Ben Yagoda has a Lingua Franca post celebrating great sentences, which he collects “the way some people collect beach glass, small statues of turtles, or perceived insults.” He provides a nice selection, including some of everyone’s favorites (“‘Shut up,’ he explained.”—Ring Lardner) and some idiosyncratic choices (“Asked his last name, Tom said, ‘Why?'”). But what I want to quote in extenso is this:

Currently my favorite sentence is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Horace de Vere Cole, a “practical joker” (that is the DNB‘s summary phrase) who died in 1936. My friend Wes Davis alerted me to the sentence several years ago, and I return to it whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth. Actually, there are several contenders in the Cole entry, which was written by Richard Davenport-Hynes. The final line is a classic of over-the-top understatement: “His widow married Mortimer Wheeler (1939) and shot Lord Vivian (1954).” Still, nothing can top the one Wes told me about, which describes the aging practical joker in the winter of his years:

“His advanced deafness prevented him from realizing that his carefully timed coughing was inadequate to cover his explosive breaking of wind.”


  1. All my life I’ve heard “Shut up he explained” and knew it was Lardner but never knew the context.
    Now I do.
    Not quite the knee slapper I had expected.

  2. Not a languagehat problem, but it’s Davenport-Hines, not ‘Hynes’. (And if anyone wonders why I have this interest in odd names, I got it from Richard, who I often sat next to at school. He would write out long lists of full names – Thomas Edward Brodie Howarth, our headmaster, is the one that still sticks in my mind – while everyone else was taking notes on the repeal of the Corn Laws or the origins of Fascism.) He’s written many of the best entries in the ODNB, including Jack the Ripper. He has two recent books: one, about the Titanic, that he talks about here (and incidentally his hatred of petty officials like the passport controller and his skill with a rambling anecdote were fully-formed when he was 15 years-old), and one on Christine Keeler & co. that I’m going to buy right now…

  3. The line about breaking wind reminds me of one I read in Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of ‘Fitzcarraldo’. Context, for anyone unfamiliar with the film: Herzog and crew are trying to pull a ship over a mountain in the Peruvian jungle:
    “While hauling away a mud-smeared, uncooperative steel cable, one of the Indians farted from the effort with such force and duration that it sounded amid the roading vulgarity of nature like the first indication of a human will to impose order.”

  4. The DNB has some great lines: my favourite is about James Thomson, who wrote the words to “Rule Britannia”. It called him “a keen and practised drinker” and said that after he died aged 48, his wake was “as drunken as Thomson could have wished”.

  5. There’s some classic understatements in the movies as well. My favorite, from Jaws : “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

  6. May favorite sentence is from a review of a collection of Graham Greene’s collected movie reviews. “Greene was a nimble pundit.” I like to say it out loud occasionally.

  7. That’s a very nice one!

  8. I don’t actually have ‘favourite sentences’, but one well-known sentence that I personally like is:
    As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

  9. Another well-known opening sentence:
    It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

  10. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Yes, very nice. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit. Greene was a nimble pundit…

  11. The story BWA links to for the “‘Shut up’ he explained” line isn’t by Lardner — it’s by Tom Clark, perhaps making a (raunchy) homage to Lardner. The original Lardner quote is from “The Young Immigrunts.”

  12. Adelfons says

    “C’est vrai que sa tête était contre lui, indéniable, angoissante figure d’assassin, ou plutôt, pour ne charger personne, d’homme imprudent, énormément pressé de se réaliser, ce qui revient au même.” — L-F Céline, “Voyage au but de la nuit”
    This first knocked me out in an English translation which I remember as: “He really was hard to look at, with that awful criminal’s face of his, or rather, not to be too hard on anyone, the look of a head-strong man hell-bent on asserting himself, which amounts to the same thing.”
    I think of this sentence often. Less often now than in the Bush-Cheney years, but there are still occasions. Cheers!

  13. Ben, thanks for clearing that up.
    That’s this Tom Clark, isn’t it? His blog of poems and pictures is a wonderful thing.

  14. Oakley sunglasses says

    There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. [spambot favorite sentence! -LH]

  15. I didn’t know that spambots have favourite sentences, too. They start to look scarily intelligent now.

  16. Yes, it’s the same Tom Clark, an amazing man. I particularly liked this recent one he did about The Little Prince, but they’re all good.

  17. Now here’s one I’ve always liked:
    “Distance lends enchantment to the view, so take two steps backward, turn around very quickly and shut up, he explained while wiping stray bits of the Archbishop’s spittle from his Ray-Bans.”
    — AJP Crown, opening sentence of “The Pindle Numbit”

  18. marie-lucie says

    AJP, thanks for the link to The Little Prince. The English version is excellent and does not sound at all like a translation. The photographs mingled with St-Ex’s drawings are also wonderful.

  19. marie-lucie says

    ADelfons, re the Céline translation, the English version is quite toned down compared to the French original.

  20. That’s good to hear, m-l. Tom Clark is some kind of genius (sorry to gush). He’s also an authority on Keats, for anyone who likes an occasional keat.

  21. I swear to God (whom I don’t believe in, unless you mean–oh, never mind) I’m going to go back and study, no not study–revel in, absorb, enjoy, read, look at, try to understand, I don’t know, all those posts by TC. What the hell was I thinking when I discovered him and didn’t put him in my blogroll? Not thinking. Not paying attention.

  22. Clapton?

  23. What is that question the answer to, Hat?

  24. jamessal says

    As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.
    Heh. I didn’t remember the essay at all, but I immediately knew it was Orwell.
    Another famous one: “In this manner, the issue was decided.”

  25. jamessal says

    “Call me Smitty.”
    — Opening sentence of Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel.

  26. What is that question the answer to, Hat?
    “I swear to God (whom I don’t believe in, unless you mean–oh, never mind)”
    My reference is perhaps before your time.

  27. If Clapton is God, then who is Jack Bruce? (Ginge is clearly the devil, he’s not even in disguise.)

  28. jamessal says

    A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel
    he’s selling plastic roses for a buck
    The traffic’s backed up to 39th street
    the TV whores are calling the cops out for a suck

    If Clapton’s God, then who the hell wrote that?

  29. Adelfons says

    Oh, jamessal, thank you for that. Lou doesn’t get nearly enough love these days.
    And I am the water boy
    The real game’s not over here
    But my heart is overflowing anyway. . .
    And to m-l, thank you, I agree, but the English sentence has its own music, which I suppose helped it stick in my head all these years.

  30. jamessal says

    Lou doesn’t get nearly enough love these days.
    Indeed. Can’t think of many rock lyricists even on his level. And given that this is Language Hat, I propose that be the chief criterion for rock Godhood. Any objections? Other nominees?

  31. No objections, but I saw Lou Reed play with the other Velvets in 1993ish in Hamburg and it was a disaster, komplett Tohuwabohu. Lyrics are one thing but you’ve got to also be a musician. Plus – and I know this doesn’t count but if you’ve ever read an interview – he’s such an unpleasant person. Clapton has been crapton ever since he stopped playing with Jack Bruce. He’s definitely not God, I’m quite sure of that. I’d vote for Bob as God. It even rhymes, I think that’s a sign.

  32. Adelfons says

    Chuck Berry (previously discussed!), Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Lou Reed. A person could argue for Leonard Cohen, but he’s too… uh… catholic for my taste.
    And I’m old-fashioned and don’t expect poets to be pleasant people! Besides, Lou is a GREAT musician (guitarist and singer), even better than he knows himself to be, maybe.

  33. I’m old-fashioned and don’t expect poets to be pleasant people!
    I don’t either, but surely one’s expectations are different for divinity.

  34. Though come to think of it I don’t know why they should be, since divinities keep smiting people.

  35. The true greatness of Lou Reed is in the album Metal Machine Music, which he wrote, or assembled, or whatever the right word is, because he needed one album — any album — to fulfill a recording contract with a publisher he was saying goodbye to forever. It’s very useful for disposing of unwanted guests, and — I am told — for playing loudly as retaliation for one’s neighbor’s loud playing of opera or rap or what have you. Per Wikipedia:

    The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of over-modulated feedback and guitar effects, intricately mixed at varying speeds by Reed himself. In the album’s liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre.

  36. jamessal says

    Chuck Berry (previously discussed!), Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Lou Reed
    Yeah, that’s pretty much the list. I might add Paul Simon for “Graceland” and “The Rhythm of Saints” — also ’cause he was supposed to be something of a weirdo asshole, too. True story: when I was a baby, my parents were moving into a house in the Hamptons, and it turned out their movers’ previous job had been Paul Simon’s new house. They said that he wouldn’t talk to them — that all communication had to go through a secretary even when they were in the same room together (as in, “Mr. Simon, the movers have asked where you would like this couch placed, sir . . . *turning to the movers*: Mr. Simon would like you to place the couch over there”)!

  37. jamessal says

    And I think God is supposed to baffle us, so there’s all his new music in his favor.

  38. Soon after his most commercial album, Transformer, Reed made his least-commercial record, Metal Machine Music, an album of feedback. Some critics said it was his joke on the pop business. Is there any validity in that? “Zero.” Is it something he can enjoy? “Well, I can.” Which of his songs does he like best? “I don’t have a favourite.” Favourite album? “I like all of them.”

  39. John Lennon got his ideas off Spike Milligan, a far superior poet in my opinion. If Lennon’s God, then Spike Milligan is probably Jack Bruce.

  40. According to us nobody’s written anything significant since 1990. That really can’t be right.

  41. David Bowie wrote some pretty good lyrics, and they’ve been sung in outer space, but I suppose he’s more a god of haute couture.

  42. Adelfons says

    Surely the kids have their own gods. (Hat, can’t you attract some younger readers? *emoticon*) Kanye West could be the Lou Reed of the nows — “Power” is a hell of a song.
    Love Bowie, though I seldom have any idea what he’s talking about.
    Yeah, and Paul Simon… David Hidalgo of Los Lobos called him “the world’s biggest prick,” but that doesn’t make “American Tune” go away. Gosh that’s a good song.

  43. jamessal says

    Kanye West could be the Lou Reed of the nows — “Power” is a hell of a song.
    Bullshit. I’m 29, and your generation simply had better non-concert music. We’ve got Old Crow Medicine Show, Ed Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Tom Waits, and Gillian Welch; and we had plenty of good rappers (Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z). But overall, hits just used to be better.

  44. Adelfons says

    “Bullshit”? Hey, I was just throwing it out there…. I like Matisse’s idea that the measure of an artist is how many new signs he contributes to the language of art, and I think I hear a lot of new signs in Kanye West’s stuff. Maybe they aren’t original with him, I don’t know, I’m not an expert…. Gillian Welch is great of course, but is there anything new in her songs?
    Oh yeah, I forgot the great Tom Waits! He is more or less of my generation, whatever the hell a generation is. (I’m 51.)

  45. jamessal says

    Oh, it wasn’t harsh bullshit but a playful bullshit. Probably should’ve had an exclamation point. My bad.

  46. jamessal says

    And that was a generational my bad, of course.

  47. jamessal says

    Though sincere, too.

  48. I must say I agree with AJP’s sentiment. A lot of those old songs still sound fresh no matter how often you hear them, and yet I wonder if it isn’t just a nostalgia time-warp thing. There was some pretty deadening stuff in those days, too. ‘Alone Again Naturally’ tops the list of songs that make me cringe, and there were plenty of others like it.
    I do listen to post-90s music, but it’s usually in the same vein as pre-90s (that is, stuff in the same style, nothing dramatically new): grunge, Britpop, Radiohead, Linkin Park, the Corrs, James Blunt, Mazzy Star, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sigur Rós, Sinead OConnor, Shakira, White Stripes, World Party, Shawn Colvin, etc., etc., etc. I’m hardly the adventurous type.
    Perhaps what set some of that old music apart was that it was ‘serious’, not ‘cool’. Those people that we’re calling ‘gods’ were trying to do and say something through their music, which still shines through now. Too much of the focus in post-90s music shifted to what was ‘cool’ (pretending to be black gangsters) rather than ‘serious’ (giving voice to some kind of vision, musical or otherwise).
    Sorry, just stray thoughts. Please feel free to react or dismiss as appropriate.

  49. jamessal says

    Here’s a test: for all the outrage over the Iraq War among musicians, can anyone name a song protesting it half as good as “Wooden Ships”?

  50. Adelfons says

    jamessal, no worries. Am I young enough to say that?
    Your “generational my bad” was actually first used on an Ultimate Frisbee practice field in northeastern Ohio in 1977. I WAS THERE.
    And no, there were no good Iraq War protest songs that I know of, though I heard a lot of them. The fact that the entertainment industry has become a branch of the government is only a partial explanation. This also speaks to Bathrobe’s thoughts.

  51. I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform.
    Of course, what’s of interest here is that (a) this is WordPress, albeit an antediluvian version, and (b) the form fed up of. Do Hattics of the rising generation have this form, analogous (to my ear) to bored of? For me it has to be fed up with.
    Perhaps English is moving toward a state where all idiomatic prepositions of this kind will be replaced by of, as younger folks in China are losing track of their noun classifiers and replacing the rarer ones with generic ge ‘unit of’. This has already happened in Dungan, an offshoot of Mandarin spoken in ex-Soviet Central Asia, where the classifier is now a fixed suffix on the number or demonstrative that precedes it (and is written so in Dungan Cyrillic).

  52. jamessal says

    Your “generational my bad” was actually first used on an Ultimate Frisbee practice field in northeastern Ohio in 1977. I WAS THERE.
    Are you fucking with me to test the credulity of my generation (whichever that is)?
    The fact that the entertainment industry has become a branch of the government is only a partial explanation.
    What do you mean by that?
    This also speaks to Bathrobe’s thoughts.
    Yes, I thought Bathrobe articulated well what I meant by “better,” though I may be giving myself too much credit; my own thoughts were probably just simpler, more inchoate.

  53. Spike Milligan, a far superior poet in my opinion
    And also, sadly, an unpleasant racist. But then, so was Tennyson. See earlier comments about poets nopt having to be pleasant people.

  54. Perhaps what set some of that old music apart was that it was ‘serious’, not ‘cool’.
    This chimes with my own thoughts about why the world is going to hell in a handbasket, though I try to repress them because I don’t want to sound like an old fart even to myself. But I do feel strongly that in my day (for simplicity’s sake, the ’60s) we (by which I mean m-m-m-my generation) took the world seriously and genuinely cared about it; we may have been foolish when we thought we could end the war by marching and singing, but we were doing our level best and genuinely despaired as the war escalated and the political establishment seemed completely unresponsive (Hubert Humphrey, I’m looking at you). We enjoyed ironic humor, of course (Firesign Theatre!), but as a respite from all the seriousness, not a replacement for it. In recent decades it seems to me (cue sepia tones and plangent music) that youth culture has completely given up on taking anything seriously (gay rights being a prominent and welcome exception); everything is looked at through multiple layers of irony, and all cultural products are ostentatious retreads of things that have been successful in the past.
    This message is brought to you by Geritol: twice the iron in a pound of calf’s liver!

  55. (Lots of links here for the history-challenged.)
    I read recently that there are more campus activists today (in proportion to the student population) than there were in the 60s, and that this was true already in the 70s and 80s. The dedication and seriousness is there; it just doesn’t get the media attention it once did, and so the Old Farts think “Kids today!”
    As for the multiple levels of irony, consider Abbie, his life, his work, and his death, even if he did make the mistake of hooking up with Jerry, who was only ever into radical politics for the money. (Disclosure: I was too young, but my wife was a YIP member, who still engages in the occasional yip.) His level of flippancy scared Saul Alinsky’s ass half to death (all praise to him anyway, his legacy rulez). But in truth sacred clowns go back a long way in the left, at least to 1848 if not earlier (another grand doomed effort that finally prevailed).
    No, I think it’s that we don’t have perspective on the present yet, not that it’s so very different from the recent past except in the ways of Mutabilitie generally. I always like to reflect on that well-known Margaret Mead quotation (an old fart of high seriousness even by our standards, and the hell with Derek Freeman — which is probably where he is, if there’s any justice): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” But I also like to reflect on the anguished protest against the Old Farts that I saw on a BBS back in the 80s: “What, live in the 60s? No PCs? No ATMs? No VCRs?”

  56. Looking at my own links, I see I have been unfair to Alinsky: anyone who could threaten first a “fart-in” and then a “piss-in” was definitely a sacred clown himself. ObQuote: “Hell would be heaven for me. All my life I’ve been with the have-nots. Over here, if you’re a have-not, you’re short of dough. If you’re a have-not in hell, you’re short of virtue. Once I get into hell, I’ll start organizing the have-nots over there.”

  57. @hat:

    In recent decades it seems to me (cue sepia tones and plangent music) that youth culture has completely given up on taking anything seriously (gay rights being a prominent and welcome exception); everything is looked at through multiple layers of irony, and all cultural products are ostentatious retreads of things that have been successful in the past.

    I wouldn’t say gay rights are the only cause in which contemporary youth are seriously engaged. Feminism is very much alive (witness the recent slut walks and related phenomena), as are environmental concerns, plus the hotchpotch of issues that are usually labeled ‘identity politics’.
    In any case, I think it would only be fair to distinguish youths (who, for example, make up a large majority of the Occupy movement or the Spanish indignados) from the highly-mediated youth culture.

  58. Adelfons says

    (I wrote the follwoing before the most recent excellent posts from John Cowan and Alon, FWIW.)
    Now I’m really excited, and completely sober. Look out!
    “Cultural products” is the phrase.
    It’s of course an oversimplification to blame everything on the Nixon administration, but if the end is really near, that was its beginning. The deaths of MLK and RFK; Kent State; the smothering of the Smothers Brothers… I could go on…. And then suddenly we had Johnny Carson and disco: That was M-M-MY G-Generation — and it was miserable. Who created that “culture”? How did the idealistic Dylan- and Beatles-loving youth of the 60’s let that happen? And then… RONALD EFFING REAGAN???
    Yes, we (my “generation”) had the Sex Pistols, who made me almost happy, and DEVO (from my own neck of the woods), who didn’t (though I admired them). But what were those bands but ironic cultural products? …I don’t know, friends, but it’s hard for me to see how the kids of any era are responsible for the state they’re in.
    I have this argument all the time, on Facebook, at work, wherever…. I teach at a community college, and believe it or not, I have hope! The kids are all right — woefully unprepared for college, but otherwise all right! Much better than one might expect, given that they’ve grown up in this bullshit Age of Terror.
    Call me Pollyanna.
    This is East Tennessee, by the way.
    There are signs that the kids have “given up on taking anything seriously,” but they can surprise you. At the end of this last semester, in American Lit II, I had the students do informal presentations on “popular music as literature,” in my belief that we all need and love poetry and that most of us these days get it from songs; and also in the hope that the students would use it as a chance to share who they are (or want to be), use the song to say what they want to say… or whatever, but anyway somehow argue for it as “poetry.” It wasn’t a total disaster. Passions showed. There was a real variety: Lupe Fiasco, David Allan Coe, Rage Against the Machine, Johnny Cash, some top-40 crap of course (and Billy Joel – ugh)… assorted rappers and young singer-songwriter types I was unfamiliar with…. One cool thing that came of it for me was seeing the respect the students had for each other, and their real interest in each other’s different tastes/choices. There was a tight-knit group of country kids in the back corner, and a little band of nouveau-Beat hipsters toward the front, and a couple Koreans…. Wonderful! I did my part as teacher by helping them appreciate the prosody, imagery, irony (!), etc., but the best of it was them. I learned that the world looks as fucked up to them as it did to me at that age, and they look to music for hope and help in making sense of it. And most of them aren’t satisfied by the commercial “cultural products” that they’re being fed and are looking backward (to Dylan and the Beatles and others) and outside the mainstream for their sustenance.
    Peace, y’all.

  59. AJP Crown says

    A friend of mine bashed into the back of Spike Milligan’s mini at the top of Kensington Church Street, and he was jolly cross and not funny at all. I bet he was no more racist than 90% of the British army in WW2 generation (i.e. quite racist, but I’m not going to make Spike take the blame for that any more than I’m going to make Samuel Johnson take the blame for slavery). Oh, and he wasn’t half the hypocrite that John Lennon was – now there’s someone who’s ripe for a backlash.

  60. J.W. Brewer says

    As the man said, “There’s no youth culture, just masks they let you rent.”
    How does jamessal’s generation get credit for Tom Waits, whose first album came out in, um, I think ’74 plus or minus a year (not going to even bother to look at wikipedia). I would also say that Lou had permanently mislaid his lyrical muse by the time he was going on about flowers and the Lincoln Tunnel and that whole let’s-talk-about-current-events album should have been mixed like The Gift with the vocal only in one speaker so you could turn it off and just enjoy how the guitars sounded; he toured that album in ’89 or ’90 wearing a big floppy sweater and dopey glasses and taking himself so seriously I was afraid he was turning into Sting. Actually I’m not sure I would ever again pay cash money to see Lou (which doesn’t actually diminish my overwhelming respect for him and how much some of his work has meant to me over the last approx 33 years), although I saw the septuagenarian John Cale this past Jan and he was quite good (maybe no better but not notably worse than the times I’d seen him in the 80’s and 90’s). Then last month I saw the sexagenerian Robyn Hitchcock, so now I have to figure out if I can find a mere stripling of 50 who’s not too young to play rock and roll music.

  61. AJP Crown says

    I wasn’t in the US in the sixties and I’m no expert (though I did meet Jerry Ruben a few times in the 80s when he was encouraging everyone to exchange business cards and get networking). But look at Britain in the 60s & 70s: I don’t think that generation was any different to Beyonce (no accents on this British computer, apparently) and the musicians we’ve got nowadays. I mean, really: Mick Jagger? Johnny Rotten? Pete Townshend? They were performers, that’s all, just like Madonner or Metallica or whatever, the people who are so worried about their royalties. That song they always play when they show pictures of Kent State: ‘There’s something going on around here, What it is ain’t exactly clear…’ if you read Neil Young’s memoirs that’s right, nothing became clear to Neil, he was no more of a revolutionary than… ramble, ramble, ramble…

  62. AJP Crown (now on his 4th glass of wine) says

    Oh, yes, the point I meant to make is that although the music reflects the spirit of the age, it’s never done much more than that. It’s political influence has never been significant. Music has encouraged people to have sex & take drugs, because that’s the nature of music, but that’s been fairly constant for the past 50 years. It’s no different nowadays (it’s just that we’re way too old to take drugs & have sex, so we don’t get what they’re on about any more).

  63. Thanks, all, you’ve made me feel better about Youth Today!

  64. Adelfons, i wonder what were your Korean students’ preferences?
    Billy Joel? cz i liked and like all his songs very much and the ugh reaction is kinda like strange to me, i wonder what is perceived wrong about him, maybe his only fault was he was too popular in his time?
    i usually dont like to read about personal life of famous people and if it’s something is about rumors or facts about his life, then it’s better of course to not know

  65. Music is a very personal thing. For some reason, I don’t particularly like Billy Joel, either, although not to the point of ‘Ugh!’.

  66. Billy Joel was an inescapable presence, like disco and rap, when I first moved to New York, and “Uptown Girl” still vividly brings back to me the excitement of living there in the early ’80s. And come on, “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” is just a great song:
    “They sent a carrier out from Norfolk
    And picked the Yankees up for free;
    They said that Queens could stay,
    They blew the Bronx away
    And sank Manhattan out at sea…”

  67. jamessal says

    This is East Tennessee, by the way.
    Hey, we honeymooned in east Tennessee, not far from Gatlinburg.

  68. One of my favorite sentences:
    If Keanu Reeves had two more legs, he’d be a terrific coffee table.
    -Paul Tartara in a CNN Showbiz review of “The Replacements”

  69. Adelfons says

    Please accept my apologies for ugh-ing Billy Joel. I will never do it again.
    I like a lot of his songs, especially the early ones. “Always a Woman” is almost too good! The student chose “Piano Man,” however, which I just can’t stand. Just a matter of taste.
    Most of the students worked in pairs. One of the Korean kids and her partner did Dylan’s (and Jacques Levy’s) “Hurricane,” and did a good job, especially with the cinematic qualities and the rhyme. The other did Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” Pretty cool.

  70. I am largely a fuzzy-headed ivory-tower type who as a teenager didn’t try very hard, didn’t know how, OK didn’t try, to keep up with what the other kids were listening to — I don’t intend that to be as condescending as it sounds, in fact I had high school friends who were extremely serious about the latest music (and words), and for whom I had and still have great respect in that regard. But I wasn’t all there. Since those days I have picked up some of this and some of that, with various occasional enthusiasms. So I have my impressions, but I don’t pretend to have a big picture.
    Like Crown, I’ve also had some wine tonight. Here goes.
    Billy Joel: as far as I’m concerned, he had an amazing gift for creating a catchy song. I don’t know enough about him to have much of an opinion as to whether he took himself more seriously than someone whose gift was for creating catchy songs ought to. Personally, I sometimes resent catchy songs because a song can be so catchy that it gets stuck in my head even though in some sense I don’t like it.
    My son, who is a Young Person (19) and a serious person and a sensible person, and in a deep sense a musical person, and an occasional commenter here, might be able to offer some views on Kids Today and trends in popular music.
    On the other hand, he’s so young that he is capable of confounding Billy Joel with — wait, I can’t remember who. Elton John? Couldn’t be, Elton John is much cooler. Neil Diamond? No way. Asa, can you chime in here please?
    I’m getting away from rock when I say this, but I have huge respect for Joni Mitchell, and for Randy Newman. To be able to find just the right words, to set them perfectly to music …
    And I am mystified by all of those lyricist/tunesmith teams. Doing half of the job seems somehow even harder than doing the whole job. Make up the words/tune without having the tune/words yet?
    In the current stage of my old-fogeyhood, my take on “seriousness versus coolness” in popular songs is a good deal more mellow than it once was. Cole Porter, Lerner and Loewe, Harold Arlen. Corny love songs, novelty songs, but perfect melodies, and words that seamlessly fit the music. I don’t need a “vision” all the time.
    Today I picked up my mother from the nursing home where she lives. We were driving around, and something I said reminded her of the song “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. Her memory is unreliable these days, but old songs pop into her head more than they used to. I know that song, but it was about an hour before I could come up with it all.
    OK, sorry for all that. I’ll go with Bob Dylan.

  71. my favorites are _Moving out (Anthony’s song)_, and _The river of dreams_

  72. In those days the youth market was possibly more homogenised. Radio and vinyl records were the main commercial channels for music (with later technologies being cassettes, music videos, etc.), and millions of hooked-up teenagers were all listening to ‘It’s Too Late’ (Carole King) at the same time. For a while, at least, the youth and protest movements managed to make a mark on the music scene and everyone heard it. Perhaps the 60s and 70s were only remarkable because a lot of creative (and other) things came together and music became the focus for what was happening with the generation of the time.
    Now I’m just as happy to listen to contemporary Mongolian ethnic (ethnic infused with folk, rock or other elements) like Hanggai, Anda Union, Ajinai (Inner Mongolia), Altan Urag and Cuthberth (Mongolia) or Namgar (Buryatia). And anything else that comes along.

  73. J.W. Brewer says

    Is it too much to expect marie-lucie to provide read with a magisterial-yet-irenic explanation of why a nontrivial number of people have such a strong visceral loathing of Billy Joel?

  74. Carole King, oh yes. The album Tapestry was wildly popular. Why? It was the right thing at the right time, commercially, but it was weak stuff, predictable stuff, something like that. I am a little embarrassed for my cohort. (Now I’m applying completely different standards than what I applyied before to jazz standards.)

  75. I like this blog. It’s always full of spam!

  76. AJP Crown says

    The other did Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” Pretty cool.
    Yes! A great song. I forgot Motown. As a source of social commentary and force for change Motown would have worked better without Diana bloody Ross.
    I can’t not mention Robert Plant: great voice, awful adolescent lyrics. I suspect there were some quite good lyrics written in the 80s (that nutty Morrissey guy, perhaps?) but I don’t really stretch that far. My late mother-in-law (a witty woman) was quite fond of Hughie Lewis & The News.
    My 19 year old, also thoughtful, serious etc, knows & enjoys all my old records but she plays only contemporary music to herself in her bedroom. There has to be more to it than meets the eye.
    I suspect there were some good lyrics written in the 80s (that nutty Morrissey guy, perhaps?) but I don’t really stretch that far.

  77. AJP Crown says

    (I wasn’t trying to underline my point about the nutty Morrissey guy – though he is in fact pretty nuts, apparently – I’m just not used to this computer & its cut & paste technique).

  78. Yes, the Smiths were one of my favourites for a time. Since we’re talking about favourite sentences here, let me quote a couple from the Smiths:
    Quote 1.
    I was delayed, I was way-laid
    An emergency stop
    I smelt the last ten seconds of life
    I crashed down on the crossbar
    And the pain was enough to make
    A shy, bald, buddhist reflect
    And plan a mass murder
    Quote 2.
    I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday
    ‘Cause you’re evil
    And you lie
    And if you should die
    I may feel slightly sad
    (But I won’t cry)
    Loved and lost
    And some may say
    When usually it’s Nothing
    Surely you’re happy
    It should be this way ?
    I say “No, I’m gonna kill my dog”
    And : “May the lines sag, may the lines sag heavy and deep tonight”
    Quote 3.
    From the ice-age to the dole-age
    There is but one concern
    I have just discovered:
    Some girls are bigger than others
    Some girls are bigger than others
    Some girl’s mothers are bigger than
    Other girl’s mothers

    As Anthony said to Cleopatra
    As he opened a crate of ale :
    Oh, I say :
    Some girls are bigger than others
    Some girls are bigger than others
    Some girl’s mothers are bigger than
    Other girl’s mothers

  79. J.W. Brewer says

    There were plenty of brilliant rock songwriters working in the 1980’s (ignoring the once-brilliant writers of an earlier generation who continued to produce work of notably lower quality), although they met with varying levels of commercial success. I happened the other day to come across an entertaining set of interview answers by the great (and criminally underappreciated, in the U.S. at least) Australian songwriter David McComb (1962-1999, vechnaya pamyat) in which circa 1990 he gives little explanations about 10 songs he’d produced over the prior decade, including one which had some oblique inspiration from something Tsvetaeva wrote on the occasion of Rilke’s death (well, so he says) and perhaps less pretentiously one that was “Begun in Perth on a very rainy night in 1984. Eventually finished . . . in West Kensington above the flat where Coleridge enjoyed the odd hit off laudanum.”

  80. Adelfons says

    JWB, thanks for sharing David McComb! Judging from the songs on his compilation tapes (under “Dave’s Influences”) he would have a lot to add to this discussion.
    Back on the original subject, dig this sentence from the final chapter of Sir Kenneth Clark’s “The Nude” (1956):
    “To scrutinize a naked girl as if she were a loaf of bread or a piece of rustic pottery is surely to exclude one of the human emotions of which a work of art is composed; and, as a matter of history, the Victorian moralists who alleged that painting the nude usually ended in fornication were not far from the mark.”

  81. That also applies to the current subject, scrutinizing songs on lyrical cleverness and political sentiment misses the point by a wide mile too. But I’ll try and dig up some of my favorite song-lyric sentences anyway.

  82. Adelfons:
    When Titian was painting rose madder,
    With his model on top of a ladder,
         Her position, to Titian,
         Suggested coition,
    So he climbed up the ladder and had her.

  83. Adelfons says

    That Anon fellow could really make a name for himself.

  84. AJP Crown says

    Again I’m no expert, but I really doubt that Titian used Rose Madder. It’s dull and fugitive.

  85. Adelfons says

    She wasn’t dull at all in “Lily, Rose Madder, and the Jack of Hearts.”

  86. “Fugitive” pigments. You learn something every day.

  87. expect marie-lucie to provide read with a magisterial-yet-irenic explanation of why a nontrivial number of people have such a strong visceral loathing of Billy Joel?
    The linguists haven’t even explained word aversion yet — moist and so on — have they? I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  88. Well, Anon. speaks with many voices: the folk process has turned up an endless number of variants of the above. What’s more, one John E. Mayhood seems to have taken the bit between his teeth and run with it (with a little help from his friends):
    While Titian was mixing Payne’s Grey
    (Which he couldn’t have done in his day),
         The position, to Titian
         Suggested coition
    In a transfigurational way.
              —John E Mayhood
    While Titian was mixing Red Ochre,
    His model would call up her broker.
         Her position, to Titian,
         Suggested coition:
    While she spoke to her broker he’d stroke her.
              —John E Mayhood
    Young Ivan watched Anne on the tractor
    And took off his pants to distracter.
         Her position, to Ivan,
         Suggested connivin’,
    So he climbed on the tractor and factor.
              —Albin Chaplin
    So it’s said, but the true story is sadder.
    He felt giddy when up on the ladder;
         His model, fair Rose,
         Frustratedly froze,
    So Titian was mad — and Rose madder.
              —Bill Backe-Hansen
    A nude Negro model, Rose Madder,
    Took refuge beneath a high ladder.
         But the sculptor, Brancusi,
         Unafraid of black pussy,
    Walked under the ladder and had her.
              —Anon (a different one, I think)
    While Titian was mixing sienna,
    His model embraced her duenna.
         Their position, to Titian,
         Suggested coition
    He had had with a nun in Ravenna.
              —John E Mayhood
    While Titian mixed ultramarine,
    His model read Vogue magazine.
         Her position, to Titian,
         Suggested coition …
    (You can fill in the rest of the scene.)
              —John E Mayhood
    While Titian was mixing viridian,
    His model exposed her meridian.
         Her position, to Titian,
         Suggested coition:
    The figure they made was Euclidean.
              —John E Mayhood
    While Titian dabbed paints here and there,
    His model leaned over a chair.
         Her position, to Titian,
         Suggested contrition,
    So he painted the Virgin at prayer.
              —David Finely
    I’ve done a touch of copy editing here and there.
    Lastly, I can’t resist this Germanization of another classic Anon.:
    Es giebt ein Arbeiter von Tinz,
    Er schlaft mit ein Madel von Linz.
         Sie sagt, “Halt sein’ plummen,
         Ich hore Mann kommen.”
    “Jacht, jacht,” sagt der Plummer, “Ich binz.”

  89. jamessal says

    IMHO, things that have gotten better in the last 40 years:
    1) Professional sports
    2) Television
    3) Craft beer
    IMHO, things that have gotten worse in the last 40 years:
    1) Non-concert music
    2) Novels
    3) Literary critics

  90. Speaking of sepia tones and LH’s going to hell in a handbasket, even Japanese music was better in the 60/70s!
    Japanese songs from the 1970s: Rebellion and the happy-sadness of shacking up
    (See the last song with its scenes from the Japanese student movement of the late 60s early 70s).

  91. jamessal says

    Even American pop bands, for Chrissake! E.g., The Spinners & ‘N Sync.

  92. marie-lucie says

    Is it too much to expect marie-lucie to provide read with a magisterial-yet-irenic explanation of why a nontrivial number of people have such a strong visceral loathing of Billy Joel?
    Yes, much too much. It is way beyond my area of expertise or even interest.

  93. Quora has a thread titled ‘What are some of the best lines from a book’. Not a bad collection.

  94. Forty years, that’s 1973, I just can’t believe music can have declined over that period.
    I don’t think it has. It’s very hard to be objective about musical trends. One problem is that it’s the music of our youth, a time when we were open and impressionable, a time of strong memories. I think most people’s musical tastes develop in their youth and probably don’t change much after (say) 25. Every generation grows up in a different era, develops different tastes, and nostalgically looks back at a different youth.
    Another problem is that judgements of music tend to get mixed up with other things, such as the values of the era (as in Hat’s case). I do think there was something special about the 60s-70s (a result of the Baby Boom, new-found affluence, seeds of protest planted in the 50s, new technology), but the judgement of posterity is probably more controversial. I’ve seen the 60s described as an era of massive youthful selfishness, which is not the way that LH sees it.
    We have a certified Young Person like jamessal to reassure us that the music really was better, but that could partly be a result of the aging of the canon. Just as some people look back at the age of the Classics or Jazz and appreciate the masterpieces of those eras, there is now an appreciation of the best music of the Golden Age of Rock, filtering out a lot of the crud that we actually listened to. It’s quite something that what we lived through has now become an object of appreciation, like fine wines!
    Against this playing down of the music of the 60s, I think it’s also true to say that not all eras are equal. There are some periods when there is a flowering in a particular field. Perhaps the 60s was one such era, when everything came together to create a more impressive output in popular music and rock than other eras. If you look back at the period just before the Beatles, the music that they were listening to then (Pat Boone, Buddy Holly, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis, etc. — have I got the list right?) was definitely a bit insipid compared with what came after. And what good stuff that was being created then was overwhelmed by the sappiness of commercial music.

  95. One problem is that it’s the music of our youth, a time when we were open and impressionable, a time of strong memories.
    Yes, and I used to assume that this is why I thought Beatles/Stones/Motown were better than what came after, but I have over the years had various Persons Younger Than I (of whom jamessal is the latest) say “No, actually, that music really is better,” so I have allowed myself to become complacent about it.
    I’ve seen the 60s described as an era of massive youthful selfishness
    This is a thing conservatives say. (I could say more on the subject, but I don’t want to refight the culture wars here.)

  96. J.W. Brewer says

    A more jaundiced view on the alleged 60’s efflorescence may be found in the liner notes to Metal Machine Music: “I’d harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films would ingest rock. I was, perhaps, wrong.” I have no trouble finding excellent rock music (sometimes more commercially prominent at the time; sometimes less so) for pretty much any randomly-selected year from the early ’50’s through, say, 1991. Maybe that’s when the age of prophecy ceased and the canon closed, or maybe that’s just when I stopped being at the point in my life to be paying attention. (Not that you can’t find stuff after that, but it’s sort of like post ’60’s jazz or blues, with some number of competent people ringing changes on an already seemingly-closed set of formal innovations.) FWIW, 1991 was the year I turned 26 and celebrated my birthday by attending what turned out to be the last concert the Replacements ever played. It wasn’t all that good a show, but I wouldn’t trade having seen the Replacements play back in ’84 (in a tiny subterranean club that charged $2 at the door, with a set that ended abruptly due to a drunken intraband onstage fight) for the opportunity to have seen the Beatles in Hamburg in ’61.
    One interesting thing is that via the internetz etc, Kids Today can access with ease pretty much the whole history of recorded music for free. They are not dependent on whatever limited sliver of the present and more limited sliver of the past is available at that one record store within bicycling distance of their house. That changes things in all sorts of ways.

  97. AJP Crown, said all this earlier but it disappeared says

    I bet the Beatles were better than anyone else playing the Reeperbahn in 1961, but that’s not saying much. And having heard some of that early stuff I certainly don’t mind having missed it.
    Food is something that’s improved significantly in the past 40 years – certainly restaurant food, if not home cooking.
    I don’t think music has declined over the past 40 years. That’s 1973 onwards and since then we’ve had punk, rap, the Talking Heads, world music, all sorts of 80s music. It may have gotten worse in the past 15-20 years, but I don’t think that’s very long. Imagine if you were JS Bach’s contemporary and you’d had to wait for Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc. and they weren’t even on CD, never mind downloading them off youtube. Things have never been better, imo.

  98. If you were J.S. Bach’s contemporary, you would never have heard of him. If you were in the generation after and you did happen to hear his music somehow, you’d think it boring and stuffy, and listen to the really great Bachs like J. C. Bach. Of course, if you got to hear him on the organ, you’d think of him as a great organist.

  99. Sir JCass says

    Imagine if you were JS Bach’s contemporary and you’d had to wait for Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc
    There was plenty of good music between Bach and Haydn and the periwigs and Paris-cut velvet were just fab. Man, as they say, if you can remember the 1760s, you weren’t there. There was this one night down at the Kit-Kat Club: Dr Johnson on vocals, Gainsborough on lead guitar, Jean-Jacques Rousseau on bass, Adam Smith on drums and the Cock Lane Ghost on additional percussion. Just awesome.

  100. marie-lucie says

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau on bass
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have composed the music. I don’t know about the others.

  101. Adelfons says

    Bathrobe said: “I think it’s also true to say that not all eras are equal. There are some periods when there is a flowering in a particular field.”
    Yes. Let’s think about some other fields. The great period of Greek sculpture (Praxiteles and those dudes) is hard to improve upon — it’s almost an end point! And then Picasso and Matisse are still (I think) the Beatles and Dylan of painting: not much has happened since that they didn’t anticipate or make possible. (I realize this is a stupid oversimplification.) Anyway they are still towering figures.
    You know, even in “serious” (non-“popular”) music, composers have had to deal with the Beatles. I read some major contemporary composer ask how you can improve upon “Revolution #9.”
    In what fields have there been more recent flowerings? What’s blooming now?

  102. Some excellent word salad harvested from the spam (lightly copy edited):
    The significance of Anbay to present Muslim and Christian religious beliefs seems to deserve an in-depth investigation, in light of new perspectives arising from modern interpretation of new archaeological evidence from the ancient world. Chicken or pasta on a flight to your US will not genuinely make a whole lot difference with the taste of what results in front of you — the same salty, strangely dry dish. Saint Pierre & Miquelona Turks och Caicos. Jesus came to save us from that sin and make things right again.
    La respuesta en ambos casos es NO. The majority along the we decide on much more are sold back similar to a tiny part of people’s incomes along the Original Trinidad-Tobago Tunisie. Hermes was the god of thieves, because he was very cunning and shrewd and was a thief himself from the night he was born, when he slipped away from Maia and ran away to steal his elder brother Apollo’s cattle.
    Beam seating manufacturers make the rows of chairs that hold numerous people and take up very little space. In Eslovaquia its soles are not stiff and frail. There is a waiting list for some popular styles. Tiny is filled with delights, an outrageous hat store perfect for the Kentucky Derby, a traditional Swiss restaurant serving bratwurst in the outdoor garden to wedding parties, and a furniture store design buffs should not miss.

  103. AJP Crown says

    Picasso and Matisse are still (I think) the Beatles and Dylan of painting: not much has happened since that they didn’t anticipate or make possible.
    I’m sure they didn’t think of their work in those terms but what they didn’t anticipate was that most significant visual art would stop being made as paintings and sculpture, that visual art would fuse with other forms like film. I just saw some recent paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in London and boy did they ever look sad – not that they weren’t skilfully painted but there’s nothing worth bringing to a portrait nowadays (some, like Alex Katz’s picture of Anna Wintour were quite hopeless. Aghh! My ten-year-old potted plant could have done better). Anyway, so you’d have to add Marcel Duchamp as the Stones (not that they’re specially in style at the moment, as far as I know).
    John, the Elector of Brandenburg was JS’s contemporary. He had a few friends, didn’t he?

  104. Sir JCass says

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have composed the music.
    Let’s hope not. He was a terrible composer who got the hump with Jean-Philippe Rameau (a bona fide musical genius) for pointing this out.

  105. Trond Engen says

    JCass: Jean-Philippe Rameau (a bona fide musical genius
    My wife’s been playing Rameau’s operas day and night since she discovered him three weeks ago (or rather had him pointed out by our friend in Paris).

  106. Sir JCass says

    My wife’s been playing Rameau’s operas day and night
    Yeah, he’s fantastic. Perhaps the most “avant-garde” composer of his day. IIRC there was an anecdote that some of the harmonies in his first opera were so daring the musicians insisted on having a clause in their contract saying they couldn’t be forced to play this weird music.

  107. This is a thing conservatives say. (I could say more on the subject, but I don’t want to refight the culture wars here.)
    It’s always dangerous to set foot in the arcane world of American politics, where nothing is as it seems.
    I don’t want to fight any wars, but I would like to respectfully point out that condemning the youthful selfishness of the 60s could as easily come from a far-leftist — you know, a movement of spoilt, rebellious middle-class kids who don’t know anything about the world, and eventually continue to enjoy the privileges of their affluent upbringing after they leave behind their youthful experiment.
    Don’t try and argue against the above, it’s as much a caricature as anything the conservatives put out. But it does have a grain of truth. One reason for all the ructions of the 60s was that the Baby Boomers generally came from relatively secure, affluent backgrounds (not insecure, grinding poverty) and were therefore able to indulge in the luxury of such grand rebelliousness. Not that it was bad or had bad effects (which a conservative might say); but it’s worth considering as a point of view.

  108. condemning the youthful selfishness of the 60s could as easily come from a far-leftist
    Of course it could, and doubtless does. The thing is that far-leftists have never had any influence in American politics or culture, which is why the constant use of them as a bogeyman by the right is so funny (or would be if it hadn’t had such horrible results). I think this is one of the things that makes America hard to understand from abroad—Europeans are used to political systems with socialist parties that are vibrant and taken seriously even if they’re out of office and even if they’re moving to the right to appeal to the electorate at a given moment, and they find it virtually impossible to understand why the Democratic Party and the New York Times, both of which are clearly conservative institutions from a European point of view, are considered “left” over here. There is no more need to take a far-leftist point of view into consideration when discussing American culture than, say, an Anglican one. (As an anarchist, I can view all this from a usefully distant perspective.)

  109. J.W. Brewer says

    Ah, but you are both missing the related thesis that the problem is not so much the Sixties as the Boomers, who (in the view of some crabby U.S. non-Boomers and perhaps some class traitors within their own cohort) seamlessly transitioned over the decades from youthful self-absorbtion to middle-aged self-absorbtion (no actual self-contradiction in the 1968 draft-card-burner turned 1983 smug yuppie, just different facets of the same thing as circumstances changed, or so this thesis would run) and are now transitioning into senior-citizen self-absorbtion, as witness those embarrassing tv ads with fake-Woodstock-mud-dancing footage saying that this generation is now going to have the hippest/coolest retirement financial planning services in human history.

  110. Well, sure he did. But overall J. S. Bach was about as famous as Fred Small.

  111. jamessal says

    J.W. Brewer: I have trouble with any theory that a particular generation is particularly self-absorbed. From my limited reading and experience, I’d say we’re all obsessed with ourselves, and are vaguely ashamed of it, and so accuse others of it when we want to ridicule or discredit them.

  112. marie-lucie says

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau on bass/composing the music
    I did not mean to comment on Rousseau’s merits (or non) as a composer, but I can’t imagine him playing in a band, that’s why I thought that he might have composed the music, not played it.

  113. Sir JCass says

    but I can’t imagine him playing in a band
    Putting Jean-Jacques R. on bass was an oblique reference for New Wave fans. Jean-Jacques Burnel was the bassist with The Stranglers.

  114. J.W. Brewer says

    Are people who pick up on oblique allusions to the Stranglers disproportionately likely to have a negative evaluation of Billy Joel?

  115. J.W. Brewer says

    Wait, so “Dr Johnson” in the hypothetical 1760’s quintet must have been an allusion to the great guitarist Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood (now alas apparently suffering from terminal cancer)? That would work better if Wilko been the lead singer, I suppose . . .

  116. Sir JCass says

    Umm (embarrassed cough), to be honest, I should have put more effort into devising the quintet. The only ones* whose positions in the line-up I picked deliberately were Jean-Jacques and the Cock Lane Ghost. Maybe we should move Johnson to lead guitar and have a new vocalist. Say, Charles James Foxx? Now what about the drummer?
    *Heh. I did that by accident. Must be getting better at this New Wave lark.

  117. Sir JCass says

    Damn! I meant heh.

  118. Another Girl, Another Planet” is a great song. I’d like to hear Bach variations on it.

  119. I have half a dozen attempted replies i’ve half-thought out and they’re starting to accumulate. I should probably toss them rather than serve them up as is and grown slightly stale, but here goes:
    Favorite sentence:
    I can still remember when your city smelt exciting.
    – from a song lyric, more or less contemporary, by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys.
    (The rest of the verse is: I still get a whiff of that aroma now and then /Burglary and fireworks, the skies they were alighting / Accidents and toffee drops and thinking on the train. Don’t ask me to defend it, I just think it perfectly evokes jumbled memories of a new beginning grown old. And sounds like the start of a novel, condensed into song lyric form.)
    Completely as a hunch, I think the next artist that makes classical music relevant again (I wanted to say re-relevates but my spell-checker says that isn’t a word. Also, on second thought, it’s kind of ugly and not really transparent) is going to come from far-northern europe, scandinavia or finland or the baltics or iceland. I’ve heard a couple works from that part of the world (I don’t remember who offhand), some more traditionally classically rooted (in the bland revanchism took over by default when the avant-guard got nowhere) and other composers starting out from orchestral pop and electronica and morphing into classical forms. None of them were quite there, they weren’t quite brilliant, but I think someone will make it work.
    There are were a few great protest songs written during the Vietnam war. There were scads of dreadful ones then and later. They’ve put a generation off the form.
    Picasso and Matisse may have anticipated, say, Kandinsky and Chagall, but the world would be lesser if you swept them away so lightly.
    Music hasn’t stopped since the sixties, the Beatles and Dylan set the stage for most of the Rock that’s followed, but not, oh, rap and hip-hop, mo-town, disco, punk, electronic, any form of west african or carribean music… Country and pop have really followed their own trajectories from before they came along. (I’m making no comments here on comparative quality, of course, just influence.) And D and the B’s didn’t themselves come from nowhere, they started out by taking the music that other artists were playing with where and when they were, folk and blues in Greenwich Village in the early 60’s for Dylan, pop-rock and later psychedelia in Liverpool and London for the Beatles, and doing it transformatively better. And they fed back into and from the lesser stars around them.
    Sticking to my musical lifetime, which seems to start where JW Brewer’s leaves off, I think Nirvana with grunge and the White Stripes with blues-rock have done the same thing, to take what they do, turn it brilliant and varied, and inspire a small revolution. It’s a smaller scale, but the all-time greats don’t come around very often.
    Lastly, the greatest rock concert I’ve ever come across on youtube is Metallica in Moscow in 1991. (Starting at around 0:50 in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W7wqQwa-TU ) That is what music is supposed to do.
    Sorry for the novel.

  120. Leopold von Ranke on gong.
    John, thanks for all your Titian limericks, and I especially liked the ich binz. I wrote to say so earlier but it got lost, probably my fault.

  121. There’s food for thought in an interview with the “great” Billy Joel in today’s NY Times:

    Question: Do you think there’s a finite number of great songs in any one person?
    B.J.: Everybody is different.

  122. Well, you can’t argue with that, can you?

  123. Incidentally – not on any of the above topics but not quite spam either – I thoroughly recommend Ian McEwan‘s recent book Sweet Tooth. I think a brief excerpt was in the New Yorker a while ago but that didn’t give much away. It’s set in 1973 and based on a true story that was told to him by David Cornwell (aka John le Carré) about MI5, but the funny thing is McEwan’s made so much more with the material than anything le Carré could have done with it. In the middle of the book we come upon several short stories and the plots of two novels, all written by one of the characters; these are good stories when McEwan wants them to be and not so hot when that’s required by the novel and he’s brilliant at getting that right. The main character has a maths degree that allows her to introduce a couple of mathematics paradoxes in the course of the book; one is misunderstood by the novelist, her boyfriend, and so when it’s turned by him into one of the short stories there are predictably hilarious results (she has to fix up his story so the maths works). Anyway, it’s a great book, very enjoyable, and you must all read it, preferably right now so that we can discuss it.

  124. I loved the excerpt in the New Yorker. Maybe jamessal has read the book?

  125. It’s way, way more interesting than the New Yorker bit. That’s just a taster of the writing. I mean, I’m no expert in novelling but this is a seriously interesting book from all sorts of perspectives. I advise you to read it starting today, if poss. Jimsal would probably love it for the layered construction and the writing and who knows what. I haven’t enjoyed all his books, but this is a masterpiece in the sense that Ian McEwan is an absolute master of what he’s doing. He’s a Brunelleschi of the written word. Well, not quite, I don’t want to go overboard, but he knows what he’s doing.

  126. I’ve only read Atonement, which I thought was dreary and unoriginal, but that’s one hell of a plug. I just requested it from the library.

  127. J.W. Brewer says

    s/o is making me feel old. I chose ’91 as a semi-arbitrary cut-off point, but I suppose if you wanted to symbolize anecdotally the point where I stopped feeling obligated to chase the Hot New Thing in music, it could well be an evening in Chicago sometime in the fall of ’91 when a guy I knew asked if I wanted to go check out this new band Nirvana we’d both heard there was considerable buzz building about, so we took the L up to Addison and started walking over to Cabaret Metro and . . . suddenly could see from quite a distance away that there was a ridiculously long line stretching more than a block from the front door of the club. It was like Beatlemania or at least Bay-City-Rollers-Mania or something. We couldn’t even be bothered to continue on until we reached the end of the line to confirm that it was going to be mathematically impossible to get to the front before the show sold out – we just turned around and headed back downtown.
    This was also approximately the temporal point at which it became nigh-impossible to keep buying new music on vinyl without a level of extra effort that made it seem an affectation, which was another sort of cusp point in the whole experience for me.

  128. FWIW, 1991 was the year I turned 26 and celebrated my birthday by attending what turned out to be the last concert the Replacements ever played.
    Forgot to say: I envy you this. I loved the Replacements, but never saw them live. I did, however, see the Minutemen (at Maxwell’s) and the Blasters (at the Mudd Club), and those are two of the best live-music experiences I’ve ever had; I’ll never forget Lee Allen playing a couple of dozen choruses on “Marie Marie” as I clung to a vantage point by the wall and let the enormous sound wash over me. And I helped support Country Dick Montana as he crawled over the crowd at a Beat Farmers gig. Memories!

  129. I used to have the idea that many of Billy Joel’s fans thought his name was Billy Joe. I don’t know where I got the idea. It seems very mean-spirited. I am still irritated by him, though.

  130. “Billy” is all wrong for a sixty-something man.
    s/o, I hope you enjoy it.

  131. AJP, it’s common for Americans (especially, but not exclusively, Southerners) to be known by a hypocoristic all their lives. Jimmy Carter has been President and is 88, but he uses “James Earl Carter Jr.” for legal purposes only, and “Jimmy” for all other purposes: to refer to him as anything but “Jimmy Carter” would be bizarre. Indeed, I think he went to some trouble to get his name on the Presidential ballot in his preferred rather than his legal form.
    I for one am not one of those Americans, however.

  132. I may start referring to “William Joel” now, however.

  133. Or “Will” Joel or even Joel Williams – that makes him sound quite smart. To me “Johnny” Cash is ok but “Billy” Joel is a bit, well… silly. In fact didn’t Carter have a drunken, black-sheep brother called Billy?

  134. JW Brewer – I saw the poster for that concert framed on the wall the last time I was at Metro.

  135. In fact didn’t Carter have a drunken, black-sheep brother called Billy?
    He did, and Billy is immortalized in beer.

  136. J.W. Brewer says

    Having aroused hat’s envy, my work here is done. (Never made it to the Mudd Club myself, nor saw the Blasters; saw the Minutemen once in spring ’85 at the old New Haven Agora way out Whalley Ave.; Maxwell’s is still in business and I’ve seen live music there within the last 2 or 3 years.)

  137. Another fine sentence from the Tom Clark book linked far above: “Even at the beginning the gusts were blowing with a sound like rhinoceroses make when they charge through wind tunnels.” I would, if pressed, swap all of Lennon’s prose for that one sentence. And I hate the cult of sentences.

  138. Thanks for bringing this very lively thread back to my attention! And I had just been wondering how old jamessal was.

  139. January First-of-May says

    I grew up on my parents’ classics in terms of music – Vizbor, Kim, Vysotsky, Ivasi, and the rest of the bard song and author song genres.
    Only as I grew up further did I realize that these songs were the classics of the eighties, seventies, sixties, and fifties – sometimes the forties or thirties, and only occasionally the early nineties; hardly any were younger than me (1992).

    Bard song, and especially author song, in general all to often feels timeless; it’s out there with Tom Lehrer in the category of “even with all the references that should have been obvious, I still had no idea it wasn’t made recently”.

  140. David Marjanović says

    I have a favorite sentence now!

    “Apart from the warning sign of his selection of Sarah Palin as as [sic] his vice-presidential running mate, the idea of a McCain presidency struck few people as a call to toss the nation over a cliff.”

  141. I like this phrase of Peter Medawar’s: “the tipsy, euphoristic prose-poetry which is one of the more tiresome manifestations of the French spirit”.

  142. Rodger C says

    What’s “euphoristic” anyhow? Did Medawar perhaps mean “euphuistic”?

  143. Or “euphoric”?

  144. I don’t know if it’s what Medawar meant, but I understand it as something like “indulging in an affectation of euphoria” (which “euphoric” alone would not convey). Maybe that’s wrong, though; as a medical term the word seems to mean “producing euphoria”, which also might work.

  145. Trond Engen says

    A euphorism (from Greek εὐφορισμός euphorismos, “well-bearing”) is a wordy saying, expressing a personal feeling, wishful thinking, or ephemeric impression, and spoken or written in a sanguine and forgettable form.

  146. Skewered. To a room of biologists arguing the definition of life, Medawar said, “We all know the difference between a live horse and a dead one, so let us stop beating the latter.”

  147. Pat Boone, Buddy Holly, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis

    Boone and Sedaka you can have, but Connie Francis was a great performer who got stuck singing shlock because of her gender, and when Buddy Holly died, so did music, as the poet says.

    In any case, talking about the period and not mentioning Roy Orbison, for whose work I have no adjectives strong enough, is the Baroque without Bach.

    ou know, a movement of spoilt, rebellious middle-class kids who don’t know anything about the world, and eventually continue to enjoy the privileges of their affluent upbringing after they leave behind their youthful experiment

    Pretty much what Alinsky said in Rules for Radicals — which, by the way, the Grauniad says was very influential in the modern American conservative movement as a source of methods and ideas.

  148. Connie Francis was a great performer who got stuck singing shlock because of her gender

    OK, but the complaint was about “the music that they were listening to then,” not her voice, and the music was, as you say, schlock.

    Buddy Holly, on the other hand, was a stone genius and I won’t have him put in that company. The Beatles thought he was great, too.

  149. I heard Sedaka singing on the PBS special Doo Wop Generations, which is about handing the bop-shoo-bop-shoo-bop torch to a new rama-lama-ding-dong generation, and he’s still got his voice. So I looked him up on Wikipedia, and while he’s not a master of anything in particular, he has created a really solid career for himself out of consistently competent work, and he has never sold out. I have more respect for him now.

  150. On German radio, Sedaka’s name usually was pronounced [ze’da:ka]. When I was young, I thought that the name behind that pronunciation was “Neil the Darker”, which I found kind of cool, although not quite fitting the type of songs he sang. Imagine my disappointment when I first saw his name in writing.

  151. I’ll never forget Lee Allen playing a couple of dozen choruses on “Marie Marie”

    I meant, of course, “So Long Baby Goodbye.” “Marie Marie” doesn’t have a sax solo.

  152. John Cowan says

    nd the music was, as you say, schlock.

    For an sf/horror universe in which one in three children dies from complications of puberty [sic], I put together a Lesley Gore parody whose chorus was “It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to (3x) / You would die too if it happened to you”, which was the literal truth!

  153. John Cowan says

    ‘Like a dog!’, he said; it was as if he meant the shame of it to outlive him.

  154.    ‘I know the sort of doctors it have in Trinidad,’ my mother used to say. ‘They think nothing of killing two three people before breakfast.’
       This wasn’t as bad as it sounds: in Trinidad the midday meal is called breakfast.

  155. Stu Clayton says

    From The Rector’s Wife: Kitty’s duties now included making scones, selling souvenirs in the shop, and “taking the Pekinese out to spend constant, minute, senile pennies”.

  156. “taking the Pekinese out to spend constant, minute, senile pennies”.

    That’s terrific.

  157. Stu Clayton says

    It even speaks to the human condition beyond a certain age.

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