December 2nd, 2007

bear by san

he feels the piston scraping -- steam breaking on his brow --

Once upon a time, there was a pretty good little electric blues band that got really tired of 4/4 time--

The thing about Jethro Tull that you can't really appreciate until you've seen them live is the way in which they are different from any other rock band I've ever seen: people laugh at Tull concerts. Not just at Ian Anderson's patter, though that does tend to draw guffaws and giggles. But during the actual songs, intermittently, people will burst out in peals of startled delight at something--a clever beyond words musical transition, a bit of stage business, Ian flourishing his most phallic of instruments in the most phallic of locations. (Those frontmen who limit themselves to electric guitar are missing out on a whole world of ludity.)

There's something about a Tull concert that makes me fall in love for two hours. My chest grows pleasantly achy; my breath gets tight. It's as if the presence of Ian Anderson in stage persona is enough to kick off an endorphin buzz. He gives fantastic energy: the only performer I've seen with more charisma is Iggy Pop.

When somebody in the audience shouts, loud and clear into a near-silence, "I love you, Ian!" she gets a tremendous roar of approval. We love Ian. We love the self-parody and the complexities and the humor and the doing hard things just because it's fun. Ian Anderson on stage is an endless adventure in "Bet I can do that backwards! No hands! Er, whoops!"

I've been to six Tull shows. One of them was when Ian was recovering from DVT and performing on a wrecked knee and his voice was completely nonexistent. (It's fragile and limited now: that particular tour he barely spoke, nevermind singing.) It wasn't a good concert, that time, critically speaking? But I still walked out feeling light-shouldered and delighted.

It's Ian's gift.

Ian's getting on in years, now. (He turned 60 in August.) He's not the ranting, leaping, athletic presence of yore. But he's as mercurial as ever, and as demonstrative, sauntering and hopping about the stage with dramatic hand gestures. (Martin Barre, by contrast, grows more nonchalant and stoic by the year.) But Ian's wit is alive--sharp, erudite, and full of dirty puns. Of Bourée, for example, he says, "...a piece of respectable classical music that over the years we have converted into porno jazz." And in the lead-in to a completely re-arranged, almost unrecognizable version of Aqualung, he comments, "I've been trying to get my flute iiiinto this next piece since 1972." The new arrangement is fey, flute standing in for vocal, almost ethereal--and then, with a crunch and a thump, twists itself inside out and comes back as a hard-driving rock and roll version, same as it ever was, only trickier and more complex.

That's the hallmark of the current Tull tour, it seems. Complexity. While sticking mostly to standards from their bluesier years--the only soujourn into territory more recent than Songs from the Wood or Heavy Horses (other than a solo tune apiece for Ian and Martin) was an enchanting rendition of "Budapest"--the arrangements grow ever trickier. The stage show may be stripped down, but the music is complex. They performed with a string quartet out of Boston tonight, adding richness and sweep to the old Tull standards. Bass player David Goodier, who I have not seen with the band before, had the wit to keep up with the demands of live Tull, which is to say--the music has to be delightful and surprising, or it's not Tull, and was nothing less than spectacular on an extended edit of "Thick as a Brick" that also involved what I believe was a ukelele.

Ian's never particularly melodious but once-flexible voice is shot; he chants the songs now as much as sings them, and his voice scrapes and breaks. He's rearranged a lot of them to make use of his prodigious flute skills--from self-taught and awkward, he's blossomed into something spectacular. (Rumor was that he decided to learn proper technique in between Catfish Rising and Roots to Branches when his daughter came home with her school flute and said, "Dad, you're doing it wrong.")

The show was arranged in two one-hour sets. Maybe Ian can't quite handle a two hour show plus encore without a break anymore, but he makes sure you get your money's worth. The first of the two sets was bluesier and more acoustic. Gangling Doane Perry was induced to emerge (and emerge, and emerge) from behind the drumset and come play some bongos on the front of the stage. (There was a structural incident; Doane kept playing while an alert stage hand ran out and effected field repairs on the instrument as in use.)

That one started of with "Someday the Sun Won't Shine For You," and ended with "Nothing is Easy," concentrating on songs off albums in the sixties and seventies--"Living in the Past," "Fat Man," and so forth. There was one new song, an instrumental entitled "The Donkey and Drum," which Ian announced would be on the next Tull album, forthcoming in February... of 2012. Also, we heard an upbeat version of his solo tune "The Water Carriers." Others included "King Henry's Madrigal," and "Bourée," this time sans "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

The second half kicked off with another track from This Was, "My Sunday Feeling," and promptly became far more rock and roll, including the revamped Aqualung with playful bits by keyboardist John O'Hara, My God (a fantastic arrangement that literally took my breath away, all those strings up under Martin's guitar pushing), the abovementioned "Thick as a Brick," and "Budapest," among others.

The encore was "Locomotive Breath." a song which I suspect I like almost as much as Ian does.
bear by san

he hears the silence howling, catches angels as they fall--

When I talk about Ian Anderson's wit, and his general air of raconteurism, this is what I mean. (Also, his screamingly liberal sensible politics have never hurt him with me.)

For my own reference, here's a review of the New York show on the same tour.

Here's a little youtube Tull from back in the day, to give you an idea of what Ian was like when his knees still worked. (By the hair, that's circa 1977 or so.) Martin's grown into a much more accomplished guitarist since, but he's still just about that stoic; the pivot around which Ian turns. Much more, and he'll be giving Lou Reed a run for his money. Here's the revamped version--with a full orchestra, rather than the "mere" string quartet (!)

And here's a clip from the current tour (with a different string section than the ladies we saw), the new version of "Locomotive Breath." See what I mean about Martin's guitar work? (And because I have always loved runaway-train songs, here's a shorter version with intermittently better sound quality (except on the vocals) and no fiddler. Here's what the song sounded like in its more-original version in 1977.  Although the song was already six years old at that point and starting to grow ornaments and bizarre electric organ interludes a la Keith Emerson. (They also did Keith Emerson's arrangement of "America" last night, )

Charlie stole the handle.
And the train, it won't stop going.
No way to slow down.


That doubletime clapping and stomping when the jazzy intro bit of "Locomotive Breath" ends and the rock and roll kicks in? Happens every time.

(One of the most entertaining things about last night's concert was the college aged kid sitting right behind me, who was obviously there on sufferance, expecting some prog-rock dinosaur grinding out faithful versions of grotty hits, who kept shifting in his seat, nudging his companion, and saying in unwilling surprise, "This is really good! This is a really GOOD concert!"

One presumes the companion, perhaps procurer of the tickets, was validated. ;-) )

(Also, for those who keep track, Martin Lancelot Bourée duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH-duh Barre was down to one middle name for the duration of this particular show. ;-)  (Yes, according to Ian, the riff from "Aqualung" is Martin's middle name.)
rengeek kit & tilda lucifer/gabriel

link salad, science fiction blue plate special

George R. R. Martin on why he feels that the current generation of SFF writers should join SFWA.

Charles Coleman Finlay with the opposing view.

Green Man Review has published a special Year's Best Fantasy & Horror mega-review, focusing on all twenty editions. (!)

And for another way to help skzbrust with his medical/legal bills, and get some scwag, The Adrilanka Gift Shop.

Speaking of Steve (hey, was that a slick transition or what?) the mighty John Scalzi is doing a "Month of Writers" in December, picking 31 favorite bloggers who are also writers and reposting favorite blog entries by them on The Whatever. #1 is Steven Brust. #2 is Charles Stross.

Aaaand Part I the new Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy is up, here.

Whew.

Back to the coal mines! Minutes to type, a short story to finish, and a pair of columns to write today.
spies mfu illya all wet

and what we had don't mean a thing

Well, I'm not sure I can get a column out of techniques for revision or collaboration, because honestly there's not a lot to say about either unless I start making stuff up, but I can talk about them here a little bit.

There's this thing I say to people, over and over again, at conventions and workshops, until it stops having any meaning at all. If there were one piece of artistic advice I could leave the world, it would be this:

There are no rules. There are only techniques that work or don't work.

If you are a writer, people are going to try to sell you their books of rules. Some of these people may be the ones who make their living writing how-to-write books. Some of them may be successful authors who have discovered a set of techniques that work for them. Some of them may be opinionated blowhards, like myself.

Don't listen to any of them.

See, here's the thing. The only thing that matters about what you're doing is whether it works. If it doesn't work, then the only thing that matters it is either fixing it, or doing enough else right that it doesn't matter than you got some things wrong.

Storytelling is too hard--and to subjective--to do perfectly. There will always be trade-offs, things you sacrifice for other things. And there will always be things that aren't important to some writers--and readers--that are important to others.

So, I was asked about my revising process. I've talked about it in detail here before, with examples, and I'm honestly not sure how useful it is to anyone to go over it again. Besically, revising is the process of identifying the parts that don't work and fixing them as best you can--on a sentence level, on a paragraph level, on a meta level, on a story structure level. You fix the prose and the characterization and the plot and the theme, remove stray bits, add linking bits. Make sure the structure works. Take out or fix the confusing parts.

Some people have very careful and precise processes they go through for this work. (Holly Lisle has an essay on her site about her one-pass revision process.)

I don't. I do all sorts of things you aren't supposed to do: I revise as I go. I stop in the middle and go back and restructure the first third of the book. I write out of order. I revise out of order. When I do my final revision passes, I do them any which way. When I find something broken, I either fix it, or I leave myself a note to fix it later.

I suspect the question really is, how do you identify something broken? And that's a hard one.

The only answer I know is "experience."

***

The other question was, how do you collaborate?

And well, you just do. You write something and when you get bored or stuck, you send it to your collaborator. And they revise what you wrote and write their own bit, and when they get bored or stuck they send it to you. And you revise their revision and their new contribution and then write the next bit--

Until you have a story.

And while you are doing this you fire a bunch of emails back and forth brainstorming and sharing your brilliant ideas, and if you disagree about something, one of you caves.

And when you have a complete story, you do a few more revision passes and send it out.

I dunno. Does it have to be more complicated than that?

comics invisibles king mob

(no subject)

Ah, the wonders of procrastination.

My to-do list is now shorn of everything. Except fiction writing. :-P

I really need to finish this damned story, and I still have no idea how. However, that does mean I have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow and Tuesday except write (well, and do things like practice guitar and math, because I am ignoring the rest of this email.) And maybe go climbing, unless I decide to sit home and pretend I am snowed in so I can get some work done.

So, via anghara, who still has The Best Internets, a Very Clever Octopus:

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