Archive for the ‘Arts & letters’ Category

Green Hills of Albuquerque

April 8, 2021

Descending Tramway Road to Tramway Boulevard.

Down, down, to Goblin-town, you go, my lad!

Well, not exactly. There’s some gobblin’ at the corner of Tramway Road and Tramway Boulevard, all right, but it involves barbecue at The County Line.

The place smells wonderful when your snotlocker works, which mine mostly does not, thanks to seasonal allergies (oak, cottonwood, juniper, mulberry, grass, etc.).

Between being all boogered up and tweaking my lower back the other day I have been in something of a mood. Maybe watching part one of the Hemingway documentary on PBS last night helped a bit. Wasn’t anyone pulling a couple hundred bits of shrapnel out of my legs in an Italian hospital, and I’ve managed to hang on to my first wife, too. So, yeah, winning, an’ shit.

True, global literary fame has proven elusive, but that’s not exactly a surprise. My agent warned me against titling my debut novel “A Farewell to Arfs.”

Adios, Larry McMurtry

March 26, 2021

My Larry McMurtry collection falls far short of his actual output.

Larry McMurtry has loaded up his last rented Lincoln Continental and rolled west, into the sunset.

I didn’t come close to reading his entire output, but I managed more than a few of his novels; it’s a habit I have, working my way steadily through an author’s collected works.

Got started with “The Last Picture Show,” as I recall, after seeing the movie of the same name. Finished with “Duane’s Depressed.”

And is there anyone who didn’t read “Lonesome Dove?” As Skip Hollandsworth writes in his remembrance of McMurtry at Texas Monthly:

McMurtry had spent years railing against writers who produced clichéd novels about the Old West. He swore he would never stoop to writing a western. But he did, and the novel he produced gripped the public’s imagination. “Lonesome Dove” won the Pulitzer Prize and sold nearly 300,000 copies in hardcover and more than a million copies in paperback. It spawned a sequel as well as prequels, and became one of the most popular miniseries of all time, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. To Texans, went one joke, “Lonesome Dove” was the third-most-important book in publishing history, right behind the Bible and the Warren Commission Report.

Like Stephen King, McMurtry was too preposterously prolific for some critics. Also like King, he wasn’t always winning Pulitzers for his work.

But he buckled down and got to ’er anyway. As his writing partner Diana Ossana told Hollandsworth: “Larry is like an old cowboy who has to get up in the morning and do some chores. He has to get up and write.”

Not anymore, he doesn’t. He can pull off the boots, put up his feet, and enjoy a well-deserved rest.

R.I.P., Tony Hendra

March 6, 2021

“It is the job of a satirist to make people in power uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.”

That was Tony Hendra, and he knew whereof he spoke. Hendra, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease on Thursday, helped make a lot of people very uncomfortable indeed with his work for National Lampoon and Spy magazine, among others.

Had it not been for the trailblazing Lampoon some of us would have laughed a great deal less over the past half century. The magazine had a nut-crushing stable of funnymen, among them Hendra himself. And its “Radio Dinner,” “The National Lampoon Radio Hour,” and “Lemmings” led directly to “Saturday Night Live,” “Animal House,” “This Is Spinal Tap,” and the “Vacation” movie franchise.

Hendra’s “Magical Misery Tour” was a brutal takedown of John Lennon using Lennon’s own words from an interview in Rolling Stone. I bet John wasn’t laughing when he heard that one.

Hendra may not be as familiar to you as Chevy Chase, John Belushi, P.J. O’Rourke, or Christopher Guest. But he was right in there among them, one of the ha-ha mechanics throwing shit, just to see what might stick, and to what, or whom. Making people in power uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.

One of his last smiles before the disease took those from him came when he learned the results of the last presidential election, said his wife, Carla.

“He was an immigrant who sailed from London into N.Y. Harbor on the SS United States after being given free passage in exchange for performing stand-up,” she told The New York Times. “What was to be a two-week visit became 57 years, because he believed in the promise of America.”

It’s been a quiet week at El Rancho Pendejo. …

February 26, 2021

The wind sketches clouds across the skies west of the Sandias.

It’s been a quiet week, as Garrison Keillor used to say of Lake Woebegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Pink skies to the west.

The weather has returned to something a little more favorable for hiking and biking, and the National Weather Service forecasts a spring that should be drier and warmer than normal.

In fact, we’re already into allergy season here. Junipers and elms. Honk, snurk, hawwwwk, ptui, etc.

Two of the four people we know who have been looking for work have found it, so, yay. The jobs may not be ideal, but neither are the times. So it goes.

I am not looking for work, but it seems to have been looking for me. Adventure Cyclist asked if I wanted to dash off a little sumpin’-sumpin’ that is not a bicycle review, and we’ll see how that goes. Having been without a column for a while now, I’m kind of out of practice as regards busking for bucks.

It’s much easier to do that here, where I’m both organ grinder and monkey, all at once. Out there in the workaday world they expect you to dance to their tune, when they’re hiring at all.

R.I.P., Lawrence Ferlinghetti

February 23, 2021

The poet and his public. | Photo: City Lights

Ah, man, they keep shoving off. Not the first Beat, but the last bohemian, Lawrence Ferlinghetti went west on Monday. He was 101.

A World War II vet and a graduate of the Sorbonne, Ferlinghetti was a writer, the proprietor of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore, and a First Amendment champion who got arrested for publishing Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” … and beat the rap.

Like many a voracious reader, I made a pilgrimage to City Lights when I visited the city for the first time. Didn’t have the opportunity to meet Himself, alas. He was probably busy writing, or just “minding the store,” which is what he said he was doing rather than founding and directing an artistic subculture.

“When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951 I was wearing a beret,” he once told the Guardian. “If anything I was the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.”

• From the City Lights website: “He continued to write and publish new work up until he was 100 years old, and his work has earned him a place in the American canon. We intend to build on Ferlinghetti’s vision and honor his memory by sustaining City Lights into the future as a center for open intellectual inquiry and commitment to literary culture and progressive politics.”

• The Poetry Foundation remembers Ferlinghetti. Here’s their bio and a collection of his works, which include the poem titled (wait for it) “Dog.”

Vox clamantis in deserto

February 21, 2021

If you’re feeling the strain of a year spent sheltering in place, occasionally pulling on the mask(s) and nitrile gloves before carrying your 10-foot pole into the grocery store like Little John facing off with Robin Hood over the last sack of whole-wheat flour in Sherwood Forest, you’ll appreciate this week’s episode of Desert Oracle Radio, “Out of Our Holes.”

Ken Layne talks about the urge to join the coyotes on the night shift, the struggle to write in an age when the word has faded, and the joy of finally coming out of our holes to once again tell strange stories around the fire.

‘Nomadland’ is a work of art (van, go)

February 20, 2021

“Nomadland”: Buy the ticket, take the ride.

We watched “Nomadland” last night via Hulu, and the verdict is two thumbs up.

It’s art, not journalism; for the latter, you’ll want to read Jessica Bruder’s book. But some real people from those pages get to participate in the telling of their story, and the pros are going to have to up their game after they see how well the amateurs hit their marks and delivered their lines.

Frances McDormand was excellent, as always. Swear to God, I’d watch her read from the Oklahoma City Yellow Pages. David Strathairn, who I’ve seen only in a few things (“Home for the Holidays,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and three episodes of “The Sopranos”), kept it dialed way down low as a kinda-sorta love interest with one foot in a van and the other in a house not his own.

The film is less about a new breed of migratory worker — older people who discovered too late that their nest eggs were actually stones, and then set about making stone soup — and more about a woman who thinks she maybe spent too much of her life “just remembering.”

It’s beautifully acted, shot and scored, neither glamorizes nor trivializes its subjects, and leaves you wondering just who is it that’s sleeping in that battered old Econoline in the big-box parking lot, where they’ve been and where they’re going, and what their dreams might be.

Piles of blues against the door

February 18, 2021

There’s a strong whiff of the dumbass coming out of Texas lately. The directions are printed right there on the soles of the damn’ boots, yet nobody in authority can pour the piss out of them.

Maybe it’s frozen.

But not everyone in the Lone Star State is all hat and no cattle. For instance, there’s Steve Earle, and there’s also Steve Earle talking about the literary qualities of Willie Nelson, which is even better.

And finally, there’s Texas Monthly, with “13 Curses to Mutter Against Ted Cruz While You Boil Snow to Drink.”

Road hard, or my home really is on the range

February 15, 2021

Welcome to the Hotel Tacoma.

Some of us want to hit the road; others are compelled to.

I’ve been both over the years, rambling from Maine to Spokane and Bisbee to Bellingham, occasionally by thumb, a time or two by bus, but most often behind the wheel of a Japanese pickup truck with a camper shell and all the fixin’s for a bit of home away from home.

Trucks with beds and friends with couches saw me through my rambling, gambling years, as I rolled the dice with one newspaper after another. I eventually came up winners by leaving the business altogether.

Marrying well didn’t hurt, either.

And while I have kipped in the beds of trucks since, I have done so as a tourist, not an honest-to-Steinbeck nomad like the people in Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book “Nomadland,” which has been reimagined by Chloé Zhao as a fictionalized film set to debut Feb. 19 on Hulu.

It’s challenging to make a go of it when your house has wheels. Finding a spot to camp, a shower, or an unguarded Internet connection is a lot like that job of work you don’t have anymore. It’s a whole lot easier when you’re only doing it for funsies and can splurge on an occasional visit to Starbucks or Holiday Inn Express.

The people in “Nomadland” are not posers. They swallowed their fears, and their pride, and jumped into that endless asphalt river.

And speaking of jumps, it’s time for another great leap forward … into the latest episode of Radio Free Dogpatch.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: I went back to the Comedy Closet to record this one, using a Shure MV7 mic and Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. Editing was in Apple’s GarageBand, with a sonic bump from Auphonic. Music and sound effects courtesy of Zapsplat. Special guest appearances by The Firesign Theatre (“Temporarily Humboldt County”) and Mel Henke (“See the USA in Your Chevrolet”). I usually saw the USA in a Toy-o-TA, but to each his own.

Substacking the hay bales

February 11, 2021

Who is that masked man? Photo by Hal Walter.

My man Hal Walter is getting into the groove with his Substack newsletter.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, have a peek at the archives, and give it some thought.

His latest is about wearing the mask, something he was doing long before The Bug® came calling. When he’s not writing, editing, or wrangling his teenage son, Hal runs a jackass ranch, which means moving large quantities of hay around and about. Seems it helps to have something covering your face-holes to keep them from clogging up tighter than a bull’s butt in fly time.

In fact, everything I know about masks I have learned from hay. I’ve gotta figure over the years I’ve moved more than a quarter-million tons of the stuff by hand, and have eaten my share of dust, mold, pollen, fungi, actual grass and alfalfa, and no doubt been exposed to salmonella, tularemia and hantavirus in the process. At some point I started wearing a bandana, and then along came the face/neck gaiters. I’ve not moved any serious amount of hay without one since.

I mostly move serious amounts of words, which is easier on the snotlocker, and the lower back, too. Although I’ve thought on occasion while penning something particularly outrageous that wearing a catcher’s mask might be smart.