It’s exactly 50 years since the then Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight title. But spare a thought for Sonny Liston, the man he beat. Like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, Liston was ideal casting as the brutal, inarticulate villain. Unlike them, he never really redeemed himself in the eyes of the public. Liston had been forced to wait a long time to become champion, partly because boxing’s powers-that-be, alarmed by his criminal background, preferred to see the much more wholesome and media-friendly Floyd Patterson hold on to the crown. Civil rights leaders weren’t all that keen on him either. In the end, he didn’t get his chance to fight for the title until 1962. He won easily, but his best years were already behind him (no one seems to be sure exactly when he was born, but he was probably in his early thirties when he knocked out Patterson.) And then along came Ali. Liston lived another six years after his humiliation at the hands of the young pretender, but it sometimes feels as if he’s been written out of history all together. At least this video provides a glimpse of him at his best — in and out of the ring — with a little help from Andy Warhol and James Brown.
My Independent review of Sexplosion, Robert Hofler’s account of how the artists and impresarios of the Sixties and Seventies reinvented the cultural landscape:
It all seems a long, long time ago. To anyone under the age of, say, 45, this book may well feel like a dispatch – albeit a fiercely entertaining one – from another solar system. Time rolls on, values evolve. When Ken Russell died in 2011, news bulletins struggled to explain why a scene of two men wrestling in the nude in Women In Love had once seemed like the end of civilisation as we know it.
As befits a senior editor of Variety, Robert Hofler’s focus in Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol To A Clockwork Orange – How A Generation Of Pop Rebels Broke All The Taboos is very much on Hollywood and the smart end of Manhattan, but his chronicle of the cultural watershed of the late Sixties and early Seventies does acknowledge the contribution of the Brits. One of the supporting players is John Trevelyan, Secretary of what was then known as the British Board of Film Censors. A schoolmasterly character, he clearly revelled in his role as tastemaker-in-chief. (Here’s a question for the reader. Can you name his equivalent in today’s British Board of Film Classification? No, I thought not. How the mighty are fallen.) Continue reading
A Syrian refugee waits after crossing the border into northern Iraq. From Journey Without End, Lynsey Addario’s series of photographs for National Geographic. [Via Time Lightbox]
An encounter with a budding tech impresario prompts elegiac thoughts on the decline and fall of New York’s old publishing empires. Michael Wolff’s GQ column actually appeared last summer, but I only discovered it this week via his Twitter feed. It’s one of those pieces you just have to share, regardless of the dateline:
“She’s raised a lot of money,” said my friend. “She’s really on the verge of making it happen.”
The technology girl, with her app that lets college girls create public profiles of college boys, lives in London now, but is moving to New York with her business…. Her ability to assume a position of primacy, privilege and inevitability for her asinine and foolish app seemed suddenly like an inversion of the natural order. Her absolute certainty that I would be interested in her app was, at that moment, unfathomable – and cruel. The sums she was collecting, investments from this or that parvenu, were itemised in pornographic detail.
She described herself as a “publisher” – a merciless, insensitive, barbarous, appropriation of the word and profession. And an “entrepreneur” – which means, I have come to decipher, “I am the future.” [...]
“What I want to do is find writers in New York, comedy writers would be good, I think, to help us create our profiles – we like to give our girls the words to use. That’s part of the app’s function. We supply the words,” she said…
I went home and, gripped by sadness, fear and nameless regret, lay down to try to calm my pounding heart, and, I believe for the first time, fully understood – furious with myself for having denied the obvious for so long – that there will be nothing left. We had a world, an empire, and now we don’t.
Sarah Jarosz, rising star from the Lone Star State. Her version of Ring Them Bells was easily one of the highlights of this month’s Transatlantic Sessions roadshow at the Festival Hall. Here’s my Times write-up. [£]. I also reviewed her new album, Build Me Up From Bones, in the Sunday Times [£].
Nick Kristof on academia’s unfortunate knack of turning its back on the world:
When I was a kid, the Kennedy administration had its “brain trust” of Harvard faculty members, and university professors were often vital public intellectuals who served off and on in government. That’s still true to some degree of economists, but not of most other PhD programmes. And we’re all the losers for that.
I’ve noticed this particularly with social media. Some professors are terrific on Twitter, but they’re the exceptions. Most have terrific insights that they then proceed to bury in obscure journals or turgid books… Academia has also become inflexible about credentials, disdaining real-world experience. So McGeorge Bundy became professor of government at Harvard and then dean of the faculty (at age 34!) despite having only a BA –something that would be impossible today. Indeed, some professors would oppose Bill Clinton getting a tenured professorship in government today because of his lack of a PhD, even though he arguably understands government today better than any other American.
Migrants in Djibouti attempt to capture an inexpensive mobile phone signal from neighbouring Somalia. John Stanmeyer’s winning entry in the World Press Photo of the Year awards. (Djibouti is a common stop-off point for people seeking a new life in Europe and the Middle East.)
Gushing, she said to me: “What does it feel like to be famous?”
I suppose I’ve been asked the question twenty times and I never could think how to answer, but today, too late, it suddenly occurred to me.
“It’s like having a string of pearls given you. It’s nice, but after a while, if you think of it at all, it’s only to wonder if they’re real or cultured.”
Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook.
Cookham Moor this week. Quite a contrast to how it normally looks.
The London Review of Books blog unearths an extract from Daniel Defoe’s account of the great storm of 1703:
We have reckoned, including the City of London, about 123 People kill’d; besides such as we have had no account of; the Number of People drowned are not easily Guest; but by all the Calculations I have made and seen made, we are within compass, if we reckon 8000 Men lost, including what were lost on the Coast of Holland, what in Ships blown away, and never heard of, and what were drowned in the Flood of the Severn, and in the River of Thames.
What the Loss, how many poor Families ruin’d, is not to be Estimated, the Fire of London was an exceeding Loss, and was by some reckon’d at four Millions sterling; which, tho’ it was a great Loss, and happened upon the spot, where vast Quantities of Goods being expos’d to the fury of the Flames, were destroy’d in a hurry, and 14000 dwelling Houses entirely consum’d.
Yet on the other Hand, that Desolation was confin’d to a small Space, the loss fell on the wealthiest part of the People; but this loss is Universal, and its extent general, not a House, not a Family that had any thing to lose, but have lost something by this Storm, the Sea, the Land, the Houses, the Churches, the Corn, the Trees, the Rivers, all have felt the fury of the Winds. I cannot therefore think I speak too large, if I say, I am of the Opinion, that the Damage done by this Tempest far exceeded the Fire of London.
Defoe’s book has been acclaimed as “the first substantial work of modern journalism.” Yet I’d never even heard of it until today. How embarrassing is that?