- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2008

It’s all in the act

“The act of watching became a transfixing experience, no matter what originally impelled the viewer to watch in the first place. [David Foster] Wallace mentions protesters of the Vietnam War who ‘may have hated the war, but … also wanted to be seen protesting on television. TV was where they’d seen this war, after all. Why wouldn’t they go about hating it on the very medium that made their hate possible?’ …

“Metafiction was quite the rabbit hole for a literary avant-garde to throw itself down, and it should come as no surprise that its advent in the ‘60s coincided with that of pop art.

Andy Warhol’s obsession with celebrities and historical figures was rooted not just in the shock of recognition; it was rooted in the shared appreciation of that recognition. When he ‘directed’ an eight-hour film consisting entirely of a mise-en-scene of the Empire State Building, his audience - drug-addled as it may have been - was being coaxed to observe itself more than it was the stultifying content onscreen: ‘Can you believe we’re sitting here watching this?’”

-Michael Weiss, writing on “Sincerity with a Motive,” on Nov. 20 at the Weekly Standard

Worst of both worlds

“The mistakes that our elites made, and that led us to this pass … also have their roots in flaws that I think are somewhat more particular to this elite, and this time and place.

“Flaws like an overweening faith in technology’s capacity to master contingency, a widespread assumption that the future doesn’t have much to learn from the past, and above all a peculiar combination of smartest-guys-in-the-room entitlement (don’t worry, we deserve to be moving millions of dollars around on the basis of totally speculative models, because we got really high SAT scores) and ferocious, grasping competitiveness (because making ten million dollars isn’t enough if somebody else from your Ivy League class is making more!).

“It’s a combination, at its worst, that marries the kind of vaulting, religion-of-success ambitions (and attendant status anxieties) that you’d expect from a self-made man to the obnoxious entitlement you’d expect from a to-the-manor-born elite - without the sense of proportion and limits, of the possibility of tragedy and the inevitability of human fallibility, that a real self-made man would presumably gain from starting life at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder … and without, as well, the sense of history, duty, self-restraint, noblesse oblige and so forth that the old aristocrats were supposed to aspire to.”

-Ross Douthat, writing on “Great Power, Great Responsibility,” on Dec. 5 at his self-titled Atlantic blog

New hippies

“Laurel Canyon is one of rock’s most mythic neighborhoods: This is where Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young first folded their voices into one beautiful harmony; where [Frank] Zappa welcomed artists including [Jimi] Hendrix and Mick Jagger to parties at his infamous ‘Log Cabin’ in 1968. Laurel Canyon was the inspiration for the Doors’ ‘Love Street,’ the Mamas and the Papas’ ‘12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon),’ CSNY’s ‘Our House’ and … where music-business legends David Geffen, Jac Holtzman and Elliot Roberts helped build the recording careers of the singer-songwriters who defined the very essence of the Sixties California sound.

“The music in the Canyon quieted in the Eighties, when rock stars sought greater privacy in places like Malibu and Topanga Canyon and hair metal took over the Sunset Strip. But since [Jonathan] Wilson, 33, started hosting jam sessions a few years ago, an expanding group of artists - including the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson; the Jayhawks‘ Gary Louris; Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her boyfriend, singer-songwriter [Johnathan] Rice - plus up-and-comers like the Entrance Band and the Whispertown 2000 have been reviving not just the old-school Canyon sounds but also that scene’s spirit of collaboration.”

-Jenny Eliscu, writing on “Hot Scene: The Return to Laurel Canyon,” in the Dec. 11 issue of Rolling Stone

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