Posted: December 6th, 2013 | Filed under: Etc. | No Comments »
Midway through the decade I was at a tech conference and lingered too long at the break after lunch. The design of the sun-splashed hotel carpet suddenly became clear as everyone disappeared into conference rooms like rats into holes.
Without any plan, I just walked to the first door, and an elderly woman scanned my badge. Inside, the sickly blue glow of an LCD projector illuminated a row of white faces. “Advanced Applications With Regular Expressions” read the slide on the screen. I took a seat in the back.
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Posted: March 6th, 2013 | Filed under: Etc. | No Comments »
I had a long vivid dream this morning, only the end of which I remember. I was trying to convince Leonard Nimoy to help me make another TV series as good as the original Star Trek. I pleaded with him. Another man was there showing me his arms where he had written phone numbers in blue pen. He pointed to a phone booth, and I took out my iPhone. Finally Nimoy turned back to me and said, “Okay. Tell me what you need.”
Posted: December 20th, 2012 | Filed under: Etc., Photos | No Comments »
Posted: December 17th, 2012 | Filed under: Etc., Music, Photos | No Comments »
On August 14, 1965, The Beatles made their final appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The last song in their last set was “Help!” At the very end, they took off their guitars and Sullivan waved them over. He raised his hand, waited for the crowd to stop, and then said, “I just want to congratulate the four of you on the way you’ve handled yourselves. You’ve handled yourselves magnificently. You’re honored by your own country, and you’re loved by our country. God love you all.”
(@ 17:15 )
Posted: December 5th, 2012 | Filed under: Books, Boston | No Comments »
ABOVE: Some books that looked interesting at the store but which I will probably never get around to reading.
I wrote a piece about Steve Jobs last year that wasn’t really about Steve Jobs but rather about a whole bunch of stuff, including particularly some ideas stolen from four different people: William Gibson, Ray Kurzweil, Jorge Luis Borges, and of course Steve Jobs.
Since then, two out of the four (Gibson, Kurzweil) have come right to my neighborhood to read from or speak about their work, thanks to the symbiosis of two wonderful and endangered institutions that face each other across Harvard Street: Brookline Booksmith and the Coolidge Corner Theatre. The other two people, by the way, are dead.
I’ve been going to Booksmith and the Coolidge since I was 21 or so and living down the street in Allston. The beautiful deco-era Coolidge has benefitted in the last 20 years from a lot of loving restoration, and it seems to be doing pretty well. I remember 25 years ago an infernal summer day in the city when I sat through through 1.5 showings of a double feature of Mad Max and Blade Runner just for the air conditioning. These days it is more of a first-run art house theater, with classic movies at night, and a lot of special events. Some friends of ours got married in the upstairs cinema last summer. They showed a short film about themselves, then came up on the stage for the ceremony, and all the guests ate popcorn.
Back in the early 1980s there were probably a few dozen thriving booksellers in Boston. Most are long gone now, and Booksmith is now one of the two or three best bookstores in Boston. Every single night an author is there to read in the basement. If the audience is bigger, they move the event to the Coolidge. The card, gifts, novelties, and tchotchke area of Booksmith, which started as a little display by the register, and then expanded to a dedicated mini-store in the back, has now colonized the middle of the store and threatens to crowd out all the books like an invasive tropical plant. On the bright side, the store is now a great one-stop Christmas shopping destination. That’s why I was there the other day. Unfortunately, I’ve heard they have struggled in the recession, and if a store like this can’t make it in a neighborhood like Coolidge Corner, there really isn’t much hope for bookstores anywhere.
When people try to defend the future of the bookstore or the indie theater, they often bring up two things: community and serendipity. Watching an old movie on Netflix in your living room is great, but people (especially young people it seems) still like to get out of the house and experience things together. And Amazon.com reviews can be useful (and sometimes funny), but they’re no substitute for interacting with real people. And Amazon is great at suggesting products with their “people who bought this also bought this” algorithm, but it’s not the same as the kind of coincidence or strange luck I associate with stumbling upon titles in a real-world market with piles of books and readers milling about.
Truthfully, for all the millions of times I’ve gone to the bookstore or the theater, I’ll admit I pretty rarely see anybody I know or end up conversing with anyone. Sadly, I really don’t read that many books either these days, except for technical books, or go to that many movies now that my wife and I have to get a babysitter every time we want to do anything. But when I am there, I always commune with the places and the strangers there, and the present and past.
After seeing William Gibson speak one evening last Winter at the Coolidge (courtesy of Brookline Booksmith), I got something to eat and then returned to the bookstore where he was to be doing a signing. An audience member had asked Gibson what books he had read recently, and I went to the fiction aisle in back to look for one of them. I scrolled through the alphabet of authors lining the wall and when I reached the right place found a teenager whom I recognized from the event crouched there on the floor already reading it. He looked up for a second and then returned to the book. Maybe I will come back and look at that in a minute, I said to myself.
But after browsing around for a few minutes, I made my way up to the front of the now empty store. It was eight o’clock and the bookstore was already a ghost town. The checkout girl sat in a trance staring at her smart phone. And it was then I noticed there in the open area in the front of the store beyond the calendars, the plush toys, the novelty books, the seasonal items, and the clearance merchandise, at a little folding table upon which sat a stack of hardcovers was William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer. There were no lines of nerdy sci-fi autograph seekers. Just Gibson sitting there chatting with a young bookstore employee.
Twenty years ago I would no more have expected to be standing a few feet away from him than I would to climb a mountain in Middle Earth or to listen to tales at a banquet with Don Quixote. For a second, I thought of saying something to him or buying a book. But instead I just nodded at them and walked out of the store into the cold and black January night.
Posted: April 1st, 2012 | Filed under: Boston, Etc., Photos, Writing | No Comments »
It’s a glaring dull and overcast Spring day and I think of that scene in the movie Blue Velvet when a mechanical looking robin hops onto to the windowsill carrying a worm in its mouth.
Morning, just another day. We were living in the Jamaica Hills neighborhood of Boston. Big houses and yards. Winter kept us warm.
Down on Centre Street we stopped at Goodwill to buy second hand Easter baskets. Counting out pennies. Soot and grit, this town could use a cleaning with a good stiff brush. We passed a middle aged band of panhandlers who were settled in front of CVS. A little girl pushed a tiny stroller through the traffic. Babies having babies.
Near our house was an old woods in the middle of the city where a path descended past boulders, wild grape vines, and two inch thick bittersweet slowly wrestling trees to the ground. At the bottom lay a stagnant black pond surrounded by mud. Some boys laughed and threw stones in the dirty water.
We stopped there and I said I thought this was going somewhere but this is the end.
Posted: February 18th, 2012 | Filed under: Boston, Photos | No Comments »
Old woods right in the middle of Boston. This is what my backyard would look like in 50 years if we gave up.
Posted: February 1st, 2012 | Filed under: Boston, Music, Photos | No Comments »
Bed head, feedback, black spectacles. Of course. In fact, there must have been a bed positioned right off stage for bed head hair styling. The crowd included a number of aging Thurston Moore lookalikes. (In 1986 a lot of people wanted to be just like Thurston.) The only thing missing at this show was Billy Ruane standing in front of the stage conducting the band. RIP Billy.
Thurston read poems and told some funny stories between songs. He said that in the late 1980s, Sonic Youth played a show here and he had a freak-out in the middle and was so mad that he threw down his guitar and stormed off the stage. The set continued without him. It was the middle of Winter, and he went out to the tour van, zipped into his parka, and just sat there until the rest of the band came out.
He’s mellowed out since then, like most of us. The setup was two acoustic guitars, drums, violin, and harp. The show had an “unplugged” feel, but occasionally built to a mild feedback frenzy (harp feedback?). That seems to be the thing now: acoustic guitars through heavy distortion. I enjoyed watching drummer and Boston native John Moloney, who managed the dynamics nicely while sporting a Black Flag logo on his kick drum.
Kurt Vile opened but we walked in just as he was finishing his last number. After the show, we went to the Burren, where two different folky sets were going on, one in the front playing the theme from “Smokey and the Bandit” and the other in the back which I couldn’t hear very well. Thurston had announced he was coming over to the bar after the show, but he never appeared. Our friend Jeremy told us how Sonic Youth slept on his couch in Hartford one night. Everyone at the Burren had a beard, including the women. Davis Square is so great that I wish I was 21 again. I plan go there more often when they build a high speed tunnel from Jamaica Plain.
Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Filed under: Books, Etc. | 1 Comment »
The used bookstore was the Internet of the 1970s. And the Wikipedia. And the WikiLeaks.
Before the Internet, used bookstores were a clearinghouse for all sorts of eccentric stuff like science fiction, alternative music and politics, softcore erotica, classic literature, leftover pop novels of the 50s and 60s, weird cookbooks and training manuals, and all sorts of other ephemera. Where else growing up in your own backwater town were you going to find this stuff?
There was one story your parents told you, and that they told you in school, and on the TV. Then there were other things that nobody bothered to tell you, either because they didn’t seem to matter, or they just didn’t fit in the nice, neat narrative that was being collectively written and transmitted over the public address system. Or because they might be “subversive.” Just an odd fact could be subversive. Wrong in one thing, wrong in everything.
The used bookstores, and the thrift stores, and to some extent the public library, with its yellowed, crumbling old books: that’s where you could still go to really learn about the shadow culture. They tried to throw it in landfills, but some of it survived and washed up, flotsam and jetsam. The truth was out there. You could only see glimpses, but that was enough to show that it was much, much bigger.
I know I’m probably repeating myself here. Writing about Steve Jobs and science fiction a couple of months ago I think I touched on this.
Today of course, every fact is seemingly a click away. Our brains are augmented with instant access to all information sacred and profane. With Wikipedia blacked out for a day in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, people are saying, “We’ll just have to check the Encyclopedia Britannica.” But that doesn’t even begin to cover it, does it?
Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Filed under: Boston, Photos, Writing | No Comments »
Coolidge Corner Theater, 1/11/2012
“Putting a silicon chip in your head is like putting a steam engine in your brain.”