A Boy in Church: Alone With Father Tom

The photo — this one in the New York Times, above the fold — had an uncanny vintage look to it: there on the front page was a black-and-white photo­graph from 1960—the first black-and-white that I can remember in a long time since the Times went to color — of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, […]

The Pope’s Brother: Those Regensburg Choirboys

Perhaps God is exacting his revenge on the Ratzing­ers and on Regensburg, whose cathedral boasted a famed musical establishment claimed by Franz Liszt to be the center of Catholic church music, even above Rome itself. Georg Ratzinger, the Pope’s brother, took up the post of musical director at the cathedral in 1964 in the midst […]

Spring Break Cocktails

Patches of snow cling to the muddy earth in the city’s picturesque 19th-century cemetery just to our north. Down in the gorge immediately to our south the creek builds momentum every hour as the thaw proceeds. Just beyond the graveyard the fraternity brothers will soon emerge from their beer-soaked dens to bask in the spring […]

The Night Of The Living Deadheads

One of my college friends was a Deadhead. He had crates of cassette tapes with labels like “Bucknell, 1971”, Stanford 1973”; “Fillmore East 1970.”  Of an eve­ning he would navigate through these hundreds of cas­settes and pull out “the greatest version” of a given Dead song, “Truckin’”, “Crazy Fingers”, whatever. He’d put the tape in […]

Kind Of Blue At 50

Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” was released 50 years ago this coming Monday: August 17, 1959. That was ten years after, and ten degrees cooler, than the little big band of Miles’ “Birth of the Cool.” With “Kind of Blue” the baby had grown up: sleeker, more earnest, now distrustful of irony, and also cagier, […]

Travelers, Sour & Sentimental

“I hate traveling and explorers.” —Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques (1955) * * * We curse the journey in order to praise the destination more fully. Already in 1778 Boswell related that Dr. Johnson detected a “strange turn in travelers to be displeased.” It is the juxtaposition between traveling and being there that governs the basic […]


There is that old cliché of travel: that it allows the traveller another perspective on the place left behind, the one he may or may not return to. With the rise of the internet and cable, an exterior, critical view of the American Empire is in some ways easier to get, even while American cultural […]

Grass from the Ashes

In Phoenix long green means grass. Not the kind you smoke, but the kind flanking business parks, bordering the rarely-used sidewalks of six-lane boulevards, decorating the headquarters of the Arizona Water Resources Administration downtown, growing miraculously around all those canyon dwellings barely visible behind security gates, and, to be sure, richly deployed on the countless […]

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