On Nas, ‘Capitol Men’ and ‘Paul Newman’s Eyes’

MONDAY MORNING PLAYBACK

A few of my favorite things from the week that was:

Nas, “Black President” (above) and Philip Dray, “Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen” (Houghton Mifflen). John McCain spent the first presidential debate not making eye contact with his opponent, looking for all the old world like a plantation owner who won’t speak to the help. Two days later, the New York Times’ review of Dray’s new book began with this:

“In a speech in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the newly formed Confederate States of America, declared that the South was great because of slavery. The Confederacy, he said, had achieved ‘the highest type of civilization ever exhibited by man,’ because ‘its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.’ “

It seems to me that McCain has already shown his true colors when it comes to bigotry, just as some in the Greatest Generation call Obama “a lightweight,” “an empty suit,” and worse. Here’s to Nas and Dr. Dray, for steamrolling the haters, telling the truth, and foretelling the future.

Dogs Die in Hot Cars, “Paul Newman’s Eyes” (cut from the CD “Please Describe Yourself”). “I can say fairly safely that I didn’t really know much about acting until I got to be in my 50s,” said Newman, who died Friday at age 83. To wit, for as much as the obituaries focused on his ubercool in the likes of “Hud,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Cool Hand Luke,” he was never better than when he played the washed-up alcoholic lawyer coming off the mat for one last swing at the system in “The Verdict.” For any crumpled-in-love man who has ever been lied to by a conniving woman, the scene where he smacks Charlotte Rampling is both terrifying and satisfying, but it’s this one that launched more than a few law careers. Long may they question.

Sun Ra, “Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy”; John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme”; Esquivel, “Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music”; Vladimir Nabokov (below), “Lolita”; and a bottle of red wine (Friday and Saturday night, my basement): One man’s Rx for the post-debates-pre-Depression-make-the-modern-world-go-away blues.

Dennis Anderson, “There’s rebirth in autumn of the outdoors” (Sept. 26, Star Tribune). Autumn is all about rebirth, and who better to chronicle it than a guy who makes his living tucked away in the brushes, listening to the crickets, birds, wind, and change of seasons. Me, I’m more in tune with Evan Dando’s “(I Lied About Being) The Outdoor Type,” but you don’t have to be a hunter or fisherman to dig Anderson’s eloquent prose, which reads like a modern-day Thoreau or Auden, ruminating and riffing on the natural world and all her miracles.

Great Lakes Myth Society, “Summer Bonfire” (cut from the CD “Compass Rose Bouquet”).
How’s the old saying go? Something about this time of year being the season when the veil between the dead and living is at its thinnest? Light the fire and bring ’em on. …

Hal Ashby, “Humboldt County” (in theaters Friday).
Humboldt County is the pot-farming capital of the United States, and while weed and all its highs and lows are the centerpiece of this found-family drama, this is hardly a Harold and Kumar farce. It owes more to “Into the Wild” than anything else in its depiction and definition of freedom, and jarringly so. There are choices being made here, lives being spent, and, in the end, a hard-won knowledge that any so-called freedom that eschews society, religion, and government at the cost of true freedom — of mind — is just another man-made trap.

Shoot the Messenger, “Michele Bachmann: Behind the Taut Canvas.” Before Sarah Palin became the GOP playmate of the month, there was Minnesota’s own Bachmann, now the go-to right-wing darling of CNN. God and country bless Lizz Winstead and crew for putting her in perspective.

Quote of the week:

“The 80s still felt like anything was possible. Or maybe I just felt like that. There was good and bad. We were all way too influenced by the synths on ‘Bette Davis Eyes,’ which was a great record, but we should not have all gone crazy trying to recapture those synthesizers. The Reagan years felt like a wall we were banging against, which was exciting. It all feels different now (in 2007). There’s no wall, only a virus, and you can’t bang against a virus.” — Rosanne Cash

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