“Lazarus” is meant to be a stage sequel to Bowie’s star turn in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” There’s an awful lot of money up there in the form of fabulous production design, a top-drawer cast, and a large house band. “Lazarus” could very easily be a fine evening at the theater if it stopped pretending there was any sort of narrative worth watching, if the show dropped from two hours to 90 minutes or less.
All you have to do is drop the book. Replace it with the mere suggestion of character, a tiny bit of connective tissue between songs. You’ll want to add a few more of those. “Lazarus” combines both brand new and older Bowie material, including a few favorites.
NYTW even has a blueprint for how to do this in the form of “What’s It All About? — Bacharach Reimagined,’ the wonderful more-than-a-revue it staged a couple of seasons ago. It has since moved to London.
Bowie’s music is more intrinsically theatrical than Bacharach’s — and I say this as one who worships Burt and cares a bit less for Bowie — so this is going to be quite easy.
What’s happening now is that Bowie’s music and the wonderful cast, led by Michael C. Hall, are working like mad to lift this big, soggy mess of a show in the air. The plot is monotonous. E.T. wants to go home. The existential and phenomenological questions raised are answered uninterestingly. There is less to the whole thing than meets the eye.
That does not entirely sink the ship. Hall is an amazing performer. If you know him mainly from “Six Feet Under” it turns out you really don’t know him at all. He expertly recreates Bowie’s vocal chops and hurls his body around the stage with great abandon. The (aptly) praeternatural talent onstage is Sophia Ann Caruso who is 14 years old and has the voice of a 30-year-old angel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said in a statement released on Friday morning.
That fits with a slightly more Nixonian (or Segrettian?) theory by Charlie Pierce, who speculates that the U.S. papal nuncio and a cabal of Ratzinger sympathizers hip-checked Pope Francis out into the whirl of the culture wars by walking Davis into the room with him, thus undermining Francis’s overall message of socio-economic justice. It’s entirely possible, and Pierce makes a good case. Or it could just be lousy staff work. After four decades of reporting, I’m convinced that, when public figures say or do something really stupid or embarrassing, 65 percent of the time it’s bad staff work. The famous guy doesn’t know as much as we think he does. He depends on his staff. Francis, much of the time, seems to be writing his own scripts, but maybe not so much on a dizzying U.S. tour.
Or you can believe, as one of our panelists does, that the secret Davis meeting is the reality, and the Pope of Good Feelings is the deceit. I know the canonization of Junipero Serra will come up in this context.
Historians agree that he forced Native Americans to abandon their tribal culture and convert to Christianity, and that he had them whipped and imprisoned and sometimes worked or tortured to death.
Having lived through the ’60s, I thought a deeper loss of faith in institutions would be unlikely, but I think we’re living through one now. I saw “Black Mass” last night with my son, who did not share my level of indignation at FBI agent John Connolly Jr.’s culpability in White Bulger’s crimes. He told me he doesn’t count on law enforcement to choose the righteous path.
Peeple, the app, is the Yelp for, well, people. You use it to rate your fellow human beings based on things like their personalities, their professionalism, and how good they are at dating. There’s no opt-out, either. If you are drawing breath, someone—anyone—with the app can rate you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Nader at the museum opening with some random attractive woman. Gary Lewis photo.
I don’t know who you are, but your letter to the Courant today was so utterly wrongheaded that I will take the liberty of reprinting it in full before I discuss its flaws.
My reaction to the front-page article “Safe For Viewing” [Sept. 27] is one of both amusement and bewilderment. It must be a slow news day when such a non-event as dedicating a museum of tort law rates half of the front page, in comparison to such minor events as the pope’s visit.
While Ralph Nader may be the media’s darling gadfly, he might be more aptly described as the Don Quixote of the consumer movement, tilting at windmills in the name of the hapless consumer.
Really, an exhibit “honoring” the infamous McDonald’s coffee cup case? If there was ever a case inappropriately rewarding bad consumer judgment, this was it. Who would’ve known that hot coffee could scald you if you held it between your legs while driving?
There is a reason this museum was not hosted by a major city, the same reason the Museum of Law in Chicago closed in 2011: Nobody cares.
Roger Kern, Essex
Let’s begin with the most obvious thing. You haven’t taken five minutes to acquaint yourself with the facts of Liebeck v. McDonald’s. You’ve just glugged down whatever swill was poured into your mouth by Limbaugh and Fox.
So: Stella Liebeck, 79, was not driving. She was in the passenger’s seat. Her grandson, the driver, had come to a full stop so that she could add cream and sugar to her coffee. She placed the cup between her knees and removed the lid; the contents of the cup spilled onto her. Here is a description of her injuries.
The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting [and debridement].
Let’s pause there and say, Mr. Kern, that whatever you think about this case, the term often used for it, “frivolous litigation,” does not apply.
But let’s go a little further. Liebeck attempted to settle the whole thing for $20,000, and McDonald’s refused. Bad idea. The resulting trial included, of course, discovery. McDonald’s was forced to cough up documents showing more than 700 claims involving burns from Mickey D’s java. These included other third degree burns.
Why did so many people have this problem? Other internal McDonald’s documents showed that the chain made a special point of keeping its coffee very hot.
McDonalds also said during discovery that, based on a consultant’s advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste …Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.
The other widely publicized part of this case that isn’t true involves the damages. What most people heard about, at the time, is this:
The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonalds’ coffee sales.
What they didn’t hear was this:
The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000 — or three times compensatory damages — even though the judge called McDonalds’ conduct reckless, callous and willful.
And in fact nobody knows the ultimate number, because the case was settled in secret. Anyway, the one “fact” that you “knew” about this case — that Stella Liebeck was driving with a cup of coffee between her knees — is wrong.
If you get interested, there’s an entire documentary about the case and its relation to tort law.
Now, as to Nader himself, the legacy of the “darling gadfly” who spends his life “tilting at windmills, is better described here:
More than any other single person, Ralph Nader is responsible for the existence of automobiles that have seat belts, padded dashboards, air bags, non-impaling steering columns, and gas tanks that don’t readily explode when the car gets rear-ended. He is therefore responsible for the existence of some millions of drivers and passengers who would otherwise be dead. Because of Nader, baby foods are no longer spiked with MSG, kids’ pajamas no longer catch fire, tap water is safer to drink than it used to be, diseased meat can no longer be sold with impunity, and dental patients getting their teeth x-rayed wear lead aprons to protect their bodies from dangerous zaps. It is Nader’s doing, more than anyone else’s, that the federal bureaucracy includes an Environmental Protection Agency, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a Consumer Product Safety Commission, all of which have done valuable work in the past and, with luck, may be allowed to do such work again someday. He is the man to thank for the fact that the Freedom of Information Act is a powerful instrument of democratic transparency and accountability. He is the founder of an amazing array of agile, sharp-elbowed research and lobbying organizations that have prodded governments at all levels toward constructive action in areas ranging from insurance rates to nuclear safety.
Maybe you don’t like some of those things, Mr. Kern, but most of them are pretty reasonable. The great thing about seatbelts and padded dashboards is that they work for liberals and conservatives.Take a drive up to the tort museum. It’ll be a much safer drive, thanks to Nader.
From grades 7 through 12, I attended a boys’ school called Kingswood. It was in the process, as I graduated, of merging with Oxford, a girls’ school.
Alumni of the school this week received an email inviting comment on a proposed “a new graphic identity for KO — a key part of a wayfinding signage system.” Let us set aside for a moment the question of whether “wayfinding” is a legitimate word in any language other than the Ideo-speak of corporate consultants, as a well as the question of whether a signage system could ever be other than “wayfinding.”
I want to talk about what’s happening to mascots. The mascot of Kingswood-Oxford is a Wyvern, which is a kind of dragon. The look of the Wyvern has always been pretty nonspecific. It doesn’t even always face the same way. But I would say it leans more Puff than Smaug. That’s what it looks like on a kid’s lacrosse jersey. And here it is on a moisture-wicking t-shirt.
Now, get ready for the proposed rebranded Wyvern.
I know! What could be more welcoming, more suggestive of fun and sportsmanship? Bear in mind that KO now accepts even 6th graders,so this would be their symbol, this murderous spawn of hell.
This, alas, is a trend.
The notion that a mascot ought to be fun and friendly is every bit as jeopardized as the subtext: that sports are about play and camaraderie, as opposed to domination and aggression.
Some of KO’s rivals do have more playful mascots. Westminster has a bird with no feet — weird, I know — called a martlet. They make funny videos about Marty the Martlet. Loomis-Chaffee has a pelican partly because a pelican is a long-standing symbol of going-the-extra-mile to nurture. Loomis-Chaffee, like others before them, incorrectly believes that pelicans will feed their own blood to their young. Anyway, more funny videos. I would say that, in terms of its obvious lust to roast your visiting middle school soccer player with flames and then feed on her entrails, the Wyvern is in a class by itself.
But it is, as I said, also a trend. UCONN recently took its friendly, happy husky logo and turned into something that wants to kill Liam Neeson. Maybe college is a little different (although the UCONN switch was not uncontroversial.) Could I suggest that, not merely in the case of KO but in other places where kids play games, there’s really no need to become more menacing?
On Monday night, the phones of Connecticut political junkies started buzzing. The impossible had happened in Bridgeport, unless you believe — as we all apparently should — that nothing is impossible in Bridgeport.
As of this afternoon, I would have bet on Bill Finch to hold on to his mayoralty despite losing last week’s primary. I could offer up a big explanation for this, but why bother? It turns out that Finch’s plan — to have a stooge secure a place on the ballot for him — has crumbled into dust. The plan was always a little risible. The imaginary party was called the Job Creation Party, which was uncomfortably close to the truth. The candidate, who stepped aside after two days, is a used car salesman. You know you’re pushing the envelope when Joe Ganim accuses you of “making a mockery of the election process.”
That was the Ganim who, in 2003, was convicted on 16 out of 22 counts of corruption and ended up serving seven years of his federal prison sentence. Ganim, in one of history’s less probable comebacks, beat Finch and Mary Jane Foster last week in a primary. Foster dropped out of the race earlier Monday. And then…well, presumably you’ve clicked on the links. The party missed the deadline for putting Finch on its line.
Finch has just a few options. Foster will probably get back in. He’s not getting her ballot line because she hates him. One thing about Bridgeport: nobody is in the process of sorting out his or her feelings toward anybody else. People are allies or enemies already. It would seem unlikely that either of the other holders of ballot lines — Republican Enrique Torres and Charles Coviello of the New Movement Party — would relinquish their spots to Finch, but I think we’ve learned in recent months never to say never in Bridgeport. A sitting mayor has a lot of capital to trade with — and maybe Finch especially. One of the knocks against him has been the existence of “ghost positions,” funded but not filled, in his city budgets. People have in-laws, girlfriends, cousins, high school buddies, you know?
His other option is a write-in campaign. Let us not forget the mighty Jarjura, who racked up about 8,000 write-in votes on his way to winning in 2005. However, Jar-Jar faced no adversary as formidable at Ganim, and he was able to make his campaign essentially about one thing only: how to do a write-in vote.
A cable television commercial that ran 109 times a day for two weeks showed Jarjura going into the voting booth and demonstrating how to cast a write-in vote. The campaign also rented three voting machines, set them up in headquarters and bused in elderly residents for coffee and voting demonstrations.
Jar-Jar also ran in a slightly busier field. He won the general election with only 38 percent of the vote. Even with five candidates running in Bridgeport, I think the winner will need a few more points. Still, never say never.
So we have one very pissed-off finch.
This is also a major black mark for Finch’s longtime Richelieu, Adam Wood.
There are chiefs of staff, and then there are the chiefs of staff who are disliked and feared and who are suspected of being the true intelligence behind the throne and the author of many of the throne’s most brutal power plays. Matt Hennessy was that kind of COS for Eddie Perez and, in a different way, so was Lisa Moody for Jodi Rell. I don’t know Wood, but that’s his reputation, which includes being a know-it-all. And make no mistake, this is on him. Maintenance of the Stooge Candidacy is not a job you delegate. You know there will be challenges and invocations of technicalities when the day comes for you to make your play, so you memorize all the rules and you know all the details.
Except he didn’t. The likelihood that these two men will open a bed and breakfast — The Wood and Finch? — after this debacle has to be rated very low.
The writer of the email was enraged by something I’d written. Ironically, the thing that made him really mad had been edited into the piece by David Eggers without my foreknowledge. Beyond that, however, lay a craggy jigsawed coastline of longstanding contempt. Nothing new there. Animadversion is written into my life contract. But this writer was a playwright with a special gift for seeing into people. In his denunciation of me, he scraped at the rawest nerves of my soul, the infected splinters of self-doubt and self-loathing that I normally reserved for 3 a.m. sessions of miserable introspection.
In the worst possible way, I felt understood.
Getting angry was’t even an option. He was, from my jaundiced perspective, too right about me. And it was clear that he had grown up in the Hartford area, smart, sensitive, aspiring. I stood in his mind for all the stifling complacency and mediocrity he had rejected. It was an odd sensation, to feel so deeply wounded and so admiring in the same moment.
I looked up his New York City number and called it. I got a machine
“Hi. This is Colin McEnroe. I got your email. What did I ever do to you?”
Within 24 hours, I got a second email. “Imagine my loathing when I heard your voice …” it began.
I think I giggled then. I giggle now. I have been deeply hated by simpletons, but this was my first experience of being despised by somebody estimable. It was kind of thrilling. By then I had looked him up. He truly was an emerging, significant young playwright. He was, as he pointed out to me, welcome in the kinds of New York literary salons I probably dreamed of visiting. I was, he implied, the sarcastic nobody leaning against the gymnasium wall, making fun of the classmates dancing. He and Dale Peck, by contrast, were tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.
What really bugged him was a joke about Dale Peck in my piece. The original joke had been about David Foster Wallace. (But it wasn’t really a joke about Wallace. It was a joke about how Michiko Kakutani might feel about Wallace.) I assumed Eggers changed the joke out of friendship with Wallace, although in retrospect he may also have been feeling protective. Wallace allegedly wept for a whole day over one paragraph in a not-all-that-negative Kakutani review of his first book. I didn’t like the choice of Peck who was a little too obscure and way too easy a target. (Hating on Peck had become an industry among certain New York cognoscenti.) As the kid leaning against the gym wall, the only shred of honor I could cling to involved making jokes about the school’s star quarterback (Wallace), not some lesser divinity. Anyway, there was no point in complaining because by that time the piece really had become a cult phenomenon. I read in one magazine that “Colin McEnroe” might be an Eggers nom de plume, because really, how plausible was it that some nobody had written this? (Which kind of drives home one of the points of my emailer.)
I get why that joke, specifically, bothered Christopher Shinn so much. He felt privileged to know and befriend Dale Peck. And now this vacuous and forgettable annoyance from his hometown, a Ron Burgundy with Ivy League pretensions, had rabbit-punched him. I would point out, in a puny caviling way, that one of the virtues of being a small town nobody is that you CAN make jokes about giants like Wallace without worrying that you’ll run into them somewhere. Terry Gross recently asked John Oliver if it would be awkward to be at a party with Sting, whom Oliver had casually and hilariously stung. Oliver said the whole point, in his profession, was never to be at a party with Sting.
I wish I had the emails. I saved them for a long time. They were really great, and I have watched Shinn’s rise with an enjoyment fueled by being a very minor Aguecheekian character in his Dramatis Personae. Once, when I was still on WTIC, where takedowns of me were a huge hit with the audience, I tried through an intermediary to get him to be on the show and speak to me as he had in the emails. It didn’t happen. One day he friended me on Facebook. “I thought you hated my guts,” I wrote back. That was ages ago, he replied.
And it was. Especially for him. He almost died in the intervening years. And he solidified his position as playwright to be reckoned with. He’s back in Hartford, rocking Yard Goats regalia and pretty clearly enjoying his visits to old haunts. I am one of those haunts, and today, he will visit me.
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.
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.