Welcome 2017 . . . and you ain’t looking any better than last year


2017 comes in with sadness, the death of Dago Red, more commonly known as Father Patrick Mulcahy . . . or in real life as actor William Christopher. And it also comes in with unintentional hilarity and the clusterfuck that was Mariah Carey‘s performance on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest.”

And so 2017 begins much like 2016 ended: unexpected deaths and an unexpected train wreck: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and the regime of Donald Trump, respectively.

I was hoping the New Year would bring new prosperity and hope.

Now, I’m not too sure.

Like Jimmy Buffett says . . .

“If we weren’t all crazy, we would all go insane.”

"John Carter," Jimmy Buffett, and the Decline of Traditional Media

John Carter, Disney’s new epic film, is a groundbreaking disaster, if you heed the reviews in a few major newspapers.  Yet it’s made, in only three days’ time, $100,000,000 worldwide.

Jimmy Buffett, a beloved multi-millionaire due to his own perseverance as a singer and songwriter–and because of his shrewd business acumen–is actually a talentless performer who has never deserved to win a Grammy.

Who says this kind of stuff?

“Authority.”  Newspapers, holier-than-thou critics, and rival media executives fighting for a piece of the disposable-income pie.

Who loses in contests like these?

We, the people.

Incredibly, Jimmy Buffett has never won a Grammy.  Look at the list of winners, since, oh, whenever, and you will find a shitload of one-hit wonders who have won, and have since faded into the obscurity from which they never should have slithered.

Really, why should they be recognized–groups and artists such as Boys II Men, Salt-n-Pepa, Tool, Jamiroquai–when Mr. Margaritaville will never, ever receive a Grammy?

Because the power executives want their people to win…and Jimmy has never played the L.A. music, ass-kissing game.  His power comes from the people themselves, not the execs.

L.A. don’t like that.

John Carter, the movie poster.
 Just one little bit of proof that Disney got the marketing all wrong on this one.

The first (as far as I can tell) excoriating review for John Carter came from a big newspaper.  Coincidentally or not, the Los Angeles Times.  Go look it up if you want to.  It basically says the movie is a complete flop.  A waste.  Utter failure.

Now, just exactly how do Jimmy Buffett and John Carter meet, you might ask.

They meet in the arena of venomous critical response.  They meet in the hearts of critics who don’t give a damn about people, citizens, consumers–whatever you want to call us regular folk–but instead lather praise on the celeb du jour, like Katy Perry or Lana Del Rey; the TV series du jour, such as the Kardashian reality series (after series) or any series on pay cable; and movies, the smaller the better, that the average moviegoer will ignore in hordes, especially if it’s French.

One of the reasons the Internet is killing the American newspaper is the prevalence of online niches.  People–today’s consumers–don’t want to listen to old-fashioned authority.  They want to find their own voices amidst similar voices.

The authority that newspapers once had is dwindling.  That’s a good thing.  Because Jimmy Buffett wouldn’t be a star if it were up to the L. A. Times.  They published a review of his L. A. concert back in ’91 or ’92–I was vacationing at Disneyland and read the review in thie restaurant while having breakfast–which was much less a review of the concert itself than it was a poisonous tirade against Buffett himself: his voice, the laid-back style that appeals to the masses (How can that be?), and his predilection for rum-soaked lyrics that–Protect us, oh mighty L. A. Times!–promote drinking.  DRINKING, I say!  To make it worse, the reviewer claimed it was a complete lack of sensitivity on JB’s part to perform his hit, “Volcano,” just days after a volcano erupted in the Pacific and destroyed an island.

That wasn’t a review.  That was a petty little critic mouthing off against what readers–the people–truly like–and what he/she most definitely despised…and, by God, everyone else should hate him, too!

John Carter is receiving only a few bad reviews, but they’re from “authority.”  Mostly, they’re from media sources who WANT the movie to fail, to show Pixar and Disney who’s boss.  They don’t give a damn if the movie is good or bad.  They want it to fail, they want it to be bad…and so that’s what it is.

The problem is that some people are still listening to them.

The good thing is, word of mouth will let John Carter to go on to prove the know-nothings wrong.

Here’s a quote from what I’m reading on the Internet, and it’s typical of how good John Carter really is:

Boy, did the marketing execs at Disney blow it on this one. From the trailer (and the hype), you’d think that John Carter is a Clash-of-the-Titans-meets-Avatar war movie, stocked to the gills with aliens fighting each other in epic battles. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But what if you were told it’s actually a super-fun (and often funny) tale of a stranger-in-a-strange-land, with just enough romance to make it a (gasp!) really solid date movie? …along with aliens fighting each other in epic battles, of course.

But there it is.

Read the whole thing hereThis one is even better: it really gets to the core of how good the movie truly is.

The important question: Can positive word-of-mouth now help “John Carter” overcome its poisonous advance buzz?

Yes, I think it can.  It has to.  Good movies need to succeed, to show self-important critics that a blockbuster can also be a damn good movie.  Good performers need to succeed, to show pompous execs and star-fuckers that, yes, good guys win.  (And don’t for a minute think that Disney execs didn’t plant any of the bad press.  They did.  For financial reasons.)

Authority is on the wan.  They can still influence negatively, as in the case of John CarterRead this piece a couple of times — it’s that important.  Don’t just take these opinions from me: you need to see exactly how failures in Hollywood are manufactured.

And read of the sheer joy the red planet can bring.

Don’t pay attention to the hate.

Defy authority.  Listen to the people, not the critics.

Go for yourself, and experience the joy and wonder of living under the moons of Mars.  It’s right next to Margaritaville.

You can’t go wrong.

Beware of the man of one book.

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

John Cage

I’ve written before about the disease that has afflicted me since at least 7th grade: biblioholism. It’s a despicable condition: I cannot walk by a bookstore without going inside and smelling the paper and leather, the book dust, and the airy aroma of sheer wonder. It started with my mother, who taught me how to read when I was three by using comic books. I quickly became addicted to stories, and it eventually blossomed into a complete and absolute addiction to the written word.

Since the idea of The Enigma Club, my novel that has ballooned into a trilogy, came to me in 1996, I’ve been going to library sales and a lot of used bookstores, gathering up as many period books about the golden age of adventure and exploration that I could find — the weirder the better. (One of my favorite titles: I Married Adventure. The binding simulates the stripes of a zebra’s coat. Love it!) Of course, I didn’t limit myself to that topic — I’d pick up whatever struck my fancy at the moment.

One of those titles was I Love Books: A Guide Through Bookland.

Somehow, when I moved to Richmond, the book got separated from my Enigma Club collection, so I found it by accident today in our library as I was looking for books I no longer wanted, that I could sell to the best used bookstore in Richmond, Black Swan Books.

I’ve changed my mind. I’m keeping it. It’s a beautiful period book: written in 1946 by John D. Snider, a fellow Virginian. This edition was the 17th, published in 1958. The marbling is exquisite, the book is in almost perfect condition — it looks as tough it’s never been read — and the endpapers and illustrations are classic examples of the period’s bland style of drawing. It’s the Campbell’s Soup style of illustration: tasteless and inoffensive. (Thanks to Stephen King for the paraphrase.)

Even more importantly, I Love Books: A Guide Through Bookland, which I picked up thinking that I would find something in it of commiserative value, has pissed me off royally. I’m still keeping it; it’s beautiful. But the writer was a pompous ass.

Some time in the mid-’80s, I was at a mall bookstore looking through the paperback fiction section. Two other guys were nearby, and one turned to the other in exasperation and said, “Why do you want to read this stuff?” The second guy shrugged and said, “What? What should I read?” And the first guy said, “Like, have you ever read the Bible?”

Like, it’s that kind of limited and unimaginative attitude that pisses me off — so much so that 25 years later I haven’t forgotten that conversation. And, like, it’s that attitude that, unfortunately, permeates every page of I Love Books.

The author comes from the era and the tradition that the author is not just an expert, but THE expert on the topic, and that the writing style must be old-fashioned and authoritarian:

The story of Benjamin Franklin’s life is familiar to every schoolboy.

We have seen that a book is a creation of a living man, and should be regarded and judged somewhat as a man himself is estimated.

It is not the number of books that counts, but the kind. We are made or marred by the company we keep.

The term “fiction” has, in the thinking of many, come to connote the perverted, harmful form of imaginative writing often designed to exalt sin and sordidness, instead of portraying and glorifying truth and wholesomeness. First, we should exclude all books that tend to weaken our faith in God…

Sorry, but the custodian of the church library has no freakin’ idea what he’s talking about.

I’ve learned wonderful things from books this dead dude would have scorned: that men and women can be heroes and accomplish amazing things; that there are pink dolphins in the Amazon; that vampires are symbolic, not representative; that high school drama/trauma is universal; that bullies must be taught a lesson; that people prefer good stories over bad, no matter how well the book is written; and that, no matter what literature teachers say, there is no such thing as the perfect novel — not Catcher in the Rye, not The Great Gatsby, not A Moveable Feast, and not Attack from the Glorpnorg Nebula: Star Trek #197.

And I especially detest the holier than thou attitude that has existed since the novel first took shape in the 17th and 18th centuries: that fiction is worthless unless it glorifies God (that is, the Christian religion); and even if it does, it’s still fiction, isn’t it? It’s not real, it’s make believe, and therefore it is totally irredeemable.

This kind of attitude still exists even today. You see it in a burning hatred from the indignant, Bible-thumping masses, who despise restaurants that serve alcohol, public schools, guys with long hair (still!), tattoos, Hooters, comic books, Stephen King novels, the songs of Jimmy Buffett, and that ol’ devil rock and roll.

Coincidentally, as I was formulating my ideas for this blogpost, I visited the blog of a friend, who writes on the topic of books, both good and bad. I certainly agree with his sentiment that we should read good books, not bad. The real problems are: Who is to decide for us what is a good book but each individual reader? and Can we learn nothing from a book that critics perceive as bad?

As a reader and a writer, I’ve learned what makes a book good by reading bad books, as well as good.

And I’m a wine snob. I prefer the better wines rather the the thin, weak wines. Likewise, I prefer good writing rather than bad.

But the choosing of wines should teach us a lesson about books. No matter whether you think should have red wines with meat and white with fish, the important thing with wine is: Drink what you like. If you don’t enjoy it, why drink it?

It’s as simple as that. It should be the same with books. Read what you like, no matter who tells you what’s good and what’s bad. In time and with practice, your tastes will become discriminating, and you will learn what is good and what is bad . . . and how both can be valuable. Like Jimmy Buffett once said, “I’ve read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, and learned much from both of their styles.”

Beware of the man of one book.

Thomas Aquinas

I went down to Captain Tony’s…

A tree grows in the middle of Capt. Tony’s Saloon in Key West. And at its roots is a gravestone. I do not remember who occupies the space below that granite marker; nor can I name a single person on the innumerable business cards that have been stapled (during the relatively calm daylight hours) upon every wooden surface in the saloon.

My business card, which I left there in the late 1990s, I deposited in the left breast of a sheer, lace red bra stapled to the wall.

Even in daylight, they don’t trust me with staplers.

I first learned of Captain Tony from the Jimmy Buffett song, “Last Mango in Paris.” I finally got there in the late ’80s or the early ’90s — the years tend to blur — listened to folk singers in the corner, read the graffiti in the bathroom, smiled at the Key West dogs drinking water from a bowl underneath a shellacked grouper, into the gaping mouth of which drunken bargoers, late in the evening, would try to throw coins while standing backward.

One year, at Rick’s/Durty Harry’s, Capt. Tony was the judge at a weekend strip contest. I had my first shot of ouzo there, on special, and only stayed because it was fucking Captain Tony! and the drunk girls taking off their shirts just weren’t that hot.

So, the captain is dead.

Here’s the article from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Originally published April 25, 2007
Updated Nov. 3, 2008

Capt. Tony Tarracino died Nov. 1 after being hospitalized about a week with a heart and lung condition, according his wife Mary. “He loved Key West and everyone here,” she told the AP. “I’ve heard him called the conscience of Key West.” Tony was 92.
Tony was one of my first portals into Key West during my visits in the 1980s. My pal Jimmy Buffett sang about Tony’s exploits in “Last Mango in Paris,” from the 1985 album of the same name. Here’s an edited blog from the last time I saw Tony. He was hanging around the bar even though he had sold it in 1989. I’m glad I wrote it down:

Capt. Tony Tarracino is 90 years old.
A couple nights a week he still holds court behind a large tip jar at Captain Tony’s Saloon, the original Sloppy Joe’s at 428 Greene St. [During Ernest Hemingway’s 1930s Key West years, this was the building he adjourned to after a day of writing.]
The tip jar is always full because Capt. Tony’s stories are priceless.
Capt. Tony hitchiked to Key West in 1947 with $12 and a penchant for 7 come 11. A fierce gambler, Capt. Tony was running from the New Jersey mob. When I started visiting Key West regularly in the early 1980s, Capt. Tony gave me gambling tips at the old greyhound race track on Stock Island.

He was a shrimper and captain of a charter boat called “Greyhound.” He was a caretaker for Tennesee Williams’ monkeys. Capt. Tony participated in the Haitian invasion in the mid-1960s and the Bay of Pigs rescue. Stuart Whitman portrayed Capt. Tony in the 1980 movie “The Cuba Crossing.” He ran for Key West mayor five times–one of his failed campaigns was managed by Jimmy Buffett. Capt. Tony finally was elected mayor in 1989. He has called his two-year term “the greatest two years of my life.”………….
About a week ago I was on a freelance assignment in Key West, Fla.
I needed to find Capt. Tony, who is arguably the city’s most beloved resident………

About a week ago I was on a freelance assignment in Key West, Fla.
I needed to find Capt. Tony, who is arguably the city’s most beloved resident. My friend Conchita Fritter accompanied me to the dark saloon.
She sat near the faded John Prine barstool, watching from a distance as Capt. Tony spun stories as if they were plates on his nubby fingertips. He has been married at least three times and has 14 children. One long-lost son, Keith Famie, turned up as a contestant on “Survivor II”. Capt. Tony had not spoken to him in seven years. But Capt. Tony is the original Survivor. He says the only exercise he gets is “going to other people’s funerals.”

I told Capt. Tony how I remembered his 1980’s house act of Curly n’ Lil. They were South Florida retirees who sang vintage country songs and fussed about amplifier settings between tunes. I was married back then. My wife and I would watch them leave Capt. Tony’s with Curly carrying his small amp and Lil clutching the evening’s tip jar as they faded away down Greene Street.
That seemed something to aspire to.

Last week Capt. Tony wore creased grey slacks and a natty sportshirt. He looked better than me. He sat near a souvenir stand that sold black and white picture posters of his mayoral campain slogan: “All you need in this life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego. Brains don’t mean shit.” He paid more attention to female visitors than me. I didn’t get all of what I came in looking for, but I got something better.
He handed Conchita Fritter a neatly folded piece of white paper.
Capt. Tony instructed us not to open the paper up until we got back to our motel. His old eyes sparkled like the scotch Hemingway used to drink in the joint. I thought the letter would contain some sort of ribald joke or commentary. Of course we opened it up about about a block away from the saloon, safely out of Capt. Tony’s radar. The letter was typewritten and double spaced. Here it is. I don’t think Capt. Tony would mind:

To My Father
I am currently eighteen years old, and when I was born, I had no idea that my family would be so odd and different. My father is currently eighty-eight years old, and was seventy when my mother had me. I grew up my whole life with a father who could have been my great-grandfather in some other families. But there is a difference between my father and other people his age. His body is old, but his mind is as sharp as mine, if not even sharper.
I agree that people do stereotype others by their ages, for example I know that the person who is reading this probably at first thought, ‘Wow, that’s so weird, how could this person’s father be so old?’ I know this because I have heard it my whole life, over and over again. Growing up I would make new friends, and they would find out how old my father was, and they would begin to make presumptions about how he lives his life. Most people, like my friends would start to create images in their heads about what my father looked like, they would picture an old man hunched over with a cane, no hair and suspenders. But after they met him, they ended up thinking he was really cool, and how he wasn’t how they expected him to be.
This is because my father never let himself fall under the stereotype of an eighty-eight year old man, he has always been, and always will be Capt. Tony, and nothing else.
The point I am trying to make, is that in all of my father’s life, he never looked at an opportunity and said to himself, ‘I’m too old to do this, or I’m too young to do this.’ He always did what he felt and said what he wanted to. I have come to strongly believe that the reason why people find him so interesting is that he has never followed the same path as others have done his age. He found his own path, cleared a way, and has always fought through every obstacle until he could come over it. He is the definition of ‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.’ I think he fought his whole life, just to be his own person, and to show people that it’s ok to be yourself.—-TJ Tarracino. 3/7/05.

I could joke around and presume Capt. Tony sent his son’s essay my way because I was one of the more seasoned people in the bar on that evening, but I don’t presume I need a pep talk to be myself. I bet its more than that. Hemingway wrote “To Have and Have Not” in Key West.
Capt. Tony knows the difference.