T. Coraghessan Boyle and Me

When prepping for my trip to “the Hostess City of the South” to hear T. Coraghessan Boyle read at the Savannah Book Festival, I searched high and low (literally) for my copy of his short story collection Greasy Lake to get him to autograph it. Oh, I own probably two-thirds of the thirty-one books he has published, but I especially wanted his signature on Greasy Lake because it is stained with my blood, now a brown smear after thirty-eight years of residence on page whatever. 

It had been in my hand when I stood up in the back of a pick-up truck to tell the driver Larry Howland he needed to turn right, which he did suddenly, catapulting me Buster-Keaton-style out of bed of the pickup onto the hard pavement of Folly Beach’s Ashley Avenue.[1] When I stumbled to my feet, I was bleeding from my head and right hand. I must have picked the book off the pavement, thus the blood stain. Anyway, I couldn’t find Greasy Lake anywhere, not in my drafty garret, nor in the book-choked guest room where I keep my valuable volumes, like the one pictured below.

So, I took Water Music instead, Boyle’s first novel and a first edition to boot, probably a felicitous turn of luck for the heirs of the Moore Living Trust given that it will likely fetch a better price at the upcoming the estate sale, whenever that is – let’s hope not soon.

Anyway, I’m a huge fan, especially of his early short stories, manic riffs like this first paragraph from “Green Hell,” a parody of all those movies involving plane crashes and jungles:

There has been a collision (with birds, black flocks of them), an announcement from the pilot’s cabin, a moment of abeyed hysteria, and then a downward rush. The plane is nosing for the ground at 45-degree angle. Engines wheezing, spewing smoke and feathers. Lights flash,  breathing apparatus drops and dangles. Our drinks become lariats, the glasses knives. Lunch (chicken croquettes, gravy, reconstituted potatoes, and imitation cranberry sauce) decorates our shirts and vests. Outside there is the shriek of the air over the wings; inside, the rock-dust rumble of grinding teeth, molar on molar. My face seems to be slipping over my head like a rubber mask. And then, horribly, the first trees become visible beyond the windows. We gasp once and then we’re down, skidding through the greenery, jolted from our seats, panicked, repentant, savage. Windows strain and pop like light bulbs. We lose our bowels. The plane grates through the trees, the shriek of branches like the keen of harpies along the fuselage, our bodies jarred, dashed and knocked like silver balls in a pinball machine, And then suddenly it’s over; we are stopped (think of a high diver meeting the board on the way down). I expect (have expected) flames.[2]

Boyle might resent this comparison, but his early stories remind me of the early Woody Allen movies, inventive, farcical, satiric, hilarious.

Here’s one last example from “The Big Garage,” an homage to Kafka, where the protagonist B. fills out an application to get an appointment to repair his Audi that has been towed to a Kastle-like nightmarish auto repair establishment:

B. Takes a seat beside the Cougar women and stares down at the form in his hand as if it were a loaded .44. He is dazed, still tingling from the vehemence of the secretary’s attack. The form is seven pages long. There are questions about employment, annual income, collateral, next of kin. Page 4 is devoted to physical inquiries: ever had measles? leprosy? irregularity? The next delves deeper: do feel people are out to get you? why do you hate your father? The form ends up with two pages of IQ stuff: if a farmer has 200 acres and devotes 1/16 of his land to soybeans, 5/8 to corn a 1/3 to sugar beets, how much does he have left for a drive-in movie? B. glances over at the Cougar woman. Her lower lip is thrust forward, a blackened stub of pencil twists in her fingers, an appointment form, scrawled over in pencil with circled red corrections, lies in her lap.

The Savannah reading, which was well attended, took place in a Lutheran church. Caroline and I had good seats/pews, but because of the acoustics of the church or the PA system or most likely my defective hearing, I had a hard time making out much of what he was reading, which I could tell was a fine performance, complete with acted out voices from several characters and emphatic gesturing.

Afterwards, we strode over to a square a block away where tents were set up for signings. We were about fourth in line, and once we shook hands, I mentioned that I used to teach “The Big Garage,” and as it turned out a student of his had made a film from it.[3] We had, what I would call a meaningful conversation. He said he really enjoys channeling disturbed male characters like in the story he had just read “because we’re all such saints.”[4]

Caroline asked if he minded if she took our photo, and he smilingly consented. And here we are, I gazing up like a beaming schoolchild in the presence of Micky Mantle.

[1] It’s one thing to trick fate, but to trick natural selection is especially gratifying. Although, to be truthful, I had already procreated, my older son Harrison being just over a year old and my younger son Ned at the time nestled in utero inside of luckily not-to-be-widowed-at-31 Judy Birdsong.

BTW, I have immortalized Larry, who in his fifties changed his name to Buck, with this BALLAD.

[2] I’ve always been a sucker for razzmatazz prose, like this sentence from James Wolcott: “An orange Elvis squirted from a can of Cheez Whiz, the Trump of The Apprentice bent the distortion field of Reality TV until it fit him like a girdle.”

[3] Here’s a link. Tap on media and look under the column FILM.

[4] From an interview: “Some writers just write about their own lives. Well, I don’t want to do that. I want to have a really boring life. A quiet, boring life so no one wants to write a biography. I’m the only writer in history only to have one wife, for instance.

The Hyper Southern Gothic Murdaugh Saga

image via The Beat who copped it from Shotgun Stories

The Hyper Southern Gothic Murdaugh Saga

coming soon to a drive-in theater near you

Boating under the influence, 
involuntary manslaughter
				way down south 
					in the godforsaken backwater
							of Colleton Country, South Carolina,
				we have, 
					in addition to addiction, a double homicide –
										alleged filicide – 
	mother and son dispatched 
	via assault weapon and shotgun,
				a botched faux murder/staged suicide, 
						and earlier, in the abode of the accused,
							a housekeeper tumbling 
								down steps to her death.
		Did I mention 
		insurance theft, 
		crystal meth, 
		financial skullduggery,
		abandoned mills,
		prescription pills?

It's as if William Faulkner 
and Flannery O'Connor
joined forces with 
Harold Robbins. 

Add an ebon dash
of E.A. Poe
and presto:
you got the hyper Southern Gothic Murdaugh saga.

The Hyper Southern Gothic Murdaugh Saga: Hunter S Thompson Edition

If Hunter S. Thompson hadn’t blown his brains out, he’d be 85, perhaps too old to book a flight to Atlanta, too old to drive the back roads through Flannery O’Connor country past Blind Willie McTell’s grave, past that weird ass art installation that practically defies description, past the “Hell Is Real” billboards, over the Savannah River Bridge, through the desolation of the town of Allendale on his way to the Colleton County Court House in Walterboro to cover the double homicide murder trial of Alex Murdaugh.[1]

two photos of that “weird ass art installation” located outside of Thomson, GA

If you’re unfamiliar with the horror show, here’s a link to a New Yorker article that provides an excellent overview. New Yorker. Or, if you’d prefer a briefer version compressed into poetry, click HERE.

I would love to read Hunter’s drug-fueled take on the drug-fueled mess, what he’d make of the prosecution’s scattershot case, a shotgun blast of so much disassociated information that Immanuel Kant couldn’t follow it. Then there’s defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, shuffling papers, fumbling for his reading glasses, the food trucks outside the courthouse, the moss-draped oaks minding their own business as they always have.

But, alas, as the final song of the Stones’ album Let It Bleed says, “You can’t always get what you want.”

[1] I realize the phrase “homicide murder trial” is redundant, but it sounds so much better than either adjective by itself.

St James Infirmary iPhone Blues: A Reading

Here’s a video of my reading my original poem “St. James Infirmary iPhone Blues” on February 6 2023.

St James Infirmary iPhone Blues

Tapping a cane,
Mr. Andre Beaujolais,
with some hoodoo magic
in his front pants pocket
bopped down St. Charles
on his way to see
Miss Hattie Dupree,
the one-time lover
of McKinley Morganfield,
better known as Muddy Waters,
King of the Chicago Blues.

Those who got bad mojo
go see Miss Hattie Dupree
for the inside dope
in the hope of counteracting
shenanigans ¬– hexes,
curses, drywet nurses,
vexations, permutations,
marital relations.
genetic mutations,
Haitian sensations,
and genital truncations.

Mr. Andre Beaujolais
was on his way
to deliver a batch
of John the Conkeroo juice
to help some dude
whose private
conversations had
been swiped by
advertisers, enterprisers,
franchisers, monopolizers,
and merchandizers.

He’d been telling his gal
about Blind Willie McTell,
how the Dylan song
by the same name
was sung to the same tune
as St James Infirmary Blues.
Their moment of intimacy
the next day mysteriously
appeared in an ad
for a book being peddled
on the dude’s Facebook page.

“I Went Down to the
St, James Infirmary:
Investigations in the shadowy
world of early jazz-blues
in the company
of Blind Willie McTell, Louie Armstrong . . .
where did this dang song
come from anyway?
“That title don’t trip off the tongue,”
Mr. Beaujolais said when
he heard the dude explain.

“Hand me your phone,” Andre said,
then took off its cover,
whupped out the Conkeroo juice,
poured it all over the device,
mumbled some mumbo jumbo.
“Ta da! problem solved!”
“Wait a minute, “the dude complained.
My phone’s not working!”
“No shit,” Mr. Andre replied.
“That’ll be fifty dollars.
I’ll accept ten fives.”

Charleston History Sleuths

Yesterday my cousin Pamela Moore Allen posted the above photo of my father (on the right) and his brother David fighting on a street in Charleston, South Carolina, during the Great Depression.

Here’s another photo standing outside their grandfather’s pharmacy where they worked as curb boys. 

I posted the street-fight photo on the Facebook site “Charleston History Before 1945” and misidentified the location as Spring Street, where the pharmacy was located.[1]

A few sharp-eyed history buffs weren’t so sure about the location and began sleuthing.

Ray Benton, a Charleston lawyer, posted that in the early 60s he worked at a corner pharmacy that had an apartment upstairs. Lester Dempsey, another old-time Charlestonian, suggested the fight took place near Cannon Street and Rutledge. 

Mary Thiedke Grady weighed in:

Look at the intersection of Spring and Rutledge looking west toward the bridge. The building currently occupied by Xiao Bao Biscuit was once upon a time a gas station and had a canopy. (The supports changed, but the canopy is still there.) Also look beyond to the other corner (northwest of Rutledge.) That building is tall enough, though the architecture isn’t quite the same. Given the proximity to the road, that first house could have been torn down and a second where the current house is located. (Ok, this part I think I’m fishing around with, and the argument doesn’t hold water.”)

Lester Dempsey provided an aerial view: 

And dig this, Rutledge Rivers Webb, Jr. took two photos after dropping off his kids at school this morning. He took them on Rutledge near Spring looking towards Cannon. The Texaco service station on the right in the original photo is now the restaurant Fuel.

Mystery solved.

Thanks to all who weighed in. 

[1] They lived above the pharmacy on the second floor. 

Bo Diddley Revisited

Bo Diddley Revisited

I’ve been making good use of my time, watching YouTube videos of interviews with Eric Burdon, former front man for the Animals.[1] In the mid-Sixties, the Animals ranked as my favorite band because the timbre of Burdon’s singing voice sounded as if he could have been from my native ground, the Lowcountry of South Carolina (as opposed to Eric’s Newcastle-upon-Tyne). In fact, it was the Animals, and to lesser extent the Rolling Stones, who introduced me the blues, to Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and a host of others.

Decades ago, at his record store on Society Street (we’re talking Charleston, South Carolina), Gary Erwin, AKA Shrimp City Slim, told me that the Animals also had turned him onto R&B and the blues. He referenced their album Animal Tracks as his gateway into the land of shotgun shacks, cotton fields, black snakes, two-timing, big-legged women, and prison farms. 

Here’s the tracklist for Animal Tracks.

A1We Gotta Get Out Of This Place3:17
A2Take It Easy Baby2:51
A3Bring It On Home To Me2:40
A4The Story Of Bo Diddley5:42
B1Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood2:26
B2I Can’t Believe It3:35
B3Club A-Go-Go2:19
B5Bury My Body2:52
B6For Miss Caulker3:55

Although “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “Don’t’ Let Me Be Misunderstood” are the big hits from the album, my two favorite tracks are the magnificent cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” and “The Story of Bo Diddley,” a sort of pop song bio of one of the pioneers of rock-n-roll, which ends with a comic encounter when Bo, his sister the Duchess, and Jerome Greene meet the Animals at the Club A-Go-Go in Newcastle. 

Listen and read along:

Now lets hear the story of Bo Diddley
And the Rock n Roll scene in general

Bo Diddley was born Ellis McDaniels
In a place called McCoom, Missississipi about 1926
He moved to Chicago about 1938
Where his name was eventually changed to Bo Diddley.

He practiced the guitar everyday and sometimes into the night
Till his papa’s hair began to turn white
His Pa said “Son, listen hear, I know
You can stay but that guitar has just gotta go.”

So he pulled his hat down over his eyes
Headed out for them Western Skies
I think Bob Dylan said that, he hit New York City.

He began to play at the Apollo in Harlem,
Good scene there, everybody raving.
One day, one night, came a Cadillac with four head lights
Came a man with a big, long, fat, cigar said,
“C’mere son, I’m gonna make you a star”
Bo Diddley said, “Uh.whats in it for me?”
Man said, “Shut your mouth son,
Play the guitar and you just wait and see.”

Well, that boy made it, he made it real big
And so did the rest of the rock n roll scene along with him
And a white guy named Johnny Otis took Bo Diddleys rhythm
He changed it into hand-jive and it went like this
In a little old country town one day
A little old country band began to play
Add two guirtars and a beat up saxophone
When the drummer said, boy, those cats begin to roam

Oh baby oh we oh oh
Ooh la la that rock and roll
Ya hear me oh we oh oh
Ooh la la that rock and roll

Then in the U.S. music scene there was big changes made.
Due to circumstances beyond our control such as payola,
The rock n roll scene died after two years of solid rock
And you got discs like, ah…
Take good care of my baby
Please don’t ever make her blue and so forth.

About, ah, one year later in a place called Liverpool in England
Four young guys with mop haircuts began to sing stuff like, ah…
It’s been a hard days night and I’ve been working like a dog and so on.

In a place called Richmond in Surrey, whay down in the deep south

They got guys with long hair down their back singing
I wanna be your lover baby I wanna be your man yeah and all that jazz.

Now we’ve doing this number, Bo Diddley, for quite some time now
Bo Diddley visited this country last year
We were playing at the Club A Gogo in Newcastle, our home town.

The doors opened one night and to our surprise
Walked in the man himself, Bo Diddley
Along with him was Jerome Green, his maraca man,
And the Duchess, his gorgeous sister.
And a we were doing this number

Along with them came the Rolling Stones, the Mersey Beats,
They’re all standing around diggin’ it
And I overheard Bo Diddley talkin’
He turned around to Jermone Green
And he said, “Hey, Jerome? What do you think these guys
Doin’ our.our material?”

Jerome said, “Uh, where’s the bar, man? Please show me to the bar…”

He turned around the Duchess
And he said, “Hey Duchess… what do you think of these young guys
Doin’ our material?”

She said, “I don’t know. I only came across here
To see the changin’ of the guards and all that jazz.”

Well, Bo Diddley looked up and said to me,
With half closed eyes and a smile,
He said “Man, ” took off his glasses,
He said, “Man, that sure is the biggest load of rubbish
I ever heard in my life…”

Hey Bo Diddley
Oh Bo Diddley
Yeah Bo Diddley
Oh Bo Diddley
Yeah Bo Diddley

from lest to right, Bo Diddley, the Duchess, and jerome Green
Bo, the Duchess, and Jerome Green

By the way, this is my second homage to Bo. I also wrote about him in April of 2021 and my father-in-law’s Bo Diddley obsession. If so inclined, you can access that HERE, and it features videos of Bo performing on the Ed Sullivan Show and a snippet from the movie Fritz the Cat

By the way, the white fellow in the collage up above is my father-in-law Lee Tigner in his younger days.

[bongo fade out]

[1] What prompted this foray into nostalgia was my recent poem, which you can access HERE, “The St James Infirmary iPhone Blues.”