Mismatch of the Day Issue 10 Spring 2003 *Trainschedulespotting Issue 12 Fall 2003/ Winter 2004 *100,000 Bottles of Beer in the Wall Issue 13 Spring 2004 New Scientist




НазваниеMismatch of the Day Issue 10 Spring 2003 *Trainschedulespotting Issue 12 Fall 2003/ Winter 2004 *100,000 Bottles of Beer in the Wall Issue 13 Spring 2004 New Scientist
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John Smith wrote the greatest biography of his age. Just be glad he isn't writing yours.

There is a spot in London where you may stand perfectly still and see nine streets all at once. Or, at least, you used to be able to: Shaftesbury Avenue swallowed up a couple of them in 1886. But leading thirteen-year-old John Thomas Smith around London in 1779, his mentor Joseph Nollekens could stop him in precisely this magic spot:

“‘There, Tom, stand here, and you will see the entrances of nine streets; my mother showed them to me. There, stand just there, and don’t turn your head, only your eyes’; placing me, with both hands upon my shoulders, at about fifteen feet from Grafton-street, nearly in the centre of Moor-street. ‘There, now look to the left, is not there Monmouth-street? Now let your eye run along the way to the first opening, that’s Great White Lion-street; well, now bring your eye back to the opposite street in front of you, that’s Little Earl-street. Throw your eye over the Seven Dials, and you will see Tower-street: well, now, stand still, mind, don’t move, and bring it a little to the right, and you will see West-street; bring it nearer to the right, and there’s Grafton-street; and then, look down at your toes, and you’ll find yourself standing in Moor-street.’”

The boy had been tagging alongside Nollekens for years already: the celebrated sculptor was his father’s boss, and had inaugurated their lifelong friendship by taking the bewildered Smith, then aged eight, to the public hanging in Oxford Road of the notorious thief “Sixteen-string Jack.” Dressed in his lovely peagreen coat, Sixteen-string was—well, he was strung up—this for robbing a chaplain “of his watch and eighteen-pence in money.”

If life was cheap in London back then, fashion most assuredly was not. Nollekens made out like a bandit himself by smuggling in forbidden foreign lace, gloves and stockings, stuffing his contraband inside hollow plaster busts. He also gleefully dealt in “botched antiques”—what dealers now refer to as “marriages.” You marry an antique by clapping together two unrelated bits to form a valuable but spurious whole. Nollekens was a master of this art, secretly joining together various cheap fragments of busted Roman antiquities with new replacement pieces “aged” brown with tea; presented to rich suckers as a miraculously whole ancient bust or statue, these paste-up jobs netted him huge profits.

As his godson, the young Smith gave the childless Nollekens company that he clearly missed. In return, Nollekens showed Smith how to make a killing in the art world. Some Londoners took the direct route and simply stole art outright, true, and there was even a roaring trade in swiping ornate brass door knockers: but if Nollekens was a bit of a crook, he was no thief. He was, in fact, a fine and entirely legitimate sculptor. Samuel Johnson and George III both sat in Nolleken’s Mortimer-street studio to have their busts made; Prime Minister Pitt was a rather less willing customer, since Nollekens took his death mask.

Smith later recalled watching with wonder as painter Thomas Gainsborough came in to take a bit of direction from the famed sculptor. Gainsborough requested him to look at a model of an ass’s head which he had just made.

Nollekens.—“You should model more with your thumbs; thumb it about, til you get it into shape.”—“What,” said Gainsborough, “in this manner?” having taken up a bit of clay; and looking at a picture of Abel’s Pomeranian Dog which hung over the chimney-piece—“this way?”—“Yes,” said Nollekens, “you’ll do a great deal more with your thumbs.”

The visiting painter noticed the boy gaping at them, and handed it to him: “My little fellow… I am sure you long for this model; there, I will give it to you.” Afraid that firing the thumb-pressed memento in a kiln might destroy it, Smith carefully preserved Gainsborough’s little clay dog for the rest of his days.

(incomplete…)

Let Us Now Gaze, Famous Men

A guide to rare books about the death masks of historic luminaries, and books about what happens to their disinterred corpses

Thomas Paine keeps staring at me from this old book, his nose bent to one side like an aged boxer’s. He’s had a tough life and an even tougher afterlife. I’ve spent the last few years pursuing his bones: they were stolen in 1819, and since then have reappeared everywhere from a New York sewage ditch to a Paris hotel room, with occasional stopovers inside statues and pieces of furniture. As I pursued the skull and bones of Paine, perhaps it was only a matter of time before I crossed paths with this book by Laurence Hutton, the man who once possessed Paine’s face… not to mention Franklin’s, Lincoln’s, and Aaron Burr’s faces too.

When Hutton is remembered today, it’s as Mark Twain’s editor at Harper & Brothers. But it was his obsessive pursuit of plaster death masks that once caught the public’s attention; Hutton could confidently lay claim to having “the most nearly complete and the largest collection of its kind in the world.” Like many Victorian memento mori, his resulting 1894 opus Portraits in Plaster is an object of unnervingly beautiful craftsmanship: its thick and creamy paper bears scores of photographs of the immortal yet all too-mortal. Here are Keats and Coleridge; there are Swift and Johnson. Twain’s editor had gazed into the face of Whitman and had cradled the molded cheeks of Grant and Sherman, the latter pair vanquished at last by a truly implacable foe.

The actor David Garrick, looking for all the world like a fifth Baldwin brother, proved to be an unusual life mask acquisition. Though life and death masks alike enjoyed a vogue in the nineteenth century, bolstered in no small part by the popularity of phrenology, Hutton’s distinct preference for death masks was actually rather humane of him. “The procedure of taking a mould of the living face is not pleasant to the subject,” he noted. “In order to prevent the adhesion of the plaster, a strong lather of soap and water, or more frequently a small quantity of oil, is applied to the hair and to the beard…. quills are inserted into the nostrils in order that the victim may breathe during the operation, or else openings are left in the plaster for that purpose.” The subject—be he a pope, poet laureate, or president—was then unceremoniously made to lay his head back in a big pan of wet plaster, whereupon the artist proceeded to smear the glop over him. Then he had an agonizingly motionless wait as the stuff hardened. Death masks are different, though; the only discomfort involved is that of the onlookers. A death mask is the visage of a man whose guard is down—forever.

“He does not pose; he does not ‘try to look pleasant.’” Hutton explained of his compliant subjects. “In his mask he is seen, as it were, with his mask off!”

(incomplete…)


A Brief History of Rock Music

Nine Milestones of the Genre


JUNE 11, 1785:
ROCK MUSIC INVENTED

In the Lake District village of Keswick—helpfully described by one contemporary traveler as a “filthy town”—retired sailor Peter Crosthwaite notices that rocks along the River Greta produce a surprisingly musical tone when struck. These rocks are a unique local variety of hornblende slate and gneiss, and Crosthwaite eventually assembles a tuned set of sixteen musical stones. For decades afterwards, Crosthwaite’s Museum in Keswick is home to the first rock instrument.

 

1837:
FIRST ROCK BAND

Joseph Richardson, a mason in Keswick, also notices as he works that some of the stones he hammers produce pleasantly ringing tones. He spends thirteen years collecting rocks off the local mountain of Skiddaw, laboriously hauling them home and hammering them in the dead of night. Despite supporting eight children, by 1837 he has painstakingly built a “rock harmonicon,” a massive two-tiered stone xylophone covering five and half octaves. Utilizing sixty-five pieces of rock and played with wooden mallets, the Rock Harmonicon requires three players. The world’s first rock band—the Richardson Rock Band—is born.

 

1842:
FIRST ROCK CONCERT

The Richardson Rock Band explodes onto the London scene with a rough-hewn set of waltzes and quadrilles. MUSIC FROM ROCKS, proclaim ads in the Times, and the Illustrated London News hails the shows, noting that “difficult chromatic ascents and descents are performed with truly extraordinary brilliancy and crispness.” But fame and fortune soon creates rivals: fellow Keswick stonemason William Bowe debuts his own sixty-rock instrument in Edinburgh, while the Harrison Rock Band stages daily rock concerts at the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens.

 

1845:
FIRST ROCK STAR DEATH

Spurred by these upstarts, the Richardson Rock Band rocks even harder, advertising themselves as the “Original Rock Band” and announcing a “Monster Stone Concert.” The band triumphantly plays to packed houses at Egyptian Hall in London. But the rock life proves too much in the end, and in 1845 band founder Joseph Richardson is found dead in his home at 134 Edgware Road. His depleted Rock Band soldiers on without him for a couple more years before disappearing.

 

1892:
FIRST BRITISH INVASION

Rock music languishes until promoter William Till stages its comeback in 1881 at the Royal Polytechnic in London. The art critic John Ruskin writes admiringly to the Till Family Rock Band: “You may have given me, with a new insight into the nature of crystalline rock substance, also a musical pleasure.” After conquering the U.K., the Tills cross the Atlantic and rock American kindergartens and Sunday schools, becoming the first band to bridge the gap between youth culture and highbrow art critics. The Tills settle in New Jersey, establishing Bayonne as the world capital of rock music.

 

1957:
FIRST CONCEPTUAL ROCK BAND

John Lennon and Pete Shotton form the Quarry Men in Liverpool. The band does not include any actual rocks in their instrumentation.

 

1972:
FIRST ROCK MOVIE

Rock music makes its big-screen debut in What’s Up, Doc?, starring Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, and Madeline Kahn. O’Neal plays Dr. Howard Bannister, a musicologist whose bag of resonant igneous rocks gets switched with identical luggage en route to San Francisco. A sample of the dialogue: “It so happens, Mr. Simon, that Howard had discussions with Mr. Bernstein about the possibility of conducting an avalanche in E flat.”

 

2000:
FIRST ROCK ROAD SHOW

Engineers in the Paris suburb of Villepinte make clever use of road noise between tires and crushed rock asphalt by designing a corrugated “euphonic road” surface that gives a twenty-eight-note melody when driven over. Complaints by neighbors result in the road being resurfaced in 2002. A subsequent visit establishes that one can still faintly hear the melody when the road is driven over.

 

THE PRESENT:
POSTMODERN ROCK

The Vienna Symphonic Library releases a digital sampler disc recreating the entire range of a five-octave rock harmonicon. Composers are freed from the trouble of having to find their own rocks, bringing about the final culmination of an artistic paradox: rock music that does not, in fact, contain any rock at all. 

The Molecatcher’s Daughter

In 1828 an eccentric London journalist created modern crime reporting by getting inside a murderer’s skin… literally.


The letters arrived in the winter of 1827 at Mr. Foster’s shop on Leadenhall Street, dozens of them written in the careful quill-scratches of women from across London. Outside the wax seals bore the usual array of signets and intricate floral patterns; inside they concealed the usual bouquet of lavender fragrance, of banal sentiment, of coy subterfuge, of naked honesty.

There were those that immediately cut to the matter at hand: “I propose meeting you tomorrow at twelve o’clock,” summoned one, “I shall be… distinguished by wearing a black gown, with a scarlet shawl, white handkerchief in my hand.” In another, a twenty-two-year-old orphan wasted no time. “You will favor me by calling to-morrow November 30th, between the hours of four and five,” she commanded. “Be punctual…”

But he was not punctual.

There were those, as always, who insisted they’d never done this before: “Now, I am not generally disposed to view advertisements of this description in a very favourable light, but…” one started. Some refused to describe themselves at all—“I say nothing of my personal appearance, as I propose ocular demonstration”—while others trustingly revealed themselves to him. “I am considered a pretty little figure,” wrote one. “Hair nut-brown, blue eyes, not generally considered plain, my age nearly twenty-five.”

But he did not care how they looked.

Others tried banter. “Although your advertisement reads very fair,” one teased, “there may be some little trick on your side.” Another poked at him that “I beg to answer your advertisement of last Sunday, but really think it nothing but a frolic…” Others, less confident, fumbled through misspellings and plainly bared their own desperation to him. “I think Providence as ordained that you and I shood come together,” an eighteen-year-old wrote hopefully, “for I am not very pleacntury situated myself…”

Words, words, words. It didn’t matter. They’d wait for him, he wouldn’t show up, and they’d walk home through the streets of London alone and disappointed—How? How could I be so stupid?—seared by having foolishly trusted their hopes to an unknown man.

The letters made for piteous reading, if only someone would read them. But Mr. Foster didn’t care: it wasn’t his job to care. They weren’t his letters. The missives arriving in his stationer’s shop were for a boarder who lived down the street, a supercilious young man who had advertised for matrimony in the Times under no name at all, save for two initials: A.Z. A day passed, then a week, then months, and soon Foster hardly noticed A.Z.’s pile of unopened letters. He was too busy selling his wares to Londoners, in any case: fine inlaid papers, linen envelopes, leather blotting cases, and weighty pewter inkstands. Some of the paper he sold might well have come right back into his shop, scribbled out into these hopeless missives. And, well—that was just good business, wasn’t it?

*

I’ve been having bad dreams, Thomas Marten’s wife said. Yes, yes.

Nightmares.

Very well.

I keep seeing her…

He was used to her complaining, of course. But lately she’d had stranger complaints than usual: grim and fantastical bad dreams. And that was a shame, but he had his own work to be doing. He went out to prepare for a day of his fated vocation in the little village of Polstead—for Thomas was the local molecatcher, no small job in a farming area of Suffolk—and he humored his wife’s premonition that he would find something in the barn across the field from their cottage. He cleared some old hay and debris from a floor in one corner: nothing there.

Or rather, something was not there: one patch lacked the tamped-down hardness of the rest of the floor. The soil felt a little loose. That seemed odd. Hefting up his mole-spike, he plunged it down into the dirt floor of his barn. It was… it was stuck. He pulled it back up, and a foul smell filled his nose. A dirty lump was impaled on the tip of his mole-spike, but it was not a mole. No, it was—something else. Flesh.

Thomas began to dig. The smell grew sharp and choking, and soil moist and foul below his digging hands. A form began to emerge: a rotting buried sack, a ridge of bone exposed in the dirt. A flap of rotted flesh. Teeth. A green scarf…. It didn’t make sense. How could it?

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