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Dusty in Memphis, one of the all-time greats, was released 50 years ago today. You know how you have first exposures that you always remember, that never go away, that become part of your entire memory package around a piece of work? Back in the age before CD, after years of reading about what a wow this record was, and not finding the out-of-print vinyl anywhere, I was able to purchase the cassette through some book-and-tape clearing-house catalog that my mother and stepfather used to subscribe to. I listened to it for the first time out on their acreage in the country, on a cool clear sunny morning on Thanksgiving weekend, all by myself in the house because everyone else had gone to my

Altogether not bad

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), which is coming out from The Criterion Collection, was an altogether not-bad movie, as I recall, whose stock rose retroactively when it became clear that its first-time director, Robert Zemeckis, had become one of the most Zeitgeisty if least interesting directors of the 80s (Roger Rabbit) and 90s (Forrest Gump). It seems now like a "little film" out of the post-Jaws, post-Star Wars Hollywood of behemoths and blockbusters, with a cast numerous of whom turned up the very next year in Spielberg's underrated (though not by much) 1941, which Zemeckis co-wrote. There are several sweet scenes, most involving Nancy Allen as the Paul-hungry one; memorable sight gags, l


Slaughterhouse-Five, which turns 50 this year, is one of those books that in my reading life has undergone a real evolution, by which I can track my own changes. Reading it as a preteen, I was tickled, perhaps dazzled, but undeniably quite confused. Reading it as a teenager, I was duly impressed by the time loops, formal shenanigans, and general post-modernity, but my burgeoning pretensions wouldn't let me rate it as high as Mother Night or Cat's Cradle or The Sirens of Titan (masterpieces all) because SH-5 was the bestseller, the one that made Vonnegut a household name, rich man, counterculture seer, Playboy Interview subject. Reading it in my twenties, at a time when I was eager to slough

Pennebaker Now!

Late to the party as usual, I earlier watched an episode of the acclaimed, now-three-seasons-old IFC comedy series Documentary Now!, with each installment a parody of some familiar (at least to some) doc style or subject. This was the recent episode based on D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: Company (1970), about the marathon recording session of the entire score of the Stephen Sondheim musical. (Interesting sidelight: at the Manhattan transcription firm where I worked for 17 years, and where labor got so badly and routinely screwed by management that if you weren’t a Marxist going in you were definitely one coming out, D.A. Pennebaker was one of our clients. Because I was good at movie

Wolves in the night

Arthur Koestler died this day in 1983, age 77. His great novel Darkness at Noon (1941), concerning the party purges and show trials of Stalin’s Soviet Union, manages to be suspenseful, though its ending is never in doubt; to be specific, though the relevant nations and leaders are never named; to be moving, though it is a novel of ideas. Most of all it finely unravels the psychology of the purges from both sides, the Stalinists who conducted them and the Old Bolsheviks who were sacrificed to them, so that one of the great and horrible mysteries of the century becomes a bit more comprehensible yet no less horrible: "There was no way back for them. Their exit from the stage happened strictly a


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