Witnesses

When Presley and [Pat] Boone were the two most popular singers among American teens, were they really the idols of opposing camps? Or does that way of seeing them just reflect the fact that the few teenage music fans who went on to become rock critics had different tastes from the millions of teenagers who swooned over both? […] Reading through the histories of both jazz and rock, I am struck again and again by the fact that although women and girls were the primary consumers of popular styles, the critics were consistently male – and, more specifically, that they tended to be the sort of men who collected and discussed music rather than dancing to it. Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing (some of my best friends…), but it is relevant when one is trying to understand why they loved the music they loved and hated the music they hated.

Elijah Wald, “How The Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

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The morning after

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Team spirit

I don’t need to mention there’s an important semi-final tonight, do I? Most of the media build-up is drawing parallels with Italia ’90, for understandable reasons, yet for someone of my generation (I was born in 1959) 1966 is still the touchstone. I just about remember watching the final back then, although its real impact didn’t sink in until about two years later, when I started getting serious about playing football. Reading Leo McKinstry’s biography of Sir Alf Ramsey has been a a reminder of what a different world it was then. No multi-million contracts, of course. But no PlayStation, no Xbox, no Dr Dre headphones either. Just the telly, the radio and the occasional trip to the flicks:

Sometimes as Jimmy Armfield remembers, Alf’s announcement of a cinema outing could be quite abrupt: “We would be sitting in Hendon Hall Hotel after lunch or dinner, then Alf would suddenly say, ‘Harold [trainer Harold Shepherdson], John Wayne is on at the Odeon.’

‘Very good, Alf.’

‘I think we should go. what do you think?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Then tell the lads we’re going to the Odeon.’ By then, he’s picked up his gear, got his coat and is almost out the door. And we have to run up the stairs, get our coats, and then chase him to the Odeon. So we have the sight of the England football team running down the hill after our manager. As he gets to the ticket office, we would all pile in behind him. And he would say, ‘I want 26 seats.’ We would always go upstairs. It was dark, the film would often have started and we would be noisily clambering into our seats and Alf would say, ‘Shut up, John Wayne’s on.’ That was Alf. He loved his westerns.”

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Vista

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Information overload, 18th century style

“Meantime, the pamphlets and half-sheets grow so upon our hands,” groaned Swift in 1710, “it will very well employ a man every day from morning til night to read them.” His solution? Never to open any! The doctor Thomas Beddoes was another who grumbled about the welter of print – all those endless pamphlets and periodicals befuddling the brain. “Did you see the papers today? Have you read the new play – the new poem – the new pamphlet – the last novel?” –  that was all you heard.” You cannot creditably frequent intelligent company, without being prepared to answer these questions, and the progeny that springs from them. The consequence? “You must needs hang your heavy head, and roll your bloodshot eyes over thousands of pages weekly. Of their contents at the week’s end, you will know about as much as of a district through which you have been whirled night and day in the mail-coach.” Yet that didn’t sap his ardour for enlightenment, or his quill.

Roy Porter, “Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World”.

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Parenthood

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Notebook

J.L. Carr, “How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup“.

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New world, old world

bill murray and vogler

A fascinating evening of music and readings from Bill Murray and cellist Jan Vogler. They certainly deserved the standing ovations. I had one reservation though:

Yes, that Bill Murray — actor, comic, loon and, maybe, the man who has found a way of bringing a new audience to music that isn’t pop. The idea is simple enough: he and a chamber trio led by his friend the German cellist Jan Vogler present music and readings loosely gathered around the theme of American history and identity. On paper it is the kind of high-minded venture that you might once have associated with Peter Ustinov. Murray being Murray, however, things took an increasingly zany turn. Although at first he seemed content to cut a conventional path through Walt Whitman and James Fenimore Cooper, he was soon delivering a masterclass in physical humour… One nagging thought, though: how strange that the content was so weighted towards dead white males. It might have been a syllabus from Murray’s schooldays. Gershwin but not Ellington, Hemingway and Thurber but not Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Listening to Murray make a brilliant job of a scene from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, n-word and all, you assumed he was aware he was walking on thin ice. Perhaps his point was that Mark Twain, Leonard Bernstein and Co were turning the African-American voice into a universal voice. Still, unless I am mistaken, the first black artist to make the cut was Smokey Robinson, and that was in the encore, followed by an uncredited poem by Lucille Clifton. Odd, very odd.

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Red on green

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The judge had led quite a sheltered life

Like Carman, the Honourable Sir Joseph Donaldson Cantley was from Manchester. But that was just about all they had in common. Far from having a rackety private life, Cantley was rumoured to have been a virgin until the age of fifty-six, when he had married the widow of a former judge. Marriage had done nothing to dispel his air of unworldliness. Cantley had once tried a case in which a 23-year-old man had applied for damages after being badly injured in a bulldozer accident. Told that the injuries had affected the man’s sex life, he asked if he was married. Learning that he was not, a puzzled Cantley said, “Well, I can’t see how it affects his sex life.”

John Preston, “A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment”.

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