Tonight I went to my first Spanish class at Idlewild on Nineteenth Street. 7:30 to 9 P.M.. When I signed up for this class in November, shortly after I came back from spending a few weeks in Barcelona, I was flush with the joy of recent travel, and intent on injecting some novelty, intellectual and otherwise, into my life. I had an idea that I might try to make it back to Spain at the end of this year, and if that happened, I’d like to be able to do more than buy a few peaches without tripping over my tongue, or wanting to revert to French, the only other foreign language I know. And if that never happened, I would at least be doing something to forestall dementia. But as the intervening weeks, growing colder and darker, put more and more distance between me and that trip—I dreamed that, didn’t I?—I started to wonder why I’d done such a thing. It seemed as unnecessary and out of character as signing up for ten colonics through Groupon. But when, after the fifteen of us had gathered in a circle in the back of the store, and the teacher welcomed us in Spanish, something in me quickened in response to hearing the language. Maybe it was just sound as souvenir, but some sleeping dog in me perked up. Something similar had happened back in Barcelona, while standing in the La Central bookstore, looking at all the books I wanted to read but could not, feeling a strange urgency to get the key that would unlock what lay between those covers, a strange feeling that this was a language I needed to know deeper. Read More
The documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters is a beautiful and contemplative look at Crewdson’s process, focusing on when he was working on Beneath the Roses, a multiyear project that brought film crews of sixty or so people to small towns in the Berkshires of Massachusetts to help produce his large-format photos. The film, a ten-years-in-the-making work directed by Ben Shapiro, is an intimate look inside Crewdson’s artistic process. Since that’s covered in the documentary, I wanted to talk to Crewdson about one of his big inspirations, the cinema. Crewdson invited me to his studio and home in the Berkshires, a former church hidden behind a fence, where we (along with another writer, Stu Sherman) had a free-ranging conversation starting with the movies and edging over into his work. We started, of course, with Mad Men, which Crewdson calls “the greatest work of sustained art in the past ten years, and I’d include any movie or book or art work, so that shows you what I think of it.”
When it comes to Mad Men, do you like the set design and period detail?
I think it’s perfect in so many different ways, but it’s so beautiful to look at, so exquisitely detailed and rendered. The light’s so beautiful and the decor all fits together like a complete, perfect set piece.
It’s funny that you love Mad Men so much. I have to admit that when I watch Breaking Bad—or even just seeing stills of characters, like of the wife, Skylar, on the bed—they’re very reminiscent to me of your work.
My pictures are very much influenced by movies, but it’s weird because now it seems like the opposite happens, and now it’s like the movies use my pictures as reference. It’s a dialogue or something. I guess it just happens.
All month I’ve found myself recommending Perry Anderson’s series in the London Review of Books on the birth of modern India. Anderson is hardly a well-kept secret; he is about as renowned as a Marxist historian can be. Still, his in-depth articles—on China, Russia, Italy, et cetera—are like nothing in any other magazine. Imagine the old Encyclopedia Britannica as written by the God of the Old Testament. He lays about him with a mighty hand. —Lorin Stein
I like biographies for beach reading. (And by beach I mean the roof of my building.) Lisa Cohen’s All We Know—a joint study of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland, and a vivid portrait of between-the-wars bohemia—is just the thing: substantive, thoughtful, and juicy enough that you’ll risk a burn to find out what happens next. —Sadie O. Stein
If you are an eccentric, you will be thrilled to know that there is a club for you. It’s called, rather plainly, The Eccentrics Club. It’s based in London, was founded in 1781, and still exists. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t—it’s patronized by the Duke of Edinburgh, no less. The club’s stated mission is to promote, presumably just among eccentrics, “Good Fellowship” and “True Sociality”—“virtues which,” according to the club’s rules and regulations of 1808, “are now getting rare and eccentric; but which it is the wish and intent of this Society to cherish within their narrow circle to the utmost of their power … in the occasional enjoyment of ‘the feast of reason and the flow of soul.’” If you aren’t quite sure whether or not you qualify, do not fret, as the Society has a useful page to help you diagnose yourself. If you discover that you are in fact an eccentric, don’t get too excited: admission to the club is by interview only. —Arthur Holland Michel
Searching for Sugar Man—the story of Detroit cult singer-songwriter Rodriguez and his unlikely second act—is a solid, pleasurable documentary that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys crying alone at movies (I do). But even if you don’t catch it, check out the sound track: composed entirely of the subject’s own music, it makes a strong case for his place in the early-seventies canon. I’ve had Cold Fact on repeat for the past week. —S.O.S.
Sunday. Father’s Day. It was a lovely day, high sixties and sunshine, the last spring wind before summer stills the air and AC units plug windows, dripping dirty water on my sunburnt, hairless head. I was at the King Suite at the hotel 6 Columbus on Fifty-eighth street, a comfortable and accommodating establishment decorated in a 1960s mod style. Zebra-patterned throw pillows and four-hundred-thread-count sheets. A Guy Bourdin print was hanging over my bed. The bathroom mirror was circular, haloed by a curved fluorescent bulb that adds a golden aura to my cheeks and shiny head. The bathroom walls were blue tile. The curtains looked like textile cutouts from old issues of Vogue. The bed was large and soft and sexy. The ceiling high and airy. I was here to channel you, Don, to gauge the world through your big brown eyes. I wanted to feel the tidal pull of a room without a past, a bed whose every morning comes complete with clean, new sheets.
That day, through my window, I could see the Columbus Circle fountain, and Central Park beyond it: fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, fathers and dogs and wives and husbands, all out for postbrunch strolls. Families skipped light-footed in the sunlight, smiling and carrying shopping bags. The fathers had received gifts that morning: new ties, new socks, new oversized grill spatulas. Their bellies were swollen with bacon and Bloody Marys. Their faces flushed rosy. They wore sunglasses and stupid shorts; their shirts were thickly pinstriped, overly pocketed, Hawaiian even; all varieties of dad-dork style. These are the new American men: nonsmokers, light drinkers, carb cutters. Boy did they look happy. It was their day.
And where were you that morning, Don? Last we saw, you’d dressed your wife as a Disney princess, and then abandoned her on set so you could drink up at the bar. Megan was lovely, G-ratedly grinning for the cameras. It made you sick to your stomach, didn’t it, the way she gave up her ideals for a little taste of fame? There was something unabashedly babyish in her joy, like a little girl playing dress up. And you were her jaded daddy. You’re the blunt realist who’s seen the gears that turn the wheels of capitalism. You work those gears, pull the levers, propagate the charade. But to buy into it like Megan did? To hang her star on an ad for Butler shoes?
I feel like Eminem when he wrote to that dude Stan, recommending psychiatric treatment before realizing that Stan had already driven his car off a bridge, pregnant girlfriend tied up in the trunk. Or like the guy in that Phil Collins song “In the Air Tonight” who could have saved that other guy from drowning, but didn’t. Or like Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina, who was so busy partying with socialites, he didn’t realize his girlfriend was depressed and fucked up on morphine until it was too late.
[Spoiler alert! -Ed.]
Just wanted to check in, as I can’t help but feel slightly responsible for your actions in this week’s episode. I thought these letters from the future would do you all some good, providing twenty/twenty hindsight into your blindingly Day-Glo historical moment. But Doc Brown was right: messing with the past can alter the future in unexpected ways. Matthew Weiner and company thrive on this very notion; they’ve remodeled the mid-sixties into an era in which cigarettes don’t cause cancer, and the advertising industry is the pinnacle of glamour, filled with beautiful people in beautiful clothes making eyes at each other across rooms then retreating into bedrooms with beautiful bed frames for bouts of steamy congress in which panties always match the bra, and a woman can achieve orgasm just by inhaling Don’s smoky musk.
No surprise, then, that here in 2012 we’ve gone gaga over sixties style, sporting skinny ties and summer plaids, puffing cigs like we’re unaware of science, and ruining perfectly healthy marriages because, according to Pete Campbell’s friend from the commuter train, variety is the spice of life. We should probably all reread Richard Yates. Maybe it was wrong to tease you with a glimpse into third-wave feminism when the second wave is only now breaking against your shoreline.
But don’t think I’m judging you. Read More