R.I.P.: Robert B. Silvers

The New York Review of Books and the Village Voice were the bookends of my literary fantasies about New York and the East Coast in general, back when I had never been out here. Brainy/wild — lively/civilized … they could make you feel less lonely out in the thickets and ranges. One aspect I most admired about NY Review is that it was thorough.

Chuck Berry — And the Whole First Wave of Rock and Rollers — Have a Right To Be Pissed

Can’t be said often enough about a peculiar phenomenon I have never understood. The sex-terrified reactionaries of the ’50s wanted rock and roll to just go away — by banning if necessary. Send that monster Elvis into the Army. Send that threat to white women Chuck Berry to jail.

And damned if it didn’t work in a funhouse-mirror way. The rock of the British Invasion and later (up to a point) is annoyingly present (just consider the nonstop soundtrack we had to put up with while the car was worked on this Sat. — maybe the single most painful part was the inclusion of “I Wanna Be Sedated” like it was the hit it shoulda been). But the whole original wave of rockers is neglected except for oldies moments.

C’mon everybody (ahem), you can program that stuff right in with the Boss and related acts.

R.I.P.: Skip Williamson

Ace obit that includes lots of information new to me. I knew nothing about his personal life other than his political activism and he fell off my sightlines after the ’80s. His bizarre cause of death could be taken from a comic he drew. Snappy Sammy Smoot was one of the unforgettable clueless characters or Holy Innocent or what have you. His hair trip was a graphic triumph. And the obit ends with a quip from Williamson that is about the most rat-on exhortation from the ’60s demonstrations.

Guess Williamson and Jay Lynch had to leave about the same time so they could start up Celestial Bijou Funnies. Bet it’s better than ever.



Meet James Branch Cabell

A line from the first graph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s previously unpublished 1920 short story in The New Yorker:

I would rather bring out a book that had an advance sale of five hundred thousand copies than have discovered Samuel Butler, Theodore Dreiser, and James Branch Cabell in one year.

“James Branch Cabell” — WHOTF IS THAT?

(Just so you know, the name is CAB-ble — “Tell the rabble my name is Cabell,” he told his publisher.)

Here’s a page about him almost as eccentric as he was.

And a nice, detailed online bio.

What I have to add is that I read his masterpiece, Jurgen, the same year I read The Hobbit — 1962, when I was in fifth grade. Except that Jurgen is wildly inappropriate for a fifth-grade audience and I have not the faintest how it got in the classroom library except that, hey, fantasy book, terrific fairy-tale type illustrations. Must have been a library cut-out that nobody looked at for longer than five seconds. (Shows the depth of Cabell’s popularity that a copy of his book made it all the way to little Livingston MT.)

Anyway, it was a wild ride of a read with a lot of sex stuff way, way over my head. Then about 10 years later when fantasy lit was on a major rebound, Cabell was reissued in paperback and I decided that Jurgen was at least 10-20 times better than anything else he did, which was prolix, if occasionally witty, blather.

But go dig up a copy of Jurgen — it’s 1920s the way On the Road is beatnik ’50s.

“Casablanca” And Its Landscape — Both Faded

Very sharp review by Laura Miller on a book that celebrates the movie. I would add the bitter irony that Harvard Square, where Casablanca was reborn as a fetish object, has all but vanished during the same time period the film started to dim. That is what causes me the most pangs of lost romance.