Saturday, March 12, 2022

Thoughts and Inspiration from Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller


Scott D. Parker

The urge came out of nowhere. Somehow, last year, I had the overwhelming desire to buy the new Foo Fighters album, Medicine at Midnight. That was odd considering I’d never purchased any of their albums up to that time. Heck, I knew only a handful of their songs and one main video, but buy the record I did and it became my favorite album of the year.

So when Dave Grohl, the founder and front man of the band, published his memoirs, The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, in the fall of 2021, I was primed and ready for it.

But I wasn’t ready for what it did to me.

A Parallel Life

With my newfound interest in all things Foo and Grohl, I learned Dave was only five weeks younger than I was. Back in 1991, when Nirvana released their seminal album “Nevermind” and set a dividing line in the history of rock music—there was a Before Nevermind and an After Nevermind—I probably knew that the trio were my age, but it didn’t register. Bands who made records I could buy were always older than me, right? Turns out, Dave was the youngest. He was like the younger brother of one of the two other guys in the band, brought along on account of his ferocious drumming style. I think we all know that Dave was at the right place at the right time, just before Nirvana blew away the general public with their sound.

But Dave was already a veteran of that scene. He had been intoxicated with the punk rock sound of Washington DC even though he was a suburban kid from Virginia. Even without a proper drum kit (he used pillows), the music flowed through him and he practiced and practiced the drums and well as strumming and picking out songs on his guitar.

Good fortune, luck, whatever you want to call it arrived one day when Dave, the seventeen-year-old struggling high school student, was given the chance to audition for the punk rock band Scream. He nailed the audition and, when invited to join the band, lead singer Peter Stahl finally thought to ask the young man his age. Naturally, Dave lied. “Twenty-one.” Peter and the other members of Virginia-based Scream accepted Dave’s word and Scream had a new drummer.

But Dave had one crucial thing to do, and even as I listened to Dave recount the story via the audiobook, fully knowing how it would turn out, it was a tense moment. Dave had to talk with his mother, a public school teacher, and convince her to let him drop out of school and tour with the band. Her words were surprising: “You’d better be good.”

As a listener to Dave’s journey, I found myself joining in his long days of traveling the country in a van, stretching out pennies per day on food, sleeping like sardines in said van, only to explode for an hour a day on stage. As a parent myself, however, I found Virginia Grohl’s faith in her son heart-warming yet also inspirational. The main job of a parent is to raise our children to be good, functioning, adults capable of holding down a job and making it on their own. She must have recognized that Dave was not going to be a typical nine-to-five kind of person and let him go. Even though my son is now twenty, I think back to when he was seventeen and ask myself if I could have let him go.

Turning it back on myself, however, I thought back to when I was seventeen. I was a junior in high school, just like Dave was. Could I have left the comfort of my suburban Houston home to tour with a rock band? Would my parents have let me? The answer to both is no.

That Guy From Nirvana

The four-year stretch when Dave toured America and Europe with Scream on less than a shoe-string budget helped forge his character into what he would become. His frugality he learned from his single mother, who raised Dave and his sister via her public school job and other jobs she took to make ends meet. He learned to make do with less and be happy about it. I found it telling that when he received his first check after joining Nirvana—an astounding-for-him $400—he blew it on a Nintendo and other assorted things he didn’t really need. Soon, he was back to scraping by, barely choking down the three-for-a-dollar corn dogs from a gas station. Still, he learned his lesson.

It’s common knowledge that Dave auditioned for Nirvana at a time when Scream was a slowly sinking ship. He joined the band with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic and set to work on Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind. It was great to hear Dave’s thoughts and memories about Kurt, especially how unprepared the trio was for the instant international fame they garnered with that fall 1991 album and, most importantly, the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. Soon, the very people who poked fun of Dave in high school were now attending Nirvana shows. The alternative, punk rock mentality in which Dave and Kurt and Krist thrived was being co-opted by the mainstream. Dave struggled with it, but he managed to get through the deluge while Kurt did not.

I made the choice to listen to this book because Dave narrates his own story, and it is exactly the way to consume this book. You get Dave’s snide tonal shifts depending on if he’s talking about a funny memory, but you can also hear his somber voice as he talks about how Kurt’s death affected him. In interviews about this book, Dave mentioned he wrote the passages about Kurt last. I wonder if he recorded them last as well.

The Indie Spirit of Foo Fighters

In the immediate aftermath of Kurt’s death, Dave left music. He didn’t even listen to the radio. The very thing that pumped in his veins, that compelled him to become a high-school dropout was now the same thing he couldn’t endure. He wanted to distance himself from Nirvana, from Kurt, and, as he came to realize, from himself. After nearly picking up a hitchhiker in Ireland—the young man was wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt, the sight of which caused Dave to duck his head and pass by—Dave knew he must return to music.

As an indie author, I enjoy performing all aspects of writing and publishing myself. True, some tasks are more mundane than others, but that is the price I’m willing to pay. I knew about Foo Fighters back in 1995 but never bought the debut record. What I truly never understood, however, was that, save for a single guitar part in one song, Dave wrote and performed every bit of that twelve-song debut. And he did it all in six days in the studio. That astounded me, but what I really latched onto was how that creativity in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide was Dave’s road out of his depression.

You see, I’ve been struggling with my own career as a writer, wondering if it is all worth it or if I should just hang it up. Why bother, I’d tell myself. No one cares if I write or don’t. In fact, those thoughts have so permeated my thinking that I actually have stopped. It’s been a month since I last wrote new words on anything other than blog posts.

But I have spent countless words on examining myself, and in this time of re-examining what kind of fiction writing career I want, I listened to Dave’s book. I hear him talk about his own struggles, his own doubts and fears, how he, even to this day, still struggles and wonders if he’s good enough.

Dave is a wonderful storyteller, weaving in and out of various tales from the road. All are remarkable and all had me questioning myself and my creative life choices. Late in the book, he described the feeling of being invited to perform—solo—at the Oscars. And it was the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” So, no pressure, right? He was scared, so scared that he nearly declined. But he and his daughter, Violet, had recently performed the song at her school talent show and she encouraged him to do the song. You see, she was scared to perform but she overcame her fears and knocked it out of the park. The child served as inspiration for the father.

In concluding this story, Dave wrote the following:

"Courage is the defining factor in the life of any artist. The courage to bare your innermost feelings, to reveal your true voice, or to stand in front of an audience and lay it all out there for the world to see. The emotional vulnerability that is often necessary to summon a great song can also work against you when you’re sharing your song for the world to hear. This is the paralyzing conflict of any sensitive artist, a feeling I’ve experienced with every lyric I’ve sung to someone other than myself. Will they like it? Am I good enough? It is the courage to be yourself that bridges those opposing emotions, and when it does, magic can happen."

Dave’s book arrived at the perfect time in my life and the inspirational journey he went on and continues to undertake hit me in the exact place I needed it: my creative spirit. It needed a jolt to get me out of the doldrums. My spirit needed to come around and be reminded that every single creative person—whether an indie writer, a rock star, or anyone in between—has moments of doubt. But if we just keep going and keep making our art, magic can happen.

It is remarkable to get an inside look at an established and famous rock star who is my age. The bass player, Nate Mendel, is four days older than me so I should have been a Foo Fighters fans from the jump. But I wasn’t. Instead, it took me twenty-seven years to come around.

Now, I’m there and not only am I on YouTube watching tons of videos but I’m rummaging through my wife’s CD collection and pulling every Foo Fighters album she has. The music is fantastic, but Dave Grohl’s message is even better.

Friday, March 11, 2022

The Batman - Review


This isn’t the review I thought I’d write…

If you’re a Batman fan of a certain age, like me, you hung out on newsgroups and fledging web forums in the late 90’s and spent too much free time in comic shops. You will have heard a familiar question. “Why can’t we have a Batman movie that’s just a crime flick, like SE7EN? Preferably directed by David Fincher? Maybe adapting Year One? Where Batman is a detective?” The good news, to all those questions from twenty-five years ago, is that movie now exists. 


Swap out David Fincher for Matt Reeves, and add in some lore that has been added to the comics in the past twenty years, and The Batman is exactly the movie I spent years saying I wanted. The city feels lived-in (hiya Glasgow), the colours are dark. The characters are flawed. The villains of the piece are mobsters and serial killers. The narrative is built around a mystery, and the trail leads deep down into a world of lies and corruption. And rain. There is a lot of rain. (Hiya Glasgow). 


Reeves has successfully synthesized Taxi Driver, The French Connection, and Blade Runner (pre-Director’s cut) into the DNA of a Batman movie, while paying a strong tribute to Batman: Year OneZero Year, and The Long Halloween. If that sounds like the film you want to see, then this is the film you want to see. On many levels -and for long stretches of the movie- this feels like the closest we've ever gotten to the source material. 


The challenge for me is that I can’t review this based on someone I used to be. I’m watching it as the person I am now. Do I remove myself from the equation and judge the film purely on its own terms, as the film it’s aiming to be? Or do I review it based on what I bring to the conversation and the film I want it to be?


It’s difficult trying to have opinions about Batman in 2022. Somehow over the last decade he has become a lightning rod for tribalism. Whether it’s Snyderverse fans shouting down any attempt to move on, or Nolan fans who now insist any new film is just a copy of their favourites. Are you pro-Batfleck, pro-Battinson, is Keaton the one-and-only? Was the Joker movie a brilliant exploration of social issues, a shallow Scorsese rip-off, or a dog whistle for the alt-right? 


My own personal tastes for Batman have shifted considerably as I’ve aged. I’m tired of seeing how damaged Bruce is. In the comics, the whole ‘broken tortured Bruce’ theme was a short-lived approach. The Frank Miller era. Before that, he was a hero with a tragic moment in his past. After that, he’s usually presented as a hero with asshole or control-freak tendencies. But in a pop-culture sense the broken Bruce has dominated for three decades now. Each new screen version has to be a meditation on “how damaged does someone have to be to dress as a Bat,” rather than embracing the idea that superhero stories are morality tales. 

I’m firmly in the O’Neil and Adams school. The Grant and Breyfogle school. The Batman is a masked vigilante with one foot in the pulp tradition that birthed him, but he’s also basically a hero trying to make a difference. He experienced the ultimate fear as a child and has set out to try and save other people from going through the same thing. And he has a really cool car. There are many ways to present that without needing to obsess over how ‘broken’ Bruce is. Especially as it’s so often done under the guise of realism and there is simply no realism to Batman. He’s a fantasy figure. The field of psychology has spent a century exploring grief and trauma, and we know these things don’t lead to a Batman or a Joker. So, can we just move past this weird arrested-development take? 


I think superheroes are a way to talk about good and evil, right and wrong. The secret sauce is in finding the balance that entertains both adults and children. I won’t say this film isn’t suitable for children, because I snuck into Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 as a nine year old. I watched AlienAliensPredator and Robocop all before I was ten. I think it’s an important part of growing up for kids to watch media that is too “old” for them, and to learn ways to get around their parents’ wishes and form their own tastes. However, I do have concerns with the idea of setting out to make a three-hour Batman movie that focuses so squarely on darkness and adult themes. I can’t shake the feeling that a certain set of arrested-development adults have stolen Batman away from kids and families. 


And yet…


This film is aware of that. The Batman feels like the conversation that has been playing out in my own head as my tastes have shifted. We meet a Batman who is two years into his ‘mission’ and is starting to realise that his methods aren’t working. Early in the film we see him viscously beat down a street gang to such a degree that he also frightens the victim he was there to save. We meet a Bruce Wayne who is isolated and broken. He has clearly used the line "I am vengeance" so many times that characters in the narrative use it as his name. There's a low-level self-aware humour to that. A joke that we're all in on. As the film progresses, Bruce is challenged again and again with his own failures, his own privilege, while also being shown that placing trust in others -and receiving it in return- can be a good thing. The final act sees all the pieces of this argument come together, as Batman is physically saved by Selina Kyle and spiritually saved by Jim Gordon, before jumping into troubled waters and emerging, reborn, as a symbol of hope. He offers a helping hand to a scared child and leads people to safety. As the film opens Bruce is talking about fear and vengeance. By the end he’s talking about hope. A running motif through the story has been the Riddler demanding that a rat be brought out into the light, and the final scenes see Batman in daylight, now viewed as a force for good. 

Matt Reeves has been very deliberate about saying this isn’t an origin story. And we don’t get the over-played scene of Bruce’s parents being gunned down. Everybody knows why Bruce becomes Batman. On a deeper level though, I think this is perhaps the first live-action film to truly address why Bruce Wayne is Batman. What is his aim? What does he represent? Why does he keep doing this? If Bruce Wayne is only out for vengeance, that’s a very short mission. But he’s out there night after night, year after year, and there must be more to that. The Batman explores why he continues to be Batman. 

And so this isn’t the review I expected to write. Because I’ve seen all the trailers, watched the early-released scenes, read the reviews. I expected to feel certain things and, for the first hour of the movie, I did. It felt too morose. The voiceover felt like a tribute to Rorschach, which set off alarm bells, considering Rorshach was an attack on the grittiest Batman takes. I was writing this review in my head already, "if you want another gritty psychopathic Batman, then you're in luck..." But then the message started to become clear, and the questions began to get interesting. I feel in some ways like this movie has the same issue The Last Jedi  ran into. We were presented with a Luke Skywalker who was old and bitter, scared of his own influence, refusing to step in and help. And fans rejected that completely. But then many seemed to check out their opinion at that point, and not see that the narrative of TLJ was about Luke realizing he was wrong (about a lot of it, not all of it.) And here, I’m seeing all the talk of how dark and dour and hopeless The Batman is, but not much talk about the heart of the movie being a repudiation of all of that. 

This is a story about how the Batman I wanted to see in my teens needs to become the Batman I want to see in my forties. And I think I might love this movie a hell of a lot. 


Or I could just have been distracted by the best Batmobile since 1989. 



Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Holy Crap, Cormac McCarthy!!

I've been out of town the last few days, attending the funeral of my Great Uncle, so this post will be short. That "Great", I should add, isn't just a title to apply. He was a great man. In a lot of ways, he was a third grandfather to me. The world is worse off without him in it. 

The funeral was in the small town I grew up in, four hours away, so I was out of commission almost all day, both attending the service and then driving back. But you can imagine my surprise when I opened my phone once back in Omaha and saw this in my Twitter mentions: 

Sixteen Years After ‘The Road,’ Cormac McCarthy Is Publishing Two New Novels

I mean, holy shit. 

Or, if that's too profane for you, you can see my actual immediate thoughts upon hearing the news here


Honestly, I'm still kind of blown away. Years back, I was able to go through some of McCarthy's papers at the Witliff Collection in San Marcos, at Texas State University. I knew they had a rough copy of THE PASSENGER there, but it was under lock and key, and, despite literally begging, I wasn't even allowed to see the box the manuscript was in. 

After so long, I, and I think a lot of people, kind of assumed it was never going to happen. 

Meticulous is a word that has been used to describe McCarthy, but I think a better word might be Perfectionist.  Though McCarthy has been known to let projects gestate for decades, I think, after no one had heard anything about it for six years, everyone assumed THE PASSENGER was a nut he couldn't crack. That his perfectionism was stopping him from going forward with the project. 

And that would make sense. The little we knew about the novel, that it was set in New Orleans and that it prominently featured a woman character, told us McCarthy was trying new things, something that always carries a risk of failure with it. And who would blame a perfectionist for abandoning a project they couldn't nail down 100%? Especially after your last book won the god damn Pulitzer Prize?

And then today. When its announced that not only is it done, it has a literal sister novel as well.. 

That he was working on it this whole time,  reshaping it, and ultimately splitting it in to TWO separate novels... As I said. Holy shit. 

The information we have on the books right now is thin, but, like most McCarthy obsessives (and one of the only McCarthy obsessives I've ever met who had a particular interest in his plays), I'm most interested in the second novel, STELLA MARIS. 

It's not that THE PASSENGER is old news, but the Times describes STELLA MARIS like this: 
“Stella Maris,” which will be released on Nov. 22 and serves as a coda to “The Passenger,” tells Alicia’s story, over roughly 200 pages. The narrative unfolds entirely in dialogue, as a transcript between Alicia and her doctor at a psychiatric institution in Wisconsin in 1972, where Alicia, a 20-year-old doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, receives a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.


That sounds a lot like a sister novel both to THE PASSENGER, but also like it may be thematically connected to THE SUNSET LIMITED, one of the greatest, yet least praised, works in McCarthy's bibliography (which in turn was in conversation with McCarthy's first play, THE STONEMASON). 

Even if that's not quite it, I'm still thrilled. I'd consigned myself to not only believing, but knowing that we would never get another McCarthy novel. Maybe, possibly, after he was gone, but not before. How glad I am to be proven wrong.

That we're getting THE PASSENGER feels like a minor miracle. That there's something else, something that might be in conversation with his plays, feels like a major one.

Until we can get our hands on them, there's only one thing we can do: 



Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Gomorrah: The End

By Scott Adlerberg

Everything good has to come to an end, and so it is with Gomorrah, which I wrapped up watching a few days ago. Earlier this year, I'd left off at the end of season four, and with the fifth and final season having recently come on HBO Max, I finally watched The Immortal, the film that acts as both prequel and sequel to season four, and the concluding ten episodes.

The final showdown between Ciro di Marzio and Gennaro Savastano is what season five essentially is, and it unfolds with the same impeccable pacing, tension, and clarity as the previous seasons. As early as season one, it became clear that the show has as a subtext the friction between workers and management, with Ciro being a leader on the worker side and the Savastano family being management. Season five goes all in on this, with Ciro, within the world he inhabits, being a man of the people, and Genny, despite his insecurities, the feared boss. Genny rules his group in a heavy-handed way from the top down, his own lieutenants talking dismissively about him behind his back, eager to take him down if they get the opportunity; Ciro's group has a vibe of fraternity and comradery. Genny often wears dressy jackets; Ciro nearly always has on his everyman's hoodie and sweatshirts. Despite taking up residence in the huge housing project that is at the show's center, Genny lives surrounded by plushness and expensive items; Ciro owns nothing but what he carries in a single duffel bag. Ciro actually says at one point that he is the same as he ever was, and this is true; he's a character who remains interesting even though he doesn't change in any substantive way from the first episode of the first season to the last episode of the last season. And that this conflict between Genny and Ciro has a class dimension: Ciro states that his aim is not only to avenge himself on Genny by killing him, but to get Genny to kneel in humiliation before everyone Ciro's leading and admit that he, Genny, and his family, the Savastanos, are finished. How this plays out, granting that everyone we're discussing is a drug dealer/murderer, is very satisfying.

One last thing. Like most gangster dramas, this show is one that has way more male characters than female characters. Most of the interplay in the series is among men. But in a way that's been organic, not forced or artificial, it has made its female characters both integral to the goings-on and extremely memorable. Not to mention as ruthless and cunning and iron-willed as the men portrayed. A quick list: Immacolata Savastano, Genny's mother; Annalisa, local drug dealer who figures prominently in seasons two and three; Azzura, Genny's wife; and of course, Patrizia, who starts low and rises quite high and who I found to be one of the most compelling characters in the whole series. In season five, two new women characters appear, and they command attention as well: Nunzia, the ice-cold, black-clad widow who forms an alliance with Ciro against Genny, and the Lady Macbeth-like Donna Luciana, ferociously intent on climbing the ladder of power. As much care went into the creation of these characters as into the male characters, that's obvious, and the results show.

Five seasons of the best kind of viewing pleasure -- that's what Gomorrah brought me at least. The intensely focused storytelling, the music, the visual beauty, all those somehow mesmerizing shots of cars and motos on the move, the way the episodes wrap up not so much with a cliffhanger as with a striking resolution to a chapter (and we hear that familiar musical cue telling us the episode is about to end), and through it all, not a single whiff, not one, of sentimentality.

I'll be hard-pressed to find another crime show that hits my viewing sweet spot as precisely as this one did, but I'll try.

Monday, March 7, 2022

A Lesson for the Living

By Marietta Miles

There are very few assurances in this life. Death is one certainty, and yet, the timing and manner can be out of the blue.

A few weeks ago, my father passed away, and though he had been suffering from dementia and had life-changing medical events in the past few years, his body was still chugging ahead like a freight train. His mind had times of perfect clarity. He would talk about growing up downtown and watching his uncles get ready for dates or reminisce about our time in Hawaii. Then, one night, he fell out of bed; not a terribly big fall as my mother and I got him up and situated and he seemed fine the next day. No bruises or headaches, just a sore arm where he had caught himself as he fell.

As the week continued though, he became increasingly agitated and confused; we spoke about what was for dinner and he told us about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He would forget why he came into a room, or he would leave the kitchen with the faucets running. One morning, he couldn’t remember how to make coffee, this was maybe the surest sign of trouble. Truly, we joked that Folgers ran through his veins. The next afternoon however was wonderful and surprising as he appeared to be happier than he’d been in quite some time. He knew where he was, and he knew who we were. He was present.

That evening he had a seizure and by the time the ambulance arrived he was unresponsive. It was unbearable to see him like that, frail and struggling. My Dad, as a young man who wanted to see the world, touched toes in the Arctic Circle, crossed the equator several times and traversed the mountains and sands of the Middle East. Served on the Princeton, Oriskany and Shangri-La. Became a lifetime airman. How could such existence fade?

I went with him to the E.R. They intubated him and began running tests. They showed me the scans of his brain, one side was bright, and the other was completely dark, like the moon in shadow. He had suffered a catastrophic brain bleed and it was killing him. Twenty-four hours later he was gone, and our hearts shattered. I was holding him when he passed. I told him how thankful I was that he was my father and how much I loved him. Those moments were a torturous gift that I will always hold tight in my heart.

My family was given such gifts. During the Covid quarantine I became the most constant caregiver to my parents. It was hard for them to be shut away from the world, even if it was for their own good. It took a toll on their spirit. My father grieved that he would never step inside another hobby or bookstore in his lifetime, but we got by and did our best. I brought cats for them to love and plants for them to care for. Books to read. We made fun food. Tried new mixed drinks. We spent a lot of time together, because I was their bridge to the outside.

Towards the end of the shut down and once my parents were double vaxxed and boosted, we would go on small adventures. Milkshakes and a drive through the country. Breakfast and a sweet new haircut. I know my Dad enjoyed those days even though they weren’t exactly what he wanted. These past few years in isolation helped my mother and father and I get closer. We talked for hours about everything. Faith. Politics. Family. He told me about growing up with his big family and the boarding house his mother ran. We talked about forgiveness and regrets. Nothing was left unsaid. I never left his side without telling him I loved him. If I felt it, I said it, and he knew he was loved.

There are many heartbreaking lessons in life, but each is so important. And whether you believe in God or follow the word of science, you must realize each moment is a miracle and a gift and the time we have together so limited. This loss has taught me to give all my love and time, right now. Don’t wait. Always share. Love with no regrets.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

On The Road: Branson, MO

By Claire Booth

I spent last week in Branson, Missouri—doing research and thinking a lot about the next book in my Hank Worth series, which is set there. I don’t have any details for you on that yet, but I do have some pictures. Here are some views of Branson and the Ozarks, where it went from a balmy 70 degrees to a sleet and ice storm within two days. Which is pretty typical. 

A view of Lake Taneycomo.

A different view of Lake Taneycomo, two days and fifty degrees in temperature apart.

And the most shocking thing I saw the entire trip. Gas for $2.99 a gallon.

And just for (painful to the wallet) laughs, here's what I paid Friday in Sacramento.