Yearly Archives 2021

Taking America’s Measure: Walt Whitman’s “Years of the Modern”

On this unprecedented day marked by a second impeachment of a sitting president, I could not bring myself to watch or listen much to the all-too-predictable denunciations and defenses of a man with blood on his hands, a man whose dark and chaotic presidency should long since have turned the stomachs of every person concerned with the fate of America.

In times of national tremor such as we are experiencing now, it can sometimes help to pull back and employ a wider angle lens on history, on nation building, and on the relationship of the individual to society.

In other words: the lens Walt Whitman used to sketch a vision of America very much his own, and which he bequeathed to the country as a gift that has resounded for generations, and will likely do so for many more.

Most observers regard Whitman as a grand optimist, lifting up in his imagination a vision for America commensurate with its size and ambitio...

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Jimmy Carter (Our First) Rock & Roll President

In a 2018 interview that opens the recently released documentary, “Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President,” the now 96-year-old ex-POTUS places a vinyl record on a small turntable at his home in Plains, Georgia. The sight of a record, with the familiar red (“Columbia”) inner circle that tells you the album information, comes as almost a shock, a sudden time-warpy escort into a warm bath of nostalgia for people of a certain age.

And then Carter, with that trademark grin of a genuinely good and happy man, true Christian to his bones, settles into a chair and nods his head in approval as he remarks, “All right! Sounds familiar.” 

The sounds we hear with him are the opening guitar strums of Bob Dylan before he begins, “Heyyyy, Mr. Tambourine Man…”

A hilarious anecdote in this grin-inducing documentary involves bad boy gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson’s visit to the White House, a kind of refr...

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Out! Get Out of Our House!

The images overwhelmed, just as waves of gleeful rioters overwhelmed the shockingly sparse police presence in surging through mere barricades and glass windows, easily mounting the ramparts and invading the halls of Congress.

There they frolicked and trampled, leaderless lords of flies inspired by a malevolent cult figure who had incited them earlier with another in a long line of delusional, muddled rants that reeked of mental illness.

“American carnage,” 2021.

And dispiriting as it was, none of it was surprising. None of it.

He has been the chaos president because his life is built on his chaotic character, on the dark hole at the center of it, on the belligerence that is his animating principle. He savages everyone who gets in his way, which eventually is everyone, given the relentlessness of his self-regard.

It felt like a violation, as if this throng had entered our own homes, breaking through wind...

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A Happy New Year Gift From Antonin Dvořák


It has become tradition
in this space to offer up a musical selection that fits the tenor of this day. Three years ago (or was it 300?) we highlighted  the 4th Movement to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as a way of ushering in the New Year with, shall we say, a bang, not a whimper. (Apologies to T.S. Eliot on that line!)

So today, looking forward to a presidential inauguration, an end to this damn pandemic (let us pray in the manner we see fit…), and just, by golly, another year in which we are still breathing and able to reach out to our fellow human beings traveling along with us on this not-so-long and vexing, though still, let us not forget, often joyous road, I figured, “How about another scintillating 4th movement of an orchestral classic?!” 

And just like that, here appeared Mr...

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