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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.