Forget Me Not

When Killers Fancy Storytelling,
It’s Our Vanity That Gets Exposed

To the chronically gloomy and the pathological self defeatist, few things seem more pointless than the wish to be remembered. To transcend this mortal coil, or at least outlast your lifetime-guaranteed Zippo, holds no court  down where wilted, anxious-to-be-forgotten souls dwell.
Yet, to leave a legacy is not a monopoly of the naked ape. From time immemorial, tiny male spiders beat gruesome competition, only to be swallowed by giant mates. Far from suicidal, they’s only seizing the chance to leapfrogging a generation and add their genes to the future.
A similar urge may have driven Italian Giuseppe Grassonelli, in prison for Mafia-related crimes, and Canadian Robert Pickton, a convicted serial killer, to write their stories. When one won a literary prize and the other appeared on Amazon, people got shocked, shocked.
Neither role models nor bottom feeders, they still stand above child-abusing priests, or pension-savings raiders, on some vain moralistic stepladder. Yet while padres and Wall Street psychopaths often carry jail-free cards, Grassonelli and Pickton are both convicted lifers.
They’re all depraved, that’s for sure. But like anyone, it’s their right to tell their story. Again, no prize or blockbuster sale will cleanse the books’ blood stains or redeem the authors before their victims’ grief. But hey, Hollywood makes a killing just trading on such stories.
All this canned outrage about what’s basically someone trying to control their own narrative sounds utterly phony. While we know the score about these two cons, it’s a wild guess to imagine what those feigning rectitude hide in their own closets. But let’s meet our duo.

TALES OF THE MALAVITA
Almost two years ago, when Malerba won the Sciascia Racalmare prize, there was furor in Italy over this confessed killer’s boldly fictionalized account about the Cosa Nostra and its ruthless grip over Sicily, between the 1980s and 1990s. And lots of anger from relatives of the dead too.
What irked them, more than Grassonelli’s preposterous claim to redemption, was the prize itself, named after a famous writer and critic of Italian organized crime, Leonardo Sciascia. It was partially due to his efforts that public opinion turned negative toward the Mafiosi.
Many a Mafia tale has been told, but this was written by an insider’s own blood-dripping hands. Who’s always eager to add that he didn’t break the Omèrta, the feared code of silence. Since he’s still alive, he probably didn’t. In any case, there’s only time in his hands now, since he’s going nowhere for a long long time.

WORDS OF A RAVENOUS PIG
Last January, Robert Pickton, in His Own Words, written by one Michael Chilldress, appeared briefly on Amazon’s book list, before being withdrawn under request of its self-publishing service (more)
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The Standards

Songs That Make You Long For
What You’ve Hardly Experienced

For the generation that grew up during the cultural turmoil of the 1960s, a lot of what it was determined to break free from was the placidity, conformity, and political conservatism of the U.S. in the 1950s. The rock’n’roll explosion only made that rupture more visible.
But there was a world that preceded it, marked by two wars, where ideological conflict, social hardship, and technological impact, helped shape a musical tradition that proved itself as one of the greatest cultural achievements of our era: the American Standards.
2015 may turn out to be a landmark year, as milestone anniversaries are bound to shed light on such a rich tradition and its main protagonists. Billie Holiday, Billy Strayhorn, and Frank Sinatra, are just but three of such luminaries who would’ve been 100 this year.
And so would Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Les Paul, all giants on their own, whose association with early country, blues, and jazz insert them, permanently, into the mainstream of American music. But it was the deceptively lowly popular song format what helped usher the Standards into an art form.
To many, the addition of Eastern European Jewish melodies, the Klezmer and other Gipsy traditions, to rhythms and syncopations of African tribal beats, converging for two centuries to the U.S., was what created the two main streams of American music, Blues and Jazz. The Great American Songbook is a worthy heir to those two.
It was also a rare combination of a few generations of extremely talented composers and musicians, with race and immigrant blood running in their veins, that took advantage of a nascent record industry, and offered the perfect antidote to the bleakness and economic despair of the early 1900s in the just industrialized world.

ALT-PORTRAIT OF A WORLD AT WAR
Armed conflicts helped spread that sense of urgency – French songbird Édith Piaf would also be 100 this year – with vaudeville, music hall, variety theater, and a general cultural miscegenation of sorts, all fit snugly into 3-minute songs that encapsulated a badly needed sense of hope for the era.
Even though such gems were not exclusively American, it was in the U.S. that the genre thrived and produced some of the most memorable and enduring melodies and lyrics ever written in English. Then, they were supposed to be about escapism and romance. Now, they can be enjoyed for their distilled wisdom and artistry.
Which is odd, since those Tin Pan Alley composers were working overtime to meet an inflated demand for hits. But what their produced then, under pressure, now betrays none of the rush with which they were writing them at that time; the craftsmanship of some of these songs still has few peers compared with much of those that came after.
The songwriters created an alternative universe, where longing, redemption, and the allure of romance is always within reach, even when they refuse to concede the singer the grace of happiness and fulfillment. At times, the world these songs promise or allude to was the only world worth living for, even if only for a few minutes.

AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN A FEW VERSES
Lovers who wished to be reunited with their dears, warriors whose losses made them cry silently for the first time, common people who saw their world coming apart right in front of their eyes, found comfort in these lyrics that invite them to dance, to dream, and to remain hopeful for another shot at life.
Thankfully, the great majority of American Standards stayed clear of any exacerbated patriotism or xenophobic Continue reading