Culture

Randy Newman
Randy Newman's Faust
Reprise

It's probably been a decade, maybe two, since Randy Newman was remotely current musically. Subtle satiric lyrics and melodic complexity have not been the stuff of platinum records in recent years, and this is, after all, a man who composed a gorgeous song ("Sail Away") about the splendor of the Atlantic coast as seen from a slave ship. As the statute of limitations passes for his involvement in the famously unpopular televised police musical, Cop Rock, Newman releases a musical-theater update of Goethe's Faust, another far-out project bound, unfortunately, to fall on deaf ears.

Here, God and the Devil--a little bored, a little restless--make a wager on the soul of Notre Dame freshman Henry Faust. Should Lucifer corrupt him, the dark angel regains a seat in heaven. The casting seems too clever to be true. James Taylor plays the voice of God. Don Henley plays Faust, a petulant, self-involved creep. Elton John plays an overwrought angel. Yes, Yes, Yes. Filling out the cast are Newman as the Devil, and Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt as love interests Margaret and Martha. About half the songs feature Newman's familiar New Orleans piano shuffle; the other half are split between ballads and more complex arrangements influenced by his film scores. They grow on you. While the lyrics are a little toothless by Newman standards, the liner notes, in which he has his way synopsizing Goethe's plot ("the Lord's personnel resources are staggeringly comprehensive") are alone worth the price of the album. (Michael Tortorello)



JOURNALS

The Quarterly
Gutter Press

Plenty of folks say that Gordon Lish--scrappy guru of modern letters and one-time fiction editor of Esquire--is mad. Bats. Loony-toon-toony. I can't really say, as I've never met the man (though I have on occasion, like so many others who write or write about fiction-with-a-pulse, gotten a hastily scrawled note from him about something done well or not). But I can say I'm happy to rediscover The Quarterly, a literary journal edited and published by Lish which had 25 volumes issued by Random House until corporate wisdom sent its firecracker prose and poetry packing a few years back.

With five issues published by the small-but-illustrious Gutter Press of Toronto--a city which is to cutting-edge lit these days what Seattle once was to rock & roll--The Quarterly looks better than ever. It's beautifully wrapped by überbookdesigner Chip Kidd, and full of flying id and sleeping superego. Some names you'll recognize--Barry Hannah, Dawn Raffel--but most are new explorers, whose short-short stories, poems, linguistic freeplay, and cartoons fit together here as if part of a single, collective jump-cut text-dream. The insider rants about the lit world may be lost on some (the cover epigram on issue #30 brands Esquire "the Tikkun of tits and ass!"). But the cryptic, paranoid, comic and finally beautiful spirit of Q, channeled by Lish's laser-guided aesthetic, captures the essence of modern American culture better than any literary mag I know. Which means, sure, it's got some madness going on. You know a good doctor? (50 Baldwin St., #100, Toronto, Ontario, M5T IL4; 416-977-7187) (Will Hermes)

Maxine
self-published

The spittle-spotted tantrums of angry white males over the F-word (feminism, that is) ain't nothing compared to the introspective migraines the women at Maxine seem to be experiencing. Their chicks-to-power zine wrestles with the thorny girl-on-girl dynamics of feminism '95 and offers up painful essays (losing your best girlfriend to a boy), morose fiction (heroine fends off deluded jocks drunk on Penthouse Forum), and locker-room talk ("he has a dick this big ... It tilted to the side and it was that kinda purple color, you know?").

Touting itself as a response to the MTV-style commodification of subversive young gals, Maxine's mission statement asks, "How is it that the word grrrl has quickly turned into shorthand for a target market of young fun angry women and has wiped out discussion about the complicated reality? Why does dialogue on culture, gender, sexuality and feminism stop with flashy signifiers?"

Provocative and sophisticated questions like these set the tone for this literate, elegantly designed zine. Features include a pensive article by a female staffer at Playboy; an online discussion among butch and femme dykes, whose awkward grad-school headiness ("Perhaps the containment occurs within the signification") fortunately gets doused by a few livelier participants; and my favorite piece, a citation of 20 years' worth of rad culture (glam rock, indie rock, Diamanda Galas, sex-toy emporiums, Susie Bright, and Lisa Suckdog, for example) as grounds for trashing Camille Paglia. A notable debut. (send $3 to Maxine at 2025 W. Augusta, Chicago, IL 60622; e-mail: MaxineChi@aol.com) (Josh Feit)


BOOKS

Chermayeff, David & Richardson
Drag Diaries
Chronicle Books

RuPaul's finally legit as a supermodel with his exclusive contract for MAC cosmetics, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert won an Oscar for ostrich feathers and bell bottoms, and transvestites dishing coast-to-coast on talk shows are de rigueur. It's no wonder any John, Wesley or Patrick thinks he can put on a dress and become a drag queen. Welcome to the mainstream, honey--what took you so long? So now comes Drag Diaries, a full-on, coffee-table how-to book for all would-be glamour gals. What's between the covers here aren't really true diary entries, but carefully edited interviews masquerading as diary-like entries. These stories of artists and performers forging a brave new world for themselves paint a lively portrait of the happy coexistence of the masculine and feminine that lie within us all.

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