What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Of Spiky Grime and Muddy Wail: Matthew Trammell's "Night Life"

Matthew Trammell (Illustration by Stanley Chow)

There’s a great new writer at The New Yorker. His name is Matthew Trammell. His ravishing “Night Life” pieces describe a dense, crazy, fascinating world of names – names of bands (Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Mob, Girlpool, Sheer Mag, Babymetal, Naughty by Nature, Bluntfang, Breakdown, Cro Mags, Token Entry, Antidote, Maximum Penalty, Potty Mouth, King Missile), names of venues ((Rough Trade, Terminal 5, Market Hotel, Barclays Center, Playstation Theatre, Apollo Theatre, Wembley Arena, Stage 48, Citi Field, Highline Ballroom, Trans-Pecos, Madison Square Garden, Tompkins Square Park, Zinc Bar, Union Hall, Brooklyn Bowl), names of platforms (YouTube, Twitter, SoundCloud, Tumblr, Creem, Snapchat, Noisey), names of songs ((“Bitch Better Have My Money,” “Skrt,” “1 Sec,” “Wild Things,” “O.P.P.,” “Hip Hop Hooray,” “Jamboree,” “Feel Me Flow,” “I’m in It,” “The Blacker the Berry,” “Kid A,” “Creep,” “Them Changes,” “Detachable Penis,” “Cheesecake Truck,” “The Bridge,” “The World Is Yours”), names of rappers ((Kodak Black, Silentó, Desiigner, Novelist, Nas, MC Shan, Kanye West, Dean Blunt).

There’s poetry in those names, in their specificity, in the delightful way Trammell blends them in rich skeins of imagery and observation. For example, in his superb “Also Known,” a tribute to the late A$AP Yams, he writes,

Yams was a rap fan first, and expressed this through his work with Rocky, who grew to be an avatar for so many of the things that his mentor loved: the stylish decadence of Sean Combs’s New York, the muddy starkness of DJ Screw’s Houston, the creative fearlessness of Lil B’s Internet.

That “the muddy starkness of DJ Screw’s Houston, the creative fearlessness of Lil B’s Internet” is inspired!

Here, from his recent “Of the Cloth” (September 5, 2016), is another example of his combinational art:

“First nigga with a Benz and a backpack,” West rapped on his début album, “The College Dropout,” from 2004, toying with symbols of an old binary: the luxury cars of rap’s late-nineties maximalist period and the scrapbook-stuffed JanSports toted by the era’s anti-platinum purists. Twelve years later, a Lamborghini is a step up from a Benz, and McDonald’s isn’t exactly Harold’s Chicken Shack, but the blueprint remains.

When was the last time you saw “Benz,” “backpack,” “scrapbook-stuffed JanSports,” “anti-platinum purists,” “Lamborghini,” “McDonald’s,” “Harold’s Chicken Shack,” and “blueprints” comprehended in the same sentence? I'll bet never. Trammell is a combinatorial genius. I enjoy his work immensely. 

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