Literary Review

Wicked Wilson!

In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett
By Tony Fletcher (Oxford University Press)

The art of writing bios is no easy feat, but for British-born/NY-based scribe Tony Fletcher, well, he makes it seem all so easy even though he's research is exhaustive. His bios on R.E.M (Remarks Remade - The Story of R.E.M.), Keith Moon (Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon), The Smiths (A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths, to name but a few, are must-reads. His latest on the turbulent life of R&B legend Wilson Pickett -- In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett -- may be his best yet.  Read more »

90 Playwrights and a Nikon: Susan Johann’s “Focus on Playwrights”

"I'm the end of the line," Arthur Miller once asserted. "Absurd and appalling as it may seem, serious New York theater has died in my lifetime."

Many might argue otherwise. In fact, the best proof that theatre is still alive and kicking is Focus on Playwrights, the new coffee-table book, the cover of which showcases the life-crinkled face that once overlooked the birth of A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and The Crucible. Yes, photographer Susan Johann’s scintillating collection of over 90 playwrights, whom she’s shot over 20 years -- and the inclusion of sharply revealing interviews with some of the same, is the best retort to anyone ready to cremate modern drama. Read more »

Merry Chrispmas, Mr. Crisp

quentin-crisp

England is viewed by the wider world as a nation of eccentrics. This is considered a genetic characteristic, and something to be celebrated. Like most assumptions, the truth lies somewhat wide of the remark. Quentin Crisp, one such "National Treasure," is now rightly revered as one, but his journey from pariah nuisance to that of sage-like venerability was a long and winding affair. He migrated to New York, remaining vital till the end, an amalgam of defiance and disappointment worn as wit.

Some considered him a latter-day Oscar Wilde, a comparison he didn't much value, remarking that he'd known many who'd been sent to prison for crimes of the flesh like Wilde's, without being broken or penning such bad verse. Read more »

Happy Thanksgiving, 2016!

From Ken Krimstein's book of cartoons, Kvetch as Kvetch Can. It's a family-friendly affair!

Jane Eaton Hamilton's Genderqueer Weekend

"I just wanted to write a silly little romance," says Jane Eaton Hamilton on the phone from Canada, about her new novel, Weekend. Hamilton accomplished that, if you consider a riveting, frank, nuanced exploration of adult sexuality and love silly or minor. A tale of two couples -- all female, but not all identifying as such -- whose relationships come into focus over an intense few days, the novel sends new lovers to an island owned by someone with whom each has a tricky history -- at which point their host's own happy life begins revealing troubling undercurrents. Weekend wears its gender, racial, and economic politics lightly. Yet the intelligence of Hamilton's observations and the spare beauty of her language elevate highly specific dynamics into a work that crosses all boundaries.

After having amassed a body of incisive essays, nine books of award-winning short stories and poetry, and a memoir about having children with a man who turned out to be a pedophile rapist, the Canada native is starting a new chapter of sorts with Weekend. "I actually quit writing in 2003 because of lousy reception," she says. "And then my marriage broke up in 2011 unexpectedly." She decided to give writing another shot. "Although I mourn the work I didn't write during those years, I came back to it so invigorated and refreshed that it's like an entirely different career." Read more »

Music and Sex #11: Music, Music, and More Music

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Walter had been so busy with midterms that he hadn't gone record-shopping recently. Neither had he spent his income on anything else, other than eating on the weekends, though he'd eaten better than usual. He'd wandered into a fast-food place on Broadway called Amy's and, for the first time in his life, had tried a falafel sandwich. Well, not really a sandwich, at least not as he thought of a sandwich, which was (mostly) meat between two separate pieces of bread, but he didn't know what else to call these things stuffed into pita bread. He'd liked it, not least because just one sandwich was very filling, so he had gone back regularly for lunch on weekends. It was a nice change of pace from the food at John Jay cafeteria. There never seemed to be many customers, though. Read more »

The Street Writing Man

Tony Warren 8th July 1936-1st March 2016

'The first Coronation Street writing team contained some of the biggest homophobes I've ever met. I remember getting on my feet in a story conference and saying "Gentlemen, I have sat here for two-and-a-half hours and listened to three poof jokes, a storyline dismissed as poofy, and an actor described as 'useless as he's a poof'. As a matter of fact he isn't! but I would like to point out that I am, and without a poof none of you would be in work today." So reflected the writer & television dramatist Tony Warren on his early uphill, but routine struggle with homophobia of late 1950s Britain. It was a brave and brazen stance given that homosexuality was still illegal. He also stated later that "the outsider sees more, hears more, and has to remember more to survive" and that in those days if you were gay you needed to be three times better than your competitors in order to succeed. Read more »

In Time for Valentine's Day: An Interracial Love Story

Howard was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1914; Grace came into the world five years later and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Howard's brother used to say that two major disasters occurred in 1914: World War I and Howard's birth. Grace was born the year women finally obtained the right to vote. Many changes lay ahead that would affect their lives forever.

Young Howard's mother punished him for playing with little black children who lived across the tracks; he was sent to bed without supper as she told him, "Thank the Lord God above you weren’t born one of them!"

Grace's father was a postal worker and owned a barber shop; although he had advanced degrees from Pratt Institute in both architecture and engineering, he couldn’t get a job in either of those fields because he was black. He made the most of it and life went on. Read more »

Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad by Rufus Jones Jr.

 
This is, I'm pretty sure, the first book-length biography of conductor Dean Dixon (1915-1976), the first African American to conduct the New York Philharmonic, and his story is so interesting yet largely unknown that it makes for a fascinating read.

Born and raised in New York City by immigrant parents (from Jamaica and Barbados), he started playing violin when he was three, at his mother's instigation, studying technique with a Russian teacher; by nine, he was playing on WNEW. He was also encountering racism; one prospective teacher cut off his lessons after Dean's second appearance, apparently because the building's residents didn't want a black child there.

Dixon was a good enough (if sometimes reluctant, it seems) student that he was consistently accepted into progressive, integrated schools.  Once he determined to make music his career (after his mother was persuaded not to push him into studying to be a doctor), he passed an audition with Frank Damrosch to enter the Institute of Musical Arts.  Read more »

Patti Smith: M Train (Knopf)

Patti Smith: M Train (Knopf)

Smith's previous book, Just Kids (winner of the National Book Award in 2010), was straightforward biography and much loved by fans of the '70s downtown NYC music scene for its insight into her development into one of the major figures of the punk movement. M Train is also autobiographical, but has a quite different effect, reflecting, one could say, the fact that she was a writer before she was a rock 'n' roller -- and hey, the French Ministry of Culture named Smith a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest artist honor of the French Republic, two years before she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

M Train is unconcerned with her music career (though her tastes in music are occasionally alluded to); instead, it bounces among what she's reading and her literary influences, her trips to various points on the globe as either a literary celebrity or a fan paying homage to her lit heroes, musings on her favorite TV series, recountings of her dreams, vignettes from her life with her deceased husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, and time spent in cafes and buying/renovating a house in the Rockaways. Much of it is documented with artily artless photos.  Read more »

Music and Sex #10: Writing and Rachel Redux

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Like his bandmates, Walter was relieved that the group could lapse for a while as midterms approached. He had to write a paper for Lit.Hum. that he hadn't started yet. He decided to do it on More's Utopia, since he'd been familiar with it since high school thanks to AP English and thus had already read it all instead of just the sections on the syllabus. He like More too, as a person, though granted that was based on the play A Man for All Seasons. The stubbornness of his position in regard to Henry VIII was something Walter identified with, though he doubted he'd be willing to be executed over anything no matter how right he thought he was. Read more »

Music and Sex #9: Debut

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Walter got a call from Tony about getting together and, while they were chatting, complained about the guitarist situation.

"Hey, I know a guy who wants to be in a band. He's been bitching about everybody here playing guitar so there aren't enough bands to go around. You should talk to him."

Walter did so within minutes of getting the guy's phone number. Albert Imperatori, or as he styled himself, Emperor Albert, listened to Walter's explanation of what the band was aiming for, and its repertoire, and said, "I'm in. Better have a rehearsal tonight if you've got a gig tomorrow, right?" Read more »

Herschel Silverman R.I.P April 17, 1926 - September 19, 2015

Our friend Steve Dalachinsky reports that Long Shot publisher Danny Shot says poetry scene icon Herschel Silverman passed away quietly today. Silverman, the least bohemian of the Beat poets, served in the Navy in World War II and the Korean war, then worked for thirty-four years at his candy store in Bayonne, New Jersey and raised a family, but also wrote and published poetry on the side after being inspired by Allen Ginsberg's 1955 poem "Howl." The candy store was named Hersch's Beehive, and Beehive Press was his self-publishing outlet, though he was also published in many magazines. A children's book about him, The Candystore Man, was written by Jonathan London. Read more »

Music and Sex #8: Rachel, Keith, and William

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here). Warning: more highly graphic TMI.

A weekend of fruitless fretting almost led Walter to agree that Martial had the right idea and the show should go on with no guitarist, and with just Walter on keyboards, but really all he'd come up with for sure was a new band name -- The Living Section, for the Wednesday arts portion of The New York Times. The other guys all agreed that was an improvement. However, he couldn't bring himself to propose to them what, in his head, he had dubbed the Martial Plan. Read more »

Music and Sex #7: Battles of the Band

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

As 1980 got going, Walter was distracted from Janie’s absence by progress on the band front. Garrick had found an electric guitarist, Tom O’Reilly. Though still lacking bass and drums, they decided to try putting together some new songs and practicing some covers -- because as TomO (as he styled himself) pointed out pragmatically, a good set of rockin’ covers would get them gigs at the frats that lined the south side of 114th St. Over a round of beers at the Marlin, a brightly lit bar that had less visual flair than a high school cafeteria, but the cheapest beer near campus, they decided to take turns suggesting covers. Read more »

Syndicate content