Günter Grass RIP

From the closing pages of his memoir, “Peeling the Onion”

gunter grass quote

PS: And then, of course,  there was the young man who wore a uniform a decade earlier:  “The moral blindness of Gunter Grass”

This NYT piece by Grass’s friend, John Irving, is worth reading too.

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One to the heart

Remember her name. My album of the week in today’s Sunday Times [£]:  Indra Rios-Moore’s “Heartland”.

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How to be a pundit

From Oliver Burkeman’s interview with David Brooks, Obama’s favourite conservative and occupant of one of the uppermost perches at New York Times:

Thus Brooks mounted the treadmill of finding two opinions per week to air in the nation’s most influential paper, despite describing himself as someone who finds it hard to generate opinions on demand. He says: “I once had lunch with a prominent American columnist – I won’t say who – and I asked: ‘What’s your next column about?’ He pulled out an index card from his wallet, and the next 13 columns were on there. I wanted to take my knife and ram it into his neck.”

[Via Toby Harnden]

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Sathnam Sanghera [£] on the Oxbridge tutorial and the art of blagging:

Though, of course, the third and most serious problem with the Oxbridge tutorial system is that it does not nurture intelligence as much as teach people how to act intelligently. The reality is that most undergraduates arrive at tutorials at a time of day when they are usually asleep, invariably hung over and have not done enough reading or writing. And what three years at Oxford or Cambridge really teaches them, unless they are doing a proper degree in medicine or in the sciences or in engineering, is how to blag their way through an intellectual challenge.

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sinatra friedwald book

One ex-acquaintance of mine – an ultra-hip New Yorker – once told me, in all seriousness, that she refused to listen to Frank Sinatra because he wore a toupee. (For more on that famous artefact, see Gay Talese.) I couldn’t quite get to grips with her argument, but merely made a mental note that she seemed to have no problem with Madonna’s conical bra. The sad truth, I suppose, is that a lot of people who know nothing about Sinatra’s music know an awful lot about his private life.  His reputation gets in the way of the songs. I’m not sure why. My only advice to those who haven’t yet seen the light is to read Adam Gopnik’s brief essay in The New Yorker. He goes a tad over-the-top when he says there are no second-rate songs on the Capitol recordings – there certainly are, and there’s no question that some of the non-Nelson Riddle, non-Billy May arrangements sound slushy and over-ripe to modern ears. Oh, and I think the Paris ’62 concert is a better place to start than Australia, 1959. (The DVD from London, ’62, is essential viewing too, as I’ve said before.) But those are quibbles. Gopnik’s main point stands: “The truth is that you only get Sinatra if you break free from the pop sociology that infests his reputation and just listen.” True, true, true.

And once you’ve got the bug, track down a copy of Will Friedwald’s musical biography, “Sinatra! The Song Is You”.

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Spin doctoring

And so the election campaign begins.


Pic via @JohnFugelsang

Posted in Film, UK politics | Tagged ,

Remembering Saul Bellow

Is it true that “many people under the age of 50″ have barely heard of him? Lee Siegel, a devout admirer, certainly hopes a new biography will open doors to a new audience. His essay is over-long and maddeningly self-indulgent at times, but it has its moments. This one, for instance. You’d have thought Bellow and one of his most famous British admirers would have a lot in common. Seems not:

Several months after his death in April 2005, at the age of 89, I attended his memorial service, which was held at the 92nd Street Y. [Bellow’s agent Andrew] Wylie had organized it himself. He clearly wanted to use the occasion to rehabilitate Bellow and bring him back to the centre of the American literary pantheon — not to mention selling off that backlist. But there was a coldness and emptiness to the occasion. None of Bellow’s sons spoke. Bellow’s oldest friends, some of whom were still alive, did not appear onstage. No Stanley Crouch, whose friendship Bellow had cherished. Some of the prominent authors Wylie had invited to speak had either never met Bellow or barely knew him.

That afternoon, I found myself sitting next to a predictably drunk Christopher Hitchens, who whispered to me, “I should be up there,” despite the fact that when Martin Amis had introduced him to Bellow, Hitchens immediately drew Bellow into a nasty debate about Israel. Bellow loathed him. By the logic of the memorial’s sad axial lines, though, I guess Hitchens was right. He should have been up there.

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Album of the week

“Her finest yet.” I review Bella Hardy’s “With the Dawn” in today’s Sunday Times [£].  Sounds like a masterpiece to me. Here’s the first single.


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Quote of the day

Courtesy of .

Then they came for Katie Hopkins, and I did not speak out – I merely showed them where she was hiding.

Bad taste, yes, but I know how he feels…

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In Oxford today for the James Gillray exhibition. (Cartoonist Martin Rowson offers his take on the show in the Guardian.)

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