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Art for quarantining (#1)

Thursday 3/19/20

I thought I would put up a series of posts--interspersed through the others, covering the usual range--that provide links to complete films, works of music, literature, art, television shows that one might not know about, or know that they might access. Maybe the posts will prove useful. People talk a lot about how busy they are. My feelings on this are known. But one notices when they are admittedly non-busy, they don't know what to do with themselves, often. I think a situation like the current one is an opportunity for growth. It's a lot of other things, too, of course, but there is that opportunity for growth in there as well. Later, I'll do individual posts on the best hockey games ever--again, with the full broadcasts--and the best baseball games. I'll keep all of this on a merit basis, rather than a "hooray for the Bruins and Red Sox" one. But let's get started with the art, all of which is suitable for people of any age, so you can share it with your kids, too.

This is a recent radio adaptation of M.R. James's "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad." I'm going to be a little basic, assuming many people might not know some of these names, which is cool--there was a time in my life--whenever it was--that I didn't know them either. There has to be, right? James is one of our best ghost story writers. Many aficionados think he is the best. I don't, but he's up there. He wrote in the early twentieth century while working in academia in England, at King's College. Each Christmas, he'd write a ghost story. (I wrote about this for The Paris Review once.) Then he'd invite his favorite colleagues and students to his room to hear him read it. King's College, as you might now, is the same place that produces those wonderful Christmas carol performances each year, immortalized on many albums. Once upon a time, you could hear M.R. James read on Christmas Eve, and then in the morning, dash down some coffee and hustle to the church to hear the choir sing their Christmas carols. I would have loved that.

More radio. In the 1990s, a project was undertaken to adapt all of the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories and novels to radio. That's fifty-six stories and four novels. No one had done it before, no one since. Clive Merrison plays Holmes, Michael Williams is Watson. This is what I listen to when I sleep at night.

Beethoven--where to start, right? A good place to start, or to continue, or to return to, is with his late period string quartets. Some people--including myself--would tell you they are among the finest works of art ever produced.

And Mozart--where to start, continue, or return to with him, too, right? Mozart thought of himself as a composer of opera more than anything. With Don Giovanni, he believed he'd written something unique that he termed a comedic drama. In fact, it's somewhat in the spirit of Meatheads Say the Realest Things. But it's hard to get into opera, if you're not used to it, without having attended a few performances. Thus, let's go with the Jupiter symphony. It's very exciting, no?

One of my favorite horror films--it's among our best ghost story films--is 1944's The Uninvited, with Ray Milland. In fact, the book on which the film is based--Uneasy Freehold, by Dorothy Macardle--is referenced early on by the narrator in "Terry from the Cape," the first story in Between Cloud and Horizon, which Boulevard published. Back in the 1940s, it was common to have movie casts reassemble--or at least as many people as could be persuaded to--after a film came out and do a condensed radio adaptation. That's what we have here, but what very few people know is that this film that is so beloved by fans of classic Hollywood and ghost story buffs, produced a sequel, called The Unseen.

Shift back to some music. Miles Davis, where to start, etc., right? This is a bit different: it's a recording that has not been made commercially available from 1967, with his Second Great Quintet. The first one--and that's how everyone refers to them--existed in the 1950s, with John Coltrane in the band. The Second Great Quintet--with all different members--might be better than the first. Tony Williams was a drummer who changed a lot in jazz, and in a way he is the key figure for the band. Davis found his playing freeing.

Wanda Landowska was a Polish harpsichordist born in 1879. In 1940, in Paris, she was recording a set of Scarlatti sonatas when the Nazis invaded. Right as she was playing. You can hear bombs exploding in the background on this amazing recording, but Landowska didn't stop.

British television has produced many creepy shows over the years that are perfect for both kids and adults, with a knack for staying with you, no matter your age. Children of the Stones, from 1977, is one such example. I don't know why, but productions like this also make me think of Fraggle Rock.

Orson Welles was a legit genius, and a legit filmmaking genius, uneven as those films could be, but he might have been better at radio than anything. And he was great at a lot. This is the everything by his Mercury Theatre troupe from their glory run. You've heard of The War of the Worlds broadcast, but there is so much here. I wrote about the Dracula show from 1938, for instance, as the scariest program America has ever heard for Vice.

Lucille Fletcher, whom I wrote about for Salon, wrote a radio play called Sorry, Wrong Number, which became a film in 1948, but it was even better as a radio play--one which Orson Welles called the best radio script ever written. It's about a blind woman--played by Agnes Moorehead on the air, and Barbara Stanwyck on screen--who overhears a murder plot on the phone. This 1943 performance--Moorehead actually performed the play a bunch--was included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

We'll close out this installment of art for quarantining with one of the finest Beatles concerts, which I wrote about for Rolling Stone. It's their first ever US show, from Washington, D.C., and you can hear how pumped they are and how determined to blow the mind of this country. They probably never wanted to play better in their lives. (Okay--scratch that. Can't find the complete show on YouTube. So, let's go with this Christmastime 1962 performance from the Star Club in Germany, which will be the subject of the bulk of the first chapter of my Same Band You've Never Known: An Alternative Musical History of the Beatles. Here is the Beatles as bar band. They've had some chart success with their first single, "Love Me Do," and this is the last time they'll go to Hamburg to play. They don't want to be there at this juncture, but again, it's Christmas, there's nostalgia, and they rev it up pretty damn good to say farewell.)


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