Thursday, August 30, 2007

I kill me


Hey, four comedians (or actors who usually appear in comedies) in the past four decades have committed suicide (or attempted to, or died of an overdose, in Belushi's case).

Now, that's a cover story!

But I wonder how the death-by-misadventure rate among comedic performers compares to the rate among, say, those serving in the military. Where is the "Tears of the Warriors" cover?

And where the fuck is this guy? (Whom I've spent much of the past week listening to, thanks to this blessed compilation – the “Monster Routine With Hecklers” bit mentioned in the article is one of the funniest, not to mention most fascinating, things I've ever heard, and the whole thing is Bruce trying to talk down a trio of drunken interrupters. He never unloads on them, just keeps slipping the knife in while genuinely pleading for them to shut up. In jazz parlance, most of Bruce's stuff is either all Coltrane or Roland Kirk – this was a rare Miles Davis moment, uh, man.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More schadenfreude

On a diet of coal, urine and wife jokes, Chinese brothers claw their way free

Hey, that was the pitch for my sitcom!


A sample:

Brother #1 (eating coal): You know, my wife is physically unattractive and she refuses to perform sexual intercourse with me.

Brother #2 (drinking piss): My wife, too, is physically unattractive and refuses to perform sexual intercourse! Furthermore, she has no aptitude for cooking.

Brother #1 (eating coal and drinking piss): My feelings about my automobile are far more positive than those I have for my wife.

Brother #2 (drinking piss and eating coal): It is regrettable that automobiles cannot cook!

Brother #1: Ha ha!

Brother #2: Ha ha!

Brother #1: Ha ha!

Brother #2: Ha ha!

Audience: Ha ha!

Brother #1: Keep digging.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Schadenfreude

Actual headlines:

Hookah blamed in deadly fire

Stabbing at nude beach

Canadians warned of possible tainted salami

Burned bugs studied for crime clues

Former Stompin' Tom Connors Guitarist Dies After Hornets Chase Him Off Roof

And, finally:

Astronomers find gaping hole in universe

"They were not cops ... and, um, so what if they were?"

That didn't take long:

Quebec police admit agents posed as protesters

MONTREAL–With the proof caught on video, Quebec provincial police were forced to admit yesterday that three undercover agents were playing the part of protesters at this week's international summit in Montebello, Que.

Not that they were there to, you know, do anything wrong:
But the Quebec police force denied they were attempting to provoke protesters into violence. Rather, they said the three were planted in the crowd to locate any protesters who were not peacefully demonstrating. Police said the trio's cover was blown when they refused to toss any objects.
Except that...
The three officers, sporting bandannas, showed up on the front lines of a protest at the summit. One carried a large rock.
A large, peaceful rock.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why write?

I usually get accused of self-loathing and/or childish knee-jerk negativism (as if those are bad things!) when I write/say something like this, so I'll let the more loathsome and knee-jerk negative John Crace say it for me:
But this urge to be creative - or more importantly, perhaps, to be seen to be creative - surely must what makes writing so irresistible to so many. Few jobs allow a purer expression of the self. You can create your own worlds, your own characters and your own stories; the only limit is your own imagination and talent. And this is where, you can't help feeling, the whole thing begins to fall apart. Because for most people there is a huge mismatch in their perception of their imagination and talent. For when people talk about wanting to be a writer, they don't usually mean they just want to write something in their own time for their pleasure. They want to do it for ours' too.
The genuine, unquashable desire to write a book – as opposed to the abstract thought that, gosh, I'd like to write something someday – represents a lack, a hole, a broken connection or twelve. The wound, as both Edmund Wilson and Norman Mailer put it, though that easily shades into macho/masochistic self-congratulation. You write books because you are shitty – deeply shitty – at just about everything else.

That still sounds like self-congratulation – losers, no matter what they say, have their arms permanently crooked for a self-back-patting. Spend some time near a slush pile, with its thick odour of scorched egos, boundless narcissism, seething, Gollum-like neediness and duplicity, hobbyhorses panting and wet, idées not only fixed but fucking nailed into place, alienation from even the barest and most generous outlines of what we call mainstream culture – you read all that stuff, laughing at first, rolling your eyes and shaking your head, until you realize that They Are Me.

And that's why we write: because we are shitty, self-hating losers.









Oh, and because it's so fun.


ADDED: Following up on Steven's comment, I should say that I'm also mindful of a comment Jerry Seinfeld makes to a newly Botoxed and therapized Garry Shandling (in that new Larry Sanders box-set) on the subject of whether comedy comes from a dark place, psychologically: "God forbid you have talent..."

To which Shandling replies: "I detect some hostility in that answer..."

I don't want to go too far down the art-from-misery road, wherein everything is just Notes from Underground, but still. Inasmuch as most people lack something fundamental, writers and other creative types are at least lucky enough to make something of it. The only problem is that, in most cases, what is lacking overwhelms the thing being made of it. And worse: the lack within the thing being made makes the original lack even more... lacking.

Jesus, I sound like Jack Sparrow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

JB, boma ye

It always happens: after watching When We Were Kings, I always get the urge to either read a lot of Norman Mailer or listen to a lot of James Brown.

Nine-and-a-half times out of ten, it's the latter – though I did read The Fight during an extended-though-never-repeated Mailer phase in my last year of high school, a few years before the movie came out. All I remember from it was a scene in which a drunken Mailer, probably on some kind of masculinity- and/or zeitgeist-defining dare, walks on a ledge outside the window at a party, a few stories up.

Back to Mr. Brown – just before the thing below cuts off (and you can find part 2 fairly easily, if you are so inclined), Brown delivers the line I have advised my son to use against all schoolyard tormentors: "I don't know karate, but I know ka-razy!"

Witness the ferociousness:

[Well, YouTube's done tooken the thing down. Oh well, something just as ferocious below.... (I've put this one up before, but what the hell.)]

Monday, August 20, 2007

War porn

Why oh why does every attempt to romanticize war and our "boys in uniform" end up sounding like gay porn?

Christie Blatchford's Globe tug job on the death of a VanDoos soldier:
In this beautiful place perched atop the green Arghandab River plain, before the sun was even up Sunday over ochre-coloured stony hills, the young men of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, the Royal 22nd Regiment, gathered in anguished knots, clamping one another in brief, fierce embraces, consoling the most stricken with a clap on the back or a tender rub of a bent head.
I feel awful for Private Longtin's family – even worse that his death gets treated on the front page of one of our national papers as if it were a scene from a Bruce LaBruce film.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Writers (and other scum)

This letter appeared in the Toronto Star this morning:
Buried today in the second letter of reaction to the deterioration of Queen St. W. is the problem in a nutshell: "Artists, writers and other shady characters gravitated to the area ... " Put a stop to that sort of thing and the city is safe again.
- P.W. Taylor, Toronto

Apocalypse Thursday

I know the weather's been a little weird in the GTA lately, but the long-range forecast showing on the CityPulse site seems just a little, well, off:




Just in case, I'm packing an enviro-suit, a lot of freeze-dried food, and a loaded shotgun.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Use your reviews

Whenever people (like me) go on at length about the noble art of reviewing – its necessary function, its role as Dionysus's Artistotle, Laurel's Hardy, the Chipmunks' Alvin, etc. – few admit that one of the most useful thing about well-written reviews are their ability to warn us off things we were harbouring doubts about, anyway. In that way, reviewers are like hipper, smarter, older friends who, with a slight pursing of the lips and shaking of the head, gently take our elbows as we're about to walk into Spiderman 3 and guide us across the street to a bar for a drink. "Money better spent," the reviews tell us, and we thank them for it.

It sounds crude, ignorant, intellectually lazy, and ant-art, and it can easily lead to unearned smugness (which should really be the subtitle of this blog), but it's a fact. There's only so many hours in a day, years in a life – we often need reviews for no more than a friendly heads-up or a thumbs-down.

They can do more than this, too: they can also confirm our suspicions about things we were never going to bother with in the first place.

Take for example, James Wolcott's assessment of that Californication show starring David Duchovny.
The sex romps are setups for Hank's kissoff lines and parting shots, some of which are so nasty they're like being spat upon. "Consider yourself defiled," he says to one babe as he brings their session to a premature close, and he tells the wife of a producer he's just laid (who had the nerve to insult him that the movie adaptation of Hank's novel was better than the novel itself), "Not only are you a cadaverous lay, you have shitty taste in movies."

"Have you ever heard someone refer to a lover as a 'cadaverous lay'? I doubt it," beams Doug Elfman in the Chicago Sun Times. "That's a mark of clever, original writing."

No, it's not, it's the hoofprint of misogyny, the same half-quip, half-sneer of hip misogyny knocking around in so many Hollywood comedies about manchildren with low metabolisms. I feel sorry for the actresses cast in Californication, who not only perform nude scenes--something many actresses are wary about, knowing those clips will be pasted forever on the internet--but then have their characters dispatched with a crude insult that adds a special spicy dash of indignity for the drive home. Yes, they knew what they were getting into, but even so--Shampoo didn't rubbish its actresses that way. That Hank gets his comeuppance now and then doesn't dispel the smog of contempt that permeates the pores of nearly everybody on this show for the crime of not living up to the ideals Hank supposedly possessed before the sin of selling out turned him into a husk of a writer attached to a roving penis. This is a show that takes cracks at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, another sign of slumming and catering to hip disdain. As an actor, Duchovny has become all attitude, which makes him the perfect protagonist for Californication, which is nothing but attitude in need of an oil change.

"Good," the mind says, "one more check-mark on my Not-To-Do List."

On a slightly higher intellectual level, it's always good to see someone pointing out the adolescent narcissism, snickering misogyny, and lack of human empathy that lurks behind - nay, animates - most supposedly "grown-up" comedy.

I've been very slowly making my way through the three seasons of The Royle Family (a show I can't believe I haven't watched before now), and the difference is instructive: for a show that depicts a human hell of farts, nose-picking, bad food, put-downs, and general shabbiness, it's astonishing just how deeply adult and empathic the thing is, right down to its core.

Monday, August 13, 2007

While you were sleeping


Just noticed that this blog turned one on Saturday.

Those were innocent days – we were so young!

Relevant info: "Speech and language development in the first year of life typically follows an orderly progression from grunting and sucking sounds in the newborn to the emergence of a first word at 1 year of age."

Scarily accurate.

Ewww...

Just ewww...

Wasn't the iron fist of Political Correctness supposed to have wiped this kind of thing out long ago? I though Women's Studies and Sensitivity Training had made eunuchs of us all? How did a piggish, white male get back on TV?

Curious.

More here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Moving inboxes

New e-mail address at right. I may be one of the only people in the civilized world to have no real complaints about hotmail – for some reason, my Inbox never became paralyzed with junk mail. But this one is easier to track, and for reasons that may or may not be obvious, I am more and more interested in knowing exactly what I said, and to whom.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Same as it ever was

I don't buy everything that Louise Tucker writes here, but it does conform to my own sense that publishing never really was the art-loving, profit-be-damned Shangri-la that some suggest. My belief – based on the skimpiest of research and reading, I'll admit – is that publishing houses that are and were "writer-friendly" are/were that way mostly because they can/could afford to be, there not being a whole lot of money at stake. That's not a criticism either way, simply an observation. Both ways – big and profit-driven, small and writer-friendly – have huge disadvantages as well as advantages for an author.

And even the notion of "writer-friendliness" is in dispute: just as there are plenty of writers who can relate getting the cold shoulder by a big press, there are many who recall their time with particular small presses with nothing less than a shudder. I've met a number of writers who published for years with small presses but who now publish with the bigs and who say, without reservation, that they get treated with infinite more respect by the bigs. Obviously, the amount of money their work brings into the company plays a part in the doling out of that respect, and fortunes change quickly, especially post-flop, but still.

This is all to make the very obvious point that it's not true to say that publishing is now all about money, whereas before it was all about art, man.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ig on his face

Tom Tomorrow on Ignatieff's much-belated mea culpa.
Even as late as last year's Liberal convention, Ignatieff was insisting he had supported the invasion simply because he cared so darned much about the Iraqi people.

"You know, one thing about intellectuals – they prove that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on." Woody Allen, Annie Hall


More on Ig here.

The best part:
The academics I know and respect don't make mistakes like those Michael Ignatieff attributes to an academic mode of thought: they don't believe that the ideas they play with are ultimately useless, and they desperately want to think thoughts that are true rather than thoughts that are false.

I think what Michael Ignatieff is talking about is not an academic mode of thought but a student mode of thought--a not-too-bright-student mode of thought. A not-too-bright student achieves success by (a) figuring out which book on the syllabus is favored by the instructor, (b) taking that book to be the gospel, and (c) regurgitating large chunks of that book on the exams and in the papers.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Free like beer and blogs

Alex Good has written a response to that "book blogs r killing criticism" thing in the Boston Globe. (I can't even work up enough interest to link to it.) Good, like me, was ready to ignore the whole thing – really, it's like arguing that trawling free amateur online porn cannot compare with the exquisite thrill of watching a pro like Ron Jeremy stick his shmekl in someone else's moyl – but takes exception to one of the editorial's assertions: that book blogs are full of book reviews, and thus crowding out traditional print reviews.

Anyone who reads the odd book blog knows that's not true by a mile. Most of it, as Good says, is link-with-a-comment. (And if the link has anything to do with Harry Potter or some other mega-bestseller, the comment must be of the eye-rolling variety.)

Personally, I have occasionally considered writing the odd review for this site, but on the rare occasion that I do have a few consecutive minutes of free, non-kid-corrupted time, the list of things I'd rather do than write a book review for myself and for free unscrolls across the floor. In the end, I'm a little like Ron Jeremy: I'd rather get paid for it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Solzhenitsyn's "not afraid of death anymore."


With all due respect, Mr. Solzhenitsyn, if I looked like that, Death would seem kind of inviting right about now. My god, he's like Tolstoy on the Atkins Diet, or Gandalf gone to seed.

Too true, Foo

Pitchfork's hackademic tendencies have been exhaustively dealt with elsewhere (even on its own site), but you have to give credit where credit is due: calling the Foo Fighters "the grunge Wings" is the kind of in-the-pocket snark that only semi-disposable music criticism written by committed intellectual slummers can deliver.

And I mean that in the nicest way.

Only question is, what does that make Audioslave – the grunge West, Bruce, and Laing?