1. ERIC DOLPHY—the misunderstood man-child of the saxophone, a font of dissonant beauty, the engine behind intellectual bop. Listen to him tear it up on the bass clarinet. This is the kind of effortless genius and improvisational flow that defines (defies?) true rhythm. And kills it so much harder than any rock solo, ever.
2. Harry Belafonte in Odds Against Tomorrow—stick with it until the club scene. A movie made back when “uncompromising” was something to aspire to, almost as much as “massive opening weekend take.” A beyond-brave role for Belafonte to accept, tossing away untold Day-O royalties with the Merv Griffin set in order to make a political and cultural statement. Plus, he’s just really fucking good.
3. Deborah Eisenberg—short stories that are way, way smarter than you are. Her first collection caused a decade’s worth of chubby MFAs to move to Manhattan and intern at lit journals with French-sounding names, spend years in writing groups, submit countless stories, give up in a bitter haze, and eventually become obsessed with making artisinal goat cheese.
4. After a lifetime of Hanes twelve-packs from T.J. Maxx, the sudden, revelatory pleasure of owning high-quality, package-hugging underwear.
5. Doing Wild Turkey shots with a bartender who’s cool, sexy, and keeps hinting you might go home together after last call.
6. Louis Ferdinand Céline—wrote probably the greatest first novel ever written, containing enough misanthropy to fill a thousand polluted ocean’s worth of abandoned grocery bags. Stands at the apex of the argument against assigning meaning. So did he write it, or did it write him? More importantly, should you just read the Cliff’s Notes instead?
7. The cheapest Vietnamese joint in town, whose back door opens onto a needle-and-hobo ridden alley where there’s an excellent chance you’re about to get punched for your leftovers.
8. Lee Dorsey—an aching voice in a world that increasingly contains zero honest ache.
9. The 1975 Saab LE—my first car. Man, I loved that ride. In fact, I have never really recovered. If I ever just happen to, say, sell a million zombie novels, I will buy one of these, completely restore it, and drop a .451 tractor engine under the hood. Then baby it around town, all smooth in second gear, maybe taking little side trips out to buy grapefruit at the farmer’s market on crisp fall Sundays.
10. The Concept of Incarceration—take a long breath and try to imagine what it’s like to be locked in a box. Not a movie-box or a rape-joke box, but the real, miserable, brain-annihilating thing. Take a longer breath and ask yourself why some people are there right now, spooling out ten long years wondering what series of events brought them to themselves, while you’re trolling the net.
11. Iceberg Slim—pimp literature is a pretty thin genre, but Slim is the Shakespeare of both the stroll and the long con.
12. Tucson, Arizona—first thing you do is hit the casino near the airport. Just look for the rusty quonset hut. On the way home from a wedding, killing time before my flight, I once won 27 hands in a row at the blackjack table in the far corner. It smelled like Pall Malls and sour fingertips and the sweat of the doomed. I began to suspect that the dealer, who looked like he hadn’t shaved since just before the Tet Offensive, was going to drag me into an arroyo out back and beat me chip-less. But everyone just smiled and waved as I left, nursing a cake hangover, somewhere north of three grand.
13. Son House—he wrote a death letter. The least you could do is read it.
14. Drinking Robitussin—guzzle just over half the bottle. Follow immediately with a six-pack of Mexican beer. This practice was known amongst a certain strata of Melvins-loving friends as “Robo-dogging it.” Ride out the rush like a wave of corrosive sludge in a lawn chair on the back porch. As dew settles on your arm hairs and the sun finally comes up, watch schematic patterns whirl behind your eyelids in counterpoint to a thinly-glimpsed understanding of the universe.
15. A 1958 Gibson Les Paul Custom—if that doesn’t need to be on a museum wall instead of Keith Haring, I’m a canned ham.
16. Cezanne—I suppose it’s possible that it gets more brilliant than this.
17. Eighties Arcade games—who needs other players, or cut scenes, or multiple characters, or good graphics, or 3-D modeling, or voice-overs, or a score or a point or a brain? Give me two packs of cigarettes, a roll of quarters, a trench coat covered with Mission of Burma buttons, and a shitty little deli with Robotron 2084, Tempest, Defender, Dig Dug, and Rally X machines in the corner.
18. Speed Chess—There’s nothing that quite rivals the giddy, loping, fear-ridden experience of slamming pieces across the board in a public forum. Five minutes, five bucks a game, belly your onions and your Nizmo-Indian up to the bar. I used to play some nights at Murio’s Trophy Room. Invariably some Ukrainian cab driver would waltz in and crush me like a half-witted bug, but I pretty consistently mopped up the drunks.
19. 1938 Billie Holiday—the second most beautiful woman in the world.
20. Bonsai Trees—the first one I ever had I named Tsuyoshi. It died not long after I placed it proudly in the front window. Not enough water? Too much water? Maybe I didn’t talk to him enough. I still mourn poor Tsuyoshi, as if I’d let the gods of Shinto down hard.
21. Larry Young—if acid were music.
22. Chet Baker—if bourbon were music.
23. Julius Hemphill—if absinthe were music
24. Smedley Darlington Butler—one of the few men with the balls to call the carpetbaggers to the carpet. War Is a Racket is the most important pamphlet ever written. The kind of story that can only be told by a soldier (general) who spent enough ditch time to go from blind patriot to utter cynic, sailing home to call out all the senators and fortunate sons and profiteers who somehow avoided service while raking in the cash. Oh, and he also testified before congress that Prescott Bush (yes, that Prescott Bush) was part of a cabal, along with the DuPont family and the heads of US Steel, Standard Oil, Goodyear, and General Motors, who offered him thirty million dollars to participate in an armed coup against FDR. Yup, it’s true. No mere conspiracy; read away and be amazed.
25. The pleasure of owning an antique globe. Spin it. Sit back in your velvet robe. Scratch the ears of your prized Irish Setter. Then find Kamkatcha, Illyria, Sumer, The Belgian Congo, Perloja, Bunyoro, Formosa, Sarawak, Akkadia, Courland, and Rhodesia. Rest awhile just above the Sea of Jiaohzi, and then spin again.
26. The pleasure of no longer giving a shit about the NFL.
27. Robert Mitchum’s performance in Cape Fear—one of the few genuinely scary things in the history of celluloid.
28. Monica Bellucci—the most beautiful woman in the world.
30. The brilliance of both Woody Allen and William F. Buckley, off the cuff, in exactly the way that modern left and right should regard and speak to one another today, but never will again.
Bonus obsession: Not eating gluten
Bonus obsession II: Fela Kuti
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