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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, September 8, 2006
    TT: Really the blues

    I reviewed two shows in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, one in town (Seven Guitars) and one elsewhere (Pippin). Here’s the gist:

    August Wilson was on the outs with Broadway at the time of his death last October. “Gem of the Ocean,” the ninth installment of his ten-play cycle about the black experience in America, barely made it to the Great White Way, and “Radio Golf,” the last play in the cycle, has yet to be seen there (though it’s already received several regional productions). So it’s good news indeed that the Signature Theater Company, the Off Broadway troupe that devotes each of its seasons to the work of one American playwright, is featuring him this year—and that “Seven Guitars,” the first of three plays by Wilson to be produced there this season, has been given a revival of the utmost splendor and compulsion. Now that “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “Faith Healer” have closed their doors, I’d go so far as to call it the best play in town….

    Needless to say, it was written with black playgoers very much in mind, but for all the ethnic specificity of his chronicles of ghetto life, Wilson never lost sight of the artist’s obligation to communicate to the widest possible audience. As he told the Paris Review in 1999, “You create the work to add to the artistic storehouse of the world, to exalt and celebrate a common humanity.” I can’t think of a better way to sum up “Seven Guitars”: Like all great art, it shows you yourself, no matter who you are….

    Youngsters unaware that Stephen Schwartz wrote anything before “Wicked” should take note of the lively production of “Pippin” now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House, the century-old 398-seat auditorium on the Connecticut River whose musical-comedy revivals are universally admired by well-traveled connoisseurs….

    To be sure, “Pippin” is a wan period piece with a watered-down rock score and wince-making lyrics that stink of 1972 (“Every man has his daydreams/Every man has his goals/People like the way dreams have/Of sticking to the soul”). But the ham-fisted stop-the-war sermonizing of the first act will soothe the parched souls of the gray-ponytail set, and Gabriel Barre and Beowulf Boritt, the director and designer, have miraculously contrived to shoehorn the show’s complicated events onto the Goodspeed’s tiny stage with plenty of room to spare….

    No free link. As usual, you can read the whole thing by (A) buying the paper or (B) going here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you immediate access to the complete text of my review. (If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll find it here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 8, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Stop, look, and listen

    Two months ago I added a new module to "Sites to See," our blogroll. As I wrote in June:

    In the past year YouTube has evolved from a curiosity into a major online resource. If you’re interested in seeing rare film and video clips by a fast-growing number of great performers of the past, you’ll find them there—but only if you have the patience to sift through the innumerable postings of nitwits who think the world is waiting with bated breath to see their homemade music videos.

    From time to time I've passed on links to interesting videos that I've found on other blogs, but it never occurred to me to try making this blog a one-stop portal to the wonders of YouTube—until now. Take a look at the “Sites to See” module of the right-hand column and you’ll find that it ends with a brand-new roll of selected culture- and history-oriented video links, most (but not all) of them to YouTube. So far as I know, this is the first such list to appear anywhere on the Web.

    If you haven't checked it out yet, I strongly suggest you do so now. Last night I spent a couple of hours revising, updating, and expanding our list of video links. (All newly posted videos are marked with an asterisk.) It is, if I do say so myself, a spectacularly rich catalogue of on-demand online video treasure—and the audio-only links are pretty amazing, too.

    As always, I encourage you to send me the URLs of any choice culture-related links that you run across in the course of your own YouTube explorations.

    Have fun!

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 8, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    Nothing with gods, nothing with fate;
    Weighty affairs will just have to wait!

    Stephen Sondheim, “Comedy Tonight”

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 8, 2006 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 7, 2006
    TT: Words to the wise

    Sonny Rollins, one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz, turns seventy-six today. To celebrate the occasion, his Web site, which is one year old, has posted rare video footage of nine Rollins performances, including two from the Fifties and three from the Sixties.

    “Nine Lives of Sonny Rollins” will be viewable at sonnyrollins.com for one week from today. To watch it, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 7, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: What are you doing on Sunday night?

    If you have no plans for this Sunday night—and maybe even if you do—I strongly recommend that you attend the all-star jazz concert that Dan Levinson and Randy Sandke have put together to benefit Dick Sudhalter, about whose plight I recently blogged. The bill includes (among others) Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Bert, Bill Crow, Jim Ferguson, Dave Frishberg, Wycliffe Gordon, Marty Grosz, Becky Kilgore, Bill Kirchner, Steve Kuhn, Dan Levinson, Marian McPartland, Joe Muranyi, David Ostwald, Nicki Parrott, Bucky Pizzarelli, Scott Robinson, Randy Sandke, Daryl Sherman, and the Loren Schoenberg Big Band.

    The concert will take place at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York. The address is 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street and the music starts at seven o’clock sharp. Admission is $40, plus whatever else you care to chip in.

    I’ll be there. You come, too.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 7, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Calling an audible

    Are there any songs that you really, really like in spite of their lyrics, whether in whole or part? Here’s my list:

    • Swing Out Sister, “Breakout”
    • Joan Armatrading, “Call Me Names”
    • Tori Amos, “Crucify”
    • Joni Mitchell, “Black Crow”
    • Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”
    • Rosanne Cash, “I Want a Cure”
    • The Police, “King of Pain”
    • Billy Strayhorn, “Lush Life”

    Incidentally, it only works one way for me: if I don’t like the music of a song, it doesn’t matter how good the words are. I suspect the same thing is true for most people, which says something interesting about the nature of songwriting.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 7, 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 strongly 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.

    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)
    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)

    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)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 7, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “Wisdom is truth that consoles. There is truth without wisdom, as we know from the many mad scientists who are running loose in our world. And there is consolation without truth, as we know from the history of religion. Whatever its defects, my life has enabled me to find comfort in uncomfortable truths.”

    Roger Scruton, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life (courtesy of Anecdotal Evidence)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 7, 2006 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
    TT: Serendipity revisited

    A number of bloggers linked to the teaser to “Serendipity, R.I.P.,” my “Sightings” column in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, without having read the whole thing. This extended excerpt may help to clear up the resulting confusion. The occasion for the column was the announcement that Tower Records is filing for bankruptcy:

    Imagine a world without record stores. What will it be like? How will it affect the way we experience music?

    The biggest change will be in the way we shop. People who purchase music online typically come to a “store” looking for a specific song or album, buy it, then depart. People who purchase music at deep-catalog record stores, by contrast, typically spend a fair amount of time browsing, and thus are more likely to buy additional CDs on impulse—including some of whose existence they may not previously have been aware. Such serendipitous discoveries are a key aspect of the enduring appeal of brick-and-mortar retailing. The old joke about Strand Book Store, New York City’s best-known seller of used books, was that while it never had the book you were looking for, you always went home with five others you couldn’t resist. (The store’s slogan is “18 miles of books.”) I can’t begin to count the number of good books I’ve bought at the Strand simply because they looked interesting.

    On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time I shopped at the Strand: I now buy most of my books and all my CDs online. Not only is it more convenient, but I can get exactly what I want, whenever I want it. What I can’t do is wander up and down the aisles, casually running my eyes along the shelves in search of pleasant surprises. In cyberspace there are no aisles or shelves, just pages viewed one at a time.

    Not only does online buying put an end to browsing, but it also eliminates the practice known to booksellers as “hand-selling.” Think of Championship Vinyl, the fictional record store portrayed in the movie High Fidelity, whose know-it-all clerks (“Do we look like the kind of store that sells ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’? Go to the mall”) love to shower their customers with try-this-record-you’ll-like-it advice. The good news is that smart online stores like amazon.com and Netflix are seeking to replace the personal touch of hand-selling with “preference engines” that automatically generate computerized lists of “other items you might enjoy” each time you make a purchase. That’s a step in the right direction, as is Pandora, a free Web-based streaming-audio “radio station” whose programming is determined by the tastes of each individual user....

    To be sure, none of these sophisticated tools is as elegant, or as soul-satisfying, as old-fashioned browsing. I’ve spent countless happy hours trolling the aisles of Tower Records in search of buried treasure. Yet when amazon.com and iTunes made it possible for me to buy any album I wanted without leaving my apartment, I didn’t think twice about turning my back on Tower....

    Is the narrowly targeted buying-on-demand facilitated by online stores creating a world in which consumers are less likely to try new things? Perhaps—but the infinitely deep catalogs of these stores also make it possible for the curious listener to range farther afield than ever before….

    Subscribers to the Online Journal can read the complete column by going here.

    I posted at length about Pandora back in May. To read what I wrote, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: So you don't have to

    • Ann Althouse liveblogged Katie Couric’s debut on the CBS Evening News. The only time I ever watch network newscasts is when I’m visiting my mother in Smalltown, U.S.A., so I can’t swear that the divine Ms. Althouse got it right, but her account sure sounds plausible:

    Next, there's a segment called "freeSpeech." Not "free speech" or "Free Speech" or "freespeech" or “Freespeech." "freeSpeech." Get it right.

    By their taste ye shall know them.

    • Ms. pretty dumb things watched the Emmy Awards on TV, and posted this deadly description of the current appearance of Charlie’s Angels:

    Kate Jackson’s eyes no longer match; one is slightly rounded, the other oddly triangular. Farrah Fawcett’s ever-slimming nose is dwindling to a Michelle Pfeiffer/Michael Jackson slenderness. Jaclyn Smith’s face has a kind of waxed-fruit fecundity; there is a strange immobility to her shiny, full features, as if she has been sculpted by the masters at Madame Tussaud’s. Each of them have that taut fixed expression that registers as something between mild surprise and total enlightenment. Each of them has been nipped, poked, tucked, implanted and tweaked within an inch of their lives.

    Like the song says, aren’t you glad you’re you?

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: New world, old rules

    As everyone in the blogosphere now knows or soon will, The New Republic shut down Lee Siegel’s blog last week when its editors caught him engaging in “sock-puppetry,” which is blogtalk for posting comments to your own blog under a phony name. (Tyler Green, who blogs at Modern Art Notes, has posted a link-rich summary of the imbroglio.) Siegel has also been “suspended” from writing for TNR, and it’s widely expected that in due course he’ll be terminated.

    The real scandal, of course, is that TNR deigned to publish so clueless a blowhard in the first place. But since Siegel’s blog has vanished into the memory hole, it strikes me that instead of dancing on his grave, we might do better to pause for a moment and consider the larger implications of what happened to him.

    Having recently beat up on the old media for their failure to come to terms with blogging, I don’t care to whip that horse again. The good news is that The New Republic is only one of a growing number of newspapers and magazines that have launched institutional blogs. The bad news is that most of them are mediocre. (The Boston Globe’s Exhibitionist is a noteworthy exception to the rule.) That’s predictable, since the very idea of an institutional blog is a contradiction in terms. The best blogs are idiosyncratic, unmediated expressions of an individual sensibility, a notion which tends to make old-media executives squirm, so much so that many print-media publications refuse to let their employees blog.

    I think that’s a mistake. In fact, I think editors and reporters should be encouraged to blog independently of the publications for which they work. Frank Wilson, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s book-review editor, also blogs at Books, Inq. Not only is his blog worth reading in its own right, but frank postings like this one help strip away the mystery from the Inquirer’s editorial decision-making processes. Such transparency is a special virtue of blogging, and one of the most valuable lessons the new media can teach the old media.

    Speaking of transparency, The New Republic has had nothing further to say about Lee Siegel since its three-sentence announcement of his suspension. I hope (and expect) that the magazine’s editors will be more forthcoming about the matter in the near future. On the other hand, I give them full credit for acting so unhesitatingly and unequivocally to punish Siegel for an offense of whose very existence many middle-aged editors are doubtless unaware. If blogging is journalism—as I believe it is—then bloggers, be they institutional or independent, should be held to the same standards of professional conduct as the old-media types they love to rake over the coals.

    By pulling the plug on Lee Siegel’s blog, the editors of The New Republic showed that they take blogging seriously. That’s a big step in the right direction.

    UPDATE: The New York Times found Siegel’s suspension sufficiently noteworthy to run a news story about it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “A book is not a thing of one sitting, like a poem, but a longish thing which takes time and energy, and since it takes skill, too, the first effort or maybe the second may not find a market. A writer should not think he is bad, or finished, if this happens, and of course writers with real drive will not. Every failure teaches something. You should have the feeling, as every experienced writer has, that there are more ideas where that one came from, more strength where the first strength came from, and that you are inexhaustible as long as you are alive. This requires an optimistic turn of mind, to say the least, and if you don’t have it by nature, it has to be created artificially. You have to talk yourself into it sometimes.”

    Patricia Highsmith, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (courtesy of Kate’s Book Blog)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | Permanent link
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
    OGIC: The right stuff

    Face it. We critics—whether print, blogging, or armchair—can report our high opinion a book or film, sing its praises, trot out the evidence by sentence or scene...but for the most part, trying to predict its posterity is sheer guesswork and a fool's errand. What will the next generation or five think of the movies we've cooed over, the books whose spines we've most lovingly split? Quite possibly, they won't think of them at all, so if we have an ounce of sense we steer clear of prognosticating and stick to the present tense.

    But. Once in a while, something makes you want to go out on the limb that is the future tense. I've reviewed many perfectly wonderful novels over the years, and I've fallen in love more than once or twice or ten times. But I've never had quite the feeling I had nearing the end of Edward P. Jones's new story collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children: the feeling that this is no-doubt-about-it great and will be read for a very long time. I wrote about why on last weekend's Baltimore Sun book page:

    The fourteen stories collected in Edward P. Jones' extraordinary All Aunt Hagar's Children traverse the length of the 20th century as it was experienced in black neighborhoods in and around Washington. Many of the characters that populate these stories have recently migrated to the capital and stand divided between meeting the demands of their urban setting and maintaining the customs and values that shaped their former lives in the deep South.

    As the century wears on, the latter increasingly slip away: "None of them knew," reflects one character in the final story, "that the cohesion born and nurtured in the South would be but memory in less than two generations." As those bonds slip into memory, many of the characters work their way up the socioeconomic ladder. Most of them keep steadfast to a homespun Christian faith that colors their apprehension of all the world's workings as well as their own actions. And all of them surprise and surprise us, simply by being who they are. The strength of Jones' work is concentrated in his characters, vital and unruly beings all. It isn't just that these are psychologically acute portraits; each of them is a willful force in motion. I can't remember when I last met fictional characters as autonomously alive as those who live in this book...

    Read the rest here. As readers of The Known World have suspected and this book confirms as far as I'm concerned, Jones is the real, real thing. To give you a taste, here's a paragraph from the wonderful final story, "Tapestry," about the beginning of a courtship:

    The rains did not let up and the train to take the cousin and George to Jackson could not make its way to Picayune. Anne saw him every day that week, the two sitting on the porch in the late afternoon and evening. By Tuesday he knew his way on his own to her place, and by Thursday, unlike the other days, a tad of her was looking forward to seeing him in the borrowed field work clothes, coming along the road from the left full of purpose and then stepping over the dog and his two duck companions lying in the mud at the entrance to her place. She didn't stand on the porch with her arms around the post, the way she had months and months ago, before Lucas Turner told her she was not as beautiful as she thought she was. More than anything, being with George gave her something to do with her afternoon and evening time. "The heart can be cruel, the heart can be wicked, the heart can give joy," Anne was to tell her grandson and the recording machine years later, "but it is always an instrument we can never understand." Neddy had already wandered over to Clarice's way. Lucas Turner's mother had asked him that Wednesday why he wasn't putting down time with Anne, and he told her what his heart had told him that morning when he woke at four: "We ain't twirlin like that anymore."

    An amazing and essential book.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, September 5, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Points south

    Last Friday I took the Acela Express to Washington, D.C., picked up a Zipcar stashed two blocks from Union Station, and spent the next four hours slogging through hard rain, high winds, and holiday traffic. All told, the Tropical Storm Formerly Known as Hurricane Ernesto dumped something like a foot of water on me, but I turned up the stereo and paid it as little heed as I dared. (Should you find yourself in similar circumstances, I recommend Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, and The Bob Brookmeyer Quartet.)

    My destination was the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton, Virginia, a handsome pile of red brick built in 1924 atop whose roof stands an old-fashioned neon sign that flashes its name far and wide. I can’t say I felt entirely comfortable staying in a hotel that bears the name of a Confederate general, but then I’ve never felt entirely comfortable anywhere in the Old South. It is, I suppose, a generational thing: I know Virginia has changed since I was a boy, but segregation is still a living memory for me, so Civil War nostalgia, however innocent, is apt to make me queasy. Be that as it may, the hotel in question is a most agreeable place. The staff was friendly, the rooms spacious and comfortable, and I was amazed to discover a splendid-sounding vintage Wurlitzer pipe organ on the mezzanine. As if that weren't enough, the St-n-w-ll J-cks-n Hotel is next door to the Blackfriars Playhouse, home of the American Shakespeare Center, where I saw Othello, As You Like It, and Macbeth performed in what the ASC bills as “the world’s only authentic re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater.” (To take a “virtual tour” of the Blackfriars Playhouse, go here and scroll down.)

    I took Mr. My Stupid Dog to Othello on Friday night. The theater reviews he posts on his blog from time to time are unfailingly shrewd, so it came as no surprise that he turned out to be a knowing companion, not to mention a sound judge of restaurants. We dined before the show at Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery, a comfort-food emporium that serves tasty Virginia ham dished up by pretty waitresses with sugar-sweet southern accents, and it was at his urging that I lunched the next day at a Five Guys, a regional chain that specializes in fat hamburgers (get ’em with fried onions) that are fifty percent grease and a hundred and fifty percent good.

    On Sunday morning I hit the road again, rambling up twisty back roads to the accompaniment of the rough mix of Nickel Creek’s forthcoming greatest-hits album, for which I’m writing the liner notes later this week. Early in the afternoon I arrived at the Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria. The Pope-Leighey was the first of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses that I saw in person, just two days after I paid my first visit to Fallingwater in 2003. (I blogged about it here.) Since then I’ve seen a half-dozen other Usonians and spent the night in two of them, an experience I wrote about last fall in The Wall Street Journal:

    To turn the key of a Wright house is to step into a parallel universe. The huge windows, the open, uncluttered floor plans, the straightforward use of such simple materials as wood, brick, concrete and rough-textured masonry: all create the illusion of a vast interior space in close harmony with its natural surroundings. Instead of walls, subtly varied ceiling heights denote the different living areas surrounding the massive fireplace that is the linchpin of every Wright house. This unoppressive openness—both from area to area and between indoors and out—is what makes even a small house like the 880-square-foot Peterson Cottage, which was boarded up for two decades before being rehabilitated in 1992, seem so much larger than it really is.

    For all their essential similarities, Wright's houses affect their occupants in very different ways. The Peterson Cottage, built in 1959 on the edge of an isolated, heavily wooded bluff overlooking Mirror Lake, is so tranquil and serene that I felt as though I could sit in meditative silence by its great sandstone hearth for hours on end. The 3,000-square-foot Schwartz House, on the other hand, is in a built-up residential neighborhood and has the friendly, slightly down-at-heel look of a place that has been occupied by children ever since it was built in 1939. To put it another way, the Peterson Cottage feels like a work of art, the Schwartz House like a comfortable home that just happens to be heart-stoppingly beautiful….

    While a visitor might well sense such things in the course of a daytime visit, it's only when the sun sets that you take full possession of a Wright house and start to imagine what it would be like to live there around the clock. After dark I turned on all the lights in the Schwartz House, stepped into the back yard and reveled in the warm amber glow that photographs only suggest. Then I went back inside, plugged my iPod into a pair of portable speakers and filled the house with the spacious, all-American sounds of Aaron Copland's Piano Sonata and Pat Metheny's "Midwestern Night's Dream," both of which were ideally suited to Wright's prairie-evoking interiors. You can't do that on an hour-long tour!

    Nor can you sit quietly and reflect on the soft-spoken beauties of the Pope-Leighey House, whose brisk, well-informed guides lead batches of tourists through the interior twice each hour. Would that I could have spent even fifteen unaccompanied minutes there, but that’s not allowed. Though I’m not much given to envy, I get a little green around the gills every time I visit a Usonian house. At least I’ve had the unforgettable experience of staying in two of the best ones.

    From Alexandria I drove to Washington, returned my Zipcar to its parking place, checked into the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, took a quick shower, and strolled over to the Shakespeare Theatre Company to see the opening-night performance of the company’s new production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

    I arose on Monday and had breakfast with the three nice women who run Washington DC Accommodations, the superlatively reliable service that I use to book the hotel rooms in which I stay whenever I visit Washington. (I've been talking to them on the phone for over a decade now, and they decided it'd be fun to find out what I looked like.) Then I walked to Union Station, pulling my suitcase behind me, and boarded the next train to New York. Now I’m home again, tired and happy and unbelievably glad to be back where I belong. At some point in the past day or two I shook off the chest cold that laid me low a week ago, but I’m still short on steam, and it was with no small amount of relief that I looked at my calendar and saw that I won’t be making any more overnight trips until I leave for Chicago on September 22. As much as I love to travel, I'd say it’s about time I spent a couple of weeks getting reacquainted with the Teachout Museum, chipping away at Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong, and sleeping in my own bed.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 5, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "He would be an ideal judge. He has the kind of daring mind that glorifies in deciding an issue without understanding it.”

    Rex Stout, Murder by the Book

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 5, 2006 | Permanent link
Monday, September 4, 2006
    TT: Almanac

    “‘Venice is no place to work in,’ said Jasper. ‘It’s much too articulate. Why trouble to think, when everything you see thinks for you and at you, and says what it thinks so much better than you could? I always advise people not to writ ein venice. They try to compete with the place, and that’s fatal. The only thing to do in Venice is nothing.’”

    L.P. Hartley, Eustace and Hilda

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, September 4, 2006 | Permanent link
Friday, September 2, 2005
    TT and OGIC: Live from Katrina

    Regular twice-daily updates to “Live from Katrina” come to an end tonight. On Sunday morning Terry will be traveling to Washington, D.C., and from there to Wisconsin (about which more in due course). He'll be blogging from the road as often as possible, but posting of all kinds will be unpredictably intermittent until his return to New York on September 15.

    As of Monday, “Live from Katrina” will no longer appear at the top of "About Last Night"'s front page, but the URL will remain active indefinitely, along with all our links to Katrina-related blogs and other Web sites.

    Our thanks to everyone who's written in recent days with words of praise and encouragement. What we did wasn't much—not compared to the valiant efforts of those on the ground in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast—but we did our best to spread the word.

    If you haven't made a donation to relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, scroll down and do it now. Dig a little deeper in your pocket and give a little more than you think you can afford. The more it hurts you, the more it'll help them.

    (To skip directly to Friday's art-related postings, go here.)

    * * *

    Here's a list of bloggers who've been posting from/near/about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast:

    Beans...It Happens (reports on conditions in St. Charles Parish and elsewhere)
    Black Cat Bone (blogging by a Mississippi artist familiar with New Orleans)
    Josh Britton (an essential source for news updates and LSU-related information)
    Electric Mist (first-person blogging from Baton Rouge)
    Everything and Nothing (blogging from Jackson, Miss.)
    A Frolic of My Own (blogging from the New Orleans area)
    Eyes on Katrina (a newspaper blog from South Mississippi)
    Rex Hammock (blogging from Nashville)
    Hurricane Harbor (blogging from Miami)
    Hurricane Katrina (blogging from Baton Rouge, with new posts appearing at the bottom of the page)
    Hurricane Katrina—First Reports (a Web page from the American Association of Museums containing information on the post-Katrina condition of museums and other cultural institutions in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region)
    Insomnia (excerpts from postings by New Orleans LiveJournal users)
    Katrina and the Arts (a regularly updated posting at Tyler Green's "Modern Art Notes" blog, covering "Katrina's impact on cultural institutions and the like in Louisiana and Mississippi")
    Katrina Help Wiki Portal (a how-to-help info site)
    Katrinacane's Friends* (more New Orleans LiveJournal entries)
    Kaye's Hurricane Katrina Blog (sporadic postings from Baton Rouge)
    Lone Star Times (live blogging from the Astrodome in Houston)
    Brendan Loy (an essential source for Katrina-related local newslinks and summaries and other information, including e-mail from readers in the affected areas)
    Michelle Malkin (a wide-ranging source of links to Katrina-related stories)
    Jeff Masters (a highly knowledgeable weatherblogger)
    Metroblogging New Orleans (a group blog)
    mgno.com, a/k/a "The Interdictor" (frequently updated reports from New Orleans, plus extensive comments)
    One Hand Clapping (blogging from Tennessee)
    Overtaken by Events
    paultwo (a Baton Rouge-based photoblog)
    Pitch & Green
    Slidell Hurricane Damage Blog (updates from New Orleans)
    a small victory (blogging "good-news" stories from New Orleans)
    Storm Digest (frequently updated)
    Tulane University Emergency Information
    Updates as They Come In on Katrina (WWL-TV's news blog, constantly updated, an essential source for bulletins from the only New Orleans TV station that has been able to stay on the air continuously throughout the crisis)

    * * *

    Artsjournal.com, which hosts "About Last Night," has a separate page called "Hurricane Katrina & The Arts" with links to sites and stories about the effects of Katrina on the arts community.

    * * *

    Here's a link to the AP's national wire, to which Katrina-related stories are being posted around the clock.

    Here's the breaking-news page from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which also has an in-house blog, "Notebook from the Hurricane Bunker," that is now posting messages from evacuees and those searching for them. Both pages are must reading for anyone wanting to know what's happening on the ground in New Orleans.

    Also on the paper's Web site is a missing persons forum.

    Two other sites are serving as clearinghouses for those trying to get information about friends and family, looking for temporary shelter, or looking for opportunities to volunteer: craigslist New Orleans and katrinacheckin.org. NowPublic is a message board with photos of missing persons. N.O. Pundit is a group of message boards for Orleans Parish survivors, family members, etc., organized by neighborhood.

    Hibernia Corporation is requesting that all of its employees who live in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina call the following toll-free number: 1-800-707-0489. They want to find out where you are and how you're doing. If you need help, they will put you in touch with the right resources. If you see anyone you know who works for Hibernia, please pass along this message to them. Please identify yourself as a Hibernia employee when you call.

    Here's a page of Katrina-related e-mail received by the BBC and updated regularly.

    Here's an automated aggregrator page of Katrina-related bloglinks.

    Here's a transcript of a 2002 radio documentary detailing a worst-case scenario for Category Five hurricane damage in New Orleans.

    And here's a feature from the Times-Picayune on the same subject. (This one will make your hair stand on end.)

    * * *

    Here's an extensive list of flood-aid links recommended by bloggers throughout the 'sphere.

    Our Girl and I recommend the McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago, which is matching donations to its Hurricane Katrina Relief Campaign, $1 for every $2 given. Contributions can be made here.

    The Southeastern Museums Conference has started a "Hurricane Katrina Fund" to help support post-Katrina repair and conservation efforts at museums affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. For information on how to contribute, go here.

    Ben Jaffe, manager (and bass player) at Preservation Hall, has announced a fund to help support New Orleans musicians who have been left destitute by the storm. For information, go here.

    HurricAid is a group blog devoted to disseminating information about aid efforts.

    NBC-TV will be broadcasting a hurricane-relief benefit tonight at eight p.m. EDT (live on the East Coast, via tape delay on the West Coast).

    * * *

    Here's a sad and beautiful elegy for the New Orleans that used to be, written by a man who knew it well and holds out hope for its eventual restoration.

    For a more pessimistic view, go here.

    * * *

    Finally, a personal word from Terry to all those bloggers posting from the Gulf Coast, and everyone else who was caught in the path of Katrina: we New Yorkers know about disasters, and our hearts are with you. May the world reach out to you as it did to us.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: A "Friend" indeed

    It's Friday, time again for my weekly Wall Street Journal drama-column teaser. I reviewed two musicals this week, one out of town (Goodspeed Musicals' revival of The Boy Friend, directed by Julie Andrews) and one not (the Public Theater's Shakespeare-in-the-Park revival of Two Gentlemen of Verona). The first was good, the second wasn't:

    Ms. Andrews, who no longer performs, made her Broadway debut in “The Boy Friend” 51 years ago (sorry to be ungallant, but it's no secret). Now she's elected to pass on a half-century of accumulated stage wisdom to her youthful charges, and it shows, not least in the singing of Jessica Grové, who plays Polly, Ms. Andrews' old role. Without stooping to imitation, Ms. Grové neatly contrives to suggest her mentor's lyrical yet exact soprano voice. But, then, it's obvious that Madame Director worked overtime to make sure all her charges spoke and sang crystal-clearly, for which I couldn't be more grateful.

    The show itself is a spoonful of sugar minus the medicine, a giddy spoof of the flossy conventions of British musical comedy in the Age of the Flapper. Beyond putting a shine on everybody's diction, Ms. Andrews' chief contribution appears to have been to make sure the cast doesn't overegg the pudding. Polly's romance with Tony (Sean Palmer), for instance, is played surprisingly straight, and profits from it. This isn't to say the funny stuff is thrown away, merely that it isn't allowed to cloy….

    As Ms. Andrews so pleasantly reminds us, period pieces can be charming as long as the period itself was charming, or is made to seem so. I assume, therefore, that everyone responsible for the Public Theater's latest Shakespeare in the Park debacle, a revival of “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” must have thought the early '70s were a real whee. Certainly this oafish 1971 musical-comedy adaptation of Shakespeare's play reeks-I believe that's the right word-of their shagadelic essence. Even Riccardo Hernández' unit set, an amoeba-shaped platform covered with pink and yellow polkadots and anchored on either end by a pair of spiral staircases, looks like something you might have seen once upon a time on “Laugh-In,” or maybe “The Dean Martin Show.” The only thing missing is the fireman's pole.

    Galt MacDermot, the man who brought you “Hair,” wrote the peace-love-rock-'n'-roll score, which is so relentlessly insipid that I found it all but impossible to endure, by which I mean that it made me long in vain for instant death, or at least a fainting spell….

    No link, but there's more where that came from, so buy a copy of today's Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: And now for something completely different

    My Wall Street Journal colleague Eric Gibson reviews Hilary Spurling's Matisse the Master, the second volume of her masterly biography of Henri Matisse, in today's paper:

    Ms. Spurling's second volume is a worthy successor to her first, "The Unknown Matisse." That earlier book revealed an artist impelled toward modernism almost in spite of himself. It also raised the bar for artist-biographies, so splendid were Ms. Spurling's gifts as an interpreter and chronicler....

    Ms. Spurling's book—like Matisse's art, in fact—is poised and measured, though charged with intense emotion. Her narrative gifts, combined with her extensive quotations from the family's correspondence, give the book an immediacy that makes us silent witnesses to a long drama of creativity and ordeal. When the last page is turned, we are likely to feel as emotionally drained as the artist did when he finished a painting. And then we are left to weigh it all up, on one side the surpassing artistic achievement and on the other its terrible price.

    Read the whole thing here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Rerun

    September 2003:

    If we think a house or painting or photograph or ballet is beautiful, we want it with us always. But the catch is that the more pieces of the past we succeed in preserving, the less space and time we have in which to display and contemplate the present. Too many lovers of art live exclusively in the past. I understand the temptation—I feel it myself—but it strikes me that we have an obligation to keep one eye fixed in the moment, and that becomes a lot harder to do when you're pulling a long, long train of classics of which the new is merely the caboose. Needless to say, this is a problem without a solution. The only thing you can do is fiddle with the proportions and try to get them right, or at least righter….

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

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Samuel Clemens' average net share of the box-office take for one of his 1884-85 lectures: $155.34

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $3,073.59

    (Source: Ron Powers, Mark Twain: A Life)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 2, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "You see them on the bus in the morning: girls reading the newspaper, girls with lending-library novels and girls simply staring off into space. If it is not a rainy day and the bus is not crowded with strap-hangers pushing one another up the aisle you can see each face clearly. Each of them is a self-contained little mask, decorated with cosmetics, keeping its private thoughts secluded in a public vehicle. Some of these girls are going to their offices because each day is another step to the success they dream of, and others are going to work because they cannot live without the money, and some are going because that's where they go on weekdays and they never give it another thought. They go to their typing pool or their calculating machines as to a waiting place, a limbo for single girls who are waiting for love and marriage. Perhaps the girl reading her plastic-covered lending-library novel is reading of love, or perhaps she is simply looking at the page and thinking of herself. X meets Y and there is magic. Or X meets Y and there is nothing; it might not have been that kind of year, maybe a year or two from now Y would have looked much more desirable to X. Or perhaps X meets Z and falls desperately in love, a kind of self-hypnosis, when a year or two later if X had only then met Z she might have been spared."

    Rona Jaffe, The Best of Everything

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 2, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 1, 2005
    TT: Katrina in Prague

    In response to this posting, another reader writes:

    The story is getting major coverage in Prague: large page 1 articles in the major dailies, and it's the lead story on the television news. When I met my Czech teacher this morning for my language lesson, she (a wonderful 77 year-old granny) expressed her heartfelt condolences to me and America generally (of course, she has also got a granddaughter living in Panama City, FL, so she may be paying slightly more attention to it than most people here.) She also expressed her withering contempt for the Czech President, who apparently has yet to express his condolences to his American counterpart.

    As part of "New Europe," the Czechs are generally pro-American but are certainly more ambivalent in their relationship with the US than the Poles. Still, the fact that the Katrina stories have displaced the usual summer political scandals from the media shows the Czechs' innate sensitivity and interest in the wider world around them. It could also have to do with the fact that, three years ago at this time, Prague endured its worst flooding in 500 years, so that very fresh and painful memory has generated considerable sympathy for what the beleaguered Gulf Coast residents are now going through.

    Many thanks and all the best to you and OGIC as you keep up this important work!

    And thanks to you for writing….

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT and OGIC: New around here, stranger?

    If you came here in search of information about Hurricane Katrina and are curious to know what else this blog has to offer under normal circumstances...

    Welcome to "About Last Night," a 24/5 blog hosted by Terry Teachout, who writes about the arts in New York City and elsewhere, and Laura Demanski, who writes from Chicago under the no-longer-a-pseudonym "Our Girl in 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 week are visible in reverse chronological order on this page. Terry's start with "TT," Laura'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 @ Thursday, September 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: The vanished trail

    I've never been to New Orleans, though I always meant to go, and was planning to pay a visit this fall. I started writing a biography of Louis Armstrong back in January, and the time had come for me to pay a visit to Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive and start trawling through its massive collection of documents and other source material. More than that, I wanted to see Armstrong's home town for myself at long last. It was mostly a matter of curiosity: I'd been reading about New Orleans all my life, and I longed to put the flesh of first-hand observation on all that I'd learned from books.

    Needless to say, book learning is not to be despised. For one thing, it made it possible for me to write the first paragraph of the first chapter of Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong:

    To the northerner New Orleans is another country, seductive and disorienting, a steamy, shabby paradise of spicy cooking, wrought-iron balconies, and streets called Elysian Fields and Desire, a place where the signs advertise such mysterious commodities as po-boys and muffuletta and no one is buried under ground. We'll take the boat to the land of dreams, the pilgrim hears in his mind's ear as he prowls the Vieux Carré, pushing through the noisy hordes of tipsy visitors, wondering whether the land of his dreams still exists, or ever did. Rarely does he linger long enough to pierce the thick veneer of local color with which the natives shield themselves from the tourist trade. At the end of his stay he knows little more than when he came, and goes back home to his bookshelf to puzzle out all that he has seen and smelled and tasted. A.J. Liebling, a well-traveled visitor from up north, saw New Orleans as a Mediterranean port transplanted to the Gulf of Mexico, a town of civilized pleasures whose settlers “carried with them a culture that had ripened properly, on the tree.” He knew what he was seeing, but Walker Percy, who lived and died there, cast a cooler eye on the same sights: “The ironwork on the balconies sags like rotten lace. Little French cottages hide behind high walls. Through deep sweating carriageways one catches glimpses of courtyards gone to jungle.” Unlike Liebling, he also caught the scent of decay….

    I showed that passage to several friends of mine who knew New Orleans well, not telling them I'd never been there until after they'd read and commented on it. None of them suspected that it was the unaided product of book learning, a fact of which I'm sinfully proud.

    Nevertheless, I took it for granted that I'd need to spend some time wandering around New Orleans in order to write Hotter Than That, though the more I thought about it, the more I wondered exactly what it was I expected to find there. Armstrong left New Orleans in 1922, never to return save as a visitor. The only home he ever owned is in Queens, New York, not far from the Louis Armstrong Archives, to which his fourth wife Lucille left his papers and personal effects, and Flushing Cemetery, where he was laid to rest in 1971. All the really important sites of his youth vanished long, long ago: the honky-tonks where he played his first gigs, the children's home where he learned to play cornet, the shack on Jane Alley where he was born. Even Jane Alley itself has been swallowed up by urban renewal. Nothing recognizable remains of Storyville, the whites-only red-light district to which he delivered coal as a boy, or black Storyville, the violent slum where he grew up, and the guidebooks warn visitors in no uncertain terms to steer cleer of Louis Armstrong Park (“It's still a bad idea to walk through the park alone day or night”).

    It was different when I was writing about H.L. Mencken. A half-century after his death, Mencken's scent is still strong in Baltimore. All three of his homes still exist, and I spent a day in the Hollins Street row house in which he spent nearly the whole of his childhood and all but a few years of his adult life. His personal library and the bulk of his private papers belong to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where qualified scholars can rummage through them at will. I spent innumerable hours doing just that, and dined several times just around the corner at Marconi's, one of his favorite restaurants. I even made a point of visiting his grave. It's no exaggeration to say that I simply couldn't have written The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken without passing a vast amount of time in Baltimore.

    By comparison, New Orleans contains few surviving traces of Louis Armstrong, yet it never occurred to me for a moment not to go there. To some extent, I suppose, it would have been in the nature of a pilgrimage. Though he had no illusions about it, Armstrong loved New Orleans with all his heart, and wrote about it in his autobiography with surprisingly uncomplicated affection. For that reason alone, I felt I owed it to his memory to pay the place a visit. Moreover, I was well aware that New Orleans is a city like no other, and it seemed self-evident to me that I owed it to myself to walk the streets and smell the air.

    Such, at any rate, was my plan. Then came Hurricane Katrina, and as I sat in front of my TV on Sunday and Monday, gawking at the unfolding disaster and in the process seeing more of New Orleans than I had in the whole of my preceding life, I realized that I'd missed my chance. It's not at all clear how much of New Orleans will be left to see when the waters subside and the folks come back home, and the greater part of what remains will doubtless have been altered beyond recognition by the time I finally get there. Or perhaps not: New Orleans, I gather, is as much a way of life as a place to live, and the lure of that lifestyle may well be powerful enough to inspire its surviving citizens to restore it to something closely resembling what it was mere days ago. But even if they do, it won't be the same.

    Josh Levin, who grew up in New Orleans, wrote the other day about how it felt to watch his home town drown on TV:

    As the endlessly looping aerial footage shows little more than a giant lake with highway overpasses peeking out, I'm glad I wasn't there and terrified I never will be again. A friend from high school told me he took the scenic route out of town on Sunday morning so he could remember the places he needed to remember: Molly's at the Market, the Warehouse District, the Uptown JCC, the corner of St. Charles Avenue where he drank his first beer. I squint at the screen, searching for some kind of landmark to say goodbye to, but the only thing that's recognizable is the Superdome, which now looks like a potato with the skin peeled off to reveal the rotten insides….

    I don't remember much of what I did when I went down to visit my folks a few months ago: ate some fried seafood at some hole in the wall, went to my grandparents' house, probably walked under the canopy of oak trees in Audubon Park. Maybe it's a heartless thing to say when there are still people down there in the muck, but it's tragic to think of all those beautiful trees, in the park and on the Uptown streets that I drove through every day, toppled and on the ground, waiting to be chopped into bits and trucked away. There are friends' houses that will no doubt be so much flotsam, neighborhood restaurants that won't serve another oyster po' boy, bars where the jukebox won't ever play Allen Toussaint or Ernie K-Doe again.

    I can't know how that feels. I think I'm glad I can't. But this I do know: I'm still going to go to New Orleans, once the levees are rebuilt and the floodwaters have receded. Maybe not right away, but soon, even if there's nothing left to see there but the shadows of shadows. Now more than ever, I owe it to Louis, and to the music I used to play and will always love so well.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 1, 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.

    Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter, strong language, one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex)
    Chicago (musical, R, adult subject matter, sexual content, fairly strong language)
    Doubt (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, implicit sexual content)
    Fiddler on the Roof (musical, G, one scene of mild violence but otherwise family-friendly)
    The Light in the Piazza (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene)
    Sweet Charity (musical, PG-13, lots of cutesy-pie sexual content)
    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)

    Orson's Shadow (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, very strong language)
    Philadelphia, Here I Come! (drama, PG, closes Sept. 25)
    Sides: The Fear Is Real… (sketch comedy, PG, some strong language)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Amount paid in 1913 by Henry Clay Frick to Joseph Duveen for Romans d'amour et de la jeunesse, Jean-Honoré Fragonard's fourteen-panel sequence now on display in the Frick Collection's Fragonard Room: $1,000,000

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $19,109,908.63

    (Source: Meryle Secrest, Duveen: A Life in Art)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 1, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    At century's end
    Nobody's holding out for heaven
    It's not for creatures here below
    We just suit up for a game
    The name of which we used to know
    By now it's second nature

    Scratch the cab
    We can grab the local
    Let's get to the love scene, my friend
    Which means look, maybe touch
    But beyond that not too much
    Dumb love in the city
    At century's end

    Donald Fagen and Timothy Mayer, “Century's End” (music by Fagen)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 1, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
    TT: A European perspective on Katrina

    A reader from Norway writes:

    I just want you to know that I’m one of the many people who are deeply grateful for your list of Katrina blogs. CNN Europe was very good on the tsunami, but has been maddeningly lame on Katrina. The crucial test, which they failed ignominiously, was the unexpected levee breaches. After the hurricane had passed, they went into automatic day-after-the-hurricane mode, serving up the same brief, standard, ”well, now it’s time for the big clean-up” report every half-hour for hours. During the same hours, I was reading on Brendan Loy’s weblog and other weblogs about the breach in the first levee and the rising waters in New Orleans. Literally hours went by before CNN Europe picked up on this story, and while Brendan Loy understood the significance of it immediately, CNN Europe reported on it in a perfunctory manner, apparently unable to switch gears quickly because this new development just didn’t fit their script. Incredibly, long after Loy had begun reporting on the rising waters in New Orleans, CNN Europe was still broadcasting the same fatuous day-after-the-hurricane report (including an interview with a French Quarter merchant who was happy that his business had survived intact), the thrust of which was that N.O., thank goodness, had been spared the worst of the storm.

    BBC World was even more hopeless. I’ve also read articles at the New York Times, Times-Picayune, and other MSM websites, some of them very good. But overall, the MSM coverage seems incredibly thin compared to the rich tapestry of information provided by the weblogs you’ve linked to (including readers’ comments). It certainly is a new age in media, and nothing has proven this more surely than the Katrina story.

    Another point. Weirdly, while the tsunami was a major topic of conversation here in Norway for days, nobody seems to be talking about the devastation in New Orleans. I brought it up yesterday while having drinks with a bunch of friends, and they seemed barely aware of the story and didn’t seem to find it interesting or important. They were far more interested in discussing the upcoming Norwegian elections.

    We'd be interested in hearing from other readers outside the United States on this topic....

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: All in

    Hurricane Katrina bumped into my end-of-the-month deadline glut, meaning that I had to stay up all last night writing—a Commentary essay from midnight to seven, my Friday Wall Street Journal drama column from seven to ten. John Pancake, my editor at the Washington Post, was able to give me a one-day extension for this Sunday's "Second City" column, which I'll write in the morning.

    For the moment, though, I'm cross-eyed and sleep-deprived, so I'm not even going to try to blog. Our Girl, bless her, has taken over our "Live from Katrina" page, which continues to draw heavy traffic. Me, I'm going to post some pre-written items, then crawl into my loft and seek a bit of oblivion.

    See you later.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Down the road

    Up and coming on my calendar:

    SEPTEMBER 20-25: The Bad Plus performs at the Village Vanguard

    SEPTEMBER 25: The Mint Theater presents the world premiere of Walking Down Broadway, an unproduced 1931 play by Dawn Powell

    OCTOBER 11: Street date of the DVD of Me and You and Everyone We Know (MGM)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Commissioning fee paid to William Walton by Jascha Heifetz in 1939 for Walton's B Minor Violin Concerto, including two years' worth of exclusive performance rights: $1,493.00

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $19,589.35

    (Source: Michael Kennedy, Portrait of Walton)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. To open the mind so wide as to keep nothing in it or out of it is not a virtue; it is the vice of the feeble-minded.”

    G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
    OGIC: Welcome to the mise en scene

    Don't know if anyone else caught the highly ridiculous yet entertaining premiere of Prison Break tonight—don't look at me, I was diligently working on my review that's due later this week!—but if nothing else it was notable for what I believe must be the first prominent use of Chicago's Millennium Park as a dramatic backdrop. And a good use it was, too—I'm told—capitalizing on the Crown Fountain's big, spitting images for their creepy panoptical quality. Perhaps the next episode will treat us to some Bean action; there's a star in the making if I ever saw one. (If you want to catch up, tonight's premiere airs again Thursday at 7:00 pm Bean Daylight Time, 8:00 Eastern.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    OGIC: The beat goes on

    Two notable follow-ups to last week's overpuffed movie post have rolled in. One fills out the story of the time Carmela Soprano met Charles Foster Kane:

    Belatedly read your over-praised movie post in which you cite the Citizen Kane scene from The Sopranos. Carmela hasn't chosen Kane randomly—the film club she has set up is going to go through the AFI 100 Greatest Movies list in order. Which, of course, sets up a great gag in a following episode, when the girls are back together and can't watch #2, Casablanca, because Tony has taken the AV equipment. Carmela says that she "didn't feel like watching Casablanca anyway" and someone asks what the next movie on the list is. Janice picks up the piece of paper to read, "The Godfather." The looks on their faces are priceless.

    I'd forgotten the exact circumstances, which much improve the vignette. Thanks to Tosy and Cosh for the rest of the story.

    Regarding The Natural, a reader conveys a terrific anecdote from a Michael Farber story in this week's Sports Illustrated:

    Tim Hudson said of [Braves rookie outfielder Jeff] Francoeur, "He's like Roy Hobbs. I'm wainting for him to come out of the bullpen and start striking guys out, throwing 98 [mph]. Or to start hitting bombs lefthanded." Francoeur was born the year The Natural hit theaters, but he knows Hudson's reference is to the guy who goes light-tower at the end of the film. Told that in Bernard Malamud's novel the tragic Hobbs strikes out, the rookie laughs and booms, "That's why books suck!"

    And that's why I'm no athlete!

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: A very bloggy story

    In light of the continuing crisis in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, we've decided to resume updating of "Live from Katrina," our list of stormblogs and other useful links. To see it, go here.

    * * *

    A funny thing happened on the way to my writing what was supposed to have been today's lead posting: I ended up spending half of Sunday and all of Monday creating and maintaining what appears to have been the Web's most comprehensive list of bloggers who were reporting from the scene on Hurricane Katrina.

    Needless to say, that had less than nothing to do with the mission statement of “About Last Night,” but I did it anyway, and thereby hangs a tale.

    Like many, perhaps most Americans, I didn't realize until Sunday afternoon that a Category Five hurricane was headed for New Orleans. I'd spent the whole morning writing a long, involved posting about how I'd become disillusioned with the new Museum of Modern Art. I came up for air, turned on the TV, and discovered to my astonishment that the city about which I'd been writing for the past few months (I'm working on a biography of Louis Armstrong) was at high risk of being blown into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Being a blogger, my snap reaction was to head for my iBook and find out what was what. I quickly discovered that lots and lots of people were posting on Hurricane Katrina. But while most of their postings included links to other blogs, no one had thought to assemble a one-stop list of stormblogs and other relevant sites. After bookmarking a few of the best ones, I got the idea to throw together an “About Last Night” posting called “Live from Katrina.” The first version, as I recall, contained links to a half-dozen blogs, most of which made mention of one or two other bloggers. I checked out every link I ran across and, when appropriate, added it to my original posting. Within an hour or two, other bloggers, including Jeff Jarvis, were linking to my list, which by then included a number of other informational sites. At that point it occurred to me to send an e-mail to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit suggesting that he take a look at what I'd done. He linked to it a minute or two later, and the hits started pouring in.

    That was when the Web began to work its own mysterious, self-sustaining magic. Stormblogs I didn't yet know about started turning up in my referral log courtesy of the Instapundit link, and I in turn transferred them to my new blogroll, adding other useful links as I discovered them. By the time I went to bed at three-thirty that morning, I realized that my informal little list had turned into a potentially significant resource.

    I awoke without benefit of alarm at seven and set to refining my list, indicating which blogs had been updated most recently and posting excerpts from the best ones. Within an hour or two I had created what was for all intents and purposes a manually operated aggregator page of Katrina-related sites. I was supposed to deliver a piece to Commentary at noon that day, but by mid-morning several other high-traffic pages, including MSNBC's Clicked, National Review's The Corner, and The Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web, had linked to "Live from Katrina." I felt I ought to keep on doing what I was doing, so I sent an e-mail to Neal Kozodoy, the editor of Commentary, asking him if he could extend my deadline for a day. He agreed on the spot, and I spent the rest of Monday updating “Live from Katrina” more or less continuously.

    By midday Slate's Today's Blogs page had caught up with me:

    “Katrina has been downgraded still further to a Category Two storm—that is, disastrous but not apocalyptic," reports converted arts and culture blogger Terry Teachout in a link-stuffed post at About Last Night. "The eye of the storm is now moving across Mississippi to Alabama. New Orleans has already been hit hard, and flood damage appears to be extensive. ... CNN is carrying eyewitness reports of looting. Large pieces of the roof of the Superdome roof, the 'shelter of last resort' for nine thousand stranded locals and tourists, were peeled away by high winds, but the damage was superficial, not structural."

    The funny thing was that I hadn't really converted. In addition to “Live from Katrina,” Monday's “About Last Night” also included its usual quota of art-related postings, including my MoMA rant and Our Girl's report on a gig by Erin McKeown, all of which were pulling in the usual quota of Monday-morning traffic. It was as if two different blogs—a stormblog and an artblog—were simultaneously inhabiting the same body, and doing so without any apparent conflict.

    As Hurricane Katrina finally slowed down and Monday shuddered to a close, I stopped updating “Live from Katrina” and started thinking about the implications of what I'd been doing for the past two days. On the one hand, nothing could have been less typical of “About Last Night” than for me to have thrown myself head first into so unlikely an undertaking. Yet at the same time, nothing could be more characteristic of the new world of new media. One of the most distinctive properies of blogs, after all, is that they are instantly and infinitely malleable at the whim of the blogger. “About Last Night” is about art because Our Girl in Chicago and I want it to be about art. If we decided at noon tomorrow that it would henceforth be about hockey, or smoked salmon, there'd be nothing to stop us from changing course at 12:01. Instead, we decided to make a one-day detour into citizen journalism, and the blogosphere promptly sat up and took notice.

    Don't get me wrong. I love newspapers. If I didn't, I wouldn't pour so much of my energy into them. I hope I spend the rest of my life writing for them. But what happened to this blog two days ago is a dramatic demonstration of the two most important properties of the new media: independence and immediacy. I doubt that any print-media editor, however savvy or enlightened, would have let me do what I did with “About Last Night” on Sunday afternoon. I would have had to talk a half-dozen suits into letting me tear up my job description for a day, and by the time I'd finally talked them around (assuming I succeeded in doing so, which probably wouldn't have happened), it would have been too late to bother. As a blogger, I didn't have to talk anyone into letting me do what I wanted—I just did it, with Our Girl's enthusiastic blessing.

    Am I glad to get back to artblogging? You bet. I'm beat to the socks.

    Am I glad I took a day off from artblogging to try and do some good? Absolutely.

    Am I glad I'm a blogger? A hundred thousand times yes.

    And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a deadline to hit….

    UPDATE: Here are a couple of messages I found in my e-mailbox when the smoke finally cleared:

    • “You've really outdone yourself with your compendium of Hurricane Katrina links. What a fantastic effort—I can't believe every news site hasn't done something similar (but they haven't). And then to read that you're doing this even though you've never been to New Orleans—well, my jaw dropped.”

    • “I appreciate your posting the list. My family all lives in New Orleans (they're in Alabama at the moment) and no one can even get near their neighborhoods to see how things are going. I can't look at any more photos—New Orleans looks like postwar Berlin in A Foreign Affair—but I like reading the blogs to see how people are doing. Thanks again.”

    Letters like that make it all worthwhile.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Try it (the first in an occasional series)

    Most people know Aaron Copland's Rodeo and Billy the Kid (as well they should—they're perfectly wonderful pieces, popular in the best possible way). Surprisingly few concertgoers, though, are familiar with the abstract instrumental pieces of Copland's middle years, which are “abstract” only in the sense that they weren't written to accompany ballets. In fact, you'll find in them the same sweetly austere harmonies and long, leaping arches of melody that make Copland's music so immediately distinctive and quintessentially American in sound and style.

    I recommend the Violin Sonata of 1943, which Isaac Stern recorded in 1968 with Copland himself at the piano (he was a fine pianist, crisp and unmannered). It doesn't get played much in concert, and I don't know why, because it's extraordinarily beautiful, from the gentle open-prairie lyricism of the first movement to the stomping vigor of the finale. Maybe it isn't flashy enough for your typical hot-shot virtuoso. All I know is that the Copland Violin Sonata never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Jerome Robbins' royalty in 1944 for each performance by Ballet Theatre of Fancy Free, his first ballet: $10

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $106.83

    (Source: Deborah Jowitt, Jerome Robbins)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    I'll go my way by myself, this is the end of romance.
    I'll go my way by myself, love is only a dance.
    I'll try to apply myself and teach my heart to sing.
    I'll go my way by myself like a bird on the wing,
    I'll face the unknown, I'll build a world of my own;
    No one knows better than I, myself, I'm by myself alone.

    Howard Dietz, “By Myself” (music by Arthur Schwartz)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, August 29, 2005
    TT: Footnote

    Shepard Smith of Fox News was on Bourbon Street late Sunday afternoon, carrying a cell phone and watching the diehards party. He ran into one man who was walking his dogs.

    "What are you still doing here?" he asked the man incredulously.

    "None of your ------- business," the man answered.

    I wonder where that guy is now?

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Rapid fire

    A few brief notes from a harried blogger:

    • Last night's Erin McKeown show at Schuba's was a blast whose double aftereffect I'm still feeling: I'm still all charged up from it and at the same time rather crestfallen that it's over. This show was quite different from her appearance last year on the same stage—as one of my companions put it, the brainy chanteuse of Distillation and Grand gave way to the brainy rocker of We Will Become Like Birds for this one—but no less exhilarating. McKeown played almost everything from the new album, recast some old favorites in new tempos, and generally poured her heart out all over the stage. This was not surprising, but the opening act was: Chicago-based folk singer and guitarist Rachel Ries was just captivating with her melodious waterfall of a voice and a very disarming stage presence. Her brand-new album is available here.

    • Hooray—as promised, the Chicago Reader recently beefed up its on-line presence, adding features, reviews, and in fact all content to its website, here. The current issue of the free Chicago weekly notably contains a short story by local writer Kevin Guilfoile, of Coudal Partners and Cast of Shadows fame, that comes from a new anthology of Chicago Noir fiction. It's available as a PDF.

    • Memo to Random House production: If you must divide "Mussoliniesque"—especially at a page break—the only acceptable division is "Mussolini-esque." Truly.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: One big blockbuster

    “So, what did you do all afternoon?” my friend Allie asked as we settled into our seats to see Junebug.

    “I went to MoMA,” I told her.

    “And did you enjoy yourself?”

    I hesitated, still reluctant to commit myself definitively to the unwelcome truth.

    “No,” I finally said. “I didn't enjoy myself at all. I don't think the new MoMA is a very good place to look at art. It's like a mall, not a museum. A great big supermall.”

    She nodded. “That's just how I feel,” she replied.

    It wasn't until last Friday afternoon that I was willing at last to admit what I'd suspected all along: I simply don't like the much-ballyhooed new Museum of Modern Art, which I saw for the first time just before it opened to the public last November. My first impressions had been sharply mixed, but I did my best to side with the strengths of the new building, knowing that such impressions are almost always deceptive. I went back a month later, and since then I'd stayed away, wanting to give the curators a chance to find their footing before I rendered anything like a final judgment.

    Sure enough, some things have changed since the new MoMA opened its doors, and one of them is genuinely encouraging. The museum's great Monet “Water Lilies” triptych, which had been hanging in a multi-story atrium across from Barnett Newman's monstrous Broken Obelisk, has now been moved to a small side gallery which it shares with two other late Monets and a pair of large paintings by Bonnard and Vuillard, a modest but nonetheless welcome gesture to civility.

    Otherwise, the MoMA I saw on Friday is basically the same MoMA I saw last November, with the same ineradicable problems that were immediately apparent to me (and many others) on first viewing. The exaggerated scale of the building swamps the art it contains, and the austere décor is so rigidly uniform in its self-conscious simplicity as to make the museum seem even bigger than it is. As if to compensate—which it doesn't—most of the galleries are as overstuffed with paintings as they are overcrowded with people, making it impossible to concentrate on any one work with anything remotely approaching ease. And while I'm hardly the first person to remark on the mall-like character of the new MoMA, I found it even more oppressive this time around. I came away feeling that visitors were intended not to commune with the art on the walls but to pass by it briskly on the way from the food court to the museum store, sped on their hasty way by the endless banks of escalators that in retrospect strike me as the building's most memorable feature.

    Size alone does not make a museum oppressive. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is big, too, but the varied character of its public spaces makes it feel far more compact than it is, like an ensemble of smaller museums that happen to share the same building. You can spend an hour or two in the American wing, for instance, and go home satisfied, knowing that you can always return another day to look at the Vermeers. Not so MoMA, whose architecture and décor are all, all of a piece throughout, making it look less like One Big Museum than One Big Blockbuster, “Modernism: A History,” a fist-sized pill that must be swallowed in a single desperate gulp or not at all.

    Needless to say, it doesn't help that the curators of MoMA long ago imposed on their collection an ideological unanimity that is precisely mirrored in the building's unanimity of style. The Gospel According to MoMA is so well known by now that one thinks of it as a single portmanteau word: Cézannepicassosurrealismabexminimalismpop. That which fits neatly into the museum's official "narrative" is exhibited in depth, sometimes counterproductively so. (The Mondrian gallery is a case in point.) That which fails to fit is either ignored or condescendingly shunted off to one side, as in the now-notorious case of the stairwell to which Milton Avery's Sea Grasses and Blue Sea and a gorgeous pair of abstractions by Richard Diebenkorn have been relegated.

    MoMA's idiosyncratic version of the complex story of modernism has been criticized innumerable times, by me among others:

    In the old MoMA, prewar American modernists were all but ignored, except for the ones whose work either related to European surrealism (Joseph Cornell) or prefigured abstract expressionism (Milton Avery). Nor were such postwar representationalists as Fairfield Porter given the time of day. Alas, nothing has changed….

    The fact that the old MoMA was too small to exhibit more than a fraction of its vast holdings made me wonder whether the new MoMA might possibly be planning to rethink its cramped view of American art before 1945. No such luck. At least for now, Elderfield & Co. haven't even tried.

    They still haven't. On Friday I looked into the photography galleries, and saw on one wall a deft juxtaposition: Irving Penn's 1947 dual portrait of H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan hangs side by side with his 1948 study of John Marin, one of America's greatest prewar modern painters. Might this have been a donnish stroke of curatorial wit? Mencken, after all, was violently hostile to modernism in most of its manifestations, as I explained in The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken:

    Mencken may not have been the most qualified of observers of the American scene, but he had certainly spent more than enough time in New York City to have some awareness of what was going on there in 1924. The problem was his own lack of curiosity. It is impossible to imagine him dropping by Carnegie Hall for the premiere of Aaron Copland's Organ Symphony, strolling into Alfred Stieglitz's exhibition of the latest watercolors by John Marin, or even paying a visit to the Casino Theatre to see the Marx Brothers in I'll Say She Is. While it is too easy simply to say that he was as much of a philistine as the philistines whose ignorance he loved to denounce, it is not altogether untrue.

    Alas, the effect of this clever juxtaposition was greatly diminished by the fact that there was not a single painting, watercolor, or etching by Marin hanging anywhere in the Museum of Modern Art last Friday. There is more than one way to be a philistine.

    The vastly increased size of the new MoMA makes its curatorial philosophy seem even more confining in retrospect. The larger MoMA's vision of modernism is writ, the less convincing it looks, especially in light of the contextual separation imposed by the fact that MoMA is a museum of modern art. To visit a medium-sized encyclopedic collection like that of, say, the old Cleveland Museum of Art, where modernism was presented not as an isolated phenomenon but as part of the larger story of Western art—and where, no less importantly, the works of modern art on display were chosen in a brilliantly discriminating way—is a very different experience, as I was reminded when I visited Cleveland last September:

    Instead of collecting in depth, Cleveland's curators, like their counterparts at Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum, opted for quality over quantity, and time and again they hit the bull's-eye. When I visited the abstract expressionist gallery last Tuesday, for instance, it contained paintings by William Baziotes, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, sculptures by David Smith and Isamu Noguchi, an Alexander Calder mobile, and a Joseph Cornell box—the whole history of abstract expressionism summed up in fourteen objects, all on display in a single room. Except for the Krasner, each one was of the highest possible quality. The whole museum is like that, more or less.

    Next to so civilized a place, or the similarly civilized Phillips Collection, the new MoMA starts to look less like a truly great museum and more like the monomaniacally excessive Barnes Foundation. As I wrote back in June after my first visit to the Barnes:

    Not coincidentally, seeing the Barnes for the first time redoubled my appreciation of the Phillips. While Albert Barnes and Duncan Phillips were both great art collectors whose underlying sensibilities were very similar, Barnes was both obsessive and provincial in a way that Phillips was not. Phillips spent a lifetime cultivating his eye and mind by engaging with the ideas of others; Barnes seems to have listened only to himself, eventually going so far as to create a closed system of aesthetics whose sole purpose was to justify his own prejudices...

    There can be, of course, no doing without the Museum of Modern Art, if only because it is the home of so many beloved and essential works of art, and because it not infrequently contrives to present them, and others of similar quality, in memorable ways. I can't count the hours I've spent looking at its exhibitions, nor can I even begin to estimate the pleasure and profit I've derived from them. That's why I used to love MoMA, disagree though I always did with its inflexible point of view. No more. I know I haven't paid my last visit there—but I also know that we shall never be again as we were.

    UPDATE: Says Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes:

    It is fair to ask if museums can be lovable once they hit the 120,000-square foot mark.

    It sure is.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Half a list

    For reasons I can't yet reveal, I just had occasion to draw up a list of my fifteen favorite American movies of the past seven years. I'll share it with you when the time comes, but for the moment I've decided to post a teaser—the twenty runners-up.

    In alphabetical order, they were:

    About Schmidt
    Being John Malkovich
    The Cooler
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Garden State
    The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
    Lilo & Stitch
    The Limey
    Lovely and Amazing
    Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
    Me and You and Everyone We Know
    The Secret Lives of Dentists
    Sunshine State
    The Tao of Steve
    The Whole Nine Yards
    Three Kings

    Watch this space for the winners....

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Rerun

    February 2004:

    Without exception, my friends are puzzled by my more than occasional practice of reading biographies from back to front. It puzzles me, too, even though I've been doing it for years, and I can't offer any explanation, however theoretical, for a habit that at first, second, and third glances makes no sense. All I can tell you is that for some reason not yet accessible to introspection, I often prefer to read about a person's life in reverse chronological order, starting with his death and working backwards to his birth….

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

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Price of the first oil painting ever sold by Milton Avery, purchased by the violinist Louis Kaufman in 1926: $25

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $264.16

    (Source: Louis Kaufman, A Fiddler's Tale )

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
    On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
    Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
    Assorted characters of death and blight
    Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
    Like the ingredients of a witches' broth—
    A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
    And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

    What had that flower to do with being white,
    The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
    What brought the kindred spider to that height,
    Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
    What but design of darkness to appall?—
    If design govern in a thing so small.

    Robert Frost, "Design" (courtesy of Rick Brookhiser)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, August 29, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 2, 2004
    OGIC: Another dispatch from RLS

    I'm gobbling up these letters like so much popcorn. Sad to say, I'll soon run out. I have only one volume (vol. 3) of four from Scribners' 1928 South Seas Edition of Stevenson, a ratty red pocket-sized book scooped up at a library sale some years ago for a quarter.


    Honolulu [March, 1889]

    MY DEAR JAMES,—Yes—I own up—I am untrue to friendship and (what is less, but still considerable) to civilisation. I am not coming home for another year. There it is, cold and bald, and now you won't believe in me at all, and serve me right (says you) and the devil take me. But look here, and judge me tenderly. I have had more fun and pleasure of my life these past months than ever before, and more health than any time in ten long years. And even here in Honolulu I have withered in the cold; and this precious deep is filled with islands, which we may still visit; and though the sea is a deathful place, I like to be there, and like squalls (when they are over); and to draw near to a new island, I cannot say how much I like. In short, I take another year of this sort of life, and mean to try to work down among the poisoned arrows, and mean (if it may be) to come back again when the thing is through, and converse with Henry James as heretofore; and in the meanwhile issue directions to H. J. to write to me once more. Let him address here at Honolulu, for my views are vague; and if it is sent here it will follow and find me, if I am to be found; and if I am not to be found, the man James will have done his duty, and we shall be at the bottom of the sea, where no post-office clerk can be expected to discover us, or languishing on a coral island, the philosophic drudges of some barbarian potentate; perchance of an American Missionary. My wife has just sent to Mrs. Sitwell a translation (tant bien que mal) of a letter I have had from my chief friend in this part of the world: go and see her, and get a hearing of it; it will do you good; it is a better method of correspondence than even Henry James's. I jest, but seriously it is a strange thing for a tough, sick, middle-aged scrivener like R. L. S. to receive a letter so conceived from a man fifty years old, a leading politician, a crack orator, and the great wit of his village: boldly say, "the highly popular M.P. of Tautira." My nineteenth century strikes here, and lies alongside of something beautiful and ancient. I think the receipt of such a letter might humble, shall I say even [——?] and for me, I would rather have received it than written Redgauntlet or the sixth Aeneid. All told, if my books have enabled or helped me to make this voyage, to know Rui, and to have received such a letter, they have (in the old prefatorial expression) not been writ in vain. It would seem from this that I have been not so much humbled as puffed up; but, I assure you, I have in fact been both. A little of what that letter says is my own earning; not all, but yet a little; and this little makes me proud, and all the rest ashamed; and in the contrast, how much more beautiful altogether is the ancient man than him of to-day

    Well, well, Henry James is pretty good, though he is of the nineteenth century, and that glaringly. And to curry favour with him, I wish I could be more explicit; but, indeed, I am still of necessity extremely vague, and cannot tell what I am to do, nor where I am to go for some while yet. As soon as I am sure, you shall hear. All are fairly well—the wife, your countrywoman, least of all; troubles are not entirely wanting; but on the whole we prosper, and we are all affectionately yours,


    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, September 2, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Grumble, grumble

    I'm having a week of fielding ecstatic phone calls from friends on art-centered road trips. Terry, who says hello, is looking at paintings wherever it is he finds himself today. Meanwhile, Our Friend on the Block, whose writing occasionally graces this site, is out west researching a book project on land art. This week she's in the Salt Lake City area looking at Spiral Jetty. Later she'll be, enviably, at Lightning Field. She is, by the way, soliciting suggestions of places to stay and sights to see around Flagstaff, Albuquerque, and Overton, Nevada. Color me green, despite the impeccable weather in Chicago, of which I have a very fine view from my desk.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, September 2, 2004 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
    OGIC: Two or three serious ladies

    It might be a bit of an understatement to say that Daniel Asa Rose admires Cynthia Ozick's new book, Heir to the Glimmering World. I don't know when I've seen such self-abasement in the service of such a good cause.

    Confession: It’s not Virginia Woolf I’m afraid of—it’s Cynthia Ozick.… She reminds me of Virginia Woolf, is why.

    And a little of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And a lot of that odd-duck dyad, Charlotte Brontë/Jane Austen—waif-like women who pack a wallop, whose impeccably mouse-like demeanors belie their blazing insights. Just when you resign yourself to the fact that they’re as meek and timorous as they seem, powch! comes the originality of their vision, the flammability of their passion, the cunning of their wisdom. (Others find them bold from the get-go, I realize; I’m only talking about how their aura reads to me.)

    But mostly Ms. Ozick reminds me of Emily Dickinson. A Jewish Emily Dickinson, two dainty birdlike poets with great swoops of language, sharp claws of syntax. Small, gentle, delicate women who veil themselves with such fluttering modesty as to blindside you to the enormous stern force of their words.

    I don't know or care whether they're "dainty," but on the evidence of their work alone I would throw Shirley Hazzard in with these ladies, and also Fernanda Eberstadt, about whom I'll have a lot more to say down the road. I read her 2003 novel The Furies early this summer and was knocked off my feet by it. Eberstadt's style is quite Ozickian, judging from what Rose quotes (liberally) in his review and from my own memory of The Puttermesser Papers, and she has the brainy artistry to more than pull it off. This is not a style for the weak of intention or intellect. It runs on high-grade insights—social, emotional, philosophical, what have you—and burns an astonishing quantity of the stuff per page.

    Can anyone at Knopf write and tell me whether a paperback Furies is in the works? I was hoping to see it this fall, and wanted to use its publication as the occasion for a rave review. For now, that review joins the list of things I O U, along with the rest of my Allison Moorer swoon.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Man of letters

    Robert Louis Stevenson's letters, personal and professional, will charm your socks right off. They've already kept me from several tasks (including going to bed at a reasonable hour) tonight. And they're worth every squandered minute.

    To William Archer, October 1887:

    I am now a salaried party; I am a bourgeois now; I am to write a weekly paper for Scribner's, at a scale of payment which makes my teeth ache for shame and diffidence.…I am like to be a millionaire if this goes on, and be publicly hanged at the social revolution: well, I would prefer that to dying in my bed; and it would be a godsend to my biographer, if ever I have one.

    To Henry James, "I know not the day; but the month it is the drear October by the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir," 1887:

    Our house—emphatically "Baker's"—is on a hill, and has a sight of a stream turning a corner in the valley—bless the face of running water!—and sees some hills too, and the paganly prosaic roofs of Saranac itself; the Lake it does not see, nor do I regret that; I like water (fresh water I mean) either running swiftly among stones, or else largely qualified with whisky. As I write, the sun (which has long been a stranger) shines in at my shoulder; from the next room, the bell of Lloyd's typewriter makes an agreeable music as it patters off (at a rate which astonishes this experienced novelist) the early chapters of a humorous romance; from still further off—the walls of Baker's are neither ancient nor massive—rumours of Valentine about the kitchen stove come to my ears; of my mother and Fanny I hear nothing, for the excellent reason that they have gone sparking off, one to Niagara, one to Indianapolis. People complain that I never give news in my letters. I have wiped out that reproach.

    Again to William Archer, February 1888:

    Why was Jenkin an amateur in my eyes? You think because not amusing (I think he often was amusing). The reason is this: I never, or almost never, saw two pages of his work that I could not have put in one without the smallest loss of material. That is the only test I know of writing. If there is anywhere a thing said in two sentences that could have been said in one, then it's amateur work. Then you will bring me up with old Dumas. Nay, the object of a story is to belong, to fill up hours; the story-teller's art of writing is to water out by continual invention, historical and technical, and yet not seem to water; seem on the other hand to practise that same wit of conspicuous and declaratory condensation which is the proper art of writing. That is one thing in which my stories fail: I am always cutting the flesh off the bones.

    I would rise from the dead to preach!

    I'm always resolving to learn more about Stevenson, who cut a rather dashing figure in the transatlantic literary scene at the end of the nineteenth century. He know most everybody and, as far as I can tell, was universally respected. It's heartbreaking to see his illnesses turn up again and again in these late letters, where the restless vigor of his imagination and affections is so palpable. When he died in 1894, Stevenson was 44 and probably still had enough books in him to fill another lifetime on top of his truncated one.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | Permanent link
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
    OGIC: Terry Teachout, call your office

    In the Boston Globe, Alex Beam blows the whistle on the newest big doping scandal:

    There is, of course, the old-fashioned explanation for why the Buckleys, the Winchesters, and the John Updikes of the world make the rest of us look like clock-watching quill-pushers: hard work. But I have dismissed the possibility that these writers might have studied harder in school, read more books, or spent more hours at the desk than a grasshopper such as I. Or that they are simply more gifted than I am. They must be on something.

    (Link via the back-with-a-vengeance Old Hag.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, August 31, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Laugh, cry, repeat

    Erin O'Connor is thinking out loud about rereading at her blog Critical Mass. An English teacher, she has some particularly interesting things to say about the differences between rereading for pleasure and rereading for work:

    I don't usually reread because there is so much out there in the world that I am eager to read for the first time. I've been gluttonous about books since I was very small, and I've never lost that kid-in-a-candy-shop feeling I used to get as a child, sitting in front of shelves full of books, almost overwhelmed by the readerly goodness that was bound between their covers. A family friend once gave me a book binge as a birthday present, and recalls a nine-year-old me sitting on the floor in front of the young adults section in B. Dalton's, declaring that I was "paralyzed by indecision."

    But not rereading is my private habit in my personal reading life. As an English teacher, rereading is professionally necessary, part of the job, and often a very enjoyable part, too. Academic overspecialization being what it is, most of the books in which I am massively well reread are nineteenth-century English novels: I know my Jane Austen, my Brontes, my Dickens, my Collins, my Gaskell, my Eliot, my Thackeray, my Trollope, my Hardy, and my Conrad inside out, and I know them from teaching them repeatedly to class after class of college students who are more (or less) interested in rounding out their literary knowledge, or, more pragmatically, in knocking off a distribution requirement while easing course schedules heavy in science and math. There are some works I have read and taught too many times. They have become old, stale, too familiar, ironically, to be teachable any more, since to teach a work of literature well, you must strike a difficult balance between knowing that work intimately, and not knowing it so well that it has ceased to surprise you. When a work gets so stale that you cannot respond to it any longer, it's time to not teach it for the indefinite future. Jane Eyre is one of these for me, as are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Bram Stoker's Dracula. They've been out of rotation for a few years, freshening up for future teacherly use.

    But teacherly rereading is hothouse rereading: it's forced rereading for a particular purpose, not voluntary rereading for the sheer interest and delight of rediscovering or renewing one's connection with a particular author or work. I had a teacher in graduate school who liked to say that we should all reread George Eliot's Middlemarch once every five years. His point was that there is so much in that novel that it effectively grows and changes as we do: It's a different book every five years, because we are different people from one half decade to the next. He was right.

    I don't reread books terribly often, but when I do it's generally in the pursuit of comfort, like eating macaroni and cheese in the middle of the winter. For a long time I read Pride and Prejudice every Christmas vacation. Other books I faithfully return to: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy; In the Cage by Henry James; Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth; some of Dawn Powell's books; and assorted mysteries including Westlake, John D. MacDonald, and pre-Hannibal Thomas Harris. Quite a conventional list of its kind, I imagine.

    (Incidentally, Erin's mention of B. Dalton's, a name I haven't heard in eons, really whips of memories of the bad old pre-revolutionary days [the revolution in question being, of course, the national expansion of Borders] when it was the Dalton's at the mall or nothing. The next time someone gets snide about Borders in my earshot, I'm going to raise that unlovely specter of the Dalton's at the mall.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, August 31, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: 50 Tracks, revisited

    Lots of good feedback on last week's link to CBC's "50 Tracks," much of it focused on the hip-hop. Quoth the 'Fesser, "I bemoan the Clashlessness of the CBC list, and would toss 4 back, and ask the dealer for 4 new to go with Public Enemy as my hole card." Musician extraordinaire and FOOGIC Kenneth Burns is more inclined to praise the panel for what they got right; one senses his expectations for this sort of exercise have been sanded down to a bare sliver: "The CBC is rightly taking pains to have its 80s ranking include hip-hop. It's an essential 80s pop genre, but it's routinely ignored in at least the more fatuous remembrances of the decade. I'm thinking especially of 80s radio stations, which mostly play 'Come On Eileen.'"

    And don't forget its 70s roots, writes Andrew Lindemann Malone, who blogs at Spam-o-matic:

    I'm not sure what you'd knock off in the 1970s to make room for it (oh, wait, I am sure—the Joni Mitchell joint), but "Flashlight" was not only the apex of the genius of George Clinton and Parliament but of 1970s funk, and you can't get to two hip-hop songs in the 1980s without funk in the 1970s.

    Speaking of which, I was surprised to see "The Message" on there. Not that I dispute its quality—if "Rapper's Delight" and "The Breaks" were the first hip-hop hits, "The Message" was the first song that indicated that hip-hop could address the world around it from a unique perspective. But if you're talking essentiality, "Fight the Power" would seem to have a greater claim than "The Message," since it also addresses itself to the inequities of society but does so with a flurry of samples and genuinely dislocating beat that act as musical analogues to Chuck D's exhortations-something "The Message"'s undeniably seductive dance-floor beat just can't boast.

    No luck on this reader's well-defended 90s prediction, however:

    I'm going to confine myself, regarding the nineties, to speculating that Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' but a G Thang" will represent hip-hop on that honor roll. For better or worse, this was the song that had white kids all over the 'burbs wanting to pimp their rides and mack their hoes; it's the purest expression of G-funk, and G-funk was what brought hip-hop into the limelight. Whether this was a good way for white America to view black America, from a distance and through a fantasy, is something for the sociologists, not the musicologists, to debate.

    The 90s selections, as well the ten listener-elected songs that round out the 50 (i.e., the back door through which the 'Fesser's Clash slips in), can be viewed here. Note, please, that the OGIC pick, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"—low-hanging fruit though it admittedly is—sits atop the 90s in all its obviousness, essential enough to stymie the instinctive obscurantism of not one, not two, not even three, but four rock-critics-with-a-soapbox!

    UPDATE: Andrew Lindemann Malone has further thoughts on the 90s list here.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, August 31, 2004 | Permanent link
Monday, August 30, 2004
    OGIC: All I know is I'm clean as a whistle

    If convention blogging you must have, don't look at us. I recommend you stroll on over here, where they're sure to keep you entertained.

    Overdue low curtsy: Colby Cosh, who pointed it out during the Dems' convention.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, August 30, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Becky's makeover

    I knew that something seemed off about those trailers for the new film version of Vanity Fair, however sumptuous the cast and sets: the devious Becky Sharp as a straightforward heroine? Holy gross misreading, Batman! Also, the cresting music and earnestly intoned voiceover hardly capture the rollicking, irreverent narration of the original. This very interesting New York Times piece, however, made me feel a little better. It reports that Mira Nair well knew what she was doing when she took such liberties with William Makepeace Thackeray's 1847-48 novel. And it offers up some of the fascinating nitty-gritty of Nair's intimate back-and-forth with Thackeray:

    The new "Vanity Fair" takes a few wild departures, too, but the changes are never accidental, and sometimes not so far from the source as they seem. When Becky triumphantly rides off on an elephant in India it may seem that the director is inventing a "Becky Goes to Jodhpur" moment. Not at all. Her heroine is acting out an adventure that Thackeray's Becky could only dream about. Specifically, she dreamed about it in Chapter 3, when Thackeray creates a fantasy in which Becky had married Amelia's brother, Jos, a civil servant posted to India, had put on "diamond-necklaces, and had mounted upon an elephant." A throwaway line in the novel becomes one of the film's most extravagant scenes, emblematic of how Ms. Nair and Mr. Fellowes have lifted bits from Thackeray and presented them in a sparkling new way. Ms. Nair shot this brief Indian scene to replace one originally filmed in the English countryside. "It was, for me, a wink," she said.

    A filmmaking style to capture an English major's heart, that. I suppose I should have given the director of Monsoon Wedding the benefit of the doubt in the first place.

    [Special added bonus materials! Gawk at Thackeray's original illustrations for his greatest novel here.]

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, August 30, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Unprodigious

    Terry and I have many avocations in common. Music isn't one of them. When it comes to music, I'm all but hopeless. In third grade I was kicked out of the kiddie choir, which had been billed as all-inclusive. Fourth grade was the year we picked instruments for band lessons. I wanted to play the flute. All of the girls in my school played flute or clarinet, and the flute was in my estimation the prettier of the two instruments, both physically and musically. I remember waiting my turn during the first class meeting for a consultation with the band teacher, who was assigning instruments. I remember announcing my intention to play flute. I remember the teacher presenting me with the mouthpiece of a flute to try out. And I remember his dour pronouncement that my mouth was "wrong" for flute and that, perforce, I would play clarinet.

    Is it any wonder that I loathed clarinet and soon gave it up?

    Oh, but my musical misadventures don't end there. It so happens that I have extraordinarily long fingers (straight from my grandmother), so I was pegged early by family and friends as a potential piano whiz. One fine birthday, a piano turned up in the family room, courtesy of generous parents who were always ready to indulge any interest I leaned toward. Alas, I never could find it in me to commit to lessons, and the piano was sold, an all but unplunked white elephant, a couple of years later. (I blame the band teacher.)

    Moving on to Exhibit D: At my high school there was a long-standing tradition that the junior girls sang a sentimental tune for the seniors at convocation. This was a tradition not taken lightly, but looked on as an expression of debt and respect, a moment to set aside cattiness and cliquery, a meaningful step in our inheritance of the senior class mantle—not something one did for singing's sake, but something that was right and good to do. A month's worth of after-school practices apparently couldn't help a really hard case; during the actual performance my normally kind friend Robin, standing next to me, whispered could I please mouth the words because my singing, however well-intentioned, was throwing her off tune.

    With that checkered history, it's been a good long time since I ventured again to sing or play music in public. (At home or in the car alone? A different story—much to the cat's regret, I'm sure.) I dream of being able to carry a tune, though, and the desire has made me almost single-minded about the music I Iisten to: all women singers, all the time. OK, I exaggerate, but only slightly. I've been working on my itunes library this weekend, and a quick count reveals that about 60% of the library consists of either solo women artists or bands with female lead vocalists. That's a sight lower than I would have guessed, but it has to be higher than average. More to the point is that it's the women's music that I'm usually listening to, that I thirst for, that hits me where I live: Patsy, Lucinda, Polly Jean, Lauryn, Chan, Aimee, Kim & Kelly (and Tanya!), Luciana, Emmylou, and on and on. These singers can reduce me to a dead swoon in a way no man's singing ever does, and all I can think to attribute it to is my own futile, sometimes feverish wish to sing well myself.

    This base sexism in my musical taste is really anomalous. In the other arts, most of which I actually know something about—painting, fiction, poetry—an artist's gender doesn't factor into my preferences or judgments at all. I gravitated toward women writers when I was younger, but that was part and parcel of a typical youthful desire to find my own experiences illuminated in my reading. That understandable urge not only has faded at 30-something, but has been replaced by its opposite, a desire to learn about places, people, and times further and further removed from my life. The more omnivorous my taste becomes, and the shorter life gets, the less I wish to screen my reading by any criteria other than quality.

    But music-wise, I'll take the women just about every time. Lately I've been deliriously high on Allison Moorer, about whom you can learn more at her artful website, here. I first found out about Moorer from Terry, natch, who knows my predilection for chanteuses well and has indulged it lavishly over the years. But—and this is where the whole musical-anti-prodigy theme comes into play—sometimes it takes me an absurdly long time to really hear what I listen to. So although I've been listening to Moorer for a good two years, and I fell head over heels for her album Miss Fortune when it came out late in 2002, the last couple of weeks have found me listening to this album for perhaps the hundredth time and only now recognizing some of the more unassuming, quietly amazing songs for the little masterpieces they are. Like I said, I'm just kind of hopeless and remedial that way.

    OK, this post is awfully long already. So tomorrow I'll continue with a second part about the particular charms of Miss Fortune, how I happened to come back to it recently, the experience of "discovering" tracks after so long, and how it is they could hide their wonderfulness in plain sight all that time. This last certainly has something to do with my tin ear, but not, I think, everything.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, August 30, 2004 | Permanent link
Friday, September 5, 2003
    Fullish house

    To those of you joining us for the very first time after having run across the www.terryteachout.com URL in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, welcome to "About Last Night," the 24/5 arts blog. You can read all about "About Last Night" in the right-hand column, which contains a diverse assortment of goodies, informative and otherwise (including a mostly new set of Teachout’s Top Fives, for those oldsters who didn’t notice the change of items earlier in the week).

    As you may have gathered, I spent way the hell too much time chasing print-media deadlines this week. Nevertheless, I pulled up my socks and contrived to send you lurching into the weekend with a reasonably full bag of stuff. Today’s topics, from transgressive to subversive: (1) New from Christopher Trumbo, "Commie Dearest, or, A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Father." (2) Why isn’t the greatest movie ever made available on DVD? (3) A singer you shouldn’t be living without. (4) Where to read about Hitler. (5) The latest almanac entry.

    Hey, everybody, I was not happy with this week’s ratings! They weren’t bad, but they weren’t stupendous, either. I’m doing my job—what about you? Be so kind as to beat the bushes and tell all your art-loving friends about www.terryteachout.com. You’ll be glad you did. They’ll be glad you did. I’ll be glad you did.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    The Red and the blacklist

    I reviewed Trumbo, a new play about the life of Dalton Trumbo, in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s the lead:

    So you’ve been waiting all summer for yet another play about the Hollywood blacklist? Well, breathe easier. "Trumbo," which opened last night at the Westside Theatre, is a left-wing version of "Love Letters" in which Nathan Lane reads from the correspondence of Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter best remembered as one of the "Unfriendly Ten" witnesses who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee’s 1947 probe of Communist activities in Hollywood and were later jailed for contempt of Congress. Gordon MacDonald plays Christopher Trumbo, Dalton’s son and the author of "Trumbo," who in the play doubles as his father’s straight man. Both actors use scripts, and Peter Askin’s direction consists of having Mr. MacDonald walk from one side of the stage to the other and back again. (Mr. Lane sits at a desk.)

    To read the rest of the review—which is considerably less enthusiastic than this paragraph, to put it as mildly as possible—pick up a copy of the Journal and turn to the "Weekend Journal" section. Even if you don’t like my review, you’ll get your dollar’s worth.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    Number one with a bullet

    My favorite movie of all time, and I don’t mean maybe, is Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, a painfully poignant look at the moral disintegration of France's upper middle class (what Whit Stillman calls the "urban haute bourgeoisie") on the eve of World War II. It’s on absolutely every serious movie critic’s list of the most important films as yet unavailable on DVD, so I was highly interested in the following item from the Criterion Collection Web site, which I heard about by way of DVD Journal:

    Jean Renoir's classic The Rules of the Game had been slated for release at the end of 2003, but that will change thanks to the discovery this week of a film element previously thought to be lost. Criterion's staff had already spent months on the new high-definition master that was to be at the heart of a two-disc special edition when a French lab finally unearthed the fine-grain master of the reconstructed version, one generation closer to the original than anything previously available. A similar discovery delayed the release of another Renoir classic, Grand Illusion, intended to be Criterion's first release. Expect The Rules of the Game in early 2004.

    For those of you who aren’t cinephiles, this is a BFD (i.e., very big deal). Released in 1939, The Rules of the Game was suppressed after the Nazis moved into France, and had to be reconstructed piecemeal after the war. All existing prints (including the one that made it onto the videocassette linked above) are variously crappy-looking, and the Criterion Collection, whose DVD of Grand Illusion looks almost too good to be true, is famously fussy about picture quality. Hence the delay.

    I can’t wait, but I don’t mind waiting, if you know what I mean. Nor should you.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    Semper fi

    My friend Nancy LaMott, who died of cancer in 1995, was the best cabaret singer I ever heard—period—as well as one of the dearest people I ever knew. She recorded five CDs during her lifetime, and a sixth was released after her death. They’ve been out of print for several years, but are now available again from her old label, Midder Music. To order them, go here.

    I wrote a reminiscence of Nancy a few months after she died (it will be included in A Terry Teachout Reader) in which I described her singing as follows:

    What I heard…was a warm, husky mezzo-soprano voice that seemed twice as big as the woman in whom it was housed; a vivid yet unaffected way with lyrics; and a quality at once sensuous and achingly idealistic. Later, after I had met Nancy, I would write that her singing sounded "as if the girl next door had snuck out at two a.m. to make a little whoopee with her steady boyfriend," a description that delighted her no end.

    All of Nancy’s records were good, but if you want to try just one, make it Come Rain or Come Shine: The Songs of Johnny Mercer. I have a sentimental attachment to that particular album—it was my own introduction to Nancy’s singing—but I also think it’s the best of her six CDs, if not by much. I can’t see how anyone could possibly hear her performance of "Moon River," the first track on the album, without falling in love with her singing. I did, and I was also fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with her in the year and a half before she died. It’s nice to know that people who never heard her live will now be able to buy her records. If you didn’t, do.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 5, 2003 | Permanent link
    Here and there

    "The Murder Artist," my latest essay for Commentary, is now posted on the magazine's Web site. It's a review-essay about Frederic Spotts' book Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics.

    If you didn't read it in the magazine, click on the link in the "Teachout in Commentary" module of the right-hand column. You can't miss it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 5, 2003 | Permanent link

    "The terrible thing about this world is that everybody has his reason."

    Jean Renoir, screenplay for The Rules of the Game

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, September 5, 2003 | Permanent link
Thursday, September 4, 2003
    Water? Don't have that, sir

    Those of you who admire the one-act plays of David Ives will know exactly what I mean when I tell you I was in a Philadelphia yesterday. (Thank God I didn’t go to any restaurants.) For civilians, I’ll say only that everything that could go wrong did, here and at The Wall Street Journal, for which I spent the morning writing a piece (see below). I’m still not sure how it got published, much less finished. And did I mention that my computer crashed at 10:45 last night, in the process chewing up the entire rough draft of today’s blog? I don’t want to discuss it.

    Anyway, I didn’t slit my wrists, so here are today’s topics, from terse to laconic: (1) What I did for my summer vacation. (2) Adventures among the cinephiles and their wee ones. (3) Your weekend entertainment guide, in one easy lesson. (4) The latest almanac entry.

    I forgot to remind you yesterday to tell all your friends about www.terryteachout.com. Pure chagrin, I guess. I don’t feel like doing it today, either. The hell with it. Don’t tell anybody about www.terryteachout.com. Consider it an exclusive club—just you, me, and The Minor Fall, the Major Lift, and he’ll probably decide I’m not cool enough later this week….

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    Visit to a small island

    I wrote a piece for the Leisure & Arts page of today’s Wall Street Journal about my recent trip to Maine. Here’s the lead:

    Six months ago, I bought a Fairfield Porter lithograph. Two weeks ago, I stood at the edge of a rocky cove near the southern tip of a remote island off the coast of Maine, looking at the same scene Porter viewed when he sketched "Isle au Haut." To get there, I hiked for two sweaty hours along a narrow woodland trail, stepping over snakes and trying not to turn an ankle. What possessed a flabby, chair-bound critic like me to make such a journey? It seemed like a good idea as I sat in the air-conditioned comfort of my home office, but I started having second, third and fourth thoughts as I trudged up the Goat Trail of Isle au Haut….

    No link, alas, so if you want to read the rest, go buy a Journal. I wish you would—I’m proud of this one.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    Monday matinee

    The Film Forum held over The Adventures of Robin Hood for a few extra days, so I downed tools and went to see it Monday afternoon. I didn’t expect much of a crowd, but the theater was full of painfully obvious movie buffs, some of whom brought along their kids. It always amazes me when I run across movie buffs who have kids. As I wrote in the Weekly Standard a couple of years ago apropos of a Budd Boetticher festival at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater:

    If you long to meet odd people, it’s hard to top Manhattanites who go to movies on weekdays. To be sure, I am among their number, but at least I have an excuse: I write about movies. The viewers I have in mind are the pure-hearted obsessives, overwhelmingly male and uniformly unattractive, who flock to revival houses on sunny spring afternoons to take in the latest week-long tribute to Alexander Dovzhenko, Ida Lupino, or maybe Edgar G. Ulmer—it scarcely matters, since the same folks show up every time, no matter what’s showing.

    Anyway, Generation Z was out in force and we all had a terrific time, except for a few dried-up spoilsports who kept turning around in their seats and shushing the fathers who were telling their children all about Robin Hood. Sure, I like a quiet theater, but to expect a dead hush at a Labor Day matinee of The Adventures of Robin Hood is just plain silly. Me, I didn’t mind the background chatter one little bit. The newly restored Technicolor print was delicious-looking (no red is quite so red as Technicolor red), Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score was more thrilling than ever, and—glory of glories—they even showed a cartoon, Chuck Jones’ "Rabbit Hood," a Bugs Bunny in which Errol Flynn makes a cameo appearance. I can’t remember the last time I went to a matinee screening of an old-fashioned swashbuckler complete with cartoon. Probably not since I was a kid, and I had at least as much fun last Monday as I used to have watching Saturday-afternoon Audie Murphy double features at the Malone Theater in Sikeston, Missouri. The only thing missing was a newsreel.

    Was it art? No. Do I care? No. Man cannot live by art alone. He needs a little popcorn from time to time, and the occasional Bugs Bunny cartoon to go with it. Which is how I spent my Labor Day, thank you very much.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 4, 2003 | Permanent link
    Words to the wise

    In the general welter of confusion, I almost failed to mention that Bill Charlap, my favorite jazz pianist, is appearing through Sunday at the Jazz Standard, my favorite New York jazz club. For details of the gig, which features the Charlap Trio and a string of guest stars, go here. (Peter Bernstein is on deck tonight, Phil Woods tomorrow.) If you need coaxing, here’s a snippet of a profile of Charlap I wrote a couple of years ago for the New York Times:

    Mr. Charlap can swing ferociously hard whenever it suits him, but it is his subtly shaded, quietly inward ballad playing that seems to cut closest to the core of his musical identity. "I love really slow tempos," he says. "Shirley Horn-type tempos. I love to move around in that kind of open musical space, and not spell everything out. Like Jimmy Rowles said, ‘If you have an idea, play half of it.’ You want to give the listener a chance to reflect—and sometimes even complete an idea themselves. It can be better to suggest something than to say it straight out. Look at late Matisse. Just a couple of lines, and there it is. And I like songs you can play that slow. Jule Styne told me, ‘A really good song should be melodically simple and harmonically attractive.’ Isn’t that beautiful? Attractive—that says it all…."

    If you don’t live close enough to Manhattan to drop by, go here to order Written in the Stars, one of the most perfect piano-trio CDs ever recorded. If the title track doesn’t sell you on Bill Charlap, I don’t know what else to do—refer you to an audiologist, I guess.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 4, 2003 | Permanent link

    "I found that to really make money, you had to give up music. So I gave up money."

    Mel Lewis, quoted in Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men: The Bebop Years

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, September 4, 2003 | Permanent link
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
    Champagne for one

    Join with me in a little celebration, dear readers. The page proofs of A Terry Teachout Reader, the anthology of my selected essays due out next spring from Yale University Press, arrived in the mail yesterday. Yippee!

    For those of you who aren’t in the lit biz, "proofs" are freshly typeset pages of a book, magazine article, or newspaper piece that the author proofreads and corrects prior to publication. Usually, that’s the first time when you get to see more than a few sample pages set up in type, and even if it isn’t your first book, it’s still thrilling.

    I think I’ve been reasonably good about keeping H. L. Mencken out of your hair, but I do want to share an anecdote from The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken with you. Mencken was 25 years old when his first full-length book, George Bernard Shaw: His Plays, was published in 1905. He was still an up-and-coming young editor at the Baltimore Herald, so he brought the proofs to the office that day to show to Lynn Meekins, his boss. There followed a scene (lovingly described in Newspaper Days, the second volume of Mencken’s memoirs) sure to warm the heart of anyone who has ever published a book:

    I was so enchanted that I could not resist taking the proofs to the office and showing them to Meekins—on the pretense, as I recall, of consulting him about a doubtful passage. He seemed almost as happy about it as I was. "If you live to be two hundred years old," he said, "you will never forget this day. It is one of the great days of your life, and maybe the greatest. You will write other books, but none of them will ever give you half the thrill of this one. Go to your office, lock the door, and sit down to read your proofs. Nothing going on in the office can be as important. Take the whole day off, and enjoy yourself." I naturally protested, saying that this or that had to be looked to. "Nonsense!" replied Meekins. "Let all those things take care of themselves. I order you to do nothing whatsoever until you have finished with the proofs. If anything pops up I’ll have it sent to me." So I locked myself in as he commanded, and had a shining day indeed, and I can still remember its unparalleled glow after all these years.

    Me, I’m still feeling a little bit glowy today.

    Needless to say, life goes on, proofs or no proofs, and I spent the greater part of yesterday nailed to my desk chair, writing my "Second City" column for this Sunday’s Washington Post, after which I scurried down to the Algonquin Hotel to hear Stacey Kent’s Oak Room opening, so you’ll have to be content with a minimalist blog. Today's topics, from loquacious to concise: (1) The best of all possible Westerns. (2) The snarkiest blog on earth, hands down. (3) The latest almanac entry.

    I’ll try to do better tomorrow.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    Horizons west

    Spencer Warren has written an interesting piece for the Claremont Institute Web site (thank you, My Stupid Dog, for pointing it out) in which, among other things, he names his favorite "classic" Westerns. These are the non-silent entries on his list: The Virginian, Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, Red River, Three Godfathers, High Noon, Shane, The Naked Spur, The Searchers, Seven Men From Now, 3:10 to Yuma, Man of the West, Gunman’s Walk, The Hanging Tree, Ride Lonesome, Rio Bravo, Day of the Outlaw, Comanche Station, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Ride the High Country.

    That’s a smart list, meaning that it includes quite a few of my own favorites. I mention it because I happened to draw up a similar list when reviewing Open Range for Crisis last week. The piece won’t be out until next month, so I’ll jump the gun and tell you which films I picked. I tried to limit myself to 10, but ended up with 11 because I couldn’t bear not to: Canyon Passage, Ramrod, Blood on the Moon, Four Faces West, Red River, Winchester ’73, Hondo, The Searchers, Ride Lonesome, Rio Bravo, and Ride the High Country. If you’ve never seen a Western—and especially if you think Westerns consist solely of a bunch of weather-whacked guys on horses riding around in circles, shooting at each other, chewing tobacco, and saying "yup" and "nope"—any of these films will set you straight.

    I have to tell a tale out of school about one of my guest bloggers, Our Girl in Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago was showing Rio Bravo when I was visiting her a few years ago (I think it was part of a Howard Hawks retrospective), and I talked her into going to see it with me. I’m sure the only reason she agreed was because we’re old friends, but when it was over, I glanced at her and saw that she was positively starry-eyed. She looked back at me and said, "Oh, Terry, you didn’t tell me John Wayne was sexy!"

    It is, incidentally, a scandal that so few of the films on my list are available on DVD. (I linked the ones that are.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 3, 2003 | Permanent link
    Desperately seeking snarkery

    Hosanna in the highest: The Minor Fall, the Major Lift is back from vacation and making mischief. If you don’t know why that’s good news, click on the link at once. This anonymous New York-based blogger, who may well be the snarkiest person on the eastern seaboard, says things I’d say if only (A) I were clever enough to think of them and (B) I had the nerve to post them.

    A warning for prigs: The Minor Fall, the Major Lift is not for the pure of soul or clean of mouth. But it sure is funny.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 3, 2003 | Permanent link

    "Most of the things you read in a newspaper you naturally don’t know anything about, except what they tell you. Did you ever happen to read a newspaper account of something you did know something about? It’s always more or less wrong, usually more. I’m told it’s because most stories are rewritten when they get to the office by somebody else, not the man who covered the story. They have to make them fit between the advertising. I don’t think it’s done on purpose. I don’t think they’d mind if they had it right. There’s nothing you can do about it."

    James Gould Cozzens, Guard of Honor

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, September 3, 2003 | Permanent link
Tuesday, September 2, 2003
    Cobwebs in the mailroom

    This is the week I answer my post-vacation mail—I promise. Really. Last week I had to write and write and write, but this week I only have to write and write, so be patient and watch your mailbox for further details. In the meantime, welcome back to "About Last Night," the 24/5 arts blog. I took yesterday off and planned not to write a lot today, but as usual the bit got caught between my teeth, so here are today’s topics, from peculiar to commonplace: (1) Will the real Harvey Pekar please fess up? (2) Another round of "In the Bag," with a tip of the hat to my fellow baggers. (3) A date which will not live in infamy. (4) The latest almanac entry.

    For those of you who were gone last week (and I know some of you were, lucky stiffs), much of what appeared on "About Last Night" during your absence is still visible—just keep scrolling down. If you’ve been gone longer than that, jump over to the top of the right-hand column and click on the archives link and you can browse and sluice at your leisure.

    More tomorrow, as always, but in the meantime, let’s get that site meter bouncing, O.K.? Tell all your friends about www.terryteachout.com, one at a time or en masse—the choice is yours.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 2, 2003 | Permanent link
    None dare call it phony

    I saw, and loved, American Splendor, not least because of Hope Davis’ pitch-perfect performance as Joyce, Harvey Pekar’s penny-plain sourpuss of a wife. (It happens that I’d also seen Davis the night before in The Secret Lives of Dentists, and seeing two of her films back to back left me more sure than ever that she is the finest actress to come out of the indie-flick world—better even than Parker Posey, though I hate to admit it.)

    What makes American Splendor so good is not its postmodern switching between "Harvey Pekar" the character and Harvey Pekar the bonafide on-screen weirdo himself—that aspect of the film borders on the cutesy—but the clarity and humor with which it portrays the grubby melancholy of lower-middle-class urban life. In that respect, the films it most reminded me of were Ghost World (no big surprise there) and (here comes the curve ball) One Hour Photo, a considerably more thoughtful movie than was generally realized when it came out last year.

    At the same time, I think it should be pointed out that the "Harvey Pekar" of American Splendor is a semi-fictional character, and that a movie about the real Harvey Pekar might well have been even more interesting than American Splendor, if less touching. Yes, Harvey the celebrated author of autobiographical comic books and "Harvey" the fictional author of autobiographical comic books both spent a quarter-century working at crappy jobs at the Cleveland VA hospital, survived cancer, razzed David Letterman on camera, found love, and started a family. But the real Harvey Pekar is not simply some hapless record-collecting schlub from Cleveland who decided one way to write comic books about his working-class life. He is also a full-fledged left-wing intellectual—homemade, to be sure, but the shoe still fits—who reviews books for the Village Voice and does regular commentaries on NPR. (Search his name on Google and you’ll find, among many other things, his thoughts on Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, which is about as eggheady as it gets.) You’ll learn nothing of this from watching American Splendor, or even from reading Pekar’s slightly faux-naif blog.

    None of which invalidates the movie—it has its own expressive validity independent of the man whose life it purports to portray. Still, it should be kept firmly in mind that in creating "Harvey Pekar," the makers of American Splendor—not to mention Harvey Pekar himself—scissored out inconvenient biographical details whose inclusion in the film would doubtless have caused it to make a radically different impression on many people. "Harvey" is a weird but nonetheless convincingly common man whose plight really does come across as more or less universal. Harvey is…well, something else again. To put it mildly. And then some.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 2, 2003 | Permanent link
    In the bag

    Bloggers all up and down the right-hand column have been playing "In the Bag" lately. Modern Art Notes seems to have been first to take up the cudgel, but after that it spread like kudzu throughout the blogosphere. Since imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, I’m flattered—so here we go again.

    First, a quick review of the rules for those of you just joining us. "In the Bag" is my private variation of the old desert-island game. In this version, the emphasis is on immediate and arbitrary preference. You can stuff five works of art into your bag before departing for that good old desert island, but you have to decide right this second. No dithering—the secret police are banging on the front door. No posturing—you have to say the first five things that pop into your head, no matter how dumb they may sound. What do you put in the bag?

    As of this moment, here are my picks:

    NOVEL: W. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale

    PAINTING: John H. Twachtman, Winter Harmony

    PAINTING: Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room

    POP SONG: Aimee Mann, Deathly

    FILM: Nicholas Ray, On Dangerous Ground

    Over to you.

    P.S. If you’re wondering why I put two paintings in the bag this week, by the way, the answer is, I just felt like it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 2, 2003 | Permanent link
    Happy anniversary

    I have now gone an entire calendar year without listening to any minimalist music whatsoever.

    Go thou and do likewise.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 2, 2003 | Permanent link

    "The amateur painter is in general a cultivated man who has discovered the pleasures of painting and pursues it as recreation and sport. The approach he adopts may be a form of Impressionism, or even of Abstraction, depending on his age group and education, but it will necessarily be a thoroughly familiar one. He is interested in playing a fascinating game, not in making up new rules. He is visiting a world already explored by other painters rather than creating and imposing a world of his own. His real originality has already found its expression elsewhere. Otherwise he would long ago have quit his own profession for that of painter, as Gauguin gave up a career on the stock exchange in his pursuit of art. The price of originality is undivided love."

    Maurice Grosser, Critic’s Eye

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, September 2, 2003 | Permanent link


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