Archive for the ‘Writers’ 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:


Writing together

July 13, 2023

A fairly complex follow-up to my 6/30 posting “54 years of chamber music and more” (about Virginia Transue’s book on chamber music at Auburn University), responding to VT’s protests, in e-mail to me, about my posting’s failure to credit her collaborator in the project. I shot back to her with some asperity:

I can scarcely give credit to your collaborator if nothing you you have posted publicly mentions the existence of such a person, nor is he named anywhere in what you have said publicly. Perhaps he wishes to remain anonymous, and I can deal with that in what I say; he can be X. But I can’t credit him if nothing you’ve said publicly mentions even his existence.

And then went on, more constructively, to observe that there are (at least) three ways in which two people can work together to create a book and to speculate on which of these was at work in the chamber music book. I will now amplify.


Talker of the Town

February 3, 2023

This is about the writer Michael Schulman, the current artist of the New Yorker‘s Talk of the Town pieces — a “miscellany of brief pieces — frequently humorous, whimsical or eccentric vignettes of life in New York — written in a breezily light style, although latterly the section often begins with a serious commentary” (Wikipedia). The great Talker of the Town was Lillian Ross, who wrote hundreds, but over a long career that began in 1945. Schulman has been at it only since 2006, but he’s already done over a hundred Talks; he engages with people easily and has mastered the combination of empathy and wry detachment that the form calls for, so we can probably just give him the laurel wreath now and anticipate the pleasure of Talks still to come.

(#1) The New Yorker’s PR shot of Schulman; note the sweet half-smile (he’s smiling in most of his photos), the informal dress, and the light facial scruff (a constant of his presentation of self)

Schulman caught my attention recently with a New Yorker piece about the career of Angela Lansbury that I reproduced on this blog so that I could reference it in my posting “Angela goes to dance camp”. Then in the most recent New Yorker (the 2/6/23 issue), with an extraordinary piece “What Became of the Oscar Streaker?” (“Ballad of the Oscar Streaker” in print).

My often fanciful gaydar pinged on the photo in #1 and the tone of his writing, so I went to his personal website. With fabulous, entertaining, and touching results.


The bearded cartoonist, post-simectomy

January 17, 2023

It begins with a Facebook posting by Bob Eckstein on 1/12:

BE: The Daily Cartoonist just ran this piece … and that is Sam Gross on the cover on the right:

(#1) The BE cartoon: a bearded fellow — I take him to be a cartoonist (since this is in The Daily Cartoonist) — in a hospital bed, post-simectory

Note simectory ‘the surgical removal of a simian’ — in this case not an actual simian, but the simulacrum of a monkey: a one-man-band-monkey toy. I hadn’t realized that such toys are still being made, but it seems that they are (classically they are wind-up metal — “tin” — toys, but now they appear to be battery-operated plastic, and considerably more durable than the vintage versions; I speak with recollected sorrow over the short life of my very own monkey-band toy, roughly 75 years ago).


Cat people

January 11, 2023
From the New York Times Book Review, 1/8/23 in print, p. 23:

Sketchbook / Cat People / By Bob Eckstein and Nava Atlas. Famous authors and their beloved feline companions.

From Ursula LeGuin through Patricia Highsmith

Bob Eckstein is a best-selling author and the world’s only snowman expert. His new book is “The Complete Book of Cat Names (That Your Cat Won’t Answer to, Anyway)”.
Nava Atlas is a cookbook author and the creator of Literary Ladies’ Guide.

(You’ll need to embiggen the image to appreciate the pleasures of the text.)


Briefly: exocentric V + N

September 20, 2022

(Warning: a vulgar term for the primary female sexual anatomy will end up playing a big role in this posting.)

Where this is going: to an alternative name for an American President (#45, aka TFG); and to an alternative name for a classic American novel (by J.D. Salinger) — both names being exocentric V + N compound nouns, the first in English, the second in French. (I’ll call them exoVerNs for short.)


Patsy Baloney

June 29, 2022

On Twitter yesterday, given a little push by my posting “Did that actually just happen?”, Merrill Markoe tweeted:

The Jan 6 hearings were once again amazing, stunning and magnificent. In a related story, because it is my responsibility and my job, I have recorded the valiant attempts made by the closed-captioning software to spell Pat Cipollone [AZ: the attorney who served as White House Counsel for [Helmet Grabpussy]]

MM supplied a series of screen captures with attempts at an orthographic rendering of

/ ˈpætˌsɪpǝˈloni /

of which her favorite (and mine) was Patsy Baloney:

(#1) Left, for the committee: US Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming; right: the witness Cassidy Hutchinson


From the culture desk: admirable words, admirable things

September 2, 2021

(Plain-spoken appreciative references to penises and fellatio, plus an extended and explicit man-on-man sex scene, so not appropriate for kids or the sexually modest.)

Gastronomy, essays, calliphallicity, poetry. Starting with the New Yorker on 9/6/21 — “Food & Drink: An Archival Issue” — in a “Gastronomy Recalled” column there. From the print magazine, the head and subhead for the piece:

(#1) From the great gastronomic essayist M. F. K. Fisher

Then from the on-line magazine, this version, with the accompanying photo (by Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock) and its caption:

One does not need to be a king to indulge his senses with a dish.

But, with my imperfect aged eyes — I now misread things so often I’ve pretty much stopped cataloging my errors — and my penis-attuned brain — I am an unapologetic phallophile —  what I read was:

One does not need to be a king to indulge his senses with a dick.


Tom Stoppard speaks to the meat

March 24, 2021

In the New Yorker, “Tom Stoppard’s Charmed and Haunted Life: A new biography enables us to see beneath the intellectual dazzle of the playwright’s work” by Anthony Lane, in the print edition of 3/1/21:

In 2007, the playwright Tom Stoppard went to Moscow. He was there to watch over a production of his trilogy — “Voyage,” “Shipwreck,” and “Salvage,” collectively known as “The Coast of Utopia.” The trilogy had opened in London in 2002, and transferred to Lincoln Center in 2006. Now, in a sense, it was coming home. The majority of the characters, though exiled, are from Russia (the most notable exception being a German guy named Karl Marx), and, for the first time, they would be talking in Russian, in a translation of Stoppard’s text. Ever courteous, he wanted to be present, during rehearsals, to offer notes of encouragement and advice. These were delivered through an interpreter, since Stoppard speaks no Russian. One day, at lunch, slices of an anonymous meat were produced, and Stoppard asked what it was. “That is,” somebody said, seeking the correct English word, “language.”

Since this is a blog mostly about language, you have no doubt seen where that answer came from.


Basil Ratburn

February 10, 2020

Back at the end of January I noted briefly on Facebook that the January 25th coincidence of Robert Burns’s birthday with the new lunar year — the Year of the Rat, specifically — meant that this year 1/25 was the celebratory day of Basil Ratburn. Crossed swords and groans.

(#1) Basil Rathbone (on the left) as villain — rat — crossing swords with Errol Flynn in the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood (you are allowed an adolescent snicker on crossing swords — and in fact those snickers have a basis in reality, in the term swordplay referring to body practices between men; see the Swordplay Bonus below)