Muse Machine Joins 700 Club

 This is my 700th post since starting this blog about, well, 700 days ago, so I’m approaching the 2-year mark.

As we celebrate this milestone of endurance, knowing that at least 278, 456, 234 other blogs have failed to reach 700,  won’t those of you reading at home help us continue the good work with a special gift  of at least $10,000?

Just kidding! I didn’t mean that kind of 700 Club.

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“There Won’t Be Another Like Him”

 Some years ago the Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard put together a book titled Elvis is Dead and I’m Not Feeling Too Good Myself.

I know what he meant.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence that I  picked up a wretched bad cold the day after my hero, John Updike, died, but I don’t think so. I’ve just felt oddly diminished by his death, which has hit me harder, I believe, than the death of anyone I didn’t personally know. Perhaps we  don’t realize how much we are sustained by someone or something until the parting comes. Anyway,  the bug, combined with the giddy stress of spending two hours onstage each night in my current play, has me longing to crawl into bed with a bottle of Nyquil, which I plan to do tomorrow night after the final curtain.

I was going to tell “my” Updike story,  a minor tale of two meetings separated by more than 25 years, but the alternating chills and sweats are pulling at my attention. So I’ll just chip in this quote from Jeffrey Eugenides  in The New Yorker, which has gathered Updike tributes  from a number of leading writers:

There’s some idea that Updike’s mandarin style and bearing distanced him from certain demographic slices of the population. But you have only to witness the outpouring of grief in the last two days to see how far this is from the truth. When a writer dies, a vote comes in. It usually takes a while, but not in this case. Updike’s death has revealed how many people, how many different kinds of people, felt a strong connection to his work. He was our great American writer. There won’t be another like him. How fortunate we were, and how lucky he was, to have come along in our democracy at the time he did.

Saying Goodbye to John Updike

As news of John Updike’s death yesterday saddens the literate world, praise is pouring forth. The New Yorker, Updike’s literary home for half a century, has numerous tributes from prominent writers who lived in awe of him.  The New York Times has a long and almost entirely generous piece from its sharp-clawed lead critic, Michiko Kakutani. And here’s a National Endowment for the Humanities lecture on Updike that provides keen insight into his genius.

There’s also a nice tip of the cap from the Boston Red Sox  in memory of Updike’s classic story about Ted Williams’ last game, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”  http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3865007

There’s so much more worth pointing out about Updike. I’ll try to get to some more tributes after a few hours of actual work. I’ve been hearing his voice in my head over the past 18 hours–God, I feel like I’ve lost a friend–and I’ll try to locate some of my favorite Updike passages to post here.

America’s Greatest Writer Dies

John Updike, my vote for greatest American writer of the 20th Century, died of lung cancer today. I was stunned. I had heard nothing about his illness. It was my privilege to meet him twice, most recently a year ago in Dallas.

I’ll have more to say, as will so many others, but right now I’m just flattened by this news. I can’t believe there will never be another of his wonderful books.

Will the O-Word Replace the N-Word?

Back to the acting life again,  I’ve been busy playing a smirking, conniving  villain in an absurd melodrama–no, not Dick Cheney–so I’m a bit behind on some cultural observations re the Obama Reformation:

1. At least a few of the black rappaz who’ve contributed to the ongoing sleazification of America are now saying that with Obama in charge, they’ll consider cleaning up their acts, starting with a reduction in the number of N-words they blast in their alleged music.

 A savvy African-American blogger has quotes and details  here . If I read this right,  some rappaz may even start using the president’s name in place of the ubiquitous N-word as a kind of backhanded honorific, I guess.

So we’ll hear “Yo, homie, get these niggaz Obamas a beer,” and “I don’ want no niggaz  Obamas comin’ in here strapped,’  you feel me?” 

 Perhaps  the song “Mah Niggaz” from the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday will be redubbed  “Mah Obamas.”

 2. Also caught a sign-o’-the-times NPR piece with cultural critic John McWhorter reflecting on the intonations and inflections in Obama’s Inaugural Address.  By the way, Obama is “bi-dialectal,” McWhorter informs us.

  Of course, he says,  Clinton and W. Bush were also  bi-D, doncha know, but it turns out that Clinton and Bush’s bi-dialecticality was not good, see, while Obama’s is good.

“Clinton and Bush used colloquialisms, but we tended to process them as Southern,  hillbilly, or  Texan,” McWhorter  tells NPR.  So when Clinton said he’d be with New Hampshire voters “until the last dog dies,” or Bush used some boot-scootin’  Texasism, that was  deemed hickish by the mediarati. By contrast, when Obama tells a waiter, “I’m straight” on a generous tip, or uses an expression like “that’s how I roll,” this is cool and new and hip and authentic.

Lesson: We need to be tolerant and welcoming of all kinds of diverse life styles, but we sure don’t need to broaden our circle to include the slovenly cowboy-cracker dialectic of Southern lowlifes.

Got that, y’all?

In Awe of O, #27

Part of a continuing series chronicling the adoration of Obama:

“Sometimes it seems he’s playing the game 10 levels above everyone else, with Congress and Lawrence Summers and the rest of the Cabinet so much human window dressing for a man with a high IQ and a pitch-perfect temperament.”

— Margaret Carlson, Bloomberg News