Happy (belated) birthday, Hunter Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, who was from Louisville, would have turned 79 this week. With the Republican National Convention in full swing and on the cusp of a truly ludicrous election, we need him now more than ever. The Paris Review’s lengthy interview from 2000 is worth re-reading, and quotes the following from 1988’s Generation of Swine:

. . . I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than from anything else in the English Language—and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.

This week, the New Yorker ran a satirical bit that started as such:

The 2016 Republican National Convention became embroiled in another controversy on Tuesday, as Biblical experts accused Republicans of plagiarizing the entire Convention scenario from the Book of Revelation.

So HST’s ghost still walks with us.  I wish he had stuck around for another decade or so. There will be much unfinished business to come, it seems, in the matter of the “autopsy of the American dream,” a job at which he excelled.

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Lament Fragment

Go down

(Forsaking the lagoons of bridged Atlantis)

To the mid-Atlantic ridge

where are the crazed
Magnetic fields and roped sheets, and stains
(The disordered fabric of the volcanic
Bed chamber) and the gigantic vermicular
Testimonies

and stare upon the great
Principle of the solid world—the original
Torment trace.

Go down, for down is the way,
And grapple one stone syllable
Of all that frozen love’s discourse
Onto an iron dredge

and on it rise
(Borne on the enormous weight of its desire
For light and the air)

until it explodes
Upon the deck amid the astonished crew.

Then empty out the nets disposed about
Your person, and fill them with the pieces
Of that one vast syllable

and carry them
To Cahokia in East Saint Louis, where
My father was born who is dying now
(He was an honest man—mute as stone)

Place them on the top of Monk’s Mound

(Go you. I am his son. I have no words.)

and let
Them off like a siren.

–Allen Grossman

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La grande bellezza

Finisce sempre così. Con la morte. Prima, però, c’è stata la vita, nascosta sotto il bla bla bla bla bla. È tutto sedimentato sotto il chiacchiericcio e il rumore. Il silenzio e il sentimento. L’emozione e la paura. Gli sparuti incostanti sprazzi di bellezza. E poi lo squallore disgraziato e l’uomo miserabile. Tutto sepolto dalla coperta dell’imbarazzo dello stare al mondo. Bla. Bla. Bla. Bla. Altrove, c’è l’altrove. Io non mi occupo dell’altrove. Dunque, che questo romanzo abbia inizio. In fondo, è solo un trucco. Sì, è solo un trucco.

 

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Dry Heat

Ali, accompanied by Jimmy Ellis, runs along Regent Street; London 1966

Ali, accompanied by Jimmy Ellis, runs along Regent Street; London 1966

When I heard Muhammad Ali, the Champ, died Friday, I thought I would go for a three mile run. I figured that it would be a small thing to do for someone who had done so many big things. There had recently been a shooting at my gym so I thought I would go outside.

***

The Champ made it ok to be from Louisville, Kentucky. When traveling, it is much better to be able to talk about the Champ rather than fried chicken chains or whiskey or the other things that people talk about if they think about Kentucky. 

The Champ helped my brother out in Serbia. We were at a music festival in Novi Sad in 2004, and although it was a festival designed to promote peace, Americans still had to be careful and respectful. Even though the NATO bombing was five years past — an eternity in cable news cycle damaged American minds — it was like yesterday in Serbia. In case anyone might’ve forgotten, the bridge connecting the island where the festival was to Novi Sad was a temporary pontoon bridge, the original having been struck by NATO bombs. My brother had crossed the bridge and was held up at security by Serbian police officers intent on searching all he had. But when they looked in his bag and found the The Fight by Norman Mailer, with Ali’s picture on the cover, one said in the manner of being let in on some tremendous and wonderful secret, “ah, the Champ,” and then they let him pass. 

The Champ helped me out in Italy, too. Wandering the industrial zone around Lodi TBB station which was the only place my magazine could afford an office, where I watched whores trick on the tracks and Gypsies shoot up in the thin tree lines along the track, I found a coffee place tended by a lone and gaunt Italian. The bar, like many things in Italy, seemed from a different era. He had a photo of the Champ on the wall.  I said, “è il mio paesano,” as I waited on my coffee and the gaunt barista came over and started talking to me. We talked for awhile. I went to that coffee place for the rest of the time we had our offices there.

And when some neighborhood bullies acted like they were going to steal my bike one day when I was 11 or 12, my father taught me a few moves in my room and then I overheard him saying to my mother that he was going to send me to his friend Joe Martin’s gym if this went on. My mother groaned. It didn’t go on, so I never went.

Of course all these things could have happened had the Champ not been alive, but here are some that couldn’t have.

In the mid-1990s, my father met the Champ in the lobby of the Starks Building in Louisville, where he had his office. He was working late, as he often did, but it was a Friday and his secretary made him leave before it got too late. As they went towards the catwalk that led to the parking garage, they saw a gaggle of people surrounding the Champ. My dad slid through them and stuck out his hand. “Hello, Champ,” he said. The Champ already had Parkinson’s but smiled and took my father’s hand in his and made a little time for him. When my father caught up with his secretary, who walked faster than he did, she said, “I can’t believe you did that. That was Muhammed Ali.” He said, “I know.”

But that wasn’t the first time he saw him. He saw him walking down Walnut Street by himself in the late summer of 1960, right after he’d won the gold medal in Rome, the one they say he threw in the Ohio River later. My father said he was walking down Walnut Street by himself like he owned the place. He didn’t then, but he would.

There was no coffeeshop or restaurant or bar in Louisville that would have served him then and in the next year’s mayoral race, Louisville’s Fourth Street Democratic organization would run segregationist candidate William S. Milburn, president of the Board of Aldermen, against republican William O. Cowger.  Milburn lost overwhelmingly. By 1978, the Board of Aldermen had changed the name of Walnut Street to Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

***

Where I live, it was 117 degrees today. By the time the sun went down, it was only 107. I made it to four miles.  It’s a dry heat.

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Literary Lunches: Rebecca West

Today we’ll kick off what will hopefully be a literary lunch series, in which I’ll showcase a (usually) simple meal from a great book. 

Black Lamb & Grey FalconAll I had time for today was a quick lunch — a couple of slices of prosciutto di parma (Citterio, aged 420 days, Trader Joe’s; $6.49 for 4 oz.) on a leftover hunk of pain de campagne (Leonora’s; de-thawed free “sympathy loaf” given to me the day before Snowzilla). This spartan lunch reminded me of Dragutin, Rebecca West’s chauffeur in the Macedonia chapter of Black Lamb, Grey Falcon. All I’m missing is some good Hungarian, or better, Serbian paprika. 

 

On the step of the automobile Dragutin sat and ate his lunch between the two young soldiers, who had the dutiful and dedicated look I have noticed so often in Yugoslav conscripts. His lunch was, as always, ascetic and chosen in accordance with the principles of sympathetic magic: he liked lean meat and rough black bread and paprika, and he regarded as weakening all soft and slippery things like butter and kaymak and sardines.

Certainly no sardines on my sandwich. But if only one could get some decent njeguški pršut around here. 

Njeguška pršuta

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The Economics of Cover Charges

pettibon collage shirt

“Let’s raise the price at the door. How much tonight? Three thousand or four?”

Today’s post is inspired by a friend who got into an internet tussle over cover charges in his local music scene. I discovered that there wasn’t enough good writing on cover charge economics, so I give you the following:

Touring bands have contacts that they insist on and that agents push get clubs and promotors to sign because they need to finance the tour somehow. They need income and they need to avoid prospective costs; e.g., van breaks down and they have to crash in a hotel for three nights while it gets fixed. They’re certainly not getting rich either but they actually have to get paid to make it to the next city and eat etc. So naturally touring bands charge more for their shows.

Local bands are different because all their costs are sunk costs. The rent on the practice space, the gear, etc. — it’s all paid for by the time you get up on stage. So it’s your choice: you can charge $12, or $7, or $5 (if you really have nostalgia for 1983), or $0.

I think the fundamental assumption one must make is that most local rock musicians are hobbyists and thus irrational actors who are going to play no matter what. The price at that point is just a symbol that you put on something and for whatever nostalgic, and not economic, reason, many people in the independent music scene have seized on that magical $5 figure.

Anyone who is not on welfare or committed to going out 7 nights a week can afford $2 more. The idea that an average person with a job who can’t afford an extra $2 is a framing effect — a great example of cognitive bias. 

Someone who thinks that the extra $2 ($0.84 in 1983, by the way) is not affordable suffers from loss aversion — the commonly held perception that it’s worse to lose something than to gain something. (That is, that most people would rather get $2 discount than avoid a $2 charge.) In this case, the haters are averse to losing the extra $2 in their pocket and don’t realize that they gain more quality local rock.

The rational economic actor and hobbyist rocker in this case should then ask the bar to charge a $7 cover and then give everyone a drink ticket for a $2 beer.

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The Miss – Live in Louisville

Back in 2000, I was living in Baltimore and fronting a band called The Miss. We were invited to play in my hometown of Louisville at a birthday party for local musician and man about town, Chad Castetter. Being the Friday after Thanksgiving, it was a gala homecoming affair and, with about 300 in attendance, was without a doubt the biggest crowd we played to in our short two year career.

The show was at a space managed by a certain Mia, who also managed the Mercury Paw on Main Street (previously known as the Zodiac). The place was a former strip club — note the pole and mirrors onstage — and last time I checked, which was over Labor Day, had been burnt to the ground. The Paw, of course, is part of the historic Whiskey Row renovation effort.

It was our second show and we played a short set including “Vast Deference” which was a tune from the Brogues, my previous band with co-conspirator and drummer Damir.

Tyler Trotter, then of Strike City and now of Watter, set the show up. Strike City opened and featured a stripper as the closer of their act — that’s what the initial interview, which I included here, is about. (For a different take on the exotic dancer, see this piece in Never Nervous.) Also on the bill (but not in this clip) were good friends Front Porch Campaign and precursor band to Phantom Family Halo, Starkiller.

Technical note: BMX superstar Jimmy Levan filmed this on a digital video camera, so cutting edge at the time that we had to transfer it to VHS. The transfer then made it back onto DVDs at some more recent point, the digital originals having long been lost by the time digital became standard.

 

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Our Sea

I’m glad that the Washington Post has finally decided to do a decent piece on immigration to Italy — essentially, the reason that Premesso started back in 2010, and the issue that I decided to start writing about in Italy in 2008. Their piece focuses on the Mare Nostrum law in Italy, a complete liberalization of the past decade of immigration policy as promulgated by the Bossi-Fini law.

Mimmo Paladino (b 1948, Italy), Porta di Lampedusa - Porta d'Europa (2008).

Mimmo Paladino (b 1948, Italy), Porta di Lampedusa – Porta d’Europa (2008).

This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented do not represent the U.S. Department of State.

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Against Our Vanishing

I know this would happen soon. But I hoped it wouldn’t.

Allen Grossman, January 7, 1932 – June 27, 2014.

“Poetry is a principle of power invoked by all of us against our vanishing. The making of poems is a practice — a work human beings can do — in which civilization has invested some part of its love of itself and the world.  The poem is a trace of the will of all persons to be known and to make known and, therefore, to be at all.”

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You All Want a Pepsi-Coke?

I’ve always enjoyed dialects, and I’ve had the good fortune to live in a few places with strong dialect areas, from Torlak to Veneto to Cantonese. But what about American dialects? Are we too young of a nation to really have them, as our transatlantic cousins might assert? I don’t think so.

I had fun with this dialect quiz today. Here’s my result, which put me squarely as a southerner, even if I don’t have an accent.

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 12.59.43 PM

A Paducahan first told me that “you all” marks someone as a Kentuckian — here’s some statistical proof —  and the quiz reflects that. Each question seems to have a couple of very rare words or phrases that will mark you as being from a certain area. (This goes beyond the usual coke/pop/soda or sub/hoagie/grinder marker. Some of the words for tractor trailer or, as I said as a kid, 18-wheeler, truly baffled me.) For example, I always heard my North Carolinian grandmother call a rainstorm while the sun was shining “the devil beating his wife behind the door” — maybe not native to Kentucky, but a Southernism at any rate.

I got to the quiz via this write-up in the Washington Post about Joshua Katz’s map of where people say soda, coke and pop. I’m not exactly sure why the Post is running the feature now, when it seems like Katz’s maps came out a year ago, but they’re a lot of fun anyway.

Here’s a competing map and post. I think “dope” for a sweet carbonated beverage has likely died out, but I seem to remember hearing adults talk about it when I was a kid — “and over in Virginia, they call it dope.” One usage that gets omitted that I often heard in Eastern Kentucky is the combined “Pepsi-coke” — Pepsi being the brand name, “coke” being the marker for what kind of beverage it is. Then there is also the term “cocola”, which I could never get a read on — was the first syllable short for “Coke”? In the comments, the discussion about how to offer a stranger a non-alcoholic drink in abstemious Virginia is pretty fascinating.  Doubtlessly how we talk says a lot about who settled the area that we call home and what their — and our — values are. (Incidentally, why do so many southerners — including Louisvillians — get so revolted at the word ‘pop’? Quaint, yes, but nothing to get, uh, fizzed up about.)

Take the quiz yourself! There’s a longer form one here that looks like Dr Vaux’s original one that the NYT one was based on, but the maps have been disabled, so less fun. There are more questions, and more sample answers (including the aforementioned “cocola”), however, if you want to get an idea of what people all over the world who speak English call things like bank machines, water bugs, and sub sandwiches.

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