I spent the riots in a penthouse at the Chateau Marmont with this ex-philosophy major from Stanford whose family owned all the more oily pieces of land in Arizona, Mexico and California and who had taken up the profession of herding cattle. He was a Stanford Cowboy, is how I always thought of him in my mind. He showed me his spurs so I’d believe him and his saddle bags. In his saddle bags he kept his prize possessions, books on magic and the works of Alistair Crowley. His horse must have felt like a roving library. The police shot this guy in a car while he was taking his wife to the hospital to have a baby just as Nicky, the Stanford Cowboy, must have been checking into the Chateau that evening, having driven from Indio, the desert where the Santa Ana winds came from.
The guy getting shot in Watts made the winds, I think, like escaping gas, explode.
L.A. was closed.
There were no cars out on the streets. Everyone was home watching tv, where Joe Pine had dumped a satchelful of guns out onto his podium and explained that he was not about to let anyone try and get his stuff away from him, never mind his wife and daughters.
To those of us growing up in the Northeast in the 1960s, California was a foreign country and Los Angeles its capital. Actual foreign capitals like London and Paris seemed more familiar. At the root of our deep mistrust was the Yankee conviction that weather is a defining force in shaping human character—that harsh winters instill Calvinist rigor in those obliged to withstand them, that perpetual summer would inevitably corrode morals and the will to work. All those hillsides ablaze, those earthquakes rattling the china, struck us as fire-and-brimstone reminders that people were never meant to live in LA in the first place—reminders unheeded by the local residents, a bunch of confirmed hedonists who lived in the moment, turning their backs on Europe and the past, facing the sunset and the sea.
In short, there was nothing about LA that would have led us to expect that a serious writer could emerge from it. Until one did, and rose to fame as an exalted practitioner of the inventive, highly personal journalism that dominated the 1970s. That was Joan Didion, whose name, alongside her husband’s, appears in the roll call of dedications with which Eve Babitz opens Eve’s Hollywood: “To the Didion-Dunnes for having to be who I’m not.” Didion, along with John Gregory Dunne, had decamped to New York, and from that distant vantage she wrote about Los Angeles in terms that flattered us Northeasterners into believing we’d been right all along.
It was Babitz who finally—unapologetically—gave voice to LA’s unique appeal and laid to rest the by then weary notion of the city as a cultural wasteland. For this, she was supremely qualified. With a father who was a baroque musicologist and violinist under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox, a mother who was an artist, and a godfather who was Igor Stravinsky, Babitz grew up surrounded by a circle of illustrious family friends that included Edward James, Joseph Szigeti, Eugene Berman, Marilyn Horne, Kenneth Rexroth, and Kenneth Patchett, with poetry readings in the living room and premieres of works by Arnold Schoenberg under the palms. Continue reading
I’m so excited I came across Son Little recently. This song is so good that I can say with nearly 100% confidence that it is the very next song that both Brian Hurley and I are going to learn to play. Then we’ll likely each post a Craigslist ad for a quartet to back us up, and then, well… things will probably go badly. But the song though. What an amazing combination of sounds, grooves, and genres! It’s got some unusual changes and the arrangement keeps you on your toes, but at it’s heart this is a really simple song, done really well. If you want more from this guy (you do), check these out.
When I tell you which writer from Belarus SHOULD have won the Nobel Prize this year, as I’m about to do, it’s not because I have anything against Svetlana Alexievich, the official winner, whose work I don’t know very well, having only encountered it in the magazine n+1, where I skimmed over it because I still can’t shake the feeling that her translator, Keith Gessen, is somehow a douchebag.
Instead, when I tell you which writer from Belarus SHOULD have won the Nobel Prize this year, what I’m saying is that, despite the fact that I’m an American and Americans supposedly don’t read much fiction in translation, and despite the fact that Belarus is a relatively small and unacknowledged contributor to world literature, it just so happens that I can name a writer from Belarus who is TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME and who deserves all the praise in the world, including (if I had my way) the Nobel Prize.
I am all alone in my pad, man, my piled-up-to-the-ceiling-with-junk pad. Piled with sheet music, with piles of garbage bags bursting with rubbish and encrusted frying pans piled on the floor, embedded with unnameable flecks of putrified wretchedness in grease. My pad, man, my own little Lower East Side Horse Badorties pad.
I just woke up, man. Horse Badorties just woke up and is crawling around in the sea of abominated filthiness, man, which he calls home. Walking through the rooms of my pad, man, through broken glass and piles of filthy clothes from which I shall select my wardrobe for the day. Here, stuffed in a trash basket, is a pair of incredibly wrinkled-up muck-pants. And here, man, beneath a pile of wet newspapers is a shirt, man, with one sleeve. All I need now, man, is a tie, and here is a perfectly good rubber Japanese toy snake, man, which I can easily form into an acceptable knot looking like a gnarled ball of spaghetti.
SPAGHETTI MAN! Now I remember. That is why I have arisen from my cesspool bed, man, because of the growlings of my stomach. It is time for breakfast, man. But first I must make a telephone call to Alaska.
Remember when Michael Hofmann absolutely destroyed Stefan Zweig in the London Review of Books? It was an impressively vitriolic takedown of the writer who inspired Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it’s worth re-reading now if only for the zingers. (“Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing… just putrid through and through.”) I remember thinking wow, okay, maybe. But why are you so angry about it, Hofmann?
Well, I should have realized—Hofmann is Joseph Roth’s translator. And if you didn’t know any better, you could mistake Joseph Roth for Stefan Zweig. They’re both Austrian and Jewish, both novelists and journalists, both born in the late 1800s and died at the start of WWII, both famous for capturing the spirit of the 1920s and ’30s, when all of Europe held its breath in anticipation of its own destruction.
Hofmann takes these two superficially similar writers and declares that you have to choose a side. Who do you love, and who do you hate—Roth or Zweig?
In Greek mythology, the Fates decide a person’s destiny. They assign us to good or evil and decide how long we live. The Furies are monsters, punishing those of us in the Underworld. Lauren Groff’s new novel, Fates and Furies, brings these mythological creatures to life in the form of a couple named Lotto and Mathilde. The first half of the book, entitled “Fates,” focuses on Lotto, while “Furies” tells Mathilde’s story. As the plot unfolds, Groff reveals a sea of discontent and deceit beneath a seemingly ideal marriage.
Groff is no stranger to complicated, sprawling stories. Arcadia (2011) and The Monsters of Templeton (2008) are full of multiple storylines, changing POVs, and intricate plot twists. Fates and Furies does not disappoint in this respect. It opens when Lotto and Mathilde are married, right out of college, on the beach in the middle of a romantic tryst. It follows the couple through college and marriage, and on to New York City. Lotto, who was supposed to be a successful actor, is floundering. Eventually he turns to playwriting, where he becomes an astounding success. But over the years, their marriage turns out to be a coldly calculated move. No one is who you initially think they are. Continue reading
Watch it with us: Hulu
Now that I’ve seen David Cronenberg’s major films and a good chunk of his minor ones, I feel mostly qualified to discuss his particular brand of weirdness and how much I enjoy it. All of David Cronenberg’s films include some element of body horror, and Scanners is no exception. But these days, the term “body horror” often gets conflated with torture porn, and while the two genres do overlap, Scanners is a good reminder that you can have one without the other. Continue reading