Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The L.A. Times is A Damn Good Paper..So There.

So Kurt Anderson thinks the LA Times is irrelevant in its own city? What garbage. So he polls a few of his New York snob friends to determine that the LA Times is meagerly read by the educated class? And this is what passes for reporting? First of all, you need to live in a city in order to determine whether that city's paper is worthwhile or not. I'm wondering how assiduous Anderson's LA Times' reading might be. LA Times-bashing is becoming one of those odious West L.A. cliches; all of those virtuous liberals who are so proud of the fact that they only read the New York Times and hang on Frank Rich's every word. Do these folks even know who George Skelton is, and that he writes the best column on local politics in the city -- in the LA Times? The problem with most New York transplants is that they really don't give a shit what happens in this city, so their denial of the LA Times is justified. This is just an indication of their willful myopia and blinkered cultural outlook. I love both papers (I write for both of them, as well) and if you read them both daily, you find that they compliment each other quite nicely.

Please folks - ragging on the Times is not going to make anything better.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lyons Without Claws

Yes! And it counts! Fox finally came to their senses and fired that racist moron Steve Lyons after he made one final thoughtless remark on the air. And better yet, they have replaced him with the superb Angels color man Jose Mota,who is everything that Lyons ain't - smart, insightful, classy. So it turns out Fox, whose coverage of the baseball playoffs is otherwise deplorably thoughtless and low-rent, does have a little horse sense after all. But it's just a good start - if you're going to pre-empt your entire Fall season launch for baseball, for Christ sake, compel your viewers to actually watch. Fox makes zilcho effort to engage casual fans, and that's one of the reasons why the ratings have been to sucky as of late. But dumping Lyons? A very good start.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Spiral, with Lined Pages

Among the many stratagems I have for avoiding work - and there are too many to list here - perhaps my favorite meaningless pastime is shopping for journals. I love blank journals almost as much as those literary quarterlies I was gushing about earlier. The pristine journal is a kind of promise, a mortgage on future writing. If I'm bogged down in my own bullshit, and can't seem to get any decent ideas, I convince myself that what I need is a nice, clean journal to get my mojo going. There are so many cool ones out there - the hipster diaries they market to teenagers are my favorite, with their brash graphic designs that connote nothing but associative down-with-it, but there's also those amazing Moleskine books - shit, I have three of those sitting here at the minute. Then I like to go to Target and buy some of the stuff they market as back-to-school-with-cool. For a buck or two, I am styling for my stylus, big time.

They're all sitting here, neatly piled up, the spines uniform and flush. Maybe I should write something in them. Oh wait, Sportscenter's coming on....

A-Rod Should be an Angel

Nothing warms the cockles of a Yankee hater like the aftermath of a thorough post-season drubbing, when all of the NY tabloids are finger-pointing, the team dissembles, Steinbrenner seethes and the second-guessing ensues for four months. I for one have the solution to their problems - talk A-Rod into going to the Angels. I despise A-Rod as a Yankee - I would love him to be an Angel. Away from the annoying glare, he would thrive. I mean, A-Rod and Vlady in the same line-up, with that pitching staff? Sit down, everybody!! Anaheim isn't even L.A., for Christ sakes - do you think A-Rod could handle the scrutiny of the O.C. Register? I think so. So welcome, A-Rod, to the next great Angels era. The weather is fine.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dead Sticker Office

I had my 'Boys of Summer' moment yesterday. My 10-year-old daughter was rifling thought what remains of my vinyl collection when she came across The Grateful Deads' 1970 double-live album. Actually, she could have cared less about the album - she just moved it to get to the techno 12 inches. But imagine my surprise when a skull-and-roses dead sticker popped out of the album, intact and ready to be stuck?

Now, I have owned this album for almost as long as it's been in print - I must have popped the discs out of their inner sleeves many hundreds of times - and yet, there it was, my "Dead Head Sticker on A Cadillac." I snatched it up and wondered what to do with it - could I verify its provenance if I put it up on eBay? Would I look like some doofus Iowa State undergrad with a dead head sticker on my iPod? (Can I think of another product whose first letter is lower-case?)

In the end, I just decided to shove it in the ole bottom drawer. Don Henley was right - you can never look back.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Word Tsunami

I love literary quarterlies. I mean, I just think they're swell - Black Clock, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, Tin House, Glimmer Train, A Public Space. I love the care and passion that these editors and publishers put into their little magazines, working from tiny budgets with shoestring staffs. I remember when I interviewed George Plimpton a few years ago in his apartment, I was stunned to see that The Paris Review at the time was produced from his cramped, low-ceilinged basement. It looked fit for a college yearbook, let alone the most important quarterly of the past half-century.

I love that both established authors and great soon-to-be-knowns contribute. I love that these magazines insist that our time is worth theirs. Despite the fact that the quarterly audience presumably reads the paper everyday, grazes the alt-weeklies, tries to trudge through The New Yorker on a semi-weekly basis, and also keeps up a steady book-reading habit, the quarterlies tells us, no, it's not enough, and now is the time to read tens of thousands more words that will enrich your day, week, life. Subscribing to a literary quarterly is like putting a fixed-rate mortgage down on your future reading time - you might not get to it for a while, but when you do, it'll pay itself off many times over.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tales of Hoffman

The San Diego Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman broke the all-time saves record on Sunday with his 479th save. Wow, a remarkable achievement, made even more so by the fact that Hoffman was a shortstop in the minors! Apparently, Lee Smith, the man that Hoffman leaped frogged in the record book, was invited to attend the game, but missed it due to "prior commitments."

Smith has been getting some player-hatred online for this, but I ask you - how fun is it to watch someone break a record you thought might carry you into immortality? I have no beef with Smith shining on the game; it must be very painful for him to deal with a drop into second place. I cringed when the Maris family was invited to witness Mark McGuire as he busted their dad's single-season home run record - especially now that we know that McGuire was juiced. Sportsmanship has to run both ways, after all - if McGuire had broken the record on a level playing field, I would say more power to him. Because he didn't, I say fuck him.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sullivan's Travails

Sorry for that interregnum...dealing with work and other paying matters.

I was struck the other day by Andrew Sullivan's plight. His publisher had to recall the first print run of his new book after a portion of one chapter was inexplicably lumped in with another. I can relate, thought my situation was a bit milder, as it was a galley, not a first print run. My British publisher (which shall go unnamed) produced a reviewer's copy that was completely screwed-up -a large chunk of text was repeated in two different places. See, there's a difference in kind between a galley proof that has typos and a galley that's poorly organized. Reviewers understand that they will encounter their share of misspelled words, "tk" holes, and such - but this was more like an unintentionally bad attempt at Mark Danielewski experimentation. What would reviewers think - that I somehow thought Truman Capote had written In Cold Blood in 1975?

But I digressively whine - In the final analysis, I don't think it made a damn bit of difference. Maybe If I had made a big stink then, it could have been some left-field cause celebre. Book didn't sell squat in England anyway.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Trip to Sundance

So, as I wrote earlier today, I spent three glorious days at the Sundance Resort in Utah this past weekend to talk about my book The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight. Most folks think only of Sundance in regard to film, and for good reason. But for the past four years, local bookstore owner Karen Dallett has organized a series of author forums grouped around specific themes. My talk was part of a six-author package on the media. (it was the penultimate talk in the series, which concludes on September 30th with 'American Theocracy' author Kevin Phillips)

It worked like this: Patrons, most of whom are loyal to the Sundance author events and have purchased the entire six-author enchilada, showed up at around 12 to have lunch in The Tree Room, a beautiful dining space at the resort, with huge windows that reveal tangles of pine trees and the towering peaks beyond - which, incidentally, are starting to sprout patches of auburn (the leaves turn fairly early here) Then at 1, I was on, bloviating in my usual way about New Journalism. There was a spirited discussion afterwards, with a lot of interesting questions and insights - one woman told us that her engineer husband had been called to testify during the Watergate hearings about Rose Marie Woods' 18 and a half minute gap on that infamous Nixon tape. I signed a bunch of books in the library, and for that lunch hour, all was right with the world.

Events like these are a boost to the fragile author's ego; In Utah, I was pumped full of self-importance and love for mankind. It's illusory and all too transient, of course - your plane touches down on Burbank tarmac, and it starts to feel like a hazy dream. The trip had a salutary effect, though - all writers should be made to feel that their work isn't in vain every once in a while, and you can do worse than Sundance.

Sundance, Kid

Sorry for the delay - I was in Sundance over the weekend as part of their Authors on the Media series, and it was fab. More later, when I have the time to gather my thoughts and get it down here...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Disney, finally..and Mailer, too

Here is something a lot of us have been waiting for - perhaps ten years, maybe longer? I've lost track. It's Neal Gabler's mammoth, definitive biography of Walt Disney, one of those long-gestating projects that never seem to materialize. Looking at the Amazon page for Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination however, it seems like this book is going to be a mind-blower, delving as it does into Disney's alleged anti-semitism and alcoholism.

This, and a new Mailer novel, too? It's going to be an interesting Winter.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I Have No Flipping Idea

Jesus, this is harder for me than I thought it would be - I can't let go of summer. Summer means I can be irresponsible and call it a well-deserved break, and for an adult that's called grace. Fall means hunkering down, a fresh start, and all that crap. I can't deal. Therefore, I'm running on empty, blog-wise - the tank needs to be filled up a little before anything decent appears in this space any time soon.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The End of An Era

As you might have already read elsewhere on the web, Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed dean of rock critics and mentor to countless writers, was axed by the Village Voice yesterday. I had my issues with Christgau, as did many readers who had read his Consumer Guide of pocket record reviews for eons (Blue Oyster Cult is better than Black Sabbath? Nigga please...,) but the man did help me to build one hell of a great record collection. He was the zen master of the capsule commentary; Christgau could pack more ideas into three sentences than most cultural critics could articulate in a 10,000 essay. My hope is that Christgau will now pocket his severance and put his talent to good use, maybe write a book or two.

So, how many reviews has Christgau written since 1967? Check out his web site - er, that would be 13, 236! Just graze through that index, it's quite astonishing to behold.

God's speed, Dean....

Good Things, 9/1/06

The end of the summer, already? Christ almighty, I am getting older by the minute. Very good things:

Three more days of summer

Alice Kaplan's "French Lessons"

Tom Snyder's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Talk Show DVD

Fretboard Journal

Allen Ginsberg's Howl (Happy 50th birthday)

My Kids

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Best Literary Stunt, Ever!

Oh, what an absolutely exquisite gag. I mean, no reality TV producer in his right mind could have come up with something as deliciously vengeful as this. You might have read about it in the NY Times today. The short version: A.N. Wilson, esteemed and insanely prolific British literary author, publishes a biography of John Betjeman, the late poet laureate who was as well-known and as beloved in England as Paul McCartney and the Queen Mother. In his book, Wilson publishes a "love letter" from Betjeman to a friend named Honor Tracy as exhibit A of an apparent love affair between the two.

The letter, which was ostensibly written by a friend of Tracy's named "Eve de Harben," was a fake, and now it seems as if it was written by Bevis Hiller, the author of a massive three-volume biography of Betjeman that Wilson slammed in The Spectator in 2002. Hiller's gushing letter, which begins, "I loved yesterday. All day, I've thought of nothing else..." and so on, is actually a nasty anagram. The first letter of each sentence spells out A.N. WILSON IS A SHIT. Wilson printed this letter in his own book!

Hiller, who apparently spent 25 years of his life working on his Betjeman bio, apparently can't let go of a bad review. The two have been bitch-slapping each other in the British press for the last couple of years, but I can't imagine that Hiller isn't gleefully rubbing his hands together, murmuring "game, set and match, old chap," or something like that, over and over. He has clearly prevailed in this dust-up.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dylan's Modern Times

Feverishly rushed to my local Book-Record-stationary store today to grab the latest Dylan album, what with all of the critical hosannas. Halfway through the first song, I was asleep at the wheel; by track five, I was seething with anger and wondering what else my 13 bucks might have bought (the new Tortoise compilation?)

It is time, fawning Dylan rock critics, to lay down your pens and prick up your ears. What on earth are you hearing that I ain't? Modern Times is flyweight stuff for an artist of Dylan's stature, a light breeze that might kick open a screen door. This album reveals two unenlightening aspects of Dylan's musical character, circa now: He's listening to a lot of Hoagy Carmichael and Muddy Waters records. Two songs on the album are direct Waters lifts - a slightly reworked "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (OK, that's an old blues song of unknown provenance, but it's Waters' arrangement) and a slightly rejiggered 'Trouble No More" which Dylan has cleverly retitled "Someday Baby" (that'll fool 'em). Yet, scanning the jacket copy, I see no mention of Waters anywhere, just 'All songs written by Bob Dylan.' When is homage thievery?

As middling Dylan records go, it's not wholly offensive, like "Empire Burlesque" or "Under The Red Sky." But I think I'd rather listen to some abject failure like "Self-Portrait" than endure Dylan's newfound romance with torch songs. There's nothing more banal than a slumming genius. But maybe I just need to be convinced -- I felt the same way upon first hearing Love and Theft and I have affection for that record now - but perhaps you feel otherwise?

But Is It Art?

I don't want to go all "sports nut" on ya'll here, but was that Aggasi-Pavel match riveting stuff or what? Agassi pulled out one of his greatest late-career first round victories; down 0-4 in the third set, he refused to lose, and bent Pavel to his will. Aggasi is now playing the role that Jimmy Connors once played at the Open - the aging warrior who toughs it out for his adoring NY fan base one...last...time.

The New York Times' online coverage of the Open is terrific. The Times' art critic Michael Kimmelman is blogging from the Billie Jean King Tennis Center every day and his smart, punchy dispatches are well worth reading.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Steve Lyons is An idiot

Baseball fans, especially Dodger fans, know that Fox Sports color dude Steve Lyons is a dumb jock, but I had no idea that he was a dumb racist jock. On Sunday, while working the Angels-Yankees game, Lyons was talking about Yanks' catcher Sal Fasano, and the fact that he had to shave his Fu Manchu moustache to accommodate Steinbrenner's absurd Eisenhower-era grooming code. Then there was a comment made by the other Fox guy (he's so non-descript that his name isn't even worth mentioning) about how you don't want to cross Fasano. Well, Lyons replied, you know Fasano is the type of guy "who knows a guy that knows a guy."

ugh, spare us the racial profiling and just stick to strategy, please.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Good Things, 8/25/06

Am I becoming depressingly incurious in my dotage? I have no new records, movies, etc to report; the best I can do is Talladega Nights, which made me laugh out loud so often that my kids were embarrassed. No one else in the theatre was laughing, either, and granted, it's not THAT funny. But Will Ferrell can do no wrong in my book, and so I laughed at even the dumbest telegraphed gags, at all the gags regarding testicles, beer and redneck 'tude - and I didn't even realize that Sacha Cohen was in this thing - hooray for Sacha Cohen and his French accent of indeterminate ethnicity!

So that's how lame I am, recommending the top grossing film for the month of August - I am SO bleeding-edge....

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Miss William Buckley

As Katie Couric prepares to take over at CBS, my thoughts have turned to William F. Buckley Jr.

When I was a kid, Buckley was the most public intellectual in the country, not because of anything he had written (and he had written plenty by this time, including his notorious anti-left screed God and Man at Yale) but because he was on TV, of course. Firing Line, his public affairs program, aired from 1966 to 1996, a run comparable to Johnny Carson's, but with socialist academics and unknown politicians. There was always much to hate about Buckley. Often cited as the father of the conservative movement, or at least its prime theorist, Buckley's politics were often offensive, i.e., his advocacy of Joe McCarthy and his cold-war absolutism. Dyspeptic and defiantly Anglo-Saxon, prone to bug-eyed fits of mild outrage, Buckley was an awkward TV host - his intellectual condescension towards his guests, whether on the Left or the Right, was never less than transparent, and Buckley's frequent fits of OED show-offery always had my father scrambling for the dictionary.

I really miss him. Stanford University, which is the conservator for the complete Firing Line archives, has made a partial list of the shows available online, as well as teasingly short Real Time clips of a handful of random programs. But just scan that list of shows for a minute - can you imagine a talk show in 2006 tackling subjects like "Mobilizing The Poor?" "The Idea of The Great Ideas?" "Race and Conservatism?" It's great to watch Buckley give equal air-time to prime movers and professors alike - he reels off academic C.V.'s as if they were movie credits. Granted, this was public TV, but not even public TV has the courage of its pledge-drive convictions anymore - if you think of Tavis Smiley or Charlie Rose as the heirs to the Firling Line mantle, well, them's fighting words. Firing Line reminds us of a time when television, albeit ghetto-ized TV for people with PBS tote bags, could sustain a serious public-affairs show that had nothing to do with entertainment news. Do take a look at these clips, and you, too, will feel the elegiac sting of a good time gone forever.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Guitar Tabs? Pray for Hal Leonard

For every amateur musician who blesses the Gods of the Internet every time s/he downloads the tablature to a song s/he just HAS to figure out THAT VERY SECOND, the news that music publishers are going to crack down on illegal tab sites is mighty disturbing indeed. OK, I'll amend that sober third-person lead - what I meant to say was, shit, this is bad news for me! I love these tab sites, and so do countless guitar players who have filled their fakebooks with thousands of crib sheets taken off sites like Chordie and GuitarTabs.

Back in the day, us guitar hacks would spend ridiculous cash to buy songbooks that were never quite inclusive enough. 30 bucks tends to be the suggested retail price for most of these books, the economics of which I have never understood. Do we really need to spend more on the fakebook than on the record itself? You can see where I'm going with this - tab sites freed us and gave us grazing ability - we could download, say, one Merle Haggard song, one from Neil Young, etc, and build own own DIY fakebooks. The possibilities are endless - I have always found what I'm looking for, no matter how obscurantist.

Like so many web-ocrites, I tend to a take a "free stuff for me, but not for thee" approach: If I can rip stuff off the web that benefits my lifestyle, I'll overlook the fact that someone else has just been ripped off a few pennies. I don't download music for free off the web, but if music publishers think that cracking down on tab sites is going to solve their problems, they're just strumming past the graveyard. What they need to do is make their books cheaper and more accessible, expand the genre options, and get creative. Otherwise, tabs will forever slouch towards my Martin dreadnought.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Martha Gellhorn

I reviewed Martha Gellhorn's letters for today's Washington Post. Here 'tis:

Addicted to War
Marriage to Hemingway was just one episode in this journalist's rip-roaring life.
Reviewed by Marc Weingarten
Sunday, August 20, 2006; BW15


Edited by Caroline Moorehead

Henry Holt. 531 pp.$32.50

Where is the Martha Gellhorn biopic? Why hasn't some enterprising movie producer figured out that this writer's rip-roaring life is the stuff of breathless action-adventure? War correspondent, novelist, short-story writer, playwright: She should be as well known as Truman Capote, but the fact that she's a historical footnote has more to do with the inbred sexism of American mythmaking than with Gellhorn. In a life dense with incident, her five-year marriage to Ernest Hemingway has overshadowed everything else.

Caroline Moorehead, the editor of this fascinating volume of letters, tried to rectify the situation with her excellent 2003 biography of Gellhorn. But, alas, it didn't exactly do boffo box office, and so we must now turn to this book in hopes that it will expose the curious reader to the extraordinary thrill ride that was Gellhorn's life.

Born into a family of overachievers, Gellhorn at first took the conventional path. She worked hard in school and attended Bryn Mawr but chafed at the regimented academic grind. In search of adventure, she turned to journalism. After a short stint as a cub reporter for a paper in Albany, N.Y., the 21-year-old upstart moved to Paris and began her career as a kind of writing nomad. During her long life, Gellhorn put down stakes in Africa, England, Cuba, Florida and Mexico and traveled to countless other countries for her work.

Gellhorn first made her mark during the Spanish Civil War. Sitting down with ordinary citizens and listening to their tales of survival, she filed a series of stories for Collier's magazine that revealed a gift for unflinching observation and unforced pathos. Her stories from Spain -- difficult to find today -- were much better than Hemingway's.

Gellhorn's correspondence from the 1930s and '40s reveals a strong desire to be in the thick of pitched battles. War was an addiction for her; it gave her the motivation to work hard and produce good work. Shortly after her assignment in Spain came to an end, she confessed to her college friend Hortense Flexner that her newfound placidity was dull. "Nothing in my life has so affected my thinking as the losing of that war. It is, very banally, like the death of all loved things." Gellhorn was desperate to make her mark as a writer of distinction, and epic global conflicts were the best kind of raw material. She was certainly everywhere she needed to be: Dachau after the liberation of the camps, the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, Vietnam. Disdainful of journalism despite her considerable skills (it was all just rent money to her), Gellhorn also gave short shrift to her fiction but produced a number of very good books, including a World War II novel, The Stricken Field .

This collection is punctuated with stinging lashes to her ego. "I would rather be a writer than anything else on earth," she wrote to Hemingway's editor Max Perkins in 1941, "but I am lazy and there are communal demands on time, and then besides, I feel very troubled in the head and heart." Those troubles could be traced to her stormy relationship with Hemingway. Her letters to Papa from the late 1930s are flush with flirtatious platitudes ("I love you. That's the main thing. That's what I want you to know"), but she later confesses to Flexner that "Ernest and I, really are afraid of each other, each one knowing that the other is the most violent person either one knows."The marriage ended in 1945 with a vicious and recriminatory letter from Hemingway: "Sleep well my beloved phony and pretentious bitch."

Other toxic relationships followed, including a marriage to former Time editor-in-chief Tom Matthews, which collapsed in 1963 when Gellhorn discovered he had been engaged in a long-term affair. Many of these letters are taken up with musings about the impossibility of enduring romance and her futile efforts to find a lasting relationship. To her good friend Allen Grover, she despaired of ever finding "comforting loving trusting arms that were to be guarantee forever against nightmares." But romance receded to the background as Gellhorn grew older. Work and old friends sustained her even when she felt "blind and helpless with unwriting." Her creative metabolism slowed down only when her body began betraying her. A hysterectomy in 1973 left her feeling like a "frail, bowed, little old lady, aged 102." Then, in 1974, while driving along a barren road near her Kenya residence, Gellhorn struck and killed a small child. "There was absolute silence," she wrote to her longtime confidante Diana Cooper, "nothing in the world, only me sitting dazed in the car in the ditch and a little body curled up in the road." Though she was held blameless, the incident, perhaps more than any wartime ugliness she had witnessed, left an indelible mark on her psyche.

Over the next two decades, the intrepid Gellhorn settled down a bit, but never stopped working. In 1996, two years before her death at the age of 89, Gellhorn wrote to her friend Victoria Glendinning that she had completed a 42-page article on Brazil for Granta, even though it had driven her "into exhaustion and despair. Typing and not seeing, trying to remember what I had already written and trying to get a mass of information when . . . I could not read my own handwritten notes." In 1998, sick with cancer and other maladies, Gellhorn calmly took a pill and ended her life, in control of her destiny until the very end.

These letters, which have been placed into their proper historical context by Moorehead's thoughtful annotations, reveal the indomitable spirit of a titan of American letters. It's high time for Gellhorn to emerge from the shadows of 20th-century literature into the bright light of mainstream recognition. ·

Friday, August 18, 2006

Good Things 8/18/06

Not many good things to report on today - it just wasn't a "good things" kind of week. Let's see what we can drum up here, though...

I like the new Viva Voce record Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. Aside from packing the best song titles of the year ("How to Nurse A Bruised Ego, "Bill Bixby, ""We Do Not Fuck Around"), the album has an appealingly trippy, drowsy, coming-down-from-a-Vicodin-high vibe. I like how the strident guitars play off of the hushed vocals, while the drums tumble down a flight of stairs. It has an echo of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, which is always a good thing.

I've also rediscovered Sparks' 2002 release Lil Beethoven. It's a very strange and eccentric concept album - a mock-operatic meditation on poseur rock stars, suburban ennui, narcissism, and er, lots of other things. I root for bands like Sparks, who have kept it together for almost 30 years, scraping for record deals and maintaining a fan base by not compromising, all that good shit. Don't like the new record too much, though, but I'm assuming there will be another soon.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Headline (or subhed) Of The Day

From today's Malibu Times:

"Jamie Gold won the World Series of Poker's Main Event and a $12 Million Prize. Not needing the money, he says he will use it to help his friends and father, who is in the final stages of Lou Gehrig's disease."

It's heartening to know that Gold cares about his friends and family, but..NOT NEEDING THE MONEY?! Who says the rich are getting richer?

Off to Lynch The Wizard

This is a disturbing story: Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz was a nasty (and quite vocal, apparently) racist. Now here's a little game for you kids: match the characters of the Wizard of Oz with their racist archetypes. The Tin Man? Baum was obviously an anti-Tin-ite!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

No 9/11? No Diggity

Leave it to Tom Wolfe to take the piss out of just about anything. This week's New York Magazine asks a number of prominent city folk "What if 9/11 never happened?" Amid all of the sanctimonious and self-serious commentary, there is this from the firebrand in the ice cream suit:

The New York real-estate market would have become so hot, hot, hot that by now developers would be converting grand old hotels such as the Westbury, the Stanhope, the Mayfair, perhaps even the Plaza, into condominium apartments selling for $10 million and up. By now a socialite would be any young woman who has appeared in three or more party pictures taken by Patrick McMullan for any of a dozen or so fat party-picture magazines. A local music genre called hip-hop, created by black homeboys in the South Bronx, would have swept the country, topping the charts and creating a hip-hop look featuring baggy jeans with the crotch hanging down to the knees that would have spread far and wide among white teenagers—awed, stunned, as they were, by the hip-hop musicians’ new form of competition: assassinating each other periodically. How cool would that have been? Two historic pillars of the New York economy—shipping and garment manufacturing—would have vanished by now. There would be 40 empty piers on the Hudson River, and the only shipping would be an intrepid but decrepit aircraft carrier welded to a dock and turned into a museum. Meanwhile, a little known Asian country called Bangladesh would be manufacturing more clothes for the American market than Manhattan’s West Twenties, West Thirties, and Chinatown put together. Latins today would make up 40 percent of the city’s public school population, easily outnumbering black students (35 percent), while the white component would have declined still further (15 percent). The big news, however, would be the surge in the number of Asian students, which might have rocketed upward by as much as 10 percent a year. The city would have had two Republican mayors in a row for the first time in modern history. There are no silver linings in 9/11, and it is no consolation to say that at least we didn’t wind up with a senseless, baffling, flotsam city like that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Everyone's A Critic

Patrick Goldstein's article in today's LA Times about the diminished cultural currency of movie critics, and arts critics in general, is sad but true. However, I will not cry over my copy of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, nor will I blow my nose on Negative Space However much we want to believe that there was a golden era when critics called the shots and dictated the fortunes of films, the marginal influence of film critics has been ever thus. There has always been, and is now, an engaged cadre of the moviegoing audience that likes to think critically about film, that reads reviews and essays and argues them. These are the same fans that reconsidered Band of Outsiders after they read something Pauline Kael wrote, or started to pay attention to old John Ford films after Peter Bogdonovich championed him in the pages of Esquire.

The received wisdom now is that a few keystrokes on a Blackberry from one 14-year-old to another bears more critical weight than any A.O. Scott rave, and it's true, but word of mouth has always been the single most potent marketing driver for decades. The film audience for whom serious film critics write are conversely more inclined to take a flyer on a film based on a review or an essay they've read. And let's not forget about critical mass in the literal sense - when 100 newspaper critics told us that "Sideways" was a great film, it sent us to the theatres in droves - we only had to glance at that newspaper ad with countless blurby superlatives to know that it was something worth investigating.

So it's a matrix of factors that determines what filmgoers see or avoid. According to Goldstein's article, only 3 percent of film goers aged 18 to 24 said that movie reviews were the most important factor in determining what they might see. That's supposed to be a depressing stat, but 3 percent is a lot!

Hipsters Love Newspapers

Amid all of the talk about how the blogosphere is crushing the media hegemony like a walnut, supplanting the fusty old paper-and-ink paradigm with many-to-many dispatches delivered at blinding light speed across the Web that deliver body blows to the powers that be,I thought it might be worthwhile to walk through my local Urban Outfitters yesterday to take the pulse of corporate hipster branding. Um, actually, I wasn't there to conduct field work; I just like Urban Outfitters. The whole notion of a big company selling cutting-edge style to the masses is absurdly calculated, but they make cool shit, and so I bite. I especially like their T-shirts, although lately it seems that they have decided that anyone over 5 feet tall and 120 pounds shouldn't really be in the market for their T's.

I'm drifting here, but bear with me. So I was browsing the shirt aisles yesterday, and lo, what did I spot among the shirts bearing old-school Technics turntables, cassette tapes and the like? A white shit emblazoned with The New York Times logo. Not Gawker, or Daily Kos. A 150-year-old newspaper logo. So it seeems that the gatekeepers at U.O., given their choice of hip logos to market, went with one of the oldest media instutitions on the planet. Let's just hold off on that new paradigm for a minute, shall we?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tune The Page

Back when I was exclusively writing about music, my rock-crit friends and I would often lament about the fact that no one reads books about music - I mean, like no one, not even the subjects of the books. The one exception was my friend Jim's Lester Bangs bio, which did in fact sell, but that had more to do with meta-musical interest - a book about a gonzo critic who wrote about gonzo musicians, which had lots of appeal to media types and all of those nutty Bangs cultists (there's more of them out there than you think.)

But what's up L.A.? Looking at the local bestseller list yesterday, no less than three music books were on the non-fiction list - Barney Hoskyns' Hotel California , Ashley Kahn's The House That Trane Built , and the (somewhat less music-centric) Laurel Canyon , by Michael Walker.

This is a heartening development, as two of of these books discuss L.A.'s musical heritage with passion and smarts. Hoskyns has been one of England's finest music writers for the past 25 years, but he's always maintained a fascination with L.A. and the strange and wonderful sounds that have emanated from Valley to Canyon. In Hotel California, he explicates how a clutch of hyper-talented singer-songwriters (Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, etc) minted a literate vision of pastoral hippie bliss to the tune of multi-millions, and how enablers like David Geffen helped them do it. Walker's book, oddly enough, is the very first book to chronicle the history of Laurel Canyon and it's numerous contributions to popular culture. Together, they provide a wide-lens glimpse into the warring impulses of L.A.'s greatest musical artists - the battle to forge meaningful art in the alembic of an aggressively commercial culture.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Good Things 8/11/06

Ah, who can resist a chanteuse with a potty mouth? Among the new records I haven't tossed into the trash bin (er, I mean bequeathed to orphans) is something from Brisa Roche called The Chase. It's pretty wonderful; Roche sings in an affectless yet sultry voice that might work for chanson ( there are some chanson-esque tracks here from the French singer) but instead is put into the service of dark atmospheric siren songs in which Roche lays some wicked wit on us (Dial me up baby dial me/I'm not cellular I'm manual/Don't press my buttons dance me around/Dizzy me with your hands). Worth checking out.

Another new thing (to me) that I'm really digging, and that's well worth taking 401K withdrawal penalties to enjoy: Threadless.com. I live for Tees, and this is the best t-shirt site on the web I've seen (thanks, Boing Boing, for the link). It's apparently an open source kind of dealio: anyone can submit designs and then the folks at threadless pick and choose what goes into the catalog. There are plenty of stunning designs to be found here: I'm having trouble not grabbing them all.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Garcia Shmarcia

Jerry Garcia died eleven years ago today. Feeling sorry for my adult self and wondering why I would never feel as good as I did as a dumb kid when I thought the Grateful Dead would save my pathetic soul, I went to San Francisco that day hoping to make a pilgrimage with fellow heads. But as it turned out, I got there a day early. Hasty shrines to Garcia had been erected around the city, but no one was really paying attention to them yet - it was just a bunch of Haight stragglers and such.

So I took the next plane back to L.A. The big wake/celebration took place the next day. I had missed out on everything. It seemed a fitting metaphor - It was way too late to think I could "connect" or "vibe' in some deep way with fellow travelers. It was all absurd anyway; that day felt more contrived than it should have, if I remember the news reports correctly.

Still like the Dead though. Right now I'm deep into the mirror ball disco period. That's the problem with fans - they like even the dog poop.

The Short Story Scam, the Poetry Con

I will now prostrate myself before all of those aspiring short story writers and poets who must endure the bunko game of trying to get published in little magazines so they might, might, one day see a book in print that might, might sell 1,000 copies. It's a mighty honorable pursuit, considering that even if they get published in a respected University quarterly or some such, they will be paid squat a year later (or better yet, recieve five copies of the magazine in lieu of payment) and find a very captive audience in their parents.

That's if they get lucky. What mostly happens to these noble strivers is they become prey to one of the biggest scams on the planet - vanity publishing. The Oxycontin trade has got nothing on the vanity publishing jip, which is a ripe forum for all kinds of used-car salesmen to take advantage of desperate artists with nasty pay-for-play scams.

Case in point: A few months ago I submitted a short story to a few magazines (this doesn't happen often, mind you) and shortly thereafter, I started getting the most odious spam in my mailbox. The following is a small taste of the kind of crap that desperate writers find waiting for them along with their morning coffee and rejection letter placemats:

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Morphing's Law

I've been thinking a lot lately about the use of new words within the context of historical writing. Specifically, the use of the word "morph" or "morphing," which in the last month or so has appeared in a book I've been reading about literary figures in the 50's and a historical novel whose story pre-dates the 20th century. In both instances, the word looked somewhat jarring; it felt like I was being wrested out of the comfortable time-space continuum into which the books had lulled me, and thrown into a blog much like this one, where words like "morph" are flung around with alacrity.

If a new word has entered the lexicon, does that make it fair game? Does it give any writer permission to use it wherever or whenever s/he may see fit? Can a biography of, say, Napoleon point out that he 'morphed' from a feared leader of the French revolution to defeated exile? I might be too fusty to think that a word that connotes a certain computer generated special effect should be re-purposed in such a way. But "morph" might just melt into the vernacular like so many other words that once seemed so strange, and then perhaps I can stop wringing my hands. It hurts!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Writers and Pain

If you're a freelance writer, graphic designer, pimp, whatever, perhaps the two most depressing essays you will read this month are to be found in Keith Gessen and Benjamin Kunkel's bi-yearly literary digest n+1. The first is Philip Connors' terrific piece about his dreary life as a low-level copywriter and stringer for the Wall Street Journal called My Life and Times in American Journalism. Dig the title - it has that portentous tang of the sweeping multi-decade biography of some grand old intrepid man, like Mencken or Henry Grunwald. Believe me, it isn't even close to that, but it's very funny and very sad. Not sad-tragic, sad-pathetic....at least until 9/11 happens, and then it turns very sad indeed.

The other piece is Gessen's essay on writers and money. Unfortunately, I can't link you to the essays in toto - you'll have to shell out 11.95 to buy the magazine. But for anyone who has snagged a tidy writer's fee from a glossy magazine, only to find yourself parting with it due to some unforeseen fractured wrist, dog-related emergency or some such, cringes aplenty are to be had upon reading this thing.

Monday, August 07, 2006

310 Reasons to Use Email

My phone bills are bad enough. Now the phone company, in a nifty bit of sadist trickery, is making me work harder to pay up the nose. This new compulsory 310 prefix for local calls is sheer madness. Perhaps 'the powers that be bad' didn't take into account the fact that all of my friends and family members have blocked phone numbers. Which means that, in order to call up someone who might live ten minutes away from my house, I now have to punch in as many digits as it takes to reach someone in Prague. If I get carpal tunnel, Verizon will hear from my lawyers.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Arthur Lee on the Line

It's Arthur Lee on the line:

A: "What do you want, man?"

MW: "I was wondering if you might have any thoughts about Paul Rothschild. I'm writing an obit."

A: "Fuck Paul Rothschild, man. That dude didn't do shit. I produced my records."

MW: "Well, surely, he must have made some contribution?"

A: "Listen, Jac Holzman, he ripped me off, man. And that Jim Morrison? He stole all my chicks! If I was a white man instead of a black man, I would have sold more records than the Doors, man. All Elektra cared about was the fucking Doors."

MW: "Huh. Er, anyway...."

A: "Listen, man, you've got to pay me."

MW: "Pay you?"

A: "I need 1500 dollars to do this interview."

MW: "It's not my policy to pay subjects for interviews Arthur."

A: "Listen, Paul Rothschild is dead man! I got nothing to say about him. Let the man rest in peace!"

MW: "You sure you don't want to talk?"

A: "Talk? I've already given you about 500 dollars worth of talk!"

Well, Arthur Lee was one obstreperous motherfucker, no doubt about it. But hot damn those Love records were brilliant. Sorry to see him go.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tosches on the Dancefloor

In my never-ending quest to waste time and not get paid for it, I came across an unusual MySpace page today. It's Nick Tosches' page. Yes, the prolific and brilliant journalist, author and gutter bon vivant is using MySpace to shill what appears to be a spoken-word album called "For The Taking." You can hear a sample of the record when you open the page. Tosches is reading his poetry - a spacey amalgam of Kerouac and Whitman, it seems - over a chugging, spacey techno soundtrack.

Who knew? Not I.

Their Satanic Lawyer's Request

From the "As if the Rolling Stones weren't whorish enough" department: Just in case you might not have gotten your fill your former heroes turning into avaricious Gordon Gekkos, shilling counter-culture anthems to car companies and actuaries and whatnot, now comes this news flash from the British gossip web site Holy Moly.

The Charlatans have been tapped to open for the The Rolling Stones on their upcoming "Love You Dead" European tour. Their contract stipulates that the Charlatans are not allowed to watch the Stones perform in any way, shape or form. If they want to see the show, they will have to buy tickets like everyone else.

It was unclear as to whether members of the Charlatans will have to pay $7.50 for bottled water and 40 bucks for crap-ass T-shirts like everyone else.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Is It Good For The Jews?

The punditocracy is destroying public discourse in this country. This democratization of expertise that we see on the Internet is breeding a self-serving brand of fake analysis. Look at what's going on with the Mel Gibson situation. You rarely read the words "vile" or "disgusting" in the countless articles that have been written - no, everyone is just in the prediction business now. Will it affect his career? Will he bounce back or be a pariah? Which trash tabloid TV personality will nab the first interview? And how do you like those nutty newscasters using Gibson movie footage to lamely illustrate the event (Who cares? It's self-evident) I'd like to see more outrage, less oracular soothsaying.

But some good has some out of the Gibson tirade: it has brought Hollywood's double-speak into the light. Among the reams of copy I've read, only Patrick Goldstein's LA Times column laid bare the extreme hypocrisy of a community that celebrates its enlightened social awareness every Winter during movie awards season but remains silent when one of its own is exposed as a virulent bigot. As Goldstein points out, only one movie exec has gone on the record in expressing her disgust at Gibson's comments (which was spun into a kind of profound disappointment.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Don't Blame Stoneman

A lot of Angels fans are griping over the fact that Bill Stoneman didn't pull the trigger and make a boffo deal before the non-waiver deadline. But I think he's getting a bad rap. The Angels really don't have much wiggle room. Their pitching staff is among the best in AL, and Stoneman doesn't want to give any starter away, especially given the parlous nature of Colon's arm.

Stoneman and Arte Moreno are absolutely correct about holding on to their minor league prospects - they've got some of the highest-rated players in the country just bubbling under the Bigs. So, what to do? As it stands now, I think they have a solid shot to win the division, but a very distant shot at anything beyond that. For now, I guess I'm OK with that; they can maneuver in the off-season, tweak the offense, and come back strong in '07. For the time being, we must pray that:

Juan Rivera continues to play like Stan Musial
Garret Anderson can somehow play at something like 60 percent capacity
Vlad has a monster second half
The middle relief figures out how to get outs

Play on, friends, play on...

Marisha Pessl is Hot

Hot damn! Did you get a load of Marisha Pessl in the New York Times yesterday? Those bedroom eyes, the glossy lips parted just so, the entire come-hither dealio. No, it wasn't a Guy Trebay story - it was the book review. Seems the smoking Ms. Pessl has written a very fine "prep lit" novel called Special Topics in Calamity Physics. She's only 27 years old, she's gorgeous. I'm officially obsessed. This is as bad as my Donna Tartt thing in the 90's. Which means I'm of two minds about reading the book. If it's as good as Janet Maslin says it is, well, then, I don't know what I'm gonna do with myself. I will either become a stalker or seethe with so much envy as to cause heat stroke. If it's no good, I will be crestfallen and never judge a book by its jacket photo again. Or I will continue to hold out hope that homely authors can be published too. Or search Google Earth for Ms. Pessl's house.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Come On, Feel The Annoyz

What is the deal Steve Rosenberg? I just got wind of your rant against my Valley article in the New York Times, even though it's a few weeks old (the rant, I mean.) Believe it or not, despite your cliched claim that everyone in the Valley is wearing a wooden barrel and selling pencils on Vanowen for a nickel a piece, there's no disputing the fact that our beloved region has gone upscale in recent years. You also must understand that the Surfacing section is a 500 word hit - there would never be room to list all of your alternative suggestions. Yes, I love Four N 20 pies, and the Good Earth is OK - but the story was all about hipstering up the Valley, not settling into old familiar favorites. That's a different story entirely.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Reynolds' Rap

When is a hug not a hug? When it's harassment, apparently. One bad hug, and now the best baseball analyst on television has gotten the hook. As one of ESPN's top stick-and-ball guns, Harold Reynolds wore his knowledge lightly. He stood out on ESPN, because he wasn't one of those blustery contrarian blowhards that the network seems to breed just to annoy me - if I cared enough about football, it would be insufferable. But Reynolds wasn't one of them, he was one of us - a fan and a student of the game that consistently pointed out something in a defensive play, a pitch sequence, a graceful swing, that you wouldn't have noticed on your own - even if (like me) you are slowly mortgaging your waking hours by endlessly watching baseball games, as well as pre-game coverage and after-game locker room interviews.

ESPN would be foolish to dump Reynolds, especially now that Peter Gammon's professional future is uncertain after his brain aneurysm. Who they got left - Kruk? NO!!!!! Anything but that.

So let's hope that the hug was some misunderstanding, and that Reynolds had forgotten about that bobblehead doll in his pocket or something.

Say it ain't so Harold!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Digital Reissue Label

This looks intriguing. A fellow named Keith Ambrahamsson, an A&R dude at indie label Kemado, is putting together a digital reissue label called Anthology records. Great idea; download all those records you sold for pot money years ago. The first batch looks pretty good, too: Minneapolis punk-rockers Suicide Commandos, Adrian Sherwood's African Head Charge, and some stuff I've never heard of but will shortly, no doubt (70's Krautrock band My Solid Ground? hmmm...)

The site isn't up yet, but here's the link:


Monday, July 24, 2006

Pet Theory

Ah, now here's something you absolutely must check out. We all know about Mike Love and his rotten attitude towards Brian Wilson's Van Dyke Parks period with the Beach Boys. Love is so anti-Loved by hardcore fans that many of them have secretly disparaged the recent talk about a Beach Boys reunion with Love on board.

As someone who loves the Beach Boys so much that rational thought about the band is impossible, I would love to see the comeback materialize, because I have a feeling that Brian and his musical handlers would ensure that it wouldn't be a fiasco. If it worked out the way Smile worked out - well, now we're talking.

But I'm drifting here - what I meant to say was, I just received the 40th anniversary of Pet Sounds in the mail and I'm psyched to watch the DVD doc, which looks intriguing. But here's what's REALLY intriguing. We should have seen the Love-hate coming years ago: This PR package comes with an album-sized reproduction of the Pet Sounds cover and this is something I never really noticed before - Mike Love is the only B-Boy who isn't feeding the goats!! It's a metaphor, I tell ya!

Oh, and I can't wait to read Catch A Wave, Peter Ames Carlin's bio of Brian Wilson. Yes, Carlin will be hard pressed to beat Stephen Gaines' definitive Beach Boys book, but I am duty-bound.

Snakes in the Machine

Apparently, Hollywood is very proud of itself for finally getting hep to those wacky Internet kids. In today's LA Times, the producers of Snakes on a Plane discuss the fact that they have trawled various blogs and message boards and have decided, per the chatter, to give the peeps what they want - more excreta, Cobra entrails, Wonderbras, whatever. Ramp up the coagulated plasma, it's showtime.

I ask you - how is this any different than the same bet-hedging stratagems that Hollywood has leaned on so hard for so many years - so hard, in fact, that it's fucked up the movies? Just because Hollywood, after much resistance, has pricked up its ears towards the loud din of bloggerheia, doesn't mean that this interfacing somehow symbolizes an evolution in the way studios go about their business. Filmmaking should be an autonomous art. It doesn't matter if it's mallrats in West Covina or html rats in West Hollywood; micromanagement-by-committee has no place in artistic endeavor. And yes, rattlers slithering around Business class can constitute creative endeavor.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Oh, Toby Young Again

Toby Young's naked ambition is refreshing. I appreciate the fact that he isn't ashamed to say that he wants to be a big Hollywood bitch, engorged with money and fame, bedding every starlet he can get his sweaty claws on. So many aspiring assholes in L.A. seethe quietly about the fact that they don't have the juice, that this personal trainer and that son of a mutual funds manager have somehow leapfrogged over them into the great movie Empyrean. Young doesn't mutter these things under his breath; he writes a book about it.

In The Sound of No Hands Clapping (great title, that!), Young flat out admits that, yes, he is enamored of celebrities, that he would love nothing more than to be just like them. Certainly his temperment is right on line for this kind of career goal; Young has turned his self-regard into a vocation. Recently on his blog, Young admitted that he "LexisNexis"-ed himself every day. That means he actually pays money to read articles about himself. You gotta love this guy - he understands well that print writers have to make complete jerks of themselves if they want the media to pay attention to them. His chutzpah would be galling if he wasn't such a funny writer. But I'm giving it up for him, because the man is funny and audaciously ballsy.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Oh man, see, this is just wrong. There was a guy, his name was Paul Nelson. He was a very good music critic, one of the earliest serious writers to turn his attention to popular music. He was the founder, during the 60's folk revival, of an important folk music journal called The Little Sandy Review. He hung out in the Village, and he knew everyone in that scene. Bob Dylan was a friend from Minnesota, at least until he saw Nelson's record collection and proceeded to steal about 25 of his albums. Dylan mentions this in the Scorsese doc No Direction Home, so it's no myth. Or maybe it is, who knows.

Anyway, Paul Nelson was a very good writer. Along with Greil Marcus, Jon Landau and Lester Bangs, Nelson formed the nucleus of the first generation of important rock critics. He served a long tenure with Rolling Stone, eventually taking over the record reviews section in the early seventies. If you bought Rust Never Sleeps because of something you might have read in RS, it was Nelson's doing.

Because of Nelson, The New York Dolls got a record contract with Mercury. Because of Nelson, we got to hear some cool tapes of the Velvet Underground recorded live in 1969. But kids, this is why it's important to skip music criticism as a career option. What happened to Nelson? He wound up working in a video store. A 69-year-old man peddling Criterion Collection DVD's. That's just a sad and tragic fate for a writer as talented as Nelson. Kids, stay in school, become a veterinarian, an archeologist, a park ranger. It's just not worth the free CD's.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Greil Marcus

Many of you who read Greil Marcus back in the day have perhaps not kept up with his career. Mystery Train, his first book, is the best critical study of popular music ever published. His 1989 tome Lipstick Traces is really a bravura performance, a great big edifice of original thought about a specific strain of subversive art that has echoed down the decades of the 20th Century, from Tristan Tzara to Johnny Rotten. It is an absolutely stunning piece of work; there's really nothing else remotely like it.

I'm currently writing an essay on Marcus, and that afforded me the opportunity to read his lastest book,The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and The American Voice. It is typical Marcus: highly eccentric, bouncing as it does from Philip Roth to actor Bill Pullman to Twin Peaks to Martina McBride. But Marcus engages you, forces you to examine connections that you've never considered before, to argue his points and perhaps work through your own feelings about what Marcus is positing. How many writers can even pull that off anymore, without resorting to cant or politically-tinged received wisdom? Even when I disagree with Marcus, I'm grateful for his intellectual passion and rigor, and his willingness to dig deeper and exhume forgotten artists and cranks that nonetheless provide connective tissue to our current cultural condition. So check it out when it's published in the Fall.

Ralph Ginzburg

Ralph Ginzburg died last week. Ralph Ginzburg was a brave and courageous hustler, a man for whom the big score was worth sacrificing your livelihood for. He was a street smart striver who talked in the clipped Brooklyn patios of a Coney Island barker. Working his way though the advertising department at the old Look magazine in the 50's, he became a high-level exec in short order. But when he thought it might be a good idea to trawl libraries for obscure erotica and then publish it in book from, the shit really hit the fan. Ginzburg published An Unhurried View of Erotica while working as an editor at Esquire magazine. The book was a sensation; Mike Wallace had Ginzburg on his old NightBeat talk show, and the book wound up selling over 300,000 copies.

That wasn't a good move, as it turned out, as Ginzburg appeared on the Wallace show against the wishes of his boss, Esquire publisher Arnold Gingrich. So Ginzburg was fired from Esquire, but he didn't stop there. Next came a high-end quarterly called Eros, in which Ginzburg published previously unseen nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. This created an even bigger shitstorm, as the Supreme Court got involved, and ruled that Ginzburg was sending prurient material through the mail and was thus violating obscenity laws.

So Ginzburg then served hard jail time. But he bounced back with a series of small magazines, some of which did better than others. He then completely reinvented himself and became a very fine photojournalist for The New York Post.

Ginzburg was a rare breed indeed. Although he harbored a lot of bitterness over what had transpired across his long life, he never stopped moving forward. I admired the heck out of him, and I'm sorry to see him go.

I'm Back

OK, well, you know, what the fuck. I stopped writing this blog because I was getting bored with myself; it's like listening to the sound of your voice on a tape recorder and then wondering what alien revenant has taken over your body and supplied you with THAT voice. But lot's of things are on my mind lately, and so I'm reviving this thing, at least for the time being. Even if I am truly now engaged in an epic act of solipsism - that is, writing only to myself.

Syd Barrett died, as you know. What's tragic is that there are scads of Pink Floyd fans who only listen to the Big Four megarecords (Animals, Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, The Wall) and don't really bother to check out the earlier stuff. My good friend Mike, to take one example, worships those aforementioned records but hasn't a clue about, say, Astronomy Domine. But it's a stone fact that Piper At The Gates of Dawn is as important a psych-rock touchstone in its way at Sgt. Pepper, and it's a hell of a lot more fun besides. Barrett had a wonderful sense of play in his songwriting; his cultural radar was as well-tempered as Ray Davies, but Floyd's music explored far more interesting terrain than The Kinks. Piper is really flawless, just a wonderfully twisted record. As for Barrett's two solo albums - hit and miss. I love a handful of tracks - Baby Lemonade, Dominoes, No Good Trying. One things for certain; Robyn Hitchcock would not exist without those two records. So it's well worthwhile to revisit this stuff, because had Barrett not lost his mind, I'm certain that his status would have changed from minor to major.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Revealed

Just how marginalized have books become in our culture? I consider myself a fairly aware dude, but here's the thing; I knew nothing about the plot of The Da Vinci Code until the media starting droning on about the film. Now, this isn't some quiet little book of short stories, it's not even a moderate fiction hit. It's the big bazoomba novel of all time, and somehow the secrets of the plot remained a mystery to me. My own wife read the book and she didn't tell me. (The trial? Well, I guess I averted my eyes a bit. I have this strange impulse to not spoil things that I might one day enjoy, even though I doubt very much that I'll ever read The Da Vinci Code.)

There's a covenant among readers, even millions of Dan Brown readers: You don't give away the plot. But now that the marketers of the film have stirred up all of this phony controversy to sell the film, everything is being revealed. Suddenly, the plot is part of the national dialogue in a way that it wasn't when there was no film, and 45 million Americans had the book sitting quietly on their shelf.

Even though the book qualifies as a hit in any medium - any filmmaker would be thrilled to have 45 million folk buy a ticket, beause that's a Speilberg-ian homerun - literary (I use the term loosely) culture just isn't part of the media mix. Book noise isn't loud enough. Now, I don't want to come off like another dorky Cassandra with the New York Review of Books tucked under my arm, railing against the dumbing-down of culture and all that garbage. We all, clandestinely or not, love pop culture, right? Just an observation, is all.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Modern Romance? Only Now?

Is it possible that Albert Brooks' sublime Modern Romance is only just now being released on DVD? I know I should know these things, but I was making do with a VHS copy of it from college. Now I'm reading, however, that it's a very bare bones release - a cheapie with nary a trailer to be found. This is criminal, seeing as it is irrefutably one of the great comedies of the era, and beloved big time by many. Criterion should wrest it away and do the right thing - who wouldn't love to hear Brooks' commentary, which I'm guessing would be worth the steep price of the disk?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Doug Brinkley Leprechaun Theory

I have a theory as to how Douglas Brinkley - the honorable Tulane University history professor - is such a book machine. I mean, seriously. Leprechauns. Obviously, Brinkley has hired the little green men to help him dash off three books in less than two years time - including his recent opus about Katrina, The Great Deluge, which clocks in at over 700 pages. The man is an insane page producing machine. OK, it's either leprechauns, or some mutant microchip embedded in his brain, something resembling the Dragon word-recognition software app - so that Brinkley can just produce text by thinking about it. How else to explain?

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Tom Wolfe Tribute

I was honored when Tom Wolfe asked me to write an essay about him on the occasion of his receiving the Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities honorarium, which is bestowed annually by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Best Novel of the Past Twenty Five Years

Next week, the New York Times will publish its list of the best novels of the past quarter-century. Culling its results from a distinguished panel of writers and critics, the list is headed by Toni Morrison's Beloved, followed by Don DeLillo's Underworld, Updike's Rabbit quartet, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and Philip Roth's American Pastoral. There are a number of runner-ups, including DeLillo's White Noise, John Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.

Ah, those lists. We love to hate them, hate to love them. It's so easy to gripe and bitch when things are so neatly taxonomized, so efficiently shunted into neat columns. But I ask you - are you really going to nitpick this list? It does a very good job of summing up what was great about literature over the past twenty five years; reading it, you get that same misty-eyed nostalgic pang that Chuck Workman's Oscar montages always seem to evoke. Are there too many Roth and DeLillo books on the list? Come now - of course not! Check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


With the opening of the film Poseidon, there's been a lot of talk about the original 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure - how it's become a "camp classic," how it's so dated with all of those wide lapels and collars and so forth.

That all may be so, but I speak for millions who came of age in the 70's when I say that it scared the shit out of me. One must separate The Poseidon Adventure from all of the cheeseball disaster clunkers that came in its 90-foot wake - those films elicited unintentional laughter, but Poseidon Adventure just made me hold my breath. Honest. When Shelley Winters, bless her fat-addled heart, braves that long underwater sprint, I just about passed out. There are a number of shots that are tattooed onto my brain for good - the terrific crash of the passenger into the stained glass ceiling-turned-floor, that long shot of the upside-down cocktail tables, Hackman falling to his death while trying to wrest that giant steam valve closed.

Wow, what a film. Don't let anyone tell you it's some kind of kitschy artifact - it made many millions at the time because kids were genuinely thrilled-frightened by it. Years later, it was a very effective cruise vacation deterrent. Well, that and the shuffleboard.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The White Album

Today I was the keynote speaker for a ceremony to kick of The city of Malibu's One City, One Book program, in which the city is "assigned" a single book to read and ponder. This year it's Joan Didion's The White Album. Here's the speech if you're inclined (excuse the typos and such - because this was meant to be read aloud, I've not cleaned it up for reading:)

I remember when I first read The White Album. I was a freshman at USC, and I had been told by more than a few literate Angelinos that I must read Joan Didion’s book if I wanted to understand what Southern California was really all about. So I did.

It scared the heck out of me.

Why? Simple, really: Didion’s version of the West didn’t square with all of the myths I held dear about the place. I was a 70’s New York kid who worshipped the Beach Boys and watched Endless Summer, dreaming that golden SoCal dream. Which was why I chose USC to begin with. Now, here was Didion telling me that everything I thought I knew about California was wrong. And the thing was, she was right.

The title alone was a tip-off. Naming a book after the Beatles album from which Charles Manson found grisly inspiration did not bode well for some optimistic treatise on the great California pleasure principle of sun and sand that had become a kind of global short-hand for the good life.

Instead, Didion articulated in the White Album’s 20 essays what writer Mike Davis would classify years later as the “sunshine noir” dialectic of California culture, the dark undertow that was constantly tugging and straining against the idealized version of the placewhich had been hammered in our brains through a steady stream of media stereotypes.

It’s important to note however that Didion, a native of Sacramento who received her BA in English at Cal and moved to Los Angeles with her husband John Gregory Dunne in 1966, had always had a strong affection for the West.

Her Western roots ran deep, as her ancestors had migrated to the region from points south and Midwest in the nineteenth century.

Growing up in Sacramento Didion, the daughter of an Air Force Officer and a homemaker, heard stories of her kin and their struggles to tame the unsettled territory of California. But by the late forties, it seemed to Didion that the stories she been told -- of the crystalline rivers and majestic farmland -- had already been supplanted by a new narrative of unchecked corporate development. The boomtown mentality co-existed with the old agrarian culture in ways that gave Didion intimations of the impermanence of things in California.

Still, the lure of the ocean was eternal and Didion wasn’t immune to it. Southern California in the 60’s was supposed to provide the template for new ways of living. It was going to be free love and endless amounts of drugs that would open up new modes of consciousness and bring about some all-in-one mind-meld that would banish crime and war and cynical politics. But for Didion, Los Angeles was a social experiment that failed. There were many reasons why this was so, some of which were laid out in her first book of essays, 1968’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and then in 1979’s The White Album.

Among the many piercing flashes of insight to be found in The White Album’s essays, many of which were written between 1968 and 1979 for publications like Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Los Angeles Times Book Review, is one overarching fact of L.A. life – that it exists on a very slippery foundation. Here was an arid desert landscape adjacent to the Pacific that received its water over 200 miles away from the Central Valley, that built its houses on an active seismic fault, that was prone to brush fires, flooding and earthquakes. It was a city in denial of its own instability.

This hard fact of LA life co-existed uneasily with Didion’s own psychic instability, which she chronicles in these essays with often brutal candor. I think that’s why The White Album has resonated with so many for so long –
we’re made to feel an ally in her struggle to maintain her equipoise amid the maelstrom of a social upheaval.

Right up front on page 14, she shows us her psychiatric profile as rendered by St. John’s Hospital, who monitored the writer after she suffered a panic attack in 1968. She is, according to this report, prone to a “fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, and depressive view of the world around her.” She surmises correctly that a fatalistic worldview was not an inappropriate response to 1968, a year when the country was engaged in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and light.

But it was more than just the events of that darkest year of the sixties that gave Didion intimations of impending doom. She understood what so many failed to grasp about Los Angeles, especially all of those outsiders who migrate here seeking eternal good health, good weather and untold riches: That life here tends to be about as stable as mercury on glass, and therefore not prone to snug feelings of security and safety.

When that fragility rubbed up against the very powerful myth of Manifest Destiny, Summer of Love style – that is, of living out some edenic version of unfettered freedom in the West - you had a very combustible sitaiotn to contend with. This is what Didion writes about so perceptively in The White Album.

Suffice it to say, this was not to trendiest approach to 60’s culture for a young writer to take. Contrast Didion’s bleak, complex world-view with Tom Wolfe’s, a New York-based journalist who looked upon the cultural movements of the West with somewhat more optimism and less cynicism. Didion had witnessed a lot of ugliness while gathering the material for the 20 essays that appear in the White Album, and existential dread would be her default mode.

The book kicks off with that famous lede: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” One could substitute ‘survive’ for ‘live’ in that sentence, I think. According to Didion, we try to impose meaning upon events that appear to be senseless or without internal logic; we try to rationalize the irrational to console ourselves.

To be sure, she certainly tries. She goes on a little later in the essay: “We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

That was no easy task. By the late sixties, the era’s promise of social change had devolved into open warfare that was both rhetorical and wantonly violent, and the White Album is, among other things, about Didion’s struggle to impose a straight narrative line upon this mad, swirling carnival of American culture at the breaking point, with all of its attendant violence and mayhem. Of trying, in other words, to come to grips with disorder.

One feels Didion’s endless frustration with her incapacity to “play her role as if she had the script,” as she moves through the events in the book. Her interview subjects, many of them key players in this madness, seem to exist behind an opaque scrim of self-mythology – Self-mythologizing being a key career move in those days.

When she encounters Black Panther Huey Newton at the Alameda County Courthouse and tries to get him to speak openly about himself and the charge of manslaughter that has been brought against him, he ladles out well-rehearsed slogans about black nationalism. A campus shutdown at San Francisco State is a pointless exersize in empty sloganeering on all sides. “Disorder,” she writes, “became (becomes) its own point.” A frustrating turn of events indeed for a writer who craved control.

In her cultural essays, there is a simmering, slow-to-boil paranoia present, which Didion attributes to a disconnect between what people are feeling and what really weighs on their minds.

Perhaps that accounts for the chaotic nature of California life in the late sixties; Didion believes it has something to do with the way no one addresses things as they really are; that blissed-out hippie equanimity is an evasion from reality.

It may also be why she prized her life in Malibu, where she moved with her family in 1968 and stayed until 1976. At least this community was bound together by a mutual understanding that the place in which they lived was in many respects inhospitable to serene domestic life. Living in Malibu made Didion feel like some beachcombing homesteader, claiming her small piece of real estate on pch and girding it from harm. “I think now,” she writes in the essay ‘Quiet Days in Malibu,’

“that I never loved the house on Pacific Coast Highway more than on those many days when it was impossible to leave it, when fire or flood had in fact closed the highway.”

Here’s another thing that struck me upon first reading the White Album. Didion’s rather eccentric choice of subject matter. Water? Dams? Freeways? But these geographic essays are consistent with her thesis about the great effort expended in trying to impose some control on a vast and unruly landscape. Even the largest public works agencies in America couldn’t do it. At the time that Didion wrote Bureaucrats, her piece about Caltrans, it just so happened that the transportation agency was installing diamond lanes in an attempt to loosen up gridlock. “Of course, the political decision was in the name of the greater good,’ she writes. “the only effect so far had been to disrupt traffic through the Los Angeles basin, triple the number of daily accidents on the Santa Monica, prompt the initiation of two lawsuits against Caltrans, and cause large numbers of Los Angeles county residents to behave, most uncharacteristically, as an ignited and conscious proletariat.”

To be sure, Didion is no Norman Mailer type. There were plenty of fiery polemicists to go around in those days, and though Didion offers up sharp opinions in The White Album, especially about the women’s movement and Hollywood liberals, she avoids easy positions. I think that’s why the book has enduring appeal twenty seven years after its publication. We appreciate the way she grapples with issues right on the page, because her ambivalence is ours, too.

Her essays Holy Water and At The Dam explore, with a fair share of wonder, the way water, the very lifeblood of Southern California, is sluiced, channeled, stored and released. Didion is not ready to side with the environmentalists, and criticize the building of enormous walls in front of rivers,

or the transfer of water from its natural habit in the Owens Valley 200 miles away to L.A. She appreciates the link between the Rube Goldberg-ian water works and California civility and comfort.

In her 1977 essay Many Mansions, Didion tours the new 12,000 square foot dream house in Sacramento that Governor Reagan and his wife Nancy have designed. It is, in Didion’s view, a metaphor for a new era of wretched excess and faux-finish plasticity. “The walls resemble local adobe, but they are not,” Didion writes. “They are the same concrete blocks, plastered and painted a rather stale yellowing cream, used in so many supermarkets and housing projects and Coca-Cola bottling plants. The door frames and the exposed beams ‘resemble’ native redwood, but they are not: they are construction-grade lumber of indeterminate quality, stained brown.’

Here’s Didion anticipating an incipient trend; This house might well be the archetype for the California McMansions of the future.

You can’t discuss Joan Didion’s work without commenting on her writing style, because there’s something mysterious about how she does it. She’s a deceptively simple prose stylist of considerable dramatic power. Didion is always striving for a clear and uninflected rhythm, just like her literary hero Ernest Hemingway, always making every word count. There’s nothing extraneous in these essays, and that sharply honed style gives her words an incantatory power, a capacity to mesmerize the reader.

Certain images just stay with you, like this one from Many Mansions: “The bedrooms are big and private and high-ceilinged and they do not open on the swimming pool and one can imagine reading in one of them, or writing a book, or closing the door and crying until dinner.”

And this, the closing sentence of her rumination on the Hoover dam: “Of course this was the image I had seen always, seen it without quite realizing what I saw, a dynamo finally free of man, splendid at last in its absolute isolation, transmitting power and releasing water to a world where no one is.” There’s sad poetry in those sentences.

Re-reading the book, it’s hard to feel optimistic about things having changed much for the good in L.A. New social issues – larger, more intractable issues – have supplanted the ones Didion wrote about. And Malibu still struggles with the capricious elements. But this region is remarkably resilient to change and has the capacity to adapt to whatever is thrown its way. So Didion, with The White Album, has given us a gift – a Baedeker to a state that’s as complicated and culturally rich as most countries, charged with an undercurrent of menace that always lies in wait, but also prone to unexpected moments of grace. All newcomers should be handed a copy of this book when they arrive. Just like I was at USC, 23 years ago.

A Tale of Two Anaheims

The Angels are kicking ass...oops, I mean sucking ass. All of those moves that Arte Moreno made in the off-season - losing Bengie Molina (a massive boner), dumping Washburn, putting too much faith in untested young'uns - is hurting the team big time. They have all kinds of offensive (I mean that in both senses of the word) black holes in the line-up - unless Juan Rivera starts clouting home runs like a freak, and Erstad stops betraying his creaky age, this is going to me a mighty long summer for yours truly.

Meanwhile, down the street at Arrowhead pond - The Ducks play their best game of the season against the 'Lanche, two days after coming off that exhasuting 7 game series against Calgary. This is why sports analysts are useless - despite the groaningly obvious observation that 'The Ducks will be flat-footed and hung over after the Flames,' the opposite was true. Sports is the best people - you never know what's gonna go down (like the Lakers winning game 7?...)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Al Green

Thanks to all those who cried out from the wilderness to tell me they enjoyed the blog; hey, a boy needs a reason to carry on every once in a while. I'll stop bugging you now.

I'm pooped from a long day of racing to and fro all over the city in search of God know's what, but I do have one strong recommendation to make: Please do go out and buy the new expanded edition of Al Green's The Belle Album.

I hadn't heard it in a long while; sold the album, don't ya know. (see below). But this record was recorded in in 1977, which was just about the vapor trail-end of Green's astonishing seven year run of making one great album after another. What always struck me about Green was that he was a great R&B singer - the greatest soul singer of his generation, right? - who was both an amazing singles artist and a great album artist.

This was fairly rare in the 70's - for some reason great albums were reserved for other artists in other genres. (P-Funk? Lots of lard there, I'm afraid, but Stevie Wonder qualifies I suppose.) But hot damn, you can go really deep with Green - Let's Stay Together, I'm Still In Love With You, the amazing Call Me -- all of them loaded up with great songs.

The Belle Album was something else altogether - not a smoldering Willie Mitchell workout, but a quieter acoustic record produced by Green himself. It's got intimations of gospel, but it's sexy as all get out. It's exalted and greasy in equal measure. Listening to it as I write this, I'm getting little chills of recognition from the days when I played the fuck out of it in high school, and no one else seemed to care. I don't think it charted that well, though I'd have to look it up. It's so great, though - buy it now please and have yourself a great soundtrack to your weekend.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Scott Walker Creeps Me Out

Jesus, this is beginning to feel like a fool's errand. Is anyone reading this damn blog, other than looky-loo's who see the address in my emails and give it a quick peek? Well, whatever, I'm just gonna keep trudging along here - if anyone is indeed reading, please let me know so I can figure out whether to close this thing down or not.

Anyway, here's the trippiest, creepiest record of year (yes, it's only May, but I'm confident here): Scott Walker's The Drift. It's his first album in seven years, and for an artist who has recorded his fair share of dark, Guignol, fucked-up shit, this record tops them all. I'm not yet sure what he's going on about - Jesus seems to be playing a role in this murky and lengthy narrative. The promo CD is one continual track, so it's hard to go back and review specific sections to deconstruct them. There's liner notes embedded on the CD itself, but I haven't bothered to look at them yet (so sue me!)

But it's one of those things - you hit play on the CD player and you're completely drawn into Walker's Caligari Cabinet. The arrangements are jittery and nervous-sounding - Walker doesn't settle into any musical idea for too long, lest you get comfortable. Quiet passages jump-cut into atonal bombast then back again, while Walker warbles away in his inimitable (well, not that inimitable - check out The Divine Comedy, who pretty much nicked his whole shtick from Walker) quavery baritone. The Drift is the kind of record that is enjoyably disturbing, and if that's your thing, check it out when it drops May 23rd.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The best reason to read Citybeat

Natalie Nichols' Subbacultcha column is the best reason to read LA Citybeat, full stop. This week, she writes about the sad saga of L.A. band Betty Blowtorch....

Joan Didion

I met Joan Didion yesterday. Or rather, I shook her frail hand, which felt like rice paper, and exchanged a few words that weren't reciprocated. I asked her if she was aware of my book and she responded yes, though she hadn't read it. She scrawled her address on the back of a flyer and asked me to send it to her. And that was about it; she needed to meet her fans and sign books.

She is so frail, you want to cradle her in your arms and protect her from harm. And yet, the mind remains strong, the imagination sturdy, as evidenced by The Year Of Magical Thinking. In this late stage of her life and career, she has become something else altogether - not a beloved personal essayist, maybe the best of her generation, but a writer who has struck a universal chord with the story of her tragedy, which is everyone's tragedy. I hope more books are produced before it gets too late.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bonnie Owens

I can never fathom the strange symmetry behind celebrity deaths, but here's another one: Bonnie Owens, who was married to Buck Owens, died on Tuesday after a long struggle with Alzheimers. A month or so earlier, Owens himself passed on.

Casual fans might not be aware of Owens, but hard-core heads know Owens and the crucial role she played as both singer and muse to two of the genre's greatest songwriters, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. She was married to both of them, and the two men openly acknowledged how important Owens had been to their development as musicians and stars. Even after Haggard and Owens split, the pair continued to tour together. "Just Between The Two of Us," a great break-up record in the Conway Twitty-Loretta Lynn mold, was a massive hit for Haggard and Owens in 1964 and played no small role in Haggard's ascension to country superstar. Owens, whose voice sounded somewhat like Lynn's, was a crucial architect of the Bakersfield Sound that bred Haggard and Owens, but all of the solo work is currently out-of-print, at least as far as I can tell (let me know if you know otherwise.)

So raise a glass to a great country gal, ya'll.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Vinyl Remorse

I woke with a start last night, and at first I wasn't sure why. Then it hit me: It was delayed remorse for my lost record collection. Which I sold over a year ago.

After lugging around 30 boxes from L.A. to the midwest then back again, and after much soul-searching, I decided that it was time to give up the vinyl. This was not an easy decision, of course, as those records had helped me find a wife (that's another story, but the short version is, she was the +1 of a party I was hosting, took a gander at the collection, and asked her friend, 'who owns THESE?' It's something they don't tell you about in those self-help guides.)

I thought it was the adult thing to do - to put away childish things and not cling to some pathetic vestige of my youth, which was mostly spent rifling through record bins around New York City. I had finally come to the realization that I wasn't going to re-purpose them by turning into some middle-aged DJ about town. And I had come darn near close to replacing the most cherished stuff with CD's.

Sold them for a song, I'll have you know. Maybe that's what's so painful. Every scratch and nick, every water-damaged cover... you remember, don't you? You always remember. But buyers don't put any sentimental value into some scratchy Dylan record that got you through freshman year; they just look at it as a depreciated asset.

I didn't really bother taking inventory beforehand, and that hurt me big time, because I DID have some valuable assets in there, like all of the Yardbirds albums in mint condition. Those alone were probably worth the money I received for the entire collection. Whatever. I can go on about this ( I didn't even take into consideration the fact that my kids, when they get older, might have derived a lot of pleasure from these pleistocine artifacts). They're gone, and they ain't coming back.

But c'est la vie, right?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Is Casey bound for Mudville?

Casey Kotchman was singled out by ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk yesterday as one of the big-league flops of the early season, and he ain't wrong. I'm wondering whether Mike Scioscia will stick to his guns and let Kotchman play, especially since Robb Quinlan has certainly made the most of his few AB's - and he looks far more comfortable at the plate, for sure. I think the Angels have to give Kotchman at least until June to prove his mettle; it would be a mistake to pull him prematurely, especially since he's not really hurting the team adversely at this point.

Meanwhile, down the street at Arrowhead Pond - is it time for Angelinos to care about hockey again now that the Ducks have spilt the first two games with Calgary? The plot thickens.....

Saturday, April 22, 2006

How To Win A Pulitzer (book genus)

1) Write about genocide
2) Take at least ten years to finish your book
3) Unknown
4) Don't sell any books
5) Tenure
6) Long subhed
7) Gulag, gulag, gulag

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Writing Life: Two (Economic) Views

These two articles about the fortunes of two fine writers -Charles D'Ambrosio and Charles Frazier - should be required reading for all MFA writing students; their professors should Xerox them and pass them out immediately. That way, all of those Alice Munro wannabes who actually think they will somehow scratch out a living as a short story writer will jolt themselves out of their Tin House daydreams and hunker down to write that epic period novel that everyone either seems to have read or at least have placed on their nightstand for a little later.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Flaming Book

Now that The Flaming Lips, after lo these many years, are all the rage, it's time to go out and buy my friend Jim DeRogatis' terrific biography of the band, STARING AT SOUND. Jim has been down with the Okie band from jump street- there is no writer in America that knows as much about the band, and he's developed the kind of trust and rapport with Wayne Coyne and Co. that has made possible this very inside-baseball account of their long and often tortured journey to the peak of hipster-rock-dom. The band's new album At War With The Mystics is unaccountably getting very mixed reviews - I don't get it, because I think it's a stunner, one of the three best records they've produced across their quarter-century career. So my advice is to - go out and buy the record, crack open Staring at Sound, and have your mind Simonized....

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Return of Gay Talese

It's been 14 years since Gay Talese last published a book. In this accelerated culture, 14 years is an entire epoch, and I'm not sure many readers have given Talese a second thought since then. He might as well have been dead.

But now he is finally emerging with a new book called A Writer's Life. Don't let that straightforward title fool you. This is not some sentimental look back at a quiet literary life as pondered from the comfort of a chintz wingback chair, but a wildly discursive, occasionally messy, intermittently brilliant discourse on racism, sexism, sports, culture, food, et al. What it's really all about is Talese, in my view the greatest magazine feature writer of all time, and his search for an identity that existed outside of his profession.

Charles McGrath has written a feature about Talese and his struggles with A Writer's Life in this Sunday's Arts and Leisure section. It's a very nice summation of where Talese has been and what he was trying to accomplish with A Writer's Life. I for one am thrilled to see Talese back on the radar, and I hope people pay attention to the book.

Wither the Lakers?

And what about the Lakers? Are we going to delude ourselves into thinking they could actually take Phoenix in the first round, simply by virtue of a nice late-season run in which Kobe's supporting players finally found that shot of plasma they've been searching for all season, and came to semi-life with some solid production? I'm not buying it, friends.