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Jan142022

Movie Review: “Being the Ricardos” (2021)

4/5 of 5 stars

Aaron Sorkin’s gonna Aaron Sorkin. Meaning there’s great dialogue in this movie, it’s brilliantly acted and a lot of the big speeches mean less than they originally seem to. But Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem knock it out as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on a fateful week of their career when the Lucy Show is threatened with cancellation.

You’ll obviously enjoy this more if you are fan of vintage television and mid-century America. If you aren’t its still a great movie about how hard it is to work with someone you are also married to/involved with/releated to. Frankly I don’t know how say, The Coen Brothers or Beyonce and Jay Z do it.

Jan102022

Book Review: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese FalconThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading pulpy noir is so fun and seductive and delicious that you can whip right past how appallingly sexist and retrograde it can feel. Or you can not care about all of that and then I’d wonder if you hate women as much as Sam Spade clearly does.

Mr. Hammett spent the better part of his life romantically involved with Lillian Hellman, a mid-century force of nature, author of many of the greatest plays of the American theater and a survivor of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. I doubt Ms. Hellman would have put up with the kind of misogyny we see here in her lover’s protagonist: Sam Spade only sees women as objects to be kissed, banged, lectured to or slapped.

Ok, so know that gong in. Since this is perhaps the most famous noir novel of all time, you probably know the rest already: A murder, a femme fatale, men in black raincoats and shadowy glances across darkened streets. But its famous because it perfected most of those cliches and made them so tangible you feel as though you could visit the Stockton Tunnel in San Francisco and, at its base, find the body of the first victim of “Maltese Falcon” still lying on the pavement below.

If noir and its tics are your thing, this is the only place to start. And if you love San Francisco, that’s even better. The mystery and seduction of perhaps America’s most photographed city laid down in “The Maltese Falcon” holds on to us, nearly 100 years after Bridget O’Shaunessy walked into Sam Spade’s office that morning.

View all my reviews

Jan42022

Book Review” “The Practice: Shipping Creative Work” by Seth Godin

The Practice: Shipping Creative WorkThe Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I do wish the scope of Mr. Godin’s heart and its philosophy matched that of his ability to express it. I love what he says but often don’t synch up with how he says it. Maybe this is preference. Maybe wiring. He means so well and “the practice” (I am two days in to trying it) in a useful one. But in keeping with his message of “keep going, don’t stop” maybe a sustained argument rather than a bound volume of 200 snippets, thoughts and anecdotes?

I don’t know. It’s working for him and I’m happy to report its working for me. Which ultimately is the point. As a reading experience though, I’d say apply the old AA philosophy of take what you like and leave the rest and the newer Seth Godin of whatevr you need to do to get started, pivot or make a real change to become your authentic creative self, do it. Even if it means picking up this book a page at a time, circling back, underlining, and not quite understanding how it all adds up.

Don’t stop.

 

Jan32022

Greg Tate (1957-2021)

I have been thinking about the death of writer/curator/force of nature Greg Tate this entire month and my sadness has not left me. I did not know the man like so many writers I admire did. Instead I head about his books and essays about hip-hop, art and black culture from this generation of writers who taught me. Maybe that makes Mr. Tate, legacy-wise. like a great-uncle to the work I do. Or try to do.

Really though, what he created was too big, too magical and other-wordly for to pin it on my own chest. Reading him, listening to him in print or on television or radio was like discovering other planets, being thrown into the galaxies and knowing, instead of plummeting you would fly. 

Knowing we have read the last of his work is feeling like the sun has dropped out of the sky. 

Look at some of the titles of his obituaries…

That first one concluded thusly (bravo to its author, Jon Caramanica)

“By that point, Tate’s sui generis brilliance was widely acknowledged in our circles, and still barely touched by others. Showcasing his critical pirouetting was meant to serve as a beacon, and also a simple acknowledgment of the way he affected every writer I cared about and learned from — we’re all Tate’s children. I still buy “Flyboy” every time I see it in a bookstore. I never want to be too far away from it, lest I forget how vast the cosmos is.”


By “Flyboy”, Mr. Caramanica is referring to Flyboy in the Buttermilk, Tate’s first collection of essays published in 1992. The writer Jeff Chang and artist Tim’m West steered me to it during my early years in the Bay Area. If reading about music and art and the people who make it is act of redemption for you, Flyboy is like a volume of the Hebrew Bible.

I still have a few notes I scribbled down when I first read it all those years ago…

Reading “Flyboy”you realize you are in the presence of a genius, a voice reaching down from the cosmos unlike any you have ever heard. And so you forgive it when its once-in-a-while too twisted or loud or muffled or sharp. Because when it is quiet and you  are too, you are better for having heard it, better for your listening and it makes you want to be better as well.

Greg Tate died a week before Bell Hooks and two weeks before Joan Didion, writers he admired, knew and in their lifetimes, get many more trophies and honorary degrees than he did.  I’ve been distributing used copies of Flyboy to many wise men and women I know, who missed the word on Mr. Tate, the first time around. It’s a small gesture for an artist who knew and shared and gave so much. 

My friend and fellow writer Annie Zaleski once sat on a panel with Mr Tate and told me, shortly after his death, that the man, a generation’s worth of admirers did not scream out his gifts, did not ask you to praise them and led with a generosity of spirit that split through his work like light through glass. We weren’t simply gifted his imagination. His imagination showed us what we could be, how much brighter and smarter and far out. Apparently, he mentored dozens of young journalists too. 

Goodbye Mr. Tate. I’m late to a dream you opened right on time. 

Some of my favorite Greg Tate pieces are, in no real order

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