Maybe William Logan has been waiting to unlimber his literary AR-15 on the corpus of Leonard Cohen for a long time. It sure seems like it; and now his moment has come:
“When a poet dies,” Logan writes in his New York Times review, “his publishers often hurry into print whatever scraps lie stuffed in his desk drawers or overflow his wastebasket. This is the book business at its darkest and most human, but many balance sheets have been balanced by a posthumous work or two.
Death is the moment when all eyes are upon the poet for the last time; beyond, for most harmless drudges, lies the abyss. Leonard Cohen, who died two years ago, wore many a fedora — poet, novelist, songwriter, a singer of sorts — but only the last trade, which he took up reluctantly, made him a star.
Cohen was never taken very seriously as a poet. He wasn’t much of a singer, either; but the gravelly renderings of his lyrics gradually attracted a mass audience that seemed more like a cult. . . .
Such songs now form the hoarse, moaning soundtrack to countless movies and television episodes. When a Cohen song rises from some awkward silence it’s a good bet the director has run out of ideas. The religiose sentimentality and painful growl, like a halibut with strep throat, have patched a lot of plot holes. He’ll give an emulsified version of everything the scriptwriter left unsaid.”
My brother Mike picked up the ringing phone: “Nonantum Times,” he said, listened a moment, then handed me the receiver.
I put my hand over it and raised an eyebrow at Mike. “Ted Epstein,” he whispered.
Ted Epstein was a lawyer in downtown Boston. He was also a board member for the Nonantum Times. It was a new low-budget suburban weekly newspaper; I was the founding editor. That is to say, he was one of my bosses.
“Ted!” I said into the phone. “Got any good news for me?”
There was an awkward pause on the other end. Then, ”l’m afraid not, Chuck,” he said.
“Oh no,” I said, “don’t tell me our first big investigative scoop isn’t gonna happen.”
George Gershwin: Rhapsody In –Cultural Appropriation?
September 26, 2018 is George Gershwin’s 121th birthday (1898-1937). And I’m an unabashed fan. This despite the fact that a key part of his artistic achievement has also made his work controversial for some.
Yes, I’m talking about one of this era’s hot buzzwords, “cultural appropriation.”
This phrase came along after Gershwin left us (way too soon, dead of a brain tumor before age forty); but the charge was around even when he was alive and composing.
Yet from all I gather, Gershwin would not have denied it. Indeed, he was proud of mixing various streams of American musical cultures in his work, even gloried in it.
“Ain’t had a prayer since I don’t know when . . . .”
Imagine this scene (part of it really happened):
It’s August 6, and George W. Bush is at home in Houston, or maybe at the ranch. He’s finishing a watercolor, or (stay with me) reading a book, though certainly not that heavy new biography, “Bush,” by military/presidential historian Jean Edward Smith, which takes another big whack at his tattered reputation.
Maybe he’s even pondering the big presidential decision by Harry Truman made 71 years ago, because for many of the rest of us, August 6 is Hiroshima Day.
Whatever. Meanwhile across town, in a big Houston pavilion, more than 20,000 people are jammed and jamming, screaming their lungs out for — the Dixie Chicks, in a raucous, triumphant concert that sold out in minutes months ago. It’s the Chicks’ first appearance in Houston in fifteen years.
Okay — I really have no idea what GWB was doing that day. But the part about the Chicks is the truth.
Brahms’ music is not only beautiful, often profound, and richly enjoyable. It also saves lives:
The author William Styron is one example. Deep in the pit of depression in 1985, Styron came to the point of carefully planning to kill himself, with a shotgun, in a secluded spot near his home. But when he was driving there, Brahms’**Alto Rhapsody came on the radio.
[**Note to grammar cops: I KNOW it’s supposed to be “Brahms’s”; but that construction both looks and sounds dumb to me, and I choose to ignore it here.]
In the dream, it’s 1777, and a Quaker minister named Scatterwell gets a burning concern to visit the decadent city of Vienna, to preach the gospel of love of God and neighbor. He’s particularly moved by reports of the tens of thousands of poor Austrians and others huddling there in the shadow of the luxuriant indifference of the imperial court.
When Scatterwell arrives in the bustling capital, he heads straight for the nearest low-life tavern, figuring to plunge into the depths and confront the Devil’s work head on.