Considering these precursors, a debate has arisen about which country spawned the earliest fascist movement. France is a frequent candidate. Russia has been proposed. Hardly anyone puts Germany first. It may be that the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American: the Ku Klux Klan… The Klan constituted  an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe. It should not be surprising, after all, that the most precocious democracies – the United States and France – should have generated precocious backlashes against democracy.

Robert Paxton, “The Anatomy of Fascism”.

Posted in History, Notebook, Politics, Race, US politics | Tagged , ,


“And as I laughed I thought: ‘Dead right!’” Diana Athill, 96, on how we think about our own mortality.

Subsidized by the State, French newspapers are losing money faster than you can say “Existentialism”.

Nicotine and sweat and songs from the dancefloor:  Richard Williams on a new film about Northern Soul.

Posted in Journalism, Music | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Scottsboro Boys revisited

scottsboro boys show pic

My Sunday Times feature [£] on how  the Kander & Ebb musical draws on the tortured history of minstrelsy:

As a young man, Kander had directed blackface shows at a summer camp in Wisconsin. The whole point of using minstrelsy to tell the Scottsboro story, he says, was that it gave him and Ebb a means of examining the hypocrisies and double standards of the era. “The minstrel show is such a dead thing that using it as a form became a solution. What struck me was all these old Stephen Foster-type songs were written by white men to be sung by blackface white men to a white audience. They were all about missing life on the plantation. What a total fraud that was.”

Not everyone was convinced the show hit its target. One scathing review came from The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, biographer of Louis Armstrong. While he praised “one of the best-staged productions ever to come to Broadway”, he had nothing but scorn for “a nightly act of collective self-congratulation in which the right-thinking members of the audience preen themselves complacently at the thought of their own enlightenment”.

Perhaps the truth is that, even today, we are still struggling to come to terms with the legacy of minstrelsy. Spike Lee provoked no end of controversy in 2000 with Bamboozled, a raw, unflinching satire on the TV industry featuring a blackface variety show that becomes an unlikely ratings hit. One of Lee’s spoof TV ads even raised the awkward question of whether gangsta rap videos recycle the same unsavoury imagery that kept minstrel shows in business for so many decades.

Posted in Music, Race, Theatre | Tagged , , , , ,

When Tony met Gaga

And this is me in the Sunday Times [also £], trying to see the bright side of the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga collaboration.

bennett gaga review

The case for the defence is laid out in full in this Jazz Wax post, which argues that Gaga reaches the parts that most performers can’t:

While this partnership between an 88-year-old jazz and pop icon and a 28-year-old phenomenon is the merging of two fascinating recording artists and performers, this is also about jazz’s cultural longevity. And the approach is really quite radical: to preserve jazz, you don’t need to sell it like soap or dress up in suits and ties; you merely have to expose more young people to it through high-profile ambassadors who love it and want to share the passion. The music will do the rest.

Posted in Music | Tagged , ,


“For every working journalist in America there are now 4.6 PR people.” The FT on the blurring of the line between news and public relations.

Now that he is 80, Leonard Cohen has started smoking again. Should the elderly stop playing safe? (And what is elderly anyway?)

Pamela Geller strikes again: anti-Islamic advertisements to appear on New York City buses.

Posted in Journalism, Middle East, Music | Tagged , , , , , ,

Creole Love Call

The brilliant Leyla McCalla, sometime member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, digs into her Haitian roots on a number from “Vari-Colored Songs”, one of my favourite recordings of 2013.

Posted in Music | Tagged , ,


Scott Fitzgerald (Katy dos Passos told me this). Man who wrote that he modeled his life on Scott and his writings. Didn’t come to dinner and they waited for him till ten-thirty, when he appeared, absolutely plastered, said Mishter-Fishgerald-Thishishhonour! and collapsed on couch. There he lay – my creation! His wife had hysterics and they got her to lie down – when they came back, he had disappeared – wife alarmed, they searched house – but he had gone away, overcome by shame, leaving car, which it took seven men to get out of the mire.

Edmund Wilson, “The Thirties”.

Posted in History, Literature, Notebook | Tagged , ,

The next generation

israeli children

Israeli children playing by the cement protection walls around the kindergarten in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. [Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP]

Posted in Middle East, Photography | Tagged ,

Trying to talk, trying to listen

One reason I hardly ever eat out in London – apart from the cost – is that I can’t remember the last time I sat in a restaurant that wasn’t unbearably noisy.  (Actually, yes I can –  The Gay Hussar about six years ago. Seemed pricey to me, but I wasn’t paying.) Future generations will look back and wonder if we’d all gone mad. Why would you be happy to pay a ridiculous amount of money to sit in a room where you can barely hear the person across the table? At last, at long last, a food critic has lost patience too. Kudos to Jay Rayner in the Observer:

In the closing years of her life my late mother, who once loved restaurants, came to despair of them. Her hearing was failing and the spaces that were once ideal for banter and gossip became the enemies of such. Restaurants, it transpired, are mostly designed by young people with no understanding of acoustics; who think hard surfaces and polished concrete are easy on the eye, regardless of how cruel they are to the ear. The crash and clatter of self-regarding modern restaurant design managed what almost no one and nothing else could: they rendered my mother silent…What’s wrong with a bit of carpet? And maybe the odd curtain? A low ceiling and a bit of enclosed booth seating wouldn’t go amiss either. I hate the fact that some people are missing my wittiest lines over dinner simply because of crap design.

Posted in Architecture, London | Tagged , , ,

Waiting for Tony Bennett

waiting for tony bennett

Royal Festival Hall, last night.

Posted in Music, Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,