News and Notes
"The old man was gone. Raymond turned and saw him halfway up the lane on the way to his trailer. Raymond walked through the side door and looked at his onions in the dim light coming through the doorway. He threw the breaker switch and the fluorescent tubes high in the trusses flickered, then lit. As each light came on, the mountain of onions grew. Millions of yellow globes the size of your fist nestled in together. They smelled rich and pungent, but if they weren't gone soon, they'd freeze, and then, when spring came, they'd rot. He hit the breaker switch and left for the house to wait for something else to happen."
The Indian Runner
Sean Penn's directorial debut offers powerful performances from David Morse, Viggo Mortensen, Patricia Arquette, and, of all people, Charles Bronson. The storyline is familiar: two brothers who have taken different paths in life come together and clash. In Penn's suprisingly adept hands, the story rises high above the commonplace. Don't miss the great cameo appearance from Harry Crews.
Celebration on the Planet Mars
Subtitled "A Tribute to Raymond Scott," this album presents a smorgasbord of compositions that are, as the liner notes suggest, "genetically encoded into the world's subconscious." But you've never heard of Raymond Scott? Perhaps that's because themes such as "The Toy Trumpet" and "Powerhouse" are most commonly associated with cartoons. From Bugs Bunny to Ren and Stimpy, Scott tunes are frenetic clarinet-driven tornadoes that have made great soundtracks for animated mayhem. Of course, in the end, Scott's compositions amount to much more than cartoon accompaniment, as this magnificent recording testifies.
The Science of Hitting
They say that hitting a baseball is the single hardest thing to do in all of sports. Here Ted Williams, considered by most to be the best pure hitter of all time, offers his insights on the art of connecting. Replete with photos and illustrations, the latest edition offers Williams' evaluations of other Hall-of-Fame hitters, from Ty Cobb to Tony Gwynn.
"Writers tend to be one heartbeat away from becoming elevator music," said Don DeLillo recently. It seems that not just writers are in peril lately, but the entire publishing industry. DeLillo's new novel, Underworld, seems to be shouldering the industry's burden, as they try to save the "serious novel" from becoming nothing more than a curious artifact of the cultural elite. The good news is that DeLillo might actually pull it off -- almost in spite of the press barrage (author profiles in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine), the book tour (his first in many years) and the glowing reviews. Underworld is nothing less than a tour de force counter-history of post-WWII America, where DeLillo explores baseball, nuclear waste, and the Zapruder film in order to come to grips with the lasting effects of the Cold War.
While Psycho is arguably not Hitchcock's best film, it's almost certainly his most influential. However, unlike the legion of horror films that followed, this movie derives its strength from the subtle interplay of image and imagination. The Hitchcockian technique of "using less to show more" is almost totally lost on today's over-the-top filmmakers.
$6.95 a month
Everyone knows the Web abhors a pay site, but if you're playing the stock market, seven bucks a month is a drop in the bucket. This site, not unlike Motley Fool, provides tips, technical analysis, and market tracking -- to the tune of about 15-20 new stories per day. The main attraction is straight-shooting Jim Cramer, the current poster boy for gonzo investing. Even if you decide not to subscribe, there's still a good bit of free content to give you a taste of the trading life.
The Best of Damon Runyon
"Now it comes on the spring of 1931, after a long hard winter, and times are very tough indeed, what with the stock market going all to pieces, and banks busting right and left, and the law getting very nasty about this and that, and one thing and another, and many citizens of this town are compelled to do the best they can. There is very little scratch anywhere and along Broadway many citizens are wearing their last year's clothes and have practically nothing to bet on the races or anything else, and it is a condition that will touch anybody's heart. So I am not suprised to hear rumors that the snatching of certain parties is going on in spots, because while snatching is by no means a high-class business, and is even considered somewhat illegal, it is something to tide over the hard times."
from "The Snatching of Bookie Bob"
The Quark and the Jaguar
Murray Gell-Mann, the Nobel-Prize-winning scientist who coined the term "quark," has done his most influential work in the field of particle physics, but this book is not a treatise on quantum mechanics so much as it is a tour through the mind of the author. A complex and challenging book, it will take you from rainforest to laboratory, through history and across the atom, and in the end it will change the way you see the world.
Jonathan Winters is from Dayton, Ohio, the birthplace of aviation, and this live album (recorded in and around San Francisco) touches on several aeronautical themes. Standing out amidst the array of bizarre caricatures, there's a classic bit featuring Maude Frickert, the comedian's wickedly funny impression of the world's oldest airline stewardess.
The classic illustrated guide to getting limber, Anderson's book covers hundreds of stretching variations and provides custom routines for use before individual sports, from softball to surfing. There are also chapters on strength training, running and cycling, and "Caring for Your Back."
The jazz guitarist who never quite sounds like he's playing a guitar offers this intensely personal record as a narrative of his own love and loss. His collaborations with keyboardist Lyle Mays (Offramp and First Circle) remain some of the most influential "fusion" records of all time, but alone Metheny's guitar and its synthesized variants truly speak from the soul of the individual. Often heartbreakingly sad and always melodically complex, these love songs need no lyrics.
Lonely Are the Brave
While superficially this film could be described as a cowboy movie crossed with a chase scene, the end result is much greater. Finally, it's about how easily we can become "obsolete" as the world changes around us. The supporting cast is excellent, with Walter Matthau, Gena Rowlands, and George Kennedy. The screenplay is by Dalton Trumbo, based on an Edward Abbey novel.
Cloud of Witnesses
Cloud of Witnesses is a brilliant giant of a book, a novel of Tolstoyan scope and Dickensian exuberance, about the 19th Century in America. Set in various stages of the Civil War, and in the Texas of the Commanche Indian Wars, this storm of a novel portrays, with breathtaking beauty and unfailing grace, the terrible majesty and violence of the young country at War with itself, while managing to give us the full flavor of the time--all the loves, hopes, fears, dreams and trials of ordinary folk in the swirl of history. It is a great work of fictive art, from an author with a vast, wayfaring imagination.
The Dead and the Living
Honest, personal, and precise, the poems of Sharon Olds capture our most intimate vulnerabilities:
When we understood it might be cancer,
I lay down beside you in the night,
my palm resting in the groove of your chest,
the rachis of a leaf. There was no question of
making love: deep inside my body that
small hard lump. In the half-light
of my half-life, my hand in the beautiful
sharp cleft of your chest, the valley of the
shadow of death,
there was only the present moment, and as you
slept in the quiet, I watched you as one watches
a newborn child, aware each moment of the
miracle, the line that has been crossed
out of the darkness.
Louisville's Squirrel Bait has spawned more bands than you can shake a stick at, but none really match the electricity of the original. In 1985, these six teenagers put out a 20-minute LP that roared like a police siren and thus lit the fuse for the indie-rock apocalypse of the next ten years. Unfortunately, they didn't stick around long enough to reap the rewards. By the release of their second album, Skag Heaven, they were already long gone...
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
It's a weird thing to hear yourself giggle, laugh, and eventually make strange spluttering choking noises when you're sitting alone reading a book. David Foster Wallace covered the Illinois State Fair for Harper's, and in gratitude they sent him on a Caribbean cruise. Wallace calls it as only he could see it, from prepubescent baton twirlers performing Desert Storm tributes to bleached cruise-ship hostesses grinning with the "hard, vacant stares that you generally associate with people who hang out in public restrooms."
The Night In Question
In his first collection since 1985's Back in the World, Wolff presents a varied batch of short fiction. From the wry irony of "The Other Miller" and "Mortals" to the brilliant juxtaposition of idea and imagination in "A Bullet in the Brain," these stories demonstrate that the work of a skilled literary craftsman is well worth waiting for.
The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is the classic Western that destroyed the classic Western. Before Blazing Saddles spoofed the genre, Peckinpah blew it up. In this movie, the subject is violence itself, beautifully filmed and as well-choreographed as a Broadway musical. The Wild Bunch made realistic carnage an acceptable centerpiece. As you watch, you'll recognize the influence this film has had on directors such as Coppola, Scorsese, Tarantino, and Woo.
This landmark double-LP is now a newly remastered single CD. It includes classics like "Crosstown Traffic" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" plus what is probably one of the top ten rock-and-roll songs of all time: Jimi's version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower."
Above the River: The Complete Poems
Just as expatriate James Joyce's prose immortalized his native Ireland, the poems of James Wright capture, almost perfectly, the Ohio from which Wright had exiled himself.
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was known for brilliant conversation and his trademark green carnation. He wrote plays, lectured on art, and amused society with quips destined to become quotations, all to great fanfare. Of course, ultimately Wilde offended Victorian sensibilities with his homosexuality and was jailed for two years hard labor in 1895. The Ballad of Reading Gaol is one of the few works he produced between his release and his death in 1900.
The considerable skills of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason allow this pool-hall drama to rise above the "sports movie" genre and enter more hallowed territory. Piper Laurie and George C. Scott are also cast, and along with Newman and Gleason were nominated for Academy Awards in 1962. None of the actors won, but at least Eugen Schufftan took home a well-deserved Oscar for black-and-white cinematography.
At Heaven's Gate
Robert Penn Warren's second novel suffers from an unfortunate birth place. Like a forgotten middle child, it appears between two works that have attracted much more attention from readers and critics alike: Night Rider, the first novel that marked the start of a brilliant career, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning classic, All the King's Men. Yet At Heaven's Gate contains all of the beauty and wisdom that is the signature of Warren's prose. Read it and discover the fact that Warren was the finest American writer of the century not to win the Nobel Prize.
Take No Prisoners
Lou Reed live. New York City. The Bottom Line. Backup singers. Electric saxophone. One-liners. Okay, so this album is a far cry from The Velvet Underground. Just because it's different doesn't mean it's not one hell of a ride. Lou accompanies classics like "Sweet Jane" and "Walk on the Wild Side" with sometimes comic, sometimes crazed riffs of stage banter. Others have called it "Lou Reed's stand-up comedy album." I prefer to think of it as a Mamet play with a live soundtrack. Not to be missed.
If you care anything for professional sports, then SportsCenter is probably the reason you have cable TV. But even if you aren't a diehard sports fan, most likely you can still appreciate the offbeat, largely conceptual humor of a SportsCenter promo. Consistently fresh and consistently hilarious, these spots are the perennial all-stars of TV advertising.
Songs from Northern Britain
Scotland's Teenage Fanclub have been compared to everyone from Dinosaur Jr. to The Byrds, but the most common connection is to Alex Chilton's Big Star. With the release of Songs from Northern Britain, the Fanclub may finally leave the comparisons behind. On this record the band sounds like, well, Teenage Fanclub, having seemingly perfected the art of guitar-centered pop confection. Songs like "Mount Everest" and "Take the Long Way Round" are vintage TF, and fine examples of rock n' roll that you can take home to Mom.
The Civil War: A Narrative
If you can only read one book about the Civil War, don't. This three-book set will take you deeper into the war than you ever thought possible. As the lead commentator and resident expert of Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, Foote became a bit of a celebrity a few years ago, but both the job and the fame were earned by the brilliance of these books. This is history writing at its best, and the power lies not only in Foote's remarkable understanding and exhaustive research, but in the fact that these books were written by one of our finest writers.
The Bear Went Over the Mountain
Author of stylized mysteries, heart-wrenching stories, and hilarious novels, William Kotzwinkle is a literary quickchange artist. The Bear Went Over the Mountain is about a bear who finds a manuscript in the woods, gets it published, and becomes the darling of the book world. If you don't laugh hysterically throughout this one, chances are you've been hibernating too long. It's also got the most amazing portrayal of a dog ever put down in print.
I saw Johnny Thunders in Boston in 1982, about ten years before he died from the inevitable heroin overdose. During the gig, he came on an hour late, absent a bass player, and so loaded he could barely remember more than a few bars of even his most famous songs. At one point he pulled a volunteer bass player from the audience, promptly dubbed him "lame," then launched into a rambling monologue about how he was the star of his high school baseball team until he quit because the coach demanded he cut his hair. Needless to say, the crowd loved every minute of it. "So Alone" features Thunders in a more coherent mode, though it completely captures the raunchy, nihilistic, and genuinely pissed-off spirit that made late-seventies punk so exciting.
Withnail and I
For Withnail and I, the beauty is in the details: cigarette butts lying in bowls of congealed eggs, fetid bedsheets strewn with drained bottles of anti-freeze, half-chewed sausages floating in tepid grey bathwater. Watch the fun as two unemployed actors escape their squalid Camden Town flat for a debauched weekend in a wet English bog. Richard E. Grant's been reprising his trademark role ever since. I saw this film and wept.