Author Archives: jpcoolican

Blue Eyes

Frank Sinatra has a cold. Still the best ever

FRANK SINATRA, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday.

The Lonely Quiet

Eli Saslow is one of my favorite new longform journalists, and this piece about a Newtown family is one of his best. He achieves remarkable intimacy with them, and the writing is superb but understated. 

It sometimes felt to Mark in these moments like his grief was still deepening, like the worst was yet to come. 

 

Debbie Downer

I’ve been accused. This is the funniest thing in the world. “By the way, it’s official: I can’t have children.” I realize comedians consider it terribly unprofessional to laugh through your bits — “breaking” — but I love it. Especially here. This long New Yorker piece about the subject sort of kills the fun of it (yeah, shocking) but is still an interesting take.

The audience howls—howls—when the performer breaks. The more it goes on, the more hysterical the howling. Why is that? Burnett got at part of it when she talked about the childhood experience of trying not to laugh in the library or at church. Especially in cases when the actors are desperately trying to stifle the laugh—biting their lip, digging a knuckle into their cheek, nearly smacking themselves in the face—we feel their discomfort, and we laugh partly to try to make them feel a little better. But there’s a more important reason, and Burnett got at that, too: ‘They’—the audience—’were in on it.’ 

The Crack-Up

Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work — the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside — the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t shows their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within — that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick — the second kind happens almost without you knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed. 

Scott Fitzgerald, with evident ease, conveys an essential truth here, though of course what was required of him to arrive at that truth all but killed him.

I’m working on a story about a man whose character or soul or whatever you want to call it is gradually disintegrating, one moral calamity leading to the next. My friend Curt Nickish, aka DeepDish, pointed me to this Fitzgerald essay, which I’m embarrassed to say I had never read. Good Lord is it powerful stuff.

Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation — the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. 

I have nothing profound to say about any of this — what can possibly be said? And, this will largely be true of this blog — mostly a running diary of found art and truth.

He finishes out the first section of the essay speaking to himself, complacent that things will go as before, a balance of the “sense of futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle.”

“Up to 49 it’ll be all right,” I said. “I can count on that. For a man who’s lived as I have, that’s all you could ask.” And then, 10 years this side of 49, I suddenly realized that I had prematurely cracked.  

My current age is 39.

Whenceforth the crack-up?