Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 in Reading Material (halfway point)

I try to read at least forty books a year.  Unfortunately when I alternate between Jim Thompson (who I can usually finish on a train ride) and stuff like Ulysses (which I'm going to finish this year if it kills me), it usually ends up being closer to thirty.

You'll notice I tend to read several books by the same author in a row.  In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell explains that the best way to approach an author is to read everything by him at once.  He claims that's how he handled James Joyce.  Alas, I am a child of the '80s, and my ADHD is accustomed to a commercial break every fifteen minutes.  I figure three at a time is a good compromise.

Here's what I've devoured this year, so far:

Douglas Adams - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
J.G. Ballard - The Crystal World
J.G. Ballard - War Fever
J.G. Ballard - Empire of the Sun
Seamus Heany - Beowulf
John Gardner - Grendel
Mark Holden - The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time
Douglas Adams - Life, the Universe, and Everything
Douglas Adams - So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Douglas Adams - Mostly Harmless
Gore Vidal - Julian
Clive Barker - In the Flesh
Clive Barker - The Inhuman Condition
Clive Barker - Cabal
Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility
J.G. Ballard - Crash
J.G. Ballard - The Day of Creation
J.G. Ballard - Concrete Island
Homer - The Illiad
Martin Amis - Money

And, at the moment:

Homer - The Odyssey
Martin Amis - London Fields

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Skull vs Bean

I now find myself faced with the most difficult choice I've had to make in the last twenty-four hours. For the first time in God knows how long, I have enough cash that I can, with a clear conscience, buy something that isn't entirely necessary for my survival. Here, however, is the rub:

Do I want to blow roughly two hours' wages on a bottle of Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka...

...or would it be better spent on a 12 oz bag of whole bean Organic House Roast from David Lynch's signature coffee line?  Damn good coffee!

While the altruist in me would love to see the proceeds from my purchase go towards the David Lynch Film Scholarship Fund (and therefore fund the untold Eraserheads of the world), I get a raging hard-on at the thought of owning a touchstone which would allow me to connect with the message of the Crystal Heads' purpose on Earth.

So I'm stumped. Thoughts?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

'Return of the Jedi' directed by David Lynch

Yesterday I told you about the parallel universe in which The Lord of the Rings was adapted by The Beatles and Stanley Kubrick.  Now I'd like to tell you about another of my favorite narrowly-averted Hollywood disasters: Return of the Jedi, directed by David Lynch.

Slowly transforming into an Ewok.
Sometimes I think we’re a little too mean to George Lucas.  Long before he pissed all over the Mona Lisa, Lucas was one of the few players in the field who deserved the title of genius.  He not only reinvented filmmaking, but created a new mythology for the 20th century that is now deeply imbedded in our cultural landscape.  He also managed to make movies that told a deeply human story, yet were filled with lazars and star-destroyers and shit, and still managed to keep them PG enough for a 6-year-old.  But while we’d like to believe that he was fine up until he lost his goddamn mind in the late ‘90s, it turns out that his Bad Ideas were always waiting just around the corner.  In 1983, he approached David Lynch and asked if he’d be interested in directing Return of the Jedi.

Now, David Lynch is an interesting phenomenon.  Love him or hate him, whenever you watch his movies, there’s no doubt that you’re being served a big ole bowl of Lynchies.  Who else can give you alien babies, lounge lizard jazz, backwards-talking midgets, damn good coffee, and ominous cowboys, served up in an inimitable concoction of surrealistic film noir?  It doesn’t even matter if half his material is totally incomprehensible to everyone but him and geniuses.

You aren't David Lynch.  You are a dumbass.
It seems that Lucas was hell-bent on ruining his masterpiece long before he revamped it with CGI or released those ridiculous prequels.  Having Lynch direct Jedi wouldn’t have just ruined the legacy, but taken the story to unexplored realms of weird.  Logic suggests that it would have come out something like his version of Dune.  I however like to imagine it starting as the existing version does, but suddenly collapsing into a nonsensical barrage of celestial images, ala Eraserhead. 

At some point that midget from Twin Peaks shows up (because come on, that midget rocks fucking hard) and declares in his tweaked voice, "I'VE GOT GOOD NEWS FOR YOU!  THE FORCE IS GOING TO COME BACK IN STYLE!"

Cue saxophone solo.

Enter Darth, who slaps the hell out of Luke, and shouts, "DON'T LOOK AT ME!!!  DON'T YOU FUCKING LOOK AT ME!!!"

Luke: “Father, I won't fight you.” 


Monday, June 18, 2012

'The Lord of the Rings' directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring The Beatles

We’ve spent more than enough time arguing over which pieces of celluloid constitute the greatest films ever made.  We’ve also spilt plenty of ink discussing which bombs deserve to be called the worst movies of all time (I still don’t think Plan 9 From Outer Space is nearly as bad as Magnolia.)  However, we rarely acknowledge those glorious pieces of crap that MIGHT HAVE BEEN, had circumstances zigged when they should have zagged, or vice versa.

For instance, a 1960's film version of The Lord of the Rings adapted by and starring The Beatles.  I shit you not.

All you need is love.  And the One Ring.
Long before Peter Jackson made the world notice New Zealand for the first time, even before those Rankin/Bass cartoons that ruined your childhood, there was a lot of interest in adapting LOTR to the big screen.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that Tolkien himself was actually OK with this.  The man struggled to make ends meet for most of his adult life, and his career didn’t explode until long after The Return of the King was published.  In an effort to obtain a little financial security, and consequentially expose the books to a wider audience, he auctioned the adaptation rights to cash-or-kudos offers.  Basically, he’d sell the rights to anyone who either wanted to pay him a lot of money, or at least make something that would be flattering to the books.
Now, much to the bafflement of their sensible British author, the Rings books hit it big with the ‘60s counter-culture.  For some reason, the hippies dug the shit out of those stories about magical creatures who hung out in gardens all day smoking something called “pipe-weed.”  Kids started slapping GANDALF FOR PRESIDENT stickers on the back of their VWs, and people showed up at Woodstock in wizard robes.  Old Man Tolkien was not amused.

"I then demanded that they vacate the premises of my lawn, and denied their request to return the hackeysack."
Anyway, it wasn’t long before Hobbit Fever reached the Fab Four.  John Lennon was really keen on purchasing the adaptation rights, and producing a film in which he would play Gollum, Paul would play Frodo, Ringo would play Sam (we’re guessing he would have put on some weight for the role), and George would play Gandalf.  The rest of the guys were skeptical, but as we all know, John never had a bad idea in his life.

They played around with ideas ranging from a live-action production to a Fantasia-like animated feature.  And who did they have in mind for a director?  STANLEY FUCKING KUBRICK.  For some reason, Tolkien didn’t think it was a good idea, and he exercised his veto rights.

And you thought it was fun getting high and watching this:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Martin Amis: Money

I don't know why I put off getting acquainted with Martin Amis for so long.  It's probably because subconsciously I've always dreaded the things I'm sure he'd say about my own fiction if he ever came across it.  Oh well.  There's no law that says you have to be friends with everyone you admire.  I seriously doubt Bill Watterson and I would have anything to talk about, and if I ever met Lovecraft, I'd probably stick the miserable little bat-faced creep's head in the nearest toilet.  Anyway, I'm a hundred and fifty pages deep into Money, and I'm now officially a convert.

So far, my impression of Money is that Martin was stabbing yuppie culture in the gut years before Brett Easton Ellis came on the scene.  Then again, that might not be an entirely valid comparison.  The main character John Self lives the shallow, vacuous life of a TV commercial director, and his thoughts revolve primarily around moving from one fix to another.  Whether it's booze, dope, sex, porn, or fast food, his life is deeply embedded in the matrix of pleasure consumerism.  These are the obvious parallels between him and Ellis's LA lifestyle zombies.  However, yuppies tend to be heavily preoccupied with image, whereas John doesn't seem terribly concerned with the fact that he's overweight, unhealthy, and probably looks like crap.  He actually seems vaguely aware that something important is missing from his life, and his consumption appears to be less of a display of wealth than a means of keeping the emptiness at bay through cheap tactile sensation.  And the frightening thing is that I can relate.  I've never done coke with a bunch of producers at a $200-a-plate bistro, but I have gone out for bad food when I was depressed.

There's a scene where a character who's made millions in the addiction industry explains to John the appeal of fast food:

People just can't hack going out anymore.  They're all addicted to staying at home.  Hence the shit-food bonanza.  Swallow your chemicals, swallow them fast, and get back inside.  Or take the junk back with you.  Stay off the streets.  Stay inside.  With pornography...

Intelligent people have always known that money is more or less the root of all evil.  What Martin figured out is that the current incarnation of money is the most efficient means for the average citizen to avoid coming face-to-face with his own humanity, if only for a few minutes.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stephen King's IT: Floating Again

That's the cover of the paperback tie-in edition of Stephen King's IT that was released in 1990 when the mini-series first aired on ABC.  It's the edition that I bought and read when I was in fourth grade.  I don't know if that explains why I'm fucked up, or if I loved it because I'm fucked up.  Chicken or the egg.

Three years ago, Warner Bros. bought the rights to adapt the book into a theatrical film.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, the project is now underway with Cary Fukunaga set to direct.  What's more, they've gotten the green light to adapt it as two separate films, freeing it from the both the time and content restrictions that handicapped the TV version.  Also (and I can't be the first to notice this), isn't it just perfect that Pennywise is being brought back to life twenty-seven years after the events in the book?

Earlier this year I posted an open letter to screenwriter David Kajganich about some of the changes he was reportedly making to the script.  I also posted it to his IMDB page and the forum on Stephen King's official website, hoping that by some chance it might be brought to his attention.  While checking the forum last night, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that he had indeed read it and left a personal response.

Here's what David has to say:

Lilja over at Lilja's Library alerted me to your post a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn't respond right away; I knew this news about Cary Fukunaga coming on board to direct IT was about to be announced any day, and I didn't want to be disingenuous with you. Now that the news is out, I can properly thank you for your impassioned plea to keep the adaptation set in the decades King intended. I happen to agree with you 100%, but as often happens with these kinds of decisions, the studio's preference became the screenwriter's mandate. But now that WB has finally opened the door to splitting IT into two films (something for which we lobbied unsuccessfully), perhaps they are also open to returning the story to its original time span. Regardless, this news about Cary Fukunaga is a cineast's dream come true. I honestly went berserk with excitement when I heard. I'm truly sad not to be able to continue working on IT, but I'm so happy the project is alive and well, and in such incredible hands with Cary and Chase Palmer. They are going to give us a vision of IT that I really think is going to knock us all on our asses. Hooray for Hollywood, which sometimes gets it so, so right.

Monday, June 11, 2012

10 Songs for Pride Month

You've probably heard that last year June was declared LGBT Pride Month by President Obama.  In many ways, Obama has been a heartbreaking disappointment.  He's certainly a far cry from the civil rights warrior we elected.  But in all fairness, by throwing out DADT and voicing interest in repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, he's done more for gay rights than any president in American history.  Last month, after three years of ambiguous silence on the issue, he publicly declared that he supports the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples.  A lot could be said about how long it took him to break the silence.  It could be argued (quite reasonably) that all he's doing is being a typical politician and paying lip service to an important voting bloc while he's up for reelection.  However, the fact remains that the man holding the highest governmental office in the free world has come out in favor of gay marriage, the movement's greatest endorsement to date.  We might have a long way to go, but we've gained considerable ground in the last two decades.

On that note, I'll present you with my (partially plagiarized) playlist for the month.  Enjoy, and stay proud.

Lou's timeless ode to NYC's working-class drag queens.

Now something means boy
And something means girl
They both look the same
They're overjoyed in this world

Years of gender-based ridicule turn a guy into a badass.  Many people don't realize that this song was co-written by Shel Silverstein.

The Kinks - Lola
The greatest ballad ever written about a drag queen.  Anyone who tells you it was ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' is probably too dumb for help.

Queen - Fat Bottomed Girls 
I'm including this one because it concerns three things that are close to my heart: the gay community, rock & roll, and women with big asses.

Got your mother in a whirl
She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl

Death in June - Little Black Angel
One of the most influential (and controversial) artists in the neo-folk scene, Douglas Pearce has also been out for the last three decades.

No explanation necessary.

Reworking of the Clash's cover of the Crickets song, written in memory of Harvey Milk.

Judas Priest - You Got Another Thing Comin'
A friend of mine once waited in line for two hours to get Rob Halford's autograph.  She knew she only had a few seconds to say something he'd remember.  After he handed her back her album she said, "You're the reason I came out of the closet."  He grinned ear to ear, stuck out his tongue, and threw up his devil horns.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remembering Bradbury

I stayed in tonight.  My girlfriend went to a Dropkick Murphy's gig at a venue called The Orion on the outskirts of Rome.  She just called and told me that the show was cut short after six songs.  Some fascists were crowd-surfing with their party's flag, and the band stopped playing to tell them to either knock it off or take it outside.  Fights broke out on the floor, and security set off a pepper spray bomb to clear the room.  I've been fighting a hangover all day, so I wasn't in the mood for a concert.  I sure as fuck wasn't in the mood for fascists or pepper spray.  That's why I spent the night at home with my pit bull, and how I got the news that Ray Bradbury had passed away last night.

Since the story broke, all of my avid-reader friends have shared a few words about the first Bradbury story they ever read.  A common thread that I've noticed is that all of them describe their individual story pick as not just a well-spun yarn but a significant event in their imaginative lives.  I've heard more than a few of them say that after they read him, they knew they wanted to grow up to be writers.  All of them held that his stories stood the test of time in their lives.  That's what I've always loved about Bradbury--his stories are told in such a way that a ten-year-old can understand them, but they're so profound that they continue to blow your mind as an adult.  To this day I still want to strangle that guy for stepping on that damned butterfly.

My first Bradbury was the short story The Fog Horn when I was thirteen.  As with everyone else, it was a revelation.  I'd read plenty of stories about monsters, but never before had I read a monster story that evoked such feelings of sadness and longing.  I'd never met a monster that taught me so much about being human.  As much as I'd love to describe it in minute detail, I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it.  On that note, if you're one of those people, do yourself a favor and check it out.  It's contained in the collection The Golden Apples of the Sun.

I read in a memorial piece that Bradbury was the kind of guy who would spend half a day with a kid if he told him he wanted to grow up to be a writer.  I'm not in the least bit surprised.  Even for the millions of us who never met him, he always gave us the time of day.

Monday, June 4, 2012

One Night Only: David vs. Goliath

I have a longstanding grudge against the unscrupulous vultures at British Airways.  If you want the long version, click here.  If you want the short version, let's just say that two years ago they put me through one of the worst experiences of my life.  I rate it somewhere between Junior High and a root canal.  It was certainly my worst traveling experience of all time.  At any rate, despite the numerous letters I've sent their customer service dept, I have yet to receive a dime in compensation.

Today I accidentally came across this old article from The Economist about Heathrow's writer-in-residence.  

I'd like to ask a favor of all my readers, if it's not too much trouble:  

Check out the article, and scroll down to the comments section.  You'll notice that the very first comment contains a bit of advice from your humble author, Jonathan Balog.  All I ask is that you hit the RECOMMEND button on that comment.  Hell, hit it a few times if you feel like it.  Beat it senseless.  Make it cry for its mother.

I don't ask for much out of life.  All I want is for everyone I despise to know that I hate them.