Archive for the ‘Arts & letters’ Category

R.I.P., Aretha Franklin

August 16, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, the Queen.

I don’t remember the first time I heard Aretha Franklin’s voice, but I never forgot it. Even the tinnest of tin ears perked up when the Queen of Soul was belting one out (she had a four-octave vocal range).

Many of the reflections on Franklin’s passing note that “The Blues Brothers” helped revive her career when it was on life support (the rockin’ pneumonia and boogie-woogie flu had turned into a bad case of disco fever).

That’s one more reason to miss John Belushi, too.

 

R.I.P., Steve Ditko

July 7, 2018

Without Steve Ditko, this Marvel-origins collection would have been a good deal slimmer.

As a polyglot lot of colorfully clad heroes comes to blows in France, displaying superhuman powers acquired from Stan Lee only knows where, we bid farewell to the co-creator of many another costumed combatant, comic-book artist Steve Ditko.

With Lee and Jack Kirby Ditko had a hand in the debut of, among others, The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. The young Ditko dug Will “The Spirit” Eisner, and you can see a bit of Eisner’s noirish style in his work; this admiration clearly filtered down to some of the undergrounds, like Rand “Harold Hedd” Holmes and Dave “Dealer McDope” Sheridan.

Doctor Strange as imagined by Steve Ditko.

Unlike Lee, who had (and maintains) a flair for showmanship, Ditko apparently was a recluse who declined interviews, snubbed comic-book conventions, and spurned invitations to movie premieres.

“We didn’t approach him,” said Scott Derrickson, director of the 2016 movie “Doctor Strange,” a yawner in which Benedict Cumberbatch played the title role. “He’s like J.D. Salinger. He is private and has intentionally stayed out of the spotlight.”

According to Lee, in “Origins of Marvel Comics,” Ditko got the job of drawing Spidey after Kirby’s take on the character proved “too good” to depict the tormented teenage geek Lee had in mind.

“All those years of drawing superheroes must have made it a little difficult to labor so mightily and come forth with a superloser, or if you will, a supershnook,” Lee wrote.

“Steve’s style … was almost diametrically different from Jack’s. Where Jack would exaggerate, Steve would strive zealously for total realism. Where Jack made his featured characters as heroically handsome as possible, Steve’s forte seemed to be depicting the average man in the street. I decided to play a hunch. I asked Steve to draw Spider-Man. And he did. And the rest is history.”

Ditko died alone in his Manhattan home, age 90.

 

One less cracker in the barrel

July 5, 2018

Scott Pruitt is going back to lifting twenties out of the collection plate at First Baptist in Broken Arrow, sneaking tips off nearby tables at Cracker Barrel, and surreptitiously peeing in Tulsa’s municipal pools.

As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Well shucks. It makes a man’s eyes damp, for sure.”

The Good Doktor was speaking of Nixon fluffer Pat Buchanan, who was whimpering publicly about the harsh treatment afforded The Boss as the hyenas of Watergate gnawed on his political carcass, and what Thompson had to say about that administration 44 years ago goes double for this one:

“By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, [Nixon] was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mindbending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn’t brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both but he still has time, and the odds on his actually doing it are not all that long.

“This is the horror of American politics today — not that Richard Nixon and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed — but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned‐out hacks who have been fouling our air with their gibberish for the last twenty years.

“How long, oh Lord, how long? And how much longer will we have to wait before some high‐powered shark with a fistful of answers will finally bring us face‐to‐face with the ugly question that is already so close to the surface in this country, that sooner or later even politicians will have to cope with it?

“Is the democracy worth all the risks and problems that necessarily go with it? Or, would we all be happier by admitting that the whole thing was a lark from the start and now that it hasn’t worked out, to hell with it.”

I’d let Pruitt run the siren all the way back to Oklahoma, if he didn’t mind that his personal vehicle was a splintery rail. Meanwhile, his replacement as EPA chief is a former coal lobbyist, because of course he is. Right again, Doc.

• Bonus Extra Credit Venom: Read HST’s obituary of Richard M. Nixon, who many of us thought — wrongly, as it turned out — was as bad as a president could get. 

 

R.I.P., Harlan Ellison

June 29, 2018

One of the many dispatches from Ellison Wonderland.

The crickets are already chirping merrily by the time I arise at 5:15.

“Won’t be long now,” they sing. “Soon the world will be in the mandibles of its rightful heirs, the insects.”

Harlan Ellison won’t be there to see that day, and write about it. The prolific and famously pissy author of speculative fiction checked out yesterday at 84.

A winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, Ellison may be best known for “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which many call the best “Star Trek” episode ever. Gene Roddenberry and his drones took the liberty of editing the mortal shit out of his script and Ellison was very much not amused. Legal action followed, as did a settlement, and he eventually released his own version of the script as a book.

He went after and won a settlement from James Cameron, too, saying “The Terminator” nicked bits from two “Outer Limits” episodes he wrote. I always thought that franchise had roots in “I Have No Mouth, & I Must Scream,” a tale of a globe-spanning supercomputer that became self-aware, even godlike, and wiped out the human race, save for a handful of people it kept alive and immortal to torture throughout eternity for blessing it with sentience to no particular purpose.

“He could not wander, he could not wonder, he could not belong. He could merely be.”

“A Boy and his Dog” was another you might know. And there were more, many, many more.

In the foreword to “I Have No Mouth, & I Must Scream,” he called his stories “assaults,” adding: “And science fiction saved me from a life of crime. Honest.”

I hear you there, Harlan. I may not have become a Writer of Stature the way you did, but even swinging a metaphorical bat in the literary bush leagues beats banging on the jailhouse bars. Thanks for doing so much more than “merely be.”

Make it rain

June 16, 2018

Finally. What a great day to be a rain dog.

Mister Rogers evicted from neighborhood

June 14, 2018

Rob Rogers seems pretty on point to me. | Rob Rogers/Andrews-McMeel Syndication

A comrade bites the Big Orange Bullet.

Seems the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thinks more of the free-press-hating Il Douche than it does of its own editorial cartoonist.

Former editorial cartoonist, that is.

According to The Washington Post, the Pittsburgh paper’s management had begun regularly spiking Rob Rogers’ cartoons, many of which were critical of the country’s management. And as cartoonists tend to want to see their work published, while fascists tend to lack a sense of humor, well, matters came to a head, as they will.

It sucks to see an editorial cartoonist get the heave-ho after a quarter-century for doing his job. There aren’t that many of them left — hell, there aren’t that many newspapers left.

But good on Rob for sticking to his guns and hollering “Bullshit!” when he smelled some. The PP-G editorial page should include a complimentary scratch-and-sniff air freshener henceforth.

• Late update: Rob steps away from the drawing board for a moment to write a short piece for the NYT.

R.I.P., Anthony Bourdain

June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain was working on a project to bring a market modeled on Singapore’s hawker centers to Manhattan. He wanted it to bring to mind “Blade Runner” — “high-end retail as grungy, polyglot dystopia.”

It seems the chef, globetrotter and raconteur Anthony Bourdain decided to burn out rather than fade away.

I can’t really say I was a fan; more of a bemused admirer, and from a safe distance, too. I read “Kitchen Confidential,” and my main takeaway beyond “Hell, no, I don’t ever want to cook in a pro kitchen” was that he’d be a tough dude to spend a lot of time around, even if you weren’t working for him.

But man, did he ever find his place in the world. Actually, not so much “find” as “create.” It seems now that his life may have been one extended, complicated suicide attempt. “Kill me if you can, but in the meantime get the fuck out of my way because I got all this cool shit to do.”

This New Yorker piece by Patrick Radden Keefe examines Bourdain’s raison d’être, the original pitch for his evolving, “increasingly sophisticated iterations” of the same TV program:

“I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit, and basically do whatever the fuck I want.”

It may also contain his epitaph. Bourdain was a movie buff, and “Blade Runner” comes up a couple of times in the piece. I thought immediately of the conversation between Roy Batty and Eldon Tyrell, the chat which ended so badly for Batty’s creator:

“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.”

Batty would eventually check out, too. But not by his own hand.

Happy Mothers Day

May 13, 2018

Faces only a Mother could love.

This one goes out to all you mothers.

 

Bikes and books

April 7, 2018

The Soma Saga, canti’ model, en route to the Embudo Dam trailhead after a leisurely couple hours in the saddle.

Anybody who thinks pseudoephedrine sulfate isn’t a performance-enhancer should gobble a little Claritin-D 12 Hour before the daily bike ride sometime.

I resorted to doping yesterday as mulberry, ash and juniper transformed my mighty two-lane freeway of a snout into a narrow garbage-choked alley, and hijo, madre, what fun it was. I’d still be out there if I hadn’t run out of water and food.

It didn’t hurt that I was riding the Soma Saga. What a La-Z-Boy of a bike that beast is, especially the day after riding trail on the Voodoo Wazoo, with its low end of 38×28; that’s fun, too, but of an entirely different sort.

Si, mijo, ese es un libro real.

If the going gets steep on the Wazoo you just have to suck it up, snowflake. Stand up or get off. On the Saga, with its 24×32 granny, you can sit back and relax. It feels like there’s always another, lower gear.

When the provisions ran out I rolled home and ate a plate of leftover pasta with arugula pesto, some nuts and fruit.

Then I finished reading “The House of Broken Angels,” by Luis Alberto Urrea. He name-dropped Thomas McGuane, Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury in a New York Times Q&A, and acknowledged Jim Harrison and Richard Russo in the book itself, so yeah, goddamn right I was gonna read him, and in actual analog-book form too.

The story reminds me somewhat of “The Milagro Beanfield War,” by John Nichols, in that every Spanish-speaking reader in every border town in Estados Unidos and Mexico alike is going to say of it, as an Alamosa bookseller did to me of “Milagro,” “This book is really about us, you know?”

I got my copy used at Page 1 Books. Go thou forth and do likewise.

R.I.P., Robert Grossman

March 20, 2018

One of Robert Grossman’s famous covers for The National Lampoon.

Illustrator and caricaturist Robert Grossman has stepped away from the drawing board for the final time.

He created some memorable covers for National Lampoon and other magazines, and took strong whacks at a wide range of politicos, among them Dick Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In a 2008 interview with The Times, asked whether caricatures of presidents and presidential candidates were undignified. Grossman replied: “Undignified? Virtually anything has more dignity than lying and blundering before the whole stupefied world, which seems to be the politician’s eternal role.”

That same year, in an interview with The Tennessean, Mr. Grossman explained the edge illustration had over other forms of journalism.

“Reporters labor under the terrible requirement that what they report must be true,” he said. “Opinion writers need to endure the less stringent demand that what they opine be at least plausible. Nobody ever expects what cartoonists do to be either true or even plausible. That’s why we’re all as happy as larks.”