Thanks to all who alerted me to that Village Voice piece about crazy nutwad riiiight-wing sites to watch in the upcoming election, complete with a crazy / evil ratio meter. I was surprised to find the Bleat on the list. The author doesn’t get out much, I think. I didn’t read it, because the author’s interest in my work is inversely proportional to my interest in his. I read him now and then a year ago, and I remember that he called Instapundit the old Perfesser, or something equally crackeresque.
Well, on with the hate, then. On with the crazy daily rants against evolution and mixed-race marriage, with scorn as thick as Hillary’s ankles!
See, it’s that last line I hate. What always annoys me about sites I generally like is the random stab of politics into unrelated matters – someone’s talking about furniture styles of the 1890s, and they still manage to take a swipe at Chimpy McFlightsuit. It’s the sort of thing you do when you assume everyone agrees with you, and I don’t. I also don’t assume you care what I think about some topics, which is why they’re generally sealed off, and don’t bleed into discussions of the decline of small-town neon signage. On the other hand, sometimes a joke is just a joke, and big whoop. It’s probably a violation of the MST3K / Rifftrax code of honor to claim ownership of a particular line, but in the Spiderman 3 commentary, there’s a scene in which a meteor falls in Central Park. It’s black and slimy and has a red pulsing center, and it belches out a stream of viscous black fluid. I wrote the line “It’s Dick Cheney’s heart, and it’s full of oil!” Not that I think Dick Cheney is evil. Or full of oil. I just thought it was funny. But I wouldn’t feel right making a Hillary crack. I know this sounds terribly meta-meta, but it’s more fun to make jokes against your own side based on criticism from the other side, however loosely you want to define “side.”
Anyway, thank you for bearing with all this, tiresome as it must be. I’ll say this about the election: McCain appears to have fewer illusions about Iran than Obama. There you go. Am I stupid or evil? Nothing says I can’t be both. Now let’s talk about Gershwin.
Okay, one more bit of ephemera before Geoerge. Didn't get a chance to post this on Tuesday's NWA Retro-Fiesta on buzz.mn; it's from a Northwest Orient ad for the Fujiyama Room, a lounge in the belly of the Stratocruiser. This was when flying was elegant:
This illustration could be repurposed in a number of ways, but I leave that to others. We run a family site here, dammit.
I’ve been watching “Rhapsody in Blue,” a cheerfully fictitious 1945 bio of Gershwin. It’s fascinating on many levels. Only two decades and change separated 1945 from the early years of Gershwin’s career – it would be like making a movie about the early 80s today – so the remnants of 20s culture would still be recognizable to many in the audience. But much of the 20s (and Teens) culture was the last gasp of a previous era, and this leads to startling moments. Like this. The “Whoa!” moment occurs early in, but watch the whole thing.
The fellow could sell a song, though, couldn’t he? Jolson is one of many people in the film who were part of Gershwin’s career – Oscar Levant, poor old Oscar, cynical and world-weary and talented and wasted somehow, always looking like aimless talent gone for naught, shows up; George White, who produced the Follies, appears as George White. (Ravel is played by an actor, as is Rachmaninoff.)
Then there’s this: Rhapsody in Blue. (With a few very small-and-inexplicable edits.) This isn’t an entirely accurate version of the original concert’s orchestration, if I remember correctly, but the strings have a 20s sound to them that’s unmistakable. Over-rosined vibrato schmaltz with clarinets: very 20s.
That’s Paul Whiteman playing Paul Whiteman. (I erred the other day, incidentally; the concert was at Aeolian Hall.) Pay attention to the fellow who does the opening clarinet glissando: I wondered if he had any connection to the original performance, but no – it’s a fellow named Al Gallodoro.
He has a website. He has a concert in Boston May 5th. How cool is that? A fellow who played under Whiteman is still doing gigs. He's 95.
There are few pieces of music that make me feel ecstatic, and this is one of them. I never tire of it; to paraphrase Johnson, a man who is sick of “Rhapsody” is sick of America. There’s a lot of sonorous dialogue in the movie about Gershwin giving voice to America, but it’s true. A Jewish guy channels African-American music and filters it through the European tradition. It's hopeful and brash and proud and sexy and glorious. And it shares the stage with a performer in blackface. But not forever. Jolson will always have that taint, however you want to explain it as a sign of the times or an innocent cultural tradition; Gershwin rises above it all.
The film glorified his talent, but it still put the symphonic tradition, the European models, above the realm of popular music. Easy to see why: since GG eventually wrote a gol-darned Concerto, he proved American music deserved to be included in the pantheon of Serious music - not despite its vernacular influences, but because of them. There are better concertos, but few I enjoy more - after listening to the Concerto again tonight, with that strange third movement, I come back to what I was thinking a few days ago about the Thirties, and the way its culture seems remote and familar. Everybody gets "Rhapsody," but the Concerto takes work. It's the grown-up piece, paying the bills rung up by the Rhapsody.
Then there's the Second Rhapsody, but that's another day. Now I have to write a column and finish watching the Gershwin bio. Imagine if he'd lived another ten years. It almost seems greedy to ask for twenty.
"Sleepless Night," written the year before he died: