Category Archives: Arts

Perhaps it’s just as well the electors stayed ‘faithful’

Benedict Cumbatch as Richard III in "The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses."

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses.”

When I was editorial page editor at The State, I would from time to time go in to work of a morning all fired up to do something really out there, something that, to a less caffeinated person, might seem terribly imprudent, something that would not be good for the newspaper and its credibility in the long run.

And my colleagues — a smart, sober, sensible crew if ever there was one — would talk me down in the morning meeting. They’d grab ‘hold of my coattails and pull, steadily and relentlessly, until they’d dragged me back from the precipice. They were all like, Put the idea down and step back, slowly…

I sort of counted on them to do that. Because ultimately I’m a conservative sort of guy, even though I’d get these wild impulses from time to time.

I don’t have them to do that for me any more. But I have y’all.

If you’ll recall, I came in all charged up on the morning of Dec. 7 (an infamous date for following ill-considered impulses — just ask Admiral Yamamoto), and wrote “Electors, your nation needs you to be ‘unfaithful’.”

Filling the roles of editorial board members, y’all immediately started calmly talking me down. As Phillip wrote in soothing tones, “As much as I fear the coming Trump Presidency, though, this would be a terrible idea,” and went on to explain why. Dave Crockett, saying, “I have to side with Phillip on this one,” poured additional oil on the troubled waters.

And I immediately realized they were right, admitting, “Everything you say makes perfect practical sense.” And I thanked them, in my way.

In any case, off the blog (you’re either on the blog or you’re off the blog), out there in Meat World, the electors met yesterday and were meek and mild, and everything Alexander Hamilton did not intend them to be. In any case, no revolution. And it’s probably just as well, for reasons I’ll go into in a moment.

But to be clear, I wasn’t being a revolutionary. I was being, if anything, reactionary. I wanted to go back to the original spirit (since the original letter is no longer operative) of the Electoral College, in which the electors served as a guarantee that no gross incompetent under the sway of a foreign potentate — ahem — would become our president. I was invoking Hamilton’s sort of conservatism, extolling his mechanism for preventing something imprudent from happening. (I’m so much that way that, as I’ve confessed here in the past, while I fervently embrace the corniest, most cliched sort of patriotism, I often worry that had I been alive in 1775, I might, just might, have been, well… a Tory. I would have had a strong aversion against taking up arms against the duly constituted authority, especially over something as absurd as taxes. Shooting at my lord the King’s soldiers would have seemed to me to be tearing at the fundamental fabric of civilization. I’m talking about before the Declaration. After that, I might have been OK with it — Take that, jolly lobster!)

Anyway, though, y’all were right and I was wrong, and it’s just as well that most of the electors yesterday were too timid to do the right thing — I mean, to cause trouble.

And I’m more certain of that now than when y’all talked me down a couple of weeks ago. That’s because of two things I’ve spent a lot of time on recently — watching TV and working on my family tree.

First, there’s the TV watching… I’ve been enjoying “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses” on PBS. It’s a three-part production of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” parts I and II, and “Richard III.” And it’s pretty great so far (still awaiting that third part).

But boy, does it make you glad you didn’t live in those parlous times. Just to give you an idea of the political instability and its murderous consequences, so far:

  • King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster, an unstable weakling (but a gentle soul), is trying in his own feckless way to hang onto the crown that his father — the “Band of Brothers” speech guy (see how all my posts connect up?) — left him when he was only 9 months old. He marries the French noblewoman Margaret, which looks like a good match but isn’t.
  • The Duke of York — father of, among others, Richard III — asserts that he should be king, and a lot of nobles decide he’s right and line up behind him. After all, he is a Plantagenet, and they held the crown much longer than these upstart Lancastrians.
  • There’s a terrible battle in which Somerset’s head is cut off by the York faction, which is just as well because he was fooling around with Margaret behind the King’s back. (He’s played by the guy who played the guy who was fooling around with Princess Margaret in “The Crown,” so I guess he’s typecast.) York and his posse have a great time tossing the head around and cracking jokes.
  • The followers of York rush to Westminster, where the King later arrives to find York literally sitting on his throne. The King is like, “Get off my chair!” and York is like “Make me!”
  • At this moment, Exeter, who’s always been one of the King’s main guys, says You know what? Maybe York does have a greater claim to the throne. And the King’s like, “What?”
  • The King offers a deal: If they’ll let him remain king while he lives, he’ll give up the crown on behalf of his descendants, letting York and his sons succeed him.
  • Some of the nobles tell the King he’s a loser and march off to tell Queen Margaret.
  • Margaret, who has a young son she was counting on being king, essentially reacts like, WTF!
  • She goes out and leads her own army against York, and cuts his head off, and puts it on a pike.
  • Then things swing back the other way, and… well, suffice to say York’s is not the last head to be used as a decoration.

Anyway, that’s Henry VI. The first two parts anyway, and part of the third. (I didn’t finish part 3 until after writing this.)

Then there’s the genealogy thing…

Over the weekend, I learned that I’m possibly descended from Richard “Strongbow” de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke — the guy who pretty much started the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. (And even if I’m not related to him at all, the moral of this story still stands.)

This caused some Henry-and-Margaret-style tension at my house, for this reason: My wife’s maiden name is Phelan. The original Gaelic name is Ó Fialáin. The Ó Fialáins were the head honchos in County Waterford until a certain Norman lord came along and conquered and trashed their city.

The particular Norman lord who did that was, you guessed it, my great-granddaddy “Strongbow.” If he is my great-granddaddy — and even it he’s not, he’s the guy.

Yeah… awkward.

Strongbow was driven to this by circumstances. He had inherited the Pembroke earldom and lands from his father Gilbert, also called “Strongbow.” But Henry II — one of those Plantagenets — took them away from him because my ancestor had sided with King Stephen of England in a bloody dispute — a war, not to put too fine a point on it — against Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, over who would be monarch of England.

Thus dispossessed, Strongbow went over and did a deal with the Irish King of Leinster, who was having problems of his own, to go together and take Waterford. Which they did. Henry II, eager that these new Irish properties become the crown’s, did a deal with Strongbow in which he got his old title and property back. Which was good for him, but not so great for my wife’s folks in Waterford.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

For so much of human history, no one had much of a sense of loyalty to a country, much less to a system of laws. They couldn’t even be relied on to be loyal to a certain lord for long. Everybody was always looking for the main chance, ready to kill to gain advantage even temporarily.

Our 240-year history, our country of laws and not of men, is a blessed hiatus from all that. We may descend into barbarism yet — and yes, the election of a man who shows little respect for the rule of law is not a good omen — but so far the Constitution has held.

So maybe it’s safest not to tear at the fabric, even a little — even if, like Exeter, we can say maybe the law is on our side. Seeing York’s point of view and encouraging him in his claim did no one, including York, any good. Getting all legalistic in invoking Hamilton’s original intent could have wreaked a great deal of havoc as well…

The earldom of Pembroke came with this cool castle, so you can see why Strongbow wanted it back.

The earldom of Pembroke came with this cool castle, so you can see why Strongbow wanted it back.

Did ‘Aaron Burr’ et al. play into Trump’s hands?

hamilton-public

I like putting “Aaron Burr” in headlines. It lets me pretend that I’m living in times in which “the damn’ fool that shot him” was alive and active in our politics. Not that I like Burr much. But it puts me in a time when our presidential choices were between people like Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison (and Burr, who nearly won over Jefferson, but let’s skim over that).

Sigh…

Anyway, to follow up on yesterday’s post about the “Hamilton” incident (again, something that sounds like the kind of incident I’d rather be writing about than “Trump” incidents), there’s a growing body of thought out there that the artsy liberal actors played right into the hands of the president-elect. Even that Pence’s presence there may have been a deliberate provocation.

And that this sort of thing is likely to happen again and again because, you know, those Eastern cultural elites are just so predictable, and can’t help themselves. Strike them on their emotional patellar tendons, and they jerk.

From Catherine Rampell:

Trump, and only Trump, won this round in the culture wars. And with many more rounds to come, liberals need to find some way not to take his bait.

Maybe Pence decided to see the hottest show on Broadway because it’s the hottest show on Broadway. Or because it’s a Pulitzer-Prize-winning work by a bona-fide genius. Or because, with its story of a destitute autodidact pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, it has had documented appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Pence attended Friday’s performance specifically hoping, or at least expecting, to stoke boos and a brouhaha that would ultimately rouse the Republican base — and distract from much more embarrassing Trump-related news.

Think about it. Trump could not have chosen a more perfect cultural foil than “Hamilton” if he’d designed the show himself. The show has — somewhat paradoxically — become an unwitting symbol of out-of-touch, cosmopolitan liberal elites.

Tickets to the smash hit can fetch thousands of dollars, making them inaccessible to all but the reasonably wealthy. The show is fawned upon by effete elites such as myself….

Most important, at least to Trump’s base, “Hamilton” has Hispanics literally taking the jobs of old white men…

A digression: Actually, I think by casting “people of color” (one of the odder, most stilted, most retrograde-sounding phrases currently approved by those Trump is pleased to bait) in the roles of the Founders, Lin-Manuel Miranda has struck a blow against political correctness. By portraying the folks too many would dismiss as “old, dead white guys” as people of every race and color, he has rescued them from the scorn of the sillier Identity Politicians and shown the universality of their ideas and accomplishments. It sort of says, Shut up about their race and gender and read what they wrote!

But back to Ms. Rampell’s point, which has also been made by duty conservative Marc Thiessen:

Hey Democrats, want help to rally the country around Donald Trump? Here’s a great idea: Have a crowd of wealthy, out-of-touch Manhattan liberals (who can afford $849 tickets to “Hamilton”) boo Vice President-elect Mike Pence while the cast of the Broadway show lectures him on diversity.

The Democratic Party’s alienation from the rest of America was on full display at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Friday night. And the left seems completely oblivious to how ridiculous it looks to the rest of the United States. Professors at Yale and Columbia universities and other elite schools postpone exams and cancel classes for students who could not deal with the election results. Kids in Washington schools cut class with tacit approval from administrators to march in protest of the results of a free and fair election. School officials in Montgomery County offer grief counselors to “help students process any concerns or feelings they have about the election.” (Funny, I don’t recall anyone canceling exams or offering my kids grief counselors when Barack Obama was elected).

People in the American heartland see all this, and they shake their heads in disgust. Today’s Democrats have become a party of coastal elites completely disconnected from the rest of America. Doubt it? Take a look at a county-by-county map of the 2016 presidential election. You can drive some 3,000 miles across the entire continental United States — from sea to shining sea — without driving through a single county that voted for Hillary Clinton….

They may be looking at it from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but it’s interesting that they both reached similar conclusions…

‘Aaron Burr’ just couldn’t follow his own advice with Pence

“Hamilton” actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, did not take to heart the advice his character gives the young Hamilton:

While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice:

Talk less…

Smile more…

Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for…

If he had been the real Burr, he would not have singled out his successor-elect, Mike Pence, for embarrassment after the show the other night.

A lot of people who are as distressed over the election results as I am think it was great for Dixon to deliver this message from the stage to Pence, who was in the audience:

“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening,” he said to audience hoots and laughter. “And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out.”

As he pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket, Dixon encouraged people to record and share what he was about to say, “because this message needs to be spread far and wide.” The cast, in their 18th-century costumes, and the crew, in jeans and T-shirts, linked arms and hands behind Dixon….

“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do,” Dixon said to further applause. “We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us . . .”

The audience erupted in cheers again. “Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

As I say, some thought it was great. I did not. It seemed tacky, gauche, not the proper place. The man in the audience was a guest, and did not come to harangue anyone — or to be harangued.

It’s not that the actor was hostile or cruel or anything like that. He wasn’t inciting anything; he was just saying, We’re all pretty upset your ticket got elected, so please reassure us by your actions. Which is the sort of thing I myself might say to Pence were I to run into him and be introduced. But of course, that’s a different dynamic from singling someone out of a crowd.

Nor did Pence mind, or so he says. (as to what Trump thought, which we learned all about when he launched him on another of his childish rants, I address that in a comment below.) And I get that the cast and crew didn’t want to throw away their shot. But it just didn’t seem the place. I’d have felt terribly awkward had I been there. I feel awkward just hearing about it, especially since, as I am so dismayed at the election result — because of Trump, remember, not Pence — this gaucherie was committed by someone who agrees with me on that point. That makes me feel responsible.

So I thought I’d say something…

One more thought: One would think that everything the cast and crew wanted to say — about “diversity,” about the value of immigrants, about fundamental rights — had already been said, beautifully and creatively, by the play they had just performed. And since Pence had come to hear it, it seems to me that the message had been delivered, by the masterpiece it took Lin-Manuel Miranda seven years to write, far better than a hastily-penned speech could do.

The only thing the little speech said that the play did not was, Yo, Mike Pence — we see you out there — yeah, you. And we’ve got a problem with you.

And that’s the bit that seemed to me unnecessary.

If they wanted to acknowledge Pence, the stage manager could have stepped onto the stage before the show to say, We have a special guest in the audience tonight, vice president-elect Mike Pence. Mr. Pence, we hope you enjoy the show, take it to heart, and go forth inspired. We hope you all do.

That would have been appropriate…

How does ‘One-Note Samba’ work?

OK, one more pop-music-oriented post. It’s obliquely related to the one on Leonard Cohen.

Remember long ago when I asked whether Phillip or other musical experts here could explain how “Hallelujah” worked, what it was about it that was so appealing? Phillip and many others rose to the occasion.getz-gilberto-from-tv-show

Well, I’ve got a tougher one today. This morning, I was listening to “One-Note Samba,” and wondered how in the world that could reach out and grab me or anyone else.

Maybe it doesn’t speak to you, but I’ve always had a thing for samba music ever since my Dad brought back some records from a trip to Rio when I was a kid (sort of the way Liverpool kids learned about rock ‘n’ roll from the discs brought into port by sailors). And obviously some people besides me like this one, since it’s been covered so often.

So tell me:

Why does it work? Why isn’t it too monotonous? Does it keep us listening purely because of the rhythm? Is that it? Or is it the fact that we know, as we endure the one-note parts, that it’s going to change, and that change is what rewards us? Or is it because of what the instruments are playing while the singer is stuck on the one note?

Just wondering. Because to me, music is just magic, and far beyond my ken…

Finally taking the time to get into Hamilton

07hamilton-slide-dr5r-superjumbo

Roughly ten years ago, I was sitting at my desk in my office at The State, talking on the phone with Fritz Hollings. This was shortly after he had left office, and we frequently had occasion to talk. I don’t know what we were talking about, or who had called whom. It might have been about one of several op-ed pieces he wrote for us in that period — he was still having trouble letting go of policymaking. Maybe it was the conversation in which I called him to ask a favor — his good friend Joe Biden was going to be in town, and I wanted him to drop by the office if he had time so we could get acquainted, before he ran again for national office (Fritz came through on that).

Anyway, we got off the subject, whatever it was. Fritz had just read Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, and he started singing its praises, saying I must read it. I took his advice — almost. I put the book on my list for family members looking for gift ideas for my birthday or Christmas, and someone promptly gave it to me. And… it has sat on my shelf ever since, until this weekend.alexander-hamilton

I really, truly, meant to read it. I’d always been interested in the Founders. On my way to sort of inadvertently getting a second major in history, I concentrated to a certain extent on that period. And I came away convinced that had I been alive and in politics at the time, I’d have been a Federalist. That was the party Hamilton had founded, and I knew he was brilliant, and that he provided most of the arguments that sold the Constitution to the country among other startling achievements, but… I was less attracted to him than to the others, and I knew that as a result I had neglected him. Which is why I had dutifully put the book on my list. But still, I kept my distance. Maybe I had absorbed some of the propaganda put out about him by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, but it seemed to me that there was a reason why Hamilton wasn’t ever president, and I thought that if I was a Federalist, I was more of an Adams Federalist than a Hamiltonian. I mean, the guy was so into money and all…

So there the book sat. And during the years that I failed to read it, a young man named Lin-Manuel Miranda picked it up, and it set his mind on fire. He was inspired to write a musical based on the book, and it became the biggest hit on Broadway in a generation.

So, I missed a big opportunity there.

I kept hearing about the play, and seeing video clips from it, and I thought it was really exciting that someone had made a hit out of one of the Founders (and, to my mind, the Founder least likely to inspire a hit musical), but I had some Clueless White Guy questions: What did hip-hop have to do with the guy who had founded banks and our whole financial system? And why were most of the actors on the stage black — or at least, seemingly nonAnglo-Saxon? I didn’t object to them being black — I just wondered why. It seemed that there was a point being made, but I didn’t understand what the point was. I wondered whether it had to do with Hamilton’s obscure origins. All I knew (thanks to Jefferson’s folks) was that Hamilton was a bastard out of the West Indies. Was Miranda saying that, coming out of the ethnic richness of the Caribbean, he was of mixed race, so it was fitting to have actors of color fill the stage?

Well, on Friday night, I saw “Hamilton’s America,” the fascinating documentary about the creation of this play, and suddenly I got it. I saw what people were so enchanted with. I understood why, when Manuel was reading Chernow’s book on vacation, he thought, “This is a rap!” And I was deeply impressed by how everyone involved in the production was thoroughly immersed in Hamilton and the other Founders and what they were all about, and why they are important today — and not just to pasty-faced people of English extraction.

I was really impressed by that part. Decades ago, when I did some community theater back in Tennessee, I met a lot of talented people. And I was shocked to find that people who were brilliant musicians — something I could never be — and really gifted amateur actors were nevertheless… how shall I put this… not well read. They might do a play based on history — say, “The Lion In Winter,” which I acted in — and they’d get their lines and the intonations perfectly, but they wouldn’t really know the history or the cultural context of what they were pretending to be.

In this documentary, not only Miranda was able to speak fluently and inspiringly about Hamilton and his world, but the other actors as well. They went on and on about it, and you could learn a lot by listening to them.

And as I listened, I — who was last attracted to musical theater when Andrew Lloyd Webber came out with “Evita” (another sort of history I sorta kinda concentrated on in college was Latin American) — started really, really getting into the music. And that’s really, really saying something, since the only rap numbers I’m familiar with and like are the ones from “Office Space.”

So here’s the irony: Hip-hop helped get those young actors into history. And now history is getting me into hip-hop. As I type this, I’m nodding my head to “I am not throwing away my… shot!

OK, OK, Lin-Manuel! You got me! I finally picked up the book yesterday, and started reading. Slow reader that I am (the book’s 800-plus pages of small type pushed me away as much as anything), I’m on the third chapter now, and wow! He was right: This is a rap. I’m still in young Alexander’s shockingly difficult childhood in the Indies, and there’s nobody who ever came from meaner streets than he did. What a story.

So I’m really into it now. Fritz was right. So was Lin, who gave me the swift kick I needed…

To give you chills on a summer’s day: Ralph Stanley singing ‘O Death’

My old friend Richard Crowson, a bluegrass musician who is a master at picking anything with strings on it — would likely disown me for admitting this, but I pretty much knew nothing about Ralph Stanley before he died this week.

To give you who are similarly ignorant a little schooling, I share this:

He was a short, gaunt man in a white cowboy hat and gray suit, his features seemingly chipped from granite with a stony gaze to match. When he sang “O Death” at Wolf Trap in 2006 as part of the Great High Mountain Tour, Stanley’s scratchy high tenor made the Grim Reaper sound like an acquaintance of long standing. This traditional lament had revived his career when he sang it in the Coen brothers’ 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” but Stanley’s ghostly vocal made clear that the song was older than that movie, older than the whole history of talking movies.

Even in the 21st century, there was an echo in his voice of 19th-century mining and lumbering (his father worked in an old-fashioned sawmill) and of the 17th-century songs that immigrants from the British Isles brought to the Appalachian Mountains. It was in the southwest corner of Virginia, in Dickerson County under the shadow of Clinch Mountain, that Ralph Stanley was born on Feb. 25, 1927. Together with his brother Carter, two years older, Ralph learned the eerie harmonies of a cappella Sacred Harp singing in church and the spry rhythms of old-time string-band music at dances.

“Three groups really shaped bluegrass music,” Ricky Skaggs told me in 1998. “Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs. Everyone who came after them was just following in their footsteps. . . . Ralph’s still out there 150 dates a year; he’s the last of the giants still in action.”…

But he is in action no more. And this video sounded to me like a voice from Beyond when I listened to it over my coffee this morning.

What it does is profound. So I thought I’d share…

 

I really, REALLY don’t get jazz. Or at least, not jazz about Bernie and Hillary

There’s this jazz musician who has composed tunes about four presidential candidates. From a release I received about it:

Famous pianist Marcus Roberts recorded a song about Hillary Clinton as part of an EP of songs inspired by the candidates. Listen to at Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/hillary-clinton-election-marcus-roberts-jazz-pianist-430521

The song “It’s My Turn” comes off Roberts’ upcoming ‘Race for the White House’ EP, a nonpartisan set of songs about four presidential candidates: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Clinton. The New Yorker recently premiered the first track, “Feel the Bern”:http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/feeling-the-bern-in-g-minor

“All those meter and key changes symbolize constant evolution, and Hillary has certainly evolved from her early days in Arkansas,” Roberts says about the new song. “The song has a cool stability to it, reflecting her ability to change with time while maintaining her own quiet intensity and relentless purpose.”

Roberts will be on NPR Weekend Edition tomorrow talking about the project, and will debut the songs live at an upcoming residency at New York City’s Birdland, March 8-12. Let me know if you want to hear the other two songs about Trump and Carson.

* One of the most important jazz musicians of his generation, Roberts was recently profiled on 60 Minutes: https://vimeo.com/90518308

* More info and photos on Marcus Roberts: http://shorefire.com/client/marcus-roberts

How Mr. Roberts came up with Carson as the fourth, I don’t know — maybe he started the project when the surgeon was viable. Personally, I’d consider either Rubio or Cruz as more interesting characters to interpret musically.

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts

But that’s not my point. My point is that I’ve given the Sanders and Clinton compositions a listen — and I don’t dig them. I don’t mean I don’t like them — I’m neutral on that point — but “dig” in the sense of “get” or “grok” or “understand.”

In other words, I don’t see what the music has to do with either subject.

Oh, I’ve read the rationales — in words. This is an experience that reminds me of Tom Wolfe’s takedown of modern art, The Painted Word — the basic point of which was that art “had moved away from being a visual experience, and more often was an illustration of art critics’ theories.” In other words, you couldn’t get it by looking at it; you had to read the theory.

Well, I don’t see or feel either candidate when I hear these compositions, in any way, shape or form.

You?

Ed Madden’s post-flood poem

gervais street bridge

It was reported that Ed Madden, poet laureate of Columbia, read a poem at Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City speech last night.

I asked Ed to share, and here it is:

At the Gervais Street Bridge Dinner

18 October 2015

And here we all are, this golden hour
on the river; on a bridge between

two cities, a bowl of blue sky
and gold light above us, the brown water

below us, behind us, beyond,
the current beneath all our conversations,

and later the lanterns all coming on

*

J. says there was this woman, Rachel,
not really affected, but needed to do

something, needed to help–there, in his
neighborhood, clipboard in hand, she made

sure that everyone got what they needed
as the floods receded down the streets,

and people assessed what was left

*

Someone makes a toast–to the first
responders walking by, a downed policeman,

to people making their way together, finding
their feet, together. A mayor says the rivers

don’t divide us, they bring us together,
and with each toast we make–all of us

gathered at the long tables, the river
threading our conversations–with each toast

a gust of wings above us, a flyover of geese
following the river home, and in the dark,

the rough voices still singing

Andy Smith says his campaign is about Columbia’s future

Andy Smith

 

Andy Smith came in second behind Howard Duvall in Tuesday’s voting, but “we had such enthusiastic voters” that he’s optimistic about his ability to come out on top on Nov. 17.

The key, he said, is “keeping our base engaged,” and turning out people who maybe didn’t get out on Tuesday.

I asked him how he defined that base, and he said it included LGBT voters, the arts community, those 50 and under and young professionals. At this point, I told him, I was feeling a bit left out. Just kidding. (In fact, I should disclose that Andy and his wife, Kimi Maeda, are friends with my elder son and daughter-in-law.)ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

Since he mentioned LGBT folks first, I wondered — would his base be less motivated now that Cameron Runyan was out of it? He said he didn’t think so.

In fact, he emphasized that his campaign was far less about what this or that person had done in the past, and more about what Columbians together could do in the future.

“We’re the only campaign talking about ideas for the future,” he said. “We’re not negatively motivated; we’re actually the reverse.”

What does he mean by that? He cites the prediction by the Urban Land Institute — he was involved in ULI’s Reality Check two years ago — that the Midlands would grow by 500,000 people over the next three decades. He’s among those convinced that the way for that bigger city to be the kind we want to live in, it needs to attract both talented workers and successful entrepreneurs.

Although he didn’t put it this way, to some extent he meant people like himself.

Andy Smith grew up in Columbia, the son of a retired two-star Army general and the grandson of a brigadier. He went away to Swarthmore for his undergraduate degree, and did graduate work at UCLA. He came back home after an epiphany following the 2004 presidential election.

At the time, he was one of many “young, progressive people from the South” who “had all moved to the blue states.” After the election, he was looking at a map showing which states had gone for Bush and which for Kerry, and was struck by how divided the country was.

He decided he would no longer surround himself only with people who saw the world the way he did. He came home. “Places like Columbia are very special,” he said. Someone like him is “forced to interact with people who disagree with you all the time.” And he sees that as a good thing. “I moved back here determined that I’m just going to change the world.

Five years ago he became executive director of Nickelodeon Theater. The bio on his campaign website describes his tenure thusly:

Under his leadership, the Nickelodeon moved to the renovated Fox Theater in the heart of Columbia’s burgeoning Main Street, doubling its annual attendance and growing its budget to over $1 Million annually. Andy is also the founder and co-director of the Indie Grits Festival, named twice by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the “20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.” Columbia Business Monthly named Andy to its 2014 “50 Most Influential People” list and Free Times named him one of “50 People who Get Things Done” in 2015.

He sees his candidacy as a logical next step in helping build and maintain a livable community.

Some other things we talked about during our interview today at the Vista Starbucks:

  • What about his relationship with the mayor, since this runoff is being described as the Benjamin team (Smith and Bishop) versus the mayor’s detractors (Duvall and McDowell)? He sort of laughed as he said “The mayor is one of many people who have offered advice.” He has found that when you’re running for public office, a lot of people come out of the woodwork to offer such advice and aid, both “solicited and unsolicited.”
  • One of the key issues that has divided the mayor and Howard Duvall was the strong mayor initiative, which Duvall was instrumental in scuttling. He said that while be believes a community needs “strong leaders,” he doesn’t have strong opinions regarding what the best form of government might be. He did vote for the proposal, but he sees the form as less important than the quality of individual leaders.
  • Smith is half the age of Duvall, who is also a retired professional at running municipalities. Smith is unfazed by his opponent’s resume. Sure, Duvall is an expert on the nuts and bolts of running a town, but “We have a philosophical difference about the proper role of a council person.” Smith doesn’t think an elected councilman should be “getting involved in the nitty-gritty that you want staff to do.” A member of council should “think big,” concerning himself with policy rather than the minutiae of administration. “Retain talented people; let them do their jobs.” For his part, speaking of the Nickelodeon’s key role in transforming Main Street, “I have 10 years of experience actually turning our city around, and that’s the kind of experience we actually need on council.”
  • He noted that he was “talking about water and sewer before the flood,” based on personal experience. He and his wife live in the Earlwood neighborhood, and their tap water was brown, forcing them to drink bottled water from the grocery.
  • Like his opponent, he sees crime as a big issue, especially since he and his wife have been “awakened by gunshots” in their neighborhood. “Not feeling safe in your home is just terrible.” He believes it is essential to hire and retain the best people as first-responders.
  • He says the city has not done enough to take care of the good “things that make us unique — such as “our rivers, which we continue to dump sewage into.”
  • He sees the need for a citywide comprehensive cultural plan, which would help Columbia obtain grant money that would further develop the arts, making the city that much more attractive to the “creative class” that Richard Florida speaks of.

“I think we have all the pieces we need to be successful. So much has happened almost despite city council in the past.” He believes he can help provide the right leadership to keep the community moving forward.

Andy Smith 2

Arts advocates gear up to fight veto yet again

Back in the dark ages when The State and other papers were produced on a mainframe computer, the Atex system I used both here and in Wichita had something called “SAVE/GET” buttons. They enabled you to store simple, repetitive bits of copy — say, your byline — and insert them into a story with just one keystroke.

So whenever someone felt like he was having to write the same story over and over (a common feeling in the news biz), he’d say, “I need to put this on a SAVE/GET key.”

Well, I’m guessing that by now, the folks over at the Arts Alliance feel that way about their annual appeals to override Gov. Haley’s vetoes:

Miss Mona at the Statehouse

“ART WORKS in South Carolina”

REMINDER!

ARTS ADVOCACY CALL TO ACTION!

The vote takes place Monday, July 6.

Take a few minutes now to contact your legislators 

and ask them to override veto # 21.

 

The Governor has issued a veto eliminating 

$1 MILLION for Arts Education.

The House and Senate included $1 million in the S.C. Department of Education’s budget for a partnership with the S.C. Arts Commission. These funds are intended to provide more arts education for more children in more ways, including in-school, after-school and summer programs. These new efforts grew out of a long-term collaboration between the Dept. of Education and the Arts Commission.

TAKE ACTION NOW! The Legislature returns July 6 to take up vetoes. Email or call your House and Senate members and ask that they vote to override Veto # 21 to ensure that S.C. children, especially those in underserved, high poverty areas, have access to additional arts education opportunities.

Feel free to use the SCAA’s 2015 General Assembly Contact List by clicking HERE or at the SCAA’s websiteYou can also use these links: 

House

http://www.scstatehouse.gov/member.php?chamber=H

Senate

http://www.scstatehouse.gov/member.php?chamber=S

Please feel free to share this Call to Action with your friends and colleagues and through social media. Keep up with the latest budget activity and other important arts news by following the SCAA on Facebook and Twitter — just click our icons below!  Thank you!

SUPPORT THE SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS ALLIANCE!

Please take the time now to support the important work of the South Carolina arts Alliance as the only statewide advocacy organization that advocates for ALL the ARTS and we have a proven record of success!

Just go to:

www.scartsalliance.net and click the “Donate” button. You can pay on line at our secure web form or use it to indicate other forms of payment.  Your contribution is 100% tax deductible.   

 

Thank YOU for your support!

Betty Plumb, Executive Director
South Carolina Arts  Alliance

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Finlay Park tonight!

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Y’all, I’m planning to take in some Shakespeare in the park this evening, assuming I can stay up that late. I hope I see you there.

I had had no idea this was coming up before my wife mentioned it last night, e’en tho’ (you like that touch?), as a former cast member, you’d think I’d be in the loop. But I wasn’t.

They should ask me to do the publicity next time. I’d give ’em a real rip-snorter, along the lines of:

Shaksperean Revival!!!

Wonderful Attraction!

For One Night Only! The world renowned tragedians,

David Garrick the younger, of Drury Lane Theatre, London,

and

Edmund Kean the elder, of the Royal Haymarket Theatre, Whitechapel,
Pudding Lane, Piccadilly, London, and the Royal Continental Theatres, in
their sublime Shaksperean Spectacle entitled The Balcony Scene in

Romeo and Juliet!!!…

also:

(by special request,)

Hamlet’s Immortal Soliloquy!!

By the Illustrious Kean!

Done by him 300 consecutive nights in Paris!

For One Night Only,

On account of imperative European engagements!

Admission 25 cents; children and servants, 10 cents.

You know, full of sound and fury, signifying standing room only. That’s the way the Duke and the Dolphin did it — slap out a handbill and dare ’em to come on!

Of course, as good as those rates sound, tonight’s performance is even better: There’s no charge, although a hat is generally passed during intermission.

The play’s the thing: Help enrich the lives of Thai youth

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I mentioned yesterday about our plans to go visit our youngest daughter, who is in the Peace Corps in Thailand.

Today, I offer you the opportunity to help in one of the Peace Corps projects: The Thai Youth Theater Festival, a chance for kids in that country to attend “a three day festival of learning educational theater activities, developing their personal potential, and performing a performance for their audience in English.” The operative concepts being both cultural enrichment and becoming more conversant in English — which is helpful wherever you live in this world today.

I’ve chipped in, and if someone as tight-fisted as I am can do so, perhaps you will, too.

Anyway, here’s where you go to do so, if you’re willing to help out.

Columbia’s new poet laureate, Ed Madden

Hey, did you know that Columbia had a poet laureate? Neither did I. It’s a new thing.

In fact, it didn’t become official until after the governor’s people had ditched the state’s poet from the inauguration ceremony — although the city had apparently made the decision to create the office earlier.

There’s a release about it here.

Madden,Ed 2008

Ed Madden — 2008

Anyway, the city’s first-ever official poet is USC English prof Ed Madden. This caused me to quote Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf: “I know him!” Which is not something I can usually say about distinguished poets.

Ed was one of the first batch of eight Community Columnists we appointed back when I was first editorial page editor at The State, winning out over hundreds of competing entries in our contest. He and the others would write one column each a month for our op-ed page, for which we’d pay them a modest fee. Back in the days when there was money for such things.

So I knew he could write. I just didn’t know he did it in verse.

And you know what? The poem he read before the mayor’s State of the City speech last night is pretty good. Not to pick on Marjory Wentworth, but I think his piece was better than the one that she didn’t get to read at the Haley shindig. Having majored in history and journalism, I don’t have the words for explaining why that is, except to say that it strikes me as way literary and stuff.

Here it is:

A Story of the City

(for the 2015 State of the City Address by Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, 20 Jan 2015)

 

In the story, there is a city, its streets

straight as a grid, and in the east, the hills,

in the west, a river. In the story,

someone prays to a god, though we don’t

know yet if it is a prayer of praise

or a prayer for healing — so much depends

on this — his back to us, or hers, shoulders

bent. We hear the murmur of it, the urgency.

In the story a man is packing up

a box of things at a desk, a woman is sitting

in a car outside the grocery as if

she can’t bring herself to go in, not yet.

Or is the man unpacking, setting a photo

of his family on the desk, claiming it?

And is the woman writing a message to someone—

her sister maybe, a friend? In the story,

a child is reading, sunlight coming through

the window. In the story, the trees are thicker,

and green. In the story, a child is reading,

yes, and his father watches, uncertain

about something. There is a mother, maybe

an aunt, an uncle, another father. These things

change each time we open the book, start

reading the story over. Sometimes a story

about trees, sometimes about a city

of light, the city beyond the windows of a dark

pub, now lucent and glimmering. Or sometimes

a story about a ghost, his clothes threaded

with fatigue and smoke, with burning—you smell him

as he enters the room, and you wonder

about that distant city he fled, soot-shod,

looking back in falling ash at the past.

Sometimes it’s a story about someone

singing. Or someone signing a form, or speaking

before a crowd, or shouting outside a building

that looks important, if only for the flag there,

or the columns, or the well-kept lawn.

By now it’s maybe your story, and the child

is your child, or you, or maybe we’re telling

the story together, as people do, sitting

at a table in a warm room, the meal

finished, the night dark, a candle lit,

an empty cup left out for a prophet,

an empty chair, maybe, for a dead friend,

a room filled with words, filled with voices,

the living and the dead, someone telling

a story about the people we are meant to be.

 Ed Madden, Poet Laureate, City of Columbia

Above is video of him reading it. Click on this link to go straight to the poem.

The absence of SC’s poet laureate from inaugural

unnamed (10)

Sorry to repeat myself, but I find this digression from a previous thread sufficiently interesting for its own post.

M. Prince brought this story to my attention, asking, “Was it really a matter of too little time?”

Marjory Wentworth expected to read a poem Wednesday at her fourth gubernatorial inaugural, but South Carolina’s poet laureate has been silenced.

Marjory Wentworth

Marjory Wentworth

Gov. Nikki Haley’s inaugural committee turned down Wentworth’s words, saying there wasn’t time enough to read a poem during the inaugural. Wentworth was told she did not have a spot at the State House ceremony before her poem was finished and submitted to the governor’s office.

“While we appreciate Ms. Wentworth’s long service to South Carolina, the inaugural committee told her the 96th S.C. inaugural program — which, in part, celebrates our state’s rich culture — has been full for weeks,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said. “Scheduling constraints simply wouldn’t allow a poem to be read.”…

One doubts that it was just a lack of time. But if the organizers were trying to make a point by leaving her out, I don’t know what the point was.

Unless, even though they hadn’t seen her finished poem (which you can read here), they knew she was someone who might write:

Here, where the Confederate flag still flies
beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past,
conflicted about the future; at the heart
of it, we are at war with ourselves

Not very “It’s a great day in South Carolina!,” is it?

M. said maybe it was those lines. But he thought it was more likely these:

“at Gadsden’s Wharf, where 100,000
Africans were imprisoned within brick walls
awaiting auction, death, or worse.
Where the dead were thrown into the water,

and the river clogged with corpses
has kept centuries of silence.
It is time to gather at the water’s edge,
and toss wreaths into this watery grave.”

M. thought that maybe “somebody considered that sort of imagery too much a downer” for “the governor’s own great day in South Carolina.”

I responded that maybe we could persuade the organizers to invite Randy Newman to sing this at the inaugural.

Of course, that would depend on them completely missing the irony.

M. loved that idea, which shows we can agree on something.

On another subject, I had forgotten that we HAD a poet laureate. How does one run for that?

What do y’all think of her poem? It occurs to me that maybe the organizers are poetry snobs, the sort who sneer at Poe (not likely, but possible). Even to me, Ms. Wentworth’s imagery and messages seem too plain and obvious — too… prosaic — and lacking a bit in pretentious profundity. And I’m no poetry snob. I love Poe’s driving rhythm and rhyme.

But what do y’all think?

Haley also being nice to the arts this year

I saw I had an email the other day from the South Carolina Arts Alliance, and I figured, “Well, it’s about that time, when they’re gearing up to fight Nikki Haley’s budget.” I assumed this was the first of a series of increasingly frantic notices, as in 2012 and 2013.

So I didn’t actually look at the release until just now, as I was trying clean up my Inbox. And I saw this:

art advocates

Whoa.

I knew she was seeking to add funding for poor rural school districts, and boost spending on mental health, but now the arts?

I suppose the Democrats will call that election-year opportunism as well, but that raises the question: Is she right? Assume she’s being a complete opportunist here: Is the woman who road to power on the love of the Tea Party right when she now concludes that this is the way to get re-elected.

If so, when and how did this change in the SC electorate occur?

There’s another way for cynics and partisans to read it, of course — that Nikki believes she has the Tea Party sewn up, and she can afford to go fishing in the political center. But from what I’ve seen, if you don’t agree with those folks on everything, they don’t believe in you. Is there any fury like a Tea Party scorned?

The most interesting thing in all this is not what it does to Nikki Haley’s political future, but whether there has been an actual sea change in the electorate. And if there has been, what does it all mean, Mr. Natural?

Is this the original Shakespearean pronunciation?

When SC Shakespeare Company did “Pride and Prejudice” last year, we had a couple of diction coaches helping us with Received Pronunciation. Which was probably reasonably faithful to the way Austen’s characters would have spoken.

But when this company or any other wants to be true to the original productions of Shakespeare, how on Earth are they supposed to know how it should sound?

These guys say they know. And the folks who run The Globe apparently believe them. Whether they’re right or not, it’s an interesting piece.

Turns out that English accents sounded vaguely Scottish — or some other Gaelic variant. In any case, it doesn’t sound English to this modern ear.

I shot this while touring the new Globe in December 2010.

I shot this while touring the new Globe in December 2010.

If you love books, dig my tie

Recently some of you had disparaging things to say about traditional men's neckwear. Well, this should
turn you around — at least, it should win over those of you who have enjoyed our discussion of good books back on this post.

Both p.m. and I put pretty much anything Mark Twain wrote on our favorites list, and I doubt that we're alone.

Anyway, I acquired this cravat a couple of years ago — it was a Father's Day present that I sort of picked out myself. I had seen it in the gift shop of a museum/performance hall in Harrisburg, Pa. I don't know where you would find it closer than that. The label says "Museum Artifacts," which led me to find one on this Web site. Just don't wear it to any event I'm likely to attend, 'cause I found it first!

There's a tantalizing detail on this tie: One of the book covers at the bottom is of a book called Innocents at Home, which I had never seen or heard of, much less read. And I find few references to in on the Web, although Amazon does seem to have a line on A copy.

Something to add to my "to read" list, for sure — if I can get my hands on one. I loved Innocents Abroad.

Grooving on that way cool Obama poster

The other day, looking for art appropriate to go with this Inauguration Day editorial, I settled on the 
now-famous Shepard Fairey poster.

In preparing it for publication in PhotoShop, I happened to change my view to "actual pixels," and went, Whoa! I had no idea of the depth of texture in the image, having only seen photos of it on T-shirts, etc. It put me in mind of that guy in "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" who drove everybody nuts with his constant running comment on a mandala he was grooving on. That guy would really have gone to town over this Obama poster.

So I thought I'd show it to you this way, with some detailed blow-ups, so you can groove on it, too.

 

And should you want to get a little deeper, no need to drop any Owsley Blues. Just go to this site, which my friend Cheryl Levenbrown at The New York Times turned me on to, where you can create your very own Obama-like poster, to wit (no, it's not nearly as detailed, but it's fun):

Today’s Will column, with links

The George Will column I put on today's page is one of his oblique ones — the closest thing to a point in it is what I said in the headline, which is that in a National Endowment for Humanities project, of all places, Mr. Will seems to have found what he regards as "A government program worth the money."

But the column caused me to look up some of the artworks he describes, and I enjoyed doing that. Of course, I couldn't reproduce them on the page itself, but I can run the column here with links, to make it easier for you to look at them yourself. Enjoy:

By GEORGE F. WILL
The Washington Post
In Winslow Homer’s 1865 painting “The Veteran in a New Field,” a farmer, bathed in sunshine, his back to the viewer, his Union uniform jacket cast on the ground, harvests wheat with a single-bladed scythe. That tool was out of date, and Homer first depicted the farmer wielding a more modern implement. Homer then painted over it, replacing it with what evokes a timeless symbol of death — the grim reaper’s scythe. The painting reminds viewers how much Civil War blood was shed, as at Gettysburg, in wheat fields.
    Homer’s painting is one of 40 works of art that the National Endowment for Humanities is distributing, in 24-by-36-inch reproductions, with teaching guides, to all primary and secondary schools and libraries that ask for them. About one-third of them already have done so, according to Bruce Cole, the NEH’s chairman.
    So as Washington’s dreariest year in decades sags to an end — a year in which trillion-dollar improvisations that will debase the dollar have been bracketed by a stimulus that did not stimulate and a rescue that will prolong automakers’ drownings — at the end of this feast of folly, consider something rarer than rubies. It is a 2008 government program that costs next to nothing — $2.6 million this year; a rounding error in the smallest of the bailouts. And “Picturing America” adds to the public stock of something scarce — understanding of the nation’s past and present.
    The 40 works of art include some almost universally familiar ones — John Singleton Copley’s 1768 portrait of a silversmith named Paul Revere; Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware”; Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bronze relief sculpture “Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment Memorial” on Boston Common. But “Picturing America” is not, Cole takes pains to insist, “the government’s ‘top 40.’ ” Forty times 40 other selections of art and architecture could just as effectively illustrate how visual works are revealing records of the nation’s history and culture, and how visual stimulation can spark the synthesizing of information by students.
    The colorful impressionism of Childe Hassam’s flag-filled painting “Allies Day, May 1917” captures America’s waxing nationalism a month after entry into World War I. And it makes all the more moving the waning of hope captured in Dorothea Lange’s 1936 photograph “Migrant Mother.” This haunting image of a destitute 32-year old pea picker, a mother of seven, is a springboard into John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.
    One of the 40 images in “Picturing America” is more timely than Cole could have suspected when the project was launched in February. It is a photograph of Manhattan’s Chrysler Building.
    Built between 1926 and 1930 — between the giddy ascent of the ’20s stock market and the Crash — this art deco monument to the might of America’s automobile industry is decorated with motifs of machines and streamlining. There are winged forms of a Chrysler radiator cap; an ornamental frieze replicates a band of hubcaps. The stainless steel of the famous spire suggests the signature of the automobile industry in its salad days — chrome.
    To understand the animal spirits that drove New York’s skyscraper competition — the Chrysler Building was the world’s tallest for less than a year, until the Empire State Building was completed 202 feet higher — is to understand an era. Two eras, actually — the one that built the building, and ours, which has reasons to be reminded of the evanescence of seemingly solid supremacies.
    After seven years of service, Cole, the longest-serving chairman in the 43-year history of the NEH, is leaving to head the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge. America has thousands of museums, including the Studebaker National Museum (South Bend, Ind.), the Packard Museum (Dayton, Ohio) — yes, Virginia, there was a time when automobile companies were allowed to perish — the Hammer Museum (Haines, Alaska), the Mustard Museum (Mount Horeb, Wis.), and the Spam Museum (Austin, Minn.) featuring the sort-of-meat, not the Internet annoyance. There is, however, no museum devoted to the most important political event that ever happened, here or anywhere else — the American Revolution.
    Cole says there will be one, at Valley Forge. It will be built mostly by private money, for an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the sum of public money currently being lavished on corporations. Perhaps a subsequent iteration of “Picturing America” will feature a thought-provoking photograph of the gleaming towers that currently house, among other things, General Motors’ headquarters. Looming over Detroit’s moonscape desolation, the building is called the Renaissance Center. Really.

Write to Mr. Will at georgewill@washpost.com.