Donna Tartt reads from her wonderful new novel, The Goldfinch, tonight at Congregation Beth Elohim, and talks with me about the book! I’m over the moon, obviously.
If you’d like to join us, reserve a spot here. And if you’re not around or not free tonight or are killing time until you can get out to the bookstore, I recommend logging in to Harper’s — and, just in general, subscribing if you don’t — and dipping into her archives there.
Apart from the “Sleepytown: A Southern Gothic Childhood, with Codeine" (a feat! originally published as a memoir though the author reportedly classifies it as fiction), there’s "Team Spirit,” a memoir reproduced from Oxford American, about…. her time as a cheerleader. The Christmas pageant story and the appreciation of J.F. Powers are really good too.
More Tartt archives here, here, here, and here. Another great story of hers, “The Ambush,” is also worth tracking down, and her afterward to Portis’ True Grit, too. Also, if anybody has a copy of her appreciation of Iris Murdoch, you know where to find me.
"I didn’t realize Donna Tartt published a short story in The New Yorker in 1993????? It’s called “Tam O’ Shanter,” and it’s two pages (sub. only):
THIS IS HOW THOSE OF US WHO DIDN’T GET A GOLDFINCH GALLEY ARE COMPENSATING UNTIL TUESDAY.
Here’s another Donna Tartt short story (though it was originally published as an essay): ”A Southern Gothic Childhood, With Codeine.”
Rereading Persuasion and making list of scenes in Jane Austen novels where it seems like the heroine probably has her period. Like, that scene in Emma where they’re picnicking and Emma blurts out the mean thing about Miss Bates and then the next day everyone’s mad at her and Miss Bates and her mother pretend not to be home when she visits. Immediate pre-period. Or in P&P when Lizzy stays behind from Rosings with a headache and Mr. Darcy proposes… period that morning.
Super scholarly stuff.
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This image, part of Maximus Clarke’s PER SPECULUM IN ÆNIGMATE project, doubles as QR-coded encrypted email. Though publicly viewable, it can be read only by the one intended recipient.
Among other things, this art project is intended to encourage more widespread use of encryption. If you’ve thought about looking into that, but been unsure how to proceed, here are some simplified instructions.
Year in Reading alum Maud Newton has a new short story up on Medium. Titled “Nobody’s Stranger,” the “Miami noir love story” somewhat wonderfully features a bar, “the most incongruous bar in Little Haiti,” in which the patrons are mostly “aging emo kids and British soccer fans and overweight burlesque enthusiasts.”
Hey, thanks! Here’s part two, in case anyone was waiting for it.
DAY TWENTY: THE GEORGE JONES DEMOS
Before Rick Rubin revitalized Johnny Cash’s recording career, Costello tried to do a similar thing for George Jones.
In a November 1992 issue of Interview magazine, Costello conducted a phone interview with the country legend and proposed making a new kind of George Jones album:
ELVIS COSTELLO: Have you ever considered doing an album where all of the songwriting came from outside the country area, even though you might do typical George Jones interpretations? There are a lot of songwriters whose work you’ve never touched, like Hoagy Carmichael, or someone more up-to-date, like Tom Waits.
GEORGE JONES: Hey, I’ve never thought of that, but that’s a good idea. However, it would have to be the kind of material that I could transform my way, to the country style.
EC: Oh, I don’t mean you should start to sing like a jazz singer, and I don’t mean you should make a record like Willie Nelson's Stardust, where he sang standards in the style that they were written. I do want to say, though, that I tend to think of you as an American vocalist — rather than Just a country singer — in the same frame of mind as the great singers in other styles of music, like Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra.
GJ: Thank you. For this kind of record, I would have to have help from someone familiar about this situation, as you are, that could pick out certain types of songs.
EC: Well, there you go, George. I’m volunteering. Anytime you want to do this record. I think it’s the missing George Jones album.
GJ: Great. I’ll tell you what. Let’s get a few songs together and see what we can do with them. I would love for you to send me a tape of some of the things you might like to see on an album like this.
EC: O.K., I’ll send you some things. I may sing them myself, with just a simple acoustic guitar, without trying to copy you — I can’t copy your voice, anyway. Then maybe you would hear them more in the vein of how they could be done.
GJ: O.K., great. When are you coming to the States?
EC: I don’t know. I’m making a record myself next week, and I’ll be coming there on tour next year. Maybe we should try to meet up. It would be nice to see you.
GJ: I got to head out of here pretty shortly and go get my hair done.
Before this interview was even published, Costello went into Attractions drummer Pete Thomas’ home studio with Paul “Bassman” Riley and recorded 10 songs, sending the results to Jones.
Costello later released all of these recordings on the bonus disc of the now out-of-print 2004 Rhino reissue of Kojak Variety, and wrote that he had “no idea what Mr. Jones made of the tape or if he ever even received it. On the next occasion that we performed together, on TNN’s Monday Night Concert with Ricky Skaggs at Ryman Theatre in Nashville, George diplomatically failed to mention these recordings.”
- Hoagy Carmichael & Harold Adamson: "My Resistance Is Low"
- Tom Waits: "Innocent When You Dream"
- T Bone Burnett: "I’m Coming Home"
- James Carr: "The Dark End Of The Street"
- Paul Simon: "Congratulations"
- Bob Dylan: "You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
- James Carr: "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man"
- Gram Parsons: "Still Feeling Blue"
- Bruce Springsteen: "Brilliant Disguise"
- Peggy Lee: "How Long Has This Been Going On"
A few of Costello’s “George Jones Demos” trickled out as fairly obscure b-sides during the 90s, but for many years they were regarded as a “lost” Costello album. The Kojak Variety CD reissue remedied this for a short period when Costello included all of them on the Bonus Disc, but it is growing increasingly difficult to find copies of those Rhino editions on the secondhand market, and the added material has remained unavailable via iTunes, Spotify, etc.
Admittedly, they are an obscure corner of Costello’s catalog, but I’d argue that this is some of Costello’s most interesting work covering other artists, actually more compelling within his back catalog than either Almost Blue or Kojak Variety. Although “Costello Sings Some Of His Favourite Songs In The Style Of George Jones” might seem like some kind of awkward gimmick or novelty record, these recordings are terrific, heartfelt and fun.
THE “GEORGE JONES” DEMOS:
- "My Resistance Is Low"
- "Innocent When You Dream"
- "I’m Coming Home"
- "The Dark End Of The Street"
- "You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
- "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man"
- "Still Feeling Blue"
- "Brilliant Disguise"
- "How Long Has This Been Going On"
It’s probably wishful thinking to imagine that this material would ever see the light of day on a limited edition vinyl release, or that it would be regarded as a legitimate part of the Costello canon and assessed in much the same way Dylan & The Band’s Basement Tapes are within their respective bodies of work. But to hear Costello’s country take on Springsteen’s "Brilliant Disguise" is to hear a passionate and intuitive singer/songwriter/music fan & scholar using the full range of his skill set to bring out a different aspect of these songs.
The ultimate goal may have gone unfulfilled but these recordings more than justify the effort. And Costello’s instinct was probably right— if George Jones had made this record, the 90s might have seen the same kind of popular appreciation for Jones that Johnny Cash enjoyed when he began his American Recordings series.
ALSO: because this is Costello making this record purely for his own enjoyment, in the hopes that he’ll get to hear one of his favorite singers tackle some songs he loves, there is an unmistakable feeling that Costello is having a ball. It’s loose and carefree and was all recorded in a single day— Costello even left in a lyrical mistake in Dylan’s "You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go", enthusing that only Dylan could write a line as great as:
Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine have been like the lanes and rambles
He was then informed that the ACTUAL lyric was “Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud.”
In a perfect world, Costello would make a record like this every year— his knowledge of other people’s music mixed with his sense of mischief and adventure would virtually guarantee that it would be tremendous fun. Later in the 90s, he had a bit he would perform during concerts where he would speculate on what songs Elvis Presley would’ve covered if he’d lived, including Costello’s pretty amusing impression of The King belting out lines from U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass.”
I’m not suggesting that Costello turn his party trick into an album. But I would buy that record in a heartbeat.
I’ve got mixed feelings these days about my onetime idol Costello, but god I do wish George Jones had recorded some of these songs — “Brilliant Disguise,” “Still Feeling Blue,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” especially.
And it’s hard to believe now, all these years later, but it was Costello’s cover of “A Good Year for the Roses" that first led me to George Jones.
"There is no golden rule which applies to everyone: every man must find out for himself in what particular fashion he can be saved. All kinds of different factors will operate to direct his choice. It is a question of how much real satisfaction he can expect to get from the external world, how far he is led to make himself independent of it, and, finally, how much strength he feels he has for altering the world to suit his wishes."
— Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents
“ I had dinner with some Oberlin students. When we all sat down, they introduced themselves with their names and “pronoun declarations.” One preferred, “She, Her, Hers.” Another, “They, Them, Theirs.” By this point I felt like my brain was on frappée. They were all very charming and earnest, but I could hardly process what they were saying. “What parts of speech are those?” was all I managed to ask.
I used to completely not see the point of fancy writing implements. And I still feel that way about precious little booklets. I only use composition notebooks, because I get intimidated easily and I need to be able to tear and cross out pages with abandon.
But a few years ago my friend Gina gave me a set of Palominos — with a Kum long-point sharpener — and holy crap. Suddenly John Steinbeck’s yearning for four dozen new, freshly-sharpened pencils made total sense.
Then someone resuscitated the Blackwing, and Gina gave me a dozen of those, and I was hooked. I’m even one of those people with opinions about the relative merits of the black, the white, and the silver varieties.
Recently I’ve branched out into fountain pens (Lamy) with refillable ink cartridges. They’re surprisingly easy to use. I write longhand whenever I get stuck, and usually also when I feel this peculiar tingly ASMR kind of inspiration that flares up on occasion, and I like the way the words feel flowing from this thing. The Noodler’s ink colors are fabulous.
Also, the reasoning is cliched, but true. Although the outlay is greater on the front end, you end up saving money long-term. The landfills thank you for not adding more roller-ball corpses to the pile. And your postal service clerk just might be moved to give you the secret handshake right on your Goulet Pens package.
This has been a partial retraction of a post I wrote in 2005.