I read James Joyce's Ulysses this spring. It took about two months. I started it on an airplane between Chicago and Denver. I finished it at home, a couple hours before my 28th birthday. I read large swaths of it on airplanes.
Here, in three parts, is my official review of this famous novel.
Part 1 -- Lexicon
Here are two vocabulary lists scrawled, appropriately enough, on the back of airline boarding passes. I haven't looked all of these words up yet. A lot of them aren't in my computer's dictionary.
Not on these lists but recurring and critically important to Ulysses: parallax and metempsychosis.
One innocuous favorite: pelf, meaning "money, especially when obtained in a dishonest or dishonorable way."
Another great one to remember: lagan, a legal noun referring to "goods or wreckage lying on the bed of the sea."
Part 2 -- Chapters
This is the back of the receipt from the Rogers Park used bookstore where I purchased Ulysses on James Joyce's birthday, 2 February 2013.
Ulysses is in three major sections: the Telemachiad, the Odyssey, and the Nostos. Things get knotty in part two. By Chapter 14 I was convinced the journey was worth it; by part three I was in a standing condition of aesthetic ecstasy. Each chapter, as labeled above, is connected to a character or episode from Homer.
A few non-authoritative comments on notable chapters:
Funniest and wildest: Circe.
Most psychologically penetrating: Ithaca.
Most hindering: The Cyclops, for some reason.
Best mid-meal reverie of all time: The Lestrygonians.
Special mention for lyricism: Proteus.
Most linguistically dazzling: Oxen of the Sun.
Best discussion of meats: Calypso.
Lush, complex, passionate, self-contradictory, and transcendent: Penelope.
Part 3 -- Index
Here is the inside cover of my copy of Ulysses. The black handwriting is mine; the blue handwriting is not.
As you can see, I liked the beginning and had a number of favorite passages in the middle, especially in Oxen of the Sun. Clearly I got a little carried away during the last two chapters. Both the vocab lists and this markup of favorite passages demonstrate the waxing and waning of my attention and enthusiasm throughout the experience. Like I said: it was a journey.
Even aided by outside sources, a single reading of Ulysses is just a surface glance. The book is a lake which I cruised across in a little kayak one morning. Every once in a while I dunked a tin cup into the water and took a gulp. The flavor was complex but ultimately nourishing. No parasites (yet).
The next step: Joseph Campbell's series of lectures on Joyce, Wings of Art. Campbell is certain to provide a more substantial vessel for the tasting.
The new Golconda album, By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus, is now available at golcondamusic.com.
Many thanks to Ben Hjertmann for mixing/mastering advice, and to Mary Laube for the lovely cover art.
Please listen and enjoy!
I have been grounded in Chicago by borderline-apocalyptic rainstorms, but spirits undampened, I report on upcoming performances of my music around the country.
April 19 (aka, tomorrow) -- Second Return for soprano, harp, and violin on the debut concert of Providence Premieres new music project in Providence, Rhode Island. I am currently supposed to be on a plane to go hear this concert. If Chicago is not still underwater 24 hours from now, I will at that point be on a plane to go hear this concert. Wish me luck. The text is by the terrific Jamaican-born Cornell-teaching poet Ishion Hutchinson.
April 21 -- Ave Maria premiere with my much-beloved alma mater ensemble, the Illinois Wesleyan Collegiate Choir, in Bloomington IL. Dr. Ferguson is one of the most inspiring musician-teachers I've worked with, and I'm honored that he's conducting my piece this weekend.
April 23 -- This is the day you can hear the new Golconda! It's called By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus. It's a huge step forward for my guitar playing and songwriting, and I really hope you like it.
April 26 -- Grant Wallace Band performs a piano-less set at Cafe Mustache in Logan Square, Chicago. We aired out this material at the Red Line Tap last night and had a great time, especially with CFL's new arrangement of "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground." Absurdist blues tweets galore. For this show we'll be joined by past co-conspirators and fellow classicalish, chambery folksters Elk, who have such a beguiling new EP for you to check out.
April 28 -- The choir of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Eau Claire, WI premieres Bring One Flower. They commissioned the piece, seeking music themed specifically for the "flower communion" service, which is this amazingly poignant and precious thing that only the Unitarians could come up with. Seriously, google "flower communion" sometime. I was so charmed by this tradition.
May 10 -- Spring for soprano, violin and viola at the Singers on New Ground concert at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. This is going to be a terribly heavy music show, with performances by Angela Tomasino, Alison Wahl, and the Chicago Q Ensemble. A big new song cycle by Brian Baxter anchors the program. Spring, perhaps the most succulent fruit of my VCCA residency, is based on two texts by Chloe Honum, and I couldn't be happier to pass it off to such great musicians for this concert. A studio recording will follow later in the spring.
May 11 -- Grant Wallace Band is back, this time with a piano, joining our awesome friends Ensemble Dal Niente at the National Pastime Theater in Chicago. This is going to be SUCH a great evening! Dal Niente has been bringing serious musicianship, soul, and energy to Chicago's new-music scene these last few years, and for the 5/11 show they're playing new music by my UT-Austin chum Robert Honstein.
May 13 -- Chicago's much-beloved Fulcrum Point New Music Project takes a trip through my 2011 string quartet We Stopped at Perfect Days as part of their Discoveries series. The concert is at the Merit School of Music. This piece has been in the drawer for a while, and I couldn't be happier that it's going to have a little spring sunlight splashed on its face. The title and theme come from a poem by Richard Brautigan, personal artistic hero of 2010-11.
May 26 -- Did I mention that I have a new Golconda record coming out? Oh yeah, yeah I did. Well, on 5/26 I'm going to play some of these tunes, as well as old favorites and covers, at Ward Eight in Evanston IL. If you haven't heard about Ward Eight, perhaps you haven't been reading any Chicago cultural publications, because the critics are going wild over this stylish-but-chill new bar with a genuine neighborhood vibe and fantastic cocktails. It's a tremendously pleasant hang and I hope to see you there!
May 28 -- This evening I'll swing by Northwestern University to perform Chris Fisher-Lochhead's brief & breezy piano piece leaping in place, which he has subtitled "four imagined genealogies and a ghazal on a theme from the Eroica symphony." CFL has superb titling chops.
May 30 -- Grant Wallace Band plays on the Comfort Music series at Comfort Station in Logan Square, Chicago. This room has a great acoustic, which we can't wait to slather in fifty-seven-dimensional sound waves.
And that, friends and neighbors, is the spring! I hope to see many of you at some of these performances.
Left is the beautiful cover art for the upcoming Golconda release, By these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus.
The painting is by Mary Laube, a friend from my spell at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I was blown away by the set of landscapes Mary produced at the VCCA. She was planning to continue the series, so I asked if she'd like to contribute one of them as cover art and kindly suggested a desert theme, thinking of the New Mexico origins of my tunes. The painting is called "Saint John in the Desert."
Here's a track list for the album, which will release 23 April exclusively at golcondamusic.com:
1. FR 569
2. Milwaukee Blues
4. June 19
5. El Prado Woman
6. Passacaglia (for Kelly)
And here is a preview of track three, "Stone." Enjoy!
Below, two live recordings from the quartet show at UCF last month with Thad Anderson and Owen Weaver (percussionists) and Franklin Gross and me (pianos): Thad's piece Five Messages and my own Outer Channel.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts