And here’s another installment of books I’ve been reading in the last few weeks, all recommended.
Impossible Vacation by Spalding Gray: Monologist Spalding Gray for years went around performing a one-man show called Monster-In-A-Box, his attempt to wrestle his unwieldy manuscript into a novel. The result was Impossible Vacation. I’d been in a period of non-reading recently, but I picked this up in a used bookstore, and it got me reading again. It’s a first person account of the life of a narcissistic and badly depressed actor/performer (a thinly disguised Gray), and while the language is not distinguished, this portrait of a would-be artist in the 1970s rang a lot of bells for me. You can see Gray trying to wrestle meaning out of this, and it ends fairly arbitrarily as if he needed to stop somewhere, but I found the book to be truly affecting in parts and often funny.
Trouping With Dante by Marion S. Trikosko: In this memoir, a teen-age boy gets to troupe with the great magician Dante’s large illusion show throughout the country, while learning the inside story about show business and magic. It’s a difficult life, but he seems to have a lot of fun along the way. Decades later, Trikosko’s account confirms that Dante was a generous but exacting taskmaster, and Marion’s enthusiasm allowed him to gain, in a relatively short period of time, more and more responsibility in assisting the show. The author does a great job of setting up the context of the rigors of touring a large illusion show at a time when that way of performing life was starting to come to an end, and for magician readers there’s lots of inside information about the workings of the show. If you’ve ever wanted to run away and join the circus, or become Blackstone’s assistant, you’ll be charmed by this book.
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle: I can’t think of an author whose work I enjoy reading more. Doyle, like most of the authors I admire most. has a wonderful ear for dialogue, and the language is vivid and memorable. While it’s a slight story—the limited rise and limited fall of a thrown-together Dublin bar band—the characters are humorous, sympathetic, and fun to read about. The short novel is a very quick, well-paced read, and I don’t even fault it’s feel-good ending. It feels like a film treatment, and of course it was made into a film, which I will immediately put onto my Netflix cue.
Williamson’s Wonders by Richard Kaufman: David Williamson is one of my favorite magicians, and here he tips some of his best routines, including “51 Cards to Pocket,” “Torn and Restored Transposition,” and the real work on “The Striking Vanish.” Kaufman’s written descriptions and illustrations are very good, and while these are not beginner’s tricks, most of them seem to be attainable by the average magician after some work—at least the mechanics. Kaufman does a good job of laying out the nuts and bolts, but to really get the full potential of these items, it really pays to look up some of Williamson’s performances; not to copy him, but to get an idea of the entertainment that can be wrung out of these items.
Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton: This is a follow up to Stanton’s Human of New York. This time the portraits of New York City street life are accompanied by descriptions of the people photographed, accompanied by the subjects’ own words. They present a fascinating and sometimes moving collage of the life of the city.
Here’s animator Nina Paley’s newest installment of her Seder Masochism project. Moses go back up Mount Sinai and brings back the tablets. Complications, compromises, and circumcisions ensue. Click on the video above to watch.
You can hear my radio interview with Nina Paley here.
The Original Cast of Hair at the 1969 Tony Awards with James Rado, Lynn Kellogg, and of course, Melba Moore. The Fifth Dimension pop version had “Aquarius” as the lead-in, but the original show had the much more ominous “Flesh Failures” as the prelude to “Let the Sunshine In.”
I’m not one for the large illusions, but to my mind Robert Harbin’s Zig-Zag Girl is the greatest magic stage illusion ever. It’s simple, understandable, and utterly impossible looking. Doug Henning made it popular, performing it in his Broadway show The Magic Show, and for a while in the 1970s it seemed like every illusion show featured it (often without the approval of Harbin). However, these things go in cycles, and it’s not seen as often, modern day performers going for more glitz. To my mind, the low-tech look of the Harbin prop is part of its charm.
Click on the video to watch Harbin himself performing it. You can tell that this was a relatively early version of the prop as it still retains a cross bar that the assistant has to duck under, an element which Doug Henning’s design managed to eliminate.
Gordon Lightfoot has decades of great singing and songwriting behind him, but I most enjoyed his songs from the early 1970s. Here’s a performance from a BBC special in 1972 where he sings one of his best, “If You Could Read My Mind.”
I teach mathematics to new immigrants to the United States. Though the students are of high school age, some of them had not had any formal schooling in their own country. Yesterday, one student, a West African girl to whom I have been teaching basic arithmetic, was struggling with her twos and fives multiplication tables. We worked for a while with only some success, and then she turned to me brightly and said, “Ask me 379 times 13.” I was a little skeptical, but I wrote it out on the paper in front of us, the 13 beneath the 379. She looked at the example quizzically, and said, “Are you sure that’s how you write it?” So I wrote it across in a line, and she became much happier. “Ahh,” she said, “that’s 4,927.”
I thought about it for a few moments and realized she was correct. I was stunned. A minute ago she was having trouble with five times six; now she was answering this difficult multiplication problem seemingly in her head. I asked her how she knew.
She smiled at me and said, “I saw it in a movie in my country. In the movie, there was a school, and the teacher in the classroom put that example on the board. I have been waiting for someone to ask me 379 x 13 ever since!”
Listen as musical composer and commentator Rob Kapilow deconstructs Bernstein’s masterpiece, “Tonight,” from West Side Story. Utilizing the revisions of the song from Bernstein’s archives, Kapilow explains, musical phrase by phrase, how the song is constructed, and why it works so well. It’s a fascinating exegesis and all the more wonderful for the heavenly singing of Sally Wilfert and Michael Winther as Maria and Tony.
As the cherry on top, after Kapilow’s close explication, Wilfert and Winther get to sing the song through, uninterrupted.
This enlightening demonstration was just one of several bonuses the audience was treated to at this month’sEverything Old is New Again Live cabaret performance, David Kenney’s monthly fundraiser for radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC at The Metropolitan Room. The next live show is March 6th; until then, keep happy by listening to David’s show every Sunday night from 9-11pm, at WBAI.org.
Click on the grey triangle above to hear Kapilow and company.
The good folks at The Virtual Academic have a one stop solution to your dissertation and disquisition distress: a random sentence generator. Your academic jargon word count targets are now a breeze to fulfill, the heavy lifting done by the wizardry of some clever computer programming and a keen eye for the structure of nonsense.
You have two options: the first option (link above) has the program making all the choices for you; not only will it generate impressive word salad thoughts, but on Fridays it will also generate jargon-laden critiques of the newly-created sentences. Here is a screenshot of some the sentences that it captured for me last night:
For those who wish for more personal input into their scribblings, there is another option here which allows you to select key phrases and to edit post-facto. So, have fun with this, because, after all, the fiction of praxis gestures toward the discourse of print culture.