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Tag: nicholas dawidoff

American Splendor


Ah, now this looks like it’s worth your time. Nicholas Dawidoff’s New York Times Magazine profile of the great Robert Frank:

Sixty years ago, at the height of his powers, Frank left New York in a secondhand Ford and began the epic yearlong road trip that would become ‘‘The Americans,’’ a photographic survey of the inner life of the country that Peter Schjeldahl, art critic at The New Yorker, considers ‘‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’’ Frank hoped to express the emotional rhythms of the United States, to portray underlying realities and misgivings — how it felt to be wealthy, to be poor, to be in love, to be alone, to be young or old, to be black or white, to live along a country road or to walk a crowded sidewalk, to be overworked or sleeping in parks, to be a swaggering Southern couple or to be young and gay in New York, to be politicking or at prayer.

The book begins with a white woman at her window hidden behind a flag. That announcement — here are the American unseen — the Harvard photography historian Robin Kelsey likens to the splash of snare drum at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”: ‘‘It flaps you right away.’’ The images that follow — a smoking industrial landscape in Butte, Mont.; a black nurse holding a porcelain-white baby or an unwatched black infant rolling off its blanket on the floor of a bar in South Carolina — were all different jolts of the same current. That is the miracle of great socially committed art: It addresses our sources of deepest unease, helps us to confront what we cannot organize or explain by making all of it unforgettable. ‘‘I think people like the book because it shows what people think about but don’t discuss,’’ Frank says. ‘‘It shows what’s on the edge of their mind.’’

…When Frank began his expedition upriver into the heart of American ambivalence, photography remained, as Walker Evans said, ‘‘a disdained medium.’’ Only a few American art museums collected photographs. Most of the published images portrayed figures of status. One notable exception was the work of Dorothea Lange. Frank respected her compassion but considered her Dust Bowl pictures maudlin — triumphalist takes on adversity. ‘‘I photographed people who were held back, who never could step over a certain line,’’ he says. ‘‘My mother asked me, ‘Why do you always take pictures of poor people?’ It wasn’t true, but my sympathies were with people who struggled. There was also my mistrust of people who made the rules.’’ That impulse seems particularly potent today, during our charged national moment — our time of belated reckoning with how violent, enraged, unbalanced and unjust the United States often still is. To look again at the photographs Frank made before Selma, Vietnam and Stonewall, before income inequality, iPhones and ‘‘I can’t breathe,’’ is to realize he recognized us before we recognized ourselves.

Sing a Simple Song like Sylvester Stone (and) Catch You Out There Like Rick Cerone

Nicholas Dawidoff profiles Paul Simon in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. The piece is not available on-line but here are a couple of cherce bits:

“One day not long ago, Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan, who has admired Simon’s work for decades but knows him only slightly, offered up a spontaneous theory of Simon’s childhood. ‘There’s a certain kind of New York Jew,’ Fagan began, “almost a stereotype, really, to whom music and baseball are very important. I think it has to do with the parents. The parents are either immigrants or first-generation Americans who felt like outsiders, and assimilation was the key thought–they gravitated to black music and baseball looking for an alternative culture. My parents forced me to get a crew cut; they wanted me to be an astronaut. I wouldn’t be surprised if all that’s true in Paul’s case.”

Baseball and black music? I can relate.

And this:

“One day when I am visiting Simon at the Brill Building, we go off to throw a baseball. Simon picks a guitar with his right hand, but on a baseball field, he goes the other way. ‘That’s something I remember about my father,’ he tells me. “I was five or six and we were having a catch. He got me a glove. A righty glove. I’d take it off to throw it back. He’d say, ‘No, no. We do it this way.’ Eventually he came into the house and told my mother, ‘Belle, we got a lefty!’ There’s incredible pleasure in throwing a ball. Having a catch with your dad is having a conversation. As you throw the ball back and forth it’s heavenly.”

I don’t have any fond memories of having a catch with my father–those were uncomfortable moments, filled with impatience, anger, and tears–but I loved having a catch with my younger brother (still do though I can’t remember the last time we had one). There is an intimate connection when you are having a good catch that is unspoken but powerful. The rhythm is easy, contemplative and soothing.

[Photo Credit: Bruce Davidson]

Large and in Charge

Nicholas Dawidoff has a long profile on Rex Ryan in this week’s New York Times Magazine. For those of you who, you know, dig the pigskin:

Late spring in Florham Park, N.J., under a cloudless sky on a bright green lawn lined for football. It’s too hot, there’s only one lonely shade tree, and Rex Ryan’s latest diet isn’t working out. The New York Jets’ head coach is up over 345 again. Across the way from Ryan is his most valued employee, the magnificent cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is so “frustrated” about his salary that he sometimes seems undone. Living in Ryan’s attic back at the house is Ryan’s best friend since his Oklahoma youth, Jeff Weeks, the Jets’ outside linebackers coach, who is going through a divorce. Down on the farm in Kentucky, Ryan’s father, the pioneering defensive coach Buddy Ryan, has been ill with diverticulitis, while out in Cleveland, Ryan’s twin brother, Rob, is coordinating the defense for Browns Coach Eric Mangini, who had Ryan’s job until he was fired for what holdover Jets delicately call “negativity.” That, at least, will never be Ryan’s problem. “How great is this!” he cries, looking around. “My life is perfect.”

Jets practices are all planned to the minute long before they take place, with the formal responsibilities delegated to the various positional coaches, as well as to the team’s offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, and its defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. As these worthies exhort their charges, it’s easy to imagine them all astride wheeling horses on some military parade ground, hardening their regiments for the long campaigns of autumn. Ryan is left to do exactly what he pleases, which almost always amounts to meandering from group to group, being enthusiastic. Wherever he wanders, Ryan is hard to miss. An immense man whose thick foothills of neck and haunch swell into a spectacular butte at the midsection, he possesses a personal geography that, from first-and-10 distance, assumes a form that follows his function — Ryan looks like nothing more than an extra-large football.

The Crowd Sounds Happy: Book Excerpt

From “The Crowd Sounds Happy” (due out May 6th)

By Nicholas Dawidoff

I acquired a clock radio of my own. It was a Realistic Chronomatic 9 model, low-built and squared-off at the corners like a shoe box, with a faux-oak plastic cabinet, chrome and clear-plastic control dials, and rounded hour and minute hands that in the dark were backlit a dim lunar orange. These features had aspirations toward sleekness, but only a few months of ownership made clear that my radio was drab in the way the design ideas dominating mainstream consumer electronics in the mid-1970s were all drab. It was a look that was somehow between looks, one in which everything resembled everything else and nothing so much as the dashboard on the clumsy, rowboat-like LTD station wagons Ford was then producing. But if I stared at my Chronomatic 9 long enough, in the right mood it could seem, if not beautiful, almost handsome. My attachment to what came out of the clock radio quickly grew so intense I wanted an appearance to match.

What I was listening to in my room were Boston Red Sox baseball games. I hadn’t been able to get the Boston games on my old transistor, and to discover now that reception was possible on the Chronomatic 9 was joy. By game time I would have spread my homework along my bed, distributing the books and papers lengthwise, so that when I positioned myself on the floor, knees to the rug, chest pressed against the edge of the mattress, head bent over my books, to Sally and my mother passing behind me, it must have looked as though I was supplicating myself to physics and Lord Jim. The radio was to my left, on the night table, and, as I worked, the team broadcaster, Ned Martin, said, “Welcome to Fenway Park in Boston,” and right then a part of me zoomed down the I-91 highway entrance ramp and lifted out of New Haven. Martin and his commentating partner would discuss the game to come, building the anticipation until Martin cried, “Here come the Red Sox!” As he introduced the players position by position—”Jim Rice left field, Fred Lynn center field”—it was like having the cast of characters read aloud to you from the beginning of a Russian novel. All quieted as the crowd rose to listen while an organist played the National Anthem, and I stood too, put my hand to my heart, and with no flag in the room to gaze upon, instead stared fixedly at a red, white, and blue book spine on my shelf for the duration of the song. My mother began to come in and watch me standing there in still, patriotic tribute. At first I wished she would just leave me alone, but over time I began to like her observance of my observance, and when the door didn’t open, I’d reach toward the radio and raise the volume to let her know she was missing the Anthem.

Early in the game, sometimes the reception would be erratic, clogged with static, and I’d have to jiggle the tuning knob, making such minute adjustments my hand trembled. It often helped if I stood near the radio in a certain position, invariably contorted, with one arm akimbo, another limb up in the air, a palm hovering inches over the speaker, trying to maintain position, barely breathing, as the sputtering details came out of the Chronomatic 9. Then the evening progressed, and the connection grew pure. Some nights when the Red Sox weren’t playing, around the fifth inning, I could even begin to pick up broadcasts from Philadelphia or Baltimore or Pittsburgh. That had the appeal of combining the pleasures of baseball with the exploring of distant, unknown places. Between the Red Sox and me it was about something more.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver