Just Above Sunset Archives

June 1, 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....


Calvin and Hobbes (Thomas)

Something for Nothing: Luck in America, Jackson Lears, Viking: 408 pp., $27.95

Stephen Metcalf reviewed this in the March 30 2003 Los Angeles Times Book Review and I've been meaning to pick up a copy.  Lears teaches "cultural history" at Rutgers in central New Jersey and his recent books seem to have been on "the hidden costs of modern life."  I thought the costs were actually right out there for everyone to see, but be that as it may, this new book seems to be about Americans' attitudes toward gambling - and heck, I buy a lottery ticket most Saturday afternoons. 

In my commentary this week I said a few things about Calvinism - about how having goodies and success in life is now seen as a mark of God's grace and approval, what here is identified as the "the high Protestant myth that would yoke grace to social status."  That idea would that mean luck, just random luck which also might also give you those successes and the matching goodies, is a tad evil, if it even exists -- "There is no such thing as fortune or chance," John Calvin (1561). 

The contention of this book seems to be that gamblers buying lottery tickets and slamming coins into slot machines are subversives, rebels undermining the prevailing mythos of success.  If one of these folks gets rich with that one wining lottery ticket, instead of by being self-reliant, hard working, personally responsible and possessing the correct "positive attitude" - well, that undermines the whole way we are told to think about how to get along in the world.  These people who buy lottery tickets are dangerous.  Bill Bennett playing the slots isn't then the story of "the nation's scold" on personal ethics being caught doing something that sort of undermines his "moral authority."  Heck, it makes him a subversive.  Cool.

Metcalf raises an interesting question - what if America's dominance in the world is not the result of our goodness, or our superior economic smarts, or our democratic system and rather clever Constitution, but the result of luck - the random happenstance of place and time and who knows what?  That would be a hoot - and make our international efforts and right-minded domestic policies kind of silly?  Send a note if you've read the book.

Airplane Books -

On Friday the Thirteenth, this month, I fly to Newark, New Jersey to attend a Bar Mitzvah and get a break from the Far West.  I collect "airplane books" for such flights, sort of paperback mind candy.  From my last jaunt, a wedding south of New Orleans just before the New Year, I recommend these.

Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, Avon Books (Harper-Collins), 1152 pages, $7.99

Hard to explain - espionage and mathematical theory, two major wars, hidden gold, Alan Turing and the Enigma machine, and tables and source code on cryptographic puzzles you can solve if you'd like.  Funny stuff - Pynchon meets Heller meets Tom Clancy.  And some great lines.  An engrossing action-adventure spy story with, at one point, embedded trigonometric formulae explaining sexual frustration.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman, Harper Torch, 592 pages. $7.99

Even stranger than the other.  Imagine a contemporary Huckleberry Finn quest told in the style of "magic realism" with Celtic and Native American deities popping up to bitch about this and that, a bit of the walking dead and lots of strange doings.  And it keeps you reading.  It'll mess your head, but you won't mind. 


Oh, and try any mystery by Jonathan Kellerman.  Almost every one takes place within a few miles of here.  He's quite good - used to be a child psychologist down Sunset at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.  So we're talking psychological murder mysteries set in my neighborhood.  Some complexity to the characters, not just the plot.  Boston has Robert Parker and his Spencer and Hawk.  Here we have Kellerman with his Alex and faithful sidekick Milo.


This week in Hollywood, but not in the movies...

The news from Hollywood this week is that Thursday the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, just east of here, was renamed "Bob Hope Square" as it was his birthday, and he turned one hundred.  There was a fly-over of WWII aircraft. I think that was a B-24 Liberator I saw from my office window, which faces that way. 

Bob Hope seems like a fine old fellow.  But his films don't age well, nor do the jokes.  George Burns almost made it to the century mark, and was still a giggle up to the end.  The difference might have something to do with Burns' self-referential irony.  Hope wasn't that sly.  But he outlasted everyone.

Harrison Ford, the next day, got his star on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame."  If you've been out here you've seen these things embedded in the sidewalk all up and down the boulevard between La Brea and Western.  Ford got a good spot, at Highland just in front of the new Kodak Theater - the home of the Oscar event now.  Not to be cynical or anything, but glance down at some of these names.  Who are these folks?  There already is a Harrison Ford marker in front of "Musso and Frank" - the famous restaurant - but that one belongs a silent-film star of the same name who died in the late fifties.

How do you get a star?  Do you have to be a star?  No, you pay a fee to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. 

It seems one's agent "buys" the spot and arranges for the stone and bronze star thing to be installed, and arranges and pays for the ceremony that draws the crowds.  I think your agent also has to pay the LAPD for the traffic/crowd-control stuff too.  Seems that if any of you had a pushy, persistent agent and fifty grand you too could have your star.  The studio paid for Ford's star, or this Ford's star, and the street party.  Steven Spielberg was there.  I wasn't.  Ford has a new film out this week.  This was marketing.

By the way, Bob Hope is one hundred.  Harrison Ford is sixty.  Time flies.

30 May 2003



Matt, up in Rochester, New York, asked what I was listening to these days.  And it's a mix.

Jazz - Phillip Raines (Phillip's Tale) plays tenor, and I used to.  So tenor saxophone it shall be.  First Joe Henderson, Lush Life, the Music of Billy Strayhorn - Verve 314-511-779-2 recorded in 1992 in New York.  Take the "A" Train as a duet with only bass?  Yep, and it works.  But I have a soft spot in my heart for Billy Strayhorn, a fellow from the north side of Pittsburgh, like me, and born in Allegheny General Hospital, as I was, and as Gertrude Stein was.  The French Connection.  Billy was fluent.  Secondly, Bradford Marsalis playing duets with his father, Ellis, who is on piano, Loved Ones, 1996, Columbia 7464-67369-2.  What they do to that Gershwin tune Liza is amazing.  Wow.  Sometimes Branford Marsalis is all irritating technique, but not here.  His father keeps him in line.

Classical - Heitor Villa-Lobos: Complete Music For Solo Guitar, Norbert Craft, guitar, on Naxos 8.553978.  This is a 2000 Canadian pressing of real fine stuff (Craft teaches at the University of Toronto) - all the pieces on one CD for an evening that will calm one down no matter what life has done with one's mood that day.  Villa-Lobos is the Brazilian composer, much into the folk traditions of that curious place, but who also hauled himself off to France as a young man to learn what he could from Ravel.  And his mother wanted him to be a doctor.  Indeed! 

Europe - Cuisine Non-Stop: Introduction to the French Nouvelle Generation (Luaka Bop 72438-12123-2-5) -- Compiled by Luaka Bop proprietor and former Talking Head David Byrne - "a world where pop music is made with accordions, head-bobbing acoustic guitars, yearningly romantic vocalists and farting brass bands. (Evidently, the French have an abiding love for the tuba.)" to quote the review in L.A. Weekly.  This is one fine album.  I got my copy as a Christmas gift from an ex-wife.  Bless her.

World - Yalil, an album on Mango Records (539 892-8) is interesting.  It's been out there for a few years.  The singer is a Tunisian woman named Amina who lives and records in Paris.  Her albums are mastered (mixed) by that English fellow Nigel Kennedy.  Yalil is half in French and half in Arabic - just your basic club/trance but sort of belly-dancing music with some sampling - James Brown on one of the cuts.  The French is full of slang, and the Arabic is Western, so my Palestinian friend found it difficult.  Well, some of us up north have the same problem with the way folks talk down in Georgia.  And regarding world music, if any of you want I can tell you where to find a club mix cover of Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack" in Portuguese.  It's way cool.  Or maybe it's just strange.  That one is by Boozoo Bajou.  Great name.

Streaming audio - Jazz from Paris, on TSF, recommended by Nat Hentoff and many a big name musician in that world.  Click on this http://www.tsfjazz.com then go to Ecoutez l'Antenne and select either REAL 8 or Quick Time depending on what you have installed on your computer.  If you're one of the readers in Paris, just tune to FM at 89.9 of course. And if you are interested in the history of how this station came to be, along with Jazz Valley and its relationship to Paris Match and other stuff, there was good story in the International Herald Tribune on the whole thing.  That article is no longer on line.  If you want a copy, I can email one to you.