Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter

Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter

Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter

Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter

Synopsis

John Flamsteed (1646–1719) was the first Astronomer Royal, appointed to the newly founded Greenwich Observatory. Charged with improving navigation at sea, he used meticulous telescopic observations to compile a 'Catalogue of British Stars', radically updating Tycho Brahe's previous naked-eye calculations. However he delayed publishing, leading to a vituperative quarrel with contemporaries Newton and Halley, who published his results without his permission. Flamsteed managed to destroy most of that edition - his own was published posthumously - but his reputation was damaged. A century later, Francis Baily (1774–1844), a stockbroker who became President of the Royal Astronomical Society, rediscovered Flamsteed's papers, including autobiographical writings and extensive correspondence. Their publication in this volume, along with a revised version of the catalogue, rehabilitated Flamsteed's reputation and restated the importance of methodical observation in astronomy. Today, this book illuminates both the social context of Flamsteed's work and the intellectual climate of Baily's London.

Excerpt

The inimitable Elvis Costello once remarked, with typical sarcastic bravado, that writing about music was like dancing about architecture. Now, far be it from me to contradict one of our greatest singer-songwriters, not to mention one featured as an “island” in my own book; however, some exception must be taken to the talented Mr. Costello’s observation. First of all, let’s readily admit that he is utterly correct, insofar as music and the songs they convey are best appreciated in the temporal immediacy of the listening experience. But, by reflecting on the songs’ origins, their blueprints so to speak, one can often clarify how such songs occupy the landscape of both our culture and our own personal lives. Thus, we attempt to imagine the biography of sounds and visions and their ancestry in our lives.

True, writing about music just might be like dancing about architecture, but it is also equally true that some architecture deserves to be danced to—such as Costello’s own quirky songs, for instance—especially when it seems so crystal clear that each song is also a kind of building, a building imagined to contain the message of the song itself, designed and constructed by the writer, and delivered in his or her own distinctive voice. Costello’s songs are little houses that take our breath away. Songs which, as a friend of mine recently told me, you can live inside of for a while.

But how and why do these talented but often tormented tellers of tall tales speak on our behalf? By telling us how they feel, they also somehow manage to tell us how we feel. We still need an adequate analysis, certainly more than that provided by the acclaimed author of Art and Artist, Otto Rank, of what makes the most creative individuals in the singing-songwriting business also . . .

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