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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Louis Louis

Update, April 17NYT just out with interesting analysis of how the play treats Armstrong, and another new play on Lady Day.  I have to agree that the one fault in "Satchmo" was not quite enough sense of his true genius and influence as the century's most important American musical figure.

Earlier:  I've been following this amazing new play about the life of Louis "The King" Armstrong since its out-of-town tryouts and now it's just opened in NYC.  Here's NYT rave recently.   Got tickets for tonight.  Front row.  UPDATE:  And it was fantastic.  Rush to see it. Even has a key segment on when he spoke out against Eisenhower (cursed him, even) for his initial failure to act during the Little Rock school integration fight.  Reminded me of when my wife interviewed newspaper guy involved in story for Editor & Publisher when I edited that magazine a few years back.

And below, when he started making the most important music in our history--the first cut below with his own group, the second his "St. Louis Blues" version backing Bessie Smith (virtually his first appearance on record in 1925).  Both cuts go into the Hall of Fame.   

A Fuller Love for Beethoven

In my many readings on Beethoven for our current film and book, I was struck by mentions of virtual love letters that the influential writer, feminist and transcendentalist Margaret Fuller wrote to Ludwig--long after he died.  I'm reminded of it this week, with the Pulitzer Prize win for biography to Megan Marshall for her Fuller book.  Here's Fuller's letter to Beethoven on November 15, 1843, after returning from a concert in Boston:
My only friend,
How shall I thank thee for once more breaking the chains of my sorrowful slumber? My heart beats. I live again, for I feel that I am worthy audience for thee, and that my being would be reason enough for thine.  I have no art, in which to vent the swell of a soul as deep as thine, Beethoven, and of a kindred frame. Thou wilt not think me presumptuous in this saying, as another might. I have always known that thou wouldst welcome and know me, as would no other who ever lived upon the earth since its first creation.
Thou wouldst forgive me; master, that I have not been true to my eventual destiny, and therefore have suffered on every side ‘the pangs of despised love.’ Thou didst the same; but thou didst borrow from those errors the inspiration of thy genius. Why is it not thus with me? Is it because, as a woman, I am bound by a physical law, which prevents the soul from manifesting itself? Sometimes the moon seems mockingly to say so,—to say that I, too, shall not shine, unless I can find a sun. O, cold and barren moon, tell a different tale!
But thou, oh blessed master! dost answer all my questions, and make it my privilege to be. Like a humble wife to the sage, or poet, it is my triumph that I can understand and cherish thee: like a mistress, I arm thee for the fight: like a young daughter, I tenderly bind thy wounds. Thou art to me beyond compare, for thou art all I want. No heavenly sweetness of saint or martyr, no many-leaved Raphael, no golden Plato, is anything to me, compared with thee. The infinite Shakspeare, the stern Angelo, Dante,—bittersweet like thee,—are no longer seen in thy presence. And, beside these names, there are none that could vibrate in thy crystal sphere. Thou hast all of them, and that ample surge of life besides, that great winged being which they only dreamed of....
If thou wouldst take me wholly to thyself——! I am lost in this world, where I sometimes meet angels, but of a different star from mine. Even so does thy spirit plead with all spirits. But thou dost triumph and bring them all in.
Master, I have this summer envied the oriole which had even a swinging nest in the high bough. I have envied the least flower that came to seed, though that seed were strown to the wind. But I envy none when I am with thee.

Ballots Over Broadway

The NYT has a preview of wide-open races for Tony Award nominations, coming April 29, for the best of Broadway, and glad to see that the favorite to grab a Best Musical nod (and no doubt other nominations) is "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder."  This is the play by the two talented guys--Robert L. Freedman and Steve Lutvak--whose next musical is (believe it or not) based on my book about Upton Sinclair's race for governor of California, The Campaign of the Century.  It's had stagings of one sort or another in San Jose, Chicago, L.A. and New York.

What, a witty musical about a leftwing grassroots campaign that almost put a socialist in control of California during the depths of the Depression?  Well, it does (as did the book) feature Hollywood's first all-plunge into politics, not to mention FDR and Eleanor and W.R. Hearst, Aimee Semple McPherson and more, and the wild race did inspire a change in how all top campaigns would be run ever after. 

Your Daily Vonnegut

A quote a day from Kurt Vonnegut, usually witty and/or political in nature.  My new e-book, Vonnegut and Me details (often in a fun way and just $2.99 for iPad, Kindles, etc.) my "conversations and close encounters of a weird kind" with the famed novelist, starting in 1970 and then over the years.  And see excerpt from book here, "When Vonnegut Met Kilgore Trout."

Another for Easter week from Slaughterhouse-Five:  "What the Gospels actually said was: don't kill anyone until you are absolutely sure they aren't well connected."

Classic:  “If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?”

Vonnegut from late in his life:  "I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many lifeless bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.”

For Christmas, Kurt wrote a poem for In These Times awhile back, concluding with this:

I wish I could wave a magic wand
this Christmas,
and give every desperately lonesome
and hungry and lost American
man, woman, or child
the love and comfort and support
of an extended family.
Just two people and a babe in the manger,
given a heartless Government,
is no survival scheme. 

On one of his most famous characters, the  philanthropist Eliot Rosewater... "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward."

For Wednesday, a character in Happy Birthday, Wanda June, named Looseleaf Harper wonders what happened while he was lost in the jungle in the 1960s for a few years:  "You know what gets me? How everybody says 'fuck' and 'shit' all the time. I used to be scared shitless if I'd say 'fuck' or 'shit' in public, by accident. Now everybody says 'fuck' and 'shit', 'fuck' and 'shit' all the time. Something very big must have happened while we were out of the country."

For Tuesday, from interview at McSweeny's, 2002:  "The telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful."

And for Monday:  "Our government is conducting a war against drugs, is it? Let them go after petroleum. Talk about a destructive high! You put some of this stuff in your car and you can go a hundred miles an hour, run over the neighbor's dog, and tear the atmosphere to smithereens."

For Sunday, from a 2003 interview:  "The polls demonstrate that 50 percent of Americans who get their news from TV think Saddam Hussein was behind the Twin Towers attack. Man, have they got ways for getting half-truths out right away now, thanks to TV! I think TV is a calamity in a democracy."

Friday's pick: "The two most radical ideas, inserted in the midst of conventional human thought, are E=MC2—matter and energy are the same kind of stuff—and 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'”

For Wednesday, a classic from Cat's Cradle so applicable today:  "The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion of Jesus:  Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.   Bokonon's paraphrase was this:  Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on.”

The Tuesday Pick, from Bluebeard:   "Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?"

For Monday, on his political philosophy: "It’s perfectly ordinary to be a socialist. It’s perfectly normal to be in favor of fire departments. There was a time when I could vote for economic justice, and I can’t anymore. I cast my first vote for a socialist candidate—Norman Thomas, a Christian minister. I used to have three socialist parties to choose from—the Socialist Labor Party, Socialist Workers Party, and I forgot what the other one was."

For Saturday, from Slaughterhouse-Five: "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies,  she said, and you'll be portrayed in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.

"So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies."

Can't believe I'm just getting around to posting this, from the same 2003 interview (see below), which I use in my book Atomic Cover-up "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki. Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I’m glad I’m not a scientist because I’d feel so guilty now."

Thursday's selection, from 2003 interview with The Progressive "It’s incumbent on the President to entertain. Clinton did a better job of it—and was forgiven for the scandals, incidentally. Bush is entertaining us with what I call the Republican Super Bowl, which is played by the lower classes using live ammunition."

For Wednesday, from his late Man Without a Country "Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the First World War. War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the First World War so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.  Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?"

Tuesday's pick is one of his most famous lines from Cat's Cradle (he could be talking about, say, cable news today):  "People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they'll have good voice boxes in case there's ever anything really meaningful to say."

For Monday:  "Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead."

Sunday's pick, from The Sirens of Titan:  "The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart."

For Saturday: "I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did.'"

Friday's pick, from Hocus Pocus:  "Beer, of course, is actually a depressant. But poor people will never stop hoping otherwise."

For Thursday, one of his favorite subjects,  from Cold Turkey:  "I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other."  (Note: He would not get his wish.)

For Wednesday, the macho hunter from his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June (which I write about in my book), speaks:  "Don't lecture me on race relations. I don't have a molecule of prejudice. I've been in battle with every kind of man there is. I've been in bed with every kind of woman there is -- from a Laplander to a Tierra del Fuegian. If I'd even been to the South Pole, there'd be a hell of a lot of penguins who looked like me."

For Tuesday, after another U.S. gun massacre, from Slaughter-house Five:   "My father died many years ago now — of natural causes. So it goes. He was a sweet man. He was a gun nut, too. He left me his guns. They rust.”

For Monday,  from Vonnegut's Blues:  "If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

For Sunday, we get Kurt on evolution from his 2005 appearance on The Daily Show:   "I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine engineer. I can't help thinking that. And this engineer knows exactly what he or she is doing and why, and where evolution is headed. That’s why we’ve got giraffes and hippopotami--and the clap."

For Saturday, on guns (from Timequake):  "That there are such devices as firearms, as easy to operate as cigarette lighters and as cheap as toasters, capable at anybody's whim of killing father or Fats [Waller] or Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon or Martin Luther King, Jr., or a woman pushing a baby carriage, should be proof enough for anybody that, to quote the old science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, 'being alive is a crock of shit.'"

For Friday, from Slapstick:  "I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool."

For Thursday, short and sweet and one of his most famous, from Cat's Cradle:  "Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are 'It might have been.'"

For Wednesday, from  Cold Turkey: "For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.  'Blessed are the merciful' in a courtroom? 'Blessed are the peacemakers' in the Pentagon? Give me a break!"

For Tuesday, a character from Mother Night responds to question, does he hate America?  He replies: "That would be as silly as loving it.  It's impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn't interest me. It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will."

Today: "A great swindle of our time is the assumption that science has made religion obsolete. All science has damaged is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Jonah and the Whale. Everything else holds up pretty well, particularly lessons about fairness and gentleness. People who find those lessons irrelevant in the twentieth century are simply using science as an excuse for greed and harshness. Science has nothing to do with it, friends."

For Friday, from Cold Turkey:  "Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."

For Thursday, as war threatens, Kurt on the arts vs. the military science, from Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons:  "The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not. Military science, on the other hand, treats man as garbage— and his children, and his cities, too. Military science is probably right about the contemptability of man in the vastness of the universe. Still— I deny that contemptability, and I beg you to deny it, through the creation of appreciation of art."

For today, Kurt on where his ideas came from, with a comparison to my man Ludwig:  "Where do I get my ideas from? You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else, and all of a sudden this stuff came gushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana, and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. It was disgust with civilization.”

For Tuesday, from Mother Night: "There are plenty of good reasons for fighting," I said, "but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side."

A quote for Monday:  "Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?"

Today's offering:  "Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum."

Friday, from an interview:  "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."

A famous quote by Bokonon from  Cat's Cradle for today: "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?'   Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."

Our Wednesday quote, from Slaughterhouse-Five:  "The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low. But the Gospels actually taught this:  Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected. So it goes."

Our Tuesday quote, from Cat's Cradle, as the U.S. promises another missile attack:  "Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns."

Our Monday quote, from his early Sirens of Titan:  "There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia."

Our Sunday quote: "The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don't acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead."

Another quote comes from one of his late in life columns for In These Times, in 2004:  “One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”

From my 1974 interview with him, re: why he had grown so popular. "Well, I'm screamingly funny.  I really am in the books. And I talk about stuff Billy Graham won't talk about, for instance, you know, is it wrong to kill?”

One of his most famous, relating to his character Howard W. Campbell, the American double-agent who too gleefully helped Hitler:  "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

From my 1974 interview with him:  "When you get to be my age, you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with.  You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school -- class officers, cheerleaders, and all.”

My new e-book, Vonnegut and Me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bush's Ghost

My wish comes true when The Onion goes there--where mainstream would not--claiming George W. Bush should be painting dead Iraqi children, or some such.  Here, he does:

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him Everywhere

That Rape Inquiry, or Lack Of

Important NYT major piece by highly-respected Walt Bogdanich into that very flawed inquiry into rape charges against star footballer Jameis Winston.  With videos and timelines. 
In his announcement, the prosecutor, William N. Meggs, acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation. In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.
The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.
The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then prematurely suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.
“They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” Mr. Meggs said in a recent interview. Even so, he cautioned, a better investigation might have yielded the same result.
The case has unfolded as colleges and universities across the country are facing rising criticism over how they deal with sexual assault, as well as questions about whether athletes sometimes receive preferential treatment. The Times’s examination — based on police and university records, as well as interviews with people close to the case, including lawyers and sexual assault experts — found that, in the Winston case, Florida State did little to determine what had happened.

One Year After Boston: Our Own Terror Attacks Go On

One year ago this morning Glenn Greenwald, Juan Cole, Gary Younge and others expressed outraged and sympathy over the Boston Marathon bombings--along with criticism that few Americans voice any concern over the numerous innocents killed in our terror drone attacks abroad.   From Greenwald, still at The Guardian
The widespread compassion for yesterday's victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid....
Juan Cole this morning makes a similar point about violence elsewhere. Indeed, just yesterday in Iraq, at least 42 people were killed and more than 250 injured by a series of car bombs, the enduring result of the US invasion and destruction of that country. Somehow the deep compassion and anger felt in the US when it is attacked never translates to understanding the effects of our own aggression against others.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jonah and the Wail

Jonah from "Veep" featured in Funny or Die "equal time" Cosmos for creationists.

Rust Never Bleeps?

New site mashes up "True Detective" and "The Family Circus," with Rust Cohle quotes.  Naturally, it's titled, "Times is a Flat Circus."

Correction of the Day

WSJ piece on the great Alan "Eli Gold" Cumming returning to Cabaret is pretty colorful, but they got one detail wrong (and to suggest he needs one).  See bottom:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Mr. Cumming was wearing a cod piece as part of his costume.

A 'Titanic' Song

Re-worked and updated version of the Carter Family classic, to mark today's anniversary, and also the basis for the recent 14-minute Dylan epic.

Going, Going..."Gone"?

I didn't care for the novel, but so many did, so here's first trailer for David Fincher's "Gone Girl," with terrible Elvis Costello cover.  They could have at least used Gram Parsons' quite different "She."

Schumer & Sorkin

Josh Charles, an Aaron Sorkin vet, sends him up on Amy Schumer's show last night, in "The Food Room."

Black LIke Me

Lewis Black at the National Press Club yesterday on why he's a socialist--"enforced Christianity"--which he called the least powerful position in America.  Laughs that anyone would call Obama a socialist.  My book on when the world's most famous Socialist, Upton Sinclair, nearly became governor of California.

100 Years After Ludlow

Marking the 100th anniversary this month of the infamous anti-labor "Ludlow Massacre," where 20 died, including 11 or more chileren.  Woody Guthrie, of course, sang about it.


Another for April 15:  The Kinks revealed "the taxman's taken all my dough" when they recorded "Sunny Afternoon" over 45 years ago.

Taxman of the Year

Rust "Taxmam" Cohle.  How he got his name.

Big Day for 'The Taxman'

But the rich still making out like bandits.   George Harrison with Eric Clapton:

"Heil" to His Chief

Update: NYT with top-of-site profile of this nut, opening with his Hitler salute.  “On the one hand, I’m a little surprised,” Ms. Beirich said. “He has emphysema, spent most of his time posting nasty things on a website and hadn’t done anything in years. On the other hand, how can you be surprised when a guy who’s spent his life saying the Jews should be killed decides to go kill Jews?”

Earlier:  You've heard the story Sunday, now watch the video, as the man, in custody in back of police car, yells 'Heil Hitler!"

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