Re “The geeks of Beijing”—
Tom Purdom makes some interesting points, but I am surprised that he didn’t offer the obvious suggestion for an event in which he can compete: Make short-story writing an Olympic event.
All contestants are seated in front of computers, and one minute before the “Go,” they are given a subject about which to write. After 45 minutes they are given a 15-minute notice to edit their work. After one hour, the power is turned off and the best stories win medals.
Contestants from the Third World may choose typewriters, if they lack computer skills.
It may not be as much fun to watch the grunts and groans of the weightlifters or the graceful achievements of the gymnasts on the rings and bars. But why shouldn’t something intellectual be an Olympic activity?
August 20, 2008
Tom Purdom replies: As most Broad Street Review readers probably know, the original Olympics included poetry and play-writing contests. A very fine science fiction writer, Pamela Sargent, has written a story, "The Novella Race", which describes a future Olympic writing competition.
I’ve even participated in something similar. When I was in high school in Florida, the agriculture teacher recruited me for an annual county-wide Future Farmers of America field day. The major events were sports like baseball and track, but he needed entries in public speaking and parliamentary procedure. He didn’t care if I won, but if he didn’t enter somebody, his chapter would get a zero in those events and hurt his overall score.
Your Brain on Music
Re “Two books on music and the brain,” by Dan Coren—
I think many classical music gurus expected the author of This is Your Brain on Music to include a more in-depth and intriguing analysis on classical music. Although Daniel Levitin cites some unusual examples, he still gave me just enough of a background to understand his point: to know what to listen for in different genres of music, how our mind categorizes it, and ultimately how to piece together his scientific questions to our own music experiences.
Levitin’s profound insights and probing questions on the emotional impact of our brain’s perception of music outweigh his weak familiarity with the classical genre. Neuroscience and music theory is a tough area to write about, and I give him credit.
August 17, 2008
Dan Coren replies: I agree that it’s not reasonable to expect Levitin to be an expert on classical music. When I read the book for the first time several months ago, I was willing to forgive his failings in this area because of what I at the time thought were his many strengths. Upon re-reading my own article, I think I should have also given Levitin credit for his willingness to recognize and in fact marvel at differences in musical taste— his willingness to recognize, say, that one man’s love of heavy metal rock is another man’s (mine, for example) musical hell. Levitin is nothing if not (lower-case) catholic in his outlook.
However, my objection to the two passages I complain about is not simply that they are inaccurate, but that they are intellectually sloppy to the point that I don’t really believe Levitin actually listened to the music himself. And his work in this area was certainly not subjected to any meaningful peer review. As a result, I can’t help but question Levitin’s intellectual integrity in general.
Mayakovsky and the Russian soul
Re “Mayakovsky reloaded,” by Andrew Mangravite—
Night Wraps the Sky, Michael Almereyda’s anthology of new translations, brings Vladimir Mayakovsky to life for a new generation of English-language readers. However, I doubt that this book or any other will reduce the poet to mere "man" status. Mayakovsky will always be larger than life because he made himself that through his poetry. Mayakovsky the man and Mayakovsky the mythical artist-hero are irrevocably intertwined. To appreciate this, one need only look at his first play, entitled Vladimir Mayakovsky, a Tragedy, which the poet wrote, starred in and directed.
Of course, the real tragedy is that Stalin resurrected Mayakovsky to create another legend— Mayakovsky as the faithful poet of the Revolution.
For a post-modern resurrection of Mayakovsky, readers might want to check out the digital novel Reconstructing Mayakovsky at http://www.reconstructingmayakovsky.com.
Red Hook, N.Y.
August 17, 2008
Frank Zappa’s prophecy
Re “Frank Zappa’s prophecy,” by Dan Coren—
What a pleasure it is to see Coltrane and Zappa show up in the same piece. (By the way, what’s up with the apparently now-shuttered Coltrane Society house on 33rd Street? Was that only a front?)
My only quibble with my friend Dan is this: I doubt North Philly will explode. The numbers crunchers tell us, accurately per my observation as a former teacher there, that much of the violence taking place there is personal… a matter, very, very sadly, of “disrespect.”
August 16, 2008
Dan Coren replies: Yeah, I already regret saying what I did about North Philly. It was an irresponsible and ignorant thing for me to write. It’s all too easy for a white guy like me, who virtually never actually visits North Philly but reads a lot of alarming statistics in the Inquirer, to imagine that it might explode like Watts. Nevertheless, to state the obvious, our society hasn’t yet dealt with the social injustice Zappa protested, and many victims of this injustice in the Delaware Valley do indeed live in North Philadelphia.
Rick Soisson replies: Like you, I am a white guy who never lived under the circumstances being discussed (although the current economy is shoving me that way). A frustrating matter for "ghetto educators" is the amount of personally directed anger we see that seems either a) economic at base, or b) baseless (i.e., you need to do something worthy of respect before you can be "disrespected").
Editor’s comment: For my two cents’ worth, click here.
Re “Anger, Obama and Frank Zappa,” by Dan Rottenberg, which responds to my article, “Frank Zappa, yesterday’s prophet“—
First of all, I am not on the failed Obama campaign bandwagon. In fact, I entirely agree with Dan Rottenberg’s evaluation of Ryan Lizza’s article in The New Yorker. I think that the collection of articles I recommended are all provocative and worth reading and are worth comparing with Zappa’s take on racial relationships forty years ago. Beyond that, I have no political agenda to push.
I don’t regard my ‘60s years in Berkeley as a dimly remembered unhappy time. On the contrary, one of the great blessings of my life was to have been in that idyllic place at that particular time.
Since writing my original article, I have revisited the entire Mothers of Invention Freak Out album. I remembered that "Trouble Comin’ Every Day" was unlike its surroundings, but I’d forgotten how much. Most of the cuts are weak parodies of 1950s lovelorn Rock ‘n’ Roll. The last number is a long pastiche of ideas that floated around the culture of the time, from Stockhausen to group orgies. Next to the truly revolutionary albums that appeared at about the same time, like The Beatles’ Revolver or Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, Freak Out today seems silly— sort of like Mad Magazine but not as funny and, worst of all, timid.
Dan R. has weighed "Trouble Comin’ Every Day" in the balance and found it wanting. Oh well. Call me crude. Call me tasteless. I still find Zappa’s lyrics invigorating. And what’s wrong with some well-placed anger? I was angry at the Johnson administration then; I’m even angrier at the Bush administration now. Zappa was angry at the social injustice of the Watts riots. This is the sort of anger not to be outgrown.
August 24, 2008
Nicole Adkins on the cusp
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