Here’s some of what I picked up in the course of the past week’s Web surfing:
– I’m a Stephen Sondheim fan, but not a buff or cultist (there’s a difference). Something Old, Nothing New is very funny on the latter:
The term “Sondheim-Firster” was a term I invented to describe the sort of person who likes Stephen Sondheim but doesn’t really like musicals. Some of the qualifications for Sondheim-Firster status were:
– Loves SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and PASSION above all other musicals. Lukewarm about COMPANY and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. Thinks INTO THE WOODS is kind of a sellout. Hasn’t seen A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM….
– Approvingly calls any Sondheim song “dissonant,” whether it is or not….
– Ends a discussion of any Sondheim musical with the phrase “audiences weren’t ready for it.”…
– Evaluates *any* pre-1970 musical, including Sondheim’s, by saying that it has “hints of what was to come later.”
– Kind of bored by FOLLIES — too many show tunes in it — but knows it must be good because it makes middle-aged people uncomfortable.
I know the type.
I am always suspicious of writers who are able to compose finely honed reflections on their first days somewhere new and far away — in elaborate travelogs or journals or carefully crafted daybooks. Not that I’m a great stickler for accuracy, but the minute accounts of the strange, the fabulous, the new so often smack of disingenuous forms of writerly wish fulfillment. If there was any truth in their descriptions, their journals would more likely read:
Day 1 — Tired.
Day 2 — Still tired.
Day 3 — Overwhelmed.
Or is that just me?
Terry Teachout asks some heavy questions about the point or pointlessness of writing about art in a dangerous time, and answers them movingly. What would I do if only a day remained? It doesn’t do my mood much good to contemplate such questions, but at some point or another I would reach for Brahms’ Intermezzos Opus 117, and in particular the first, which since age seventeen or so has been the music closest to my heart. Some years ago Radu Lupu made an irreplaceable recording of Brahms’ late piano music. It offers something more than beauty — it gives sympathy, compassion, companionship. Other than that, I’d want to get out of the house and leave art behind. When, on September 11, I left the building from which I’d watched the terror unfold and joined the endless crowd of people walking up Seventh Avenue, I felt one of the most powerful emotions of my life, which was the feeling of belonging to a mass. Strange how seldom our so-called mass culture provides such a feeling. Even the rowdiest entertainments return us to the suburbs of solitude, our disconnectedness rushing back in.
– Similarly thoughtful reflections on TV talk from Shades of Gray (Umbrae Canarum):
What are we to expect from timed, limited, and narrow discussions on the television? Can we expect a serious, and deep, dialogue on any issue that will serendipitously end when a commercial break is required? Or is it more like what one anticipates in a WWE match – a choreographed conflict, with its ups-and-downs, its upsets and sure-things, always completed just in time for this message from “Old Spice”?
Perhaps it is no big thing. And yet, these are the types of shows that are (supposedly) “smart” television. Get away from O’Reilly – think of any other roundtable style program. If it does not degenerate into a shouting match, filled with the quick soundbite tidbits, the sheer lack of time prevents anything more than a superficial consideration of the ideas on the table. Can deep thinking, can true understanding, come from this sort of thing?…
Is there an avenue for the type of conversation that truly is enlightening? I don’t know. Especially now, it seems often more the result of dumb luck (or divine providence, depending on your view) that a discussion can come about among the learned, concerned for the good, the true, the beautiful. In previous centuries, where literacy was lacking for many, perhaps these types of dialogues came about more easily, since the number actually able to discuss in an educated way was smaller. Now, we are almost all to a person half-educated, trying to speak the same way, or have chattering pundits speak for us.
But therein lies the problem. What appears to be the avenue for true intellectual discussion seems destroyed by increased literacy and education. There is no way to go back to before. Indeed, I doubt few if any of us would want to go back to such a time. So what now? Perhaps, as time goes on, those who are in love with the Intellect (as Barzun would define it) will find ways. What those ways would be, my imagination is lacking.
One word: radio. It’s not perfect, but in the past couple of years I’ve taken part in a number of radio interviews and conversations that were both pleasurable and stimulating. Especially in this new age of streaming audio, I have a good feeling about the future of radio as a creative medium.
– Thanks to Gnostical Turpitude, I learned that the Guardian ran an interesting profile of Paul Fussell, one that confirmed my longstanding impression of him as a person whom I’d rather read than meet (his vanity is forever peeping through). Nevertheless, Fussell tossed off any number of observant remarks to his interlocutor, as when he observed that H.L. Mencken, once his favorite satirist, was “deficient in the tragic sense.” Into those five words are packed much of what it took me a whole book
Rocco Landesman, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters and a producer of “Caroline,” said the show’s advance sales took a precipitous drop at the end of August.
“The week of the convention would be absolutely disastrous for us to keep open,” he said. “The Republicans are going to be occupied with the convention, and anyone who’s not a Republican is going to be out of town.”
Ah, yes, the celebrated Mr. Anyone, first cousin to Ms. Everyone I Know. In fact, a recent poll indicated that only 10% of New Yorkers plan to be out of town during the Republican convention. To Mr. Landesman, the rest of us peasants are presumably chopped liver–which may help to explain why Caroline, or Change is closing.
– Finally, Lileks pays a visit to Starbucks:
I was behind a fellow who had ten years on me; he was schooled in the old ways of joe. He placed his order thus:
“A cup of coffee, black.”
“Room for cream?”
I was next. What would I like?
“I’d like a medium coffee,” I said, since I’ll be gol-durned if I ever say “venti” to these people. I’ll give them Beijing for Peking, Hindu for Hindoo, but medium will be Medium until the day I die. “Black.”
“Room for cream?”
Kids today. They don’t know. They’ve lost the lingo. When you’ve established that the nature of your coffee is BLACK, cream no longer enters into the picture. Ever. But you could walk up and say “Blorg chulavista spaz mocha” and she’d ask “Room for cream?” It’s the script. Hidden cameras record her every word. They beat her with burlap sacks stuffed with beans if she doesn’t say the words.
I’m perfectly willing to admit (albeit through clenched teeth) that the self-conscious avoidance of affectation is itself an affectation. In any case, I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, and you’re not likely to see me stroll into a Starbucks save for the purpose of ordering a mocha frappucino, a drink the mere uttering of whose name makes me cringe with embarrassment. Nevertheless, I know the Old Ways of Joe from black-and-white movies, and if you should ever hear me use Italian to specify the size of a drink in any country other than Italy, you’ll know the pod people have paid me a visit.