Saturday, August 31, 2013

Domestic comedy

“I think the puppies represent dogs.”

Related reading
Other domestic comedy posts
Other dream posts

[I dreamed that we were getting a beagle puppy. We were looking at a litter of four. I must stop reading Peanuts before bedtime.]

Friday, August 30, 2013

Manson H. Whitlock (1917–2013)

The typewriter repairman Manson H. Whitlock died earlier this week at the age of ninety-six. He was the last of four brothers whose father opened a bookstore in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1899. The store also sold typewriters. Whitlock was working until late June and may have been the world’s oldest typewriter repairman.

At oz.Typewriter, Robert Messenger has assembled, with the help of John Lambert, an extraordinary trove of materials related to Whitlock’s life and work: advertisements, newspaper articles, photographs. They offer glimpses of a gone world, when college students could store their typewriters for their summer: “Storage free if you have your machine cleaned and adjusted at our standard rates.”

Manson Whitlock’s 2010 interview with the Yale Daily News is a delight.

Related posts
Manson H. Whitlock, typewriter repairman
Manson H. Whitlock in the news

Jack DeJohnette in Chicago

Jack DeJohnette
Special Legends Edition Chicago
Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Chicago Jazz Festival
August 29, 2013

Roscoe Mitchell, soprano and sopranino
    saxophones, baroque flute, bass recorder
Henry Threadgill, alto saxophone, bass flute
Muhal Richard Abrams, piano
Larry Gray, bass and cello
Jack DeJohnette, percussion

“Chant” (Mitchell)
“Jack Five” (Abrams)
[Unidentified composition]
“The Museum of Time” (DeJohnette)
“Leave, Don’t Go Away” (Threadgill)
[Unidentified composition]

Jack DeJohnette has long been leading groups under the Special Edition name. For this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, he assembled an Edition with an AACM slant: Muhal Richard Abrams is a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, established in Chicago in 1965; Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill are both founding members of the group, which might be described as an effort in musical self-determination and self-sufficiency. Last night’s performance was far from what a tradition-minded listener might call “jazz”: the music was often atonal; solos were almost non-existent. The music might be better understood as a set of dialogues and interludes: piano accompanying drums; saxophone accompanying saxophone; one instrument giving way to another. Where was the beat? It was everywhere, pulsing and shifting and changing colors.

The most compelling moments in last night’s music, for me: the two-saxophone intensity and swirling piano of “Chant,” whose repeated scalar figures sounded like calls to prayer or dark omens; the bass flute/bass recorder/cello chamber music of the third, unannounced composition; the Ellington and Mingus overtones and exotica in “The Museum of Time”; and the raucous encore, with Mitchell lifting his soprano almost straight above his head. DeJohnette was endlessly responsive to his fellow musicians. To use an Ellington phrase, he put the pots and pans on, all of them, coloring and commenting with sticks and mallets and even a microphone (held above and below cymbals to produce a raspy hum). But the secret hero of the night was Larry Gray, the one musician without an AACM connection, who is as capable on cello as on bass, and who locked eyes and minds with DeJohnette to create the most solid of foundations. Gray’s authority made me think of Malachi Favors, bassist for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and that’s as great a compliment as I can offer.

A note on production values: A video screen behind and above musicians evidently makes it impossible for me to pay attention to musicians. I felt like an idiot watching them on the screen, yet there I was, watching the screen. The sad part: one couldn’t not watch the screen, which overpowered the human beings on the stage. It was impossible to look at them without seeing it.

Icing on the last night’s cake — or, really, a second cake: Elaine and I met up with the owner and sole proprietor of Music Clip of the Day for conversation and coffee and tea. He’s added some music to many of my days.


January 20, 2015: Made in Chicago, a recording of this perfomance, is scheduled for March 10 release on ECM.

Related reading and viewing
Jack DeJohnette on Muhal Richard Abrams
Jumbotron Jam (Elaine’s take)
Photographs of last night’s concert, by Robert Loerzel

If it’s Friday, this must be Poland

[Mark Trail, August 30, 2013.]

In days to come, Mark will be relieved to learn that it is not a rifle and it is not close. It is a Polish city, many miles from the Lost Forest National Forest.

Related reading
All Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Seamus Heaney (1939–2013)

The Irish Times has substantial coverage of the life and work of Seamus Heaney. You might begin here.

Many years ago in Boston, I heard Heaney give a great lecture about poetry and language. I remember it as drawing heavily on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I met Heaney once in the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge and thanked him for that lecture. He was checking on how his books were doing. Just a couple of years ago, I saw a man I thought was Heaney in the Harvard Square Peet’s. He had to be Heaney. I took the chance and said hello, but he wasn’t. The strange thing: whoever this man was, he knew Heaney, as he said, and was editing a Heaney manuscript. On his table, an envelope with Heaney’s return address.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

One more thing about The Butler

The presidents are a mixed bag. Kennedy (James Marsden) and Johnson (Liev Schreiber) barely leave an impression. John Cusack is pretty plausible as Nixon in ruins. Alan Rickman is semi-plausible as Reagan. Robin Williams bears a greater resemblance to Truman than to Eisenhower, which made for some confusion in my viewing party.

My choice for Eisenhower: William H. Macy, with the right bald cap.

Related posts
Five things about The Butler
Six more things about The Butler (Musical Assumptions)

Five things about The Butler

Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo are brilliant actors. I see three Oscar nominations right there.

I feared a Mr. Holland’s Opus: the backdrop-of-history syndrome. But I had nothing to fear. The man was, after all, working in the White House, and for a long time.

Clarence Williams III (Mod Squad, anyone?) now looks like his grandfather, the pianist and composer Clarence Williams.

The character of Louis Gaines (Oyelowo) owes something to John Lewis, just as Elaine intuited.

The film seems to carry a message for young African-Americans concerning a certain racial epithet. Knowing what Winfrey thinks about that word, I could be seeing things. But I don’t think so.

And one more: We watched the film in a nearly empty theater — two other pale people and us. When Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign became part of the storyline, our fellow moviegoers began to mutter and did not stop. They left right away. We stayed through the credits, as we almost always do.

Elaine has written a post with six more things about The Butler.

[The awkward full title: Lee Daniels’ The Butler.]

A yucky Wednesday on NPR

I winced a little when I heard a guest on the PBS NewsHour address Judy Woodruff and company as “you guys.” And I winced again this morning when I heard David Brancaccio on NPR’s Morning Edition report that air quality in China is better today after “a yucky Wednesday.” Do high levels of pollution count as “yucky”? Maybe in third grade.

Come on, you guys. It’s called diction.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A college exit-exam

More evidence that a degree in itself is not enough:

Next spring, seniors at about 200 U.S. colleges will take a new test that could prove more important to their future than final exams: an SAT-like assessment that aims to cut through grade-point averages and judge students’ real value to employers.

Are You Ready for the Post-College SAT? (Wall Street Journal)
The Collegiate Learning Assessment (the focus of the article and not an SAT-like multiple-choice test) plays an important part in the research that informs Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. The link goes to my review.


3:25 p.m.: The link to the WSJ article doesn’t work. What works: search for the article via Google, and you can get to the article from the search results.

Thank you, Bryan Garner

From Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, on “thank you” and responses to it:

“Thank you” remains the best, most serviceable phrase, despite various attempts to embellish it or truncate it: “thanking you in advance” (presumptuous and possibly insulting), “thank you very much” (with a trailer of surplusage), “thanks” (useful on informal occasions), “many thanks” (informal but emphatic), *“much thanks” (archaic and increasingly unidiomatic), *“thanks much” (confusing the noun with the verb), and *“thanx” (unacceptably cutesy).
I prefer “thank you.” My favorite embellishment, for use on the telephone when appropriate: “Thank you, you’ve been really helpful.” More:
The traditional response to “Thank you” is “You’re welcome.” Somehow, though, in the 1980s, “You’re welcome” came to feel a little stiff and formal, perhaps even condescending (as if the speaker were saying, “Yes, I really did do you a favor, didn’t I?”). As a result, two other responses started displacing “You’re welcome”: (1) “No problem” (as if the speaker were saying, “Don’t worry, you didn’t inconvenience me too much”); and (2) “No, thank you” (as if the person doing the favor really considered the other person to have done the favor). The currency of “You’re welcome” seems to diminish little by little, but steadily. Old-fashioned speakers continue to use it, but its future doesn’t look bright.
Suddenly I am an old-fashioned speaker.

What do you say when someone says “thank you”?

[Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009), offers a free Usage Tip of the Day. You can sign up at Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly zone. The Garner asterisk marks an “invariably inferior form.”]

August 28, 1963

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Disruptive, a pernicious cliché

In The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz suggests that the business buzzword disruptive (brainchild of Harvard professor Clayton Christensen) is “the most pernicious cliché of our time.”

The “unsavory habits of mind” that Shulevitz sees in those who celebrate “disruption”: “an almost utopian faith in technology,” an assumption that “all public or nonprofit institutions are sclerotic and unable to cope with change,” and a distaste for genuine democracy. This brand of disruption operates from the top down.

A spelling of the future

[As seen at a highway rest stop. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

My definition: “a misspelling so strange that it must be traveling backward in time to give us a foretaste of our language’s evolution.” Think of it as tomorrow’s spelling today.

You out there: have you seen off  for of?

Other spellings of the future
Aww : Bard-wired : now

Monday, August 26, 2013

Russell Jacoby on Stanley Fish

Russell Jacoby writes about Stanley Fish and the fate of the humanities:

He closes one of his defenses of the humanities with a little vignette of an encounter with a university lobbyist. He offers to accompany the fellow to the next legislative committee investigating the university. But the lobbyist has doubts about Fish’s conduct and asks, “Will you behave?” Fish concludes his chapter, “Some people never learn.” The self-satisfaction is palpable — as is the self-mystification. The unexciting truth is that Stanley Fish has always behaved. He has always bravely defended self-interest. With friends like him, the humanities needs no enemies.

Stanley Fish Turned Careerism Into a Philosophy (The New Republic)
Related posts
Fish on Strunk and White
Review of Fish’s How to Write a Sentence

In-house shoeshines

“Inside New York’s investment houses, a vestige of old Wall Street lives on”: Shoeshines Keep Wall Street in the Black (or Maybe Brown) (The New York Times).

The law firm where I proofread in my student days had an in-house barber — for lawyers only, of course.

Aaron Draplin on “good enough”

Graphic designer Aaron Draplin, interviewed at Creative South 2013, in Columbus, Georgia:

“I never indulge in any of this crap where it’s just good enough. Probably lose my ass on like fees and stuff, but I don’t care. Because I’m not gonna let it go knowing that I could’ve made it better.”
I shared that with my writing students, having asked them last week to think about writing as the work of the 職人 [shokunin], the craftsman, whose overriding concern is getting things right, making things better, not for material gain but for the sake of the work.

My introduction to the shokunin: the beautiful film Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

You can watch a short documentary about Creative South at YouTube. Aaron Draplin comes in at 9:10. The words I’ve quoted begin at 11:59.

[If you’re reading in the United States, you may have seen Draplin’s work without realizing it. Draplin is also one of the minds behind Field Notes.]

Midcult PBS

It was pledge week on PBS, and last night they were flogging Dowton Abbey. The voiceover pledge-driver described the series in this way: “It really is smart TV, but as The New Yorker says —”

And here is the New Yorker sentence that PBS then paraphrased:

the British series, about the aristocratic Crawley family and their titular home, goes down so easily that it’s a bit like scarfing handfuls of caramel corn while swigging champagne.
I think the announcer may have changed scarfing and swigging to eating and drinking.

Dwight Macdonald would have appreciated Downton Abbey as a perfect example of what he called “Midcult”:
A whole middle culture has come into existence and it threatens to absorb both its parents. This intermediate form — let us call it Midcult — has the essential qualities of Masscult — the formula, the built-in reaction, the lack of any standard except popularity — but it decently covers them with a cultural figleaf. In Masscult the trick is plain — to please the crowd by any means. But Midcult has it both ways: it pretends to respect the standards of High Culture while in fact it waters them down and vulgarizes them.

The enemy outside the walls is easy to distinguish. It is its ambiguity that makes Midcult alarming. For it presents itself as part of High Culture. Not that coterie stuff, nothing snobbish inbred so-called intellectuals who are only talking to themselves. Rather the great vital mainstream, wide and clear though perhaps not so deep.

“Masscult and Midcult” (1960)
Funny: in a post earlier this year, I described Downton Abbey as “about as deep as a paper plate.”

Smart but goes down easy; goes down easy but smart: that’s a perfect way to understand Midcult.

Related reading
A handful of Downton Abbey posts

[Macdonald’s essay can be found in Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain (New York Review Books, 2011).]

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Frank Sinatra in Brooklyn

[Frank Sinatra, home again, marveling. Good practice for On the Town. Click for a larger bridge.]

It Happened in Brooklyn (dir. Richard Whorf, 1947) offers nearly two hours’ worth of music and pleasant lunacy. Danny Miller (Sinatra) is a shy Brooklynite and aspiring singer returning home from the war. Jamie Shellgrove (Peter Lawford), a shy English aristocrat and composer, follows Danny to Brooklyn. Anne Fielding (Kathryn Grayson) sings and teaches music at New Utrecht High School. Nick Lombardi (Jimmy Durante), Danny’s friend, works as the school’s janitor and lives in the school’s basement. Yes, his basement has a piano.

One highlight among many: Sinatra singing Mozart.

Early in the film, when we’re still in England, a nurse from Brooklyn (Gloria Grahame) asks Danny why he’s moping around now that he’s recovered from mumps. That’s not like a guy from Brooklyn. Even after seeing his photograph of the bridge and quizzing him on borough landmarks, she still suspects that he’s not the real thing:

“Why aren’t you down at that party like a Brooklyn guy should be — makin’ friends for yourself and for Brooklyn? A Brooklyn guy is a friendly guy.”

“Well, I will be, once I get home. It’s easier in Brooklyn.”

“I don’t care how many photographs of the bridge you got. I don’t care how many names of the streets you know. When I see you out makin’ a friend, then I believe you’re from Brooklyn.”
One of the most revealing things about this film is that it has nothing to say about war. The subject never comes up, though Danny is in uniform in many early stateside scenes. The film’s tagline, as seen on this poster: “HAPPY songs! HAPPY stars! HAPPY romance!” What war? This film is dedicated to the pleasures of forgetting, at least for an hour and forty-four minutes.

[The director? Brother to the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf.]

More Salinger

The forthcoming biography and documentary film Salinger claim that new work will appear “as early as 2015”:

One collection, to be called The Family Glass, would add five new stories to an assembly of previously published stories about the fictional Glass family, which figured in Mr. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and elsewhere, according to the claims, which surfaced in interviews and previews of the documentary and book last week.

Another would include a retooled version of a publicly known but unpublished tale, “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” which is to be collected with new stories and existing work about the fictional Caulfields, including Catcher in the Rye. The new works are said to include a story-filled “manual” of the Vedanta religious philosophy, with which Mr. Salinger was deeply involved; a novel set during World War II and based on his first marriage; and a novella modeled on his own war experiences.

Film on J. D. Salinger Claims More Books Coming (The New York Times)
The most convincing evidence that there is a there there: neither Salinger’s widow nor his son will comment on these claims.

Related reading
All Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Recently updated

Completely Naked City There’s a release date.

Friday, August 23, 2013


[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

I’ve been sharing an office with them for, like, ever, along with the face in the floor.

[If you’re reading in Go Read, well, you’re missing this post too. There’s a problem.]

Michael Oakeshott on higher education

From the philosopher Michael Oakeshott (1901–1990):

A university will have ceased to exist when its learning has degenerated into what is now called research, when its teaching has become mere instruction and occupies the whole of an undergraduate’s time, and when those who came to be taught come, not in search of their intellectual fortune but with a vitality so unroused or so exhausted that they wish only to be provided with a serviceable moral and intellectual outfit; when they come with no understanding of the manners of conversation but desire only a qualification for earning a living or a certificate to let them in on the exploitation of the world.

“The Idea of a University” (1950), in The Voice of Liberal Learning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

Rick Perlstein on higher education

Rick Perlstein on the life and death of educational opportunity:

The history of American higher education over the twentieth century is an extraordinary one, the story of the creation of a powerhouse set of institutions that are the envy of the civilized world. . . .

Now all we seem to care about is reproducing the managerial class.

On the Death of Democratic Higher Education (The Nation)
Everything in this essay hits home.

Thanks to Matt Thomas at Submitted for Your Perusal, who pointed me to this piece.

King and Paar

“Now my mother was a terrible cook . . . probably the worst cook in the world. If I see anywhere a sign, ‘Pies — The Kind Mother Used To Make,’ I get chills all over me.”

At One Foot in Oz, Margie King Barab tells the story of Alexander King’s first appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. There’s also a Billy Crystal connection. This is history, folks.

A related post from One Foot in Oz
Who Is Alexander King?

[I feel both happy and unhappy about not hitting upon what might seem like the inevitable title for this post: Jack and King.]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Whither tuition?

“You think all those comedy hypnotists are stopping by out of the kindness of their hearts?” A report on what tuition really pays for.

[They left out the foam parties.]

Use less words

From the New York Times public editor’s journal, on how to refer to Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning:

Yipes. Perhaps only the copyeditors themselves, not those who supervise them, are expected to know that one uses fewer words, not less.

[The Times Manual of Style and Usage recommends copy editor; Garner’s Modern American Usage recommends copyeditor.]

Lexikaliker at 1,000

At Lexikaliker, Gunther has just posted his thousandth post, with a photograph of an 1888 inscription from a house in Bad Doberan, Germany:

Der Eine betracht’s
Der Andre verlacht’s
Der Dritte veracht’s
Was macht’s
Google Translate turns that into gibberish. A plausible idiomatic translation might read:
One contemplates it
Another laughs at it
The third despises it
Who cares
Reading these words, I thought I was facing some impossible riddle. But no. It is the building itself:

[The American Architect and Building News 28 (1890).]

Thank you, Gunther, for this post and so many other thought-provoking posts and beautiful photographs. Hurra!

[“Hurra”: German for “Hurrah.”]

Word of the day: presbyopia

I went in for my biennial eye exam this week and learned that I have presbyopia. No, I am not seeing the world through Presbyterian eyes — though in a way I am.

The Oxford English Dictionary makes presbyopia sound dire:

Deterioration of near vision occurring with advancing age, owing to increasing rigidity of the lens of the eye with reduction in the power of accommodation.
The New Oxford American Dictionary sounds not nearly as bad:
farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, occurring typically in middle and old age.
My optometrist’s explanation was closer to the NOAD. Presbyopia is a matter of becoming more farsighted with age. It’s a fact of life, and it’s why the gods gave us progressive lenses.

But why presby-? My optometrist said it had to do with age. Sure enough: presbyopia joins the Greek πρέσβυς [presbus, “old man”] and the “post-classical Latin -opia or its etymon ancient Greek -ωπία.” The ending -opia (“forming terms denoting visual disorders and abnormalities,” such as ambylopia and myopia) joins -op, “eye” and the suffix -ia. That suffix, used in both Greek and Latin, turns up everywhere — Australia, dahlia, mania. And, says the OED, “in French -ia became -ie, whence Middle English -ie, English -y.” Nouns ending in -ency, -ography, and -ology owe their -y to the ancient -ia.

And why Presbyterian? The OED explains:
In Presbyterian Churches no higher order than that of presbyter or elder is recognized, the “bishop” and “elder” . . . of the New Testament being held to be identical. All elders are ecclesiastically of equal rank; but, in their function in the church, while some are “ruling and teaching elders” or “ministers,” others are only “ruling elders” (popularly called “lay elders,” but erroneously, since all elders are ordained or “in orders”).
I’m glad I went in for my eye exam and got these things cleared up.

[All quotations and examples are from the OED.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cedar Walton (1934–2013)

“Mr. Walton sat in with Charlie Parker, spent a year accompanying the singer Abbey Lincoln, and recorded with both John Coltrane and, much later, the saxophonist Joshua Redman. . . . Yet he probably remained best known for his early work with one of the most influential incarnations of the Jazz Messengers, the group that the drummer Art Blakey ran as a kind of postgraduate performance academy for rising jazz stars”: Cedar Walton, Pianist and Composer, Dies at 79 (The New York Times).

Two great musical losses in the news today. As the bluesman Skip James is reported to have said when surveying the musical scene, “The old heads are dying off.”

Marian McPartland (1918–2013)

“As the host of Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, an NPR program pairing conversation and duet performances, she reached an audience of millions, connecting with jazz fans and the curious alike”: Marian McPartland, Piano Jazz Host, Has Died (National Public Radio).

Of all the duets Marian McPartland played, my favorites are the ones on a 1973 Halcyon LP with Joe Venuti, The Maestro and Friend, now out of print. I’ll put it on the turntable later today.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Beloit Mindset List, 2017 edition

The Beloit Mindset List is back, with a 2017 edition purporting to map the cultural landscape of eighteen-year-olds entering college this fall. I see three problems with the idea of the Beloit List:

§ The “cultural touchstones” the list claims to collect — in the interest of reminding faculty “to be aware of dated references” — are often mere bits of grit. From this year’s list:

25. Planes have never landed at Stapleton Airport in Denver.

43. Don Shula has always been a fine steak house.
Better scotch those Stapleton Airport analogies, Professor Higginbotham! The kids today won’t “dig” them.

And yes, as the list points out — rather crassly, I think — “Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle, and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.” Which means — what, exactly?

§ The list includes items that would be difficult or sometimes impossible to establish as having a basis in fact. For instance:
5. “Dude” has never had a negative tone. [Really? Dude!]

9. Gaga has never been baby talk. [Lady Gaga’s first CD appeared in 2008.]
§ The list fosters the belief that if it hasn’t happened in your lifetime, it isn’t real and you can’t be expected to know about it. It patronizes young adults while purporting to explain them to their elders. I will quote what I wrote in 2010:
What bothers me about the Beloit list involves some unspoken assumptions about reality and young adults. The list reads like a nightmare-version of the proposition that begins Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921): “Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.” “The world is all that is the case” — all that is the case, that is, in the life-experience of a hypothetical eighteen-year-old American student.
Thinking that your reality begins with your year of birth: that’s the most terrible mindset of all.

Previous Beloit List posts
2010 : 2011 : 2012

[“Orange Crate Art: Expressing skepticism about the Beloit Mindset List since 2010.”]

Sales associates (Route 66)

You never know who will show up in an episode Route 66. Here are Bibi Osterwald, Soupy Sales, and Dawn Nickerson, in one of the show’s loopiest episodes, “This Is Going to Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You” (aired February 14, 1964). If you scroll the screen really fast, you will feel that Soupy Sales is turning his head to look at you, just as he did in 1964.

I know Bibi Osterwald best as Boothy in The World of Henry Orient (1964). I know Soupy Sales as a funny, funny figure from local children’s television when I was a boy. Think of him as the anti-Fred (Rogers, that is). (Here’s a complete show from 1965, in three parts.) Dawn Nickerson has disappeared from film and television, but she appears to be on Facebook.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be a Sales effort without pies.

[Sales and Martin Milner.]

Elaine and I watched all 116 episodes of Route 66 this spring and summer, starting in April and ending in July. What a great television series: terrific writing, terrific acting, terrific cinematography, an amazing array of guest stars, and locations, locations, locations. Naked City is the only other show in its class.

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Albert Murray (1916–2013)

From The New York Times: “Albert Murray, an essayist, critic and novelist who influenced the national discussion about race by challenging black separatism, insisting that the black experience was essential to American culture and inextricably tied to it, died on Sunday at his home in Harlem.”

From Murray’s The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture (1970):

when the Negro musician or dancer swings the blues, he is for fulfilling the same fundamental existential requirement that determines the mission of the poet, the priest, and the medicine man. He is making an affirmative and hence exemplary and heroic response to that which André Malraux describes as la condition humane. Extemporizing in response to the exigencies of the situation in which he finds himself, he is confronting, acknowledging, and contending with the infernal absurdities and ever-impending frustrations inherent in the nature of all existence by playing with the possibilities that are also there. Thus does man the player become man the stylizer and by the same token the humanizer of chaos; and thus does play become ritual, ceremony, and art; and thus also does the dance-beat improvisation of experience in the blues idiom become survival technique, esthetic equipment for living, and a central element in the dynamics of U. S. Negro life style.
The New Yorker has unlocked (for how long?) a 1996 profile of Murray by Henry Louis Gates Jr.: “King of Cats.”

[I have to say it: I have little use for the Albert Murray-Stanley Crouch-Wynton Marsalis idea of jazz, promulgated by means of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Ken Burns PBS series Jazz. There: I said it.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sketching suspects

“The last thing I want in a room when I have a trauma victim is a machine.” In the New York City Police Department, the Artist Unit still sketches suspects by hand: Fighting Crime With Pencil and Paper (The New York Times).

Faber-Castell Type Cleaner

A second box has a large price sticker with the code 11983: January 1983? November 9, 1983? I bought both boxes, at a much later date, from an office-supply store that was surrendering, finally, to time’s slow-chapt power. I had no need for Faber-Castell Type Cleaner: I just wanted to give these items a home.

The packaging design seen here — Helvetica type, a black-and-white photograph, a colored flap — was once found on a range of Faber-Castell products. I have a box of Mongol pencils with brown flaps. Blackwing Pages has photographs of similar boxes for Blackwing pencils, light blue flaps and then brown. I don’t know what other products wore green.

Looking at the photograph on this package leaves me convinced of something that I’ve suspected ever since getting an iPhone: that the jumping-up keys on the iPhone’s keyboard are more than practical, visual feedback. I think that they’re yet another bit of skeuomorphic design, meant to suggest the movement of a typewriter’s typebars. I have no evidence, but it’d be difficult to persuade me otherwise.

[This post is the fourteenth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real.]

Other Museum of Supplies exhibits
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27 : Eagle Turquoise display case : Eagle Verithin display case : Fineline erasers : Illinois Central Railroad Pencil : A Mad Men sort of man, sort of : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : Moore Metalhed Tacks : National’s “Fuse-Tex” Skytint : Pedigree Pencil : Real Thin Leads : Rite-Rite Long Leads : Stanley carpenter’s rule

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Domestic comedy

Watching The Food Network:

“Why is peperoni spelled with only one p?”

“Maybe it is.”

[Simultaneously reach for iPhones.]

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Fran Lebowitz on Mayor Bloomberg

The New York Times asked prominent New Yorkers to evaluate the Bloomberg years. From Fran Lebowitz’s evaluation:

One of the worst things about Michael Bloomberg being the mayor is that because he was so rich, he didn’t have to appeal to what he kept calling the “special interest groups” — which, you know, I would call the “citizens.”

I don’t think public school teachers are a special interest group; I don’t think cops are a special interest group; I don’t think tenants are a special interest group. Billionaires are a special interest group. So when he says that anyone who is running for mayor is going to have to make concessions to these special interest groups — that is what democracy is. Not issuing bans and demands.
[Watch the Times video clip, which differs from the printed matter below it. It surprises me that only two of the eight interviewees mention or allude to stop-and-frisk.]

Friday, August 16, 2013

Todd McLellan, taking things apart

Todd McLellan, disassembler of objects, has a book of his work: Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living. Here from his website is the page devoted to disassembled objects. The accordion is especially breathtaking, or mindblowing.

[I noticed McLellan’s Old Typewriter some time ago.]

How to salute a professor

[Genuine, unretouched Google search that brought a seeker to Orange Crate Art.]

I can think of three explanations for wanting to know how to salute a professor in an e-mail:

1. The searcher is a student at a military academy.

2. The searcher has English as a second language.

3. The searcher, intent on observing all formalities, is thinking in terms of salutation, a term better reserved for dowdy old letter-writing.

I am glad though to see someone asking the question rather than beginning with Hey, or with nothing at all: I am a student in your class, &c. Good titles for poems there: “Poem Beginning with Hey,” “Poem Beginning with Nothing at All.”

Everything this searcher seeks can be found in this world-famous Orange Crate Art post: How to e-mail a professor. Am I tooting my own horn? I guess. Toot. Toot. I am tooting softly, with a Harmon mute.

The word salute reminds me of a startling essay-starter that Claire Hahn of Fordham University shared with our class one day: “Chaucer stood with one foot firmly planted in the Middle Ages, and with the other he saluted the dawn of the Renaissance.” She loved it.

Which in turn reminds me of something my friend Rob Zseleczky was fond of recalling: someone asking him a professor at a party, “Milton: didn’t he write Chaucer?”

But my favorite use of the word salute is this one:

[I’ve corrected the anecdote, as per Luanne Koper’s memory: it was Rob’s story, but the question was asked of a professor.]

A teaching thought

From an interview with novelist John Williams, who is speaking of William Stoner, the professor protagonist of Williams’s 1965 novel Stoner:

The important thing in the novel to me is Stoner’s sense of a job. Teaching to him is a job — a job in the good and honorable sense of the word. . . . [I]t’s the love of the thing that’s essential. And if you love something, you’re going to understand it. And if you understand it, you’re going to learn a lot. It all grows out of the love of the thing. The lack of that love defines a bad teacher. And there are a lot of bad teachers.
Stoner is yet another New York Review Books reprint of my acquaintance. More than that: it’s a beautifully written, beautifully felt novel. Every element in its plot seems inevitable, yet everything in the novel is a surprise. I recommend Stoner with great enthusiasm.

In May, NPR reported that Stoner was then a bestseller through much of Europe.

[Bryan Woolley’s “An Interview with John Williams” appeared in the Denver Quarterly 20.3 (1985–86). A portion of the interview is quoted with mistakes in the introduction to the 2003 NYRB volume. I’ve gone back to the source.]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stevie Staple-Freak

You can use the idea of “youth culture,” or your vague understanding of that idea, to sell most anything. Witness this 1969 advertisement: “Get high on honey.” And witness the advertisement to the left, in which Stevie Staple-Freak helps the next president. If Stevie weren’t grooving on presidential candidates, his long hair, plaid bells, and two-tone shoes would be sufficient to mark him as a cool guy. He could have gone to high school with Greg Brady.

I wrote youth culture, not counter-culture : Stevie is working within the system, defeating a “radical anarchist” and bringing order from chaos with his Swingline Tot stapler. And yet he’s a freak. And the narrative line here is itself freaky, loopy, wobbly, comix-like. In what television studio do past presidents become future presidents? In what time-frame do Washington and Lincoln debate? And in what material world can one staple the blades of a fan to a hat? It feels like a bad trip to me — not that I would really know.

This ad appeared in the October 1972 Boys’s Life. Click (the ad, not the magazine) for a larger view. And here, if you like, is a Swingline Tot looking just like the one in the ad.

The artist responsible for these illustrations has since moved in other directions. You can read about Nicholas Zann at his website.

Related reading
All stapler posts (Pinboard)

Cool, awesome, and so on

This is cool! This is cool! This is awesome! This is fantastic! Awesome! This is awesome! Gorgeous! Cool! This is great! Fantastic!

More depressing than getting these spam comments: being the one who sends them.

Cesar, Cheri, Imogen, Iona, Rachael, Ramon, Terrell, Thelma, Tilly, Tod: I hope you move on to better things, all of you. Especially you, Tilly. You’re better than this.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Recently updated

Some rocks With more and spiffier rocks and a photograph of Elaine.

Some maps

Worthy browsing: Forty Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World. I esp. like no. 27. No. 17 comes as no surprise.

Some rocks

[Please focus your attention on the lower-left corner.]

For some time now I have been hoping to espy “some rocks,” the mystical triad that appears again and again in Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Scott McCloud explains:

Ernie Bushmiller didn’t draw A tree, A house, A car. Oh, no. Ernie Bushmiller drew THE tree, THE house, THE car. Much has been made of the “three rocks.” Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie’s way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn’t be “some rocks.” Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate “some rocks” but it would be one rock more than was necessary to convey the idea of “some rocks.”
Got it?

This past Sunday, Elaine suggested that we go out in search of some rocks. More than that, really: she was determined to find me some rocks. So I drove, and she surveyed. We passed many an individual rock. We passed many groups of four or more rocks, some of those groups in remarkable disarray. We passed the School, where Children strove / At Recess — in the Ring. We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain. We drove to the outskirts of the outskirts of town, to streets and roads that we found years ago by bicycle. And we found some rocks.

[Some rocks.]

When we drove back into town, Elaine spotted another group, in a parking lot of all places. One U-turn and they were ours.

[Some more rocks.]

Bushmiller’s rocks are rounded and clumped, snow-white on a snow-white lawn. These rocks would never have passed muster in a Nancy strip. But they’re more than I ever expected to find.

Thank you, Elaine.


4:03 p.m.: And here at last is the triad that was just down the street, right under our noses all along, as neat a bunch of rocks as you’d ever want to see:

[Still more rocks.]

And here is the instigator of the quest:

[Elaine Fine, wearing a hat and surrounded by vines.]


January 31, 2018: “Some rocks” appears to have its origin in the lawn outside Ernie Bushmiller’s house in Stamford, Connecticut. From Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s How to Read “Nancy”: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2017):
The rambling grounds offered ample foliage and wildlife, and a “one-hole golf course” that the non-golfer routinely ignored. A small grouping of rounded white rocks cropped out from the closely trimmed lawn outside his studio window and became part of his strip’s iconography.
Other posts, other rocks
Zippy : Zippy : Zippy : Zippy : Zippy : Lassie and Zippy : Conversational rocks

[Nancy panel found via Nancy Panels. Zippy cartoonist Bill Griffith often pays homage to Bushmiller’s rocks.]

Unnecessary clarification

From a local television station: “This is our eight-to-fourteen-day forecast — it looks beyond the seven-day.”

I probably could have managed without the clarification. But thanks!

A related post
Unnecessary repetition

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Van Dyke Parks on Twitter

Van Dyke Parks has taken to the airwaves on Twitter. A sample: “I repeat: obscenity is the hallmark of an ignorant motherfucker.”

Folle stapler

Cooper-Hewitt’s Object of the Day is a Folle 26 stapler. With a special guest appearance by the Folle Classic stapler.

Suddenly my staplers seem — well, inadequate.

Related reading
All stapler posts (Really, ten of them)

Brian Wilson on safari

“I’m sure it’ll beat another boring vacation down in Kokomo.” Brian Wilson celebrates the news: I’m Happy To Say, After 71 Years, I’m Finally Going On A Surfin’ Safari.

Related reading
All Brian Wilson posts (Pinboard)
“Kokomo” : The Beach Boys :: “What a Wonderful World” : Louis Armstrong

Route 66, very, very meta

The final episode of the television series Naked City ran on May 29, 1963. On October 18, 1963, Harry Bellaver (who played Detective Frank Arcaro) and Horace McMahon (Lieutenant Michael “Mike” Parker) appeared in an episode of Route 66, “Where Are the Sounds of Celli Brahms?” It was the first post-City television appearance for each actor. Bellaver plays Shagbag, the publicity man for the Minneapolis Aquatennial. McMahon plays Fenton, the head of an acoustical engineering firm. What makes it all meta: Stirling Silliphant, creator of Naked City, was a co-creator (with Herbert B. Leonard) of Route 66.

[Harry Bellaver as Shagbag.]

[Horace McMahon as Fenton. Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) accidentally stepped on Fenton’s sunglasses. You may wonder if the word accidentally is needed in that sentence. Yes, it is, as Route 66 abounds in acts of male aggression.]

What makes it all very, very meta is this exchange between Shagbag and Tod’s traveling partner Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett):

“Twenty-two years I’ve been doing this festival every summer. So I’m kind of greeted out, smiled out, and backslapped out, you know? There’s another thing: I never wanted to be a publicity man. I always wanted to be a cop.”

“You look like a cop. I keep thinking I’ve seen you somewhere before — as a cop, I mean. New York maybe?”

“Nope. Never left Minnesota.”
“Where Are the Sounds of Celli Brahms?” is one of the zanier Route 66 episodes. It’s no stretch for Bellaver and McMahon, as Naked City abounds in moments of arch comedy.

Related reading, via Pinboard
All Naked City posts
All Route 66 posts

[Attention, Daughter Number Three: you can get many good glimpses of Minneapolis in this episode. Notice the library behind Horace McMahon.]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Recently updated

“Warnings from the Trenches” A teacher decides to return to the classroom.

Texting and driving

I tend not to link to what readers can find (or may have already found) at many other sites. Here’s an exception: Werner Herzog’s short film From One Second to the Next (YouTube).

Living and working in a college town, I often see young adults texting while driving. I see older drivers texting too. Their vehicles tend to drift, rudderless, and it’s obvious that their attention is elsewhere.

Don’t text while you’re driving. Watch the documentary and take the pledge.

In search of lost mail

The other night I lamented to Elaine how long it’s been since I visited the post office. I think I was last there in May. Our post office has no great charm: it occupies a small, newish, nondescript building on the edge of town. A classic-rock station plays in the tiny service area. But still: I like going to the post office. Doing so makes me feel that I’m Getting Things, or at least a thing, Done.

Thus I’ve never understood commercials touting the joys of DIY postage. ”I don’t leave the shop anymore,” one satisfied customer says. It’s nice leave the shop and be engaged with the world (and while you’re at it, help keep a postal clerk or two in a job). Even Langley Collyer left the shop, so to speak, going out at night for food and water.

Years ago, when I was working on my dissertation in Brookline, Massachusetts, it was a great pleasure to leave the shop, so to speak, for a midday walk to Coolidge Corner: the photocopy place, the stationery store, and, often, the post office. I would buy some stamps, or mail a letter. But now we’re full up on stamps, for a long time if not Forever, and no one writes letters. Letters, anyone?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

On e-reading

Nicholas Carr:

E-books are still taking share from printed books, sales of which declined by 4.7 percent in the quarter, but the anemic growth of the electronic market calls into question the strength of the so-called “digital revolution” in the book business.

The flattening of e-book sales (Rough Type)
Verlyn Klinkenborg:
Reading is inherently ephemeral, but it feels less so when you’re making your way through a physical book, which persists when you’ve finished it. It is a monument to the activity of reading. It makes this imaginary activity entirely substantial. But the quiddity of e-reading is that it effaces itself.

Books to Have and to Hold (The New York Times)
[Thanks to Elaine for the first and to Matt Thomas’s Submitted for Your Perusal for the second.]

Eydie Gormé (1928-2013)

[Eydie Gormé and Steve Lawrence with an autograph-seeker. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Eydie Gormé and Steve Lawrence (or Steve and Eydie) were a staple of television in my youth. There they were, co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show. There they were, on yet another variety hour. They offered the kind of entertainment that people like me dismissed as hopelessly square. How intolerant, how smug, and how mistaken.

The New York Times has an obituary.

A YouTube sampler
“Blame It on the Bossa Nova”
“I Wanna Be Around”
“The Man I l Love”
“I Want to Stay Here” (with Steve Lawrence)
“Sabor a mí” (with Los Panchos)
A Sinatra medley (with Steve Lawrence and Frank Sinatra)
What’s My Line? (Gormé is the mystery guest; Lawrence is a panelist)

If you choose one to listen to, I’d suggest “I Wanna Be Around.”

[Gorme? Gormé? On What’s My Line? she signs with an accent.]

Saturday, August 10, 2013

積ん読 [tsundoku]

Today’s Oscar’s Day made me think of a Japanese word I’ve had in my head for a while: 積ん読 [tsundoku]: “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with such other unread books.”

Here is an illustrated definition with wide circulation. I wish I knew how to give proper credit to the artist, known to the general public only as the daughter of a Reddit user named Wemedge.

Blackwing goes to Hollywood

In The Hollywood Reporter, Seth Abramovitch looks at the Blackwing pencil’s place in the entertainment industry and asks, Why Is Hollywood Obsessed with This Pencil? Abramovitch calls the Blackwing “one of the industry’s most valuable — and quickly disappearing — possessions.”

For anyone who wants to learn more about the Blackwing pencil, Blackwing Pages, cited in the article, is the place to go. You might start with this post: No Ordinary Pencil: A Portrait of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

Related reading
All OCA Blackwing posts (Pinboard)

Friday, August 9, 2013


“I said, ‘Oh, look at the cheeseballs,’ not ‘Grab the cheeseballs.’”

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[All dialogue guaranteed overheard.]

47 Federal Street

It’s still there:

The building, looking out over Springfield from the heights of Federal Street, has all the appearance of exactly what it is — an institution for the preservation and diffusion of learning. A fine, simple, gracious, Georgian brick structure, it stands like some university hall or library, surrounded by broad, clipped lawns and shaded by overarching elms. Its very street-number is significant; when the city officials approved plans for the building, they notified the Merriam Company that it might select any odd figure between 31 and 49. The Company chose “47” in allusion to the year 1847, date of publication of the first Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Robert Keith Leavitt, Noah’s Ark, New England Yankees, and the Endless Quest: A Short History of the Original Webster Dictionaries, with Particular Reference to Their First Hundred Years (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1947).
[The book, borrowed from the library, is the source of the image. The book’s circulation slip begins in 1949. Thanks, library.]

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Words of the day

These two fit:

MUGGISH, MUGGY, a. 2. Moist; damp; close; warm and unelastic; as muggy air. [This is the principal use of the word in America.]

From Websterisms: A Collection of Words and Definitions Set Forth by the Founding Father of American English, ed. Arthur Schulman (New York: Free Press, 2008). An entry from Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). Websterisms compiles 500 entries from the dictionary.
I found Websterisms yesterday in a campus bookstore in a nearby city, marked down from $23.95 to $5.00. The bookstore seems to be divesting itself of books: perhaps three-quarters of the stock was shelved as Bargain Books. The non-bargain shelves had the familiar look of the dying bookstore: books turned face front, with six or eight inches of empty space between them. Stranger still: Websterisms had a Daedalus sticker on its cover. I asked two employees what was going on: one was new and had never seen things looking different; another said that people mostly go for New York Times bestsellers. Yes, I wanted to say, but it’s a college bookstore. Or was.

It was a muggy day.

You can search the 1828 dictionary online, courtesy of the University of Chicago.

[The Oxford English Dictionary dates muggish to 1655; muggy, to 1728. Where do the words come from? Muggy comes from mug, “a mist, a fog; light rain or drizzle; a dull, damp, or gloomy atmosphere.” Mug, says the OED is “apparently” the source for muggish too, though the first citation for this meaning of the noun (also 1728) postdates the first citation for the adjective.]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mac shortcut to save as PDF

From MacSparky, a keyboard shortcut to save anything as a PDF. This shortcut will save me tens of seconds each month. The real benefit is what it saves in tedium.

Found via Practically Efficient.

Twenty-first-century OED slips

Bryan Garner posted two photographs — one, two — of the paper slips used by lexicographers at work on the Oxford English Dictionary. In other words, they still use paper slips.

Re: the second photograph: extra credit if you can decipher the word without reading the whole slip. (I couldn’t).

You can see slips from the early days of the OED here.

Art Brown, gone

“The closing of Art Brown also represents one more loss for a way of life — people who write with a fountain pen”: Quo Vadis Blog reports that Art Brown is out of business. The store began in 1924.

Ciseaux - Sécateur - Cisailles

[Click for a larger view.]

I think it must be the best deal in the Museum Shop at the Art Institute of Chicago: The Art of Instruction: 100 Postcards of Vintage Educational Charts, from Chronicle Books. Above, a sample.

[Yes, they’re all in French.]

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Minor bill-paying wisdom

Twice in recent months I’ve forgotten to sign my name to the checks that pay our water bill. I have a good excuse though: the feeling of accomplishment I get from writing our account number on the check’s memo line obliterates all thoughts of further writing. You should know that our account number is a twelve-digit string of 0s, 1s, and 2s. Our water department appears to keep its accounts in base three.

But I digress. Here is the minor wisdom:

When you need to write a check, sign first. That way you’ll never get a call from the water department, or any other department, because your check needs signed.

Reader, is there any minor bill-paying wisdom that you would like to share?

A related post
Minor kitchen wisdom (from me and from readers)

[“Need + past participle” is a regionalism I like.]

Route 66 de Chirico

[From the Route 66 episode “Same Picture, Different Frame,” October 4, 1963.]

Jack Marta, director of photography for ninety episodes of the Route 66, was an ace. Take a look at his IMDb page and you’ll see a career that ran from 1926 to 1980.

Here, for a fleeting moment at the beginning of an episode, is an arresting composition that could have been painted by Giorgio de Chirico.

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thomas Jefferson’s PDA

“Thought you’d like this,” says my son Ben: Jefferson’s Portable Ivory Notebooks. I do. Thanks, Ben.

The Jefferson notebook attracted a flurry of interest in 2005, during the salad days of the hipster PDA. Everything old is new again, and again.

A related post
Thomas Jefferson’s handwriting

[You can buy a brass and ivory notebook here. The pages look like piano keys. Ouch.]

Casting By

Tonight on HBO, Casting By (dir. Tom Donahue, 2012), a documentary film about casting directors. A CNN article describes the film as giving considerable attention to Marion Dougherty, who early in her career cast many episodes of Naked City and Route 66.

As I just learned from The New York Times, it was Dougherty who recommended Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton for All in the Family. What the Times doesn’t mention is that both O’Connor and Stapleton appeared in episodes of Naked City (though not the same episodes); Stapleton was also in an episode of Route 66.

You can watch the film’s trailer online.

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

[As regular readers of Orange Crate Art know, Naked City and Route 66 have become matters of mildly obsessive interest in my household.]

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tom Hanks types

In The New York Times, Tom Hanks writes about life in the dowdy world of typing: “I use a manual typewriter — and the United States Postal Service — almost every day.”

On Louis Armstrong’s birthday

[“Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, posing for adult art students.” Photograph by Gordon Parks. Castle Hill, Massachusetts, July 1955. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901.

WKCR-FM is playing Armstrong all day.

Related reading
All Louis Armstrong posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cool jazz pioneer?

Today’s New York Times crossword puzzle, by Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson, serves in a small way to rewrite music history. The clue for 46-Down: “Cool jazz pioneer.” The answer: TORME.

No, he wasn’t.

The basis for this clue appears to be a paragraph from the Times obituary for Mel Tormé:

But it was as a singer that Mr. Torme made his deepest mark. The critic Will Friedwald, in his book Jazz Singing, cited Mr. Torme as a pioneer of “cool jazz,” spun off from the pop crooning of the day.
Here is what Friedwald wrote:

[Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices From Bessie Smith To Bebop And Beyond (1996).]

What Friedwald says in this passage is not that Tormé was a pioneer of cool jazz, but that his singing reflected that music. Indeed, Friedwald describes the so-called vo-cool style as coming into its own as “cool instrumental jazz,” or what most listeners would call cool jazz, began to fade in popularity.

I ran the clue for 46-Down (minus the rest of the puzzle) past my dad, who defers to no one in his love of Tormé’s music. His guess: YOUNG, as in Lester. I would have guessed DAVIS, as in Miles. As for the characterization of Tormé as a cool jazz pioneer, my dad calls it “a stretch.” Perhaps the characterization results from someone’s attempt to create a novel clue, something other than “Crooner Mel” or “Melodious Mel” or “The Velvet Fog,” all of which have appeared in Times puzzles. Mel Tormé was a terrific singer, and he’s always crossword-worthy. But he wasn’t a pioneer of cool jazz.


Here’s what happened when I wrote to the Times.

Related posts
All crossword posts (Pinboard)
A Mel Tormé story
Tracts, tides, and drunks

[You can search for the history of a word or clue at XWord Info.]

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

Worth at least a three-hour drive: Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, at the Art Institute of Chicago. This exhibition gives us art devoted not to cathedrals, haystacks, and water lilies, but to well-dressed men and women (mostly women). Clothes in these works seem to both mask and reveal the human subject: one is what one wears. The studio portrait gives way to what appears to be a moment of everyday life (titles often carry a year): someone is reading a newspaper, someone is trying on a hat.

For Elaine and for me, the great discovery of this exhibition is James Tissot. His work seems more Pre-Raphaelite than Impressionist. I wish I had realized while still in the museum that Tissot’s The Circle of the Rue Royale depicts Charles Haas, the model for Proust’s Swann:

And yet, dear Charles Swann, whom I knew so little when I was still so young and you so near the grave, it is already because someone whom you must have considered a little idiot has made you the hero of one of his novels that people are beginning to talk about you again, and perhaps you will live on. If people talk so much about the Tissot painting set on the balcony of the Rue Royale Club, where you are standing with Galliffet, Edmond de Polignac and Saint-Maurice, it is because they can see there is something of you in the character of Swann.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003)
The perfect adjunct to the big show: Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy. Both exhibitions run through September 29.

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a gallery-by-gallery tour.]

Friday, August 2, 2013

Some rocks, some rocks

[“How to Keep Cool,” Zippy, August 2, 2013.]

I went a little crazy when I saw the middle panel of today’s Zippy. Because here is what I was planning to post today:

[From the Lassie episode “Rock Hound,” April 5, 1959. Lassie and Boomer Bates’s dog Mike visit a strangely similar memorial.]

If you’re wondering about “some rocks,” it’s a reference to the comic strip Nancy. Scott McCloud explains it, or them.

Please visualize these links in the form of a Venn diagram:

Nancy posts
Nancy and Zippy posts (with more rocks)
Zippy posts

[What is Zippy eschewing? His “usual styrofoam footwear.”]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fragments from a musical

A little-known fact of musical-theater history: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music started as a very different show, What Is the Sound of Music?

From the surviving manuscripts, in black pencil and blue ink on lined yellow 8 1/2" x 11" paper:

A Buddhist nun is torn between her dedication to the liberation of all sentient beings and her love for a wealthy landowner whose family [illegible ] as a governess.

[This sentence appears to be a synopsis of the story.]


“What Is the Sound of Music?”
“This Acolyte’s a Problem in the Sangha”
“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Samsara?”
“The Lonely Lama”
“Climb Ev’ry Mountain in the Quest for
“Old Advice”
“Worldly Vice, Worldly Vice, Every Morning You Greet

[From what appears to be a list of working song titles. Three of the titles are struck through.]


Totally unprepared are you to face a world of Zen,
Timid and shy and scared are you of koans beyond
    your ken.

[Partial lyric, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen Days of Unceasing Meditation”]


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
Brown paper packages tied up with strings,
All are but fleeting, impermanent things.

[Partial lyric, “My Favorite Things Are All Utterly Impermanent”]
Perhaps you too, reader, have come across one or more manuscript fragments. Please, share your discovery in a comment.

[No disrespect to any tradition intended. It’s just fun.]