To those of you mourning Harlan Ellison: I met him at a Star Trek con 40 years ago & didn't much care for him as a person. Someone told me later that we had seen his good side, that he had little patience for anyone who wasn't obviously his intellectual equal. I'm told that he became less of an asshole & mellowed some with age. I totally get his shtick of being chronically dissatisfied with the world. Writing comes more easily that way.
As a pre-teen, I was exposed to "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and dug it; thought his Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" was a level above any other. In college, I developed a fresh appreciation for him when this book of his short stories & essays was assigned for a science fiction course I took from Dr. Walter Isle.
Much later, I even started writing in public places, such as the lounge cars of Amtrak trains, borrowing from his stunt of writing in book store display windows.
Disclosure/disclaimer: As of this date, I'm not even half-way finished reading this rather thick memoir. But I'm loving every paragraph, and I don't envision it getting any less awesome. I earnestly wish that I had picked up this book when it first appeared in stores three years ago. As it is, I found it on a recent visit to Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City.
It must be said: Elvis is still the King.
Having been a fan since first seeing Elvis & the Attractions on Saturday Night about 40 years ago has certainly boosted my enjoyment of Declan Patrick MacManus's life story. I was just starting to flex my songwriting muscles, with laughable attempts at setting teen-angst lyrics in a prog-rock idiom. Elvis's third album Armed Forces came out shortly thereafter, and it got some airplay on the local AOR stations. Get Happy!! dropped in 1980; when I heard "New Amsterdam" on KTRU one lazy afternoon, I despaired of ever writing a song to top it no matter how long or hard I might try.
The Costello Method has always been about stealing ideas from the best possible influences and improving on them. Elvis injects this tome with numerous examples of how he discovered those influences. It's both disquieting and vindicating to learn that he dug Woodstock-scene bands and songwriters like the Beatles and the Byrds/CSNY/Joni Mitchell axis: it certainly explains how he could sing "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" with such Springsteen-esque sincerity, making it his own with help from the guy who wrote and sang it first (Nick Lowe, recording with Brinsley Schwarz).
Enough rhapsodizing about the man and his music. Let's talk about...his acting! He delivered my favorite bits in 200 Cigarettes (which I love) and Straight to Hell (which I otherwise loathe, and which I doubt I'll ever watch a second time).
Nah, jk, let's focus on the book itself.
You don't need to be an OG fanboy like me to enjoy the writing. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Elvis Costello manages to place the reader right in the middle of those times and places and experiences, but with the cool detachment. At times he seems to be writing about someone he's never met, even while using first-person pronouns.
If you're put off by memoirs that mess with chronology, you may be less than thrilled with the narrative path here. Elvis's approach is more contextual than chronological. The main thread goes from birth to publication, but there are frequent detours when an event from, say, 1963 reminds him of a similar event from 1982.
One remarkable literary accomplishment is Elvis's detailed illustrations of how remarkably different England in the 1950s-'70s was from today's England, or from the US of that time. Also on full display is how the music business has evolved from the '50s to his hey-day to the present. He doesn't come out and say, "Things were different in the following ways..." The old rule of "show, not tell" is in full effect. The stories of UK hit factories churning out UK versions of US hit records (often sung by his father under various pseudonyms) before the US records reached UK record shelves are pure gold.
Another feature I love is the relentless name-dropping, with anecdotes of catching rock stars, other entertainers, producers, and executives in moments of unvarnished humanity. (Sadly, the paperback edition does not include an index.) Yes some of those people were assholes, or at least acting that way in the moment, and Elvis is usually kind of enough not to drop their names. Even before his career really began, he was able to meet some of the giants of British music, mostly because England is a fairly small place where nobody is more than three degrees of separation from anyone else.
Elvis acknowledges that his own father, philandering dance-hall singer Ross MacManus, could be a bit of an asshole, but he never stoops to deleting the good memories or reducing him to subhuman status. He then acknowledges some of the foibles he inherited from Ross, without dwelling on it too much, such as the infidelities that spoilt his first marriage.
If, in the next 300+ pages, I find any more awesomeness that I absolutely must include in this review, I'll come back and add it. Then I will finally replace my long-lost Costello LPs with CDs and give them all a thorough listen or two—especially Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Trust, Imperial Bedroom (aka IbMePdErRoIoAmL), and Spike.
We're back from our recent sojourn in Oklahoma and Kansas, and gradually getting readjusted to the routine. For me, this routine includes summer schedule: an extra hour Monday through Thursday, and a half-day on Fridays.
It was lovely to see some old friends, meet some new ones, and travel ribbons of highway that each of us had not hitherto explored. Less lovely, however, was the specter of cancer that dogged us: not our own, but the cancers of various friends and relatives there, here, and elsewhere. Please indulge me as I shout "FUCK CANCER!" in this otherwise relatively civil space.
One bit of cancer news, received at dinner last Wednesday, was that a longtime member of the Green Parties of Harris County and Texas is ailing. I am not at liberty yet to divulge who, what type, or how advanced.
In addition, a recent arrival to the party has died. HCGP Treasurer Rashan Turner, was hospitalized last week and succumbed far too young to coronary difficulties. (Not all the details are available to me yet.)
Turner, who just elected treasurer this February, was willing to take over the job and learn the ropes from longtime treasurer David Wager, after Wager had grown understandably weary of the position (and of HCGP, certainly not the only member of that club).
Willing and able treasurers are hard to find. It's a risky job, minding the money for a political party, because of the civil penalties involved if you don't keep the fiscal house in order. We don't know yet who will replace Turner.
This week's adaptation of Texoblogosphere follows.
Before dbcgreentx.net and I go on a two-week vacation, I feel compelled to copy and paste my latest Goodreads review. Here's my take on Stephanie Wittels Wachs's memoir Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful—a Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love and Loss.
Humblebragging is an art form. It's an art form not practiced widely here in Texas, where we're more skilled in traditional braggartry. Even people from Humble, Texas (the initial H is silent) are more likely to straight-up brag on themselves, their loved ones, and of course their state.
To honor Harris Wittels, the man credited with coining "humblebrag," I wanted to start this review with an example thereof. But I'm a shade humbler than most of my neighbors in Texas, and bragging of any type does not come naturally to me. The closest I can get is to say that I know the author, and that I have adored her since my son introduced her to me about a decade ago. At the time, he was a musical theatre student at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and Stephanie Wittels, then about 27, was an adjunct acting coach helping out with stage productions.
Or perhaps I can go a step further to say that I know someone who knows some of the hottest names in modern American comedy, someone who can get Aziz Ansari to write (or in this case recycle material for) a foreword.
This Saturday night, Hustle Town! Ride to demonstrate against fossil fuel addiction, for safe human-powered transportation, against car culture, and for bodily freedom.
NOTE: The pages linked below may contain photographic depictions of boobs and butts. Viewer discretion is advised.
Austin and New Orleans are two cities a road-trip away from Houston that are also riding on the standard Northern Hemisphere date, the second Saturday in June. Cities in the Southern Hemisphere typically ride in March.
The New Orleans group plans to start at 5 pm, when it's still ridiculously hot.
Two of the WNBR H-Town facilitators will be on KPFT's Living Art tonight in the 6 o'clock hour.
I thought about including this information in the previous post, because it is tangentially related to it, but decided that it needed its own entry. This is mostly copied and pasted from my Facebook post:
California is a "jungle primary" state, in which multiple candidates from all parties (and No Party Preference) compete in the first round, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.
See full results from California's jungle primaries here. If you are a Progressive living in Greater LA—especially Greater East LA—I urge you to do what you can to help these young Greens. If you live elsewhere, send them what disposable cash you can.
In his version of the Texoblogosphere rundown this week, Gadfly linked to this rambling report on last weekend's Left Forum in New York, courtesy of The North Star. The Forum provided a lot of critiques, positive and negative, on left political movements including the Green Party of the US. In its final paragraph, the report references the same Bruce Dixon Black Agenda Report column to which I linked last week. Here is a slice:
Bernie Sanders may have brought people into the movements, but at the end of the day, the Dixon/Black Agenda analysis of Sanders being a sheepdog stands. And Bernie Sanders played that role well, which is why there is currently so much resistance to fully breaking from the Democrats. Electing progressive Democrats will result in capitulation and co-optation, and more will be ready to come over and help to build a new political party.
From an editorial in today's Chronicle, where Pulitzer winner Lisa Falkenberg is now the editorial page editor [paywall]:
“I think it’s unacceptable that a member of Congress is not being admitted to see what’s happening to children whose families are applying for asylum,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, on the Facebook Live video of the incident.
The story of immigrant/refugee families forcibly separated at the border and put in cages right here in the Good Ol' USA is heart-wrenching for anyone capable of empathy. It's opening whole new horizons of cruelty. Even the UN Human Rights Commission is shocked.
Here's the kicker though: The worse this Republican administration and Congress get, the worse the Democrats can comfortably become.
Merkley is one of the relatively good guys in the Senate. His progressive voting record is not perfect, but from what I've seen it's reasonably consistent. On the House side, I'm lately developing an appreciation for Connecticut's Chris Murphy, as well as Hawai'i rep Tulsi Gabbard. Apart from her weirdness on US-India relations, I find myself agreeing with about 95% of Gabbard's positions.
Finding a few fresh apples in the basket of Democratic Congresscritters is refreshing. It doesn't mean that the whole party, at the national level, is worth my time, money, or votes.
Barack Obama's apologists in the media are saying, "Sure, Obama deported millions back to countries overrun by drug gangs, & he locked whole families in private prisons, but at least he allowed them to stay behind bars together." Democratic legislators keep voting for War & Wall Street, and they can still say, "At least we're not THOSE guys!" as they take turns being the "progressive" face of their party.
This is not a matter of expecting ideological purity from politicians, as some Democrat-leaning friends of mine would insist. This is a matter of Democrats' complicity in some truly evil shit.
Not having Green Party obligations on Monday nights has freed me up to rehearse with International Voices Houston, with whom I have now completed my first weekend of performances. Sadly, I didn't do much promotion of that gig in this blog, preferring to gush about it all over Facebook where a lot more people would see it.
Y'know that old platitude that goes something like we hope you enjoyed our performance as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you? Speaking strictly for myself, I enjoyed the ever-lovin' hell out of performing in this concert, and not just because the director picked me to be in a featured small ensemble.
Nevertheless, even without Monday Night Political Football, my heart is heavily invested in the Green Movement, and I follow as much news about it as I can. When I read the Black Agenda Report column from Bruce A. Dixon referred to below, I thought, I'm so proud to be connected with a party and movement that aren't afraid of constructive criticism. But in the next thought, I remembered that plenty of Greens construe the mere suggestion—whether raised from within or elsewhere—that we're doing something that might limit our own effectiveness as an attack on our very existence. Those Greens need to get a friggin' clue.
It's certainly true that much of the external criticism and some of the internal comes from people who lack any historical context of how the Green Party US has operated lo these past two decades. If we didn't hear the same uninformed critiques over and over again, it would easier to respond with patience and kindness rather than circling the rhetorical wagons. It's hard work being patient and kind consistently. It's harder work maintaining a party whose ethical core is Compassion for the Planet and its Creatures, human and non-human, embodying that Compassion in a world ruled by crass venality. But we must do that work to the best of our abilities.
At the Texas Capitol this afternoon, the Poor People's Campaign rallies for economic, social, and environmental and healthcare justice.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.