One of the most surprising entries on the nonfiction bestseller lists now, in between all the diet and self-help and comedy tell-alls and breathless Bill O’Reilly assassination tomes, is Jill Leovy’s gritty Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. It’s a true-crime potboiler and an X-Ray of a dysfunctioning city and a cry for help all at once. Her writing is sharp, her reporting true.
Ghettoside is on sale now and is very worth your seeking out. My review is at PopMatters:
As the Los Angeles Timereporter who created the newspaper’s blog, The Homicide Report, Jill Leovy understands all too well the numbing cycle of violence that typifies most poor minority neighborhoods in America. The Homicide Report was simple in concept but gargantuan in practice: Cover every murder in Los Angeles. That meant finding out who was killed, who they were, how it happened, and if possible why. By the time the blog started in 2007, the country’s early-‘90s homicide peak had passed, but the murders kept coming. Each one was a story; another human life gone, and a space that couldn’t be filled left behind…
(U.S. National Library Of Medicine)
In the late-1970s, a couple decades before measles was declared officially eliminated in the United States—and before Rand Paul and the rest of the anti-science crowd got busy bringing it back—the government felt it needed some help convincing parents to give their children the measles vaccine that had been first introduced in 1968.
What better allies in the fight against easily-stoppable communicable diseases than a couple of droids from a galaxy far, far away?
At right you’ll see the poster that the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare used at the time to make their case. Perhaps it’s time to bring them back?
(Library of Congress)
Steve Almond is one of those overly talented writers whose style ranges from the literary short story to pop cultural/ethical commentary in the Chuck Klosterman vein. So, in one sense, the fact that Almond has written a book on sports shouldn’t be surprising. On the other hand, it’s a passionate work about a subject he cares deeply about. That’s the thing about football fanatics; they hide in plain sight.
My essay on his newest book, “To Hell with All That Guilty Love: On Steve Almond’s ‘Against Football’,” ran in The Millions yesterday:
Like most of us, Almond thought he was immune from modern sports mania’s entanglements. We all know (and some of us resemble) the type, eyes scouring for the nearest screen showing SportsCenter, phones lit up by fantasy scores and trash-talk, ears always full of the angry drone of sports talk radio. No matter the mountains Almond would move to watch his Raiders lose time after catastrophic time, he thought he could stay above the fray.
In the preface, Almond describes a newspaper article he pasted to the wall of his office, which contains a quote from running back Kevin Faulk after he took a head-rattling hit. Faulk’s words were clearly those of a man who had suffered a significant blow to the brain. Almond writes, “I thought it was funny”…
Here’s Almond debating football with the great Greg Easterbrook at the Politics and Prose bookstore:
Somewhere in Southern California (Library of Congress)
Today’s bit of perception about one of America’s most over-analyzed, unloved, and misunderstood “cities” comes courtesy of surrealist pie-thrower and comic raconteur Terry Southern (Candy, Dr. Strangelove). Interviewed at length for The Paris Review‘s occasional series on screenwriters (the interview took place in 1967 but wasn’t published until 2012) the Texas-born Southern expounded on that great Southern California sinkhole of creative energy and dashed dreams:
Hollywood, that is to say, Los Angeles, is not, of course, a city, and its sinister forces are very oblique. There’s no public transportation system whatever, so the people drive around as though they were living in Des Moines, and it has all the rest of the disadvantages of a small town, only filled with displaced persons. On the other hand, life there has an engaging surrealist quality, an almost exciting grotesqueness.
The cultural scene there in general is sped up, sort of concentrated. Southern California is a mecca for all manner of freakishness, beginning on the most middle-class level—hot-dog stands in the shape of a hot dog. If you go there, you’ll immediately see a carnival, Disneyland aspect that is different from any other place in America.
Southern also notes the differences between the ladies of Hollywood and those of the East Coast:
… girls who want to be writers come to the Village and girls who want to be actresses go to Hollywood.
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)
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.
A 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:
In 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.