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January 13, 2006


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Mary Scriver is crazy about Madison Smartt Bell's how-to-write book, "Narrative Design." I'm not surprised to learn that Mary has taken acting classes. More writers should, IMHO. There's a lot more to writing than just moving words around on the page -- for instance, connecting emotionally with your material and bringing your characters to life. These are skills many writers don't have, and that good acting classes teach.

* It's Robert Kuttner vs. Milton Friedman. (Link thanks to Econlog)

* Searchie enjoys a special bond with her niece.

* Yahmdallah reports on his latest reading and viewing, explaining what's wrong with "King Kong," what's right with "40 Year Old Virgin," and wondering why the nonreligious don't get believers.

* Lynn isn't sure she wants to be handling a certain book owned by Brown University. (UPDATE/CORRECTION: In fact, Lynn's a curious soul, and would very much like to go see and touch this book.)

* It's always fun to run the eyeballs over a list of last year's bestsellers.

* What's with that kinky Wachowski brother anyway? Rolling Stone explains. (Link thanks to Anne Thompson)

* Mike Hill tries to make himself look bad and fails.

* I've been getting a lot out of exploring the very striking photojournalism of Esther Bubley, which was pointed out to me by Dave Lull.

* What color is the editorial side of New York's glossy-magazine world? Lizzy Ratner's answer: "ivory, bone, mist." Great quote: "Of the 203 staffers and contributors listed on the Vanity Fair masthead, six—or less than 3 percent—are people of color." This in a city that is 65% nonwhite. (Link thanks to Steve Sailer)

* The New Urbanism's Rick Cole did a spectacular job reviving Pasadena's downtown. Now he's trying to do the same for Ventura. John Massengale reprints the story.

* Are too many conservatives proud of being blockheads? Mark Gavreau Judge thinks so. Judge calls himself a "metrosexual conservative." A "metrocon"? Lordy but life does seem to be passing me by.



posted by Michael at January 13, 2006


Among the worst offenders of the lilly white magazine crowd, Rolling Stone, the Nation! and The New Yorker... you know, those ultra liberal publications that write incessantly about the racist of Neanderthal Republicans.

Do what I say, not what I do... right?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 14, 2006 12:27 AM

These modern books with their crappy covers ... bring back that old-time craftsmanship!

Posted by: Peter on January 14, 2006 12:55 AM

Two thoughts:

A. How many white folk write for Ebony?

B. "It represented the one thing I truly cannot stand about modern conservatism: its defense of anything dumb, tacky, and second-rate, as long as it comes from 'the people.'"

Amen! Speaking as a guy whose New Year's resolution was to listen to more chamber music, I couldn't agree more!

At least, emotionally.

But on a practical level, I know it's populism that wins elections and always has. Back when the Democrats were union stiffs and poor farmers they ran the country; now that they're dot-commers and Ivy Leaguers they're taking the big bath. Seeing as that's the case, I see nothing the matter with boot-scootin' our way to glory! Yee haw!

Posted by: Brian on January 14, 2006 8:11 AM

Oh but I am sure! I want to see it and touch it. Curiousity is a powerful force in me. :-)

Posted by: Lynn S on January 14, 2006 9:57 AM

I was interested in Yahmdallah's reaction to "King Kong" and then read further that he seemed to enjoy the stage musical "Little Shop of Horrors" (except for the fact that he had already seen the original version, which was at least one of the reasons for his reduced enthusiasm for re-make of "King Kong" too.)

Given his negative comments about stage musicals in the Donald Pittenger thread, "Mambo-Bombo" in late November (too much "artificiality"), I found it interesting that he apparently liked "Little Shop of Horrors" as much as he did. (I haven't seen the musical myself, but have the CD.)

I wonder if his reaction might be an illustration of what I was trying to get at in my post: that if someone likes the music in the first place (in this case, essentially "rock" music) and shares the sensibility of the authors (in this case essentially baby-boomer or post-baby boomer) they will not be put off by the "artificiality" of a stage musical (e.g., Greek chorus, fake plant, etc.) -- and may actually enjoy it instead. (Yahmdallah seemed to get a kick out of the "doo wop" Greek chorus idea.)

One other thought that occurred to after I posted on the original "Mambo-Bombo" thread, was that perhaps the best way for some people to enjoy a Broadway musical is not to think of it as a play, really, but as a concert that happens to also have spoken dialog, dancing, costumes and scenery.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 14, 2006 12:04 PM

ST -- It's always fun to catch 'em out like that, isn't it? These self-righteous people who are so sure about how the rest of us ought to live ... Grrr.

Peter -- No kidding: What's happened to standards?

Brian -- As you say, the how-diverse-are-they question is more complicated that just head-counting. Being part of the media world myself, in my worker-bee way, what strikes me most isn't how white it is, it's how Ivy League, female, and gay-male it is. (Incidentally, there are reasons why this is the case.) Where's the outrage about how our glossy magazines are so dominated by Ivy people and Ivy thinking? Fun to try to put 'em on the defensive, anyway. Any reason will do, as far as I'm concerned.

Lynn -- I'll go correct right now!

Benjamin -- I think that's really smart. For years when I was going both to theater and to rock/pop concerts and dances, I was often struck by how much better -- in traditional showbizzy terms -- many of the concerts were than the musicals. Some of the groups put on real directed-and-choreographed shows. I remember a brilliant evening with King Creole and the Cocoanuts, for instance: dialogue, dancing, "characters" (in a lite, satirical sense)... I mean, it was a show! It was also a dance concert. What wasn't to love about that? Meanwhile, many of the more-traditional musical presentations were draggy and top-heavy. So maybe you're right: maybe we shouldn't get so hung up on what something calls itself (a dance or a musical), and maybe we should just enjoy it -- good entertainment -- where we find it, and who cares about the labels. Too bad about the trad musicals -- that world is full of all kinds of dynamic, talented performers just bursting with personality. I wish they had more and better shows to be part of. I found that a nice midway point between the topheavy Bway musical and the downtown dance evening was the off-off-Bway revue -- smaller, looser, not top-heavy, and yet giving the traditional-style performers a chance to put their wares on display. 90% of the time I was happier at those shows than I was at the gigantic, more traditionally written-and-staged musicals. Have you ever been a revue fan yourself?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 14, 2006 12:19 PM

A. How many white folk write for Ebony?

How many white folk write for the Source?

answer would surprise you...

Posted by: lah on January 14, 2006 12:36 PM

MB wrote:

Too bad about the [world of] trad[itional] musicals -- that world is full of all kinds of dynamic, talented performers just bursting with personality. I wish they had more and better shows to be part of.

Benjamin Hemric:

I find it sad also.

Just imagine if Fred Astaire (with his incredible talents for ballroom and tap dancing and his modest, but brilliantly utilized, singing voice) were born in 1959 instead of 1899. All that incredible talent would have probably gone to near total waste: who would be around to write the proper material for his particular talents?; where would he have been given the opportunity to work on and perfect his particular talents?; and, given our society's current likes and dislikes, would the general public really appreciate such a performer if the performer were a contemporary -- and not someone to watch in a free late night movie or a inexpensive DVD?

- - - - - - -

MB wrote:

Have you ever been a revue fan yourself?

Benjamin Hemric writes:

"Yes" and "no."

I genuinely like all kinds of music -- to a degree -- but basically the music closest to my heart is that of the "classic American songbook": Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Dietz & Schwartz, Jule Styne, etc. And although all these songwriters did in fact write songs for Broadway revues -- particularly Irving Berlin and Dietz and Schwartz -- this was before my time. (The most celebrated of all revues is probably the "Bandwagon" which was Fred Astaire's last appearance, I believe, on Broadway.)

However, I've recently been buying CD's of some of their famous revues and I can really see myself enjoying them.

One of my favorites is "Two on the Aisle" (1951) -- perhaps the last of the great Broadway revues. It was by Jule Styne and Comden & Green and starred the great comic Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz) and singer/actress Dolores Grey (I think she starred in the movie version of the musical Kismet). Although it's a short CD (the material was originally recorded for vinyl), it's really a lot of fun -- like being at a great party where the partygoers really know how to sing, really know how to put over a skit and have lots of clever, funny material (both spoken and sung) to work with.

Some other favorites that I've gotten on CD are "Pins & Needles" (a clever pro-labor revue by Harold Rome), "Ziegfeld Follies of 1936" (music by Vernon Duke), "This is the Army" (songs by Irving Berlin), "Call Me Mister" (a returning GIs revue by Harold Rome), "New Faces of 1952" (various). ("Pins & Needles," "This is the Army," and "Call Me Mister" all had a special "gimmick": they were all performed by amateurs -- labor union members, members of, or recently ex-members of, the armed forces.)

Such revues were once a staple of Broadway, and I think the best way to think of them is as a on-stage version of "Saturday Night Live" but with the top comedians, top musical performers, and top writers, etc. of a different era. (Also, they generally had more dancing than "Saturday Night Live" has.)

I suppose I'm not attracted to more contemporary revues because 1) I doubt I'd share the sensibility of the performers, writers (what they find funny, etc.), choreographers, etc. and 2) I would probably prefer experiencing the music of theirs that I do like on CD where it's less expensive to hear, more easily replayed and where I can turn the volume down and hear it without audience participation.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 14, 2006 1:51 PM

Yamdallah mentions how much he likes Scrubs in his post! I concur. Best. Medical. Show. IMO.

(I never use things like IMO. I wonder what moved me to do that today?)

Scrubs seems more realistic to me than those other doctor as madonna/whore or hero/saint/jerk shows like ER or House or that horror of horrors, Grey's Anatomy (actually, I liked ER for the first two or three years. Georgie boy, of course. And I've never seen Grey's Anatomy, I just liked that horror of horrors line....)

Anway, I slightly disagree with Yamdallah about King Kong - it was so awful that I found myself enjoying it for the sheer awfulness).

Posted by: MD on January 14, 2006 5:18 PM

Oh, I just tried reading that whole metrocon thing. Er, this reminds me of Rod Dreher's whole crunchy conservatism schtick. Do you know that there are conservatives that buy there food at Whole Foods? And buy organic? OOOOOhhhhhhh.


Posted by: MD on January 14, 2006 5:26 PM

Aaargh, their not there. I give up.

*How is it that my brain remembers all these medical facts perfectly ( I can close my eyes and see the images sharp as day), but I can never, never, never spell? I don't get it. I even try to preview and everything.

Posted by: MD on January 14, 2006 5:31 PM

Michael: "Being part of the media world myself, in my worker-bee way, what strikes me most isn't how white it is, it's how Ivy League, female, and gay-male it is. (Incidentally, there are reasons why this is the case.)"

He said coyly.

Well for gosh sakes, don't leave us hanging like that! Tell! Tell!

Posted by: Brian on January 15, 2006 8:44 AM

Mr. Benjamin Hemric:

You might have a point. As I like rock, I was predisposed to like the music in "Little Shop." (The film version still didn't get me at the time - it took the live play.)

But I also love works that know how to exploit (in the positive sense) their medium.

"Little Shop of Horrors" on the stage KNOWS it's on the stage, and part of the wink wink nudge nudge is their knowing how nifty it is to pull off the image of a man-eating plant on stage.

Another example of this is the film "Fight Club." Though it adheres to the original novel pretty well, Fincher, the director, goes all "meta" in the mechanism of the film (re: the plane crash and the sex scenes - not to mention the brilliant use of subliminals), which take the material to another level, and hence its cult status.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on January 17, 2006 4:34 PM

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