Friday, April 06, 2012

#13: "Low Life" by Luc Sante

I first read this some years back and was really disappointed. I'm not sure why in retrospect -- I guess I wanted my old-timey New York to be romantic and dashing, and Sante's determined to point out that the city's criminals were ill-educated and often motivated by poverty and racism. Reading it now, even the non-romantic version is very fascinating (and with plenty of great tales, so I'm not sure what 2002-era Greg was complaining about). The biggest complaint is that Sante doesn't hit the gas enough -- parts of the book just read like a ledger of misdeeds, but as he shows toward the end, when he just lets loose and writes like crazy, he's FAN-TAS-TIC. It may be time for me to give "The Factory of Facts" another try, though I tried to start that about 16 times and never got into it -- it's the Nikolai Zherdev of books.

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Firewater's first two albums, full of sordid tales of NYC's crooked and screwed, provide an effective soundtrack to "Low Life." "Get Off the Cross" came out when I was in my earlier life as a music critic, and I remember getting the initial press release for the album -- Cop Shoot Cop frontman does klezmer! That sounded like the worst idea on earth, but man, "Get Off the Cross" was one of the landmark albums in my life. I moved recently (hence the radio silence) and dug that and "The Ponzi Scheme" out for play up and down the Atlanta highways, and they still sound just perfect today. Sad tales of doomed junkies may seem a bit odd for a move out to the suburbs, but somehow it worked. I was a little less enamored of their output after that -- "Psychopharmacology" had some great moments but left me a bit cold, "Man on the Burning Tightrope" has never made much of an impression on me, "Songs We Should Have Written" was a cute idea extended too far -- so I was really happy to see their last album, "The Golden Hour," just plain blaze. I'm even happier that they've got something new coming out this year. For someone who doesn't get a lot of new music, 2012 is turning out to be a banner year -- new Unsane and High on Fire already, new Firewater coming, Kiss it Goodbye gets back together (even sans Huckins, that's great news). It's like the '90s never ended!

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