- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

True crime

“One of the reason why Season Two [of ‘The Wire’] is my favorite is because of the ‘Oh, you thought this was just the [blacks]?’ vibe. I love the stories — Omar and Brother Muzone, String and Avon falling apart. I loved the whole Sobatka clan. But I thought the decision to shift the cast from Season One to the back-burner, and look at the drug war in a much broader context was courageous, and important.

“More than that, it was true to Baltimore. One of the problems of our intellectual class is that they’re disproportionately headquartered in Manhattan and Washington — two places where the white poor and white working class either have left, or never existed. But when I was growing up in Baltimore, just like [there] were black neighborhoods where white kids didn’t go (Walbrook Junction, North and Pulaski), there were white neighborhoods where we didn’t go (Hampden, Pigtown).

“Black people were still disproportionately poor, and still involved with a disproportionate amount of violent crime. But no one who’s looked at drugs in Baltimore could draw an accurate picture and ignore whites in the city.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing on “Be More Careful,” on Feb. 11 at his Atlantic blog

True rock

“Steven Tyler didn’t think it was funny. Tom Waits found it too depressing to watch. Eddie Van Halen allegedly sat stonefaced while a room full of people cackled their heads off watching it, later saying, ‘Everything in that movie happened to me.’

“How could these people have such a negative reaction to a movie that is considered for many to be cinematic comic perfection? Well, for one thing, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ is a fake movie that many rock legends found too real. Director Rob Reiner and the comic actors who made up the titular, mock-rock triumvirate — Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer — put on their straightest of faces and ad-libbed a rock-doc parody that turned out to be more dead-on and accurate than even they realized. …

“But what probably made them cringe the most is how Tap pulls the curtain on the hedonistic, whirlwind lives of rock stars to reveal the dishonesty, desperation and incompetence that they usually have to deal with. People forget that, amidst the still-funny-after-all-those years moments, Tap is about a band trying to still stay relevant in the continuously shady, consistently fickle, here-today-gone-today music business. It’s both amazing and hilarious to know that this little, 82-minute cult comedy, which would end up influencing many mockumentaries and actual documentaries (four words: Anvil! The Story of Anvil), has made some of the most famous musicians in the world wonder what the hell have they done with their lives.”

Craig D. Lindsey, writing on “Muriel Award: 25th Anniversary Award for Best Film of 1984,” on Feb. 12 at the blog Down Inside Youre Dirty

True poetry

“Posterity hasn’t had much trouble knowing what to do with Emily Dickinson; it has revered her as a poet and sentimentalised her life. The reclusive spinster published fewer than a dozen of almost 2,000 poems she had stashed in her room and after her death it was easy to mythologise her as an unworldly, unrecognised genius, an image that persisted right up to and beyond the 1976 stage show ‘The Belle of Amherst.’

“This view of Dickinson as the ultimate amateur predisposed the public to think well of her and to attend sympathetically to works of challenging unconventionality: the first selection of Dickinson’s verse that appeared posthumously, in 1890, was reprinted eleven times in its first year and by 1914, when almost all her poems and many of her letters were in print, she was firmly established as an American classic.

“Lyndall Gordon, the distinguished biographer of T S Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Henry James and Mary Wollstonecraft, takes Dickinson’s image of ‘a loaded gun’ as the central motif in this explosively revisionist book. Gone is the slightly daffy New England dreamer developing her genius in genteel solitude; Gordon takes the lid off the violent emotional life of the Dickinson family and its far-reaching effects on the poet’s work. What she exposes is a seething Peyton Place of adultery, betrayal and lifelong feuding.”

Claire Harman, writing on “The Belle of Amherst?” in the February issue of the Literary Review

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