The Daily

Author Archive

The Universal Language of Mankind

February 27, 2015 | by

neildiamondserenade

Detail from the cover of Neil Diamond’s Serenade, 1974.

“Increasingly rare is the scholar who braves ridicule to justify the art of Longfellow’s popular rhymings,” the critic Kermit Vanderbilt once wrote. One scholar of the human heart who’s never been accused of fearing ridicule is Neil Diamond. And, on his 1974 album, Serenade, he paid tribute to the Fireside Poet with his hit song “Longfellow Serenade.”

In the liner notes to a later compilation, Diamond explains, “Occasionally I like using a particular lyrical style which, in this case, lent itself naturally to telling the story of a guy who woos his woman with poetry.” Read More »

The Junket-Eater

February 26, 2015 | by

junket

An illustration from Junket Is Nice.

New York Review Children’s Classics has reissued so many wonderful forgotten texts: novels and picture books and nursery rhymes and even the occasional cookbook. But for my money, none is weirder than Dorothy Kunhardt’s 1933 Junket Is Nice.

The prolific Kunhardt is best known for Pat the Bunny, but long before Daddy’s scratchy face was even a twinkle in her eye, the author was animating a far more sinister beard: that of the mysterious Junket-Eater. The plot of Junket Is Nice is as follows: a fat man with a Rasputin-like red beard sits at a table consuming a massive bowl of junket (“a delicious custard and a lovely dessert”). This intrigues everyone; the people come running to view the spectacle. Between gulps, the Junket-Eater challenges the populace to guess why, precisely, he is eating this enormous bowl of junket. They put forth ever-sillier hypotheses, to which the Junket-Eater screams, “WRONG!” for all the world like a red-bearded John McLaughlin. And then a little boy stands up and tells truth to power: “JUNKET IS NICE.” For which effort he receives SOMETHING NICERead More »

The Best Medicine

February 25, 2015 | by

Little_Sammy_Sneeze_1905-09-24

“He just simply couldn‘t stop it / He never knew when it was coming”: Winsor McCay‘s Little Sammy Sneeze, 1905.

If you’re not sick, you soon will be, and all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t save you. Everyone is a potential foe; no one wants to admit it. This morning on the subway, everyone was coughing and sneezing with varying degrees of discretion. The only people who seemed at all comfortable were two Japanese tourists wearing paper surgical masks. Well, maybe also the old man with a roll of toilet paper hanging around his neck on a loop of string. I envied all of them. 

All you can do is read Mark Twain. He wrote “How to Cure a Cold” for the Golden Era shortly after arriving in San Francisco in September 1863. Twain may never have actually said the famous thing about a San Francisco summer being the coldest winter he’d ever known, but the Bay Area fog was presumably enough to aggravate a lingering head cold—well, that or a nineteenth-century cross-country train ride. According to a series of humorous letters to the editor Twain sent in to the Call and the Enterprise around this period, he’d had the cold—and an ensuing bout of bronchitis—for at least a month when he wrote this piece chronicling various home remedies. Read More »

And Frank O’Hara As Himself

February 24, 2015 | by

Warning: going down the Frank O'Hara reading rabbit hole can swallow your day. It’s not that the poet’s reading of Lunch Poems is such a revelation, by which I mean different from what you might have imagined in your head. Rather, he reads them exactly the way you imagine them, or even read them aloud yourself: conversational, matter-of-fact, and incidentally just touched with Boston. He’s who you’d cast to play him. 

It’s gratifying when things look or sound or act as we picture them; it’s nice not to have the limits of our imagination challenged. Or maybe that’s what imagination is. Anyway, it doesn’t happen often, and if we are surprised nowadays, there’s nothing to blame but laziness. The last time I remember being pleasantly surprised by the synergy of a voice and a face was when I first saw a picture of Brian Lehrer.

We Have the Stars

February 23, 2015 | by

0715_Examined-Life2

The other side of the red carpet.

Over the past several years, a series of reports have said that fewer medical students than ever are choosing to go into psychiatry. There are factors the authors generally cite: the wider availability of prescription drugs, the decline of analysis, the range of alternative therapies. There are fewer stigmas about seeing a psychotherapist nowadays—and people who might once have visited a psychiatrist can now avail themselves of yoga, meditation, and other means of self-help.

Having watched the Oscars red-carpet coverage last night, I have yet another theory: E! From what I could gather, every member of the network’s team—Ross Mathews, Kelly Osbourne, special correspondent Khloé Kardashian, the inevitable Giuliana Rancic—is well versed in the jargon of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Doubly impressive as they are also all trained in fashion law enforcement.) They threw out self-diagnoses with the confidence of a 1960s Jungian analyst: Osbourne was “obsessed” with Marion Cotillard’s dotted Dior; Zoe Saldana’s post-baby body was “literally insane.” Countless things were, of course, crazy. I started to keep a tally on a paper napkin, but I couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing, so my results were compromised. (I already had a little hieroglyphic army, though.) Read More »

Making the Mummies Dance

February 20, 2015 | by

9864507985_bf67a1837e_k

Photo: Ralph Hockens, via Flickr

In honor of the Metropolitan Museum’s birthday, I’d like to suggest a fun weekend read: Thomas Hoving’s Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of ArtHoving, who died in 2009, became the Met’s director in 1967, and in his decade-long tenure he made the museum the world-class institution (and moneymaker) it is today, influencing the whole industry in the process. It was Hoving who created the Fifth Avenue plaza, the set of shallow steps that lead up to the museum’s doors, and the big banners that announce exhibitions. He added gift shops and splashy special exhibitions, courted donors like crazy, and expanded the physical space into Central Park—facing opposition all the way.

Hoving’s biggest innovation, though, was his approach to acquisition: rather than build up a deep, conservative collection of small pieces, he decided to splurge on big-ticket masterpieces from all over the world. As a result, the Met is now home to such pieces as Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja and the Temple of Dendur, and since his time, directors have followed this model. Read More »