Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stuart Kaminsky; Leonard Cohen; Gerald Kersh

Stuart Kaminsky died yesterday. I didn't know him well at all but when I was starting out going on twenty-seven or so years ago I wrote him a letter telling him how much I loved the Toby Peters books and how I'd published a lot of crap in the down market men's field but now wanted to try mystery novels. He wrote back with advice I still honor today. I still love the Toby books and almost all of his other books, too. I'm not sure why but his death shocked me more than any other recent one. I'm still sort of stunned by it. Peace, Stuart.

------------------Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen's early 60s novel sold three thousand copies hardcover. I was one of the three thousand buyers. And I was hooked for life. A fair number of people don't like his work because it's a "downer" but I've always found his struggles to be those of an intelligent and way articulate man trying to make sense of of our short time here. In The Nation this week David Yaffe posted a very long and extremely enlightening piece about Cohen. It's well worth reading.

"In 1966 Cohen was a poet and novelist--he had sold a few thousand copies of his novels and collections of verse in Canada--who was just learning to perform. The poetry world was small, the Canadian one even smaller, and Cohen was seeking a bigger stage. A chance encounter with Judy Collins led to his serenading her, on the phone, with "Suzanne." She recorded it almost instantly. Shortly thereafter, Cohen found himself giving an impromptu performance for Hammond in his room in the Chelsea Hotel. Hammond later pressed Cohen to reproduce in the studio what he had heard in that room, but it didn't work out that way. Cohen needed to be almost hypnotized to be so hypnotic on songs like "The Stranger Song," "Master Song" and, really, all the tunes that ended up on Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967). Cohen was no folkie; according to Hammond, Cohen felt that he needed to augment his voice with strings, with odd distracting timbres and windup toys, and even with amateurish white backup singers who sounded like they were harmonizing in a schoolyard. (Later, the Cohenettes would become sassier and more racially mixed.) It was the artist, not the label, who wanted to sweeten his dark songs with fiddles and studio trickery. The album has endured for more than forty years, and all its eccentric features heralded the shape of Cohen's sonic choices to come."

For the rest go here:

------------------Gerald Kersh

I have six collections of Gerald Kersh stories. His Night and the City remains one of my favorite novels and movies of all time. And his short stories are masterful. The mind that could construct "The Queen of Pig Island" is rare indeed. But today in an old Ellery Queen annual I stumbled on "The Scar." I'd never heard of it before. Most of it is related by a down and out old entertainer who's time is long past and who is probably a bullshit artist in the extreme. The bulk of it is a tale the old fart tells the man who lives in the same shabby rooming house. It's an interesting view of Britain right after the war and of what life was like for a man who never made it. But the ending--wow. It's a great twist that writers especially will appreciate. Well worth looking up.

Where're they ever going to find an actor with Jack Lord's monsoon-resistant hair? He could run along a beach during a hurricane and nary a single hair would fall out of the place. Now that's acting.

1 comment:

Mike Dennis said...

"Night And The City" (the Jules Dassin version--1950) remains one of my all-time favorites, too, Ed. You don't see too many people invoke that one. It was a great movie on every level. The remake was just okay, but you have to ask, "What was the point?"

Regarding Stuart Kaminsky, I met him in Sarasota back in 2002 and he told me the following story.

In the early 1980s, he was approached by representatives of Sergio Leone, the great Italian film director. Leone was preparing to do a film about Jewish gangsters in New York City, and it would be called "Once Upon A Time In America". It would eventually star Robert DeNiro, James Woods, and Tuesday Weld.

The film was to cover the lives of these gangsters from young boys in the 1910s to older men in the 1960s. The scope was staggering, but Leone had his arms firmly around the whole thing. He wanted Stuart to add some dialogue to the script.

They met one day, and through an interpreter, Leone told Stuart he wanted the dialogue in the American gangster idiom of the time. He handed Stuart the script, and to Stuart's complete amazement, it contained only camera direction and some ideas (in broken English) as to what the characters might say in each scene. There was not one word of actual dialogue.

Stuart had to write every word of dialogue for the entire film, which lasted over three hours! He was given credit at the end of the movie ("Additional Dialogue: Stuart Kaminsky"). A host of writers, all with Italian surnames, none of whom could speak English, were credited up front as the "Screenwriters".