”The Seventh Seal” was always my favorite film, and I remember seeing it with a small audience at the old New Yorker Theater. Who would have thought that that subject matter could yield such a pleasurable experience? If I described the story and tried to persuade a friend to watch it with me, how far would I get? ”Well,” I’d say, ”it takes place in plague-ridden medieval Sweden and explores the limits of faith and reason based on Danish – and some German – philosophical concepts.” Now this is hardly anyone’s idea of a good time, and yet it’s all dealt off with such stupendous imagination, suspense and flair that one sits riveted like a child at a harrowing fairy tale. Suddenly the black figure of Death appears on the seashore to claim his victim, and the Knight of Reason challenges him to a chess game, trying to stall for time and discover some meaning to life. The tale engages and stalks forward with sinister inevitability. Again, the images are breathtaking! The flagellants, the burning of the witch (worthy of Carl Dreyer) and the finale, as Death dances off with all the doomed people to the nether lands in one of the most memorable shots in all movies.
A digression here about style. The predominant arena for conflict in motion pictures has usually been the external, physical world. Certainly that was true for many years. Witness the staples of slapstick and westerns, war films and chases and gangster movies and musicals. As the Freudian revolution sank in, however, the most fascinating arena of conflict shifted to the interior, and films were faced with a problem. The psyche is not visible. If the most interesting fights are being waged in the heart and mind, what to do? Bergman evolved a style to deal with the human interior, and he alone among directors has explored the soul’s battlefield to the fullest. With impunity he put his camera on faces for unconscionable periods of time while actors and actresses wrestled with their anguish. One saw great performers in extreme close-ups that lingered beyond where the textbooks say is good movie form. Faces were everything for him. Close-ups. More close-ups. Extreme close-ups. He created dreams and fantasies and so deftly mingled them with reality that gradually a sense of the human interior emerged. He used huge silences with tremendous effectiveness. The terrain of Bergman films is different from his contemporaries’. It matches the bleak beaches of the rocky island he lives on. He has found a way to show the soul’s landscape. (He said he viewed the soul as a membrane, a red membrane, and showed it as such in ”Cries and Whispers.”) By rejecting cinema’s standard demand for conventional action, he has allowed wars to rage inside characters that are as acutely visual as the movement of armies. See ”Persona.”
I spent the most peaceful and light hours practicing trumpet on the roof. Our sweet landlady was a tripper who’d come up there to sit and listen to me play; she told me it was beautiful, and I once saw a soft tear roll down her painted face when she said it. I had two different friends later on, Maggie Ehrig and Ione Skye, both who told me they would hear the trumpet sounds flying through the neighborhood, not knowing the origin, and it brought them joy.
Note – good stuff, recommended.
Ozzy’s second Rare Breed gig was at Aston University, where once again we were booed off and the promoter only gave us half our fee. That was the night I learned that Ozzy could defecate at will. As we were loading our gear back into the van, Ozzy pulled down his pants, crouched on the bonnet of the promoter’s Jaguar and left one of his trademark calling cards. To be fair, he refined his talent as the years went by. On future American tours, he’d shit in hotel ice machines, so that anyone who fancied a Scotch on the rocks might get it with a twist.
Into the Void
Unbeknownst to Sharon, who as usual was taking care of day-to-day business in her hotel room, Ozzy found his way to the road crew’s hotel where he drank and snorted until Sharon finally tracked him down that evening.
Upon his arrival back at the hotel, Ozzy continued his rampage by defecating in the ice machines before retiring from another full day of mischief. Due to countless incidents of day off shenanigans, I truly believe that Ozzy is responsible for the modifications that have been made to the design of today’s hotel ice machines.
Note – both books recommended.
When we lived in England my days had a familiar rhythm. Each morning, my mother flung open the curtains in my room, and I tugged my school jumper over my head and pulled on my skirt before tumbling downstairs to eat cereal with my younger brother Jon. After school, we’d play on the swing in our garden, or crouch at the far end of the stream to watch dragonflies hovering above the gold-green surface.
I was used to this rhythm; I liked it and thought it would never change. Until one morning over breakfast, my father announced that we were going to sail around the world.
I paused, a spoonful of cornflakes halfway to my mouth.
“We’re going to follow Captain Cook,” Dad said. “After all, we share the captain’s surname, so who better to do it?” He picked up his cigarette and leaned back in his seat.
“Are you joking?” I asked.
Next to me, Jon watched Dad, his lips parted.
“Not at all,” said my father, puffing out a cloud of smoke. “I’m deadly serious.”
“Well, someone needs to mark the 200th anniversary of Cook’s third voyage, don’t they?” he said, raising his eyebrows at my mother.
“Of course they do, Gordon,” said Mum, returning his smile.
‘Dad said: We’re going to follow Captain Cook’: how an endless round-the-world voyage stole my childhood
In 1976, Suzanne Heywood’s father decided to take the family on a three-year sailing ‘adventure’ – and then just kept going. It was a journey into fear, isolation and danger …
This is an excerpt from the book:
Wavewalker: Breaking Free
by Suzanne Heywood
I’ve been saved by chicks more times than by guys. Sometimes just that little hug and kiss and nothing else happens. Just keep me warm for the night, just hold on to each other when times are hard, times are rough.
And I’d say, “Fuck, why are you bothering with me when you know I’m an asshole and I’ll be gone tomorrow?” “I don’t know. I guess you’re worth it.” “Well, I’m not going to argue.” The first time I encountered that was with these little English chicks up in the north, on that first tour. You end up, after the show, at a pub or the bar of the hotel, and suddenly you’re in the room with some very sweet chick who’s going to Sheffield University and studying sociology who decides to be really nice to you. “I thought you were a smart chick. I’m a guitar player. I’m just going through town.” “Yeah, but I like you.” Liking is sometimes better than loving.
Richards, Keith. Life (p. 130). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
Don’t try this at home. Even I can’t do it anymore; they don’t make them the same. They suddenly decided in the mid-’70s that they would make downers that would put you to sleep without the high. I would raid the lockers of the world to find some more barbiturates. No doubt somewhere in the Middle East, in Europe, I could find some. I love my downers. I was so hyper all the time that I needed to suppress myself. If you didn’t want to go to sleep and just enjoy the buzz, you just stood up for a little bit and listened to some music. It had character. That’s what I would say about barbiturates. Character. Every man who is worth his salt in downers knows what I’m talking about. And even that wouldn’t put me down; that would keep me on a level. To me, the sensible drugs in the world are the pure ones. Tuinals, Seconals, Nembutals. Desbutal was probably one of the best that there ever was, a capsule in a weird red and cream color. They were better than later versions, which acted on the central nervous system. You could piss them out in twenty-four hours; they didn’t hang on to your nerve endings.
Richards, Keith. Life (p. 249). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
When I first got down there, I did my homework to learn the specific Baltimore accent. I remember sitting at a table at Faidley’s, in the back of Lexington Market, over some crab cakes, and just watching and eavesdropping on people for hours. I picked up the interesting phrases, the habits of speech, the way those vowels sometimes took left turns. Baltimore has this character, like a stew, that comes from being part North and part South. Some things come up from Virginia and the Carolinas (where my dad’s family was from), and some down from the Northeast. It all converged in Baltimore, meshed together, and became its own unique thing.
When I came out of the downtown market and—in broad daylight—saw addicts nodding out right at the corner of Eutaw Street, I actually thought it was a setup for a shot for The Wire. I didn’t know much about Baltimore, but that sight woke me up. It drove home what we were doing. I’d met some people, heard some stories, and learned that the life expectancy in the Black neighborhoods of Baltimore is worse than in North Korea and Syria. Part of my process involved walking around the hood to get a sense of what it was like, especially at night. I knew East Flatbush, but you can’t just transfer one hood to the other. I feel like too many shows and films just do “New York” when they’re trying to capture a certain kind of urban Black community. But David Simon and Ed Burns were definitely going for something specific. There are similarities—we’re all human—but the character and textures are different, and I aimed to absorb what I could.
One late night I was driving around that area with a friend—windows down, sunroof open—and I heard some dude yelling what sounded like “Airyo!” After the second or third time, I pulled up at the curb and called one of them over to the window.
“What is that?” I asked. “What are you saying? ‘Air-Yo’?”
“Where you from?” he asked.
“What do you say in Brooklyn when you call each other?”
“Oh!” I said as it clicked. “You’re saying ‘Aye yo’?”
So I worked that into Omar’s vocabulary. It’s like “Hey, yo”—but “Aye yo,” with a peculiar Baltimore r sound jammed in there that took some practice, as did Omar’s specific drawl. I got compliments from Baltimore people on that, and when viewers were surprised I was from Brooklyn, that meant a lot to me.
Scenes from My Life
Michael K. Williams, with Jon Sternfeld
Highly recommend this book. After I read this I re-watched, for the nth time, Season 1 of The Wire. Still awesome. Still my favorite show.
Most of the commercials we produced were thirty- and sixty-second spots for products like Maxwell House Coffee, Vicks Vaporub, Ajax (bum-bum, the foaming cleanser), Colgate Dental Cream, and other household products. Technically speaking, these early ads were the simplest work imaginable. There’s a dancing coffee pot or some such thing with a jingle about Maxwell House exploding flavor buds; cut to a man tasting a steaming cup of coffee while his lovely, crisp wife looks on expectantly; cut to the best take of his reaction (“Hmm, that’s delicious!”); cut to the sign-off; and you’re through. But nothing is ever that simple in the advertising business.
This kind of work was all right for a week or two. It had its curiosities. But after a few months at Tempo, I was morose and close to broken, for I knew I was using almost none of the skills that had landed me the job in the first place. At night bad dreams about exploding flavor buds and foaming cleansers with catchy jingles and forced smiles began to bother me. In the one nightmare I still recall, I was stuffed into a Maxwell House jar and exploded into ten thousand pieces when they poured the boiling water on me.
When The Shooting Stops … The Cutting Begins
Ralph Rosenblum, Robert Karen
Fierce Attachments – Vivian Gornick
The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
The Liars’ Club – Mary Karr
Hitch-22 – Christopher Hitchens
Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward
Palimpsest – Gore Vidal
Giving Up the Ghost – Hilary Mantel
A Childhood – Harry Crews
Dreams From My Father – Barack Obama
Patrimony – Philip Roth
All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw – Theodore Rosengarten
Lives Other Than My Own – Emmanuel Carrère. Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale.
A Tale of Love and Darkness – Amos Oz. Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange.
This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolff
A Life’s Work – Rachel Cusk
Boyhood – J.M. Coetzee
Conundrum – Jan Morris
Wave – Sonali Deraniyagala
Always Unreliable: Unreliable Memoirs, Falling Towards England and May Week Was in June – Clive James
Travels With Lizbeth – Lars Eighner
Hold Still – Sally Mann
Country Girl – Edna O’Brien
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi. Translated from the French by Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris
Negroland – Margo Jefferson
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. – Viv Albertine
Experience – Martin Amis
Slow Days, Fast Company – Eve Babitz
Growing Up – Russell Baker
Kafka Was the Rage – Anatole Broyard
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
Personal History – Katharine Graham
Thinking in Pictures – Temple Grandin
Autobiography of a Face – Lucy Grealy
Dancing With Cuba – Alma Guillermoprieto. Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen.
Minor Characters – Joyce Johnson
The Memory Chalet – Tony Judt
Heavy – Kiese Laymon
Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood
H Is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
The Color of Water – James McBride
Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
Cockroaches – Scholastique Mukasonga. Translated from the French by Jordan Stump.
Life – Keith Richards
A Life in the Twentieth Century – Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
My Lives – Edmund White
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson
Close to the Knives – David Wojnarowicz
These were some books that I read in 21 and recommend. In no particular order and blurbs via Amazon.
A true, bestselling story from the battlefield that faithfully portrays the horror, the madness, and the trauma of the Vietnam War
More than half a million copies of Chickenhawk have been sold since it was first published in 1983. Now with a new afterword by the author and photographs taken by him during the conflict, this straight-from-the-shoulder account tells the electrifying truth about the helicopter war in Vietnam. This is Robert Mason’s astounding personal story of men at war. A veteran of more than one thousand combat missions, Mason gives staggering descriptions that cut to the heart of the combat experience: the fear and belligerence, the quiet insights and raging madness, the lasting friendships and sudden death—the extreme emotions of a “chickenhawk” in constant danger.
John Cleese’s huge comedic influence has stretched across generations; his sharp irreverent eye and the unique brand of physical comedy he perfected now seem written into comedy’s DNA. In this rollicking memoir, Cleese recalls his humble beginnings in a sleepy English town, his early comedic days at Cambridge University (with future Python partner Graham Chapman), and the founding of the landmark comedy troupe that would propel him to worldwide renown.
Cleese was just days away from graduating Cambridge and setting off on a law career when he was visited by two BBC executives, who offered him a job writing comedy for radio. That fateful moment—and a near-simultaneous offer to take his university humor revue to London’s famed West End—propelled him down a different path, cutting his teeth writing for stars like David Frost and Peter Sellers, and eventually joining the five other Pythons to pioneer a new kind of comedy that prized invention, silliness, and absurdity. Along the way, he found his first true love with the actress Connie Booth and transformed himself from a reluctant performer to a world class actor and back again.
Fired!: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, & Dismissed
Annabelle Gurwitch (Author), Bill Maher (Contributor), Felicity Huffman (Contributor), Bob Saget (Contributor), Robert Reich (Contributor), et al
Gurwitch’s popular Web site (www.firedbyannabellegurwitch.com) entices people to turn in their best tales of their worst firings; the cream of that crop is gathered in this star-studded collection of misery. The book is divided into chapters with titles like “The Job So Terrible You Can Only Hope to Be Fired” and “The Time You Deserved to Be Fired,” but mostly it’s just tales of horrible things happening to funny people. Gurwitch’s own piece—in which she’s canned from her role in a play written and directed by an officious Woody Allen, who told her “You look retarded”—is par for the course, with its droll humor and dash of celebrity. Comedians Bill Maher, D.L. Hughley, Bob Saget and Andy Borowitz all get in their zingers, while Illeana Douglas composes a poem that ranges from getting fired as a coat check girl (“How is it/possible to be fired hanging coats?/I have arms. I know what coats are”) to high farce with borderline psychotic filmmakers. The few noncelebrities invited to share their woes are generally less funny, though they tend to be more unpredictable, such as the ex–White House chef who provides a nice recipe for seared scallops.
The Last Face You’ll Ever See: The Culture of Death Row
In fascinating detail, Ivan Solotaroff introduces us to the men who carry out executions. Although the emphasis is on the personal lives of these men and of those they have to put to death, The Last Face You’ll Ever See also addresses some of the deeper issues of the death penalty and connects the veiled, elusive figure of the executioner to the vast majority of Americans who, since 1977, have claimed to support executions. Why do we do it? Or, more exactly, why do we want to?
The Last Face You’ll Ever See is not about the polarizing issues of the death penalty — it is a firsthand report about the culture of executions: the executioners, the death-row inmates, and everyone involved in the act. An engrossing, unsettling, and provocative book, this work will forever affect anyone who reads it.
The Last Taxi Driver
Hailed by George Saunders as “a true original—a wise and wildly talented writer,” Lee Durkee takes readers on a high-stakes cab ride through an unforgettable shift. Meet Lou—a lapsed novelist, struggling Buddhist, and UFO fan—who drives for a ramshackle taxi company that operates on the outskirts of a north Mississippi college town. With Uber moving into town and his way of life vanishing, his girlfriend moving out, and his archenemy dispatcher suddenly returning to town on the lam, Lou must finish his bedlam shift by aiding and abetting the host of criminal misfits haunting the back seat of his disintegrating Town Car. Lou is forced to decide how much he can take as a driver, and whether keeping his job is worth madness and heartbreak.
Here’s last years version of this list:
9 Books I Read in 2020 That Weren’t Published in 2020
Q: How did the hipster burn his tongue?
A: He drank his coffee before it was cool.
Grundy was the big dividing line in the Sex Pistols’ story. Before it, we were all about the music, but from then on it was all about the media. In some ways it was our finest moment, but in others it was the beginning of the end.
The crowds were settling into a formula, too. Instead of thinking for themselves like they used to, the people who came to the occasional gig we did actually get to play seemed to have almost a code of conduct in their minds of how they should behave. They’d read that spitting and pogoing was the thing to do, so they fucking did it.
Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol
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
First Rule: Get your panic in early. Fear gives you energy, so make sure you have plenty of time to use that energy. (The same rule applies to exams.)
Second Rule: Your thoughts follow your mood. Anxiety produces anxious thoughts; sadness begets sad thoughts; anger, angry thoughts; so aim to be in a relaxed, playful mood when you try to be funny.
Cleese, John. So, Anyway…
Lanegan had promised a friend, Kitchen Confidential writer Anthony Bourdain, that he would write his memoirs. Bourdain had encouraged him to do a preface to his 2017 lyric collection, I Am the Wolf, loved his writing, and pressed him to do more. “Anthony said, ‘There needs be a level of honesty beyond what you’ll be comfortable with for it not to be some crappy rock autobiography.’ That was the last thing I wanted to do, ever.
Taking “Street Fighting Man” to the extremes, or “Gimme Shelter.” But without a doubt it was a strange generation. The weird thing is that I grew up with it, but suddenly I’m an observer instead of a participant. I watched all these guys grow up; I watched a lot of them die. When I first got to the States, I met a lot of great guys, young guys, and I had their phone numbers, and then when I got back two or three years later, I’d call them up, and he’s in a body bag from Nam. A whole lot of them got feathered out, we all know. That’s when that shit hit home with me. Hey, that great little blondie, great guitar player, real fun, we had a real good time, and the next time, gone.
Sunset Strip in the ’60s, ’64, ’65—there was no traffic allowed through it. The whole strip was filled with people, and nobody’s going to move for a car. It was almost off-limits. You hung out in the street, you just joined the mob. I remember once Tommy James, from the Shondells—six gold records and blew it all. I was trying to get up to the Whisky a Go Go in a car, and Tommy James came by. “Hey, man.” “And who are you?” “Tommy James, man.” “Crimson and Clover” still hits me. He was trying to hand out things about the draft that day. Because obviously he thought he was about to be fucking drafted. This was Vietnam War time. A lot of the kids that came to see us the first time never got back. Still, they heard the Stones up the Mekong Delta.
Richards, Keith. Life (p. 238). Little, Brown and Company.
“Late at night she would tell me about coachwhip snakes, snakes that could wrap themselves around your leg and whip you on the back and shoulders with their platted tails, running you until they ran you to death. Then they would eat you.
And she told me about hoop snakes, snakes that had spiked tails and could form themselves into a hoop and roll after you, up hills and down hills. When they caught you, they’d hit you with the spiky end of their tails and kill you. If the spike missed you and hit a tree instead, the tree would be dead in fifteen minutes, with all the leaves on the ground because that spiky tail held killing poison.
She especially liked to talk about joint snakes, which she sometimes called glass snakes. They were pretty and seemed to be one of the few things in her world that was not deadly. When you hit or touched a joint snake, it would break into pieces about as long as a joint of your finger. It would stay that way until you left and then join itself back together. It didn’t hurt the snake to be knocked apart, and it lived forever.”