Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Saturday, February 15, 2003

Well, I saw “Chicago” Saturday, and I must say I was disappointed.

No, not in the movie. It is very entertaining, and may even deserve all the awards it has been racking up. I was disappointed Catherine Zeta-Jones was so GOOD in the movie.

I’d always relished not caring for Zeta-Jones. I’d seen a few of her movies, like “Entrapment” and “America’s Sweethearts,” and I found her over-ripe and under-talented. Her much-vaunted good looks appeared artificially enhanced to a near-ridiculous degree (pancake make-up anyone?), and her acting seemed adequate at best. The make-up looked so thick, in fact, I suspected she was hiding a bad case of acne scars, and I took to calling her Catherine Zit-Jones. When she married Michael Douglas, I thought -- Ah hah! Starlet marries Oscar-winner 25 years her senior to get ahead in show biz.

Now that I have seen the Welsh performer in “Chicago,” though, I may have to quit calling her Zit-Jones. (And not just because my wife yells at me every time I do it.) Zeta-Jones is dynamite in the movie, and the make-up even seems to fit her role as a smalltime chanteuse who gets a career break by killing her husband and his girlfriend. (Ain’t publicity grand?) She shares billing with two bigger stars, Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger, and blows them off the screen with her singing and dancing. I understand she is the only one of the three who ever did musical theater, and it shows. Gere (speaking of performers I don’t normally like) is surprisingly good and Zellweger is okay, but Zeta-Jones is nigh onto stunning. I think the Academy Awards people got it wrong in nominating Zeta-Jones for a supporting-actress Oscar and Zellweger for a best actress one. I would have omitted Zellweger and nominated Zeta-Jones for best actress.

So now I guess I have to find some other actress to rank on. There’s always Mia Farrow, but she doesn’t work much any more. Maybe I’ll have to concentrate on Susan Sarandon. I shouldn’t kick Catherine Zit-Jones around any more. (I just HAD to call her that one last time.)

Friday, February 14, 2003

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

--Raymond Carver, from "Last Fragment"

Thursday, February 13, 2003

We have a new enthusiasm at our house -- the music of Nick Drake.

The British singer’s name first surfaced when my youngest son, Andy, asked for a Nick Drake album for 15th birthday (which is today).

I’d never heard of Drake, so I looked him up in the “Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll” and discovered he’s been dead since 1974. He died at age 26 of an overdose of anti-depressant medicine, perhaps intentional. Now THAT is my kind of guy -- kill yourself with the drug that’s supposed to cure you. A bit retro, not to mention dark, for a 15-year-old, but what the hey.

The encyclopedia referred to Drake’s “eerie, jazz-tinged folk music” that has won “an-ever growing cult following,” but it didn’t mention any songs or albums I had heard of. I didn’t know what to buy. So I talked to my middle son, Mickey, who is 19.

“Do you know who Nick Drake is?” I asked him.

“Oh,” he answered, “you mean the ‘Pink Moon’ guy.’

“Pink what?” I said.

“’Pink Moon,’” he replied. “Like on the Volkswagen commercial.”

It turns out a song Drake recorded in 1972, the title song to the last album released while he was alive, has made a big splash as the background music to a Volkswagen television commercial. When Mickey told me that, it didn’t ring any kind of bell. But he located “Pink Moon” on the internet and played it on my computer, and when I heard the piano interrupt the acoustic guitar, I recognized it. I couldn’t have told you what commercial the music came from, but that tinkling piano sticks in your head.

I felt as if I were closing in on old Nick, but I still didn’t know which of the three albums released while he was alive (two others, mostly rehashes of the first three, were put out years later) would be best for Andy. I decided to consult The Ultimate Source, my eldest son, Joe, who lives The Cutting Edge Lifestyle in California.

“What do you know about a singer named Nick Drake?” I queried in an e-mail.

“English folkie who died in the seventies,” he wrote back. “Think Donovan with a brain. If you want an album, I’d go with ‘Pink Moon’ or ‘Bryter Layter.’ ‘Moon’ may be the best. Only thing wrong with it is there isn’t enough of it. It’s only 31 minutes or so long, and when it ends you want more.”

The “Rolling Stone Encyclopedia,” entry on Drake gives a feel for why the “Pink Moon” album might have been so terse:

“Drake was a shy, awkward performer and remained aloof from the public and the press. By all accounts his isolation and confusion, results of severe mental illness that at times would leave him catatonic and requiring hospitalization, grew more severe. By the end of 1970 he had stopped doing concerts. . . He recorded ‘Pink Moon’ totally unaccompanied, submitted the tapes [to his record company] by mail, and entered a psychiatric rest home.”

Less than two years later, he died in bed at his parents’ home.

I decided “Pink Moon” was the album for Andy, so I located it at Amazon. com and ordered it. Then Mickey came to visit from Bend, where he lives and works these days, for Andy’s birthday. He left his CD carrier on a table in my office, so I flipped through it. I discovered copies of “Bryter Layter” and “Pink Moon.” I popped both in my computer and copied them.

Andy received his copy of “Pink Moon” along with his birthday cake this evening. He was pleased. And as I write this weblog entry “Bryter Layter” plays on my computer in the background. Mood music, of a sort. I’ll go easy with the anti-depressants, though.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

This just in from T-Model Tommy Goodloe:

Yo, Peoria Dave --

Boy, is Mike Bellotti relieved!

Just when the spotlight was growing uncomfortably hot for the U of Oregon football coach, what with scholarship offers to convicted felons, god-squadder recruits blowing the whistle on wild parties, and sportswriters pointing out that Oregon State gets all the good in-state players, Dennis Erickson of the Beavers pulled the plug in more ways than one. Erickson pulled the plug on his four-year career as OSU football coach by jumping to the pros, and at the same time shorted out the juice to Bellotti’s spotlight by switching on a bigger one aimed at himself.

For Quacker Backers like you, Dave, this must be a major hoot. No one’s going to be talking about a few letters to judges or booze/pot parties when they can be slicing up The Savior of Beaver Dignity for carpetbagging off to San Francisco.

I especially like the fact that Erickson’s coup of signing five Oregon blue-chip recruits to Bellotti’s one, which was such positive news for OSU last week, now looks like a public relations disaster. Sign ‘em on Wednesday to more or less unbreakable scholarship agreements, then start negotiating a new job on Friday. Promise them one thing -- kid, you come to Corvallis and over the next four or five years you and I will win a national championship -- and do another. The old bait and switch. Ryan Gunderson, the best prep quarterback in Oregon last season, could have gone to the University of Tennessee and played BIG-time football, but he bought Erickson’s sales pitch and signed with the small-market Beavers. Now he might wind up playing for Tim Lappano. Who? Exactly! (Lappano is a Beaver assistant coach who has declared himself a candidate for the head job.)

Replacing Erickson is going to be an interesting process. I like best the speculation that Mike Riley has the inside track. Riley, of course, was the OSU coach before Erickson. He also grabbed the pro money and ran, to San Diego in his case. He stayed only two years in Beaverville despite being hugely popular as the Corvallis High grad who returned home to start the rebuilding of OSU fortunes that Erickson completed. Riley managed to get canned in San Diego after losing something like 90 percent of his games, and now he’s an assistant in the pros angling for better work. For the Beavers to recycle him after being jilted first by him and then by his equally popular successor would be poetic in the extreme. Kind of like getting dumped for another guy by your first wife, remarrying and getting dumped for yet another guy by your second wife, then marrying the first wife all over again

For Duck types, including Bellotti, Erickson’s move has the side benefit of rattling old skeletons in the Beaver closet. (Let’s talk about bad guys in the OSU football program, not the occasional wayward Duck.) One of the most pointed media remarks came from a columnist on the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com web site, who calls himself “The Betting Fool.” The guy wrote:

“I don’t have a good feeling about this Dennis Erickson signing. My lasting memory of his Oregon State teams is from the Fiesta Bowl a couple of years back where his out-of-control band of thugs embarrassed Notre Dame, drew about 12 personal fouls and acted as though they’d been let out of jail for the weekend.”

Ah, yes. Bellotti has to be loving it.

Cheerios (with milk),
T-M Tommy G.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I read a 107-page children’s biography of J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter kid’s books. Written by Lisa A. Chippendale, it was called “Triumph of the Imagination: The Story of Writer J.K. Rowling.” It’s hardly profound, but it offers some interesting informational tidbits for Pottermaniacs, of which I am on the verge of becoming one. For instance:

--J.K. Rowling’s real name is Joanne Rowling. Her first publishers feared boys wouldn’t buy books about a boy wizard if they knew they were written by a woman, so they asked her to publish under initials. Because she doesn’t have a middle name, she used K for Kathleen, her grandmother’s name, and became J.K. She is called Jo by friends and relatives.

--Rowling is pronounced Roe-ling, not Rauw-ling.

--Rowling and Harry Potter share a birthday (July 31).

--The character of Hermione, Harry’s studious and sometimes uppity female friend, is a self-portrait of Rowling as a young girl.

--It took Rowling five years to write the first Harry Potter novel.

--She originally wanted to write for adults and cranked out a lot of unpublished adult fiction before beginning the first Harry book in 1990.

--Stories of her being a welfare mom who rescued herself from poverty with her pen are exaggerated. She is a college graduate who went to Portugal to teach English as a second language after finishing her degree. She married a Portuguese journalist and had a baby, but the marriage soon ended and she returned to Great Britain. She began schooling for a British teaching certificate, but couldn’t afford child care, so she went “on the dole” (on welfare). She could have worked part-time, but only unemployed people were allowed government money for child care. While on the dole for eight months or so, she finished the first Harry Potter book and took teaching classes.

--When not teaching, Rowling often has worked as an office secretary. However, she admits to having been a terrible secretary who frequently wrote fiction on company time.

--One of her office jobs was with Amnesty International, an experience that is reflected in Hermione’s strident “free the elves” stance in the Potter books.

--Rowling doesn’t believe in magic.

Monday, February 10, 2003

I went to see “Adaptation,” one of the hot movies of the moment. It’s been generating Oscar-nomination buzz, and I can see why -- it features dynamite acting and quite a few weirdly funny moments. At its core, though, “Adaptation” strikes me as dishonest.

“Adaptation” spins off a nonfiction book entitled “The Orchid Thief,” by Susan Orlean. The book concerns a subculture of people who take orchids so seriously they connive, steal and risk prison to acquire exotic species of the plant. Orlean wrote a New Yorker magazine article about the subject, then lengthened it into a strong-selling, critically praised book. Hollywood types optioned the book and hired screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (who also wrote “Being John Malkovich”) to generate a script based on it.

Kaufman found the subject so abstract and ephemeral, he couldn’t establish a story-telling “handle.” He developed a monumental writer’s block and eventually, out of desperation, wrote a script instead about a writer named Charlie Kaufman who has writer’s block and can’t finish a script based on “The Orchid Thief.” He jazzed up the first half by inventing a twin brother named Donald to serve as the writer’s alter ego and debate opponent, then conjured up a veritable directory of commercial-movie clichés that were not in the book -- illicit sex, drug abuse, car chases, gunplay, violent deaths -- to provide a slambang finish. Somehow, he managed to sell his idea to the money people, and the film got made under the title “Adaptation.”

I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud about this. “Adaptation” is frequently funny, and I see the vein of irony Kaufman is working here -- artsy screenwriter sells out when his talent can’t generate art. Plus, Nicolas Cage is excellent as both of the Kaufman twins (I, as a rule, dislike Cage’s acting intensely, so admitting he is restrained and amusing here is a stretch for me). Cage is almost as good as oddly charismatic Chris Cooper playing the real orchid thief, Florida swamprat John LaRoche. And Meryl Streep, portraying Susan Orlean, is her usual competent self.

As a fellow writer, however, I find it dishonest that Kaufman took a writing job, failed and then turned that failure into a screenplay that undoubtedly earned him lots of money and may win him an armload of awards. At the end of the movie, he has Susan Orlean, John LaRoche and Charlie Kaufman doing outlandish adventure/crime stuff that is totally off the wall, and while it is excitingly filmed it is fictionalized to the point of bizarreness. I read that Susan Orlean claims to be amused by what became of her book and the character identified as her, but I would have sued somebody if I were in her high heels.

“Adaptation” has the same flaw as the film version of “A Beautiful Mind,” in my opinion. The nonfiction book of the same title on which “Mind” was based contained a fascinating factual examination of a difficult subject -- schizophrenia sending the mind of math genius John Nash spinning off into the ozone. To get a “handle” on that story, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman invented a grad-school roommate and his niece for Nash to befriend, thus demonstrating his essential loneliness, plus a government spy to focus Nash’s delusions about Cold War intrigue. When the audience learned at the end of the movie that none of these people actually existed, it felt like a ripoff. And if you read the book, you realize that Nash never imagined them, either. They were total inventions by screenwriter Goldsman. “Adaptation” is more honest than “A Beautiful Mind,” which got drilled in some critical quarters for distorting facts, in that it changed the title of the source book, but that’s about as far as its honesty goes.

I’ll admit my perspective on this is heavily influenced by my background as a newspaper journalist. I know how hard it is to take raw facts, quotes, numbers, etc. and weave them into a story that has some zing and flair. I fought that battle again and again when I wrote for newspapers, and I lost more often than I care to admit. But in journalism, it is considered VERY bad form to throw up your hands and start inventing stuff because you can’t find a nice angle for delivering the truth. There have been spectacular crash-and-burns by those rare journalists who flaunted that convention, such as the Washington Post reporter who sold her editors on profiling a child drug addict and then couldn’t find one who would talk. She invented a 10-year-old junkie and wrote a series of stories about him that won a Pulitzer Prize, then was stripped of the honor and drummed out of the business when her ruse was discovered.

Newspapers and Hollywood play a very different game. I understand that. Movies are supposed to be entertainment, not journalism. But I can’t shake the feeling that anyone who uses real names of real people in telling a story shouldn’t stick those people into made-up sex scenes, shoot-outs and car crashes. It’s cheating, Charlie.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Time to answer my fan mail . . . . . .

Dear Dave,

What is T-Model Tommy Goodloe’s opinion of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, after spending weeks there?

Belle Burkholder
Halfway, Oregon

Well, Belle babe, when I posed that question to Tommy, he responded by quoting Gertrude Stein: “There is no there there.” Stein was talking about Oakland, California, but the description apparently fits Milton-Freewater, too.


Hi, Dave--

How goes the underpants war?

Liesl Diesel
Kokomo, Indiana

There was a lull in hostilities for a couple of weeks after I filed my initial dispatch about the war, but a few days ago my wife’s inspection team determined I had stashed three pairs of unfolded boxers in my dresser while she was out of town. In response, she staged a predawn raid and kidnaped the boxers. They were held prisoner at a top-secret location and subjected to intense interrogation for approximately 48 hours, then released folded to the drawer. I am considering appropriate counter measures. I may give all her bras to Goodwill.


Hello, David,

Does your wife ever try to censor the things you write about her?

Alonzo K. Shadd
Weed, California

Cookie Jean is a pretty good sport, Al. She did get a bit miffed when I wrote “my wife does not have a mustache, usually.” That was a joke. Let me stay unequivocally, here and now, that Cookie Jean does NOT have a mustache. As to a beard . . .


Jordan, you bonehead:

Why do you post boring crap on your blog about books you read? Who cares what you thought of “December 6”?

Bubba Stubbs
Happy Jack, Louisiana

As a matter of self-discipline, Bubba, I write a short review of every book I read and file it away. It forces me to think about what I read instead of just racing through it. I’m as lazy as the next guy, though, maybe even as lazy as a “Deliverance”-fugitive from Louisiana, so sometimes I grab a review and slap it on the weblog so Writeright won’t go blank for a day when I lack energy to generate something else.


Sup, Peoria Dave?

You haven’t posted anything lately from your pomo hipster pal Ray Cutter. What’s become of him?

Grant S. Tomb
New York City

Grant, my man, I must confess I felt compelled to do extensive research on the meaning of pomo hipster before addressing your question. I asked my son Mickey, who asked his brother Joe, who said a pomo hipster is a postmodern hipster. Ohhhh! You mean a “High Fidelity,” John Cusack-Jack Black kind of guy. (Sort of like Joe himself.) Yeah, the term suits Slice and Dice. Unfortunately, Ray has had to maintain a low profile since his ex-wife slapped a libel suit on him several weeks ago for referring to her in a fashion review he wrote for Street Roots as “a spokesmodel for Sluts ’R Us.” He expects an out-of-court financial settlement next week (he’s giving her his kitchen blender), and then Slice and Dice will return to the journalistic wars.


Dear Mr. Jordan:

You say Miss Kitty is your wife’s only female ally in your household. What about the other cat, Phoebe Caulfield?

Ariadne Black
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Phoebe does not deign to ally herself with anyone in our family but Joe, my oldest son. As far as Phoebe is concerned, she and Joe allow the rest of us to live in the house. Reluctantly.


Hey, Scumbag Jordan!

You got a lotta damn gall writing snotty stuff about Sweet Home. If there’s a pool of Piss-Poor Protoplasm around, it’s Portland! And that’s because you live there, you jerk!

Homer Kalinski
Sweet Home, Oregon

Come on Homer, loosen up. A little poetic humor isn’t all that big a deal. Besides, if you think I dumped on your town, you should see the poem I wrote about Madras!


My Dear Dave,

I just had to let you know how disappointed I was to see you denigrating Jane Austen on your weblog. Ms. Austen happens to be one of the major treasures of world literature. Perhaps you are not sufficiently intelligent to appreciate her work.

Guinevere St. John Quincy
Tewksbury, Massachusetts

Gee, Guin, you may be right. Here are a few other writers I am not smart enough to appreciate: Virginia Woolf, Tom Robbins, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Barry Lopez, Susan Sontag, Don DeLillo, John Ashbery, Jackson Mac Low, Wallace Stevens, Jorie Graham. I do enjoy the work of Charles Bukowski, however.


Quack, Quack, Dave--

Benighted U of Oregon grad that you are, you often make snide remarks about Oregon State’s football team being full of hoodlums and hardcases. So what do you say about the recent flap over Oregon’s football coach trying to get a felon’s assault conviction downgraded so he can sign him to a scholarship? And how about Oregon losing another prime recruit because the kid was grossed out by a post-game party he was taken to?

A Beaver Believer
Blodgett, Oregon

What CAN I say, Beav? The felon is a cornerback who can cover the out route. The scales of justice say Mike Bellotti needs him so his Ducks won’t be convicted of fielding the world’s worst pass defense again next season. The other recruit was a god squadder who should have know better than to follow Onterrio Smith to a party. I mean, didn’t the kid ever hear why Smith left the University of Tennessee for Oregon? It wasn’t because Knoxville had too few churches.

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