In this week’s New Yorker

October 15, 2016

The “Fall Books” issue is especially loaded with terrific articles, starting with a high-powered Talk of the Town section with Amy Davidson writing about the third-party candidates; a piece about Amit Kumar, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has devised a mobile app called #NeverTrump allowing people to swap votes in swing states; and a visit to a dive bar in Bed-Stuy with Bonnie Raitt, about whom I can never hear enough.

The feature well contains four substantial articles:

  • Ryan Lizza’s “Taming Trump,” about the succession of campaign managers attempting to counsel the Republican candidate for president (Lizza lets it be known that Trump’s de facto campaign manager is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, though the official one, Kellyanne Conway, has apparently managed to get DJT to refer to himself and his campaign as “the movement”);
  • Julie Phillips’ fascinating profile of legendary sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin (beautifully illustrated by Essay May, above);
  • a piece about Turkey that I thought wouldn’t interest me, but I’ll read anything by Dexter Filkins, and his Reporter at Large piece, “The Thirty-Year Coup,” provides revelatory background on Fethullah Gülen, the 78-year-old cleric who has a huge cult following in Turkey, whom he influences from his exile in the Poconos (!); and
  • the profile of Leonard Cohen by the magazine’s ever-astonishing editor-in-chief David Remnick, who among other things reports being fiercely scolded by his subject (who’s now 82 and quite ill) for showing up late to an appointment and quotes at length an incredibly sophisticated analysis of Cohen’s songwriting that he obtained from talking to Bob Dylan.

Among the several book reviews, I most enjoyed Alexandra Schwartz’s detailed summary of a book I’d like to read, Emily Witt’s Future Sex, and Adam Gopnik’s overview of novels based on Shakespeare plays.  And the best cartoon in this issue is Barry Blitt’s Sketchbook:



Quote of the day: SONGWRITING

October 15, 2016

When people talk about Leonard [Cohen], they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius. Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like “The Law,” which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines.

His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres. In the song “Sisters of Mercy,” for instance, the verses are four elemental lines which change and move at predictable intervals . . . but the tune is anything but predictable. The song just comes in and states a fact. And after that anything can happen and it does, and Leonard allows it to happen. His tone is far from condescending or mocking. He is a tough-minded lover who doesn’t recognize the brush-off. Leonard’s always above it all. “Sisters of Mercy” is verse after verse of four distinctive lines, in perfect meter, with no chorus, quivering with drama. The first line begins in a minor key. The second line goes from minor to major and steps up, and changes melody and variation. The third line steps up even higher than that to a different degree, and then the fourth line comes back to the beginning. This is a deceptively unusual musical theme, with or without lyrics. But it’s so subtle a listener doesn’t realize he’s been taken on a musical journey and dropped off somewhere, with or without lyrics.

That song “Hallelujah” has resonance for me. There again, it’s a beautifully constructed melody that steps up, evolves, and slips back, all in quick time. But this song has a connective chorus, which when it comes in has a power all of its own. The “secret chord” and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself aspect of the song has plenty of resonance for me.

I like all of Leonard’s songs, early or late. “Going Home,” “Show Me the Place,” “The Darkness.’ These are all great songs, deep and truthful as ever and multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, and they make you think and feel. I like some of his later songs even better than his early ones. Yet there’s a simplicity to his early ones that I like, too.

I see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all. There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening. He’s very much a descendant of Irving Berlin, maybe the only songwriter in modern history that Leonard can be directly related to. Berlin’s songs did the same thing. Berlin was also connected to some kind of celestial sphere. And, like Leonard, he probably had no classical-music training, either. Both of them just hear melodies that most of us can only strive for. Berlin’s lyrics also fell into place and consisted of half lines, full lines at surprising intervals, using simple elongated words. Both Leonard and Berlin are incredibly crafty. Leonard particularly uses chord progressions that seem classical in shape. He is a much more savvy musician than you’d think.

–Bob Dylan, interviewed by David Remnick in the New Yorker (“Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker”)

leonard-cohen-by-graeme-mitchell                               Leonard Cohen, photographed by Graeme Mitchell for the New Yorker

Culture Vulture/Playlist: Rough Trade haul

October 10, 2016

After attending the early screening of Dan Savage’s Hump! Film Festival in Williamsburg and eating nearby at the yummy Le Fond, Andy and I made our semi-annual pilgrimage to Rough Trade, one of the last remaining record stores in the city. As Andy likes to say, I “accidentally” bought a stack of eight CDs. Even though I get plenty of new music via Napster, Spotify, and NPR, I found myself unable to resist the fiendishly effective salesmanship of the stickers found on every item on the racks at Rough Trade.

First stop, the bargain bin:

ohmysexylordOH MY SEXY LORD (with bonus disc, MUSIC ROCKS): “Marijuana Deathsquads is the ever-evolving experimental project led by Ryan Olson (producer/writer of Polica and GAYNGS), Isaac Gale, and Stefon Alexander (P.O.S.). With multiple drummers, a slew of electronic instruments, and highly effected vocals, their live shows are a violent onslaught of…”

THE WAITING ROOM (limited deluxe edition CD+DVD): “Tindersticks’ new album is a milestone not just numerically (their 10th) but musically and creatively. Their first studio album since 2012’s critically acclaimed THE SOMETHING RAIN is the most ambitious, diverse and elaborate album you’ll have heard from Tindersticks in recent…”

And then the total wild cards:

LIITAL: “Aby Ngana Diop was the most famous taasukat in Dakar, Senegal, in the 1980s and 1990s. Taasu is a Wolof-language poetic style, usually performed by women griots over frenentic drum patterns, with an aggressive verbal flow thought to presage rap. Her only album LIITAL was groundbreaking in the history…”

IMARHAN: “Imarhan were born in Tamanrasset, Southern Algeria, a city where the Tuareg community of Norther Mali, Kel Tamashek people, ended their exile in the early 1990s, following the multiple struggles they have been experiencing since the 1960s. Imarhan, meaning the ones I care about, started out around…”

LATE NIGHT TALES (limited edition with exclusive download bonus): “Standing at the intersection where techno meets classical music, Olafur Arnalds directs the newest Late Night Tales, set for release on 10th June 2016. After releasing the breakthrough album And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness in 2014, he was awarded a BAFTA  for best original music for…”

DESDES: “At the age of 28, Awalom Gebremariam arrived in the United States, following a years-long jourey from Eritrea. He’d made it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia several years ago and eventually attained asylum status for passage in America. But before he left his hometown, Eritrea’s capital Asmara, he made…”

WHAT?: “Based on tracks from the best-selling William Onyeabor album. Fantastic interpretations by Hot Chip, Optimo, Joakim (and more). Remixes by Daphni, Scientist, Justin Strauss and even more all done as part of the Luaka Bop/MOOG Remix Project.”

And a CD+DVD package from this obscure performer named Beyoncé called LEMONADE.


Photo diary: Saturday October 8, 2016

October 10, 2016

(click photos twice to enlarge)

A day that began with unprecedented language published in the New York Times — on the front page! — continued with a conference on psychedelic research at Cooper Union (O, brave new college campus), and ended with a festival of amateur porn in Williamsburg.


Good stuff online: John Leland on Gloria Steinem

October 10, 2016

John Leland is an excellent reporter for the New York Times who has made it his beat to write about the wise old heads of this big weird city, both the famous ones and the ones you’ve never heard of. He’s currently working on a series called “Lions of New York,” and Sunday saw the publication of “Showgirls, Pastrami, and Candor,” his walk-about profile (beautifully written, as ever, and full of tiny surprising details) of Gloria Steinem, who is one of the people I admire most in the world. Bravo! (The portrait is by Caitlin Ochs.)



%d bloggers like this: