Category Archives: Deep thoughts

The Ceiling Fell In and the Bottom Fell Out

by Categorized: Colin's Theories of Culture, Deep thoughts, Music, Uncategorized Date:

I attend, every year, a wonderful New Year’s Day’s party, one that feels like a European salon. You can very easily find yourself sitting around a table in the kitchen with an art curator, a physicist, a medical policy expert, a teacher and a philosophy/cognitive science scholar, straining to hear something profound about the measurement of reality over the background chatter and clatter and the occasional drowning roar of the garbage disposal.

One of the more pedestrian topics this year was our perception that people of pivotal importance and/or life-enhancing qualities died in a big cluster right at the end of the year. Meadowlark Lemon, Haskell Wexler, Ellsworth Kelly. Wayne Rogers, who died on Dec. 31, was not at the same, iconic level, but who knew he later became a money manager and investor of great expertise? (The medical policy expert reminded us that, statistically, people die in disproportionate numbers after big holidays, having hung on by force of will.)

At this same New Year’s Day party, one is sometimes asked to step into the next room and sing, say, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” with the jazz pianist Matt DeChamplain. There was less of that than usual this year, especially for me, in the lingering stages of a cold. We probably should have attempted a Natalie Cole medley, but the news of her death was so fresh we could barely process it.Nataliecole2007

I hope to read something learned and eloquent about Cole next week in Metcalf on Music. (He too attends this party.) For now, let me offer my own meager apercu. I’m not sure Cole gets enough credit for introducing, with one album, the sound and feel of the American songbook and jazz standards to a generation that had, for the most part, no relationship at all with this material. “Unforgettable…With Love” sold seven million copies worldwide, five million in the States. Am I forgetting someone, or does this eclipse any  comparable collection in the last 25 years? Has Michael Buble or Harry Connick Jr. sold that many copies of one album, ever? (Let’s not get into a conversation about artistic merits or wholeness or authenticity.) Of course, album sales themselves are a thing of the past. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, whose collaboration release overlapped two of Cole’s songs, probably haven’t sold a million units yet.  Cole already had an R&B fan base. It’s beyond dispute that she shoved the music of Arlen, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins into grateful ears that had previously shown no appetite for them. How many converts did she make? We’ll never know.

“Unforgettable…With Love” also points us at a really fascinating argument launched by Ben Yagoda this year and perhaps developed a tiny bit more  in a conversation among Yagoda, Metcalf, singer Tracey Moore and me. Yagoda says that American popular music suffered a nervous breakdown between the end of World War II and the onset of rock and roll. The dance band scene, which provided the propulsion for American standards, collapsed in favor of domestic life and booming out babies.  And the country, especially its young adults, was too frazzled by what it had endured during the war to embrace music full of deep emotion.  They preferred lightness, perhaps even novelty tunes. Cole’s father straddled those two worlds as few other singers could. So you get “Orange Colored Sky,” a 1950 tune which I happen to like but which, let’s face it, is not “This Can’t Be Love.” Musical monstrosity side note: Burt Ward, who played Robin on the old Batman TV series, recorded an upsetting version of the song produced by Frank Zappa. “L-O-V-E,” written a decade later is, nonetheless, further proof of the hollowing-out of the songbook style. That tune is credited to Bert Kaempfert who, according to a really fascinating obituary also from the tail end of the year, may have stolen “Strangers in the Night.”

Thus concludes my argument for giving Natalie Cole extra credit as a popularizer of America’s greatest music. It was only a paper moon, but it was the best I could do.

On Stillness

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, God, Moon Pitchers Date:

At the end of 2015, New York Magazine asked more than 100 content creators to identify their favorite work from the year. Among television performances, more people picked Carrie Coon in “The Leftovers” than anyone else. It was only 8 percent of them, but given the vast modern TV landscape, that’s actually pretty impressive.carrie

And it has to do with stillness, with what Coon does when she’s not doing anything. Some actors act with their eyes. Coon, as Nora, doesn’t even do that. It’s more like the cliche about jazz. It’s the notes she’s not playing and the way she manages to suggest that those notes are being played somewhere else.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

Is stillness in vogue or am I just noticing it? “Spotlight” is a movie composed of stillnesses, especially those of Michael Keaton, John Slattery and, of course, Liev Schreiber, a Yo-Yo Ma on the instrument of stillness. In “The Flick,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play running at the Barrow Street Theater in New York, the stillness comes from the production, not the actors. “The Flick” is long (more than three hours) and quiet, full of intentional longueurs in which low-paid movie theater workers sweep up popcorn while getting ready to say something. Some people can’t stand it. I loved it.longueur

Even Matthew McConaughey, an actor once known for hyper-caffeination, reinvented himself as Rust Cohle, an ex-detective slowing himself down to hear the deepest vibrations of the universe.

nancy

Rich Gruber photo

My own life is touched these days by the example of the Rev. Nancy Butler, pastor of the church I attend. Nancy has ALS, a disease of unchosen stillness. Last week she wrote to me about its consolations:

I have also noticed a modicum of moral progress in myself 🙂 My life has slowed down so much I am more aware of my shortcomings. My life has slowed down so much I can actually behave differently. I make choices to live more simply. I pay more attention people around me. I try to let go of my plans and roll with it. I muster up the courage to speak up for myself …Yesterday, I watched the dark clouds roll by, revealing blinding sunlight. It reminded me that our troubles are temporary and if we persevere in faith, we will be blinded by God’s glory.

This connects back to “The Leftovers,” a series about the human race grappling with the theologically ambiguous disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population. It’s an event that science is helpless to explain and that government is almost comically unable to address meaningfully. The series asks all of its characters, “What else have you got?”  Fixing her eyes on what is unseen, Coon’s Nora seems like the person with the most compelling set of answers.

 

 

 

The Good Cop

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, etc., Politix, Uncategorized Date:

Pope Francis Photo 2
It’s kind of hilarious watching people, including Connecticut’s pols, gear up for the U.S. visit of Pope Francis, the greatest pope of my lifetime, maybe the greatest pope ever.

Note to Eizabeth Esty. It is a double mistake to say: “I am a deep person of faith.” First of all, I think you mean, “I am a person of deep faith.” Second of all, that is the kind of thing persons of genuine deep faith do not compelled to announce about themselves. Consider the exhortation of Jesus in Matthew 6:5.  When politicians start trotting their faith around like a show horse, asking them to explain what they mean in detail is not a gotcha question.

What’s more interesting is the way in which Pope Francis stands in explicit and implicit moral opposition to so many things that are wrong in the U.S. and with the U.S.  I am reminded of Lenny Bruce’s famous routine in which Jesus and Moses show up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Christ says to Moses, “My visit took me to Spanish Harlem where there were forty Puerto Ricans living in one room. What were they doing there when this man”—Lenny pointed to the Cardinal—”has a ring on worth $10,000?”

American bishops, get ready for some questions about how you live — and not just in terms of opulence. Do you live as though you took climate change seriously? Because Francis does.

All Americans should get ready. Francis is — in the best possible way — a Marxist. From the Times:

“I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticize is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.”

Francis has long been troubled by what some Argentines of his generation call “savage capitalism.” They see the United States as the home of mining companies and agribusinesses that chew up natural resources, as the military power that propped up dictators during the Cold War and as the neighbor that tries to close its border to migrants fleeing hunger and violence.

He has every right to ask us why we’re doing so little about climate change, why our ungenerous refugee policies are so clouded by xenophobia, why we tolerate a system in which our children are 11 times more like to die by guns than their counterparts in developed economies, why we have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners, why we use our bail system to hold poor people in jail without trial, sometimes for years…well, let’s just say he may have a whole lot of righteous and rightful questions.

So all you A-Listers lining up your tickets, try to have a few answers.

 

 

Porcupines & Bushels

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, Politix, Words and phrases Date:

No. This was not the working title for “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” That I know of.

The other day, the Porcupine, in explaining his own general lack of reticence, invoked Scripture thusly.

“Listen: I’ve never hidden my candle under a basket,” Malloy said last week.

Today being Easter, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the way that phrase has come down to us. Especially the last word. Also, there’s a nifty tie-in the “Wolf Hall” which kicks off tonight on PBS. We read it in the KJV as:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”  (Matthew 5:14-15)

Like many before him, the Porcupine has assumed that a bushel is a basket. But to a person in the age of “Wolf Hall” and the KJV  it would more likely be an 8-gallon bucket.  It makes more sense that way. A candle under a basket is a fire hazard, and the light would seep through.

Bucket (PSF).jpg
Bucket (PSF)” by Pearson Scott Foresman – Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Now, who chose “bushel?” This is where it gets very interesting and all up in Wolf Hall. You have probably never heard of William Tyndale even though you use his jams  every day, especially if you are celebrating “Passover” right now or complaining that in this “moment in time,” Calipari is kind of a “scapegoat.” Check out the “impact on the English language” here.  It’s breathtaking.

Tyndale is a big deal in the world of “Wolf Hall.” Note this review.

[Thomas] More’s admirers have glossed over his crusade against Protestantism, which led to the torture and burning of men who distributed Tyndale’s English New Testament. Wolf Hall brings this back into the open, a reminder that religious steadfastness is not necessarily a virtue or flexibility the Mark of Evil.

So there you go.  If I end with “Godspell” will that wreck the mood? They rhyme “bushel” with “crucial.”

Northern Courage

by Categorized: Colin's Theories of Culture, Deep thoughts, Show ideas, Uncategorized Date:

Johan Christian Claussen Dahl - Nordiske landskapet
On days like the one we’re having here, it’s not uncommon to see one of us northerners post something on social media and see, in response, a comment from a transplant: “I wouldn’t know. It’s 76 today here in South Carogeorgialorida. So glad I’ll be out on my boat today instead of shiviering with the rest of you!”

And I reflexively think: I’d rather be freezing my cheeks off up here than wedged up against a d****ebag frothing with self-congratulation because he figured out it gets warmer as you approach the equator. I’d like to be warmer too, but not if it means being surrounded by people with no sense of irony, people who are more likely to be depicted in than entertained by Coen Brothers movies. To re-phrase “Repo Man,” sometimes it seems like the more you drive South, the stupider you get.

But that’s too easy, and it’s probably wrong to exalt one’s choices at the expense of a whole region of people many of whom are perfectly nice. Why the hell ARE we here? And then somebody sent me this essay, which feels more like the beginning of a conversation — and therefore a radio show idea! — than a solid answer.

Could northmanship be a thing? I mean, is there a connection that we make to truth and beauty here in the north? Of course, the north itself is retreating from us. One of McEnroe’s Immutable Theories of Culture is that the more we celebrate a thing, the more likely it is that it’s dying. And right now, we celebrate the north. I mean Joakim Zander is the new Henning Mankell who is the new Stieg Larsson. Iceland is hip. Cultural conservatives are shook about Lady Thor. Nordic pop and Canadian comedy. Holla!

I stray from my point. I wonder if there’s something mystical and meaningful about the cold and the darkness and the starkness. In which case, we should embrace it, rather than curse it. We should be content with the notion that Rilke is cooler than Jimmy Buffet. And not — as one voice in the Gould piece says — not throw away our North for a mess of pottage.

Often when I imagine you your wholeness cascades into many shapes. You run like a herd of luminous deer and I am dark, I am forest.

The Mystery of Giving

by Categorized: Deep thoughts Date:

I read this, and I think: $8 milllion for UConn soccer? Really.  Please tell me you’re also giving four million to Doctors Without Borders. Lots of people will actually go on living, instead of dying.

Of course, you can’t say that. Generosity should never be faulted. And I spend a lot of time asking people to give money to public radio, which doesn’t save lives. But you do hope people find a mix. I don’t have a lot of money to give away, but I like the seeing, at tax time, a bunch of contributions that reflect a spread of concerns.

So much major giving seems almost fetishistic. Like, really, dude? It’s great that you left $9.6 million, but did it have to be restricted to art from just one place and time? There’s so much the museum could do, with its hands untied. It could take steps to make some of the art you love a lot more relevant. It could nurture the aesthetic sensibilities of Hartford kids, who would become the kinds of people who love what you love. Dude. Please.