Talent Agencies

Embed from Getty Images

1. Frank Sinatra Has a Grievance

The situation was not helped by the attitude of the American Federation of Musicians, the US equivalent of the MU [Musicians Union], who sought to block any application for a foreign band to tour the US. It was a tactic that proved remarkably successful. In the 1920s, over fifty American bands toured the UK, yet not a single British band worked in America during the same period.

I saw a documentary on Frank Sinatra and there was something about how his first show in London was delayed because of objections from the Musicians Union. I remember thinking “Well, that’s the British and their unions for you.” But I just read the above in Billy Bragg’s Roots, Radicals and Rockers, and now apparently must revise my history.

 

2. Stupefied Stupefied Stupefied

One of the unexpected events of this summer was Black Grape releasing, after two decades, their third album. I haven’t listened to it yet, probably because I’m still in shock. Let’s just say, it had been some time since I’d wondered what they were up to. I did see them in 1995. Kermit was absent, so it was a bit like seeing Hall instead of Hall and Oates, but it was still pretty good.

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

 3. Keep, Ancient Lands, Your Storied Pop

A foreign artist seeking authorization to perform in the United States must navigate a system that involves a pair of government departments. Homeland Security, created in 2003, evaluates the initial application and then, if approval is granted, the State Department, assuming it is satisfied with the results of an in-person interview with the performer, issues a visa at an embassy abroad.

U.S. Visa Rules Deprive Stages of Performers,” The New York Times, April 11, 2012

Kermit did not make it stateside at all, if I recall correctly, for he was denied a visa due to his criminal record. Regrettable, yes, but understandable, given America’s pride in the scrupulous behavior of its musicians.

Getting a visa is indeed no joke. I was unaware of the travails of UK musicians who look to our fair shores. (Apparently solo artists have to prove that they are “extraordinarily talented,” whereas groups just have to be “exceptionally talented.”)

As someone who’s seen a lot of British bands in America, I have new respect for their dedication (and expense) in making it here. So I won’t name any names. But – at risk of ingratuity – I must record that not each seemed distinguished by exceptional talent. The fault, dear Britain, is not in our fifty stars…

 

 

School Daze

 

Image result for seaboard railroad

 

That penultimate sentence is my new favorite.

I had just spent five years in graduate school, a statement that may mean nothing to people who never served such a stretch; it is the explanation, nonetheless. I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has. Millions of Americans now go to graduate schools, but just say the phrase—”graduate school”—and what picture leaps into the brain? No picture, not even a blur. Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it. I thought about it myself. No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know. Everyone used to sniff the air. How morbid! How poisonous! Nothing else like it in the world! But the subject always defeated them. It defied literary exploitation. Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run, with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic over boil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.

-Tom Wolfe, The New Journalism

 

 

Stultiloquies

 

1. I Am (Not) the Cosmos

The United States basked in the glory of a total eclipse on Monday, as the moon’s shadow swept from the rocky beaches of Oregon to the marshes of South Carolina.

The New York Times, August 21, 2017

The eclipse occurred while Twins 1&2 were in my care. I’d considered taking them out to see it, but – for, you see, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail – had neglected to obtain the necessary equipment. (I did briefly think about just telling them not to look up at the sun, but even I could sense this was exceptional stupidity.)

At the last moment, though, I thought “Good heavens, Peter, you teach science, and this is a marvel you and your children should witness,” so I piled them in the car and drove to meet a colleague who’d kindly issued an invitation and had extra eyewear.

I’m real glad I don’t have to – at least in this lifetime – look Carl Sagan in the eye and explain this next bit, but, through a sequence of events, instead of the eclipse we three watched the The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature.

This was the ladies’ first visit to a cinema. Twin 2 was enchanted, and her joyful laughter cheered me muchly. I’m biased and all, but it’s worthy of the Voyager records (her laugh, not the movie).

 

2. I May Not Mean To, But I Do

A friend and I were discussing things that are broadly overrated. I nominated peanut butter, New Order, and social engagements that fall before cocktail hour.

This is a subject for another post – indeed, it shall consume an entire chapter of my manifesto – but you know what else is way overrated?

Communication.

 

Continue reading “Stultiloquies”

Minute Distinctions

 

Image result for dinosaur never forget

 

And if the meteorite had arrived ten minutes earlier, or ten minutes later, it would still no doubt have inflicted devastation, but the dinosaurs would still be here and you wouldn’t.

The time of arrival sixty-six million years ago was apparently quite important.

(h/t The Browser)

 

 

File:Atomic bomb 1945 mission map.svg

 

Reminds me of the fate of Kokura, the intended target for the second atomic bomb. Tardiness, clouds, and a faulty fuel pump conspired in its favor. The B-29 spent fifty minutes making three attempts before heading to Nagasaki.

 

 

Looney Tunes

 

 

Imagine if you could write something beautiful, only to do so you had to make each A on the keyboard a B, and each B a C. Or rather, the A a Z, and the B an E.

Why not just… Well, you see my question.

I’ve been picking up the acoustic guitar again, and have been seriously disheartened by the number of songs I want to learn that have alternate tunings. Isn’t playing the damn thing difficult enough already? I mean, yeah: I’ll see you a Drop D if it gets me the Cinnamon Girl, but DADGAD? SHEESH.

 

Scandalous!

I bought Twin 1 a guitar at a yard sale for a couple of bucks. She was particularly enamored because it’s purple, her favorite color. (I know. I choose my battles.) She’d been making noise – while making noise – that it was missing some strings, so I took her to a local music shop to buy new ones.

Now, Gentle Reader, before we continue, you must know the abiding passion of my life: it is to have others perform tasks for me. And granted, there’s a lot of competition for your indignance these days, but surely this store’s stringing fee will purchase some of it:

 

Continue reading “Looney Tunes”

Académie Française

 

Effective teachers motivate their students not only to learn, but to want to learn.

A best practice comes from language instruction in the French Foreign Legion. Here’s how one platoon commander encourages his recruits:

“You will learn French fast because I am not your mother.”

And then how do you create a culture of achievement?

In one episode of The Bureau, a new undercover agent asks her handler what to do if she is unable to complete an assignment. I was quite taken with the response, apparently customary in the DGSE:

“If you can’t, go home and forget the whole thing.”

 

Image result for everyone achieves more

 

 

Pretty Little Liars

 

When deep night fell, the fishermen paddled out and we watched the horizon slowly fill with little orange lights, kerosene lamps swinging from the bows of their boats. It soon looked like a whole city out there, or like a constellation of stars that had fallen lightly on the surface of the water. It was a pretty lie the fishermen were telling the fish. The fish liked to feed on nights with a full moon; the light of the lanterns drew them from the depths.

That’s Jeffrey Gettleman’s description of night fishing on Lake Kivu from his memoir, Love, Africa. I like it.*

The above marvel is also described in this literary masterpiece:

During my third month on the job, on a cloudless, moonless evening with delicate astral illumination, I discovered night fishing. I left the residence to walk down to the office, and saw that the lake was speckled with faintly glowing dots. Abdoulaye explained that the army had lifted the curfew and permitted fishermen once again to go out at night. The lights were from their canoes. I can’t remember if he said they were from actual fires built in the vessels, or from lanterns, but the resulting effect was dramatic: the blackness of the lake was an inverted sky filled with stars. Viewed from the hillside, it was as if the heavens lay above and below.

Smitten with this discovery, I spent the next few evenings seeking the best vantage for the spectacle. I found an excellent location not far from our house, on the dirt road that zigzagged down the hill to the main road by the lake. In order to get the optimal view, I tried sitting on the hood, and then on the roof, but the slope of the hill made for a precarious perch. Finally I settled on the driver’s seat. Now and then I would try to pick up a shortwave broadcast, but mostly I’d just sit in silence, sip my beer, and contemplate the parallel galaxies.

It really is the most beautiful sight. Apparently now you can go out with the fishermen as a tourist, although it sounds far preferable to regard from a hill.

 

*The description, that is. The book, yes and no. In obedience to this site’s strict No Book Reviews policy, I’ll only say that Love, Africa oddly reminds me of A Bit of a Blur by Alex James.

(Photo credit: MONUSCO / Myriam Asmani)

Signal Values

Every once in a while you see a sign that takes you quite aback.

Maybe that last one on the list wouldn’t sound so ominous if it weren’t in a building that looks like this:

I was going to write something smart-alecky about how I hoped the Commission could see its way to concluding that women are citizens too, but after looking it up I hereby endorse it: http://www.mass.gov/women/

Note: This ghastly building is into the bargain called the Government Service Center, a name whose tripartite blandness worryingly recalls Idi Amin’s State Research Bureau.

 

***

The above sign made me think of one of the more disturbing signs I’ve ever seen. I saw it seven summers ago driving from Seattle to Boston. These were the happy days before a smartphone established permanent residency in my pocket, so it’s recorded in my notebook:

 

Continue reading “Signal Values”

Canicularities

Recent assertion of the unshakeable alliance between the United States and Poland reminds me of a previous demonstration of friendship between the two countries.

It’s from Alan’s War, the memoir of an American draftee in the Second World War. (The book is a masterpiece, not least because of its beautiful illustrations.)

Alan’s armored car crew had been joined by a hungry stray dog, who wouldn’t respond to commands in a variety of languages. Then one day the driver was building a bench. He accidentally banged his finger, and cursed in Polish. The dog perked up his ears and ran over, delighted to find a compatriot.

 

Continue reading “Canicularities”