Tuesday, September 28, 2010


If you've ever driven across country, say, from NYC to Texas, you'll know the highways are dotted with  porn palaces and XXX booths. The sheer number of them is vaguely astonishing. But a porn Dive-in Theatre? What sane person could possibly resist? Particularly on a Sunday afternoon...
Imagine our disappointment then...
At discovering it had seen better, more active days.

On a side note, I can never see a drive-in movie theatre without thinking of the Denis Johnson short-story Emergency, in the Jesus's Son collection. It's one of the most memorable stories I've ever read.

Cody Rose

                                                                                                        Photograph by Ari Scott

This photograph of Cody Lindquist, a lovely lass I was friends with in NYC, was taken at Coney Island on the day that the Improv Everywhere group gathered a few hundred people together to go to the beach in black formal wear. It epitomizes Cody in a lot of ways - equal parts beauty and irreverence.
More irreverent Cody and Improv Everywhere below.

Cody Lindquist

Improv Everywhere

Improv Everywhere on BBC

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Reader Writes....

what are you reading now

I've just finished What He's Poised To Do by Ben Greenman. It's a smart short-story collection with a 'gimmick' - each story has an epistolary element to it. The stories are also united by an enquiry into the way lovers fail to communicate - what is said, versus what is heard. A couple of the stories come off as finger exercises, but the majority are playful and emotionally revealing. I particularly admire Greenman's ability to cover a good deal of ground in a short space - his character's lives are fully realized in comparatively brief sketches, and though the stories aren't necessarily plot-driven, he moves the action with brilliant economy. He also manages to be witty and serious at the same time - not an easy thing to do. As a character tells his lover in Killing The Pink, 'You're the sad mask; I'm the happy mask. Takes both of us to put on a play.'

I've also been reading Terry Southern's scabrous Red Dirt Marijuana, at the behest of a friend. I'm lousy with people handing books to me - I always have a lengthy list of my own to get to, and generally I prefer to wade through those on my list. Finally, while waiting for new books to arrive, I've been dipping into Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes again. Sometimes when you've been having a difficult week with your own creativity it can be helpful to look at the work of a total train-wreck, and re-assure yourself that a brilliant, albeit dark work can come out of a space much darker than the one you're inhabiting.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

'Something by Faulkner' would probably have been my answer until recently. His sentences are notoriously difficult, and I've always wanted to make sure I was ready for him. But now I'm not so certain I'm interested enough. I'm sure I could get through it at this point, but it just seems like heavy lifting that I'm not interested in doing. Maybe Faulkner just falls outside my jurisdiction.

The next bona fide classic I'll read will probably be Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment,  which I've had in my hand several times recently. Also, Cormac Mcarthy's Blood Meridian - which takes us back to Faulkner, in a way.

last book you finished in a single sitting

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, though it's a monologue from a performance, so I'm not sure it really counts. The last book I polished off at 3 am was Lush Life by Richard Price.

most treasured book in your collection

I was pretty excited to own a first edition Love In The Time of Cholera, not least because I picked it up for 50 cents at a parking lot sale soon after it was released. But then I loaned it out, with great reluctance - which is the only way I loan books out - and my unpredictable friend held it hostage for a while. Just when I began to fear I wouldn't see it again, my friend died - was murdered, in fact. I harbored considerable guilt for a long time because I mourned not only the loss of the friend, but also the loss of the book. The book now takes it's rightful place as insignificant, but there it is.

There's no single book of importance now. I'm fond of my old English editions of F Scott Fitzgerald novels, Hemingway novels, because of their influence on me at an important time. At the other end of the scale, I'm also pretty attached to Where Do I Go From Here? the second of four 'autobiographies' written by the genius Irish footballer/alcoholic/womanizer George Best. I own all four, two of them signed, but this one is the best written of them, and the inscription is personalized.

book you borrowed and never returned

I can't think of one. I always return books I've borrowed, unless I'm told I can keep them. So should you.

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

Doubtless there have been many - but at least they've usually been books I was reading, or had recently read.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

Online, I subscribe to The Second Pass, to which I also contribute. Print - probably The Paris Review. I'm interested to see what the new editor does with it.

most influential books

Pretty much everything by and about Scott Fitzgerald. I was lucky enough to read most of it when I was 20 or so, when I was ripe to absorb the whole 'doomed romance' ethos hook, line and sinker.

Later, I went through a Raymond Carver/Richard Ford phase, as many did in the early 90's.

 More lasting though, I'd say mid-period Martin Amis (Money, London Fields). Amis, in turn, pointed me towards Saul Bellow. I can't think of a book I return to more often than Humboldt's Gift.

most anticipated upcoming release

Not even close - Saul Bellow: Letters  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jenny Saville

Her work is brutal, and astonishing. The canvases she works on are huge, their impact when viewed in person, immense.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pre-Hurricane Sunset

Downtown Austin last night.     Pic from i-phone.


Compare, if you're so inclined, the Bowie of 1974 (previous post) with the Bowie of 2002 (below).

 The clip is from Parkinson,  a chat show on English TV. Perhaps the closest US comparison with Parkinson might be Charlie Rose, though it's fair to say that Parkinson was more celebrity/populist driven. What the two shows share, however, is an interview format based on more than just sales promotion and sound-bite - they each attempt to dig beneath the surface a little. But, I digress...

Of course, we are all different people eighteen years between visits. Some though, more than others. Here, it's not just the difference in Bowie's dentistry that stands out. Here is a man whose life and persona is unrecognizable from his previous incarnation. The distance between the two is enormous. How I wonder, does one reconcile such disparity within oneself?

For myself, the obvious example of how I've shifted (self-) expectation, created 'new' selves, sought to enlarge the canvas, has been in shifting geographic location - from England, to Los Angeles, to New York, etc. etc Any time I've felt that I had a clear sense of what my life moving forward would be, any time it's become too predictable, I've upped stakes. And yet I've done so while carrying with me a sharp nostalgia for those past lives, past selves. I've always been reluctant to let them go. It is, as the professional observers might say, 'a conflict.'

To use another extreme example, I've often wondered how someone like Lou Reed absorbs a life experience that covers such range. Troubled young poet, downtown hipster, heroin addict, psychotic, etc, etc, on through whatever he is today - survivor, surly partner of avant-garde artist, etc etc.

Thought for the day then: Perhaps 'self' is the through-line that connects the off-shooting limbs of experience.

 It's a shitty metaphor, but anyway.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cracked Actor

Cracked Actor is a 1974 BBC documentary about David Bowie, directed by Alan Yentob, who would later go on to be the head of BBC. In this era it would be easy to re-title it 'Cracked-Out Actor,' but to do so would be to undermine the significance and seriousness of the film. Bowie appears emaciated and coked-out of his head for the most part, yet the film captures him in the midst of one of the great creative runs in all of rock music. The quality of the footage isn't always perfect, but it's a film that treats its subject with the respect due a serious artist, at a time when others dismissed him as nothing more than a debauched music curio (see opening segment, above).

One thing that makes the film so fascinating is that it captures an artist in transition. Of course, there was no other way to capture the restless creative pursuits of Bowie at the time - 'in transition' was his natural state. 
The documentary was made towards the end of the most highly theatric tour Bowie ever undertook.  Having killed-off his Ziggy Stardust persona, worked through Alladin Sane (essentially, Ziggy sees America), Bowie wrote  Diamond Dogs, an album heavily influenced by George Orwell's 1984. For a time, he tried to create a stage-show built around Diamond Dogs, based on 1984 - an idea that was nixed when Orwell's heirs refused to grant permission. Nonetheless, he staged perhaps the most elaborately theatrical show that rock has seen. Unfortunately, the footage in this documentary is the only professionally shot footage of the tour that exists.

Despite the complexity of the stage-show, before tour's end Bowie was already moving on. The latter part of the tour - captured here - became known as 'The Philly Dogs Tour.' Bowie stripped the show of its more elaborate set-pieces and came under the spell of American Soul music. There are clips in the last part of this documentary that show Bowie working out backing tracks with Cherry Vanilla and a young Luther Vandros, sessions that would show up on the Young Americans album.

In the late 90s I worked at a restaurant in LA, and one morning Luther Vandros was the first customer in through the door. We were practically the only people in the place, and so with nothing but time to kill I asked him about working with Bowie on those sessions, figuring at the very least, it was a different line of questioning than the one he was used to. One of the things he told me was that Bowie heard him singing at a club and asked him to come to the studio, help, raise the vocals - and at the time Luther was still attending school at Hollywood High. He shares a writing credit on the song Fascination which, before Bowie got hold of it, had a working title of 'Funky Music (Is a Part of Me).

Part of the subject here is Bowie's discovery of America - and in particular,  Los Angeles. It's a place he feels malevolent towards, and apparently, already did even then. Bowie has stated that his coke habit took him deep towards psychosis during his time in LA, and only only over a couple of difficult years in Berlin did he free himself of it. The work that emerged there - Low, Heroes - is, to my mind, as bold and brave and beautiful, as innovative, as anything in music in the 'rock' era - so much so that it's scarcely a part of 'rock' at all, but rather, exists on its outer fringes.

Another theme that emerges, and one that would take Bowie years to work through, is the question of 'multiple selves,' as explored through his need to create and inhabit characters. Mental illness runs through Bowie's family, reference towards which are ripe throughout his work. Bowie's insistence on changing his creative shape, altering his physical appearance, always shifting our perceptions of him, is key among things that drew me to his work, influenced my thought.

Watching this outstanding film again reminded me how for a long time, playing with people's expectations was something I considered a personal obligation. To present oneself  consistently was to present oneself as too easily understood, too easily known, I felt. Or, as Oscar Wilde had it, 'Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.'

   In the short term it's a superficial outlook, no doubt. In the long term however, it has to do with creating a a non-linear path, pursuing a philosophy of personal exploration and evolution. More on this in the next post...

   In the meantime, more of my musings on Bowie's Philly Dogs Tour can be found in a review marking the re-issue of David Live, written for Popmatters a few years ago: Masterpiece Theatre: David Live

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What I'm Reading: What He's Poised To Do

A clear example of a cover drawing attention to a book and influencing its purchase. It probably says more about me than I'd care to admit.

I'm half-a-dozen stories into the collection. Each story comes with a dated postmark, and each one contains an epistolary exchange of some sort. The prose is lean, and the author, a New Yorker writer, is clever. And is aware of it. There is a sense that the stories, for all their variety, are to some extent finger exercises in narrative technique. It makes the book a sly cerebral pleasure rather than one in which you feel wholly sympathetic to it's protagonists. As for what it's about, it's about the miscommunication between lovers - people saying one thing but meaning another.