Monday, February 22, 2010

Knife Thrower's Sonata

The Knife Thrower’s Sonata

Hemingway did his work, and he’ll last. Any biographer who gives him less than this, granting the chaos of his public and personal life, might just as well as write the biography of an anonymous grocer, or a wooly mammoth. Hemingway, the writer he’s still the hero of the story, however it unfolds.” Raymond Carver

My mother taught me: never leave the house without a book. You might get stuck in a line out there. The waiting room of a dentist’s office. Freeway. Runway. I left for Europe with a bag of heavy books, which included: “The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink;” with fine essays by Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Leibling. Also books about two Raymonds: Chandler and Carver. The Chandler bio by Hinney, and the new Raymond Carver bio by Carol Skelenicka. Chandler was a maestro of hard-boiled detective literature – and Carver brought suburban noir-realism to the American short story. Both writers mastered American lingo, character and the backwater emotional landscapes of the Promised Land. Both men pretty much drank themselves into the graves. Writers. Sagas of two Americans who traversed the nether land of fame and publishing world. Critics – Hollywood – fortune – lossredemption. Marriage ups and downs. Drink. The carny wheel spins round: Drunk. Sober. Drying Out. Off the wagon. Under the wagon. They wrote their way through all of it. Chandler (after he was dead of course) was slagged by some fellow writers, including popular novelist Joyce Carol Oates – who declared Chandler and his detective Marlowe: “racist and misogynist.” Oh, Christ, please. New York critics deemed Carver’s work dreary and depressing. Welcome to the world of high brow, arch-political correctness and snobbery. Look out, folks; here comes the “new fiction!” The children of Joyce Carol Oates. Boring me to tears. But ah, Chandler and Carver…it’s a reminder of the work; then the later criticism of Hemingway –Hem’s work may seem dated to some; overly macho to others; out of date and style. But much of it will last because it was made with an artist’s honesty and passion; an accurate ear, a proven B.S. detector; and a whittled character that is lacking in much of today’s fiction. Style. But, oh mama, the morally-toned snobs love to kick the old lions when they’re down or dead. Ah, the hyenas and knife throwers…enough!...some final words from Chandler:

Apparently Hemingway was very sick when he wrote the book (“Across the River and Into The Trees”) and he put down in a rather cursory way how that made him feel…I suppose those primping second guessers who call themselves critics think he shouldn’t have written the book at all. Most men wouldn’t have…that’s the difference between a champ and a knife thrower, the champ may have lost his stuff temporarily or permanently, he can’t be sure. But when he can no longer throw the high hard one, he throws his heart instead. He throws something. He doesn’t just walk off the mound and weep.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cactus Cafe Obscenity

Something is happening here,

and you don‘t know what it is,

Do you?... Mr. Jones.

Bob Dylan, The Ballad of a Thin Man.

I was high above the Arctic Circle, in the Norwegian town of Tromso (The Paris of the North) when I recieved the word that the Cactus Cafe in Austin, on the University campus, was being forced to close. I was playing a great rock and roll room that night in Tromso; I’ve played 10,000 venues all over the world in the past forty years (from Skid Row Canada on up to the David Letterman show)and I would rate the Cactus Cafe in the top 5 music rooms. The insult of closing a culturally important venue was heard round the globe; it reached me in the far north. University presidents and student council groups are never known for their insight, guts and feelings – with regard to decisions which impact deeper levels of a community, and the future of the arts. I’ve seen both sides of the game. I recieved my Master’s Degree in Criminology from the University of California (as referenced on Blood and Candle Smoke) and decided music was a more important calling, for myself ; then worked my way up from the bars. I’ve seen a lot of sleezeballs and thieves in the music game, but nothing that compares with the drone-like, day to day decision making cowardice of the academic tribe. The University system has failed us.(The dead fornicating with the dead – to quote The Bard.) Colleges are turning out robotic accountants and morally warped bank ceo’s and parasite scientists sucking on the fat teat of the grant system. Campuses are strangely remote places where people walk like zombies through the fear vaccum and occasionly slaughter other people (Alabama and Virginia) because the vibe is deathly cold, isolate and fearful. When these things happen the University system reaches out and pretends to be part of the community at large. Only when they need sympathy. They NEED The Cactus Cafe in that vacuum. The University of Texas pays it’s football coach five million dollars, so I’ve heard. Put that into perspective of the Cactus Cafe losing money. Music, literature and art are the honest lifeblood and the deep current which helps heals the greater community. Live music – what’s left of it –is vastly important. AUSTIN Texas,once one of the most important music centers in the world, is turning into a soulless freeway; a clotted adjunct to Interstate 35. I keep thinking of that hole in the wall back in Griff Lundberg’s Cactus Cafe office - worn through by his hard working boots over the last thirty years. They’ll tear that wall out over shrieking body. Shame on the University of Texas and it’s Ballad of a Thin Man President. Something is happening here...and you don‘t know what it is....

Tom Tussell, Tromso Norway.