"When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect – but do not believe him. Never put your trust in anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel Laureate, may be wrong... So you must always be skeptical – always think for yourself." --Linus Pauling
Thursday morning, 2:23 ayem. I am alone, which is not in itself strange. I am always alone, and especially when I'm not. That just seems to be the way of things.
What use is this heart of mine? My heart seems forever locked in the doldrums on the edge of the known world. I'm following charts empty of useful coordinates. Nothing but great distances to cross with no safe ports of call to head for.
Uhm. Yeah. Moving on...
Today I went to the library branch close to my house to inquire about transferring there. The Hollywood branch sports a vastly smaller building, smaller collection, less interesting patrons and more crazy ones. However, it's a five minute walk from home (saving me over an hour in commute time), I might be encouraged to pack a lunch regularly instead of eating out, AND I'd be trading the endless amount of bullshit with management for a pittance or just the same bullshit in a new locale.
Whatever. I hope the transfer goes through. I am very bored with the library and can feel the rot setting in.
Recently I picked up Freethinkers: A History Of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby. Pretty self explanatory title really. It chronicles America's illustrious tradition of atheists (like Thomas Paine, the man responsible for giving the Founding Fathers the idea of a Republic by the people, for the people, etc.), deists (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln), and the like.
Jacoby wrote this book in response to the ever increasing movement of fundamentalism emanating from the White House. The separation of church and state really has never been more in jeopardy than it is these days. Such an important issue (Washington's absolute commitment to it is the main reason he was chosen to be the first president), but the very religious of all sides fail to realize that it is meant to protect their rights not limit them.
For my part, I have no religion. This simple fact pleases me no end. More than having a religion ever did, that's for sure. As Thomas Paine said, "My mind is my own church." Or take Alan Moore's quote: "The domain of thought is the one place that gods inarguably exist." That I can perceive a sort of connection between these two geniuses so different from one another stokes my imagination. And my religious impulse, if you will.
On the whole, I was pretty bored with it. You're probably saying, "Well, Jack, you're thirty-four. Of course Big Loud Stupid Action Extravaganzas don't interest you. You're getting older, and your tastes are maturing. By the way, enjoy your last year on planet Earth as part of the 18-34 demographic. Soon no one will care about you or what movies you want to see."
Yeah, yeah. But here's the thing: I like Big Loud Stupid Action Extravaganzas. I'm just wanting a more intense, less stupid, vastly more creative versions of same. And when I don't get it, I become a more than a little cross. To a certain extent, it's like the movie going experience is personal, and the lesser movie I have been forced to endure is... a betrayal.
That probably sounds a little bizzare, and I owe an explanation. Fine. Try this on for size: I think it's possible that I experience story on a much deeper level than most people, maybe the way a lot of others listen to music or take drugs. In a way, it's rather like I ingest the narrative; let it inside, and at the same time lose myself in it.
So when I've consumed said story, and it's fucking lame, my entire being rejects it like food poisoning. With something this important and intense, you have to be really good at the culling of material --otherwise you could end up strung out on some bad shit, like Michael Crichton (ick!), Robert Jordan (ulp!), or worst of all: Tim LaHaye (gahhhhh!)
At that point, it's best to just induce vomiting. But I was talking about movies, not books. I'm sorry.
Okay, back to movies then: You've probably noticed, there's a lot of movies coming out these last few years based on comic books. In the US, comic books mainly mean superheroes. While I enjoy stuff like Spider-Man 2 (which was better than the already good first one in every way) and will probably go to see next year's Batman Begins and The Fantastic Four, part of me is screaming because it wants Something New.
Come on. Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four were both really cool, forward looking concepts... forty years ago. Batman? Superman? Your grandfather has memories of afternoons stretched out on the lawn reading their exploits back in... 1939. Go ask.
My point is, it's the 21st Century. The flying car thing didn't work out and that sucks, I still have to work for a living instead of having a robot slave to free up my time, but I'm learning to deal. Still, we are living in the future now. I'd like to see some movies reflect that. Isn't time for New Heroes? Some New Myths?
I know what some of you are thinking you know.
"Get to work."
On the bill were two double-features: Two Robert Mitchum movies consisting of Bandido (1956) and The Wonderful Country (1959); followed by two 'B' westerns directed by William Witney, Santa Fe Passage (1955) and Stranger At My Door (1956).
All four films were just okay, but Quentin Tarantino introduced the second pair and I shook hands and exchanged a few minor words with him. Go me.
I also watched The Patriot. This is the summer blockbuster of 2000 starring Mel Gibson that boiled the American Revolution down to a rather boring story of revenge. The six episode Ken Burns style documentary called Liberty!: The American Revolution is coming through Netflix in the next couple days, in order that sanity can be restored.
The American Revolution is becoming a minor obsession for me. Soon I'll be reading biographies of the founding fathers, histories, etc. For insight into the religious beliefs of the founders of our nation, you could do much worse than pick up Thomas Paine: The Collected Writings published by The Library Of America. There's a reason why this country has a separation of church and state, and Paine was huge influence on Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and later Lincoln.
What else am I reading now? In addition to items mentioned recently; the new Stephenson of course, in addition to selected works of Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw's plays Pygmalion and Man And Superman; and Neil Gaiman's graphic novel in eight parts .1602, which recasts the superheroes of the Silver Age as Elizabethan era characters. It actually works much better than it sounds.
Looking over my blog, what shines most brightly is my utter lack of discipline and almost perfect inability to express what I mean. Bah. All it means is that I need to write more. Has there ever been a time in my life when I didn't need to write MORE? Accurate assessment of this mess indicates that I need to write about TEN TIMES MORE than I do now just to get a tenth of what I write at an acceptable level.
This by the way is why I will never have children. There is not enough room in my life for children AND the ideas I want to have AND the places I want to go AND the drugs I want to take AND the drinks I want to consume AND the women I want to... AND. AND. AND. Mine shall be a life devoted to romance.
The inside of my head is a jungle, a thick tangle of concepts and memories and ambitions. I need to beat through all of that with every stroke of the pen or keyboard to get to something that no one's ever seen, that I can't even guess at the nature of. What is it? Fuck if I know, but it's in there. I know it, and so does everyone else apparently. Even strangers, damn them.
My obsession with James Bond (which flowered during the time every other boy in my generation had given himself over to Star Wars) and I suppose Doctor Who --came later. (I really do need to write about the Bond thing. Later.)
In the 1980's American comics experienced a sort of "British Invasion" as writers and artists from across the pond started writing and drawing for us. This exposed me to the writing of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, and Neil Gaiman. Holy Living Fuck were those the days. Well, for comics they were anyway.
All this has been a preamble to some links I'd like to point out:
The BBC is now airing The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: Tertiary Phase on Radio 4. You can listen to the current episode for a week here. The original series is easily amongst the most imaginative and hilarious radio I've ever had the pleasure to listen to. Don't know how the current batch will match up, but here's hoping.
The current series of six shows (and another six planned for next year) will adapt the remaining three novels in the "trilogy". Douglas Adams was doing some work on it when he passed away a few years ago. He did manage to actually voice one of the characters. Oh, and all the surviving cast members are back, which is very cool.
Some years ago, an English guy I worked with named Simon introduced me to the work of one Stephen Fry. Fry is an English actor, novelist, and director. He played Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde, Jeeves in the tv show based on P.G. Woodhouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, and was featured prominently in my favorite tv sitcom ever Blackadder. He's also the reader of the Harry Potter audiobooks in England.
The man is witty, erudite, and hilarious. He also gives tremendously good interviews. In order of appearance: An interview from a couple years ago with Jonathan Ross from BBC Radio 2, a recent one on NPR, last week's conversation from The Onion and some further conversation from the same interview can be found here. Also very interesting is this blog entry where the interviewer writes of what it was like to interview Mr. Fry. Excellent.
I was lead to the two most recent interviews by links found on Neil Gaiman's blog. Something else really clever that began because of that blog is Johnny Theremin.
Made me laugh.
Huge blog entry to follow soonish. Oh and by the way: Today is September 21st, 2004. Neal Stephenson's The System Of The World, third volume in the epic work of sheer authorial genius known as The Baroque Cycle.
Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column (one of my favorite sites devoted to books) says Stephenson's achievement is on the order of Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings or William Gibson's Neuromancer. You can read what he has to say here.
Get thee to a bookstore!
When that one's cast aside, I'll be picking up Letters To His Son by the Earl of Chesterfield. Subtitled 'On the Fine Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman', this is a collection of the correspondence the Earl wrote to his illegitimate son (starting in 1737) as a way of supplementing the bastard's education.
Samuel Johnson despised the book saying it, "taught the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master." Now I'm reading it in the 21st century, which goes to show that there really is no such thing as bad publicity.
Also on deck is Give Our Regards To The Atomsmashers!, an anthology of essays about comics by such literary worthies as Jonathan Lethem, Glen David Gold, Greil Marcus, Luc Sante, and Aimee Bender. It's edited by Sean Howe. Just think, if I had spent the last fifteen years busting my ass proper at this writing thing I might have had an essay in this book. (That's what I tell myself anyway.)
And... I'll be re-reading Ross Thomas's Chinaman's Chance. This is for a thing I'm working on with friend soon to be collaborator Mark Miano. I don't think I've ever mentioned Thomas here before. High time for it I suppose. Ross Thomas is one of the hidden treasures of late-20th century crime/espionage fiction. How a man who wrote so well and made it look so fucking easy remain so totally unknown staggers imagining.
You can read an article about the late, great Mr. Thomas courtesy of the LA Weekly. St. Martin's Press is currently reissueing his complete backstock of twenty-five titles. Try The Fools In Town Are On Our Side or his first, The Cold War Swap (which he wrote in six weeks and won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel). You owe it to yourself.
In the watching department I joined Netflix a couple months ago and my life has been made immeasureably better. I've been watching the first seasons of Monk, The Gilmore Girls (the turn-on present in gorgeous brunettes spouting witty dialogue should not be underestimated), and the occasional movie.
I feel the need to point out that I bought a dvd of The Winslow Boy. Based on Terence Rattigan's play and directed by David Mamet, it is one of the most profoundly satisfying movies I've seen in the last decade. At the end of it nothing would have made me happier than to watch ten more hours of the same characters. Give it a look.
I am leaving for Burning Man this weekend and will be back with many tales to tell in just over a week. At some point I have to remember to write about silent films, why the 1960's James Bond/secret agent craze died out but lives on in me, and ruminations on the opposite sex.
You know, what I really want to do right now? Talk. Unfortunately, no one I know is up. Nobody in any time zone. Can you believe that?
I thought as an adult I would have friends sprinkled all over the globe. We would spend our days living our incredible lives and take calls from one another at any hour. Who knows when adventure's going to call? No one does, motherfucker, so pick up the phone --it might be her.
The reality is that now I'm thirty-four; most of my friends are settled down, or in the process of same. They're getting married, buying houses, having babies. You know, the Big Real Life things that most people work toward.
Yeah, um... I'm not doing any of those things at present. I don't want a house (and couldn't afford one out here anyway), and children hold about as much appeal for me as getting leprosy. Marriage is an institution I can see being commited to in the future, but the arms on that particular jacket are still looking a wee bit long if you know what I mean.
It sounds like I am avoiding responsibility, and I am. Not the way you're thinking of, though. I'll continue this line of thought later...
Saw Spider-Man 2 the day it came out. Excellent movie, much better than the first. My only complaint is that Peter Parker's whining gets on my nerves now in a way it never did when I was adolescent and very much in the same boat. But the constant guilt and soap opera are what makes it Spider-Man and so can't really be done without.
As in the first movie, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson steals every scene he's in. Personally, I would rather watch a movie of just his character. As that isn't going to happen, I'll just watch His Girl Friday again. As a sidenote: If I were Peter Parker, I'd grind my heel into Mary Jane Watson's face to get to Betty Brant (Jameson's secretary, played by Elizabeth Banks).
I also saw Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 on opening weekend. Easily the best movie of the year for me. And before anyone wants to tell me that it's full of lies, let me just point out that if it were, Mr. Moore could get his ass sued. He's not though, is he? Instead, his opponents have tried every other weasel tactic to keep the film from being shown.
You know, the strain of anti-intellectualism in this country really frightens me. The Founding Fathers must be turning in their graves.
A complete suck of two plus hours. Don't bother seeing it. Stay away at all costs. Whether you like Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, David Wenham, etc. forget it. They are all much better in other films.
In the end credits to VAN HELSING, with Stephen Sommers' credit it reads "Dedicated to my father." It makes one curious as to the family drama hinted at there. What could the old man have done so horrible to warrant this?
Last weekend I went to LA Festival of Books. After going on to my friend the good doctor Aparna about how "I don't sunburn" I got sunburned all over my bald head. Serves me right I suppose.
Neal Stephenson was there on Sunday. He began with a Q & A session where people went out of their way to ask him the same questions he seems to get at every opportunity. Ugh. Also, the title of his book is pronounced CryptoNOmicon not CryptoNAHmicon. Even after he said the title twice and corrected someone, two questions later you have some jerk saying the word like he'd just flew in from the continent and missed the previous five minutes.
Stephenson's new novel The Confusion is out now. It's Volume Two of the Baroque Cycle and I'm reading it now. Salon has a great interview full of not the usual questions that you can find here.
Oh, and David Carradine is great in the film. It's nice to see him again. However, Gordon Liu as Pai Mei steals the film. He doesn't have to say anything either, just stroke his long white beard.
One of the things I enjoy about Tarantino's movies is how he carries out his huge interest in 1970's pop culture. He focuses on the elements he liked (soul music, blaxploitation films, spaghetti westerns, Shaw Brothers kung fu films, Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, muscle cars) and steadfastly ignores all the things he doesn't. (Which is the way to go.)
Watching his movies, it's like the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and Boston never happened. Roger Moore as James Bond? They stopped making them in 1969 with On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Those endless tv variety shows? Someone else watched'em.
For all I know, Tarantino likes all of these things. But for now, I can pretend he thinks they're shit too. At least they aren't worth acknowledging. It's refreshing.
If the Kill Bill epic has done anything for me, it has made me really want to collect the rest of Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy's run on Master of Kung Fu. It was just amazing.
She told me she needed to find out if her library card was still valid. She hadn't used it for quite a while as she'd been away at school. As I brought her account up on the computer she asked me a question:
"Is your name Jack?"
"Ummm.....Yes," I said. How did she know my name? I took another look at her to see if we had met.
"We had a conversation two years ago. We were talking about Neil Gaiman and you recommended some books to me."
No fucking way. No. Fucking. Way.
"Reeaally. And you read'em all I suppose?"
"Yes. All of them were great. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash was on there, and Michael Marshall Smith. Really fabulous stuff. I've just finished something really light, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Can you recommend something else?"
Gentle Reader, in the boxing match I was envisioning at that moment all the smart money was on The Feather. No way would I even last ten rounds.
"Why, yes, Renee. Yes, I can."
The funny thing is, is that this sort of thing happens pretty often for me. This is the longest turnaround on hearing back though. Anyway, excuse me while I feel just tiniest bit smug about how great my taste is. In this aspect, I really am quite astonishing. I know it's true because in my experience, I am the only person this kind of thing happens too.
So, you know, lesser beings fuck off and all that.
That was the subject line in a junk e-mail I received today. I have no idea what it means but I would like to state for the record: I would certainly be interested in any pornography this individual would care to make available for public consumption.
For all that, I loved it. Volume Two of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is The Confusion hits stores tomorrow.
But I'm back now. Let's get to it then, shall we?