The Strange Pop Culture Tastes of Dictators
March 16, 2012
One of the most prurient aspects of reading the personal emails written to and by Bashar al Assad that were obtained by The Guardian has been the chance to observe the dictator’s strange shopping habits on iTunes. Apparently, the Syrian dictator is a big fan of contemporary party music. But Bashar is far from the first dictator to have a strange relationship with pop culture.
Paul McCartney’s Superficial New Album of Standards
February 11, 2012
The notion of a “cover”—the performance of a song that the performer did not write as something exceptional—is a relatively recent one in the long history of song. The act was simply called “singing” for the many centuries when composers did the work of creation, and singers took care of the separate but significantly creative work of interpretation. Blues, folk, and other vernacular musicians, abandoning the hierarchal rules of the specialization model, transformed the song culture in this country and made songwriting and singing a unified art of individualistic expression.
December 14, 2011
A specter is haunting the GOP--the specter of Nelson Rockefeller. It's a curious paradox. The Republican party is more captive to its wingnuts than at any time since 1964. Yet three of the party's four most important figures right now--Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Mitch McConnell--began life as Rockefeller Republicans. (The fourth, House Speaker John Boehner, was always a wingnut.) Nelson Rockefeller, you will recall, was vice-president under Gerald Ford and governor of New York from 1959 to 1973.
December 14, 2011
On a warm Saturday in early July, an employee at the Maryland Historical Society placed a call to the police. He had noticed two visitors behaving strangely—a young, tall, handsome man with high cheekbones and full lips and a much older, heavier man, with dark, lank hair and a patchy, graying beard. The older man had called in advance to give the librarians a list of boxes of documents he wanted to see, saying that he was researching a book. At some point during their visit, the employee saw the younger man slip a document into a folder.
Oohs and Aaahs
November 09, 2011
Tony Bennett: The Complete Collection Sony Music More than thirty stars of contemporary or recent-vintage pop, rock, and country music sing with Tony Bennett on his two CDs of cross-generational collaborations, Duets and Duets II, the second of which was released shortly after Bennett’s eighty-fifth birthday last summer. The albums are narratives of pilgrimage. Most of the guest singers, who include Lady Gaga and Faith Hill, are young or youngish; and the oldish ones, such as Paul McCartney and Aretha Franklin, are considerably younger than the singer who brought them together.
The Self-Indulgence of Jay-Z and Kanye’s New Album
August 12, 2011
Forty years ago this July, a few weeks before what would have been his seventieth birthday (on August 4), Louis Armstrong died of a heart attack in the brick shoebox house in Corona, Queens that is now a museum in his honor. The pallbearers included Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Dizzy Gillespie, and Frank Sinatra, all of whom had shared the stage with Armstrong at multiple points over his long career.
Sending Out the Unmusical Elizabeth Taylor
March 25, 2011
Elizabeth Taylor had nothing to do with music—or, more accurately, nothing to do with the formal standards of technique that traditionalists still conflate with musicality—and that fact has led me to realize something about Frank Sinatra. In all the encomia to Taylor in all the media this week, one of the few aspects of her career spared inflation was her brief and tenuous but illuminating dalliance with theatrical song in the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, produced in 1977.
TNR Film Classic: 'The Man With the Golden Arm' (1956)
March 19, 2011
The first thing to say about The Man With the Golden Arm is that one ought to see it before and not after reading the novel by Nelson Algren on which it is based. The film is a pretty good picture show, as we used to say, but anyone who has read Nelson Algren’s wonderfully poetic novel is likely to make invidious comparisons and be otherwise distracted, particularly when the film strives to narrow itself to a problem of drug addiction. Those episodes in which it is a problem film make it resemble The Lost Week-End and The Blackboard Jungle and they are interesting enough.
David Thomson on Films: ‘From Here to Eternity’
March 05, 2011
It was a Friday night, and Turner Classic Movies were doing “Thirty-One Days of Oscar,” so the network played From Here to Eternity (1953). It’s a film I’m fond of (being twelve when I first saw it), and, when you’re that familiar with a picture, you’re not quite watching any more. But then, something happened.
'Mad Men' Mondays: 'Public Relations'
July 26, 2010
This is the first in TNR’s weekly series of "Mad Men" episode recaps. Caution: It contains spoilers. “The world is so dark right now,” says Don Draper’s soon-to-be latest conquest in “Public Relations,” the first episode in Season Four of “Mad Men,” which premiered Sunday night. She’s talking about the change in the country’s mood, which was triggered by John F. Kennedy’s assassination (covered in Season Three’s penultimate episode, “The Grown Ups”). But she may as well be talking about the show itself.