The memoirist and frequent Nerve contributor on Federico Fellini, "the world's most psychotic children's show," and a short film called Titler.
Rachel Shukert has contributed more classic articles to Nerve than almost any writer. She is also the author of two hilarious and moving memoirs, 2008's Have You No Shame? and the just-released Everything is Going to be Great, a collection of raw, funny stories about misspending two years in Europe with an assortment of experimental theater performers, anti-Semitic sausage vendors, and sex-crazed Italian dentists. Her taste, as you might imagine, is impeccable, so we asked her to share some of her favorite things, and weren't disappointed with the results.
The Adrian Mole Diaries, Sue Townsend
It's fashionable for a young woman of a certain bent to claim that she's a gay man in a woman's body. Adrian Mole made me realize that I am actually a spotty teenage boy from Thatcher-era England trapped in the body of a New York Jew. Growing up in Omaha, when I first read these books, I was completely stunned by them. It was the first time it occurred to me that a totally mundane childhood in a place no one gave a shit about could be compelling, hilarious, and tragic. It's an effect I've been trying to replicate in basically everything I've ever written. HarperCollins, my publisher, is reissuing the first Adrian Mole book, and they asked me to write the afterword. I literally wept. It was the most important thing I've ever done. The editor said she was going to send my piece to Sue Townsend. I wanted to ask her if she'd also send her my book, but then I remembered that Sue Townsend is blind and wouldn't be able to read it. Which is just as well, honestly, because if she didn't like it I'd have to kill myself.
I can't even tell you how much I love this film. It's Federico Fellini's film about his childhood, and it's the most brilliant mix of the realistic and the absurd — a perfect realization that what's realistic is absurd. I can't organize my thoughts about it, so I'll just list things that are wonderful: the giant talking Mussolini made out of flowers. The midget nun. The tobacconist with her giant breasts. The fact that everybody pees on everything all the time — they can't ever stop peeing where they aren't supposed to. It's so eloquent. And Nino Rota's amazing score — haunted yet jaunty, which, when you think about it, is the ideal way for one go through life.
Delman ballet flats
Seriously, fuck Chanel flats, they're for bitches and Republicans. I am all about the Delman quilted two-tone ballet flats. If I could only wear one kind of shoes for the rest of my life, these would be my pick. Unfortunately, they're still pretty expensive, so I can only afford one pair at a time, and I have to wear them until they wear out, like a pioneer woman. But maybe if you buy lots of copies of my new book, I can buy lots of pairs. Hell, if you buy enough copies, I'll buy all of you a pair too. And then we can skip through Central Park in our cream-colored Delman flats, feeling ever so gamine and pleased with ourselves.
Long before he became Charlotte York Goldenblatt's favorite gay pet on Sex and the City, Mario Cantone hosted Steampipe Alley, possibly the world's most psychotic children's show, out of a public television studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. For years, I thought I had dreamed this show. I would talk about it constantly and nobody but me seemed to have any recollection of it, but now YouTube has offered conclusive proof that it did exist, for one brief shining moment, like Camelot. It was glorious. Mario… well, I don't want to say that Mario was doing anything illegal in the presence of children, per se, but I've been around a lot of cokeheads, and let's just say he was similarly sweaty and inspired. He would do these insane impressions of Mary Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. The Sammy Davis one was part of a game — Mario would choose a child from the audience, then the child's hands would be tied behind his back and he would have to stick his face in a pie or a tray of turkey stuffing to fish out a plastic eyeball with his mouth. This was ostensibly Sammy's missing eyeball. As they did this, Mario would croon: "Find my eyyyyeeee in the piiiiieeeee!" Then he would have guests on — guests like Michael Palin and Anne Magnusson — and the children in the audience would sit there in stultified bewilderment. Sometimes I think Steampipe Alley was the television equivalent of Narnia; it was there eternally, but only able to be reached by the children who really needed it.
Chocolates For Breakfast, Pamela Moore
My friend Max Sparber bought me this novel from the '50s when I was about sixteen, and it's been one of my favorites ever since. It's about this fifteen-year-old girl, Courtney Farrell, and how she navigates her way through boarding school, Hollywood, and the Manhattan socialite scene. From the way she's described, it's pretty clear that Courtney is seriously manic-depressive, before there was really a way to describe that in the mainstream discourse. The tone is sort of like if Sylvia Plath and Jacqueline Susann wrote a book together, and I don't think I have to tell you how incredibly awesome that would be. When it first came out it was a massive bestseller, sort of an American Bonjour Tristesse, but Pamela Moore, the author, committed suicide when she was twenty-six, and it's been almost entirely forgotten. The only people I know of who have read it besides myself are Max, who gave it to me, Courtney Love, who claimed in an interview once that she was named after the main character, and Robert Nedelkoff, who is the world's foremost Pamela Moore expert. And Sterling Lord, who is the senior partner and founder of my literary agency. He was Pamela Moore's agent. I always want to ask him about her and the book, but I think he has no idea who I am.
It's a short film. A large man stands in a bombed-out warehouse, dressed in a Hitler mustache, an evening gown, and a fur stole, and sings made-up show tunes. That's all that happens. Here are the lyrics for one of the songs he sings, to the tune of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof:
Suck me a cock
Down by the dock
Hard as a rock;
Lick me a clit
We wish to welcome you to Munchkinland.
This film is the most perfect expression of my artistic soul. The only problem is that I didn't make it myself.