Tuesday, October 31, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt seven)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

Tony Dimitriades was born into a Greek Cypriot family that had transplanted to London. As a young man, he’d gone to see The Girl Can’t Help It, in order to “get a look at Jayne Mansfield’s boobs.” Despite his intentions, what stopped him in the film was Little Richard, “this guy at the piano, this primal thing that blew me away.” Those who are converted to rock and roll often have their epiphanies; this was Dimitriades’s. Years later, when Little Richard was officiating at Tom Petty’s marriage to Dana York, the student was able to share the story with the teacher, who was quick to tell him, “Jayne Mansfield’s boobs are the only reason I did that movie.”

Monday, October 30, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt six)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

As with any other young band, they thought that the hardest part was now over. They’d played for years, working toward this. They’d been advanced some money on a handshake basis, would sign a contract once settled in Los Angeles, and had a producer with hits to his credit. They’d cut some tracks in Leon Russell’s studio, and now they would drive to Los Angeles and go straight to their record company’s office, where, after a few nights in a questionable motel, they would get two houses in the San Fernando Valley part of Los Angeles, with swimming pools. “When we were in that motel in East Los Angeles, the Hollywood Premiere Hotel, Jane told me she was pregnant,” says Petty. “We’d just gotten to LA, and she tells me this. She must have known back in Gainesville. My mother probably knew, too. She’d probably stopped taking her pills is what I think. I just kept looking ahead, which was all I could do, really. There was so much happening at once. I couldn’t possibly know what it all meant. A lot of musicians I’ve known have run when that flag went up.” Everyone in Mudcrutch, Petty included, figured that all they had to do now was make records. No one understood that getting a record contract was the equivalent of having a lottery ticket in hand—it felt too much like winning the lottery itself.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt five)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

Though LSD can’t promise certain results, it does sometimes deliver epiphanies, most of them too fragile to make it to morning. Petty had one. As their small group made their way around town, one apartment to another, in the kitchen of another friend they’d met up with, Petty saw it clearly: he was nothing and would be nothing if he wasn’t in a rock-and-roll band. It all seemed to come together in his head. It was as good a feeling as he’d ever known. But by morning, the Cindy part of it was gone. “She let me know it was just for that night,” Petty says. “And it scarred my brain all over again. In a matter of hours, I’d let myself believe another story, the one I’d wanted to believe for a long time. I only saw her a few times after that. But finally, she took me into a room at someone’s place and said, ‘You keep trying, but you-and-me isn’t going to happen.’ When I wrote ‘Even the Losers’ years later, that night came back. I obsessed over her so much. She’s probably in a lot of songs.” The band part of the epiphany, however, lasted beyond morning.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt four)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

Gainesville will always figure larger in Tom Petty’s story than the Los Angeles to which he relocated almost forty years ago. It’s more than a backdrop. Something connects a man to the hometown he pushes against to get going in the first place. And Gainesville was made for rock and roll. The University of Florida’s remarkable postwar growth aligned with the music’s golden years. Rock and roll was on the radio, played live in a network of clubs and at frat houses, coming out of cars, everywhere. The right equipment could be found at Lipham Music, where the local bands could hang out so long as their gig money found its way to the cash register. Gainesville was its own story. In so many ways, the town wasn’t part of the Florida that would carve its image into the popular fantasies of postwar America: the white sand beaches, acres of amusement parks, the limitless promise of space travel; no, the Florida to which Gainesville belonged was nothing but Georgia with a few miles tacked on and a university thrown in.

Friday, October 27, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt three)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

“I remember Tom saying, ‘My dad’s gonna kill me,’” recalls Tom Leadon, a neighbor first but finally one of Petty’s closest early musical collaborators. “He’d just gotten his report card. I was like, ‘What did you get?’ He tells me, two Ds and three Fs. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this could be the dumbest guy I’ve ever met.’ I was fascinated. Of course, I soon found out he wasn’t dumb at all. But he sure didn’t do much to connect at school.”

“Actually, that one was straight Fs, with a D minus in art,” Petty says. “Someone gave me some special ink so I could turn an F into a B, but it ended up eating the paper. Made it even worse. But I thought it was all kind of funny. I probably gave it a shot at school for about a minute. There was a point where I realized—especially in high school—that the men and women teaching me may not be as bright as me, and I couldn’t suffer that. I looked at them and thought, ‘I’m not really sure you know what you’re doing.’ I could excel at anything I had an interest in. Even a vague interest. Like in English. I got good marks, because I didn’t mind reading something. I liked stories. That hooked me. I could get into how words came together, how sentences were built, stories put together. All of that interested me. It was effortless. I used to get these horrible report cards, but there’d be an A in English. My mother would go, ‘Why do you only study for this class?’ But the truth was, I wasn’t studying for any of the classes . . . that just happened.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt two)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

Petty remembers a line of Cadillacs, every one of them white, pulling up on Ocala’s Main Street. Men with pompadours and mohair suits stepped from the cars, as if the whole thing was choreographed. When Elvis emerged, he was other worldly in his beauty. You could dress up the star’s entourage to look just like him, but it would only underscore the contrast between Elvis and anyone around him. Presley’s was a freak beauty. Jernigan made introductions, and Elvis shook Tom Petty’s hand. The boy stared up at the star, unable to do more than that. Fans were everywhere in the streets of Ocala, making it difficult for the filmmakers. Within days, Petty says, he traded his slingshot for a box of 45s, many of them Presley classics. Elvis became a symbol of a place Tom Petty wanted to go. In time, the Beatles would be the map to get there. When it came, the British Invasion was, of course, a Copernican revolution. Ed Sullivan was the mechanism through which the core message was delivered: you can do this. A generation heard it. In fucked-up homes across America, an alternative was presented. For Tom Petty, from that point on it was going to be a battle about many things, the length of his hair and the state of his report cards among them, the opponents being father and school. But life would begin to display its offerings. He had only a few years to wait. Lying awake through those nights, waiting, he could see Elvis’s face, hear the songs in his head.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

the last book I ever read (Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, excerpt one)

from Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:

Troas Avery, Kitty’s mother, didn’t simply have issues with her son-in-law Earl Petty; she had issues with all Earls. She’d married two of them. Her eldest daughter, Evelyn, married one. By the time her daughter Kitty did the same, Troas was refusing to speak the name “Earl.” She called Kitty’s Earl “Petty.” She called Evelyn’s Earl “Jernigan.” The name brought her bad luck. And, in Earl Petty’s case, it wasn’t just the name—she didn’t like him. He drank and gambled, without good results in either department. He made it to church on time, yes, but the results weren’t so good there either. And now he was going to try his hand at parenting.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt nine)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

The angelic Stan Laurel, always an exception, bypasses machinery and goes straight for the elements. Peter Sellers, who based his Oscar-nominated performance on Laurel, walks on water at the end of Being There, a kind of epiphanic summing up of Laurel’s persona and influence. In Way Out West, Laurel’s hand works as a lighter. From his closed palm he flicks out his thumb; there’s a flame at the end of it. In a typically deft touch, it sometimes takes him more than one flick to get a light.

Monday, October 23, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt eight)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

Cars are not the only space from which lighters are vanishing. Over a lunch of fried chicken, Tom Franklin said he’d tell me a sad story. At a recent Styx reunion concert (“It’s already sad,” he interrupted himself) the band asked the audience “to wave their phones in the air the way they used to wave their lighters.” Tom defiantly waved his lighter.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt seven)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

A match has a death wish. A lighter wants to live to fight another day. Maybe crazy Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs would have put his lighter to murderous use, but we’ll never know because he got gunned down before he ever had the chance. (My friend Kent Osborne told me it’s a lighter, not a match, and I believe him. I didn’t feel like watching Reservoir Dogs again. I know this can cause trouble. Not to claim that the present volume isn’t riddled with inaccuracies, but in his biography of Henry Ford, on which I rely for the next chapter, even the much-garlanded history whiz Douglas Brinkley completely screws up the plot of Chaplin’s The Circus. I don’t think he watched it.The dazzling Infante botches his retelling of the lighting of an imaginary cigarette in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. But Infante swims in a fantasia of memory and dream and also he died, so I give him a pass. I re-watched every single movie mentioned in this book—usually all of it, occasionally just the relevant scenes—except for Reservoir Dogs. Oh, and as of this writing, there’s a constantly airing trailer for something I haven’t seen called Kingsman, which the jerk who pitched it to the studio probably described as “James Bond meets Harry Potter.” Colin Firth tells a young spy recruit that his cigarette lighter is really a hand grenade—how much gentler Simon and Garfunkel’s “his bowtie is really a camera”—and there it goes whizzing through the air in slow motion with a fireball behind it, just like an action hero, the cigarette lighter so integral to the platonic ideal of the action movie that it gets as much screen time in the trailer as Samuel L. Jackson.)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt six)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

Freud started smoking cigarettes in 1880, the same year Bonsack perfected his fabulous industrial cigarette-rolling machine. Coincidence? Yes.

Cigarettes were considered cheap and womanly until men started killing one another while smoking them, then everybody liked them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt five)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

A warning from Urban Dictionary: “The real history to the white lighter myth and why they are unlucky is based on four famous and revolutionary musicians of the second half of the 20th century. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrex [six], Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain were all left-handed, all died at the age of 27, and all their autopsies reported that a white bic lighter was found in their pockets. This is why it is said that white lighters are unlucky. So if you are 27 and left-handed, don’t use a white bic lighter, you will die.” Do I really need to add a postscript on the myriad ways in which this is baloney?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt four)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

To confuse things even more, one collector’s guide features other items shaped like lighters: earrings, cufflinks, bracelet charms—in a double switcheroo, some of the miniscule lighter-shaped charms actually work, making them lighters shaped like bracelet charms shaped liked lighters. “Have you got your lighter?” the Mencken-cynical reporter Gregory Peck asks his ratty beatnik friend Eddie Albert in that comedy of doomed love and everlasting despair, Roman Holiday. (Forget Bob Hope: is there anyone left alive who understands why it’s funny to imagine Eddie Albert as a beatnik?) He’s referring to a lighter that doubles as an inconspicuous camera. Peck wants to steal some candid shots of incognito princess Audrey Hepburn. Peck knocks Albert around a good bit throughout the film to keep him from blowing their cover. There must have been some deep satisfaction for a heartland audience to watch the square-jawed American paragon and future Atticus Finch belt the stuffing out of a depraved beatnik.

In a sidewalk café Peck and Albert offer a lustrous Hepburn her very first cigarette, a sweet, virginal interlude marred by Albert’s furtive clicking. He advances the reel by turning the flint wheel, his lighter both chivalrous and dastardly. It’s 1953, the Cold War is on, and they give Albert’s bearded character with the spy camera the last name Radovich. (In Dr. Strangelove, the spy camera that provokes Peter Sellers’s outraged, “You can’t fight in here, gentlemen, this is the war room!” appears to be a matchbox.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt three)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

In Walker Percy’s epochal novel The Moviegoer, an anonymous boy on the street transcends “his own shadowy and precarious existence” and joins the “resplendent reality” of William Holden just by giving the movie star a light.

When the wounded Vito Corleone’s men have been sent away in suspicious circumstances, Michael, the good son, enlists the appremtice baker Enzo. They pretend to be a couple of toughs standing guard outside the hospital. After they’ve bluffed a carload of potential assassins, Enzo’s hand shakes. He can’t even light his trembling cigarette. One, two, three, four, five clicks, the lighter won’t work. Michael takes it, and lights it in one try—like Crouse’s, a pivotal moment. The way you handle a cigarette lighter means something.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt two)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

A lighter is the trinket that enthralls the robot Eve and allows timid WALL-E to try holding her hand. In Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, Yuli Kudo picks up a cigarette lighter with her bare foot and gives her boyfriend a light with her toes. That’s intimacy.

A good light makes a connection.

Monday, October 16, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt one)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

The art teacher’s last name was Kennedy. He played records for his students as they painted. As I held my pose I recognized who was playing, Mingus or somebody. During a break Kennedy and I started talking about the music we liked in common. I remember that he introduced me to the work of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre.

Kennedy had gotten out of the army, or some branch of the service, and gone to Paris, where he had seen the Modern Jazz Quartet playing in a basement. There was a grouchy guy who turned out to be Miles Davis blocking his view the whole time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt fourteen)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

The officers hadn’t taken off their clothes for a week. Their boots were waterlogged, their feet swollen, their knees stiff, their calves sore, their backs couldn’t bend. They were billeted in huts. They tried to fish dry clothes out of the trunks and wash at the meager wells. In the clear, still night, with the abandoned and forgotten dogs in scattered farmyards howling in fear and hunger, the lieutenant couldn’t sleep, and he left the hut where he was quartered. He walked down the long village street toward the church spire, which loomed against the stars with its twofold Greek cross. The church with its shingle roof stood in the middle of the small churchyard, surrounded by slanting wooden crosses that seemed to caper in the nocturnal light. Outside the huge gray wide-open gates of the graveyard three corpses were dangling: a bearded priest flanked by two young peasants in sandy-yellow smocks, with coarse-plaited raffia shows on the unstirring feet. The black cassock of the priest hung down to his shoes. And sometimes the night wind nudged his feet so that they struck the circl of his priestly garment like dumb clappers in a deaf-and-dumb bell; they seemed to be tolling without evoking a sound.

Lieutenant Trotta approached the hanged men. He peered at their bloated faces. And he thought he recognized some of his own soldiers in these three victims. These were the faces of the peasants he had drilled with every day. The priest’s black, fanning beard reminded him of Onufrij’s beard. That was his parting image of Onufrij. And who could say? Perhaps Onufrij was the brother of this hanged priest. Lieutenant Trotta looked around. He listened. No human sound was to be heard. The bats rustled in the belfry of the church. Abandoned dogs howled in abandoned farms. The lieutenant drew his sword and cut down the three hanged men, one by one. Then he slung the corpses, one by one, over his shoulder and carried all of them, one by one, to the graveyard. Then, with his bare sword, he began loosening the soil on the paths between graves until he felt he had room enough for three corpses. Then he put all three of them in, shoveled the soil over them with sword and scabbard, and trampled on the ground till it was solid. Then he made the sign of the cross. He hadn’t crossed himself since the final mass at the military academy in Hranice. He wanted to recite the Lord’s Prayer, but his lips moved without producing a sound. Some nocturnal bird shrieked. The bats rustled. The dogs howled.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt thirteen)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Trotta thereupon wrote to his father. He reported tha the threat to his honor had been averted on the highest level. He begged forgiveness for maintaining a blasphemously long silence and not answering the district captain’s letters. He was touched and moved. And he tried to describe how touched he was. But he found no words for regret, melancholy, and longing in his meager vocabulary. It was a bitter drudgery. After he signed the letter, a sentence crossed his mind: “I am planning to apply for a furlough soon so I can ask your forgiveness in person.” For formal reasons this felicitous sentence could not be added as a postscript. So the lieutenant set about rewriting the entire letter. One hour later he was done. The style had only improved in the new final draft. And thus he felt that everything was taken care of—the whole disgusting business.

He himself marveled at his “phenomenal luck.” The grandson of the Hero of Solferino could count on the old Kaiser, come what may. No less delightful was the demonstrated fact that Carl Joseph’s father had money. Now that the threat of dishonorable discharge had been sidestepped, he could, if he liked, resign voluntarily, live with Frau von Taussig in Vienna, perhaps get a government job, and wear civvies. He hadn’t been in Vienna for a long time. He hadn’t heard from the woman. He missed her. He drank a 180 Proof and missed her even more—and he reached that beneficial degree of longing which permits a little weeping. Recently his tears had flowed quite readily. Lieutenant Trotta had another pleasurable look at the letter, his successful handiwork; then he slipped it into an envelope and cheerfully scrawled the address. To reward himself he ordered a double 180 Proof.

Friday, October 13, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt twelve)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

It was a wonderful morning. The district captain had been trying his dress uniform on all night long. He left the window open. It was a bright summer night. From time to time he went over to the window. He would then hear the sounds of the slumbering city and the crowing of roosters in distant farmyards. He smelled the breath of summer; he saw the stars in the patch of nocturnal sky, he heard the even footfalls of the policeman on his beat. He waited for morning. For the tenth time he stood at the mirror, adjusted the bow of his white tie over the corners of the stand-up collar, ran his white cambric handkerchief once again over the gold buttons on his coat, polished the gold pommel of his sword, brushed his shoes, combed out his whiskers, and forced down the few wisps on his bald pate even through they kept sticking up and curling, and he once again brushed the swallow tails of his coat. He took the cocked hat in his hand. He stood in front of the mirro and rehearsed: “Your Majesty, I beg for clemency for my son!” He saw his whiskers moving in the mirror and considered that inappropriate, and he began pronouncing the sentence in such a way that his whiskers did not stir even though the words were distinct and audible.

He did not feel the slightest fatigue. He stepped back to the window like a man on a far shore. And he yearned for morning the way that man looks forward to a ship that will carry him home. Yes, he was homesick for the Kaiser. He stood at the window until the gray shimmer of dawn brightened the sky, the morning star died, and the confused voices of birds announced the rising of the sun. Then he switched out the lights in the room. He rang the bell by the door. He sent for the the barber. He slipped off his coat. He sat down. He had himself shaved. “Twice,” he told the groggy young man, “and against the grain!” Now his ching glistened bluish between his silvery whiskers. The alum tingled, the powder cooled his throat. His audience was scheduled for eighty-thirty. Once again he brushed his black-and-green coat. He repeated in front of the mirror, “Your Majesty, I beg for clemency for my son!” Then he closed the door behind him.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt eleven)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

The Kaiser was an old man. He was the oldest emperor in the world. All around him Death was circling, circling and mowing. The entire field was already cleared, and only the Kaiser, like a forgotten silver stalk, was still standing and waiting. For many years his bright hard eyes had been peering, lost, into a lost distance. His skull was bare like a vaulted wasteland. His whiskers were white like a pair of wings made of snow. The wrinkles in his face were a tangled thicket dwelt in by the decades. His body was thin, his back slightly bowed. At home he shuffled about. But upon going outdoors, he tried to make his thighs hard, his knees elastic, his feet light, his back straight. He filled his eyes with sham kindness, with the true characteristic of imperial eyes: they seemed to look at everyone who looked at the Kaiser, and they greeted everyone who greeted him. But actually, the faces merely swirled and floated past his eyes, which gazed straight at that soft fine line that is the frontier between life and death—gazed at the edge of the horizon, which is always seen by the eyes of the old even when it is blocked by houses, forests, or mountains.

People thought Franz Joseph knew less than they because he was so much older than they. But he may have known more than some. He saw the sun going down on his empire, but he said nothing. He knew he would die before it set. At times he feigned ignorance and was delighted when someone gave him a long-winded explanation about things he knew thoroughly. For with the slyness of children and oldsters he liked leading people down the garden path. And he was delighted at their vanity in proving to themselves that they were smarter than he. The Kaiser disguised his wisdom as simplicity: for it does not behoove an emperor to be as smart as his advisers. Far better to appear simple than wise. If he went hunting, he knew quite well that the game was placed in front of his rifle, and though he could have felled some other prey, he nevertheless shot only the prey that had been driven before his barrel. For it does not behoove an old emperor to catch someone in a falsehood. If people smirked behind his back, he pretended not to know about it. For it does not behoove an emperor to know he is being smirked at, and this smirk is foolish so long as he refuses to notice it. If he ran a fever, and people trembled all around him, and the court physician lied to him, telling him he had no fever, the emperor said, “Well, then, everything’s fine,” although he knew he had a fever. For an emperor does not accuse a medical man of lying. Besides, he knew that the hour of his death had not yet come. He also experienced many nights of being plagued by fever unbeknownst to his physicians. For sometimes he was ill, and no one realized it. And at other times he was well, and they said he was ill, and he pretended to be ill. When he was considered kind, he was indifferent. And when they said he was cold, his heart bled. He had lived long enough to know that it is foolish to tell the truth. So he allowed people their errors, and he believed less in the permanence of the world than did the wags who told jokes about him in his vast empire. But it does not behoove an emperor to compete with wags and sophisticates. So the Emperor held his tongue.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt ten)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Eight A.M. was still half an hour away. The Kaiser felt he couldn’t stand this uncertainty any longer. Now just why, oh, why did Trotta’s name remind him of Solferino? And why couldn’t he remember the link between them? Was he that old already? Since returning from Ischl, he had been haunted by the question of how old he really was, for it suddenly struck him as odd that you could tell you age by subtracting the year of your birth from the current calendar year, but that each year began in January, while his birthday was the eighteenth of August! Now if the year began in August! And if, say, he had been born on the eighteenth of January, then it wouldn’t have made much difference. But this way, you couldn’t possibly know whether you were eighty-two and in your eighty-third year or eighty-three and in your eighty-fourth year. Nor did the Kaiser care to ask. People had a lot to do anyhow, and it didn’t matter at all whether you were on year younger or older, and ultimately, even if you’d been younger, you still wouldn’t have remembered why that damn Trotta reminded you of Solferino. The Comptroller of the Royal Household knew. But he wasn’t due until eight o’clock. Maybe the valet knew?

And the Kaiser paused in his shuffling and asked the valet, “Listen, does the name Trotta ring a bell?”

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt nine)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Frau von Taussig was beautiful and no longer young. The daughter of a stationmaster, the widow of a rittmaster named Eichberg who had died young, she had married the freshly ennobled Herr von Taussig several years ago. A rich and sick manufacturer, he had a light case of so-called circular insanity. His attacks recurred every six months. For weeks ahead of time, he would feel one coming. And so he went to that institution on Lake Constance where spoiled, wealthy madmen underwent careful and expensive treatments, and the attendants were as nurturing as midwives. Shortly before an attack and at the advice of one of those mundane and feather-brained physicians who prescribed “spiritual emotions” just as frivolously as old-fashioned family doctors prescribed rhubarb and castor oil. Herr von Taussig had married the widow of his friend Eichberg. Taussig did experience a “spiritual emotion,” but his attacks also came faster and more violently.

During her brief marriage to Herr von Eichberg, his wife had made many friends, and after his death she had rejected a few ardent marriage proposals. Out of pure esteem, people ignored her adulteries. That was a stern time, as we know. But it recognized exceptions and even liked them. It was one of the rare aristocratic principles, such as that mere commoners were second-class human beings yet certain middle-class officers became personal adjutants to the Kaiser; that Jews could claim no higher distinctions yet certain Jews were knighted and became friends with archdukes; that women had to observe a traditional morality yet certain women could philander like a cavalry officer. (Those were principles that would be labeled “hypocritical” today because we are so much more relentless: relentless, honest and humorless.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt eight)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

The hotel where the officers resided was owned by a certain Herr Brodnitzer, of a Silesian background; no one knew how he had ended up in the borderland. It was he who opened the casino. He hung a large notice in the window of the café. It announced that he had all sorts of games of chance, that a band would be “concertizing” every evening until morning, and that he had hired “renowned chanteuses.” The renewal of the premises began with concerts by the band—eight musicians hastily scraped together. Later on, the so-called Mariahilf Nightingale arrived, a blond girl from Bogumin. She sang waltzes by Lehár, plus the naughty ditty “When I wander through the gray dawn of a night of love,” as well as the encore: “Underneath my frock I wear pink and pleated undies.” Thus did Brodnitzer heighten the expectation of his clientele.

It turned out that along with the countless short and long card tables Brodnitzer had also set up a small roulette table in a shadowy curtained alcove. Captain Wagner told everyone about it, stoking enthusiasm. To these men, who had been serving on the border for many years (and many had never seen a roulette wheel), the tiny ball was one of those magical object of the great world, something that helped a man to suddenly win beautiful women, expensive horses, splendid castles. Who could not be helped by the ball? They had all spent a wretched boyhood in parochial school, a harsh adolescence in military school, and cruel years in borderland service. They were waiting for the war. But instead, the army had partially mobilized against Serbia, then returned ingloriously to the usual expectation of routine promotions. Maneuvers, service, officers’ club, officers’ club, service, maneuvers! The first time they hear the clickety-click of the little ball they knew that fortune itself was turning among them, smiling on this man today and that man tomorrow. Sitting there were strange, pale, rich, mute gentlemen such as they had never seen before. One day Captain Wagner won five hundred crowns. The next day his debts were settled. This was the first month in a long time that he received his pay intact, a whole three thirds. Then again, Lieutenant Schnable and Lieutenant Gründler had each lost a hundred crowns. Tomorrow they could win a thousand!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt seven)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Very slowly, his mind occupied with several unclear thoughts, Herr von Trotta walked to his office; twenty minutes later than normal he sat down at his desk. The assistant district commissioner came and delivered his report. Yesterday there had been another meeting of Czech workers. A Sokol gymnasts’ celebration had been announced; delegates from “Slavic countries”—Serbia and Russia were meant but never named in officialese—were due tomorrow. The German-language Social Democrats were likewise drawing attention. A worker at the spinning plant had been beaten up by other workers, supposedly—and this was confirmed by report from agents—for refusing to join the red party. All these things worried the district captain, they pained him, they upset him, they wounded him. Anything the disobedient segments of the populace undertook to weaken the state, insult His Majesty the Kaiser directly or indirectly, make the law even more powerless than it already was, disturb the peace, offend decency, scoff at official dignity, set up Czech schools, elect opposition deputies—all those actions were aimed at him personally, the district captain. At first he had merely belittled the nations that demanded autonomy and the “working people” who demanded “more rights.” But gradually he was getting to hate them—the carpenters, the arsonists, the electioneers. He gave his assistant stringent orders to instantly break up any meeting that dared to pass a resolution. Of all the words that had lately become modern, he hated this one most of all—perhaps because it needed to change just a single tiny letter to turn into the most disgraceful word of all: revolution. That word he had utterly exterminated. It did not exist in his vocabulary, not even in his official usage, and if an agent’s report employed, say, the term “revolutionary agitator” for one of the active Social Democrats, von Trotta crossed out those words, changing them in red ink to “suspicious individual.” Perhaps there were revolutionaries elsewhere in the monarchy, but they did not exist in Herr von Trotta’s bailiwick.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt six)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Frau Demant sat like him, her elbows propped on her lap, her chin in her hands, and her eyes on the rug. She was probably waiting for a comforting word, a bit of charity. He was silent. He relished the blissful feeling that his callous silence was a dreadful revenge for his friend’s death. He thought of the dangerous pretty little husband-killing women who often recurred in the conversations of officers. She most likely belonged to the dangerous tribe of weak murderesses. He had to do his best to escape her power immediately. He girded himself to leave. At that moment, Frau Demant’s changed her position. She took her hands from her chin. He left hand began gently and conscientiously smoothing the silk braid along the sofa’s edge. Her fingers moved along the narrow glossy path leading from her to Lieutenant Trotta, to and fro, regular and gradual. Those fingers stole into his field of vision; he longed for blinders. The white fingers entangled him in a mute conversation that could not possibly be broken off. Smoke a cigarette: a wonderful idea! He pulled out his cigarette case, his matches.

“Give me one!” said Frau Demant.

Friday, October 6, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt five)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

They sat, a bit crowded, in small sleighs; the bells jingled bravely, the brown horses raised their cropped tails and dropped big, round, yellow steaming turds on the snow. The regimental surgeon, who had been indifferent to all animals throughout his life, suddenly felt homesick for his horse. He will survive me! he thought. His face betrayed nothing. His companions were silent.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt four)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

“At ease!” Carl Joseph ordered. Onufrij audibly put his right foot in front of his left. Carl Joseph turned around. Before him stood Onufrij, big horse teeth shimmering between his full red lips. He could never stand at ease without smiling. “What does she look like, your Katharina?” asked Carl Joseph.

“Lieutenant, sir, if I may say so, big white breast!”

“Big white breast!” The lieutenant’s hands became hollows and he felt a cool memory of Kathi’s breasts. She was dead. Dead!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt three)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

The district captain finally lets go of the newspaper, props his elbows on the table, turns to his son, and says, “She’s given you a cheap brandy. I always drink Hennessy.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt two)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Nowhere in the entire jurisdiction of the division was there a finer military band than that of Infantry Regiment No. Ten in the small district town of W in Moravia. The bandmaster was one of those Austrian military musicians who, thanks to an exact memory and an ever-alert need for new variations on old melodies, were able to compose a new march every month. All the marches resembled one another like soldiers. Most of them began with a roll of drums, contained a tattoo accelerated by the march rhythm and a shattering smile of the lovely cymbals, and ended with the rumbling thunder of the kettledrum, the brief and jolly storm of military music. What distinguished Kapellmeister Nechwal from his colleagues was not so much his extraordinarily prolific tenacity in composing as his rousing and cheerful severity in drilling the music.

Every one of these outdoor concerts—they took place under the Herr District Captain’s balcony—began with “The Radetzky March.” Though all the band members were so thoroughly familiar with it that they could have played it without a conductor, in the dead of night, and in their sleep, the kapellmesiter nevertheless required them to read every single note from the sheets. And every Sunday, as if rehearsing “The Radetzky March” for the first time with his musicians, he would raise his head, his baton, and his eyes in military and musical zeal and concentrate all four on any segments that seemed needful of his orders in the round at whose midpoint he was standing. The rugged drums rolled, the sweet flutes piped, and the lovely cymbals shattered. The faces of all the spectators lit up with pleasant and pensive smiles, and the blood tingled in their legs. Though standing, they thought they were already marching. The younger girls held their breath and opened their lips. The more mature men hung their heads and recalled their maneuvers. The elderly ladies sat in the neighboring park, their small gray heads trembling. And it was summer.

Monday, October 2, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt one)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Twice a month he received obedient letters from his child. Once a month he replied in two brief sentences, on small, thrifty scraps torn from the respectful margins of the letters he had gotten. Once a year, on the eighteenth of August, the Kaiser’s birthday, he donned his uniform and drove to the nearest garrison town. Twice a year his son visited him, during Christmas break and summer vacation. On every Christmas Eve the boy was handed three hard silver guldens, for which he had to sign a receipt and which he could never take along. That same evening, the guldens landed in a cashbox inside the old man’s chest. Next to the guldens lay the report cards. They testified to the son’s thorough diligence and his middling but always adequate capacities. Never was the son given a toy, never an allowance, never a book, aside from the required schoolbooks. He did not seem deprived. His mind was neat, sober, and honest. His meager imagination provided him with no other wish than to get through the school years as fast as possible.