Thursday, March 31, 2011

Van Dyke Parks meets Lillian Gish

Van Dyke Parks was a child actor. Here, from an interview, is a story about those days:

One time, I was in a show with Teresa Wright, I forget the name of the show, but I do remember that there was a bit actress, a small role — and my mother cautioned me (my mother went into New York with me — my parents were reluctant to see me in this business, but it helped me pay my tuition at the Boychoir school) — there was one actress and her name was Lillian Gish. And my mother said, she cautioned me, “Van Dyke, that woman over there was once *the* biggest star in the world. She was D.W. Griffith’s Sweetheart Actress. She’s been to the top, so you treat her with great respect.”

So, I’m sitting there, and neither Lillian Gish nor I were the center of attention — we were just sitting there waiting for the important people to do what they did. So I turned to her and said, “Miss Gish?” and she said, “Yes?” And I said, “My mother said you were a great actress in the silents.” And she said, “Oh, that’s true. Yes, indeed it was true.” So I asked, “Weren’t you scared when you heard that the talkies were coming?“ And Lillian Gish, without missing a beat, said, “No, in fact — we didn't call them ‘the talkies’ when we heard that film was going to have sound. We just knew it would have sound, and we all somehow imagined that the sound would be entirely music.”

Now, that’s a phenomenon — how people would imagine that sound would come to film.
I thought of this story after watching The Night of the Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955). The film is available, beautifully restored and with many extras, from the Criterion Collection.

[Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper, protector of children, in The Night of the Hunter.]

A related post
Van Dyke Parks in The Honeymooners


An error, at least sort of, in today’s clever New York Times crossword. The clue for 30-Down reads “Giants hurler (2010 champs) / Beach Boys vocalist on ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ (#1 in 1965).” The answer of course is BRIANWILSON. Brian did sing backup on “Help Me, Rhonda.” Singing lead though was Al Jardine. For a #1 hit with Brian singing lead (at least on the choruses), there’s “I Get Around,” the Beach Boys’ first #1 (1964).

A related post

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

This tip (yesterday’s) is curiously timed. My son Ben and I were shopping on Saturday for a Middle Eastern feast — falafel, Persian salad, and tabbouleh. I asked Ben to get a couple of cucumbers, and he asked how many. I said two, a couple. Ben pointed out that couple might mean “a few,” “several,” not necessarily two. I offered what I thought was a case-closing example: “When you say ‘They’re a nice-looking couple,’ how many people do you mean?”

But here comes Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, one of two thus far for couple:

As a noun, ‘couple’ has traditionally denoted a pair. (As a verb, it always denotes the joining of two things.) But in some uses, the precise number is vague. Essentially, it’s equivalent to “a few” or “several.” In informal contexts this usage is quite common and unexceptionable — e.g.:

“Those most anxious should practice at least once in front of a couple of people to be comfortable with an audience.” Molly Williamson, “Unlocking the Power of Public Speaking,” Milwaukee J. Sentinel, 15 Sept. 2002, at L12.

“This slick, cozy shop, which underwent a makeover a couple of years back, is a hybrid of takeout and restaurant.” A.C. Stevens, “Why Cook Tonight?” Boston Herald, 15 Sept. 2002, Food §, at 65.
So Ben has Bryan Garner in his corner. It’s several against one!

And then there’s a couple three, which I call an “Illinoism.”

Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2009), offers a free Usage Tip of the Day. You can sign up at Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly site (though I prefer to type out numbers up to ninety-nine).

Related posts
All Bryan Garner posts
Need worked (An Illinoism)

Farley Granger (1925–2011)

From the Los Angeles Times:

Farley Granger, a handsome young leading man during Hollywood's post-World War II era who was best known for his starring roles in the Alfred Hitchcock suspense thrillers Strangers on a Train and Rope has died. . . .

Looking back on his career in a 2007 interview with the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, Granger said: “It was just luck. And stubbornness. I wasn’t going to listen to anyone saying you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I didn’t care about that. I was just going to go my own way. I was just determined to live my own life.”
Farley Granger was also terrific in the relatively unknown film Side Street. I think I might have first heard of him in Tom Waits’s song “Burma Shave”: “He kinda looked like Farley Granger, with his hair slicked back.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Write five sentences on my house

Ever since I wrote a post on a few sentences from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Google searches for five sentences (that is, for ready-made homework) have been ending up at Orange Crate Art. Write five sentences on my house is the latest such search.

Kid, if you write even one sentence on my house, I’m gonna call the cops.

Other “five sentences” posts
Bleak House : The cat : Clothes : The driver : Life : Life on the moon : The past (1) : The past (2) : The rabbit : The ship : Smoking : The telephone

Monday, March 28, 2011

“Fanciful ideas rampant”

In 1911, the Coca-Cola Company tested the effects of caffeine on sixteen users and non-users. The test-subjects kept notes:

On Feb. 22, a regular user was caffeine-free: “Felt like a ‘bone head’ all day. My head was dull more than usual.” On Feb. 25, an abstainer was dosed with four grains of caffeine (260 milligrams, the approximate equivalent of a 12-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee): “Gradual rise of spirits till 4:00. Then a period of exuberance, of good feeling. Fanciful ideas rampant.”
They’re rampant here too, though I’ve been nearly caffeine-free for nearly a year — nothing more than a very occasional cup of caf tea and a very, very occasional cup of caf coffee (helpful before watching films with subtitles).

A Century Later, Jury’s Still Out on Caffeine Limits (New York Times)

Call for papers (“Friday”)

The East-Central Illinois Cultural Studies Association Conference’s Music-as-Culture Division’s Pop Music section’s moderators have issued a call for papers on Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” Thus far there are five submissions:

“‘Friday’ and the Production of Adolescence: Ark Music Factory and the Corporate Imperative”

“Black Like ‘We’: Tropes of Alterity and Color in ‘Friday’”

“‘I don’t want this weekend to end’: Diachronicity and Paradox in ‘Friday’”

“In Search of Free Time: Agency, ‘Friday,’ Futurity, Structure”

“Notes Toward a Supreme Weekend: The Suburban Sublime in ‘Friday’”
Won’t you join in? Leave the title of your paper in a comment. Submissions are due by April 1, 2011. Hurry up!

My last thought on “Friday,” which has been stuck in my head for a week: yes, it’s hilariously, deliriously bad. But it participates in the dumb beauty of some of the greatest pop music. The difference between
Kickin’ in the front seat
Sittin’ in the back seat
Sittin’ in my car outside your house
’Member when you spilled Coke all over your blouse?
is a difference in degree, not in kind.

Related listening
Rebecca Black, “Friday” (YouTube)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, March 27, 2011. Click for a larger view.]

A small surprise for the close reader: look who’s driving that tractor-trailer.

Alas, Trixie still rides just inches from the rear windshield.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pocket notebook sighting: The Lodger

[Kitty Langley (Merle Oberson) and Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders): “Oh, is that the legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin?” “Er, no, not yet.”]

The Lodger (dir. John Brahm, 1944) is a beautiful horror film, with stylish cinematography by Lucien Ballard and a brilliant performance by Laird Cregar as the lodger Mr. Slade, aka “The Ripper.”

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Extras : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : The Sopranos : Spellbound

Thursday, March 24, 2011

“I heart my dogs [sic] head”

A new definition for the verb heart has entered the Oxford English Dictionary: “To love; to be fond of. Originally with reference to logos using the symbol of a heart to denote the verb ‘love.’”

My favorite OED citation for the new definition comes from “About Helmet Visor Screws,” a 1984 post in the Usenet group net.cycle. The citation appears to be someone’s signature: “Joe ‘I heart my dogs [sic] head’ Weinstein.”

Numerous news items on heart state that the OED had added the symbol ♥. Not so. It’s a new definition of the verb heart that has been added, as the above quotations make clear. And yes, heart was already a verb.

Joe, wherever you are, welcome to the OED. It’s the OED that added the sic. And OED, rock on.

(Thanks, Daughter Number Three.)

Emoticons with Auto-Tune

Today is Thursday. Thinking about that song got me thinking about Auto-Tune.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New York Times subscription plans

The two most helpful items I’ve found for thinking about New York Times subscription prices:

Digital Subscription Prices Visualized (The Understatement)
A Rule of Thumb: Pricing Should Be Simple (Daring Fireball)

I spend a good deal of time reading the Times online and would be happy to pay to do so. But $5 a week to read the Times on a Mac and iPad seems absurd when a measly $3.10 Monday–Friday print subscription affords the same access. (There is of course no home-delivery in my corner of “east-central Illinois.”) That I’m even thinking twice about whether to sign up is a sign, I think, that the paper’s pricing is off.

“Trapped” (xkcd)

“But everything’s just signals in my sensory cortices! How can I be sure they correspond to an external world?!” The wonderful comic strip xkcd gets all philosophical.

Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011)

Elizabeth Taylor’s son Michael Wilding:

Her remarkable body of work in film, her ongoing success as a businesswoman, and her brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, all make us all incredibly proud of what she accomplished. We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it.
Elizabeth Taylor, legendary actress, dies at 79 (Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Domestic comedy

Texting forth and back:

Rebecca Black is on Jay Leno tonight

But it’s only Tuesday!
Related reading
All domestic comedy posts

(Thanks, Rachel!)

“Get high on honey”

[“Young swingers use Golden Blossom Honey when they want a lift. It’s loaded with nature’s own quick action energy. Try it. You’ll agree Golden Blossom is groovy — on grapefruit, cereal and ice cream.” From Life, October 17, 1969.]

Try it — sure, try it, just once, and pretty soon you’re not just wanting that lift, young lady — you’re needing it, and more and more of it, day after week after month after year. One jar’s too many, and a hundred’s not enough. Golden Blossom’s street names: ace, buzz, sweet thing, yellowbird.

[Ace: as in comb.]

Monday, March 21, 2011

“Taste worth dying for!”

The Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona, seems like an outtake from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Key themes: freedom, self-destruction.

[The spokesman just died.]

The decline of the omnivore

“[T]he coveted creature — known for its sensitivity, inquisitiveness and tendency to congregate around galleries and concert halls — is in decline”: Decline of the Omnivore (Miller-McCune, via Arts & Letters Daily).

I’m grateful to my parents for raising my brother and me as omnivores. Every weekend — or so it seemed — our family went off to a museum or historical site. That was hardly the norm on our Brooklyn block, where our day-trips seemed to provoke amused derision among our neighbors. I remember a well-used copy of Murray Polner and Arthur Barron’s Where Shall We Take the Kids?: A Parent’s and Teacher’s Guide to New York City (1961) sitting around the house. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Garry Wills review

“This book, which was featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, comes recommended by some famous Big Thinkers”: Garry Wills reviews Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age.

For dummies

A Google search that led someone to Orange Crate Art: the mixed up files of Mrs basil e. Frankweiler for dummies. That’s sadder than sparknotes for movies.

If you want to be able to talk and write about From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, read the novel, kid. You’d be a real dummy to cheat yourself by doing otherwise.

A related post
Review: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Friday, March 18, 2011

Olivetti again

[“Time Life Inc. photographer Michael Rougier, taking pictures of passing people trying outdoor typewriter at Olivetti Fifth Ave.” Photograph by Peter Stackpole, 1955. Click for a larger view.]

I found this photograph at Life. But it’s also to be found in the Life Photo Archive, where it’s free for non-commercial use. The 1955 Life feature on the outdoor Olivetti, “A Sidewalk Candid Photos Show,” can be found at Google Books.

This post is for my friend Sara, who should find it very meta.

Another Olivetti post
Q.: “Where are you going to get a typewriter?”

Thursday, March 17, 2011


From the PBS NewsHour:

The House of Representatives approved a measure Thursday to bar federal funding of National Public Radio. The bill also prohibits public radio stations from using federal grant money to pay dues to NPR.

The 228-192 vote came mostly along party lines, with most Republicans backing the proposal and nearly all Democrats opposed. Republicans said it was time for the federal government to get out of the radio business.
All but twelve Republicans voted for the bill: seven voted no, one answered “present,” and four did not vote. No Democrat voted for the bill; seven did not vote. Here’s the roll.

My NPR stations, WILL-AM and -FM, are local treasures. If they were to disappear, I’d have little reason to own a radio. I am sorry but not surprised to see that Congressman Tim Johnson (R, Illinois-15) voted to end federal funding of NPR.

A related post
Going to the meeting (A “town hall meeting” with Tim Johnson)

[If the post title doesn’t ring a bell, see here.]

Words from James Joyce

Nations, like individuals, have their egos.

James Joyce, “Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages” (1907)
I’m half-Irish. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Q.: “Where are you going
to get a typewriter?”

“In front of the Olivetti place on Fifth Avenue. We passed it twice yesterday. Once when you made us walk from the laundromat. And again when we walked from library to library. It’s bolted to a stand outside the building for everyone to use. You know, sort of a sample of their product. It’s free.”

E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967).
The Olivetti showroom stood at 584 Fifth Avenue, between Forty-seventh and Forty-eighth Streets, now the address of a chocolate shop. The outdoor Olivetti seems to have been a longstanding fixture: the New Yorker has brief references to it from 1954 and 1962. Note the modern graphic on the showroom window, lower right.

[Photograph by Michael Rougier, n.d., from Google’s Life Photo Archive. Here’s a photograph of Rougier at work in the showroom.]

Related browsing
A Sidewalk Candid Photos Show (Life, April 11, 1955)
Photographs of the Olivetti showroom
Another photograph of the New York showroom
And one more

Pretty clearly a major inspiration for Apple stores, no?

Review: From the Mixed-up Files
of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Reading someone else’s favorite-book-from-childhood can be an occasion of bafflement, akin to the bafflement one might feel about someone else’s choice in love: what does she see in him?¹ The magic of a favorite book might reside not in what’s visible on the page but in long-nurtured devotion that a grown-up newcomer cannot hope to understand.² E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) though is a book whose magic is easy to see, even through progressive lenses. My wife Elaine Fine loves the novel, and our fellow blogger Bill Madison just wrote about the novel, so I took their enthusiasm as my cue to read the novel. And I’m glad that I did.

Konigsburg’s novel has a premise that should make any right-thinking kid gleeful with excitement: that it’s possible for two children — twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid and her nine-year-old brother James — to live undetected in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Coming in by train from the Connecticut suburbs, Claudia and James discover the anonymity of life in the city, which works entirely to their advantage. They sleep in the museum, eat at the Automat, type (like the poet Frank O’Hara) on a sample Olivetti, and play in Central Park. Claudia is something of a pre-adolescent Holden Caulfield, in flight from daily routine. James and his pockets full of money are along for the ride. Neither child seems overly concerned about the grown-ups’ reactions: Claudia did after all send home a reassuring letter telling her parents not to call the FBI.

Along the way, there are several mysteries, artistic and human, all of which seem beyond easy solving. Claudia learns much about the inevitability of routine and about what it might mean to be “different” — something she desparately longs to be. And sister and brother begin to feel like a team, “a family of two”: even their nicknames for one another, Claude and Jamie, suggest a blurring of the line that might separate girl from boy, sister from brother. And Konigsburg is doing some very sophisticated things with narrative: that’s where Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler comes in.

A particular pleasure of this novel is Konigsburg’s ear for diction and dialogue. Found change? For Claudia and James, that’s income. Bathroom stalls? They’re booths. The sibling dialogue often sounds like a great American screwball comedy. Here Claudia has just told her brother that their destination is not the woods but a museum:

“Let’s get off this bus and on the train, and I’ll tell you about it.”

Once again James Kincaid felt cheated. “The train! Can’t we even hitchhike to New York?”

“Hitchhike? and take a chance of getting kidnapped or robbed? Or we could even get mugged,” Claudia replied.

“Robbed? Why are you worried about that? It’s mostly my money,” Jamie told her.

“We’re in this together. It’s mostly your money we’re using, but it’s all my idea we’re using. We’ll take the train.”

“Of all the sissy ways to run away and of all the sissy places to run away to. . . .” Jamie mumbled.

He didn’t mumble quite softly enough. Claudia turned on him. “Run away to? How can you run away and to? What kind of language is that?” Claudia asked.

“The American language,” Jamie answered. “American James Kincaidian language.”
From the Mixed-up Files is of course still in print. But could it be newly published as a children’s book today, with a nine-year-old who hums a beer jingle, drinks coffee, and cheats at cards? And a twelve-year-old who brings him with her on the lam? I fear that too many publishers would see the novel as a Bad Influence. Hint: it’s a story, one whose most common side-effect might be a burning desire to spend some time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art — during visiting hours.

¹ Also: What does she see in her? What does he see in her? What does he see in him?

² Here I’ll mention my affection for Clifford Hicks’s Alvin’s Secret Code, whose sentences still move me more than forty years after I first read them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Pale King, the first review

Publishers Weekly has what appears to be the first review of David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King (publication date: April 15). I’m awaiting a review copy.

[Pants quietly.]

A Borders executive on Borders

Former Borders executive Mark Evans offers six reasons for Borders’ bankruptcy (via Boing Boing).

A related post
Borders files for bankruptcy

Monday, March 14, 2011


“If you think of every place where there’s wars going on, where there are terrible times, where people are suffering, they always look to music and culture. These are the things they look to for solace”: Carnegie Hall’s JapanNYC goes on.

Newton Minow, fifty years later

Fifty years after “a vast wasteland,” Newton Minow proposes six goals for the next fifty years of communications technology.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Smile Sessions, forthcoming

Billboard reports that The Smile Sessions, to be released this year, will appear in three versions: “a two-CD set, an iTunes LP digital album, and a limited-edition boxed set containing four CDs, two vinyl LPs, two vinyl singles, and a 60-page hardbound book written by Beach Boys historian Domenic Priore.” SMiLE, the unfinished Beach Boys album, music by Brian Wilson, lyrics by Van Dyke Parks, began its legendary life in 1966.

It’s looking like a good year for vinyl singles.

A related post
Another SMiLE?


Back in August 2010, in a post about California Cedar’s revival of the Blackwing pencil, I wrote:

The old Blackwing has been described as charcoal-grey or smoke-grey, but I prefer to think of it as graphite-grey: the Blackwing has the shiny grey look of pencil lead itself.
Graphite-grey: I was (and am) very happy about hitting upon that phrasal adjective, which, as far as I could tell, had never been applied to the Blackwing pencil.

And now California Cedar has announced plans to produce a pencil that more closely resembles the original Blackwing. Here’s the description: “a replica styling of the original Blackwing graphite grey finish.” I’d prefer seeing the hyphen in graphite-grey. But hey, you’re welcome!

I’ll admit to a decided lack of interest in this replica. It’s not the real thing — and ain’t nothing like the real thing, as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell taught us. And the “pre-production” fiasco and subsequent subterfuge accompanying the Blackwing revival last year left me feeling pretty sour about throwing any money Cal Cedar’s way. But I’m sure the new Blackwing will find its way to happy writers.

A related post
The new Blackwing pencil

Friday, March 11, 2011

Red Cross (help Japan)

You can donate online, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

ShelterBox (help Japan)

ShelterBox, an international disaster-relief charity affiliated with Rotary, looks like a good choice if you want to do something for Japan: “We have aid pre-positioned locally and a member of the ShelterBox Response Team stationed in the Philippines enabling an immediate response.”

ShelterBox responding to Japanese earthquake and tsunami (ShelterBox)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What an ancient Greek looked like

An eleven-year-old girl (via Coudal).

The Sharpie Liquid Pencil

Stephen at pencil talk has an excellent review of the far-from-excellent Sharpie Liquid Pencil. I bought a few SLPs last year and was utterly disappointed: this pencil, so-called, writes like an uncooperative ball-point pen, skipping and blobbing. Says Stephen, “It is hard to understand how this product was released to market.”

A related post
Liquid graphite pencils

Yesterday’s vote in Wisconsin

WisconsinEye has video of yesterday’s vote on Special Session Assembly Bill 11. What the newspaper accounts I’ve read don’t make clear is that the vote took place as Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said, repeatedly, that the meeting was a violation of law. Seeing, sad to say, is believing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not so fast

Wisconsin State Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller:

In thirty minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten. Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.
Wisconsin State Senate Passes Anti-Union Bill (TPM)

A related post
Boycott Koch

Recently updated

More details on Van Dyke Parks’s forthcoming single releases.

Word of the day: aegis

The word-of-the-day from Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day is aegis (EE-jis):

noun: Protection, support, guidance, or sponsorship of a particular person or organization.

From Latin aegis, from Greek aigis (goatskin), from aix (goat). Aigis was the name of the shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena in Greek mythology. It was made of goatskin. Earliest documented use: 1704.
The aegis makes a dazzling appearance in Odyssey 22, where it drives those suitors yet unkilled into a terrified frenzy. It appears again in a quieter way at the poem’s end, when Odysseus and the dead suitors’ male relatives come to terms:
ὅρκια δ᾽ αὖ κατόπισθε μετ᾽ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκεν

Παλλὰς Ἀθηναίη, κούρη Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο,

Μέντορι εἰδομένη ἠμὲν δέμας ἠδὲ καὶ αὐδήν.
Do you see the aegis at the end of line three? “Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο” — that’s aegis-holding [αἰγίοχος] Zeus. Pallas Athena [Παλλὰς Ἀθηναίη] has borrowed the keys to the aegis from Dad. In Robert FItzgerald’s 1961 translation:
Both parties later swore to terms of peace
set by their arbiter, Athena, daughter
of Zeus who bears the stormcloud as a shield —
though still she kept the form and voice of Mentor.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A new Van Dyke Parks project

The guy’s on a roll: Van Dyke Parks plans to release five singles, each a collaboration with a visual artist: Frank Holmes (who did the cover art for the Beach Boys’ never-released SMiLE), Sally Parks, Charles Ray, Ed Ruscha, Art Spiegelman, and Billy Edd Wheeler. Says Parks, “We’re calling it Nouveau Niche."

[I know: that’s six artists.]

Update, March 9: Some more information, from Van Dyke Parks: there will be five 7"-vinyl singles released in 2011. The first: “Dreaming of Paris,” b/w “Wedding in Madagascar,” with art by Ed Ruscha. Another song title: “Katrina,” with art by Sally Parks. A concert at the London Islington Union Chapel (May 16) will launch the series.

[“Backed with,” “b/w”: an expression from the analog past.]

Some recent Van Dyke Parks posts
Van Dyke Parks at Daytrotter
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (1)
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (2)
Van Dyke Parks and Clare and the Reasons, on the radio
Van Dyke Parks and Clare and the Reasons, on the radio again

Domestic comedy

“I think a sandwich tastes better cut on the diagonal.”

Related reading
All “domestic comedy” posts

Monday, March 7, 2011

“Going Up the Country,” corrected

There’s a clever faux-documentary from the future airing on YouTube, The Beatles: 1000 Years Later. A sample: “The Beatles rose to prominence when they traveled from their native Linverton to America to perform at Ed Sullivan’s annual Woodstock Festival.” I thought of this documentary while reading WCBS-FM’s description of Canned Heat’s 1968 song “Going Up the Country”:

It was the heart of the 1960s, when the first wave of Baby Boomers were reading Steinbeck and Kerouac and romanticizing life on the road. Delivered in [Bob] Hite’s warbling, almost embarrassed falsetto — complete with jug and recorder as accompaniment — “Going Up The Country” invites us to “pack [our] leaving trunk” to go to some unknown place where “the water tastes like wine” and jump in and “stay drunk all the time.”

Could there be a more romantic, utopian and fantastic picture of life in the country?
“Steinbeck and Kerouac”: Kerouac, okay, but Steinbeck? I suppose the writer might be thinking of Travels with Charley (1962).

“Hite’s warbling, almost embarrassed falsetto”: Alan Wilson, not Bob Hite, sings on “Going Up the Country.”

“[C]omplete with jug and recorder”: neither jug nor recorder can be heard on the record. There is a flute though, played by Jim Horn. Where do the jug and recorder come from? From this lip-syncing performance, which features beer bottle (not jug) and wooden flute (not recorder).

“Could there be a more romantic, utopian and fantastic picture of life in the country?” Well, yes. Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” comes to mind. What the WCBS-FM writer overlooks in “Going Up the Country” is the urgency of flight:
Now baby, pack your leavin’ trunk, you
    know we got to leave today
Just exactly where we’re goin’ I cannot say
But we might even leave the USA
’Cause there’s a brand-new game I don’t
    want to play
I remember thinking (back in the day) that these lines carried a suggestion of fleeing to Canada to avoid the draft. Perhaps that was the start of my life as a close reader.

Other Canned Heat posts
Alan Wilson
Canned Heat (in east-central Illinois)
Forty years apart (“Bull Doze Blues” and “Going Up the Country”)
Hooker ’n Heat

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Infinite Jest and Mike Huckabee

Hal Incandenza is working out a taxonomy of liars:

“Then there are what I might call your Kamikaze-style liars. These’ll tell you a surreal and fundamentally incredible lie, and then pretend a crisis of conscience and retract the original lie, and then offer you the lie they really want you to buy instead, so the real lie’ll appear as some kind of concession, a settlement with truth. That type’s mercifully easy to see through.”

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).
Hal’s observations might help one to understand Mike Huckabee’s statements earlier this week about Barack Obama’s childhood. Huckabee began with the claim that Obama grew up in Kenya:
“And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. . . . But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.“
And later:
“In my answer, I simply misspoke when I alluded to President Obama growing up in Kenya and meant to say Indonesia.”
And later:
“I do think he [Obama] has a different world view, and I think it is, in part, molded out of a very different experience. Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.”
See? Not Kenya. Indonesia. And madrassas. Obama did not attend a madrassa, and he spent most of his childhood in Hawaii. Scouting and Rotary, by the way, are alive and well there, as they are in Indonesia and Kenya. Mercifully easy to see through? I hope so.

As Andrew Sullivan observes, Huckabee is “Palin without the figure.”

Related reading
Huckabee’s “Kenya” clarification (Washington Post)
Huckabee: Obama Was Raised in Kenya (Mother Jones)
Gerakan Pramuka Indonesia (Scouting in Indonesia)
Kenya Scouts Association
Pramuka Indonesia (Wikipedia)
Rotary Clubs vs Madrassas (The Daily Dish)
Rotary Clubs vs Madrassas, Ctd (The Daily Dish)
Rotary Clubs vs Madrassas, Ctd (The Daily Dish)
Rotary in Indonesia (Rotary First 100)
Rotary in Kenya (Rotary District 9200)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Semi-mistaken identity

Not only was I mistaken for a librarian by a public-library patron this afternoon; I also answered that patron’s question to her satisfaction, a question that the patron asked knowing that I was not a librarian.

[I’m still not a librarian.]

Remediation in community colleges

The New York Times reports on remediation in community colleges:

The knowledge gap at community colleges is increasingly being recognized as a national problem. About 65 percent of all community college students nationwide need some form of remedial education, with students’ shortcomings in math outnumbering those in reading by 2 to 1 . . . .

Nationwide, as at CUNY, fewer than half of students directed to take one or more remedial classes — “developmental education” is the term administrators prefer — complete them.
The saddest thing in this article is the lament of a student newly aware of his deficits in mathematics, reading, and writing: “‘Throughout high school, I was a good math student, and to find out that it was my lowest grade of all three was really surprising.’”

Friday, March 4, 2011

A junkie’s pockets

[Click for a larger view.]

Clockwise from the left, the contents of Professor Darcy’s pockets: matches, Life Savers, uncanceled stamp torn from an envelope (?), dip pen (?), pocket notebook, pencil, coin, Camel cigarette pack, key, coins, penknife, keys. The professor is also a junkie. Seeing these 1933-things on the screen just sends me.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1933) is a stylish pre-Code horror film in glorious two-color Technicolor. Lots of snappy patter, much of it from Fay Wray. If you know her only from King Kong, as I did, you’ll find this film a surprise.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Extras : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : The Sopranos : Spellbound

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Errors in New York Times crossword clues are rare. There’s one in today’s puzzle: 60-Across, “Gilbert       , author of A Void, a 290-page novel without the letter E.”

Gilbert Adair is not the author of A Void (1994); Georges Perec is. Adair translated Perec’s novel La disparition (1969) from French to English. Translating sans e a novel sans e is no ordinary feat of translation, but Perec is the author, as I’m sure Adair would be the first to say.

[The capitals in the post title? Not shouting, just a convention with crossword answers.]

Random Exhibit Title Generator

“Apposite Banality: The Dysfunction of the Local”: just one of many titles from the Random Exhibit Title Generator (via Coudal).

See also Write Your Own Academic Sentence.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

For Infinite Jest readers only

“We think 2011 is clearly going to be the year of iPad 2,” Mr. Jobs said.

Some Infinite Jest posts
Attention : Description : Loveliness : “Night-noises” : Novelty : Romance : Sadness : : Telephony : Television

FeedBurner problems

My FeedBurner stats this morning show a drop from 7,389 readers to 223. I’m guessing that the other 7,166 have been put to work sorting stacks of recently lost Gmail.

Update, March 3: FeedBurner is working again. Welcome back, readers. Welcome, new readers, too.

[FeedBurner too is a Google service.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, March 2, 2011.]

Today’s Hi and Lois may be sending dozens of people to their dictionaries, which will confirm that phooey is spelled with “a” ph, or a p and an h. Ditto, you were right.

The Oxford English Dictionary reports that phooey first appeared in print in a caption (for a cartoon perhaps?) in the 1919 Sandusky Star-Journal: “Phooey! That’s old stuff — she told me pers’n’ly that all of them ‘sweet patootie’ letters was forged.”

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Weather, continued

The sun is out, way out, making my earlier weather post passé.

[Insert imprecations here.]


Nobody does anything about the weather, but everybody talks about it. They talk behind its back, in terms unflattering and, I’m sorry to say, even coarse.

Today’s March weather looks no different from yesterday’s February — “the dirty month of February,” Jane Austen called it. The calendar shows the same muddy page.

[Insert imprecations here.]