Friday, 29 January 2016

Paul Kantner 1941-2016

Paul Kantner has died. He was a founding member and rythm guitarist of the band Jefferson Airplane. The group were originally a folk rock band and several of the members, including Kantner had a background in folk music. But eventually they became pioneers of psychedelic rock, though folk music remained an important influence. Other important members included singer Grace Slick and bassist Marty Balin.

Their most important albums, which are central to the genre and the 60s hippie culture as a whole, are Surrealistic Pillow (their most accessible album) After Bathing at Baxter's, Crown of Creation and Volunteers

The music Kantner created with Jefferson Airplane is, despite the often sloppy technical execution, very exciting; the band could really rock. And as said, the band broke new ground and was important for the development of psychedelic rock. The band had some good songwriters, of which Kantner was one (he was also a good rythm guitarist). He was an avid reader of science fiction, which influenced his lyrics. His left wing radical politics were also a source of inspiration.

These two influences eventually culminated in Blows against the Empire, his first and best album made outside of Jefferson Airplane. This was a science fiction concept album in which a group of hippies hijack a starship and escape an increasingly repressive  Earth.

Kantner's music made after that album, with a group called Jefferson Starship, isn't as interesting. The music slowly degenerated into arena rock. In his favour, Kantner realised this and left Jefferson Starship for this very reason in the mid 1980s.

And the albums mentioned above are all very good and leave Kantner with a strong legacy. He was one of the few remaining connection with the hippie era of the 1960s and an important person in rock history. It's a pity to lose him.

                                          Jefferson Airplane - Crown of Creation
                                          (written by Paul Kantner)

                                          Jefferson Airplane - We Can be Together
                                          (written by Paul Kantner)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams

Tailchaser's Song is a fantasy novel by Tad Williams.

It is about anthropomorphic cats. They live with humans, but are sentient and therefore have their own society and culture, with a language, customs, mythology and even cities. Think Watership Down with cats, instead of rabbits.

The story is about a young male cat named Fritti Tailchaser. His best friend is the young female cat Hushpad. But one day, Hushpad disappears without a trace. She is only one of a series of mysterious disappearances of cats. Something strange is happening. Fritti decides to set out on a quest to find Hushpad and find out why cats are disappearing. He is accompanied by a another friend, the kitten Pouncequick.

The big inspiration for this book is, as mentioned, Watership Down by Richard Adams. It is the model for how Williams anthropomorphizes his cats in this book. Williams other major inspiration is Tolkien. The story of the book is a quest fantasy, very much in the style of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.

One could certainly dismiss this book as a mere imitation of Tolkien and Adams. But that would be unfair.

Firstly, the anthropomorphication of the cats is really well-done, especially the mythology. Tad Williams understands cats and their psychology, in particular their pride. This understanding often reveals itself in small, subtle touches. Personally, this book connected with me far more than Watership Down, simply because I grew up with and know cats well. I have a connection with them which I don't have with rabbits.

Secondly Tailchaser's Song is in general simply well-written. Williams is a decent prose stylist. He is no Thomas Pynchon, but far better than the norm. The characters have some real depth to them. And Williams most importantly knows how to tell a story. While reading, I constantly found myself wanting to know what happens next. Reading this book is often a suspenseful experience.

For this book is not as cute as it may first appear. The latter parts of the book are very dark, violent and gruesome. This is not a complaint, but simply a warning for anyone interested in the book. And it makes up for it with a lyrical and uplifting ending.

While Tailchaser's Song is not the most original of stories, it is very well told. It made me interested in reading more books by Tad Williams.