Books postsThursday August 23, 2018
Reading Marty Appel's new book, “Casey Stengel: Baseball's Greatest Character” and it's not the greatest. Appel's “Pinstripe Empire” is a must-read for baseball fans and Yankees haters (and their fans), but this one feels cobbled-together. It feels like Appel did a little research, stuck in liberal use of Casey's quotes, and sent to the publisher, who sent it on to us without a glance.
I keep running into “probably,” a red flag for any editor. “Charlie was probably named after...” “Casey and his dad probably saw more than that one game at...” “Casey probably had his tobacco card.” Know or don't know; there is no “probably.”
I really rolled my eyes at this graf:
Jennie Jordan, Casey's mom, was born in 1861, when Abraham Lincoln became president and the Civil War broke out.
It's like a kid trying to stretch out a book report.
Literary Quote of the Day
“Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. He was the most boring child I ever met.”
Scout talking about her cousin in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. What a great, original metaphor. It's so good I'm shocked it's not more widespread.
Mulaney, Vonnegut and Walking Into the Ocean
Several years ago, I pointed out the similarities between a bit of Marcel Proust's writing and a bit of Louis C.K.'s stand-up comedy. The fact that these professions collide actually makes sense to me. Proust once described artists as “creatures who talk of precisely the things one shouldn't mention,” and that's pretty much what modern stand-up comedians do.
Well, here's another novelist/comic comparison: Kurt Vonnegut and John Mulaney.
One of Mulaney's recent bits is about how robots ask us if we‘re robots. We try to log onto our stuff, and we’re made to jump through idiotic hoops (“Which of these pictures does not have a stop sign in it?”) that techies have devised that are supposedly beyond the capabiities of robots. You can see the bit here beginning at 5:41:
“You spend a lot of your day,” Mulaney says, “telling a robot that you‘re not a robot. Think about that for two minutes and tell me you don’t want to walk into the ocean.”
God, I love that.
So the other day I was rereading “Palm Sunday” by Kurt Vonnegut, and came across the following in an essay entitled “When I Lost My Innocence.” Vonnegut was asked to write the essay by an editor in a Swedish newspaper but he replied with a letter. The letter began by talking about how his only religion growing up was an enthusiasm for technological cures for most forms of human discontent. He says he lost that religion when the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. He said the soul that created that blast was so sick “it did not want to live anymore.” He adds:
It is quite awful, really, to realize that perhaps most of the people around me find lives in the service of machines so tedious and exasperating that they would not mind much, even if they have children, if life were turned out like a light switch at any time. How many of your readers will deny that the movie Dr. Strangelove was so popular because its ending was a happy one?
Made me think of Mulaney, and telling robots you‘re not a robot, and walking into the ocean.
Of these four artists I’ve mentioned, you'd think the tidy Mulaney would match better with Proust, while the sloppy, populist Louis would fit in with Vonnegut. And maybe they do. Somewhere.
Two Careers of Kevin Bacon
“People got to know...”
“It felt like a downward slide from Footloose. At that point in my life, I was really just looking at leads because that was what I thought I was supposed to be doing. And Paula [Wagner] said to me, 'I remember seeing you,‘—actually before she represented me—’in a lot of theater in New York,' because that's really where I started, as an Off-Broadway stage actor. I was doing edgy character stuff, not trying to really carry things. In some cases it was a major role, but at other times it was just darker, edgier, sometimes funny stuff—like gay hookers and junkies. And she said, 'I think you need to get back into that in the movies. Don't just focus on leads.'
”The first thing Paula suggested was that I go and sit with Oliver Stone. He had a part that she thought I could do in JFK. She represented Oliver as well at the time. ...
“It was one of those special times when I could actually feel a change within myself, like ‘Okay, this is what I need to do, not all the time, but this is the type of actor that I want to be. I’ve been a character actor pretending to be a leading man. That can't continue.' And I have Paula to thank for that. Afterward, the tide changed and that led to A Few Good Men, Murder in the First, and River Wild. The movies got better, and the parts got better.”
Kevin Bacon in the oral history “Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency,” by James Andrew Miller. The early pages of the book are fun, but it gets bogged down a bit in the 1990s, and not enough context is given. I began to Google the principles to find out what happened to them.
“For ten continuous years, at 6 A.M. each day, Michael Ovitz would face the morning with a diurnal, hour-long, rigorous aikido workout. It got his juices flowing, and it reflected his overall interest in—indeed, obsession with—Eastern philosophy. While other martial arts students would do their hour and wander off, Ovitz began to fixate on his swarthy instructor as yet another potential revenue stream. In one of his cheekiest displays of hubris ever, Ovitz decided he would make that instructor a movie star—and so the career of Steven Seagal was launched. Ovitz brought Seagal over to Warner Bros., where studio bosses Terry Semel and Bob Daley, along with other key executives, obligingly sat in a soundstage and watched Steven Seagal beat the crap out of sundry guest attackers. It was an impressive display of physical skill and brutality—if not of acting prowess, showmanship, or the speaking of dialogue. No matter; those studio chiefs were wowed, and slick-haired Seagal was on his way.”
from the oral history “Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency,” by James Andrew Miller