I’m preparing a milestone Sunday post by looking to the Master, and drinking a dark California brew in his honor. Been thinking about my influences, whether I can even tell who they are, and—for a related reason—why I roll my eyes whenever writers talk about their influences. I’m mostly a critic who has longed to write fiction successfully, so it’s unsurprising that a critic has loomed large in my thinking and prose mechanics. What flummoxes me, though, is that neither of the critical voices looming largest in my head and heart are literary critics. Whitney Balliett, from the beginning a mainstay of this blog, wrote on jazz for nearly five decades. The sound of surprise, perhaps, can’t be captured in words—if it could be, why would we need the music? The second critic, Pauline Kael, wrote about the movies—the visual, the overlapping of image and sound and choreography, the decidedly impure and messy. I see both in my writing, more than any number of novelists and short-story writers whom I love. What does that mean? What can I say about it? Who knows their own hearts enough to say it? Me? No. But I’ll try; tune in Sunday for more. Oh, the beer: The first beer I loved was a stout, a standard Guinness, but mostly because I was drinking one at an Old 97’s show in Austin, TX, when an unknown girl wrapped her arms around me and slurped my neck. She never explained why. I never saw her again. But I decided I would like beer. Honestly, I stick to Belgian-style ales, revering their sweetness and complexity and affinity with the rascally, not-really-chaste (and thank God for that) medieval monks who perfected beer 700, 800 years ago, all over the world, from all religions, and mostly unknown to each other. But, sometimes, I want a thick-as-molasses-in-summer, chocolately, punch-your-heart stout, because that’s what the best kisses sometimes feel like. Taste like them, too.
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