Friday, April 30, 2010

Election Fever

Was Gordon Brown, in the final debate, acknowledging Cameron's victory or Con-Lib-Dem coalition, or was he simply trying to frighten and, therefore, energize his base? Probably the former, but really this is getting ridiculous. After all, the election has looked more like a reality TV show or a poor facsimile of an American style campaign. Still, for better or worse, Britain remains a parliamentary democracy. If Brown wins more seats and finishes third in the popular vote, he deserves, however unfairly it might seem, to be given the opportunity to form a government, and would be PM until another government is formed. Whether that's a minority government or a coalition with the Lib-Dems is another matter. If not, we might as well switch to the French system where there's a PM and a President, or, for that matter, the America system and do away with parliamentary democracy altogether. Though that's a decision to be made further down the line. I'm no great fan of Gordon Brown, but when you think about, he is, ironically and, of course, arguably, the best PM Britain has had for the last thirty years! Think about it, who would you prefer: warmonger Blair? clueless Major? tyrant Thatcher? proto monetarist Callahan? Well, in retrospect maybe Callahan, but then again maybe not. But we're already talking about thirty years ago. It's says something about the sad state of the UK political system. No, Labour doesn't deserve another term in office, but nor does Britain deserve to have a Cameron-led Tory government, whether on its own or in a coalition with right wing Lib-Dems privatisers like Clegg and Cable.

Then there's the media's role in bringing Brown down, which has been an on-going process ever since Brown refused to call an election (thus costing the media, who had put their people and machinery in place, millions). And what about the the role of pollster and political consultant to the Tories and Republicans, Frank Luntz in all this. As well as appearing frequently on Newsnight with his focus group, bringing forth critiques of Brown and, before that, Blair, he also advised the Consevatives to react to anything Brown said or did, just he advised US Republicans to attack the Democrats regarding financial reform (see Sam Stein, Huffingfton Post, Feb 1st, 2010) and, before that, health care reform, by simply being against whatever was proposed, turning US GOPers into NOPers.

Considering all this, unless Labour gets a last minute surge in support, my bet is on a Cameron minority government or a Lib-Con coalition, as they have in various councils. Sure, Lib-Dem rank and file would be against it, but, hey, this is a new era and just as Blair ignored party members when it came to such matters as the war in Iraq, so Clegg and Cable will ignore their members when it comes jumping in bed with the Tories. After all, what the Tories and the Lib Dems want, more than anything, is a taste of power, just as Labour did in the run up to Blair becoming PM. Of course, I might have more time for the Lib-Dems if they took a left of center position and came out against the war in Afghanistan and promised to soak the rich. But that doesn't seem to be on the agenda.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pete Dexter's Spooner

You can always count on Pete Dexter, but, though this one is about another outsider-oddball, Spooner is unlike any previous Dexter novel. For one thing it is very funny, but, as it moves from slapstick to tragedy, it is also going to break your heart. Read it, and anything else by Dexter,including his journalism.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tom Piazza's Blues and Trouble

I've long been an admirer of Tom Piazza's music writing. After seeing him on the trailer for Treme, I thought his fiction might also be interesting. So far he's published three works of fiction: a collection of short stories entitled Blues and Trouble, and two novels, My Cold War and the New Orleans-set, City of Refuge. I just finished Blues and Trouble and it doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's one of the best books of short stories I've read for some time. But, then, I guess it was pretty much written for the likes of myself- someone who's into such things as blues, jazz, rock and roll, and the effects of geographical displacement.

A quote at random: "I picture Brownsville as a place under a merciless sun, where one-eyed dogs stand in the middle of dusty, empty streets staring at you and hot breeze blows inside your shirt and there's nowhere to go. It's always noon, and there are no explanations required. I'm going to Brownsville exactly because I've got no reason to go there. Anybody asks me why Brownsville- there's no fucking answer. That's why I'm going there."

It puts me in mind of that great mid-Dylan song Brownsville Girl, but more in your face. Blues and Trouble is also about race and class, and not onlycontains that sense of estrangement present in the best blues music, but its written with a perceptive eye and an ability to turn a phrase with the best of them. The collection ends with a evocation of the music and recordings of Charlie Patton, which is as evocative as it is poetic and odd, like a series of Walker Evans photographs: "The unseen wraps itself in the visible facts, the curbs that crumble in the midday sun, the street you follow out of town, the dirt road, the tin awning, the fireplace empty in the empty house, the fields almost brown in the haze, the scraps of old wallpaper, brown with the years, the woodsmoke in the tree branches, and your grandfather invisible in the darkening blue evening, searching for fireflies..." I'm looking forward to the two novels, and will report on them at a later date.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Millard Kaufman's Misadventure

Millard Kaufman is best known for writing screenplays for Bad Day at Black Rock and Take the High Ground, as well as co-creating Mr Magoo. Disliking the political climate of red-baiters during the era of the blacklist, Kaufman also fronted for Dalton Trumbo on the 1950 film Gun Crazy. In his sixties and fed up with Hollywood, he turned to writing novels, but didn't publish his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, until he was past 90 years of age. Now, a little more than a year after his death, comes his second offering, Misadventure. It's a novel that Kaufman began almost three decades ago, and revised at the end of Kaufman's life, then, after his death, by his son.

Misadventure is fast paced, with as many twists and turns as the Southern California roads on which Gulf War vet turned real estate agent Jack Hopkins so often himself driving. It's also very funny. The novel's protagonist Jack Hopkins is a literate, working class Gulf war vet, now a Los Angeles real estate agent. He lives with his plaster-eating, slightly ditzy, girlfriend and hates the world in which he works, but doesn't know the depths of its corruption until a wealthy, charismatic client asks Jack to kill his wife, followed by the wife asking Jack to kill her husband. And that's only the beginning of the novel.

Written with the linguistic exuberance of a much younger man, Misadventure is a slice of literate noir tempered by maturity and, thanks to Hollywood, the ability to construct a good story. Here Kaufman successfully combines Cain's grand gesture, Fante's soulfulness and Condon's humor and political acumen. What's more, his portrayal of the real estate business as just about the sleaziest game in town makes Misadventure a timely reminder of what the world has so recently become. Interestingly, before he died Kaufman had written a script for The Big Blow, based on Joe Lansdale's novel. I wonder what happened to that one?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Two of my current favorites:

Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton.

And his pal and playing partner Frank Fairfield:

And the two of them together, along with Dom Flemons from the Carolina Chocolate Drops: