May 23, 2004

Weekend Report

  • On Thursday evening, I met with the erstwhile Mark Sarvas and the incomparable Sam Jones. I had expected to stumble into them on the streets of North Beach. But to my surprise, while reading an Ian Rankin novel, I was thrown into the back of a Range Rover, whereby the two men blindfolded me, read me several Blake poems, and then led me into the basement of City Lights. There, they announced that I was part of a grand sadistic experiment to see how I could leave the bookstore buying as few books as possible. I escaped, but not before signing over the rights to my firstborn child over drinks at Tosca. I have no idea what the full extent of their grand plan is, but I'm seriously considering a vasectomy to throw a monkey wrench into their diabolical plans against democracy.
  • Donna Tartt's The Little Friend is a disappointment that will not end. Tartt is a talented writer, but her plotting and thin characterizations (reduced to easy archetypes like the beautiful sister, the smart sister, the crazed fundamentalist, the hayseed criminal) leave much to be desired. This is a major letdown after The Secret History. Some fellow book freaks have compared the novel to a TV movie and I'm inclined to agree. As January Magazine's Tony Buchsbaum notes, "it takes for-freakin'-ever to get where it's going." And yet I remain determined to see this novel through to the end. It might be because I'm struck by the novel's depiction of childhood and teenage life. According to The Donna Tartt Shrine, Tartt is working on a novella version of the Daedalus/Icarus myth to be published by Cannongate this year. Hopefully, this will represent a return to form.
  • On a side note, I've been on a bad book run of late. And if anyone can suggest foolproof titles (aside from the Sarvas-sanctioned John Banville), I'd greatly appreciate it. Chang Rae-Lee's Aloft, so far, has been a good rebound.
  • I discovered that Shalimar on Jones Street has the spiciest Indian food in the City, if not Northern California. Don't get me wrong. It's good stuff, affordably priced, and it's one of those great places where you bring in your own beer from the store across the street and load up on yummy spinach and curry combinations. (There is also mango lassi, which is also quite important.) For a moment, I seriously considered trying the lamb's brain concoction, but I was talked out of it by my colleagues at the last minute.
  • I'm woefully behind on current cinema, but I did check out Super Size Me. (Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes is next on the list.) There isn't much in this film that you wouldn't get from reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, but as low-key personal documentaries go, it's an entertaining and less narcissistic affair than the norm. Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock deserves some kind of prize for making the McDonald's meals he eats more repellant than graphic imagery of reductive gastric surgery. I really don't understand the comparisons between Spurlock and Michael Moore. The whole documentary is more of a stunt which proves a terrifying point, effective enough to get even the staunchest junk food fans off the fatty stuff. But while Spurlock has a definite agenda, his terrifying dedication to eating three McDonald's meals a day, even as his health wanders into lethal territory, is of chief interest here. There is a disturbing and cheery determination on Spurlock's part that echoes how easily it is for anyone to slip into a McToadburger diet.
  • If you like Neil Diamond or kitschy pop in general, the local band Super Diamond (a Neil Diamond cover band) puts on a groovy show. I saw them years ago, but they have truly honed their pitch-perfect reproduction since. Singer Surreal Neil has Diamond's deep wavers and pregnant pauses down. The bassist, with his dark sequin and groovy glasses, reminded me of Bruce Campbell in Bubba Ho-Tep. Super Diamond played Saturday night at the Great American Music Hall. From the floor, I observed several fiftysomethings and sixtysomethings grooving to Super Diamond over the edge of the balcony, just one fortuitous indication of Super Diamond's cross-appeal.
  • shorago.jpg However, I must confess that I was more impressed with the opening act, Casino Royale, a 1960s cover band that I hadn't seen before (despite the band's many appearances at the Red Devil Lounge). Beyond Casino Royale's taut sound and groovy go-go dancing girls, the big reason to see these guys is singer Danny Shorago, a bald-pated man with so much energy that I spent several hours contemplating just what specific proteins the man was chomping on. Shorago performed a rousing version of "Mellow Yellow," whereby he flourished his cane in a way that suggested a poor man's Fred Astaire or a curiously booked Vegas lounge act. Make no mistake: this is an endorsement. Shorago could not stand still. There was not a single part of his body that did not move. He offered karate kicks. He breakdanced. He jumped off the stage. He undulated his ass in a way that even I, a male heterosexual, had to admire. About four songs into their set, my girlfriend and I felt really bad that this rousing band didn't have a single dancer on the floor. So we boogied away. But Shorago filled me with such joie de vivre that I found myself running up to the stage, jumping up with a raised hand and a mighty roar, and watching Shorago leap back in mock fright. Needless to say, this crazy near-psychotic gesture on my part got the dance floor populated, which was my m.o. all along. However, near the end of the show, I collided into Shorago as he did a handstand, which resulted in Shorago picking up a chair and me momentarily impersonating a Pampalona bull. I never got the chance to apologize to Shorago, let alone express my admiration for his energy. But if he's reading this, I'd really love to find out what gives the man so much pep. In other words, can I have some?
Posted by DrMabuse at May 23, 2004 12:48 PM


Permit me these suggestions (and I did like THE LITTLE FRIEND, so maybe,uh, never mind... )

Prisoners of War- Steve Yarborough

True North Jim-Harrison

The Rope Eater- Ben Jones

Cottonwood- Scott Phillips

The Havana Room-Colin Harrison

Okay, then

Posted by: birnbaum at May 23, 2004 03:43 PM

Yes to COTTONWOOD. THE LITTLE FRIEND...oy, I gave up after 200 pages when I realized it was basically an overblown version of HARRIET THE SPY with all sorts of weird crap thrown in for good measure. Gah.

Posted by: Sarah at May 23, 2004 04:19 PM

I have to second Prisoners of War as that's what I was opening up this little box to type in.

I'd add Martin Clark's Plain Heathen Mischief.

Posted by: Dan Wickett at May 23, 2004 07:06 PM

Thank you much, folks. I will check these tomes out. I do still have "Cloud Atlas" here, but sadly I'm almost finished.

Posted by: Ed at May 23, 2004 09:45 PM

Always worth a read:

Raymond Queneau's Witchgrass.

David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress or This is Not a Novel.

Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai.

Evan Dara's The Lost Scrapbook.

Posted by: derik at May 24, 2004 11:09 AM