“All the extremes of feeling are allied to madness.”
Virginia Woolf will probably be considered the most successful modernist writer. While Eliot certainly poured every ounce of his volumes of knowledge into his visceral writing, and Pound broke down the barriers between language and even the writing of symbols, Woolf was perhaps among the only writers to actually see the ‘coming.
As she was mostly self-taught and lived with some of the greatest minds of our time (Henry James, John Maynard Keynes), it wasn’t until she looked within herself that her best work came out. Having written steadily in her diary for nearly 12 years, Woolf emerged with both deft prose and a handful of highly experimental shifts in the novel.
With her husband, Leonard as co-founder of Hogarth Press (also the publisher of TSEliot’s emblem “The Waste Land”), Woolf quickly turned her 1917 debut album “The Mark on The Wall” into a radiant time-traveling stream of consciousness. in 1927’s “To The Lighthouse.” Along the way, Woolf emerged as quite the storyteller, a skill that came to fruition in 1928’s “Orlando: A Biography.”
“I’m sick of dying of this particular me. I want another.”
Written and billed as a “satire”, “Orlando” is the story of a nobleman in Queen Elizabeth’s court who, around age 30, transforms into a woman and lives another nearly 300 years. Woolf’s creation of Orlando clearly stems from love. Orlando is a favorite of the queen, falls in love with a Russian princess, and is appointed ambassador to Constantinople – an equally ever-changing community.
When a riot breaks out, Orlando unknowingly falls asleep for several days to wake up as a woman. As a woman who was once a man, love affairs cross borders as Woolf writes whimsically about her protagonist – but never hints that Orlando has a reason to be a man here or a woman there. . This fairy tale of gender fluidity serves an almost Proustian purpose of Orlando finding ways to insert itself into all the lives of the greatest authors, artists, and people. Like the illuminating text of “To The Lighthouse”, “Orlando” walks that line between time travel as an impossibility or a necessity. Woolf’s other excellent plot device is Orlando’s ongoing composition of a long love poem called “The Oak Tree”. Started as a young man in the Queen’s court, Orlando worked constantly on this epic poem (especially during periods of broken heart) until it was finally completed on October 11, 1928 – the day it was published. from “Orlando: A Biography”.
“For she had a wide variety of selves to call upon, far more than we could find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it represents only six or seven selves, whereas a person can have many thousands.”
Orlando is based on Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, the true definition of a free spirit. Woolf is busy sewing the details of Sackville-West life into Orlando’s time jump. For example, Sackville-West was captivated by nomadic Roma. So, after Orlando’s post-riot nap, Woolf has them save Orlando as they may have cast a spell on his main character.
For all of its action and adventure, true love in Orlando seems to come through in Woolf’s endlessly beautiful descriptions of landscapes and locations. As she tells these travelogues, you as the reader can feel Woolf’s passionate attention as Sackville-West would describe episodes from her largely itinerant life. In real life, the two had so much in common and lived from around 1925 to 1928 in a state of mutual admiration. Plus, they were both writers – but not competitively. Sackville-West considered Woolf “the most learned writer” while Woolf was impressed by Sackville-West’s speed of composition. This last fact really makes this novel the prototypical labor of love for Woolf. Unlike many of her other works dealing with sorting through childhood memories or making carefully worded statements about women’s place in this world, “Orlando” is written with excitement and escapism in mind. This escapism is what makes “Orlando” readable to anyone. We’ve all been in the position of feeling like we don’t belong at that time or place. We all felt like we didn’t belong in this group and didn’t fit in. “Orlando” explores those deepest feelings through both understanding and even consequence. Ultimately, it was Sackville-West that made Woolf a better social person. Her presence in Woolf’s writing will continue to resonate even as they part ways.
For it would seem – his case proved it – that one writes, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve that controls the feather wraps around every fiber of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.
Mik Davis is the Record Store Manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
This week in music
CONAN GRAY – Superache [LP/CD/CS](Republic)
SOCCER MOMMY – Sometimes Forever [LP/CD](Loma Vista)
MARTIN COURTNEY – Magic Sign [LP/CD](Domino)
Beneath the mainstream in the world of Youtube videos, TikTok dominance and expanding fanbases is Conan Gray from California. Recipient of a Top 5/Gold album on his 2020 debut “Kid Krow” (which quickly sold out), “Superache” is poised to give him at least his first hit. That’s FIVE singles dating back to 2021. Her admiration for Taylor Swift and especially Adele is about to shine through it all. “Yours” is a powerful ballad. As he squanders his audacious opening bet (“I’m someone you call when you’re alone/I’m someone you use but never own/I’m someone to touch but never to hold”), “Yours” builds like this breakthrough song from intimacy to frustration to confession with a fiery chorus behind it. “People Watching” is also over the top, but at least shows that Gray is more ambitious than most other men as well (again, Gray is smart enough to take inspiration from women as they continue to dominate pop). Also, the acoustic and very Swiftian “Astronomy” records at least its sharpest lyrics (“Cause socially speaking, we’re both the same/With runaway fathers and mothers who drank”) before dropping into the same romantic swell of “Yours”. “‘Superache’ is exactly what fans are asking for and newbies want.
On the other end of the spectrum is Sophie Allison aka Soccer Mommy. His 2018 debut album “Clean” came out of the box nearly perfect. With its dry, brash production and caustic honesty, “Clean” hailed Allison as the next Liz Phair. “Color Theory” saw Allison move to a major label and record the “sophomore album as identity crisis” routine. Liberated by a big-budget production, Allison let nearly every idea fit somewhere in the picture. To his credit, “Color Theory” wasn’t grand (in places, it’s actually more intimate than any of his previous recordings). However, it was a lot of sounds (“Gray Light”) and emotions (her first real heartbreaker “Yellow Is The Color of Her Eyes”) that were unfamiliar to her audience. Which led us to “Sometimes, Forever” – her first adult album. Shimmering production outbursts hide the emotions in “Bones,” but Allison definitely knows how to sell a chorus. Elsewhere, the carefree “Shotgun” is yet another winner of a chorus, but the verses falter from its definitely new distorted twangy opening riff. Most of “Sometimes, Forever” seems to drown Allison’s vocals in a mix of 80s guitar sounds. While interesting and promising for radio programmers, you lose the attack she once exerted. so elegantly on “Clean”.
As an easily identifiable voice of real estate, it would be so easy for Martin Courtney to break into pastoral guitar pop and satisfy those fans. However, even Real Estate’s 2020 album “The Real Thing” tried hard not to sound like previous offerings. (NOTE: the “Days” of 2011 remain their classic). Courtney’s second solo album plays to her strengths (Courtney finds yet another way to create a memorable hazy psychedelic on the charming “Corncob”) and her differences. The absolutely brilliant “Sailboat” drives like a classic Power Pop filtered by a harmonious Cheap Trick. With its insistent beat and cascading chorus, Courtney transports you through both Power Pop and ’80s Indie/Jangle. Courtney and her other group.