Sourcing the tap.

If you think of life as a box of chocolates, not in the Gumpian sense of you-never-know-what-you’re-gonna-get but in the “one small, sublime pleasure after another” sense of this …horrible metaphor — well, let’s start again, shall we?

I was thinking of the things I like best in life the other day, John Coltrane blowing his horn in the back of my head, and thought that somewhere in the top 20 or so would be this: Discovering a great work of art — and yes, I’m lumping “popular entertainments” in with that, go ahead and mock — before you know anything about it. We talk stuff to death in this country, and so much of it is just hot air. The other day I surfed past “Cast Away” on cable, and thought for the millionth time how it might have been to see that movie without knowing beforehand that Tom Hanks survives a plane crash, lives for a matter of years on a deserted island, escapes the island, is rescued, returns to his life and realizes he’s lost the love of his life for good, all of which was revealed in the film’s trailer and advertising. I think it would have made for a better movie. Maybe it’s just me.

(Roger Ebert’s review of “Cast Away” deals with this question, and guess what: The film’s own damn director thinks giving away the store was the right thing to do, comparing the marketing of a film to McDonald’s. No wonder he’s such a success.)

Anyway, it made me think of the night I rented “Sunset Boulevard” at the video store, knowing nothing other than this was a classic movie I’ve never seen and that Gloria Swanson says, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” Imagine what it was like seeing it unfold that night, just an ordinary weeknight in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I felt like that guy in that speaker ad from the ’70s; “Sunset Boulevard” blew my hair back.

Many years ago, I was living in Columbus, Ohio, browsing the mass-market paperback racks at my local Little Professor, looking for something to read. I don’t remember what prompted me to pick up Kem Nunn’s “Tapping the Source,” but I did, and ever since I’ve wondered why I could pass Nunn on the street and not know who he is. Most capsule descriptions describe it as “surfing noir” or “Raymond Chandler does ‘Endless Summer,'” and these work well enough, but how the book worked on me, a kid who grew up in a time when California was, quite literally, the promised land (promised by the Beach Boys), was something else. It captured perfectly the sense Midwesterners of my generation (OK, change that last phrase to “I”) had of southern California as a place of beaches and sunshine and cool people, along with the inevitable adult realization that it wasn’t.

The back cover said it won an American Book Award for Best First Novel, but for me, it was like the book existed in the Twilight Zone. There were blurbs on the cover from Elmore Leonard and Robert Stone, hardly obscure blurbers, and I couldn’t find anyone who’d read it. Authors like Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis were in every gossip column, but where was Kem Nunn? I’d say, “Sure, ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ was enjoyable enough, but have you read ‘Tapping the Source’?” and people would look at me blankly: Who’s he? And these were people who read books.

I reread the book every year or so, to see if it held up. It did. I found other novels by Nunn, to see if they were as good. They weren’t. Good enough, but “Tapping the Source” was lightning in a bottle.

Well, eventually the internet happened, and I did a little poking around, and discovered what Nunn’s problem was: He lived in California. He got his MFA not at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop but UC/Irvine. Evidently the book had been sold to the movies, but the movie never happened: …cursed by a movie deal that saw his fantastic first novel, “Tapping the Source” altered beyond recognition until it reputedly become the core of the movie “Point Break,” with which it has very little in common. I’ll say. Both stories feature surfing. That’s about all they have in common.

Anyway, I figured Kem Nunn was an elaborate figment of my imagination until one night near the end of “Deadwood,” the series, and I saw his name in the writing credits. So that’s where he ended up, I thought; well, at least he’ll make some money. And then, elsewhere on HBO around the same time, Ari Gold, Jeremy Piven’s character on “Entourage,” made some reference to the script for “Tapping the Source.” I can’t recall the line, but it had something to do with the mythical quality of the script, and may well have been yet another of the ten thousand Hollywood in-jokes on that show. But it seemed to be evidence that Nunn was not only still kicking, but might be under contract to HBO. And that is good news.

Turns out, he is. I’m holding in my hand an advance-screening DVD of “John From Cincinnati.” Co-creators: David Milch and Kem Nunn. Lucky, lucky me. I’ll give you a full report. Alan said, “All I know is, there’s no character in it named John, and it has nothing to do with Cincinnati.” Well, I appreciate the Buckeye reference, if no one else.

(Bonus mnemonic: Cincinnati has its name misspelled more than any other American city, and yes, I’m including Albuquerque, which people at least have enough sense to look up. Here’s my trick for remembering how to spell the Queen City: 1-2-1. One N, then two Ns, and one T. No double Ts, people! One T!)

UPDATE: I should read the L.A. Times more often.

Quick bloggage: I’m indebted to TV writer David Mills, who blogs as Undercover Black Man, for keeping track of what he calls MBPs, or Misidentified Black People. He contends, and he’s convinced me, that African Americans are misidentified in the news media more than any other group. (Page through that MBP link, and you’ll see the rather overwhelming evidence. The latest: Fox News confuses William Jefferson and John Conyers. Well, they do all look alike.

Yeesh, but I have work to do. Later, all.

Posted at 8:46 am in Media, Television |

39 responses to “Sourcing the tap.”

  1. ashley said on June 6, 2007 at 9:22 am

    In 1975, the guys at the sporting goods store in Pensacola misspelled my Cincinnati Reds jacket. They wouldn’t change it or give me a refund. Mooks.

    I’m looking forward to John as well, partially because of Rebecca de Mornay (nee George, as in Wally George), but also to see if we can get another Swearingen-style guy, that makes my conversational English downright Victorian.

    Although, how would you like to have to do a first episode, where you follow the series finale of The Sopranos? Not me — I say throw in half an hour of Entourage, and let me debut next week.

    Of course, with Chris Albrecht now gone, maybe Deadwood would have got that extra year. What a schmuck.

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  2. Dorothy said on June 6, 2007 at 9:35 am

    At the National Spelling Bee last week, the contestant from the Virginian Pilot was wearing a tag around her neck with Virginia spelled as “Virgina”. I did not notice this; my daughter pointed it out to me.

    I’ll be in Cincinnati tomorrow afternoon!

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  3. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 9:51 am

    I felt the same way about “A Fan’s Notes,” which I bought from the used book table at the library years ago. Now I know it’s practically sacred text to some people, but then I thought I had found something amazing. “Blood Meridian,” by Cormac McCarthy is like that too. Much better than “All the Pretty Horses.”

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  4. Danny said on June 6, 2007 at 10:19 am

    I was thinking of the things I like best in life the other day…


    The best things in life are to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women.

    That is a platform upon which one could win a gubenatorial race. Beats the hell outta a chicken in every pot, an Oldsmobile in every garage.

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  5. alex said on June 6, 2007 at 10:21 am

    “A Fan’s Notes” is one of my all-time faves as well, Mary. A one-hit wonder, I guess. It made me laugh so hard I was practically peeing throughout the entire thing. A couple of delightfully memorable lines:

    The people of the town where the narrator was teaching in northern New York “labored under several feet of snow for six months of the year and under the weight of their own intransigent ignorance year-round.”

    Another: The shady character who describes his black sidekick as carrying “a wad of bills big as his dong.”

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  6. nancy said on June 6, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Danny, you’re right. It would give me enormous pleasure to see my enemies crushed, driven before me and the lamentations of their women (and, in some cases, their men). I keep imagining different faces on the King of Gaul scene from “Rome.” Mmm, good.

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  7. jcburns said on June 6, 2007 at 10:44 am

    My trick for remembering Albuquerque is to pronounce it “al-boo-kwer-kwoo” when I spell it. My trick for knowing how to spell Cincinnati is to grow up less than 100 miles away from it. Oh yeah, also, to watch every episode of WKRP.

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  8. Danny said on June 6, 2007 at 10:44 am


    We’re still cool. Right Nance?

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  9. nancy said on June 6, 2007 at 10:48 am

    You are not my enemy, if that’s what you’re asking.


    Oh, thanks. Now it’s gone to my head. I’m going to be like this all day.

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  10. ashley said on June 6, 2007 at 11:05 am

    “Lamentations of their women”. I keep forgetting that one…

    And thanks a whole hell of a lot, JC, for putting the image of Bailey Quarters in my head for the rest of the day. I was just thinking happy thoughts about Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Rawlins Jackson Eastwick III, the raisins, and the psychodots; but nooooooo — you had to go and throw WKRP in there, so now I’ve got that image of Bailey in her jeans.

    My employer thanks you for the drop in today’s productivity.

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  11. Dorothy said on June 6, 2007 at 11:18 am

    I am SO disappointed no one used “Ululations of their women”!

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  12. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 11:22 am

    You and me both, Dorothy.

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  13. nancy said on June 6, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Many lamentations are made through ululation. In fact, my dictionary says:

    ululate |ˈəlyəˌlāt; ˈyoōl-| verb [ intrans. ] howl or wail as an expression of strong emotion, typically grief : women were ululating as the body was laid out.

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  14. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Keening is good too.

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  15. Rich B said on June 6, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Don’t get your hopes too high for John from Cincinnati (hah), it’s already got a pre-review pan in Tim Goodman’s (SF Chronicle) blog, It’s the June 02 entry.

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  16. brian stouder said on June 6, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Rawlins Jackson Eastwick III,

    You can’t forget Davey Concepcion and Joe Morgan on the infield with Perez; Cesar Geronimo and George Foster in the outfield….and Pete Rose! I remember when Rose, near the end of his playing days left Cincy, because the Reds wouldn’t agree to a $450,000/year lifetime contract!!! I bet Stray Rod pays his pool boy more than $450k/year!!!

    Anyway – that’s how I always knew how to spell Cincinnati: picture the grey road uniform that they wore, and it was spelled across the front. (I always liked that uniform better than their plain white and red home uniform)

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  17. Julie Robinson said on June 6, 2007 at 11:44 am

    And here’s a little gem from the aforementioned National Spelling Bee. In an interview, one of the contestants mentioned her favorite word: kakistocracy (kak·is·toc·ra·cy) n.
    Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Anyone care to use that in a sentence?

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  18. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    And then there’s khakistocracy. Government by the Gap.

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  19. ashley said on June 6, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    So I guess prolekhakistocracy would be government by Old Navy?

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  20. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Both involve a lot of tee shirt folding.

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  21. Ricardo said on June 6, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    If you like discovering new art, you might want to look up my old roommate Fred Tomaselli’s work. He was in art school at CSUFullerton back in the day, but I liked everything he did even then. Now he is a world class artist, his humble beginnings behind him.

    Wally George! One of the originals Bill O’reilly copied. He could really serve up fake outrage on the low budget Anaheim TV station. I saw him a few times at the post office, he was much taller than I imagined from TV.

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  22. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Between Gene Scott and Wally George the eighties were golden on local TV here.

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  23. Kirk said on June 6, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Any of you Californians old enough to remember Joe Pyne?

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  24. Danny said on June 6, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Kirk, Mary and I are transplants from elsewhere. But she has probably met Joe Pyne at PTA or bowling night.

    Ululation. Isn’t the best example of that by Xena Warrior Princess? Done before she engages in battle. It would be cool if Hillary Clinton would do that as she walks out on stage before the debates. If only Howard Dean had done a good ululation instead of that crazy, rawhide-esque scream.

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  25. Connie said on June 6, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I am looking forward to the new HBO series Flight of the Conchords. We saw their comedy special and found their “fake” folk singer show hilarious. Several pieces of it can be seen on You Tube.

    In unrelated news, harking back to our depressing discussion the other day re home ownership: My well has blown. No water. New well drill starts Friday, which is better than the original of late next week. When the guy realized we actually had no water he said he would move some contractor with an unoccupied house back to get to us sooner. Thank you.

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  26. Kirk said on June 6, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Pyne was ahead of his time, probably the model for Wally George and an army of subsequent talk-show screechers. He got his start on Los Angeles radio and TV. His syndicated talk show was on late-night TV in Ohio back in the mid-’60s, when I was in junior high. He was quite right-wing, but the show wasn’t all politics. He had guests who said they’d been on flying saucers, traveled in time, stuff like that. He made heavy fun of them, but I remember being entertained by the guy. And he once had Frank Zappa on the show, leading to this exchange:

    Pyne: “So I guess your long hair makes you a woman.”
    Zappa: “So I guess your wooden leg makes you a table!”

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  27. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I remember Joe Pyne on channel 5 in NYC. I love that Frank Zappa quote.

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  28. MarkH said on June 6, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Yeah, you don’t have to be from CA to remember Joe Pyne, just old enough, that’s all.

    He was a late Saturday night staple among my buddies and myself in the ’60s in Cinncinatti, i mean Cinciattti, Cincinasty…DANG!, I mean CINCINNATI 🙂

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  29. Ricardo said on June 6, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Gene Scott’s wife took over for him after he merged with the universe. Pastor Scott is on several time slots on different stations every day on our DirecTV. Plus you can still see Gene’s reruns from beyond.

    If I stand on my roof, I can see the Crystal Cathedral about a mile away. My mom began to watch the sermons on TV from Florida. One of my brother’s friends from our hometown church in Lincoln Park, MI, sang in the choir at the CC. Occasionaly, the camera would pan past him and my mom would see him in the choir again. From 3000 miles away instead of a few pews away. Damn, the world is small.

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  30. LA mary said on June 6, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Who is the Crystal Cathedral guy again? Didn’t he write a book saying he found God when he got a nose job and felt better about his appearance?

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  31. Kirk said on June 6, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Robert Schuller

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  32. joodyb said on June 6, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    the promos for “John from Cincinnati” are certainly ornery enough! i have intentionally not researched it – this is kismet that you are screening it. can’t wait to hear your take on it. i totally missed the Ari reference. will have to go back and watch again. i have Mark hooked on “Entourage” now.

    my literary finds: “The Grasshopper King” by a kid named Jordan Ellenberg and Gary Steyngart’s “Absurdistan.” Both amazing efforts from the first turn of the page. (I picked both up off the ARC table at work. I felt like I had won the lottery.)

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  33. ashley said on June 6, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    The father of my ex-girlfriend from Orange did the plumbing for the Crystal Cathedral. He said it was a nightmare of a job, but looks good on the resume.

    And Gene Scott’s wife is a former porn starlet. Amen.

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  34. velvet goldmine said on June 7, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    This is kind of a crazy salad of responses to all of the above, AND a day late and a dollar short to boot:

    For two years in a row, my daughter has won or placed second in her regional spelling bee, and for two years in a row her name has been spelled wrong on her award. But the irony is so cheap that it’s not even worth correcting.

    I wanted to pile on with the experience of reading “A Fan’s Notes.” I think it was in some bargain bin, and as LA Mary said, very quickly became sacred text.

    And to add my own, I always think of watching a PBS rebroadcast of the British miniseries “The Singing Detective.” This was almost 20 years ago, I think, when I was dying of boredom and August heat. Just astonishing film-making; I wish I had the brain cells this afternoon to say more than I highly recommend renting it.

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  35. brian stouder said on June 8, 2007 at 7:49 am

    the British miniseries “The Singing Detective.” This was almost 20 years ago, I think, when I was dying of boredom and August heat

    I will snap up your recommendation!

    Somewhere back in that same time-frame, I stumbled upon a British miniseries that immediately enthralled me – House of Cards. There are equally wonderful sequel miniseries (Playing the King leaps to mind, although I may have that title wrong).

    In that series, Sir Ian Richardson (“Pardon me, do you have Grey Poupon?”) has the role of what amounts to a political Tony Soprano. As he works his way to the top of the government, the gamesmanship and intrigue…and the dialogue!! – is simply marvelous. If you see these on the rack at the video rental place, I highly recommend them!

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  36. velvet goldmine said on June 8, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    If I ever figure out Netflix, Brian, I will put it in my queue or cart or net or whatever the kids are saying. Thanks!

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  37. Ricardo said on June 9, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Shuller started out preaching at the Orange Drive In. This was a freeway landmark when traveling from LA to San Diego, but there isn’t even a swap meet there now, it is gone. It was immortalized in “Diamonds On My Windshield”, by Tom Waits. Attendees would drive in, hook up the speakers, and listen to Rev. Robert standing on the platform by the screen.

    Once I went to an organ recital at the Crystal and noticed they still have drive in speakers in the parking lot for people who couldn’t make it all the way inside but didn’t want to watch Shuller on TV. I thought about loading up on popcorn, hot dogs, beer, etc. and heading off to church.

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  38. LA mary said on June 13, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Make sure you don’t rent the American singing detective with Robert Downey Jr. You want the English one. It’s great. With Michael Gambon. Dennis Potter wrote and directed.

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  39. LA mary said on June 13, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Speaking of Michael Gambon, you should rent Tailor of Panama. Pierce Brosnan is excellent in that one, as is Michael Gambon.

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