I’ve been feeling unsettled. Residual from the Santa Anas, maybe. Or maybe because I just spent the weekend rereading The Shining. That’s probably behind the slightly unsettling dreams I’ve been having (which I can’t really remember, but leave me vaguely out of sorts). I haven’t read The Shining since I was in ninth grade, and boy, was I wayyy to young to be reading it. Not because of the violence or anything, but because I missed a lot.
Stephen King knows how to tell a story. (So does his son, Joe Hill, in case anyone’s interested.) He knows exactly which buttons to push to scare people (kids, pets, everything you love suddenly turning on you like a poisonous snake). He takes innocuous things and asks, what would happen if this or that turned out to be, well, evil. Your car. The beautiful hotel you vacation in. The nerdy girl at the end of the street. There is malice aforethought just under the surface of everything in King’s world, even our own minds. He knows how to scare people because he just thinks about what scares him.
The Shining is probably his scariest book. Most critics, and not a few fans, think it’s his best. Having just read it again (I finished it not an hour ago), I realize how intricately detailed and carefully plotted his books are. His characterizations are the best thing about his books, though. He builds whole personalities, whole backstories, with just a few carefully placed sentences. That’s why his books never quite work as movies. It’s difficult on film to convey the same things with the same detail he does. (I’m gonna go on record here and say I like the film version of The Shining, but for entirely different reasons. It’s the only Kubrick movie I enjoy, but he changed it so drastically from the novel, that I’ve learned to think of them as two wholly different things in my mind.) The novel builds slowly, but steadily, and you can see what’s going to happen, but you don’t know exactly when everything is going to explode (literally).
The smell of smoke has me a little unsettled today, too. I thought I kept smelling wood smoke last night, from a brush fire in the OC maybe, and today there was smoke and the smell of burning fuel (like charcoal lighter, not gasoline) coming from somewhere behind our house. I can still smell it now. Fires scare me. I’m one of those people who’s always afraid the house is going to burn down while I’m not home; I’ll occasionally call the answering machine just to make sure the house is still standing.
This song has nothing to do with any of that, of course. Except maybe in the whole “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” concept. These guys never really did anything else. This one song is the best of their abbreviated oeuvre. That’s okay, because it’s one terrific tune. Kinda jazzy and snazzy, with some nice saxophone. It’s so good, and everything else by the Sanford Townsend Band so nondescript, it almost doesn’t seem real. As if it’s some hazy dream, half remembered, a trick done with smoke and mirrors. Which I suppose fits my mood, after all.