Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Monday, October 18, 2010

StoryCorps: David Wilson

I'm a big fan of StoryCorps, having interviewed my mom when the group had a booth in Milwaukee in 2007. I later interviewed my brother and he interviewed me in 2009. It's an amazing and rewarding experience. If I can figure out how to post audio on this blog or if someone can help me, I'll post all three of those StoryCorps interviews here.

This week's featured StoryCorps interview with David Wilson is particularly touching and is definitely worth a listen.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Our Times

I recently read "Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II" by A. N. Wilson. It's a history of Britain from 1952 to 2008. Wilson is clearly an extremely talented author and a most entertaining writer. I'd hate to have to go head to head with him intellectually, because there's no question that he'd decimate me. With the exception of one chapter, the book isn't about the Royal Family or Queen Elizabeth II. Rather, it's a political, social, and intellectual history of Britain during the Queen's reign. Wilson takes no prisoners, eviscerating just about every major political figure over the period. The Prime Ministers, in particular, are taken to task and ruthlessly attacked. He seems to argue that Margaret Thatcher did the most, although Wilson certainly doesn't agree with the dramatic changes that Thatcher's premiership brought to Britain. His biggest attack is on Harold Macmillan. No political leader emerges unscathed from Wilson's attacks, some of which are well-deserved and accurate, others are simply mean spirited and unnecessary. Wilson makes a good case for the ineptness of politicians over the period, and he illustrates this vividly and with often humorous anecdotes. He shines in his overview of the decline of the established Anglican Church and Roman Catholicism in Britain, and provides a sharp contrast between these declines and the radical Islam that is a reality of the present day. Wilson is also critical of the decline in quality of the arts in Britain during this time period, and he makes his case effectively in this regard when he compares authors and artists before 1952 with those who came after. Overall, the book bemoans Britain's decline and places the blame squarely on the ineffective politicians who governed Britain during the Queen's reign.
Wilson concedes the many ways that life is better for Britons in 2008 than it was in 1952, particularly the significant rise in the standard of living, the role of women, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. While affirming this progress, he bemoans the loss of British-ness and how devolution is threatening the existence of the UK, predicting that Scotland will become an independent nation in the 21st century. Wilson may be prophetic here, but I can't imagine that it will happen since the English presently provide a fairly significant monetary subsidy to the Scots, something that would be difficult for the Scots to give up.
While the book is a most entertaining read, Wilson plays fast and loose with the facts. He gets the date of the Glorious Revolution incorrect (1688 is the correct date), uses Wikipedia as a source in a footnote, and claims that 26,000 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, which simply isn't accurate.
With respect to the Royal Family, Wilson offers the best assessment I've read to date of the Prince of Wales, making the case for the many positive qualities of Prince Charles while also fairly and accurately pointing out his weaknesses. Wilson's assessment of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and its relevance to modern Britain is insightful.
9 of 10 on entertainment value. 5 of 10 on historical accuracy and respect for others.

Beethoven's Ninth

I attended a concert of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra recently where the orchestra played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as well as Copeland's Suite from Appalachian Spring conducted by Edo de Waart. The Copeland was great and quite beautiful. This was my third time hearing Beethoven's Ninth live. The first two times the orchestra was under the direction of Andreas Delfs, so it was interesting to hear the Ninth conducted by de Waart. De Waart and the orchestra were sublime in the third movement; I've never heard it sound better. As for the first, second, and fourth movements, they were excellent, yet lacking. De Waart didn't bring the passion, intensity, urgency, and thunder to these movements that I think Beethoven calls for in the Ninth. de Waart was too gentle, dainty, delicate, and passive in the first, second, and fourth movements. I found that disappointing. Perhaps it's because he's older, or maybe de Waart just isn't as passionate as Delfs. Delfs conducted the Ninth, and all the Beethoven symphonies, without a score. Delfs knows them in his heart, and that comes through in his conducting. De Waart is more intellectual, which is fine with music from the Classical or modern eras. But for music from the Romantic era, you need the heartfelt passion, which de Waart brought to the third movement but not the others. In spite of this, the fourth movement moved me to tears. The orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus were firing on all cylinders. As I've written previously, I think that the Ninth is the pinnacle of all music.

I was glad that Neil, my parents, my brother, and sister-in-law joined me at the concert, as I think that everyone should experience the Ninth live at some point in life. Overall, a wonderful evening.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Nate gave me this card with some common obsessions and compulsions. I've annotated it to indicate the ones that are applicable or partially applicable to me. Thanks, Nate!

Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick lost in the second round at the US Open. It seems as if he's been unable to rebound from his brutal and heartbreaking loss in the 2009 Wimbledon final versus Roger Federer, whereRoddick lost the fifth set 16-14. Nevertheless, he's as hot as ever. I especially like this photo because you can see all of Andy's chest hair and how it extends onto his neck. Very hot.


Summer may be over, but this guy from Instinct magazine makes me feel the heat.

The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824

In anticipation of seeing the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, I read a new book by Harvey Sachs entitled "The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824." It was a fascinating book both about where Beethoven was in his life at the time that he composed the Ninth as well as the political, social, and intellectual world of 1824. I found the biographical information about Beethoven and his life in 1824 particularly captivating. By that time Beethoven was known throughout Europe as a gifted composer. Given his volatile personality, he had burned a lot of bridges by this time in his life. That made finding an orchestra to play the Ninth a fairly difficult proposition since there were quite a few musicians who Beethoven refused to work with or vice versa. Sachs does a remarkable job of giving the reader an idea of what it would have been like to attend the premiere in May 7, 1824 at the Karnthnertortheater in Vienna. Unfortunately, the time pressures meant that the copyists who transcribed the parts for the musicians made many errors. Couple that with the fact that in 1824 there was no such thing as the professional orchestra as we know it today; most of the musicians were amateurs, and the Ninth is a very difficult piece of music. This meant that the premier performance was likely riddled with errors. Yet in spite of these difficulties, the audience responded to the genius they heard, giving Beethoven a standing ovation, which was a rare occurrence at that time. It goes without saying that part of the fascination of the Ninth and Beethoven's middle and late period compositions is that he was deaf at the time he wrote them. This meant that Beethoven could hear his masterpiece only in his own mind. It's believed that Beethoven had to be prompted to turn around to see the audience giving him a standing ovation at the premiere. Sachs takes the reader into the fascinating personality of Beethoven such as his love for humanity yet his disgust for so many individual people. Another example is Beethoven's commitment to liberty, freedom, and joy, yet his living in the Hapsburg monarchy of Austria-Hungary. The Ninth was, of course, innovative in western music since it's the first symphony to incorporate voices. Beyond that, Beethoven pushes the boundaries of the genre in so many ways, which Sachs does a fine job of explaining.

Sachs then places the Ninth in the context of art at this point in the 19th century alongside Byron, Pushkin, and other early romantics. I found this portion the most challenging, probably since I wasn't familiar with most of the artists he writes about. I loved Sachs's analysis of the four movements of the Ninth and their value to music and artistic accomplishment. To me, the Ninth is the zenith of all music composed in human history, and I have a feeling that Sachs would likely agree with me. His book is a more intelligent way of saying that, even knowing that many would disagree with this claim.

A fascinating book, one that I'm very glad that I read.
9 of 10.

Peace Like a River

Over the summer I read "Peace Like a River," a novel by Leif Enger. It was an interesting story about a family in rural Minnesota in the early 1960s. Enger raises some interesting questions about faith, tolerance, bullying, childhood, and trying to determine right and wrong in complex and messy situations. The story about twelve year-old Reuben Land and his kid sister Swede is a bit far fetched, yet it grabbed my attention. The story eventually becomes an old West type chase that seems inspired by Owen Wister. Overall, the novel was unique and held my attention. 7 of 10.