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The Carter Code

The divorce rumor surrounding entertainment’s supercouple, Jay Z and Beyoncé, not only refuses to die, it’s beginning to crest with the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards, on August 24, and perhaps will break with the conclusion of the pair’s 21-date On the Run tour, at the end of September. Is an extramarital affair to blame? The tabloids suggest yes and have been busily analyzing Bey’s behavior, promotions and lyrics for suggestions of Jay’s infidelity. But perhaps if anyone were listening to Jay’s rhymes instead, we’d have a different story. What clues about Beyoncé has he encoded in his songs? Jay Z’s most recent offering, the esoterically titled Magna Carta Holy Grail, is sprinkled with references to marital disharmony. Cryptography would come as no surprise here: The name of the album alludes to the central myth of The Da Vinci Code, and the hip-hop world is clearly obsessed with Illuminati lore. Further, Jay Z proved himself a master of mega bread crumb trails when promoting his autobiography, Decoded (get it?), four years back. So what’s on his mind, exactly? Did Bey cheat on Jay? The above lyric, from “Holy Grail,” would suggest yes, and more than once. Does this set up some cheating retaliation? Check the record: This interesting twist, from “Beach Is Better,” has the singer about to pick up the other woman at her home, while still acknowledging his attraction to Beyoncé. Conflicted? Apparently. In “BBC,” is Jay Z suggesting a fling in an old Infiniti Q45 (a classic dealer car from the golden age of hip-hop) or in his current Maybach? Hard to tell: The lyrics, performed with Nas, switch between the speaker’s past as a drug dealer and his present as a superstar rolling with Teflon, a.k.a. his current producer, Rick Ross. Idealizing a difficult and uncertain past, plus an inability to differentiate between past and present, could suggest a state of anxiety brought on by domestic stress. Here in “Jay Z Blue” the rapper overtly points out the added tension a baby brings to coupledom and how he just needs a break. The track goes on to address his own parents’ difficult marriage and breakup, and how he hopes not to repeat the pattern. But perhaps marriage counseling isn’t a job for Dan Brown. Maybe trouble in multimillionaire paradise goes back to more fundamental relationship issues. Did Jay Z leave the golden toilet seat up one too many times? Or did he finally tire of hearing how Beyoncé is the boss? Whatever the case, it certainly appears that the island in the Bahamas just isn’t big enough for the two of them. Photo courtesy of Gregorio T. Binuya/Everett CONNECTS_On-The-Run-Tour

by David Pfister

Aug 22, 2014

The International Cult of Copycat Art Thieves

On the morning of August 21, 1911, an out-of-work Italian carpenter, dressed as a repairman, removed a painting from the wall of the Louvre and walked out with it under his smock. When he got home, he put the contraband in a wooden trunk and waited for the alarms to sound. But none did. Paris went on with her day. In fact, for more than 24 hours no one noticed the painting was missing—most peculiar, considering it was the Mona Lisa. How did a small-time crook, working alone, make off with the world’s most famous painting in broad daylight? Truth be told, it was pretty easy. A year earlier, the museum had briefly hired the man, Vincenzo Peruggia, to install glass cases over some of its paintings. Peruggia had actually handled the Mona Lisa—felt its weight, its corners, its depth—so when the moment came, he knew exactly how to conceal it. On that fateful Monday the Louvre was closed for cleaning (another detail Peruggia knew beforehand), and security was pared down to just 10 guards—10 bored military retirees spread out over eight miles of galleries. A workman did catch Peruggia on his way out, however, struggling with a locked door while holding a conspicuous 30-by-21-inch rectangle under his arm—so the man naturally took out a key and opened the door for him. Vincenzo_Perugia_mugshotPhoto courtesy of Wikimedia Within a few days the Police Nationale had a prime suspect: Guillaume Apollinaire, a provocative French poet who had once called for the Louvre to be burnt down and who, though innocent of this theft, had been complicit in an earlier Louvre theft, the 1907 robbery of some Egyptian statuettes. The trail of stolen art led the Mona Lisa investigators right to his door. Upon questioning, Apollinaire implicated his friend, a young Spanish artist named Pablo Picasso, to whom he had given one of the figurines, and Picasso was also called in for questioning. Both men were exonerated, but suffice it to say, their relationship suffered. Peruggia was finally caught in Italy in 1913, trying to sell the Mona Lisa to an Italian art dealer. But there’s another aspect to this story that interests me much more. Fast-forward to 50 years after the heist—exactly 50 years—to August 21, 1961. On that day a man allegedly climbed into London’s National Gallery through a restroom window, removed Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington and escaped the way he had come—a baffling accomplishment, considering the man was in his 60s and weighed around 250 pounds (his son later confessed to the crime). Exactly 49 years after that, on August 21, 2010, thieves entered a museum in Cairo and sliced Vincent van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers out of its frame with box cutters. They too escaped with apparent ease. Oh, and remember that famous 2004 Munch Museum heist in which two thieves made off with two Edvard Munch masterpieces, The Scream and Madonna? That took place on, well, August 22—but the previous day had been stormy in Oslo. Chalk that one up to a rain check. The recurrence of August 21st art heists, like that of pop musicians dying at the age of 27, could be mere coincidence—or it could be evidence of a shady conspiracy. Could there be an underground cult of Peruggia worshippers who, every few decades, executes a brazen raid in broad daylight, each one marking the anniversary of, and in some way paying tribute to, Peruggia’s audacious Mona Lisa caper? Was Peruggia’s own crime a tribute to a still earlier August 21st heist from antiquity? Or have I just been reading too much Dan Brown…? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CULTUREMAP_Stolen-Art-Thieves-Past-Present

by Gabriel Rosenberg

Aug 21, 2014

Joe and Marilyn Never Could Say Good-Bye

In the end, it all came down to Joe. The 1954 marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio lasted only nine months, but when Monroe was found dead in her Brentwood, Los Angeles, home in 1962, it was DiMaggio who identified her body. He also planned her funeral: According to Joe and Marilyn, a juicy new book by C. David Heymann, DiMaggio warned beforehand that if “any of those fucking Kennedys turn up…I’ll bash in their faces.” As Monroe’s casket was closed, he whispered to her, “I love you, I love you.” DiMaggio even had half a dozen long-stemmed roses delivered twice a week to her crypt for decades. Their marriage was brief, but their love affair endured. “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio retired in 1951 at the age of 36, after leading the New York Yankees to nine World Series championships. In 1952, obsessed with a publicity photo of starlet Marilyn Monroe posing with a baseball bat, DiMaggio used his connections to arrange a meeting. She insisted on a double date and arrived 90 minutes late. David March, the other gentleman in the party, noticed that at the sight of the 25-year-old bombshell, “you could almost hear Mr. DiMaggio going to pieces.” After dinner DiMaggio and Monroe drove around Hollywood and Beverly Hills for hours. Monroe wrote in her memoir that “scores of men had told me I was beautiful,” but when DiMaggio complimented her it “was the first time my heart had jumped to hear it.” Marilyn invited Joe to spend the night, and the couple would be together, off and on, for the next 10 years. Between that first date and their marriage on January 14, 1954, Monroe’s career exploded with the release of Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. She may have dutifully copied down Mama DiMaggio’s lasagna recipes, but Monroe had no intention of giving up her career. During their honeymoon, in Japan, DiMaggio quickly learned what it meant to be married to the most famous woman in the world: The press there called him Mr. Marilyn Monroe and the Forgotten Man. DiMaggio declined to accompany his new bride on a USO trip to entertain the troops in Korea, where the soldiers’ adulation thrilled her. Still giddy from the attention, Monroe gushed to the Yankee Clipper, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You’ve never heard such cheering!” “Oh yes I have” was the only reply he could muster. But Monroe’s exposed panties were soon the last straw. Thousands of men gathered on a Manhattan street corner to watch Monroe and her costar, Tom Ewell, film The Seven Year Itch in September 1954. Take after take, the wind machine blew, the skirt lifted, Monroe cooed (“Isn’t it delicious?”), and the panties were flashed. Director Billy Wilder saw the “look of death” on DiMaggio’s face. Joe and Marilyn divorced three weeks later. Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956, but their five-year marriage was not a happy one. While filming The Misfits, in 1961, she screamed at Miller, “You’re an evil bastard! I should’ve stayed with Joe.” DiMaggio now played the role of guardian angel to his ex. When Monroe wanted out of a psychiatric hospital, she called DiMaggio. She was released after he told the terrified staff, “I’ll give you five minutes to get her out here, or I’ll tear this fucking place apart brick by brick.” A bittersweet passage in Joe and Marilyn may explain why DiMaggio carried a torch for Monroe for the rest of his life. While he was sifting through his late wife’s correspondence one day, the book recounts, “Joe’s face suddenly brightened. He’d come across a short letter Marilyn had recently written to him but never mailed: ‘Dear Joe, If I can only succeed in making you happy—I will have succeeded in the biggest and most difficult thing there is—that is to make one person completely happy. Your happiness means my happiness. Marilyn.’” DiMaggio never remarried. When he died, in 1999, his last words were “I’ll finally see Marilyn again.” Photo courtesy of Everett SHOP_Joe-and-Marilyn

by Colin J. Warnock

Aug 20, 2014

Scoring a Love Affair With Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s voice was notable for its range of expression: It could be jubilant, reverent, haunting, despairing, angry, fierce, scathing, gentle, sensual, bawdy and even more. She punctuated and teased it out with masterful piano arrangements, but the riches were always in that voice. Whether singing standards associated with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald or the signature tunes of George Harrison, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, Simone made each indelibly her own. With the controversial biopic Nina, starring Zoe Saldana, potentially forthcoming this year, what better time to get reacquainted with the real deal? A longed-for career as a classical pianist eluded Simone; instead she plumbed gospel, Broadway, jazz, soul, pop, folk and rock. Her subjects ranged from racism, crime, sin, death and the blues to black pride, feminism, freedom, redemption and love. On this last topic she was a virtuoso, passionately narrating love’s beginnings, ups and downs, and endings. She left dozens of examples, and narrowing those down for this playlist meant rejecting many worthy contenders, including “I Got It Bad, and That Ain’t Good,” “Since I Fell for You,” “To Love Somebody,” “The Other Woman,” “Since My Love Is Gone,” “The End of the Line,” “Forget,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “My Man Is Gone Now,” “Spring Is Here” and “For a While.” Every fan has special favorites, but here are some of mine—all involving the many forms of our central human concern, as expressed by the inimitable Nina Simone. Declarations Simone delivered messages of love in a variety of styles. Her poignant rendition of the Gershwins’ “I Loves You, Porgy” is a masterpiece of emotion and understatement, while a plaintive howl conveys love’s “awful ache” in her cover of Billie Holiday’s “Tell Me More and More and Then Some.” In the rollicking recording of “Love Me or Leave Me” on her 1966 album Let It All Out, Simone romps through an exuberant piano interlude, an ode to her favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Longing In these three songs made for dancing close and slow, Simone gives a suggestive twist to mundane household tasks (“I want a little steam on my clothes”), and she campaigns for romancing in the dark and in the light: “In the Dark,” “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” “Turn Me On.” Lust The eight-minute song “Jelly Roll” is about as smooth and swinging as they come, and there’s no mistaking Simone’s meaning. She’s not singing about pastries when she exults, “I could go for a ride on your sweet jelly roll, but I wouldn’t give nothing for my juicy, juicy soul.” Runners-up: “Chauffeur,” “Do I Move You?” Bed of Roses Simone admitted to having a tumultuous personal life, and songs about relationships going well are relatively few in her catalog. Her hit “My Baby Just Cares for Me” is given a bizarre (creepy, even) treatment in Aardman Animation’s 1987 music video. Hear also: “Seems I’m Never Tired Lovin’ You,” “You Better Know It.” On the Rocks “Be My Husband” is the bleakest of marriage proposals, made to a man who treats the singer “so doggone mean.” Discussing relationships in an interview, Simone stated that she would not do housework, yet here she sings, “If you want me to, I’ll cook and sew”—a clear sign this entreaty is made under duress. Also try: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “I Put a Spell on You.” Cheating Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring” and “Don’t Explain” are stripped-down and grief stricken, while “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” is brassy and sassy. The End “Do What You Gotta Do” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas” are both beautiful, but let’s close with Simone’s wrenching cover of “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes).” Be sure to stick around for her phrasing on the final lines: “I get along without you very well, ’course I do, ’cept perhaps in spring. But then I should never ever think of spring, for that would surely break my heart in two.” Photo courtesy of STEVE WOOD/Rex USA/Everett CONNECTS_Nina-Simone

by Amy K. Hughes

Aug 19, 2014