Posts Tagged ‘sasha frere-jones’

In this week’s New Yorker

August 23, 2011

clever cover by Istvan Banyai

I read Wendell Steavenson’s absorbing report of street protests in Syria, admirably persistent in the face of a regime that seems to think dissent can be permanently stifled. “The demonstrations are so fleeting that they are nicknamed ‘flying protests.’ Activists have tried to confound the authorities by singing the national anthem or throwing roses into the fountain in Marjeh Square. They have tied messages of defiance to balloons, and tucked them inside packages of dates given out at mosques, and taped them to Ping-Pong balls thrown into the street from high buildings. In one ingenious scheme, they wrote ‘freedom’ on banknotes, but then banks refused to take notes with any markings on them. One day during my visit, dozens of people simply wore white and walked around a block in an upscale neighborhood. Several were arrested.”

I love Susan Orlean, but I skipped her piece on Rin Tin Tin — not interesting subject to me. I read every word of Jeffrey Toobin’s piece on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni, who is one of the Tea Party’s most prominent champions and funders. The most astonishing passage:

By the fall of last year, Ginni Thomas’s activities had become so public that she began to draw journalistic scrutiny. On Saturday, October 9th, the Times ran a front-page story headlined “ACTIVISM OF THOMAS’S WIFE COULD RAISE JUDICIAL ISSUES,” which was a straightforward account of Ginni’s political activities. Still, the story may have unnerved its subject, because at seven-thirty-one that morning Ginni Thomas left a voice mail for Anita Hill, at her office at Brandeis University, where she teaches. “Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.” She went on to urge Hill to “pray about this,” and then signed off, “O.K., have a good day!”

Sasha Frere-Jones’ piece on Ishmael Butler told me everything I wanted and needed to know about Shabazz Palaces and mainly inspired me to go back and listen to the complete Digable Planets on Rhapsody. Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece on Rimbaud interested me, especially this quote from one of the young poet’s letters: “The first study of the man who wishes to be a poet is complete knowledge of himself. He searches his mind, inspects it, tries out and learns to use it.”

In last week’s New Yorker…

April 21, 2011

I seem to be running a week behind at this point. But in the “Journeys” issue I enjoyed reading Evan Osnos’s report about travelling through Europe with Chinese tourists. Hilton Als’ review of the new revival of Anything Goes starring Sutton Foster was so interesting it made me want to see the production, which otherwise I’ve been ignoring since the Lincoln Center production is still so fresh in my mind. Sasha Frere-Jones astonishes me by repeatedly writing interesting pieces about pop musicians I’ve never heard of who have already made 13 albums already! The latest is Bill Callahan, whom he makes sound quite intriguing. Since he turned me on to Of Montreal and Bon Iver, I tend to pay attention whenever Frere-Jones writes about music.

But my favorite piece in this issue is by Geoff Dyer, the novelist whose Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi impressed me very much. He writes about a pilgrimage he made to two famous earthworks, Walter De Maria’s “The Lightning Field” in New Mexico and Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” in Utah. Dyer is a fantastic writer, and his observations are worth reading. In passing, he refers to an essay D.H. Lawrence wrote about Taos, which he compares to the monasteries of Europe. I was particularly struck by this passage because Andy and I recently watched Into Great Silence, the engrossing documentary about the very austere Carthusian monastery in the French Alsp called the Grand Chartreuse, which made us question what purpose such isolated temples of worship and study serve in the bigger picture. Lawrence provides a very interesting perspective on that question:

“You cannot come upon the ruins of the old great monasteries of England, beside their waters, in some lovely valley, now remote, without feeling that here is one of the choice spots of the earth, where the spirit dwelt. To me it is so important to remember that when Rome collapsed, when the great Roman Empire fell into smoking ruins, and bears roamed in the streets of Lyon and wolves howled in the deserted streets of Rome, and Europe really was a dark ruin, then, it was not in castles or manors or cottages that life remained vivid. Then those whose souls were still alive withdrew together and gradually built monasteries, and these monasteries and convents, little communities of quiet labour and courage, isolated, helpless, and yet never overcome in a  world flooded with devastation, these alone kept the human spirit from disintegration, from going quite dark, in the Dark Ages. These men made the Church, which again made Europe, inspiring the martial faith of the Middle Ages.”

In this week’s New Yorker…

November 30, 2010

Aside from the cheeky and up-to-the-minute cover image by Barry Blitt (above), I was most intrigued with Kelefa Sanneh’s Critic-at-Large essay, ostensibly a review of Jay-Z’s book Decoded, which betrayed an extreme familiarity with every scrap and tittle of Jay-Z’s music and discusses it with the detailed obsessiveness that Stephen Sondheim fans apply to every new item from the master. And then Sanneh goes on to review Sondheim’s memoir Finishing the Hat. A rare cultural critic whose sphere of reference spans hip-hop and Sondheim, innit? Go, Kelefa!

Speaking of cross-cultural stretch and the New Yorker, I was intrigued to read in New York magazine that the New Yorker‘s rapacious pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones has been hired as culture editor of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s new iPad-aimed digital newspaper.

What else? I was also fascinated to read Gay Talese’s almost breathlessly starstruck account of traveling with the young opera star Marina Poplavskaya, currently appearing at the Metropolitan Opera in Don Carlo. She sounds like a terrific singer — can’t wait to hear her in person.

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