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What I'm reading, watching and obsessing about
(No. 107) Is The New Yorker magazine really a death cult? by Stephen P. Williams
I end up reading and watching a lot during the making of Stephen’s People. Today I’m sharing links to stuff I think you’ll like:
The curse of the New Yorker
The New Yorker, October 31, has a long, kind of dull story about Bob Dylan’s “endless tour.” I’ve noticed in the past that the New Yorker publishes long features about famous people right before they die. I don’t think the magazine kills them. Rather, I think the magazine gets some hot tips that such and such a star is not doing too well, and exploits their infirmity. I’d be sad if this came true for Dylan, as I still cherish his new music and, even more, his lyrics. Today, riding my bike down to Tribeca, I listened to his song, “Just Like a Woman,” and marveled at this evocative phrase: “…with her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls.” Dylan is such a strange yet archetypal American. (Excuse my overwriting. LOL. Dylan inspires it.) For your pleasure, here’s the syllabus for Harvard University’s Dylan 101.
Farrah Fawcett’s influence knows no boundaries
Gray hair influencers are all over TikTok and Instagram. Some of you may ask what a gray hair influencer does. That’s simple: they extol the virtues of gray hair, and themselves. Some of them make money at it, by selling ads. This guy has a months-long waiting list of people hoping to pay thousands to transition from dyed hair to gray. And he really does them up, making tired salt and pepper hair look like Farrah Fawcett dipped her locks in mercury and shook them dry. Please become a paid subscriber so I can get my hair done like this, too.
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Will you take $8, Steve?
I am sure that characters exist everywhere, but the painter Steve Keene seems to be an archetypal (I’m using that word again) New Yorker. He bought a massive commercial building in the 90s and turned it into a studio for himself and a home for his wildly talented wife, and two kids. He paints dozens of pictures at a time in the confines of a chain-link fenced space (I’m not sure why), and sells them online for $10 each (“300,000 sold"), at least when has some in stock. He’s all sold out now, and this story in The New York Times (the link should let you bypass the paywall) will no doubt further clog the supply chain. He and his wife seem to have a great relationship as they explore life as sixty-somethings. I admire their independence and tenacity, and their couch made of plywood “canvasses.”
When the truth disappoints like a collapsed soufflé
I love having a fast book on my Kindle that I can pick up and read in almost any situation. It’s even better to have a few. But lately I’ve had trouble connecting with the novels nonfiction books I’ve downloaded. Fortunately, Down and Out in Paradise, by Charles Leerhsen, drew me in with it’s gossipy, “alternative” story of the life of Anthony Bourdain. A lot people in the business of protecting the legacy of their friend, who created several hit TV shows, including “No Reservations,” and then hung himself from a doorknob in a hotel room in France, hate this book. And I didn’t love it wholeheartedly (am I every able to love anything or anyone that way — I don’t know). The author sometimes intrudes unnecessarily into the narrative, and his judgements at times feel the dated musings of a once-hip older guy. But he’s also able to discuss aspects of Bourdain’s later life — a seeming preoccupation with prostitutes, for instance — that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere. It’s an engaging account of a man’s difficulty navigating his 60s, with the added complications of fame and addictive tendencies. These days, all heroes get broken, eventually. I learned a lot while reading this. I recommend Bourdain’s TV show, especially the CNN series Parts Unknown, including the episode about The Democratic Republic of Congo.
A parting thought
I will return in a few days with Chapter 2 of my dysutopian novel, The Lost City of Desire. You can read chapter 1 here.
And while we’re talking, check out The Questions, a newsletter I write with my friend Ty Montague. It’s about energy, climate, and the future of us — all of us.