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Posts Tagged ‘Alexis Zoumbas’

Poems as Animals, and Other News

September 25, 2014 | by

Roeland

Roeland Savery, Paysage de forêt avec animaux, seventeenth century.

  • I suppose I’ve read more dirty books than any man in New England, and I could make the biggest collection of erotica in this country if I wanted to.” An interview from 1930 with the censor for all of New England.
  • Christopher King, whose essay about Alexis Zoumbas appeared here on Monday, has a cameo in the Times Magazine: “King had invited me to visit him at his home in Faber, Virginia, where he keeps his own massive collection of 78 r.p.m. records, decaying discs that could only be experienced there, in person. He asked me what I might like to hear, and when I hesitated, he suggested Zoumbas … in Epirus, King said, these songs live and die in the looks and handshakes and embraces exchanged in their presence.”
  • When Freud, who died seventy-five years ago, was diagnosed with a very malignant form of cancer, he said he wanted to “disappear from the world with dignity,” which meant enlisting his doctor, Max Schur, to euthanize him. “All this was said without a trace of emotionality or self‑pity, and with full consciousness of reality.”
  • “Ted Hughes didn’t just write a lot of poems about animals—about pikes and jaguars and thought-foxes. He thought of poems as animals. ‘They have their own life,’ he wrote in an essay in 1967, ‘ … and nothing can be added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them.’ ”
  • An Arizona law against “revenge porn” has the state’s booksellers concerned: it “could be applied to any person who distributes or displays an image of nudity—including pictures that are newsworthy, artistic, educational, or historic—without the depicted person’s consent, even images for which consent was impossible to obtain or is difficult to prove … ‘There are books on my shelves right now that might be illegal to sell under this law. How am I supposed to know whether the subjects of these photos gave their permission?’ ”

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Talk About Beauties

September 22, 2014 | by

The lost recordings of a phantom musician.

Alexis_Zoumbas_Watercolor

Alexis Zoumbas, illustrated by R. Crumb.

The text printed on the label of the Greek 78-rpm disc translated as “Alexis Zoumbas ~ violin, accompanied by young men of the Epirot village of Politsani.” Its significance, and the meaning behind its very existence, stymied all speculation. No one had heard what was etched into these grooves since they’d been pressed—the Greek title for the song was untranslatable, and the recording itself was undocumented, hushed into being for no perceptible reason other than to come into my possession.

A week before this record arrived at my post office, I’d finally untethered myself from Zoumbas and his recorded legacy. After two years of focused inquiry, I’d finished work on Alexis Zoumbas: A Lament for Epirus, 1926-1928, a collection of his recordings. I’d let go. But any comfort I found in that was lost when this disc came into my life.

The 78 rpm record was the dominant medium of auricular permanence and commerce for more than fifty years. These fragile vessels of sound are coveted by collectors who, like myself, have developed a precise yet vaguely sexual phraseology to describe their physical condition. This Zoumbas disc, for instance, was in excellent condition, but with a tight hairline crack and a slightly enlarged spindle hole.

And what of its artist? Alexis Zoumbas was a phantom musician, a violinist. Born in the hinterlands of Epirus, Greece, in 1883, he immigrated to New York City in 1910 and died practically unknown in Detroit in 1946. The myth surrounding his life maintained that he’d fled Greece after murdering his landlord, and that he himself had been gunned down by a jealous lover. Drawn in by his music and intrigued by these stories, I become obsessed with his life. I traveled to his home village, Grammeno, to interview his two surviving nephews, Michalis and Napoleon Zoumbas, both retired musicians in their eighties. In Ioannina, the capitol of Epirus, I unearthed biographical documents; in the U.S. I found immigration and naturalization papers, as well as a draft card and a death certificate. This trail of evidence, dispersed across continents, corrected the narrative of this powerful musician’s life. He did not kill his landlord, and he wasn’t offed by a jilted lady friend—those were apocryphal stories created to elevate his musical status and cultural legacy. Zoumbas had entered into the elite mythical realm reserved for more well-known American prewar musicians like the Delta bluesman Skip James and the Appalachian banjoist “Dock” Boggs, majestic artists surrounded by imaginary rows of corpses, stacked like cordwood, coolly dispatched in their dreams and in the stories told about them. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Dallas, Dubai, Dublin

May 30, 2014 | by

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Three nights ago, the eminent record collector Chris King came by The Paris Review loft to launch his new LP, Alexis Zoumbas: A Lament for Epirus 1926–1928. King arrived with several armfuls of 78s, including Greco-Albanian dirges, a Ukrainian wedding dance, and rare sides by Richard “Rabbit” Brown, Elvie Thomas, Amédée Ardoin, and others who have achieved a measure of posthumous renown on King’s label, Angry Mom Records. As a house present, King gave the Review eighteen test pressings of the Carter Family (“from their most depressing period”), but the song I can’t get out of my head—thanks to our associate editor, Stephen Hiltner, who whistled the first few bars this morning—is “Chasin’ Rainbows,” by the Dallas String Band. Listen at your peril. —Lorin Stein

At a conference on Web design earlier this month, Maciej Ceglowski gave a talk called “The Internet with a Human Face,” a cogent look at the bizarre double lives the Internet forces us to live, the havoc it’s wrought on our concepts of privacy and identity. “A lot of what’s wrong with the Internet has to do with memory,” he says. “The Internet somehow contrives to remember too much and too little at the same time, and it maps poorly on our concepts of how memory should work.” Ceglowski runs pinboard.in, a bookmarking site. Unlike too many in the Silicon Valley set, he’s entirely free of techno-utopianism, but he’s not an alarmist or a fatalist, either. Rather, he’s refreshingly clear-eyed about the state of technology and how we can improve it. “I’m tired of being scared of what the Web is going to look like tomorrow,” he says. “I realized how long it had been since I looked at a new technology with wonder, instead of an automatic feeling of dread.” —Dan Piepenbring

Dubliners turns a hundred in June. “The Dead” is a masterpiece, of course, but I think the best of the stories is “Araby,” whose child protagonist experiences a kind of antirevelation—one of the moments of adolescent wretchedness we all pass through to get to adulthood. The whole experience is conveyed in the twenty-four perfect words of the final sentence: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” —Anna Heyward

When I think of the United Arab Emirates, I think of excess: artificial land shaped like a palm tree in Dubai, a certain Greenwich Village university cloned in downtown Abu Dhabi, and billion-dollar hotels. Reviewing Rowan Moore’s Why We Build in the New York Review of Books, Martin Filler writes, “In Dubai, the much-ballyhooed botanical symbol of a sheltering oasis gives way to a more mundane reality.” Filler describes his working relationship with the commanding architect Zaha Hadid, who has recently come under scrutiny for her lack of concern for the working conditions of the stadium she designed for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Are such conditions an architect’s responsibility? More important, have we allowed architecture to reach a point where it’s beyond moral consequence? —Justin Alvarez Read More »

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