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