Thursday, January 29, 2015

Honesty in Interviews

Marshawn Lynch has set a new standard for honesty in dealing with journalists. Those not religiously tuned to the fortunes of the Seattle Seahawks may be unaware that Lynch, the 'Hawks' great plunging back, was twice fined $50,000 by the National Football League for not giving interviews. That's football, folks--you get fined if you say the wrong thing, you get fined more if you don't say anything at all.

In Phoenix for this Sunday's Super Bowl, Lynch did sit for an interview. Appearing at a news conference before scores of sportswriters representing every publication from the New York Times to the Watchtower, Lynch (affectionately dubbed "Beast") gave the same answer to every question: "I'm just here so I won't get fined." He said this twenty-nine times.

Friends, this is honesty. We look forward to future interviewees saying, "I'm just here to promote my movie," "I'm just here to sell my book," "I'm just here to get some votes."

Consider this possible interview:

Peter Mansbridge: "Mr. Prime Minister, is it still possible, given falling oil prices and the descent of the Canadian dollar, that you will be able to bring in a balanced budget?"

Stephen Harper: "Peter, I'm just here to get some votes."

P.M.:  "Mr. Prime Minister, how damaging do you think the inquiry into Senate activities, specifically the activities of senators you appointed, may be?"

S.H.: "I'm just here to get some votes."

P.M.: "Mr. Prime Minister, the polls show Justin Trudeau's hair running well ahead of yours. Are you contemplating a change of hair style?"

S.H.: "I'm just here to get some votes."

P.M.: "Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for once again being so forthcoming."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Do Not Hate Gwyneth

So we're picking up the newspaper this morning to see if Joe Oliver is still promising a balanced budget (it's rumored the Conservatives are working on a deal with Mephistopheles) or if Bill Belichick has been giving any more science lessons, and what do we find? I mean, apart from the usual sloppy editing that would get C minus in journalism school? We find an article about hating Gwyneth Paltrow.

This was written by someone named Anne Billson (I know, we've never heard of her either, but it's probable that she has not been declared "the world's most beautiful woman," which may be one reason she hates Gwyneth Paltrow). Anyway, Ms. Billson says that when she Googled the words "hate Gwyneth Paltrow" she got five million hits. And not that kind of hits.

Ms. Billson, recently promoted from the classified ads section, writes that Ms. Paltrow appeared in "dull, prissy films such as 'Sylvia'." Okay, has she ever seen "Sylvia"? Does Daniel Craig, who played Ted Hughes to Ms. Paltrow's Sylvia Plath, think the film is dull and prissy? And does Daniel Craig hate Gwyneth Paltrow? We guess not.

Mario Batali doesn't hate her, either. He even lets her wear one of his aprons. Asked his opinion on the hate Gwyneth thing, he replies, "It's a load of salumi."

It may be true that Ms. Paltrow might have spent a little more time with the baby name book before calling her first child Apple, but even so, no hate justified. Although we don't know how Apple feels.

Ms. Billson--back to her--does write that it may be excessive to express hate for someone who is a film actress and not, say, Kim Jong-un. Or Mike Belichick.

We bet Richard Sherman loves Gwyneth. And Marshawn Lynch. We mean Marshawn Lynch loves Gwyneth Paltrow, not that Richard Sherman loves Marshawn Lynch, although that's okay, too.

Go, Seahawks! Go, Gwyneth!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Anyone Can Whistle

Actually, not everyone can, no matter what Stephen Sondheim says.

John Lucas and Alan Chatburn have produced a book titled "A Brief History of Whistling." One of the things we learn from it is that Ludwig Wittgenstein could whistle intricate passages from Mozart sonatas.

If Witt were standing on a street corner waiting for a bus and whistling, he might get some odd looks today. Whistling, apparently, is now considered far too personal to be done in public--much more than, say, having a domestic quarrel or breaking up with your girlfriend on your cell phone while standing in a lineup at the bank.

The heyday of whistling came when the Seven Dwarfs were happily at work, despite the imminent danger of mine cave-ins. An air of mystery was introduced by the radio show "The Whistler." And whistling even became seductive when Lauren Bacall gave Bogart lessons in "To Have and Have Not"--"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow."

There was once a jazz whistler, Ron McCroby, heard on a few 1970s recordings. But we bet he isn't getting many gigs today. Now, if only Bramwell Tovey could book Wittgenstein to whistle with the VSO, we could be in for a whistling revival.

Put your lips together and wish.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Pas de Handshake

Health authorities, striving to prevent an epidemic of influenza, have cautioned that shaking hands is a possible cause of contagion. Other modes of exchanging friendly gestures have been recommended.

Thus we look forward to church services over the next few weeks, when, after confession and absolution, priests and pastors will invite worshippers to "greet each other with the elbow bump of peace."

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Dense fog has swept in, covering the Lower Mainland like an army blanket (line stolen from Marjorie Allingham). Fog was such an important feature of Victorian novels--Wilkie Collins's, Conan Doyle's, Charles Dickens's--it was almost a living character in the stories.

The Gershwins wrote "A Foggy Day" for the 1937 musical "Damsel in Distress." They wrote it in less than an hour, between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m., after George got back from a party. The song was first sung by Fred Astaire, but a great later performance (1955) was recorded by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

That same year, a small gem of a film appeared. It was "Footsteps in the Fog," with Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, and a fog so dense the characters could see nothing, but only hear menacing footsteps...getting closer and closer.

Stewart Granger always looked to us more the way James Bond would than any of the actors who played Bond, and James Mason always seemed the perfect George Smiley. Mason played Smiley (renamed, for some reason,"Charles Dobbs") in Sydney Lumet's 1966 film "A Deadly Affair," based on an early John le Carre novel. We mention it here because the wonderful Quincy Jones score includes a piece called "Don't Fly When It's Foggy."

Other foggy folk: Senator Jack S. Phogbound, in "Li'l Abner" and Foghorn Leghorn, of the Looney Tunes gang.

And be glad you're not on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Unless, of course, you like wandering around in the fog. Fog hangs over the Grand Banks an average of 120 days a year.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ghosts of Radio Past

Kelly McFarland, writing in the National Post, says "One wonders just who the CBC thinks is reading its website, but clearly it doesn't figure its readership is among the smarter members of the population." McFarland reached this conclusion after reading the CBC's tips for surviving winter. The first tip: "Wear a coat."

We've begun to feel that CBC Radio producers also have a less than flattering idea of their listeners'' intelligence. The other day, for example, a Radio Two host informed her audience that "Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' is a musical work about the four seasons."

We could rail for some time about the CBC's current deficiencies, but having over the years ourselves subjected listeners to some tiresome moments, we will only say that we wish the current crew of CBC programmers might be visited by Ghosts of Radio Past.

The ghosts we are thinking of: Alan McFee, John Drainie and Just Mary.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Assigned Reading

With the Feast of Epiphany upon us, it is time for another Pointless Digressions assigned reading list. Recommended for Epiphany--January 6--are Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," "Journey of the Magi" by Paul William Roberts, and Michel Tournier's "The Four Wise Men."

Of course, everyone knows (doesn't everyone?) T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" ("A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey") and it will be read again, but the other writings, perhaps not as well known, also are rewarding.

Certainly the title "Twelfth Night" is familiar, and its first line often quoted--"If music be the food of love, play on"--and some will remember that at the end of "Shakespeare in Love" Gwyneth Paltrow is seen walking out of the sea into what will be "Twelfth Night." But the significance of the play for this season is that it was commissioned by the court of James 1 for performance on Epiphany, and it was given that performance by Shakespeare's company of players January 6, 1601, for January 6 is the twelfth night past Christmas.

Paul William Roberts's "Journey of the Magi" is very different from Eliot's--funnier, for one thing. It's an account of the author's travel, by car and camel, from Iran to Bethlehem, the supposed route of the Magi. Roberts's chauffeur/guide is Reza, cheerfully profane in broken English.

The Magi were named Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior--names not among the most popular with 21st century parents. In his novel, Michel Tournier introduces a fourth--Taor, Prince of Mangalore. It is a profound and moving story, and one more reason why Tournier should be considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Then there's James Joyce, who gave the word "epiphany" new resonance in literary discussions, so you could, perhaps, read "Dubliners" as well.

Test on January 7.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Take it from Jack

A thought for New Year's Day from the great Jack Wasserman: "It's better to have a morning after than to never have a night before."

For hangover remedies, consult Keith Floyd and Kingsley Amis.