Archives for August 20, 2007
At the library last week I picked up the first volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read many of the mysteries before (“The Red-Headed League” was a particular favorite when I was a kid) but never the first one, A Study in Scarlet (published 1887), in which Watson and Holmes meet for the first time and arrange to set up digs together on Baker Street.
In that first interview, Holmes warns Watson “I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days at times.” Am I the only one who thought “being in the dumps” was a modern construction? (Linked to town dumps, junkyard dogs, being put to the curb, etc.) It is not. A friend with a copy of the OED was kind enough to send along the appropriate dictionary entry — forthwith, the three definitions of “in the dumps” with their earliest usages:
1. A fit of abstraction or musing, a reverie; a dazed or puzzled state, a maze; perplexity, amazement; absence of mind.
1523 Skelton Garl. Laurell 14 So depely drownyd I was in this dumpe, encraumpyshed so sore was my conceyte, That, me to rest, I lent me to a stumpe of an oke.
2. A fit of melancholy or depression; now only in pl. (colloq. and more or less humorous): Heaviness of mind, dejection, low spirits.
1529 More Comf. agst. Trib. i. Wks. 1140/2 What heapes of heauynesse, hathe of late fallen amonge vs alreadye, with whiche some of our poore familye bee fallen into suche dumpes.
3. A mournful or plaintive melody or song; also, by extension, a tune in general; sometimes app. used for a kind of dance.
1553 Udall Royster D. ii. i. (Arb.) 32 Then twang with our sonets, and twang with our dumps, And heyhough from our heart, as heauie as lead lumpes.
Sharp-eyed readers may already have noticed a small but significant change in the top module of the right-hand column (a similar change to the masthead is in the works). It’s no accident. As of today, litblogger Carrie Frye, who joined us last month as a guest blogger, comes aboard permanently as the third member of the “About Last Night” team. We couldn’t be happier–and judging by the upward bounce in our readership stats that occurred when Carrie first started blogging with us, our guess is that you feel the same way. She’s a good friend, a good colleague, and more fun than a megawatt zap to the nucleus accumbens. We’re glad she’s decided to let us make an honest woman of her.
For those readers who haven’t yet gotten the message, the three of us sign the headlines of our individual postings as follows:
• Terry is “TT”
• Our Girl in Chicago (also known as Laura Demanski) is “OGIC”
• Carrie is “CAAF”
Welcome to the club, CAAF–and be sure to keep that secret handshake to yourself.
I am, as those who know me are well aware, something of a child at heart. Not surprisingly, then, it pleased me no end when I took my seat in the first ring of Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater last Thursday night and saw that I was surrounded by TV cameras. To be sure, none of them was pointed at me–they were there to telecast Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances on PBS’ Live From Lincoln Center–but even so, I got a huge kick out of the fact that they were an arm’s length from my aisle seat.
“My sister in St. Louis is watching tonight,” my companion for the evening whispered as the lights went down. I liked that, too, just as I liked knowing that some of you would be seeing what I was seeing at the very moment I saw it. I recently blogged about what it feels like to listen to a live album at whose creation you were present. Being in the audience for a live telecast is even more exciting, in part because of the strong sense of community that such an experience creates.
Experiences like these are growing rarer. As I wrote in A Terry Teachout Reader:
The rise of digital information technology, with its unique capacity for niche marketing, has replaced such demographically broad-based instruments of middlebrow self-education as The Ed Sullivan Show with a new regime of seemingly infinite cultural choice. Instead of three TV networks, we have a hundred channels, each “narrowcasting” to a separate sliver of the viewing public, just as today’s corporations market new products not to the American people as a whole but to carefully balanced combinations of “lifestyle clusters” whose members are known to prefer gourmet coffee to Coca-Cola, or BMWs to Dodge pickups.
In many ways this new regime is a good thing, even a blessing, but it also takes away the feeling of shared experience that I felt when I watched TV as a boy, knowing that most of the people I knew–as well as millions of people I didn’t know–were watching the same shows at the same time. The movie My Favorite Year, whose climactic scene is a portrayal of a live broadcast of a fictional Fifties TV program not unlike Your Show of Shows, conveys something of that feeling, as does the surviving kinescope of the original 1953 telecast of Marty that I saw earlier this year. That’s what I felt last Thursday, and I loved it.
As for Mozart Dances, I could go on and on about its myriad beauties…but I prefer not to. Mind you, I have no doubt that it is a masterpiece, just as I was sure that Morris’ V was a masterpiece when I saw it for the first time in 2001, and if you pressed me I could easily come up with a lengthy and persuasive explanation of why this should be so. It is, after all, my job to explain the ineffable, though plotless dances are peculiarly resistant to such explanations. (“We dare to go into the world where there are no names for anything,” George Balanchine once remarked to Jerome Robbins.) On the other hand, I wasn’t on the job last Thursday: I was there to enjoy myself, and I didn’t take any notes. Instead I let Mozart Dances happen to me, and when it was over I felt as though I’d come back home from a trip to Eden.
One thing I will say is that this was one of the few times in my life that I’ve been fortunate enough to see a great dance accompanied by world-class musicians. It’s no secret (save to certain tin-eared dance critics) that the New York City Ballet pit orchestra is usually pretty awful, but the unhappy fact is that the vast majority of dance performances in America are accompanied either by second-rate players or by taped music, which is even worse. On Thursday night, by contrast, we got to hear Emanuel Ax, Yoko Nozaki, Louis Langrée, and the Mostly Mozart orchestra perform two Mozart piano concertos (K. 413 and 595) and the Two-Piano Sonata. At intermission I ran into Patrick J. Smith, who knows more about opera than anybody, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Finally–finally–the music is as good as the dancing!” And so it was.
Just before the curtain went up, Mark Morris slipped into the aisle seat across from me, which added an extra frisson to the proceedings. I know Mark a bit–we spent a couple of hours talking over The Letter back in January–and I’ve liked him ever since our first meeting, when he naughtily introduced me to the members of his company as “M’sieur Tee-Shew.” He is, among other things, funny and frank to a degree that can sometimes be unnerving but is more often exhilarating, and I’ve never spoken to him without going away happy. Yet there is always a moment when it suddenly hits me that I’m talking to the choreographer of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, which has a way of putting a damper on the conversation.
I’ve known four people in my lifetime–maybe five–whom I believe to be creative geniuses, and Mark is one of them. To be in the company of such birds of paradise is inevitably to be reminded of your own limitations. They are not as other men. So I didn’t say much to him at intermission: I simply said hello and told him I thought Mozart Dances was wonderful, and left it at that. As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
My recent appearance on XM Satellite Radio’s Downstage Center, the weekly program of the American Theatre Wing, will be archived today on the ATW’s Web site. To listen in streaming audio or download it to your mp3 player, go here.
Howard Sherman, co-host of Downstage Center, wrote the other day to point out some things about the show that I hadn’t realized:
So far as we know, Downstage Center is the only national, weekly radio program featuring sustained conversation about theatre, covering Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional work; commercial and not-for-profit; musicals and plays; and speaking not only with actors, writers and directors, but artistic directors, designers, producers and on occasion, critics (there are a bunch of shows about musicals on both broadcast and terrestrial radio, as well as podcasts). Your interview was our 165th since the show began in April 2004, without a single repeated guest, and every one is available online for free as streaming audio and podcast.
All the more reason to listen, either via the ATW archives or by subscribing to XM, of which I am a very big fan. You can do the latter by going here.
“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was–there is no man can tell what. Methought I was,–and methought I had,–but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.”
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream