On the same weekend, hiding indoors from the cold, we were fortunate to catch two live shows dedicated to music -- both bristling with talent and energy.
The radio show was on Friday, a live performance from Carnegie Hall, featuring Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi, her ensemble of young musicians.
The show was broadcast by WQXR-FM, the gem of a classical station which has recently enlarged its program of live performances. Not only that, but the station often assigns two of its assets, Jeff Spurgeon and John Schaefer, to be co-hosts. (Spurgeon is known for his witty three-minute synopses of upcoming operas; Schaefer is known for his esoteric taste in new recordings.)
The two were posted in the wings of the historic hall, as the musicians walked toward stage, nervous tension crackling through our Bose FM radio at home.
Because the concert was on the radio, we could not see which of her bright gowns Mutter had chosen, to go with her energy (and, dare I say it, her beauty) but the music reminded us why Mutter has been one of the best violinists in the world, for four decades, since her mid-teens.
Mutter was the driving force in pieces by Vivaldi, Unsuk Chin, and Saint-Georges, a composer of Senegalese ancestry, who was a few years older than Mozart. The co-hosts told us that Saint-Georges is the subject of a forthcoming movie, “Chevalier,” due to be released in April.
After the break, Mutter led the ensemble through a bristling version of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and then the audience (this was, after all, Carnegie Hall) was treated to three encores.
Finally, the musicians filed off the stage, punctuated by shoes scuffling and satisfied fragments of chatter. Schaefer likened himself to a sports broadcaster in a clubhouse, watching and interviewing athletes after a good performance. Mutter herself stopped and gave a proud baseball manager’s critique of her players, generous with her time for Spurgeon and Schaefer. In our living room, my wife and I applauded – for the leader, for the ensemble, and for the two hosts. Bravo, WQXR. Bravo!
Two evenings later, we found a warm corner in our house to watch the Grammy awards. We are acutely aware of being, how can I say this, out of it. We don’t know the contemporary pop music that our kids and grandkids choose, but my wife has been an early fan of Adele, and I had heard that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were on the card, and that Bonnie Raitt was up for a few awards. Quite enough.
We marveled at the star power of Lizzo and her group -- "Big Grrrls" – and we could detect the intelligent sizzle from Taylor Swift – and I wondered why the dynamic singer from Puerto Rico is named Bad Bunny – and we frankly didn’t think Harry Styles has much of a voice. Or does that matter?
But Stevie Wonder had the same impact that he did 50 years ago when he was “Little Stevie Wonder” – and Smokey Robinson could still rock.
When Grammy-winner Kim Petras announced that she was the first trans woman to win an Oscar, I could not help but wonder what Gov. DeSantis of Florida – that scowling, ignoramus latter-day George Wallace wannabe -- was thinking, if he was watching. Will he ban the Grammys next year? Or CBS itself?
Then came the spectacle – an anniversary celebration of hip-hop – 50 years? Really? A lot of gents with attitudes and costumes, names and faces I sort of recognized, came bounding onto the stage, chanting things that merited a quick and frequent network finger on the bleep key. Frankly, I was spellbound by the procession. Wish I had somebody to explain who they were and what they stood for. But…but…I liked them. Keep bouncing, guys.
Beyoncé arrived late. The word was that she got stuck in LA traffic. I didn’t believe it for a minute. Beyoncé merits a squad-car escort with red-lights flashing. Late is fashionable. Beyoncé is fashionable. She can do better than that excuse.
The Grammys honored dozens of music people who passed in the last year, starting with a sweet tribute to Loretta Lynn by Kacey Musgraves, singing her signature, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” My whole family, watching here and there, pinged its approval and why wouldn’t they? Auntie Loretta invited me to help write her autobiography—and put our three kids through college. Thank you, darlin’.
Nearly three hours into it, First Lady Jill Biden came out to present the award for the best song. The announcement seemed to legitimately stun her fellow septuagenarian, Bonnie Raitt, who somehow managed a kind and coherent acceptance speech.
I have been a fan of Raitt for decades, particularly for her “Road Tested” double album -- one of the most played albums on my iPod – with heart-touching songs like “Longing in Their Heart” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” qualifying me as a flat-out Bonnie Raitt groupie.
As poleaxed as she seemed, Raitt found the grace to mention John Prine, her friend who died of Covid nearly three years ago, who wrote the song “Angel from Montgomery,” on that same “Road Tested” album.
Bonnie Raitt, thanking John Prine.
With an hour to go on the Grammys, I clicked off the tube. Quite good enough for me on this long, cold and highly musical weekend.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.