February 25, 2005
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 Berryman. Google 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.