Archive for the ‘Pop culture’ Category

Lisztomania enters the 21st century

November 13, 2023

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday, “Anti-Ode to Liszt” (slamming his piano transcription of the Ode to Joy section of Beethoven’s 9th symphony), an amazing New Yorker piece by Alex Ross, in print in the 9/11 issue (under a version of the title above), on-line on 9/4 under the title “The Greatest Show on Earth: Liszt defined musical glamour. But pianists now see substance behind the spectacle”.

I was pointed to the Ross piece by Lise Menn in e-mail. Apparently, I saw a thumbnail announcement of it in my New Yorker feed but missed it in scanning through the issue when it came out (I lose days, sometimes more, of attention to the media through medical or personal crises, so these reminders are genuinely helpful to me).

Now, a section from Ross’s synoptic view of Liszt — his life, his career, and his music. From here on, it’s all Ross:


Doctor vs. vampire

October 27, 2023

A wonderful wordless cartoon by Liana Finck from the 10/30/23 issue of the New Yorker presents a  challenge in cartoon understanding: what do you have to know and what do you have to recognize in the cartoon if you’re going to understand what’s going on in it and why that’s funny?

An intense confrontation between a doctor and a vampire: the doctor seeks to repel the vampire. while the vampire, in turn, seeks to repel the doctor; each is shielding their eyes, to avoid seeing the repellent brandished by the other (the crucifix threatening the vampire, the apple threatening the doctor); the confrontation appears to be a standoff

A full appreciation of this comical Mexican standoff requires that you recognize the two characters, one drawn from the real world, the other from a fictive world of popular culture, somehow (absurdly) joined, indeed frozen, in mortal combat — which means recognizing why the crucifix is a threat to the vampire (this requires your knowing some vampire lore) and why the apple is a threat to the doctor (this requires your recognizing the joke’s inspired mainspring, a subtle pun on a proverb in English).  Truly awesome.


Green grow the pickles, O

October 13, 2023

This remarkable photo left me dumbstruck yesterday when Monica Macaulay passed it along on Facebook, having gotten it from the Art Deco FB group on 10/10:

The Pickle Sisters, a vaudeville group from the 1920s (photo:

[Here I repeat a note from the last posting I was able to manage, the 10/7 posting “THE shirts”, six days ago:

Note: this is massively a Mary, Queen of Scots, Not Dead Yet posting, indeed something of a celebration of my being able to post anything at all, not to mention through enormous pain in my swollen fingers. But no details about any of that here; at the moment, I truly am pleased to be still alive and want to show that I can manage a posting.

This caution applies fully to this Pickle Sisters posting.]


A matter of scale

September 30, 2023

From “Barry Blitt’s Sketchbook” on the Air Mail site on 9/23:

The players here: Blitt is the (politically engaged) New Yorker cover artist (who is, among other things, a whiz at caricature); Jann Wenner is co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and author of the 2023 book The Masters: Conversations with Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Townshend, Garcia, Bono, and Springsteen (a book of his personal enthusiasms, which consequently included no female or black masters); and Joni Mitchell is, as Wikipedia has it, “one of the most influential singer-songwriters to emerge from the 1960s folk music circuit, …  known for her starkly personal lyrics and unconventional compositions which grew to incorporate pop and jazz elements”

Some critics believe that Blitt didn’t get the scale right: to scale, Wennner should be considerably smaller than this. I am sympathetic to this criticism, but then I’ve always found Wenner to be repellent and admired Mitchell enormously.


Never-ending rock & roll

September 19, 2023

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro is a Sisyphus cartoon — the Greek mythological king (punished by having to endlessly roll a rock uphill) made into in a cartoon meme (many examples listed on the Page on this blog on comic conventions) — and also an echo of rock & roll music as a continuing theme in Bizarro cartoons (most recently in my 9/16 posting “Original Rockers”, about AC/DC), these two elements joined in a pun on rock and roll:

(#1) A classically Greek Sisyphus (muscular, wearing only a Greek tunic), rolling his rock while musing on the end of rock & roll as the dominant form of popular music (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page)

Out of all this, two topics for a little more comment: the end of rock & roll (“so over this fad”); and cartoonist’s favored memes (for Wayno & Piraro, these include the Psychiatrist meme, in almost any form you can imagine; for Bob Eckstein (“bob”), these include the Sisyphus meme, with various things standing in as the rock and various characters standing in as the roller).


Aura Lee in the morning

September 13, 2023

Today’s morning music, playing (on the Apple Music that’s beamed into my bedroom during the night) when I arose at 3:40 am: from Anonymous 4’s 1865Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War, “Aura Lee” (sung by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, with harmony and instrumental accompaniment by Bruce Molsky). An achingly lovely song — you can listen to the performance here — with a chorus that’s three lines of sentimental love song, topped by the transcendent line “And swallows in the air”, with its breath-taking image of the birds swooping in flight.

(#1) Photo by Keith Gough, as cover art for the demo video for “Swallows in Air”, from John Newell’s A Timbered Choir, settings (for voices and piano) of poems by Wendell Berry

The program: about the Civil War song song “Aura Lea / Lee”; about the 2015 Anonymous 4 album; and (briefly) about the Newell / Berry “Swallows in Air”.


The Jerk Fest

August 22, 2023

On jerk, jerky, and jerking (off), quoting (in full) two excellent surveys of this domain: from the Grammarphobia site in 2016; from The Ringer site last month — the second of these using research by lexicographer Ben Zimmer reported on his Wall Street Journal column (which is behind a paywall).


On the trail of the high-riding fiberglass bicyclists

August 10, 2023

Yesterday’s Zippy strip, set in Sparta WI:

(#1) Ben Bikin’ astride his high wheel, with an attitude


To the Sea!

July 18, 2023

The title of Peter de Sève’s lemming cover art for the 7/24/23 New Yorker issue, which I reproduce here for its delightful playfulness:

These are of course the lemmings of the pop-cultural imagination, bearing only a distant relationship to actual lemmings

In fact, these sportive lemmings are only a stand-in for the beach-goers of July.


The Mummy’s Cursor

July 16, 2023

A preposterous pun — with a long history behind it — for today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro:

(#1) Model mummy’s curse  / pun mummy’s cursor (cursor  ‘a movable indicator on a computer screen identifying the point that will be affected by input from the user, for example showing where typed text will be inserted’ (NOAD)) (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 12 in this strip! — see this Page)

Now the backstory: