Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 28, 2013 Issue


Pick of the Issue this week is Adam Gopnik’s “Music to Your Ears.” What a cabinet of wonders it is: plasma rocket engines, Elvis Presley’s private jet, 3-D sound, nonfigurative Greek vases, Antiochian Orthodox, Appalachian snake handlers, ancient Arabic freestyle rap, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Cyclops, XTC wave, BACCH filter, Victrola recording, St. Catherine Street, McGill faculty club, Darwin, auditory Chimera, Blue Öyster Cult, Nashville harmonics, Yamaha Disklavier, Kate Smith tremelo, psycho-acoustics, Gershwin, MP3s, Bell Labs, Stereo Purifier, Jambox, on and on – all strung on a personal narrative of meetings, interviews and lunches that Gopnik has with various “sound scholars” in New York and Montreal. It’s a terrific piece and it contains several inspired quasi-surreal sentences (e.g., “The poignant C-major seventh saves your life when your emotions are already pitched somewhere around a hard-edged, unresolved G-7”). Gopnik’s most brilliant move is his use of the rippling, sparkling, serene playing of the great jazz pianist Ellis Larkins as a metaphor for music’s meaning-making (“The answer to Bregman’s question ‘Why do we like music?’ isn’t this thing or that thing but many things at once pressing down hard, and then lightly, on our minds, as Ellis Larkins presses on the keyboard”). For a wonderful profile of Larkins, see Whitney Balliett’s “Einfühlung” (The New Yorker, December 18, 1978; included in Balliett’s 1983 collection Jelly Roll, Jabbo & Fats).

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