Monday, December 31, 2012

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt three)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

He had left university in June 1968. Midnight’s Children was published in April 1981. It took him almost thirteen years just to begin. During that time he wrote unbearable amounts of garbage. There was a novel, “The Book of the Peer,” that might have been good if he had known how to write it. It was the story of holy man, a pir or peer, in a country like Pakistan, who was used by three other men, a military leader, a political leader, and a capitalist, to lead a coup after which, they believed, he would be the figurehead while they wielded the power. But he proved more capable and ruthless than his backers and they realized they had unleashed a monster they could not control. This was many years before the Ayatollah Khomeini ate the revolution whose figurehead he was supposed to be. If the novel had been written plainly, as a political thriller, it might have served; instead the story was told in several different characters’ “streams of consciousness,” and was more or less incomprehensible. Nobody liked it. It came nowhere near publication. It was a stillbirth.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt two)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

He paid up, and, in a defiant spirit, went on to the ceremony wearing brown shoes. He was promptly plucked out of the parade of his properly black-shod contemporaries, and ordered to change. People in brown shoes were mysteriously deemed to be dressed improperly, and this again was a judgment against which there could be no appeal. Again he gave in, sprinted off to change his shoes, got back to the parade in the nick of time; and at length, when his turn came, he was required to hold a university officer by his little finger and to follow him slowly up to where the vice chancellor sat upon a mighty throne. He knelt at the old man’s feet and held up his hands, palms together, in a gesture of supplication, and begged in Latin for the degree, for which, he could not help thinking, he had worked extremely hard for three years, supported by his family at considerable expense. He had been advised to hold his hands way up above his head, in case the elderly vice chancellor, leaning forward to clutch at them, should topple off his great chair and land on top of him.

Looking back at those incidents, he was always appalled by the memory of his passivity, hard though it was to see what else he could have done. He could have refused to pay for the gravy damage to his room, could have refused to change his shoes, could have refused to kneel to supplicate for his B.A. He had preferred to surrender and get the degree. The memory of that surrender made him more stubborn, less willing to compromise, to make an accommodation with injustice, no matter how persuasive the reasons. Injustice would always thereafter conjure up the memory of gravy. Injustice was a brown, lumpy, congealing fluid, and it smelled pungently, tearfully, of onions. Unfairness was the feeling of running back to one’s room, flat out, at the last minute, to change one’s outlawed brown shoes. It was the business of being forced to beg, on one’s knees, in a dead language, for what was rightfully yours.

Many years later he told this story at a Bard College commencement ceremony. “This is the message I have derived from the parables of the Unknown Gravy Bomber, the Vetoed Footwear, and the Unsteady Vice Chancellor upon His Throne, and which I pass on to you today,” he told the graduating class of 1996 on a sunny afternoon in Annandale-in-Hudson, New York. “First, if, as you go through life, people should some day accuse you of what one might call Aggravated Gravy Abuse—and they will, they will—and if in fact you are innocent of abusing gravy, do not take the rap. Second: Those who would reject you because you are wearing the wrong shoes are not worth being accepted by. And third: Kneel before no man. Stand up for your right.” The members of the class of ’96 skipped up to get their degrees, some barefoot, some with flowers in their hair, cheering, fist punching, voguing, uninhibited. That’s the spirit, he thought. It was as far from formality of Cambridge as you could go, and much the better for it.

His parents didn’t come to his graduation. His father said they couldn’t afford the airfare. This was untrue.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt one)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

His mother, Negin, had stories for him too. Negin Rushdie had been born Zohra Butt. When she married Anis she changed not just her surname but her given name as well, reinventing herself for him, leaving behind the Zohra he didn’t want to think about, who had once been deeply in love with another man. Whether she was Zohra or Negin in her heart of hearts her son never knew, for she never spoke to him about the man she left behind, choosing, instead, to spill everyone’s secrets except her own. She was a gossip of world class, and sitting on her bed pressing her feet the way she liked him to, he, her eldest child and only son, drank in the delicious and sometimes salacious local news she carried in her head, the gigantic branching interwoven forests of whispering family trees she bore within her, hung with the juicy forbidden fruit of scandal. And these secrets too, he came to feel, belonged to him, for once a secret had been told it no longer belonged to her who told it but to him who received it. If you did not want a secret to get out there was only one rule: Tell it to nobody. This rule, too, would be useful to him in later life. In that later life, when he had become a writer, his mother said to him, “I’m going to stop telling you these things, because you put them in your books and then I get into trouble.” Which was true, and perhaps she would have been well advised to stop, but gossip was her addiction, and she could not, any more than her husband, his father, could give up drink.

Friday, December 28, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt thirteen)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

So off we went – Roger, John and me – to New York for a press conference to announce that we were going to do some shows that year, and make a new record. No one among us said we were doing it for the money. None of us offered that I hadn’t really wanted to go deaf in order to save Roger and John from being forced to live in smaller houses. I tried not to even think about it.

My only hope of surviving the work ahead without drinking was to enjoy it. Roger shocked me by telling the assembled press that we planned an album for which we all would contribute songs; it would be more of a creative team effort than ever before, and that he had several songs in the pipeline, as did John. I had never successfully co-written a song in my life, at least not in a rehearsal room. There too I was going to have to make some inner changes just to get along.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt twelve)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

The Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 18 January 1990 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. We were in good company. That year other inductees included Hank Ballard, The Four Seasons, The Four Tops, The Kinks, The Platters and Simon & Garfunkel. This was the highest honour in the rock industry, created by Jann Wenner, Ahmet Ertegun and other truly wise brokers in the business.

Before our 1989 anniversary tour we had pledged $500,000 towards the ground-breaking of the proposed building of an actual Hall of Fame, which would be a museum in – of all places – Cleveland.

In my acceptance speech I chided record companies who were trying to censor the lyrics of rap artists.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt eleven)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

I had to find a way of putting Louise out of my mind, and Barney suggested I start dating Krissy Wood, Ronnie’s ex. I went to visit her, and she was still adorable and slightly flaky – she lived at Wick Cottage with her son Jessie – and still spoke often of her ex-husband ‘Woody’.

I took Krissy out to a trendy club in Baker Street, where I was having a very good time – until I woke up in a Chelsea hospital with a six-inch Adrenalin needle sticking out of me chest. Apparently I had been found unconscious in the club toilets, having overdosed on cocaine. I was technically dead, but luckily for me I’d been resuscitated in time.

I went to Twickenham to let Karen know what had happened before she read something in the tabloids. When I told her she hit me so hard I saw stars. I think she may have been holding a wooden spoon. It damned well hurt. It was the first time either of us had ever hit the other.

Monday, December 24, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt ten)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

Punk rock was a tsunami that threatened to drown us all in 1977. You could see it on the streets, hear it in the clubs and even smell it in the air. I welcomed its arrival as a regenerative force in music, while being well aware of its potential to turn The Who and all our generation into rock dinosaurs. It certainly gave us a compelling reason to snap out of our complacency and come up with something new.

Punk was now established in London, and Keith would arrive at the 100 Club, or the Vortex, like Elizabeth Taylor stepping out from her Rolls-Royce. He’d hold court at the bar, buying drinks for kids who wore zigzag eye make-up and safety pins in their clothes. They were mostly middle-class brats pretending to be tough. They threatened Keith, and he laughed at them, inviting them to come out and ride around in his car. I wasn’t so brave. I went with him one evening and met Billy Idol. I thought he was pretty scary, and he made me want to act tough myself.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt nine)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

We flew to LA the next day for the West Coast premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, complete with Klieg lamps combing the sky, then the London premiere at Leicester Square. Reviews were mixed, but I didn’t care. The film was grossing large amounts of money, and Stigwood’s accounting to us was very fast. We had become used to waiting for performance income to drift in six to nine months after a tour, so it was a shock to see millions of pounds accruing in The Who group bank account just two months after the film was released. It was a nice problem to have, but we were all concerned that the income would be taxed into oblivion should any of us choose to take the profits personally. We had no current tax schemes, and – apart from Keith, who wanted to live in California – no desire to move to another country.

Roger was still involved in the last weeks of shooting Lisztomania with Ken Russell. When the band convened at Shepperton studios for recording, Roger arrived in a twin-engined Jet Ranger helicopter, and announced that he owned it. Thirty minutes later he flew out again. Roger’s home was in West Sussex, so the helicopter was certainly useful, but we all found it strange. With the release of the movie Roger had become ostentatiously rich, a superstar teenybopper sex object, complete with helicopter.

Keith was clearly jealous – the two of them seemed to compete over such mine-is-bigger-than-yours displays. He gazed at Roger’s helicopter dwindling in the distance, and I could tell he longed for something equally impressive.

Did I long for anything? I was longing for my hair to stop receding.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friday Mixtape: Randy Newman, Hall of Famer

I wrote about new Rock Hall of Famer Randy Newman for Rhapsody.

hello Cleveland.

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt eight)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

Eric came back into the studio to complete the recording. After we had finished he told me he was building up the courage to speak with Pattie, George Harrison’s wife and the subject of ‘Layla’, and beg her to leave her husband. Would I go with him and maybe spend some time with George so Eric could be alone with Pattie?

This turned out not to be difficult. George was happy to talk to me about Indian mysticism and music, even his use of cocaine. I found it hard to follow his reasoning that in a world of illusion nothing mattered, not wealth of fame, drug abuse or heavy drinking, nothing but love for God. We sat in his wonderful recording studio and talked for two hours. I fell in love with George that night. His sardonic, slow-speed, Liverpudlian humour was charming, and his spiritual commitment was absolute: yellow-robed young Hare Krishna followers living in the house wandered in and out as we chatted.

George lived a quiet life; his house was vast, rambling, and the reception hall was like a theatre it was so huge, with its ornate galleries. I think Pattie may have been more relieved to escape the house than she was to leave George. A superb gardener, his great love was Friar Park.

Friday, December 21, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt seven)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

Tommy, for all its spiritual roots, is full of violence. It begins with bombs dropping, a young RAP pilot lost in battle (possibly captured as a prisoner of war), a domestic murder, bullying, sexual abuse, extreme drug use by a back-street quack, the incompetent medical treatment of a disabled child, and finally rioting by an aggrieved populace that has been promised nirvana but delivered boring day-job medication instead. When performing Tommy I often seemed to lost consciousness at some level. I wasn’t high, at least not on drugs. I kept very focused. I was buzzed on my own endogenous chemicals – endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and epinephrine flooded through my body.

For New York we had three shows planned at Fillmore East. On the opening night I was more excited than usual, and we were bullish that we’d have a good show. In the middle of a storming set a man appeared centre stage, tore the mike from Roger’s hands and started speaking to the audience. He didn’t ask us to stop performing. In fact he didn’t address us at all. One minute we were at work, and the next minute he was there, speaking to the audience – my audience.

Roger tried to get his microphone back, but the man pushed him away. In the middle of a heavy guitar solo, I ran over to boost his arse with a flying double-kick but as I approached he turned to face me and my Doc Martens connected with his balls. He doubled up, and a couple of Bill Graham’s men ran on stage and walked him off. We continued to play. Only later did I discover I had kicked an off-duty officer in the Tactical Police Force, who was trying to clear the theatre calmly because a fire had broken out in the store next door.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt six)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

I’m often described as ‘pretentious’ for attempting to write a composed song-cycle that tells a story (which itself has been torn to pieces a thousand times because it doesn’t fit established rules of operatic written drama). It was even called my ‘brain fart’ by some critic that I have since relegated to the sludge-pile of memory. ‘Rock opera’ had already happened with The Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow and Keith West’s Excerpt from a Teenage Opera; The Kinks released their own Arthur the same year as Tommy, and we were certainly both using the term ‘rock opera’, albeit tongue-in-cheek. We knew that what we were doing owed more to British music hall than to grand opera.

My songs for Tommy still had the function of pop singles to reflect and release, prefigure and inspire, entertain and engage. But that vein – of promoting singles apart from a whole album – had been thoroughly mined by the time we released Tommy. Change was necessary for us, which of course meant taking a lot of criticism on the chin. If the naïve, workmanlike songs I wrote immediately before Tommy had been hits I might never have felt the need to try something else. I might have kept my operatic ambitions private. There’s nothing I admire more than a collection of straightforward songs, linked in mood and theme only by a common, unspecific artistic thesis.

But the ‘pretentiousness’ of Tommy was necessary. Without its audacity and cheek to attract both attention and opprobrium, I believe The Who would have eventually disappeared or become irrelevant. In any case, I enjoyed writing songs serving a brief. It’s how I had begun, it seemed to work for me, and the result was songs that might otherwise not have been written. After Tommy every collection of songs I submitted for a Who album was inspired by an idea, a story or concept that had some kind of dramatic shape and form, not always evident, but always there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt five)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

In Gold Star studios we finished ‘I Can See for Miles’, which we then played, along with ‘My Generation’, on The Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour. For televisual effect, Keith set off an oversized theatrical charge of gunpowder, blowing up the entire band in front of a panic-stricken Bette Davis and a sweetly concerned Mickey Rooney. My hair caught fire and my hearing was never the same. Keith was such a twat sometimes, even if he did make this TV show a significant moment in pop history.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt four)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

During the winter of 1966-7 I listened to jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower, a live album of his extraordinary performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 1966. Forest Flower, like the Beach Boys’ stereo masterpiece Pet Sounds, seemed to fit the times perfectly. Keith Jarrett was Lloyd’s pianist, and at some point on the record he starts banging the piano and picking and stroking the strings. Here, I felt, was a musician after my own heart, who played every instrument in unintended ways.

Keith Jarrett was born in the same month as me and his playing often reduces me to the kind of tears reserved for drunken solitude. I would see my soul to play like him – and I don’t make that statement lightly. While listening to this genius I was struggling at the upright piano I’d shoehorned into Karen’s bedroom, and slowly, tortuously, beginning to find some path to self-expression on the eighty-eight black and white keys (a quantity I had often felt as a child was insufficient).

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Rhapsody Interview, with Santa Sal Lizard

I talk to Santa Sal Lizard, a man who knows who's been naughty and who's been nice, as well as the author (with Jonathan Lane) of Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas.

ho ho ho.

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt three)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

Keith, John and I bought a 1936 Packard V12 hearse for £30, drove it home from Swindon and parked it outside my flat. At some point it disappeared. I feared it had been stolen, but when I reported this the police told me it had been towed away. Someone important had complained about it.

Out of nowhere I received a call from a man who wanted to buy the Packard. It emerged it had been impounded at the request of the Queen Mother. She had to pass it every day, and complained that it reminded her of her late husband’s funeral. The bill to recover the car was over £200, and absurdly large sum of money, but the buyer offered to pay the fee in return for ownership. I agreed, and resentfully dedicated ‘My Generation’ to the Queen Mother.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt two)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

Roger sold our car and purchased a lorry to carry our gear. He always wanted to drive one. It was like a furniture hauling van, with no windows or seats in the back, except for a bench that wasn’t bolted down. It was far too big and our equipment crashed around us as Keith, John, Mike and I tried to avoid vomiting. It was also very slow, managing only 55 mph on the motorway, so it took ten hours to drive to Blackpool. Roger had installed his girlfriend in the front seat so were confined to the rear, travelling in the dark. He wanted to keep the rest of us out of his hair when driving long distances. He was a nervous passenger, and rarely allowed himself to be driven anywhere.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

the last book I ever read (Pete Townshend's Who I Am, excerpt one)

from Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend:

I ran back to my tape machine and listened to The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ – not that I really needed to, it was on the radio all the time. I tightened up ‘I Can’t Explain’ and changed the lyrics so they were about love, not music. I tried to make it sound as much like The Kinks as I could so that Shel would like it. I already had the title for the song that would follow it: ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’, word I had scribbled on a piece of paper while listening to Charlie Parker.

We played Shel Talmy the revised ‘I Can’t Explain’ and he booked us a session at Pye studios to record it. Shel also brought in some additional musicians, which Kit had warned me he might do. Keith jovially told the session drummer who appeared to ‘scarper’, and he did. Because Shel wasn’t sure I could play a solo, he had asked his favorite session guitarist, Jimmy Page, to sit in. And because our band had rehearsed the song with backing vocals in Beach Boys style, but not very skillfully, Shel arranged for three male session singers, The Ivy League, to chirp away in our place.

Shel Talmy got a good sound, tight and commercial, and although there was no guitar feedback I was willing to compromise to get a hit. We wouldn’t know if the gamble would pay off until after the New Year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the last book I ever read (Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, excerpt five)

from Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub:

“It’s better to work than not to work,” she said. “But it’s even better to know why you’re working. When I was young, I made movies because people told me to, and hit my marks, and spoke my line. I made Farewell, My Sister without knowing what was going on most of the time. I did what I was told.” She paused. “I chose this,” Laura said, “but I chose everything else too.” Laura nodded, agreeing with herself, and then leaned over and gave the boy reporter a kiss on the cheek. She probably reminded him of his mother, or his grandmother, even.

“Um, thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome, my dear,” Laura said, and walked slowly back to her dressing room. She wanted to talk to Florence on the telephone, and there seemed no reason to wait. She wanted to tell Florence everything she’d just said, and more, and for her brilliant, smart psychotherapist of a daughter to tell her what it all meant. Of course, Florence always claimed it didn’t work that way, but Laura thought she’d break down sooner or later and give her poor mother all the answers she was looking for.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

the last book I ever read (Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, excerpt four)

from Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub:

There were many things that Laura missed about working regularly, so many things that she could hardly do anything else all day long except miss parts of her life that were gone. Laura missed having a dressing room more than she missed having a bedroom, in particular the lightbulbs that surrounded her face and made her skin glow. She missed learning her lines, speaking the same words over and over again until they formed pathways in her brain so deep that they couldn’t be knocked loose. Laura missed the camaraderie of players, the kinship she had known her entire life. Actors were different from other people, more acutely sensitive to words and gestures, always absorbing new emotional landscapes. Why would anyone do anything else? Laura didn’t know how. She was always ready to go into Jimmy’s office, always prepared to meet with anyone. She wore sunglasses half the size of her face, and wound a scarf around her shoulders. Her arms weren’t as thin as they had been, and other parts of her body had started to lean slightly out, as if testing the boundaries of her flesh, but when she had to, she could still look like Laura Lamont. In April she would be fifty years old. It was always a surprise to Laura, the number. It just kept rising, no matter what she did or didn’t do in any given year. One year, Laura told Florence that all she wanted was a button she could push to pause her age, just for a little while, a few years, while she got used to the idea. Florence had thrown her head back and laughed, and Laura gamely tried to laugh along, though she hadn’t been joking.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the last book I ever read (Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, excerpt three)

from Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub:

Though Laura very much wanted to win, it was absolutely true that both Irving and her father wanted it even more. She watched their faces as the syllables came out of the actor’s mouth—Lore-ah Lah-monde—and the rest of the room, so full of applause, felt silent to her ears. All Laura could see or hear were the two men who loved her the most, now standing up to embrace each other over her head, their suit jackets flapping about her ears. Laura wedged her way between them and kissed her father on the cheek and then her husband on the mouth, being careful not to muss her lipstick. Mary remained seated, the only one at the table. Laura had a fleeting, uncharitable thought that people might think that her mother was crippled, which was better than their knowing the truth: that her mother was reluctant to stand and clap. A young man who looked like some military-school dropout appeared at the bottom of the ballroom’s staircase to help her to her podium and the microphone, where Laura blinked into the lights and said simply, “My parents are here,” which was indeed what she was thinking at the time, but not nearly for the reason the giddy audience may have thought. When they’d quieted down, and she felt more composed, Laura thanked Gardner Brothers, and all the voters, though she could have said anything at all and not realized it, so amazed was she by the heft of the statue itself, eight pounds, nearly the same as Florence when she was born, and how delightful it felt in her hands.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the last book I ever read (Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, excerpt two)

from Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub:

“People are going to ask you about your sister,” John said, still looking out the window, but Elsa knew he was talking to her. She stayed quiet, waiting to hear the rest of the sentence. “And you’re going to have two choices. You can either tell them the truth, which will make them uncomfortable and awkward, or you can pretend that everything is okay.” He turned his face back toward Elsa for a moment, and then jerked his chin down to his chest, as if examining the bottom of his coffee cup. “People won’t know how to react if you tell them the truth.”

“Like in the play?” Elsa watched her father’s hands, his large fingers clasped together around his mug.

“Just like in the play,” he said. “You’re an actress now.” Despite it all, Elsa could swear that there was some pride in her father’s voice. It was good for all of them to remember that there were actors in the world, people whose job it was to pretend. For Elsa, there was no other option after that moment—she saw her future as clearly as she saw the water of Green Bay. Even if she wasn’t happy on the inside, the outside could be something else entirely. There was always another character to play.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode six: James Walter

the sixth installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, this with retired Air Force physician James Walter.


Please visit The 49ers Facebook page for further updates.

the last book I ever read (Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, excerpt one)

from Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub:

Hildy rubbed her temples. She had always had headaches—all the Emerson women did, blackout, knock-down headaches that crowded the sides of their skulls and didn’t let go for days. One of Elsa’s chores was dampening a washcloth and placing it over her mother’s and sisters’ closed eyes, the tiptoeing out of the room. Elsa couldn’t wait to be a woman, to feel things so deeply that she too needed a dark room and total silence. She’d asked her sister about the headaches once, when she could expect them to start, and had been laughed out of the room.

“Honestly, Mother, honestly.” Hildy was the most beautiful of the three Emerson sisters, though Elsa was so young that she hardly counted. Josephine was the oldest and the most like their mother, with a wide, flat face that hardly ever registered any expression whatsoever. It was what their father called A Norwegian Face, which meant it had the look of a woman who had seen fifteen degrees below zero and still gone out to milk the cows. Josephine was inevitably going to marry a boy from one of the cherry farms down the road, and no one thought that they would be anything more or less than perfectly fine.

But Hildy was better than fine. Elsa loved to look at her sister, even when Hildy was having one of her episodes and her blond hair was wild and matted against one side of her head from all her flip-flopping and thrashing in her sleep, and her pale pink skin had flushed and broken out into a crimson red. When she wanted to, Hildy could look like a movie star. It hadn’t come from their mother—that was a fact—neither the raw good looks nor the knowledge of what to do with them. Hildy pored over all the magazine she could find, Nash’s and Photoplay and Ladies’ Companion, and practiced putting on the actresses’ eyeliner in the mirror for hours every day until she got it right. When Hildy was feeling light, as she put it, and the headaches were gone, she wriggled through the house in castoff costumes, and Elsa thought she was as beautiful and lost as a landlocked mermaid.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

the last book I ever read (Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas, excerpt one)

from Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas by Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane:

Being Santa Claus has got to be the best job in the world. I get to spend two months out of the year hearing children's secret wishes and their pint-size pearls of wisdom. Some of my most treasured memories are the chuckles I've gotten from kids just being open and honest. I never know what they'll say or do next.

I remember once standing in the checkout line at a department store (in non-Santa clothing) when a little girl around four years old came over to me and asked sheepishly, "What's your name?"

I looked over at her mom who was standing a few feet away, and she nodded her approval. So I bent down and replied, "Honey, who do you think I am?"

"I think you're Santa," she said.

"Well," I said and grinned. "Then you'd better be really good."

Her face lit up with pride. "Oh, I am!" she said and smiled broadly. "I'm not even peeing in my underpants right now!"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt six)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

"I work with poor kids," says Carmen, "and a lot of them want to be fighters."

Her response, invariably, was to discourage them. There may be a fighting gene, a pugilistic predisposition carried in the blood, but boxers are both born and made. Carmen had seen enough to believe that which makes them fighters is tethered to a "pure dysfunction" somewhere in the family history. What's more, even worse than being a fighter, was being an ex-fighter.

"They go from being famous and adored to being nobodies," says Carmen. "Boxers, I think, have really sad lives."

Her father-in-law had been lucky, she thought. The bills didn't come due until late in Boom's life. But they always came due. The manifestations were varied: dementia, drugs, debt, detention. One way or another, those intimate with violence were corrupted or imperiled by it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt five)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

In his first year after retiring, Ray landed bit parts in two episodes of Who's the Boss? starring another friend of his, Tony Danza, an undistinguished boxer who became hugely successful in sitcoms. He appeared once as a solider in a Steven Spielberg show, Amazing Stories, and as an ex-con in a CBS movie, Oceans of Fire.

But the Rambolike series never panned out. Action heroes, Ray soon found out, were easily conceived at meetings with agents and producers, but the actual roles were exceedingly rare. Perhaps he should've known. After all, Ray had been a TV action hero almost from the time he turned pro.

And, soon enough, he found himself grieving for that life. Sipping espresso in Café Roma with Mickey Rourke was great fun. But it wasn't a substitute for what he had been.

"I was in a bad state of depression," he told a reporter.

This wasn't the normal sense of loss brought on by an athlete's retirement. Rather, it was an acknowledgment, at only twenty-four years old, that he had already played the role of a lifetime. It was an existential dilemma, a question of mortality. And, as such, he called Father O'Neill. "You accomplished your lifelong dream at a very young age," the priest told him. "Everything else from here on will be anticlimatic."

Ray understood. It was something that he'd have to live with: "Nothing ever will give me that same feeling."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt four)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

To Ray and those around him, the news was a relentless conspiracy of circumstance. Over the Fourth of July weekend, referee Richard Green was found in his North Las Vegas home, dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest. Green's work in the ring was universally well regarded. He was as good at the Silver Slipper as he was officiating championship bouts at Caesars. At forty-six, Green had been the third man in the ring for Larry Holmes's destruction of Muhammad Ali, for Duran's loss to Wilfred Benitez and for two of Ray's title fights against Frias and of course, Kim, a fight that earned him kudos for acting with decisive mercy. There was no suggestion that the fatal bout had left him impaired in any way. Green continued to referee and just the night before his death worked an ESPN card at the Showboat Hotel.

"Friends said he did not seem despondent but appeared in good spirits," according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

From the Las Vegas Sun: "Police said Green was found lying in bed with a revolver by his side. Three shots had been fired--one in the ceiling and one in the wall. No suicide note was found."

To satisfy his own curiosity, Ralph Wiley met with the daughter of Green's first marriage. Her name was Regina, and she was convinced her father's death was the result of a professional hit.

"My father had too much to live for," she told the writer. "Everybody liked him . . . I was one of the first ones who found him . . . I live three minutes away . . . Every door in his house was closed, including the bedroom door. I know he never closes those doors. I know my father's routine. And his car door was unlocked. I know if he never locks no other door, he locks that one. You know, I swear it's got something to do with boxing . . ."

Not long after the body was found, Regina began receiving calls at home, a male voice telling her, "Your daddy killed himself."

Green's second wife, a security guard at the MGM Grand, told Regina she had received similar calls.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Rhapsody Interview: fiction writer, bookseller and merch girl Emma Straub

why yes, it has been a busy week.

I talk to Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (which just happens to be next week's Last Book I Ever Read), for the fine folks at Rhapsody.


the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt three)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

Ninety seconds into the fight, Ray had a cut above his left brow. Frias was a bloody mess, though most of it coming from a gash on his cheek and the bridge of his nose. In the third minute, Ray floored Frias with a left hook.

"Place goes apeshit," says Ray. "I feel a surge."

Frias rose at the count of seven, with referee Richard Green inspecting the fighter before allowing him to continue. It was the correct decision. Surely, the champion had something left.

Unfortunately for Frias, Ray wouldn't let him show it. What followed the fight's resumption were thirty-six unanswered blows. As the onslaught began, mere eagerness gave way to frenzy, with Ray hauling off, throwing roundhouse punches and Frias again on the ropes. Frias's last moments as a champion were helpless ones. Green stopped the fight with six second remaining in the round. Those six seconds might've put as many years on Frias's life. "I don't care how many seconds were left," said the referee. "I looked into Frias's eyes and they were going round and round. I notice he didn't complain when I stopped it."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tell Me When It's Over, #23: Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers

this is the first football Tell Me When It's Over that we've done and I can't imagine a better start than with the co-author of the classic Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer.

the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt two)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

There is great concern for a slugger in the wake of his first loss by knockout, as that maiden voyage into fistic insentience punctures his self-belief.

"If they're tested prematurely, it kills some kind of fire in them," says Sharnik. "They become blighted--unconsciously, of course--and unable to take the next step. They start thinking 'What if?' Like, 'What if I throw the left, and he counters me?'"

Or, What if I get knocked out?

What if . . .

As this creeping self-doubt tends to afflict big punchers (given to delusions of invincibility early in their careers) more than the craftier boxers (who've already been forced to acknowledge their limitations), one feared the worst for a twenty-year-old like Ray. To that point, he had considered only destiny, not consequence. Sure, bad things happened in the ring, but only to other fighters. Freddy Bowman, for example, Ray's long-time rival in the amateurs, had been knocked out in the same ring where Arguello TKO'd Ray. Now Bowman, from the east side of Youngstown, lay comatose in the Mahoning County Nursing Home, where he would eventually expire, in 1982, thirteen months after the fight.

Ray was saddened by the news, but willfully ignorant of the details. Truth was, he didn't want to know anything about Freddy Bowman's death. It wasn't insensitivity. It was self-preservation. Still, Ray's handlers wondered how long before he started pondering the what-if question. Ray's sense of his mission might've bordered on the divine, but at some point he'd start wondering, "Where but for the grace of God go I?" For a fighter, the only thing worse than getting knocked out, is having time to think about it. Hence, the decision was made to get Ray back in the ring as soon as possible.

Monday, December 3, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, excerpt one)

from The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel:

Sharnik was the last man to talk to Davey Moore. That was March 21, 1963. Moore was sitting on a rubbing table in the bowels of Dodger Stadium, just minutes after losing his featherweight title in a savage fight with Cuban expatriate Sugar Ramos. Moments later, Moore called out for his trainer, Willie Ketchum: "My head, Willie! My head! It hurts something awful!" Moore then collapsed, never to regain consciousness. It was a horror, though one Sharnik wrote about well, turning in a class piece titled "Death of a Champion."

The Moore-Ramos fight inspired condemnation across the globe, from the pope, who proclaimed that boxing was "contrary in natural principles," to Bob Dylan, who penned a famous protest song, "Who Killed Davey Moore?" Still, none of it dissuaded Sharnik from covering more boxing. "I had a good eye for it," he says. "I liked the fighters, and the fighters liked me."

Even Sonny Liston, who, during the early 1960s, was demonized as the surly Negro thug of the heavyweight division, opened up to Sharnik. "A boxing match is like a cowboy movie," Sonny told him. "There's got to be good guys, and there's got to be bad guys."

Sharnik never forgot that, as Liston's precept would inform his tenure at CBS. If ringside commentator Gil Clancy, former trainer of champions (Emile Griffith among them), saw the fighters as cut or aggressive, as boxers or punchers, Sharnik saw them as protagonists: cowboys and Indians, good guys or bad, babyface or heel.

"I looked for good stories," says Sharnik, who now remembers that kid from the coffee shop in Phoenix as a marvelous confluence of circumstance, both plot and protagonist. "Ray fought like he came out of the Forties. He was a movie fighter. 'Boom Boom' was a Hollywood production. It was John Garfield in Body and Soul. It was Wallace Beery in The Champ."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Art of Fielding, excerpt twelve)

from The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach:

What would he say to her, if he was going to speak truly? He didn’t know. Talking was like throwing a baseball. You couldn’t plan it out beforehand. You just had to let it go and see what happened. You had to throw out words without knowing whether anyone would catch them—you had to throw out words you knew no one would catch. You had to send your words out where they weren’t yours anymore. It felt better to talk with a ball in your hand, it felt better to let the ball do the talking. But the world, the nonbaseball world, the world of love and sex and jobs and friends, was made of words.