Louise May Alcott (Then Again, She May Not Alcott)

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_GirlI was reading this blog somewhere by a woman writer about how women in music were not given the accolades they deserved. So far, so good. But then they made the comparison and contrasted Jimi Hendrix with Patti Smith. Like, why were there all these books about Jimi and so few about Patti Smith! Maybe, just maybe, it’s because Patti Smith’s music is like licking ashtrays! And that is just some graffiti I read at Winterland Auditorium in San Francisco after she had played there. I don’t really care to put her down, it’s like apples and oranges, or maybe watermelons and tangerines, but to compare them and suggest there is some kind of male conspiracy to put down Patti Smith because she didn’t get as much press as Jimi Hendrix is ludicrous, at best, and it made me oblivious to anything further this writer had to say on the subject.

Jimi Hendrix is an Orpheus, a divine musician that comes along rarely. Like Mozart, Charlie Parker, Chopin, Paganini. Can’t think of a female who belongs in this pantheon, but if I could, I would certainly include her. There are sure singers, but composers and instrumentalists . . . . I would say Peggy Lee, as a singer who also wrote some great tunes, and Mary Lou Williams, a great pianist and composer. Lady Gaga plays the piano, writes music, performs. She is talented in a lot of ways. But she was playing guitar in one of her videos from her Joanna album, and I don’t even think it was plugged in. It’s hard to think of any women or a woman who would be the female equivilant of Hendrix. He is so amazing as a guitarist that they’re not really in his league, and even if we’re talking about other male guitarists, it’s hard to find his equal. And Patti Smith? Please. She even copied the spelling of her name with an i instead of a y from Jimi.

Hypothetically, I am in agreement. Theoretically, I am in agreement. There should be more women in Music and the Arts, and their contributions should be recognized–but when you start comparing Jimi Hendrix and Patti Smith, you have lost me irretrievably.

Before Hendrix became a big Rock Star he was kind of a dork and a nerd. I’m sure that his motivation to play music had a lot to do with, hey, I can get chicks! So, that is a very big reason for the disparity. Chicks don’t need to mess with guitars and amps to get attention from males. That is one very big factor that needs to be considered.

Now, before turning our attention to other art forms, I will give this theory some credence in a certain case I heard of recently: The Schumanns. Robert and Clara Schumann were brother and sister, and Robert Schumann is remembered as a composer, whereas his sister, who was actually more talented, is remembered as a musician who was the sister of Robert Schumann.  Clara did compose some music herself, and she is also credited (or not credited, actually) with editing her brother’s music, behind the scenes, as it were. There is a situation where the male, less talented than the female, was supported and encouraged more in his musical career.

I don’t really want to get into it with the Art world right now. I think Frida Kahlo may have been more talented than her husband, Diego Rivera. At the time he was probably getting more recognition, but in retrospect, she is the more celebrated. I also like Georgia O’Keefe. She was married to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. I think she is more celebrated than he, but he was important in that he contributed to the notion that photography was fine Art. Still, perhaps his most famous image is the 1918 portrait of his wife entitled, “Hands.” Is there a woman painter to compare with, Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, or Van Gogh?

What about Shakespeare? Actually, there are a lot of really talented writers who were women. Jane Austen. The Brontë sisters. They used male pen names at first: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Once the books became popular, they switched to their real names.  Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë. There was a Brontë brother, named Branwell, who didn’t write any books, but is remembered for a family portrait of his three sisters where he actually painted over his self, erasing himself, from that hallowed group, from their lives, almost from history, except as a ghost. George Eliot was really just a pen name for Mary Anne Evans. Even after Middlemarch became known, she kept her pen name. She wanted to be taken seriously, and her given name was rather bland.

Anyway, there are a lot of very talented woman writers. But what I want to touch on briefly is a recent article I read that complained that men were always trying to get her to read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and even though she didn’t read it, she was sure she wouldn’t like it. Specifically, men this young woman have known pressured her to read Infinite Jest, which is David Foster Wallace’s Magnum Opus, a shelf bender that is over a thousand pages, with extensive and copious footnotes, that should really be read as part of the book. Hint: use two bookmarks.

I have read the book, and it is well worth the investment of time. I guess I don’t really want to spoil it for people who have not yet read it, but will at some point. For a woman writer to write about it without reading it herself is really of no consequence. Whatever she has to say about it, she hasn’t really any right to an opinion. I think that she has every right to not read it. And any males that have pressured her to read it may be considered uncouth for doing so. But I would just say that she is really missing out on a great literary experience. It is a shame that she would let the over exuberance of people who happen to be a different gender than her prevent her. And also, if she wants to criticize it, she should at least read it. Even if she ultimately decides that it isn’t for her. But to just criticize it saying that it is too long and she doesn’t want to read it? I can see that you would have reasons to not read a really long and difficult book. That is a valid subject for a personal essay.

But I don’t care what your opinion is of a book you haven’t read. I think the book is really good, and there are some things I might criticize about it if I was in a Book Club or something talking to other people who had read it. But there is so much amazing writing in it. So much truly admirable writing. It is a Tour de Force.  And that is a term that is overused and might have lost some of its luster,  but in the case of Infinite Jest, totally applicable. The title is equally applicable. From William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The scene where he contemplates the skull of his father’s court jester, Yorick:

Hamlet: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite
jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a
thousand times, and now how abhorr’d in my imagination it is!
My gorge rises at it.

So, anyway. The title is kind of taking on William Shakespeare. And though it is shear audacity to do so, and ultimately a failed attempt, since Shakespeare retains his crown, still, you have to admire someone who aims that high.

Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

This entry was posted in Music.

2 comments on “Louise May Alcott (Then Again, She May Not Alcott)

  1. Hey dummy! It’s Louisa May Alcott. NOT Louise.
    But if you change it now it will break the permalink. So you’re stuck with it.
    Also, your writing is poorly structured. You get off the track, then repeat the same points verbatim. Form, my friend, is something you need to work on. Why did you tweet a link to Michyko? She wouldn’t like this slop fest. Besides, she is no longer NYT book reviewer.

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