Martian

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Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Alice McDermott that appeared in the online literary quarterly, failbetter.com. It’s from last year, around the time her novel, “After This,” was published:

It’s been said that, to some extent, every novelist writes the same book over and over. Many reviewers have noted how much your novels share: middle-class Irish Catholic characters, and that Long Island setting… Do you ever worry that you are indeed writing the same book again and again?

No. I think the question doesn’t apply to fiction… More southerners, Miss Welty? More Russian émigrés, Mr. Nabokov? Have you considered using your imagination, Mr. Garcia Marquez, and maybe setting your next novel in Finland? We’ve forgotten how to read literature (or even what literature is for) if we confuse the meaning of a piece with its subject…

I like that she finds the question so fucking stupid that she can’t even be bothered to tone down her sarcasm. So, which is more important: The lines of the story, or the story between the lines? Of course, this question applies to much more than just how a person reads literature or listens to songs. Where a person falls on this continuum provides a gigantic clue about how they construct their view of the world.

This mostly instrumental, semi-novelty song, “Martian,” was inspired by a smart-ass retort I delivered to a rude and creepy customer (along with his cappuccino) at the Berkeley cafe where I used to work in the early 90s. I guess that’s the “subject.” But the “meaning” of the song comes from something Beth McGroarty once said about me (in my presence) at around the same time.

We were sitting at an initial-carved table in the back of a grad-student bar and as usual I was carrying on about some or other romantic catastrophe. One young man in our party spoke up, making a genuine attempt to be kind. “Don’t worry,” he said, “You’ll get over it.” Kindness being like chalkboard nails to me in those days, I repaid him with a look of almost complete disgust. Thankfully, Beth immediately leapt in to defend my honor. “Philip,” she explained curtly, “has never gotten over anything in his life.”

Recorded by Stuart in San Francisco, with Beth’s brother Mark on the bass. Stuart also played percussion, banging a tambourine and repeatedly slamming a gunmetal file cabinet drawer.

Martian

How do you know how I’d look at a martian?
How do you know what I’m going to say?
I raise a glass for the dearly departed
The things in my head won’t go away

Martian Spoken-Word Intro Live on KALX

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3 Replies to “Martian”

  1. There’s a line from the poet James Merrill that I’m going to fuck up, but it goes something like, The line! Stretch it taut and then what you hang on it may be as dull or as provocative as laundry.

  2. Okay, sorry, Google comes through!

    THE LINE! LET IT RUN TAUT AND FLEXIBLE
    BETWEEN THE TWO POLES OF RHYTHM AND RHYME
    & WHAT YOU HANG ON IT MAY BE AS DULL
    OR AS PROVOCATIVE AS LAUNDRY.

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