Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tom Piazza's Blues and Trouble

I've long been an admirer of Tom Piazza's music writing. After seeing him on the trailer for Treme, I thought his fiction might also be interesting. So far he's published three works of fiction: a collection of short stories entitled Blues and Trouble, and two novels, My Cold War and the New Orleans-set, City of Refuge. I just finished Blues and Trouble and it doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's one of the best books of short stories I've read for some time. But, then, I guess it was pretty much written for the likes of myself- someone who's into such things as blues, jazz, rock and roll, and the effects of geographical displacement.

A quote at random: "I picture Brownsville as a place under a merciless sun, where one-eyed dogs stand in the middle of dusty, empty streets staring at you and hot breeze blows inside your shirt and there's nowhere to go. It's always noon, and there are no explanations required. I'm going to Brownsville exactly because I've got no reason to go there. Anybody asks me why Brownsville- there's no fucking answer. That's why I'm going there."

It puts me in mind of that great mid-Dylan song Brownsville Girl, but more in your face. Blues and Trouble is also about race and class, and not onlycontains that sense of estrangement present in the best blues music, but its written with a perceptive eye and an ability to turn a phrase with the best of them. The collection ends with a evocation of the music and recordings of Charlie Patton, which is as evocative as it is poetic and odd, like a series of Walker Evans photographs: "The unseen wraps itself in the visible facts, the curbs that crumble in the midday sun, the street you follow out of town, the dirt road, the tin awning, the fireplace empty in the empty house, the fields almost brown in the haze, the scraps of old wallpaper, brown with the years, the woodsmoke in the tree branches, and your grandfather invisible in the darkening blue evening, searching for fireflies..." I'm looking forward to the two novels, and will report on them at a later date.

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