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Alex Carnevale
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Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
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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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Entries in alex carnevale (157)

Friday
Aug292014

In Which Ralph Ellison Meets The Love Of His Life

This is the first in a two part series.

Nothing Has Changed

by ALEX CARNEVALE

In 1957, Ralph Ellison told his second wife Fanny McConnell that their marriage had been a disappointment to him.

Ralph and Fanny met thirteen years earlier. She was slightly older, still gorgeous, having changed the spelling of her name from Fannie to Fanny as a way of putting the sexual abuse by her stepfather behind her. She had studied theater at the University of Iowa after transferring from Fisk College in Nashville. Due to Jim Crow laws she was never allowed onstage.

Disillusionment came to Fanny quickly. When she enrolled at Fisk, she told her mother, "I think I am the best looking girl in the freshman class. I am going to make it my business be one of the smartest too." She transferred from Fisk to Iowa, where she was even unhappier at the larger, almost all-white school. Chicago treated her no better.

Fanny's first husband was the drizzling shits; her second husband ran off to join the 366th infantry and decided he liked it a lot better than his wife. She lost her job at the Chicago Defender for no reason and found Washington D.C. to be the most racist city she had been to yet.

In New York, she took a position at the National Urban League. It was here that she met Ralph Ellison, who, she wrote, was "the lonely young man I found one sunny afternoon in June." In reality, the two were introduced by mutual friend Langston Hughes. Their first date occurred at Frank's Restaurant in Harlem.

Ralph encouraged his new girlfriend to read Malraux. He was planning a novel about a black man dropped into a Nazi prison camp, who would rally the group together before perishing as a martyr. It was meant to be "an ironic comment upon the ideal and realistic images of democracy."

Three months after they kissed, Fanny moved into Ralph's apartment at 306 W. 141st Street. She could not tell anyone she lived there, since she would have been fired from her job if they knew. Soon after, she left for Chicago to finalize her divorce papers. Ellison panicked that she would not come back. She had barely hit city limits when he telegrammed, YOUR SILENCE PREVENTING WORK. WIRE ME EVEN IF MIND CHANGED. Fanny replied, NOTHING HAS CHANGED. I AM THE SAME AND LOVE YOU.

When she returned to New York, Fanny was so happy she chanced an enema and threw out her old clothes. They adopted a puppy, a Scottish terrier named Bobbins.

The two were rarely apart in the years that followed. World War II ended, but Ralph's own battles continued. They spent part of that summer after their marriage in Vermont, where among the detritus of backwards New England, Fanny's husband developed the basic concept of Invisible Man.

Ralph found it difficult to write in Harlem, so he rented a shack in scenic Long Island that served as his office. The rent took up most of his savings, and Fanny's job at a housing authority provided the rest of what they had. The two were married quietly in August 1946.

At the same time as Ellison was putting down roots, his friend Richard Wright was leaving America for Paris, exhausted by the insults an invective marriage to a white woman had brought into his life. In Paris Wright would have powerful friends in the expatriate community; Ellison had already found these resources in America.

With Fanny by his side, Ralph hoped for the kind of acclaim and financial security of which he had long dreamed. In order to really get down to completing Invisible Man, he plotted a sabbatical from his wife in Vermont where he could finally wrap up the novel. He took Bobbins and their new dog, Red, with him. He missed his wife intensely: "To paraphrase myself, I love you, write me, I'm lonely, and envious of your old lovers who for whatever pretext, have simply to walk up the street to see you."

Fanny wrote back, "My dear, all my former lovers are dead. I don't even remember who they were."

with a friend's bb

Ralph encouraged Fanny to spend the time writing, which she had done for the stage in Chicago at the Negro Theater. In New York she was expected to keep up relationships with Ralph's wealthy white friends, who enjoyed parading her around a bit too much.

By the time Ralph made it back from Vermont where he was basically the only black man in a small college town, Invisible Man was yet to be completed. Fanny felt major pressure to produce a child. At 38 this would have been difficult, and Ralph was resolutely against adoption. Still, she could not conceive despite fertility treatments at the Sanger Bureau. Frustrated with his wife, Ralph pretended to seek other intimacy without ever consummating it.

He took out on Fanny his anger at not being able to complete the book, at what he felt was a token role in a white-dominated literary world. All this he also channeled into his writing. When a friend offered the use of an office in Manhattan's diamond district, Ralph gladly accepted. Perched in a window that looked out on Radio City Music Hall, passerby were often scandalized to see a black man smoking at a typewriter.

By 1949 Ralph had to abandon his temporary office, but Invisible Man, after so long, seemed close to being finished. An excerpt published in the magazine Horizon heightened anticipation for the book and elevated Ralph's star, pushing him to complete the final manuscript. Fanny did much of the typing as he revised, focusing the text by eliminating an Othello-like subplot.

Manhattan seemed a more hospitable place than ever. In these last months of putting together the book, Ralph would do anything to distract himself from saying it was done; he even constructed an entire amplifier from parts to avoid working on it. Fanny gave him the space he needed: husband and wife were on more solid ground. Finally, with a new agent and new publisher, Invisible Man appeared on store shelves on April 14, 1952.

"We feel these days," Fanny wrote to Langston Hughes, "as if we are about to be catapulted into something unknown  of which we are both hopeful and afraid."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

with Lyndon Johnson

"Sugar High" - Larkin Poe (mp3)

"Jesse" - Larkin Poe (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)

Friday
Jul252014

In Which Amy Schumer Obliterates Her Own Vanity

Impossibly Amy!

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Amy Schumer's face is a bit too bulbous in certain regions, resembling a squirrel with nuts saved up for winter. Her comedy is mostly self-deprecating when it comes to her appearance. She makes jabs at herself about her weight, her voice, her profligate sexuality basically anything that is not her hair or navel.

Amy is primarily a Jewish woman. Since Jewish women are not so often blonde, Amy passes for a shiksa at first glance. When the unsuspecting goy realizes he is not dealing with one of his own kind, he instinctively rebels against this momentary betrayal. This explains any and all venom against Ms. Schumer on the internet, except from the wives of the married men she has been with. When they told her they loved her, she told them that they loved their wives.

It is possible that Jesus could return to us, but not in the form He took the first time? It is, isn't it?


In one of her sketches, Amy Schumer returns to her domicile and finds her boyfriend wearing clown makeup. She accepts his explanation that he was wearing the makeup as a surprise for her, even though it seems very obvious her boyfriend is hiding a clown woman in their bedroom. The joke is that Amy forgives things that she should not.

In another sketch, Amy's friend and writer on the show, Tig, has cancer. When she asks Amy to run in a 5K supporting cancer research, Amy keeps finding excuses that would prevent her from participating. The joke is that Amy is an insensitive boss and human being. We all know that's not true!

In another sketch, Amy is on a date with a man who is telling her about his experience on 9/11. After she orders her sandwich, Amy remarks of the woman who took her order, "She's cute" after thinking about it for several seconds. The joke is that Amy is so self-centered that she pays compliments to people outside their hearing, I think. Amy finds it very difficult to concentrate during her date's story. Later, she directs him to be quiet while she attempts to Shazam a song playing in the restaurant.

Melissa McCarthy is a lot less conventionally attractive than Amy, but it is still revolting how she is used as a punchline for her weight, and how Chuck Lorre wrote a whole TV show about how the only man she could find would be a guy the size of a house who she met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. (This is actually the horribly offensive plot of Mike & Molly.)

Amy's self-deprecating schtick more closely resembles Tina Fey's. Listening to Fey put herself down over the course of season after season of 30 Rock became exhausting, then ridiculous as the actress who portrayed Liz Lemon turned into a sex symbol. There is a deep uncomfortability with sex at the heart of Tina's act in general. It is the reason why her stylings translated so terribly to the movies, where our revulsion and disbelief at how much she claims to have eaten is not nearly as desirable or sympathetic over the course of two hours.

Tempting as it may be to film Amy getting dumped by Bradley Cooper and go on a road trip with her best pal (one of Judd Apatow's daughters, most likely) there are only a select few people who mankind is willing to pay to watch denigrate themselves for our amusement, and the list grows every time Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen replicates via simple mitosis. In her new movie with Apatow, Trainwreck, Amy wrote her own role as a woman who tries to "get over her self-sabotaging ways."

Amy's putdowns of herself are fresher and more biting (and at the same time Joan Rivers-ancient) when she refers to her own promiscuity. Amy recently whispered to James McAvoy on the Tonight Show that she has been known to use too much teeth during oral sex. He seemed vaguely disgusted and semi-turned on. When he stood up he was 5'1" max and Amy did not appear to be interested any longer.

In another sketch, Lisa Lampanelli sings a really awkward and dated song about her breasts being unusual.

In another sketch, Amy portrays a therapist counseling a group of troubled husbands. Each of the men advocates severe violence as a solution to their marital problems. Amy attempts to dissuade them from such a drastic course. At the conclusion of the sketch, Amy's Australian boyfriend enters the room to complain that he has been waiting for too long. The men suggest ways she might kill this man.

In another sketch, Amy expresses her frustration about how terrible her mother is at using any basic technology. In another sketch she and Parker Posey complain to a waiter who does not understand their dietary needs.

Some critics have taken issue with Amy's many bon mots about her vaunted promiscuity. Offstage, Amy makes it clear that while she is far from sexually inexperienced, she does not treat relationships in any kind of frivolous way. Even on her show, Amy shows herself as vulnerable and committed when her partner seems to require the opposite. This seems like an impossible woman to tear your eyes away from for more than a second, let alone cheat on.

It sort of bothers me that no matter how disgusting a male comedian is, no one accuses him of betraying his gender or political movement because he makes a joke about his balls.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"On My Own" - Kodakid (mp3)

"Goin' Out West" - Kodakid (mp3)