscillate between the intensity of the wide-eyed childhood of Lewis Carroll (“The Gnome”) and the dramatic. propulsive intense journey away from Earth (“Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” – two staples of any psychedelic band). Producer Norman Smith had developed a sound for Pink Floyd where everything they recorded was part of the chart. The Mono mix in 1967 was still the favorite version because all of their whispering vocals on “Pow. R. Knock. H.” or the sinister organ of “Lucifer Sam” was there to take you away from that normal music per se. Looking back, the core idea of ”Piper” continues to be a listening experience from start to finish. As important as sound is to later recordings, the idea of a song needing the right recording starts here. Waters’ eerie Pop on “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” hints at their threat and even the Space Rock that will follow in their path. The second side goes even further than expectations. Barrett’s religious meditation “Chapter 24” allows him to duel on the I Ching with Richard Wright’s Farfisa. “Scarecrow” follows that primrose path (complete with Barrett’s signature lyrical phrasing) before “Bike” closes the album on an eerie, melancholy yet chaotic note that might best sum up what it was like to be in the world. Barrett’s mind at the time. As essential as many other Pink Floyd albums are, they would be nothing without Barrett’s lysergic gaze. “Piper” makes her vision that of the rest of the band, who then pursue their osmosis and refinement to encapsulate their own.