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White Noise, Back to Mono

I just finished reading Don Delillo’s White Noise, which was first published in 1985, and is out in a very nice Penguin Classic Deluxe paperback.


[My favorite toy raygun. By the way, my artist friend Paul Mavrides did a great painting, “Peace Dividend” of rayguns in 1997.]

Somehow I didn’t read Delillo’s book when it came out, even though there was considerable buzz. Maybe I was bitter and envious that Delillo was getting the lit-crit attention that I wished we cyberpunk SF writers were getting. You can’t really trust writers’ opinions about other writers books—many of us are, at least some of the time, mean-spirited, back-biting, and resentful.

Anyway, White Noise kicks ass. Other than it’s (refreshing) lack of computers and the internet, it could have been published this year. The dialog is amazingly flat and hard-hitting. And the plot elements are somewhat science-fictional: an unfathomable “airborne toxic event,” and a mysterious high-tech drug called Dylar. Delillo does this cool thing of throwing in generic TV and advertising phrases, standing on their own in little paragraphs, breaking up the action. “Technology with a human face.” “And this could represent the leading edge of some warmer air.” “Not that I have anything personal against death from our vantage point high atop Metropolitan County Stadium.”


[Advertising pins for the 1980 Virgin Books edition of my novel White Light, the pins stored in an argon-filled tetrahedron at the Rucktronics Museum in Silicon Valley.]

Quite a few of Delillo’s scenes are set in a supermarket, with our characters bathed in the waves and radiation of product information. The white noise. They get most of their information about the world from supermarket tabloids.


[A Liberty Light, a gift from my friend Nick Herbert, who at one time worked for the manufacturer.]

The other thing I’ve been into during this rainy, cabin-feverish week is to listen to a boxed set, Back to Mono, of singles produced by Phil Spector 1958-1969. I got it from the library.

My favorite is Darlene Love, singing “Today I Met the Boy I’m Going To Marry,” which you can hear in this YouTube video of…the phsyical record spinning on a turntable. It’s gotten very hard to find free mp3s of songs online, but for some reason you can find a lot of songs being “pirated” as soundtracks of YouTube videos. You can find mp3s on marketing sites like lala.com, but then they only let you hear the things once before buying it. And if you really want to get an mp3 for free you end up on, like, a Polish language site seething with malware. So hooray again for YouTube.

There are a number of videos of the Ronettes, though—they’re the supreme girl-group named after their lead singer Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett, who was later married (unhappily) to Phil Spector—thus she’s more commonly known as Ronnie Spector. That’s “Be My Baby” above, in a kind of weird video of a TV show with, oh my god, gogo dancers. Ronnie’s not a really great dancer herself, but it’s sweet and cute to see her and the other two Ronettes do their best. Probably “Baby I Love You,” is a greater song, here’s a video of that, in which the two sub-Ronettes (Ronnies sister and cousin) are relegated to a role liike appliances being wheeled from a closet. I like their Easter Parade outfits in this one.

I always had trouble figuring out what ethnicity the Ronettes were—turns out they’re a mix of black, white, and Native American. Researching them and Phil Spector and his other groups, it seems like most of them had pretty rough lives. Phil Spector’s in jail for killing a woman, for instance, with no chance of parole till he’s 88.

Looking back to happier times…another great group that Spector recorded were the Crystals, led by the wonderful Lala Brooks. We’re talking “Da Doo Run Run.” You can see the Crystals sing it on YouTube. Oddly enough the song “He’s a Rebel,” which is credited to the Crystals, was in fact sung by Darlene Love. Here’s a recent video of Darlene Love singing the song with Lala Brooks of the Crystals. And, wow, YouTube is bottomless, here’s Darlene and Joan Jett singing the song.


[Danglng raindrops with a palm-tree-bokeh background.]

But the weirdest video of “He’s a Rebel” is the following. Back in 1964, Kenneth Anger made a fairly outrageous underground movie called Scorpio Rising, whose entire soundtrack is pop songs of the day. I remember seeing it in an art house back then and cracking up that they had “He’s a Rebel” in the movie overlaid with some clips of Jesus and the disciples walking around in some ancient religious film. You can see the movie on Google video. The “He’s a Rebel” part cuts in about twenty seconds after the 16 minute mark.

White noise, white light, white heat.

6 Responses to “White Noise, Back to Mono”

  1. Justin Patrick Says:

    Those lit-crit types do seem to get all the attention. As if Cormac McCarthy was the first person to write about a post-apocalyptic quest, or Margaret Atwood about genetic engineering.

  2. mh Says:

    I believe you may have written Ron Spector when you meant Phil Spector.

  3. Rudy Says:

    Right mh, I fixed that, thanks. Alex, I was hesitant at first about blogging, I had this “Don’t leave your game in the locker room,” kind of worry that blogging would use up my writing energy. But it seems to play a role more like warmup exercise. I was also leery of letting my readers post comments, fearing flames—but I think it was Emilio who talked me into opening the gates—but I like the comments as it gives me an illusion of a social life.

    SteveH, yeah, I had a basement darkroom as a boy and one in an attic in grad school. As a boy, it was an endless struggle to find light leaks, and to figure out the right temperatures and times for the various chemicals—as a grown-up I could handle that stuff, but was never quite happy with my results, always a little cloudy and blurry, I never got the point where it was seamless fun with excellent outputs.

  4. emilio Says:

    If I remember Emilio just presented some alternate views. Also I think you viewed it as very experimental at the time.

    I think you like the artist on the edge of success role you play. Recognized but not lionized. No?

    Sorry, I didn’t have time to stop yesterday. I was coaching! BTW, I’m offering a free intros.

  5. Andrew Fedders Says:

    Ah yes…Pill Spectre. He hated losing, that Pill ! Cheated at monopoly for god’s sake ! Scorpio Rising ! Ha! Now I know where Scorsese stole it from ! He uses that pop song/gangster juxtapose in one of his best, Mean Streets to brilliant effect, I must say. Gets credited in expensive undergrad cinema texts for starting the MTV concept ! HA ! It’s all back to Donald Camell again. Or is it Cut-Up ? Which Brion Gysin really stole from some Beat hanger-on New Jersey kid-poet in Tangier. Interestingly, Pill also produced some of John Lennon’s more “experimental” works; got George Harrison to extrude some noteable tunes: Ramones too, I think. And now lives in Charles Manson’s neighborhood who really was only looking for a producer who could understand him. I smell “reality show !”

  6. Alex Says:

    For sixties girl groups, The Supremes are one of my favorites.
    Check YouTube for the psychedelic ‘The Happening’ and the classic ‘Stoned Love’


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