Just Above Sunset Archives

July 27, 2003 Reviews

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)

Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....


Did Greta Garbo really want to be alone?  Does anyone?  Maybe they do.

Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto, Anneli Rufus,
Marlowe & Co.: 286 pages, $14.95 paperback

This is a curious little book by the Berkeley-based essayist and critic Anneli Rufus.  Perhaps this caught my eye because Rufus here explains how one's choice of one's home town is a reflection of whether one is comfortable being alone, or whether one is one of those folks who needs to be with people, needs to be in a relationship or cannot imagine going to a movie alone, or to a restaurant alone, or on a trip alone.  Where one decides to live is an indicator of which of these two sorts of people you are.  She nominates the "loner's paradise" to be self-absorbed Los Angeles.  Yeah, well.

Here's the disclosure statement.  I live alone, except for Harriet-the-Surly-Housecat (see the archive page for a photo) so I have my biases.  I've lived alone for the last thirteen years, and in Los Angeles.  I enjoy traveling alone and cannot imagine how I would have met those characters I did on my trips to Paris had I been with another person, with a partner.  I wouldn't have traded ideas on chord progressions with Philippe the street guitarist on long afternoons up on Place des Abbesses, or chatted politics with Sabine at her boyfriend in an obscure café daily for weeks.  I wouldn't have chatted with about Merce Cunningham with those two dancers who wanted me to stay an extra week to see them perform at Opéra Bastille, or with the repairman who popped out of a manhole one rainy afternoon and asked me for a light, or with the young security guard at the airport (CDG) while waiting to catch the non-stop back to Los Angeles the morning after that fellow failed to get his exploding sneakers to ignite on his own trip from Paris to Miami.  I would, instead, have been talking to my companion, my partner.  So I conclude traveling alone, and living alone, opens you up to new things.

And this seem to be what Rufus is getting at.   She seeks to separate those who are happy alone from the unhappy "nonloners."   As one reviewer put it, "She may even be - with deliberate irony - the founder of a new 'loner pride' movement, if only the true loners could unite."  Perhaps.

This is a summary from D.J. Waldie's review in the July 20th, Los Angeles Times:

The true loner (and Rufus includes herself and her husband) is eager to have you cut short your visit, cheerfully prefers the Internet to personal contact, doesn't want to see your unwashed face on the other side of the bed and is unpersuaded that "[s]hared experiences are the only ones that count."  That doesn't make the true loner misanthropic, selfish or irrational, Rufus believes.  Nor is he - and loners are almost always thought of as men - the iconic single white male between the ages of 25 and 50, from whose morose ranks are supposed to come the next Theodore Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy and all postal gunmen and the creeps who dine on the bodies of their dead.

They are, in Rufus' careful segregation of who's in and who's out, pseudoloners who give being deliberately alone such a bad name.

As Rufus says in the book, "Like the bogeyman and the witches and ogres in fairy tales, the criminal-as-loner serves a social function.  It sets the criminal apart from ordinary people, from the masses, designating him as a freak, a demon, and an alien.  This ties up matters neatly.  It explains things."

Yeah, we loners aren't necessarily crazed murders - except now and then, when I find myself down on Sunset stuck behind a rental Chevy Cavalier full of a tourist family from Iowa driving at a crawl while reading maps and pointing out the windows, weaving left and right, making sudden inexplicable stops and starts and making me nervous when I just want to get home, well, then I might have a murderous thought or two.  But not really.

As Rufus writes, "Yet here we are, not sad, not lonely, having the time of our lives amid their smear campaign.  Loners, by virtue of being loners, of celebrating the state of standing alone, have an innate advantage when it comes to being brave - like pioneers, like mountain men, iconoclasts, rebels and sole survivors.  A knack for invention, originality, for finding resources in what others would call vacuums.  A knack for visions."

Well, thats laying it on a bit thick.  I enjoy my single (solitary) life.  But it hardly seems heroic.

But Rufus hammers on: "We no longer need to be social animals in order to survive as a species.  Mandatory social interaction is an evolutionary remnant which those who wish to may discard.  There are systems in place to take care of criminals and children and the ill.  There are so many people out there, doing so many things, that your being a loner, or my being one, or that guy over there, will not hold back the human race."   Your participation, Rufus says, is now optional.

The book reviewer Waldie comments, "The American theologian and disenchanted socialist Reinhold Niebuhr believed that nothing we do, however virtuous, is accomplished alone.  Therefore, he said, we are saved by love.  The hardest thing in the world isn't just to live in it, but to live in it fully aware of what's missing.  If hell is other people, if Sartre's despairing antihero was right, then that's where all of us are, and there's no exit from it."

I dont know about Reinhold Niebuhr.  I do remember Steve Martin's movie The Lonely Guy as kind of painful to watch.  Perhaps Steve Martin was thinking of Reinhold Niebuhr.  Or not.  And I tend to agree with Jean-Paul Sartre's "antihero" mentioned here, but only partially.  Hell can be other people, but then, sometimes not.  Depends on the people.  No Exit?  Sometimes there's an exit.

Guess I haven't come across the right people for some time.

This book, then, is a bit over the top.  But not so wrong. 


I live in Hollywood.  Don't we all?

    The web is an odd place.  I find the following in an analysis from IndiaTelevision.com of all places. 

    Americans trust CNN and Fox slightly more than they trust national network TV news and considerably more than they trust national feature magazines such as People and Vanity Fair.  More Americans find greater truth in Eminem's lyrics than President Bush's speeches.  These findings are contained in a recent survey by Euro RSCG Worldwide.

    Of the 1,016 American adults polled, 75 per cent agreed that "Americans are obsessed with Hollywood gossip."  Nearly, 74 per cent believe "Americans adore personal scandals such as JFK's alleged affairs or a celebrity in jail."

    Also interesting is the fact that more men than women find Oprah Winfrey trustworthy.  As far as news publications are concerned, Americans consider The Wall Street Journal the most trustworthy source of hard news, followed by an equal vote for USA Today, The New York Times and MSNBC.com.  At the bottom are Bill O'Reilly and Oprah.

    In the aftermath of the Iraq War bad-boy rapper Eminem scored higher on truth telling than George W. Bush.  Around 53 per cent of respondents agreed that "America's youth find more 'truth' in Eminem's lyrics than in President Bush's speeches."  Just 19 per cent disagreed.  And age was not a critical factor: 55 per cent of those aged 35-44 agreed that Eminem's lyrics contain more truth than President Bush's speeches.


    Euro RSCG Worldwide's chief strategy officer Marian Salzman, "This survey confirms the remarkable power of person-to-person communication.  The most trustworthy information source of all?  Restaurant reviews from friends.  After that: local news.  This tells us that while people may take information from nationally branded media sources, it is not credible until they process it themselves until they convert it to buzz."

    Well, the recall is underway out here in California.  Our elected governor will probably be replaced by a movie actor.  We did have Ronald Reagan here, of course.  Folks will vote with the buzz.

    As Bill Maher put it last week in the Los Angeles Times:

    So you can see the problem: Gray Davis.

    And the obvious solution: A Viennese weightlifter. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Finally, a candidate who can explain the Bush administrations positions on civil liberties in the original German.

    But there are still a lot of Democrats with sour grapes over the last presidential election, and theyre not collecting petitions to replace George Bush with Bernie Mac.

    I have no idea what will happen with the California recall.  Folks are unhappy with how things are.  Just as Iraq was a satisfying target because a dozen and a half Saudis killed three thousand of our citizens a few years back, so Gray Davis will do because the economy tanked. 

    It's another "feel good" thing.  Whack something, anything, and you'll feel better.  This is what our leaders tell people.  They know it's true because, well, they feel better.

    I live in Hollywood.  Don't we all?


    Mick Jagger, Vaclav Havel, Bill Clinton and Frank Zappa

    Yesterday, July 26, was Mick Jagger's sixtieth birthday.  Well, time flies. 

    Those of us in college in the late sixties probably remember The Rolling Stones fondly, although I wonder if any of us still listen to the old Stones recordings we might have.  I don't.  The kids I taught in the mid-seventies listened to the Stones too.  Then... well, other things happened.

    Then again, sometimes when the freeway is clear and I have the top down and I find the oldies station (K-Earth 101 out here) and they're playing Paint It Black, well, I do crank it up and drive too fast.  That's my favorite Stones tune.  It's cynical, and my car came with subwoofers under the seats so the bass really kicks in.

    The Beatles in the late sixties were the nice radicals, the ones with the sweet tunes and words that hinted at deep thoughts, even if they weren't really there.  The Stones were loud and crude and compelling.  And not subversive or thoughtful.  I think of them as the ultimate bar band. 

    I had another life as a younger man.  I played in a lot of second-rate semi-professional jazz bands, with a salsa band in the Virgin Islands, with a German polka band in Rochester (they made me wear lederhosen), with classical chamber groups, and with the pit orchestra for endless performances of The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof and stuff like that.  I never really played Stones music.

    Well, I did participate in a recording session where Paul Zinman came up with a reggae version of Satisfaction.  I played the bass line on tenor saxophone in the low register, overdubbed so that there were four of me.  Odd.  The vocal was handled by this post-punk young woman, white as death, who sang the male lyric without modification and looked like she might die.   I don't think Mick Jagger would have approved.  Or Bob Marley.   Well, it was 1980 and everyone was experimenting.  Stones music should, of course, be done by the Stones.

    I note that the Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones birthday concert/celebration was in Prague, in the Czech Republic, hosted by the retired president Vaclav Havel.   Havel and Jagger have been friends for many decades, and Vaclav Havel was good friends with the late Frank Zappa.  This seems a good place for the party. 

    When Vaclav Havel was a dissident playwright he was a big fan of the Czech band Plastic People of the Universe, a Prague band channeling Stones stuff and Zappa's stuff into a local version of same.  Havel was a drummer himself.  He loved it all.  His Manifesto 77 was written to protest the government's moves against Plastic People of the Universe and other music and arts... and the communists fell, and Havel rose, partly due to his defense of loud rock and roll.  One cannot imagine that happening in our political system.  Bruce Springsteen will never become President.

    So Happy Birthday to Mick.

    And a minor challenge to my readers.  I once saw a copy of a CD that was a recording made in Prague in the late nineties.  A bootleg from an afterhours club.  Vaclav Havel on drums.  Bill Clinton on tenor.  Two guys just sneaking out and fooling around.  A few easy blues and Summertime.  Very rare.  Has anyone seen this, or heard it?