Monday, July 28, 2014

Observations — 1990. Communism Shrinks, Mafia On The Big Screen

The Soviet Union was dissolved.  Yugoslavia kicked out the Communist Party. Nelson Mandela was freed. Margaret Thatcher resigned.  Lech Walesa became Poland’s president. Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize. Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. An earthquake in Sicily killed 18.  Oliver North’s conviction was overturned. U. S. Supreme Court overturned the flag-burning ban. David Dinkins became NYC’s first Black mayor.  Douglas Wilder of Virginia became the nation’s first Black governor.  The NC -17 rating replaced the “X.” The Hubble Space telescope was launched. James “Buster’ Douglas surprised the world with K.O. of Mike Tyson. “The Simpsons” and “Seinfield” debuted. Octavio Paz won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Pulitzer went to Oscar Hijuelos for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.   The Mystery Writers of America gave the Edgar to James Lee Burke for Black Cherry Blues, and The Private Eye Writers of America gave the Shamus Award to Jonathan Valin for Extenuating Circumstances.  We also read The Bad Place by Dean Koontz, Devices and Desires by P. D. James. The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum, September by Rosamunda Pilcher, The Stand by Stephen King, and Burden of Proof by Scott Turow.  We watched GoodFellas, Dances With Wolves, Henry and June, Reversal of fortune, Driving Miss Daisy, Pretty Woman, The Godfather Part III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tremors, Home Alone, Edward Scissorhands, and Total Recall. Milli Vanilli’s Grammy was revoked for lip-syncing .We also listened to “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette, “Nothing Compares To You” by Sinead O’Connor, “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe, “Vogue” by Madonna, “Visions of Love” by Mariah Carey, “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins, “Hold On” by En Vogue, and “Cradle of Love” by Billy Idol.  The world los Ava Gardner, Barbara Stanwyck, Terry-Thomas, Robert Cummings, Howard Duff, Greta Garbo Eve Arden, Tex Harrison Sammy Davis, Jr., Jill Ireland, Paulette Goddard, Pearl Bailey and Roald Dahl.  If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the metal horse?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Notes — For Whom The Shotgun....

It was San Francisco in the reigning years of California Governor Ronald Reagan.  He had opened the doors to the state mental institutions, saying “off you go” to the inhabitants in order to cut spending. Many had no place to go. Some of them had something to say, even if it was to imaginary friends or enemies. Most weren’t only homeless, but strangers in their own land, minds cut off from consensual reality.  I’ve often thought that those considered mentally disarranged (I use that word purposely) often have some truths to tell and that they have perceptions of reality we don’t want to admit to and more often don’t want to know.

One day, during that strange time. I was walking downtown near Powell and Market, ground zero for doomsayers, conspiracy theorists and God’s spokesmen, proving again and again that God has many tongues. I was dressed in the best collection of clothing I could muster resembling a suit and tie.  I had a job interview.  A man came running up to me, screaming.  He pointed and yelled as if he were the first to spot a rare bird:  “Bourgeois Pouf.”  It wasn’t surprise on his part, but anger. At me.  “I’m going to strangle you with your tie.”  He moved in my direction, a barking dog,  (“pouf! pouf’!”) disturbed by my presence in the universe but obviously wary as well. If I ran, would he gain confidence and follow? Attack? I had no idea what was inside his mind or in the pockets of his heavy coat. I gambled, stepped toward him.  He fled. I was fortunate.  There was bluffery in my pouffery.

What has troubled me for years was not the potential physical threat.  It was the taunt, “bourgeois pouf” that has stayed with me. Why? Because there’s some truth in it.

I relate this personal moment here because the intruder was disruptive, and his rants came from someone most likely disturbed in both meanings of the word.  I also comment here because William S.  Burroughs, who would have turned 100 earlier this year, was disruptive and disturbed, perhaps in both senses of the word.  And, amidst streams of his personal pornography, there’s truth in it.

Wild Boys is a product of this, “father of the beats,” who was allowed to remain at large. Unlike others who might have unfortunate DNA or tragic experiences in his youth, I get the impression Burroughs sought insanity in much the same way “Papa” Hemingway sought adventure.  Manhood, or at least fearlessness, was on the line. and must be tested. Hemingway’s tests, all designed to show what a spectacular specimen of male humanity he was, was the source of his art and the basis for his fame. Their respective approaches, Hemingway facing physical danger and Burroughs mental, were the means to get high, and enhance perception. The two writers are similar in other ways. Shotguns figure prominently in their lives. Both of them revolutionized style. Hemingway set up the new rules.  Burroughs broke them all. Both of them became larger than life, certainly larger characters on the world stage than any living writer you can think of.  (Where have all the outrageous writers gone?)

For Hemingway the world was linear, understandable, romantic. And he had a talent for making it accessible.  Hemingway went to war, faced an angry bull and dabbled in the art of boxing. He told those kinds of stories.  Burroughs was willing to face stark-raving madness. He could have no idea what the various drugs he seemed to toy with would do to him.  He did them because he was brave? Psychotic?  Don’t know.  He did them.  He told those stories.

Wild Boys is one of them.  Chunks of Dante-esque vision mixed with sexual fantasy are pieced together  — depending on your politics and proclivities  — in a fascinating, vivid set of dreams.   He rides somewhere in the vanguard of those who write to shock and horrify. As we read, we also move from format to format, from a jagged, almost random selection of words to the “proper” style we might expect from an author in our English literature courses. Then back again.  We engage in what is not so much a stream of consciousness, but the rapids.
The Duran, Duran MTV Version

In Wild Boys, the main thread is the story of rebellious youth battling fascism, fascism in the form of all authority, especially government and religion. It’s now trending apocalyptic setting makes the book seem like it was written yesterday.

There was serious consideration given to making Wild Boys a pornographic movie with Duran, Duran interested in the soundtrack.  It didn’t happen.  However Duran Duran did make an MTV video of Wild Boys.  I’m not sure what Burroughs purists think of it, but this is one of my favorites: 

Hemingway influenced American literature in a monumental way.  But Burroughs, who never had the sales and celebrity of, or interest in, the more conventional approach nonetheless influenced the influencers and is doing so today.  Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and many other writers and poets journeyed to Morocco to meet the expatriate and Beat Elder.  David Bowie owed his “Ziggy Stardust” days” to Burroughs.  Jim Morrison and the Doors were also inspired by the man who wrote Naked Lunch and who appeared to be battling his own demons if in fact he had them, with a kind of cold nonchalance. Hunter Thompson, who also never met a mind-altering drug he didn’t take, reportedly drove all the way to Lawrence, Kansas to give his mentor a shotgun.  Hemingway influenced a style of writing.   Burroughs challenged a way of thinking.

Burroughs spent his last years firing his shotgun at paint cans that would then explode, splashing color on plywood.  Hemingway used his shotgun to end his life. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Observations — 1981, Good Year For Film, Not So Good For Mao’s Widow

Iran freed 52 US. Hostages.  Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Pope John Paul II wounded.  Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Ronald Reagan became 40th U.S. President. Reagan was wounded in assassination attempt.  Reagan fired 11,500 air traffic controllers. He appointed Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman nominated to serve on the Supreme Court.  Mao’s widow was sentenced to death.  AIDS was first identified. IBM developed its first personal computer.  George Harrison was fined half a million dollars for subconscious plagiarism — “My Sweet Lord” from ‘He’s So Fine.” Boxer Leon Spinks was mugged for his gold teeth. Bobby Unser won the Indy 500.  Prince Charles and Lady Di became engaged.  Walter Cronkite retired. Porn star John Holmes was arrested for a Laurel Canyon murder. First American test tube baby was born. ‘Nightline,” “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest” and “Hill Street Blues” premiered.  Cats opened in London, and Torch Song Trilogy had its Broadway premiere. The Pulitzer Prize for literature went to author John Kennedy Toole for Confederacy of Dunces. The Mystery Writers of America gave their top prize, the Edgar, to Dick Francis for his mystery, Whip Hand. Other books topping the charts included Noble House by James Clavell, The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving, Cujo by Stephen King, An Indiscreet Obsession by Colleen McCullough, Gorky Park by Martin Cruz-Smith, Masquerade by Kit Williams, Goodbye Janette by Harold Robbins, The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, The Glitter Dome by Joseph Wambaugh and No Time for Tears by Cynthia Freeman.   Lots of good movies this year. We watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chariots of Fire, Reds, Das Boot, Pixote, Diva, The Road Warrior, Mephisto, Gallipoli, On Golden Pond, My Dinner With Andre, American Werewolf in London, and Body Heat. Not quite so good in music:  Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, Starting over by John Lennon, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, “Kiss on the List” by Daryl Hall and John Oates, and “I Love A Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt. “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton and “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon. Born this year were Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Justin Timberlake, Serena Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Among those who died were: Natalie Wood, William Holden, Hoagy Carmichael, Bob Marley, Richard Boone, Edith Head, Paddy Chayefsky, Harry Von Zell, Bill Haley, Joe Louis, Irishman Bobby Sands, and William Wyler.  If you were around during this year of the metal rooster, what were you doing?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner: 1928 —2014

When I was a little kid, the barber called me “Hoppy.”  I often went to see Sam and his collection of long, skinny combs in soaking in a jar  filled with a green, smelly solution.  He called me Hoppy because I had white hair and often wore a two-gun holster and a Fanner 50 in each. I was an avid watcher of TV westerns.  In those early days, that consisted of my namesake, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Hoppy was my favorite, I think, because he didn’t sing. Even then, though, I wasn’t able to completely suspend disbelief. So much of the action was improbable. Just as I had avoided the impossible feats of the comic book super heroes, many of the TV cowboys seemed able to dodge bullets and could single-handedly beat up a room full of unshaven thugs  — the Jack Reachers of their day.

Then along came “Maverick.” Absolutely perfect.  He was a card shark who didn’t cheat and a con artist who used his skill for good. He was decent, but not perfect guy who would rather talk himself out of a jam than fight his way out of it, who occasionally got the worse end of the deal, who could be fooled, but who, in the end figured out a clever way to deal with the problem.  When Bret Maverick morphed into Jim Rockford, I followed happily. My interest was moving from westerns to private eyes as well.  It wasn’t too long ago that I watched every episode of the “Rockford Files” in binge mode.  It held up for me. Rockford was an ex-con who was pardoned, but never quite forgiven.  He was human, led by his heart into all sorts of trouble. I doubt very much I would have been drawn to writing about private eyes if it weren’t for the “Rockford Files.  And, though I liked Jack Kelly and Roger More, there would be no “Rockford Files” without Garner. And I might not have understood it was possible to make a very human guy a series hero.

Because Garner made it (acting) seem so easy some might dismiss his skill. For those who would like an interesting glimpse into his range, rent Twilight, coincidentally a P.I. film, where he, along with his peers, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, created a modern noir classic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Observations — 1973, Vietnam, Nixon Over, Moving On

A ceasefire was agreed to in Vietnam. U.S. bombing of Cambodia ended. Egypt and Syria attacked Israel.  Arab terrorists cause chaos in Athens, killed three.  Chile’s Allende was overthrown in favor of Pinochet. Richard Nixon began his series of Watergate admissions.  Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned under threat of criminal indictment. Technology leading to MRI technology was developed. Sears Tower was completed. Roe v. Wade was decided. Reggae emerged as a musical force. Billie Jean King won at Wimbledon. Foreman knocked out Frazier. Willie Mays hit 660th and final home run.  O. J. Simpson was the first to rush 2,000 yards in one season. Rocky Horror Picture Show opened on Broadway.  Equus opened in London. Eudora Welty received the Pulitzer Prize for The Optimist’s  Daughter. The Mystery Writers of America gave its top honor to Warren Kiefer for The Lingala Code.  We also read The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Billion Dollar Sure Thing by Paul Erdman, World Without End by Jimmy Breslin, The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene, Once Is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susanne and The Salamander by Morris L. West. The Academy Award for best film went to The Godfather.  Also on the big screen in1973 were: The Poseidon Adventure, Deliverance, The Getaway, Live and Let Live, Paper Moon, Last Tango in Paris, Sound of Music, Jesus Christ Superstar and American Graffiti. We listened to “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” by Dawn, “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, ‘Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Crocodile” by Elton John, and Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack.  Born this year were Jim Parsons, Seth McFarlane, Neil Patrick Harris and Pharrell Williams.  Died: J. R. R. Tolkien, John Ford, Vaughn Monroe, Picasso, Noel Coward, LBJ, Veronica Lake, Wally Cox, Lawrence Harvey, Lex Barker, Jim Croce, Betty Grable, Pearl S. Buck, W. H. Auden, Bruce Lee, and Edward G. Robinson. If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the water ox?