Margaret Atwood’s cover blurb calls Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We “the best single work of science fiction yet written,” and who am I to argue? It was one of those books that made me feel inadequate as a reader; though I think I understood most of it on a basic level, much of the time it seemed to be also operating on another level that remained beyond my grasp. And though it can certainly be classified as sci-fi, there was a transcendental quality to it that we don’t normally associate with the genre.

Really, We is a hard book to describe. Probably the most familiar comparison would be to 1984, which was written almost 30 years later and borrowed more than a little from We, as did Brave New World. Its protagonist is a rocket designer who lives in the One State, which is a thinly disguised projection into the future of the Soviet Union. Zamyatin had been a Bolshevik but quickly became disillusioned; in her introduction Atwood says:

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Bring Out Your Dead, 11/13/22

Gallagher went to the Big Casino in the Sky this week. That’s Leo Gallagher, originator of the watermelon-smashing schtick, not his brother Ron, who sometimes peddled a version thereof.

I had always thought that the multiple Gallaghers were something the two brothers cooked up together, so Gallagher could be two places, earning two appearance fees, at the same time. (Technically you could call either one “Gallagher” and be telling the truth.) But the NYT says otherwise:

In the early 1990s, when his younger brother Ron lost his job as a bulldozer salesman, Mr. Gallagher helped him out by allowing Ron, who bore some resemblance to him, to perform a facsimile of his act. Ron Gallagher added touches like smashing a lobster with a hammer and was soon performing in small venues.

After a few years, Ron Gallagher began billing himself as Gallagher II (sometimes Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two). Leo Gallagher had not agreed to this billing and was concerned that it was misleading, so in 1999 he sued to stop his brother from performing under that name. The suit, filed in federal court in Michigan, claimed that Ron had “violated Gallagher’s right of publicity and trademark rights.”

An injunction was granted prohibiting Ron Gallagher from performing any act that impersonated his brother. The judge ordered him not to perform with “a sledgehammer or other similar device to pulverize watermelons, fruits, food or other items of any kind.”

I don’t know why this kind of showbiz minutiae fascinates me so much, but it does. As does this further detail from the obit:

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Bring Out Your Dead, 11/5/22

When Jerry Lee Lewis finally died last week, after a false alarm that prompted a rare retraction from TMZ, it marked the end of an era. According to my calculations he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars. As a group they lived surprisingly long — Chuck Berry and Fats Domino lasted until 2017, Little Richard made it all the way to 2020 — but if any are left now, I can’t think of who.

The Killer was the object of much censure, not undeserved, for many misdeeds including marrying his 13-year-old cousin. But partly because of that he became, perhaps more than anyone else, the model of what we think of as a rock star: a true wildman whose high-octane stage energy mirrored a tumultuous personal life. I mean, look at this guy; he was a force of fucking nature.


Another notable recent passing in the music world was that of Toshi Ichiyanagi, who I must admit I had never heard of before reading his obituary. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Toshi Ichiyanagi, an avant-garde pianist and composer whose works mixed international influences, made unusual use of musicians and instruments, and combined music with other media, died on Oct. 7 in Tokyo. He was 89.

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Tryin’ to Battle Superman

On the Bowie front, there are a few items to cover before we move on to …hours. For one, I either didn’t know or had forgotten that for a while in the late Nineties his live sets included a version of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” Gail Ann Dorsey did the lead vocals and DB contributed harmonies and saxophone.


On a musical level this is a mixed bag; the drum’n’bass framework is a bold choice, but not what I’d call a good one. Still, the song as a whole works better than it seems like it should, and I remain awed by the chutzpah it took to trot out a nine-minute version of a weird (if popular) art number from the early Eighties for what looks like a festival crowd.

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The Count of Monte Cristo

Not the edition I read, but a good rendering of the Count,
who is larger than life but a tad unhinged.

20 years ago I saw the movie version of this starring Jim “Jesus” Cavaziel… in fact I believe I saw it twice, as I really liked it. In what seems to be a pattern, the movie caused the book to be added to a list somewhere, which some years later caused it to be bought, and some more years after that finally read.

I found The Count of Monte Cristo to be perfect summer reading: Suspenseful enough to keep the pages turning, but literary enough that an English major need feel no shame being seen with it. The Count is a compelling if weird protagonist — he seems to enjoy torturing his friends as much as his enemies, and more than once keeps someone he’s theoretically trying to help teetering on the edge of suicide for no very good reason.

It’s hard to tell in translation, of course, but it seemed to me that Dumas’s prose is pretty mediocre. He’s all about the plot, which in a way makes him very American. But then parts of the book are extremely French:

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The World of Yesterday

Stefan Zweig

The Neverending Bowie Thread will return with …hours, probably the album I’ve listened to the least (except for the dismal 80s records, whose existence I’ve tried to forget altogether, mostly successfully). In the meantime, I want to write a little about what I’ve been reading, for the simple reason that it’s the only way I remember any of it.

I’ve been on a Stefan Zweig kick for a while now. After learning that The Grand Budapest Hotel was inspired by Zweig’s work, I ordered a beautiful hardcover edition of his collected short stories, which sat around the house for a few years looking pretty and intimidatingly thick. When I finally dug into it, I was fairly blown away. Zweig’s world is far away in time and space, yet his characters are immediately recognizable and sympathetic. There is something fundamentally — for lack of a better word — human about it that transcends such petty limitations.

Most recently I tackled his memoir The World of Yesterday. To be honest I probably enjoyed it least of anything of his I’ve read, but it is not really meant to be enjoyed; it is a requiem for the lost world of pre-WWII Europe, written shortly before Zweig and his wife committed suicide in 1942. Beach reading it isn’t, but the craft is impeccable, the sentiments lofty, and the tragedy palpable.

Looking back I see that I flagged two passages, both of which are in the realm of advice for writers. The first is aimed more at those writing history or biography, and thus perhaps of limited use, but quite pithy:

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 6

Next up on this thread is “Moonage Daydream,” which also happens to be the name of Brett Morgen’s recent Bowie feature-film extravaganza. I finally saw it this weekend; of course I loved it, and of course there are a million things I could nitpick about if I were so inclined. But I’m not, as I realize that Bowie is simply too big a subject to be contained in one movie, even one as long and ambitious as this one. Choices had to be made, and Morgen made them, which is every artist’s prerogative.

He used more footage from the 50th birthday concert than I would have expected, though his sequence for the title song is (quite properly) focused on a Ziggy-era performance featuring Mick Ronson. Back in the day “Moonage Daydream” was a showcase for Ronson as much as Bowie, or maybe even more, with epic guitar solos that gave the singer a chance to catch his breath.

The 1997 version is economical in comparison, with Reeves Gabrels acquitting himself satisfactorily in the limited space he’s given. Dave is in fine voice and looks pretty happy, possibly thinking of the first time he conquered the Earth, all those years ago.


“Daydream” is followed by band intros, a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Gail Ann Dorsey, and a cake presentation. Bowie thanks the audience and tells them, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you.” Which was mostly true.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 5

After “Heroes” David took a break and had “some throat coat and a cigarette,” he says. He seems very British in that moment, though in fact he had already been a New Yorker for several years.

I wrote several versions of the segue from that to Lou Reed’s appearance onstage, but they were all hacky. Suffice it so say, if you were going to pick one person to embody New York City and all it entails, you could do worse than Lou. Even though he was actually from the suburbs, he became one with NYC in a way that Bowie, as an Englishman, never could.

Their first song together is David’s tribute to the Velvet Underground:


For the first half Lou just stands there looking bemused, possibly trying to remember if he wrote this song. Then suddenly the band drops out and Lou is singing over some kind of jungle breakdown. Why? Well why not? It was David’s birthday and he wanted it that way. There’s a great moment where Lou glances down and to his right to check the lyrics, then looks back to his left at David and grins, as if to say “I got it now.”

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 4

“Looking for Satellites” is one of the better songs on Earthling — in my opinion at least, and for better or worse, that’s the one that matters here. Even so, it goes on a bit too long, and though Reeves Gabrels is relatively restrained for most of it, he can’t resist a bit of wankery in the latter stages. But the visual presentation is striking, and Mike Garson’s coda — not present in the album version, which fades out — is a nice touch.


And that’s the end of the “You will now listen to my new material” part of the show; from here on in it’s all classics. If you were one of the people in the audience who twiddled their thumbs through the Earthling and Outside stuff, I bet you were pretty happy to hear the familiar bassline that kicks off the next song:


It takes guts to step into the Freddie Mercury role here, but Gail Ann Dorsey handles it with aplomb. And with all due respect, she has great legs as well.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 3

When Robert Smith comes on stage with David Bowie, it’s a Moment. One could argue, and I will, that they are the living embodiments of two different decades.

I mean, you could get into endless arguments about who is the iconic face of the Seventies — in some parts of the world they’d say it’s Bob Marley, and who am I to say they’re wrong? — but for me it’s Bowie, period, end of sentence. And is there anyone whose entire being is more redolent of the Eighties than Mr. Smith?

The choice of “The Last Thing You Should Do” — an Earthling track destined to soon be forgotten by all but the most die-hard Bowieists — for their first song together seems perverse, but weirdly, it works. Smith’s distinctive wobbly vocals and guitar thrashing add human elements to a cold, antiseptic piece of work.


It’s worth noting that this was the first time Robert Smith met Reeves Gabrels, who would become a frequent collaborator and eventually a full-time member of The Cure. Reeves must be one charming MF in person; I can think of no other way to explain how he lasted a decade as Bowie’s right-hand man, and has spent even longer in Smith’s orbit, despite his compulsion to always play five notes where one would do.

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