“Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers.” - William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey (pictured) is a book that I love and often recommend, but always with caveats. The same with its sequel, Hayduke Lives!, from which the above epigraph is taken (pg. 8, Back Bay Books). “They’re really great,” I’ll say, “but, you know… not for everyone.”
And I’m not alone: even the introduction to my edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang contains the contextually bizarre admission that “no one claimed [this is] a fictional masterwork — it isn’t.” Instead, it’s one of those books you read when you were younger and your opinions were more… uncompromising; a cult classic. Nothing to take too seriously.
But I’ve been reading a lot of Edward Abbey lately —
— and am starting to really question the distancing language that (in my experience) always seems to come with his books. The entirety of The Monkey Wrench Gang reads a little like the Banana Breakfast scene in Gravity’s Rainbow, so I’m not convinced it’s comprehensively not a literary masterwork (a comment so comically unecessary it brings to mind this scene from The Royal Tenenbaums). And his non-fiction’s even better.
Abbey’s dangerous, though… which is both why I love him and where I think my recommendation apprehension kicks in. Radical environmental action — it’s not for everyone. And unlike Mark Antony in the Julius Caesar quotation above, Abbey’s neither meek nor gentle when it comes to his conservationist convictions. In fact, “gleefully abrasive” might be a better descriptor, especially in his more ecstatic fantasies of eco-revenge; his dam explosions and billboard burnings.
But more and more, the world seems like it could use some radical environmental action, so I’ve decided to be similarly unapologetic this Earth Day:
Read Edward Abbey.
If you read them five or more years ago, read them again.
A few other fantastic books you should read this Earth Day:
Most music dorks should be able to tell you about Alex Chilton. Lead singer of The Box Tops, founded Big Star with Chris Bell, influenced The Replacements, REM, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, many more. Then, if you asked said music dork where Chilton made all this great inspirational music, they’d be partly right in telling you Memphis, TN (The name Big Star, in fact, was taken from a chain of grocery stores in Memphis).
But it’s a little known fact that in the late 70s, and early 80s, after Big Star’s dissolution—quietly fading from the collective memory before a critical revival in the 90s—Alex Chilton made a new home in New Orleans. Keith Spera, a music journalist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, covers Chilton’s thirty years in the Big Easy in one chapter of his book “Groove Interrupted: Loss, Renewal, and the Music of New Orleans.”
In honor, I’ve pulled a Spotify playlist of Chilton originals (“The Letter,” The Ballad of El Goodo,”), covers he loved to play (“Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta,” “Alligator Man,” “Sick and Tired,”), and some tracks he played on in support during his time in N.O. (“Come on Little Mama,” “Crazy,” “These Days”). Plus, you know, other stuff I wanted to listen to.
You’ll have to read the chapter to catch all the references in the playlist, but Spera’s portrayal of Chilton in New Orleans reminded me of this quote that Steve Earle’s character Harley says on “Treme” (pardon the paraphrase): “The world is full of players, not many Dylans.” Alex Chilton capitalized on his talent as a songwriter early in life, but I’m fascinated by the idea that he spent the end of it in New Orleans just playing whatever he wanted. I’ve tried to honor that here.
1. “Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta” - Ernie K. Doe
2. “The Letter” - The Box Tops
3. “The Ballad of El Goodo” - Big Star
4. “With a Girl Like You” - Alex Chilton
5. “Give Me Another Chance” - Whiskeytown
6. “Alex Chilton” - The Replacements
7. “Alligator Man” - Alex Chilton
8. “Come on Little Mama” - Tav Falco & Panther Burns
9. “(Every Time I) Close My Eyes” - Alex Chilton
10. “Every Day As We Grow Closer” - Alex Chilton
11. “Save Your Love for Me” - Nancy Wilson
12. “Sick and Tired” - Fats Domino
13. “Downtown” - Alex Chilton
14. “I Am the Cosmos” - Big Star
15. “September Gurls” - Big Star
16. “Crazy” - The Afghan Whigs
17. “These Days” - Cristina Black
Every few months, a new Spotify playlist about books/authors/writing seems to make the rounds. It’s always the same fifteen songs, though: something by The Police, some Ryan Adams; “Catcher in the Rye” by Guns N’ Roses.
And I can’t see “Hey Jack Kerouac” (by 10,000 Maniacs) listed again. Not when there’s a song called “New York Times Book Review” on a J Church gatefold LP that I actually own and cherish and blast mid-winter to remember what summer feels like.
So, without further ado… 140 other literary (or contextually literary) tracks to cherry pick for your bookish mixtapes: Lit. Rock Deep Cuts
Embarrassing fact: My record cabinet (pictured above) is decoupaged with Joyce’s Dubliners, so you know I’m for real.
“You Are A Writer” - Daniel Johnston
“Ode to Self Publishing” - The Hidden Cameras
“New York Times Book Review” - J Church
“Books About Miles Davis” - The Ergs
“Young Adult Friction” - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
“I Need Feedback” - Swingin’ Utters
“Proofreading” - Oxford Collapse
“We Are Both Writers” - Kind of Like Spitting
“Anchorless” - Propaghandi
“Historical Fiction” - The Measure (SA)
“The Words” - Lungfish
“One Act Play!” - Dead Mechanical
“Public Domain” - The Dopamines
“Turn Your Page” - Eddy Current Suppression Ring
“Albert Camus” - Titus Andronicus
“Rough Draft” - Lemuria
“The Collected Works” - A.C. Newman
“Lovecraft in Brooklyn” - The Mountain Goats
“We Are All Accelerated Readers” -Los Campesinos!
“My Favorite Book (Flack)” - Stars
“Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sea of Tears)” - Destroyer
“Paperback Head” - Tegan and Sara
“Bookshop Casanova” - The Clientelle
“I am the Uncorrected” - Billy Childish
“I Like the Books of Jane Austen” - Papa Razzi and the Photogs
“Alphabet Aerobics” - Blackalicious
“Simple Words” - Madeline
“Every Word in the World” - Robert Pollard
“Heart of Darkness” - Sparklehorse
“I Typed for Miles” - Jets to Brazil
“At the Academic Conference” - Dent May
“The House That Jack Kerouac Built” - The Go-Betweens
“Word Attack” - The Adolescents
“Books” - Leatherface
“Book of Stories” - The Drums
“I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” - Frank Turner
“She’s Never Read My Poems” - The Television Personalities
“Books About UFOs” - Hüsker Dü
“Heart of a Broken Story” - The Promise Ring
“Bookstore (Mote)” - Sonic Youth
“Books Written for Girls” - Camera Obscura
“A Single Hand Writing Several Stories” - Her Space Holiday
“I Am The Alphabet” - Black Moth Super Rainbow
“First Page Of My Book” - Joey Briggs
“The Trials of Oscar Wilde” - Dead To Me
“Lexicon Devil” - The Germs
UPDATE: Full playlist (for those without Spotify) can be found in the comments.
On Opening Day (the one, non-holiday, event of the year deemed worthy of capitalization) my beloved New York Mets pulled a win from their magic blue ballcaps. Johan Santana, recently oft-injured franchise ace, mowed down five innings worth of Atlanta Braves on 84 pitches, outpacing the expectations of many after sitting out all of last year. Yet the season is still young. There are many game days left, stripped of capital letters, whose importance cannot be determined for some time. April and May are lovely months to be a baseball fan—hope springs and all that. To paraphrase Mad Men: “You only love the beginnings of things.” Let us relish in this hope. Let us talk about baseball before our heros let us down.
John McGraw - Charles C. Alexander
These two books from Charles C. Alexander, a former Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio University, illustrate how the game was played in its earliest days. His biography of John McGraw, long-time manager of the New York Giants (and second all-time in wins behind Connie Mack), is a lively portrait of the deadball era, a time when fielders didn’t use gloves, the Baltimore Orioles perfected the hit and run, and when fighting, cursing and dirty plays were accepted as part of the game. Academically speaking, the history of the game often mirrors that of the nation. Breaking the Slump, which chronicles baseball during the Great Depression, recalls the first games to be played at night, the effect of radio broadcasts on attendance, and the amazing baseball being played in the Negro leagues that went unnoticed by white baseball fans.
Eight Men Out - Eliot Asinof
The Natural - Bernard Malamud
Here’s another pair of deadball era books, the true story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, and Malamud’s classic novel that merges the Black Sox scandal with the life of Eddie Waitkus. Please don’t skip out on this assignment and simply rent the movies. Robert Redford may look good in The Natural, but that ending, blurgh. And the John Sayles adaptation of Eight Men Out is fine, but just read the book. It’s diabolical, sacrilegious, and flat out astounding. If you’re going to throw the World Series you better wise up first (The gamblers did it, FREE JOE JACKSON!).
There are lots of other great books out there (The Bronx is Burning, Ball Four, Moneyball, The Boys of Summer) but there’s something about the far flung history of these four books that I love. They remind me how human and weirdly normal our ancestors and idols could be. The next time someone tells you they don’t watch baseball because its “boring” or “its lost its integrity” just point them here. The history of baseball is strewn with heroes and villains. It’s not an innocent game played by children and its not an entertainment industrial complex that is run and played by millionaires (though it is both of those things). It’s life for some of us, just like everything else.
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