Archive for the ‘Arts & letters’ Category

R.I.P., Tom Petty

October 3, 2017

Adios, TP.

Yesterday was a sad day in so many ways, not least because of the departure of Tom Petty. He was just 66.

The fake news was a wee bit early in declaring that he had left the stage; Tom managed one more short encore before taking his final bow. He always seemed like a regular dude to me, a craftsman devoted to doing his best in a culture that often settles for much, much less. And he just kept on doing it, right through a massive U.S. tour to celebrate his 40th anniversary as frontman for the Heartbreakers.

His music, so clearly influenced by The Byrds, has been part of my mental playlist for the better part of quite some time, starting with “Damn the Torpedoes.” And I expect that he’ll get a warm greeting from Roy Orbison, George Harrison and the rest of that ever-growing, ever-better Next World Orchestra.

Here’s one of my favorites — “Louisiana Rain.” Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead.

Hugh Hefner hits the silk

September 28, 2017

Do they have silk pajamas in heaven?

No matter. Hugh Hefner pretty much built his own heaven right here on earth. He died Wednesday at 91.

Say what you will about Playboy — and people said plenty, fans and detractors alike — Hef’ gave a home to one helluva lot of top-shelf cartoonists. Gahan Wilson, Bobby London, Shel Silverstein, Jack Cole, B. Kliban, Jules Feiffer, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman — the list goes on, and on, and on. He even had the distinct honor of being mocked alongside Peter Max in Bijou Funnies by Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson.

Playboy paid well when everyone else paid for shit. For cartoonists it was The New Yorker, but with a centerfold. R.I.P., Hef’.

Monsoon season

April 25, 2017

My bucket runneth over.

It rained all day, which is a good thing, and not just because we live in a desert, either.

Nope, I had things to do, and still have, among them a column and cartoon for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and a bicycle review for Adventure Cyclist.

Thus it was best that I be confined to quarters and required to pay attention.

Elsewhere, the deluge — no, not the rain, but the shit monsoon that is the reign of King Donald the Short-fingered — continues unabated. His family crest should be a tiny hand stirring a golden toilet with the motto, “L’merde, c’est moi.”

So we’ll ignore that fool and link instead to an interesting read from Cormac McCarthy on the unconscious and its distrust of language. Hardly anyone gets killed horribly in it, but I’ll tell you, he makes me feel like a haunted house.

R.I.P., J. Geils

April 12, 2017

I don’t want the blog to turn into an obit column, but I felt compelled to note the passing of John Warren Geils Jr., the guitarist behind the J. Geils Band.

You may recall the band’s Eighties hits — “Centerfold,” “Love Stinks,” and “Freeze-Frame” — but I stumbled across them in the Seventies, my initiation likely being the live album “Full House,” which I still have on vinyl.

There were a bunch of keepers on that one, my favorites being “First I Look At the Purse,” “Pack Fair and Square,” and “Whammer Jammer.” Magic Dick could do magic for real — dude could make a harp sound like a sax.

Charles P. Pierce, who has his own recollection of the band, found another keeper online, “Floyd Hotel,” from 1973. As usual Peter Wolf and Magic Dick play starring roles, but Geils contributes a few worthy licks on slide. And keyboard player-songwriter Seth Justman tinkles them ivories right nice too.

“Take out your false teeth, mama, I want to suck on your gums.” With lines like that you can almost excuse the stagewear and hairdos. Hey, it was the Seventies, what can I tell you?

Rock ‘n’ rage

March 19, 2017

Jaysis. What a weekend. First we lose Chuck Berry and then Jimmy Breslin.

Berry remains on tour extraterrestrially — “Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records aboard the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977.

One of my favorite Breslin books is “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”  What could I tell you? There are so many keepers in there, like this graf:

The Baccala Family runs all organized crime in Brooklyn. The gang has been in Brooklyn longer than the Ferris Wheel at Coney Island. It was formed in 1890 under the leadership of Raymond the Wolf. He ate babies. Raymond the Wolf passed away one night from natural causes: his heart stopped beating when three men who slipped into his bedroom stuck knives in it. Joe the Wop, who had sent the three men, took over the mob. Joe the Wop shot nuns. A year later he dropped dead while being strangled.

I didn’t know this quote until I read it in his obit, but it works for me, too:

“Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

I’ve never raged as well as Breslin or Berry, but I keep on trying. If only they hadn’t set the bar so damn’ high.

The music a’Waits

March 14, 2017

OK, apropos of nothing in particular, check out this interview with Tom Waits at The New York Times Style Magazine.

Beck and Kendrick Lamar are in there, too, if that’s how you roll.

The money quote for me — from Waits, of course — is about inspiration and how it strikes:

If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects.

 

Stormy mental weather

February 28, 2017
Looks like I guessed wrong, weather-wise: I ran yesterday, which turned out to be an OK day for cycling. Today, however. ...

Looks like I guessed wrong, weather-wise: I ran yesterday, which turned out to be an OK day for cycling. Today, however. …

I’m not very interested in what I have to say lately.

There’s just something about February. It’s a short month, but marks the start of every-other-week columns and cartoons for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

Too, the weather is often inhospitable, which can be a problem when shooting video for Adventure Cyclist.

And every so often we find ourselves adjusting to a New World Ordure, which can be irksome.

So, yeah. Apologies, but I’ve been taking a few continuing-education courses at good ol’ STFU.

While in residence I read a 1955 interview with James Thurber in The Paris Review. Thurber — an FBI target dubbed “prematurely anti-fascist” by Red-hunters — was discussing what he called “this fear and hysteria” of that period in American history and how it was affecting his writing:

“It’s hard to write humor in the mental weather we’ve had, and that’s likely to take you into reminiscence. Your heart isn’t in it to write anything funny.”

Speaking of stormy mental February weather, I see King Donald the Short-fingered is to address the multitudes this evening. P’raps instead of watching that excremental extravaganza we shall borrow a teenager from one of the neighbors, immerse ourselves in some novel off-the-cuff and inconsequential lies as a change of pace.

Or maybe we’ll re-read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Rock ‘n’ roll

February 3, 2017
Some places the walls have ears. Here the trails have teefers.

Some places the walls have ears. Here the trails have teefers.

Yesterday I was out shooting snippets of video for my Adventure Cyclist review of the Specialized Sequoia when I decided it would be edifying to snap a still of some of the rocks I throw at these machines during our rides together.

Doesn’t quite give you the shark’s-tooth view I get from the saddle, does it? I need to go back and try again.

Meanwhile, I ordinarily read a bit of poetry before nodding off at night, but lately I’ve been browsing The Paris Review‘s interviews with authors and artists. If you need a break from the full-auto barrage of political news, check it out.

The sun also rises

January 26, 2017
"He's done it again. It's coming up. It's coming up."

“He’s done it again. It’s coming up. It’s coming up.”

The only thing I have in common with Ernest Hemingway* is that occasionally I find myself at a loss for words.

Then I remind myself, as he reminded himself in “A Moveable Feast”: “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.”

And so I have: The Bicycle Retailer column is finally in the can. Next, the “Shop Talk” cartoon, also for BRAIN, followed by the Specialized Sequoia review for Adventure Cyclist.

Like Thomas McGuane’s Chet Pomeroy, “I saw a few things and raved for money.” Soon I shall return to raving for free.

* OK, so we’ve both written about drinking, eating, road trips, writing and bicycling. Guess which one did it better. There will be a prize.**

** No there won’t.

Something wicked this way comes

January 19, 2017

• Editor’s note: What follows was intended to be a rambling kickoff to a Counter-Inaugural Podcast at Radio Free Dogpatch, but my sidekick Hal Walter developed a bad case of previous commitments, so I’m laying it on you old-school instead. Tomorrow it will be radio silence from yours truly here and on Twitter. But there will be an open-mic post suitable for commentary, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what this particular changing of the guard means for you, and for the rest of us. Finally, a tip of the carny’s boater to Ray Bradbury for the headline. It’s a pity — or is it? — that he didn’t live to see Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show come to life.

We're all bozos on this bus. Some of us more than others.

We’re all bozos on this bus. Some of us more than others.

IT’S BEEN A STRUGGLE, TRYING TO FIND WORDS to describe how I feel about what’s going to be happening on Friday — and afterward — in Washington, D.C.

I’ve watched this changing of the guard since before I was eligible to vote, and it rarely goes well for progressives.

In 1969, when Richard Nixon was preparing to take an oath of office he had already violated by undermining the Paris peace talks, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged a three-day counter-inaugural that proved quite the bash, both literally and figuratively.

Yippies Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman brought a revolutionary-theater sideshow to the circus, proposing to inaugurate their own president, a 145-pound hog named Pigasus, with predictable results. The Left immediately set about eating itself alive — Splitters! — rocks, bottles, horseshit and punches were thrown, cops and protesters alike took a beating, 119 people got a tour of the hoosegow, and as is traditional in such matters, both sides claimed victory.

Nixon, of course, claimed the White House. Twice. You may recall how that turned out.

I found it all fascinating, from a safe distance, and when I became eligible to vote in time for the 1972 elections, I tried to register as a member of the Youth International Party, the proper name for the improper Yippies. Never happen, said the county clerk in Bibleburg, and I had to settle for signing up as an “independent.” But Hunter S. Thompson was actually in attendance at the ’69 inaugural, and he didn’t exactly come away with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart.

Recounting the experience for The Boston Globe in February 1969, Thompson wrote: “My first idea was to load up on LSD and cover the Inauguration that way, but the possibilities were ominous: a scene that bad could only be compounded to the realm of mega-horrors by something as powerful as acid.”

As Thompson watched the deal go down during what he called “a king-hell bummer” and “that wretched weekend,” he saw “a new meanness on both sides … and no more humor.”

“Suddenly I felt cold, and vaguely defeated,” he wrote. “More than eight years ago, in San Francisco, I had stayed up all night to watch the election returns … and when Nixon went down I felt like a winner.

“Now, on this Monday night in 1969, President Nixon was being honored with no less than six Inaugural Balls. I brooded on this for a while, then decided I would go over to the Hilton, later on, and punch somebody. Almost anybody would do … but hopefully I could find a police chief from Nashville or some other mean geek. In the meantime, there was nothing to do but go back to the hotel and watch the news on TV … maybe something funny, like film clips of the bastinado.”

• • •

Neither Hunter S. Thompson nor Dick Nixon are with us this time around, but another pair of Sixties relics you may have thought were likewise long gone — LSD and psilocybin — are making something of a comeback as potential treatments for whatever bad scene may be unfolding on the backside of your forehead (or in front of it).

In December, The New York Times reported on a couple of studies that showed “clinically significant reductions” in both anxiety and depression in cancer patients who took synthetic psilocybin.

The studies, which the Times called “the largest and most meticulous among a handful of trials to explore the possible therapeutic benefit of psilocybin,” found the beneficial effects persisted for months.

One patient, who had just completed treatment for stage-3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, described what he called “an epiphany.”

“I’m not anxious about cancer anymore,” he said. “I’m not anxious about dying.”

Another, whose treatment for acute myeloid leukemia left him with graft-versus-host disease, said the experience left him with “a greater sense of peace with what might come.”

“I’m very grateful, beyond words, for this trial,” he added.

And on January 14, The Atlantic ran a Q&A with Ayelet Waldman, whose new book “A Really Good Day” describes her microdosing with LSD to self-correct what she described as “a pretty significant depression.”

She had tried the traditional remedies served up by the medical-industrial complex — antidepressants, ADHD drugs, SSRIs, you name it — but a couple drops of diluted and highly illegal L-S-Dizzy is what did the trick for her.

Said Waldman: “I felt happier or at least not as profoundly depressed almost immediately the very first day I took it.”

Funniest thing, hey? About 10 years after the good Doctor Thompson was mulling over that Nixon inaugural, a friend and I offered an acid-soaked homage to his fear-and-loathing tour of Las Vegas. But we didn’t have his stamina, and when a jai-alai match at the old MGM Grand started to look like a “Star Wars” shootout we got the fuck out of there at a very high speed indeed, driving all the way back to Alamosa — the Brain Damage Express, via Kaibab and Page, the Four Corners and the terrifying Wolf Creek Pass, with the usual horrible weather and without the enhancements that were still a few years down the road.

But we sure as shit weren’t depressed. We were simply seeing a whole lot of things we’d rather not have and thought a case of beer, a long night’s drive and a plate of his mom’s enchiladas might mellow us out.

Forty years later I can make my own enchiladas but I’m not so sure about the acid. I still have my copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” but I was never much at chemistry.

• • •

All trips, both good and bad, come to an end, sooner or later. And in May, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will break down the big top in May for the final time after 146 years.

According to The New York Times, Feld Entertainment, the producer of the circus, cited rising operating costs and falling ticket sales, a condition that worsened after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey dropped elephants from its show last year.

CEO Kenneth Feld told The Associated Press that moving the show by rail, providing a traveling school for performers’ children and other expenses from a bygone era made carrying on a losing proposition.

“It’s a different model … we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price,” he said.

And let’s not forget that old devil competition. There’s another, bigger circus coming to town, with a permanent base of operations in Washington, D.C., the financial support of the State, and free worldwide access via social media. Plus elephants, too!

The Greatest Show On Earth is now an angry orange clown with a Twitter account. Hur-ry, hur-ry, hur-ry. …