Thursday, April 30, 2009


Likely I'll be gone from this site for a little while, so I thought I'd leave off with a Warren Zevon classic. If you don't like peppy songs about rape, murder and mental illness, I don't know what to say, but to my way of thinking, Zevon was one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. And, to use his phrase, a pretty fair piano fighter.

As for me, eh, I'll be back next week. Or whenever...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The Republican party is going into rearranging-the-chairs-on-the-Titanic mode over the defection of longtime GOP fixture Arlen Specter to the Democrats, claiming on one hand that Specter was never a "true" Republican while simultaneously issuing dire warnings that a filibuster-proof Democratic majority will mean some sort of fascist regime is about to bloom here in these United States. It's a spectacularly clueless performance.

And, frankly, surprising. This is it? This is the best they've got? Since Obama took power, conservatives have been reduced to cartoonish fear-mongering, their claims growing ever more shrill and laughable, and having less and less basis in reality. Political reality, I mean--Republican politics have seldom had much to do with the real world. But they've always been good at what they do, they've always been good at keeping people scared and shoving their merciless agendas through congress.

But now, the country seems to have passed them by. A recent New York Times story interviewed right-wing pundits who privately decried the fact that the nation seems indifferent if not actively supportive of gay marriage. It was going to be one of their big wedge issues in the midterm elections, but now that everyone has decided to become tolerant, what are they going to do? Run on substance?

They don't seem to realize how popular Obama remains, or notice that poll after poll shows a majority of Americans blame most of our current woes, economic and otherwise, on the Republicans. Not even on the Bush administration, not any more. Now it's the party itself which is constantly being fingered by a majority of citizens as the root cause of everything that's wrong.

And why not? They're essentially following up one spectacular loss by planning for another, building another Death Star even after the first was destroyed.

(Suddenly confetti falls from the ceiling, the APPLAUSE lights are turned on and the band plays a public domain upbeat tune as the announcer notes the thousandth heavy-handed Star Wars analogy used in this space since 2006. Your humble blogger is presented an award by a guy in a cheap Wookie costume, and accepts tearfully.)

The behavior of the GOP's leadership since November has been astonishingly wrong on almost everything, from Bobby Jindal's sneering dismissal of federal funds to study volcanic activity in Alaska (right before a volcano there became active) to Michael Steele's loud questioning of money allocated for protection in case of a nation-wide pandemic (right before the swine flu outbreak). It's as though God Himself is attempting to paint Republicans as fools.

But the fact is, they don't need the help. They're doing a fine job on their own.

Monday, April 27, 2009


1) I just spent ten minutes trying to track down a record of Larry King's old USA Today column, then spent a few more minutes attempting to confirm that The Suspendered One does indeed have a Twitter feed. All in an attempt to find a random quote with which to title this column, simply to continue my wholly inexplicable tradition of using Larry King quotes to indicate a Random Thoughts post. No wonder I'm spending less time writing this thing!

2) Originally I intended to write entirely about Bea Arthur's death at the age of 86, or specifically about how somebody can spend their entire life as a performer doing fine, distinguished work, but can nonetheless be defined in death by one role.

In Arthur's case, two roles, as she would always be known for her work on TV's Maude and Golden Girls. But that ignores her work in the hugely influential 1954 Off-Broadway production of Threepenny Opera (largely responsible for reviving interest in the life and work of Kurt Weill, who had died four years earlier) and the original production of Fiddler On The Roof. She worked with Lotte Lenya and Jerome Robbins, she won a Tony, she'd had a fine career prior to her work on Maude. And yet the headline for The New York Times obit reads Bea Arthur, Star Of Two TV Comedies, Dies At 86.

Death, apparently, reduces us all.

3) Speaking of gay icons and The New York Times--can I write transitions or what?--a bit of a controversy has broken out among web-based cinephiles over a piece by Dana Stevens in The Times Book Review on Emanuel Levy's new biography of Vincente Minnelli. Deservedly so--I haven't read Levy's book (it sounds awful) but Stevens' review shows a complete lack of knowledge of Minnelli or his work, though she does effectively make the point that Levy seems oddly disinterested in his own subject as well. She raises a valid question--why write a biography of an artist and completely ignore the art? But a better question is, why assign somebody to review a book on a topic they know nothing about?

4) This being a a Random Thoughts post, I'd ordinarily throw in a randomly-chosen clip right about now. But I'm not doing that this time. I'm rising above that.

And then of course, following tradition, I say, "Who am I kidding?" and go with the clip. But it's not happening this time. Mostly because I've run out of Lynda Carter footage.

5) The Yankees lost to Boston again. Have I mentioned Red Sox fans are a force of evil in the world? Because they are.

6) And finally...the cats. Delmar is on my lap. Monika is sleeping on the bed. And I only mention them because I am contractually obligated to do so.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


...No. Seriously. I won't.

I know posting has been even lighter than I claimed it would be, but, you know, life gets in the way and all that. And the part of life that's mostly been keeping me too distracted to post even has a name: Jessica. I'm nearly forty-four, she's twenty-five. Make of that what you will. Also, when I asked her if it was alright to describe her in this space as uninhibited, she laughed and agreed it was probably the best word choice possible. Then she started singing Super Freak and we...well, no need for details.

The other distraction is more prosaic, and much less welcome: I've been feeling like crap lately. Mostly dizziness, still not adequately diagnosed by my doctor. Oh well.

And really, I had things I wanted to discuss this week, including the inexplicable acceptance of Rush Limbaugh, the reasons behind the rise of piracy and the death of the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff, the man behind the camera on The Red Shoes, which all by itself guarantees his continued immortality. But those topics must wait for another day (and I'm pretty sure the Cardiff piece would have included this week's obligatory reference to Vincente Minnelli, just as sure as I'd find a way to bring up Star Wars while discussing the Somali pirates)...or maybe they're forever lost to the ages.

Somehow, I think we'll survive their absence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I admit I have no memory of this.

It's unbelievable that somebody once thought it was a good idea o create a Gil Gerard action figure. Presumably, any kid who actually owned the damned thing played with it once or twice, then abandoned it in a corner somewhere, hoping it would go away. Just like Gil Gerard's agent!


Yeah, I know--a lame joke about a late seventies TV actor most people have rightly forgotten. I've spent a lot of time here making fun of the likes of Ben Murphy, Lynda Carter and the unspeakable horror of Granville Van Dusen, but maybe it's time to stop. Despite the nameless horror visited upon my young, tender soul by their pale, plastic-faced blandness, they can't harm me anymore. Their time has gone, and I am stronger now than I was then. I need fight them no longer, and I shall speak of them no more.

Oh, who am I kidding? Here's a two-fer from Lynda Carter. And...I'm so sorry.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Actually, I did have a thing or two I intended to write about over the weekend, but life had other plans for me. In a good way, that is. Let's just say Friday night and Saturday turned out great (in a you-don't-want-details sort of way) and Saturday night and this morning were spent hanging out with Paul, which is always a blast. (We saw Dragonball: Evolution last night, and I was in such a great mood I actually enjoyed it. And let me stress the odd details of that last statement: I was in a great mood. Not something you read around here much, is it?)

The point is...I don't have a point. I just felt I'd been neglecting this site and felt like I should pop in and ramble incoherently. Because if I don't do it, who will?

And because no weekend is complete around here without a randomly-chosen clip, here's a Friz Freleng classic I showed Paul this morning because I frequently do the "When somebody tells me to shut up, I shut up" bit for him, and I figured he should see where it originated. He laughed all the way through, though I did have to explain why Bugs needed money to make a phone call. Strange.

Friday, April 17, 2009


The Hollywood Reporter details the particulars of an upcoming movie called I, Frankenstein. It is being produced in association with a horror movie website and based on an upcoming comic book from the creator of the Underworld franchise, which were essentially rip-offs of Van Helsing, which was itself a joylessly bombastic and amazingly unnecessary "reimagining" of classic horror movie characters.

I, Frankenstein is, according to its creators, a "Raymond Chandler-esque monster mash where the rogues don't pack pistols, they've got claws and fangs." The Frankenstein monster is a private investigator, Dracula is a criminal kingpin, is a secret agent and...I'm sorry, am I actually typing these words? Did a bunch of adults really get together and decide this was a good idea? Is there any idea too stupid, too trite, too adolescent for Hollywood? Have movies really gotten this bad?

And is there even any point in asking?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Not everybody wants to connect the dots. For most people, the sleazy world of pornography is miles away from more respectable endeavors. There couldn't possibly be anything linking the late porn star Marilyn Chambers to, say, Star Wars. Could there?

Ah, but consider the career of David Winters. A respected dancer on Broadway in the fifties. Winters was part of the original cast of West Side Story. He was one of the few members of the stage cast to land a gig in the movie version. (He played A-rab, and quite brilliantly, it must be said.) While in Hollywood, he landed himself some primo gigs, staging dance numbers in several Elvis Presley epics (including Viva Las Vegas) and becoming a choreographer and sometime producer for a number of hilariously cheesy TV variety specials, including this little number from the 1970 special Raquel!

Whatever talent Winters had as a dancer, his TV work is as bad as it gets. Yet he kept getting gigs, including staging this number from, yes, The Star Wars Holiday Special. This thing goes on for quite some time; watch if you dare.

Winters considered himself a multi-talent. As the vogue for TV variety shows faded, he turned to producing and, later, directing movies. Awful, awful exploitation movies, many of them made in apartheid-era South Africa, including the notoriously awful Space Mutiny, roundly mocked on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

But before he started providing financial support for racist governments, he enabled abuse victim Linda Lovelace to continue exploiting her limited fame, by choreographing and directing her Las Vegas revue (!) and producing the so-called comedy Linda Lovelace For President.

Lovelace claimed Winters beat her to within an inch of her life. He was also targeted for death by mobsters in the employ of Chuck Traynor, Lovelace's ex-husband, who had by that time hooked up with Marilyn Chambers and...well, this turned kind of ugly, didn't it? We started out with some fun, easily mocked clips and wound up in sordid well of pain.

But, in the immortal words of Tom Bosley, that's Hollywood.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The L.A. coroner's office still hasn't announced a cause of death for once and eternal porn star Marilyn Chambers, found in her home at the age of 56. Foul play has been ruled out, and unless she died by her own hand, there's every reason to assume it was as a result of natural causes.

Or as natural as it could be, considering the life she led.

Chambers was interviewed extensively for Legs McNeil's oral history of the porno industry, The Other Hollywood, and in that book she comes off as funny, free-spirited and immensely likable. And by no means stupid; 1972, the year she starred in Jim and Artie Mitchell's Behind The Green Door, was the dawn of porno chic, when the grimy loops of yesteryear seemed to be giving way to a new era. Adult films were being shown in mainstream theaters, being reviewed in the pages of The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Chambers was a working model and aspiring actress who did the film on a lark. To her, it was almost a piece of avante garde art, no different from any of the public "happenings" so popular at the time.

And she became famous, though not in the way she might have hoped. The big studios didn't embrace porno as it briefly seemed they might, and the industry remained dominated by shady characters. Chambers hooked up with the supremely sleazy sneaker pimp Chuck Traynor, best known for beating the shit out of ex-wife Linda Lovelace and selling her out in every conceivable way. There's no evidence Traynor physically coerced Chambers to do anything, but though he claimed to be protective of her, he steered her career straight into the seamier side of show business. From the moment she meant Traynor, her future was set.

True, she did land a lead role in David Cronenberg's early film Rabid, and she gave a perfectly competent if unexceptional performance. But in late seventies Hollywood, a drive-in horror movie was almost interchangeable with porno. The studios, too busy churning out late-period disaster movies and Burt Reynolds car crash epics, couldn't be bothered with the talent that made such trash.

So Chambers briefly retired from show business, but inexplicably remained with Traynor, whom she married in 1974. (Sammy Davis, Jr. served as best man!) They did massive amounts of blow together, he'd rent out her services to any intererested parties willing to pony up the dough, and she...went along. If she ever found herself wondering how her life turned out in such a way, she never said a word about it, not at the time, not in McNeil's book. She seemed genuinely fond of Traynor.

Her "comeback" role came in the 1980 film Insataible--the title tells you everything you need to know. As she aged, she went under the knife, had her breasts enlarged, eventually graduated to softcore Skinemax pictures instead of hardcore, a lateral move at best. She eventually divorced Traynor, remarried, had a kid, had a life. But for as long as she lived, she'd always be Marilyn Chambers, porn star.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Hey, it's the weekend,I've got to get to work, no time for much. But I thought I'd post a link to this piece by Dave Kehr in today's New York Times just to prove that I'm not the only Vincente Minnelli obsessive out there.

And speaking of my obsessions, did anyone notice I never got around to finishing that list of Favorite Albums? Well, if I ever get back to it, here's a song from an album guaranteed a spot on the list. Performed here by the free-floating musical collective Donald Fagen and Walter Becker hire whenever they want to make some music--better known as Steely Dan--this tune originally appeared on Fagen's first solo album The Nightfly. A lengthy piece on the songwriting genius of Fagen and Becker is something else I hope will be forthcoming in the future. For now, just dig the cool jazz-rock sounds...and see if you agree Fagen has entered his Martin Landau phase.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Today would have been Mom's--hard to believe!--eighty-first birthday. It's hard to imagine her being that old, but then, she never really acted her age. I thought of all the things I might put up here as a musical tribute to her, but when I saw this, I thought, yes, that's perfect. Silly, sentimental, straight from the heart--I can picture her watching this, crying her eyes out. Well, why not? It made me cry, too.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


If you're not from Iowa, this might seem a bit provincial. Or not; after all, we're kind of a big deal lately, since the state Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

To the surprise of many hardcore fundamentalists, fire did not fall from the sky, and our land, so far, has not been ravaged. If God intends to condemn this state as some sort of modern-day Sodom, He's certainly taking His time.

Oh, but I digress. What I meant to talk about was the response to the court's decision from our esteemed governor, Chet Culver. Culver's a Democrat, but Republicans have the same opinion of him as members of his own party: He's a prick.

Specifically, an arrogant, self-regarding prick who always tries to have it both ways. Nowhere is this more evident than in his response to the gay marriage ruling. Initially, he said nothing, then when he finally deigned to share his opinion with his constituents, it was predictably namby-pamby: He doesn't support gay marriage, he wanted to make clear, but he would be "reluctant" to amend the state constitution, though he's open to talking about amending the constitution, though he doesn't think it's necessary, since the court's ruling differentiates between civil marriage and religious marriage, which, he emphasizes, he's totally against in the case of same-sex couples, unless it becomes law, in which case, he's fine with it.

In fairness to Culver, cover-you-ass wording is the default move of most Democrats when the subject of gay marriage comes up. The refrain of "I'm personally opposed to gay marriage, but..." is so common, it makes you wonder how our current crop of legislators would have handled the Voting Rights Act: "Even though I personally believe Negroes are inferior to the white race, I will not oppose this if it becomes law."

If you're really opposed to gay marriage (and by the way: Why? How does the ability of two people to marry effect you one way or the other?), wouldn't you fight it tooth and nail, rather than bending over and letting this ruling have its way with you? (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) And if you're not opposed to it, if you in fact have every intention of letting it pass, why attach the qualifier? Why not just say, "Yeah, we as Iowans believe anybody should be allowed to express their love for each other, and that love should be protected legally. Furthermore, as the first Midwestern state to take this stand, we recognize that we'll reap the financial benefits from the flood of couples coming here to marry, and we'd be batshit insane to turn down that sweet, sweet money when the state is still trying to cover the costs of last spring's floods."

But Culver wouldn't say that in a million years. It's not that he lacks the courage of his convictions, it's that he lacks convictions in the first place. Bold action has no place in his world--he's a professional politician, after all. And a prick.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


First up, I've heard from some people wondering why I'm giving up this site. Let me say this again: I'M NOT GIVING UP THIS SITE! I specifically said so! I'm cutting back the frequency of posting--that's all! Geez!

Now, on to the business at hand. In a sense, a clip job...but with a purpose.

Consider this:

Now this:

And, of course, this:

Does all this seem a bit...underwhelming? Three different movies depicting cataclysmic events, yet there's almost no sense of horror, or spectacle, or anything. It's impossible to watch any of that and see anything other than pixels being manipulated. And worse, the quality of the effects work in the relatively low budget Dragonball is about on par with what we see in the mega-budget Transformers sequel--equally bad.

I could go off on a tangent lamenting Hollywood's tendency to turn out nothing but remakes and movies based on toys, but my point here is how awful and generic the physical production of these movies is. Here's the trailer for the 1970 Pearl Harbor epic Tora! Tora! Tora! You don't have to watch the whole thing; just check out the scene starting at about 3:18:

Obviously this movie was made in the pre-CGI era. And though it features some pretty unconvincing miniature effects, even they have a visceral impact--real objects are really exploding--that today's spectacles lack. But the scene I sighted above was staged for real, with life-size mock-ups of planes blown up as stuntmen ran in all directions. And the shot of the one plane knocked out of line, crashing into others as people flee? It was an accident, the type of random occurence that can't be planned ahead of time. The stuntmen fleeing were literally running for their lives.

This is the sort of thing CGI by its very nature can't capture. Today's effects work (and so many movies today are nothing but effects work) is so laboriously pre-planned it allows for nothing to happen by chance. But sometimes the greatest spectacle happens by accident, when things don't go according to plan. When the fall of every single bit of computerized rubble is predetermined, there's no spontaneity, no sense of reality, no life.

Admittedly, we're talking about big dumb movies here. But even when you're cranking out a movie about giant robots, it would be nice if the spectacle had some impact.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


If my stats were popping like crazy, this might be a more difficult decision, but I've officially decided this site is taking up too much of my time. I'm not shutting it down, by any means, but posts are definitely going to be less frequent--once, twice, maybe three times a week. (I almost made a Three Times A Lady reference there, which wouldn't even have been a reference to the Commodores song so much as bit about that song from an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which may be one of the problems I have attracting new readers--it's like everything i write here lately is designed pretty much for my consumption exclusively.)

Anyway, the point is, I just don't enjoy this as much as I used to. I've already switched over to posting every other day or so, and I'm sure it will become less frequent than that. But don't go away, Regular Readers (as always, both of you!)--I'll still be here once in awhile. And who knows? Maybe I'll return on a more regular basis next time I'm seized by a fit of schoolboy giddiness.

What? It could happen!

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Without bothering to explain why, I'll just say I found myself in a small-town movie theater last night, watching--of all things--Fast & Furious. And the thing is, I had a great time.

Whenever I go to a movie these days, it's usually at some odd time, at some hideously impersonal multi-screen googleplex (or the self-consciously quirky local art house), and there's either no audience to speak of or the seats are full of bored suburbanites, staring glassy-eyed at the screen between bouts of conspicuous consumption.

But last night felt like a familiar, comforting ritual I hadn't experienced for some time. Parking on the town square instead of a nondescript parking lot, a lobby that looked largely unchanged since the seventies, a non-digital presentation on 35 mm film.

And even the movie, which is about as good as the third sequel to an original that wasn't that great to begin with, seemed about right for this setting, a stupid-but-watchable collection of car chase cliches that, instead of seeming tired or hackneyed, took on the feel of a familiar dance, some small measure of succor to be found in its very unoriginality. Not to be patronizing, but the audience--which laughed at every stupid one-liner, and which roared with approval at a villain's violent demise--wasn't there to see anything particularly good. They sought only entertainment, or perhaps more accurately a diversion, something to take their minds off their troubles and keep them absorbed for a couple of hours.

They were there for a Friday Night At The Movies, and they had a great time.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


It's not like I ever watched Guiding Light, or should care one way or another about the cancellation of a soap opera. True, it had been on TV for over fifty years, but surely it had long passed its sell-by date. It was the product of another time, and all things are impermanent. Celebrate what was, then move on.

Sure. Except my mom tuned in religiously every day for decades, joined later by my dad, taking an hour off every day to pop open a Grain Belt and watch. Me, I couldn't have cared less, but I have memories of it all the same, a constant droning presence in the background while I was home sick or sprawled on the couch on a summer afternoon enjoying a stack of comic books. It was always there, every day at the same time, its existence somehow comforting.

Dad passed away, Mom passed away, but Guiding Light remained steadfast, a tenuous link, perhaps, but still a daily reminder, a whisper from the past, something I could still grasp, something that was a definite if relatively inconsequential part of my parents' lives. Now it's just another lost piece of the puzzle. Soon it will be gone forever, like the sound of their voices, like their laughter, like their love.

Ah, but it's just a TV show. No tears, and no need to load it with more significance than it can bear. Yet somehow, even though I never watched it, I sense I'll miss it when it's gone.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I don't know how much longer this most-meaningful-albums list thing will continue, and I'll try to keep subsequent entries a bit briefer, but I must say, I'm enjoying this journey through some forgotten recesses of my past, even when that journey conjures some unpleasant memories, as will happen soon enough.

For now, let's continue where we left off, shall we?

4. Leonard Bernstein, Mass

You didn't have to be a classical music fanatic to at least know Bernstein's name back in the seventies; he was on TV all the time. I had a recording of his Chichester Psalms, which I liked well enough, and decided to save my allowance for two whole weeks in order to splurge on the lavishly packaged box set of Mass prominently displayed at The Record Store in Merle Hay Mall.

What I discovered was a mass, all right--a mass of contradictions, a mass of wildly disparate styles, a mass of pure kitsch mixed with startling beauty. Billed as a "theater piece"--whatever that means--Mass seems to have been intended as a sincere spiritual offering, using the form and text of a Catholic mass (always a good starting point for an effete Jew like Bernstein!) as a springboard for an examination of the loss of faith in the Age of Anxiety. Or some damn thing. Bernstein wrote most of the lyrics himself, with help from Broadway hack Stephen Schwartz and Paul Simon (again with the Jews!), which illustrates part of the problem with the thing--it wants to be Art, even as it functions best as pure showbiz. Bernstein longed to be recognized as a Serious Composer, but his legacy surely rests with the scores he wrote for Broadway. And since those scores include West Side Story and Candide, his legacy is secure.

Anyway, the thing about this album was--I loved it. I loved it even as I recognized some of it was borderline awful. It taught me that perfection is overrated, that the things we love may be deeply flawed, and that there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure.

5. Kurt Weill, The Threepenny Opera

A rainy day when I should have been in school, but my mom and I were killing time in Southridge Mall--the mall least frequently visited--waiting for time to head down to the Greyhound station to pick up my brother, returning from a trip to New York City. I'd given him a list of records I'd hope he'd be able to find, and at the top of that list was Kurt Weill's Mahagonney. I'd seen the last half hour of it on Live From The Met (by accident--it ran overtime and I sat through it mesmerized as I waited for my local PBS station to show their regularly scheduled syndicated version of SCTV!), and though I knew nothing of Weill, I knew I wanted more of this.

My brother didn't find that, but idly digging through the soundtrack section of The Record Store in Southridge I did a double take when I discovered a copy of the Off-Broadway cast recording of Threepenny Opera. I didn't know much about it beyond the name, and I certainly didn't know Marc Blitzstein's lyrics were a bastardization of Bertolt Brecht's original text, but its bleak worldview came through nonetheless. Besides, the real selling point here was Weill's music, which...well, if you're a regular visitor here, I don't need to tell you about my Weill obsession.

Over the years I've acquired half a dozen different recordings of this particular work, and all of them reveal different facets of Brecht's text, and some of them play fast and loose with Weill's original orchestrations. But they all have given me some insight into a work I love profoundly, and they've all shown me there's no one way of doing things. And though the music can be performed well or badly, the one thing I've learned from Weill is this: It's not the singer, it's the song.

6. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska

The chronology may be off, because frankly, I can't remember the details. Skipping ahead a few years, post-high school but me still living at home, doing absolutely nothing productive. There's a half-hearted suicide attempt, some time in a psych ward, and a therapist asking me why I'm not doing anything, since I'm obviously intelligent and capable. You have a way with words, she says, so why don't you try writing?

So I do, and it becomes a compulsion, a notebook always handy, words scribbled down furiously, every thought, every overheard conversation, every fleeting observation. My will to write only fuels my newly-rediscovered love of reading fiction, the prose of those so much better than me spurring me on, wanting to do better, wanting to live up to my idols.

Sometime into this mix, and for reasons I can't recall, was dropped Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, a famously bleak album inspired in part by The Boss's encounter with Flannery O'Connor's fiction. But Sprinsteen's tales of killers, thieves and people dwelling on the margins of society lacks O'Connor's Southern Gothic mannerisms--these people were real, Sprinsteen's empathy for them was total, and the album spoke to me like nothing else had. When characters and dialogue swam in my brain but had yet to take form, I put Nebraska on the turntable, secure that it would always show me the way.

My love for the album was so all-consuming I briefly became a hardcore Springsteen fan, but it didn't last. I retain a certain affection for Darkness On The Edge Of Town and The River (which has Cadillac Ranch, a total throwaway that may nonetheless be the greatest thing he's ever done), but I no longer believe they're really that good, and Springsteen's common man who happens to be a multimillionaire persona is frankly embarrassing, and I barely think of him at all anymore.

But I still think Nebraska is a great album. I seldom haul it out, though, because listening to it means encountering a nineteen-year-old who loved it so much, who was so profoundly troubled, and who no longer exists.