I am in love with Michael Cunningham. Or at least his writing. I finished his novel Flesh and Blood about five minutes ago. I read the vast majority of it today. I was not so much gripped as consumed by its story and elegant prose. This book has been on the bookshelf downstairs for well over a year, given to my father by a friend. He had suggested that I read it before, but I had not. 'Til the day before yesterday. I'm glad I did.

The first thought which occurred to me was a comparison between his writing and Cormac McCarthy’s. Maybe it is just because they are both American and contemporary, but both books had a similar effect on me. Their styles and subjects are vastly different. McCarthy’s prose drifts out, forming elaborate descriptions of the physical environment, while with deft strokes Cunningham convincingly portrays his characters and their relationships. He writes in a way that makes it seem as if I’ve always seen the world as he is telling it. His writing seems like something simpler than a simile, as if he knows a way to describe things as they are.

I don’t know why I enjoyed this book as much as I did, there is no plot to speak of. There is no principal hero, there are no stunning revelations or lessons well learned. The book follows the Stassos family through almost four generations. It illustrates the relationships between each family member from different points of view. Cunningham weaves such a wide tangle of connections, that it is hard to discern any distinct message from the book. I feel however as if there has been some knowledge acquired through reading it. The suggestions are so subtle and so similar to the complex fables thrown to us in real life, that it is easy to believe the feelings evoked are wonderfully deliberate.

Maybe this book is about the generation gap and The All American Family. Or maybe it is about people, and how they see other people. Maybe it is about love and the corollary emotions that go with love: disappointment, worry and anger. Maybe it’s about history repeating itself and how children make their parents. Maybe I don’t know what it’s about, but I know that it was worth reading, and that that feeling in itself is enough.

"Flesh and blood" in the more literal sense can mean one of two things. It usually means one's own family or kinsfolk (and is often preceded by "own"). You have to defend or stick by your own flesh and blood, or you never throught your own flesh and blood would behave in such-and-such a way. This probably refers to two traditional concepts: that when man and wife wed they become "of one flesh", and that people related by descent are related "by blood", and the blood of the ancestor runs in the veins of the descendant.

Less commonly it means living body of a human being, as opposed to a ghost or a picture or message or fiction. So a flesh-and-blood person is one you're contrasting with merely a message, memory, telephone call and so on. But you don't normally meet someone "in flesh and blood", you just say "in the flesh" or "in person", because "in flesh and blood" conveys more of the sinews and warmth and beating heart. For example, in the traditional ballad of The Wife of Usher's Well, her three sons are lost at sea, and she utters a terrible wish that they may visit her in earthly flesh and blood:

There lived a wife at Usher's Well, and a wealthy wife was she
She had three stout and stalwart sons and sent them o'er the sea

They had not been a week from her a week but barely ane
When word came tae the carlin wife that her three sons were gane
I wish the wind may never cease, nor fashes in the flood
Till my three sons come hame to me in earthly flesh and blood
Flesh and blood is also a drink. In the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer some of the rougher types, such as coachmen and gatekeepers, have a partiality for it, since it's good and strong and keeps them warm. It's simply gin and port together. Now this sounded rather shocking to me for a long time, not disgusting exactly, but definitely not going together and liable to have quite an edge on it. But one day I happened to have a bottle of each, and lo and behold, it's delicious. Very warming, puts the fire in your blood all right.

The same idea of pale and red drink mixed is found in a modern recipe I found for a cocktail called flesh and blood. (Bloody Mary with gin instead of vodka, in effect.)

1 1/2 oz of gin
3 oz tomato juice
1 dash of lemon juice
dash of Worcestershire sauce
2 drops Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper

Shake very well with ice, serve over crushed ice.

Flesh and Blood (1990) is also the title of a follow-up to hair metal rock band extraordinaire Poison's highly successful Open Up and Say...Ahh! (1988) album. A bit more balanced than most of Poison's prior efforts, blending a touch of blues and southern rock ("Poor Boy Blues") into their standard formula of booze, guitars and neon, the album looks almost as if Poison was attempting to refine their sound as a contrast against the ever-rising tide of one-dimensional hair bands.

Regardless, one can't deny that all the traditional hallmarks of glam rock are still strikingly evident on this album; the rock anthems ("Unskinny Bop", "Ride the Wind") and power ballads ("Something to Believe In", "Life Goes On") are mainstays, as of course are the traditional "G, C, D" chord permutations and blatant whammy bar abuse featured in just about every song from the the genre.

All things considered, however, Flesh and Blood may be more notable simply because it may very well be eventually considered indicative of an era's end: as the nineties rolled in, hair metal began a steady descent off the charts, as musical tastes themselves ascended the coast, from Los Angeles to Seattle. As it stands, none of the hair band "trifecta" (Poison, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard) released another album for some time, and following 1990, all had highly publicised upheavals, even deaths, within the respective acts, as the erosion of the genre became readily visible; it wasn't long before the same thing eventually occurred amongst the lesser bands of the genre, as well. When these three bands did begin recording again, it is readily evident that their styles and substance had visibly changed.

As for Poison, following Flesh and Blood's release, Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille was booted from the band, due in part to his incessant drug use. Later replaced by a variety of guitarists including Ritchie Kotzen and Blues Saraceno, Poison still never managed to quite pick up the pieces -- although the aforementioned shift in musical tastes had much to do with that.

In the end, Flesh and Blood, while not a bad selection by any means, from this group, it is perhaps more significant in that it's probably the last major album of the band, and of the genre to find acclaim on the musical charts, a notion that won't likely be overlooked when genre's history is eventually penned.

Track Listing:
1. Strange Days of Uncle Jack
2. Valley of Lost Souls
3. (Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice
4. Swampjuice (Soul-O)
5. Unskinny Bop
6. Let It Play
7. Life Goes On
8. Come Hell or High Water
9. Ride the Wind
10. Don't Give up an Inch
11. Something to Believe In
12. Ball and Chain
13. Life Loves a Tragedy
14. Poor Boy Blues

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