LOU'S VIEWS: Studio Vonnegut

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

VonnegutKurt Vonnegut fans who suffered through the cinematic versions of his novels “Breakfast of Champions” and “Slapstick” know that Indy’s favorite native literary son didn’t have great artistic success when his books and short stories were adapted to other media. Sure, the film “Slaughterhouse-5” was fine—and a few other under-the-radar works were OK—but not many Vonnegut spin-offs added much value to his eclectic oeuvre.

So it would be understandable if you approach the new CD “Mother Night/Breakfast of Champions” (Keuka Classical) as I did, with a Vonnegut-ian degree of rueful wariness.

First, let me explain what exactly this disc isn’t. It’s not a book on tape. It’s not a Vonnegut monologue recorded for posterity. And it’s not a chance to hear Vonnegut sing (although he does warble a few notes).

Rather, it’s an eccentric classical, jazz and blues composition from Howard Cass, played by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra and accented with the voice of Vonnegut, who spent time in a recording studio reading excerpts from the pair of title books. To solidify the local connection, it’s conducted by Butler University Professor of Music Richard Auldon Clark, who also plays viola.

Where Vonnegut was consistent to a fault, always writing in the same, unmistakable voice, the recording is a mixed bag. I was won over completely by the first track, in which a Samuel Barber-evoking intro leads comfortably into Vonnegut’s elegant, melancholy, deeply moving evocation of loss and longing—opening with the plaintive statement, “About that purgatory of mine.”

The rest of the first half of the recording is as strong, whether in the spirited, Vonnegut-free “Mother Night I” or “Freedom Again,” in which Vonnegut’s character defines what did and didn’t cause him to freeze in place.

“What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years,” wrote (and reads) Vonnegut, “was curiosity. Now even that had flickered out.”

Already moving on the page, Vonnegut’s words are given space by the orchestration, with sentences lingering evocatively as the instruments fill in, making it impossible to move to the next phrase without pondering the last. At these moments, the disc is at its meditative best.

The consistency of vision gives the “Mother Night” section a wholeness and focused vision that isn’t present in the more ambitious “Breakfast of Champions.” There’s still terrific, strong work here—especially in Vonnegut’s remembrance of “Armistice Day.” But I could do without the ersatz ’60s pop of “And So On,” in which a cacophony of voices repeat Vonnegut’s signature phrase. Or the equally-repetitious-for-no-apparent-or-interesting-reason intro and close to an otherwise sharp Vonnegut passage in “Goodbye Blue Monday.” In most of their uses, additional voices become intrusions rather than additions.

I’m still uncertain about the opera intonations of the final piece, “Free,” in which Vonnegut’s iconic character Kilgore Trout is set free by the narrator. It’s powerful in parts, but the polished additional voice doesn’t have the personality that Vonnegut and the strings bring to the work.

Still, even with valleys to offset some of the peaks, the disc, like a good Vonnegut book, should hold up to repeated exposures. I’m going to count on it to carry me through many a commute.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?