Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The New Supervisors

So, as THE WIFE SAYS, the position of supervising the scholar has now been filled.

We're happy to have Lady Tyburn and Tarkus onboard Team Sacnoth.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Read-Aloud texts

So, over the past year or so my voice has gotten increasingly soft and whispy. Which is something of a problem, since part of what I do is to occasionally present papers on Tolkien at places like Kalamazoo* and symposiums, and I need to be able to speak loudly enough to be heard. I'm also occasionally asked to appear on podcasts. Not to mention that it's a great inconvenience for the barista at friendly neighborhood StarBucks not to be able to hear what I'm ordering (though here the fact that it's almost always exactly the same thing helps).

The solution? Speech therapy. This is mostly a home-exercise course in that the speech therapist takes readings, assigns specific exercises, and suggests equipment that might help (ranging from a decibel meter to I-pad apps), and has me check back in on a regular basis to see what progress I'm making.  At first this involved me counting (typically up to a hundred and back down again), saying the names of days of the week** and months of the year, saying the alphabet (sometimes backwards for the sake of variety, which is harder than you'd think), and the like, all while trying to speak at a specific decibel level. My current exercise involves reading aloud ten minutes once a day, with a borrowed I-pad (Janice's) to measure my average decibel level.

At first I tried something from Tolkien, naturally: a section from the BOOK OF LOST TALES' version of the creation of the Sun and the Moon. That turned out to be a bad choice: too many unfamiliar names, syntax a little baroque for my purposes, and in general finding the content distracting me from the exercise.

Next I tried Henry James, an author I've feel I shd read more of, choosing a book of his I've never read. Luckily I have an old copy of THE AMBASSADORS*** that I set aside as a cat-walking book several years ago and never got back to after a few pages. My renewed effort was no more successful. I found that in this book James indulges in long sentences and long paragraphs with no subordination at all.****

So, casting about for something that was actually written to be read aloud, I settled on THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK. Next came Edgar Poe: a sequence of five or six of his best poems, which improves with repetition. For the past week or so I've been working my way through another Edgar's work: Edgar Lee Masters' SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY.***** I must have read a poem or two from this back in school but came away thinking of him as a second-tier Edward Arlington Robinson with Spoon River as another Tilbury Town. I was wrong about that: it's much more like the graveyard scene in OUR TOWN, except that here each poem is what shd be on his or her tombstone. Some are self-deceptive, some perceptive, some poignant, some deeply ironic, with many offering different perspectives on the same event. And the poems are conversational in tone and shortish, which makes them well-suited to my purpose -- though at this point, approaching the book's mid-point, I'd continue reading it aloud even if it were no longer part of the therapy.

I'm now starting to think ahead and am considering other poetry collections I have that are in slim easy to handle volumes and might make good read-alouds: Lovecraft's Mythos sonnet sequenceTHE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH, Blake's SONGS OF EXPERIENCE , TSE's OLD POSSUM, and a collection of Browning's best known dramatic dialogues. We'll see what works out and what for whatever reason just doesn't.

--John R. current reading: new Edward Gorey biography (just finished: disappointing), short biography of Herbert Hoover (restarting)
current viewing: the third Peter Capaldi season of DOCTOR WHO. so far so good (two episodes in)

*my talk this May is on the role of Tolkien's invented cosmology in his failure to finish THE SILMARILLION, plus taking part in a presentation about Marquette's recataloguing of their LotR Mss currently in the works.
**shades of "The Diary of Horace Wimp", except I don't skip over a day
***with cover art by Edward Gorey, as it turns out --in fact, reading the description of it in the Gorey biography and realizing I own a copy is one of the reasons I thought of giving the James a try in this context
****I love to write long sentences myself, but I'm careful to mark the syntax by identifying all the subordinate elements (sometimes multiple ones in the same sentence, all differently marked) as such.
*****this was another cat-walking book (Hastur, 7/12/14), where what little I read made me decide I shd someday come back and read more, though it's taken me a while.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

John D. Rateliff Sr

January 17th, 1969.
Fifty years ago today.

Miss you Papaw

--JDR Jr.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Tolkien in New York

So, the TOLKIEN: MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH exhibit that I saw in the Bodleian earlier this year is now opening at the Morgan Library in New York City and, rather to my surprise, we're able to go. So look for us in New York City for what is our first and v. probably only visit to the big city.

It's my understanding that this is a somewhat different selection of manuscripts than what was on display in Oxford, and it'll be interesting to compare the two presentations. Plus, of course, it'll be great to see so many of Tolkien's original pages of manuscript, maps, artwork, and memorabilia. As with the Oxford staging of the papers there are a series of events associated with the Morgan exhibit, most notably a presentation on the 31st by Wayne and Christina.

So, many good things. And it'll be great to have another chance to see again things I saw last time, this time with a new focus.

And of course if you see me go by, stop and say hello.

Here's the link

--John R.
current reading: Edward Gorey biography
current viewing: the new WATERSHIP DOWN (just finished)

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Name of Gandalf's Staff

So, last week I got asked a Tolkien question I don't know the answer to.  My physical therapist, while showing me an exercise with two walking sticks, one in each hand, described the motion intended as "you know, like Gandalf with his staffs".  Turns out he had no idea I'm a Tolkien scholar who constantly refers things back to Tolkien.*  Don't know whether he'd gotten the mental image from the book or movie, but in chatting with him briefly before getting back to our exercises he asked me, as a Tolkien expert, what the name of Gandalf's staff was. After all, Gandalf's sword has a name, and his horse: why not his staff?  All I cd say is that I'd never seen it. I may have just overlooked it, but I suspect this is one of those things where, had Tolkien been asked, he cd have produced a name on the spot (probably after a dozen or so trials as he felt his way to it. But in this one case, I think, no one ever asked.  Too bad.

By the way, he was definite about the plural, one in each hand, that being the point he wanted to make re. the movements he wanted me to reproduce. I wondered if somehow he'd seen or heard of the Boorman script, in which Strider carries around The Sword That Was Broken half in each hand (in one hand by the hilt and the other by wrapping cloths around the broken end). But that seems unlikely. Mulling it over, I think his mental image came from various dramatic shots in the film(s) whether Gandalf is using his staff in one hand and his sword (Glamdring) in the other.

Still, interesting to see just how widely Tolkien has spread in our culture. These are good times to be a Tolkien fan.

--John R.
current reading: a shortish biography of Herbert Hoover

*my wife once bet herself how long it'd take one day before I mentioned Tolkien. The answer was about an hour and a half


Sunday, January 13, 2019

More Odd Lyrics (Similes)

So, sometimes a song makes a comparison that seems dubious.

Case in point: in "Searchin" by The Coasters, a song remembered nowadays mainly by the fact that The Beatles recorded it w. great gusto as part of the Decca Tapes (the 1962 audition where the record company executive told their manager that 'groups with guitars are on their way out'), it includes the rather odd line

Gonna walk right down the street
like a Bulldog Drummond

Even stranger is the line in "Soft-Hearted Hana" by George Harrison, the flip side of his hit single "Blow Away" (circa 1979)

There was someone there beside me
Swimming like Richard the Third

Now there's a mental image I have trouble getting my mind around.

--John R.

--current viewing: THE ROOSEVELTS, by Ken Burns
--current reading: HERBERT HOOVER, by Wm. E. Leuchtenburg (just starting)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Meeting the New Cats

So, there's no way we can replace Hastur. But we can see what we can do about that cat-shaped hole that's opened up in our lives. Originally we were thinking of waiting a few weeks, the first part of which was brightened by Persephone, our friend's cat who came to stay with us for about two weeks while her owner was away.

But no sooner was she gone than the place felt so empty without a cat in it that we started looking for a new cat (or, better yet, a bonded pair to keep each other company). We found a great little cat at a shelter over in Burien, but he was already spoken for. A visit to the local shelter here in Kent let us meet some v. nice cats, but none that seemed to be what we're looking for. So today we drove up to the main Purrfect Pals shelter up in Arlington, where they were having a kitten adoption event. Again we saw some cute cats but none that made us think this is the one. Before we left though the adoption counsellor mentioned that they had another bonded pair in a different building we cd see if we wanted, though they cdn't be adopted until one's injured toe had healed.

Within seconds of Janice's picking up the little girl cat, she had started purring loudly. Her brother took a little more persuasion, but expressed a perfect willingness to be held and petted. The upshot of which is that they'll be coming home with us as soon as the shelter's vet gives it the all clear that the toe is healing nicely, which cd come as soon as Thursday.

Their names, we're told, were Thumper and Stumper, but we'll be calling them TYBURN (or LADY TYBURN) and TARKUS.

--John R.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Today Could Have Gone Better

So, I got to work in my favorite Barnes & Noble/Starbucks today for the first time in a while. I was making some progress on my email and even blog posts when the manager asked if I had a silver Honda.

why yes, yes I do.

because someone just ran into it out in the parking lot and then took off.

So, the day cd have gone better.

--John R.
currently watching and enjoying  the new WATERSHIP DOWN
current reading: still making my way through the (somewhat annoying) Edward Gorey biography.

P.S. Who knew the folks at that Starbucks knew enough of my comings and goings to know which car is mine?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Captain

So, I was sorry to hear the news about the death of Daryl Dragon, better known as 'The Captain' in The Captain & Tennille. Dragon was one of my favorite musicians back in high school and college for whose work I retain a great fondness: I had all the Captain & Tennille albums and listened to them over and over.*

What I liked best about Dragon, who co-wrote many of the songs Tennille sang and played most of the instruments on all their albums, was the texture of the music. By chance I just finished re-listening to an ELECTRIC LIGHTS ORCHESTRA greatest-hits-and-then-some collection, and was struck by how tinny many of the songs sound now: an attempt at the Wall of Sound that now sounds as if you're hearing it from a little transistor radio. I don't get that feeling at all in the songs Dragon worked up: the sound ambiance on them still works.**

In private life Dragon was an extreme introvert, the quiet one, Teller to Tennille's Penn, who almost always wore dark glasses indoors and out since his eyes didn't dilate properly. Son of a famous conductor (whose arrangement of "America the Beautiful" we played in high school band), he was ten years into his training to become a classical pianist while still in his teens when he heard a Fats Domino record and decided then and there that was what he wanted to do with his life. He and his two brothers formed a Beach Boys-type group (called The Dragons) and released their first album, just in time to be swamped by the British Invasion.*** Dragon himself became a member of the Beach Boys' touring band, taking over the keyboard parts that had formerly been played by Brian Wilson. Though never an official Beach Boy he stayed with the band for seven years and left on good terms with them, his closest friends within the group having been Brian Johnston**** and Dennis Wilson.

If you've never heard anything of C&T's music aside from "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Muskrat Love", or to help erase the memory of the latter, here's a playlist I put together on a cassette years ago that might be a good starting place:

"I'm On My Way" [from DREAM]
"Lonely Nights" [SONG OF JOY)
"Shop Around" [SONG OF JOY]
"Happy Together" [a good cover version of the old Turtles song from MAKE YOUR MOVE]
"Let Mama Know" [the Captain plays banjo!, from COME IN FROM THE RAIN]
"D Keyboard Blues" [a rare Dragon instrumental from DREAM which shows he shd have done more]
"Honey Come Love Me" and "Cuddle Up" [LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER; examples of the extreme simplicity of the love songs that make up much of their debut album. If I were doing this list over I'd probably opt for Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls" instead, also from that first album]
"Do That To Me One More Time" [MAKE YOUR MOVE]
"The Way That I Want to Touch You" [LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER]
"Good Enough" [DREAM]
"Never Make Your Move Too Soon" [MAKE YOUR MOVE]

Looking over that list now, some twenty years later, I shd have included more from COME IN FROM THE RAIN, replacing "Let Mama Know" with "Can't Stop Dancing, "Easy Evil", and esp. the title track. Also worth adding are "You Never Done It Like That and "Back to the Island", both from DREAM and the latter an appropriate swan song to their career. The only song from KEEPING OUR LOVE WARM I might include wd be their cover of the old Motown standard "Until You Come Back to Me".

It's too bad that most people may wind up remembering him from the C&T tv variety show, which he hated for its emphasis on comedy over music, knowing full well how stupid the 'hat jokes' made him appear. His final years were rather sad: he developed a palsy, a tremor in his hands (not Parkinson's but a related tremor), that prevented him from playing his beloved keyboards for the last decade or so. More recently failed joint replacements of both knees left him bedfast. Tennille left him when she cdn't face the stress of being his caregiver (though she apparently returned to resume her role as his caregiver in his final terminal illness). A sad end for someone who made so much happy music.

--John R.
current listening: Captain & Tennille, esp. MORE THAN DANCING, the final C&T album (released after they'd lost their major-recording studio contract); picked this up years ago but only cursorily listened to at the time.
current reading: a biography of Edward Gorey
current viewing: BBC/Netflix WATERSHIP DOWN (just started)

*to be more accurate, I listened to the first five of them over and over, the sixth some, and the seventh (acquired long afterwards as a kind of afterthought) hardly at all.

**though the song selection was sometimes iffy. There's no explaining away the blunder of having the chance to play at the White House for President Ford and the Queen of England, and choosing the novelty song "Muskrat Love" as their contribution.

***one of his brothers, I forget which one, much later formed a half of the duo Surf Punks, whose most memorable song was "The Beach Is Nothing But the Bird's Bathroom -- Watch Out!"

****Captain & Tennille were the first to record another Bruce Johnson tune, "I Write the Songs", the cover version of which by Barry Manilow was a big hit.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Happy Tolkien Day

So, today is Tolkien's birthday (his 127th, to be precise). A good time to dip back into his works and refresh my memory of just why I like his stuff so very much and still after so many years.

The piece that came to my mind this time is his poem "The Dragon's Visit", particularly the original ending:

. . . the moon shone through his green wings
       the night air beating
[As] he flew back over the dappled sea
       to a green dragons' meeting.

We tend to forget just how evocative Tolkien's prose (and, rarely, his verse); it's good to remind ourselves every once in a while.

--John R.

current reading: THE OTHER WIND by Le Guin (a reread, just finished) and BORN TO BE POSTHUMOUS, a biography of Edward Gorey (disappointing).
Recent viewing: YELLOW SUBMARININE (just finished; as weird as ever), THE ROOSEVELTS by Ken Burns, MARY POPPINS RETURNS.

UPDATE: corrected the date

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hastur is Gone

It's a sad way to start a new year, but my little cat Hastur passed away the morning of the thirtieth. She'd been fading away for several weeks and the good folks at McMonigle's cd do nothing to help her, so we brought her home and spent as much time as we cd with her in her final days, keeping her warm, dry, hydrated, and much petted as she slowly slipped away from us.

I'll probably write more about her later, but for now thought I'd just share a few pictures of Hastur the Master of Disaster over the years (sixteen in all)


Hastur put in long hours working at my desk.

The tragedy of the empty food dish.

"The View from Here"

Hastur in old age at her most Salvadore Dali -esque