Welcome back to Rhapsody in Cool, the official blog of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Archery Team. Well… not yet. But we’d be honored, ladies! Just putting it out there. And while the team mulls that over, the rest of us have serious business at hand. It’s the Rhapsody in Cool 2014 Spring Favorites and they pair perfectly with these mimosas.
Readers, when I set up this salon I had you—all six of you—at the forefront of my mind. I wanted this blog to be like a great big gift basket placed on your doorstep to make you feel treasured, and just a mite confused: She’s so thoughtful! Look at these handcrafted goodies. But what’s the occasion? Am I ill? Did my kid say something to another kid at school and start a horrible rumor about me? What the hell is going on?
You know, all the usual gift basket feelings.
Anyway, in my research, I found that blogger “Favorite” lists are a vital resource and the only way that we’re going to make sure our GDP keeps up with China and India. So I thought we’d better have one of our own. The Rhapsody Favorites will wake you right up with fresh, citrusy top-notes and a long, will-we-ever-reach-it finish. Other favorite lists are just silly round-ups of things to buy or make or fill with frosting, but I’m not interested in that and I trust you aren’t either, so I’ve made a list of my favorite public figures, including writers, comedians, politicians and a puppet.
I leave it to you, dear readers, to decide who is who. Feel free to skip around, or skip right out the door if you get bored—that’s the beauty of a blog, after all.
Here’s the list:
- Wallace Shawn
- Fran Lebowitz
- Senator Al Franken
- The Democratic Vice Presidents of the United States (all of them), especially Joe Biden
- Lady Elaine Fairchild
Now everyone pull up a lawn chair and let’s get started!
* * * *
1. Wallace Shawn
American playwright par excellence.
Just forget about The Princess Bride for a minute, will you? Wallace Shawn is so much more than the scheming Vizzini or that neurotic T-Rex in Toy Story. He’s an important American playwright! And a devastatingly good essayist! I can’t believe you didn’t know this, just like Rhapsody didn’t know either until recently! Stop living under a rock. It’s not like the world of contemporary, serious theater is some tiny pocket of cultural elitism on the Upper West Si– what did you say?
Never mind. The point is that he is cracklingly smart, and if I may pull on my Theater Critic clown suit for a moment: the potency of plays like The Designated Mourner and The Fever cannot be overstated. They’re so seductive and powerful that I can’t stop thinking about them—and the closest I’ve come to seeing his work on stage is the movie that was made of The Fever, starring Vanessa Redgrave. She delivers a monologue in that thing that is… just…. well… I am speechless trying to do it justice. Look at me! I can hardly talk. That isn’t like me at all.
It’s the speech of a rich woman with compassionate leanings, trying to say how she feels about the plight of poor and oppressed people, and how she imagines they must feel—how they hunger to have their share and grow impatient waiting for it. This monologue, not five minutes long, takes any idea you had of yourself as a feeling, caring member of the upper classes and blows that idea right up in your face.
It’s simply marvelous! It’s what Wiley Coyote must feel after the Roadrunner hands him a gift-wrapped package that immediately reduces him, in one terrific BANG! to a blackened piece of gristle. You can’t see it coming and yet it was there all along. It’s the most depressingly brilliant, vital, scary thing ever. Go read or see this play, if you can! And send me a ticket.
None of Mr. Wallace’s plays are in production now where I live, but if you live in New York I’m sure one will come along soon, or you can just look for him in obscure French restaurants, tucked in a corner being bored to death by Andre Gregory. For non-New Yorkers, here’s a list of Shawn’s published works. Go immediately to your local library or independent bookseller and ask for them. They are not in stock (I checked) but they can be ordered. Mr. Wallace and I and the American theater thank you, in advance.
And one more thing you should know, Readers. When I read my own writing, I hear the words in the voice of Wallace Shawn. I don’t know if he would appreciate that, but I do, and it helps.
2. Fran Lebowitz
The (very) unofficial voice coach of Rhapsody in Cool. And her attorney would probably beg to differ.
You know her already, I’m sure, so I won’t offer a bunch of hilarious, razor-sharp quips from Lebowitz because you can easily find them on your own. And when you’re done doing that, you should watch Martin Scorsese’s documentary about her, “Public Speaking.” It’s very funny, and yes, you do have time.
Do not tell me that you don’t have time. You know as well as I do that you are not making any use of your Netflix membership, and the whole point was to expand your mind by watching documentaries and “art” cinema. Here’s your chance. And it will make you feel better about having done very little because Lebowitz has made high art out of Not Achieving, and yet is the subject of a Martin Scorsese film. This fact must give high school guidance counselors everywhere some dyspepsia, but it makes Rhapsody feel deeply content.
You can see the whole film on YouTube, and you can also get the very short list of her books, here. She published two volumes of essays, in the late 70’s, now collected in one handy reader, and didn’t bother publishing another until 2011, thank you very much. We are in awe. I mean that sincerely: Lebowitz has made a career as a smart, funny person who leaves essays, reviews and occasional speeches in her wake as if they simply fell out of her pockets while she was fumbling for a lighter, and they are some of the funniest words in print.
She is, however, a tricky choice for a voice coach because she loses her own voice at least once a week, not from all that smoking but from shouting that too many talentless idiots believe they are writers and it makes her sick. Waiting lists are packed for her ultra low-residency MFA program, “Shut up and leave me alone.” I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn if I say, on Fran’s behalf, to every blogger that exists, that she despises us.
And if you don’t love that in a mentor, well then what do you love?
3. Senator Al Franken
An actual reason to be proud of America. And comedy writers.
We’re not going to stop long with Senator Franken because there are just too many great Youtube clips for you to watch of him addressing people of opposing—and not terribly well thought-out—views during Senate hearings, and I want to leave you time to enjoy these. The way he hands them their asses every time is just a delight.
There is also something valuable to be learned, I think, in the trajectory of Franken’s life. He began as a comedy writer and an actor and he’s become one of our most articulate and effective Democratic statesman. That range of skill and purpose is impressive.
Other political careers begin as a kind of sketch comedy, and then they just… stay there.
I guess what I really want to say is that I don’t like Republican Senators
as much very often at all, and this seemed like a good way to get that off my chest.
4. Vice President Joe Biden
Our favorite loose cannon in the whole world.
If you’ve been wondering why the Secret Service is in the salon today, eating all the canapés, it’s because the Democratic Vice Presidents, present and past, made our Favorites list this year, starting with Vice President Joe Biden.
Being made Vice President is kind of the Go To Your Room award in modern politics. It’s not that we put certain people in this office because we don’t like and respect them, of course. We do it for the same reason we invite drunk party guests to hand over their keys and spend the night: as long as they remain here, we know they won’t hurt anyone else.
And sometimes, the thing you really need in this world of political gridlock is one great big fearless blabbermouth who goes ahead and says the obvious, moral thing, the way everyone ought to if they did not have to weigh and measure every word. Like so:
There have certainly been other times when your missteps were absolutely painful, Sir, but once in a while there is a grandeur to them that is really endearing. Another fine example of this is Texas Senator Lloyd Bentson, a sometimes-jerk who almost made it to the Water Closet of the Vice Presidency on the Dukakis ticket, and gave us this little bit of brilliance:
Yes, I know that was 26 years ago, but I will never get tired of watching it. Never ever, ever, ever, ever.
Let’s watch it again.
But not all the Democratic VPs have to be described in these careful terms. One was such a highly qualified candidate for the nation’s highest office that we can only ask why he wasn’t lawfully elected President, after-all.
We find this too painful for further comment.
5. Lady Elaine Fairchild
Best for last.
We’re going way back now, Readers, to the earliest cave paintings of memory, before I even knew that there was such a thing as color television. (If you want to delve more into Rhapsody history in this era you can catch up at the Rhapsody Failure Memoirs, Part I.)
Lady Elaine, described on the wiki page of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as “an outspoken, cranky schemer,” was the first character I felt an empathic connection to. Henrietta Pussycat was a falsetto bore, and X The Owl, Daniel Tiger and Prince Friday were far too much like men I would date later in life—all good intention and no bad-boy appeal. But Lady Elaine was… well, I was about to say misunderstood but I actually I think everyone in the Neighborhood understood her quite well—they just didn’t enjoy her as much as she enjoyed being her own prickly, narcissistic self.
Who among us cannot relate?
And Lady Elaine had the best real estate in the Neighborhood by a mile: while the dull platypus family was living in a big pile of dirt, Lady Elaine had the Museum-Go-Round. It made her often angry exits from a scene so exciting when the whole thing would spin, just like her exhilarating temper! She had a bad haircut, and a large nose and her choices reflected priorities quite different than her neuter neighbors. She liked to pick fights and say funny, mean things and play tricks! She was smart, but not without a sense of justice or remorse. She was ME.
Even now I find it hard to believe that Lady Elaine was just a product of Fred Roger’s gentle imagination. I prefer to think of her as existing in her own space and time and, like Rhapsody, being the best kind of bad neighbor.
And that brings our Favorites to a close, dear Readers. I’ve left you plenty of time to check out the competing Favorites lists of 2014, but I doubt you’ll find anything as useful as these. I hope you’ll drop in on the press party we’ll be having right here in the salon for Rhapsody’s Guide to Blogging the Good Life, which is coming right up.
P.S. PHOTO CREDITS: We thank the archives at the University of Nebraska for the inlinked photo at top of women archers at UNL in 1948. In lieu of having obtained proper permission (although, as we say all the time here, inlinking is shady but not yet illegal!) we bring you a link to the UNL library and special collections. Go, Huskers! The Getty Images are, obviously, Getty Images. Thanks for leaving the shop unattended! And the portrait of Lady Elaine is inlinked from her Facebook fanpage, which is worth checking out. Thanks to all.