Did you see this dose of news? “Chinese authorities have hardened their line on foreign musicians, after Elton John infuriated them by dedicating a performance to outspoken artist and activist Ai Weiwei.” (For the full article, go here.) Good for Elton John. Best news I’ve heard since Bjork, the Icelandic singer. Do you remember? At the end of a concert in Shanghai, she sang a song called “Declare Independence” — and yelled “Tibet!” several times. Afterward, the Ministry of Culture declared, “We shall never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from China and will no longer welcome any artists who deliberately do this.”
Oddly enough, I cited Elton John — Sir Elton — just the other day. Cited him approvingly, too. For National Review, I did a piece on lip-synching (as I think I mentioned in a column last week). I quoted what Sir Elton said at a 2004 awards ceremony. His colleague Madonna had been nominated in a “live act” category. And Sir Elton ripped her: “Since when has lip-synching been live? Anyone who lip-synchs in public onstage, when you pay 75 pounds to see them, should be shot.”
Now, that sounds like something the Chinese Communist Party would do (although torture, over a period of weeks or months, seems to be their preferred method). But Sir Elton was not speaking literally, rest assured.
This headline caught my eye last week: “Women’s Unclean Breasts Cause Diarrhoea, Says Egypt Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.” (Story here.) Say what you will about the old regime, its prime minister was a Ph.D. in computer science from McGill. He specialized in “imaging,” or something like that. “A beautiful science,” was the way he described it to me.
Anyway . . .
Get this: “The powerful Soviet Union may still exist after all — at least on paper.” The article continues, “Former Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich says a historic 1991 document that proclaimed the death of the Soviet Union is missing from the archives.”
Shushkevich — the name rang a loud and glorious bell. I once had the opportunity to ask Lech Walesa, “Who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize who did not get it?” He gave me one name: “Shushkevich.” This man, in multiple ways, is a hero of freedom and democracy.
I have been terribly name-droppy in this Impromptus, haven’t I? I’ll cut it out, at least for a second or two.
A headline: “Grammy Awards feature plenty of skin.” (Article here.) Well, no kidding: The porn culture and the strip culture have gone totally mainstream. Do you watch Super Bowl halftime shows? Do you watch TV at all? It’s the way America likes it. As Americans are responsible for their politics, they are responsible for their culture — and the two are hard to separate.
James DePreist represented something different, something better. DePreist, an American conductor, died last Friday. He overcame significant odds. For one thing, he was black (the nephew of Marian Anderson, in fact). For another, he got polio, when he was in his twenties — and he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. DePreist was a magnificent spirit. (For an obit by my friend Allan Kozinn, the brilliant music critic, go here.)
One of the things I most appreciated about him was his good sense on race. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra approached him about its music-director job. He realized that they wanted him for his race — and he said, Nothing doing. Specifically, he said, “It is impossible for me to go to Detroit, because of the atmosphere. People mean well, but you fight for years to make race irrelevant, and now they are making race an issue.”