Monthly Archives: January 2009

Blue Monday (Jazz Party edition)

One of the unlikely landmarks of the early years of television was Art Ford’s Jazz Party, a weekly jam session that debuted in May 1958 on WNTA, a New York area independent station. The show, broadcast from an upstairs studio in Newark’s Mosque Theater (now Symphony Hall) was a loose, unrehearsed jam session that featured some of the biggest names in jazz in a bare-bones setting put the music front and center.

The 90-minute broadcasts were presided over by Art Ford, a disc jockey, radio host and television personality who took pride in the show’s integrated lineup — something that may have contributed to the show’s abbreviated run. The show’s high point was probably a jam featuring saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Lineups were usually beefed up with local jazz players who relished the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and Mary Osborne. Though acclaimed by critics and jazzbos, Art Ford’s Jazz Party ended its run on Christmas Day 1958, and Ford’s star fell not long after.

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A little-known benefit of travel . . .

. . . is that quite often foreign place names and identifiers enable you to get in touch with your inner Beavis and Butt-head. I first realized this when, after spending some quality time at Samuel Johnson’s house in Gough Square, I returned to the streets of London and rudesaw a sign for Balls Brothers. Hurrr hurrr, I thought to myself, I bet there’s two of them. I bet they really like to hang out together, they’re a couple of swingers, hurr hurr hurrr. So much for any lingering high-flown literary thoughts.

Little did I know that within my lowbrow lapse were the seeds of an article for the New York Times, and  now somebody’s gone and written it ahead of me. It doesn’t mention Balls Brothers but it does offer a rundown of U.K. place names like Crapstone, Tumbledown Dick Road, Butt Hole Road, Penistone, Wetwang, Spanker Lane, Crotch Crescent, Titty Ho, Slutshole Lane, Thong and Pratts Bottom. There are plenty others — enough, in fact, to fill a guidebook called Rude UK and companion volumes.

Guess I know what I’ll be getting for stocking-stuffers at the end of the year.

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Street dumb

The medieval practice of bleeding patients in order to improve their health hasn’t gone away. It’s simply relocated to Wall Street and its tributaries, where an analyst like Henry Blodget can suggest, without being laughed out of the room, that the way to cure the financial ills of the New York Times is to open a few veins and wait for the Gray Lady to turn blue.

Normally this would be my cue to start screaming and throwing coffee mugs at the wall. Fortunately, Felix Salmon can deal with Blodget in a more temperate but still scathing manner:

Blodget’s first idea for cutting costs is to cut editors rather than writers: maybe he thinks that since his blogs manage to get by perfectly well without editors, then the NYT should be able to as well. But the NYT’s editors are its most important employees: as a paper of record, it’s vastly more important that the NYT bends over backwards to be error-free than it is that Blodget, say, not make any mistakes. The New York Times is the most scrutinized newspaper in the world: it needs its editors.

But Henry’s only getting started. Next he starts going down the pay-per-view road:

Productive writers can be retained and unproductive ones can be released (thanks to the web stats, this can be determined scientifically: look at a several years of click data and it will be crystal clear).

Got that? If you don’t have the “click data”, fear for your job! If you snark about the president, or how to analyze your husband “the way a trainer considers an exotic animal”, then you’re probably fine. If you’re an investigative reporter who spends months at a time uncovering secrets, not so much. And if you’re a war correspondent putting your life on the line to cover important conflicts around the world, well, remember to include lots of pictures of kittens to boost that all-important click data.

“Yes,” says Blodget, “some sections that some readers love might disappear”. But those kind of fluffy, feature-driven sections — the ones that might be cut — aren’t expensive: by contrast, they’re profitable. That’s why they exist: they subsidize the important news hole, which is less attractive to advertisers.

Less attractive to advertisers but very attractive to readers. Got that, all you Wall Street sharpies out there?

I’ve seen the effects of Blodget-style dumbassery up close at the newspapers I once worked for, and from a distance elsewhere. It’s killing American newspapers. Newspapers can be run at a profit, just not the kind of profits that appeal to the constant-growth-at-any-price crowd. Wall Street and Fleet Street have to be kept separate.

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Friday finds


Get ready for Charles Darwin: A Graphic Biography. Every time you buy a copy, you’ll make a creationist cry.

How about that — a place in the universe where Samuel Johnson’s admirers can intersect with Harry Potter fans. The item in question plays a small but significant role in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The oldest library in America may have to close. Want to help out?

John Mortimer is dead at age 85. As a novelist he created Horace Rumpole, and provided a career-mortimerdefining TV role for actor Leo McKern (pictured at left, in his wig, with Mortimer), who owned Rumpole the way Helen Mirren owns Jane Tennison. As a barrister, Mortimer defended Linda Lovelace and the Sex Pistols, reflecting his taste fior cases that were, as he put it, “testing the frontiers of tolerance.” To distinguish oneself in a single field is hard enough, but to claim such dual achievements . . . how very cool.

Another tribute to the late Thomas Disch, this one from John Crowley, another genre heavyweight.

You wanna know what “snarge” is? Of course you do — especially if you’re a pilot.

You’ve heard of sword and sorcery? Get ready for sword and soul.

A new Bob Dylan studio album? Bring it on, baby. I just hope it’s not another snifter of chloroform like Modern Times.

Patton Oswalt, my current favorite stand-up comedian, talks about Blue Collar, a largely overlooked Paul Schrader drama from the Seventies that offers one of Richard Pryor’s best straight performances.

Another Stanley Milgram research study bites the dust. Apparently all that business about six degrees of separation is bunk. I still like the movie and the Kevin Bacon game, though. Thanks to Bernie Madoff, looks like there will soon be fresh material for “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

Unless you’re a Geek of A Certain Age, the name Charles H. Schneer probably doesn’t ring any bells. All right, how about Ray Harryhausen — does that name work? Well then let the Geek’s Geek tell you about one of the unique creative partnerships in American filmmaking.

Kanawha — the only state to successfully secede from the United States.

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If I ran the Oscars

Oh man, for the first time in my adult life I find that I haven’t been able to see even one of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar. Not Milk, not The Reader, not Frost/Nixon, not Slumdog Millionaire and definitely not The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which sounds so close to Forrest Gump that I refuse to see it on general principles, even if a trustworthy babysitter offered a free night of work, even if it is getting David Fincher all the bucks and attention he should have garnered with Zodiac.

Since I share a house with The Children That Do Not Sleep, and since The Woman Warrior and I haven’t gotten out much in last couple of years, a list of Best Picture nominees based on what gets played on the household DVD player would be Barbie and the Diamond Castle, Kung Fu Panda, Shrek the Third and whatever Pokemon video happens to be most current.

I did take the sprouts to see Wall-E and the other two best animated picture nominees at the local pithecanthroplex, and while Bolt and Kung Fu Panda have their charms, they simply don’t exist on the same artistic plane as Wall-E.

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Political science

A scholar reminds us that, historically speaking, transfers of power haven’t usually been conducted very neatly:

The figures are eloquent. Of 109 sovereigns, 65 were assassinated, 12 died in convent or prison, 3 died of hunger, 18 were castrated or had their eyes put out, their noses or hands cut off, and the rest were poisoned, suffocated, strangled, stabbed, thrown down from the top of a column or ignominiously hunted down. In 1058 years there were 65 revolutions of palace, street or barracks and 65 dethronements.

You have to wonder what one of the Byzantine monarchs — Justinian, say, or old Constantine himself — would have done with Chief Justice John Roberts after he tripped up the new president during his swearing-in.

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In his review of the new biography of Herbert Hoover — the latest title in the American Presidents Series put ou by Times Books — David Greenberg offers this bonbon of historic detail:

In 1932, the parents of a 4-year-old went to court to change his legal name. Christened Herbert Hoover Jones in 1928, when the commerce secretary and Republican presidential nominee was a national hero, the boy deserved relief, said his parents, from “the chagrin and mortification which he is suffering and will suffer” for sharing a moniker with the now-disgraced chief executive. His new name: Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.

The idea of a series of short, concise biographies of American presidents is a great idea, but the Times Books series has been spotty. I got a lot out of Greenburg’s bio of Calvin Coolidge, so this review sent me hurrying to order a copy of William Leuchtenburg’s Hoover study.

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Beyond the blue blog horizon

Science fiction grandmaster Frederik Pohl has a new blog. And not a grudging, infrequently updated don’t-bother-me-with-this-Internet-crap kind of Web site like Harlan Ellison’s, but a highly readable jumping-in-with-both-feet bloggity blog blog like the ones maintained by John Scalzi, Michael Swanwick and the like. The name of the blog takes off from Pohl’s memoir, The Way the Future Was, which is as charming an autobiography as you’re likely to read. (Bird-dogged by Fred K.)

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Matt Drudge and the rest of the winger echo chamber spent Tuesday afternoon braying about how Obama had fumbled the oath of office, but it was Bush appointee John Roberts who couldn’t keep his constitutional duty or his words straight. Like appointer, like appointee.