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Pulphead - John Jeremiah Sullivan

John Jeremiah Sullivan is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The Paris Review and Harper’s Magazine. Pulphead gathers a diverse assortment of essays on various topics—each told with a generous consideration of the personalities involved, nothing harsh or mean-spirited. Sullivan has gentle, easy-going flow as if listening to a friend. Good stuff. Entries preceded by a √ might be of interest to those musically inclined or with an interest in music.

√ Upon this Rock—A fond recollection of an apostate (Boy Howdy! I can relate) assigned to covering and writing about a christian rock festival. Generous, non-aggressive, critical, nostalgic, superb. No harsh Hitchens, Dawson, or Harris here. An excellent consideration of how these people encapsulate themselves in what Bill Maher refers to as ‘life in a bubble.’

Feet in Smoke— An account of the author’s brother’s near-death, post-death, and gradual return-to-life experience; told with humor and tremendous love—very moving in a non-maudlin sort of way, which is not to say, you’re not a dick if you don’t tear up a little.

Mr. Lytle: An Essay— Andrew Lytle was a friend and literary peer of Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate; as editor of Sewanee Review, he promoted the works of Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Elizabeth Bishop, et al. This essay chronicles a year in the author’s life spent attending to the needs and whims of the celebrated “last confederate” told with great compassion, forgiveness, and respect. Bravo!

At a Shelter (After Katrina)—First-hand accounts of acts of ingenuity and fellowship precede a premonition of the end of civilization.

Getting Down to What Is Really Real—The author describes a night out with former Real World personalities in their Real Life perpetuations of Reality TV fame where millions of other Real people wondered if the show was Really Real or Really scritpted. Real people. Really.

√ Michael—No matter what you think or thought of Michael Jackson, this brief ‘essay’ will likely lead one to a more generous interpretation of the guy’s life and work. Generous (I keep using that word), thoughtful, and well-worth the short time it takes to read.

√ The Final Comeback of Axl Rose—Regardless of what you think of Axl Rose, or even if you think of AR, this brief essay chronicling the author’s time spent researching the singer, getting to know his friends, watching concerts from the sides of the stage, will likely leave you thinking a little more favorably of the Indiana boy the author feels akin to. Personally, I still have a little trouble seeing what was and now is and thinking AR has become some bizarre mash-up (physically) of Mickey Rourke and Bo Derek.

American Grotesque—After firmly establishing the First American Revolution as that which actually occurred in Bermuda among the passengers of the shipwrecked Sea Venture over socialism, you know the one immortalized by Shakespeare in The Tempest, the author goes on to describe attendance at a Tea Bagger 9/12 rally, the Right-leaning perspectives of his insurance industry dependent family, and a death in Eastern Kentucky which, while questionable, was ruled a suicide by local authorities. Oh, and he situates the health care debate within the perspective of at least one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who enabled the building of Philadelphia Hospital, in part, by tricking the assembly into matching funds for its construction. Good stuff, BF.

La∙hwi∙ne∙ski: Career of an Eccentric Naturalist—Biographical essay on the life of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, a French German naturalist, philosopher, geologist, poet, historian, and loon. The author’s family once boarded Rafinesque, and he presents his American experience with humor and care. Rafinesque got pissy when Jefferson didn’t include him in the Lewis & Clark expedition, went back to Europe, and missed an opportunity to participate in the Red River expedition. On his return, he spent years in the wild befriending Audobon and leaving his own largely-overlooked mark on American natural history.

Unnamed Caves—The author describes his adventures in the named and unnamed caves of Kentucky and Tennessee, the archeologists who informed his expeditions, and the looters of artifacts from the caves, some better motivated than others, who’ve secreted away amazing parts of American pre-history.

√ Unknown Bards—Describes the author’s experience researching Country Blues performers, lyrics, and recordings while introducing a bevy of blues artists (they can’t be called anything else) predating Robert Johnson even fin de siècle greats largely forgotten by history. An interesting assortment of characters. Bravo!

√ Last Wailer—(The author recommends listening to this while reading the essay; so do I) During a trip to Jamaica, the author has several interviews with Bunny Wailer, the last of the Wailers, in which he learns about Bob Marley’s early life, Jamaican political history and garrisonism, Rastafarianism, pisses Bunny off, and cops what must have been one hell of a buzz with his driver.

Violence of the Lambs—A chilling consideration the increased number of animal attacks, the increased number of formerly non-violent animals attacking, animals using weapons against humans, increased rate of genetic change in short periods of time, and phenotypic plasticity. This one will give you pause.

Peyton’s Place—Presents the author’s experience of living in a ‘celebrity house’—its brief appearance in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and its frequent appearance as the home of Peyton Sawyer in One Tree Hill.

The funny thing about this collection, or a funny thing about this collection, is that, once finished, readers get a sense of knowing the author and knowing him fairly well—like a fictional character in a novel you’ve really liked, only in this case, knowing the guy’s out there doing what he does and doing it very well.