Monthly Archives: December 2009

Blue Monday (Tuesday edition)

I had no idea that Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen’s right-hand man, was in such poor health. This Bookslut review of his memoir, Big Man, lays out some of the guy’s troubles, as well as his obvious triumphs. I’m not a truly dedicated Springsteen fan so there are probably better examples of Clemons’ playing out there, but I always thought his finest hour was the epic saxophone solo on “Jungleland” off the . . . oh come on, you know which album. And here it is.

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Gray study

Michael Gray, who as the author of Song and Dance Man and The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is somebody who can get me to change my mind (or at least revisit my opinions) about anything Bob Dylan-related, has listened to Christmas in the Heart and found it good. In fact, he loves it and admires it, which is a reaction just about completely the opposite of mine.

Reading the post, I instantly imagined a Dylanesque take on A Christmas Carol in which Gray, as the Spirit of Dylan Albums Present,  snatches away my earbuds and warns me of the consequences if I fail to join the Perry Como chorus. I then notice two Prada-clad figures huddled at his feet.

“Are these yours?”

“They are man’s. They are Hipness and Snark. Beware the last one particularly — especially in the Internet era, when no blog post can be lived down!”

“Is there no forgetting?”

“Are there no remainder bins? No Amazon Marketplace? No Half.com?”

I am then visited my the Spirit of Dylan Albums Past, who reminds me of the Dylan discs I now love, or at least enjoy, years after I scoffed at them. (“Street Legal, hey? Remember that?”) And then the Spirit of Dylan Albums Yet to Come reduces me to gibbering in terror by pointing to a Sony Legacy catalogue with multi-disc “Bootleg Series” sets of outtakes from Self Portrait and Knocked Out Loaded. No! Noooooooo!

Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll make like Nick and do an Alastair Sim about Christmas in the Heart. So I’ll just congratulate Michael on the 10th anniversary of Song and Dance Man, a book that will continue to dominate the field of Dylan criticism decades from now.

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Hit the slopes

How clever of me to start work on a bookstore just before the biggest snowstorm to hit Highland Park in a few years. When I woke up this morning, I was responsible for not just one but two sidewalks! But once the snow was shoveled and the salt was sprinkled, the slopes of Donaldson Park beckoned.

Friday finds

A gobbet of Gorey, a soupcon of Searles, a scattering of Scarfe — Tim Burton’s influences are all there in the drawings on display in the  exhibition now on view at the Museum of Modern Art. The accompanying film series on the lurid beauty of monsters looks pretty cool, too.

Medieval engineering principles at work along Maryland roadways.

The pleasures of paperbacks, particularly for an SF fan.

That Publisher’s Weekly cover, and why it’s so contemptible.

Cliches are cliches, even when they’re imported from Sweden.

Wanna download a free Joe Ledger story? Of course you do.

Granta editor cries: Deliver us from e-mail!

Frederik Pohl gives you the history of Astounding, particularly its years under the illustrious (and controversial) editor John W. Campbell Jr.

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The old R’lyehbles

With teabaggers running around screeching about death panels and socialism, health-care reform being whittled down to nothing by insurance-industry stooges, and the mass-market media getting dumber by the minute, this holiday season has taken a decidedly Lovecraftian turn. So let us celebrate the imminent return of the Old Ones by listening to a song from the imminent Contrarian disc, Eldritch Musicks. (Bird-dogged by Geoff.)

And let us not forget that the man from Providence has inspired other bands as well. Though I don’t know if we’ll be seeing any retrospective box sets for this Sixties group:

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The Wednesday Westie

What-are-you-looking-at? edition.

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That’s all he wrote

And so ends We All Fall Down, the crime novel I’ve been posting chapter by chapter since last month. In a day or so I’ll post an afterword about the genesis of the novel, for those who are interested. I know from my site traffic that people have been reading it. I would now welcome all responses from those who have read the whole manuscript. For those who haven’t, here’s the place to start.

Blue Monday (Rick Danko edition)

In the three-part vocal mix that was The Band’s signature, Rick Danko was the quavering, charmingly uncertain voice between Richard Manuel’s soulful, more technically accomplished singing and Levon Helm’s robust backwoods bellow. Though he was well known as a party animal, Danko’s style made him perfect for the lead spot on the title song to Stage Fright. The clip up top shows a much older Danko singing “When You Awake,” one of The Band’s early classics, and that sense of uncertainty is still there.

For me, Danko was literally the voice of The Band: the first actual Band track I heard was “Katie’s Been Gone,” on the original vinyl release of The Basement Tapes. Though I later learned the track had no business being on the album, it sent me running to get Music From Big Pink and The Band during that Dylan-drenched year of 1975, which opened with Blood on the Tracks and closed (give or take a week or two) with Desire.

Though Michael Gray’s encyclopedia item on Danko certifies that he was almost as eager as Robbie Robertson to break up The Band, Danko seems downright wounded during the interviews in The Last Waltz, which is one of the reasons I’ve always pulled back from admiring that film.

Judging from this tribute site and remarks accumulated over the years, Rick Danko made a huge impact on others, fans and fellow musicians alike. Last week I made a brief mention of the 10th anniversary of his passing, but over the weekend I realized that Danko was part of many of the things I liked most about The Band. Fans who think of The Band as Robbie Robertson’s backup group forget that one of the greatest songs in its catalogue, “This Wheel’s On Fire,” was co-written by Danko, and that something crucial went out of the group’s sound when the one-for-all-all-for-one spirit went away after those first two albums.

Whether it was his distinctive, percussive bass style or the sense of humor that came through in his manner and his singing, Danko was a large part of the group’s collective soul, and he deserved a lot more than what he got after The Last Waltz sounded its final notes.

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Friday finds

The Top 29 chalkboard gags from The Simpsons, thoughtfully compiled with images. Funny stuff, but what happened to “It’s ‘potato,’ not ‘potatoe,'” the show’s tribute to the administration that early on provided it with so much material.

Lance Mannion reads Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel and finds . . . something like his past.

When I heard that Nicolas Sarkozy wants to award Albert Camus a posthumous honor, my first thought was, “And George W. Bush wants to give Noam Chomsky the Medal of Freedom.” But whatever.

The oldest book in Scotland gets dusted off. Take a look.

Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold’s novel about a rape-murder victim watching events unfold from the afterlife, is lacking in backbone, according to some critics.

“‘Richard Dawkins points out that he could with equal validity, though with less impact, have called his famous first book not The Selfish Gene but The Cooperative Gene.'” Well, that’s nice to know after all these years, now that three decades of popular-science enthusiasts have convinced themselves that Nature herself speaks in the language of Ayn Rand. One hopes the word will get around.”

A fond tribute to Rick Danko, underrated bassist and songwriter for The Band, on the tenth anniversary of his passing. And a tribute to folk icon Lead Belly on the 60th anniversary of his passing.

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The agent thing

I’ve said this about literary agents many times, but if you still don’t believe me here’s Bob Mayer to reinforce the message:

Most writers just want an agent — any agent.  But a bad agent is worse than no agent.  Not “bad” in terms of them as agents (although they do exist) but bad in terms of an agent that believes “well, maybe I can sell this” versus an agent who believes “I love this manuscript and want to sell the heck out of it.”

My first published book came about through the efforts of my fifth agent. Agent One signed me up about 10 years ago on the strength of another book, a novel, and scored a sale to a major publisher. Agent One took a job in Hollywood and Agent Two, the head of the firm, stepped in. He promptly fumbled things when the editor who’d bought my novel jumped to another house and her replacement killed the contract after a month or so of dicking around. Another agent in the same firm took me on, only to quit to start a family. She confided to me that Agent Two hadn’t even read the manuscript and was caught off-guard when the new editor decided to swing his corporate dick, and advised me to look elsewhere for proper representation.

(People in the publishing business tell me that my experience is the worst story they’ve ever heard. Lucky me, right?)

So goodbye to Agent Two and his company and hello to Agent Four and a different company. After Agent Four marketed another novel without success, I showed her the proposal for a nonfiction book. After much foot-dragging, she said she thought there was the germ of a book somewhere in the proposal but she wasn’t sure how to reach it. Well, I knew how to reach it: I just needed an agent who could reach publishers with it.

So goodbye to Agent Four and her company and hello to Agent Five, who read the proposal and loved it. Through her good efforts, The Last Three Miles was published to worldwide acclaim, with rabid customers storming bookstores to demand their own copies, printing plants running day and night to keep up with the demand, and Brinks trucks leaving sacks of cash on my front porch.

Okay, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration. But the point is that getting an agent isn’t the answer to all your problems as a writer. It elevates you to another, higher level of problems. A good agent can be like a gift of gold. A bad agent can be like an anchor chain around your neck.

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