Thursday, October 13, 2005

I, Criticus

This is my lazy way of posting something without actually writing something new. It's a collection of reviews I posted on during the past four years or so. Four books, one movie, and a record. There are others, but I'm saving those for another time when I need a quick filler.

I've expanded the reviews where I felt I didn't do a good enough job the first time around but, since you probably never read them the first time, I could have skipped saying this and just let you think I was brilliant all along.

My brother-in-law, who reads this blog, and who is twice the writer I am (a conservative estimate) was actually a paid critic for a major Boston newspaper. He now works in sales, which I can understand as that actually pays. When he reads this, he'll no doubt be tremendously jealous of the fact that my reviews are being read by such a wide audience (all 3 of you) while his work, printed on (heh-heh) paper, is just getting moldy somewhere.

(Even moldy, his reviews probably still smell better than mine...)

Anyway, if you find that you are so overwhelmed by my prose that you feel you must get any of these things NOW, all of them should still be available through Amazon, either new or used.

See you Monday.

All Souls : A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald

I grew up in Dorchester, which borders South Boston. I drove cab there for a year, out of the stand by the Broadway T stop. For four more years, I worked on D Street in a warehouse. During most of my time in that warehouse, I did way too much cocaine. As a result, I had occasion to be in amongst the types of folks MacDonald talks about. I'm also white, have Irish heritage, and have played ball in Southie for many years. In other words, while I'm not from Southie, I know the territory. I'm about as close to native as you can get without it being so. The folks I know there accept me as one of their own.

Having said that, I am not a native. I've never lived there. So, if someone who does live there wishes to take exception to this book or to what I have to say about it, I'm willing to listen. To my ear, though, the book rings true.

This is the history of one family, told by a survivor. The people could all be people I hung out with, and many of the events described are things I've done, or seen done, in Southie. I never lived in Old Colony, but I was there a lot and had friends who resided there. I sometimes went there to score the coke. The author describes the general overall tone and feeling of that housing project perfectly, IMHO.

Some reviewers have complained that this book doesn't take a strong enough moral stand concerning some actions of the main characters. Could MacDonald have gotten up on his soapbox and spouted off about how wrong some of the things being done were, i.e., selling stolen goods, his Mom not being quite as strict as she should have been, useless macho fights, etc.? Sure, but I think he gives the reader credit for already knowing that. This book isn't about morality - it's a memoir of a troubled family in troubled times, and of how the author came out of it in the end. If you don't already bring a moral sense to the book - the knowledge that some of the incidents and actions of the characters are severely wrong - then his telling you won't help.

It is an overwhelming book emotionally. The tragedies mount until you begin to understand how someone who lived through it could become inured to such hideous things. It is also a very interesting sociologic study. It minutely details white inner-city poverty. As such, it should put to rest the misconception that such poverty, and the attendant crime-ridden lifestyle, is solely the province of minorities. Also, the section concerning the forced busing of students is the only history of the era that I've read which explains that not all of Southie resented the busing just because of thick-headed racism (although it doesn't shy away from that part of the equation, either.)

Neon Nuptials: The Complete Guide to Las Vegas Weddings by Ken Van Vechten

This is a great guide to getting spliced in Lost Wages. Van Vechten has a nice style - he's very informative, but keeps things light and humorous. Even if you're not planning on getting married anytime soon, it's a fun read and a good addition to your Vegas library.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

One of the funniest, and most original, books ever written.

The author, unfortunately, committed suicide after failing to sell this book. Once you've read it, you will certainly understand why he might have done so. If you had written this grand work and been unable to sell it, you might have offed yourself, too.

After Toole's death, the book was sold by his mother to a somewhat small university press. It ended up becoming a bestseller and won a Pulitzer. Since that time, a couple of Toole's shorter works have been unearthed and published, but that's all there is. No more will be forthcoming because of his death. That's sad stuff.

The book, however, is riotously funny. It is populated with characters and situations that will have you laughing aloud, many times over, if you possess any sense of humor at all. The main character, Ignatius, will at turns amaze, delight, and disgust you. He is one of the great original characters of modern literature - a combination of Falstaff, a degenerate Oliver Hardy, and a volcanic eruption.

I'm not going to describe any plot details or any more of the characters. Better that you get to know them on your own. Just know this, though: I envy you, if you have not yet read this book but are about to do so. You are about to discover a tremendous joy.

The Rape of the A*P*E* by Allan Sherman

THIS should be Sherman's Legacy, not "Hello, Muddah...".

While Allan Sherman's musical offerings are witty and fun, this book is one of the most amazing documents ever published. Like most of the other [Amazon reviewers], I first read it when I was young (16) and have bought and lost (as loaners) several copies. I found a hardcover in a used bookstore about ten years ago and I will never let it leave my house now, as replacement copies are amazingly expensive and hard to come by.

Sherman takes on the herculean task of recording the rise and fall of morality - more specifically, sexual morality - from Adam & Eve up to the then-present day of the 1970's. He does it with panache, humor, and obvious glee at the failure of prudery to win out.

I consider it the funniest book ever written. This comes from someone who absolutely adores Twain, so take that as extremely high praise.

Tuff Darts! ~ Tuff Darts

Great Lost Band.

Saw them live at a club in Boston in the 70's, bought the album the next day. I expected them to break big time, but it never happened. EVERY cut is catchy, great hooks, swell lead guitar from Jeff Salen, there is NOTHING not to like here. Buy it and be amazed by how they slipped through the cracks!

Jesus Christ Superstar (Widescreen Edition) VHS ~ Norman Jewison

Good Singing, Bad Acting.

The singing, with one glaring exception, is magnificent. However, as good as the singing is, the acting is just as bad.

Ted Nealy (Christ) has a magnificent voice, and his rendering of "Gethsemane" is as good a piece of rock singing as there is recorded. However, his acting is almost non-existent. His facial expressions are wooden, even during the gut-wrenching moments vocally.

Carl Anderson (Judas) is a strong vocalist. He's a bit better actor than Nealy, but that's not saying much. Likewise, Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdelene) is also possessed of a good set of pipes, but little range as an actress.

The best actor of the crew is probably Barry Dennen (Pilate) who also has the strongest single moment vocally, at the end of "The Trial" piece. His screeching at that point is quite superb, though purists may argue that it isn't "singing". I won't quibble about it, as this is a rock opera and such histrionics are perfectly acceptable (if not preferable) in this sort of thing.

The only exception to the overall strength of the vocal performances is Josh Mostel (Herod) who possesses neither voice or acting skills. He is just plain embarrassing in what should be a highlight of the film.

Interesting touches throughout - Roman soldiers in modern military garb, tanks in the 1st century desert, etc. - keep this visually compelling, if a bit self-conscious.

Again, the music is mostly superb, and the acting mostly sub-par. See it once, for reference, then get the CD and enjoy the music over and over again.

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