Happy Thursday. Might want to pour yourself another cup of coffee if reading this as part of the morning routine, as this might take a while. No championships for Cleveland this week, but some thoughts on the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics while we’re waiting…
Tom Wolfe, one of America’s great living writers, passed away this week. Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and the Bonfire of the Vanities, was one of my personal favorite writers. Often lumped in with Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, and Gay Talese as creating the “New Journalism” paradigm that incorporated fictional writing techniques into non-fiction, Wolfe was a pillar of American cultural insight in the second half of the twentieth century. While many may dislike Wolfe for his literary ostentation, I fell in love with his writing for his ability to use language, often unconventionally, to inject a reader with the spirit of an experience, moment, or movement in an unusual and profound way, whether it was California car- and counterculture, the folk-heroism of bootlegger-turned NASCAR racer Junior Johnson, or the insanity of landing a jet plane on a floating “skillet” of an aircraft carrier pitching and heaving in the ocean.
If what we read is the equivalent of a diet for our minds, then Twitter is intellectual Cheetos, journalism and prose are our vegetables, and the likes of Wolfe and Thompson are the juicy steak that make language ooze and drip in juicy deliciousness. Here’s a passage from the classic The Right Stuff, where Wolfe discusses the horror from the point of view of a wife of a fighter pilot waiting for news of her husband’s demise. It encapsulates the bravery of the men risking their lives in the technological war against the Soviets, the pain felt by their wives, the suddenness of death, the inattentiveness of the world at large, the flippant attitude toward annihilation of the pilots, and the sheer lunacy of the whole endeavor.
My own husband — how could this be what they were talking about? Jane had heard the young men, Pete among them, talk about other young men who had “bought it” or “augered in” or “crunched,” but it had never been anyone they knew, no one in the squadron. And in any event, the way they talked about it, with such breezy, slangy terminology, was the say way they talked about sports. It was as if they were saying, “He was thrown out stealing second base.” And that was all! Not one word, not in print, ont in conversation — not in this amputated language! — about an incinerated corpse from which a young man’s spirit had vanished in an instant, from which all smiles, gestures, moods, worries, laughter, wiles, shrugs, tenderness, and loving looks — you, my love! — have disappeared like a sigh, while a young woman, sizzling with the fever, awaits her confirmation as the new widow of the day.
The Calvin and Hobbes Strip of the Day. Like Calvin, a lot of things keep me up at night. Points on the same record traveling at different speeds, the impossible natural wonder of the world, the concept of pre- or non-time before the universe began ex nihilo, Ty Lue’s rotations. The usual stuff.
And now for the random 90s song of the day. With Cleveland Sports distressing me, I had to turn to a musical security blanket for Thursday’s Random 90s Song of the Day. Some people turn to a grilled cheese sandwich to comfort them, others a bubble bath. But for me its Radiohead’s The Bends. From their 1995 classic album, “Black Star” is a relatively upbeat Radiohead song as long as you don’t listen to the lyrics or read the title. “Black Star” is about someone trying to grapple with the imagined, conspiratorial evils vexing a depressed romantic partner, who discovers his or her own mysterious problems after leaving the partner who’s tortured by black stars and nefarious satellites.
What are we coming to?
What are we gonna do?
Blame it on the black star
Blame it on the falling sky
Blame it on the satellite that beams me home