The Heart of the Matter

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild, Macmillan, 2016.

How is it that after so many years and so many wars and so many revolutions, counter-revolutions, assassinations, genocides, and betrayals, the Spanish Civil War continues to capture the imagination of idealists  and romantics?

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The Man with the Purple Guitar

For a long time, my image of the Ugly American was a thick-necked Prince hater I met (early in the Age of Reagan) when he drove me around the Upper West Side as I delivered Christmas gifts for a package store.  This piece of work (who had a familial connection to the owners and wanted me to know he was tight with my bosses) had seen Prince open for the Stones in 1981. He’d been among thousands in the overwhelmingly white crowd who booed the “faggot” unmercifully.

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Sometimes It Snows In April

It was the fall of 1978 and I was in Jimmy’s Music World in downtown Brooklyn. Having recently rewired my collecting impulses from baseball cards and comic books to LPs and 45’s–that’s vinyl albums and singles for you young ‘uns–I was looking for some product to play on my new Onkyo stereo component system. I was leafing through the R&B bin when I began to pay closer attention to the music on the in-store speakers.

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Primary Wallow

Slightly compacted familial e-mails on the Campaign Trail.

First Thought, Best Thought

Here’s the first thing about Bill to remember:

He betrayed Hillary (I’m not just talking the once-licking and future pig). And he CONTINUES to betray her daily–by defending a regime of shit (welfare “reform,” tax “reform,” SEC rules “reform,” prison “reform,” drug penalties “reform,” why stop here?) that she has outright rejected.

And he calls publicly defending his shit that she has rejected, as Senator and as Mme Secretary for Obama, and that she publicly rejects everyday,

“campaigning for her.”

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Donald Trump & Professional Wrestling: How the Billionaire Body-Slammed the G.O.P.

Chauncey DeVega’s account of Trump’s ties to professional wrestling manages to be both shocking and predictable. (Try the footage of Trump with Vince McMahon in “The Battle of the Billionaires” above.)  DeVega grew up watching pro wrestling and his piece melds his clarities about the American version of that spectacle with Roland Barthes’ classic analysis of the French form.  

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Currying Favor in College Ball

I. Anticipation

With the NCAA tournament (March Madness) beginning only two days after the high school team I help coach was eliminated from the California state tournament, I figured I’d finally have a chance catch up on what’s happening with college ball. After all, even with the NCAA’s being increasingly exposed as The Evil Empire, c’mon, ya hadda love college ball. If you knew anything at all, you preferred it to the NBA, scorned those who did not. But not in the newly-dawned Steph Curry Era!

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The Politics of Anger

Mario Cuomo’s often quoted adage, “you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose,” neglects to say that the poetry more often than not is bad poetry.  Campaign speeches are cliché ridden, repetitious, rarely inspired by genuine conviction and filled with promises that the speakers know can’t be kept.  It is an insult to poetry to associate it with the banality of campaigning.  The election of 2016 so far is singularly devoid of the semblance of poetry.

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Whorehouse Music

Asa Zatz, who translated nearly 100 books from Spanish to English, was 100 years old when he died last month. Asa was a modest man. He once compared translating to dentistry and joked he was the guy publishers called once they found out Gregory Rabassa wasn’t available.  But he was truly (and rightly) proud of his 1987 translation of José Luis Gonzalez’s classic novella of Puerto Rico, “Ballad of Another Time.” (You can find out more about “Ballad’s” undervalued author in this companion post by Irene Vilar—a slightly compacted version of the foreword to University of Wisconsin Press’s 2004 edition of the novella.) What follows is a chapter from “Ballad.” Take it as our public tribute to its (humble) translator who was a longtime supporter of “First of the Month” and a dear friend. B.D. 

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George Ohr: A Free Man in Biloxi

“I love George Ohr. More freedom in his head then in just about anyone’s.

Ohr was a 19th century ceramic futurist.  Looking at his work rubbing my fingers together, thinking about the feel of wet clay. his mind must have moved like clay moves when you throw it on a wheel or pinch it…it always seeks freedom…the potter seeks control…the dance is between the authority of the material and the will of the potter.   It can be a discussion or a debate.  A lot of talking.”—Michael Brod

Brod’s musings prompted your editor to ask him to say more on George Ohr, “mad potter of Biloxi,” (who surely looked the part—see the photo at the bottom of this post). Ohr, himself, was more than willing to think out loud about his works and days: “I brood over [each pot] with the same tenderness a mortal child awakens in its parent.”[1] A few of Ohr’s numberless creations were exhibited in NYC last year at the Craig F. Starr gallery. These three were in that show. (You can find many more examples of Ohr’s art pots here.)

3-double-handed-vases_1895-1910 (1)

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One More for the Road: Sinatra at The Desert Inn, 1993

A version of this previously unpublished non-fiction article was incorporated into the author’s novel, “The Death of Frank Sinatra” (1996).

Every musician wore a tuxedo. The conductor was a small round man sitting at a grand piano wearing earphones. With a slash of the conductor’s hand the rhythm and brass burst into a loud, up-tempo number and Sinatra flashed a smile that made him look uncannily young, a young smile in his old pasty face, and his eyes were the same as they’d always been, brighter in person than they ever registered on screen, and, like the smile, the eyes were young to the point of seeming unnatural.

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Side by Side

Bobby Keys and Jim Price put some horns on the end of “Honky Tonk Women” mixed down so low you can only hear them in the very last second and half on the fade.  Chuck Berry had a saxophone just for the very end of “Roll Over Beethoven.” We loved that idea of another instrument coming in just for the last second.  Keith Richards, Life

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Double Trouble: Dramas of American Communism

News an Oxford don has bought into b.s. about Alger Hiss’s innocence sent your editor back to Aram Saroyan’s play, UNAMERICAN, which is based on the public record of the confrontation between Whittaker Chambers and Hiss. UNAMERICAN is posted below along with the second act of My Confession, Saroyan’s “solo performance play” based on Mary McCarthy’s memoir of her encounters with Stalinists in the 30s  (which she published in Encounter in 1954).

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