Print Reviews

James Bond in the 21st Century: Why We Still Need 007

James Bond in the 21st Century: Why We Still Need 007

by Glenn Yeffeth with Leah Wilson

BenBella Books

The people have spoken and Daniel Craig is James Bond. The most recent entry in the four decades-long string of Bond flicks is hovering around the top of the box office charts, proving that James Bond is still relevant in the 21st Century. Daniel Craig’s Bond is a departure from the Bond we’ve come to know. Not only is Craig blond, but he’s a much more visceral Bond. Casino Royale is also something of a rebooting of the Bond franchise. Casino Royale was the first novel by Ian Fleming which was never really made into a proper film. With the new Casino Royale, the gadgets, quips and puns are left behind, leaving Daniel Craig to play James Bond as an action hero. Craig’s Bond chases the bad guy all over creation on foot. He gets into fights that leave him bloodied and scared. He seduces women, but prefers the married kind because they don’t make long term demands. The Bond of Casino Royale is very much in keeping with Fleming’s vision of the secret agent who is aloof, cynical, misanthropic and dedicated to his work, and little else.

When editor Glenn Yeffeth was putting together James Bond in the 21st Century: Why we still need 007, Daniel Craig’s Bond was still a mystery. Since Casino Royale had not hit the screens yet, the commentaries on the Bond mystique could only guess where the franchise might be headed. Instead, we are treated to meditations on the film incarnations of Bond, the troubled path the Bond books took to arrive on the screen and the growing disconnect between the literary Bond and the movie Bond.

Like the Bond movies themselves, I found this book to be highly uneven. Raymond Benson’s essay, “Can the Cinematic Bond Ever Be the Literary Bond?” gets the book off to a great start. Benson traces the long road from spy novel to silver screen. It was interesting to learn that the first production of Casino Royale was a 1954 CBS televison presentation featuring Barry Nelson as an American “Jimmy Bond with Peter Lorre playing Le Chiffe. If things had played out a little differently, James Bond might have been an NBC television series in the 50’s. When Dr. No finally went into production, producers decided that there needed to be more humor and Bond became a more sophisticated character than the misanthropic character of the Bond novels.

I found the essays that dissect why the Bond films work interesting. Lee Pfeiffer’s essay, “Bland… James Bland,” makes the case that Bond is really a bland cipher who exists largely to allow the great villain to run rampant. Bruce Bethke’s essay, “James Bond: Now More Than Ever,” explores why we need the fantasy of a heroic, charismatic spy when the reality of espionage is dark, gruesome and very frightening.

While there are some excellent essays in this book, there are also a fair share of essays that are more or less filler. The debates over who is the best Bond, best Bond villain or best Bond girl are the stuff of fan blog sites. Things really take a dive when the writers go for humor. The faux personnel reports are as inspired as email jokes. The worst piece in the book is Raylynn Hillhouse’s abysmal, “I knew Julius No, Julius No was a friend of mine. Osama, you’re no Dr. No.” I just didn’t find a essay advising Osama Bin Laden on how to be a proper supervillain very amusing.

Print Reviews

Rock En Espanol: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion

Rock En Espanol: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion

by Ernesto Lechner

Chicago Review Press

I’m glad Ernesto Lechner was submissive, to his editors that is, when it came to writing Rock En Espanol: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion.

What we have is more than just a book about Latin alt-rock. It’s actually a culturally poignant and timely book, fit not only for south-of-the-border musical awareness but one that could be used as a springboard into current US social and political discussions as well. I don’t think it was his initial intention but the music Lechner writes about is packed the same explosive potential.

Lechner is a music writer for the Los Angeles Times, amongst other publications, and over the course of roughly a decade he has documented– at first against his will, he says in the intro– the growing and evolving genre of Latin Alternative Rock music. He admits the music was not as fun and interesting, at first, as listening to the Beatles, U2, Pink Floyd and The Who, but what he did ultimately find was music he couldn’t resist. So he wrote a book.

The book resounds with his contagious excitement for the genre but like a good journalist, Lechner rarely shies from asking the important and tough questions of his favorite bands, maintaining balance with a critical eye and astute curiosity. In the first chapter on the Fabulosos Cadillacs he notes during a band photo shoot back in 1998, “how can these two creeps who look like they haven’t showered in days be responsible for some of the most astonishing and heartfelt music in the history of Latin American rock?”

To other bands like Manu Chao, Café Tacvba and Atercepalodos, he mixes in questions on their careers thus far, future plans and the current state of the genre and how much of an impact they feel they are having on American alternative music and US Rock ‘N Roll. Some artists have much to say and some are just happy with the success in their genre and native countries.

About halfway through the book I realized I had more in common with Lechner than I thought. I had several work-related flashbacks to my days as a waiter and other interactions with Latino immigrants. I thought of the busboys, dishwashers, landscapers and post-carwash buffers/dryers and how Americans secrectly admit the fact that they do the jobs we won’t.

Going deeper I thought how as a waiter– back around the same time Lechner was asked to begin his quest circa 1997– I would loathe the trite and often annoying tooting tuba of the regional-Mexican ballad, blaring from the kitchen radio as the cooks slaved over the hot stoves and stood in front of the back-singeing pizza ovens. I remembered having a conversation one time with a cook about what music he liked. He quickly turned off the radio and pulled out a CD player from underneath the counter and popped in a CD. “This is Molotov (one of the 19 Lechner discusses),” he said with big excited eyes, and hit play. I was disinterested at the time and like the younger Lechner too caught up in the rock n’ roll of US and UK bands to notice what I was really listening to and how important it was to this cook and his culture.

I wish I would’ve listened a little more closely but I know that where you’re at in your life often influences the type of music that resonates with you at that time.

Ernesto Lechner– in only a couple of hundred pages of easily accessible stories and bios– has begun to open the door to a mostly unknown world of exciting Latino bands, some folded and some still performing and recording, that are just waiting to be truly discovered by a wider American audience.

Is this Latin alt-rock relevant? Well, for starters, it’s been filling stadiums and selling out concerts for years in Latin America. It’s also influenced American alt-rocker Beck among others and will probably gain significance alongside growing immigration issues. And when fully appreciated in a social/political context it has potential to go beyond the flashy “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and the pulsing thump of Reggaeton.

Just this past summer in Chicago at Lollapalooza I saw Manu Chao and his Radio Bemba. I watched the frenzy onstage pour its contagious mix of punk, salsa rebel-rock into mostly American ears, who then went berserk because that’s what you do when you hear Chao’s music. As Lechner wrote, Chao designs it to incite and stimulate all the senses and he achieved his mission that night by only speaking maybe one song in English. So language can’t be the only reason.

As Lechner notes, his collection is by no means complete and I agree. I see this as an entry point to a musical vein that is running step for step with a Latino culture that will be seen as an undeniable force in our county in the very near future, if not already.

Next step? Well, it seems like the this Latin music issue has come full circle for me so I think I’m going to return to that restaurant and find that cook– or one of his amigos– and finish the conversation, now that I’m ready and aware.

Print Reviews



by Donn Cortez with Leah Wilson

Smart Pop Books

Before CSI, only criminal justice and physical anthropology geeks even knew what forensic sciences were all about. Years ago, I went to lunch with several forensic anthropologists. As people are prone to do, the anthropologists started talking shop. Did you hear about the three heads in a refrigerator? Do you like beetles or boiling for defleshing corpses? Did I tell you about the leg they found in the belly of a shark? About halfway through our meal, I noticed that we were alone in the corner of the restaurant. I don’t think that would happen now. If our fellow diners were CSI fans, they would probably have eavesdropped or maybe even tried to join in. With the popularity of CSI and other forensics-oriented shows, everyone thinks they know what forensic science is all about.

Investigating CSI collects essays that explore both the real world of crime scene investigators and discussions of the impact of the television show. The first thing the real CSI investigators tell you is that CSI is FICTION. Real crime scenes are dirty, messy, smelly places. Real CSI’s don’t go to work in designer clothes or wear sexy strappy sandals to work. Instead they wear functional work clothes that they sometimes accessorize with duct tape to keep the bugs from crawling up their legs. Real crime scene investigation is laborious and often boring. DNA and fingerprint analysis takes days, weeks, months and even years to process. Unlike on TV, crimes are not solved in an hour.

Once the CSIs have had their say, the writers and media critics have their say. We get interesting essays on the psychology of Gil Grissom, Horatio Cain and Matt Taylor. The so-called CSI Effect is discussed in several essays. The CSI Effect is the idea that juries in real life courtrooms are going to expect forensic evidence like they see on TV. In real life, the fantastic evidence presented on TV is rarely available. In real life, your local crime lab probably doesn’t have all the cool technology in Grissum’s lab. While there is much discussion of the CSI Effect, the general consensus is that the influence of the show on juries is more of an urban myth that a daily occurrence.

The final essay argues that the CSI shows may actually be doing a great service to America. While news is increasingly blurring the line between entertainment and news, the CSI shows are just about the only place on television where the truth is valued above all else. If people come away from the CSI shows with an interest in finding truth and valuing scientific evidence, then maybe the shows are changing America.

Print Reviews

Snow Angel: A Novel

Snow Angel: A Novel

by Michael Graham

Schaffner Press

A good way to pass the holiday season is to take some time to read Michael Graham’s police procedural, The Snow Angel. Based on a true, heart-breaking story, Graham plows past the sensitivity of political correctness with a straightforward, no-nonsense look at race, politics and the media, but, at the same time, tells a story of redemption, love and Christmas miracles.

We begin with the kidnapping of seven-year-old Darryl Childress, well-known locally for his appearance in television ads. Darryl is the Snow Angel, the Little Drummer Boy, about whom we are told, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…” a quote that will prove to be prophetic.

Thrown together on the task force to locate Darryl and his kidnappers are police veterans and longtime enemies, Ralph Kane and Isaiah Bell. Despising one another as they do, they would never admit to having anything in common; however, they are more brothers-in-arms than they could ever imagine. The allusion to Cain and Abel becomes more apparent as the book progresses when the answer to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?’ becomes apparent.

As with all books of this type, there are the good guys and the bad, the heroes and the villains. The true heroes in The Snow Angel are the police – not all police, but the ‘real cops’. As Graham explains it, flawed and screwed-up as they might be (and Kane and Bell do have their issues), ‘real cops’ have a true sense of right and wrong, care deeply and empathetically for crime victims and will work ceaselessly to bring criminals to justice for the public good. If you needed the help of the police department, these would be the cops you would want on your side. On the other end of the spectrum are not just the criminals, as would be expected, but the politically-motivated members of the police department for whom image and personal career advancement outweigh any thought of public service, personal dignity or even common sense. Since image is so important to this sort of politically-motivated cop, the media joins the ranks of the villains, engaging in the exploitative media feeding frenzy that so often accompanies crimes of this sort.

The ugliness, the brutality that the police have to deal with on a day-to-day basis takes their toll. Graham takes us on a tour of the gangs, both white and black, prisons, mafia, drug addicts and the just-plain urban ugliness and hatred. Being immersed in this environment, as the police are, results in alcoholism, ruined family relationships, depression and suicide. Keeping the book from being a total downer, Graham also shows us surprising compassion, cooperation, the code of honor among criminals when it comes to crimes involving children and the healing power of love and forgiveness.

That Michael Graham has a background in investigative journalism and television crime drama comes as no surprise, his journalistic style of writing and knowledge of police procedure being evident throughout. All in all, he’s written a good story, well-told, and worth taking your time to read this holiday season.

Print Reviews

Playing President

Playing President

My close encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Regan, and Clinton — and how they did not prepare me for George W. Bush

by Bob Scheer

Akashic Books

“Politics is not a bad profession,” quipped Ronald Regan. “If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you fail, you can always write a book.”

Veteran journalist Bob Scheer tried his hand at politics in a 1966 Democratic primary bid against incumbent Congressman Jeffrey Cohelan, the Berkeley/Oakland Representative for the state of California. It was not one of American politics’ underdog success stories (he was, as one article put it, “the Ned Lamont of the 1960’s”); but instead of retreating to his study to pen his memoirs of the experience — that was left up to his campaign treasurer, Serge Lang, who assembled the story of the failed run in the out-of-print The Scheer Campaign — and call it a day, he returned to journalism and continued to cover politics from a left-wing vantage. His vocal, antagonistic stance toward American foreign policy has resulted in six books over the more than four decades of his career, but Scheer is better known and more respected for his cumulative journalistic output, beginning with Ramparts magazine during the Vietnam era and later extending to Playboy, The Nation, a twelve-year syndicated column for the Los Angeles Times (axed in 2005 on questionable grounds and quickly scooped up by the San Francisco Chronicle), and now, where he is editor-in-chief.

Playing President: My close encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Regan, and Clinton — and how they did not prepare me for George W. Bush takes the bulk of its material from that journalistic output, drawing on Scheer’s well-earned and, in the case of Jimmy Carter, unbelievably lucky access to all the men who comprise the elected U.S. Presidents of the past thirty years. This access is a reminder that, even if these presidents or presidents-to-be didn’t always agree with Scheer’s resolutely left-wing views, he was at least worthy of their esteem; and though his often pugnacious, truth-to-power op-ed pieces (as well as his regular diatribes on KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center radio show) tend to polarize readers and politicians alike, his interviews are rigorously fair, his questions unfalteringly probing and the insight of his appraisals keen. Scheer, in other words, is much more than a pundit. As Gore Vidal puts it in his breathlessly flattering foreword, “Scheer joins a small group of journalist-historians that includes Richard Rovere, Murray Kempton, and Walter Lippman.”

This collection has more than enough in it to entertain the general reader while satisfying the political buff. The general reader will appreciate the headline-making interviews such as the one in which Jimmy Carter, then only a Democratic candidate for president, admitted to the readers of Playboy in a moment of candor, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times,” and the Los Angeles Times Q&A in which George H. W. Bush stated his conviction that nuclear war was winnable, or rather his disbelief in the idea that “there is no such thing as a winner in a nuclear exchange.” These comments came back to haunt Carter and Bush I, but it was nothing from which they couldn’t ultimately recover, and with the benefit of hindsight, these cracks in their increasingly media-savvy presidential images perhaps made them seem more real and human to the American electorate. Today Carter might be rewarded with a standing ovation on Oprah for his then-gaffe (Scheer himself notes that Carter’s words “hold up splendidly today as a relatively sane expression of the Baptist religion”), and Bush I’s would be hailed on the The O’Reilly Factor as a viable foreign policy.

The political buff will relish the context Scheer provides for each of these pieces, explaining why, for example, Carter agreed to sit down for Playboy in the first place, and the handful of presidential retrospectives and evaluations, which earned Scheer compliments for his firm-but-fair approach from the former presidents themselves and those close to them. These introductions and evaluations invariably hold a few surprises. While the legacy of Watergate continued to dog Nixon even in Republicans’ eyes a decade after he resigned, left-leaning Scheer made his case for “Nixon revisionism” public in a 1984 retrospective, asking for a reassessment of Nixon’s foreign policy, particularly his role in China and the Middle East. And as Scheer looks back on his infamous Carter interview, he is no longer amazed by the “lust” comments and the resulting furor but rather the “interview’s significance … as a harbinger of the fundamentalist Christian rhetoric that was beginning to inflame the political climate.”

More than anything else, though, Playing President is noteworthy for the man/president duality that emerges from these pieces and lends this collection its title. There is Nixon and his “frozen smile,” the “complicated mass of cells,” in the words of his former aide John D. Erlichmann, who could broker reconciliation with China but was never comfortable with the baby-kissing public relations side of the presidency. There is Carter, always manipulating the facts of his biography to make them fit with his all-things-to-all-people image du jour. There’s Regan, the consummate actor and the antithesis of Nixon: a genial crowd-pleaser with an arsenal of amusing anecdotes and quips like the one that opened this review, yet a man who didn’t care to deal with the subtleties of policy or the personal hypocrisy he had to embrace to support his conservative platform. Then Bush I, a fortunate son of the American elite who felt entitled to the presidency and resented the challenges he faced from the media; and penultimately, Bill Clinton: “the smartest and best informed of all the politicians I have interviewed, but there was a fateful rascal component in his makeup that left him at key moments oddly disconnected from the role of President.” In encapsulating each of these very different men and the presidents they played, Scheer continually returns to the same pool of words to describe them: complicated, complex, obscure.

All, that is, except for one man. Which brings us to the long, post-hyphen part of the book’s subtitle.

Scheer has never been granted the same intimate access to George W. Bush as he had enjoyed with five earlier presidents, and this could very well explain why he fails to spot any complexities in the current president’s character. Whether or not his inability to get a private audience with W. comes down to some Rovian protective strategy is cause for discussion (and it’s all the more suspicious that Scheer’s conservative counterpart on Left, Right, and Center, Tony Blankley, has recently had a cozy chat session with Bush II), but the fact remains that Scheer has observed his tenure from a distance, making it harder for him to get a fix on Bush. Yet distance might not be the only reason. As Scheer explains, the “one-on-one time … would have been helpful. But the basic problem for anyone attempting to understand Bush’s motivations is that they may not be driven by a recognizable engine.”

He describes, without the advantage of years’ worth of hindsight that has enabled him to distill the conflicted personalities of the other presidents in this book, the “befuddled wonderment” of Bush’s first nine months in office, and its wholesale transformation into an unshakable sense of purpose and righteousness after 9/11. Disaster — disaster Bush feasibly could have avoided — rescued his drifting, rudderless presidency in its first term, and it was his campaign mastermind’s clever exploitation of that disaster that brought him, just barely, into a second one. “The war against evil provides the saving rationale for the Bush presidency,” Scheer summarizes, “overriding any troubling matters of fact and logic.” I think it would be hard to find an honest person, regardless of party affiliation, who wouldn’t agree with at least the first half of that sentence, and in time history will likely grant us the second. What would W. be without his War on Terror? An innocuous one-termer whiling away the rest of his privileged days in Texas, just like his father.

Perhaps because of the immediacy and urgency of the present, and also perhaps because relevance to current events helps book sales, George W. Bush is a recurring figure in Playing President. He pops up in most of the other presidents’ introductions as a means of contrasting the foreign policy disasters of yesteryear with those of today, and he gets seventy pages devoted to him — an amount second only to Jimmy Carter, with whom Scheer spent countless hours on the campaign trail. He’s therefore something of a fixation for Scheer; his presence is lurking on nearly every page. It’s clear that Scheer has devoted a great deal of time analyzing W. as a president and W. as a man, but there seems to be a frustration that stems from his inability to get a hold on this drumlin woodchuck. He wants to understand his psychology. It’s as if he can’t bring himself to believe his own conclusion that there is no “recognizable engine” to Bush’s motivations, and that he’s been analyzing gut reactions and will to power and cronyistic lever-pulling as though they were intellectual decisions arrived at through a discernible process of reason and debate. Is the dilemma not how to get into this man’s mind, but how to get into the mind of a man who has no mind to get into? Or is that a deliberate and strategic “misunderestimation” that W. has been cultivating?

Playing President is a great read now and it will be a great companion volume when it comes time for Scheer to look back on a lifetime of journalistic, not political, success and write fuller, more detailed analyses and impressions of the U.S. Presidents he has encountered. By that time he might have had the opportunity to sit face-to-face with George W. Bush and been able to appraise his Presidential legacy with the same acumen as he has done with so many others before him.

Print Reviews

Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking

Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking

by Julieanne Kost

O’Reilly Media

What do you do if your job requires you to travel all over the world, but you’re afraid of flying? If you’re photographer and Photoshop evangelist Julieanne Kost, you use your artistic sensibility to refocus your attention. Julieanne spent five years flying around the world, looking at the world passing by her window seat through the lens of her digital camera. For Kost, this allowed her to focus on creating images of clouds and landscapes instead of her discomfort with flying.

Window Seat is the fruit of Kost’s work. The book has three distinct elements. The most obvious element is the fantastic images. The images range from abstract cloudscapes to impressionistic images of the world below. When viewed from above, fields become amazing geometric shapes, rivers snake across the image and mountains look like frozen grey waves. It’s worth picking up Window Seat for the images alone. You can simply pick up the book from time to time and lose yourself in the wonderful images.

The second element of Window Seat is the text that accompanies the photographs. These texts are meditations on creativity. These words provide inspiration for artists and encouragement to seize the moment. The third element is a fairly advanced discussion of how to use Photoshop to improve and create better images. Julieanne uses examples from her book to show how she manipulated her images. She also offers advice on orgaizing and managing digital images. This is the part of the book where Kost is largely talking shop with other photographers and Photoshop fanatics.

While some of the shop talk may go over the head of casual readers, the book works on so many levels that it really doesn’t matter. You can look at the images for their beauty, read the texts for inspiration and if you get serious about Photoshop, then the shop talk will give you some great tips.

Print Reviews

The Jungle

The Jungle

by Upton Sinclair

Penguin Classics

The American Dream had not been kind to Jurgis Rudkus. Young, strong and idealistic, he brings his family from rural Lithuania to Chicago a century ago. They told him wages were much higher in America, which was true, but forgot to mention the cost of living was even higher. What seemed like an opportunity for a man to feed his family spiraled into enslavement by uncaring employers, harassment by con men, and a life tied to a city built on a garbage heap. This classic tale of honest but exploited workers slaving for evil corporations underpins much of the American Labor Movement’s moral justification to organize, strike and reform. Did it work? Sort of. Things are better for the typical wage slave today, but few opportunities exist for those with nothing beyond a strong back and a weak mind. Low-end work always flows to the cheapest location, which may or may not have the conditions Sinclair so lovingly describes. The food we eat may be cleaner, but there’s always shit and sewage and today it has nowhere to go as the world grows north of six billion. Good God – am I becoming an existentialist environmentalist? Perhaps this book still has power…

You may or may not have read this work in high school or college English, but there’s a reason it’s on the required list. It’s a labor classic, along with Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. Today the stories told seem almost surreal but they were real enough a hundred years ago. This new publication by Penguin attempts to stick as close to Sinclair’s original vision, originally told as a serial in the socialist The Appeal to Reason newspaper. Once you are past the disturbing skinned cow head on the cover, the story is reasonably readable as a socialist sales brochure, and the excellent intro material introduces the modern reader to the historical and social context of Sinclair and the Socialist movement. Today, socialism seems an oddly quaint philosophy, but many of its tenants have become accepted standards for the relation between the worker and the workee. If you missed this in 11th grade, it’s a not a bad read, and a wonderful gift for your slacker cousin this holiday season.

Print Reviews

Cant You Get Along With Anyone

Can’t You Get Along With Anyone?

A writer’s memoir and a tale of a lost surfer’s paradise.

by Allan Weisbecker

This shit’s complicated.

Weisbecker is a man who has seen too much.

This book has strong parallels with Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago regarding the tremendous detail and unstinting use of very numerous examples of things that might seem unnecessarily obscure/redundant/trivial to continue to make points and explicate other parts of the book. Also a fearless willingness to break various rules of the writing business to ensure that the reader SEES what’s actually going on.

They eat better than the people in The Gulag Archipelago, but this is misleading if you take it to mean that they are somehow doing better than the people in Gulag. Although the depths of monstrous evil that get plumbed in places like Norilsk and Magadan are never reached by the subjects in CYGAWA, there is a signal lack of moral compass in nearly every last person who moves through this book, author included at times. This inability to navigate in morals-space causes no end of metaphorical car crashes, train wrecks, boat sinkings, and societal castaways wandering in the wilderness until the wolves hunt them down and finish them off. The inmates of the Gulag oftentimes reach saintly heights of human purity, even as they continue to get ravaged by the inhuman forces that shove them through the fetid pipes of Stalin’s sewage system. No such thing ever happens to the denizens of CYGAWA. No lessons get learned. Nothing ever seems to touch anyone’s soul, winners and losers alike.

Solzhenitsyn speaks of morals, and so does Weisbecker. Both address this, the most central of human themes, in a no-nonsense headlong attempt to get to the bottom of matters. Solzhenitsyn was blessedly fortunate in that his relentless digging deep into the foulness of Things People Do To Other People actually seems to have had some salutary effect on things, at least temporarily. Weisbecker may not be so fortunate, and the demons that torment him, and his cries about the injustice of it all may all wind up only being some kind of private dystopia. I very strongly hope I’m wrong on this, but rely on people to sink to the bottom and you’ll do well as a seer for the most part.

Weisbecker has journeyed extensively through the nether reaches of both the physical world around us, and also the spiritual world within us. He appears to have begun his journey early in life for short-sighted personal motives, and seems not to have had the slightest idea of where he was ultimately going, what he might encounter there, nor what any of it might ultimately wind up wreaking upon his person.

Solzhenitsyn admits to his moral failures and is upfront about them. The same applies to Weisbecker. Solzhenitsyn took a personal journey through the darkest parts of hell, and seems to have drawn the right conclusions from it. The same applies to Weisbecker.

After all, what could you possibly say bad about somebody who includes an H.L. Mencken quote as a chapter header?

Weisbecker is obviously getting his share of karmic paybacks, from a long time ago.

Alan Weisbecker is a fuckup, in the exact same sense that Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is a fuckup. Both of them paid mightily for wagging their tongues at the wrong time, to the wrong people, and in an even more uncanny similarity, the tongue-wagging in question was in regards to the incompetence of those in power, around them. And I’m convinced that neither one of them was constitutionally equipped to refrain from their self-catastrophic behavior. They simply could not sit idly by as the bullshit accumulated around them, and fail to attempt to warn their fellow humans about the bullshit that only they could see. Call it “canary in a coal mine” syndrome, and you won’t be far wrong. These sorts of people are one of the human race’s early warning systems. They are allergic to bullshit, and this makes them break out in metaphorical hives in the presence of concentrations of bullshit that other humans aren’t even aware of. Unfortunately, as with other severe allergic reactions, this is usually worse for the reactor than it is for the surrounding mindless herd of bipeds.

Solzhenitsyn was just as much a part of the problem as Allan Weisbecker. Weisbecker was a drug runner, and god only knows what sorts of shithole things he did while he was plying his self-interested trade. I’ve unfortunately known more than my share of these people in my life (I dabbled in this kind of thing for a while as a young man, but never fully entered this dark world, for reasons I still do not quite understand myself.) and every last one of them have got some heavy infractions going, and I’m most very definitely not just speaking in a strictly legalistic sense of “dope’s illegal” and since you bucked the system, you’re a crook. Solzhenitsyn was an officer in the Red Army, and even though it was the Red Army that eventually kept Hitler’s heels from clicking on the parquet floors of St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, the Red Army was also one of the main props (the other being the secret police) that kept a horrifically evil political regime in place for decades. So the both of them, Allan and Alexandr, have some pretty heavy karma to pay back. Solzhenitsyn seems to have descended lower, and therefore subsequently ascended higher, than Weisbecker, but in truth the jury’s still out on that one. Furthermore, neither one of these guys really gets fully to the nub of their own personal infractions. Yes indeed, they speak of being in the wrong, and go so far as to trot out various and sundry examples in an effort to own up to their personal wrongdoings, but it’s never done with the same vigor and relish as it’s done when trotting out various and sundry examples of the wrongdoing they see around themselves. And, in yet another twist, I’m pretty sure that if they DID get to the nub of their own wrongdoings, it would detract from their work to the point of making their writing unreadable. Nobody wants to read a hundred-thousand words of self-flagellation.

Oftentimes, seeing too much can only occur when the viewer is fully engaged in doing something they shouldn’t be doing.

Weisbecker does a lot of looping. I’m not sure exactly what looping is, but Wendy Hubbert thinks it’s a very bad thing. My own personal opinion on the matter is that Wendy Hubbert is full of shit, and Weisbecker’s looping, whatever it may be, adds an element of depth to his work, without which, said work would be a much thinner gruel indeed.

This is a writer’s book about writing. And when I say writer, I mean Writer. I’ve already compared Weisbecker’s writing with Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s, and now I’m going to compare it to Mark Twain’s. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn got a Nobel Prize for The Gulag Archipelago. Twain, I’m sure, would have knocked down his own Nobel Prize, had they been a going thing during those years in which he was producing his best work. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s is a Writer. Mark Twain is a Writer. And Allan Weisbecker is a Writer.

Writing is not just writing. Superb writing only happens when the person who’s doing the writing has actually lived. We all know people who aren’t alive, just as we all know people who are very alive. It’s the ones who are very alive who are actually living. If this makes no sense to you, or you need to have it further explained to properly understand it, then I submit to you that you’re not really living and will always miss the point of paragraphs such as this one. Weisbecker has lived and continues to live. Which means that there’s going to be more where the like of Can’t You Get Along With Anyone comes from. Which may or may not be such a good thing for Allan Weisbecker, who must endure the living of it prior to doing any Writing about it.

Weisbecker wants not only to know the truth, he also wants very much to pass the truth along to his fellow humans. This motivation, in people like Allan Weisbecker, is atavistic, cannot be smothered even if the person doing so wishes to smother it, and leads directly to a whole world of grief when those for whom the truth is inconvenient get even with the truth-teller. The supreme irony consists in the fact that those whom the truth teller is trying to alert to the truth are themselves completely unworthy of knowing the truth, and will in fact discard the truth like used toilet paper even when it’s handed to them on a silver platter. Most people hate the truth, because it interferes with their personal, self-aggrandizing, agendas.

Everything above that was said about the truth notwithstanding, if the truth is ever extinguished we all die. For that reason alone, it is absolutely vital that truth-tellers continue to dwell amongst us with their inconvenient rantings and ravings. Cherish those truth-tellers that you have come in contact with. They are trying to save your sorry ass, despite your best efforts to the contrary.

Did I mention before that “This shit’s complicated”?



I’m not sure I like the idea that fair-sized excerpts taken directly out of this book can be found on Weisbecker’s web page. Running along through the book, hitting a section that I’ve already read kind of interrupts the uptake flow. Might just be a personal thing with me, and then again it might not. Everything else on the website is spot fucking on.

The documentation on the website is yet another parallel with Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn put EVERYTHING in his book itself, whereas Weisbecker has left a fair bit out of the book, but makes it available on his webpage. It’s a matter of personal choice I suppose, coupled with the fact that when Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was putting The Gulag Archipelago together, and leaking it to the world via samizdat, there was no such thing as a webpage and so the whole works had to go between the covers or not show up at all. The word count in all three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago is enormous, and I’m guessing the same is going to be true for Can’t You Get Along With Anyone once all the exterior supporting material and all the rest of it is taken into proper account. Both authors believe strongly in documenting their tales. A lot of what both of them write is the kind of stuff that it’s far far easier to simply not believe. It’s just all too much. WAY too much. No way could all this shit have ever happened in the real world. And, more parallels here, both authors seem to know this sort of thing instinctively, and since they know that there’s a lot of vested interests and cooperative fools out there who will seek to sweep away all that they have been through and all they have written about it, they both lay down an overwhelming amount of supporting material and backup documentation. Thanks guys. The extra effort shows, and it’s well worth it to be able to go through it all. Adds to one’s understanding in a way that nothing else can.

One way in which Weisbecker’s and Solzhenitsyn’s books differ, signally, is that The Gulag Archipelago is this great, thundering, grave thing, that in no way can be made light of or trivialized. Not so with Can’t You Get Along With Anyone. Far from it, in fact. And I suspect that Allan’s enemies are going to attack the man and the book from this very angle. It’s a fucking story about some whack guy who ran off to the end of the road and threw himself wholesale into all manner of self-indulging things, and what happened, more or less, as a result of all this. A guy, I might add, who has already owned up in a previous book to a whale of a lot of unsavory goings on. All of the foregoing is both an Achilles’ heel, and a secret strength to Can’t You Get Along With Anyone. It’s going to cause an awful lot of people to just brush the whole thing off as the whinings of an aging hedonist. These people can be relied upon to do their ad hominem worst to smother this baby in its crib, and for a lot of the less than fully critical people out there, their smothering will work. But. And a big but it is… Alan has plumbed the depths of the human soul, his own included, in a way, and in places, that no one else has had the opportunity to do. And, miracle of miracles, Allan is up to the task and has done a miraculously worthy job of seeing those things that needed most to be seen, and then even more miraculously, has done an even worthier job of telling the tale, shining a brilliant beam of light on some very very dark corners of the human soul. It’s this seeing and telling that sets books like Gulag and Can’t You Get Along With Anyone apart from ordinary fare. Solzhenitsyn personally crossed paths with an awful lot more murderers than Allan Weisbecker has, but Weisbecker does not come off any the worse for it. He takes the lesson and takes it well. And, as Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.” Solzhenitsyn’s genius was to be able to retrieve the tragedy from the statistic and Weisbecker’s is to let the tragedy more or less speak for itself, on more than one level. The symmetries, broken and preserved, in this neck of the woods are nothing short of uncanny.

Lying and liars.



Self-serving behavior without regard to the consequences that the self-serving behavior has on those around you.



Even this book’s publication is testimony to the all the fucking crap that Weisbecker’s had to endure. Weisbecker called bullshit on the publisher of In Search Of Captain Zero, and in response did the publisher see to it that the bullshit was identified and rooted out, the better to promote, and therefore increase profits, on Zero? Hell fucking no, they didn’t. Instead, they closed ranks against him, and took the loss rather than tolerate someone amongst them with the temerity to question themselves or their motives. This is Good Old Boy-ism taken to an absurd level, with vicious intent, just to cover the lying stealing good old boys, and girls, in question.

Sexual chicanery.

This is actually several books, and they’re all sort of snarled up together in a way that can cause the unwary to miss the significance of all sorts of noteworthy things, large and small. We’re basically dealing with the excruciating details of a fatally flawed relationship (more on that in a bit), a real-world murder mystery and the consequences that come with the unraveling of it, and an engine-room level tour of the filth, greed and mendacity that constitutes the core “values” of the entertainment industry in general, and the book publishing and movie subsets of that industry in particular.


We’re going to be taking a little ride here, and our tour guide knows the ins and outs of rides in a way that very few people on earth do. Weisbecker has taken rides, and been taken for a ride, in ways that can only astound you once you immerse yourself within Can’t You Get Along With Anyone.

CYGAWA is one of those deceptive things that has the power to let you believe that it’s not particularly deep or considerable, and is written well enough that it succeeds admirably on just the ‘Oprah’ level alone.


Lotta goddamned drama.

One HELL of a lot of goddamned drama.

Which is right up the alley of those types who just sort of skim through life, voyeuristically diverting themselves from their own worthless lot with the kinds of gossipy, through-the-keyhole amusements that shallow people just can’t seem to get enough of.

This book stands as an indictment against us all. We are, all of us, less than we believe ourselves to be.

We are venal.

We cloak ourselves in a mantle of respectability, righteousness, or some other well-crafted warp and weft of justification, and we go about our daily affairs indignant that those around us so signally fail to measure up to our own lofty standards.

But it’s all a bunch of bullshit.

It’s fucking bullshit from top to bottom, and anybody who claims otherwise is pushing an agenda, and that agenda has their own goddamned motherfucking self-interest as its foundation and core, and nothing else.

This is probably the hardest book review that I’ve ever written, for two reasons. One: This is an amazingly deep and complicated book that addresses a wealth of bedrock issues lying at the heart of the human condition. Two: Every time I picked it back up and started reading the damn thing, I found myself stopping and dashing off fragments of this review, the better to keep from losing yet another salient point in the review. The fucking review was attempting to run longer than the book! This second reason speaks back toward the first in that it’s a pretty strong indication of just exactly how much important, nay unignorable, information is compacted within the pages of CYGAWA. The fucking thing just oozes insightful takes on What It Means To Be Human, out of the pores of its skin, without even trying to. Again, for the umpteenth time, in a similar fashion to Solzhenitsyn’s better works.

I’m trying to somehow cut the length of this review (easily the longest book review that’s ever run off the ends of my fingers). But as of writing these very words, I’ve only managed to make it to just a little past the halfway point to page 318 in a 538-page book and what I’ve committed to disk is way past the three-thousand word mark and is showing no signs of abating. (Note to those of you with mathematical inclinations: If this review winds up coming in under five thousand words, it does NOT mean that things did in fact abate. Instead, it means that I took one look at the mass of words I had, realized that nobody is going to wade through something like that just to learn what’s in some book or other, and I cut things to bring it down to a more manageable size. That said, me being me, I might just say fuckit, and let the thing run wild and let the problem become the reader’s. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what winds up happening, eh?)

Of all the illustrated groups of people that Allan crosses paths with in this book, and then suffers at the hands of their duplicity and selfishness, it seems clear that the most honorable pair in the whole parade are the drug runners (government drug runners like William Casey and Oliver North excepted of course) and the thieves (again, government or other organizational thieves excepted). Blue collar drug runners. Blue collar thieves. With these guys, you at least already know where you stand with them from the start. Not so the more “sophisticated” (And did I really need to put those quotation marks around sophisticated? No, probably not, now that I think about it.) members of the genus homo. This is yet another deceptively simple aspect to this book that, upon closer examination, yields a trove of insight to those with the wit to see what’s down there beneath the surface of things, and one that could easily be missed by those without the time to properly masticate this sonofabitch: In life, it’s the crooks who oftentimes turn out to be the straightest shooters of the lot.

Treacherously unfaithful lover. Implications. Building tension as the situation escalates, you the reader knowing all too well what’s really going on, but hoping against hope that things will somehow work out, even as you become more and more impatient for the goddamned final scene to arrive and release you from your tension.

But we’re reading Weisbecker here, remember? And Weisbecker, just like Solzhenitsyn, knows that unless he documents the living shit out of every last little thing, you might come away with a shadow of a doubt in your mind. No way, baby! You’re getting ALL of it. And it’s not like ALL of it is in any way superfluous, or unnecessary. ALL of it speaks and speaks well to the subject at hand. But goddamned can it ever wear down on you! One can only imagine how living it wore down on the author.


Greek tragedy.

Narrated from the INSIDE. A new and very unsettling perspective.

The only way to deal with liars is to lie to them. This then presents its own moral problems. It seems as if the liars amongst us have tainted us one and all.

When lying to defend against liars, or even worse, to ascertain the truth, one begins to dance through a minefield, or perhaps some hot zone overflowing with contagion that will surely infect you with the very thing you seek to cleanse from your life unless you are very careful. Liars know this, and the ruinously short-sighted motherfuckers gleefully seek to spread their own fatal disease to all those who attempt to catch them out.

There are a LOT of people out there who are going to do their best to see to it that this book sinks like a stone. And our job, as readers, and as understanders is to fight back against the selfish destructive cocksuckers by doing whatever it takes to ensure that this book rises all the way to the top. Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for your friends. Spread the word. Help those who have read all of it or only part of it with their FULL understanding of what’s really going on with this book. There’s a war on, and the Bad Guys are winning right now. This awful situation has got to change, or we’re all going down the drain together, Good Guys, Bad Guys, All Guys.

Even crooked dogs! That also still get loved, even though they’re crooked.

Denial. Denial about denial. Denial about denial about… well, you get the idea.

Weisbecker mentions people like Bush, Rumsfeld, Hussein, and other lesser lights as reasons why the world is so fucked up. For myself, I’m not so sure about this. Yes, they’re all a bunch of lying shitballs. Yes, they’re VERY fucked up. But… I wonder how people like this can so consistently and saliently get their hands on the levers of power, be it globally or be it in our bedrooms, and I get the creepy feeling that it’s us that’s causing it. WE are the problem, down at the very rootest level. WE need these fucks, or other fucks, to effect our own agendas with. Liars lie and when it serves the interest of those being lied to, then Let The Lying Times Roll. Somewhere, there’s a flaw in the human makeup that is so fundamental, so basic, that liars are ALWAYS going to be around for us to put up with. Or is it even a flaw? Is evolution just mindlessly selecting for this shit without asking anybody’s opinion as it does so? If so, WHY? And right about here, the lights go out for me. I do not fucking know. But what I do know is that when somebody lies and the lie serves our collective self interest, we’re happy to not only let it go, hell, we’ll help the sonofabitch. It’s only when the lies conflict with our self interest that we howl in protest. Not a very cheerful thought, when you get right down to it.

Black humor.


This is a book to read for those who would Know the Truth. Which is ultimately impossible of course, but the sense of the thing stands, regardless. This is also a book to read for those who would Peek Through the Keyhole. Which is ultimately a despicable act of course, but the sense of the thing stands, regardless. And who knows? Maybe a little Truth (impossible to know, though it is) could possibly rub off on the keyhole peerers whilst engaged in their nasty little pastime. It could happen. And if it happened, it would be a Good Thing. This is also a book to read for those who like their books on the rich, ramified, and even recondite side. Books that reward rereading. This thing has got so many layers, so many differing levels of understanding, that it will satisfy anyone who seeks the sort of written material that engages the reader in a dialogue. People who don’t get this, don’t get this, and I advise them not to let it worry them. Go read the thing for your own reasons and don’t worry about weirdnesses like some guy in a room somewhere having a fucking dialogue with a goddamned book, ok?

Did you notice all the motherfucking cuss words in this review? Well the book has a similar seasoning, too. Nice-nasties, and those who would Bowdlerize the world around them, probably shouldn’t read this book. Too much truth. Might cause ’em to pop a blood vessel or something. Can’t be having any of that, now can we? The truth swears like a sailor, in case you were wondering.

Print Reviews

Rolling Away: My Agony With Ecstacy

Rolling Away: My Agony With Ecstacy

by Lynn Marie Smith

Washington Square Press

This gritty tale of Lynn Marie Smith’s missteps starts with the end of high school, her promising future and heading off from small town Pennsylvania to the Big Apple for college. Following her dream of becoming an actress, she starts at the Academy of Dramatic Arts with a bright future. She falls into a crowd that parties hard and uses any drug they can get their hands on. She’s so anxious for acceptance, so eager to fit in, that she sinks right into their world with no hesitation. While at first she seems to handle things rather well, her need for the high becomes too overpowering and she spirals out of control.

She lets you inside her life, with no detail spared. Every party, every bad dream, every new drug experience is told with such clarity, you’d swear you were on the trip with her. She writes so vividly you can almost smell the smoke in the bar. Her addiction starts off gradually but over the course of five months it builds into a frenzy that she can’t control. She ends up with Ecstasy being her drug of choice, and she does it almost daily. She loses friends, jobs and blocks of time. She has a total breakdown from not eating, not sleeping and she then begins to hallucinate regularly. Luckily during the middle of her final breakdown and spell of hallucinations, she somehow manages to call her mother, who comes to get her and takes her home to Pennsylvania. They hospitalize her for 14 days, where she is medicated with anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, sleeping pills and mood stabilizers. As odd as it seems to medicate an addict, it worked, it got her off Ecstasy and got her back on the track of living. They did a scan of her brain and showed her a comparison of hers next to a healthy brain and that visual was the one that kicked her into gear. She compared it to Swiss cheese. The doctor said that her brain looked like a 60-65 year old woman who’s had multiple strokes. After that, it became real to her, she had the “proof” she needed of what she had done to herself.

While she is back at home with her family she struggles against the protectiveness of her mother, the drinking from her father, feeling like a fish out of water back in a small town and trying to figure out where her life is heading next. While surfing the web, she runs across the casting section on the MTV website. They were looking for people who wanted to tell their stories about addiction to Ecstasy. On a whim, she filled it out, sent them her story and they called. They wanted to do a piece on her for a show called “True Life: I’m on Ecstasy”. She agreed with some reservations but found that sharing her experiences and talking about what happened to her seemed to not only help her, it helped so many others. She started talking to groups of kids who needed to hear her story and that parlayed into many other speaking engagements. The more she did it, the more she helped others and most importantly, the more she healed herself.

Lynn Smith is still speaking all over the country, telling her story in all its gore to help save someone else from living her nightmare. She’s also part of the advisory board of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. She’s speaking about her experiences to strangers, living that time in her life over and over in hopes that she keeps one person from walking in her shoes.

Simon & Schuster:

Print Reviews

Back Issue

Back Issue #18

by Michael Eury, et al


Amusingly, the latest installment of Twomorrows’ Back Issue ‘zine is touted as the “Big Green Issue”; and this is to be taken quite literally as pretty much every article hews faithfully to that theme, covering a character who has the word “Green” in their name, a writer/artist who is associated with one of the aforementioned characters, or a hero/villain who is mostly, yes, green. The only two notable exceptions are a love letter to the resurrected E-Man comic and a mini-portfolio of artist David Gibbons’ rough sketches. But, c’mon, it’s Dave Gibbons! There’s some gorgeous Green Lantern Corps rough drawings, so all is forgiven. (Ha!)

Indeed, the combination of feature material, interviews and roundtables with seasoned professionals, expressions of devotion to a character/title, or concise historical recaps of a character’s exploits make Back Issue a fine purchase and keep up the level of quality that I associate with the Twomorrows stamp.

John Wells’ recapping of the Martian Manhunters’ somewhat convoluted continuity, from the late 1950s until last year, complete with issue numbers, is an excellent pop-culture research tool that I should hope ends up on the web soon. Good, good stuff. Jim Kingman’s piece on the “solo” adventures of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, post Green Lantern/Green Arrow, follows in a very similar, well-researched vein; however, Kingman goes hog wild and augments his own chronology/commentary with reflections and insight offered forth by many of the creators involved in these issues — giving you a sort of director’s cut look behind the curtain. Al Nickerson uses much the same methodology, but with a much more subjective bent, to show why Guy Gardner was the best of the Green Lanterns. Writer/artist Mike Grell holds forth on his critically-lauded ’80s Green Arrow run — one that culminated in one of the first DC graphic novels, Longbow Hunters — discussing stylistic influences and his conscious decision to take Green Arrow into a more realistic, urban environment.

Michael Browning assists the creators behind the 1990s revival of Green Hornet in telling their side of the story; it’s an enlightening, but ultimately frustrating tale of a promising title being chocked under the weight of business nonsense. Writer Peter David is more than happy to look back at his lengthy Hulk run and discuss the various shifts he made to the Hulk persona. Neal Adams hands over gobs of Green Lantern/Green Arrow sketches and studies (from the politically aware and influential “Hard Travelling Heroes” run) and holds forth on everything from his fondness for science to making a good 3-d comic. The most eye-opening piece of the whole magazine, however, has to be the Roundtable discussion with august creators Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr. on their decision to kill Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin back in 1973, a decision that still has repercussions to this day for the Marvel “universe.” Conway and Romita both evince total bemusement at how that, for many, has become the pivotal Spider Man tale; they plead innocent to “killing the Silver Age,” and simply state that they were trying to tell a more realistic, serious Spider-Man tale. Despite protestations that they were just trying to meet a deadline and tell a good story, without thought to long-term consequences, the ease with which they explain their motivations and retrace the writing process behind that issue seems to hint that this is not something that’s been far from the minds of either man for very long.

Awesome. Back Issue is one of my favorite Twomorrows periodicals. It’s less burdened by the responsibility of history that Alter Ego bears so well and it’s more freewheeling and freeform than the writer/artist or collector-oriented titles. More prone to fevered rhapsodies or fannish recaps of a character’s entire “career” and minutiae (with passion) like that, which I love. Like a more organized, though still anarchic and subjective, message board, just without the trolls.

Twomorrows Publishing: