Want to move to Florida or own a winter home there? My friend is selling her 3,500 square foot lakefront home in Tallahassee with almost 11 acres, barn and pastures, 72' lap pool, lots of extras. View photos and specs of the home here. Or --- how 'now' is this? --- take a video tour (with a soundtrack by Beethoven!) here. More info? Call Randie at 850-893-6753.
Justin Frank is my friend, and I admire his work, and I'd love to write about "Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President," just out in paperback. But as it's political, all I can do is reprint my blurb: “An analyst who can coin phrases like ”obsessive bipartisan disorder” to describe our President is a pleasure to read. But what makes Obama on the Couch an important book is Justin Frank’s ability to dive deep into the President’s eloquent writing about his childhood and emerge with fresh and major insights—unacknowledged rage for the mother Obama claims to idolize, unexpressed despair at his abandonment by his stepfather as well as his father. Obama on the Couch is nothing less than a public service.” To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Holly Gleason, who knows all things music, has the bigger story: Earl Scruggs might’ve been a master musician and innovator of the same caliber as Miles Davis or Coltrane, but he was more a man who sought to bring people together. As a player, his first break came in 1945 with Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys on the Grand Ole Opry, but it wasn’t long until he and Lester Flatt teamed up and spent the '50s and '60s barnstorming the country, popularizing the Appalachian musical form that was all ache and flying fingers. Flatt & Scruggs were icons. Standard-bearers. Gospel-carriers. And then there were the hippies. When the '60s folk movement hit and the hippie generation erupted, he took the Earl Scruggs Review to colleges across the nation. Who he was transcended what he was. Always a player of high execution and credibility, Scruggs also believed in music’s transcendence. When country was as right as you could get and Jane Fonda the only woman more radical than Joan Baez, Scruggs couldn’t wait to make music with Baez. He also played with Ravi Shankar, the Byrds and Bob Dylan; Eastern music and inscrutable lyrics engaged him in new and thrilling ways. Which was really all Scruggs wanted: to be engaged, pushed, challenged, to see how far music could go. He was there when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." When Steve Martin got serious about bluegrass, Scruggs was there. When Elton John wanted to play with a banjo man, he was there. Indeed, he was as comfortable with Billy Bob Thornton as he was with Vince Gill or Marty Stuart –-- and folks like John Fogerty and Leon Russell clamored to play with the man who’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame, has received the National Medal of the Arts, recorded "Red, Hot & Country" for the Red Hot Organization, which supports AIDS charities, and received a Grammy for his 1968 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” as well as writing and recording “The Ballad of Jed Clampitt” for “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It is vast, this legacy. Marks left in places most would never think of, yet when you pull back and consider… of course. [To buy the CD of his best music from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Tsipi Keller and I were on a literary committee. After the meetings, we talked baseball, sealing our non-literary friendship. So I was stunned that this Israeli-born writer whose bio is dotted with grants and prizes would write a novel as sexy --- really: as dirty --- as Jackpot. Her new novel couldn’t be more different. “The Prophet of Tenth Street” is Marcus Weiss, a New Yorker who sells his business and becomes, of all things, a novelist. It is beyond difficult to write fiction about a fiction-maker; not only do you have to get into the guy’s head, you’ve got to create a plot in which something actually happens. Keller does both, and in a way that’s unnerving --- how does she know so much about what it means to be a man, trapped in his head, convinced he will find and reveal the essential truths of life? [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
It was Spring Break for The Child. That means two things. 1) Go somewhere warm on 2) Jet Blue. Los Angeles was anything but warm last week, but my mother and brother joined us, so it was at least cozy. And fun, especially the Wax Museum and the Getty (do NOT rent the taped audio guide, which will take you to furniture and sculpture but not to anything as un-correct and astonishing as James Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889.)
For me, the high point of the trip was a brunch given in my honor by The Head Butler Fan Club. You may wonder how there came to be a HBFC. Like this: A friend wrote about a show at her gallery, some Butler readers dropped in, they compared notes and, suddenly, they had an impromptu group. Cool for them. For me, this was an out-of-body experience. Like John Cheever, I write for "unknown friends" --- that you actually exist is stunning to me. This crew not only existed, they presented me with a lovely wood sculpture of a butler, told extravagantly amusing stories and let me ride shotgun in a black Porsche. A thrilling event for unworthy me and --- even better --- an eye-opener for The Child, who was convinced I'd be the only one to show up at the brunch.
In Washington and Israel, politicians with short memories are desperate to bomb Iran. Last week, in Israel, graphic designers Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir created a poster and put it on Facebook: “Iranians. We will never bomb your country. We love you." It moved fast --- including to Iran, where Iranians started responding with warm wishes. Then Edry posted a video….
….and suddenly a people’s movement sprouted up. Over the weekend, there was an anti-war march in Israel. Next? That's up, in part, to you.
For some kids, the best thing about graduation is that they’ll never have to read a book again. For kids we love, the best thing about graduation is that they can read whatever they want. For those kids --- and for slackers who may yet be saved --- The Book Report Network has launched 20Something reads.com, a stunningly robust site. Yes, it suggests and reviews books. But it also has contests (win 20 books) and a delightful feature called “20 Questions: A Day in the Life of…” My favorite so far: Steven Weinberg. So if you have a semi-adult kid or know one who reads... pass it on.
The new Bruce Springsteen CD, “Wrecking Ball,” isn’t out until March 6, but the ghost of Clarence Clemons brought it to me, and I’ve been playing it while my wife watches the Santorum/Romney death match. (Who’s having a better time?) Poking around, I found a video of the title song, made during Springsteen’s last concert at the soon-to-be-demolished Giants Stadium. I’m a sucker for dramatic gestures; if you are too, pay special attention starting at 2:15. [Oh, to pre-order the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Josh, on his new, 6-song effort, recorded and mixed in 4 days: “I knew I wasn't making my next album here, but something smaller, and that smallness felt really good. I was listening to a lot of early Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, and the Everly Brothers, and the mood struck me one day to sit down and put to tape some songs that felt graceful and uncomplicated. Simplicity was what I wanted, musically and lyrically. During the winter months, simpler fare sticks to the ribs, but I hope it tastes just as good.'' [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP 3 download, click here.] Oh, by the way: This video of “Love Is Making Its Way Back Home” is made from 4 trillion paper cut-outs.
Now that it's won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, 'A Separation' will be opening in more theaters. Please, if you can, make it your next film. (Like: what else is there to see?) The night we went, no one moved for 120 minutes. And when it was over and the credits were running --- in Farsi --- no one got up. How can this be? It’s just…a little movie. No. It's not. It's a lot more.
NBC, desperate for a hit series, reportedly spent $25 million promoting 'Smash.' It sounded like an unpromising cross between 'Glee' and 'Chorus Line,' but the creator is top-drawer and it features Angelica Houston, so I gave it a try. Granted, I wasn't coming in at the start of the show, but the few minutes I saw were grating in the extreme. First, in a posh restaurant, Houston threw a drink in a man's face. I said, 'Didn't the Writers' Guild outlaw that bit in the 1950s?' My wife pointed out that I can be overly harsh on scant evidence. Then came a very lame Siegfried & Roy joke. I moaned. 'You're right,' my wife said, and I changed the channel. Is 'Smash' really such a dud? If not, please school me.
Aviva Slesin’s charming documentary about the Algonquin Round Table --- Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Harold Ross, Harpo Marx, Robert Benchley --- will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday, 2/5, at 2 PM.