Revisiting is what I do. I am a pathological revisitor, I think—my ex-wife ventured to suggest a time or two when, late returning from some errand, I’d admit to having taken an excursion into one of my old neighborhoods. I’m always driving back through my old neighborhoods, the places I have lived within the city from the time I was four until my early teens. The five great ages of my youth, as I conceive them—each as sweeping and portentous, as distinctly toned and lit as Thomas Cole’s five stages of Empire in that famous series of paintings. When I drive through—pretty slowly with the radio off and the windows open—I’ll get into this tour guide state of mind. I’ll fall into this line of patter, actually talking to myself as if into a little microphone. I don’t intend to speak out loud. But here I go. Read More
Greg Drasler’s exhibition “Road Trip” opens tonight at Betty Cuningham Gallery.
I was in a cab with a radar detector. “Red light camera ahead,” droned the automated voice from the front seat.
“Doesn’t the city mind those?” I said. “It’s great, but doesn’t the city lose a lot of revenue? Because they point out speed traps, too, right?”
“Yes, is very good,” said the driver.
“But on the other hand, I guess it does prevent speeding—which should be the real point anyway, right? Maybe that’s a better way to think about it.”
He smiled and made a polite but noncommittal noise. Read More
- In the long car ride we call life, Andrew O’Hagan has eschewed the driver’s seat for the passenger seat, and he’s loving every minute of it: “In my natural state, I possess the habit of saying no to everything, but all the requesting party has to do to make me say yes is to send a nice car. In my youth, I often daydreamed of a driver picking me up from school. It was Scotland, and it was winter, which meant it got dark about three o’clock in the afternoon … Being driven is luxurious because it is a step back into the realm of personal freedom, which—when it comes to all areas of good service—is the freedom to enjoy an outcome without being responsible for it. People seek their freedom in different ways, of course, and some want an open top and their own foot on the gas, but for me the liberty to disengage is everything.”
- As if to rebuke all the ambitious young white dudes presently working away at their doorstep debut novels, a Russian scientist named Vladimir Aniskin has designed what he asserts to be the world’s smallest book: it’s seventy by ninety micrometers and takes as its subject, appropriately enough, a flea’s shoes. Readers must exercise extreme care: “The text is printed using the lithographic process onto sheets of film just three or four microns thick. Aniskin said that the most difficult part of the process was binding the pages together so they can be turned. He used tungsten wires with a diameter of five microns as the “springs” for the pages, placing the finished books into half a poppyseed, displayed on gold plates. The pages, which have text on both sides, can be turned using a sharpened metal needle.”
- The line between persecution and a persecution complex can be razor thin. Just ask early Christians, who went to great lengths to highlight their sense of embattlement. Tom Bissell writes: “While some Christians were martyred for their faith, and even thrown to lions, the earliest Christian accounts of martyrdom fail to make clear one interesting wrinkle: killing men and women for perceived apostasy was highly uncommon among pagans, and most ancient-world authorities were inclined to be lenient toward Christians, many of whom, like Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, demanded Martyrdom, then, is a difference-obliterating mind-set that leaves death as the only thing to venerate.”
- Garth Greenwell wrote a forty-one-page paragraph. Not as a standalone, mind you—it’s at the center of his novel What Belongs to You. “I wrote the section very quickly, in a kind of white heat, mostly on the backs of napkins and receipts and other scraps of paper someone might mistake for trash. I numbered these as I wrote and put them in a pile, and it was only when I finished and typed them up that I understood the form of what I had made … [The paragraph] is also a declaration that the text won’t obey the usual rules of logic or sequence, that its allegiance is to other modes of conveying experience. Or maybe less its allegiance than its submission.”
- Today in adaptations of translations: A Brooklyn theater collective has turned John Ashbery’s translations of Rimbaud into Rimbaud in New York, a play designed never to let you forget that it’s rooted in text: “The play is about myths, to be sure, but it’s also concerned with the pleasure of the text and emotions and thoughts that words can and cannot illuminate. Ashbery not only captures that French renegade’s intensity and playfulness in his translation, he does so with an urgency that reminds us that Rimbaud left the form that he helped create—modernism—as a disenchanted young man, while Ashbery, never a cynic, works in his own vibrant space, one that goes on and on.”
The Harry Ransom Center’s Guy Davenport collection opens to the public this month. The papers cover sixty years of his career as a writer, scholar, and painter; they include journals, artwork, and manuscript pages. But much of the collection is given over to correspondence. From his home in Kentucky, Davenport traded letters with some twenty-three hundred people, many among the brightest minds of their day: John Updike, Eudora Welty, Marianne Moore, Louis Zukofsky, Cormac McCarthy, Hugh Kenner, Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Parker, Ezra Pound, and more, their exchanges sometimes spanning decades.
To celebrate the collection, the Ransom Center has shared the three letters below with us—one from the writer and designer Roy Behrens, whose stationery is appropriately a work of art, and the other two from Davenport himself. To explore the collection more, use the Ransom Center’s finding aid and schedule a visit.
I was asked recently to write about my favorite love song, and I debated what to say. It wasn’t that I didn’t know which song to pick. I did. But I knew it was a weird choice.
There are many songs that are almost too painfully emotive to listen to. We all have them. Some—“Exotic Arcade” or “Night and Day” for me, or “To Here Knows When” or “Naomi”—are too bittersweet. Others are simply too tied up with being young, like “Black Car” or “Frenesi” or “Autumn Sweater.” In some cases, it’s pretty obvious why a song carries bad associations: after one breakup, all I did was lie on the floor and play “Walk a Thin Line” on a loop, forever. One that almost brings me to tears with its sheer, surprising beauty is “The Love of the Princess,” the romance theme from The Thief of Baghdad. All these are some of the best love songs I know. But the one song that reliably makes me cry, every single time I hear it, is “Little Deuce Coupe.”
It’s a great song: Brian Wilson said it was the favorite of the Beach Boys’ car oeuvre, and Frank Zappa praised its “progression V-II.” But that’s not why I love it so much. Rather, I consider “Little Deuce Coupe” to be the purest love song about a boy and his car ever written, and as such the purest love song ever written.
Now, I don’t care about Ford Model B’s. I don’t care about the flat head mill or the pink slip or the competition clutch with the four on the floor. I don’t really know what any of that means—hell, I can’t even drive—although obviously 140 miles per hour is fast and I guess really useful for drag-racing circumstances, when some loud braggart tries to put you down and your girl has to look in your eyes and tell you everything will work out all right.
And of course I recognize on some level that Pet Sounds is the better album, and that “God Only Knows” and “Don’t Worry Baby” are two of the most beautiful love songs ever written. But even they can’t touch me like “Little Deuce Coupe.” Is it crass and consumerist? Of course. Was it all a part of the cynical sun-and-fun PR machine that my dad still bitterly blames for luring him to Pomona? Sure. Was the fragile young Brian Wilson being browbeaten and bullied by his tyrannical father during the recording of Surfer Girl? Obviously! And that’s leaving aside a lot of things you could say about male aggression and the glorification of competition and danger, to say nothing of penis substitutes. I mean, to some degree all this goes without saying.
But we know love when we hear it, and the love in “Deuce Coupe” is a love that will never, ever die—a love that’s both fresh and based on care and hoping and probably saving up and restoring, too. Maybe a song about a horse, or a dog, could approach the power, but to my mind nothing has. Brian Wilson said in the notes to Surfer Girl’s reissue, “We loved doing ‘Little Deuce Coupe’. It was a good ‘shuffle’ rhythm, which was not like most of the rhythms of the records on the radio in those days. It had a bouncy feel to it. Like most of our records, it had a competitive lyric. This record was my favorite Beach Boys car song.” It has all the joy and pain of youth, but none of the associations. Just pure sweetness.
I’ve listened to the song twice to write this—and so I’ve cried twice, too. You don’t know what I got.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.