Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Ant In My Thai Food

Just a few days ago, I found myself eating a reasonably satisfying plate of Thai Chicken Fried Rice in a local establishment that shall remain nameless. I did not have much time to dine, considering that I needed to be on my way shortly, and thus I was chowing down at a rather brisk pace. Which is why the sight of an ant crawling up the piece of cilantro on my plate didn't give me as much pause as it might have otherwise. "Hmmm," I thought to myself. "Should I say something? Or should I just flick it off and keep eating? Maybe it's not the restaurant's fault. Maybe he just crawled onto the plate from the table. Hell, maybe he was in my own hair, and maybe I was the source of the ant, not the restaurant." Since I really didn't have any time to waste, I simply flicked the ant off and continued eating. I could not avoid parsing the remainer of my food very carefully with a fork, of course. But on the whole, one bad ant doesn't spoil the whole bunch, as they say.

Two ants, however, might be more likely to spoil the bunch, which is why the second ant really threw me for a loop. Again, he was crawling up the cilantro, and again, I attempted to flick him off. I tried hard to justify my continued consumption of this meal. "Maybe it's the same ant," I thought. "Maybe I thought I flicked him off before, but I didn't." Any more time wasted at this table and I would be late. And the truth is, the rest of the fried rice still looked pretty good, and I was still hungry, and hey, I was paying for it, so I might as well do my best to clear the plate. I couldn't help but sense a small itch in my throat. Maybe an ant was crawling around the entrance to my esophagus. Suddenly I had visions of a frat boy ant, joyously swinging from my tonsils, drunkenly slurring "Louie Louie," having the time of his life. I tried to swallow with extra vigor. I drank excessive sips of water. Eventually I just figured, "Hey, extra protein." I left a reasonable tip and hightailed it out of there.

Call me generous.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Music Industry

Rolling Stone recently published a fascinating two-part article on the state of the music industry. The first part explores, perhaps unintentionally, how the resentment that customers must have been feeling toward the record biz for years has finally, for all intents and purposes, done it in.

I'm going to tell you a little story. Anybody remember Personics? That little store in the mall where you could get your own cassette made with all your favorite songs on it, in crystal-clear "cassette-quality" audio? My father was a big fan of Personics; he wasn't much of an album guy. Anyway, the only problem with Personics was that only about a third of the major record labels agreed to license their songs for use. That meant that you had to pick and choose your songs from a big random list, and it barely had anything good on it. It didn't even have all the songs from a single artist's catalog. You might see a few Beach Boys songs, but not all of them - not even all of the famous ones! No, these were the crumbs that the record industry was willing to offer you. And yet, my father was ready to make do with those crumbs. He still complained, of course. "I don't know why the other labels don't agree to this thing. It's a great idea. They could make a ton of money. They're just a bunch of greedy bastards, that's all it is."

One day, my father went to the mall and was shocked to discover that Personics had gone out of business. He asked the clerk why. "Not enough record labels agreed to license their songs." My father was outraged. "I can't believe it!" he said. "The record companies are gonna pay for this someday. I mean, it's not like they had to give away the songs for free. They were still getting paid for the songs. They just wanted to make more money. Fuck them."

Sure enough, years later, when the mp3 and digital piracy exploded in popularity, my father turned to me. He said, "You know what this is? You know what this is? This is revenge for Personics."

One of the suits in this article makes an interesting observation. When peer-to-peer took hold, he says, "That's when we went from music having real value in people's minds to music having no economic value, just emotional value." I think what really happened was that people simply lost respect for the record industry, and no longer felt obligated to treat it fairly or seriously. The public had been figuring out, for a while, that the record companies were being rather exploitative with their artists' music, especially considering that by the late 90s, it was clear that CDs were not nearly as expensive to produce as they were to buy. The profit margin on those things was pretty ridiculous. And sometimes people simply wanted to own one or two songs by an artist, but had to settle for an $18 "Greatest Hits" CD full of filler. Also, whereas like most technology, CDs should have been getting cheaper with the passage of time, instead they were becoming more expensive. I think the record companies just kept raising the prices hoping that nobody would notice. But people noticed all right. They noticed, and they waited for their moment of revenge.

Technology became their weapon of choice. And once technology enabled the free transaction of CD-quality music, nobody had any second thoughts about acquiring music in that fashion, because nobody respected the music industry's claim on the music anymore. Because they'd already felt like they'd been "cheated," they hardly considered what they were doing "stealing." Yes, the artists lost out, but piracy wasn't about the artists; it was about giving the record companies their just desserts. The public knew that a bunch of guys in suits had basically lucked into ownership of all this music, even though these guys had nothing to do with the music's actual creation. So when technology finally caught up with them, nobody hesitated to "steal" their product, because somehow people knew, in the back of their minds, that it was barely theirs to sell anyway.

Once upon a time the record companies were actual middle-men who actually helped deliver a hard-to-create physical product to the public. But one day the public finally realized, "Hey, you know, we don't need the middle-men. They're standing there in the middle and we don't need them anymore. They can go home, be teachers, work for the Park Service or something." Comments like these are not likely to change people's minds: "More than 5,000 record-company employees have been laid off since 2000." Oh my God what a tragedy. "A great American sector has been damaged enormously," says the guy from the RIAA. Sure buddy. Go cry in your limo.

Now if the artists were saying, "Hey, we're starving, we can't pay the bills thanks to piracy," then people might be sympathetic. But aside from Metallica, it doesn't seem like the artists even care. Ultimately I'm about the artist. The artist does the hard work. There could be no music industry without the artist. A moral industry would have the artists' best intentions in mind. But people sense that these record company guys are just plain greedy. They're not interested in the happiness of the artist, they're not interested in the happiness of the consumer; they just want to make money. So it's been difficult for the public to work up too much sympathy.

The system as it stands right now is faulty. I think people recognize that illegal downloading is not the answer. The artists need to receive money for their work. But the record industry is set up so ridiculously that if it takes a decade or so of complete chaos and questionable activity to make the whole system re-evaluate itself and invent a different model, then so be it. Nobody likes breaking the law. But if that's what it takes to generate a fairer system, then hey. What a lot of people are probably thinking is, "Yeah, piracy is bad, but the record industry is worse."

So here's the question that we've got to ask:

Can (or should) recorded music remain profitable?

And thus we come to the second part of Rolling Stone's article, which proposes several alternatives to the currently moribund system.

Theories 1 and 2 sound the most plausible. The way it's set up now, 99 cents for a single song is ridiculous. People should be able to pay $10 a month for all the music they want. If the ads create the money, like with most websites these days, then so be it. If people pay their internet provider, then that works too. My only concern is that people will only be able to download music from Warner Brothers, or from Sony, or some nonsense like that. We need a system where we can download whatever the hell we want. I'm also concerned that these systems will exclude bootlegs. Some of my most interesting finds have been unreleased concerts, or collections of outtakes, or alternate versions of albums. I fear that these "officially-sanctioned" peer-to-peer networks will only consist of "officially released" music. However, there is another issue at stake, and that's the issue of artistic control. I do recognize that artists have the right to some artistic control. But as long as the artist is able to release their work exactly as they envision it, then I see no problem with alternate versions being available to the public. Artists have to relinquish some control if they wish to profit from the public sphere.

Theories 3 and 4 sound weird. In what universe is "the future of the music industry bright"? That guy sounds like an idiot to me. And "the labels acting as managers"? Sounds like more of the same old crap. Finally, Theory 5 just sounds like a record exec fantasy; I don't know anyone who trades music in that manner. Maybe 12-year-old girls do.

But here's a truly radical proposal, folks. What if we said this? What if we issued a sort-of Emancipation Proclamation of Music, and just declared all recorded What if we just said that it will no longer be profitable to make recorded music? At all? Could we do that? Should we do that? What would be the consequences? The benefits?

Obviously the people who would suffer most would be the acts who record music but do not tour. How many of these acts are there right now? How many of these acts have existed in the history of popular music? I can only think of a few examples off the top of my head: late-period Beatles, late-period Steely Dan, and Harry Nilsson. So basically if an act wanted to be like Harry Nilsson, they couldn't do it anymore. Is this an option we'd like to preserve? If not, then we don't have to worry about creating a new, workable system. But if so, then we have to come up with a system that would be fair to both the consumer and the artist alike.

Let me throw some more ideas out there. Maybe all recorded music would be free except for the music of currently active artists. That way the artists who are still trying to make a living would be able to do so, and the artists who are either filthy rich or dead would have to relinquish extra profit. Or how about this? If an album makes a certain amount of money, then it's free after five years. But if an album doesn't make very much money initially, we leave room for potential cult success and say that it doesn't become free until it sells a certain amount of copies. Honestly, I guess my main point is that the music of the 60s and 70s should essentially be free by now. Hell, any music that's more than five years old. The truth is I don't think people will be willing to pay vast amounts of money for older music ever again, now that they've gotten used to stealing it. It's simply not that hard to find and not that hard to reproduce in high-quality sound. Let's just call it public domain and be done with it. Of course, I think older cult acts still deserve the chance to make some money off their material, and that's why I'd like to create a system that would allow that. But I'm not paying $18 for a Led Zeppelin CD. Even with the packaging.

What would I pay for, you ask? Hmmm. I can conceive of paying for an artist's entire catalogue, on mp3, in high-quality sound, with no glitches, for maybe about 50 cents. Seriously. And maybe with some exclusive video clips, photos, and essays thrown in. But at least the artist would still get some money from me. And something is better than nothing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Department of Pathetic Indignation -- U-Boat Watch

Pure Evil

Slate has an article up by Richard Cohen in which the moral terror of the "U-Boat Watch" is examined. Little Earl and I have often discussed Slate's propensity for publishing articles that exaggerate the importance of their topic and this one in particular stands out as an excellent example. Cohen begins the article, "I confess to being in the market for an expensive watch. I say I confess because I know the watch I buy for a lot of money will not be more accurate than a watch I could have bought for a lot less, but there you have it." Ah yes, rich liberal guilt is a wonderful way to start a useless article. After a brief explanation of the U-Boat's history, complete with obligatory Churchill quote, Cohen tells us about other evil consumer goods. There's the "Hitler Car", KKK robes, and even Warhol's Mao paintings.

The problem here is that none of these things are actually evil, nor do they promote evil. The car and the robes could be considered genuine historical objects. They aren't very meaningful historical objects, but you can't be too picky now that we've dug up all the interesting stuff and put it in museums. As for the Warhol painting, I always assumed that the point of his colorful reproductions was to show the absurdity of pop imagery. You like bright colors? Here's Elvis, and evil Mao, and a car crash! I'm pretty sure the Hitler car doesn't have a mind of it's own, unerringly aiming for Jewish pedestrians as you tool on down the road. And I'm absolutely positive that Warhol's Mao paintings did not launch an international surge in the popularity of Chinese dictators.

The only thing this article accomplishes is creating a spurious moral hierarchy which justifies spending thousands of dollars on a watch which is no better than a $20 piece from Big 5. Cuz hey, at least you aren't buying the U-Boat Watch!

The White Stripes

There's an interesting interview with Jack White up at Pitchfork. The introduction lists rules that interviewers must follow according to Jack's management. This might seem arrogant on Jack's part, but imagine the number of interviews that guy gives, and who he's giving the interviews to. Interview #5613 with Joe Asshole from Asshole Rock Quarterly probably gets a bit tedious. I don't blame him at all, and he comes across as a good guy in every interview I've ever read.

I've heard people with otherwise decent taste say that the White Stripes are overrated. If anything, I'd argue the opposite. They are the only mainstream act that has consistently exceeded my expectations and I have a great time listening to their music. It makes me feel like dancing while screaming, "Fuck you universe, I love you anyway!", whatever that means. I haven't listened to Icky Thump yet, but I look forward to it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Zhivago Effect

I would've already posted something else tonight except my roommate became a victim of what I would call the Zhivago Effect.

The Zhivago Effect: the inability of any human being who watches the first half of Doctor Zhivago to continue on with his or her life without immediately watching the second half.

Here's what happened: My roommate felt like watching a movie tonight, and he took a look at my film collection. "What about Doctor Zhivago?" "Yeah, you should see that." "But it's long, right?" "Yeah, it's like three hours long." "Then maybe I should watch it some other night." "But you've said that for a year now." "Hmm. You say it's good?" "If you liked Lawrence of Arabia, you'd like Doctor Zhivago." "I don't know, dude..." "Look, just watch the first half tonight, and then you can watch the second half some other time." "Yeah." "Otherwise you'll never watch it." "OK, sounds good, let's do it." "All right, but I'm not gonna watch the whole thing with you, I'll be in and out." "OK."

Two hours later. I'm still sitting in front of the T.V. with my roommate. He looks up at the clock. "OK, you know what's gonna happen, we're gonna put that second disc in..." "No, you said-" "Yeah, forget about what I said, I've gotta watch the rest of this." "But it's already midnight!" "Yeah, well, all I've got to say is that I'm glad it's the weekend."

So here I am, an hour and a half later.

Friday, June 15, 2007

French and Italian Black and White Film Fest: The Round-up

It had been years in the making. It had been plotted and planned in hushed whispers and confidential winks. But finally, at 11:30 pm on June 11, 2007, it was a reality. Six movies, 36 hours. No ordinary cinema buffs could have endured such a high level of endless subtitles, pessimistic climaxes, and cultural references lacking context. But when Yoggoth and Little Earl do French and Italian black and white films, they do them the Xtreme way.

Attempting to wring some order out of such a chaotic enterprise, we chose to watch the films in chronological order, starting in 1939 and finishing with 1964. As such, our festival could be considered a glimpse of western Europe from World War II to the start of the radical youth movement of the late 60s. Several similar themes and trends could be said to run throughout our selections:

1) The pain and confusion of male-female relationships

2) Troubled siblings bringing more gifted and responsible siblings down

3) Women not doing too well

4) Fear of being caught in a potentially criminal situation

5) Having to live with a guy that looks like the Cowardly Lion

On the whole, though, the six films were quite different in style and theme, displaying the true eclecticism of European cinema during this period. Let's take them one at a time:

The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)

A film could not have a higher reputation than Rules of the Game. Most serious critic lists rank it as one of the two or three greatest films of all time. Coming into a film with a reputation like that, also knowing that the general public has not even heard of it, a first-time viewer tends to be skeptical. I know I was. I'd first seen the film back in grad school, although I saw it on a really poor videocassette copy where all the subtitles bled into the background every time something white was on the screen, and I knew I was probably missing about one-third of the dialogue. Even so, I thought it was really good, especially for its time, although to be honest it was not quite clear to me why the film was supposed to be that good. However, I figured it was the kind of movie I probably needed to watch a second time. So now I've seen it a second time, and what do I think? I think I still don't really "get it." The film must have been very frank for its era, but I'm told that it was also amazingly controversial, and I don't really see how. It must be a French thing. I can understand, for example, why Citizen Kane was controversial. I can understand why Citizen Kane was groundbreaking. But whatever was groundbreaking about Rules of the Game must have been lost in the sands of time. It just doesn't seem that hard, or that new, to critique the old European class system. Maybe it was new then. As is it, it's one of those movies where I read articles about why the film is so great, and I say, "So what? Is that all there is to it?" Yoggoth was similarly underwhelmed, admitting that, sure, it was definitely an interesting movie and probably better than most movies ever, but ultimately it just didn't have the emotional impact that the best American films from the same era have, or that a "greatest film of all time" should have if it wants to be labeled as such. In short, film critics are weird.

Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

When I was a kid I remember Siskel & Ebert or somebody of that persuasion say that although the recent Disney version of Beauty and the Beast was really good, the truly classic version was the old black and white version. At the time I though, "Yeah right." But as I became more of a film snob, I started thinking that it was probably true. After finally watching the older version, however, my initial childhood reaction may have been correct. Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast is basically like an old Hollywood studio movie that also happens to be in French. The charms of the movie, I suppose, are the charms of the old Hollywood children's films, with lots of emphasis on atmospheric set design and theatrical acting - in other words, lame charms. I can't imagine any of today's children finding this movie anything more than cheesy and slow. I think if someone were in the right mood, it would be a nice movie to watch, but for the purposes of our festival, it didn't quite fit the bill. You could tell Cocteau was trying to tweak the moral of the fairy tale a bit, to make it more relevant to adult sensibilities, but in the end that just seemed like an interesting idea more than the makings of an engrossing 90 minute movie. In addition, the beast's costume didn't even make him look scary; he just looked like the Cowardly Lion. Every time he burst onto the screen I couldn't restrain myself from singing "If I...were the king...of the forrrr-E-E-E-E-st!" By unanimous decision, our least favorite film of the festival.

A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956)

Fresh off our mutual admiration for Pickpocket, we both had high hopes for A Man Escaped, and our hopes weren't quite fulfilled. A Man Escaped both benefits and suffers from its narrow focus. The film is about a man...trying to escape. And that's it. You want to know how he escapes? This film will tell you. You want to know anything else? Not the film for you. As a result, the movie is more like an informative instructional film than an engrossing drama. Yoggoth and I both compared it to a Hitchcock film (and coming from us, that's not especially flattering, although it's not damning either). In Yoggoth's words, "Being trapped in a prison cell - that's a situation that I can't really relate to. Picking pockets - even though I've never picked pockets, it's still something I could possibly see myself doing someday, and thus I could relate much more to the Pickpocket guy." Amen to that.

Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960)

Just as our festival was beginning to look like a bit of a wash, along came our lone Italian representative to beat the Frenchies back into the Stone Age. Italy may have only managed one entry into our festival, but damn, they made it count. Plunged once again, we were, into effortlessly tasteful cinematography, passionate characters, and a story with some real meat on its bones. It appears that 1960 was THE YEAR for European cinema: you already got La Dolce Vita, Breathless, L'Avventura, and Shoot the Piano Player - and Rocco and His Brothers fits right in with that lofty company. I kept joking with Yoggoth, before we even watched the movie, "How can you lose with a title like Rocco and His Brothers?" Well you can't. Clearly Coppola and Scorsese must have viewed themselves some Visconti; we could spot the film's influence on The Godfather, Mean Streets, and Raging Bull, just to name a measly few. The film dissected issues as loaded as the contrast between rural and city life, how strongly people should cling to the concept of family, and whether a "bad" person can ever be "good" again. The only possible complaint I might have made was that the ending was a little too operatic for my taste, causing me to lose a little bit of sympathy with some of the characters; a lighter touch would have gone down with me better. But that was no problem for Yoggoth, who stated, "Man, Rocco and His Brothers kind of wiped the floor with those other movies."

Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, 1960)

This was the lone contribution from my own DVD collection, so as you could guess, I'd already seen it and I already knew I liked it. Watching Shoot the Piano Player in the context of all these other movies, however, it was all the more clear to me just how much of a break the French New Wave was from everything that had come before. The innovations of Shoot the Piano Player have been so firmly absorbed into the mainstream (especially in the 90s) that they may hardly seem new to some, but for me they remain charming. Aside from Breathless, no other film had so freely blended genres and tones before. A tough hitman suddenly talks about wearing women's underwear. The main characters' suave attempts to woo a chick turn unexpectedly fruitless and embarrassing. A tense chase through a bar quickly slides into a song-and-dance routine complete with on-screen words and bouncing ball. You get the sense that Truffaut simply made the film up as he went along - in a good way. His talent is all the more impressive considering how different Shoot the Piano Player is from what came before (The 400 Blows) and what came after (Jules and Jim). If it's not as "serious" as those movies, it's more serious than it had any right to be, and it's definitely more fun.

Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)

Not too different from Shoot the Piano Player, Band of Outsiders is now the sixth Godard film that I've seen. My experience with Godard has been a bit of a frustrating one; like Hitchcock, I find all of his films interesting, but rarely great. Still, I keep coming back for more, because they are interesting. My main issue with Godard is that he likes to de-emphasize "story" in favor of narrative tricks and post-modern commentary. That sort of thing can only go so far, and while it's great here and there, it can become a bit draining over the course of 90 minutes. That said, I thought Band of Outsiders was one of his more "story-oriented" films, if not quite David Lean-level of storytelling. Next to Breathless, it might be my second-favorite Godard movie, although unlike Breathless, I wouldn't quite say it was a must-see. Coming as it did at the end of the festival, perhaps the unintentional effect was to make the film blend in with everything else.

So there it was. After months of chatter and anticipation, our French and Italian Black and White Film Festival was finally over. Expecting to feel like we would want to vomit at the sight of another French and Italian black and white movie, both Yoggoth and I admitted, to our slight surprise, that we could have actually watched a few more. I promptly suggested a follow-up festival: The French and Italian Color Film Festival. The moment awaits us.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Scraps to Feast Upon: Part Six

The Life and Trials of Phil Spector - Newsweek

You know, I find it pretty hard to sympathize with Phil Spector. He basically tried to run away from his problems instead of actually dealing with them. So when something like this happened he shouldn't have been surprised. I also don't hold his music in as high esteem as most rock scholars do, mostly because of his predilection for corny puppy love lyrics and his strong preference for mono over stereo. I can understand why Brian Wilson and John Lennon thought he was the best producer in the world, but to me, others improved upon his innovations. The dopey teen lyrics just strike me as Phil being dishonest with himself. I got the Back To Mono boxed set in college and made a mix of my favorite songs, but I never listened to it after making it. The only songs of Phil's that I still have in my collection are the Teddy Bears' "To Know Him Is To Love Him" and the Ronette's "Be My Baby." I probably like "Be My Baby" more because of Mean Streets than because of Phil. And "To Know Him Is To Love Him," his first major hit, is actually quite touching because "To Know Him Is To Love Him" were also the words inscribed on his father's tombstone. So his best song was his first, and everything else just exemplified his slide into a two-dimensional fantasy world.

"Truth Is, I'm the Same Guy I Always Was" - Newsweek

Another interesting Paul McCartney interview. I love his answer to the question about whether he thinks any of the "Beatlesque" bands have been any good. I agree. Except for Oasis (but I don't think Paul was referring to Oasis in that question). It's also kind of weird (and slightly annoying) how he plays right into the whole "John and I were best friends" thing as if George and Ringo were hardly in the picture at all. The more I learn, the more it seems like John was just as close to George and Ringo as he was to Paul, and Paul has kind of flattered himself by playing up the Lennon-McCartney union in his head a bit. Not a big crime but still a bit odd.

Police drummer rips band's "lame" concert - MSNBC

I don't know why, I just think the Police are so funny.

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne Discuss the Long Road to Wilburys Re-issues- MSN Music

Or: The two least talented Wilburys talk about how they stumbled into the break of their lives

Arcade Fire, Wilco, Eminem Spread the Hate - Rolling Stone

This is just for the whole "arcadefirestolemybasketball" thing; blogging has truly gotten out of hand, folks.

Weekend Rock List: Great Songs on Bad Albums - Rolling Stone

"Song For Guy" is a good call, but I don't agree that Satanic Majesties is a bad album, or that "2000 Light Years" is the only good song on it.

How does a dirty word get that way? - Slate

And of course, another goodie from our favorite punching bag. There's nothing like a scholarly dissection of obscenities to induce a giggle.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

My Job Is Over!

Who wants to hang out?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Slate has another interesting sports article up today. I'm beginning to enjoy their sports coverage more than any other segment of the site. Is it because I don't take sports as seriously and go easy on them? I don't think so. The sports writers on the whole seem less pretentious and have a more accurate view of their relative importance in the world. The paragraphs about Darfur in the Lebron James article are interesting and insightful because they do not overreach. Discussing 9/11 and it's effects on Don Delillo's paranoia is not so insightful, for the opposite reason.

There is an interesting distinction between Slate's coverage of high and pop culture, and its coverage of sports, economics, and science. The backlash against exclusionary high art has led some critics to apply the hollow, faux-meaningful jargon of 'high art' criticism to pop culture, rather than to take a more practical and informative approach to the entire critical endeavor. They often add a bit of populist humor and sophomoric backslapping to their work to reinforce the faux-meaningfulness of the piece. What crap.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Leonard Cohen and Philip Glass Collaborate...

...and I fall asleep.

Can you imagine a more ponderous and overblown collaboration? Well, since that Page & Plant reunion album?

Now Reading

The Diary of H.L. Mencken -- I've never read anything by Mencken so this may seem like an odd place to start, but I love knowing something about the lives of authors when I read their work. The fact that I got this book free from my Grandma, who in turn got it for $1.70, doesn't hurt.

There are entertaining descriptions of drunken authors (some famous, Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Faulkner, and some not) hounding any host that will have them. There are interesting tales of backroom newspaper dealings and professional feuds. And there are a whole bunch of entries detailing Mencken's ailments as he predicts his imminent death for 10 years running.

This may sound like a dry read, and in large part it is, but I've been quite captivated by it for the past weeks. When I'm done maybe I'll read something Mencken actually intended for me to read.