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

playershandbook1After 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

'Soir Bleu' by Edward Hopper (1914)

‘Soir Bleu’ by Edward Hopper (1914)

“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

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote: "Folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they're always wrong."

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote: “Folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they’re always wrong.”

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)

"Be honest, and unmerciful."

“Be honest, and unmerciful.”

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:

Small Screens: ‘Batman’ Returns!

batman-dvd

Christian Bale in a slightly different take on Batman than Adam West's

Christian Bale in a slightly different take on Batman than Adam West’s

Once upon a time you could safely rely on being able to find a couple things somewhere on TV, if you just flipped around long enough: The Three Stooges and the old Batman series. Running in seemingly near-constant syndication long after its too-brief run (120 episodes over 3 seasons from 1966–68), its Pop Art-mad cheeky humor was the way that most people growing up in the 1970s was introduced to the Caped Crusader. Once Frank Miller and Tim Burton started going all gothic on Bruce Wayne in the ’80s, it was always characterized as a reaction to the camp factor of an Adam West Batman and villains like Liberace, Tallulah Bankhead, and Milton Berle.

But the show has been increasingly hard to find outside of YouTube and black-market dubs, due to a long-running rights dispute. That may soon be over, as it was reported yesterday that the entire run of the series will be released in a box set of DVDs and Blu-ray sometime later this year. The news was broken by … Conan O’Brien. Big fan?

Writer’s Corner: Detroit Book City

This could be your house

This could be your house

Still trying to figure out how to finish that first part of a six-part series of zombie CSI novels, or maybe you need time to work on your epic poem cycle about climate change? Working the job and paying rent can definitely take time away from time spent with your laptop or quill.

Well, worry no more, because there’s a new nonprofit organization called WriteAHouse that wants to give away houses in Detroit to writers. That’s correct: Free house to write in.

If approved, writers are expected to:

  • commit to living and writing in the house for two years
  • pay insurance and property tax
  • finish renovating the house (it’ll be 80% inhabitable at time of moving in)
  • regularly contribute to the WAH blog
  • “participate in local readings and other cultural events”

Then, after two years, the writer is given the deed to the house. That’s pretty much it. Nice job thinking outside the box, Detroit.

(h/t: Ian Crouch)

Reader’s Corner: Van Gogh and ‘The Jewish Bride’

'The Jewish Bride' by Rembrandt (1667)

‘The Jewish Bride’ by Rembrandt (1667)

Legend has it that after Vincent Van Gogh saw Rembrandt’s painting The Jewish Bride in Amsterdam—where it still hangs today in the renovated Rijksmuseum—he said this:

I should be happy to give 10 years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.

The math there might be a little on the extreme side (Van Gogh wasn’t one for half-measures, after all), but still, who wouldn’t say something like that about some work of art? The novel that you read at twelve years old which opened your eyes to the world, the painting that made you think “So that’s why people come to museums,” the song that you cry upon hearing whether it’s the first or the hundredth time? How much would you sacrifice to be allowed more time with your favorite book?

Soundbooth: Lou Reed, circa 1966

velvetunderground1The ultimate success of the late Lou Reed (1942–2013) as a musician and writer was, like with most great artists, never a sure thing. Although he went from obscurity to rock legend in a few short years, he started out pushing an idiosyncratic style of literary talk-singing and mixing old doo-wop harmonies with discordant sheets of noise that was never guaranteed to win him entry to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he put his whole life into it: “My God is rock ‘n’ roll,” he supposedly said.

For an example of how the music of Reed’s early years was received, check out this notice from the New York Times in 1966. The story was a society piece about a dinner for the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry. The evenings entertainment? Something called “The Chic Mystique of Andy Warhol.” On the program was the Velvet Underground:

The high decibel sound, aptly described by Dr. Campbell as “a short-lived torture of cacophony,” was a combination of rock ‘n’ roll and Egyptian belly-dance music.

Most guests voted with their feet and streamed out early. Reed and the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, Egyptian belly-dance music (did they play “Venus in Furs,” perhaps?) be damned.

Here’s Reed performing one of his best post-Velvet songs, “Halloween Parade”:

Writers’ Corner: Worst Opening Ever

darkstormy1Is it possible that to learn how to write something grand you should also practice penning something so abominably wretched it should never see the light of day? Probably not, the art of writing probably comes down to something as dreary as trying every single day to hone your craft to a sharp, chisel-like point.

So, if you were going to attempt to write horrendous prose, there’s really no other reason to do it except for a giggle. Because, after all, as  more than one person has noted, somebody already wrote 50 Shades of Grey. So anything you do will be at best, second-worst writing ever.

Herewith one of the many preternaturally horrible opening lines culled from submissions to the Bulwer-Lytton Prize:

When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday, his children packed his bags and drove him to Golden Pastures retirement complex just off Interstate 95.

Also:

It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole in my car trunk.

And, a personal favorite:

The professor looked down at his new young lover, who rested fitfully, lashed as she was with duct tape to the side of his stolen hovercraft, her head lolling gently in the breeze, and as they soared over the buildings of downtown St. Paul to his secret lair he mused that she was much like a sweet ripe juicy peach, except for her not being a fuzzy three-inch sphere produced by a tree with pink blossoms and that she had internal organs and could talk.