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: 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, 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.