Thursday, December 01, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Now, that headline probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise. As
most who read this blog know, I’ve been writing non-fiction about music for 15
years now in the form of reviews and interviews for The Daily Vault; it
was really only a matter of time before that became the nucleus for an
attempt at fiction as well.
I could go on with a whole lot of blah blah blah about the story and such here, but Wampus has already set up a couple of places for that to happen, so if you’re so inclined, please join me at jasonwarburg.com and/or wampus.com/jason-warburg to learn more. Bottom line: I hope you’ll enjoy the book, and that if you do, you’ll tell your friends. That’s how this stuff works circa 2011: it’s all about spreading the word, one e-mail, Facebook status, blog post and tweet at a time.
(Oh, and just for the record, I'm not abandoning this blog... it will be back at some point in the future. After all, I have a lot of reading list left to explore!)
Take care and don't be a stranger.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
So, I’ll get back to writing about my reading list—which keeps growing—very soon, but just this moment, my imagination has been captured by a TV series about meth dealers.
Some of you know this already—one of you turned me onto the show, after all—but I’m speaking of Breaking Bad, the cable series on AMC starring Golden Globe winner Bryan Cranston (formerly best known as the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) and created/produced/often written by Vince Gilligan, who used to be one of the main writers on The X-Files. I never expected to become a fan of a show with such a dark premise, but the acting is terrific and the writing… the writing is completely brilliant.
Money is already tight when Walt learns in the first episode that he has stage four lung cancer (ironic because he does not smoke), with a year, maybe two to live. The next day he goes on a ride-along with his DEA agent brother-in-law and sees one of his former students (the luckless, mostly well-meaning loser Jesse) escaping from the meth lab the agents are in the process of busting. He also sees the rolls and rolls of cash the agents recover at the house, and an idea forms… Walt may be doomed, but he can leave his wife and kids well off rather than destitute—be their hero financially if in no other way—if he can team up with Jesse to cook and sell meth.
Needless to say, complications ensue, not the least of which is that Walt is both an excellent meth chef, and smarter than almost everyone he has to deal with in that world. He doesn’t like what he’s doing, but he does like how it makes him feel—powerful and finally, for once, in control of his life.
What prompted me to write about the show this morning, though, was the brilliant episode I just watched last night, episode ten of season two, titled “Over.” At this point I’m going to put up a big
In the previous episode, Walt becomes convinced by the hacking cough he’s developed and the blurry shape he sees on his preliminary medical scan results (that the technician won’t talk with him about) that the end is near. So he calls Jesse and they go on a marathon four-day meth-cooking binge that’s full of comic complications, with Walt’s MacGyver-ish science abilities ultimately rescuing them.
The kicker, though, comes at the end, when Walt and his family sit down together in the doctor’s office and hear the scan results—Walt is in remission, the tumors have shrunk 80 percent and the cough and the blur on the scan were side-effects of the chemo and radiation treatments that have saved his life. He’s not dying, his family is delighted… and he slips off into the bathroom alone and pounds his knuckles bloody against the towel dispenser.
That’s the setup for “Over,” in which Walt tries to figure out what this means. At first, he calls Jesse for a meet and says, sell what we’ve got, we’ll split the money, and then we can both walk away. A big clue that this is far from over, though, comes when Walt continues to shave his head, even though he finished chemo weeks ago. Then his wife throws a celebration for him, at which Walt spends his time sulking, drinking and generally behaving poorly. When asked to say something to the assembled group of friends he will say only this: “When they told me I had cancer, I thought, ‘Why me?’ And then when they told me I was in remission, I thought the same thing.”
The next day he apologizes, telling his wife “That wasn’t me, that was, I don’t know, someone else.” And then begins furiously working on a home repair project, ultimately ending up on his back in the crawl space literally shoring up the subfloor of his family home (and you’d better believe that symbolism was intentional). But you can see he’s deeply frustrated, to the point of obsession. Now that he’s no longer dying, everyone in his life wants everything to go back to the way it was… but other than his wife and son, Walt hated everything about his life the way it was. He felt defeated and powerless and constantly a victim.
In the episode’s final scene, he goes to the local big-box hardware store to get some mold-resistant primer to apply to his house repairs, walks down the aisle with a can in each hand, and comes across a shopping cart filled with what he immediately recognizes as a large buy of the ingredients needed to cook meth. The cart’s sketchy-looking owner returns and Walt glares at him before launching into a whispered rant in which he tells him everything he’s doing wrong—wrong ingredients, wrong approach (buy different components at different stores, and never in quantity), etc.—until the guy wordlessly flees the store.
Walt then gets in line to buy his primer, but something has already clicked over in his mind and he leaves the cans on the floor, leaves the checkout line and marches out into the parking lot, where he finds the sketchy customer explaining what happened to his muscle-bound, biker-ish minder. Walt marches right up to the two of them and does an old-West staredown with Muscles, the sort of tough guy he would instinctively have run from three months before.
After a long face-off, Walt finally hisses out five words: “Stay out of my territory.” The other two back off slowly, get in their van and leave Walt standing alone in the parking lot. He won’t go back to his old life; he can’t. He’s become a different person… and for better or for worse, he likes it.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions. Let’s face it; in recorded history, what percentage of them has lasted beyond February 15th?
But just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend I made some this year. Two of them would have been: read more, and write more. Nothing like a busy schedule and a touch of OCD to convince me I could more or less do both simultaneously by writing more about what I’m reading. And so… off we go, yet again. (There will of course be occasional interruptions for baseball, politics, etc. along the way, but that sort of thing tends to end up on Facebook these days and I’m not going to double post.)
So. Overall, 2010 was a solid year, reading-wise. I didn’t do that much heavy reading – a lot of comfort-food books, I’ll cop to that – but it was good stuff, and some interesting tangents developed along the way. Today’s entry is going to focus on the biggest loss for me as a reader this year: Robert B. Parker, who passed away quite suddenly in January at a robust 77 years of age.
Parker’s wisecracking yet wise Spenser and his memorable cast of supporting characters have been the focus of one of the most venerated and honored series in mystery fiction for nearly 40 years. Parker also successfully launched three other character-driven series in recent years, two mystery series focusing on small-town police chief Jesse Stone and Boston detective Sunny Randall, respectively, and a series of Westerns about quiet but deadly friends Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. (The Stone books have been adapted into a series of successful TV movies starring Tom Selleck as a somewhat older but equally troubled Jesse Stone; and Appaloosa, the first of the Westerns, was made into a terrific feature film with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen.)
Parker’s passing means the end of all four series, though he was so prolific in his later years that he was five or six books ahead of his quarterly publishing schedule at the time he died, so that new releases will continue through 2011. After gobbling up The Professional (2010’s typically engaging Spenser paperback) and the third in Parker’s terrific Western series (Brimstone), I decided to delve into some of his more tangential work to satisfy my craving for his lean, witty style. The Boxer And The Spy and Chasing The Bear are young adult novels, the former an original and the latter a story of Spenser as a teenager. Both were like small plates at a favorite restaurant—tasty but not substantial enough to be entirely satisfying.
Gunman’s Rhapsody, a retelling of the Wyatt Earp story, was oddly frustrating. In attempting to tell a true tale as faithfully as he could, Parker managed to muddy the waters in several directions at once, I think. The story doesn’t flow as you might wish because real-life events rarely take on the rhythms and plot-development pace of a good novel, and by virtue of the fact that the Earps’ entourage and approach to confrontation bear significant similarities to Spenser’s own fictional milieu, the whole exercise ends up feeling a bit like Spenser Gunfights at the O.K. Corral.
Let’s set the analysis aside for the last part here, though, and focus on the real world. The most remarkable thing that happened in the post-RBP world of 2010 was this: after decades of being known by readers mainly through references made by Parker in interviews, his wife Joan and sons David and Daniel chose to remember his life by starting a Facebook page in his honor and beginning for the first time to communicate directly with his many thousands of fans. The quality of the conversation on this page has been faintly astonishing, as family and fans have jointly mourned him as both an author and a man. Each camp, it seems, has been of considerable comfort to the other, and the family’s decision to share various old letters and funny anecdotes about RBP has made it feel at times as if he is still in the room, chuckling softly from the corner at all this fuss about a guy who could never abide pretension, and really just enjoyed spinning a good yarn, and being a father to Daniel and David, and being a partner to his beloved Joan.