ineffable beauty

Good things on the Internet: swingin’ sixties and seventies edition

Here, presented without comment, a selection of images from what in my humble opinion is one of the Best Blogs Ever.

Just. Go. Here.

Liz Eggleston’s impeccably and indefatigably curated collection of sixties and seventies images–the glorious, the tacky and the gloriously tacky–mainly from her own scans of British and French magazines, is an unspeakably great treasure. Her focus is on the British Boutique movement, but she confesses to being inspired by “the weirder, even seedier, aspects of popular culture.” This is the kind of amateur (in the French sense) labor of love that the pre-listicle era Internet promised, but really didn’t deliver….












Short life, fully lived

I don’t think I’m alone in being only vaguely aware of who Aaron Swartz was, and for that I am more than a little ashamed.

Nor am I the only one who woke up to the news of his suicide Saturday morning and spent the rest of the weekend reading up on his many causes and splendid accomplishments. What a life!

His passing is doubly tragic, first for its untimely arrival, and second for the shameful fact that our government was so keen to persecute and incarcerate a bona fide genius whose crime, if it could be said to be a crime at all, was something along the order of seriousness of a prank.

But, as Matthew Stoller opines below, we are living in a world where qualities that should be valued are instead stigmatized, even persecuted.

Aaron suffered from depression, but that is not why he died. Aaron is dead because the institutions that govern our society have decided that it is more important to target geniuses like Aaron than nurture them, because the values he sought – openness, justice, curiosity – are values these institutions now oppose. In previous generations, people like Aaron would have been treasured and recognized as the remarkable gifts they are. We do not live in a world like that today. And Aaron would be the first to point out, if he could observe the discussion happening now, that the pressure he felt from the an oppressive government is felt by millions of people, every year. I’m glad his family have not let the justice system off the hook, and have not allowed this suicide to be medicalized, or the fault of one prosecutor. What happened to Aaron is not isolated to Aaron, but is the flip side of the corruption he hated.

As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako – who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.

This morning Marcy Wheeler also noticed the strange and disturbing fact that the Secret Service shoved aside MIT and Cambridge police investigating into Swartz’s downloading of scholarly articles. She could not completely account for why, nor could anyone commenting on her post, but it offers further confirmation, if any were needed, that hounding a young idealistic activist was a top priority with someone high up in the Federal hierarchy. I’ll be interested to see what comes of this loose thread…..

Over at boingboing there is a substantial and growing archive of remembrances of Swartz.

Dead people who haven’t died yet, or Notes on the shameful sport of golf

Saturday I had whipped myself into a keen sense of anticipation to play in the first-ever competition between the place where I play golf and another place where people play golf.

If I called them “clubs” you would think there was something exclusive about them, but they are open to all. I guess there’s a pretty lax collared shirts/no denim code, rarely enforced. Think country clubs are garbage? So do I.

I’ve played plenty of informal golf games–skins with buddies, local charity scrambles–but I had never been in a proper competition, where mulligans can’t be given or bought, and where your opponents are entitled to stand silent while you have to sweat out the slidy four-footer you ran past the hole.

This was to be modeled on Ryder Cup competition. Fourball the first day, individual matches the next. My teammates decided we would all have to buy two team shirts in different colors: yellow Saturday, green Sunday. For me that was almost a deal-breaker, but we at least were allowed our own choice of headgear.

So  … totally stoked! But on Saturday morning, while warming up, disaster struck. My back went into spasms, and I could barely bend to touch my kneecaps, let alone my toes, or swing a golf club. My partner had to load me into my car.

I drove home and watched football on TV flat on my back. I was hugely resentful of all that mobility as I lay there sucking bourbon from a sippy cup.

Was pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to play on Day Two. But lo, I awakened, and the back wasn’t too bad. Lots of stretching and ibuprofen. While still sore, the mobility had returned. I could play.

My opponent marked his balls with little blue crosses (“I’m playing the Jesus balls”). Oh here we go, I thought, but there was no follow-up proselytizing. In fact, Rick turned out to be an extremely nice guy. Super intense, he really wanted to win, as I did, and our match was entertaining.

I drove to the fringe on the short par four third, then almost chipped in. I was two-up at the turn. Rick got one back with an insane reversal birdie from nowhere on number twelve (topped drive, 210-yard three-wood to three feet!). We then had four straight tense halves, both of us playing better with each shot.

On sixteen, I had two feet straight uphill, and Rick had a four-foot slider. He said “good-good?” with a little sideways grin, and I blurted out “sure.” Which surprised him. AND me. What the hell are you doing? If I made and he missed, that’s the match! Maybe it was a stupid thing to say, or MAYBE I was enjoying the match too much and didn’t want to win or lose on a missed short putt. Perhaps that was karmically good, because on the next hole I lagged a 40-foot downhill putt with 10 feet of break to six inches, and he couldn’t get up and down.

So I won. Hat off. Shake hands. That weird southern backhanded pat on back. Our team won too. Down a point after the fourball, we got six of the eight possible points on Sunday. And there was rejoicing, of a sort. Nobody whooped it up or trash talked. We were the mature guys or at least the older ones, median age forty-eight or so, while our opponents were generally younger, more athletic, long-hitting hotshots, median age 28. (I think some of them might have whooped, given the chance).

A gang of golfers from both teams assembled above the eighteenth green to watch the final matches.

A late September afternoon in central Kentucky, in the sky a scattering of silvery sun-specked clouds, the visuals partially courtesy of the coal-burning EW Brown Generating Station just across the Dix River from the course. The shadows dappled faces wrinkled and/or reddened by a lifetime of drink and/or high blood pressure.  One opponent had a bucket hat covering a large bandage over his ear where he had a tumor removed. Another couldn’t play as he was recovering from a liver transplant. I didn’t know everyone’s story, but knew for certain more than a few of us were getting treatment for cancer.

I think it’d be safe to say the group skewed 90 percent Republican, with maybe a sprinkling of centrist Democrats. If we ever started talking politics, it would get ugly in a hurry, but we never would.

We joked about spraying each other with champagne as the real Ryder Cup team winners are wont to do, but there was nothing like that. I had brought along my bourbon sippy cup for medical reasons, in case the back really flared up, but it never did. Now my warm Old Heaven Hill was as good a celebration drink as I could muster. Others sipped on Michelob Ultras or Ale-8s. Almost everyone was smoking.

The winning team had its picture taken with a tiny cup. I am hoping that photo will still be hanging on the clubhouse wall long after I am gone from this earth.

When I got home my kids hugged me and said “Congratulations, daddy. You’re the champion,” because they felt my extreme disappointment on Saturday–and because Heather probably told them to do so. And because I am still in that sweet spot in parenthood where your children have an unwavering belief that you hung the moon.

I know we are leaving our kids to a world that will only get hungrier,  meaner, more dangerous for them, and their children. And you could make the case that instead of using every ounce of energy to make their world better, spending time on the golf course isn’t exactly helpful. I could not really make a coherent challenge to that.

Louis CK has a quip something along the lines of  “We are all dead people who haven’t died yet.” It’s kind of pathetic, but celebrating this tiny victory in a meaningless game, played by grown (and rapidly aging) men, combined with the autumnal vibe–well, it felt a little Chekhovian, the end of something.

It was also, it must be said, more than a little euphoric.  Yesterday, bathed in that golden dusk light, it really did feel amazing not to have died yet.


Songs of innocence and experience

The other day I decided  Sleigh Bells had come up with the greatest song ever, and I made a point of doing errands that required lots of slow driving with the window down and the car stereo cranked. I slunk down a bit in the seat, head back,  rocking steady to “Rill Rill.”

Right? Truly, it’s a perfect song for that kind of thing. But today I’m a little sheepish. Don’t know if anyone I knew saw me, but … a 51-year-old man in a 15-year-old station wagon cruisin’ to a song made by and for twenty-something hipsters….

… I’m thinking I should maybe groove out to that sort of music in private. Or out in back of the house.

But the good thing about getting old is that you can choose to enjoy Sleigh Bells’ apocalyptic thrash with a layer of sugar on top. Or not. And you have the Weepies too, who released their first album in four years yesterday. Which is positively thrilling to  me. The young folks, I’m not so sure not all the young folks get the Weepies.

Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are the Weepies. They both had solo careers, then they got married. To each other. They have a son they took years off touring to have and raise.

Their music could only have been made by grownups. It’s got real wit and occasionally bizarre imagery, but to me it’s a lot about the thick and thinnin’ of married life. Dealing with commitment and contentment and little pleasures without making the listener feel brain dead.

Here is the first song from “Be My Thrill”:

Wise. Warm. Modest. Wry. Polite. Grammatical. “When I’m gone, Please speak well of me.”

Note the “please” and  “well,” kids.

(Also, I still love Sleigh Bells).

Count the time in quarter tones

I was googling around for St. Vincent performance videos last night and came across this one, and it’s gotten under my skin.

At first I wondered why she’d bother with a cover of this morose little tune, written by Jackson Browne, apparently at the tender age of sixteen, and first performed, oddly but endearingly, by Nico.

Scrolling down the YouTube listings, I shuddered in fear at the thought the song had been covered by Bon Jovi and the egregious Rascal Flatts, but THANK GOD, those are different songs.

“Please don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them.” That’s a little hard on yourself at sixteen, Mr. Browne, but typical of adolescent self-laceration at its best. Maybe it could only have been written by a sixteen-year-old. Not far from the Replacements’ “Sixteen Blue,” and—surprise!— Paul Westerberg has also covered this song.

Anyway, Annie Clark’s version blows them all away.

I don’t know for sure if she’s really feeling it, or just selling it really well (that is her secret, as it should be), but when her voice starts cracking and her eyes welling up, she’s exposing some pretty raw nerves. And then that steely thousand-yard stare.  She’s got a magnetism that is at once alluring and kind of scary.

Ms. Clark’s  appeal was always apparent. She had the gorgeous voice, the sophisticated compositions, the bona fide guitar chops— but there was always something a little off-putting about her.  My initial resistance had to do with what I saw as her formalist, ironic affect, more music conservatory than rock ‘n’ roll. But her charms have continued to grow on me, as I think I’m beginning to see the wicked wit in her sensibility. Now I’ve swung ever so gradually into the zealot camp, to the point where I’m wondering when Karl Lagerfeld will claim her as his latest muse…..

Mr. Wikipedia has the whole history of “These Days,” which is fairly fascinating, actually.

Kate McGarrigle’s family remembers her

These tributes from Kate’s children, Rufus and Martha, and her sister and musical partner Anna were frank, touching and funny.


She was a magical woman, one foot in another world, a great songwriter, performer and bohemian, and she was surrounded, as she was dying, by family and friends. My father was there. Emmylou Harris was there. We sang to her as she lay there, in fact that certainly might have made her go that little bit faster.

As we were having this jamboree, her breathing became more laboured and she made a moaning noise. One of the nurses said this could go on for four days and we had already exhausted the back catalogue! Then Kate breathed a little differently, it was like she was saying, “Hold on, I’m going to end this show” and she died. I was looking right into her face, her eyes were open, and my aunt Jane was holding her hand. It was an amazing experience.


I’m very shaken from losing my sister and closest friend, although last week we had a little spat. She loved fresh fruit and we had bought her some grapes, which I called “those little sacks of fluid”. Maybe it’s the way I said it, because she snapped at me: “Why do you always see the bad in things?” Maybe she associated it with the state of her lungs. I lost it, we had words, and I left and then apologised the next day. It was all fine again.

… Kate was one of the finest songwriters: her soul told her hands what to do. The song she wrote for Martha, which she performed at the Albert Hall, Proserpina, makes me cry. It’s amazing. For me, she’ll always be a contradiction: the widely read sophisticate who loved mixing with the high-end crowd with Rufus, and the rustic character, never happier than when riding an old bike, or cross-country skiing or knitting Scandinavian sweaters.

More tributes at the Montreal Gazette.  And here is that final, moving performance of “Proserpina“:

Kate McGarrigle “departs in a haze of song and love”

So sad. This one hurts, and I’ve only ever seen Kate McGarrigle in concert once, with her sister of course, and daughter Martha and Emmylou Harris, who flew from Nashville to New York just for that show. It was an intimate and ever so tuneful evening (actually, afternoon), with much wry banter. I felt like I had been invited into the parlor of  an eccentric, funny family of musical geniuses (which they were). Kate was just 63.

The site has this simple announcement:

Sadly our sweet Kate had to leave us last night. She departed in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. She is irreplaceable and we are broken-hearted. Til we meet again dear sister. ♡

The CBC has an excellent retrospective here with numerous video clips, including two from her final appearance at the Royal Albert Hall last year:

The descriptors “Canadian icon” and “national treasure” are often used as lazy shorthand to refer to those artists who’ve made some sort of impact on our country’s music scene. But Kate McGarrigle was one of the awe-inspiring few who truly deserved those epithets — and then some. McGarrigle, who passed away Monday after a drawn-out battle with clear cell sarcoma (she was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer in 2006), was one of Canada’s legendary voices, a woman who celebrated and elevated the rich history of our country’s musical traditions throughout a career that spanned more than three decades.

Vanity Fair has Songs in the Key of Lacerating, a lengthy piece on the many twists and turns of the McGarrigle/Wainwright family saga.

And there is this priceless mockumentary by Rufus and Martha about their mothers’ scheme for world domination via folk music.

Way too soon. What a tragedy, but departing in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. That’s a good thing. We should all be so lucky when the time comes.

Scroll to top