IT'S JUST A BOY OR A GIRL, IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
The impossible has happened.
I finally finished reading Misfortune.
It's only taken me several months to do. Which is no commentary on Wesley Stace's excellent novel, but on my poor reading habits. I haven't been callously dropping it for other books like some people I know (*cough cough*); it just takes me ages to read longer works. So, Misfortune was digested in many healthy chunks read here and there, and when I could spend the time with it, Stace took me into a literary world I didn't want to leave (the final installment came in seventy-five pages last night).
Misfortune is a playful novel, alive with a love of a language and narrative--which is no surprise for anyone who has listened to Stace under his musical moniker, John Wesley Harding. Set in England in the late 1800s, Misfortune is the story of Rose Loveall, a discarded orphan taken in by an eccentric Lord, who proceeds to raise the child as a girl--despite the fact that Rose was born with a penis. Rose's early life is an elaborate subterfuge to keep him and everyone else from discovering the truth, and when the conspiracy falls apart, the true misfortune begins.
Stace has a lot of fun with his shifting narrative. He plays many clever tricks with point-of-view, and he opens up the prose through songs, poetry, and diaries. All of them provide clues to unraveling Rose's true origin, and the possible pun work in the title Misfortune is a mere hint of the wordplay that ultimately provides the key to Rose's triumph. Over the course of the work, Stace indulges in many classical genres, including the Victorian novel, pirate stories, and classical myths (Rose is obsessed with Ovid's Metamorphoses). He also creates a vivid surrounding, letting the landscape--both natural and manmade--play just as important a role in the plot as the living-and-breathing characters.
You know, it always pissed me off how easy a time musician friends have getting people to experience their work. It only takes a couple of minutes to listen to a song, so people indulge them much more freely. And, of course, it always gets them the girls, too. So, I'm kind of mad at Stace for stepping out of the recording studio and writing such a good book. Us boring prose guys have a hard enough time without rock 'n' roll competition. It's something I'll get over, but let's not make it a trend, all right?
This summer, when I read about My Little Airport on the All The Young Mod Soldiers blog, I was intrigued. I sampled the music on the group's website and immediately went looking for the album. My usual site for Asian imports didn't have it, so I went to eBay and found a seller that regularly stocks it.
Of course, I'm very happy I did. My Little Airport is a Hong Kong duo: Nicole on vocals and the mysteriously named P. on instruments. P. also does most of the writing on their debut record, The OK Thing to Do on Sunday Afternoon is to Toddle in the Zoo. If the title sounds a little twee, you aren't all wrong. My Little Airport have similarities to twee icons like The Field Mice and Belle & Sebastian, even down to the cover artwork (that's not the band on the cover, and the photo on the back hints at a more intimate relationship between these cute schoolgirl models). Musically, I also hear a little Saint Etienne, and the vocal delivery is slightly cold a la Stereolab. These are just starting points, however; My Little Airport are charming in their own unique way.
The music is minimal, centered around traditional Casio sounds. The production is generally sparse, with just a minor beat and some bloops and bleeps. The final song, "Dee, It May All End Tomorrow," is the most obvious departure, being just voice and a distant piano. It's a refreshing change of pace for Chinese pop, which is so often about a big, sugary production, full of heavy emotion and drippy vocal acrobatics. My Little Airport are secure in the less-is-more ethos. ...Toddle in the Zoo has ten songs but a total length of less than twenty-two minutes. Seven of the songs are sung in English, and they read like personal notes from one person to another. In fact, six of them address specific people--Coka, Victor, Edward, Josephine, Phoebe, and Dee--and the seventh could be the same if you choose to believe the titular "My Little Banana" is a nickname and not really a lovesong to the fruit. It's hard to take a line like "I just open all your skin then I take a small bite" at anything other than face value when it sounds so damn innocent! The characters are anything but conventional--Edward is a long-lost pen pal, Josephine is a shopkeeper with a better sense of aesthetics than business, Phoebe is like some distant cousin of Elvis Costello's Alison--and yet P. and Nicole are crafting tales that are so specific, they can't help but feel universal in their emotions. Sensitive boys with Beatles haircuts have the same problems finding human connections all over the world. (Unlike that Wesley Stace, that rogue!)
A quick browse of the Harbor Records website shows a little more My Little Airport material: a compilation disc with one track by the band and a label DVD with live material. Looks like I'll have to start saving my pennies.
Current Soundtrack: My Little Airport, The OK Thing to Do on Sunday Afternoon is to Toddle in the Zoo; Oasis, "I Can See It Now;" Paul Weller, As Is Now
Current Mood: pleased
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich