- In a 1914 publicity stunt—back when poets were free to partake of the great PR machine—Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, and four others gathered at a luncheon to eat a peacock. “The papers were alerted, and news of the meal spread far and wide, from the London Times to the Boston Evening Transcript.”
- Karl Ove Knausgaard, your humble correspondent, is traveling across America for The New York Times Magazine: “The editor proposed that I travel to Newfoundland and visit the place where the Vikings had settled, then rent a car and drive south, into the U.S. and westward to Minnesota, where a large majority of Norwegian-American immigrants had settled, and then write about it. ‘A tongue-in-cheek Tocqueville,’ as he put it.”
- Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Wagner: the Romantic legacy of these composers lives on … in first-person shooters. “The grandiloquent sounds of the nineteenth century are still alive in the new millennium … but only when someone is getting bludgeoned, bloodied, blown-up, or decimated with automatic weapons … Even heavy metal isn’t heavy enough for most composers seeking to juice up their combat scenes. We need something with a little more sturm und drang.
- Starting to write a book is hard. Then there’s the whole middle part—also difficult. And finally there’s the end, which is no cakewalk, either. Can we learn anything from the last sentences in famous novels? “For writers, the last sentences aren’t about reader responsibility at all—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop worrying about what comes next, because nothing does. No more keeping the reader interested, no more wariness over giving the game away. This is the game.”
- On rereading Eileen Simpson’s Poets in Their Youth, a 1982 memoir of her turbulent marriage to John Berryman: “For a long time I could not shake the belief that these poets, all of them dead before their time from madness, self-neglect or suicide, paid a noble price for their pursuit of truth and beauty … I don’t think that anymore. Now, it’s Simpson herself who seems to be the hero … Simpson, who became a psychotherapist and went on to publish several books, writes with an almost uncanny clemency and a kind of cerulean objectivity. Where there might have been bitterness there is, instead, compassion.”
- Should the National Book Award rethink its longlist? “It’s hard to stir interest in the same subject twice, which is what the National Book Award is trying to do.”
- Down with adverbs! “Only two classes of people, it seems, stick up for the adverb: young adults and members of the bar.”
- At auction next month: Giambattista Morandi’s 1737 Alphabeta. (A bargain at two- to three-thousand euros.)
- In the forties, America believed it had at last conquered all airborne illnesses. The secret: germicidal lamps, which at the time were a source of extraordinary optimism. “We can look forward confidently to the fact that within another few years at most, control of airborne infection will be on its way to join control of infections through water, milk and solid foods. Another great frontier will have surrendered to man’s onward march.”
- The Italian novelist Domenico Starnone is fed up with people who think he’s the elusive Elena Ferrante: “Ferrante is not the only one to have written about abandoned women, you know … Let’s say I am Ferrante, or that my wife is. Explain to me one thing: given that it is so rare, in this mud puddle that is Italy, to have international reach, why would we not make the most of it? What would induce us to remain in the shadow?”
- Beethoven gets real: “Everything I do apart from music is badly done and stupid,” he once wrote.
- Discovered on the walls of Angkor Wat: more than two hundred hidden paintings.
- An intimate new biography of Beethoven: “Suchet also presents ongoing reports regarding Beethoven’s gastrointestinal issues, which run through the book like an idée fixe. These begin with a description of the stomach pains and diarrhea that Beethoven experienced before his first concert at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1794, followed by periodic updates on his irritable bowel syndrome, bad digestion, irregularity, acute constipation, colic, distended stomach, and more … one begins to wonder whether the book might have been more aptly titled The Inner Beethoven.”
- On September 18, 1970, John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. They were all completely sozzled.
- An attempt to categorize poetry in translation: “It seems impossible and so it is. But that is why we try, and every time we try we establish a small area of possibility. In fact if we are doing it well we are doing more than that: we are establishing an area of possibility that is itself a poem and the world is never poorer for a new good poem, which is like a new piece of knowledge of the world.”
- Today in protein news: in praise of alpaca meat.
No one under the age of fifty really listens to Frank Sinatra anymore. Like anything else, there may be exceptions to this fact, but overall it’s true. Frank Sinatra is a legendary artist whose work will always be enjoyed and referred to. However, his era of direct relevancy is obviously long gone, and his era of anecdotal relevancy is starting to fade.
We associate Frank Sinatra with a bygone era of America, a time of guys and dolls, a time when people would swing and dance and when the lounge singer was king. Sinatra’s unique talent was maintaining this vision even as it eroded away over time—to make you feel old-fashioned feelings in a modern era. Sinatra’s heyday was from the late forties to the late fifties, yet he recorded “New York, New York” in 1977. And “My Way” makes you feel like a proud man looking over the skyline of post–World War II Manhattan, even in 2013.
Still, Sinatra’s most overlooked achievement is perhaps the one album he made that did not feel as though it was evoking the era he loved or knew the most. In 1969, the same year that Frank Sinatra recorded “My Way,” he released an album called Watertown. Chances are, even some of the biggest Sinatra fans—like my grandparents and great aunts and uncles—have forgotten about Watertown. But Watertown is Frank Sinatra’s best album and his most enduring contribution to American culture. Read More
It’s late August in Brooklyn, and two men are trying to figure out how to hoist a piano up to a third-floor window and then release it so that it smashes onto the sidewalk below. “I think the major issue is just balancing out its weight,” says one. They push open a door to the roof to explore their options. A security alarm goes off; they’re undeterred.
The two men, director Chris McElroen and “professional problem solver” Dan Baker, are part of the team behind Chaos Manor, a multimedia performance inspired by the unconventional life of W. Eugene Smith. In the 1950s, Smith, celebrated for his front-line World War II photography, found himself increasingly at odds with his Life magazine editors. He quit his job and, several years later, embarking on what some might call a midlife crisis and others a visionary project, left his wife and children and moved into a dilapidated Manhattan building frequented not only by “derelicts, hustlers, and thieves” (in the words of his biographer) but also by some of the “biggest names in jazz.” From his fourth-floor apartment, Smith spent the next eight years relentlessly documenting the sights and sounds around him. His forty thousand photographs and 4,500 hours of audio reels captured hundreds of musicians, including legends such as Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and Roy Haynes. Read More
It’s often said that a loss hurts more than a victory can heal. As a rule, it might be true, but it didn’t seem so on Monday night. After fifty-six years of waiting, the Giants finally won the World Series, and San Francisco set itself on fire.
Lee pitched a hell of a game. Hats off to him—he is the beau ideal, I’ll give you that. But give me the weird one; give me Tim Lincecum. At rest, slouchy and loose, wearing a grimy, graying cap, he looks like a teenager cupping a spliff in his hand. But then he begins. The torque—the spring—the splits—the snap! His coaches call his motion “flow.” He did not dominate the Rangers so much as confound them. Mighty hitters were reduced to awkward little jerks of the bat. Remarkably, he may not even be the Giants’ best pitcher—Matt Cain threw more than twenty-one scoreless innings in the postseason—but he’s the best to watch.
I nearly missed it all. As it happens, when the game began, I was at Lincoln Center. The tickets had been purchased long ago, back when it looked like the Giants might not even make the playoffs. The Dresden Staatskappelle was playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. I think it was nice, but I wasn’t really playing attention. Instead, I was sitting in the back row, pressing refresh on my Blackberry. One scoreless inning, two… Ah! Perfido was next on the program. Ah, Perfido?! I bolted and headed to the nearest bar.
I’m very fond of these Giants. They came upon me by surprise. Then again, not totally. The Giants were my dad’s team growing up. He used to tell me about Willie Mays, who played with power and with passion and who smiled. He had a pigeon-toed gait, bowlegs, long arms, and a barrel chest. A strange specimen. A Giant!
It’s been a pleasure watching the World Series with you, Will. Better luck next year!