Graeme Wood

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Big Hunk o’ Love

Originally published in The Daily.

In 1992, the U.S. Postal Service asked the nation to vote by postcard on whether the new Elvis Presley stamp should depict Elvis as a young man — slickly pompadoured, tie loose, cool as a diner malt — or as the jonesing, sequined lard-ass he later became. The decision wasn’t a hard one: Voters overwhelmingly chose the young Elvis, preferring to remember their idol in the days when he put Crisco in his hair rather than into his face. Memories of Presley’s shape late in life remain painful for some fans, who prefer the image of a lithe young star with a pelvis so provocative that, even fully clothed, it could not be shown on television. But Elvis morphed into something much worse, burying himself in his own pudge, until on Aug. 16, 1977, his heart decided it could no longer work under those conditions and left the King dead on his bathroom floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Daily, , ,

Does Bob Dylan Talk Like a Finn?

A dispatch from Hibbing, Minnesota, over at The Atlantic.

In July, residents of Long Branch, New Jersey, called the cops to report an “eccentric-looking old man” snooping around their neighborhood. Neither the residents nor Kristie Buble, the 22-year-old responding officer, recognized him as Bob Dylan, out for a stroll before a concert with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. The police escorted Dylan to his hotel, where tour staff positively identified Dylan as the Voice of a Generation, though evidently not of Buble’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly,

Steinway and its Discontents

This book is really the story of two eccentrics. The first is Gould, easily the most finicky in a strong field of stubborn kooks on the concert-pianist circuit. The second, and more interesting, is the collectively eccentric industry of concert-piano builders, as epitomized by Steinway & Sons and the peculiar men (they are all men, at least in this account) who keep their products in tune. Other books have documented Gould’s eccentricities better — this one wastes a great deal of space reprising tired anecdotes about his summer overcoats, his extreme sensitivity to touch, and his diet of Arrowroot biscuits and ketchup — but the Steinway thread reveals an unfamiliar and fascinating side of the classical-music industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, , ,

Knut-Case

One of J. M. Coetzee’s characters says the history of zoos is an extension of the history of warfare. The first zoos erected fences less to protect man from beast than to protect beast from man. Zoo-goers viewed the animals as POWs in a long inter-species war, on display to be jeered and attacked as representatives of the enemy. This hostility survives today in the sick exhibition of Knut, the cute bear-orphan who has been the object of exploitation for the first fifteen months of what one hopes will be a short life. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, ,

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