Feb. 20, 2008

Writing On Napkins At The Sunshine Club; Macon, Georgia 1970

by David Bottoms

The Rock-O-La plays Country and Western
three for a quarter and nothing recorded since 1950.
A man with a heart
tattoo had a five dollar thing for Hank and Roy,
over and over the same tunes
till someone at the bar asked to hear a woman's voice.

All night long I've been sitting in this booth
watching beehives and tight skirts,
gold earrings glowing and fading in the turning light
of a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign,
beer guts going purple and yellow and orange
around the Big Red Man pinball machine.

All night a platinum blonde has brought beer
to the table,
asked if I'm writing love letters on the folded napkins,
and I've been unable to answer her
or find any true words to set down on the wrinkled paper.
What needs to be written is caught already
in Hank's lonesome wail,
the tattooed arm of the man who's all quarters,
the hollow ring and click of the tilted Red Man,
even the low belch of the brunette behind the flippers.

"Writing On Napkins At The Sunshine Club; Macon, Georgia 1970" by David Bottoms, from Armored Hearts. © Copper Canyon Press, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of photographer Ansel Adams, born in San Francisco (1902) and best known for his black-and-white Western landscapes, many of them shot in national parks. His nose was broken in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and never was set properly. It jutted to the left. As a boy he loved to hike around Golden Gate Park and along Lobos Creek, or out to Baker Beach - a boy who didn't care so much for school, who wanted to become a concert pianist. But when he was 14, his parents gave him a Kodak Brownie camera, and that same summer he saw Yosemite for the first time. He went back every year from then until he died at 81. He joined the Sierra Club when he was 17 and became their photographer, publishing his first pictures in the 1922 Sierra Club Bulletin. He supported himself with commercial photography, but he's remembered for his images of the Sierra and Yosemite. Ansel Adams said, "A good photograph is knowing where to stand."

It's the birthday of Robert Altman, born in Kansas City, Missouri (1925), the son of an insurance broker who loved to gamble. The boy was educated by the Jesuits and at the age of 18, he joined the Army Air Corp. During the course of World War II, he flew more than 50 missions on a B-24 bomber in Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. He studied engineering after the war, then moved to California and tried acting, screenwriting, and songwriting. He went back to Kansas City, got into industrial film production, made 60 of them for various clients, including a feature on how a self-service gas station works, and a film on highway safety. He made a low-budget feature of his own called The Delinquents, which didn't do well in theaters but it brought him to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who offered him the job of directing episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series. His breakthrough came when he was 45: the success of M.A.S.H. (1970) - a dark comedy about a medical unit in the Korean War, which had been turned down by dozens of other directors. It was a hit, and Altman's career took off with McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1970), The Long Goodbye (1973), and Nashville (1975). Altman said, "Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes."

It's the birthday of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the grunge band Nirvana, born near Aberdeen, Washington (1967), the son of an auto mechanic and a cocktail waitress. His parents divorced when he was seven, and the split was traumatic. He said later that he never felt loved or secure again and that his parents' divorce fueled a lot of the anguish found in Nirvana lyrics.

The band formed in 1986, and in 1991 the group came out with its second album, Nevermind, which received rave reviews and propelled the band to stardom. The album featured the singles "Come as You Are" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The album sold over 24 million copies and Cobain became the reluctant poster child of Generation X. The success of the band intimidated him; he was uncomfortable with fame and began using heroin heavily. He committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 27. Nirvana was one of the first punk bands to be popular with a mainstream audience. Its songs bridged punk with pop and helped put Seattle on the musical map as the capital of grunge.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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