The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘recordings’

Jean Rhys Speaks

August 24, 2016 | by

Jean Rhys was born in Dominica, an island among the British West Indies. Though she spent most of her life in England, her time in the Caribbean left her with a distinctive, lilting accent. It sounds beautiful to me, but in 1909 it got her kicked out of the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she was supposedly “slow to improve” it. In this minute-long clip she dispenses some dour wisdom about writing and happiness. (The rumors are true: they’re inversely related.) If you don’t have a pair of headphones handy—or if you’re just paralyzed with fear at the thought of hearing a deceased person’s voice—here’s a rough transcript: Read More »

No More Good Time in the World For Me

August 10, 2016 | by

The “unlove and unfreedom” in Johnnie B. Smith’s work songs.

All photos: Bruce Jackson.

All photos by Bruce Jackson, brucejacksonphotography.us.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature.

During the thirteen years he spent jailed for murder on a Texas prison farm, Johnnie B. Smith sang work songs. In 1964, the ethnomusicologist Bruce Jackson met Smith during a trip through the state prison system to document the dwindling number of older, black prisoners who still knew the sorts of songs Smith led. He taped Smith’s renditions of a handful of standards: “Drop ’Em Down Together,” “Sure Make a Man Feel Bad,” “Poor Boy.” But Smith, Jackson soon learned, also sang songs of his own writing, stranger and more private than the ones he’d heard passed down.

These songs share a structure and melody, but they allow for a nearly limitless range of embellishments and improvisations. Their stanzas, for the most part, have four lines each—a single couplet sung in two variations. Their melody, which Smith adjusts verse by verse and song by song, is more difficult to describe. Its tempo accelerates and slows downs unexpectedly; its volume swells and falls; it changes gears rattlingly; it’s marked by disquieting pockets of silence. The shortest of these songs is over six minutes long; the longest, more than twenty-three. 

At the time Jackson conducted his fieldwork, Ramsey—where Smith was held—was one of fourteen prisons in the Texas Correctional System. It comprised a sprawling farm property produced by combining five former plantations. Inmates felled trees, picked cotton, and worked the fields; the resulting products were either used within the prison or sold to cover the cost of housing the prisoners themselves. (As late as the early 1960s, the work teams were entirely segregated.) Ramsey’s inmates were, in effect, funding their own imprisonment, and for many decades black prisoners did so under conditions not much different from those of chattel slavery. The “riders” and “captains” Smith addresses across his songs were horse-mounted bosses whose brutality toward the work crews was widely known and feared. Read More »

Greenwich Village, 1971

May 12, 2016 | by

Djuna Barnes.

Although she died in 1982, at the age of ninety, Djuna Barnes seems to have recorded her voice on only a few occasions. The tape below was made in her Patchin Place home in 1971. Barnes is best known for Nightwood, her modernist classic, but she had a long and thriving career as a journalist and in the avant-garde literary scene. Her body of work, including The Book of Repulsive Women, Ryder, and The Ladies Almanack, spans aestheticism, Dada, and high modernism. Her books are deep, often challenging, and crucial. Read More »

Lord of the Wireless

April 28, 2016 | by

One of the many treasures preserved in the British Library’s audio archive is this vintage lesson in “English Conversation.” As a document of instruction, it’s interesting enough. But it also bears the distinction of being an early recording of J. R. R. Tolkien. Read More »

“The Work Is Full of Ghosts”: An Interview with Pat Barker

April 8, 2016 | by

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

This week we’ve debuted four new recordings from the series. Today, the last of the bunch: Pat Barker, author of the Regeneration Trilogy, who spoke with Michael Gorra on April 16, 2001. This interview was never adapted for the Review’s Writers at Work series, so what you hear has been essentially buried for the past fifteen years. From the start, Barker discusses why she disdains being considered a “gritty, working-class” writer because of her hailing from Northern England, and how fiction can help readers face “the past that’s not even past”: Read More »

“Consuming All the Crystals”: An Interview with Norman Mailer

April 7, 2016 | by

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

This week we’re debuting four new recordings from the series. Today, listen to Norman Mailer, who talked with George Plimpton on May 11, 1998. Though Mailer has been interviewed twice for the magazine—first in 1964 and later in 2007—this is one of the rare 92Y conversations that never made it to print, making it all the more interesting. Mailer talked about chair preference (“I like a hard chair when I write. Because I fall asleep in a soft one”), casting Plimpton in a movie, and why he didn’t write about his childhood: Read More »