Monthly Archives: March 2008

Blue Monday (Memphis Minnie, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan edition)

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Thinkin’ ’bout my baby and my happy home

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And all these people have no place to stay

Now look here mama what am I to do
Now look here mama what am I to do
I ain’t got nobody to tell my troubles to

I works on the levee mama both night and day
I works on the levee mama both night and day
I ain’t got nobody, keep the water away

Oh cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good
Oh cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to lose

I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works so hard, to keep the water away

I had a woman, she wouldn’t do for me
I had a woman, she wouldn’t do for me
I’m goin’ back to my used to be

I’s a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
I’s a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
Gonna leave my baby, and my happy home

If you’re looking for an example of how history becomes folklore, you could hardly do better than the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which began in April when the rain-swollen Mississippi River broke through a levee south of Cairo, Illinois. Over the next several weeks, well over a hundred other levee failures occurred, and by the time the flood subsided in August, seven states had seen significant chuncks of their territory indundated, sometimes by as much as 30 feet of water, killed 245 people and displaced thousands more.

The flood contributed heavily to the population shift of American blacks toward Chicago and other industrialized cities of the North. It was also the inspiration for the 1929 blues classic “When the Levee Breaks,” released in 1929 by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. Two generations of teenagers have grown up with this song through the apocalyptic cover version on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, and it is the touchstone for not one but two recent Bob Dylan songs.

The video at the top of this post is chock-full of images that will give you a complete picture of exactly what it meant to have the levees give way in 1927. This next clip shows a more recent instance of what happens to people in the way of a storm:

Led Zeppelin’s version has slightly retooled lyrics, courtesy of singer Robert Plant:

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay.

Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home,
Oh, well, oh, well, oh, well.

Don’t it make you feel bad
When you’re tryin’ to find your way home,
You don’t know which way to go?
If you’re goin’ down South
They got no work to do,
If you’re going NORTH to Chicago.

Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
Thinkin’ about my baby and my happy home.
Going, going to Chicago.. Going to Chicago.. Sorry but I can’t take you..
Going down.. going down now.. going down…

Depending on my mood, “When the Levee Breaks” vies with “What Is and What Should Never Be” as my favorite Zep song. The latter song is a fave because of its dynamic shifts: it starts out gently enough for a cocktail lounge jazz tune, then bursts into aggressive riffing, and so back and forth until the wild guitar break and the fadeout.

Zep’s take on Memphis Minnie might be likened to using a sharecropper’s shack as the foundation for a Gothic cathedral. There are no dynamics here: John Bonham’s drums (recorded in a stone stairwell for extra oomph) open like the footsteps of approaching giants,  and the rest of the song is a surrealistic maelstrom of heavily distorted guitars, harmonica and vocals. The song itself is like a hurricane bearing down on the singer. The song, in a word, sounds scary.  

Since all roads lead to Bob Dylan, even when they’re flooded — especially when they’re flooded — the Mississippi disaster flows through parts of his vast song catalogue. Dylan pays direct homage to Memphis Minnie in “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” one of the less objectionable tunes on the mediocre Modern Times album:

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Everybody saying this is a day only The Lord could make

Well I worked on the levee Mama, both night and day
Well I worked on the levee Mama, both night and day
I got to the river and I threw my clothes away

I paid my time and now I’m as good as new
I paid my time and now I’m as good as new
They can’t take me back, not unless I want them to

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Some of these people gonna strip you of all they can take

I can’t stop here, I ain’t ready to unload
I can’t stop here, I ain’t ready to unload
Riches and salvation can be waiting behind the next bend in the road

I picked you up from the gutter and this is the thanks I get
I picked you up from the gutter and this is the thanks I get
You say you want me to quit ya, I told you no, not just yet

I look in your eyes, I see nobody else but me
I look in your eyes, I see nobody other than me
I see all that I am and all I hope to be

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Some of these people don’t know which road to take

When I’m with you I forget I was ever blue
When I’m with you I forget I was ever blue
Without you there’s no meaning in anything I do

Some people on the road carrying everything that they own
Some people on the road carrying everything that they own
Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones

Put on your cat clothes, Mama, put on your evening dress
Put on your cat clothes, Mama, put on your evening dress
A few more years of hard work then there’ll be a thousand years of happiness

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
I tried to get you to love me, but I won’t repeat that mistake

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Plenty of cheap stuff out there still around to take

I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I woke up this morning, butter and eggs in my bed
I ain’t got enough room to even raise my head

Come back, baby, say we never more will part
Come back, baby, say we never more will part
Don’t be a stranger without a brain or heart

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Some people still sleepin’, some people are wide awake

Personally, I much prefer Dylan’s earlier paddle across this waterlogged terrain: “High Water Everywhere (For Charley Patton),” from Love and Theft, an album that improves with each listening and keeps building in the mrmory, even as Modern Times slips down the same memory hole occupied by Down in the Groove, Dylan and The Dead, Saved and all the other albums commemorating times when Dylan’s muse was on vacation.

High water risin’ – risin’ night and day
All the gold and silver are being stolen away
Big Joe Turner lookin’ East and West
From the dark room of his mind
He made it to Kansas City
Twelfth Street and Vine
Nothing standing there
High water everywhere

High water risin’, the shacks are slidin’ down
Folks lose their possessions – folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook it – broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, “You’re dancin’ with whom they tell you to
Or you don’t dance at all.”
It’s tough out there
High water everywhere

I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed
Got a hopped up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard
I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind
I’m no pig without a wig
I hope you treat me kind
Things are breakin’ up out there
High water everywhere

High water risin’, six inches ‘bove my head
Coffins droppin’ in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin’ into Vicksburg, don’t know what I’m going to do
“Don’t reach out for me,” she said
“Can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?”
It’s rough out there
High water everywhere

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
“You can’t open your mind, boys
To every conceivable point of view.”
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff,
“I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don’t care.”
High Water everywhere

The Cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies
I’m preachin’ the Word of God
I’m puttin’ out your eyes
I asked Fat Nancy for something to eat, she said, “Take it off the shelf –
As great as you are a man,
You’ll never be greater than yourself.”
I told her I didn’t really care
High water everywhere

I’m getting’ up in the morning – I believe I’ll dust my broom
Keeping away from the women
I’m givin’ ’em lots of room
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything is looking blue
I just can’t be happy, love
Unless you’re happy too
It’s bad out there
High water everywhere

Dylan’s oft-demonstrated love of Americana and old music leave no doubt that he’s channeling Memphis Minnie (and the Mississippi Flood) in this song, even if it is dedicated to Charley Patton. This time the floodwaters stretch all the way from Mississippi to Desolation Row, leaving Big Joe Turner and Charles Darwin rubbing shoulders as they swim to safety. 

The seven deadlies

This list of The Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing is at least one word short. “Luminous” in a review is a never-fail warning that the author spends so much energy crafting nice sentences that such niceties as story, plot and characterization fall by the wayside. I’m glad to see “resonant” made it into the comments — it’s a fine word for bell-making, but in criticism it’s the equivalent of a black-velvet painting. (Bird-dogged by Jeff.)

More than passable

Early geographers had a habit of studding their maps with representations of monsters supposed to exist in the regions they delineated, and my geographical memory works the same way. For elevenyears after D Day, the five-mile stretch of beach under the cliffs between Port-en-Bessin and Pointe du la Percee, on the Channel coast of Normandy, was marked in my mind by a line of American soldiers waist-deep in water and immobilized by fear. Descending arcs of tracers were entering the water around them, an LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) was burning nearby, and they could not bring themselves to move. They seemed as permanently fixed in time and space as those Marines in the statue of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, but the circumstances were different. While the men stood there, the LCIL 88, on which I was a deeply impressed observer, went in one their right and landed its passengers, and then pulled out. That image of the beach, for me, superseded pleasant earlier memories of the same strip of coast. Prior to 1944 I had visualized the water there as blue under a summer sun, as it had looked to me in 1926, when i strolled along the tops of the cliffs behind it. After 1944, I remembered it as gray, except for the lines of the tracers, and disquietingly narrow between the LCIL 88 and the beach.A.J. Liebling, “The Men in the Water,” Normandy Revisited

The Library of America has just issued a collection of A.J. Liebling’s World War II reportage, originally published in The Road Back to Paris and Mollie and Other War Pieces, and his 1958 followup Normandy Revisited, in which his return to France stirred memories of D-Day along with musings on the way those apocalyptic events were entering the collective memory — or not, as the case might be. It’s all terrific stuff.

Liebling’s standing among journalists as a writer’s writer is second only to that of Joseph Mitchell, and Liebling had a vastly wider range than Mitchell. Where Mitchell’s legacy can be contained within a single volume, Liebling’s body of work sprawls across several books and almost as many genres.

As Allen Barra once put it:

His methods, no matter how many people have claimed them as an influence, were too arbitrary, and his temperament too personal and idiosyncratic, to leave a pattern for greatness that others would follow. In truth, despite the frequent comparisons to his friend Joseph Mitchell, there really wasn’t anyone much like Liebling back in the ’40s and ’50s. Liebling was always much better than those who claimed to be influenced by him, including Wolfe, who finally gave up chasing Liebling’s ghost to pursue John O’Hara’s — not exactly a trade up. As Herbert Mitgang pointed out, reading Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black” turned out to be better preparation for covering World War II than the apprenticeship served by some of his fellow war correspondents in the press boxes of professional football games.

If Liebling actually had a philosophy as a writer, it could probably be summed up in three brief tenets, which run through all his books. 1) Know your subject really well. 2) Don’t ever force the humor; always look for it and you will find it. And 3) Spar with the little guys, but put on the eight-ounce gloves when taking on the big shots. The last one was his main point.

Late in life, Liebling became an astringent and observant critic of the trade he had mastered and surpassed without ever quite leaving (“Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one,” remains his most famous line) and I first encountered Liebling through his 1961 book The Press. But whenever I see Liebling’s name, my first thought is a passage from “Acceptable,” the final essay in his book Between Meals. In it, Liebling reminisces about the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1920s, and the women he met there:

To one I owe a debt the size of a small Latin American republic’s in analysts’ fees saved and sorrows unsuffered during the next thirty-odd years. Her name was Angele. She said: “Tu n’es pas beau, mais t’es passable.” (“You’re not handsome, but you’re passable.”)

I do not remember the specific occasion on which Angele gave me the good word, but it came during a critical year. I am lucky that she never said, “T’eis merveilleux.” The last is a line a man should be old enough to evaluate.

My brain reeled under the munificence of her compliment. If she had said I was handsome I wouldn’t have believed her. If she had called me loathsome I wouldn’t have liked it. Passable was what I had hoped for. Passable is the best thing for a man to be.

To get the full measure of Liebling’s gratitude, you can look at a photo or, better still, read this description of him by novelist James Salter:

Physically, Liebling was not attractive, yet women liked him. Bald, overweight, and gluttonous was how he described himself. He ate and drank to excess. He was shy and given to long silences. He wore glasses. His feet were flat and it was painful for him to walk, especially in later life when he had gotten so large, a fellow writer said, it was impossible to walk beside him on the sidewalk. He also had gout. Despite this, women were often fond of him, even pretty women. As a friend of his explained, he made them feel intelligent. This was not a tactic, it was genuine.

I’m glad to have this first LoA collection but I hope there will be others joining it soon. The press criticism, the articles about boxing, the essays about food, the random acts of journalism — all deserve to be returned to the light of print. It’s only appropriate. Liebling was a man who appreciated a big dinner, and a single course of his work will never be enough.

Dr. Strangelove’s vacation home

I’ve always wanted a nice secluded place in the mountains. Unfortunately, I’m not very handy, and this place looks like a bit of a fixer-upper.

Trick babies

incognegro-image.jpg

Mat Johnson’s graphic novel Incognegro can be recommended to anyone who likes a good mystery, a great thriller or an excellent historical novel — or all three at once. The hero, Zane Pinchback, is a black man so light-skinned that he’s able to pass for white in the Depression-era South. As a journalist for the New Holland Herald in Harlem, Pinchback is able to investigate lynchings and even gull the participants into telling him their names and addresses, which he prints in the Herald under the nom de voyage Incognegro.

Johnson’s story, which gets as twisty as anything imagined by Chester Himes or Raymond Chandler, takes him to Tupelo, Mississippi, and a murder case that’s likely to provide some down-home entertainment for the local rednecks. Johnson’s ambition to ring as many changes as possible on the theme of “passing” for something or someone else starts to weigh things down a bit toward the end — after two readings I still find the central revelation borders on the incomprehensible — but the story stays tense and exciting, and Warren Pleece’s noirish artwork is perfectly suited to the narrative.

As a bonus, Incognegro introduced me to the exploits of Walter Francis White, an investigator for the NAACP of unfathomable courage, who actually did travel the South to gather information on lynchings. White deserves to be more widely known, and Incognegro deserves to be widely read.

Blue Monday I (Prohibition edition)

In the course of my reading on the culture of Prohibition-era America, I’ve come across this little anonymously written ditty about the joys of home brewing:

Mother’s in the kitchen/ Washing out the jugs;/ Sister’s in the pantry/ Bottling the suds;/ Father’s in the cellar/ Mixing up the hops;/ Johnny’s on the front porch/ Watching for the cops.

I first came across it in John Kobler’s great popular history of Prohibition, Ardent Spirits, and Paddy Whacked, Thomas English’s history of Irish-American gangs and gangsters. No Bobcat worth his or her salt will miss the echo of the opening lines of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which leads off Bringing It All Back Home and inspired the famous opening of the D.A. Pennebaker film Don’t Look Back, the original rock music video and still one of the very few word-image pairings that doesn’t get stale after only a few viewings.

Johnny’s in the basement/ Mixing up the medicine;/ I’m on the pavement/ Thinking ’bout the government.

Since Dylan has shown himself time and again to be a veritable walking juke box of Americana, there’s not a doubt in my mind that he was toying with that Prohibition rhyme when he wrote “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Certainly the drug-soaked mid-Sixties milieu would have had Prohibition in the back of anyone’s mind, and no less an authority than producer Don Was has said that it’s impossible to stump Dylan on an old tune. I may be out to lunch here, but I don’t think so. If any other Dylan work out there has mentioned this parallel, please send me the cite.

Meanwhile, it gives me an excuse to run not only the famous Pennebaker video, but this clip of the parody/ homage performed by the cast from I’m Not There:

 

Blue Monday II (Langhorne edition)

Bob Dylan’s main guitarist and problem-solver on Bringing It All Back Home was Bruce Langhorne, an unheralded musician whose distinctive style was all the more remarkable for the fact that he was missing some fingers — the result of a childhood firecracker mishap. Langhorne had already been a session player for a few years — he and Dylan met in 1961 while playing backup on Carolyn Hester’s third record, and he played in the tentative band sessions for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan — but Bringing It All Back Home made Langhorne the defining player of the folk-rock era. Though Dylan recruited the harder-edged guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Robbie Robertson for the next two installments of his world-beating triumvirate of albums, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, he reunited with Langhorne for the soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which benefitted enormously from what Michael Gray calls Langhorne’s “customary, admirable mix of feeling and restraint.”

Despite having played on some of the best-known rock music ever recorded, Langhorne kept a low profile over the next few decades and remains known mainly to dedicated music lovers. His work cropped up in unexpected places. “Brother Bru-Bru” composed the soundtrack for Jonathan Demme’s 1980 film Melvin and Howard, and his work was featured in Peter Fonda’s 1971 anti-Western The Hired Hand, which is the source of the YouTube clip posted above.

In this interview, Langhorne talks about working with Dylan on Bringing It All Back Home:

I had been experimenting with just putting a pickup on my Martin for a while, before that. But not long. Because my playing, it was just amplified and sustained acoustic playing, really. And I played the same sort of lines that I would play with somebody like Odetta, who would provide the same sort of thing that Dylan provided, or Dylan and the band, which was like a really inevitable rhythmic structure. I mean, I always thought that the people that I most enjoyed playing with were the people who had like an unstoppable thread to their music. And it couldn’t be diverted easily. I mean, it was gonna be there, the root, the core was gonna be there. And my job was really, essentially, icing. I put icing on the cake. But in order for me to do my job, that basic thread had to be there. . . since I have fingers missing, some styles of guitar playing were forever unreachable for me. Like, I couldn’t really play good flamenco. Classical was difficult for me, though I did play some classical. But since I couldn’t develop technique to the point where I could just play the entire repertoire of guitar music, I had to develop a technique based on my own aesthetics. Because I had to listen to everything and say, okay, this sounds okay with three voices. Because I had pretty good control of three voices on guitar. I could control four-note voicing, but it was only with extra physical effort. Because it would mean, since I played basically with three fingers, it would mean that I would have to play two notes with one finger on a six-string instrument, or I would have to strum. So I developed a style and a technique that was based partially on classical music, because I separated voice. I used each of my fingers to generate a line, a polyphonic line, or I would play, which is why I say I really needed someone who had a thread going to really do my job. Because then they could generate a couple of lines of polyphony, or a rhythmic structure. And then I could enhance that.

And I got to be a very good accompanist for that reason. Because I was really forced to listen. So I listened. And that’s very essential for an accompanist.

Langhorne’s recent health problems spurred this eloquent appeal on his behalf from Jonathan Demme.

The world’s biggest Easter egg, or, What a friend we have in cheeses

Long after I got tired of pretending that a giant rabbit had hidden a bunch of colored eggs around the house, Easter retained its savor for me because I knew that once Passover passed overhead, ABC would once again be cranking up Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 trash masterpiece, The Ten Commandments. Among filmmakers, Richard Fleischer may have been the prince of cheese, but DeMille will always be the king of cheese — nay, the king of kings of cheese — and this movie is his Gorgonzola throne. Hail Cheeser!

Is it the zippers clearly visible on the costumes from Ancient Egypt? Or the fact that the Voice of God (actually Charlton Heston’s voice with a great deal of treatment) leaves us wondering if the Almighty is ‘luded out? Is it the wristwatch clearly visible on Moses’ arm in one shot? Yea, verily, it is all these things and more. In The Ten Commandments, a score of big-name actors hit their career-worst peaks, none more so than the lead. DeMille cast Heston because of his resemblance to a Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, and Heston repaid the favor by playing Moses so stiffly that a marble statue looked supple by comparison.

But it is the dialogue — the wonderfully sculpted, thumpingly awful dialogue — that makes me love The Ten Commandments more with each viewing. The original 1923 silent version (which DeMille also directed) had plenty of spectacle, but it didn’t have that stilted, Belasco Theater sound ringing out from the screen. As Al Jolson warned at the end of the first sound flm, The Jazz Singer, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”

There are two strains of writing in this film. In the first, every line of dialogue creaks under the weight of carefully balanced, opposed images delivered with a metronomic one-two punch:

Baka: Will you lose a throne because Moses builds a city?

Rameses: The city that he builds shall bear my name, the woman that he loves shall bear my child. So let it be written, so let it be one.

Or, as a later generation of pharoahs would say: Bada-boom, bada-bing.

In the second, the characters establish a theme and spend their conversations batting it forward like hockey players during practice:

Nefretiri: You will be king of Egypt and I will be your footstool!

Moses: The man stupid enough to use you as a footstool isn’t wise enough to rule Egypt.

This approach reaches its pinnacle during the series of exchanges between Rameses and Dathan, which could also serve as evidence in a court of law that Noel Coward was out of town when DeMille was hiring screenwriters:

Rameses: You have a rat’s ears and a ferret’s nose.

Dathan: To use in your service, son of Pharaoh.

After giving us a couple of commercial breaks to chew over that one, the movie gives us this gem, a ball of badness glittering with almost Zen-like purity:

Rameses: Now speaks the rat that would be my ears.

Dathan: Too many ears tie a rat’s tongue.

Too many ears tie a rat’s tongue. The dialogue in The Ten Commandments is like the pure, icy cold runoff from some glacier of fatuousness hidden away in the mountains, but this gem of inscrutability conjures up images that only Max Ernst could imagine. I’ve got ten bucks that says Bob Dylan watched this scene before writing the songs on Highway 61 Revisited. In fact, all of the conversations between Rameses and Dathan could be strung together and dropped into “Desolation Row” without causing the slightest ripple in the song.

Rameses: You have rats’ ears and a ferret’s nose. Add to them the eyes of a weasel and find me this deliverer.

It should be noted that Edward G. Robinson delivers all of Dathan’s lines as though he were still in a Warner Brothers gangster movie. When Dathan is finally cast down along with the Golden Calf, one expects him to cry “Is this the end of Rico?”

Of course, he doesn’t get hit with a zinger like this:

Nefretiri: (To Ramses) You’re not a God! You’re not even less than a man!

Awwwwwghhhh, dude! I’ve seen some barside crash’n’burns on Ladies Night, when some guy’s surefire pickup line became a noose around his neck, but that one is beyond cold. And the way Anne Baxter wriggles when she says it, as if using her chin to guide the missile home to its target. The Ten Commandments is loaded with bad acting, but it is incomparably the best and most entertaining bad acting ever put on the screen.

The Ten Commandments was DeMille’s last film. The strain of directing it brought on a heart attack, and the condition — made worse when he disobeyed his doctors and finished the flick after only a brief rest — killed him a few years later. But even if he’d kept his health, how could he possibly have topped this milestone? And, more to the point — even if he had, how could anyone have endured watching it? The Ten Commandments broke the mold for a certain kind of Hollywood spectacle. Watching it, all one can do is say “Thank God,” even while staring in wonder.

You know you’re a dog person when…

. . . you watch this video a couple of dozen times and think, “Boy, could I use one of those.”

However, I think the Westies would prefer one that launches squirrels.

Take back those Oscars!

Anybody want to join a grassroots movement to rescind those Oscars the Coen Brothers just won for No Country for Old Men? It’s not that I have anything personal against the Coens or the movie: I rather like most of the Coens’ flicks, and I thoroughly enjoyed No Country for Old Men.

But I just burned through Cormac McCarthy’s underlying novel — and for anyone who’s had to hack a path through some of the guy’s denser works, take note that this is one sleek, fleet-footed read — and pretty much everything that’s great about the movie was already on the page before the Coens went to work. It’s virtually a scene-for-scene transposition from book to screen. All the Coens needed to do was hire the right actors, work out the camera placements and then stay the hell out of the story’s way, a task they managed quite well. As far as I can tell, their biggest and most original contribution was to give Anton Chigurh that mop-top Beatles haircut. McCarthy did all the heavy lifting.

And yet we’ve heard endless choruses about the genius of the Coen Brothers, how stark and spare they made the film, what wonderfully pared-down storytelling they employed. The ungrateful dweebs didn’t even give McCarthy his props on Oscar night. So take back those statuettes and put Cormac McCarthy’s name on them. When it comes to Old Country for Old Men, the auteur is Cormac McCarthy, not the Coen Brothers.

Say now, there’s a title for a movie — No Country for Ungrateful Dweebs. If I knock out a treatment, you think the Coens would sign on as producers?