Thursday, March 29, 2012

Something I Guess I Never Knew

I guess I never knew that James Brown performed "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" at NIXON'S INAUGURATION. Followed by a set from Dinah Shore.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nerve Control Technique

Here, from the James Brown bio by RJ Smith, is James Brown explaining how to do a dance step called "the James Brown": "Combine the applejack, the dolo, which is a slide, almost like the skate, and the scallyhop, which is a takeoff on the lindy hop, add a nerve control technique that makes the whole body tremble, and you got the James Brown." In other book news, I am happy to say that Megan Abbott has a new book coming out in July. It's called DARE ME, and not only is it a new book, but it is a new book with an owl in it! According to this advanced reading copy (yes, government, I got it for free) "a screech owl burst from behind the water tank." This promises to be Megan's best book yet, with the most owls.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chock Full o' Owls

Great book conference with Maud Newton & gang! I was at a poetry reading and heard this: "the owl hunts blood among the fir trees" and naturally I got excited. Pretty soon another owl popped up! So many owls. It was then that I knew DREAM CABINET by Ann Fisher-Wirth was my favorite thing: a book with an owl in it. Maud's friend Carrie came down from North Carolina to watch us be on an exciting panel together. Carrie is an editor at THE AWL and I fell in love with her when she pulled a big, clunky biography of Shirley Jackson (whose HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE has an owl in it) out of her handbag. I got to introduce her to my colleague Joan Hall, who wrote a book about Shirley Jackson! Once I ran into Joan Hall on campus during a book sale some organization was having. I saw a Hamlin Garland book that would set me back $1.50 but I didn't have any cash. Now, Hamlin Garland is somebody I know about because of Dr. Theresa's interest in him. She admires his regionalist stuff. But somewhere along the way I found out he was also a fan of ghosts! The book I wanted was called FORTY YEARS OF PSYCHIC RESEARCH. Wow! Joan Hall loaned me two dollars so I could buy it. She's the greatest! Everybody is the greatest. PS I had drinks at City Grocery Bar tonight with my MFA student Jimmy who has mono. He wrote a paper comparing BELOVED to THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and when he presented it, some professor in the audience (from Iowa, Jimmy thinks) asked why he had compared Toni Morrison to "trash literature"! Jimmy didn't know what to say. "I thought it was real good," he remembers as his response.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Local Lad Makes Splash in "Talkies"

From a newspaper in 1965: "'James Brown is going to turn himself into a woman' was the rumor that was circulating as late as last week among the teenagers, and now it has spread among the adults." That's from the James Brown bio that I borrowed from Michael Bible. But guess what? Now he will never get it back. MICHAEL SUDDENLY MOVED OUT OF TOWN! He got a job in the moving pictures out there in Hollywood, U.S.A. For real! And that's great but I used to organize my whole day around walking up to Square Books and bothering him while he worked.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bob Hope and James Brown and Something Terrible, Sorry

Hey so I'm reading this fascinating bio of James Brown, THE ONE by RJ Smith, and I find out something I never would have guessed in a million years: that James Brown and Bob Hope performed together on a double bill. WHAT? I feel I should mention this passage also reveals that James Brown hit Tammi Terrell with a hammer. How terrible! I never like to mention awful things on this "blog," but it doesn't seem fair or honest of me to toss out the "cute tidbit" I gleaned without mentioning just one of the truly horrific things in the same couple of paragraphs. Bob Hope was quite taken with Tammi Terrell (who was in Brown's band at the time) and asked her to go on a USO tour with him, which did not "[sit] well with Brown."

Next Stop Pluto

Yeah I don't know why I haven't been "blogging" as much lately. Maybe because I keep listening to this crazy, nearly eleven-minute (!) Frank Sinatra song where he fantasizes about flying to outer space and visiting all the planets in the first person AS Frank Sinatra (the first lyric he sings is "My name is Francis Albert" and the background singers helpfully echo, "Francis Albert Sinatra"), and which contains the line "Next stop Pluto, where the devil dwells" (!) and then there's some maniacal devil laughter but I don't think I'm ready to talk about this yet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

News Roundup

Here's a headline I saw in the New York Times today: "Squashed Eyeballs Are a Danger for Astronauts." Now called me old-fashioned but gosh darn it I say that squashed eyeballs are a danger for everybody! I sent Ben Greenman that headline because he likes headlines, and to no one's surprise he had already read an article on the subject some time back, which included the information, says Mr. Greenman, that "prolonged space time also distends your brain. YOUR BRAIN!" So watch out. On the plus side, the article indicates that getting your eyes squashed in space may cure certain cases of nearsightedness. No kidding! Read it. And consult your physician to see if getting your eyes squashed in space is right for you! Side effects may include distended brain and dying in outer space. Ruth Buzzi retweeted an item from a Buffalo, NY, news service, which I found charming for its laconic prioritizing: "It's 73 degrees in Buffalo which set a new record high temperature for this date. Also, a gorilla escaped from the zoo earlier." Finally, this week's LAFA SHOPPER contains a column called "Thoughts On Wind" in which the columnist lists her thoughts on wind.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Jack Carson Safety Video You've Been Waiting For

Took some cold medicine and watched the Jerry Lewis remake of THE JAZZ SINGER yesterday but I can't talk about it because I swore to Phil I wouldn't until he got a chance to watch it too. Phil did send me a driver safety video starring Jack Carson. I'll understand if you don't "click" here. Yeah, there's just not much to it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hep to the Tragic Flea

Thanks to Kelly Hogan I am listening to a song about a flea who falls in love with a clown who is also a flea and then when the first flea dies the clown flea opens up her grave and gets in there with her - oh no! - just like - SPOILER ALERT! - Heathcliff and Cathy in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Yeah, that's a real song, all right. Hogan and Mike Bulington were listening to it the other day and agreed I should "get hepped to it," to use Hogan's phrase. PS When Jon Langford was in town he saw my recommendation shelf and kept singing the chorus of the Kate Bush song "Wuthering Heights" in a high, quavering "Kate Bush" voice, just to drive me crazy, I think. It went like this: "Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering HEIGHTS!" Over and over.

National Holiday

"Did you hang up your stocking?" Kelly Hogan writes to ask me. Because it's Jerry Lewis's birthday! The New York Times tells me that Jerry will be celebrating with a Q&A at the Friars Club tonight. Wish I could be there, Jerry! Call me back!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kerouac Googles

Went on a little business trip and took along my neglected copy of DR. SAX. You will certainly recall (by "clicking" here - do it!) Roy Blount Jr.'s discovery that Mark Twain used the word "googling." Let me now tell you that Jack Kerouac uses the word "google," and like Twain he does it onomatopoetically (I guess): "Jean Fourchette the idiot came stompin by with his firecrackers and google giggled in the late sun afternoon streets..." I know you don't care but I am telling you anyway. On my trip I happened to take the exit to Burke's new town, and I wished I had his phone number, but why? So I could say, "Hi, Burke, I am in your town but I am leaving immediately after I get some gas"? I walked into a McDonald's there and everyone seemed so sad! There was such sadness in the McDonald's that I turned around and walked out. I think I just caught everybody at a bad time!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Picture With a Unicorn and Donuts

Here is a picture combining unicorns and donuts! You probably already saw it on the gawker but what am I supposed to do? It's in my wheelhouse. They lobbed it over the plate and I had to take a swing. My favorite thing is the guy saying "Marvelis."

Friday, March 09, 2012

Commotion Notion

Hey, you know what else THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE reminds me of? That's right! Jerry Lewis. But what doesn't remind me of Jerry Lewis? Of the impish Cousin Lymon, McCullers writes, "When he walked into the room there was always a quick feeling of tension, because with this busybody about there was never any telling what might descend on you, or what might suddenly be brought to happen in the room. People are never so free with themselves and so recklessly glad as when there is some possibility of commotion or calamity ahead." For further insight, reacquaint yourself with McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Literary Matters

I see by the old clock on the wall that it is time once again for "Literary Matters." Literary matters are awful and everyone hates them but these are few and short and it will all be over before you know it. 1) Checked out my recommendation shelf at Square Books yesterday. It has sold its 50th book! THE BLOODY CHAMBER by Angela Carter, in case you're interested. You're not. 2) I can't prove this but I have come to the conclusion that THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE by Carson McCullers was directly influenced by KRAZY KAT. Who cares? 3) Maud Newton is coming to town! She and Anya Groner and Michael Bible and I will all be on a panel at this year's Oxford Conference for the Book, March 22-24. I'm not sure what they ended up calling our panel but my suggestion was "Yakkin' it Up: Internet Style!"

Monday, March 05, 2012

My Stream Isn't Streaming But Maybe Yours Is

Mark Childress alerts me that the song I wrote with Andrew Bird for Kelly Hogan's forthcoming incredible album I LIKE TO KEEP MYSELF IN PAIN is now "streaming" on the "internet." But when I "click" this "link" I see the word STREAM but no streaming will commence no matter what I do. Maybe you will be luckier or know more about the "internet" and "clicking on" things than I do. Anyway, I'm excited! Even if it doesn't "stream" you can read about all the people who, mesmerized by Kelly's mesmerizing voice, contributed brand new songs especially for her... and especially for you!

A Struggling Salesman of Pencil Sharpeners

Things I enjoyed learning from this article in the New York Times: Edgar Rice Burroughs was "a struggling salesman of pencil sharpeners" when he decided to become a writer. He read adventure magazines and said (actual quote), "I could write stories just as rotten." And he did! This I admire. Later, he and L. Frank Baum of "Wizard of Oz" fame were neighbors. Baum called his place "Ozcot" and Burroughs - creator of Tarzan - called his "Tarzana." Ha ha! All right! I love it.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Grandpa's Big Weekend

Last night I went over to Dent May's house to see Grimes (pictured) play. I had never been over there before and, I don't know, I pictured people scrunched up together in a living room with the furniture pushed back against the wall, but you go down this dark country road and suddenly there's a sprawling compound, no kidding, and Dent's house includes a cavernous room with a nice stage and huge dance floor and I sat on a couch in the corner like a creepy old weirdo as scores and scores (literally!) of young people flooded in. Dent kindly ushered me into a secret room ("The McConaughey Lounge") wherein I thank goodness found Michael Bible who walked around with me thereafter and conferred upon me an air of legitimacy so that no Grimes fan felt threatened by my wizened and stooped figure sulking there alone in the darkness rubbing my hands together. The furnishings were delightfully INLAND EMPIRE and one of Michael's friends expressed surprise that I was drinking out of a pink Solo cup imprinted with a camo motif, but I have never been to Dent's house before and I was not surprised by that so I am not sure where the surprise came from. Dent's house seems like a great place to hear music - it felt like to me maybe the best place in Oxford to hear music - but it was 11:30 and the opening band had not started yet and both toilets were stopped up so I - unlike the youngsters, so rightly undeterred - went home and never saw Grimes, well, I didn't see her play, but I saw her loading in heavy pieces of equipment with her fragile-looking limbs that I feared might break.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


Dr. Theresa reminds me that despite previous reports I did play my accordion three or four years ago at the home of Tom Franklin. The "blog" regrets the error.

Dusty Accordion Thrills

Dig this crazy action shot as I lay down some blistering accordion riffs. That's right! I got to play two songs with Jon Langford last night. It was fun! Right there onstage was the first time I'd opened the accordion case since we moved here almost five years ago - I thought it was going to be like the end of KISS ME DEADLY, ha ha, that's one for you film buffs, gee I hate myself. The first song went great because it had two chords - and bongo-banging Barry B. and I had once played it with Jon under our stage names "The Wizard and the Elf" - but the second one had three chords - THREE! - and I was in some trouble. I hit the wall! But I bluffed my way through. Afterward I was covered in some strange accordion dust, sort of rusty and crumbly, and I think something came out of the accordion and bit me. Jon was just terrific and it was great to see him. Photo by my neighbor Mr. Lonesome, who brought sweet mandolin goodness as the opening act.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Subject Was Donuts

Dinner last night with Dr. Theresa, Melissa Ginsburg, Bess Reed-Currence, and Jon Langford. OF HIS OWN VOLITION, with absolutely no prompting from me, Jon brought up his childhood love of Bob Hope movies (causing me to recall that I once watched a Bob Hope movie with another Mekon, Sally Timms - and their album OOOH has a song on it entitled "Bob Hope and Charity." Surely this is a subject for further study!). Jon also claimed that a Krispy Kreme brand donut left on a wooden table overnight cannot be pried from the surface by any means. He did, however, recommend Tony's Donuts in Portland, Maine. I believe it was during the donut discussion that Melissa used the phrase, "there was a brief period of macaroons," which gave me the idea for my next novel, a sweeping multi-generational saga called A BRIEF PERIOD OF MACAROONS. Melissa also said, "It's hard to make an apple brown betty in prison," which gave me the idea for my bestselling self-help memoir IT'S HARD TO MAKE AN APPLE BROWN BETTY IN PRISON AND OTHER LESSONS FROM A LIFE WELL-LIVED. Everything Melissa said was a book title. The apple brown betty remark came during a roundtable discussion of Martha Stewart, by whom I found all four of my dinner companions completely fascinated. I guess I never thought I'd hear Jon Langford of the seminal punk rock band the Mekons talking about Martha Stewart with such avid pleasure. Dr. Theresa described a key scene in the TV movie MARTHA BEHIND BARS (pictured), which she and Bess watched as research back when Dr. Theresa was working on her dissertation. Martha Stewart makes an apple brown betty out of contraband items she has scrounged together but she doesn't get to enjoy it because a prison snitch turns her in. "That b*****," said Melissa. With some force! I never did get the conversation back around to Bob Hope.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Too Bad For Writers

How ironical, I guess, that all the MFA students have traipsed off to Chicago for the Big Annual Meeting of Drunken Writers (BAMDW) while Jon Langford is flying HERE to their hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, FROM Chicago, to sing and play for them and caper about so merrily but they will never know. The rest of you! Come see Jon play tonight on the Thacker Mountain Radio program and tomorrow night at Two Stick and why not stop by the Southside Gallery to look at Jon's art and then maybe later Jon will simonize your car.