I’m cognizant that it could be considered a little odd to pen an appreciation of an appreciation, but here I do so anyway (just in case, I suppose, someone might appreciate it).
The multifaceted writer Mark Steyn recently reposted on his website an audio tribute he made to the late songwriter Hugh Martin (who died in 2011). Martin is the composer of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” surely one of the most poignant popular songs of Christmas. That was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, and for which Martin also wrote “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song.” Continue reading A Merry Little Christmas with Hugh Martin and Mark Steyn→
Recently contributed by someone to YouTube is a one-hour TV interview with Paul Simon, conducted by Mark Steyn in the 1980s (embedded below). [UPDATE: The video has since been deleted from YouTube. An audio recording of the show can be found at Mark Steyn’s website: Part One and Part Two.] Some of us who are fans of Mark Steyn’s sharp-witted topical commentary are amused by the references he occasionally makes to his apparently glamorous former life as a globe-trotting hob-knobber with musical luminati. “As Paul Simon once said to me,” he’ll insert as an aside in some piece on how utterly depraved and beyond-hope the Western world has become; on other occasions it might be: “as I once said to Frank Sinatra …”
Well, there’s now at least video evidence of his proximity to Paul Simon at one particular time, and an extended time at that, talking to him at his home on Long Island and driving around Queens with him visiting Simon’s childhood haunts. And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.
But you don’t see very much of Mark Steyn, because the show is actually focused on Paul Simon, who, judging by the conversation, had most recently released the Graceland album. Although about twenty-five years have passed since this interview, it is a superbly intimate portrait of Simon the artist. Steyn knows music and the art of song in particular, and he is a perceptive and sensitive interviewer. I especially appreciate the time spent on songs from the Hearts & Bones album as I harbor a special love for that record and believe that “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” likely still stands as Simon’s most perfect song and recording. And I say that as a serious fan who believes that every Paul Simon album (post-Simon & Garfunkel) contains multiple doozies. Continue reading Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)→
Mark Steyn’s paean to Swedish supergroup Abba, and their great song “Waterloo,” is his typically hilarious combination of global politics, knowing-puns and kitschy references, and shouldn’t be missed. It is also in its way a sincere appreciation of the real talent they possessed. As he points out, “[F]rom the rubble of their marriages, they produced the aching harmonies of ‘One Of Us,’ as near as pop gets to the cry of pure pain. Underneath those sequinned leotards, Benny and Björn are two of the best pop writers of the last four decades.” Indeed.
Watch out for the special effects in the video embedded below; they are far more advanced than anything you see on TV these days, and might leave you in a state of mental disarray.
I must point out that Mark Steyn errs somewhat, however, in his characterization of what the beautiful blonde former singer of Abba is up to these days: “Agnetha,” says Steyn, “is riddled with insecurity and now lives as a recluse on a remote Swedish island riddled with in-house security.” I don’t know what her living situation is like, but recluses don’t do interviews and release new records, and Agnetha has done both recently. Below via YouTube is an interview she did last week for the BBC with none other than Welsh-wonder Cerys Matthews, which affords an entertaining glance back over her career.
I’m not persuaded that the new material she’s singing is even a patch on those old Benny/Björn songs, but then really, these days, what is?
The foreword to Geert Wilder’s new book Marked for Death was written by Mark Steyn, and it is published as a column in National Review Online at the following link: The Spirit of Geert Wilders. It is sobering, and it is also typically superb Steyn.
I was watching this talk with the always-interesting writer Mark Steyn, which took place at UC Berkeley in 2007, and I was struck by one particular thing Steyn said and thought I would note it down here. Steyn started out as an arts critic and journalist, but he’s far better known now as a commentator on world events and politics. His book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know Itwas a bestseller (and that, indeed, provides a large part of the grist for the 55-minute conversation you can watch via the YouTube clip below). The quote that I thought worth capturing conveys some of the motivation behind his transition from arts criticism to what you might call pan-global-societal criticism.
I love writing about music, I love writing about film and theater, and I would do that if this was an ideal world. But I think at some point, if there are great things going on in the world, and you want to say something about them, and you don’t — it’s not going to be any consolation to me to have a great CD collection as Western civilization falls apart. In a sense you’ve got to — if you value the freedom to stroll into some piano bar in a hotel somewhere on the planet and hear a great singer singing “The Way You Look Tonight” or whatever — you’ve got to understand that even that little miniature experience is at the apex of a whole cultural foundation, and that you can’t just sort of sheer off the small pleasures of a 32-bar song from all the big geo-political issues. They are explicitly connected in that sense.
Do yourself a favor during the current orgy of debate and discussion regarding Ronald Reagan, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, and read Mark Steyn’s appreciation of Reagan the movie actor. Any article that has the following as the opening paragraph qualifies as absolutely golden almost regardless of what follows (if you ask me):
If I understand correctly the Left’s dismissal of Ronald Reagan back in the Eighties, it’s that he was a third-rate B-movie ham of no consequence and simultaneously such an accomplished actor he was able to fool the American people into believing he was a real president rather than a mere cue-card reader for the military-industrial complex. These would appear at first glance to be somewhat inconsistent characterisations, but they can be reconciled if you have as exquisitely condescending a view of the American people as, say, Gore Vidal.