There aren’t actually all that many lines in pop music that tell you, simply by their construction, who their writer was. And a man named Warren Zevon had a surprising number of them. You hear something like, I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand / Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain, as he sang in his 1978 “Werewolves of London.” And you know it has to be him. Only him. The genius and the disaster that was Warren Zevon.
There is an underappreciated principle of any new technology as it starts to sail in from the horizon—and that principle runs: The flagship is not the fleet. To some extent, this is simply the general law of unintended consequences, as applied specifically to technology. Every large-scale social action necessarily produces effects that its planners probably did not foresee and certainly did not desire. If the law holds true in the social realm, then why wouldn’t it hold true in the social effects that follow from a technological change?
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner proposed his famous Frontier Thesis—the notion that the American character had been fundamentally formed by the experience of a frontier, an ever-moving line that divided civilization from the wilderness. And here we are, well over a hundred years later, still watching Westerns. Still arguing over the effects of westward expansion. Still reading books like Tom Clavin’s latest effort, Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter.
When the cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire and live video hit the airwaves, for a brief moment, something religious held everyone’s attention. Granted, to AP headline writers it’s a “tourist mecca … also revered as place of worship,” but even philistines understood they were seeing a church burning, not an office or an airport. We were all reminded that Notre Dame was built in the 13th century, vandalized by Huguenots in the 16th, and entered a state of disrepair in the 19th, and its restoration then may even be inspiration for builders now—as long as modernist starchitects don’t seize the moment. Notre Dame stands as a silent critique to secularism and a reminder of Europe’s Christian roots.
The negative reviews of Bret Easton Ellis’s new book are almost enough to make one want to defend it. Perversity may be underrated as a motive for human behavior: Nothing makes me want to cut my lawn less than a prissy neighbor’s complaint that the grass is growing long; nothing makes me want to defend a book more than a chorus of the self-righteous decrying it.
Joshua Muravchik’s definitive history Heaven on Earth was originally published in 2002 with the subtitle “The Rise and Fall of Socialism.” In order to stay definitive, it is now being updated and rereleased, with a third act added on to the historical drama of socialism in the form of its 21st century “Afterlife.”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the author of some of the best-named books in the history of American poetry. You’d have to search a long time to find titles as good as the one he gave his reportedly million-seller, A Coney Island of the Mind, in 1958 (or even A Far Rockaway of the Heart in 1998). Early in his career, Ferlinghetti moved to California, founding the City Lights bookstore and publishing house in San Francisco. It’s there on the West Coast that he practiced his left-leaning social activism while writing more than 30 slim volumes of poetry and prose, and he reached his 100th birthday on March 24 this year. What’s more, he . . . um . . . well, what did Lawrence Ferlinghetti actually do, to claim a place for himself in American letters?