Tuesday, July 5, 2016


A weird thing is starting to happen.  I'm not going to say I'm turning into a summer girl, because in my mind that requires rollerblading in a bikini while listening to Van Halen's California Girls.  But I am truly enjoying eating lemons by the handful and putting cilantro on everything I touch.  In my own turtle-on-a-rock kind of way, you might say I'm soaking up summer.   

In the spirit of pink drinks and sitting in a hammock, I give you the following three thoughts: 

1. I recommend this episode of World Cafe featuring Mudcrutch, Tom Petty's first band which he got back together for an album in 2007, and which just released a second album. The interview alone is worth a listen because there's nothing as freaky or pleasant as Tom Petty's speaking voice, IMHO, but the music is great, too. 

I read Warren Zanes' Petty: The Biography when it came out last year.  If you ignore the unfortunate use of the word "girls" to mean "women"
by most everyone involved, it's an enjoyable read.  I could not stop thinking about what a load of work biographies are while reading it: interviewing, transcribing, writing, fact checking.  Wowzahs.  Whatever work ethic made that book possible kinda blows my mind.  On the other hand, I guess it's worth it because I probably muse on one anecdote or another from its files weekly.

The Mudcrutch interview also contains a strange moment where Tom Leadon, one of the original members of Mudcrutch who did not go on to be in the Heartbreakers, laments the fact that he stayed behind when the rest of the band went to L.A. Tom Petty breaks in by saying something like, "But we're all together now!  Let's not focus on that." It reminds of Zanes' allusion to Petty feeling guilty about the way things did and did not turn out for his bandmates.  I could be reading too much into that on-air moment, but it struck me as a weird thing to say, essentially cutting off someone who was just sharing thoughts about the way his life turned out. 

2. On the recommendation of a friend I checked out the HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge, based on Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and was glued to my couch for two nights.  As we somewhat foolishly bought a wool couch and it's been above 80 degrees lately, that's really saying something.  I absolutely could not stop watching it and wanted to live forever in its bracing world of cold water, dark interiors, stiff clothing, and strained relationships. 

3. By some miracle of Twitter, I came across a newly released memoir called Boy Erased, written by Garrard Conley.  The book's pretty turquoise cover won me over right away, but I was moved by its interior pages, as well.   

The book tells the story of an "ex-gay" therapy program Conley attended, with the support of his parents who believed it was the right thing, so he might be "cured" of being gay.  It's hard to believe something like this could have happened so recently (he started the program in 2004), but I know Conley's story is one of many, and there's a long way to go before our country and small towns in particular support true diversity. 

I'm not just talking about the diversity you learn to pay lip service to if you go to a liberal enough college.  Really embracing people for who they are, despite our differences, and maintaining relationships with them across those divides is, to me, one of the hardest but also powerful things to do in this world.  I'm struck most by Conley's willingness to discuss growing up gay in a religious family in a southern town while also working to understand his parents' perspective.  That willingness is something to behold, and it made me wonder at all the work that went into crafting this book, as well.

Here is Conley on what it means to be an intellectual from a less-than-cosmopolitan hometown: 

"Sitting there in the midst of my professor's intelligent conversations, I had felt like both an impostor and a traitor.  I smiled at the appropriate moments, made droll comments about my upbringing, mocked the politics of almost everyone in my hometown.  Yet it was also true that coming home often made me feel, if not proud of my heritage, then at least grateful for its familiarity."

I loved Conley's sheer intelligence, and the bookish musings he weaves throughout his narrative:

"I stared into the gaps between the pads of his fingers, thinking about how people were never really touching even when they thought they were touching, how it was really our electrons doing the touching, a fact that made me feel slightly less guilty about the one major transgression I'd written about in that morning's MI - kissing an art student named Caleb - but also a little sadder about living in a world where one illusion could so stubbornly dictate the way I saw every interaction with the people around me.  It was a concept I'd encountered in one of my all-night reading marathons, its words sharp and satisfying as I'd silently mouthed it.  'Osculation': two curves touching but not intersecting, never intersecting.  From the Latin osculationem: a kiss.  Intimacy as a parlor trick, an illusion.  But what was one more illusion when it seemed the whole world operated on so many of them?  With each passing day at the facility, it seemed as though becoming straight was simply a matter of good lighting, of ignoring what you didn't want to see."

And finally, in this book I felt a wonderful closeness to the practice of writing itself, in ways I found endearing and perhaps even inspiring:

"I turned off the faucet and listened to the quiet in its wake.  In my pocket was a kind of charm against whatever might happen today: A number I could dial, and even if I didn't plan on doing anything with this mysterious Mark, the act of dialing would be my secret, something no one else would know.  It felt good to have a secret again...almost as good as it would have felt getting my Moleskin back and entering the secret world of stories that belonged only to me."

So there you have it, folks.  Music, film, books (and more books).  Does a person really need anything else in life?