Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Book I'm In

Here's a cute cartoon from

I guess I'm carrying a lot of books around inside my head--although I don't remember all the details. But that's the reverse of what this is about; it's not about the books in me, it's about the book I'm in: Callahan's Key, by Spider Robinson.

If he hadn't mentioned me in the book, I would not have read it, but it's a fun book and I respect the obvious fact that Robinson loves Key West as much as I do. I don't think he really succeeds in capturing its ambience but I'm on record as believing that the essence of Key West cannot be captured in prose. Poetry might come closer, but the island is such a multi-sensory experience that in the end, you really have to experience it first hand.

Before I get to the point, I will just mention that Robinson is a fan of the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee novels, which are set in Florida. In Callahan's Key the main character and his entourage visit the Fort Lauderdale marina where the fictional McGee keeps his boat:

It was there. The place we'd all spent countless happy hours in, and had never laid eyes on before.

Not a lot to see, really. A parking space for a boat, like hundreds of others here. An empty one, at that: no vessel was moored there now. But there was something to see. Someone had placed a ceremonial brass plaque there on the dock, just in front of one of the shoulder-high wooden pilings...We stood around like pilgrims and read it silently together.


FEBRUARY 21, 1987

For the second time that day, I found myself grinning and leaking tears at the same time. (P.144)
So we know Spider is sentimental. And so is our fellow-blogger, yellojkt, who blogged about the McGee landmark last year.
But this isn't a story about Fort Lauderdale; it's about Key West, and it's about how I'm in a book. When Callahan's group arrives at the End of the Road, they are amazed and delighted by what they find in Cayo Hueso. He describes some local characters, and the nightly Sunset Celebration. Then Will Soto, a real person who becomes a character in the book, describes briefly the history of Sunset and how it changed from a free-form happening into a slightly more organized (but still sufficiently chaotic) nightly event. That's where I come in. I was the person who wrote the Articles of Incorporation for the Key West Cultural Preservation Society, the non-profit corporation that took responsibility for the nightly festival in the mid-80's. So, Will mentions me along with my husband--we're on page 177.
[After sunset] we stayed long enough to introduce ourselves to Will Soto, and found the conversation illuminating.

"In the late Seventies, early Eighties," he told us, "vendors and buskers were setting up here illegally, and the tourists loved us, and the merchants loved us too, but the city had eyes to put a cruise-ship dock here, so they started hassling us. Recognizing the levity of the situation, we got organized about five years ago. Karen and Richard Tocci and Featherman Louie and Marylyn the Cookie Lady and Love22 and Sister and me and a bunch of others formed the Key West Cultural Preservation Society in '84, and managed to cool the clem. We got a great show of support from the nearby merchants, and that helped a lot. We finally cut a deal with the city, where the Society leases this dock for four hours every night, and then turns around and rents space to the various artisans and performers. We clean up after ourselves, we keep out the drunks and dealers and dips, everybody's happy."

I shook my head. "Jesus. A town that makes a fair deal with its buskers, and then keeps it. I'm gonna like it here."

Will grinned like a pirate. "Don't get too starry-eyed, Jake. They got idiots here like everywhere else. No place is perfect." Then he blinked. "No, I take that back: this place is perfect." He sighed faintly. "But no place can stay perfect.
[Please note: "cool the clem" was, when last I checked, a googlenope, meaning that (1) this is the first it has appeared anywhere on the internet and (2) probably I'm not the only one who has no idea what it means, other than just guessing from the context here. It's SpiderSlang, I guess. ]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Beatles in the 21st Century

Yesterday afternoon, I was painting the second bedroom, listening to Middlemarch courtesy of, when my husband decided we needed to go to a movie. I got to a stopping place, cleaned up and we went to the nearby cinema to see Across the Universe.


A simple love story, set to the music of the Beatles, against the background of the sixties. I kept trying to compare it to other films--Grease, Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Hair. But every time it reminded me of something, it immediately took off in another direction. I finally stopped with the comparisons and just sat back and enjoyed a very fresh, very original, work of cinematic art.

Lots of fun Beatles allusions and 33 original interpretations of songs written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. My feeling coming out of the movie was that, although the Beatles wrote amazing songs and their performances of those songs were definitive, two of the Beatles have died. It's a new century, and their performances are history. But the songs have passed into popular culture; they are like folk songs now. This movie seems to be claiming the songs for America, despite the spirit of Paul McCartney which permeates the film in the character of Jude (Jim Sturgess). The gospel choir belting out "Let it Be," the Janis Joplin wannabe singing "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" and then joining the Jimi Hendrix-like character to perform "Don't Let Me Down"--this is cultural imperialism at its best. Poor Jude even tries to return to the dreary coal-smudged life that was his in Liverpool, but he has been bewitched by the rich blonde girl with the perfect New World teeth, and he is going to have to accept his birthright after all, even if he has spent his life "trying to hate" his American father.

Across the Universe is close to being the perfect Hollywood movie. The production is flawless, and there are enough happy endings to go around for everybody.

Remember: "All you need is love!"

P.S. Julie Taymor has the most impressive resume I've ever seen for a director.

P.P.S. By 9:00 p.m., I had finished painting the bedroom, and today it is all reassembled. Mission accomplished. Next weekend: the living room!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

H. John Deutschendorf, Jr. AKA John Denver

Ten years ago this week, John Denver died in a plane crash. Coincidentally, I've been thinking about him and his music recently. It was an internet thing. I was thinking about Steve Martin and that reminded me of David Steinberg. When I googled David Steinberg, believe it or not, I ended up on YouTube watching Three Dog Night. And Three Dog Night led, somehow, to John Denver. Then I realized that the anniversary of his death was coming up so I thought it might be nice to spend some time watching and listening to him. So I did.

When I was in high school, I was one miserable, depressed little honor student. I had never heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I did suffer from it, among other things. Mostly I just hated my school, was terminally alienated and perpetually bummed out.

When "Sunshine on My Shoulders" hit the top-40, it grabbed my attention in a big way. That song was an anthem for me, like a hymn to the happiness that was there, just out of reach. I started buying all Denver's albums and listening to them compulsively. It was an era when I was going to Colorado every summer with my family, and towards the end of high school I took up backpacking and did some high country hikes. It seemed to me that Denver's songs really captured the feeling of the Rocky Mountains, the way that "City of New Orleans" sounds like a train, or Jackson Browne's road songs sound like a bus.

I am aware, of course, that John Denver is not considered "cool." As Rolling Stone magazine put it, the critics were never won over. Still I do like his music, and I can't find it in myself to complain that there is no irony in the lyrics, no dark side.

Denver had a nice voice, in addition to being a decent songwriter. He appeared with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas for a season. Tonight when I was listening to some song samples, I remembered a song Denver did not write but it was on his live album "An Evening With...": "Today" by Randy Sparks. That is a classic song that John's voice is very well suited for.

Here's a YouTube video of "Today" and "The Eagle and the Hawk" from a 1973 concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. The video quality isn't great but the setting is just perfect.

I picked this photo to illustrate because it shows John in a bookstore. That's not me with him, it's some other fan. I did meet him once, but that's another story.