Reading Report, March 2024

Books Acquired:
You Glow in the Dark, Liliana Colanzi

Progress Made:
Great Jones Street, Don DeLillo
Lou Reed: The King of New York, Will Hermes
Loaded, Dylan Jones

Books Finished:
With Friends Like These…, Alan Dean Foster
Who Needs Enemies?, Alan Dean Foster
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut

Props to friend of the blog Delano, who reminded me that I’d yet to finish Klara and the Sun. That was low-hanging fruit, and the ending was good — bittersweet, but not nearly as sad as Ishiguro had hinted it might be.

Welcome to the Monkey House was pure joy, the kind of book where you have to remind yourself to slow down and savor it. One day at a cafe I read three stories in a row and felt like an absolute glutton. Finishing it completes my dive into Vonnegut’s short fiction, so I think Mother Night is next.

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Four Lives

I think all of you dear, precious few who read this thing are fellow geezers, so all of you have probably already had the dreaded Procedure I underwent this week. On the whole, well… could have been worse. Everything seems to be hunky-dory down there and I got to see a picture of my colon, which looks not unlike the famous picture of the black hole.

Anyway… one of the reliable pleasures of my geezer life these days is reading the obituaries in the print edition of the Sunday Times. A well-written obit is a thing of beauty, a capsule biography that can be absorbed over coffee… unlike that fking Einstein book that I bought so casually and has been mocking me for the last decade.

This week there were four. The two on the first page were for relatively young people, starting with…

Buddy Duress, a small-time heroin dealer living on the streets of the Upper West Side who became a sensation in the New York film scene as an actor and muse for the movies “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time,” which helped launch the careers of the filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie, died in November at his home in Astoria, Queens. He was 38. The death, which was disclosed only in late February, was from cardiac arrest caused by a “drug cocktail” including heroin, his brother, Christopher Stathis, said.

Buddy Duress — one hell of a moniker, that — was a stage name, one he adopted while making the first Safdie Brothers movie. His real one was Michael Constantine Stathis, born May 21, 1985. He had a troubled life and he had his reasons. In the article his lawyer is quoted thusly:

I represent so many people with the kinds of problems he had, and they always have excuses. Michael never did. It seems paradoxical to say that an admitted and convicted thief was honest, but he was honest. He was honest about who he was.

Duress/Stathis’s obit takes up about 9/16 of a page. Below the fold is this one:

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Reading Report, February 2024

Books Acquired:
Loaded, Dylan Jones

Progress Made:
Great Jones Street, Don DeLillo
With Friends Like These…, Alan Dean Foster
Lou Reed: The King of New York, Will Hermes
Loaded, Dylan Jones
Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut

Books Finished:
Midworld, Alan Dean Foster

Hello dear readers, I hope you’re all having a Super Tuesday.

I officially had it with the rain today. Now, my publicly stated policy is that I am pro-rain; it is always needed in our drought-bedeviled state, if not so much here in the oft-sodden Northern lands. And philosophically I stand with Lennon on the matter of weather: It is what it is, and you should find a way to enjoy it rather than bitching.

But every year there comes a day, right about this time, when I stand and shake my fist at the sky, shouting “Enough already!” I always feel a little better afterward, however foolish and futile the gesture.

Which is neither here or there, I know. Sometimes you just have to get something off your chest.

Don DeLillo’s 1973 novel Great Jones Street, which I just acquired in January, begins like this:

Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstances of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic. Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation. Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors. Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity — hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs. Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.

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Dubs, Dray, Klay, etc. etc.

It’s been a month and a half since I posted my statement doubling down on Draymond and the Warriors. How’s that working out?

In terms the world will understand — that is, wins and losses — not so great. In that time the W’s are 10–10, not disastrous but hardly what you’d call encouraging. They currently occupy 12th place in the West, a game and a half out of the play-in tournament, and the conventional wisdom has written them off.

Not without reason. Above and beyond the obvious problems — a chronic inability to make baskets or to prevent opponents from doing the same — there has been something ineffably Wrong with the Dubs all season. Then a couple weeks ago an assistant coach suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack in the middle of a team dinner.

This is of course horrible but I couldn’t help seeing it as a scene in some future 30 for 30: This was where things turned around, the squad pulled together to win one for Deki (Dejan Milojević, 1977–2024, RIP), whose spectral presence on the court could be glimpsed by those with a certain kind of eyes.

Since then the Warriors have won two games and lost two, which doesn’t quite fit the narrative. But the losses have both been by one point, including a gutting double-overtime heartbreaker against the Lakers. So there is reason for optimism. Wait: There’s always reason for optimism; it’s a mindset. There’s reason for a judiciously measured spoonful of hope, I guess is what I mean.

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Reading Report, January 2024

Books Acquired:
When the Game Was War, Rich Cohen
Great Jones Street, Don DeLillo

Progress Made:
Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut

Books Finished:
The Crow Road, Iain Banks
Ashes to Ashes, Chris O’Leary
Ringo: With a Little Help, Michael Seth Starr

I finally finished Ashes to Ashes yesterday; I’d been saving the last few pages for a rainy day, and it was rainy as fuck. I did not go out, like seemingly half the town, to try and catch a glimpse of where Paul Thomas Anderson is filming his new opus in Northtown Arcata, opting instead to maintain my dryness and dignity.

I had forgotten that the first time we heard “Blackstar” was in the trailer for a long-forgotten TV show, The Last Panthers. This is not a clip from the song we know; it’s a fragment of an alternate version created specifically for the purpose:

O’Leary says that “Visconti and Bowie took a verse from the third section of ‘Blackstar’ and added different guitar tracks and effects than on the album.” He also says that about a minute was edited out of the album version so that it could be sold as an individual track on iTunes.

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The 10 Days of David, Part 10

“Something happened on the day he died.”

“Blackstar” is huge: longer than “Cygnet Committee,” longer than the “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing” suite from Diamond Dogs, longer even than “Station to Station” if you edit out the fades at beginning and end. It contains multitudes. It’s elegiac, ominous, angry, funky, spooky, funny, then all of those things again in a different order.

There is a lot to say about it — O’Leary devotes the last 15 pages of Ashes to Ashes to it. But today my time is limited, as yours probably is too. So if all you have is ten minutes, spend them watching this.

If perchance you want something to read: After David died on this day back in 2016, I (eventually) wrote a hopeful thing called “Let the Thousand Bowies Bloom.” I liked it then and I like it now. This is a day to think about death… but life goes on.

There will now be a period of silence from this quarter. After posting something most days for several months, I find that I am tired of my own voice. Perhaps I am not alone in this. 2024 promises to be a weird and interesting year, and there will be things to discuss; but for now, adieu.

The 10 Days of David, Part 9

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
—Henry David Thoreau

Here I am killing time between the 8th and 10th, the two significant dates on the Bowie calendar. As luck would have it today’s song is “Killing a Little Time,” another Lazarus number that David released his version of on the No Plan EP.

It’s a minor song, I suppose. Also a noisy one, sort of jazz-metal, apparently based in part on a song by Maria Schneider (David’s collaborator on “Sue”):

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The 10 Days of David, Part 8

David Robert Jones a.k.a. Bowie would have turned 77 today. Still not all that old, really.

Of course you have to wonder what he would have done with those extra years. especially given the creative momentum he had when death so rudely interrupted. Apparently even before the release of Blackstar he was on the phone to Tony Visconti plotting his next album.


As it happens, next up in the chronology is “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which as the last song on the last album holds a special place in the canon. I’ve always taken that title to mean “I’m not telling you how I did it. That would ruin it for you.”

But he does tell us this:

Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent

David was not a sentimentalist. His first big hit was about an astronaut committing suicide. And by and large his oeuvre was pretty dark — that’s the no.

But there is affirmation in the simple act of creation. That’s the yes.

After a half-century’s work, he left behind a mystery that we will never get to the bottom of. Still there are surprises — for instance, this version of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” — it’s different from the album version, is it not?

As we all know, David shares a birthday with Elvis Aron Presley, born 1935. The King would be only 89! Also not all that old, all things considered.

This week news broke that a computer-generated Elvis hologram would be doing concerts soon. It seems inevitable that this will happen to David Bowie too. So far his estate has been pretty careful about protecting his legacy — for instance denying the use of his music to the disastrous Stardust movie — but sooner or later it seems likely to come to pass.

If done right, it could be entertaining. I’m not saying that I’ll go, but I’m not saying I won’t. I can’t give everything away.

The 10 Days of David, Part 7

Most of the songs on Blackstar were labored over — demoed, rehearsed, recorded, re-recorded. But apparently Bowie wrote “Dollar Days” one morning, played it for the band on acoustic guitar, and tracked it that afternoon. “I can’t even recall in my head what song that is,” one of the musicians later said.

It feels important though. Maybe it’s the line about “the English evergreens,” which conjures a bit of nostalgia for Dave’s native land that seems out of character. Maybe it’s the way he says

I’m dying to push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again

This is Bowie the magician, the one who in the next song — the last one on the album — will tell us that he intends to take his secrets to the grave.

Or maybe it’s those three words, “I’m dying to.” When he repeats them out of context, they become “I’m dying, too.” So I guess he did tell us.

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The 10 Days of David, Part 6

“Girl Loves Me” is a pretty straightforward title, but David’s song is a big, looping curveball with lyrics in three languages. One is English; the others are Polari (“a form of slang or cant used in Britain by some actors, circus and fairground showmen, professional wrestlers, merchant navy sailors, criminals, sex workers, and, particularly, the gay subculture,” says Wikipedia) and Nadsat (“a fictional register or argot used by the teenage gang members in Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange”).

Bowie was familiar with both Polari and Nadsat from previous lives. Says Chris O’Leary:

He’d loved Clockwork Orange in the Ziggy Stardust days, with Stanley Kubrick’s film a sartorial guide for the Spiders From Mars, and Nadsat [is] heard in “Suffragette City” (“say droogie don’t crash here!”). “The whole idea of having this phony-speak thing — mock Anthony Burgess-Russian speak that drew on Russian words and put them into the English language, and twisted old Shakespearean words around — this kind of fake language… fitted in perfectly with what I was trying to do in creating this fake world or this world that hadn’t happened yet,” Bowie recalled in 1993. “It was like trying to anticipate a society that hadn’t happened.”

He’d picked up Polari from the mid-Sixties BBC radio comedy Round the Horne and its Polari-fluent camp pair “Julian and Sandy.” And more directly, from being a young, beautiful man at the hub of Sixties British gay life — the London-based theater and music scenes — and the intimate of gay men like the mime Lindsay Kemp and the composer Lionel Bart.

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