Best Things

Best Thing I Heard All Week: 

James McMurtry, Complicated Game.

Hear them crabbers cuss the weather

And they cuss the government too

Nowadays crabbin' and fishin'

hangin' on to a pot to piss in

Is just about the best a man can do, sings Larry's son and that about sums up his politics and his songwriting. There are a few very good relationship songs but the majority deal with twenty-first century dislocation-economic, physical, personal-and you might ask what there is left to say on the subject at this late date. McMurtry would answer you 'plenty.' Some of them sound like Depression-era songs;

I ain't got a place

I ain't got a place in this world

I ain't got a place

I ain't got a place in this world 

I know could as easily have been written by Henry Thomas or Jimmy Rogers as McMurtry. The sound is as spare and unobtrusive as on a 'thirties 78, just enough to pin a few scraps of meat onto the bones from which these songs are constructed. In an unaffected voice he sings about characters who refuse to be anything but themselves in the face of the demise of their futures with nothing as fancy as redemption to be found in that refusal. The lyrics ramble from the Southwest to Long Island to North Dakota and back, encountering Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark along the way. They lead all the way back to Woody Guthrie, who would also answer you 'plenty.'

* * *

Best Thing I Read All Week: 

Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone by Marky Ramone (with Rick Herschlag).

Even with help, this is not the best-written book even as punk autobios go (see: Patti Smith or Richard Hell, Marky's former employer), but it is all of what you expect-full of funny stories, and road tales (often the same thing) childhood recollections and (minor) celebrity anecdotes. The pre-Ramones years the author spent in bands led by Hell and Wayne (nee Jayne) County, until now largely undocumented, are valuable mostly to the obsessed (like me). Marky (nee Marc Bell) was not a founding member of the band which, without a central creation myth, gives this a faintly incomplete feel. For example, once original drummer Tommy quits, to be replaced by Marky, he disappears entirely from the narrative despite the fact that he continued to work as a producer/svengali for years after. One wonders. Instead the abiding myth is futility-no money, no hits, endless touring, substance abuse, bad food (a favorite stop was Cracker Barrel), mental problems, bad health, age-futility borne of being ahead of your time. Not surprisingly, given the excess of the first three hundred pages, the final hundred pages of the book is partly a recovery story that for once doesn't hammer things into ground.

— Byron Spooner, Literary Director

Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

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