My friend Frank X. Tolbert has always been one of my heroes, and I’ve missed him a lot in recent years. He lives in Houston. His father was a famous journalist with the Dallas Morning News. Frank is one of those people who nourishes your soul when you’re around him, and he doesn’t have any clue what he’s giving to you. Frank and I shared a friendship with a man who was a hero to both of us: Roxy Gordon, a writer, poet, and another one of those people who give you things without knowing it.
Go here to see a sample of some of Roxy Gordon’s poems and writing and check him out on Amazon for some CDs of his poetry-songs. Note the death mask in the right corner.
John Updike’s literary stock, amazingly, fluctuates up and down. He was our disguised, suburban Henry Miller. He wasn’t interested in becoming a persona in his work, but he opened up the eroticism of the 60s and 70s. Some critics and writers rate him below his peers, usually citing his lack of angst, the jewel-like prose, and the ease with which his massive body of 26 novels, 18 short story collections, 12 collections of poetry, 4 children’s books, and 12 collections of non-fiction flowed from his pen. His fictional landscape has no peer, covering as it does detailed reports of American, white middle-class consciousness. His public persona and mild manners were camouflage for a deeply romantic, sexually aroused soul, which Adam Begley captures in a new biography, Updike. Also, here’s an interview with Begley, whose book has received tremendous reviews. I can’t wait for a volume of Updike letters. Updike clearly deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, but, alas, for many people in the literary game it takes decades to see the true meaning of a writer’s work. Unfortunately, he, Mailer and Roth were not honoured, but their work, along with Bellow’s, will stand with the books of the earlier American greats: Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald… The last century of American literature overflowed with great writers who showed us America.
Begley is good on Updike’s prose style: “Aside from his enormous talents and Protestant work ethic, Updike’s defining characteristic is his signature style, which he owes to his desire to be a graphic artist, and to his stunningly visual memory. Like Proust, like Nabokov and like Henry Green, all of whom influenced him, Updike wrote sentences that work through the precise meeting of visual detail and verbal accuracy.”
See also this essential review of Begley’s biography, and Updike’s persona, by Louis Menand in The New Yorker here.
Does a dog have Buddha nature?
This is a matter of life and death.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your mind and body!
Ry Cooder has a mystical connection to Tex-Mex border music and his original songs and themes for movies such as Paris, Texas; The Border and Alamo Bay raised the visual images to another level. Here’s a live concert he did with Flaco Jimenez and others at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz in 1987. It’s not Tex-Mex, but it sorta is; it’s not rock, but it sorta is; it’s not soul, but it sorta is; it’s not gospel, but it sorta is, it’s not blues, but it sorta is, it’s not folk, but it sorta is. It’s no-border music, everything together guided by Cooder’s sense of what drives music at a fundamental level. Flaco is wide open in this concert: you can see him feeling the music.
The lyrics to Across the Borderline (from The Border, staring Jack Nicholson) are great (Buddhist/Zen) poetry. Here’s Cooder’s version of Across the Borderline, and Freddy Fender’s version (who sang it in the movie) and the lyrics:
There’s a land, so I’ve been told / Every street is paved with gold / And it’s just across the borderline / And when it’s time to take your turn / Here’s a lesson you must learn / You could lose more than you ever hope to find / And when you reach the broken promised land / Every dream slips though your hand / Then you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind / ‘Cause you pay the price to come this far / Just to wind up where you are / And you’re still just across the borderline / Up and down The Rio Grande / A thousand foot prints in the sand / Reveal the secret no one can define / The river flows on like a breath / In between our life and death / Tell me who the next to cross the borderline / And when you reach the broken promised land / Every dream slips through your hand / Then you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind / Cause you pay the price to come this far / Just to wind up where you are / And you’re still just across the borderline
Thank you John Dycus for reminding me about Cooder’s amazing work and recommending this concert film by Les Banks.
It’s a good day to spark some neurons.
Listen to this concert by the late great Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez, The Texas Tornados.
In Paradise, the name of Peter Matthiessen’s new novel, will be released soon, and it could be the last book in his one-of-a-kind outpouring of fiction and nonfiction. A beautiful tribute to him in The New York Times magazine can be found here.
Photograph copyright Damon Winter/The New York Times
Red Pine has two new books coming out in the next couple of years, in addition to Yellow River Odyssey which will be released sometime this summer. The first is based on the poems of Stonehouse, and the second, Finding Them Gone, is the story of his pilgrimage to the graves of Chinese poets. Both will be published by Copper Canyon Press.
Let It Go
It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
The more things happen to you the more you can’t
Tell or remember even what they were.
The contradictions cover such a range.
The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.
– William Empson