For An Insurance Agent

fancy_sports_carEvery few weeks, I’ve been getting a letter from a nice insurance agent extolling the benefits of his company’s product. He says: “The difference between auto insurers is often just a few dollars. However, the difference between the protection you get can be much bigger.” It’s very nice of him to let me know about such important issues. I wonder if many people get in touch with him after receiving his letters. Although I don’t need to change my insurance, I thought I would check in with him to see if perhaps he would like to buy some books. I sent him the following email, which I am also duplicating here.

Hi (Agent),

Thanks for the letters you’ve been sending me every month letting me know how important it is to save on my car insurance. At present, I’m happy enough with my provider but I will certainly let you know if that changes.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d let you know that I have several books available. I’m sure that you, like many other intelligent people, enjoy reading strange, thought-provoking fiction. Here are some links to places where you can purchase my books.

In Springdale Town. This was my first book. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but you can find used copies. For example, on ebay. Or, if you like modern ways to read, it’s available as an ebook. This is the publisher’s website, which has buying links to Amazon and other places.

Circus of the Grand Design. Technically still in print, but I haven’t seen a royalty from the publisher in many years, so you might want to look for a used copy someplace like half.com. Or ebook.

Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed. Available from the publisher here.

The Painting and the City. Available from the publisher here in either slipcased edition or regular hardback. Or, you can get it as a downloadable audiobook from audible. Or even in French!

Best,
Robert

Cook Noir

I checked my friend Christopher Cook’s blog/website today and remembered that I had meant to post a link to it when he set it up. His novel, Robbers, came out from Carroll & Graf in 2000, and he re-issued it himself as an ebook, along with several other titles.

I met Christopher at a writer’s workshop in Tennessee in 1993, where we discovered that we were both living in Austin. We hung out some after we got back to town. The year after, he moved to France. Since then he’s lived in Mexico and now Prague. And I moved on to New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio. I haven’t seen him since he left Austin. One of these days, I’ll make it to Prague. It’s always nice to have friends in interesting places.

Robbers is a noir set in East Texas. In it, he did something unusual (spoiler!).  Halfway through, he killed off a very sympathetic character (which is all I can say here without spoiling it for you). The reader in me said No! How could you? The writer in me said, wow, that’s cool. I read this when it came out…an unthinkable twelve years ago…but much is still clear in my head, the grit, the well-drawn characters, the feel of the East Texas woods and the Gulf Coast.

Check out Christopher’s blog here, and buy some books.

Remembering Brent Grulke

I can’t say that Brent Grulke and I were ever friends, but we were friendly, for the short time our lives intersected. We both wrote reviews, articles, etc. for the entertainment section of the Daily Texan, student newspaper at the University of Texas. He was a couple of months older than me, and when I arrived he had already been at the Texan for a while. At that time, he might already have been writing for the Austin Chronicle. The Chronicle was started around that time, by people who had worked at the Texan (and met in UT’s film department, if I’m remembering correctly). I got bored with writing about music, and for several years post-college I stopped going out to hear live music. The last time I would have seen him was, at the latest, 1983.

Brent died on Monday, August 13, from a heart attack during oral surgery. Here’s a good tribute.

I’m recalling fragments of conversations with him, one when he talked about wanting to do some record producing. Which he later did. From reading about him now, it’s clear that he was one of the few who really got to do what he most wanted to do. Music was his life. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that he was the director of the South by Southwest music festival.

The one time we ever hung out was when X came through town in 1982, touring for their album Under the Big Black Sun. I was planning to interview them, but he talked me into letting him do it. We went to dinner with the band before the show and stayed up all night in the entertainment section office at the Texan. He wrote up his interview/article, which ran in two parts. I was supposed to write a review of the show, but didn’t.

Nostalgia and regret appear to be the inseparable companions of aging. I look back at that time, a period in which I thought I could do anything. I discovered great music reading about it in the student paper, and then I got to be one of the people writing about it, influencing others (I hoped) the way I had been influenced. Austin is the mythical land that never was, the cool place where I never got to be one of the cool people. I still crave to be recognized there, written about, interviewed, lauded. But my books have never been printed in editions of more than a few hundred copies. Without adequate distribution, I’ve never felt that it would be worth setting up a reading there. I did try, unsuccessfully, to get In Springdale Town reviewed in the Chronicle, but never attempted with subsequent books.

But thoughts about the past aren’t only about my perceived lack of recognition. Brent was just a bit older than me, and according to what I’ve read, he has a six-year-old son. I have an almost-five-year-old daughter. So we both became parents at a somewhat later than usual age. I can’t help feeling my mortality from his death. I would like to stick around till my daughter is considerably older.

Songs, Reviewers, Children, and The Ephemera on ebook

Lately, my four-year-old daughter has been wanting to listen to the title song of the Mekons Ancient and Modern album. Yes, I know that in some states it’s a crime to let a child listen to real music.

Ancient and Modern coverThe song (in case anyone out there doesn’t know) is an epic tale in four sections, with four different singers (technically, many more than four singers because the fourth section is sung by a choral group.  “Ancient and Modern” is a song that does what a good work of art is supposed to do, slide past the thinking-brain and into the subconscious.

It would be nice to know who the voices are (as a parent, I’m supposed to know everything, and having to tell a four-year-old “I think that’s X…” is most embarrassing. But the band’s liner notes aren’t very revealing. The first vocal is, I think, accordion player Rico Bell. I’m less sure of his voice because he doesn’t sing as much as the other members. Next is a spoken part by either violin player Susie Honeyman or bass player Sarah Corina—it’s definitely not Sally Timms. I’ve never heard either of them speak and can’t place the accent. Honeyman is from Glasgow, but the accent doesn’t sound like Glaswegians I know, mainly writer-friend Neil Williamson. The third part is easy, founding-member Tom Greenhalgh. The song ends with vocals by the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus—also obvious, because they’re credited [updated below].

A note on the arrogance of reviewers. Here someone says “The song begins with Jon Langford….” and here: “The three vocalists—Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Timms”. I also found a reviewer who said the song faltered toward the end, but at least he didn’t add to his lack of taste by attempting to identify the singers. Were these people really so certain? Or is it because they know that the main singers are two men and a woman, so any men and women have to be from among those three? They could spend a little more time listening before they begin the pontification process.

And in closing, having mentioned Glaswegian Neil Williamson, I’d like to tell people about the ebook version of his very fine but out of print debut short story collection, The Ephemera, now available in the various ebook formats from infinityplus.The ebook edition has four additional stories plus notes on all the stories. I recommend that those of you who posses the modern ink-substitute called an e-reader get yourselves a copy.

[Update]

From a source involved with the proceedings: Lu Edmonds starts, then Jon Langford and Rico Bell join in, Susie Honeyman talks, Tom Greenhalgh sings, Sarah Corina talks, Tom Greenhalgh sings again, then everyone and the choir finish. Reviewers: see, it’s not hard to find things out!

Tulsa

My 3 1/2-year-old daughter recently injured her hand, requiring reconstructive surgery and an ongoing recuperation period. One of the therapies we’ve tried (her choice) is listening to Western Swing music on CD and watching YouTube videos of Bob Wills, Don Walser, and Hot Club of Cowtown.

We’ve always listened to music during the bedtime process, an evolving playlist of non-children’s music, usually albums with songs that I can sing to. These have included Don Walser’s albums, The Archive Series (Vols. 1&2). Walser was an old-time Texas country singer who died in 2006. I used to go hear him play a lot during my last couple of years in Austin, and once at the Mercury Lounge when I was living in New York. Walser mixed originals and covers, including some Bob Wills songs. At first, I would put a CD on at the beginning, but as my daughter got older, she started asking for specific songs on each CD.

I still don’t know what makes her pick up a particular song, things like Alejandro Escovedo’s cover of the Rolling Stones “Sway” from his More Miles Than Money album, Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Santa Fe Thief” (she liked the line “Look over yonder”) And Don Walser’s version of Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back To Tulsa”. Which led to my explaining that people do other people’s songs. I found a YouTube video of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys doing the song (with Luke Wills singing). Which also led to a weirdly sped-up video of Hot Club of Cowtown doing it, and then videos of Hot Club of Cowtown doing “Big Ball in Cowtown” (also covered by Don Walser), and videos of Don Walser doing some of his originals (mainly “The John Deere Tractor Song”).

Continue reading “Tulsa”

In the Land of Immediate and Shallow

It started when newscasters, instead of reporting the news, conversed it. Everything had to be reported live from the scene, even if it was a scene of nothing–the site of events that had occurred earlier, or the view of a street outside a window, etc. And in the studio, the heads had to speak to each other, to speculate, say things like: “Gee, Susan, how do you think her head felt when she went through the windshield?”…“Well, John, it appears that it did in fact hurt quite a lot.”

Now, you even hear this drivel on All Things Considered.

Nothing can be examined in depth.  News has to fit the ever-decreasing attention span. Reality TV is more important.

And reality TV is giving us our next political stars too. Because no one cares and no one accepts blame. People who don’t have jobs should just, you know, get one.

 

On Robot Workers

In 1986 I got a job working from 5pm to 11pm as a proofreader for a company that typeset books for textbook publishers and university presses. In 2009, a French publisher offered to translate and publish The Painting and the City and Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed.

What, you ask, is the connection?

Curiosity.

The typesetting company was a factory, typesetters, proofreaders, and paste-up artists* worked in a production line of very small cubicles.

*Paste-up artists were people who took the type (which was a form of developed film, on Kodak paper), and pasted it onto boards (also called mechanicals) that had been printed with page dimensions showing in non-reproducing blue.

Most people did their specific jobs without thinking much about how things worked in the rest of the company. Sometimes people were moved into other jobs, often because they weren’t doing their job well.

Continue reading “On Robot Workers”