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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Monday
Aug182014

In Which We Fly Perilously Close To The Ordinary Sun

Did You Ask Me?

by DAN CARVILLE

I saw her at a stoplight, through the window of my car, long afterwards. Early morning. The first inches of dawn touched her shoulders. I had a passenger in my car, a friend of mine who I have not seen since he moved to Salinas. He sang along with what was on the radio. As we passed her, trailing a suitcase with a long handle, my friend stopped his singing. He said, "Can there be a single hour left in this night?"

I drove cars many times after that. But I did not enjoy it anymore. How could I, when the possibility remained of passing by another person I know better than myself, moving so fast momentum alone might take me miles beyond her?

I dislike rhetorical questions intensely, but I have to admit the world is filled with them.

I never understood the intimacy of others, or could see myself taking part in it, until I met her. Since she left, I lost whatever understanding she gave me. A key frame, redrawn on paper. One conversation I had with her keeps recurring in my mind.

Flashing her blue eyes, she said, "Dan, you have to stop." I asked what she meant.

"You know, of course, the story of the acolyte?"

I said I did not. She told the fable. It was about a student who invested nearly everything in his instructor, until he heard himself referred to by his teacher as a slave. The student was despondent and suicidal until the master explained that he had done it on purpose in order to shatter the student's imperfect view of him. 

I did not ask the relevance of this tale, both because I dreaded the answer, and because there is no real way to make a woman tell you anything she does not want to. I explained this to her. Her face wrinkled, like she was about to spit something disgusting out of her mouth. She was silent for a few moments.

Then she shouted, "But did you ask me? But did you ask me? But did you ask me?" She forgave me in minutes.

She would not let me touch her for the first month. The anticipation was a monkish ritual to be enjoyed and loathed in equal part. I wondered aloud why she chose this. Did she not want to be with me the way I wanted to be with her?

She laughed and said, "What are you thinking now?" She repeated herself a lot, usually to be silly. I could not help loving that aspect of her, and when she was gone it was the first thing I mocked, quietly to myself. I was at the airport, flying back to New York. I watched a woman repair a wheelchair with one hand. Families and couples criss-crossed each other, alternately wiping off and enclosing their hands in soft, white, slightly damp paper. I said to myself, "What are you thinking now, Dan?" and I said it more than once, more than enough.

I first met her when she was dating a TA I knew from college named Mark. Even though I rarely kept up with my college friends, I would catch up with Mark from time to time. In those days he had a marvelous mind: vindictive, forceful and empathetic all at once. I remember us both walking out of some seminar on the Palestinian situation once we saw the syllabus.

Mark saw the world as an ancient husk. I will not say he hated it. He felt that the idea of improving it was completely in vain, and self-important besides. It was difficult but not impossible to reconcile this idea with the little goatee I never saw him without.

Mark had told me his girlfriend was a musician long before I met them for drinks, and even sent me a few of her songs. I never planned to listen to those mp3s, but I did find it very sweet and maybe a little childish that he wanted my approval. I am not sure what he saw in me, really. It only occurs to me now that he may simply not have had many friends in the husk.

I remember coming home from a Greenwich Village bar at the end of that night. I see myself then as a flame shaped like a man, so excited was I at being able to hear her music; somewhat upset that I had possessed this kind of treasure days prior without knowing it. (But it was not just that. It was also the idea that I might also have, within the walls of the apartment I shared with a computer science PhD named Amil, so many other secret delights waiting to be found.)

She took a job at Columbia and now lived uptown. Mark visited and wrote her from Ann Arbor. I knew I had to break them up somehow, but my options were limited. If she would willingly deceive Mark to be with me, I could not respect her; if something trivial could cleanse her feelings, then I could not really trust her.

After a few days, I just called her. I did not really care at that point, so many times had I given myself over to her voice, her fey discretion, the blush in her face. (I would have also been similarly thrilled by the girl in Willy Wonka who turned into a massive blueberry, had she only become a round, shy cherry instead.)

Dumbly I asked if she remembered me.

"Yes, Dan. I am glad you called," she said.

Despite myself, even though every part of me knew I should not say the word, because I am always frowning at good fortune and expecting bad, I asked why.

She said, "Do you know the story of the falcon, the angel and the death adder?" I said I did not. She e-mailed to me.

I read it quickly and asked, "Which one am I?" I already knew which she represented.

On the other end of the line, I heard her laugh again, chalky and solid like her lower half. "That is the right answer, Dan. I only want to know those who cannot immediately tell which they are." That in her delicious accent.

I met her in the park regularly after that. She would talk to me for hours, never flinching when what I wanted to discuss seemed flimsy even for me. (Once I asked her what she thought about the death penalty and she just rolled her eyes.) We would write when we did not meet, posing each other so many questions. Finally, in Sheep Meadow, I broached the subject that had been on my mind, although I would be lying if I said it was torturing me.

"Have you told Mark about us?" I said. Her first answer would be definitive, final - anything else would be merely apology or confession.

She said, "Dan, what did he tell you? That I am his girlfriend?" I nodded.

She said, "That night we met, do you know what he said to me before we went to you? I can see that you do not, and I am sorry. I thought you knew." Her hair shivered and she touched my body with some blunt instrument. It may have been her hand.

"It was just before we left. He said, 'If you don't like Dan, I will futilely try not to hold it against you.'"

I said that seemed like a nice compliment, but that that I did not fully understand. She watched a group of babies fight over a toy shaped like a fat orange cat and brushed strands of dark hair back from her face. She said, "It may seem like we stop..."

She said, "It may seem like I stopped loving him, but that's not true. I only stopped acknowledging his love."

I think about that almost every morning, since she is no longer here, since she will not say something more destructive to replace that original thought. At first I concluded that those who always gave so much of themselves were by their nature also the cruellest. I hope I am not like that, but I think what she was saying is that we all are.

But then, it seemed like she would never stop wanting me. Unlike anyone else, she never made demands on sex, attaching it to no other part of our lives. Amil moved in with his boyfriend in Prospect Heights and she took his room. Because I snore, we often slept in separate beds. The other reason was that she used her sleeping place also as a sort of office, although she would allow me in it if I asked.

(Do you know how hard it is for me to say or hear her name? I know I cannot put it down here, either. For her to recognize me in real life, putting her suitcase aside for one moment, dropping it fully to the ground, would be nothing. She cannot see me in my writing, she must only see herself.)

After I saw her at the stoplight that day, I again started every morning with thoughts of her. I replayed the most eventful of our past conversations constantly. Paranoia enveloped my brain; I tried and failed to distrust her in retrospect. I thought of e-mailing Mark and asking questions I had held close for so long, but if he felt the same way I did, then I would no longer be suffering alone. (Had he given her to me?) I dreaded the idea of not being original.

Here is the story of the falcon, the angel and the death adder:

The falcon always soared as high as she could, and descended as low. One day an angel appeared to her at the top of her flight. The angel told the falcon that she could soar even higher than the sun, but that she might not be able to return to Earth. The falcon asked how she would feed herself. The angel answered that he, the angel, would provide an appropriate source of sustenance. The falcon asked for a day to consider and the angel agreed.

The falcon flew as low as she could, until the sun dropped out of view. There, in the bowels of Earth, she met the death adder. The death adder told her that she could fly even lower, into the world beneath the world, where she could eat and laugh and love forever with others like her. The falcon asked what she would have to do in return. The death adder said nothing, except that she could never again go to the top of the world, but would have to be content with the space between, where other birds flew nearby.

The falcon asked for a day to consider things. The death adder stuck out his long tongue, but agreed.

The falcon dropped to an old man's porch while she considered these two fine offers. The old man came out to give her a few scraps and leftovers such as he had. He asked the falcon where she planned to fly next.

"I don't know," the falcon said, shaking her dark little head. She could not meet the old man's eyes, knowing that if she did, the man might sense an inclination in her twisted face. "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know..."

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here

"When She Comes" - EMA (mp3)

"Satellites" - EMA (mp3)

Friday
Aug152014

In Which Cate Blanchett Vamps Like A Mere Servant

Ungrateful

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Some things are too good for critics.

In the Lincoln Center Festival production of Jean Genet's The Maids, Cate Blanchett prances around the stage in her undergarments until that special moment when Isabelle Huppert begins humping her red dress and choking her as anyone with a brain would want to be throttled. If you can't enjoy watching Cate playact sadomasochism with one of the finest French actresses of her generation, something is probably wrong with you.

There is something completely non-American about The Maids that is impossible to translate, even when the words themselves are done better than they ever have in a rewrite by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. Any production of this oft-staged comedy is on some level shameful and difficult to watch, since there is no amount of crossdressing or wackiness or satirical commentary that makes people feel OK about servants betraying their employers.

Why do so many theatrical reviews read like histories? It really doesn't matter how anything was performed in the past. The past no longer exists, I think this was a major theme of Mr. Holland's Opus or perhaps The Nutty Professor.

Now, today, you can see Cate Blanchett writhe and spread her legs as Claire, the youngest of the two maids in the employ of Madame (Elizabeth Debicki).  When older sister Solange (Huppert) puts her hand in her sister's mouth as she is straddling her, there is not a lot of thinking that has to go on to realize that this is the kind of fun we never end up seeing anywhere except pirate romance novels. The overall cumulative effect is something like if the girl of your dreams suddenly began slobbering all over you, jamming her fingers in your mouth.


The fact that a play from the late forties could still have any shock value in it at all shows how prudish American culture is, but that is the not-so-interesting part of watching Blanchett smear her makeup and monologue the inner desire she has to poison her fickle employer. Murder is less shocking than transcendent sex play; it is also a lot more understandable.

Cate's ministrations eventually make you realize that, is it really so bad when Bradley Cooper's girlfriend slobbers and jams her fingers down his throat?


Under the bright lights of NY City Center, Blanchett's face oscillates like a sun dial. She is always the center of any action on the stage, just subtle enough to not be overwhelming. Director Benedict Andrews dresses her older sister up more modestly, like the young girl she is not. Huppert's strong accent and sonorously low voice make her sound even more alien than her statuesque blonde sister, and the fact that she makes Blanchett's Claire seem normal is the basic premise of this production.


At some point an actress like Blanchett is just playing herself, or off herself. The latter is a lot more fun. The best part of The Maids occurs when Elizabeth Debicki finally enters the proceedings as Madame halfway through the play, and the natural order of things returns to the household.

We always find it easier to laugh when the existing social order is intact. Disturbingly, the most regular arrangement of individuals comforts us. It was either William F. Buckley or Genet who taught the West that there was a reason things were the way they were. I suppose in some twisted way those two men were peers and co-conspirators.

Hilton Als called this version of The Maids "a rip-off", I guess because there was a video screen, I am unclear on the actual reason. Watching a screen display what is already in front of you is a complete waste of time, but you have to remember that almost half the audience at the performance of The Maids I attended waited in line to get headphones that would assist with their ability to hear the show. If they squinted they might be able to tell Cate Blanchett apart from Elizabeth Debicki, but that would be the sole way they could do it. The only people who go to the theater are actresses, tourists and senior citizens, and it has always been this way.

And critics.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Miles Away" - Philip Selway (mp3)

"Waiting for a Sign" - Philip Selway (mp3)

Thursday
Aug142014

In Which We Envision A Vague Someone

Sketch of the Present

by CATHERINE ENGH

My relationship with my Grandmother began when I was in elementary school. My parents decided that it’d be good for me to spend a few hours after school “doing homework” at her place. She’d feed me a Chewy bar and pretend to listen as I went on about my day at school, elaborating the truth into fiction. With gestures, I’d describe how acrobatic performers had contorted their bodies and jumped through hoops at a special assembly. I’d relate the plots of musicals, inventing as I went along. When it was time to go home, I’d stand in the lobby of her condominium building while she stood on the overhanging balcony. One or both of us would exclaim, “parting is such sweet sorrow!” 

When I got my learner’s permit, Eleanor offered to help me learn to drive. What she meant, I soon learned, was that she would let me drive her around in my mom’s Volvo station wagon while she narrated a tour of her “old stomping grounds.” Eleanor grew up in the middle-class part of Alexandria, Virginia, the part of the city where the privileged, mostly white kids who took AP and SAT prep classes with me at Alexandria’s public high school lived. What Eleanor called her stomping grounds, my friends and I called “the hills” — neighborhoods where the streets are named for Ivy League colleges and the houses are spaced just far enough apart from one another for the blocks to feel wooded. There are no sidewalks, few stoplights and the speed limit is a sensible thirty-five.

The Hills made for nice drives. The streets and the houses — like my grandmother — were aged. They’d acquired what the luxury homes on my own cul-de-sac lacked — a character and a past. There was the house where a retired widower crossbred roses and gifted bouquets to the neighbors. There was the home where my great-grandfather Billy saw his wife die of lung cancer and the house, now a mere wing of a much larger one, that my great-aunt sold to Dianne Austen, famous for her popular workout tapes. We passed the dining room where years ago my great-grandfather, Otto, would sit at the head of the table and insist that margarine was no substitute for butter. We drove by the kitchen where Eleanor inadvertently cooked my aunt’s pet guinea pig in the oven; this was the home that my grandfather (a well-known lothario) left when he divorced her. On that street was a steep hill — the source of my Dad’s joke that, as a boy, he had to, “walk uphill to and from school — both ways!”

Other than a couple of years spent in Charlottesville, Baltimore and Nashville respectively, Eleanor lived her entire life in Alexandria. The network of relationships that she cultivated grew and changed organically, without any major ruptures. She breakfasted every Saturday with a fixed group of women who she’d known since high school. Obscure acquaintances of hers popped up in unexpected places: at basketball games, piano recitals and at the local bagel bakery. Authority figures like my principal and my boss knew and asked after her. The enormity of her social network became a joke between my brother and I. With each new friend of hers we met, we’d muse: how many can she possibly have?

+

Nervous, I run through what I want to say so that when I enter Anna’s office, I’ll feel prepared, hopefully less nervous. I don’t know her very well but she’s friendly, I assure myself. We talked about the Petraeus scandal on the four train, she hadn’t thought the story was very titillating.

“I’m applying to Rutgers’ PhD program in English and it would be really helpful, since I know you studied there, if you would write me a recommendation.” As the words come out of my mouth, they sound bad, too calculated.

She frowns: “Are you going to use this recommendation for all the schools you’re applying to?”

I tell her yes and she sits back in her chair, “Okay, I asked because some students ask us to write recs and then they use them for only one school, which is a waste of our resources. Where else are you applying?”

I stammer that I want to stay in the Northeast and that my top choice is the GC.

“Who doesn’t want to study at the GC? I like to think pragmatically about these kinds of things though. Keep in mind, you’re not going to be able to set geographical limitations when you’re on the job market.”

+

The German cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote in 1939: “Where there is experience in the strict sense of the word, certain contents of the individual past combine with the material of the collective past.” In the same essay, he argues that the rise of industrial capitalism severed experience from local, ritual tradition. Benjamin argues that in a capitalist economy that rewards efficiency, people have less time for boredom and, consequently, less time for experience.

My shopping routine in New York, where I’ve lived for six years, is pretty devoid of novelty—it’s not that there’s nothing new to see, it’s that I don’t see what’s there. I visit the same grocery store twice a week every week and I’ve come to buy, more or less, the same items. I move through the space in a habitual way, starting at produce and making it eventually to the frozen foods. Because I know the store so well—what they sell and where—I observe little but price tags and sale markers. I pass over what I don’t usually buy. I’m unlikely to explore options, to pass some ingredient that inspires me to cook something new. What I do at the store is meet a set of personal needs as economically as possible: I’m efficient, I move quickly. I buy just enough groceries to fit into the two supported bags I have with me and I move on. There’s no time for boredom; the store has become background to whatever present concerns run, unfocused, through my mind.

Buying a coffee across the street from the GC, my eye catches an advertisement in the window. “The Life of the Mind in the Heart of the City” it reads. I remember a friend, a New Yorker, saying he doesn’t understand getting a PhD here. I picture a vague someone, possibly myself in six months, sitting in the library, trying to bring dense philosophy and old fiction to relevance. I imagine trying to think dialectically here where a marching band with the Veterans’ Day parade processes loudly down Fifth Avenue.

+

On Christmas Eve, my grandmother Martha Ann asks Eleanor how she’s been doing.

Eleanor responds, “It’s been hard, I don’t really know what’s going to happen to me.” Set against her sharp red sweater, her blue-grey eyes look hazy to me, like she’s looking far beyond Martha Ann, who nods sympathetically.

My Dad had tried to prepare me for this. He called in early December to say that Eleanor wasn’t doing well—she had lost thirty pounds and seemed more out-of-it than usual.

“Something happened — she may have had a stroke but no one knows for sure.”

+

At dinner, Eleanor tells me she wants to do yoga with me. With a dismissive attitude, she adds, “I’ve been practicing yoga at Goodwin House, but they have us sitting on chairs.”

I ask her about it, “So it’s mostly the upper body that gets worked?”

“Yeah, we do arm stretches. They’re swivel chairs.”

Emphatically, I say, “More and more yoga teachers in New York are getting trained to teach kids, the elderly and the disabled. One of the great things about yoga is that anyone can do it, it’s for everyone.”

"I wouldn’t take a class for disabled people because I don’t consider myself disabled,” she says. I remember telling someone earlier that day about how waterskiing is all about the leg muscles. My youth and able-body suddenly feel like an obscene privilege, one that I’m either oblivious to or can’t keep quiet about.

When I hug Eleanor goodbye, I think of alluding dramatically to our old Shakespeare line but I resist, afraid she won’t remember.

+

In Paris, the closest grocery chain was small. It wasn’t meant to be the one-stop spot for anyone’s entire kitchen and bathroom needs. The Parisian woman who I lodged with went to the local grocery only for packaged goods. There, she bought the kind of stuff I was becoming obsessed with--butter with sea salt, mini goat cheeses, Haribo candies, readymade crème brûlées and patés. She visited separate shops on a more regular basis for fresh foods — the bakery for bread and pastries, the deli for meat and fish, produce stands for fruits and vegetables.

Unless I wanted to live on frozen food for six months, it was going be impossible to get everything that I needed in one place. Shopping at different places was unpredictable: something I wanted was out of season or just not in stock, I needed more time to shop than I planned for. As I became flexible enough to allow the contours of the local shops to guide my plans, I saw an alternative to the mode of consumption that I knew — a city where buying food at massive grocery chains was not the norm, but the exception.

Virginia Woolf, who admired Jane Austen for her ability to capture the ebb and flow of everyday, domestic routines, explains in “Sketch of the Past” that the repetition of ordinary actions is what creates order and continuity in our lives. Though we might not be aware of it, we are protected by repetition — “comfortably covered in the cotton wool of daily life.” To travel or to move, then, must be to be stripped of some or all of the cotton wool, exposed.

Sometimes, I didn’t go shopping at all. I ate what I optimistically termed a salad niçoise — hard-boiled eggs and tuna over lettuce if there was any in the fridge. I tried to cook lentils with carrots and onions but couldn’t get the timing right — I overcooked the veggies and ended up with a bland-tasting brown mush.

I found that there was something that I needed to know — a word, a process, a norm or a custom — to complete basic tasks. I tried to soothe my feelings of loneliness by eating loads of Nutella on baguette, a momentary fix that made me feel worse. I couldn’t find a place to buy adapters for my electronics during the weeks when I wanted to spend my free time on Skype. My sleeping schedule shifted: unexpectedly, I needed several more hours of sleep than before.

+

When I pick Eleanor up from the same assisted living home where her father died years prior, it occurs to me that she, too, will die in Alexandria. I wonder: did living here exclude her from some vaster world of experience — some deeper understanding of her relation to the cosmos? I don’t ask her if she’s ever wanted to move elsewhere. If she answers yes, the explanation might be fraught; it won’t fit neatly with what I know of her life. Alexandria is where she’s survived and even thrived despite some pretty difficult twists of fate — she was diagnosed with MS in the eighties. She’s always had such a support system here. As far as I want to know, she never considered moving out of Alexandria. I’m the one contemplating a life of thwarted experience.

Benjamin was writing three-quarters of a century ago about what of experience has been lost. But reading him, I plan trips and hope I’ll have the kind of experience that he describes — maybe, away from “the standardized, denatured life of the civilized masses,” I’ll sense the material of a personal and collective past.

+

On Facebook, I watch a video of a yoga teacher I know practicing acro-yoga with someone in a grassy yard. A beach, an ocean and a sky are in the background. I scroll down and see a friend from high school standing on a glacier, waving an ice pick over her head.

I open a new window and google “writing retreats.” I find a few in the Northeast but learn that I have to apply to the one that looks the best, where Edgar Allen Poe allegedly composed some of The Raven. It’s too late to apply for dates this summer. Other writer’s retreats now pale in comparison to this one. In the past two months, I’ve researched Airbnb locations in Paris, London and Montreal, bought Lonely Planet PDFs for Mumbai, Tamil Nadu & Chennai, Karnataka & Bengaluru.

I’m good at finding reasons not to travel. The friend who I was going to visit India with got an unexpected job offer and had to back out, flights to Europe were cheaper a few months ago, the Google search engine doesn’t yield very interesting results on Montreal. But, really, I guess I just don’t want to travel alone.

The first thing I do is look for the Agnes Martin paintings that I came to see. In college, a professor had shown one of her paintings in class, a square canvas with horizontal bars painted in pale colors — yellow, pink, blue. She had suggested that everyone go to the Dia: Beacon museum to look at her work in person.

“Standing in front of them, I feel calm. This is art for art’s sake,” she had said.

I look at one of the paintings and think: benign, infinity seems to be there on the canvas, beyond a few blue bars. In another room, I stare at a drawing on a wall that looks like a multi-colored topographic map. It’s intricate; it looks like it took a lot of time to create. I like the wall drawings that refer to a plan was difficult to execute.

In the museum blurb for the room, the artist Sol LeWitt is quoted saying: “a portrait is not a person, but a line is a line.” So this is what artists were up to in the seventies, I think. I’m into it.

Catherine Engh is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Mary MacLane.

"Beautiful & Wild" - Kris Allen (mp3)

"Don't Set Me Free" - Kris Allen (mp3)