Monday, February 04, 2013


I'm about 100 pages into Peter Ackroyd's Tudors--Anne Boleyn has just given reluctant way to Jane Seymour--and while I'm very much enjoying Ackroyd's fleshing out and backing up of the drama so lately familiar from Hilary Mantel, the passage that has struck me most thus far is this one:
The White Horse Tavern was nicknamed "Germany" as the Lutheran creed was discussed within its walls, and the participants were known as "Germans." They were, however, an eclectic group; among them were Thomas Cranmer and William Tyndale, Nicholas Ridley and Matthew Parker. Two of them became archbishops, seven became bishops, and eight became martyrs burned at the stake. This was an exhilarating, and also a dangerous, time.
Such always seems to be the way in revolutionary times: an exceptional group comes together and, more often than not, dashes itself to pieces, leaving behind that sort of roster of achievement and bill of mortality. If your only exposure to Hilary Mantel is her books about Thomas Cromwell, try her novel of the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, and you'll see that cruel, brilliant, lightning volatility in action. It's simultaneously seductive and chilling.

But those are revolutions concerned primarily with power (even if that power claims to be primarily over souls), and, as Ackroyd writes, "Power may be glorious, but it can quickly turn fierce." The illustrious, doomed group at the White Horse found their gentler echo this weekend as I was reading the entry for "Embraceable You" in Ted Gioia's The Jazz Standards. Look at the concatenation of talent brought together by this song:
Gershwin abandoned East Is West but managed to recycle the song in his 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy, where Ginger Rogers performed "Embraceable You" in a dance number choreographed by Fred Astaire. This landmark show not only made Rogers into a star but also featured the Broadway debut of Ethel Merman (who sang "I Got Rhythm"). No other Gershwin production intorduced more jazz standards in its score. Even the pit orchestra boasted top-notch jazz talent, with Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, and Gene Krupa within its ranks.
The revolutions of art may be catty, even vicious in their way, but rarely does anyone leave with their head in a saddlebag.

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