Saturday, February 23, 2008

My aunt Donna died this morning. She was only 50. Here's what kind of person she was: When I was six or seven, she called my house to let me know that an all-day monster movie marathon was on HBO. I rode my bike over and watched movies all day with her. When I was 17, I grew a really stupid goatee that I thought was cool. My boss at the grocery store told me to shave it off. My aunt told me to tell him, "Fuck you, Tim." She was a fun person who liked to read and liked music. She had a lot of problems the last ten or twelve years that led to her early death, but that doesn't matter. From the daily phone reports I received from my mother this last week about her sister-in-law and my aunt, I learned a lot about how to die with bravery, dignity, self-respect, and humor. I feel bad for my uncle and my cousins. I spent a lot of time over there when I was a kid, listening to their records and baby-sitting their kids. It's been hard trying to get through my week and take care of business. You should be able to pause life sometimes for a few weeks. I would like to ask anyone reading this to please not email me, call me, or personally give me any condolences. I sincerely appreciate any good thoughts and concern, but please just send it out into the world silently. The English language is woefully inadequate when it comes to condolences. I know you care. I don't need to hear it. I will probably keep to myself for a few months. That's how I get through these things best. I need the shared history, comfortable silences, and humor of my family and my own self for a while. Then I'll crawl back out of my cave and get on with it. Send all good thoughts to your families (if you like them) and enjoy their company. If any of you have emailed or left a message, etc., before you've read this post, don't feel bad. I'm weird and solitary about this stuff, and I appreciate your concern. Life is good, and I'm glad I know so many good people.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


For the first time in 12 years, I had the flu. It sucked. I think I'm coming out of it now, but for a while, I was burning the candle at both ends, if you know what I mean.

I'm considering trying Netflix, and I was browsing their inventory this morning when I stumbled across the greatest movie title in Mexican cinema history:
7 Mujeres, 1 Homosexual y Carlos*

*For those of you with even worse Spanish than me, that translates as "7 Women, 1 Homosexual and Carlos."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Larry McMurtry on Austin

Nothing much has changed. Just replace "protohippies" with the Beauty Bar crowd or anyone's moderately ambitious local rock band. Throw the Austin Chronicle staff in the mix, too. His description still fits this town a little too snugly, and sometimes his words are even more accurate today. I like it here. I wouldn't have stayed seven years and counting if I didn't. But this is a distressingly honest summation of Austin.

"... During the last two months of my stay in Austin it was my good fortune to be thrown much in the company of (author William) Brammer. We were both, at the time, in respite of wives and money, and shared a house on Windsor Road. Mr. Brammer was at that time the local culture hero, The Gay Place having been published only two years before. He was thus a natural target for anyone in Austin who was aspiring, frustrated, or bored. The inrush of Wives threatened to wrench the hinges off the door, and Mr. Brammer faced it with the courteous and rather melancholy patience with which he would probably face a buffalo stampede. In the wake of the Wives came a sweaty and verbally diarrhetic mass of bored or bitter professors, broke or bitter politicians, protohippies with beach balls full of laughing gas, and broke-bored-bitter young journalists who looked like they had been using themselves for blotters.
"In time I sealed off my part of the house and left Bill to cope with the crowd as best he could, but during the brief weeks when I spent my nights opening the door I got, it seemed to me, an adequate glimpse of Austin. It had, among other adolescent characteristics, a fascination with its own pubic hair, and a corresponding uneasy fear that its sexual development might stop just short of adequacy. Groupiness was endemic. No one might be missing from the group, lest he turn out to be somewhere better, with a wilder, more swinging group. In such a town the person who is sure of himself is apt to be literally crushed by the surging mobs of the insecure, all rushing to confirm themselves by association. "
"Cliquishness can be especially insidious in a town the size of Austin, where those in favor seldom if ever receive any strong-minded local criticism. ..."
"The emotional activity most characteristic of Austin is, I think, the attempt to acquire power through knowledge. Accordingly, Austin is the one town in the state where there is a real tolerance of the intellectual; and yet one's final impression of Austin is of widespread intellectual confusion. Perhaps the phenomenon most expressive of this paradox is the University's rare book program. For the last decade, rare books have been sucked into Austin like particles of dust into a vacuum cleaner; the University's enormous and almost amorphous acquisitiveness remains the wonder, joy, and despair of the rare book world. No one can doubt that an extraordinary library is being formed in Austin, one whose potential usefulness is very great; yet the manner in which it is being formed leaves one a trifle abashed. The Humanities Research Center, for all its riches, comes too close to being a kind of intellectual's Astrodome. The University's almost frenzied acquisitiveness seems to stem not so much from a vision of the needs of future generations as from its own immediate intellectual insecurity. A successful acquisition brings a temporary sense of intellectual power, and it is the acquisition of books and manuscripts, rather than their use, which seems to be the dominant concern; that and the creation of a symbol of prestige (the Center) which the scholarly world cannot ignore. ..."

from In a Narrow Grave (1968)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

It's time to beat up on Louis Black again

I used to do a weekly feature on this blog in which I bashed Austin Chronicle editor-in-chief Louis Black's weekly opinion columns. It got really repetitive after about five weeks, so I stopped doing it. My criticisms of his column became robotic in less than two months. That should give you some idea of the mind-numbing redundancy of his collected oeuvre. In short, he's a pathetic fuck, and that's ultimately boring. However, something about his writing has been nagging at me again. There's a lot about the Chronicle I find worthless: The film reviewers, the Mosers, the music coverage, the existence of Raoul Hernandez. There's occasionally something in the Chronicle I find worthwhile: The investigative reporting, some of the political coverage, the listings of what films, live shows, and events are going on that week. However, even in the most useless trash (anything written by a Moser, etc.), the piece usually appears to have been edited. What I'm trying to say is that the grammar is usually correct. Why are Louis Black's columns, aside from everything else I find revoltingly stupid about them, riddled with grammatical errors? It's obvious he doesn't allow anyone to touch his columns. He must think his pen jizzes literary gold. My blog may not be Johnny Grammar's Instructional Primer, but the egregious errors in Black's column cause me physical pain. Here are some recent examples:

1. See if you can read these sentences and make any goddamn sense out of what he's saying. If you can, you must have learned English from kung fu movie subtitles:
"I'm almost always more interested in reading cultural criticism when it takes a different point of view from my own, especially the more it is radically different. Reading criticism with which I agree is usually boring unless it is by a writer who matches content/thoughts/opinions to writing, creating something interesting independent of the film (Marjorie Baumgarten, Marc Savlov, and the rest of the Chronicle reviewers; Elvis Mitchell; Pauline Kael). The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, for example, is such a gifted stylist that his reviews are always entertaining to read – but they also almost never have anything interesting to say. Certain reviews whose overall positive or negative rating coincides with mine can be so inane and ill-conceived as to be somewhat entertaining."
What the fuck? That is the most incoherent shit I've ever read. I think what he's trying to say is that reading criticism that differs aesthetically from his own sensibility expands his horizons, but his tortured syntax makes me weep with rage. First, he says reading critics who agree with him is boring unless they create something "interesting" (keep that word in mind) that exists outside of the film. Then, for his example, he uses Anthony Lane, whose prose he admires except that his reviews "almost never have anything interesting to say." How is a direct contradiction an example of what you mean? An editor would have (should have) caught this sloppiness. I don't think he allowed anyone to edit his work. Let's look at that last sentence, too. In the context of his point, it's meaningless. In the context of human experience, it's insanely arrogant. If he's trying to suggest that he learns more from people with differing opinions than people who agree with him, what difference does it make that "certain" reviews coinciding with his opinion are "inane and ill-conceived"? Considering the amount of reviews for any given piece of art or entertainment in our Internet-enhanced era, the amount of "inane and ill-conceived" reviews either supporting or backing any given opinion is probably fairly large. Is he implying that he's the last word on his side of the subject? And what fucking difference does it make for his point that the inanity of "certain" reviews is "somewhat entertaining"? What does that have to do with the point he's trying to make? The answer: He's a terrible fucking writer.
2. "Having your perceptions challenged clarifies and sharpens one's thinking. Most of the tenets and strategies I use in writing criticism came from spending endless amounts of time obsessing on critical pieces, often just cataloging rebuttals." Editor, where are you? That first sentence should read 'Having your perceptions challenged clarifies and sharpens your thinking,' or 'Having one's perceptions challenged clarifies and sharpens one's thinking.' The second sentence has no tense consistency. It should read 'Most of the tenets and strategies I use in writing criticism come from spending...' I also have to ask. You write criticism? Check out this piece of criticism (from the same column):
"All this is by way of saying that, after just my first viewing of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth – a stunning masterpiece – I decided that reading and considering negative reviews or strong criticism would be, for me, a waste of time. The film is so completely unique and startlingly fresh that I just can't conceive of any objections to the film having anything terribly interesting to say. And, honestly, I don't want to taint the powerful and pure experience of watching this film by reading niggling criticisms that invariably I obsess on countering, with all the panache with which one might worry an aching tooth."
On behalf of every non-asshole reading that last sentence I have to ask: Panache? Is that the word you really meant to use?
Check out this other piece of "criticism" (from the same column):
"On some occasions, I have been lucky enough to have the flavors of a particularly outstanding meal so intensely branded on my taste buds that the next day it is as if I'm still eating it, rather than just recalling the memory. I wanted the film implanted in just such a way, only permanently. I wanted it to glaze my eyeballs, stick in my ears, catch under skin, stain fingertips until it even replaced memory, so I had no memory left except for it. I wanted the film draping me as though it were fog, to be over, around, and in me, smothering and caressing. I wanted it as though it were my very breath itself, until it was such a part of me that the next day, after first seeing it, I could still and forever after watch it."
God, that makes my skin crawl. If Harry Knowles said the same thing, I wouldn't be able to summon an erection for the rest of my life. (Though it would have to be a 418-hour film to fully drape the revolting carcass of Harry Knowles like a fog, never mind the smothering and caressing. Why does Austin have so many high-profile troglodytes who have contributed not one thing to justify a second of their worthless existences?)

If my eviscerating of a year-old Louis Black column is almost as pathetic as the man himself, here is a more recent example from two weeks ago:
"The music has always been there, has always been within us, pushing through our veins and in our heads. The very first attempts to release and invoke the music was done by banging branches and smashing rocks. It progressed from there. There's probably plenty of music we've all never heard trapped inside of us, carried by mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, by the young and the old."
Attempts was done? Fuck! Attempts were done. Goddamnit! Let someone edit your columns, motherfucker! It wouldn't help anything, but jesus, it sure wouldn't hurt. If he cared about writing as much as he cared about flapping his wizened cock-mouth, he'd at least fix his fucked-up grammatical errors. What a philistine douche-toad from ass-town. Let's behead this fuck! Let's have an alt-weekly revolution! Demand excellence! Or at least competence! Befriending John Sayles does not make you a writer!
Here's some more atrocious, incoherent, incompetent bullshit from Bloviatus Maximus:
"At the Toronto Film Festival, I saw John Sayles and Maggie Renzi's new film, Honeydripper, in a large theatre, with a completely racially mixed audience, which is more common to Toronto than Austin."
Completely racially mixed? So every single race was represented in that theatre? Were there any Eskimos there? How about Filipino/Irish/Namibians? Oh, they were there, too? You're not writing an essay for eleventh grade composition. You don't have to pad the fucker with words like "completely" and "very" and "extremely." And why the scolding about Austin's segregated social scene from a white guy who edits one of the whitest alt-weeklies in the country? There's a black guy on the cover this week. Won't see that for another eight months. You will see at least 26 white singer/songwriters on the cover before you see anyone of color. I would gladly put money on that. Completely green money. Fucker.
This final excerpt is horrifying in its grammatical atrocity:
"Sayles is a huge music fan; listening to the car radio, talking about new releases, or even just checking the soundtrack album for any Sayles movie is a dead giveaway."
So, listening to the car radio and talking about new releases is a dead giveaway that John Sayles is a music fan? What? I listened to the car radio today. I checked the new release wall at the record store on Friday. I didn't learn a fucking thing about John Sayles. What is your subject/verb agreement in that sentence? Tony Randall likes pussy; walking the dog, eating broccoli, checking the credits for any Tony Randall movie is a dead giveaway. I'm guessing that you mean that John Sayles likes to listen to the car radio and talk about new releases and that's how you know he's a music fan. But guessing is all I can do. If I have to guess (and I shouldn't have to), I'm not going to do it for Louis Black. Impeach Taft! Throw Fat Louis Black Out! Rage Against the Machine! Don't Start Another Vietnam in Nicaragua! Whoo! I've been tearing up VIP lounges since before you were born! Some of them right here in Birmingham, Alabama! (The Birmingham crowd goes nuts.)
When I start teaching school, I am going to use Black's essays as examples of how not to write.