my dear norman mailer

(10 november 2007)

my dear norman mailer,

you’ve died.

and i don’t quite know what to make of this other than the fact that it makes me kind of sad.

yes, you held some beliefs that were total bunk. you exploited marilyn as a biographical sex-toy. you crusaded against the women’s liberation movement. you participated in a literary smackdown with gore vidal. you had nine chidren and six wives, the second of which you stabbed.

as if this weren’t enough of a biographical legacy, in your neediness and contrivance towards the hemmingway masculine ideal, you cultivated a belligerent literary machismo that was debilitatively seared across everything you ever wrote.

despite the feigned nonchalance, you so obviously wanted to be remembered. you so obviously needed to be a big deal. the footfall of your every stomping sentence gave you up.

you never seemed quite real. you always were a bastard.

but i’m a girl who likes bad boys and if they have a way with the pen, that’s better and better.

60 years ago, you emerged as the enfant terrible of the american literary scene and set out to write The Great American Novel. perusing your obituaries this morning, it seems to be the general consensus that you never did. but does that really matter?

in graduate school, my biography class covered the lost art of obituaries. the first line is crucial. you can fumble your way on the rest, blithely romping through schooling and careers and wives and honorary doctorates, but you can’t fake that first line. that first line is a bitch.

it’s a bitch i think you, norman mailer, would’ve enjoyed slapping around. and i think even you- the combative tease, the unremitting bombast, the cocksure grump with dialectic derring-do- would be satisfied with the title history has bestowed upon you.

the macho prince of american letters.

well played, norman mailer, you bastard you.

norman mailer + me

(17 may 2007)

lee harvey oswald is of little concern to me beyond the fact that he became a political assassin at the age of twenty-four (a historical fact all too often obscured by a receding hairline). i believe oswald killed kennedy, that he did it alone and that the grassy knoll is a load of bunk. and i abhor oliver stone for ever convincing me otherwise.

so i’m not quite sure what compelled me to pick up oswald’s tale. because norman mailer and i don’t really get along. he’s played dirty with my girls and you can’t just forgive a guy that. but still… a girl does like to forgive.

i have this suspicion that good old norman mailer isn’t really a bastard. he’s just a guy who was unfortunately born after ernest hemingway and who has spent his entire career trying to strut a literary machismo of equivalent value. and that’s tough. as norman mailer has illustrated.

norman mailer so desperately wants to be a bastard. his neediness is discomfiting. you can see it right there on the page. in the way he swaggers about, cocksure in his dialectic derring-do. strutting his syntactical anarchy. it’s in the laziness of his transitions, the ballast of his phrasing, the sly jabs of his judgments.

he comes off as the kind of guy that slaps his women and keeps a rifle by the nightstand and boxing gloves on the bedpost. or at least he comes off as being the kind of guy who wants to come off as that kind of guy. norman mailer wants the world to believe he is a bastard. his every word is a naked testament to this need.

which is kind of sad. and which, once we got past the honeymoon period, has annoyed me on nearly every single page of oswald’s tale. i want to say, norman mailer, stop being a bastard.

because norman mailer is being a bastard. and honestly, i don’t know if norman mailer is telling the truth anymore. if he’s really being norman mailer and norman mailer really is a bastard or if he’s writing as he thinks Norman Mailer Writing As A Bastard & Great Masculine Writer of the 1950s would write. and that, in turn, makes me doubt whether norman mailer actually spoke to all the people he says he spoke to and whether he actually has any clue what happened with oswald in russia and, in the pits of untrusting despair, i can’t help but wonder whether this whole 719-page pulitzer prize winning masterwork is the figment of a deranged historical revisionist, which makes me want to throw down the mammoth thing and scream norman mailer, you bastard you.

because this bastard can write. it’s just that his writing is wrapped up in brawn and testosterone and spit. it’s a splashy cocktail of aggression that leaves me longing to put on a diaphanous gown and marabou shoes and drink daquaris in feminine rebellion. because really, deep down, i think it’s all a pose.

i think secretly norman mailer rises early in the morning to make pancake breakfasts for his unfortunately named wife norris. that he has a persian cat named fifi whom he worships and who stars in the occasional short story he pens for his grandchildren who call him “paw-paw.” that he secretly gets a kick out of wearing pink argyle socks. that he licks the lids of his jell-o swirl pudding snacks and separates the chocolate 2/3s from the vanilla. that he’s fearfully afraid of needles and slugs and that they make him squeal like a little girl and that he’s fearfully afraid people will find that out.

i don’t think norman mailer is a bastard. because i don’t think men who dedicate books to their wives can be bastards. at least not real ones. no, i think he’s lying to us all. norman mailer, you bastard you.

required writing

(4 march 2009)

there are times when i feel required to write about something.

for example, whenever a kennedy runs into a road block, runs for office, runs for… well, anything. it seems at those times, as the resident Group Keeper of All Kennedy-Related Things, i should have a rush of analysis at the ready. or whenever anyone in any way vaguely-related to the tv, film, or theater of my childhood, a first family, or tabloids dies. i’m there with the eugoogley. hell, i am the girl who has blogged about every email i’ve ever received regarding the dvd release of the mary tyler moore show. because these are terribly important things.

and the release of the new u2 album yesterday was a terribly important thing. but then, it really wasn’t.

i should preface this with the fact that i love u2. i counted down to every single/album/show, downloaded every findable bootleg, read every book, condemned every writer of a bad review, dissected every lyric. i believed the nonsense that all that you can’t leave behind was a step forward. i thought the endless stream of greatest hits drivel was a musical boon.

but, if we’re being honest, the only emotion i felt this past december upon hearing that u2 would finally be releasing a new album (their first in 5 years) was dread. unadulterated dread.

i didn’t really think about it much then. now, i think i didn’t think about it then because i was afraid i would wind up thinking what i’m thinking now.

which is that maybe u2 will never be u2 again. at least not my u2.

yes, they’ll be the big stadium act that puts on the same two-hour show night after night (a gimmick i’ve defended for years though deep in the pits of my heart it pisses me off). bono will keep running around the heart/circle/square during “streets.”

adam will always be stage left. edge will always be stage right. at one point during the evening, like foreign dignitaries deigning to visit the poorer nation next door, they will each saunter over and briefly acknowledge the fans on the opposite side of the stage before returning to their respective corners.

u2 will always do an encore. and in that encore, bono will always pull a girl up on the stage during “with or without you” and all us sad-saps in the audience will always be thinking, oh my God, bono just pulled that girl up ON THE STAGE and now he’s going to SING TO HER!!! to us, this will seem shocking though it is something he has done in every performance since 1989.

that is u2.

but that is not my u2. and, sadly, i’m fast coming to the realization that perhaps my u2 has died.

what we are left with is a sad, scared u2. a u2 that takes 5 years to produce an album that sounds curiously similar to the 2 albums they put out in the 5 years before that.

they have set up camp in a dead end.

this realization has left me strangely bereft. longing for the u2 that could form a band before they knew how to play their instruments. that could make four videos for a song called “one.” that could make “with or without you” run 10 minutes long. the u2 that could close an album with a song so against where they were that it could only be sung by johnny cash.

for the most part, everybody seems ok without all that, with this new u2. the guardian declared this their “greatest studio album ever.”

seriously. people. what the hell?

maybe everyone else reached the point of lowered expectations in advance of me.

or maybe this is just the normal process of realizing the heroes of your youth have become old men.

take this tangle of conversation and turn it into your own prayer

(22 january 2007)

in the midst of everything, there is u2. because there’s always u2. they’re my home base. we may go some days or months without each other, but i always come back.

recently, it has been nothing but pop, an album i’ve always appreciated for its jarring incompleteness. the band got rushed and didn’t have time to relentlessly perfect and dope it down. as a result, pop is a raw spiritual undoing splashed in enough glitter that it can almost masquerade as a party.

it’s an odd juxtaposition, and it can be hard to take it all in. u2 albums are legendary for their cohesiveness. listening to pop is like reading a book of short stories when you were expecting a novel.

it’s a tangle of chatter and tight spots and fast escapes and sudden shifts. the pop in the title isn’t just pop music. it’s the pop that comes after the exhilaration and freedom of achtung baby and zooropa. it’s the bubble’s burst.

to me, it’s as though the protagonist has found himself at a strip club in the middle of the day, and it suddenly hits home how far he’s wandered. in “mofo” he pleads with his dead mother to show him how to get out of the mess he’s in. and that’s pretty much the high point. you wind up with him on his knees, speaking directly to Jesus, pleading, wake up, dead man– with someone talking in the background all the while, as if to emphasize his insignificance.

this sounds terribly depressing, but i swear it’s not. because of all u2’s albums, i think this is the most honest. it captures them in a weird moment- on a bender in southern france struggling with the pressures of their art, their addictions, their women and their past. it’s not all pretty (“miami” is an ugly, ugly song), but it’s there. it’s their bullshit. it’s real.

this past week i listened to pop day and night, over and over. and for the first time, it wasn’t jarring or incomplete. it was just a glitzy little exhausted naughty mess. unapologetically so. and that’s rather beautiful. what a pity the boys have been apologizing for it ever since.