Believe it or not, I am not the first writer in my family. Granted, I don’t come from literary stock. The kids in my generation were the first family members to actually make it to college. And even my own writing history is less than traditional — no MFA, no creative writing classes, not even a single writing workshop. I just had a crack at it as they say.
But I was not the first…
In 1975, Mario J. Della Torre, Sr., a cousin of mine who in that strange Italian twist was the same age as my parents, published his magnum opus, With A Ferry Boat They Robbed The Bank — Italian Style. Two years in the making, this comic crime-caper told the story of Meme, Co-co, Pepe, and Senor Dadone, a pack of feisty Italian immigrants who want to stick it to the man by robbing a bank in New Jersey. They make their getaway in… you guessed it, a Ferry Boat on the Hudson River. Not just a crime novel, there are endless inside nods to the Italian-American community. And comedy, New Jersey Italian style:
Just then, something happened which you would never expect at a Bank robbery. Co-Co had developed severe gas pains. He had to go to the toilet. Continue reading →
Good friend Karen Lillis was recently featured twice on The Orange Alert podcast. Karen reads her own short story, “The Roaches That Stayed Behind,” and then New York City’s own Tim Hall jumps in to read an excerpt from Karen’s “A Bookseller in the City,” which is now being serialized on Undie Press.
You know the art world is in trouble when the two things that attracted the most attention at the Armory Show yesterday were a nude woman who had painted her body and a mechanized talking raven on a tree limb. I actually saw people standing beneath the latter with their mouths agape (I kept hoping the raven would start dropping worms at them), as if they had never seen an automaton before. Walt Disney was smirking somewhere, “You see! Genius!”
The other takeaway from yesterday’s show: irony is really killing art. It’s as if artists are not brave enough to take themselves seriously anymore. Too much nudging, winking, and self-centered displays of cleverness (that weren’t really all that clever to begin with). Don’t get me wrong: a sense of humor is great in art. But, paintings with cartoon characters? Kind of been done to death. And way too many paintings with messages in type. Been done a thousand times over now. As for the sculpture and installations, it was craft fair time. Right, no one has ever thought before that using stuffed creatures in a piece is ironic. Brilliant. Genius. That display of kitsch almost attracted as much attention as the talking raven. Lots of iPhone cameras going off. Bloody e’ll.
High on Fire Snakes — Snakes for the Divine: Matt Pike and is cohorts never cease to amaze me. Each album gets better and better. Who thought they could top Death is the Communion which had so many strong songs and was also one of the first albums in a long while that brought back the idea of an album – a flow to the track list rather than a loose collection of songs. Somehow they did it. Snakes for the Divine is a better album than its predecessor. There’s a vicious attack to the songs and they’re actually heavier than the tracks on the last record. Yes, heavier. You can’t help but listen in awe of these guys.
Eric Dolphy — Out to Lunch: I’ll give credit for this discovery to Henry Rollins who played the title track from this album on a Jazz Juggernaut episode of his excellent KCRW program. Luckily, I was able to track down an original vinyl version on eBay. This was Dolphy’s first album for Blue Note and sadly his last official release before he died at too young of an age. The compositions are wonderfully complex but yet still musical (it wasn’t experimentation for the sake of innovation). As Dolphy said in his liner notes, “Monk could be musical just walking down the street.” That’s the inspiration here: complex music (much like Monk’s) pushing the song structures into new territory, but still retaining melody and mood. Consider it a nice continuation from Dolphy’s work with Coltrane. The title track has quickly become a favorite as has “Gazzelloni” and “Hat and Beard.”
Charles Mingus — The Great Concert of Charles Mingus: Continuing Eric Dolphy appreciation week, here comes another stellar example of his greatness. Another great vinyl find via eBay and sadly also one of the last recordings by Dolphy. This is considered one of the great jazz concerts (or series of concerts as there are tracks from multiple nights) and the tour that cemented Mingus’ reputation in France. For most of the tracks, the group plays as a quintet since trumpeter Johnny Coles collapsed from a stomach ulcer two nights previous. What’s not to like on this one? The almost thirty-minute version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the fantastic tribute to Charlie Parker known as “Parkeriana” (where Mingus and the group stand the compositions on their head), and Dolphy’s great performance on “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress.”
The Obsessed — The Church Within: This was the album that broke The Obsessed. It was their first on a major label and their last as a band. Regardless, it’s a stellar album and I still think one of the most underrated heavy albums of all time. Some of Wino’s best compositions are on here including “Protect and Serve,” “Streetside,” and the stellar “Neatz Brigade.” As always, the man’s guitar tone was better than the rest of the planet’s and Guy Pinhas and Greg Rogers provide the perfect rhythm section. Hard to find, but worth the effort.
A few miles north of the busted-down buildings in Port-au-Prince, up a hillside where cows graze, an empty hole awaits the dead. Rectangular, 20 feet deep and wide, 100 feet long, it is one of the newest mass graves, but there are many more.
The government’s dump trucks have been dropping off bodies here since Friday. No one counts, takes pictures or searches for names. In some places, legs and arms of strangers are knotted together in a frozen dance, but here the ground has been leveled by a backhoe that has erased all but the tiniest scraps of life.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has posted a new slideshow of images from their relief efforts in Haiti. Having worked in the poorest districts of Haiti for the past 19 years, they’re a well known entity within the country. People flocked to their hospitals, many of which as you’ll see by the photos, were badly damaged in the earthquake. However they were able to salvage some supplies and begin immediate emergency treatment in makeshift tents. According this post from MSF, there’s been no letup in people who need medical treatment and MSF’s teams have been going non-stop since last week. They’ve just started a working hospital in Carrefour, but as expected people have been flooding in:
One of MSF’s operational coordinators in Port-au-Prince, Hans van Dillen, says there was an immediate reaction when people found out that we were starting medical activities in Carrefour. People began crowding around the entrance. Patients are being brought in by wheelbarrow and on others’ backs. There are other hospitals in the area but they are already overflowing with injured people and have limited numbers of Haitian staff or supplies.
You can view the slideshow above to see photos of MSF’s efforts in Haiti. Or if you’re reading this via one of the social networks, click here.
Found these interviews with writer Harry Crews via Mike Cane over at the eBook Test blog. As expected, Crews is salty, slightly insane, and yet spot on about a lot of things. Some favorites:
“All of fiction is about one of two things: love or the absence of love, nothing else…I’m not sure if he’s wrong, I’m sure he’s right either, but he might be.”
“The writer’s job is to get naked, to hide nothing, to look away from nothing, to look at it, to not blink, to not be embarrassed by it, or ashamed of it. Strip it down and let’s get to where the blood is, the bone is…”
And Harry’s great insight: “The Old Man and the Sea is not about fishing.”
In an extended essay in the New York Times, Katie Rophie skewers a set of modern male writers — Franzen, Foster Wallace, Eggers, Chabon, and Kunkel — for their detached aversion to sex in their novels. In contrasting the sex scenes of those writers with their more hopped-up predecessors — Roth, Updike, Mailer, etc. — Rophie actually makes a very spot-on point about modern writers being no less narcissistic, in spite of their lack of libido :
The younger writers are so self- conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un toward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life. These are writers in love with irony, with the literary possibility of self-consciousness so extreme it almost precludes the minimal abandon necessary for the sexual act itself, and in direct rebellion against the Roth, Updike and Bellow their college girlfriends denounced…
…In this same essay, Wallace goes on to attack Updike and, in passing, Roth and Mailer for being narcissists. But does this mean that the new generation of novelists is not narcissistic? I would suspect, narcissism being about as common among male novelists as brown eyes in the general public, that it does not. It means that we are simply witnessing the flowering of a new narcissism: boys too busy gazing at themselves in the mirror to think much about girls, boys lost in the beautiful vanity of “I was warm and wanted her to be warm,” or the noble purity of being just a tiny bit repelled by the crude advances of the desiring world.
Finally back from the Paris trip and settling back into the swing of things.
While I was away, author and fellow audiobook podcaster Seth Harwood launched a Kindle Rush for his short story collection, A Long Way From Disney. Seth is offering the collection as a special priced e-book for only $.99 in order to make a charge for the Kindle bestseller list. You can show your support and download a copy here. And remember, now that Amazon has a desktop reader and an iPhone app, you don’t need to own a Kindle to read the collection.