YOUR AFTER AMERICA LETTER OF THE DAY: FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!
Mark, I just finished After America… wow. I've never felt frightened, angry and humored all at the same time prior to reading your book. Not to give you a big head, but I've already bought copies for my father and brother-in-law. Now if I could just get my Obama-loving wife to give it a shot…
Thanks for putting into words what many of us concerned Americans have been thinking for some time. And to think— you came here from Canada!
SMELLS LIKE MONEY
I thought I should write and let you know that some tangible short term good came out of my reading your new book. As I was reading it, a new invention occurred to me. We already have a prototype developed, have secured our first and second rounds of financing and even have a European distributor signed up for our new, automated "Bovine Flatulence Meter".
This very simple device measures, well, bovine flatulence, each time it is, uh, produced. It sends a radio signal to a central monitoring system, which communicates to the European New-Technology Emissions Monitoring Authority (ENEMA), which then assesses the Bovine Flatulence Tax to each bovine herder. This is much fairer than the previous flat tax per bovine which, as you know, varied from country to country, and also virtually eliminates tax cheating.
A real upside is all the jobs being created by the hardy souls who actually, well… "position" these monitoring systems in the appropriate bovine anatomy. This is creating a lot of well-paying jobs for American ex-patriots since these are jobs that "Europeans won't do" (always assuming that there are any jobs that they actually would do between holidays and vacations) and are a substitute for the lost jobs in the USA that "Americans won't do". A big plus is the European universal health care system, which will take care of anyone injured when the bovine objects to the insertion.
Thanks again for the inspiration. As soon as I am a multi-billionaire (should be in the next several weeks), I will be sure to send your royalties.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
Mark, I just finished reading America Alone and I already got my copy of After America. I read America Alone in French. Although it is impossible to find the French version in book stores (the publisher, Scali, was bankrupted), I was able to find it in a library.
I want to persuade as many people I can to read America Alone— even if I have to buy it for them— and I'm sure I'll feel the same way regarding After America. But in many cases, language will be a barrier. Personally, I will read After America in English, but would really like to help spread the ideas in your books to non-English speakers and readers.
Are there any plans to revive the French translation of America Alone and will After America be translated and published soon?
MARK SAYS: When you say Scali "was bankrupted", I hasten to add it wasn't because of America Alone. Still, it didn't surprise me that they went belly up. The publisher was extremely assholian even by the standards of the book industry. He took it upon himself to change the title without telling me, and, when I found out and told him to change it back, he protested that it had already gone to the printers in Spain and he was about to leave Paris for his country pad for the weekend and didn't want to delay his departure to wait for the Spanish guys to get back from siesta so he could tell them to hold the presses. Integrating Europe's economy is evidently more complicated than it appears.
Anyway, you're right. We should get America Alone back out in French, and we hope to have news of After America en français very soon.
SAY IT AGAIN, SAM
Re "The Lottery of Life":
Thank you for the fine excerpt from your new book. I just knew my assumption that your latest book was exceptionally well-written was correct!
If I had not just been reading vol 2 of C S Lewis's collected letters, I never would have recalled this, but to add to your "Life's Lottery" file, here's a nice Samuel Johnson quote Lewis used in a 1940 letter:
Yet hope not life from grief or danger free,
Nor think the doom of man reversed for thee.
"The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749), 155-6.
Mount Vernon, Washington
I PUT A SPELL ON YOU
Re the Ports of Call item about the man with the Jack Layton tattoo:
Interesting how the tattoo appears to have had an alteration to the word "than" every time it is used. It seems most of today's youth have a problem with the usage of "than" and "then". Not sure whether the writer couldn't make up his mind so he tried to use both spellings, or just misspelled and corrected later. Interesting also that the man works for a college, so maybe someone at work pointed out his error as obviously as a young man of only 39 he couldn't be expected to know better.
Mark, thanks for selecting "I'm A Woman" as your Song of the Week #198, and for writing such a solid, well-researched piece about it. For the sake of clarity, let me assure you that both "horse's mouth" accounts are true: that the song was written for a musical and that it was conceived as an answer to Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man". For any other songwriters of the time, this would seem like a contradiction, but for Leiber and Stoller it was par for the course.
It's also true that Christine Kittrell's claim that the song was written for her is exaggerated in the extreme: when I asked Jerry and Mike about her record, they couldn't even think how the song had gotten to her. In a more general way, as you note, the song is "made for a Christine Kittrell", but the very predictability limits Kittrell's record to being merely good. Kittrell can toss off lines like those as if they were nothing—and so she does, losing some of their specialness in the process. The "okie-doke" horns don't help, either, nor does her omission of the second verse.
By comparison, Lee's record crackles with intensity, thanks to Lee's idiosyncratic phrasing and Stoller's minimalist horn chart. Holding off your "favorite quatrain" until verse three helps give it the added punch it needs, just as chopping all the choruses until the last in half maintains forward momentum. By the time Peg says she can "make a man out of you," you know she ain't braggin'; she's already made a man out of any male listening.
Some trivia that might interest you: the following lines that you quote in the middle of your article:
I can stretch a greenback dollar bill from here to kingdom come
I can play the numbers, pay the bills and still end up with some…
…are the opening lines of verse four. They're familiar to anyone who knows the song from the Broadway show, Smokey Joe's Café, but neither Kittrell nor Lee performed them on record. Lee, however, almost certainly performed them on stage at Basin Street East. We know this because we have the original session tapes for her recording of "I'm A Woman", and she was singing the full fourth verse through take seven. It was on take eight that the last verse was cut in half, and the close-harmony horn swells at the beginning of the record were introduced into the arrangement.
As for the classic boast:
I can make a dress out of a feed bag…
…that was not inspired by Christine Kittrell, but by my mother, Meryl Stoller. She regaled Jerry and Mike with tales of her years living on a chicken farm during the Great Depression, including her hard-times style tips. Jerry seized on the image and used it for the best single line in the song.
I know nearly 70 recorded versions of the song, running the gamut from a late-'60s masculinized funk take by the Coasters to a particularly stinging 2003 electric blues rendition by Nanette Workman, but my two favorite versions are the same as yours: Peggy Lee's iconic 1962 recording, and Jerry Leiber singing it live. There's nothing like artists who know how to write a great lyric and how to deliver one.
Vice President, Leiber/Stoller Productions
MARK SAYS: Thanks for providing chapter-and-verse on the Peggy Lee recording. It's sometimes fascinating to hear the session tapes: With run-of-the-mill singers, the performance is no different at take twelve from take one. But with others there's a point at which the number suddenly falls into place, and they make it theirs. Incidentally, as I mentioned in the piece, Peter did a terrific job remixing the tracks for the Peggy Lee Sings Leiber & Stoller CD a couple of years back. I have the original Mirrors LP from the Seventies, and the difference between that and the reissue is remarkable in places. I'd like to think Peter's got some unheard tapes somewhere of his dad and Jerry Leiber doing "I'm A Woman" and their other hits that might make a great and-then-I-wrote CD.
Thank you for your kind (and unkind) letters from America, Canada, Britain, Australia and around the world. Mark reads all mail, but especially enjoys the vicious ones. Each day Monday to Friday we pick six of the best for our Daily Delivery. So drop a line to Mark's Mailbox, and on Friday if you're chosen to be the one and only Letter of the Week you'll join our roll of winners from four Continents and receive a copy of Mark Steyn From Head To Toe. It would help if you could indicate your city or town, or, at any rate, your state, province or country. If not, at least let us know what planet you're on.