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Friday, September 28, 2012

The Rhythm and Flow of Michael Chabon's Latest Thang

Posted by on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 8:02 AM

For a novel as shot through with jazz and records and movie soundtracks as Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue (Harper, $27.99), it's surprising how few of the words in the book are spent describing the music the characters are hearing and making and ignoring. Here's someone playing the song that is unquestionably the book's anthem:

He fiddled with the drawbars and switches of the Hammond, more for the sake of ritual than precision. With a count and a duck of his head on four, he began to play. She recognized the song as the old Carole King number "It's Too Late." The organ had a reedy, bluesy sound, smoke in its throat. Nat did not fool around with angles and flatted notes. His feet stoked the pedals.

Looking through this passage, it's hard to notice at first, but only five of those 72 words—reedy, bluesy, smoke, angles, flatted—actually describe the music. The rest deal with the whys and the wherefores of the music, the cause and effect. There are passages like this all through the book; each song is like an iceberg, something huge disguised as something almost demure, floating along in the ocean of the story...

(Keep reading.)


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