In the summer of 1970, at about the time of the release of her novel Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion spent a month driving through the Gulf Coast states with her husband John Gregory Donne hoping to discover a magazine piece to write.
I had problems with The Keepers.
That’s the recent seven-part Netflix documentary about the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnick, a Baltimore nun, who disappeared in November 1969 and whose partly decomposed body was found two months later in a patch of scrub woods.
I had read Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son when it came out in paperback, 1993. I had read Tree of Smoke, which won a Nat’l Book Award in 2007. That, I didn’t like so much, but after Johnson died, in May, I decided to read the earlier one again. If you can recommend another book of Johnson’s to someone who didn’t like Smoke but did like Jesus, I am buying.
Since I began self-publishing, my primary marketing effort, which doubles, in my mind as a public art performance, consists of sitting in a café each morning with my wares beside a sign, personally drawn and lettered by S. Clay Wilson of the Checkered Demon commanding “Buy Bob’s Books!”
Huge by Aaron Lange, Underground Comix.
Maybe it is a good time to revisit the story of Christopher Boyce. Certainly Open Road Media, which just re-issued an E-book of Robert Lindsey’s The Falcon and the Snowman (1979), thinks so. I had not read the original, but I’d seen the movie — Timothy Hutton as Boyce (The Falcon) and Sean Penn as Daulton Lee (The Snowman). Now, having mastered Adele’s Kindle, I’m down with ORM’s decision.
On December 12, 1942, The New Yorker published a 7000-word profile, entitled “Professor Seagull,” by Joseph Mitchell. The subject was Joe Gould, a 53-year-old Greenwich Village eccentric, who was said to be writing an “Oral History of Our Times,” consisting of a record of conversations he had overheard over the last decades and essays related to these conversations. It was, Gould claimed, several times the length of the Bible and, most likely, the longest book ever written.
Some months ago, the way others take up double-crossticks, I decided to figure out who killed Kennedy. My approach was to take the arguments in two books which believed his murder resulted from a vast, insidious conspiracy and compare them with the arguments in two books which believed a solitary madman responsible.
A version of this essay is included in Bob Levin’s Cheesesteak – his new “rememboir” of “the West Philadelphia years.” (There’s information on how to buy his witty book of Philly wonders at the end of this post.)
In the late 1950s, when I was in high school, two Negroes joined the periphery of my social crowd. Edward played piano and Lester bass, and they were jazz musicians. They never had gigs and, if they did, the gigs never paid; but that is who they were, and that is what they did. If I or Max Garden or Davie Peters had a car, we gave Edward and his bass a ride to their rehearsal. If you had a piano, that rehearsal might be your living room.
Both Lester and Edward were built slight, spoke soft, and dressed Ivy. But it was Edward, still in his teens, who became through Robutussin AC the first druggie I knew. And it was he who, when asked if he was going to college, uttered the line I fed a minor but weighty character in my first novel: “What, man, you mean be a everybody?”
One recent afternoon, I found myself in front of the TV, its sound muted, watching an NCAA basketball championship semi-final between Michigan State and Duke. Ten young men ran back and forth, right-to-left, left-to-right, upon this court. It occurred to me that I had been watching this game for sixty years, and I did not feel that, oh, the last semi-infinity of this exposure had added to my stores of wisdom or emotional depth.
I met E. Martin in 1958 at summer camp, where he was not only our bunk’s starting shortstop and point guard but the only one who read I. F. Stone’s Weekly. He went on to lead the anti-war movement at Penn medical school, participate in Physicians for Social Responsibility and practice psychotherapy from a self-characterized “radical social-economic justice perspective.” At age 70, he relocated from suburban Boston to a sustainable farming community in western Massachusetts. So when he recommended reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, I did.
Coincident with the centennial celebration of the outbreak of World War I, I finished David Fromkin’s excellent A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. Fromkin’s message, if I may paraphrase, is that since in took Western Europe 1500 years to get its shit together after the fall of the Roman Empire, we may have another 1400 of reports of madnesses and slaughters to look forward to ingesting each morning over coffee in The New York Times.
For a guy who once conceded nothing to Holden Caulfield when it came to abhorring the “phoney,” it takes a well-seasoned blend of irony and humor to walk around sporting designer-distressed boots, jeans and safari jacket. But I am over-seventy, a serene sail toward a gradual retirement from the practice of law hastened by the two M.I’s, which fell upon me within two months of one another and led me to open heart surgery, an experience that illuminated as effectively as thunderbolts hurled by Zeus the likelihood that I would have neither the energy or time to rack up such character-defining “worn” spots and “scorch” marks on my own. True, the red wine and dark chocolate I imbibe for cardiovascular benefit place legitimate stains within easy reach. True, my blood thinner gives my slightest nick a shot at heightening any fabric’s coloration. But with my rowdy ways laid nearly as deeply to rest as Janis’s and Jimi’s, and with Lipitor and Metropolol as regular benchmarks of my conversation as Mick and Keith once were; I feel entitled to some short cuts.
In the early 1950s, Entertaining Comics was king of the ten-cent jungle. EC invented the horror comic (Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear). It issued the first “scientific” science-fiction (Weird Science, Weird Fantasy). It re-invigorated the crime comic (Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories), with a social conscience. And with the blessing of its owner, William M. Gaines, it packaged them with an unprecedented—and splendiferous—amount of sex and gore. Unfortunately, when a public outcry linking comics to juvenile delinquency—to the outraged, befuddled sputterings of Gaines and avid pre-teen readers, like myself—it was an antipathy toward and a ban on just such content that forced him to gut his line.
You write. Your friends say, “I liked it.” They say, “You’re really a good writer,” like it still comes as a surprise. You don’t blame them. If everyone could say something memorable, everyone would be Oscar Wilde.
The two Asian-American women to our left had come from San Jose to Berkeley’s Greek Theater because the brother of one, who was boyfriend to the other, had been a great fan of the evening’s headliner; and the women knew, if he had not died six months before, he would have been at the concert. In fact, they believed him there now. Each held his photograph to contemplate, while they smoked the joints through which the music reached them, beneath the chill, grey, starless sky.
The presidential nomination convention season always reminds me of tripping over Governor Lawrence.
There was a time in my lifetime when an opposition to the economic inequality which fuels the Occupy movement’s fire had a significant champion in this land. But that was long ago, a fog-flogged far away – and burned with more fundamental fervor.
My Uncle Manny, a doctor, was at the Battle of the Bulge. When he came home, he lived with us on 46th Street. After he moved out, he left behind a collection of German beer steins and some books. He never talked about the war in my presence, and only one of those books pertained to it: the cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s Up Front.