Remembering Clifford

October 30, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Clifford Brown, the brilliant jazz trumpet player, would have been 89 today. He died at the age of 25 in an automobile accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It’s a poignant irony that one of his earliest jazz recording dates was with J.J. Johnson and included J.J.’s tune “Turnpike.”

Here is his best-known tune and recording — “Joy Spring.” Learning to play Brownie’s solo  (you can follow along with the transcription below) is part of the education of any serious jazz trumpet player. Ask Fabio.

After Brownie’s death, Benny Golson wrote a tune in tribute, “I Remember Clifford.” It is part of the repertoire of every trumpeter. Every trumpeter. There’s an old jazz joke:

A small combo — rhythm section and trumpet — has a gig, and at the last minute the trumpet player has to bow out. So they quickly get the first trumpeter they can find. The guy shows up with his horn, and as they’re talking about what they might play, he says that he only knows three tunes.
That’s OK, they say (they’re desperate). We can play them in different keys and different tempos, and somehow we’ll get through the night. What are the tunes?

“The Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and “I Remember Clifford.”

Not All Small-Town, Working-class Business Owners

October 22, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Cone-E Island, Catskill, NY last Saturday.

(Click for a larger view.)

The sign says Fall Hours are 12 to 9 p.m. (you can read it if you click to expand the picture), but even though this was a beautiful autumn day, Cone-E Island was closed.

“Wanna buy it?” called out a raspy voice. As I was taking pictures, a pick-up truck had driven up and stopped. The driver was a man of sixty or so, fat and wearing a t-shirt. I walked over and asked the obvious question. “Three-fifty,” the man said.

A chocolate brown dog that looked to be part pit bull poked her nose through the half-open window and sweetly licked my offered hand. “Her name’s Mocha.”

Catskill is changing. Once a working-class town, it now has a tattoo parlor, a micro-brewery with its own beer garden, stores selling quirky things like LPs or old film cameras from the 1950s. Artisans priced out of Brooklyn are moving to the area. The New York Restaurant on Main street serves truffle Parmesan Brussels sprouts and salmon with miso honey, ginger steamed rice, and blistered edamame.

Mr. Cone-E Island had owned other businesses in the area. He seemed like the epitome of the working-class Joe trying to make it on his own rather than work for someone else. I thought about him again two days later when the Times ran an op-ed by Florida journalist Darlena Cunha about how the impeachment story is playing in her state.

Working-class Republicans in Alachua County see Donald Trump as a white businessman who made a lot of money. They like to think that could be them. The only thing standing in the way of achieving that dream, they tell me, are policies that elevate people of color, immigrants and poor people without health care. In their eyes, Mr. Trump is a patriotic man doing the best he can, and those who go against him are traitors to the country.

Although Trump is rich and these Republicans are not, they still identify with him because they are thwarted by the same forces. They have the same enemies.

Republicans here can equate these “witch hunts” to things that have happened to them in their own lives. Just like they, unfairly, have not been able to move up in the world, so too is Mr. Trump, unfairly, being hunted down, his words and motives twisted to suit the needs of that same enemy. The investigations only strengthen their kinship with him.

I wasn’t in central Florida. But Mr. Cone-E Island’s girth, his dog, his pick-up truck — I wondered if he had gun in the cab — plus the demographic (older, White, male, small town) all suggested that I shouldn’t be swinging the conversation to politics. I’d stick to business. “This town is going upscale,” I said. “In a couple of years . . . .”

“By then it’ll be four-fifty,” he said, then added, “if this idiot doesn’t ruin the whole economy.” He went on. He wondered how many millions of our tax dollars went to Trump’s golfing trips, to the floors of Trump tower the government had to rent from Trump. “Trump's a businessman.” I said. I was going to add, “like you,” but I didn’t have to.

“What kind of businessman,” he said. “He stiffs his supplies, his contractors, his creditors.”  He could have gone on.

Well Mocha, I thought, I guess we’re not in Kansas. Or Florida.

No More Nigels

October 21, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Calvin Trillin once proposed that Americans and the English have a name exchange. English people would start naming their kids things like Sonny and LeRoy. American babies would be Cyril or Cedric.
“Think of how proud the English would be on the first year that every single linebacker in the National Football League all-star team is named Nigel.”
Trilling wrote this a while ago, and the NFL still has no Nigels. But neither does English professional soccer. Well, there might be one — Nigel Roe-Coker, a midfielder who Wikipedia identifies as currently a “free agent.”

Don’t look for Nigels to start popping up on British rosters any time in the future. In 2016 in the UK, no babies were named Nigel. None. In 2017, there were eleven, and last year, eight. You can still find Nigels walking around in England, but they are getting long in the tooth. Brexiteer Nigel Farage, probably the best known, is 55. And while there are no footballer Nigels, elsewhere in sport, over at the snooker table, you’ll find Bond, Nigel Bond, though his ranking has fallen to 99th and he’s roughly the same age as Farage.

This quintessentially English name has gone the way of the shilling and half-crown. And as with other names that have fallen from favor, it’s very hard to say how or why.

Quote TK

October 19, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Peter Navarro is an economist who now works in the White House as an adviser on trade. You can find his books in the non-fiction section of the bookstore, though that label may now include an asterisk.

In his 2011 book Death By China, Navarro quotes an expert on China, Ron Vara, on how nasty and dangerous the Chinese are as trading partners: “Only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath, a baby crib into a lethal weapon, and a cellphone battery into heart-piercing shrapnel.”

It’s a great quote. The only problem is that Ron Vara is fictional.  Navarro made him up (the name is an anagram of Navarro). Ron Vara has made appearances in other Navarro books. I haven’t read these, but I would guess the purpose is the same — to include a really strong quote, so strong that for Navarro to acknowledge it as his own would reveal him as a very biased non-fiction writer.

Navarro claims it’s all in good fun, a “whimsical device.” Honest journalists who play by the rules see it as “making stuff up” or more simply “lying.”

But what Navarro did is not all that different from the legitimate journalisitic technique of searching out someone who will give you the quote you want, the quote that expresses your own views but that you can legitimately attribute to someone else. “Quote TK” (quote to come) in the draft of a story means that the writer needs a little more time to find someone who will express a particular opinion. Honest writers may have to go deep into their contact list, but eventually they usually get something usable.

Navarro’s method of making stuff up has great advantages over honest non-fiction writing:
  • It results in quotes that are much sharper and that are guaranteed to express precisely the opinions you want expressed
  •  It’s much less work.
  •  And as the NPR story notes, it’s perfectly compatible with the current occupants of the White House.

Hypocrisy and Intended Consequences

October 17, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s one thing to be puzzled, surprised, or dismayed by unintended consequences. But when the consequences are intended, those reactions are either self-delusion or flat-out hypocrisy.

Yesterday, a boxer died of brain injuries a few days after his opponent scored a tenth-round knockout. (I’m not going to go into the details. You can read some of them here.)

An AR-15 rifle is designed to kill a lot of people in a few seconds. Most people who own an AR-15 do not use it for that purpose, so we pretend to be surprised when a civilian does use the weapon to do what it was designed to do. We ask, how could such a thing happen?

Most boxing matches do not end in death or serious brain damage. But the goal of boxing, unlike that of other sports, is to pound the other person into unconsciousness, usually by hitting them in the head with as much force as possible. Sometimes boxers suffer brain injury. Sometimes they die. And as with guns, we pretend to be surprised and dismayed when the outcome of the boxing match is precisely what the sport was designed to do. 

Philip Rieff — Moralist and Plagiarist

October 15, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the 1960s, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist by Philip Rieff was an important book.

The original paperback edition. I have added the
red asterisk for a reason discussed below.

Freudian ideas were still influential back then, not just in clinical psychology but more generally in liberal intellectual and academic circles. University bookstore shelves were stacked with required books like Eros and Civilization (Marcuse), Love’s Body (N.O. Brown), Childhood and Society (Erikson), heavily steeped in Freud, along with Civilization and Its Discontents.

Now, an article by Len Gutkin in the latest Chronicle questions the authorship of Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. The subhead asks “Did Susan Sontag’s husband steal credit for her first book?” The husband in question is Philip Rieff. They met when Rieff was teaching at the University of Chicago. She was seventeen, an undergraduate. He was 28. They married ten days later. The marriage lasted eight years.

Sontag as the author of the book is not a new idea. I’d first heard this rumor in 1966 when I was a graduate student at Penn, where Rieff taught the required course on theory. Most of us were willing to accept the rumor. As Benjamin Moser, whose recent book on Sontag is the source for the information in the Chronicle piece, says (here).

In his department at Penn, colleagues and students who saw past the presumptuous veneer that overlaid his interactions with them came away with the impression that there was something unearned about his eminence. The slum kid who dressed like a British grandee had something of the scam artist about him.

Moser got it right. “Presumptous veneer . . .  Dressed like a British grandee” and with an undertaker’s lack of color — charcoal gray or black suits, double breasted or with a vest, shirt always white, necktie solid, striped, or patterned but always gray. As one of my professors at Brandeis said (Reiff had been on the faculty there), “all so that nobody would think he was Rieff the butcher’s son from Chicago.”

And then there was the comb-over. A broad ribbon of hairs carefully drawn across the front of his forehead to the other side, never quite covering the baldness just behind them.

He told us that he did not want to be the students’ “friend” — he said the word as though he were holding a worm at arms length — not that there was any chance of that. His lectures were uninterrupted monologues with many names dropped in — Saint-Simon, Le Maistre, Aristotle, and on and on —  to show his erudition and our lack of it. Sometimes I would keep a list, writing down each name as Rieff dropped it, just to keep my mind from wandering.*

Most of the lectures were talking versions of parts of the book he was working on. The Triumph of the Therapeutic, which Gutkin calls, “a dyspeptic polemic against modernity in the guise of a study of post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory.” Rieff seemed to think that his ideas were original and brilliant. The thing is that on those occasions when he would talk in depth about a specific book or social theorist — no name dropping, none of his own pet terms or coinages — he was actually good. I transferred after my first year.

So did Sontag write the book? The Chronicle headline seems like another example of Betteridge’s Law, which says (I’m amending it slightly) that when an article headline is in the form of a question, the author wants you to think that the answer is Yes, but the more accurate answer is No.

But in this case, the author seems ambivalent, and the correct answer is mostly Yes. My impression is that Rieff had accumulated notes and fragments over the years, including the years before he met Sontag, but it was Sontag, still in her early twenties, who organized the material, added her own thoughts and sources that Rieff had not considered, and did the actual writing. Moser suggests that Sontag, in the acrimonious divorce negotiations, gave up any claims to authorship in return for Rieff giving up any custody claims on their son.

Freud: The Mind of the Moralist was the basis for Rieff’s career. A year or two after it was published, he was offered a position at Penn, where he stayed till he retired. The Times obit  refers to the title as “paradoxical” because Freud’s ideas “ had a corrosive effect on Western morality and culture.” The other paradox — or is it irony? — is that is that a man so apparently concerned with morality and its corrosion would put his name on a book written by someone else. 

* The Times obit had a slightly different take on Rieff’s lectures: “Dr. Rieff often dazzled and occasionally puzzled students with multilayered but always authoritative lectures that blended philosophy, theology, economics, history, literature, psychology and dashes of poetry and Plato like ingredients in a sociological mulligatawny.”

Art Blakey Centennial

October 11, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Art Blakey, the great jazz drummer, was born one hundred years ago today in Pittsburgh.

There are only two drummers who I could identify in a blindfold test. Art Blakey is one of them. The other is Max Roach, who said of Blakey:

Art was an original. He’s the only drummer whose time I recognize immediately. And his signature style was amazing; we used to call him ‘Thunder.’ When I first met him on 52d Street in 1944, he already had the polyrhythmic thing down. Art was the perhaps the best at maintaining independence with all four limbs. He was doing it before anybody was. And he was a great man, which influenced everybody around him. [quoted in the Times obituary, October 1990]

He kept the Jazz Messengers going for thirty-five years. He would find talented young players who would, in a couple of years, become famous (well, jazz-famous) and go off on their own (Wynton Marsalis joined the group when he was seventeen). Blakey would then replace them with new talent, and the cycle would repeat.

His best-known album is probably “Moanin’”, released in 1959, an incredibly rich year for jazz. (See the daily entries at The 1959 Project . The video below begins with one of the tunes from that album, not the best-known — that distinction goes to the title tune by pianist Bobby Timmons — but “Along Came Betty” by the sax player Benny Golson, who wrote many other tunes for the Messengers and basically functioned as the group’s musical director. The video is from 1988 with a completely different cast, except for Blakey.

As the tune ends (at about 7:00), Blakey takes a one-minute drum solo followed by “I Get a Kick Out of You” in the rhythmically complicated Clifford Brown - Max Roach arrangement from 1954 with a minute and a half of pure Blakey at the end.

Health and Self-Denial — The (Coastal) American Ideology

October 9, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

As an undergrad, I took Deviance with Irv Zola, a wonderful man whose main research area was medical sociology. The two topics were related, he said. In his Medical course, he asked the students to keep health journals where they would make note of any health-related matters in their own lives. What he found was that students often framed their health in terms of morality. They got sick because they had done something wrong or had failed to do what was right.

I was reminded of this when I read this passage from Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay “Why I’m Giving Up on Preventative Care” (here).*

Most of my educated, middle-class friends . . . undertook exercise or yoga regimens; they filled their calendars with upcoming medical tests and exams; they boasted about their “good” and “bad” cholesterol counts, their heart rates and blood pressure. Mostly they understood the task of aging to be self-denial, especially in the realm of diet.

In matters of health, and especially food, we are puritanical moralists. If we stick to our vows of health-chastity, if we steadfastly resist temptation, we will be rewarded with eternal life, or at least very long life.

But who is “we”? Ehrenreich seems to think that it’s the people Joseph Henrich in 2009 (here) labeled as WEIRD — Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic.

In the health-conscious mind-set that has prevailed among the world’s affluent people for about four decades now, health is indistinguishable from virtue, tasty foods are “sinfully delicious,” while healthful foods may taste good enough to be advertised as “guilt-free.” Those seeking to compensate for a lapse undertake punitive measures like fasts, purges, or diets composed of different juices carefully sequenced throughout the day.

Even a quick glance around the country will tell you that in wide swaths of the geographical and social territory, this abstemious ethos has not taken root. For decades, some restaurants have advertised All You Can Eat. At Applebee’s (and lots of other places) when it comes to fatty fatty foods, gluttony is a virtue.

In other WEIRD cultures, even the cosmopolitan elite may not conflate pleasure and sin. Foods which in the US are “sinfully delicious” may be merely delicious elsewhere. France for instance. In a 2013 post (here) on “Guilty Pleasures,”  I compared the pastry scene in the Judd Apatow film “This is 40” with a similar scene in the the French film “Cousin Cousine.”

In both films, the overload of desserts is a guilty pleasure, but in the French movie the emphasis is almost entirely on the pleasure, while the American film focuses on the guilt. The French lovers slowly feed each other one dessert after another; the scene is almost erotic. But Pete and Debbie [in the American film] seem like children, giggling and trying to eat as much as they can before they get caught. Both scenes mingle sex and pastry, but in the French movie the common theme is sensuality; “This Is 40” plays both for laughs.

Unfortunately, I cannot find even a still shot from “Cousin Cousine,” but here is the scene from “This Is 40.”

The whole film in fact is an exposition of the mindset that Ehrenreich identifies. No sugar, no gluten, a personal trainer, less screen time, salads without dressing, tofu. In scene after scene the film shows how difficult it is to keep to this regime. That’s the basis for most of its humor. But neither the characters nor the film itself can abandon the notion that self-denial is the ideal.

* Ehrenreich’s essay appeared at Literary Hub in April 2018, but I just found it yesterday, probably via a Twitter link. I cannot remember what the tweet was about, nor do I have any idea why the essay appeared at LitHub, a Website devoted mostly to fiction, poetry, and literary criticism.

$350K — Still Just Enough For the City

October 2, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

MarketWatch is taking some flak on Twitter and elsewhere for this story:

Here’s what should have been the pull-quote:
The thing is, that kind of income, while relatively huge, is barely enough, according to Dogen, for a family to lead a comfortable life in coastal counties — where almost half of the nation’s population calls home.
One reader of this blog reminded me that I’d posted something about this nine years ago, complete with a parody verse based on Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” That 2010 post was occasioned by a Chicago law professor’s complaint that he could barely get by on his current income, which was probably a bit more than $350,000. (The original post is here.)

Coming In In the Middle

October 2, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I said that up until the 1950s, it wasn’t uncommon that moviegoers would come into the theater halfway through the film. After The End, they could stay in their seats, wait for the movie to start again — after the previews, newsreel, and cartoon — and, when the film reached the part they’d already seen, leave.

It’s hard to imagine now, when everyone is in their seat by the time the feature starts. (A very few people may be late but only by a couple of minutes.) The only historical evidence I could offer was Roger Angell’s memoir Let Me Finish. As a twelve-year old, Angell would go to the movie theater right after school, and it was rare that the movie showtimes coincided with school dismissal.

There’s also this: Danny Kaye’s big breakthrough came in his first film, “Up in Arms,” in 1944. His tour de force in that movie became known as “The Lobby Number.” Kaye and friends are in the lobby of a large movie theater, and he tries to dissuade them from going in to see the musical they’d come for. These musicals are all alike, he says, and launches a parody of the genre, starting with the credits and the MGM lion’s roar. It’s Kaye at his manic best. After about five minutes, as he is singing an up-tempo song, he stops suddenly and says calmly,
So here we are, back in Fresno, California.
And this is where you came in.
But do not fret my friend.                                                           
[singing] This is a picture that ends in the middle
For the benefit of the people who came in in the middle.
This, this is the end.
You can hear the whole thing. Or just push the slider to 5:10.*

If you can base the final joke on the idea of people walking into the theater when the film is halfway through, it must have been, as we now say, “a thing.”

*There’s a YouTube clip (here) from the movie itself, and it gives you a better sense of the context for The Lobby Number. Unfortunately, the clip ends before the final line.

This Is Where We Came In

October 1, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Here’s a bit of cultural history — movie history — that you’re probably not aware of, even if you’re a cineaste (unless, perhaps, if you’re a cineaste who’s eligible to collect Social Security). It’s about what a movie is, or more accurately, it’s about the place movies occupy in our social and cultural lives.

When you go to the movies, it’s annoying when people arrive after the film has started. They crabwalk to their seats as everyone else in that row knee-twists to one side to let them by without spilling the popcorn. Even if you’re not in that row, your focus is unavoidably drawn away from what’s happening on the screen and toward the latecomers. It doesn’t happen often, what with the twenty minutes of trailers, and besides nobody wants miss any of the film.

But it hasn’t always been that way. It wasn’t until the mid- to late-1950s (just a guess, I have no actual historical data) that things began to change. Before that, it was not unusual for moviegoers to arrive well into the picture. In his memoir Let Me Finish, Roger Angell, who was born in 1920 and grew up in New York City, writes that when he was twelve or so, he started regularly ditching his after-school recreation program and sneaking off to the movies.

Mostly, I would turn up at the Orpheum or the 86th Street Garden while the second feature was in progress . . . Walking into the middle of movies was the common American thing during the double-feature era, and if one stayed the course, only minimal mental splicing was required to reconnect the characters and the plot of the initial feature when it rolled around again. The absence of the double bill has done away with this knack and has also expunged “I think this is where we came in” from the language — a better phrase, all in all, than “déjà vu,” and easier to pronounce.

I had forgotten. But reading that paragraph opened a childhood memory — not detailed and Proustian, just a moment in the dark theater with my family, hearing my mother or father whisper, “This is where we came in, isn’t it?” and all of us getting up and making our way out.

Why did things change? Angell blames it on the demise of the double-feature, and he implies that latecoming occurred mostly in the B-movie,* usually an uninspired genre picture. But I would guess that the norm of tolerating latecoming spanned the entire program, even when only one picture was on the bill (though that bill also included one or two previews, a newsreel, and a cartoon).

Here’s another guess for why mid-movie arrival was common: television, or rather the absence of television. Today, movies are special. They have had to keep one step ahead of TV. When TV was black-and-white, movies had color. Even today, movies have sex, violence, and language not allowed on broadcast TV. And even cable can’t produce the sound and screen size of the movies or, until very recently, the special effects and high-priced actors.

Before the mid-1950s, movies occupied some of the space now taken by television — everyday, ordinary entertainment. Today, in our homes we might turn on the TV to “see what’s on television,” not to see a particular show at a particular time. If it’s ten past the hour and we turn on the TV mid-program, that’s OK. (This was even more the case in the years before on-demand and the DVR.)

The movies were like that in the pre-television decades. People were less picky about what they saw. They often went “to the movies” rather than to a particular movie, especially if there was only one theater nearby.  And if they didn’t get to the theater exactly on time, that was OK.

It’s not that television allowed movies to become Art rather than Entertainment. Most people at the tenplex today aren’t thinking of what they’re seeing in terms of artistic categories. But even if movies are still entertainment, they fit into people’s lives in a way that’s different from that of the 1930s and 40s. And different as well are are the norms of going to the movies.


* I once asked my students if they’d seen or heard of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie.” Several people raised their hands. Then I asked them if they understood the double meaning in the title. Nobody raised a hand.