J.S. Bach & The Lesson of Pipes

March 29, 2012

Whene’re I take my pipe and stuff it, and smoke to pass the time away, my thoughts, as I sit there and puff it, dwell on a picture, sad and grey:

It teaches me that very like am I myself unto my pipe. Like me, this pipe so fragrant burning, is made of naught but earth and clay; to earth I too shall be returning. It falls and, ere I’d think to say –

It breaks in two before my eyes; in store for me a like fate lies.

No stain the pipe’s hue yet doth darken; it remains white. Thus do I know that when to death’s call I must harken, my body too, all pale will grow, to black beneath the sod ’twill turn.

Or when the pipe is fairly glowing, behold then, instantaneously, the smoke off into thin air going, till naught but ash is left to see. Man’s frame likewise away will burn, and unto dust his body turn.

How oft it happens when one’s smoking: the stopper’s missing from the shelf, and one goes with one’s finger poking into the bowl and burns oneself.

If in the pipe such pain doth dwell, how hot must be the pains of Hell. Thus o’er my pipe, in contemplation of such things, I can constantly indulge in fruitful meditation, and so, puffing contentedly, on land, on sea, at home, abroad, I smoke my pipe and worship God.

– Johann Sebastian Bach

"Fruitful meditation."

Remember when…:

March 23, 2012

Americans spent the better (in terms of time; in terms of quality, it was the worst) part of the recently-passed primetime television season watching Courtney, doe-eyed seductress of The Bachelor fame, scheme her way into her intended’s heart (and, presumably, a lengthier reality television career which, by the yardstick of that world, is any career longer the monthly publication cycle of Us Weekly).

Immediately after the show’s finale, Courtney and her bachelor appeared on television to discuss their lives post-taping. They weren’t doing well, and she wept openly on national television, bemoaned something or other, and generally let slip what is obviously a tenuously-balanced and unstable emotional gyroscope of a life.

In 1963, President John Kennedy was shot dead, a fate (by most estimates) worse than falling out with the man you met on The Bachelor. Yet his widow endured, with a reserved and regal stoicism that prompted London’s Evening Standard correspondent Lady Jeanne Campbell to write that she “…had given the American people one thing they have always lacked: majesty.”

When the country gasped for the collective wind knocked out of it in Texas, she taught it to endure, with fortitude and dignity. She put one foot determinedly in front of the other, and Americans followed suit. For that, they loved her. America, ever the promised land of the common man, had chosen itself a princess, and took comfort in her graceful composure.

Clearly, times have changed. Today’s pretty brunettes tear up on worldwide reality television at the drop of a hat (or an ABC-subsidized engagement ring). Rather than exemplars of quiet dignity, they seem unbelievably ignorant of the disdain in which most right-thinking Americans hold them, likely owing to a myopia which prevents seeing beyond that line at which their own fame ends. If Ms. Kennedy gave America majesty, the women of reality television seem bent on regicide. 

The entire spectable is repulsive, not just for what it is, but for what it is not.

Toga! Toga! Toga!

March 8, 2012

The Boston Globe recently dropped anchor in the controversy swirling in Hanover, New Hampshire around Andrew Lohse, an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College who opined in that school’s paper that fraternal hazing runs rampant in the great north woods, and that he was its victim.

He neglects to mention that ritualized initiation of new members by fraternities is hardly news, or that he went into the process open-eyed and informed, or that he’s given his concerns voice only after he was expelled from his own fraternity because he was arrested for possessing cocaine and attempting to intimidate a police witness.

Still, Mr. Lohse has scribbled up a stormcloud, and given people like Dartmouth theater professor Peter Hackett an opportunity to, in reference to the collegiate Greek sytem, ask the Globe things like, “Why do we still have a social system that is from the 19th century?”

Though it’s unclear what exactly – or even inexactly – Professor Hackett is talking about (social clubs? fraternal organizations? collegiate hazing? the prevalence of vomit in the 19th century?), the answer is obvious: because those social systems have produced folks a lot more accomplished than Professor Hacket.

Nelson Rockefeller, for one. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, another. Dr. Seuss. Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. Intellectual Jeffrey Hart. Former IBM boss Lou Gerstner. Buck Henry, Chris Miller, Budd Schulberg and Fred “Mr.” Rogers. Chief Justice Salmon Chase, Robert Reich, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Nate Fick, Norman Maclean, Robert Frost, and Daniel Webster… not to mention Michael Corleone. Good Dartmouth frat boys, all of them.

Dramatist Hackett might do worse than read the words of Jim Yong Kim, President of Dartmouth College, right below his own in that Globe piece:

“The minute you think as an administrator that by fiat you can institute culture change, the only thing you’ll get is mocking and ridicule. And at that point it will be well deserved.’’

Nightingale – not Florence.

March 7, 2012

No less an intellectual than Sylvester Stallone once quipped “if bad decorating was a hanging offense, there’d be bodies in every tree.” Mr. Stallone, if nothing else, is a consistent paradigm of taste, and hardly one to suffer inadequate interior decoration.

In deferene to Rocky’s interests, your editorial staff here presents the story of David Nightingale Hicks, the late British interior designer known for boldy pairing antique furniture and modern art.

Mr. Hicks was born in Coggeshall, Essex, to stockbroker Herbert Hicks and Iris, his wife. He was educated at Charterhouse School and the Central College of Art, both terribly English spots, then launched his career designing cereal boxes. He decorated himself and his mother a London home on the side, and its profile in the British magazine House & Garden was sufficient to elevate his design career beyond the realm of breakfast.

He subsequently lent his talents to a home designed for Lord and Lady Londonberry, on Park Lane, alongside the architectural firm of Garnett Cloughley Blakemore, and another for the film producer Lord Barbourne, coincidentally brother-in-law to Mr. Hicks (who had married Lady Pamela Mountbatten – of those Mountbattens). A London residence for his father-in-law, the Earl Mountbatten, followed.

He went on to produce carpets for Windsor Castle and design the Prince of Wales’ first apartment at Buckingham Palace. By the end of his career, his projects also included Manhattan townhouses and the King of Saudi Arabia’s yacht.

Vociferous in his pursuit of tobacco, Mr. Hicks died from lung cancer when he was 69 years old. His body, per his precise instructios, “lay in state” on the ground-floor of his garden pavillion, before being buried in a coffin he had designed himself.