Dangerously Close to the Highway with Ralph Steadman

July 11, 2007

I was reading a bit of Herzog on Herzog recently,which is part of the wonderful “directors on directors” series wherein filmmakers talk to themselves about their careers. Or rather, someone interviews the director and then stitches together a savvy retrospective of their work. I really like the David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Terry Gilliam editions, but there are quite a few others I haven‘t read.

Anyhow, in the Herzog one I came across this quote from his bête noire Klaus Kinski:

Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep…he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No panther claws should rip open his throat–that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should p— into his lying eyes and gobble up his b—- and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me.

Nobody is going to buy the book if I say nice things about you, Werner.

Certainly his comments were partly tongue in cheek, but then he and Herzog mythically had a habit of drawing guns on one another during the filming of their movies together. Herzog even directed a movie about his relationship with Kinski, My Best Fiend, but Herzog does seem a bit imbalanced himself…

Kinski’s quote reminded me of a review I had written some years ago which I would like to share with you. It seems fitting since Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson had a similarly tumultuous relationship, which is well represented by Thompson’s letter to Steadman from the intro to The Curse of Lono.

So here’s my book review, I hope you enjoy:


DooDaaa: The Balletic Art of Gavin Twinge, a Triography by Ralph Steadman & Gavin Twinge (pronounced “Twarnge”) Bloomsbury, HC $29.95

It’s useless to imagine what might be that hasn’t been…senseless. A pointillist lost in a cubist’s nightmare. Hundreds of stacks of newspapers printed anemically with soy-based inks, quietly dissolving into late-night television pixels. History is like this, but we describe it generationally. So-and-so, his great-grandmother, she worked in hospice, she scrubbed floors, she rubbed elbows through hospital muumuus with Emma Goldman, learned about the newest cures for hysteria from her, she later worked as a producer on some early films. Never met Valentino, one of her greatest regrets.

By describe I mean an arc, the history we know, factually dictated in alphabetic ideograms we come to understand, as Noam Chomsky would have us believe, because we are literally hardwired to understand the printed word. The Japanese put out bowls of rice for the dead (rice of which the dead only consume the vaporous essence as it cools, withers, and hardens, that is them consuming it), and sail little ships, hundreds, a candle in each, incandescent and ephemeral, in appreciation of/out of respect for/representing the soul of/communicating with/and entertaining the dead.

History dissolves like this, leaving traces like calcified rice, obscurely consumed. Recognizable, but altogether different, less functional. Just different; it’s important to consider these differences. We read history and see the life, so, so vibrant once, all the more unreal for how much we resemble it. We see this history though a mirror which hangs askew on the wall, wrapped tightly in a diaphanous cloth, to prevent clarity (to prevent ghosts), we peek voyeuristically through the wrapped mirror’s chinks. We fear the present, this moment; we want to know how to keep it from harboring the dangers already past, sins of the past, mistakes from the past.

Gavin Twinge is one such mistake. He is a huge stain, like a monstrous limned meniscus, fading like a Cheshire grin. An intractable spirit best forgotten. He is barely a drop from the calligrapher’s quill on an ancient five-paneled screen. Barely a stroke of midnight in a futurist landscape, or the spoke of a futurist bicycle; rigorous metal girders holding aloft blue collar souls like so many petrified diamonds, stories buried deeper in the earth than the mines of Moria. Buried for our protection. To free him is to free a mutagenic viral infection, or to loosen the chastity belt society tightened on our animalistic prepubescent consciousness.

Gavin Twinge is inaccessible, an aggrandizing megalomaniac with a silver spoon in his mouth and a knife to the art critic’s throat babbling incoherently about flart and Vera and endless vintages of wine he’s quaffed in pursuit of his art’s luscious ass.

Read DooDaaa at your own risk, I tell you. For your own sake, please, do not read DooDaaa. You’ll wake up drunk, in a gutter on the side of the road, dangerously close to the highway, and you’ll have no idea where you left your car.

There were no polite ways of maintaining the status quo any more than there was a polite way to slit a hanging pig’s throat.” –Gavin


Curse of Lono by Ralph Steadman

I only tell you these things because I love you, Ralph.


Handcuffed lightning

July 5, 2007

I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark. (Muhammad Ali, 1974)

In case you didn’t know, it’s all about speed. Check out the new Type N700 bullet train from Japan.


Top speed: 186mph. Tokyo to Osaka in 2hrs 25m, fully 5 minutes faster than the previous model. Sure, it’s 171mph slower than the French V150 passenger train, but Japanese ingenuity for speed knows few bounds. Here’s a little celebration in video, with some other tidbits of world speed record trivia to flavor the mix like dashi:

World’s Fastest Secretary

(the world’s fastest growing plant is a tropical bamboo which can grow over 50 feet in three months)

World’s Fastest Drinker

(the world’s fastest drummer is likely Mike ‘da man’ Mangini who played a record setting 1207 single drum strokes in 60 seconds at NAMM, 2005)

World’s Fastest Undresser

(Michigan can boast the world’s fastest cow, Taffy. “The only difference between a cow and a horse,” says Taffy’s trainer, “is about 45 miles per hour.”)

And, last but not least, a ridiculously fast method for

T-Shirt folding

Damn, I’ve got to learn how to do that!

So as you can see, there’s just something about living in Japan that inspires people to excel. Honda has even developed a little robot space child from the future who can run. Man, that video is so creepy and cute at the same time, like so many things kawaii. I didn’t even show you the guy on the trampoline who completes a cross-court slam dunk…I’ve gotta save something for tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear back from James Gleick to see whether or not the world’s fastest computers, which already can simulate planet Earth, will have enough memory to back-up the Milky Way just in case something goes wrong. Perhaps we can give the first super-storage facility to Stephen Wright who once claimed “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

(the fastest observed pulsar moved at approximately 1100km, or more than 670 miles, per second!)

Before you go, though, I have to share my personal favorite speed record from the wide world of sports. (A big massive thanks to Malcolm Bubb who alerted me to this) Maybe you’ve heard of snooker and Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan. If not, check out the rules first, and see just how crazy difficult snooker is compared to regular pool. Anyhow, watch this video to see just how a perfect score is done. Keep in mind that he must sink the black ball after every red one for the 147… And I swear to you by the power of Bob, you will never again see something as amazing as you do 2:23 minutes into the video.


Being Murakami Haruki

June 17, 2007

“Hajime,” she began, “the sad truth is that certain types of things can’t got backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”

South of the Border, West of the Sun p.147

For me, possibly the most important passage Murakami ever wrote, as far as understanding his work. He is one of my favorite modern authors, likely my absolute favorite, though it is hard to express why. At times maudlin, at other times a little too cozy and smug… but those moments are luckily few and far between. His work is able to touch me so directly, snaking stealthily under years of disillusionment and cynicism by stoking any lingering fires of sentimentality and, most meaningfully, nostalgia. As Yeats sang so beautifully for wandering Aengus, “I went out to a hazel wood because a fire was in my head…”

disappearing act

Somehow I was introduced to Murakami around when his first English translations were coming out, and the first book I read was a hardcover edition of A Wild Sheep Chase. A wicked mashup of noir, Raymond Carver, and Albert Camus, I had to read it a second time almost immediately to convince myself it was real. Strangely it took me several years to read another one, and once I did, I couldn’t stop until I read them all.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is a masterpiece. A Wild Sheep Chase is good, but I didn’t know at the time that it was the third in a loose trilogy, sometimes called the trilogy of the rat after a character who is, by the time of Sheep Chase, already a ghost. Wonderland embodies everything that is so beguiling about Murakami’s work.

(And, curse the powers that be, but Pinball 1973 and Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, are not yet available in English outside of translations for sale only in Japan for Japanese students of English. I want to publicly thank a remarkably kind book rep, Bill Verner, who years ago gifted me his personal copy of Hear the Wind Sing, which, if you find it on abebooks or ebay at all, will cost you over a hundred dollars! Bill has translated several Paco Ignacio Taibo II books into english, by the way, and they’re very well done.)

There are two major elements to his best stories, obsessions that he shares with several other Japanese artists, but that are hard to meaningfully isolate. Often his characters are divided into halves, and seek unconsciously to remedy any blindness this may cause. The borders of memory are fragile, and Murakami exhumes what we hoped would remain buried, the tender sentiment of past regret. What brings me back to his stories, especially Hard-Boiled and one of my favorites, after the quake (originally All God’s Children Can Dance in Japanese) is how he works his way under my skin so that I am inhabited by his nostalgia, like wearing a diaphanous cloth of which I am aware only in the breeze.

Just as frequently, women disappear in his works, literally or existentially, sometimes hard to tell. And yet he manages to turn those moments into haunting ruminations on memory, like an emotional transliteration of the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox. Luckily it doesn’t seem like a parlor trick, except in Sputnik Sweetheart which should be avoided at all costs, because the core mystery is a mystery which bedevils him as well.

He is able, like Luis Buñuel and David Lynch, to communicate an ephemeral dream state so that you feel like it’s your dream, and that it is your consciousness that is divided. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and Norwegian Wood make this division quite literal; in Hard-Boiled every other chapter vacillates between two wildly different narratives, and in Norwegian Wood the book was published in two volumes (at least in Japan and in England), a red and a green edition.

Norwegian Wood, both editions


(He became so popular at the time, with so many school kids identifying with one book or the other that it became fashionable to dress up in the color of one’s favored book. He fled Japan soon after, unwilling to suffer the widespread recognition, though today I think he does go back.)

I am thinking of him lately because a new novella came out last month, After Dark, and I haven’t read it yet. I was spoiled for years, working as I did in bookstores where everyone knew how much I loved his work, so I would get first dibs on advanced reader editions. When I returned from an absence to work at Malaprop’s Bookstore, the owner showed her appreciation of me by gifting me a signed hardcover copy of after the quake (how cool is that!). I didn’t even see any ARC copies of After Dark at BookExpo this year…did I miss them or is it a sign of tightened purse strings in lean times?

Murakami also features librarians in several of his works, most memorably in Wonderland where a man unwillingly has had his shadow severed from him by an axe-wielding gatekeeper, and is trying to find out how to keep his shadow from an early death. He is called upon by the town librarian to read the skulls of some mysterious animals; reading the skulls summons up magnificent memories while stripping him of his own. Also, in Kafka on the Shore, the main character winds up befriending a gender dysphoric librarian as well as the unusual library director Miss Saeki.

So if you’re up for a bit mental dislocation (a la Philip K. Dick) or an atmosphere of ruminative nostalgia (a la Raymond Bradbury) be sure to check out some Murakami. At least, if you have some time for a new literary obsession.