Monday, July 30, 2012

We'll never see THIS again

I've just finished "Sir John Gielgud: A Life in Letters," 500 pages of correspondence (edited by Richard Mangan) over an 87-year period from 1912 to 1999. Short review: It gave me a lot of pleasure. Long review: It's an indispensably frank look at the person I'd guess to be the greatest actor of the 20th century.

I say "guess" because he stopped appearing onstage long before I could appreciate him in America or travel to London to see him. His film and TV work is sporadic. Like Laurence Olivier, one of his two great British theatrical peers (the other being Ralph Richardson), he appeared in a lot of trash late in life to pay for the costly upkeep of a rural estate. But onstage, he could play anything from Shakespeare to Restoration comedy to Harold Pinter.

The jacket describes him as "best known for his Academy Award-winning role in the hit comedy 'Arthur.' " I wonder if that's true, now that 31 years have passed. That modestly funny comedy about an alcoholic millionaire (Dudley Moore) cared for by a shrewd butler (Gielgud) belonged to the Reagan years; I doubt Gielgud is known at all to anyone under 35.

To get to know him, listen to his recordings of "Hamlet" from the 1940s and "King Lear" from the 1990s, or watch Alfred Hitchcock's "Secret Agent" or Joseph Mankiewicz' "Julius Caesar." Or read this book, in which he comes across as kind, greedy for approval (as all actors are), bawdy, anxious, publicly diplomatic and privately blunt, capable of great love but also capable of greatly exploiting -- perhaps without realizing it -- those who loved him.

Like many members of the British upper class born before World War I, he was mildly racist and anti-Semitic. He loathed many landmarks of 20th-century culture -- "Carmina Burana," "Waiting for Godot," "The Godfather," Stephen Sondheim's musicals, Tom Stoppard's plays -- while admitting his devotion to "Dallas" and "Dynasty" and repeatedly delighting in trips to Disneyland. Yet when he offers advice, as he does about Romeo to actor Richard Sterne, he writes so intelligently that you don't want to see the role done any other way.

I gobbled the book in chunks, because he wrote to entertain his correspondents as much as inform them. As I read, I realized that not only will we never see another actor so versatile and dedicated in my lifetime -- at least, none are on the horizon -- but we will probably never see modern books like this one.

Who prints out e-mails with an eye toward helping future biographers? Who even bothers with long e-mails, anyway? You can't make a book out of a celebrity's dribblings on Twitter: "Full house tonight in Omaha. U rock, Nebraska! Next stop, Tulsa. Drummer sick, had bad cheez fries ha ha."

I don't mock abbreviated communication, because I use it myself. But it tells us only about a mini-moment in time; we don't use it to express deeper feelings or have philosophic discussions, as letter writers used to do. We could collect entries from a celebrity's blog, if he took the time to write more than a paragraph, but those are public utterances carefully written for mass consumption; they rarely reveal the most private aspects of a person, as letters can. So enjoy Gielgud's book, out now in a $16.95 paperback from Arcade Publishing. You won't see its like -- or his -- again. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

History, on the head of a pin

Other than a wedding ring, I have never worn a single piece of jewelry in my adult life. (Even my watch goes in my pocket.) Displaying a beautiful arrangement of precious stones to me is like showing a Matisse to a mule: My ignorant eyes glaze over in about 20 seconds. So I was surprised how much I enjoyed Perry's Pin-tastic Exhibit, which runs through Sept. 23 in the store at 6525 Morrison Blvd.

The Perry's staff was inspired by "Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection," an exhibit at the Mint Museum running through the same date. In fact, Perry's created a diamond brooch for the former U.S. Secretary of State and gave it to her when the Mint exhibit opened. But the pins in Perry's collection go back long before Albright's political career.

They're arranged chronologically, roughly from Queen Victoria's heyday (the period before her beloved Prince Albert died in 1861) through the 1980s. Most came into Perry's collection via estate sales, so we'll never know what inspired someone to create a pin decorated with a photo of a stern Edwardian gentleman, his regal mustache flowing. (And who outside his family would wear it?)

Compact, well-written wall placards explain the periods and styles thoroughly, but the jewels tell their own stories. Onyx, jet and black enamel dominate Victoria's 40-year period of mourning;  architectural shapes -- arches, pagodas, skyscrapers -- influence the art deco period of the 1920s and '30s; a cocky little jaybird flies out of the prosperous 1980s.

These are all pieces of jewelry for women, ranging in price from a couple of hundred dollars to mid-five-figure amounts. Looking them over, we see what expectations men had for women or women had for themselves. The demure cameos of the 19th century tell us women were expected to be quietly lovely, perhaps even educated in classical subjects: (One micromosaic depicts Greek temple ruins.)

Some pins speak in code: Daisies stood for innocence, violets for modesty, pansies for thoughts of a loved one. Jewelry woven from human hair indicated fidelity, either to a lover (when attached to a ring), the memory of a dead family member (a bracelet) or -- well, I wasn't sure what to make of the hair attached to a small cross. Dedication to Jesus, I guess, the way nuns are sometimes called brides of Christ.

Women of Edith Wharton's time, who wrapped dresses across their bodies, were expected to wear heavy shoulder pins that would test the stamina of an Olympic swimmer. Flappers allowed no such weight to impede them by the Jazz Age. By our own era, large and exotic shapes were in fashion again; animals, whether cuddly or crawly, proliferated in lighter pieces that might be popped onto a sweater or blouse.

The jewelry doesn't come with identification, so we don't know the story of the pomaded gent who stares gravely from one of the earlier brooches. We're left to imagine who he was, why he wanted to portray himself this way, or what made his descendants decide to put him on the market. The exhibit reminds us how mortal we all are, even if we try to immortalize ourselves on the head of a pin. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The revolution will be staged (not televised)

On Q Productions begins its fourth season at Spirit Square this September. When the company sprang up in fall 2009, it ended an 18-year stretch in which no black-themed company had sustained a full season of plays. Now it's so well-established it can offer a subscription package: Through July 31, anybody who buys an $88 season pass gets the second one for $44. You have to call 704-372-1000 or go to and use the password "revolution" to get the bargain. (The website has details.)

Why that word? Because the slogan for the fourth season is "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It'll be Live." And revolutionary some of these plays have been.

The season begins Sept. 14-29 with "Kiss My Black Angst," a pairing of one-acts that dropped jaws (especially white jaws) in the 1960s: Amiri Baraka's "Dutchman" and Adrienne Kennedy's "Funnyhouse of a Negro," in a program directed by On Q founder Quentin Talley. Baraka's play is about a white woman and younger black man who have a sexually charged meeting on a subway; Kennedy's drama traces the last hours of a young black woman troubled by her race and searching for identity.

Next comes Anna Deavere Smith's "Twilight: Los Angeles," a one-woman show about the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed the acquittal of L.A. police officers. (Hard to believe 20 years has passed since those riots.) That runs Nov. 23-Dec. 8. The season lightens a bit from Feb. 15-March 2 with "The Social Networth," Stacey Rose's satiric play-within-a-play about the way technology shapes (or misshapes) our lives.

The final production, which runs May 24-June 8, is a local premiere and a triumphant acquisition for the company: The Pulitzer-winning "Ruined," a drama by Lynn Nottage that shows how Congolese women coped with the civil war in their country. (It has been likened loosely to Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage.")

Though Charlotte's population approaches three-quarters of a million people, we haven't always been hospitable to culture outside the white mainstream. We tend to restrict it to annual outbursts of exoticism (such as Bon Odori) or marginalize it by paying it little attention: Does anyone ever hear about Indian superstars who command $125 a ticket with live shows here?

In the case of African-Americans, we often wake up grudgingly during Black History Month, then feel we've done our duty for the year. But this whole season is fresh and varied and demands that attention must be paid, to quote a character from another famous American play. I look forward to paying it.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Dick" -- the Rise and Fall

When last we heard from Gavin Sinclair, the Scotsman from Dundee was a double threat. He had appeared on the big screen in "The Patriot" as Valet #2, a silent attendant upon Tom Wilkinson's General Cornwallis, and written a painfully funny book about idiocies in business -- "The Management Secrets of T. John Dick" -- under the name Augustus Gump. You might even consider him a triple threat, as he founded Mainland Press in Conover in order to publish it.

Eleven years later, the aptly named Peter Principle has been proven; T.J. has risen to the head of SuperPumps through a series of bizarre accidents, and he might be the only person capable of foiling a plan to destroy the company. "The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick" introduces a mostly new cast of characters, and it's in the same class as the first: not so stinging a satire, but better constructed as a story. The sequel also has bizarre elements of Shakespeare's "Macbeth:" A weird woman prophecies T.J.'s rise, after he unseats his predecessor; his wife schemes to keep him atop his new empire, even when murder may be necessary; he uses a publicity firm dubbed Birnham Wood. (And, more than ever, TJ's a dunce, inane.)

Sinclair had a little flurry of excitement after people found his first book on Amazon. A Hollywood producer's office called to ask questions, though that led nowhere. Then, he says, "the book was optioned for a movie by an aspiring English producer, but he couldn't raise the money, and it petered out. I knew it was a long shot when I arranged to meet him at the American Film Market in Santa Monica. My budget only stretched to the local youth hostel and, while I was checking in, I heard a familiar voice and saw him checking in next to me."

So the adventures of T.J. remain a boutique item, though an enjoyable one. Sinclair the publisher has picked up another title: Wille Thompson's "Scratch Golfer," about business shenanigans and a weekend golfer's realization that he's playing this last round for his very soul. (The devil is sometimes called Old Scratch, so the title couldn't be more apt.) If you buy these three books at, you can take a 20 percent discount off the online price at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and you'll get free shipping. (Another reason to visit the site: Sinclair has posted a list of classic books of English humor that inspired him.)

P.S. If you see the book's cover, you may wonder who posed for the photograph of T.J. It's a computer-generated effort tweaked by Sinclair. No top business executive could ever look that idiotic -- or could he?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yeah, it's the '60s -- again

Last night, I went to the dress rehearsal of "This is the '60s," partly to see what this "living documentary" would turn out to be -- I can't attend the lone performance in Charlotte, tonight at 8 p.m. at Ovens Auditorium -- and partly to see if the songs would still make me think this was the greatest era in the history of rock.

It did.

Well, of course it did. We all think that about the music of our youth, and I was 6 when the decade started and 16 when it ended. But I wonder what other 10-year span of music could embrace styles as diverse and memorable as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Four Tops, Led Zeppelin, the Who and all the other groups crammed into 33 songs and a final mash-up medley.

A '70s tribute band called Smokin' has been hired to play this incredible range of '60s music and has made the transition well. (They're also good sports, donning some outrageous wigs and clothing for the five mini-eras depicted in the show.) Smoky-voiced vocalist Joan Burton plays a mean rhythm guitar on the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul" and sings with plenty of heart: Her version of Melanie's "Candles in the Rain" is even more powerful than the original. The sound mixer had tamed Ovens' notoriously tricky acoustics, and the band was faithful to the original versions without copying them note for note.

The show's greatest potency, though, came from the visual images projected on four screens, sometimes augmented by dancers to either side of the main stage. If you lived through the fire hoses trained on civil rights marchers and the assassinations of three great (or potentially great) figures -- John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy -- in less than five years, you might find yourself tearing up. You will also find yourself smiling at the TV commercials shown during intermission: The Flintstones smoke happily, and little kids play Army (as I did in 1963) with plastic machine guns.

Old wankers nostalgic about the past can grow tedious, so I'll leave you with a question. Whatever mistakes young people made in the 1960s -- and they made many -- they signed petitions and wrote letters and even walked into the streets to debate issues of public policy that mattered deeply to them. What issues motivate teenagers that  strongly today?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Gastonia woman who changed Hollywood

Happy belated birthday to Pat Kingsley, who turned 80 on May 7. Old-timers in Gastonia may recall her as Patricia Ratchford, but I’d guess none foresaw that she’d become the most powerful, influential publicist in show business.

Coverage of entertainers has gone through three stages in Hollywood. During the old-fashioned studio system, Paramount, MGM, and others controlled every public appearance by a star and quashed all negative publicity, even to the point of bribing the cops to cover up crimes.

In the 1950s, as studio power dwindled, independent publicists served as brokers between actors and media. Media held the upper hand, as stars hungry for publicity and no longer backed by studio machines competed for exposure. In 1959, Ratchford became secretary to Warren Cowan at Rogers and Cowan, a premiere press agentry firm.

Cowan urged his protégé to become a press agent, and she worked with the likes of Doris Day and Natalie Wood. She began her own company in 1971, then formed the groundbreaking PMK with Michael Maslansky and Neil Koenigsberg in 1980. Before anyone knew it, the third era had begun.

More than anyone else, Kingsley has gotten credit or criticism for reversing the balance of power between interviewers and their subjects.

She and her team negotiated positions in advance with editors: where stories would be placed, what subject areas might be taboo. Interviewers thought to be “unsympathetic” (that is, too edgy or probing) were vetoed. And because papers and magazines and online outlets proliferated like mad, her press agents won many such battles.

Kingsley (who took the last name of the husband she married in 1966 and divorced in 1978) was once quoted this way: “I don’t like interesting stories. Boring is good. Good reporting and good writing don’t help my client. New information is usually controversial. I don’t need that.”

That’s why stars felt safe with her. By the 1990s, her personal clients included Al Pacino, Richard Gere, Jodie Foster, Sharon Stone and Tom Cruise. (The latter famously fired her in 2004, in favor of his Scientologist sister. A year later, he was known as the bouncing loony on Oprah Winfrey’s couch.) She retired from the business in 2007.

Kingsley was nice to me in our lone encounter: I e-mailed her in 2001, asking if I could profile her for The Observer the next time I took a business trip to L.A. (Little did I know: I would never take one again!) She said I was welcome to follow her around for a day to see what her life was really like. I’ve wondered ever since how that would have turned out….

Monday, July 9, 2012

Woody Guthrie wrote the REAL national anthem

I don't mind the British drinking song to which Francis Scott Key set lyrics, giving us "The Star-Spangled Banner." I can enjoy the purple-mountained majesty of "America the Beautiful" and the humble prayer of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (though that's set to another British song) and even the grandiose self-approval of "God Bless America."

But for my money, the truest anthem about America was written by the Oklahoman whose 100th birthday will be celebrated on Saturday.

"This Land Is Your Land" doesn't honor battles or conquests. It doesn't talk about how perfect America is -- rather the reverse, in its full-length version -- or how the Lord singled us out for special attention, though Guthrie apparently considered using the line "God blessed America for me" to end each verse. (He wisely opted for the egalitarian "This land was made for you and me.")

The song is quintessentially American: The narrator is a wanderer who (like Guthrie) "roamed and rambled and followed (his) footsteps," acting out the U.S. dream of eternal mobility. "This Land" praises our natural wonders and may even give God a look-in, as the unspecified voice "all around me" sounding the title of the song. Most importantly, it says the country belongs to you and me.

Pete Seeger sang it at Barack Obama's inauguration to indicate that power had been given to the people. But Americans of all political persuasions have used it for different reasons. I wouldn't be surprised to hear conservatives sing it in protest, because they believe the federal government has taken too much authority on itself, or liberals sing it as a warning that Mitt Romney would create a government of wealthy oligarchs.

So why won't this song ever become the national anthem? First, nobody cares enough to jettison "The Star-Spangled Banner," which most of us can't sing but which has tradition on its side.

Second, the unexpurgated "This Land" has verses that question whether Americans really take care of each other in times of need, and we can't have doubt in an anthem. Of course, that's not in the four verses most of us know, and we could simply leave off the controversial part. After all, we sing only 25 percent of the current national anthem. (Yes, the lyrics -- a poem titled "Defense of Fort McHenry" -- run to four repetitive, uninspired verses.)

Third, Woody Guthrie leaned far to the left, though he may not officially have joined any Communist groups. He believed in a kind of rough, unofficial socialism, which he picked up while crossing America during The Depression and seeing vast differences in the ways people lived.

That's why he wrote "This Machine Kills Fascists" on his guitar. That's why he composed so many songs about the working class and the disenfranchised. And that's why, though all of us can handle the tune to "This Land Is Your Land," we're going to keep celebrating those bombs bursting in air.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Andy Griffith and the road not taken

Andy Griffith died on July 3, admired by almost every one of his fellow North Carolinians – myself included.

But a big part of him died on Oct. 3, 1960.

That was the day “The Andy Griffith Show” aired for the first time. A down-home star whose popularity would endure for more than half a century was born. And a potentially terrific actor, one who could have played memorable movie roles for the next 40 years, passed away.

Those two nouns, “star” and “actor,” have usually been incompatible since the first cameras cranked. Very few people have boosted the box office while giving diverse, vital performances throughout their careers: Lon Chaney, James Stewart, Meryl Streep, maybe Bette Davis, a handful of others.

Most actors have their destinies determined for them by looks or strength of personality: Dustin Hoffman was meant to be an actor, John Wayne a star. (Wayne was ideal in a dozen movies, playing variations on the one memorable character he mastered.)

A few get to choose. When John Gielgud directed an acclaimed stage version of “Hamlet” in 1964, he asked Richard Burton (who took the title role) whether he intended to become a serious actor or a star. “Both,” Burton replied, though he could never pull that off.

Andy Griffith had the same choice in 1960, and he boarded the Fame Train.

He had been acclaimed for his performance as Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd”; Rhodes is a folksy bum whose charming way with a wisecrack and a guitar makes him a hero in the dawn of national television, but he’s also a paranoid egomaniac who wants to be a political kingmaker. (This angry film, directed by Elia Kazan as a caution against the ways TV can affect elections, remains trenchant today.)

Griffith had also earned two Tony nominations. The first was for a broad 1955 comedy, “No Time for Sergeants,” where he played a country bumpkin too dumb to realize he’s driving his superiors crazy. (It inspired “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”) The second was for singing in a 1959 musical, the underrated “Destry Rides Again.” There he played the role James Stewart created in the 1939 movie, a straight-arrow deputy who is smarter than he looks and cleans up a crooked frontier town.

Then, by chance, Griffith appeared in episode 20 of the seventh season of “The Danny Thomas Show.” That episode featured Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, who gave Danny a ticket for running a stop sign as he drove from New York to Florida. Ron Howard was Taylor’s son, and character actress Frances Bavier played a woman named Henrietta Perkins.

Viewers took to Andy, so CBS gave him his own show that fall, with Howard returning as Opie and Bavier promoted to the role of Aunt Bee. Eight years later, Griffith had been set in stone in American culture, forever delineated as one of our favorite folksy fathers.

Many performers in the ’50s and ’60s had to choose between testing themselves as actors and becoming famous, limited TV personalities. Clint Eastwood and Rod Steiger, busy on TV in their early years, ended up in the first group. Oscar nominees Telly Savalas, Robert Stack and Donna Reed gravitated toward the second, and so did Griffith.

Not that he wouldn’t play around with his image. He starred as the disturbed father in a TV version of Luigi Pirandello’s odd play “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” He earned his only Primetime Emmy (supporting actor, miniseries or movie) in the 1981 TV film “Murder in Texas,” as the father of a murder victim. He was cast as villains, from the unfeeling judge in “Crime of Innocence” to the guy committing “Murder in Coweta County.”

But his film career became insignificant after 1960. He had supporting roles in only two other worthwhile pictures: the 1975 “Hearts of the West,” as the crusty old western actor who warmed up to would-be writer Jeff Bridges, and the 2007 “Waitress,” as the crusty old owner of a diner who warmed up to would-be pie maker Keri Russell.

So he is remembered in death as dignified, wise, amiable Sheriff Taylor and the dignified, wise, less amiable attorney Ben Matlock, who won murder cases from 1986 to 1995 in the TV show that bore his name.

You need a strong screen personality to create two long-running characters, and Griffith had that. You must also commit nearly two decades of your life to building that kind of reputation – while thinking, perhaps, about all the other things you might have done.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Will an American ever hug a jihadist?

The biggest war movie buff I know swore his favorite war film was "Yesterday's Enemy," a 1959 drama nominated for four BAFTAs (British Oscars), including best film, director (Val Guest) and actor (Stanley Baker). I just saw it, and he might have a point. And it's a strangely appropriate picture to think about on Independence Day.

The title comes from a speech by a cynical war correspondent in Burma (Leo McKern), who's covering British troops near the end of World War II. He wonders whether it makes any difference who wins: A generation later, the children of yesterday's enemies will lay a wreath on a soldier's tomb, while the soldier himself has been sacrificed and forgotten. He has reason for his cynicism: Baker, a captain in charge of the supposedly more civilized British force, has executed innocent Burmese villagers to make their countryman reveal information about the approaching Japanese. By the end of the movie, the tables will have turned, and British prisoners will face mass slaughter if the captain doesn't speak up.

You can see why this ruthlessly savage and unsentimental film got only a token release in England and the United States, when we were used to movies that made war look like hell but didn't make soldiers seem like devils. The British and Japanese behave in precisely the same way, ambushing and abusing each other; the Brits abandon their wounded for the good of  the company and deny morphine to the dying when they run short. The Japanese commander (Philip Ahn) was educated at British schools and speaks flawless English: After the British captain makes one especially harsh decision, the major says approvingly, "Exactly what I would have done."

The film marked the apex of the careers of everyone involved. Baker never gave a better performance. Guest, who spent the rest of his career making piffle such as "Stop Me Before I Kill!" and "Where the Spies Are," directed this little gem on the grounds of a British studio in five weeks. It's also the lone accomplishment of writer Peter R. Newman, other than six episodes of "Doctor Who." it's been virtually unavailable in America -- I watched a British DVD on an all-region player -- but the Internet Movie Data Base says Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release it here this year.

I've never been in combat, but the correspondent's sentiment rang true with me. I was living in Japan as a second-grader when this movie came out, 14 years after atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and American servicemen and their families were already treated with kindness. We in America have befriended all of our war enemies, except for the isolated North Koreans. We're allied not just to the British, whom we fought twice, but the Germans and Japanese and Vietnamese and even the Iraqis.

So I wonder: Will it ever be possible to reach an accord with the extremist forces of Islam? Will Americans someday lay a wreath of forgiveness at a mosque for people who blew themselves up in a mad interpretation of religious principles? Could some future member of al-Qaida come to New York and publicly apologize for the attack on the World Trade Center?

That seems inconceivable now, because we see each other as implacable enemies. But pundits in 1945 would have told you there could never be any reconciliation with the Yellow Peril of the Far East. And I've stood side-by-side with friendly Japanese tourists, while we all took pictures of the sunken U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I'm off my personal crack pipe (for now)

I'm copping to an addiction that has cost me tens of thousands of dollars, sent me out at midnight in search of a fix in New York and demanded satisfaction literally every week of my adult life. As of July 1, I decided to give it up for 30 days for the first time since I was 17.

And I'm already starting to sweat.

I have gone cold turkey on books, compact discs and DVDs. That may not sound difficult to you. If so, you don't have 8,000 of these items stacked and packed around your house. You didn't have to install varnished planks of wood to turn bookshelves into layered double-shelves or buy 2,000 slimline CD cases to fit two discs into the width of one, because you ran out of wall space for freestanding racks.

But I did. I can't pass a library without wondering what remaindered books are being sold at 50 cents a pop. An interview at UNCC means a stop at The Last Word, a bookstore that could (almost) reasonably be defined as "on the way." A visit to my credit union summons an image of Bargain Books down Central Avenue. I troll all four used CD stores in town on a regular basis.

Now that's over for one month. No more responding to urgent sale e-mails from Arkiv Music, my favorite online classical site. No more bored drop-ins on Amazon to nab a long-forgotten book from childhood that just popped into my mind. No more purposeless ambles over to Barnes and Noble after lunch at Earth Fare. I'm not going to purchase, order or download anything for 31 days.

Why? I could say something about the way so many of Earth's resources are depleted to make these things, sometimes under unsavory labor conditions. (Though I try to avoid contributing to that problem by purchasing used items when I can.) But the main reason is that I have enough stuff.

Americans are the most acquisitive culture in Earth's history, and most of us are never satisfied with what we have: My own want list of unbought books, CDs and DVDs has 120 items on it now. I need to learn to be happy with the music and movies and literature I already own, especially when I have so doggone many.

The thrill of discovery has turned into obsession. And though it can have beneficial consequences -- I give all the items I don't keep to the public library or a college music library -- I need to curb my indulgence. I may come out of my self-imposed fast with a buying spree on August 1, but I hope to be a changed man instead.