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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, December 30, 2005
    TT: Life without Broadway

    Friday again, but this week I didn’t review any new plays in my Wall Street Journal drama column. Instead I took a look back at American theater in 2005:

    What’s wrong with Broadway? Nothing—and everything. Yes, I saw several Broadway shows I liked in the year just past, and a few that I loved. But only one of them, Joe Mantello’s revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” originated there. With that lone exception, all of the plays, productions and performances that impressed me most in 2005 came from Off Broadway, England or out of town.

    Such is the new reality of American theater. Given the fearsome costs of mounting a Broadway production, nobody in his right mind is likely to gamble on a property that doesn’t already have a solid track record. So in looking back on the year’s highlights, I’ve decided to give Broadway a miss. Readers of this column already know how well I thought of “Doubt,” “The Light in the Piazza,” “Sweeney Todd” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” What were the other must-see shows and performances, in New York and elsewhere?

    No link, so for the answer, go out and buy a copy of today’s Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will provide you with instant access to the complete text of my drama column (along with lots of other art-related stories). Start the year right!

    UPDATE: The Journal has just posted a free link to this column. To read it, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, December 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Nothing to declare

    I’d tell you what I did all week, except that I didn’t do much of anything. I got eight hours of sleep every night and had breakfast every morning. I wrote two pieces, taking my time with both of them. I read a couple of books (right now I’m midway through Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede) and watched a half-dozen old movies. I took my mother out to dinner twice, eating as sensibly as it’s possible to eat in southeast Missouri, not many of whose restaurants are heart-healthy. (If you know anything about Smalltown, U.S.A., you won’t be surprised to hear that I stayed as far away as possible from this one.) I talked on the phone to Our Girl and a few friends with whom I hadn’t spoken since I went into the hospital, but for the most part I fell pleasantly out of touch with the world.

    That was my week, and now it’s over. I’ll be spending most of today making my slow way from my mother’s house in Smalltown to my apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I’m reliably informed that several bags’ worth of snail mail await me. (Yes, it’s mostly press releases, but apparently it looks intimidating.) I have a play to see on Saturday afternoon and another on Monday evening. I have pieces due next Tuesday and Thursday, and I head up to Boston a week from today to cover a revival of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.

    At first blush it sounds as if nothing has changed—and yet everything has changed, for I know that in between these various events I must live my life very differently, if I want to live at all. I have an appointment with my cardiologist on Tuesday. I expect him to lecture me sternly on all manner of things, and I mean to do just as he says. My list of New Year’s resolutions is growing fast: I do solemnly swear to eat breakfast every day, go to the gym every weekday, spend a little time enjoying the Teachout Museum every afternoon, pay a visit or two to Central Park every week…et cetera, et cetera. I’m full of good intentions—how could I not be? But this is the most important one of all: I promise not to fall back into my old ways the first time I slip up. Because I will, repeatedly. Learning to live differently is no small task, least of all for a middle-aged workaholic accustomed to doing as he pleases, and New York is full of temptations.

    No sooner will I step off the plane Friday afternoon than I’ll feel the overwhelming urge to rev up my own engines, to rush back to my apartment and empty all those mailbags and start calling up everyone I know. Only I won’t. I’ll sit down, look happily at the art hanging on my living-room walls, and wait for the knot of tension inside my head to start unwinding. Then I’ll take Cole Porter’s advice: Why don’t we try staying home?

    That’s my plan, anyway. Wish me luck—and a happy New Year!

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, December 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "A job is home to a homeless man."

    Clifford Odets, The Country Girl

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, December 30, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, December 29, 2005
    OGIC: An advocate for Henry

    Box of Books offers up five good reasons to read Henry James. I'm touched by the protectiveness of the post generally, and particularly by this intimation that he's discussed routinely enough to be the continual butt of humorous remarks at fashionable parties: "But I do like him, and in an effort to share the love, here’s five reasons why you shouldn’t laugh on cue the next time someone makes a Henry James joke." Unless you are going to be running into the ghost of H. G. Wells—

    It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea, which has got to the corner of its den.

    —it doesn't seem all that likely an eventuality. I think we should all agree now, though, that if any of us do find ourselves in such a painful situation we'll channel and even escalate Box of Books's admirable protective instinct, make a beeline for our coats, and storm out in righteous indignation. C'mon, he's the Master, it's the least you can do!

    (Link courtesy of Dan Green.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, December 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    OGIC: The year in reading

    Of the new books I read and reviewed this year, these were the most memorable:

    • Kevin Canty, Winslow in Love
    • Caryl Philips, Dancing in the Dark
    • Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown
    • Kelly Braffet, Josie and Jack
    • Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost Lovers
    • Michael Ruhlman, House: A Memoir

    Ruhlman is the exception here for contributing the only nonfiction title and for being the author whose other books I wasted the least time in acquiring—I believe Amazon had my order before I had finished off House. More on the delightful Mr. Ruhlman very soon—he has provided all of my pleasure reading for the last little while, I'm a little fixated on his work, and I'm in the middle of writing a long post about why. With any luck at all, I'll get it up here tomorrow night. With a bit more luck, I'll find time to say a little something about all of the titles listed above shortly thereafter. Stay tuned.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, December 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    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:
    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)
    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)
    Sweeney Todd (musical, R, adult situations, strong language, 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 Woman in White (musical, PG, adult subject matter, reviewed here)

    OFF BROADWAY:
    Abigail’s Party (drama, R, adult subject matter, strong language, reviewed here, closes Feb. 1)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)
    The Trip to Bountiful (drama, G, reviewed here, closes Feb. 19)

    CLOSING THIS WEEKEND:
    Orson's Shadow (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, very strong language, closes Saturday, reviewed here)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "If I got out of this, I would know it for ever. I would be grateful for every breath I breathed, every meal I ate, every night I felt the cool kiss of sheets, the peace of a bed behind a closed, a locked, door. Why had I never known this before? Why had my parents, my lost religion, never taught it to me? Anyway, I knew now. I had found it out for myself. Love of life is born of the awareness of death, of the dread of it. Nothing makes one really grateful for life except the black wings of danger."

    Ian Fleming, The Spy Who Loved Me (courtesy of Eric Felten)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 29, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
    OGIC: And furthermore

    Last night I posted links to outstanding recent examples of blogger criticism, struck yet again by how thoroughly some bloggers are outperforming their counterparts in print. Now this morning I discover Tim Hulsey's fantastic post on Brokeback Mountain that has determined me to see the film. Here's a clip that gets to the heart of the matter:

    For most of the film, Lee seems content to exploit and subvert convention, while subtly teaching his audiences new and more humane ways to experience cinema. In the closing scenes, however, Brokeback Mountain careens into what for most American audiences will be emotional terra incognita, with grief too deep for words or tears. In a way, the film is designed to prepare us for these final moments, when we're compelled to identify with a form of love that most of us have been conditioned not to take seriously. The film is a plea for empathy, not just in society or politics but in the American cinema as a whole—and it is in this last regard that Brokeback may be most revolutionary.

    You should read the whole beautifully written, assiduously contextualized piece. Very little in current newspaper or magazine film criticism is the equal of Tim's work here or, indeed, the reviews I linked to in the post immediately below. I find rampant blogger triumphalism just as annoying as the next person, but to say that blogs like My Stupid Dog are lapping the print media seems to me to be simply stating the facts.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Until my head stops spinning

    I'm back in Chicago tonight, much against my will, and I'm afraid I don't have much left in the tank, figuratively or literally. Christmas was lovely but it was brutally compressed and fleeting. Can it have been only yesterday? My family was in nonstop action from ten in the morning until eleven at night, and when I awoke this morning the bags had to be packed and loaded, the kitty-cat medicated (pink calm-down pills to which she seems impervious), the road hit.

    I'm kind of expecting the day at work tomorrow to shred me. But I hope and plan nevertheless to get something of some substance up here in the evening, however folded, spindled, and mutilated I may emerge. In the meantime, allow me to point you toward worthy content elsewhere:

    • Cinetrix gifts us with not one, but two reviews of recent films over at Pullquote. They are David Cronenberg's History of Violence and Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach's film KIcking and Screaming recently made my Meme of Four list. (She also had a grade-A celeb sighting to ring in the holidays.)

    Quiet Bubble, a recent discoverer of Jane Austen, has posted a typically sharp review of the newest film adaptation. QB just gets better and better.

    • Top-ten lists of the year's best cultural offerings are well and good and, well, unavoidable. I prefer the tack taken by M.S. Smith at CultureSpace, a brief conversational essay that doesn't confine itself to things that were new in 2005, but to things that were new to Smith. This has been up for a couple of weeks already, for all of which time I've been meaning to link to it. If I were to make a list of my top ten cultural discoveries of 2005, CultureSpace and Quiet Bubble would definitely be on it.

    • More bookishly, Newsday has a round-up of several critics' favorite reads of the year. Among the experts are ALN blogroll mainstays Maud Newton and James Marcus. Remember, many of the books named will be published in paperback right around the corner (herein, I think, lies the real usefulness of these lists, to remind us of everything we failed to read but can soon read more cheaply by virtue of lagging).

    Finally, an administrative note. I owe several of you email. Thanks awfully for writing, and please bear with me one more day. I'll be in touch tomorrow.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, December 31, 2004
    TT: Reciprocity

    Said to me over dinner last night: "So, am I going to read about this tomorrow?"

    Here's the funny part: the person who said it was a blogger....

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, December 31, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Down to the wire

    OGIC and I have been busy, and will continue to be (though we did find just enough time for her to show me my first episode of Gilmore Girls, which I adored). You might hear from us again today, or not. If we vanish up the spout until Monday, assume we're having fun, and do likewise.

    Happy New Year!

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, December 31, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Half the great comedians I've had in my shows and that I paid a lot of money to and who made my customers shriek were not only not funny to me, but I couldn't understand why they were funny to anybody."

    Florenz Ziegfeld (quoted in Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik, Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, December 31, 2004 | Permanent link
Thursday, December 30, 2004
    TT: A little list

    Slate asked an assortment of writers and other culture types to answer this question: “Which cultural happening most amazed or disappointed you this year?” Among those present are Hilton Als, Rachel Cohen, Stanley Crouch, Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler, Jim Holt, Neil LaBute, Jane Smiley, Dana “Liz Penn” Stevens, and me.

    To see what we said, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 30, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Artie Shaw, R.I.P.

    Artie Shaw, the clarinetist and bandleader who was the last great survivor of the swing era, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 94. Here’s a wire-service obit from NPR.

    I profiled Shaw in the New York Times on his ninetieth birthday, and posted the text of that piece on “About Last Night” earlier this year. To read it, go here, where you will also find links to some of his finest recordings. (I've been told that Shaw himself liked this piece.)

    UPDATE: The Washington Post appears to be the first major newspaper out of the box with a lengthy in-house Shaw obituary on its Web site. (The New York Times is still running Reuters wire-service copy as of this hour.)

    MORE: The Times just posted its obit, a blandly institutional piece that was obviously written years ago by the late John S. Wilson and updated only slightly since then. We'll see how they do tomorrow morning.

    MORE: Not at all to my surprise, the Times opted to go with its stockpiled obit, a lame response to the death of a great American musician. I guess he was too old for anyone over there to care....

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 30, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Another low-carb substance-free post

    I’ve been longing for weeks now to pull together a huge post of cool links (while simultaneously updating “Sites to See”), and went so far the other day as to sift and prune my lengthy list of bookmarks in preparation for the Great Elsewhere Posting. But is this it? No, this is not it. Nor am I holding forth on recently consumed high art, for the good reason that I haven’t consumed any, at least not in the past couple of days. I got back to New York late Tuesday afternoon, and Our Girl showed up on my doorstep eight hours later. All I’ve had time to do since then is catch up with my accumulated snail mail, stay on top of the incoming e-mail, tinker with my theater calendar for January and February, and embark on the gratifying process of showing off my co-blogger to a select list of blogbuddies (as well a few culturally challenged no-blog types).

    The one gainful thing I’ve managed to do is finish writing my next Commentary essay, which is about the letters of classical composers. I tried to write it in Smalltown, but my mother shifted into Full Distraction Mode With Deflector Shields when I spent a whole day writing my “Second City” column for this Sunday’s Washington Post, and the most I could manage after that was to read two relevant books, draft the opening section, and think through the whole piece in my head. In fact, I wasn’t able to get down to serious business until…well, er, one a.m. this morning.

    First, OGIC and I watched a DVD of Near Dark after returning from Blogdinner No. 1 (we’re soooo into vampires). Then we listened to music and talked nonstop for a couple of hours (we’re still getting used to the simple pleasure of being in the same room). Then I sighed deeply, arose from my comfy berth on the couch, bid my guest farewell, took a scaldingly hot shower and a stiff dose of aspirin, and retired to my office. Four hours later the piece was done, after which I ascended to my loft, fell asleep instantly, and awoke without benefit of alarm at 9:30, wrenched into consciousness by what sleep specialists call my clock-dependent alerting (that’s what wakes you up at two in the morning the day after you fly to Europe). I found in my e-mailbox a note from the editor of Commentary, asking me what the hell I was doing sending him pieces at five-thirty in the morning (of course he knew—that’s just his way of being polite) and promising that he’d send me back galleys to read and correct later today.

    That, my friends, is journalism.

    As for my previous Commentary essay, a paean to Haydn, it’s in the issue that was just mailed out to subscribers, and I’ll be posting a link in the right-hand column as soon as it becomes available on the magazine’s Web site. In fact, OGIC and I will be posting quite a bit of other fresh stuff in the right-hand column between now and Monday—look for it. In addition, I’ll make her sit down at my desk sooner or later and blog about what a great time she’s having. And I do solemnly swear that the Great Elsewhere Posting will materialize at some point in the next few days.

    For now, though, it’s back to living in the moment, or maybe slightly behind it. Our Girl, who was previously asleep on an inflatable bed placed in the middle of the Teachout Museum, is now making interesting sounds suggestive of potential wakefulness. We’re having lunch with an old friend—OGIC’s first boss in New York and my first book editor—followed by more schedule-tinkering and mail-answering, followed by Blogdinner No. 2, followed by more conversation and music and DVDs. Nor would I be even slightly surprised if a nap takes place somewhere in there. Sounds like a full day to me.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 30, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Continued sunny weather

    All's well here, though I haven't been able to nudge Our Girl into blogging yet. I think she's having too much fun!

    More as it happens. I have to finish up a piece, but I'll try to post something later in the day once it's finally written and moved.

    Later.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 30, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
    He sounds too blue to fly
    The midnight train is whining low
    I’m so lonesome I could cry.

    I’ve never seen a night so long
    When time goes crawling by
    The moon just went behind the clouds
    To hide its face and cry.

    Hank Williams, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, December 30, 2004 | Permanent link
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
    TT: Hither (not yon!)

    Our Girl in Chicago is now on New York's Upper West Side, napping on a couch in the middle of the Teachout Museum in preparation for just short of a week's worth of nonstop partying and art consumption. (I was going to make her write this posting herself, but I think she needs a little REM sleep before the festivities commence.)

    Later this evening we'll be meeting Megan McArdle and the Mutant, respectively my tallest and shortest friends, for dinner at Good Enough to Eat, the official "About Last Night" hangout. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by our table and kiss the rings!

    More anon.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Back where I come from

    I flew into LaGuardia at the blue hour, the moment when the city lights overlap with the fast-fading sunset. The air was full of translucent droplets of snow, diffusing the late-afternoon light still further, and as my cab rolled across the Upper East Side, down Museum Mile, and through Central Park, I thought, New York doesn’t even have to try to be beautiful—it just is. Of course the beauty of the blue hour means different things to different people, and sometimes even to the same person: I can imagine finding it either romantic or depressing, depending on my mood. Not currently being disposed to either extreme, I was content to call it beautiful and let it go at that.

    The last sound I heard before I got in my rental car this morning and headed for the Smalltown city limits was a train whistle. My brother tells me that more freight trains have been passing through Smalltown lately, and though the tracks are halfway across town from my mother’s house, you can still hear the whistles loud and clear. My mother thinks they sound mournful, but I never thought so. They used to make me curious about the big world somewhere down the track, and now that I live in that big world, they remind me that I have things to do back there.

    My kitchen table is usually piled high with mail when I come back from Smalltown, especially when I’ve been gone for a week or more, but this time there wasn’t a thing—it’s at the post office, waiting to be picked up. All I found were flowers in a vase and groceries in the refrigerator, courtesy of my adorable assistant, and in the absence of any visible signs of the urgent tasks that await me come morning, I decided to take the rest of the night off.

    No doubt I’d have done better to roll up my sleeves and get cracking, especially since I have a piece to write, a sackful of mail to answer, a half-dozen theatrical previews to schedule, a dozen phone calls to make, and a houseguest arriving in the afternoon, immediately followed by a week’s worth of more or less nonstop activity. Still, it was a long day—I had to get up early in the morning, pack my bags, scrape the frost off the car, and drive all the way to the airport in St. Louis—and I had a feeling that I might possibly be better served by spending an hour or so reacquainting myself with the Teachout Museum, then curling up on the couch to watch a few of the episodes of What’s My Line? that my DVR harvested for me last week. So that’s what I’m doing, after which I mean to take a book to bed and read myself to sleep. Tomorrow will have to take care of itself, and if it doesn’t, that’s just too damn bad. Tonight is for me.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city's walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

    E.B. White, Here Is New York

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | Permanent link
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
    TT: Eastward bound

    That’s it from Smalltown, U.S.A. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be back at my desk on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Don’t be surprised if I fail to post again until Wednesday, when Our Girl in Chicago joins me in New York for a week of mad hilarity (I can’t wait to see her start hitting the bars with Maud in tow). Oh, the humanity!

    In the meantime, many thanks for all the e-mail you’ve sent in recent days. It’s nice to know you’re out there.

    Later.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, December 28, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “There is no bottom. There is no low. You never know what you’re going to see next. There’s no worst—it does amaze me what people do to other people, that’s what’s crazy about it—but there’s no worst. You know what I’m saying?”

    Anonymous Chicago policeman (quoted in Connie Fletcher, What Cops Know)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, December 28, 2004 | Permanent link
Monday, December 27, 2004
    TT: They knew what they wanted

    Three recent searches that brought the searchers to “About Last Night”:

    • “Where was John Betjeman born?”

    • “The convention and genre on which reality TV draws.”

    • “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” (And yes, I know where that quote comes from—do you?)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, December 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Out from under

    The Great Blizzard of 2004 is officially over and done with. The snow has stopped falling and the ice has started melting, and my mother and I emerged from our brick-veneered cave a few hours ago, blinking at the bright sunlight, out of the house at long last to dine at a restaurant—Applebee's, to be specific—for the first time since we'd holed up on Tuesday night. (Actually, my brother and I had slithered north on an inch-thick sheet of ice to pick up a present on Friday morning, but we lied and told my mother that the ice had already melted, so it didn’t count.) Instead of attending the various family gatherings that were called on account of snow, I stayed home, opened presents, ate leftovers and various regional delicacies, answered e-mail, and watched movies.

    The presents under the tree included two showstoppers, one funny, the other touching. My brother gave me a framed check for one dollar, drawn on the City of Smalltown, U.S.A., and representing his entire salary as a city councilman for 2004. (It was a souvenir of my having made the very first contribution to his campaign fund.) In return, the rest of the family chipped in to buy him a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., where he’ll watch me be sworn in as a member of the National Council on the Arts and spend a couple of days doing the town. My mother is no longer up to that kind of long-distance traveling, so he’ll be the Teachout family’s official representative at the ceremony. Needless to say, tears were shed by more than one person in the room when that package was opened.

    Among the regional delicacies that I’ve consumed since the snow started falling were a foot-long stick of summer sausage and a half-pound of hickory-smoked cheese from Esicar’s Old Hickory Smokehouse, two robust foodstuffs not readily available on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I also bought and ate three GooGoo Clusters, the circular candy bar that is Nashville’s second most important contribution to American culture. So far the weather has stopped me from dining at Dexter Barbecue, but I’m hoping to gnaw on a rib or two before I hit the road.

    I got an e-mail yesterday from my friend Laura, about whose wedding I posted last week. She saw what I wrote after she got back from her honeymoon in Branson, Missouri, and said she liked it (whew!). So, I gather, did a lot of other folks, including a reader of “About Last Night” who lives in Taiwan. It tickled me no end to know that my description of a small-town wedding in Missouri had been read and appreciated halfway around the world, and it also reminded me—as if I needed reminding—of how extraordinary an effect blogging has already had on the writing life.

    I watched three films over the weekend that I hadn’t seen since their release, and one I’d never seen at all. My mother surprised me a few days ago by mentioned in passing that Mary Poppins was her favorite movie (who knew?), so we watched it on Christmas night, immediately following Miracle on 34th Street, which was new to me. I hadn’t seen Mary Poppins since my parents took me to a roadshow screening in Memphis in 1964, and was happily surprised by the effectiveness of the pre-digital animated effects (the songs are pretty damn good, too). We also watched Animal House, which my mother liked even more than Napoleon Dynamite. As for me, I hadn’t seen an uncut print of Animal House since my undergraduate days, and was delighted anew by all the clever little touches that time had wiped from my memory. (Remember how Fawn Lebowitz dies? In a kiln explosion.)

    Best of all, though, was The Secret Lives of Dentists, which struck me as even better on a second viewing than when I saw it last winter, though I stand by what I wrote then:

    Scarcely less impressive, and no less serious, is Alan Rudolph’s The Secret Lives of Dentists, an occasionally over-flamboyant but mostly straightforward study of the devastating effects of adultery on the marriage of two no-longer-young dentists (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis) so caught up in raising their children that they forget to love one another. Davis is shiveringly good as the guilty party, but Scott has the larger and more demanding part—nothing is harder than making an audience care about an emotionally inhibited character—and brings it off with self-effacing skill.

    (The film to which I was comparing it, by the way, was Lost in Translation, and I wound up the review by commenting on American Splendor as well. What a month that was!)

    Now, alas, the end of my stay is nigh. I have one day and night left, after which I fly back to Manhattan on Tuesday morning in order to greet Our Girl in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, and I have to finish and file my “Second City” column for this Sunday’s Washington Post before I leave town. Naturally, I’ve been putting it off. I hate working in Smalltown. (Blogging isn’t work.) But I don't dare procrastinate any longer, so I’m going to get up first thing in the morning—well, second thing—and do my duty.

    When I leave, it’ll be with the usual mixed feelings. I have a million things to do in New York, and I’ll be more than ready to get back to my desk. I love my work—probably more than I should—and I love my friends with all my heart. I even love New York, though it took me long enough to admit it to myself. (I didn’t really make up my mind about New York until after 9/11.) It is the place of my real life, and increasingly of my memories as well. I won’t be surprised if I spend the rest of my days there, whereas it isn’t likely that I’ll ever again spend more than a week or two at a time in Smalltown. Yet this town, and this house, are what I think of when I think of home.

    As I write these words, I’m listening to a record by a friend of mine, a Brazilian singer who lives in New York and became an American citizen earlier this year. Right now she’s in Săo Paulo visiting her family, and I know her heart is as cloven as mine. I asked her once what language she dreamed in. “English, mostly,” she said, "but with an accent.” So, too, do I dream in and of New York—but with an accent.

    When do we acquire the grace to feel at home where we are? Do we ever? Or can we do no better than to make a home for our own children, who will grow up and do the same for their children?

    I wrote those words in 1991, a few years after I moved to New York. I still can’t answer any of the questions I asked back then, perhaps because I have no children for whom to make a home, and now wonder whether I ever will. More and more I find myself wondering, too, what home means, and where it is. Yet at least I know where it used to be. Not everyone knows half as much.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, December 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Remember when a year felt like a long time?"

    "I sure do."

    Craig Lucas, screenplay for The Secret Lives of Dentists (adapted from The Age of Grief, by Jane Smiley)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, December 27, 2004 | Permanent link
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
    TT: Soon to be elsewhere

    As you know, I'm headed for Chicago tomorrow via an Amtrak sleeper, there to see plays for The Wall Street Journal and revel in the company of Our Girl in Chicago, whom I've known and adored for years and years, even though she insists on living in another city, damn her. I probably won't be posting again until I get where I'm going. OGIC has been fearfully busy with her day job, which is why you haven't heard from her lately, but I'm hoping that she'll take up some of the slack in my temporary absence. Once I arrive at her place on Friday, I expect we'll have at least a few amusing things to report, but don't be surprised if nothing new turns up in this space for the next couple of days.

    To all those who read us regularly, I send our affectionate and appreciative regards. Much to my surprise, "About Last Night" has become one of the most widely read arts blogs in the world. You have made us so. We thank you most humbly, and we promise to do our best to be as readable in 2004 as we were in 2003.

    May the New Year bring you joy and love. May it bring us all peace. And should it fail on either count, may you find comfort in the blessed world of art.

    Next year in Chicago!

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, December 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done—so I feel for you. 1st. Live as well as you dare. 2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 degrees or 80 degrees. 3rd. Amusing books. 4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea. 5th. Be as busy as you can. 6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you. 8. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment. 9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you. 10th. Compare your lot with that of other people. 11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best. 12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence. 13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree. 14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue. 15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant. 16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness. 17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice. 18th. Keep good blazing fires. 19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion."

    Sydney Smith, letter to Lady Georgiana Morpeth (1820)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, December 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Birthday card

    A reader writes:

    A small request, hmmm? Howzabout, on 12/31, you (pretty please with sugar on top) mention Milstein on the blog? Something like: "Today is the 100th birthday of the greatest violinist of the 20th century - Nathan Milstein. So, get out there and buy one of his albums today!" You could also put in a plug for your upcoming article on Milstein and Kaufman (heh, heh).

    I’m delighted to oblige. The "Milstein" in question is Nathan Milstein, whose name is now remembered mainly by aging violin connoisseurs—Jascha Heifetz got much better press—but who was, if not the greatest violinist of the 20th century, certainly one of the half-dozen greatest ever to make recordings. He never became as big a celebrity as Heifetz because his playing wasn’t as idiosyncratic: his tone was lean and focused, his interpretations poised and patrician, not exactly restrained but not exhibitionistic, either.

    Such a musician isn’t for everyone, any more than a singer like Nicolai Gedda or a painter like Vuillard suits all tastes. Milstein lacked that slight touch of vulgarity—the common touch, if you like—that so often helps to bridge the emotional gap between artist and audience. Yet those who responded to his playing did so passionately, and there were more than enough of them for Milstein to have a long and satisfying career. He even wrote a wonderful memoir, From Russia to the West, in which he speaks with occasionally hair-raising candor about colleagues and contemporaries (among them his good friend George Balanchine, whose personality Milstein evokes with remarkable vividness).

    Milstein made a lot of records, and most of the best of them have been transferred to CD and are fairly easy to find. If you want to jump in head first, The Art of Nathan Milstein, a budget-priced six-disc boxed set, contains a good-sized chunk of his working repertoire. If you’d rather start with a smaller taste, I recommend a CD that couples his early stereo recordings of the Tchaikovsky and Brahms concertos, available from amazon.com for the preposterously low price of $3.98. (Both performances are also included in The Art of Nathan Milstein.) You might also try his superb remake of Bach’s six sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin—the best complete set ever recorded, as far as I’m concerned.

    As my correspondent notes, I'm planning to publish an essay about Milstein and Louis Kaufman in Commentary some time in 2004. But why wait? At the very least, give that Tchaikovsky-Brahms CD a spin. I don’t promise to refund your money, but if you aren’t won over by Milstein’s soaring performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, I’ll be amazed.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, December 31, 2003 | Permanent link
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
    TT: Almanac

    "Everybody who lives in New York believes he’s here for some purpose, whether he does anything about it or not."

    Arlene Croce, Afterimages

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, December 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Here today

    Regular readers of this blog know that I'm afraid to fly, a mild but nonetheless persistent phobia that came calling from out of nowhere a few years ago and settled in for an extended visit. I'm gradually getting better at it, thanks in large part to the patient counsel of a psychotherapist (she's the one who talked me into riding a roller coaster this past summer), and now I can fly with minimal discomfort so long as the plane doesn't bump around too much.

    Last night I flew from St. Louis, the city closest to Smalltown, U.S.A., to LaGuardia Airport. I try not to fly at night, but this time I decided to give it a go, and at the end of 45 anxious minutes spent pushing through a cold front, our smaller-than-usual jet popped out of the clouds and started its descent into the New York area. Suddenly the once-invisible earth below me was lit by a million glittering pinpoints of copper, gold, and chilly blue-white. Not for the first time, I wondered why no painter has ever taken for his subject what one sees from the window of an airplane. Surely Whistler would have known what to do with the lights of a city, just as Constable might have reveled in the spectacle of clouds seen from above. I remembered, too, that as much as I dislike flying, it allows me to gaze as long as I want at a sight that can be seen nowhere else.

    The captain told us to look out the right-hand windows, and all at once they were filled with Manhattan. I thought of flying past the southern tip of my adopted island home on the Sunday after 9/11 (I always think of that terrible day whenever I fly back to New York), but the red-and-green Empire State Building swept the unwanted, unforgettable picture out of my head. The plane swooped and dipped, Manhattan vanished from view, and I found myself staring down at Riker's Island, so close I could have tossed a bag of pretzels out the window and hit a guard tower. Then I was on the ground, my fears forgotten, almost home and happy to be.

    I've lived in New York for the better part of two decades now, and you'd think I'd have gotten used to it. In a way, I suppose I have, but even now all it takes is a whiff of the unexpected and I catch myself boggling at that which the native New Yorker really does take for granted. As for my visits to Smalltown, U.S.A., they invariably leave me feeling like yesterday's immigrant, marveling at things no small-town boy can ever really dismiss as commonplace, no matter how long he lives in the capital of the world.

    My cab swept me across the Triborough Bridge and the Upper East Side, past the Guggenheim Museum and through Central Park, straight to the front door of my building. I trotted up the steps, unlocked the door to my apartment, and turned on all the lights. A quick look at the walls assured me that all my prints were present and accounted for: here an Avery, there a Marin, Frankenthaler over the couch, Wolf Kahn over the mantelpiece. I dropped my bags, locked the door, and sighed deeply. Once again I had made the impossible journey from Smalltown to New York, from home to home.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, December 30, 2003 | Permanent link
Monday, December 29, 2003
    TT: The reason why

    As I start to sift through all those blogs that went unread during my week in Smalltown, U.S.A., I’m digging up all sorts of interesting things. Here, for instance, is a revealing little ripple from Instapundit:

    BLOGGERS DON'T NEED EDITORS OR PUBLISHERS: Strangely, this leads Editor and Publisher to dub bloggers "self-important."

    Self-important, self-sufficient. Whatever.

    UPDATE: Stefan Sharkansky emails: "I'd add 'self-correcting', with the emphasis on 'correcting'. Can you recall the last time any newspaper issued a correction for factual errors on the editorial page? I can't."

    Me, neither. And the thing we in the blogosphere have discovered that has yet to penetrate through the thick skulls of editorial-page editors is this: Self-correction is interesting. It’s one of the reasons why I like reading blogs, and why I like writing this one.

    I know something about editorial pages. I worked on a good one for several years, and also wrote a biography of H.L. Mencken, who spent a sizable chunk of his career doing the same thing. As a result of his experience, Mencken had nothing but contempt but most editorial pages and editorial writers—you can find the details in The Skeptic—but he made a special point of printing any letter to the editor that attacked him personally.

    OGIC and I get a lot of e-mail. Not only do we answer all of it, we post some of it, invariably to readable effect, because virtually none of it comes from cranks. It comes from smart people who read what we write and have smart things to say about it—sometimes amplifying what we’ve written, sometimes challenging it. And because neither one of us makes the mistake of assuming that we’re always right, we’re happy to keep the ball rolling by letting you show that we’re not.

    The ease and immediacy with which blogs permit self-correction, public response, and further amplification is central to their appeal. Take another look at that Instapundit item: first he quotes from (and links to) a published article. Then he comments on it. Then, a little later, he receives and posts a comment on his comment. All this happened well within the space of what used to be called a "news cycle." In fact, it probably happened inside of an hour—maybe even less. OGIC and I (usually) aren’t that quick on the draw with our e-mail, but the point is that we could be, given sufficient time. And once we do get on the stick and post what you have to say, it frequently results in a whole series of profitable exchanges involving all sorts of other people. What’s more, our referral log keeps us up to date about what other bloggers have to say about us, and when appropriate we pass that on, too.

    Is this "self-important"? I don’t think so. If anything published in this space is important, it’s because you make it so, by reading it and responding to it and linking to it—a process that can take place not in a month or a week, but right now. Which is why blogging has caught on so quickly, and is becoming an increasingly significant part of the world of journalism: it’s fast, and anyone can do it. You don’t need a degree in journalism (nobody needs a degree in journalism), much less a printing press. To re-paraphrase the much-paraphrased words of A.J. Liebling, freedom of the press used to be for those who owned one. Now it’s for anyone with a computer, a modem, and something to say.

    Take it from one who’s spent his entire adult life writing for and editing newspapers and magazines: except for politicians, journalists as a group are the most self-important people in the world. That’s why some of them are so horrified by blogging, and go out of their way to knock it. They don’t like the idea of a level playing field for opinion. They like it much better when theirs are the only opinions in play. And now they’re out of luck. As Rodgers and Hammerstein might have put it, ain't that too damn bad.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, December 29, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: In transit

    I'll be spending Monday making my slow way from Smalltown, U.S.A., to the Upper West Side of New York. On Tuesday and Wednesday I'll be back at my desk, writing and blogging and blogging and writing. I have a way cool adventure planned for Thursday: I'm taking an Amtrak sleeper from New York to Chicago, something I've always wanted to do (I love trains). I'll be hanging out with Our Girl in Chicago and seeing plays for The Wall Street Journal all weekend, returning to New York via Amtrak on Monday.

    Mail will be answered at some point in the interstices of all this activity.

    See you Tuesday.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, December 29, 2003 | Permanent link
Sunday, December 28, 2003
    TT: I guess she told him!

    Apropos of my recent exchange with Felix Salmon, my sister-in-law writes from three blocks away in Smalltown, U.S.A.:

    You may assure your readers and Mr. Salmon that culture can be found in venues other than a radio broadcast from the Met that the midwestern Smalltown USA did not even know existed. SEMO [southeast Missouri] offers violin, piano, etc lessons to young children, (my nephew, age 4, takes violin lessons) The professor plays some classical music and has the children name the piece. Your own niece enjoys a variety of music without having been exposed to a radio broadcast. We sought out different events for her to see if she enjoyed them. SEMO also offers opportunities to listen to small classical and jazz concerts and see plays (even if they are only performed by students) and also brings various ballets in to perform at the Show Me Center [a local auditorium] from time to time. The Fox Theatre in St. Louis is 2 hours from us and offers a variety of cultural and general entertainment. We have played various radio stations that were never before accessible to us by using our computer. The cost is not as prohibitive as some like to believe - I worked ours into a cable package upgrade. It is only a matter of what it is worth to the individual user. I have even looked into the satellite radio receiver for your brother which would certainly be better quality than our computer speakers, but find that the expense is not worth it to us at this time.

    I am sorry this is so long, but it irritates me that someone would imply that you are a snob and feel only that the affluent deserve opera (especially since your brother and I are neither affluent or elite).

    My sister didn’t mention the St. Louis Symphony, Art Museum, and Opera Theater, which are also two hours away, or Smalltown's own Little Theater, which has been active for something like a half-century—I performed in it when I was a teenager. Otherwise, I’d say she sums up cultural possibilities in Smalltown, U.S.A., pretty thoroughly.

    Incidentally, my week with a dial-up connection has convinced me that the future of broadband is now, not because it’s anywhere near universal but because so many Web sites (including a number of bloggers in the right-hand column) have lately become all but impossible to use without it. I was a very late adopter—I actually launched "About Last Night" using dial-up, unlikely as it may sound—and it was only through a cable package that I made the big leap. I suspect that’s how most as-yet-unbroadbanded people will do the same thing.

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, December 28, 2003 | Permanent link

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