Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol

gogol dead souls coverI’ve been aware of Dead Souls for many years. It is deemed a classic of Russian literature and Nikolai Gogol is a writer who is talked about with such esteem I had to find out why this is so. Up until the end of December 2018, I hadn’t read a line of his, and it appears Gogol hadn’t written much – Dead Souls is the only famous work he produced. Likewise, Chico Chica are not a prolific band, but I maintain this is because we exercise strict quality control. Robert Graves said a poet’s best friend is the wastepaper basket. For Chico Chica, it’s the delete button. In our current recording sessions, that button is wearing thin with over-use.

The title Dead Souls suggests something grim. But the book is in fact I kind of comedy. The novel is episodic. The hero, Chichikov goes around the Russian countryside visiting various landowners asking if they had any dead souls to sell. Land value was connected with how many serfs worked on it. In this context, serfs were known as souls. Taxes were paid on the number of souls as counted in the last census. In the interim many may have died so their names could be bought and sold as an elaborate tax dodge. I didn’t fully understand Chichikov’s business model and neither did the characters but that’s beside the point as it was a vehicle by which Gogol could satirise Russian bourgeois life.

The nearest equivalent I can think of is Pickwick Papers which was published six years earlier (1836). That was a light-hearted romp through English bourgeois life and I suppose if it wasn’t light-hearted it wouldn’t be a romp. I wonder if Gogol was influenced by Pickwick Papers. It seems so.

Publishers of the novel are confused about whether to include a sequel which Gogol abandoned and wanted destroyed. The sequel contained some of the best passages but Gogol’s wishes should have been respected. Like many musicians, I harbour a conceit that I will be the subject of study by some future musicologist (I know, I know). I hate to think my outtakes, mistakes, doodlings and experiments will be published.

I found the whole experience of reading this stalwart of the Russian canon less than satisfactory which is why I will stop writing about it. However, I have titled this post after the book because I see books, recordings and concerts as milestones in my life.

My mind is much more focussed on Chico Chica’s new album in particular my getting to grips with the intricacies of Logic Pro, an insanely complex pice of recording software.

It’s a paradox of modern times that the more labour-saving devices we possess the less free time we have. In the seventies people seemed to have the more free time. I wrote about this many years ago. It is in fact my very own Second Law of Leisure:

‘The free time of an individual is inversely proportional to the amount of labour-saving machinery he uses.’

So nowadays, musicians are forever struggling to find the time to write and rehearse. Barbara Snow and I have assigned Mondays as our time to bring the next Chico Chica album to fruition.

There’s a documentary of Captain Beefheart (the presentation is annoyingly dated but it’s still worth a watch). The Captain took his band to a remote Californian location and kept them there on a diet of beans for seven months. They then went on to record his greatest album, Trout Mask Replica (warning: it’s an acquired taste). Oh how I wish I had could do the same. But I’d probably be arrested for cruelty or forceful imprisonment, such are the intolerant, anti-art times we live in.

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