Archive for the ‘Arts & letters’ Category

Eagle-eyed

May 13, 2019

“We just saw an eagle go by. It was carrying a baby.” (h/t E.B. White)

Wake-up call

May 11, 2019

Hey! Who shit on my radio?

Ho, ho. Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic examines NPR’s new “Morning Edition” theme and finds it wanting.

He’s not the only one. Composer Timo Andres and jazz singer Theo Bleckmann had thoughts as well.

“For me, it was so reminiscent of childhood, of car rides to school,” Andres told me later of the old theme. “Even though, objectively, it sounds like an artifact from a universe where Steely Dan was co-opted into writing state-propaganda music.”

The new theme, meanwhile, was summarized more pithily by Bleckmann. “Yeah, it sucks,” he said.

Ouch.

But what do you expect when you commission a committee to compose your theme song?

Robert A. Heinlein was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right on target when he noted that a committee was “a life form with six or more legs and no brain.”

And yeah, the new theme: It sucks.

The doors of perception

May 2, 2019

The’ hell is that? Jon Snow lopping the noggins off wights? The Night King riding Viserion to battle like Robert Duvall in a Huey? Melisandre lighting it up? Nope. Just Maester O’Grady taking a picture of his TV in the dark.

And now, for something completely different. …

If you thought Sunday’s epic battle between the dead and living seemed a little, well, dark, even for “Game of Thrones,” you’re not alone. But before you dash out to buy a new TV, attend ye to the wisdom of Maester Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch (h/t Jason Snell at Six Colors).

Speaking of the walking dead, Matthew Butterick (h/t John Gruber at Daring Fireballhas a few words to say over the lumbering carcasses of the typographical foot soldiers employed so far by the Democratic candidates for president. The lede? It kills:

“You cannot bore people into buying your product,” according to David Ogilvy. So true. Nevertheless, election season arrives, and radical boredom inevitably becomes the preferred strategy for most candidates. Let’s have a look at the typography anyhow.

And yes, today’s headline is drawn from William Blake via Aldous Huxley and Jim Morrison.

Words to live by

April 2, 2019

“New Associated Press guidelines on suspensive hyphenation, you say?
That certainly whets the appetite.”

Neither I nor Field Marshal Turkish von Turkenstein (commander, 1st Feline Home Defense Regiment) was invited to the 2019 American Copy Editors Society conference this past weekend in Providence, R.I.

Of course, I only edit myself these days. And having spent a dozen or so years hanging out with copy editors for a paycheck, I don’t regret missing a chance to hang out with them on my own dime.

But the Turk found the slight particularly galling, since like any good deskman he lives for The Craft, even taking his meals in the office, from a bowl that sits atop tattered copies of Webster’s New World College Dictionary and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Oscar Mayer’d again

February 25, 2019

Lights, camera, inaction!

Well, I see there’s still space on my shelf for that Oscar. Also, for the Emmy, Reuben, Pulitzer, Peabody, MacArthur Fellowship, Nobel, etc., et al., and so on and so forth.

I’ve seen just one of the Academy’s picks — “Black Panther,” which like “Wonder Woman” drew raves but to me seemed like just another superhero movie. As a comics fiend I appreciated that genre for a while, but I’m finally over it. You can paint it black or pink, but it’s still basically what Herself calls “punch porn.” Another franchise, like Mickey D’s, with about as much nutritional value.

Now, TV, that’s the thing. There’s some great stuff happening on the small screen, which these days seems bigger than the one down at the multiplex. A favorite around here is “High Maintenance.” On the surface, it’s about a bicycling weed dealer and his clientele, but there’s plenty of depth to the thing. It’s like peeking into random windows as you stroll down an unfamiliar street.

Still, there are some movies worth watching. And one of them has its roots in a TV show. We checked out the 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” this weekend and it was surprisingly revelatory and touching.

I wasn’t a “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” kid. “Captain Kangaroo” was my guy. I knew Mister Rogers primarily through the various sendups on “Saturday Night Live,” National Lampoon’s “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick,” etc.

But Fred Rogers comes off looking like much more than a punchline — he seems like a thoughtful gent whose own childhood was not all that rosy and who came to believe that children’s TV had a higher calling than selling toys.

R.I.P., Ken Nordine

February 23, 2019

Ken Nordine, a voice you may recall from “Word Jazz,” a staple on NPR for years, has left the studio. He was 98.

A baritone storyteller who began with voiceovers on radio and TV, Nordine would go on to collaborate with Tom Waits, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and others.

He once said that the goal of his poetry was to “make people think about their thinking and feel about their feeling, but even more important to think about their feeling and feel about their thinking.”

I think he succeeded. Whenever I’d hear that impossibly deep voice softshoe out of my radio and into my head, I’d stop whatever I was doing and pay attention. They’re nodding and yessing and popping their fingers at Next World Coffee this morning.

A sign of the tines

November 19, 2018

MARA the Tempter is always on the job. Though not necessarily with a rake.

Or “A Rake’s Progress.”

• A tip of the bracero’s sombrero for the news nugget goes out to Merrill “M-Dogg” Oliver, a Noo Yawkah turned Californicator who is something of a rake in his own right.

San Luis

October 17, 2018

Apropos of nothing in particular we have this lovely Andy Mann video in which the country around the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve serves as the stage for “San Luis,” by Gregory Alan Isakov.

I stumbled upon this at NPR’s “World Cafe” while clambering down various rabbit holes, hoping to escape the wind.

This can’t go on forever

September 29, 2018

Back in August Friend of the Blog Carl Duelmann asked: “Do you ever listen to Jason Isbell? He might be too country for you but he is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard.”

The Guardian’s David Taylor caught up with the Grammy-winning Nashville musician and former Drive-By Trucker ahead of a gig today in Noo Yawk City and the interview is well worth your time.

Isbell is critical of our current “administration” without being shrill, and he doesn’t waste a lot of thought on the “shut up and sing” crowd. (Just how the hell are you supposed to shut up and sing at the same time, anyway?)

Isbell doesn’t even try, though he does prefer to let his music do the heavy lifting.

Asked if he intended to get political during an upcoming six-night run at the Ryman Auditorium, Isbell replied: “Well, my job is to write songs and if I feel like it is an emergency and I feel like I need to say something political between the songs, then I’ll do that.

“But normally, if it doesn’t rhyme and it doesn’t involve me introducing my band, I’m not gonna say it, because I’m not a standup comedian, I’m not a lecturer and I don’t give TED talks. If there’s not a melody and some rhyme there then you probably won’t hear it from me. But I think the songs speak enough.”

While we’re on the topic of songs that speak enough, FOTB Pat O’B. forwards an NPR note about a music video for John Prine’s song “Summer’s End,” the centerpiece to his latest release, “The Tree of Forgiveness.”

It must take a lot of practice to sing a song like this without bursting into tears.

R.I.P., Aretha Franklin

August 16, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, the Queen.

I don’t remember the first time I heard Aretha Franklin’s voice, but I never forgot it. Even the tinnest of tin ears perked up when the Queen of Soul was belting one out (she had a four-octave vocal range).

Many of the reflections on Franklin’s passing note that “The Blues Brothers” helped revive her career when it was on life support (the rockin’ pneumonia and boogie-woogie flu had turned into a bad case of disco fever).

That’s one more reason to miss John Belushi, too.