What We’re Loving: Lovers, Lizards, Lowry


This Week’s Reading


The Jesus Lizard, in a photograph from The Jesus Lizard Book.

I don’t usually go in for collections of letters; it’s hard to imagine sitting down and reading one cover to cover. But I couldn’t resist picking up a volume of love letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, in large part because it’s titled The Animals. It sounded sweetly romantic, and it is. Isherwood, some thirty years older than Bachardy, is Dobbin, an old workhorse; Bachardy is Kitty. Though they discuss all manner of subjects in the body of the letters—dinners, friends, business, and art—they are topped and tailed (no pun intended) with joyful, intimate love: “I feel a need to tell Kitty today how dearly Dobbin loves him and how faithfully he waits and guards the stable until Kitty’s return. Dub has been quite off his feed since Kitty hasn’t been there to tempt him with morsels held by those pure paws.” Bachardy sometimes even includes cutouts of fluffy white kittens in his missives. Apart from the adorableness, there is, of course, other great stuff here: not least, Isherwood’s coining of the word psychofiesta. —Nicole Rudick

“You’re eighty-two years old. You’ve shrunk six centimeters, you only weigh forty-five kilos yet you’re still beautiful, graceful and desirable. We’ve lived together now for fifty-eight years and I love you more than ever. I once more feel a gnawing emptiness in the hollow of my chest that is only filled when your body is pressed next to mine.” That’s the beginning of philosopher André Gorz’s Letter to D, written to his dying wife. A year later, the couple took their own lives, together. The book itself is slim—as the friend who sent it to me wrote, you can read it on the crosstown bus—but it contains a fully realized true love story. —Sadie Stein

Nothing grates like a self-mythologizing coffee-table book, but in the case of the Jesus Lizard’s new tome—called, simply, The Jesus Lizard Book—you can forgive any aura of congratulation. These guys deserve to pat themselves on the back. One of the finest, most primal rock bands of the nineties, they drew a cult following in that they seemed to be, in fact, a cult, with David Yow the deranged high priest and David Wm. Sims his brooding voodoo-deacon. If the spectacular photography in The Jesus Lizard Book is to be believed, their shows resembled nothing more than that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where some poor dude has his still-beating heart removed in an elaborate ritual. (In the world of the Jesus Lizard, everyone is in the Black Sleep of Kali Ma.) Granted, Yow could be an oblique shock-jock—“I had a tendency to pull my balls out and hold them glistening up to the microphone,” he says—but at his best, he was as compelling a frontman and lyricist as anyone in music. In, say, “Karpis” (“Alvin’s feelin’ restless, cellblock H / A carton of smokes for ten minutes of pleasure”) his lyrics have a gritty economy, telling an unmistakably terrifying story without having to spell anything out. —Dan Piepenbring

While reading through an interview—blind item!—that’s running in our upcoming issue, I was led by a series of Google searches to a would-be epitaph written by Malcolm Lowry:

Malcolm Lowry
Late of the Bowery
His prose was flowery
And often glowery
He lived, nightly, and drank, daily,
And died playing the ukulele

The “Death by Misadventure” tag in his coroner’s report calls the ukulele bit into question (or does it?)—and Lowry’s actual tombstone, it turns out, isn’t quite so literarily engraved—but the verse did remind me of another of my favorite would-be epitaphs, that of W. C. Fields. When asked by Vanity Fair, in 1925, to contribute to a piece called, fittingly, “A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs,” he came up with this, a riff on his running (and playful) disdain for the City of Brotherly Love: “Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.” —Stephen Hiltner

Discovering Mary Ruefle was like meeting someone for the first time I seemed to have known forever. Her arguments were my arguments. Her pain was my pain. A trick of déjà vu set in, even though I was reading her essays for the first time. Stephen Sparks writes about Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey in the latest issue of Music & Literature, “What about a book whose effects can be felt forward and backward, today and yesterday?” The issue explores Ruefle’s work, along with the Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector and the music of Maya Homburger and Barry Guy. I read the issue cover to cover—I love the line from Lispector’s last interview, “We’ll see if I can be born again … I’m speaking from my tomb”—and I found myself returning to Ruefle’s work to see, as Sparks puts it, her “ability to think by means of the poem, through the poem.” Isn’t this why we write anyway—in hopes that while we may not figure out what we mean, the reader just might? —Justin Alvarez

Last week I went to watch King Lear with my mother. I often make the mistake, when reading Shakespeare, of taking him too seriously, but when seeing his plays performed, even the serious ones, I have more than once had the rather obvious realization that Shakespeare was funny. Thinking about these nuances I frequently miss reminded me of a video I’d seen a few years ago about the original pronunciation of Shakespearean English. (There’s a recent Studio 360 interview with the father/son team from the video as well.) As it turns out, our pronunciation of Shakespeare hides a lot of meaning and, sometimes, humor. The best example, I think, comes from As You Like It: “And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe / And then from hour to hour, we rot and rot / And thereby hangs a tale.” An elegant statement about time and mortality, sure. But in the original pronunciation, “hour” sounds like “ore,” or “whore,” “ripe” like “rape,” and “rot” like “rut.” The meaning we understand is still there, but the line becomes a bawdy joke—“from ’ore to ’ore, we rut and rut.” It must’ve played well to a boisterous, standing-room-only crowd of drunken Englishmen in hose. —Tucker Morgan