“They never fail who die in a great cause.” – George Gordon, Lord Byron
Statue of Byron at Missolonghi, Greece (image courtesy englishlanguageandhistory.com)
Today is Lord Byron’s 229th birthday.
Much of what is written about Byron focuses on his career as a poet and his life as a celebrity in Regency England. Part of the reason for that focus is that the life Byron led by both the standards of his own time and our own contemporary standards, scandalous.
His hedonistic lifestyle eventually made him such a social pariah in his homeland that he left England, as he claimed, forever. He probably did not think at the time that he would never return; he was only 28 years old. But in less than a decade he was dead, having achieved two things: he’d written his greatest poem, the brilliant epic satire Don Juan, and he’d joined the forces fighting for Greek independence from the Ottoman empire where he met his death from fever aided by incompetent doctors who likely gave him sepsis by bleeding him with non-sterile instruments.
The question, often debated, never resolved is, why did Byron risk – and lose – his life? Continue reading
” I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you.” – John Lennon
John Lennon (image courtesy Short List)
(Written for Scholars and Rogues)
Mark Twain once described his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as “A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”
Twain’s quote sums up the complex personality of our newest Scrogue, John Lennon – a sound heart often in collision with a deformed conscience.
Lennon’s achievements as a songwriter and musician are indisputable. With his songwriting partner (and lifelong friend Paul McCartney, he is arguably the premiere composer of the 29th century) and solo, he left a body of work that is alternately brilliant, haunting, and petulant. As a writer he is an experimenter of the first order, playing with language in ways that rival Joyce and Becket.
Even as we enter an age of not just indifference but open hostility to artistic achievement, his genius is undeniable. “If there’s such a thing as a genius – I am one. And if there isn’t, I don’t care” he once said of himself. Continue reading
“The… idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards.” – Neil Postman
I think maybe it started with John Wayne.
The Duke and the King of Cool (image courtesy MovieMarket)
That icon of of Real America® appeared in beer commercials for Coors – even though he’d been dead about fifteen years. I won’t spoil your day by embedding one of these atrocities, but I’ll provide a link so you can enjoy the work of whatever weasels the Real American Beer Company® hired who foisted upon the American public this ad for their reconstituted dog urine.
Resurrecting the Silent Generation’s favorite cowboy wasn’t enough for our consumer culture, though. Ford Motor Company, looking to begin selling Real American Cars® again since they’d ceded that task to smarter, more forward thinking car makers from our Old Mortal Enemy®, Japan, decided to add some cool to their
piece of junk – I mean innovative new car design by resurrecting a Baby Boomer icon (a guy so cool he got a name check in a Rolling Stones song), Steve McQueen. McQueen had been dead seventeen years.
And so we entered the era of the Undead cultural icon as marketing tool. Technology was harnessed to make us want to drink shitty beer because Hondo supposedly does or drive a shitty car because Frank Bullitt supposedly does. Continue reading
“People start acting stupid when a lot of money is involved, even people you think you know.” – J. Haviland, Goldhead
Goldhead by J. Haviland (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)
J. Haviland’s novel Goldhead is a couple of things at once: it’s a caper story (the modern thread of the story follows a group of WWII vets hired in 1959 by a shady tycoon to find a lost Spanish galleon’s treasure); it’s a history lesson (Haviland creates a fictional explorer’s journal similar to that of Bartolomé de las Casas that tells a parallel story of a 16th century conquistador’s expedition driven aground on the Florida coast by a hurricane that ends in disaster for all but the chronicler). Overarching both these narratives is the lust for gold – a fortune in gold from the Spanish colonial era that drives the behavior of the conquistador and his crew as well as that of the WWII vets and their crooked boss.
The novel is composed in alternating chapters and alternates between the Spanish expedition and the 1959 treasure seekers. Two things become obvious for the reader as this alternating plot structure unfolds: Haviland handles this plot structure beautifully, and avarice and greed separated by 430 years act in exactly the same way upon 16th and 20th psyches. Continue reading
“The people who screwed you on your way to rock stardom will screw you on your way down – the people you screwed will try to get even.” – Jay Breeze, “The Rock and Roll Handbook”
Would be Beatles circa 1975 – author at front right
I mentioned in my last essay that Larry Kane’s book When They Were Boys seemed problematic to me because Kane seemed to lack empathy with The Beatles even though he knew them rather intimately as a young reporter about the same age as the lads when he covered their 1964, ’65, and ’66 tours of America. It seems to me that Kane’s book is a possible example of what one person who commented on my piece thinks of when using the now bowdlerized term “fair and balanced“: in an effort to maintain “journalistic distance” and “objectivity,” reporters put themselves into the position of failing to admit (even embrace) their biases and accept their subjectivity. They thus set themselves up to make false equivalences that render what they mean to be “the accurate truth” neither accurate nor truthful.
That’s part of the problem with When They Were Boys. Continue reading
“In Liverpool, no one ever really walks alone.” – Larry Kane
How much do stars owe to those who helped them become stars?
When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)
That is the central question in Larry Kane’s latest book on The Beatles, When They Were Boys. Kane has the credentials to ask such a question – he traveled as part of the press entourage attached to The Fabs during their entire 1964 and 1965 tours (and most of their 1966 tour). In that period he met many of the key players in the background of what is historically called Beatlemania: Brian Epstein, the record store executive who became their manager and paternal figure; Tony Barrow and Derek Taylor, two brilliant journalists and PR experts who helped the rising band become a media tsunami; Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, and Tony Bramwell, local Liverpool mates who served as protectors, gofers, and confidants for the guys at the center of the maelstrom; and an array of former supporters, promoters, and club owners/managers ranging from Alan Williams (who died on the last day of the heinous 2016) to deposed Beatle Pete Best’s mother Mona to Sam Leach, a promoter who helped The Beatles gain better engagements and expand their reach beyond Liverpool to Manchester and other cities.
Each has a story to tell – and an ax to grind. Continue reading
“In sheer impotency he returned to the house, greeting with bitter tears the new unknown life which was now beginning for him…. What will that life be?” – Anton Chekhov
Sometimes even a great writer runs into the wall.
Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Biography.com)
As I mentioned in my last essay, I’d been working my way through the Everyman Library edition of Chekhov’s stories. The longest story (really a novella) is called “The Steppe” and is, perhaps, something of an autobiographical work. Unlike most Chekhov works, it is a rambling, discursive narrative, episodic, at times slightly incoherent, yet ultimately satisfying a much for its insight into the workings of a great writer’s mind as it is for the work itself.
I’ve explored this topic before with one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, and to discover this same struggle with a work in another writer whose canon status is inviolate is a pleasurable surprise. Not because I’m looking for feet of clay in a great writer, but because discovering a great writer working to overcome a writing difficulty. In Austen’s case it is that she tries to write her usual comedy of manners with a heroine more suited to a novel by one of the Bronte sisters. In Chekhov’s story, the problems – well, let’s get to them, shall we? Continue reading