Friday, January 22, 2016

What I’m reading #130

My theory of magazines is that they live and die, rise and fall, on the quality of their columnists. The NZ Listener has Jane Clifton, Diana Wichtel and Bill Ralston; Quote Unquote had Bill Manhire,
Kevin Ireland, Stephanie Johnson and Nigel Cox. Currently, the Spectator has the best columnists of any weekly: Jeremy Clarke, Rod Liddle, Tanya Gold, Martin van der Weyer, Deborah Ross, Rory Sutherland and a bunch of others. I would read it for any one of them. Writers like this are why one keeps reading a magazine. The columnists are the spine, the structure; the cover story is the cladding.

I came across this book, pictured above, My Week: the secret diaries of almost everyone (The Robson Press, 2013) by Spectator columnist Hugo Rifkind. It is very funny. He started writing these pieces for The Times in 2006. Totally random – honest – sample:
Barack Obama 10 November 2012:
Today is a portentous day. For today is the day that may be the day before the day that America decides, on a fine autumn day, that there may be another day when the man who stands before you today as…
“Honey?” says Michelle.” You’re kinda raving again .”
Wouldn’t it be good if a New Zealand satirist could develop this idea from 2006?

More on the singular they, as discussed here previously, also here and here. I first heard it on The Archers, on the wireless some time in the 1960s, when a character was trying to avoid specifying the sex of the person she was talking about, and I thought: “That’s useful.” What else matters other than usefulness? The American Dialect Society chose it for 2015’s Word of the Year, for a different reason. Well, a different usefulness reason. Quote unquote:
While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.
“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”
If you have been following the strange case of the Hollywood actor Sean Penn interviewing the Mexican psychopath El Chapo, aka Shorty, aka Joaquin Guzman Loera, here’s how Hugo Rifkind described one of them in 2012:
He’s a spoon-faced humourless self-loathing pseudo-socialist twit, sure, but he’s not a moron.
This by Gerard McBurney is the best piece on the late Pierre Boulez I’ve seen – love his music, saw him conduct the Ensemble Contermporain in Wellington in 1988 (Birtwistle, Boulez and Donatoni, from memory) but had no idea he was so funny. Quote unquote:
I was escorting him to a restaurant. The rest of the company had moved swiftly, but he was walking slowly, tired after rehearsal. Someone had told me on no account to mention Messiaen. So I did, and he immediately laughed, stopped and looked at me like a schoolboy preparing a whoopee cushion for a grownup.
“Ah, Messiaen, he is for me a big problem … [dramatic pause] The religion … [another pause, shrugged shoulders, and louder] The birds … [louder still, hands raised and in tones of pantomimic horror] Aand … my God … the ORGAN!” There was no doubt which of these three shockers was the worst.
I said I’d been inspired by his performances of Messiaen in London. He looked at me sideways. “Yes, there are some pieces of his I will do. But Turangalîla ... Never! For me this piece is … you know … a kind of Bernini of the suburbs!”
Matthew Sweet in Intelligent Life on the Abba Museum in Stockholm and their one song in the past-modal perfect tense. Quote unquote:
The sceptical eye might dismiss it as the unlovely detritus of Europop – a subterranean fire-trap of hen-night kitsch. But this would be to underestimate the semiotic thickness of ABBA’s art – and trust me, you really wouldn’t want to do that. The artefacts on display evoke, sometimes painfully, the band’s personal and artistic trajectory: the vanishing grins, the collapsing marriages, the tour-bus melancholia, their progress towards that bleak and clear-eyed final album, “The Visitors” – their Winterreise. It’s true that ABBA lyrics sometimes exhibit errors familiar to EFL teachers around the world (“since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand,” says the narrator of “Fernando”) but who else could have produced a song like their last recorded work, “The Day Before You Came” – an account of joy measured in the minutiae of depression, and possibly the only pop song ever written in the past-modal perfect tense? (“I’m sure I had my dinner watching something on TV,” reflects Agnetha. “There’s not, I think, a single episode of ‘Dallas’ that I didn’t see.”)
So here are Abba with perhaps their saddest song, sung by Agnetha, their farewell:

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