Happy autumn!

[Random note: Loving the new blogger look! Super chic and easy to use :)]

Anyway. With the start of autumn, I thought I’d revive this blog a little (I’ve missed you, blog!). And what better way to celebrate the new season than curled up on a big comfy chair with a new book? Here are the latest books on my to-read list:

Sunnyside. Glen David Gold.
I have an obsession with 1920s Los Angeles (plus, Charlie Chaplin!). Just started this one – so far it’s really interesting.


Just Kids. Patti Smith.
I love autobiographies/memoirs. I love music. I love books that take place in New York. Hence, this.

And last but not least, on my URGENT!!!!!MUST BUY/READ!!!!! list:

by Olivia Harrison
I looked through it at B&N today and pretty much squee’d through the entire thing.
So. many. beautiful. pictures.

Excerpts from ‘Life’

Earlier this year I read Keith Richard’s autobiography “Life” (couldn’t think of a better title, eh Keef?), and it was quite a ride. Just so so many drugs, haha. But surprisingly tasteful. I really enjoyed it. Here are a couple of excerpts, which demonstrate the range of topics this guy covered:

Once you’ve got the vision in your mind of wild horses, I mean, what’s the next phrase you’re going to use? It’s got to be “couldn’t drag me away.” That’s one of the great things about songwriting; it’s not an intellectual experience. One might have to apply the brain here and there, but basically it’s capturing moments….What is it that makes you want to write songs? In a way you want to stretch yourself into other people’s hearts. You want to plant yourself there, or at least get a resonance, where other people become a bigger instrument than the one you’re playing….To write a song that is remembered and taken to heart is a connection, a touching of bases. A thread that runs through all of us. A stab to the heart. Sometimes I think songwriting is about tightening the heartstrings as much as possible without bringing on a heart attack.

I once had a mynah bird, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. When I put music on, it would start yelling at me. It was like living with an ancient, fractious aunt. The fucker was never grateful for anything….To me it was like living with Mick in the room in a cage, always pursing its beak.

My Recipe for Bangers and Mash
1. First off, find a butcher who makes his sausages fresh.
2. Fry up a mixture of onions and bacon and seasoning.
3. Get the spuds on the boil with a dash of vinegar, some chopped onions and salt (seasoning to taste). Chuck in some peas with the spuds. (Throw in some chopped carrots too, if you like.) Now we’re talking.
4. Now, you have a choice of grilling or broiling your bangers or frying. Throw them on low heat with the simmering bacon and onions (or in the cold pan, as the TV lady said, and add the onions and bacon in a bit) and let the fuckers rock gently, turning every few minutes.
5. Mash yer spuds and whatever.
6. Bangers are now fat free (as possible!).
7. Gravy if desired.
8. HP sauce, every man to his own.

Ethan Frome

So as some people – but not many – know, I collect Ethan Frome books. I’m not very far along yet (I have seven different editions, there are probably dozens if not close to a hundred in existence), but it’s a fun and admittedly kind of weird hobby.

I’m not really sure how it all started. For some reason, Ethan Frome was one of my favorite books from high school, probably because a lot of the main character’s emotions rang true with me too at the time, although it’s not like I think it’s the greatest book ever. It’s a good read, and short enough that I usually re-read it every couple of years (in wintertime, of course).

Anyway, I had my high school copy, which was a collection of Edith Wharton stories, nothing special. Then one day I found a 1922 Ethan Frome book at a garage sale, a quirky copy because the pages were actually upside down from the cover. I bought it for 10 cents.

Then when Lauren and I went to New York, I found a cool illustrated edition at The Strand bookstore, and from then on I just decided if I ever found an interesting copy of the book I would buy it.

Some versions are really common and not that exciting, so I try not to get those. I also like to see if I can find it at notable bookstores; for example, I bought that copy at The Strand in New York, one at Powell’s in Portland, and most recently, one at Green Apple in San Francisco. There’s a really beautiful, old edition at Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood that I’ve had my eye on, but I haven’t been able to convince myself to buy it for $38. I think part of the fun is just stumbling upon an old copy that’s going for a dollar, like that garage sale find (still my favorite one).

[My collection so far…with Paul Simon in the background:]

So if you ever see an old copy of Ethan Frome and need to get me a Christmas present or something, please know that I would enjoy it very much. :)

"He has his finger on the pulse of our generation"

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Finished Ravi Shankar’s autobiography Raga Mala, as well as Suze Rotolo’s memoir A Freewheelin’ Time. Both were fascinating, and described – in detail – places that are extremely allusive and appealing to me. The beginning of Ravi Shankar’s book presents such beautiful imagery of India that I am getting really hungry to go there (someday). And the beat/folk scene described in Rotolo’s book make Greenwich Village in the 60’s come alive again, with its underground venues and brick apartments. The parts about Bob Dylan were fascinating as well. Highly recommend both books!

Interesting note: I have seen many “Greatest Songs Ever Written” lists and “Like A Rolling Stone” always seems to be (if not number one) at the top of the list. It’s certainly always the top Dylan song. And while I agree it is fantastically written and sounds great, there are other Dylan songs that I think should come first. Of course this is all my own humble opinion…but what about “The Times They Are A-Changin'”? I know it seems obvious, but when you take the time to think about it – not only are the lyrics incredible, but that song was so powerful at the time it was written. Maybe those lists are trying to look at the music and lyrics objectively (not in context), but to me, part of what makes a song so great is how it related to that point in history. Rotolo made a great point of this in her book: in the early 1960s, the new generation of young people were already starting to recognize the problems surrounding them, and beginning to stand up for change. Dylan’s song served as an anthem for this new outlook, whether he meant for it to or not.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

autobiography reviews

…Just what you wanted to see, I’m sure. Haha. I’ve definitely gotten back into reading for fun lately (by “lately” I mean the last year or so, and by “fun” I mean instead of schoolwork), but when I look at the books I’ve read since then I realize they were almost all autobiographies. What can I say – I love reading about people’s lives, haha. It’s like I said in some earlier post, regular researchy biographies bore me, but I am fascinated by almost any autobiography. I love the idea of someone telling you their own story. Without ever having met them, it’s the closest you can get to knowing the true person, through their memories and reflections.

Some of the autobiographies I read were rather silly and the result of my obsessions at the time (for example, I not only read Charlie Chaplin’s autobio but also those of his son and second wife, haha). I’ll spare you all the details and instead just pick a few to mention. So if you’re ever interested in reading about any of these people, here are some short reviews with little to no credibility:

Wonderful Tonight – Pattie Boyd. Haven’t you always wanted to hear about the infamous George-Eric-Pattie love triangle? …Ok if not, maybe you won’t want to read this book, haha. Nevertheless, it’s a great account of the swinging 60s and two of the greatest guitarists to ever live. Separate entry about this book here.

I’m A Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music, & Madness – Micky Dolenz. This wasn’t so much an autobiography as a collection of memoirs and hilarious anecdotes (my favorite being when Mike punches the wall). There were some great stories about growing up in show biz and partying in the 60s. Short and simple, yet very entertaining.

John – Cynthia Lennon. As the title suggests, this is Cynthia’s account of her life with John Lennon. Not gonna lie, it’s a pretty depressing read. You can tell they loved each other in the beginning, but most of the book is just about how John was a bad father and how Cynthia obviously doesn’t like Yoko. It’ll make you dislike all three of them, haha.

My Autobiography – Charles Chaplin. This was a pretty dang long book, but I couldn’t put it down. It takes you from the streets of London to the high life in Hollywood to retirement in Switzerland and everywhere in between. It’s funny and almost unnatural that Charlie speaks so verbosely when you’re used to seeing his silent tramp character. Lots of cool stories about dinners with Einstein and Rachmaninoff, parties at the Hearst place, meeting Ghandi, etc. Really interesting!

My Wonderful World of Slapstick – Buster Keaton. Compared to Charlie Chaplin’s book, this one was much more colloquial and down-to-earth, which was nice. It was just as if Buster was your (supercool) grandpa telling you his story. It was very insightful, giving both honest and entertaining accounts of early Hollywood. It made me realize how much I love Buster Keaton as a person; he was so humble and never took his fame for granted.

Sunshine and Shadow – Mary Pickford. This was a nice read, but nothing too memorable. My favorite parts were when she talked about Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin and how they would “run around Pickfair like 10-year-olds”. Mary gives the impression of being kind of snooty, but also very aware of Hollywood life and the whole business side of it, which I definitely respect her for.

Harpo Speaks! – Harpo Marx. Autobiographies are a really good indication of one’s personality, and this book taught me that Harpo Marx was one of the sweetest, kindest, and funniest men to ever live. I didn’t know anything about him prior to reading this, but became a faithful fan thereafter. I even wrote a long entry about it here. Highly highly recommended!

On the to-read list: Bob Hope, Marion Davies, Lucille Ball (for a second time), and Bill Clinton. Oh yes.

This summer I’ve been reading books about New York (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Bonfire of the Vanities, Forever) to get more excited about my NY trip. It’s working! More reviews to come soon someday…

an overdue entry

Way back in spring, I happened to come across the book Harpo Speaks in the library and, as I usually do with any book that seems the least bit interesting, curiously opened to the first chapter. After two pages (plus the funny personalized inscription inside the cover) I was hooked. I didn’t even know anything about Harpo Marx, aside from the fact that he never spoke on camera, but I checked out the book and read all 475 pages over the course of a week and a half (which happened to be – not so coincidentally – right around the time of finals). I don’t think it was very conducive to my studying, but it kept me entertained, and for that reason I was really sad to come to the end of it. Like, really sad. It was then I decided that autobiographies are my favorite kind of book, maybe because reading them is so bittersweet. At least, that’s the case with most of the autobiographies I’ve read, which are almost always written by people who have long since passed away. It’s like you go on a journey with this person through their entire life, listening to them tell their story, but in the end, you’re the one who knows how the full story ends.

But anyway, Harpo’s book was like the prime example of a perfect autobiography. More than once I laughed aloud while reading it. Also more than once I had tears in my eyes. I can’t even remember the last time a book made me cry (ok scratch that, I can: The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan…I was in the backseat of my parents’ car sniffling and reaching for tissues). Everything about this book – the way it’s written, the hilarious, often unbelievable content, the author himself – is impossible not to love. It covers literally everything from the vaudeville days in turn-of-the-century New York to Harpo’s “retirement” in mid-1960s Palm Springs. I love that it’s long enough to establish running jokes with the reader, and that you really get to know every single person in the book, just like Harpo did. I had bookmarked several passages that I especially loved, and because I hadn’t gotten around to writing them down, I’ve kept the book all summer. I must have renewed it 20 times, haha. I guess before the library comes after me I should save the parts I like and return it.

I bookmarked so many pages, but these are some of my favorites. I loved them so much I don’t mind spending two hours typing up this entry (which is what I’ve been doing, haha). I especially enjoyed the stories from Harpo’s childhood, which he told with such wonderful imagery and enthusiasm that I’d be completely content if the first third of the autobiography was a book in itself. I still cannot for the life of me figure out how to hide text/pictures with a cut, so I’ve just bombarded my blog with italicized text. And I don’t mind:

Back when the Giants were in New York:
I was a loyal fan but I could never afford, naturally, the price of admission to the Polo Grounds. Then I discovered a spot on Coogan’s Bluff, a high promontory behind the Polo Grounds, from which there was a clear view of the ballpark. Well, a clear view – yes, but clear only of the outside wall of the grandstand, a section of the bleachers, and one narrow, tantalizing wedge of the playing field.
So to tell the truth, I didn’t really watch the Giants. I watched
a Giant – the left fielder.
When the ball came looping or bounding into my corner of the field, I saw real live big-league baseball. The rest of the time – which was most of the time – I watched a tiny man in a white or gray uniform standing motionless on a faraway patch of grass.
Other kids collected pictures of Giants such as McGraw, McGinnity, and Matthewson. Not me. I was forever faithful to Sam Mertes, undistinguished left fielder, the only New York Giant I ever saw play baseball.
Eventually I came to forgive Sam for all the hours he stood around, waiting for the action to come his way. It must have been just as frustrating for him down on the field as it was for me up on the bluff. It was easy for pitchers or shortstops to look flashy. They took lots of chances. My heart was with the guy who was given the fewest chances to take, the guy whose hope and patience never dimmed. Sam Mertes, I salute you! In whatever Valhalla you’re playing now, I pray that only right-handed pull-hitters come to bat, and the ball comes sailing your way three times in every inning.

[after realizing the Marx family is broke]:
I came out of my daze. I was startled to find I was standing watching an auction sale. The inventory of a little general store in the suburbs was being auctioned off. There were about twenty people there. I was careful to keep my hands in my pockets, so I could resist any crazy impulse to make a bid, and blow my entire capital of seven cents.
The shelves were nearly emptied and most of the crowd had left, but I still hung around, having nothing better to do with myself. Finally everything was gone except one scrub brush, the former owner, hovering in the background, the auctioneer, myself, and an elderly Italian couple. They elderly couple had been there all the time. Either they had no money or they were too timid to make a bid on anything. Whichever it was, they exchanged sad looks now that the auction was winding up.
The auctioneer was tired. “All right,” he said. “Let’s get it over with and not horse around. I have left here one last desirable item. One cleansing brush in A-number-one, brand-new condition, guaranteed to give you floors so clean you can eat off them. What am I offered?”
The old Italian guy and his wife looked at each other, searching for the right thing to say. The auctioneer glared at them. “All right!” he yelled. “It’s only a goddam
scrub brush!” They held on to each other like they had done something wrong.
I said, quickly, “One cent.”
The auctioneer whacked his gavel. He sighed and said, “Sold-thank-God-to-the-young-American-gentleman-for-one-cent.”
I picked up my brush and handed it to the old lady. She was as touched as if I had given her the entire contents of the store. The old man grabbed my hand and pumped it. They both grinned at me and poured out a river of Italian that I couldn’t understand. “Think nothing of it,” I said, and added, “Ciao, eh?” – which was the only Italian I could remember from 93rd Street.
They thought this was pretty funny, the way I said it, and they walked away laughing. I walked away laughing too. A day that had started out like a nothing day, going nowhere except down, had turned into a something day, with a climax and a laugh for a finish. I couldn’t explain it, but I hadn’t felt so good in years. A lousy penny scrub brush had changed the whole complexion of life.

It was a sparkling clear morning in May. After the kids went off to school I felt like practicing an extra hour or so before shooting a round of golf, so I moved the harp out by the big west window.
Susan was in her room, sewing, working on a dress for Minnie’s first dance. The dogs climbed out of the pool, shook themselves, and ran off to look for the horses, to see if they could get up a friendly game of tag. The only sound was the sound of the harp. There was no wind outside. The nearest thing to any movement was the changing of the shadows on the mountains, as the sun rose in the sky. I was surrounded by peace.
I got to thinking as I played about how lucky I was to be who I was, where I was – an old faun’s ass, the father of four children, sitting in an air-conditioned house, admiring the spectacle of the California desert while I made music, with nothing more to worry about than whether I should keep making music and enjoying the view and then play nine holes of golf, or quit now and play eighteen holes. I decided to keep practicing.

Some of the rules that came to be established in the Marx household:
-Life has been created for you to enjoy, but you won’t enjoy it unless you pay for it with some good, hard work.
-If anything makes you sore, come out with it. Maybe the rest of us are itching for a fight too.
-If anything strikes you funny, out with that too. Let’s all the rest of us have a laugh.
-If you have an impulse to do something you’re not sure is right, go ahead and do it. Take a chance. Chances are, if you don’t you’ll regret it.
-If it’s a question of whether to do what’s fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt by whichever you do, always do what’s fun.
-If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world’s against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.
-Don’t worry about what other people think. The only person in the world important enough to conform to is yourself.
-Anybody who mistreats a pet or breaks a pool cue is docked a month’s pay.

For someone whose voice was silent for so many years, Harpo sure had a lot to say, haha. And I’m so glad he did.

Wonderful Tonight

So I started reading Pattie Boyd’s autobiography at the end of summer, and have just picked it up again (it’s at the part where she marries Eric Clapton). For some reason, regular biographies bore me, but I really enjoy reading autobiographies and memoirs. It doesn’t have to be about a celebrity either; I just love to read about people’s own experiences and the way in which they remember them. In the case of this book, there are a lot of crazy stories about the 60s and later Eric’s alcohol/drug problems, but there are also a lot of funny little anecdotes that are a reminder that these famous rock stars are just like the rest of us. Take, for instance:

We had a lot of visitors, including Ronnie and Krissie Wood, and Mick Jagger. One morning when I came down in the morning to make tea, Krissie said “shh”…I crept into the kitchen and there was Mick, up to his elbows in soap suds, washing the dishes from the night before…

[and in reference to a trip to Tahiti in 1964]
We had so much fun – it felt as though we did nothing but laugh. On one of the islands, John and George borrowed our black wigs, dressed up in some oilskin macs they had bought in Papeete, and made a funny little 8-millimeter film about a missionary – John – who comes out of the ocean to convert the natives.
Haha, I always wondered what the context of this picture was:

In case you didn’t know, Pattie Boyd was married to George Harrison and then left him for Eric Clapton, George’s best friend. A little messed up on all accounts, but somehow they remained friends, haha. I found a relevant pic on Classic Rock Macros:

For the record, I think George was by far the better husband, but if Eric hadn’t been so obsessed with Pattie, two of my favorite Clapton songs (“Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight”) wouldn’t have been written. So let’s hear it for awkward love triangles!

EDIT: Ahhhhhhhhh I am near the end of the book and these parts were heartwrenching:

George and I didn’t speak on the phone much, but we saw each other from time to time. He had become almost an older brother to me, someone with whom I felt entirely comfortable and to whom I could say anything. Every now and again he would send a little present – a tree for the garden or an ornament…

I heard about George’s death from Alan Rogan, who rang me early in the morning at Rod’s flat. I burst into tears, I felt completely bereft. I couldn’t bear the thought of a world without George. When I left him for Eric, he had said that if things didn’t work out, ever, I could always come to him and he would look after me. It was such a selfless, loving, generous thing to say and it had always been tucked away at the back of my mind…You never know with grief how long it will last, but I think I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.


discoveries and quotes

Whoa whoa whoa HELLO AND WHOA, I just found out today that The Last Tycoon (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel, which I read over winter break) was made into a movie! What’s more, it stars Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson?! I am soooo intrigued.

The Last Tycoon was a fascinating read, although Fitzgerald died before he could finish it. There was one passage I loved so much that I wrote it down in my paper journal:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It’s like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lean backwards trying – only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers.

I feel like I can relate. I dunno, sometimes I feel like a million different people trying to find one to identify with. I also remember a part from Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography about writers being “nice people but not very giving…whatever they know they like to keep between the covers of their books.” I’m not saying I’m a writer by any means, just that thoughts like these make me feel like one, haha.

On a completely different note, Neil Young made a new music video with just a webcam, an apple, and some headphones. It’s pretty amusing. He reminds me of a mix between Jack Nicholson and my dad.

Hollywood in the 1910s and 20s

Excerpts from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton’s autobiographies:

Thomas Ince gave barbeques and dances at his studio, which was in the wilds of northern Santa Monica, facing the Pacific Ocean. What wondrous nights – youth and beauty dancing to plaintive music on an open-air stage, with the soft sound of waves pounding on the nearby shore.
– Charlie Chaplin

I sometimes wonder if the world will ever seem as carefree and exciting a place as it did to us in Hollywood during 1919 and the early twenties. We were all young, the air in southern California was like wine. Our business was also young and growing like nothing ever seen before.
– Buster Keaton

How amazing to have lived then, when everything was changing so quickly. Records and movies and were still novelties; it seems like everything they did was totally embraced by eager audiences. The concept of the “celebrity” had never existed before that, and suddenly Hollywood was the world’s quintessence of glamour and movie stars. I wish I could’ve seen LA before it became the urban, smoggy metropolis it is today.

Also, I am amazed at how involved these guys were in making their movies. They basically did it all; wrote the story, picked the cast and location, directed the picture, and starred in it. From Buster’s autobiography:

In those free-and-easy days we all had fun making comedies….We directed our own pictures, making up our own gags as we went along, saw the rushes, supervised the cutting, went to the sneak previews…In the silent days we could try anything at all, and did. We were not supervised by business executives who lacked a sense of humor. We were the ones who decided what should go into a script to make the audience laugh. All our bosses asked of us was that our pictures make fortunes, and our pictures did.

And a video of Charlie describing his studio as it was in the late 1910s:

Can you tell I’m fascinated by this stuff? Haha. Random note: I pass the old Chaplin Studio every time I go to the train station! Yay!

random tidbits

Last week in music discussion, our TA offered extra credit to anyone who could find out the name of the motown hit that used the same melody as Bach’s Minuet in G, and what group it was. In my infinite nerdiness, I already knew the answer: “A Lover’s Concerto” by the Toys (thank you Mr. Holland’s Opus!). Though it’s pretty repetitive, you can’t deny it’s a catchy song.

The other day in film class we watched Footlight Parade. I was excited because I’ve heard so many James Cagney impressions (and by that I mean the reference in Help! and Micky Dolenz’s “inimitable James Cagney” in a bunch of Monkees episodes) but never truly watched one of his movies. Turns out in this one he’s not a gangster but a mild-mannered musical producer, haha. Just as great. So in case you ever wanted to see James Cagney tap-dancing:

Also, I am really enjoying Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography. It’s fascinating to read about the social interactions between people who are now considered legendary…dinner parties with Mr. and Mrs. Einstein, Rachmaninoff, Aldous Huxley…I can only imagine. There was a part I read today about William Randolph Hearst, which I found amusing:

At times he was surprisingly childish and his feelings could be easily hurt. I remember one evening while we were choosing sides for a game of charades, he complained that he had been left out. “Well,” said Jack Gilbert facetiously, “we’ll play a charade on our own, and act out the word ‘pillbox’ – I’ll be the box and you can be the pill.” But W.R. took it the wrong way; his voice quivered. “I don’t want to play your old charades,” he said, and with that he left the room, slamming the door behind him.

It’s so funny to visualize all these movie stars and distinguished men gathered in San Simeon playing party games, haha. I guess they’re really not that different from anyone else.