No, It’s Not a Bait Shop

January 30, 2008 § 2 Comments

Now reading: Good Omens.

Here’s an unexpected delight: Newton Pulsifer and Anathema Device (great names in this book) in the car, desperately trying to figure out how to avert the Apocalypse:

“….They say that Armageddon will come about because of the Antichrist being good with computers.  Apparently it’s mentioned somewhere in Revelations.  I think I must have read about it in a newspaper recently…”

Daily Mail.  ‘Letter from America.’  Um, August the third,” said Newt.  “Just after the story about the woman in Worms, Nebraska, who taught her duck to play the accordion.”

Nebraska is actually mentioned a number of times in the book–surprising, for the work of two Brits–but Worms?!  Worms is a tiny, unincorporated town in central NE, kind of near Grand Island.  Named, I believe, after the town in Germany where Luther defended his criticisms of the church–the famous (ahem) Diet of Worms.  It is home to one of the world’s most delightfully named bars: the Nightcrawler.  Jaime and I once attempted to visit, but we went on a Saturday night and, believe it or not, the place was packed.  I think it was Prime Rib Night or something.  Anyway, it’s supposed to have great bar food.

I could only wildly speculate on how Gaiman (or Pratchett–but I suspect Gaiman) came across this bit of American arcana.  Delightful, though, to imagine the pasty, black-clad Brit drinking PBR with the locals at the Nightcrawler on a Husker game night, is it not?

Horsemen, Bikers, and Psychopaths, Oh My!

January 29, 2008 § 1 Comment

Now reading: Good Omens, Gaiman and Pratchett.

The apocalypse nears: the Four Horsemen have met at a roadside diner and are riding their hogs toward Armageddon. Now, I was reading this in the Carolina Theatre here in Durham tonight, waiting for There Will Be Blood to start. Something about the setting bounced a pinball around my head; the chain of thoughts was nicely completed by TWBB itself. Indulge me:

The jokey treatment of the Horsemen in Good Omens–War, Famine, Pollution (taking over for the prematurely retired Pestilence), and Death as bikers of the Hell’s Angels variety–reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movie villains, the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in Raising Arizona. That dude–you probably remember; how could you forget? Tex Cobb as Leonard Smalls, a snarling, ugly bounty hunter–was a kind of half-joke, like a lot of Coen Bros. characters. GO was published in 1990, merely 3 years after RA‘s release. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to posit a lineage there.

The Coens used the Lone Biker as a half-joke, but the dream sequence in which he is introduced is no joke. Brother, what a dream sequence! Hurtling through a desert landscape; delicate flowers catching fire in his wake; picking off jackrabbits with his sawed-off from his bike; going faster and faster, driving up to the Arizona mansion, right up the wall, into the nursery.

The virtuosity of that sequence–Nic Cage’s earnest declaration that nothing could survive in its path, the brilliant, wild angles and the quick cuts to a fevered, panicked H.I. in bed–leads me to see the Lone Biker as a precursor to the Coens’ depiction of Anton Chigurh, in No Country for Old Men. He’s the only character remotely like Chigurh in the Coens’ work (well, except for maybe Peter Stormare’s character in Fargo, but he was really more of a golem with a bad creator than anything). Nothing can survive in his path, either–unless the coin says it can.

And then the movie started; and without being a total spoiler, I’ll say that the phrase “I am the Third Revelation!” led me to think of a certain someone as the Lone Oilman of the Apocalypse. Arid, windswept landscapes; lone figures of pure (or nearly pure, in Daniel Plainview’s case) malevolence; intimations of existential despair and political allegory. The end times are certainly on our minds, these days (although, as far as the current cinematic variants go, these films seem a little eight-months-ago to me; I’m too jazzed about Obama now to completely buy into the circa Winter 2007 bleakness that seems to be captured here).

Now, as a side note, none of these are my own personal favorite depiction of the Horsemen. That would have to be reserved for the utterly terrifying, utterly unexpected Four Mannequins of the Apocalypse dangling from the ceiling at House on the Rock in Wisconsin.  Some might say they seem out of place at an amusement park-cum-museum-cum-funhouse; I say, if you’re an eccentric millionaire who’s built weird collections of dolls, instruments, models, and other bric-a-brac, and who’s built his own building to house them, using no architectural plans, then you’d be crazy not to leave your visitors with the sense that the end is nigh.

Buggre Alle This for a Larke…

January 27, 2008 § 1 Comment

Shall be the title of my first album, should I magically become a musician.

Now reading: Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

About halfway through this book, and the title of this post is the line that made me laugh out loud on a flight from NYC in a plane full of grumpy New Yorkers.  It’s a transcription of the beginning of a fake verse inserted as Ezekiel 48:5 by a disgruntled typesetter for “the London publishing firm Bilton and Scaggs” in 1651–thereafter known as the “Buggre Alle This Bible.”  (It’s funny because it’s true: bibliographers and collectors do tend to refer to weird variants like this by whatever glaring error identifies the variant.)

What made me laugh out loud, I think, was the combination of archaic spelling and type (Gaiman and Pratchett insert the “f” for “s” in the appropriate places) with the anonymous typesetter’s old-timey insults.  What is it about 17th-century spelling that makes the funny funnier?  For some reason “Buggre Alle this” strikes me as much funnier than “Bugger all this.”  Somehow it helps me imagine this young man longing to be outdoors, putting together his type in a fit of extended pique–then to imagine the look on Master Bilton’s face when confronted by the first angry buyer.  It doesn’t hurt, I suppose, to imagine a dry British voice in your head while you’re reading, as I find myself doing throughout this book.  I’ve seen Gaiman read in person and I find his voice creeping in during the funnier bits.

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