There’s a certain slant of light,
That oppresses, like the heft
Of cathedral tunes
Winter is the cruelest season, though for me it’s not so much about the cold (though we’ve had our chilly moments, this time of year our apartment often feels like summer). What kills me is the darkness. The afternoons take on the quality of night, so much that life, as cluttered as it usually is, becomes akin to sleepwalking. You wonder why it’s suddenly hard to deal with pressing matters; everything, from meeting friends to accomplishing anything that resembles writing, becomes a slog.
Such days send me into myself. It’s hard not to reflect on the year that passed, and the year to come. Thoughts turned to politics (Utah, Socchi, Fort Lee, healthcare) and when that got too depressing, well…I looked for escapes. Reality TV, blech—in New York City, riches for the soul (and escape from reality TV) could be found all over town. MOMA isn’t the best place to hang your hat for a pleasing art experience (and yep, it’s shameful how they’re dealing with the American Folk Art Museum), yet two of their shows were worth the bother. Much of what’s in American Modern: Hopper to O’Keefe (until Jan 26) has been on view before. But context is everything, and the pleasure of seeing those 20th Century artists side by side bestows a freshness that forces the viewer to experience Hopper and O’Keefe, as well as Charles Sheeler, Andrew Wyeth, Florine Stettheimer (glorious) and many others, as the arguable revelations they surely were when first exhibited. And Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, took a close look at this Belgian master of illusion to reveal an artist of genuine painterly gifts. But, why oh why was I forced to stop by the permanent collection to catch a glimpse of his lovely The Empire of Light, II? I know, theme, but throw me a bone, okay? At least hang it in the hall outside…
Twelfth Night, with the amazing Mark Rylance touched down at the Belasco for a limited run to remind us why Shakespeare endures (drama and comedy assayed in perfect balance—before or since, no dramatist has done it better). A block or so west, the zillionth revival of The Glass Menagerie opened in a production that broke every rule, and in so doing, gave us something so heartbreaking it was hard to believe that we’d ever experienced Tennessee Williams as he was meant. From direction by John Tiffany (with a peerless set by one of our modern masters, Bob Crowley) to a cast I doubt will be bettered in my lifetime—all was matchless, a rebuke to the bigger-is-better-cast-a-star-to-drive-the-box office mentality, and proof there’s nothing wrong with Broadway that can’t be fixed with talent and a vision. It’s closing soon though—hurry.
In the past six months I’ve been wearing out Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires in the City and Tierney Sutton’s After Blue. The first is a nigh-perfect soundtrack for this city slicker; the second is the Joni Mitchell cover album to end all, food for the head (those words) and heart (all that soul).
Was happy to finish Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns by David Margolick, not because it was bad-its excellence drove home the story of an author (lost to us now) who lived heedlessly, and died tragically. Now, sailing through Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and if you’d told me how much I’d enjoy a story whose plot hinges on the minutae of baseball, I’d a called you crazy. But there it is.
What recently dead person do you miss the most? What a crawl to the grave it’s been: there’s Mandela, Julie Harris, Gandolfini (see his swan song Enough Said), and Ray Harryhausen but what about Dave Madden (The Partridge Family’s Reuben), Richie Havens or Tony Musante? The famous hold sway, so touch our lives, it’s hard not to feel a twinge when they go. But what about the not-so, or even anonymous, treasures? I was stuck by the tragic death of Samuel See, the brilliant, albeit, flawed Yale assistant professor who died in police custody last year after a domestic dispute. You have to read between the tabloid lines to see the tragic dimensions of the case, which is an old story of youthful potential snuffed by substance abuse, promiscuity and bipolarity. No less touching was the passing this year of the last female Munchkin, Ruth Robinson Duccini; MGM’s The Wizard of Oz retains its hold on most of us all these years later; the people connected to its making have always felt like kin. I couldn’t pick Ruth out of a Munchkin line-up but that’s irrelevant; it still feels personal.
As did this. J.D. South passed in November—he was the husband of Bill Bischoff, an old friend. He was not a stranger, though I didn’t know him as long or as well as I’d liked. Through his surviving spouse I feel his absence most acutely; closer to home, death becomes less abstract and a loved one’s losses bring back the memory of your own with a force that stuns. Such moments are admonishments to hold close the people who matter. Like a year, nothing lasts so long, or zips by as fast, as a life.
Photo: Jonathan Nye