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: http://www.identitytheory.com/bauman-not-fade/ 

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

firefly


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. So...it'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 now...no 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...


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

hardy owls


Is that the best picture you've ever seen or what? That's my cousin, Jon (or, as he's introduced in the article, "Dr. Slaght"), as he appeared this morning in all his owly glory in The New York Times, in a great article you can find here. I'm very fond of Jon, although I have not seen him in a while (well, you know, he's in Russia, saving owls). I think the last time I saw Jon was almost a decade ago, on some book tour or something, one night in the Twin Cities with ol' friend/fellow writer Joel Turnipseed, an evening that I believe may have been spent huddled over many, many Scotches. Very hazy memories of that night, so I'm not sure. Scotch with long-lost cousins will do that to you. More on Jon and his wonderful owls here.

What else? Brian Rose has written a wonderful remembrance of Jack Hardy here. Connie sent me the link. A very honest, thoughtful assessment/memoir. Brian quotes me in there, and I meant what I said. I cannot overemphasize what Jack's encouragement meant to me emotionally, and what it did for me in terms of forward momentum. Almost seems silly and simple to say, but sometimes simplest is what does it best: man, I miss Jack.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

people on their way to abeline might as well be on their way to hell



Everyone's got a happy place, right? The pic above is on my top 5. Also top 5 places most likely to bug out to when it all goes bad. (Those two lists are not identical.) Nestled up high at the top of a box canyon about 10 minutes north of the village of Stoneham, which is itself about 20 minutes north of Quebec City. So, now you know where to find me when it all goes bad. Not a zombie apocalypse, mind you. Would be no good for that. But bad in other ways? Yeah. I'll be up there with a bottle of wine and steaming mess of this:


That's poutine, Quebec's gift to all humanity. Fries, gravy, and cheese. Oh mama. With a lipitor on the side.

What else? I've resolved to be a good literary citizen and reengage with Goodreads. Not today. But soon. I always liked the site, and hopped on early. But life gets in the way, you know. And I don't know about you, but when you average about two books a week it gets cumbersome to document it all. And do I really want to document it all? Well, anyway, I'm going to try again. Soon.

In the meantime, my unintentional winter focus on memoir and essay continues. Totally blown away by Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? (a gift from daughter Krissy) immediately followed by its predecessor Fun House. Both of them shut me up and shut me down, for different reasons respectively. Fun House was pretty great, but Are You My Mother? was transcendent (whatever that means, but it must be good). In the same week I finally read a tome Krissy gave me a year ago, the latest from one of my favorites, Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, which he claims is not memoir but feels more memoir than novel. Either way, doesn't really matter; a wonderful book. Ondaatje makes me feel like the world's worst hack of a writer and a general all-around fraud. Very few can touch him.

I'm about halfway through Larry McMurtry's memoirish Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen (a gift from colleague/friend Sam Hoar), which has this delicious line in its opening pages: "People on their way to Abeline might as well be on their way to hell." And another colleague/friend (sounds like an affliction) Deirdre Dempsey is responsible for the collection of Harry Houdini writings I'm fixing to dig into any day now.

Now that I think on it, I'm reminded that Ms. DD also gave me the other memoir I just finished: Patti Smith's Just Kids. I wasn't sure what I would make of this. I was never a big PS fan (except in a mega-nerd way of knowing her role behind the scenes of Blue Oyster Cult); and the last time I ran into Robert Mapplethorpe in a book it was in Bruce Chatwin's biography by Nicholas Shakespeare, when Chatwin bounces from Mapplethorpe's arms into Edmund White's. I have to say, though: I tore through this book as if on fire. I loved it. Unabashedly. Why? Couple reasons. Part was Patti's voice, which I didn't love in the opening pages but came to adore as the book moved forward: passionate, transparent, urgent, empathetic. Part of the love was also some of the gossipy before-they-were-gods stuff of others I admire: like I said, Blue Oyster Cult, and Janis, and Jimi; Lou Reed and CBGBs; and very funny section where Ginsburg tries to pick her up because he has mistaken her for a boy. Great stuff. What else? Their relationship, or at least Patti's side of it. The love of two friends for each other. And two other important things from this book:

First is the breadth of being an artist that Patti both pursued, and that was more accepted then. None of this "this is your little box to live in" shit. You could be a poet, a lyricist, a painter, and actor...all of them, with no malice.

And second, the other main character in this book after Patti and Robert: weird New York. Freakazoid 1970s New York, playground of hedonists and aliens and werewolves and junkies. I remember that New York; I was a kid who saw that New York, and then lived it personally in its waning age of the 1980s. By the time I came home from the army in the mid-90s, it was gone. All gone. I spend most of my days in and around Chelsea and Meatpacking now, and you would never know. Patti's book brought it back. Fabulous. I'm trying to touch just a little bit of that with what I'm writing now, and reading Just Kids was a good charge to the creative batteries.

Okay, great, so now what the hell am I going to post on Goodreads? Next group of books. Next group.

Oh wait, one more thing: Stephen King wrote a sequel to The Shining, coming this summer or fall. I. Am. Psyched. Danny Torrence was on the short list of King characters I would love to visit again, including Ben Mears, Charlie McGee, maybe Stu Redman. Bring it, Steve. And don't let me down. (He won't, I'm confident.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

feeding the creatures of imagination

Among a long stretch of generally very satisfying reading lately (since about xmas week, and that makes sense, doesn't it? no better time of year for reading than this, when it's frigid outside and there's a fire in here and sleepy dogs with which to find an afternoon's fellowship of not moving) have been two books of essays, two very different books of essays. First was Katie Roiphe's In Praise of Messy Lives; the fact that Gawker seems to hate her is reason alone for me to love her. I didn't agree with everything in there, but agreed more often than not, and more than anything just like her attitude. And honestly, not to oversimplify, but has any great art ever come from a non-messy life? For real.

And then just the other day I finished When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson, which, like much of what I eventually read, I bought when it was published a year ago but didn't find the right mood and moment until now. Although I haven't read her nonfiction before, I love Robinson's three novels, especially the more recent two. My friend Becky Sassi originally guided me to Robinson, and I remain thankful. Anyway, one passage from this new book of essays, just as a thought starter, and let me be clear I'm taking it completely out of context...this isn't an argument for or against what Robinson wrote, simply one out of context passage that got me thinking about what I like to read and what I like to write. Here it is:

"As a fiction writer I do have to deal with the nuts and bolts of temporal reality -- from time to time a character has to walk through a door and close it behind him, the creatures of imagination have to eat and sleep, as all other creatures do. I would have been a poet if I could, to have avoided this obligation to simulate the hourliness and dailiness of human life."

I love the nuts and bolts, myself. Take me through them. Show me how he lights his cigarette or how she scratches the itch on her wrist. Paint me the picture. Slow me down and make me see. For me, feeding the creatures of imagination is one of the most pleasurable aspects of being head zookeeper at this dysfunctional and questionable institution.

Monday, December 24, 2012

anniversary

Check it, we've got an East Coast/West Coast nativity smackdown going on. Red Santa refs in the center, and Flying Santa Fish observes from above.



From the "mostly meaningless anniversary" department: an email from an old friend the other day reminded me that 2012 has been the tenth year, solid decade, long time, since the publication of my first novel. September, to be specific. Decades don't stand as the endless time span they seemed to be when we were younger; now, decades are just so many marbles in a rapidly filling bag of time gone by. This one blue, this one green, but all of them smaller than they seemed when I bought them, and recollection of where specifically I picked them up is long gone.

The remembrance of that fairly insignificant mark in time, though, reminded me of another. One that stands in a little more importance for me. This year is the twentieth anniversary of my deployment to Somalia, and almost day-specific: December 26, 1992. Two days from now. Here's how it went: October of 1991 I began basic training in the snows of Fort Knox, Kentucky; January 1992 I began 88L10 army mariner school at Fort Eustis, Virginia; March 1992 I joined the 1098th medium boat company, first in maintenance platoon, and then second platoon. (In my twice after that in and out of 1098th, I would always be in second platoon.) In mid-December of 1992 they detached a group of us to the newly created 710th provisional boat company, and locked us on to post. And the day after Christmas we flew on to Mogadishu. Our mike boats were waiting for us when we arrived, a mile offshore on the MV American Cormorant. We celebrated New Year 1992/1993 on the main deck of the Cormorant, somewhere in the mix of Somalian and Kenyan waters between Kismaayo and Mombaso. Me, Yarddog, Kipp, Meder, Meir, Norm, Burrage.... I don't think Anne was on the Cormorant, I think she flew from Mog to Kenya. I could be wrong about that. And by mid-Jan 1993 we'd be back in Somalia.

But before I ever set eyes on Somalia, I remember Christmas Eve and Christmas, twenty years ago this week, at Fort Eustis. No snow of course, it was Virginia, but it was cold. Even though we were locked in, we all went off base on Christmas Day. Where? Steve Stalder's apartment? Was that his name? Am I making that up? I can see him clear as day, as if he was standing in front of me now. Tall and grinning, "Check!" It was him and the guys who had come back from the Gulf War the year before. They bought beer and brought us out and got us drunk. I got back to the barracks late Christmas night. My room was empty and alone: my stuff was all packed, and my roommate Derek had been moved out; he'd gotten in trouble and was awaiting discharge. In the dark and quiet barracks hallways I smoked cigarettes and plugged quarters in the pay phone and tried to convince this sometime girlfriend of mine, Leah, to come over, but it was Christmas and that wasn't happening. I went back to my room and tried to write, and that wasn't happening either. The next day we got on a bus, passing the Christmas lights draped over the bushes and around the doors and windows of on-base housing, off post through Newport News, to a waiting charter plane. Then we flew to Africa.


Back to books for a moment. After The Ice Beneath You in 2002, Voodoo Lounge and In Hoboken each followed on three-year schedules. Not intentional, but a respectable timespan. It's now been the end of the fourth year since In Hoboken was released, and it's reasonable to ask "Hello? Anytime soon?" All I can report now is that in 2012 I made my peace with the fact that this one is just going to take me longer, and I'm okay with that.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And to you Sea Dogs out there: double merry to you. I miss you. Bottles of whiskey and bottles of beer, I wish you all a happy new year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

in like a lion, then mellow as a muskrat

Hurricane Sandy. Global warming, baby. Well, we made out better than many around here. Our friends the Roemers had a massive tree crush both cars and then take out the deck and part of the dining room for good measure. Out on Long Island, Steve and Paulie Smalltype had no power for more than 2 weeks, and poor Kraus basically lost his house completely, just days after the birth of his first child (a daughter, who is fine). Crazy town. Here in the Dog House we lost power for a week. No worries. Power shmower. We made scrambled eggs on the wood stove.


Post-apocolypse we headed north for a fun weekend with Krissy and Logan in Burlington. Here's a bunch of Baumans, doing that not-gonna-smile thing that we do so well.


A year ago this week was the Hypothermia reunion. Bummed we didn't do that again this year; I feel a return next year, though. Heading into a nice weekend nonetheless. Gonna listen to a little Cagno tomorrow night in Dtown...see some movies...eat big. Plane to Paris Sunday night. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Monday, October 1, 2012

awesome sammy at the junior ryder cup

What's new? We're down to 2 dogs, from a high of 4. Long story there. Teach na madre still, just a little less bow-wow.  Fiona has a cast, but on the mend and still playing soccer. Kristina says she made a rasher of bacon, which is especially fascinating if you know anything about Kristina. What else? I have a reading project this week: first I'm re-reading Dracula for the first time in many years, maybe since I was a teenager. On the heels of that I'm going to pivot to Salems Lot, the 70s version of Dracula, and one of the books that changed my life. I'm not alone in that, in my generation. Again, long time since I've revisited those pages. Overdue. As for writing, guy named David Abrams wrote a novel called Fobbit, his first. A fellow army vet, albeit from a different era. I reviewed it for the NY Times, you can read more here.

You may have heard today that the US team lost the bi-annual Ryder Cup to their European counterparts (again). True, true. But let it not go without saying that in the Junior Ryder Cup -- US and European teams containing the best golfers in the 15 to 17 age group -- the US prevailed! And why do I care? Because my niece Samantha Wagner was on that US team. Okay, she's not techincally my niece, she's my first cousin, but I'm 42 and she's 15 and uncle/niece works fine for us, and for her brother CJ (another stellar golfer, and likely future US Senator from the great state of Florida). That's Sam below, at Olympia Fields last Tuesday.




Truly, one of the proudest days in our family. Sam and CJ are amazing kids, and to see Sammy so completely in her element, kicking ass, having fun...it was awesome.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

happy birthday woody

July 14 was the 100th birthday of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, or Woody as he was known. There's been quite a lot of media attention lately, given the birthday (including this news of the publication of his unpublished novel with two unlikely but cool editors). I've said quite a bit about Woody over the years. I discovered Woody (in the spiritual sense...I'd known about him for years, but without big emotion one way or the other) the way many in my generation did: through Joe Klein's remarkable biography of him. I was 19, living in New Jersey, but going to school once a week at HB Studio (a theater school) in the West Village of New York. I thought I wanted to be an actor, but wasn't very happy. It was slowly starting to dawn on me that I might be a better writer, and might be a happier person for it. Spending a night a week with Jack Hardy and his band of pirates helped me to see clear to that. And discovering Klein's bio of Woody had a lot to do with it, too. I found it in a bookstore in the Village on a cold day. I devoured it (appropriately, at the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan Thomas died). Besides simply introducing me to Woody, the book started changing how I thought about myself, what I thought about my art and its purpose and its place in my life, and how I might want to live my life. When I was a guest on Fresh Air many years later, Terry Gross made a comment about how strange it was that a "folkie" like me would end up as a soldier, and yet it was reading Woody's biography that was one of the first major steps leading up to me joining the army in 1991.



The pic above, one of my favorites, is Carol Sharar, Gregg Cagno, and myself sitting in the grass behind the stage at a park in Pennsylvania moments before we performed Woody's song "Do Re Mi" with Pete Seeger in 1995...hands down one of the coolest moments of my life. The moment got trumped several years later. Gregg and I and Carol's sister Linda were on the road, touring as Camp Hoboken, and made a side trip to Okemah, Oklahoma, so I could see Woody's home town. The pic below is of the three water towers that stand over the town, labeled HOT, COLD, and HOME OF WOODY GUTHRIE. I think he would have dug that. We were driven around town by Woody's cousin Debbie Tanner. At the end of the day, she made a phone call, then handed us directions. After a bit of a drive we found ourselves at the home of Mary Jo Gurhtire, Woody's little sister.



That's us with her, below. She looks just like him. In fact, when a statue was made of Woody, the sculptor used Mary Jo as the model. As with Pete, we sang "Do Re Mi" (along with a bunch of other songs). An amazing afternoon. I'll never forget it.


Late that night, our weary trio checked into a no-tell motel off an Oklahoma interstate for some sleep. Long story short, within an hour we found ourselves itching like crazy, then dropping our clothes shamelessly. We were all covered in deer tics. We'd picked them up while poking around in the overgrown ruins of Woody's childhood home. We finally got rid of the tics, but sleep wasn't going to happen after that. I recall we spent most of the night playing guitar, drinking, and watching out the window as a particularly fierce storm passed by the motel.

And almost 20 years later, here's our merry trio, reunited, below. Damn, we old. July also saw the 18th Annual Black Potatoe Fest in Clinton, NJ, run by our old pals Matt and Beth Williams. Linda came down to play a set, and we couldn't help but join her for one. We sang Don Brody's "99 Years" (you'll find the lyrics to that one intertwined in my "In Hoboken").
[UPDATE: some nice person just posted the song on YouTube...Linda does verse 1, Gregg has 2, and I have 3. Reaching for those high notes, but squeaking by...]


And here's the almost full Camp Hoboken reunion, sans Mr. Grula. He's down in Florida, working for Mr. Chen. (We all work for Mr. Chen, but that's another story.)


Was great to see old pals The Collins Brothers Band rocking the stage that day, as well.


Not a bad way to spend mid-summer. I'm a lucky guy.
And what else?
Krissy and Logan got a new dog. Mab, her name is. They came by recently to introduce me and Fiona to her. She's a good dog.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

move out


What else? Fiona stopped by the Statue of Liberty recently, and re-created one of her favorite pictures. Not too shabby. She added the Elton shades to mix two of her top heros at the same time.



And Kristina moved back to Burlington last week, leaving behind a very sad Farleys Bookshop, where she has been in residence (literally) for the past year, in addition to many years of employment there beforehand. She leaves behind a score of notes and illustrations all around the place...



Happy summer!