Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sunday, 29 January 2017

John Hurt RIP

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Sir John Hurt obituary
British actor became an overnight sensation after playing Quentin Crisp in the 1975 television film The Naked Civil Servant

Michael Coveney
The Guardian
Saturday 28 January 2017

Few British actors of recent years have been held in as much affection as Sir John Hurt, who has died aged 77. That affection is not just because of his unruly lifestyle – he was a hell-raising chum of Oliver Reed, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, and was married four times – or even his string of performances as damaged, frail or vulnerable characters, though that was certainly a factor. There was something about his innocence, open-heartedness and his beautiful speaking voice that made him instantly attractive.

As he aged, his face developed more creases and folds than the old map of the Indies, inviting comparisons with the famous “lived-in” faces of WH Auden and Samuel Beckett, in whose reminiscent Krapp’s Last Tape he gave a definitive solo performance towards the end of his career. One critic said he could pack a whole emotional universe into the twitch of an eyebrow, a sardonic slackening of the mouth. Hurt himself said: “What I am now, the man, the actor, is a blend of all that has happened.”

For theatregoers of my generation, his pulverising, hysterically funny performance as Malcolm Scrawdyke, leader of the Party of Dynamic Erection at a Yorkshire art college, in David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, was a totemic performance of the mid-1960s; another was David Warner’s Hamlet, and both actors appeared in the 1974 film version of Little Malcolm. The play lasted only two weeks at the Garrick Theatre (I saw the final Saturday matinée), but Hurt’s performance was already a minor cult, and one collected by the Beatles and Laurence Olivier.

He became an overnight sensation with the public at large as Quentin Crisp – the self-confessed “stately homo of England” – in the 1975 television film The Naked Civil Servant, directed by Jack Gold, playing the outrageous, original and defiant aesthete whom Hurt had first encountered as a nude model in his painting classes at St Martin’s School of Art, before he trained as an actor.

Crisp called Hurt “my representative here on Earth”, ironically claiming a divinity at odds with his low-life louche-ness and poverty. But Hurt, a radiant vision of ginger quiffs and curls, with a voice kippered in gin and as studiously inflected as a deadpan mix of Noël Coward, Coral Browne and Julian Clary, in a way propelled Crisp to the stars, and certainly to his transatlantic fame, a journey summarised when Hurt recapped Crisp’s life in An Englishman in New York (2009), 10 years after his death.

Hurt said some people had advised him that playing Crisp would end his career. Instead, it made everything possible. Within five years he had appeared in four of the most extraordinary films of the late 1970s: Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), the brilliantly acted sci-fi horror movie in which Hurt – from whose stomach the creature exploded – was the first victim; Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, for which he won his first Bafta award as a drug-addicted convict in a Turkish torture prison; Michael Cimino’s controversial western Heaven’s Gate (1980), now a cult classic in its fully restored format; and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980), with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft.

In the latter, as John Merrick, the deformed circus attraction who becomes a celebrity in Victorian society and medicine, Hurt won a second Bafta award and Lynch’s opinion that he was “the greatest actor in the world”. He infused a hideous outer appearance – there were 27 moving pieces in his face mask; he spent nine hours a day in make-up – with a deeply moving, humane quality. He followed up with a small role – Jesus – in Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part 1 (1981), the movie where the waiter at the Last Supper says, “Are you all together, or is it separate cheques?”

Hurt was an actor freed of all convention in his choice of roles, and he lived his life accordingly. Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, he was the youngest of three children of a Church of England vicar and mathematician, the Reverend Arnould Herbert Hurt, and his wife, Phyllis (née Massey), an engineer with an enthusiasm for amateur dramatics.

After a miserable schooling at St Michael’s in Sevenoaks, Kent (where he said he was sexually abused), and the Lincoln grammar school (where he played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest), he rebelled as an art student, first at the Grimsby art school where, in 1959, he won a scholarship to St Martin’s, before training at Rada for two years in 1960.

He made a stage debut that same year with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Arts, playing a semi-psychotic teenage thug in Fred Watson’s Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger and then joined the cast of Arnold Wesker’s national service play, Chips With Everything, at the Vaudeville. Still at the Arts, he was Len in Harold Pinter’s The Dwarfs (1963) before playing the title role in John Wilson’s Hamp (1964) at the Edinburgh Festival, where critic Caryl Brahms noted his unusual ability and “blessed quality of simplicity”.

This was a more relaxed, free-spirited time in the theatre. Hurt recalled rehearsing with Pinter when silver salvers stacked with gins and tonics, ice and lemon, would arrive at 11.30 each morning as part of the stage management routine. On receiving a rude notice from the distinguished Daily Mail critic Peter Lewis, he wrote, “Dear Mr Lewis, Whooooops! Yours sincerely, John Hurt” and received the reply, “Dear Mr Hurt, thank you for short but tedious letter. Yours sincerely, Peter Lewis.”

After Little Malcolm, he played leading roles with the RSC at the Aldwych – notably in David Mercer’s Belcher’s Luck (1966) and as the madcap dadaist Tristan Tzara in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1974) – as well as Octavius in Shaw’s Man and Superman in Dublin in 1969 and an important 1972 revival of Pinter’s The Caretaker at the Mermaid. But his stage work over the next 10 years was virtually non-existent as he followed The Naked Civil Servant with another pyrotechnical television performance as Caligula in I, Claudius; Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the Fool to Olivier’s King Lear in Michael Elliott’s 1983 television film.

His first big movie had been Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons (1966) with Paul Scofield (Hurt played Richard Rich) but his first big screen performance was an unforgettable Timothy Evans, the innocent framed victim in Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place (1970), with Richard Attenborough as the sinister landlord and killer John Christie. He claimed to have made 150 movies and persisted in playing those he called “the unloved … people like us, the inside-out people, who live their lives as an experiment, not as a formula”. Even his Ben Gunn-like professor in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) fitted into this category, though not as resoundingly, perhaps, as his quivering Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s terrific Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984); or as a prissy weakling, Stephen Ward, in Michael Caton-Jones’s Scandal (1989) about the Profumo affair; or again as the lonely writer Giles De’Ath in Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island.

His later, sporadic theatre performances included a wonderful Trigorin in Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in 1985 (with Natasha Richardson as Nina); Turgenev’s incandescent idler Rakitin in a 1994 West End production by Bill Bryden of A Month in the Country, playing a superb duet with Helen Mirren’s Natalya Petrovna; and another memorable match with Penelope Wilton in Brian Friel’s exquisite 70-minute doodle Afterplay (2002), in which two lonely Chekhov characters – Andrei from Three Sisters, Sonya from Uncle Vanya – find mutual consolation in a Moscow café in the 1920s. The play originated, like his Krapp, at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.

His last screen work included, in the Harry Potter franchise, the first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), and last two, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two (2010, 2011), as the kindly wand-maker Mr Ollivander; Roland Joffé’s 1960s remake of Brighton Rock (2010); and the 50th anniversary television edition of Dr Who (2013), playing a forgotten incarnation of the title character.

Because of his distinctive, virtuosic vocal attributes – was that what a brandy-injected fruitcake sounds like, or peanut butter spread thickly with a serrated knife? – he was always in demand for voiceover gigs in animated movies: the heroic rabbit leader, Hazel, in Watership Down (1978), Aragorn/Strider in Lord of the Rings (1978) and the Narrator in Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2004). In 2015 he took the Peter O’Toole stage role in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell for BBC Radio 4. He had foresworn alcohol for a few years – not for health reasons, he said, but because he was bored with it.

Hurt’s sister was a teacher in Australia, his brother a convert to Roman Catholicism and a monk and writer. After his first short marriage to the actor Annette Robinson (1960, divorced 1962) he lived for 15 years in London with the French model Marie-Lise Volpeliere Pierrot. She was killed in a riding accident in 1983. In 1984 he married, secondly, a Texan, Donna Peacock (divorced in 1990), living with her for a time in Nairobi until the relationship came under strain from his drinking and her dalliance with a gardener. With his third wife, Jo Dalton (married in 1990, divorced 1995), he had two sons, Nicolas and Alexander (“Sasha”), who survive him, as does his fourth wife, the actor and producer Anwen Rees-Myers, whom he married in 2005 and with whom he lived in Cromer, Norfolk. Hurt was made CBE in 2004, given a Bafta lifetime achievement award in 2012 and knighted in the New Year’s honours list of 2015.

John Vincent Hurt, actor, born 22 January 1940, died 27 January 2017

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Dead Poets Society #24

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A Poison Tree by William Blake



Friday, 27 January 2017

Wednesday night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
Black Is Black
Tell Me

Da Elderly: -
Into The Light
Only The Moonlight
Albuquerque


The Elderly Brothers: -
When Will I Be Loved
Don't Throw Your Love Away
The Singer Not The Song
Sha La La La Lee
Devoted To You
Happy Together
Kathy's Clown
I Saw Her Standing There


A quiet one, on what was a bitterly cold night. Apart from very conspicuous consumption of Scotch, the only nod to Burns' Night was a lovely rendition of Wild Mountain Thyme by regular Deb. The dearth of players meant 3 songs apiece instead of the usual 2 and an extended Elderly Brothers set. An hour or so spent earlier trawling through songs not played for some time yielded several old favourites including a Rolling Stones B-side and songs by The Searchers, The Small Faces and The Turtles. Kathy's Clown was a request from a member of the audience. Things livened up a little after midnight with a full-on sing-song session for those with no homes to go to!


Thursday, 26 January 2017

Mary Tyler Moore RIP

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Mary Tyler Moore, who Incarnated the Modern Woman on TV, dies at 80

Virginia Heffernan
The New York Times
25 January 2017

Mary Tyler Moore, whose witty and graceful performances on two top-rated television shows in the 1960s and ’70s helped define a new vision of American womanhood, died on Wednesday in Greenwich, Conn. She was 80.

Her family said her death, at Greenwich Hospital, was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia.

Ms. Moore faced more than her share of private sorrow, and she went on to more serious fare, including an Oscar-nominated role in the 1980 film “Ordinary People” as a frosty, resentful mother whose son has died. But she was most indelibly known as the incomparably spunky Mary Richards on the CBS hit sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Broadcast from 1970 to 1977, it was produced by both Ms. Moore and her second husband, Grant Tinker, who later ran NBC and who died on Nov. 28.

At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Ms. Moore’s portrayal — for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards — expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes.

The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.

It modeled a productive style of coed collegiality, with Ms. Moore teasing out the various ironies known to any smart woman trying to keep from cracking up in a world of scowling male bosses and preening male soloists.

“Mary Tyler Moore became a feminist icon as Mary Richards,” said Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, the author of “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic.”

“She only wanted to play a great character, and she did so. That character also happened to be single, female, over 30, professional, independent, and not particularly obsessed with getting married. Mary had America facing such issues as equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence way back in the ’70s.”

The influence of Ms. Moore’s Mary Richards can be seen in the performances of almost all the great female sitcom stars who followed her, from Jennifer Aniston to Debra Messing to Tina Fey, who has said that she developed her acclaimed sitcom “30 Rock” and her character, the harried television writer Liz Lemon, by watching episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Many non-actresses also said that Ms. Moore — by playing a working single woman with such compassion and brio — inspired their performances in real life.

Ms. Moore had earlier, in a decidedly different era, played another beloved television character: Laura Petrie, the stylish wife of the comedy writer played by Dick Van Dyke on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Also on CBS, the show ran from 1961 to 1966.

Ms. Moore was the lesser star in those days, but she shared Mr. Van Dyke’s background in song and dance, and as a comedy duo they magnified each other’s charm. Ms. Moore transformed and tamed the vaudeville style that had dominated sitcoms, perfecting a comic housewifely hysteria in Laura, made visible in the way she often appeared to be fighting back tears. Her “Dick Van Dyke Show” performance won her two Emmys.

“I heard something in her voice that got to me,” Carl Reiner, who created and produced the show, once said. “I think the fact that Mary and Dick were dancers gave the whole program a grace that very few programs have.”

Mary Tyler Moore was born on Dec. 29, 1936, in Brooklyn Heights. After living in Queens and Brooklyn, her family moved to California when she was 8. Her father, George Tyler Moore, a clerk, and her mother, the former Margery Hackett, were both alcoholics and, Ms. Moore often said, imperfect parents. The eldest of their three children, Mary would outlive both her sister, Elizabeth Moore, who died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978, and her brother, John Hackett Moore, who died of cancer in 1992 after Ms. Moore had assisted him in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

While she was still a child in Los Angeles, Ms. Moore arranged to live with an aunt, choosing to see her parents only on special occasions.

At 17, she was hired to appear in a series of commercials for Hotpoint appliances in the role of Happy Hotpoint, a caped dancing elf in a body stocking. The ad was shown during episodes of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”

In 1955, she married Richard Meeker, a salesman. That same year, she became pregnant, which compromised her effectiveness as an androgynous elf in a fitted costume. Her only child, Richard Jr., was born in 1956. He died in 1980 when a gun with a hair trigger went off in his hands; the gun model was later removed from the market.

After the birth of her son, Ms. Moore danced in various television shows before turning to acting. She had small parts on series like “Bourbon Street Beat,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Steve Canyon” and “Hawaiian Eye.” As the answering-service girl Sam on “Richard Diamond, Private Detective,” she was more heard than seen: Her character existed only in sexy close-ups of parts of her body, including her mouth, her hands and her elegant legs.

It was another body part, her nose, that was said to have disqualified her from playing Danny Thomas’s daughter on his sitcom “Make Room for Daddy.” She was up for the role, but Mr. Thomas, who took pride in his exaggerated features, decided that her nose was too small to belong to a member of his family.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” made Ms. Moore, who looked sylphlike in capri pants, a sensation. At Mr. Van Dyke’s behest, however, the series ended in 1966, at the height of its popularity.

Ms. Moore’s marriage to Mr. Meeker had dissolved by 1961, and she met Mr. Tinker, who was then an executive at 20th Century Fox, in 1962. They were married, in Las Vegas, the same year. Together they formed MTM Enterprises, and in the late ’60s, they hit upon an idea for a custom-made showcase.

MTM’s on-air mascot was a meowing kitten, whose image evoked, and gently satirized, MGM’s roaring lion, and the branding clicked. Mr. Tinker and Ms. Moore pitched a show to CBS about a recently divorced woman who was working and living on her own, and the network liked it.

The executives’ only reservation concerned the subject of divorce, which was still forbidden on network television. Some even feared that viewers would assume that Laura Petrie, from “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” had divorced Rob, which was unthinkable. A solution was reached: Ms. Moore’s character would be newly single but not divorced, having recently broken up with a fiancé.

In the show, Mary Richards was an associate news producer at WJM, a local television station in Minneapolis. Ed Asner played her boss, Lou Grant, who was gruff, though essentially tenderhearted; Gavin McLeod was Murray Slaughter, a news writer with a boring life; Ted Knight was the vain, dimwit anchorman, Ted Baxter.

The female characters, as finely drawn as the men, were Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Mary’s neighbor, also single; Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), Mary’s manipulative landlady; Georgette Franklin (Georgia Engel), Ted’s baby-voiced girlfriend (and later his wife); and Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), the husband-stealing hostess of “The Happy Homemaker.”

That Rhoda was Jewish — as was Lou, the show sometimes implied — was unusual for network television at the time. Similarly novel were hints that Mary was sexually active.

The characters all revolved around Mary, whose naïveté and enthusiasm supplied a generous assist for the others’ eccentricities. Just as she had on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Ms. Moore could always make a joke her own when she needed to — and the episodes that put Mary’s humor center stage were the best.

In “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” which is on many lists of the best television episodes of all time (TV Guide ranked it No. 3), Mary is appalled by her colleagues’ irreverent response to the undignified death of Chuckles the Clown, the host of a children’s show on their station. But at his funeral, it’s she who can’t control her giggles. Her struggle to suppress laughter is a comic tour de force. (David Lloyd won an Emmy for writing the episode, one of 29 the show won over all.)

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which forsook the gag-a-minute sitcom formula in favor of more character-driven humor, soon became one of the most popular shows in television history, aided only partly by its position in CBS’s winning Saturday-night lineup, which also included “M*A*S*H*,” “All in the Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show.”

The writers and producers who worked on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went on to develop a raft of other hit sitcoms, including “Taxi,” “Cheers” and “The Simpsons.”

Among the show’s many memorable flourishes was its theme song, “Love Is All Around,” written and performed by Sonny Curtis. The lyrics were rewritten after the first season. The opening lines — “How will you make it on your own?/This world is awfully big, and girl, this time you’re all alone” — were revised to reflect the show’s optimism and devotion to its star:

“Who can turn the world on with her smile?/Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?”

The adorableness of Mary Richards as a character — with her pluck and her world-brightening smile — was a mixed blessing for Ms. Moore. After the show was canceled in 1977, she set out to demonstrate her range as an actress, choosing roles in television, theater and film that distanced her from the sweetheart characters for which she had become famous.

Her efforts paid off impressively in “Ordinary People.” Her performance as the stony, guilt-ridden mother Beth Jarrett brought her a Golden Globe award as well as the Academy Award nomination. Afterward she said she based the performance on her aloof father.

Robert Redford, who directed the movie, said he had cast Ms. Moore after seeing her walking alone on a beach and realizing that she had a serious side.

In the meantime, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fractured into spinoffs: the sitcoms “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” and the acclaimed drama “Lou Grant,” a rare example of an hourlong series spun off from a half-hour sitcom.

This period represented a winning streak for MTM Enterprises, which was overseen almost exclusively by Mr. Tinker. The company produced not only those spinoffs but also the critical and popular hits “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Newhart,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “Hill Street Blues” “St. Elsewhere,” “Remington Steele” and “Rescue 911.”

On Broadway, MTM Enterprises produced Michael Frayn’s farce “Noises Off.”

In the 1980s, Ms. Moore admitted to having a drinking problem. It had started, she said, when she was starring in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and had finally reached untenable levels. (In 2000, Mr. Van Dyke told Larry King that he was also an alcoholic and that he had also started drinking heavily while working on the show.) Ms. Moore entered the Betty Ford Center for treatment in 1984.

She had had Type 1 diabetes since her 30s and in 2011 underwent brain surgery to remove a benign tumor.

From the late 1970s into the ’80s, Ms. Moore had a string of lackluster, low-rated shows, including a 1978 variety hour, “Mary.” It lasted only three episodes and is notable mainly because David Letterman and Michael Keaton were among the regulars. It was followed that season by a hybrid variety-comedy show, “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour,” which was gone after 11 episodes. None of her shows in those years lasted more than one season.

She also sought roles that would let her express the gravitas she had shown in “Ordinary People.” In 1980, she won a Tony Award for her performance on Broadway as a quadriplegic who wanted to die in “Whose Life Is It, Anyway?”

On television, she played a breast cancer survivor in “First You Cry,” Mary Todd Lincoln in “Gore Vidal’s Lincoln” and the cruel director of an orphanage in “Stolen Babies,” for which she won her seventh Emmy.

In 1995, in an interview with The Times, Ms. Moore was asked if she resented being asked by reporters about Mary Richards. “I think some of them may be trying to find some way to instruct, or to make a judgment about, or in some way set themselves above me,” she said.Photo

“I’ve come to the point in my life where I don’t have to work,” she continued. “I work because I enjoy it. I only enjoy doing things that frighten me a little bit. And I am an actress. I think I am an actress as well as a personality. And I’ve got to keep the actress in me happy.”

In the 1996 movie “Flirting With Disaster,” Ms. Moore played with aplomb the mortifying adoptive mother of Ben Stiller’s character, who at one point lifts her shirt to show her son’s girlfriend how a bra should fit. In 2001, she was executive producer of a macabre television movie, “Like Mother Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes,” in which she also starred as the killer mom Sante.

She also became more willing to indulge in nostalgia. The 2001 television movie “Mary and Rhoda” brought Ms. Moore and Ms. Harper together again, playing older versions of their 1970s characters. (Mary was widowed, and Rhoda divorced.)

A more successful reunion came in 2003, when she starred with Mr. Van Dyke in a PBS adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Gin Game.” In 2004, she and Mr. Van Dyke reunited again on “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.”

She went on to make several guest appearances in 2006 as a TV host on “That ’70s Show,” which was shot on the soundstage that once belonged to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” In 2013, she was reunited with all four of her female “Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-stars on an episode of the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland,” whose cast included Betty White and Georgia Engel. Ms. Moore at last seemed to accept and even embrace the pop significance of the Mary Richards era.

In 2012, the Screen Actors Guild gave Ms. Moore a lifetime achievement award. Ms. Moore and Mr. Tinker divorced in 1981, although they remained friends. In 1983, she married Dr. Robert Levine, a physician, who is her only immediate survivor. The couple lived in Manhattan and on a farm in upstate New York.

Outside her performing career, she was chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and spoke openly about her own struggle with the disease, diagnosed in the 1960s. A vegetarian, she was also an outspoken proponent of animal welfare, and she established funds for arts scholarships.

The airborne tam o’shanter that appears in a freeze frame at the end of the opening credits on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” came to symbolize the here-goes-nothingism that Mary Richards, as well as Mary Tyler Moore, always conveyed. In 2002, a statue showing Ms. Moore tossing the hat was unveiled in downtown Minneapolis.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Standing Rock Part II

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Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline Rejected by Obama

Peter Baker and Coral Davenport
he New York Times
24 January 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump sharply changed the federal government’s approach to the environment on Tuesday as he cleared the way for two major oil pipelines that had been blocked, and set in motion a plan to curb regulations that slow other building projects.

In his latest moves to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor, Mr. Trump resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline that had stirred years of debate, and expedited another pipeline in the Dakotas that had become a major flash point for Native Americans. He also signed a directive ordering an end to protracted environmental reviews.

“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it,” Mr. Trump said during a meeting with auto industry executives. “But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”

The decisions expanded an effort to unravel much of the policy structure left by former President Barack Obama, who made fighting climate changea central priority. Just a day earlier, Mr. Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious 12-nation trade pact negotiated by Mr. Obama.

In his opening days in office, Mr. Trump has also modified or reversed Mr. Obama’s policies on health care, abortion and housing while ordering a freeze of any pending regulations left behind by the former administration.

The pipelines were more about symbol than substance but generated enormous passion on both sides of the debate. Mr. Obama rejected the proposed Keystone pipeline in 2015, arguing that it would undercut American leadership in curbing the reliance on carbon energy. The Army sidetracked the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota last month in the waning days of the Obama administration.

Environmental activists quickly denounced Mr. Trump’s decisions. “Donald Trump has been in office for four days, and he’s already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

Mr. Trump made clear on the campaign trail that he saw Mr. Obama’s environmental policies as a threat to the economy and dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by China. Myron Ebell, a climate change denier who headed Mr. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, has drafted a 50-page blueprint for how he could eliminate Mr. Obama’s climate change policies. “It is designed to implement all of the president’s campaign trail promises — every single one,” Mr. Ebell said this week in an interview.

A detailed map showing the Dakota Access Pipeline that has led to months of clashes near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.


Mr. Trump’s biggest target may be emission rules that would force the closing of hundreds of coal-fired power plants meant to be replaced by wind and solar power. But they are caught up in court battles that could run for months or years.

By contrast, he could more quickly soften Mr. Obama’s rules requiring tougher vehicle emission standards. Mr. Trump met on Tuesday with executives of major American automakers, who complained that before leaving office, Mr. Obama finalized an ambitious E.P.A. rule requiring that vehicles average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2026. Mr. Trump said he would help with burdensome regulations, but offered no specifics.

Mr. Trump could lift a moratorium instituted last year by Mr. Obama on new coal mining leases on public lands. As soon as next month, the Republican-led Congress may pass legislation undoing Mr. Obama’s regulations on the practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining and on leaks of planet-warming methane emissions from oil and gas drilling rigs.

In the meantime, the Keystone and Dakota pipelines provided Mr. Trump with visible ways to demonstrate action. As proposed by TransCanada, an Alberta firm, Keystone would carry 800,000 barrels a day from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats said that it would create jobs and expand energy resources, while environmentalists said it would encourage a form of oil extraction that produces more gases that warm the planet than normal petroleum.

Studies showed that the pipeline would not have a momentous effect on jobs or the environment, but both sides made it into a symbolic test case. The State Department estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs for two years — about 3,900 of them in construction and the rest through indirect support, like food service — but only 35 permanent jobs. Similarly, the government concluded that Keystone’s carbon emissions would equal less than 1 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol,” said David L. Goldwyn, an energy market analyst and a former head of the State Department’s energy bureau in the Obama administration.

But it was a symbol Mr. Trump found important enough to seize on early in his presidency. He signed an executive memorandum inviting TransCanada “to promptly resubmit its application to the Department of State for a presidential permit” for the pipeline, although the document did not guarantee approval.

The president told reporters he would “renegotiate some of the terms” — including possibly an insistence that the pipeline be built with American steel — but left little doubt that he wanted it approved. “We’ll see if we can get that pipeline built,” he said. “A lot of jobs.”

In a statement, TransCanada accepted his invitation to seek permission again. “We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so,” the company said, vowing that it would create jobs and still protect waterways and other sensitive resources.

The Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota became the focus of protests when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe objected to its construction less than a mile from its reservation. The tribe and its allies won victory last month when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would look for alternative routes for the $3.7 billion pipeline instead of allowing it to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River.

Mr. Trump signed an executive memorandum directing the Army “to review and approve in an expedited manner” the pipeline, “to the extent permitted by law and as warranted.” In his session with reporters, he added, “Again, subject to terms and conditions to be negotiated by us.”

Mr. Trump owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is building the Dakota Access pipeline, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. Last month, a spokesman for Mr. Trump said he sold all of his stock in June, but there is no way of verifying that sale, and Mr. Trump has not provided documentation of it.

Critics vowed to keep resisting the projects. Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law group representing the tribe, said Mr. Trump was discarding the findings of a review. “They’re just ignoring the problems that the government has already found,” he said, “and that is the kind of thing that courts need to review very closely.”

In Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Mr. Trump’s decision. “We have been supportive of this since the day we were sworn into government,” Jim Carr, the natural resources minister, told reporters. Mr. Carr said the American reversal will lead “to a deepening of the relationship across the border.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/24/us/politics/keystone-dakota-pipeline-trump.html?_r=1

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Radical Eye: The Elton John Photograph Collection at Switch House, Tate Modern

A Bee on a Sunflower by Edward Steichen, 1920

The Radical Eye review – Elton John's ravishing photography collection
Switch House, Tate Modern, London
From the tears of Man Ray to the Paris of Robert Frank and the manspread of Salvador Dali, this astounding collection is a history of modernist photography

Adrian Searle
The Guardian
Tuesday 8 November 2016

Sir Elton John’s image, his glasses askew and playing up for the camera in Irving Penn’s 1997 portrait, greets visitors to The Radical Eye. It is an endearing gag, leaving one unprepared for an exhibition as serious as it is surprising, and which could serve as a short course in the development of photography from around 1910 to 1950. The Sir Elton John collection currently contains more than 8,000 works, and even though there are fewer than a couple of hundred here, what a selection it is.


Nusch by Man Ray, 1935

Tate only began to collect photography seriously and systematically in 2009 – late in the game, they could never hope to afford works of this range and quality. This show marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the institution and Elton John and David Furnish, who have agreed to give works to the nation. Theirs is a collection anyone would give their eye-teeth for.


Self-Portrait by Herbert Bayer, 1932

It’s a foundational body of work, with as many surprises as there are photographs that forever reappear in anthologies and exhibitions. From Bauhaus abstraction to 1930s social documentary, via the staged and the casual, studio portraits and street photography, surrealism and still life, this is no idiot rich guy collection of trophy art. Sir Elton says he has never bought a work for profit. He has educated himself as he has gone on, beginning to collect photographs after a period in rehab for alcohol addiction in the late 80s. The collection now has a director, a curator (a former gallerist from Atlanta, where Elton has a home), and doubtless conservators to look after it.


Glass Tears by Man Ray, 1932

What he doesn’t have an eye for is picture frames, which are often intrusive and over-elaborate; all that gold and distressed silver gilding, all those deluxe mats and rebates. After a while, I stopped noticing and the images themselves carried me away. It is evident that Elton appreciates photographs not just as images, but as objects, from the postage stamp-sized André Kertész 1917 Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, which the collector regards as the most important photograph in his collection, to Man Ray’s 1932 Larmes or Glass Tears, bought for a record sum at auction in 1993, in which a woman’s carefully made-up face has glass beads stuck to her cheeks, like a modern eroticised saint. Elton already owned a modern copy of Kertész’s Swimmer, with its refracted body and veins of light, but later bought the photographer’s original print, which bears the pencil marks where he cropped the image. A little grey thing, all its detail and tonalities leap out when you get up close.


Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary by André Kertész, 1917

The quality of some of the prints here, let alone the images, is astounding – Edward Steichen’s portrait of silent movie star Gloria Swanson, peering out at us from behind a black, flower-decorated veil, looks almost embossed with light and shade, while László Moholy-Nagy’s 1928 vertical view down into a snowbound courtyard beneath the Berlin Radio Tower (not printed until the 1940s) has the subtlest tonalities. Werner Mantz’s 1928 view down an empty stairwell is as vertiginous as the century. Its plainness is terrifying.

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View from the Berlin Radio Tower in Winter by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1928

One of Robert Frank’s 1949 Paris photos, looking across the sandy walk near the Place de la Concorde, is the best print of this shot that I have ever seen – every small gradation is there. Instead of a picture of a couple taking a selfie, I’m suddenly alert to the emptiness in the shot, the shadow on a bit of gravel, the foreground sweeping away, bright with light on a misty day. I could go on and on. There’s so much here.

Salvador Dali in New York by Irving Penn, 1947

Elton clearly loves a portrait. Penn’s 1948 series in which Duke Ellington, Noel Coward, Joe Louis, Salvador Dalí and others pose in the tight corner between two angled walls are opportunities for their subjects to perform for the camera. Dalí manspreads aggressively; Coward poses as though he were determined to remain insouciant as the walls close in, as if he were a bookmark between the pages. There are theatrical portraits with pensive actors toying with masks; there’s beefcake, including two half-dressed men together in a pre-war Paris gay club by Brassaï. Later we come to the accusatory silent gazes of Evans’s dirt-poor whites in Alabama, and Dorothea Lange’s breadlines and homeless wandering boys, who still have pride if not much hope. Man Ray’s portraits of famous artists – Derain, Matisse, Yves Tanguy (which the collector refers to as Phil Collins) – take up one section of the show.

  
Christ or Chaos by Walker Evans, 1946

On the way there are photograms and shirt collars, Mondrian’s pipe in an ashtray, Herbert Bayer’s boules in the sand and Josef Sudek’s rows of teacups. Some things are easy to miss in the long runs of images: Albert Renger-Patzsch’s tremendous Mountain Forest in Winter; Diane Arbus’s early Room With Lamp and Light Fixture, New York City.

Gas Tanks by Imogen Cunningham, 1927

Imogen Cunningham’s 1927 Gas Tanks hangs next to Jaromir Funke’s 1923 Photographic Construction, pitching a staged, tabletop still life next to huge industrial cylinders and gas-holders under the sky. Funke’s staged, artificially-lit still life appears to depict a vast abstracted landscape, while Cunningham’s gas tanks look like a closeup, as near and quotidian as a plate of Cézanne’s apples. Such juxtapositions really count. I’ll have to go back. I had no idea The Radical Eye would be so impressive. It makes you want to root around the rest of what Sir Elton owns – who knows what’s in there.

The Radical Eye is at Switch House, Tate Modern, London, 10 November-7 May.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Maggie Roche RIP

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Maggie Roche, Who Harmonized With Her Singing Sisters, Dies at 65

Jon Pareles
The New York Times
21 January 2017

Maggie Roche, the songwriter whose serene alto anchored the close harmonies of the Roches, her trio with her sisters, Terre and Suzzy, died on Saturday. She was 65.

Suzzy Roche said in a statement that the cause was breast cancer. She did not say where her sister died.

“She was a private person, too sensitive and shy for this world, but brimming with life, love, and talent,” Suzzy Roche wrote on the Roches’ Facebook page. “She was smart, wickedly funny, and authentic — not a false bone in her body — a brilliant songwriter, with a distinct unique perspective, all heart and soul.”

Ms. Roche developed a pop-folk songwriting style that could be droll or diaristic, full of unexpected melodic turns and often inseparable from the way the sisters’ voices harmonized and diverged.

On albums from the early 1970s into the 2000s, her songs chronicled a woman’s life from early stirrings of independence (“The Hammond Song”) and amorous entanglements (“The Married Men”) to thoughts on longtime connection (“Can We Go Home Now”). They often mixed heartfelt revelations and flinty punch lines.

In “Broken Places,” recorded on a 2004 duo album with Suzzy, she sang:

I love you for all of this
Struggling towards happiness
When the chips are down we play our aces
Hiding them in our broken places.

With the Roches, and in duos with each of her sisters, she released more than a dozen albums. The Roches never had a major hit but maintained a devoted following. They shrugged off disappointments in “Big Nuthin’,” a song the three of them wrote together.

“We’d like to make a million dollars and be set for life,” Maggie Roche told The Los Angeles Times in 1995. “We’ve been lucky, though. We have a career, and that is a gift. I guess I want things to be easy, but that’s not the way it is.”

Margaret Roche was born on Oct. 26, 1951, and grew up in Park Ridge, N.J. She and her two younger sisters sang in Roman Catholic church choirs, and she started writing songs after getting a guitar for her birthday in 1964. She and Terre formed a duo, performing at first for Democratic Party fund-raisers in New Jersey.

They attended a songwriting seminar given by Paul Simon at New York University in 1970, and he had them sing harmony on his 1972 album,“There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.”

Mr. Simon signed them to a production company he had formed for young musicians, and he was also among the producers of Maggie and Terre Roche’s album “Seductive Reasoning,” released by Columbia in 1975.



Suzzy Roche joined her sisters in 1976 and, as a trio, the Roches became a local sensation at clubs in Greenwich Village. One of their onstage favorites was a snappy three-part-harmony version of the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.”



Their debut album, “The Roches,” released in 1979, was produced by Robert Fripp of the band King Crimson. It included “The Married Men,” which was also later recorded by Phoebe Snow.



Despite modest sales, the Roches persisted, making albums for Warner Bros. and, later, MCA and Rykodisc. Their songs appeared in the soundtrack to the 1988 film “Crossing Delancey” (in which Suzzy Roche appeared); in 1991, they provided the voices for a trio of animated cockroaches on an episode of the Steven Spielberg-produced cartoon series “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

The Roches released a Christmas album, “We Three Kings,” in 1990, and a children’s album, “Will You Be My Friend?,” in 1994. The trio disbanded after the release of “Can We Go Home Now?” in 1995, but Maggie and Suzzy Roche recorded albums as a duo in 2002 and 2004, and the Roches released a final trio album, “Moonswept,” in 2007.

In addition to her two sisters, Ms. Roche is survived by her partner, Michael McCarthy; her mother, Jude Roche; her brother, David, also a singer and songwriter; and her son, Ed McTeigue.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/21/arts/music/maggie-roche-dead-singer-songwriter.html?_r=0

Sunday, 22 January 2017

It's National Roy Wood Day...

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And to celebrate it, here's an interview with Uncle Roy from just over a couple of years back:

https://www.facebook.com/midlandstoday/videos/10152891049584761/

The 'new' album still hasn't materialised...

And here's the man in action with early ELO:



And solo:





With The Move:





Friday, 20 January 2017

Dead Poets Society #23

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Disregard by Ai Ogawa


Overhead, the match burns out,
but the chunk of ice in the back seat
keeps melting from imagined heat,
while the old Hudson tiptoes up the slope.
My voile blouse, so wet it is transparent,
like one frightened hand, clutches my chest.
The bag of rock salt sprawled beside me wakes, thirsty
and stretches a shaky tongue toward the ice.

I press the gas pedal hard.
I'll get back to the house, the dirt yard, the cesspool,
to you out back, digging a well
you could fill with your sweat,
though there is not one reason I should want to.
You never notice me until the end of the day,
when your hand is on my knee
and the ice cream, cooked to broth,
is hot enough to burn the skin off my touch.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

Laurel and Hardy tour Britain

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Stan and Ollie arrive in Coventry, 1947

Laurel and Hardy on Tour

Here's a great little programme about Laurel and Hardy's European tours between 1932 and 1954. Only 29 days to listen to it from today, however, so be quick...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0076zb4

Comedy writer and historian Glenn Mitchell examines the impact Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had during their various tours of Europe between 1932 and 1954.

By 1932, Laurel and Hardy had been a team for five years. After completing their second film and another of their short comedies, they decided it was time for a holiday. Stan wanted to visit his native England, while Ollie was keen to try out the golf courses in Scotland. However, before they set sail from the United States they were mobbed by adoring fans and hundreds more welcomed them in Britain.

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In Blackpool, 1932

This response prompted their producer Hal Roach, and his distributor MGM, to turn their visit into a whistle-stop tour. 'We came to Britain on vacation', said Stan, 'but it turned out to be the hardest work we've ever had in our lives'.

Laurel and Hardy made three return trips to Europe between 1947 and 1954. Their subsequent filmed greeting to The Water Rats in 1955 turned out to be their last public engagement together.

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With the staff of The Grand Hotel, Tynemouth



Glenn Mitchell is, of course, the writer of The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia, something which no fan should be without:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laurel-Hardy-Encyclopedia-Glenn-Mitchell/dp/1905287712/ref=dp_ob_title_bk - although the earlier edition is by far the better produced book.

He is also responsible for the equally good Marx Brothers Encyclopediahttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Marx-Brothers-Encyclopedia-Glen-Mitchell/dp/0857687786/ref=la_B001HOF09Y_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484850501&sr=1-1


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Gene Cernan - The Last Man on the Moon RIP

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Gene Cernan obituary
American astronaut who was the last human being to walk on the moon

Nigel Fountain
The Guardian
Tuesday 17 January 2017

At 1.54pm on 11 December 1972, Gene Cernan piloted Challenger, Apollo 17’s lunar module, into the Taurus-Littrow valley, near the Sea of Serenity, on the surface of the moon. In later years Cernan, who has died aged 82, would describe the valley where he had landed accompanied by the geologist Jack Schmitt as “our own private little Camelot”.

Three days later, having travelled to such locations as the Sculptured Hills, and the Van Serg and Sherlock craters, the astronauts prepared to leave. Cernan marked out his daughter Teresa’s initials in the dust, where they remain. Before climbing back into the lunar module, he paused and spoke to Mission Control back in Houston: “As we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”

In the intervening years, God, or at least the US government, has been decidedly unwilling. To the dismay of astronauts such as Cernan, who labelled it a “slide to mediocrity”, and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, who jointly appealed to President Barack Obama in 2010, Cernan remains the last human being to have trodden on the surface of the moon. “It was perhaps the brightest moment of my life, and I can’t go back,” he said. “I am one of only 12 human beings to have stood on the moon. I have come to accept that, and the enormous responsibility it carries, but as for finding a suitable encore, nothing has ever come close.”

By the time he made the moon landing, Cernan was already a seasoned space explorer. In May 1969 he had been a crew member, flying low over the lunar surface in the LMlunar module, when Apollo 10 conducted the dress rehearsal for Armstrong and the first moon landing.

In May 1966 he accompanied Tom Stafford on the Gemini 9 mission, which entailed an extraordinarily hazardous space walk with Cernan, 185 miles above the Earth’s surface, entangled in his equipment. Back on Earth, Stafford recounted that Cernan had asked him if he would have left him marooned in space. Stafford told him: “How could you give a shit? You’re already dead.”

Cernan’s roots were in central Europe. His mother, Rose (nee Cihlar), was of Czech ancestry and the family of his father, Andrew, a supervisor at a naval installation, were Slovak. Gene was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in the towns of Maywood and Bellwood, west of Chicago. He left Proviso East High School, Maywood, in 1952 and studied electrical engineering at Purdue University, Indiana. Coincidentally, both Cernan and Armstrong were Purdue graduates.

While at university, Cernan had joined the US Navy’s officer training corps, aiming for a commission in the naval reserves, which he got in 1956. By 1958 he was a naval flier, posted to Miramar, California – later to be known as the “Topgun” air station – and piloted FJ4 Fury and A4 Skyhawk subsonic fighters. Then, in 1963, he completed his training with a master’s in aeronautical engineering from the naval postgraduate school in Monterey, California. It was a CV that made him an obvious candidate for the space programme.

The military and civil competition between the US and the Soviet Union, which had seen the latter put the first satellite into space, and in 1961 the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit, crystallised when, on 25 May that year, President John F Kennedy pledged that the US would conduct a successful moon landing by 1970. The Mercury programme was about getting an astronaut into orbit – a task first accomplished by John Glenn in early 1962. The second stage was Gemini – developing the technology to prepare for a moon landing. The third, Apollo, was about going to the moon. In 1959 the “Mercury Seven” became the first US astronaut team, and Cernan was subsequently inspired by Alan Shepard, the first American in space – albeit for a mere 15 minutes. In October 1963 Nasa accepted Cernan as a trainee astronaut.

After the Apollo 17 mission, Cernan was part of the team on the Apollo-Soyuz project that brought the cold war rivals together in space. In 1976 he quit Nasa and became an oil executive in Houston, Texas. Later he founded a consultancy specialising in energy and aerospace and chaired the Johnson Engineering Corporation (1994-2000). Cernan never severed his links with science and space, and was employed by ABC-TV as a commentator on issues around the space programme.

In 1999 he published, with Don Davis, his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, and last year a documentary of the same name went on general release.

Cernan is survived by his second wife, Jan Nanna, and by his daughter, Teresa, from his first marriage, to Barbara (nee Atchley), which ended in divorce.

• Eugene Andrew Cernan, astronaut, engineer and pilot, born 14 March 1934; died 16 January 2017

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Moonglow by Michael Chabon - review


Michael Chabon Returns With a Searching Family Saga
Moonglow
By Michael Chabon
430 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers.

A. O. Scott
The New York Times
18 November 2016

Michael Chabon’s new book is described on the title page as “a novel,” in an author’s note as a “memoir” and in the acknowledgments as a “pack of lies.” This is neither as confusing nor as devious as it might sound, since “Moonglow” is less a self-conscious postmodern high-wire act than an easygoing hybrid of forms. Chabon has what sounds like a mostly true story to tell — about characters whose only names are “my grandmother” and “my grandfather,” and also about mental illness, snake hunting, the Holocaust and rocket science — and he may not have wanted to be bound too tightly by the constraints of literal accuracy in telling it.

At the same time, he has shaken loose the formal conventions of fiction, liberating himself in particular from the tyranny of plot. In his previous books, Chabon has always shown great skill at operating the novelistic machinery of cause and effect, foreshadowing and surprise, especially in semi-fabulist confections like “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” But in more realistic books the humming of those narrative engines can sometimes drown out the interesting cacophony of life. For me, that was the case in “Telegraph Avenue,” a well-observed slice of gentrifying urban life clogged with a bit too much Dickensian contrivance to work as well as it should have.

“Moonglow,” in happy contrast, wanders where it will, framing a series of chronologically disordered episodes from the past with conversations involving the narrator (who never tries to persuade us that he is anyone other than Michael Chabon) and various kinfolk, principally his mother and grandfather. This isn’t to say that the book lacks structure, but rather that its structure is determined by the logic of memory, and that the author has resisted the urge to do too much tidying and streamlining. The action zigzags across time and geography — from Germany in the last days of World War II through a grab bag of American locations in the decades after — with blithe indifference to the usual rules of linearity or narrative economy. A sensational and tragic revelation that might have been at the volcanic center of a more familiar kind of book is disclosed almost in passing. There are moments at which you can feel the irresistible temptation to embellish and invent, to infuse reality with Chabonesque touches of wistful Jewish magic realism, being resisted.

But not entirely. “After I’m gone, write it down,” Chabon’s grandfather instructs him. “Explain everything. Make it mean something. Use a lot of those fancy metaphors of yours. Put the whole thing in proper chronological order, not like this mishmash I’m making you.” “Moonglow” both obeys these instructions and rebels against them, preserving the mishmash and mixing in generous dollops of meaning, a sprinkling of fancy metaphors and an abundance of beautiful sentences so that it becomes a rich and exotic confection. Too strict a recipe would have spoiled the charm of this layer cake of nested memories and family legends, which have been arranged with painstaking haphazardness.

Mementos, curios and old photographs figure prominently, as evidence of past actions and symbols of their hidden significance. Through these objects, recollected dialogue and his own powers of speculation, Chabon constructs a loving, partial portrait of an unlikely, volatile and durable marriage. At a synagogue gala in Baltimore in 1947, an irascible veteran from Philadelphia meets a melancholy refugee from France with a fetching accent, a young daughter and a concentration camp tattoo. The daughter will be Chabon’s mother. His scapegrace father, whom readers of “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” will recognize, makes a few brief appearances later on, but this book dwells mainly on the mysteries of the maternal line.

The union of Chabon’s grandparents is disrupted by hospitalizations and imprisonment. His grandmother, who grew up near a tannery in Lille, is haunted by visions of a “skinless horse,” a monstrous creature that seems to embody the unspeakable, intimate horrors of Nazism. Her delusions test her husband’s patience, but they also illuminate his loyalty and ardor. A tough man whose temper is hot enough to bring him close to murdering an employer (which earns him 20 months in a New York State prison), he is guided by ethical instincts that seem to him as inarguable as the laws of physics. Promises must be kept, bullies must be brought down, hypocrites must be exposed, and the weak must be protected. He is stubborn and chivalrous, blunt and generous, physically brave and intellectually nimble.

In literary terms, Chabon’s grandfather might be the humbler cousin of Swede Levov, Philip Roth’s tragic paragon of American Jewish manhood from “American Pastoral.” He occupies a similar mid-Atlantic, rapidly assimilating geographical and cultural space and embodies similar secular Jewish virtues. But the book, rather than witnessing his fall, elevates him. It’s not a chronicle of filial revenge; it’s a grandchild’s testament of wonder and devotion. Grandpa chases the Nazi rocket-builder Wernher von Braun in Germany at the end of the war and stalks a pet-killing reptile in a Florida retirement community many years later. Fascinated by space travel, he designs rockets, builds a model moon base and drives for hours to watch the shuttle launch.

Grandma, meanwhile, fascinates young Michael with her old-world mannerisms and her witchy association with tarot cards, scary puppets and haunting tales. “Almost 50 years later I still remember some of her stories,” Chabon writes. “Bits of them have consciously and unconsciously found their way into my work.” And this book, a love letter to two temperamentally opposite grandparents — one a rational, practical American, the other a dreamy, romantic European — is also an account of their formative influences on the writer their grandson would become.

These are not so much explained as felt, woven into the very fabric of Chabon’s supple and resourceful prose. He brings the world of his grandparents to life in language that seems to partake of their essences. When he describes an asylum pageant staged by his grandmother, the feverish poetry of the images seems like the product of her tormented, enchanted consciousness: “Darkness falls over the field of clover, dawn breaks on the moon. Jagged moon mountains glow cool and silvery blue in the background as the bee herder, hatchet restored, strolls along unfazed by his new surroundings. He passes silver moon trees like the skeletons of cacti.”

This fantastical landscape coexists with an all-too-real one — a blasted German town described in the precise, engineer’s language of the grandfather: “The stray 88 had knocked the square tower off the shoulders of St. Dominic’s Church. The beams holding up the roof, which was clad in metal, had collapsed and caught fire. In their collapse, the roof beams had formed a kind of bowl or funnel into which the metal roof, now a molten pool, had poured. The glowing drizzle had burned a hole in the sandstone floor, then flowed through to fill the crypt. What missed the hole spread in ripples across the floor, setting fire to everything it touched that was not made of stone.”

Whatever else it is — a novel, a memoir, a pack of lies, a mishmash — this book is beautiful.