For a long time, I have detested the music of Philip Glass. As a teenager, I was swept away by Koyaanisqatsi in the theater (more because the images were new to me, and the dystopian picture of modern life sympathetic, than because of the music, however fitting), but under several influences came to dislike the blunt, in-your-face rigidity of his minimalism, preferring the Steve Reich of Music For 18 Musicians or the Morton Feldman of Rothko Chapel. I went 25 years without changing my mind, snickering at the unflattering Glass segment of Peter Greenaway’s documentary Four American Composers, sighing at the redundancy of the film scores — but a year or so ago, listening to the radio, I found myself rapt again.
Glass by Steve Pyke
The piece was Glass’s Symphony No. 9. It’s repetitive (what would …
Best wishes to all for the new year. Among my resolutions: more postings.
Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973; via the Guardian). I like the heap of his signature hobnailed boots behind him — I think they stand for the compulsive quality of his work. May we all contrive both to harness and indulge our compulsions, in due proportion!
Paolo Soleri, now 91, was born in Turin and studied architecture there. He came to the US in the 1940s to work with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. (He recounts amusingly (The Urban Ideal, 23-4) that with the little English he commanded at the time, he found himself on a bus to Tolleson, Arizona before being set right.) After a few years back in Italy, he returned to Arizona, setting up an architectural center of his own, Arcosanti. Much of its income came from handcraft projects, such as cast metal bells; but it has also been a laboratory for his architectural ideas.
He’s a visionary, who has seen certain ecological issues very clearly — notably, that the most sustainable mode of living for billions of humans on this planet of ours is to cluster together in cities, leaving as much as possible of nature to nature. Check out the wide-ranging interview with Jerry Brown (1, 2), from…
1Yes, I know I could have borrowed from the Eagles here, but we’re all above that, aren’t we? 2Look, I know this is a bit cliché, but it makes me happy, ok?3 3Yes, I know there are a bunch of defensively phrased rhetorical questions down here. Give me a break, will you?
Reproductions of Arneson’s Yin and Yang Eggheads appear along the Embarcadero, situated together just east of the Justin Herman Plaza fountain, across from the Port of San Francisco Ferry Building. The sculpture was dedicated in mid-December. A plaque recognizes it as a reproduction of one in a series of five acrylic-on-bronze sculptures commissioned for UC Davis.
A native of Benicia, Arneson taught ceramics at UC Davis from 1962 to 1991. His Egghead sculptures were created for specific campus locations and were installed during 1991-94. The original Yin and Yang Eggheads sit outside the UC Davis fine arts complex courtyard, where they were positioned by Arneson himself shortly before his death in 1992.
… the creators of “I Like America” had made one critical error: While they had not necessarily misunderstood the historical relationship between Americans and cowboy iconography, they totally misinterpreted its magnitude. With the possible exception of Jon Bon Jovi, I can’t think of any modern American who gives a shit about cowboys, even metaphorically. Dramatic op-ed writers are wont to criticize warhawk politicians by comparing them to John Wayne, but no one really believes that Hondo affects policy; it’s just a shorthand way to describe something we already understand. But European intellectuals use cowboy culture to understand American sociology, and that’s a specious relationship (even during moments when it almost makes sense). As it…
On November 30th, 1899, at Sixteenth and Folsom Streets in San Francisco, Berkeley defeated Stanford 30-0 in the Big Game. The most famous trophy of the game was the Axe, which had been introduced in the baseball Big Game that spring. But with this victory, the second in a row for Cal football, Mayor James Phelan of San Francisco also awarded Berkeley a finer and more substantial trophy, a lifesize bronze statue called “The Football Players”, which stands today in a grove toward the west side of campus, on the way up into the university from downtown Berkeley.
Douglas Tilden was born in 1860, and attended the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. He went to New York and then to Paris for further studies. He finished “The Football Players” at the end of seven years in Paris — note that, apart from being French, the players are dressed for rugby rather than American football. He …
Would it surprise you to learn that in rural Wisconsin, at the end of the 19th century, there was poverty, failure, vandalism, arson, domestic violence, disease, depression, alcoholism, insanity, suicide, and murder? Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip (1973, reissued 2000) is built on the assumption that it will. The book consists largely of clippings from the Badger State Banner, of Black River Falls, Jackson County, WI, and images by Charles Van Schaick, a local commercial photographer. After some 200 pages of grim citation, Lesy steps in to comment directly:
Pause now. Draw back from it. There will be time again to experience and remember. For a minute, wait, and then set your mind to consider a different set of circumstances….
The book certainly made a strong impression on me when I saw it as a boy. Reading it now, I have to wonder what the fuss was. The people in the pictures…
America’s first composer died on this day in 1800. William Billings was born in 1746 in Boston, and lived there all his life. He was described as “somewhat deformed in person, blind in one eye, one leg shorter than the other, one arm somewhat withered.” He was a tanner by trade, and self-taught in music. In 1770, he published The New England Psalm-Singer, a collection of his own compositions. (Above is the frontispiece, by Paul Revere.) He would go on to publish five more such books; his music was widely reprinted; and he taught singing frequently. Yet this was not a living, and he spent the last decade of his life in penury. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
Billings’ music is almost all four-part vocal harmony, the prevailing form of religious music in his day. It’s essentially diatonic, with little modulation or use of secondary dominants. The technique is crude in a…
Of her tumultuous, nomadic life, Tina Modotti spent only eight years in the United States. She was born in Friuli, northern Italy, in 1896, and spent her earliest years in Austria. Her father emigrated to San Francisco, and in 1913 she followed him. She worked as a seamstress, but soon began acting, rising to stardom in the local Italian theater. In 1918, she married a bohemian aspiring artist named Roubaix de l’Abrie (“Robo”) Richey, and they moved to Los Angeles. They had some success in crafts (e.g. batik), and Modotti made some first steps in a film career, appearing most notably in The Tiger’s Coat (1920). But in the same period, she met Edward Weston, and they began an intense relationship, both a love affair and an apprenticeship, which turned her toward the work for which she is now remembered.
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This blog is a blog about history, Yiddishkeit, and the Muppets, neither exclusively nor necessarily in that order. And as William Gibson said about this very blog (no, really), “History can save your ass.” Yiddishkeit and the Muppets are just extras.
is the associate director of the Cornell in Washington program and a senior lecturer at Cornell University. He teaches courses on European history, modern military history, guerrilla war, and the role of popular will in waging war.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. He is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, which won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize in 2004, and his new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2012.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. She is the author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996).