- The Washington Times - Monday, February 22, 2010

Celebrity redux

“The first week of February, a group of more than 75 celebrities met in a studio on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles to re-record ‘We Are the World.’ The occasion was the January earthquake in Haiti, which left the bedraggled, destitute country even more bedraggled and destitute.

“But Haiti was just the proximate excuse for the new ‘We Are the World.’ Plans were already in the works to re-record the song to mark the 25th anniversary of the first ‘We Are the World.’ In other words, it’s not fair to blame the Haitians for this new round of celebrity self-congratulation. These people were going to do it anyway. Who is to blame? Two of the most destructive forces of the 20th century: the United Nations and the Beatles. …

“The modern pop-benefit extravaganza began on August 1, 1971, when George Harrison staged a two-day ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ at Madison Square Garden. Moved by the plight of refugees who fled to India during Bangladesh’s war of independence, Harrison teamed up with UNICEF to raise money for relief. He put together an all-star bill including Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. The other three Beatles were invited. Naturally, Ringo [Starr] showed up. [Paul] McCartney declined, while [John] Lennon initially accepted, only to change his mind when Harrison requested that Yoko Ono not insert herself into the performance.”

Jonathan V. Last, writing on “We Are the World,” in the Feb. 22 issue of the Weekly Standard

Life via others

“We have a habit of turning sentimental about celebrities who are struck down — Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve — transforming them into mystics; still, it’s almost impossible to sit beside Roger Ebert, lifting blue Post-it notes from his silk fingertips, and not feel as though he’s become something more than he was. He has those hands. And his wide and expressive eyes, despite everything, are almost always smiling.

“‘There is no need to pity me,’ he writes on a scrap of paper one afternoon after someone parting looks at him a little sadly. ‘Look how happy I am.’ …

“More and more, that’s how Ebert lives these days, through memories, of what things used to feel like and sound like and taste like. When his friend suddenly apologizes for eating in front of him, for talking about the buttered scallops and how the cream and the fish and the wine combine to make a kind of delicate smoke, Ebert shakes his head. He begins to write and tears a note from the spiral.

“‘No, no,’ it reads. ‘You’re eating for me.’”

Chris Jones, writing on “Roger Ebert: The Essential Man” on Feb. 16 at Esquire, in a profile of the film critic, who lost to cancer his jaw and with it, his ability to speak.

Writers passing

“January 27 is becoming a black-letter day in American literature. On that day in 2009, John Updike died and, this year, the first anniversary of that loss was marked by the news that J.D. Salinger was dead. It’s an artificial coincidence — of a sort that authors as good as Updike and Salinger would have scorned in their stories — but the deaths in close succession of members of the literary generations born in the 1910s, 20s and 30s do have a symbolic significance. If we add the deaths within four months of 2007 of Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut — members with Salinger of the set of major American writers formed by service in the Second World War — it’s clear that an era in American literature is coming to a close.

“There is an obvious temptation to believe that the authors who have recently died form — with others who fought in the war (such as Saul Bellow and Gore Vidal) or were teenagers in America during it (Philip Roth) — the greatest literary generation the country has ever seen or ever will see. This triumphalist but nostalgic position holds that these writers took advantage of their nation’s geopolitical power — and a media culture and bookstore customer-base which regarded serious writers seriously — to create a superpower of the pen to match the financial and military clout of the U.S. during what became known as the American century.”

Mark Lawson, writing on “Masters of American Literature,” on Feb. 6 at the Guardian

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