The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music’

What Are Songs For

March 20, 2015 | by

Willard Cummings, Barracks Concert (detail), ca. 1942.

This was not quite what I’d expected.

I’d come to the psych wing of Butler Hospital, in Providence, Rhode Island, to present a music seminar or, more properly, a sing-along, as part of a community service requirement for my college. This was in the late seventies. I was in a brightly lit dining hall that smelled of tobacco and medicine. There were twenty-five or thirty folding chairs but only thirteen or fourteen patients, all of them sad and doughy, middle aged or older. I sat facing them on a gray wooden stool and looked out at the assembled not-quite crowd. They looked like retired firemen, metalworkers, or lunch ladies; men with mustaches, pensions, and bad habits; women with secrets; people who rode the bus, who stood in line and then stood in the same line again. I’d read The Bell Jar, some Randall Jarrell, and I had a vaguely romantic, if ill-defined, sense of life on the other side of what passes for sanity. But this was not a good advertisement for crazy. Read More »

Bolaño Hits the Powerball Jackpot, and Other News

March 17, 2015 | by

Illustration by Hache Holguin.

Illustration by Hache Holguin

  • Chicago’s Goodman Theater is mounting a five-hour adaptation of Bolaño’s 2666. The production is underwritten by a grant from “an actor and stage manager turned Episcopal monk who pledged last year to give away much of his $153 million Powerball jackpot” to support the arts.
  • Are you tired of suffering through novels rife with profanity and cussing? Try Clean Reader, “the only e-reader that gives you the power to hide swear words”—it’ll change bastard to jerk, damn to darn, and presumably render most David Mamet plays unreadable. And here’s a winning slice of the Clean Reader philosophy: “Will some authors be offended that some of their consumers use Clean Reader to pick out most of the profanity in their books? Perhaps. Should the reader feel bad about it? Nope. They’ve paid good money for the book, they can consume it how they want.”
  • For the literary critic F. R. Leavis—who was, by the time of his death in 1978, totally out of fashion—great books were judgments about life, and “when a great novel or poem is used to support some generalization about culture, the qualities which make it worth reading tend to be ignored.” Leavis abstained, dogmatically, from the pleasures of pop: “Leavis declined ‘intellectual slumming’ of any sort. If he got winded, he put Schubert on the gramophone or read a neglected classic.”
  • How music hijacks our sense of time: “In 2004, the Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring deemed Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie the most dangerous music to listen to while driving. It is not so much the distraction, but the substitution of the frenzied tempo of the music that challenges drivers’ normal sense of speed—and the objective cue of the speedometer—and causes them to speed.”
  • On getting a start as a critic: “I drew on a quality—a resource, a tool—that is very dear to me, and, I’d venture to say, very dear to most people who write reviews: arrogance … There’s good arrogance, too, just like there’s good cholesterol: arrogance that bolsters you, that allows you to feel that your judgment might be sound, that it might—and this is when the reviewer’s mind starts warming up, starts humming—be even better than sound.”

Sublime, Subversive Sappho, and Other News

March 9, 2015 | by

Sappho_and_Erinna_in_a_Garden_at_Mytilene

Simeon Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, 1864.

  • How does contemporary literature derive meaning in the age of big data? “The rise of corporate capitalism, and the astonishing, almost exponential rate of its recent acceleration, I would argue, present a huge challenge to the writer, forcing him or her to rethink their whole role and function, to remap their entire universe. There is no space outside this matrix … Western literature may have more or less begun, in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, with a lengthy account of a signal crossing space, and of the beacon network through whose nodes the signal’s message (that of Troy’s downfall) is relayed—but now, two and a half millennia later, that network, that regime of signals, is so omnipresent and insistent, so undeniably inserted or installed at every stratum of existence, that the notion that we might need some person, some skilled craftsman, to compose any messages, let alone incisive or ‘epiphanic’ ones, seems hopelessly quaint.”
  • “KAYO IN THE LUNA PARK / FREEZE FRAME ON A DRUNK IN THE PIAZZA / THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE FOR PIGEONS / LUMBERING ON ASPHALT FACEDOWN / LEAPSICKNESS THE LAW OF LIQUIDS.” Basquiat’s notebooks “variously sound like song lyrics, slogans, mantras, fragments of scenarios, of ‘routines’ like those of William S. Burroughs.”
  • Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, said that he’s sometimes cut “unfortunate anti-Semitic things” from Shakespeare—should we censor plays like The Merchant of Venice?
  • Who was Sappho? Scholars and readers have been bickering about her for the better part of three thousand years: “about her work, her family life, and, above all, her sexuality. In antiquity, literary critics praised her ‘sublime’ style, even as comic playwrights ridiculed her allegedly loose morals. Legend has it that the early Church burned her works … Even today, experts can’t agree on whether the poems were performed in private or in public, by soloists or by choruses, or, indeed, whether they were meant to celebrate or to subvert the conventions of love and marriage.”
  • Part two of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel’s essay “on Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights.”

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A Dance to the Music of Time

March 6, 2015 | by

twist

Do the Twist!

Back when I was at my loneliest, I decided it would be a good idea to force myself to do all sorts of things alone. It’s not that I had an aversion to solitude: I’ve always enjoyed, for instance, dining solo, and I like watching movies without the pressure of other peoples’ reactions. But that was not enough; that was too easy. If it was not galling, if it didn’t make me feel acutely self-conscious, somehow it didn’t count. Accordingly, I started singing karaoke and riding carousels and seeing bands with grim determination. I won’t pretend this phase lasted long, but it was horrible while it did. I still can’t hear the song “Veni, Vidi, Vici” without a pang. 

The point was not to meet anyone; I shunned company. It was some combination of self-improvement and self-punishment. One June evening, I determined that I would go dancing. I didn’t want to—of course I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to do any of it. Read More »

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 »

A Beautiful Friendship

February 10, 2015 | by

In a nod to the recent Grammy Awards, allow me to pay tribute to a record that was nominated in 1963, in the category of Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording (Other than Comedy). That record is Enoch Arden, Op. 38, TrV. 181, performed by Glenn Gould and Claude Rains. 

Most people probably know Claude Rains best as the blithely unscrupulous Captain Renault in Casablanca, or maybe as the gleefully unscrupulous Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood, or even as a wholly unscrupulous senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. No question, Rains brought particular élan to a certain kind of villain—yet nowhere did he commit as fully to a performance as to Enoch Arden. Read More »