Monthly Archives: November 2009

Blue Monday

The new Nirvana concert disc, Live at Reading, is one helluva listen, even if the crowd noise on many of the cuts sounds suspiciously dialed in. In terms of sound and ferocity, it easily surpasses the 1996 concert document From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah and confirms once again that while there was plenty of songcraft underlying the group’s sonic barrage, Nirvana was first and foremost a balls-out monster of a rock band.

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Friday finds

“Sister Jean”Webster, a former sou chef for one of the Atlantic City casinos, started feeding the homeless from her home and now serves hundreds daily at the First Presbyterian Chuch, across from the Trump Taj Mahal. This marvelous photo essay at Corbis will give you the picture(s). (Thanks Rix.) 

Writers! Get ready for a pep talk from . . . Emily Dickinson.

John L. said life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans. Nick D. agrees.

Oscar-winning screenwriter may be Twittering from behind bars.

A different kind of giving thanks.

Resolution: Bring poetry into the 21st century.

You can find the strangest things while hiking through the desert.

After a dry spell, Bat Segundo is posting again.

Now that the initial wave of ridicule has passed, some listeners are having second thoughts about Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart. I’m not one of them, but a lot of people whose opinions I respect are coming around to liking the thing.

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The Thanksgiving Show (with Bob Dylan, The Band, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig)

Since it’s Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for the indispensible Wolfgang’s Vault, which has posted the most complete available recording of The Last Waltz, the all-star farewell concert by The Band on Thanksgiving 1976. Whatever qualms you might have about the film — I refer you to Levon Helm’s autobiography This Wheel’s On Fire for a savagely hilarious demolition of former bandmate Robbie Robertson’s self-mythologizing ways — there are moments of supreme beauty and artistry, as when Dylan takes the stage near the end of the proceedings.

Aside from the fact that this is a superb performance of one of Dylan’s greatest songs, what I particularly like about this clip is the way you can see drummer Levon Helm and guitarist Robbie Robertson watching Dylan as the song ends — wondering what he’s going to spring on them next. Helm’s evident enjoyment of Dylan’s unpredictability is there to be seen in the film, in between the closeups of Robertson and his designer scarves.

And, of course, no Thanksgiving is complete without a viewing of this Warner Brothers classic:

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The Wednesday Westie(s)

Call it The Magnificent Seven Minus Four.

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Nice guy finishes first

Way back in the mists of time, when I pulled an oar in a galley that was part of the Forbes Newspapers flotilla, I interviewed a Metuchen resident named Robert Kaplow who had written a young adult novel. One of the nicest, smartest guys you could ever hope to meet, and midway through the talk he let it drop that he was with The Punsters, a Jersey-spawned band with a line in humorous pop and its own self-produced album, Boardwalk Santa, a copy of which resided in a milk crate in my apartment. They’d even been on Uncle Floyd’s show! (I believe that’s Kaplow slinging the accordion in the clip above.) They actually became semi-regulars on the Floyd show, as the clip below will prove:

Our paths diverged after that: Kaplow went on teaching, I kept on newspapering, and we both kept on writing, though Kaplow’s got a lot more books on the shelf to show for his efforts. And now, a couple of decades later, Kaplow has been tapped by Hollywood: a film version of Kaplow’s novel Me and Orson Welles is going to hit the cineplexes after too long a delay, and I hope to see it sometime soon. Anybody who can work references to Eric Rohmer movies into a novel for teenagers is clearly destined for even bigger things.

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Blue Monday

The first time I heard Johnnie Bassett, I thought I was listening to a B.B. King outtake: borderline cheesy spoken-word intro, check; smooth singing and easygoing pace, check; guitar lines with enough sting to keep things interesting, check. His recent album The Gentleman is Back is distinctive enough to escape B.B.’s capacious shadow, especially on mildly smutty numbers like “Nice Guys Finish Last,” about being properly attentive to your partner’s needs. If your tastes run in King’s direction, Bassett might just be your cup of tea.

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Re: Writing

Stephen King reviews Carol Sklenicka’s new biography of Raymond Carver and shudders at Carver’s poisonous relationship with Gordon Lish, editor and self-appointed Svengali: “in 1973, when my first novel was accepted for publication, I was in similar straits: young, endlessly drunk, trying to support a wife and two children, writing at night, hoping for a break. The break came, but until reading Sklenicka’s book, I thought it was the $2,500 advance Doubleday paid for Carrie. Now I realize it may have been not winding up with Gordon Lish as my editor.”

Junot Diaz does a lot of writing in the bathroom. Edwidge Danticat starts with a collage. Russell Banks can only write nonfiction on a computer — fiction he does longhand. All part of How to Write a Great Novel.

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Friday finds

This video collection of the 100 best lines from The Wire is so NSFW it isn’t even funny. Actually, it is pretty funny a lot of the time. There are easily 100 more lines just as good, too.

Back in those innocent days when publishers didn’t consider the designation “midlist” a synonym for “leper colony,” Brian Moore was the ultimate midlist writer: a producer of consistently excellent to great and near-great books, a critical fave, unspectacular but steady sales, occasionally courted by movieland — The Luck of Ginger Coffey was an early star vehicle for Robert Shaw, Cold Heaven made for one of Nicholas Roeg’s better films, and Catholics was an unlikely made-for-TV success. This fine essay reminds us of Moore’s qualities, and why his work deserves to be returned to print.

Attercop! Attercop! (Via Jeff.)

As anyone who’s ever enjoyed one can tell you, an eggcream is a drink named after the two things it never contains. The same principle applies to the upcoming memoir by Karl Rove.

Considering that Roger Corman launched the careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich, John Sayles, and Martin Scorsese, I’d say that Oscar was waaaay overdue.

“Her domineering father was the president of Tenneco and pals with men like Sen. John Tower, she grew up with George W. Bush, she was engaged to the son of a diplomat who did the CIA’s bidding. But after years of going to war with her controlling old man, devouring seditious issues of the muckraking Texas Observer, and furtively meeting the bravest Texas progressives, she eventually decided to raise a middle finger to all of her gilded upbringing.”

It was the biggest leopard seal the photographer had ever seen. So, naturally, he dove into the frigid Antarctic waters and swam up to it. And then the strangest thing happened.

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The Wednesday Westie

IMG_0777Clan Westie surveys the squirrel demilitarized zone.

Edward Woodward

Like a lot of other Americans, I first took note of actor Edward Woodward in ‘Breaker’ Morant, which came as part of the late-Seventies, early-Eighties wave of Australian films that launched Bruce Beresford, Mel Gibson, Bryan Brown, Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, and George Miller on international careers. As the title character, an Australian officer accused of atrocities against civilians during the Boer War, Woodward was loaded with weatherbeaten star quality, particularly in the scene when a friend, an intelligence who knows the fix is in, offers Morant a chance to escape certain execution. “Take a boat and see the world,” his friend says. “I’ve seen it,” Morant replies, and Woodward’s delivery ranks up there with Clint Eastwood’s signature line from Unforgiven — “Deserve’s got nothing to do wth it” — for sheer blistering coolness. Watching it, I assumed Woodward was simply further proof that something in the Australian water was producing actors and filmmakers who could put Americans to shame.    

As it turned out, Woodward — who died yesterday at age 79 — was a British actor, so talented that Laurence Olivier invited him to pick his own role at the Royal National Theatre. (Told he could write his own ticket, Woodward chose the lead in Cyrano de Bergerac — what wouldn’t I give to see that performance!) It’s a measure of Woodward’s lack of artistic vanity that one can spend most of The Wicker Man thinking his insufferably priggish police sergeant Neil Howie is the film’s villain, until the horrifying finale turns our expectations upside down, and gives Howie a strange moment of redemption and even grandeur.

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