Swans Commentary » swans.com December 14, 2009  



Perspectives: A Review of 2009


Year End Closet Sweep Out


by P. Tecumseh Byrne





(Swans - December 14, 2009)   Publishers, after a cruel 2009, are pinning their hopes on confessional books of the tell-all variety. We offer these thumbnail reviews of some of the more sensational end-of-year offerings.


I Stalked My Namesakes, by Peter Byrne


It was T. Coraghessan Boyle that flushed out this author's stream of avowals. But let's quote the introduction directly. His monolog has a certain je ne sais quoi. "It was all there in Wikipedia Forever: 'Boyle changed his middle name when he was 17 and exclusively used Coraghessan for much of his career, but now also uses T.C. Boyle.' He hailed from Peekskill, NY. What guile! There the kid was stiffled under a peck of hometown snores and skillfully he reached his arm out and grabbed a beauty like T. Coraghessan! What a skip and a jump out of anonymity for Peekskill's own Thomas John Boyle! And me in hip Chicago, goofing off, teenage dumb, never thinking to hitch my wagon to P. Tecumseh Byrne."

The author paid a frightful price for his improvident youth, and he counts it all out to the last penny in this gush of a book. In pre-PC times he coasted along in foggy innocence. Questions would pop up, but they were easy to answer with a jovial nope. "Was he related to that saloon keeper in Jersey City whose first name was, if the questioner remembered rightly, Peter?" "Don't know him. I'm a total abstainer personally. (Ha! Ha!)" "And that County Kerry monsignor who strangled his live-in scullion with a chasuble, wasn't his Christian name Peter?" "No relation. I'm a heathen myself. (Wide grin)."

But Google arrived and on his first tête-à-tête he was seduced and pecked out his own name. Peace of mind fled; megalomania collapsed. There were 22,200 entries and a raft of these moniker clones did some kind of writing. Who was he among them? No one, only the same ten banal letters thrown together in the same way. Obsession moved in; he was possessed. Since it was way too late in the day to do a Coraghessan on himself, he set out on the mad scheme to work changes on the competition. The most prominent, with their ruthless vying for attention, had to be dealt with first.

He went after the most glaring embarrassment first: The namesake who chronicled his adventures on the trail of a creature he'd taught the public to call "Bigfoot." So why didn't he call himself Shoeman Berny? He snapped his bear trap, intimating a definitive negative. Would he then consider Shoeman Z. Berny? He shook his bullwhip no. Our author had no more luck with the investigative reporter who patrolled Northern California. He agreed that Needham Burns might sound more like a private eye. But he wasn't a private eye. Then came the nay-saying theologian. This graphomaniac insisted he couldn't forsake his patron saint for another he hadn't known since boyhood. Our author pushed Jesus DeBirne, citing Mexican usage. The man of the cloth declined but offered to pray for the despairing Googler. The latter didn't even contact the over-the-hill actor at work on his memoirs. The vanity of that profession being impregnable, he slunk off into obscurity, his own shrunken to nothing. This is not a read for the faint of heart or pen-wielders generally.


Perhaps I Too Once Bit Before I Barked, by Michael Barker


No one who has read Michael Barker's ongoing critique of progressive philanthropy could charge him with not barking like the best of watchdogs. But he lowers his voice notably in this slender volume that may contain personal revelations. Indeed it could well be a delicate and oblique J'accuse aimed at Barker himself. To put it crudely, which he certainly does not but we will for want of space and out of crass impatience: The tireless scourge of self-serving do-gooders could have once upon a time been guilty of that very transgression. Or maybe not. Uncertainty arises because Barker has cast what may be a confession in an allegory of cute ambiguity. Since to this critic the story line suggests nothing much to say, he will simply retell it in brief.

The scene is nowhere, that is to say, in a place much like Australia, but eons ago. Significantly the principal figure is a tiny boy called Mikey. He's dressed in animal skins, bare feet, and other fashions of the day. Mikey, busy entrepreneuring, has busily cleared a number of extinct, antipodean animals from several yards of hard, dry earth. That done he uses an exotic stick to draw a rough circle. We have to admit that he's motivated. He then produces a pouch that could be the stomach of a former too-independent beast and shakes out a number of small round balls much like the marbles of the modern world.

All of a sudden Mikey not only speaks, he shouts and captures the attention of a knot of boys very much like him in size and shape but obviously not in enterprise. In the parlance of the time and place, Mikey, all smiles, invites them to a session of marbles. The boys, who have unknotted into four individuals, are interested. But they extend their hands palms up indicating they haven't a solitary marble amongst them. Mikey reassures them with pats on their backs, grunting out an understanding that he's buying, the round is on him. Down they all squat and knuckle away. This goes on and on and if the reader doesn't think careening marbles are worth watching he can turn his mind to a soporific description of the sun passing across the sky and marking the passage of time. You see, the kids have no wristwatches. This critic will skip the lot and pass directly, if not to the point, to the game's end.

Mikey is the all around winner and still has a full pouch. But during the entire session he's been drilling the clueless kids in the rules of the game -- his rules, just as it's his game. They've got to be thankful, despite the heavy indoctrination, because it was Mikey's treat. He footed the bill, didn't he? And now they are a little more educated and next time will play his game just a little better. If you wonder what all this means, don't asked this critic, just read Michael Barker who might, way back when, have answered to the name of Mikey.


Hair Shirt to Silk Foulard With PayPal, by Gilles d'Aymery


Hot tears prevent me from reviewing this laborious unearthing of a pre-Utopian past. I can bring myself only to list the chapter headings. (He does go on.)

1   Seeing the light when my Boonville roof fell in.

2   My former life as a Vichy dogcatcher.

3   Posing as Bill de Contraree and ordering books from Amazon.

4   My dalliance with CounterPunch.

5   Pretending my accent wasn't French but Austrian.

6   My chipmunk allergy.

7   Lifting weights with Arnie.

8   My difference with Nader over his halitosis.

9   Campaigning to allow foreign-born presidential candidates.

10  My yen for a Greater Serbia chilled by a Belgrade professor's prose style.

11  Fighting my addiction to branded cat food.

12  My pet-outing to Wal-Mart that turned into a consumer orgy.

13  Organizing the Mendocino County Rednecks for Bonaparte.

14  My denial of the schoolmarm label.

15  Introducing le foot to the Anderson Valley.

16  My compulsion to delete do-gooders cured by hypnosis.

17  Formatting for fun and relaxation.


I Sang Tenor in a Barbershop Quartet, by Charles Marowitz


I flipped open this stout volume with a smile. The director who had famously scared playwright Joe Orton with his Antonin Artaud grunts and groans was having us on. For sure the title played on his memorable paradox that comedy was king and that there was nothing in Sophocles that equaled Kaufman or Hart. I ran through the blurbs. Al Jolson, Fanny Brice Irving Berlin, Sophie Tucker! I rushed to my archives. Here was his self-portrait, the man's own words: "experimentalist by instinct, traditionalist by necessity, advocate of the off-beat, the avant-garde and the untried." To quote my pc: "What's this?"

Revelations were in the offing and I focused my bifocals. The chapter on Peter Brook looked fat and had to be juicy. The small talk of London's every theater mouse and luvvie fluttered for years around the off-stage drama that put the two directors at odds. Their cooperation crashed when a single actress had to be chosen to complete the Theatre of Cruelty company. Brook opted for the competent Eileen Atkins, while Marowitz insisted on that ticking bomb, Glenda Jackson. Then, rumor had it, Marowitz enraged Brook by dissing his production of US in the press. It was all very well for Brook to embroider on the American imbroglio in Vietnam but he failed to do so from a sharp enough viewpoint. Thereafter, thespian gossip dixit, the two directors kept their distance but when pressed would speak in lowered tones of their respect for one another, Marowitz adding the left-hander that Brook's maestria did not put him beyond criticism.

With a Stanislavsky wave of his pen, the now Malibu-scorched Marowitz puts all this tittle-tattle to rest. "Horse shit" is how he qualifies the breathy whispers of the green room fauna in this fresh addition to his memoir Burnt Bridges. He writes, "The trouble began when we worked together on Lear. In rehearsal pauses, goddamn Mr. Buddha wouldn't give his ukulele a rest. Naturally this destroyed the rhythm of the exercises in improvisation I had set up based on a dialogue between Rodgers & Hart. The maestro's mindless strumming made the needle jump on my 78 rpm shellacs. We almost came to blows until Goneril and Regan stepped between us."

The author goes on: "The Eileen Atkins versus Glenda Jackson kerfuffle, on the other hand, never got near drawing blood. It was strictly an aesthetic argument. In the Ziegfeld Follies number for the company Christmas party, Eileeny was stomping around like Mother Courage killing German ants, while Glenda came up with moves that, if I might quote myself, 'were staggering; consistently unexpected, often tinged with sarcasm or perversity, occasionally droll, with a hard, urban kind of humor which was three quarters irony and one quarter absurdity; a complex sensibility spiraling up out of Stygian depths.' I kind of liked her."

Your critic turned pages. Would history also be revised on the antiwar play US? In a word, yes. Here the author comes clean on the real bone of contention. It was Tell Me Lies, Adrian Mitchell's lyrics to a jazz score, that got Marowitz's back up. He'd put forward a nasal number by Rudy Vallee called The Vagabond Lover. But this reviewer stops short at the spoiler frontier. Reader, seek out the book, if you can find it.


When I Wore a Skirt Over My Camera, by Art Shay


It all began in the Southview section of the Bronx. Shay's stickball prowess had gained him renown in the neighborhood. One day he outdid himself. It would be his main accomplishment at high school. He lifted a Spaldeen in one bounce to the roof of James Monroe High, 500 feet above Bronx River Avenue. The exploit did not go unnoticed by the Office of Strategic Services. Famished for manpower as Hitler's War geared up they had reasons of their own to recruit chubby, short kids that could handle a broomstick. Shay was issued with sunglasses and sequestered for intensive training "somewhere overseas," in the lingo of the times.

He next surfaced at the American Embassy Ball, Grosvenor Square, London W1. He wore a frilly Regency party dress that covered all but the aperture of his tiny camera and, below it, all of his dick that professional hands had taped to his left thigh. The band played on and in the course of the night Shay proved anything but a wallflower. The Duchess of Windsor was particularly moved by his gravelly voice. (She'd had a thing with Marlene Dietrich.) An invitation to a country house weekend ensued. Shay could say mission accomplished to his first objective. He had penetrated the pro-German circle of the British aristocracy, and he dreamt of more penetrations to come.

Meanwhile the OSS had groomed Shay's double, a feisty lad with a lisp from Newark. When the speech coach straightened him out, he learned how to navigate a B-24 in no time. He never did understand why he had to wear a camera without film around his neck, but his fear of heights was soon put right by intensive therapy. The OSS was omnipotent within its limited brainpower, although hardly so omnivorous as the CIA that would replace it in a few years.

And so Art Shay and his uniformed double went on fighting the good fight in the good war. The undercover Shay, dubbed Adenoid for the occasion, had become the darling of a certain Third Reich-leaning high society. There was no end of fox-hunting, tiddlywinks, and other country estate shenanigans. (Churchill, not mincing words nor bombast, spoke of "the plump little lady, lately the Godiva of the German-American Bund.") Lord Haw-Haw, Neville Chamberlain, Oswald Mosley and Unity and Diana, the bent Mitford sisters -- Shay caught them all in Heil Hitler salutes as he shot film straight from his belly button. But all was not to be roses in the bed of the Duchess of Windsor.

In fact the Duke jumped in the hay first. Little Adenoid was being maneuvered that a' way by the looming figure of the Duchess who wielded her dildo like a tomahawk. It was the moment of truth for the false floozy, the big payoff for the noble Dame. Torn between patriotic duty and macho pride, Adenoid-Art tore frantically at the tape on his left thigh. It stung.

What then, you ask, dear reader? Then you go out and buy the book. I'm a reviewer not a pornographer. With its many lurid photographs it makes a perfect retirement gift for spavined jocks.


* * * * *


Time presses. The year clangs to an end. Your reviewer leaves the following items unopened and inviolate. But readers are encouraged to displace stones. A best-seller might crawl out.


Too Deep in the Heart Of Texas, by Isidor Saslav

Marx Bros. Aficionado and Gagman in the Borscht Belt, by Louis Proyect

I Nephewed A Nigerian Uncle Tom, by Femi Akomolafe

When I Was a Femme Fatale, Wore a Veil and Worse, by Jan Baughman

Nobody Home on the Range Where Tagged Buffalo Roam, by Martin Murie

I Played a Muslim Extra in Bollywood, by Raju Peddada

I Too Once Called Them Frogs, by Graham Lea

Saying Yes-But to Simone de B. and Mistranslating Housewifery, by Marie Rennard

Beating Kafka and Orwell in Arm Wrestling, by Michael Doliner

The Plot To Sequester My Dictionaries and Silence My Silence, by Guido Monte


Good reading and happy New Year!


Signed: P. Tecumseh Byrne


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This Edition's Internal Links

Some Lines In Favour Of A Troupe Of Buffalo Flying Over The White House Singing Pastoral Songs - Graham Lea

The Winter Of Liberal Discontent - Louis Proyect

Angry Men - Beligerent Women - Charles Marowitz

The First Obama Year: Business as Usual, but with a Friendlier Face - Gilles d'Aymery

Obama: Were We All Naïve? - Femi Akomolafe

2009: It Was What It Was - Jan Baughman

Notes From The Edge - Jeffery Klaehn

2009 And "Mooving" Ahead - Steve Shay

French 2009 Vintage - Marie Rennard

2010, The Make-Or-Break Year - Martin Murie

Failure Of Progressive Thought - Michael Barker

The Official Policies - Michael Doliner

A 2009 Year-End Rant - Raju Peddada

Levi 1943 In Front Of Our 2009 - Multilingual Poetry by Guido Monte

Bilan Matin/Morning Appraisal - Poem by Simone Alié-Daram

Letters to the Editor

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/pbyrne115.html
Published December 14, 2009