Why Beyoncé Should Have Won Album of the Year

Following Beck’s winning Album of the Year my Facebook feed was filled with multiple posts validating this as the correct choice. Many people I know reposted memes dealing with the below issues as well as linked to this BuzzFeed article. I, however, found myself in disagreement over this sudden solidarity and especially with BuzzFeed’s article. After all, two of the five claims made in the list (He’s deserved an Artist of the Year award since 1995 and he threw a shoe in an interview with Thurston Moore in 1995) literally have nothing to do with anything Beck has produced in the past year while the memes have a notion of artistry that are very limited and thus refute below. That said, here’s the five reasons why Beyoncé ought to have been the true winner for Album of the Year!

1. Beck is just a musician, Beyoncé is an artist.
Beck isn’t even on the same level as Beyoncé. Beck released a CD of audio recordings while Beyoncé released a visual album. These are not just music videos that she released, but a thematically coherent and visual choreographed creation. Beck has a single video to support his album. If music is a vehicle for education, entertainment, and edification than the album Beyoncé is a spaceship while Morning Phase is a dinghy.

2. Beyoncé’s art has greater mass appeal.
At the time of writing this Beck has sold only 330,000 copies of his album Morning Phase while Beyoncé has sold over three million. Beyoncé has over seven million followers of her YouTube Channel. Beck does not even have eighty thousand. I’m not so naïve as to mistake sales and followers for great art – after all Nickleback and the Twilight movie series both had high sales. Sales are, however, a consideration that with the others prove she is the greater artist and that her album is better.

3. Beyoncé’s art has greater niche appeal.
Due to the nature of art that Beyoncé produces . For instance shortly after the publication of her her video for Run with husband Jay-Z’s discussion about elements of it were featured on Critical Theory magazine, Glenn Beck and a segment of NPR. Lest I be accused of overly emphasizing one particular video that managed to resonate across various minor sphere’s I would also encourage you to check out once of many websites that document the “Illuminati” imagery and purported history of the artist. This is because she is an audio-visual artist. Perhaps there are some corners of the internet that go into similar dissections of Beck, but I was not able to find any.

4. Beyoncé’s avowed inclusion of other artists into her production process is an item in her favor, not against it.
The production of art is not some isolated event created out of some magical sphere of inspiration. Musicians are constantly influenced by the people they meet, the places they go and the art they consume. As Picasso said, good artists borrow, great artists steal.While it may be difficult to quantify at times that doesn’t meant that given enough time and effort such influences can’t be found. Bey is giving us a list of artists that she thinks are worthy enough to work with her and thus encouraging us to expand our audience!

5. Beck is falsely lauded for introspection.
Some of the comments that I’ve read and the images like those above falsely place Beck’s introspective lyrics above what are wrongly presumed to be Beyoncé’s more lighthearted pop verse. Beyoncé deals with serious issues such as feminism, monogamy, parenthood, self-esteem and more but all in a way that is empowering rather than maudlin. To presume that because a few songs on it are lighthearted dance songs means that it is not sufficient to be “high music” is to denigrate some of the most important emotions of the human condition.


Beck winning was a legacy nod rather than an actual win and his doing so is more a comment on the nature of award-granting institutions than any real reflection of what is “Album of the Year”. After all, the only reason that the Grammy’s are granted any credibility as a curator of good taste in an age that makes it easier for consumers to grant similar accolades is due to their age which – 50 years – in the grand scheme of things is no long stretch of time. The composition of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences after all is but a small number of self-selected personages able to pay for membership and meet a criteria that my even my father, no music industry insider or player, is able to be a member of. The Grammy’s provide no rhyme or reason for their choices, but rely solely upon consensus of their members. I however disagree and wrote the above to refute the cases that I’ve encountered in Beck’s favor. Don’t agree with me? Decide for yourself after experiencing Beyoncé and listening to Morning Phase, make a case and share it with me.Beyoncé

Review of Zalacain the Adventurer

I first came across Pío Baroja y Nessi in connection with Ernest Hemmingway. A famous anecdote states that while on his deathbed Ernest visited him to state that he should have won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Baroja’s response to him was to the effect of, “Claro, tonto.” After reading online reviews I decided to pick up Zalacain the Adventurer, the short, picaresque novel of Martin Zalacain’s exploits leading to and during the period of the Carlist Wars in Spain.

In the tradition of The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, Baroja introduces us to a anti-hero that through his wit, daring, and ability to address people at the proper social register is able to make a fortune while having a number of exciting episodes. While I don’t have as much knowledge of the period as the translator James Diendl has, from my having spent some time in the northern region of Spain (Catalunya) and reading about the political turmoil there in the 1930’s I would concur that Zalacain does seem to typify the “Basque character”. He is poor, living in penury at the beginning of the novel until his grandfather take him under his wing, but proud, is energetic, individualistic, has a resilient character in the face of obstacles to his wishes and is able to “pass” as a number of different identities because of his awareness of the social milieu. Diendl states that this characterization stems from Nietzsche’s influence and once again I trust him as it is clear within the text.

The reader is first introduced to Martin during his formative years in the small town of Urbia. Martin foregoes a traditional education and instead learns about the nature and the land around him. He is able to set and later inherits various gardens that allow him to forego entering into the market economy, but later decides that he will do so in part in order to win the affection of a girl in the town named Catherine. While not fully giving up the vagabonding life that Tellagorri, his grandfather, schooled him in he decides to get into trading. This is an especially lucrative business given the region is an intermediary zone between Castilian-Spain and France. The relative peace that he has, when not avoiding border agents and tax collectors, is shattered however with the crisis over who is to be the proper regent of Spain. The details of the Carlist Wars are complicated. As it relates to Zalacain, the conflict leads to many developments that upsets the lassitude of this otherwise sleepy, sheltered town.

The war makes the business of smuggling goods more dangerous and thus more profitable. As representative of various armed factions come calling for people to join them, this also leads to heightened tension between the various classes and the church. One highlighted conflict is between Charles Ohando, the fey-aristocratic brother of Martin’s love interest Catherine, and Zalacain. Three generations back, the great-grandparents of these men fought each other in the first Carlist war and Martin’s great grandfather was killed in the exchange. Thus while bad blood is the norm, during the period of peace Zalacain is able to come out on top and even avoid one of the traps Charles sets.

As might be expected by his being on the periphery of the exchange economy, Martin doesn’t really care about who wins and sees the exercise not based upon any grand sentiment other then disguised greed for power. When faced with antagonists to the Pretender, he and his friends fool the troops as to their political sympathies. This causes him to be briefly pressed into service, a fate far preferable to death.

From here a cat and mouse game ensues between those he’s escaped. Following his freeing he learns of his loves deliverance to a nunnery on the order of her older brother. Before leaving to search for her, however, he gets contracted by a merchant to get requisition documents delivered to a Pretender general. This while searching for Catherine, he must now also deliver these documents and obtain signatures without being recognized as a deserter or of being suspected as sympathetic and in collusion with the other side. I won’t provide any more plot points that might spoil it for the person that hasn’t read it other than to say that a number of funny and tense scenes entail that highlight the hatred that exists between the numerous regions of Spain and the conniving powers of Zalacain.

Interspersed throughout the travel narrative are jokes and songs and poem fragments. In the taverns I found some of the characters described to be quite funny and the dialogue to be especially compelling. Here is an example of one that exemplifies Zalacain’s realpolitik worldview:
“You shouldn’t talk, Capistun, because you’re a trader.”
“So what?”
So you and I steal with our account books. Between stealing on the road and stealing with an account-book, I prefer those that steal on the road.”
“If business were there, there wouldn’t be any society.” Gason replied.
“So?” Martin said.
“So there wouldn’t be any cities.”
“As I see it cities are made by the wretched and are used as objects to be sacked by strong men,” said Martin, violently.
“That is being an enemy of humanity”
Martin shrugged his shoulders.

The novel is short, I read it in two sitting, but I found it to be a quite enjoyable tale of a Basque individualist dealing with tragic/humorous situations. I’m not quite sure from this particular work that Baroja was correct in asserting that he should win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, but having read this I’m definitely interested in reading more of Baroja’s work.

Review of A Wizard of Earthsea

I’d first read Ursula K. LeGuin’s book The Dispossessed several years ago. Though I loved the book, I’d departed from my normal habit – once I’d find an author I like I read all their books – as I’ve never wholly resonated with fantasy literature. Despite my reservations and with some encouragement, I decided to read A Wizard of Earthsea.

The novella is in its essence a variant of the hero’s tale as described by Joseph Campbell as well as a journey story. Le Guin, however, expands upon Campbell’s model by making ingenuity and erudition as components of a heroes’ development. I resonate with this as despite its fantastical setting these are indeed the components required for modern heroes. Super strength, agility and other such brute qualities may make up the majority of the “hero” tales of Hollywood cinema, but such an emphasis in cultural production ignores the greater life conditions win by hard and social scientists.

The plot itself is rather simple. A “special” young boy, who earns the nickname Sparrowhawk, attracts the attention of an older, wiser magician following his use of a simple spell to save his village from invaders. He goes off for training due to a number of “innate qualities” that only the older magician is able to see and despite that latter’s reservations (Star Wars?). After a major accident that disfigures him and kills another, he adopts a new humility and gains a new sense of responsibility (Spiderman?).

This simple distillation of plot, however, ignores the imaginative descriptions of the various places and peoples that live on the archipelago of the Earthsea. Part of my aversion to fantasy in general was the supernatural elements – as I prefer social realism and science fiction – however the magical framework that Le Guin describes has an aura of basic plausibility to it that makes it easy to suspend my normally incredulous disbelief in the bizarre and paranormal.

One of the components that I enjoyed of the book was the good use of foreshadowing. Long before the main confrontation I’d figured out the symbolic meaning behind the evil that Ged had unleashed. Even prior to that specific incident there are many moments where the narrator make a brief assessment of Ged’s potentially problematic characteristics. Once the significance is revealed the prior instances of struggle – between Ged and a dragon, between Ged and another magician under the influence of a devious Old Power – take on more clearly moralistic characteristics that echo other instances of temptation.

I’d read in several reviews of Le Guin’s work that her dragons represent a meaningful divergence and complication of their normal depiction in literature. As I only read one brief exchange between man and dragon here and as I deeply enjoyed the story, the setting and the characters I am now interested in reading the rest of the saga.

Review of Billy Bathgate

E. L. Doctorow’s novel Billy Bathgate is a first person point of view account of a 15 year-old Bronx boy who has been raised by his mother as his father abandoned him. Set in the 1930s, Billy is distinguished from his peers by his cleverness and daring. While juggling one day, a metaphor for his dexterity and speed both physically and mentally, he comes to the attention of the most notorious local gangsters, Mr. Schultz, who is known colloquially as The Dutchman. Billy’s receipt of ten dollars for his skills starts him on a path away from his childhood friends into that gang soon even becomes Mr. Schultz’s protégé. Billy’s fondness for the criminal syndicate that he soon enters is clearly linked to his upbringing in grinding poverty, his lack of father and feelings of distinction from those in his neighborhood.

One of the things that I enjoyed about the book was the manner in which the narrator, Billy, is able to express a complexity of thought that is unlikely for him to have without it seeming unrealistic. It makes for more compelling introspective monologues and makes the other characters increasing reliance upon a child seem more believable. While this is part of his carriage as a character – someone smarter and more able than other – he is not some untouchable character on a wholly upward ascent. It is there, in those moments when Billy’s ego is hurt that allows him access to the greatest insight. He sees what’s going on as an outsider, a child not yet fully involved in the decision making apparatus that he’s attached himself, yet also as an insider for he has greater access to what’s going on than most. This tension is both a sort of anxiety for him and, in the end, a source of security.

If I were to give the book a feminist reading I’d say that the relationships that Billy and the other male characters have with women all fit into the category of plain objectification. But I would also qualify this as endemic to the time and complicated by a variety of circumstances. For instance Drew, the lover of Bo, Mr. Schultz and later Billy, presents a complicated case requiring more depth of analysis. While she does seem to be the typical rich party girl in the mix with the wrong crowd, she is also able to exercise a large degree of autonomy and prescience over her situation. Thus she knows that at times she is in danger, she still continues to stay amongst them out of an affected, privileged boredom until her position there is no longer tenable. Billy’s mother, in contrast, suffers from some mental derangement, is largely absent once he begins this new life and then is someone that needs to be taken care of rather than is able to take care of Billy. The brief “love” between an adolescent prostitute and Billy also bolsters this notion of women as objects but also is complicated enough so as to blur any clear classification.

One of the more interesting aspects of the novel to me is that as I’ve just finished writing my novel’s first part on Jesse, I see so many overlapping plot elements within our two works. Now there’s a number of major differences and the stylistic elements between my and Doctorow’s work is great – but I’m still amused by this. I think in a way it has to do with something that is propounded by Otto Berman in the book. When he is speaking with Billy he tells him how all the number in the books that he has with information related to Dutch Schultz’s various illegal doings could be thrown up into the air and then come back down on the page and tell a whole other story. I’m dealing with many of the same variables so there’s really only a limited number of ways that the interactions can come together. Additionally, that this story can be considered literature while having many of the same elements that I have in mine, though admittedly not in as graphic detail as I use, gives me premature hope against imagined future detractors.