Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

June 10, 2012

pink tights and farewells

by Megan Abbott

Why let pain your pleasures spoil, 
For want of our patented Magic Oil?’

This is the living archive of the Abbott-Gran Medicine Show. Please visit early and often and we hope one day to return with new tonics, remedies, elixirs and, just maybe, that miracle cure.

We thank you all.

June 20, 2011

a bell in every tooth

by Megan Abbott

“I don’t want to be that much in love ever again.”                                —Elizabeth Taylor

I’m reading Furious Love (not to be confused with Furious Love), which recounts the tumultuous romance of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Prior to reading it, I had no burning interest in the pair but was drawn to it because it’s co-written by Sam Kashner, author of the vivid, gossipy Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties, one of my favorite tinseltown books.

As I began, I suppose I expected the Liz-and-Dick relationship to be some kind of amalgam of Frank and Ava and Albee’s George and Martha. Both analogies have significant weight, but the depth of their connection to each other is woundingly touching, and the giddy, intense bond they had is kind of a heartbreaker as you see the increasing damage done by mind-numbing drink and other excess, career disappointments, Burton’s depression, family sorrows.

I have always loved Richard Burton and he shimmers in these pages. I think one of my favorite cinematic moments is a fleeting moment from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. After a night of epic drinking the beleaguered George, watching his wife tantalize another man on the dance floor with some ribald hip shakes, announces wearily—but with distinct admiration, “You have ugly talents, Martha.”

One of the gifts of Furious Love is the rich sense of Burton’s Welsh upbringing, which, to me, feels terrifically exotic and dramatic, with rich descriptions of the life of miners (Burton was the son and brother of miners), Burton’s love of “lava bread,” a Welsh concoction of a “froth of boiled seaweed “plunked down on the plate like a cow pat,” the way his brother’s face was “pocked with little blue marks,” from his years in the mines.

But my favorite part of the book might be the words offered up by Richard Burton himself, both from his various writings, diary entries and from his love letters to Taylor, which she permitted use of for the first time. Many are hopelessly romantic. Some are deliciously dirty, with Burton telling Taylor how he longs for  her “divine little money-box,” the “exquisite softness of the inside of [her] thighs,” and for the “half-hostile” look in her eyes when the pair is “deep in rut.”  That “half-hostile,” to me, is the mark of writerly (and perceptual) brilliance.

While Kashner and his coauthor Nancy Schoenberger are careful not to push the point, there’s a piece of Burton’s stormy past that seems to whisper in our ear constantly as we understand his connection to Taylor. His mother dead when he was only two, Burton was raised mostly by his sister, Cis, whom he viewed in saintly proportions and about whom he wrote lovingly:

I shone in the reflection of her green-eyed, black- haired, gypsy beauty. She sang at her work in a voice so pure that the local men said she had a bell in every tooth… She was naïve to the point of saintliness and wept a lot at the misery of others. She felt all tragedies except her own. I had read of the Knights of Chivalry and I knew that I had a bounden duty to protect her above all creatures. It wasn’t until 30 years later, when I saw her in another woman that I realized I had been searching for her all my life.

We’re always, in our relationships, looking to repeat, recapture past ones, aren’t we? And it isn’t always (or even mostly) a bad thing. Burton and Taylor saved each other for a while, until they couldn’t any longer. As Taylor wrote to Kashner, when releasing Burton’s letters to the biographer, “We had more time but not enough.”

June 19, 2011

Murder, In Song

by karolinawaclawiak

As much as I crave a good book about murder or a crime scene photo to dissect, nothing compares to a musical ballad about murder and mayhem. One of my old favorites is a rendition of “Knoxville Girl” by the Louvin Brothers off the Tragic Songs of Life album (1956). These country brothers crooned about the violent riverside murder of an unnamed young woman by her suitor. Voices sweet and lamenting, the Louvin brothers obscured the shock of violence with their lullaby composition.

“I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well,

And every Sunday evening, out in her home I’d dwell,

We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town,

I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down.”

You can only imagine where it goes from there.  Listen here.

The Louvin Brothers can’t be credited with inventing the murder ballad. In fact, “Knoxville Girl” is based on an old Irish ballad, “The Wexford Girl”, which has a more elaborate warning against murdering your loved one. Murder Ballads can be traced back even further to England and to the broadsheet ballad “The Cruel Miller” and well, it’s anyone’s game from there.

Now, take the traditional murder ballad and mix it with the poetry of a notorious serial killer, with a nod toward Joyce Carol Oates, and you have Jon Derosa’s “Ladies in Love.” Based on a poem of the same name by Charles Schmid, Jr., DeRosa weaves some lines from Schmid’s prison writing into his evocative ballad and gives us a precise window into the macabre mind of The Pied Piper of Tuscon. For those of you who don’t know, Schmid was an odd character who wreaked havoc on  the city of Tucson in the 1960’s and served as the inspiration for Joyce Carol Oates’ short story, Where are You Going and Where Have You Been?

Photo courtesy of the Tucson Citizen.

He blurred his natural attractive features with cartoonish makeup and clothing, turning himself into a minstrel Elvis Presley – dark tan pancake makeup, white lipstick and the King’s jet black mane. He added his own touches too: a beauty mark on his cheek made from a mixture of putty and axle grease and oversized cowboy boots stuffed with detritus to make him seem taller, attempts at being a more appealing lady magnet to the disaffected youth of Tuscon.

Here, DeRosa has crafted a hauntingly beautiful murder ballad with flutes and woodwinds by Jon Natchez (of Beirut/Yellow Ostrich) and gentle violins and cellos by Claudia Chopek and Julia Kent, respectively.  Schmid’s chilling proclamation that “ladies should never fall in love,” is sung sweetly, like a lullaby by DeRosa. And Schmid’s poetic line about women’s voices “being like small animals waiting to be fed” is seemingly easier to take here, layered and somber. But, his complicated and perverse relationship with his victims isn’t celebrated here; instead, DeRosa’s tale of woe serves as a time capsule of terror that I believe, deserves a place in the history of disquieting murder ballads.

Listen to “Ladies in Love” exclusively on The Abbott Gran Medicine show:

http://soundcloud.com/jonderosa/jon-derosa-ladies-in-love

Jon DeRosa’s Anchored EP can be picked up on Itunes or here.

May 18, 2011

remembering, repeating

by Megan Abbott

Almost back to back this morning, I heard the news that Philip Roth had just been awarded the Man Booker International prize and that one of the judges—author and publisher Carmen Callil—had withdrawn in protest. According to The Guardian, Callil said that Roth “goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”

I think Philip Roth takes up more shelf space in my apartment than almost any other author. I have a complicated love for both him and his work that seems to mirror my feelings for Sinatra and Freud, except I never grow weary of Sinatra and Freud and never, ever feel the need to defend my complicated love.

With Roth, however, I am sometimes frustrated, even bored. I have, after reading some of his books, said things similar to Callil’s comments. How many times, Mr. Roth, must I read about the older intellectual in sexual thrall with the beautiful, brilliant young woman a fraction of his age?

There is a wonderful quote that I am going to butcher by a writer whom I can’t recall now. It says something to the effect of every writer has one story to tell and he tells it over and over. And I have to admit, it feels true to me. But maybe that’s the kind of writer I am drawn to.  But the authors I love The other authors on my shelves that take up similar amounts of space are Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Ellroy, Salinger. And certainly the same could be said of them.  The plots may change, the time period, the arc of the tale. But something at the core remains, some irresolvable issue or obsession that can’t help but sneak it.

I’m distinguishing here from authors who recycle plots, etc. Instead, I’m talking about recurring themes, dynamics, obsessions, fixations that seem to form the spine of many of their books and other times just seem to push their way in as if the writer can’t control it.

The risk of an artist returning to touchstones is an insularity of world which I sometimes find in Roth (that suffocating quality Callil cites does resonate with me; Roth’s Manhattan, for instance, seems trapped in amber at times). But when these authors discover a new way into their obsession, a new vantage point, or a new subject that may ultimately lead us back to their recurring story—it can be their greatest achievement.

Because, after all,  we are drawn to these authors to begin with because something about their story feels like ours.

James M. Cain may have written a half-dozen books dealing with the unstoppable lure of sex and money and the dark corners it drops us down, but, as discussed here before, when he becomes fascinated with the restaurant business (Mildred Pierce), or insurance (Double Indemnity), or taps his own love of opera (Serenade), the tale is reinvigorated even as it may follow the same deep treads he’s set down before.

Roth’s fascination with the glove industry or diamond business have produced some of his most exquisite prose ever. The vitalizing energy of American Pastoral seems to come from him wanting to use his alter ego, Zuckerman, to tunnel us into a very un-Roth-like pair of characters, an all-American straight-arrow and his beauty queen wife and what happens when their lives unfurl. His hero, Swede Levov, simply wouldn’t do the things Zuckerman and so many of his other heroes would. As a result, everything changes, and yet feels too like we’re returning to many of his fascinations—American success models, the family romance, Jewish identity and Roth’s own, often-blinding nostalgia for post-WWII-pre-counterculture moment—but from a new place. Which changes everything for us. And it’s thrilling.

But I guess I’m not really writing this post to talk about Roth. I guess I’m wondering how universal this feels. Are all writers writing variations on the same story? (Story, not plot–though I know there are writers who do that too!).  Is in fact what sparks writing is the desire to work through something? If so, it’s likely he or she doesn’t really want to work through it because then it would be over, and they don’t want it ever to be over.

For myself, I have trouble stepping back and looking at my books in concert. I don’t think I’d want to see what elements, obsessions keep returning across the books. Because once you see it, then what might happen? What would be left?

March 27, 2011

forgive us

by Sara Gran

Apologies for the light posting here this week. Rest assured Megan and I are doing VERY GLAMOROUS, IMPORTANT and FASCINATING  things with ourselves (and in Megan’s case, that’s actually true!), we miss you terribly, and we will return in a few days.

February 18, 2011

Disaffected Youth in Black and White

by karolinawaclawiak

When you think 1960’s British working class films you naturally call upon The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Based on Alan Sillitoe’s short story, it was the film about troubled youth in Britain.

But I can’t help thinking about a more peculiar one, also based on a book. I’m talking about The Leather Boys with its raucous teenage bikers, bopping music, foul mouths, and gay unrequited love. Yes, Sidney J. Furie went there and I was thrilled to be watching it. Unfortunately, Gillian Freeman had to tone down her film adaptation from the book she published under the pseudonym Eliot George in 1961, but it certainly broke Hollywood decency codes when screened stateside in 1964.

It was your standard love affair, at first. British film darling Rita Tushingham plays Dot, a preening 15-year-old loudmouth, who is dying to marry her Triumph-riding Reggie. They do get hitched. Beans for dinner. Laundry unwashed. Well, and some romps. Marriage isn’t all bad. But halfway through I started asking myself, was Dot going to be left behind by her husband, Reggie, for another man? Well, maybe.

Pete. Pete. Pete.

The first meeting between doe-eyed Pete and Reggie.

Image courtesy of Roadrunner Magazine.

Oh, Pete. Bright blond curls, leather pants, and a soft, shy face. He’s fun-loving Pete. He’s sensitive Pete. He understands Reggie in ways that Dot cannot.

And one can’t help but wish, for a moment, that Dot were out of the picture. Motorcycle accident? I may sound brutal, but after watching, you’ll understand. Trust me.

February 17, 2011

Unfortunately…

by Sara Gran

Unfortunately we had to delete the previous post due to technical difficulties/copyright issues. Just sit tight and enjoy the bigger and better posts that are coming your way and as they say, but never really mean, we appreciate your patience (nah, I don’t really mean it either) …

February 3, 2011

good witches, bad mothers

by Sara Gran
Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as Samantha...

Image via Wikipedia

Megan’s post on A Family Affair, and our conversation in the comments section about Missing Mother tv shows (My Three Sons, Silver Spoons, etc) made me think of another recurring TV theme I’ve seen change over the years–the good witch and her powers. In the sixties, all the cool witchy women like Samantha on Bewitched and Jeannie on I Dream of (same) had to hide their powers or they would be in big trouble with their husbands/keepers/masters. Of course, this was incredibly frustrating to watch, and while I enjoyed these shows in reruns, it was the same kind of frustration you get watching a horror movie –Don’t go in the basement! Just make the fucking dinner with your nose, Samantha! And why does Darren get to decide when gay Uncle Arthur and Doctor Bombay can come over! (I would have them over every day!)

In the nineties I started noticing a bunch of shows with, if not witch-moms, witch-teenage-girls who used their powers without apology. Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Charmed, and Buffy were in a sense reversals of the bewitched and Jeannie–there was no thought of the witches abandoning their power and in fact, in the case of Buffy and Charmed, their powers were sorely needed to save the world.

I don’t know of any witch-mom shows on TV now–are there any? The closest I can think of are the psychic-mom shows–Ghost Whisperer, Medium, and the like. I’ve only seen these shows a few times (and I have no idea if they’re still on the air), but my impression is that while the women use their powers as needed, there’s a price to be paid for it–bad dreams, ghosts following them home at night, and the like.

Maybe we’ll know times are good when there’s a new Bewitched, and both Darren and Samantha use their powers to the fullest, not to clean house or impress Mr. Tate (who after all showed his true colors in The Sweet Smell of Success!) but to have the most fun ever casting spells and throwing parties and traveling around the witch-o-sphere with Dr. Bombay.  Speaking of which, my broomstick is waiting…

January 19, 2011

Hey!

by Sara Gran

Hey! if you like this blog–and I know you do, or why would you be here?–please consider posting a link here. Thanks!

January 15, 2011

screen memories

by Megan Abbott

A week or two ago, I wrote a post about muses and referred to a particular photograph, long lost, that had inspired me:

It was a photo I clipped from a magazine. I think it was from the early 1960s, black and white, and depicted a woman at a party, seen only from behind, the back of her head, shoulders, wasp waist. The black dress she wore had, if I recall, a dramatic “V” in back and you felt you were behind her, walking into a lively scene that she somehow owned. You felt her hectic power.

Last night, during a purgative and highly unpleasant process of getting rid of old files and ephemera accumulated during the last 15 years or so, I found the photo. Here it is:


This was an alarming discovery. Yes, it is a black and white photo of a woman, from behind. But aside from those facts, I had completely misremembered it. It’s not a party, there’s no plunging V, she doesn’t seem to “own the scene.” And I didn’t remember the man at all. And when I look at it now, it seems like a rather sad domestic moment, a hectoring woman and a put-upon fellow, maybe?

I have long been fascinated by the way memory distorts, rewrites—is in fact a kind of art in and of itself. But I’ve never seen it in myself in such plain terms. When I found the picture, I almost didn’t believe it could be the same one that propelled my first novel. And I wonder now at the power of one’s memory to make what one wants or needs from one’s experiences. (That, of course, is the kind of rabbit hole one might do best to avoid when digging through one’s past!)

But gosh, I’d even remembered her, with feverish intensity, as a brunette.