Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hannah Giorgis at The Atlantic asks what "redemption" actually means when celebrities spend a few months out of the limelight and then jump back into it

Having seen a few largely unpersuasive cases that celebrity X or Y should be given another shot at their celebrity status within field A or B, this piece stuck with me. 

On Sunday night, Louis C.K. performed an unexpected set at the Comedy Cellar, a famed club in New York’s Greenwich Village. The appearance was the comedian’s first since he admitted last year to sexual misconduct—most notably, exposing himself to (and masturbating in front of) multiple women in the comedy world. “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want,” C.K. said in his November 2017 statement. “I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”

Less than 10 months later, it seems C.K. has decided he is ready to speak again. According to the New York Times story about his Sunday-evening appearance, the comedian “did a 15-minute set that touched on what [the Comedy Cellar owner Noam] Dworman called ‘typical Louis C.K. stuff’—racism, waitresses’ tips, parades.” He did not, according to the report, address the behavior that prompted his brief disappearance, but “the audience, a sold-out crowd of about 115, greeted him warmly, with an ovation even before he began

The comedian has also received an encouraging response from some of his male colleagues in the comedy world. After C.K.’s Sunday performance, the comedian Mo Amer, who was on the show’s billing, told the Times the surprise was “like a wow moment” for the crowd, then added that C.K.’s material was “like, classic Louis, really really good.” Tuesday morning, the comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted his support of C.K. along with a link to the Times story: “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives. I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.”

Dworman echoed the carceral dimension of Black’s language when defending his choice to let C.K. perform: “I care about doing the right thing,” he told the Times, but added that “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”

But Louis C.K. has not, by any measure, “served his time.” The comedian was not incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized. To invoke the punitive language of criminal justice is toprioritize C.K.’s career, that precious nonhuman entity, over his victims’ healing. It also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the prison system affects the human beings it ensnares. Anyone who has intimate knowledge of incarceration would not equate C.K.’s brief stint away from the glamour of public life to the horrors of solitary confinement or state-enabled sexual violence. (It’s also worth noting that the people most likely to serve time, including life sentences, do not belong to the same demographics as C.K., Dworman, or Black.)

We seem to live in an era in which celebrities who are simply obliged by some impulse toward damage control to avoid the limelight act and speak or, perhaps more pointed have advocates who act and speak, as though simply not being in the entertainment newsfeed constitutes something like a prison term.   

Even beyond the realm of criminal adjudication, there’s no reason for the public to believe the comedian has spent nine and a half months atoning for his misdeeds. He has not, as far as it is known, taken part in any sort of restorative- or transformative-justice process, a form of victim-centric community accountability that de-emphasizes court involvement. It is impossible to know what C.K. has spent the interceding months pondering while tucked away in his home, but publicly the comedian has done nothing to inspire confidence in his commitment to making amends. He has done little beyond admit to the truth of the accusations against him. C.K. did not even offer a real apology in his initial statement, which instead gestured nebulously at the “hardship” and “hurt” and “anguish” and “pain” that he had wrought. He saved the rhetorical gravity of “regret” for the “negative attention to my manager Dave Becky who only tried to mediate a situation that I caused.”

Here's a blunt question, does anyone think that Sherman Alexie will be able to pull off a similar merely ten month hiatus before a comeback gambit?  This is not to say that a non-white man or even a woman can't bounce back from credible allegations.  We're seeing that happen, too, but my polemical point is more to the effect that a literary figure like Alexie may have a much harder time bouncing back than a Louis C. K. seems to have had because of the difference between comedy and literary scenes, and, yes, throw in that a Native American compared to a white guy is likely to be a variable even if it could be suggested that celebrity had a toxic effect on the practices of both men. 

C.K.’s August reemergence springs from the same well of self-aggrandizement as his lackluster November statement. The comedian’s comeback may have been a surprise, but several other entertainment-industry heavyweights have been creeping back into the public eye following accusations brought to light by the #MeToo movement. Their periods of rehabilitation, which is largely to say time spent away from the limelight, have been almost comically short. After issuing a tepid response to the January allegations of sexual misconduct, the comedian Aziz Ansari has begun slowly returning to the stand-up circuit. (His new material similarly fails to mention anything about the behavior of which he was accused.) On Monday, Page Six reported that the former NBC Today anchor Matt Lauer had told fans he’d be “back on TV.” Lauer was fired from the network in November after vivid allegations of sexual assault and harassment. In April, Page Six reported rumors that the “disgraced CBS anchor Charlie Rose is being slated to star in a show where he’ll interview other high-profile men who have also been toppled by #MeToo scandals.” Rose, too, was fired from both CBS and PBS at the tail end of November after multiple women accused him of groping and intimidation.

As noted earlier, not only or always white guys, since Ansari is obviously not a white male. The Ronell case seems to suggest that the unifying thread is the mixture of some form of at least local/regional celebrity and some real institutional or intra-industry power.

Each of these men appears to have decided that they need not lie low for much longer than the average period of gestation. (For men such as the Spotted Pig restaurateur Ken Friedman, who was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, the interval was even shorter.) But these men do not appear to have conceived anything of moral consequence in the interim. “The [comeback] stories are, taken together, subtle (you might also say insidious) arguments not merely about who merits forgiveness,” my colleague Megan Garber wrote following the rumors of Rose’s new show, “but also about who merits empathy in the first place.”

Still, empathy is not a finite resource. It is possible to both believe the women who shared allegations of the men’s misconduct, and to imagine a world in which those men need not disappear from the public consciousness forever. It is not unimaginable that these men might find a genuine path to reconciliation with the women they are accused of having harmed. Healing is a lofty, but not impossible, goal. Many survivors of sexual violence, and their advocates, have long argued that ending rape culture cannot be done by simply casting aside anyone who commits harm.

But redemption does not come about without an exchange, without effort. What, exactly, have any of these men given up? Does forsaking nine months’ worth of public attention—in most cases, only after being forced out of the limelight—amount to a meaningful penance? Questions of “redemption” tend to zero in on the maintenance of powerful men’s legacies to the exclusion of their alleged victims’ needs. Suggesting that C.K. deserves to perform again without addressing his prior misdeeds—simply because he stepped away from comedy for a handful of months—is a lazy assertion. No one deserves to perform. Fame is not a birthright.

Lauer, C.K., Rose, and Ansari are all still outrageously wealthy. These men could all have retired in November (or January, in Ansari’s case) and lived comfortably for the rest of their lives. In the time since their public accusations, which range from verbal harassment to sexual assault, they have continued to collect ongoing returns from previous projects. Their disappearances amount to a time-out, not an excommunication. Many of the women whose lives they have affected do not have the luxury of disappearing from their careers without financial consequence.

More urgently, the question of when to reintegrate these men back into the working environments they reportedly tarnished is one that extends well beyond how audiences react to their personas. The people around them, who want simply to do their jobs in peace, deserve to be protected. To allow Louis C.K. into a comedy space again without any assurance of the work he’s done to address—and change—his behavior is to court danger. That’s both a workplace-safety concern—for female comedians, and the primarily female staff who tend to work service jobs within comedy spaces—and a public-safety one. It doesn’t matter how many people laugh if some of C.K.’s audience is unsafe.

A comparable set of questions should be asked about the celebrity Christian scene since it would seem precisely the same kinds of problems have emerged even with a setting like Willow Creek.

Any meaningful push for redemption would begin with an emphasis on restitution. Addressing the gravity of misconduct is an ongoing process, not a cursory to-do list item. What if, instead of dropping into a club to test out new material, C.K. channeled his efforts—and outsized influence—into bolstering the careers of women in comedy from behind the scenes? (Two of the women whom C.K. admitted to harassing reportedly scrubbed their social accounts after receiving threats following their allegations; it will be hard to assess the extent to which this has affected their careers.) It may not be possible for any of the women hurt by his actions to return to life as it was, but that does not preclude attempts to account for wrongdoing.

Until then, and perhaps even after, genuine redemption is impossible—and breezing past that difficult work accomplishes little beyond PR. There’s nothing funny about that.

There's a couple of things that come to mind after reading an article like this.  Reading claims that Lance Armstrong (to pick a non-random example) has "paid" enough for the past and shoudn't be banned from our hearts; or a case that if we got rid of all the art made by men who were monsters we'd have no art left; or comparable claims that people shown to  have lived in ways that exploited other people should be forgiven can be trotted out for entertainers but for entertainers and, let's just add this other group alongside and mention Christian cultural pundits, to say that X deserves a shot at redemption seems to have a thick red dividing line.  

I'll put this in the most egregiously offensive way possible, Hollywood and the Christian progressive scenes can't legitimately ask how on earth the electorate voted in Trump when they have cultures that wallow in the sort of "redemption" in which a Louis C. K. gets to make a comeback within less than a full calendar year of allegations he admitted to.  Not that evangelicals or "conservative" Christians are really in a position to think themselves better.  Someone like Mark Driscoll has a new church and even a new book coming out in a bit more than a month after a history of being embroiled in a controversy in which there was evidence of citation errors/failures in his books going back to his first published work.  Would people in Hollywood say that a megachurch pastor like Mark Driscoll shouldn't get a second chance after the things he's said and done?  Well, then, let that be a measure of whether C. K. deserves another shot, too.

The depressing thing about the last ten years to me is not that people are hypocrites.  Everyone at some point in their life will find themselves failing to live by the highest ideals they want to live by and encourage others to live by. Jesus' criticism of religious leaders from his time focused on hypocrisy, yes, but a particularly damning observation was that there are leaders who lay heavy burdens on other people said leaders won't lift a finger to move themselves.  Another way to put this colloquially is to say that there can be cultures in which there are egregious, self-serving double standards in cultures.  

What the Giorgis article does not quite so directly articulate is an objection to the idea that "redemption" is what these celebrities are getting so much as brand recuperation.  Brand recuperation is what passes for redemption.  Suffering of some kind catalyzed by discoveries of misconduct is construed as having paid one's dues to the natural fact even if a person has never actually apologized for anything

But their celebrity star was tarnished ... a little .. and the brand shouldn't be tossed aside just because fallible people do stuff.  We've all been there, right?

No, we're not all celebrities and as Giorgis put it, fame is not a birthright.  

I'm just not seeing how an entertainment industry that could recuperate a Louis C. K.'s branding so quickly as it has is in any position to really feel moral indignation about 45.  I wish the guy hadn't gotten elected but i don't see him as representing an antithesis to the kind of graft and entitlement that can seem to permeate Hollywood or the arts scenes.  Offering a brand recuperation form of "redemption" to people who can be shown to have said and done awful things to people ... the kind of "redemption" a Louis C. K. can get seems to telegraph how such a "redemptive" arc could work for someone like Trump, too.  

Or as John Halle was blogging earlier this year, who are the abusers?  It can look as though they are less prevalent in the sciences than they are in media and the arts.  

was it ten years ago Frank Schaeffer wrote about how in a hundred years Obama's portrait would be placed next to that of Washington, Lincoln and FDR? We'd be telling our children Obama led our country back from the brink of an abyss?

If progressives have had reason to believe that Francis Schaeffer was a hack for the Religious Right ... could it be suggested that his son Frank, if he's even worth talking about at all, became a hack for the DNC. 


Only a brilliant man, with the spirit of a preacher and the humble heart of a kindly family doctor can lead us now. We are afraid, out of ideas, and worst of all out of hope. Obama is the cure. And we Americans have it in us to rise to the occasion. We will. We’re about to enter one of the most frightening periods of American history. Our country has rarely faced more uncertainty. This is the time for greatness. We have a great leader. We must be a great people backing him, fighting for him, sacrificing for a cause greater than ourselves.

A hundred years from now Obama’s portrait will be placed next to that of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Long before that we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren that we stepped out in faith and voted for a young black man who stood up and led our country back from the brink of an abyss. We’ll tell them about the power of love, faith and hope. We’ll tell them about the power of creativity combined with humility and intellectual brilliance. We’ll tell them that President Obama gave us the gift of regaining our faith in our country. We’ll tell them that we all stood up and pitched in and won the day. We’ll tell them that President Obama restored our standing in the world. We’ll tell them that by the time he left office our schools were on the mend, our economy booming, that we’d become a nation filled with green energy alternatives and were leading the world away from dependence on carbon-based destruction. We’ll tell them that because of President Obama’s example and leadership the integrity of the family was restored, divorce rates went down, more fathers took responsibility for their children, and abortion rates fell dramatically as women, families and children were cared for through compassionate social programs that worked. We’ll tell them about how the gap closed between the middle class and the super rich, how we won health care for all, how crime rates fell, how bad wars were brought to an honorable conclusion. We’ll tell them that when we were attacked again by al Qaeda, how reason prevailed and the response was smart, tough, measured and effective, and our civil rights were protected even in times of crisis...

We’ll tell them that we were part of the inexplicably blessed miracle that happened to our country those many years ago in 2008 when a young black man was sent by God, fate or luck to save our country. We’ll tell them that it’s good to live in America where anything is possible. Yes we will.

Did we?  Are we more respected globally?  Did we get more stability in connection to Russia or China or the Middle East?  Did we become full of green energy alternatives to fossil fuels?  Did the income gap between the middle class and the super rich close?  Do we have health care for all? 

That Trump supporters can have similar optimism that he will drain the swamp is hardly surprising.  This sort of cultic loyalty is standard issue for the kinds of people who ardently vote for X or Y.  On the whole it seems Frank Schaeffer didn't seem to make many predictions that have come to pass.  He stumped ardently on behalf of Obama's candidacy but we're living in an era where people seem to be in more panic in the age of #45 than they were before.  

It seems that Frank Schaeffer's way to not-be-like-my-dad was just to become a blue state hack rather than be a red-state hack. 

And here we are in the presidency of Trump.  If Obama saved our country what kind of saving was it if we have Trump in office now?  If it seems absurd that Trump supporters see him as some kind of savior of America it's absurd but it's no less absurd that people think the president of the united states is a messiah regardless of the formal planks in the platform. 

Sometimes it seems that children can most resemble their parents in the ways they try to differentiate themselves from their parents.  In a lot of ways the best thing that could happen to a ... dare we call him a celebrity? ... like Frank Schaeffer is to have to go through life where nothing he says or does matters.  But it's worth noting that it seems a decade ago he made a call that Obama would save our country.  It looks like that was not an especially accurate prediction to go by what's transpired in the last ten years.  

pun forgivable

i'm a mean poet
and all of my essays are
merely dogs that roll

Monday, August 27, 2018

George Walker (1922-2018): links to obituaries; blog posts by Ethan Iverson; videos of Walker's five piano sonatas; and four dissertations on Walker's music

George Walker has died.  I've written about his music in the past at this blog and it's sad news to read that he has passed.  He was a pioneering African American musician whose legacy I hope can be more robustly and fully appreciated.


Dr. Walker said that because he was black, he was often pigeonholed as loving jazz music and working in a tradition of African American spirituals. “I never listened to jazz until I went to college,” he wrote in a 1991 article for the Times. “Imagine my puzzlement when Rudolf Serkin, my piano teacher, instructed me to play an accompanimental passage in Beethoven’s Opus 101 Sonata ‘like jazz.’ ”

With mixed success, he sought to be viewed simply as a pianist-composer, without a racial label attached. When he did begin alluding to jazz standards and spirituals in his work — after attending a 1968 music symposium in Atlanta, where he said he met another black orchestral composer for the first time — he buried the references in atonal pieces that utilized complex time signatures and nontraditional chord progressions.

Walker's music has been described as being somewhat like a fusion of Stravinsky and Hindemith, but Walker said he had some issues with them.  Stravinsky, Walker once said, tended to abandon the idea of gestural development from Rite of Spring on out, while of Hindemith he said that the symphonic suite Mathis der Maler was very enjoyable but that the opera was one long interminable bore.  Even as a Hindemith fan I completely agree!  But my hunch is a journalist read somewhere that Walker believed younger composers would benefit from studying Stravinsky and Hindemith rather than move in some direction like Elliot Carter and ran with a partial recollection of whatever Walker said--just my impression.

There's a notice of Walker's passing over at Slipped Disc.

I first learned of Walker's music through the blogging of Ethan Iverson.  Since Iverson's just come back from a summer break from blogging and Walker's death is so recent there isn't

I'm sympathetic to the idea that someone works up the chops and passion to play all of George Walker's piano sonatas in a box set ... although since I already have the recordings of his five piano sonatas I can imagine Walker saying it would be superfluous to have a box set and, in any case, he didn't think any one pianist was cut out for interpreting all five of his piano sonatas in an interview he gave to Iverson years ago.  

In light of the Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer win it seems worthy of note the day after George Walker passed to mention he was the first African American musician to win the Pulitzer and he was unsparing in observing how little benefit came to him from it by way of commissions after he won it.  

piano sonata 1

piano sonata 2

piano sonata 3

piano sonata 4
1.       maestoso
2.       tranquilo

piano sonata 5

there's a dissertation on Walker's piano sontas with an emphasis on the fifth by Redi Llupa on Walker’s piano sonatas

The Piano Sonatas of George Walker: An Analysis of Performance Aspects with Emphasis on the Fifth Sonata

here is another dissertation that discusses ... 
Ryan Nelson, B.M.E., M.M.

and ... 
Intervallic Coherence in Four Piano Sonatas by George Walker: An Analysis
Everett N. Jones III 

an older dissertation from 2005 ...


I only recently discovered these so I haven't had a chance to read through them yet but as scholarly work goes finding ANY dissertations on composers who are still or recently living are simultaneously hard to find (in that you can't be sure any exist), but easy to find in the age of the internet if they actually do.

I've considered blogging more about Walker's music in the past but seeing as it seems to be unlikely to do better than what I have seen written about his work so far I'd rather link to that writing and link to performances of his music.  

RIP George Walker

Alois haba: Suite No. 2 for quarter-tone guitar

I've been listening to Haba's string quartets this year but, it turns out, he also wrote a work for quarter-tone guitar.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Atanas Ourkouzounov: Guitar Sonata No. 4 performed by Kostas Tosidis

It would be super sweet if a guitarist, or guitarists could collectively record all five of Atanas' sonatas.  Yep, five, the fifth one came out recently. 

I have thought about blogging about the Ourkouzounov guitar sonatas because I like them but his musical language is complex and while his music is powerfully expressionistic and rhythmically compelling it's a little tough to describe.  He's been one of my favorite contemporary guitarist composers for ... wow ... I'm thinking since back around 2004, maybe?  Since I've advocated on behalf of his music in my local guitar society it's been a pleasure to see that his works have been getting performed in the Puget Sound area. 

I haven't written even a quarter of the stuff I meant to write this year at this blog because a lot of offline things have happened that made writing less of a priority.  I still hope to write about the Ourkouzounov sonatas but I'll probably get to the Bogdanovic sonatas first, then the Gilardino sonatas.  there's a wealth of excellent solo guitar sonatas that I feel have gotten functionally no real attention in English-language music journalism even at much of a blogging level, let alone a more formal, institutional press level.  I want that to change.

So I guess I keep biting off more than I can chew with the kinds of music blogging I want to do.  I haven't gotten to the next prelude and fugue in the Koshkin cycle, for instance and I'm not even halfway done with that.  Then there's the no less ambitious aim to blog about the preludes and fugues of German Dhzaparidze, which are pretty fantastic and I say that as someone who's composed his own set of preludes and fugues for guitar.  Always a backlog of things to write about.

Anyway, Ourkouzounov's Sonata No. 4 is as avant garde as I've come to expect from his work, which is part of what I love about it.  :)  I may be a traditionalist about all sorts of things but if I'm a "classicist" I'm a classicist with a lot of avant garde sympathies, whether it's digging percussion music by Xenakis or guitar sonatas by Atanas Ourkouzounov. 

Iannis Xenakis: Psaphha played by Ying-Hsueh Chen

When I was in college some of the most enjoyable concerts I'd go to were percussion concerts.  I had a friend who was in the percussion ensemble and is a fine drummer.  It was in college I got exposed to music by Varese, Reich and others and it was after college I got to hear some music by Xenakis.

Being well aware by now that some people do not regard what Xenakis did as even being music I won't expect those sorts of people to enjoy a piece by Xenakis but this is a fun performance.

At about 12:00 we get to hear an incorporation of traditional Chinese percussion instruments into the Xenakis performance.