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Scoop!: A Surreal Reading of the NYT Obituary of Keith Botsford, Published a Year after his Death

June 17, 2019
bradspurgeon

Keith Botsford in a YouTube interview (before his death)

PARIS – I just had the most extraordinary obituary reading experience of my life.  And I must have read obituaries on an average of at the very least once per week for the last 40 or so years.  It felt at times as if I was reading satire, or high comedy, or was it low comedy?  It felt often like reading something out of “Scoop,” the satirical novel of the newspaper business by Evelyn Waugh.  Although I only saw it today, this obituary ran in The New York Times three days ago under the headline:  “Keith Botsford, Man of Letters and Saul Bellow Associate, Dies at 90.”   And the wild experience plants itself – as all good journalism should – right in the first paragraph (or lead, or lede):  “Keith Botsford, a globe-trotting, multilingual and multifaceted man of letters who became a longtime collaborator with Saul Bellow, died last year, on Aug. 19, in London — a death that drew little public notice at the time. He was 90.”

My first thought was that it was great that The Times decided to run his obituary despite him having died a year earlier. But then in the second paragraph I learn that his death did not really go so unnoticed as all that:  “His death was noted two days later by The New England Review of Books on its website and, 16 days later, in a 25-word paid death notice in The Boston Globe, but it was otherwise not reported widely. The Times of London published an obituary two months later, and the Boston University alumni magazine, Bostonia, noted his death in its recent winter-spring issue.”

This reminded me that I had read last year the obituary by The Times of London, or was pretty sure I had. They are among the best obits in the world, and they are quite widely read and authoritative.  So it seemed to me that the media that really missed Mr. Botsford’s death was more The New York Times, not really the wider world as such, as the first paragraph indicated.  This was, in short, no scoop!  But it led directly and immediately to the next extraordinary moment in this reading experience in the third paragraph:  “The New York Times learned of his death on Thursday while updating an obituary about him that had been prepared in advance in 2014. Reached on Saturday, his son Gianni confirmed the death.”

Wait a minute!!!!  Hold it!!!!  Ever since the horrendous Jayson Blair incident at the NYT, when an up-and-coming reporter was found to have fabricated a large number of his articles – i.e., made up the stories, the quotes, and even the travel expenses (as he sometimes claimed expenses for trips not taken, the stories having been written at home) – the NYT devised a number of new rules about reporting that I find absurd, and which it has in many cases stuck to ever since.  One of these is to say exactly where a person was interviewed from:  ie, “said Mr. So-and-So in an email”  or “said Mr. So-and-So in a telephone call” or “said Mr. So-and-So in a text message” etc., which personally I have always found interferes with the reader’s experience of trying to learn about what was said and not how it was conveyed to the reporter.

And one of the often most infuriating – to me – such rules, which I remember as coming from that same Blair period, was the one about having to have confirmation from a family member or some official of the death of the subject of an obituary.  So here we are with the venerable New York Times giving us an obituary in which we are told that the subject died almost a year earlier, that it was reported in several major publications and that there was even a – perhaps obligatory – death notice bought in the formerly NYT-owned Boston Globe…and we have to have the NYT call up the son of the subject of the obit and ask him to confirm the death to put the suspicious reader’s doubts at ease!?!?!  Despite abundant proof that the subject died a year earlier?

This is also the point when the satire of the form of the article begins to create an even wilder mix with the subject of the obituary.  The next paragraph, right below that stylistic convention in the NYT – here absurd – begins with this sentence about the subject of the obituary:  “Mr. Botsford was a fluid, prolific writer unfettered by the boundaries of form or genre.”  I said to myself, “So what the hell then would Mr. Botsford be thinking now about this boundary of form of the genre, I wonder?  That the NYT had to ask for confirmation from his son despite ample proof he was dead and gone…or if not ample proof, then at least nearly a year has past, which would be plenty of time for Mr. Botsford to write letters to the editors of the venerable publications that announced his death, complaining, as another famous writer had, that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.

We now learn that Mr. Botsford was “a novelist, essayist, journalist, biographer, memoirist, teacher, translator and founder, with Bellow, of three literary magazines, most recently News From the Republic of Letters. … A Renaissance man, he also composed chamber works, a ballet and choral music, and was fluent in seven languages and able to read a dozen.”

Here we begin rising even higher in this crescendo of the extraordinary nature of this obituary and its subject:  Botsford’s life was a tale that might stand beautifully alongside that of Woody Allen’s Zelig, for being a man all over the map, except here Botsford’s talents are clearly exceptional, and not just some chance thing.  (In addition to his literary exploits, the article tells us that, “By his account he served as a spy in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.”)

But then the obituary’s extraordinary nature pokes its head out again a couple of paragraphs later with our first “live” quote from the subject of the obit when describing his first meeting with Saul Bellow in the early 1950s at a party, which would lead to the two writers becoming lifelong friends and colleagues:

“It was Saul Bellow, and he was pinned against the wall by a dreadful man from Winnipeg,” Mr. Botsford recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2014. “I had just read ‘The Adventures of Augie March,’ so I walked up and started talking to him.”

Bellow, left, and Botsford

Bellow, left, and Botsford

Hold the presses again!!!!  Our first quote from the deceased comes from an interview that was done by the author of this very same obituary and for the purpose of this very same obituary that we are reading.  What?!?!?  I may have been very inattentive in my reading of obituaries, but I feel this is the first time I have been informed that the subject of the obituary was interviewed by the writer of the obituary for use in the obituary itself.  Is this morbid?  Well, thank goodness they informed us in the beginning of the story that the son of this man confirmed to the NYT that this man was indeed dead.   Otherwise, reading that he had been quoted here from an interview he did FOR this obituary, I might have thought him still alive and taking part in some kind of a practical joke about his own death notice….

Wild!  But it also makes me feel as if someone at the NYT must have said, “Gee, we went to so much trouble to write this obit, including interviewing the guy, and we then missed his death and never used it?!  Come on.  Let’s not waste this.  Get it in print.”

The obituary then spends several paragraphs talking about the relationship between these two men – is it more about Bellow than about Botsford?  No, no.  – until I get to a part where I learn that Mr. Botsford and I have something else in common aside from both being fans of Bellow:  “In his journalism, Mr. Botsford was equally at ease writing about movie stars, concert pianists, bullfighters, novelists and race drivers. Formula One racing and the Boston Red Sox were two of his passions, along with literature, music and food.”

Formula One racing!  Which, yes, I wrote about for a couple of decades for the NYT and its International Herald Tribune edition (although I have no longer been employed by either paper since 2016, and I still love reading the NYT, as this rant makes clear).  But that’s just a personal thing that lit a fire for me, and probably has no place in this rant!

We find he also published some two dozen novels, and had the university education and degrees of about three or four people all rolled into one.  We learn that he was born in Europe, and his family background was as fantastic as his own life, particularly the larger than life tale of his mother and her family.  Her name was “Carolina Elena Rangoni-Machiavelli-Publicola-Santacroce,” and, continues the article, “He said that his mother was a descendant of Niccolo Machiavelli and that his father’s ancestors had helped found Milford, Conn., on Long Island Sound, in 1639. Mr. Botsford recalled his maternal grandmother employing 120 servants at her house near Recanati, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea.”

Wow!  Love it!

Picasso and Jacqueline

Picasso and Jacqueline

He ended up moving to Costa Rica and living in a fabulous home overlooking the sea, a house designed by his son, an architect – and the very man who confirmed his father’s death to the NYT a year after it happened – and then one of the most extraordinary moments of all, the kicker, for me, of the tale of Keith Botsford’s extraordinary life:  We learn that he was married three times, and that his last wife was 52 years younger than him!  That stands as a record for me of age difference in spouses, far outdoing even Charlie Chaplin and Oona O’Neill’s 36-year difference, or Picasso and Jacqueline’s 45-year difference!

So here, the subject of the obituary finally takes over in wonderment from the form of the story completely – form follows function at this point – and we are left with a feeling that this was absolutely a unique, extraordinary person, and thank goodness the NYT chose to publish this story, even one year too late.

Having said that, the subject of the obit and the tale of the obit itself, its writing form, come together again in the kicker that the NYT writer left us with.  The following concept may be true of Bellow and Botsford, but it is also clearly true of the way this obit was written – whether intended or not:

“Whether writing fiction, journalism or biography, Mr. Botsford always kept the reader in mind. For this he thanked Bellow:”

“As my dear friend Saul Bellow put it to me, ‘Take the reader by the hand, Keith, and he will follow you anywhere.’ Or as I tell my students, ‘You are not writing for me, but for the world. Or at least for your Aunt Nellie in Boise, Idaho.’ ”

Something tells me that Keith Botsford would have been amused.

 

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Crazy Mad Wall of “Frontière Nord” at the Cartoucherie in Paris (France, not Texas)

February 17, 2019
bradspurgeon

Frontiere Nord

Frontiere Nord

PARIS – Could there be a better time to be staging plays about the building of walls to separate peoples? Could there be a better play to show to Donald Trump about the significance of building walls than “Frontière Nord,” a play written in 2007 by the Canadian playwright, Suzanne Lebeau? After all, it was written for children (of all ages). My guess, though, is that Trump would never understand the messages of this play, even in the brilliantly produced and performed version that we saw at the Théâtre du Soleil last night – to say nothing of Trump’s certain lack of understanding of the French language. But what was so fabulous about this production by the visiting Montpellier “Théâtre de l’Evidence,” is that it speaks to the spectator on so many different levels of language – music, dance, vocal expression, mime, and above all of intensity of emotion – that it is unlikely any spectator can see it without some sense of the stifling nature of building walls between societies.

I’ve been thinking a lot in recent weeks about exactly what constitutes great theater, as I work on a personal theater project with TAC Teatro and its director Ornella Bonventre; and as I just had my story published in The Stage all about Paris’s 30 minuscule theatres of fewer than 50 seats; and after also seeing yet another piece in one of those theaters last week. The latter was the one-man-show enacting the “Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol at the Tremplin Théâtre in Montmartre. Some of these thoughts came to me during and after that production, directed by Stéphanie Slimani, with the actor Sylvain Zarli, attempting to adapt the classic Russian story to the stage using many of the elements of physical theater, including the introduction of another character beyond the human presence in the form of a dog puppet.

And it is this question of text vs. physical action that really preoccupies me. Most of the plays we see in Paris have to do with the text, and the talk the actors do around that text. The use of the physical to express another world is far too often an afterthought. This is where “Frontière Nord” director, and founder of the Théâtre de l’Evidence, Cécile Atlan, not just excels but in my view works like a virtuoso.

Puppet in Hand in Frontière Nord

Puppet in Hand in Frontière Nord


The play took place at the Cartoucherie in Paris’s 12th arrondissement, in an annex space of the famous Théâtre du Soleil, founded and run by Ariane Mnouchkine since 1970. (Actually, her company was founded in 1964, but they have been at the former munitions factory since 1970, in a wonderland of theater that if you have not yet been there, you have to go.) The atmosphere of the place is more than convivial: Food and drink is served before and after the show, the room probably seats a maximum of 100 or so people, and you can usually meet the artists afterwards for a drink. The show was also presented in conjunction with the ARTA (Association de Recherche des Traditions de l’Acteur) research center at the Cartoucherie.

The live music is provided by the “Trio Zéphyr,” also based in Montpellier. Trio Zéphyr consists of three women string players – violin, viola and cello – who have been performing together for 19 years, and whose vocals are as sweet as their stringed instruments. The music comes from a rich assemblage of classical, modern and world music influences, and while it was composed by the trio for the trio – Marion Diaques, Claire Menguy and Delphine Chomel – and not for the play, Atlan worked specifically with pieces she chose or the trio suggested, adapting the performance and the pieces together.

Frontiere Nord at Théâtre du Soleil

Frontiere Nord at Théâtre du Soleil

The synthesis of the whole is just stunning, as the music adds brilliant drama to the already dramatic situation: The sudden appearance of a wall being built to separate people from the north and the south – and everywhere in between. It is a multiracial cast, too, by the way, with a total of eight actors – three men and five women – plus the trio of musicians, always present and visible off to the side, and sometimes involved practically physically in the action.

I cannot emphasize enough the quality of every element of this show: The actors are 100 percent in character the moment they arrive onstage, and the intensity of their performance is practically physically palpable throughout. The show was about 90 minutes long, and I was not bored for a moment. It was the third show I have now seen in the last year in this room – ranging from a fabulous amateur group’s production to the most recent show of Odin Teatret, called “The Tree” – and it kept me dreaming and asking questions and confronting ideas throughout (as had Odin’s show).

Trio Zéphyr

Trio Zéphyr


In many ways, I felt like I was watching a piece of ancient Greek theater, with the fabulous use of a chorus technique that continued throughout the play, and consisted of three or four characters speaking in unison much of the text. It was a highly stylized production, disconnected from everyday reality, that lifts the spectator into a world about as far from popular text-based theater as you can get.

The use of the puppet character was also beautifully done and added another dimension, and of course it is not surprising since early in her career, Lebeau had studied puppetry. Having started as an actress the 1960s, the Québecoise began devoting herself to writing plays in the mid-1970s and is now one of Canada’s most successful playwrights, especially as an export. I found it very interesting that at the same time as the main Théâtre du Soleil is putting on the production that became a huge controversy in Canada of the play “Kanata” – its Québecois director, Robert Lepage, was criticized for doing a play about the country’s indigenous people without using an indigenous actor (he is using Mnouchkine’s troupe, which personally makes sense to me, but that’s another story) – this other theater at the Cartoucherie is staging a play by another Quebecois that SHOULD be noticed by as many people as Kanata because of its very important subject matter in our day of Trumpian walls…but also, fittingly, in this day of the “Gilets Jaunes.”

“In this story,” said Atlan (in my translation from the French), “the building of a wall destined to create a border has dramatic consequences: Loss of jobs, uprooting of populations, isolation of families, suffering of children…the work exposes the question of freedom, and what humanity does with it. This wall leads to all of the barriers, both visible or invisible, that deprives humankind of its liberty.”

Theatre du Soleil Nefs

Theatre du Soleil Nefs


The play, appealing to almost all the senses – it also has fabulous costumes, by the way – and through a physical theater of an exceptional level, manages to communicate this message to the spectator in a powerful way that the written word or current events alone cannot come close to. That, I suppose, is precisely what makes great theater.

FRONTIÈRE NORD
at the Théâtre du Soleil, from 08 to 24 February 2019

Another, Even Better, Night Playing at the Bachelite Clab (sic) open mic in Milan

April 14, 2017
bradspurgeon

Bachelite CLab Milano

Bachelite CLab Milano

MILAN – I finally had the chance to attend my second Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan last night nearly four months after my first time there. As I have mentioned many times before on this blog, Milan is not really that rich in open mics and open jams. But the ones it does have, are fun – maybe for that very reason of their rarity. In any case, last night, what turned out to be my second taste of this new open mic in Milan also turned into basically something like a 1-hour gig, complete with a drummer and pianist backing me up with my guitar….

Running every second Thursday, this Bachelite bar open mic has so far had a perfect score for me in terms of enjoyment. And much fun as I had the first time at the Bachelite, last night was even better. They changed the location of the stage from the high “bird’s nest” mezzanine at the back of the bar to the front area between the bar and the entrance to the venue.

first at Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan

So it was that the piano and drum set were also located in that quite sizeable area, and for the musician you now have a view of the whole venue, including the bird’s nest part, which is now a mezzanine for customers to sit at tables. The effect is that the open mic is much more intimate. This new stage area is also located next to the front pane glass window and the bar entrance, so you can see and play to the people standing outside smoking cigarettes.

second at Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan

In any case, I managed to play in two sets – the closing set being just two songs – a total of probably close to an hour. And most of that with a pianist and the drummer. Great fun. I do wish there were more Italian musicians showing up to this open mic, but the word still has to pass around, no doubt.

third at Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan

The bar, in any case, and its owner, are clearly made for music. There is also a weekly blues jam, as I have pointed out on my Thumbnail guide to open mics in Milan….

Jamming at the Tapas Bar in Monaco…

May 31, 2016
bradspurgeon

La Bodeguita

La Bodeguita

It was the first time that during my attendance at the Monaco Grand Prix I actually stayed in Monaco. I had regularly stayed in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, once in Menton, and many times in Nice. Nice was my town of choice since starting the open mic adventure. But last week I had an offer to stay in Monaco, right near the entrance to my office – the track. So I decided to accept this wonderful offer and for the first time really check out as much as I could the music scene. What music scene? Well, not really an open mic scene, no. But I did, with a real bit of persistence and good luck, finally find a place to play in Monaco.

I was disappointed by my two visits to the now somewhat changed McCarthy’s Irish pub, as it did not feel welcoming to a guy with a guitar in off the street – me. There were a couple of musicians doing a gig for the three nights preceding the race, and I felt that I was definitely not the happily received guest jammer. That’s fine and normal, but it was a bit of a let down, since I had played there in the past thanks to the open arms of the giggers.

Another option was the Stars ‘N’ Bars right next to the Formula One paddock. Now this is a bar that actually DOES have open mics sometimes, although I’ve not been able to find out how often. I dropped by and asked if they were holding one that weekend, and as is often the case around the world, I was told, “No, not during the Grand Prix weekend.” I was, however, graciously told that I might want to inquire of the woman who was running the entertainment for the weekend. But I never did. I just didn’t feel it happening – although that’s a lame excuse.

In any case, on Saturday night, wandering around with my guitar, I decided that upon arriving back at my apartment near the Place d’Armes, that I was not ready to finish my evening. And I decided that there was actually this funky looking bar tucked away on the Place d’Armes that I had seen in previous days, and which I had an intuition might be the sort of place open to music. It did not look like a typical Monegasque bar. And it seemed to always have an atypical young crowd in the tables outside, just bursting the terrace seams of the place.

So I decided I would check it out. Upon arriving sometime around or after midnight, I was told they were closing. But I then noticed a guitar in the back room of this tiny place, and I said, “You have music?” I was told they had lots of musicians that night just playing and jamming, including some flamenco, some Dutch musicians, something else. And I said I was hugely let down, that I had been looking for a place to play, and that this totally controlled city state where musicians seem only to gig – rather than do impromptu jams and open mics – had let me down…but there here it was, my salvation right under my nose the whole weekend.

I was served a free beer and told I could return Sunday to play, if I wanted to.

Overjoyed, I was. Another case of never giving up. But of course, this was not an organized open mic. In any case, I returned to the place on Sunday night after the amazing race, the place which, by the way, is called La Bodeguita, and I found there were musicians playing. But the same man who invited me back, the manager, told me that the musicians were hired for the evening and that I should, in fact, go down the stairs behind La Bodeguita to another bar owned by the same proprietor, because those Dutch musicians were down there, playing, and that I would no doubt be able to play there.

I was a little let down, because I loved the environment of this La Bodeguita, with its graffiti covered walls, its tiny little square bar, the back room that is big enough for about five people, and the main terrace area where every drinks. It has an authentic Spanish feel to it, including images of heads of bulls, and other Spanish bits and pieces – the fresh ham!!! – and it was just a great vibe. The crowd is young, as I mentioned, and it is indeed a bar where young people who don’t want to be seen at other rich Monaco places go to find cheap beer and a laid back environment.

But anyway, I went down to the other bar, called, 3 Tapas, and find the Dutch guys, guitar sitting on the bar, and another man with an accordion. They were no longer playing, and the Tapas bar was not entirely full of clientele, but there was a nice group of people. I immediately got into a conversation with one of the Dutch friends of the two Dutch musicians, and he asked me to play some music.

So began at least 45 minutes of playing songs acoustically, and having the two Dutch musicians join in on guitar, accordion and vocals. It was a riot. The clientele gathered around the bar, we drank, played, caroused, and for 45 minutes, we forgot we were all in Monaco.

And so it was that my feelings about the musical side of Monaco changed. There is always something available, if you look long enough for it!!! And I had so much fun doing it, that for once I forgot to make any videos of the moment for this blog…!

21 Years into it, Catweazle Open Mic Still Going Strong in Oxford

July 4, 2015
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

OXFORD – It has become my main goal when I come to Oxford to not make a wrong move to miss a chance to attend and play at the Catweazle open mic in the East Oxford Community Centre on Thursday nights. I got ever so slightly lax on Thursday, my sixth time attending, as for once I had a hotel almost across the street from this Oxford institution that is celebrating its 21st year in existence, and in my final few minutes of preparation I decided I could take my time. My heart dropped to my toes as I entered the building at 7:20 PM to find nearly 20 performers already standing in a line up to sign up for a slot.

But I was underestimating the savvy, flexible, sensible approach of Matt Sage, who founded and has MCd this dynamic and unusual open mic all those years; he decided that he could get around 18 of us up on the stage area in the limited time available if we were all reduced to doing just one song – or poem or whatever it was we were doing – each. I felt a sudden relief that having arrived around 10 minutes later than last year I had not jeopardized my moment in front of the Catweazle audience. There were, unfortunately three or four performers behind me that did not make it this time. (But my suspicion is that they did not come from Paris, like I did, on my once-a-year visit!)

So off I was again on the adventure of Catweazle. And once I got up to the performance spot – it is not a stage, and there is no microphone – I suddenly wondered why it was that I so avidly seek out this thing every year! Catweazle ranks as one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking open mics I have ever done, and it does not become any easier.

Why? Because the audience is just so good, so quiet, so attentive, and always so full. There must be close to 100 people in the Catweazle performance space every week, all sitting on the floor or sofas or chairs in that room that is barely large enough for them all, and they are there for one thing only: To listen to the performer.

I reviewed all of my personal songs – my own songs – that I must have done over the years, and I thought about all sorts of possibilities in cover songs, but finally, I decided that perhaps the best way to give the audience something that they did not already have in spades last that night was to sing a song in French. I only know one song in French, so I did Raphael’s “Et Dans 150 Ans.” As it turned out, not even my decision to keep my eyes closed much of the song to concentrate on remembering the words was enough, and I realized instantly that I began singing the third verse after the first verse. But I soldiered on, and decided that three verses of French instead of four was probably enough, and I just excluded the second verse.

It went O.K. otherwise. But some of the talent throughout the rest of the night was fabulous, including a stand-out poet, named Rachel McCarthy, 30, who has been named one of the top young poets to watch – or read??? – in England at the moment.

So if ever you’re in Oxford and want to take part in a very cool, acoustic – no mic – performance space open mic for theater, poetry, music, or whatever you want, do, do, do show up at 7 PM to sign that list, you won’t regret it. It’s not for nothing that it is now celebrating 21 years of its existence.

A New Open Mic in Montreal: Medley Simple Malt

June 2, 2015
bradspurgeon

Medley Simple Malt open mic in Montreal

Medley Simple Malt open mic in Montreal

MONTREAL – I had no idea what I was getting into last night at the Medley Simple Malt bar open mic in Montreal. It seemed a tiny little bit too far off from the center of town where my hotel is located, near the Berri-UQAM metro. And then, once I got there, stepping out of the Rosemont metro, I felt I had wandered even farther away from civilization than I have bargained for. Until I walked around the block and ended up in the strip of stores, bars, restaurants and other amusements where the Medley Simple Malt bar is located, on Saint-Hubert street.

When I entered the bar around 8:20 PM, there were not that many people present, and I feared a dead open mic. I left to eat at a nearby restaurant – had a fabulous confit de canard and another lousy wine – and then headed back to find it still lacked a certain number of people. But bit by bit, the bar filled up, the vibe grew, and by the end of the open mic, the place was just thriving, the open mic was free and easy, open, anything goes, jam, solo, great musicians, a whole lot of French language stuff – relief!!!! – but also English. Totally bilingual.

And the barman, and the choice of beers, were all right up there very high on the list of what an open mic should be like. I had a fabulous, four-quarter-pint glass degustation of brews, and a couple of other beers after that – one offered on the house as a musician.

It’s a vast bar, wooden walls, counter, tables, a little bit of a western feel to it, with the bar in the center, and all sorts of home brewed beers and other stuff. The crowd was really enthusiastic, the music was good, and there was even one of the staff members who was probably the best guitarist of the evening.

Alex’s presentation of the open mic was warm and very competent, as he manned the sound board all night to make sure the volume and sound quality was good. He also accompanied some people on his guitar and did some of his own stuff. Again, one thing I loved about this open mic was for once it had a very high French Quebecois element to it, and not just another Anglo event in Montreal….

It was much to my surprise at the end of the night that I learned from Alex – and then the barman – that this was in fact only the third time the open mic has been done. It felt like it had been going for a long time, it was such a success in the end. It was one of those open mics where there’s a real sense of community by the end of the evening, and that bodes well for the future.

Oh, the only problem was that by the time I left just before 2AM, I didn’t have that many choices on how to get back to my hotel. So I decided to jog it almost all the way down Saint-Hubert, normally a 59 minute walk according to Google Maps, and I think I jogged it – with my guitar and computer on my back and my newspapers in a bag in my hand – in around 35 minutes or so…. Slept like a baby after that….



The Touching – and Occasionally Mad – Moments of a Pierre Bensusan Concert

February 7, 2014
bradspurgeon

Pierre Bensusan 40th

Pierre Bensusan 40th

PARIS – Among the many touching and deeply emotional moments of Pierre Benususan‘s concert at the Essaion theater in Paris last night, was that accompanying the third or so piece this virtuoso guitarist played, when he recounted the story of how his career took off in the United States several decades ago. It was Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, who wrote a letter to the American authorities to back up his demand to be able to go and work in the U.S. Yes, Pete Seeger, who died last week at the age of 94 after one of the most important careers in American folk music.

Bensusan, who is celebrating 40 years of a career as a professional musician this year in CDs and a series of concerts around the world (of which the concert at the Essaion is his Paris leg – and there are two more to go, tonight and tomorrow night), is himself on a clear trajectory as a legendary musician. He finished his anecdote by talking about how he ended up at a festival with Seeger, dining next to him, and hearing the great musician say that music “needs musicians like you.” The anecdote was not told as a boast, Bensusan was clearly emotionally humbled by the presence of Seeger, and his words had clearly touched Bensusan. What Seeger may not have known, though, or what may not have been immediately apparent at the time, is that there are not musicians like Bensusan. There is only Bensusan….

Oh, there was once a Michael Hedges, who by the the way, once wrote a piece called “Bensusan,” and Bensusan himself, last night in Paris played a song he dedicated to Michael Hedges. But Hedges had his style, and Bensusan has his. This French troubadour, whom I have written about in previous blog posts, has developed such a massive repertoire of personal compositions and mixtures of styles, that I’ve never personally heard, seen or heard of another guitarist on this level and with this particular voice. And speaking of voices, Bensusan also occasionally uses his vocal chords, and last night in addition to some of the mad moments of guitar fingerpicking virtuoso stuff there were some mad moments of vocal scat in which Bensusan entirely looses himself in infectious pleasure – one of those fun moments being when for his first encore he returned to the mic and did a vocal scat without touching his guitar. For the second encore he returned, picked up the guitar, and said something like: “OK, with the guitar then….”

I’ve noticed that whenever I do a post about Pierre Bensusan I tend to write glowing accounts that could almost be taken for hyperbole. So I think I will cut this one short, and let readers make up their own minds about what a great guitarist this is – amongst his many laurels were Guitar Player magazine’s crowning him the greatest World Music Guitarist, in 2008 – by looking at a few moments I managed to capture on video last night.

Just Two Nights Left to Attend Bensusan’s Concert in Paris

I also suggest that since there are only two more shows remaining of a total of six at the Essaion – tonight and tomorrow – that readers order their tickets online immediately and go to tonight’s or tomorrow night’s Bensusan show at the Essaion. I attended a concert by Bensusan two years ago at the same venue, and if he plays there again next year, I will go again if I can. It is impossible to not become involved from beginning to end in the hour and a half or so solo concert show. The tour moves on throughout France, by the way, starting with Rennes on 12 Feb., and then it will travel elsewhere in the world, so just check out the dates of Bensusan’s 2014 tour if you happen to be reading this from some other country.

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