The Yearling

Tonight, some of us will gather at the Paley Center for Media to celebrate the first year of this little cultural experiment we call newcritics. It’s going to be a great night, thanks to our host Ellen….er…the fabulous Ms. Peel! You know, on some level this blog feels like a gathering of superheroes in the League of Justice hall – sure some of us use our real names, but the pen names are better. Lance Mannion and Tony Alva – they could be 70s crime shows starring James Garner and Mike Connors. Blue Girl and the Self-Styled Siren are like characters out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. We’ve also got The Shamus, Viscount LaCarte, Neddie Jingo, Trickster and Gotham Gal – what powers go along with those virtual superhero constumes?

I love the names, and I love this community. It began very simply and a year later, it remains so.

You know, newcritics is non-influential. It is non-profitable. Indeed, by any standards of the day it is non-successful.

And yet a year on, we gather to revel (some in person, some virtually) in the minor media glory – but the sweet karmic profit – of this little blog. Continue reading

Green Beer and English: The Actors and Poets of St. Patrick

LeprechaunThe recent news that the Irish and the English come from the same ancient genetic stock, by and large, should be no shock to anyone who contemplates the greatest contribution of the cultural Irish diaspora: the language of their sometime enemies across the narrow Irish Sea. Now that the mitochondrial mystery has been solved at Oxford, we may as well be honest about the great irony of the grand old land.

English and its artistic advancement is the great cultural achievement of the Irish.

It all makes sense that today we’ll swill German beer with a green food dye additive in franchise “Irish” pubs licensed to Italians and Greeks, while paying tribute to a Roman born in Britain. And we’ll grow teary-eyed at brief passages of Joyce and Yeats, while gobbling soda bread around the big flat screen as John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara cavort in John Ford’s mythic Ireland of our dreams. All in English, of course – wonderful English, blissfully enunciated, emotional, profane, onomatopoetic English. Yes, English, the great gift of the Irish.

`A beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English tenor,’ said Aunt Kate in Joyce’s sublime The Dead, arguably the greatest short-form prose employment of modern English. Written, of course, by an exile who gave to the world his gift beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English. Continue reading

Pete Townshend: Who, He? (and Us)

Pete TownshendPete Townshend is writing his memoirs. Or rather, he’s blogging them.

This differs from a decade ago, when Townshend signed with Little Brown to write his autobiography. Work commenced, but the book wasn’t finished. So now, Pete’s blogging his memoirs – on one of two blogs he’s launched in the last week or so to replace his online diaries. He can explain:

The backbone is complete, all the research is in place. And yet, because my creative and professional life is still so active, I feel I will never catch up with the present unless I retire simply to write. To retire, simply to write, when I am already a writer, presents a contradiction. So rather than endlessly write, I am going to publish.

I think this is brave and interesting, continued evidence of Townshend’s rare open mind, even as he cranks out another whopper of a Who tour at age 62. It’s a performance artist’s call.
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Bob Dylan: Spinnin’ Those Cool Records

XM radioThe voice seems familiar, but the venue’s different. I’m driving down the highway, and there’s a guy on the radio talking about a record he’s about to play. I’m not sure what station’s on, but that voice…the emphasis on the last syllable of each sentence. The late-middle age growl. The cynical humor, a sardonic grin in every other word.

It’s Bob Dylan, deejay.

Then I remember. The car’s got satellite radio, XM to be specific and Dylan hosts a weekly one-hour show called The Theme Time Radio Hour on several of the couple hundred channels. This week’s installment, in honor of Valentine’s Day, centers on the heart. And it’s brilliant, half performance, half … ok, all performance. Halfway between an epic Dylan story-song and a chapter from his wonderful Chronicles book. Eclectic references – did you know that Valentines Day is named for three Christian saints? Or the riff after a Billie Holiday’s Good Morning Heartache: “I know a lot of people who’ve kicked heroin, but I don’t know many who’ve gotten off television.”
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In Our Time

James Wolcott beat me to a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while: praise for a wonderful BBC radio program that I’ve enjoyed as a podcast on many a train ride:

I also want to direct attention to the excellent trove of replayable broadcasts of Melvyn Bragg’s superb In Our Time series on BBC 4. Each weekly installment is devoted a historical theme hosted by Bragg, with frighteningly articulate guest experts, and provides an invaluable tutorial on a vast range of topics–everything from negative numbers to Catherine the Great to the Scottish Enlightenment to the evolution of pastoral poetry to (my most recent listen) Samuel Johnson & his circle.

I can’t recommend it enough (my last listen was the Alexander Pope segment). The range of topics is brilliant, the style straightforward and occasionally humorous, the total, enlightening.