Monthly Archives: June 2009

Dylan’s 7 Mirrors

Bob DylanI  love to see you dress before the mirror
Won’t you let me in your room one time ‘fore I finally disappear?

–Abandoned Love

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected,
The endless road and the wailing of chimes,
The empty rooms where her memory is protected,
Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times.

— Changing of the Guards

Drinkin’ man listens to the voice he hears
In a crowded room full of covered up mirrors
Lookin’ into the lost forgotten years
For dignity

— Dignity

Equality, liberty, humility, simplicity.
You glance through the mirror and there’s eyes staring clear
At the back of your head as you drink
And there’s no time to think.

— No Time To Think

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank,
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank.

— Political World

Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here

— Visions of Johanna

“Go on back to see the gypsy.
He can move you from the rear,
Drive you from your fear,
Bring you through the mirror.
He did it in Las Vegas,
And he can do it here.”

— Went to See the Gypsy


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6 phrases I wish would go missing.

It's, well, a clicheHere are 6 phrases I’ve heard or seen enough. Feel free to add yours to the list.

1. Sweet spot.

“Working for the government is just one area in which the secretary of state hits the demographic sweet spot,” writes the Wall Street Journal.   “Green Products are the ‘Sweet Spot’ for Spending During Downtown,” says   “Finding That ‘Sweet Spot’: A New Way to Drive Innovation,”  insists Knowledge@Wharton.

2. I’m good.

Waiter: Would you like fresh ground pepper with that?

Diner: No, I’m good.

3. I’m all about / It’s all about.

Back to Wharton: “For most companies, it’s all about inventing everything yourself.”  “It’s all about superior insights and intellect. It’s not all about money and scale.”    “Facebook Announces New Homepages: It’s All About the Stream”   The church is all about Jesus Christ and his mission. Are we now guilty of moving toward an ‘It’s all about numbers’ posture?I’m all about enjoying life – whether you’re 2 or 82.”

4. How’s that workin’ for ya?

Republicans.   Eczema.   The mug.   The book.

5. Went missing/gone missing

It’s ok to use if you’re British. Otherwise, “disappear” is a perfectly good verb.

6. The “…well…” construction.

It’s often used by unsteady hands to denote humor or a light touch. (e.g. “The most expensive burgers, well, ever.”) Please let me know if you find other examples and I’ll post them.

[Addition. Let’s make it an even 7:  “Boyle’s Got Legs, Her Career … Not So Much”   “Respect for Harbaugh rises; Manny, not so much”   “Technology Changes, People Not So Much”  and an article on it all:   “Snappy? Sure. Original? Not so much“]


Filed under communications, popular culture, writing

Gotta get my Fred and Wilma.

Fred and Wilma FlintstoneI wrote about Woodstock briefly earlier this month, and since then some more Woodstock news has crossed my desk. First is The Road to Woodstock, a memoir cowritten by Michael Lang, one of the festival’s creators. (Interesting fact: Bob Dylan, who lived nearby, was not invited to perform.)

Second item: A re-release of the Woodstock movie. It includes extra footage of performers shown in the original cut, plus performances of CCR and the Dead, who were not included in the 1970 film.

Now to Fred and Wilma.

I remember first seeing Joe Cocker perform around 1970 on the old Tom Jones variety show. It aired on Sundays around dinner time, and I remember Cocker’s spastic performance gave our digestive systems quite a jolt.

Cocker’s been easy to parody. John Belushi’s imitation of the bluesy singer was brilliant in its boorish eccentricity. But I’m also wondering if it was so effective because Cocker, especially in his immediate post heyday, was such an easy target — in the way that anyone visibly different makes an inviting target. (You’ve never seen a kid in a supermarket pointing and saying too loudly, “Mommy, why is that man standing so upright, and why are his features so average, and why is his face so symmetrical and pleasing?” — have you?)

Anyway, I came across this video again of Cocker’s Woodstock performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” It’s the video that hilariously tries to make sense of Cocker’s famously muddy phrasing. That’s where Fred and Wilma come in. Take a look.

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Write What You… No.

lady-writingFor any of us who has taken the adage “Write what you know” as received wisdom, this contrarian opinion from P.J. O’Rourke should come like a refreshing shpritz of seltzer to the face:

“Creative writing teachers should be purged until every last instructor who has uttered the words ‘Write what you know’ is confined to a labor camp. Please, talented scribblers, write what you don’t. The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad , how much combat do you think he saw?”

I’ve kept that quote in a Word file for a long time, and I have no idea where I found it. I’ve hung on to a tearsheet of “First Aid for Young Writers” by Willie Davis for even longer. Published in Writer’s Carousel, from the  Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the article expands on O’Rourke.

Here’s the argument for writing what you know, according to Davis: “Writing should sound genuine, and genuiness is a byproduct of knowing your subject matter. Therefore you should write what you know.”

The trouble, he says, is in that conclusion. It’s wrong. “The conclusion should read: know what you are writing about.”

Doing that takes research, which sounds like a drag, but which can be fun, “provided that you’re researching a subject that interests you.” And, Davis adds, “writing what you know ignores the whole purpose of creative writing. Writing is an act of the imagination.”


“It is important to remind young writers that good writing is generally bigger than the writer — that if we only write about ‘what you know,’ our work will never be more compelling than we are.”

P.J. O’Rourke and Willie Davis convinced me.  What do you think?

(BTW, I can’t find “First Aid for Young Writers” or Mr. Davis on the web.)


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The Ballad of Brandon.

Brandon Hardesty

Brandon Hardesty is a dead-on mimic, clown and aspiring actor. His videos — shot in his basement rec room — have taken millions of hits. He has a huge following, including the Washington Post Magazine, where I first read about Hardesty in a profile last month.  Check out his zany and eerie one-man reenactments of scenes from Goodfellas, Princess Bride and 12 Angry Men.

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Failure is an orphan quote.

Air quotes quotes and orphan quotes around "coffee" and "churros"

If the desire to “go green” leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed, keep it simple with a “less is more” attitude…

“Go green”? “Less is more”? Why, exactly, are there quotation marks around these phrases (which I found in a newsletter)? Certainly not because they’re quotations.

They’re what my friends Kim and Elizabeth, nimble writers both, call orphan quotes.

Orphan quotes are quotation marks that people habitually use to surround a word or sometimes two. More recently they’ve broken out of the written sphere, becoming air quotes.

I’m very much against them. My hard line on orphan quotes was solidified when I read a pamphlet called “On Punctuation,” which my friend Glenn had given to me.

“Quotation marks should be used honestly and sparingly…” it advised.

Now that I’m able to search for it online, I find that what I thought was a pamphlet actually is a chapter in a book of essays, The Medusa and the Snail, written by Lewis Thomas and published in 1979.

Dr. Thomas’s admonitions have stuck with me through the years:

Above all, quotation marks should not be used for ideas that you’d like to disown… Nor should they be put in place around cliches; if you want to use a cliche you must take full responsibility for it yourself and not try to fob it off on anon. or on society.”

Simply put, people use orphan quotes when they use a cliche or some other form of lazy writing they don’t want to take responsibility for. It’s cowardice.

For a couple years now, my friend Ben has been carrying out a worthy crusade against the misplaced apostrophe. And so I was glad to discover today that the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks is performing a similar public service by cataloging misused quotation marks.  It’s where I snagged the photo for this entry.

To quote Dr. Thomas: “The most objectionable use of quotation marks … is seen in advertising, especially in advertisements for small restaurants…”  To look at just a few of the blog’s photos amply proves this point.

[ADDITION: And here is the Gallery of “Misused” Quotation Marks.]


Filed under books, communications, print, reading, Uncategorized, writing

10 Ways to rhyme ‘night’ and ‘light’ (courtesy of Prof. Springsteen).

bruce-springsteen-4311)  They’re built like light
and they dance like spirits in the night

— Spirit in the Night

2)  Yeah he was blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night

–Blinded by the Light

3)  The midnight gang’s assembled and picked a rendezvous for the night
They’ll meet ‘neath that giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light

— Jungleland

4)  Hold on tight, stay up all night, ’cause Rosie I’m comin’ on strong
By the time we meet the morning light I will hold you in my arms

— Rosalita

5)  And sit at the light, as it changes to green
With your faith in your machine, off you scream into the night

— Night

6)   Sandy the aurora is risin’ behind us
The pier lights our carnival life forever
Love me tonight for I may never see you again
Hey Sandy girl

— 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

7)   Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama don’t shut out the light

— Shut Out The Light

8.   Rockaway the days, rockaway the nights
Gimme something to last me, baby, ’til the morning light

— Rockaway the Days

9)   A friend of mine became a father last night
When we spoke in his voice I could hear the light

— Valentine’s Day

10)   Bouncing off a satellite
Crushin’ the last lone American night

–Radio Nowhere


I gathered the lyrics from


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