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The Elephant In The Discotheque Pick of the day

Can you have genius, yet no taste? Consider the Bee Gees. They were prodigies; hit-makers for 34 years, rivalled only by The Beatles. In 1978 the songs from Saturday Night Fever accounted for 2% of worldwide music industry revenues. But they were never chic, often ridiculed, not without reason. “Forgive them. They wrote a dozen of the finest songs of the twentieth century. The Bee Gees were children of the world” (2,840 words)

Interview: Zia Haider Rahman

Writer discusses his much-admired first novel, In The Light Of What We Know. “About three months in, when I realized that the novel was going to be long, I decided to write the end. I became concerned that I would change as a human being during that time and that this change would be reflected in an altering of the fundamental tone or key of the novel. I did not want the underlying tone to seem as if it had disappeared” (5,800 words)

Hrabalesque: A Guide to Rambling On

Review of Rambling On, a newly re-edited and translated collection of short stories by Bohumil Hrabal, the Czech writer best known for his novel Closely Observed Trains. “In Hrabal’s fiction, the men are always drunk and the women are always objects of desire. But despite the frequency of some problematic motifs, Hrabal’s lyrical prose is beautiful and charming, with elements of Surrealism and Magical Realism” (3,670 words)

The Ten Best Novels Of The 1940s

Most short-lists would probably find room for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four; Albert Camus’s The Plague; Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited; and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon. But the very best novel of the decade, by this reckoning, was The Wife of Martin Guerre, by Janet Lewis, set in 16C provincial France, “the perfect historical novel”, though “only slightly longer than a novella” (975 words)

Interview: Sir Norman Rosenthal

Gossipy conversation in which Rosenthal reminisces about his life in the art trade from librarian at Agnews to exhibitions director at the Royal Academy. “All art that we find interesting is both objectively and philosophically modern. If Poussin is good today, then he’s modern. Who knows whether Cézanne will be interesting in 200 years? It seems to me that if they’re good today, that’s all that matters” (13,300 words)

Norman Rush

Rush is a great American writer whose chosen form is the novel, but who belongs more to the tradition of aphorists and essayists — Pascal, Leopardi, Montaigne. His novels may lack technical perfection and unity of vision, but they are rich in lateral thought and simple opinion. “The reward is that in Rush’s novels there is the constant possibility that the next sentence is about to tell us something new” (4,220 words)

Seven Reasons Not To Write Novels

Spain’s greatest living novelist explains why you shouldn’t follow in his footsteps. There are too many novels already; anybody can write one; even if you get published, the money is terrible and the fame minimal; posterity will forget you; writing is hard work. The only reason to write novels: You get to live, while you write, in a fictional world that, unlike the real world, is full of possibilities (1,600 words)

“The Rainbow”, By D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence was over-lionised in the 1960s and is over-neglected now. He was a great but very uneven writer. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is arguably the most influential, and certainly the most notorious, of his novels, “but much of it now seems embarrassing”. Sons and Lovers, is many readers’ favourite. The The Rainbow, timeless and symbolic, is the book which “secures his claim on posterity” (1,764 words)

Art In The Future

The fine-art industry today is roughly where the music industry was in the 19C, serving an elite audience. 20C music transcended limitations of class and scale by exploiting technology and developing new genres. 21C fine art will do the same. The market will expand massively; digital technologies will be co-opted; a new tier of “upper-middle-brow” art — think HBO in television — will refine popular taste (980 words)

The Many Poses Of Marcel Marceau

Marceau was the first, and perhaps the last, master of mime as popular art. He infused formal traditions with the slapstick of Chaplin and Keaton. But when he died he left no heir. “He had performed the same sketches for sixty years. There was nothing for other mimes to build on. He inspires only poor imitations. Upon his death, the art of mime steps back out of the mainstream. It becomes a busker’s act—obscure, often mocked” (1,650 words)

Dead Girls As Objects

William Vollmann “puts the ick in lovesick” with his new short-story collection, Last Stories And Other Stories. The book, “a sort of necrophiliac dreamscape”, is “harrowing in the boredom it delivers, except for the bits, mostly toward the end, in which his male characters have slushy sex with rotting female corpses, some of them ghosts or vampires or supernatural beings of some other sort” (Metered paywall) (1,060 words)

Is “Finnegans Wake” Unreadable?

No, but it presents a “Himalayan challenge” — 600 pages of “dense, lightly punctuated prose aspiring to the condition of poetry”, incorporating words from 65 languages. “Heaven forbid that it should be imitated”, said an early reviewer: “This is Mr. Joyce’s individual mode of self-expression, and therefore nobody can do anything properly comparable with it without doing something quite different” (990 words)

Why Classic Rock Isn’t What It Used To Be

What counts as classic rock? The radio industry put a lots of market research and math into getting the formula right. The answer it comes up with is: rock recorded between 1973 and 1982, with some backdating into the 1960s for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. REM, Nirvana, Metallica and U2 get in under the wire. Right in the sweet spot are Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and Van Halen (1,970 words)

Barry Gibb: The Last Brother

The Bee Gees were “one of the strangest, most complicated, most brilliant groups ever to achieve pop stardom”. They had hits in the Sixties, fell apart, got their groove back in the Seventies when their manager called: “He was producing a disco movie, and he needed songs for the soundtrack”. The last brother, Barry, is rich and gloomy at 67: “A heart attack onstage would be ideal. Right in the middle of Stayin’ Alive(4,580 words)

Monty Python: A Revolution In The Head

Monty Python was a product of its time aesthetically and politically. Trying to revive it now means losing what made it great. “Python evolved out of British satire much as psychedelia evolved from the protest movement, or Situationism from left-Libertarianism: disillusionment with straightforward political solutions, belief in the transformative power of imagination, desire to open minds by force” (3,100 words)

Reality Hunger

On the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, “notorious as a filmmaker”, but first and foremost a poet, who published his first collection at 20. “His atmosphere was constant scandal. In his movies, he loved fusing the hieratic with the everyday. And in his writing, too, he liked combining two things that don’t usually go together: a classical form or tone that could absorb its squalid subjects” (1,760 words)

Sink Or Swim

Ungated today by the LRB; for how long I know not; read it while you can. Reviewing a reissue of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Wood skewers the purple prose lovingly and lethally. “If there’s a tangle in Durrell it’s inextricable. If there’s a treasury it’s inexhaustible. Creatures of habit are inveterate, dusk is blue, shadows and trams are violet, dawn is mauve – but then so are voices and a mosque” (3,280 words)

The Tiers

Rock stars ranked by the venues they can fill. The top performers are getting younger again. “Bruce Springsteen can do stadiums overseas, but not in the US. The number one worldwide stadium act is One Direction, which breaks merch records wherever it goes. If you think the music business is in trouble, you’re unfamiliar with their income. Then comes Taylor Swift. Ms. Swift is everything that’s right about the music business” (1,770 words)

The New Mauritshuis

The restored Mauritshuis in The Hague, “the jewel box among Holland’s museums”, reopens after a two-year closure with “a fresh hang, subtle decor and sympathetic extensions”. It may well be the “most alluring small museum” in Europe, if not the world, thanks to its quiet charm and perfect compact collection, which includes Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson; and Vermeer’s View Of Delft and Girl With A Pearl Earring (1,100 words)

How Brando Broke The Movies

Marlon Brando invented the chameleon actor, the disappearing star, “the maze from which modern acting, in its dedication to the protean and its distrust of all that the term movie star used to promise, is still trying to escape”. But for all his roles, he possessed only two real characters: Himself, whom he played in youth, and his father, whom he played in old age. The middle of his career, when neither quite fitted him, was his slump (2,020 words)

How “Frozen” Took Over The World

Disney’s latest classic, “Frozen”, is already the highest-grossing animated film ever, not to say the fifth-most-popular film of all time. But why? Its central elements are common to many children’s films: dead parents, royalty and palaces, the quest for true love, intervals of slapstick. The winning difference seems to be the character of Elsa the princess: She means well but does harm. Everyone can identify with that (2,340 words)

I Know Times Are Changing

Revisiting Purple Rain, title track of the album that made Prince a superstar, 30 years on. Prince merges moods and motifs from other artists to create a song pretty much guaranteed to send a shiver down every spine. There’s a flavour of Bob Seger in there; a big dose of Journey, an echo of J. Geils. Other stars have returned the compliment, with Alicia Keys and Maria Carey among those borrowing phrases from Purple Rain (3,630 words)

Farewell Keith: An Elegy for The Publishing Sales Rep

“The typical rep was a man in his mid 50s, with a bald head, moustache and a ruddy face that indicated an approaching heart attack … At first it seemed absurd that publishers had a sales force made up of people who didn’t know that George Eliot was a woman, but I came to realise that the best sales reps were the Brians and Barrys, whilst the worst were the bright young things who didn’t know how to sell a book” (1,490 words)

Make It New

Their painting hardly shows it, but the pre-Raphaelites were angry young men. Millais was 19, Rossetti 20, Holman Hunt 21 when they formed their Brotherhood. They believed that, to move forward, art first had to move back, reclaiming its freedoms before academies and schools claimed the right to dictate what was art and what was not; which meant going back to a time era before Raphael, exemplar of officially-approved art (1,740 words)

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