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Miscellaneous Miscellany: 14 August 2015

14 Aug

The Baffler (magazine) is in the vanguard of the movement to celebrate public intellectuals as the September 10th celebration for George Scialabba attests September 10. By the way,that date has been designated George Scialabba Day by the Cambridge City Council.

George Sciallabba [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

George Sciallabba [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

To be found in Baffler Issue 26, …”Stumble along with George Scialabba through a lifetime of therapy for chronic depression.”

Baffler Issue No 26

Baffler Issue No 26

Our Man in Boston being in the vanguard of efforts to celebrate public intellectuals, chatted with George [Scialabba]on subjects near and dear and far and wide…

RB: In reading this Baffler article, it is not apparent that you ever give yourself credit for doing good and useful work. Your writing has been recognized by smart people everywhere. Didn’t that make you feel better?

GS: Eventually, it did. Saved my life, really. But it took a long while.

RB: Why?

GS: (long pause) Because there were lots of people my age doing what I was doing, a lot more successfully than me.

RB: Well, what was your criterion of success?

GS: I suppose quantity and visibility. I would see Sven Birkerts)5 or Paul Berman or Ellen Willis appearing in the New Yorker

Go Cubbies —winners of last 10 of 11 games.Another rookie makes an impact

Ann Bardach is a reliable narrator of the unfolding Cuba story.Here she spotlights Brother Raul

Raul Castro[borrowed from Politco]

Raul Castro[borrowed from Politco]

A smart team of filmmmakers turns Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” into a fine film with Guy Pearce, Kristin Wiig and up-and-comer Hailee Steinfield (True Grit, Begin Again )

Want to see what 96 million black plastic balls look like. Of course you do


The New York Times has fallen on hard times—how else to explain using a photograph from Facebook


96 million waterfilled black plastic balls is a story— Bloomberg asks the important question:

Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council,told Bloomberg that the shade balls probably won’t release any toxic materials into the water supply. (NRDC has not yet responded to a request for comment.)


UGGIE,  star of  Academy Award winning 'The Artist'

UGGIE, star of Academy Award winning ‘The Artist’

RIP Uggie

Young Sport Center anchors Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick

Young Sport Center anchors Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick

I am not ashamed to admit my admiration for the mercurial and occasionally bombastic Keith Olbermann, especially his “Worst Person in the World” awards. In some ways this plaudit was low hanging fruit as there have always been may candidates. In a bow to Olbermann’s intention, albeit with a positive twist,Our Man in Bostn inaugurates the DIOGENES AWARD, paying homage to a dwindling population of truth tellers.


First up is diogenian police reporter turned film maker David Simon whose The Wire has achieved legendary status and whose newest effort Show Me a Hero*debuts August 16 on HBO. Here Simon and Cory Booker chat about the Future of Cities

I am going to risk overexposing Simon by pointing out his recent interview at the Daily Beast and pointing you to a very smart spot-on take on Simon and Show Me a Hero by Andy Greenwald

Well, we are coming up on the 10th anniversary of the natural disaster known ( like supermodel) as Katrina. There is a striking similarity between this metereological event and the great 1927 Mississippi Flood. both of which proved the federal government unable or uninterested in helping out a drowned delta. Tom Franklin and Beth Fenelly’s novel The Twisted World does an excellent job of making vivid the 1927 debacle.

NYT reporter Gary Rivlin adds to the significant Katrina bibliography** Katrina: After the Flood. Simon and Schuster describe Katrina

This book traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes—politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white—as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that’s the soul of this nation.

* about which I will have more to say…
** about which I will have more to say…

Thank Heaven, For Little Girls

2 Apr

Sometimes an unlikely book catches my attention more for its appearance and design than its contents. Mara Kalman’s illustration of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style was such a book

Title page from Maira Kalman's Elements of Style

Title page from Maira Kalman’s Elements of Style

Another such book is Advice to Little Girls by Mark Twain (Enchanted Lion Press) about which illustrator Vladimir Radunsky writes

It is difficult for us to imagine what a strange impression Advice to Little Girls, a children’s story by Mark Twain, must have had on its audience when it was written in 1865 and eventually published as part of The 30,000 Dollar Bequest and Other Stories.

American children’s literature in those days was mostly didactic, addressed to some imaginary reader—an ideal girl or boy, upon reading the story, would immediately adopt its heroes as role models. Twain did not squat down to be heard and understood by children, but asked them to stand on their tiptoes—to absorb the kind of language and humor suitable for adults.

The unexpected idea to illustrate Twain’s text came from the editor Bianca Lazzaro of Donzelli Editore in Rome, who also translated the text in to Italian. I still feel envious that she originated it because I’m always trying to find unusual or provocative subjects for my children’s books.

Trying to follow Twain’s style, I wanted to make something along the lines of a scrap-book or an album that you could buy in any paper-goods store at the time. Children used these small albums to paste in various curious objects, or for drawing, or just for doodling.

The only missing elements in the design of the book are stains and dog-ears, but I hope those will come with time.

Advice to Little Girls by Mark Twain

Advice to Little Girls by Mark Twain

Here’s the text for Advice to Little Girls:

Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.

If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.

Page from Advice to Little Girls

Page from Advice to Little Girls

You ought never to take your little brother’s “chewing-gum” away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.

If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud–never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.

From Advice to Little Girls

From Advice to Little Girls

If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.

You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much.

Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to “sass” old people unless they “sass” you first.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Currently reading Mary Coin by Marisa Silver (Blue Rider Press)


23 Jan

Rushing to embrace the forthcoming publishing lists has been a hysterical frenzied gesture more and more present in the clattering class of young literary journalists who express their infantile intentions to love the forthcoming opuse of their favorite writers turning their so-called reportage into hagiogrphic paeans. Plus who has gotten through last season’s (and the season before that) crop of wonderful books. Something is very wrong in the intersection of the time lines of commerce and literature.

I was recently introduced to the HBO series Girls, a narrative and an auteur that has/ which has provoked some interesting discussion( Elizabeth Wurtzel and some rejoinder in New York magazine.. Having enjoyed the luxury of watching 4 or 5 episodes at my leisure I can echo the sentiment of the gynecologist who ends the second episode (Ist season ) saying, “I’m glad I am not a 24 year old girl.” Certainly, a clever and amusing little universe has been created but some how so uncanny as to be superreal.Which for the purpose of the screen is not bad.

Here’s a good cry if nothing else

The Elmore Leonard spawned series JUSTIFIED now in its third season seems to be sustaining its engaging conversational riffing at an entertaining level. I was aggrieved that Raylon Givens wife Winona (Nathalia Zea) had been written out of the show but pleased to MS Zea is now a romantic lead to the busted out FBI Agent played by Kevin Bacon in the new serial killer series The Following. Of course, in this story Claire (Ms Zea) plays the ex wife of a serial killer who has brutally killed 14 girls and now.from jail, engaged a following to continue his murderous ambitions.

Nathalie Zea as Claire on the Following

Nathalie Zea as Claire on the Following

Apparently Warren Ellis has a following based on his graphic novels. His new novel Gun Machine (Mullholland Books) which I enjoyed has 2 video trailers. One is considered dark and spooky The second, though quite original is more in line with conventional presentations.

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

As time passes in the shit-stream ofd public conversations there unavoidable names—currently Lance Armstrong,The Kardashians, that Notre Dame footballer, ad nauseum. Reading Gail Collins at least produced the benefit of publicizing another of Notre Dames egregious lapses in her January 18th column.

Whatever else President Obama has done he has kept alive the worthy art of public oratory. Prepatory to his 2nd Inaugural I audited his 1st Inaugural oration

Corny as it may be, I was pleased that the new President commenced that speech with, “My Fellow Citizens”. It was a rousing bit of speechifying, though more in tune with past eras way of expressing the actualities.Apropos of nothing I am wondering if I am the only person who took exception to the infelicitous use of ‘command’ in

“…That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

Shouldn’t the word be ‘commend’?

One of the obvious benefits of the film streaming services is the removal from the dust bin of pop culture an endless assortment of movies that one has overlooked. Long a fan of British actor Tim Roth (especially since his riveting portrayal of a poofy but deadly swordsman in the other wise forgettable Rob Roy,stumbling on Killing Emmett Young was a double treat interesting plot and outstanding performances not the least by Roth as first time contract killer

Of the landslide of books coming in the coming months weeks and days, The KRAUS PROJECT, a collection essays by the inestimable and criminally overlooked essayist/ aphorist Karl Kraus is being published under the guiding hand of novelist jonathan Franzen.

Karl Krause

Karl Krause

At least one reader was exasperated by another of Thomas Freidman’s advice-to-the-power columns—this one suggesting the Secretary of State Kerry designate toss out the so called rulebook. Foreign Policy magazine was the site of an open letter imploring the New York Times to put Freidman on a leave of absence. Good idea?

RIP Adam Swartz

Little Red Book, Little Black Book

5 Dec
The Little red Book

The Little red Book

Being of sufficient vintage to recall one little book, entitled variously “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tze Tung”, “The Little Red Book”, “Mao’s Little Red Book” and so on, I also recall wondering how many copies had been printed or more specifically, had it surpassed the Bible in extant copies?

It was a passing thought which I immediately in true grasshopper-mind style voided by attending to Chinese dissident/artist or dissident artist, if you will, Weiwei’s new opus, Weiweisms (Princeton University Press), The publisher elaborates:

WeiWei-isms by Ai Weiwei

WeiWei-isms by Ai Weiwei

This collection of quotes demonstrates the elegant simplicity of Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on key aspects of his art, politics, and life. A master at communicating powerful ideas in astonishingly few words, Ai Weiwei is known for his innovative use of social media to disseminate his views. The short quotations presented here have been carefully selected from articles, tweets, and interviews given by this acclaimed Chinese artist and activist. The book is organized into six categories: freedom of expression; art and activism; government, power, and moral choices; the digital world; history, the historical moment, and the future; and personal reflections.

Weiwei-isms is physically attractive book not the least because of its appealing size.

Time Magazine, cover and article on Mao zedong

Time Magazine, cover and article on Mao zedong

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Currently reading Brain on Fire by Susan Callahan (Free Press)

A Thing Or Three -The Hour, William Zinsser, Board and Baffler #21

29 Nov

BBC America reprises The Hour its smart dramatic series. The new season is set in the late 50’s London, as the BBC experiments with novel news programming,introducing a new “60 minute” like magazine show.There are some familiar faces —Dominic West (The Wire) and Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas)and Romola Garai (Atonement).MY favorite is Ann Chancellor who plays Lix Storm as a hard-drinking, hard-ass with a heart-of-gold veteran journalist. The story line moves from the Suez Canal crisis of the first season to urban crime and racial unrest.The first episode airs on November 28.

The Writer Who Stayed by William Zinzer

The Writer who stayed

It is good to see that in addition to hard copy being acessible on the Internet that Internet material makes its way into real, physical, paper books. The American Scholar had featured essayist William Zinsser’s (On Writing Well) ” Zinsser on Friday,” and now Paul Dry Books has published an adaptation in a collection called The Writer Who Stayed. Illuminating a wide array of subject some quotidian, some profound—”Relationships, storytelling, baseball, summer reading, comic strips, Woody Allen” one of my favorites was on working for Tina Brown

Board by Brad Listi and Justin Benton

Webzine The Nervous Breakdown has spawned a number of flesh and blood volumes the most recent is Board,authored by Brad Listi and Justin Benton. It is billed as “an experimental work of nonfiction literary collage, the contents of which are derived entirely from the comment boards at TNB.” It stands to reason why David Shields (How Literature Saved my Life) whose most recent book is Fakes would opine:”Expertly interweaving its leitmotifs—technologly, dreams, sex, food, ‘identity politics,’ death—Board is a book in conversation with itself about a culture at war with itself. A sharp, funny, and unexpectedly moving take on contemporary America in the digital age.”

Here are some excerpts:

I still have this horrible fear of parking lots and parking garages
at night. Those sprawling empty spaces where you scream and no
one’s around to hear it.

My friend Charlie and I were once held up in a parking lot.
I had run the possibility of a mugging through my mind a
million times before. But it went nothing like I had planned.
In my imagination, things turned out in my favor. I over-
powered the gunman, kicked him between the legs, did
something drastic, and survived. Local news cameras
swarmed me as I recounted the event a million times over. A
small victory for me, but a mostly forgettable story for every-
body sitting at home watching. But here’s what actually hap-
pened: I handed the guy my purse and pleaded for my car
keys. I don’t remember what he looked like. And just like
that, he was gone. Needless to say, I didn’t make the news.

I knew a woman who was brutally beaten by her lover in
a storage unit. He stabbed her multiple times and left her
for dead. She clawed through the wall of the unit and
dragged herself all the way across the lot. A night-shift
worker followed her trail of blood and found her. She’s
alive now, thank God, but badly deformed.

Ten years ago, in Florida, a man would hide under
women’s cars and slash their heels as they tried to
unlock their driver-side doors. I can’t shake that im-
age out of my head. In fact, now every time I ap-
proach my locked car the thought of leaping to avoid
a heel-slashing crosses my mind.

A stranger’s face, mere inches from yours, pitch-
black dark, breathing hot, steely breaths, the
knife point pressed to your neck, images of fiery
skeletons dancing feverishly around your freshly
dug grave—you flick on the lights and the
stranger, the skeletons, all of it skitters away, a
mere trick of the brain.

When I was young I thought elephants lived under my bed. Ele-
phants that would trample me if I placed so much as a toe on the
floor. I’d have to take a flying leap into bed every night. Seems
so silly now, but at the time nothing felt more real than this fear.

I, too, used to take flying leaps into bed every night. I was
terrified of the dark, of what lurked under the bed. I had hor-
rible nightmares and chronic night terrors, too.

I used to lie in bed and curse God and Jesus and all the
rest. I’d address him directly, whispering, “Go fuck
yourself, God!” and all that. What I was trying to do was
provoke God to show Himself. I wanted proof He was
there. But nothing ever did happen.

You were one scary little girl.

I was one of the spooky little girls who smeared
lightning bugs all over her shirt like war paint.

Women fear more not because we’re irrational but because we’re
more often the targets.

Of females killed by a firearm, nearly two-thirds are killed
by their intimate partners.

The #1 killer of African American women ages 15—34 is
homicide at the hands of a current or former partner.

A black man is 18 times more likely to be the victim
of murder than a white woman.

I am so enamored of The Baffler that it is one of only three publications to which I subscribe. That is,I think, still called “putting your money where your mouth is. Anyway, the new issue is out and dare I say it is chock-a-block full of things to not only piss off the ruling class and ass kissing-mandarins who support them but tidbits of enlightenment as in The Code by Dubravka Ugrešić which explains the behavior of Yugozone men and Cities of the Night by Belén Fernández (The Imperial Messenger) spotlighting so-called charter cities. Plus there is stuff by John Summers, Thomas Frank, Chris Lehmman and Barbara Eherenreich.

Currently reading Overture by David Slavitt (OP19 Books)

Faux Sure

19 Nov

David Shields photo: Robert Birnbaum

Since I first met him in the mid 90’s I have been paying attention to David Shields. I had found his fiction compelling and more recently the issues he worried, like hungry hound gnawing on a soup bone, were equally riveting. Among other of his accomplishments are three sports books— Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine, Black Planet : Facing Race During an NBA Season and “Baseball Is Just Baseball”: The Understated Ichiro, a treatise on the singular Ichiro Suzuki, now a New York Yankee but for many seasons a Seattle Mariner.

Fakes by Matthew Volmer and David Shileds

Lately, Shields has taken to editing offbeat anthologies, such as The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death. The latest is a brilliant collection, entitled Fakes an Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts edited with Matthew Volmer) (Norton) Here’s the publisher’s synopsis

In our bureaucratized culture, we’re inundated by documents: itineraries, instruction manuals, permit forms, primers, letters of complaint, end-of-year reports, accidentally forwarded email, traffic updates, ad infinitum….[here are] forty short fictions that they’ve found to be seriously hilarious and irresistibly teachable (in both writing and literature courses): counterfeit texts that capture the barely suppressed frustration and yearning that percolate just below the surface of most official documents. The innovative stories collected in Fakes—including ones by Ron Carlson (a personal ad), Amy Hempel (a complaint to the parking department), Rick Moody (Works Cited), and Lydia Davis (a letter to a funeral parlor)—trace the increasingly blurry line between fact and fiction and exemplify a crucial form for the twenty-first century.

Here’s my most recent conversation with David Shields, mostly about his manifesto, Reality Hunger which as it should have raise some literary hackles.It also features his absolutely, dead-wrong appraisal of Adrian Beltre who has just been traded to the Red Sox from Shields’s hometown Mariners)and is now an AllStar with the Texas Rangers). Oh well, in the immortal words of Billy Wilder, “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Currently reading Elsewhere by Richard Russo (Knopf)

Thanks for the Memories

5 Nov

Given the recent spate of biographies of slightly shop worn musical idols, I’m guessing that based on the success of Keith Richard’s Life, book publisher’s are all in on these kinds of books. Though it must be said that there has been a marked improvement in these life stories, less hagiography, more thoughtful retrospection and revelation. Here’s a roundup

HELLO, GORGEOUS by William J. Mann

HELLO, GORGEOUS: Becoming Barbra Streisand by William J. Mann (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (Touchstone)

I’M YOUR MAN The Life of Leonard Cohen By Sylvie Simmons

I’M YOUR MAN The Life of Leonard Cohen By Sylvie Simmons(Ecco)

I’m a late convert to the idolatry of poet/singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, having been transfixed by his Ten Songs recording circa 2000. And of course he was much in the music news, launching a world tour two years back, hoping to recoup some financial security after being impoverished by his thieving former manager. That tour produced a live recording and DVD is nicely complimented by a documentary entitled I’m Your Man.

Janet Maslin summarizes the books contents:

I’m Your Man” goes on to provide glimpses of a well-chosen few of Mr. Cohen’s relationships with women (that’s all, because this isn’t an encyclopedia); his search for spiritual enlightenment; the experiment in terror that was his collaboration with Phil Spector on “Death of a Ladies’ Man”; the extravagant drug and alcohol use that explains some of his stranger recordings; the financial scandal that robbed him of his savings; and his miraculous comeback — an unexpected fringe benefit of that larceny — as a septuagenarian live performer.

August Brown points out

One challenge of assessing Leonard Cohen’s musical legacy is that there’s so much non-musical stuff to unpack. From his vast body of literary work to his religious triangulation — Jewish by birth, artistically obsessed with Christian imagery and later ordained as a Buddhist monk — Cohen’s music is just one facet of a creative and inner life in which each element could warrant its own book treatment.

He concludes:

Sylvie Simmons’ “I’m Your Man” tries to synthesize all these stories into a new gold standard of Cohen bios. She’s given similar treatments to Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young, but this might be her densest source material yet. In it, she goes deep into his Montreal upbringing, his writing process and the slow burn of his musical prowess and rise to fame.


WAGING HEAVY PEACE A Hippie Dream By Neil Young Blue Rider Press

WHO I AM By Pete Townshend

WHO I AM By Pete Townshend.(Harper)

Mick Jagger by Philip Norman

Mick Jagger by Philip Norman (Ecco)

Currently reading Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño Natasha Wimmer (Translator) (FSG)

Berlin Stories

29 Aug

As Berlin continues to have a reputation as a vital and exciting world capitol, it also provides an alluring setting for any number of War War II era thrillers including Erik Larsen’s last opus In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. Most notably Phillip Kerr has set most of early Bernie Gunther in Berlin which makes sense as Gunther is a Berlin homicide detective. Not to be overlooked is a trilogy of novels by Rebecca Cantrell, set in the early 30’s Berlin,following crime reporter Hannah Vogel
through Nazi mayhem and criminal intrigue.

City of Women by David Gillham

Now comes David R. Gillham’s debut novel, City of Women(Amy Einhorn Books/ Putnam) presenting a picture of Berlin 1943—as the tide is turning, with the Nazi military machine broadening its grasp for cannon fodder, Berlin has become a virtual city of women.In this story, Sigrid Schroeder, whose former bank official husband is serving on the killing fields of the Eastern Front takes on a mysterious Jewish lover and becomes involved in efforts to hide and transport Jews out of Berlin. This convolution of her previously uneventful and tedious life provides all manner of tension and danger with Gillham draws out with alacrity and pulse raising prose. Alan Furst, who knows a thing or two about wartime atmosphere in Europe, extolls, “‘City of Women,’ is built on one of the most extraordinary and faithful recreations of a time in history—Berlin in World War II—that I’ve ever read.”

Currently reading Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe (Little Brown)

Singing About Architecture

31 Jul

A Ship Without A Sail by Gary Marmorstein

As much as I love music I can count on one hand the number of books that I have read about music and musicians— David Hadju’s Lush Life, a brilliant biography of Billy Strayhorn, Crystal Zevon’s oral biography of her one time husband Warren Zevon, I’ll Sleep When I am Dead, Charles Mingus’s autobiography Beneath the Underdog and Peter Guralnick’s Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke and Arthur Kempton’s rhythm and blues devotional Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music.

Which not to say that I am oblivious of the books being published as I will display by pointing out three recent notable books—each shining a clear light on a different aspect of music.

One half of the famed song writing Rodgers and Hart, lyricist Lorenzo Hart is well accounted for in Gary Marmorstein’s A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart (Simon & Schuster). If you aren’t familiar with songs such as “Blue Moon, ” “Where or When, ” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Isn’t It Romantic?,” “My Romance,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “Falling in Love with Love,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and much more you probably won’t care about the life of brilliant homosexual alcoholic who lived entire short life with his mother.

The Jazz Standards by Ted Gioia

Whatever defines a jazz “standard” jazz historian Ted Gioia (The History of Jazz) has selected 252 songs to The Jazz Standards A Guide to the Repertoire (Oxford University Press) on which to comment, including composer details and a listen guides that references about 2000 recordings.

David Ulin points out that

“to call “The Jazz Standards” a work of history, however, is to miss at least half the point; it is also a work of criticism, and Gioia is not afraid to offer pointed commentary…

…” What is the book, after all, if not an extended improvisation, beginning with its framing of the repertoire? Such a repertoire is fluid, and if in recent years it has undergone a “process of codification,” his approach can’t help but be subjective, defined by his experience and sensibility. To read “The Jazz Standards,” then, is not unlike listening to Gioia play his way through this music, sharing not just what he likes (and dislikes) but also what he knows.”

What the video that accompanies the Sonny Rollins’ version of “We Kissed in The Shadow” above, means or its connection with this great piece of music has me stumped but the Rollins track (From the LP East Broadway Rundown) is so evocative and mesmerizing I had to include it

Just as I was more simpatico with the Beat movement than much of its literature I found Punk Rock’s anarchical ethos and do it yourself values more interesting than most of the music it spawned. In any case,in Punk Rock: An Oral History (PM Press) John Robb, a punk rocker himself, collects about 150 interviews with seminal figures such as John Lydon, Lemmy, Siouxsie Sioux, Mick Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Malcolm McLaren, Henry Rollins, and Glen Matlock.Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren elucidates,

It was not necessarily a plan to play art colleges first and avoid the pub. I hated beer. And that’s all you got in those stinking pubs in Anglo-Saxon land. Art school preached a noble pursuit of failure. It was part of the legacy laid down by William Morris: art for art’s sake. which we attempted to create and indeed succeeded at one level. We made ugliness beautiful.

Punk Rock An Oral History by John Robb

Currently reading The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Knopf)

The New Baffler

3 Apr

By now, if you are the kind of person that I hope you are, you are aware that a great beacon of reason,the modern era’s answer to the Smart Set or American Mercury, The Baffler has been rekindled with a 2/3 of its editorial troika intact. Veteran Baffleroids,Thomas Frank (Pity the Poor Billionaire) and Chris Lehman(Rich People’s Things) join editor-in-chief,historian John Summers (Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, editor ) ,in the resurrection of this much lauded and much needed critical voice.

Of course the above mentioned make their presence felt with signature long form essays along with familiar muck rakers such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Rick Perlstein, Dubravka Ugrešić and the wretched of the earth’s newest hero, David Graeber. Additionally, there are a number of enjoyable discoveries, not the least of which is “Omniscient Gentlemen of The Atlantic” by Maureen Tkacik— an enthusiastically iconoclastic expose of the once highly esteemed Atlantic and (David Bradley), its current 1 %er ownership.

Ms Tkacik opens her vivisection by describing her attendance at one of the Atlantic’s Idea Forum (which she points out is one of the, uh, whatchamacallits that are taking the new Atlantic to an unsightly, newly found profitability):

The din of younger colleagues tapping keyboards is never soothing, but sitting in the press room of the Ideas Forum felt like a human rights violation. What could anyone write about something so tyrannically dull— other than an angry elegy for the massacre of meaning? The average C-SPAN 3 segment is a crowd-pleasing cliffhanger by com- parison. Mind flickering between rage and somnolence, I tried my best to keep awake by writing notes.

In the peroration of her piece the well-travelled Ms Tkacik cites a tragically-ignored article by Andy Grove (formerly of Intel) as what I identify asher coup de grace:

The Bradley-subsidized chattering class in- stinctively knows to tune out altogether more articulate assessments of our plight, such as former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s withering indictment of free-market dogma in a sum- mer 2010 Bloomberg Businessweek cover story. Grove blamed the economic malaise on a sick cultural deification of “the guys in the garage inventing something that changes the world” at the expense of anyone involved in what happened afterward. His lament was the most eloquent tribute to the symbiosis of design and production and imagination and reality I’d read since Mao’s 1937 essay “On Practice,” which declared “man’s knowledge depends mainly on his activity in material production.” The Thought Leaders of our own political leadership class would never know about Grove’s broadside, though—it was greeted by a Washington-wide wall of silence. (Indeed, the one wayward D.C. player who did take it to heart—former SEIU chieftain Andy Stern— was reduced to imploring unsympathetic readers of the Wall Street Journal op-ed sec- tion to search online for Grove’s essay some sixteen months after it appeared.)

What mystified Grove was the assertion, voiced by the economist Alan Blinder and others, “that as long as ‘knowledge work’ stays in the U.S., it doesn’t matter what happens to factory jobs.” This was not only inhumane, Grove declared; it was idiotic.

But it is why the ideas, so-called, that inspire the omniscient gentlemen of The Atlantic are flat: their world is, literally, flat. Habitual “bipartisanship” has given way to a tendency to level the playing field between reality and fiction…

And in case you have any questions (you don’t do you?) about what value Ms Tkacik places on the Bradley owned enterprise, she is not hesitant to expostulate:

Comrades: I hope that you want to throw up now, because I have run clean out of bile to waste on the mental morlocks who think up this sort of shit.

Yes, indeed. Which I can assure you is not the stuff of which the Baffler is constituted.

Currently reading Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (Random House)