- Prince died yesterday, at age fifty-seven, at his home, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The nation mourns: Minnesota Public Radio has dedicated its waves exclusively to the artist; purple rain adorns next week’s New Yorker cover; San Francisco lit its City Hall with the royal hue; and MTV, which hasn’t played a music video in years, aired nothing but the late musician’s work and the movie Purple Rain yesterday. Said the New York Times of the musician, “His music was a cornucopia of ideas: triumphantly, brilliantly kaleidoscopic.”
- As it turns out, Soviet production novels—that humorless subgenre of yore—followed a pretty basic pattern: “an outsider arrives at a factory or construction site and has to figure out how to solve a morale problem or increase productivity: Ivan Alexandrovich has to supervise the building of a hydroelectric plant or Sofia Alexandrovna has to increase production at the textile mill. They are, along with Elizabethan masques and vice-presidential autobiographies, one of the most arid literary genres ever devised.”
- Any young person working in publishing today ought to know a little about the history of fonts. If you, like me, feel your knowledge is lacking, I offer you a not-so-brief history of roman fonts. “The Carolingian or Caroline minuscule joined forces with antique Roman square capitals at the very beginning of the fifteenth century—a conjunction willed by the great Florentine humanists; their forms first wrought in metal by two German immigrants at Subiaco and Rome, honed by a Frenchman, and consummated at the hands of Griffo of Bologna and Aldus the Venetian. A thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, the romans returned and reconquered.”
- Today is the four-hundredth anniversary of Cervantes’s death. Before he wrote Don Quixote, Cervantes was kidnapped by pirates and imprisoned in the Algiers for five years, a life-defining moment that influenced his writing: “I would argue that Cervantes’s explicit interest in the question of madness emerges from the borderline situations he endured as a captive, from the encounter with death that transformed him into a survivor. [It] converts him into a pioneer in the exploration of the psyche three centuries before Freud.”
- You know who else passed away this week four hundred years ago? Shakespeare, that’s who. To celebrate the Bard, NPR spoke with Shakespeare scholars, dramaturges, and Victorian food experts and produced a series of delightful essays on his relation to food. Linguistic and gastronomical insights abound: As Anne Bramley writes, “When Hamlet huffs about the ‘funeral baked meats’ served at his mother’s wedding banquet, he is chastising her for her quick remarriage, implying that she was serving leftovers from his father’s recent funeral. But funeral baked meats were in fact a real food, and they weren’t as macabre as their name implied—though they were cooked in a ‘coffin.’ The same word was used for ‘a coffer to keep dead people or to keep meat in,’ explains Ken Albala, director of food studies at the University of the Pacific.”
- On Vijay Seshadri, the poet who won this year’s Pulitzer: “The combination of epic sweep … and piercing, evocative detail is characteristic of the contribution Seshadri has made to the American canon.”
- Next week at Lincoln Center, Rachel Kushner introduces Anna, a seventies documentary that will be familiar to readers of The Flamethrowers: it “centers on the titular pregnant, homeless sixteen-year-old whom the filmmakers discovered in Rome’s Piazza Navona.”
- “In a small series of sheds in Sussex a nineteenth-century joker and eccentric hoarded the evidence that reconciles Shakespeare the playwright with Shakespeare the man.”
- Heaven Is for Real “is based on the mega-bestseller by a pastor whose four-year-old had major surgery, after which he knew things he couldn’t possibly have known, and also claimed to have met Jesus … The intended audience appears to be people in medically induced comas who enjoy Nebraska-themed screensavers and who think that Michael Landon had a little too much ‘bad boy edge’ on Highway to Heaven.”
- What’s this? Just the average story of a doctor-buccaneer who lived among the natives of Panama in the seventeenth century: “It took almost an hour for his shipmates to recognize him. Then one started backwards in shock. ‘Why! Here’s our doctor!’ the man cried, and a crowd gathered around him, trying to rub off the geometric paint that obscured his features. It was Lionel Wafer, the pirate surgeon.”
- In 1951, when the sociologist C. Wright Mills published White Collar: The American Middle Classes, “an entire society was being white-collarized. Status and prestige, emotional games and office politics: These were leaking out of the workplace and into the world, coloring the entire way people interacted and organized their time and leisure. The frankly confrontational style of blue-collar work and industrial unions was disappearing.”
The author and illustrator Howard Pyle was born today in 1853. These illustrations are from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates, a 1921 compilation of his famous pirate stories; its preface is reprinted below.
Pirates, Buccaneers, Marooners, those cruel but picturesque sea wolves who once infested the Spanish Main, all live in present-day conceptions in great degree as drawn by the pen and pencil of Howard Pyle.
Pyle, artist-author, living in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, had the fine faculty of transposing himself into any chosen period of history and making its people flesh and blood again—not just historical puppets. His characters were sketched with both words and picture; with both words and picture he ranks as a master, with a rich personality which makes his work individual and attractive in either medium. Read More
“Here was an end of that courageous brute, who might have passed in the world or a hero had he been employed in a good cause.”
—Charles Johnson on Blackbeard, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, 1724
BEAUFORT, NC—Mudbone’s wife encounters the same dilemma each August when she visits Beaufort.
“Back in Greensboro, at least I can pick him out of a crowd,” she says. “But this weekend? Forget about it.”
“Well, I don’t always wear it,” Mudbone adds quietly. “Not when I’m working on windows, for example. But otherwise, yes. All the time.”
Mudbone, for the permanent record, should be easy to pick out of any crowd. His default wardrobe is a many-layered 1740s pirate outfit, much of his own making or else his wife’s. His commitment to detail and historical fidelity is remarkable. One of his pistols, each of which he carved and welded himself, has a retractable mini-bayonet that looks like a grilling skewer. He has blades of varying sizes, a musket slung over his back, and a leather tricorn hat plumed with a three-foot feather. He has hewn several of his blade-handles out of elk antler. He is, to understate the case, a spectacle.
One weekend each August, however, Mudbone blends as though camouflaged into the hundred-plus temporally displaced privateers and scallywags who invade the two main strips in downtown Beaufort for the town’s annual Pirate Invasion. Two things strike you immediately as you enter Beaufort. The first is that anyone under twelve or over forty is dressed, quite convincingly, as a pirate. The other is that all the women insist that you call them “wenches,” an epithet they bestow with lip-smacking pleasure on one another, as often and publicly as possible.
Mudbone does not refer to his wife as a “wench.” In fact, he speaks very little, allowing his weathered face (as though baked by the sun and salt water!) to answer whatever questions his voluble wife does not.
“We got started at a Ron Paul convention, actually,” Mrs. Mudbone tells me. “Mudbone used to dress like Davey Crockett, head-to-toe, as a sort of statement, you know? And then I bought him that gorgeous leather tricorn—which isn’t a sailor’s hat really, or wasn’t at the time, in that century—and people would approach him on the street and ask, ‘Are you a pirate?’”
Mudbone laughs. “Eventually, it started to sound like a great idea.”
“He’s incredibly shy when he isn’t in costume,” his wife confides. “Good luck getting two words out of him. But in the costume, he just transforms. He becomes just a total ham.”
Years ago, while biding my time at a doctor’s office, fortuitously flipping through a stack of well-exhausted magazines, I spotted an article on affordable portraiture. June Glasson was one of the featured artists, and I scribbled her name down and contacted her later to do a drawing of my better half as part of her “Near and Dear” series. My husband and I had many times joked about how we wished we were royalty, deserving of grand portraits. June captured my husband so completely that I’m sometimes taken aback by the likeness. My twin toddlers frequently point to it and announce “Da-da!” with great delight.
June was a natural choice to do illustrations to accompany Rich Cohen’s “Pirate City” essay in the current issue. I’m drawn to her gorgeous layers of colored ink that make using this unforgiving medium look easy. She paints landscapes and people with equal charm and interest. As June lives in Wyoming, she was kind enough to be interviewed via e-mail and to send photographs of an enviable studio space filled with natural light and plenty of inspiration.