No Complaints #11: Merknights, mad scenes and the horror of the humble-brag

A small amount of housekeeping: I've been asked to include links that send articles straight to the read-it-later app Pocket, so I've attempted that for the first time in this edition. If it doesn't work for you or you use a different app that you feel I'm unjustly neglecting, reply and let me know.

Things to read

“Dimly I seem to remember that but a short time ago I was alive, alive in full sunlight. There is another light which envelops me now. It is like the illumination from a cold mechanical reflector. The house is dark. Only the stage is lit up. The curtain is rising.”

A letter from Henry Miller to Anaïs Nin in January 1940, written as he was forced to leave Greece and return to America because of the war. Email to Pocket.
“The next time you’re tempted to claim you don’t know anything about music, pause to consider the substantial expertise you’ve acquired simply through a lifetime of exposure. Think about the many ways this knowledge manifests itself: in your ability to pick out a playlist, or get pumped up by a favourite gym song, or clap along at a performance. Just as you can hold your own in a conversation even if you don’t know how to diagram a sentence, you have an implicit understanding of music even if you don’t know a submediant from a subdominant.”

Even if you don't feel like it, you are a musical expert, because all humans are. Take that, every music teacher I've ever had who said my scales weren't up to scratch. Email to Pocket.

“The book is a bizarre combination of what is known in the 21st century as humble-bragging – not-so-humble-bragging, sometimes – and peculiar, snobbish detachment. A good example of the former comes when she tells us that, though she realised on meeting Julie Christie that the two of them looked not at all alike, she was regularly mistaken for the famously beautiful actor (also, that time in the back of a taxi when Saul Bellow, a fellow Booker judge, told her she was a handsome woman, and then fell almost immediately into a deep sleep).”

A very amusing review of Antonia Fraser's latest autobiography, a book apparently remarkable for all the opportunities it missed to be genuinely interesting. Email to Pocket.


“Rain sound is like opera because they both have core thematic structures but are also so big and organic that no single moment is characteristic of the whole thing. It takes hours to absorb and appreciate the whole. It is also like opera in that it is music, not noise. ”

A great piece about rain, and the many different types of it that there are. Especially relevant to anyone who has tried to go outside in Britain in the past couple of weeks. Email to Pocket.


“One day, my mom and I were having lunch with our good friend, the Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning, whom I’d known since I was born. When my mom left the table for a few minutes to use the restroom, Dorothea said to me, out of the blue, “Do you think the reason you’ve loved your mother so much is that she’s so beautiful?”

A sad bit of memoir about what it's like to be the slightly cross-eyed daughter of a very beautiful mother. Email to Pocket.


Things to listen to

I don't care if you've never listened to an opera all the way through, or if you're at Covent Garden every other week. You have to listen to Radio 3's A-Z of Opera series from 2010. It's 26 seven-minute episodes with titles as divergent as "N is for Nationalism" and "Y is for Youth", in which singers, directors and critics talk in between carefully-chosen excerpts from the entire opera canon. If you don't want to start at the beginning and speed your way through the whole lot, I recommend dipping into "F is for Fach", because you'll finally find out what coloratura is and why there are umpteen different kinds of tenor, and then try "M is for Mad Scene" to hear some of the most sublime writing for the female voice that there is.


Things to watch

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

I think there's a reason why merknights didn't really catch on.

The guest gif

Welcome to awards season.

THE END. See you next time*!
*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.