The first great-books club meeting of the year was yesterday, although maybe that’s pushing it. We don’t read any great books in toto, we read selections from them, in a master text called “Great Conversations,” which the library, the sponsor of this shindig, provides. There was dark talk of budget cuts affecting this year’s schedule, but so far — fingers crossed — we’re hanging in there. Members of the group may have to lead a session or two, should we lose our librarian, but we’re ready for that. I signed on for “The Chilean Earthquake” by Heinrich von Kleist, a work and a writer I had never even heard of before, and so much for that English minor, eh?
Anyway, when I joined the group I was hoping for a raucous bunch of table-pounders. I got five retirees. Ah, well. It’s also where I found my Russian teacher, after we read a selection from the “War and Peace” and she revealed she’d just finished her second read of the entire novel — in the original language. And the retirees are always interesting, especially when they make small talk. One recently tuned in to WJR and heard Mark Levin, who is apparently a talk-show host who makes Rush Limbaugh sound like Walter Cronkite. I have to take someone else’s word for this, because I can’t listen to commercial radio anymore. I force myself to take in a little on the weekends, because if it weren’t for the XM they play at the gym, car commercials and these few brief hours of weekend exposure, I wouldn’t hear new music anywhere.
I draw the line at talk, however, no matter when it’s on. Just can’t do it, and when I hear Rush or Sean or someone else drifting from an open window or the UPS truck, my default setting is the same one I employ when I pass a homeless person muttering about motherfuckers. I assume: Crazy. Avoid eye contact. Do not engage.
My book-club friend, a nice lady who was most engaged by the tangent we took on left brain/right brain issues, was horrified by Levin. WJR is a community institution here much the way WOWO is in Fort Wayne, but like lots of AM stations, it’s had to stake out its position in right-wing talk. They generally go for the A-team national shows with lots of local-local hosts, and I notice they sneak Levin on in the evenings, when the rational part of the nation is watching TV and only the insane ones are down in their basements, radio on, cleaning their guns or building birdhouse after birdhouse under a bare light bulb. (And hey, check it out — Dr. Laura now has the coveted 11 p.m.-1 a.m. slot. How the mighty have fallen.)
It’s good to see someone else is horrified. Although less comforting to know more people are seeking this stuff out.
I’m short on time today, and want to say a little about Mary Travers, the latest in this year’s long, long line of obituaries. I can’t exactly mourn her passing — what has Peter, Paul and Mary been since 1970 or so? — but I’d like to at least take note of what she was a part of. “A Mighty Wind” had a mighty fine time mocking the early-’60s folkie era, but I was a young child then, and these were some of the earliest records I can recall choosing myself out of the pile and putting on the turntable. The world won’t mourn the last New Christy Minstrel who leaves the earth, but for all the fun you can poke at it, this was some great music. It was also maybe the last time that overtly religious traditional music was heard in the public square. (I’m not counting “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and you can’t make me.) The first PP&M record is a little work of art in a time capsule, and today, while we’re marking the passage of the blonde, lots of people will call your attention to “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Meh. This is the only PPM record you need, and this is its best single song (side one, track one, I believe). Yes, it’s the one that was used on that “Mad Men” episode last season. Enjoy, and RIP Mary Travers: