Monday, November 30, 2009

"LA Confidential" in Mexico

THE Misread City just landed in Guadalajara, where an enormous book festival will pack in 500,000 or so by week's end.

Tonight I took in a panel on one of the best movies ever made about Los Angeles -- "LA Confidential." Actually, it was just die-hard Angeleno David Kipen interviewing the film's director, Curtis Hanson, but the conversation was quite revealing.

Hanson talked about his fight with Warner Bros. to cast lesser-known actors in the role of Bud White (which went to Russell Crowe) and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and said he almost lost the film because of the casting issue. "But here's the deal," he said. "I want to shoot unknown."

He also described trying to find parts of LA that still existed from the novel's 1950s setting, to capture the city's continuity rather than the fragmented memory that's typically the way old LA is remembered. Hence the use of the Formosa Cafe, near his grandparents' house, and where he took the actors to talk about their roles.

"I didn't want the movie to feel like the snapshot of a period that doesn't exist anymore," Hanson said.

And he talked about the role of "Chinatown" as a precedent for his film, and how he showed the actors the great Bogart film, "In a Lonely Place," as well as Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," to set the tone.

Even then, by the way, Crowe was known -- as the director put it -- as "trouble."

By the way, here is my LATimes piece about films based on Ellroy's work. All in all, a fascinating discussion about one of the great works of art about the city.

This movie came out a month or so after I moved to town and was a very big deal for me and everybody I knew back then. For me, the movie stands as an important step -- as well as Kevin Starr's histories, most of Ellroy's work, and books on West Coast jazz and Central Avenue -- in which this city that often has amnesia began to recover some of its own past.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Viva Gustavo

FRIDAY night I was lucky enough to take in the concert Gustavo Dudamel conducted as part of the LA Philharmonic's "West Coast, Left Coast" festival. (The concert was repeated Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.)

I say lucky because not only were we seeing the nation's most exciting young conductor -- albeit one born, raised, and trained in Venezuela -- but a program that made the case, if it still needs to be made, for the West Coast as the site of much of the freshest, most distinct music post-World War II. This weekend that meant Esa-Pekka Salonen's "LA Variations," which seems to me his breakthrough piece, Lou Harrison's Asian-accented, alternate-tuned Piano Concerto, played by Italian phenom Marino Formenti, and John Adams' "City Noir."

The Adams is the newest piece, debuted just last month. Adams is known as a minimalist, and this piece offered some of the genre's use of repetition, but also drew from film noir soundtracks, Gershwin, mid-century West Coast jazz, automobile sounds, and other signifiers of Southland culture. Even by Adams' high standards this was a wonderful piece. (It was inspired by the excellent books of California history by Kevin Starr.)

Here is Mark Swed's LA Times review of the show.

None of this music is an obvious fit conductor Gustavo "The Dude" Dudamel, but he brought it alive. I really wanted to be a detractor on this guy, but he keeps winning me over.

Amazingly, we sat right in front of Adams, who is a very cool guy, Frank Gehry -- who of course designed the hall we were sitting in, and legendary tenor Placido Domingo. Next to us was Phil boss Deborah Bordah. Quite an evening -- and more proof that traditional "high" culture in LA has long come of age. The fact that the show sold out also proves that the audience is on board with the explosion of serious music here.

Photo credit: LA Philharmonic

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Misread City Goes to Mexico

NEXT week I will visit Mexico for the Guadalajara International Book Fair -- the biggest event of its kind in the Americas, second in size only to Frankfurt, and this year dedicated to the writing of Los Angeles. I was invited to moderate two panels partly because I co-edited a book on literary LA, and am in the process of renaming this blog for the book: The Misread City. (You can now get to the blog with

In his Slate review of my book, critic Adam Kirsch suggested that the title could make a good literary quarterly on the city and its culture, and I've come to think of this blog as the 21st century equivalent. (Even if a few posts on evil Eastern and British subjects sometimes creep in -- LA, of course, welcomes all kinds.)

Anyway I will be running a panel called "The Short Story: LA in a Shot Glass," with writers Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Ana Menendex and Mary Otis, on Tues. Dec. 1 at 630 pm. And a second panel, "They're From Where? LA Bred Writers Who Live Everywhere But," with Jane Smiley, Dagoberto Gilb and Paul Beatty, on Dec. 2 at 530 pm. (Please note that I did not name these panels.)

Hope to see some of you there. I will be enjoying the tequila, mariachi, Orozco murals and what I hear is a mellow pace of life there, and trying to catch as many writers and panels as I can myself.

HERE is a piece I wrote on my visit to Mexico City and the colonial silver city Guanajuato.

And wishing everyone a great Thanksgiving, with or without cactus salsa.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The West Coast vs. Classical Music

ON Saturday night I took in an intriguing if imperfect concert at Disney Hall that involved Kronos Quartet, electronica duo Matmos, rocker Mike Einziger and minimalist pioneer Terry Riley. The evening -- with the coolest crowd I've ever seen at Disney Hall -- was the kickoff to the Phil's "West Coast, Left Coast" festival, which runs for the next several weeks. (Review of show here.)

The festival, which aims to seek and present what's most distinctive about West Coast music, is curated by Bay Area composer John Adams, and I first heard about the festival last year, when I flew to Berkeley to interview Adams about his memoir. In "Hallelujah Junction," Adams writes about his New England roots in "the era of the clarinet in American music," his move to California in the early '70s, working menial jobs and flirting with experimental and electronic music, and his eventual development of a personal language that nonetheless synthesizes various strands of West Coast tradition.

HERE is my interview with the composer. The book, now out in paperback, is a delight, and is a work of not just musical but cultural history. Will be writing more about the festival in this space.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Birth (and Death) of the Cool

NOT long ago, I attended a lively discussion at LA's Book Soup about the origins and demise of cool. Ted Gioia, the author of "West Coast Jazz" and "Delta Blues," was talking about a seismic, beneath-the-surface cultural shift. The cool detachment --sometimes spiked with irony or cryptic gestures -- originated by Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young and Miles Davis is reaching its sell-by date.

How can cool lose its cool? And what kind of "post-cool" culture will replace it?

Now, I don't agree with every line in Ted's new "The Birth (and Death) of the Cool." At times he is too reductive and sweeping, and movements like '70s soft rock show that a yearning for feeling and authenticity can exist right in the middle of an otherwise "cool" era. But he's certainly on to something, and I like the audacity of the way he puts modern jazz, styles of acting, trends in black culture, and corporate sponsorship into the same argument. Overall, he's persuaded me.

Here is my conversation with Ted. We've become friends, but I read his work (starting with the book-length essay "The Imperfect Art") a decade and a half before we met.

Q: So where did cool come from?

A: There was a major shift in American culture in the 1950s as people embraced cool in a way that previous generations hadn't -- after fighting for survival during the Depression, they were adding some flair to their lives. Cool came out of nowhere via jazz, from actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando. And in the '60s and '70s it was in the ascendancy.

Q: Why did so much of cool come from black culture?

A: In an odd sort of way, the predicament of black culture in the early part of the 20th century predicted what would happen to everybody. Urbanization, being torn from family roots, from cultural roots -- this happened to black people when they came to this country. The modern predicament is to have these ties cut loose. And many of the mechanisms for coping and surviving from black culture were adapted by everybody.

Q: Is there a special West Coast resonance to the notion of cool?

A: When I was growing up in Los Angeles in the '60s and '70s, it was far more pronounced than it is now. I remember the first time I went to New York, the intensity overwhelmed me.
The works of art that came our of the West Coast had that tone: West Coast jazz played off that cool sound and found a receptive audience. People responded more fully to the music because they associated it with the lifestyle of California -- a Hollywood of the mind. Bill Claxton understood the psychology of the West Coast and captured it in his photography.

Q: What happened to cool?

A: A number of things too place in the last 10 to 15 years to rob cool of is centrality -- 9/11, the mortgage meltdown, terrorism. The aging of the Baby Boomers.
But more important, cool has been commoditized by corporations eager to market it, and as people have become suspicious of corporate marketing they've become suspicious of cool as well.
You can generalize: There are eras where people follow the crowd, and others where they follow deeply held convictions. There's a fundamental instability to cool: When you decide you want to be cool, you're looking outside.
Cool is always in danger of being replaced by something deeper and more intrinsic. I list the lifestyles that are replacing cool -- eco-friendly, Nascar dads, the return to traditional religion. These people have very little in common, but they all believe they are going beyond cool.
There are many good aspects to this -- people are embracing the authentic and sincere, and returning to roots. But there's a downside: I think there's a connection to the new anger and confrontation in our discourse.

Q: What does postcool music sound like?

A: Part of the problem the music industry faces right now is they're still operating under the cool paradigm. When someone like Susan Boyle or Norah Jones emerges, who appeal to authenticity or feeling, they're puzzled by it.

Q: Anything that's surprised you as you barnstorm the country talking about cool?

A: About 10% of the people get angry. They don't want to discuss it -- they just rant. I realize now, These people must think they're really cool. It's like I had attacked their religion or something.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Riding West With Cormac McCarthy

ONE of the least likely success stories in recent years is the rise of Cormac McCarthy -- the reclusive, thesaurus-clutching author of unfashionable, hyper-violent Southern Gothic, who became the equally reclusive author of unfashionable Western novels of cowboy-myth.

But with "All the Pretty Horses," McCarthy became a literary superstar, with the critical and cinematic success of "No Country For Old Men" he became canonized in the academy, and with "The Road" he becomes one of the hottest properties in Hollywood.

Here is my LATimes story, which runs Sunday. I spoke to a UCLA scholar, the screenwriter and producer of "The Road," and Billy Bob Thornton, who directed the first McCarthy adaptation and wishes the world could see the film the way he shot it.

Screenwriter Joe Penhall, a playwright and former music journalist, was especially eloquent, talking about the novel's similarities to "Waiting for Godot," his interest in expanding the role of the wife/mother character, and the resonance between McCarthy's vision of the wilderness with the Australian tradition. (Both he and director John Hillcoat grew up there.)

"It's all about the elements, the landscape and pioneering endeavors," Penhall told me of McCarthy's work. "And man's endless struggle with the landscape, what it does to his psyche and his corporal existence. It's part of both nation's [Australia, U.S] mythologies. The countryside in Britain is the bosom, where you run in times of danger." In the American and Aussie tradition, "it's a place of tremendous, danger, despair and challenge."

For an experience of danger, despair and challenge, check out what they did with "The Road," which opens next Wednesday and which I found powerful and harrowing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Passion is No Ordinary Word"

I'M kind of giddy to note that this week marks the birthday of British "Angry Young Man" Graham Parker. Parker broke about the same time as Elvis Costello, bringing with him righteous anger, a voice that resembled Van Morrison and perhaps American R&B, and a musical traditionalism grounded in The Band and other US models.

Though he never hit as hard as Elvis or even Joe Jackson -- those glasses probably didn't help --Parker has been a minor idol of mine since my high school days scrawling out his lyrics out in an attempt to teach myself literary imagery.

This song, from his 1979 "Squeezing Out Sparks" LP, gives the best sense of why we love the guy. Word-drunk, bitter, and catchy, he just destroys this song, "Protection." These "Local Girls" fare similarly, dispatched by what may be the worst dressed band in history! And this is a live "Passion is No Ordinary Word."

Shrewd listeners will note a backbone of Jamaican music in his style -- the one kind of music punks could admit to liking -- and here plays Bob Marley on Conan. Could not find a video for my favorite reggae tune of his, "Crazy Baldhead."

Finally, a stripped-down "You Can't Take Love For Granted." Ouch!

I spoke to Parker a few years back, around the time of his No Depression inspired "Your Country" LP. (In which Parker told me, by the way, that he had heard Gram Parsons.) I'll post it as soon as the LATimes archive is back. In any case, Happy Birthday to an underrated musician!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Twilight of the '80s with Richard Rushfield

FOR years before I met him, I knew of Richard Rushfield as this dark legend -- a nihilist wit who ran an underground humor magazine, an online savant with a Nixonian five-o' clock-shadow who had come into the LA Times to destroy the print world from within.

When I finally met Rushfield, at an art opening a few months back, I found him oddly innocent and charmingly bewildered, and I'm pleased to report that his new memoir has some of these same qualities. "Don't Follow Me I'm Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the '80s" is about a time and place and a series of comic misadventures, but also very much the story of a dazed, Hawaiian-shirted Angeleno lost in a particularly decadent niche of East Coast culture. I spoke briefly to him about his experience.

Q: What made you want to go to Hampshire, which by the '80s was already a legendary hippie school?

A: I grew up here in Los Angeles, so I always thought about going back East for college. When you go to Crossroads [prestigious LA high school] you pretty much think, by 16, that you know everything you need to know. How dare any college tell me what to study? So the progressive education appealed to me. Going to school in the woods of New England was a kind of idyllic fantasy -- but this was kind of the "Mad Max" version.

Q: Your first night there was a pretty embarrassing welcome to the college experience.

A: My first experience getting drunk on red table wine included emptying the contents to my stomach on a hall which didn't much want me there in the first place. Their affection for me did not increase.

Q: I get a sense there was a real culture clash for you as a California kid?

A: It's a very different world there, and it got stranger as it went along. If you're from Los Angeles, you're presumed to barely be able to spell your name -- they speak very slowly for you. And the hippie culture doesn't really exist here -- prep school kids who didn't bathe, with heavy sweaters, driving Volvos...?

Q: It sounds like you eventually found your tribe.

A: It was a school of outcasts where I thought I'd fit in great. But I had to find the outcasts' outcasts. This was a group [known as the Supreme Dicks] whose response to the culture was to wholly check out, burning the bridges with society. The ethos came to be known as "the grunge era" years later, where to have any motivation or enthusiasm was the most uncool thing you could do. Ambition, relationships, goals, studies -- you'd never heard of them.

When the grunge era came around, it was the first mass movement with absolutely no agenda. It was Gen X's one moment of ruling the stage, in between the Boomers and their kids. And our moment was to say, Let's stay in and do nothing.

Q: Does reflecting on those years tell us anything about higher education, Miami Vice, the Reagan '80s, or generational change?

A: Certainly if I could look at myself at age 17, I could conclude that a 17-year-old should not be entrusted with his own eduction.

I also feel like we came at the end of this enormous party, from the disco '70s to the go-go '80s, before things became very earnest and political with Gen Y. We showed up at the party at 3 a.m., after the buffet had been cleaned out and there were just a few cheese cubes left. And the people right outside started this really earnest movement.

More Rushfield here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Naked Pint"

AFTER years as a wine drinker, I've begun to reorient slightly back to beer -- I think this is happening to a lot of people, especially in LA. so I was delighted to come across the new book, "The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer." Author Christine Perozzi is a celebrated beer sommelier who founded and Hallie Beune helped manage Father's Office and taught at the gastropub's beer school. Despite a few moments of cutesy writing, the book is accessible, engaging and full of good information, including descriptions of international beer styles -- wheat beers to stouts and porters -- advice on cooking with beer, and instruction on home brewing.

I spoke to Hallie the other day. (This is the first, by the way, of a series of brief author q+a's, involving books with West coast themes.)

Q: Let's start with the obvious: Chicks and beer. Age-old stereotypes tell us women drink wine, men drink beer.

A: It's funny, we mention in the book that historically women brewed beer, even in ancient Egypt. When women were in charge of cooking, they were also brewing ale. So it's funny that women look at a pint of beer and say, 'No thanks, I'll have a white wine.'

But when we went through Prohibition, it made it hard to brew at home. And later, advertising showed that if a woman is around beer she has to be wearing a wet T-shirt.

Q: It seems like LA has come belatedly but quite strongly to the craft beer renaissance, after being a wine town for a long time.

A: New York has had this scene for a lot longer than LA. We're right next to wine country, and LA suffers from the fact that everybody's looking for something low in calories. All these cocktails made from fine ingredients are anything but low calorie, by the way.

But people here love food like they do in any city, and there's a more casual trend in dining these days. And it just doesn't make sense to have a mass produced light lager list next to a great wine list and a menu of locally sourced food. Once people try the craft beers they won't go back.

Q: What are some of your favorite places to drink, and your favorite California breweries?

A: We love Craftsman Brewery in Pasadena, he makes a beer brewed with hand-picked sage. Russian River does really interesting beers, up north. And Stone helped to spread the word about craft beers. There's a new brewery opening in Eagle Rock -- it's starting to happen in LA.

We also like the Verdugo Bar -- he's truly passionate, and you know you'll find something interesting. We love the Golden State, over on Fairfax, where they have a beer float. And we love the Daily Pint on the Westside.

The other cool thing is restaurants realizing they need to have a good beer list, like BarBrix in Silverlake and Mozza [Nancy Silverton's pizza shrine.]

Q: What do you hope people will do after reading your book?

A: I would love it if people who think they love one style of beer go through the book and see the variety of flavors. There's a beer for every dish.

If we could change the conception of beer around the country, that would satisfy us.

Photo credit: That's my pic of downtown LA's Wurstkuche.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

BOOKS on chandler's LA have become a kind of cottage industry. still, i'm enjoying a new book of photographs called "daylight noir: raymond chandler's imagined city." the book could be a companion volume to judith freeman's "the long embrace," which visited the dozens of SoCal locations in which the novelist lived with his elusive wife cissy, tho the aesthetic of "daylight noir" is starker and less personal

the author is catherine corman, daughter of roger "king of the Bs" corman, who i wrote about when she came up with an eccentric book about joseph cornell. here she matches her own black-and-white photography with very brief excerpts from chandler's novels. we get some obvious LA landmarks, past and present -- bullocks wilshire, musso and franks, etc -- as well as lonely hotels, lush private residences, a spooky pier. when i leave LA, this is the way i want to remember it.

"in chandler the hardboiled style became above all a way of seeing," jonathan lethem writes in a brief introduction, "not far from photography itself." in his progress across the city, marlowe become "a kind of camera, a ghost."

besides the book jacket, these photos -- some of which remind me of antonioni's films -- are from the book. i'll post my story on corman's cornell project as soon as the LAT fixes its web archive.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"After the End of History"

IT'S the kind of phrase, however memorable, that the speaker probably wishes he could take back. when francis fukuyama responded to the fall of berlin wall -- the close of the cold war -- by calling it "the end of history" it seemed to make sense, and it fit into an argument by postmodern scholars -- fredric jameson especially -- that we were living in a context-free epoch that had no use for history either in its literature or popular culture.

but history continued to happen, and this week the berlin wall moment is back in the news. i'm also reading an intriguing new book in which samuel cohen, an english professor at the university of missouri, argues that history did not disappear from our literature either. cohen sees the 90s -- the period between "the end of history" and 9/11's "end of irony" -- as "an interwar decade," and looks at six of the best novels the period produced and two that came right after.

those novels are by thomas pynchon, philip roth, toni morrison, tim o'brien, joan didion, jeffrey eugenides, jonathan lethem and don delillo, all hefty books well worth the study.

i know cohen only slightly, from speaking by phone for two stories on updike, here and here, and i like his gen-x perspective. updike himself doesnt much figure in the new book, but he offers this delicious epitaph from "rabbit at rest": " 'i miss it,' he said. 'the cold war. it gave you a reason to get up in the morning.'"

so i'm enjoying cohen's tightly and clearly written "after the end of history: american fiction in the 1990s" -- and not just because it's the kind of study i might have written had i stayed in the academy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Living by Chance With Rachel Rosenthal

IF laurie anderson was a parisian-born octo-genarian theater pioneer she might be rachel rosenthal. for rosenthal -- to whom many figures of the american avant-garde are indebted -- john cage's "indeterminacy" proved as influential as the velvet underground's dazed strum was on anderson's generation. (okay, that's enough metaphors for one paragraph.)

here is my profile of rosenthal, who extols the importance of "chance" in art and life and recalls new york in the 50s with cage/ cunningham/ rauschenberg/ johns.

she also talks about saturday's birthday party at Track 16 Gallery, her new book ("the dbd experience") and the improvisational theater troupe she launches early next year.

meeting rosenthal was a real trip -- a major iconoclast, associated with radical feminism, animal rights and her own shaved head, who is also into a courtly woman with a gertrude stein haircut and a soft, pan-european accent. (she calls herself a gay man inside a woman's body.)

my favorite quote that didnt make the article: "much of what's called performance art is not interesting to me. i'm not interested in shock -- there's enough shock in everyday living, every time you turn on the tv."

Photo credit: Michael Childers

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"The Tyranny of E-mail"

WHAT does a sumerian love poem have in common with that email you just sent to your boss? probably not a whole hell of a lot. but both are means of communication made possible by the technology of the day, and it's the kind of thing john freeman gets into with his new book, "the tyranny of e-mail." (the old-school spelling is his.)

here is my interview with freeman -- who was recently named editor of british literary magazine granta, from sunday's LATimes. this year, of course, marks the 40th anniversary of the first electronic text message.

part of what's most interesting in his book is the history -- the arduous route for instance, a letter would take to find its recipient in the ancient world, the way the catholic church took over in the dark days after the roman empire crumbled, the coming of mass literacy in the english speaking countries, the way lincoln was besieged with telegrams in the same way obama is chained to his blackberry, and so on.

freeman is especially strong on solutions, calling for a new style of communication based on the "slow food" movement. this photo, by the way, is of a civil-war era pony express rider.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inverting Alice in Wonderland

WHEN world-class ski champion and hollywood film producer frank beddor approached me about his book project a couple years back, i wasnt sure what to think. the fact that, he told me, he had taken lewis carroll's "alice" stories and turned them into a rather violent YA novel, as well as a graphic novel and video game, made me wonder if this was just a case of corporate-style "synergy" gone mad.

but beddor's first book, "the looking glass wars," was powerful and smart, and entirely un-cynical, as was its sequel. here is my story on beddor, and here's what i wrote at the time:

'What's most impressive about them is that the novels seems to be recounting a universe fully imagined ahead of time. Beddor admires what he calls "the epic world creators" such as J.R.R. Tolkien, "Dune's" Frank Herbert and Philip Pullman of "His Dark Materials." Beddor's books seem tailor-made for kids who've completed the "Harry Potter" series and are looking up, a bit dazed from the experience, eager for somewhere else to go.'

i'm writing about beddor today because the third book in the trilogy has just come out, and my old colleague geoff boucher of hero complex, speaks to him, here, about the project. and dont forget: a tim burton "alice" film comes out in march.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Monster of Folk: Bert Jansch

I'M not sure i can think of another musician who's been powerfully influential on both johnny marr of the smiths and zeppelin-era jimmy page. bert jansch, the british folk guitarist born on this day in 1943, has not only put his stamp on heavy metal and early indie rock -- not to mention his own generation of folk rockers -- he's a hero to freak-folk types like devendra banhart.

jansch was born in glasgow, scotland and came of age with the british folk-rock movement of the 60s: he helped found the band pentangle, like fairport convention dedicated to digging into the origins of british and celtic music and myth. his solo stuff is wonderful, if uneven, veering between acoustic and electric: it's best heard on the 2-cd compilation "the dazzling stranger." i love the way he bends the hell out of his notes and drones and tolls.

here is an old video clip of the solo acoustic "black waterslide," which zeppelin basically stole.

my favorite jansch, oddly, is his '06 record, "the black swan." not only are the songs strong from first to last, it includes delicious contributions from banhart and beth orton. mostly, this is a dark record that i play incessantly in the winter, alongside john fahey and bach's cello suites. "the black swan" was graham coxon of blur's record of the year in '06.

here are two songs from that record, with, alas, no video. the second, "when the sun comes up," has beth orton on lead vocals.

Jansch cancelled a US tour this summer because of illness, posting this on his website:
"Bert is very sorry to be missing the tour, and apologises to all the fans who were hoping to see him. He is looking forward to rescheduling as soon as possible.

here we are looking forward to the return of this monster of folk. we'll toast a small glass of single-male scotch to you this evening.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Torments of Stephen Elliott

SAN francisco writer stephen elliott is the baudelaire of the mission district.

after reading his new book, "the adderall diaries" -- which begins with a possible murder and winds its way to a certain one -- i wasnt sure what kind of guy i'd be meeting for my interview at alcove cafe in los feliz. this is a man with numerous drug episodes, childhood years in rough group homes, a heroin OD after a year of stripping, and a career of what i will call "unconventional" sexuality.

but the writer ended up being well-adjusted, an engaging conversationalist, and, like his very fine memoir, without an ounce of either self-pity or self-indulgence.

here is my LATimes story on elliott.

i'll just say one more word about the book, which is subtitled "a memoir of moods, masochism and murder": i dont tend to read books about addiction, psychological flameouts, kinky sex, etc -- i outgrew my interest in the demimonde (as well as alliteration) in my 20s. but elliott's memoir is so crafted, so precisely distilled, so damned well written, it comes up with a blend of apollo and dionysus of the sort i have very rarely seen.

i also urge everyone to check out the blog he runs with a gang of other literati, the rumpus. today elliott has a new post about liz phair.

Photo Credit: Lydia Lunch

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sigmund Freud vs. Britney Spears

WHEN i heard that a biographer had gone into therapy impersonating britney spears (that's the way it was teed up to me), i thought, this guy must be very cynical, or have really bad taste in music. or maybe both.

but the young biographer i met at a cafe in venice beach was an engaging, earnest lad from a small town in yorkshire who had made unorthodox use of a therapist to gain insight into the mind of the pop princess who had denied him the more traditional kind of access. (and steve dennis, who makes his living as a ghostwriter, ends up being a fan of singer songwriters like bon iver and david gray.)

does this method work? that's the question i put to a small panel of experts. dennis himself points out that meryl streep never met julia child, but was still able to render her with sympathy in "julie and julia."

here is my story from the LATimes. my favorite moment is when dennis called his british publisher, explaining his idea of therapy-by-proxy, and got a strange silence on the line. then: "you really have been in L.A. too long. forget the herbalist and soy lattes -- this is a step too far."

Photo by Max Halberstadt