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Archive for the ‘Ars Longa’ Category


Posted by Ron Coleman on December 16, 2008

Today is Beethoven’s birthday!  (Hat tip to Schroeder!)  I posted this piece on Dean’s World on October 6, 2006:

Tortured muse

Tortured muse

New York’s NPR affiliate, WNYC, had a powerful item on this morning about the piano concertos of Beethoven, which represent, I learned, a self-standing volume of the canon of classical music all their own. It is part of their Beethoven Festival. It was informative and evocative to say the least (regrettably, if there is a link to an online version of the program, I can’t find it).

What is it about Beethoven — the music, the man, the concept — that resonates so powerfully? The melodrama of the tortured genius fighting Fate itself to create the world’s most brilliant and innovative music, even as he loses the ability to hear it performed, is irresistable. I learned this morning that Beethoven was such a leading-edge pianist himself that the technical demands he made on the still-new technology of the pianoforte instrument, where he did most of his composing, dragged piano makers into a new era of quality and responsiveness. Beethoven used his piano sonatas as studies for his orchestral and chamber works, so he needed the piano to be able to “sing” and represent as complete a range of musical and vocal performance possible.

But the ringing irony of all remains the storyline too good for literature: The brilliant composer who at the end of his career could not hear the real-world realization of one of history’s most gifted muses. Beethoven, they say, did not work in the manner ascribed to Mozart, seemingly acting as God’s musical scribe, taking Divine dictation “effortlessly” (an absurd concept) like a musical Prometheus. Beethoven tore up his soul and tortured his heart — and those many of those around him — to bring his muse to life.

True, a genius hears, in his own world, more sound than even he can bring to life — sometimes all too much. And the world was in Beethoven’s time, and is now, full of true horror on a far more prosaic plane than his. But if we ever let our eyes wander heavenward, the thought of the artistic tragedy of Beethoven is sometimes just too much to contemplate.

Posted in Ars Longa, Heart and spirit, Sisyphus | 1 Comment »

Nyak nyak nyak!

Posted by Ron Coleman on November 25, 2008

I came home “early” tonight, so my fourth grade twins begged me to “do something” with them, which of course I had to do, and what they wanted me to do and what I did was watch three Three Stooges shorts on DVD on the computer in the basement.  Now I have not seen a frame of the Stooges in over 35 years, I am sure, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  They certainly enjoyed it and, no less important, they enjoyed watching it with me.

My main “takeaway”:  Shemp — who actually preceded Curly as the third Stooge, it turns out, though he replaced him after his death — really gets a bum rap.  Yes, Curly was very special, but the fact is Shemp was one heck of a talented comic actor.

But the whole thing, really, is sad… but not in a way a fourth grade boy, or even two, would understand.

Posted in Americana, Ars Longa, Heart and spirit, Jocularity | Leave a Comment »

Gazoo — who knew?

Posted by Ron Coleman on September 24, 2008

Dum dum!

Dum dum!

Looking for an image of The Great Gazoo for this post at LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®, I quickly found and linked to this one at Wikipedia.  My post had, really, nothing to do with Gazoo, but because that post — about Carolyn Elefant‘s new e-book entitled Social Networking For Lawyers — alluded to the “books for dummies” concept, well, obviously who appeared to me but the little guy himself?

So I took a second I don’t have to read the first paragraph of the article, and I saw … this:

The Great Gazoo is voiced by Harvey Korman.

I did not know this!

Did everyone know this but me?

But of course!  Of course that’s Harvey Korman!

Thats Headley, not Heddy!

That's Hedley, not Heddy!

I… I have a soft spot for Harvey Korman.  I blogged about this somewhere when he died, but I can’t find where.  (Did I just imagine it?)  There was something about the fact that he really was, as a comic actor, just a notch above, well, mediocre.  Maybe I feel that if I had pursued an acting career, that’s what I would have actually come across as, not the comic genius I really thought I was, so identified with him.  Well, yeah, Harvey Korman was successful, as these things go, but always as a second banana, and he just wasn’t ever really very good.

But in fact he was delicious.

He was so, so Gazoo!  And both of them seemed, really, across the small screen to me at least, to really be good, good guys deep inside.


Posted in Ars Longa, Heart and spirit, Jocularity | Leave a Comment »

How to write books in a prison camp

Posted by Ron Coleman on August 4, 2008

The Zek

The Zek

How Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose death I noted yesterday, did it — in the New York Times obituary:

At Ekibastuz, any writing would be seized as contraband. So he devised a method that enabled him to retain even long sections of prose. After seeing Lithuanian Catholic prisoners fashion rosaries out of beads made from chewed bread, he asked them to make a similar chain for him, but with more beads. In his hands, each bead came to represent a passage that he would repeat to himself until he could say it without hesitation. Only then would he move on to the next bead. He later wrote that by the end of his prison term, he had committed to memory 12,000 lines in this way.

That’s all there is to it, I guess.  It’s easy to be stunned by this feat, even by a mathematician, and forget about writing the 12,000 lines, and writing them the way he did.  When do heart, soul and mind so powerfully coalesce in one body?

None of this is to say that I agree with every little thing Solzhenitsyn thought or said.  His affection for the neo-Stalinist regime in Russia today is hard to fathom, nationalism notwithstanding.  Yet he did write in The First Circle, forgive my not having it exactly, “The wolf is not blameworthy, but the cannibal is” — he was a nationalist, it was a world of carnivores; and Stalin’s crime was not merely that he was a murderer but that he murdered his own people. The crack that this leaves open for murdering others is not untroubling, but in truth Solzhenitsyn never advocated or defended that.

Still and all Solzhenitsyn was one of the towering figures of the last century.  Liberals, for a brief moment, recognized his courage and his brilliance, even as pragmatic conservatives such as Henry Kissinger found him inconvenient, an embarrassing guest at the table of detente, and shooed him away from the Ford White House.  After a while it seemed as if Solzhenitsyn no longer had anything to say to us.  Yet much of what he did say in terms of criticism of the West — the materialism, the moral vacuity, the lack of true spirituality — should not be as readily laughed away by thoughtful people as is depicted having been the case among the literary elite in the obituary.  Nor was the accusation against him of antisemitism, in any meaningful sense, justified; familiarity with his works cannot support the claim.

You must read the whole obituary.  If you don’t really know who Solzhenitsyn was or how he did what few writers dream of — actually had an effect on history — this is your chance.  Do not pass it by.  Don’t you want to understand what our world is, and more of how it got this way?

Posted in Ars Longa, Faith and Works, Heart and spirit, Oppression, Past is prologue, Sisyphus | 3 Comments »

The last time, as parody

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 30, 2008

I don’t go to the movies. Long story; I don’t. And we don’t have a TV. So I don’t usually know what’s going on Hollywood wise until I travel on business. Then I put on the (free) TV while eating my peanut butter sandwiches in my hotel room and maybe catch up with a few pieces of some movies.

Long story short, I’m in Phoenix again in a nicely chilled room at the Hyatt, and there on HBO is a Elliott Gould, the subject of one of the first posts on this blog, doing the worst Borscht Belt version of a Mayer Lansky I have ever seen. “Reuben Tishkoff.” (In the pic at left he’s doing a Swifty Lazar turn. Groan.)

I am sure he was thinking it would be fun to go over the top with this, but need we be reminded that Elliott — as I was in that post — already pushed this with his appearances on “Friends”? Really, if Hollywood weren’t run by the Jews you could get Abe Foxman to put out a press release over group libel like this.

Just saying. This was painful, and Reuben’s vaudevillian heart attack right at the beginning turn left me pretty ambivalent. Didn’t exactly inspire me to stay up and watch the movie. It was late and I was three hours behind the game anyway. And don’t even mention Continental Airlines.

It wasn’t what I needed at 11 PM in Phoenix, you know, feeling like the only… “Easterner”… on the street.

Posted in Americana, Ars Longa | Leave a Comment »

Seven words he’ll never say again

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 23, 2008

George Carlin died today. He was 71. Carlin was a true original, one of the few comics who actually got people to think about some things in new ways, and — unlike, say Mort Sahl — managing to stay funny while doing so over the course of a generation.

But his humor was angry, and his hippy-dippy outlook, cute in the early 70’s, curdled into a know-nothing angry leftism of the “they own all of you, we’re all tools in the System, man” variety.  (You know – the System that made him very, very comfortable despite his harsh criticism of it.)  He was ultimately only a comedian, and hence his bleak “social criticisms” were seldom better enunciated than the facile juxtapositions found in editorial cartoons. But as a vanguard of envelope-pushing in the realm of new levels of public indelicacy he was regarded as a sage, a modern-day Twain, by would-be culture critics of the Don Imus rank.

Now he’s dead.

Posted in Americana, Ars Longa, Heart and spirit | 8 Comments »

Sharing the love

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 20, 2008

I love reading really harsh performing arts criticism, at least when it’s directed at highly-paid professionals.  (It’s hardly ever appropriate to eighth grade choirs, wouldn’t you agree?)  Why did Frank Rich ever agree to give up his perch as the unchallenged Butcher of Broadway to become another eminently forgettable, unremarkable liberal mediocrity on the Times‘s op-ed page?  Sure, we all want to sit at the grownups’ table (that’s why we swung this blog out from the IP blog, after all, right?), but if anyone was in a position to know the Jerry Lewis Story, you’d think it would have been Rich. He’s still alive, right?  (Very big in France, maybe?)

I digress.  Just read this lede by Dana Stevens in Slate, then go get something to eat and put up your feet before clicking the link to take in the rest:

There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are movies so bad they’re good (though, strangely, not the reverse). And once in a while there is a movie so bad that it takes you to a place beyond good and evil and abandons you there, shivering and alone.

The movie?  Mike Myers’s “The Love Guru.”  Myers is a talented guy, too, and hardly guilty of taking himself too seriously.  He knows he’s a clown.  But he seems to have reached that Edddie Murphy-like point where he has no one around him to tell him … to just tell him.

So Dana’s going to tell him.

Posted in Ars Longa, Style | Leave a Comment »

Suspension of disbelief

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 15, 2008

It was okay when we tolerated movie musicals, but for “cautionary thrillers”? Uh uh:

Early on in “The Happening”, it becomes obvious that people are being affected by airborne toxins, yet no one in the movie even tries to cover their mouths with a shirt or something. They sell safety masks at CVS and at Home Depot. Wouldn’t that make a little more sense than trying to outrun the wind?

..and there are machines that can help us escape the bonds of earth and outrun the wind, called ‘airplanes’.

These cautionary thrillers can’t work unless they make the intended victims helpless prey, and in doing so they make people appear to be dumber than mice. Sure, these things would be a threat if people were that helpless, but they’re not, so what is the point?

Um, propaganda?

Posted in Ars Longa, Sisyphus | 2 Comments »

Lamp and portal

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 6, 2008

Door to judge’s chambers, Newark historic courthouse

Originally uploaded by Ron Coleman

The door to a judge’s chambers in the restored Newark historic courthouse. Note the fasces on the lintel.

Posted in Americana, Ars Longa, Lex scripta, Metropolis | Leave a Comment »

Shoot him now?

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 4, 2008

From the New York Times blog:

This morning, a Boston-born performance artist, Yazmany Arboleda, tried to set up a provocative art exhibition in a vacant storefront on West 40th Street in Midtown Manhattan with the title, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama,” in neatly stenciled letters on the plate glass windows at street level. . . .

“The Secret Service had to do a whole questionnaire with me,” he said. “It was about an hour of questioning. They asked if I owned guns, if I was a violent person, if I had ever been institutionalized.”

Mr. Arboleda answered no. Nonetheless, he said the Secret Service asked him to take down the exhibition title from the window.

“I’m renting that space; the space was allocated for an exhibition and it’s my right to put those words up,” he said. “They said it could excite someone to do something crazy, like break the window. It’s terrible, because they’re violating my rights. If someone breaks a window, they’re committing a crime.”

He added, “The exhibition is supposed to be about character assassination. It’s philosophical and metaphorical.”

I wonder whether anyone has ever pushed a legal challenge to this generally well-understood, and popular, policy that the Secret Service has certain extraordinary legal powers it can execute in connection with a perceived threat to any person it is in the business of guarding.

It does seem constitutionally problematic.  Because it seems here as if the authorities may have overreacted.

I would prefer merely a broad prohibition on “performance artists.”

Posted in Americana, Ars Longa, Metropolis, Oppression, Politics and Poker | 1 Comment »