The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — December 2007

Phebe Hanson

nsf-cover.jpgAsk anyone to name a famous Minnesota writer and the name Garrison Keillor will probably burst from their lips. Garrison is definitely an institution. I first started listening to him when, as a young man, he broadcast a program from the old University of Minnesota radio station (now called Radio K). He still had his full voice then and was just as funny. Garrison is good, but there are others you may not have heard of.

Phebe Hanson is one. She’s a true writer whom fame has not spoiled (perhaps because fame has never found her), a grand old dame in the Norwegian manner, full of good humor, wise sayings, and a persona larger than life. Her readings are special. If you can still find one, go to it. Her poems are like conversational anecdotes which are ironic, beautiful, and often touch the heart. Phebe has numerous friends in the arts community which she has always supported generously with her time. Bless you, Phebe. Do you feel the love?

Phebe Hanson’s books are published by the Nodin Press.

December 23, 2007   Comments Off on Phebe Hanson

I’m Not There

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I got a copy (a legal one) of the soundtrack “I’m Not There.” This is after seeing the film. My only comments are that watching Christian Bale lip sync Mason Jennings singing “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is an out-of-body experience. I love the ballad, though. No matter how many times I listen, it still breaks my heart, even if Christian Bale is doing it. It was a strange experience because for a moment I thought Bale was really singing. When I ripped the album (2 cd’s), I kept only two tracks, Mira Billotte’s version of “I Went Out One Morning” and Jack Johnson’s rendition of “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind.” The bass riffs on “I Went Out One Morning” are so good that it’s worth downloading the track from iTunes (in my humble opinion). So is Billotte’s voice, which is otherworldly. Anyway, I liked the premise of the film–the idea of having six discontinuous Dylans–and the English actresses were special. Who could not fall in love with Julianne Moore? But, alas, it was next to impossible to see any real connection between the six actors and Dylan himself. I suppose, even in that, there is something Dylan-like. No trace of Bob Dylan in a film devoted to him.

December 22, 2007   Comments Off on I’m Not There

On Spontaneity

Jean Rhys, the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, one of the major novels of the last century, said that the adulation from its publication “came too late.” By that she meant her bitterness at not finding an audience in the prior years had undermined her sense of self to the point where no amount of praise could fix it. Every serious writer without an audience understands this sentiment all too well. I suspect that many successful writers do as well. Whenever I look into Cormac McCarthy’s eyes staring at me from one of his book covers, I have to look away. That stare is too frightening. He has looked into the void too long. There is only one antidote to such brooding. Laughter. Unrestrained, boisterous, spontaneous laughter. Throwing caution to the wind and speaking one’s mind. Not rehearsing a single word. Trusting oneself enough to know that you are allowed to be wholly and completely yourself.

Easy to say but hard to do, you say?

Perhaps.

It takes real courage to be true to yourself. But is the stultifying alternative worth the boredom of measuring everything you say against how it will be received? Of never speaking your mind? Not once ever expressing the deepest feelings in your heart?

December 21, 2007   Comments Off on On Spontaneity

American Psycho

My young nephew in Seattle, who is a writer and English major, mentioned how much he had been influenced by the novel American Psycho. Curious, I bought a copy and read it. The New York Times called it a brilliant satire of American life. I don’t think this even comes close to describing what the novel represents. It’s brilliantly written, with hardly one wrong note–like listening to a Mozart quartet performed by professionals in the rough, old shell of St. Mark’s Cathedral. It is not satire, however, but a metaphor for modern Americans and how we operate in the world–materialistic, drugged, empty spiritually with non-functioning consciences, and sadistic to the point of being cannibals. When confronted with such material, it is easy to see why my Christian friends consider the world essentially evil. I wish I could agree, but their vision of God is the stuff of Marvel Comics. Simply reading this novel sullies me and reduces my humanity, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We need to look at ourselves head-on, if we are ever going to change.

December 20, 2007   Comments Off on American Psycho

To Death

Each night I raise my glass, “To death,” I say, “To death,” and feel God’s presence as a tingling sensation along my arms like a bird taking flight, and know that one such breath will be my last and wait for it like a child yearning for his mother.

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December 20, 2007   Comments Off on To Death

Day of Weird Shit

Yesterday, after taking the plunge and blogging for the first time, I decided to do a search on my name to see if Google had listed my blog. I had, of course. Google is amazing. But I found something even more surprising. My books were listed on Amazon. This was strange because I hadn’t listed them, nor had my publisher (I published them myself). What had transpired became instantly obvious. I had printed copies and sent them to literary agents in the hope they would read my work if I gave them such pristine copies. (By the way, self-publishing is ridiculously easy.) Of course, only a few agents expressed any interest in the work, and, eventually, all of these rejected it. This is natural and normal. What I didn’t expect was that they would sell my novels to book agents, who listed them on Amazon for a profit. I’m laughing as I write this. There is no depth to which a literary agent will not go. They are worse than worms. There is no place in Dante’s hell hot enough for them.

December 20, 2007   Comments Off on Day of Weird Shit

Dylan (Cont.)

Dylan is a public example of someone who lost his connection with his genius, and we can study him and the changes he’s gone through precisely because he is so public. He never stopped writing and working even when he probably should have. After his accident, I cringed whenever I watched him perform. It was frightfully embarrassing. He sounded like a screeching parody of himself–a parrot pretending he was Bob Dylan. This is interesting because nations can also lose their identities, as we have now.

December 20, 2007   Comments Off on Dylan (Cont.)

Dylan’s Motorcycle Accident

Dylan’s music changed dramatically after his motorcycle accident. How someone so talismanic could become that clichéd in the course of several months is an odd mystery. It was as if a quack had performed surgery on his voice and removed everything that was special about it. I know a number of people who actually prefer his music after he lost his voice (or, they would say, found it), which is even more mysterious to me. That he continued singing until he became a sad caricature of himself was odder still. And, then, even more mysterious, he found himself again forty years later. A portrait in real courage.

December 20, 2007   Comments Off on Dylan’s Motorcycle Accident