Breakfast of Champions-Review

breakfast of champs

I was expecting more. The follow-up to Kurt Vonnegut’s breakout novel Slaughterhouse 5 reads more like a Target Doctor Who novel from the 70’s-80’s, by which I mean it’s an easy read. IF of course a Doctor Who novel covered such topics as wide-open beavers and crazy used-car salesmen with bad chemicals. ‘Bad chemicals’ would be Vonnegut’s meme fir mental illness. I’ve heard some doctors refer to depression as an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry. I’m not sure if Vonnegut had been ahead of his time or simply being a smartass.

Curiously the author had also chosen to fill his book with his own simple illustrations, including ducks, ‘beavers’ and assholes. I had a feeling there’d be a lot of Fourth Walls breaking since the author, despite all the conventions of written storytelling, frequently takes the opportunity to personally intrude on the narrative. The plot revolves around the unhappy meeting of Kilgore Trout, a frequent cameo character in Vonnegut novels, and Dwayne Hoover, the crazy used care salesman in question. The mayhem takes place at the Midland City Festival of the Arts in 1972 in the American Midwest. He also drops in references to other past characters like Eliot Rosewater, the hero of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

African Americans are not portrayed in a flattering way. I’m not comfortable with that or his frequent use of the ‘N’ Word. At first I thought it might be an attempt at making we the readers uncomfortable, in the same vein as Mel Brooks would in Blazing Saddles. If so it’s a rank failure. In Vonnegut’s hands it’s unnecessarily gratuitous.

This is probably not his best work but it has its amusements. We have the truck driver whose brother works in a factory making napalm for dropping on Vietnam. His truck is also dumping poison gas into the atmosphere and that the planet is turning into pavement so his truck can deliver 78,000 pounds of olives to Tulsa. Observing all this, the nameless driver says, “Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way.” Another cutaway remark is how one of the most expensive things a person could do in this country was for a guy to get sick. Some things never change….

In fact the relevance to current events never seems to end, as with the destruction of the countryside in West Virginia in the name and authority of the Rosewater Coal and Iron Company. Let’s have one last reference: “Trout couldn’t tell one politician from another one. They were all formlessly enthusiastic chimpanzees to him” [Chapter 10, page 88]. To be honest, I find this an insult to chimpanzees.

[Kurt Vonnegut, c. 1973 for the Playboy interview]

Kurt Vonnegut

The Beatles Last Live Show…kind of

My mother bought me my first Beatles bootleg. She’d gone back east to New York City to visit my Aunt Poca and Aunt Mary. Among the gifts she came home with was a live LP with a plain blue cover entitled The Beatles Last Live Show. I don’t know if she was aware that this was an unofficial release, bootlegs being a relatively new concept in the bright spring or summer of 1972. I didn’t care either way; I was an 8-year-old indiscriminate Beatlemaniac.  I imagine at some point I’ll get an email correcting any details in this blog I mess up. Looking forward to it, Mom.

My beautiful picture  My beautiful picture

Please also note that, as an 8-year-old, I didn’t take very good care of this precious LP. The disc itself survived me, but I’m afraid I kind of defaced the cover trying to scribble what I thought the track listing was. Things to know before we go too far: this is definitively NOT the Beatles’ last live show. That was be performed a year later at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. Still the show I’ve got was impressive enough. The actual concert was taped for TV broadcast at New York’s Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965, before what was the largest audience anyone had performed to up to that time. Count ‘em, 55,600 screaming maniacs. The LP begins with the last track, “I’m Down’, and ends with the same. The bootleg would be taken from a recording of this TV broadcast. Now, as they say on Doctor Who, this is where it gets interesting.

beatles at shea paulbeatles-shea-stadium_01

The concert was broadcast twice on the BBC in 1966 and once in the USA on ABC-TV on January 1967. Unfortunately the audio was so atrocious that the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and personal assistant Tony Bramwell decided this needed some overdubs. So the band shuffled in on January 5, 1966 for shall we say some touch-up work at CTC Studios in London. Two songs, ‘She’s a Woman’ and ‘Act Naturally’ were not on the soundtrack; I’ll get back to the latter song in a bit. Although ‘Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby’ also was not on the soundtrack, it did see release on Anthology 2 in 1996. Let’s go through this,  track by track.

–‘Twist and Shout’, the 1st number, was not even taken from the Shea concert but from the August 30 concert at the Hollywood Bowl, which would be officially released on the 1977 live Hollywood Bowl LP.

the-beatles-at-the-hollywood-bowl

–‘I Feel Fine’ is a new version recorded at CTS, January 1966 to make up for the poorly recorded original live track.

–‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ features an overdub of Paul’s bass parts as well as a new organ track by John

–‘Ticket to Ride appears as it was

–‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ also features a bass overdub by Paul

–‘Baby’s in Black’ received another bass overdub

–‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was untouched but still obscured by interview fragments by John, Paul, George and Brian Epstein.

–‘Act Naturally’ was probably the laziest ‘overdub’ as it’s neither a new version but simply the studio recording we all know with audience screams layered over it.

–‘Help!’ was a new version recorded at CTS , January 1966.

–‘I’m Down’ has overdubbed bass by Paul.

Please don’t take these observations too critically. I loved that LP, despite the above deficiencies which I wasn’t aware of as a kid. Admittedly I’m not the most discriminating Beatles listener and I’m grateful that my mother thought of me when she bought it.

Sudan

I have not thought about Sudan in a long time. I’m sorry. I’d hoped with the ‘end of hostilities’ between the Northern government in Khartoum & the South would be a new beginning. Never mind why the Bush Administration did it, for Billy Graham’s fundamentalist gang or what, it still stopped the war and I was thankful for that. At least I was.

As of 2013 a new civil war has broken out. Over 300,000 more people have died. That’s not to mention the ongoing scorched earth policy in Southern Kordofan. Don’t expect much U.N. help, the Russians & Chinese will see to it that no aid comes forth.

https://www.oxfam.org/en/crisis-south-sudan/what-peace-means-south-sudan

I still haven’t forgiven any of you in positions of power for doing nothing about Darfur. You gave the token condemnation & left it at that. You learned nothing from Rwanda, except to wash it off your conscience as 2.7 million people were driven from their homes. An article in the Lancet in 2010 puts the reliable estimated death toll between 178,258 & 461, 520.

https://www.ennonline.net/fex/39/patterns

https://www.cfr.org/interview/understanding-roots-conflict-south-sudan

Where is Donald Trump in all this? Well, he might be making some positive moves for once, by imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan. Withdrawing U.S. aid to the country, in the middle of the worst refugee crisis in Africa, less so.

https://www.justsecurity.org/53049/deadlock-u-s-pressure-south-sudan-peace-process-remains-stalled/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southsudan-usa/south-sudan-urges-u-s-not-to-abandon-it-after-white-house-announces-assistance-review-idUSKBN1IA1A3

I’m not sure if I believe in a heaven or hell. But if there is a hell, Omer Bashir & all the rapist soldiers on both sides have earned a special place in it.