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Edition No. 4 of the accumulated what-have-you from The Week That [Most Recently] Was, in which we begin in the realm of high culture, gradually lower our standards as we proceed toward the end, then stop:

  • "What?  You, Will?" Dept.:

George Hunka points to a Guardian piece in which various contemporary writers set themselves to imagining William Shakespeare.  Dominic Dromgoole pictures him on one of his last evenings, drinking with Jonson and Drayton, a strange archaic has-been, and includes this:

The magnificent and elegant farewell of The Tempest has been compromised and compromised by comeback after comeback.  A little helping out with Thomas More, collaboration on Henry VIII no one can bring themselves to mention The Two Noble Kinsmen. . . .

I, for one, do not share their qualms about the Kinsmen

For contemporary fictional speculation on Will & Co., I recommend Robert Nye's The Late Mr. Shakespeare; I am less enthusiastic for Nye's Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works, which I found to be ultimately a one-joke item (and that joke unpersuasively perverse).  Nye first came to notice on this side of the Atlantic with his delicious fictional memoir of Sir John Falstaff back in 1976, and that book remains well worth searching up.  Anthony Burgess, I suppose, remains the gold standard in the fabulated-Bard field, with his Nothing Like the Sun.

  • A. Miller's Tale/The Night of the Hunter:

More in a theatrical vein: Professor Althouse compares and contrasts the reactions to the deaths of Hunter S. Thompson and of Arthur Miller:

Have you noticed the difference in how the press has covered the deaths of these two prominent writers?  When Arthur Miller died, the press did what was necessary to mark the passing of the man who was generally recognized as a major literary figure (and had the celebrity plus factor of having been married to a mega-celebrity).  But the outpouring of interest in Hunter S. Thompson doesn't seem to be an effort to give coverage equivalent to his literary standing.  It seems to be an expression of genuine, spontaneous love. That's my impression anyway.

That's my impression, too.  While both Thompson and Miller spent much of their time demanding that we pay attention to the nasty tentacled things that swim just beneath the seemingly placid surfaces of American lives, Miller was as much as anything else praised because his enthusiasts knew with certainty that he was Good For You.  He was the theatrical equivalent of spinach: healthful, perhaps even occasionally necessary, more than once genuinely enjoyable, but not what you want to have for dinner every night.  Thompson's every phrase rejected what was Good For You and all its works, at least on the surface, making him more like a really tasty, vitamin fortified breakfast cereal -- Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, perhaps.  Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!  Eat it by the handful, why don't you?

George Hunka (again) pointed out earlier in the month that Miller left more than a few stones in the passway of post-war American drama:

Unfortunately, high school students of that generation were therefore led to believe that serious drama had all the rather turgid, socially-relevant historical solemnity that The Crucible possesses in such abundance.  It's hard for me to consider Miller's work objectively, though I must say his popularity rather doomed a generation or so of American theater audiences to sub-Ibsenite naturalism, no matter how compassionate his politics, and therefore made it harder for American playwrights to stretch the boundaries of the form.  His influence is seen even now in such socially-relevant realists as Neil LaBute, not to mention hundreds of playwrights who seem to feel that their apparently clueless audiences need to be endlessly reminded of the Hypocrisy of the American Dream.  But Willy Loman remains an affecting figure for many of us, even if it's been years since the American sales force started behaving more like David Mamet's crew in Glengarry Glen Ross than Miller's idealistic drummers.

In connection with HST's self-inflicted demise, I have thus far successfully resisted the temptation to devise some macabre pun on the late Warren Zevon's song title, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner."

  • ZimmerBerry Dept.:

Apropos of Anton Chekhov, who drew some attention below (including a guest appearance in the comments by the elusive Aaron Haspel), here is an odd assertion reported by Luc Sante in his very interesting NYRB consideration of the memoirs of Bob Dylan:

He doesn't discuss such major works as Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde or the huge, only partly issued body of work known in aggregate as The Basement Tapes. He doesn't mention Blood on the Tracks, either, although when he writes, 'Eventually I would even record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories—critics thought it was autobiographical,' it would seem, by process of elimination, to be the record he is referring to. But is he serious?

Sante earns extra points for his several references to and quotations from recurring Fool Favorite John BerrymanGoogle leads to several unforeseen Berryman-Dylan connections, including this gallery of work by artist Karen Schwartz, who has created portraits of both men -- Berryman is shown during one of his beardless periods, in which he always looked particularly forlorn -- and the hitherto unsuspected, painfully earnest organ-driven dirge that is The Ballad of John Berryman as performed by Minneapolis singer-songwriter Barry Thomas Goldberg.  And here, writing in The Spectator, Grey Gowrie provides a glimpse of one man's opinions on the other:

Robert Zimmerman took his name from Dylan Thomas (which infuriated John Berryman, a greater songsmith for poetry, a musical non-starter).

Berryman was present -- in some reports he was the only person present -- at the hospital bedside of Dylan Thomas when Thomas died.  Hence, perhaps, his protectiveness toward the late poet's name.

  • Piratical Maid of All Writs Dept.:

Defenestrated recently?  I hate when that happens, myself.  I recommends ye should hire yerself an aggressive advocate such as this one so that justice may be done, matey.  [I found this through Walter Olson at Point of Law, but it seems to be circulating far and wide.]

  • "I Want to try to be nice to Everyone" Dept.:

    And in conclusion: via stereogum, here is a link to a streaming Quicktime version of the video for "Nature Anthem" by Fresno- (Modesto-?) based band Grandaddy.

It's just sweet and silly, that's all: a peppy little singin' 'round the campfire tune accompanied by what looks like a low-budget remake of Magical Mystery Tour filmed during the Easter egg hunt at a convention of high school sports mascots.  It fits neatly into my underutilized "Moose and Squirrel" archives, because there is a moose in it and there are as well at least two squirrels.  And, looking very relaxed, a big brown beaver on drums. 

Did I mention it's sweet and silly?  Yes, it is and I did.  That is all.

What's Ha-Pnin? -- the Return of the Double Dactyls

Perhaps you have been curious as to why I have posted no new double dactyls since before the turn of the year.  I blame a drought of inspiration, and a temporary inability to spot or conjure up properly dactylic proper names. 

Yesterday morning standing beneath a hot shower -- prime conditions for composing double dactyls in one's head -- I thought of the six-syllabled name of the emigré author of such modern classics as Lolita and Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov.  A subject, at last!  My pleasure dissipated, however, as I realized that the name only fit properly if one mispronounced it.  But soft! is that the metaphorical sound of life's metaphorical lemons being squeezed to produce a bracing pitcher of metaphorical lemonade?  Indeed it is, and the result of quaffing that refreshing faux-Parnassian draught is this, my first double dactyl of two-double-ought-five:

Nabokov_1A Pronouncement

Lovely Lolita says:
"'Vlah-dimir Nah-bokov'
Isn't correct when pro-
nouncing his name.

"Don't Stand So Close to Me
Has it all wrong: say 'Vla-
Dih-mir Na-boh-kov' or
Wither in shame."

For Further Reading:  The writer provides guidance in the correct pronunciation of his name in this interview from 1965; he also gives pointers for speaking of another of his creations, Professor Pnin.  Elsewhere, in the "You Never Know What You Might Find on the Internet" category: CNN provides an interactive map on which to trace the travels of Humbert Humbert and Miss Dolores Haze from the redwood forests to the Gulf's green waters.

Bonus Poetry Content:  On the occasion of our improving Southern California weather, under the influence of Schenectady's own haikuEsq, a postdiluvian haiku of sorts:

Storm clouds withdrawn
Rainbow climbs
Above the car wash

Now That's What I Call A Mammoth SUV

The reason that SUV's are less safe is not, of course, that there is something inherently wrong with the vehicles; it's that people who buy SUV's often drive them like morons.

So says Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information as she points us to, the official site associated with an SUV safety campaign funded through a nationwide collective of attorneys general and consumer protection agencies.  It's a treat.

Michael Blowhard remarked yesterday (in an altogether different context) that

You may despise ads, or argue that they shouldn’t be considered serious art.  But how can anyone claim that advertising art and graphic design have no cultural significance?  They’re big business; they influence fashions and trends; they reflect tastes; the people who make them are often very gifted.

True as a general rule, but "public service" campaigns, especially government-funded campaigns, hardly ever produce an advertising result as clever or appealing as ESUVEE.  Jane justifiably, if prematurely, declares the end result her "favourite advertising mascot of the decade."  The caveman-drum soundtrack is plenty amusing, too.  Kudos all 'round to the creative team, and y'all drive safely.

UPDATE [2/24/05]:  Revisiting the original Asymmetrical Information post this morning -- it has been modified, so it popped up again in the RSS feed -- I find that it has accumulated multiple updates and an ever-growing collection of comments, addressing such things as SUVs' negative externalities, social opprobrium disguised as environmental consciousness, tax policy, and other such Heavy Stuff. 

People, people, people [he said, ruefully shaking his head]: You are all missing the point of the original post, which was You've got to take a look at this site because that fuzzy, snarling anmated vee-hicle is So . . . Darned . . . Cute!  Why, even Professor Bainbridge thinks so, after his fashion.

Darned Blogosphere . . . must it politicize everything?  [Wanders off mumbling and, yes, still rueful.]

Brownie Points As the Curtain Descends

Anton Chekhov says:

If a pistol is introduced at the end of the first act, it has to be fired at some point later in the play.

Not a rule he always followed himself, as witness ACT IV of Uncle Vanya, in which Vanya's pistol is talked about but never fired:

TELEGIN. Yes, we haven't had noodles for ages.  [A pause]  Not for ages.  As I was going through the village this morning, Marina, one of the shop-keepers called after me, "Hi! you hanger-on!" I felt it bitterly.

MARINA. Don't pay the least attention to them, master; we are all dependents on God.  You and Sonia and all of us.  Every one must work, no one can sit idle.  Where is Sonia?

TELEGIN. In the garden with the doctor, looking for Ivan.  They fear he may lay violent hands on himself.

MARINA. Where is his pistol?

TELEGIN. [Whispers] I hid it in the cellar.

[VOITSKI and ASTROFF come in.]

VOITSKI. Leave me alone!  [To MARINA and TELEGIN] Go away!  Go away and leave me to myself, if but for an hour.  I won't have you watching me like this!

TELEGIN. Yes, yes, Vanya. 

[He goes out on tiptoe.]

By way of counter-example, Jerry Brown on Hunter S. Thompson:

Like a Chekhov story, the firearms he favored during a turbulent life figured in the manner of his untimely exit.

(Brown weblog entry via Matt Welch at Hit and Run.)

UPDATE [1445 PST]: Two more Thompson notes.  First, via Alan Sullivan's Fresh Bilge, brief parting remarks from the only known human who could draw what Thompson wrote, Ralph Steadman:

If you wonder if he's gone to Heaven or Hell - rest assured he will check out the both, find out which one Richard Milhaus Nixon went to- and go there. He could never stand being bored.  But there must be Football too - and Peacocks.

And Matt Welch expands a bit further on the subject at hand at Reason Online, comparing HST's career with that of the Rolling Stones and noting that he was "that rare journalist who took the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments as seriously as the First, regardless of who currently occupied the White House."

Eddy Are You Kidding?

In an unmatched display of weblogging dexterity, I now propose to combine in a single post a discussion of a very fine recent musical release and a reference to a dubious landmark in the sartorial history of Los Angeles.  At home thou shouldst not try this.  Let us begin:

Rachel, of the mp3 weblog Scenestars, has seen fit to post links to two [entirely authorized and lawful] free mp3 files of songs from the debut album of A Girl Called Eddy, a phonographic recording that was easily near the head of my short list for favorite new music of 2004.

Eddy is the nom de pop for Erin Moran (no relation, so far as can be determined, to the other Erin Moran), a New Jersey singer-songwriter who recorded her debut album in England with the assistance of Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley.  Her music harks back explicitly to the Golden Age of Adult Popcraft of the mid- to late 1960's, the era of Burt Bacharach, Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood, Dusty Springfield, and the like, but manages not to come off as mere imitation or pastiche.  You can get a sense of whether Eddy's particular musical sensibilities will jibe with your own by considering some of the "Heroes/Reasons for Living" she lists on her own site:

holy trinity: Richard Harris, Michael Caine, and Peter O’Toole/ . . .Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka/a nice glass of red . . ./ Prefab Sprout, and all the B’s - Leslie Bricusse, Burt Bacharach, the ‘blue’ note, The Blue Nile, Bjork, Beck, Brian Wilson, Lionel Bart, Bowie, Beatles, . . ./ glockenspiels!/ . . . Jimmy Webb/ . . . the other holy trinity: Chrissy Hinde, Dusty Springfield, and Karen Carpenter . . . .

My favorite track on the album -- "People Who Used to Dream About the Future" -- might have been the Big Number if, on some alternate Broadway, Company had been scored by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, rather than by Steven Sondheim.  That one's not available anywhere for download, but you can reach two tracks -- the wall-of-soundish "The Long Goodbye" and the album-closing "Golden" -- via Eddy's record label ANTI-, the wonderfully melancholy album opener "Tears All Over Town" via Eddy's site, and (with free registration) the non-album track "Under the Warm Sun" here.  Or you can just trust me on this one and buy the album for yourself here.

Now observe as I fearlessly offer up the promised bonus L.A.-centric content for those of you who weren't watching local television here in sunny soggy Southern California in the mid-70's:

You may be asking yourself: "What is up with the title of this post?  What does that mean?"  Fans of the late Frank Zappa will recognize our title phrase as coming from a song on the Mothers of Invention's 1972 Just Another Band from L.A. 

The song itself, with its invocation of double-knit polyester leisure suits and similar horrors, was inspired by Zachary All, a men's clothing store on the Miracle Mile of Los Angeles' Wilshire Boulevard, advertisements for which were essentially inescapable.  Those television spots all featured Eddie Nalbandian, ever ready to assure us of the wide range of styles and sizes and the diligent "staff of 60 tailors" awaiting viewers at his establishment.  Eddie can be seen sporting some of his establishment's finery in the photo accompanying this interview [PDF], a photo that tells you most everything you need or want to know. 

Still not satisfied?  Learn more in this 1994 story from the Los Angeles Business Journal, in which Eddie displays the kind of marketing genius that would serve him well on The Apprentice (no doubt he would be one of the contestants with "street smarts"):

And why did Nalbandian name his store Zachary All in the first place, those 38 years ago? "Well, I was going to name the store Clothing Co-Op, but a lawyer told us since we didn't give back a portion of the profits to customers, we couldn't do that.  So, I was sitting around, and I liked the actor Zachary Scott, but you can't just use someone's name.  So I said I liked the detergent 'All.'  You know, it does it all.  So I named the store Zachary All."

Amazingly, the Zachary All store continued in business nearly to the turn of the millennium; the building still stands [see grainy photo here] having been converted to a Walgreen's drugstore in 2002.

That's Zachary All, folks!


Yet another eclectic compilation of links.  Surely something more substantive will soon follow.  Until then:

Yes, blogs are oddly distant, alienated, anti-social. But then again, most people you meet in person these days are on the phone.

Bonus item: " Poe's last photo(?)"

  • "Oh to be in England" Dept., Vox Populi Edition:

Writing at Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies identifies the "[u]seful site of the year, and it’s only January".  Simply provide with your locale and it gives you the means to contact all of your elected officials, including MPs, members of the European Parliament, local Councilors, etc.   Here, for instance, is what you get if you enter a UK postcode for Basingstoke.   Is any enterprising American providing a similar service on this side of the pond?

  • Of course, one's relations with one's representatives may be comparable to that between Glendower and the spirits in Henry IV, Part I:

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep!

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

  • Speaking of elected officials, witness the weblog of the man whose signature is on my law degree: Mayor, former Governor and wanna-be Attorney General of California, Jerry Brown. (Via BuzzMachine/Jeff Jarvis.)
  • Wine Whine Dept.:

*Sigh*  From yesterday's Wall Street Journal (not available online to non-subscribers, and transcribed here from a sheet of newsprint), more on the impact of Sideways on the Santa Barbara County wine country: 

The movie, which is nominated for five Academy Awards at next week's Oscar[®] ceremony in Hollywood, has inspired a cult-like following in recent months, with out-of-town visitors flocking to the region's bars and restaurants.  The movie's combination of wine-country touring, comic camaraderie and late-night soul-searching has resonated with a discerning adult audience.  The most ardent fans are not just here visiting: they are also re-creating scenes from the script.

The craze is like a grown-up version of what grew out of the 1975 camp musical 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' which ever since has had moviegoers dressing and talking like the characters.

    * * *

By far the most frequently mimicked moment is one in which Mr. Giamatti's character, an incorrigible wine snob named Miles, declares: 'If anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving.  I am not drinking any f--- merlot.'  All day long, tourists traipse through local wineries and restaurants featured in the movie repeating Mr. Giamatti's colorful outburst and casting aspersions on one of the country's most popular varietals.

Rocky Horror fans at least have the courtesy to keep their fandom inside the movie theater, for the most part, and out of the tasting room.  (More merlot abuse is available here, in a remarkably scattershot item from Newsweek.)

In other Sideways news, there's this:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - And the Oscar for Hollywood's word of the year goes to 'pinot,' as in pinot noir, the wine variety of choice in 'Sideways,' one of the five films nominated this year for a best picture Academy Award.

The Global Language Monitor, a nonprofit group that monitors word use, said 'pinot' tops its annual list of show business words that influenced the English language last year.  The winner for 2003 was 'wardrobe malfunction.'

UPDATE [2/19/05]:  Yee-ha!  Yep, I'm still on this particular hobby horse!  Thanks to a link from AOL's Notebook Los Angeles to my original Sideways rant, I can point you to even more, such as:

  • "Oh to be in England" Dept., Noblesse Oblige Edition:

Alice Bachini, who incidentally harbors a healthy dislike of telephones (cf. Henry Gould, supra), has returned from Texas to her native land ("So, tuberculosis, homelessness, drug-dealers . . . I'm really starting to feel like a modern English person again!"), and is providing behavioral tips for royals:

It frankly amazes me that in all the discussions we have these days about the monarchy, nobody ever seems to suggest that perhaps if they just behaved with a bit more decorum they might actually be a perfectly decent asset to the country rather than a bunch of pick 'n' mix loons. Prince Charles' marital life is his own affair, but if he could just manage not to be photographed being groped by half-naked girly popstars for a few months, I personally would have slightly more respect for him. And if they all need to get drunk and yell at people, why can't they do it at private gatherings rather than in Irish pubs? Sorry, but I just find it strange.

  • On Photography:
  • Brian Micklethwaite demonstrates how certain clever Frenchmen have determined that when it comes to photos of the Eiffel Tower intellectual property is, like sex, a trick of the light.
  • And as always, I recommend that you follow the photo postings from my talented chum Rick Coencas at Futurballa.   Rick's in a bit of a wine country mode himself this week.  Last week, it was studies of Fallingwater falling water.  Kerplunk.
  • "Hang ten on the raft, Huck honey!"


Continuing our series of semi-regular roundups of whatever may have caught my passing fancy elsewhere:

  • Nothing sets the heart a-flutter quite like an unsolicited testimonial, so you may imagine me beaming sheepishly over this site's status as Weblog of the Week at Evan Schaeffer's Notes from the (Legal) Underground.  If you are not reading Evan's weblog regularly you are denying yourself pleasures galore, as it is (as he kindly says of this Fool) "proof that lawyers are not the one-dimensional money-making automatons that some would have you believe."  Mr. Schaeffer is a trial lawyer and a gentlemen, demonstrating that there need be no contradiction between the two.  Thank you, sir.
  • Things I'm Looking Forward To Dept., Part One:
  • From the collective known as the Dead Parrot Society comes word of a June 10 opening date for the U.S. release of Howl's Moving Castle, the latest from master animator Hayao Miyazaki (whose work I previously praised here).  The film is currently the most successful in history in Japan, as were each of Miyazaki's two previous films.  (The original Japanese release of Miyazaki's Spirited Away knocked Titanic from the top spot, after Titanic had knocked off Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke.)  The Parrots also link to a New Yorker interview about [but not with] Miyazaki, containing this pithy assessment:

Like a lot of the great British fantasy writers—C. S. Lewis or J. K. Rowling or Philip Pullman—he's very dedicated to realism in the service of fantasy, meaning that he makes little details (the way Chihiro kicks her toe into her shoes, or the way Haku the dragon falls when he's wounded) internally coherent and naturalistic.

I'm regularly moved by Miyazaki's way with nature: wind on grass, for instance, or clouds, and his frequent wholesale appropriation of Manet's palette. 

The link to the Parrots came by way of Byzantium's Shores, which I first looked into because it resides just above this weblog among the "personality kids" in the left column of and to which I have been returning with sufficient frequency that it has been added to the links list to your right. 

  • Incidental personal notes to as-yet-non-weblogging Portland, Oregon gal/pal Bridget:  Surely this will be sufficient incentive for you finally to obtain a DVD player!  And congratulations on taking the opportunity to air your Burt Reynolds fixation as one of the Blowhards' poster posters.
  • Things I'm Looking Forward To Dept., Part Two:
  • Speaking of good things out of Portland, Oregon, the NYC-based music weblog Coolfer reports the splendid news that after a near eight-year hiatus we can look forward to a new album from Eric Matthews.  Matthews tills the fields of intelligent, often symphonic pop: he's a classically trained trumpeter and skilled arranger whose music carries all manner of tasteful influences from the likes of Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach.  Since his last album, 1997's The Lateness of the Hour (officially out of print, just to increase the injustice in the world), he has turned up as a player or arranger with other performers such as French psychedelic popsters Tahiti 80, Andy Chase's Brookville project and, perhaps most surprisingly, fellow Portlanders the Dandy Warhols.  His presence on other people's records is a reliable mark of quality.  (Note that in the photo accompanying the Coolfer post, Matthews strongly resembles Matthew Broderick, whereas in the shot accompanying this Billboard piece, he takes after Willem Dafoe.  Which is the more truthful representation?  Is there some sort of Jekyll/Hyde transformation at work here?)  Matthews has launched a personal site full of information on his prior work.  The new album, Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit is variously reported to be scheduled for release either in late February or on March 1, and can be ordered/preordered (as I have done) here.
  • Last Minute, Honored Guest Dept.: My grousing post below on the success of the film Sideways and its potential impact on the fine wines of Santa Barbara County has drawn a gracious and reassuring comment from Frank Ostini, principal in the Hitching Post restaurant and winery

Watch That Man

Sure is quiet around here this week.  Too quiet . . .

I have been out and about and in court and such for that past few days, and consequently inposticado.  One portion of the week was taken up by a trip to northern California [lovely Santa Rosa in lovelier Sonoma County, source of loveliest California wines including but not limited to frabjous pinot noirs -- none of which I had time to sample, more's the pity -- and also home to OGIC's favorite round-headed kid, but I digress . . .], via Southwest Airlines, flying from Burbank to Oakland.  In the course of trying, unsuccessfully, to check in to my northbound flight, first online and then through the kiosk at the airport, I made the troubling discovery that I -- yes, kind, gentle, unassuming and harmless I -- am now on one of the Transportation Safety Administration's Watch Lists.  *Sigh*  I blame Volkswagen.

The return flight from Oakland was delayed, but came with the bonus of a celebrity sighting: former L.A. Law faux lawyer -- since reduced to not one but two appearances as a contestant on Celebrity Mole -- Corbin Bernsen.  He had no entourage, apart from his cell phone, but had sufficient clout with the airline to be the first person on to and off of the plane.  Celebrity has its privileges.

So there you are: national security and gossip, in one neat package.  Full service, that's what you'll get here readers, full service.

TW3 [That Was The Week That Was]

First in a series of weekly or near-weekly catch-all posts linking this and that what has come to my attention over the preceding seven-ish days.  I have also inaugurated a more law-oriented version of the same idea [under the heading "Other Voices, Other Rooms"] at Decs & Excs.

  • Via that ostentatious liberal ("[N]o rational person could read my weblog on anything remotely like a regular basis and . . . . believe that my benders involve anything other than 20-year old Tawny Port and Dunhill Peravia."), Professor Bainbridge, a link to a wide-ranging Guardian interview with The Who's Roger Daltrey -- revealing among other things that while Daltrey once said (at the time of "My Generation") that he expected to kill himself rather than grow older than 30, the bloke's marriage, to his credit, has lasted longer than that.
  • Favorite quote: Daltrey on Ken Russell's Lisztomania,* the very apotheosis of self-indulgently vulgar Russell Composer Biopics: "I made all my mistakes in terrifying Technicolor.

* A film of stupendous so-bad-it's-good-ness -- Swordplay!  Bodice ripping!  Wagner as a  vampire!  Giant phalluses!  Wagner as Frankenstein!  Ringo Starr as the Pope!  Heaven help us all! -- for which I nonetheless maintain a certain affection, no doubt helped along by not having actually watched the dreadful thing in over 20 years.   Not available on DVD, it can be yours in glorious pan-and-scan VHS for under 4 bucks at the Amazon link above.

  • Hedgehogs and Seagulls and Planes, . . . oh my!
  • The Telegraph's report on this same story includes an insight into French labor relations:

"An earlier hearing was told that the government-employed worker responsible for clearing dead animals off the runway had slept in."

  • Note: The "flock of seagulls" involved in the story is not this one, which is in some ways difficult to distinguish from a hedgehog.
  • Additional note: I actually had a link up to this item for about 2 minutes a few days back, until I discovered that Martin Grace had taken grossly unfair advantage of being three time zones east of here in order to beat me to it.

Play Baal Shem Tov

I.    Second Helprins

As mentioned here before, I have been reading through Mark Helprin's The Pacific and Other Stories, and I returned to it the last two evenings -- after a detour devoted to reading China Miéville's second New Crobuzon novel, The Scar, which I may write about in more detail at some point, though Miéville is by rights the near-exclusive territory of the merry band of scholars at Crooked Timber -- to read the longish short story "Perfection."  I have been enjoying everything I have read in this collection so far, but "Perfection" may be enough in itself to justify the book.  It is, to give away only a little, the story of Roger Reveshze, an Hasidic teenager, survivor of the Holocaust, witness to his parents' destruction (escaping death himself only because he was so small at the time), living in Brooklyn in 1956 and called to rescue the New York Yankees, "the House of Ruth."  Various Yankees-related figures of the era -- Mantle, Berra, Stengel, broadcaster (and later beloved Morning Edition staple) Red Barber -- appear as needed.  It is a terrific baseball story, and also carries much the same freight of love of New York City, period detail, light comedy and underlying moral seriousness that Michael Chabon brought to the larger canvas of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  Here is Helprin's first paragraph, which reveals nothing and is far from being the best thing in the story, but which gives a hint of the flavor of the thing: 

Early in June of 1956, the summer in New York burst forth temperate and bright, the colors deep, the wind promising.  This was the beginning of the summer that was to see the culmination of a chain of events that had begun, like everything else, at the beginning of the world, but that had started in a practical sense in March of the previous year, when the Saromsker Rebbe opened the wrong drawer.

"Perfection" originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of Commentary magazine and can be accessed in the Commentary Digital Archive on a pay basis.  I recommend the entire collection, myself.

II.    The Golden Age of Wireless

Here in Los Angeles, our leading local public radio station is Santa Monica's KCRW.  One of the station's staples, also broadcast to a growing national audience, is "Bookworm," in which the quietly intense Michael Silverblatt spends half an hour interviewing an author.  Mark Helprin is scheduled to be Silverblatt's guest on February 24, with this program description*:

Mark Helprin’s critics—who mainly regard him as a political conservative and, therefore, a traitor to imaginative literature—have made him into a martyr.  Here, he fends off the slings and arrows to say what he believes a writer to be—and describes the values he wants his work to embrace.

[Emphasis added.]  The highlighted phrase -- which I take as a characterization of the unnamed "critics'" viewpoint, not necessarily one shared by Michael Silverblatt -- is remarkable, suggesting that only certain viewpoints can permissibly be expressed through "imaginative literature" or that imagination is an inherently non-conservative quality.  Examples of conservative writers dealing in imaginative fiction are legion, running from Jonathan Swift to J.R.R. Tolkien and onward; if you lump in libertarians with conservatives, as many do, you can throw in a substantial portion of working science fiction and fantasy writers (most definitely not including the aforementioned China Miéville, who is an ardent socialist). 

Helprin is a political conservative -- he is on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and can be simplistically categorized as an ardent hawk (here is his post-Inaugural piece for the Journal ["God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective."]) -- but it does not show through in any particularly glaring way in his fiction writing, unless you consider vivid description and characters who exhibit love, courage and loyalty to be intrinsically "conservative" traits.  In other words: Ayn Rand he isn't, in viewpoint or in using his fiction as a front for proselytizing on behalf of his socio-political philosophy.  I had already read the earlier story collections and two or three of the novels before I discovered Helprin's WSJ affiliation, and the first few times I read his opinion pieces it took some effort to persuade myself that the two "Mark Helprins" were one and the same.  His gifts as a writer of fiction are, in my opinion and putting any consideration of content to one side, vastly greater than his talents as an editorialist; I find his essays stylistically "clunky" in ways that he never allows himself in his novels and stories.  My personal bottom line: Helprin's politics should not be used as an excuse to avoid the pure pleasure of reading his fiction.  Literature, not litmus tests: that's the way to happiness.

All of which is a digression from my calling your attention to other interesting items that "Bookworm" has upcoming.  KCRW is in the thick of a pledge drive, so in its usual Thursday afternoon spot "Bookworm" will offer a different (slightly shortened) program locally than it will nationally.  Los Angeles listeners will be treated to a talk with Booker Prize winner (for Enduring Love, the only one of his books that I have read) Ian McEwan, who will be talking about his forthcoming novel, Saturday.  Meanwhile, the national audience will receive a full 30 minutes with the late Susan Sontag, taped in 1992 at the time of her novel (regularly mentioned here), The Volcano Lover.  Many, many more booktalks are accessible through the accumulated "Bookworm" archives.

*  "Bookworm" links in this post all lead to the page for the show/interview being referenced; after the broadcast date, each of those pages should include a Real Audio link allowing you to hear the interview in question.  The opening and closing credits of the program are amusing, by the way, as they feature Jiminy Cricket singing in praise of books, from the original Mickey Mouse Club.