Usually when I’m asked which writers have had the most influence on me, I point to those who did so in the area I’ve been published—the crime genre. George V. Higgins was the most influential, no doubt. His first three books (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Digger’s Game and Cogan’s Trade) were masterpieces by any standard (in any genre). Higgins was a master of dialogue with a wealth of material from his days serving as an Assistant U.S. attorney for Massachusetts and later a defense attorney and a journalist.
One of the many blessings of the MFA program I’m enrolled in at Southern New Hampshire University (and I have to assume would be the case in any MFA program for someone like me), has been the introduction to authors I’ve never read before; an eclectic reading list from semester to semester that has proved every bit as important and influential as Higgins was to me some 36 years ago.
I’m at the end of my second semester in the program and for the second time one author has not only awed me with his brilliance, he’s regenerated the juices that make this stuff so much fun. He’s also a master of dialogue and although I was first introduced to him during the first semester as a master of the short story, I’ve now come to appreciate his novels as well. One, in particular, has kept me up nights (reading, thinking and writing).
Good Evening Mr. & Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea, by Richard Bausch.
A religious, idealistic, polite, naive young man with Presidential dreams comes to terms with an America in the 1960’s he’s managed to view with blinders for nineteen years. From his desire to be good and liked and to help others and never want to hurt anyone, he awkwardly steps into a marriage proposal he immediately resents. He’s in love with another woman, a German woman he’s met at a school he attends nights. This woman he purposely asks to marry him, because he’s sure he’s in love with her. The dilemma will hold your attention for the length of the novel and the resolution is an eye opener.
Both women are a bit older than he is, both come from different backgrounds and both are much less naive than the young man. He’s going to school nights to become a broadcaster, except he’s already decided he doesn’t want to do that once he’s graduated. He lives with his mother who likes her tea spiked with any cordial on hand and she’s created a dilemma of her own; she’s going to marry a man she doesn’t love and the young man can’t respect (her boss at work).
There are civil rights issues in the background and the aura of Camelot. The young man wears his hair the same way as the fallen president and often practices JFK’s speeches. This is going on during the escalation in Vietnam under Johnson and the race riots that marred both the landscape and the ideals of a nation born of freedom. The book’s title comes from the Walter Winchell phrase and is most appropriate, I thought.
It’s a great novel, amici. Bausch is a great writer. There’s nothing to do but read him and learn; whether it’s his craft you admire (as a writer) or what he has to offer as a novelist (to his readers). This is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, novel. I have Mitch Wieland and Jessica Anthony to thank for introducing me to Bausch. That in itself, has been worth the price of admission, amici.
Bausch has officially joined my personal club of “most influential authors” and takes his place alongside Mr. Higgins. His writing, to put it mildly (and in my Knuckesian way) has put a rocket up my ass. It may well fizzle at some point, but for now it’s a beautiful thing. I haven’t worked this hard (at writing) and enjoyed it so much in forever.
Laura Nyro ... Last week I learned I had to produce 40 pages of new fiction within six days for our two peer groups in the MFA program. Apparently I wasn’t paying attention to the school emails. That plus I was finishing up the draft of the Star (shutter) Island book, Jimmy Mangino (the ten year sequel to Jimmy Bench Press). So I’ve been to bed late nights (even working between periods of the Rangers games) and up extra early to catch up. I even took off Friday from work to make some more headway. I do love deadlines, but considering the fact I have my last semester’s packet to get off before May 26 (30 more pages of new fiction plus two craft essays), this was kind of pushing it.
So Thursday night I needed to take a break for at least a few hours. I watched some of the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions on HBO (a repeat, I guess). It’s always fun (and scary) seeing some of the groups I enjoyed as a kid get up on stage. There were a few inductees I can’t even remember one day later, but I enjoyed the Freddy King presentation and then was completely mesmerized by the Laura Nyro induction (by Bette Midler). Who knew one person could’ve written so many wonderful songs? Truly amazing. Talk about terrific writers, amici. How’s this for list of songs/hits (with my favorite of the bunch from the induction)?
Sara Bareilles performing Laura Nyro’s Stoney End ...
Songs written by Laura Nyro.
1."Wedding Bell Blues"2."Blowin' Away"
5."And When I Die"
8."Stoned Soul Picnic"
12."Captain Saint Lucifer"
14."New York Tendaberry"
15."Save the Country" [mono single version]
17."Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp"
18."Beads of Sweat"
19."When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag"
21."Sweet Blindness" [live version]
22."Money" [live version]
26."A Woman of the World"
29."To a Child"
30."Lite a Flame (The Animal Rights Song)"
31."And When I Die" [live version]
32."Save the Country" [live version]
Another of my favorites (and some very nice words about Ms. Nyro):
The Rangers ... Oy vey, my new love of playoff hockey has been interesting. Providing breaks from reading and writing (and permitting me to ignore baseball), I’m really getting into this stuff. I love the protocol after a series whereby two teams that have beaten the shit out of one another shake hands. I like it. I like it a lot.
As for the Rangers ... they seem to be begging a disaster. How they didn’t show up in D.C. the other night with a bit more determination than they showed was too much like the way they handled the Ottawa series; not playing hard until they had to. We all know the problem with that. You (they) may get surprised. In game 6, the Capitals played with desperation and determination and deserved the win. Ovechkin is a holy terror to the Rangers, as is Chimera. I’d like to see the kid, Kreider, on the ice a lot more (I’m a big proponent of speed in any sport) and this kid has it. Holtby has played right there with Lundqvist. Christ, I just realized I’m memorizing their names.
They better show up tomorrow night or they’ll disappoint a lot of fans (old and new). I’ve actually watched a few other teams and right now if I had to make a prediction, the In Knucks We Trust Bucks would go squarely on either the Kings of L.A. or the Devils of New Jersey. The Rangers still have something to prove—consistency.
The Knicks ... well, at least they took one game, and it was a very gutsy performance, so kudos to them. The Heat managed to completely obliterate the Knicks 3-point game, rendering Steve "Novacaine" Novak pointless on the court. Barren (the turnover King) Davis went out with a nasty injury, but the Knicks responded. Game 5 was going to happen no matter how hard what was left of the Knicks showed up. As for next season, I vote for retaining Mike (Tone Loc) Woodsen and staying with young Mr. Lin. The Knicks won’t be good enough to win it all next season and trading a young Lin for an old master like Steve Nash won’t guarantee them anything but another first or second round washout.
No opera today, amici ... here’s Ms. Nyro’s herself with one of her MANY hits ...
And one more, this time by the Fifth Dimension ...
And since Etta James passed last year, here’s Mr. and Mrs. Knucks-Principessa’s wedding song: