Monday, June 19, 2017

The Point We Have Reached

It's no secret that every book I read ends up having an owl in it, for which cause I am then obliged to add it to my big long list of books with owls in them. Now I would like to relate how I came upon the book I am reading now, and whether or not it has an owl in it (it does). So! A few days ago a book popped into my head for reasons I cannot fully explain. I couldn't remember the title. All I knew was that it was a ghost novel by Anne Rivers Siddons, and that Stephen King had said really nice things about it in an essay or article, maybe some years ago. I was at Square Books and poked around among the shelves but I didn't see anything that rang a bell. So! A day or two ago Pen and I walked up to that used book stall I like and there it was! No one had penciled in a price, so the man at the cash register insisted upon giving it to me for free. The whole transaction struck me as magical and mysterious! I know what you're thinking: this book is obviously cursed. I haven't read much of it. In fact, I can't even tell yet whether it's a ghost story (as I recalled) or an evil house story. I guess most evil houses have ghosts in them. That's not a scientific fact! But! Our narrator is lying in bed when she hears the "dreadful sound" of an owl. She starts tying "a knot in the corner of the top sheet." Her husband asks what's up and she says, "It's just something my grandmother always did. You tie a knot in the bedsheet when you hear an owl. If you don't, it means somebody is going to die." Now! As you may or may not know, I am a veritable dumping ground for superstitions. I collect and practice them all, compulsively! But here I have found the one superstitious ritual that I am far too lazy and uncoordinated to assay. There is just no way I am going to tie a knot in a sheet at any time for any reason. Is this a triumph at last of the rational mind? No, we have just reached the point at which my sloth exceeds my crippling credulity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Old Carnival Term

It is a universally acknowledged fact that I don't "blog" anymore. But I was watching some of FULL METAL JACKET, a side effect of reading a biography of Stanley Kubrick with Megan Abbott, when what dialogue should chime in my ear but "Where's the wienie?" It's the question of an editor who has just glanced through an article submitted by reporter Matthew Modine. I was reminded at once of another celebrity biography recently read by Megan and myself in an offshoot of our aptly named Doomed Book Club: one about Walt Disney, in which Disney on more than one occasion refers to the "wienie" in much the same way. He is, according to his biographer Neal Gabler, "borrowing an old carnival term" for something that will entice your intended customer "presumably the way a wienie entices a dog." At one point, Walt Disney shouts "It doesn't have a wienie!" at some flustered GE executives, who have "no idea what Walt meant." Of course, we are all familiar with a more common phrase meaning much the same thing: "the hook." Now, why am I telling you this? I'll be honest: I DON'T KNOW! But just look. Lurking behind Matthew Modine - at the very moment when his editor is asking him "Where's the wienie?" - are two Mickey Mouse figurines and one Mickey Mouse head. Coincidence? Yes. It seems unlikely that Stanley Kubrick knew or cared that Walt Disney used to like to go around saying "wienie."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Guitar Emotions

Stopped by The End of All Music yesterday and walked away with this treasure (see above). It wasn't until I got home and took the record out of the sleeve to play it and saw Jimmy Bryant's name on the label, frank, plain, and unclouded by unsettling clowns, that I thought, "Oh! Jimmy Bryant." I know his work with the equally nimble Speedy West. But somehow the name "Jimmy Bryant" was not what leapt off the cover. It is indisputably true that I do not "blog" anymore, but as this recording has such an obvious thematic connection to "Jimmy's Happy/Jimmy's Blue," a double LP I also found at The End of All Music and put forth for your examination in these pages (though that was a different Jimmy altogether), I thought it only proper to break my rule just this once. (Photo by Bill Boyle.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Great Forgotten Baby Actors of Yesteryear

Pen came over and we watched BARRY LYNDON. I know I don't "blog" anymore but after going on and on about the great baby performance in SUSAN SLADE how could I not correct my long and shameful silence on the subject of the great baby performance in BARRY LYNDON? This baby is very interested in the conversation that Barry Lyndon is having with his mom! And furthermore this baby is clear on his or her motivation in the scene. This baby wants some porridge! What are these people talking about that is so important that it is preventing this baby from getting some porridge? Such is the query brought forth by this baby's thoughtful and layered performance. And now I find I am compelled to mention for the present record the equally fine performance by the baby actor in ROCKY II. As the thought occurred to me at the height of my noble quest to stop "blogging," I merely "tweeted" ("click" here) that the baby in ROCKY II was the Spencer Tracy of baby actors, a remark that has stood the test of time.

Friday, June 09, 2017

A Satisfying Ululation

I was meeting Ace Atkins, Bill Boyle, and Tom Franklin at the City Grocery Bar at 4:02 PM, or as it is known around here, "Megan Abbott Time." But I was early so I stopped in Square Books and killed some time by taking the Flann O'Brien novel AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS off the shelf and idly leafing through it in a comfortable chair like a common thief of ideas. Now, you must remember that I read AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS back in that hazy time before I noticed that every book I read has an owl in it and must therefore be catalogued for the people of the future. So! Someone asks the legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool about what might be the sweetest music he has ever heard, and he rattles off a list of dozens of answers, many of which made me laugh, like "the whining of small otters in nettle-beds at evening... A satisfying ululation is the contending of a river with the sea." And somewhere in there was "the low warble of water-owls in Loch Barra." And I sat there for some time muttering it aloud so I wouldn't forget: "the low warble of water-owls, the low warble of water-owls." I don't know why I didn't ask for a pen and a scrap of paper. But when I got home I wanted to recall some of the other phrases too, so I got out my yellowed, falling-apart paperback of AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS and it was then that I also noticed, for the first time, Finn's tribute to "the long-eared bush-owl," which had somehow escaped me in the afternoon. At the end of his long list of pleasant sounds, Finn's friend says, "Relate further for us," and Finn replies, "It is true that I will not." Ha ha! (Pictured, the fanciful Ziphius, or water-owl, with a friend.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Flaring Eyes of Mice-Killing Owls

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore except in the extremely specific circumstance that Megan Abbott and I read a celebrity biography that has an owl in it somewhere. I can't say I'm a fan of the writing in this Stanley Kubrick bio. "At cocktail parties and sit-ins the air was filled with discussions" is a typical fragment. Maybe it doesn't rub you the wrong way! Nor can I explain what irritated me about this attempt to convey Kubrick's thrill-a-minute New York boyhood: "Comic books were ten cents, and a bakery featured chocolate eclairs and freshly baked rolls." I mean I could explain it but would you care? Okay then! But by the time I got to "the flaring eyes of mice-killing owls on the cedar trees" I just couldn't tell if that was good or bad. You win, author! You broke me.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Owllusion

As you know, Megan Abbott and I are on a steady diet of celebrity memoirs, which I tell you about only where there is an owl in one of them. So! Louise Brooks is widely read, and sprinkles her reminiscences with literary allusions, including a passing one to Edward Lear's nonsense masterpiece "The Owl and the Pussycat." PS I didn't even put "owl" in my search terms but here's Louise Brooks with an owl photoshopped onto her head. It popped up like magic.