The 100th tellcliff Post!

Welcome to the 100th tellcliff.com blog post! I write that somewhat sheepishly, since this is not what you’d call a major event. I don’t know who, if anyone, reads this lovingly prepared blog with any regularity; I feel a little like Crash Davis, Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham, embarrassed that he has broken the minor-league home-run record—except this ain’t even the minors. But as my family likes to say: Oh, well. I write tellcliff.com because I enjoy it. Maybe somebody else finds something to enjoy here, too. If so, here’s to you.

Looking back over my more recent posts, I realize I’ve been doing more telling than being told, which is my fault. Some of the posts don’t leave much room for response, particularly when I go on about fairly obscure subjects (the silent films of Louise Brooks or Louis Feuillade, say). So with this post, tellcliff.com returns to its roots. I will offer a few lines each on recent, wonderful discoveries in my usual areas—books, film, jazz—and then ask what YOU have discovered lately. Away we go:

FILM. Who’s That Knocking at My Door. Very, very early (1967) Martin Scorsese, starring a very, very young Harvey Keitel. In the current phase of Scorsese’s career, when he seems to have decided that more is more—witness the excess and sheer length of The Wolf of Wall Street—this black-and-white film is a surprise and a delight. Not all of its subject matter is delightful. Keitel, un- or ambiguously employed, spends a lot of time hanging out with the borderline-shady guys in his working-class Manhattan neighborhood. Meanwhile, he falls in love with a young woman (Zina Bethune) he meets on the Staten Island ferry. The subject of their first, faltering conversation, the John Wayne movie The Searchers, turns out not to be a random choice on Scorsese’s part: Keitel’s beliefs, we come to find out, bear an unfortunate resemblance to the Wayne character’s. The standout parts of Who’s That Knocking—three montages, two of them using still photos—convey more, despite their brevity, than the three hours of The Wolf of Wall Street. As I like to say, anything’s new if you haven’t seen/heard/read it before, and Who’s That Knocking,  from 47 years ago, is one of the best things I’ve let in lately.

MUSIC: Friday Night in San Francisco. Three acoustic guitars, live concert, 1981. John McLaughlin of Miles Davis jazz-fusion fame joins Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia. The music is by turns moving and exciting, and you just can’t believe human fingers can play that fast. Is this jazz? I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s fantastic.

BOOKS. If on a winter’s night a traveler. This 1979 novel by Italo Calvino sat on my shelf from 2002 until last week, when I finally picked it up. The main character, known as the Reader and referred to by the narrator as “you,” buys a novel and reads the first chapter—as do we—only to discover that the book then turns to blank pages. Obviously in possession of a faulty copy, “you” return to the bookstore for a good one, which turns out to contain a different first chapter altogether (we read that one, too). “Your” search for the real novel brings “you” in contact with a long-suffering publisher, a shady translator, an angst-ridden Irish novelist, foreign revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries, a second Reader, and the second Reader’s sometimes-disguised sister—in between many first chapters of seemingly unrelated books. It sounds annoying—actually, it is a little annoying—but it’s also brilliant, with laugh-out-loud send-ups of publishing and academia and transcendent passages about the nature of writing.

And now for the important part: what great things have YOU discovered lately?

Tell Cliff!

11 Responses to “The 100th tellcliff Post!”

  1. Mari - February 15, 2014

    Just finished a novel called Want Not…Franzen/Zadie Smith level good!

  2. Cliff - February 15, 2014

    Cool! Who’s the author?

  3. Daliah Lugo - February 16, 2014

    Cliff, reading this sparked a memory: a trip from Oberlin to Cleveland circa 1985 to see McLaughlin/Al DiMeola/Paco de Lucia perform. I went with some people I didn’t really know because they were the only ones with a car. The trip was a little harrowing due to a combination of snow (outside) and controlled substances (inside the car). The concert was awesome, though…

  4. Cliff - February 16, 2014

    Daliah, I’m jealous. Did one of the three stand out for you?

  5. Josh - February 24, 2014

    Congrats on your milestone, cliff!

    I’ve got nothing to offer on your three topics. I’ll throw this into the hopper instead:

    Wonder of Wonder — Alisa Solomon. I was expecting some intelligent, snarky riffing on schmaltzy mid-century Jewish-American culture (the book is a cultural history of Fiddler on the roof). Instead, the book surprised me with acute and thorough cultural analysis of the musical’s origins, its Broadway run, and the meaning FOTR took on when performed in various settings. Most moving for me was the chapter on the middle school performance of FOTR during the 1968 teacher strike in connection with Ocean-Hill Brownsville school district.

    Music for 18 Musicians — Grand Valley State New Music Ensemble. I like this version much better than the original Steve Reich ensemble recording. Warmer, richer, quite magical.

  6. Cliff - February 26, 2014

    Thanks, Josh! Cannonball Adderley did a mean version of Fiddler on the Roof . . .

  7. Josh - February 27, 2014

    Aaahhh, yes, yes he did. It’s mentioned briefly in the book but i have not gone back to listen to it (I have a pretty thick Adderly collection, but I’m still missing that one and the live recording with Jesse Jackson).

  8. David Ochshorn - March 5, 2014

    C.T. (‘boychick’-jewish for ‘young man’)- Let’s ‘DON’T’ go over the top with the -MOVIEGROOVY Crash Davis comparison, okay! Wax not with the reaching, humble and romantic analogies TO YOU!. He wasn’t YET a-twice- published (and very recently celebrated) author. Also, with your backward reach into the anals of music arcania, honorable as it is, you definitely need to update your shit (yes, Miles’ former fusionmen of the strings could play with significant velocity, particularly McLaughlin, who still blinds, those interested, with warp speed)…2014, baby!!!!!….youfeelme???

  9. Cliff - March 7, 2014

    Hey Santa Dave, I know it’s 2014, and you help keep me in it! But like I always say, anything’s new if you didn’t know about it before. And I plead not guilty to the humble charge: I was talking strictly about the blog, not my career as a whole …

  10. Jane Feirman - July 14, 2014

    Cliff –thank you for recommending that I read “The Boys of My Youth” by Jo Ann Beard. It was entertaining, insightful and poignant — the opposite of chick-lit both in tone and in the elegance of the writing. I am surprised by the number of novels that I forget I have read a few years after — this one I will remember!

  11. Cliff - July 18, 2014

    Jane, I’m very glad you enjoyed it! I found a number of those essays to be incredibly evocative. There are images — a couple in particular — that will live on in my mind.

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