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Author Archive: "Carl Shuker"

The Unkindest Cut of All


This was Tennessee's telegram to Marlon Brando on the opening night of A Streetcar Named Desire. I was watching, tonight, Brando as Mark Antony in 1953's Julius Caesar, standing on the senate steps over Caesar's body and seeming by his very vacillations to manipulate the crowd into revolution. And then he cries:

For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men's blood.

The irony was stinky. There was a Caesar. When comes another? It's the rage in his face, and the pleasure in his power, and his sophistication and the way Brando gets that Mark Antony is a great rhetorician and aware of it and even skeptical of it, his own gift, and aware that to be a great rhetorician he must also deny it — it all got me thinking of the unkindest cut of all: not getting to see Brando do Hamlet. Can you imagine it? Circa 1954? When in possession of the most beautiful male body of the twentieth century?

To quote ...

And It Was All So Totally, Totally Iki and to Die for

Ah, it's a happy day of direction rediscovered, and vision restored.

Watching: that terrible tortured talent, Mike Figgis, The Loss of Sexual Innocence. Worth every misstep and over-reach for those moments of visuals and audio in perfect play: a blind woman's seeing-eye dog is attacked by a pack of dogs and, in a panic, and as she alone comes forward to help, she lashes Saffron Burrows in the face with her white cane.

Listening to: REM, I Remember California: just for that lyric: "the ocean's Trident submarines, lemons, limes and tangerines." Timo Maas, Pictures: A Brazilian friend of mine said to me, playing this song, a huge grin on her face: "This is the most disgusting song I ever heard in my life! Listen, listen!" Hitomi, There is… J pop is Japanese pop and is a genre unto its own for saccharine and repetition and the inducing of a glaze in the eyes of foreigners of every kidney all over the country. This song, though, this song…. My best and bilingual friend, Ryan Skelton, who took that rather dramatic author photo just above these words, quietly and gravely appalled at my obsession with this song, once ...

It’s a Gass, Gass, Gass

Most everyone's read The Art of Fiction and everyone's read Grendel and most everyone's read On Becoming a Novelist, but John Gardner's superb Mickelsson's Ghosts is not much talked about. When I did my MA we read a transcript of Bill Gass and Gardner arguing their positions on narrative fiction, which I'll viciously paraphrase thusly:

Gardner: Writing of fiction builds a 747 that must obey certain physical laws in order to fly. I like Bill's stuff, and even when he's mean he writes so nice it don't matter. Bill's stuff, though, is so ornamented and the 747 so encrusted with jewels and finery and shiny trinkets it doesn't get off the ground.

Bill Gass: Yeah, but the reader believes it does.

I disappeared inside Mickelsson's Ghosts for a glorious week, made even more glorious if in a very impure way by the the inside scoop from The Art of Fiction on Gardner's manifold and intense struggles to make the book work. As does Gardner, Mickelsson the Nietzsche philosopher cools off from intense writing, thinking and desk-jockeying by making cabinets and tables and other pretty deeply involved woodworking. I'll grant that it doesn't really ...

A Hair Absurd

St. Malo a go go! Cf. yesterday, I'm booked and good to go.

Ah, hatred! Failure produces hatred, I am convinced. "Having learned my lesson I never left an impression on…anyone…" — A great Morrissey lyric, pre-the National Front flirtations. So I'm booked to go to St. Malo, so why am I distressed. 950 words of pre-edit trash is why. So bad it sits on the screen and sniggers. O hateful! Bad work makes for bad everything. I write in my room beside a park, and every day four or five people meet there to walk their dogs, or more correctly to let their dogs joust and jostle and try to roger each other. There's one dog, a pit bull terrier named Baloo (I like to think), or (David) Malouf (I also like to think, but can't quite discern). He's a wild one, and every day, seemingly just prior to me getting anything written of any quality whatsoever, I hear his owner in shrill tones call out, "Ba-looo, Ba-looo"; in this horrible, high, interrogative and yes, entitled iamb I've come to detest. It's every day, and Baloo won't listen. I know it's not a train or a jackhammer, but goddammit, Baloo, turn! Turn on her! Or leap the bounds of that tiny park and fly! Nietzsche at the end: "I wrote nice books, didn't I?" I've been thinking of Gass on his thirty years of The Tunnel — that in writing a novel every possible motivation, positive and negative, is drawn upon, and that, for anyone who's read that book, is palpable. The bottle calls.

It's the Primal Scream! The last time I saw the Scream was in Tokyo, circa-the "XTRMNTR" album, and that was amazing, lighting and VJing, a crazy, aggressive, utterly self-assured and powerful and inspiring thing, a total and complete reinvention, and throughout Mani, ex-bass player for the Stone Roses, played in his prototypical, leaned-back-into-a-strong-wind stance, wearing a truly superb Clash "Combat Rock" T-shirt. Dear readers, it was I! Dear readers, it was I, who, after Mani stripped that T-shirt at the close of the concert and hurled it into the crowd, it was I who wrestled with several wiry and well-built young Japanese girls for possession of that T-shirt, which to this day I wear and carry everywhere (and have washed a few times). Mani's a bit older now so perhaps it's okay no such souvenirs were taken at Saturday night's gig at the Academy. It was a stripped-down gig — no visuals, no frippery, but thankfully no straight-out Stones devotion either — they played everything from "Screamadelica" to "Vanishing Point" to "XTRMNTR" to the new album. Because I was concerned. In the last few years I've had the opportunity to see several heroes in reprise live, and it's been sobering. At Summer Sonic in Tokyo, Ian Brown of the Stone Roses in a lime green shell suit monkey-walking his way through no less than five Roses songs before playing something new. I know he's tuneless but that's just charmless. Duran Duran on a different stage, and the formerly svelte and beautiful Simon le Bon horrifically bloated, churning out "Girls on Film." Line-up-wise, the Scream now have a young and beautiful reincarnation of Bobby Gillespie on guitar (with a gorgeous Gibson ES-355 that eerily resembled BB King's Lucille) who is named, apparently, "little Barrie" and is replacing legendary guitarist Throb live, but otherwise are relatively intact. And relatively rocked. So I considered myself justified in throwing sobriety to the wind and paid hideously the next day.

The best line I wrote today was someone else's:

"Le feu couve encore sous la braise," they say. "The fire still burns under ember." I love that.

A bad translation of a journalist on the Paris riots. On a related note, I'm kind of a David Fincher fan and was thrilled when in Cannes to discover the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité or CRS. This photo was taken shortly before the man beyond the officer stole the officer's phone. And then got shot. Kidding. Anyhow, in Fincher's The Game CRS stands for Consumer Recreation Services among many other things. There were so many of them in Cannes I sometimes felt I was moving through a filmic netherworld, where the riot police were recruited from the extras for action films that never got distributed. Never got "foreign berths." Well, I was thrilled and then oppressed. I'm the kind of guy who stares helplessly at police with machine guns at airports until they start to stare back. And I'm always carrying a stupid anonymous brown box.

St. Malo

London, England —

The most exciting news of the weekend is that I'll be in St. Malo, France, for New Year. Anyone who's read The Method Actors knows I'm a Twelfth Night fanatic, and I'm a huge fan of Trevor Nunn's film from 1996, not least for Richard E. Grant, Mel Smith, and Ben Kingsley as Feste. It's a sweet, innocent, unassuming version of a fairly little-known play, but for me has a surreal, ominous edge — marginalia-ed with the Japanese World War II atrocities I was reading about in depth at the time of the writing of The Method Actors. It tastes like cheap Chardonnay, feels like danger and irresponsibility and consequences coming. When you're writing a book and you're deep inside its world, what feel like coincidences arise from nowhere constantly. Along with Twelfth Night, Marlon Brando, pretty obviously, was an obsession during The Method Actors, and one of those coincidences was the discovery that Brando at age twenty played Sebastian at a production at the Long Island Sayville Summer Theatre. It's these coincidences that in your sober, clinical, detached moments are simply fortuitous, but ...

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