I’ve sensed for awhile that I had a Vonnegut period coming, and it arrived this week. I’ve been reading Welcome to the Monkey House as well as listening to the audiobook of Breakfast of Champions read by John Malkovich.
The latter makes BoC a somewhat darker experience than it is on the page, though when you think about what happens in the story, clearly that darkness was always there. In print it may be leavened somewhat by KV’s whimsical illustrations, which obviously are difficult to translate to the audio version. So if you’ve ever longed to hear the great John Malkovich attempt to describe Kurt Vonnegut’s drawing of an asshole, now you can.
For awhile I thought Malkovich and Vonnegut might be a stylistic mismatch, but it’s improved as it’s gone along, and the Malk absolutely kills Rabo Karabekian’s monologue about unwavering bands of light. Karabekian is a strange case — here Vonnegut has created a character that he clearly detests, and says so. And yet he gives Karabekian a beautiful and lucid speech that’s right at the heart of what Breakfast of Champions is all about.
I now give you my word of honor…that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal—the “I am” to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us—in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.
A few days ago I was at a friend’s house in Berkeley watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Oliver was talking about how New Zealand was looking for a new flag. Apparently, everyone in the country was invited to submit their designs, with the results you would expect — some interesting, some boring, and some insane. (In the interim, the Kiwis have opted to stay with their old flag, to the disappointment of the whole world.) One of the rejected designs made me laugh so hard I stopped breathing for a while. It probably won’t have the same effect on you, but I still wanted to share.
I’m not sure exactly what struck me so funny about it — some combination of the earless sheep, the zig-zag lightning bolt, and the fact that someone thought a sheep being struck by lightning was a good idea for a flag. It is making me giggle a little even now, and for that, I thank you, New Zealand.
This Is Where I Live
William Bell was never in the top tier of soul singers with your Reddings, Cookes, and Gayes, but he had a solid career as a songwriter and recording artist. He wrote “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” which was made famous by the aforementioned Mr. Redding, and co-wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign,” a big hit for Albert King and then Cream. As a singer, he was best known for “Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a stone classic that was later covered by everyone from Billy Idol to the reggae crooner George Faith (in a version produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry).
But I had no idea that Bell was still active in the music business, so I was surprised to hear that he was releasing a new album. I was even more surprised when I actually heard it. It is shockingly good.
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My mind isn’t quite as easy to blow as it once was, but every now and again something sneaks past the gatekeeper and rearranges my neurons in a pleasant way. Let’s catch up a little bit.
On Monday Stephen Colbert’s Late Show opened its coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention with this stupendous bit of nouveau psychedelia:
Simply fantastic. I admit I’ve been a bit disappointed with Stephen’s CBS incarnation, and enjoyed it last week when the old “Stephen Colbert” returned for a few minutes during the Republican Convention. What the hell, let’s throw that in here too:
I once heard the Daily Show compared to an evening beer, and the Colbert Report to a shot of whiskey; the Late Show is more like a Manhattan. It can be great, and then sometimes the liquor is wrong or the ingredients are poorly balanced, and it just doesn’t work. One misses the dependable purity of the old show. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that the Late Show’s first year has been somewhat troubled, and that its future is not guaranteed. But I root for Stephen, and for this week, at least, he has me back.
In the last couple weeks I finally broke down and started using Spotify. And I have to admit, the depth and breadth of the catalog is pretty impressive; only twice have I been unable to find what I was looking for. But there’s something about it that I still find somehow lacking, and I think this has to do as much with ingrained mental habits as anything.
Any music fan old enough to have significant memory of the 20th century grew up on records, maybe eight-tracks or cassettes, and then later CDs. With physical media there was always this concept of, I have acquired it now; it is mine. And for a certain type of mind, which many of us have, this was very satisfying. We went along from year to year, slowly building our collections, which of course came to reflect our very personalities.
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Kevin Durant is a Warrior.
It feels weird to say it, even though I’ve had a few days to get used to the idea. Already boasting the two best shooters on the planet, my team has now added a lethal offensive machine with big-man size and guard skills. It doesn’t seem quite fair.
Certainly the fans in Oklahoma City feel that way. When the news came down on the 4th of July, they started throwing #35 jerseys onto their barbecues. Just a few short weeks ago, the Thunder were up 3-1 on the Dubs in the Conference Finals, and folks in OKC were starting to plan their parade route. Now they’re down to just one superstar, and he may be on his way out the door soon too.
But enough about the poor unfortunate Mr. Floyd, let’s talk about the rich and prosperous Mr. Butch. (Thank you Quentin Tarantino.)
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It’s long past time to move on to other topics, but a few words first.
After a few days I’m pretty much at peace with what happened. Seeing the real and heartfelt joy that it brought to the people of Cleveland — who I actually have nothing against — helped. It feels like we of the Dub Nation may have started to get a bit greedy, expecting our team to win everything all the time; a little lesson in humility is not a bad thing for anybody.
I’ve also started to look at this in a bit of a larger perspective…like, wouldn’t it be great if the Warriors and Cavs played in the Finals seven straight years, like a playoff series stretched out over most of a decade? That would make the series tied at one, with the Cavs having stolen home-court advantage…just like they did last season, and we know how that turned out.
Can LeBron play five more years? Sure, he’s only 31; by 36 he will have a shitload of miles on the odometer but who knows what players Cleveland may have picked up by then? In five years Steph Curry will be 33, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green 31. There is a lot of great basketball in our future, I think.
I trust the Warriors’ management to do what’s necessary to tweak the team for next year; that may or may not involve a player whose name rhymes with “Bevin Zurant.” The futures of players like Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Mo Buckets Speights remain up in the air. I’d say it’s unlikely that the Warriors pick up anything useful with the 30th pick in the draft, except that Draymond Green was picked 35th. So you never know. The draft starts in a few minutes, and that seems like as good a place as any to leave off for now.
So that happened.
Last night I found myself watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals in a room full of family and friends who had gathered for a wedding. My wedding, to be precise, which had been the day before. It went really great. This considerably softens the blow of having to report that in an exciting, nail-biting, back-and-forth contest the Warriors failed to prevail against the Cleveland Cavaliers and will not be repeating as NBA Champions.
This is a painful truth, but it has to be learning and growing experience. I mean, it has to. So what have we learned?
1. Stephen Curry is a human being. Over the course of the last couple years many of us have drifted into believing that Steph is something like the Second Coming. And not without reason. But this series proved that he, too, can struggle. He can’t make every single shot he takes, and he can be affected by tenacious and disciplined defense.
2. LeBron James is very good at basketball. In the Finals LBJ led both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Which is, of course, ridiculous. After going down 3–1 and facing all sorts of criticism for his supposed failings in the clutch, he squared his shoulders and more or less willed his team to a title. I still don’t really like him. But you have to admire the performance.
3. Kyrie Irving too. Kyrie came of age this year, showing off his full set of prodigious offensive skills. He’s still not much of a defender, but you can’t have everything. Crucially, Kyrie carried just enough of the load to keep LeBron from getting worn down over the course of the Finals like he did last year.
4. Cleveland is not cursed. The part of me that’s able to be objective about all this kind of likes the fact that Cleveland got a championship. It’s been a long time for them and as a long-suffering-until-recently Warriors fan, I know what that’s like. Better to lose to a Cleveland team than to someone like the Lakers or, God forbid, the Clippers.
5. You can’t always get what you want. (But if you try sometimes, etc. etc.) Of course I would have loved to see the W’s win it all. But it was a great season, it went the maximum, there were lots of good times had. My lovely wife was by my side for many of the games, and hopefully we’ll be back at it next year.
Good Lord, what a nightmare of a game. The Warriors went down big early — 20 points in the 1st quarter, to be precise — and despite repeatedly clawing their way back into it, could never quite get there. Things just kept going wrong — Andre Iguodala hurt his back, Steph Curry tweaked his hand and got into foul trouble, and in the end it was just one of those days.
The image that will linger is Curry fouling out of the game — !!!!! — with 4:22 left in the game, then for good measure getting ejected after winging his mouthpiece toward the crowd. After the game, Steph’s wife Ayesha went on record saying the game had been fixed. It was an ugly scene all around.
I was watching in a room full of loved ones and alcohol, which lessened the sting somewhat. But on the whole it was not one of your better days to be a Warriors fan. With any luck Sunday —which is when Game 7 will be played in Oakland — will be better. Please, please let it be better.