November 15, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“Some of the first books I read or that my father read to me were translations, although I didn’t know they were translations because in those days the translator often wouldn’t even have his name on the book. I remember a French book, Sans famille, called in English Nobody’s Boy, which my father read to me when I was four or five. It was about a little orphan boy who runs away from the orphanage and goes off with an Italian organ-grinder who has a pet monkey and a lot of stray dogs, all of them with names. Since I came from a large family with all these older brothers and sisters, the dream of my life was to be an orphan, so I thought, Oh, this lucky kid. He’s an orphan, and he gets to wander the roads with all these animals and this nice Italian. I thought it a great happy book, but you were supposed to be dissolved in tears from beginning to end. My father understood perfectly.” —William Weaver, the Art of Translation No. 3
October 28, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
How do you say good-bye to Lou Reed?
For many of us, he’s been unavoidable, not just as a musical touchstone but as a cranky éminence grise: walking his dog, sitting in cafés with Laurie Anderson and berating waitresses (“Oh, c’mon, you know how I like my eggs.” “No, sir.” “The fuck you don’t!”), turning up at tribute concerts at St Ann’s, Tibet House, and Town Hall.
For a while, he and Laurie Anderson could be found at Les Deux Gamins, on Waverly Place, every morning around nine A.M. After Laurie left, Lou Reed would continue reading the New York Times, then look around the café to see if there was anyone who hadn’t noticed him. If there was, he’d slowly get up, saunter over, and tap them on the shoulder. “Hey. Hey listen. You got a cigarette?” The casual no, no, sorry was then followed by a visible HOLY SHIT! IT’S LOU REED, as he leaned over them with solicitous menace. If they looked sufficiently disturbed, he’d whisper, “Could you go get me one?” They sometimes did.
The tenderness and mercy and wonder of songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and “I’m Set Free” wasn’t always easy to find in the geezer who seemed to have more ways of saying fuck you to well-wishers and critics alike than Eskimos have words for snow. But if you could get him talking about Doc Pomus or Dion or Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the light of the true believer would shine in his eyes.
At Jenni Muldaur’s birthday party last year, she had an old Victrola set up, and I brought a box of forty-fives—the Bobby Fuller Four, the Drifters, the Hombres, the Shirelles, Nervous Norvus. Lou Reed started looking through them admiringly. He stopped when he got to the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ’Round the Roses,” holding it up like you would the Holy Grail.
“I love that record,” I murmured.
He tilted his head and gave me a look equal parts who the fuck asked you? and me too, me too!
September 12, 2013 | by Tony Scherman
The author Albert Murray died, on August 18, after a long illness. He was ninety-seven. Among Murray’s eleven books are the essay collection The Omni-Americans, which infuriated the African-American intellectual establishment in the early seventies; the novel Train Whistle Guitar, likely headed for a classic’s long life; the essay South to a Very Old Place, not just as funny as anything written in last century’s second half, but a searching investigation of black-and-white relations; the jazz treatise Stomping the Blues, another probable classic and a life-changing text for musicians, and The Hero and The Blues, Murray’s bracing exposition of his aesthetic.
In the mid to late nineties, writer Tony Scherman spent a good deal of time with Murray; these memories are drawn from that period.
In 1996, having read most of Albert Murray’s published books, I decided to write about him. We spoke once or twice to arrange a meeting, and I drove in from the country to the middle-class Harlem apartment complex at 132nd Street and Lenox Avenue where Murray, his wife Mozelle, and their daughter, Michelle, had lived since 1962.
Ringing the doorbell, I got no response. Finally the chain was unfastened, the door swung open, and it was plain right away why it had taken Albert Murray so long to get to the door; he could hardly walk. Two spinal operations and severe arthritis had cruelly reduced his mobility. He inched along, entirely focused on the task at hand: reaching his destination. His condition must have been maddening, but in my three-hour visit, he never complained. Yet when his speech grew querulous and his patience short, I’m sure that such behavior came not merely from impatience with interlocutors who didn’t think as speedily as he did, but from being in permanent pain. I came to see his big, handsome grin as something designed to show that bad luck and trouble would never set him back. Read More »
September 11, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
More and more, I find that some of the people I remember best were bit players in my life, ones who were on the edge of my consciousness but who registered more deeply than I knew at the time: the pretty singer who lived on the seventh floor and who hummed to herself in the elevator; the mournful-looking barber who stood in the window of Paul Mole’s Barbershop on Lexington, watching the schoolboys pass; the club owner who laughed whenever he saw me coming and would wave me in to see Tim Hardin without paying; the West Indian doorman of the building on east Sixteenth Street who liked to work the night shift with no shoes on. I barely remember the guy I traveled with the summer I hitchhiked cross country, but I remember the fifteen-year-old runaway I met. Gay Monday Sad Tuesday was her name. It looked like there’d been very few Mondays in her life. I thought about this a few days ago when I learned of Mayer Vishner’s death by his own hand in late August.
Mayer wasn’t a close friend, but our paths crossed repeatedly over the last thirty years, first when he was a late night radio host on WBAI and booked music at Dr Generosity’s (an Upper East Side dive remembered for free peanuts, cheap beer, and an over-zealous sound system), later when he helped run the Saint Marks Bookshop when it was still on Saint Marks Place; more recently as someone who was constantly wandering the upper reaches of MacDougal Street with his laundry or his cat. Sometimes we’d stop for coffee at one of the overpriced cafes near Washington Square. Mostly we’d talk about doing that and figured we’d do it next week, after the laundry was done, after the cat was fed.
All the time I knew him, Mayer looked very much like what he was: an anarchist with a wicked sense of humor and the best pot on the block. He wanted to blow up Wall Street, but he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s cat in the process.
A prankster, albeit a cranky one, he ran with a crowd of full time troublemakers: Abbie Hoffman, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, Phil Ochs, among a few others committed to revolution, psychedelic and otherwise, and committed to the possibility of peace and love. But it’s hard to wage a revolution in an age of property and complacency; Ochs and Hoffman both gave in to doubt and depression and took their own lives. Last week, Mayer followed suit.
A natural contrarian, he distrusted any and all forms of authority and was deeply bewildered by the news that I’d become a father and was raising a son. He simply couldn’t imagine telling anyone what to do. “It’s not like that,” I tried to explain. “The moment they can talk, they start telling YOU what to do.”
He wasn’t entirely convinced, but he agreed to rethink his position.
A shame. He would’ve made a kind and wonderful parent.
September 3, 2013 | by Jeff Dolven and Lorin Stein
During his five-decade career as a poet, the late John Hollander was a frequent contributor to The Paris Review. He was also renowned as a scholar and critic. Here he is remembered by two former students, our contributor Jeff Dolven and editor Lorin Stein.
John Hollander once told me a story that served him as a kind of ur-scene of explanation. As a boy he was sitting with his father at the breakfast table, and he asked, apropos of nothing he could later recall, “Dad, what is a molecule?” By way of an answer, his father reached into the sugar bowl and lifted out a cube.
“So what is this?” his father asked.
“Sugar,” said John. Next his father set the cube down on the table and rapped it sharply with a teaspoon, so that it broke into coarse crystals.
“And what is it now?”
“Sugar,” said John again.
“Well then,” said his father, “a molecule is the smallest piece of sugar you can get that’s still sugar.” The grown-up John delivered the last sentence like a punchline, laughing and widening his eyes and spreading his hands. Read More »