16 April 2010

That’s Not Very Nice, Missy

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:35 am

Waiting around in waiting rooms gives you the opportunity to browse through outdated issues of news magazines you’d otherwise never look at anyway. One article from late 2009 cited Christina Patterson, a commentator at the London Independent, who had this to say:

“Sure, America’s got talent, but it’s also got some of the most unpleasant, uncompassionate, unerringly ruthless people on the face of this planet.”

There’s a context of course, but I kind of like it as a free-standing remark.



  1. But is all of it good English? I mean the ‘unerringly ruthless’ part? Not that I can agree with you, since every other country has these specimens as well. But I’ve been noticing that Britain has increasingly poor journalism.

    I just point this out because I just read the phrase ‘world-leading art magazine’, and this is the object for which someone is ‘withholding blog posts from his fans’ because, well, you know, he..started…the labour of writing the post, but then, it was, like, you know, he realized that it was ‘properly publishable’ and that he is getting ‘more and more writing work’ and ‘you can parade your CV’. It’s yet another disgusting post by the worst writer I know of on the blogs who actually is determined to INVENT talent, since he’s discovered somehow the absence, or the ‘lack’, rather, as the Zizekians like to put it.

    He also does post a subsequent, wait for it, yes, BLOGPOST! stamped the same day, but we are to realize that fans won’t have to wait too long, since that really only referred to that one post. It was so good that he not only has to keep it for her own, but also tell all her fans she is doing this. Now, I tell you, even Barbra Streisand back in her bratty ‘I’m-so-Brooklyn ‘n’ cute talent’ days didn’t say ‘I’ve GOT it, and I’m NOT going to give it to you’.

    I don’t normally get so annoyed at bad writing, but then there’s a lot of good writing on the blogs through the years–yours, Mikhail’s, traxus, Nick, Arpege sometimes, Asher can write–but this prancing stuff really galls me, because just what the fuck would ever use the phrase ‘world-leading art magazine’. I just wrote someone an email about this, because the phrase sounds unusable after a hidden ad in a, say, 1920’s newspaper, one might find it in an old clipping: SEND YOUR PROPERLY PUBLISHABLE SUBMISSION TO OUR WORLD-LEADING ART MAGAZINE. Some people cannot write. Period. Okay, off to have a couple of Stella Artois with Jack, I think the whole world seems numbed about Goldman Sachs, not quite sure.


    Comment by anonymous — 16 April 2010 @ 9:53 am

  2. I particularly liked “unerringly ruthless.” It’s an adverb-adjective combo, which is generally out of fashion even in fiction, let alone in the punchy journalistic style. It calls to mind Henry James, whose birthday was yesterday: “I adore adverbs; they are the only qualifications I really much respect.” And “unerring” is an odd modifier for ruthlessness, sort of jarringly and incongruously Borgesian in that regard. The one I didn’t like was “uncompassionate.” It does give us three “un-” constructions in a row, which I suppose has some merit, but some tougher word would have been better. I also found “on the face of this planet” to be an overlong construction, as if the writer was getting paid by the word. But juxtaposing talent with ruthlessness in this way was a good stroke, even if it was triggered by her prior observations about the America’s Got Talent reality TV show (which I’d never heard of). Perhaps it’s hackneyed, the ruthlessly talented idea. Still, it was the one phrase I encountered yesterday that I found worth jotting in my cahier.

    Here’s a better sentence, which I read last night:

    “A thunderstorm accompanied me most of the way back to Grimm Road, but when I reached Pavor Manor, the sun was visible again, burning like a man, and the birds screamed in the drenched and steaming trees.” – Vladimir Nabokov, from near the end of Lolita.


    Comment by john doyle — 16 April 2010 @ 10:16 am

  3. Maybe this — “America’s got talent: a talent for producing some of the most unpleasant…”


    Comment by john doyle — 16 April 2010 @ 10:41 am

  4. British comedian Johnny Vegas was once asked to give an example of a modern myth.
    “Britain’s Got Talent,” he replied.

    I like unerringly ruthless too. It suggests just how right the right feel when they spit out their righteous fury.


    Comment by NB — 18 April 2010 @ 9:44 am

    • It suggests just how right the right feel when they spit out their righteous fury.

      No, that’s the ‘M’ version. It actually suggests that they must surely BE right, or the ruthlessnes might not be so ‘unerring’.

      The stupid part of this is that the idiocy comes from the U.K., which is the ‘special relationship’ nation, from which we learned all the tricks (if any), and is, in fact, all the very things she criticizes. Somebody won a Pulitzer in Arts Criticism recently, who writes about in-your-face dance pieces, and she also write about them in an in-your-face style.

      Stupid to be saying ‘America’s got talent’, when didn’t ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ start that shit too? And what did we get? Susan Boyle and Jedward. yeah, that’s the best. Don’t forget, America is full of Anglophiles, so I’m sure most Americans will keep buying British shit as per usual. Not that a lot of it isn’t good, I’m a Sunday Anglophile myself, less than before though.

      Ms. Patterson writes like that, as do many modern Brits, because Britain doesn’t have the power anymore. No way does Britain have the power the U.S. does, whether or not ugly and unspeakable. But every one of her words still describes Britain just as perfectly as it does the U.S. Literally any other nation saying it would not sound quite so ridiculous (even France, which specializes in fake Socialism, as in ‘but what about Bopal?’ a day or two after 9/11) But that’s typique, the French always like to be a pain in the ass.

      ‘Unerringly ruthless’ is hardly the problem, any more than too much efficiency. The problem is incompetence. An unerring ruthlessness in the Customer Care areas would, for example, be most welcome.


      Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 10:50 am

      • illuminating to read the article, and she, in fact, does come across as half-educated at best. But the health care bill is law now, maybe some people on the left aren’t happy about that, I’m quite sure they can’t be–after all, you read almost nothing from leftists about its having even a single benefit, and surely is a ruse to benefit insurance companies, maybe even save Goldman’s ass, surely?. Susan Boyle should be so lucky that she’s so unattractive, though: She’s a dreadful singer, the voice booms, but she cuts off each phrase, not one connecting to the next (early shortness of breath possibly, but usually that has to be a fact, as in later Rosemary Clooney, who would have never sung like this), so that you have about 64 little fragments, and the judges act like they are in the midst of the next oozing eruption of Also Sprach Zarathustra. I think after a year, Susan Boyle was supposed to have an heir even less musical, but ‘entertaining’, hence jedward, the idiots that even have spawned special Easter eggs and appear on fag shows like Perez Hilton.


        Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 11:02 am

  5. Johnny Vegas is the name for somebody who’s got talent. Hey NB, I’ve still got my eye out for Fish Tank, awaiting its home video release.

    Regarding the topic of Patterson’s essay, I think it’s been stupid for so many Americans to dismiss healthcare reform as a giveaway to the poor rather than as a generally better system. Then perhaps we could all benefit from unerringly ruthless negotiations of better deals with doctors, drug companies, hospitals, etc.


    Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 11:08 am

    • Yes, the ones who dismiss it that way, sure, that’s the right. The left is little better, with its usual paranoia. Mikhail’s John Cleese clip says it pretty well, about either side. Both are pretty counterproductive, and neither has even a single good point. Okay, I’m just getting with the programme, and that’s the way the rest of the writing is going, so why not me too?


      Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 11:16 am

      • Of course single payer is only way to achieve unerring ruthlessness, but only if the government decides it’s going to act on behalf of the citizenry. Otherwise we’d get the unerring ruthlessness of military contractors, in which the contractors negotiate the highest possible profit margins from their single payer.


        Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 11:40 am

  6. Perhaps it’s hackneyed, the ruthlessly talented idea.

    She doesn’t say anything about that, does she? She talks about talent, then about the ruthlessness, however you want to interpret the ‘unerringly ruthless’. ‘Ruthless talent’ is like Picasso’s or Martha Graham’s, to cite well-known examples. It’s pretty obvious to me that, whether or not ‘ruthless talent’ is a stale or good idea, it’s not one she’s gotten to yet.

    I think people are just pissed off today.


    Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 11:32 am

  7. “Otherwise we’d get the unerring ruthlessness of military contractors, in which the contractors negotiate the highest possible profit margins from their single payer.”

    That’s surely what we’ll get, isn’t it? That’s why ‘centrists’ are always portrayed as vacuums. Everybody else is pure and does nothing but talk. Well, that was courageous of you to link that article. I have no idea how she was ever hired for anything. She even talks about Obama’s coiffed eyebrows, and tries to ‘support’ Susan Boyle but not the networks which pre-empted Obama’s pitch for her. It’s one of the worst articles I’ve ever read, but do appreciate the Nabokov. As the oldest Lolita on record, and the most successful at turning it into a successful Nymphomania Sinecure, I was glad to hear about the ‘drenched and steaming trees’. Yes, that is real writing. Because even though these are literally what would happen in a thunderstorm, I don’t find it likely that many would think to use those two adjectives so perfectly that you can almost smell it. ‘Lolita’ is a great novel, but may be considered even greater than it is. It may be dated, insofar as it seems quaint to be writing a great novel about child molestatiion. For good America culture-hatred, which seems to be some people’s self-loathing bent these days (refreshing, I’m sure, because most dropped it after nobody bought the truthie theories and McCain lost), his Motels throughout America in Lolita are pretty amazing, I’ll grant. Martin Amis wrote the most peculiar phrase during his long paean to ‘Lolita’. He said “Sometimes ‘Lolita’ is too great for its own good”. That might have been a nose for the ‘unerringly ruthless’ that Nabokov also seemed to have in that book. I should re-read it.


    Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 11:51 am

    • ‘drenched and steaming trees’ does remind me of the Ezra Pound poem with the line ‘petals on a wet black bough’, but it’s much better than that overly analyzed little piece. We all had to put up with that in school, with teachers faking it like sons-of-bitches.


      Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 11:55 am

    • “As the oldest Lolita on record, and the most successful at turning it into a successful Nymphomania Sinecure”

      Not to doubt your resilience and your ability to turn shit into Shinola, anonymous, but wouldn’t you say that your experience as a Lolita scarred you? Or have you simply incorporated it into your distinctive curriculum vita?

      The book is superb of course. I’m reminded of our recent allusion to Touch of Evil and making great art out of repulsive materials. One needn’t sympathize with Humbert any more than one must sympathize with the Bosch grotesques or the homely Rembrandt portrait subjects. Perhaps it’s time for me to return to the Proust, having ramped up toward his ultra-maximalism via Nabokov. However, I have put a library hold on Max Brooks’ (son of Mel) novel about the zombie wars.


      Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 1:34 pm

      • Not to doubt your resilience and your ability to turn shit into Shinola, anonymous, but wouldn’t you say that your experience as a Lolita scarred you? Or have you simply incorporated it into your distinctive curriculum vita?

        The latter, certainly. It did everything it wasn’t intended to do, while pretending it did want to, but it worked anyway. Why should you deduce that it scarred me? What evidence have I given that it did anything other than cause me temporary inconvenience. Why do you say things like this and also then realize that I got enormous benefits from it, and not only the writing contributions both by the rapist and the half-willing rape victim? Probably there is a sense in which you do hope it scarred me. SCARED me at one point yes, but not scarred. Of course you were doubting my resilience and ability to turn shit into Shinola. You’re just pissed off about everything today, I don’t know why. Probably having some blocks yourself.


        Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  8. Hi John,

    Um, I hope I haven’t built Fish Tank up too much… I think you’ll like it all the same.

    “To err is…”

    The unerring, otherwise known as those who cannot recognise at least some of their faults, are sociopaths.

    I’d bet that there is virtually no one outside America who thought, like the Tea Party, Glenn Beck and all the other free-dom-loving, gun-loving nutcases, that Obama’s healthcare reform was a bad thing. Compromised no doubt; but bad, no. No British Conservative politician criticised the Bill that I know of. Maybe Chabert hates it, but, like Melanie Philips in Britain, no one takes her seriously.

    Patterson’s article was written before the Bill was passed. The point is that the British import America’s Got Talent pushed out something important from the national schedules. Something that affects 17m people and that people needed to know about. That’s even worse than Jedward. And they have a ruthless talent too.

    Yes, there are ruthless gits in every country – but maybe there are fewer per capita outside America right now who would attack someone for suggesting there are limits to rational self-interest: It’s in my interest to stop this Commie Bill despite the fact that I know damn-all about it, goddamnit! Now bring on those Irish guys with the spunky hair and that singing Mrs Doubtfire!


    Comment by NB — 18 April 2010 @ 1:11 pm

    • The unerring, otherwise known as those who cannot recognise at least some of their faults, are sociopaths.

      That’s such a crock of shit because of its purposely sociopathic construction, that nothing that is of any merit that you may or may not have said is worth citing. And most of it, as usual, is not. Plus, you use a lot of pseudonyms and we all know you do. I will say that your angry style is always recognizable.


      Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 2:25 pm

    • anonymous — or, rather, “anonymous” — what if anything would persuade you that NB uses exclusively “NB” as his nom de plume on this blog?


      Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 3:06 pm

      • I can’t believe you ask that. It’s absurd, no different from Dejan’s queries about similar matters. I think most of us call it HARD COLD EVIDENCE. But it doesn’t matter. I have almost nothing but enemies on the blogs, and they would have all of them had to get to the real powers to defeat me, and they failed to do that. That’s why, in their ardour and their jealousy and hate, they gave me free material that proved the whole thesis of the book–although Christian was relieved that we’ll not be enlarging and bolding the Desiree/Saint Nick J. Land passages, and will be cleaning up some of the endless references to literal shit, such as ‘turd in swimming pool’. Who needs it? I had originally wanted to do this as an eye-catching thing to display the ensnared internet freak/troll more conspicuously with a visual enhancement, but the final chapter, which I only wrote the other day, made me realize there was no need for such tricks, and that the more serious intent would never be paid attention to anyway, it would merely end up featuring the wrong character, who is in a supporting, however indispensible, role.

        Of course, that was a moment of madness saying I’d dedicate the BOOK V chapter to the character who wrote those fragments. I certainly will not, and he knows nothing of that one chapter, and little about any but the first, which he read along with his crony, the former student. The reason for this de-dedication is the point was to distract me from my own work, not to assist it, although that’s what I forced it to do. They can both go fuck themselves if they know how to, and their contributions were certainly invaluable: They gave indisputable evidence of what had happened to both of them by their attacks, but you have to have smarter weapons than they did.

        I can speak about NB because, whoever he is, he made remarks about me using my real name numerous times.

        But your asking me is in total bad faith anyway, because you have been honest about at least one thing: You are not telling me everything, and I don’t say you should. I certainly don’t tell you everythihg, although I did tell you almost, if not all, everything about this matter until fairly recently. You’re part of this game, however innocent you may be in certain parts of it. Your basic Christianity forces certain kinds of rigidities to determine your policies, but even my saying this doesn’t mean I don’t basically think you’re a nice and interesting man, what kvond said to you was also true; we all have to pay for whatever privileges we get, even if the privileges we choose are the ‘virtuous’ or ‘sensible’ ones.


        Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 5:13 pm

      • Why bad faith? I certainly understand that you and NB don’t get along, as evidenced not just here but on Dejan’s blog. I was asking about the pseudonyms. But never mind: I can’t absolutely prove anything one way or the other either.


        Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 5:22 pm

      • Just to be clear, I like you, anonymous. I find you a uniquely interesting and a surprisingly authentic person, and I enjoy reading your observations and talking with you. If I ever get back to NYC I’d hope to meet you in person. I also like NB, regard him too as sincere, am interested in what he has to say, and enjoy my exchanges with him. I might wish that you’d get along with each other, but if wishes were horses…


        Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 5:35 pm

  9. It’s a very complicated plan, this healthcare reform, and I’m sure I still don’t have a firm grasp on it. Having experienced firsthand the French system, where equal quality of care is to be had at a fraction the cost of the US system without all that supposed waiting for necessary treatment, I find the Democrats’ project woefully lacking. Medicare is a single-payer program funded progressively via payroll taxes and it’s both more efficient and cheaper than the private system expanded through Obamacare. And it’s popular to boot — why not just expand it? Forcing individuals to buy health insurance rather than forcing employers to provide it seems ass-backward. If the US insurers would return to the managed care prepaid system of two decades ago, they would stand a better chance of reining in cost escalation. Maybe the market forces will actually move in this direction again now. And outlawing the ability of insurers to decline people for pre-existing conditions is good. And there is government subsidy for the poor, which is also good. So it’s a net improvement on paper in my view, and we’ll see what happens.


    Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 1:46 pm

  10. Christina Patterson: What Americans want is not what they need

    I just noticed the title: This is typical of Brits, who think they’re more like other Europeans, and in some ways they are. But they’re crass, they’re selfish, and they’re just as profit-oriented when they have the energy for it as American. It was time the decent kind of health-care system that any civilized nation would otherwise have, but America-hating is not mere valid critique, it’s a cultivated avocation by many Americans, goaded on by Europeans whose own decadence doesn’t bother them when they can use their ‘old culture’ to intimidate stupid Americans (and this cynical use is hardly not to be expected, but don’t expect to convince anybody smart).

    The only thing I find at all interesting in this thread is that it would even come up. At this point, even the usual most self-hating American bloggers have abandoned the most intense forms of the art, such as Arpege and even Roger, so that when John posts something like “3.Maybe this — “America’s got talent: a talent for producing some of the most unpleasant…”. then you find a ‘mood’ symptom, I suppose. America has ample talent for producing ‘some of the most unpleasant’, but certainly not more than any other nation, and does not do so. It’s the kind of thing that begins to make you lose respect for a person. Always the nation with the most power comes in for this kind of criticism, which is natural, but you do decide whether it’s just impotent whining or not. Culturally, it’s because many half-educated Americans feel inferior culturally to Europe, but that only obtains if old elitist and traditional modes are cited, and those making the criticisms are not nearly as involved in those aspects of culture as I am. In any pop culture sense, the U.S. is light-years beyond all the others.

    But the cynical part is that the garden variety anti-Americanism in Americans is always agreed to cynically by Europeans, which does, of course, prove that Europeans have larger populations of half-educated or half-sophisticated people. And they’d like to get the same power the U.S. has. It’s all so obvious.

    The criticisms by the left of centrists is legal, of course, but so is the criticism of all this insistent Naderism. What should we say, that “We apologize that Ralph Nader nearly destroyed the world but couldn’t quite?” Well, you know, we ‘centrists’ don’t like Naderites any more than you like us. I just hope that’s clear.


    Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  11. I don’t support the contention that America contains more mean-spirited bastards than other countries — merely working on variants of the sentence, which is the aesthetic theme that began the discussion. Substitute “the English” or “the French” for Americans if it pleases you.

    Do you believe, anonymous, that single-payer healthcare or an extension of Medicare to all Americans would be a Naderite destruction of the country?


    Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  12. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’m probably about the only person that never turns on actual TV, but still startled I only heard of her through Christian’s books (a fellow artist write a ‘bio’ of her and I first saw her pic on C’s website about a month ago, and found out about the whole phenomenon). Not only is the vibrato horrible at points, after a while she does lose concentration, actually from the beginning: Once she’s made the sale, she forgets the content of the music and lyrics, and sings all the phrases as separate fragments. And it’s all ozone after that, with those judges thinking they were in one of those kids’ ‘We Were There’ books: As ‘We Were There at the Driving of the Golden Spike’. I’ll say. I actually didn’t want her to be bad, the fact is she is not good, and there is also a YouTube of her singing another piece of Andrew Lloyd Webber shit, ‘Memory’ from ‘Cats’, and she can’t even stay on pitch in that one. Although Streisand couldn’t even sell that one to me.

    Now take a look and listen to this. I just discovered it last night, although I’d been thinking about it for over a week, and quoted it somewhere, barely thinking of it, hadn’t heard it since childhood drive-ins and the taste of those early thin burgers with ketchup and mustard and pickles before we even had MacDonald’s (although I think they’d started, the first was in Lakewood, the old McDonnell Douglas company town that has collapsed since the company folded)…and when I was a kid I looked down on her, thinking of her as a hick, even though I didn’t know she IS a Southern girl till I looked her up in Wiki. Probably second only to Connie Francis in terms of hit singles in the 50s and 60s and with the same kind of ‘precious 50s’ sound, but a bit more country in the voice. But what happened with Brenda Lee is very interesting: She was accepted from the age of TEN(!) as a pop singer, and became a huge star of pop, then at the end of the 60s became a country singer (the opposite of what Dolly Parton did, at least to some degree, she’s more of a personality and a ‘piece of pop’ than a great pop singer, except maybe for ‘9 to 5’, which is marvelous. I’ve heard Brenda Lee since I was 2 years old, and then I find out that even now, she’s only 7 years older than I am. So I found this clip last night, and was startled. I’m using this as a sort of neutral demonstration of what kind of talent and phrasing was even demanded by the masses in the 50s (and Connie Francis has it too, country singers like Patsy Cline had it to some degree, but this particular clip is piss-perfect; others of Lee I found were not quite up to this, but since she’s only 4 ‘ 9 “, she comes across as slightly freakish, but the phrasing–just listen to it!–I couldn’t believe it, and she was never taught, she has the same kind of born-with phrasing that Streisand has, even though her arm movements are awkward and less confident than the voice. Neither Lee nor Streisand nor Francis have the airy lightness Dionne Warwick had with the Bacharach-David songs, but that’s something different. Still, this is really astonishing, and since she sold one gold record after another, it does prove that audiences had certain technical standards that they do not have now–because neither Susan Boyle nor jedward have anything like real talent like this:

    The little video is uncanny, from her little walk out there, and the demure swish of the dress as she sits down, and through to the end, with a very expressive face. You wonder if they didn’t get some inspiration for the aging, failed Baby Jane, for this is BEFORE even that. And these child stars don’t nearly all fail. Just 2 weeks ago, June Havoc, who was the sister of Gypsy Rose Lee, and the original vaudeville star earning $1500 a week in the Depression, then was eclipsed by her stripper sister when she became famous, albeit without much beauty or talent IMO. June, on the other hand, then rallied and became a major B’way star and had a few important roles in film. One of the things the musical ‘Gypsy’ was supposed to show was that Gypsy was the ‘surprise’ talented one. But this is not what really happened. June, the golden child star, thought at first to be the real talent, really WAS the talented one after all–there’s one film of Gypsy Rose Lee with Randolph Scott called ‘Belle of the Yukon’, and, believe me, it’s pretty sad stuff. And yet June is marvelous as an anti-semitic Jew in ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’. Life is more interesting than even the best fiction most of the time, even when it’s not stranger.

    Anyway, I couldn’t use a Streisand as comparison, she’s too famous and has remained so. Lee was as big (and even hugely successful internationally, toured the UK with THE BEATLES as her opening act before they got famous) as Streisand, but for a much shorter time. I was pretty stunned by the odd precious perfection that was commonplace just 50 years ago, and most of them had it then. By now, some like the Dixie Chicks still have it, but with Madonna, musical standards started really going down, as she never really sang well, and everything else about her, remember when people would say ‘she IS scandal’, even though she was always an ordinary girl who just wanted to be scandalous, she’s not really sexy at all to me…but it’s not required that these people really sell a song from start to finish in a traditionally cohesive way. I imagine you’ll be able to hear what I mean. Now, when Lee tries to sing a Cole Porter song like ‘It’s All Right with Me’, which I also listened to, it doesn’t work at all. I also have an old cassette of Dionne Warwick doing an album of Cole Porter, and those don’t really work either. Sinatra could do them, and sometimes some of the other mainstream pop, more often cabaret singers.

    Okay, I got started again, but bad technique was rarely considered something to overlook. In a very few cases, like the old tap dancer Ruby Keeler, who really could not sing or dance, got through with winsome charm when a young girl. I worked with her in ‘No No Nanette’ on B’way for 6 months. In her 60s, she was forced to dance much better, although that was her last appearance. It was exciting working with her, but I’m rambling now from my point, which is already totally off-topic, and even off-argument.


    Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 6:34 pm

  13. “and even off-argument” — LOL

    Brenda Lee I didn’t know except for I’m Sorry and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree as oldies, but I hear what you mean. I listened mostly to rock, which as you know valorized the singer-songwriter even if the singing wasn’t very polished. Maybe I should say especially if — professional singing went out of fashion with Bob Dylan and then Mick Jagger, those icons of authenticity. But many of the pop singers in the 60s had good voices, and they would still hit the top of the charts right along with the rock bands.

    The Susan Boyle I’d heard before as a Youtube, and of course it’s the contrast with her frumpiness that’s so dramatic. Based on the judges’ response she must sing better than the usual contestants. But for a little kid like Brenda Lee to come from hicksville and belt them out like that really was remarkable. I’m guessing that Susan’s moment of fame hasn’t translated into stardom.


    Comment by john doyle — 18 April 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    • Yes, and in some fields of music it does work, as with Dylan, but the ones who still sang ‘symmetrically’, maybe we could call it, like the Beatles and David Bowie, whose voice was great, would also be up there. When rock really went beyond just the infancy of 50s rock ‘n’ roll, it divorced itself totally from pop in a way it hadn’t in the 50s, when it was ‘invented’. That winning song that Boyle sang, from ‘Les Miserables’, is itself part of the cause of this dissolution. There really is an attempt in the big tourist musicals to have some decaf sort of orgasm in nearly every phrase, or it’s just some banal thing like ‘Memory’, Streisand has tons of bad taste, it’s just she can afford to, and even she sounds like shit on that. But in pop that wasn’t rock yet in the 50s there were also those guys like Paul Anka and Nat King Cole and they always had to have something that was pleasing-sounding. By the time of Janis Joplin (who is a good example to bring up), you get an ugly sound but which nevertheless has real meaning and beauty. It’s different when it’s supposed to be pretty–that’s the main thing. When there’s a point to the ugliness, as Mikhail and I were discussing a few weeks ago, as in Cecil Taylor’s playing, then it still has some other dimension you can see has some kind of dimension (I don’t much like Taylor, but do like Joplin). There are even exceptions on those shit American Idol shows–that girl Jennifer Hudson could really belt well in ‘Dreamgirls’ too, and I think hadn’t even been first place, but I’ve never seen the show. And the Stones and the Who are always worth listening to even when it’s not pretty (or much of the time they are.) But if you have a song which is pretty (or meant to be, as all the tourist show songs are, even if I think they’re just mediocre), you have to sing and phrase in a traditional way. Boyle might have been able to sing well had she worked with a coach and sung early on, I don’t know. You can see what it means in some ‘theory way’ or ‘sociology way’, and I can’t argue that she’s definitely still got her audience. No, I’d say she’s a star, albeit it may evaporate in no time, because it’s a novelty, and the people who adored the ‘despite and because of obesity’ part will actually not be able to concentrate on it for very long.

      Brenda Lee is from Atlanta, her real name is Brenda Mae Tarpley, which is fucking hilarious–talk about a hick name crying out to be changed, that was it. But these names can be found at the highest level of the High Arts: Suzanne Farrell’s real name is Roberta Sue Ficker, which does not sound exactly ‘ethereal ballerina’ (and is from Mt. Healthy, Ohio.) I’ve always rather loved ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ even before I started thinking about Brenda Lee as an actual talent (last night), and always thought it was funny. Johnny Mathis was another one of those 50s smoothies, of course. What was so uncanny as well in this clip is the way the orchestra and the voice made a perfect ensemble, and that was not always the case in those days. I hadn’t ever thought of ever as especially musical until I watched this, and yet I’ve been really into Aretha Franklin and some of those before (not so much Diana Ross, the voice isn’t that great, which you can tell in ‘The Wiz’ when you compare it to Lena Horne, another great master of pop.)


      Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 10:01 pm

      • I know what else it is, it’s that sometimes people talk about nerves adding to the performance once you get started. I’ve always been a very nervous performer in that way, and Streisand is famous for her nerves about performing (which is why she gave up stage for film.) But Brenda Lee shows what you can get without a single nerve–it comes across as though she was just born singing, it was no different from walking down the street, and that’s why the ensemble with the orchestra, even in a schmaltzy soap-opera type song like that, has such a perfect embrace, almost, that it is like the kind of superior ensemble you’d hear with a Mozart piano concerto at Carnegie, say with Horowitz and Toscanini back in the 40s. She was listening to the orchestra, not just expecting them to follow her, and interacting with them.


        Comment by anonymous — 18 April 2010 @ 10:19 pm

  14. “I just noticed the title: This is typical of Brits, who think they’re more like other Europeans, and in some ways they are. But they’re crass, they’re selfish, and they’re just as profit-oriented when they have the energy for it as American.”

    But the National Health Service isn’t profit-orientated. In fact, despite its many problems, even the right-wing newspapers in the UK don’t call for it to be gotten rid of, such is its “national treasure” status. That’s the point of the article. Some things are beyond profit-orientation and rational self-interest and need to be heard. They need to be heard more than Susan Boyle needs to be heard. Anti-Americanism isn’t the point here: Patterson is supporting the president for christsake and responding to vicious replies on her American blog. If you’re really upset about her Anti-Americanism, they why don’t you write to her like all those rational people did?

    ” can speak about NB because, whoever he is, he made remarks about me using my real name numerous times.”

    As far as I remember, I used your name about two or three times on one thread at Parody Center because I responding to your very nasty insults towards me surrounding the fact that I use my initials instead of my full name. You called my use of initials egregious so I said that I couldn’t think of anything more egregious than your name – because of the way you bully people.
    I’m very glad you don’t know my name. John does. Notice the difference?

    And if you recognise my anger as peculiar to me – I certainly recognise yours – then why bother with all the NL rubbish? I don’t care about NL and actually know very little about him.

    I agree that some British people are supercilious towards American people but if you find me supercilious in that British way towards you, well that’s because you have given me so many reasons to be. And if you find that my replies have no merit – don’t bloody well read them!


    Comment by NB — 19 April 2010 @ 3:38 am

  15. My comments on this thread were directed at John, not you. I agreed with him that I thought ‘unerringly ruthless’ was a pretty good phrase and gave my reason for liking it. I also agree that ‘uncompassionate’ is clumsy. Then you go shouting everyone down again. One query from John about where this is coming from and he’s immediately accused of bad faith. As far as merit goes, you must know that the feeling’s mutual, so let’s ignore each other after this.


    Comment by NB — 19 April 2010 @ 4:05 am

  16. I believe I mentioned once on the blog that I have tinnitus in one ear. I’m almost certain it’s the delayed aftermath of attending a Who concert in 1971 or so — the absolute loudest band I ever heard. Apparently Pete Townsend typically fakes it on stage these days, his hearing being too poor now to perform properly. Some of these rock bands used to have opening acts that featured skillful singers; e.g., I once attended a Doors concert that was opened by the Staples Singers, who were essentially a gospel group. And most of those old bands really could play live, the studio magic still being quite rudimentary. I remember, after one of those multiband outdoor extravaganzas a la Woodstock, seeing/hearing Rod Stewart and a couple of the Faces jamming with the horn section from Chicago: they were sensational. Though I don’t care for most country music, their musicians are typically quite talented. I suspect there are a lot of creative country musicians in Nashville who resist the homogenization and consequently never get heard outside the local clubs. Watching that Brenda Lee video I found myself distracted by the frantic hand-wavings of the orchestra conductor.

    There are non-profit health providers in the US as well — some insurers like Kaiser Permanente, most doctor-run medical groups, community hospitals. But they all operate within a for-profit economic environment that dictates their policies and procedures. A national health plan doesn’t do away with insurance, which the anti-Obama rhetoric from both sides regards as the villain. The “single payer” is in effect an insurance monopoly owned by the government. The doctors, hospitals, drug companies, device manufacturers and so on all stay within the private sector and can continue to operate as for-profit or nonprofit entities as they see fit. As currently run the Medicare single-payer contracts with private insurance companies to manage the plans for them in different localities. So there’s no threat of big government taking over healthcare. Mostly it seems that people in America aren’t used to thinking about the government as a collective bargaining agency acting on behalf of the citizenry. And for good reason: the federal government hasn’t often performed that way.

    Yesterday I learned how to close comments on a thread, so I think I’ll try doing so now so I can gain some temporary peace of mind. Thanks for the discussion.


    Comment by john doyle — 19 April 2010 @ 5:28 am

  17. …and it appears that the operation is reversible.


    Comment by john doyle — 20 April 2010 @ 10:02 am

  18. Surprised to find Susan Boyle and Brenda Lee singing the same old hick song, originated by Skeeter Davis way back when. Skeeter sounds totally amateur, I was glad to see I’m unsentimental when it comes to whatever, music-wise. Sounds like on a 60s ‘search for talent’ kind of small-town thing used to happen. Then Brenda and then Susan. Brenda’s is better, but Susan’s is very good: I think this must have been some time after she won the show, and they worked on her. She probably sings better, with more concentration and less fear, in a recording studio, and the rough sounds in the voice are pretty in their strange way. She sounds pro in this, although I’d still take Brenda’s if I had to choose. But still–very surprised Ms. Boyle can sound this good:

    1) Skeeter Davis (original)

    2) Brenda Lee (not sure of date, probably 60s or early 70s)


    3) Susan Boyle (last year, most likely)


    Comment by anonymous — 21 April 2010 @ 10:19 pm

  19. Okay, sorry for one more. I hadn’t realized how good this dame was decades ago either, very smoky and sexy bedroom voice, and beautiful. Married Jack Webb of Dragnet, for about 7 years. Wiki says she was a ‘contrast to his pedestrian looks’, but he was probably hung as hell. She was from California, and that’s probably why her version of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ sounds as good as Sinatra’s or Tony Bennett’s. Okay, will try to curb this terrible habit, as it is interrupting discussion of old UK articles about the health care program, as if it hadn’t passed…


    Comment by my commiserations, john — 21 April 2010 @ 10:37 pm

    • Oh, SHIT! I didn’t meant to put Skeeter back on. My commiserations, John…her ‘end of the world’ is okay, nothing great. Here it is:

      But the ‘I Left my Heart…’ is great. She died in 2000.

      I’ll try to curb this musical horror, but Mikhail does it, albeit with more high-toned stuff. I’m sure he turns his nose up at this, but I like all of it.


      Comment by my commiserations, john — 21 April 2010 @ 10:42 pm

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