Cut You In

On Yoko Ono, Alice in Chains, Tim Hecker, Paul Simon and more.

Alice in Chains, “So Far Under,” Rainer Fog (BMG)

I am haunted by the voice of Richard Russell, the Alaska Air worker who last month managed to steal a twin propeller plane from SeaTac airport and crash it — and himself — into a remote island near Puget Sound. In the air-traffic control recording that spans nearly an hour, listeners can hear “Rich” ramble back and forth with a distressed dispatcher in dialogue that is alternately hilarious and heartrending. Although Russell was a member of the airline’s ground crew, with no flight credentials, he claimed to know how to manoeuvre the craft from his experience playing video games. At various points, he muses about locating the famed orca whale mourning her calf off the Washington coast, the view of the Olympic Mountains and whether or not the plane could withstand a barrel roll. What makes the recording eerie is the juxtaposition of routine air chatter from other flights in progress, interspersed with Rich, cracking jokes in his folksy, Pacific Northwest accent and, finally, apologizing for ending his own life in such dramatic fashion. Russell took the ultimate joyride. The trap is time, and no one gets off of this ride alive.

Tim Hecker, “This Life,” Konoyo (Kranky)

The 1990 film Joe Versus the Volcano portrays Joe Banks, who Tom Hanks plays, as a hypochondriac office worker diagnosed with a terminal illness called a brain cloud. A moneyed industrialist named Samuel Graynamore convinces Hanks’s Banks to throw himself into the volcano of a tiny Pacific island called Waponi Woo, whose inhabitants believe that a human sacrifice must be made every hundred years to the inferno’s fiery gods.

Superstition in the 21st century has all but disappeared, relegated to sports talk and what might once have been termed “old wives’ tales.” In its place, willpower has been installed as the hypnotic impulse that drives us to do things, to self-start, to submit to this life’s never-ending demands. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” wrote Carl Jung in his 1964 book Man and His Symbols, “is the superstition of modern man.”

Yoko Ono, “Hell in Paradise,” Warzone (Chimera)

In a recent article for the conservative opinion magazine The Weekly Standard, music critic Dominic Green pejoratively compares the creative partnership between John and Alice Coltrane to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s fabled relationship. Green calls Ms. Coltrane “the Yoko Ono of jazz.” It’s a lazy equation. And it’s also predicated upon the tired assumption that Yoko Ono is bad — that she can’t sing, that she broke up the Beatles and other implicitly racist and sexist stereotypes. Wired: there is no higher compliment than an Ono association. Au contraire, to be “the Yoko Ono of something” means to be its most courageous practitioner.

BlacKkKlansman (2018), dir. Spike Lee (40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks et al.)

Across a three-page polemic posted to Twitter, the Sorry to Bother You director Boots Riley wrote this August about how the apparently true tale from which Spike Lee’s latest joint was adapted — “dis joint is based on some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t” claims its trailer — was in fact contrived at several key plot points to cast the police in softer light, as well as to downplay law enforcement’s historical involvement in the infiltration of radical community and political organizations. As satisfying as the film is to watch — it is undoubtedly a technical and cinematic work of the highest order — I can’t help but feel manipulated, as if Lee didn’t trust his audience to arrive at their own conclusions from an undoubtedly more convoluted and nuanced real-life story. Nothing is black and white; not least race relations in America.

Paul Simon, “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War,” In the Blue Light (Sony)

Among Uncommon People and To Throw Away Unopened, Red Famine, Exit Ghost, Super Cannes, an advance copy of Mark Fisher’s posthumous k-punk compendium, William S. Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy, and a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow, Paul Simon’s biography, The Life, has been nagging me all summer to crack open its spine, to caress its pages, which have an extraordinary tactile quality to them, and to celebrate the astonishing achievements of a one-of-a-kind artist, an artist in the ranks of David Bowie or John Lennon or Lou Reed, certainly of Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan or Patti Smith, artists whose oeuvres are so rich, so diverse, so monumental as to make us mere mortals exclaim that we were happy to have simply been alive concurrent to their creative élan, to have lived and maybe even loved during the time when they were around on this earth to experience life’s agony and ecstasy, and to somehow put it all into verse and song.

To paraphrase Burroughs, the writer lives the sad truth, just like everyone else. The only difference is, he files a report on it. ■