Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Eduardo Ritter

ER_2There are a few unshakable memories of the 2014 GonzoFest weekend: fine jazz music; exceptional conversation; wisdom; great friends; the poetry of Olympians; and the spectacular feeling of welcome, unity, and joy pouring off everyone in and around GonzoFest. We were there, all of us, to celebrate the life and work of Hunter Thompson. Some of us had come further than others. One of the more distant travelers was Eduardo Ritter, a student from Brazil wandering the U.S. as research for his PhD.

Eduardo’s credentials automatically check out; his bona fides are in order, and so on and so forth . . . all of which is neither here nor there as far as you or I or anyone else need be concerned. From the very beginning, it was clear that Eduardo is “the proper sort.” This is Hunter’s term, not mine, which is just as well. Eduardo is clearly a follower of the Gonzo Way. It is my pleasure to know him and my honor to present his writings on the site.

Eduardo is in the final stages of his journey around and through this great country of ours. An epic drive from San Diego to New York City will complete his time in The Land of the Free & The Home of the Brave™. From there, it’s a flight back to his loving family followed by the long, hard, thankless work of trying to make sense of a time and place that not even the people living here can understand.

He’s got a forum here, folks—a stage, a soap box, an open mic—for as long as he wants.

And to Eduardo: thank you, my friend, and welcome.

bjw

The New On the Road 

30 April 2014I was sitting on a bus, somewhere in the middle of Texas, when we stopped to let a lady on. She was old. But, in the some way, sexy. I didn’t know exactly what time it was, but probably something between 1 and 6 PM. (When we are in the middle of nothing we lose the notion of time). The old lady came in my direction and sat beside me. Probably my two-day stench makes her look back, makes her look for a free seat, but she finds nothing. She greets me with a short and dry, “hello.” I answer, “hi” with my sleepy and tired face. I left Louisville, KY, 40 hours ago for a two-day journey by bus to San Diego, California.

This is, in fact, the latest leg of my cross-country trip by bus. It started in New York with various lay-overs in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, and Louisville.

I stayed in Louisville throughout April to participate in GonzoFest, a literary event held annually to celebrate the life and work of Gonzo Journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. Feeling a spirit which still survives form the Beat Generation, I swapped the convenience of air travel for the experience of sitting in a bus in order to stay close to the ground and the people of several more American states: Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. So now here I am on this damned bus, crossing Texas with stops every hour that are barely long enough to let people on. Two days without showering, without sleep, proper food, or television. More then a thousand miles with a slow internet connection that did not work very well to begin with.

In Arkansas, five fat Americans boarded the bus, each one eating a burger & fries, and I thought, “Yes, man—this is America.” The Arkansans spoke very loudly and every time the driver asked for them to keep it down they made stupid jokes, laughed a lot. With a fart and a burp, they finally got off the bus at an unscheduled stop near Nowhere, Texas.

Texas. I always dreamed of going to Texas and now here I was, in the middle of the desert, after the bus made a four-hour stop in Dallas. I wondered how that city was on the day President Kennedy was killed. Sirens. Helicopters. Ambulance. Broadcasters. Journalists. People crying. Yes my friend, there are crazies everywhere. And now I was on a bus with a lady pretending to be asleep because she did not like the smell of my two-days-without-showering.

“Excuse-me, lady,” I said, asking permission to go to the bathroom. When I got back she was gone, swapped the seat next to me for the last space in the bus. OK, I thought, better for me. Now I can stretch my legs and get some real sleep.

Overall, I would say that the United States is better than Brazil. The US has more security on the streets; the roads are faster, better built and maintained; there are fewer social problems (despite having several); more money, less corruption. People are more polite.

However, one thing I say without any doubt: the buses that make long travels in Brazil are better than the Americans. In all the buses I’ve traveled in so far in the US, there are no curtains on the windows. Once the sun comes up, the whole bus is filled with light.

This is bad, but the seats are worse: none allow you to tilt in a comfortable position to sleep. This means that after two days you feel as if a bulldozer had run over you. Possibly the train cars that Jack Kerouac, Jack London and others traveled in were more comfortable than seats in the modern American bus.

We are almost there, I think. We have already crossed into New Mexico. After that will be Arizona and so finally California! San Diego—beach, sun, muchachas wearing bikinis, cold beer and all Pacific sunsets!

So I will stretch my legs and get some sleep, because I want to wake up only when I’m in paradise.

Hasta!

Eduardo Ritter is a Brazilian PhD student in Social Communication and he is a scholarship student from Capes (Brazilian Government) with doctoral internship at New York University.

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Ad for ‘Gonzo’

A 1960s newspaper ad for ‘Gonzo’ by James Booker.

Screen-shot-2014-04-30-at-9.28.35-AM

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Beware the Gonzo (movie review)

Went looking to Netflix for the Gonzo doco the other day and found this.

Here’s the plot summary from Wikipedia:

Eddie “Gonzo” Gilman is the head geek at his high school—and determined to do something about it. When Gavin, the popular editor of the school paper, fires him, Eddie obtains revenge by establishing an underground paper of his own. He gains popularity and makes a new friend, Evie Wallace, and it soon gains the attention of the principal, escalating to a bombshell crisis.

The movie was decent; well worth a watch. I may watch it again in a few months. It hit many of the notes that Hunter played: truth, outrage, getting the bastards, and what we like to think of as his total commitment to the cause — whatever it is and damn safety and the consequences. Though I somehow think that the kid in the movie had the greater courage of his convictions. Maybe it’s because he’s in high school and that kind of high-contrast worldview, the absolutism, comes naturally with the age. Or not. I’m still a fairly hard-core absolutist, which can be miserable to live with, sometimes. My wife is a saint.

Still and all, the movie stuck very close to Hunter’s philosophy and the overall Gonzo ethos, if not strictly to Gonzo Journalism.

When watching, keep an eye on how Gillman’s wardrobe evolves throughout the film.

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Is this Bat Country?

It was a nightmare, getting out of L.A. . . . The desert would be bad enough all by itself. 
     Something big and batlike swooped through the tunnel of lights and was gone. He ignored its passage. Five minutes later it made a second pass, this time much closer, and he fired a magnesium flare. A black shape, perhaps forty feet across, was illuminated, and he gave it two five-second bursts from the fifty-calibers, and it fell to the ground and did not return again. 
     To the squares, this was Damnation Alley.

 

Damnation Alley is a really awful book with an impossible cult following. Published in 1969, it went on to be made into an even worse film staring George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Jackie Earle Haley which as gained an even stronger cult following than the book.

How I acquired first-hand knowledge of these matters is a story too horrible to tell, at least right now. All will be revealed when I’ve made my millions and adoring fans hang on my every word. Meanwhile, I have to wonder if this shitty little book was in some way an influence on Hunter’s conceptualization of Bat Country and the fearful run from L.A. to L.V.

Zelazny’s novel is a post-apocalyptic version of the 1925  “Great Race of Mercy” — when 20 sled dog teams raced 1085 miles to bring diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska. This time it’s a suicide run from the nation-state of California across the nuke-ravaged, monster-filled wasteland with some Haffikine anti-serum — because they gots the plague way over in Boston.

Leading the a three-car team of recidivist goons is Hell Tanner, last of the West Cost Hell’s Angels. (Seriously. I wouldn’t make that up.)  Tanner is a hard core sonofabitch who’s been in jail for any number of dirty deeds — including smuggling candy to the Mormons. The carrot for Tanner and the rest of the screw heads to make the trip is that they get full pardons for their crimes. . . .

This plot synopsis is somewhat beside my point.

Like with B. Traven’s Death Ship, John Bainbridge’s Super-Americans and a few other texts I’ve run across, Damnation Alley feels like it might have suggested something to Hunter and in some way informed his writing.

Everybody knows about the influence of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Donlevy on the good doctor’s work. But Hunter’s approach to reading seems to have been , in the best sense, a shotgun affair. There is a list of books in a 2006 Harper’s article by William Kennedy (that I can’t link to because you need to subscribe in order to view it), that only hints at the breadth and depth of Thompson’s literary tastes.  One might be inclined to think Hunter was indiscriminate, reading at random, but that doesn’t seem to fit. Omnivorous, certainly — with a purpose.

Traven’s writing in Death Ship has amazing rhythms and a personal, wrong guy/wrong place/wrong time sensibility mirrored in some of Hunter’s best work; Super-Americans is about Texas being the last bastion of the American Dream; Damnation Alley describes the desolation, danger, gila monsters, and high desert weirdness between Barstow and Vegas.

What else is out there he might have read and pulled from?

It’s time to finish Gonzo Republic to see if Stephenson’s worthy examination of Thompson’s writing and themes includes any intertextual analysis of the canon.

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Hide Me Among The Graves (Book Review)

Support your local independent bookstore

I’m a Tim Powers fan. Most of his books are my go-to reading when I’m in a funk or otherwise needing a jolt of industrial magic realism. I’ve given away more copies of Last Call and On Stranger Tides than I can remember, never expecting to get them back.

His books are a gold standard: the earlier ones (Skies Discrowned, The Drawing of the Dark, The Anubis Gates, On Stranger Tides) being full-on adventures, usually historical, involving secret histories that play with the facts for their own supernatural ends; the later ones (Last Call, Declare) continue to work with secret histories, though with more intricate plots and greater focus on the historical details.

Hide Me Among the Graves is no less intricately plotted or historically bent — or supernatural, for that matter — though this one fails to catch the same light.

Graves is somewhat of a sequel to The Stress of Her Regard, Powers’ 1989 novel involving a hapless London doctor, John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and the nephilim  — that race of giants from the Bible,  angel sired and of woman born — who, in this case somehow turned to stony creatures and now live off the blood of humans. In Powers’ version, nephilim are the basis of the vampire legend, but instead of killing the humans to whom they are married or are in other ways part of the family, the nephilim give them longer life and the ability to write great poetry. (There is a big difference between being family and being food and the nephilim are jealous creatures; anyone attached to their beloved either has her chest crushed or is drained and can come back as a vampire himself.) Naturally, the whole thing is a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. All this takes place in Italy in the early 1800’s.

One of the lesser players in Stress was John Polidori, physician to Lord Byron and runner-up in the Villa Diodati Ghost Story Contest — his tale, “The Vampyre” coming in second to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Because of his employer’s notorious and scandalous reputation, Polidori was paid to keep a diary during their travels together, which he did, and which was later edited by his nephew, William Rossetti.

Polidori was a sub-minor character in Stress, portrayed as a dope and a wannabe, his literary aspirations leading him to seek a vampire and eventually becoming one — too bad for him since the nephilim were defeated by the end of the book and all the vampires turned to lifeless stone. The vampire Polidori was trapped a small, pointy black rock. Then, in 1845, he was able to regain himself thanks to a bit of exceptionally poor parenting by William Rossetti’s father, Gabriel, who gave the cursed stone to his fourteen-year old daughter, Christina.

Getting beyond the fact that an elderly father adores his daughter so much that he gives her the stone heart of a vampire along with explicit instructions on how to revive it , the daughter doesn’t seem to be the main character in this book, nor is anyone in the Rossetti family. Powers’ seems to want the main characters to be the son of the doctor from the first book, a woman with whom he had a one-night stand, and their own young daughter who is being pursued through London by Polidori. The Rossetti’s history is the backdrop and the family members are characters of varying importance in a story that ranges over forty years, roughly. And I do mean roughly.

There are moments — parts of chapters when the action picks up, where the stakes are evident or the emotion is tight — but they are too infrequent for the jacket copy to justifiably claim the story  is, “an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride,” or for Booklist to say it’s a “nail-biter” with “breakneck pace.” I will, however, agree it has a “labyrinthine plot [pulling] us through history, mythology, mystery, and horror with [Powers’] signature creative verve.”

Indeed. But for a novel about vampires, doomed souls, and the need to save one’s most-loved, Hide Me Among the Graves lacks an overall urgency or even a sustained tension. And in spite of the risks around them, the main(ish) characters never seemed to be in any serious danger. This could also be due to their being fairly standard Types in Powers’ world and, therefore, harboring no surprises. The supporting character who stole the show was Edward Trelawny — a surly old writer and adventurer, and a friend of Lord Byron’s who was, in his younger days, in thrall to the nephilim. Trelawny is a man who deserves his own book with the full Powers treatment.

As far as Hide Me Among the Graves goes, its lack of propulsion, sputtering narrative, and wandering focus are the same problems to be found in The Stress of Her Regard — a novel that, after several failed attempts to read over the years, I finally finished in anticipation of the new book. Reading them back-to-back seemed to reflect their flaws and refract their qualities, though qualities there still are.

Powers is a secret historian of the highest order, invoking the supernatural and fantastic to reveal the true engines of the world. His research and keen eye for the effects of wildly disparate — yet intimately twined — events is unsurpassed.

In Hide Me Among the Graves, Powers’ trademark play with the facts seems to have gotten slow & tight while trying to connect too many historical dots.

 

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers goes on sale March 13, 2012.

Support your local independent bookstore.

 

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Full Service

This just in from D, on her travels through the Bible Belt. Good to know someone has made zombie abatement part of his current business model. Other services available from  Shawn Hinkley and his hardworking crew include:

  • Painting
  • Electrical
  • Repairs
  • Plumbing
  • Roof Repairs
  • Upgrades
  • Heating and Air
  • Decks
  • Landscaping
  • Fire and Water Repairs
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • AND MORE!

Zombie Removal must fall under that last one. Call for pricing.

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Audio Review: Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone

Flog me for an idiot — and for thinking this review was on the site when it’s been in the DRAFTS folder the whole time.

So, special thanks to the fine folks over at Brilliance Audio for sending the CDs and apy-polly-loggies to the same, O My Brothers and Sisters, for this  on-the-job fall down.

Right-right-right?

OK.

Having not heard any of Phil Gigante’s work prior to the F&L@RS recordings, I had no idea what to expect from his performance. Which is just as well, because it kept me from wondering how — or even if — he’d shoot for the infamous ‘Hunter Mumble.’

Gigante does, in a way, but not all the way — and that makes all the difference.

When performing Hunter’s words from the RS articles and related correspondence, Gigante delivers a clear and precise reading toward the lower end of his register. The words come quickly and in bursts typical of the good doctors rhythms on The Gonzo Tapes and in recorded interviews. And Gigante easily keeps pace with and conveys Hunter’s changing tone, knowing when to give a straight read, push some rage, or adopt a floating wonder about the future — that kind of verbal ellipsis Depp managed so well in the Vegas movie.

Reading from Jann Wenner’s intro and letters, or the material from Paul Scanlon, Gigante keeps it straight while maintaining an understated tension that may be a carry-over from his reading as Hunter or is his attempt to capture the energy of the time and place, and Hunter’s infectious whirlwind.

Whatever the rationale — and even if there isn’t one — it works. Brilliance Audio has done their typical high-end craftwork of assembling the right talent and crew for the job, making Fear & Loathing at Rolling Stone a terrific listen.

Browse the Brilliance Audio catalog and buy recordings here.

 

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The Great Chicago Blizzard of 2012

"Increasingly I am coming to associate the color white with madness, with sheer blanched out craziness, with snow on the ground and cars skidding and hobos hobbling through the pale sludge."

The Chicago area is getting its first appreciable snowfall  today and the weather prophets are broadcasting ‘DOOM!” on every channel. I’ve already butchered the neighbors’ cats, dried the meat and made gloves out of their hides. (The were small cats and I have big hands.)

Things look grim and are getting worse by the minute. If you don’t hear from me, I’m either dead or gone wild with Snow Madness.

Pray for us . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

(photo and quote from this  fine page.)

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This just in . . .

Arrived this afternoon courtesy of the fine folks at Continuum Press.

A read-n-review is already in the works.

 

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Rum Diary Soundtrack Outclasses Film

I'm having the strangest feeling of deja vu

Ninety percent of Christopher Young’s swinging soundtrack has been on high rotation in both my car and the writing cave — very impressive considering the track list is twenty-four songs long.

First, a little explanation for anyone who doesn’t regularly listen to movie soundtracks: the background music, the strings or guitars or horns or whatever providing an emotional bed and/or reinforcement to whatever is happening on the screen is written specifically for those several seconds or minutes of film, then taking cues from what happens next, the composer will truncate a melody or execute an abrupt change in tone. Listening to soundtracks by even the best movie composers (Elfman, Zimmer, Shore, Steiner, Howard, Korngold, Stalling, etc.) can be a disjointed and jarring experience.

Young (Preist, The Fly, Rounders, Spider-Man 2) on the other hand, expanded The Rum Diary‘s themes, beats, and incidental music into complete songs. Each one is fully realized  with a wonderful feel for the era’s music. Put them up against Ultralounge’s Bossa Novaville or Mambo Fever and you’ll see just how close Young gets.

Of the twenty-four tracks, a mere three fail to reach my ears:

1) “Volare” by Dean Martin — the only oldie on the list and a song which sets up a false expectation as it opens the film. It doesn’t come off as ironic, which I’m willing to bet was the point. Another one of Young’s fantastic tracks would have been better.

3) “Suckfish and Snake” — this is, in and of itself, really a fine track. Lots of great rhythms, heavy on sax and Hammond B3 . . . I just can’t stand scat singing. I get it, as a style and technique, but I can’t listen to it.

I hate scat singing. There, I said it. Burn me in effigy.

24) “The Mermaid Song” — there are two versions on the soundtrack:  an instrumental and one that is sung. The instrumental version has a wonderful music box air to it and is really something sweet and special. And and while Patti Smith’s vocals are fine, the lyrics are nothing much to sing about.

Like the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, Young’s Rum Diary music should develop the following it deserves.  If this soundtrack doesn’t get airplay on jazz stations, there is something seriously wrong with the way it’s being marketed.

And when you hear some of these songs in commercials and trailers for other movies in a few months, don’t be surprised.

MP3s are available for download at most online outlets. The physical CD looks to be available sometime just before x-mas.

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