Intersections

The Berries have a show coming up in Greenville on the 21st, back at the Radio Room, where we’ve played once before. I’m usually the point man for our bookings, and part of that includes networking with folks from other bands in the region with whom we might share a bill. For example, when we played our previous show at this venue, we talked some with the sound guy, who had some very kind things to say about what we do. We friended one another on the Book of Faces, and as it happens, his band will be headlining the bill when we’re up there in twelve days (Moral: Unless the situation absolutely calls for it, it pays not to be a jerk — being pleasant can have rewards beyond mere virtue.)

But anyway, this friend of mine posted a bit on FB today about the use of identical rhyme in Black Sabbath’s protest plod, “War Pigs.” To be precise, he mentioned this couplet:

“Generals gathered in their masses/ Just like witches at black masses.” (1-2)

I replied with my personal favorite example, from my beloved Blue Oyster Cult’s “Joan Crawford” (written by David Roter):

Catholic schoolgirls have thrown away their mascara

And chained themselves to the axles of big Mack trucks.

The sky is filled with herds of shivering angels.

The fat lady laughs: “Gentlemen, start your trucks.” (8-11)

I also threw in a link to a discussion of identical rhyme that I found online, referring to the very song my friend had referenced. I signed it, “[Mondo], Prof. of English and rock and roll Poindexter.”

A few minutes later, my friend replied, “I think I’m starting to realize that you were the guy who really introduced me to The Beatles when I snuck into a panel discussion at [Mondoville] 15 years ago…” Indeed, during my first or second year at the college, I was asked to join a discussion during a screening of A Hard Day’s Night. A senior colleague spoke slightingly of Ringo, and unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me, I replied with some vigor, citing a number of well known drummers who cite Ringo as an influence and admire his musicality. Sure enough, my friend had been in the audience that evening.

And now we’ll both be doing the rock and roll thing on the same stage two weekends from now. It’s interesting to see how people connect and reconnect, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

Potpourri: Hello, 2017

Clan Mondo welcomed the New Year in with our traditional standing in the yard and watching fireworks through the trees, followed by some sparkling juice and off to bed. I hope the New Year brings you and yours both what you need and what you want, and I hope that you still want those things when you receive them.

***

Some folks are making resolutions, as is the tradition, but I tend not to do that. Honestly, I spend enough of my life feeling like I’ve failed at things, and the idea of adding more stuff about which to feel guilty doesn’t thrill me. Nonetheless, if you are among the people who resolve, I wish you well.

***

I spent much of yesterday watching college football, as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats fell short in the Gator Bowl (yeah, I know it’s now the TaxSlayer Bowl, but much as I like the idea of slaying taxes, it’s always gonna be the Gator Bowl to me). The sting was eased, however, by watching Alabama knock off Washington, followed by the team from nearby Clemson putting the kibosh on (The) Ohio State U. This sets up a rematch of last year’s championship, which was quite a game. I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, Bama was my favorite college team — I think the first college game I remember watching was the 1973 Sugar Bowl, where Notre Dame edged the Tide in Parseghian’s final game — and I spent some of my childhood wanting to play for Bear Bryant. But bad knees and the knowledge that I had other ways of getting through college led me in other directions (as did my lack of athletic talent). And because I’m a former defensive lineman, I love good defensive teams, which have been a hallmark of Alabama football for many years.

So once again, I’ll be pulling for the Tide in the title game. But I had a great-uncle who went to Clemson in the late 1930s, so I bear no grudge toward Clemson either. I’m looking forward to a good college football game.

***

I spent a chunk of last week reading Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels, and have now read the entire series (although I read them out of order, having doubled back to catch the earlier books), with the next installment, Rusty Puppy, coming out in a few months. As my binge read indicates, I highly recommend the series.

Particular strengths of the series include the friendship between the two principal characters, which I think nails the needling love of lifelong male friends, and the insight into the blue-collar world of Lansdale’s East Texas. Lansdale’s characteristic blend of horror and humor (both frequently verging on the Southern tall tale tradition) is another selling point, and I would recommend his handling of fight scenes as textbook lessons for writers wanting to handle violence effectively.

But I think what makes the books especially readable — and valuable — for me is Hap Collins’s voice as the narrator. I’ve mentioned that my background was a weird mix of working class and Bohemian, and that my maternal grandparents were country folks who came to Nashville looking for work, which my grandmother found as a drugstore cashier and my grandfather found driving fire engines. My grandfather in particular was a natural storyteller, and had both an endless source of material and a chance to hone his craft during nearly 40 years at the fire hall.

When Lansdale writes Collins, I hear echoes of my grandfather’s voice — the rhythms, the pace, the dysphemistic worldview. All are considered characteristically Texan, but I assure you that they were found in blue-collar Tennessee as well.

If you’re a reader of crime fiction, Lansdale’s tales of a “Rough South” will entertain. If you’re a writer, you’ll find a lot to learn from in the books. Either way, you should read them.

***

One of the things I’ll be doing this week is assembling my syllabi for the new term, which starts midway into next week. I’m teaching four different courses (FroshComp, Shakespeare, Film Noir, and Creative Writing/Poetry), but they’re all courses I’ve taught in the past, so I already have the general outlines in mind. Still, we never step in the same river twice, so it’ll be interesting to see what this semester has to offer.

***

I’ll close with a bit of music. It’s New Year’s Day, so this one seems appropriate. Here’s George Harrison from 1974 (with an assist from Alfred, Lord Tennyson):

Happy New Year, gang!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Is There A Doctor in the House?”

Today Mrs. M and I decided to change the scenery a bit, and spent the afternoon and early evening Upstate in Greenville. While we originally had plans to visit a couple of museums and such, we got distracted by some shopping opportunities that don’t avail themselves here in Mondoville. Mrs. M hit some fashion stores while I prowled one of my favorite used media places and a nearby frappuccino preserve.

At the latter location, I was looking at a copy of Vanishing Games, the most recent (and I fear, last) novel from the late Roger Hobbs, of whom I wrote recently. I had read through the prologue when Mrs. M texted me and said it was time to reconvene. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken to anyone — I had merely been sitting in one of the comfy chairs at the back of the store, as were a few other folks.

In any case, I stood up to meet up with Mrs. M, but was stopped by two women, probably in their mid-30s, who had been sitting in the chairs behind me. “Do you know what this word means?”, one asked me. She showed me the book she was examining, opened to a point about twenty pages or so in. As it happened, I did know the word in question (not a particularly arcane word, although it’s not one you see every day), and I gave a quick definition, along with an etymological breakdown and a couple of examples. The other woman looked at me and said, “Are you an English teacher or something?”

“Well, yeah, actually. I’m an English professor at Newberry College.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, my wife and I just thought we’d have a day out.” In any case, they thanked me, and I said it was my pleasure, no trouble at all, and made my way toward the front of the store, where Mrs. M was waiting.

Later, I wondered what there was that had prompted them to ask me to begin with, much less the follow-up question about my career. I had never met these folks. I wasn’t wearing a college shirt or anything, and I don’t think of myself as necessarily “smart-looking” in any sense — I’m more the lumbering oaf type, really, with occasional ventures into shambling heapdom. But in a bookstore with lots of people in the vicinity, I’m the one they decided to approach.

Maybe it’s my haircut or something.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Christmas, 2016

Clan Mondo is lounging around the Mid-Century Mondohaus this afternoon, having done some of the celebratory thing this morning. Mrs. M and I awoke around 8:30 (I had stayed up last night watching the Bengals lose), and the Spawn got up about an hour later. So things got started earlier than last year, but not as early as they once did — perhaps one of these days, in a future era with grandkids, I may have to recalibrate once more, but not yet.

All and sundry were well pleased with Santa’s efforts. Highlights included the Spawn’s receipt of some works by A.S. Byatt and one from Alan Moore, while Mrs. M received (among other things) a blast from her past in the form of a large tin of a favorite candy of her Appalachian youth. As for me, things were (as is both typical and welcome) media-heavy. On the musical front, I picked up a prog-rock classic and the new release from my psych-pop faves in Cotton Mather, along with the first two albums from the best guitarist my high school ever produced (Boone County represent!). In print, I snagged several more of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books, along with Savage Art, Robert Polito’s award winning bio of Jim Thompson. And on video, I’ll be entertaining myself this evening with the Criterion release of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Later, I have a set of ten films noir to work through (which will be nice, as I’m teaching that this spring and haven’t put my syllabus together as yet.)

We then adjourned to the kitchen for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, and I followed that with a nap for a full set of Sybarite points. Then I spent a large chunk of the afternoon talking to my dear friend Michael Dearing, and now it’s time for supper. It’s been a terrific day, and I hope yours has been as well, and that it has been a blessing to you even as the faintest reflection of the blessing we commemorate from some twenty centuries ago.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Family, Literature, Music | 3 Comments

Some Saturday Potpourri: Pre-Christmas Edition

Gradeapalooza is complete, Mrs. M finished with her kids yesterday, and the Spawn is getting in touch with old friends back for the holidays. What better time for some potpourri?

***

Christmas got here a little early — today, to be exact — as I learned that dozens of Richard S. Prather‘s Shell Scott mysteries are available for free on Kindle, for what I assume is a very limited time. I discovered these when I was in my late teens or early twenties, and I devoured them like potato chips. The novels are goofy, sexist in a 1950s-and-early-60s kind of way (although typically staying at a PG-13 level — these weren’t Nightstand Press “read with one hand” editions), not terribly deep (and when they try for depth, they generally drag a bit), but I can generally count on at least one laugh-out-loud moment per novel, and a lot of snickering along the way.

As an aside, Prather’s writing process defied all logic. He would write “outlines” that ran to about 200,000 words, looking at characters, scenes, and the like in excruciating detail before eventually editing them down to the 60,000-word souffles that found their way to the spinner racks. By rights, the books should have been leaden (and in fact, his posthumous The Death Gods is much longer and sadly, not very good, which seems to prove the overall point.), but in fact, they’re delightfully frothy in their bachelor-pad hi-jinks. And at the end of the day, a lot of folks agreed with me, as the adventures of the “happy-go-looky” P.I. sold millions of copies.

And today, you can get most of them for free. Check it out.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Lawrence Block offers the straight scoop as regards Mr. Prather’s writing process:

I knew him a little, met him a couple of times, initially in Sedona, where he lived. His method was a bit different than you’ve described it. I’d very early on read an artticle he wrote about it, for I think Writers Digest in I think 1957-8, and when I met him about 18 years later I asked him, and he confirmed that he’d stayed with that method all the way. (I think I cited it in one or another of my writing books.)

Here’s how it worked: He would write a brief outline of the book, and then he would expand that into a chapter outline. And then he would write each chapter at about half the length it would ultimately have, summarizing dialogue, encapsulating action, until he wound up with a draft running perhaps 30K words. And then he’d expand that into a 60K word book.

That’s not quite as harebrained as the process you describe, though it’s still remarkable that it came out bubbly and buoyant rather than flat and mechanical.

Thanks, LB!

***

In other writing news, I’m pleased to announce that I signed a contract for another short story in an anthology that should come out late next year. Doubtless I’ll have more to say (and I hope, to do) about it in the coming months, but in the meantime, here’s the inspiration:

ampurdan

***

In Berries news, we have shows scheduled in January at Greenville’s Radio Room and in February at our familiar Art Bar stomping grounds. We’re hoping to do some recording this coming summer, and the shows will both add to the recording budget and give us a chance to try some new material out on the audiences.

***

The perils of life with medievalists: The Spawn just dashed downstairs to tell me that she was reading something online that said Benedict Cumberbatch is so British, he wasn’t born, but was spawned from the Thames like Venus on the half-shell. She said, “It took me a minute to realize they meant it in a complimentary way, because I’m so used to reading and hearing about when the Thames was basically an open sewer.”

“I’m pretty sure they’ve cleaned it up a bit in the last century or so,” I said, but now I can’t help thinking of the stretch of the Ohio River that divides Cincinnati from the Kentucky burbs where I lived, and the running joke my family had, that only the oncologists knew what was in that water.

***

Another of my favorite prog rockers checked out over the week, as Greg Lake died after a long illness. Blogger J.A. Bartlett offers a remembrance that I wish I had written, and in many ways, could have. Bartlett gets it. And given Lake’s departure and the current season, I guess I have to close with this one, but that’s OK, because I’ve always liked the song anyway.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | 2 Comments

A View from the Inside

I have to get to Winter Commencement in a little bit, but ran across something on the Book of Faces a few minutes ago. It’s another of the post-election post-mortems, but I think there’s something of interest here. In particular, it discusses how Clinton HQ ignored reports from field operatives in Michigan calling for a commitment of resources:

[…] Democratic operatives lament a one-size-fits-all approach drawn entirely from pre-selected data — operatives spit out “the model, the model,” as they complain about it — guiding Mook’s decisions on field, television, everything else. That’s the same data operation, of course, that predicted Clinton would win the Iowa caucuses by 6 percentage points (she scraped by with two-tenths of a point), and that predicted she’d beat Bernie Sanders in Michigan (he won by 1.5 points).

[…] Michigan operatives relay stories like one about an older woman in Flint who showed up at a Clinton campaign office, asking for a lawn sign and offering to canvass, being told these were not “scientifically” significant ways of increasing the vote, and leaving, never to return. A crew of building trade workers showed up at another office looking to canvass, but, confused after being told there was no literature to hand out like in most campaigns, also left and never looked back.

“There’s this illusion that the Clinton campaign had a ground game. The deal is that the Clinton campaign could have had a ground game,” said a former Obama operative in Michigan. “They had people in the states who were willing to do stuff. But they didn’t provide people anything to do until GOTV.”

The only metric that people involved in the operations say they ever heard headquarters interested in was how many volunteer shifts had been signed up — though the volunteers were never given the now-standard handheld devices to input the responses they got in the field, and Brooklyn mandated that they not worry about data entry. Operatives watched packets of real-time voter information piled up in bins at the coordinated campaign headquarters. The sheets were updated only when they got ripped, or soaked with coffee. Existing packets with notes from the volunteers, including highlighting how much Trump inclination there was among some of the white male union members the Clinton campaign was sure would be with her, were tossed in the garbage.

So, a central committee is sure its theory applies to everyone (because after all, they were The Smart Folks), ignores evidence to the contrary, and winds up crashing and burning. Could there be a lesson in that about centralized-vs.-local control of things?

Who am I kidding? That would involve being teachable.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

QotD: Ego-Boost Edition

From Joe Hartlaub’s review of In Sunlight or In Shadow:

Office at Night is brought to life by Warren Moore in his story of the same name, a haunting and tragic tale based on the premise of abruptly shattered dreams and their aftermath, a theme that is subtly presented in much of Hopper’s work and is repeated independently, in a variety of ways, in SUNLIGHT. Reading “Office at Night” will cause you to hunt down Moore’s sparse but nonetheless brilliant backlist and wish that he wrote more.

“Sparse but nonetheless brilliant?” I should probably give reason to change one of those adjectives, but I’d likely pick the wrong one. Still, I’m grateful to Mr. Hartlaub for the kind words. Makes for a nice break from Gradeapalooza.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to LB, via FB.

Posted in Literature, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment