Something Good #84: More Good Hands
Recently, I brought up the feeling of being “in good hands” when experiencing a work of art for the first time: the opening bars of a song, the first minute or so of a movie, the opening lines of a novel. A feeling I cherish!
Some lines get stuck in my head, like hooks of a pop song. Take Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado:” “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” Notwithstanding its quiet musicality, it fits an entire backstory and psychological profile of the protagonist into the story’s first 21 words.
Or the first stanza of the poem in Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which I found myself mumbling on my bike ride home yesterday: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / by the false azure of the window pane.”
How about the first 20 seconds of “Marcia Baila” by Les Rita Mitsouko, which instantly lets you know you are watching one of the finest examples of the music video ever made, while listening to one of the late 20th Century’s most heartbreaking and life-loving songs?
I could go on. I am, in fact, going on. But before I get even more carried away, I want to share a few submissions from my readers, who sent in their examples of good-handedness.wrote: “I think about the first line of Melissa Broder's The Pisces all the time: ‘I was no longer lonely but I was.’” This one was new to me! wrote in to say:
I once sent a friend a copy of Charles Willeford's Miami Blues—confident that the first paragraph would be sufficient proof to him that he was in good hands:
“Frederick J. Frenger, Jr., a blithe psychopath from California, asked the flight attendant in first class for another glass of champagne and some writing materials. She brought him a cold half-bottle, uncorked it and left it with him, and returned a few moments later with some Pan Am writing paper and a white ball point pen. For the next hour, as he sipped champagne, Freddy practiced writing the signatures of Claude L. Bytell, Ramon Mendez, and Herman T. Gotlieb.”
I had to come all the way from the highway and byways of Tallahassee, Florida to Motor City, Detroit to find my true love. If you gave me a million years to ponder, I would never have guessed that true romance and Detroit would ever go together. And till this day, the events that followed all still seems like a distant dream. But the dream was real and was to change our lives forever. I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so shitty. And he'd say, “That's the way it goes, but don't forget, it goes the other way too.” That's the way romance is. Usually, that's the way it goes, but every once in awhile, it goes the other way too.
I mean… we’re going to have to just put Badlands up there too, I guess. Why don’t you see for yourself, if you haven’t already:
Calum Marsh submitted the opening paragraph of Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, a novel I have never read but the title of which I have always admired from afar, and while the title of this newsletter was in no way meant as homage, I like the association.
I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely; if I am tired and dejected from a night of lies or booze or sex or just plain nerves and insomnia, I can almost smell the disaster mounting invisibly and flooding out toward me through the frosted glass panes. My hands may perspire, and my voice may come out strange. I wonder why.
Something must have happened to me sometime.
Jessie Jones suggested Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark:
We were running flat out. The opening was dazzling. The middle was dazzling. The ending was dazzling. It was like a steeple-chase composed entirely of hurdles.
Yeah, both of those make me want to immediately clear my schedule and read the two books immediately.
Send me more.
I have to mark the sudden passing of actor Ray Stevenson (left), who died last week at the too-young age of 58. Among many other roles, Stevenson played Titus Pullo in my beloved HBO’s Rome. Titus Pullo and his rival Lucius Vorenus were the only two centurions mentioned by name in the writings of Julius Caesar. Besides a description of a quick skirmish in which they took part, not much is known about the two men, which made them the perfect Everyman characters around which to build a show set in the last days of the Republic. Stevenson’s charmingly textured portrayal of the boozy, violent, but loyal warrior has stayed with me for years.
I was charmed to find a remembrance of the actor in this week’s Pasts Imperfect, an ancient history newsletter I like very much and have always mean to link to. Writer and teacher Monica Cyrino describes a surprise visit Stevenson made to a history class.
When a student asked about what still inspires him most from the series, Ray lifted up his right hand and showed the class a big gold signet ring on his index finger engraved with the Roman numeral XIII (a reference to Caesar’s famed Legio XIII Gemina) He shouted, “Thirteen forever!” in that caramel-coated roar of his—both sweet and sort of scary at the same time. After the lecture period was officially over, nearly the entire class lined up and waited patiently to greet Ray personally, share a few words, hugs, and handshakes, and take photos with him, and ask him to sign their books, ballcaps, and shirts… it was at least another hour and probably a lot more.
You should read the whole thing.
More sad news, and this hits closer to home: Martin Amis has died. This was to me at least, utterly shocking and unexpected. I had not read much Amis in the last… 20 years or so, but his voice spent a very long time living in my head, as one of the first “serious” writers I discovered as a teenager.
I prized not just his novels, but particularly his non-fiction writing, which I’m sure permeated my own journalism in some atomic sense. His essay collection Visting Mrs. Nabokov had place of pride in my bathroom—a high honour—for many years and I pretty much got to know that book by heart.
Erin Somers, at The New Republic, puts it quite well in saying “It’s a smart trick for a writer to make you think that you and he are elite among the clear-eyed. That the two of you are the exception. I would go further and say, it’s not even a trick—it’s the gig. Amis was great at it, the best.” It goes a long way to explain his appeal to my younger, less confident self.
It’s strange. You spend so much time hearing a writer’s voice in your head that you almost think you know them personally, and they die, and you realize you don’t.
You Can Live Forever remains available on VOD in North America. Excitingly, our U.K. release, care of Peccadillo Pictures, is impending. We will be playing at select theaters and on VOD starting June 16. More details soon. As well, our soundtrack should be hitting the usual places any minute now, so keep an eye out for it!
This week’s #nojacketsrequired comes courtesy of my friend Heather’s lovely chalet. Another case of “pretty nice jacket, but look what was hiding underneath.” Send me yours!
We’ve reached the last post about Hav over at our book club spinoff, Barely a Book Club, but the conversation keeps bubbling along in the comments. Come on over and say hi, even if you haven’t read the book! And thanks to friend-of-the-newsletter and baseball cap designer Max Read for the warm shoutout last week.
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