Monday, June 18, 2018

Quips and Quotations (Gale Force Edition )


The elements in The Wizard of Oz powerfully fill a void that exists inside many children. For kids of a certain age, home is everything, the center of the world. But over the rainbow, dimly guessed at, is the wide earth, fascinating and terrifying. There is a deep fundamental fear that events might conspire to transport the child from the safety of home and strand him far away in a strange land. And what would he hope to find there? Why, new friends, to advise and protect him. And Toto, of course, because children have such a strong symbiotic relationship with their pets that they assume they would get lost together.

--Film critic Roger Ebert

 Some hifalutin' talk there. So just what is this Wizard of Oz that Ebert's so gung ho about? Let's look at the trailer (by the way, don't be fooled by the Warner Brothers logo in the bottom right-hand corner. It was made at MGM, but Ted Turner, who owned the once mighty studio for about three minutes in the 1980s, sold it off but kept the film library, before selling it and just about everything else he owned to Time Warner.) 


Oh, all right, Rog, you win. I'll give it a thumbs up.

Now, I got another quote for ya:







Let bygones be bygones.

--Anonymous. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vital Viewing (What--Me Worry? Edition)


Nick Meglin died earlier this week at the age of 82. Not a famous name to be sure, but if you're the type of person who reads the mastheads of humor magazines (I know I am), you'll recognize him as first an assistant editor of Mad magazine from 1956 to 1984, and then co-editor (with John Ficarro) until his retirement in 2004, and even after that he was listed as a "Contributing Editor" for quite a while. Meglin started out as an illustrator, but quickly moved on to writing comic books for the legendary (and, at the time, somewhat notorious) E.C. comics in the early 1950s. He wrote dramatic fare but really found his metier with humor when he became one of the writers of Panic, EC's ripoff of its own comic book version of Mad. In the mid-50s, EC publisher William M. Gaines decided to give up on comic books after imposition of the "comics code", and turned Mad, much to the delight of founding editor Harvey Kurtzman, into a "magazine" (basically a black-and-white comic book sold alongside such periodicals as Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post.) Soon after that transformation was complete, Kurtzman was snatched up by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (for whom he did the short-lived Trump years before the satire incarnate ended up in the White House, but became better known for the long-running Little Annie Fanny) and was replaced with horror comic writer/artist and Panic editor Al Feldstein, who was very good at producing a magazine on time but not necessarily the funniest guy in the world. That task was left to Meglin. Though only 10 articles were credited to him during his five-decade stint at Mad, he's been credited by all those involved with much of the uncredited humor in the magazine, such as introductions to articles and the names of departments (a satire of the movie Patton could be found in the Great Scott Department) as well as the pithy masthead quotes of Mad 's mascot, whom I'll get to in a second. Nor was Meglin's original career as an illustrator completely forsaken. Some of you might recall this drawing in the Letters to the Editor section:

 
 But Meglin's greatest contribution may have been that mascot I mentioned earlier:


Megin didn't create this fellow, who had originally popped up in late 19th-early 20th century advertising. Nor was it his idea to put him on the cover of something titled Mad; that would have been Kurtzman for an early paperback collection. Kurtzman also came up with the moniker Alfred E. Newman, though he never called the mascot that. It was just an odd name he used from time to time throughout the magazine. According to all concerned, it was Meglin who brought the mascot and the name together, and, furthermore, came up with the idea of having Alfred on the cover in a neverending (to this very day) series of situations, such as:


Richard Williams illustrated the above, but Meglin reportedly came up with the idea. Perhaps he did a rough draft (in which case he was lucky some cop wasn't driving by.)

OK, this is called Vital Viewing, so it's about time I coughed up the actual video. It's a couple of New Years Eve parties emceed by longtime Mad writer, longtime Match Game writer, and, in recent years, Giz Whiz podcast co-host Dick DeBartolo. After a short bit with publisher Gaines, they'll be two equally short bits with Meglin:




Before you ask, no, none of them were ever on The Gong Show.

R.I.P Nick Meglin.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Musical Chairs

(This post originally appeared on April 3, 2011. I've tweaked it a bit, and added pictures.)


Those of you who read my essay "American Blandstand" some years back might have gotten the impression that I'm much more of a hardass about music than I actually am. In that piece I sort of adopted a snobby attitude as a way of explaining Dick Clark's place in the scheme of things. But my own tastes in music are evolving all the time. In fact, if you look at the music section on my Blogger profile page, you'll see that I have artists as diverse as Janis Joplin and Bing Crosby. More so than literature or even movies, I'm constantly changing, and expanding, my mind on the subject of song.








This started early. I entered high school liking Barry Manilow, and exited a fan of Bruce Springsteen. Lo, these many decades later, how do I feel about those two? Well, I still like Bruce, though I'm nowhere near as fervent a fan I once was. And Barry? For a long while I had him filed under "What the Hell Was I Thinking?", but a few years ago decided that was too harsh. As befits the Digital Age, Manilow is now "Pending". Maybe if Bette takes him back...



One of the acts I kidded in the Dick Clark post was Captain and Tennille. Maybe I shouldn't have. I actually think Toni Tennile's voice was exceptionally suited for rock and roll.  Too bad it's not what she sang.



It was listening to an oldies station that got me thinking about music. First, I heard "Money" by Pink Floyd. This is a song that delighted me to no end whenever I heard it played growing up in the 1970s, not so much for if its trenchant critique of capitalism as because back then it was the only time you could hear an approximation of the word "bullshit" on the radio. About an hour after "Money", the same oldies station played "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.

"Money" and "Stayin' Alive"? Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees? On the same radio station?



You had to have been a teenager in the 1970s to appreciate the irony in that. Back then, you never heard those two bands played on the same station. The Bee Gees were disco. Pink Floyd was progressive rock. The Bee Gees were Top-40. Pink Floyd was AOR. The Bee Gees were sequined skin-tight suits, and platform shoes. Pink Floyd was T-shirts, and blue jeans. The Bee Gees lyrics were short and repetitive. Pink Floyd's lyrics were long, philosophical, and symbolic (with the occasional swear word thrown in.) The Bee Gees made you want to get up and dance. Pink Floyd made you want to sit down and have a toke.



Pink Floyd emerged from London's underground scene in the late 1960s playing a type of music that many associated with psychedelia, a drug-inspired genre that had emerged from San Fransisco's underground scene (a lot of burrowing going on.) Syd Barrett was the lead singer, lead guitarist, and chief songwriter in those years, and his whimsical lyrics were filled with fairy tale and outer space imagery. Floyd charted a few times, and then Barrett, reportedly driven mad by either LSD or the stress success brings on, dropped (or was kicked) out of the band. Within a few years, Barrett had dropped out of sight altogether. So far out of sight, he was routinely referred to in the music press as the "late Syd Barrett" decades before he actually died! In the meantime, the psychedelic rock of Pink Floyd had gone Progressive.



Progressive was an attempt to move rock closer to jazz, or, better yet, classical. Rather than the usual riffs and licks and hooks and lyric-chorus-lyric of traditional pop songs, progressive rock, sometimes called art rock, had intricate melodies, intricate instrumentation, and intricate (and sometimes inscrutable) lyrics. The average song was much longer, and often linked with other songs on "concept" albums to form an epic theme or story. So unsuited for Top-40 was progressive rock, a whole new radio format was created: AOR, short for Album Oriented Rock, which dominated FM for a time. Popular progressive bands included Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Genesis (back in the Peter Gabriel days.) But the biggest prog rock band of then all was Pink Floyd, and the biggest prog rock album of all time was Dark Side of the Moon (which contained the aforementioned "Money"), on the Billboard chart from 1973 until 1988!



The band had several more popular albums throughout the '70s, but the one that really sticks in my memory is The Wall . A concept album about alienation that featured backing vocals by, among others, Beach Boy Bruce Johnston (composer of Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs") and Toni Tennille (hmm...I guess she did sing rock and roll, after all.) One song "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)", which actually did make the Top 40, exploded upon my high school senior class' collective consciousness in the spring of 1980. The song's most identifiable trait was a chorus of British schoolchildren singing, "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control." The children in my American high school were so captivated by this song, they forgot all about the hostage crises in Iran. Kids wrote the lyrics on blackboards. The song was played over the PA system. One day I walked into study hall and saw the following scrawled on a desk:

IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE WALL

THEN YOU LIKE DISCO

Ah, yes, disco. This brings us to the other group I heard on that oldies station, the Bee Gees. The three Gibb brothers didn't start out disco. Originally a Beatles-like pop/rock band, they first achieved international success in 1967 with "To Love Somebody", a song covered hundreds of times since. A string of hits followed, but by the mid-1970s they had begun to run out of steam. They decided to give disco a shot. Bullseye! They hit #1 with "Jive Talkin'". Another hit, this time at number #7, was "Nights on Broadway", which featured Barry Gibb singing falsetto for the first time. A year later they hit #1 again with "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing". But their biggest success was yet to come.



Disco had evolved from late '60s funk and soul. It was marked by simple lyrics, soaring vocals, and a 4/4 beat, sometimes called "four-on-the-floor". Synthesizers were also prominent. Nothing philosophical, or inscrutable, about it. It merely asked you to dance. The genre was gradually growing in popularity when Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta and featuring the music of the Bee Gees, premiered in late 1977. I can't think of any other movie during my lifetime that had as much of an impact on the overall culture as that one. Sure, Star Wars, which appeared earlier in the year, got a bigger box office, but that movie's impact outside of theaters seemed limited to toy stores. But thanks to Fever , and the Bee Gees three #1 hits, disco was everywhere! Radio, obviously. It helped revive Top 40, which had been flagging of late. It was also all over TV. There were disco specials, disco dance contests, even disco cartoons. It breathed new life, in the form of better ratings at least, into Dick Clark's American Bandstand, which had been facing cancellation. In addition to the music itself, a whole kind of style of clothing, mostly influenced by Fever, became popular. And, finally, actual discos, as in discotheques, the buildings where a DJ played a record and patrons danced, became more popular than ever. It looked like the craze would never end.



Yet, in the flicker of a strobe light, end it did. Why? Some blamed homophobia. The music had originally become popular in gay clubs. Once this became known, it didn't sit at all well with adolescent males, who put a premium on masculinity (never mind that many of these same masculine males had no problem rocking to a band named Queen.) However, with the notable exception of the Village People, most of the performers seemed to be straight. A good deal of them also seemed to be, well, in fact, were, black. Thus, some have blamed racism. However, disco followed the same pattern of almost every other musical form of the last 150 years: invented by blacks, taken over by whites. Thus you had the Swedish, and very Swedish-looking, ABBA. I've already mentioned the Bee Gees. Oh, wait. Barry, Robin, and Maurice had a brother, who performed solo. Only an albino could get much whiter than Andy Gibb.



Racism and homophobia may very well have taken its' toll on disco, but I suspect what really spoiled it for people, especially teenagers, who in that pre-digital era comprised the biggest segment of the record-buying public, was how quickly the music was adopted and co-opted by the some of the most hackneyed and/or over-the-hill figures in the land. Rick Dees ripped off Disney with "Disco Duck". Former pop idol-turned Polish goodwill ambassador Bobby Vinton came out with the "Disco Polka". 70-year old Ethel Merman put out an album of discoized show tunes. Plugging it on a talk show, she exclaimed, "You gotta keep up with the times!" A lot of people were trying to keep up with the times--with the intent of turning back the clock. I remember reading a silver-haired TV critic's review of a new disco show in which he gushed that the dancing was similar to the Big Band era of his youth. The Generation Gap was turned on its head. The elders wanted you to like this new music. Alice Cooper might have summed up the feelings of many teens when during a concert he said, "Right now your parents are at home doing this!", followed by a John Travolta-like pose.



 By the early 1980s, disco had become a term of derision, which it remains to this very day. Yet it may have been no more than a semantic fall from grace. Researching this essay, I've discovered that such recent styles as techno, trance, and house can be traced back to disco (don't ask me to tell you the difference between any of those styles. I'm now over-the-hill myself.)



So, now that I've given you some insight on Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees, and the styles of music they represent, how do I feel about them both being played on the same radio station? Well, as I'm basically liberal, I believe in inclusiveness. I welcome all forms of diversity. It's from you. It's from me. It's a worldwide symphony!

Except...

It's all right to like both Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees, Janis Joplin and Bing Crosby, Bruce Springsteen and, maybe in another ten years, Barry Manilow, once all those artists, whether still active or not, have basically been assigned their place in musical history. But can you like everything in the heat of the moment? Can you like everything and at the same time create whole new musical genres in the heat of the moment? No matter how mainstream or commercialized the two musical styles I've described eventually became, they both had their roots in the "underground". Undergrounds attract rebels. You don't rebel against that you like. Progressive rock grew out of the psychedelia of the counterculture. During that era, young people, at least the most outspoken of young people, rebelled against their elders for liking everything from the Vietnam War to ballroom dancing. Disco was first popular among blacks and gays, two groups who were counterculture before counterculture was cool, each retreating into their respective undergrounds for reasons of practicality and survival, rebelling against those who did not like them. I've left out punk rock so far, but that genre came about partially because, in a London Underground much changed from the one that existed ten years earlier, a young rebel named John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, loathed Pink Floyd as much as Pink Floyd fans loathed disco. People associate creativity with thinking outside the box, but the reason one wants to escape that box in the first place is because they don't like what's inside.



Then again, sometimes it's not so much the artists as their fans who do the rebelling. According to the many Elvis Presley biographies I've read (my mother was an avid fan, and passed the books along to me), he liked Dean Martin and singers of that ilk just as much he liked the blues coming out of Beale Street in the early 1950s. Yet his teenage fans, unaware of this and chafing under a sterile culture, saw Presley's music as a radical break with the past, and it became just that. Although Pink Floyd fans may have loathed disco, the members of Floyd themselves didn't necessarily share that sentiment. My ears were apparently too musically illiterate to recognize it at the time, but while researching this essay, I was surprised to discover that the radio version of "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" is a disco mix! Had my classmates, ears apparently as musically illiterate as my own, gotten wind of that, not only would they have burned every copy of The Wall they could find, but also Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, Wish You Were Here, and Animals as well. But my classmates instead saw the song as a bulwark against disco, and we now have a hybrid for the ages.

You never know what you'll like above ground.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

In Memoriam: Philip Roth 1933-2018


“Literature isn’t a moral beauty contest. Its power arises from the authority and audacity with which the impersonation is pulled off; the belief it inspires is what counts.”


The New Jersey city where Roth grew up, and the setting for much of his fiction.


Roth went to Weequahic High School, and that, too, pops up quite a bit in his fiction.


During his time at Weequahic, Roth was known as a cut-up. By the time of his death, he was still known as a cut-up (as well as for being a literary lion.)

After college and a stint in the army, Roth began getting published in various magazines. In 1960, he came out with his first book...


 Five short stories and and the title novella. In the latter, the gauche side of the American Dream is explored when a working-class intellectual becomes the house-and-wedding guest of his beautiful, bespectacled, rhinoplasticized girlfriend's nouveau riche family.

 I was driving past long lawns which seemed to be twirling water on themselves, and past houses where no one sat on stoops.

Fruit grew in their refrigerator and sporting goods dropped from their trees!

We came back to the chairs now and then and sang hesitant, clever, nervous, gentle dithyrambs about how we were beginning to feel towards one another. Actually we did not have the feelings we said we had until we spoke them-at least I didn't; to phrase them was to invent them and own them. We whipped our strangeness and newness into a froth that resembled love, and we dared not play too long with it, talk too much of it, or it would flatten and fizzle away. So we moved back and forth from chairs to water, from talk to silence, and considering my unshakable edginess with Brenda, and the high walls of ego that rose, buttresses and all, between her and her knowledge of herself, we managed pretty well.

A major plot point of Goodbye Columbus:



 "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."  

--Alfred Lord Tennyson


 Goodbye Columbus won the National Book Award and was later turned into a movie (I wonder if the extras got to take home doggie bags.) Roth followed with two more novels, but he was really a kind of second-tier writer throughout the 1960s. That changed at the very end of the decade when he explored a topic that up to then had been underrepresented in American (or any other kind of) literature.



It may be a heinous sin...



...but it put Roth right at the top of the best-sellers list.

The following quotes may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13...on second thought, make that 23:

Portnoy's Complaint: A disorder in which strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature...

 I am marked like a road map from head to toe with my repressions. You can travel the length and breadth of my body over superhighways of shame and inhibition and fear.

 Dreams? If only they had been! But I don't need dreams, Doctor, that's why I hardly have them—because I have this life instead. With me it all happens in broad daylight!

 In school we chanted, along with our teacher, I am the Captain of my fate, I am the Master of my soul, and meanwhile, within my own body, an anarchic insurrection had been launched by one of my privates - which I was helpless to put down!

 I am the Raskolnikov of jerking off – the sticky evidence is everywhere!

 So. Now you know the worst thing I have ever done. I fucked my own family's dinner.


There's nothing like a banned best-seller. Seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it?



Let's move on, shall we? In 1971, Roth decided to turn toward politics.


President Trick E. Dixon manages to condemn abortion and defend My Lai butcher William Calley at the same time:

Well, of course, that is a very iffy question, isn't it? What we lawyers call a hypothetical instance—isn't it? If you will remember, we are only "supposing" there to have been a pregnant woman in the ditch at My Lai to begin with. Suppose there "wasn't" a pregnant woman in that ditch—which, in fact, seems from all evidence to have been the case. We are then involved in a totally academic discussion.



A very strange thing happens to David Kepesh in Roth's 1972 novella:


I am a breast. A Phenomenon that has been vastly described to me as "a massive hormonal influx, "a endocrinopathic catastrophe" and/or "a hermaphroditic explosion of chromosomes" took place within my body between midnight and 4 A.M. on February 18, 1971, and converted me into a mammary gland disconnected from any human form.


Kepesh never says whether he's on the left or the right.


No, Roth didn't write the above book. I just want you to take a look at the following definition:

Metafiction /ˈmedəˌfikSH(ə)n/ noun
: fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions

Which brings us to...


 The book is split in two. The first part is a couple of short stories, but the second part is about a writer named Peter Tarnopol, who wrote the couple of short stories in the FIRST part. That right there would qualify as metafictional. Except what nobody knew in 1974, that this book was just the first salvo in a metafictional barrage on Roth's part. You see, in one of those short stories, Tarnopal writes about a character named...



...Nathan Zuckerman. There would be nine more books (and the above four-book collection) with Zuckerman either as the main character or as a secondary character observing the main character. The question I have is, who wrote these books? Well, Roth obviously, but is he writing as Peter Tarnopal writing as Nathan Zuckerman, or is just cutting out the middleman Tarnopal (who I don't believe ever again appears in a Roth novel) altogether? One thing seems certain, Zuckerman is based on Roth himself, and no more so than in the third novel (1981) in which he appears:



It's all about a novelist who writes a best-selling novel that has a lot of sex in it. Sound familiar?

Gone were the days when Zuckerman had only to worry about Zuckerman making money: henceforth he would have to worry about his money making money.

 All this, this luck – what did it mean? Coming so suddenly, and on such a scale, it was as baffling as a misfortune.

 Zuckerman, sucker though he was for seriousness, was still not going to be drawn into a discussion about agents and editors. If ever there was a reason for an American writer to seek asylum in Red China, it would be to put ten thousand miles between himself and those discussions.


 In 1988, Roth wrote his autobiography, bookended by two letters, one to and one from...Nathan Zuckerman (so is this metanonfiction?)

Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.

--Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman

 They boo you, they whistle, they stamp their feet—you hate it but you thrive on it. Because the things that wear you down are the things that nurture you and your talent.

--Nathan Zuckerman's letter to Philip Roth

Hey! All you baby boomers out there...





...remember them?

In 1995, Roth came up with his own puppeteer:



 Many farcical, illogical, incomprehensible transactions are subsumed by the mania of lust.

I guess that's why we don't see too many puppeteers any more. 


 In Roth's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 tour de force (I swear, some of those paragraphs go on for pages, and I mean that as a compliment) Nathan Zuckerman and/or an Omniscient Third-Person Narrator (it's sometimes hard to tell) relates the story of Seymore "The Swede" Levov, one of life's winners until his teenage daughter picks the people to hang around with in the turbulent 1960s.

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. ... The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that -- well, lucky you

 Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience as it may be. You can try yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely. My stupid, stupid Merry dear, stupider even than your stupid father, not even blowing up buildings helps. It’s lonely if there are buildings and it’s lonely if there are buildings and it’s lonely if there are no buildings. There is no protest to be lodged against loneliness⎯not all the bombing campaigns in history have made a dent in it. The most lethal of manmade explosives can’t touch it. Stand in awe not of Communism, my idiot child, but of ordinary, everyday loneliness.

 ...a father for whom everything is an unshakable duty, for whom there is a right way and a wrong way and nothing in between, a father whose compound of ambitions, biases, and beliefs is so unruffled by careful thinking that he isn’t as easy to escape from as he seems. Limited men with limitless energy; men quick to be friendly and quick to be fed up; men for whom the most serious thing in life is to keep going despite everything. And we were their sons. It was our job to love them.

 Everybody who flashed the signs of loyalty he took to be loyal. Everybody who flashed the signs of intelligence he took to be intelligent. And so he had failed to see into his daughter, failed to see into his wife, failed to see into his one and only mistress—probably had never even begun to see into himself


 Charles A. Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic (in 1927.) A few years after that...


 The above did not end happily. I only bring it up as a possible explanation for Lindy's subsequent behavior, that perhaps all that stress had an averse affect on his common sense, no more so than when he openly expressed admiration for this man:


To his credit, Lindbergh later changed his mind, and supported the war he had originally hoped America would stay out of. But what if he hadn't? What if he had felt so strongly about the possibilities of a global Third Reich that he decided to run for President? And since he was a pretty popular fellow, suppose he had won? 


That's the alternate history Roth wrote about in his 2004 novel, all told from the point of view of a boy not yet in his teens: Philip Roth!

 And as Lindbergh's election couldn't have made clearer to me, the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as "History," harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.

 “But why did you go,” my mother asked him, “when it was bound to upset you like this?” “I went,” he told her, “because every day I ask myself the same question: How can this be happening in America? How can people like these be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination.”

Never in my life had I so harshly judged any adult—not my parents, not even Alvin or Uncle Monty—nor had I understood till then how the shameless vanity of utter fools can so strongly determine the fate of others. “Did you meet Mr. von Ribbentrop?” Now almost girlishly bashful, she replied, “I danced with Mr. von Ribbentrop."

And, as proof Roth can find the humor in any situation, even the Fascist overthrow of America:

War with Canada was far less of an enigma to me than what Aunt Evelyn was going to use for a toilet during the night.


 There's like 20 other books Roth wrote that I haven't touched upon. Obviously the man kept busy. Maybe fast food was his secret.




I haven't brought this up until now, and have kept any mention of it out of the quotes, but Philip Roth was often described as a Jewish writer who wrote of Jewish concerns. So, does that mean you had to be Jewish yourself to get anything out of his work? No. First off, Goodbye Columbus is not Fiddler on the Roof (and even if it was, there's plenty of Gentiles who have enjoyed that.) Second, Roth himself always protested the Jewish writer label. He claimed to be an American who happened to be Jewish writing about other Americans who happened to be Jewish. That's a bit disingenuous, however. True, his characters were assimilated Jews (Tevye's  descendents), but they were very often SELF-CONSCIOUSLY assimilated. In other words, they were trying to fit in. Even as a non-Jew I can relate to that. Roth took the Jewish-American experience and made it universal. Or maybe he took the universal experience and made it Jewish-American. Either way, it worked.