Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Survey of "King's Garbage Truck," Part 3

Part one can be found here; part two can be found here.  Part three IS here.

This is a cool one.  It's a review of the then-new film Easy Rider.  The notion that at some point in time, Easy Rider was a new film kind of blows my mind.  But of course it was, and King was there to document it.  "It's an amazing movie from almost every angle," he enthuses, "and a truly American movie in that individualistic and mythic sense that also characterizes Bonnie and Clyde, Alice's Restaurant, and Point Blank.  It states a purely American situation in purely American terms."

It'll help one's appreciation of the review if one has seen the movie, of course; the final paragraph of King's opinion is very strong, but only if one understands what is actually being said.

This issue also includes -- on the same page -- a strongly-worded letter to the editor from a freshman girl who takes offense to King's recent column about All-Maine Women and other such campus groups.  "Just because Steve King is jealous because he never actively belonged to one of these organizations," she writes, "it is no reason for them to be torn apart every week.  It is a terrible shame that this guy must show his ignorance in such a widely read paper."  I bet that showed him what was what!

Want young Steve King to weigh in on the California grape-picking crisis?

You got it.  Here, King is exhorting the readers of the Maine Campus to consider helping out with picketing outside a local grocery store which is still proudly selling grapes.

"Well," opens King, "a part of me went into hibernation last week.  It happens to me every October at about this time, when the last game of the World Series has ended."

This installment is more or less a love letter from King to the sport of baseball.  As I write this, the 2020 MLB season is delayed thanks to COVID-19, and I'm sure that King is distressed as fuck by that.  I sure would be if I were a fan; I'm not a fan, but I empathize with those who are.

That wasn't a problem for King in 1969, though.  "I love baseball," he states plainly.  "I know that in this hip age of satellites, campus riots and Joe Namath that's like saying you're square as a bear, but I can't help it.  And this year's World Series was positively the greatest."

This issue also contained a movie review by King.  It wasn't part of the Garbage Truck column, though, it appeared on a different page -- and you'll need a separate link to get to it.  The movie is titled No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger.  It's a documentary which seemingly examines the experience of black men as it relates to the war.  King is more impressed by the movie in theory than in actuality, summing up that "the truth it exposits is real.  The fact that the truth seems a little dull makes it even more frightening."

#28 -- October 30, 1969

This one, sadly, does not seem to live in the UM archives.  [UPDATE: Thanks to the eagle-eyed Rich Krauss, the issue has been located.  It's in this file; scroll down to page 12.  Thanks, Rich!]  But I've read it and am here to tell you what it's about, so yay.

"We're worried about our campus," King says on behalf of N.G.U.T.S.C.M.C.  Specifically, they're "worried" that peace is creeping insidiously over their school grounds; nobody has been pelted with eggs lately, even at an anti-war rally, for example.  Heck, things are so weird that the football team has won a few games.

So as to prevent such horror from taking permanent root, they "have formulated the following plans, which you must promise not to breath" [sic] "to a soul."

These plans involve:

  • getting rid of the new Dean of Students, who is consistently good to those he serves and therefore must be up to something;
  • getting rid of David Bright, editor of the Maine Campus, whose "nasty" beliefs in Mom and apple pie are clearly his true agenda;
  • getting rid of the English Department faculty, who are allegedly planning a poetry festival, of all things;
  • and, finally, getting rid of President Libby, who are the head of UM is obviously plotting against students by virtue of how pleasant, intelligent, and competent he is.

The column is a bit on the lame side, but it's also weirdly sweet.

Here, King picks the best and worst albums and singles of the year.  We won't go into it all, but we'll briefly consider his two picks for best album:

Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline

The Beatles, Abbey Road

Of Dylan, King says, "In previous albums, he has created a whole new kind of doom; a time-capsule, if you will, full of parking-meters, girls by whirlpools, freak-show horror, silver binoculars.  In SKYLINE he is creating a range of feelings that range with compassionate accuracy from despair ('I Threw It All Away') to sexual euphoria ('Peggy Day')."  Inelegantly expressed, but this blogger takes no issue with the verdict.

As for Abbey Road, King feels that it is "musically flawless," swinging from the "overpowering, really terrifying progression of 'She's So Heavy' to the sweet and nostalgic opening acoustic phrase of 'Here Comes the Sun.' "

Wild to think that at one point in time, those were new albums which had not been fully processed by the culture into which they were born.  I don't know about you, but I love being around for that sort of thing.  Not that I was with either of these albums; but others later on, for sure.  It's a cool feeling to be able to look back on that, and so I also find it cool to be able to read on-the-spot opinions by people who were there for the birth of things I myself accept as classics from before my time.

For this week's installment, King wants to talk about cops.  He begins by listing the various societal groups who don't like them, such as the New Left and the Supreme Court and jaywalkers.  "Who likes the cops?" he asks rhetorically.

"Well, I do," he answers.  And from here, he launches into a vigorous defense of policemen, who are underpaid and overworked and routinely "faced with the garbage of humanity."

If he published this in 2020, he'd piss off just about everyone.

King begins: "It's a little bit frightening to wake up in the middle of the night and realize that you may be the only one on earth that realizes why the world is in so much trouble.  That's what happened to me the other night, and I can no longer bear the burden alone."

That's a decent hooker of an opening, and it's interesting to note that as King's tenure on this column lengthened, he began to develop more of the prose style he would eventually use writing fiction.  His clear aim with this column's opening sentences is to draw readers in; to make them feel as if they HAVE to continue reading to find out what's going to come next.

In this particular instance, what comes next is an exploration of how "all the world's problems stem from a serious foul-up in interior irrigation."  More specifically, King says that people aren't drinking enough water and it's damaging their urinary tracts.

Well, sometimes you get lured in by a hooker only for nothing much to end up happening.  So it goes!

#32 -- December 11, 1969

This is one in which King poses a series of trivia questions to his audience.  If you want to check it out, clink on the link above to the issue for December 4th.  That file contains the December 11 issue, so just scroll down until you find it.

The December 11 issue also contains a letter to the editor from King, which states that his column on police (the November 13 installment of King's Garbage Truck) had apparently been submitted to the Rockland Courier-Gazette by a UM student and had been reprinted there.  It was printed under King's byline, so he's not contending plagiarism; and since his columns are not covered by copyright, he's not objecting to the reprinting on any legal grounds.  Instead, he just wants people to know that he does not want to be associated with the student who submitted his column, because that student holds views which "are most definitely not my own."

"There are strange things in the world," says King as a opener for this installment; it might as well have been the opening sentence of his career, eh?

You won't change your mind about that as the column progresses.  After mentioning various real-world supernatural mysteries, King posits that "it just may be that there is a hole in our world, perhaps in the very fabric of our Universe, and Things cross back and forth."


For any King fan, this one is can't-miss stuff.  This is especially true for fans of 'Salem's Lot; here is proof positive that King was already thinking about at least two of the key elements which would later go into that novel.

#34 -- January 8, 1970

I don't have a link to this one, but the issue can be found in the file for the December 18, 1969, edition; keep scrolling, and you'll get there.

This inaugural column of the seventies finds King looking back upon the sixties; "it was some kind of decade, while it lasted," he concludes, somewhat lamely.  But good lord, how would one even begin to process the sixties from the vantage point of the second week in January of 1970?  That's a tall fucking order.  King seems to know this, too, admitting that "It seems like more than a decade—it seems closer to a century.  There was too much for anybody to take in, and yet we all took it in somehow."

His final lines: "The next ten years may be even more interesting.  If we're lucky, maybe there will even be somebody left hanging around to write about them."  Within those ten years, King would publish seven novels and (depending on what you count) some thirty short stories.  So yeah, in that regard if in no other, we were pretty damn lucky.

We'll talk about King's column for this issue momentarily, but first:

This Frank Kadi photo of King engaging in an act of encouraging scholastic preparation was the front page of the January 15 issue.  If there is a crazier photo of King, I don't know of it; the only ones which come to mind would be screencaps from Creepshow, and I dunno, man, I think this one is crazier.

Kadi tells the story of this photo in Hearts In Suspension, by the way.  Excellent book; highly recommended.

As for King's Garbage Truck, this installment is another tongue-in-cheek one which finds the author detailing his last Will and Testament.

It goes like this:

"To the English Department of the University of Maine, which has nurtured me in its corporate bosom and given me suck, I extend my good will and my assurance that I will give them my personal recommendation, should It decide to move to another school at any future time.  This Department did not teach me to write creatively, it did not teach me to read creatively, it answered very few if any of the questions that I asked (except in the most crassly beautiful generalizations); and I am profoundly grateful that It managed to stay out of my way so successfully."  Then, later: "To Norman Mailer, Phillip Roth, and John Updike, I bequeath the hope that they will eventually learn to write like me."

Mostly amusing stuff; about what you'd expect from the guy in the photo above.

Before we discuss this week's column, there's a complaining letter to the editor about the cover photo from the January 15 issue that's worth taking a look at:

Love it.

The column itself this week is all about television, which, King says, "is a marvellous invention—its potential is endless, the possibilities fascinating.  But it is wet and sick and fat," he contends, and cites numerous reasons why, including Bewitched, The Doris Day Show and Hee-Haw.  He also predicts that "if another entertainment invention comes along (and one will), TV will fold like a wet handful of Kleenex."

Slightly more than fifty years later, the latter has not happened, even though the former has several times.

#37 -- February 12, 1970

The February 12 issue can be found in the same scan as the February 5 issue, so if you want to see that, click the link above and scroll on down until you find it.

King's Garbage Truck for that issue finds the author in a fiery mood, addressing conservatives and/or readers of the Bangor Daily News on the subject of the generation gap.  "I'm getting awful damn sick of hearing stupid comments about the young," he says.  He's sick of a whole bunch of things, in fact, and isn't shy about listing them.

He definitely goes into at least one area of thinking that wouldn't fly in the year 2020, and probably not in the year 1990, either.  But hey, societies change, and so do people; at least sometimes.


That's it for part three of this series.  We'll be back with a fourth and final installment in a few days!

Monday, March 30, 2020

A(n almost certainly incomplete and at-best-marginally-worthwhile) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 3

HEAR we are again, eh?  Eh?  

1994 -- Insomnia
(read by Eli Wallach; produced by Penguin HighBridge Audio)

$79.95 in 1994 money, y'all.  Oof.

Eli Wallach

I had not initially planned to actually relisten to the Insomnia audiobook as part of this project, for two reasons: (1) this is the next King novel I plan to reread, so why cram in a relisten in such close proximity?; and (2) I remember disliking Eli Wallach's performance the first time I listened to the cassettes, lo these many years ago.

I ended up giving it a listen anyways, for weird reasons that probably don't make sense to anyone other than myself, and which I'll keep to myself.  The short-and-not-THAT-weird version: I just felt like it.

Wallach's performance is actually quite a bit better than I'd remembered, at least at times (more on that momentarily).  He's very good at the straightforward narration, and he does quite well with many of the character performances (Ralph, Lois, and Bill).  However, he's terrible with at least two of the major characters: Atropos and Ed Deepneau.  I blame this at least 50% on Stephen King for the way those characters are written.  Do I want to read dialogue in which a near-immortal agent of the Random yells at someone about being a cuntlicker and threatens to fuck them up?  No, I sure don't.  That sounds goofy and over-the-top coming out of Ed's mouth, much less Atropos's; and while Wallach commits to the performance in both cases, his enthusiasm makes the issue worse for me, not better.

However, Wallach is flat-out abysmal voicing Clotho and Lachesis.  He goes into his upper registry to represent them, and I think what he intends is for them to sound airy-fairy in a whimsical manner that will remind the listener in each moment that these are magical creatures.  I'd been enjoying my revisit with the novel until the point at which these two bald docs showed up.  I found Wallach's performance of them to be so grating that I gave up on the re-listen; and all of a sudden, I remembered not only why I'd been sour on the audio version of this novel for so many years, but why I'd allowed my opinion of the novel itself to grow sour right alongside it.

It's not fair to the novel.  Maybe it's not fair to Eli Wallach either, but I give no shits about Eli Wallach; I do give a shit about Insomnia the novel, and if my opinion of it is being weighed down by poor narration choices on the part of the guy performing the audiobook, I give a BIG shit about that.
I always come back to this sort of thing when assessing the overall existence of audiobooks as a medium.  Maybe Wallach's performance of Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, and Ed Deepneau charms the pants off some listeners.  Have at it, y'all; that's your business, and none of mine.  I speak only for myself.  And what I say is this: when a performance decision like that can have such a negative impact on a listener, it serves to prove yet again (if only to me) that listening to an audiobook and reading a book are simply not inherently equivalent experiences.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Survey of ''King's Garbage Truck,'' Part 2

What has four wheels and flies?
Welcome back for the second part of our survey of "King's Garbage Truck," the opinion column King wrote for his student newspaper during his college years.  Part one, if you missed it, can be found here.
We resume with...
#13 -- May 22, 1969
This one is a political hit piece of sorts aimed at Steve Hughes, who had been named to the Board of Trustees for the University.  The piece begins like this: "I've always been fond of cliches, and one of my favorites is 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all1'  I like the sentiment behind that.  I try to live by it as much as I can.  So this week I'm going to say some not-so-nice things about a pretty nice guy."
That guy is Hughes, who had been a part of the Coalition for Peace in Viet Nam during King's association with the group.  King feels that Hughes used strong-arm methods which "smacked more of the high-handed tactics one might have expected of Charles De Gaulle in his heyday than of a so-called liberal Democrat."
Unfortunately for King, the appointment seems to have already been approved -- unanimously -- by the time this column was printed.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Survey of ''King's Garbage Truck,'' Part 1

Many King fans are probably aware that the writer spent a decent chunk of the first decade of the 2000s writing a column called The Pop of King, which appeared roughly once per month as the back page of Entertainment Weekly.
What many fans may NOT know is that The Pop of King was not his first time supplying a regular opinion piece for a media publication: from February 1969 to May of 1970, King's Garbage Truck appeared in the Maine Campus, the student newspaper for the University of Maine.  These pieces are almost wholly inaccessible to fans, so I was reluctant to write anything substantial -- or even semi-substantial -- about them.  However, I can't help myself; I just gotta, and so I'm gonna.
[UPDATE:  Shortly after publishing this post, I found something surprising: the fact that a great many issues of the Maine Campus which contain King's writings are online at the University of Maine Digital Commons Archive.  I have no idea how long they've been there; I found them while Google-searching for a fact pertinent to the first column I'm covering in part two of this series.  I myself have had the columns for years thanks to a fellow collector, but it's nice to be able to look at the originals for the sake of comparison.  And now, evidently, so can you!]

What we'll do, I think, is just march through the 48 pieces one at a time.  I don't think there's going to be a huge amount to say about many of them individually, but we'll see what happens.
Annnnnnnnnnnd we will immediately take a step sideways and backwards.  [This, too, is an addition to the original post which comes via my finding the UM digital archives.]  I'm referring to the fact that King actually contributed a handful of pieces to the Maine Campus prior to the launching of his Garbage Truck column.  I knew about these but had read none of them, so had decided not to even mention them here.  Now, however, I feel obliged to do so; and so I shall, beginning with:

This piece is titled "Opinion" and is credited to Steve King.  It's a political piece pertaining to America's role in Viet Nam, and at this point, King -- then in his sophomore year -- still supported the war effort, albeit not without the taste of ashes in his mouth.  He refers to the war as a "brutal game" (between, if I understand him correctly, America and the Soviet Union), and it's worth pointing out that King had already written The Long Walk by this point.  He'd had brutal games on his mind, clearly.

Monday, March 9, 2020

''The Outsider,'' Season 1

I've been hoping HBO would get in the Stephen King business for years and years.  Their miniseries version of The Outsider isn't the ten-seasons-long adaptation of The Dark Tower that was my pie-in-the-sky dream project, but it'll do, at least in theory.  I haven't actually watched an episode yet.
Journey with me as I change that, one week at a time! 

Beware spoilers; they happen, and frequently.
"Fish in a Barrel" / "Roanoke" 
(episodes 1 and 2)
airdate:  January 12, 2020
written by:  Richard Price
directed by : Jason Bateman

My impulse here is clearly going to be to write 5000 words about every episode, complete -- replete, even -- with dozens of screencaps.  Not doable at this time.  Maybe someday, though; it'd be a project worth doing, at least if the first two episodes are any indication.  In lieu of that, here are some stray thoughts:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

"Locke & Key" Season 1

Howdy, y'all.  Here comes a sort of diary of watching the first season of Netflix's Locke & Key, which of course is based upon the Joe Hill / Gabriel Rodriguez comics.  I wrote this with the intention of using it in my year-end Guided Tour of 2020 post, but it ended up being too long for such a venue.  So why not toss it up here, now?

Why not, indeed.

Here it comes:

I am not typically too big a proponent of binge-watching shows, and so I intend to limit myself to an episode per day.  We'll see how that goes.  I'll be noting the date I watched the episode, just for the sake of doing so.

"Welcome to Matheson" 
(season 1, episode 1)
written by: Joe Hill and Aron Eli Coleite
directed by: Michael Morris
Bryant watched on: February 7

I went into this series feeling a bit resistant toward it.  This was caused by two things, most prominently the reviews which, while mostly positive, indicated that the television version was more of a family-friendly affair than the comics are.  Secondly, I've been somewhat disappointed that Joe Hill elected to rename the town from Lovecraft to Matheson.  His rationale is that he's learned some things about ol' H.P. Lovecraft in the years since he launched the comic, and it just doesn't feel right to him anymore to honor the man.  I kind of get that, and I kind of respect it; as a personal decision, I absolutely respect it.  But the thing is, all of that has been known about Lovecraft for years; this is not new news.  Cancel culture IS new news, though, and would I be cynical for thinking that Hill might also have fretted a bit about somebody deciding that his apparent endorsement of Lovecraft's racism and misogyny made him a prime candidate to be canceled in that way?  If so, I think I might be a cynic.

But I do get the decision, and in the end, I don't think it bothers me too much.  As tips of the hat go, naming a town Lovecraft and then later bringing actual Lovecraftian-mythos stuff into the story is awful damn on-the-nose.  I guess "Matheson" is better in that regard.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Library of Me: A Look at King's College-Era Poems, Part 5

Today, we're going to get lazy.  ("Get" lazy, he says.)  We're going to make this fifth post in the series a roundup post, one wherein the remaining five poems which King published in the early seventies get dealt with all at once.
To some degree, this is because I just don't have much to say about any of these individual works.  Maybe I could find something if I were to dig into them on a line-by-line basis, but for the most part, these poems don't interest me enough to entice me into that level of analysis.
This might be a mistake on my part.  I thought there was nothing to talk about with "Silence," for example, only to learn that a closer-than-cursory examination of it did indeed yield some points of interest.  Even so, I'm feeling an urge to move on; but I didn't want to abandon the project altogether, so we're getting what we're about to get, and that's just how it is.  I won't rule out returning to the poems individually someday; never say never, y'all.
All five poems appeared in the year 1971, so let's see what sort of results Google Images will give me for "1971 poetry":
Couldn't ask for better than that, could we?

untitled ("In the key-chords of dawn...")

Published in Onan, this untitled poem is commonly referred to by its first line ("In the key-chords of dawn..."). "In the key-chords of dawn" / "all waters are depthless," the poem begins.  What's a key-chord?  Beats me, and while I assumed it was a bit of music terminology, it's also apparently a type of software.  So when I began researching this, the waters were not depthless, necessarily, but they did become murky awful quick.
Was this the initial impetus for me toward laziness in the writing of this post?  You be the judge.
The upshot of this poem seems to be a fishing-related reminiscence of some sort.  [W]"e fished the Mississippi with" / "Norville as children," but [n]"ow you fish for me and I for you."  The phrase "love is responsibility" appears on one line, and "fishing is responsibility" on the next to last.
King seems to be striving for a greater complexity in this poem's language than in the others we've seen, and there are bits which stand out to me relatively well, such as "catching mostly crawdaddies," and "our poles are adrift in a sea of compliments," and "bones and scales and gutting knife" / "make a loom of complexity."