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S. Chelydra (in London exile)

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true to life
true to life
by Eva Salzman
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary folks' extraordinary memoirs, 11 Mar 2012
This review is from: true to life (Paperback)
Disclaimer 1: My wife edited it
Disclaimer 2: I designed and illustrated the cover
Disclaimer 3: There are a number of pieces I haven't got round to reading yet. (It always takes me years to read my way through any anthology, even I'm supposed to be the editor.)
HOWEVER, I am being completely straight with you when I say this is quite an amazing book. The depth and quality of the pieces is very impressive, all the more so considering that the authors are a random assortment of regular folks who showed up in a course about writing memoirs. They were self-selected in so far as presumably they all believed they had interesting enough memories to be worth writing them down; a few may have had something published previously by a small press or a local paper. In other words, it really does fulfil John Ruskin's dream of bringing education and culture to all the people of Britain, regardless of class origins.
When it finally came out in print (after a year of editing and then years of funding and administrative problems) I shared a couple of copies with my own mad writing class at Barnet College, and the books didn't come back until they'd been read cover-to-cover. The praise was unqualified and whole-hearted, even from the morbid and cynical types who never had anything positive to say about anyone or anything else.
I am truly haunted by one of the longer pieces, the story of a search for any trace of a grandmother who had been erased from her family's memory, and who they assumed had died as young woman. The granddaughter gets more and more curious, and eventually tracks down the truth. I've read it at least two or three times, and I expect I'll read it again before long. It's one of the most important true stories you'll ever read, on a number of levels. Its understated, matter-of-fact tone, paradoxically gives the story a rare poetic power.
Everything else I looked at ranged from pretty good to excellent, and the memories they related ranged from really interesting to really entertaining to really bizarre.
One of my students (whose own taste ran to Nietzsche and late Blake) was appalled to learn there only a tiny number of copies printed, and with no promotion at all. He believed it would sell in the tens of thousands if people knew it was available, and the others who had read it all agreed. Since I haven't finished reading it myself, I'm not qualified to judge. But the lost grandmother alone is worth those five stars and the price of the book, and I was not disappointed by anything else I read so far.
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Mahler - Symphony No. 10
Mahler - Symphony No. 10
Price: £9.22

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes., 7 Mar 2012
I had been coming across references to the Sanderling recording, always deeply respectful, for years. They mostly just said they'd recommend it if it were available, but it wasn't, so they recommended something instead. Finally a few months ago I came across the music itself - sort of - in a choppy, sputtery YouTube compilation. Even in that form, it was enough to revive a relationship with Mahler which had cooled off, almost grown cold, after the wild delights and throes of passion that ensued shortly after our first encounter in 1965. I was sixteen at that time, and deeply nostalgic for how it had felt to be eleven. For me, eleven was a glorious moment, full of wondrous discoveries about art (awed by VanGogh stars, awed by the magical rainbow of snakes crawling out of my first oil paint tubes), music (listening--Beethoven, Bach, Cleftones, Shirelles), life in general (feeling fully alive at last), girls (imagining), cats, candlelight, moonlight, Herman Hesse, Zen sayings, my luscious and kindly English teacher, bicycling down empty roads through the woods in winter, you name it. Mahler made me feel eleven again. He restored to life my withering emotional roots -- bringing back the juicy, uninhibited, comic, tragic feelings I was afraid I might never feel again. That's what makes us fall in love with the guy. When he isn't being adolescent he's being childlike. You could even says he's Oedipal: fuming with murderous desperate rage against his brutal remote daddy, then sleeping it off or weeping it off in the warm glow of mommy's unconditional love, that drama most vividly realised in the Second and the Sixth, but always simmering and churning below the surface. And what a surface it is, the richest, most imaginative and inventive orchestration ever. You don't like Mahler, you don't love Mahler, you need Mahler. He accompanied me everywhere in my mind's ear. Whenever I got stuck and couldn't get a feeling about what I needed to do (in a problematic romance or a problematic painting) a Mahler record would supply the feeling I needed. A Mahler concert (Leinsdorf is underrated!) even resolved my indecision about whether to actively resist the Vietnam War.

This all would have sounded very crazy back in the days before the world's craziness caught up with Mahler's craziness and then went beyond even his worst nightmares. For a half-century at least, Mahler's music has served as a refuge of sanity, a place to be healed and recharged -- and there might be millions now who feel that way. Time passed, though, and I found I needed it less. And less. It wasn't just that I had absorbed all the recordings and concerts I could afford, so I had all the music inside me already. It wasn't just that I overdosed, I'd overdone it. No, it was worse. I was outgrowing Mahler. A live concert now and then, finally, not even that. For several years, the one exception was the Tenth, in which he had finally grown up all the way, and he could pull me forwards instead of backwards. The Tenth always worked for me, every time I heard it something new would emerge, some new wisdom or plane of consciousness. Then it worked less. Then it too stopped working. I started acquiring different versions, trying to get one that would do it for me. That feeling of being in the presence of some great cosmic intelligence, where was it? Each one did it less. I was getting bored. The Tenth too was sounding adolescent to me now. When you start to get old and death and loss are really happening, you don't need music that takes you into it, you need to come through it and out the other side. Wallowing in pain and crying out for consolation is for kids. I gave up. Could it be I'd merely imagined the bit about that supernatural yet deeply human presence? So it seemed. Those last ten minutes and the great final chord, once the holy of holies, now felt like a visit to a church I could no longer believe in.

Then I heard Sanderling.


The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000
by Paul M. Kennedy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A reliable guide to the past and present -- but perhaps not the furutre., 6 Mar 2012
This was to be a reply to Mr. A. Burkhardt, but it grew to at least five times the size of his pithy review, and turned to the questions of whether Kennedy's book has been proven right (I think it has) and whether it gets to the heart of what's happening in the world today as various forces contend for economic, political, and military hegemony (I think not). So while it still mainly addresses Mr. Burkhardt's points, it's probably more appropriate as a consideration of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers itself.

The best arguments against your thoughtful review were written long ago by Occam and Johnson. The simplest explanations are generally true, and most learning consists in being reminded of what we already know.
As I read the book I kept thinking, I know all this stuff. (I might never have bothered turning the second or third page if it wasn't for a job.) But then I found that the book had taken what I more or less knew and made it vividly real in my mind, especially that first chapter reviewing the relative power of Europe, China, India, etc., circa 1500. I don't recall if this idea was written or just inspired by Kennedy, but I was especially intrigued by the notion that Europe emerged supreme not in spite of but because of the furious conflicts and fierce competition between its own component parts - a paradox that can show up in all kinds of situations. And my kneejerk jingoistic (American) reaction to the rise of India, China, etc., was tempered by seeing this as a return to the natural order of things so well described in that chapter (and in place for about 2000 years before 1500AD).
Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States" is another book whose basic message is so obvious, and explained so lucidly, that it seems almost a waste of time for anyone who knows anything about the world - until it gets under your skin and starts working its way through your brain. Both books remind us that what seems to be a permanent arrangement (of nations and continents in Kennedy's book, races, genders and classes in Zinn's) can be overthrown only rarely and with great difficulty by conscious effort of the upstarts/underdogs, but is easily and quickly lost by overdogs trying too hard to defend their place at the top.

Perhaps the economic costs of maintaining empires are accompanied by an equally fatal loss of moral authority and self-respect as the top dogs' strategies and tactics become ever more ruthless; shame corrodes power even more efficiently than budget deficits. But it's only when they come together (as in the USSR in the 1980s) that you get the negative synergy of material and moral factors that almost guarantees the immanent end of the old regime.

Circa 1970-75, America's behind-the-scenes rulers (the Rockefellers and their extended family of Kissingers, Bzerzinskis, etc.) recognised the danger signs and acted fast to remedy the situation - befriending China, dumping Nixon, accepting defeat in Indochina, arranging energy crises to bring the Arabs into their moneychanging operations, and pulling all the big decision-makers in the media, labor unions, universities, etc. into their policy-making clubs (Trilateral Commission, CFR, etc.) It worked; by 1980 the children of the bourgeoisie were becoming yuppies instead of revolutionaries, Latin American death squads were wiping out troublemakers, Vietnam and Cambodia China and Russia were warring among themselves (and the Reds would spend the next ten years defending and losing their recent acquisitions in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, before finally losing even the Kremlin itself). Like America, Rome and Britain had some shaky moments during their long supremacy. Was it Trajan who realised it was time to stop expanding the Empire?- no, Hadrian I think, the wall-building guy, Trajan's boytoy and successor. Smart fellow, Hadrian. The Roman Empire lasted another 300 years or so, more like 1400 if you count Byzantium.

Free will can't ultimately overcome fate, but it can postpone the end for decades or even centuries if the overdogs stay very alert, clever and decisive - and above all, if they know when and where to back down and back off.

Perhaps the messy conclusion of America's Indochina War effort will one day be recognised as a sign of strength, not weakness - not a refutation but a confirmation of Kennedy's thesis! After all, pulling out was the only way to call a halt to an economically unsustainable and morally indefensible example of imperial over-reach. Then barely a year later the Bicentennial festivities of 1976, and the election of Jimmy Carter (a Rockefeller lapdog at the time, as were both the other major candidates, Gerald Ford and John Anderson), made it possible for America to think of itself as a land of innocence and hope again. And when the history of the (Rockefeller-engineered) Watergate saga was enshrined in myth by the movie "All The President's Men", the Vietnam War wasn't even mentioned; the sins had been purged and forgiven, and the country reunited, without acknowledging the indelible shame that had divided the country in the first place. Saigon may be called Ho Chi Minh City today - but it's a beehive of sweatshops slaving away for international capitalism. With defeats like that, who needs victories? Seen from a 2012 perspective, America's failure in Vietnam (including its failure to use the nuclear weapons that could have overcome North Vietnamese resistance instantly) proves that Kennedy's theory of history (which of course he hadn't written yet - as you point out, it's just common sense) can be applied successfully in practice. When the top dogs understood they were getting locked into over-reach mode, they did what was necessary to pull back and make a fresh start.

And that's probably why I now now see "Diplomacy" by Henry A. Kissinger in the little row of book covers underneath the box I'm writing this in. Kissinger was a Rockefeller protege as a Harvard wunderkind in the 1950s, when he set forth the theory of a "low-intensity" Vietnam war in a Rockefeller-sponsored booklet, twenty years before he was entrusted with negotiating an end to the high-intensity monster he had created. When the sins of the Watergate period were being exposed, Kissinger's personal involvement in the worst offences on the home front (breaking into Ellsberg's shrink's office for instance) was actually greater than Nixon's. But while Nixon was scapegoated down to a grotesque, pathetic, and rather disgusting devil in the official history of 20th Century America, elder statesman Kissinger pontificates to us from the loftiest perch ever occupied by an intellectual in America. He earned this place through his brilliant contributions to the art of empire-management and over-reach limitation, as a leading member of the Rockefeller cabal that generally supervised the CIA and ran the State Department, as well as advising presidents and convincing the opinion-makers in the media to toe their line. No doubt Kissinger could have easily written "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" in the 1950s if he'd wanted to (perhaps not as readably), but he was more interested in applying the theory than propagating it. His purposes would not have been served by going public.

Kennedy's book left the bestseller lists after 34 weeks in the fall of 1988, and by 1989 his message had seemingly been superseded by events. But while the triumphalist screeds of the 1990s (the End of History, the New American Century, and such) are nostalgic momentos of a bygone era, Kennedy's basic idea seems more timely than ever. But perhaps it's not. It obviously describes the dilemma of Obama's America, and the rising and falling of other nations as well (it's irrelevant whether Kennedy's crystal ball was clear enough to tell us which particular nations will emerge or fade away as long as the basic idea is working well). But what Kennedy's thesis misses entirely is the rise of a transnational financial elite that can operate through rootless corporate structures - now with private mercenary armies free to go anywhere and do anything, from assassinating labour organisers to abducting and torturing innocent by-standers for information. Nothing could be farther from the new elite agenda than building up or defending any particular nation-state. Indeed, systematically dismantling all nation-states seems to be a top priority. They are not interested in governments backed by empowered and loyal citizens, kept healthy, happy and smart through well-built and well-run public sector institutions. They are interested in the masses' loyalty to global brand names, and in the masses' spending money they don't have; beyond that it doesn't much matter if they live or die. Politics and governments and nations still matter only when they get in the way. The only issue is how soon and how thoroughly this new elite can infiltrate and dissolve and absorb the still-nationalist and still-autonomous elites of Asia and Latin America. The global reach of Monsanto's agricultural juggernaut, the awesome power of credit ratings, the growing dependence on private military forces are just three factors suggesting the assault is well advanced if not yet quite consolidated. In this new world, how nations compete with other nations for hegemony matters less than whether any nations, or all nations, will deal with the actual global hegemony of forces that may soon transcend and dominate any and all nations, if they don't already.

The Iraq War currently seems like the archetype of overdogs' self-defeating over-reach but its costs and consequences are probably dwarfed by the over-reaching private sector. Behold the way global financial institutions demand neoliberal policies all across the third world, and now in Europe too, trying to control everything, privatise everything, and squeeze every last dollar out of the poorest lands on earth - as if grinding other's faces in the mud guaranteed a stable and long-lasting economic order over which the global elite can reign supreme forever. Perhaps it can, being free from the geographic and demographic limits on national governments. Time will tell.
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New International Ephemerides 1900-2050: Midnight
New International Ephemerides 1900-2050: Midnight
by Francis Santoni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect!, 27 Feb 2012
You won't go blind or go crazy trying to decipher the tables, and it won't fall to pieces anytime soon. The typography is easy on the eyes, straightforward but rather elegant. The information is all there. The physical construction of the book - paper, binding, cover - is rugged and durable.

Even if it's easy and quick and free to get on-line charts these days, there's nothing like a good fat book for getting an overview of the rhythms and melodies of the solar system, the long-range and short-range trends. For predictive astrology computers never get it right - they miss out on the big picture and lose the plot.
Use the puter when you need a flawless snapshot of a single instant (birth charts mainly). Use a book - this book - when you need to really understand the ups and downs, the depth and drama of life, which usually goes on for quite a while after a birth.

You'll need to get a heliocentric ephemeris to supplement this. You'll find that the generally neglected heliocentric chart is like going to a higher authority for a second opinion - sometimes it reinforces and complements what you see in the standard geocentric chart, but sometimes it tells a whole other (contradictory) story, and it's always the inside story, like what you learn after knowing someone well for years, or knowing someone only through their life's work. (Infinitely more useful than houses, by the way, which have so many variables of construction and interpretation they tell you everything and nothing. Use birth time to get the horizon line in the right place, and get an approximate idea of the apex and nadir on the vertical axis, but don't get too hung up on extrapolations about the how the ruler of the fifth house is in her detriment and all that b.s.)

This book is the heart of any astrology bookshelf, and it's up to the job.


Civilization and its Discontents
Civilization and its Discontents
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Gilbert+Sullivan > Brecht+Weill > Salzman&Sahl, 8 Feb 2012
This quick, breezy, furiously energetic operetta has some of the catchiest tunes you'll ever hear anywhere. It rocks. The musical styles shift kaleidoscopically from Medieval to jazzy to pop to Stockhausen-like sound-collage -- but they're all unified by an irresistible rhythmic pulse and a blissfully perfect marriage of words and music (probably because both Salzman and Sahl composed the music and wrote the libretto).

The vinyl release circa 1980 coincided with big financial problems at Nonesuch Records; it didn't get the promotion and sales it richly deserved, and until now (2012) hasn't been available on CD or download. If there's any justice, it'll sell about a million copies while the creators are still alive and kicking. It's kind of like the best political cartoons, comic strips, or pop songs of the past -- trivial, dated, and yet, in its own quirky little way, a timeless masterpiece.
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Women in Prison
Women in Prison

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like E.S. herself, this is a rare and hidden treasure, 22 Jan 2009
This review is from: Women in Prison (Audio CD)
As with a symphony, and other great pop albums, you can't really hear this album in 30-second samples, or even in separate songs. But after you hear it all the way through once or twice, and it starts to sink in, you'll be listening to nothing else for a long time.

Evie Sands graduated with highest honours from the School of Hard Knocks (you can read all the gory details of her famously bad luck elsewhere on the web) -- and she poured all she'd learned into this masterpiece, composing and recording all these songs in a white-hot couple of weeks after an encounter with her old mentor Chip Taylor made her believe in herself again after her once-almost-stellar career had been dormant for years.

Amazingly enough, this album became yet another sad learning experience (post-doctorate?) due to zero promotion and airplay. It's only now through the internet grapevine that it may finally start to reach a fraction of audience it deserves. If enough of you buy it and post your own rave reviews, maybe she can even be persuaded to go back to the recording studio.

Dusty Springfield said Evie Sands was her favorite singer. Her voice was already great when she started out, at about twelve, in the 1960s (she now looks about thirty) but now there's another dimension of warmth, wisdom, humility, raw honesty and maturity.


TOTAL MAN
TOTAL MAN
by Stan Gooch
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gooch found a key that unlocks many mysteries about who we are, 23 Jan 2008
This review is from: TOTAL MAN (Mass Market Paperback)
This is quite simply the most significant and useful book I've ever read. Gooch has discovered how our inner conflicts are rooted in the divided structure of the nervous system. These conflicts are expressed collectively through literature, myths, ideology -- often involving dread of dark demonic possession, as in Faust and Jeckyll & Hyde, or through fearful awe of superior bright beings such as angels or highly-evolved aliens. This happens when consciousness (sense of oneself) inhabits one part of the nervous system and regards the other part as a stranger.

It's arguably the most underrated book of all time. The timing of its publication was unfortunate. The rather similar (but far less significant) notion of left-right brain divisions came out around the same time, as did the bestselling sexual self-help book, "Total Woman".

Many mysteries of human beliefs and behaviour make complete sense for the first time. Gooch is more down-to-earth, hence more scientific, than Freud, Jung, Reich, or Fromm. Far more coherently, comprehensively, and convincingly than any other psychologist, he seeks and finds the material (neurological) foundations of our inner lives. He goes on to show how our individual internal conflicts are expressed in our collective ideology and mythology, and how we attempt to resolve these conflicts through racism, sexism, and mass violence. His emphasis is on the specific psychology of Northern Europeans, who seem to be haunted and driven more than others by these inner contradictions.

The story unfolds chapter by chapter, gradually weaving together several seemingly unrelated narratives into a shockingly coherent and convincing whole. Any summary will therefore be a "spoiler".

It is imperfect. I'm not sure if any of the people I've urged to read this book got beyond a couple of pages. It takes a little patience to get into it. Gooch is not a particularly good writer, nor a great genius. He seems to be a regular guy who happened upon a phenomenally credible "crackpot theory". There are a couple of minor flaws how he applies his ideas; for instance, he makes pronouncements about the psychology of women and communists that indicate he hasn't had quite enough experience with either.

But the ideas themselves are astounding. To say they ring true is an understatement.
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Verdi: Requiem
Verdi: Requiem
Price: £7.68

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A firestorm leaping from earth to sky, rates five galaxies, 17 Oct 2007
This review is from: Verdi: Requiem (Audio CD)
There are times when you need a good requiem; this one is beyond great.

I've heard Verdi's Requiem a number of times, conducted by Serafin, Toscanini, and de Sabata, on vintage vinyl, but couldn't sustain much interest. Most reviewers think Fricsay is in their league, or close, but in fact he's the one that finally got my full attention riveted on this music. They've all had 50+ years of praises, quibbles, adjectives, and comparisons, but sometimes such weighing and measuring and judging misses the real point.

If you don't get this point, don't worry, it'll get you soon enough. You might be just looking to add one more well-chosen disc to your collection, stick it in a machine, sit back, enjoy, and congratulate yourself for making another fine purchase you won't regret. Buy this one. What matters is that you'll never throw it out, so you'll have it on hand when the time comes (as it will) when you really need this, only this, and nothing else.

When a requiem needs to serve its intended purpose (when most music and people seem dim, flat and woefully inadequate), no merely great performance will do. What you need then is to immolate your mind in a celestial conflagration.

This performance resolves the old debate about whether the piece should be approached dramatically or religiously. Fricsay does both at once. He shows more "true grit" than any cowboy as he rides the music like a rodeo bull -- but at the same he lets the music soar free as a flock of angels flying home at the end of the day. (What? Both at once? Yeah! Fricsay makes it seem effortless even if my words don't.)

This performance is earthy without being earthbound. It's been called refreshingly secular. But then who knows what music God would choose for Himself -- or for us, if He finds us poking around the net looking for something to hear while remembering the dead? We do know that Verdi understood exactly why he was writing his Requiem (not just to jazz up a celebrity funeral; his own wife and kids had burned to death), and Fricsay drives the point home, even if we don't quite get it before we need to. If their music is too full of life, without quite enough otherworldly consolation, maybe it's because their God prefers real life, with all its fiery drama, to the timeless spirit world. Maybe that's the point, and not just the point of this CD. Forgive me if I haven't included the requisite quibbles and comparisons. I think Requiems play by different rules.
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