Tag Archives: Thomas Beller

The CRACK in Everything

28 Aug

 

Reportage has always  been the fundamental task of journalism (the rough first  draft of history.) And so it remains, notwithstanding the enormous acceleration of news and information dissemination. Winston Churchill, who famously opined that gossip travels around the world before the truth has time to put it’s boots on would not have envisioned a world of endless (24/7)delivery of news or the next level, social media platforms…

 

As a consumer of the daily buzz and bloom of life, I am inclined by wide-ranging interest and possibly the endemic and emblematic affliction of modern times, an ever shortening attention span (about which I would worry, if it were not still  able to read 1000 page books). That it seems like more things are happening and that we are almost inescapably told of these events now requires, in addition to editing , a curatorial aggregate of various forms of news distribution. Anecdotal, video, broadcast, web-based, newspapers and magazine, social media platforms battle for our attention  (thus the chimerical ‘attention’ economy) measurable in new units of measurement. One of the first journalists I thought grasped this transformation of news media was  Glen O Brien, editor in the 80’s of Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, the paradigmic hip  downtown life style tab. O’Brien has a column in each issue which was amusingly and informatively digressive and mildly transgressive

O Brien, who passed on recently was a prototypical denizen of the Manhattan’s hipoisie and the headline that the slick fashion magazine W ran  with an homage “Glenn O Brien Could Do Everything Except Live Forever” is a clever way of pointing the man’s many talents and accomplishments. If you think that to be hyperbolic have a look at O Brien’s cleverly annotated  CV*. Or the W article.

 

Glenn’s facility as a writer and ability to meet multiple deadlines a week could be intimidating. I couldn’t keep up with all the magazines he was involved with: Artforum, Purple, the in-house Bergdorf Goodman magazine, and Bald Ego, his own journal with the poet Max Blagg. This was in addition to his work as creative director of Barney’s and other commercial jobs that employed him to name perfumes or write commercials (remember Brad Pitt for Chanel?). In 2000, he landed at the Cannes Film Festival, where he debuted Downtown 81, a movie he made in 1981 with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Glenn was one of the first to recognize Basquiat’s talent. He wrote, produced, and appeared in the movie, too, directed by photographer Edo Bertoglio. Somehow the soundtrack was lost, only to be miraculously rediscovered two decades later. It’s a genuine artifact, a document of a time and a place no longer visible.

 

 

Sometimes it’s the small things that grab us  David Shield’s who’s  body of work stretches over a wide swath of subjects (even an Ichiro Suzuki chapbook) has a new tome out entitled Other People. The epigram he chose  from Philip Roth’s American Pastoral has long been a  favorite of mine:

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to came at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick: you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them: you get them wrong while you’re with them and then you get home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on a significance that is ludicrous, so ill equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims?  Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we are alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that—well, lucky you.

 

Don Winslow’s new opus, The Force (referring to the NYPD) leads off with a citation from Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely

“Cops are just people, ” she said irrelevantly.

They start out that way, I’ve heard.”

Brian  Doyle

 Brian Doyle self Portrait

 

Lake Oswego Oregon writer Brian Doyle, who among other things was was the editor of Portland magazine passed on to his greater glory recently. He was 60 years old. Author of 14 books and a contributor to The American Scholar and other smart journals, apparently Brian didn’t warrant an obit in the New York Times (which says more about that paper than about Doyle) I chanced to discover him through his wonderful novel Mink River. And the last story in his collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot: & Other Stories  solidified my continued interest in him. especially the final story**

 

In “Pinching Bernie,” an account of the crimes of Bernard Francis Cardinal Law, the unnamed narrator describes the archbishop’s past achievements, including a deal “where Episcopal priests who were married with kids could work in Catholic dioceses, which was how something you hardly ever see happened here and there, a priest making out with his wife on the beach, and barking at his kids that he would stop this car and turn around if there was any more fighting in the back seat!” In sharp contrast to the more whimsical tone of other stories, “Pinching Bernie” is extraordinary for the seething rage expressed by the narrator at Cardinal Law’s criminal negligence in the many cases of child molestation by Boston parish priests. Cardinal Law is “the slime bag’s slime bag, an all-pro slime bag” who escapes prosecution by flying to Rome and getting named to the Basilica di santa Maria Maggiore, where he is beyond the reach of justice. Up to this point, the story adheres to actual events (the real-life Cardinal remains ensconced inside the Vatican). But in “Pinching Bernie,” the narrator’s friend Jimmy goes to “see a guy about a guy” and “basically from this point on Bernie’s goose is cooked.” As it turns out, “it’s easier to pinch an archbishop than you might think.” The archbishop’s fictional redemption (wherein he’s returned to a life of monastic servitude in Boston) is far more fitting than its true-life counterpart.

Bin Laden’s Bald Spot encompasses worlds of absurdity and quotidian reality in the voices of ordinary citizens. Underneath the surface is a tenderness and attachment to life that makes the best of these stories really and truly sing.

A small nugget from the Doyle archive:
 “So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end — not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words ‘I have something to tell you,’ a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in a thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.”

Rest in Peace Brian Doyle

 

 

I find the funniest comedies those that don’t have jokes. Which is why I am not drawn to stand up comedy (excepting Richard Prior, Barry Crimmins, David Chappelle) Sarah Silverman as many are the few originals we are blessed to have live among us, is her own category.Of the many mordant obsrevations found in her new ‘special’

 

“Yeah, we’re Number one. We’re number one in juvenile diabetes”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met  Thomas Beller when he was a youngish literary bon vivant***, editing a fine New York literary magazine Open City, gifting the internet his Mr Beller’s Neighborhood and publishing a book or two along the way. Beller is now ensconced in New Orleans teaching at Tulane University. Among other things Beller writes on the National Basketball Association for the New Yorker. Now if you follow the once and future Great American Pastime( baseball) but do not necessarily find the New Yorker useful ,you ultimately get around to references  to the oracular Roger Angell, who has been contemplating and commenting on hard ball since time immemorial. I’m thinking , admittedly based on a small sample, that Professor Beller may achieve the same beatified status. Here from his  report on  NBA All star guard  Cleveland Cavalier/Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving:

One of my favorite basketball anecdotes involves George (Iceman) Gervin sitting in the locker room, sometime in the late nineteen-seventies, after hitting a game-winning shot. Journalists crowd him asking locker-room questions: “How did you do it?” “How did it feel?” “What were you thinking?” After a brief pause, Gervin responds, “The world is round.”

I have always loved this line for its lordly belligerence (“You bore me,” it seems to imply) and because I feel it holds a profound truth about the game. There are lots of sports that involve a round ball, but basketball is the most cosmic and planetary. The ball itself, often seen spinning on the tip of a finger, is the size of a globe. The climax of every play involves a sphere, usually in rotation, entering a circle, its own brief eclipse. The most popular style of play in the N.B.A. these days is referred to as “pace and space.” A player with the ball in his hand is his own solar system of gravity and velocity.

One way to illustrate basketball’s cosmic, planetary nature would be to describe the game as played by the point guard Kyrie Irving. He has a center of gravity somewhere just above his knees and the coördination of a jazz drummer. He is an expert low dribbler, and in the middle of his moves, especially when he puts the ball behind his back, he sometimes seems to sit for an infinitesimal moment on an invisible chair. During the clannish, gossip-filled family reunion that is All-Star Weekend, I heard the theory that, among all N.B.A. players, Irving’s skills are the most envied. This is a category I had not previously considered—not M.V.P. but M.E.P. Irving’s moves with the ball are like physics problems that culminate with extremely high-profile clutch shots. He excels at humiliating the opponent. Maybe that’s what is envied…

 

Some of the very few bright moments (comparatively) in the this nightmare time  are the writings of a handful of journalists and dissident scholars. I am guessing Matt Taibbi is holding the Hunter Thompson/William Greider chair at Rolling Stone (the entertainment magazine). He manages to  add a measure of hilarity to what Charle Pierce has called Camp Runamuck or Taibbi’s own  coinage, Trumpsylvania. Here he points out *****the incongruity of the vulgarian POTUS’s scapegoating the commercial media

 

 

The craziest part of Donald Trump’s 77-minute loon-a-thon in Phoenix earlier this week came when he rehashed his shtick about the networks turning off live coverage of his speech. Trump seemed to really believe they were shutting the cameras off because “the very dishonest media” was so terrified of his powerful words.

“They’re turning those lights off so fast!” he said. “CNN doesn’t want its failing viewership to see this!”

No news director would turn off the feed in the middle of a Trump-meltdown. This presidency has become the ultimate ratings bonanza. Trump couldn’t do better numbers if he jumped off Mount Kilimanjaro carrying a Kardashian.

This was confirmed this week by yet another shruggingly honest TV executive – in this case Tony Maddox, head of CNN International. Maddox said CNN is doing business at “record levels.” He hinted also that the monster ratings they’re getting have taken the sting out of being accused of promoting fake news.

“[Trump] is good for business,” Maddox said. “It’s a glib thing to say. But our performance has been enhanced during this news period

By the way, Taibbi has a book forthcoming, I Can’t Breathe, lucidly unpacking the tragic Eric Garland killing.

 

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* http://glennobrien.com/site/#/bio

**https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/king-of-the-losers/

***http://www.identitytheory.com/thomas-beller/

****http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/maybe-the-earth-is-flat-if-you-are-kyrie-irving

 

*****http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/taibbi-blame-media-for-creating-world-dumb-enough-for-trump-w499649

His Poisoned Legacy*: The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels:

5 May
The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk, and At Last  by Edward St. Aubyn

The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, and At Last by Edward St. Aubyn

I credit Thomas Beller and Johanna Yas’s Open City Books with introducing me to the literary marvel known as Edward St. Aubyn.Since then it is apparent his successive Patrick Melrose novels have gained him enthusiastic admirers.

Now comes a nicely packaged tome which will have to stand (for this moment in his young life) as his magnum opus, including all the novels— The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, and At Last (Picador) The book’s publisher observes

For more than twenty years, acclaimed author Edward St. Aubyn has chronicled the life of Patrick Melrose, painting an extraordinary portrait of the beleaguered and self-loathing world of privilege. This single volume collects the first four novels—Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk, a Man Booker finalist—to coincide with the publication of At Last, the final installment of this unique novel cycle.By turns harrowing and hilarious, these beautifully written novels dissect the English upper class as we follow Patrick Melrose’s story from child abuse to heroin addiction and recovery. Never Mind, the first novel, unfolds over a day and an evening at the family’s chateaux in the south of France, where the sadistic and terrifying figure of David Melrose dominates the lives of his five-year-old son, Patrick, and his rich and unhappy American mother, Eleanor. From abuse to addiction, the second novel, Bad News opens as the twenty-two-year-old Patrick sets off to collect his father’s ashes from New York, where he will spend a drug-crazed twenty-four hours. And back in England, the third novel, Some Hope, offers a sober and clean Patrick the possibility of recovery. The fourth novel, the Booker-shortlisted Mother’s Milk, returns to the family chateau, where Patrick, now married and a father himself, struggles with child rearing, adultery, his mother’s desire for assisted suicide, and the loss of the family home to a New Age foundation.Edward St. Aubyn offers a window into a world of utter decadence, amorality, greed, snobbery, and cruelty—welcome to the declining British aristocracy

What the above cited description leaves out and what has immense resonance is that this rapier sharp dissection of the English upper is as Ian Parker’s profile of St.Aubyn relates,”highly autobiographical novels”:

IN 1991, as Edward St. Aubyn was about to publish “Never Mind”… in which extremes of familial cruelty and social snobbery are described with a tart precision that is not quite free of cruelty and snobbery—he went for a walk with his mother in the English countryside and told her that his father had repeatedly raped him as a young boy. Her response “wasn’t totally satisfactory,” St. Aubyn said, several weeks ago. “She said, ‘Me, too’ ”—meaning that his father had raped her as well. “She was very, very keen to jump the queue and say how awful it was for her.

Here’s an St.Aubyn excerpt

AT HALF-PAST SEVEN IN the morning, carrying the laundry she had ironed the night before, Yvette came down the drive on her way to the house. Her sandal made a faint slapping sound as she clenched her toes to prevent it from falling off, and its broken strap made her walk unsteadily over the stony, rutted ground. Over the wall, below the line of cypresses that ran along the edge of the drive, she saw the doctor standing in the garden. In his blue dressing gown, and already wearing dark glasses although it was still too early for the September sun to have risen above the limestone mountain, he directed a heavy stream of water from the hose he held in his left hand onto the column of ants moving busily through the gravel at his feet. His technique was well established: he would let the survivors struggle over the wet stones, and regain their dignity for a while, before bringing the thundering water down on them again. With his free hand he removed a cigar from his mouth, its smoke drifting up through the brown and grey curls that covered the jutting bones of his forehead. He then narrowed the jet of water with his thumb to batter more effectively an ant on whose death he was wholly bent. Yvette had only to pass the fig tree and she could slip into the house without Dr Melrose knowing she had arrived. His habit, though, was to call her without looking up from the ground just when she thought she was screened by the tree. Yesterday he had talked to her for long enough to exhaust her arms, but not for so long that she might drop the linen. He gauged such things very precisely. He had started by asking her opinion of the mistral, with exaggerated respect for her native knowledge of Provence…. (excerpt continues)

And here James Wood effuses , which is( wonderful) a thing unto itself

“Implausibly brilliant speech . . . The striking gap between, on the one hand, the elegant polish of the narration, the silver rustle of these exquisite sentences, the poised narrowness of the social satire and, on the other hand, the screaming pain of the family violence inflicted on Patrick makes these books some of the strangest of contemporary novels . . . This prose, whose repressed English control is admired by everyone from Alan Hollinghurst to Will Self, is drawn inexorably back to a fearful instability, to the nakedness of infancy.”

*This title comes from Ian Parker’s New Yorker profile of Edward St Aubyn