Monday, November 21, 2005


Jonathan Raban, some reviews, Donald Fagen on Ray Charles, the last laugh

In The Seattle Weekly, Tim Appelo (with whom I shared an office at Amazon) sings the praises of peripatetic homebody Jonathan Raban. The occasion, more or less, is the publication of Raban's collection of political journalism, My Holy War: Dispatches From the Home Front. But the article--half critical inquiry and half Q-and-A--examines the ongoing paradoxes of Raban's career, and brushes aside the misnomers (travel writer, regional writer, man without a country) that have stuck to him for nearly three decades. It's an excellent piece, and I'm not saying that just because Tim quoted me. I promise!

Meanwhile, Kerry Fried (with whom I shared an office at Amazon) raves about Edith Milton's The Tiger in the Attic in Newsday, noting that the author's "pixillated portraits are among her memoir's great pleasures and recall Penelope Fitzgerald's instant comical epiphanies." In the same newspaper, Nina Mehta (with whom I currently share an entire apartment) doles out more measured praise for Joyce Carol Oates's Missing Mom. She's almost driven mad by one particular linquistic tic: "In Oates's lexicon, the word 'almost' regularly appears in a strange position in sentences. Whether this is sloppiness or a fetishistic use of a word suggesting the incipient nature of an event or thought is anyone's guess, but it is an irritating quirk." And finally, David Kirby (with whom I share no rooms but a great many enthusiasms) wrote this whip-smart appreciation of Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie in the Providence Phoenix.

Cruising the Web not long ago, I came across Donald Fagen's site, which has an agreeably amateurish feel to it--unlike, say, the entire Steely Dan catalogue. One item I particularly liked was Fagen's tribute to Ray Charles, with its shrewd grasp of the singer's fallow decade:
Ray's attempts to jump on the funkwagon were half-hearted. The new black sound was colder and right up in your face, based, in fact, on a smaller division of the beat. Brown, Barry White and Rick James seemed less interested in pleasing a woman than in collecting body parts. In contrast, Ray's sage interpretation of "America the Beautiful" (1972) was at once a taunt, a healing gesture, and a blind man's dream of the Promised Land. Perhaps a eulogy as well.
But I also relished Fagen's winning, whining introduction, where he explains how the piece ended up on his site:
When Ray died, I wrote the item below. Because I know a guy who works for another guy, etc., I had reason to believe this article might appear in a major top-hatted, monocle-wearing magazine. But by the time the editor got the piece Ray had been dead for A WHOLE WEEK so it was no dice. So then the guy I know sent it to a major, tragically hip-to-be-square, Doonesbury-carrying web magazine. They said O.K. but, because they'd already run a piece on Ray, they wanted me to rewrite it to fit in with some format where when-you-click-a-song-title-you-hear-music, blah, blah. Too much work. So I sent it to a woman I know who, once a month or so, manages to put out a very, very thin, in fact, exquisitely thin political journal on special, painfully thin paper. Again, I was too late, they had just gone to press with a Ray piece.

I thought, well, alright then. Since I have this new squeaky-clean website (on which the only writings are those ancient, creaky old Premiere items), I'll just accept the piece for publication myself, leave myself a really complimentary voicemail and write an absurdly large check payable to yours truly. Ha, ha, ha.
And on a related (if somewhat squalid) note, authors can now fight fire with fire when those boilerplate rejection letters start piling up. As Terry McConnell reports in The Edmonton Journal:
If you are an aspiring author, you should know that for $90 US, was started by Hamilton, Ont., entrepreneur Bob Young--will print off four rolls of toilet paper printed with your most acerbic, or sickeningly impersonal, rejection letters. (Additional rolls cost $12 each.) [Sci-fi author D. Judson] Hindes was the guinea pig for the project, reports the Shreveport Times. Lulu approached him with the idea, asking if he would share some of his rejection letters. Hindes eagerly obliged and forwarded the usual platitudes that begin "Dear Author," and include such noteworthy phrases as "This doesn't quite fit what we're looking for," "Good luck," and "Keep writing!"

That's funny - I used to listen to Steely Dan when I was something like 13 - they seem like a relic to me now - so to see DF effectively blogging is practically up there with when I met my childhood hero Evel Kneivel.
Looking for reviews of the Donald Fagen Upper Darby show.. it's 2006 now btw :-)

He's got another website up, and it's all alive, sorta...feel free to drop by,
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