Monday, December 22, 2008

Our Holiday Gift Guide, for the Loved One in Your Life In Need of Bailing Out

You know this blog has scraped bottom when we resort to recommending Xmas gifts, but we believe it is our patriotic duty to urge you to spend whatever’s left of your fortune this holiday season, and we’re pretty sure Paul Krugman would agree. John Maynard Keynes probably would agree, too, were he alive in the long run, and were he alive we’d like to think he’d gift us with something nice. Not another frickin’ gift card to a chain outlet, but something that says “us” while providing a mild stimulant* to the economy. Perhaps a high-riding, gas-guzzling American-made motor vehicle, with a large-screen Hi-Def plasma TV bolted to the roof. Or something made by hand. May Kay, as his confreres called him, reportedly was good with his hands.

So what’s in Santa’s bag? For the “word person” on your list you could do worse (much) than Roy Blount Jr.’s Alphabet Juice (“The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, ... With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory"), which, despite its dopey title (great cover, though) is a splendid compilation of many fine words. The book opens with this epigraph, taken from a poignant moment on the Ali G. Show
Ali G: How many words do you know?

Noam Chomsky: Normally, humans, by nature, have tens of thousands of them.

Ali G.: What is some of ’em?
... and builds nicely from there. Blount holds, and we wholeheartedly agree, that the way words roll trippingly off the tongue, or not, is intimately connected to their meanings, and he’s even coined a very sharp one of his own---sonicky---for words that just sound right (sort of like the way Coltrane’s My Favorite Things sounds exactly like Christmas, know what we mean?). Some short sharp shots of Blountian erudition, for your holiday edification:
aight This lackadaisical morpheme, a staple of webchat, is an inspired folk spelling of a popular oral contraction … a more writerly version would be a’right … But that would be too fussy for electronic communication … and in this case less meticulous is more poetic.

Anglicization Sleepy LeBeef, the rockabilly singer (It Ain’t What You Eat It’s How You Chew It) told me once that his hometown, Smackover, Arkansas, is an Anglicization of the French sumac couvert, covered with sumac.**

An example of chutzpah: employing the word itself too lightly around someone who knows Yiddish …

tallywacker This when I was a boy was the term our family doctor used for the penis.*** I don’t know that I have ever seen it in print … Somehow I didn’t want to Google tallywacker … I didn’t want to learn of a folk-rock band called Tallywacker, or a theatrical event called The Tallywacker Monlogues …
You get the idea. Funny---and dare we say, truly learned--- stuff. All the words are alphabetized, so you can peek in at random while taking a break from reading your Gibbon (another recommended author for out time).

Also: Night of the Gun by David Carr: Ordinarily we wouldn’t get with in page-turning distance of one of these “how I got sober/straight” memoirs, but Carr, who covers the media and show biz for the New York Times, is an engaging egomaniac who’s wise to his own BS and checks himself at every turn. It helps that he’s an adept word-wanker.

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins: If you’re familiar with Filkins’ extraordinary dispatches from Iraq for the Times, this book needs no recommendation. If not, get it and read it, if only as a reminder that we’re still at war.

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler: The peak-oil popularizer’s vision of our oil-less future. A humble book which, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, depicts a post-apocalyptic day in which humanity struggles to reassert itself and there’s such a thing as “good guys” and “bad guys.” This would remind us of some obscure, forgotten science-fiction classic of the ’20s or ’30s, if we’d ever actually read such a book.

… and Richard Price’s Lush Life is a fine piece of reportorial fiction.

But what about that elderly music lover on your list, locked snugly in the unyielding grip of his faded youth? Our friend Deacon Blue tipped us to Never Ever Land (now that’s a title!), a 3-CD compilation of late ’60s musical acts from Houston’s International Artists label. We’ll let the Deacon handle the wordsmithing for a moment, so we might rest:
Any CD set that includes Roky doing Slip Inside and Lightnin' doing Mini Skirt, along with Bubble Puppy and the Shayds may be worth springing for.
Yes, it may be (we’re hedging our recommendation, ’cause like Deacon Blue we haven’t heard it, but it sure sounds good). Unlike the Deacon, who was a young shaver hereabouts when these songs were being strummed in Sharpstown garages, at teen clubs and on KNUZ (or wherever), we were not present for this musical flowering, but from this far distance it seems to us that there was something uniquely off-center happening back then in off-the-beaten-path Houston. We’re especially interested in finding out more about an entity that recorded under the handle The Disciples of Shaftesbury (this was way back before you could actually get away with naming your band Tallywacker), who avowed that My Cup is Full, and someone or ones who called him/her/themselves Beauregarde and unashamedly declared that Mama Taught Me How To Jellyroll (an act of pedagogy that we believe is illegal in Texas and most other states), then disappeared into the foggy mists of time. We need some background, and we’re taking the liberty of assigning the task of assembling it to Chronicle blogger Rick Campbell.

That’s all we got. Felicidades, and may your Xmas stocking be filled with jellyroll, but not the kind that leaves you with an uncomfortable burning sensation.

*Mild stimulants being the best kind, as they don't leave you bug-eyed or coat your lips with a thick gloss of spittle.

**We actually knew this but had never seen the translation coupled in the same sentence with "Sleepy LeBeef."

***This must be a Southernism, as we referred to our bad thing by the same term, at least until we were 6 or 7 years old.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: Our suitably mawkish tribute to Charles Brown's Please Come Home for Christmas and other songs that made Christmas great.

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