Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: It’s Been a While Edition

Sorry I haven’t had much to say of late, but I’ve been doing a lot of grading of late, and really didn’t have much to add to our ongoing conversation. But I’m here, and away we go.


As part of an afternoon of professional development last week, I found myself in a session on collaborative learning that took the form of an English folk dance workshop. I suspect I might have found it interesting in the abstract — after all, dance was certainly part of medieval popular culture — but alas, we were all expected to participate. I’m ungainly enough under ideal circumstances, but I’ve had another flare-up in my knee lately, and I was accordingly diminished even from my already low skill level. Add to this the fact that the activity gave me flashbacks to the horror of 4th-6th grade phys. ed., and the fact that I was expected to duck and move through the arches of the raised arms of people far smaller than I am, and you can see where this was something other than the high point of even my relatively undistinguished academic career. All told, though, it was pretty harmless, and certainly better than another discussion of “program learning outcomes”.

We have to do all this stuff a couple of times a year, as part of our ongoing “assessment process,” which is a mandate imposed upon us by our accreditors. Presumably, this bureaucratic bilge allows us to demonstrate that we are actually teaching stuff to the kids who come our way. Personally, I’d simply prefer to assure everyone that I don’t just bring the kids into my classroom, cut the lights, and make them nap (which they’d probably prefer, given that half my classes meet at 8 a.m.), but I guess that no longer suffices.

Of course, the question arises: Does any of this do a damn bit of good? I have my doubts, and I’m not alone. I’d really much rather read another book.


Speaking of reading, I’ve found myself delving into some classic SF over the past couple of weeks, reading Heinlein’s Future History and various installments of the Greenberg/Asimov Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories anthologies from DAW. The two books I’ve found on the shelves cover 1947 and ’48, and include such writers as Sturgeon, William Tenn, John D. MacDonald, T.L. Sherred, and Henry Kuttner. Some of the stories hold up less well than I remember, but the good stuff remains really good.

I’ve often attributed some of the more libertarian aspect of my worldview to my reading of Heinlein, but as I read a bit over the last couple of days, I’ve wondered if some of it may come from my reading of old SF in general. A lot of these stories (particularly in these two post-WWII collections) are cautionary tales, with particular regard to the Law of Unexpected Consequences and the corollary problems with Big Ideas and those who would impose same. In particular, I read Sherred’s “E for Effort” and Jack Williamson’s gorgeously bleak “With Folded Hands” last night. I recommend both to people who still believe in man-made utopias. (William Tenn‘s “Brooklyn Project”, though a bit cliched now, also handles its idea with great dexterity.)

Another favorite of mine from the 1948 collection is “Dreams are Sacred!“, by Peter Phillips, which Bugs Bunny fans may find reminiscent of a particular Bugs-vs.-Elmer cartoon. I may have to chase a few more of these collections down; they’re a good time.


And speaking of stories, Eryk Pruitt was foolish enough to invite me back to Durham, NC on 3 May, for another installment of the Noir at the Bar series. I’ll give more details as I have them, and I’d love to see you there!


I was saddened this afternoon to learn that Tom Rapp, of psychedelic folkists Pearls Before Swine, succumbed to cancer two weeks ago. He was 70. He was a well-read songwriter, and the only constant of Pearls, which put out four albums in the late 60s and early 70s. His lyrics would draw from Sara Teasdale and Roman epitaphs among other sources, sometimes in the same song. After putting out some solo albums, Rapp left the music business and went to law school, eventually practicing civil rights law for a number of years. He made a return to performance in the late 90s, and released another solo album in 1997.

His lyrics were often surreal, but were also quite capable of being topical and biting — listen to “Uncle John“, an anti-Vietnam War track, if you need evidence of the latter. The first two albums, released on the legendarily weird ESP-Disk label, are regulars in my musical rotation, and to my mind may rank among the best of the psychedelic era. Interestingly, his song “Rocket Man” (based on a Ray Bradbury story and released on 1970’s The Use of Ashes LP) is said to have inspired Bernie Taupin in a well known collaboration with Pinner’s finest. I actually prefer the Rapp composition.

Rapp also had an agile mind and sense of humor. From the NYT obit:

Mr. Rapp once told the story of being on the bill at a Philadelphia concert sandwiched between two other acts. He was told that because of a scheduling blunder he would have only one minute to play. The promoter said he could collect his pay and simply leave, but Mr. Rapp claimed his 60 seconds.

“I said, ‘I can do a one-minute show, and I can get a standing ovation,’ ” he recalled in the 1987 interview. He took the stage and played nothing, instead simply saying, “Would you please stand up and applaud if you think he’s guilty?”

It was 1974, when President Richard M. Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate investigation.

I’ll close with the opening track from Use of Ashes, a track called “The Jeweler.” It always moves me. So long, Mr. Rapp, and thanks for the music.

See you soon.

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An Ancestor’s Voice from Two Foreign Countries

In this case, those countries would be the past and the Confederacy. My great-great-grandfather, Charles M. Calhoun (1838 – 1921), self-published a book, Liberty Dethroned,  in 1903. A quick scan of WorldCat informs me that copies may be found in a few academic libraries here in South Carolina (although not Mondoville’s), and AbeBooks lists it for a bit over $400 in fair condition. As it happens, the ensuing decades have left me with a couple of copies, one in middling-to-poor shape and one in fair condition.

Although the books sat on my family’s shelves for decades, I’d never done more than glance at it until yesterday, when I read a little more deeply, making it through the first half. Much of the opening third is a history of the city and county of Greenwood, SC, where my dad was born, along with what appear to be Calhoun’s boyhood reminiscences. Organization does not appear to have been one of his strengths; at times, I found myself imagining:

Old Man

But there have also been moments that horrified me. Specifically, in the course of mentioning a near-drowning episode from his youth (“After the first strangulation, I experienced no bad feeling or pain”), he adds:

Some years prior to this, a [no longer acceptable term for African-Americans] was burned at the stake for the usual crime, on the right of the road leading to Cambridge, on the farm now owned by Mr. Tharp. (31)

Elsewhere, he describes games from his school days. In particular, he talks about a “hare-and-hounds” race, where two boys would get a head start, and the rest of the boys would pursue them cross-country. This sport was called “Runaway [no longer acceptable term for African-Americans].” (19) At another point he mentions a woman who “outlived her mother many years, retaining much of her [nlatfA-As] property until Mr. Lincoln, by one stroke of the pen, landed her in the poor house, where she died a few years ago.” (13) Somehow, my sympathies did not lie with the woman.

A bit later, Calhoun discusses the Civil War. He served in “Butler’s Brigade” and saw considerable combat. In one aside, he tells the story of a black cook with the unit who came under bombardment and “was seriously wounded in this engagement, so much so that we had to send him home. His skin was not punctured and no bones fractured, but his feelings were hurt and his heart seemed broken. He was completely demoralized.” (134)

In a section on the origins of the war, Calhoun displays little use for the “States’ Rights” motivation argued in later years.

[…I]t was slavery and that alone that was the commencement and the first cause bringing about the war between the States of this American union. (86)

He argues that the northern states (who profited from the slave trade and from the raw materials acquired through slave labor) were complicit in the enterprise as well, and had little reason to assert moral high ground, but attempted to cloak themselves in righteousness. For Calhoun and his fellows, the issue was simply that the squeamish North essentially wanted to expropriate Southern property, or at least to make it harder for the South while continuing to profit.

So I’m about halfway through the book, and still have to read his account of Reconstruction (from which, he informs us, his title is derived) and what he would have seen as the “redemption” of the South. I suspect those will be equally horrendous.

But at the same time, I find myself wondering about my ancestor. He made it to the Harding administration, after all, and lived long enough to see the franchise extended to women. And really, I don’t know that he was especially remarkable for his time and place. He entered the Confederate Army as a Private, and exited at the same rank. His father was a doctor, but he seems to have had the typical education of his era. He is articulate enough, occasionally reaching for the oratorical manner of his age, but could have used a proofreader, and perhaps an editor as well. He doesn’t seem terribly unusual, and probably wasn’t, as far as the sons of a declining branch of the Southern Aristocracy went — remember that within three generations, my dad would live in the East Nashville projects. He was apparently (as the phrase goes) a well respected man.

Even his racism seems strangely passive in many regards; he mentions a boys’ club initiation ritual where the boys were deceived into thinking that a black man had kissed them while they were blindfolded, but adds that any candidate who saw this as provocation to fight was excluded from the club. (I’m back home now, and the book is in my office, so I can’t give the page number at the moment.) His term for blacks, while offensive to many people today, was by the standards of his day, accurate and relatively genteel. And his mention of the black cook I cited earlier seems to indicate some concern and sympathy.


Of course, but.

He was a defender — both rhetorically and when the time came, militarily — of our nation’s version of Original Sin (and remember, he openly acknowledges that slavery was the cause of the war). He saw other human beings as property in a very matter-of-fact kind of way, like land or other chattel. And while I haven’t read the rest of the book, I have no reason to suspect that he will have been Reconstructed by its conclusion.

It reminds me, then, how recent the notion of human equality lauded in the Declaration of Independence really is, and how long it sometimes takes to catch on. At the same time, I bear no guilt for what he did. Neither I nor even my father were born during his life; my grandmother was a toddler when he died. His sins are not mine, which is good — I certainly have enough of my own as it stands.

But I have to admit to a small satisfaction as I read. I teach at a school whose demographics pretty closely mirror those of the state of South Carolina, which means that about a quarter of our students are African-American. Genetics and local history being what they are, it probably approaches certainty that some of the ancestors of my students were enslaved by some of my ancestors. Now I devote some of my life to giving those students — like all my students — the tools they need to improve their lives.

Am I paying a debt? No — even if it exists (another question altogether), it isn’t mine to pay. But like my great-great-grandfather, I see myself as a pretty ordinary guy for my time and place. I just happen to be in a time and place that has learned some things that his didn’t see. And maybe that gives me a chance to do some good, and I’m thankful if I can.

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Saturday Potpourri: Pre-Doubleheader Edition

It’s a gray morning here in Mondoville, the result of a cold front that has settled over the area and will likely keep things damp for the next few days. Mrs. M is off to the Y, and the Spawn is probably waking up right about now. I’ll be heading to the college gym this afternoon to see our men’s and women’s hoopsters in action — I’ve missed a few games of late, with the flu and all that. But I haven’t posted in a few days, so let’s remedy that, shall we?


My freshpeeps are starting the poetry unit in Comp, and as is my custom, we started by taking a look at Robinson’s “Richard Cory.” As is also my custom, I’m having them write a journal entry on “Richard Corys I Have Known”, either culturally (Cobain? Robin Williams? Michael Jackson? All these and more have I seen.) or personally (the person who seemed to have everything going for them in high school, but who found a way to auger in.)

And as I was explaining this yesterday, I suddenly realized that I was also talking about my brother, who will turn 48 in sixteen days. I suppose in a way I had already known that; in my victim impact statement, I talked about how Mike had squandered so much — intellect, talent, charm, wit, physical grace, the love and support of the people around him. And like Cory, all those were lost to the sound of a pistol. Unlike Cory, of course, my brother did incalculable harm to those around him, wasting lives and gifts and love, but it remains the case that the rest of his life is forfeit for that, and in a sense is over as well.

There are Richard Corys all around us, I guess, and maybe that’s one of the things Robinson knew. And maybe when I first connected with that poem, many years ago, it was both a lesson I might grasp right away, and one I would take decades to learn.


Yesterday afternoon, the Spawn wandered downstairs and we started talking about intelligence. Specifically, she was talking about a phenomenon she has observed from time to time in honors classes and similar settings, where some folks feel obligated to be the smartest person in the room. She said that growing up in our family, which has or had numerous very bright people in it, has taught her that it’s entirely possible not to be the smartest person in the room, while simultaneously being more than capable of facing whatever she needs to face.

And from there, I pointed out that like many things, intelligence is a horses-for-courses situation. I have lots of very bright friends who I see as being far more elegant thinkers than I happen to be. They have minds like scalpels or laser beams. What I have is more like a very large hammer. Or maybe it’s more like Silly String, connecting wildly disparate items depending on the direction in which the can is pointing. I don’t really know, but like the Spawn, it seems to have served me well enough so far.


On a much sillier note, the Spawn also observes that I pound the hell out of my computer keyboard as I type. Some of that’s probably a drummer thing. It also reminds me of when I worked customer service at Sears in the mid-80s. As usual, I was something of an oddball, and that manifested in my cash register technique (we’d take credit card payments, ring up catalogue orders, stuff like that.) I used both hands, and entered the information really hard and really quickly. I wasn’t any more error-prone than anyone else, but apparently I was the only person who did it like that. My manager, a fellow named Mueller, asked me why I did it like that. I told him I didn’t know — that it just was what came naturally to me. But yeah — even in the little things, I guess I’m kind of weird.


Like a lot of people, I was thrilled by the mostly successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy this past week. This is one of those odd points where the “Prof and Mad Dog” Venn diagrams intersect, and as we chatted online about it, I thought about the fact that Musk et al. used a Tesla roadster as the payload. I thought it was amusing, but somehow familiar. Then I realized why. It was reminiscent of the sort of stunt D.D. Harriman would have pulled in Heinlein’s classic novella “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” And like Heinlein’s work, there was just something wonderfully brash and American about it. Brightened my whole week.


And why don’t we close today’s post by continuing our space travel theme? The film Heavy Metal (based on the magazine, in turn based on the French Metal Hurlant) is remembered by folks of my generation for a number of reasons, not least its soundtrack. It included tracks from a wide variety of rock artists of the period, including Devo, Sammy Hagar, Don Felder, and Blue Oyster Cult. But B.O.C. actually wrote several songs for the movie, and while only one was used (their collaboration with Michael Moorcock, “Veteran of the Psychic Wars”) in the film, the others showed up on the band’s Fire of Unknown Origin album, a staple of my high school years. One of those songs was an intended title theme, and I’ve always preferred it both to Hagar’s song and to Felder’s similarly titled “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride”). So from Long Island’s finest, here’s “Heavy Metal (The Black and Silver)”.

See you soon!

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There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

Paul Simon issued a statement through his website today, saying that he will essentially retire from performance at the conclusion of his current tour. While he acknowledges that he may do the occasional benefit set, he’s coming off the road to spend more time with friends and family after a career spanning parts of six decades.

Although I was a kid during the Simon and Garfunkel era, my parents were big fans and I grew up listening to those albums. In a tenth-grade English class, the teacher put the lyrics to “Old Friends” on a poetry test. She asked us what we could tell about the speaker. I said he had sold a whole lot of albums with his friend Art Garfunkel, and that I actually liked “Hazy Shade of Winter” better. I got full credit.

Simon’s solo career has played a role in my biographical soundtrack as well — my friend Carl Groves’s mom is named Dolores, and Carl never tired of singing the lines from “Slip Slidin’ Away”: “I said ‘Doloreeeeeeeeessssss'”. I spent time learning a dumbed-down version of Steve Gadd’s signature lick from “50  Ways to Leave Your Lover.” When I played a couple of my own songs at a talent show at an honors conference, I said that the songs hoped they would be written by Paul Simon when they grew up.

And my family’s attachment to Simon’s work continued. Because of my mom’s MS, she didn’t get out a lot, but she and Dad did manage to make it to an S&G reunion show in Cincinnati a couple of years before the murders, and they kept the ticket stubs on the fridge.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was my mom’s favorite song — it was the #1 song in the country when my brother was born, and because of his congenital heart defect, our waters were troubled indeed back then. But we got through them. Years later, I’d tease Mom about liking Mike more than she liked me. After all, I’d say, “Hang On Sloopy” was the #1 song when I was born, but I never heard her raving about that. She also insisted that “Bridge” be played at her funeral. With tongue in cheek, I lobbied against that as well: “Why ruin a good song? Why not go with something terrible, like Meri Wilson’s ‘Telephone Man‘? I’d never want to hear that again either way!” But it didn’t work, and when Mom and Dad were buried, my cousin Jack was gracious enough to play a lovely version of “Bridge” on guitar.

So Paul Simon and his music have always been a part of my life, and I suspect that will always be the case. Have a happy retirement, Mr. Simon — thanks for the songs.

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Sunday Night Potpourri: There’s A Game On Edition

I’m not watching the Super Bowl this evening. It’s not a protest or anything — I just don’t care about either team, and once it became clear that the Bengals had regressed to their mean (and that’s pretty mean indeed), I quit paying attention to the pro season last fall. But if you’re watching — whether for the game, the commercials, the snacks, or the camaraderie — I hope you’re having a blast. And if you aren’t watching, I hope you aren’t being supercilious. Anyway…


The Spawn was under the weather late last week — not the flu, but some sort of virus — but she seems somewhat perkier this evening and plans to get back to class and the job tomorrow. Other than a lingering cough, I seem to be back up to snuff as well. I’ll be getting my first batch of papers from the Freshpeeps on Friday, so we’ll see how I’m holding up after that.

This week I watched a couple of closely related movies on Netflix. The first was A Futile and Stupid Gesture, a biopic about Doug Kenney, one of the co-founders of the National Lampoon and the principal scenarist of Animal House and Caddyshack. Because of an accident of timing, I was too young for the prime years of NatLamp (although my dad had been a fan and I eventually got to read some old issues), but enjoyed a series of gift subscriptions during my college years in the early-to-mid-80s. One issue from that era was a 1985 tribute to Kenney, which let me in on what I had missed. Of course, that meant that I knew the general outline of the biopic, but I still found it interesting. I found myself weirded out on occasion as I watched present-day comic actors playing the part of actors and writers I remember from the first time around — the Belushis, O’Donoghues, Hendras and such. (Of course, the fact that Will Forte, a 47-year-old actor, played Kenney, who died at age 33, is also a bit off-putting, but there you go.)

After that, I watched Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, a 2015 documentary on the same topic. Both films essentially told the same story, of course, with many of the same scenes, and both essentially end with Kenney’s death under uncertain circumstances. The biopic implies suicide a bit more strongly, while the people interviewed in the documentary seem to lean more toward an accidental death theory (and John Landis suggests that Kenney may have been murdered in a drug deal gone bad). I actually found the documentary more engaging than the newer movie — possibly because it included more bits from the magazine and its spinoffs like Lemmings and Radio Hour.

From a personal standpoint, spending three-plus hours watching (twice!) the story of a gifted creator with emotional demons and a self-destructive streak may not have been the most uplifting choices I could have made. Certainly I’ll cop to some melancholy when I was finished, but I found both movies engaging, and wouldn’t have a problem recommending either of them.


On a related (in an “Ou sont les neiges” kind of way) front, I was watching some videos on YouTube last night and saw the video for “Touch and Go“, the 1986 single from the only album released by Emerson, Lake, and Powell (By the way, I was reminded that the main riff in the song was lifted from the second theme in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on Greensleeves“, which nicked it in turn from an English folk song called “Lovely Joan“.) As I was watching, it occurred to me that all three of the members are dead. I mean, I knew that intellectually, but it kind of stunned me when I thought of it. Maybe it’s because I saw the band in Cincinnati — where Cozy Powell put on one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen from a drummer. As my friend Mike Dearing said, “When you go to a show with Keith Emerson and everyone is talking about the drummer afterward, you know something special just happened.” Or maybe it’s just like Mr. Marvell said: “[…A]t my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot drawing near.”

Given all that, you can probably understand why I spent the rest of the evening watching MST3K riffing on The Sidehackers. One can only handle so much elegiac feeling in a week.


Here’s kind of an odd one to close with. This song was actually in the soundtrack of The Sidehackers, which I didn’t realize until just a few seconds ago! The New Life were a SoCal band, apparently gigging a lot at a club in Long Beach called The Cinnamon Cinder before getting tapped for the soundtrack by music-mogul-turned-politician-turned-mogul -again Mike Curb. It’s a South African tune, done at some point by the recently departed Hugh Masekela. One of the cool things about the internet is that you run into the princes of Serendip on occasion; one of the commenters on the video was the drummer for New Life, who says that this was one of only two tracks the band released. Anyway, here’s The New Life, with a somewhat acidic version of “Ha Lese Le Di Khanna.”

See you soon!

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Saturday Potpourri: Road to Recovery Edition

Although I’m still coughing too much and have a nasty headache, I haven’t run a fever in a good couple of days and I think I’m getting a bit more functional. Mrs. M is at the grocery, and the Spawn is studying her Spanish. So here we go…


While I’ve been living the CHUD life this week, I’ve also done a fair amount of reading, finishing a collection of crime journalism from Michael Connelly and re-reading one of Louis L’Amour’s last bestsellers, Last of the BreedThe Connelly collection is interesting enough for what it is — he was a skilled journalist before switching over to full-time fiction. As a reader, I can’t help but think the book might have been more interesting had Connelly offered deeper notes and anecdotes to augment this assembly of newspaper articles. As it stands, I’d recommend it to hard-core fans, but as true-crime stuff goes, I think I prefer the articles in James Ellroy’s nonfiction collections.

Reading the L’Amour for the first time in nearly 30 years was an odd experience. It was a departure for the author, who of course is famed for his stories of the Old West. In Last of the Breed (which sat atop the best seller list for a while in the summer of 1986), he tells his stock “man in a hostile wilderness” story, but moves it from the 19th-C. American Southwest to late-USSR Siberia.

Our hero is Maj. Joseph “Joe Mack” Makatozi, USAF — a test pilot and near-Olympic level decathlete who is captured by the Soviets and attempts to escape the country on foot (Well, at least til he gets to the ocean). Mack’s ancestry is 3/4 Amerind (Sioux and Cheyenne), and 1/4 Scots, but he’s all in for the Red, White, and Blue. In his efforts to avoid recapture, Mack must draw upon the woodcraft and wisdom of his ancestors (some of whom had conveniently offered him what amounts to grad-level SERE training when he was a lad in the Big Sky country), growing increasingly atavistic as the story goes on.

His principal nemesis in the novel is Alekhin, a Siberian tracker as unforgiving as the climate. L’Amour makes much of the parallel between the two men — natives who maintain a near-mystical connection to Nature, for all its (and for all their) redness in fang and claw. Mack’s allies include black market fur trappers, exiled dissidents (including the romantic interest, the golden-haired Talya, daughter of a Lithuanian literature professor) and other folks with no particular love for the Soviet government.

A large portion of the book is occupied by folks who alternately declare that Mack will never survive, much less escape, and who then marvel at the “Red Indian’s” miraculous successes and escapades. Another portion is filled with Alekhin’s scornful warnings to the Soviets that only he can successfully track/trap Mack, as only he has the same mindset as the Indian. As assorted Soviet troops are killed and disabled by the traps Mack leaves on his back trail, Alekhin gets lots of opportunities for “I told you so.”

Mack also gets several monologues and soliloquies about the “savage that lies within” him, and that only now allows him not only to survive, but to access his true nature amidst, well, true nature. A day or two ago, I described the book as a cross between Dances with Wolves, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, and Rambo: First Blood Part II. We also get lots of comments about Mack’s gray eyes (part of the Scots inheritance) and a few references to the warlike nature of the Highlanders, along with the Cheyenne and Sioux.

There are several occasions in the book where characters — including some who expect him to resent the treatment of Native Americans — ask Mack how he reconciles his heritage with his role in the U.S. armed forces. This gives him the opportunity to explain stoically that the Indians were terrific tacticians but weak strategists, and were doomed to fail before the superior technology and ways of European civilization. But he also adds that there’s no resentment there — after all, his ancestors had once displaced other tribes, and when your number’s up, your number’s up. Easy come, easy go. And he puts in a good word here and there for things like counting coup, eating a fallen opponent’s heart as a sign of respect, and scalp taking. But at the end of the day, Makatozi’s position can be summed up in his response when a captor asks him about his name: “If it is not American, then no name is.”

Much is made in the book of Mack and Alekhin being men out of time, understanding and operating in the wild on levels incomprehensible to the soft people of civilization. As I read, I came to realize that this book is nearly as much of a throwback in its own way. It’s got a strong “ripping yarn” vibe throughout, and the action scenes are nicely handled. But transplanting the story to a Cold War thriller doesn’t always work. When Mack’s captors introduce him to Alekhin as a warning not to escape, Mack’s challenge: “I don’t believe he could track a muddy dog across a clean floor!” just clunks. (I do think it would have worked in one of L’Amour’s period novels, though. Go figure.)

Further, I found myself wondering how many heads would explode if this book were released today. Thirty years is not really that long a time, but as I read, I kept thinking, “Nope, that wouldn’t get by a sensitivity reader.” Still, the book was the top seller of Summer 1986. The past is a foreign country indeed. (I’m not sure if the fact that I notice this now when I might not have some years ago is good or bad — probably some of both — but it is a change.)

I also wonder if part of the problems I find in the book stem from the fact that it’s much longer than the drugstore paperbacks L’Amour usually wrote. It’s probably as long as three to four of his typical Westerns combined, and maintaining the “ripping yarn” approach over that span is no easy game.

Having said all this, I’m reminded of some conversations I had with my dad over the years. We agreed that there were writers we liked and appreciated for their skill with the language, their technical abilities, or specific things like characterization or settings. On the other hand, there were other folks we liked who might not be terribly fine craftspeople, but who were just good storytellers. Ideally, we agreed, you get both, but if you have to settle for one or the other, you were likely to have a better time with the storytellers.

Last of the Breed  was not one of L’Amour’s best works — although I’ll give him credit for putting a different spin on one of his common stories. But it helped me pass an afternoon when I wasn’t feeling well, and writing this reflection has helped me pass another, and I find that worth some gratitude at least on my part.


And why not wrap things up with a bit of music? Over at his place this morning, my buddy Will featured British studio group Apollo 100’s “Joy”, a rockish take on Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” My parents had both of Apollo 100’s albums on 8-track tape, and 8- or 9-year-old me dug the adaptations of classical tunes (and other instrumentals, like their cover of “Popcorn” by Hot Butter.) Of course, as I discovered prog in the following years, I grew accustomed to this sort of thing, but it still amuses me.

And that brings us to an earlier example of the form. Sounds Incorporated were a different group of British sessioneers who reached their peak in the mid-60s (opening for the Beatles at Shea). These days, they’re likely best remembered for producing drumming ace Tony Newman, and for their saxophonists’ performances on the Beatles’ “Good Morning, Good Morning.” But here they were from somewhere around 1965, with a corny, goofy, but fun version of the William Tell Overture.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Literature, Music | 1 Comment

Meanwhile, Outside the Quarantine Zone…

Now that I have my Official Flu Diagnosis, I’m on the disabled list until at least Monday, and am basically confined to the lower portion of the Mid-Century Mondohaus. On the rare occasions that I venture up the stairs, the reaction I get is something like this:

And that’s just from Mrs. M.

Still, I have my electronic windows on the world, and via the Book of Faces, I learned about some goings on in El Paso that put a smile on my face. It’s College Week at Milam Elementary School, and Ms. Rose Baquera’s third-grade class has adopted… well, let’s have a look:

Baquera Door

The classroom door

Baquera Wall

Welcome to Newberry West!

Baquera Kids

Potential members of the class of 2031?

Baquera howl

Practicing their “Wolf Howl” and hand signal.

It turns out that Ms. Baquera’s niece, Cydney Shaw, is a senior nursing major here in Mondoville. However the word gets out, though, I’m happy about it, and extend my own thanks to Ms. B and the kids. And if any of you want to learn about Samuel Johnson one of these days, I should still be on the job.

Assuming Mrs. M will unlock the door.

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