Monthly Archives: March 2018

“Gables Court” by Alan S. Kessler— Looking for Samuel

Kessler, Alan S. “Gables Court”, Black Rose Writing, 2018.

Looking for Samuel

Amos Lassen

There was a time when sex was an act of love and not as much a recreational activity that it has become. I know that might be hard to believe but I remember that time well. Samuel Baas also feels that way but he is living in today’s world and as a virgin at 24 years old and a man who wants love and marriage before sex, he is not having an easy time. He as raised in New England where, it is thought, everything is quite staid so when he moves to Miami, he is quite shocked by the free lifestyle there. True romantics have a hard time with the freedom and abandon of the 21st century. Samuel meets Kate and falls for her but she is not interested in marriage and prefers, at least in Samuel’s eyes, to live immorally.

Samuel is a lawyer and a nice Jewish guy who represents an accused Nazi war criminal (my mother would have said that he forgot he was Jewish) and Haitians who, if deported, will have to face retribution. Samuel’s father is a head of a crime family (not a very Jewish career) and takes a special interest in his son’s legal career. Samuel is preoccupied with love, both its definition and finding it. He is, to put it plainly, lonely.

Samuel is a complex and flawed character yet we find ourselves loving him. His father holds strong sway over him and pays for his apartment (at a dingy motel, Gables Court) and found him his first job out of law school. Samuel is very aware that his father pulls the strings that make his son walk and of course he is aware that his dad is a mobster. Samuel’s job at the RHB offices are not exactly what he was expecting. His boss, Mr. Eldridge, has never been to court and the business’s secretary smokes like a smokestack. His day did not start so good anyway since had to walk (he is waiting for his car to join him) to work after discovering large roaches in his apartment. Mr. Eldridge informs Samuel that the firm represents a very important real estate developer (meaning slumlord) by the name of Baxter and Elridge wants Samuel to sign eviction notices for the client and there are many he wants to oust. In this present situation, nothing seems to work out the way our hero had planned. It’s almost as if Samuel comes across as the typical nebbish who can’t find romance, has a lousy job and his only friend is a teenager named Gary who he met by the pool at the “apartment complex.”

Now I am sure you are wondering where this story is going but not to worry, this going to be a fun and a bit painful read. On the other hand, you might ask why you should care about this Sam who seems to have nothing going for him. The picture I have presented so far kind of makes us feel sorry for the guy but he is no nerd. What we really see here is the difference between dreams and reality. Sam has motivation but does not know how to use it but then his father was no great example. Yet his father has protected him and provided for him but was unable to provide him with a sense of morality. I see Samuel as a young man on a journey that will lead him maturation and perhaps even acceptance of himself and of others. He suffers and he questions as he struggles with finding out who he is. Law is meant to be a moral professional yet there is nothing moral about evictions; love is meant to be beautiful but he has yet to see its beauty.

Suffering is one thing we all have in common as humans and it comes in many forms and varieties. Samuel’s search for true love leads to many dead ends, making him question (as we all do at one time or another) whether there is such a thing or if we are even capable of seeing it when it’s right in front of us. Meanwhile, he struggles with the morality of his profession, chosen for him by his father, and with concepts of spirituality, identity, and faith, both as they pertain to himself and to others.

Samuel seems to be clueless and his naiveté angers us and makes us want to slap him but then we realize that he is one of many like himself. I so badly want him to succeed in finding love and companionship and understand who he is. On the other hand (am I am a bit embarrassed to say this), I see a lot of myself in him. My father was not a mobster but a rabbi; a man with strict morals and devotion to his religion and I struggled with acceptance and finding myself just as so many others do. We understand what Samuel faces when we see that he was raised with wealth and privilege and by father who gave him whatever he wanted or needed. When he finally decides that he has to be his own man and leave his father’s influence, he is frightened and desperate but he is doing the right thing. It takes courage to leave someone who has given you everything and we applaud his move. And as he does, he stops being the nebbish and becomes a mensch. We see a passion and a strength in him. As he approaches new beginnings which I do not think he would have been able to do if he had not had the bad experiences in the past.

Alan Kessler has created an unforgettable character in Samuel and as I said before, I believe that is because we see ourselves in him. His struggle is to find his place and try to find love and be loved. We are with Samuel for ten years. During that period, he meets a lot of people and we see Kessler’s skill at creating characters. Samuel begins with a life of desperation and loneliness, living under his father’s wing. When he breaks away, he is free to search for what he wants and needs. There is a lot that I have not mentioned here but then I might have mentioned too much. Be that as it may, I have to say that I loved this point. I even loved the pain I got from remembering my own past. This is not just about Samuel—it is about all of us who have the moxie to admit it (and even those who don’t).



A Live Music Experience

Amos Lassen

There are not many places where rock legends jam together on one very special night. There is one however— the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and now, for the very first time, we can all have front row seats to see legendary and never-before-released love concerts featuring some of the biggest names in classic rock. Here are four Hall of Fame Ceremonies that include 53 live performances from iconic inductees such as Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, Green Day, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Journey, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ringo Starr, Rush, Yes, rare artist collaborations and more.

The set consists of either 4 DVDs or 2 Blu-ray discs. Each year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors rock music’s pioneering figures during a prestigious, black-tie ceremony. As the Hall of Fame enters its third decade, it’s these singular induction ceremonies featuring the biggest names in classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s have become nearly as iconic as the artists they celebrate. 

Never before available at retail on any format, these four memorable live concert events are filled with the kind of collaborations and jam sessions that have made Rock Hall concerts legendary. With egos set aside (in many cases original band lineups perform together for the first time in years) inductees and friends take the stage “to deliver once-in-a-lifetime performances, often with a truly mind-blowing combination of talent.”

“From the first induction ceremony in 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has sought to honor the top names in all genres of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Joel Peresman, President of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. “These ceremonies have provided unique once-in-a-lifetime moments as the inductees and presenters come together to celebrate the legacy of these artists and it’s a privilege to produce this important part of music history and to share it with you!”

 Among the unforgettable highlights on the DVD and Blu-ray sets are: 

  • Bruce Springsteen joining inductees E Street Band for the deep cut classic “E Street Shuffle” from the Boss’s second album, from 1973.
  • Legendary grunge-rock group Pearl Jam delivering thundering performances of “Alive,” “Given to Fly” and “Better Man.”
  • The two surviving members of Nirvana joined on stage by Lorde, Annie Clark, Kim Gordon and Joan Jett for emotional renderings of the group’s biggest hits.
  • Cat Stevens performing a spine-tingling version of “Father & Son” that turned the massive Barclay Center quiet as a church.
  • Journey performs three classics: “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Lights” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
  • Ringo Starr being welcomed into the Rock Hall with a little help from Paul McCartney.
  • Original Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos joining the band for the first time in 6 years tearing through their early hits including “Surrender” and “Dream Police.”
  • Five of the original members of Chicago performing on stage for the first time in 25 years.
  • Features complete Hall of Fame Induction speeches including Coldplay’s Chris Martin inducting Peter Gabriel and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich inducting Deep Purple.

Day-and-date, Time Life will also release the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME IN CONCERT Digital Album Collection. Comprised of five digital releases respectively spanning the ceremonies from 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014, 2015 and 2016-7 (each priced at $9.99), they will contain the same groundbreaking live performances from the home entertainment sets, with bonus performances from Rush, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice Cooper, Donovan, Dr. John, Heart, The Hollies, Darlene Love, Leon Russell, Small Faces/Faces, The Stooges, Tom Waits and others. The digital releases will be available on iTunes, Amazon and all other leading digital retailers.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock and roll. The institution carries out its mission by giving voice to the stories of the people, artifacts and events that shaped rock and roll – through Museum exhibits, materials in the Museum’s Library and Archives, traveling exhibitions, and a wide array of innovative educational programs and activities. The Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On Wednesdays (and Saturdays through Labor Day), the Museum is open until 9 p.m.

“ALOHA, BOBBY AND ROSE”— A ’68 Camaro and a Saturday Night

“Aloha, Bobby and Rose”

A ’68 Camaro and a Saturday Night

Amos Lassen

Floyd Mutrux’s 1975 cult flick “ALOHA, BOBBY AND ROSE” about two young L.A. people who meet and share the dream of ditching the seedy side of Hollywood for the easy life of Hawaii is finally available on Blu-ray. Bobby (Paul le Mat) has a ‘68 Camaro and a dead-end job,, and Rose (Dianne Hull) has a five-year-old son and a nowhere life. The two meet and quickly fall in love and we learn Rose’s fantasy of leaving the Hollywood streets behind and saying “aloha” to life in exotic Hawaii. But when a seemingly safe attempt to rob a liquor store to bankroll their journey goes tragically wrong, Bobby and Rose find themselves on the run from the law and for their lives. Barreling across nighttime L.A. in a bid to make it to the tropics, the young lovers learn that “aloha” means “goodbye” as well as “hello”.

Bobby tries to hold up a liquor store by using a fake gun, but the shop’s owner comes out of a back room and threatens to kill him, so Rose hits the man over his head with a bottle and the gun accidently discharges and kills the young clerk. Now the two must go on the run and evade the police who are after them.

Like many films made in the ‘70s, the story flow is ignored for the sake of the characters. The picture begins with Bobby (with his friend Moxey) trying to hustle some money in a pool game. When he loses the match and reveals that he had no money to begin with, he spends the next day trying to find the money to pay them back. Moxey waits at the pool hall the following night, while Bobby is out with Rose but this story thread is never re-visited.

Even before the convenience store robbery scene, we realize that this film could go anywhere. Yet now, some forty years after it was made, it is still a fin and exciting film. The tone of the picture changes from woozy, nostalgic melancholy to tragedy and it continues to surprise us. With every ten or so minutes of screen time, the story arc changes and moves into new terrain keeping us happy as we journey with Bobby and Rose.

The wonderful cinematography of William Fraker makes the film exciting to watch just as the sound track of popular songs makes it easy to listen to. The over-exposed night photography, hazy backlighting, soft hues, and secondary colors create a world full of nostalgia, allure and danger.

“Aloha Bobby and Rose” was  one of the top 10 moneymakers of 1975. The film spoke to viewers on a personal level and the disillusioned post-Vietnam, post-Watergate audience could identify with the restless characters onscreen.


“MARTYR”— A Young Man’s Death


A Young Man’s Death

Amos Lassen

A young man’s tragic death at Beirut’s seaside causes his friends to struggle with loss and to be part of his community’s rites and ceremonies. By doing so the city’s schisms and its society’s fault lines are exposed.

Mazen Khaled’s “Martyr” first takes us on a tour of the human body, as the camera focuses on the statue-like naked form of central protagonist, Hassane. It is as if the body sculpted by a great artist.

We then see him head to the Beirut beach with his friends, where the day will take an unexpected turn. We do not have much plot and characterization—we only get that these young men, like so many in virtually any country of the world, are suffering from a sense of disenfranchisement and marginalization. There is also an exploration of the homoerotic elements of this almost exclusively male space but though we look for their physical interaction, we find that their emotional world is closed to us.

The film emphasizes the blues of the water and the brightness of the day and we learn that the term “martyr” means something very different in the Islamic world to the narrow definition employed by the West yet it is still opaque. We do not have enough information to really understand what is happening. However, we see every bit of Hassane’s skin although we are unable to get beneath it. The gorgeous visuals interrupt the overall flow of the film and we are never really able to understand the humanity of the characters. We can only guess why Hassane was a martyr and we are pretty sure that it had to do with his sexuality.

“MARCHING GAILY”— Two Parades, Same Day, Same Time, Same Place

“Marching Gaily”

Two Parades, Same Day, Same Time, Same Place

Amos Lassen

I was just lucky enough to be sent a wonderful four-minute video that you can now watch on Amazon Prime.

“Summer 1999, in the center of Vienna: two very distinct parades took place simultaneously on the same street. One was a policemen’s parade; the other a celebration of gay pride. Because the policemen didn’t want to march hand in hand with the Gay Movement, a typical Austrian solution was found: while the gays marched clockwise, the policemen marched counter-clockwise.”

About the directors:
Alexander Hahn: Born in 1967, in Riga/Latvia (German Citizen). Film director. Studied at the National Film Academy Vienna. Lives and works in Riga and Vienna. His first feature film “Far Away From St. Petersburg” received 1993 the Gold Special Jury Award at the Houston Int. Film Festival and was shown at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Ralf Jacobs: born in germany (1969) grown up in Austria studied at the University of Music and Arts, Vienna, Department Film and Telvision, editing and cinematography (1993-1999). Master DoP-Class with Gordon Willis 1998 in USA graduated in cinematography 1999: Master of Fine Arts, diploma with honors; works since 1999 in Vienna,Austria, as director and cinematographer.

Message from the directors:
Unfortunately we can`t come to your festival, because the department of our goverment, which decides to pay flights to festivals, says: this films is not good enough. Although “Marching Gaily” has now been shown at more than 20 festivals all over Europe and has been selected by the British Film Institute for a regular theatrical run in England, the film has never been allowed to screen in Austria. In 1999 we shot the footage of this film for a feature-length documentary about Austria. In the year 2000 the political situation in Austria changed: The two right wing parties came to power (ÖVP and FPÖ, the party lead by infamous right-wing populist Jörg Haider). As a protest against this new government, several Austrian directors decided to make films expressing their disapproval. Our Idea was to take the 1999 raw footage, and create an entirely new film out of this material, commenting the new political situation we were encountering. Alexander Hahn and Ralf J

“The Athiest in the Attic” by Samuel R. Delany— Finally!!!

Delany, Samuel R. “The Atheist in the Attic”, PM Press, 2018.


Amos Lassen

“The Atheist in the Attic”  appears for the first time in book form for the first time. It is a narrative that is filled with suspense while at the same time giving us a vivid historical narrative that recreates the top-secret meeting between the mathematical genius Leibniz and the philosopher Spinoza. Both were caught between the horrors of the cannibalistic Dutch Rampjaar and the brilliant “big bang” of the Enlightenment. This is a meditation on class and ethnic antipathies in the overlapping territories of poetry and philosophy. Multiple readings add much more to this.

Included is Delany’s “Racism and Science Fiction”, an essay written in 1998 that combines scholarly research and personal experience in the unique true story of the first major African-American author in the genre. The essay combines anecdote and analysis in a well-measured, original, and historically insightful look at black authorship and reception in science fiction and its progenitors.

Finally there is an original interview between Delany and the editor of the Outspoken Authors series, Terry Bisson. The interview is a bit unfocused but gives a good overview of Delany’s recent and major engagements, projects, etc. and looks at biographical inaccuracies.


“In the Ring” by James Lear— Corruption, Power and Passion

Lear, James. “In the Ring: A Dan Stagg Novel”, Cleis Press, 2018.

Corruption, Power and Passion

Amos Lassen

Most of you know that I do not read much erotica but I never miss a James Lear tale because he rises over what I call “trashy porn. Lear writes literary smut. Not only does he arouse the reader sexually but also literarily so if you have not read him than I suggest you do. “In the Ring” is a volume in his Dan Stagg series and here Stagg becomes involved in a world of concealed identities, double agents (some of whom are quite beautiful) and as the tile of this review says corruption, power, and passion.

The world thinks that Stagg is dead having been killed in Baghdad by a bomb. Now with a new identity and high-tech gadgets, our tough Marine officer goes deep undercover (and under covers) to penetrate an extreme right-wing group of terrorists. While he is on loan from the CIA and MI6, Stagg goes to England to investigate a corrupt boxing promoter and “his stable of vulnerable, sexually compliant, young athletes.” Stagg has no idea yet of what fun and muscle awaits him.

Using the disguise of a martial arts instructor, Stagg is soon drawn into a dark world of blackmail, prostitution, and pornography; a world where sex and money are always available. He needs to be able to hide who he really is to fulfill the mission. On the other hand he might find this to be a new life if he works for Alan Vaughan, the mastermind behind this terrorist plot.

The more involved Stagg becomes the greater the erotic, romantic and deadly adventures become his. He actually faces the politics and the criminal activity that lies beneath the seductive cover of the life he is forced to pursue. It does not seem to be a bad life at all but he needs a good deal of willpower to keep him from drowning in it.

James Lear really knows how to tell a story and he knows just how much erotica is necessary to keep us reading.

“Trenton Makes: A Novel” by Tadzio Koebl— A New American Dream

Koebl, Tadzio. “Trenton Makes: A Novel”, Doubleday, 2018.

A New American Dream

Amos Lassen

In 1946 in Trenton, New Jersey a woman kills her husband (an army vet) in a domestic argument, gets rid of his body and becomes Abe Kunstler, the person she killed. As Abe Kunstler, he gets a job in a wire rope factory, buys a car, and successfully romances Inez, an alcoholic dime dancer and creates a home with her. However, Abe felt that this was not enough: to complete his transformation, he needs a son. We then move forward to 1971 and Trenton is no longer the town it once was. Abe’s family life is falling apart yet he is desperate to keep going and searches Trenton for solutions.

“Trenton Makes” is an exploration of identity as well as a look at desperation. I must admit that I was immediately drawn in by the idea of a woman living as a man at such an early point in history and then to jump forward 25 years and revisit him. Unfortunately, the good idea did not work as expected. I expected to see some kind of change in Abe and I didn’t. In fact, his character is undeveloped (but then this is a short book). How this story ends is also unclear to me and when I reaches that point I tried t remember what I had read until then.

In the first half of the book I liked Abe (or who had become Abe)but when the timeline jumps forward significantly, the book becomes less coherent and does not explain what is going on. Abe Kunstler’s change in the second half I drastic and he becomes unlikeable. Something happened in the developmental stages of the novel causing something to be lost. The perspective changes to mostly focus on the son, who has no idea his father was ever a different person and thus cannot expand on why things are the way they are.

This is a book about a strong woman who defends herself when her husband beats her and accidentally killing him and assumes his identity so she can find a sort of freedom. However the strength that was gained in the first half of the story is negated in the second half, almost as if we are reading about two different people.

I really do not care for the way a gay, trans character is shown here. Abe rises in strength to overcome horrible abuse only to fall later. Tadzio Koelb’s writing style is unique and it takes getting used to.

The story unfolds in two haves with the first taking place 25 years before the second half Questions of identity are the heart of the story and there are inferences to the horrors of postwar women whose dreams were replaced by subservience. There is so much here that could have been better developed but was not even with the author throwing out the traditional ways of drawing readers into a story. We have wonderful ideas about power, desperation, identity, creation, and destruction and the story looks at the end of traditional masculinity, and the possibilities and limitations of what can be built for oneself.

Abe’s internal conflicts come to us in italicized passages that are almost stream of consciousness flashbacks. As he is trapped in masculine conformity, Abe denies himself any peace or genuine connection and this gives us a great deal to think about.

“Most Precious Blood” by Vince Sgambati— A Declining Italian-American Neighborhood

 Sgambati, Vince. “Most Precious Blood”, Guernica Editions (Guernica World Editions), 2018.

A Declining Italian-American Neighborhood

Amos Lassen

Vince Sgambati’s ”Most Precious Blood” is set in a declining Italian-American neighborhood in today’s Queens where loyalties are complex and often cause harm and destruction. As in many ethnic neighborhoods, the past is very important because to know who we are we must know from where we came. Community and family are of utmost importance. We meet the Lasante’s—Lenny, the father and Frankie, the son. Lenny’s dreams were shattered when he was young and he does not want that happening to Frankie. Lenny and Frankie love each other but they do not share the same ideas about religion and their Italian ethnicity. Frankie is still young; a senior in high school and at that age where it is popular to be different. I think we all go through a phase like that.

Sgambati gives us a look at Italian-American life in modern Queens where the past is more important than the present. The timing of the release of this novel is ideal since here in American we are dealing with immigration issues and we need to be reminded that our history is the history of immigration. What we see here, in effect, is the various attitudes toward immigrants and immigration and we see how many kept to their own in developing neighborhoods. Lenny’s family has Lasante’s Grocery Store and it is through the store that we see both pride and friction as to how the people see traditions and how they assimilate into the great melting pot of America. Family and heredity are the prime dictators of expectations and with that comes pressure from within and from without,. It was impossible to hide from those sexual orientation; these communities did not have expectations and two of the primary examples are gender expectations and where one fits in the order of birth. Needless to say, there was no talk about “people like that”. Naturally to be a non-conformist meant that there was a heavy price to pay and even though we hear the characters engage in dialogue about acceptance and respect that is based upon merit, we also see that family is more important.

While this is, on one hand, a coming-of-age novel, it is also a novel about identity. Identity depends on so many different factors and we really see that in “Most Precious Blood”. Our identities come from many places and while we are born with certain attributes to who we are—skin color, name and ethnicity, much of who we are comes from others. So here we are more than through my review and I have not said anything about what happens in the plot although I have thrown out some very strong hints. I am not going to share the plot with you because I want you to love this book as much as I do and that is not just the plot but Sgambati’s lyrical and gorgeous prose. (I knew I had heard the author’s name somewhere but could not remember where until I received some mail from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and I realized that he had been included in at least two of their anthologies. I was also reminded that I will be attending this year.

We are taught early on that God accepts us all until he doesn’t and this we usually learn from family that does not accept or make us feel welcome. Blood ties that were once very strong become diluted for many reasons. It is also through the family that we see the themes of familial strife and tension, the difference between the generations, secrets and lies. We also see these through the narrations of father and son, of Lenny and Frankie.

There is a lot going on in “Most Precious Blood” but this is not a “busy” read. There was also a great deal that I could identify with even though I did not grow up in an Italian neighborhood. I grew up in a section of my city that was known as “Jewville” and I have always been many similarities between Italian and Jewish family lives. Most of the “Jewvilles” and other ethnic neighborhoods today are gone and we have all become neighbors and that is just fine.

“Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975” by Hannah Arendt and edited by Jerome Kohn— Searching for Meaning

Arendt, Hannah. “Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975”, edited by Jerome Kohn, Schocken Books, 2018.

Searching for Meaning

Amos Lassen

I often have a difficult time explaining to others my obsession with Hannah Arendt and there are still many, many Jews who fault her because of her writings about Eichmann. We do not have many thinkers like Arendt and love her or hate her, I doubt that anyone can deny that she was one of the greatest minds to write and philosophize. I remember attending one of her lectures and feeling like I was witnessing greatness.

“Thinking Without a Banister” refers to Arendt’s description of her experience of thinking and she thought without any of the traditional religious, moral, political, or philosophic pillars of support. Arendt was her own support. The book includes topics on many subjects and from many varied writings: the essays, lectures, reviews, interviews, speeches, and editorials. All of these taken together, exhibit the relentless activity of her mind as well as her character. In these writings, we see the person Arendt was and who has hardly yet been appreciated or understood. 

Hannah Arendt was born in Germany in 1906 and lived in America from 1941 until her death in 1975. Her life and her thought spanned much of the twentieth century. She did not think of herself as a philosopher even though she studied and maintained close relationships with two great philosophers—Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger throughout their lives. She was a thinker who sought the meaning of appearances and events. She was a questioner rather than an answerer, and she wrote what she thought, hoping to encourage others to think for themselves. She was courageous and she found courage woven in each and every strand of human freedom.

“In 1951 she published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in 1958 The Human Condition, in 1961 Between Past and Future, in 1963 On Revolution and Eichmann in Jerusalem, in 1968 Men in Dark Times, in 1970 On Violence, in 1972 Crises of the Republic, and in 1978, posthumously, The Life of the Mind. Starting at the turn of the twenty-first century, Schocken Books has published a series of collections of Arendt’s unpublished and uncollected writings, of which Thinking Without a Banister is the fifth volume.”