- Marisol, the mononymic pop-art sculptor known for her carved wood figures and legendarily long silences, has died at eighty-five. “Marisol was a star of the New York art scene in the 1960s, breaking through with a 1962 solo show at the Stable Gallery that featured her bright, boxy sculptures of people representing a range of American life—everyone from the Kennedys to a dust-bowl farm family to the artist herself. The works, which combined painted and minimally carved wooden figures with found objects like shoes and doors, were funny but incisive, simple-looking but expertly made. They helped launch a career that included great artistic success and stardom, followed by decades of obscurity and, more recently, a revival and renewed appreciation of her exceptional work.” (Marisol designed a print for The Paris Review in 1965.)
- While we’re on sculptors: Liene Bosquê works in souvenirs. As Sarah Gerard recalls, “I first saw her work in the MoMA PS1 show ‘Greater New York,’ where she was showing a piece called Recollection, comprising dozens of hand-sized souvenirs from her travels, laid out on a plain, wooden table in a grid pattern resembling Manhattan’s. Though the souvenirs are found objects, she also uses them to make molds for other small sculptures in clay or plastic. With a background in architecture and an interest in history’s relationship to memory, Bosquê gives equal consideration to mathematical precision and sensory stimulation in her pieces—she has a rule that all of the souvenirs she uses in her work must be hand-sized, small enough to carry in her pocket as she picked them up on her travels over fifteen years. ‘Something that’s close to you,’ she explains.”
- Hold the phone, everybody. Paul Simon’s dancing again. He’s dancing and using cuss words. He’s limbering up. “In June,” Kelefa Sanneh writes, “Simon will release his thirteenth solo album, Stranger to Stranger, which is friskier and funnier than its recent predecessors—his most danceable music in decades. He meets his old nemesis near the end, in a song called “Cool Papa Bell,” named for the great Negro League center fielder. ‘Motherfucker,’ Simon mutters … Simon doesn’t apologize for his conviction that music should be easy on the ears. He has shown little interest in the grit and grunge that often signal rock-and-roll authenticity, and even now, at seventy-four, he sings in a voice that is boyish and clear. More than any other musician of his age and stature … he seems unburdened by the years, and by his own reputation. He has managed to become neither a wizened oracle nor an oldies act, and his best songs convey the appealing sensation of listening to a guy who is still trying to figure out what he’s doing … Not long after Simon’s fiftieth birthday, on an episode of MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head, Beavis referred to him as ‘that dude from Africa that used to be in the Beatles.’ ”
- You know that old saying, “It’s always the inveterate masturbators who try to censor the mail”? Well, that’s true. It’s true now, and it was true in the 1870s, when Anthony Comstock, an intrepid dry-goods salesman whose diaries reveal that he liked to jerk off a lot, began his crusade to suppress erotic materials through the postal service. “As Comstock told it, a fellow employee at the dry-goods store became afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease after developing an interest in erotic literature. Comstock went to the bookstore where his friend made his purchases, bought some illicit reading material, and returned with a police captain who arrested the dealer … In February 1873, Comstock asked [Morris] Jesup to send him to Washington to plead for a more stringent federal postal law. Jesup bought him a ticket and Comstock boarded the train with an assortment of offensive items from his trove … Republican leaders gave Comstock an enthusiastic welcome. [Schuyler] Colfax allowed Comstock to set up an exhibit of his unspeakable wares in his Senate office.”
- In closing, let us meditate, as we are wont to do, on the role of hedgehogs in Slavic folktales: “These adorable animals are predominantly found in Russian movies and fairy stories but they appear, also, in tales from neighboring countries. The Bulgarians have two particularly interesting accounts of the hedgehog, both of which point to his wisdom. In one tale, he advises God on how to use the sky to cover the earth, while in another he is the only animal not to attend the wedding of the Sun and the Moon. When asked for the reason, he says that he’s busy learning to eat rocks, for if the union takes place and the Sun has lots of little sun children, all the plants in the world will dry up … In the Soviet animated film Ezhik v tumane (Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975), Hedgehog is the bridge between the conscious and the dream world, evoking sympathy from the audience as they watch him lost in a thick mist, chasing after the mirage of a white horse in the clouds.”
Ever since I made the mistake of moving away from New York a couple of summers ago, I haven’t been able to spend more than a day or maybe two in the city or in Brooklyn without thinking of the dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Of course there isn’t any actual dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”—it’s a plan they abandon, the diamond-soled girl and the poor boy—but who would come back to the city a little bit older and sadder and think of the long nights on rooftops and not of the way that time collapses when you’re young in New York and in love? She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway. Time passes in that line from the start of the night to its aftermath, and the night itself is lost to memory in the way that everyday whimsy and arguments are, especially with wine, especially with pulls as relentless as those of the city’s excitement and of the comforts of new love and home. The doorway is a compromise between the worlds that put them off-balance—the world inside the doorway, and Broadway. She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway / By the bodegas and the lights of Upper Broadway.
Wealth: you couldn’t have a story like this of Upper Broadway and not describe the shames and trappings of wealth, the extravagant ludicrousness of having diamonds on the bottoms of your shoes, the thin pretense of trying to hide anything. She’s like a fable, the rich girl. You can hear her playing and taunting, fun and vain, eager to please and anxious to be reassured of what she knows is hardly true.
She said, “You’ve taken me for granted
Because I please you
Wearing these diamonds.”
If she pleases him, it’s not with the diamonds that he has to compensate for, and because she knows this but wishes that she didn’t, she says please in two syllables and diamonds in seven, as if to say how silly—how crazy—it would be to want her wealth, as at least part of him does.
He gets there in the end, wearing diamonds, but not without denial, resentment, and envy. It’s this self-consciousness, if not self-awareness, that rounds the song out into drama. She makes the sign of a teaspoon / He makes the sign of a wave. She plays at doing something, and he, drawn inward, just plays at reaching out to her, but his self-consciousness makes it just the sign of a wave, shy of what he feels is real communication. (Maybe his version of play is a pun like “sine wave,” which, being a pun, feels too embarrassing to say.)
She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
and puts on aftershave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes.
The rhyme with aftershave feels right, but it’s hard to say why. Our ineffable certainty is like that of the poor boy reacting to his anxiety by fixing himself up—likely because it feels right and not because he thinks the uncomfortable thought that he has to compensate. It’s the narrator who thinks that. His interpolation helps to set the characters off-balance with themselves and each other, excited and anxious, ready for the dancing that never happens.
* * *
After the twenty-fifth-anniversary celebration of Graceland last year, I worried that the album was dead. Read More
My husband hung up the wind chimes today. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, as my husband is a competent man and gravity is working as it should. It is a big deal, though, because these are big wind chimes, eight feet tall, made of steel tubes that gong when the wind catcher catches. They aren’t beautiful to look at, nor beautiful to hear, unless you really dig church, but they are beautiful to me, and now that they’re up, after two weeks at our new house, I know we are home. Again. This is our third move in five years.
I inherited the wind chimes from my folks. My parents had the sort of love affair that required them to marry each other twice. This would be more romantic if there wasn’t a divorce in the middle of that, say, or if they weren’t in the process of a second divorce when my mother died. Where some couples have trial separations, my parents had trial marriages. The family agrees that if these two were still alive today, they would be going for yet another round.
On the second try, they moved to Washington state, to a house overlooking the Hood Canal, a tiny, perfect part of the Puget Sound. For the nine months they managed to keep their romance together this time, the house was alive with the magic of second chances. Where the first album I ever remember hearing is Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits loud on Pops’s eight-track, the Washington trial marriage, fifteen years later, was perfectly timed with the release of Simon’s Graceland. The house rang with Pops’s voice singing along to you “You Can Call Me Al,” a pointed reference to a past love of Mom’s. This Al had died years before, but death brings no end to competition in marriages such as this, and Pops took more pleasure from it than he should have. Mom loved Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and would insist the song was about me, one of the prettier riddles I inherited. Read More
When I was twelve and my parents’ marriage was falling apart, my dad explained to me that he never actually wanted to get married and have kids. The only reason he did it, he said, was because it would make him less likely to be drafted into the Vietnam War. It never occurred to him that telling me this might hurt me. He was a successful musician and an esteemed jazz scholar, but he had virtually no ability to sense another person’s feelings. If he were growing up today, his diagnosis would have been obvious: Asperger’s syndrome.
I shrugged this moment off as another instance of my dad’s profound insensitivity, which was so much a part of my foundational world that it didn’t feel shocking. I knew he was clueless about the emotional bonds that connected us, but they were real to me anyway, and reacting would have been pointless. I had watched my mother pour her heart out to him, and he never once heard her. She could never make him understand how the things he did affected her—his charts analyzing how much money she spent on different categories of groceries at the Safeway, his refusal to break his routine when she needed to talk. “Make an appointment,” he told her, and the emotional response that followed didn’t even pass his notice. He didn’t get that channel.