Thursday, June 14, 2012

On This Day In History, June 14 . . .

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born (1811) and Benedict Arnold died (1801).

Margaret Bourke-White was born (1904) and Mary Cassatt died (1926).

Burl Ives was born (1909) and Peggy Ashcroft died (1991).

Rudolf Kempe was born (1910) and Carlo Maria Giulini died (2005).

Che Guevara was born (1928) and Kurt Waldheim died (2007).

Cy Coleman was born (1929) and Alan Jay Lerner died (1986).

Jerzy Kosinski was born (1933) and Jorge Luis Borges died (1986).

Steffi Graf was born (1969) and Dale Whittington died (2003).

Lang Lang was born (1982) and pianism died.


  1. Perhaps I should post this here. You are ignoring my comments on your posting of April 9.

    What is your take on what is going on in Saint Petersburg between Znaider and Gergiev? It is obvious trouble is brewing. I predict Znaider will be sacked from his guest post with the Mariinsky before the summer is out.

    Good joke about Lame Lame, by the way.

  2. I have no idea what is going on in Saint Petersburg.

  3. From THE AMPHISBAENA WHISPERER (August, 2012) - Part I

    BOOK REVIEW: “BAALS”, a novel by Brian Salisburied

    The dog-eared time-travel paradox has been a popular but frustrating plot device with Science Fantasy writers of the past, ever since Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity in 1916; the most successful attempts to play convincingly with these mind-twisters in my opinion can be appreciated by the general public in two films, "Back to the Future, Part II", and more recently (the best, I think), Shane Carruth’s brilliant "Primer" (2004). If you are unfamiliar with this paradox, the premise can be grasped in the anonymous limerick below:

    'There once was a woman named Bright,
    'Who could travel much faster than light;
    'So, she set out one day, in a relative way,
    'And returned on the previous night'.

    In my mind, any plot involving the interaction between two persons who are actually the same person – one, a “past self” living in the present and the other a “future self” having traveled back to the present – has been more successful with the author’s tongue firmly pressed against his cheek. Even in the serious tragedy "Primer", the best line of dialogue is delivered in that film by producer-director-writer-actor Shane Carruth: “I haven’t eaten since tomorrow afternoon”.

    Satirical novelist Brian Salisburied has apparently done what no previous writer in this form has attempted: He has convincingly extrapolated the “infinite permutations” beyond safe and comfortable scenarios involving no more than three versions of the same soul, simultaneously magnifying the comic ideas of classic short-story writers, exploiting impossible (and hysterical) results in order to provide subtle, unfunny commentary on a wide range of modern concerns like grieving anger, narcissism, anti-Semitism, internalized homophobia, and misogyny (there are no women in the entire book). This is Fredric Brown on steroids!

    The novel could have easily collapsed under its own, self-indulgent weight, but somehow the end result is so imaginative and original that I’m convinced now that Salisburied has successfully moon-spun the ultimate lightweight man-god wet dream for ages to come, having re-defined forever in these 980 pages the Latin catch-phrase "Carpe Diem".


  4. TAW, Part II

    Yes, the story is “seized” from one day, June 22, between 8:30 P.M. and midnight (the year is never mentioned). The novel contains only one genuine character, Agamemnon Mayfly, a Jewish gay man, perpetually 17 years old according to the calendar, and fifth-tier classical pianist prodigy, who in Chapter One relates how he realized after waking up from his morning nap that he was the only surviving human being on earth, following some unknown global catastrophe which, conveniently, had left all the material stuff of erstwhile humankind undisturbed (generators continued to run, for instance, but all live voices on radio and TV broadcasting were silenced at precisely 11:05 A.M.)

    Devastated in his loneliness, intolerable boredom, and tormented by rage over the fact that he hadn’t been given a choice to live OR die, Mayfly checks himself into the Presidential Suite of the most expensive hotel in Troy, New York, where he has nothing to do this evening but flip the pages of a Gideon Bible.

    Then, motivated by the tragedy at Baal-Peor, as recorded in Numbers 25:1-9, Mayfly hits upon the mind-blowing thieving antic to end ALL thieving antics, the background of the whole novel.

    Mayfly has access to a time machine, built by a Professor friend at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He also has – incredulously to the reader at first – a home-made atomic bomb with the power to vaporize as many as 50,000 people, the former population of Troy.

    But the time machine can only transport one person back in time 24 hours. He decides then that before the stroke of midnight tonight he will transport himself back to Monday, June 21, find a suitable hiding place for the time machine, assume a new profession as well as an uncommon aka, and then, after 11:05 A.M. the “next” morning, he will “find himself” on an otherwise vacated Tibbits Avenue. Then at midnight he will climb back into the time machine and travel back again 24 hours, changing the location of the device a second time – repeating this cycle . . . 24,000 times, with the aim of repopulating the city of Troy with as many potential liver donors, all of them “ripe and worthy of the wrath of God!”.

    After the 24,000th angry, misanthropic “Baal” takes his place in Troy’s resurrected moribund society, Mayfly will detonate the atomic bomb at midnight, venting “the apotheosis of divine satisfaction,” being careful of course to set the timer one hour early so that he can escape unharmed into the past. Afterward, he can gleefully opt to wipe out the entire human race all over again, as many times as he chooses, until he finally dies “happy” himself of natural old age – a certain death sure to come any time soon, after all: Mayfly discovers after about 4,000 trips that he cannot prevent his own body from aging 24 hours as he lives June 22 over again; consequently the biological age of the population of Troy on Doomsday Redux ranges from 22 to 87.


  5. TAW, Part III (Conclusion)

    Out of 24,001 possible candidates, Salisburied has culled 4,096 "diverse" characters for his sprawling story.

    In order to ensure the broadest possible readership, the author has written something rewarding for just about everyone. In other words, the comedy in “Baals” extends from the sophisticated and esoteric to the (very) “low”.

    An example of the former is chapter 13, where one Sintax Copperbarszsz is running for election to the office of mayor. In his speech he stupidly disassociates HIMSELF from the audience of voters in every sentence out of his mouth, through the employment of an ostentatious, self-incriminating dangling modifier – and yet not a single voter at the meeting notices even one of these.

    In Chapter 31, my personal favorite, “world-renown” 23-year-old pianist Gnal Gnal performs Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The concert sets a new challenge in the one-man band tradition to out-number itself, as the same musician serves simultaneously as soloist, conductor, and accompanist, “playing” in every chair of the orchestra (the cacophony is unimaginable); but Salisburied ups the ante by including the sounding hands of the capacity-house standing ovation as well. Oscar Levant, eat your heart out! (By the end of the Chapter I couldn’t have waited to “hear” the same orchestra performing the Turangalila Symphony, in a concert announced in the program for the following week, guest conductor Buffo Voorsbellowschtik conducting.)

    Chapter 31 also reveals the origin of the New Portsmouth Sinphonia, which never existed before June 22, whenever: Shortly before noon on the morning of the concert a rabid mob of 105 ex-piano tuners have raided Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, swiping every instrument from the stands.

    (It is in Chapter 31 that we learn the precise time the human race disappears– the first time, you understand: 11:05 A.M., EST, during the intermission of the first rehearsal of the Buffalo Philharmonic.)

    An example of the “low” comedy style is evidenced in Chapter 64, where 49-year-old Shwinnbrillo Querelle picks up one of his 17-year-old selves in a crowded gay bar. In a nod to Robert Heinlein, Querelle is soon arrested and dragged into Night Court, where he’s later acquitted after the Honorable Fuggerei Indulgence downgrades the offence from “statutory rape” to “masturbation.”

    In another, even more outrageous chapter the self-surfeited porn star Manly Exznaiderluv infuriates his photographer-boyfriend Gypsum Flanderssquibbet at the Trojan Exotic Film Studio by hiring Gyp's septuagenarian lighting assistant, Joe Smith, to serve as the star’s first-string Studio fluffer, and . . . well, if you don’t mind, I won’t continue with this one . . . .

    Of course, “Baals” can be interpreted on many different levels. What this reader took away from it was the awareness of Man’s untraceable capacity for self-delusion.

    Some, I hope, might conclude that Salisburied is simply calling out every single human being on earth as an "buffon ephemeros", even at his best; or, perhaps, as it is written, “For what is your life? You are but a vapor that appeareth for a little time then vanisheth away”.

    -- Danen Rubbra


    The biological age of the repopulated city of Troy (24,000) in the novel "Baals" ranges from 17 to 82, not 22 to 87.

    D.R., TAW

  7. I have already read “Baals”. I read it next Thursday.

    I came across a copy while perusing the “Animal Husbandry” section of the Eden Prairie Public Library. Alas, I was not able to complete my search of the collection, as I was asked to leave the building after humming too loudly Parry’s Coronation Anthem, “I Was Glad”.

    I discussed “Baals” with Ernest Ansermet and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I believe we may have been at cross-purposes: both gentlemen, I fear, were confusing The Theory Of Relativity with The Theory Of Relations, two very different things.

    As a result, I was forced to confer both with Barbra Streisand—whom, as you know, starred in a movie on the subject of time travel—as well as Shirley MacLaine, an acknowledged expert in the field.

    Streisand, self-obsessed, went on forever, and I fell asleep while she was talking on the phone. She may still be on the line for all I know. I was unable to pick up anything worthwhile from Miss Streisand—or even get a word in edgewise.

    MacLaine was preoccupied with other matters during our chat—in the background, I could hear blaring, simultaneously, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis as well as the original Broadway cast recording of “Gypsy”—and, in frustration, I rang off, telling Miss MacLaine that a papal envoy was at the front door.

    My analysis of the character Mayfly is that he had a deep-seated yearning to be an A & W carhop. When he learned, to his distress, that there last had been A & W carhops in the 1950s, he decided to become an expert in time travel in order to live out his lifelong dream. Alas, he became sidetracked along the way, and used his newly-acquired knowledge for the creation of evil, not good.

    I found the subsidiary characters to be entirely unconvincing—Copperbarszsz, to cite only one example, was nothing more than a thinly-disguised caricature of Rutherford B. Hayes—and the plotline extremely tortured. How, for instance, could one possibly accept the absurd lost-luggage sequence that sets into motion the final denouement? The movie, “True Lies”, was more realistic!

    May I raise the delicate issue of plagiarism?

    The entire time “Baals” was before me, I kept asking myself: “Haven’t I read this before? It all seems so familiar.”

    It was only afterward that I realized that “Baals” had been stolen from Böll’s work—entire chunks of the story had been lifted straight from “Billiards At Half-Past Nine”, another time-travel novel, with a few details changed here and there in order to attempt to conceal the fraud.

    I was sickened that I had wasted my time. As a result, I cannot wait to return my copy of “Baals” to the library—I want that thing out of the house NOW!—but I am unsure what to do, having been banned from the library over that “I Was Glad” thing.

  8. I still would like to read it. Alas, all the libraries in Florida have banned “Baals.” (Salisburied has been nominated for the Nobel this year, as you know, along with Thomas Pynchon.)

    To my delight, I found a copy at Publix, the supermarket down the street, last Saturday. It was sitting right next to “Fifty Shades of Gray”.

    My attempt to take the book from the shelf was thwarted by an unexpected “guard,” a 9-year-old boy, who held a knife out to my arm. It turned out that little Tony was my elementary-school self, and he swore that I would not be able to buy “Baals” until I returned his Liberace record to him.

    When I explained to him that I had tossed that record into the dumpster 47 years ago, having fallen in love with Horowitz, he started to cry and stomp his feet, brandishing that formidable cutless around like a pirate from some very bad pirate movie. I promised to get him a Lang Lang CD instead, but he scoffed insolently, declaring that Oscar Levant was the greatest piano player after Liberace and that not even the deaf would buy a Lang Lang CD!

    I had to walk away at that point because I was afraid that some eavesdroppers would find out that I had actually OWNED a Liberace record.

  9. Your secret is safe with me!

    If you need to obtain an old Liberace record in order to negotiate with your former self, may I recommend two potential sources, both named Tim?

    I would start with Tim Mangan, music critic for the newspaper in Orange County, California. Liberace is right up Mangan’s alley.

    If Mangan proves to be a bust, I’d move on to Tim Smith, music critic for the newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland. Smith has no insight to offer in the field of art music—but his blog reveals he has passion and conviction galore to share on the subjects of Barbra Streisand, Dame Edna Everage and the old television series, “The Golden Girls”, all beloved icons of the ancient-queens set. Smith is out of his realm in the classical sphere, but an obvious expert when it comes to low mass culture, gay division. Under such circumstances, Smith surely has dozens of old Liberace records hiding in his closets.

    Meanwhile, may I hire your former 9-year-old self to return my loaned copy of “Baals” to the local library?

    Do you read Norman Lebrecht’s blog? If so, have you been following my several argumentative encounters with morons on Mr. Lebrecht’s website the last couple of months?

  10. I haven't been. But I will look today.

  11. I just read the thread on the Meyerson Hall.

    I ran into "Little Tony" again at the dog park and relayed your request to him. He said "absolutely not."

    Tony seems to think that "Baals" will make you gay. He said that you were already "ruined"; and he said that if I read "Baals" I'd become gay, too. I countered by telling him that Liberace would make HIM gay, and I was proof of that.

    He was unimpressed.