Thursday, June 24, 2010

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: DAMES, DANGER, DEATH, reportedly edited by Leo Margulies (Pyramid 1960)

The '40s month on Rara-Avis gave me an incentive (however weak, given that most of its contents are from the legendary Manhunt magazine's heyday a decade later) to read Leo Margulies's 1960 Pyramid Books antho Dames, Danger, Death. The major 1940s entry, the only one copyrighted and probably the only one written in the '40s, is a "real" Brett Halliday (Davis Dresser) Mike Shayne story, "Death Goes to the Post," from the underappreciated Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine in 1942 (not as literate as EQMM, nor as impressive as Black Mask or Dime Detective in their best years--but as a magazine a wide-ranging assortment of nearly all the kinds of pulp, and wartime digest, crime fiction in the issues I have read, most of those actually from a British reprint run). Unsurprisingly, this early Shayne is a hell of a lot fresher than most of the ghostwritten items hacked out for Margulies's Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and one can here see the seeds of Hammer and all the less-romantic children of Marlowe, the less emotionally-distant offspring of the Continental Op.

The book opens and closes with two pseudonymous stories by Salvatore Lombino, at time of writing not yet, I think, legally Evan Hunter, and only jokingly "Curt Cannon," who with "Now Die in It" offers about as deft a parody/pastiche-straddler of Hammer (from a 1953 Manhunt) as was Howard Browne's "The Veiled Woman" from a slightly earlier issue of Fantastic. "Curt Cannon" is both author and protag, doncha know, much like Ellery Queen, and he gets tied up with teenagers who run "nightclubs" of sorts out of their families' rec-rooms, and the nymphomaniac who patronizes one in particular. She, like some of Hammer's companions, can't get enough abuse-as-foreplay. It's a nice touch that this percussive fellow starts out as a down-and-out flophouse resident, reminiscent of what I've read about Barry "Mike Barry" Malzberg's later Executioner-style series, The Lone Wolf books, wherein apparently no bones are made about the protagonist being a deteriorating sociopath.

"Classification: Dead," as by Richard Marsten, is mostly notable for the depth of hatred Lombino/Hunter evinces for both abortionists and abortion as a concept. Henry Kane has a decent Peter Chambers story here, "Sweet Charlie"; Frank Kane, a more ridiculously terse attempt at an ultra-hardboiled Johnny Liddell story, "Sleep Without Dreams" (somehow, it doesn't surprise me that Liddell stories would eventually pop up in the bottom-of-the market Web Detective by the turn of the '60s). Richard Prather's Shell Scott story "Squeeze Play" bounces along as nicely as you'd expect; Richard Deming's "Optical Illusion" is disappointing when compared to his later work, which I usually enjoy, but is a solid if unexciting example of the criminal-with-scruples-and-injured-vanity taking on his rivals. Best in the book is Jonathan Craig's "A Lady of Talent," a police procedural of sorts in this book supposedly of PI stories, and the story which really gets at the urban High Lonesome of hardboiled, with a fully human touch that the others tend to lack. Perhaps because this is a Margulies antho, or so I gather from the others attributed to him and published by Pyramid at about the same time, wherein he was (and his ghost-editors were) more interested, apparently, in overlooked and interesting than in actually Good work. Nonetheless, this is a valuable core-ssmpling of the Manhunt/MSMM-style story, one of the dominant modes of short crime-fiction in the 1950s and '60s, and still influential through the various hardboiled short-fiction venues since.

Please eee Patti Abbott's blog for more "forgotten" books for this week, and previously.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June "Forgotten" Music: the film CATCH US IF YOU CAN, The Dave Clark Five

So, in late 1964/early 1965, the Dave Clark 5 were being carried along, like most British rock bands, in the wake of the Beatles in terms of international success, and were doing better than a film in the mode of A Hard Day's Night seemed a natural next step. So, a youngish playwright and television writer, Peter Nichols, who would go on to Georgy Girl and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, and an even younger tv director/producer, John Boorman, were tasked with coming up with a vehicle for the band and their songs...

...and came up with this, a rather rushed but thoughtful satire of much of what was concering the Angry Young Men and their fellow travelers in film and other media, including in a less concentrated way Richard Lester and the Beatles in the film which inspired this one. Catch Us If You Can (not usefully, but perhaps in hopes of giving the impression of more Whacky Fun than is at hand, retitled Having a Wild Weekend for US release) features Dave Clark as the most morose and aggressive of a group of young stuntmen (the band), working on an ad campaingn for butchery interests ("Meat for Go" is the unifying slogan) starring a young blonde, Dinah (Barbara Ferris), who is the not quite ensnared Trilby to the ad agency's Svengali. She and Clark's "Steve" decide to blow off work on a commercial halfway through a shoot, steal their prop Jag, and go on a road trip with agents of the advert campaign, sometimes supplemented by police, in pursuit. Steve is also smitten with Dinah, but can't quite sink himself into the romance of their lark as she does, even as they have rather jarring encounters with post-Beat proto-hippies squatting in abandoned buildings in a remote village (which are attacked by the British Army in practice raids using live ammo), a middle-aged married couple (who initially seem to be out of Edward Albee by way of The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson, but turn out to be rather less rapacious and self-deluding than that, as they host the fleeing couple and help them along), and so on to a rather realistic if perhaps overly stark ending. The film has flashes of brilliance in it, with Boorman's eye and Nichols's dialog at times putting it on par with most of the best of its era, and the performances of Yootha Joyce and Robin Bailey as the middle-aged couple almost universally praised, and with reason).

The music of the Dave Clark 5, while good, isn't as showcased as one might expect, with snatches often played rather than whole songs...and while the other members of the band are collectively present when at all, and not given too much differentiation, their performances certainly compare favorably to those of the Beatles or the other musicians required to act in their films (as opposed to the kinds of extended cameos the Zombies or the Yardbirds have in Bunny Lake is Missing or Blow Up, respectively, or the quasi-dcoumentary footage of the Stones in One Plus One. In short, none of the 5 are as bad as Lennon and McCartney often were and have been in their acting roles.)

From the soundtrack:

(one for Patti Abbott particularly:)

Another for Patti:

And a Forgotten Music note:
In a project associated with WFMU, there's an ongoing attempt to name some musical cues used by the Firesign Theater in their late '60s/early '70s radio hours...a challenge to all true forgotten music fans and slans...

For more "forgotten" music posts, please see Scott Parker's blog, on this and every last Thurday of the month...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Off the newsstand this weekend and in the mail today (Tuesday):


The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2010--John Sladek, Rachel Pollack, Fred Chapell, et al.
Southern Review, Spring 2010--baseball fiction, etc., special
The Paris Review, Summer 2010--Ann Beattie, R. Crumb, Katherine Dunn, et al.
Black Clock, Spring/Summer 2010--Jonathan Lethem, Katherine Dunn, et al.
Zoetrope All-Story, Summer 2010--Ann Packer, (Woody Allen), et al.
The Seattle Review, early 2010--Antonya Nelson, et al.
Granta, Spring 2010--Chris Offut, Jeannette Winterson, (Dave Eggers), et al.
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 2010--Clark Howard, William Bankier, Bill Crider, Jon Breen, et al.
Asimov's Science Fiction, August 2010--Carol Emshwiller, James Patrick Kelly, Robert Silverberg, et al.
Interzone undated #228 (2010)--Gene Wolfe, David Langford, et al.
Locus, June 2010
Z Magazine, June 2010
JazzTimes, June 2010
Downbeat, June 2010

for Alice: Cat Fancy, June 2010

Addendum: in Tuesday's mail:
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, August 2010
Harper's, July 2010
Laurie Kilmartin, Five Minutes to Myself (RoofTopComedy)
Marc Maron, Final Engagement (Stand Up! Records)
Laura Kightlinger, et al., The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman: Season One (IFC)
Harold Courlander, Ride with the Sun--an ex-lib not as handsome as the Scott, Foresman reprint I read in the '70s, but it is the original edition...

In the earphones while writing: the first of WFMU's rebroadcasts of Firesign Theater radio hours from the latest '60s snd earliest '70s, a staple of their Tuesday night schedules this summer apparently...Brian Arnold was kind enough to point me toward it...

Friday, June 18, 2010

FFB: William Saroyan: MY NAME IS ARAM World 1940; Harold Courlander RIDE WITH THE SUN McGraw-Hill 1955; Susan Feldman THE STORYTELLING STONE Dell 1965

I picked up my old World hardcover edition of William Saroyan's My Name is Aram the other day (as opposed to my somewhat less old but still old Dell Laurel Leaf edition), and the mix of deadpan and often somewhat heartbreaking realism and infrequent tall-tale touches and Old Country Meets New World situations is still engaging, in these linked, largely autobiographical short stories originally published in the likes of Harper's and Esquire...but in a book that has been marketed, when in print, to young readers primarily (hence the Laurel Leaf paperback). Saroyan is a bit pat and cute at times in a way I didn't note as readily when I first read this when I was about nine or ten, but it's still reading that will reward an adult, who might have a greater sense of what it meant to be Armenian in California in the early part of the last least have a sense of the background more readily than young readers, unaware of an Ottoman Empire, Young Turks or the Armenian genocide, might...till they read the book. Even then, the grimmer details on the world stage are supplanted by what grim details are close to home for Aram, our protagonist, and his friends and family, very much including younger and older adults...but more of their adventures are relatively light-hearted than grim...but a fine Orthodox Christian pessimism informs this work (even if Aram is a very casual Catholic).

But what's again at least briefly interesting is that this book was sucked into the kids' canon, much as Sterling North's memoir Rascal or John Knowles's A Separate Peace (this last more pushed into the YA realm by well-meaning teachers and their colleagues) or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game largely because it's About children...even The Lord of the Flies is more likely to be read by children these days than adults, though it was by no means aimed at them. A book perhaps aimed a little more in the young reader's direction, but not exclusively so, was the collection of folktales from around the world put together by Harold Courlander, a prolfic folklorist and mythologist, under commission from the United Nations Women's Guild...with folklore and creation myths from each of the United Nations' member states. This volume, which apparently led to Courlander taking on the editorship of The United Nations Review for three years and change, was the widest-ranging assortment of such material I'd stumbled across at that time, after reading as many young-reader's Greek, Roman, and Native American anthologies as I could find, and listening to Manu Tupou's Caedmon Records recordings of Polynesian folktales retold. I went on to read Courlander's more adult collections, often focused on one nation or culture's traditions, such as those of the Dineh (or Navajo)...but even before I found this Courlander, I had read and been charmed and occasionally puzzled by Susan Feldman's The Storytelling Stone, an unstuffy but still relatively scholarly survey of Native American myths and tales from all over North America; puzzling mostly for such situations as the trickster who uses a wooden dildo to break the teeth of some vagina-dentata women who've been terrorizing a certain commnunity (just in case you mistook institutional sexism as somehow a European introduction into the continent). But more telling yet were such vignettes as the argument between the creator lizard and the creator coyote as to how a human hand will be formed...with the lizard's splayed fingers or the coyote's grouped paw. The lizard carries the day on this point, so the sullen coyote demands, "Then they will have to die." Some tough trading in those days. As far as I can tell, Stone was a Dell Laurel Leaf original publication, thus a rather fine mass market original that is the only one of these three still in print...and the one, as I imagine you might've gathered, most likely to raise the ire of the Tipper Gores and Phyllis Schlaflys...I will be very surprised if it's not on the American Library Association's list of banned or challenged books. (I first found it in a public, not school, library.)

I've picked up a copy of Ride tonight, or so I hope, since I'd like to have it around, along with my copies of the others. For more "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Everett F Bleiler 04/30/1920 - 06/13/2010

Just a taste of the range of his work, quite aside from his long run as an editor at Dover Books:


The Best Science Fiction (the first such annual in the sf field)
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949 (with T. E. Dikty)
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950 (with T. E. Dikty)
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1951 (with T. E. Dikty)
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1952 (with T. E. Dikty)
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1953 (with T. E. Dikty)
The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1954 (with T. E. Dikty)
Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels: 1952 (with T. E. Dikty)
Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels: 1953 (with T. E. Dikty)
Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels: 1954 (with T. E. Dikty)

Other anthologies
Imagination Unlimited (with T. E. Dikty, 1952)

Single Author Collections
Three Prophetic Science Fiction Novels of H. G. Wells (1960)
Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce (1964)
The Best Tales of Hoffmann by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1967)
The King in Yellow and Other Stories by Robert W. Chambers (1970)
Ghost Stories and Mysteries by Sheridan Le Fanu (1971)
Gods, Men, and Ghosts by Lord Dunsany (1972)
The Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood (1973)
The Collected Ghost Stories of Mrs J.H. Riddell (1977)
The Best Supernatural Tales of Arthur Conan Doyle (1979)

The Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948)
The Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983)
Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror (1985)

Monday, June 14, 2010

doggerel after a bad day

This imperfect instrument,
Offered with some diffidence, but
With some hope that it will suffice.

No guarantees, mind you, other than
It can take some damage over the short term...
And will endure it.
And work about as well as it ever has.

But it's available.
Whether it's worth the trouble
Is always a good question.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Maria Bamford, Jackie Kashian, Joe De Vito: Comix (NYC) 12 June 2010

My best friend Alice and I took a daytrip up to NYC to see Maria Bamford and Jackie Kashian at the NYC comedy club/restaurant/bar Comix, and found ourselves seated at the edge of the tiny stage. Joe De Vito turned out to be the MC for the show, and did a good intro set, involving us in his crowd-work (I think we looked insufficiently clothes-conscious to be Manhattanites), and generally setting a sufficiently congruent tone for Kashian and a bit about touring in Texas, De Vito seemed genuinely surprised that there were still such people as dressed like and sometimes even work as cowboys, turning to us to note that would be like visiting Philly and seeing Benjamin Franklin walking around...we didn't interrupt him to note how many men are making their living being Ben Franklin walking around the historic sectors of Philadelphia, most guiding tours. This, by the way, was Not the "G- and R-rated" hypnotist comedian Joe DeVito (to judge by his webpage, thank goodness)...who knew, if one went Comdeyland, that there'd still be so many Joe De Vitos out and about?

Jackie Kashian, fairly recently back from Iraq, did a fine, plainspoken set (she stroked the audience with notes that her more literary jokes made a much better impression there than anywhere else she'd tried them)...much of it audible on her album It Is Never Going To Be Bread, admixed with various Iraq-related and other jokes and anecdotes. She let us know at the outset, let it be taken as a given, she's fat (not really so very fat); many people make jokes about it, it's not all that funny. After the show, I picked up a copy of Bread from her (courtesy of Alice, since although I bankrolled the evening except for a few incidentals, most notably otherwise driving to the Hamilton NJ Transit station to get to NYC, I had no cash on me--or bread, if you will, of the non-electronic kind). As we did this, we had a pleasnt chat with Kashian as we stood in the line to allow Bamford and her to greet fans and sign and sell some discs. I'd let her know that I'd listened to her The Dork Forest podcast series; she mentioned that she was about to get some more-professional grade recording and podcasting equipment, even if it might mean a loss of lo-fi charm. She also noted that she began her standup career two decades ago in a sort of variation on I Can Do Better Than That--she'd had some too many and heckled Sam Kinison, of all aggro standups to heckle, and had been dismissively instructed by the nightclub manager that Open Mike (for amateurs or anyone who wanted to take a few minutes on stage) was on another night...and three weeks later she was back to try her first Open Mike set.

Maria Bamford's energetic set followed, where I'd say about 30% of the material was new to me and 70% of the material was familiar, though often tweaked or reshuffled in new ways, from her various sorts of recordings (including the Comedians of Comedy tour series and one-shot videos, the Plan B and The Maria Bamford Show videos as well as her 2001 Comedy Central Presents on a dvd with four other women comedians; her later CC half-hour has not been releeased on home video yet, I believe, and her three albums, The Burning Bridges Tour, How to Win and Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome). Where Kashian is an incisive and creative but fairly traditional standup, telling jokes and making observations from a persona that is her own, Bamford (as noted on this blog previously) is constantly shifting from that kind of approach into multi-character sketches she brings off with her skill in vocal character-creation, and then back again for some crowdwork (a fellow sitting next to Alice was persuaded to get up on stage and sing an unauthorized variation on the Coldstone Creamery song he was required to sing for customers while scooping at that chain years ago). Bamford's physical as well as mental energy seemed up, as she'd dance and run in place in such a way that I was put in mind of the younger Roger Daltrey, though some of the set seemed to inspire some sense-memories that were a little heavy for her (though perhaps it was simply allergies or the stage lights that were causing a bit of eye-watering...we were ridiculously close to all the performers). Didn't get as much time to chat with Bamford, as old acquaintances would pop up and interrupt, and we weren't at the end of the line of 8pm audience well-wishers even as the 10 o'clock show grew imminent, but she was kind enough to sign the Netflix Comedians of Comedy tour-documentary disc (the one thing I'd had the wit to locate on my way out that morning); unfortunately, she was sold out of Unwanted Thoughts copies she was offering at the club and so thanked us for coming and sitting in the front row--no problem at all, given we didn't expect Kashian or Bamford to feel the need to insult us or splatter us with fruit juices--and we thanked her for her fine work, and encouraged both her and Kashian to come back to Philadelphia...which might or might not occur, we gathered. During Bamford's crowd work, we hadn't volunteered that Alice is a psychiatrist and I handle the national tv schedule/listings for one of Bamford's series, Wordgirl, and failed to do so while in the hall with her, but nonetheless she was very gracious. (So, I went ahead and bought Alice the Bamford albums and such, and myself the previous Kashian album, after getting home early in the morning.)

Comix staff were helpful, even if it was a little odd that Alice's dessert was presented during Kashian's set, albeit discreetly; the food was, as one compaint reads somewhere online, kind of touristy and certainly not cheap, though not bad. Unless, like Alice, you have the prix fixe dinner, there's a two-drink minimum, so go ahead and add ten dollars, at least, to any ticket, plus gratuity. Easy enough to find your way to Comix, two subway stops away from Penn Station. Not exactly distracting, but certainly hard to miss for me, was the young woman sitting across the stage from us, wearing a matching white microminiskirt and crop-top, directly in the eyeline for me as I watched the performers; she was mostly leg, and dressed accordingly. So, that's a Comix crowd, if you factor in also the smartly dressed and very nice folks sitting just behind us from the stage perspective, who also live in the Philadelphia suburbs and were in town since they were visiting the North Jersey parents of one of them. Somwhat crowded conditions, but a decent club and a very satisfying night of performance.

Please see also: these previous posts on Bamford's work, including the Lenny Bruce comparison, the quick review of How to Win, and the formal argument for why Bamford and Maria Bello are not the same person...

UPDATE: No fewer than five vendors have discovered that they don't have a copy of Jackie Kashian's Circus People, after all, since I've started ordering it on Sunday morning. Along with an odd glitch on Kashian's Dork Forest page, which I brought to her attention only for her not to find it glitching at all, the quality of my adventures in gathering more Kashian input has mirrored the quality of other aspects of the day today. I must must not live right. (I might just buy the MP3, but I like to have a relatively durable hardcopy around, too.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

FFB: COMPLETELY DOOMED (IDW 2007); Memorials: Martin Gardner (THE NEW AGE) and Arthur Herzog (THE B.S. FACTOR)

Completely Doomed, the compilation from IDW's flagship horror-anthology comic Doomed, the first one to make a splash since Harlan Ellison's partly-horror Dream Corridor a decade previously, and one more tied to "real" literary horror than any other since the Ellison or Cemetery Dance Publications' less well-received Grave Tales, is a solid Good Try...excellent art, excellent choices in the fiction adapted (horror and suspense fiction rarely rivals Robert Bloch's "Final Performance," and Richard Matheson's "Blood Son" tends to stick with one; David Schow and F. Paul Wilson are no slouches), but somehow the stories here lack the power of the fiction they're based on. The scripts may not be altogether at fault, since they have a high bar to match, in the case of most of the stories adapted here...but the comparison that most of the commenters on Amazon (another book barely in print!) make is more apt than they intend, when they note how similar Doomed is to the Warren magazines of the 1960s and 1970s, the relatively elegantly-illustrated and dully-written Creepy and Eerie, in their turn a refuge for the artists who had done such good work for the EC and other horror comics of the 1950s, often for undistinguished (or worse) scripts for those publishers, too. Such distinctive artists as Ashley Wood and Ted McKeever here do what they do very well indeed...Wood did the rather fanboy cheesecake cover, depicting the "host" of the comic, Ms. Doomed, in one of her many guises...but even that is indicative of the basic failure here...not quite Weird enough, even if it does distantly harken to the Weird Tales covers of Margaret Brundage. My copy of this one is buried in a moving box, or else I would hope to cite the name of the editor, which is rather coyly elided in the online references...Chris Ryall, as scripter, and Wood as illustrator of the adaptation of "Blood Son" were nominated for the Eisner, the most prestigious award in comics...which, I think, more than any other aspect of the enterprise helped inspire at least DC/Vertigo, their adult-oriented prestige line, to revive the very long-lived House of Mystery anthology title, and Dark Horse Comics to offer a revival of Creepy (I believe Marvel and Fantagraphics also dabbled in similar projects, without committing to new/revived horror anthologies)--it's not as if the prestige accorded Doomed was enough to keep IDW publishing the magazine...this anthology contains the entire run, if I'm not mistaken. But a worthy experiment, and worth a look for aficionados of horror and suspense fiction, or comics.

The U.S. paperback

Grimmer the last several weeks we've lost two writers who told engaging lies (in that both were good fiction-writers, Martin Gardner with short stories for the most part, Arthur Herzog with the reportedly surprisingly good novel The Swarm among other work--surprisingly mostly due to the rash of bad Killer Bee work produced around it, not surprising as a Herzog production)...but who were even more dear to me for their truth-seeking. The first edition of The B.S. Factor, or at least its paperback edition (the one pictured, which I have, somewhere in storage) was a very entertaining and useful book for me to come across in my youth...not quite Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," but a fine, somewhat less intense and more wide-ranging successor, sniffing out cant in many forms, and mocking it sometimes gently, usually not so gently. The New Age was a wide-ranging collection of Gardner's writing, a sequel of sorts to the unitary and consistently in-print Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science...and at least as pleasurable a reading experience, even or perhaps because it's such a miscellany of essays, reviews and other sorts of nonfiction...more fun than his columns in Scientific American and Asimov's Science Fiction magazines in my youth (I hadn't yet quite caught up with The Skeptical Inquirer and related publications, where much of this book was first published.) May these two not be forgotten...neither the books or their authors.

For more "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog, for the weekly roundup of participating reviewers and their nominations...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Maria Bamford is the current Lenny Bruce...(revisited)

Maria Bamford's website; she and Jackie Kashian are doing several shows at Comix in NYC, Thursday through Saturday.

1. The respect of her peers. Other comedians, such as Marc Maron and Paul F. Tompkins, make a point of noting that she's either their favorite comedian or one of their favorites, rather as Bruce was often the touchstone of his time. Also, it's notable the degree of generosity both have demonstrated toward their peers (which is one way to become popular personally, I'm sure...Bruce was frequently willing to incorporate his peers into routines, and Bamford famously talks up her peers (beyond her very good friends, such as Kashian) in interviews, as well as having extensive lists of links to other women comedians on her well as conversing with them politely in those situations, which is rather distinct from some of the peers, who seem to think "Shut the fuck up!" is a hilarious line in and of itself.

2. The dramatic impulse. Perhaps most comedians will work up dialogues with characters for at least some routines, but Bamford like Bruce likes to work up fairly elaborate little dramas, with a multiplicity of voices (Bamford is a busy animation voice actor as well). Bamford often re-enacts job and family situations versus Bruce's film parodies and barroom scenes, but nonetheless the feel is rather similar.

3. The challenge to the audience, without being hostile to the audience. A number of comedians overtly, or not very effectively covertly, have a certain hostility, presumably a love-hatred, of their audiences. Bruce seemed to set up a rapport with his audiences, setting up his most challenging routines (mocking organized religion, using eptithets) as a Can you believe this? and Wow, isn't this an amazing hypocrisy? dynamic. Bamford often deals with similar matters, often from a feminist perspective and with a focus on interpersonal interaction.

4. Looking into their personal "darkness," and making it "relatable." Both have been acutely aware of their own problems, and have been willing to explore them and related matters in a way that was both clearly therapeutic in some ways and in which they didn't hold up the eccentricity as Hilarious Because Weird so much as possibly hilarious because it was so damned spooky...and common.

5. Not so focused on Traditional Joke Structure, as even such "alternative" comics as Mitch Hedberg and Dave Attell have been.

For examples:
Lenny Bruce's most extended routine, among his Fantasy Records recordings, "The Palladium.". About a mildly successful hack comedian who gets himself booked into the largest London music hall, just to show he can perform there...unfortunately, things don't go quite as he hopes, not least because he follows, in the show, a crowd-pleaser of a woman singer who specializes in lachrymose patriotic displays and other blatant ploys...and because he simply isn't that good a comedian.
Maria Bamford's "Road Show", which closes her third album and is clearly a favored routine of hers, and one of her most potent, has a few resonances of the Bruce, without being in any way derivative of Bamford's, she imagines the typical accessible or "universal" female comedian's set, riddled with involuntary expressions of self-loathing as the hack comedian persona makes her way through her routines...including singging a snatch of "The Star-Spangled Banner"...

Bamford performances and interviews I've particularly enjoyed of late:

Maria Bamford as Jazz (or possibly Jess) Martin, or Mrs. Rep. Richard Martin (Paul Gilmartin), the slightly paranoid-schizophrenic wife of a smarmy GOP House-member (their routine begins about five minutes in on this older episode of Comedy Death Ray Radio with guest-host Jimmy Pardo, once and future Conan O'Brien show comedian)

Meanwhile, a video clip (and ad) about Lenny Bruce's relation to jazz, including a NYC-only television hour he put together, a pilot called The World of Lenny Bruce:

Meanwhile, I've embedded this in a blog entry previously, but here is the "Christmas Special," a rather freeform sit-down run through a lot of her stand-up material...delivered in a deliberately unpolished way, particularly compared to her performances on her cds:

Maria Bamford's One-Hour Homemade Christmas Special! from Maria Bamford on Vimeo.

Perhaps the best straightforward interview I've heard recently with Bamford, from the podcast Comedy And Everything Else, which followed this one:

The Bamford WTF interview is pretty interesting for fans of both Bamford and WTF host Marc Maron.

And (the free, truncated form) of Never Not Funny, the first episode of the fourth season, with Bamford. As with his previous, less jokey interview, Pardo goes for put-on swinish humor at first.

Friday, June 4, 2010


The Years with Ross is a memoir by James Thurber of his experiences, and those of the rest of the The New Yorker crew, with founding editor Harold Ross, a colorful character to say the least and one as full of seeming contradictions as H.L. Mencken, who might be his closest correspondent in American letters in their era...except that, as Thurber noted, Ross could never bring himself to write extensively for publication, after his early career in journalism.

It's also a rare example of a book in print among my entries in this series of reviews, but in discovering it was still in print (since I have the first Book-of-theMonth-Club edition from the 1950s, and first read it some twenty five years ago), I had an opportunity to read Adam Gopnick's self-congratulatory little deposit as foreward to the edition pictured here. In noting, correctly, that Thurber's Ross seems rather a comic figure (a man who consistently affected an aw-shucks Midwestern manner while running a magazine that made a point of insulting Midwesterners on occasion, in favor of presumably un-provincial NYCers at heart if not in address; a man who constantly swore yet blanched at the notion of impropriety of any sort advocated by his ostensibly sophisticated magazine; this is not a man who lacks in comic potential), Gopnick decides that he knows Thurber was merely taking Ross down a peg, and we moderns can clearly see that Thurber was merely resentful of Ross as any writer is of their editor, and today's reader doesn't care about the details of the publishing life in the '30s...what's interesting is the relation between writer and editor, even as so cleverly distorted by grumpy old Thurber-bear. I'm not getting across the full smugness of Gopnick, but it is a pretty remarkable performance, pretty amazingly echoing the sins Gopnick ascribes to Thurber only the younger man commits them less deftly. And, yes, this 21st century reader is indeed interested in the details of publishing in the 1930s, which is why I read books about publishing in the 1930s. Goodness.

But Gopnick isn't completely wrong...Thurber clearly was letting festering irritation out in much of what he wrote about Ross, but unless Thurber made up incidents out of whole cloth, one can see why he might be harboring those resentments, given the capriciousness of much of Ross's the manner of many great yet not consistently correct editors...who were Right even when not correct, by dint of their passion and willingness to shape their medium to fit their vision, as much as the vision of their contributors.

In short, a very useful book, as a look at both Thurber and Ross and how The New Yorker established itself, before becoming the relative bore it became under Shawn and the weathervaning creature it has been since Shawn. And Gopnick's little contribution, and the inclusion of some Thurber memos by the writer's heirs in this edition make it a slight more Interesting experience, it's true.

For more links to "forgotten" book entries this week, please see Patti Abbott's blog, this and every Friday.