Musings of the week on three intriguing cultural topics.
Leonard Cohen is on tour with his new Old Ideas album. (I haven’t seen him yet on this tour, but I’m working on it.) The great poet-songwriter is 78 now and playing three-hour concerts. (Do you hear that, Mr Springsteen? You’re only 63 and playing three- and four-hour concerts on this tour. So stay in shape for your 70s.)
Leonard is a charming showman and puts on a wonderful show with his nine musicians. Here’s a link to Gary Graff’s review of last night’s Detroit concert. I’ve loved Leonard’s songs for years (although I did not discover him in the ’60s) and particularly enjoy his quirky, self-deprecating lyrics. Yes, his songs are sometimes sad and sometimes deal with the darker side of life, but as Graff says “those who think they’re just depressing aren’t listening closely enough.” In “Going Home,” he sings (some would say sort of sings)
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit ….
He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube
My favorite line is in “Anthem” from the album The Future, where Cohen points out “There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.” There’s a new biography of Cohen by Sylvie Simmons, which is on my holiday wish list.
Parrots. Ok, what is it with parrots? Two of my favorite writers — Julian Barnes and Michael Chabon — seem to be fascinated with them. In Chabon’s slim and brilliant book The Final Solution, an African gray parrot (nameless like everyone in the book) speaks German and reels off lists of numbers. Barnes’ book Flaubert’s Parrot deals entirely with which of two bright green stuffed parrots named Loulou was the inspiration for Flaubert’s story Un Coeur Simple.
Now I’m reading Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue in which another African gray parrot named Fifty Eight is the constant companion of a Hammond B-3 player named Cochise Jones. “Every so often Fifty Eight, whose public utterances tended to be musical, would counterfeit the steely vibrato of his owner’s B-3, break out into a riff, a stray middle eight….” Chabon’s book is full of plots and subplots, major and minor characters, and I’m not sure it’s going to hold together until the end. But his prose is scintillating.
New art forms
I’m exploring two of them that arise in this late internet age. A recent New York Times article by Julia Turner explained the scope of the Twitter hashtag. “#InPraiseOfTheHashtag: How a gimmick developed as shorthand on Twitter blossomed into a poetic literary genre all its own.” When I tweeted a link to the story, I closed it with #hashtagsthenewhaiku.
It’s a poetic challenge to write a clever or poignant haiku in 17 syllables; and it’s an equal literary challenge to write something meaningful (and interesting to others) in 140 characters. My notion is to start writing tweets as literature, not just politics and music.
The second creative new art form is the fake product review. There’s a flurry of hysterically funny reviews of silly products on amazon and other sites. The first that I saw yesterday are for a banana slicer — a tool that I’m sure you will crave for your kitchen. Read the reviews and see what you’re missing. Then Brockeim “Playful Literary Adventurer” compiled his reviews for various products on amazon.com. From the review for Slimfast: “Each of the 23 vitamins and minerals sang out to me, called me their friend….” Prose reminiscent of Walt Whitman surely. I’m choosing my products for review now. (But author friends note: I will still do serious reviews of works that warrant that treatment.)