06 March 2014

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

Patty Berglund (nee Emerson)
Walter Berglund Patty's husband
Richard Katz Walter's friend, and at times Patty's lover, but that's complicated.

Joey Berglund
Janice Berglund ... son and daughter of Patty and Walter

From p.200 , on which Richard (a successful musician and songwriter currently broke due to his own behavior) is being "interviewed" by the son of a wealthy customer for whom he is building a rooftop deck in Manhattan:

Q. What do you think of the MP3 revolution?

A. Ah, revolution, wow. It's great to hear the word "revolution" again. It's great that a song now costs exactly the same as a pack of gum and lasts exactly the same amount of time before it loses its flavor and you have to spend another buck. That era which finally ended whenever, yesterday--you know, that era when we pretended rock was the scourge of conformity and consumerism, instead of its anointed handmaid--that era was really irritating to me. I think it's good for the honesty of rock and roll and good for the country in general that we can finally see Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop for what they really were: as manufacturers of wintergreen Chiclets.

Q. So you're saying that rock has lost its subversive edge?

A. I'm saying it never had any subversive edge. It was always wintergreen Chiclets, we just enjoyed pretending otherwise.

Q. What about when Dylan went electric?

A. If you're going to talk about ancient history, let's go back to the French Revolution. Remember when, I forget his name, but that rocker who wrote the "Marseillaise," Jean Jacques Whoever--remember when his song started getting all that airplay in 1792, and suddenly the peasantry rose up and overthrew the aristocracy? There was a song that changed the world. Attitude was what the peasants were missing. They already had everything else--humiliating servitude, grinding poverty, unpayable debts, horrific working conditions. But without a song, man, it added up to nothing. The sansculotte style was what really changed the world. 

I read this book slowly, from about the middle of January to yesterday (5 March 2014). It is, I think, a fairly decent characterization of our time. The characters are a little bit unbelievable, perhaps a little too cardboard-cutout for their own good, but nonetheless they all represent a bit of what makes up America in the early 21st century. The plot is well done, made up of the points of view of the main characters in a way that kept me interested -- because each of these people are quite intense, and they can begin to wear you out.

Should there be anyone here to read it, this book might be a good reference for future inhabitants of Earth.

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