The World of Yesterday

Stefan Zweig

The Neverending Bowie Thread will return with …hours, probably the album I’ve listened to the least (except for the dismal 80s records, whose existence I’ve tried to forget altogether, mostly successfully). In the meantime, I want to write a little about what I’ve been reading, for the simple reason that it’s the only way I remember any of it.

I’ve been on a Stefan Zweig kick for a while now. After learning that The Grand Budapest Hotel was inspired by Zweig’s work, I ordered a beautiful hardcover edition of his collected short stories, which sat around the house for a few years looking pretty and intimidatingly thick. When I finally dug into it, I was fairly blown away. Zweig’s world is far away in time and space, yet his characters are immediately recognizable and sympathetic. There is something fundamentally — for lack of a better word — human about it that transcends such petty limitations.

Most recently I tackled his memoir The World of Yesterday. To be honest I probably enjoyed it least of anything of his I’ve read, but it is not really meant to be enjoyed; it is a requiem for the lost world of pre-WWII Europe, written shortly before Zweig and his wife committed suicide in 1942. Beach reading it isn’t, but the craft is impeccable, the sentiments lofty, and the tragedy palpable.

Looking back I see that I flagged two passages, both of which are in the realm of advice for writers. The first is aimed more at those writing history or biography, and thus perhaps of limited use, but quite pithy:

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 6

Next up on this thread is “Moonage Daydream,” which also happens to be the name of Brett Morgen’s recent Bowie feature-film extravaganza. I finally saw it this weekend; of course I loved it, and of course there are a million things I could nitpick about if I were so inclined. But I’m not, as I realize that Bowie is simply too big a subject to be contained in one movie, even one as long and ambitious as this one. Choices had to be made, and Morgen made them, which is every artist’s prerogative.

He used more footage from the 50th birthday concert than I would have expected, though his sequence for the title song is (quite properly) focused on a Ziggy-era performance featuring Mick Ronson. Back in the day “Moonage Daydream” was a showcase for Ronson as much as Bowie, or maybe even more, with epic guitar solos that gave the singer a chance to catch his breath.

The 1997 version is economical in comparison, with Reeves Gabrels acquitting himself satisfactorily in the limited space he’s given. Dave is in fine voice and looks pretty happy, possibly thinking of the first time he conquered the Earth, all those years ago.


“Daydream” is followed by band intros, a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Gail Ann Dorsey, and a cake presentation. Bowie thanks the audience and tells them, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you.” Which was mostly true.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 5

After “Heroes” David took a break and had “some throat coat and a cigarette,” he says. He seems very British in that moment, though in fact he had already been a New Yorker for several years.

I wrote several versions of the segue from that to Lou Reed’s appearance onstage, but they were all hacky. Suffice it so say, if you were going to pick one person to embody New York City and all it entails, you could do worse than Lou. Even though he was actually from the suburbs, he became one with NYC in a way that Bowie, as an Englishman, never could.

Their first song together is David’s tribute to the Velvet Underground:


For the first half Lou just stands there looking bemused, possibly trying to remember if he wrote this song. Then suddenly the band drops out and Lou is singing over some kind of jungle breakdown. Why? Well why not? It was David’s birthday and he wanted it that way. There’s a great moment where Lou glances down and to his right to check the lyrics, then looks back to his left at David and grins, as if to say “I got it now.”

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 4

“Looking for Satellites” is one of the better songs on Earthling — in my opinion at least, and for better or worse, that’s the one that matters here. Even so, it goes on a bit too long, and though Reeves Gabrels is relatively restrained for most of it, he can’t resist a bit of wankery in the latter stages. But the visual presentation is striking, and Mike Garson’s coda — not present in the album version, which fades out — is a nice touch.


And that’s the end of the “You will now listen to my new material” part of the show; from here on in it’s all classics. If you were one of the people in the audience who twiddled their thumbs through the Earthling and Outside stuff, I bet you were pretty happy to hear the familiar bassline that kicks off the next song:


It takes guts to step into the Freddie Mercury role here, but Gail Ann Dorsey handles it with aplomb. And with all due respect, she has great legs as well.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 3

When Robert Smith comes on stage with David Bowie, it’s a Moment. One could argue, and I will, that they are the living embodiments of two different decades.

I mean, you could get into endless arguments about who is the iconic face of the Seventies — in some parts of the world they’d say it’s Bob Marley, and who am I to say they’re wrong? — but for me it’s Bowie, period, end of sentence. And is there anyone whose entire being is more redolent of the Eighties than Mr. Smith?

The choice of “The Last Thing You Should Do” — an Earthling track destined to soon be forgotten by all but the most die-hard Bowieists — for their first song together seems perverse, but weirdly, it works. Smith’s distinctive wobbly vocals and guitar thrashing add human elements to a cold, antiseptic piece of work.


It’s worth noting that this was the first time Robert Smith met Reeves Gabrels, who would become a frequent collaborator and eventually a full-time member of The Cure. Reeves must be one charming MF in person; I can think of no other way to explain how he lasted a decade as Bowie’s right-hand man, and has spent even longer in Smith’s orbit, despite his compulsion to always play five notes where one would do.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 2

“Fashion” is followed by “Telling Lies,” another frenetic drum’n’bass number from Earthling that was much loved by its creator, if not by anyone else. This is a good performance, though, and visually notable as the first appearance of the weird screen heads that would return many years later in the “Where Are We Now?” video. And the big bouncing eyeballs are cool.


For “Hallo Spaceboy” David is joined by the Foo Fighters, at the time a pretty new band. By now they’ve been fighting Foo for more than 25 years, and do you know, I still couldn’t name a single one of their songs. Dave Grohl seems like a nice guy but is one of the most boring frontmen in the history of rock’n’roll. At least here he’s behind the drum hit where he belongs:


The three-drummer lineup is excessive but it’s the right kind of excess for this song. The result is not unlike drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, which in turn is like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” (We miss you, Douglas.)

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 1

Because I’m at that point in revisiting his career. I found myself watching David Bowie’s 50th birthday concert yesterday. I seem to remember that back in the day I had mixed feelings about this show. While it was of course cool to see, for instance, Frank Black on stage with the great man, there was something rather embarrassing about Bowie’s naked grasping for relevance with The Kids. It’s even worse when he cozies up to Billy Corgan or Dave Grohl. And there was way too much emphasis on material from Earthling, which was a pretty good album, but come on….

Watching it again 25 years later, though, I’ve decided I love it. Everything about it that’s overbaked or perverse or shameless… well, that’s David Bowie, innit? Of course he’s going to force everyone to listen to his new material when they really just want to hear the hits. Because that’s how David do. You don’t like it? Go see Billy Joel or whoever. If you want to see Bowie, you’re going to sit through “Little Wonder” and “Dead Man Walking” before you hear “Heroes” or “Under Pressure,” and you’re going to like it.

In that spirit, I’m going to write a few posts about this because at the moment I truly have nothing better to do. This might be a good time to say that though I love and treasure every reader of this blog, I wouldn’t take it personally if you unsubscribed. Most of my effort these days goes into Kiss the Culprit, and this blog has once again become a repository for random thoughts with nowhere else to go.

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Basketball Season Is Over

I didn’t write about the Warriors at all this season, and I feel OK about that, because look what happened? Last night they won their fourth title in eight years, and this one might have been the sweetest of all. “Holy cannoli,” said Klay Thompson, who came back from the two worst injuries that can happen to a basketball player — torn Achilles and ACL — to win himself another ring. And he was right, you know?

Conspicuous in his absence was Kevin Durant, who left after the 2019 season to play in Brooklyn, choosing Kyrie Irving over Steph Curry as a running mate for some reason that still mystifies me. In his place was Andrew Wiggins, the former #1 overall pick who everyone had given up on, and was at the times the best player on this team. Which, let me repeat, won the championship.

I’m happy for them all, especially My Personal Savior Steph Curry, who started ugly-crying before the game clock even hit 0.0. The idea that it meant something that he’d never won MVP of the Finals was stupid to begin with, and can now thankfully go away for good. And Klay and Wiggins and Jordan Poole, and Gary Payton II, who has been bouncing around the league for years and finally found a home with the Dubs, making key contributions down the stretch despite having his elbow broken in the first round of the playoffs.

And Draymond. Draymond, my wayward son. Loudmouth, lightning rod, provocateur, basketball genius. The Celtics fans were chanting “Fuck you, Draymond” during the games; his teammates did the same while spraying Champagne around the locker room post-game. These are the kinds of strong emotions he inspires. Without him, Steph is probably another great player who never won a title.

Most of all though, I’m happy for myself. I spent the whole season telling anyone who would listen that we were going to win it all. I didn’t just have a feeling — I did the math. (Nate Silver, BTW, can kiss my ass. Wrong again!) I got some funny looks in return, especially when the W’s were stumbling through the end of the regular season. So, I cannot tell a lie: It feels good to win, and it also feels good to be right. I have to love myself for that.

The only downside is, now basketball season is over. How shall I be entertained? Your suggestions are welcome.

The Princess of Puréed Peas vs. the Most Famous Baby Penis in the World

Last week one Ann Turner Cook passed away at the age of 95. You probably don’t recognize the name, but you might have seen this drawing of her as a baby:

Most likely in a context like this:

Says the NYT:

Ms. Cook was the bona fide Gerber baby, the winner of a nationwide contest in 1928 that has since seen her portrait reproduced on billions of jars of baby food and other items sold round the world.

In 1990, The New York Times described the sketch, by the artist Dorothy Hope Smith, as being “among the world’s most recognizable corporate logos.”

As a baby, Ms. Cook was in very much the right place at the right time. As an adult, however, fearing ridicule for her long-running role as a princess of puréed peas, she did not disclose her identity for decades.

Ms. Cook, who received no royalties for the use of her image, profited from it by precisely $5,000 over some 90 years. That sum — a settlement she accepted from Gerber in 1951 — let her make the down payment on her first home.

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Happy Election Day

Spent some time this weekend going through the California Voter’s Guide, and this was by far my favorite thing in it. I didn’t vote for Mando, because he is clearly insane, but I am a fan.