Atlantic Sound: Caryl Phillips, Thomas Pynchon, Richard and Mimi Fariña

August 22, 2012

At the end of  The Atlantic Sound, Caryl Phillips is in Israel, visiting a community of Black Hebrews, almost 2000 of them, African-Americans who emigrated from the United States. They have given up their U.S. citizenship, but they aren’t Israeli citizens.  They live 20 or 30 people to one small house, yet they seem happy: music is everywhere.  Phillips writes: “On stage the singer, Tekiyah, sings Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song.’ The international anthem of the African diaspora. High in the hills of Jamaica. On the coast of Brazil. In Brooklyn. In every major city in Europe. And now here in Israel.”

Israel is not the most logical destination when it comes to the Atlantic, nor Bob Marley the most logical voice. It makes me think of Thomas Pynchon’s V, equally odd in that way, winding up in Malta, and serving up what we’ve now come to expect from him: an endless supply of songs and ditties, also not quite dedicated to logic.

V. has, in turn, inspired songs from others: Laurie Anderson, Radiohead, Richard and Mimi Fariña. Pynchon and Fariña were friends at Cornell, Pynchon was the best man when Fariña married Mimi Baez (sister of Joan Baez). In their 1963 album, Celebrations for a Grey Day, the Fariñas recorded a Near-Eastern-sounding dulcimer tune, about which Richard wrote in the liner notes: “Call it an East-West dreamsong in the Underground Mode for Tom Pynchon and Benny Profane. The literary listener will no doubt find clues to the geographical co-ordinates of Vheissu, the maternal antecedents of the younger Stencil, and a three-dimensional counterpart of Botticelli’s Venus on the half-shell.”

Hard to sort this out, but sound is like that.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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