Banned Book #18

IN HONOR of Banned Book Week (September 26 – October 3), I wanted to post one of the books on the list that was significant to me. Sadly, there are several, but this one arrived (as it did for so many young people) at a significant time in my life. I was in an English class that was more like bedlam. The teacher had no control of the room or of his own destiny so it seemed. He passed this book out and gave us a week to read it. I pounced on it. The voice, the descriptions, the pathos. Holden’s use of “crumby” and “phony” all these years later still pings in my head as if I *heard* him speak those words. At any rate, I read the book in an evening. The next day in class we were to discuss the first couple of chapters. Someone, one of the surfers or the stoners or ??? made some lewd comment and the teacher puffed up into a hissy-fit and began collecting the books. “You all are too immature for this book!” Back into the cardboard box they went, and we were back to the moldy-smelling reader. Now I think, how terrible it was that he allowed one or two to ruin that experience for 25 others. I know he was at his wits’ end. I understand it even more now. But this book opened a door to something for me not just as a reader, but I know, as a writer. It arrived at the same time as a few other important titles did — F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and of course, even more so, The Crack Up. I would spend a great deal of the rest of the semester sitting on the broken-down sofa reading my assignments but also Cream and Rolling Stone magazines — not just for the music features, but the other journalism — long-form narratives, essays and the like –the latter in particular. I was learning about how stories were put together — in so many different ways. Holden Caulfield’s voice was a “source” — in the many meanings of the word. Once I’d held the vibrancy in my hands, there was no capping it.

“When Life Gets in The Way of Art”

EXCELLENT AND complex piece by Randy Kennedy in today’s NYT about the oft-debated question: can or should an artist’s work be re-considered when their life’s stories reveal unpleasant or worse — repugnant — chapters. Kennedy’s jumping-off point folo story anchored in the story of Ernest C. Withers, the Civil Rights photographer who was recently outed as a paid FBI-informant who spied on many of the movement’s leadership. Chillingly, he was there the day Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel, as well as being present for the Emmett Till murder trial. His images are some of the most famous of the movement’s battle years
How Withers might feel now about his role in history — both as an insider and spy — we’ll most likely never know, as he died in 2007. But the question that question swirls: does it change the intent of the history he witnessed and the art he made while participating in it?
Kennedy looks at other famously complicated histories — T.S. Eliot, Elia Kazan — the place where politics and art intersect — as well as looking at the Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck docu-farce which attempted to bend unseemly fiction-into-fact but failed miserably.

Nicholas Lemann on “Treme”

NEW ORELANS native Nick Lemann on Treme in the New York Review of Books — thanks, Richard.

Just now wading into it. . . .

A snip:

I can’t help looking at Treme as a long-departed native, and judging it for accuracy and acuity. I grew up more or less inside the world represented by Davis Mc-Alary’s parents, which takes up very little time on camera and didn’t seem to me especially well drawn—it’s generically Southern la-de-da rather than specifically New Orleanian. (In fairness, it would be quite difficult to capture that highly ritualized and private world, in which a plurality of the people are connected to ancient local Creole tribes, Villeres and Livaudais and Charbonnets and Lapeyres, that have opened their ranks to some but not all and have entered modern business and professional mores to an extent but not completely.) Treme is essentially populist, and it’s interested in elites far more as objects of ordinary people’s well-deserved scorn than as fully realized subjects. What limited negative attention it gives to the subject is directed more at the light-skinned black elite—public officials who appear briefly as unfeeling jerks, or the dullards at a society ball where Antoine has reluctantly accepted a gig in a big band—than the entirely separate white one.

Buddy Collette, 89*

WORD IS trickling out that Buddy‘s gone. More when I find the words. A special, elegant, giving man. L.A.-loyal to the end.

* UPDATE: Oh, so it is true. He passed away yesterday, September 19, 2010. The jazz station here, KKJZ has a lovely remembrance up. I’ll miss going to Nibbler’s with Buddy where “every seat is a booth,” and thus a comfy hideaway for telling grand stories about L.A.’s golden age of jazz.