Storytelling: Where Have You Gone, Rosie The Riveter?


“People really haven’t been riveting for quite a while,” said Mary Grieco, metals control engineer for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “It’s a learning curve for everybody. There are no specifications anymore that tell you how to rivet, so we make the best engineering judgment on how to do it.”



On the heels of the excellent Marketplace story discussing the decline of – and the attempt to, er, “kick start” – American Industrial Design, comes a fascinating story in today’s local rag explaining just why it’s going to take so long to refurbish the iconic Longfellow Bridge spanning the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston.   Turns out it’s all about rivets and rocks … or to be more precise, the elusive, prized Rockport Granite – “The Granite of Character.”  Worth a read!

Description of Rockport Granite, taken from Sweet's Catalogue of Building Construction, 1915

Description of Rockport Granite, taken from Sweet’s Catalogue of Building Construction, 1915

Play in Subway, Win Pulitzer…

Joshua Bell in the DC metro Not quite one year to the day it was published, funnyman writer Gene Weingarten‘s celebrated story about Joshua Bell busking in the Washington Metro wound up as one of six Pulitzer Prizes won by the Washington Post today – an impressive and near-record haul. Even though the little social experiment was in itself something of a failure (hardly anyone recognized who it was playing underneath that Curly W cap, and even fewer chucked in any change); the story itself was a PR bonanza for Bell — and now, it seems, for the author.    BTW, you can hear Bell’s entire subway performance  here.

And if the past is prologue, I’ll bet that the “Joshua Bell Pulitzer” will get a lot more attention than the “official” Classical Music Pulitzer for 2007: The Little Match Girl Passion, by David Lang, commissioned and premiered at Carnegie Hall by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices ensemble.

My piece is called The Little Match Girl Passion and it sets Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Match Girl in the format of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion, interspersing Andersen’s narrative with my versions of the crowd and character responses from Bach’s Passion. The text is by me, after texts by Han Christian Andersen, H. P. Paulli (the first translator of the story into English, in 1872), Picander (the nom de plume of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the librettist of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion), and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. The word “passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus—rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus’s, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane

Nothing against Lang or his work, which sounds interesting enough, t’s just that invariably these Pulitzers go to pieces that have been played once in often out-of-the way locations.  Back in my NPR days, tracking down the actual *recording* of a Pulitzer-winning-composition – and doing it in time for the morning news! – invariably involved a combination of detective work, browbeating, and more than a little luck.

Not so in the Internet age, however.  Want to hear Lang’s piece – or even download it?  Get it here– direct from the Carnegie website.     For that matter, this may be the most information-rich Pulitzer ever — you can even hear an interview with Lang about the creation of the work.

Oh, yeah, and there’s one more musical Pulitzer today – a Special Citation for Bob Dylan – for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

See the complete list of Pulitzer winners here.

PS – nice to see another Hans Christian Andersen piece set to music to some acclaim.   Throughtout his career the Danish writer/poet/playwright collaborated with and was inspired by a number of notable composers – including Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Wagner.     And Lang is just the latest of a long line of musicians who have in turn found inspiration in Andersen’s words.

Miscellaeneous Musings: the NY Phil, Howard Theatre, WYPR, No Depression, Pete Seeger…

Any resemblance to Mike “I Was Just Thinking….” Barnicle is purely coincidental….

  • Kind of amazing to hear the wall-to-wall media coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea….startling and gratifying to hear snippets of the New World Symphony in the middle of network newscasts. Worth reading:  Anne Midgette’s column in the WaPo on this not being a case of bringing Great. Western. Art. to poor benighted souls behind the Bamboo Curtain….

But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

  • Which reminds me of a similar history-making venture I helped to orchestra for NPR in 1999: The Milwaukee Symphony’s trip to Cuba, which was the first time a US orchestra had performed on the island since the Philadelphia Orchestra had been there in 1959.  ‘Course, it was a little easier for our NPR crew to move around the country than it was for the delegation traveling to North Korea this week…I remember that producer Laura Bertran even managed to lend some technical and logistical help to the struggling public radio station in Havana to broadcast the concert live on the island. (Oh yeah, they played Gershwin, too….the Cuban Overture, natch)  Click here to hear some of the music from similar symphonic excursions in the past,  and here for a similar Washington Post story on other “Diplomacy Concerts” of that past half-century.
  • On the other hand, for the same station to air during afternoon drive a six-month-old repeat of a Mario Armstrong “Digital Cafe”  feature?  About an Internet startup being Beta tested?   With a casual disclaimer that “some information may be out of date?”  Incredibly. Lame.
  • Pete SeegerIt’s nice to see Pete Seeger getting his props from PBS this week, with an American Masters portrait airing tonight on most PBS stations around the country. Except, that is, in DC, where despite Pete being on the cover of the Post’s TV Week,  the local pubtv powerhouse WETA inexplicably is running a show a three-year old show on Judy Garland.    Huh?   I’ll have more to say on Pete in a later post.

Holiday Leftovers: The Royal Tube and Missing the Parade

Sitting around the table on an overcast (what else?) North Norfolk afternoon, I got to witness a UK holiday tradition for the very first time: The Queen’s Annual Christmas Day Message. In a nice touch, the broadcast began and ended with excerpts from her very first Royal Christmas Message was delivered 25 years earlier – in 1932, by Elizabeth’s grandfather George V).

But – no slouch she – this was not a mere exercise in nostalgia for the Queen: She began her speech by saying, “One of the features of growing old is a heightened awareness of change,” and indeed the message marked the launch of The Royal Channel (or, “One’sTube” as the Telegraph headlined it), which you can find on your favorite video portal.

The hit count so far? 866,000 for t. Next time I heard a performing-arts organization whine and bleat about how they can’t keep up with new technology and new media opportunities, I’ll remind them of the fashion-forward oh-so-trendy Royals….

That’s a lesson that was seemingly lost on the editors of Parade magazine, who on Sunday ran a present-tense interview with Benazhir Bhutto, maintaining it was “too late” to change the over and the interview was “too important” to drop.

Fair point on the latter point; regarding the former, Are You Kidding? Parade’s cover went to bed on Dec. 21. Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27.

The cover appeared on Jan. 6th, with no explainer, no “box,” no nothing. All in the present tense. Shocking, surprising, and dismaying legions of the Sunday mag’s millions of readers.

Oh, they issued an online explainer:

After her assassination, PARADE immediately posted the entire interview online, and [author Gai] lSheehy appeared on network and cable TV news shows to discuss her face-to-face conversations with Bhutto.

Fine, but what about in your own magazine? Ten days between event and cover, and do you really, truly, believe that the magazine was absolutely powerless to change things? If that’s so, then print-reliant publications like Parade truly are wooly mammoths making their last footprints on Earth.

For the record, the mag’s readers aren’t buying that excuse. Check out the 400+ comments at the end of the Bhutto interview, ironically titled “A Wrong Must Be Righted.”

And there’s Dan Fratello’s column in the Huffington Post: Snarky, but amusing nonetheless:

Sources indicate this isn’t the last time Parade will get a black eye in 2008. Consider these cover stories already in the queue at Parade, and coming to your Sunday brunch soon:

Lighting a Fire: Fred Thompson Is Transforming the GOP Race for President

Rocket Fuel: Roger Clemens on His Workout Routine and His Plans to Play a 25th Season

Britney: All Cleaned Up, Calmed Down and Ready to Be a Mom

Create WV

My local daily is a pretty dreadful excuse for a newspaper, but as the offspring of ink-stained wretches I am still compelled to read it – or at least skim it – every day. When I first moved to WV Dr. Wizard and I took to calling it the “Jumpsuit Journal,” as the paper’s front page invariably featured a mug shot – in standard WV prison orange – of some local miscreant or n’er-do-well.

But occasionally I find something interesting, and ever more rarely genuinely noteworthy….such as a provocative op-ed by someone named Rebecca Kimmons, lamenting the defeatist attitude in her home state:

We’re defensive if an outsider makes a disparaging remark. But often, if no one has anything bad to say right off, we volunteer, trotting out hillbilly clichés of who we are, what we do and how we do it. The question a recent transplant from Seattle says she is most often asked is, “When are you leaving?” Bright young people who have returned to the state say they are accustomed to being asked, “Why did you come back?”

For some of us, we’re entrenched in our cultural habits. And all that seems just fine until we ask for something different. “Why can’t we …?” is often met with
“Folks around here wouldn’t go for that,” or “That will never happen here.”
Maybe our greatest obstacle to creating a general aura of success is our own mindset. Why doesn’t our air breed confidence like the air of California?

Why do our people think they have to leave to achieve?

Turns out the Kimmons is part of an effort called “Create WV” – a Richard Florida-inspired effort to jump-start a “creative class” in the Mountain State:

If you’re not satisfied with the status quo in West Virginia, if you’re impatient and want smarter services and amenities, design aesthetics that enhance our truly spectacular landscape rather than diminishing it; if you want cutting edge educational programs that prepare our people for contemporary realities, if you want a future that becomes a history of something besides disaster, loss, duplicity, and despair, you need to be at the table for the first Create West Virginia Conference, Nov. 12-14, at the Stonewall Resort, near Weston.

Gotta hand to them…the Create WV site, though not yet “sticky,” has compiled a lot of resources and shows a lot of promise. I especially like the Community Map they’re building – a nice Web 2.0 application to build a statewide map of art galleries, restaurants, museums, etc. Needs a lot more user input, but hey, I’ve done my part: I signed up to join. But I can’t seem to find a category (or demand, for that matter) for “Smartaleck Cultural Knowitall Bloviators.

The Create WV folks have a blog, too, which I’ve added to the blogroll. This entry pretty much sums up what I’ve found to be my WV experience:

The truth is, much of what we have in West Virginia, the rest of the world is longing for. If we could just add a few more wi-fi hotspots, some innovative education reform, growth-friendly tax structure and decent coffee shops, we may be on the cusp of something great.

I’ll be following their progress with a lot of interest.

P.S. If you haven’t heard of Richard Florida or some of the social implications of the “Creative Class,” check out this hilarious interview on the Colbert Report.

Sunday Funnies

Okay, let’s resume our normal breathing. What I intended to write about today (okay, two days ago, actually…the RoeDeo travel schedule has put me behind on the blogs again) was a lot more mundane, but not unrelated to the previous post. I’m an inveterate reader of comic strips. Even the most boring, tired ones. Thanks to newspaper consolidation over the years, my local rag, the Washington Post, has three pages full of ’em. So why am I telling you this? Well, with a few notable exceptions (Doonesbury, Zits, anything Berkeley Breathed does, the comics page rarely has its pulse on the zeitgeist. In fact, part of its charm is how surpisingly tin the ears of comics creators can be. Thus i was astonished to see in last Sunday’s funnies the first appearances in comic ink of the words “YouTube” and “BiTtorrent.” The first was courtesy of Doonesbury author Garry Trudeau – depicting feckless Uncle Duke “uploading his old campaign videos on YouTube,” to the horror of his K-street lobbyist son. Even better – the Videos are actually on the site! Trudeau explains how they got there on his site. Even more surprising was where “BiTtorrent” appeared – in Bill Amend’s invariably-mild Foxtrot strip – a surprisingly political strip where young technonerd Jason is teaching his iguana how to download to escape the wrath of the “RIA.” Hmmmm. Forget this temporary victory represented by the copyright ruling; if the Sunday funnies are discussing Bittorrent, has the larger war been lost?? (And now that Foxtrot is a Sunday-only strip, are Amend’s creative juices flowing a little more?) PS – discovered a few years ago an entire subculture that delights in the howlers that come from the Mark Trail strip — triumphs, or tragedies, depending on your viewpoint, of art, style, culture, and fact…

Content Management

The 1992 Election was won on the simple-but-effective mantra: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Worth remembering as people alternatively gnash their teeth, wring their hands, or go all Google-eyed over all of the geeky techy innovations of the Wired world: What actually is the stuff that we’re putting into those handy little boxes of code and shooting all over the world into fancy gadgets? I’ve noticed that Web people tend to talk about “content” as if it were a commodity, like “coal” or “rice” or “grass.” The reality, of course, is that “content” is PROGRAMMING, which involves heads and hearts and taste and passion. Reason for this rant: A great line from Jerry Del Colliano‘s Inside Music Media blog today:

The thought of a TV network as first and foremost a delivery system is as frightening as a mobile phone company being a content producer. But in our interactive day and age, smart people are making not so smart decisions.

Bingo. Subsitute the word “programming” for “content” in the above line and you have a truly scary scenario. Making good, high-quality, original programming is hard, time-consuming, and often expensive. I’d rather have my phone company fixing the miserable battery life in my so-called Smartphone then sending me a “V-cast.”

Rest of del Colliano’s post is not on this topic, but more about how the media barons are missing the point of today’s most important consumers:

The real problem is a lack of understanding of the very generation that has foisted all this change on the media barons — Gen Y? How can media barons make business decisions with implications so dire that they forgot to consult with the next generation? To get to know them a bit better is an eye-opener. It’s more than they are demanding, impatient and fickle. It turns out that they are proving to be wiser than the media barons in many ways.

Gen Y is bringing the record industry to its knees — latest example is the coming demise of digital rights management (DRM).

Gen Y all but banished terrestrial radio to being irrelevant for neglecting them and focusing on consolidation instead. They’ve got nothing against satellite radio — they just can’t afford it. And if they could, they’re waiting for WiFi to make everything that’s free on the Internet portable in their lives.

Newspapers — forget it. No young person is going to hold in their hands what they can click with their fingers and read.

Ouch! I happen to love reading the newspaper – always have, always will. But I think he’s absolutely right.