From Outlaw Bible:
Excerpt from An Accidental Autobiography by Gregory Corso: A rambling letter from one of the less name-brand Beat writers on a skeptical article about Beat in Life magazine. The key ideas I take from this stream-of-conciousness rant are:
1. Beat was a means to an end, and Corso regards it as a vessel to be abandoned, especially since Beat, as of December 1959, exists primarily to be misrepresented in Life magazine, and
2. Nuclear weapons end war, which means "history is eliminated... we are immortal." Corso and Fukuyama sittin' in a tree....
From Rolling Thunder Logbook by Sam Shepard: If you or I hung out at Kerouac's grave with Allen Ginsburg and Bob Dylan we'd spend the rest of our lives being completely insufferable about it, but Sam Shepard chooses a different approach, describing the event with calm observational pellucidity.
On Dee Dee Ramone by Neil Ortenberg: On the other hand, Outlaw Bible of American Literature coeditor Neil Ortenberg used to totally hang with Dee Dee, the bassist for ovarian Punk band The Ramones, and he tells us about it.
Legend of a Rock Star by Dee Dee Ramone: Dee Dee describes Germany, where he grew up, as if it were a stultifying small town he had to leave. "I made himself an American outlaw," and thereby an American icon. He enjoys an animistic mindset in which friendly dragons hover on the skyline, and shiny guitars are angels with which he must wrestle. I always looked at The Ramones, with their tough-guy demeanors and defiant songs, and assumed they were basically unhappy, but Dee Dee makes his life sound pretty blissful.
E.A.R.L. by DMX: Hit rapper/convict/church deacon DMX tells us how, despite having a family that encouraged him to live right, he became a junkie after the cops killed his dog. The pitfalls of ghetto life, and the shame of disappointing one's loved ones, is pungent. I wanna check out DMX’s rap, now, because he can tell a story with purpose.
From Calling the Wind:
Headwaiter by Chester Himes: I loved Himes' novel Cotton Comes to Harlem, a detective novel cum guided tour of Harlem that mocked both Marcus Garvey-styled flock-fleecing opportunists, and Southern Gentlemen who offer The Dignity of Work in the most condescending, exploitative fashion possible. Headwaiter is also a guided tour, this time of a classy hotel restaurant, from the perspective of a supremely keen headwaiter who knows, understands, and loves his customers, and, less obviously, his employees. It's tough love, though, and the challenge of running a tight, taut ship without becoming heartless gives the story a payoff beyond its hilarious observations about the human frailties of high-class people, although those observations would be enough.
Bright and Morning Star by Richard Wright: No way. I read this in Best American Short Stories for my last installment, and I’m glad I read it once, but there's no way I'm putting myself through that grueling story twice.
Jack in the Pot by Dorothy West: A poor woman wins a bingo jackpot that has the potential to change life for her and her husband. It doesn't work out, because she's learned so many negative lessons from poverty (defer to bigger personalities, be dishonestly modest, don't do for yourself when a neighbor has a greater need) that her mind-forged manacles ruin everything. We also get a glimpse of a white social worker who inadvertently strikes terror into our hapless protagonist, but who’s equally mired in poverty. Like many stories in this anthology, this story is a sharp, persuasive rebuke to the bootstrap fetish enjoyed by so many Caucasian blowhards.
From Dangerous Visions:
The Man Who Went to the Moon-Twice by Howard Rodman. A small boy in a rural town may or may not have ridden to the moon on a balloon, but his tale causes quite a stir, and everyone has a lovely time asking him questions and photographing him for the paper. Near the end of his life he does it again, but his tale is met with boredom by townies who lack that old-fashioned communal enthusiasm. Rodman was a TV writer from the Playhouse 90 days, and he evokes the city slicker's tribute to Real America that we remember from Mayberry. I’m happy to say that it doesn’t try to be a Dangerous Vision; merely a clear and whimsical one. Keeps the sentimentality in check, just. Bradberry without Bradberry; makes me wonder how many Route 66 scribes could have been huge in the sensitive sci-fi game if they'd bothered to try.
Faith of our Fathers by Phillip Dick. FINALLY. Dangerous Visions manages to come through with the really good stuff, ten stories in. A disaffected functionary of a totalitarian Communist future discovers that the Beloved Leader is actually a clanking, clattering glossolalia machine. And a gibbering aquatic horror. And a windstorm. And God. Movies have strip-mined Dick's paranoiac gnosticism, but who can say they've plumbed the depths of his scary wit? In this dystopia, Lear's fly-killing god runs the government, but the true horror of the situation is first revealed by the fact that people perform formal Japanese tea ceremonies with Lipton. That's the semiotic collision that marks the real Dick out from his imitators.
From Best American Short Stories:
The Hitch-Hikers by Eudora Welty: A handsome and good-hearted but prickly and lonely traveling salesman picks up a couple of hitch-hiking tramps, and one of them bludgeons the other in the salesman's car. This leaves our hero stranded in a small town while waiting to see if the victim will recover and the attacker will confess, and he ends up at a party with some people he vaguely knows. All the women want him, but he's distracted by the pointless assault and can't return serve to anyone’s flirtations. One young woman at the party may or may not be someone he knew last year at Marienbad, and our hero is chilled to realize that this event is unusual because his past and his present almost never fold together like that. On a continuum with the unmoored tramps at one end, and the bored but rooted townies at the other, he's suspended in the middle, or as Welty puts it: "He was free; helpless."
It's an American libertarian dream redrafted as purgatory on earth. I'm making it sound like a downer, but it doesn't play that way, because Welty is one of the most inventively breezy (but in no way glib) storytellers I've ever encountered. The story bounces along like a good anime; characters are constantly leaping out of the last scene into the next, and subtle flourishes create a charmingly peppy vibe. A spoonful of sugar... Welty is a recognized Great American Writer, but she’d be as boringly acclaimed as Hemingway and Faulkner if she were male and less fun.
The Peach Stone by Paul Morgan: An infant has died in a fire, and her family, along with the local teacher, drive to the mother's birthplace to bury the child's remains. This also sounds in summary like an enormous downer, but it's not that simple. Most of the story is set in the car as we peek into each character's thoughts, where they’re circling around the central trauma to find a way of moving forward. The surviving sibling quietly implores his mother to look at him. The father laments his inability to control everything, and admits to himself that the fire wouldn't have happened if he's been responsible about fire hazards. The teacher is a Miniver Cheevy who believes that the only people who really matter are the martyrs she learned about in school, each of whom was beautiful, pure and virginal, just as the teacher aspires to be. And the mother is suspended in astonishment that the world flowing by the windows can still be so beautiful in the wake of such tragedy. By the end of the story it's the teacher who cries first, as her lifelong defense mechanism crumbles and she realizes that the tragedy of this child is urgent in a way that the martyrs no longer are. Mother comforts her, instead of the other way around. As for what the title means; you’ll just have to read the story to find out.