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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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In Which He Hated New York With A Passion

the archeologists, 1968

The Stupidity of All Mankind


In 1935 the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico spent over a year in New York. It was his first trip to America. 

I was disgusted by the low level, material and moral, to which painting in Paris had sunk. I therefore followed the advice of a friend and after a short rest in Tuscany I had a certain number of canvases packed up and left for New York.

I embarked one August morning, at Genoa, on the liner Roma. It was infernally hot and the liner was like an enormous floating boiler. In addition, the continual motion of the ship made me terribly ill. I was also very depressed in myself. Isabella had not been able to leave with me. On the boat were many parties of young Americans returning home from holidays in Europe and they made an infernal din; these noisy young people caused a good deal of disturbance and all this increased my physical and moral discomfort. The voyage from Genoa to New York has remained in my mind as one of the worst memories of my life.

South Ferry Finally, after nine days of pitching and tossing and the deafening noise made by the young Yankees, we arrived in New York; the sea was soapy and warm, the light that of a greenhouse or aquarium, the temperature equal to that of a Turkish bath, and I was dead tired. I was so impatient to reach the end of this infernal trip that I had not been able to sleep during the night before arrival and spent the entire time on deck. With the first light of morning the skyscrapers of Wall Street appeared on the horizon; I thought of Babylon and of certain archaeological reconstructions modelled in plaster of Paris I had seen in a museum in Germany.

A damp heat, a tropical, mineshaft heat, hung over the oily water in the harbour. The sun could not been seen; men and objects had lost their shadows; a diffused light, as though we were in a photographer's studio at the end of the last century, hung over everything.

After the interminable formalities of passports, visas, interrogations, customs and even a medical examination, I succeeded in leaving the floating boiler. On the quay, in an atmosphere saturated with strange odours, Isabella's aunt and uncle, a lady and gentleman whom I had met in Paris, were waiting for me. Meeting these two people, who were so noble, cordial and understanding, consoled and encouraged me greatly. I had barely set foot on American soil when I felt a great nostalgia for Europe, for any European country whatsoever, even for the least beautiful, even for the least interesting.

It was strange how in the city of New York I felt I had died and been born again on another planet. Those smooth, monotonous buildings, from which protruded no balcony, no capital or column, no cornice, no ornament, no pole or nail, alarmed me greatly. I thought with nostalgia of the warmth and humanity of the baroque style, the Second Empire style, and even the Umbertino style and art nouveau. I consoled myself by remembering that I had come there for my work, for my paintings. I thought that Isabella would soon join me and that I must bury myself with my exhibitions and that afterwards I would be back in that old, harassed, awkward but, all things considered, pleasing Europe.

Later I discovered in New York a certain beauty, a certain metaphysic, but I will speak of this another time.

Automat, 977 Eighth Avenue by Berenice AbbottI came to know a few art dealers and realised that there also, as in Paris, the disgraceful totalitarianism of those who trafficked in painting still persisted. Among those I met was Mr. Julien Levy, who was the classic type of good, well-educated American Jew and who, among all the art dealers I met in New York, Americans, Frenchmen, Germans and Poles, seemed to me the most honest and intelligent and, although in his gallery he often exhibited the 'daubs' of the modern painters, he was the least intellectual and the least snobbish of all of them. It was decided that Julien Levy would hold an exhibition of my work at the end of October.

julien levy

In the meantime I met Dr Barnes, whom I had known in Paris and who owned twenty-five of my paintings, including a portrait of him which I had painted during one of his many stays in the French capital. Dr Barnes had a passionate love of painting and near Philadelphia, at a place called Merion, he has founded a type of museum where all the paintings he bought in Paris have been put together. The method used by Dr Barnes to attract the attention of his contemporaries towards his museum consists in being as contrary and misanthropic as humanly possible; it is the same method, with a few variations, as that of Derain. Special permits have to be obtained to visit the Barnes' museum; there are some imbeciles who even make the journey from other American cities, a whole day by rail away from Philadelphia, in order to visit the museum, after interviews, telephone calls and long waits. Many people return home having failed in their purpose, after a categoric refusal from the Doctor.

There is no doubt, as Renan says, that the stupidity of mankind is as infinite as the universe, otherwise there is no explanation as to why people apparently of sound mind will go to so much trouble and make so many efforts to see one of those pictures which can be seen in any gallery or at any dealer's in Europe and the States. One need only tell the Americans that at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and at the Frick Gallery in the same city they can see such collection and such quantities of masterpieces that a hundred Barnes' put together, collecting paintings for the whole century, could not have exhibited even half as many.

In the meantime autumn came; Julian Levy's gallery had inaugurated my exhibition which had achieved an outstanding success; various paintings were sold; dollars poured in; I opened a current account with the Chemical Bank and Trust Company. After the pettiness, avarice and meanness of Paris during the crisis period I confess although I have never been mercenary, the receipt of this money did in fact give me a certain pleasure and a certain sense of security. In the meantime Isabella had arrived from Europe and I had begun to work again.

Life rushed by. For me it was not the ideal life, but in fact I worked and when I work I am always more or less calm and happy. Some magazines, including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, asked me for illustrations and I did some, but I must confess that the atmosphere of these magazines, just like other atmospheres where the snobbery of American elegance flourished, were totally unpleasing to me, for I have observed in them such stupidity, such ignorance, such ill-will, such cynicism and such disguised vulgarity that in comparison the lowest illiterate Neapolitan beggar, thief and pimp seems a genius, a gentleman and a saint.

Winter passed and spring passed. Summer came, the terrible American summer. Since I had agreed to hold another exhibition, again in Julien Levy's gallery, in the following autumn, Isabella and I decided to remain in the States. The heat, however, was suffocating and we sought a little coolness by a strange beach called Oyster Bay. The place was a few miles from New York. We left by train and arrived at a place where we took a kind of mail coach or bus which went to our holiday destination.

I had rented a bungalow there, a small villa built of wood and consisting of a ground floor and a first floor. The beach was very ugly: not a single rock or a single villa. For ugliness it even surpassed the beach between Poveromo and Forte dei Marmi, which is saying a lot. Strangely shaped trees, which I believe no professor of botany would have succeeded in classifying, were scattered here and there, as though by mistake.

We lived a monotonous life by the sea, in a humid, colonial heat. We passed most of the day on the beach, lying in the sun and sometimes going in the water. When I lay on my back I made drawings, in order to keep my hand in, of the bathers who surrounded me. At night we were disturbed by the shrill sound of some kind of nocturnal crickets which made an infernal din from a kind of tree which local people said were oaks. In fact, the ground beneath the trees was covered with acorns, but the trees bore no more resemblance to oaks than does a sewing machine to a lightning conductor.

Autumn came. The atmosphere (in a metaphorical sense) of autumn in New York has nothing in common with the classic atmosphere of the good old autumn sung by the poets and writers of our dear old Europe during the last century. No leaves falling, no melancholy, memories, yearning, and nostalgia for the villas and castles left behind and the abandoned beaches; nothing, adieu vive clarte de nos etes trop courts! No heartbroken accents of the romantic poets. If Victor Hugo had lived in New York he would never have been able to write those beautiful lines:

Quand novembre de brume inonde le ciel bleu,
Que le vent tourbillonne et qu'il neige des feuilles
O ma muse en mon âme alors tu te recueilles,
Comme un enfant transi qui s'approche de feu.

Even less, O reader, will you find in New York, in autumn, that ineffable melancholy, that strange, distant and profound poetry that Nietzsche discovered in the clear autumn afternoons, especially when they lie over certain Italian cities such as Turin.

Ariadne, 1913During autumn in New York you are either oppressed by the duration of the damp heat, or you are subjected to cyclones with downpours of torrential rain which are reminiscent of certain old American films, and galoshes, umbrellas and raincoats with hoods are powerless against them.

Solitude, 1914

I came back to exhibit at the Julien Levy gallery; I had worked hard during the year in the States. I had made progress with my research into technique and I had perfected the preparation of primings. Many works which I had exhibited on this second occasion were superior as regards quality of painting and plastic power to those shown at my first exhibition. The critics took an interest and several articles appeared, not very intelligent but fairly favourable, together with reproductions of my paintings, in the magazines and newspapers.

Naturally the critics, as always as in every country, had understood nothing of the quality of my pictures and spoke only about the subject matter. In the meantime I had begun to tire of the States. During my stay there, in July 1936 to be precise, I received the very sad news that my mother had died. A few months previously my brother had written that our mother's health was declining, and the feeling that I was at the time so far away from her, with that vast ocean between, made me very sad.

One night I had a dream; I dreamt that I was in Greece, in the countryside near Athens; I saw those trees and bushes which I had seen during my childhood, and the place where I found myself in my dream was somewhere I once went to paint a landscape with a friend of my own age. In my dream I saw the olives and pine trees just as I had seen them in my distant childhood, and between the trees I saw the back of a little church painted pink, with its small apse jutting out and a door at the side, just as I had painted them so many years before. Suddenly my mother appeared among the olives and walked towards the little church. I wanted to go and meet her, but I could not move. I wanted to call out to her, but my voice failed, my heart filled with worry and anguish. I saw my mother, who seemed very old, small, bent, weak and unsteady on her feet, just as I remembered her from the last time I had seen her in Paris. I saw my mother pass like a shadow near the apse of the little church, come up to the side door and then disappear.

I woke up troubled and weeping and with the terrible thought that my mother had died just at that moment: in fact, when ten days later I read the letter from my brother in which he told me that our mother was alive no longer, I compared the date of the letter with that of my dream and, taking into account the difference in time between the United States and Europe, I realised that this really was the case.

I decided to return to Italy.

You can purchase the memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico, translated by Margaret Crosland, here.

"We Are The Tide (live)" - Blind Pilot (mp3)

"Go On, Say It" - Blind Pilot (mp3)

"Things I Cannot Recall" - Blind Pilot (mp3)

The Archeologists IV, 1914


In Which We Keep The Fire High And The Wolves Away

"We're Losing You, Darling"


The Broadway season really got exciting with the October 3rd opening of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party. Pinter, born in London in 1930, has been called "the best and most important young playwright now alive." The Birthday Party, his first full-length play, was done in London in 1958, where it died within the week, leaving Pinter just another out of work actor for awhile.

As everyone knows, Bench changed all that. Bench, written for BBC television, proved his first overwhelming success. Many people feel that Kenneth Tynan's lengthy essay on Bench in The Observer did as much for Pinter as Tynan's review of Look Back In Anger had done four years previously for John Osborne.

Bench, of course, is a 50-minute play, all of it taking place, as the title suggests, on a lonely seaside bench in an (unnamed) English resort town. The play, a series of seemingly disconnected encounters between men occupying the bench, comes to a climax in the famous scene reprinted below.

on the set of "The Go-Between"

(The two characters in the scene have, if anyone has forgotten, appeared in the play once before, but not together; this is the only time in the play that anyone returns to the bench for a second visit.) It might be advisable here to give the scene a glance again, along with some of what Mr. Tynan wrote about it, to see what light it sheds on Pinter in general, and The Birthday Party in particular.





What'd you say - what'd you say?







The roses...


What'd you say — what'd you say?


I said the roses.


The roses what? Get on with it - the roses what?


(pause, then rises, stands over the bigger man)

You know what.


I do, do I?



You know and Frankie knows.

(long pause)

Frankie knows better than you know.


But you know.


All I did was say hello.


You denied the roses!


Keep your damn roses.


(longest pause)

I intend to, mate. Tell that to Frankie. Tell him the roses are ... are ...


Are what?



Bloody well mine...



The following is excerpted from Tynan's Observer article of November 27, 1960. "...as good as the play is, and certainly for a television play it has been extraordinary, it is not until the terminal confrontation between Teddy and Stan that one realizes that one is not only in the presence of an artist, but incredibly (the man has just turned thirty) an artist already at the peaks of his powers.

"I know of no other modern dramaturgy as compressed as this: 16 speeches, 85 words, and (most significantly) 8 pauses. At first, when the two men are seated 'knee to knee,' it seems we are to witness the most wearisome of modern theatrical clichés, the 'deviate pickup scene.' But very soon it is clear that what we are watching is, for Pinter, the ultimate violence: the announcement of a future murder. (A lesser artist would never be content with the indication of violence; he would have to show the crime.) Pinter hints at it, conveys it, then leaves it, and at the same time leaves us sick with frustration. For surely Stan is going to die. And surely we cannot save him.

"What is Stan's crime? Clearly he is not the least ashamed of it; no man ashamed would hurl a charge the way Stan hurls 'You denied the roses!' at Teddy. And that of course is Stan's crime: he is not ashamed. For he is Man and not ashamed of it, and for that he must die; for that, Teddy, tremendous Teddy, must kill him. Stan is Man. (Is the rhyme a hint? Probably. Pinter need not have done that.) Man: virile, proud of his red blood. Teddy is, of course, homosexual, which is why Stan sits knee to knee to him - a taunt. Stan is man unafraid, no matter how great the odds or how tremendous the enemy.

"Frankie, referred to twice — some think mysteriously — is not mysterious at all. He is, of course, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, all this clearly indicated by the fact that the Franciscans have split into three orders, just as the human race is split into thirds: men, women and homosexuals such as Teddy.

"What Bench is then, finally, is a heterosexual outcry against the modern world. Telling, moving, painful in its honesty, brilliant in its conception, it is pure Pinter. One finale note: some critics have wondered why, since Bench is concerned with the world being in thirds — men, women and deviates — there are no women characters. The obvious Freudian reply would be that Woman is indeed present: the Great Woman herself; the Sea.

"But Pinter is far past Freud, and the final answer is his alone, for his art is not really menace or fear. It is the God-given ability to infuse universal meaning through the use of secrets. And if you tell what your secrets mean, well, they would hardly be secrets any more, now would they?"

With Tynan's analysis in mind, let us proceed to The Birthday Party. American critics had a terrible time with it. John Chapman of the New York Daily News called it a "whatzit." Clive Barnes of the Times thought it was incomporably one of the two most interesting plays to appear on Broadway in some seasons, the other being Pinter's Tony-award winner from the previous year, The Homecoming. Richard Watts of the Post was in between, finding it both cryptic and dramatically artful.

The television critics were similarly in disarray; one of them felt that it started slowly but really picked up speed as it went along, while another thought it had a terrific beginning but bogged down toward the end. Pinter, of course, is famous for leaving certain things unsaid, and this annoyed The New Yorker critic, who felt it would have been all right had Pinter been forced "to be mysterious because of political pressure or the like," while Time felt his "unwillingness to communicate is his central theme" and therefore crucial to his work. The Newsweek man felt....there's really no telling what the Newsweek man felt, because he kept putting these strange words down one after the other. The following strange words occur after a plot synopsis: "Into this orchestration of rock-bottom behavior and starkly pungent language, Pinter builds a polyphony of hints, insinuations, metaphysical tips and touts that add up, not to 'meaning', but to a visitation of portentous activity."

Never mind what The Birthday Party's about, what's Newsweek about?

Alan Schneider, who directed the production, has a notion what The Birthday Party is about: "Somebody is after somebody else and gets 'em." Schneider, a Tony-award winner for his work on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is probably the busiest drama director on Broadway. Schneider is fifty, looks a lot less, and is enormously articulate, which is interesting only insofar as most of his best known work has been with playwrights who tend to defy articulation — Albee, Samuel Beckett and Pinter. "I've done a lot of plays that seem to have no meaning — The Trial is my favorite novel — I have a drive toward the thing that isn't defined. I'm Russian, maybe that's why."

Schneider had been with The Birthday Party a long time. "Since 1958. I arrived in England the week it closed and happened to see the Sunday reviews. I thought it sounded interesting, but I couldn't find the play. I was casting understudies, and somebody said, 'Please take a look at this actor friend of mine; he desperately needs the work.' And this guy and his wife came in, and it was Pinter, using his actor's name, I think. Later, when we got know each other, he said, 'I've got this play I wish you'd look at,' and it was The Birthday Party.

"It's gone through three stages since then. I wanted to do it and I brought it home with me, but it was impossible for anyone to read it at that time — Beckett and the rest of them hadn't happened yet. Yale said no to it; the Actors' Studio said no to it; I just put it aside. Then Harold became respectable with The Caretaker, and there were lots of offers to do it off-Broadway, using The Caretaker as an example of why it shouldn't be done on Broadway, since The Caretaker failed financially. But Harold said 'No.' Finally, with The Homecoming. Harold is now commercial. So, after — what is it? — almost ten years, it's being done."

To understand just what was so difficult about The Birthday Party, a summary of the plot might be in order. A piano player is living as the lone boarder with an elderly couple in a house at the English seaside. Two men, a Jew and an Irishman, come to take rooms, and the piano player is upset. The landlady tells the two men that it is the piano player's birthday, and a party is arranged, a neighboring girl being among those invited. Before the party, the two men savagely interrogate the piano player, accuse him of leaving the "organization." At this point violence would probably erupt if the landlady didn't appear dressed for the party. The party begins, and during a game of blindman's bluff, the lights go out. In the darkness there is confusion, and as the Jew and the Irishman advance with flashlights toward the piano players, he retreats, giggling wildly. In the third act, the piano player, now nearly catatonic, is taken away by the strangers to face someone named Monty.

To repeat director Schneider's words: "Somebody is after somebody else and gets 'em." Nothing is particularly difficult about the skeletal plot. It's really a 1930s gangster movie: John Garfield is hiding out, having left the Mafia, and Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet come and drag him back to face Edward G. Robinson.

Except there are a lot of things that Pinter doesn't ever say. For example, it isn't the Mafia — oh, it might be, or it might be the American Dental Association. He never specifies. The reference is only to the "organization." And the big boss, Monty: that's all we ever know about him, his name. We don't really know that he's the big boss; we only know that the piano player is being taken to see Monty. We don't even know if the piano player is a piano player; he tells us about a concert he played, but the circumstances are so strange, and so is he, that it all might be a figment. And, of course, it isn't his birthday. His landlady says it is, but he tells us it isn't.

The New York Times has called Pinterism "maximum tension through minimum information," and it was just this frustrating lack of facts that infuriated the Wednesday matinee ladies at The Birthday Party. Now these were good women, doing their damnedest to keep up. Before the first act curtain, two of them were talking about the problems with their teenage sons.


I put on the Lovin' Spoonful; Simon and Garfunkel I tried.


Good for you.


"Explain it to me," I said to him. "I would like to know."


What did he say?


Nothing. Nothing. I practically begged. "Help me," I said. "I don't understand. Does my needle need changing?"

Clearly, they were trying, these two. At the first act intermission, they walked silently up the aisles. Finally, one of them spoke.


It's about the terrors of everyday life.


I don't get that too much.

The second act of the play contains the birthday party itself, which ends in semidarkness. One of the final moments before the curtain has the piano player on top of the neighbor girl, who is spread-eagled and motionless. The whole theatre was buzzing as the ladies moved to smoke. "It's always like this," an usher said. "This jabbering. Always." In the lobby, half a dozen women were inhaling angrily.


Why? That's all I wanna know - just why?


Why what?


Why does he do this? If I were an artist, I would want to communicate. That's my job. I'm an artist. I'm supposed to communicate. Something. It shouldn't just have form — form's not enough — gotta be content — anything to communicate. What's with this Pinter? Why?

I talked to Pinter about it. He said, "It's a bloody big bore when they can't accept a thing for what happens on stage. On the whole, the what's-it-all-about business is more pronounced over here. It's about what the people do on the stage. Otherwise you could just put a poster up on stage, couldn't you? 'This scene is about...the next scene is about...' I'm not a sociologist; I'm just a writer. And I don't conceptualize very much. Never before and never after.

"The original idea was the domestic situation: someone upstairs sleeping in a house, a boarder. The lodger eventually comes down. The domestic situation by the seaside, that was the start of it. The other characters didn't arrive till later. One day, about 20 pages in, Goldberg and McCann turned up. I didn't know anything about them until they appeared.

"This what's-it-about business - one regrets it. I'm doing a play now; it's my first in three years, and it means a great deal to me. I've done less and less writing for the stage. Writing becomes more difficult the older you get, at least it does for me. I found some 1950 poems of mine recently; I was astonished by the freedom I had, the energy, a complete uncaringness about form. I can't write that way anymore. I'm thirty-seven now. I feel as if I'm eighty."

He sounded very tired as he spoke. He was in America for a few days, and there were at least 50 requests for interviews. Every radio station wanted him, most of the TV, many of the newspapers, the magazines. Everybody wondering what it was all about.


It's got a lot to do with menace, that much I can tell you.


Oh, yes, very much. Menace and terror, yes.

They moved down the aisles, and the third act started. Halfway through, a "buzz-buzz-buzz" of wonder burst across the theatre: Lulu, the neighbor girl who had been motionless and spread-eagled at the second act curtain, made her entrance, and the ladies had to get it straight.


What is this? I thought she was dead.


She was dead.


Don't tell me dead, she's standing there.


She's a symbol.

The street was stuffed with children. December: 60 degrees, 11:15 in the morning, and it's raining. They stand there, waiting. Above them, teachers hold umbrellas as they hem the children in toward the building line, doing their best to keep the sidewalk at least partially clear.

11:20, and the children are quiet, but now they are beginning to hop up and down in place, hop, hop, staring toward the front of the line which begins at the entrance to Loew's Eighty-sixth Street movie theatre on Third Avenue.

Inside the theatre lobby the ushers are getting ready for the onslaught. There are 3,000 kids already seated in the theatre, jamming it, but the special Christmas play is ending, and they have to be cleared before the 3,000 kids outside can come in for the second show.

11:25, and it's as if some giant vacuum cleaner is sucking the first-show audience toward the exit doors. Ffffft, and they're going, going, and in the lobby the ushers are looking at each other, getting ready, making last-minute checks with the teachers standing outside in the rain.

11:30, and in they come! Not slowly, no trickle, just whoosh! and then the flood —

— this way —

— no no no this way —

— follow Irving everybody —

Out of the rain they come, silent, and maybe four feet tall on average, all colors, shapes, you name it, and gloriously wet and —

— up the stairs —

— hit it kids —

now don't move — (This from a tough Italian teacher to part of his group, who froze on the word move, while he went off after some others. An usher came up to them and said, "Go in, children," but they weren't budging, so the usher said, "Please, children, you're blocking things." But they had been given the word, and the word was don't move. So finally, one of them raised an arm and pointed to the Italian, and the usher ran over to him and explained, and the Italian nodded, that's all, just as quick nod, but his boys knew an order when it was given and now, alive again, they filed down into the theatre and sat.)

— quiet now —

— patience, Sandra —

— hold hands and here we go and —

— the balcony? — (This last from a Negro teacher with Negro children in reply to an usher who was pointing up, and suddenly you could see it on the Negro teacher's face as she looked around to see if any white children were being sent upstairs, too. "Really," the usher told her, "you'll see better, and the main floor's full." And now the Negro teacher saw it was the truth, that the main floor was pretty full and that all colors were heading up the stairs, so still just least suspiciously she gestured for her flock to follow, and up she trudged, dragging her tails behind her.)

— quickly now —

— shhhhh —

And most of them were in before the first great thing happened (this is all going to make sense in time). As these lines of children charged across the lobby of Loew's Eighty-sixth to get in for the free Christmas show, in this wild confusion, one little kid accidentally splintered off from her group and didn't know it because everybody was running one way or another, and instead of running with one group she was running with another. Her teacher caught sight of her as she was about to disappear, and although the teacher had enough to do shepherding the rest of her babes, she set off across the lobby like Gale Sayers, and at the far entrance managed to grab hold of the girl.

As she spun the kid around, what do you think she said? "I told you to watch where you're going!" No. "Can't you ever listen, what's the matter with you?" Never. Not even close. What she said to the small startled eyes was this, "We're losing you, darling."

...we're losing you, darling... (Remember, this will all make sense in time.)

Inside, the 3,000 were seated, and a Negro group sang, "I Believe," and after the clapping, out went the lights. Then a spot hit him jogging down the aisle, red suit and beard and ho-ho-ho, and when he got to the mike, he said, "Merry Christmas, ho-ho-ho, and stay in your seats 'cause I've got my helpers checking on you, and no eating lunches during the show." Then Santa said, "Now let's all sing 'Jingle Bells' together," and he took a breath and started to sing.

But he was already behind them!

That was the second great thing. Because the minute he suggested "Jingle Bells," they were off, all 3,000; they didn't wait for his word "together," and they didn't need any deep breath. The man said sing, "Jingle Bells," so they sang. Then he said he'd back after the show, and the curtain began to open, and as it did, there was that sound again, the "buzz-buzz-buzz" of wonder.

on the set of the caretakerAnd I couldn't help thinking of the ladies at Pinter and how angry they were because they didn't understand what it was all about; so they resisted. And they wouldn't have sung "Jingle Bells" either. They probably would have had to know who the bells belonged to, and what did the one-horse open sleigh really represent, symbolically speaking.

Now this is very dangerous. Let's take the worst possibility: let's say that you think the Pinter play is all about apples, and it turns out it's about oranges. If you liked the apples, what possible difference does it make? You want to know about Harold Pinter? He is an English stylist, talented as hell, and right now he is cresting for one, and only one, reason: he is appropriately obscure; he allows intellectuals to theorize.

And The Birthday Party, if you really want to know what it's about, is about this: there is no hiding place. Does that make it a better play? Does that make the two hours any more pleasant while you're sitting there? Pinter is also saying, "There is no God." Or maybe he isn't. But in either case, it's pretty cornball, right? Examine any art work done down to bone and you find cliché. That's one of the things that's so painful about graduate school. You take some pretty poem, some poem that really moves you, and you examine it and pore over its imagery and decipher the philosophy, and what do you come up with? Keats is saying, "Love thy neighbor."

So what? That's for us intellectuals. We can argue about it. What you have to worry about is just this: You like the poem? Say so. You don't? Say it's spinach, and say to hell with it. Looking at it logically, what conceivable message could Harold Pinter possibly have that the rest of us don't know or couldn't figure out?

pinter with joseph losey

We intellectuals will lead you down the garden path every goddamned time. Want to know whom we named in the eighteenth century as the three greatest writers of all time? Catch this: Homer, Sophocles and Richardson. Richardson. You know, that great, great writer none of us could live without, Richardson. Richardson we were selling then; today we're pushing Pinter. But no one really knows what's worthy. Oh, we pretend; we make believe there are certain definable academic standards that must be met in order for an artist to be considered valuable, but that's our bag. Telling the masses who is good and who isn't is just our way of keeping the fire high and the wolves away.

But because we pretend to know, everybody gets upset if they don't completely understand something. There is nothing, nothing, you should like because some intellectual tells you to. Did you like the scene from Bench any more because Kenneth Tynan said you should? Did that make it better for you? Would it bother you to know that I wrote them both, the play and the essay? Well, I did, so think about that for a second.

Did you actually believe the part where "Tynan" said the scene was about how Teddy was going to kill Stan and we were helpless to stop it? And what about that St. Francis of Assisi business? Did you believe that? Look at it again now:  "Frankie, referred to twice - some think mysteriously - is not mysterious at all. He is, of course, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, all this clearly indicated by the fact that the Franciscans have split into three orders, just as the human race is split into thirds: men, women and homosexuals such as Teddy."

This is the kind of bilge you have to look out for. This is how the intellectuals of this world, the bad ones, make their living. And Pinter is their boy now because, being so obscure, he gives them one and all the opportunity to write reams for their little learned journals, and there's enough for everybody. Pinter's like a minor-league James Joyce, and as long as there's a PhD candidate alive, James Joyce will never die.

But even if Pinter had written Bench and Tynan had done the essay, and more than that, even if Tynan were right about Francis, that still wouldn't make it good. Pinter may be a major dramatist some day, but forget about some day, think about now, and what goes on up there on stage and whether it moves you.

The intellectual wants you to take the trip from the Christmas show to the Pinter play; he needs you to take it, because he has you then. The artist wants to keep you at Christmas, ready to sing "Jingle Bells." It's a bone-dry journey that the intellectual wants you to set out on, and don't you do it. But you are, and that's what so crippling to Broadway. You're taking that trip, and it's sad. Because, in the words of that sweet teacher, "We're losing you, darling."

Or are you already lost?

William Goldman is a legendary screenwriter and novelist born in 1931. "We're Losing You, Darling" is from his yearlong chronicle of Broadway, The Season, which you can buy here. You can read an interview with Harold Pinter here.

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In Which We Walk Around With Candy

We Love You, Be Careful


illustrations by Ren Rossini

My grandmother died this week, and as a tribute to her, I would like to share a few things I think made her a class act. Everyone in the world loved her, and by breaking down the code she lived by, it is easy to see why. These tricks and traits work not only for a grandparent or old person, but also for a twenty-something just trying to get by.


Repeatedly call yourself crazy. This way, everyone will know what to expect. I often got voicemails on my machine that began with, “It’s your crazy grandma!” and that way I was not surprised when what followed was: “I’m working on my autobiography and I’m at the part about winning an Oscar!” (My grandmother never won an Oscar.) I think if I start telling people how crazy I am, or introducing myself with, “Hi, I’m your new crazy friend, Emma,” I will be able to get away with saying pretty much anything else I want, and nothing will ever seem like a non sequitur. I’ll finally be able to recite Elton John lyrics during lulls in conversation, and no one will bat an eyelash! “They said, get back honky cat.”


Tell everyone how wonderful and extraordinary they are all the time, even when they do things that are completely ordinary or unimpressive. It will raise spirits, and make people want to be around you. Comments like, “Your voice on my message machine sounded so lyrical!” or “The way you pour Snapple into a paper cup makes you look like Audrey Hepburn!” are surefire ways to win someone over. It worked on me for 23 years, and I’m no idiot. I plan to start complimenting my family and friends excessively, so that everyone will feel great about themselves, and in turn feel great about me. “Look at how you put your socks on one foot at a time, so delicately but also with such force! I can imagine Gregory Peck putting on his socks in a similar manner! Bravo, you!” I plan to say to my boyfriend tomorrow morning.


Speak in hyperboles. Say, “This is the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted!” and “This is my favorite movie!” about every flavor of ice cream and every movie. No one will trust your judgment, but it won’t matter, because you’ll be the one everyone will want to be eating ice cream and watching movies with. Those were the best two sentences I have ever written.


Put other peoples’ happiness above all else, even if it means being environmentally unfriendly. As a child, I would often stay over at my grandparents’ apartment. I was four or five or six, and my grandmother would give me a huge bowl and wooden spoon from the kitchen, and ask me to make a “concoction.” I was then allowed to go into their (at the time, seemingly) giant bathroom and use shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste, perfume, and anything I could find. I would mix them all together in the bowl like a minty soapy stew. It was incredibly wasteful, but I was too young to notice and my grandma was too old to give a shit, as long as I was having fun. Life is about happiness! In the moment! We survived the depression! Make some concoctions! From here on out, I’ll be having parties where we throw out batteries and then dance around them. My place, Tuesday nights, E-mail for details. BYOBatteries.


Sew cartoon characters onto all of your clothing. This immediately shouts, “I’m friendly and harmless!” to everyone you meet. Also, it makes it really easy to boss people around. When Snoopy is stitched on your blouse (grandma’s word choice), you can get people to do whatever you want without them thinking you’re being demanding. You’re just kooky and playful! I’m going to sew Dora the Explorer onto all my skinny jeans. It’s your new crazy friend, Emma!


Carry candy. This should be obvious, but it’s not. Not enough people carry candy around with them at all times. When I lived in LA, I would go to the bank, and the women there would be snacking on Tootsie Rolls and Gummy Bears, asking me when my grandma was coming back to deposit more money. Everyone always seemed so disappointed to see me. If you don’t carry candy, and someone else you know does, at least have the smarts not to follow or be related to them. Next time you see me, ask me for Skittles. I will have them in all my jeans and cardigan pockets. They will be warm and a little linty, but at the end of the day, you’ll like me a lot better than at the beginning of the day, when you didn’t have candy at all.


When people are leaving your home, shout after them, “I love you be careful!” If you’re a real pro like my grandma was, you can get away with saying it all as one word, and the last part will just seep into the subconscious of whoever you’re shouting it to. No one will question why you’re telling them to be careful, and if they do walk into a street and get hit by a truck later in the day, you can say you did everything possible to prevent it. Imagine a guilt-free existence! My whole family has spent lifetimes of being careful, thanks to grandma. Other ideas of things I could shout to people on their way out to make their lives better: “Love you pay attention to changes in tide and phases of the moon!” “Love you don’t be coy!” “Love you nobody likes a hero!”


Keep money in your filing cabinet, under M. You will never forget where it is. You can also keep origami paper under O, and Red Vines under R, like my grandmother did. I plan to turn my entire room into a giant filing cabinet using fitted bed sheets I hang from the ceiling like big file pockets, and I will never lose socks or dimes or bobby pins or used Kleenex ever again. This method of storage is actually brilliant.


To make yourself feel better when someone is being rude to you, whisper obscenities behind their back. My grandmother never wanted to fight with anyone, but calmly reciting a curse word as the instigator left the room made her feel better. Curse words popular with my grandmother were “baldy” and “shitface.” “Baldy” was specifically for my grandfather, because he was bald, and “shitface” was reserved for anyone who beat her at one of those old lady tile games (Rummikub anyone?). I realize now that I am not vocal enough when it comes to my anger. So the next time someone beats me at the Seinfeld trivia board game, or is acting all bald at me, I will whisper “baldy shitface,” under my breath as they walk away.


Go out with a bang. Leave creepy things to people in your will, have a really absurd last request, and kick it on your ex-son-in-law’s birthday. When someone you love has a dying wish, you are pretty much obligated to obey it. As a result, my 28-year-old brother will have a stuffed bear in a raincoat that sings “Singing in the Rain” for the rest of his life. Also, my mother will never throw out a box of stale chocolates, because “they were an incredible bargain.” This is the most brilliant trick I’ve ever heard. After I finish writing this, I’m going out to buy a box of raisins. I’m going to write one friend’s name on each raisin. When I die, my will is going to say, “Each friend must sleep with his/her specific raisin under their pillow forever. Every morning, ‘Oh raisin my raisin’ must be the first thing that comes out of your mouth. It is my dying wish. Please.” Then I plan to choose someone’s birthday to ruin by dying on it. That way, every year on this person’s birthday, people will only think about me and how sad they are to have lost me. Everyone will forget that there is also a birthday taking place. I have a list of people who have wronged me, and they all have tally marks next to their names. Whoever wins gets their birthday fucked with for the rest of time. That’s what happens when you mess with your crazy friend Emma!

Emma Barrie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about waitressing. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here.

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