Ask a little kid to tell you about a painting they’re working on. It’s a miraculous thing. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to aspire to that level of artistic liberation. I believe it’s still there in all of us. I wrote about this in my first book, but I think it’s worth emphasizing: During my stay in a mental hospital some sixteen years ago now, I witnessed this childlike superpower reassert itself, take hold, and transform a woman who was virtually catatonic in an art-therapy class. I think about it almost every day.
A sixty-something heroin addict who had spent the better part of the previous thirty years in and out of institutions and living on the streets – and whom I had not heard make a sound in any of the group therapy sessions, or even in the smoking room – drew a simple picture of herself. It wasn’t great. But it looked like her.
When she held it up for the class to see, I heard her voice for the very first time. She said she couldn’t remember the last time she had held a pencil. She smiled! And cried. Everyone clapped and gathered around to hold her. It was such a stark, amazing, healing thing to see someone’s eyes light up – become human again – when they realized they had the power to make something that wasn’t there.
How to Write One Song
I remember meeting for the first time one of the leading literary men in America, a man whom I had supposed from his books to be filled with melancholy. But it so happened that at that moment the most crucial baseball results were coming through on the radio; he forgot me, literature, and all the other sorrows of our sublunary life, and yelled with joy as his favorites achieved victory. Ever since this incident, I have been able to read his books without feeling depressed by the misfortunes of his characters.
Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness.
I’M SITTING at the counter in my favorite New York diner, tucking into eggs over easy with hash browns—very English, the breakfast fry-up, but very American, too. I’m washing it down with cranberry juice—caffeine is probably the only vice I don’t have—and someone turns on the radio.
Most of the time, I don’t hear music. My brain just tunes it out. We’re all bombarded with some sort of music on a daily basis—in shops, TV commercials, restaurants, lifts—most of it simply noise pollution, deadening us to the real joy of music. So I only listen when I really want to. But the Puerto Rican waitress has turned on a Spanish channel, and a seductive salsa rhythm seeps into the room. It’s a charanga band—a traditional group that uses flute and violin over the standard latin rhythm section of congas, bongos, and timbales—and now I’m half-listening. Then the violinist takes a solo, and I’m hooked. He’s a great, inspired player. The band is playing a simple three-chord vamp, and he follows the chords closely, and yet still manages to come up with witty, ingenious, melodic twists. And the way he plays with the time! Dragging a phrase, and then ending it right on the beat. Setting up syncopations—accents that go against the beat—and then turning them around, playing them backwards. Then he hits an unexpected high note, and it’s like a shaft of light going right through my body, filling me with warmth. Without even thinking, I cry out—“Yeah!” or “All right!” or something—and I marvel at the way that music, after all these years, can still surprise me.
The guy next to me just goes on munching his cheeseburger. But something special has happened, even if I’m the only one who knows it. The band on the radio are most likely second- or third-generation Puerto Ricans who were raised uptown, way uptown—in the Bronx—in a different world from me. But through the music, they’ve connected with an Englishman way downtown, in a way that would otherwise never happen.
A Cure For Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage
Eric Clapton, whose “Crossroads” with Cream is the only later version to include the line about Willie Brown and achieves an intensity and power of its own, must have thought long and hard about the Johnson legend. After an extended bout with heroin addiction, he reemerged in the early seventies playing in a more restrained, less bluesy style. In 1974, Rolling Stone interviewer Steve Turner asked him if the change in his music reflected a change in attitude, and instead of answering the question directly, he told Turner a story. “Once with the Dominos [a post-Cream Clapton group] , we dropped some acid in San Francisco,” he said, “and apart from the fact that the guitar was made of rubber, every bad lick I had, every naughty lick, blues lick whatever you want to call it, turned the audience into all these devils in sort of red coats and things. And then I’d play a sweet one, and they all turned into angels. I prefer playing to angels, personally.”
Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta
(page 105 in the microfiche)
Letter to Book Review, NYTIMES, October 7 1979
To the editor:
The review of “Portraits of the Artist in Exile” (Aug. 26) stirred memories of James Joyce in Trieste. My father was the American Consul charged with protecting British interests. He came to like and respect Joyce without the slightest inkling of what he was up to besides teaching at the Berlitz school and tutoring.
My father went so far as to suggest to my mother that they invite Joyce and Nora Barnacle to dinner. This led to words, and my mother’s Victorian upbringing prevailed.
The remote possiblity of social amenities between the two families vanished in 1915 when British subjects began to face internment, a prospect Joyce did not relish. He turned to his friends for help to get him to Switzerland. My father did the paperwork and with others made it plain to the Austrian authorities that Joyce would be a troublemaker to British officialdom. This indeed proved to be the case. Tom Stoppard makes it clear in “Travesties.” Joyce had nothing to give his friends but unsold copies of “The Dubliners.” The copy he gave my father is inscribed
18 Feby 1915
Joyce left for Zurich in June and within two years we were in the war. As our train from Vienna rolled into the station at Zurich one lone figure stood on the platform. It was Joyce come to meet us. As he took hold of the handle of an aged suitcase it broke, but he nimbly tucked it under his arm and led us out. With another simple gesture he had expressed his gratitude.
I never saw him again.
Ralph Busser Jr.
To The Stoner Who Works At Cottage Inn Pizza
You: the guy who answers the phone at cottage inn pizza
Me: Hungry and stoned out of my gourd
I called you from my cell phone but had completely forgot who I was calling by the time you answered the phone. Of course, you were also baked to bajeezus and forgot to tell me that I had called Cottage Inn.
When you answered and said, “Whatsup?” I thought about it, and after a 20 second pause I told you that was hungry. You suggested I try a pizza, and I agreed that it was probably a good idea.
Then I asked you if you sold pizza and you said that you could make me one. I said I wanted anchovies and something else on my pizza. You asked me what that something else was.
We spent five minutes listing toppings until we figured out that I was trying to remember how to say: “Sun dried Tomatoes.” When you said: “We’ll bake that right up for you,” we both started laughing uncontrollably.
It was the best pizza I ever had; I just wanted to thank you for helping me out.
There is no number for my offence in the vehicle code, I don’t think. Drunk Mouth is what I call it.
Another time I was driving my Aston Martin about 125 miles an hour over Waldo Grade. I didn’t bother to check the oil gauge. So, down at the bottom of a hill, on the Richardson Bridge, smoke and flames started coming out of the engine. Someone in a Volkswagon pulled over and said, “Do you want me to get the highway patrol for you?” I said, “Yes, please.” So he went and got the highway patrol. This cop weighs 205 pounds and has his thumbs hooked in his belt, which has a potbelly over it. I just didn’t like the looks of him. He said, “O.K., what’s going on here?” Remember, there are flames coming out of my car. I said, “What the fuck does it look like is going on? I’m having a goddamn party at four A.M. with fucking flames coming out of my car.” That’s the way I’m talking to him. “Down to the Civic Center, you drunk,” he says. Drunk Mouth, again.
Grace Slick, quoted in The Courage to Change: Personal Conversations about Alcoholism
Dear Quote Investigator: After Samuel Johnson published his masterful dictionary of the English language he was reportedly approached by two prudish individuals:
“Mr. Johnson, we are glad that you have omitted the indelicate and objectionable words from your new dictionary.”
“What, my dears! Have you been searching for them?”