In 1992, fewer than one-third of Americans accepted the Warren Commission’s conclusions as persuasive… The fact that none of the conspiracy theorists have been able to offer convincing evidence of their suspicions does not seem to trouble many people. The plausibility of a conspiracy is less important to them than the implausibility of someone as inconsequential as Oswald having the wherewithal to kill someone as consequential — as powerful and well guarded — as Kennedy. To accept that an act of random violence by an obscure malcontent could bring down a president of the United States is to acknowledge a chaotic, disorderly world that frightens most Americans. Believing that Oswald killed Kennedy is to concede, as New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis said, “that in this life there is often tragedy without reason.”
Robert Dallek, “John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life, 1917-1963″.
I’m still in a state of mild euphoria four days after that breathtaking show by Paolo Conte. Here’s another song he didn’t play on the night, although I have seen him perform it a couple of times in the past. “Who are we, and where are we going..?/At midnight in the depth of winter in Alessandria. /Who are we with the collar of our overcoat/Turned up against the wind in Turin?” I don’t speak Italian — to borrow the immortal words of Keith Jarrett – but I do have a useful crib in the form of a hard-to-find book, “The Words of Paolo Conte”, signed by the great man himself.
“No sane person believes Kennedy was killed by one bitter ex-marine,” declares actor Alec Baldwin in the New Statesman. “Anyone with eyes can see that Kennedy was shot from the front.” Which suggests, as if anyone thought otherwise, that the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination is not going see an end to the conspiracy theories. For every one person who’s satisfied with the single-gunman evidence set out at overwhelming length in Gerald Posner’s “Case Closed” or Vincent Bugliosi’s 1600-page “Reclaiming History“, a thousand have seen Oliver Stone’s fantastical “JFK”. And as Ben Macintyre recently pointed out in The Times, the fact that a stack of official documents remains unreleased even now is bound to keep the controversy simmering. Still, I doubt we’ll ever see another documentary as weird as “The Men Who Killed Kennedy” make it onto the airwaves — in Britain at least. Made for the 25th anniversary – I remember watching it at the time — Nigel Turner’s programme came up with the idea that the president was the victim of assassins from the French underworld. And there were plenty of other outlandish sub-plots. Welcome to the murky world of Badge Man and his friends.
Shall I say some ominous aunt-like words about peace? I think I will. It is a subject that I have really thought and worked on, you know. So: no one besides yourself will ever help you get to it; everyone, even with the best will in the world, will nibble and shred it. You have to fight for it, yourself, and it is perhaps the most essential thing there is. If you haven’t got (and keep clinging to, through every reverse) a hard kernel of your own private peace, perhaps no bigger than a pea, you cannot be, do or give any real thing. Practically, I find it works like this: one learns what conditions one needs, for oneself, to bring back or foster one’s interior nugget of certainty and calm and happiness. For me, it’s absolute solitude and silence, in the country; long walks, no timetable of any kind, no telephone, no mail, no newspapers. Long mooning walks, reading, sleeping a great deal. No booze, simply because booze makes me nervous. And then, after a longer or shorter cure of this (depending on how much my peace has been eaten away) I can start to work: and that sets it firmly. I have no idea what you need, but you must, by now, have learned for yourself. No other person gives it, you know; though anyone can take it away. Sex has nothing to do with it either.
Martha Gellhorn, letter to Leonard Bernstein, 14th January 1959, “The Leonard Bernstein Letters”.
Concert of the year? Paolo Conte’s shows are always special, but his Festival Hall date on Saturday – part of the London Jazz Festival – was even more atmospheric than usual. (The venue helped. Last time I saw him, a couple of years ago, he was marooned in the wide open spaces of the Albert Hall.) You could argue, of course, that Conte’s music doesn’t really qualify as jazz, although anyone who really thinks that probably believes there’s something suspect about an artist who writes tuneful music that swings. My five-star Times review is here [£]. Richard Williams also has a typically thoughtful piece on his Blue Moment blog. One thing that occurred at the end of the evening is that in all the times I’ve seen Conte, going back almost twenty years, I don’t recall hearing him play “Sparring Partner”, a soft rock song that François Ozon used so brilliantly on the soundtrack of his film “5×2″. One day, perhaps…
George Ernest Morrison liked to think of himself as an empire-builder in the Cecil Rhodes mould. The Boxers’ siege of China’s capital certainly gave his a chance to enrich himself. This account comes from “Hermit of Peking”. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s biography of another unscrupulous China hand, the deeply eccentric, thoroughly unreliable Sir Edmund Backhouse:
Immediately after the relief [Morrison] installed himself, since his own house had been burned, in the house of a wealthy Chinese prince – “a perfect museum” of treasures, including a splendid library – and looted every object in it down to the garden flowers. “I have left him the glass in the windows, but nothing else,” he remarked complacently, when the prince’s possessions had all been shipped, via Tientsin, to “a safe place” He also managed to secure some notable relics from the Palace, amongst them the jade prayer-book from the Empress Dowager’s bedroom… At one moment it was announced in England that the legations had been captured and the defenders massacred. The Times thereupon published an obituary notice of him so laudatory that, as he himself afterwards remarked, they simply had to raise his salary when he emerged alive and would never be able to dismiss him afterwards.
I have a feature on those multilingual lounge wizards, Pink Martini, in the Sunday Times [£]. Here’s one of the new additions to their repertoire, sung by the wonderfully named Storm Large (former stalwart of a band called The Balls).
“Socially, I am a snob,” Hugh confessed. “I like the world of grace and leisure and the opulence necessary to maintain it. But in fact, though I always look for it there first, I seldom find it in its traditional haunts, and recognise that the upper classes more often betray than cultivate their natural opportunities. I am continually disgusted by the triviality and vulgarity of the great world, and bored by its lack of education. And yet, since it remains the likeliest haunt of the virtues it has refused to cultivate, I suppose I shall always be more at home there than in the virtuous dwellings of the poor.”
Adam Sisman, “Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography”.
Ringo Starr’s shot of Eric Sykes on the set of ”A Hard Day’s Night”. From a Mojo article on the Beatles drummer’s sideline as a photographer.