“Time may have taught me things, but I don’t think I learned anything.”
Legendary cartoonist, illustrator, animator, ad-man, artist RO Blechman joins the show to talk about his work and life. We get into the importance of play, the development of his trademark squiggly line (and how he feels when he sees it in other people’s work), his literary upbringing, his News of the Weak series of painting/collages, why he counsels against going to art school, the fateful career decision that he rues 60+ years later, his Mad Men experience and what he learned about management from running his own animation studio, the mistake of turning down a Curious George movie, creating a fore-runner of the graphic novel, and being a 2-D character in a 3-D world. Give it a listen! And go buy all his books, including Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator, Amadeo & Maladeo: A Musical Duet, The Juggler of Our Lady, and Talking Lines!
“I really should have been a filmmaker. I really screwed up my life in a terrible way, because I had a chance to be a full-time filmmaker and I threw it away, and it just kills me.”
About our Guest
Born Oscar Robert Blechman in 1930, RO Blechman‘s internationally acclaimed artwork spans decades, mediums, and industries. He is one of the first contemporary cartoonists to pen a full-length graphic novel with The Juggler of Our Lady in 1953, which he published after graduating from Oberlin College. His illustrations and comic strips have graced magazines, anthologies, and newspapers. He has created more than a dozen New Yorker covers. Blechman is also an animated filmmaker, and at one time owned his own animation studio, The Ink Tank. He has been awarded the Gold Medal from the Cannes Film Festival, numerous Emmy Awards, and has been nominated for a BAFTA. In 2002, the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his films. He is also in the Art Directors Hall of Fame, has been an Adweek Illustrator of the Year, and is the creator of many notable advertising campaigns. Blechman is married, has two sons, and lives in Ancram, NY.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Blechman’s farm on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Blechman and his wife by me. It’s on my instagram.
“The world is a mad place, and New York was a good place to be mad in.”
Artist Glen Baxter joins the show for a conversation about his new collection, Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings (New York Review Comics). We get into the roots of his absurdism, his first visit to New York City in the ’70s and how it changed his life, where his cowboy-thing started, why he doesn’t define himself as either an artist or a cartoonist (but maybe as a visual poet?), the challenge of doing long-form narrative when so much of his work is single-panel, our mutual dislike of the contemporary art scene, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings!
“All the cultural vibrancy of great cities has been made less possible by the fact that people can’t afford to live there anymore. The energy is dissipated.”
We also get into how absurdism insulates him from this modern world, the impact of Brexit on British culture, why his humor was always a tough sell in the UK, the paradox of political cartoonists’ work being bought by the politicians they ridicule, the joy of ukulele, the experience of having his work knocked off by other artists, the time he got a Cartier commission, and more. Now go listen to the show!
“European culture is important to me. Having that snatched away by Brexit, well, that’s something no one discussed in any of the debates.”
About our Guest
Glen Baxter is the author of many books since the 1970s, including The Impending Gleam, The Billiard Table Murders, and Blizzards of Tweed. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Elle, Vogue, Le Monde, The Observer, and The Independent on Sunday. He is a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, and his art is often exhibited in New York, Amsterdam, Paris, and London, where “Colonel” Baxter lives. His new collection is Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings (New York Review Comics).
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Baxter by me.
“What I really cared about most, what drew me, was the relationship between lives and work, between how we live and what we do, and what we do with it. And that’s one of James Merrill’s major subjects.”
Langdon Hammer, Chair of the Yale English department, joins the show to talk about his new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art (Knopf) (and one of the best books I’ve read this year). We discuss Merrill’s allure as a poet and the alchemy that allowed him to turn base wealth into artistic gold. He also talks about learning the art of literary biography on the fly, the challenge of recreating Merrill’s life in Greece, Merrill’s silence over AIDS, how we can understand the Ouija board-derived poems of Merrill’s masterwork, and more! Give it a listen!
“Alchemy is a theme in Merrill’s writing. How is he going to make his own gold, how is he going to transform the lead of his father’s money into a higher value?”
We also learn about Langdon’s decades at Yale and how students have changed during his time there, what the globalization of English poetry means for the form, why he considers The Book of Ephraim to be James Merrill’s greatest poem, and the farthest he traveled to research the book.
About our Guest
Langdon Hammer is chair of the English Department at Yale and the poetry editor of The American Scholar. His books include Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism and, as editor for the Library of America, Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters and May Swenson: Collected Poems. His lectures on modern poetry are available free online at Yale Open Courses. There’s a more extensive bio at JamesMerrillWeb, if you’d like to check that out.
Credits: This episode’s music is Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Hammer’s office at Yale on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.
“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”
Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!
“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”
We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!
About our Guest
At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.
Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Mendelson by me.
“Americans who come to Italy want to get its beauty, its art, its delicious food. They move very fast through Italy. They’ll see 8 or 10 cities in two weeks.”
Poet, novelist, memoirist and all-around wonderful writer Wallis Wilde-Menozzi joins us on this episode of The Virtual Memories Show to talk about her two new books, The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy and Toscanelli’s Ray: A Novel. It’s a great conversation about the American experience in Italy over 40 years. Ms. Wilde-Menozzi possesses both a poet’s sensibility for beautiful language and a keen eye that carefully observes the character of Italy, its populace, and its art. I highly recommend The Other Side of the Tiber; it’s a gorgeous, haunting book (I haven’t read Toscanelli yet, so I can’t vouch for it).
“I felt the enormous power of what Michelangelo was doing, but also this sense of process, the fact that we’re becoming, that nothing is quite finished.”
About our Guest
Wallis Wilde-Menozzi grew up in Wisconsin amid stability and quiet natural beauty. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she lived in Oxford, England, NYC, London, Rome, Palo Alto, California and finally, Parma, Italy. Her Midwestern accent has never been replaced, even by learning other languages. She teaches in Europe and the U.S., lectures widely, and is a founding member of the Ledig-Rowohlt International Writers Residence in Lavigny, Switzerland, where she has read the work of more than 500 writers from 65 countries. She is the author of Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy.
She writes, “The decades I have lived in Italy brought me to the door of different ways of seeing. I knocked, not without trepidation, and have never gotten through half of the rooms. I write about our times in poetry, essays, memoir, nonfiction, and fiction.”
Credits: This episode’s music is Her Hollow Ways by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi. The conversation was recorded at Wallis’ New York pied-a-terre on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by Amy Roth.
Reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing: these are the activities organizing the life of this episode’s guest, Willard Spiegelman, author of Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness! We talk about his wonderful book (go read it!), his addiction to ballroom dancing, how to find joy in the day-to-day world, why he hates book clubs, what Dallas, TX is like for a secular Philadelphia Jew, how he turned me on to one of my favorite novels, who his Desert Island Poets are, how he writes about the visual arts, why the world’s great novels are lost on the young, and what it was like to attend his 50th high school reunion. (Also, Harold Bloom crops up yet again; I really gotta try to get him on the show sometime. Boy, talk about the anxiety of influence . . .)
One of the best things about doing this podcast is that I get to meet some wonderful people. In this case, meeting with Willard over two afternoons (story to come) was like making a new old friend.
About our Guest
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University. He also serves as editor-in-chief of Southwest Review, the third oldest continuously published literary quarterly in America. In 2005, Willard won the PEN/Nora Magid award for literary editing. In addition to Seven Pleasures, he’s also written or edited How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry, Wordsworth’s Heroes, Imaginative Transcripts: Selected Literary Essays, Majestic Indolence: English Romantic Poetry and the Work of Art, The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry, and Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt. He writes about the arts for the Wall Street Journal. Oh, and he’s quite dapper.
Credits: This episode’s music is This Charming Man by The Smiths. The conversation was recorded at Willard Spiegelman’s home in New York City, on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the other material on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band.