The Bund back on page 1 of the Times this morning (and may have never left Suffolk County)

When I was researching Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund for Fire Answers Fire, I spent a lot of time getting lost in back issues of The New York Times from the 1930s, where the Bund and its camps and marchs and meetings would often be mentioned on the front page, but I  did not expect to see them making a reappearance on page A1 in late 2015.

The article this morning entitled “In Long Island Hamlet, Home Buyers’ Rule Is a Relic of Its Nazi Past” is about a community in Yaphank on eastern Long Island — on the grounds of the old Camp Siegfried — where owners of homes do not own their lots and “The original owners of this tract of land kept a clause in its bylaws requiring the homeowners to be primarily ‘of German extraction.’ That has kept this community of 45 families almost entirely white.” In October of 2015.

While it does not appear that there are parades with brownshirts and swastikas or street signs with “Adolf Hitler Straße” in the current Yaphank settlement, it’s amazing that the Times piece does include a photo of a large current sign at the entrance to the neighborhood that reads “German American Settlement League – Private Community – Members & Guests Only.” That is the exact same organization name that was being used in 1938 when the following film about Camp Siegfried was made by British Pathé:

Here’s an article from Untapped Cities published earlier this year, “This Former Nazi Neighborhood on Long Island with Adolf Hitler Street Still Exists,” with even more information and photos illustrating this strange neighborhood’s past and present states.

And here’s a collection of NYPD Alien Squad photographs of Camp Siegfried in its heyday.

Go by John Clellon Holmes

GoGo by John Clellon Holmes is a book I’ve had sitting on my bookshelf since picking up a copy of the 1977 hardcover reprint edition at the Strand Bookstore in ’78 or ’79.  I didn’t read it right away because I guess I thought is was just “lesser” Kerouac rather than a novel that provided a totally new viewpoint of the Beat Generation immortals. Kerouac (Gene Pasternak) and Neal Cassady (Hart Kennedy) disappear for sections on their road trips; we don’t see them on the road and on the west coast,  but they are always in the conversation and they become major characters when they return to Manhattan where Holmes (Paul Hobbes) and Allen Ginsberg (David Stofsky) and others are waiting for them.

Go, which was published in 1952 before On the Road and is famously the first book to use the term “Beat Generation,” is a glossary of other slang from the period as well. “Go!” itself is Hart Kennedy’s catchphrase and in another place Hobbes mansplains at length the meaning of the new term “Cool” to a young romantic interest; Hobbes has a pedantic side that would mansplain “mansplaining” to a young romantic interest if he were writing a roman à clef about 2015 New York rather than late forties  New York — a city where young men and women are smoking marijuana and listening to bebop in wild parties and older New Yorkers are still seen on the street in bowlers and spats.

Kathryn Hobbes, Paul’s wife, is a strong character throughout the book (as are more of the women than in a typical Kerouac novel), and she puts the Beat Generation in its place when she says to her husband about the legendary free-spirit Hart Kennedy, who is smoking pot, sleeping late, and chasing other women in New York while his travelling companion Dinah (LuAnne Henderson) is supporting him: “Sure,” Kathryn says, “He doesn’t want to lose her salary. Oh, he cares about those things, no matter what he says! But does he get a job? It’s been two weeks and I’ll bet he hasn’t even been looking. That’s the beat generation for you.”

I’d wholeheartedly recommend Holmes’ novel to anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of the Beats.  It’s as if Jack and Neal had a sane friend who was staying home, taking notes, and willing to face a few of the hard truths they (and many of us, their readers) were trying hard and running fast to avoid.

Smashwords: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors

The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon’s new service that  generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.

It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .

continue reading here Smashwords: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors.

The ‘Potshots by Pineys’ Theory

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon has been one of those books deep in my to-read list since I first read reviews of it in 1982, but I’m just getting around to reading it now. Imagine my surprise this morning when I ran across the following passage in that book (on page 370/location 6798 of the Kindle version) as the author enters New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

It isn’t widely known in America that the descendants of Jolly Roger pirates put an end to dirigible flight. So I heard at breakfast in a diner.

As someone who did a little bit of research about the event that ended airship travel for my own 2014 novel Fire Answers Fire, the story about offspring of pirates bringing down the Hindenburg was new to me, but here are the details, as related to William Least Heat-Moon by a diner compaBlue Highwaysnion in a loud shirt.

     “Let me tell you about the Pines,” he said. “Maybe you heard of the Hindenburg — the zeppelin — but I’ll let you in on the true story of what really happened. I’ve lived here all my life, and I know what happened even if the government said they didn’t know.”

The gist was this: a storm forced the Hindenburg into a holding pattern (that was a fact I could check out). The airship, only a few hundred feet off the ground, circled central New Jersey for two hours. Lakehurst, where it was trying to land, is on the edge of the Pines, and everyone knows Pineys don’t tolerate anyone poking into their woods. They figured the zeppelin was a government ship looking for their stills where they turn blueberries into whiskey, so they shot at the thing and opened leaks in the fabric. By the time the Hindenburg started to tie up, there was enough free hydrogen to blow the ship to kingdom come, which it did.

“The official explanation was St. Elmo’s fire,” he said. “Static electricity. St. Elmo never in his life set fire to any aircraft. People can believe it was anti-Nazi sabotage if they want, but I’m telling the truth. It was potshots by the Pineys, and it was nothing new. They’re descendants of pirates and smugglers who ran into the woods to hide. Mixed in with a few Tories and Hessians.”

Something in the Air?

When I was writing Fire Answers Fire, it never occured to me to give its first-person narrator a name, even when my early readers commented on this absence of a label. I was well aware of the famous nameless narrators from Marcel Proust and Ralph Ellison and Samuel Beckett, but I had no idea that I was part of the powerful contemporary trend being examined in this article, “The Rise of the Nameless Narrator” by Sam Sacks on The New Yorker website.

Who knew I was simply part of the Zeitgeist?

Toller / Klinghoffer

Here are a couple of truisms (for me anyway):

  • Politicians should never comment on art that’s anything but decorative, old, and uncontroversial.
  • When politicians of both parties agree about anything (but especially about art), they’re wrong.

Both of these prejudices of mine jumped out strongly when I read some of the comments by politicians of both parties protesting the Met’s current staging of John Adams’ 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

In a perfectly bipartisan stand against the opera, Rudy Giuliani (Republican ex-Mayor) and U.S. Representatives Peter King (R-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), all spoke at a rally outside Lincoln Center protesting the opening performance on October 20.

I have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear tabloid newspapers or religious organizations or pandering politicians calling for the suppression of any artist whether it’s Andres Serrano or 2 Live Crew or Entartete Kunst, but this latest particular example of that all-too-common phenomenon had a special resonance for me because my novel Fire Answers Fire has in its later chapters the story of an unproduced (and totally fictional) Ernst Toller play (or opera) also entitled Fire Answers Fire shot down in 1939 by would-be musical collaborators and producers because of its sympathetic portrayal of terrorists (in this case the attackers of the Nazi Hindenburg).

… So Toller had gone ahead without a collaborator and shown the play without music to a producer and old friend, Jude Lear. Despite the English name borrowed from Hardy and Shakespeare, Lear was a recent exile like himself with an even thicker German accent than Toller’s. Lear didn’t even skim halfway through the script before rendering his judgment. “Why don’t you just write a sympathetic play about the kidnapper and killer of the Lindbergh baby? After all, Lindbergh’s a Nazi sympathizer too.”
“That’s different. That’s an attack on a child. On an individual. This is a symbolic striking at power. At a machine. At giant swastikas flying as provocations over American cities.”
“That’s not the way the audience will see it. Lindbergh and the Hindenburg are both innocent victims. Lucky Fucking Lindy could wipe his ass with an American flag and fly a plane around the world bedecked with swastikas and christened the ‘Spirit of Berchtesgarten’ and he’d still get sympathy about the kidnapping of his son. The swastikas on the tail of a Zeppelin don’t mean shit either. The audience members won’t care about the politics. It’s the fiery scene they all remember from the newsreels that’s important. And it’s not the announcer saying ‘Oh, the poor dead Nazis’ they remember. It’s ‘Oh, the humanity!’ they remember. It’s the same on these boards,” he said, sweeping his hand across the floor on which they stood in front of rows of empty red velveteen seats. “People react to people on this stage. Not ideas. Not rallying cries. Not politics. Especially not European politics. Your politics. They want to see themselves reflected in the actors up here, not terrorists fighting foreign wars.” He might as well have said this isn’t 1918 and this isn’t revolutionary Munich. No one will care what you have to write or think anymore. …     (from chapter 12, “And Happy Endings With Dead Villains”)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As in IQ84, a single piece of music plays a repeating role throughout the book; this time it’s Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays’ rather than Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Listening to that short piano piece at a key moment late (page 322) in his pilgrimage, this paragraph appears:

“And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”

Once again, I was immediately hooked by the music behind Murakami’s deceptively simple prose. I highly recommend Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I also want to say that (though I’m sure I would have also loved this book on an e-reader) the size, look, and feel of this physical Chip Kidd-designed hardcover added to the experience of following Tsukuru Tazaki on his journey. Everything from the railway maps to the significant colors used on the endsheets and the treatment of the page numbers contributed greatly to the pleasure of reading.

View all my reviews