Saturday, August 6, 2016

for otto bost, rest in peace my friend

I am so sad this week to have learned from Gregg about the untimely death of our friend Otto Bost. Otto was many things to many people: a musician and songwriter; a thoughtful and erudite radio interviewer and longtime host of Acoustic Eclectic on WDIY; the best sound man you could ever hope for; a great campfire or bar-room companion with a dry sense of humor and a humbling knowledge of music.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Otto this week, something I have not done in a long time as we no longer lived near each other or had reason to see each other on a regular basis (last time we shared a beer with Otto was perhaps a Pavlov's Dawgs concert at Godfrey Daniels several years ago?). We were friends, and, for a time, I think, good friends, but not blood brothers: we were friends in the ways of musicians, circling around a shared scene and shared love and passion for music. Yet I was surprised and almost startled this week when I began to recall all of the ways -- some of them deeply personal -- in which Otto crossed my life for a period of time beginning around 1990 (when I was 20 and he was 30) and lasting over the next decade or so.

We met, as so many of us did, at Godfrey Daniels. Was a period of about 2 years in 1989 and 1990 when I was one of just a couple of guys who were the regular hosts for the legendary Sunday night Open Mike. I was odd-man out, 19 years old vs dudes and chicks mostly twice my age; most kids my age off at college. I had a baby daughter and a job(s) and every Sunday night I was at Godfreys trying to figure out how to make this thing work ("this thing" being the whole situation: the instrument, the voice, the electronics, the mechanics, the breathing, the joking, the moving...what to leave in and what to leave out, baby). Otto began showing up then, didn't have much to say, gravitated toward the sound board, and we were all happy to have him there as he made us all sound so good. Then he pulled out his own guitar and man he sounded so good. Otto was one of the first (maybe the first) person who learned a song of mine ("Oscar") and then played it publicly, regularly. When I went off to the army, Otto started hosting more and more and eventually mostly took it over for a while -- one of a thirty+ year neverending cycle of us who have taken a turn at keeping the Godfreys Sunday-night tradition alive.

But about the crossings of our paths...   Way back then, Otto talked me off the ledge a couple of times, when my own life seemed so desperate or sad or worthless or just simply fucked; he'd take me out onto the sidewalk in front of Godfreys and hand me a beer and he'd talk quietly and calmly and bring me back to earth. He was a much better guitar player than I was or am, and he would call me on my shit, sometimes while I was on the stage; he wouldn't stand for unnecessary sloppiness. When I was in the army, Otto wrote me letters, some of which made it all the way to Mogadishu, where he knew things weren't good for me. That calm, quiet voice came through in his written word as well as his spoken voice. When I came home to Easton in 1995 he was there to welcome me, and bring me back into the new version of the Godfreys family. He'd play a small part in the recording of the best music I ever officially recorded (the album Road Dogs, Assassins, and the Queen of Ohio) and a large part in the album that was never released (Traveling Nation). We both went through divorce and we both had kids and it was a series of conversations with Otto on these subjects that led to the best song I ever wrote, "Big Bananas," and while the song isn't Otto's story per se anyone who knows him would be able to see him in it, I think. And then many years later after I'd discovered my true vocation was the written word of a novel, I put him in one of them (In Hoboken) as a walk-on character, simply because I knew he'd dig it.

I wish we could share another song together, Otto. Wish we could hang out once more in the dark of Godfreys on a winter Sunday night, and maybe grab a bowl of chili and a beer across the street. Wish I could have had the chance to tell you how much your friendship meant to me over the years. Safe travels, my friend, and I hope to see you on the other side someday.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

where were you on october 17, 1991?

I was cleaning out a book shelf the other day, going through the stacks of paperbacks and papers piled up behind the front row of books on the shelves. I made a lot of fun discoveries that day, including some of my army medals, the American flag that was placed on my grandfather's coffin, the typed manuscript for the screenplay of The Ice Beneath You I wrote with Matt Walker, and I found two pocket-sized bibles. The first I recognized immediately. My father gave it to me when I was 13 and going to live in India for the year. There was a scrawled note inside from him about all the answers to all my questions etc etc etc blah blah blah...not much to say about that or him, but if you're curious you can read the first essay listed on this page.

Of much more interest was the second little bible, which I didn't recognize at all, until I opened the cover. See picture above. I love life's little surprises. I have no memory of this bible, but apparently I wrote that because it's my handwriting for sure. I have a vague memory of the activity itself. I'll translate for you. "DOD MEPPS Station, Newark" means Department of Defense Military Entry Point (or something like that). That was the actual day I entered active duty. I went to Newark (no memory whatsoever how I got there, maybe my recruiter drive me?), did the final selection for what my job would be (Waterborne, not what I'd planned, but a happy result), went through the torture session where the mean Marine takes you into the back room and tries to get you to confess to drugs and other assorted illegalities and/or immoralities, then I took the oath with a bunch of other pimply kids. They put us up for the night in a really crappy motel in Newark, and the next morning flew us to Ft Knox, Kentucky for basic training. It was either waiting to go to the motel that first day, or waiting to go to the airport the next morning, that the "sad looking chubby fellow with facial hair" walked around the recruit TV lounge with a box of little bibles and gave one to each of us. I wasn't religious but I was scared shitless, so it seemed like a good idea to take the bible. Did I write that inscription then? A week later? A month later? Given that the date is on it, and given the far more memorable things that were about to happen to me, I think it's safe to say I wrote that right there and then. I knew where I was going and what my unit would be (Delta 2/46, as it says there), because they made us write it down so we could tell our families or whoever. But did I know I'd be in 2nd Platoon? Who knows. Maybe I did write it later.

I wonder what that guy was thinking, walking around, handing us those bibles. I think he was about our age, but he sure wasn't army-bound. What did he think of us? Was he deeply religious? Did anyone ever say to him, "Sorry, I'm a Jew?" Or just pass it by, like I almost did? I don't know who he was or what he was thinking. But he's been documented. I hope he's doing well, wherever he is.

I know what I was thinking. I was terrified.

It passed.

I remember that the first time I had the chance to read something that wasn't an army manual, about four weeks later, on the first Sunday that they gave us a few hours off, it wasn't this bible I reached for, but a copy of the Louisville newspaper. I read that bad boy cover to cover, ads and all, every word.

Friday, February 19, 2016

i've got your tweet right here, pal

Having spent most of the winter feeling about as confident as Mr. C.F. Earbrass, shown here, I decided that February in Quebec is as good a time as any in my life to embark in a Twitterly direction. So, you know, here it is.
I expect it will continue in the past week's current vein, with an over-index on food, wine, and dogs, because...well, because. You know. That's my life right now. The good parts. We'll see.
I do intend to keep this blog up, at about the same rate it's been for the past few years. All of this is speculation on what my life and decisions will be; never a good indicator of reality. We'll see, we'll see.

It has been an Earbrassian winter, now that I think on it. Full of Unstrung Harps and attendant anxieties and, well, general weirdness. More on all that later.

Time to make the coffee. Need to get the spirits up. Maybe some music, maybe this will help.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

my old man

It's been a long while since I checked in here. Been a few gray months at Chez Booman. I'm very sad to report my old man passed away a few weeks ago, after a relatively brief but what felt like endless and uncomfortable illness for him. It was a surprise, he was only 10. Boris was a grouchy, arrogant, selfish old bastard and I loved him dearly. Dogs aplenty all around us these days, but it's just not the same without Big B, King of the Pugs, Master of the Universe. RIP ol' fella.

Two books on my desk this week, both re-reads from childhood. The beautifully bound hardback there is The Juniper Tree, an uncensored collection of Grimm with all the blood and badness you can handle, as the stories were originally intended. This is the collection from the late 70s with illustrations from Maurice Sendak. I think it's some of his most striking and memorable work. Those illustrations became the font of my dreams and imagination when I first saw them as a boy. Dark and weird and awesome. (In what was a coincidence or perhaps not, I also recently re-read Peter Straub's Shadowland, which if you've read it you know is chock full of Grimmness. Why that novel never saw the success of Ghost Story or Koko I'll never know; it's a masterpiece, and the recent re-read did nothing to dissuade me of that opinion.) Next to it there is an old paperback of The Stand. I decided I wanted to revisit that this winter but couldn't find either of my copies. After some research it turns out you can't get the original version anymore, just the updated door stop that was published in the 1990s. While there were some additions in there I truly loved -- including Flagg's rebirth at the end -- they don't trump my dissatisfaction with the time updating Mr. King did when he reissued it, moving the action forward a decade. That book was to me (like Salems Lot and Dead Zone, as examples) a product of its time and powerfully connected to it, and having all the cultural references change was something I was never happy with. So I tracked down a copy of the original online and ordered it. There was no picture with it, so when I opened the envelope I was pleasantly surprised (read: ecstatic) to find a dog-eared paperback of the very version I first read when I was 11 or 12 or so and then re-read at least once a year through my teen years. The pages are yellow and crumpled and it smells like a paperback.

On my end, the pencils are down on The Night Door. The powers that be are doing what they do to find it a home, and perhaps the next time I write here there may be some news. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

new orleans and librarians up to no good

Went down to New Orleans at the front of the month to visit Kristina and The Doctor. They're all settled into new home in Marigny. I particularly love the mantle, pictured above, which is decorated with Krissy's collection of Gorey-illustrated books. Not his own, mind you. Ones he did the covers for back when that was his job. You can see some of them here in this story. Kristina has actually tracked them down over the years. Cool stuff. (On a related note, check this out and see if your life parallels with a Gorey book. If your personal style can best be described as "librarian up to no good," this might be you.)

The humidity aside, we had a short but great visit. They're in a very cool neighborhood.

We kinda went on a food binge. Three great meals a day for three days. So many amazing meals to be had in New Orleans. Pic below is of my second-favorite place we had breakfast, not too far from Chez Bauman et Bartram. My favorite place I forgot to take a picture of. They served cupcakes after breakfast. We went twice.

Night Door update: Diana and I are knee deep in dotting i's and crossing t's, a time-consuming process when you're dealing with a 600-page manuscript. Almost done, though.

Monday, July 13, 2015

ding dong, here come yer hoboken

Yesterday, the 19th Annual NJ Black Potatoe (sic, it was named for Quayle's gaffe) Music Fest was also the sight of the 20th anniversary of Camp Hoboken. Great sets from so many who were around back then, as well as great stuff from kids of the kids: PD Brody and Molly Brody were both in fine form and voice. So much fun.

Having been -- what? a decade or so? a long time, anyway -- eons since I played a full set of my own stuff, I was a little anxious, but got by with a little help from my dogs. Karl, Gregg, Carol, Kenny, Connie, Linda...y'all the best. Thanks for picking up what I was putting down.

And I fully embraced this new-fangled thing that didn't exist back in the day: musicians taking endless selfies of ourselves while onstage.

And why not. We're not 25 any more, but 20 years on we can still bring it. Consider it brought. Close enough for jazz or government work, anyway. All we were missing was Mr. Grula. Maybe he'll make the 50th anniversary.

What else is going on?
Oh cousin Jon, of whom I have written before.
We're all familiar, I think, with the email auto-reply. Usually of this variety: "I'm on vaca. Please see Joe Blow with any issues." Or maybe this variety: "I'm at a conference in London. Will get back to you, but response might be delayed."

None of that mamby pamby auto-reply for Dr. Slaght. I emailed him a few weeks back and this is what auto-replied: 
<<< I will be leading an ethnographical expedition to the southern Russian
Far East from May 21-June 6, 2015 to explore patterns of Dutch
colonization and seek the lost city of Hotte. Please accept my
apologies for any delays in correspondence that result. >>>

That's beautiful.
Check out this YouTube clip of Jon giving a talk at the Bronx Zoo about bear-eating tigers and bear-eating bears and why one should always follow the raven.

Friday, June 26, 2015

from the home of the three dog night

Bugsy is starting to make himself at home. Neither Boris or Buddha like him much, but they're grudgingly allowing him a spot on the bed.

Just back from Firefly, awesome time again. Like last year, spent most of the afternoons writing, then off to music and debauchery in the evening. Much muddier than last year:

Sunny on Sunday, though. Citizen Cope nailed it. Let the drummer kick, indeed.

But the big news of the past few months is the wedding. Krissy and Logan made it official, and it was officially an amazing day. Not gonna say much because -- well, I'll just start crying again. So proud of them both, and happy they had such a beautiful day.

Both the girls looking beautiful here. And now, the married couple is off to their new digs in New Orleans. A good city for a big adventure.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


AdAge magazine publishes a very old, very scary, very skinny photo of me from 1995...juxtaposed with photo of me at my desk in 2015. So not fair putting these pictures next to each other. (The article is about people who have made left turns in life. I don't know anything about that.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

who doesn't love a clio?

The folks at the Clios just published an interview with me on storytelling and the useful intersections between my professional and artistic lives. And while you're there, some other great short interviews with other fun Don Drapers like Amir Kassaei and Keith Reinhard.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

new dog(s), new site

Meanwhile, back at the Dog House Compound (teach na madre, for those of you following along in Gaelic), Fiona convinced everyone it would be a great idea to temporarily add to the canine population and foster some puppies. We started with three, then we had two, then we had none, now it's back up to two again. And I have a sinking suspicion that while we might get it back to one, it's not looking like it will go all the way back down to zero again. Current alpha Buddha, who usually likes other dogs only for the chance to eat them, has been unexpectedly cooperative and perhaps even occasionally amused. Boris the pug, who is not the alpha but thinks he is, is hopping mad, though.

What else is going on? With the promise of a new book finally on the eventual horizon, it seemed like it might be time to revisit the website, since it hasn't been dusted off since 2008. Looking much better now, all squeaky clean and new. Not fully built out, need to track and down find some more stuff I'd like to put on there, short writing etc, but it's better than it was: welcome to Bauman's Brain. Big thanks to Cags for the heavy lifting. I hear tell a new Camp Hoboken site may be in the works, as well.

And finally, cousin Jon has a new site as well, cool stuff chronicling his continuing Russian adventures.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

it's done; or, the night brings wisdom

It's done. (caveats, asterisks, daggers, etc. way down below.)

Not to make a big deal about it, except...well, come on. Seven years. That deserves at least a double Jamesons, right? (Except that I'm in the midst of a 30-day booze purge, so I'll raise a glass of tap water, I guess, and hit the Jamesons on Feb 1.)

No, it's not hardly all I've been doing for seven years. In fact, for several of those years I wasn't working on it at all. What was I doing? Oh, you know. Making a living, mostly. What else? Trying to write a screenplay with Matt Walker. Writing an entirely different novel that I ended up shelving. Writing this and that.

But whatever. Seven years ago to the very week I sat down to write some notes on an idea I had, and when I stood up I had 30 pages. That's how it started. I was pretty sure it was a ridiculous idea...but I was also sure I had never been so excited about anything I had written. Ever, really. lived. Barely, for a long time. And now, seven years later, 30 pages has grown to 540.

Context on seven years, since I'm waxing novel-nostalgic tonight: Seven years ago my 26 year-old and 15 year-old daughters were 19 and 8, respectively. I was 37. Last decade, in the course of only six years I published three novels, and now it's been six years since In Hoboken's release. Seven years is just a year shy of what you'd spend in high school and college combined (which is why I didn't go to college, probably; that's just too damn long to sit in one place). Seven years is almost twice as long as I was in the army, but only half as long as we've been in this current state of war.

Anyway, I'm over myself now. But boy did it feel good to print that manuscript out today for the first time. Can't wait for y'all to read it.

Here are those caveats: Done as defined by first draft coherent enough to print out. I've got work ahead of me, no doubt. But (to me, anyway) this is the fun work, and is usually pretty speedy. I love the editing and rewriting.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

dracula, gorey, and how neville died

Here's the Dracula poster I mentioned below. Great stuff. Hung on my wall for years when I was a kid (really a kid; I saw this production of Dracula when I was 7 or 8.)

Thursday night was very fun. My thanks to hosts Melville House Publishers and Ms Crispin and I did a little talking about Gorey; had found the original obituary from the Times on the day of his death in 2000 that I had ripped out and shoved away, and shared that; then turned to a poster-sized version of The Gashleycrumb Tinies and we had ourselves a good old fashioned ABC reading. My favorite of the 26 little passion plays? Neville, shown below.

(Need to do some Xmas shopping? You could do worse than starting here...)

The actual point of Thursday evening was the first annual Daphne Awards, and it was quite fun. Will be interesting to see what's on the list for next year.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

this is the way we write the book...

Getting it done. Before the snow flies, if it kills me, so help me god. It's been a long time coming. I need to get this out of my head.

By the way, that framed print behind my laptop there, that's Edward Gorey. Those who know me well know that I'm, um, a little apeshit for Gorey. And yeah, before liking Gorey was a thing, thank you very much. One of my longest surviving obsessions, in fact. I had his poster for the stage version of Dracula hanging in my room when I was 8 years old (1978, if you're counting; yes, I saw it that year, and no I didn't see it with originator Frank Langella, I saw it with Jean LeClerc). Anyway, I'm particularly excited because I get to do something publicly fun about Gorey very soon. Can't say much now, but it is related to this. Nov 6 at the Melville House shop in Brooklyn, I believe. More as the date approaches.

What else. My cousin Jon -- aka Dr. Slaght -- whom we have discussed before. Well, he is in the Russian Far East again, where apparently you can find fish in trees. Scary fish in trees. Dead fish in trees. Apropos to Gorey, who once said:  "Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that's what makes it so boring." Fish in trees is kind of the floor opening up. The first crack, anyway. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

dogs and herzogs

Costa Rica was fun. And here is a picture of a happy dog sleeping in the shade, about halfway up a misty mountain, away from the heat of the coast.

Completely unrelated -- although perhaps not -- this is pretty great: Werner Herzog's advice to young creatives. It's specific to filmmakers, but in my opinion is applicable to writers, to musicians, and I imagine to just about every art form. Here is a taste (the fourth, fifth, and sixth sentences are my favorite)…

"The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can’t afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself. That’s all you need to make a feature film these days. Beware of useless, bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Instead, so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you’ll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation. Read Conrad or Hemingway and you can tell how much real life is in those books. A lot of what you see in my films isn’t invention; it’s very much life itself, my own life. If you have an image in your head, hold on to it because — as remote as it might seem — at some point you might be able to use it in a film. I have always sought to transform my own experiences and fantasies into cinema."

And back to sleeping -- or sleepy -- dogs…one returns home from Costa Rica driven to finish writing this goddamn book. It helps to have dogs around to protect the writing process. It probably doesn't help to keep getting up to take pictures of them.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

quotes and golf and tigers (!!??!)

Cusp of flight to Costa Rica, first time there, a few thoughts before departure:

I got an email recently, via Goodreads. A few thing I've said, for better or worse, have been quoted there, and this correspondent who saw one quote of mine and liked it asked where/what was the original piece?

Here's the quote:
“Literature simply becomes richer after you've been fired, rejected, stranded, or had to change a few midnight diapers.” 
― Christian Bauman

So where did that come from? Wasn't from one of the novels. That was an essay I wrote for an anthology published ten years back called Bookmark Now. Here's the link for getting the book. It's actually a pretty great collection. Lots of cool stuff in there, great writers, edited by Kevin Smokler. But if you're pressed for time, here's the essay itself, as re-published at Identity Theory: 

What else? Family stuff. First is my niece, Sam Wagner, whom I have written about here before. Great article about her here, which also ends up being about her brother CJ. I am so proud of both of them.

And then my cousin Jon…he just sent in this post from the wilds of China.
I mentioned Jon previously here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


What a weekend. Four days of music and dust at Firefly down in Delaware with Fiona and her merry band of tricksters. Mr Jeff and Mr Gregg came by, too. Photo of camping delectables, above, taken by Mr Jeff on Saturday morning. And Jack Johnson posed just for this photo, below, on Sunday night.

One-day early sale for tix for next year happening today. Hmmmm….

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

two lions

Who dat dere wit da long black hair? Yep, Cagno. Kicking it above at XPN's World Cafe Live in Philly. My compadre has a new album coming (finally). "Worth the Wait," official date of July 9. Been a long damn time. Really looking forward to this.

What else? June is almost here. I somehow ended up on the executive jury for Cannes Lions this year, the health & wellness show. So I'll be headed over to France shortly to spend a week immersed in what I'm sure will be a plethora of creative goodness. Psyched for it, and nicely aligned with my birthday. Hippo birdie to me. The whole week I'm there I'm going to do my best to post daily updates and the occasional shameless selfie over at Linkedin.

Friday, April 18, 2014

it's good friday

It's cold and it's crappy on the east coast, still, seemingly forever. I'm reminded of Richard Julian's line about a year with no month of May. I know it's still April and not May yet, but you get my point. And I fear May will be no different. Maybe this crap weather is a perfect companion for all the news today, all of it seemingly about death. The ferry in South Korea. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Rod Kennedy. But the news I can't shake today is this, 12 Sherpas dead in Nepal.

The photo above is Machapuchare, also known as The Fish Tail (note the double summit), one of the most visually stunning mountains in Nepal, as well as one of the holiest. It is illegal to climb it, and no one has ever done so. Machapooch, as I called it as a kid, is one of the key summits that forms a ring around what is known as the Annapurna Sanctuary, a glacial area at 14,000 feet that can only be entered by one tiny valley. Standing in the middle of the Annapurna Sanctuary, one has the feeling of being surrounded completely in a circle by mighty peaks.

In 1984, as I approached the age of 14, a group of Sherpas (on what would have been considered very light duty for them) led a group of us (Westerners from various homes: Americans, Brits, Israelis, as I recall) on a two-week trek whose highlights were (to me) the few days of being able to view this weird, mighty mountain you see above, and the two-weeks in the company of these cool, mighty men known as the Sherpas. They were strong, brave, very smart, very funny. Of all the different peoples I got to meet in our year on the Subcontinent, they were definitely among my favorites. Walking with them for two weeks was like walking with Rangers from The Lord of the Rings.

Final note: although I met him a couple of times, I didn't really know Rod Kennedy, but boy he sure had an impact on a lot of our lives. Can't even begin to count the ways. But simplest among them: hard pressed to think of a happier way to spend a week (or a month, if you were up for it) around a Kerrville camp fire (my favorite: Camp Coho, of course), not doing much beyond eating, drinking, playing guitar, napping. Thanks, Rod.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

s'long, pete...

Ol' Pete Seeger passed away this week. A couple years ago, I wrote a piece for The New York Times about folks I had the chance to play with when I was still playing. Part of that essay was about Pete, and the day the picture above was taken. Here's what I wrote about it:

Of course I’ll never get to sing with Woody Guthrie, but I got to sing “Do Re Mi” with Woody’s sister once, out in Oklahoma, and a few years before that I got to sing it with Woody’s buddy Pete. This was an outdoor, summertime benefit concert, and the backstage was a stand of woods along the Delaware Canal. Seeger was plucking his banjo in a shady spot, and I walked up to him and asked if he’d sing one with me during my set. He kind of took a step back so I said, “It’s a Woody song,” and he said, “How old are you?” and I said “25″ and he said “O.K. then, I’ll do it.” I still had a few good playing years ahead of me at that point, but if I had never sang again after that day, I would have been just fine. Pete has long arms, and he stretches out and calls to you to sing with him, to sing louder, to drown out the fools and keep singing till we outnumber 'em.

So, that's me, staring at Pete Seeger, thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm singing with Pete Seeger." With me up there is Carol Sharar on fiddle, Karl Dietel on bass, and Jenny Avila, Amy Torchia, and Gregg Cagno singing. Boy, we look young. We were. That was almost 20 years ago. And to this day I remember what it was like to have Pete looking back at me over our respective microphones, his eyes under those big glasses on that old, gentle face, fifty years between us in age, singing our hearts out. We are a better world for having had Pete Seeger in it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

artists and ennui

On this icy cold January morning with old snow blowing past my window, there's a view of Bill DeKooning for you. I was flipping through In Hoboken a month or so back, preparing for the fandango related in the previous post; in addition to a couple of songs, I was supposed to read from something. In the end, my reading turned out not to be from In Hoboken, but I thought it might be, so I was looking for something. I'm a little out of practice with this kind of thing, and couldn't find the dog-eared copies of my books that I used to keep, with appropriate reading sections nicely outlined and noted.

Anyway, flipping through the novel I had an experience that happens from time to time (that is, about once a year when I have reason to pick up one of the old books): I found something I had completely forgotten about. In this case, it's a little section of the novel, not even a set piece really, just a few-page digression, about Bill DeKooning and about the impermanence of art. It made me smile to read it and remember it. And I remembered how it had made me smile to write it. You know, one of those times where you probably woke up in the morning with every intention of writing but no intention at all of writing what finally came out, and as those two or three pages come out you're just smiling and amusing the shit out of yourself, no care in the world about the greater health of the novel or what anybody thinks about it, no thinking about anything except pleasing yourself. That's what those couple of pages were, back in 2007 when I wrote them.

I like Bill DeKooning. Understand that I'm often attracted to artists first by aspects I learn about their lives, positive or negative. Especially in art forms that I'm not as informed about, like for instance painting. You figure I can't learn everything about everything at this point, so what I tend to do is if I learn of someone I find interesting or fascinating at some point, i tend to go very deep on just that person. Perhaps later branching out to contemporaries or others who enter into their life story. But really going deep on the one artist. It's why I have a ridiculously large amount of Helene Grimaud on my ipod, and even twice that amount of Keith Jarrett. It's where my Woody Guthrie obsession came from when I was 18. And why I find myself thinking a lot about Wallace Stevens these past few years.

Anyway, about Bill DeKooning. Why do I like Bill? Bunch of reasons. He looks pretty confident and comfortable in the picture above, doesn't he? And he was, from a very early age. Long before he was successful. That's a reason right there. And then as far as success goes, he came to it very late, which is another reason. And even with critical success later in life, he was even slower to actually start selling, to make money from his art (not intentionally: what I mean is, people just didn't buy it).  And yeah sure, I remember back on the folk trail in the 90s getting great amazing gigs that many others weren't getting, landing them from patronage and support of this mover or that shaker who got it and dug me, and playing well etc, but not selling a fucking thing, not moving an album. Or sure, a few years later, with the laudatory review in this prestigious place or that, the glowing quote from lofty poo-bahs, and yet here we are a decade later and I'm sure Simon & Schuster has given up all hope of me ever earning back my initial advance from The Ice Beneath You (and it wasn't a very large advance, either). The curse of "the artists's artist." Ah yes. (And by the way, just for context: I'm writing these words with a large unobnoxious smile on my face and tongue firmly in cheek.) Anyway, Bill had that. Understood it. Lived it. So sure, I like him for it.

What else? Bill wasn't afraid of doing commercial art to support his real art (for a while, anyway). How did Bill come to the USA? Through Hampton Roads, Virginia, my old stomping grounds. And where did he go first from there? Hoboken.

Okay, but all surface (and narcissistic on my part) stuff aside, what was really cool about DeKooning? Here it is: As an artist, he was completely modern and new, and yet he refused to denounce the old, even under pressure. He understood and continued to embrace the old even as he moved past it. He didn't need to knock it. Bill DeKooning didn't knock much of anything, really. He was accepting and encouraging.

My friends, I don't care what your art form is: that's rare.
Anyway, here's to Bill DeKooning on this cold morning.

What else? My pal Boris has been watching me as I write this:

It seems that Boris is suffering from the ennui. A common affliction among artists and pugs. (By the way, that painting partially visible behind Boris, that's one of a number of paintings by Ed Kerns hanging in my house...himself at least partially a spiritual child of DeKooning. And no, I can't afford Kerns paintings. He's a friend.)

Enough for now. Back to work. And to start, as John Gorka once said: no warm feet on this January floor. That's for sure. I gotta go put some socks on, man.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

one man band, one night only

Oh my goodness, What is this foolishness? I don't know, man. Someone convinced me to pick up a guitar again for a night. Never a sensible idea.

Yep. Gonna throw Fiona in the car next week and head up to Boston. I couldn't say no. The Nameless is one of the first real gigs I ever played (talking 1991, y'all). "Real gig" defined as people actually listening to the music and not the hockey game. By the numbers I played across the street at Passim more times over the years, but Nameless always had a special place in my heart. I wrote it into In Hoboken, after all. A whole chapter.'ll be fun. Thanks to ol' pal Amy Malkoff for calling me on this one. And insanely psyched to be splitting the bill with one of my true soul compadres and former Camp Hobokener Linda Sharar. What could go wrong?

What else? I just looked out the window in the darkness. It's snowing, first time this year. If you know me, you know I'm smiling, from that alone. Smiling, and prepared. The brand new woodshed got finished, stocked, and stacked just in time...

Happy Thanksgiving, and may the force be with you. Whoever you are, hope to see you in Cambridge next weekend.

Friday, November 15, 2013

tyrannicides, texas democrats, and the soul of a fictional russian detective

Interesting reading lately, on flights across the pond to Europe and back. (Although, truth be told, shouldn't all reading be interesting reading? If what you're reading isn't interesting, wouldn't you just stop?)

Up top, fascinating book about John Cooke, the lawyer who accepted the "tyrannicide brief" and prosecuted Charles I, sending him to a beheading. Fascinating to me for a number of reasons: one, because the Stuarts onward have traditionally been where I start losing interest in the Kings and Queens of England (I like my royals ancient and weird), and I've known little about them; two, completely unknown to me before how influential Cooke and his actions and writing were on so much of history to follow, in terms of law and rights in general, and also in terms of prosecuting rulers. Really interesting read. And dear Jesus those English were brutal with their executions, weren't they? The whole hang/draw/quarter thing...Christ. Poor Cooke.

But it was actually another point of this book I'm calling out now, and it's due to a connection point with the book I read right after it...the one below, Caro's latest in his seemingly never-ending LBJ series. So what is it that these two books have in common?

It is this: the human dynamic that surfaces in all of us from time to time, in some more than others, where one cannot seem to overcome the evidence in front of you, and a "bad" decision is made that should have been avoided. Now, you could say that's what every person who smokes or drinks or eats too much etc does: continues a behavior in spite of clear evidence that this behavior will eventually cause harm. But that's not what I mean. What I refer to is a particular point in time, a particular decision to be made, and for whatever reason having an otherwise decisive person be unable to make a decision, or make the wrong decision, despite the clear facts and evidence.

So, in the case of these books, what am I talking about?

Chalres I almost certainly didn't have to die. And, in fact, might even have been able to retain his crown, or at the very least secure it for his son. But maybe even keep it.

And LBJ almost certainly could have been the Democratic candidate for president (over JFK) in 1960.

In the end, it worked out for LBJ just fine further down the line. In Charles Stuart's case, not so much.

Both of them were instances of ignoring the clear evidence, the advice, the wisdom, the truth right in front of your face, and by whatever reason being unable to make a decision and then ultimately making the wrong decision.

In the case of LBJ, it was never-ending foot-dragging based solely on fear (which is interesting in and of itself, because he was so fearless in other aspects of his life and career). As for Charles, it was pure arrogance. Royal arrogance, the worst kind.

Anyway, interesting stuff. Oh, and one last point from the LBJ book. On people who REALLY understand politics...which are really very few people. When JFK chose LBJ as his running mate, everyone in the universe was taken by surprise. Everyone. Except two people: JFK and LBJ. They didn't even like each other, but it was a perfectly clear choice to both of them.

What else? I love Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels. I read Gorky Park when I was a teenager (distinct memory of the reading this for the first time the year I lived in India), and am so happy he's kept this character alive and evolving and interesting through the years since. What a great character, what amazing books.

This article from the Times this week about MCS was a bit of a shock: he has Parkinsons. But how he deals with it, and how we writes through it...what a story.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

africa, top and bottom

I'll be honest, I have a hard time reading about Somalia. Which is why I almost didn't read this great article in recent New Yorker about a London-based Somali chef who returned home against all odds to cook good food in Mogadishu. Even twenty years later, I can still picture many of the locations and neighborhoods described in here. Good luck, Ahmed Jama.

And in other news, at the bottom of the continent, Kristina returns soon (on a plane now? I think so...) from her second trip to South Africa, first time to JoBerg. Some heady topics, and inspiring folks.

Friday, September 27, 2013

there is no one available to take your call right now...

Danny Torrance is back. I'll be completely checked out for the next few days...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

"ravioli swimming in a lobster juice was my way"

There is little more rewarding and amusing in life than unintended brilliance from a failed translation. Note object one below, the "English version" of the menu offered to me around 9pm this past Sunday night at a cafe buried on a back street in Cassis (on the coast in Provence). Check the ravioli description.

It sounds like the beginning of a poem, doesn't it? Or perhaps the name of a karaoke bar in Tokyo.

Speaking of food and poetry and France: last week when I wasn't eating, drinking, walking, or not-sleeping, I was reading The Raw and the Cooked by Jim Harrison. That's him in the photo, down below. Not entirely sure how I've gotten this far in life without reading this book of food essays; not for lack of knowledge of the volume, Kristina has been pressing it on me for a few years now. But regardless, this past week in Paris and Cassis is when I finally got there. Harrison is one of those writers -- and this is one of those books -- where every page contains a morsel, a quote, something that you want to write down somewhere, or grab a traveling companion by the arm and read it to them, whether they like it or not. This being Harrison's collected gourmand essays, most of the quotables were food-related, like this one:

"The idea is to eat well and not die from it -- for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating."

But no shortage of non-food, general-life kinda stuff. I loved this thought:

"There's never anything behind a blackboard, just more blackboard, or so I thought back in school, where I never wanted to be anything else but elsewhere."

It's not every day you find a writer of Harrison's stature who failed as miserably at education as I did. Or, at least, admits to it publicly. It's refreshing.

Here's one final quote, I can't help myself:

"After I have written a novel, screenplay, or long poem, I have given away my mind and it is difficult to get it back. Walter Percy calls it the Reentry Problem, while George Romero and the Haitians call it something else."

Plus, he's missing an eye and loves dogs. What's not to love. It was the perfect book for the train trip from Paris to Marseille, etc.

However: as good as the book is, the back cover (of the edition I was reading, anyway) is quite simply one of the worlds-worst ever, period. Really. And it not only offended me as a writer, it made me mad for Harrison, because jesus he surely deserves better than this stinking pile of shit. Whatever editorial assistant or summer intern from Brown that sat at a desk at Grove and wrote this opening line should (in the words of the late Sam Kinison) be made assistant manager of the night shift at Wendys in Tulsa: "Jim Harrison is one of the country's most beloved writers, a muscular, brilliantly economic stylist with a salty wisdom."

I don't even know where to begin in deconstructing that semantic house of crap cards. First, let's just start with "one of this country's most beloved writers"; well, he should be considered that, yes. But...never mind. And then there's that "muscular, brilliantly economic stylist." Oh fuck me. Why does every male writer have to be muscular or sensitive and nothing apparently in-between? I got the muscular tag applied to my first back cover as well, if I remember correctly. I might have even liked it, at the age of 29. Because 29 year-old writers are pretty stupid in general. And "brilliantly economic"? First, I have yet to meet a writer who has been described as "economic" who hasn't cringed at the term (it started with Carver, remember? And I hear he hated it too). More important, though: Harrison is hardly economic. He's a fucking poet. He's wonderfully verbose. He wraps his stories around a flowing language of silver-tongued awesomeness. But...he's an old dude who hunts and shits in the woods, so he must be muscular and economic.

As for "salty wisdom"...I have nothing to say. When I'm old, if anyone ever describes me as having salty wisdom, I'm going to poke their eyes out with a hot fork.

Long story short, take The Raw and the Cooked with you next time you go to France, but rip the back cover off of it.

Final note: the only downside of French travels this summer was missing the Peter Mulvey / Gregg Cagno show in NJ last week. They express their displeasure with me below...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

two from the times

Briefly...first, a coda to last month's post below on the end of Hoboken's Maxwells. The Times here with a fairly decent summary of the final night's events.

And then, who knew this topic could make it to an editorial, but it did: the Times takes a fun poke at the publishing industry (and themselves, as critics). Hey, of those I know and have run across in 13-some years of publishing, this is generally more norm than not. I only know one or two who walked right into their first publishing deal. I got a thick file of rejections for my first novel. Interesting, though; unlike the Times, I sense a leveling of the playing field coming. I don't know why I feel that way, I just do. I guess my feeling is summed up like this: I firmly believe that 99% of the time, good work will out, if you know what I mean. Not always, yes there are exceptions. But generally, in the arts, if it's good, it will find its way. Sooner or later. Eventually. I really do believe that. And what I feel is that the world is getting better equipped to allow that to happen. Maybe I'm just a crazy optimist, but that's what I feel.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

et tu, maxwells?

The New Yorker, in its weekly concert listings, used to describe Maxwells as the coolest music room in New York, and of course it isn't in New York. It's in Hoboken. But the description was dead-on, for a certain era anyway. It was the best music room in the New York area. That's it, down below, in a decade-old photo. And now, it is no more. Did I love the place? Well, shit. I wrote a book about it. Or, rather, a book set there. Jesus, everything I wrote about in that book is dying. Me too, probably. We're all getting old.

I played there a lot. It's where Gregg introduced me to Don Brody for the first time. I worked there, for a while. When Don gave up hosting Folk and Fondue on Tuesdays, I did it for about a year. Here's a timely, fun little collage below. Don and Con: The Marys. Rich Grula: Big Happy Crowd. Y'all, with Linda sneaking in on the side. Cags. Me and my hat. When were these photos from? 1996? Probably.

When we did the book release party for In Hoboken, we of course did it at Maxwells. The last time I was on the stage there. This would have been 2008, I think. Down below that's Eddie Fogarty at the wheel, with Carol, Gregg, Connie, and little Fiona Bauman backing him up.

Cags and I took a turn around the block that night, as well.

And finally from that night, down below, the last known appearance of Camp Hoboken, dodging the tomatoes, taking our bow. If we were going to do it one last time, Maxwells was the place to do it, right? And more Maxwells. And perhaps it's for the best. Hoboken ain't what it was.

What else? Just finished construction on a new man cave in the New Hope north 40. And by "finished construction" I don't mean to insinuate that I did it. A great crew of fellas from out in Amish country put it up. Room on the first floor for vehicles and tools and other manly things. And on the second floor? Nothing but my thinking chair and a view to think by. Time to go get to thinking...