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About Last Night
TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City
(with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO)


Friday, November 10, 2006
    TT: Dirty laundry

    It’s time for the Friday Wall Street Journal drama-column teaser, which is a bit jaundiced this week. I reviewed three shows—the New York premiere of The Clean House, the Broadway transfer of Grey Gardens, and a Seattle production of Steve Martin’s The Underpants—and didn’t like any of ’em:

    Sarah Ruhl is officially trendy. Not only did the 32-year-old playwright just win a MacArthur “genius grant,” but she’s making a high-profile New York debut: “The Clean House,” which has been staged at the Yale Repertory Theatre and numerous other top regional houses and was a Pulitzer finalist last year, has now come to town in a glossy production starring Blair Brown and Jill Clayburgh. As if that weren’t enough buzz for one human being to generate, Ms. Ruhl says she’s working on a new play about the history of…the vibrator.

    If I sound skeptical about Ms. Ruhl, there’s a reason. It’s possible to be both trendy and talented, and I suppose it might be possible to write a good play about vibrators, too. I can even think of a few genuine geniuses who’ve won MacArthurs. But when all these suspicious-looking items turned up on the same resume, the red light on my Faux-O-Meter started blinking, which is why I wasn’t surprised when “The Clean House” failed to live up to its own hype. It’s clever—too clever by at least half—but scrape away the postmodern trickery and it’s nothing more than a soap opera for pseudointellectuals….

    “Grey Gardens,” the cultiest show of the 2005-06 season, has transferred to Broadway, and though it’s been tweaked and tightened, I don’t like it any better now than when it opened Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons back in March.

    In case you missed it the first time around, “Grey Gardens” is a musical version of the 1975 cinéma-vérité film documentary about Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little” Edie, two impoverished but spunky high-society ladies who spent their declining years holed up in a decaying Long Island summer house. The cast is exemplary, especially Christine Ebersole, and the direction of Michael Greif and Jeff Calhoun is very fine, but the show itself doesn’t add up to much….

    When not making movies, Steve Martin writes plays. “The Underpants,” his adaptation of “Die Hose,” a six-character, one-set farce written in 1911 by the German playwright Carl Sternheim, was produced Off Broadway in 2002 and has since been making the regional rounds. I caught up with “The Underpants” in Seattle, where ACT Theatre is giving it a noisy production whose hard-working actors do their best to obscure the fact that Mr. Martin is no farceur….

    No free link. To read the whole thing, pick up a copy of today’s morning's Journal and turn to the “Weekend Journal” section. Alternatively, go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you immediate access to the complete text of my review, plus lots of other good stuff. (If you’re already a subscriber, the review is here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 10, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Settling old scores

    In my next “Sightings” column, to be published in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, I discuss Keeping Score, PBS’ new Michael Tilson Thomas-San Francisco Symphony TV series about classical music. It’s wonderful—but nobody is going to watch it. Why not? To find out, pick up a copy of tomorrow’s Journal, where you’ll find my column in the “Pursuits” section.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 10, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Sometimes I think nobody ever really gets to understand anybody else. Which is a horrible thought. At least, to me it is. We're locked up inside our own bodies for life. Solitary confinement for life. We scream inside ourselves, but nobody seems to hear. We're born alone, we try to communicate with other people all our lives, and fail mostly, and then we die alone. It's crazy."

    Buddy Rich (quoted in John Minahan, The Torment of Buddy Rich)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 10, 2006 | Permanent link
Thursday, November 9, 2006
    OGIC: The rest of the quote, and then some

    Regarding yesterday's quiz, the quote continues like this:

    …Who among novelists ever more instantly recognized the absurd when she saw it in human behavior, then polished it off to more devastating effect, than this young daughter of a Hampshire rectory, who as she finished the chapters enjoyed reading them to her family, to whom she also devoted her life?

    So yes, as many of you guessed (and some tracked down via Amazon's Search Inside), the subject is Jane Austen. The author was trickier, but a couple of readers knew: it's Eudora Welty, from her 1969 essay "The Radiance of Jane Austen." Most interestingly, one correspondent guessed that Welty was the subject of the passage! Showing, perhaps, that whatever we're writing about, we're also writing about ourselves.

    I urge upon you the entire essay, which leads off this collection. I love Welty's canny use of Austen's biography in this passage:

    Reading those chapters aloud to her own lively, vocative family, on whose shrewd intuition, practiced estimation of conduct, and seasoned judgment of character she relied almost as well as on her own, Jane Austen must have enjoyed absolute confidence in an understanding reception of her work. The novels still have a bloom of shared pleasure. And the felicity they have for us must partly lie in the confidence they take for granted between the author and her readers—at the moment, ourselves.

    Just one more taste:

    Think of today's fiction in the light of hers. Does some of it appear garrulous and insistent and out-of-joint, and nearly all of it slow? Does now and then a novel come along that's so long, arch, and laborious, so ponderous in literary conceits and so terrifying in symbols, that it might have been written (in his bachelor days) by Mr. Elton as a conundrum, or, in some prolonged spell of elevation, by Mr. Collins in a bid for self-advancement? Yes, but this is understandable. For many of our writers who are now as young as Jane Austen was when she wrote her novels, and as young as she still was when she died, at forty-one, ours is the century of unreason, the stamp of our behavior is violence or isolation; non-meaning is looked upon with some solemnity; and for the purpose of writing novels, most human behavior is looked at through the frame, or the knothole, of alienation. The life Jane Austen write about was indeed a different one from ours, but the difference was not as great as that between the frames through which it is viewed. Jane Austen's frame was that of belonging to her world. She could step through it, in and out of it as easily and unselfconsciously as she stepped through the doorway of the rectory and into the garden to pick strawberries. She was perfectly at home in what she knew, as well as knowledgeable of precisely where she was on earth; she even believed she knew why she was here.

    The beginning of that makes me laugh: Just put the pen down, Mr. Collins, and nobody will get hurt. And makes me wonder just who deserves the Mr. Collins Award for Recent Long, Arch, and Laborious Fiction. The rest is a nice refinement of the notion that the past is a foreign country, with the point about different frames driven straight home by the paragraph's last line—an understatement in good aim, one might call it.

    Thanks to everyone who wrote in about the quiz! The stream of mail really enlivened my workaday day.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, November 9, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here’s my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    BROADWAY:
    A Chorus Line* (musical, PG-13/R, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
    Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    The Drowsy Chaperone (musical, G/PG-13, mild sexual content and a profusion of double entendres, reviewed here)
    Heartbreak House (drama, G/PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes Dec. 17)
    Jay Johnson: The Two and Only (one-ventriloquist show, G/PG-13, a bit of strong language but otherwise family-friendly, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)
    The Wedding Singer (musical, PG-13, some sexual content, reviewed here, closes Dec. 31)

    OFF BROADWAY:
    The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children old enough to enjoy a love story, reviewed here)
    Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris (musical revue, R, adult subject matter and sexual content, reviewed here)
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (drama, R, adult subject matter and nudity, reviewed here, closes Dec. 9)
    Slava’s Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 9, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering."

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 9, 2006 | Permanent link
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
    OGIC: Rivette everywhere

    This week the Museum of the Moving Image in New York begins a Jacques Rivette retrospective. The bloggers at The House Next Door have been doing a fantastic job over the last week or so of prefacing the series with a cascade of links to stories, interviews, and critical considerations of the French director, whose 1974 movie Céline and Julie Go Boating—very loosely based on two Henry James novellas—is one of my personal landmark films and simply a joy to watch (Céline and Julie will be shown at MOMI this Saturday at 6:00 and Sunday at 4:30).

    Another devotee of this film is David Thomson, who, in the New Biographical Dictionary of Film, declares:

    It is a generous reconciliation with literature through fiction, and whereas Kane was the first picture to suggest that the world of the imagination was as powerful as reality, Céline and Julie is the first film in which everything is invented.

    Today Keith Uhlich at The House Next Door links to a newer piece of writing by Thomson on Rivette, an essay that appeared in the Guardian last April. This is a glorious little piece of work; in it Thomson hits on a handful of really vivid and lucid ways of identifying what’s distinctive about Rivette’s filmmaking and its relation to film’s affiliated art forms, especially literature. This piece should hold up to a reading by anyone interested in film or literature, whether they’ve seen a frame of Rivette’s stuff or not. Try it:

    It is just that Rivette thinks the cinema runs the risk of turning vulgar and foolish if it starts to stress the visual over everything else. The visual is a given; it is the norm; it is the world, or its engine—and Rivette, without reservation, loves that world even when it frightens him. I doubt he has ever composed a shot without seeking both grace and an austere absence of all those signs that say: "Here is grace." Just look at Céline and Julie Go Boating, which, apart from anything else, is one of the most inspiring films about the way Paris looks in the summer, and about the illusion that we can catch its fragrance. (You can find the same compositional severity, the fierce effort to restrain beauty, in Bresson and Buñuel.)

    So it is not that you can put your eyes away with Rivette. But you may need to rediscover them if they have become habituated to shock cuts, fancy camera angles and special effects. What is special for Rivette is cinematography, so revolutionary that it needs no editorialising.

    The next key to his world is the passion for characters and stories, and the concomitant belief that once you start filming anyone then, gradually, storyline and character will seep up, like moisture in the ground. We cannot look at a shot of a person without asking: "Who is that?" We cannot take in a following shot—of a sea-shire, say—without assuming, "Ah, that person is at the sea, or going there? Or what?" We allow for mystery, but we cannot do without meaning. Above all, the characters will become actors, and they and their stories, as they build, become increasingly tests on our belief.

    Rivette estimates that story is like weather. It is always there, but we don't always notice it: thus a dull day may turn sinister late in the afternoon, and the girl you met in the park may seem to be less a chance acquaintance than a figure in a story that now contains you.

    This captures beautifully how the narrative style feels in Céline and Julie: the film is rife with moments that feel like possible stories in the making, but that suspend you in uncertainty for a time—a waiting period that proves not only surprisingly tolerable but positively engaging and productive. In the last half of the movie, this suspense finally has an enormous payoff in the form of a gripping story (straight out of James), which the movie lets you really savor by replaying it again and again, revealing more pieces in each iteration.

    But even beyond these local observations about Rivette and movies, I think, Thomson gets at something more basic here about our appetite for stories, so insatiable it approaches a will to find them and draw them out—“like moisture in the ground,” indeed. The essay ends:

    So there we are—what are Rivette's films about? Women, the light, place, and the way a story begins to slink from a woman's feet across the space and through the light—just like one of the cats Rivette is always ready to show us, watching the story as if it were a mouse. He has remained loyal to a belief not much in fashion now—that the movies are the natural extension of theatre, literature and the study of story. The human condition, he has no doubt, is that of audiences always surprised when they have to become actors.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Pop goes the quiz

    Little lit quiz to ponder over your coffee this morning. Whose work is the subject of the following quotation?

    Each novel is a formidable engine of strategy. It is made to be—a marvel of designing and workmanship, capable of spontaneous motion at the lightest touch and of travel at delicately controlled but rapid speed toward its precise destination. It could kill us all, had s/he wished it to; it fires at us, all along the way, using understatements in good aim. Let us be thankful it is trained not on our hearts but on our illusions and our vanities.

    For bonus points and to really knock my socks off, name the critic too. Now, as far as I can tell this quiz is not self-checking via Google. But there may be tricks of the trade I'm not taking into account. If you want me to check your work, drop a line to ogic@artsjournal.com, or just sit tight and I'll post the answers on Thursday.

    The blogging forecast predicts continued fluff and diversions through the end of the week. It's just that kind of week around here.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "There was something dangerous and remorseless in her optimism."

    Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | Permanent link
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
    OGIC: Fortune cookie

    "I have come to the resolution never to write for the sake of writing, or making a poem, but from running over with any little knowledge and experience which many years of reflection may perhaps give me—otherwise I will be dumb. What Imagination I have I shall enjoy, and greatly, for I have experienced the satisfaction of having great conceptions without the toil of sonnetteering. I will not spoil my love of gloom by writing an ode to darkness; and with respect to my livelihood I will not write for it, for I will not mix with that most vulgar of all crowds the literary. Such things I ratify by looking upon myself, and trying myself at lifting mental weights, as it were. I am three and twenty with little knowledge and middling intellect. It is true that in the height of enthusiasm I have been cheated into some fine passages, but that is nothing."

    John Keats, letter to B.R. Haydon, March 8, 1819

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "It has always been hard for me to think of extraordinarily handsome people ever being very intimate with one another."

    Gordon Forbes, Goodbye to Some

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | Permanent link
Monday, November 6, 2006
    OGIC: Monday update

    So the Rachel Ries show Friday night was a lot of fun, though far shorter than I would have liked. There were highlights: despite forgetting to bring along her banjo, Ries soldiered on and performed on guitar one of my favorite of her songs, a simple but brilliant little song-poem about falling in love with a place. That place would be Valentine, NE, which sits on the Nebraska map like a trap—like an engraved invitation for someone to write a bad earnest or bad ironic song about it. Thank goodness, then, that in this case a greatly gifted songwriter took the bait. To wit:

    Valentine, NE

    Hey I found my home last night
    On my way through Valentine.
    Nebraska said, hey how you been,
    Cause you've been gone for so long.
    Hey how you been my sweet valentine?

    Well, I've been in the concrete palace
    Singing for rocks and dimes.
    Wondering just how long I'd last
    Living in the city on fire.
    Hey how you been my sweet Valentine?

    There's a man down Chicago way
    Thinking I'll be home by suppertime.
    But he's no prairie, ain't got no sky.
    So goodbye my old valentine.

    Hey I found my home last night
    On my way through Valentine.
    Nebraska said, hey how you been,
    you've been gone for so long.
    Hey how you been my sweet Valentine?

    I love that the personification of the place in the first verse ("Nebraska said, hey how you been") is mirrored in the third verse by the (unflattering) comparison of a person to a place. I love that she leaves this metaphor deliberately rough, likening apples to oranges without apology. And the understated way she juxtaposes valentine with Valentine in trading the man for the place.

    But this song is better heard than read. You can listen to some of it at Amazon.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, November 6, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "In a rain forest in Borneo the realities are so different. The popular cause is simply life and the reigning prejudice is death. Words are dust and without them we shall probably all find out what kind of men we are."

    Gordon Forbes, Goodbye to Some

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 6, 2006 | Permanent link
Friday, November 4, 2005
    TT: Fresh blood on Broadway

    It’s Friday, and I’m in The Wall Street Journal, reviewing Sweeney Todd, See What I Wanna See, and Cathay: Three Tales of China. I’m out of town and computerless, but OGIC has been kind enough to post this week’s drama-column teaser:

    The greatest musical of the past half-century has returned to Broadway in a staging of the utmost force and originality, an event theatergoers will be talking about for years to come. John Doyle’s single-set version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” in which the ten-person cast doubles as the on-stage orchestra (yes, Patti LuPone really can play the tuba), is as far removed as possible from the all-encompassing splendor of Harold Prince’s 1979 production. Instead, it’s modest and intimate, so much so that you’ll feel as though the murderous barber of Fleet Street is personally giving you the closest of shaves.

    Michael Cerveris gives the performance of a lifetime in the title role, one all the more potent because of the production’s bare-bones simplicity. With next to no scenery to distract you—not even a barber’s chair—it’s easy to lose yourself in the mad intensity of his demonic stare. Mr. Cerveris, whose head is as smooth as a cueball, looks like an apostate monk on the prowl, and when he proclaims that “they all deserve to die,” you know he means to slit every throat within razor’s reach….

    I had to toss a coin to decide whether to lead this column off with “Sweeney Todd” or “See What I Wanna See,” Michael John LaChiusa’s new musical, which opened Sunday at the Public Theater. It’s his strongest piece of work to date, a little powerhouse of a show whose sheer intensity will knock you flat—and make you think….

    His stagecraft is sure, his edgy, pop-flavored score commandingly individual (if not conventionally tuneful). Like Adam Guettel, Mr. LaChiusa is thinking hard about the future of the post-Sondheim musical, and in “See What I Wanna See” he has gone a long way toward showing us what it will look like….

    It is with a mixture of amazement and horror that I must report the utter unsuitability for viewing by children of “Cathay: Three Tales of China,” a puppet play produced by Ping Chong & Company and performed by China’s Shaanxi Folk Art Theatre.

    The New Victory’s season brochure explains in small type that the show is appropriate for children nine and up. I’m not a father, but I can’t even imagine taking a nine-year-old to a show that contains graphic portrayals of violence (including a hanging so vivid that you can hear the breaking of the victim’s neck), explicit mentions of rape, and a smattering of language this paper will not print. I heard gasps from some of the kids at the performance I saw, and I expect some of their parents were gasping as well….

    No link. To read the whole thing, of which there’s even more than usual (the Journal gave me extra space this week to write about Sweeney Todd and See What I Wanna See), buy a copy of this morning’s paper, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, the best deal in Web-based mainstream-media journalism.

    UPDATE: The Journal posted a free link to this review while I was out of town. Read the whole thing here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 4, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Living in New York is like being at some terrible late-night party. You’re tired, you’ve had a headache since you arrived, but you can’t leave because then you’d miss the party."

    Simon Hoggart, America: A User's Guide

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, November 4, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, November 3, 2005
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here's my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated each Thursday. In all cases, I either gave these shows strongly favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened or saw and liked them some time in the past year (or both). For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    BROADWAY:
    Absurd Person Singular (comedy, PG, adult subject matter, closes Dec. 18, reviewed here)
    Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter, strong language, one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    Chicago* (musical, R, adult subject matter, sexual content, fairly strong language)
    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* (musical, R, extremely vulgar, reviewed here)
    Doubt* (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, implicit sexual content, reviewed here)
    The Light in the Piazza (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene, closes Mar. 26, reviewed here)
    Sweet Charity (musical, PG-13, lots of cutesy-pie sexual content, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)

    OFF BROADWAY:
    Orson's Shadow (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, very strong language, closes Dec. 31, reviewed here)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 3, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Did you ever get to know a man better by asking him questions?"

    Arthur Miller, screenplay for The Misfits

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 3, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
    TT: Announcement

    I'm burned out.

    See you next week.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Average cost of a movie ticket in the U.S. in 1929: 35 cents

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $3.78

    (Source: Gary Giddins, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Leisure is not the attitude of mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves—almost like a man falling asleep, for one can only fall asleep by 'letting oneself go.' Sleeplessness and the incapacity for leisure are really related to one another in a special sense, and a man at leisure is not unlike a man asleep. Heraclitus the Obscure observed of men who were asleep that they too 'were busy and active in the happenings of the world.' When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep."

    Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (trans. Alexander Dru)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 2, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
    TT: Call me Sisyphus

    Sorry, folks, that's all for today. I had to get up at four on Monday morning to write a piece, and I expect to be up pretty early this morning doing the same thing. No blogging until the smoke clears, or at least thins out a bit.

    For now, enjoy the balmy weather, and check out some of those other fine blog overs in the right-hand column.

    I'll be back in a day or two.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Playlist

    Yesterday's listening, unexpurgated:

    • Flatt and Scruggs, “Ground Speed”

    • Reynaldo Hahn, “Offrande” (played and sung by the composer in 1909)

    • Stan Getz, “Hershey Bar”

    • Jimmy Rowles, “Grooveyard”

    • Hal Kemp, “Got a Date With an Angel” (vocal by Skinnay Ennis)

    • Steely Dan, “Green Earrings”

    • Bing Crosby, “Sweet Leilani”

    • Bing Crosby and Connie Boswell, “Basin Street Blues”

    • Johnny Cash, “Hey, Porter”

    • Farah Alvin, “Breathing Each Other In”

    • Hot Tuna, “Hesitation Blues”

    • Bernard Herrmann, Concerto Macabre (from the soundtrack of Hangover Square, performed by Joaquin Achucarro, Charles Gerhardt, and the National Philharmonic)

    • Stephen Sondheim, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” (from the original Broadway cast album)

    • Count Basie Sextet, “Stan Shorthair” (with Joe Newman, Paul Quinichette, and Buddy Rich)

    • Doc Watson, “Let the Cocaine Be”

    • Paul Hindemith, Flute Sonata (played by Jean-Pierre Rampal and Robert Veyron-Lacroix)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Total one-time flat fee paid to Fats Waller and Andy Razaf by Mills Music Company in 1929 for all rights to the musical score of Connie's Hot Chocolates, including the songs "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Black and Blue": $500

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $5,402.35

    (Source: David A. Jasen and Gene Jones, Spreadin' Rhythm Around)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Wisecracks still ricochet off movie soundtracks, but too often they are severed from their roots in actual harsh or bitter experience. They are zingers offered for the sake of the zing, not for the hard truths and obdurate realities that we otherwise could not bear to hear of outright. The smart talkers of today's movies, mimicking the monologism of stand-up comedians or the one-liners of sitcoms, rarely aspire above the level of the put-down."

    Maria DiBattista, Fast-Talking Dames

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 1, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, October 31, 2005
    OGIC: Quick hello

    This rare early weekday morning appearance is brought to you by all the clocks in my house that I forgot to set back yesterday.

    Happy halloween!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Still in the barrel

    I remain severely overpressed with sail, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Not only do I have to hit three deadlines this week, but I'll be going to five performances, one of them in Washington (where I'll also be attending a meeting of the National Council on the Arts) and two in North Carolina (where I'll be seeing Carolina Ballet). Hence blogging is likely to be sporadic and fragmentary between now and next Monday. From me, anyway: Our Girl is hoping to pick up some of the slack, which will be nice, since she's been in the barrel herself and is only just starting to emerge.

    You'll find an "Elsewhere" posting immediately below and a couple of new Top Fives in the right-hand column. I also expect to be updating "Sites to See" in my spare time, such as it is. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for this and that, and wish me luck!

    P.S. In case you haven't guessed, I'm still way behind on answering my e-mail and will remain so for the next couple of days.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Elsewhere

    In lieu of original Monday-morning content, here's a peek at my recent Web-based reading:

    • I’ve been meaning to blog this “Talk of the Town” item for weeks:

    Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you’ll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled “Flags Up!” Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die “at 3 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”

    If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”…

    In German, this kind of entry is known as a nihilartikel, about which you can read much more here.

    For more information about the now-legendary Dag Henrik Esrum-Hellerup nihilartikel that was spirited into the first edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, go here.

    • Department of Constructive Criticism: Mr. Modern Art Notes offers a list of “five things museums do that I like.”

    • Mr. Modern Kicks reports on the Neil Welliver retrospective at the Portland Museum of Art:

    Welliver painted Maine for a reason. His works offer an exceptionally direct intuition of the feeling of woods. In some paintings, where trees and branches lay fallen in the marsh and dark clouds gather above, one can almost sense the exact temperature of the fall afternoon, how muddy the ground is, the smell of earth and decaying wood in the chilled air and the promise of rain….

    Oh, how I wish I could see it…

    • …and how I wish I could afford this. (Needless to say, any wealthy blogfans who’d care to present me with a token of their overflowing gratitude may feel free to do so by clicking on the link.)

    • Speaking of art, I seem to be in a work of it...

    • ...and speaking of me, I recently joined the Bad Plus, James Carter, Jason Moran, Dan Morgenstern, and various other musical types in contributing to a Jerry Jazz Musician symposium on “the greatest saxophone solo in the history of jazz.” Here’s part of what I wrote:

    It's so concise, so completely to the point: he gets on, he gets off, and when it's over you know exactly what he meant to tell you and feel the way he wanted you to feel, all in three lapidary minutes. "Grace comes," Merce Cunningham said, "when the energy for the given situation is full and there is no excess." If a record can do that, this one does….

    Care to guess which record I’m talking about?

    • Finally, this story from my hometown newspaper filled me with the most powerful nostalgia imaginable…

    • …as did my discovery of this primitive but nonetheless wonderful Web site, through which you can purchase the product about which I rhapsodized here.

    Happy chewing!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Rerun

    November 2003:

    In New York City, drama critics don’t usually attend opening-night performances of plays. We go to press previews instead, meaning that we rarely see Famous People in the audience—they generally come to the official first night. Alas, I have a celebrity disability, meaning that I almost never recognize them in the flesh. My companion for the evening, however, was a virtuoso celebrity-spotter, and everywhere she looked she saw famous faces…from the distant past. Jack Klugman, Arlene Dahl, Joan Collins, folks like that. (I kept waiting for her to point out Walter Winchell.)

    Where were all the under-70 celebrities? Or do they even come to Broadway shows anymore?...

    (If it’s new to you, read the whole thing here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Bing Crosby's estimated total income in 1936: $508,000

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $6,841,857.61

    (Source: Gary Giddins, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisition of ‘culture.’”

    John Cage (courtesy of oboeinsight)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 31, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, November 5, 2004
    TT: Budapest, N.J.

    I’m in today’s Wall Street Journal, reviewing two shows, both excellent, albeit in very different ways.

    The first is a revival of She Loves Me that runs at at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse through Dec. 5:

    For those unhappy souls as yet unfamiliar with “She Loves Me,” it’s based on “Parfumerie,” a comedy by Hungarian playwright Miklós László that also spawned three popular Hollywood films, “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998). The farce-like plot is played for charm: Georg Nowack (George Dvorsky) and Amalia Balash (Michele Ragusa), two romance-starved members of a lonelyhearts club, have been sending one another anonymous love letters without ever having met….

    What makes “She Loves Me” worthy of “The Shop Around the Corner,” the still-unsurpassed Ernst Lubitsch film on which Joe Masteroff’s book is closely and skillfully based, is the operetta-flavored score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Their songs, all woven into the action with uncanny deftness, are kaleidoscopically varied in tone and approach. None became a standard (the title tune came closest), but several should have, and if “Days Gone By,” “Tonight at Eight,” “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “Will He Like Me?” and “I Resolve” are new to you, get ready for an evening-long treat.

    First produced in 1963, “She Loves Me” hasn’t been done in New York since the Roundabout Theatre Company revived it 30 years later. I didn’t see that much-admired version, but I can’t imagine how it could have been better than this one, directed with untricky flair by James Brennan and cast to something approaching perfection. Not only does Ms. Ragusa do some of the best singing I’ve ever heard on the musical-comedy stage (her role, created for the legendary Barbara Cook, actually contains a timber-shivering high C), but she’s a sweetly winsome actress to boot….

    Though it had two respectable Broadway runs, “She Loves Me” is obscure by comparison with “Fiddler on the Roof,” the show that made Messrs. Bock and Harnick rich and famous. Don’t ask me why, since it’s just as good. Perhaps its intimate scale fails to please those who expect musicals to be big and noisy. Perhaps there’s too much music and not enough jokes. Perhaps the first act, which clocks in at just over 90 minutes, is a trifle too long for impatient theatergoers. All I can tell you is that Paper Mill’s production leaves nothing whatsoever to be desired….

    The second is Mario Cantone's Laugh Whore:

    “I hate to sound really gay,” Mario Cantone proclaims in “Laugh Whore,” a one-man show written by Mr. Cantone, directed by Joe Mantello (“Wicked”) and playing through Jan. 2 at Broadway’s Cort Theatre. Seeing as how the very next thing he does is impersonate Judy Garland, having previously impersonated Liza Minnelli and Carol Channing, I’d say he’s wasting his breath. “Laugh Whore,” like Mr. Cantone himself, is really, really gay. It’s also rib-splittingly funny—the funniest show on Broadway, in fact, give or take “Avenue Q.” I can’t remember when I laughed so hard at anything, anywhere.

    Mr. Cantone is a New York-based actor-singer-comic best known to TV watchers for his recurring role on “Sex and the City” and to theatergoers for his jarringly vivid cameo in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” (he played Samuel Byck, a wannabe Nixon-killer). He looks like a gay version of Al Pacino, sounds like a gay version of Jerry Lewis and does impersonations like…well, just like. His Garland, done minus drag, is downright spooky, while his impression of Jim Morrison doing a Christmas special, accompanied by the Doors, is positively demented….

    No link. Buy a paper, or go here and do as you’re told.

    I expect that's the last you'll hear from me this week. My swollen uvula and I are headed back to bed. See you Monday.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 5, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “The long way is the short way.”

    Wayne Shorter (quoted in Michelle Mercer, Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 5, 2004 | Permanent link
Thursday, November 4, 2004
    OGIC: You can change your life

    Yes, New Yorkers, I'm looking at you. Erin McKeown, providing the soundtrack to my life since October 2004, performs this Saturday at Irving Plaza with The Waifs, and tickets are still available. How lucky can you get?

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, November 4, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Communication breakdown

    Justine Larbalestier cuts right to the way I am feeling this week in a lovely essayette. An excerpt:

    I'm all for different perspectives, different ways of living, of seeing the world. One of the glories of being in other places is seeing how varied the world is. I'm so relieved Buenos Aires isn't exactly like Sydney. That there are places where people don't know who Elvis is. Spending time in the US I am thrilled every time I discover pop cultural memories the yankees have that I don't. Growing up in Australia I always thought I knew all about the USA, I could name all the states, knew a tonne about its music and movies and literature, but I didn't, not even close. I still don't really know this country, I probably never will. That makes me happy.

    But the gulfs. All those Bob Evans people and Baristas people living in the same towns, same cities, sometimes shopping in the same stores, or going to the same churches, who can't talk to each other, or if they do, can't make any sense of what the other says. Whose different worlds are so completely incompatible there's no room for each other in them. That makes me sad.

    Read this musing, too. Oh, just go ahead and bookmark her already!

    (Thanks to lovely CAAF for the link. A girl with a 4-letter acronym can't be wrong.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, November 4, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: With apologies to David Ives

    1. No, not even slightly.

    2. Mostly by grunting.

    3. Yes, out of a can, acccompanied today by peanut butter and jelly and a pint of warm tap water.

    4. The Godfather, Bad Day at Black Rock, and several episodes of What’s My Line? Next up is Pushing Tin.

    5. Not a one—I’m too tired to hold them up in bed.

    6. Like I swallowed a small sausage that got stuck halfway down.

    7. Trust me, you don’t want to know.

    8. Tomorrow, I hope, but don’t count on it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 4, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Prelude to more posting

    Things have changed in my life this week, and I've been a bit slow to devise new routines for myself. Of course, in many ways this has been a less-than-routine week for all of us. But today is the day I embrace normalcy again, even if I have to make up "normal" as I go along. In short: more (real) posting soon! Very soon! In the meantime, a couple of salient points:

    • I no longer have an up-to-the-minute computer with a high-speed connection regularly at my disposal. While I work on making my home computer a meaner, leaner machine, I'm going to be especially slow answering email. I seem to need a system update to be able reliably to access ALN's web-based email. Patience, please.

    • Turns out that one of my favorite dishes, Jambalaya, is easy and quite fun to make! I adapted this recipe according to what I had in the house: two ribs of celery and a jalapeno pepper, all finely diced, in place of the parsley. Also: no cloves in my jambalaya, thank you very much. Results: delicious.

    We will shortly return you to your regular arts blogging.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, November 4, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "He was a dangerous man—a convinced man."

    Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 4, 2004 | Permanent link
Wednesday, November 3, 2004
    TT: The cone of silence

    I continue to feel...well, crappy. Earlier today I went through with a face-to-face interview with a guy who'd set it up weeks ago and had come from out of town just to see me. I didn't have the heart to blow him off, so I talked until what was left of my voice gave out. Since then I haven't uttered a word, and outside of a couple of e-mails I haven't generated any written ones, either. I've blown a deadline (not fatally, but it's badly bruised). I cancelled my longstanding plans for dinner with four very attractive women—a good idea, too, since it's not even eight o'clock and I can barely hold my head up. After I quaff some hot soup and NyQuil, I hope to become deeply unconscious and remain so until tomorrow morning.

    That was my day. How was yours, OGIC?

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 3, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: An unclearable throat

    My cold seems to have given me a swollen uvula, which is one of life's more comical complaints. It's helping me concentrate on my writing, though, since I can't really talk. On the other hand, I'm still feeling moderately crappy!

    Once I get Today's Piece written, drink several gallons of gently warmed fluids, and rack up a hard-earned nap or two, I might well feel moved to blog some more. But don't count on it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 3, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Alternative medium

    "About Last Night" is currently being viewed in thirteen time zones. Obviously, somebody wanted to read about something else tonight.

    And now I am soooo going to bed....

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 3, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “The only moral to be drawn is that honourable causes are seldom advanced by the employment of lawyers.”

    Auberon Waugh, Will This Do?

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 3, 2004 | Permanent link
Tuesday, November 2, 2004
    TT: Deus ex machina

    My copy of Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume Two, preordered months ago from amazon.com, arrived this morning. If that isn’t perfect timing, I don’t know what is, especially since my nose is now stopped up so firmly that it’d take a stick of Acme Dynamite to blow it open.

    So…that’s all, folks! I’ve got two deadlines to hit, plus an important errand to run just around the corner at P.S. 9, where I hear the lines are long and getting longer. See you tomorrow.

    UPDATE: I'm back. The crowd was no more than medium-sized, and that only because several voting districts had been reshuffled since the last election, meaning that many people had to stand in a single, slow-moving line to be told where to vote. I went straight to my district table and was out in under a minute.

    To bed again, I think. I've got to work up the steam to finish my Washington Post column for this coming Sunday, which is due (sneeze, sniffle, grumble) at day's end.

    Later.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Art for power's sake

    Who wrote this? (Don’t peek.)

    I took Anna Karénine along on the trip and have read it through with very great interest. I hardly know whether to call it a bad book or not. There are two entirely distinct stories in it; the connection between Levine’s story and Anna’s is of the slightest, and need not have existed at all. Levine’s and Kitty’s history is not only very powerfully and naturally told, but is also perfectly healthy. Anna’s most certainly is not, though of great and sad interest; she is portrayed as being a prety to the most violent passion, and subject to melancholia, and her reasoning power is so unbalanced that she could not possibly be described otherwise than as in a certain sense insane. Her character is curiously contradictory; bad as she was however she was not nearly as repulsive as her brother Stiva; Vronsky had some excellent points….Tolstoi is a great writer. Do you notice how he never comments on the actions of his personages? He relates what they thought or did without any remark whatever as to whether it was good or bad, as Thucydides wrote history—a fact which tends to give his work an unmoral rather than an immoral tone, together with the sadness so characteristic of Russian writers. I was much pleased with the insight into Russian life.

    The author in question was Theodore Roosevelt, writing in 1886. I found this passage in the new collection of his letters and speeches that Louis Auchincloss recently edited for the Library of America. My friend Rick Brookhiser had been reading the same book and e-mailed me a quotation that piqued my curiosity, so I bought a copy the next day and have since found it impossible to put down.

    That Roosevelt was a good writer is no secret. I mentioned him last year when I had occasion to blog about American presidents who were articulate on paper. But what interests me even more about this particular passage is that it’s a rare example of a prominent American politician saying something specific on paper about an important work of art. Never mind what Roosevelt was saying about Anna Karenina (we’ll get back to that). Ask yourself this: can you recall a similar example? No doubt Lincoln makes mention of Shakespeare in his letters, and I think it fairly likely that Harry Truman, who was a pianist with a serious interest in classical music, must have written somewhere or other about Chopin. But who else? Outside of Justice Holmes, a literary connoisseur but not a politician in the strict sense of the word, no names come immediately to mind.

    This lack of aesthetic interest isn’t unique to politicians, of course. I know of very few American men of affairs (to exhume a wonderfully musty old phrase) who have much of anything to do with art other than as collectors, in which capacity they not infrequently develop considerable sophistication over time. But ask them to talk about the art they own and they have a way of coming up short. This doesn’t necessarily mean they get no aesthetic pleasure out of their art—intellectuals have a nasty habit of regarding verbal dexterity as a virtue, invariably to their cost—but it does make you wonder.

    I wrote the other day about Anthony Powell, in the course of which I quoted one of my favorite passages from A Dance to the Music of Time:

    Whenever Powell informs us that one of his characters takes no pleasure in drink or the arts, or that he prefers power to love, it's a safe bet that unsavory revelations are just around the corner. Herein lies the theme of ''A Dance to the Music of Time,'' stated explicitly in ''A Buyer's Market'' (1952), the second volume, in which Jenkins remarks that ''the arts themselves, so it appeared to me as I considered the matter, by their ultimately sensual essence, are, in the long run, inimical to those who pursue power for its own sake. Conversely, the artist who traffics in power does so, if not necessarily disastrously, at least at considerable risk.''

    I think this is true, which is another reason why I’ve gotten so wrapped up in Roosevelt’s letters. He wasn’t an aesthete by any stretch of the imagination, but he was clearly responsive to beauty, though his responses were cramped by his Victorian mindset. (He told the same correspondent a couple of months later that War and Peace “does not seem to me to be in the least conducive to morality.”)

    On the other hand, would one want to be ruled by an aesthete? Last year I wrote a Commentary essay about Adolf Hitler whose title, “The Murder Artist,” pretty well sums him up:

    Hitler was more than merely an artist manqué, using art-derived techniques for propaganda purposes. Instead, he saw art as the end to which politics was merely the means. For him, the whole point of ruling Germany and conquering Europe was to be able to make them over again in a different image—one in which the fine arts would have pride of place….Hitler, in short, was a deranged idealist, a painter of old churches and picture-postcard landscapes who sought power over others in order to make his romantic dreams real, then grew ever more bloodthirsty when the human beings who were his flesh-and-blood medium resisted his transforming touch.

    Does this mean the only alternatives are philistinism and homicidal mania? I certainly hope not, but I don’t know that I’d trust the average artist to be able to tell the difference between a politician who loved art and one who, like John Kennedy, merely pretended to. We’re all subject to the siren call of wishful thinking, never more so than when a man of affairs engages in the modern-day equivalent of taking us up on the mountaintop and saying, All this could be yours.

    Which brings us back to Theodore Roosevelt, a politician who not only read books but wrote them, and who was clearly a good deal more complicated than most of us are aware. When I reviewed Theodore Rex, the second volume of Edmund Morris’ Roosevelt biography, it never occurred to me to mention Roosevelt’s aesthetic interests, for the good reason that Morris didn’t have much to say about them, even in the generous compass of an 864-page biography. That's why I’m so grateful to Louis Auchincloss, a greatly gifted novelist whose interest in turn-of-the-century American life made him, surprising as it may seem at first glance, the perfect person to edit a volume of Roosevelt’s selected letters. More novelists should cultivate such interests. Scholarship is too important to be left to the scholars.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker."

    H.L. Mencken, Life interview (1946)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | Permanent link
Monday, November 1, 2004
    TT: Terminal

    I have a cold. The worst cold in history. If I can't rent an iron lung before bedtime, I'll just have to shoot myself. Otherwise, I'll try to blog in the morning. If you wrote me today and haven't heard back, that's why.

    Later.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC and TT: Happy housewarming

    Old Hag's redesign is, like, wow. Hop over and say hello! (Bundt cake optional.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Smitten

    I saw Sideways this weekend, a perfectly marvelous movie. I'll write about it in detail later, but for the moment lazily point you to my capsule notice in the TT-OGIC TOP FIVE.

    Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Grab ten bucks and sprint to your friendly neighborhood cinema.

    That is all.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: This, that, these, those

    OGIC and I spent a few idle hours tweaking the right-hand column this past weekend. Not only are the Top Fives updated, but we undertook a radical reorganization of “Sites to See,” our blogroll, in the course of which we added some new blogs and dropped some old ones. Scroll down and take a peek.

    You’ll also find something fresh in the “Teachout Elsewhere” module, a link to an essay about Anthony Powell that I wrote for Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. If you haven’t read it yet, click here to do so.

    Today, by the way, is the official publication date of All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, which is already humming along very nicely, thank you, though I did take a hit the other day in the Los Angeles Times (no free link, heh heh heh). The reviewer actually accused me of political correctness, which has to be a lifetime first….

    More interesting, and far more readily available: Maud Newton interviewed me for her blog! We “talked” at length via e-mail about all sorts of things having to do with my work as a critic and biographer.

    Here's a taste:

    How often do you find yourself modifying your initial critical perspective on a work of art?

    Not infrequently, at least over the course of the life cycle, and sometimes with breathtaking speed. I occasionally quote on my blog a great line by the music critic Hans Keller: “As soon as I detest something I ask myself why I like it.” But you’re talking about something else, something different, and I think it has a lot to do with growing older. If you’re paying any attention at all, increasing age brings with it the shedding of youthful illusions, along with a detachment that also affects your aesthetic requirements. It’s harder to be romantic in middle age—you’ve seen too much death, too much failure, too much injustice—and you also lose your taste for a certain kind of effusiveness. At 48, for instance, I now find that my favorite opera is Verdi’s Falstaff. I would never have said that at 28. By the same token, I think I also appreciate certain authors more, in some cases much more. I liked Conrad when young; I love him now. I would never have appreciated a novel like Death Comes for the Archbishop when I was in my twenties. And I didn’t get Mauriac at all back then, whereas I’m now quite passionate about him....

    Read the whole thing here.

    I’ll try to post more today, but this is a three-deadline, three-show week, so if I should fail to deliver the goods, please be kind.

    UPDATE: Go to the “Teachout in Commentary” module of the right-hand column to read my newly posted essay for Commentary, in which I talk about the life and lyrics of Johnny Mercer.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: More on the "S" word

    My posting on schadenfreude pulled a lot of e-mail.

    A Los Angeles cabaret singer wrote:

    Just a theory: you are, of course, aware that there is a song in the Sesame Street parody musical Avenue Q called “Schadenfreude.” Perhaps our friends at the Times think that is reason enough to suspect it is now part of the popular lexicon. (They did the same thing a couple of years back with “tsunami,” if you recall.)

    She was the first to remind me of what I should have known, seeing as how I gushed all over Avenue Q in The Wall Street Journal last year. Several others wrote immediately thereafter to point out the same thing, including a New York actress:

    Last October, I came across the word for the first time in my "Word Of The Day" calendar (it was a gift!) and took special notice of it because this calendar had, up until then, had the habit of introducing me to such exotic and challenging terms as "espresso" and "pseudonym." Here, at last, was a word I hadn't seen before.

    Two nights later, I went to see "Avenue Q" on Broadway and Voila! there was the word as the title of a song!

    Since then, I can't stop seeing the thing and I've never quite decided if it was always used so much or if I just noticed it more because of my handy calendar. Maybe I missed out on not having one for 2004. Probably not.

    Oh, so the theory is, maybe the show affected a bunch of people or maybe a lot of those calendars were on sale.

    Minutes later, I heard from the polyglot critic Bruce Bawer, an old friend who follows this blog from his home in Norway:

    Interestingly, of the other Germanic languages I'm familiar with, Norwegian and Danish also have a word for this concept ("skadefryd"), as does Swedish ("skadeglädje"). In Dutch, the equivalent word would be "schadevreugde," but I don't find it in my Dutch-English dictionary, and when I google it, only one instance of it turns up (in a posting on Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, which is described as having "well brought out schadevreugde as in the Pink Panther movies"). It's interesting that English, the most word-rich of all the Germanic languages, doesn't have a word for this. Does this tell us anything, perhaps, about Anglo-Saxon culture or the Anglo-Saxon character?

    At least in Norway, the word in question is by no means obscure or academic. I have actually heard "skadefryd" used several times in conversation since moving to Norway. The first time I heard it, it took me a second or two to realize it was "Schadenfreude" with a Norwegian accent. I was delighted to realize Norwegian actually had its very own word for the concept. It has been a bit disconcerting, however, to see just how often the word comes up.

    My own theory is that the redistributionist welfare state engenders an excessive concern with, and envy of, what others have - not just money but talent, looks, health, love, happiness, anything – so that when somebody has "too much" of something and suddenly loses it, skadefryd is inevitable. (Just a theory.)

    All of which is further proof that I have the smartest readers in the known universe.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Words to the wise

    Here’s something you shouldn’t miss:

    Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy will present “The Rosenbach Company,” their new music-theater production, Tuesday, November 9th at 7:30 p.m. at the Harry De Jur Playhouse in The Abrons Arts Center of The Henry Street Settlement, 466 Grand Street, Manhattan. One performance only. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min.

    Katchor and Mulcahy’s new sung-through pop-musical chronicles the life and times of Abe Rosenbach, the world’s preeminent rare-book dealer in the first half of the last century, and his brother Philip, a savvy dealer of decorative arts. Their collection ranges from James Joyce's manuscript of “Ulysses” to John Tenniel's original illustrations for “Alice in Wonderland.”

    Mixing projected animated images with live actors, singers and musicians, the show explores such issues as the obsessive nature of collecting, the relationship between cultural and commercial pursuits and the men's historical significance as the owners of some of the world's greatest literary treasures.

    “...a sung-through biodrama? a chamber rock opera? a meeting of the museum establishment with the music underground?—it is thrilling, charming, and altogether a knockout.” – Variety.com

    Earlier this year, Katchor and Mulcahy premiered their first collaboration, “The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island,” at the Kitchen in New York City.

    Ben Katchor (projections, text and direction) is best known for his comic-strip series “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,” “The Cardboard Valise,” “Hotel & Farm” and “The Jew of New York.” He produces a monthly strip for Metropolis Magazine and his drawings appear in The New Yorker. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

    Mark Mulcahy (composer and singer in the roles of Abe Rosenbach) has released two critically acclaimed albums (“Fathering” and “Smilesunset”) and performs in the USA and Europe. Mr. Mulcahy also composed the music for the television series "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" with his fictional tv band, Polaris. He has written music for the films “Spring Forward,” “The Crush,” and “A Matter of Degrees.” Mr. Mulcahy is featured in the new Nick Hornby collection, “Songbook.”

    Singers: Katie Geissinger, Ryan Mercy and Mark Mulcahy. Musicians: Ashley Grella, Brian Marchese, Henning Ohlenbusch and Dave Trenholm.

    Tickets are $20. Please purchase your tickets in advance with a credit-card or Paypal here. The reserved ticket(s) will be held in your name at the door and can be picked up 1/2 hour before showtime. (If you purchase your ticket at the door it must be with cash.)

    Alas, I’ve got a Broadway preview that same night, one I can’t possibly wiggle out of. Seeing as how I’m the biggest possible fan of Katchor’s "picture stories," I’ve been gnashing my teeth ever since I got this press release. You go, and tell me how good it was, and I’ll eat my heart out. And if for some reason my Broadway show should blow up, look for me on the aisle.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “What a bore it is, waking up in the morning always the same person. I wish I were unflinching and emphatic, and had big, bushy eyebrows and a Message for the Age. I wish I were a deep Thinker, or a great Ventriloquist.

    “I should like to be refined and melancholy, the victim of a hopeless passion; to love in the old, stilted way, with impossible Adoration and Despair under the pale-faced Moon.

    “I wish I could get up; I wish I were the world's greatest Violinist. I wish I had lots of silver, and first Editions, and green ivory.”

    Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia (courtesy of James T. Keating)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 1, 2004 | Permanent link
Sunday, October 31, 2004
    TT and OGIC: New around here, stranger?

    If you've dropped in for the first time after having seen the www.terryteachout.com URL mentioned in today's New York Times Book Review, welcome to "About Last Night," a 24/5 blog (today's posting is a special exception) hosted by artsjournal.com on which Terry Teachout writes about the arts in New York City and elsewhere, assisted by the pseudonymous Our Girl in Chicago, who writes from...Chicago.

    (In case you're wondering, this blog has two URLs, the one you're seeing at the top of your screen right now and the easier-to-remember www.terryteachout.com. Either one will bring you here.)

    All our postings from the past seven days are visible in reverse chronological order on this page. Terry's start with "TT," Our Girl's with "OGIC." In addition, the entire contents of this site are archived chronologically and can be accessed by clicking "ALN Archives" at the top of the right-hand column.

    You can read more about us, and about "About Last Night," by going to the right-hand column and clicking in the appropriate places. You'll also find various other toothsome features there, including our regularly updated Top Five list of things to see, hear, read and otherwise do, links to Terry's most recent newspaper and magazine articles, and "Sites to See," a list of links to other blogs and Web sites with art-related content. If you're curious about the arty part of the blogosphere, you've come to the right site: "Sites to See" will point you in all sorts of interesting directions, and all roads lead back to "About Last Night."

    As if all that weren't enough, you can write to us by clicking either one of the "Write Us" buttons. We read our mail, and answer it, too, so long as you're minimally polite. (Be patient, though. We get a lot of it.)

    The only other thing you need to know is that "About Last Night" is about all the arts, high, medium, and low: film, drama, painting, dance, fiction, TV, music of all kinds, whatever. Our interests are wide-ranging, and we think there are plenty of other people like us out there in cyberspace, plus still more who long to wander off their beaten paths but aren't sure which way to turn.

    If you're one of the above, we're glad you came. Enjoy. Peruse. Tell all your friends about www.terryteachout.com. And come back tomorrow.

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, October 31, 2004 | Permanent link
Saturday, November 8, 2003
    TT: Purely for my pleasure

    I mentioned in a posting the other day that I’d been using my fancy new cable box to record episodes of an old black-and-white game show called What’s My Line? For the past few years, the Game Show Network has been airing WML reruns at 4:30 every morning. (To see a schedule, click here.)

    I watched What’s My Line? as a child, and its return to the small screen inspired me shortly after 9/11 to write a piece for the New York Times of which I’m particularly fond. I didn’t include it in A Terry Teachout Reader because it didn’t seem to fit, so in the interest of boosting the show's audience, I’d like to make this first-hand reminiscence of the Age of the Middlebrow available to the readers of "About Last Night." Here are some excerpts:

    The basic premise of "What’s My Line?," which made its debut in 1950, was elegantly simple. The first two guests each week were ordinary people with odd jobs: professional egg-breakers, dynamite manufacturers, makers of square manhole covers. John Charles Daly, the avuncular host, invited them to "sign in, please," whereupon they would scrawl their names on a blackboard, take a seat, and submit to yes-or-no questioning by four panelists who tried to guess what they did for a living, with each "no" answer winning them five dollars. After the middle commercial, the panelists put on blindfolds and sought to identify the Mystery Guest, a celebrity who disguised his voice in an attempt, usually but not always unsuccessful, to fox his inquisitors.

    The fun came partly from the contestants, who were chosen whenever possible for their intrinsic incongruity—the dynamite maker, for example, was a distinguished-looking woman of a certain age—but mostly from the droll byplay of the panel and guests. Of the three longest-serving regular panelists, Arlene Francis, a stage actress turned small-screen personality, exuded unfeigned warmth, while Dorothy Kilgallen, a bite-the-jugular newspaper reporter and columnist, and Bennett Cerf, the gentleman president of Random House, played the game to win. The wild-card fourth panelist was sometimes a nimble-witted comedian (Fred Allen and Steve Allen both had long runs on the show), sometimes a celebrity of another sort (Van Cliburn, Moss Hart, John Lindsay, and Gore Vidal were among the more surprising occupants of the fourth chair).

    As for the Mystery Guest, "What’s My Line?" was so hot in its heyday that it was able to book pretty much anybody it wanted: Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, even Eleanor Roosevelt. Stars with ultra-familiar voices would struggle mightily but vainly to disguise them (Louis Armstrong never had a chance), invariably reducing the studio audience to a puddle of laughter. Trickery was encouraged—Jack Paar lisped his answers through a bullhorn, Paul Muni played his on a violin—and on one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday evening, Bob Hope succeeded in persuading the panel that he was really Bing Crosby….

    Much of the charm of "What’s My Line?" arises from the fact that it is so palpably of another era. The pace was slowish and agreeable, the repartee good-humored but unabashedly urbane. The host and panel all wore formal evening dress; John Daly addressed his female colleagues as "Miss Arlene" and "Miss Dorothy." The set was penny-plain, the guests signed in on a dimestore blackboard, and Daly kept score by flipping cards. The contestants, who were treated with the utmost courtesy, were clearly content to earn a mere $50 for stumping the panel. Even though all 876 episodes were originally broadcast live, it never occurs to you for a moment that anyone on stage would have dreamed of saying anything naughty.

    Perhaps most strikingly, the collegial bonhomie of the participants leaves you with the distinct impression that the show is taking place in a parallel universe of famous people who all know and like one another and probably stroll over to the Algonquin for a drink afterward. Or so, at least, it seemed to myself when young, sitting in front of a black-and-white TV in the living room of a small house in a small town in southeast Missouri....

    To read the whole thing, go here.

    After this piece ran in the Times, I received a letter from a Hollywood agent who collects old TV shows, and who through means too complicated to recount here acquired a complete set of videocassettes of every surviving kinescope of What’s My Line? From time to time he hears from aging former WML guests (or their children), and whenever possible he sends them a copy of the episode on which they appeared. He’s also dubbed more than a few WML reels for me. The world is full of lovely people who like nothing better than sharing their pleasures, and this kind gentleman (who now reads "About Last Night" regularly) ranks high among them.

    posted by terryteachout @ Saturday, November 8, 2003 | Permanent link
Friday, November 7, 2003
    TT: Elsewhere

    Courtesy of Bookslut, an article by a black writer from Cleveland who wondered whether Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor portrayed blacks in a racist way. Then he met Pekar on the street one day:

    I confronted him about his use of language, the way the black workmates he wrote about read as ghetto-style and under-educated. White people had goofy accents in his comic, but didn't seem to get that treatment in his book. He took the criticism real well, listening attentively. Finally he interjected.

    "Y'got a few minutes?" he asked. "Cuz if ya do, I wanna take ya to my job and introduce ya t' some a' those people. You'll meet 'em and see for yerself — I ain't givin' them a hard way t'go. I just write 'em as I hear 'em."

    Off to his gig we went, and as it turns out, the people he wrote about were exactly as he wrote them, and the writer in me tuned my ears to the music in their voices. I began to hear people in a whole other way — Pekar was taking risk with the written language I hadn't seen or heard before….

    Go here to read the whole thing—which you absolutely must do.

    You might be surprised to learn who wrote this (scroll down to find it). Or maybe not:

    Several readers have complained about my dissing of 2001. I stand my ground. There's one point a couple readers have made though I will concede. They say if I'd seen it when it first came out I would think differently. That is undoubtedly true. But some movies -- and books and bands and art -- are significant because they break new ground and some are significant because they are timeless….it seems to me that 2001 was pathbreaking but it wasn't timeless. I feel the same way about Citizen Kane, by the way. I watched it in film class in college so I know all about the groundbreaking techniques used in the film. But those techniques have now been absorbed by the trade. What's left is a pioneering movie which is more interesting as a historical document in the history cinema than as a movie. Just as the Model T was a great advance in the history of automotive innovation, but there are plenty of other cars I'd rather drive, there are plenty of "great" movies I wouldn't choose seeing again over the chance to watch Road House one more time. There are plenty of music videos I'd rather watch than Un Chien Andalou, even though Un Chien Andalou is their artistic father.

    What I want to know is, which Road House does he have in mind? I have a sinking feeling it’s not this one.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 7, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Choosers aren't beggars

    Speaking of letters, Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at BuzzMachine, sent me one about yesterday’s posting describing my experience with digital video recording—then decided to post it on his blog, along with some further reflections:

    The remote control caused a populist revolution, I've long said, because once we had choice, we proved that we had taste. (I mark the golden age of TV, the real golden age, not the nostalgic vaudeville age, from the mid-80s, when viewers had choice, watched the good stuff, and let the bad stuff die; the age of the Beverly Hillbillies died; the age of Hill St. Blues emerged thanks to our control.) Seeing that is what made me such a populist; it gave me faith in the taste, judgment, and intelligence of the people….

    Go here to read the whole thing.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 7, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: We get letters

    Here are four recent letters to "About Last Night" that caught my eye:

  • "I doubt there'll be a time when ‘the printed book gives way, as in time it surely must, to the hand-held electronic book-reading device.’ A printed book gives tactile pleasure—the heft of it, the texture of the pages, the feel of turning them one by one—that an electronic book never could. I'm reminded of the entire-meal-in-a-pill in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the one that turns Violet into a huge blueberry. Such a pill would never become popular, because there are elements to eating other than flavor, elements that the pill couldn't reproduce. I'd make a parallel argument for the printed book over the electronic one….

    "You're right about the end of the record album, though."

  • "I think it's entirely right and proper to be concerned about the public's willingness to pay attention to anything for very long—I know more than enough teachers to see the problem frequently illustrated. And yet...

    "Peter Jackson and his crew are packing them into theatres with movies more than three hours long, and then selling them (by which I mean ‘us’, since I'm part of this crowd) DVDs that take the running time up to four hours. The brothers Wachowski aren't having any problems with public interest in movies well over two hours long. Nor are directors as diverse as Bryan Singer, George Lucas, and Ang Lee.

    "But it's not just a matter of the movie pendulum being way over toward the side marked ‘will sit long hours for movies we like’. Boxed sets are doing great business in music and DVDs. Complete Anything collections move well. Likewise, the boom in manga is the result of a bunch of teenagers finding that they're quite willing to commit to many, many volumes of series that hook their attention….

    "The passing of the album in music therefore seems less than inevitable to me, and less than a harbinger of general doom in spite of that crabbed little part of my soul eager to say ‘Ha ha, I knew it, the kids are NOT all right.’ It's just that, for whatever reason(s), the way albums are put together doesn't seem to grab the attention or sympathy of enough listeners. There's presumably room for someone to do what's been done in film and graphic storytelling and make long works engaging again."

  • "I read what you wrote in the WSJ [about The Producers] and I have to say, I think you're wrong. I'm 21, and my friends and I constantly watch older comedies. To be perfectly honest, they're funnier than anything that comes out now. The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I.....they're a different kind of funny than movies that come out now. It’s more solid, something you're going to remember after you get out of the theater, something you'll quote to someone or think to yourself and laugh at random….

    "The fact that they don't make movies like that anymore is a reflection of the poor taste of the current generation of Hollywood people. Don't go pinning their poor taste on the rest of the country."

  • "Your essay about The Producers reminded me of something sad. In the days after September 11, when Rudy Giuliani was on TV, he was trying to encourage people to come to New York City. As a joke he said ‘You can even get tickets to The Producers.’ That will probably be part of the history of that show, forever.

    "When The Producers first came to Broadway, I always thought that what was nostalgia for my generation was actually part of my parent's victory celebration. After a long horrible war, this was the final insult to the Nazis. I was too young to understand what my parents were laughing at. But they were happy and that was fine with me."

    "How strange that this show, in the movies and on stage should mark the end of one world war and the beginning of another."

    In case you didn’t know it, smart people read this blog.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 7, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Due to circumstances beyond our control

    OGIC and I weren't able to post for most of Thursday afternoon. According to artsjournal.com, our invaluable host, the server that handles all the artsjournal blogs, including "About Last Night," experienced "catastrophic disk failure." Everything finally got fixed, but not before Our Girl and I went to our respective evening appointments (she to 21 Grams, I to the press preview of the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker). I just now got home, posted the backed-up items, and wrote some new stuff. We trust all will be normal from now on, or at least for a few more minutes.

    The amazing thing is that even though we couldn't update the site for much of the day, we still pulled in an impressive amount of traffic: just over 2,100 page views, twice our previously normal figure. It begins to look as if at least some of the folks who visited "About Last Night" for the first time as the result of this week's link orgy might just be sticking around. That's very good news indeed.

    Fridays can be hectic in both New York and Chicago, but we'll do our damnedest to give you as many piping-hot entries as possible. In the meantime, please tell all your friends about www.terryteachout.com, the 24/5-to-7 arts blog. It's been a great week for us. Let's have another.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 7, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Short but sweet

    I reviewed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in this morning's Wall Street Journal. Here's how it starts:

    Ashley Judd. Jason Patric. Ned Beatty. Tennessee Williams. What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty, as you’ll learn if you visit the new Broadway revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," which opened Sunday at the Music Box. But there’s nothing even slightly wrong with Mr. Beatty, who breathes fire as Big Daddy. He is as exciting as Ms. Judd and Mr. Patric are dull—and as fresh as Williams’ play is stale....

    Unlike most camera-pampered Hollywood types, Mr. Beatty knows what to do in front of a live audience. His beautifully placed bass-baritone voice, complete with bottled-in-bond Kentucky accent, bounces effortlessly off the back wall of the Music Box. Though he’s the shortest man in the cast, he turns his modest stature into a towering advantage, playing Williams’ wealthy plantation owner as a shrewd, scrappy underdog who chewed his way to the top of the heap and now revels in making taller people look small. You’ll gasp when he first totters on stage, seemingly wan and yellow from the cancer that is eating Big Daddy alive—and you’ll gasp again when he breaks into a maniacal jig to celebrate the news that he isn’t dying after all. But his hope is false, and as he faces the inescapable fact of his imminent demise, Mr. Beatty seems to grow a foot or two before your astonished eyes. Such are the mysterious ways of great actors, and this is great acting.

    There's much more, including brief but pungent notices of Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour and Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home...but there's no link, for reasons explained at length here.

    What to do? Easy:

    (1) Extract one dollar from your wallet.

    (2) Take it to the nearest newsstand and purchase a copy of this morning's Journal.

    (3) Turn to the "Weekend Journal" section, over whose first page I'm plastered.

    (4) Read the whole section, not just my review.

    (5) Report back at once.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 7, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Letters to the blogosphere

    Dear artblog.net: Not only are you one of my favorite arts bloggers, but you turn out to be a damn fine painter to boot. Who knew?

    Dear Jolly Days: You are very smart on Pauline Kael (whom I admire greatly, albeit with strong reservations):

    She was the safe outlaw - attracted to and provoking the naturally restrained. She liked tweaking the power structure, but was securely part of it and identified with it.

    Dear Laura Lippman: RSI or no RSI, God meant for you to be a blogger. Get with the program.

    Dear Felix Salmon: You are the first person ever to make me think I might possibly have slightly underrated Marc Chagall.

    And, finally:

    Dear Old Hag: You rock. Totally.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 7, 2003 | Permanent link
Thursday, November 6, 2003
    OGIC: Excuses, excuses

    Sorry for the slow day around here! We have been stymied by technical problems, and as for your GIC, she is in the foulest of moods today, quite apart from server snits. I wish I had it in me to channel my ill humor into something as hilariously misanthropic as this (when did the Chronicle of Higher Education get a sense of humor, anyway?), but I have vast expanses of other peoples' prose to edit, and no time to waste venting. Come to think of it, though, editing and venting don't have to preclude one another, do they…oh, pity the poor manuscripts.

    I'm counting on the healing, or at least distracting, powers of art to snap me out of this funk: in a few hours I'll be attending a preview of 21 Grams, for which I have the highest hopes. I'll let you know how they pan out.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, November 6, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: A visit from Pandora

    New Yorkers who subscribe to Time Warner digital cable TV now have the option of acquiring a fancy new cable box containing a built-in digital video recorder (DVR) designed to interface directly with Time Warner’s on-screen TV guide. Translated into English, this means you can record any TV program, or every episode of any TV series, simply by pushing a couple of buttons on your remote control, all for a ridiculously small monthly fee. I got a DVR a couple of days ago, and since then I’ve had to discipline myself severely in order to get any work done at all.

    My new cable box does all sorts of cool stuff. Among other things, I can pause a TV show while it’s being broadcast live, then pick up right where I left off. (Please don't laugh if all this is old hat to you. For me, it's still a novelty.) But the most important part of the box is the DVR. You don’t have to read the admirably terse manual to figure out how it works: the menu-driven controls are intuitive to a fault. After fiddling with the remote for about 30 seconds, I was merrily clicking my way through the Turner Classic Movies schedule for the rest of the week.

    If you own or have read about TiVo, the stand-alone home DVR system, none of this is news. The only difference is that Time Warner hooks its DVR up for you, and the whole shebang costs (as the old commercials used to say) just pennies a day. For this reason, given the ubiquity of cable TV and the rapid spread of digital systems, I can’t imagine that TiVo has much of a future. Everybody to whom I demonstrate my new cable box wants one—right now.

    I have no doubt that the introduction of the cable-box DVR will have a massive and immediate effect on TV viewing habits, probably even greater than that brought about by the introduction of the VCR. Not only does the on-screen TV-guide interface make time shifting infinitely more convenient, but it encourages you to view TV programs whenever you please—and to skip the commercials, which is far easier to do on a DVR than a VCR.

    I don’t care for the word "empowerment," but I can’t think of a better way to describe what it feels like to use a DVR for the first time. I wrote the other day about how CBS’s decision to scrap The Reagans was really a new-media story that demonstrated the declining ability of Big Media to unilaterally shape the cultural conversation. Digital video recording is not a new medium per se, merely a technology, but it does have a quintessential new-media effect: it gives the viewer greater power to control the way he experiences network TV. In that sense, you might compare it to the way bloggers use links to cherry-pick the contents of Big Media Web sites, reshaping them into new on-line information packages over which the original publishers have no control—save by shifting to subscription-only access models, and thus taking themselves out of the new-media loop altogether. It’s an impossible choice: do you surrender control to the consumer, or do you walk away from the possibility of reaching younger viewers who are already deserting Big Media in droves?

    The more you think about it, the more clearly you’ll see how hard it is to choose between these alternatives, not only in this context but in others as well. One of the Big Media publications for which I write, The Wall Street Journal, charges for on-line access to most of its daily contents. From the paper’s point of view, this model "works": the Journal Web site turns a profit. From my point of view, however, it doesn’t work. Why? Because no one on the Web can link to my Friday drama columns, meaning that they don’t have nearly as significant a presence in the buzz-generating blogosphere as do, say, Ben Brantley’s theater reviews for the New York Times. (That’s why I post excerpts on this page first thing each Friday morning, even though I’m well aware that it’s not nearly as convenient as being able to read the whole column on your computer.)

    What's more, this isn't only a problem for me. In my experience, most people out in the larger world of art and culture aren't aware that the Journal runs any pieces about the arts, much less that it covers them regularly and well. For this reason, I’ve suggested that the paper consider posting all of its fine-arts coverage on its free Opinion Journal Web site, which now carries only one arts-related story each day. So far, the powers-that-be haven’t budged, and I understand why, though I’m still trying....

    But I’ve wandered far afield from the tale of my new cable box, on which I have so far recorded five movies and three episodes of What’s My Line?, the wonderful old black-and-white game show which the Game Show Network runs in the middle of the night. (The box will store 35 hours’ worth of programming.) I’ve already watched a few shows in my spare time, such as it is. No doubt some will get watched and most of the rest erased, that being the way time shifting works. What I haven’t done since the box arrived is watch any TV shows in real time—nor have I seen a single commercial. In effect, I have replaced the existing TV networks with a homemade video-on-demand system on which I can watch what I want, when I want.

    I wonder whether the people who run CBS, NBC and ABC realize that by doing so, I and my fellow DVR users have brought an end to the world as they know it? Probably not—but they will.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 6, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Fortune cookie

    Said a girl who upon her divan
    Was attacked by a virile young man,
    "Such excess of passion
    Is quite out of fashion,"
    And she fractured his wrist with her fan.

    Edward Gorey

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, November 6, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Linked beyond recognition

    I don't know exactly what the rest of the blogosphere saw in "About Last Night" this week, but whatever it was, it must have been hot. Our Site Meter got a little weird after midnight, but we seem to have received somewhere between 2,400 and 2,600 page views on Wednesday. Not as many as on Tuesday, but well over twice as many as usual. Presumably some of these transients will settle down and visit us daily, or at least again. To all of you, and to the many wonderful bloggers who linked to "About Last Night," Our Girl and I doff our hats and tip our wigs. You're the best.

    I only just got back from tonight's playgoing, and I now have just 11 hours in which to (A) sleep and (B) review Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Violet Hour, and The Long Christmas Ride Home for Friday's Wall Street Journal, so chances are that I won't be posting all that much on Thursday. I haven't heard from OGIC since yesterday afternoon (it is tomorrow, right?), so I can't tell you what she's got planned, but I'm sure she'll keep the home fires burning.

    At any rate, it's more than likely that there's something here you haven't seen before, so scroll and browse and check back with us later. We'll try not to keep you waiting.

    UPDATE: Site Meter righted itself and spit out a final number for Wednesday of about 2,650 page views. That'll do.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 6, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: A funny thing happened on the way to Toontown

    I woke up yesterday morning intending—nay, expecting—to spend the day writing a piece for The Wall Street Journal about The Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Then, just as I was gearing up, the phone rang. It was my editor at the Journal.

    "You know about The Producers?" he asked.

    "Yes."

    "Could you write something about it?

    "Yes."

    "For tomorrow?"

    "Yes."

    So Looney Tunes got put off until next week. Instead, I changed funny hats and wrote about The Producers. Here’s the lead:

    The big news on Broadway is the announcement that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who created the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in the musical-comedy version of Mel Brooks’ 1968 movie "The Producers," will return to the show for 14 weeks starting Dec. 30. A year ago, that would have been news because "The Producers" was still Broadway’s hottest ticket, the musical everyone was talking about. Now, it’s news because "The Producers" is sorely in need of artificial respiration. Last week, it played to only 69% capacity.

    Some observers blame the show’s decline on weak replacements for Messrs. Lane and Broderick, others on the fact that the best seats at the St. James Theatre are reserved for premium buyers willing to shell out a staggering $480 apiece. Both reasons are plausible, but neither quite hits the mark. The real reason why "The Producers" is sagging like a dowager’s bosom is that it, too, is out of date—albeit gloriously so….

    Believe it or not, this one is available on "Opinion Journal," the free page of the Journal’s Web site. To read the whole thing, click here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 6, 2003 | Permanent link
Wednesday, November 5, 2003
    OGIC: Whirlwind worldwide

    Web-based reasons to put off till tomorrow what you could have done today:

    As noted by Terry earlier, Amanda at Household Opera is quoting Edward Gorey, which should always be encouraged. Now I know where my next fortune cookie is coming from.

    Cinetrix, whom we can't seem to stop linking to, is brave. She's also sick, which will not do. Get on the case, 'Fesser.

    Jessica Harbour is full of good advice for participants in National Novel Writing Month, which I kind of wish I were doing, now that it is safely too late to start. NaNoWriMo's FAQs include the following:

    Did you know there is a group in Vancouver that writes novels in a weekend?

    Yes, and they are fools. Everyone knows that any deep and lasting work of art takes an entire month to make.

    How do you pronounce NaNoWriMo?

    NAN-no WRY-Mo.

    Oh. I've been saying it NAN-no WREE-Mo.

    That's ok too.

    Can I write one word 50,000 times?

    No. Well... No.

    Can anyone participate in NaNoWriMo?

    No. People who take their writing very seriously should go elsewhere. Everyone else, though, is warmly welcomed.

    Oh well, maybe next year.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Lack of oxygen

    Dear OGIC:

    Ever since this site began, our traffic has been significantly lower in the Mountain Time Zone than anywhere else in the continental U.S.

    Discuss.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Get with the program

    Raise your hand if you know what Charles Murray is talking about in this conversation with The New Yorker's Rebecca Mead, related in this week's Talk of the Town:

    Murray was asked what emanations of popular culture would appear on his own top-twenty list. "The movie 'Groundhog Day,'" he immediately offered. "It is a brilliant moral fable, offering an Aristotelian view of the world." What else? "The genre of the hardboiled detective novel," he said. "I think people may still be reading Sherlock Holmes two hundred years from now." How about television? "I don’t go along with the 'I Love Lucy' stuff," he said, as if an "I Love Lucy" lobby were outside, picketing the Hertog home.

    It's not outside, it's out here! To Mead, Murray's reference to "I Love Lucy" is just a loopy non sequitur. Committed arts blog readers will have instantly recognized it as one of David Frum's top ten cultural items produced since 1950 that will still matter in 200 years. Cup of Chicha was just one of many such sites to link to Frum's list last week.

    By the way, you can read my illustrious cohort's take on Murray's Human Accomplishment over here.

    And you can put your hand down now.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Politics and prizes

    After D.B.C. Pierre's Vernon God Little won the Booker Prize last month, book review editors across the country picked up their phones (O.K., so they probably sent email, but that doesn't suggest nearly as dramatic a split-screen image). Pierre's novel is a dark comedy about the aftermath of a Columbine-like school shooting. A couple of weeks ago the wave of new reviews started breaking, the earliest ones appreciative but distinctly lacking ardor, as though people were unmoved by the book but hesitant to gainsay the Booker committee.

    Now the reviews are turning plainly negative. Today everyone will be talking about Michiko Kakutani's takedown of the book in the New York Times. A small taste: "In trying to score a lot of obvious points off a lot of obvious targets, Mr. Pierre may have won the Booker Prize and ratified some ugly stereotypes of Americans, but he hasn't written a terribly convincing or compelling novel." But Kakutani was anticipated in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, in a review whose lifetime as free web content may be about to expire, so be warned. John Freeman gave the novel's inventiveness its due, but wondered whether it was this quality as much as the scorching of life in these United States that earned it the nod from the Booker judges:

    Vernon God Little might be the most vicious satire of American life to come out of Britain since Martin Amis' 1984 Money. Set in a small Texas town at the center of a media circus, the book places an astute, if needling, finger on the scary collusion between entertainment and law enforcement in American culture.…

    Still, in spite of its linguistic daring-do, Vernon God Little is less a satire than it is a burlesque. It ignores the emotional strafing such high school massacres leave in their wake in order to make a point about the way the media—and Americans' susceptibility to the media—warp the moral contract.

    What grates even more about Vernon God Little is that to make these points, it twists itself into a pretzel of unbelievable plotting and gross generalization. None of the characters, including Vernon, earns our sympathy. They are uniformly cruel and crass to one another.

    Writers are entitled to their bleakness, and satire demands license. But when books go so far over the top, their insights become easy to dismiss. The acclaim that Vernon Little God received abroad shows us that learned Brits are happy to see America reflected in a funhouse mirror.

    And at Amazon, an Australian reader who loves the book groups it with the (by many accounts also fictional) work of Michael Moore, clucking, "This, and Stupid White Men, should be compulsory reading for all Americans."

    I've picked up the novel a few times without getting very far, so I can't responsibly comment on its literary merits. One tic I have noticed is the awkward insertion of self-consciously literary language into Vernon's crude vernacular. For example, "My buddy, who once did the best David Letterman impression you ever saw, has been abducted by glandular acids." As far as I can tell, the incongruity of this typical sentence serves to shore up the distance between Pierre and his material, with the narrator stuck uncomfortably in between. In other words, the writing usually seems pretentious. The effect reminds me of American Beauty, a very different work, but one whose writer and director looked down on their poor, soulless suburban subjects from empyrean heights of sophistication and general superiority.

    But there I go reviewing a book I haven't read, when I wanted simply to point out the political alertness of this latest wave of reviews. Is it possible that Pierre's critique of Texas and America told the Booker committee what they wanted to hear, and thus helped him win the award? I'd say it's likely. Prize competitions never take place in a vacuum, nor are books written in one. Judges unavoidably will be influenced not only by the intrinsic merits of the books they read, but also by their own world views; some will be better at suppressing this kind of influence than others. It's not exactly scandalous if this year's Booker selection was as much a political statement as a literary one. But it is pretty sad, and will take some of the bang out of the whole shebang next year.

    UPDATE: On the other hand, Maud likes the novel. Maud trumps Michiko any day.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: We're whistling! We're whistling!

    You should check out DVD Journal regularly, but if you don’t, here’s some video-related news:

    (1) The Rules of the Game streets Jan. 20 from the Criterion Collection (but Notorious goes out of print Dec. 31, arrgh).

    (2) Out this week: High Sierra and To Have and Have Not.

    P.S. The wicked smart Cinetrix, who blogs at Pullquote, is a hoot on what it was like to try and buy a copy of To Have and Have Not from a clerk who’d never heard of Humphrey Bogart.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Letters to the blogosphere

    Dear Household Opera: OGIC, who introduced me to the pleasures of Edward Gorey once upon a time (and is a fanatical Gorey collector herself), will be pleased by this paragraph in your latest posting:

    See Edward Gorey’s L’Heure Bleue, possibly his most beautiful book, which includes dialogue such as "I should like a parsley sandwich," "To the best of my knowledge they are no longer in season," and "More is happening out there than we are aware of." "It is possibly due to some unknown direful circumstance."

    (Incidentally, why in hell won’t somebody reprint The Lavender Leotard, or, Going a Lot to the New York City Ballet?)

    Dear Cup of Chicha: OGIC and I really want to see that "little karate-victory-dance" you do when your site turns up on another blogroll. Could you please post a photograph? Or—better yet—a drawing?

    Dear God of the Machine: You’d be surprised (or maybe not) at the high number of older-than-40 people who’ve told me that they hate the word "blog" and wish somebody would come up with a better one. After much prayer and reflection, though, I’ve decided that you’re right:

    Neologisms for old things come and go, but a blog is a new thing, and with new things first out of the gate nearly always wins. In diction wars you have to pick your battles carefully. If you must complain, complain about something that drains meaning from the language. For years I objected to the coalescence of "amazing," "awesome," "remarkable," and "phenomenal," as if English were short on synonyms for "good." This battle was worth fighting because it was over shades of meaning; there is no English word with the precise meaning of "amazing" except "amazing." But popular usage has bulldozed me...

    What's wrong with "blog" anyway? It is short. It is more or less Anglo-Saxon. It lends itself easily to back-formations for writing a blog (no ugly "-ize" required) and for the author of one, not to mention felicitious derivatives like "blogrolling" and less felicitious but still useful ones like "blogosphere." The dispute over whether the verb is transitive will sort itself out in time. "Blog" reminds me a great deal of one of the best neologisms of the 20th century, "blurb," coined by Gelett "I never saw a purple cow" Burgess. It rolls off the tongue less easily, and lacks its onomatopoeic qualities, but has all of its other virtues.

    Blog it is. Here endeth the lesson.

    Dear Reflections in D Minor: Speaking of neologisms, I know just what you mean:

    It's funny how sometimes this whole Internet thing seems more like real life than real "real life." And there's another possible topic for a future post. Why do we talk of "real life" as if life online is not just as real? I sometimes use the term "realspace" to refer to that which is not cyberspace and I've seen the word "meatspace" which is more accurate but sort of icky. We need some new words.

    OGIC and I are very old friends, but we haven’t seen each other in the flesh for a year—yet we "meet" each day in cyberspace. It isn’t quite as good as dinner and a movie, but it beats nothing all to hell.

    Dear Lileks: We may be semi-highbrows around this shop, but I quite liked what you wrote about Norman Rockwell this morning:

    I love Klee, but it’s just Klee. I’m not inclined to hang on the wall that SatEvePost cover of the grinning tomboy with the black eye, but if I was asked to write a story about it, I could give you 9000 words. Somehow this makes it bad art.

    Go figure.

    Dear Eve Tushnet: You must be the first blogger in the known universe to have worked Cat Power and Christ into the same posting. I’m agog.

    Dear Asymmetrical Information: Welcome back. About time.

    And, finally:

    Dear Minor Fall, Major Lift: From now on, we’re spelling it "underwhlemed," too. It’s better that way.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: And the hits just keep on coming

    "About Last Night" set a record yesterday: Our Girl and I racked up 2,900 page views, most of them courtesy of Lileks and The Corner, for which much thanks. We also picked up a link late last night from BuzzMachine which will doubtless keep our Site Meter bouncing (and which you should read—Jeff Jarvis has a very interesting take on my posting about The Reagans).

    The bottom line is that Tuesday ended up being our biggest day yet—bigger even than the never-to-be-forgotten day that Instapundit linked to one of our postings. We’re still kind of dazed, but mostly just delighted.

    To repeat what I said yesterday: if this is your first visit to "About Last Night," click here to read a recent posting explaining what we’re all about.

    If, on the other hand, you’re an old-timer, well, come on in, the blogging’s fine! I’m going to be tied up for most of today (I’ve got to finish a piece about The Looney Tunes Golden Collection for The Wall Street Journal, then it's off to see a play), but OGIC tells me she has some stuff up her sleeve. In any case, we won’t let you go hungry.

    Oh, yes—it’s still absolutely O.K. to tell all your friends about www.terryteachout.com. Why stop at 2,900? This could be the start of something…well, bigger.

    P.S. Andrew Sullivan got into the act shortly after midnight. This joint is going to rock today….

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Hold your fire

    A reader writes:

    I can't be so sanguine about the demise of the album as you are. Yes, recordings were originally short one-offs, but the LP represented a real breakthrough in that it organized the individual tracks in a way that allowed them to speak to one another, and thus increase their impact. A bad song, when thoughtfully integrated into a good album, can be marvelous (e.g. "Within You Without You" on Sgt. Pepper). I don't think I'm being purely reactionary about this; there is a real beauty to a well-ordered series of songs that will necessarily fall by the wayside if we lose the album as it is now constructed.

    To strike a more reactionary tone, I do worry about the ability of people to maintain interest over time. A couple of years ago, the studio (I don't know which one) sent "Almost Famous" back because it went over their mandatory 2 hour time limit. The resulting cut was a lesser film by any standard (other than brevity), but that didn't seem to matter; the important thing was that the American viewer wouldn't have to sit through an overly-long movie (it ended up clocking in at 2:02, so they fudged a little). Unfortunately, I fear that they know their audience well. Reducing the duration of the units of our music would only exacerbate the attention span problem.

    Let me suggest a middle road between albums and pay-per-downloads. Perhaps what we will see is the return of the single as a discreet item (or, in this case, series of ones and zeros), but with the continued existence of the album as well. This way artists wouldn't feel the need to record filler when they only have one good idea, they would simply release the song individually. This could be a good thing. Remember, "Yesterday" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" originally apepared as singles. Then, when a big idea strikes them, they can record a whole album, and even allow fans to only be download it as a whole. It would immediately be pirated on a per-song basis, of course, but it would at least be initially concieved and marketed as an album, thus preserving the integrity of their vision.

    I hope I'm right. I would hate to think of future composers being forced to create in snippets.

    I actually think something like the two-tier plan my reader envisions is bound to happen. In fact, it’s on the verge of happening already, as individual artists start marketing music through their own Web sites (about which more later—I know about some interesting new sites-in-the-making).

    But I do want to take gentle issue with my correspondent’s use of the word sanguine to describe the way I feel about the prospect of life without records. I’m not saying that the album-as-art-object is a bad thing. On the contrary, I’m passionately attached to more than a few such objects (including the ones I mentioned in my original posting). I simply don’t think this kind of mass-produced art object will long survive the transition to a fully digitized, Web-based recorded-music economy.

    People often take for granted that I approve of the cultural trends I describe in essays like "Life Without Records." Sometimes I do, sometimes not. Most often I don’t know what to think about them—yet. The only thing I’m sure of is that they won’t go away, which is why I’m more interested in describing them than judging them. We live in the midst of a blur of onrushing technologies, each pulling its individual train of unintended consequences. I’d much rather try to puzzle out the possible effects of these technologies than complain in advance of having fully experienced them. If anything, I’m temperamentally disposed to be a Luddite, but I absolutely refuse to let myself succumb to that pointless temptation. To be a Luddite, after all, is to renounce all possibility of shaping technology-driven cultural change. I started "About Last Night" for the exact opposite reason: I wanted to try to use a new technology in order to help sustain and enrich the great tradition of Western art.

    Early in the life of this blog, I posted an almanac entry by Marshall McLuhan which (allowing for a certain amount of poetic exaggeration) sums up the way I try to look at technological change. It’s worth repeating:

    I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what’s happening, because I don't choose just to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me.

    Neither do I.

    P.S. Another reader writes:

    I'm enjoying this whole topic of the demise of the record, even as I mourn its passing. While I know the folly of remaining in the ostrich position, I have to side with those who would hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Even before I tried my hand at recording, I always loved the concept of an album being a collection of material, like a painting or an opera or a good meal. It's part of the challenge of translating the live performance - making the shape and serving it all up so the listener can enjoy a fuller experience, if that makes sense. kd lang's Drag album, or the pairing of a specific singer with a special musician or group of players, Peggy Lee's Mirrors -- hell, even Dark Side of the Moon and such. I can't imagine Bitches Brew as a single. Maybe it's because I've spent too many hours of pleasure listening to recordings alone in a car. Maybe not - a friend just called me and said that he had spent the evening listening to my last CD and felt like it was like an hour of good conversation. So go figure.

    (This e-mail comes from one of my favorite singers, by the way.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Opportunity knocks!

    Courtesy of City Comforts comes the following news:

    The only gas station ever designed and built by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a 1958 building in Cloquet, Minn., is on the market.

    The building's owners, the McKinney family of Cloquet, put the still-operating station up for sale in August. So far, no potential buyers have come forward. The McKinneys are asking $725,000 for the property, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985….

    "The building is at risk because no protective easements exist for it," says Ron Scherubel, executive director of the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, which has listed the structure for sale on its Web site. "Of course, we'd like to see it stay as intact as possible. In the best-case scenario, someone would buy it and keep using it as a gas station. The next-best-case scenario would involve a good adaptive reuse."…

    The station has a glass-walled observation lounge, skylights over the service bays, a copper cantilevered canopy that juts out over the front of the building, and a futuristic tower perched on its top. In Wright's original design, the gasoline hoses were designed to come out of the roof, a feature the local fire department subsequently vetoed. The structure cost $75,000 to build—almost three times more than an average late-1950s service station.

    Click here for the full story, including a way cool photo.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | Permanent link
Tuesday, November 4, 2003
    TT: Service with a smile

    Drudge (who has been way out front on this story) quotes an unnamed "top source," presumably from CBS, as saying that network head Les Moonves made "a brave, decisive move" in personally choosing not to air The Reagans.

    Now that’s what I call brave and decisive: having your boots licked by an anonymous source inside your own shop.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Off the air

    Here is CBS’s official statement about its decision not to telecast The Reagans:

    CBS will not broadcast THE REAGANS on November 16 and 18. This decision is based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script.

    Although the mini-series features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience. Subsequent edits that we considered did not address those concerns.

    A free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards than media the public must pay to view. We do, however, recognize and respect the filmmakers' right to have their voice heard and their film seen. As such, we have reached an agreement to license the exhibition rights for the film to Showtime, a subscriber-based, pay-cable network. We believe this is a solution that benefits everyone involved.

    This was not an easy decision to make. CBS does tackle controversial subjects and provide tough assessments of prominent historical figures and events, as we did with films such as "Jesus," "9-11" and "Hitler." We will continue to do so in the future.

    As a Media Person, I see a lot of press releases, and thus have learned to take most of them with a cellar of salt, but this one is striking for its comprehensive lack of candor. If you were born earlier than this morning, you don’t need me to tell you that CBS decided to pull The Reagans solely and only because of the "controversy." They didn’t give a damn whether it was "balanced." All they cared about was whether enough people would watch the series to make it worth broadcasting—and the firestorm of outrage among conservatives, whom one would assume to make up a large part of the target market for a network miniseries about Ronald and Nancy Reagan, left little doubt that such would not be the case.

    I’m sure that everybody and his sister will be blogging about this one, and they’ll mostly be right. Of course it’s a new-media story, and of course it wouldn’t have happened five years ago. I’ve been following Big Media’s coverage of the flap over The Reagans, and just two days ago I noted with interest and amusement a wire story claiming that CBS would be pleased by the controversy, since it would inevitably increase the series’ ratings. That is soooooo last year. Those of us who blog, whatever our political persuasions, know better. Boycotts of Big Media have always been feasible in theory. (Newspapers, in case you didn't know, take cancel-my-subscription-you-bastards letters very seriously—if they get enough of them.) In practice, though, they rarely worked, because it was too difficult to mobilize large-scale support quickly enough. No more. Fox News, talk radio, and the conservative-libertarian sector of the blogosphere have combined to create a giant megaphone through which disaffected right-wing consumers who have a bone to pick with Big Media can now make themselves heard.

    All that, as I say, is pretty obvious, and need not be belabored further. Besides, this is an art-and-culture blog, not a political blog, so I want to turn to what I regard as the really interesting part of the story, which is that by relegating The Reagans to Showtime, CBS has publicly acknowledged, albeit implicitly, the growing weakness of Big Media. Now that the common culture is a thing of the past, lowest-common-denominator programming is harder and harder to pull off, as is lowest-common-denominator editing. To do it, you have to keep lowering the denominator further and further. When your overhead is as high as it is at CBS, you can’t afford to give offense, nor can you afford to be sophisticated. Above all, you don't dare try to lead the culture anywhere it doesn't care to go—not if your job is to keep your numbers in the black.

    The new media impact on Big Media in two ways. The first is the megaphone effect I spoke about a moment ago. The second, which is of at least equal importance, is that they compete with Big Media. If you’re reading these words, you’re not watching CBS, or anybody else, nor are you sitting in a movie theater or reading a print magazine. If you’re using iTunes to download two tunes off Radiohead’s last CD, you’re not buying the CD—though you might do so at some point in the future.

    Five years ago, opponents of The Reagans would have failed to sway CBS because of their inability to make enough noise. The network would have taken the "high road" and stared them down, and been praised for its courage by other Big Media outlets. And if it were only a matter of noise, CBS would have done the same thing today…but it isn’t. Today, CBS is fighting for its corporate life. So are NBC, ABC, Time, TV Guide, the Reader’s Digest, and all the film studios and record labels. They can’t afford to ignore the noise anymore, no matter which side of the political fence it comes from. And they won’t.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Attention, all shoppers!

    The moment of truth has arrived. The long-awaited paperback edition of The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken is now officially on sale. To repeat myself for the umpteenth time, If each and every one of you clicks on the link and orders at least one (1) copy for gift-giving purposes (assuming you don’t already own a copy of the hardcover edition for yourself, and if not, why not?), my amazon.com sales ranking will explode and I'll be cool enough to hang out with Maud again. Besides, I think it’s a damned good book, as did the innumerable reviewers quoted on the front and back covers and inside the book. Fifty million critics can be wrong, but not this time.

    So get with it, O.K.? Don't forget, I’m going to buy Our Girl a Really Good Dinner with the royalties…and we’ll even blog about it!

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Be generous and delicate and pursue the prize."

    Henry James, "The Art of Fiction"

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Hit me

    From the Denver Post (by way of artsjournal.com, our invaluable host), this story suggesting that pay-per-song Web sites are the wave of the musical future:

    Stores will no doubt sell prepackaged music CDs for years to come, but in 2003, the power has shifted….

    With at least five major paid sites now offering upward of 300,000 songs, pay-per-song has reached a marketplace mass that will both generate valuable publicity for the owners and create price-cutting competition for consumers.

    More big names are poised to join the competition if their marketing surveys pan out: Dell, Microsoft and Amazon have all said they're interested in selling downloadable songs.

    Read the whole thing, including a useful box comparing the various features of the five major pay-per-song sites. What it says doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been predicting the demise of the recording industry in its present form for a number of years now, most recently in an essay published in Commentary last year (it’ll be reprinted in expanded form in A Terry Teachout Reader under the title "Life Without Records") in which I argued that the rise of CD-ripping, file sharing, and pay-per-song would inevitably lead to the decline of the record album:

    In the not-so-long run, the introduction of online delivery systems and the spread of file-sharing will certainly undermine and very likely destroy the fundamental economic basis for the recording industry, at least as we know it today. Nor can there be much doubt that within a few years, the record album will lose its once-privileged place at the heart of Western musical culture….

    Prior to the invention of the LP, musicians usually recorded not albums but specific songs or pieces of music which were released on single 78s and meant to be experienced individually. Perhaps, then, there will be no more Only the Lonelys or Kind of Blues, but only "One for My Babys" and "All Blues." Or possibly new modes of presentation will evolve…

    To be sure, this prospect is understandably disturbing to many older musicians and music lovers, given the fact that the record album has played so pivotal a role in the culture of postwar music. Nor do I claim that life without records will necessarily be better—or worse. It will merely be different, just as the lives of actors were irrevocably changed by the invention of the motion-picture camera in ways that no one could possibly have foreseen in 1900. But one thing is already clear: unlike art museums and opera houses, records serve a purpose that technology has rendered obsolete. The triumph of the digit, and the demise of the record album as culture-shaping art object, is at hand.

    This piece did in fact disturb quite a few older readers, some of them musicians who had not yet envisioned the possibility of life without records. I sympathized, as I always do with those who find cultural change disorienting. What I try to do, though, is remember that different and worse aren’t always the same thing. Sometimes different is better, and sometimes, maybe most of the time, it’s just different. The thing is to try to understand the nature of the difference—and, insofar as possible, to think of ways in which new culture-shaping technologies can be used in the service of old values. Yes, film has permanently usurped the place of live theater at the center of the cultural conversation. But it didn’t kill live theater—and it also gave us new ways to tell old stories, and to tell them to larger audiences than ever before, as Laurence Olivier did in Henry V and Kenneth Branagh in Much Ado About Nothing.

    That’s how I view life without records: as an opportunity. And I’ll feel the same way when the printed book gives way, as in time it surely must, to the hand-held electronic book-reading device. No doubt the day will come when I stop asking the Great Cultural Dealer to deal me new cards, and decide to spend the rest of my life playing with the ones already in my hand. It happens to us all sooner or later. But I’m not ready for that moment, not yet. Yes, I’m old-fashioned—but my attachment is to essences, not embodiments. And while I’m well aware of the law of unintended consequences, I also believe in the power of free men to shape and reshape those consequences.

    That’s why I’m planning to buy myself an iPod for Christmas. It’s time for another card.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Oh, ye of little faith

    I went to Lileks and what did I see? "Curse you, Terry Teachout!" In boldface, yet. And how had I given offense? By mentioning that I’d written a piece about Paul Whiteman without saying where it ran. I’m innocent, innocent! The piece hasn’t run yet, but it will—in next month’s Commentary—and when it does, I’ll post a link in the "Teachout in Commentary" module of the right-hand column.

    I promise. Really. Anything to keep Gnat’s dad happy.

    P.S. If you’re a Lileks reader who is new to this site, click here to find out what we’re all about.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Blog-related bulletin

    Old Hag is back—and writing poetry!

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, November 4, 2003 | Permanent link
Monday, November 3, 2003
    TT: For those of you just joining us

    OGIC and I blogged compulsively on Friday and over the weekend, so if you were too busy dressing up as a sexy ketchup bottle (or recovering from a post-Halloween hangover) to visit us, keep on scrolling until your fingers go numb. Among other things, you'll find postings on:

  • The surprise at the end of Mystic River

  • How E.M. Forster can make you a nicer novelist

  • Louis Armstrong's house

  • Joseph Cornell's boxes

  • Ned Beatty, the new Big (not Puff) Daddy

  • My first visit to a fine-art auction, and how I almost went bankrupt before I finally put down my paddle and slunk away

  • The implausibility of The Human Stain

  • Super-expensive art and the wild and crazy gazillionaires who buy it

    Plus other good stuff, including loads of links to other people's good stuff.

    We're both kind of busy this week, so clean your plate before you ask for another helping...and buy my book!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Our diminutive heroine

    Maud rules! (Even if she is only three and a half feet tall.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Words to the wise

    I just found in my e-mailbox the following press release:

    Due to impending construction on West 43rd Street, "URINETOWN: The Musical," the winner of three 2002 Tony Awards, will have to leave Henry Miller’s Theater.  "URINETOWN," which has been playing at the historic Broadway playhouse for over two years will close on Broadway on January 18, 2004 after 25 previews and 965 performances.

    Performances are Tuesday at 7:00 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 PM, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 PM and Sunday at 3:00 PM. For tickets, call TeleCharge at 212: 239-6200 or visit Henry Miller’s Theatre box office (124 West 43rd Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway).

    If you haven't gone, do it now. I'm no fan of postmodernism (to put it mildly), but the most self-referential musical on Broadway is also one of the few must-see shows in town. "Urinetown" is as cold as an icicle...and as brilliant.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: First lines revealed

    In case you were wondering, here are the books that go with the first lines I posted last week:

    1. In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe

    2. An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

    3. At the time when this story begins, the Stanhope press and inking-rollers were not yet in use in small provincial printing-offices. Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions

    4. On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

    5. You are not going to believe me, nobody in their right minds could possibly believe me, but it's true, really it is! Mary Rodgers, Freaky Friday

    6. The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue

    7. The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry. Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

    8. The book was thick and black and covered with dust. A.S. Byatt, Possession

    9. One never knows when the blow may fall. Graham Greene, The Third Man

    10. In Africa, you want more, I think. Norman Rush, Mating

    There wasn't exactly a flurry of responses, but I'm guessing that some of you simply opted for the instant gratification that Google could provide. That was a wrinkle I hadn't thought of, which isn't embarrassing at all, since forgetting entirely about the existence of the internet is a well-known occupational hazard of, um, blogging…

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Like a critic scooped

    Damn you, OGIC, for being smarter than me. I wrote a print-media review of Mystic River (the piece hasn't run yet, but will be posted in the right-hand column in the next week or so), and I didn't say one thing about Laura Linney, whom I adore and admire without reserve and whose small but staggering bit at the end of the film deserved all the praise you gave it. What's more, it does change the total effect of Mystic River...but did I mention it? Nooooooooo.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Hell hath no fury

    I've been meaning to post something about Mystic River, which I finally caught about a week ago. You may have read Terry's comments, which centered on the problematic score. Speaking strictly as a layman in all matters musical, I can still loudly echo Terry's feelings about that damned score. It was a scourge. It was a menace. It chewed up and spat out whole scenes.

    Apart from the music, I found Mystic River most impressive as a portrait of the insular South Boston neighborhood where it is set, but not entirely satisfying as drama—until its surprising last two scenes. Sean Penn's lavishly praised performance as Jimmy struck me as way overbearing; the madder his character gets, the more screen acreage he seems to take up, and the flatter the story becomes. Its panoramic view of a troubled community over two generations telescopes into a narrower and narrower study of a single character with a single, hypertrophied dimension.

    Don't get me wrong, the movie did keep me engrossed. But by the time the brutal climax had detonated, I was weary, glad to have it done with, and ready to go home. But it was then that Mystic River unfurled two unforeseeable concluding scenes that changed—not everything, but a great deal. Jimmy's wife (Laura Linney) saunters into the first of these scenes, a serene and satisfied Lady Macbeth, and steals the movie in about five minutes.

    Finally dropping her guard, Linney's character delivers a quietly chilling monologue that yanks Jimmy's personal trials back into the context of the neighborhood and its remorseless tribal ethos. Her speech changes some of what we think we know, not about the murder mystery but about the force field in which the murder has been committed and revenged. A previous scene with her father, for instance, takes on new significance; we're forced to reevaluate a couple of minor characters as more than goofball sidekicks; and Jimmy's blazing anger (if not Penn's performance) clicks into place, newly plausible and sympathetic. The scene recasts things in a way that makes the movie, for my money, all of a sudden ten times more interesting.

    The last scene continues to track Jimmy's wife. By now the camera can barely take its eye off her. Her silent confrontation with the other major female character (Marcia Gay Harden) is another haunting moment that beats anything in the first 90% of the film for sheer suggestiveness. After all the fixation on male angst, male bonding and male rivalry, the women emerge from the background and make the movie whole. It's not so much that earlier scenes don't deliver any feeling, but that these last scenes don't deliver it in blunt blows. More like electric pinpricks.

    I'm of two minds about this turn so late in the story. I thought at first that it seemed tacked on and unprepared for; but Laura Linney's character is conspicuously unreadable in earlier scenes, and the revelation of her character and loyalties enriches the drama to a degree that probably wouldn't be matched if it weren't sprung as a late semi-surprise. But it may be too easily missed in the shadow of all the fireworks leading up to it, since it is so much subtler than any of the movie's other revelations and arrives so late. These last scenes are so subtle, in fact, that even now I worry I'm reading too much into them. But I don't think so—or at the very least I don't want to think so, since they transformed the movie, for me, into something not just well made but haunting and memorable.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Only connect

    "Love, Actually" is the title of a generous, searching new Guardian essay on E.M. Forster and the ethics of fiction by the novelist Zadie Smith. I mean "generous" in the best sense of the word: not that she gives Forster's work too easy a time, but that she muffles the skeptic in her long enough to own up to, and consider seriously, the pleasure she takes in it.

    Smith points out that for a long time now in academic literary studies, it has been compulsory to resist loving literature. She learned to do this all too well as a student at Cambridge, and in this essay her triumph is to unlearn that dubious wisdom and to instead resist dismissing Forster as easy and mawkish. How did she unlearn it? By writing novels herself, mostly:

    A few years ago, I agreed to take part in a debate on "Modern British Art" at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts]. Two famous young artists rounded on me for what they saw as my "aesthetic fascism" (I'd brought up the topic of value judgments in modern art), arguing that there was no possibility that I could find more value in King Lear than the text printed on the back of a cornflake packet. This is an exceedingly stupid version of a very serious aesthetic and ethical debate that has been raging in the humanities for about 40 years. Once I'd have counted myself on the side of the young artists, and now I don't. They say when you become a practitioner you become a sentimentalist—maybe that's what happened. All I know for sure is that I no longer find it impossible to speak of value (not universal value, or even shared value, but value as it concerns this reader), nor to lend my nervous voice to the philosopher Martha Nussbaum's strong Aristotelian claims, mainly, that literature is one of the places (when we read attentively) that we can have truly altruistic instincts, "genuine acknowledgement of the otherness of the other." Ten years ago, the idea that reading fiction might be a valuable ethical activity in its own right was so out of fashion that it took an author of Nussbaum's hard, philosophical bent to broach it without incurring ridicule. Rather bravely, she climbed the disputed mountain of literary theory and planted her philosophical flag firmly in the dirt. Her flag said: "Great novels show us the worth and richness of plural qualitative thinking and engender in their readers a richly qualitative way of seeing."

    My flag is rather weak in comparison. It says: "When we read with fine attention, we find ourselves caring about people who are various, muddled, uncertain and not quite like us (and this is good)."

    This is only a small taste of a long, beautifully written essay, full of insights and feeling, that makes strong claims both for Forster's contribution to the possibilities of the novel, and for the pleasure of reading as a good in itself. When she writes that "the heart has its own knowledge in Forster, and Love is never quite a rational choice," Smith is talking equally about love between people and love of literature. Her essay connects these dots admirably and, best of all, humanely.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Night thoughts

    Yesterday afternoon I went to a Brazilian birthday party (my goodness, do those Brazilians know how to have fun!), after which I took the subway to Times Square to catch the opening-night performance of a revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Ashley Judd, Jason Patric, and Ned Beatty as Big Daddy. I’ll be writing about it in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, so I mustn’t jump the gun, but I do have two preliminary observations to make:

    (1) Ned Beatty (who got a hats-off review from Ben Brantley in this morning’s Times) is one of the finest character actors in the business. He isn’t famous, but he works all the time, and even if you don’t know him by name, I’ve no doubt that you’d recognize him instantly. He has 123 entries in the Internet Movie Database, starting with Deliverance, though it’d be a shame if he ended up being best remembered for the part he played in that shabby little shocker. When I think of him, it’s as Jack Kellom, the older cop in The Big Easy, one of my favorite not-quite-first-rate movies. Kellom is a quintessential Ned Beatty part, a genial glad-hander who turns out on closer inspection to be both dishonest and weak. I love that kind of two-faced acting, and Beatty is fabulous at it.

    Because he’s short, chubby, and moon-faced, Beatty never gets to play film leads, and I gather that this production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is his Broadway debut. Not to give the game away, but it’s damned well about time.

    (2) In New York City, drama critics don’t usually attend opening-night performances of plays. We go to press previews instead, meaning that we rarely see Famous People in the audience—they generally come to the official first night. Alas, I have a celebrity disability, meaning that I almost never recognize them in the flesh. My companion for the evening, however, was a virtuoso celebrity-spotter, and everywhere she looked she saw famous faces…from the distant past. Jack Klugman, Arlene Dahl, Joan Collins, folks like that. (I kept waiting for her to point out Walter Winchell.)

    Where were all the under-70 celebrities? Or do they even come to Broadway shows anymore?

    I got home, blogged a little, and decided I wasn’t sleepy, so I turned on the TV and started surfing. All of a sudden I found myself watching two familiar-looking ballet dancers cavorting around a studio stage, and quickly realized that I was seeing a performance of George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux by Jacques d’Amboise and Melissa Hayden. It was, needless to say, Classic Arts Showcase, the foundation-supported "network" that beams high-culture video snippets free of charge, 24/7, to any station in the world that wants to run them. In New York, they’re shown at irregular intervals on CUNY-TV, the station of the City University of New York, and I see them on occasion, usually in much the same way I did just now—at random, in other words.

    To spend a half-hour or so with Classic Arts Showcase is to empty a wildly mixed bag of cultural bits and pieces. The performance of Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, for instance, was originally telecast in 1962 on Voice of Firestone, a quintessentially middlebrow network TV series of a sort inconceivable today. Forty years ago it aired in prime time, where it might have been seen by an untold number of youngsters who could have said to themselves, "So this is ballet? Hey, that’s cool." And so it was.

    Next up was an encore, Novacek’s Perpetuum mobile, dazzlingly well-played in 1957 by Nathan Milstein, a very great violinist whose centenary is only a month away. (By an improbable coincidence, I’d just been reading From Russia to the West, Milstein’s witty, outspoken memoirs, and listening to his incomparably aristocratic 1959 recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which you can purchase for the preposterously low price of $3.98 by clicking here.) This clip came from the BBC, which used to present classical music in the most no-nonsense manner imaginable. No fancy sets, no swoopy camerawork, nothing but Milstein, the pianist Ernest Lush, and a page-turner. When did you last see a page-turner on TV?

    Ten minutes’ worth of good solid black-and-white high-culture fare—followed by a stiff dose of nonsense. We heard a recording of the first movement of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and saw a painting by Berthe Morisot, across which the camera panned lovingly, tediously, and pointlessly, Morisot and Prokofiev having, so far as I know, nothing whatsoever in common. I lost patience after a half-minute and changed channels, having just been forcibly reminded that even at the height of the middlebrow moment, TV and high culture coexisted uneasily.

    Today, long after the death of American middlebrow culture, they scarcely coexist at all, save on random, context-free occasions in the middle of the night. I wonder how many people in New York City saw that clip of Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux? Fifty? A hundred? Surely not much more than that, and probably less. And how many of them knew who Jacques d’Amboise was? Or George Balanchine? Or Tchaikovsky, for that matter?

    And so at last to bed, having come to no conclusions whatsoever about the likely fate of Western culture. Fooled you!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Elsewhere

    Eve Tushnet has some brief but interesting remarks on Grosse Pointe Blank, a movie that she (and I) liked very much. (Don’t get Our Girl started on John Cusack!)

    Ballet Alert has a nice thread on Edward Gorey’s legendary obsession with New York City Ballet. The last posting, signed "RG," is by my colleague Robert Greskovic, dance critic of The Wall Street Journal and author of Ballet 101, the best introductory book about ballet ever written. He knew Gorey quite well—insofar as he was knowable.

    My Stupid Dog reports on the Kennedy Center premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Bounce. I can’t see the show until it opens on Broadway because I have to review it in its final form for the Journal, so I’m green with envy.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit."

    Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Last legs

    The New York Times had an interesting story on Sunday about The Producers, which is still turning a profit every week, but a much smaller one than when the show was new:

    Its box office grosses, which set record highs—more than $1.2 million per week—in its first year, have fallen about 20 percent in the last 12 months. It now ranks below newer shows like "Hairspray" and "Mamma Mia!" as well as "The Lion King," the 1997 Disney phenomenon whose success some believed "The Producers" might emulate. Worse, in a supremely status-conscious metropolis, the show is now an easy ticket. "The Producers" has not regularly sold out since the beginning of the year, despite a bout of new television advertising.

    I’m not surprised, nor should you be. As I wrote here back in July, Mel Brooks’ Borscht-belt style of anything-for-a-laugh humor is the last gasp of a dying comic language:

    To see The Producers is to be immersed one final time in that older style of pressure-cooker comedy, and for those of us who were born before 1960 or so, the experience is as sweetly nostalgic as a trip to the state fair, which I rather doubt is what Mel Brooks had in mind. My guess is that he still thinks it’s titillating, even shocking, to put swishy Nazis on stage. It’s no accident that he hasn’t made a movie for years and years: Broadway is the last place in America where he could possibly draw a crowd with that kind of humor, and it’s not an especially young crowd, either.

    With six months’ worth of Wall Street Journal drama columns under my belt, I feel even more confident in saying that we won’t be seeing many more shows like The Producers. If you seek the future of musical comedy on Broadway, look to Avenue Q. It’s smaller, hipper, faster, snarkier. And—yes—better.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, November 3, 2003 | Permanent link
Sunday, November 2, 2003
    TT and OGIC: New around here, stranger?

    If you came here after seeing our URL in this morning's New York Times (or via the link on the Times's Web site), welcome to "About Last Night," a 24/7 blog hosted by artsjournal.com on which Terry Teachout writes about the arts in New York City and elsewhere, assisted by the pseudonymous Our Girl in Chicago, who writes from...Chicago.

    (In case you're wondering, this blog has two URLs, the one you're seeing at the top of your screen right now and the easier-to-remember www.terryteachout.com. Either one will bring you here.)

    All our postings of the past seven days are visible in reverse chronological order on this page. Terry's start with "TT," Our Girl's with "OGIC." In addition, the entire contents of this site are archived chronologically and can be accessed by clicking "ALN Archives" at the top of the right-hand column.

    You can read more about us, and about "About Last Night," by going to the right-hand column and clicking in the appropriate places. You'll also find various other toothsome features there, including our regularly updated Top Five list of things to see, hear, read and otherwise do, links to Terry's most recent newspaper and magazine articles, and "Sites to See," a list of links to other blogs and Web sites with art-related content. If you're curious about the arty part of the blogosphere, you've come to the right site: "Sites to See" will point you in all sorts of interesting directions, and all roads lead back to "About Last Night."

    As if all that weren't enough, you can write to us by clicking the "Write Us" button. We read our mail, and answer it, too, so long as you're minimally polite. (Be patient, though. We get a lot of it.)

    The only other thing you need to know is that "About Last Night" is about all the arts, high, medium, and low: film, drama, painting, dance, fiction, TV, music of all kinds, whatever. Our interests are wide-ranging, and we think there are plenty of other people like us out there in cyberspace, plus still more who long to wander off their beaten paths but aren't sure which way to turn.

    If you're one of the above, we're glad you came. Enjoy. Peruse. Tell all your friends about www.terryteachout.com. And come back tomorrow.

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, November 2, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Visit to a shrine

    I was out of town giving speeches when Louis Armstrong’s house, located in Corona, Queens, and now owned by the City of New York, was finally opened to the public as a museum on Oct. 15. That was a celebration I hated to miss (especially since I’m just about to start work on a new Armstrong biography), but I was lucky enough to have been given a private tour a few years ago, back when the house was still being restored to its original condition. I wrote about it in an essay that will be collected next year in A Terry Teachout Reader:

    Most jazz musicians, black and white alike, come from middle-class backgrounds, while most of those who are born poor strive mightily—and, more often than not, successfully—to join the ranks of the middle class. Anyone who doubts that Armstrong filled the latter bill need only visit his home, located some seven blocks from Shea Stadium in a shabby but respectable part of Queens. It is a modest three-story frame house whose elaborate interior is uncannily reminiscent of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s gaudy Memphis mansion. From the Jetsons-style kitchen-of-the-future to the silver wallpaper and golden faucets of the master bathroom, the Armstrong house looks exactly like what it is: the residence of a poor southern boy who grew up and made good.

    Unlike Graceland, though, it is neither oppressive nor embarrassing. As one stands in Armstrong’s smallish study (whose decorations include, among other things, a portrait of the trumpeter painted by Tony Bennett), it is impossible not to be touched to the heart by the aspiration that is visible wherever you look. This, you sense, was the home of a working man, one bursting with a pride that came not from what he had but from what he did. The American dream has had no more loyal exemplar. "I never want to be anything more than I am, what I don’t have I don’t need," he wrote. "My home with Lucille [his fourth wife] is good, but you don’t see me in no big estates and yachts, that ain’t gonna play your horn for you. When the guys come from taking a walk around the estate they ain’t got no breath to blow that horn."

    You really should go and see for yourself. The Armstrong House isn’t the easiest place in the world to reach from midtown Manhattan, but it’s perfectly feasible, and absolutely worth a day’s pilgrimage. For information about the house, including directions, click here. It’s a trip you’ll never forget.

    While I'm at it, I also want to put in a plug for Michael Cogswell's Louis Armstrong: The Offstage Story of Satchmo, the newly published "official" book of the Armstrong House and Archives (of which Cogswell is the curator). It's a coffee-table tome crammed full of unpublished photos of Armstrong at home, backstage, and on the road, and I highly recommend it as an antidote for the blues. You can't look at Louis—or think about him, or listen to his music—without smiling.

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, November 2, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Cash and carry

    Courtesy of artsjournal.com, my invaluable host (which you can visit by clicking on the artsjournal.com logo in the upper left-hand corner of this page), this wonderful story from ARTnews Online about the ten works of art currently in private hands that are most coveted by collectors and curators. The piece includes some jaw-dropping numbers:

    "We all have our wish lists but we don’t go around talking about them. It gets in the way of our getting the work," says Miami art collector Donald Rubell. "We hope that when our friends die, their children won’t like their art. Those are our silent wishes."

    Jackson Pollock’s Lucifer, a prime 1947 drip painting owned by the Anderson Collection in San Francisco, is so coveted it could fetch $50 million or more, sources say, were it ever to come on the market. (Don’t hold your breath: entertainment mogul David Geffen, who owns Pollock’s coveted Number 5, 1948, offered the Andersons $50 million for Lucifer in the mid-1990s, according to sources, and was rejected.)

    Shipping magnate George Embiricos owns Cézanne’s The Cardplayers (1892–93), the only work in the series in private hands, which experts say could be worth as much as $100 million. Canadian publisher Kenneth Thomson and his son, David, recently paid $76 million for Rubens’s recently discovered The Massacre of the Innocents (ca. 1609–11) at Sotheby’s, against competition from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

    Yet Rembrandt’s 1654 portrait Jan Six (owned by the Six family foundation in Amsterdam), says New York dealer Otto Naumann, is possibly the most wanted Old Master painting in private hands. "It is a killer," says Naumann. "It is worth in excess of $150 million easily."

    Read the whole thing. Speaking as a guy who just placed his first bid at Sotheby’s on Friday—for an infinitely more modest sum, needless to say—these numbers make my hands shake. If I had that much money to spare, would I want to spend it on one painting, no matter how good?

    At the same time, owning art (albeit on a very, very minor scale) has caused me to realize what a lovely thing it is to get up each morning, look at something beautiful, and know that you can look at it as often as you want all day long, every day. But…a hundred million dollars? I think not. And stories like this have a way of making you forget that you don’t need a hundred million dollars to spare, or even five thousand, in order to own something beautiful. Which is too bad.

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, November 2, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Elsewhere

    I can’t quite believe I’m writing these words, but Frank Rich is really good in this morning’s New York Times on Shattered Glass, the new movie about Stephen Glass, the "reporter" who wrote fictionalized stories for The New Republic before being caught and canned (and whose life story you couldn't pay me enough to see). He nails the superficially jaundiced way in which journalists are now being portrayed in film and on TV:

    "Shattered Glass" does show that its ambitious villain was less turned on by being a reporter than by being a Somebody worthy of a Pulitzer (though apparently no one told him that Pulitzers are not awarded to magazine writers). But more often the movie doesn't puncture so much as perpetuate the star-worshipping celebrity culture that attracts a Glass. "Shattered Glass" is as pompous about The New Republic as its fictionalized New Republic staffers are, portraying the publication as the biggest thing to be handed down from on high since the Ten Commandments. As one oft-repeated line of dialogue has it, The New Republic is "the in-flight magazine of Air Force One," an inflated claim to glamour that the magazine has never made for itself. The movie even opportunistically wraps itself in the tragic celebrity of the former New Republic editor Michael Kelly, by invoking his death in the war in Iraq in the final credits. Mr. Kelly was covering the war for The Atlantic; in the movie proper, his actual role in the Glass saga, while still at The New Republic in the 1990's, is substantially fictionalized and downsized.

    I expect the movie to tank, by the way. Most journalists are dull, even when they’re dumb and dishonest. Ordinary moviegoers don’t care about their lives, and will rarely go see films about them, nor do they wish to read you-are-there books about their misdeeds—with good reason. Rich is devastatingly right about the chronic narcissism of the reporterati. Screw ’em.

    P.S. In case you don't know, I write on occasion for the Times, and have a piece in this morning's paper. But if you think that has anything whatsoever to do with the fact that I'm writing in praise of Frank Rich, you were born late yesterday night. (The frequency with which this blog links to The Minor Fall, the Major Lift should serve to dispel any possible suspicion of favor-currying on my part.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, November 2, 2003 | Permanent link

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