Sunday, April 14, 2024

Faith Ringgold at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts in February 2024

During my February visit to Massachusetts, my sister, my mother, and I visited the Worcester Art Museum (WAM), where there was an exhibition of work by Faith Ringgold (1930-2024), who died yesterday. I walked into the small room containing in her work and was immediately spellbound by "Picasso's Studio". This quilt from WAM's collection, which is part seven of Ringgold's sequence "The French Collection", depicts a young African-American woman modeling for Picasso with "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" in the background, with the model's story framing the image. Ringgold's use of texts in her images has made me interested in teaching a course on her wide-ranging work, from such quilts to children's books. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 April 2024)

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” and the 200th Anniversary of the death of Lord Byron

Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department" will drop on Friday, 19 April 2024. This morning, while paging through the 4 March 2024 issue of "The New Yorker", I have just read the beginning of an article by Anthony Lane about English Romantic poet Lord Byron, who "succumbed to a fever on April 19, 1824, in the town of Missolonghi, on the west coast of Greece, at the age of thirty-six." For a possible link between Swift and Byron, I've found only a BBC article that mentions Byron as one example of "a tortured poet" but does not note that Swift's album is coming out on the two-hundredth anniversary of Byron's death. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 April 2024) 

Friday, April 12, 2024

My result with an exercise for students in writing long sentences

After the hitherto mostly pleasant Sunday afternoon reunion of old college roommates for a round of their favorite card games abruptly ended with a surprisingly fierce dispute about the relative merits of French, Italian, and Australian wine, someone on the ground floor of the old brownstone turned on the flickering light in the musty stairwell, and the party's last guest, still so shocked by all that anger about such a trivial subject as to be sure something else must have been going on, cried about a long-lost love on the way home under the star-filled winter sky that the last traces of the cloudless day's light had long since faded from. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 April 2024) 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Never Any Tag

Clutter and cushions and glasses and cups and saucers and sauces and bottles and cans and canisters and candle drips and winey drops and beery drabs and one-faced photos and two-faced snaps and middle-finger poses and outstretched tongues and crucified eyes are the aftermath strewn across the stained rugs and spotted carpets and scratched parquets that barefoot or stockinged or hosed or sandaled gals and maids and lasses and dames are tiptoeing between with their highest wildest heels in their tireless tired hands and their slippery sticky fingers after a latte evening and an airy morning as we arise to gather up ourselves and everything on another dawning Never Any Tag. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 April 2024)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

“Stop Making Sense”, the Talking Heads concert movie, in 1984 and 2024

I saw Talking Heads on 6 December 1983 at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium (now the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium), the week before the four shows filmed at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood to make Jonathan Demme's 1984 movie "Stop Making Sense". The movie reinforced my memory of the concert's images, such as David Byrne running around the stage during "Life During Wartime", dancing with a lamp during "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)", and wearing a giant suit during "Girlfriend Is Better". Tonight I saw the 40th anniversary restoration at the kult.kino in Basel, and it remains one of the most extraordinary works of art I have ever experienced. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 April 2024) 

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

“The piano is a sculpture”: Jason Moran plays Duke Ellington in Basel, 8 April 2024

“The piano is a sculpture. The piano is a machine”: Thus spoke Jason Moran to begin his solo concert of Duke Ellington music last night at Basel's Martinskirche. During “Black and Tan Fantasy”, he put the pedal down to carve a two-handed sculpture of mobile bass notes. As he lingered on his patterns, the piano-machine’s high strings sang overtones that grew ever louder every second. “Care is built into the walls” of the church, he said later, and after describing his afternoon visit to Claude Monet’s “Waterlilies” at the Fondation Beyeler, Moran made “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That a Swing” a statement of Ellington’s painterly achievements. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 April 2024) 

Monday, April 08, 2024

“J’ai oublié les mots”: Gregory Privat in Basel, 8 April 2024

The day’s last light fades through the stained-glass windows of the Martiniqueskirche in Basel on this summery Monday evening in early spring. Gregory Privat touches the keys, the hammers strike the strings, and arpeggios, octaves, and melodies resound from the open lid of the grand piano (whose polish reflects it shimmering interior) and echo through the church to our insatiable ears. Then he sings, he loops his words into choirs, he touches the keys more and more, and his voices fly up to the frescoes so many have seen in the silence of the church for centuries and centuries: “J’ai oublié les mots; J’ai oublié les mots; J’ai oublié les mots.” (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 April 2024) 

Sunday, April 07, 2024

“For you and I” and “of you and I” in Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” (1989)

In Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" (1989), the butler-narrator Mr. Stevens tells the housekeeper Miss Kenton they just accept a decision made by their employer Lord Darlington: "His lordship has made his decision and there is nothing for you and I to debate over." This construction with "you and I" after a preposition appears several times in Stevens's usage, including in the novel's final pages: "Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make a small contribution count for something true and worthy." Its appearances always mark class boundaries – between Lord Darlington and his employees; between Stevens and people from lower classes. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 April 2024)

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Isak Dinesen’s “The Blank Page” (1957) and Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” (2017)

After discussing "The Blank Page" (1957) by Isak Dinesen (1885-1962) with students on Friday, 22 March, I discussed Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" (from "reputation", 2017) with students on Wednesday, 3 April. I didn't notice the coincidence of the titles until I was preparing the song and noticed the connection between blankness and writing: "I've got a blank space baby / And I'll write your name." In a 1981 article, Susan Gubar interpreted Dinesen's "blank page" as "an act of defiance" against the erasure of women from literary history. In that light, Swift defiantly asserts herself as the writer who controls the story in "Blank Space" and writes stories in her songs. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 April 2024)

Friday, April 05, 2024

A New Yorker cartoon and the fantasy of emigration from a reactionary United States

The Daily Cartoon on the "New Yorker" website for 4 April 2024 depicts a father reading a bedtime story to his daughter: "And so, freaked out about the coming election, they moved to France and lived happily after." The idea comes up whenever the forces of reaction in the United States take power, or just come close to doing so: we can move to Canada or to Europe. But right now, France (like other countries to emigrate to) is facing its own takeover by a radical right-wing party: Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National (which was founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 and called the Front National until 2018). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 April 2024)

 


Thursday, April 04, 2024

“Allkey dallkey”: Four years of rereading “Finnegans Wake”

In my Facebook Memories this morning, I read a quotation I posted four years ago today: "Allkey dallkey, sayd the shop’s housebound, for he was as deep as the north star [...]ey" (James Joyce, “Finnegans Wake”, 317.5-6). I was struck then and now by "allkey dallkey" as a variation on "okey dokey" – a trace of how long the latter phrase has been around. That was during my first reading of the novel, which I completed on 28 October 2021. Of course I immediately started my second reading of this novel of "recirculation" (3.2). And today, on 4 April 2024 I read the same passage that I quoted on 4 April 2020. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 April 2024) 

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

A phrase about Paul Celan and the title of a book by Alfred Bodenheimer

I've been occasionally reading a couple pages in Bertrand Badiou's "Paul Celan. Eine Bildbiographie" (Suhrkamp, 2023). Today, on page 58, in the chapter about Celan's life in Bucharest from Spring 1945 to November 1947, I read a section about how Celan (1920-1970) changed his name in 1947 from Antschel to Celan: "Mit dem Namen des Vaters bruchlos brechen." He broke with his father's name by changing it, but he did so without a break by reversing the Romanian spelling "Ancel" to get "Celan". I was struck by Badiou's expression because a decade ago I translated a book by Alfred Bodenheimer, "Ungebrochen gebrochen. Über jüdische Narrative und Traditionsbildung" (2012), as "Unbrokenly Broken." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 3 April 2024)

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Doctor Eckleburg in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925) and King Gillette in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925)

"The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high": F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925) mentions this faded billboard "half way between West Egg and New York" seven times in all. Early in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925), a bearded man sees "an advertising card" with "a highbrowed clean-shaven distinguished face [...]. Under it in copybook writing was the signature King C. Gillette." While Gillette never reappears, the advertisement is effective: the man buys a razor, goes home, and shaves. Fitzgerald's old billboard is nothing but an insistent symbol, while Dos Passos's new advertisement is simultaneously really effective and potentially symbolic. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 2 April 2024)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Racist attacks on Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and the systematic racist effects of redlining in the city

Emmanuel Felton's article in yesterday's "Washington Post", "Baltimore mayor weathers racist attacks after bridge collapse," refers to Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a thirty-eight-year-old Democrat who has been described on white supremacist Elon Musk's microblogging site X as looking "like your average street criminal." But Mayor Scott wants to address Baltimore's problems, "including undoing the damage done by racial redlining," that caught my attention. The practice of drawing red lines around minority neighborhoods in the United States may seem like history, but even in the last decade multiple banks have paid steep fines for discriminatory lending practices. That context links racist attacks on Mayor Scott and racist practices he aims to undo. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 1 April 2024) 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Beyoncé’s incredible run: "Lemonade" (2016), "Renaissance" (2022), and "Cowboy Carter" (2024)

Last week, I took a deep dive into all of Beyoncé's albums to prepare for the release of her "Cowboy Carter" on Friday. I've listened to Beyoncé in bits and pieces in the past, but never all at once. Her first five albums – "Dangerously in Love" (2003); "B'Day" (2006); "I Am... Sasha Fierce" (2008); "4" (2011); "Beyoncé" (2013) – are all full of good songs and are more than worth many listens; I was especially struck by "If I Were a Boy" and "1+1". But "Lemonade" (2016), "Renaissance" (2022), and now "Cowboy Carter" (2024) are extraordinary; they belong to any list of three great albums in a row by the same artist. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 31 March 2024)

Saturday, March 30, 2024

"Your body renews itself every seven years”: An idea that’s been around at least since John Dos Passos’s novel “Manhattan Transfer” (1925)

I'd have assumed that the idea that the cells in human bodies are completely replaced in a seven-year cycle arose during my lifetime, so I was surprised to find Congo in John Dos Passos's 1925 novel "Manhattan Transfer" making the point in a scene before World War One: "Your body renews itself every seven years." While I haven't been able to find out when the idea originated, or with whom, I have learned that while the average life of human cells may be seven to ten years, the life spans of cells vary widely, with some cells in the lens of the eye forming in the embryo and surviving until death. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 March 2024)

Friday, March 29, 2024

Reafference, exafference, and a possible origin of the mind (thanks to Ed Yong’s “An Immense World”)

According to Ed Yong's "An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us" (2022), organisms distinguish between the sensations of their own activity ("reafference") and those from outside ("exafference"). Even organisms with a few hundred neurons have a system like this: the signals generating activities split to also predict how each activity will feel. The predicted perceptions can be compared to actual perceptions to distinguish "reafference" from "exafference". Yong quotes neuroscientist Michael Hendricks: sentience might be "the process of sorting perceptual experiences into self-generated and other-generated." If so, the origin of the mind must lie in that separation of self and other, even in the simplest nervous systems. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 29 March 2024)

Thursday, March 28, 2024

My imaginary eleven-piece band for a joint country-pop tour by Beyoncé and Taylor Swift

Back in 2018, I imagined a jazz nonet to tour with Beyoncé, but with her turning to country music now with "Cowboy Carter" due out tomorrow, I've come up with an eleven-piece band of international musicians from the United States, Benin, Cuba, Chile, and the United Kingdom for a joint country-pop tour by Beyoncé and Taylor Swift with jazz soloists, big-band arrangements, and several other incredible singers: Rhiannon Giddens (banjo, vocals), Lionel Loueke (guitar, vocals), Chris Thile (mandolin, vocals), Esperanza Spalding (bass, vocals), Eric Harland (drums), Alison Krauss (violin, vocals), Nicholas Payton (trumpet, arrangements), Soweto Kinch (alto saxophone, rap), Jany McPherson (piano, vocals), Robin Eubanks (trombone), and Melissa Aldana (tenor saxophone).  (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 28 March 2024)

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Hapax legomena in Taylor Swift’s “crumpled masterpiece”, “All Too Well (Ten-Minute Version)"

Taylor Swift's "All Too Well (Ten-Minute Version)", from "Red (Taylor's Version)", 2021, the ponders a relationship as a work of art destroyed by an ex: "But maybe this thing was a masterpiece / Till you tore it all up." In Swift's work so far, "masterpiece" is a hapax legomenon – a word that appears only once in a corpus. Another such word in "All Too Well" is "crumpled": "I'm a crumpled-up piece of paper lying here." With the "crumpled-up paper" of a self after a breakup and the torn-up pieces of that "masterpiece" of a relationship – out of these singular words – Swift composed the song that many have considered her own masterpiece. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 March 2024)

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The shirt in Walter Benjamin’s Franz Kafka essay and the scarf in Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well"

In preparing to discuss objects in Taylor Swift's "All Too Well (Ten-Minute Version)", I remembered a story I learned from Walter Benjamin's 1934 Franz Kafka essay. In a Chassidic village, the men gather in an inn; in the corner sits a newly arrived beggar. When everyone says what they wish for, the villagers want a workbench or a son-in-law, but the beggar says he wishes he was a king who escaped a war in his nightshirt and eventually found himself in this village. "What good would that do you?" – "I'd have a shirt." – Objects (that imagined shirt; the scarf in "All Too Well") transport stories from kingdoms to villages and back. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 March 2024)

Monday, March 25, 2024

My students and the animal imagery in a passage about Mr. Bounderby in Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times” (1854)

When the lies of Mr. Bounderby in Charles Dickens's "Hard Times" (1854) have been exposed to an uninvited crowd in his home, he ushers them out with "blustering sheepishness": "[...] he could not have looked a Bully more shorn and forlorn, if he had had his ears cropped." When I gave this paragraph to my students today, I only asked for comments and interpretations, but they immediately picked up on the animal imagery, which one student even linked to another phrase about "a pedigree." As always, an open discussion led to the primary points that I would have mentioned, while also generating many other angles that I had not yet noticed. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 March 2024) 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Somi and the microphone at her concert in Basel on 23 March 2024

I had a front-row seat at the Offbeat Jazz concert at the Volkshaus in Basel last night by the singer Somi. She served her voice well by how she stood on stage: instead of holding the microphone right up to her mouth as so many singers do, she stood back from the microphone stand and used the microphone primarily to capture the direct sound of her singing, rather than to amplify it. At moments when her band played more quietly (bassist Keith Witty, drummer Otis Brown III, pianist Toru Dodo, and saxophonist Jowee Omicil), I could even hear the power of her voice more from the stage than from the speakers. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 March 2024)

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Pale young woman with long brown hair at the supermarket

The pale young woman in the supermarket line has long brown hair halfway down her back. – This morning, she brushed it in the armchair by the window, idly gazing across the street while the church bells rang nearby. She smiled when she finished, as she always does, and she stood up and took her coffee cup to the kitchen. – When the cashier tells her that the bananas had to be weighed, a blank look takes over her face: she doesn't understand. The cashier smiles and goes to weigh the bananas. When she pays, the young woman manages to smile again as she packs her groceries and then heads for the door. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 March 2024) 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Remembering reading Isak Dinesen’s “The Blank Page” (1957) and teaching it today

I usually remember when I first read texts that struck me, especially ones I read in college clauses. But although I know I read "The Blank Page" (1957), by Isak Dinesen (1885-1962), during my studies (along with Susan Gubar's 1981 article "'The Blank Page' and the Issues of Female Creativity"), I'm not sure what course it was in. Still, I often remember the story's image of a gallery of framed, blood-stained sheets from aristocratic wedding nights, with one sheet blank, along with Gubar's discussion of the story as an allegory of the history of women's writing. And today, I discussed it with students again for the first time in many years. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 March 2024) 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Holiday sauce, the Easy Bunny, and our familect

Years ago, our friend Audrey from Paris visited us in Basel and was horrified to see me making hollandaise sauce from a mix. So she taught me how to make it from scratch: melt butter slowly over low heat, mix in egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt, take it off the heat, and whisk it until it's nice and creamy. Our children were small then, and after one of them called it "holiday sauce", that became our family's term for it. Around the same time, one of them also called the Easter Bunny the "Easy Bunny", but that term did not go on to become a permanent part of our familect. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 March 2024)

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

“Working Class Heroes”: From Stephen Blackpool in Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times” (1854) to John Lennon and then to Angelo Herndon

When Kailana Durnan referred to Stephen Blackpool from Charles Dickens's "Hard Times" (1854) as a "working-class hero" in her 2018 article "Getting Bored with 'Hard Times,'" I immediately began singing John Lennon's 1970 song "Working Class Hero" (from "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band": "A working class hero is something to be." After I wondered whether the expression preceded Lennon's song, I was able to find multiple uses of the phrase going back to the 1930s, with the first reference being to Angelo Herndon, an African-American labor organizer whose conviction for violating Georgia's insurrection law was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in the 5-4 decision in Hernon v. Lowry in 1937. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 March 2024)

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Taylor Swift, “the sin of wit”, and an “erroneous attribution"

For last week's Taylor Swift session, I discussed wit in "Mr. Perfectly Fine" from "Fearless (Taylor's Version)" (2021). To begin, I quoted Swift: "Swift has the sin of wit, no trivial crime." Several students had written about the song for their 30-second texts due before the session, so I used their comments to start an initial list of the varieties of wit in Swift: wordplay, mockery, and sarcasm. At the end of my presentation, I revealed my own joke, my "erroneous attribution" (Jorge Luis Borges): it was not Taylor Swift but Jonathan Swift who said, in his "The Author Upon Himself" (1713), "Swift had the sin of wit, no venial crime." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 March 2024)

Monday, March 18, 2024

A curse and “a mighty gun” in two Emily Dickinson’s poems

In preparation for my Emily Dickinson seminar this fall, I've begun rereading R. W. Franklin's "The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition". At 10 poems a day, I'll be ready for the beginning of the term in mid-September. As always with Dickinson, I keep noticing things I hadn't noticed before in her work, such as the curse that ends "I had a guinea golden" (Fr12): "And he no consolation / Beneath the sun may find." I was also struck by the eerily twenty-first-century violence that ends "My friend attacks my friend!" (Fr103): "Had I a mighty gun / I think I'd shoot the human race / And then to glory run!" (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 March 2024)

Sunday, March 17, 2024

A warm, sunny West Phliadelphia afternoon in October 1989

On a warm, sunny afternoon in October 1989, I went out in T-shirt and sandals to go to a West Philadelphia cafe and sit at a table by the window. The sun warmed my face through the glass, and I immersed myself in whatever I was reading for my graduate-school courses. At one point, I looked up and saw the leaves on the tress outside shivering with a rising breeze, while further up a black cloud was looming to the West. In the next twenty minutes, as the temperature dropped and a heavy rain fell, it seemed like autumn was coming at just that moment. It was a cold walk home. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 17 March 2024)

Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Tom Ollendorff Trio with Conor Chaplin, James Maddren, and special guest Tim Garland at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 16 March 2024

When Tom Ollendorff takes a solo on his hollow-body electric guitar, he plays singable single-note phrases that shift seamlessly into melodic sequences of chords, and then he drops in an fast flurry upwards or downwards that might end in another set of chords, or just one and another singable phrase. The rhythms of those chordal passages highlight his interaction with Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums as they all hit a few accents together before Ollendorff soars off into another flurry of melodic ideas. Tonight at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, the trio was joined by saxophonist Tim Garland on tenor and soprano, who especially sang on soprano. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 March 2024) 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Gambling in lyrics by Robert Hunter and by Taylor Swift

Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter often mentioned gambling, as in "Loser" ("I can tell the Queen of Diamonds by the way she shines" – "Garcia", 1971) or "Scarlet Begonias" ("In the thick of the evening when the dealing got rough / She was too pat to open and too cool to bluff" – "From the Mars Hotel", 1974). Taylor Swift's occasional gambling images are usually figurative, as in "Foolish One": "My cards are on the table, yours are in your hand" ("Speak Now (Taylor's Version), 2023). But "Cornelia Street" mentions "card sharks" ("Lover", 2019), and in "the last great american dynasty", Rebekah blows money "on card game bets with Dalí" ("folklore", 2020). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 March 2024)

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Marlon James on Beyoncé haters; me on Taylor Swift haters

Novelist Marlon James posted about Beyoncé: "[T]here is something about Beyoncé that make haters explode and I'm not sure what it is. They simply have to make you know." I could say the same thing about my experiences with my teaching of a course with Rachael Moorthy on Taylor Swift's lyrics: The “haters” of Swift “have to make you know” that they hate her, every chance they get. I try to follow Swift's advice about "haters": "I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off." But they make me keep having to "shake it off" again and again and again, and it gets tiring. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 March 2024)


 

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Wednesday, March 13, 2024

A thesis on early Taylor Swift, immediately disproven

This morning, I was putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the Taylor Swift session today. My topic was wit and "Mr. Perfectly Fine", a song Swift wrote in her teens for "Fearless" (2008) but only published on "Fearless (Taylor's Version)" in 2021. I wrote a note for the lecture: There's not much wit in the songs on the first two albums, so the wit of "Mr. Perfectly Fine" stands out when "Fearless (Taylor's Version)" comes out. – But as I typed up that thesis, "Hey Stephen" from "Fearless" came up, with Swift laughing at her own joke: "But would they write a song for you?" Thus was my thesis disproven. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 March 2024)

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The triple meaning of Montresor’s toast to Fortunato’s “long life” in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

On their way to the titular Amontillado in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" (1846), the narrator Montresor and his friend Fortunato pause in Montresor's catacombs to drink wine, and Fortunato offers a toast: "I drink [...] to the buried that repose around us." Montresor responds: "And I to your long life." For Fortunato, Montresor's toast is an unambiguous conventional formula. For Montresor, it has two senses: the one Fortunato hears, and the irony of his planned murder of Fortunato. But the unidentified addressee of Montresor's story hears three senses: Fortunato's single meaning, Montresor the imminent murderer's double meaning, and the wit that Montresor the storyteller offers to be appreciated. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 March 2024)

Monday, March 11, 2024

A possible echo of “Nights in White Satin” (1967, The Moody Blues) in Taylor Swift’s “gold rush” (2020)

Two particular moments in Taylor Swift's "gold rush" (from "evermore", 2020) echo something I heard long ago (and am sure I've heard many times). At 1:00 and again at 2:10, the music swells with string sounds (perhaps Jack Antonoff's Mellotron). Just now, I've followed a hunch and listened to "Nights in White Satin", by The Moody Blues (from "Days of Future Passed", 1967), which has moments at about 0:50 and 1:50 that might be what I've been hearing in "gold rush" (and which features Mike Pinder on Mellotron). Still, I'm not yet sure that this is what I've been hearing in the back of my mind when I hear Swift's song. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 March 2024)

Sunday, March 10, 2024

An exemplary three-part song about three moments in a life: Greg Brown’s “If I Had Known” (1990)

As in the two three-part Taylor Swift songs I mentioned yesterday ("The Best Day" and "Never Grow Up"), each stanza of Greg Brown's exemplary "If I Had Known" (from "Down In There", 1990)  takes place at a different time in the speaker's life: the first is about going fishing as a boy, the second about a first kiss at fifteen, and the third about a night of love-making on a roof during a meteor shower. The first two choruses each say "if I had known, I might have stopped fishing / kissing right then", while the third offers the song's twist: "If I had known, I'd do it all over again." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 March 2024)

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Three part songs with themes and variations: Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (1969) and Taylor Swift’s “The Best Day” (2008) and “Never Grow Up” (2010)

In Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" (from "Clouds", 1969), the three verses each have their own theme (clouds, love, and life), as well as a turn in the middle at "but now". Then the choruses all refer to looking at those themes "from both sides now" and "not knowing" each theme "at all." Such a three-part theme with variations offers a model for writing songs; it can also be found in Taylor Swift's "The Best Day" (from "Fearless", 2008, with its three "best days") and "Never Grow Up" (from "Speak Now", from "Speak Now", 2009, with a small child, a young teen, and a young woman who has just left home). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 March 2024)

Friday, March 08, 2024

“Going Slow” with the Roberto Bossard band at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 7 March 2024

At the Bird's Eye in Basel last night, Raffaele Bossard on unaccompanied bass introduced "Going Slow" with a melodic solo that gradually established the song's rhythm. Then his father Roberto, the bandleader, joined his son on guitar for some counterpoint. After first drummer Dominic Egli and then pianist Lukas Gernet added their accompaniment to Roberto's solo, tenor saxophonist Toni Bechtold joined in to finally play the composition's main melody. After Bechtold soloed, Gernet's wide-ranging solo was accompanied by the rest of the band vamping, an approach I've only heard for drum solos before. This tune exemplified the group's arrangements, which frequently played around with the standard head-solos-head frame for jazz improvisation. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 March 2024)

Thursday, March 07, 2024

My FC Basel – AC Fiorentina souvenir scarf

On Thursday, 18 May 2023, I went to the match between FC Basel and Fiorentina, the second leg of the Europe Conference League semifinal, and I bought one of the souvenir scarves that combine the colors of the two teams and include the date of the match. This winter, I've been wearing it whenever it's been cold, and I've learned to tie it around my neck so that the team names at the ends are clearly visible. Several people from Italy have asked me about the scarf, and people from Basel keep asking me if there's a match today. But for me, it's just a good memory that keeps me warm. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 March 2024) 

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

“Purple with ill-smelling dye”: The river in Coketown in Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times” (1854)

The Coketown canal in Charles Dickens's "Hard Times" (1854) is "purple with ill-smelling dye." Purple dyes were among the first synthetic dyes developed in the mid-nineteenth century, and one center of the discovery and production of those dyes was Basel, Switzerland, where I have made my home since 1995. However, Dickens's novel was published two years before William Henry Perkin synthesized mauveine in London in 1856. And both parts of the company that first became Ciba-Geiby and then later Novartis began to produce the synthetic fuchsine dye in 1859. So something made Coketown's river purple, but it wasn't the synthetic dye that was discovered two years after Dickens finished the novel. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 March 2024)

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Taylor Swift and Emily Dickinson: Sixth cousins thrice removed

As Michael Sainato reported in The Guardian yesterday, Taylor Swift (b. 1989) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) are apparently sixth cousins thrice removed: “Swift and Dickinson both descend from a 17th-century English immigrant (Swift’s ninth great-grandfather and Dickinson’s sixth great-grandfather who was an early settler of Windsor, Connecticut)”. I wondered again about how related distant cousins are. According to a table in a 1983 study by Kevin P. Donnelly, sixth cousins once removed have a 94.40% chance of having "no detectable DNA relationship," so while there might be a genealogical link, any literary relationship between the two is more likely to be due to Swift reading Dickinson rather than any shared genes. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 March 2024)

 



Monday, March 04, 2024

“Some sort of witty retort”: Mr. Stevens and possible autism in Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” (1989)

In Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" (1989), the English butler Mr. Stevens repeatedly worries about the problem of "bantering" with Mr. Farraday, the new American owner of Darlington Hall after it has left the Darlington family. But on his trip to the West Country to meet Miss Kenton, the Hall's former housekeeper, he also worries about how to converse with the locals at an inn where he is staying: "[S]ome sort of witty retort was required of me." I've read the novel many times already, but only now have I noticed that Stevens's uncertainty about wit and "bantering" could be a sign that he is on the autism spectrum. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 March 2024) 

Sunday, March 03, 2024

The correlation between popularity and quality in popular music

The other day, I had occasion to look at the "list of best-selling musical artists" on Wikipedia. Nine artists are listed as having sold over 250 million records: The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Queen, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Rihanna, and Pink Floyd. Lately, with me teaching a course on Taylor Swift's lyrics, I've been hearing a lot of people insisting that pop success does not equal musical quality. Almost all of them, though, are from my generation (plus or minus a decade), and I know that they would all celebrate some or many of those artists for the quality of their music. Here, at least, popularity correlates with quality. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 3 March 2024)

 


Saturday, March 02, 2024

The Pablo Held Trio at the Bird’s Eye in Basel on 1 March 2024

Pianist Pablo Held began his Pablo Held Trio concert with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel at the Bird's Eye in Basel last night with a statement that they work without a setlist and play continuous blocks of music in their sets. What followed was two relaxed and melodic suites of music in which composed passages seemed free and free passages seemed composed. When Held began the second set with a solo piano section, I noticed at one point how Landfermann and Burgwinkel prepared to join in – and then did not. This was just one way in which I saw how they made decisions about what to play and when. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 2 March 2024) 

Friday, March 01, 2024

“A lot of spaces” between Taylor Swift and James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”

When Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia died on 9 August 1995, Bob Dylan wrote a moving statement that included this point that has stuck with me ever since: "There’s a lot of spaces and advances between The Carter Family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes but he filled them all without being a member of any school." That is, Garcia's music ranged from folk to rock and roll to free jazz, and everywhere in between. I remembered this on Wednesday when I went from my Taylor Swift course in the afternoon to my Finnegans Wake reading group in the evening – there's "a lot of spaces" between them. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 1 March 2024)

Thursday, February 29, 2024

A metrosexual Swiftie

One day when Miles was four, we went to the swimming pool. After some splashing, he began playing in a sandbox; I watched him and enjoyed the weather. Then I noticed that three boys who were maybe ten or eleven years old were looking at me and whispering to each other. That week, my visiting niece had painted my toenails, so I wondered if that had gotten their attention. Sure enough, one of them then pointed at my toenails and asked, "Are you metrosexual?" I remembered this story yesterday when I had all my fingernails painted in the ten colors Taylor Swift associates with her ten albums. I'm a metrosexual Swiftie! (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 29 February 2024)




Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The difficult but rewarding narrative promised by the opening of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “An Artist of the Floating World” (1986)

In our first discussion today of Kazuo Ishiguro's "An Artist of the Floating World" (1986), we concluded that the opening sentence of retired painter Masuji Ono's narrative not only provides directions to get to Ono's house but also offers instructions and encouragement for how to read the narrative as difficult but rewarding: "If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading up from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as ‘the Bridge of Hesitation’, you will not have to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two gingko trees." This may be a "steep climb", but it promises visibility. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 February 2024)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Weaknesses for the sake of the despicable in “Great Expectations” (1861) and in my own life

In Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" (1861), when blacksmith Joe Gargery plans to visit his upwardly-mobile brother-in-law Pip in London, Pip is happy Joe will visit him at the apartment he shares with Herbert Pocket, and not at Herbert's parents' house, where the unpleasant Bentley Drummle also lives. Pip fears Drummle would look down at working-class Joe: “So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.” I'm reminded all too well of my schooldays: bullied myself, I rejected the interest of a charming girl who was just as unpopular as me, because my bullies would have made fun of us. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 February 2024) 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Music from the Alex Sipiagin Quartet at the Bird’s Eye, plus a marriage proposal (and some Taylor Swift)

Last night at the Bird's Eye in Basel, Alex Sipiagin (trumpet and flugelhorn) played two wonderful sets last night with a superb band: pianist Antonio Faraò, bassist Makar Novikov, and drummer Sasha Mashin. Sipiagin's son Nikita played alto saxophone on one tune. But one couple will remember more than the music: after the first set, a man proposed to his partner from the stage. She accepted; he gave her a ring. But I remembered the proposal rejected in Taylor Swift's "champagne problems": "Sometimes you just don't know the answer / 'Til someone's on their knees and asks you." Anyone making a public proposal better be sure the answer will be "yes". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 February 2024) 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ed Yong’s “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us" (2022)

In his brilliant book "An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us" (2022), Ed Yong dedicates chapters to senses humans have as well as those only other animals have: smells and tastes, light, color, pain, heat, contact and flow, surface vibrations, sound, echoes, electric fields, and magnetic fields. The next-to-last chapter, "Uniting the Senses", considers how the senses an animal has come together to form each individual's view of the world, with an especially fascinating discussion of how animals distinguish their perceptions of the world from their perceptions of their own actions. The conclusion addresses "Threatened Sensescapes": how humans disrupt the senses of the world's other animals. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 February 2024)

Friday, February 23, 2024

The sound of Taylor Swift’s early and recent albums

In my preparation for my Taylor Swift course, which starts next week, I keep going through her albums in chronological order. Whenever I get to the end and go back to the beginning again, I experience a small shock: from the mostly sparse and often ambient textures of the three latest albums ("folklore", 2020; "evermore", 2020; "Midnights", 2022) back to the power pop country of 2006's "Taylor Swift" and 2008's “Fearless”). I don't dislike the latter; in fact, I find much in them to admire and appreciate. But to me, there’s much less space in the sound of the early records, less room for my kind of listener, in a sense. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 February 2024) 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

"He prophets most who bilks the best” (“Finnegans Wake”, 305.1-2)

"He prophets most who bilks the best": This line from James Joyce's “Finnegans Wake” (1939, 305.1-2) parodies the Rotary Club's 1911 motto, "He profits most who serves best." Instead of coming from service, Joyce's profit comes from fraud. And it is not just being the best fraud, but also defrauding the best people. Then, "profits" as "prophets" makes prophets not servants of the divine but rather frauds themselves, and prophecy becomes being "practiced at the art of deception" (to quote Mick Jagger in a Rolling Stones song from thirty years after "Finnegans Wake"). The combination of profit and prophecy – of capital and religion – thus makes for the best deception of all. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 February 2024)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

After The Grateful Dead broke out “All Along the Watchtower” at Berkeley’s Greek Theater in June 1987

The Grateful Dead did a six-show tour with Bob Dylan in July 1987, first playing one or two sets and then backing Dylan for a final set. One way they began to prepare to be Dylan's band was to introduce "All Along the Watchtower" into their repertoire on 20 June 1987 at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California. As I was walking out of that show, I overheard a young woman say to a friend that it was cool they had played "that U2 song". A young man next to them piped up that it was "a Jimi Hendrix song". I chuckled and told all three it was a Dylan tune. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 February 2024)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Andreas Schärer & Kalle Kalima in Romanshorn, 18 February 2024

On Sunday, 18 February, I went to Romanshorn to hear singer Andreas Schärer and guitarist Kalle Kalima perform as a duo. When Kalima took solos, Schärer would often become a percussionist with his multifaceted beatboxing mixed with other sounds – and again and again, I found myself laughing at the joy and humor of it. That in turn reminded me of my thoughts last year about listening to jazz as a comic rather than a tragic form. (For an excellent example of Schärer's mouth percussion, go to the five-minute mark of "Ukuhmaba" on the 2017 album "Out of Land", by Schärer, soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, accordionist Vincent Peirani, and pianist Michael Wollny.) (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 February 2024)

Monday, February 19, 2024

When the right-wing militia suddenly came down from the hills

When the right-wing militia suddenly came down from the hills and swarmed through the town, I was home alone, and taken by surprise. All I could do was put on my shoes and a warm coat and grab my phone, my passport, and my allergy medication. I had no idea where my family was. I slipped out the back door of the apartment building and saw pillars of smoke rising in several places toward the Rhine, with flames sparking through some of them. Slipping through the allotments and past the psychological clinic, I walked the half-kilometer to the border and made it across minutes before French soldiers began to close it. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 February 2024) 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Ages Hence

Ages Hence

 

At the corner of the bar, an old man in a gray suit and blue tie sits upright on his stool, a tall beer between his hands. Although he's by himself, his voice is loud. His patter shifts from the weekend's football games to a singer whose voice he's never liked, from long-lost bands he once loved to stories from his life, which all seem to come down to how he lived on a farm when he was younger and rode his horse down country roads. Each story ends with him sighing and wondering about moments when he had to make decisions that, he says, "made all the difference." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 February 2024)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

The parody of small-town Christmas movies in Taylor Swift’s “’tis the damn season” (2020)

Taylor Swift's "'tis the damn season" (from "evermore", 2020) reads like a parody of Christmas movies where a big-city professional goes to her hometown for the holidays and discovers wholesome smalltown values and true love. The woman in Swift's song does return to her childhood home and an old boyfriend from her school days: "I'm staying at my parents' house / And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown." But she's not going to change what road she's taken: "I won't ask you to wait / If you don't ask me to stay / So I'll go back to LA." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 17 February 2024) 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Two perspectives on a dress: Greg Brown’s “If I Had Known” (1990) and Taylor Swift’s “Dress” (2017)

One of my favorite songs by the folk singer-songwriter Greg Brown is "If I Had Known", the opening song on his riveting 1990 album "Down in There". The third stanza contains a wonderful image embedded in the story of a night of sex on the roof under an August meteor shower: "Summer was invented for her to wear that dress." I like that line so much that sometimes, when I play the song, I stop there and sing the line unaccompanied. Taylor Swift's "Dress", from her 2017 album "reputation", offers a possible flip side of the man's perspective in Brown's song: "Only bought this dress so you could take it off." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 February 2024) 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

How the politics of scapegoating undermines the politics of responsibility

In “Die Politik der Schadensmaximierung“, his commentary in Republik on 10 February 2024, Daniel Binswanger connects a politics of maximizing damage with scapegoating: “Es gibt eine Politik, die Verantwortung übernimmt, und es gibt eine Politik, die nach Sündenböcken sucht.” But when a responsible politics serves people who need assistance of one kind or another (social welfare; unemployment compensation), a scapegoating politics will stigmatize the recipients of that receive assistance ("welfare mothers"; "lazy people on the dole"). Then those who support scapegoating will even refuse such assistance when they themselves need it – as when Republican-controlled states in the United States refuse to expand Medicaid even though it would help the states' citizens. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 February 2024)

 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

“Never Grow Up” (Taylor Swift, 2010) and “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” (Tom Waits, 1992)

The first stanza of Taylor Swift's "Never Grow Up" (from "Speak Now", 2010/2023) addresses a toddler: "So I tuck you in, turn on your favourite nightlight." After the titular chorus, the second stanza addresses a teenager: "At fourteen, there's just so much you can't do." This adult perspective on a child or teenager reverses Tom Waits's similar "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" (from "Bone Machine", 1992), in which the child or teenager speaks: "Well, when I'm lying in my bed at night I don't wanna grow up." But Swift's final stanza shifts perspective to a young adult: "So here I am in my new apartment [...]. Wish I'd never grown up." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 February 2024)

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Recent shenanigans by the Republicans in the United States House of Representatives

First, Republicans in the United States House of Representatives said that they would not consider a foreign-aid bill for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan unless it also addressed the immigration situation, especially on the border between Mexico and the United States. When Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate put together an immigration bill that included many Republican demands, however, Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to consider it. Now Republican and Democratic Senators have passed a stand-alone foreign-aid bill – and Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson refuses to allow a vote on it because of "the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 February 2024)

Monday, February 12, 2024

How you can tell that Donald Trump was never actually asked the question about a NATO country being attacked by Russia

At a presidential primary election campaign rally in South Carolina on Saturday, 10 February 2024, former United States President Donald Trump told a story about a question supposedly asked at a speech he supposedly gave about NATO: "One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, 'Well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?'" But I can tell that he was never asked that question. After all, it may have been asked by "one of the presidents of a big country", but if it had happened, then that president would have been a "big man with tears streaming down his face." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 February 2024)

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Kings and queens in David Bowie’s “Heroes” (1977) and Taylor Swift’s “Long Live” (2010)

David Bowie's "Heroes" (the title song of his 1977 album) begins with a figure for the desire to experience power: "I, I will be king, / And you, you will be queen." But in this vision of a possible future, the power of romance is temporary: "We can be heroes, just for one day." Taylor Swift's "Long Live", from "Speak Now" (2010), which she has said she wrote for her band, turns to the same figure to capture an experience: "We are the kings and the queens." And again, that experience is fleeting: "'Cause for a moment, a band of thieves in ripped up jeans / Got to rule the world." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 February 2024)

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The absence of music and lyrics in most journalism about Taylor Swift

When I was interviewed about Taylor Swift last month, I was struck by how all the journalists asked the same questions. Now I've noticed that if you've read one article about Taylor Swift, you've basically read them all. There's all the same information: from Grammy awards to dominating the charts, from her fans causing measurable seismic events to their effect on local economies where she performs, from her biography and her country beginnings to Travis Kelce and her possible influence on elections. But there's little about her music (she moves through styles as quickly as David Bowie) or her lyrics (whose themes range so much more widely than songs about romance). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 February 2024)

The vagueness of desire in Taylor Swift’s “Teardrops On My Guitar” (2006)

The first verse of Taylor Swift's "Teardrops On My Guitar" (2006) ends in vagueness: "Drew looks at me / I fake a smile so he won't see / That I want and I'm needing / Everything that we should be." The teenager doesn't name what she wants from Drew more specifically than that. "Everything" means being a couple: spending time together, going on dates, and seeing themselves and being seen by others as together. But that public side of romance also has a private side, where romantic desire is physical and sexual. The teenager may veil this physical undercurrent of desire in euphemism and abstraction, but its energy is still present. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 February 2024)

Friday, February 09, 2024

Lying in Taylor Swift’s “Tim McGraw”, “Picture To Burn”, and “Teardrops On My Guitar” (from her 2006 debut album)

The teenage girl in Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw" responds to a boy's flattery by calling it "a lie". While this speaker recalls that relationship fondly when it's over, the speaker of the next song on Swift's eponymous 2006 debut album, "Picture To Burn", is out for revenge and says her ex is "really bad at lying". With lying established as a theme in relationships, the third song, "Teardrops On My Guitar, begins with a third kind after the flattery in "Tim McGraw" and the "bad lying" in "Picture To Burn" – lying for self-protection and the concealment of desire: "Drew looks at me / I fake a smile so he won't see." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 February 2024)

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

One possible Taylor Swift starter-kit

I have noticed many online comments from who are those unfamiliar with Taylor Swift's songs but curious about them. I've now settled on a three-step starter-kit. For a four-minute starter (3:55, to be precise), try "New Year's Day" from "Reputation" (2017). For a ten-minute starter (10:13), try "All Too Well (Ten-Minute Version)" from "Red (Taylor's Version)" (2021). And if you have an hour (67 minutes), try the album "folklore" (2020). Whichever you try, be sure to listen in whatever setting you have where you can really hear the music and the lyrics well (for me, on a walk or a cross-trainer). Listen for the storytelling, the images, and her Swiftian wit. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 February 2024) 

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

A Deadhead, a Swiftie, a Brownie, and a Schärer-sharer

I've been a Deadhead since 1982, when I first bought "Workingman's Dead" and then heard them live at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford that October. Until recently, I wouldn't have said I was a Swiftie – I was just someone who appreciated her music and lyrics. But my preparation for my course on her this spring has made me one. My other fandoms don't have standard names, although a Brownie could be a dedicated fan of Greg Brown, but what should a fan of Andreas Schärer be called, especially since I might be the only person who's seen him twenty-seven times? As a proselytizer about his music, I could call myself a Schärer-sharer. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 February 2024)

References to Robinson Crusoe in Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and Jane Austen

While reading Charles Dickens's novels, I was struck by what seemed to me to be the relatively frequent references to Robinson Crusoe (seventeen in all in his fourteen novels, according to the CLiC Dickens concordance). So as I began reading Thomas Hardy's novels, I immediately noticed the appearance of Crusoe in "Desperate Remedies" (1871), when Cytherea Graye is told that her benefactor Miss Aldclyffe is "in her soul [...] as solitary as Robinson Crusoe." A search of my e-book of Hardy's complete novels reveals only nine references to Crusoe in sixteen works. For contrast, another online concordance shows that Jane Austen never refers to Crusoe in any of her six novels. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 February 2024)

Monday, February 05, 2024

The standards recorded by Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio at concerts between 1983 and 2014

122 different standards (along with Jarrett compositions and group improvisations) from their concerts between 1983 and 2014 appear on the twenty-one albums released by pianist Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Thirty compositions appear at least twice, with five versions each of "Autumn Leaves" from 1945 (Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert, Johnny Mercer) and "When I Fall In Love" from 1952 (Edward Heyman, Victor Young). The oldest is "It's All in the Game" (whose melody was written in 1911 by Charles G. Dawes, Vice President of the United States from 1925 to 1929), the newest is "One for Majid" from 1965 (Pete La Roca). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 February 2024)

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Acoustic versions of big pop songs: “State of Grace” and “Personal Jesus"

"State of Grace", the first song on Taylor Swift's "Red" (2012), is a booming, driving pop song, but Swift has also recorded an acoustic version focused on her voice and Mike Meadows's acoustic guitar. The contrast reminds me of "Personal Jesus" from Depeche Mode's "Violator" (1990). Back when it was first released, I stumbled on a maxi-single that included an acoustic version that, like Swift's acoustic version of "State of Grace", made clear what a solid song was hidden in the pop production. So I was later not surprised to hear the acoustic version of  "Personal Jesus" that Johnny Cash recorded for his 2002 album "American IV: The Man Comes Around." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 3 February 2024)

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Walt Whitman in Thomas Hardy’s “Desperate Remedies” (1871)

"Edward Springrove the elder", the father of the Edward Springrove who eventually marries Cytherea Graye in Thomas Hardy's "Desperate Remedies" (1871), is introduced with a comparison to a contemporary of Hardy's from the United States: "Like Walt Whitman he felt as his years increased— / 'I foresee too much; it means more than I thought.'" The line is from Whitman's "So Long!", which first appeared as the final poem in the 1860 edition of "Leaves of Grass". I was surprised to see a reference to a Whitman poem in an English novel published so soon after its publication; I did not know that Whitman's work had crossed the Atlantic so quickly. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 2 February 2024)

Thursday, February 01, 2024

The persona in Taylor Swift lyrics: Not “the Homecoming Queen”; more like another famous queen at a high school in the United States

I saw a comment on Facebook referring to Taylor Swift as "the Homecoming Queen". While this image fits her current relationship status (dating the star athlete), it doesn't fit the stories told her in lyrics: "She's Cheer Captain and I'm on the bleachers" ("You Belong With Me", from "Fearless", 2008). In the semiotics of the United States, the figure of the homecoming queen is the popular girl. The figure in Swift’s songs is never the popular girl. If she’s a queen, she’s Carrie the prom queen from Stephen King's 1974 novel and Brian De Palma's 1976 movie – and she wants to burn down the school to get revenge against her bullies. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 1 February 2024)

A “moral Gaza” in Thomas Hardy’s “Desperate Remedies” (1871)

Reading Thomas Hardy's "Desperate Remedies" (1871) last December, I came across a phrase with a different resonance than it would have had earlier in the year. In 1835, young architect Ambrose Graye falls for one Cytherea: "After passing through three weeks of sweet experience, he had arrived at the last stage—a kind of moral Gaza—before plunging into an emotional desert. The second week in January had come round, and it was necessary for the young architect to leave town." That "moral Gaza" seemed oddly contemporary in late 2023, even as I wondered what it meant back in 1871, the time of writing, or 1835, the time of the action. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 31 January 2024) 

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Switching from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens for our Academic Writing in English II course

My colleague Peter Burleigh and I have used two Jane Austen novels for our Academic Writing in English II course at the University of Basel since Spring Semester 2014. At first, we varied things a bit between "Sense and Sensibility" (1811), "Pride and Prejudice" (1813), "Emma" (1816), and "Persuasion" (1818), but from 2017 to 2023, we always used the last two. Although we still keep discovering new things in the novels, for this coming semester we're switching to Charles Dickens's "Hard Times" (1854) and "Great Expectations" (1861). It's time for a change – and perhaps we'll return to our Austen novels again for a year or two before we retire (in 2029). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 January 2024)

Monday, January 29, 2024

Struggling against emotions: Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (1813) and Pastor Maybold in Thomas Hardy’s “Under the Greenwood Tree” (1872)

In Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (1813), Mr. Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth Bennett begins with his "struggles": "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." She then rejects his proposal (but later accepts his second one). In Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree" (1872), Pastor Maybold's proposal to Fancy Day begins like Darcy's: "[...] I have struggled against my emotion continually, because I have thought that it was not well for me to love you!" Although already engaged to Dick Dewy, Fancy accepts him – but later retracts her acceptance. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 29 January 2024)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

A chain of willful associations linking Taylor Swift, James Joyce, and The Grateful Dead

"And if I'm dead to you why are you at the wake?" (Taylor Swift, "my tears ricochet", from "folklore", 2020). When I noticed that line, I first chuckled at one of Swift's characteristic witty spins on a conventional phrase ("dead to you"). Then I added my own personal spin as if it were a reference to James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939). My pleasure at this willful connection was doubled when I then made the line refer to two of my favorite things by spinning "dead" as The Grateful Dead – whose 1973 album was "Wake of the Flood". Then I rediscovered this lovely phrase in Joyce: "a houseful of deadheads" (FW.406. 35-36). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 28 January 2024) 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A thirty-second German introduction to Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer"

My second thirty-second introduction to a Taylor Swift song for Radio Argovia hasn't been broadcast yet (as far as I know), but it's for "Cruel Summer": In "Götzendämmerung" schrieb der Basler Philosoph Friedrich Nietzsche 1889, "Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker." 140 Jahre später ersetzt Taylor Swift in "Cruel Summer" Nietzsches berühmte Wendung und seinen "Wille zur Macht" im Rausch eines Fiebertraums mit ihrem eigenen "Wille zur Begierde": "What doesn't kill me makes me want you more". My own "fever dream" taking me to Basel and now to this text began in 1983 when I started learning German so I could read Nietzsche and other German philosophers in the original. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 January 2024)

Friday, January 26, 2024

A thirty-second German introduction to Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero"

After a live telephone interview didn't work out, I offered Radio Argovia two thirty-second introductions to Taylor Swift songs: "Anti-Hero" and "Cruel Summer". To time the texts, I recorded them with Garage Band, so I just sent them the recordings for their use. Yesterday afternoon, they broadcast a fragement of my "Anti-Hero" introduction. Here's the whole text: "Anti-Hero" möge ein Popsong sein, in dem Taylor Swift selber als "Antiheldin" scheinbar mit ihren Fans spricht. Aber die Reime und Bilder kreisen um psychische Probleme und die damit verbundenden Schuldgefühle ("I'm the problem"), Körperbilder ("monster on the hill"), Todeswünsche ("kills me for the money") und Rachefantasien ("She's laughing up at us from Hell"). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 January 2024)

 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Mandolinist Avi Avital and pianist Omer Klein at Basel’s Martinskirche, 24 January 2024

In Basel's Martinskirche last night, mandolinist Avi Avital and pianist Omer Klein performed wonderful mandolin-piano duos. But in the middle of their set, Avital played unaccompanied mandolin arrangements of four movements of Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita in D minor for solo violin (he left out the Chaconne because it was "too long" for the duo concert), and between those movements Klein improvised three solo piano pieces. Avital's Bach performance was riveting (coincidentally, I'd listened to violinist Ingrid Matthews's recording of that Partita earlier in the day). And Klein's third solo was singular: with only his right hand, he improvised a winding single-note melody with only a few chords near the end. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 January 2024)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Analytical listening to Taylor Swift shattered by “New Year’s Day” from “Reputation” (2017)

In preparing my Taylor Swift seminar, I've been putting on earburds and listening to her albums in chronological order. My focus is on identifying themes from song to song and from album to album, such as Swift's ongoing concern with how one can know what others are thinking. But this analytical mode can be shattered by a song I haven't previously paid much attention to, such as I experienced the other day with "New Year's Day", the last song on "Reputation" (2017): "I want your midnights / But I'll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year's Day." Here, Swift's lovers beautifully share not only intense "midnights" but quotidian domesticity. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 January 2024)

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

“We’ve never been a racist country”: Nikki Haley, Ruby Bridges, and the living history of United States racism

"We're not a racist country [...]. We've never been a racist country," said United States presidential candidate Nikki Haley (b. 1972) on Tuesday, 16 January 2024. Last night on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", Ruby Bridges (b. 1954) discussed being the first African-American student at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1960. Not only did white crowds demonstrate outside, Bridges was taught for a year in a one-on-one class with the only white teacher (Barbara Henry, b. 1932) willing to teach her. Both Bridges and Henry can attest that, along with many who demonstrated against Ruby's attendance at the school, United States racism is still alive today. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 January 2024)

 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Criteria to determine “the best band ever"

Around 2003, I had a long discussion with students about the idea of "the best band ever". They all began with claims that would put an end to such discussions: "everybody has their own opinion", and "it's all a matter of taste". But I argued that "best band ever" could imply a set of criteria, which we worked out: popularity, endurance, influence, and breadth of repertoire. With those criteria, they all ended up agreeing it had to be The Beatles. And even though my favorite band is The Grateful Dead and the most influential band ever is actually Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens from the 1920s, I agreed with them. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 January 2024)

 

[This is a revision of a 2018 Facebook post of mine that I had occasion to return to today. I revised it for the 111-word format because I decided I wanted to have a copy of it on my blog.] 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Buying a plane ticket in Saarbrücken in the 1990s

Once, when I was living in Saarbrücken from 1993 to 1995, I went to a travel agency to buy a plane ticket for a trip to the United States (probably from Frankfurt to Detroit). The travel agent and I worked out the details of our business in German, of course. When it came time to give him my name and address, I said what I always say in Germany and Switzerland: "Shields mit S-H." The travel agent laughed and said, in English with a British accent: "I've been living here too long. Even though you spelled it, I'd already typed S-C-H." He was from Bristol. We finished our business in English. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 January 2024)

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The absence of “woke” voices in Susan Neiman’s “Left Is Not Woke” (2023)

In "Left Is Not Woke" (2023), Susan Neiman argues that the "woke" left has abandoned their essential "commitments to universalism, a hard distinction between justice and power, and the possibility of progress" (142). But when she writes that "[b]y the Fall of [2020] few voices speaking in defense of Black Lives Matter were universalist" (30) or that  "[m]ost woke activists reject universalism" (108), she offers no examples of such voices. Instead, most of the book argues that this unidentified "woke" left takes up positions – perhaps unknowingly – from Carl Schmitt, Michel Foucault, and evolutionary psychology that Neiman sees as opposed to the universalistic Enlightenment principles she sees as necessary to progressive politics. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 January 2024)

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Listening to jazz and improvised music as comedy rather than tragedy

When I got into jazz in the 1980s, I understood improvised music as tragedy and its effect as catharsis: I wanted dark truths I had to go through pity and fear to understand; I wanted to be overwhelmed by the sublimity of live music. But now I have a different approach to listening to improvised music: I hear the musicians' interaction with each other's ideas as a matter of comedy and timing. Drummers, especially, comment with wit and laughter on their bandmates' playing, and like comedians, they find just the right moments to do so. Instead of being taken out of time by sublimity, I find myself in time with joy. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 January 2024) 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Opposition, the transfer of power, and the concept of democracy

On this morning after the Republican Party caucuses in Iowa, the first step toward the United States presidential election that will take place on Tuesday, 5 November 2024, when the leading candidate won over fifty percent of the vote even after having refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, it is striking to read the conclusion of German sociologist Armin Nassehi in the "Democratie" chapter of his book "Gesellschaftliche Grundbegriffe: Ein Glossar der öffentlichen Rede" that it is not elections themselves that constitute democracy, but the potential transfer of power to the opposition in any given election: "The positive value of democracy is the opposition, not the government." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 January 2024) 

Monday, January 15, 2024

Greg Brown’s 1990s visions of the future of technology in “Where Is Maria” and “Whatever It Was"

In "Where is Maria" from his 1996 album "Further In", Greg Brown sketched a dystopian future: "There'll be one corporation selling one little box. / It'll do what you want and tell you what you want and cost whatever you got." This was eleven years before Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, but perhaps it only began to "tell you what you want" when Siri was introduced in 2011. – One year later, in "Whatever It Was" from his album "Slant 6 Mind", Brown continued to prophesy about the technological future: "Gonna be a lotta roadkill on the Information Highway. / Someone stole the video of the everfresh and lovely dawn." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 January 2024)

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Electric-guitar pioneer Adolph Rickenbacker was born in Basel in 1887

Here's a Basel connection I just learned about: Adolph Rickenbacker was born in poverty in Basel in 1887 as Adolph Riggenbacher and moved to the United States with relatives in 1891 after his parents died. In the 1930s, with George Beauchamp, he patented the first electric stringed instrument and founded the Rickenbacker company, whose instruments were later popularized by The Beatles, among others. Paul McCartney played a left-handed Rickenbacker bass, and George Harrison often played a twelve-string Rickenbacker electric guitar. Harrison's playing then inspired Roger McGuinn to use a Rickenbacker twelve-string with The Byrds, as in the distinctive sound of their version of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". Basel, Beatles, Byrds! (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 January 2024)

 


Saturday, January 13, 2024

Three great vault songs on Taylor Swift’s 2023 release “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)"

Three vault songs on the "Taylor's Version" (2023) of Taylor Swift's "Fearless" (2008) are so strong it surprises me she didn't release them in 2008. "Today Was a Fairytale" plays with the form of the song as she repeats the refrain lines in unexpected ways. "You All Over Me" is more explicitly about sex than other songs she released back then: "But no amount of freedom gets you clean / I've still got you all over me." And the play with forms of "Mr. X" and "Miss Y" on "Mr. Perfectly Fine" seems to me to begin to develop the wit that graces "Mine" and other songs on 2010's "Speak Now." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 January 2024) 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Taylor Swift’s ambition in “Tim McGraw"

In the story in Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw" (the first song on her 2006 eponymous debut album), the speaker hopes that her ex will remember her when he later hears a song by the country singer Tim McGraw, one which was part of their relationship: "But when you think Tim McGraw / I hope you think my favorite song [...] / When you think Tim McGraw / I hope you think of me." The speaker may not be the singer, but the song also marks the teenage Swift's ambition: when her listeners think "Tim McGraw", they think of her and her song, rather than of McGraw and any of his songs. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 January 2024) 

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Taylor Swift’s “Tim McGraw” and conventional rhetoric

"Tim McGraw", the opening song on Taylor Swift's eponymous debut album from 2006 (co-written with Liz Rose), begins with the flattery of a teenage boy for his date: "He said the way my blue eyes shined / Put those Georgia stars to shame that night." But the girl does not fall for this conventional comparison of her eyes and stars: "I said, 'That's a lie." Swift's first song thus begins with a rhetorical figure but immediately challenges the rhetorical. The discourse on love that runs through her work repeatedly takes this form: moments of conventional language keep coming up in contexts – both within songs and within albums – that question those conventions. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 January 2024)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

My forthcoming seminar on three novels by Kazuo Ishiguro

Along with my seminar on Taylor Swift this coming term (which I'm co-teaching with Rachael Moorthy), I'm also teaching a repeat of my Spring 2019 seminar on three novels by Kazuo Ishiguro: "An Artist of the Floating World" (1986), "The Remains of the Day" (1989), and "Never Let Me Go" (2005). We will also discuss the films of "The Remains of the Day" (dir. James Ivory, 1993) and "Never Let Me Go" (dir. Mark Romanek, 2010). After my post yesterday about the Swift seminar generated several objections to the idea of taking her work seriously, I wonder if anyone might also claim that it's a waste of time to discuss Ishiguro. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 January 2024) 

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Preparing for Taylor Swift’s Zurich concert in July by teaching a literature seminar on her lyrics

After we got tickets for Taylor Swift's concert in Zurich on Tuesday, July 9 (six months from today), I decided to go all into prepare for the show and teach a literature seminar with my student Rachael Moorthy on Swift's lyrics this spring semester (which starts at the end of February). Other university courses on her songs that I have read about seem to all focus on how they can be linked to other literary works, but while I'm happy to think about such issues when they come up  (as with the Romantic poets and in "The Lakes" from 2020's "Folklore"), I want to focus on close reading of the texts. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 January 2024)

Monday, January 08, 2024

John McWhorter’s misreading of the pressure that led to Harvard political scientist Claudine Gay’s resignation as president of Harvard University

John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University and a "New York Times" opinion columnist, writes superbly about language, as in recent columns about "it is what is" or singular "they". But today, while arguing that African-American political scientist Claudine Gay "was not driven out" as president of Harvard University "because she is black", McWhorter refers to the role of "the right-wing anti-critical race theory crusader Christopher Rufo" without considering that Rufo is a notoriously proud racist. As novelist A. R. Moxon has argued, Rufo may claim his challenge to Gay is about plagiarism and academic anti-semitism, but such an acceptance of that framing disregards Rufo's "supremacist assumptions" and "eliminationist intentions". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 January 2024)

 


 

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Workplace harassment as comedy in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine"

Between Christmas Day and New Year's, after I caught covid, I turned to rewatching "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", in part in honor of my old college friend Andre Braugher (1962-2023). I haven't yet finished the first season, but I've already noticed something that I hadn't registered before: the show plays workplace harassment as comedy. This first stood out for me when the character nicknamed "The Vulture" (Dean Winters) both repeatedly slaps Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) on his bottom and pesters Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) about how sexy he finds her. In the following episode, Peralta makes the first of his long-running "title of your sex tape" jokes in response to things Santiago says. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 January 2024)

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Impressions from Bob Dylan’s “Desire” (1976)

As I learned from Liam Carson, yesterday was the anniversary of Bob Dylan's 1976 album "Desire". I often used to play "One More Cup of Coffee", and I still play it occasionally with my brother-in-law Bruce, who loves the song. Catchy phrases from three others pop up regularly in my head: “Hurricane” (“This is the story of the hurricane”), “Mozambique” (“I’d like to spend some time in Mozambique”), and “Oh, Sister” (“Oh, sister when I come to lie in your arms”). And for me, “Sara” doubles with Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” as a reference to my sister Sara and my daughter Sara. – I guess that album has made an impression on me! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 January 2024) 

Friday, January 05, 2024

The Alps as figure and as a real place in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1851)

The Alps first appear in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1851) in a simile about "the Nantucker", who "climbs [the waves] as chamois hunters climb the Alps." Then they appear in a simile about keeping watch on the masthead, exposed "like an ignorant pilgrim crossing the snowy Alps in winter." But later, the actual mountains are referred to in a list of places where whale fossils had recently been found: "[...] at the base of the Alps, in Lombardy, in France, in England, in Scotland, and in the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama." First a figure of a landscape to be crossed, the Alps finally become an geographical and paleontological site. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 January 2024)

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Following epidemiologists a few years ago

At some point in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, I read a tweet that in a few years people might well wonder why they followed so many epidemiologists on Twitter. When I remembered that the other day, I thought I'd try to find it again, but I deleted my Twitter account last July, and I prefer to look at X as little as possible. Back in 2020 at the time of that tweet about epidemiologists, the idea that people would have left Twitter instead had not yet come up. Still, on Mastodon, I do follow a lot of people who do critical research on Large Language Models and "AI". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 January 2024)

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

“The voters should decide”, say Trump supporters. But in 2020 they decided and he tried to overthrow the results

One thing I've seen people say about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's possible removal from the ballot for Republican presidential primaries or for the United States general election in November 2024 is that "the voters should decide". But as I've also seen noted several times, the voters resoundingly decided against Trump in the 2020 presidential election. His response was not to transfer power but to refuse to accept the voters' decision and to do everything he could to overturn the results, including the illegal actions that led to his indictments. He shouldn't be given another chance to accept the results if he wins and attempt to overturn them if he loses. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 January 2024)

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” (1974) and Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” (1926)

The first Steely Dan album I ever owned was surely "Aja", which came out in September 1977 when I was 13. But at some point later, I must have picked up "Pretzel Logic" from 1974, as I remember I had the LP. Listening to it again today, I noticed as usual lately something I did not know back then: the piano riff that starts "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is taken from Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" (1964). But I also noticed that I can add another moment to my early listening to jazz: the version of Duke Ellington's 1926 composition with trumpet player Bubber Miley, "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 January 2024)

Monday, January 01, 2024

Reading Thomas Hardy’s “Desperate Remedies” (1871) after reading Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1851)

After I finished Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1851) on 7 December 2023, I turned to Thomas Hardy's novels for my next long-term reading project. At 144,580 words, Hardy's first novel, "Desperate Remedies" (1871), is only seventy percent as long as "Moby Dick" (at 209,117 words), but it is much more plot-driven, so it only took me two weeks to read it (instead of fifteen for Melville). "Desperate Remedies" is also much more of a page-turner than "Moby Dick", though that might also have to do with my previous knowledge of each book's plot: I knew many of the details of the Melville already and nothing about Hardy's much less famous novel. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 January 2024)