By Steve Guntli
On July 18, the Harper Collins publishing house will release “Go Set A Watchman,” the follow-up to Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic “To Kill A Mockingbird.” For the many people who consider Lee’s work a touchstone of American culture, the release is one of the most noteworthy publishing events in literary history. To tide us over until we can finally read the novel itself, this month I’m celebrating others who have had surprising second acts.
Each of this month’s artists have had to bounce back from something, be it a stalled career, a toxic public persona or a near-fatal accident, but they’ve all come back stronger than ever.
“On Writing” (2000)
“On Writing” is actually three incredibly valuable books in one slim volume. The first is a memoir of Stephen King’s early life, from his lonely boyhood in rural Maine to his early struggles to get his work published. The second is a guide for aspiring writers, everything from tips on grammar and story structure to how to discipline your writing. Coming from the most successful fiction author of all time, the advice is helpful and highlights the impressive work ethic that has helped King publish nearly 100 bestsellers in 40 years.
The third book is King’s graphic, heartbreaking recreation of an accident that almost killed him, and the insights he’s gained from the experience. In 1999, King was run over by a car while on an afternoon walk near his home, midway through penning “On Writing.” The accident left him with a collapsed lung, a broken hip and legs so badly crushed doctors almost had to amputate. The incident left King in agonizing pain for several years, almost forcing him to scrap “On Writing” and even making him consider retiring altogether. It’s lucky for all of us that he recovered, or we’d be deprived of one of the best, most insightful book of his storied career.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Directed by Ben Affleck
By the mid-2000s, Ben Affleck was a walking punch line. Part of this was due to his highly-publicized relationship with Jennifer Lopez, and part of it was the string of increasingly terrible movies he starred in between 1998’s “Armageddon” and 2003’s “Gigli.” Rather than make a desperate bid for our affections though, Affleck made an unprecedented gamble: he dropped out of the limelight. For a few years, he avoided the paparazzi and focused on raising his kids and working on his directorial career.
The payoff was Affleck’s directorial debut, 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” and it heralded his impressive second act. “Gone Baby Gone” is an adaptation of the brilliant noir novel by Dennis Lehane. Starring Affleck’s brother Casey and Michelle Monaghan as two tough Boston private investigators searching for a lost girl, the story starts off simply enough but veers into morally and ethically complex territory as it nears its devastating conclusion.
Since “Gone Baby Gone’s release, Affleck has directed two more films (“The Town” and “Argo”), the latter of which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2012. He has also had a resurgence in his acting career: he starred in the well-received adaptation of “Gone Girl” last year and will be starring as Batman in next year’s “Batman v. Superman” movie. All of this goes to show: sometimes the best defense is to retreat and regroup.
“Next Year People” (2015)
By Colin Hay
Most people remember Colin Hay as the lead singer of Men at Work, the ubiquitous Aussie pop group responsible for ’80s chart-toppers like “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now.” When the band broke up in 1985, Hay made a few attempts at a solo career but none really landed with audiences. It wasn’t until his song, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” appeared on the blockbuster soundtrack to the movie “Garden State” in 2004 that a new generation took notice, and Hay rode that success to new heights as a singer and songwriter.
Hay’s latest solo effort, “Next Year People,” is his best, most beautiful work to date. His gruff, unpretentious vocals and deeply felt lyrics ring of deep emotional truth without resorting to pathos. This is a surprisingly warm album about heartache and loss. Highlights include the buoyant title track, the cheeky “Did You Just Take The Long Way Home” and the bittersweet “I Want You Back.”
Each of these titles is available at the Blaine Public Library, except for “Next Year People,” which you can download on iTunes. To reserve a copy, visit the local branch or go to wcls.org.