Mar 032014
 

Jeff Cohen

You never know who may be listening to you--Paul McCartney, "Take It Away"

How about those Academy Awards, huh? Were you shocked? I was stunned.

I'm lying. I wrote this a week before the Oscars. Hey. Life gets in the way sometimes.

Still, thinking about the glamor and silliness of Hollywood--and the best thing about the Academy Awards is how silly they are--got me to wondering. My writing has certainly not made me a household name, and I'm perfectly fine with that. But if I'm being accurate (to the best of my knowledge), my books have, in the past few years especially, sold conservatively in the tens of thousands, and that's probably an underestimate. 

So after a while you start thinking that maybe one or two of those mass market paperbacks has made it into the hands of a famous person. 

It's sort of a cool thought. Who might be a fan of the Haunted Guesthouse series? There's no way of knowing, really, unless said celebrity were to reach out and communicate with the author (that's me). And so far, they haven't, with one exception, who was a friend before the series started and has blurbed a couple of the books.

Erin posted a while back about the impression an author leaves when making public his/her thoughts about politics or some other sensitive topic. The flip side of that is wondering whether someone whose positions I support might be reading my work.

Or what if it's someone with whom I disagree vehemently? What would that say about my novel?

So in order to prevent myself considerable embarrassment (after this display of undigestible hubris), I've decided to provide a list of celebrities whom I hope are or will be fans of my work. Because you never know.

My Hoped-For Famous Fans

  • Mel Brooks: Always at the top of my list, unless Harpo Marx is resurrected. If someone knows how I can get Mel a copy of any of my books, don't hesitate to get in touch;
  • Jon Stewart: The smartest comedian at work for the past 15 years. Can take an incredibly obvious joke and still make it hilarious. I don't even care if he likes the book; I just want him to read one;
  • Queen Latifah: Hey, a fellow alum of 8096523-standardFrank H. Morrell High School and multitalented performer. Jersey girl with attitude, someone I'd be proud to have as a reader;
  • Ringo Starr: The People's Beatle and funniest of the bunch;
  • Steven Spielberg: Let's face it--if he were a loyal reader, Josh and I would have heard from him by now;
  • Derek Jeter: Not only an unparalleled athlete entering his final campaign, but an aspiring publisher--someone get this man a book!
  • Bette Midler: Because she's damn funny;
  • Craig Ferguson: Doing the funniest, most subversive talk show on the air, and a fan of crime fiction who books authors on his show. Yeah, you could do worse;
  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Simply the coolest guy in any room he enters. A superstar astrophysicist? You know if Dr. T. likes your work, you must be smart;
  • Bill Murray: I'm not sure why, because I don't think he'd like my work, but I want to hope he would;
  • George Clooney: This generation's attempt at Cary Grant, falling a little short but way closer than most of us get. Smart, talented, committed; what's not to like?
  • Tina Fey: She's really funny, and if she publicly said she liked my books, my wife would be impressed with me for the first time this millennium;
  • Gene Wilder: The best comic actor of the past 50 years, and an author in his own write.

To be fair, of course (or even not to be fair), it's probably right to list a few celebs who, if they are fans of my work, I'd appreciate keeping it to themselves:

Thanks-But-No-Thanks List

  • Ted Nugent: Yeah, and his music is lousy, too:
  • Mel Gibson: I hold a grudge. Move on;
  • Rush Limbaugh: You shouldn't have to ask why;
  • The Duck Dynasty Guy: I'm almost ashamed to have a beard because of you;
  • The Boston Red Sox: Nothing personal. It's a religious thing;
  • Alec Baldwin: Luckily, he's getting out of public life, so that will never become an issue;
  • Vladimir Putin: Keep your shirt on, Vlad. I didn't watch your Olympics, either, so we're even;
  • John Travolta: If he can't get my name right, he's not going to be much help anyway; *
  • Justin Bieber: Get help, man--or just get better advice, and listen to it;
  • Isabel Allende: You know why.

For the record: I doubt any of these people has ever been in the same room with one of my books, but this is a fantasy league sort of thing, where you get to choose the names and assume they'll go along with you--or not. So that's my list. What's yours?

 

P.S. Recently the world of comedy has lost its grandfather and its funny uncle. Rest in peace, Sid Caesar and Harold Ramis. It doesn't matter how old you were; either way, it was much too soon. This is a world that can't afford to lose the laughs.

*Added after the Oscars

Feb 242014
 

Jeff Cohen

BALTIMORE, MD--It's not about baseball. Not this time of year, although there are stirrings in Florida that can cause a fan's heart to hope. It's not about the impending retirement of the noble Derek Jeter or the welcome relief from the year-long sabbatical imposed on Mr. Rod. No, I'm not in Baltimore this weekend, staying within spitting distance of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, for the baseball. It isn't here yet.

I'm here because a Mad_squirrelsquirrel got into my attic.

A few months ago, we woke up one morning to a nasty scratching sound in our bedroom wall. This is not something you want to wake up hearing, but it was undeniable and just as unmistakable. Something was living inside our walls, and that something was larger than a mouse.

You can be all anthropomorphic about squirrels and how "cute" they are if you want, but when one has taken up residence in your attic, it's just a rat with a fuzzy tail, and one that can do a good deal of damage. So we had an "animal control expert" come by, and he determined exactly how Rocky was getting inside our house. There was a hole in the soffet next to our attic window.

I asked him if the hole could be plugged, and Mr. Ranger shook his head. "You need a roofer for that," he said.

Well, the time had come. We'd been living in this house for just about 20 years, perhaps to the day, and had not addressed our roof except for a few patches after Hurricane Sandy had her way with the entire state of New Jersey and its neighbors. So the roof now had to be replaced.

That's not why I'm in Baltimore. Hang on.

After batting around the idea of a new roof for a few days, Rocky_the_flying_squirrelJessica and I decided it was best for a number of reasons, not the least of which involves our partners in all endeavors the IRS, to take our a home equity loan to pay for the roof. And if you're taking out a loan, you might as well get a few other things done. So we had a number of windows replaced too, just to experience the thrill (once this interminable winter, um, terminables) of opening a window and not having to prop it open with a book (I know, book lovers, but it's a cruel reality).

Still not the reason I'm in Barry Levinson's backyard. I'm getting there. Here. Wait.

Besides the roof and the windows, we had to prioitize the 15-million things that we could have chosen to fix in our ramshackle abode. And the one area (besides that roof) we'd been working hard not to discuss all these years was the staircase.

Our stairs, which go from the living room up to the bedrooms, were in desperate need of replacement. We'd talked to our contractor friend who lives across the street some time ago about repairing them because of the hideous, cacophonous creaking that caused us to pause the television anytime someone would walk up or down, or put the phone on mute because of the noise. And our contractor pal had informed us that repair wasn't an option. These stairs had to be ripped out and new ones put in. And he intimated, without actually coming out and saying it, that it was best we do so before someone were to head for the living room taking the local and end up there via the express. If you know what I mean.

So this weekend, two gentlemen (including our across-the-street neighbor) ripped up our Imagestaircase and installed a new and--since I can now verify it--vastly improved one. But it took the better part of three days, and there was no way to get up to our bedrooms while that was happening.

We decided on this particular weekend because it was one of the few coming up during which we had no plans, and initially assumed we'd book a couple of hotel rooms (one for us, one for our son the budding filmmaker and job seeker) and wait out the devastation. And then it occurred to me that if you're going to have a couple of hotel rooms anyway, it might be an idea to, you know, go somewhere.

It had to be within driving distance, and given the kind of weather we've been having since roughly Halloween, cancellable if necessary. And it might be a nice idea if we had an event, a destination, in mind for at least one day. So I started searching around.

And it turned out that this weekend, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was playing a series of themes from science fiction film and television, featuring our host, SuluGeorge Takei. And since we're all big Takei fans in this house, the deal was done. 

We returned Monday, before Josh's shift at the movie theater was to begin, to a lovely new and completely functional staircase, having enjoyed some film music presented by a distinguished group of musicians and an iconic actor and Internet personality. (Alas, there was no time to see Edgar Allan Poe's home as well.)

So greetings from Baltimore, Maryland, everybody. Except we're back in New Jersey now, and supposedly things will (sigh) return to normal. Sort of.

There's still painting and maybe a new floor in the kitchen to discuss. 

Damn squirrel.

 

*No squirrels were harmed in the posting of this blog.

Feb 132014
 

The post What Tozer Plays: A Playlist from She’s Leaving Home by William Shaw appeared first on Mulholland Books.

She's Leaving Home by William Shaw

London, 1968: the time and place evoke strong sense memories, but in William Shaw’s new novel, not everything is swinging. The police are called to a residential street in St. John’s Wood where an unidentified young woman has been murdered. Detective Cathal Breen and policewoman Helen Tozer, two investigators on opposite sides of a generational divide, must work together to solve the case. Shaw describes what WPC Tozer would listen to in his note below.

Police culture was very different in 1968. A lot of this was to do with the fact that the police lived communally, in police flats or section houses.

WPC Tozer lives in Pembridge House, the Women’s Section House just off the Bayswater Road. She shares a room with another policewoman. They squabble over what records they put on. Her roommate likes Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdink. She like The Beatles, but doesn’t think much of The White Album.

When she’s alone, this is what Tozer plays. You can listen to some of these songs through the Spotify player above.

The post What Tozer Plays: A Playlist from She’s Leaving Home by William Shaw appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Feb 102014
 

Jeff Cohen

There was much hoopla in the past few weeks about the date, 50 years ago last night, that a rock and roll group from England appeared on an American television show and "changed history." (You can't actually change history; you can make history. Once it's history, well, that's history. If you know what I mean.)

Nonetheless, I was not as ambivalent to the overblown festivities as I would normally be. I'm a lifelong (pretty much) fan of the ImagesBeatles, still think their music is fresh and amazing, and enjoy watching them be appreciated by those of all generations. So although the coverage was certainly disproportional to any event ever, it was not as irritating--to me--as almost anything else would have been.

This is not going to be another one of those this-is-how-the-Beatles-changed-my-life stories, I promise. I was all of six years old when Ed Sullivan put them on a bill with Tessie O'Shea, Myron John-lennonCohen (no relation) and a very young Davy Jones, in the cast of Broadway's Oliver at the time. Frankly, I wasn't all that impressed that night, and wasn't until I got to hear the studio recordings, on which there was no hysterical screaming by teenage girls. (After all, I was six. Girls? Ugh.)

No, my appreciation of what those four men accomplished goes in another direction, and I think somewhat deeper than most. What the Ed Sullivan performances show me are four guys who were just starting, who were used to the spotlight but not the United States, and who could have easily been exactly what the adults in the suits and ties were saying they were--a passing fad fueled by silly children.

Instead, they became probably the signature musicians of the century and their music is still relevant enough that today's PaulMcCartney60sartists cover their songs. Not bad.

I write books for a living. And in those books, I make up stories. If you want to call that an art form, I'm not going to argue, but it feels like entertainment to me. That is not to denigrate what I and my colleagues do; I have long droned on here about my high opinion of popular enterainment, and will not take back a word of that now.

The admiration I have for what John Lennon, Paul McCartney, MV5BMTUyNjE0NzAzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjQzMzU3._V1_SY534_SX475_George Harrison and Ringo Starr did is based in their ability to start as light entertainers and then grow into really great artists who were also fantastic entertainers. They never disappointed (unless you watched Magical Mystery Tour expecting a coherent film), but they also didn't rest on their laurels. They didn't stagnate.

George Martin, the producer of almost all Beatles recordings, has often said that one thing he loved about the group was that "they never gave me the same thing to do twice." The songwriters in the group were conscious of the danger in repetition; they wanted to progress with each new recording, and what is most amazing is that they actually did.

I have been struggling Imageslately with the feeling that I want to write something really notable, something that would stretch me into new areas, uncomfortable places (as a writer) and hit new heights for me. (Don't worry; this happens periodically. It'll blow over.) I don't want to stop writing the things I write; I love those--but I like to think there's something more as well.

Unfortunately, I suffer from a common malady among such entertainers as myself. I'm not sure what my limits are (I know; you're not supposed to have any, but we are given a finite amount of talent without an inventory of how much we have). And even such a revered writer as George Bernard Shaw, late in his life, was urged by a rather nervy acquaintance--Harpo Marx--to write something new.

Shaw looked over, stared Harpo straight in the eye, and asked, "Got any ideas?"

Yeah, I haven't hit on that yet.

And that is what, for me, is the defining genius of the Beatles. Given the opportunity to milk their success into a year or two of tremendous wealth and fame, they chose instead to push the envelope. The group recorded 13 albums of about 14 songs each. In a seven-year recording career. Writing almost all the material themselves, while touring almost nonstop for the first four years. That's astonishing.

The more they recorded, the more innovative they became. String sections in rock and roll? Why not? Backwards lyrics? Bass lines that were sung instead of played? Songs with false endings, concept albums, extended medleys of new material that didn't have anything to do with each other but managed to come together cohesively. Done, done and done.

A Hard Day's Night. Day Tripper. Yesterday. In My Life. Help! A Day in the Life. Here Comes the Sun. Hey Jude. I'm just getting warmed up.

So those of us who entertain for a living should take a hint from those four "youngsters from Liverpool," as the condescending and avuncular Ed Sullivan said. Don't rest on your laurels. Don't simply write what you've written before. Challenge the conventional. Write to entertain oneself as well as an audience. Try things that aren't supposed to be done and see if they work.

It doesn't hurt if you're a brilliant artist. Or four. But since none of us knows if that term applies to us, we must operate on the assumption that if we try hard enough, we can find out. Maybe we are brilliant artists, and we just don't know it yet.

Turned out The-beatles-0John, Paul, George and Ringo fit into that category. But ironically in the end, the love they took was not at all equal to the love they made. Countless millions were touched by the music those four men created. And they were repaid very well monetarily, no doubt. They also lost all chance at anything resembling privacy, their fame eventually drove wedges into their personal friendships, each one went through a divorce, one was shot and another died of cancer after being knifed by a madman.

Oddly, our memories of them are usually happy ones. We celebrate their work and we remember them fondly. And sometimes, when we dare to place ourselves in similar categories, we wonder, since they did it, if we can become great artists just by pushing ourselves to the limit. And maybe a little bit further.

Got any ideas?

 

P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 4 days.

Nov 102013
 
Paperback 720: Brandon House 741 (PBO, 1965)

Title: That Kind of Girl
Author: Stanley Curson
Cover artist: Uncredited

Yours for: $35

BH741

Best things about this cover:
  • Which kind of girl? Prematurely gray? Exceedingly tanned? Vinyl-loving? Shoe-collecting?
  • Seriously, those shoes, in all their green-ness and out-of-context-ness, totally make this cover.
  • V is for Vortex Of Forbidden Love 
  • I like that Ms. Gray is making a big "V" with her arms. Why she's covering her crotch with jazz hands, I don't know.

BH741bc

Best things about this back cover:

  • The pic itself is kind of adorable.  Hey! Lurid text! Leave those kids alone!

Page 123~

Anne gripped his organ experimentally …

OK, I cheated. This is page 122. But what was I supposed to do? Ignore this sentence? I throw myself on the mercy of the court.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Oct 092013
 

Josh Getzler

 

 

Over the last several weeks, I've felt like I've been on some kind of nostalgia tour. I went to Mariano Rivera's retirement game at Yankee Stadium, where all the of players I lived and died with (and some of whom played for me in my Previous Life in Baseball) came on the field and honored Mo. The next week we went to see Mike Piazza inducted into the Mets' hall of fame (where among the old-timers honoring Piazza was Bud Harrelson, the shortstop from 40 years ago whose replica jersey was the first I ever wore--and which I got in exchange for giving up my Blanket...). This evening my wife and I saw Steely Dan play songs from junior high; tomorrow we're seeing Sting; and Thursday, Rodriguez (from Searching for Sugar Man), whose 1970 album became a thoroughly improbable hit in South Africa and whose career was resurrected in 2011.

 

Besides being our entire entertainment budget for the second six months of 2013, these events tell me something I think of when I hear of a new gimmick in books or music or art. Ultimately, and overwhelmingly often, talent will out. Mariano's cutter was his one pitch (basically--don't quibble, Cohen), which he threw over and over. Steely Dan played 40 year old songs and messed with them enough that they were fresh but still recognizable. They were jazz; ephemeral and improvisational, where Mo was relentless and repetitive.

 

And they were both brilliant.  

Aug 182013
 

Jessy Randall

I've been married for thirteen years, and I've known my husband for over twenty years, so you would think that in terms of our getting to know each other there would be no mysteries left. You would THINK.

GoatMy daughter has been singing us a lot of songs she learned at camp this summer. Most of these songs are by definition extremely repetitive, with way too many verses. One might describe them as a bit boring. Imagine my surprise, then, as Celie launched into a version of "Bill Grogan's Goat" at the dinner table, and suddenly my husband was singing along, in perfect counterpoint!

Turns out Ross was in a barbershop quartet when he was in middle school. WHO KNEW? Not me, HIS OWN WIFE. Now I have to wonder what other surprises are waiting for me.

"And flagged the traaaaaaaaaaaain..."

 

Aug 172013
 
I have probably asked this before.

For me, there are really two songs.

BE MY BABY (The Ronettes) reminds of the first boy I came as close as a fifteen-sixteen year old can come to loving.

The second one is WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO? (Supremes). I was sixteen also and newly finished with that boy. I had a summer job working as a waitress in a resort town. That song blared from every car radio that summer. It epitomized the end of that going nowhere relationship and the beginning of being on my own. Of course, another n'er do well boy came along...

I wonder if most songs you love as a teenager do this. What about you?


Aug 122013
 

Jeff Cohen

Things I Wouldn't Miss If They Vanished Forever

  1. Alex AP_arod_alex_rodriguez_tk_130805_16x9_992Rodriguez
  2. The words "yummy" and "hubby"
  3. "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch
  4. Under the Dome
  5. Every reality show ever
  6. Frozen yogurt (yeah, it's real healthy)
  7. "Stronger Than the Storm" and its star
  8. Michael Kay
  9. Snow
  10. Alex Rodriguez

Things I Miss Terribly When They're Away for a Day

  1. My wife, son, and/or daughter
  2. The 2013-08-09 14.49.31Daily Show
  3. My car (I live in New Jersey)
  4. The sun
  5. My guitar
  6. Diet Coke
  7. Baseball
  8. My reading glasses
  9. Writing
  10. Derek Jeter (that's just to make Alex Rodriguez mad)

                    Things I'm Glad Haven't Gone Away Forever

  1. The Beatles
  2. The Man Man-from-uncle-united-network-command-for-law-enforcementFrom U.N.C.L.E. (I own it on DVD)
  3. Bill Cosby
  4. Jeopardy! (although I haven't actually watched it in years)
  5. The Marx Brothers
  6. Mariano Rivera (I can say that for another month and a half)
  7. Star Trek (the new movies don't count)
  8. Readers
  9. Libraries
  10. Books

Things I'm Sorry Are Gone Forever

  1. John Lennon
  2. George Sleeping dad Harrison
  3. Phil Rizzuto
  4. Dad
  5. The real Yankee Stadium
  6. My hair's original color
  7. Newsweek
  8. The middle class
  9. Larry Gelbart
  10. Mr. Copper T. Dog

Things I'd Miss If They Left

  1. Newspapers
  2. Saturday mail delivery
  3. Landlines (cell phones Unknowndon't sound as good, and I don't care what you say)
  4. Saturday morning cartoons (I don't watch, but in principle)
  5. Birthday cards in the mail (not e-cards)
  6. Polar ice caps
  7. Movie theaters
  8. Sonny's Bagels in South Orange, NJ
  9. Vinyl records
  10. Paper books

Things I'm Glad Are Back

  1. Some Like It Hot-Buttered
  2. It Happened One Knife
  3. A Night at the Operation (coming this Thursday, August 15!)
  4. Jon Stewart (in 22 days and yes, John Oliver is doing a fine job)