Don't get me wrong. I want to see a bin Laden picture. Because I'm
InstaPunk and want to see the bastard's dead body. But it's not proof
I'm after. Proof isn't possible in the way pundits and politicians are
talking about it. I just want to gloat. Others pretend they have
Apparently we've embarked on a new silly season. Senators are gravely
disapproving of a swift burial at sea, as if it created some kind of
problem that can't be fixed. Talk show hosts are offended that bin
Laden received a muslim burial in accordance with the 24-hour rule
Islam prescribes. Facebook brainiacs are sure there's something, well, fishy about the whole thing. (Other than Osama "sleeping with the fishes." Ha.)
I'm out of patience with all this crap. And it is crap.
A few things to think about before you join in the general grumbling.
If Islamic terrorists want to believe that Osama bin Laden wasn't
killed by U.S. Navy Seals, nothing will ever convince them otherwise.
That's the nature of conspiracy theories. They subsist on preconceived
assumptions, not evidence. Just look at the 'Truthers' and 'Birthers.'
There is no factual evidence they will ever accept as refutation of
Same goes for all of you who think this was a trick of the Obama
administration. What would be enough to convince you? The body publicly
displayed like Mussolini's, or Bonnie and Clyde's bullet-riddled flesh
propped up in coffins, so that throngs can file past and spit on the
& Clyde didn't mind, did they? And nobody thinks they survived,
Where would we do that, though? At Ground Zero? But most of you have
to Ground Zero, have you? So should we arrange a road show and ferry
the decomposing corpse of bin Laden from state to state, city to city,
town to town, hamlet to hamlet, and fairground to fairground? So that you can be convinced? Even then,
what would it prove? There's just a dead man dissolving, and are you
really an expert at confirming the identity of the deceased?
Of course you aren't. Nor do you perform DNA tests or deconstruct
Photoshop frauds or measure facial dimensions or conduct autopsies.
A DNA report and a photograph are all you're ever likely to get, and
anything beyond that would be more than you're equipped to assess in
any scientific terms resembling proof.
Meaning, if you think it's all
an Obama trick, there's nothing that will ever convince you otherwise.
Just like the Islamic terrorists.
Are we good so far?
Now, finally, the controversy about giving the man a muslim burial. Get
over it. I'm InstaPunk and I've got no problem with it. What's the
whole point of our 'War on Terror'? That we're the civilized ones and they're the barbarians. I don't
need to feed his body to the pigs unless I believe in their false scripture and faith in
a child-molesting, murderous, genocidal false prophet whose descendants
are determined to wreck the world. I'm content to let him meet his
Maker and account for what he has done at the Seat of Judgment.
If you thought about it, you'd be content too. But I'm sure some of you
who haven't thought about it will be eager to pretend you're thinking
up a storm.
So be it. Have fun.
Monday, May 02, 2011
Thank God, at
sought out Mets fans and hugged
them.... The players didn't know and
announcers struggled to do their jobs.
SQUARING THE CIRCLE. It still doesn't seem real, all these hours
later. Elation mixed with bitter memory. Osama bin Laden is finally
dead. As are (still) the innocents he murdered and the troops who died
opposing his barbarian terrorist organization and other enemies of "The
Credit where credit is due. Obama did his job as Commander-in-Chief. (I
listened to Limbaugh's opening monologue and turned it off five minutes
in because the sarcasm of his presidential praise was frankly
akin to Keith Olbermann's leaden idea of satire.) Obama picked the
right plan -- special forces rather than carpet-bombing by B2s that would leave no proof. He
gave the order to launch the mission. His speech announcing the result
was statesmanlike and perhaps the best I've heard him deliver.
I believe very strongly that conservatives should resist sniping at
Obama about this. At most, they should counter the MSM's predictable
efforts to depict the outcome as evidence of Bush's failures. By all
means defend the instrumental roles of the Department of Homeland
Security, Guantanamo, and "advanced interrogation techniques," which
were all obviously contributors to a successful conclusion of a 10-year
manhunt. But resist the temptation to trivialize Obama's role in the
operation. History happens. Yes, Reagan won the Cold War, but it was
George Bush the Elder who was in office when the Soviet Union collapsed
in ruin. That's one of the positives of the American political system.
Continuity based on pragmatism and a certain amount of irreducible
common sense. Obama wanted to but ultimately didn't close Guantanamo,
extract our troops unilaterally and completely from Iraq and
Afghanistan, and replace military tribunals with the American criminal
justice system with all its constitutional protections of the accused. He may have been dragged kicking and screaming the
whole way, but in the end he bowed to reality in these instances.
he directly ordered the mission that got bin Laden. To deny him that
accomplishment is mere sullenness. My hope
(faint though it may be) is that this experience will be educational
for Obama, that he will begin to understand his nation and its virtues
in a way he has never comprehended before. The presidency makes men
either bigger or smaller. It never leaves them the same. Before this,
it had seemed to make Obama relentlessly smaller. But it would be to everyone's
benefit if he suddenly started to grow in office to a new appreciation
of American character, resolve, courage, and perseverance. If this
signal success should cause him to reevaluate his "lead from behind"
foreign policy and begin asserting traditional American leadership, how
many of us would breathe a sigh of relief? I know I would.
There's also an upside for conservatives in graciously acknowledging
success when it occurs. The death of bin Laden is not going to rescue
or transform an otherwise failed presidency. After Desert Storm, George
Bush the Elder had approval ratings in the high eighties or more. A
year later, a mild recession and his fumbling response to it cast him
out of office. Foreign policy rarely decides elections. Gas and food
prices are far more important than mideast peace treaties. Obama's fate
hangs more on the rate of inflation and employment figures than it does
on global politics. Congratulate him when he earns it and hammer him on
the debt and the sorry state of the U.S. economy. Don't make the
Democrat mistake of rooting against your country, or undermining its
real accomplishments, for the purpose of winning the next election.
My final thought has nothing to do with Obama. It has to do with the
contrast between the Old World and the New World. Last week we had the
spectacle of a royal wedding. Perhaps the greatest day for the U.K.
since its victory in the Falklands or the end of World War II. Even I
was affected by a cut from Westminster Abbey to the million-strong
crowd outside who -- glued to a Jumbotron of the ceremony -- sang along
with the boys choir inside on a triumphal Anglican anthem, Union Jacks
waving by the thousands. Affected but also troubled. Americans love the
pomp and circumstance, but the scene is very far from American. It's a
genuflection to archaic blood-based aristocracy that flies in the face of our own most
deeply held beliefs about equality. Make no mistake. I was happy for
them. The bride was beautiful, the props and processions were gorgeous
in every detail, and London looked magnificent. It was their day and I
don't begrudge them a moment of their national pride and sense of
themselves as an ancient power.
But life is a funny thing. Within days of that fantastic moment,
America had a greater moment, more real and infinitely more moving. One
without the planning, design, and attention to detail of the royal
nuptials. A massive national wound was suddenly salved, and with total
spontaneity, the nation responded in every venue from Twitter to Times Square. Americans
swarmed in joy to Ground Zero and the White House to celebrate. At all three service
academies and wherever Americans were accidentally situated en masse (e.g.,
baseball parks and hockey arenas across the country), they chanted
and sang in unison. Most amazingly, back at Ground Zero, in the heart of lefty New York,
throngs joined in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance -- not to a king or
queen, but to the flag of the United States of America.
Regardless of the polls and the cynical assessments of the pundits, we
are NOT done. We are us. And I insist that they, whoever they are, will never succeed in
stamping that peculiarly vital attribute of our national character out
Helk is raising the old question, "Wasn't bin Laden already dead?" We
raised the same question long
ago. Our answer this time is that Seal Team 6 wouldn't participate
in a fraud. Call us gullible. Then wait for Seal Team 6 to show up and
answer your accusations.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Atlas... Kinda Sucks. Kinda Really Sucks
Would this trailer interest you in the least if you didn't know the source material? That's the problem.
The review from Slate deftly sums up how it sucks:
Anyone who's seen a SyFy Channel original movie in which a mutated insect battles a mutated amphibian will be comfortable with the production quality.
Ooooch. SyFy isn't exactly synonymous with low-budget excellence. But, as InstaPunk pointed out years ago, no way was Hollywood ever going to make this picture. Maybe Transmorphers-quality CGI train effects are a necessary evil. And clearly, the source material for an Atlas movie is miles ahead of the original Mansquito novella (or short story in a high school "literary" magazine, or drunken rambling of SyFy exec). This... might... not be so bad?
Anyone who's seen a faithful Christian adaptation of a Bible story will be comfortable with the style of adaptation—as much original text on-screen as the screen can hold.
Nope. Never mind. It is that bad. What Atlas, above most books, needs is an adaptaion. Not a rote transliteration. On the page, the dialogue has an air of dignified overwroughtness. Spoken aloud by CW teen-drama extras? As staid and mindless as The Greatest Story Ever Told. An Atlas movie ought to be about the ideas in the book. Not the word-for-word text. The producers' preferrence of the latter is silliness, and disaster.
It's hard to conceive how it could have turned out any worse. Any dumber. A no-budget version shot by 16-year-olds in a small backyard on Home Betamax would have been better. Attack of the Super Monsters redubbed with Galt's speech would have been better.
The hardcore Randians-- the Rand worshipers-- love it, because they eat up all but the most negative attention she gets in the world outside their echo chamber. Those of us who love her, but have more than one author on our bookshelves, are dismayed. (and if Rand wasn't gaining traction, no one would be dismayed. See?)
You know what? That's all OK. The Atlas movie may give her detractors something to snigger about, but her core ideas-- the primacy of reason and the sanctity of self-determination-- remain necessary for the ultimate survival of the American experiment. The film doesn't slow the spread of those ideas. It just doesn't help them spread as well as it should have.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Same old same old
Skip to 7:15 in.
NONSENSE. Typical Beck. The file won't obey the centering function. I'm
including this because favored commenter Pete insisted I listen to this
video. He seems to think it's proof that Ron Paul isn't anti-Israel or
Not much I can say or have to say. Paul is disingenuous and Peter is
naive. The idea that the best way to protect a friend and uphold a
solemn moral obligation in a region of pure barbarians is by ignoring
your friend, on the pretense that it's for his own good, is
idiotic. Criminal in fact. The stability of the middle east is
dissolving precisely because the United States is sitting on the
sidelines. To cite the danger of impending Islamist regimes to Israel
while we do nothing and act as if we're working on their behalf is
What has protected 3 million Israelis from the 300 million Arabs arrayed against
them thus far is not the nuclear weapons they can't use. It's this:
But Peter knows better. As he does about most things. When I was his
age, I knew everything too. I wish I still did. But I'm saddled with memory.
I was going to do a post about the Balanced Budget Amendment
being pushed by so many conservatives as a way out of our fiscal woes.
But then two things happened. Guy responded to the last
requesting more information about the humorists cited there. And I
realized that there's nothing in the Balanced Budget Amendment idea
worthy of a complete post. It's the single most utterly idiotic
fixation of the right in this country. It can't pass congress. If
passed, it can't secure a three-quarters majority of the states. And
even if it could, the amendment would be confirmed way too late to
prevent the bankruptcy of the United States. Besides, it's a rotten
idea anyway. There are times of great natural emergency when money has
to be spent regardless; we couldn't have won World War II without
deficit spending. That's all that needs to be said, unless anyone needs
reminding that if this is the best our would-be conservative saviors
can come up with, we're in even worse shape than I thought. I can't
believe such a crappy "solution" to our debt problem is still getting
lip service by anyone.
Which brings us back to the topic of humorists. Because laughter is the
medicine we all definitely need at the moment. Here's a little more
about the authors I recommended on Friday.
Stephen Leacock. He is still
remembered today, in Canada, first as a mathematician, second as a
famously brilliant Canadian, and third (and distantly) as a literary
humorist. There's a Stephen Leacock
Institute which celebrates the math
thing almost exclusively. But this site has already covered his humor
contributions, and you can go here
to see them.
P. G. Wodehouse. Another one
I've written about before.
biography of him a few years back, and
what's clear about him -- as for so many other humorists -- is that his
life was in many ways sad, even though he lived to great old age,
produced about a hundred novels, and umpty-gazillion short stories. He
was a man of baffling contradictions and therefore a more useful source
of insight about the U.K. than most of the "serious" writers in his
country who were contemporaries or came later. He seems to us locked
permanently in the England between the two world wars, a fantasy realm
of country estates, two-seat roadsters, gentlemen's clubs, and
aristocratic aunts with lorgnettes and no knowledge whatever of
everyday English life. Yet he is the source cited by Evelyn Waugh, the
deadliest satirist of his age, as the master of dialogue from whom
Waugh learned how to eviscerate pretension and hypocrisy in the most
maliciously brilliant novels of the twentieth century. In person, Waugh
was witty and mean; Wodehouse was everywhere described as dull.
Wodehouse was afraid of assertive women, indifferent to sex, not
because he was gay, it seems, but because his personality was formed by
distant, even cold, family relations, and then frozen for good in
adolescence by his happier experience in boarding schools when he
finally escaped from home. Then he managed to get himself exiled
forever from Britain by being a "good sport" on the radio when he was
interned by Germans in the early days of World War II. He never went
home again. He never complained. Because that's the way Brits are. No
matter what they do to you, you have to petend to have the emotional
range of a cricket bat.
The inability of British men to express
genuine emotion without degenerating into stuttering incoherence is a
staple of dozens of Wodehouse plots, and aristocratic origins aggravate
affliction enormously. The odd result is that this man who never
expressed political views in his writing and devoted himself to
producing souffles of the purest fantasy is nevertheless a direct
progenitor of not only Evelyn Waugh but Monty Python's Flying Circus
and the recent Oscar-winning film called The King's Speech, in which an
Aussie "Jeeves" comes to the rescue of a "Bertie" who just happens to
be the King and a
life-imitates-art version of Wodehouse's dimwit protagonist, Bertie
Wooster. The life imitated in the latter instance is real life -- neglect, abuse,
emotional starvation, and an isolating class system we're being asked
to celebrate this week with
all the hyping of the royal wedding. In retrospect, the faultessly kind
treatment by Wodehouse of the Brit upper classes can be read now as the
gentlest of all satires, but his comedy has acquired bite through the
passage of time. It is now possible to see in his hilariously lovable
depiction of the absent-minded Earl of Emsworth a haunting precursor to
the much less benign idiocy of Prince Charles. And so it goes.
Ring Lardner. Finally, an
American. I couldn't find the Fitzgerald quote I was really looking
for, his reference to Ring's "face like a ruined cathedral." The first
book of Lardner's I ever read was titled "How to Write a Short Story."
Typically, that title was pure self-deprecation. Lardner lived in a
time of consciously "literary" writers -- Hemingway, Fitzgerald,
Faulkner, Stein, Joyce, and company -- who were dazzling the
reading public with their singular talent for writing sentences,
paragraphs, and whole novels that were self-evidently edifices of
words, every scene and moment an incarnation of their own unique
voices. Lardner was a throwback to the obsolete template of Mark Twain.
He had an ear for the way common men spoke. His point of contact was
overwhelmingly but not exclusively baseball. The novel "You Know Me
Al," arguably his greatest work, is a throwback even in form, all the
way back to Samuel Richardson who wrote the first novel ever, Pamela, which consisted of letters.
Lardner's "You Know me Al" did too; it was subtitled "A Busher's
You know how professors can fool you. I was an English major. In
college I was exposed to a list of the consensus "ten best novels of
the 20th century." All of which we had to read. Literary stuff. One of
the ones on the list was Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier," which we
were told accomplished the impossible task of making the reader see
what the narrator could not, that the truth of things was very
different from the way the narrative represented them. Impossibly
subtle. Brilliantly oblique. Blah blah. For years after, I recommended
"The Good Soldier" to friends as if I were sharing literary wisdom. It
took me some years to realize that I had seen this same "impossibly
subtle" feat performed even before I read "The Good Soldier." In a book
published at approximately the same time, after what was demonstrably a
longer period of gestation, meaning that Ring Lardner started "You Know
Me Al" before "The Good Soldier" was published.
Yeah, it's still possible to make the case that "The Good Soldier" was
a better book because the 'reveal' is slower. But Lardner makes it
clear that seeing past the stupidity of the narrator is something that
can be accomplished on the first page, not the 200th. And the art
involved is in no way less, because the invitation, the insistence, to
read between the lines begins at once. And he actually manages another
so-called literary impossibility -- making you keep turning the pages
after you've realized you don't really like the person who's the major
actor in the story. Ring Lardner was a hell of a writer. Too bad he
never knew it. What Fitzgerald was trying to say, if not all he was
trying to say.
Damon Runyon. The P.G.
Wodehouse of Broadway and the lowlife of New York. Not as great because
it has fewer echoes, though there are
echoes. If Wodehouse represents the sentimentalization of coddled
aristocrats, Damon Runyon represents the sentimentalization of
criminals in the five boroughs. The writing is incredibly colorful, as
transparent as the prose we've praised in Lardner, and really really
funny. There's a sense in which Runyon is a superposition of Wodehouse and Lardner. Aristocracy is
transmuted into a realm where Sing-Sing and San Quentin are alumni
affilations akin to Yale and Harvard. Except that such intimations are
the most blatant possible exposures of a worldview that is hopelessly
limited in every way. The fun can disguise the Wodehouse-like satire
that a hitman is unaccountably uncomfortable with killing a kid. The
stories are collectively an expression of native American optimism,
that there is good even in the worst of us, and it will somehow find a
way, through either personal decision or confluence of circumstance, to
effect the archetypally American happy ending.
Whether you think you know Damon Runyon or not, you do know him. If
you've ever seen Frank Sinatra in Guys
Dolls, Shirley Temple in Little
Marker, Glenn Ford, Peter Falk and Betty Davis in Pocketful of Miracles, or, yup, The Sopranos, you have seen the
Damon Runyon effect at work. The very idea that there can be something
accessible, simply human, and forgivable about the lives of thug
criminals is pure Runyon. But the original stories he wrote are far
more innocent and enticing than the derivatives..
Will Cuppy. The single best
work of humor I've ever read is "The Decline and Fall of Practically
Everybody." Why? Because as part of their basic operating code,
humorists are free to make up facts as they feel the need. The
objective is laughter, not accuracy, and unfairness is assumed. Will
Cuppy is the closest Americans have to Stephen Leacock, a hybrid
polymath. Cuppy was a meticulous historian who wrote a completely
accurate book of history that was falling down funny. He researched,
researched, researched. Then, when he was confident of his facts, he
utterly demolished the reputations of Hannibal, Alexander the Great,
and a score of other historic notables.
Of course, he was personally miserable. He lived like a hermit, made no
money, and his greatest work was published posthumously.
Robert Benchley. Probably the
most dated author on this list. One of the founding lights of The New Yorker and a key member of
the notorious Algonquin Roundtable, he seems today an artifact of an
earlier simpler time. He's here because he was the first of them I
found and he led me to the others. As a kid I read a book called "Chips
Off the Old Benchley," and it was like moving into a balloon,
weightless and without any possibility of ill consequence. For all that
he was a Harvard sophisticate, there was a simplicity about him. I
remember a piece he wrote about gardening. He listed three steps: 1)
Preparing the soil; 2) Preparing the soil; 3) Preparing the soil. Then
he gave up in exhaustion and rested. You can easily find on YouTube the
numerous short subjects he did in Hollywood, which are lesser than his
written works, but nothing there will explain that he did the best he
could for stricken friends like Dorothy Parker and James Thurber. He
was always content to play the fool, and it broke my heart to learn
that when his brother died in WWI, he heard his mother say, "Why
couldn't it have been Robert instead?"
James Thurber. As a child, he
got shot in the eye with an arrow by one of his brothers, and that
began a long, inevitable march toward blindness, with anecdotal
evidence that he -- like Benchley -- was the less favored son. He began
his writing career by wanting to be Henry James and wrote a bunch of
embarrassing James-like letters before he became James Thurber. He was
far more literarily ambitious than Benchley, and he holds up ever so
much better all these years later, but that's probably because there
was an ever-present darkness we recognize more easily today. He, with
his rotten and ever-fading eyesight, did the cartoons that emboldened
me to create Shuteye Town 1999
(for which I had no similar excuse), and he never got over being a
provincial Ohioan in the land of The
New Yorker. If there was a 20th century Mark Twain, it was
Thurber. Lots of humor, lots of fanciful stories from youthful days,
and a gradually accumulating darkness that led in Twain's case to "The
Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" and in Thurber's to a blind,
hospital-bound, mostly humorless swansong called Lanterns and Lances. But make no
mistake. He was a genius and an American original. He never forgot that
he was from Columbus, Ohio, (as was my mother), and he wrote about dogs
and women and people in general in a way that still resonates.
I hate to have to say this, but Keith Olbermann has a whole series of
Thurber readings on YouTube. One is all it takes to discover what is
going on: The Rabbits Who Caused All
the Trouble. This is a Thurber fable, and it's a fine piece, but
it also illustrates the problem with political advocates. Olbermann
reads it like a Leninist lesson, assuming we all know who the
villainous wolves persecuting the rabbits are. He injects a malice into
the text that Thurber never put there. One could as easily see the
"wolves" as government bureaucrats whose paranoia about Global Warming
('earthquakes') and disrespectful Tea Partiers mandate the attacks
we've seen every day on MSNBC. The measure of Thurber's greatness is
that his fables are there to question assumptions, not dictate
ideologies. Even his 'morals' at the end of each fable are open to
interpretation. There's "The Scotty Who Knew Too Much." Who gets his
ass kicked in the fable, but we know to a certainty that Thurber loved
Scotties more than perhaps any other breed. He was lampooning 'morals'
as well as 'fables.' Let's never forget that he was first inspired by
the infinite complexities of Henry James. He was playing with us all
the time. It's almost obscene to hear Olbermann read his prose as if it
were a New York Times
editorial. What you really need to do is read
Max Shulman. And then there's
all-out humor. I've only read three Max Shulman novels (I'm not even
counting Dobie Gillis, which was also his.) Barefoot Boy with Cheek and The Zebra Derby were one of the few
examples I've ever known of a sequel that exceeded the original
-- jokes about college marxism in the first and a much larger joke
about post-war silliness in the second. But the centerpiece is an
almost novel-type novel called The
Featherbedders, which contains the best send-up of Hemingway
anyone ever wrote, complete with all the "thee's" and "thou's" and
"little rabbits" of For Whom the
Bell Tolls. There are themes that tie all these works together.
In the Shulman omnibus I read, he begins by explaining -- a la Ring
Lardner -- How to Write. And
maybe it's funnier for a writer than anyone else, but he explains
metaphor ("his stomach was a like a big round ball") and temporal
switching: the flashback, the telescoping flashback, the
double-telescoping flashback... Although he never explains his funniest
device, which is that every minor character has his own long, long
story to tell, until you realize that he is goofing on narrative itself
as a form, and that everything he is doing is more sophisticated than
his confessedly incompetent and simple-minded style would ever admit
of. Max Shulman was deconstructing the novel before Thomas Pynchon ever
put pen to paper. Genius.
It bears repeating that none of these masters were what you'd call
mean. Or obscene. Or expressly political. They used humor to illuminate
A synonym for 'meaner' is 'lower' I cheerrfully admit that I am lower
than these forebears The audience as a whole is lower. Roles have been
reversed. Humorists -- i.e., comedians -- are now mean as snakes, and
satirists are the gentler breed, trading pure advocacy for something
Except for me. From first to last, Black Mamba. And don't you forget it. P.S.
Also don't forget for a moment who this mamba is protecting with all
his malignant venom:
I patrol a space for you. Where you get to talk freely. Because I kill
everyone else. Why I'm not as funny as I used to be.
"Any love for Bierce?" asks Apotheosis. Yup. Here.
Also, a belated nod to S. J. Perelman, whose "Westward Ha!" is one of
the greatest comic travelogues ever written. Can't think why I didn't
include him in the first place. If you're in the mood for full-bore
genius, acquire a volume called "The Most of S. J. Perelman." You won't
be sorry. Like Twain and Thurber, though, he reached a point where he
ceased to be funny. At the end of his life, The New Yorker -- after thirty-some
years of featuring him -- rejected his work. God damn The New Yorker.
. A close friend of mine who is trying to
contribute to the
Foreword of the first InstaPunk book is himself an accomplished writer,
and he insisted on knowing how Brizoni could do what no one else has
been able to do, including both him and me, which is, uh, compiling a first InstaPunk book. As I thought
about it, I realized that no one was going to do it real justice, so
I'd better. Brizoni and I are famously antagonists about all kinds of
subjects, including Ayn Rand and his dilatory nature when it comes to
posting. That's fun, of course, but the truth is that though we have
never met in person, we are exceptionally close and fond of one
another. Here's what he told me about the process of compiling
the book. I think you'll agree that it will be as fascinating to see
what he included as what he left out. Truth is, he's a fine and very
real friend, and I want everyone to know that his book is not a random thing but
a (hard) work of editing art and superlative intellect. Completely
opposite the impression he intends in his posts. Here's an email that
explains his modus operandi. Just so you know.
love mixtapes. (mix CDs, really, but "mixtape" sounds so much cooler,
and has accordingly put down stakes in the language, much the same way
"steamroller" has). Been making them with a passion since the first CD
burners came out in late '98. The first couple I made were on a friends
computer, with songs he and his parents had that I didn't. By then, the
mixtape bug had bit me hard. Don't know what it was. Still can't
explain it. Nothing satisfies quite like filling those 80 minutes (to
capacity, damnit) with the perfect tracklist.
I'd just pour in songs until I ran out of room. Then-- don't remember
what precipitated this-- I got the idea to start paying attention to
the ebb and flow of the tracks.
My inspiration, my
conceptual model, my Platonic archetype for the proper rhythm of a CD?
The Doors Greatest Hits, from 1996. There have been dozens of Doors
compilations, but for my money, this one's just about perfect. Twelve
at all comprehensive: You could make a second disc from the key tracks
that have been left off (Wild Child, Love Street, The Changeling, etc).
But this CD meets the two essential needs equally well. It's
comprehensive enough for those who want only one Doors record AND it's
a fantastic introduction for those who want more. And it works equally
*excellently* as either.
The gamut is run. From their
first couple albums of dark mystery that cemented their reputation, to
their days of ill-fated pop experimentation, to their conscious return
to their blues roots that yielded Riders on the Storm AND LA Woman AND
Love Her Madly, to the one good cut (Ghost Song) from the... poetry
album that the surviving Doors finished for Jim, working from his
tapes, to a rarity that is nevertheless historically
version of The End from Apocalypse Now. (that choice is especially
brilliant: that version plays like a single edit with an extended coda,
leaving the real The End for the intrepid listener with the wit to dig
a little deeper into the discography).
compiled this could have made lots of easy mistakes. Just about any cut
from the first album could be justifiably included. Most of the Doors
best-ofs have Soul Kitchen or Back Door Man or even 20th Century Fox,
or all of these. I remember a 2-disc Best Of with NINE of the debut's
eleven tracks. Or, they could have included all the 45s Elektra records
released during the band's career-- including the 5 or so that failed
to chart and sucked anyway.
(Sole problem with the 96
Greatest Hits as it is: The live version of Roadhouse Blue is
inexcusable. The Doors' reputation as this great live act doesn't
reeeeeally hold up to the intense scrutiny of actually hearing them
Thing is, that's a small feat compared to the
InstaPunk book. The Doors have maybe 80 songs, 90 if you count the box
sets and live albums. 100, tops. EVEN IF lists of where their singles
charted weren't available, and EVEN IF I couldn't pick out 9 or 10
tracks right away, based on my own memories of classic rock radio, it
wouldn't take too long to listen to all 100 songs a few times and pick
out the strong ones. My twelve might not match the '96 Greatest Hits,
but it'd be pretty damn close.
And. As I've said,
even with a paltry 100 songs, there's a ton of considerations that go
into a good Greatest Hits, and 99 point nine to infinity percent of the
other Doors comps get it wrong.
Think of that in light of
InstaPunk. Two million words. Two thousand entries. That's why
chronological order was a must. Otherwise, I'd be up against a knapsack
Infinite complexity. Which meant I had to arrange AS I
compiled. As I
thumbed through the archives, I could say to myself "I still need a
global warming piece, some Obama stuff, and maybe I don't feel the
memoir stuff I have so far is a strong as it could be, so keep an eye
out." Or "I like this piece, but this sector of the book is already
pretty graphic-heavy. There was an equally good piece on the same topic
back a year or so; I'll use that one." Or "hey, 'A Can of Worms'
quite as strong as 'Punking the Atheists,' but it compliments 'More
Atheism' better, and it largely picks up where 'Pharaoh Hound' leaves
off. Continuity's always stronger. I'll junk 'Punking the Atheists' for
Couple things to keep in mind.
This first book is the hard one. We won't need to arrange by timeline
in the books-by-topic to come. We can simply gather up all the, say,
sports posts, and sequence them however we see fit. Obama skipping the
Army/Navy game, Little League as the last bastion of true
sportsmanship-- we can arrange them by sport, or by date, or by sheer
feel, or whatever we like.
Two: Your concerns about
second-guessing and looking too hard are not unfounded. In nitpicking
each particular piece, it's easy to lose sight of how the pieces play
with the pieces near them and reflect and augment pieces farther away
from them, and how all the pieces fit as a whole. That's why I'm
getting ready to call it a day on compiling. Tonight and tomorrow, and
that's it. After that, they'll be some fine tuning to do, but not of
selections. And I appreciate your concern that "S-Word" and "Child
Seats" not be included simply as token entries of their respective
topics. They're token, yes, but chosen for how good they are, as well
as how well they fit with their surrounding posts. In a book like
there's a tension between Best Of and Introduction, between "Here's all
the great, essential pieces" and "Here's what InstaPunk can do." With
the sheer size of your output, not all the pieces that seem essential
can make it in. THIS IS A GOOD THING. There are treasures for those
with the wit to dig. I deliberately left out "Chickenhawks," even
though 2004 is a little lean...
Back to it, then. :)
Yet again, I am humbled. Brizoni. Lake. Guy. Apotheosis. George. I can
repay what you have all done. But I will keep trying.
btw, it's not too late for any of you who want to contribute to the
Foreword. Go here
to refresh your memories about how you can.
Even I am disappointed by how much people
want this movie.