Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mary Louise Parker

Reviving My Crush On Mary Louise Parker
(By Richard Goodman, 21 July 2013)

This weekend, I saw two of the new movies that came out.  One of them was Red 2 and the other was RIPD.  I enjoyed both of them, for the same two reasons.  First, they were a nicely done blend of action-comedy.  If you liked Men In Black 2, then you should enjoy RIPD, which is essentially the same movie, just with dead people filling in for the MIB aliens.  Red 2 was like Red 1 but with more humor and less drama, i.e. what Die Hard 5 (A Good Die To Die Hard) tried to be.  The second reason I liked both movies was because they both featured Mary Louise Parker.  She was incredibly amusing, adorable and attractive in both movies.  In RIPD, she played an efficient but quirky administrator and in Red 2, she was the eager, optimistic spy-in-training girlfriend of Bruce Willis’ “I’m too old for this shit” retired spy. 

I was mesmerized every time she was onscreen and I loved all her little tics and gestures and her enthusiastic spirit.  It could have veered into annoying in the wrong hands, but in her hands it was comedic gold; the audience was laughing in appreciation the whole time.  It’s because she wasn’t quite playing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it was more of the ultimate incarnation of the girl next door girlfriend.  I was thrilled to get this one-two punch all in one weekend but now I’m wondering how to get my MLP fix in the near future since she probably won’t have any more movies coming out for a while. 

You may have noticed that lately I’ve been posting some stuff that is a few years old.  That is because I had a bunch of things that I had been hanging onto because I was debating whether to do another Year In Review or just throw in the towel and post it in blog/electronic form.  I pretty much think I’m done with the paper version but now I have 6 year’s worth of backlog to figure out how to handle.  I decided to dig into this backlog and post something today since I had a nice long set of articles about Mary Louise Parker plus things written by her as well.  This should tide me over until she comes out with another movie.  You know, if the two movie weekend hadn’t revived my crush on her, rereading these articles would have done it.  So when is Red 3 coming out?    


Beauty and the Bleak

(by Adam Sternbergh, 2007)


Like many people who appear on TV, Mary-Louise Parker doesn’t watch a lot of TV. This makes sense, if you think about it; if you worked at a circus, you probably wouldn’t spend much of your downtime going to other circuses. But a few weeks ago, at the house in L.A. where she’d been staying while filming the third season of Weeds, she was feeling a little under the weather, and her 3-year-old son was safely in someone else’s care, so Parker decided to kick back in front of the tube. And then something embarrassing happened. She couldn’t figure out how to turn on the TV.

“I got so depressed,” she says, recalling this moment during a recent lunch in the West Village. “I just wanted to lie there and watch something. And I couldn’t get it turned on. My assistant was out of town. How pathetic is that?”  All Parker wanted was a lazy hour spent with a veg-out-friendly show. “I like A&E. I like those corny intimate-portrait things. They’re so kind of ingenious and artificial and soothing.” This genre of program, from Biography to VH1’s Behind the Music, has a hypnotic lure, as it reliably packages people’s lives into a familiar, uplifting arc: the ascent (band rocks hard; actor breaks out), the crisis (drummer loses arms; actor totals car while high on blow), and the optimistic dénouement (band reunites; actor emerges from obscurity to get late-life Emmy nomination).

The natural, unavoidable, slightly James Lipton–ish question, of course, is this: So, Mary-Louise Parker—single mother, longtime earner of plaudits, target of furious tabloid fascination after your boyfriend left you when you were pregnant with his kid—if you were the subject of such a biography, where would you be in that narrative arc right now?  “Assuming I have one 90-minute special?” she asks.  Yes.  “How does the arc go again?”  Ascent, crisis, optimistic dénouement.  “Somewhere around there,” she says. “Optimistic dénouement. Though optimistic is a big word for me. But you don’t want to anticipate any more crises in your life.”  As an actress, Parker is a cultish taste; she doesn’t have fans, she has converts. The road-to-Damascus moment may have come with Fried Green Tomatoes, in 1991, or when watching her as the deliciously marble-mouthed Amy Gardner on The West Wing, or seeing her onstage in Proof, or watching her play Harper, the hallucination-prone Mormon in HBO’s Angels in America, in 2003, a performance that won her an Emmy and, had the movie aired in theaters, might well have won her an Oscar. (She certainly should have beaten out Renée Zellweger’s jug-band mama from Cold Mountain.) Actresses like Zellweger may be more famous, but they enjoy a generalized, ambient popularity. Parker’s followers huddle together like chowhounds who’ve discovered a fantastic, out-of-the-way restaurant.

Still, for most of her career, Parker has been best known for two things: (1) delivering stunning stage performances (Prelude to a Kiss, Proof), then being passed over in the film versions for lesser actors but bigger stars, and (2) being that talented actress who never quite broke out, whose name was too easily confused with Penelope Ann Miller or Mary Stuart Masterson, who never had that one big romantic-comedy smash (the kind of movie in which, as she says, “there’s a montage where the girl tries on a lot of hats, then goes on a date”). So instead, she got saddled with that qualified compliment, the “thinking man’s sex symbol,” as though discerning her appeal required a devoted period of apostolic study.  Then she became known for a third thing. In 2003, her longtime boyfriend, actor Billy Crudup, left her, apparently for his younger co-star Claire Danes (denied at the time, but the pair coupled shortly thereafter), when Parker was seven months pregnant. This was personally devastating, obviously. Four years later, she says, “It’s weird to me the way that people receive it. Not so much that they speculate on it, but that they feel they have the right to comment on it.”  But the general reaction to her breakup was not the usual prurient, someone-got-shipped-off-to-rehab gleeful wallowing.  Instead, it pricked a primal nerve. Whatever emotional messiness had been splashed behind the scenes, the public story line was linear and pure: Dumped by a cad! Whilst pregnant! With his baby! No one confuses her with Mary Stuart Masterson anymore. In the cold calculus of celebrity, the worst possible thing in the world actually helped her. It made her sympathetic. It made her relatable.

To find Parker now, at 43, on Weeds is, for the cultish fan, to be both thankful she’s got this showcase and wistful for something more—shouldn’t this woman be off torching stages, stealing films, hoarding Oscars? Parker’s career is a testament to the fact that there’s a hunger for a woman who, as our own TV critic John Leonard (himself an unreconstructed Parkerphile) once wrote, can seem like she’s “always thinking about three things simultaneously, one of them scandalous.” Her characters often teeter on the brink of lunacy, but charmingly. Or, as one MLP devotee put it to me, “She’s convincingly smart. You know—she’s not Drew Barrymore.”  In fact, imagine for a minute that Barrymore starred in Weeds. The show would be a buffoonish disaster, rather than a compellingly kooky examination of what one suburban mother will do to keep her family together (sell pot) and what repercussions that has on her (occasionally jumping nearly naked in the swimming pool and screaming her head off underwater). Given how, in two seasons (the third premieres August 13), Weeds has drifted from a semi-plausible family drama to a brazen farce, it sometimes seems that Parker’s not just scrambling to keep her family together, she’s scrambling to keep her show together.

She turned down the Teri Hatcher role in Desperate Housewives (and imagine that alternate reality, Parker exiled to Wisteria Lane, picking her teeth with the likes of Nicollette Sheridan), but said yes to Weeds because, as she says, “it was uglier.” Since then, it’s gotten prettier. “I think the pilot was uglier than the show turned out to be. Sometimes it slips into more broadly comic, which is not my favorite. I like it best when it lives in that more bleak, black-comedy place.”  Bleak, black, comic: That’s not exactly soothing. That’s not Drew Barrymore. That’s not a neatly packaged story of ascent (critically beloved young actress!), crisis (left pregnant and alone!), and optimistic dénouement (now star of her own TV show!). But people only live their lives like that on A&E. “Those shows follow a formula, so you know what’s coming,” she says. “They have happy endings. Sometimes you kind of need that.”


 On Nudity
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, November 2002)

I seem to have a lot of pictures of myself naked.  A few are sexy, but most are decidedly unglamorous, ones in which I have sand on my feet, spaghetti on my face. Some were taken while I slept. The truly awful ones, which wrecked my day upon viewing, have doubtless by now been reincarnated as a paper towel or a Starbucks cup. It is difficult for anyone over the age of seven to see his or her body with any sense of perspective, and I don't know at what point that changes and being naked becomes naughty. My friend came into her son's room one evening and found him sitting on his bed very still and staring straight ahead with a small smile on his face. "What are you so happy about, honey?" she asked him. He looked at her, unblinking. "Because I am naked in my mind," he said.

There can be a certain hopefulness that precedes seeing your picture, naked or no. Maybe some small truth will be revealed, maybe I will see myself how others see me, but, more important, maybe I will look hot. Ultimately the pictures I like are the ones in which I recognize myself, in which ego doesn't figure into it. In one of my favorite pictures, consequently, I am extremely naked, romping on a not-nude beach on Plum Island, Massachusetts. I remember this sudden happiness that I hadn't felt for a while. Tom Waits was blaring, the waves almost as loud, and there was rain starting, everything a beautiful blue, gray, and white, and it was freezing and perfect. Life felt so expansive and possible, and it all just made me want to, well, rip my clothes off and run wildly down the beach. So I did and encouraged my friend to do the same, and she promptly ripped off her clothes, too. We took photos, and when the cold became freezing cold, we put our clothes on and went home.

Your average photo tends to conceal rather than reveal. Only truly great art photos, by Robert Frank, for example, seem so true that you feel like a voyeur for just looking at them. They speak so much about their subjects in such an artful, deliberately nondeliberate way that they take my breath away. A naked photo is trickier; usually the intent is to get the viewer horny, or to fill out a subscription card. It's tough, too, because nudity is the greatest distraction. I didn't love the angle of my head in the naked photo I did for this magazine two years ago. The Polaroids I saw during the photo shoot showed this shiny naked chick kickin' it on a couch and feelin' it. But the one that was published made me look, I thought, sort of stiff or demure, like one of the somewhat hornier sisters on The Waltons. I sort of hated that about it, to which my niece responded: "Who you think is gonna be looking at your head with your crazy butt flyin' all up in the air like that?" (This theory of hers is proven whenever someone approaches me with ten copies of said photo; when I say, "I'll just sign right here on my naked ass," the picture holder counters with, "Oh, no, just below it, please.")

In the end, despite having my bottom dusted with gold powder while the photographer yelled out, "Work it, baby! Oh, yeah, work it, Mama!" I think the picture is very PG-13, nothing to blush about. The Catholic Church, though, might say otherwise. The Catholic Digest Web site and the U. S. Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting issue grave warnings about the dangers of nudity. The movie The Full Monty was recommended with reservations, based on its "brief rear nudity" and "fleeting homosexual innuendo." I confess I find The Full Monty about as racy as The Parent Trap, so perhaps we should avoid all movies, not to mention the ground floor of the Louvre, due to the more-than-fleeting rear nudity in the Michelangelo gallery.

I wonder if it is even possible for a nude to avoid any controversy. It seems to come down to the compartmentalization of particular body parts into the proper and improper, which seems a bit random. I don't quite see how, if we have a shot of a woman fully clothed--more than fully, in a beekeeper's outfit, no less--and somehow a nipple is exposed by accident, like, "Tra la la, here I am just taking care of my bees, thinking pure and virtuous thoughts," and that scant bit of flesh just, like, busted out somehow, then is that porno? Is a nipple itself just inherently nasty? Is it possible to show a nipple somewhere, in a men's magazine, for example, and have the photo deemed artistic? Does a nipple, by its very appearance in Esquire, have to scream Lick me?

Now, despite my own apparent willingness to rip it all off now and then, I admit to a couple of reservations. On one hand, if the intent is to get you hot, then the subject is objectified to some degree. The issue is mostly gender specific, and if it reemphasizes a woman's worth being tied up in her looks and sexual appeal, if it feeds that concept in some way, then a nude photo isn't really innocuous, I guess. The second factor is what it represents for me as an actress. I don't want to encourage the perception of acting as mere posing, akin to modeling, or that physical beauty is a prerequisite for talent: The question posed to any model or pretty girl who has found success singing disco or figure skating is, inevitably, "Are you going to try acting?" Since more than one career was founded on a woman's ability to smile well or look good in shorts, it might perpetuate the idea that acting is something that you do when you are good-looking, and if you want to do it, you better "work it, baby, and oh, yeah, work it, Mama." You better bare your ass and hope you look good. Love me, lick me, hire me.

So there, for me, is the problem. The being naked part I kinda like. I wondered if there was a way to circumvent this inner conflict, to turn the naked-actress phenomenon around a bit. When I pitched half a dozen ideas for this piece, the "what if I write about being naked in Esquire" idea was mysteriously latched onto, the first response being, "Would you consider posing naked again?" I received an e-mail from the editor the next morning in which the word nude appeared no less than five times in the course of one paragraph, and it ended with "We agreed that it would make sense if you posed nude again." So. Well, anyone who might suggest a very public display of nudity for me must be very open-minded, I thought. So I rang him up and said, "Well, yeah, I think it's an idea, and I was also thinking, actually, that as the editor of the piece, it would make sense for you to appear naked as well. And I thought maybe I should choose the photo of you that runs, so you can really experience that loss of control and possible objectification. Just as an idea. I mean, I thought it might make sense."

I was met with some sputtering and somewhat choked, mortified laughter, the way people laugh when they feel suddenly light-headed, or when they view something both compelling and grotesque, like, say, two cats having sex, or a child vomiting into his Easter basket. He said he would get back to me.  I didn't mean to be sinister or punishing, wouldn't dream of running an unflattering shot or making him show his willy if he didn't want to. We could just both do some fairly tame, PG-13 to R-rated photos, nothing much showing, if anything, just so he could get the feel of the experience. That way, whenever he suggests a photo or looks at one, he will have a whole other, more deeply informed point of view. And, champ that he is, he shocked me. God love him, he said yes. The whole thing ended up being wonderfully reciprocal. Egalitarian. I'll show you some of mine if you show me some of yours.


How To Get Some On February 14th
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, Feb 2007)

Recipe for Valentine's Day: Take a piece of construction paper and a red crayon. Draw a heart on the paper, the more crooked the better, and inside write BE MINE with your left hand, or your right if you are left-handed. Fold the paper over, cut it into the shape of a heart, and write something profound to acknowledge how special she is. If you are dim, write LOVE, ME. Go to the market, get a box of Duncan Hines Chocolate Lover's brownie mix. Dump some hooch in the batter -- pecans if she is Mormon. Bake them and cut the brownies into the shapes of hearts. It's okay if they are burned. Put them in a shoe box with some tissue paper, hide the Duncan Hines box in the garbage, and sprinkle some flour on your counter. I'm not suggesting you lie, just set the scene. If this is a real strain, best to find a new gal or get some quality downtime, and ask your doctor about Celexa. If you have problems with the commercial aspects of the holiday, swallow it -- it's not about you. If she fails to reward your sweetness, get a new gal, or make her ask about Wellbutrin.

If you planned a big romantic dinner out, I suggest doing the valentine beforehand. The common misconception is that in order to make manifest the ideal evening of romance, you have to begin with the tasting menu at Bouley.  I am going to dispute that. By the time the molten-chocolate cake with passion-fruit foam arrives, I can't tell you how many fingers you are holding up. I am suggesting that you go out of the expected order and possibly pair a little boost with the aperitif to get the evening going. One could go straight to GNC and pick up something like Uptime Energy caplets, loaded with ginkgo biloba and a safe alternative to hard narcotics. If you are a board-certified physician, not just a musician with a convenient supply of syringes, consider bringing along vitamin-B shots for two. It could be a great icebreaker, not to mention a way to get a preview of her knickers. Head to the restaurant when you are really hungry, a little late, and you have s-e-x written all over you. Go somewhere with big bathrooms. In case you miss each other.  Remember, you fellas who are loaded could put something sparkly at the bottom of the valentine box, or something lacy if you are medium loaded. But truly, it's the effort that counts (if she has a heart), not what you show up with.*  All you need to do is hunt down a red crayon and pucker up. So draw back your bow, honey. Be a man, that's how we like you.

*Unless you are a Spanish saddle-backed bush cricket, in which case you need to show up with an ampulla of doped-up Jell-O a third of your body weight to attach to your date during the act of cricket love. If, God forbid, your offering is considered too meager, she might chirp off to get it on with as many as forty-five other crickets and leave you in the dust. Watching.

Shut Up And Push Play
If you want to rock this girl (or yours), these are the songs you need to know.
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine)

I want my next lover to speak little, if any, English. It's really only necessary for two people to have a few things in common: sex, food, and vacation destinations. I can envision getting by with a friendly “Hola” as we pass each other on the veranda in the morning. It might be wonderful to stare blithely at him as he yammered away in Amharic or something; then I would have something concrete to point to when I didn't understand anything he was saying. 

Truthfully, I believe that much communication can happen through music. The right record can be a surrogate for conversation and more potent than a chemical aphrodisiac. "Music is a beautiful opiate," wrote Henry Miller, and I concur.  Some songs make me feel intoxicated from the first five notes, and when you feel light-headed and electric, it's always better to be lying down, sharing it with someone else. If you are less than articulate, just putting on a song can make you a deputy to greatness. Maybe you couldn't write "Tupelo Honey," but you can play it and tell her that you wish you had written it for her. Your ardor will be reified in the form of melody, and she will dissolve if she likes you even a little. Conversely, if the evening isn't going well, just bust out the soundtrack from Annie.

If you need inspiration, here are some suggestions for when that special someone is on your couch, or for after you've graduated from the couch to the bed, or from said couch to up against the wall beside it, or to her place if you have only a futon. Hopefully, if you do end up at her place, she will put on Sade. Sade means only one thing, honey, so get to it.

1. "Gone, Gone, Gone," By Carl Perkins: If your lady is big-boned, you may want to bury this one in the middle of a playlist, lest the lyric "I know my baby, she's so round and fat" seem a pointed attack on her metabolism. It makes me want to crawl into the back of a truck and put my heels on the window.

2. The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" is actually quite dark and laced with a bit of rage. Don't pretend you don't know the words.

3. Prince's "Adore" is the hottest song ever. Maybe right for a little striptease. I'm just speculating.

4. "To Turn You On," By Roxy Music: Just put on the whole record, Avalon, and if by the time you get to this track you ain't havin' sex, you ain't gonna.

5. "Go All The Way," By The Raspberries: Go there. Finish off with the Rolling Stones' "Beast Of Burden." I realize I'm cheating, but Esquire allotted me only 650 words.

6. Ryan Adams's "Come Pick Me Up" makes me want to &%#$ the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.

7. "Ain't Nobody," By Chaka Khan: In the best possible world, you will end up with a tiny bruise or two.

8. Bach's Cello Suites, By Yo-Yo Ma: Light bondage and Cool Whip.

9. "Reasons," By Earth, Wind & Fire: Think Sweatin' to the Oldies.

10. "Glory Box," By Portishead: Drinks spill and glasses break when you knock over the table in the White Horse Tavern as somebody climbs over it to get to somebody else. The establishment will ask you to leave.

11. "Swing Gently," By Leona Naess: It's not even out yet, so if you are cool enough to put on this song, you don't need to be reading this article. Check out the pictures and turn the page.


The Ten Types Of Music No Man Should Own
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, March 2009)

Actress Mary-Louise Parker has some helpful advice for you: If one of these appears in your music collection, you're never getting laid again.

1. Records by any act whose name is of a Greek or Latin etymology, i.e. Styx, Megadeth, Yanni.

2. Any recording of Carousel, original Broadway cast or national tour.

3. Any recording by an act or artist who owns a copy of any recording of Carousel.

4. Any soundtrack involving earnest undersea creatures who sing or play drums as they struggle to find their way home.

5. The soundtrack or singles from any aerobics movie featuring Olivia Newton-John or John Travolta (e.g. Xanadu).

6. Any album containing a pop song with recordings of whales or dolphins in the background.

7. Any album by Paul after George died, any album by George after John died, and any album by Ringo after Elvis died.

8. Any of the volumes of Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women. The DVD is equally, if not more, unacceptable.

9. Any album released between 1984 and 1988 by men wearing unitards or kimonos. Except Boy George.

10. Any tracks or bootleg recordings of the Kiss: Alive II tour.  Unless you are twelve.


Why Are Singers Such Pussies?
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, March, 2009)

Aside from the tragic, there exist many mundane but still unsettling ways in which my three-year-old son could choose to individuate: surfer, Republican, Japanese-comic-book enthusiast, or, to wound me, member of a college fraternity. There is also that tiny chance that he could join a boy band. Would there be any kind of deprogramming available for a boy who might spontaneously lose all musical taste despite being force-fed classic rock, alt-country, Bach, and Motown from the moment his face hit air? I suppose I could pay the aged guys from Menudo to strap him to a chair in a white room and lip-synch "Like a Cannonball" in relentless repetition. Maybe I could get a Britney Spears look-alike to come in and vomit, pantyless and bloated, onto a Kevin Federline doll that cries when she tries to stimulate it because it can't get erect from years of straining to maintain falsetto. Or I could buy him a car.

I worry that in twelve years music won't have much to offer him in terms of great tunes to blow out your speakers to. Things seem a bit airbrushed at the moment. How do you get rowdy to James Blunt? All due respect, "You're Beautiful" kind of makes me want to hurl. I would rather hear Van Morrison snarl something unintelligible in the midst of "Sweet Thing" before he falls away from the microphone, or Joe Cocker rasp out his last breath. I once told Elvis Costello that Imperial Bedroom made me want to punch someone in the face and then go have sex with the wrong person, but in the best way. Rock 'n' roll isn't a pretty boy on MTV; it isn't "gorgeous." Maybe the popularity of American Idol has produced all this music that seems like it could be lifted from a consensual-rape scene on Days of Our Lives. The radio seems to play great audition material, or super first-dance songs at someone's third wedding.

I suppose that any mother who has a teensy moment of disquiet when her boy turns to rock should take her cue from a woman who took out a personal loan of sixty dollars to buy her boy a Kent electric for Christmas. Fortuitous, because he found a nice little place in the stars, thanks to Mrs. Adele Springsteen, who with that guitar gave Bruce what he said was his "connection to the human race." I've heard that Mrs. Springsteen always wanted her son to be a writer. I don't know if that's true, but she got a poet, and a renegade; after all, when they said sit down, he stood up. Ooh, growin' up.


Why Having Sex In Public Is Worth It (Every Time)
Minor Transgression Violation No. 18731: Public lewdness, Probable Penalty: A warning, or a fine in the hundreds and, possibly, probation.

(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, March 2009)

Unless you are a prostitute, hotels are a little exhilarating. Tiny amenities wait in the bathroom; sometimes a cookie or a weather forecast on your pillow at bedtime. Soup tastes better than at home. Twenty-dollar cashews.  Hotels are essentially about fleeing: your spouse, your contractor, a needy house pet. Hanging the DO NOT DISTURB sign is a harmless way for me to tell the world to go eat a Clark bar, but even when I check in hoping to disappear, I may decide I want to be at least partially visible. For a different kind of freedom.

Public and even semipublic sex will get you a burst of cortisol and a particular delicious anxiety. If you can't stomach the thought of a light felony charge or possible public stoning, consider the hallway — the door handle is a great balancing device and has the hard and manageable feel of a gearshift for more control. If you're a novice and get spooked by the thought of the maid's cart approaching, just fall back inside and shut the door. Should you get busted, blame it on the thermostat in your room or say you lunged for the doorway because you felt seismic vibrations, which will make you appear conscientious and up on earthquake-safety rules. For the daring, there is the actual hall, or for extreme halling, the spot near the ashtrays in front of the elevators is terrific. And for God's sake, don't rule out the ice machine. I find that the tongs, the bucket, and the ice itself offer endless possibilities. You may spot some pervert leaning out his door and taping you on his BlackBerry, but try not to get indignant. Instead, calm yourself by remembering that you, also, are a pervert, and revel in the commonality of mankind.

Josh Ritter Is Not At All Pretentious
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, March 2009)

Josh Ritter stands up. "I'm just gonna see about your drink," he says softly, heading to look for my missing cocktail. I look at the book he brought me that he thought I'd like. He comes back and I give him some poetry, apologizing for the Band-Aid stuck to the Simic. "No, it's so much better like this," he says. "The Band-Aid stays." He thanks me four or five times. He is wearing a tie and has the bright, interested smile of someone not overburdened with self-image. He is so unlike a rock star that I wonder if he landed in the West Village straight off some mother ship. Lately he has been visiting museums because he's writing a song about a mummy. He seems like the guy in integral calculus who read Kierkegaard under his desk but, when called on, still had the best answer or non-answer. When I ask him about high school, he says he wasn't so popular. "I'd have liked to be, but I didn't really know how to unlock that."

Ritter is usually compared to the legends, the ones you have been listening to since you were fifteen, the ones you love most. He has already appeared on lists of the greatest living songwriters. He is not at all pretentious, though he reads Pinsky and just finished a book about Cicero. He loves politics. "Nobody who reads Lincoln can deny that poetry and politics can fuse, and when they do, the result is something more than poetry and something more than politics," he says. His lyrics are undeniably poetic, but they have a kind of velocity that keeps them from being precious: "I love the way she looks in her underwear. / I lose my page then the plot then the book then I swear. / She makes the most of her time by loving me plenty. / She knows there'll come a day when we won't be getting any." (From "To the Dogs or Whoever.")

In a live show, he says sometimes it's best when he finishes a song and "there is silence, like the audience doesn't know what that was. When it's live, I can push it, and I'm never afraid, because I know the show will end and the people will go home. I can either ride the horse or be tied to it and let it drag me around behind it. If I don't take a chance, give them something special, I may as well be reciting something."  I ask him what it's like now that people are putting him up so high, investing in him: "What do you do with that?"  He laughs, looks away. "Yeah," he says. "I just figure that's a compliment I can never live up to."

If you love music and have a device on which to play it, you should listen to Josh Ritter whenever you need sound. If you bring a woman home, or if you need to sit and disassociate, wishing you had a woman to bring home. During takeoff and landing, after they've told you to shut off all electronic devices, hide your iPod and listen; it's good music to be alone with up there. Really just listen whenever, because the records are that good, and you are a person who thinks and loves and wears pants.


A Thank-You Note To Men
(By Mary-Louise Parker, Esquire magazine, May 2009)

To you, whom it may concern:

Manly creature, who smells good even when you don't, you wake up too slowly, with fuzzy, vertical hair and a slightly lost look on your face as though you are seven or seventy-five; you can fix my front door, my sink, and open most jars; you, who lose a cuff link and have to settle for a safety pin, you have promised to slay unfortunate interlopers and dragons with your Phillips head or Montblanc; to you, because you will notice a woman with a healthy chunk of years or pounds on her and let out a wolf whistle under your breath and mean it; because you think either rug will be fine, really it will; you seem to walk down the street a little taller than me, a little more aware but with a purpose still; to you who codifies, conjugates, slams a puck, baits a hook, builds a decent cabinet or the perfect sandwich; you who gives a twenty to the kids selling Hershey's bars and waits at baggage claim for three hours in your flannel shirt; you, sir, you take my order, my pulse, my bullshit; you who soaps me in the shower, soaks with me in the tub; to you, boy grown-up, the gentleman, soldier, professor, or caveman, the fancy man with initials on your towels and salt on your chocolates, to you and to that guy at the concession stand; thank you for the tour of the vineyard, the fire station, the sound booth, thank you for the kaleidoscope, the Horsehead Nebula, the painting, the truth; to you who carries me across the parking lot, up the stairs, to the ER, to roll-away or rice mat; to you who shows up every so often only to confuse and torment, and you who stays in orbit, always, to my left and steady, you stood up for me, I won't forget that; to you, the one who can't figure it out and never will, and you who lost the remote, the dog, or your way altogether; to you, wizard, you sang in my ear and brought me back from the dead, you tell me things, make me shiver; to the ones who destroyed me, even if for a minute, and to the ones who grew me, consumed me, gave me my heart back times ten; to most everything that deserves to call itself a man: How I do love thee, with your skill to light fires that keep me warm, light me up.


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