John Lee Hooker, Black Coffee, and Cigarettes

Something For What Ails You

Another Sunday morning suffering the side effects of Saturday night. I’m no doctor. I have no cure for what ails me, but a healthy dose of the blues does treat the symptoms. My current prescription is John Lee Hooker’s “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” (I recommend the version Hooker sings with Van Morrison).

The Best of John Lee Hooker (cover)
The Best of John Lee Hooker 1965 to 1974

If you have ever sat up all night drinking black coffee and smoking cigarettes then this song is worth a listen. If you have ever spent your nights pacing the floor then you want to download this song. If you have ever stayed up all night obsessing over a woman (or man or whoever) then this song will speak to you. If you have ever wondered if you will escape the blues then this song should be on your playlist.

John Lee Hooker’s “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” is quintessential blues (Hell, John Lee Hooker is quintessential blues). Whether you are new to the blues or already have an extensive playlist consider adding this song. There is one important thing to keep in mind when listening to this song (or the blues in general for that matter). The blues isn’t just about how bad things are, the blues is about a hope that things will get better.

-K-

The Best of John Lee Hooker 1965 to 1974 (1992) by John Lee Hooker

When Cigarettes are Currency

War Profiteering in Blue Helmets and Black Markets

Most of us have spent more time than usual at home over the past few months. I spent some of that time reviewing my current events/history bookshelf (yep, I’m the kind of person who has organized and dedicated bookshelves). It’s interesting how current events become history. Today’s newspaper is nothing more than tomorrow’s fish wrapper if we don’t take the time to study, analyze, and learn from current events, history, and were the two meet. We should all keep a current events/history bookshelf and review it on a regular basis. One of the books I recently reviewed is Peter Andreas’ Blue Helmets and Black Markets The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo. Its message is as timely today as it was over a decade ago.

Blue Helmets and Black Markets (book cover)
Blue Helmets and Black Markets by Peter Andreas

History can be viewed as a series of specific events over a general period of time. Some of these historical events can be too specific to appeal to a wide audience. Andreas’ book covers the Siege of Sarajevo which lasted from 1992 to 1995. This event, and time period, may be too narrow to appeal to some readers but it shouldn’t be a surprise that wars tend to be wars and politics tends to be politics. Andreas contends that various political and military groups, including UN soldiers, profited from the black market that existed during the siege. This profiteering also served to prolong the siege for the citizens of Sarajevo. Andreas states, “Cigarettes were so valued in wartime Sarajevo that they became an alternative form of currency.” At another point in the book reporter Maggie O’Kane states, “The UN soldiers here are making themselves and the Sarajevo mafia rich. The soldiers are the importers and the locals are the middlemen for a trade in cigarettes…worth millions of dollars.” This is not the first, or last, time soldiers and politicians have profited from war, but without analysis of historical events it is difficult to develop an understanding and learn from history.

Peter Andreas’ book is an insightful look into the lives of the citizens who lived through the Siege of Sarajevo and the politicians and soldiers who prolonged and profited from the siege. It is a book worth study and analysis for its historical context. It is also worth a read in a time when current events are fraught with individuals who willingly manipulate and prolong conflict for profit.

-K-

Blue Helmets and Black Markets The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo (2008) by Peter Andreas.

Brand Preference

Why Some People Don’t Mind Being a Billboard 

In a world of posts, pics, updates, likes, and follows image can become more important than preference. The ‘gram, the ‘book, and the twit’ may not have created posturing but they sure as hell have turned it into a martial art of sorts. There are many individuals out there that feel having classy things will make them classy people. Mark Twain addresses posturing, price, and pretentiousness in “Concerning Tobacco.”

Drinking, Smoking, and Screwing
Drinking, Smoking, and Screwing

Twain begins his essay by establishing a couple common superstitions. These superstitions concern an individual’s preferences and standards concerning tobacco. Twain states that many of his friends will only smoke expensive cigars and take great pride in showing off the labels of their cigars whenever they smoke. These friends also berate Twain for his choice of cheap cigars and state they could not bear to smoke such sub-standard tobacco. In an act of subterfuge Twain places the labels of his cheap cigars on some expensive cigars he secretly took from a friend. His friends, self-proclaimed experts with high standards, could not tell the difference and thought they were smoking cheap cigars. Twain ends the essay by returning to the superstitions he establishes at the beginning. He states that the only real standard concerning tobacco is an individual’s preference, but it may be a preference to brand and not necessarily flavor.

Twain wrote “Concerning Tobacco” in 1917. If the ‘gram, the ‘book’ and the twit’ were around a hundred years ago I would wager his friends would have posts, pics, updates, and likes about their expensive cigars. They would be posturing and bragging about the price of their stogie selections.  Mark Twain wouldn’t be so pretentious. He wouldn’t use a brand to make himself look better, to end up being a billboard for that brand. Take Twain’s advice and embrace your preferences, even if they are on the less expensive side.  Better to be you than a billboard.

-K-

“Concerning Tobacco” by Mark Twain from Drinking, Smoking, and Screwing (1994) edited by Sara Nickles.

When Art Imitates Life

or When You Connect With a Song

Have you ever noticed the wide variety of euphemisms that are used in relationships? Has anyone ever “stepped out” on you or maybe “let you down easy?” If you can answer yes then there is a blues song somewhere out there for you (maybe a couple or few). There is one song from the “Blues at Your Door Mix Tape” post from a couple weeks back that holds an ignominious place in my relationship history.

ZZ Top is one of those bands that you either get or you don’t. I don’t mean that in any sort of critical analysis and deeper meaning sense. I mean you either get where that little old band from Texas is coming from or you don’t. I’ve given up trying to explain it to people so I can only ask that if you haven’t listened to ZZ Top then give their first album, conveniently titled ZZ Top’s First Album, a listen (if you are familiar with it then you probably know where I’m going with this). The last song on the album is “Backdoor Love Affair.” The backdoor man motif, a man having an affair with a married woman, is common to many blues songs. ZZ Top takes this idea and adds their own twist to it (no spoilers), but I will say I’ve experienced what the narrator of the song experiences, and I’m none too proud of it.

ZZ Top's First Albom (cover)
ZZ Top’s First Album by ZZ Top

We tend to use euphemisms in an attempt to minimize the damage of failed relationships. These euphemisms are common in many blues songs, which may be one of the reasons why blues music is timeless. As long as people “step out” and “let you down easy” there will be material for blues musicians. ZZ Top’s song “Backdoor Love Affair” is one such song, a song that this writer has lived through. But knowing there is a song about it gives me comfort that others have lived through it too.

-K-

ZZ Top’s First Album (1971) ZZ Top

A Puzzle Box and Foreboding Places

Hellraiser and the Doors to Heaven and Hell

“What’s your pleasure?” That’s about as loaded as a question as you are going to get, and it’s the beginning of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. This is the movie that introduced me and many of my friends to the Cenobites, Pinhead, and the Lament Puzzle Bob. The box serves as a key/door to other dimensions offering both pleasure and pain. Barker’s movie, based on his novella, addresses the idea of being careful of going through doorways that promise something better or different than what you already have (an idea we began with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline).

Hellraiser Movie Cover v2
Hellraiser

I remember the first time I watched Hellraiser. I was with a group of friends, each of us brought a horror tape (oh, how I do get sentimental about VHS on occasion), and we had a Saturday night horror movie marathon. I noticed then, over thirty years ago, that Barker’s movie was different from many of the horror movies of the time. There are many great horror movies from the 1980s but most of them don’t have the depth of Hellraiser. The antagonists of many horror movies of the time are one dimensional, as are the protagonists. The world the characters inhabit are also relatively underdeveloped. The characters of Hellraiser are interesting. They have believable motivations and desires for their actions. They inhabit a world like our own but would be wary to inhabit. It is a world of with doorways that can be unlocked with a Lament Puzzle Box. These doorways appear to offer a better world, a world of pleasure, but there is something lurking beyond the doorway, Pinhead.

Most of the horror movies of the 1980s can be viewed as cautionary tales, modern twists on the old tales of foreboding and magical places with their possible dangers. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a more developed tale. Barker isn’t telling us to avoid those foreboding places, to not go through those doors. He is telling us to be aware of what is on the other side.

-K-

Hellraiser (1987) with Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, and Doug Bradley. Written and Directed by Clive Barker.

A Black Cat, ButtonEyes

and a Locked Door

A locked door is a mystery, and many readers love a good mystery. If you are one of those readers then Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is worth a read. Don’t let the fact that Coraline falls into the YAL genre dissuade you from giving it a read. It may not have the intensity of Clive Barker or detail of H. P. Lovecraft but Gaiman’s novel is a well written piece of supernatural fiction with a handful of awards (once you read the novel you’ll get why I used ‘handful’).

Gaiman’s novel follows the fairy tale tradition of foreboding and magical places, but we all know the foreboding is often mysterious and inviting. Coraline passes through a magical door into world that is just like her own, only a little bit better. The danger of blindly wanting and/or chasing after something that is better than what you already have simply because it is better can be viewed as one of the novel’s themes (if you want to get critical and such). While in the alternate world Coraline must confront a witch who has buttons for eyes. Her primary tools in this battle are bravery, wits and the assistance of a black cat (read my criticism of Gaiman’s “The Price” if you like cat stories). The novel’s well developed protagonist and engaging plot will keep you turning the pages, and Gaiman’s ability to turn a phrase will have you rereading them.

Coraline Book Cover v2
Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline has all the aspects of a well developed supernatural story with a touch of mystery. The novel addresses the possible dangers of desiring something simply because it is just a little bit better than what you have. Gaiman also show us that even though you may pass through a doorway that does not mean you cannot come back.

-K-

Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman.

A McQueen-Newman Daily Double

The Cincinnati Kid/The Hustler Double Feature

If you are in the same situation as me, which is the same situation as most people these days, you are staying home more often than usual. Staying home does give us the opportunity to watch more movies. Since the focus of this month is gambling I would like to suggest a pair of outstanding gambling movies from the 1960s, The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler.

The Cincinnati Kid Cover v2
The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler are as much about gambling as Field of Dreams is just about baseball. If your interests are cards and pool then these movies are worth a watch, but they are so much more that their titles and subject matter would suggest. These movies are about card sharks, pool hustlers, high stakes games, and the lives of two upstart gamblers. These are also detailed characters studies of hubris and the frailty of human relationships.

Steve McQueen’s Eric “The Kid” Stoner and Paul Newman’s “Fast” Eddie Felson are young men at the top of their respective games of poker and pool. Both men display a singular drive and determination in their quests to defeat the reigning champions, Edward G. Robinson’s “The Man” and Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats, in order to be recognized as the best players of stud poker and straight pool.  The hubris each man displays while seeking this recognition impacts not only himself but also each man’s friends and lovers.  These movies are more than stories of poker and pool.  These are stories in the tradition of Greek tragedy.

The Hustler Movie Cover
The Hustler

If you find that you have more free time than usual to watch some movies then The Cincinnati Kid and The Hustler will make for a great double feature. These are much more than two great gambling movies. They serve as two insightful character studies of the impact of hubris.

-K-

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) with Steve McQueen, Ann Margaret, Tuesday Weld, and Edward G. Robinson. Directed by Norman Jewison

The Hustler (1961) with Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott. Directed by Robert Rossen.

An Author’s Gambler

Alexi Ivanovich and the Mind of a Gambler

A good number of stories that are centered on gambling tend to either glamorize or demonize. The protagonist is often portrayed as an individual we should either envy or pity. One exception to these extremes is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. Dostoevsky’s protagonist is a gambler we neither aspire to be or view as a cautionary tale we should avoid.

The Gambller Book Cover
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alexi Ivanovich, the narrator and protagonist, is at times admirable and other times pitiful. You may find yourself sympathizing with Alexi at the end of one chapter and then infuriated with him by the middle of the next chapter. In short, Alexi is a flawed man. If one wanted to get all literary one could make a case that Alexi Ivanovich is an antihero of sorts (I’m not one of those literary types, at least not before another bourbon or two). Dostoevsky develops a relatable character who shows us the inner thoughts, motivations, and fears of a gambler without pandering or preaching to the reader.

There are many stories that present gambling as alluring and profitable. There are also many stories that present gambling as bewitching and detrimental. Few gambling stories present the reader with the inner working of the gambler’s mind. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler provides insight into the mind of a gambler and how gambling impacts all aspects of his life. 

-K-

The Gambler (1964/1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

How We Spend Our Time

May Be How Others Spent Their Time

How often do we wish we could have a little time to ourselves? Time is something that we can keep to ourselves. Time is also something we can borrow (and steal), but it is also something we can share with others. I find how others spend, or spent, their time fascinating. I’ve felt this way ever since reading The Diary of Anne Frank way back in 8th grade. Learning how somebody else spent their time can be informative, entertaining, and even humbling. Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s is one such example.

Sartor’s diary can be read on a couple of levels. If you want to take an academic approach to the diary it can be read as a first person account of life in the American South in the 1970s. Reading the diary as a historical document can provide you with as much insight as some textbooks covering the same time period and geography. You can also approach the diary as a record of an adolescent girl’s struggles, defeats, and triumphs.

Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor

I took the second approach when I read Sartor’s book and was amazed with how much I had in common with her. Upon closer study I realized that it isn’t so much that Ms. Sartor and I are some sort of kindred spirits as much as we were, at one time, both adolescents. I’m not implying that all adolescents have the same experiences, but that time period of our lives does present similar struggles. This is what I find most appealing about Miss American Pie. We all may be individuals moving through life on our own paths that on occasion run parallel and sometimes intersect, but we often share similar struggles during the same time periods of our lives.

Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie is at turns informative, entertaining, and subtlety humbling at times. Seeing how somebody else spent their time (even if it is a decade or century a part from your own) can help us put our own lives and times in perspective.

-K-

Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s (2006) by Margaret Sartor.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑