Oct. 29, 2010

Mozart with Kathleen

by Bill Holm

In honor of your death, my friend Kathleen,
I go to the piano, play half the four-hand Mozart
we worked at for so many years.
The bass is sadder now, because the tune
slid over and off the top of the keyboard
and disappeared in the winter air,
leaving this row of forty ivory slabs
interrupted by black wedges of wood
silent and still as a sculpture garden
closed now for the season. But listen—
the ghost tune still sounds deep
in the caverns of the ear, the ghost hands
still searching for the right fingering.
We'll get it right yet, Kathleen,
but only you and I will ever know or hear.

"Mozart with Kathleen" by Bill Holm from The Chain Letter of the Soul: New and Selected Poems. © Milkweed Editions, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Dominick Dunne, (books by this author) born in Hartford, Connecticut (1925). He became a writer in his 50s, after his career as a glamorous Hollywood producer abruptly ended. He said he left Hollywood "like a whipped dog," addicted to cocaine and alcohol. He drove north, got a flat tire in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, and stayed there for the next six months, renting a one-room cabin with no phone and no TV. He spent his days in solitude and silence, going for walks in the forest, feeding the birds, sobering up, and reading books.

One of the books he read in that cabin was Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, about dinner parties and fashionable society in late 19th-century London.

When he left the cabin to move to Greenwich Village, he decided that there was a lot in common between 1980s Manhattan and Anthony Trollope's London of the 1870s. He said, "I decided to write my own version of Trollope's book, about what I was witnessing on a nightly basis in the drawing rooms of New York as the possessors of the new vast fortunes overtook the Old Guard of the city." That book, People Like Us (1988), was a big best-seller. It was also adapted into a TV series.

Dunne's other books include The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1985), Fatal Charms (1987), An Inconvenient Woman (1990), A Season in Purgatory (1993), and Another City, Not My Own (1997). He published a memoir, The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper in 1999. He died just last year.

It's the birthday of The New Yorker editor David Remnick, (books by this author) born in Hackensack, New Jersey (1958). This is his first editing job. He worked as a sports reporter for The Washington Post and then as their Moscow correspondent, where his duties once included tracking down a hairdresser for his boss, Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, for her interview with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Soon he was researching and writing big stories from Moscow for the Post,and earning a reputation as rising star. One day, three of his stories from Moscow appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. Then his first book, Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (1993), won the Pulitzer Prize.

In 1992, he started as a staff writer at The New Yorker, and six years later was asked to be the editor. When a room full of staff writers at The New Yorker heard that he'd accepted the post, they burst into applause — a five-minute-long standing ovation.

There have been just four editors of The New Yorker before him: Harold Ross, William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, and Tina Brown. At the magazine, Remnick has inadvertently distinguished himself from his colorful predecessors by his trademark sanity, lack of eccentricity, and calm style. Editorial director Henry Finder said: "I think he regards the editor's job as being not crazy. The writer's prerogative is to be, perhaps, a little crazy."

One of the New Yorker staff writers, Michael Specter, said that like a psychiatrist Remnick is "good at judging the emotional temperament of different writers and what brings out the best in them." He's known for being frugal, riding the subway to the office and writing thank-you notes.

He continues to report and write for The New Yorker as well as edit it, and he's also the author of a 672-page biography of President Obama, called The Bridge (2010), which came out just this past April.

From the archives:

It's the anniversary of Black Tuesday, which happened in 1929 — the worst stock market crash in the history of the United States. The economy had been so good during the 1920s that people kept speculating in the markets, so stock prices were too high, much higher than the stocks themselves were worth. When they suddenly fell, it was a snowball effect. People had borrowed money to buy stocks, thinking that they could turn around and sell the stocks at a profit, and now they went bankrupt. On Black Tuesday, stock prices fell so fast that by the end of the day many companies couldn't sell their shares at any price.

Black Tuesday was the beginning of the Great Depression. By 1932, more than 100,000 businesses had failed and 13 million people had lost their jobs.

It's the birthday of James Boswell, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1740). He is best known as the author of Life of Johnson (1791), a biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson, which is considered by many people to be the greatest biography ever written in English.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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