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January 2011

Chuck Berry: You Never Can Tell

Weekend Music

One of the master's less well-known but most engaging songs. I don't know whether he invented the word "coolerator" or not, but it's a great word.


I find myself hoping that Pierre and the mademoiselle are still alive and still married somewhere in east Louisiana, and that they still get up and dance to a Chuck Berry song every now and then.

Some Local News

Dr. Ed Dyas, RIP

Almost twenty years ago, in late 1991, I developed severe back problems that eventually made it hard for me to stand up for more than a few minutes at a time, and resulted in my having surgery on Mardi Gras of 1992. The surgeon was Dr. Ed Dyas. As far as I remember it was just an accident that he was assigned to me: I had gone with my trouble to an orthopedic group practice of which he was a member. I knew nothing about him, but I was impressed with him when he came to visit me the night before the surgery to discuss the operation. I was struck by the humility with which he addressed the problem: he described what he expected to find and what he expected to do and what he expected the result to be in straightforward terms, and then added: "But we're talking about a human body, so we never can be completely sure." As he talked, he handled the rosary lying on my bedside table as if he knew what it was, and said something to the effect that it would be of help to me, so I figured he was Catholic.

Well, he must have done a good job, because he fixed my back, and almost twenty years later I've had no further serious problems. Over the years I noticed that his name came up from time to time, and realized that he was well thought of by a lot of people. I remember someone mentioning that he had been a good football player in college (at Auburn, but it was only a couple of years ago that I learned he had been very good indeed, having finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting (for those who don't follow football, that's probably the most prestigious award a player can receive). But he had given up football to go to medical school.

He died a few days ago. Here is one of several pieces in the local paper about him. That picture must have been taken well into his illness, because it looks nothing like what I remember, even accounting for the passage of 19 years. He was stocky and strong-looking, as you might expect of an old football player. A good man, to whom I am grateful. RIP.

Carmelites in Mobile 

Also from the local paper, a story about several elderly Carmelite nuns who have had to move from their convent to a nursing home operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. They have spent their whole lives separated from the world, "hidden with Christ in God," and on the occasion of leaving the convent submitted to an interview. Watch the video. Sister Rose, the one they call the humorous one and the one with the merry look on her face, is the aunt of a friend of mine, also named Rose.

The reporter, by the way, Roy Hoffman, is from an old Jewish family in Mobile, which makes me think of my gripe of a few weeks ago about the Jewish New Yorker who believed that it would be certain death for a Jew to enter the state of Alabama. I'm not sure I really communicated an important part of my point in that piece: there's nothing especially wrong with having misconceptions and prejudices, but there's something definitely wrong with hanging on to them in the face of facts to the contrary.

Yevgeny Sudbin: Rachmaninoff Prelude in Gm (in lieu of Scarlatti)

Weekend Music

My friend Robert introduced me to Sudbin's Scarlatti album some months ago. I was initially a little cool to it, writing to Robert that Sudbin seemed too fast in the fast parts and too slow in the slow parts. Also, most of the sonatas were unfamiliar to me, and I had to get to know them. But after a couple of listens I changed my mind completely. I've had a particular love for Scarlatti since first hearing Landowska's recordings when I was in college, or soon after. I now like this recording as much as any other Scarlatti I've heard, and more than many.

The piano has never been my favorite instrument. I know it has an expressive range greater than any other solo instrument (with the possible exception of the organ), and I know there is a huge treasure-chest of great music written for it, but the basic clanging percussive  sound of it has never appealed to me greatly in itself. You could almost say I like the music written for it in spite of the instrument itself, and have never had the slightest desire to play it.

Yet Sudbin's Scarlatti has done something to me that no other piano recording has ever done: it has made me wish I could play the piano. This came to me about halfway through my third or fourth hearing of the Scarlatti, when I found myself thinking how wonderful it must feel to produce such sounds with one's hands. I think my hands actually started moving a bit, with a sort of physical longing to feel such richness for themselves, just the way one's tongue might long to taste something delicious.

I am, however, unable to find on YouTube any Scarlatti played by Sudbin. So here's something else. I like this, and the video is pretty. I really don't know much of Rachmaninov's music aside from the famous piano concertos. I think I will be buying Sudbin's Rachmaninov album.


The Weather, Straight Up


This is strikingly foreshadowed in Walker Percy's The Thanatos Syndrome:

During the minute or so of happy talk at the end of a newscast, when other members of NewsTeam-7 are smiling and making pleasantries and semi-jokes as they stack their papers, Chandra will have none of it: no grins, no banter. Instead, she often challenges the anchorman: "What you talking about, have a nice day--what's nice about that?"--socking the weather map with her pointer.

(Hat tip to Janet.)

A Rare Sight

You don't see much naturally-occurring ice in this part of the country. This is a fountain in the chapel quadrangle at Spring Hill College. Taken a couple of weeks ago, with my phone so not a very high quality photo. Notice how the students are dressed. They don't look very cold, do they? Well, they weren't. This was about two o'clock in the afternoon, and the temperature was well above freezing, after having been a few degrees below it for a couple of days. The ice was melting at this point.


Prayer requests

I have to make this quick, because we just lost power and I think it's going to be down for a while, and I only have a few minutes of battery time left.

Please pray for my friend Daniel (Nichols), who is going to have a heart catheterization procedure on Thursday. It should be routine, but don't let that stop you from praying.

You may have seen this in her comment, but Louise, our Australian commenter, has asked for prayers for her husband's job situation--the company he works for may be about to go under.

Thank you. Both these families have numerous small children depending on their fathers.

Big Town, Small Minds

A recent piece in The New Criterion—I can’t even remember which one now—mentioned in passing that the writer had seen advertised in the New York Times t-shirts which read “I Fear Americans.” I thought that was a pretty striking sign of how deeply estranged some of our urban sophisticates are from the rest of the country. I don’t know to what degree they really believe this sort of thing, but it seems to make them feel good to say it. I think a more accurate word than “fear” would be “loath;” that seems pretty clearly the case, but it wouldn’t give the t-shirt-wearer the same sense of moral superiority.

New York City of course has plenty of its own “Americans,” in the sense of this t-shirt, but I suppose they’re used to this sort of thing

This weekend I heard a story of something similar, only this time it was person-to-person, and not an anonymous slogan. Someone I know, an Alabamian, had occasion to be at a gathering of affluent, educated New Yorkers, many of them involved in show business. The gathering was at a Manhattan club for Yale graduates, which should tell you what the socio-economic as well as political profile of the group was. All was friendly except that the Alabamian began to realize that most of the people there thought that Alabama had not changed since the 1930s or so. The revelatory moment came when the Alabamian said to a dinner companion, with whom she had had previous dealings and become pretty friendly, “You should come down and visit us sometime.”

“Oh no,” came the horrified response. “I couldn’t do that. I’m Jewish. I would be killed.”

My informant was hurt and offended, as I probably would have been had I been in her place. As it was, I laughed out loud, and my next reaction was “Didn’t she ever see Driving Miss Daisy?” (which, if you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, involved a Southern Jewish family). That merely to exist as a Jew in the South constitutes mortal danger would come as great news to those Jewish families who have been living here quietly for generations. I don’t say they never suffered prejudice or mistreatment, but for all its faults the southern United States is not a land of pogroms.

This sort of insularity is instructive as well as maddening (or funny, depending on your mood or temperament). What was so striking about this story was not just that the holders of a deep and stubborn prejudice were precisely the people who pride themselves on their tolerance and openness, but that they were utterly unconscious of it, and closed to any challenge to it. I venture to say that the average Alabamian knows more about New York City than the average New Yorker knows about Alabama—after all, we in the provinces have television and movies and journalism from New York coming at us continually—and the average educated Alabamian probably knows far more. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the Alabamian may well be more conscious of what he does not know. He knows that he doesn’t know all about New York, but does the New Yorker know that he doesn’t know all about Alabama?

After reflecting on this for a while, though, I began to take it more seriously. As a sub-rational fear and hostility, it may be having a more serious and destructive effect on the country than is immediately apparent. The point has been made more than once that too many of our elites, too many people with wide influence and power, really do not like the country in which they occupy a highly privileged position, viewing the masses outside a few big cities as savages who must, above all, be restrained, and prevented from practicing the violence and oppression which is their natural impulse. This must account in part for the impression one gets from, for instance, the ACLU, that, where southerners, Christians, and other unenlightened persons are concerned, the Constitution exists mainly to suppress freedom rather than to enable it, and that a Christian prayer at a high school graduation is one small step toward genocide. If these un-liberal liberals were to see such prejudice exercised against a group with which they had any sympathy, they would see it for the bigotry it is.