Archives for May 4, 2006
Here’s my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. 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. (No, there aren’t any asterisks this week!)
– Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
– Awake and Sing! (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes June 11)
– Bridge & Tunnel (solo show, PG-13, some adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes July 9)
– Chicago (musical, R, adult subject matter and sexual content)
– Doubt (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter and implicit sexual content, reviewed here)
– The Lieutenant of Inishmore (black comedy, R, adult subject matter and extremely graphic violence, reviewed here)
– The Light in the Piazza (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene, closes July 2, reviewed here)
– Sweeney Todd (musical, R, adult subject matter, 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)
– I Love You Because (musical, R, sexual content, reviewed here)
– Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris (musical revue, R, adult subject matter and sexual content, reviewed here)
– Slava’s Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)
Many of you who read yesterday’s posting about Pandora, the new Web-based streaming-audio “music discovery service,” have already written to tell me that you tried it and liked it, for which much thanks.
One well-informed reader, however, told me quite a bit more:
i just figured out how pandora got itunes and amazon to let them run wild. it’s genius really and i’ve used the same strategy in marketing projects for corporations.
pandora gets to use whatever it wants (within limits, of course) and in exchange, they are feeding demographic data to itunes and amazon. if you don’t sign up, the demo data is raw. in other words, itunes learns what types of music is favored with other types as well as mismatches. this helps them market to those who download.
so, for example, if you download prez, you may be interested to learn that a stan getz disc was also favored by most people who dug prez. it gets better. those who do sign up is where the real action is. when you log in and indicate what you like and dislike. in short, you are telling itunes and amazon exactly what terry teachout likes.
so, when you log in at itunes or amazon, cookies read it’s you and itunes and amazon tempt you with stuff you may have listened to and liked or similar stuff that the data says you should like. it’s brilliant. the end user gets free music, pandora gets ad revenue and a percentage of each vote from itunes/amazon and itunes/amazon get database gold.
not bad eh?
Not bad at all–though I’m sure that certain readers will bristle at the thought of such data being mined without their explicit permission, even if the process does lead to their musical horizons being expanded for free.
To these people I say, Better disable your cookies and hide in the root cellar! That’s the future of marketing, cultural and otherwise, and unless you go off the new-media grid altogether, you can’t escape it. For better and worse–in proportions that have yet to be made fully manifest–it’s already here.
UPDATE: Another reader writes:
I tried it. I wasn’t happy. Not because of the choices, but because
they didn’t know even one of the people/groups I was suggesting to
give me any choices. Granted, these were not your usual American
bland artists, they were Belgian, French, Quebecois, Algerian and
Lebanese. And not one of the 15 made it into their list.
Still, it seems to me that if you’re even slightly adventurous, you
might not do so well with this service because it won’t give me (for
example) someone like Liane Foly or Rachid Taha that I might enjoy.
Given the diversity of musical tastes and cultures here, I’m surprised
that they’re not broader in selection.
I take six pills a day and a seventh every other day. If I don’t, I’ll die, not right away–my cardiologist says I’m in great shape–but considerably sooner than I’d like. I don’t resent so modest a regimen, especially since I know lots of people who have to take two or three times as many pills as I do. When I think about it, I’m mainly grateful that six and a half pills a day, plus regular exercise and a sensible diet, are all it takes to keep me out of a coffin, at least for the present. Nevertheless, I’m having a certain amount of trouble adjusting to the fact that I’ve joined the ranks of those who can no longer take their health for granted.
For years I abused myself, though not in any of the more immediately devastating ways. Overwork and overeating were my tipples of choice, and whenever I indulged to excess, I simply laid off for a couple of days, after which I became my normal self once again. Or so I thought. Like most of us, I preferred to ignore the signals of impending doom that were starting to show up on my screen with increasing frequency, and on the morning when the roof fell in
and I was forced to call an ambulance in order to save what was left of my life, it had been at least two years–maybe more–since I’d last seen a doctor of any kind.
In short, I used to think I was bulletproof, and now I know I’m not. The best I can say is that I somehow managed last December to dodge a bullet aimed at my heart, and should I stop following doctor’s orders, the next one will almost certainly hit its target. So I take my pills twice a day, and each time I do, I hear the words Remember you must die in my mind’s ear.
Dame Muriel Spark, who died a couple of weeks ago after a long and artistically fruitful life, wrote a remarkable novel in 1959 called Memento Mori. It’s about a group of old people who, for no apparent reason, start to receive anonymous telephone calls from a person who says “Remember you must die” to them, then hangs up. The novel tells how each of the recipients of these mysterious calls is affected by them. Toward the end one of the characters makes the following remark, which has been much on my mind of late:
If I had my life over again I should form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practise, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practice which so intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.
I don’t think my life was insipid prior to last December, but I’m pretty sure that I was taking large parts of it for granted, and I know I’d been abusing the work I love, in much the same way that a drunkard abuses the nectar that once added savor to his daily rounds. Yes, there were times when I pierced the veil and awoke to what Mr. Anecdotal Evidence calls the thisness of things, but those times were too rare, perhaps in part because I took for granted that I would be around for a long time to come.
Needless to say, I hope and expect to be around for a very long time to come. But twice a day, just like clockwork, I open my medicine cabinet, take out my seven-day pillbox, and swallow the tablets that remind me, whether or not I care to be reminded at that particular moment, that my clock, just like yours, is running down. I know there will always be stretches of my life that I take for granted–that’s in our nature–but until I die there will also be those twice-daily visits to the medicine cabinet to warn me, if I care to listen, that the night cometh, when no man can work. Or listen to music, or take a walk in Central Park, or linger over dinner with a friend and talk idly and happily about nothing in particular.
That’s a good thing to keep in mind, if not exactly a comforting one.
“He was a prisoner of his belief in realities rather than appearances. He had never cared what anyone thought of him, only what he thought of himself.”
Brian Garfield, Hopscotch
Courtesy of the ever-readable Little Professor, here goes nothing:
– I am getting ready to go downstairs and catch a cab that will take me to a midtown recording studio, where I’ll be taping an episode of a new radio show hosted by John Pizzarelli.
– I want a Morandi etching.
– I wish I lived by a river, a lake, or the sea.
– I hate cell phones used in inappropriate places and fashions.
– I love my family, my friends, my work (and the art it requires me to consume), and the Teachout Museum.
– I miss my home town.
– I fear death. (Why beat around the bush?)
– I hear the faint sound of traffic on Columbus Avenue and the soft purr of my iBook.
– I wonder if the weather will be nice when I take a couple of days off next week and head for one of my Secure Undisclosed Locations.
– I regret not having spent more afternoons in Central Park.
– I am not quite as patient as I wish I were.
– I dance under no circumstances whatsoever.
– I sing in tune, but in an uninteresting bass-baritone voice.
– I cry fairly often, usually for no good reason.
– I am not always considerate (though I try to be).
– I make with my hands the occasional omelet.
– I write in a near-micrographic hand that my friends claim is attractive-looking. (To me it looks like a scrawl.)
– I confuse…er, nothing that comes immediately to mind, though I find that the names of good friends slip my mind from time to time. Such is middle age!
– I need to take a shower and eat a little something before I head for the studio. (It might also be a good idea to put on some clothes.)
– I should start writing the sixth chapter of Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong–but not yet!
– I start reading more books than I finish.
– I finish writing Hotter Than That eleven months from now (D.V.!, D.V.!).
– I tag Our Girl, of course.
No, I did not have anything to do with this….
My review of David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green appeared in last weekend’s Baltimore Sun. I loved it, here’s why:
The time is 1982 in the English Midlands, the era of Margaret Thatcher, Chariots of Fire, the Falklands War, and Talking Heads. Jason Taylor is about to turn 13 when the novel opens, and at the mercy of the mob of Wilcoxes, Redmarleys and Broses. In an adolescent jungle where hardness reigns, Jason is heartbreakingly soft. He’s plagued by a capricious stammer he personifies as an inner villain called Hangman, who wreaks gleeful havoc with his confidence. He doesn’t know what certain popular epithets favored by his peers mean and is afraid to ask. He unfashionably cares about people, beauty, and, worst of all, poetry. If his peers knew this, he recognizes, “they’d gouge me to death behind the tennis courts with blunt woodwork tools and spray the Sex Pistols logo on my gravestone.” So he writes poems under a pseudonym and publishes them in a local journal.
It’s convenient for Mitchell that Jason is a budding poet and an instinctive naturalist to boot, a sort of English Wendell Berry in the making. Jason’s poetic leaning makes plausible all kinds of verbal flourishes and fine observations that might otherwise be a stretch coming from a 13-year-old. But Mitchell takes the liberty and makes the most of it; in fact, one of the most striking and beautiful things about his novel is the entirely plausible and disarming way in which Jason’s voice blends the resourceful and calibrated expression of a poet – “some way-too-early fireworks streaked spoon-silver against the Etch-A-Sketch gray sky” – with the occasionally colorful but essentially rote slang favored by a kid. The rich hash that results is, on just about every page, ordinary and extraordinary and ravishing.
Though Mitchell is best known for his previous novel, Cloud Atlas, he began building a following with his earlier books Ghostwritten and Number Nine Dream. Black Swan Green both cements and complicates his reputation as a painstaking formalist and a writer’s writer. On one hand, it is narrated more traditionally than any of the previous works, and dwells, more conventionally, on the inner life of a single character. Black Swan Green is an unapologetically realist novel and a hugely satisfying one. On the other hand, for all the naturalism of its effect, the book is every bit as elaborately stitched together as Mitchell’s more formally showy books. It has intricate patterns to reveal that might not surface on a first reading.
The whole thing can be read here. As you see, I found the novel generally excellent. But it also found an inside track to my heart in its preoccupation with Alain-Fournier’s enigmatic 1913 wonder of a novel Le Grand Meaulnes–a book that, if read at the right age, permanently enters the bloodstream. I read it as a high school senior, which seems to have been just young enough. Reading Alain-Fournier’s and Mitchell’s novels together would be a very cool small-scale reading project for the summer, no matter one’s age.
For a smart dissenting view on Mitchell’s novel, see Jenny Davidson’s generous-minded but ultimately lukewarm assessment at her blog Light Reading.