Sunday, December 31, 2023

My year of 73 concerts

My year of 73 concerts began on 10 January with Adele Sauros (with drummer Jorge Rossy) and ended on 10 December with the Neues Orchester Basel playing Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. I saw Rossy five times, but the two players I saw most were trombonist Lukas Wyss and guitarist Fabio Gouvêa at seven times each – in part because the band I saw most often was the Sarah Chaksad Large Ensemble when they played four nights at the Bird's Eye in July. The best show for dancing was Tinariwen in June; the best show of all was the Bill Frisell Trio with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston in Strasbourg in November. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 31 December 2023)

Saturday, December 30, 2023

A break from daily prose turns into a break for Christmas and a break for covid

As I stumbled toward the end of the Fall Semester, I stopped writing my daily 111-word texts. I kept putting off starting again: first, until after my last classes; then, until after Christmas Day; and then, until after the covid outbreak in the family gathering at my father-in-law's house ended.  With eight people packed into the house, we knew when my son came down with covid that many of us would catch it. Despite my covid and flu shots at the beginning of December, I tested positive myself two days ago, as did my ninety-three-year-old father-in-law, who'd also recently had a covid booster. Luckily, our cases have been mild so far. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 December 2023) 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The “goney” or albatross in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1851)

When Ishmael in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1851) sees a “a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness” on the deck of a ship sailing near Antarctica, he is stunned by this "prodigy of plumage" and has to ask a sailor what the bird is called: a "goney". Later, he finds out that is another name for the albatross, and even later, he reads what he calls "Coleridge's wild Rhyme": Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798). For him, as perhaps for Melville himself on his own maritime voyages, the experience of the living bird both predates and anticipates the experience of the literary bird in Coleridge's narrative poem. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 December 2023) 

Friday, December 15, 2023

The horse race in Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (1973)

In Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (1973), the city of Omelas's Festival of Summer includes a horse race: "[...] boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mud-stained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit." For LeGuin, such young, naked riders using little gear may have been an image of freedom. But according to my horseback-riding daughters (and my horseback-riding students), the limited gear could only be the result of extensive training for both horses and riders – and riding while naked would also be extremely uncomfortable. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 December 2023)

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Hermanos Gutiérrez: Gorgeous instrumental electric-guitar duos

Steve Johnson, a fellow Deadhead on Mastodon, posted a link today to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert by Hermanos Gutiérrez from 31 January 2023. I was immediately entranced by the intertwining guitars of the two brothers, Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez. When I went to check out their albums, I ended buying all five of them from Bandcamp, and then I discovered that they have an Ecuadorian mother and a Swiss father, and that they are based in Zurich (so we share a country). Their instrumental electric-guitar music has echoes of many of my favorites – from Neil Young and Ry Cooder to Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, and even Tinariwen and Tamikrest. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 December 2023)



Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Running into a friend at Times Square subway station in December 1984: Andre Braugher (1962-2023)

In December 1984, on my way to see pianist Kenny Barron at the Sweet Basil jazz club in Manhattan, I was briefly confused about where to go in Times Square subway station. When I made a sharp left, I almost ran into someone, who then seemed to follow me while muttering as if angry. Turning to apologize, I instead called the name of a Stanford friend: "Dre!" We took the same train, so we chatted until I got off to go to the club. He had not been muttering with anger but practicing lines for a course at Juilliard. That was the last time I saw the wonderful Andre Braugher (1962-2023). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 December 2023)

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Pequot nation, the source of the name of Captain Ahab’s ship in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1851)

In Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1851), Ishmael explains the name of Captain Ahab's ship: “Pequod, you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient Medes.” The Pequot War fought from 1636-1638 between the Pequot nation and several of the New England colonies did lead to the dispersal of the Pequot, but two branches of the nation still today. But Ishmael, like the local, nineteenth-century New England historians studied by Jean M. O'Brien in "Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England", declares the Pequots extinct even as he refers to them as a well-known, celebrated memory. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 December 2023)

Monday, December 11, 2023

A trace in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1851) of the desire to extend enslavement in the mid-19th-century United States

In Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1851), while explaining how Nantucket whalers control two-thirds of the globe, Ishmael touches on the contemporary desires for expansion in the United States: “Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada [...].” In the antebellum South, many enslavers, such as Senator Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippi in 1850, hoped to extend enslavement beyond Texas to the Caribbean and Central American countries: "I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. ... I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason–for the planting and spreading of slavery." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 December 2023)

Note: The Brown quotation is from James M. McPherson, "The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era", Oxford UP 1988, 106.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

My seventy-third concert this year, and my first Beethoven symphony ever

For my seventy-third concert this year, I finally went to hear some classical music this afternoon. It was also the first time I ever heard a Beethoven symphony played live: the Seventh, performed at the Stadtcasino Basel by the Neues Orchester Basel, with Christian Knüsel conducting. It's a work I apparently know better than I thought, as I was humming along to its melodies all the way through. There was also Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Chouchane Siranossian, in which I especially liked the interplay between the violin and the tympani, played by Yuriko Hänni. Apparently, Siranossian liked Hänni's playing, too: she gave her the flowers she was given after the performance. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 December 2023)

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Finishing “Moby Dick” on my fourth try

In English class in ninth or tenth grade, we read an abridged version of Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1851). Three times over the decades since then, I tried to read the whole book, but each time I didn't get very far before I stalled. Once, I even decided to stop (rather than just stumbling to a halt) because it seemed like it would be a book best read in a seminar with other people to discuss it. After I finished my reading of all of Charles Dickens's novels in August, I took up "Moby Dick" again, and on Thursday, I actually finished it, about 45 years after I read that abridgement. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 December 2023)

Friday, December 08, 2023

Durham Cathedral and English and Syrian music in Ken Loach’s “The Old Oak” (2023)

In Ken Loach's "The Old Oak" (2023), Syrian refugee Yara (Ebla Mari) goes to Durham with pubkeeper TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner) to pick up donations for the community kitchen at TJ's pub  in their village. There, she goes into Durham Cathedral to hear the choir practicing their centuries-old music in the almost one-thousand-year-old cathedral, which moves her to reflect on the destruction of similar buildings in the ongoing civil war in Syria. Later, at that community kitchen, a man plays Syrian music on the oud during a slide show of photographs of the villagers taken by Yara. That music, too, is centuries-old, yet made new again every time it is performed. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 December 2023)

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Donald Trump has only recently been frequently called a “fascist"

On the Daily Show on Tuesday, guest host Charlamagne tha God claimed that "Democrats have been crying 'fascist' for soooo loooong." He mentioned criticism of Republican Presidential candidates going back to George W. Bush in 2000. But while Democrats painted Republicans as dangerous from Bush to John McCain (2008) to Mitt Romney (2012), I don't recall any use of that "F" word among Democrats, pundits, and commentators back then. I don't have the resources to confirm this, but I'm pretty sure that even the late-night comedians didn't say that before this year. I was really struck, at least, when Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers recently began calling Donald Trump a fascist. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 December 2023)

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

The Trump succession that was on a T-shirt during Donald Trump’s presidency

Even during Donald Trump's presidency in the United States from 2017-2021, his supporters were already in favor of a Trump dictatorship. I remember seeing a T-shirt someone wore at one of his rallies that was quite explicit: "Donald Trump, 2016-2024; Donald Trump, Jr., 2024-2032; Eric Trump, 2032-2040; Ivanka Trump, 2040-2048; Barron Trump, 2048-2056." (Tiffany was left out of the succession.) That timeline may have been expressed in keeping with the United States constitution's limits on presidents to two four-year terms (and it may have been inaccurate in its emphasis on election years), but it expressed – and expresses – the MAGA wish for unchallenged power to be given to Trump and his family. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 December 2023)

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Jim Gordon, the drummer on Tom Waits’s “The Heart of Saturday Night” (1974)

"New Coat of Paint", which opens Tom Waits's "The Heart of Saturday Night" (1974), begins with a brilliant lick by drummer Jim Gordon and settles into a lovely shuffle. Gordon (1945-2023) played on many brilliant recordings in the 1960s and 1970s and even got a co-writing credit for the piano coda to Eric Clapton's "Layla" in 1970. Years ago, I learned he was serving a life sentence for murder, but when I recently found out he played drums on "New Coat of Paint", I looked further and also learned that he suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia when he murdered his mother in 1983, and that he died in prison this past March. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 December 2023)

Monday, December 04, 2023

“To take the world back into caves”: A metaphor from a fossil-fuel executive and from Old Man Warner in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery"

Sultan Al Jaber, the President of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, challenged former Irish President Mary Robinson on 21 November to describe “a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.” Old Man Warner, "the oldest man in town" in Shirley Jackson's short-story "The Lottery" (1948), responds similarly to talk "of giving up the lottery": "Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves [...]." Warner wants to maintain the murderous tradition of the story's deadly lottery; Al Jaber wants to maintain the murderous use of fossil fuels. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 December 2023)


Sunday, December 03, 2023

The New York Times publishes a list of ten white men “behind the modern artificial intelligence movement"

When I saw a link to J. Edward Moreno's "The Who’s Who Behind the Modern Artificial Intelligence Movement" on the New York Times Mastodon feed, I saw the picture of Elon Musk that promoted the article and wondered if the article would only refer to men. But I also hoped Moreno and his editors would have made sure to avoid such bias. But of course the "who's who" list includes ten men, all white (or at least, from their pictures, able to pass as white), from Altman to Zuckerberg. There's no mention of women doing important critical work on AI, such as Emily M. Bender, or non-white researchers like Timnit Gebru. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 3 December 2023)


Saturday, December 02, 2023

A coalition to defeat Donald Trump: From Ocasio-Cortez to Cheney

In an interview published yesterday by the Swiss online news outlet Republik, Daniel Ziblatt, Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University, argues that, to defeat Donald Trump in the 2024 United States presidential election, a broad coalition is necessary: from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democratic Congresswoman from New York) on the left to Liz Cheney (former Republican Congresswoman from Wyoming) on the right. Coalitions are necessary to govern the United States, with its system that has come to be based on two main parties that bring many types of people together, and only such an inclusive coalition can be sure to defeat the minority MAGA coalition that has formed around Trump. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 2 December 2023)

Friday, December 01, 2023

“Space” from The Grateful Dead, the Bill Frisell Trio, and Sparks and Tides with Andreas and Matthias Tschopp

I loved the ten minutes or so of "Space" at concerts by The Grateful Dead, when guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir (and sometimes bassist Phil Lesh and keyboardist Brent Mydland) played free-improvised feedback and textures. It's great to hear other performers arrive at a similar "space" in their concerts, as in some of the passages guitarist Bill Frisell played in Strasbourg last month with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Roylston. Tonight at the Bird's Eye in Basel, brothers Andreas Tschopp on trombone and Matthias Tschopp on baritone saxophone, playing with their band Sparks and Tides, twice took their horns and their electronic devices into "space" for long, beautiful passages. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 1 December 2023)