dear England: thank you for the language. we’ve made a few improvements.

Damon Runyon was an American fiction writer who wrote short stories about New York City in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His style of writing employs the New York City Wise Guy vernacular of that era. His street smart characters were the inspiration for the musical Guys and Dolls starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.

Since we here in the U.S. are slipping into a new depression (Canada is laughing their asses off at us) the New York Times thought it might be interesting to revisit Runyon’s world, since the depression figured prominently in many of his stories.

I had not read any of Runyon’s stories in a long, long time and I forgot how beautiful and rich the language is. He’s Dashiell Hammett with a sense of humor. His prose drips with atmosphere. Do you know how if you hear a riff by Keith Richards or The Edge, you know instantly it’s them? After you read a few of Runyon’s tales, you’ll be able to identify him within three sentences. The Times printed several wonderful examples of Runyon’s New York on the ropes. (A Runyonesque phrase if ever there was one!) Here’s my favorite:

There is very little scratch anywhere and along Broadway many citizens are wearing their last year’s clothes and have practically nothing to bet on the races or anything else, and it is a condition that will touch anybody’s heart.

He describes a winter day as being, …colder than a blonde’s heart. God, I wish I could write like that. He even looked the part:

dr

 

Fun fact: Runyon was born in Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas!

8 thoughts on “dear England: thank you for the language. we’ve made a few improvements.

  1. I didn’t know who Damon Runyon was.However, I do recall hearing the name. It was in this little ditty by Alice Cooper, called Department of Youth. Kind of a cute tune, really.We’re in trouble all the timeYou read about us all in the papersWe walk around and bump into walls – a blind delegationAnd we ain’t afraid of high powerWe’re bullet proofAnd we’ve never heard of EisenhowerMissile power, justice or truthWe’re the Department of YouthYour new Department of YouthWe’re the Department of YouthJust me and youthWe talk about this whole stupid worldAnd still come out laughingWe never make any senseBut hell that never matteredBut we’ll make it through our blackest hourWe’re living proofAnd we’ve never heard of Billy SundayDamon Runyon, manners or couthWe’re the Department of YouthYour new Department of YouthWe’re the Department of YouthJust me and youthWe’re the Department of YouthThe new Department of YouthWe’re the Department of YouthWe’ve got the powerWe’re the Department of YouthAnd who gave it to you?Donny Osmond!What?!

  2. Daisy: Not always. But sometimes…Rob: Department of Youth is from Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love, the album that caused me to bail out on him. He sang a duet with Liza Minelli that was suppose to be…I don’t know…ironic or campy but it was simply awful.

  3. Of course you know that Runyon was a HUGE influence on William Kennedy, a mutual favorite author of ours. His “interview with a dead guy” passage from Very Old Bones (I think) is a direct homage to Runyon. I’ll have to look for a copy of his short works out here.Criminally forgotten writer. Good post, amigo.SA

  4. Sid: I have first-hand experience with cold blonde hearts.Jeff: Did you see the review in the Times this morning? You heard right. They panned it.SA: One day the world will wake up to William Kennedy. Until then, it’s up to us to keep the flame burning.

  5. Rob: Department of Youth is from Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love, the album that caused me to bail out on him. He sang a duet with Liza Minelli that was suppose to be…I don’t know…ironic or campy but it was simply awful.Nope. Welcome to my NightmareBut that’s okay. Although I still listen to Alice Cooper on occasion (*rare* occasion), he’s mostly a memory from my own yout’.

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