Thursday, January 03, 2008
BooksFirst - December 2007
Sin City: The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller
Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd
Mushroom by John Aristotle Phillips and David Michaelis
I’m With The Band by Pamela Des Barres
In clearing the nightstand for NaJuReMoNo, I ran across several non-fiction books that I wanted to get out of the way as well as one graphic novel I just stumbled on.
I borrowed the box set of Sin City from my brother-in-law and made it a father-son movie night. The box set comes with a bound copy of “The Hard Goodbye”, the first volume of collected stories. I think the point was to prove the faithfulness of the movie to the source material. Indeed, most of the dialog is lifted directly from graphic novel. A few lines are cut (and may be restored in the longer cut which I didn’t watch), but image for image, the screen captures the style of Frank Miller’s monochromatic style.
While the Sin City milieu tries to be noir and edgy, the anti-heroes are as superhuman as any hero in spandex pajamas. The dark tone evokes the pre-comics code morality plays. While the stories are gritty and over-the-top, I don’t think I’ll be heading down to Old Town in Basin City any time soon.
Since my sock puppet Mo Modo writes the leading internet Maureen Dowd fansite blog, the Dowd Report, I felt it incumbent on me to read Dowd's book Are Men Necessary? when it came out in paperback. This is as not as big an omission as it would seem. When the book first came out it was heavily excerpted in both the New York Times and the Washington Post. Furthermore, I had already read significant portions while lounging around BigBoxOfBooks. Still it was good to get a good stiff slug of Her Dowdness all in one helping. Finding the book was tougher than it should have been. Rather than following the helpful categories the publisher had supplied, BBoB files it under Psychology-Self Help. If you are looking for Maureen Dowd for advice, you are in trouble.
The book is all about relationships from the evolving roles of the sexes biologically to the nature of women in the political arena. The chapters each loosely tackle a different subject and are written as a series of short 800 word essays, many of which look and sound like her New York Times columns. She takes on “The Rules” and the rulers. She peppers the narrative with anecdotes nearly to the point of too much information. In the section on Anita Hill, she relates how she was hit on between jobs and how she ignored it and carried on with her career. She chronicles the lecherous behavior of elected leaders up to and including Bill Clinton. In her trademarked phrase twisting, she observes that “The Bushes feel the entitlements of the aristocracy. The Clintons feel the entitlement of the meritocracy.” And adds “What is Hillary owed?” That is a theme she is still exploring twice a week until November.
When I was in high school I went through a radical libertarian phase and was fascinated by, among other things, the threat of backpack nukes. My paranoia was justified by two books, The Curve Of Binding Energy by John McPhee and Mushroom: The Story of the A-Bomb Kid by John Aristotle Phillips and David Michaelis. In a fit of nostalgia, I bought both of these books used off the internet a few years back. John Phillips was a Princeton student during the late 70s in danger of flunking out when he wrote a junior year project on how to build a kiloton-range nuclear device for a few thousand dollars (assuming you had the plutonium). The only sources were public domain government documents. His project was partially inspired by The Curve of Binding Energy that predicted a small nuclear device could destroy the World Trade Center and wreak havoc on downtown Manhattan. It turns out that the terrorists didn’t need a nuke, but the effect was similar.
I thought of Mushroom when all the current turmoil in Pakistan cropped up recently. One of the central set pieces in the book is when a clumsy Pakistani diplomat tires to get a copy of the project to aid in Pakistan’s “peaceful” nuclear program. This set off a round of hand-wringing over the wisdom of selling breeder reactors to third world countries, but clearly Pakistan got what they wanted in the long term. The rest of the book is much more light hearted as it chronicles the years Phillips spent at Princeton. The book was written by him and his best friend while they were both in their early twenties and it shows a certain lack of polish. Despite this, it is breezy and funny and just a bit prescient.
I also went through a phase where I read a lot of rock biographies. One book that was always mentioned was I’m With The Band by super-groupie Pamela Des Barres. For years I scoured used bookstores for a copy of this underground classic to no avail. The closest I got was Powell’s in Portland that had a first edition for more money than I wanted to spend. Another book dealer tipped me off that books like that go in and out of print fairly regularly. Sure enough, a new edition came out in 2005. I started it but found the early chapters tough slogging and it has been languishing on my nightstand waiting for me to finish it off.
There is no doubt that Pamela was in the right place at the right time if your goal was to sleep with as many rock stars as possible. The notches on her bedpost include Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, Jim Morrison (heavy necking only), Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, and Mick Jagger. And these were not one night stands. Whether they amounted to real relationships is a different question, but they definitely occupied some middle ground. Rock stars that knew her recognize her today and the ones that shouldn’t (like Paul McCartney) still act nervous. One of her more permanent flings was with an aspiring actor named Don Johnson long before he quit wearing socks and started wearing pastels. Her descriptions of his clearly abusive behavior and the eyewitness accounts of his courting the fourteen-year-old Melanie Griffith are downright creepy. She also spent time as the nanny to Dweezil and Moon after having a professional relationship with Frank Zappa while she was in the no-hit wonder band The GTOs.
The book is borderline stream-of-consciousness incoherent with frequent passages from her contemporaneous journals that are even more disjointed. They say that if you remember the 60s or 70s you weren’t there. Well, she was there and has the memories to prove it. This edition has a new afterword catching up the narrative a little. Many of her associates from that era, famous and otherwise, did not survive to the 21st century. While Des Barres has no regrets over her rather chemical and hormone fueled youth, she was one of the lucky ones, in many ways.