A spring blizzard this week left me without power for 16 hours, and at first I felt unmoored because there was no heat, no light — and no Internet connection. It revealed how plugged in my life is. But can I recommend reading a book by candlelight in front of the glow of a wood stove? I might try to replicate that on a regular basis, even when the power is on.
Diarmid Mogg and the crazy-compelling Small Town Noir. I came across this blog a few years ago and was instantly hooked. I’m the type of person who loves to look at old photos at flea markets and imagine the lives of the people in them (and feel a bit mournful that they ended up in a cardboard box like a Tom Waits song). But Diarmid Mogg took it much further with his blog Small Town Noir, a collection of midcentury mug shots from one forgotten town in Pennsylvania. He started reporting the stories of the people who’ve been photographed at one of the worst moments in their lives. The writing is quite lovely — as are Mogg’s answers in this “5(ish) Questions.”
The soundtrack: For this story I chose a whole album: “September of My Years,” by Frank Sinatra. It’s one of his best, a late-career album full of regret and hard-won wisdom. I can imagine the people of New Castle listening to it when it came out in 1965, when the town had not yet begun its slide from boomtown to bust, but the mood of regret resonating still.
“This is a love story, and I apologize; it was inadvertent. But I want it clearly understood from the start that I don’t expect it to turn out well.”
— Eve Babitz: “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.” Read why we think it’s great.
Daniel Miller and the Los Angeles Times’ “Selling Stardom.” Some of the scenes from this series by Daniel Miller about those making a buck off starry-eyed Hollywood wannabes could be in a movie themselves. Maybe one directed by Robert Altman, or even David Lynch? (I recently saw “Mulholland Drive” for the first time and it’s one of those movies that stays with you, even if you don’t love it while you’re watching it.) The most Lynchian moment is when a talent agent, meeting Miller in a non-glitzy office surrounded by empty water bottles, first jokes about having him ghostwrite her “Bad Agent” life story and then breaks down in tears.
The soundtrack: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” by Tony Bennett. You have to love any song that has the words “gigolo and gigolette” in it. Bonus: castenets.
What I’m reading online: Two stories of loss haunted me this week. The first, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” was written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who died just 10 days after the Modern Love essay ran in The New York Times. I started crying early in the piece, in which she plays matchmaker for the man she knows will be her widower, and the tears didn’t stop when I stopped reading.
The other story is about another husband left behind when the wife who meant everything to him dies. This Pitchfork profile of the singer Phil Elverum gets almost uncomfortably close to grief as he shows the reporter his dead wife’s art journals. The truest moment, one that is unspeakably sad yet veers close to queasy-funny, comes when he says he cannot bear to throw out the breast milk that the couple had been saving for their child.
And can I also recommend this short video on Open Culture in which George Saunders talks about the art of storytelling? It even fits the theme, because there’s a moment where he describes the evolution of a character from an asshole to a grieving widower in the space it took him to craft one sentence.
What’s on my bedside table: “The Poetry of the Blues,” by Samuel Charters. I’m a bit torn on this book. I know that Charters helped a lot of people discover forgotten blues musicians, and this book is taking a clear stand against racism in 1963 America. But the scholarly language — a bit of whitesplaining, if you will — juxtaposed with the loose lyrics sometimes made me wince a little. His comments on racism, though, are just as relevant today as they were half a century ago, and that’s fairly heartbreaking.
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “California Here I Come,” by Mike Lipskin with Willie “The Lion” Smith. I thought I’d continue with the theme of young white guys and older black music greats. The liner notes by the late, great Nat Hentoff tell the story of the two pianists coming together to jam. I love the playful dialogue at the beginning of the album, with Smith telling his protégé he’s going gangbusters, and he’s going to let him “sign off like the Lone Ranger.”
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.