10/30/2007 3:23:42 PM
With Mitt Romney in the running for the Republican presidential nomination, a collective anxiety is bubbling up in the media about whether the United States could handle having a Mormon as a president. Stories about Mormons and Mormonism are popping up everywhere, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Salon, and the Washington Monthly.
But one of our favorites has to be “Moving for Mitt: Utah’s Dance Craze” from the Walrus, which reports that belly dancing has caught the imagination of Utahns, with more than 50 belly dancing troupes in the Salt Lake City area alone and one of the largest annual belly dancing festivals in North America. “Just as prophet Joseph Smith wove together scraps of folklore, history, and doctrine to make a uniquely American religion,” writes Mona Awad, “so locals have redefined the Middle Eastern art form to express the cultural, religious, and sexual tensions that pervade life here.” —Jason Ericson
10/30/2007 2:31:25 PM
Music writer Britt Robson posits in the Rake that the fame and influence of jazz artists like Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter have been diminished because they didn’t flame out young like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. “The persevering excellence of Rollins and Shorter is equally heroic,” Robson writes, “and should be equally emblematic of jazz sainthood.”
Robson’s article, “Honorable Exit: Dying Well Is the Best Revenge,” begins with a moving account of his mother dying before his eyes. From there he moves gracefully into an approachable survey of the course of modern jazz and a critique of the kind of easy celebrity that has come to jazz greats who have died young.
“Among all of the claptrap surrounding death in our culture,” he writes, “only some of it involves our fears and ignorance of the dying process.” He calls upon elder statesmen such as Rollins and Shorter to confront this fear and ignorance by building into their new work an awareness of their impending deaths, a quality Robson finds in Pilgrimage, the last album made by the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker. —Jason Ericson
10/19/2007 5:49:54 PM
Last weekend I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Housed in a gleaming new building, the Guthrie is one of the premier regional theaters in the country.
Chekhov’s play is filled with privileged, angst-ridden writers, directors, and actors, all desperately trying to convince each other how miserable their lives are. The Royal Shakespeare Company managed to make this funny, exposing the absurdity of the bohemian bourgeois depression.
The characters were obsessed by their own inferiority to Russian greats like Tolstoy and Turgenev—a kind of vanity, since they believed they should be as great as those men—and allowed this obsession to ruin their lives. I and other theatergoers laughed at the melodramatic characters, surrounded by wealth, crying in abject sorrow.
Then yesterday, I picked up the New York Times book review and read this passage by Marcel Theroux: “Tolstoy thought that The Seagull was a terrible play, and that Chekhov should never have put a writer in it. ‘There aren’t many of us, and no one is really interested,’ Tolstoy told a friend.”
Maybe that’s what makes writers so depressed. —Bennett Gordon
10/16/2007 5:33:22 PM
Jina Moore of the Christian Science Monitor reports that in the world music industry, many bands are “snagging the spotlight with their biographies.” Groups like the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars have reeled in a fan base due in large part to their interesting back stories. The All Stars met in refugee camps, and their rags-to-recording-studio tale resonated with audiences who’d seen Blood Diamonds and heard about Sierra Leone in the news. The result was an outpouring of compassion for the band and fascination with their music.
Other world musicians have taken a similar path to world stardom. Moore cites Emmanuel Jal, K’naan, and Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective as artists who’ve reaped the benefits of an intriguing band history.
“People interested in world music are looking for that kind of meaning,” says Jacob Edgar, head of music research for the Putumayo label. “They want to be connecting with other cultures, enjoying music that has more spirit and soul to it than just another rock band trying to create hits.” —Cara Binder
10/16/2007 4:57:29 PM
It’s often a delicate dance when government gets involved in the arts, and a new U.S.-backed program appears to be off to a stumbly start. The American Prospect reports that the program, called Museums and Community Collaborations Abroad, is intended to fund artists to create works for overseas museums. To that end, the State Department and the American Association of Museums are handing out $700,000 in grant money to lucky artists.
There are a couple of hitches, though. “For one thing,” the Prospect writes, “the State Department requires that each proposal explain ‘how this project promotes U.S. foreign policy.’ For another, it turns out that U.S. embassies and consulates are allowed—or, one might guess, encouraged—to preselect foreign museums for participation.”
Given these criteria, what would a winning entry look like? Perhaps something like this. —Keith Goetzman
10/15/2007 5:56:02 PM
For almost 50 years, the Arbitron survey-research firm has been paying select radio listeners to keep a handwritten log of every station they listen to. Once the logs are completed, Arbitron does its survey-research company fandango, throws the results back to the radio stations, and radio listeners everywhere are stuck listening to the same 50 songs over and over.
(article not available online) reports that Arbitron recently introduced a new, allegedly more precise, way to log peoples’ listening habits. The Portable People Meter will clip onto listeners’ clothing and will automatically record every radio song they listen to, based on hidden tones embedded in the music. The devices will go nationwide in 2010, when 70,000 of them will be sent out to snoop into listeners’ music lives.
These paid listeners can forget about secretly tuning in to “Karma Chameleon” and conveniently forgetting to write it in their log. Arbitron knows all. -- Cara Binder
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