Tuesday, May 30, 2023

private performers

Weirdly fascinating article in the 5 June New Yorker about private party entertainers: if you have enough money, you can hire just about any performer you want for any kind of legitimate party that you're holding. Most of them are financially suffering enough in these days of lowered recording sales that they need the money, and the rest figure "a gig is a gig." Meanwhile, the nouveau riche figure that hiring these stars is a great way to show off.

The article starts with an account of an executive who hired his son's favorite rapper for the boy's bar mitzvah party, or rather from the rapper's point of view. His stage name is Flo Rida, for his home state. (I'm awaiting colleagues named Jaw-Jaw or possibly Tech's Ass.)

Of course, if I were there, when the music started I'd run away and hide, and I expect that's true for just about every example given in the article. This sort of thing has actually been around for a while. Back in the '90s when B. was working for AMD and they were riding high, Jerry Sanders rented the local hockey arena for a big corporate party and put Faith Hill in it. I lasted about two minutes. I don't dislike the music of Faith Hill, but the acoustics were hideous and the volume was worse. At least it wasn't the previous party, where he hired Rod Stewart, whom I don't care for at all.

And I was thinking about this bar mitzvah. If this sort of thing had been going on when I was bar mitzvah, and if my parents had been fabulously rich and terminally tasteless (they were neither: my bar mitzvah was followed by a reception in the adjacent hall, and no party), who would have been my favorite performer whom I'd have wanted to have?

And the answer comes immediately: Allan Sherman. That was the favorite performer of my childhood.

We probably could have gotten him, too. By that time he'd lost his record contract and his Broadway musical had flopped, so he could have used the gig. I actually saw Allan Sherman perform live once, in a hotel lounge in San Francisco, at just about that time, so I can just imagine it ...

In other news, this music-oriented issue of The New Yorker has a snippy review by Alex Ross referring to "the problematic new acoustics of Geffen Hall." What, have they still not gotten it right? I was assured by all the puff pieces at the re-opening that finally, after 60 years, that accursed hall had finally been fixed. I guess not.

And a long account of the Ed Sheeran plagiarism trial has a musicologist for the prosecution claiming that Sheeran is playing an F-sharp minor chord. Nonsense, says Sheeran, it's a D-major in first inversion. Well, that makes sense to me, but I wonder how many readers will follow the argument here?

Monday, May 29, 2023

book report

Today is Memorial Day, so it's appropriate to report that I've read a memoir by a military veteran, though he is still alive. And a memoir of a military veteran is what it turned out mostly to be, to my surprise as none of the immense publicity that this book received on publication indicated that this would be its emphasis.

The book is Spare by Prince Harry. After much frustration wondering what his role in life would be, and feeling that he lacked the brainpower of his father and brother, Harry finds his metier when he joins the Army, and belies any demurral about his brainpower by plunging into discussion of the highly technical requirements of the job he did in combat, which was basically air traffic controller for air raids. (That way he could be hands-on while not risking being captured by enemies who'd love to nab a Prince.) I skipped over a lot of this part.

Much of the rest of the book is fragmented and skips around a lot. Part of the problem is that Harry claims to remember little of his earlier childhood, and almost all the material about his mother is delivered in the context of him remembering her after she was already dead. Again to my surprise, he does not depict himself and his brother as ever having been very close, though later in the book he claims that they once had been. The period when Harry and William and Kate formed a tight trio who were seen doing charitable work all over the place? Hardly a mention in this book. He says he liked Kate, at least initially, but did not feel he had any role in the couple's life, not even as an uncle to their kids. By contrast he seems to have gotten on well with his father for most of this period, despite the latter's renowned coldness.

He calls his brother Willy. No naughty-word implications. His brother calls him Harold. No explanation. He calls his father Pa. His father calls him "darling boy." He calls the Queen "Granny." He hadn't known the story of how Princess Margaret was prevented from marrying a divorced man until it comes up in relation to his own impending marriage.

The book becomes grimmer as it goes along. Part of this is due to Harry's realization that he's suffering from PTSD stemming from his mother's death. But it also comes from various promising romantic relationships foundering over media persecution. Even Meghan barely survived it (literally: she attempted suicide at one harrowing point), and their relationship prospered mostly through Harry's determination that she really was the one for him. Total lack of support from palace officials is the continuing theme here. The strangest event is a meeting (I'm recalling this from memory of my reading) with several family members including the Queen and some palace officials. Harry describes the nightmares he and Meghan had to go through. Others say, you should have asked for help. Harry says, I did. I sent tons of desperate e-mails. The Queen looks at the officials and says, well? The officials blandly reply they never got them. And that seems to be the end of it.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Tina Turner

I've never had much to do with Tina Turner, but I read this article that said she'd want you to mourn her by watching this recent documentary film about her, Tina.

So I did. I figured I might learn something. And one of the things I learned is that I'm not sure she'd want people to watch it, since she spends much of her interview time declaring how she doesn't want to revisit the past, particularly the years she spent with her abusive first husband, Ike. But what is the documentary's topic but a review of her life, Ike very much included?

I was aware that she'd once been partnered with Ike, but I'd barely heard of her if at all in those days, so I think of her, when I do so at all, as a solo artist. But the documentary shows her early solo career being besieged by interviewers who wanted to hear all about the breakup, or who even seemed unaware that they'd broken up at all. Even years later, they'd ask her about Ike's latest doings, about which she had no comment whatever. Then she wrote a memoir, which got turned into a film (oh, so that's why Angela Bassett is in this documentary) in an attempt to exorcise it all, but it only got people more interested. No wonder she sounds so annoyed.

As for her music, it turns out the only thing of hers I recognize is "What's Love Got To Do With It?" (chorus only). I don't care for most of the stuff she did with Ike; her other solo songs aren't particularly attractive but are a step above. The most remarkable thing in the documentary, however, was a cover of "Help!" by the Beatles. If I hadn't recognized the lyrics I wouldn't have guessed the song; the musical line has nothing in common with the original. Normally I'd find that very irritating. But Tina's heartfelt, even tear-stained delivery of the pleading lyrics is enormously effective, making a mockery out of the original's rather emotionless presentation.

I can see why people loved her work, and I'm going away better-informed and moderately enlightened.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

R.W. Reynolds

He was one of Tolkien's teachers at school. He drove Tolkien to Oxford for his first term at university (this was 1911, when car trips were still exotic). He advised Tolkien on getting a collection of poetry published (it didn't happen). Some years later, Tolkien sent him what became The Lays of Beleriand to read and comment on, and, to provide context, wrote "A Sketch of the Mythology" which was the seed out of which came all subsequent versions of the Silmarillion.

Here's his unexpectedly surprising biography.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

bound from Florida

The books I ordered interlibrary loan for the Tolkien Studies bibliography are slowly trickling in from far and wide. I have no idea what library it'll be coming from until I get the actual book and look for an ownership stamp.

The latest one, though an academic book, came from a public library system ... in Florida. All persons capable of being pregnant or misgendered are wisely advised to avoid Florida right now, but should the rest of us boycott it? And in absentia? If I'd turned around and returned the book because I was refusing to accept books from Florida, what good would that do? How about if I rush to FedEx, scan the article I need from it, and then return the book right away?

But there's another wrinkle. The public library it's from is ... the Broward County Library. That's the one that's currently under attack for offering library cards with "I Read Banned Books" on them.

Apparently neither the Republican legislator attacking this, nor the authors of the article about it, know that Broward County didn't come up with "I Read Banned Books" by themselves. It's a slogan officially promoted by the American Library Association, which has been putting it on bling of their own for years.

So Broward County is not doing anything unusual or out of line for public libraries. And encouraging this system and checking out its books turns out to be admirable.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

concert review: California Symphony

And so I got sent out to review yet another new piano concerto. This is the fourth in fairly short order. Did I just compare this piece with Pachelbel's Canon? I did.

Of more interest to me was William Walton's First Symphony, another case from this orchestra of a symphony I never thought I'd hear live in this lifetime. It's fast and complex and ferocious, so this was one piece I wasn't going to tackle without a score. Fortunately I was able to check one out of the local college library and, while full size, it didn't get in the way.

What intrigued me is that the plain, straightforward interpretation at the concert made it a lot easier to follow the score at the concert than it had been with recordings at home. Usually it's the opposite. I didn't take any notes during this performance, but I did stay in my seat after it ended and drafted by hand a full text of the review of that section, which made writing the actual review much easier.

Usually when I drive to Walnut Creek for a concert I stop in Castro Valley for takeout and drive over Crow Canyon and up 680. But this time I came through Oakland and got something to eat there instead. This turned out to be a mistake, as 24 was completely jammed due to a major accident on the connector with 680. Fortunately I had planned to be very, very early, mostly so that I'd have a chance to talk with the Symphony staff about next year's subscription about which I had some questions. In the end I had time for that too.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Lost King

I watched the movie, The Lost King, about how amateur Philippa Langley nudged the archaeological establishment into looking for the centuries-lost burial of Richard III in Leicester, and finding it. I didn't read Langley's own account, which was titled The King's Grave before it was retitled after the movie; my more detailed knowledge of the search comes from Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts.

Pitts doesn't hide, but doesn't place much emphasis on, the fact that Langley is a Ricardian, a member of the Richard III Society, but this is prominent in the movie. The Ricardians are determined, not just to cleanse Richard of the Tudor propaganda which painted him as the unspeakable monster immortalized by Shakespeare, but to continue scrubbing until they've unveiled him as a perfect saint of heroic virtue.

And it's at that second stage that they lose me. The 15th century was a bloody, nasty century (so were all the medieval centuries, actually), and you didn't rise to the top without a capacity for being ruthless. Ricardians claim that Richard wanted to become king to do good, but it doesn't seem to have occurred to their Richard that making so many enemies along the way that they gang up and depose and kill you in two years is not a very effective do-gooder strategy.

Ricardians don't want to admit that the real Richard did some nasty things, and while they can claim that some of the wicked deeds he's charged with didn't really happen (and often enough they're right about that), their method can be seen in the one, or one plus, wicked thing you can't wipe off his escutcheon: he did depose his young nephew Edward V from the throne, and while it can't be proved that he had them killed, he did lock the boy and his brother up (they're the famous "Princes in the Tower") and they were never seen alive again.

The Langley character in the movie makes two arguments for the defense here. Both come straight from The Daughter of Time, a tendentious 1951 novel by Josephine Tey about a laid-up cop who occupies his convalescence by vigorously whitewashing Richard. It's very popular among Ricardians as you might expect.

First is that neither prince was eligible for the throne because they were both illegitimate. A cleric popped up who claimed that he'd witnessed their father, Edward IV, troth-plighted to another woman before he married the boys' mother, and by canon law this would have been enough to invalidate his later marriage.

When Langley says this in the movie, the credentialed scholar she's addressing can only sputter, but a real scholar would have pointed out that there's every reason not to believe this troth-plighting ever happened. The circumstances alone are enough reason to be skeptical. Edward V had been formally declared the legitimate heir during his father's lifetime. If you're going to overturn a formally documented claim, you need documents of your own, and no documents for this were ever produced. It sounds very much like something that was cobbled together as a hasty excuse.

The accusation was quickly followed up by another accusation that Edward IV was himself a bastard and that Richard was his father's only real son. Nobody believed that one, so it was quickly dropped. That one accusation was false doesn't prove the other one was, but it makes you wonder. Then, over a year later when Richard's wife died (no, he didn't kill her), he may have suggested that he'd like to marry Edward IV's eldest daughter, which wouldn't make sense if she were illegitimate. Ricardians point out that the only evidence of this idea is proclamations declaring he had no such intent, but he wouldn't have had to issue such proclamations unless there were at least rumors going around.

Anyway, it's all murky at best. Langley describes it as established, but it's nothing of the sort.

Then there's the death of the princes. Years later a man already under sentence to death confessed to having killed them at Richard's behest, but it's not certain how reliable this is. Langley's "proof" that they weren't killed is that when Henry VII - the Earl of Richmond who defeated Richard at Bosworth - issued a catalog of Richard's crimes, it did not include the murder of the princes. Therefore, Langley and Tey before her say, they must still have been alive.

This is a silly argument. The princes had a better claim to the throne than Henry did (he didn't accept the illegitimacy claim, and in any case he had some sketchy legitimacy issues in his own background), so it was not in his interest to intimate that they were still alive. Furthermore, everybody agrees that Henry was ruthless enough that, if the princes had still been alive when he took over, he would have had them killed. (He did just that to Richard's other brother's son.) Would he have suggested they were still alive only because he hadn't gotten around to executing them yet?

There has to be some other reason Henry didn't charge Richard with the murders, and the answer is easy. He would have been expected to demonstrate it by displaying the bodies. He couldn't find them. They must have been buried somewhere in the Tower, but nobody knew where. It wasn't until two centuries later that a major reconstruction job unearthed the remains of two boys of the right age, and it's been assumed ever since that they are the Princes.

Notice that all the discussion here is about the legitimacy of claims to the throne. Modern ideas of a strict line of succession had developed by the 15th century, but there were still hints of an older dispensation whereby the throne went to the most powerful and effective royal, and depositions of a weak king were allowed. The dispute at Bosworth was not just over whether Richard was evil, it was the last act in a civil war over whether the deposition of a weak king 86 years earlier had been legitimate or not. Richard was the heir of the deposed king, Richmond of the usurper.

In an age when many people consider it peculiar, at best, that Charles should get to be king just because he's Elizabeth's eldest son, it seems quaint to defend Richard, or even to denounce him, on narrow grounds of legitimacy of succession. My interest in Richard's bones isn't to evaluate his reign but simply to solve the historical mystery of what happened to his body.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

it's Liza Doolittle Day

Next week, on the 20th of May
I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day.

And Tuesday is Don't Buy the Liverwurst Day.

For that big hunk of liverwurst
Has been there since October 1st
And today is the 23rd of May.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

theatrical review: 1776 revived

The national touring company of the recent Broadway revival of 1776 is in town, so I went to see it. This was the production noted for a cast entirely of women (and a few nonbinaries), which wasn't new to me, as I'd seen a local all-female production of 1776 nearly a decade ago.

That a good proportion of the cast - including, in this company, both Adams and Franklin - were Black was, however, not precedented in my experience, and when a good number of those Black cast members appear as slaves in the auction-block sequence of the song "Molasses to Rum," you sit up and take notice.

Aside from a few cuts - Lewis Morris is folded into Robert Livingston, and Richard Henry Lee doesn't prance around - the text is unaltered. That the characters, if not the actors, are white men is, if anything, emphasized: there's lots of sniggering from the company whenever anyone makes a sexist remark. The minimalness of cuts means that the show's rather sophisticated treatment of the slavery issue comes across in full. When, having deleted the Declaration's anti-slavery clause as the price of winning support from the Southern delegates, Adams and Franklin say "Posterity will never forgive us" and "That's probably true," they look directly out at the audience as if they, no less than the actors who play them, know that we're there.

What has been changed, and drastically so, is the arrangements of the songs, not always to their benefit. Somebody should have told them that it's essential to the power of "Momma Look Sharp" that it is quiet throughout. Adding a section of yelling does not enhance it. Nor does turning John and Abigail's tender duet into a march. However, that Nancy Anderson as Jefferson actually can and does play the violin is a definite plus.

A few bits of stage business came across as odd. The acting, however, was very good, and the re-envisaging of some of the lines was well thought through. Gisela Adisa is a little underpowered for the ferocious Adams, and having a higher voice than Tieisha Thomas as her Abigail takes some getting used to, but Adisa's dedication succeeds at carrying the show. Liz Mikel as Franklin is ideally lusty and full-bodied. A few of the others are, if anything, too overpowered. But Joanna Glushak and Kassandra Haddock as the antagonists, Dickinson and Rutledge, are supremely cool and suave, the best performances in the show.

So, overall, it worked well enough to be worth attending. But next time I see this show, I want some of the 21st-century consciousness to be married to an otherwise more traditional production.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

the answer

A couple people made attempts at answering the trivia question I posed on Saturday. One of them got the answer.

The question:

What is the following a complete list of? 1. Foxes. 2. "That bird." 3. Stoats. 4. Dogs.

The answer:

Things General Woundwort says aren't dangerous.

Saturday, May 13, 2023


1. Summer is i-cumin in. Temperatures are up in the high 80s F. No doubt new records will be set later, as there are every year now. It's also that hot in Portland and Seattle, where they're less used to it and are suffering more. When I went to Seattle in late April, the highs were 45-55 and it was usually raining slightly. That's what I expect there. Back home it was in the 70s.

2. A couple of the last pieces I need for the annual Tolkien bibliography came in on inter-library loan, so I went down to the library and grabbed them, scanned the relevant pages, and packed the files away for later use. Three more to go.

3. Article on protests in suburban neighborhoods against denser housing. I can't say I'm sympathetic to the protests. This is a suburban neighborhood, but I live in a 26-unit condo complex, there are several garden apartment buildings adjacent to us, and most of the other houses on this street are duplexes, although you won't notice that unless you look closely. We manage. I'd favor similar zoning - which is what's up for proposal in Arlington in the article - in other places, but I'd ask the council this question: "What are you planning to do about traffic?"

4. The bane of keeping up with political commentary is endless articles asking if the conviction in the sexual abuse trial, or the disastrous CNN "town hall," will finally put an end to DT's political support. Of course not. Anybody liable to be shamed by anything he does has long since already left. The Billy Bush tape should have put an end to it, and it did shake a few people, notably Mike Pence, but they didn't leave the train.

5. Trivia item no. 1. John Maynard Keynes worked in the British Treasury during WW2. "He occupied a room next to the future Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Catto, and in consequence, particularly when he was occasionally reluctant to give an opinion, became internally known as Lord Doggo."

6. Trivia item no. 2. What is the following a complete list of? 1. Foxes. 2. "That bird." 3. Stoats. 4. Dogs.

Friday, May 12, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

This was the most fractured concert I've attended in quite a while.

It was intended to feature Hilary Hahn playing the Brahms Violin Concerto. But she called in sick a couple days ago, and for a substitute they turned up not another violinist, but a young Canadian pianist named Bruce Liu, who'd undertake Beethoven's Third Concerto. Not my favorite Beethoven concerto by any means, but tolerable, so I'd still go.

Liu turned out to be a technically dazzling pianist, with a light and perky way of draping his fluid note-spinning across the keyboard. He has a particularly supernal way with trills. And then he had the chutzpah to show off even further with Liszt's La Campanella for an encore. But whether his overall shaping of the concerto had depth and maturity seemed to me more doubtful. I'd like to hear Liu in a more profound work. He's got a big hat, but are there any cattle?

The conductor was Rafael Payare, who's been music director in San Diego for several years now, so it's about time he showed up here for a guest appearance. Like Gustavo Dudamel (and, for that matter, José Luis Gómez of Tucson, whom I heard in San José last week), Payare is a product of El Sistema in Venezuela. Though he's 43, actually a year older than Dudamel, he still wears the huge mop of dark curly hair that Dudamel had when he was starting out at 26.

For an opener, Payare offered us Darker America, a tone poem by William Grant Still depicting the conflict between the sorrow and the hope of Black folk. It's an early piece from 1925, but it sounded to me more than Still's later work to be in the vein of the American nationalist style that didn't become dominant until subsequent decades. Was Still one of the unacknowledged founders of that style? It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

I must have been really eager to hear Hahn's Brahms, as I didn't dump this concert from my series because the second half was Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben. I heard this in concert around 1972, and swore that I'd never subject myself to sitting through that thing again.

So I didn't. I left at intermission and went home.

Thursday, May 11, 2023


1. I had a regular checkup appointment with my doctor last week, and asked him whether - as I'd gotten the bivalent covid booster when it first appeared, last September - whether I should get another booster now or wait for the fall. He said now, and get the next one in January. "So I should make an appointment with the clinic?" I asked, that being an option prominently displayed on the provider's website. "No, it's right across the hallway; go over there now," he said. So I did; there were no other patients there and they zapped me right away. No card, though my vaccination did appear on the state's certification website when I checked.

However, when I told this to B., who got her last shot the same time as I did, she was unable to get a timely appointment from the website. Should she have just walked in as I did, or did my doctor flash them a referral? I have no idea. Anyway, B. wound up getting hers from a commercial pharmacy.

2. I ventured to the Stanford Music Department for a lecture on Bach, by a visiting scholar, a Brit named Nick Zangwill, open to the general public. The title said it was responding to the late Richard Taruskin, which caught my interest as a Taruskin fan. Taruskin had argued that since the words of Bach's cantatas are severe and uncomfortable 18C Lutheranism, that the music should also be seen as uncomfortable, and that if we enjoy it, we're misreading Bach's intent. Zangwill, who suffers from the handicap of not being a musicologist (he's a philosopher), disagrees. He kind of fumpfed his way through it, but some interesting points were made, the most so being the question of: if you're not a believer, can you fully appreciate this religious art and what it means to believers? Zangwill says you can, Taruskin says you can't. I raised my hand and suggested that you may think you can, but you probably can't.

3. A visit to the Library of Congress authorities file to confirm that Diana Wynne Jones is filed under J and not W (I'm preparing the index for my book, that's why) elicited the startling fact that there is a genealogy writer named Diana Jones Wynne.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

British political trivia: the woman in the teal dress

I watched a few recorded clips from the royal coronation, but didn't stay very long. It was rather stultifying, and all that display of sacred objects that's supposed to be of deep symbolic significance lacked any visual resonance and just looked like guys doing stuff. Especially the archbishop, or whoever it was, trying to get the crown to sit properly on the king's head.

TV announcers who gushed continuously about how wonderful it all looked were strangely reluctant to identify the participants, and I was particularly curious but uninformed about the woman in the striking teal dress who kept marching in front of the king holding up a jeweled sword.

I eventually figured out that this was Penelope "Penny" Mordaunt, who was there because she is Lord President of the Privy Council.

I'm familiar with that title. It's mostly a sinecure, one of several given to UK cabinet officers whose actual duties don't have official titles attached to them. The Lord President is usually the floor leader of the House of Commons, and that's what Mordaunt actually does all day. But she also has the nominal job of convening the Council - which normally meets with a minimum quorum to record the monarch's assent to legislation - and that's put her in the spotlight in the regal hour.

The Privy Council is nominally the body of the sovereign's political advisors. The oath of membership is essentially a security clearance to discuss confidential government matters, so all cabinet officers have to be members. Membership is also permanent (unless removed for dire misbehavior), which is why all the living former prime ministers were lined up in the front row at the accession council which declared Charles king.

(left to right: Keir Starmer (not PM yet), Tony Blair (1997-2007), Gordon Brown (2007-2010), Boris Johnson (2019-2022), David Cameron (2010-2016), Theresa May (2016-2019), John Major (1990-1997). What a depressing display.)

Mordaunt had actually been appointed by Liz Truss on the day the old queen died, so she was in place just in time to preside over this.

That the Lord President also has a major ceremonial role at the coronation I had not known. The last Lord President to do this must have been the 5th Marquess of Salisbury in 1953, who under his previous title of Lord Cranborne was for some years Anthony Eden's right-hand man at the Foreign Office. Mordaunt is not the first woman to hold the post, but she is the first to occupy it during a coronation.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

concert review: Symphony San Jose

And the published review will cover most of what I have to say about the music. I'm a big fan of Márquez's Danzón No. 2, and if this new concerto didn't instantly appeal quite so much, it was certainly in the same vein.

The privately-owned parking lot immediately opposite the theater being apparently permanently overrun with construction, I've reverted to parking in the city garage a block away. On entering this I was met with a dismaying sign reading that the elevator was out of order, so since I was early I managed to find a spot on the second floor. Then I tried pressing the elevator button anyway and behold, it arrived.

The pre-concert talks have moved from the back of the main auditorium to the rehearsal space on the third floor, back to the main auditorium, back to the rehearsal space, and now to the front of the main auditorium, and inviting the guest conductor to speak is apparently going to be a regular feature. I used his identifications of the dances that made up the concerto, though the characterizations are mine after listening to them.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

opera review: Albert Herring

Pocket Opera is a small-scale local company known for putting on productions in English translations prepared for them, excellently written and (when appropriate) witty. This was a rare appearance in their repertoire of an opera originally written in English, and the first ever time it was by Benjamin Britten.

Albert Herring is supposed to be Britten's comic opera. It has a comic premise. In a small town in Suffolk (of course, because this is Britten) in Victorian times, shy Albert is elected King of the May because he's so dutiful and well-behaved. But his friends Sid and Nancy (no relation to the other Sid and Nancy) ply him with rum and he goes out and has a wild old time, and he comes back to tell off his repressive mother.

But in the meantime, there's a long stretch of the opera in which everybody thinks Albert is dead, and that's not comic at all, nor is most of the rest of the opera nor is the music with which Britten composed it. I had a hard time registering this as comic in the ordinary meaning of the word, or indeed "charming and witty" which the program said it is.

This is the second Britten opera I've seen all the way through (the first was The Rape of Lucretia). It was not an uninteresting experience nor an ineptly-composed work, but I'm not minded to increase my collection.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

theatrical review

Ever since reading Leo Rosten's humorous Hyman Kaplan stories in childhood, I've been interested in fiction set among adult students of English as a second language. So I went to see Berkeley Rep's production of English by Sanaz Toossi. The author is American of Iranian descent; the play is set in Iran in 2008, in a small class of advanced students preparing to take the standardized TOEFL.

The play's gimmick is interesting. The class rule is "English only," and the students and teacher speak mostly in their sometimes halting, heavily-accented English. But sometimes they revert to Farsi (one of the students gets a lot of black marks for this, the others mostly get away with it; the student wonders why the teacher hates her so, but doesn't get an answer), and that's mostly represented by idiomatic English. Though actually the students are good enough at English that it's sometimes hard to tell when they're switching to Farsi-represented-as-English.

Gradually the viewer gets to know the students. The older woman who's learning English because her son has moved to Canada and she wants to be able to speak to her granddaughter who's being raised English-only. (She leaves her son constant voice mails and wonders why he never calls her back.) The bubbly 18-year-old woman. The angry woman who's failed the TOEFL several times but has to learn English for her career (she's the one who gets the black marks). The only man in the class, who eventually reveals that he was born and spent his early years in the US, so he actually counts as a native speaker though his English is halting. The teacher, who lived in England for several years and doesn't say why she returned to Iran.

Their attitudes range from fascination with English-language culture to a burning resentment at the necessity of learning it. The struggle to communicate, both literally and figuratively, dominates. The play is pretty quiet but the interactions are intense (each student has at least one scene alone with the teacher). It's well-written and the run, which ends this week, is pretty much sold out.

Despite their frustrations, the students are quite good. I've studied five foreign languages at one time or another (three in school, two in adulthood) and even at the best of times I couldn't be a fraction this good in any of them. My last formal study was an Italian class I took prior to visiting that country. I found the artificial conversation sessions agonizing (I hated acting improv when I took that, and this was the same thing only in another language), and the teacher's habit of constantly correcting even small errors in a condescending tone threw me off, so I quit the class. Nevertheless I managed to have a couple of actual conversations in actual Italian while I was there: I was so pleased with myself.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Marty Cantor

It's just reached my notice that Marty Cantor died a few days ago. He was someone I knew in the wayback of my active days as a science fiction fan, as he was the Official Editor - responsible for the collation and the mailing and keeping track of the membership - of the LA-based amateur press association (submit 50 copies of your personal publication, get back a stapled copy of 50 different ones) Lasfapa which I joined in 1978. Someone had accused Marty of taking a high-handed attitude to the apa rules and behaving like a little tin god, so he changed his official title to Little Tin God or LTG for short. And when Corflu came to the Bay Area years later in 2005 and we had a chemical elements theme with everybody having a different element on their badge, I made damn sure that Marty Cantor got tin.

Marty was older than most of the early Lasfapa gang, being then in his 40s when most of us were in our 20s. He dressed conservatively, with a heavy blue sports coat and a tie accompanying his ever-present (but usually unlit) pipe, underneath a neatly-cut beard and a sort of soup-bowl cut of dark hair, much later white. It was surprising in 1982 when I visited and found Marty, up to then always unattached, sitting in his usual position with pipe in hand and legs extended, except that there was this woman draped over his neck from behind. This was Robbie Bourget: they'd met at the Worldcon and fallen in love, and made a mighty fannish couple until their eventual divorce.

After a few years, Marty gave up the OEship of Lasfapa and became a general fanzine publisher. He had several zines but the principal one, its title taking off from his Little Tin God persona, was Holier Than Thou, sometimes deliberately misspelled: Holier Then Thou, Holier Thun Thou. I think I wrote for it a couple times. For several years HTT was a finalist for the Best Fanzine Hugo, but Marty's reputation was never good in high-elitist fanzine fan circles. He edited for a general fannish reader and didn't play obscure reference games, the writing quality wasn't outstanding, and I think some people just assumed that nothing good ever came out of LASFS, the LA club of which Marty was a prominent member.

Nevertheless Marty had some distinctive characteristics beyond his appearance. Mostly a political liberal, he was a tobacconist by trade and was determinedly doubtful of all claims of a link between tobacco and cancer. He also claimed that non-smoking sections were discriminatory. Marty had a liking for German grammatical constructions and would use them in English, as with the time a Lasfapa member submitted a zine with a title in Cyrillic characters and Marty listed it in the table of contents as "My Typer Cannot This Zine Title Pronounce."

It was just a couple months ago that the snow in the mountains of LA reminded me of the best-ever Marty Cantor story and I told it in these precincts. Here it is again:

As Charles Curley told the story - I'll be quoting his account from memory now - he was driving along the freeway one day and noticed that "not only were the Hertz Rent-a-Mountains* back, but they were covered with snow. Snow. In Los Angeles. Marty Cantor lives here. Marty Cantor hates snow. Marty Cantor moved to Los Angeles to get away from the snow. Yet here the snow was, right on Marty Cantor's doorstep. Marty Cantor's doorstep? Wait a minute. A mad, insane plan was born."

So Charles recruited some friends and drove up into the mountains with a pickup truck and shovels. They loaded snow onto the tarp in the truck bed and took it back down, and then, in the quiet of the night, unloaded a big pile of it by the (outdoors) entrance to Marty Cantor's apartment. When a neighbor came by and asked what they were doing, they said, "He misses the snow."

Marty was really touched that they cared enough about him to pull the stunt, but he added, "Don't ever do that again."

*Sometimes called that because smog renders them often invisible

Saturday, April 29, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

No sooner do I get home from a week away that I head out for an evening again, the SFS in a mostly-Sibelius program. I regret I was still too tired from the trip to take this in completely, and the brief opening piece, Nautilus by Anna Meredith, went right by me. But I knew the Sibelius pieces and they connected.

With Joshua Bell as soloist, the Violin Concerto turned entirely to butter. Tasty, smooth butter, but butter nonetheless. Bell's actually rather elaborate solo style dominated the proceedings, but the orchestra under guest conductor Dalia Stasevska melted in kind. Quiet, uneventful, unaggressive, a kindly background for the fancy but undemonstrative solo work.

This wasn't the Stasevska who came back after intermission for the Second Symphony. Especially in the finale, here we heard SFS in its full amazing blazing glory, winds and brass shining to the stars, the way MTT would do it. Not unimportantly, the flow was coherent, with each surge meaning something and not repetitious.

But the general buildup of the piece was much more unusual. Stasevska kept pulling back on the volume and intensity, rendering quiet passages so as to build it up again the more effectively later. It jumped back and forth this way. If it had concentrated just on the finale, I could read it as a way of diluting the threatening pomposity - which was most effectively diluted. But the whole symphony was like that, and the placement of the pull backs was not obviously to pull back on the buildup; rather the opposite. A most unusual, if effective, treatment.

Stasevska is about the shortest conductor I've ever seen. This wouldn't be relevant except that conductors are supposed to be tall in order to be masterful. Well, here's proof that a short woman can be just as masterful as any tall male.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

the Randy Byers memorial road trip

As long as I was going to Seattle, I determined to take a couple days and drive out to the deep countryside of the western side of the enormous Olympic Peninsula. I hadn't been in that area since childhood, and accounts by my friend the late Randy Byers had encouraged me. Even before he became ill, Randy found relief from the stresses of his job responsibilities at the UW in what he called the "nature therapy" of short vacations out on the Pacific coast there. Ever since I heard him mention that, I'd wanted to take a look myself.

Randy's favorite place was the tiny town of La Push, center of the Quileute Nation. It's on the coast at the mouth of a river, and as you stand on the beach in town and look out, you can see the peculiar islands of the type called "stacks" that decorate the Washington state coast. They're detached pieces of land with sheer sides and flat tops with usually trees growing on top, as if they were part of the landbound forest, and they look like this:

And the surf rolls in and the waves make their whooshing sound and it's just a relaxing place to be. That's what you go there for: like many Indian towns, La Push is mostly a collection of randomly-placed prefab houses. I didn't see a motel, though there appeared to be some apartments for rent. There's one restaurant, where I was hoping to have lunch but it was closed for repairs or something.

La Push is at the end of a 15-mile dead-end road that comes off the highway (US 101, not much of a highway in that back country, one lane in each direction) at the town of Forks, which does have motels but is best known as the setting for Twilight. They didn't film the movies there, though, and I understand why. Forks is a dingy old timber town with nothing much to it, though I did enjoy the town museum with its photo of the young local men who formed an engineer battalion and went off to apply their lumbering trade in construction on the Western Front in WW1.

I saw nothing relating to Twilight in Forks, although on the road to La Push was a small resort with a sign in front reading "No Vampires Beyond This Point."

I also got to the rain forest tucked up in the Hoh River valley deep inside the national park, about 20 miles up from the highway, another place Randy visited and found rewarding. Vegetation everywhere. Ferns and grasses blanketing the forest floor, so thick that the only chance a tree has to grow is to fasten itself on a fallen log which subsequently decays. And when the trees grow, mosses come and drape themselves over the branches. They're not parasites on the trees, they just rest there and take their moisture and nutrients from the cold but humid air. It looks rather like this:

Randy also took the very long and twisty drive - about 70 miles - to Neah Bay, on Cape Flattery the westermost point of the 48 states, and so did I. It's another Indian town, the home of the Makah Nation, who've erected a very impressive museum of their culture. Forced to move away from their original village in the days of assimilation, they lost much of their traditional culture. But a few decades ago, a major storm unearthed a lot of artifacts from the original village site. Anxious to preserve them, the Makah contacted some archaeologists who'd been friendly to them and organized an excavation, and many of the finds are now in the museum. From this the Makah learned, for instance, that they'd been fishing with nets since before the assimilation period, so this is part of their traditional culture.

On the road to Neah Bay, out in the countryside but not far from Port Angeles, is a little cafe specializing in blackberries. Not only may you have blackberry pie for dessert, but you can have your hamburger with a blackberry-infused bbq sauce. Yum.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Sondheim Festival V: Sweeney Todd

(I also went to see a concert performance of Follies - that's no. IV - but to my surprise my review of that isn't up yet.)

This is, oh, the third or fourth time I've seen Sweeney Todd staged, and it's by far the biggest. Enormous cavernous old theater in Seattle, large elaborate sets (but not elaborate enough: see below) with what look from a distance like tiny actors moving around on it, and the sine qua non of pretentious musical shows, dim lighting.

Full theater orchestra, actors miked up the wazoo so their voices won't get drowned out, pretty good performances. Yusuf Seevers doesn't seem quite powerful enough to make an ideal Sweeney. On the other hand, Deon'te Goodman as Anthony is enormously powerful. Maybe they should have switched parts. (They're both Black, by the way. So are Leslie Jackson as an effective Johanna and Porscha Shaw as a somewhat less effective Beggar Woman.) Anne Allgood as Mrs. Lovett is at her best being deadpan, even while singing. Sean David Cooper is a sufficiently evil Judge Turpin, which isn't always easy to pull off.

It was hard to avoid the impression they should have sent out for somebody who knew something about staging. Sweeney's victims, after he cuts their throats, each get up out of the barber chair and walk across the room to the trap door so that they can fall into it. WTF? As for the final scene with the baking oven ... yeah, that didn't quite work either.

Still, a good enough show to make you leave the theater humming. The ravenously appreciative audience on a Saturday night was mostly made up of young people, some of them dressed in variations on Victorian demimonde.

Friday, April 21, 2023

concert review: Seattle Symphony

Creating a soundtrack for Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin by stuffing together wads from various Shostakovich symphonies is such an obvious idea that it's been done at least three separate times. I heard one of these, played against a showing of the movie, from the San Francisco Symphony some years ago.

Now I'm in Seattle, listening to a different one. This one was concocted, and is conducted by, a German conductor named Frank Strobel. He's set it to a restored version of the movie. Potemkin has been edited and censored so much that most prints are incoherent hash. This one was more like a movie, with characters and a plot. Most refreshing.

Strobel is more creative with his Shostakovich than his predecessors. Like them, he sets the Odessa Steps sequence to the Winter Palace Massacre music from the Eleventh. But he makes the parts fit the sequence better. He edits the original slightly, then when he runs out of music from it he switches briefly to the climax of the slow movement from the Fifth, and then back to a repeat of the same music from the Eleventh. The closing scene, in which the Potemkin thinks it'll have to fire on the rest of the Russian navy, is to the staccato scherzo from the Eighth, and when they discover the other ships are also full of revolutionaries it switches to the climax from the finale of the Fourth and manages to work that into an ending.

This concert was fantastically easy to get to and I only wish I could do this at home. I'm staying within walking distance of one of the new stations on the light rail line. I hop in (the cars are more like SF Muni streetcars than BART cars) and 15 minutes later emerge directly in the lobby of the concert hall itself - fantastic! And far easier than the hour that the freeway signs were saying it would take to drive the 8 miles into town at afternoon rush hour + parking. My only complaint is that the concert hall is at about the primitive lemur stage of evolution regarding understanding the concept of signage.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

three concerts

1. I was sent to review the Mission Chamber Orchestra. Unusual repertoire, rare composers I'd heard before, but whom I'd never reviewed. I keep an index of my reviews, and find that I've now covered 500 different composers in my professional reviews. Most-seen name on the list, Beethoven of course, with 74 reviews.

2. Emerson String Quartet, on their farewell tour after nearly fifty years of grinding away at the circuit. A fundamental program, with Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. A highly traditional approach, the kind of superficially featureless playing that I heard on a lot of recordings in my younger days and which made me think I didn't like chamber music. The glories here were subtle: in individual notes and the handing off of parts between the instruments, and that's something you need to learn to listen for. Still, the Second Razumovsky (the Beethoven piece) did achieve an overall shape of beauty, especially in the slow movement. I'd have liked to hear these guys play Op. 132 like that, but you can't have everything.

3. Two young Brits, violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and pianist James Baillieu, in a program featuring CPE Bach. Three pieces, all of which sounded completely different and none of which were at all like his symphonies, which is what I like him for. Illuminating and strange.

Also on the program, a Duo by Schubert which was hopped up to the extent that it didn't sound at all like Schuberts. Maybe he was on amphetamines. Schubert can surprise you: did I tell you about his Mass that sounded like Philip Glass? And Romances by Schumann, which I seized on as a lifeline because I'd actually heard at least one of these before.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Mike Foster

I ought to say a word for Mike Foster, a Mythopoeic Society stalwart who died at the age of 76 on Wednesday. He was a voluble contributor to festivities, and in recent years was most celebrated for his contribution to the Lord of the Ringos shows, scratch performances of mostly sixties pop and rock songs with new Tolkien-reference lyrics. But his best work was elsewhere.

For decades, Mike taught English literature at a community college in central Illinois, which gave him the opportunity to introduce generations of students to the study of Tolkien, and made him just about the most experienced Tolkien professor out there. At the big 50th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings conference at Marquette University, where the papers are held, Mike gave a talk bristling with intelligent and clever ideas of how to teach Tolkien.

For instance, he outlined the papers he assigned in his Tolkien class. First, an analysis of any chapter - of the student's choice - from any of Tolkien's major works: how it contributes to the story. Second, a study of a work Tolkien might have read and its possible influences. Third, an evaluation of any full-length critical study. And last, a study of the evolution of one particular character.

But my favorite line of Mike's - one I refer to often - was one he occasionally noted on an essay: "That happened in the film you obviously saw, not in the book you were supposed to have read."

a bifurcated day

I've done this combination before, but not for a few years. Life gets more challenging as you totter on.

Thursday was the day I drove over the Hill (the Hill, between the Valley and the Water) to the UC Santa Cruz library to spend the day ransacking its databases for the Tolkien Studies bibliography. I'd been working on that in the public databases at home for most of the last week, and now was the time to turn to the proprietary ones that only universities have. The interfaces for these have been changing again, and it's getting more difficult in library catalogs to get access to what we catalogers call the 245c, which is what lists the credits from the title page. With sloppier rules for name entries, you now can't tell whether the names presented are authors, editors, the writers of the preface, or what, or what form of name they use in the actual book.

I had to leave early because the arboreal effluvia from last month's storms is still being cleared up, and I wanted to get through before the crews started closing the mountain road's lanes for the day. I arrived by 9:30, bought my day parking pass, and spent five hours, relieved only by bathroom breaks, at a public terminal working away: a typical amount of time for this. Now my thumb drive is stuffed with PDFs, which the Year's Work writers will find useful next year.

That gave me enough time to grab a quick late lunch before driving up the long coast road to the City for a SF Symphony concert. That was what I could have used a little rest before engaging with. It was a mostly-Baroque evening conducted by Jane Glover, mostly-Baroque specialist. Bach's Magnificat, much briefer than the St. Matthew Passion thank the Lord, tiny orchestra vastly outnumbered by giant chorus but still drowning them out half the time. Reconstructed Bach concerto, solo parts played by the orchestra's concertmaster and principal oboe. Handel's hearty and tuneful Music for the Royal Fireworks, accompanied by 1) amusing account in the program book about what a disaster the first performance in 1749 was; 2) short new work written as its homage, depicting fireworks by running broadly-paced, thinly-scored brass and wind lines over busy strings. Called Spectacle of Light by Stacy Garrop. Refreshingly light sound, though that's not the kind of light the title means.

Home around 11 pm, to find a Tybalt expecting to be compensated in attention for what he missed by my being gone all day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

theatrical review

When my brother and I toured northern New England some 15 years ago, one of our more intriguing visits was to the Haskell Free Library, which is a public library deliberately built in 1904 on the international border between Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec. The entrance is in the U.S., but most of the library is in Canada; a dark line down the floor marks the border.

The idea was to commemorate and exemplify the freedom along the "longest undefended border" in the world, but by the time we got there, it was no longer undefended. Canadians could only reach the entrance by walking a specified route and promising to return immediately upon leaving. Jersey barriers blocked the residential streets that casually crossed the border, and swarms of US border patrol guards lurked around, ready to pounce upon and question anybody who looked suspicious, like a couple of geography-buff brothers who were poking around the neighborhood to see exactly where the border ran.

So I was mightily curious to see a play set there. World premiere plays can be a very hazardous proposition, but this one was good. It's called A Distinct Society, and it's by Kareem Fahmy, a Canadian-born writer of Egyptian descent. It's set just after the Trump travel ban of 2017, which made things worse. The library became kind of a neutral zone, just about the only place where - to take the characters presented in this play - a man from Iran, free to enter Canada but not the U.S., could meet his daughter who's in the U.S. on a student visa but can't leave the country. According to the play, some blogger using the name Elizabeth Bennet let the world know about this and it became popular, so the border patrol is cracking down: visits only five minutes, and no passing along gifts.

The other characters in the play are the librarian, who's just trying to keep the peace (but who's a Jane Austen fan; hm, interesting); a border guard, who has the sweets on the librarian and is not very enthusiastic about the restrictions but is under heavy job pressure to enforce them; and a truant high school student, whose enthusiasm is for Green Lantern comics, excuse me graphic novels, and is always pulling moral lessons out of them to educate the other characters. As the title suggests, the history of Quebec separatism also makes an appearance. It was about an hour and a half, no intermission, well acted, dragged very little. I liked it and am glad I went. Running in Mountain View to the end of April.

Monday, April 10, 2023

happy holidays

It's been Easter. It is also, and still is, Pesach. Accordingly, I spent my weekend at two celebratory dinners in the mid to late afternoons. To both of these, my contribution was broccoli: I've found that the simplest steamed broccoli, seasoned only with a few herbs, is as popular and gratefully accepted as any fancier version I could make.

Saturday was an excellent choice for a seder, being the only available convenient date I could attend. This was, as usual, with the family of old friends who've adopted me and a few other individuals without convenient seder-hosting families of our own. Eleven adults at this table, some 6 or 7 mostly of the next generation at the other. The usual chatty gathering with lots of conversation about our doings and those of mutual acquaintances. I fastened on a bottle of moscato rosa wine as my beverage of choice for the ritual four glasses of wine, and when that ran out, the other bottle. Main course, lamb.

Sunday for Easter was unusual. The usual hosts for family gatherings, our niece and nephew T. & T., weren't here. Their son N. is now a freshman at Case Western, so they'd gone off to Cleveland to be with him. OK ... I didn't go nearly that far from home for university, but part of the point was to establish an identity for myself and be out from under my parents' apron-strings. I wouldn't have wanted them to descend on me for a holiday; when I wanted to celebrate with them, I came home, which for Christmas is what N. did.

Substitution was provided by another nephew, T.'s brother L., and his wife E. Often gone to celebrate holidays with E.'s family, they were at their gratifyingly nearby home this time, along with the other local brother and his wife, plus parents of all of the above siblings, plus one set of aunt and uncle, that's us, making eight. Very comfy quarters, lots of chocolate, the traditional "hunt" for plastic Easter eggs in the front yard (the trick is, pretending you don't immediately see them all), a large meal (main courses, ham and chicken), and a game of Boggle for those who didn't prefer to nap.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

how stupid can you get?

So John Scalzi posted that he's looking for a science researcher to help with his next novel, and among the areas of expertise he wants the researcher to help with are:
  • Selenology (generally, not necessarily relating to the Earth's moon)
  • Geology (generally, not necessarily relating to the Earth)
The "not necessarily relating" raised a definitional question in my mind, so I posted a comment asking:
If they're not being restricted to the Earth and our Moon, then what exactly is the difference between geology and selenology? Is it an arbitrary distinction between planets and moons? Or does it mean "bodies that physically resemble the Earth/Moon"? (e.g. that one has plate tectonics and an atmosphere and the other doesn’t)
Is that clear? Apparently not to the person who next commented, who so helpfully explained,
Selenology is the study of the geology and features of the moon and how it came to be. There is a lot of info available on this.
Unfortunately the thread was already a couple of days old and Scalzi closed it before I saw this and could reply, so I'll expostulate here instead:

Did this person not read the opening phrase of my post? Did they not read Scalzi's "not necessarily relating to the Earth's moon"? Do they have trouble understanding what the word "not" means? How could they possibly have read my post, which discusses the Moon, and thought I didn't know what the word "selenology" means? Isn't it obvious that I'm a step ahead of you and am asking how you apply it beyond the basic dictionary meaning which I know perfectly well and which I do the courtesy of assuming that the readers do too? Or is this person a lazy incapable reader who saw a post with questions and the word "selenology" in it, and assumed without reading it that the question must be not knowing what "selenology" means?

I'm kind of stunned by the degree of ignorance it must take to draw that meaning out of my post. Or, if it was sheer laziness and not bothering to read the post, why they then bothered to take the time to display what they thought was their superior learning.

Sorry, but this degree of ignorance and condescension masquerading as superior learning in the form of things too basic to need to be explained - it really frosts me.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

two string quartet concerts

I signed up to hear the Chiaroscuro and Modigliani Quartets, both at Herbst four days apart, because they were both playing some of my favorite early 19C repertoire. Each had a Beethoven and a Schubert. Chiaroscuro played Beethoven's Op. 95, which is probably his gnarliest, and Schubert's one-movement "Quartettsatz", but their major piece was Mendelssohn's Op. 13, a tribute to late Beethoven that's my favorite Mendelssohn quartet. Modigliani played Beethoven's Op. 18 No. 3, probably his lightest and most cheerful, and gave the major spot on the program to Schubert's huge and dark "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, filling out the program with Puccini's tiny memorial piece Chrysanthemums.

Chiaroscuro's gimmick is that they play on old-fashioned gut strings. Or so they say. The sound was boxy and woody, as you'd expect from that claim, but they played in such a modern manner, fast and more concerned with drama than with emotional expressiveness, that this negated the antiquity of the sound quality. I wonder about the authenticity here. The players didn't retune anywhere near as much as verified gut-string players I've heard. Maybe their strings were gut-wound instead. While their Beethoven and Schubert were fine, it was the Mendelssohn that conveyed a sense of the spread and depth of the piece.

Modigliani's style is smooth and clear. They sailed so placidly through the charming Beethoven that I wondered if they'd have anything saved up in their emotional box for Schubert. It turned out they mustered up volume and vehemence just fine; what was missing was emotional impact, a sense of tragedy. It wasn't a hollow performance, just not as affecting as it was arresting.

And next week, it's the Emerson Quartet with another similar program, with Beethoven plus Haydn and Mozart instead of Schubert. And that'll be my last Herbst concert of the season.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

another 48-hour Shakespeare play festival

Silicon Valley Shakespeare does this annually: giving teams each with 4 actors, a writer, and a director 48 hours to write and rehearse a 10-minute skit based on a given Shakespeare play and employing a given premise, each different for each skit, and then perform them before an audience when the 48 hours are up. I've seen these before, and they can be pretty funny.

This year they were played in the tiny theater at the local college, which suited the premise much better than last year when they were in the cavernous large theater. Instead of being mostly empty, the audience seating was packed.

This year the premises were Shakespeare plays in various historical settings. The winner of the audience appreciation vote was The Comedy of Errors in the Wild West. This was a pretty straightforward adaptation, with Antipholus the sheriff facing Antipholus the bank robber, with the usual confusion over which Dromio belongs to which. It was the director's idea to have the characters' spurs (which the actors weren't actually wearing) make noise, so every time somebody walked they'd say "ching, ching, ching ..." Although the highlight was the human tumbleweed, for which the actor tucked up her knees, grabbed them with her hands, and formed a ball which rolled across the stage.

My favorite was Julius Caesar set in the 1990s, in which Casca, having made a threatening phone call, murders Julia Caesar (played by a woman) two days early, having gotten confused over when the Ides of March were. (In some months, the Ides actually are the 13th.) When Brutus and Cassius complain, Casca suggests they just prop Caesar's body up as if it were alive, but that's shot down on the grounds that Weekend at Bernie's was an Eighties movie and this is supposed to be the Nineties.

Other entries, all of them at least passingly amusing, were A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Ice Age, in which the only character actually from the play was Puck, played by a pre-teen boy, whose best line was, "My job is to create chaos and complicate your lives, and believe me, it's not that hard to do"; As You Like It as high-school truants in the 1980s, the best-acted of the bunch; and a Much Ado in which Beatrice and Benedick keep arguing even while on the block to be executed in the French Revolution.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Tolkien in Vermont

The University of Vermont has been holding a small annual Tolkien conference for ages now, and I'd have liked to attend were it not for the extreme exertions required to get to Vermont from here. However, this year they did it hybrid. (Apparently last year also, but I didn't hear about it.) So I signed up. That did mean getting up at 5:30, but this is something I normally do. However, going back for a nap is something else I normally do, so I only caught about half of the 15 presenters.

Very good stuff, though, focusing on obscure literature of Middle-earth's Second Age. Gratifyingly advanced presentations, assuming the auditors knew not only Tolkien's writings in detail but the scholarly literature as well. I particularly liked two papers performing some deep character analysis of Aldarion and Erendis. I claim that Erendis is Tolkien's greatest female character. If she's unfamiliar to you, you should read Unfinished Tales, which I think is the posthumous Tolkien book that the most fans of The Lord of the Rings would most like. I've written about her myself, but mostly to introduce her to the unfamiliar, not at the advanced level heard here.

A couple speakers, including the keynoter, explored a topic which has gotten a lot of discussion over the years, the internal sources of the history. Who is telling the story of the Silmarillion, and what are their interests and biases? This is not just an imaginary topic of the invented world, but a vital question concerning how Tolkien wrote the story. Also, what real-world influences inspired his story, and what does that say about his interests and biases?

There were also some theoretical papers which unraveled the question of whether Tolkien was racist or anti-racist, sexist or anti-sexist, and how much of each. Actually in each case he was both, and you won't understand him until you've figured that out. I see it as that Tolkien's instincts were fairly egalitarian, but he had drunk deeply of the racial and sexual cantish rhetoric of his time and absorbed it as his own.

And, of course, many wise ones maintain that it doesn't matter what the author intended, it matters what the readers see. This perspective has its value, but I see it as limited. Some readers aren't paying close attention and just misread. Others are exploiting the work for their own ends and desires. They should acknowledge that cheerfully, and some do. These cases say a lot more about the readers than about the work. But even leaving those aside, I don't favor blaming the author for readings that only come into favor decades later.

Much to chew on. Glad I heard as much as I did.

Friday, March 31, 2023

two concerts

1. What was I doing listening to MTT conduct the SFS in Mahler's Sixth? Normally I avoid late Mahler whenever possible, and the fact that I had a ticket on the series doesn't explain it. I skipped out when I had a ticket on the series to these same performers in this very symphony on what turned out to be the week after 9/11. A famous concert, I later read, which provided some much-needed catharsis. But, knowing the music, I doubt it would have worked for me.

Perhaps I came this time because last week I heard Hans Rott's symphony, acknowledged progenitor of early Mahler symphonies, a slightly different kettle. Mahler is a great orchestrator, that's clear: his music is never muddled, no matter how many things are going on. And the final three bars of this symphony are thunderously effective. But that's not a lot in an hour and a half. For the most part I found it meandering, inconsistent in tone and style, jerking around between moods - in short, Mahler. I began to miss Rott's straightforward and consistent style compared to this. For tragedy, the intended conclusion, it was as nothing compared to the towering darkness of the finale of Moroi's Third.

2. Or, for tragedy, how about this which I just reviewed? Chamber music by four composers killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

3. A fond farewell on the passing of Leslie Smith: dramatic soprano, singing teacher, auld acquaintance from Ann Arbor, someone whose company I enjoyed but wish I'd known better.

Thursday, March 30, 2023


The recent "woke" Broadway production of the musical 1776 is going out on national tour, and as it's coming to our city that means I can easily indulge my desire to see it. (I wish, by the way, to help reclaim the word "woke" for its proud original meaning, which is "aware of racial and social injustices," and drown out the silly meaning of "whatever Republicans don't like.")

If I'd known what I'd have to go through, I might have changed my mind when I saw that the vendor was Ticketmaster. First I had to waste several minutes establishing that I already had a Ticketmaster account which wasn't in my password list because I hadn't used it for about eight years, since before establishing the list, and then I had to answer about five automated phone calls giving me numeric security codes I had to enter on-screen. And since they give you only seven minutes to complete the order, that meant it timed out before I was able to finish it, so I had to start again.

That was the easy part.

The hard part came after I finished the order and found that the ticket sheet they sent me by e-mail contained no ticket bar codes. I didn't even notice at first the instruction that said to load the Ticketmaster app on to your phone and download the tickets from there. Irrelevant, anyway, as my phone can't do things like that, and even if it did I'm not eager to load an app I'd only use once in eight years.

I established a chat link - it said they'd get back to you within four hours (!) but it actually took only about 25 minutes - and eventually found out that, no, there's no print at home option for these tickets, but you can have them transferred to will call. After spending an hour on this altogether, I had them do that, but I won't be surprised if I get to will call, show them my documentation, and then they say, "I've just sent your tickets to your phone."

And then ... and then I go out for lunch in a mildly upscale Palo Alto restaurant that I haven't been to in several years, and find a new wrinkle. The host pointed me to a card on the table and said I can order via a QR code on the card. I hastily replied that my phone can't do that. The host fortunately said that in that case they'd send a waiter, and did not direct me to what else it said on the card, which is that if you can't access the QR code, use their website. I didn't bring a laptop computer along with me either! And if they have wifi, it didn't say.

Fortunately I could order via human being, and pay too, instead of using the QR code for that also. But it was a narrow escape.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

concert review: California Symphony

Sometimes I come across, on recordings or just as a written reference to it, to an obscure work that I'd like to, but doubt I ever will, hear performed live. Sometimes the opportunity to hear one of these works live does arrive. Results usually range from good to disappointing.

But last weekend I heard the Symphony in E by Hans Rott. It's not a masterpiece, and I'm not recommending it to anyone beyond mad symphony collectors like myself, but I was thrilled. As a performance, it was everything I could have wished for. It just brought the whole thing to vivid life.

And I reviewed it, so my satisfaction was complete. Lisa Iron Tongue hated it, but the difference is: she had not heard it before; I knew the piece from recordings, I knew its flaws and virtues, I knew what to expect.

Hans Rott was Gustav Mahler's roommate at conservatory. They were friends, and when Mahler saw this rather revolutionary, on-beyond-Bruckner (Bruckner was Rott's teacher) symphony, he said that was the kind of symphony he wanted to write. And he did: it fits as a template over Mahler's First, composed eight years later.

But what about Rott? When he completed this symphony he was only 21, and it was promising enough that a career as a great composer could be expected. But then he became mentally ill and died at 25. And that's why you've never heard of him. If Mahler, who was two years Rott's junior, had died at 25, few would have heard of him today either, as at that time his only compositions to have survived were a fragmentary piano quartet, the first version of Das klagende Lied, and a few songs.

Most composers who died young that you've heard of were prodigies, like Schubert. But most composers developed more slowly, like Mahler. Or Beethoven. How many potentially great composers died young and are forgotten? Among those who left a trace of themselves as symphonists, there's Rott. There's Norbert Burgmüller (26), a friend of Schumann's. There's Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (an unbelievable 19), the greatest Basque composer before Ravel, 1820s. If you count her Military Sinfonietta, there's Vítězslava Kaprálová (25), 1930s. I collect composers like these, and that's what I was doing with Rott. I've heard Arriaga's symphony live, but until now, none of the others.

Monday, March 27, 2023


Do not buy a couch that is the same color as your cat.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

return of the tofu

We may specify that commercially-packed, shelf-stable tofu is an abomination. It tastes terrible and I won't eat it.

If I want tofu, it has to be hand-packaged freshly-made tofu from a local tofu maker, with a shelf life of only a few days. Buy it and make it for dinner no later than the next day, and that's pushing it. Chop up some vegetables and stir-fry them, add the sliced tofu and a packet of mild mapo sauce I bought at the same time, heat them up, and that's dinner. Delicious, and vegetarian too. (Mapo tofu is supposed to have meat, but I just don't put any in. Making it non-vegetarian seems to me to cancel the point of having tofu in the first place.)

I went through three local Japanese markets - the first two closed - buying tofu by the same little old tofu maker from San Jose's Japantown before the maker decided to retire. Fortunately the third market eventually found another local tofu maker which is also good, so I started buying that. But when the pandemic came, the fresh tofu disappeared from the shelves. After a couple times of this, I stopped looking.

Finally last week I returned to the market and found that the tofu had also returned to the shelves. Thus the tofu has also returned to our cuisine rotation, and we are content.

Friday, March 24, 2023

movie review: The Fabelmans

This was the only Oscar-nominated movie this year that I hadn't already seen but had an interest in seeing. Now that I have, I'm almost sorry I bothered. I didn't find it a very coherent story, nor much of an enjoyable viewing experience, which is one thing that a movie - which is after all a voluntary aesthetic encounter - must be.

Assuming that the story as presented is pretty much an accurate depiction of Spielberg's early life - which everything I've read about it indicates that it is (despite the title: fable-man, get it?) - than the problem seems to have been Spielberg's decision not to tell a focused story of how he decided to become a movie-maker, but to present a collection of Issues of His Childhood. This being real life, the various issues don't necessarily interact meaningfully, and he didn't make them do so in the movie.

There's three major issues: 1) his interest in making movies, 2) his mother's affair and his parents' divorce, 3) the anti-Semitism he encounters in high school. #1 makes him happy, #2 and #3 make him depressed. He takes #2 out on himself by quitting #1. But there's no interior view of what's going on in his mind: is he just too depressed to go on, has he actually lost interest, or is he flagellating himself by denying himself this thing he loves? No way to tell. He deals with #3 by making a school outing documentary which exalts one of the two bullies tormenting him at the expense of the other one, but why he does this is not clear, even when he's specifically asked. The fact that I found it difficult to distinguish the two bullies from each other made this part even harder to follow.

There's very little showing what interests him about movies or how he goes about making them. His direction to the young actor playing the sergeant in his war movie, and his revelation to his father that he's making gunshots by pricking physical holes in the film stock are about the only things. This is annoying because he's shown as developing an almost professional-level skill while still in school. Where'd he get this from? If he'd been shown seeing John Ford movies in his early life, or taking an interest in framing in his filmmaking, that would at least have given the final scene some context and made it a reward to the viewer, instead of having it weirdly stick out in the air.

The most frustrating scene for me was Sam's meeting with Claudia, Logan's girlfriend. I kept wishing for him to have said something like this: "Logan told me to tell you that I was lying when I said I saw him kissing another girl, and he enforced this instruction with his fist. So I want you to tell him that I said I was lying. Whether you actually believe I was lying, that's up to you."

Thursday, March 23, 2023

tree fall

Our latest storm produced not just a number of fallen trees blocking roads, but three cases locally where the fall of the tree killed somebody who happened to be underneath at the time, in two of the cases in a vehicle. I also saw a story about a dead tree in a park which fell over and killed two children right in front of their horrified parents' eyes. That was not during a storm, but some time afterwards.

Nor do you need a storm. I was once walking on a sidewalk underneath a spreading oak tree when suddenly a large branch detached itself and crashed to the ground. This was a couple feet away from me. How badly I'd have been injured if I'd been directly underneath I don't care to think.

I like trees, but they can be dangerous. Look at the Ents in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (Not the ones in the movie, which are ridiculous.)

In other news, I've gotten the schedule for the Kalamazoo medieval studies congress in May. This is where a lot of Tolkien scholarship goes on, so that's of great interest to me, but I've never gone. The complexities of getting there from here, plus the fact that I'm not a medievalist and have limited knowledge of or interest in the rest of what they do, have put it far too down my priority list.

Last year, however, the sessions were all online, so I bought a membership and attended virtually. This year, however, it appears they're recovering. Some sessions are online, some will be streamed, but too many won't be. I counted up ten sessions I'm really interested in, most of them on Tolkien, Lewis, or Le Guin, but only 3 of them will be available online. Is that enough? Oh, sure, there are other sessions which strike my passing curiosity, but based on last year, passing curiosity is all they'll satisfy for me.

I could actually attend in person, you know. Even at this date I could make the arrangements. But the chaos that the extra time and the absence from my computer would throw into my schedule (after another trip I'm taking two weeks earlier) are daunting; plus even ten sessions - actually only eight, since in two cases they're on at the same time - becomes hard to justify for the added expense.

Will I join online anyway for the three? Yeah, I think I will. Blast.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

concert review: Symphony San Jose

I got sent by my editors down to Symphony San Jose to cover last weekend's programming, and it really was something glorious. Sitting up in the front balcony, which is always the best spot in that house, the sound of Florence Price's First Symphony, which I would probably have gone to hear anyway, outdid itself in a passionate performance.

I really should go to hear this orchestra more often. At one time I had a subscription, which I let drop because while the orchestra was getting better, the programming was spotty. The previous management decided a few years ago to adhere to a theory that every concert should include a popular warhorse, and a lot of those are pieces I like but am just not moved to go out of my way to hear again. Still, this concert's work in that category, the Grieg Piano Concerto, was a lot more exciting and less vapid than it usually is.

A new manager has taken over and is programming next season, and has taken the opposite tack of playing not a single work that the orchestra has ever played before in its 20-year history. That still leaves room for a lot of classics from The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Rodeo to both Mahler's and Shostakovich's First Symphonies, but it also includes Lera Auerbach, Caroline Shaw, and William Grant Still. Despite an all-Puccini concert (in May; the centenary of his death isn't till November), it looks tempting, and I'd be making up for anybody who drops out because they're not getting Beethoven and Dvorak (neither of those two AT ALL are appearing) all year.

At the pre-concert talk, the regular speaker, a violinist in the orchestra, brought on the concert's guest conductor. At the end, the speaker asked the conductor to tell us something interesting and unusual about himself. The conductor fumpfed for a minute, then said, "At university I was a double major in music and government. I've always been interested in government: when I was nine years old I could give the full names of all the Presidents of the United States in order." I half-raised my hand at that, because I could do that too. Then he said to the speaker, "I'm not going to do it now, but give me a number." The speaker said, "19," and the conductor paused for a moment in thought and then said, "Rutherford B. Hayes." Pretty good. Not many orchestra conductors could do that.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Sondheim festival III: Follies, the high school musical

So this theatrical group, composed entirely of students from numerous local high schools, put on a quite excellent production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a few years ago. How would they do with Sondheim's Follies? Not so great, although everybody was competent on the level of knowing their lines and being able to depict a character. But a play that's largely about couples aged 50 whose marriages are falling apart requires more seasoning than high school actors are going to have, and Sondheim's complex songs require more self-confidence than a lot of these people have got either. Mousy renditions of "Broadway Baby" and "In Buddy's Eyes" don't cut it. The one performer who had what it takes played Carlotta, one of the lesser roles, and her big number "I'm Still Here" was the highlight of the show, more enjoyable than most professional versions I've heard. A big hand, then, for Audrey Rechenmacher.

Exceedingly bare-bones production in the small performance space at the Mountain View CPA. No ghosts of the characters' earlier selves, a lot of double-casting in the minor roles. Minimal sets, sketchy costumes. The leading character of Phyllis wore a very fetching green dress, but a couple dance-hall girls had enormous runs or actual holes in their stockings. I don't think they were intentionally seedy.

Since I don't know Follies well, and had never actually seen it performed before, I took this as a get-acquainted prelude to the adult community theater level, and unstaged concert version, that I plan to see next month.

Saturday, March 18, 2023


Yesterday's edition of the neighborhood mailing list (I get a daily digest) was full of reports from pockets of our neighborhood that still haven't gotten their power back. That was Friday, and the windy storm that knocked all those trees down was on Tuesday. Today's paper confirms that there are still several thousand customers without power in the immediate area, and some of them are in our town.

The reason for the delay, of course, is the vast number of incidents overwhelming the crews that need to clean them up (and, the mailing list reports suggest, the exhaustion of workers who need to commute hours to get here, as people in such lines of work can't possibly afford to live here, but that's another matter). It hasn't hit us personally, which is good, because right now I'm buried in collating all the corrections for the proofs of the next issue of Tolkien Studies (that's the long-delayed 2022 issue), including some confusions that the publisher made of the illustrations (mostly musical scores) in one article, rendered more hazardous by their having renumbered them all. We missed one of the glitches ourselves; fortunately the author noticed it. Read your proofs, authors! Deadline is tight, and I don't need inaccessibility to my computer right now.

I had to dodge some fallen trees on a drive home from the City after the previous storm cycle last month, but this one hasn't been much to me personally, except for the twice-canceled Sondheim show. I did have to go out in the height of the rain for a medical appointment some distance away, but having repeatedly to hold my breath while they ran the ultrasound was more discomforting than anything involved in driving there. It currently looks as if our area will be spared the brunt of the next storm coming in a couple of days, though down south the San Bernardino Mountains towns that were socked in with snowfall may be getting more of it; the news article didn't specify that. In the meantime, between storms, it's cracking 70 F for the first time this year. There will be plenty more where that came from. I almost didn't need a jacket last night attending a concert by the Philharmonia Baroque and Apollo's Fire presenting a variety of diaspora Jewish ethnic music. Next week I'm attending a concert of wind chamber music by victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and this seemed like an appropriate prelude. Some of it was pretty haunting.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

no show

Last Thursday, B. and I had tickets to see a production of Sondheim's Into the Woods at a local community college, up on the edge of the hills. In fact, "Foothill," that's the name of the college. What should hit that day but one of the giant storms we've been getting lately. Fortunately I checked my e-mail before we went out, and found a notification that the power was out on campus so the evening's show had been canceled. But not to worry: they were adding a new performance the next Wednesday, and anyone who could make that day was welcome to transfer to that.

We were, so we did.

So on Tuesday, what should we get but another giant storm. And on Wednesday, a notice that power had gone out on campus again, and it was still out, so the replacement performance was also being canceled. Maybe it's being in the hills, and with lots of vulnerable trees around, that did it.

Show's about to close anyway: no more replacement performances, few tickets for the remaining shows (if the power comes back on for them) and we can't make them anyway.

So, scratch Into the Woods from my spring Sondheim festival. One down (Assassins, last month), one canceled, three more to go.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

concert review: Vienna Philharmonic

Once again, the most renowned orchestra in the world has come to just about the worst large auditorium in my area. And I was sent to review it.

The selection of works - Brahms and Mendelssohn - was delectable. The sound quality was beautiful, though the acoustics did their best to negate that. The conducting was wayward and eccentric. I've heard a lot better from the VPO in other hands. I fancy they might have done better with Strauss's Alpine Symphony the previous night; it's the kind of work that might respond to this approach. But how Bruckner's Eighth, which requires the most careful of shaping, came out the next evening I shudder to think.

This was an unusual form for a review from me, because - concentrating on the sound quality - I discussed the concert as a whole instead of the pieces individually. How I knew the word "intercalary" I can't remember, but it must have been right because the editors left it in.

Monday, March 13, 2023

concert review: theatrical song recital

The weather forecasts had led me to expect a heavy downpour when we returned from Stanford at 9 pm, but not a trace of rain. We'd headed out to the large lounge facing the foyer of one of the older Stanford dorms for a concert by an ensemble billed in the Music Department calendar as "Students of Music 183C: The Interpretation of Musical Theatre Repertoire." It was easy to get to, it fit our interests, so we went, although I think we must have been the only off-campus attendees.

Seven students each sang two or three songs in the damp acoustics, accompanied by their professor at the piano. You don't expect much from an undergraduate class; still, one would like heart-throbbing ballads like "Somewhere" or "I Dreamed a Dream" to be rendered with a little less wispy mousiness. And there was plenty of stuff like landing on your high note and then skidding around until you find the right pitch. But the one male student, though his intonation could use help, had a great sense of stage presence. The singer who tackled "Think of Me" from Phantom nailed the cadenza (better than Sarah Brightman, said B., though that's not a high bar *meow*), and the other one who sang "Vanilla Ice Cream," surely the best song in She Loves Me, was wonderful in pitch, projection, and character, with her smartphone standing in for Amalia's letterpad. Overall, a worthwhile hour out.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

everything one after the other

We hosted the quarterly MythSoc book discussion meeting this afternoon, and only two other people showed up. Fortunately we'd all at least partly read the book, which was Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. As this story prominently features a donut shop, I went out and bought a dozen donuts, which didn't get quite half eaten.

The book was mostly enjoyed, though I found it it clotted and unnecessarily messy in a way that was apparently deliberate but didn't work for me. In which it struck me similarly to the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, which was about to have a big night.

Some of the people who might have come to the meeting but didn't had to excuse themselves because of family emergency, health issues, or not being able to get home in time for the start of the Oscars broadcast. We were already home, so we didn't have that problem, and watched the whole thing.

By now, anyone who cares will know that one movie won just about everything, everywhere, all at once. In fact: there are by one definition eight major Academy Awards (Picture, Director, the four acting awards, and the two screenplay awards). It's only possible to win 7 of these, as the two screenplay awards are mutually exclusive. Everything Everywhere All at Once wasn't nominated for Leading Actor, but it won all the other six. No other movie has ever done this, in the entire history of the awards. The last one to win as many as five was nearly 40 years ago, Terms of Endearment in 1984. (Up until 1956 there was a separate writing award for Story, but only one picture ever won 6 major awards if you include that, Going My Way in 1945.)

I wonder if this is the first time anyone has won an acting Oscar for playing an IRS agent.

I'd also like to give Everywhere another award, for best acceptance speeches.

Thoughts on some other awards: Having seen all the Documentary Short Subject finalists, I agree, The Elephant Whisperers was the best. The Animated Short Films didn't inspire me as much. I detested The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, but that was for the inanely sappy story. I'll admit it was well-animated and the voice cast did their jobs well, so since I wasn't tremendously excited by any of the others either, I'll give its win a pass.

The only other award I can comment on in full is Best Song, as the finalists were all played in the ceremony. The actual winner, "Naatu Naatu," I think could have won Best Dancing, but I didn't think much of it for Best Song. Out of a generally uninspiring lineup, I thought the best was Lady Gaga's "Hold My Hand." Wait a minute, that was from Top Gun: Maverick? I saw that movie, but I don't remember there being a song.

Best host joke by a long shot was Jimmy Kimmel's comments on the Best Editing award: "Anyone who's ever received a text message from their father knows how important editing is. Editors do amazing things. Editors can turn 44,000 hours of violent insurrection footage into a respectful sightseeing tour of the Capitol." (Twitter video link: the delivery does help make it)

Which is of course a zinger at Tucker Carlson's selection of footage, but an even better zinger was the one delivered by the not-always-reliable Bill Maher, which has to be seen to be appreciated (YouTube link).

Saturday, March 11, 2023

out in the world

First in a very long time today: a casual social event, a friend's birthday party, he having reached a very large and very round number. Instructed not to bring gifts, most of us brought bottles of varyingly exotic beers anyway, because we know what the celebrant likes. I'd found one of English oatmeal stout, i.e. beer with actual oatmeal in it, or so the label claimed.

Guests were from various areas of his life, so many of us didn't know each other, hence a lot of introducing ourselves going around. I think I won the informal contest for guest who'd known the celebrant for the longest, our acquaintance going back at least as far as taking a medieval history class at university together, if not further.

Found myself in a conversation with people reminiscing about the bands they'd seen in various long-defunct dives, the bands being the likes of the Ramones and Motörhead which I know only by name. The only vaguely relevant contribution I could make was to recall that in my college days, which slightly predated theirs, my principal popular music outlet was going over to the Great American Music Hall to see the likes of Martin Carthy. If I'd been asked who that was, my standard way of defining Martin Carthy for people who've never heard of him is, "He's the guy who taught Paul Simon 'Scarborough Fair'."