Saturday, January 23, 2010

c.t. tucker...he did what he did

I'm saddened to learn about the death of C.T. Tucker (Tucker Hartshorne), one of the strangest, funniest, most genuine human beings I've ever met. Even trying to describe WHO Tucker was is difficult, which makes me smile right there. To many, Tucker was a musician first and foremost, frontman of the legendary Blue Sparks From Hell (see pic to left). He was also a businessman and musician supporter...for years he owned Tucker's Breakfast King in Long Valley, NJ, which on weekend evenings became Rosie's Cabaret (named for his pig, Rosie). Tucker was kind and generous at times when few others were. Blunt and truthful, too. (Said to me one evening, two minutes or less before I took the stage: "You gonna tune that thing...or is that your thing? If it's your thing, to be untuned, I mean, then please get a new thing." God bless ya, Tucker.) Tucker was also an animal lover, and successful animal trainer for Hollywood and NY etc.
For my readers, you should know that Tucker played a role in my novel In Hoboken, although not in an obvious way. It's not his character in the book, but his language. The repeating line "We do what we do," attributed at various times to the characters of James and Thatcher, was classic Tucker. I believe I heard it from him a few times, but the centerpiece memory was at the wedding of Tim and Sarah Blaikie, where the Blue Sparks had agreed to be the evening's entertainment. A drunken guest at one point was yelling up requests -- can't even remember what the request was, and it doesn't matter -- and Tucker looked down on him and calmly shrugged No and said simply, "We do what we do, my friend. We do what we do."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In late 1994, I rode out a hurricane off the coast of Haiti, onboard the US Army vessel LSV-1. The hardest part of the storm hit overnight, and when not on watch we spent the time trying to make ourselves as flat as possible on the decks of the engine room...the lowest point of the vessel, with the least amount of rocking. Didn't matter, we were all sick anyway. The next day we returned to Port-au-Prince, loaded the ship with Red Cross trucks carrying food, medicine, etc., and steamed as fast as we could (not very fast, in our case) to Jacmel, in the south. Jacmel had taken a direct hit from the storm, and was in terrible shape. Voodoo Lounge was of course a novel, but the telling of that hurricane and the condition of Jacmel when we found it was all accurate.

It's a strange thing to watch TV and see buildings that I have seen (or, in some cases, been in) flattened to the ground. The entire view of Port-au-Prince has changed...the cathedral, the Presidential palace. As for Jacmel, beautiful Jacmel, I haven't seen pictures of the town, but can't imagine what an earthquake would do to the city. It's such a fragile place, Jacmel.

I'd wanted to post today some options for $$ aid, and some good reading about Haiti. Karen Kleckner at the Library Journal beat me to it. On her one page she has both...a link to 2 lists of aid options, and a good list of Haiti reading. (The Library Journal list is all novels. In addition, I highly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.) Please do what you can, and read a good book while you do it. Haiti is one of those countries that is so easy to assume you understand...but nobody understands. Certainly not until you've been there, and even then, not really. Broadening understanding of our troubled neighbor to the south is a good first step in helping them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

black sheep, commerce, and vampire weekends

Here comes, end of year. Here comes. Uncomfortable, how quickly it flies by now. A cliche to say it, but there it is. Like John Prine sings, "Time don't fly, it bounds and leaps." And then he advises that you don't let your baby down, and that's good advice. The song is "Storm Windows," a white-knuckle of a song if ever I heard one. (It's a good time of year for Prine. I usually equate him with summer, but things like "Storm Windows" and "Late John Garfield Blues" lend themselves to first-of-January introspection. So does Wynton Marsalis's moody stuff, which is what's on the Bose right now.)

This is the time of year I'm most reminded of being the blackest sheep in the local flock of my family -- the holidays put it right there in your face -- and it's always good to spend some time thinking about that. Usually, I am amused. I come from a family of absurdity. That is absurd you taste deep in the dark marrow when you crack the bones after baking. And what can you do with a rich broth of such absurdity but spoon it in and stand amused. It's painful, though. You know? Families are painful. You try to sing with a smile on your face, and sure, you're amused. And weeping.

But that's the local flock of the family. In the larger flock, there stands a sheep even blacker. He spent this holiday being transfered from a South Carolina prison to a North Carolina one. And from there...I fear any further journeys will only be similar transfers. Those gates will not be swinging free for a long time. For this particular sheep, that might be a life sentence, then. As the late Chris Whitley sang, it's hard living with the law. He is one family sheep who doesn't even try to live with the law, though. But that makes for a boring story...not even trying. We all know drama lies in the conflict.

I mentioned white-knuckling up there earlier. Speaking of, I'm making my first read of 2010 the book on addiction that Benoit Denizet-Lewis published last year. I've been waiting for the right moment to read this one, and have been looking forward to it (if that's the right phrase) since publication.

It's also the first book I'm reading on my new Kindle. I gave specific orders to those who might care that I did not want a Kindle, in any way, shape, or form. And there it was on Christmas morning. And I love it. I took it to Vermont last week, newly charged with subscriptions to The New York Times and The New Yorker. I think I'll cancel the Times subscription. I don't like the Kindle's functionality with newspapers. You get a better product, with richer content and easier functionality -- and free -- online. But Lady Kindle is a good forum for New Yorker. Perfect.

Speaking of Kindle, I should get to what I should get to. And that's the blog post one should write on the receiving end of emails from New York reminding one that since I'm unlikely to have anything at all ready for any kind of publication until 2011, I should be somewhat responsible and give some love to the catalog, such as it is.

So let's start with this new page I found on Amazon, a great place to begin your post-holiday gift-card shopping. How nice of them to put all my novels in one easy little space. Help put my daughters through college and spend liberally. Specifically -- of course I had to check -- I am pleased to report that both The Ice Beneath You and Voodoo Lounge are now available in Kindle format. Dirt cheap and on your Kindle in one minute. What's not to love. Unfortunately, In Hoboken is not available in Kindle format yet (I haven't had this specific conversation, but I get the feeling that Dennis Loy Johnson, owner of Melville House, doesn't much like Amazon. Simon & Schuster, publishers of Ice and Voodoo, thankfully have no such scruples.) But don't let the lack of Kindlization stand in your way. The bright orange spine of In Hoboken will add a sparkle to your bookshelf that you won't soon regret.

What else? Oddly, my interview with Terry Gross from 2003 is now available as an audiobook at itunes. Or you can listen to it free here. This was recorded a few months after The Ice Beneath You was published (approximately a billion years ago), and I'm talking fast and sound nervous. I was nervous. First book, first time for this stuff. And this was about a year before I started doing those essays for All Things Considered, so I wasn't terribly comfortable in the studio yet. Also, 90% of Fresh Air interviews are not done in person...the interviewee goes to a radio studio convenient to them, usually in LA or New York. But because of my proximity to Philadelphia, I was sitting directly across the desk from Ms. Gross for the hour. Fortunately, I manged to sound like a complete idiot only once (only once that made it onto the final broadcast, anyway.) We talked army, Somalia, the writing of the novel, Jack Hardy, songwriting and folksinging, you name it. (A funny side note, if you listen to this in either the free or paid version...stay tuned after the interview with me ends about 40-something minutes into the program. Still attached is David Bianculli reviewing those new-fangled reality shows and trying to decide whether or not they'll last.) Also available from NPR, completely free, the audio for the ten or so commentaries I did for All Things Considered (if you prefer text to audio, you can also find them in the permanent links on the right side of this page).

Enough about me. What else, to start the year? For one, if you write, you should consider my friend Peter Murphy's annual poet and writer's retreat in Cape May, NJ, coming up later in the month. I taught there a few times, loved it, but have been unable to attend the past few years. A serious bummer, that. Because it's a wonderful weekend. Highly recommended.

That's about it. I said above what book I'm beginning the year with. I ended 2009 with Barbara Kingsolver's new novel The Lacuna. I haven't read anything by her before, and this was fantastic. I read it on mid-December flights between the UK, Germany, and Italy, and enjoyed every page. And music? My new discovery (I'm late, what can I say) is Vampire Weekend. Love them. Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma, indeed.