Monday, November 29, 2010

"A kind of love letter to the teenage rock’n'roll fan"

I was happy to see that Highway to Hell, along with nine other titles, was selected by Flavorwire as a "must-read" book in the 33 1/3 Series:

Bonomo’s take on Highway to Hell is full of all the juicy parts on the band that would appear in any VH1 special: the fighting, the partying, and the tragic demise of Bon Scott from alcohol poisoning shortly after the album was completed. But it also takes on more elusive, less gossipy fare like the power of adolescent fandom–that drive that leads you, as a 16-year-old to plaster your walls with posters of a band and spend your meager savings on a stadium ticket. It’s a kind of love letter to the teenage rock’n'roll fan, as well as an excellent critical breakdown of the album itself.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Learning Empathy With Sinatra

My dad's a tremendous Frank Sinatra fan, so I happily grew up in a home where his records often played. Some of my earliest music memories are listening to, and loving, the great songs on my dad's albums: In The Wee Small Hours, Songs For Swingin’ Loversespecially Sinatra’s Swingin' Session. The latter’s “When You’re Smiling,” “I Concentrate On You,” “My Blue Heaven” are spirited and fast and I’d love when upstairs doing my homework or idling on a weekend I’d hear the needle drop on the family stereo in the rec room. I knew my dad was in a good mood, and I knew that the next hour or so was going to be fun. Sometimes, usually after dinner, usually after a martini or two, he'd disappear down to the rec room and in the dark listen with the headphones on, moaning along atonally, his eyes shut. My mom would smile behind her hands and this would become a house sound — sonorous but wailing, tuneless but urgent — that the family would laugh at, and about. But I intuited vaguely that those moments were necessary for my dad, that somehow they were unavoidable.

I loved listening to those albums with my dad because we’d move close together during those hours. He's of southern Italian heritage and it never takes much — small family joys, a hug, a run-scoring double — to moisten his eyes. But nothing brought out his warmth and emotional life more for me than Sinatra’s voice. I’d sit on the couch and listen along, and imagine my dad's younger self, that half-shadowed Brooklyn figure, pre-Mom, more heavily accented, thinner, smiling at young women whose faces I couldn’t picture, taking the subway into New York for a nickel or a dime and humming along to songs in his head.

One of his favorite Sinatra albums is the sublime Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. Pushing forty with five children, my dad bought the album when it was released, in 1966. This was an unusual record and sound relative to the hard swing albums, and when it would come on I knew that my dad’s mood was subtly different from when he’d play ‘S’posin” or "I've Got You Under My Skin," or even "Blue Moon," smiling along, shuffling his feet on the rec room floor and gently clapping his hands. The Jobim album is lush, mysterious, nearly tropical in its emotional humidity; yet for all of its smoky sensuality, it’s also cool, controlled, and elegant. A formative album for me (with my dad’s blessing I took it when I moved to graduate school), the Sinatra/Jobim collaboration is of its Pop Brazilian-scented era yet also, in its subtle orchestration and Claus Ogerman's nimble, elegant arrangements, transcendent.

Listening to the bossa nova take on Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners,” I’m brought back to the 70s and our split-level suburban home, the air-conditioned rec room, the period furniture, the stereo and quadraphonic speakers, my swaying dad. Is this a Saturday night and my parents home from their weekly dinner out, my dad loosened and sentimental with wine...

...“The lyrics, Joe, the words. Listen to how he sings them.” Must you dance every dance, with the same fortunate man?...Your lips touching his face...Can’t you see I’m longing to be in his place? “The way he sings them. Somehow he lets you know exactly what he’s thinking. Oh. Sinatra was a master.” My dad’s eyes are wet, and I’m glimpsing his romantic (romanticized?) past again, entanglements from decades earlier that I can only guess at, but his mood is weighted with something, not flimsily mawkish. You know exactly what he’s thinking. What is my dad thinking: what-if or what is? Sinatra’s fifteen years older than my dad, singing about a heartbroken guy in a club who’s contemplating a silly ruse with a hoax phone call so he can get his shot at the girl on the dance floor. On the outside. I’m a kid. I get it. “It’s his phrasing.” The strings playing minor notes. I want to say, yeah I hear it.

A few days later and I gush at my dad about the final movement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” which I’ve been listening to obsessively. “Dad I picture a guy and a girl on top of different apartment building in New York, looking out across the alley or the street at each other during a rainstorm, but they can’t have each other!” My voice cracks. My dad gets it. I’m feverish and embarrassing in my adolescent discovery. I’m returning the favor. I know exactly what you’re thinking.


But for perspective: around this time my parents came home from their Saturday night dinner, tipsy. Peaking in our KISS fandom, my younger brother Paul and I were listening to Paul Stanley’s solo album. The four connecting posters hung on the wall in the basement, and upstairs in the rec room we were completing the shallow pop myth. My mom and dad came downstairs, their smiles loose, their eyes a little glassy. They muttered something and laughed quietly and looked at each other and started slow-dancing to Stanley’s chintzy “Tonight You Belong To Me.” My brother and I were mortified, unable to know what to do, so we looked at each other, and then at our feet. My parents danced in a small private circle to the corny ballad, and I flushed and grew annoyed, embarrassed at their tenderness and affection. I wish a little of the empathy my dad taught me with Sinatra could have pushed up through my adolescent pride. I wish I’d known exactly what they were thinking.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Origin Story

The 45 twelve-pack from Korvettes spun in rotation on the family stereo and Sweet's "Little Willy" became as real as my real friends, until the day my older brother sat on the record on the living room couch, cracking the single for good, and then I learned the sadness of broken records — Fitzgerald compared his nervous breakdown to a cracked dinner plate; I'll call adolescent sadness a cracked 45, irreparable, for-good gone, and the analog era of snapped tape and busted 8-tracks and torn album covers crept forward, and not enough kitchen scotch tape in all of Wheaton could splice together the Dart Drug cassettes lost to mean feet or indifference or random tosses down the basement steps.  Now I long for all of the moving parts of my past in a digital age of bits and bytes, where are my cracked 45s?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who is she?

I'm wondering what accounts for our ability to picture people who we don’t know, or who may not even exist, when we hear or read about them.  I’m not referring to the mental image that comes after listening to or reading a highly-descriptive passage wherein someone’s acute physical characteristics are given (of course even then, one’s person’s “tall and rangy” might be another’s “wizened and weak,” so no two pictures are alike).  I mean: the image of that person that materialises immediately when one’s offered the merest of physical details  Last night as I listened This American Life I naturally and unselfconsciously pictured the man who was centrally described in the episode.  Afterward, I got online to see a photograph of him and was surprised (why?) that he didn't look at all how I'd imagined.

She walked in the room and shyly ran her hand along the window sill.

Who do you see?  Shyness, OK, that opens a certain window onto past or present people we might know who are timid, or who act timidly in certain places or situations.  But if I pare further, removing her shyness: 

She walked in the room and ran her hand along the window sill.

We still see her, maybe now a different her.  “Her.”  Why?  I wonder what we draw on, if there are there essential human gestures, Ur-Gestures, silhouettes into which the human naturally fits.  I’m not a linguist, nor an expert in semiotics, perception, the imagination, or the brain; perhaps these fields can provide answers, of a sort.  Collective Unconscious, Signs, shared Cultural Histories....  I wonder what I draw on as I people a scene when offered little but anti-details. 

She walked in the room.

She walked.

Who is she now?  Who do you see?  Your sister, your mother, a friend, a girlfriend, an ex, a character from a story a movie a song.  Wholly imagined, or living next door?  As fully rendered a fictional character Jay Gatsby is, we all know that there are an infinite number of Gatsby's in the world's sympathetic imaginations.  (The exasperated sighs that come in response to how a novel's film version is cast.  Redford!?  DiCaprio!?)  In his very interesting piece "The Creature Lurches From The Lagoon," novelist Ricky Moody essays his experience of having witnessed The Ice Storm being made into a movie, and he says a lot of interesting things about film's failure (inability, actually) to translate the interior life.  About translation (the heart of film adaptation) he says, 

No exact translation. At the moment of a translation or adaptation is a loss, a falling away from the spirit of the original, a depletion. A photograph is not a thing, even a word is not a thing, but a cinematic adaptation of a word (a sequence of moving pictures) is by its nature farther from the world of the actual and is thus artificial, like the prose paraphrasis of a poem, a falling away, a capitulation to the ingenuine.

And I guess that's what we're doing when we imagine a scene we're reading or listening to, a kind of translating of the semi-known into the known.  The implications for memoir seem very interesting to me: I try and describe very accurately someone I know, yet when you read or listen, you're seeing someone vaguely, or maybe wildly, different.  Substituting, without realizing or against your will, your own person.  Truth here is indeed a slippery notion if my actual is shaped by yours, if my literal (this really happened) is reassembled by your re-casting.  "That really happened to me, too." 


Is it empathy that fills in the blanks?  Who haunts our seeing as we see.  How do we cast the room when the room’s barely there.

“Faceless” via Russ Okon

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Which I Wrestle With Roger Angell And Lose

I turned to Ame outside of Jewel tonight and said, “Well OK, it’ll now be cold every day until April.” Thus I’ve been thinking more than usual about baseball.  I’ve been to a lot games, but my memories revolve less around the park than objects, images: my autographed Brooks Robinson photo; my card collections from 1976 and 1977; the head-tingling sight of a Topps three-pack at Wheaton Newsstand, an allowance splurge.  I kept the cards in a faux Army locker: Ken Singleton, Rupert Jones, Randy Jones, Fred Lynn, etc..  Earliest: the pennants hanging on the walls of my older brother’s room.  The Senators, and later the Orioles.  I think he had a Mets program from the late 60s?  The poster commemorating Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run, the first still image of the game that I remember as viscerally exciting, the warm Southern black night, the arc of the ball, Aaron's wide disbelieving eyes.  A year later Carlton Fisk hit his infamous homer in Game Six of the World Series, and I watched it from the top of the stairs.  I think.  I remember raucous cheers from the rec room.  Did I dream that.  The endless replays.

I didn’t need to conjure the great Yankees postseason teams of the late 70s/early 80s.  My dad picked me up from school at Saint Andrew's so we could rush home and watch the one-off playoff game between the Yankees and Red Sox on October 2, 1978, a game that  Bucky Dent ended dramatically, and surprisingly.  I watched in surreal excitement and an intuitive sense of the lasting as Reggie hit his three home runs in Game Six of the ’77 Series.  Those Dodgers rivalries were a blast, I can recall my dad sitting on the chair, he feet tucked under his butt, rigid with excitement like a boy, then leaping up happily when Ron Cey overthrew Steve Garvey.  The coasts were barking at each other: Reggie throwing out his hip at the relay throw from second, the ball careening hilariously into the outfield.  Again, the roar from my brother and dad.  I sensed that it was wrong, and loved it because of that.  Bob Welch striking out Reggie with a high fastball, a kid against the legend.  A kid watching.  And I guess I can admit that I had a nonsexual crush on Craig Nettles.

In 1986, the Mets and the Red Sox met in a classic.  I ignored the Series, as I had since the early 80s.  (Brewers?  Cardinals?  Meh.)  The night Ray Knight came racing home as the ball leaked through Bill Buckner’s gimpy legs I was in the booth at my college radio station, guffawing and flirting, buzzed, with friends, spinning obscure records, fashioning a myth, as far away from baseball as I’d get.  Seven years earlier the Orioles had been in the Series against the Pirates.  The only memory I have is vaguely making fun of Willie Stargell’s weight and his cartoony, ballooning shots to center.  Puberty and girls were far too distracting.  I missed another good Series in '87.  The Twins and the Braves in '91, another gem.  One-run games.  Extra innings.  Game Seven.  Complete games from masterful pitchers.  I watched half-attentively, buried in grad school and girls and the bars.  Mild regrets to this day.   

I made up for this in 1992 by watching (though it was tough to manage jumping up and down) as lead-footed Sid Bream slid under the tag and the Braves vaulted into the Series.  As the unaware Pirates began their historic, slow, painful slide into mediocrity, and worse, I became a rechristened fan of the game.  More atonement: in 1995 I made up for ignoring my hometown-by-default Orioles by celebrating Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak.  I let my students out early from my night class so I could make it home in time to watch the victory lap.

Some of my fondest memories involve the radio, still my favorite way to catch a ballgame.  In 1978 I followed Pete Rose’s consecutive-game hitting streak.  In August of that year my family drove to Coldwater, Ohio to visit my grandparents — an annual trip, grandpa was an ardent Reds fan; his silhouette rising from his radio behind the warm yellow window when we’d arrive from Maryland, tired, gulping in exotic farmland odors, indelible.  Somewhere on the Pennsylvania or Ohio turnpikes by dad tuned in the Reds game and we listened to Rose’s plate appearances.  I imagined each pitch and swing and the one or two hits strobing cinematically against a pitch black foreign Ohio sky. 

Thirty years later, again on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, this time heading east, and Ame said, “Let’s try and tune in a game.”  A button or two later and the White Sox, my team, come on, editorialized by a high-pitched ESPN announcer calling the three outs left for Mark Buehrle’s perfect game.  As I'd imagined Rose’s swings, I imagined DeWayne Wise’s scaling of the center field wall to preserve Buehrle's perfect game.  We were stuck in endless traffic, construction, single-lane purgatory.  We yelled after the last out and I pounded the roof of the car.  Who knew what the passing cars thought.

I'll end (who am I kidding, I'll continue) sentimentally.  On Father’s Day in 2006 I drove from Illinois to Maryland to surprise my dad.  He, my brother and his son, and I went to the Nationals game.  We turn to art, narrative and abstract, to give us life shaped: Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth.  Moments later amidst the din I spied Mariano Rivera, head-down, walking to the dugout. 


I strongly resist the mythologizing and sepia-tinted, precious narratives that can arise when lovers of baseball discuss their game, especially with the nostalgic accumulation of decades of fandom behind them. I’ll end with Zimmerman’s walk-off.  Three generations of Bonomo’s cheering.  Clichés originating in beautiful truths.

"Baseball in Snow" via Rockpile Rant

Thursday, November 18, 2010

William Hazlitt vs. Cap'n Crunch

In the 1820s William Hazlitt published his great essay “On The Pleasure Of Hating.” Ranting, confessing, bemused, hands-in-air, Hazlitt takes on man’s capacity for intense dislike, slotting it crankily among our passions. It’s a riot of an essay, a little strange, overheated and rambling, starting with an odious little spider and spreading across Europe. He essays political affairs, friendship, religion, tyranny, office politics, and art — and the dejection that comes after something’s lost its magical hold on us.  On once-striking books (and substitute just about anything here for books, as Hazlitt does): “We take a dislike to our favourite books, after a time, for the same reason. We cannot read the same works for ever. Our honey-moon, even though we wed the Muse, must come to an end; and is followed by indifference, if not by disgust.” I love the dark little secret tucked away near the end of the essay.  Hazlitt's grieving the fading over time of art's charms:
we afterwards miss the accompanying circumstances, and instead of transferring the recollection of them to the favourable side, regret what we have lost, and strive in vain to bring back "the irrevocable hour" — wondering in some instances how we survive it, and at the melancholy blank that is left behind! The pleasure rises to its height in some moment of calm solitude or intoxicating sympathy, declines ever after, and from the comparison and conscious falling-off, leaves rather a sense of satiety and irksomeness behind it... 
Then he recalls a favorite painting by a favorite painter, Titian:
I don't know why, but an air breathes from his landscapes, pure, refreshing, as if it came from other years; there is a look in his faces that never passes away. I saw one the other day. Amidst the heartless desolation and glittering finery of Fonthill, there is a portfolio of the Dresden Gallery. It opens, and a young female head looks from it; a child, yet woman grown; with an air of rustic innocence and the graces of a princess, her eyes like those of doves, the lips about to open, a smile of pleasure dimpling the whole face, the jewels sparkling in her crisped hair, her youthful shape compressed in a rich antique dress, as the bursting leaves contain the April buds! Why do I not call up this image of gentle sweetness, and place it as a perpetual barrier between mischance and me? — It is because pleasure asks a greater effort of the mind to support it than pain; and we turn after a little idle dalliance from what we love to what we hate! 
Hazlitt, you crank, I've got you: it’s too much work keeping buoyant the airless enchantment of love.  Relationships take work.  You should know that.  Loss is inevitable, and what are our choices: lament? Whine? Hate? Reconciliation?  On some days Hazlitt’s argument with the world strikes me as petulant and lazy, on other days cynical and immature, but always humane and honest.


I wonder where nostalgia fits. I’ve worried before about her seductions, her dewy, moist-eyed substitution of writerly diligence with airy mawkishness. And at the risk of courting eye-rolls, and groans all around: I had a dream the other night about a favorite toy when I was a kid, the Cap’n Crunch Spy Kit, an early-70s premium.  I begged my mom to save the box tops. We dutifully collected enough, mailed them in and, during an agonizing, very-20th century wait, I looked longingly at the approaching mailman.  (Six to eight weeks.) When the compact brown envelope finally arrived I opened up it with joy and disbelief. A tailing remnant of 1960’s spy fascination, the "Seadog Spy Kit" was blue molded plastic — “attache”-shaped, clip-on-belt style — and held inside a siren whistle, Morse Code and decoder, a "message flasher," a sundial, and compass. Man, I loved it.  The boring D.C. suburban sun and coordinates rendered the sundial and compass oddly uninteresting, but the Morse Code and decoder vaulted me into all kinds of imaginative play.  It was a little kit of stories, my Spy Kit, all for me.  And I happily revisited those day-log possibilities in my dream.

Fast forward: 2010.  What do I do upon waking, of course, but head to the Internet and, within minutes, find images of the Spy Kit.  And yes, thanks to the largess of online auction and eBay sellers, I was transported back to days when my imagination demanded just the barest of plastic props to stage hours of drama, melodramatic and otherwise.  The air-conditioned basement, the humid backyard, the infinite expanse of the crab apple tree branches....

The nostalgic pleasures I felt when looking at the long-gone spy kit — that remarkable frisson experienced when an object matches its imagined doppelganger —  were, of course, warm, fuzzy, head-lifting, etc..  I see Hazlitt over there in the corner, fuming, but with an eyebrow lifted.  William, if I've been reading you correctly, you must hate nostalgia, that charmer between past pleasure and present regret.  But nostalgia's hard to hate; in fact nostalgia's too easy to love.  Was this what Hazlitt was steeling himself against?  I've no doubt that his wide-ranging observations about Continental politics and religion, poisoned and rendered cynically stagnant by man's capacity to hate, were urgent, dearly-held; I've no doubt that his friendships that curdled did so irrevocably and sadly, as happens.  But I'm happily skeptical of his lamenting art's failure to rouse us consistently.  The work (sorry, but it is work) of the spectator, the reader, the listener, is to reenter the work once the enchantment has faded, to find a way back in to what once was so effortlessly entered, even before we saw the door.  Substitute love, friendship, work.

Nostalgia?  Well, it's a way in, isn't it?  A pleasant tide that carries us back to a source of wonder and mystery.  (Nostos: homecoming!)  But we have to be wary of the course it takes us on, as nostalgia can just as easily settle us in a field of soft, fragrant forgetfulness as a field of hard, jarring stones.  In one we remember what we want, in the other we remember what we must.  Nostalgia is a great mode of remembering, but it can render us lazy rememberers.

Monday, November 15, 2010


London on July 4, 1988 was a weird place to be an American.  Lying on my small bed in a small room at the Beach Hotel in Croydon, I felt that the disorienting experience of living out an American cliché on foreign soil is intensified when that soil is English.  Musty pages of old history textbooks wheeled past me as in a poor movie effect.  Compounding my sense of self-consciousness was my overall, gawky international naiveté, but even this was overshadowed by the news I overheard in Victoria Station soon after my arrival: Americans have shot down a Korean jet airliner.  The glances exchanged between the old chaps in the station stung genuinely, and I felt ill-at-ease, as if I a tacky, pop-up map of downtown Washington D.C. now hung implicatively around my neck; were I strolling with a red-white-and-blue sparkler in each hand I couldn’t have felt more obvious.

I was an American in an odd place, where I depended on maps to get me around, journal entries hinting at complexities of the lived experience. “Not only is it easy to lie with maps,"Mark Monmonier observes in How to Lie with Maps, published in 1991, "it’s essential":

To portray meaningful relationships for a complex, three-dimensional world on a flat sheet of paper or a video screen, a map must distort reality.  As a scale model, the map must use symbols that almost always are proportionally much bigger or thicker than the features they represent. To avoid hiding critical information in a fog of detail, the map must offer a selective, incomplete view of reality.  There’s no escape from the cartographic paradox: to present a useful and truthful picture, an accurate map must tell white lies.
Pre-Google Map, Monmonier asks, “What do advertising and cartography have in common?  Without doubt the best answer is their shared need to communicate a limited version of the truth. . . . the map must omit details that would confuse or distract.”  What’s a map but a larger confusion? The cartographer aims to please, but at its most efficient a map distills, supplanting summary for essence. The color green for trees.  Metaphor for earth.  Abridgment of experience, fading, nonlinear memories straightened out with straight lines.  A paper touchstone.  There it happened, and there it happened, but where did it happen? A map is immense in our cultural memory, its authority vaguely sinister.  Legend, story, popular truth, a clear photograph of the myth, creases and all.  And we believe, popularly, and hand over a reacquaintance with the myth for the myth itself. Claims on the lie of the land.

It's a kind of futile history.  Monmonier says that a map:

suppresses truth to help the user see what needs to be seen.  Reality is three-dimensional, rich in detail, and far too actual to allow a complete yet uncluttered two-dimensional graphic scale model.  Indeed, a map that did not generalize would be useless.  But the value of a map depends on how well its generalized geometry and generalized content reflect a chosen aspect of reality.
Thus the lamentable fate shared by those of us who turn to maps to give us back a sense of experience, to retell an evaporating tale; we sit bewildered like the re-materializing war veteran or the father searching longingly for a legend.  The distance between the map and the land it claims to record faithfully is both figurative and literal, as is the distance between experience and language.  What's remembered remains untranslatable, what's untranslatable remains as desire, and what we've experienced often bears little resemblance to what we see on paper.  “Vision is the intellectual sense,” says J. Douglas Porteous in Landscapes of the Mind. “It structures the universe for us, but only ‘out there’ and ‘in front.’  It is a cool detached sense, and sight alone is insufficient for a true involvement of the self with world.”


OK, the real problem: at the time I was too poor to own a camera, and anyway I believed, in a naive, urgent, stupid way, that my memories would be indelible.  I lost my city guide and map of the London Underground halfway through my ten-day visit.    

Back home in the States, I’d stare at the Rand McNally “City Flash Visitors Map of London,” puzzling to piece together the trip.  The postcard of the Underground map hanging on my refrigerator: a jungle of brightly-colored nerves.  Maps deceived.  I’d stare into a tangle of roads, highways, and subway lines, parks, squares, and lakes.  Blur.  I’m certain I walked down Kings Road, Oxford Street, strolled through St. John’s Wood, visited the Museum, wrote a postcard on Westminster Bridge, stopped in at John Keats’ house — Victorian Line to Green Park to Oxford Circus to Warren Street interchange for Northern Line at Euston to Camden Town to Chalk Farm to Belsize Park to Hampstead—but no associations of any emotional depth are forged by a study of the map, of the roads and blocks I stood on.  Decoding hopeless theory.  The praxis model no longer exists.

In London I dutifully studied my map each morning, outlining the best routes in advance.  I’d savored the visit to Keats’ house, and planned it toward the end of my visit.  But somewhere in downtown London I lost my map and guide, left it behind on the tube, or on a park bench.  I was forced to go on instinct and, though I could have easily purchased another guide, I loved the idea of getting around London — a place I’d been in for only three days — on my own, patching together a circuit through a city I didn’t know, sniffing my way toward what my imagination knew I craved.  I eventually found my way to Keats’ front door, but not before I had to prowl many blocks in conflicting directions, knowing I was near to what I wanted, purposefully ignoring as many signs as I could, coaxing the landscape itself to tilt toward me invitingly, this way or that.

"You Are Here" via Word It Archive.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Origin Story

Born of an Italian mathematician and a German nurse into the green cradle of the suburbs, fifth of six kids, Patty Hearst on TIME and the fall of Saigon, windows onto a troubling landscape, early lessons in magic at the Rec Center and bike rides into and out of woods that promised solitude and necking couples — I really wanted to steal the origin story of my younger brother who at age two was holding himself up onto the stereo cabinet in the living room watching a record go around — it was Sinatra or Wes Montgomery or Paul Revere and the Raiders — when he turned and for the first time in his life walked upright, beaming, the song behind him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In conversation

My idea of a writer is someone who's interested in everything, Susan Sontag.

One does not choose one's subject matter; one submits to it, Gustave Flaubert.

It has been my experience that we do not perceive or write about things as they are, but, rather, we perceive or write about things as we are, Peter Ives.

It is impossible to write meaningless sequences.  In a sense the next thing always belongs.  In the world of imagination, all things belong, Richard Hugo

Memory has its own story to tell, Tobias Wolff

Every man's always a portrait of himself, Samuel Butler

Language led me on, in the most fulfilling way.  It permitted me to learn what was on my mind..., Sydney Lea

Any real communication is exciting, Mariana Torgovnick

Essays don't usually boil down to a summary, as articles do, Edward Hoagland

If my mind could gain firm footing, I would not make essays; I would make decisions, Michel de Montaigne

"Only silence perfects silence," A. R. Ammons.

"Conversation" via

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A reminder

The folks at Continuum Books are running a contest.  Winner receives an autographed copy of Highway to Hell:
The rules for this contest are simple: Why do you love (or hate) AC DC in 500 words or less.
Go wild, images encouraged.  Deadline: Monday, November 8th.
Email submissions to

**UPDATE 11/12**

And the winner is James Brubaker, for whom cousins, weddings, and a particular song will never be the same again:
My cousin eased his new wife into a chair, and then as soon as his knee hit the floor, the DJ pulled the old switch-a-roo, busted out "You Shook Me All Night Long." Instead of reaching up his wife's dress, my cousin stuck his whole head up there, removed the garter with his teeth. That was fucked, man. Have you ever seen your cousin stick his head up his wife's dress and remove her garter with his teeth? That shit stays with you. Until then, I really loved AC/DC. Now when I hear them, "You Shook Me..." specifically, I remember the shock of that moment. So fuck AC/DC. And fuck my cousin, Steve.