The Immortal Horizon

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To celebrate the upcoming collected stories concert series curated by David Lang at Carnegie Hall (April 22-29), we’ll be posting pieces from past issues of the Believer that tie into with the themes of each show. The fourth concert in collected stories is Travel, featuring a performance of Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage by pianist Louis Lortie, for which we’re posting Leslie Jamison’s essay on the Barkley Marathons (from the May 2011 issue of the Believer).

THIRTY-FIVE RUNNERS FACE HOLLERS AND HELLS, A FLOODED PRISON, RATS THE SIZE OF POSSUMS, AND FLESH-FLAYING BRIARS TO TEST THE LIMITS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY.

DISCUSSED: An Escaped Assassin, Raw Chicken Meat, Unimaginable Physical Exhaustion, A License Plate from Liberia, Duct-Tape Pants, Novels Hidden in Tree Trunks, Testosterone Spread Like Fertilizer, Rattlesnakes as Large as Arms, Arms That Baptize Cats, A Bunch of Guys in the Woods Talking about Something Called the Bad Thing

On the western edge of Frozen Head State Park, just before dawn, a man in a rust brown trench coat blows a giant conch shell. Runners stir in their tents. They fill their water pouches. They tape their blisters. They eat thousand-calorie breakfasts: Pop-Tarts and candy bars and geriatric energy drinks. Some of them pray. Others ready their fanny packs. The man in the trench coat sits in an ergonomic lawn chair beside a famous yellow gate, holding a cigarette. He calls the two-minute warning.

The runners gather in front of him, stretching. They are about to travel more than a hundred miles through the wilderness—if they are strong and lucky enough to make it that far, which they probably aren’t. They wait anxiously. We, the watchers, wait anxiously. A pale wash of light is barely visible in the sky. Next to me, a skinny girl holds a skinny dog. She has come all the way from Iowa to watch her father disappear into this gray dawn.

All eyes are on the man in the trench coat. At precisely 7:12, he rises from his lawn chair and lights his cigarette. Once the tip glows red, the race known as the Barkley Marathons has begun.

I.

The first race was a prison break. On June 10, 1977, James Earl Ray, the man who shot Martin Luther King Jr., escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and fled across the briar-bearded hills of northern Tennessee. Fifty-four hours later he was found. He’d gone about eight miles. Some might hear this and wonder how he managed to squander his escape. One man heard this and thought: I need to see that terrain!

Over twenty years later, that man, the man in the trench coat—Gary Cantrell by birth, self-dubbed Lazarus Lake—has turned this terrain into the stage for a legendary ritual: the Barkley Marathons, held yearly (traditionally on Lazarus Friday or April Fool’s Day) outside Wartburg, Tennessee. Lake (known as Laz) calls it “The Race That Eats Its Young.” The runners’ bibs say something different each year: SUFFERING WITHOUT A POINT; NOT ALL PAIN IS GAIN. Only eight men have ever finished. The event is considered extreme even by those who specialize in extremity.

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A Review of Philip Marlowe

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To celebrate the upcoming collected stories concert series curated by David Lang at Carnegie Hall (April 22-29), we’ll be posting pieces from past issues of the Believer that tie into with the themes of each show. The first concert in collected stories is Hero, for which we’re posting Greg Cwik’s review of Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s film adaptation of The Long Goodbye (from the May 2013 issue of the Believer).

A Review of Philip Marlowe in the Long Goodbye, Directed by Robert Altman


CENTRAL QUESTION: How does a filmmaker make an outdated character relevant?
 
Number of times Philip Marlowe has been portrayed on film: ten

Age of Elliott Gould when he played Marlowe: thirty-four

Age of Robert Mitchum when he played Marlowe three years later: fifty-eight

Best Hemingway impersonation in The Long Goodbye: Sterling Hayden, allegedly stoned the whole time

Actor Hayden replaced: Dan Blocker, who died just before principal photography began

Film’s tag line: “Nothing says goodbye like a bullet.”

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe is malleable: literary Play-Doh for the craftily minded. As our sapient narrator, he is a lens through which we see the squalor of modern Los Angeles. We know he’s morally rigid, like an animated slab of unwritten commandments, inextirpable in his personal and political proclivities. He doesn’t take money if he finds a job unethical; he doesn’t respect corrupt police or politicians, regardless of their motivations; he doesn’t sympathize with drunks or wife-beaters; he doesn’t like the rich but he doesn’t weep for the poor. He’s a well-worn scourge of complications and intricacies, his own Osiris.

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"Try to go beyond it."

Photograph by Mark Mawston

An Interview with Stephen John Kalinich

Stephen John Kalinich is a prolific poet and songwriter who wears eye catching hats and the color orange on an almost daily basis. He is warm and nurturing to almost everyone in his life, including people he meets in restaurants and on the street. He is also an amazing friend, and it so happens that his friends, Brian and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, were also his collaborators. It is not coincidental that two of the songs he wrote with Dennis, “LittleBird” and “Be Still”, are featured on The Beach Boys’ 1969 album, Friends. Kalinich has written for Paul McCartney, Randy Crawford, Mary Wilson, and is currently working with legendary Nashville musician/producer Jon Tiven (who’s worked previously with Alex Chilton, Frank Black, Don Covay) under the name Yo MaMa. They put out the gloriously primitive Stones-meets-Stooges opus Symptomology, which Andrew Loog Oldham lauded as one of the best albums of 2012. A practitioner of Transcendental Meditation for many years, Stevie has also contributed to David Lynch’s Transcendental Radio.  

Light in the Attic Records will be releasing Stevie’s 1968 collaboration with Brian Wilson, A World of Peace Must Comeon vinyl this April. There’s been much speculation on the genesis of this project, and for many years people wondered if it was real at all. Stevie and I sat down in my living room to talk about his beginnings and to sort out the mysteries of A World of Peace Must Come. 

—Tracy Landecker

I.  GANGSTER CHILD POET

STEVIE KALINICH: My mother, every Sunday, would take us for walks in nature in Binghamton, New York, in the hills above where we lived. There was a lot of wilderness, and we walked around creeks. There were bulls behind fences, and my mother would say, “Don’t go in there. “ We would find skeletons. Once we found what we thought was the skeleton of a dead baby in a creek. We loved all the different colors of the leaves. We used to go tobogganing on the hill that had trees, and one time I went head first into a tree and I don’t know if I ever recovered. [Laughs

I had this sense of walks in nature but I don’t think I felt it as anything other than how life was. But as I look back, that’s when my first poems started coming. I didn’t know what they were. I was five, six, seven years old. They weren’t very good, but I remember one of them and I’ve spoken it before.

At night I saw the stars above

A sign of hope and peace and love

The stars that shine above my eyes

That make me know

God is in the skies

THE BELIEVER: And these poems were the seeds that you tilled, as it were, for A World of Peace Must Come.

SK: Yes. But at that point as a child, whatever concept I had of God, which was very vague, was of something out there, outside of myself.  As I’ve grown, I don’t think I would change that poem, except I would say that what I thought was out there is within consciousness, rather than outside of it. But we all project our beliefs and our systems.

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