Reading List 2015 (continued)

4. MFA vs NYC edited by Chad Harbach

DSCN3459[1]This collection of essays by various authors attempts to capture the current (although many essays date back to early 2000 and one was originally published in 1988) state of creative writing programs, publishing industry and American fiction in general. The approach and structure stem from the original essay by Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding, that introduces “two centers of gravity for American fiction”: team MFA resides in universities and produces literary, craft-oriented and much less popular fiction, while team NYC revolves around big publishing houses, commercially successful books and some sort of fame, as much as it is accessible for writers.

The amount of information contained in this book is equal to what I would get if I were friends with contributors and went out for Happy Hour with them every day for a month. Most essays are little more than personal accounts of financial and creative (but mostly financial) struggles, going into the petty details of how much student loan debt the said writer accumulated and what their pet’s vet bills amounted to. What they manage to do is de-romanticize CW programs and their afterlife by reminding the reader (a struggling writer himself, for I have trouble imagining who else would read this book) just how hard it is to make writing one’s career.

A few essays manage to stand out. My personal favorite was My Parade by Alexander Chee, an impossibly honest story of the author’s time at Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Seduce the Whole World by Carla Blumekranz offers a detailed look at Gordon Lish’s time as CW instructor (so honest, in fact, that if you know how much Lish contributed to Raymond Carver’s writing, chances are you’ll stay away from Carver for a while). The Invisible Vocation by Elif Batuman is a rare American essay that goes well beyond the field of American literature and states a simple truth that is known to most CW teachers and students – that the desire to write often comes (sadly) not from one’s personal talents or experience but of one’s love for literature.

Reading List 2015 (continued)

3. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

 

DSCN3452Reading Kelly Link after reading a non-Kelly Link collection is similar to trying on various lenses at optometrist’s office. The brain needs a minute to adjust. The process involves altering anything you think you may know about cause-effect relationships, narrative structure, character development and – this is very important – how long a story can go on. In Kelly Link’s case the story can go on forever and the ending comes so abruptly and arbitrarily that the author reminded me of an imaginative child who spins tales out of nowhere up until his attention is caught by something else.

Aside from “Stone Animals” that was included in Best American Short Stories 2005, my favorite was “The Faery Handbag” (compared to the other stories in this collection, “The Faery Handbag” is like early Dali’s works in relation to his latest ones: the structure is still visible) and “The Hortlak”, that puts a new twist on zombies.

Reading List 2015 (continued)

2. Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom

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Placed against linked short story collections, “Where the God of Love Hangs Out” is a new structure altogether. It consists of two quartets (four linked stories, each focusing on one couple), with two unrelated stories placed at the end of each one. The quartet Lionel and Julia, for instance, revisits the same couple on Thanksgiving Day over the course of roughly thirty years, during which time their family connections grow, family members get added and taken away and the feelings between Julia and Lionel, a mother and her step-son, remain tender and uneasy.

Love, especially love in its simplest, romantic sense, is so rarely the subject of a literary story that this collection seemed a bold move to me. Unfortunately, the quartet structure can be a hit or miss. When Ms.Bloom checks up on her characters once every few years the results can be intriguing, but more often they left me with a so what feeling. Lionel and Julia seemed a more promising of the two quartets but even here the narrative success hinges on a provocative sex scene and lots and lots of Thanksgiving Day trivia. Like Christmas, Thanksgiving is an easy setting. Most people, I take it, can relate to the anguish of hosting and packing mashed potatoes in Tupperware. Strangely, my favorite story in the collection (“By-and-by”) has little to do with love. It does, however, have a serial killer and rum-and-coke in it.

Reading List 2015

Last year my resolutions including reading at least 25 books, which I did, finishing with 30 total. As tempting as it was to increase the yearly goal, I kept the number at 25 for 2015, because binge reading has taught me that you may be off to a terrific start in January, swallowing book after book while polishing off the rest of Christmas candy, but then you find yourself in June, taking almost a month to finish one tiny, thin Elizabeth McCracken novel. So I am starting a new count here and will return to this post each time I finish another book to post a few comments. Meanwhile, here is my number 1.

1. See You in Paradise by J. Robert Lennon

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J. Robert Lennon is the author of several novels and a collection “Pieces for the Left Hand”, that consists of 100 very short anecdotes the author wrote in between babysitting his young children. “See You in Paradise” came out in 2014 and includes longer stories. My two favorites were “The Accursed Items” (originally published in McSweeney’s) and “Ecstasy” (originally published in Granta). The collection is a strange crossover of magical realism and Murakami oddness. In fact, Murakami’s short stories have been on my mind most of the time while I read “See You in Paradise”. This is perhaps the kind of stories Japanese master would write if he was born in America and was obsessed with MFA workshop format and the necessity to tie every metaphor to a marital life crisis.

 

The Most _______ Book I Read

It’s that time of the year. Actually, “that time” was in December and here were are in mid-January and I am still making lists. In part because I was late to draw my summaries in 2014 and in part because I recently came across a very promising book called Remarkable Reads.

Published in 2004 and edited by J.Peder Zane, Remarkable Reads contains 34 essays by American writers, united by the same (or, actually, very different) topic – the most __________ book I read.  If you are thinking in terms of best/worst, aim higher. How about the loneliest book? The classiest book? The most dangerous book?

Notable contributors include Jonathan Lethem, Aimee Bender, Ben Marcus, while the books that resurface as essay subjects range from good old Catcher in the Rye to Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents to The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories (that I absolutely promise to read in 2015). In the preface, the editor addresses the worries he had at the time of compilation, of having another series where “writers…discuss their favorite books”. But what makes Remarkable Reads in fact so remarkable is how often the authors draw on their childhood experiences of the books:

Why was a a twelve-year old girl reading Camus instead of Nancy Drew? (Denise Gess)

It is 1961 and your hero, at thirteen, doesn’t know that he’s having a perfect childhood for a writer: miserable. (Lee K. Abbott)

The collection also surprised me with its creative approach to the adjectives chosen. Here is for example how Jonathan Lethem describes his reasons for choosing “the loneliest book he ever read”:

lonely in the wonderful sense that I’ve still never met anyone else who’s read it.

Here is the permission to plunge into your memory, into that inner library you’ve been carrying around for years. And if you are embarrassed to admit that the most enchanting book you ever read was Stephen King’s Wastelands (ahem), well then, there are 33 more options to choose from.

The following list is adapted from Remarkable Reads, edited by J.Peder Zane. Feel free to list any books you want in the comments.

1. What is the most memorable book you’ve read?

2. What is the loneliest book you’ve read?

3. What is the  most enchanting book you’ve read?

4. What is the most important book you’ve read?

5. What is the most daunting book you’ve read?

6. What is the most resonant book you’ve read?

7. What is the most dangerous book you’ve read?

8. What is the wisest book you’ve read?

9. What is the classiest book you’ve read?

10. What is the most eloquent book you’ve read?

11. What is the maddest book you’ve read?

12. What is the most double-d-daring book you’ve read?

13. What is the hippest book you’ve read?

14. What is the most familiar book you’ve read?

15. What is the most incomprehensible book you’ve read?

16. What is the most devastating book you’ve read?

17. What is the most Apocalyptic book you’ve read?

18. What is the saddest book you’ve read?

19. What is the most fragile book you’ve read?

20. What is the most beautiful book you’ve read?

21. What is the most tempting book you’ve read?

22. What is the most fearless book you’ve read?

23. What is the most intuitive book you’ve read?

24. What is the most Scottish book you’ve read?

25. What is the most technically elegant book you’ve read?

26. What is the queerest book you’ve read?

27. What is the most exotic book you’ve read?

28. What is the most smokin’ book you’ve read?

29. What is the most seductive book you’ve read?

30. What is the most elegant book you’ve read?

31. What is the most surprising book you’ve read?

32. What is the most disappointing book you’ve read?

33. What is the most unpleasant book you’ve read?

34. What is the most luminous book you’ve read?

“The Lone Ranger” or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Critics And Love The Western

sbP5jwwMovies have a momentum. The time to watch a film is determined not only by the cinema theaters that will play it for a few weeks, it relies on hype, on “much ado” that places the movie at the back of your mind. It nags on you. And then it’s gone.

It took me almost fourteen months to get to watch “The Lone Ranger.” By then, by industry standards, the movie was all but dead. Delayed for release multiple times, strangled by the critics, buried under an overblown budget and poor box office, it lost all momentum and dragged quietly to that mysterious place where all Hollywood blockbusters go. It had been called bland and too long, charmless and too long, frustrating, lazy and, you guessed it. Too long. I tried my best to approach “The Lone Ranger” without prejudice. I started watching on a Saturday night and, after about an hour, realized that the movie was too long. But it was also hilarious, unpredictable and not-stupid in that wonderful way that few Hollywood movies are. It was not-stupid in places where you expected it to be. So I went to sleep and finished watching it the next day and the 24-hour break did nothing to dispel the film’s atmosphere of humor and adventure. Why did it take me a year to see “The Lone Ranger”? Because I listened to the critics, which is about the worst thing to do.

“The Lone Ranger” runs 149 min. To compare, “American Hustle” is 138 minutes long, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is 161 min and “The Wolf of Wall Street” is 180 minutes. I don’t believe that every film should adhere to the magical number 120, just like I don’t believe that every song should have a bridge after the second verse. But if go over, you better have a very good reason to do so. “American Hustle” wastes its extra minutes on a “con” that has murky origins, little imagination and gets resolved in seconds. “The Wolf of Wall Street” refuses to cede even one minute on principle, because the main character and the lives of every one around him are so “important.” “The Hobbit” is long simply because Peter Jackson got away with it in “The Return of the King” and now thinks he can do it every time. Why is “The Lone Ranger” long? Because it needs its extra half-hour to set up the characters. Because the tv show it’s based on ran 60 years ago and it needs to introduce the audience to the Ranger and Tonto. Even in doing this, “The Lone Ranger” is surprisingly selfless. It does not obsess with its characters, only with keeping the energy (tense or humorous) flowing. It does not go into a pantomime-style flashback to establish the two Reid brothers and how they ended up in love with the same woman. (Oh, those flashbacks and how they kill any actor’s work, reducing the characters to puppets. See “Maleficent” for recent example.) But “The Lone Ranger” makes a statement and then moves on. John Reid (Armie Hammer) looks at a photo of a woman in his medallion. Mrs.Reid (Ruth Wilson) is told that “they don’t make men like your husband anymore.” Bear with the film for another five minutes and you’ll find out that she is married to John’s older brother, Dan (James Badge Dale). Meanwhile, there’s an action sequence of a derailed train, the introduction of movie’s villain, Butch Cavendish and a slapstick Mexican standoff during which Butch, Tonto and the Ranger switch places as the train prisoners. “The Lone Ranger” may be long, but it is not slow.

One of the critics said that “The Lone Ranger” is an example of everything that is wrong with the movie business. Instead, I think, it points to everything that is wrong with the audience. Its backbone is quirky, quiet humor that keeps saying Don’t take this all too seriously. It retreats in the film’s most dramatic sequences, such as the massacre of the rangers by Butch’s gang. It’s present in other scenes where the mood balances between hilarious and sad. The shot of Helena Bonham Carter with her prosthetic leg sitting under a painting of herself as ballerina, saying, “Make sure he pays for what he did to me” is inexplicably funny and heartbreaking at the same time. But the audience cannot cope with half shades. We want to take movies seriously or not, but we can’t bare that the director or the actors will be doing the same. If Tonto pokes his head out of the shot and admits that he is telling the story out of order or that he can’t remember certain details, we feel cheated. We’d feel much better if we could point out that Tonto forgot to mention how he got out of jail. It gives the regular viewer a sense of superiority: I am smarter that this film. You are not smarter than “The Lone Ranger”. You are travelling this road together.

“The Lone Ranger”, in fact, gives the audience very little of what it expects or, rather, is taught to expect. In this, I think, lies the reason for unanimous hatred. For all its budget and ambition, “The Lone Ranger” is a quiet movie. It does not stuff action sequences in the face of its audience. After the initial train scene, the film takes all of its two and a half hours to build up to the next one, but when it comes it is truly spectacular.

It refuses to give easy choices: in the love triangle, both brothers have equal value. Dan Reid is not shown to be cruel or abusive. We don’t get a back story on how he cheated to make sure Rebecca marries him and not his brother. The film does not make rooting for the Lone Ranger easier. It doesn’t want you to root at all, but to admit that, like in real life, things happen and there is no explanation for them.

A nostalgic device is framing the movie as a story told by much older Tonto to a little boy, whom he mistakes for the Long Ranger. It brings to mind “The Princess Bride” and the wonderful Peter Falk reading his favorite childhood book to his grandson, in bed with flu. “The Lone Ranger” is as good as that: your favorite story, saved for a special moment when it would be sure to comfort and light up the mood. It’s between the person telling the story and the one who will listen. And the critics should just keep quiet.

Twice Around the Ground “S.”

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In 1995, reviewing Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia in an article Twice Around the Grounds the author Anne Barton resorted to a question posed elsewhere: Does it matter if you walk only once around the grounds, or twice? Meaning, can one book surpass its finite amount of pages and draw the reader to start again as soon as he reaches the end? Arcadia, that deals with double timelines, complex subjects (Byron, physics, thermodynamics, gardening and the irreversibility of time being just some of them) and throws a bomb at the last minute, succeeds in doing so. The second read – or the second visit to the theater – would be distinctively different, changed forever by what one learned in the end. Ms Barton concludes that Arcadia is “in a sense not one play but two.”

Where Tom Stoppard succeeded in creating two books (or plays) in one, authors J.J.Abrams and Doug Dorst went farther, compressing at least five different stories into an enigmatic novel S. In structure, S resembles a Russian matrioshka doll. Each plot line builds on the previous one, starting with the “backbone” – a fictional novel Ship of Theseus by V.M.Straka. The novel is presumably found in a library by two students, Eric and Jen, who begin to exchange notes on its margins. The notes alternate in colors from purple to red to black, not because the students run out of ink, but because each color marks a different time period. And with each new color introduced, Eric and Jen become more engaged in the mystery of V.M.Straka and his last novel. The reader therefore faces the choice of either reading the novel once, juggling all story lines in his head, or to walk around the grounds not twice, but many more times, until the events line themselves up chronologically.

The margins of a book, where Eric and Jen’s story develops, as well as numerous inserts, such as postcards and handwritten notes, also play an important role in Arcadia. There are letters tucked into a book in the nineteenth century which give grounds to numerous theories in the present day. There’s a mention of Fermat’s complaint that, had his margins been wider, he would have fit the proof of his theorem there. Finally, a drawing turns up between the pages, tying two timelines together. It seems that both Arcadia and S chase a volatile personal element, a human addition to history that makes it change its course. Ship of Theseus, a peculiar mix of Kafka motives, pirate movies and Pete Seeger songs, is not nearly as interesting as the lives of Eric and Jen who go to great lengths to decipher Straka’s message. In a way, S is not about telling a story but about the way we read books and learn from them. It is about those people who enter into a dialogue with a work of art, who write in the margins and tuck newspaper clippings between the pages. They tour the premises of a book endlessly, discovering something new with each reading.

Three Short Stories That Will Make You a Better Writer

Let’s begin with artists. Almost every artist we know today began by spending hours in front of the works of other artists. Henri Rousseau, a French Post-Impressionist painter, never received formal training, but spent all his free time in art museums of Paris, copying prominent works on display. He was also known for visiting Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden, where he sat for hours sketching plants. He later used them in his paintings, playing with the proportions and turning regular grass and flowers into exotic landscapes.

Most art forms start with imitation or at least a careful study of predecessors and writing is no exception. Here are three short stories, that, when studied carefully, can help a writer deal with such basic elements as character, place, and process.

Who

If you haven’t read Junot Diaz’s Alma, it will only take you a few minutes. The story that was originally published in The New Yorker and later made it into a short story collection This Is How You Lose Her is only two pages long. Yet this is enough to tell the story of Alma, narrator’s passionate, no-nonsense girlfriend. Diaz uses second person and packs his short story full of details. Sometimes these come as little observations (Alma is in a painting phase, and the people she paints are all the color of mold, look like they’ve just been dredged from the bottom of a lake), sometimes as contrasting descriptions (Alma loves driving, you books; Alma owns a Saturn, you have no points on your license), but they always go toward one goal – creating a rounded character who comes alive in the short span of the story. Alma is easy to imitate and would make for a great exercise in character development. Think of someone you know well and list everything that comes to mind when you think of them: the most interesting physical feature, the way they dress, their favorite word, their worst habit. Don’t try to create a story yet, but hopefully, as you continue to paint an image, the details will come that will point in one direction. Diaz’s Alma is full of passion and life. She is also in a relationship with the narrator who is her exact opposite and this is doomed to failure. As your character takes shape, look at what themes keep coming up. Is he or she unhappy? A symbol of life many people would want to have? Have they had a life-defining moment? Once you find that thread, it will help you to tie the story together.

P.S. If you want a larger example of character sketch, read Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a wonderful example of turning observations on (essentially) one person into a novella.

Where

Well-written setting is like a supporting role actor who outshines the main movie star. There are books known for their backgrounds, such as Lawrence Durrell’s Justine or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. For this prompt let’s keep to a shorter format, though, and take a look at Amy Hempel’s And Lead Us Not Into Penn Station. The story is a collection of urban anecdotes, things spotted in a city, things that escalate from troubling to macabre. Written in Hempel’s flash fiction style, the story doesn’t need recurring characters or conventional plot, only the narrator and the things around her. There’s a man with a wax head in his suitcase. There’s the beautiful woman escorted from a nightclub. There’s a man seizing on a sidewalk. There is no conventional storyline, but things escalate from funny to troubling to macabre. Seen all together, they create the world the narrator has to face every day.

Think of the place you want to write about. What kind of people live there? What kind of things have you seen there? How did it make you feel? Once you’ve sensed the atmosphere of the place, write it all down, not worrying whether the anecdotes tie together. Short stories, for most part, don’t give answers but they can ask the right question. How can this happen? How did our life come to this?

What happened

If by now you are floating in an ocean of unrelated character and place details, don’t worry. The backbone of a short story is still an event. Something has to happen. Any short story, if studied carefully, can provide insight on how to approach that single important moment (a cabby relates his grief over a dead son to his horse – Ionych; a man gets eaten by his pet rats – 1300 rats; the villagers perform a horrifying rite – The Lottery). I like to look at Callan Wink’s Breatharians for inspiration. The story is impossibly simple: a boy named August gets a task from his father to kill all cats in the barn. Breatharians begins with the problem and ends with its resolution, tracing several ways the boy tries to cope with his challenge. But what makes this story a perfect study material is the way it is set up. The boy’s parents are divorced and live in two houses separated by a pasture. August’s regular trips from one house to the other mark his attempts to choose between his father’s and his mother’s way of life.

Every story develops in its own unique way but I would suggest looking at Breatharians paragraph by paragraph to see how the author establishes the conflict and uses the story’s structure to resolve it.

If there are short stories or novels that shaped the way you write, I will be glad to hear about them!

Elevate

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My fiancé and I are going through an excruciatingly long, complicated and expensive process of applying for a visa that will allow us, finally, to get married. To put it simple, a visa is a document that allows you to travel to the point of entry in another country and ask to be let in. If you do not have a visa, you go see the consul and ask him to be allowed to travel to the point of entry and ask to be let in. In our case, we had to ask the government to be allowed to go see the consul to ask him to be allowed to travel to the point of entry and ask to be let in. This may seem confusing but it’s nothing compared to the forms, questions and legal procedures we’ve had to deal with since August. The depersonification happens almost immediately. I was calling the National Visa Center for days trying to find out my case number and each time, after fifteen minute wait, the operator would, instead of a greeting, ask for thirteen digits of my receipt. I came to associate myself so closely with that number that, when one day a woman asked what I wanted, I was speechless.

The precision of the official forms annoys and confuses most people but it is the creative type that suffer most. And it is among the people of art that we find the most wonderful examples of rebellion against the mundane. Salinger, for instance, divorced writing from any other kind of work in Seymour: An Introduction. Seymour Glass recalls an old episode when he watched his brother Buddy enlist for the army:

Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion.

Thomas Wolfe's epic novel was initially close in size to Proust's In Search Of Lost Time and took almost four years to write

Thomas Wolfe’s epic novel was initially close in size to Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time and took almost four years to write

Perhaps sensing intuitively what Seymour Glass stated, some writers choose to disappear from the world completely. In The Story of a Novel Thomas Wolfe describes four years of work on his second novel during which he seemed to abandon not only his job as a lecturer at New York University, but also most forms of human interaction. Wolfe was so far gone in the depths of his memory and imagination that at last the real world, in the shape of students’ papers, came back to haunt him:

I saw the mountain pile of unmarked student themes – those accursed themes that grew in number week by week – that piled up in mountainous and hopeless accumulations – whose white back were hideously innocent of th scrawled comment with which I had once – tormented by twin agony of boredom and conscience – covered every scrap of their surface.

The path that Wolfe took seems tempting, especially as you discover that writing is a very, very lonely occupation. But I don’t think many people have genius that could shelter them so completely and sustain them for years without active involvement with the world. Stephen King, who was always very realistic and down-to-earth about his own work, expressed the balance of art and life simply:

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

Art cannot make the routine go away but it can help us draw some sense out of it. Art is there to elevate us and the circumstances of our life.

If you think about it, the questions in application forms are not so boring. They encourage you to tell a story. Complaint form – what happened? CV – what would you like to boast about? Visa application – what are your holiday plans? Etc. And if you fight your way through the initial stress you may find that answering those questions in more intimate and personal way can actually be a journey. Some authors didn’t shy away from taking it.

Haruki Murakami’s short story “The Kangaroo Communique” evolves out of a response to a letter of complaint filed by a hapless customer. The unnamed clerk from the Merchandise control department admits that, professional obligations aside, he is deeply sympathetic with the woman’s mistake – buying a record of Brahms instead of Mahler. His letter soon steers away from formal expressions like “concerning your complaint we received the other day” and enters the area of the personal.

Taylor Mali, an American slam poet and teacher, used the pattern of administrative letters to create a moving story of one teacher fighting for the use of a school library. I’ll Fight You For The Library, a poem in four letters, combines the dry and quiet language of postal cliches with sharp ironic comments on the limitations of school’s dean of instruction.

While filing the initial petition, gathering evidence of our relationship and practicing my answers to the consul’s questions I suddenly thought of it all as a short story. The first package we mailed included photos of us together, ticket stubs, biographic information as well as a letter stating our relationship history and our intent to marry each other. I felt like Stephen King assembling his novel Carrie from newspaper articles, diary pages and encyclopedia entries. Forms give you a clear structure and are perfect for use as prompts. You can start your story with what they actually they ask you to do – in our case it was “State your intent to marry each other” – and verge out into the unexplored fields like Murakami or Mali did. Somewhere along the way you may find your frustration with formal language and bureaucracy gone.

Art supports life. It helps us get through the darkest moments and laugh at the unending streak of forms to fill, proceedings to sort out or reports to write. But the desk is there and even if it may stand in the corner it is still good for rising above the routine.

Dan Blakeslee in Concert: Don’t Forget the Poster

Watching a Komodo dragon in an episode of Last Chance to See, 2009 BBC series, the host, Stephen Fry, remarked, “Like most animals it’s very good at being itself.” An unusual compliment, but an accurate observation. Being themselves and nothing else is what animals are so good at. People rarely have the same quality but when they do it makes them unforgettable in a special way: they may be not perfect at what they do but we keep feeling drawn to them. Dan Blakeslee is one of those people, though he, of course, is much more pleasant than a Komodo dragon.

A beard. A guitar. Folk style. All these things seem to abound in New England area of which Mr. Blakeslee is a native. But the beard is a wild goatee, the guitar has an octopus painted around the deck and the songs all stem from real-life experiences and often turn to public holidays such as Halloween or Christmas. Add to this a casual way in which Mr. Blakeslee wears a fox tail hat, his soft rocking motions as he plays his guitar and of course his fantastic self-designed posters and you get a remarkable artist.

Dan Blakeslee performing his Christmas program

Dan Blakeslee performing his Christmas program

Like those animals that can blend into the background, Dan Blakeslee is very good at merging his voice and his guitar. One is not trying to show off at the expense of the other but both run smoothly like double yellow line that will not separate when climbing a hill or making a turn. His sound is invariably mellow and soothing but this is not the case of “nice guitar music”. There is underlying rhythm passing through every song, making them alive and as natural as one’s own heartbeat. At one time, Dan Blakeslee used to play in the underground of Boston, MA (once a man tried to rob him, which Mr. Blakeslee described in his song On The Watch) and somehow the image of the singer, standing on the platform as the trains come and go, seems a fitting one. You can stay with this music for a while.

Dan Blakeslee concert poster. Image from artist's official website

Dan Blakeslee concert poster. Image from artist’s official website

My fiance, who went to school with Dan Blakeslee, says he was always drawing. Even today, Mr. Blakeslee hand draws all of his posters and album covers. He has also worked for other bands and on special request designed labels for the Portsmouth and the Northampton Breweries. Some of his concert posters can be found in Art of Modern Rock, published by Chronicle Books. This makes me feel a little like art thief because each time we go to a Dan Blakeslee concert I can’t resist a temptation of stealing the poster. I got one from the ladies bathroom door in Flatbread pizza place in Portsmouth, NH and sneaked it out under my winter coat. For the other one I had to stroll up and down the stairs in The Red Door lounge bar waiting for the entrance door to be left unattended. My technique could hardly earn me a place in the Ocean’s Eleven but we now have two wonderful Dan Blakeslee posters on out fridge. 

Dan Blakeslee Halloween art. Image from danblakeslee.bandcamp.com

Dan Blakeslee Halloween art. Image from danblakeslee.bandcamp.com

Dan Blakeslee’s official website states that he performs an average of 200 shows a year. He is always on the move between Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and beyond, breaking out into Europe for the first time this September.  As not many of his songs are available online you should stop by and enjoy his music live. And you won’t even need to steal the poster – a collection of prints is usually available for purchase before and after the show.