As I mentioned the other day, Diana Mosley's languorous lament that "people die non-stop" has become alarmingly literal for me. There has not been a single day since the New Year began when the obituary notices have not contained some old friend or casual acquaintance. Usually I let my thoughts percolate for a few days before setting them to paper, but in this case the celestial check-in desk is so backed up I feel obliged to do a group Avete atque valete:
~I talked about Roger Scruton on our Clubland Q&A, and I'm afraid my anger has yet to subside: Nine months ago the greatest conservative thinker of our time was fired by a so-called "conservative" government for, as Andrew Roberts puts it, a thought-crime he didn't commit. Those of us who have been on the receiving end of campaigns to "de-normalize" one will recognize the toll on Scruton of last year's assault in his plaintive query to Douglas Murray when it was all (supposedly) over: "So do you think I still have a career?" Thus the attempted vaporization of half-a-century's work, and not merely by the left but by Brokenshire and Mercer and Osborne and all the other tuppenny-ha'penny twerps of a pseudo-conservative party. God rot them all.
Roger was alert to small cultural shifts with profound consequences. Very few Tory trendies would give a BBC talk like this, for example, because you'll look like a square, which no Conservative has wanted to be seen as at least since Lord Hailsham grooved across the telly screen doing the Hippy-Hippy Shake. But it's necessary to have someone spell out what's going on:
Art turned its back on beauty. It became a slave to the consumer culture feeding our pleasures and addictions and wallowing in self-disgust. That it seems to me is the lesson of the ugliest forms of art and architecture. They do not show reality, but take revenge on it.
Art as we knew it required knowledge, competence, discipline, and study, all of which were effective reminders of the adult world.
~By contrast, Elizabeth Wurtzel was almost a parody of contemporary solipsistic shallowness. I met her a quarter-century ago when I was hosting a BBC show and she had a huge bestseller called Prozac Nation. This was her editor's title; Ms Wurtzel had called her memoir I Hate Myself and I Want to Die. Reading it, I hated myself and wanted to die: as one author to another, I felt that vicious pang of envy for a writer who has tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist, and made a killing.
It never happened again. Elizabeth Wurtzel was a prose stylist of some talent but with little interest in anything but herself, and the post-Prozac part of her life was a little sad and pathetic. She did, however, have her flashes of more general insight. In my farewell to the Clinton years, I quoted this particular aper├žu:
'President Clinton stood before the Palestinian National Council and spoke of two profoundly emotional experiences in less than 24 hours. One of these was his meeting with the children of jailed Palestinian Arab terrorists. The other experience was meeting Israelis, some little children whose fathers had been killed in the conflict with Palestinians.'
No such meeting ever took place. As Elizabeth Wurtzel observed in her book Bitch, Bill Clinton 'has made being full of sh*t not just a mere peccadillo, but in fact the greater part of his personality'.
~John Crosbie was one of the livelier figures in Canadian politics for half-a-century, culminating in a cosy viceregal sinecure as Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland. In 2012 we shared a stage with Conrad Black and Nigel Farage at a slightly wacky event:
The Governor General can only speak, as I believe John Buchan was first to formulate, in "governor-generalities". The Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland, John Crosbie, took this advice so seriously that, when my old boss Conrad Black booked him to appear on a panel in Toronto a year or so back with Nigel Farage and me and expected him to give us his thoughts on foreign policy and the economic outlook, Mr Crosbie, as Her Majesty's viceroy, confined himself to 20 minutes of "Newfie" jokes concluding with one that ended "Look at the two assholes on that camel." Thus did he maintain the solemn and dignified non-partisan nature of the Queen's commission.
Richard at Eye on a Crazy Planet enjoyed the turn and preserves one of the other Newfie gags here.
On the other hand, I salute Mr Crosbie for restoring a reasonable approximation of court dress to St John's throne speeches, and I commend his example to Mme Payette et al.
~In an industry of twelve-year-olds, Buck Henry somehow remained a Hollywood player until just shy of ninety. If you were the proverbial blonde so dumb she slept with the writer, you'd have made a good choice with him. His adaptation of Primary Colors confirmed Elizabeth Wurtzel's assessment of Bill Clinton somewhat more subtly. More satisfying to me were his screenplays for The Graduate and, three decades later, To Die For.
~Save for a minor role in the film of Grease, Edd Byrnes' claim to posterity rests on the most distinctive feature of an otherwise conventional detective show "77 Sunset Strip". As Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III, valet parker and aspiring private eye, Edd paid great attention to his hair and talked hep: "Ginchy" meant cool, "antsville" meant a crowded joint, "germsville" illness, "smog in the noggin" not entirely convincing memory loss... Between the hair care and the hip talk, Edd Byrnes wound up with a hit record - in which Connie Stevens did most of the work:
Hair today, gone tomorrow. But he had his one brief combing moment, which is more than most of us can say.
~Finally, a perfect way to commence a new week courtesy of the late Australian horn player Barry Tuckwell. I really ought to offer a big-time concerto, but, as I mentioned on air, I have a particular fondness for an LP he made of Jerome Kern tunes, and not all of them the ones you'd expect. On the one occasion we met he was delighted that I'd even heard of the album and we burbled away merrily about the selections. Here's Richard Rodney Bennett's arrangement for Tuckwell of a lovely Kern melody from Miss 1917. (If you'd like to hear it with the P G Wodehouse lyric, please click here.) To return to where we came in with Roger Scruton, Barry Tuckwell's art did not "turn its back on beauty" - and enhanced not just the great works but obscure trifles, too:
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with our latest Clubland Q&A, in which Mark took questions from Steyn Club members live around the planet on a range of topics from impeachment to the reconfiguration of humanity. You can listen to the full show here. Clubland Q&A is made with the support of members of The Mark Steyn Club. Kathy Shaidle's Saturday movie date went falling down with Michael Douglas, and on Sunday, seeing as how everyone else is going wild about Harry, Mark decided to as well. If you were too busy moving your Peloton out of Frogmore Cottage this weekend, we hope you'll want to catch up with one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.