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
Come listen to John Jeremiah Sullivan read tonight at an event hosted by The New York Times Magazine! We can’t promise James Wood on bongos, but there may be music from Michael Jackson, Axl Rose, Bunny Wailer, or Geeshie Wiley, and there’s sure to be lots of good bourbon-drinking.
John Jeremiah Sullivan
At The Half King
Tonight: Wednesday, December 14
505 West 23rd St
New York, NY 10011
Readers of the Daily are familiar with the musical musings of our Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan. This afternoon, Sullivan spoke with John Schaefer on NPR’s Soundcheck about Michael Jackson’s genealogy, Christian rock, deciphering Geeshie Wiley lyrics with John Fahey—and finding historical depths in everything, even the impossibly shallow. Listen to their conversation here.
Sullivan also reads tonight at 8 P.M. at BAM.
I spent probably an hour paging through Martin Hopkinson’s Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates at the Strand last week, then went back and bought it. If there’s such a thing as bookplate porn, this gorgeous book is the ultimate. —Sadie Stein
I’ve been reading Robert Gottlieb’s Lives and Letters, a wonderful collection of essays on some of the century’s most illustrious figures. The portraits of the women, like Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, and Margot Fonteyn, particularly sparkle. But my favorite is the short piece on Diana Vreeland, who once said, “Peanut butter is the greatest invention since Christianity,” about her daily lunch: a whole-wheat PB-and-marmalade sandwich, with a glass of scotch. —Ali Pechman
Adam Zagajewski’s Unseen Hand came out in June, and I wish I hadn’t waited until now to read it. —Clare Fentress
Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf’s final novel, was edited by Leonard and published posthumously with his revisions. Cambridge’s new annotated edition not only restores the original draft, but also provides a rich halo of context. –Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
While a staff pick praising the work of the Review’s Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan feels a lot like Lemmy wearing a Motorhead shirt, Sullivan’s forthcoming collection of essays, Pulphead, is hands down the best thing I’ve read all year. Sullivan’s voice is straight out of bar stories, and his subjects—from Christian rockers at Creationfest to the Indiana origins of Axl Rose to proto–Tea Party protesters—line up for comic exploitation like so many fish in a barrel. But at the moment when lesser writers would pull the trigger and snigger, Sullivan steps back and asks you to understand the people he encounters on their own terms. Which is not to say the essays won’t have you laughing louder than public decency allows—because they will. But it’s their rare combination of bracing intelligence and empathy that stays with you. —Peter Conroy
My most anticipated summer film: Don’t Fear the Internet. Next step is getting cast in the sequel to the Facebook movie (a girl can dream). —Mackenzie Beer
After discovering that Netflix is streaming a handful of films by Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To, I went straight for The Heroic Trio, a kinetic superheroine flick starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung. Yes, it is that good. —Nicole Rudick
If you have a moment, try Mavis Gallant’s Granta essay on “Memory and Invention.” –S.S.
Passive-aggressive little notepad, you remind me of my fifth-grade teacher. Other than that, I have no theories as to what’s going on here. Disturbing and fun! —A.P.
Five years ago GQ assigned me to write about Axl Rose, who was mounting a “final comeback” with his Chinese Democracy, release of which had already been postponed by more than a decade. The album title was meant as a punch line. Q: When will Guns N’ Roses come out with something new? A: When there’s democracy in China. That stage in the singer’s career turned out to be neither a comeback (few people liked the record, and nobody played it much) nor final—a minute ago I ran his name through Google News and found he’s hard at work being Axl, showing up hours late to shows, getting pelted with bottles, making bizarre requests on tour riders (black napkins, Grolsch beer, honey in “bear-shaped tubes”).
The story was, by turns, fun and frustrating to report. I followed the band around Europe for a while, feeding cigarettes to the band members’ model girlfriends and failing to secure face time with “Ax.” His manager back then was a real specimen. Before one show, in Spain, I sat at a coffee table with this person, struggling to explain how it might help justify the seven thousand words we were about to expend on the band if the front man would speak to me for a few seconds. I think at one point I actually said, “Give me thirty seconds.” Axl had by then become, as he remains, sealed off from the press to an almost Michael Jackson level. The manager kept pausing to answer cellphone calls from Elton John. “Well, that’s because they don’t know Tea for the Tillerman,” he said into the phone at one point, referring to the classic Cat Stevens record. What were he and Sir Elton talking about? I still wonder sometimes. He told me that, if we would agree to put Axl on the cover, “maybe we could talk about an interview.” I couldn’t figure out how to say, in any non-offensive way, that GQ covers are typically reserved for extremely conventionally good-looking people in the midst of a career peak, such as Axl once was but hadn’t been in a very long time. I let it drop. Axl broke with the manager soon thereafter, passive-aggressively blaming him in an “Open Letter to Fans” for the failure of Chinese Democracy. Thinking back, I feel sympathy with the manager. What I read as superciliousness was probably professional trauma. He was the devil’s own PR man.
The most memorable trip I made in connection with Axl was to Lafayette, Indiana, where he grew up. I drove there hoping to track down his oldest childhood friend, a man named Dana, who’d never been interviewed. Dana turned out not surprisingly to be a very reclusive person, and although he did eventually meet with me, it took several days to coax him out. I spent them inventing little research projects. I visited the public library and found old yearbook pictures of Axl. I photographed the church where he sang in the choir. And lastly, on the morning of the day when Dana finally called me back, I went to the local police station. Did they have any records on Axl? No, they didn’t think so. Really? That seemed impossible. Would they mind checking under his many Indiana names? William Bruce Rose Jr.? William Bruce Bailey? Bill Bailey? W. Rose? A friendly lady officer agreed to help me out. Read More