Last night at our book club, we discussed Notes from Underground. Andrew shared the fact that when he was a kid, he read a book which warned kids that some people put things like pencils in their penises, and that’s dangerous. We talked about how you could then write with that pencil, and turn around to erase, because the eraser would come out of your butt. It seems like a good way to write. You could be writing with your hands at the same time, and basically get a whole lot of work done.
I said some stuff about how guys don’t masto overhand too much, and Andrew and Jon tried to make me feel like a fool. They said there’s no way I can know how many dudes masto overhand. Total contrarians, no reason for it.
At Last has become arguably the most popular song in the U.S. for weddings, Valentine’s Day, or other kinds of bourgeois events calling for cheap sentimentality—despite the fact that James’s powerhouse vocals and phrasing actively work against the sentimentality of the song’s arrangement, as it does in most of her work covering jazz standards during that period.
But her vocals weren’t the only place James was working decidedly against a safe “jazz singer” image. She worked in her personal life and her styling to embody the kind of black urban street culture in which she was immersing herself:
“I [was] serious about turning little churchgoing Jamesetta into a tough bitch called Etta James…. I wanted to look like a great big high-yellow ho’. I wanted to be nasty.”
James ascribes the blonde-yellow hair and black eyebrows that she adopted early in her career to being closely associated with street-based sex workers and drag queens at the time. That’s who she was emulating.
Yeah, I do, and I always have gifts for them because I’m always so honored that they come. If I run out of gifts, I give them money. A couple of years ago, I gave condoms to teenagers because I wanted something that was light and easy to pack. Perfect, right? And then I got a letter from a woman in Chicago who said, “I came with my daughter to see your show and she’s 15 and you gave her a condom and told her you didn’t want to be responsible for her losing her virginity so she could only use it for anal sex.” Yeah, that’s exactly what I said! I don’t know how she could’ve been offended by it. I mean, I was nice to her daughter.
"Marilyn’s estate was a bunch of poignant schlock. The auction raised more than $13 million, but not because of any intrinsic value in the numbered lots. There were no Renoirs or Picassos. Her knickknacks were pedestrian. Her cookware was greasy. Her spatulas were bent. Even her Golden Globe was broken.
The majority of her clothing showed surprising wear and tear. She had worn it all repeatedly and there just wasn’t that much of it.
Her jewelry? With the exception of her DiMaggio wedding ring it was a bunch of paste danglers and costume crap.
Shoes? Yes, there were several pairs of black suede Ferragamo stilettos with worn heels. But Marilyn—brace yourself for another shocker—was more into books than shoes. Her poignant desire to cultivate her mind and give herself an education resulted in an extensive library of first editions. Take that, Carrie Bradshaw!” —Simon Doonan on designing the Marilyn auction installation for Christie’s
As a diehard Nick Cave fan, Buchanan found particular delight in examining his handwritten journals from his Berlin years, 1982-88, held in ”flat grey archival boxes” at Melbourne’s Arts Centre. ”Performing arts material is notoriously ephemeral and rarely survives the rigours of the road,” Buchanan explains. But Cave, who began his first novel while living in Berlin, was always serious about recording his thoughts and creative process.
”He had a period around the time of The Boatman’s Call where he switched to computer,” Buchanan says. ”But he then rejected the computer as a way of writing his songs, poems and screenplays because he felt it was too impersonal.
”His notebooks are fascinating items in themselves. There might be a sketch for his screenplay of The Proposition followed by a reminder that one of his children needs to be vaccinated with the address of where he has to take her. The creative and the personal is intertwined.”
Buchanan also relished discovering a fragment of a lyric from an unidentified song Cave had begun to write in 1991: ”Look, this cup of mine is empty/Seems I’ve misplaced my desires/Seems I’m sweeping up the ashes/Of all my former fires.”