Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ferlinghetti Day


Today is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 90th birthday.  Your instructions are to find time today to read at least one poem from A Coney Island of the Mind or one of his other books, and maybe even order a book from City Lights, the San Francisco bookstore he co-founded. Or download this podcast of Ferlinghetti reading from his work.  

Meanwhile, Nick can bring you up to speed on birthday plans for another major artist who’s about to celebrate the big nine-oh.

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Stage magic

If you didn’t have the wherewithal to score tickets to the Trevor Nunn/ Ian McKellen production of King Lear, PBS is showing the filmed version tomorrow night on Great Performances, then making it available online. There’s a DVD already out in the U.K., so I can only hope we’ll be getting a Stateside edition before too long.

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So it appears Joel and Ethan Coen are getting set to film a remake of True Grit, using the scriptwriter they worked with on No Country for Old Men. I consider this qualified good news.

Charles Portis’ 1968 novel is a terrific read, and all the good I can say about the 1969 film version is that it isn’t nearly as dire as the sequel. John Wayne was the exact wrong choice to play Rooster Cogburn — wrong artistically, wrong chemically, wrong geometrically, mathematically, geologically and just about any other way you can imagine — but those were the days when any movie with a horse in it got saddled with Duke. Yeah it got him his Oscar, and whoop de doo for that. It also spawned a sequel that gave him a chance to one-up Humphrey Bogart by redoing The African Queen in the Wild West, and by the time Duke and Katharine Hepburn got done chewing the scenery I’m surprised there was a single tree left standing in the Oregon Cascades. (There was also a made-for-TV second sequel, imaginatively titled True Grit: A Further Adventure, which nobody remembers. With good reason.)

So while I’m glad to hear the Coens are going to go back to Portis and come up with something much closer to the novel, I’m reserving judgment. The novel gets its zing from the first-person narration of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl out to avenge the murder of her father, and her relentlessly blunt, Bible-quoting manner can be played for too-easy laughs if done as a voice-over. Easy laughs, unfortunately, are the Coens’ stock in trade, along with comic rustics. I’d hate to see True Grit turned into a more violent version of O Brother, Where Art Thou, but that may very well be what we get. On the other hand, I could go along with John Goodman as Rooster Cogburn. Tommy Lee Jones as La Boeuf? John Turturro as Tom Chaney? Maybe this could work after all.

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Story telling

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live” is probably Joan Didion’s best-known line. A study of how evolutionary theory applies to literature — and humanity’s hunger for stories — suggests Didion was on to something even bigger than she realized.

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Dawn of the Dead

The space shuttle astronauts awoke this morning to the sounds of the Grateful Dead playing “Box of Rain,” according to today’s NASA mission update. Nice. “What do you want me to do?” is certainly an appropriate lyric for a space shuttle crew. 

I’ve always thought American Beauty was all the Grateful Dead anyone needed for normal purposes, though I’ve been known to play Workingman’s Dead on mornings when I’ve had a good night’s sleep and at least two cups of coffee.  I’d have requested “Ripple” myself, though maybe the key line — “If I knew the way, I would take you home” — might sound a little ominous under the circumstances.

Surely there’s a Bobcat lurking somewhere in the ranks of Mission Control who will do what needs to be done and play “New Morning” one of these space days.

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Blue Monday

Charlie Hunter leads his group through “If 6 Was 9,” the Jimi Hendrix song. That striking guitar is a custom-built eight string job in which three strings allow Hunter to play bass and rhythm lines while keeping everything else going.

Here he is playing “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”

To say that Charlie Hunter has wide-ranging tastes would be to commit felonious understatement. He studied guitar with six-string godhead Joe Satriani, then hooked up with poet Michael Franti on the industrial hip-hop group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. After he and Franti went their separate ways, Hunter jumped into the jazz fusion group Garage A Trois, another fusion group called Coalition of the Willing, and T.J. Kirk, which merged the music of Thelonious Monk, Rashaan Roland Kirk and James Brown. And, of course, scads of solo recordings.

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Blue Monday (Bayou Bonus)

As the good people at MetaFilter remind us, we are well into the 40th anniversary of the greatest single commercial and artistic year enjoyed by any rock band, anywhere, anytime. Creedence Clearwater Revival started 1969 with their second album, Bayou Country, then put out their third disc, Green River, in August. Their fourth, Willie and the Poor Boys (one of the short list of perfect rock and roll albums – even the filler is great), came out in November. Along the way they released a string of hit singles: “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Green River” and “Down on the Corner.” Three albums, four singles and not a clinker in the bunch. Can any band top that?

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Wake-up call

This morning the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery woke to the music of a group named after two of Kurt Vonnegut’s best-known characters. If only Walter Gesundheit had been there to announce it. The NASA mission update is short on details, but I assume the song that was played, “In a Little While,” is the number from Once Upon a Mattress.  Downloads here if you want to know what Pilgrim and Trout sound like. And let’s hope there isn’t a chrono-synclastic infundibulum coming around the horizon.

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Nostalgia has its limits

Andrew Sullivan spotlights this bottled water ad that uses Brains, the engineer from the Sixties-vintage puppet show Thunderbirds:

Sullivan also has a clip of the opening sequence from the original show, and confesses to feeling a certain . . . affinity with Brains, and Lady Penelope, “but what are you going to do? I was eight, gay and living in East Grinstead.”

When I was eight, straight and living in Hasbrouck Heights, Thunderbirds and the other Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet shows were a staple of my viewing diet. Their appeal lay in the Andersons’ lovingly detailed models and even more lovingly detailed destruction of same, which my friend and I emulated by putting our GI Joes into Tonka trucks and rolling them off the cliffs behind his Terrace Avenue apartment. Anyone watching us shout in delight as GI Joe — the full-sized one, not the diminutive later model — flew through the air and hit the ground just in time to be crushed beneath the tumbling dump truck, probably would have concluded that we would end up as demolition experts, or mass murderers.

Incidentally, I was also pretty keen on an earlier Anderson show, Fireball XL5:   

A couple of years ago, when Dances With Mermaids became fond of Wallace and Gromit, I found myself explaining that the intricate methods by which the pair descended from their kitchen to their garage were in fact joking references to Thunderbirds, in which the Tracy family’s swimming pool and living room would roll back to permit hidden aircraft to roll out and perform that week’s mission. (For some reason, the likelihood of  tire tracks across deep-pile carpet was never an issue on Tracy Island.) The release of the live-action Thunderbirds finally made her interested in seeing the original show.

Let’s just say the old show didn’t go over too well. In the Sixties, live-action science fiction TV shows and movies didn’t look much better than Thunderbirds, and sometimes they looked a lot worse. For a young boy deep into imaginative play with toy soldiers and equipment, the Anderson shows might have been piped directly from his subconscious. But for a child of the 21st century, the shows just look weird.

“They had shows like this on TV back then?” Dances With Mermaids asked, in the same tone of voice you would use when asking “What, you didn’t have indoor plumbing back then?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, and we sent the DVD back to Netflix. Dances is also a Star Wars fan, and she likes hearing me describe the excitement the original movie generated in 1977. But in the case of Thunderbirds, I’m afraid, nostalgia definitely has its limits.

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Do you want to write like David Foster Wallace? Just follow these guidelines.

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