Tag Archives: NPR

Piety pimps

This morning, the twinkies on the Today show leavened their standard mix of blather — vapid analysis of the “fiscal cliff,” weight-loss advice, celebrity gossip — with a rundown of the movies opening today. Naming Texas Chainsaw 3D, one twinkie said “some are questioning its release so soon after the Newtown shootings.” I don’t know what’s worse: the weasel-word evasiveness of “some are questioning,” or the hypocrisy of someone tut-tutting the fictional violence in a horror movie from his perch at a TV network that spent weeks sucking every last tear off the face of anyone in the vicinity of Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

I get the same sense of exasperation while while listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Quentin Tarantino, in which the filmmaker gets audibly testy when Gross clumsily links the violence in his films to the real-life carnage in Newtown and too many other places where psychos did their bloody work. And while I’m no great fan of Tarantino’s work — Death Proof was dull as dirt, and Inglourious Basterds struck me as juvenile gamesmanship with history — I’m with him when he chides Gross for the offensiveness of her comparison, and describes the differences in the ways violence can be depicted on page and screen. The fact that he’s entirely correct won’t make a bit of difference in this discussion, but I salute him for the effort.

We are a species that searches for patterns and connections everywhere, and this leads to a propensity for magic thinking. In this case, it’s the notion that writing about bad things (or showing them on a screen) will make bad things happen. Piety pimps like Joe Lieberman (now gone from the Senate, praises be, but certain to return as a talking head on the cable shows) build whole careers on this kind of witch doctor talk. Taking away Quentin Tarantino’s fake blood squibs won’t keep real blood from being shed, any more than inflicting parental advisory labels on musicians keeps teenagers from learning cuss words, but it does create a semblance of action for people who are unable or unwilling to deal with the real sources of what’s ailing society. I would venture to say that’s part of what makes Tarantino so testy, and I know exactly how he feels. 

   

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Crepuscule with Thelonious

monk-time-cover

A half-century ago, jazz great Thelonious Monk led a 10-piece orchestra in a performance at New York’s Town Hall that marked the first time his music had been played by a large ensemble. The concert, which Monk considered one of the proudest moments of his career, yielded a classic live album that I wouldn’t recommend as a starting point for Monk novices, but is a must-hear for anyone familiar with the songs in their original small-group settings.

A couple of weeks ago, trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Jason Moran led a pair of tribute concerts at Town Hall that duplicated the songlist, though not the performances, of Monk’s one-night stand. Fred Kaplan, whose writings about jazz are among the few reasons to pay much attention to Slate, has shrewd things to say  about the performances themselves, as well as the tricky business of trying to replicate recordings of music based on improvisation — especially an improviser with a style as idiosyncratic as Monk.  

As for the actual tribute concerts, NPR has posted a recording of Charles Tolliver’s night that should make for good listening while you check your e-mails.

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