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We should all stumble like Patti Smith. She proves how redemption can quickly beckon.
The rocker-writer, now 69, pulls off a marvelously poignant and unexpected essay for The New Yorker just a few days after a memorable, if challenging appearance before a worldwide audience.
Most people would have ducked under the covers for a week, the door closed, junk food and a flask at their side, staring at Lifetime reruns. Instead, Smith turns a gaffe into poetry with an evocative and, it’s learned, totally unsolicited piece that ties together a moment of stark fear with the rich joys of a live lived in full.
The saga begins with her agreeing to perform in Stockholm at the annual Nobel Prize concert that’s part of presentation of several prizes, including for Literature.
It was only later that it was announced that Bob Dylan was the first musician to win the Literature award. She decided that singing one of her own songs was inappropriate. But she was conflicted with the self-doubt that surely partly fuels her genius.
“In his absence, was I qualified for this task? Would this displease Bob Dylan, whom I would never desire to displease? But, having committed myself and weighing everything, I chose to sing ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’ a song I have loved since I was a teen-ager, and a favorite of my late husband.”
She arrived in Sweden, rehearsed with the orchestra and took to the stage before a packed house including the King and Queen. She imagined past laureates passing by, such as Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann and Albert Camus. She recalled her mother buying her a Dylan album when she was 16.
Her heart pounded when Dylan, a no-show, was announced formally as the Literature recipient. She stood to perform before some of the great minds of the world, surrounded by a large classical orchestra.
She started well but was overcome with a “plethora of emotions” she could not navigate. She briefly forgot the words. She was thrown. She stopped. She apologized “for being so nervous.” She then continued, albeit a bit haltingly but finished with aplomb and the obvious respect and even tear-filled warmth of her elite, implacably reserved (Scandinavian) audience.
She writes: “It was not lost on me that the narrative of the song begins with the words ‘I stumbled alongside of 12 misty mountains,’ and ends with the line ‘And I’ll know my song well before I start singing.'”
“As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.”
We know because she felt compelled to write about the experience and, really, her life in a piece she spontaneously emailed to David Remnick, polymath editor of The New Yorker.
A few years ago at The New Yorker Festival, Remnick took a guitar and backed up Smith during a rendition of her “Because the Night.” They’d stayed in touch.
A few days after the Nobel performance came an email that opens with her plan to perform Dec. 30 in Chicago on her 70th birthday; in fact 70 years after being born “within the vortex of a huge snowstorm” after her mom went into labor in a cab along Lake Shore Drive.
Many moons later, after her husband died, her father counseled that time does not heal all wounds but “gives us the tools to endure them.” It explains her evocative finale.
“The year is coming to an end; on December 30th, I will perform ‘Horses’ with my band, and my son and daughter, in the city where I was born,” she concludes. “And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments. Seventy years of moments, seventy years of being human.”
So The New Yorker, which is running on all creative cylinders these days and lapping much of the field, now gets a freebie from Patty Smith! Life is not fair.
“Sadly, she did not pluck me from journalism to join the band,” Remnick quipped to me. “But, much better, she wrote this piece for us.” (The New Yorker)
Read it and see why Smith has no reason to dwell on the Stockholm stumble. Don’t think twice, it’s all right.
Trump’s tech bigshots’ meeting
Gawker Media, don’t be surprised. The session “highlighted the ascendancy of billionaire investor Peter Thiel, who as one of the president-elect’s trusted advisers is at the axis of the political power shift in Silicon Valley.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Check the Journal’s seating chart. Thiel sat next to Trump, a whole lot closer than Jeff Bezos of Amazon/The Washington Post or the two Microsoft representatives.
Gingrich on Rubin
Newt Gingrich was in full media-bashing mode on Fox last night. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, he said, “is the perfect example of…a person who can write well and sound like they know something but doesn’t know anything.”
He castigated those journalists who “sit down and render judgement.” That’s presumably unlike cable news pundits who self-destructed as Speaker of the House but who affect an intellectual certitude on any topic under the sun.
Yahoo’s one billion user breach
Sheesh. Remember stumbling Yahoo? “A newly discovered data breach exposed the private information of more than 1 billion Yahoo users, the company said, dwarfing the scope of another recently disclosed hack and casting doubt on Verizon Communications Inc.’s planned acquisition of the internet company.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Politico boots writer
The latest victim of these days of tweet-fueled journalist self-absorption (Trump is not alone) is Politico magazine writer Julia Ioffe. Her deal was jettisoned after “a tweet that referenced a possible incestuous relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka.” (Poynter)
The press corps assigns seats in the White House press room via the White House Correspondents’ Association (for example, a few years back I had had fourth-row middle with The New York Daily News). But new Chief of State Reince Priebus raises the notion of changing that control, and even the ritual of daily briefings.
Jeff Mason, a Reuters correspondent and association chief this year, was very diplomatic on “Morning Joe” today and said there have been substantive discussions with the Trump folks on matters, notably so-called press pools. The seating business dates to the Reagan years. It was just a lot less hassle for the association to handle what is a rather political process.
It is implicit that Vladimir Putin would be totally aware of any Russian hacking of U.S. government agencies, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. NBC News went further with this: “U.S. intelligence officials now believe with ‘a high level of confidence’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.” (NBC)
Not so bucolic enfolds of Western Massachusetts
This Amherst College alum painfully finds this tale in The Hampshire Gazette: “Reports of hate speech surfaced this month at three schools in Amherst and Hadley, mirroring a growing trend nationwide in the weeks after Donald Trump was elected president.” (Gazette)
“The incidents at Amherst College, Amherst Regional Middle School and Hopkins Academy in Hadley targeted various groups with discriminatory and vile language and symbols. All three schools responded by condemning the actions and renewing their commitment to teaching tolerance and civility.”
Leading the pack is the college men’s cross country team, now sidelined by a “toxic culture” which produced a series of “racist, misogynist and homophobic” email and social media exchanges. “The despicable language included descriptions of specific women in sexually explicit terms including ‘meatslabs,’ as well as racist comments.”
Checking the pulse of Durango
The Durango Herald reports that its owner, Ballantine Communications, will holds focus groups next month on content, possible changes in frequency and “new digital advertising opportunities for the real estate, auto and employment markets.” (Durango Herald)
The session will be invitation-only in the Fort Lewis College Student Union. “Given the rapid change in the way people read and use news sources, the company felt it was imperative to hold discussions with readers and advertisers, said Doug Bennett, Ballantine CEO.”
Meanwhile, if you’re in town, “A Kiwanis luncheon talk will be held at noon Thursday at the Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Ave., to reflect on the past hundred years of whitewater adventuring.”
“Some of Trump’s Economic Stats Are True.” (Bloomberg)
The parade of lists in full swing
The train of holiday “best of” lists is careening our way. They now include “20 Best R&B Albums of 2016” (Rolling Stone), “The 50 Best Albums of 2016” (Pitchfork), “The Best Movies of 2016” (The New Yorker), “The 10 Best Video Games of 2016” (The Guardian), “The Best TV of 2016, Part 1” (A.V. Club) and “The 23 Biggest Sean Hannity Suck-Up Lines to Donald Trump in 2016” (I made that one up).
“President-elect Donald Trump means business when it comes to fixing America’s economy,” Hannity informed his flock last night. He won’t be inaugurated until Jan. 20 “but that’s not stopping him from cleaning up the economic mess that President Obama, of course, is leaving behind.”
But what about this selfless bulletin?!
“Actor Kevin Sorbo and his wife, Sam. They’re here to talk about a brand new movie that I am the executive producer of. We’ll announce it tonight.”
Well, word of the movie, “Let There Be Light,” about an atheist’s conversion, has been out for a long time. (AL.com) But Hannity gave the Sorbos lots of air time to shill for their flick and assured, “We’ll have you back when we’re near release time,” namely an entire year from now. Academy Award voters, you may not need to lose much sleep.
Nexus of pop culture and comics
“Kanye West, Jay Z, and Vic Mensa are the latest artists to have their album artwork used as the inspiration for Marvel variant comic book covers. A new cover for Mighty Captain Marvel #1 is based on The Life of Pablo; Jay’s American Gangster has been remixed for Elektra #1; and Vic’s There’s A Lot Going On inspired a new Bullseye #1 variant.” (Pitchfork)
The year in search
Ad Age unveils a pretty arresting two-minute Google video on the “Year in Search,” which includes “some of the world’s most shocking news stories — including Brexit, the election of Trump, the Orlando shooting and Syria” but also “bright points and a message of hope among the lowlights and controversial happenings of this year.” (Ad Age)
The rectangular Google search box surfaces to highlight particular words or symbolic images, like “Refugees welcome.” It includes “Simone Biles at the Rio Olympics; the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win; Beyonce’s release of ‘Lemonade” and the deaths of Prince, Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Nancy Reagan and Alan Rickman. Trump’s handshake with Obama portrays the President-Elect in a more hopeful light, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also feature, as does Lin-Manuel Miranda’s emotional Tony’s speech. The film ends with the words ‘Love is out there. Search on.'”
The morning babble
“Fox & Friends” speculated on a White House First Dog for Barron Trump, the lucky youngin’ born somewhere between third base and home (tough life), then pivoted to its slavishly pro-Trump qualms about Russian hacking. “They’re trying to muddy the waters before the Electors vote on Dec. 19,” referring to the College of Electors, said Steve Doocy, an evil-mainstream-media-critic-in-chief.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” was all transition, focusing on a rumored State Department role for notorious John Bolton and day-old reports that Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn shared secret information he should not have as an Obama adviser. (The Washington Post)
Joe Scarborough went a bit afar speculating on something “I have absolutely no knowledge about whatsoever,” namely possible arm-twisting by Trump during a post summit private session involving Apple CEO Tim Cook.
CNN “New Day” was transition, transition and Trump ethics, or lack of same. Bloomberg View’s Tim O’Brien, a former New York Times reporter whom Trump once sued over a book about him (Trump lost), argued that the Trump family is being “fairly flagrant,” as symbolized by having his kids and a son-in-law at the tech executives “summit” yesterday, among other matters.
Entanglements will “haunt his administration,” argued O’Brien, who envisions shell companies to be conceived by the children to “line their pockets in the process.” And, of course, as pundit Errol Louis, reminded us (as if we needed it for the 4,578th time), we still don’t know the deal with Trump’s taxes. After all this time.