Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shawn Colvin poses nude

I knew a guy once. Came into a bar I worked. Always full of ideas. This was one: "Playboy should do their take on Parade's annual salary issue. Just sub the clothed head shots with nude body shots. Damn, tell me that thing wouldn't sell."

Not sure this is what he had in mind. But, it's getting closer.

Musicians ranging from the ballsy, sexy Kacy Crowley to the better-clothed-and-heard Lounge Lizards got naked for a calendar - all to help with medical costs for songwriter Jon Dee Graham's son. Read more about it here.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman

In this installment, J.S. Bankston faces Capote, Patton, his 42nd birthday and a building that 'looks like a penis that's been in cold water awhile.'

________

Thursday 10/27
I made the long hike to the multiplex to see "Elizabethtown," but since getting to said theater is such a pain in the ass I usually try to make the trip worthwhile by catching at least two movies. So I saw something called "Kids in America," a low-budget picture that stayed in town only one week.

Feh. Not much to it. Truly forgetable. Normally I research the hell out of any movie before I see it, and when I don't I pay the price for my sloth. Still, I probably got more out of this one than I did from "Mean Girls." All I remember about that was the black spot on Lindsay Lohan's lip.

As for "Elizabethtown," I wound up talking about this a week later with Triple J. We both agreed the music-fueled road trip in the last act was the best thing about the film. Triple J hated it otherwise. I did think the film captured the sprawling messiness of Southern family life, though. It seemed another installment in the recent trend of homages to the "weird-for-weirdness's-sake" films of the 1970s. Robert Altman and Hal Ashby were masters of this kind of thing, and these films usually had lots of quirky songs integrated into them. Wes Anderson is the leader of this school now.

Friday 10/28
I finally got to see "Capote," and dug the hell out of it. Some critics said it made Capote look like a monster in that he was shown doing less than his utmost to help killers Smith and Hickock in order that they'd be execut
ed and he'd have a great ending for his book. Yawn. The creation of a great work of art trumps any number of lapses in morality.

At the end of the film, they put up some text describing Capote's later life, saying that with the publication of "In Cold Blood" Capote became the most famous writer in America. That damn near gave me a stiffy.

I left the theater and headed home, but the night air was being desecrated by some shrill caterwauling of the "all-flash-and-no-ability" sort popularized by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton, and "American Idol"--what I call "secretary music." It took me awhile to figure out where this noise was coming from—apparently the Baptist mega-church across the street was having a fundamentalist born-again Christian carnival, and although I knew I would gather many blog-worthy sights if I ventured across that street, O my brothers and sisters, I did not dare to do so.

Saturday 10/29 – Tuesday 11/1
I spent most of these days sleeping fairly constantly, night and day, though I did venture out briefly on the 1st for lunch with James and an unsuccessful hunt for a new printer.

I told him about an estate sale running in San Antonio from Wednesday through Saturday. He said he had a paying gig to do at home Wednesday, but might consider going later in the week.

The estate sale was at the former home of O'Neil Ford, probably the most famous Texas architect of the 20th century, who designed the Tower of the Americas and Trinity University in SA. Though Ford died in 1982, I gather his widow died fairly recently. According to reports, the Fords traveled the world, collected all sorts of things, and never threw anything away. They lived in a Spanish-style house near the San Jose Mission, and apparently had enough room that they could store all their stuff without ever having to really sort through it.

I was hoping to look at the antiques, but I mostly wanted a crack at the library, but I also knew from past dealings with book dealers, that if I didn't get to the sale bright and early on the first day, the dealers would grab all the good stuff.

Wednesday 11/2
My 42nd birthday. I woke in the wee hours of the morning and considered taking a bus to SA so I cou
ld go to that sale myself, but I knew if I bought books on the scale I wanted to I'd have to leave the estate in a cab, then box the books up and find a UPS store and mail the books to my home in Austin—I couldn't lug those books around SA all day or get them onto the bus. I finally just gave up on the idea and went back to bed, so depressed I could barely move.

I got up about 8pm, walked Fred, ordered some Chinese food, and watched my favorite movie, "Patton," which I try to see every year on my birthday.

My birthday used to be my big event of the year and the last holiday I still celebrated, but the last couple years it's gone downhill. I've traditionally gotten my politician buddy Matt to organize the thing. We'd start the night in a restaurant, then go to an Irish pub named Fado downtown for drinks. Fado was always the main event of the evening.

Matt always wants to have the dinner at some place cheap so as to accommodate my poorer friends, while I always want to eat at some place nice, my argument being that more people come to the pub than to the restaurant anyway, and it's also a special occasion, worthy of nicer foods.

Three things can be said about Matt: 1) He is the life of the party, 2) he's very good at influencing people, and 3) though he's unmarried and in his early 30s, he acts like he's 75. I joke that he likes to go to bed after "Matlock." He likes to play like he's a big swinger, but he hates staying up past 10pm, even on the weekend, and he's even been known to avoid certain friends, even friends visiting from out of town, that he thinks might keep him up late.

My last two birthdays have been poorly-attended and on both occasions we stayed long at the restaurant, Matt started acting tired around 10pm and decided he didn't want to go to the pub, then everybody else followed suit and pussed out. And it turned out that both times there were people waiting for me who had gone straight to the pub, and got pissed off at me I never showed. I explained to them that I was riding with these other people who didn't want to go, but the damage had been done.

So this year I decided not to even mess with it.

Anyway, after my movie I had to start getting ready for bed, as I had an early appointment the next day. I almost never use an alarm clock these days because I'm out of work and really never need to be anywhere at any specific time, so when I do set an alarm it throws me into a panic—I'm afraid I won't get to sleep in the narrow time allotted and will be tired all the next day. This has gotten so bad that pretty much any time I have to set an alarm I have to take a pill to calm me down enough to sleep.

Thursday 11/3
My early appointment was an 11:45am lunch with Triple J Himself, Incognato, and a variety of other Citysearch Austin veterans, most of whom I'd not seen in four years. From the reports I was the only person from that office that hasn't leapt from success to success since 2001. No one really seemed to have changed much---maybe I was fatter and less formally-dressed and I wasn't spitting obscenities into a computer right at that moment, but other than that we fell into our old patterns.

It was quite a jolly time, and about the only fun I had on my birthday week. The only downside was that it was over too quickly. (I still do not envy Triple J all the work-related meetings he has to go to. I'd rather have my nails ripped off one by one than go to another one of those.)

After lunch I cabbed it over to 6th and Lamar and had a little apres-birthday spending spree at Waterloo Video and Book People.

My cabbie was a Middle Easterner, and most Middle Easterners I've dealt with have been polite to the point of courtliness, but this guy had clearly been over here long enough to absorb the American frat boy, "Girls Gone Wild," sexist pig mentality. He kept commenting on the girls walking by on the sidewalk, "Hey, did you see the ass on that one? The one walking the dog? What was she doing homeless? I tell you, a girl with an ass like that—there's no reason for her to be homeless. With that kind of ass she should have no trouble finding a man to keep her. Any woman with a great ass, a great body, she can find a man to keep her, to put her up someplace, she doesn't have to worry about anything—not work, not anything—she always has a place." I guess he felt all attractive women exist only to serve as mistresses, laying around their swanky rent-free apartments all day, waiting for their rich sugar daddies to come home and fuck them.

Before I went to bed I talked to James. His wife, Nyssa, was home sick with a cold and he was afraid he'd get it, but he still wanted to try and go to that estate sale the next day. By this point, I figured I'd missed the best of the sale, but I said I'd see where things stood in the morning.

I hope Triple J and company had enough free time to explore the city and see all the new buildings that have gone up, such as the Whole Foods flagship store and the tallest building in town—the Frost Bank Building.

There's been a lot of discussion over what the top of the building looks like—I think it resembles an oil well drilling bit. My problem with the structure, though, is that for all its ornamental base and old-fashioned structural set-backs of the sort you see on skyscrapers from the 1930s, the tower itself is out of proportion—it should be at least 50% to 75% taller. As it is, it looks like a penis that's been in cold water awhile.

Friday 11/4
I woke really early, in the wee hours of the morning in fact. By the time I got ahold of James, I was ready to go back to bed. And he sounded like he was getting sick. He was willing to go still, but warned me I would indeed get Nyssa's cold if I was in close quarters with him in his little truck. So I decided it would be best for all concerned to say to hell with it and go back to bed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Chris Whitley (1960-2005)

When someone dies, the best words are always said by the ones closest. Here are a few about Chris Whitley.

Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged. Robert Johnson at the crossroads. Iggy Pop onstage. Chris Whitley was.

"Indian Summer" (off Dirt Floor)

"Radar" featuring Dave Matthews (off Rocket House)

"Big Sky Country/Gasket" (off Live At Martyrs)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

No. 15: Name that celebrity

Monday, November 21, 2005

"A band whose idea of inspiration was crashing into a snowbank and coming out with a six-pack."

The title of this entry is a quote from longtime Village Voice critic Robert Christgau about The Replacements.

Here are the CliffNotes.

The Replacements (Bob Stinson - guitar, Tommy Stinson - bass, Chris Mars - drums, Paul Westerberg - everything else) formed in 1979 in Minneapolis. The road to first success was quick. Westerberg walked into a local record store called Oarfolkjokeopus and handed the man behind the counter a tape. That man liked it. And, more importantly, that man was Peter Jesperson who started Twin/Tone Records and released the early Replacements albums.

Open bar. Major label. Open bar. Saturday Night Live appearance. Goodnight, 1991.

_________

Satisfied '75 was kind enough to send me this rare footage from their SNL appearance.

The band had been drinking. If you listen close, you'll hear Westerberg pull back from the mic, say 'fuck' on live television, and then stumble back to the lyrics of "Bastards of Young."

(Check out the B&W, one-camera-shot-of-a-home-stereo video for "Bastards of Young." This is one of three things: Simple. Brilliant. Simply Brilliant.)

Along the way, guitarist Bob Stinson got fired from the band for abuse and then died, years later, of an overdose.

One music critic compared Bob's departure from the band like "someone being kicked out of Disneyland for being too nice."

Stinson was replaced by local guitarist, Slim Dunlap.

Westerberg got it. Too late, but got it. In 1993, he said this to a local paper.

"I think during the course of the band it was easy for us to find scapegoats and point fingers at the record company or other bands or the fans, and that's all crap. You could list a hundred reasons, but the bottom line is we didn't go for it hard enough."

In '93, three of the four members released solo albums. Westerberg was an obvious. But, Mars and Dunlap also stepped to the songwriter/frontman role. Those albums are good. This was what this post was originally suppose to be about. But, it isn't.

The best post-Replacements album, also recorded in 1993, is Bash & Pop's Friday Night Is Killing Me. Funny thing, it is more of a solo album than any of the others. Tommy Stinson sings and plays guitar. He wrote all but one song - and that one, he co-wrote.

________

Slim Dunlap was once described as not good enough to play guitar like Keith Richards and not good enough to write like Paul Westerberg BUT ...

Chris Mars is talented. I loved those albums at first, even tenth listen. When I look at those titles now -- "Ego Maniac," "Whining Horse" and "Bullshit Detector" -- all I hear is let-it-go bitterness toward Westerberg.

Paul Westerberg. Fuck -- was, is and will always be one of the best songwriters. But, like a 5'6" wannabe-basketball forward once said to me, "that's wasted talented."

Moral of the story. Tommy Stinson was 13 when The Replacements formed. He followed, others led. He wasn't the most talented. He never got too big for his britches. But yet, when the dust settled, he's the one standing and I'm the one still listening.

Here are three tracks from Bash & Pop's album. I recommend picking up the remaining seven.
_________

Side note: At their height, The Replacements played Keith Richards' birthday party. In contrast, David Bonderman, who runs an investment company in Fort Worth, shelled out millions (newspapers reported anywhere from $6.75 million to more than $10 million) to have the Rolling Stones play his 60th birthday party in 2002. Wonder what The Replacements got?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rare, Rare Finds: The American Fuse, The Old Joe Clarks, "Scrappy" Jud Newcomb

Welcome to another installment of rare, rare finds--artists and songs you might only know if you were in that city at that time.

The American Fuse - (Dallas, 1997)
"Redline"
"Psycho Killer" *Talking Heads cover
If Motley Crue's "Red Hot" fucked Iggy Pop's "Blood on Your Cool" just after last call in the back of a Dallas country bar, this would be the sound you'd hear.

The Old Joe Clarks - (San Francisco, 1997)
"Breaking Ground"
"New John Henry"
2:20am. Heading toward Upper Haight. 1995 or so. Stopped at a light. Look over. In the next car --a ragged Caprice Classic-type-- is OJC's Mike Coykendall. And he's singing, loud, with drunk-like swagger, griping the wheel, to a song off Richard Buckner's "Bloomed."

I first bought these songs in the only-offered cassette form after a show before 15 or so of us. If life is fair, I imagine Buckner, driving late at night in his pickup, singing along to "Breaking Ground."

"Scrappy" Jud Newcomb - (Austin, 2003)
"Empty Bottles"
"Maybe I Caught a Glimpse"
This is THE guitar player-for-hire in Austin. Fans of the Richards in Jagger-Richards should love this.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"Penises Rule!!" by Ron Jeremy

As if it wasn't enough just to put adults to bed, Paul McCartney is now going after their kids. He's published a children's book, entitled "High in the Clouds," about a squirrel named Wirral (after the Beatle bore's hometown) who's forced to go on after the death of his mother as a result of a tree cut down by nature haters.

McCartney now joins a long list of what-the-hell? celeb/children story authors like Katie Couric, Madonna, LeAnn Rimes, NFL Barber brothers, Ed Koch and Will Smith. Here's a few other titles that leave me scratching my head.

____________

John A. Gotti - "The Children of Shaolin Forest"
The Times quoted his lawyer, upon requesting bail for his client, saying that Gotti "now prefers writing children's books to extortion and racketeering.''

Elizabeth Taylor - "Nibbles and Me"
What the fuck is it with squirrels? This then-teenage actress wrote a memoir about her adventures with a pet squirrel.

Ricky Gervais - "Flanimals"
BBC's "The Office" star created a made-up world inhabited by The Plamglotis and Munty Flumple. This is the same guy who said, when being introduced to Paris Hilton, "Oh, sorry Paris, I didn't recognize you without a cock in your mouth."

Bob Dylan - "Man Gave Names to All the Animals"
Many of us would love to forget Dylan's Christian-rock period in the late '70s that produced the album, Slow Train a Comin'. Many of us except Dylan that is. In 1999, he fanned the flames with this book built around the same-named song off that all-about-God recording. Here's an excerpt courtesy of Amazon: "'[Man] saw an animal leavin' a muddy trail./ Real dirty face and a curly tail./ He wasn't too small and he wasn't too big./ 'Ah, think I'll call it a pig.' "

____________

I love parts of Dylan's Slow Train a Comin'. But like most albums or songs that are forced to fit into a theme, the entirety falls short. (Elton John's grade-school adjustment of "Candle in the Wind" for Lady Di's funeral is an obvious example of this.)

U2 is the world's greatest Christian rock band and that's in large part because it's a thread throughout their albums and not a noose forced around their necks.

My guess is that Dylan built his ode to the Mighty One around the song, "Gotta Serve Somebody." It opens the record and is regarded among his best. But seven songs in, still on the 'sing the praises of' train, Dylan hits an all-time low with "Man Gave Names to All the Animals." See if you agree.

"Gotta Serve Somebody"

"Man Gave Names to All the Animals"

Friday, November 18, 2005

An "I Saw" odd pairing

A still-damn-sexy Elizabeth Shue chatting it up with the never-really-ever-sexy contestant from Hell's Kitchen on the patio at Beechwood in Marina Del Rey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Singing about celebrities is like ...

In a recent comment, Bankston linked me to the term 'star-fucker.' Which got me thinking.

Here's a ranked list of songs about (and titled to) celebrities.

10. "Michael Stipe" - P (featuring Gibby Haynes, Bill Carter, Sal Jenco and Johnny Depp)
9. "Andy Warhol" - David Bowie
8. "MLK" - U2
7. "Lenny Bruce" - Bob Dylan
6. "What Would Willie Do" - Bruce Robison
5. "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night" - Billy Bragg
4. **"Wyonna's Big Brown Beaver" - Primus
3. "Hey Jack Kerouac" - 10,000 Maniacs
2. "Edie (Ciao Baby)" - The Cult
1. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" - Bauhaus

__________

There's a great quote about music writing. It goes something like 'writing about music is like dancing about architecture.'

Still, I always look forward to the year-end polls. I've never been one to say, 'It's been a bad year for music.' Somewhere, someone is wrapping a good story in a sweet melody. And each year, my trusted 'have you heard?'s - eMusic, Aquarium Drunkard, Ramble On, Harp, Q, emails/comments/mixed CDs from friends, etc. - increase.

But if my only source was this Amazon list, I'd be fucking bummed the way this year turned out.

__________

**The word is still out on this song and its connection to Winona Ryder. Here's what Primus' Les Claypool said on the topic: "That song was never supposed to be what it became. It was gonna be this goofy little song on the record with some banjo and some upright bass, and it just kind of evolved into the lead track. I met Winona Ryder. She had heard from a friend of ours that I'd possibly written a song about her. She's actually really cool. She wasn't pissed really; I think she was just more confused. She wanted to know why we might write a song about her and I told her, 'It has nothing to do with you.' It was really cool. I got to meet a movie star."

Monday, November 14, 2005

"I Saw" Update

Here's a story.

There is a place down the block from my house. I go there to eat, in large part, because no one else is there.

It's around the corner from a famous gym. And in May, they set up a sushi bar. Things started to get busy. Yet, I remained loyal, and just got there earlier in the week.

Tonight was like the old days. Almost.

I was taking in the last paragraphs of a profile of Steve Buscemi in the latest New Yorker.

(Buscemi got hit by a bus as a kid. Cracked his skull. Years later and as a result of this accident, the city funded $6,000 worth of Lee Strasberg Theatre training. Grabbed attention as a standup/performance artist in the East Village. Took a day job as a probationer with Little Italy's Engine Company 55. Married. Landed the role of Mr. Pink. Got fame. Had son. Moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn. Drives a Volkswagen stationwagon.)

Over my left shoulder, ordering a 'large coke' and something for a fit, female 80-lb'er was Tom 'Tiny' Lister Jr. How quickly I went from reading about Buscemi to feeling like Buscemi at the corner of the Trees Lounge bar.

I couldn't tell if Tiny's eye was fucked up. Always thought it was. Impression: damn big, seemingly damn nice. That bellowing voice sounds even "I'm-taller-than-you" in person.

_________

Anyway, I can already hear it now from Anonymous aka Mr. It'sAColdColdWorldAndI'mNotHandingOutBlankets, but it has been an odd couple of weeks for sightings. Here's who I saw in just the last two weeks:

  • Martin Bashir dining with another male journalist-type at Ocean and Vine in Santa Monica.
  • Trey Anastasio, with two friends, coming out of Tower on Sunset with CDs in hand.
  • Bret Michaels, middle of the day, getting into a silver Mercedes a block from the Whisky A Go Go as others waited with audio equipment.
  • Anthony Kiedis sitting with friends at the Coffee Bean on Sunset, facing the doorway, watching women walk in and out.
  • Few days later, same Coffee Bean, Angelyne pulling up in a pink Corvette with the CA license plate, ANGELYNE.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"I get the willies when I see closed doors."

The title is the opening line of Joseph Heller's novel, Something Happened.

"If you understand the first line ... you understand the whole novel. Not that the rest of the novel is redundant, but that the first line is the original kiss between true lovers. The whole affair contained in the original kiss, the novel an elegant playing out of the implications contained in the first line."

I stole that idea or rather was influenced by it, for "First lines, best lines."

___________


The best writing (and, unfortunately, the worst) usually begins with "I."

But, I've been thinking. A lot lately. So, bear with this "I." It was this post and Bankston's latest that put me over the edge.

My single, greatest influence wrote these words about Kerouac.

"Kerouac is your grandfather, caught in a wine-laden moment, Tokayed, railman's cap thrown back, slouching on the fender of a brown Dodge convertible, its top ripped, six inches long and held together with grey masking tape ... So, the irony on irony. The writer who wrote the best and most about memory died forgotten. A quirk, a historical accident, who knows, and more importantly, who cares, and Kerouac was rescued from the remainder table, pulled back on to the shelves, and thus you have a precious gift, your grandfather back telling stories of the road, and World War II, and madness, and beautiful exotic women in San Francisco and Mexico City. Your grandfather, caught in time, stripped of all the repetition and bigotry, telling only one simple story, elegant in its simplicity, of how it was to be and hope and die in mid-century America ... Such the sweet power of fiction."

After a dinner, still at the table, I asked this greatest influence, who he would rather be. The billy-of-any-ball character in life who inspires a novel (Neal Cassady's Dean Moriarty in "On The Road") or the one (Jack Kerouac) who writes about it.

He reacted as if I'd asked him what's better, living or dying?

"The writer, of course."

___________

Life's greatest influences are the ones we know intimately. The ones we see laughing during an episode of Saved By the Bell before pulling out a yellow legal pad to work in a quote by little-known, but great Canadian writer Morley Callaghan (the writer/boxer who knocked out Hemingway in the famous match where Fitzgerald was distracted, did not ring the bell, let the round go until Hemingway was on his back).

So with that, I leave you with more words about Kerouac from my single, greatest influence.

"I'm still not sure why a young woman or man would want to be like a man so sorrowful, so misunderstood, and so dead, but if you must, be kind, be gentle, write much and read more. Or take [Allen] Ginsberg's advice and 'Be kind to yourself, Harry, it is only one and perishable of many on the planet.'"

And, of course, I agree.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman

It's not often that a man fits so snug amongst his influences. This week, J.S. Bankston looks at the men (and even some women) he holds in high regard.

----------------------

Twenty years ago, in the fall of 1985, my college room-mate and I got bored and decided to greatly augment the posters and pictures I had decorating our dorm room. In no time we had the walls, doors, dresser drawers, and ceiling covered with photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, posters, photocopies, postcards, and other sorts of visual art.

My parents yanked me out of college for all of the following year, but I came back in 1987 and put up even more pictures. This collection endured in one form or other until 1992, when I moved into an apartment and most of the materials went into my files, and my décor changed.

But when this display was at its most layered and complex drunk or high buddies from my dorm would come knocking late at night and plop themselves on my floor, find an image to study, and lay there for hours sometimes, immersing themselves in another world. The images on the ceiling were especially chosen for their interesting, trippy qualities , and they were not all hung in one direction---you'd have to twist your neck and move around to see each individual picture the “right way.”

Many of the pictures, though, were of my heroes and role models. A friend, after examining the portrait gallery, once observed, “There is no true 'Bankston.' You're just bits and pieces of all your heroes.”

Perhaps that was true once. I don't know if it's true now. At any rate, here's some, but by no means all, of the people in my cool book---

Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin– These men made careers out of not giving a shit, and being cool doing it.

I think it's interesting that though he was a big star, Lee Marvin regarded his time in the Marines in World War II as the chief experience of his life. He is in fact buried in Arlington, under a government-issue tombstone that lists him only as “LEE MARVIN – PFC --US MARINE CORPS.”

A decade ago I knew a fellow named Ralph Hall, who used to work in Hollywood as a sound and music editor. I asked him who the best and worst people were that he’d worked with, and he singled out Mitchum for his highest praise.

Mr. Hall worked with Mitchum on “Farewell, My Lovely.” According to the Mitchum biography, “Baby, I Don’t Care,” the actor did not get on well with that film’s director, Dick Richards. One evening they were filming near the Pacific Coast Highway and Richards became such a pain in the ass Mitchum grabbed him and dragged him out to the PCH, saying, “Well, let’s see if you can at least direct traffic!”

Frank Sinatra– “The Voice.” The man whose singing always puts me in a calm, dreamy place, no matter what my mood. And as the saying goes, “It’s Frank’s world. The rest of us just live in it.”

In that eventful fall of 1985 I actually got to see FS perform in Houston at the Summit sports arena (later known as Compaq Center, and still later, sadly, as the Reverend Joel Osteen’s Lakewood mega-church). I went with a friend’s suite-mate, a short, squat little guy with a fringe of whiskers and a penchant for wearing funny hats. He looked like someone who’d be fond of Dungeons and Dragons and the band Marillion, but he was nevertheless one of the few people I’ve ever met upon whom I would without reservation hang the title of artistic genius, in that he was able to fart the bass line of the Beatles song “Taxman.”

The night of the concert, we were waiting at one of the entrances to the Summit, and I saw that most of the crowd consisted of middle-aged and old people, but I also noticed a New Wave kid of about 18 or 19, dressed in parachute pants, skinny tie, under-sized hat– now that I think about it he was dressed pretty much the way singer Pete Doherty does today, except that his hair was a little more Robert Smith. I figured this kid had just been dragged along by his grandmother and was only there to humor her.

My buddy and I had eaten an excellent dinner, and had stopped by the Dunhill store in Houston’s Galleria Mall, so we could have some nice cigars to smoke during the concert. (You could actually smoke inside back then.)

Sinatra was great–even his stage patter made me laugh out loud. He was 69 years old then (funny how that no longer seems ancient to me), and though his voice was no longer as perfect as it had been during his artistic zenith during his Capitol Records years (1954-1962), he used its weaknesses to successfully convey the feelings of world-weariness and loss prevalent in many of his songs.

But during one of Frank’s swinging, up-tempo tunes, my buddy and I were puffing away, digging it, on top of the world, when I happened to glance over my right shoulder and notice a row or two back and maybe forty feet away, the New Waver and his grandmother, grooving away in their seats, laughing and smiling, having the time of their lives.

Jorge Luis Borges– My favorite writer. A bookish mama's boy who described himself as a reader first and a writer second, he was obsessed with libraries, time, encyclopedias, labyrinths, legends, scholarly research, sleep, dreams, and the differences between reality and illusion.

Borges taught at UT Austin briefly in the early 60s, and every time I pass his UT office or his apartment building (which director Richard Linklater later called home), I make a slight bow in honor of his spirit.

When I was taking Spanish in college I would practice by copying out Borges poems and stories in the original Spanish, writing on graph paper, the way he did. I would then skip three lines, and attempt an English translation on the second line, and copy a more exact translation from one of my English editions on the third, and then compare the two translations. I should mention I took a year of Spanish in junior high and two years each in high school and college, but still can barely speak or read it. My high school Spanish teacher told my mother “He speaks Spanish like an old Chinese woman.”

Because my folks kept cutting me off financially whenever I did badly in school it took me 12 years to get my BA. When my dad became fatally ill he gave me enough money to finally finish. I completed my last ever undergraduate paper, written on Borges and in Spanish, for my Spanish IV class, in a hospital waiting room an hour before my dad died.

Now most of the people reading this are probably music fans. Imagine, then, what it would be like to have no one with whom you could carry on discussions about music. Well, that's what it's like for me in many of my areas of interest. I have, for example, had maybe four intelligent conversations about architecture in my entire life, and I have been fascinated with that subject for years.

So also with Borges. Naturally, then, about a decade ago, when I was in exile in culturally barren Bryan/College Station, I went into ecstatics when I learned a Borges conference had been scheduled for the week of my birthday.

This was the highlight of my year. I took off work, wore a coat and tie to both nights of the conference, met the visiting professors, including one who had been a Borges protege in Buenos Aires (I made a point of shaking his hand, in order to pick up the good mojo by osmosis), and asked lots of questions. One of the strangest things was that because I knew and loved Borges stuff so well, during every presentation I mentally anticipated each speaker's words by about 30 seconds. I knew exactly what they were about to say and our minds were in perfect harmony.

I arrived early for the second night's session. The room filled up quickly—it turns out students in lower level Spanish courses were getting extra credit for attending. Borges experts from all over the world gathered at the tables at the head of the room and began huddling together and talking. A couple looked up and pointed at me. Surely I was imagining things.

But after about ten minutes of this the MC of the conference, the head of the A&M Spanish Department, came over and leaned toward me. He spoke English with a very thick accent.

--Yes, Professor ________ is one of the lecturers tonight and he needs an English translation of a Borges poem...Como se dice?... “Poem of the Gifts?” Would you have an English translation of this?

--(Taken aback and flattered) Yes, it's probably my favorite poem of his, but I don't have it with me.

--Could you possibly get it before the conference starts?

--Well, I came here on a bicycle. I don't know if I could get there and back fast enough.

--That's okay. I'll find someone to drive you.

--I have three different English translations. Which should I bring?

--All of them if you can, thanks.

All the students were now looking at me, wondering what was going on. Soon a graduate student approached and announced that she was to be my driver. I got up from my seat and as we walked out the students started murmuring, “Who is that guy?”

My driver and I headed outside and to the parking lot.

--So, Mr. Bankston, what university are you from?

--I'm not with a university.

--Well, what paper are you delivering tonight?

--I'm not delivering a paper. I'm a clerk in a used bookstore here in town. I'm just a fan of Borges.

Then as now my apartment was in no condition for me to allow visitors. I ran in, found the books, and we zipped back to campus. The conference had already started. My driver took the books to the professor who needed them. He examined them, frowned, then set them aside. I found out afterwards that he needed a translation not of “The Poem of the Gifts,” but of “The Other Gift.” The professor who'd approached me had bungled the titles.

I was invited to a party for the Spanish faculty, grad students, and guest speakers, where Argentine food and wine were to be served and gaucho songs sung, but it was at a house on the other side of town. I couldn't bike that far in the dark in a jacket and tie, and I was too ashamed of my station to ask anyone for a ride.

Mark Twain– Road trip accounts have been a cornerstone of American literature at least from the time of Captain John Smith, and Twain certainly made his contributions in that area.

I remember working as a tour guide at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum in the early '80's, sitting in the Museum's stone-lined rotunda, giving out with great nasal cackles while reading Twain's “Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses.”

Twain was an enormous influence on my style and voice. I've always loved how he cloaked arch and sarcastic observations in purple Victorian prose.

Jack London– Another great writer/adventurer. And he did it all in 40 years. When I think that I’m 42 and have accomplished comparatively nothing it makes me want to bury my head in the sand.

I’ve always been drawn to London’s credo (though I clearly don’t live it): “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

Huey Long– The T. Harry Williams biography of Long is one of the best biographies of anyone I’ve ever read. It painted Long as not only a ruthless wielder of power, but also as someone who had great comic skills, and who did not let status and importance change his behavior and nature. He once almost caused an international incident by receiving a German ambassador while wearing pajamas, and earned a black eye in a night club mens room for pissing on the man ahead of him in line at a urinal. My kinda guy.

Norman Mailer-- Mailer is the only writer of the post-war Jewish-American renaissance I've ever been able to get into, and I confess I've only read his non-fiction. His mind fascinates me, even when I don't agree with him.

Still, about 20 years ago he was asked in an interview in “Esquire” magazine about the nature of manhood, about what it means to be a man. He responded every man fears that he is not man enough, but that to be a man is to do just a little bit better than everyone expects of you. I found this comforting on one level, but disappointing on another, since people have always had such high expectations of me.

Jack Kerouac–Kerouac has influenced me on some levels I've barely begun to understand. He's even influenced me theologically. My favorite book of his is “Lonesome Traveler.” While I like “On the Road,” the type in my copy is so small it took me several tries before I could get all the way through it. (I had the same problem with “The Catcher in the Rye,” until someone loaned me a large-type edition.)

Johnny Cash– Cash contained multitudes. He was a combination of an Old Testament patriarch and an American Founding Father, and was both Saturday sinner and Sunday saint. He was as comfortable in the company of Richard Nixon and Billy Graham as he was with Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. The contradictions of the American character resolved themselves in him, and I’ll always regret I never got to see him perform live.

Frank Lloyd Wright–When I was a kid I wanted to be an architect, and Wright was, after all, the most colorful one to ever come down the pike. I was reading Wright's books about the same time the other kids my age were reading, “Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret,” and his rather lyrical writing style and peculiar notions of capitalization warped and influenced me for years. I've long been fond of two quotations of his:
“Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.”

“Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.”

Wright's spending often got him in major trouble, and he never lived within his means. Once a sheriff came by Wright's Chicago studio to collect a long-neglected debt. While Wright's son John entertained the sheriff by showing him some drawings, Wright ran out the back way with a stack of Japanese prints.

As luck would have it, a major collector of Japanese prints was in town that day, so Wright sold the prints to the collector, went back home, paid the sheriff, then went with his son on a major spending spree, buying furniture, art works, and a couple grand pianos, topping off the day with a meal in an expensive restaurant, after which he was back living on his credit again. John wrote that for some reason his father seemed to thrive on the danger of living beyond his means, and I can definitely sympathize with that.

William S. Burroughs– The Beat I most identify with. Burroughs was always the sage, the elder the others always consulted. He had the darkest, most pessimistic vision of the world of all that bunch. And I can certainly understand what it must have been like for him to have spent an entire year staring at the toe of his shoe. (No, I've never been a junkie, but I have been that bored---many, many times.)

I've gone looking for Uncle Bill's ghost several times. I hunted down his former home in Algiers, Louisiana the first time I went to New Orleans. And I've tried to locate his old marijuana plantation in New Waverly, Texas, which is halfway between Willis, where I went to high school, and Huntsville, where I went to college. Burroughs's son was born in a hospital in Conroe that my architect/contractor grandfather worked on, and I've seen Burroughs “cut-ups” that included newspaper clippings from Point Blank, Texas, the hamlet where my father was born.

John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen– They set the bar for American masculinity at a level that’s impossible to reach, yet it's fun to try.

For me the coolest scene in “Bullitt” is not the car chase, but when McQueen goes grocery shopping: He just lopes over to the frozen food case, sticks in both arms, and comes back with two stacks of TV dinners; it’s clear he doesn’t care which kind they are.

And Newman gave us the amoral role model Hud Bannon: “You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box.”

Yukio Mishima– A deeply complicated man, both a sensitive artist and near-cartoonish, self-promoting he-man. His very public act of seppuku was something, like Hemingway's own suicide eight years earlier, he had been rehearsing in his life and art for years.

Henry Miller– For years Henry Miller was known only for the sexual content of his books, but that’s the element I’ve always cared least about. I’ve always loved his digressions and philosophical ruminations, as well as his Whitmanesque appetite for life. Read the interviews he gave when he was an old man–he was definitely centered, a modern sage. (“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”)

Most people are introduced to Miller through “Tropic of Cancer,” but the first one I bought was “The Books in My Life.” I thought it was fascinating to find a writer who was willing to go beyond merely listing his favorite books and actually talking at length about them. But what cinched the sale was the essay, “Reading in the Toilet.”

Years ago a friend of mine took a date to see “Henry and June,” the first-ever NC-17 film, about the romance of Miller and Anais Nin. My friend was in the same boat as me and Miller–he was a downwardly mobile, out-of-shape writer–but the movie made Miller into a sex symbol, and it consequently got my friend laid that night.

Hunter S. Thompson– My liberator.

My friend Mark (the Bob Sacamano to my Cosmo Kramer) always claimed, “I never pushed you over the edge. I could tell you were already at least half-nuts when I met you. I just alerted you to the presence of the edge and you jumped off on your own.”

One of the ways Mark helped in this was in turning me on to Thompson. I was at Mark's house one night, and needed to spend some quality time in the bathroom and wanted something to read. Mark suggested “The Great Shark Hunt,” the first volume of Thompson's collected articles. And from then on I was hooked.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was to me what “The Catcher in the Rye” is to most young people. Thompson offered a different path, a way of living life that had nothing to do with suburbia, 9-to-5, Little League, and all that other soul-sucking, rule-obeying, middle-class American bullshit.

Thompson was also, after you stripped away his theatrical persona, a damned good reporter and a keen barometer of the nation's ebbs and flows. He was a gateway drug as well, as true devotees of his work invariably seek out the works of his literary outlaw brethren--Henry Miller, Burroughs, Kerouac, Bukowski, et. al.

Early on I came to understand the Thompsonian notion of “bad craziness.” One night in my first year of college, Mark and I had gotten dressed up, with the intention of going out on the town in Houston. But Mark had been invited to a party at the home of his friend, Larry Brantley, who still was in high school. We agreed we'd not stay long—just drop by, have a drink, then leave.

Larry was going through his own Hunter Thompson fixation at the time, and greeted us at his front door wearing a Hawaiian shirt, fishing hat, sunglasses, shorts, and canvas shoes, carrying a martini glass and a cigarette in a holder, while affecting an incomprehensible slur.

Most of the guests looked to be high school freshmen and sophomores. One kid tried to engage Mark in conversation, announcing that he needed to get a new “such-and-such” wheel for his skateboard. Mark replied, “Well, I need a lover that won't drive me crazy.” I guffawed at that, but the kid was completely lost.

We went into the back yard to find the ice chests with the beer. Larry had neglected to tell us he was having a pool party. Mark and I were very much over-dressed. About a dozen kids were cavorting in and around the above-ground pool. We tried to ignore them, and took a couple seats off to the side.

But naturally, some of these punks decided they'd impress the girls by making these two older, out-of-shape guys look foolish. Before we realized it, these kids jumped on us, and tried to pull us away from our beers and dunk us in the pool.

Now neither Mark nor I wanted to spend the night driving around Houston in wet, squishy clothes. And we also didn't want to have to go back to our homes and change again. I wore contact lenses at that time, and I wasn't supposed to get them in water. And furthermore, I can't swim. So we fought it.

Mark is about the size of a linebacker, and he was twisting around to the left and right, like an amusement park octopus ride, slinging kids off his arms. I had several guys holding onto me from the front and back and I couldn't push them off.

But my forearms were free.

I got rid of the guy in front by stubbing out my cigarette on his forehead. He ran off screaming. But if the guy who had me from behind now realized that I fought dirty, it didn't deter him. He was locked on good and tight.

I moved forward to the edge of the patio and found a steel chair (not aluminum, not cast iron---steel). I picked it up, raised it over my head, and holding it behind me, began beating this guy in the head with it until he let go.

Needless to say, Mark and I left the party soon afterwards. Larry, FYI, went on to minor fame on children's TV as the voice of “Wishbone,” a dog with an interest in great literature.

Spalding Gray– Last year’s literary suicide. Gray, for good or ill, showed me what could be done with autobiographical material, although, yes, I realize how problematic that style can be when not properly handled.

Teddy Roosevelt– Another renaissance man with a colorful life. I was obsessed with him when I was in intermediate school, to a degree everyone found tiresome.

Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, and Diana Rigg (“Mrs. Emma Peel”)– Mix these women together and you’d have my idea of the perfect woman.

Diana Rigg in a black leather cat suit? Meow!

And if there’s a sweeter, more perfect romantic comedy than Audrey Hepburn’s “Roman Holiday,” I’d like to see it.

James Garner, Lorne Greene, Jack Lord, William Shatner, Patrick McNee, Patrick McGoohan– Jim Rockford, Ben Cartwright, Steve McGarrett, Captain James T. Kirk, John Steed, and John Drake/Number Six respectively. Gods of the little talking box.

John Huston– Huston was fond of quoting his friend, Gene Fowler’s line, “Money is for throwing off the back of trains.” He had life pretty well figured out. For years he lived in a manor house in Ireland, where he kept his friends, his guests, his mistresses, his wine cellar, and his art collection. A mile away, on the far side of his property, on the other side of a stream, in a small cottage, he kept his wife and children.

Winston Churchill– Another renaissance man. A great player who impatiently awaited his hour on the stage.

Jack Nicholson– A comedian once did a bit where he talked about exclusive night clubs. You want to be one of the cool people that gets in that club, so you beg and bribe and if you’re lucky, the bouncer will let you past the velvet rope and inside. But once there you learn there’s an even more exclusive VIP Room within the club, filled with even cooler people. You get in there and find that inside that is another VIP Room, and so on and so on. And at the very center of these rooms is a VIP Room where Jack Nicholson sits by himself.

Indeed.

Look at it this way—at any given hour of the day or night, who is more likely to be having the best time, you or Jack?

And though “As Good As It Gets” was a popular hit with audiences, it was a cult hit with my friends, because in it Nicholson nails my personality and characteristics in so many particulars, even down to my supposed habit of clearing my throat obnoxiously when I answer the phone. I watch this movie when I want to laugh at myself.

Tom Waits (another hero of mine) appeared in the movie “Ironweed” with Nicholson, and he marveled at how well-rounded a guy Jack was. He said Jack was just as comfortable and at ease squatting in a train yard, eating out of a can, as he was attending high society dog shows. That to me is the definition of savoir-faire, and I am constantly working to attain that high state of development.

Willie Nelson– The Bodhisattva of the Pedernales. His movie, “Songwriter,” made me want to move to Austin and go into show business. Never mind what a train wreck that dream turned out being.

Ernest Hemingway– Okay, so maybe I’m no fan of blood sports, but I do admire Papa. And he’s another one of those people who have set an impossibly high bar, so that many of the writers since his time have classified themselves as failures for not living lives as adventurous as his.

I have never consciously tried to write like Hemingway, but his extensive thoughts on the writing process have influenced me enormously. He regarded writing, as I do, as a mystical, magical, and near-religious process that is more than the sum of its parts.

William Faulkner– Faulkner is one of those writers who is so great he makes us lesser writers into whimpering, scared little balls of goo. Sometimes his insights and observations, and his way of expressing same, have blown out the back of my skull with their brilliant power, and made me wonder if I should dare to submit my work to anything more important than a “Reader’s Digest” humor column.

Mick Jagger– Mick’s pretty much done everything he’s wanted all his life, and has lived the sort of life most people only dream of. And he’s got a head on his shoulders too–I knew what he was doing in 1990 when he “married” Jerry Hall in a Hindu ceremony in Bali. When Jerry tried to divorce him years later Mick’s lawyers insisted the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place...because neither bride nor groom was Hindu.

David Bowie– Another genius at re-invention, Bowie also has an interesting mind. He gives great interviews and unlike many celebs, talks about books a great deal. But whereas Sting reads big books and then writes songs about them so he can show off how smart he is, Bowie seems to read more because he has a wide-ranging fascination with the world.

And no one alive looks as cool in a suit as Bowie does.

Elvis Presley– Of course there’s his musical legacy, but as an overweight Southern man with mother issues, and a fondness for over-spending, staying up all night and sleeping all day, eating junk food, and gobbling prescription pills, I find Elvis the man a great standard-bearer.

Fred Bankston– This one has pared down life to Zen-like essentials, even for a dog. He has taught me that there is no problem that can't be solved by either sleep or yodeling.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

No. 17: Name that celebrity


submitted by tj1972

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