Jane Henson, who collaborated with her husband, Jim Henson, created Mushmellon in 1955. The puppet, whose eyes were the precursor to those of Oscar the Grouch, now lives in the Smithsonian.
Jane Henson died this year. More from The New York Times Magazine's ”The Lives They Lived” issue here.
"The Lovers That Never Were" by Paul McCartney & Elvis Costello (1987)
I can’t get over how good this song is—and how good Macca and Declan sound singing two-part harmony with only an acoustic guitar and a piano as accompaniment. The official arrangement pales in comparison.
More on the McCartney-Costello collaboration here. If anyone knows where to download the rest of their late 1980s demos, drop me a line.
George Harrison and Bob Dylan playing tennis on the Isle of Wight in 1969. Good morning.
R.I.P. Saul Leiter (1923-2013)
Color is in the mainstream of photographic practice now. It is essential to the inspired street work of Gueorgui Pinkhassov and Joel Meyerowitz, the large-format portraits of Rineke Dijkstra, the architectural views of Candida Höfer, the personal journalism of Nan Goldin, and the stately landscapes of Thomas Struth. But for a long time, it was considered superficial and suspect. Henri Cartier-Bresson was firmly against it on the grounds that it interfered with formal priorities. John Szarkowski, the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, dismissed most color photography before he began championing William Eggleston’s in the nineteen-seventies. This was the milieu—which, if not hostile, was not exactly encouraging—out of which Saul Leiter created a series of breathtaking, almost miraculous, photographs. He shot Kodachrome slides, and many of them were not printed until decades after they were exposed.
One of the most effective gestures in Leiter’s work is to have great fields of undifferentiated dark or light, an overhanging canopy, say, or a snow drift, interrupted by gashes of color. He returned again and again to a small constellation of subjects: mirrors and glass, shadows and silhouettes, reflection, blur, fog, rain, snow, doors, buses, cars, fedoras. He was a virtuoso of shallow depth of field: certain sections of some of the photographs look as if they have been applied with a quick brush. It will come as no surprise to a viewer of his work that Leiter was also a painter, that his heroes were Degas, Vuillard, and Bonnard, and that he knew the work of Rothko and de Kooning well. There are points of contact between his work and that of the photographers like Louis Faurer and Robert Frank, the so-called New York School; but Leiter was an original. He loved beauty. To make a living, he photographed fashion spreads for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and the levity of his commercial ventures seeped into his personal work.
But the overriding emotion in his work is a stillness, tenderness, and grace that is at odds with the mad rush of New York street life.
In July of 1954, [Nelson] sent Kirkpatrick an enthusiastic note: “We have completed some preliminary sketches and are beginning to get rather steamed up about some of the possibilities.” The letter describes elements of the plan, including “a private 2-story apartment which can be completely closed off from the rest of the house.” This he describes in greater detail: “To get some fun into the house we have set up the living room end as a 2-story cage using a lot of glass, with your bedroom sitting on a kind of bridge above part of it. Obviously, there is no sound barrier between living room and master bedroom, but it was assumed that if the bedroom was being used, the living room would be out of action. The feeling of open space one would get this way could be kind of wonderful.”
Indeed. The good news—and this isn’t always the case—is that the Kirkpatrick House is still wonderful, nearly 60 years later:
A long-time collector of vintage Herman Miller furniture, the present-day owner, Dave Corner, found the home nine years ago, after coming to see the owner about possibly buying a set of rosewood dressers in the master bedroom. “I asked him point blank to call me first if he was ever considering selling the house,” Corner recalls. “A year later I got the call.” Now after almost a decade of dedicated research and work, Corner has fully restored the Kirkpatrick House, even down to Nelson’s original color scheme.
There’s a lovely article about the Kirkpatrick House over at the Herman Miller blog. Click through to read the whole thing.
In one of Kirkpatrick’s early letters to Nelson a comment stands out for its clarity: “We are not so much concerned about the appearance of the outside,” he writes, “as we are about the livability of the inside.” In many ways, “livability” is one of the words that best sums up Nelson’s work. To Nelson, design wasn’t some kind of theoretical, intellectual exercise—it was a way of seeing solutions to problems people faced. It was a service. Throughout his career, Nelson advocated solutions—from seating to city plans—that would improve the way people lived. He constantly searched for a better way to do things—and spared no contempt for the thoughtlessness and failures he identified in the world around him. Ultimately, Nelson may be better remembered for quirky clocks than practicing architecture, but on a wooded lot in Kalamazoo, powerful evidence of his vision lives on.
Van Dyke Parks philosophizes about the Beatles and Dennis Wilson in the parking lot of Tower Records (1976)
R.M. Schindler’s Van Dekker House in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Built in 1940, this strange, beautiful residence deteriorated along with the health of its previous owner, noir screenwriter and novelist A.I. Bezzerides, who died at the age of 98 in 2007.
Earlier this year, I dropped in and discovered something distressing: the restoration that started in 2009 had stalled out.
Now the Van Dekker House is for sale again. It’s probably my favorite Schindler—modernism at its most soulful.
If anybody has $799,00 to buy her and another, oh, $500,000+ to fix her up, let’s talk.
"Like Dreamers Do," The Beatles (1962)
This might be the most important song the Beatles ever recorded.
Malcolm Gladwell once theorized that “before [the Beatles] went to Hamburg they were just not a good band. It was as a result of being forced to play in this extraordinary environment that they mastered what it took to be the greatest rock band of all time.” In short, that practice—thousands of hours of live performance—made perfect.
In a new essay for The Daily Beast, I explain why Gladwell is wrong—and my account hinges, in part, on “Like Dreamers Do.”
The Beatles’ “excellence at performing” is not “what it took” for them to become the greatest rock band of all time. In fact, the Beatles were stuck in a rut even after they returned from Hamburg in 1961—and their live expertise was not enough to get them out of it. …
If the Beatles hadn’t started to play “Like Dreamers Do” at the end of 1961, they never would have recorded it at their Decca audition. As a result, they never would have met George Martin or had the perfect career they wound up having. None of that, meanwhile, would have happened if McCartney hadn’t written the song in the first place, and McCartney probably wouldn’t have written it if he and Lennon hadn’t gotten into the habit of going “eyeball to eyeball” in the front parlor of 20 Forthlin Road.
The thing that got John and Paul writing songs together at the ages of 17 and 15, respectively, is, I think, the same thing that ultimately made the Beatles the Beatles. It’s there in Lennon’s remark about Buddy Holly’s three-chord compositions—“why not write your own?” It’s there in the capital letters—ANOTHER LENNON-MCCARTNEY ORIGINAL—that McCartney scrawled above each set of new lyrics. “Teenagers all over Britain liked Buddy Holly and rock and roll, but of that large number only a fraction picked up a guitar and tried playing it, and fewer still—in fact hardly anyone—used it as the inspiration to write songs themselves,” Lewisohn writes. “John and Paul didn’t know anyone else who did, no one from school or college, no relative or friend.”
The Beatles’ secret ingredient was arrogance. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. Arrogance—a kind of foolish, adolescent self-belief; an ignorant, intuitive certainty that your way is the right way—is the root of all great art. Without it, talent and timing aren’t enough. We all have a dash of it when we’re young. In middle school we write Whitmanesque poems; in high school we start a Beatlesque band. But then we weigh the odds and consider our options, and reality sets in. Sometime around 18 we begin to assess ourselves more accurately—to find our proper rank in humanity’s big talent show. Our ambition stops outstripping our ability. And then we stall out and settle down.
The Beatles never did that.
For more on the artistic value of arrogance—and how “Like Dreamers Do” changed the Beatles’ lives—click here.
Today in Beautiful Things I Will Never Be Able to Afford: An extensive collection of custom George Nakashima furniture is coming to LAMA in February:
In 1962, Edmund J. Bennett, self-taught residential builder and community planner, opened the Carderock Springs subdivision in Bethesda, Maryland, a housing development that promised community and modern living. Ahead of its time, the Carderock Springs subdivision featured homes with 4- and 5-bedroom houses, which were “modeled to cause as little alteration to the natural landscape as possible.”
In addition to his modern housing designs, Bennett was a savvy marketer. In September 1963, to publicize a newly developed section in the subdivision, Bennett with the help of architect-designer Doris Harris, commissioned George Nakashima to completely furnish the Valleyview model home to attract the attention of contemporary buyers.
Bennett’s marketing strategy paid off. On November 16, 1963, The Washington Post published an article about George Nakashima, his designs, and the Carderock Springs subdivision, bringing over 1,000 people to the model home that week alone.
The collection includes a Conoid bench, a hanging wall case, a Slab II coffee table, a set of 12 Conoid chairs, hanging wall mirrors, a Frenchman’s Cove II dining table and extension, a Q Bench, a double sliding door cabinet, table lamps, a Conoid storage headboard, two daybeds, a “New” lounge rocking chair, and many other expertly crafted designs.