I spent some time this week watching pelicans fish off the beach in Santa Monica, which is quite different from my usual pastimes, like switching cars on the F train to avoid the one with the smelly bum or dysfunctional A/C. On Monday there was just the lone pelican and he was putting on quite a show, scanning up and down a small area of ocean right in front of me. Everry few minutes he'd pull up over his chosen spot, and dive down to catch a fish. Yesterday there were several pelicans to be seen. But the flock was scanning a much larger area, so they weren't right in front of me all the time. They didn't seem to be finding much, either - I only saw two dives.

Watching pelicans is a great way to spend a few hours, and a perfect prelude to seeing that penguin movie.



I just finished reading After, by Francine Prose, which is Prose's first book for young adults. I picked this up from my daughter's bookshelf immediately after finishing one of Prose's novels for an adult audience, A Changed Man.

After concerns itself with the erosion of civil liberties and freedom at a high school after a catastrophe at a neighboring school. The characters in the book are students at a school where nothing disastrous is happening, but the town's adults are not paying enough attention to notice as the school is taken over by a stranger with a repressive agenda.

The students come to see their situation as similar to The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, but the parallels with our current political situation are unmistakable despite being unspecific. It seems to me that Prose has maintained enough universality in her book's setting to allow it to stay fresh for a long time. It may become a classic for today's young audience and those who are not yet young.

A Changed Man is Ms. Prose's latest book, and it is very fine. Her writing captures the inner insecurities of each character - an aged Holocaust survivor, a nervous single mom, her son, a changed man - what they want to say but can't, what they say but wish they had said differently, what they never admit, except to themselves. All the roadblocks between identity and intimacy are portrayed wisely and with a sense of humor that never makes fun of anyone who doesn't deserve it.

I had been on a Robertson Davies jag this past year, and there are strong parallels between Davies' work and Prose's. Intelligence, humor, social observation, family ties, and, above all, a clarity and effortlessness to the writing that is always polished, and never precious.

I've had the good fortune to meet Ms. Prose and she seems very modest and perhaps a little bit shy. This might be a camouflage behind which to observe the world acutely, because she certainly is engaged with people fully. For Francine Prose is able to express those human truths that we only sometimes let show.



Mind Over Matter: Nolan Strong & The Diablos

Dave Marsh wrote a book called "The Heart Of Rock 'n' Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made" which contains a little essay on 1001 different songs. Among these are two by Nolan Strong & The Diablos: "The Wind," and "Mind Over Matter."

Nolan Strong & The Diablos were something like the 5 Royales: a group at the cusp of soul, R & B, and rock 'n' roll. "The Wind" is an eerie, hushed vocal group record from 1954. Either Marsh did a really good job of describing it or the song is completely unique: I recognized it from his description within seconds, the one and only time I heard it on the radio.

"Mind Over Matter" is a somewhat different story. By 1958 these guys had created a really tough amalgam: a vocal group, a snarling lead guitar, a little cheesy organ for texture, and a song structure that takes you all the way around the steeplechase and past the grandstand waving the flag. Great lyrics round out the picture. This song belongs way higher than #967 on the all-time list, even though you've probably never heard it.

This song was later covered by the Temptations, recording under the pseudonym "The Pirates." Their version has a lazier beat and the guitar part is nowhere near as dynamic or propulsive as the one on the original.

An index of the 1001 songs with selected reviews can be seen here.

Mind Over Matter