Soundbooth: Dimension X

Ray Bradbury (NASA)

Ray Bradbury (NASA)

Once upon a time, before science fiction (in the form of monster movies and comic-book franchises) took over the cineplex, anthology shows on radio and television provided a steady diet of short tales of the fantastic.

Case in point was the short-lived NBC radio program Dimension X, which ran from 1950 to 1951 and advertised itself as “adventures in time and space, told in future tense.”

During the show’s tenure, they broadcast work by some of the genre’s greatest practitioners, from Isaac Asimov and Robert Bloch to Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. Now, thanks to the memory machine that is the Internet, you can listen to some of those programs at the Internet Archive. Make sure to check out Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” originally collected in The Martian Chronicles and one of the greatest, saddest testimonies ever penned on the folly of war.

(h/t to Jacket Copy)

Soundbooth: Joe Strummer, Chameleon

Joe Strummer, playing with the Pogues (photo by Masao Nakagami)

Joe Strummer, playing with the Pogues (photo by Masao Nakagami)

There’s a great new collection of essays about the inestimable Joe Strummer (1952–2002) that came out last month from Ashgate Publishing called Punk Rock Warlord: The Life and Work of Joe Strummer. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a chapter.

punk-rock-warlord1A much shortened, adapted version of that essay ran at PopMatters under the title “Joe Strummer: Punk-Rock Shapeshifter“:

Strummer wanted to be a lot of things: writer, artist, revolutionary, world-champion cigarette smoker. But what was probably most important to him was communication, whether about racial equality, how consumerism was crap, or just whatever was running through his roiling mind that week. He wanted to use his songs to get the word out. Rock stars can get the word out; they have a megaphone louder than that of the street-corner busker or pub-rocker that Joe started out as. If he was going to be a rock star, he needed a proper stage name…

Just for kicks, here’s a New York local news report from when Joe and the Clash barnstormed through the city in 1981:

Writer’s Corner: Dublin Writers Festival, From Festivals to The Troubles

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yearoffestivals1In the last bit of coverage from the Dublin Writers Festival, we have a story from Ireland’s fraught past and cautiously optimistic future.

First there was a marvelous spoken-word show from Mark Graham, who had decided not long before to buy a used camper and go attend three festivals a week around Ireland for an entire year. Apparently every town of more than two houses has a festival, so it worked.

Next up was “Where They Lie,” an investigation into the search for justice on the part of those who were “disappeared” by the IRA during The Troubles (that horrid euphemism) in the north for supposedly collaborating with the British or Unionists. It was a tough evening, with no easy answers for those in attendance.

“Where the Disappeared Lie” is here at PopMatters.

Writer’s Corner: Dublin Writers Festival, Crime Time

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littlegirllost1One of the more interesting panel discussions at the Dublin Writers Festival was titled “The State of Crime”. In it, crime novelists Arne Dahl, Sinead Crowley, and Brian McGilloway held forth on everything from the state of Swedish society to whether or not they did any research with the police before writing their first books.

My writeup is at PopMatters:

As with many events at the Festival, the talk turned to writing mechanics. Moderator [Declan] Burke suggested that aspiring writers not try to put everything into a first draft. He preferred just banging it all out once, messy or not, and then going back and fixing anything from plot to characterizations on multiple later passes. Dahl suggested writing one short story a year in addition to novels, since the compressed space “sharpens your pen”. He also thought it helpful, and possibly even necessary, for crime writers to read Macbeth once a year…

Writer’s Corner: Dublin Writers Festival, Day 1

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The annual Dublin Writers Festival, which just concluded this past Sunday, was an enjoyably low-key but nevertheless enthusiastic affair, mixing up writing workshops with talks and Q&As with authors and the occasional performance piece.

I covered a few days of it for PopMatters; here’s part:

This is Dublin, after all, which proudly carries its status as UNESCO City of Literature, and where the odd plaque on an undistinguished townhouse near St. Stephen’s Green reminds you that Bram Stoker lived there, and the Gate Theatre just happens to be staging An Ideal Husband by the Dublin-raised and -educated Oscar Wilde.
  
The event locations were mostly clustered within an easy walk of Temple Bar, making one conveniently never far from a restorative tipple. The offerings ran the gamut from workshop-like conversations with would-be writers to themed readings and music and poetry galas. By the end of even just one day, if you didn’t already have a novel or cycle of poems in the works, you would feel as though you were somehow missing out…

Other entries to follow soon.

Quote of the Day: St. Patrick’s Edition

Belfast, where learning the Irish language was a sign of solidarity with the anti-British cause.

Belfast, where learning the Irish language was a sign of solidarity with the anti-British cause.

For tomorrow’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, a note on the Irish, language, and stubbornness:

If you want to make any sort of Irishman do something, the surest way is to tell him it is forbidden; and if the learning of the Irish language is a bad thing (I’m not sure that it is…) … forbidden it under pressure will stimulate it to such an extent that the very dogs in Belfast … will bark in Irish.

—Lord Charlemont, cabinet minister in Northern Ireland, 1933

Reader’s Corner: Ice-T Goes Fantasy

After having gone from being the rare gangsta rapper who had actually lived the life instead of just rapping about it to loud monotone fixture on Law & Order: SVU and too many horrendous movies to count, Ice-T has a new gig: Recording audiobooks. It makes sense, given his clear, bottom-heavy voice. But according to Paste, he talked on a recent podcast about running into some trouble recording an unnamed Dungeons & Dragons novel. Just realizing the depths of nerd-dom that he’d gotten into (“They were talking about ‘pegasuses’ and ‘pegasi.’ That’s horses with wings”) was an education in itself:

It took Ice three-and-a-half hours to record 25 pages of the book, whose title he does not reveal. But, he added, he will slay the fantasy-lingo dragon and let fans know when the audiobook goes on sale.

“It’ll be a treat to watch me, with my South Central-educated ass, trying to read some Dungeons & Dragons shit,” he promises.

The O.G. further notes that “Considering the way music is right now, you’re better off listening to a book … Honestly, it’s more entertaining.”

Quote of the Day: The Six Great Paintings

“It’s crazy,” she’d said, “but I’d be perfectly happy if I could sit looking at the same half dozen paintings for the rest of my life. I can’t think of a better way to go insane.”

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Think about what six paintings you wouldn’t mind looking at forever.

Readers’ Corner: Philip Seymour Hoffman

One more note on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Back in 2004, he was interviewed by The Believer and the talk sprawled over beyond life and acting into things literary.

yates__paradeHoffman has played a few great figures from both sides of the literary page (Willy Loman, Truman Capote), but that’s not what gave him the credentials for this interview, it’s that he was clearly a passionate reader. Not a lot people out there these days who will stand up and shout for the dark glories of somebody like Richard Yates:

If you do any great art you’re somehow exposing a part of you. Like Richard Yates, Jesus Christ, that book, you almost don’t want to meet him. I kept feeling for the characters as if they existed.

But perhaps most beautifully, he identifies one of the great solaces of reading, that it’s an act in and of itself with no need to be justified. Some won’t care for his comparing it to smoking, but the linkage is clear:

When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.

Screening Room: Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a bandit of an actor. From The Talented Mr. Ripley to Charlie Wilson’s War and The Ides of March, he was rarely better than when committing full-scale larceny on the screen—walking away with an entire film while leaving A-list actors stumbling about in his wake.

With such a rich body of work cut so horrendously short, you would think it would be hard to zoom in on one particular performance that summed up his appeal. But it’s not. Almost every writer who saw Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous still remembers the scene when Hoffman, as stupendously self-destructive rock writer Lester Bangs, advises the film’s adolescent wannabe scribe about remaining true to the art and not giving in to the temptations of flattery and cool.

A few lines are thrown into the lonely night (“good lookin’ people, they got no spine…their art never lasts”) and Hoffman creates a brotherhood of uncool with his awe-inspiring mix of gruff attitude and aching vulnerability:

The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

The writing is Crowe’s but Hoffman makes it immortal: