Tuesday, January 31, 2012

'Hemingway's Boat'

Longtime friends and anybody who's wasted any time here at Pull Up a Chair can you tell you how much I admire the writing of Ernest Miller Hemingway.

You know why. Economy of language. When he was good, he was brilliant. (When he was bad, he was boorish, but that's a different story.)

Anyway, I'm reading a new book, "Hemingway's Boat" by Paul Hendrickson. Saw it at Barnes and Noble and checked it out from the library.

Good stuff. The author is taking a unique approach, using Hemingway's beloved boat The Pilar to frame a narrative around Papa's loves and losses from 1934 until his 1961 suicide.

I awoke with a start about 4:30 a.m. Picked up the book.

Just finished a heartbreaking chapter about Arnold Samuelson, a would-be writer who spent a little more than a year as a caretaker for The Pilar in Key West as a young man. He never quite recovered.

Frustrated as a writer, obviously suffering from bipolar disorder, Samuelson lived out the remaining years of his life as the local eccentric in a small Texas town called Robert Lee. He sold a couple of stories to magazines during his life, but barely talked, even to his family, about his brief friendship with Hemingway again.

Hendrickson includes a quote from Scott Fitzgerald that sent shivers up my spine:

"A writer not writing is practically a maniac within himself."

After his death, Samuelson's daughter discovered a yellowing manuscript that detailed her father's stint on Hemingway's boat. It was published in 1984 as "With Hemingway." It's next on my reading list.

Hendrickson writes with both a fresh approach and a lively voice. I never thought I'd ever again find a nonfiction work about Hemingway that would get me all giddy.

Congratulations, Paul. I'm losing sleep over your fine work. And loving it.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Webb gems on vinyl, via a guy named Glen

January has been tough to the Mabe household. Sickness and other stuff have given us a few weeks of rough water. So yesterday I briefly indulged in a much-needed diversion.

I can't remember if I ever told you I collect vinyl albums, particularly those of my two favorite singers, Elvis Presley and Glen Campbell. It can get to be an expensive hobby, especially when you're on a budget, so I usually only buy a few records a year.

But, I had a little Christmas money in my pocket and I wanted to check out the new location of Knoxville's coolest vinyl shop, Lost and Found Records on North Broadway. Maria and the gang have moved across the street into what appears to be a remodeled home. It's one cool joint.

I surfed through the Elvis section and didn't see any surprises. (One of these days, I'm going to find a good copy of the rare black-vinyl version of "Moody Blue" and not have to take out a second mortgage to pay for it. Or at least that's the dream.)

Then I made my way back to the country music section. And, yep, I found about five or six Glen Travis Campbell albums I didn't own. Most of these are Capitol recordings from Campbell's heyday as a popular singer (roughly 1967-77).

I know what you're thinking. "Hey, pal. It's 2012! Where's your iPod?"

Well, I listen to one nearly every day, but I'll go to my grave insisting the best way to get a stark, "live" sound is from a clear vinyl record played on good equipment.

Yesterday, I listened to one of my favorite albums, Campbell's "Live at the Royal Festival Hall," released in 1978. Highlights include a beautiful version of "Galveston" reworked to a slower tempo per composer Jimmy Webb's original composition, a give-it-all-you've-got cover of Webb's "MacArthur Park," a nice tribute to the Beach Boys (Campbell subbed for an ill Brian Wilson in the mid-60s) and a beautiful song I'd never heard before called "Streets of London." That's the great thing about these old albums -- getting to hear songs that have disappeared into the mists of time. You can hear it here.

Listening to Campbell in his vocal prime, backed by an orchestra, weaving through all those Jimmy Webb gems, well, it was just what this ol' fella needed yesterday. Better than a million bucks.

"Live at the Royal Festival Hall" is available for digital download, if you must. But, you won't have near as much fun as I did listening to the vinyl yesterday.

Nope, nope. Don't even try to tell me otherwise.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

What did I ever see in you?

Have you ever re-watched a film you once thoroughly enjoyed only to think "What the heck was I thinking?"

And I'll ask the question the other way, too. Did you watch a movie when you were 15 that still held up nearly 20 years later?

Had both experiences over the weekend. One was great. One wasn't.

The film that held up -- and I don't care if you crucify me over this -- was "Saturday Night Fever." The one that didn't, much to my disappointment, was "Any Which Way You Can."

I may be one of about five people to admit it (sadly, critic Gene Siskel is no longer around to agree), but I think "Saturday Night Fever," the 1977 John Travolta film that forever stitched disco into the American experience, is a darn good movie.

Yes, it's dated. But that's the point. Like George Lucas's "American Graffiti" and Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show," "Fever" captures a moment in time -- in this case late '70s Bay Ridge, Brooklyn -- better than any history book ever could.

Everybody remembers the bell bottoms and the Bee Gees, but what has managed to fade from our collective memory of "Fever" is the story itself, a good one, about a young man named Tony Manero (Travolta) who knows he's headed nowhere and wants to escape his dead-end life. That narrative is as universal as good vs. evil. Travolta delivers his best film performance (save, probably, his turn in "Pulp Fiction") as a guy who overcomes the drabness of everyday life by living it up on Saturday nights.

It's a sad story and a dark one, too. Its language and situations are rough in parts, but director John Badham had the guts to go behind the glitter of the disco's flashing lights and point his cameras toward the uglier aspects of the urban America of the period. The film has some rather pointed things to say about religion, too. There's no way it would be made in this politically correct era, which says something about how much we haven't advanced as a culture.

Now let's switch gears.

Saturday night we were looking to watch something completely stupid. We needed a break. We needed a laugh.

DirecTV was offering a free HBO preview and I recorded "Any Which Way You Can," my favorite of the two offbeat movies Clint Eastwood made with an orangutan. I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved this movie 20-plus years ago. I'm also not ashamed to now say it sucks.

I don't know who came up with the idea to pair Eastwood with "Clyde," but the first film, "Every Which Way But Loose," was a box office success in 1978. The sequel didn't do as well, but for whatever reason I liked it better. I rather vividly remember watching its network broadcast probably around 1982 or '83. And I can remember renting the film back when one still had to go to a brick-and-mortar video store.

I guess my tastes matured (one hopes that ones sensibilities don't peak in early adolescence) because watching this film all these years later was positively painful.

Other than a few scenes between Eastwood and Clyde, the film just wasn't funny. The acting, particularly that of Sondra Locke (Eastwood's girlfriend at the time), was atrocious. We weren't expecting much but this film makes "Smokey and the Bandit" look like "Citizen Kane." About all I can say for it is the song "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma," some nice location scenes in Jackson, Wyo., and a brief appearance by Glen Campbell.

Such is growing up, I guess. Looking at the reruns now, I have no idea why I used to like "Green Acres" and "Bosom Buddies," either.

Oh, pointless junk, what did I ever see in you?

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Here's to a new year

Hi gang.

Hope you all are doing well. I took a little blogging break around the Christmas holiday and am now back to reality. Here's to getting through the first five-day week in awhile...

We had a good time over the weekend. I took Jenn to Ruth's Chris for her birthday. Talk about good. Talk about expensive!

But that's OK because it was a special occasion and the food really was something special. The filet was fantastic.

Saturday night Jenn's mom fixed cube steaks and roast. Winning!

Last night, my mom bought a Louis' spaghetti family pack for Jenn's third birthday dinner of the weekend. Ca-ching!

Today I'm going to go on one of my little rants. Most of you know how much I enjoy popular culture from yesteryear. One of my all-time favorite programs was the witty, urbane CBS game show of the 1950s and '60s, "What's My Line?"

GSN aired reruns for years. It was 30 minutes of genteel fun, a reminder of a time when celebrities didn't by and large dress and/or act like slobs and game show panelists and moderators could think and talk in complete sentences.

For some reason GSN suddenly stopped showing the reruns in 2009. And then, out of nowhere, they teased us around Christmas 2010 and Christmas 2011 by airing a week's worth of episodes around the holidays. You don't know how much I wish they'd bring this little gem back. Often it was an oasis in the desert, a diamond among the dregs.

Not all of us want to see Kim and Khloe in New York, whoever the hell they are, or the cast of "Jersey Shore," whatever the hell that is.

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