Re: Eat a plum

1

to use the indefinite article

I realize you're talking about this NYer, but this is one of my pet peeves about the NYT, except in a different context. I can't stand "Mr. Marshall is married to Elizabeth Stand, the poet" and the like. Either we've never heard of her, in which case she is a poet, or we have, in which case we usually don't need to be reminded of her profession.

The only reason to say "the poet" is to clarify that we are not talking about Elizabeth Stand, the car mechanic. Grrr.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:02 PM
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Damn, you've never heard "Constipation Blues" or "Bite It"? Say it ain't so!

I've had a music wonkery question I've been meaning to ask you regarding the alphabetization of ambiguous names. Currently I've adopted the following:

Hawkins, Screamin' Jay
Waters, Muddy
Howlin' Wolf
Snoop Dogg
Doggfather, Tha
Captain Beefheart

I'm not sure by what rules I'd defend these. What say you?


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:02 PM
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"Tha Doggfather" is the only one that seems to be a problem.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:10 PM
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Elizabeth Stand, the car mechanic

Who, it should be said, is just a wizard with mid-90s foreign cars.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:10 PM
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I disagree with Witt.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:11 PM
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w-lfs-n, the blogger, disagrees with Witt, the commenter.

w-lfs-n, the aide to Sen. Clinton, may well agree with Witt, the former figure skater.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:13 PM
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There's an obvious (to me) difference between "Mr Marshall is married to Elizabeth Stand, a poet" and "Mr Marshall is married to Elizabeth Stand, the poet"; the latter implies much more notability, or currency, or the like the former. Eg, in the former case, you don't get the impression that there's any reason for you to have heard of Ms Stand, whereas in the latter, you're implicitly being told that maybe she's achieved some degree of fame as a poet.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:14 PM
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I dunno, w-lfs-n. I think it's perfectly possible that Witt may have identified the impetus behind the article.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:17 PM
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great post and article
i remember i had a beautiful dream after reading Blavatskaya, i was floating in the outer space and the cosmos was really really beautiful, like the IMAX movies
hopefully i'll remember the difference between the articles for some time
Thank you, Mr. Ben w-lfs-n.
good night, all


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:19 PM
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you're implicitly being told that maybe she's achieved some degree of fame as a poet condescended to. This is a well-known person, but not to you, dumbo, so we'll flag it for you.

Either she's famous or she's not. Most people are not. Being slightly well-known in a small, incestuous social circle is not being famous. Even if most of the people in that circle read the publication in question, most of the readers of the publication will still not be in that social circle.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:20 PM
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I'd accept "Gen. Ripper, the Pentagon shill".


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:20 PM
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I only know anything about this because of the R.E.M. track "Lightnin' Hopkins", which means I don't know anything at all.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:27 PM
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Also, to 2: OCLC says Muddy Waters, not Waters, Muddy. Heed the librarians!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:27 PM
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the latter implies much more notability, or currency

Or, implies that you ought to know who she is already. But if I already know, I don't need to be told again. And if I don't already know, she's not really famous. It's just the Times trying to make you feel bad for your lack of cultural capital. " ... married to Elizabeth Stand, a well-known poet" would be more acceptable, because it's more clear that they're trying to school you.



Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:30 PM
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Gonerill, the pwnd by 10.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:31 PM
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Being slightly well-known in a small, incestuous social circle is not being famous.

So is this particularly about the use of the article with a poet?

It doesn't have to be a matter of condescension. One can receive a reminder without being condescended to.

It could also be a useful way of, entirely without scolding, noting the person's rank within his or her calling or whatever. If the article had said "the early rhythm-and-blues star", that wouldn't be scolding you for not knowing, necessarily, but it could well be letting you know that within r&b he's achieved a certain status. You don't care about r&b, no biggie.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:33 PM
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LOVE Screamin' Jay Hawkins. His version of "I Love Paris" (on Frenzy, a great album) is definitive. His Wikipedia entry reveals more facets to the man than I ever knew—for example, that he revered Paul Robeson and intended to be an opera singer (what a spectacular Zarastro he would have been!) and that he was once the Alaska middleweight boxing champion.

Why the fuck does The New Yorker waste ink on American Idol? Music journalists everywhere are getting pushed off pages so that newspapers and magazines can run stories on a fucking TV show that doesn't need any publicity because it's on fucking TV. God, that pisses me off. Garbage. I'm glad I never renewed my subscription.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:33 PM
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OCLC, eh? I was on the fence about that one, but it seems that the two names have stand alone values that mimic a given name.

Now I'm wondering if there's a place for "tah".


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:33 PM
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"I Put a Spell on You" is the famous one, but I like "Voodoo" even better. (Portrait of a Man also features his covers of "Heart Attack and Vine" and, yes, "Ol' Man River".)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:34 PM
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Oh, and yes, that The New Yorker doesn't recognize that Hawkins deserves the definite article is just further proof that The New Yorker sucks.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:36 PM
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(That said I would certainly acknowledge that this device can be, and maybe often is, used to enforce in-groupness.)

But if I already know, I don't need to be told again. And if I don't already know, she's not really famous.

We ignore the second sentence ... if you don't already know, you still might need to know that this so-named person is the same as the so-named person with whom you're already acquainted, no? Even here "so-named person X, a Y", doesn't tell you if so-named person X is the Y.

intended to be an opera singer (what a spectacular Zarastro he would have been!)

I think my dad told me this once, but I only ever half-believed it.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:37 PM
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"Heart Attack and Vine" was originally released on Hawkins' Black Music for White People, which I don't own but is clearly the Unfogged-iest album ever made.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:37 PM
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I've got to hear Hawkins doing "Heart Attack and Vine".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:38 PM
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I heart Gonerill.

16.1: Dude. No.

16.2: Agreed. See the latter part of 14.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:38 PM
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That said, I have on occasion been genuinely confused. Robin Williams the tech writer is IIRC a woman and quite well-known in her field. Robin Williams the comic and actor is world-famous. Even so, disambiguation can be helpful in their case (cases?).*

*I kind of just wanted an excuse to use the word "disambiguation." Yay Wikipedia for popularizing it!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:41 PM
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Poets form a small, incestuous social circle, is all.

Gonerill couldn't even remember that we're talking about the NYer and not the NYT.

16.2: Agreed. See the latter part of 14.

The latter part of 14 suggest a different way of condescending that's merely more explicit, and does not at all constitute an acknowledgement that the "the occupation" construction need not be condescending at all.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:42 PM
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I've got to hear Hawkins doing most songs. I'd even like "God Bless America" then.


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:43 PM
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I used to work at OCLC. I'm a little sorry I left before they sued the Library Hotel, a move that perfectly summarizes the place's mentality. A colleague characterized the underpaid contractors who do most of the data entry (and likely the ones who decided which vaguely scoped rule to apply to Muddy Waters) as "just your regular cookie eaters."


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:45 PM
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they sued the Library Hotel

Holy smokes, I thought you were joking. What an absurd case, and how embarrassing for a library-related organization to be so monumentally on the wrong side of a fair-use/IP case.

just your regular cookie eaters

Kinda-related data point suggesting that librarians are more or less as progressive as the society around them: The Library of Congress subject heading for Malcolm X was Little, Malcolm (his birth name). I always thought it was at least partially racism and a kind of paternalism. You can call yourself what you like, lil' guy, but we with the power will dictate where your autiobiography will be found forevermore.

But times change. The LC subject head for Snoop Doggy Dogg is... Snoop Dogg.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:52 PM
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Um, autobiography.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:53 PM
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Just wait till he converts and changes his name to Shizl al-LBC.


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 10:59 PM
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I have a track from Probe Is Turning On the People! of SCJ doing "Orange-Colored Sky."


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 11:07 PM
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Gonerill couldn't even remember that we're talking about the NYer, the magazine, and not the NYT, the newspaper.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 11:12 PM
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If you thought 33 was funny, then it was by me.

Otherwise:

Try to be funnier, anonymous!

Fuck is it late back east. Good night.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-15-08 11:14 PM
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This is house style at the Economist, with no exceptions, not even for Bill Clinton, the American President or Mozart, the composer.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 1:00 AM
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Antarctica, penguin-studded mega-continent. Bethlehem, legendary birthplace of Jesus Christ.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 1:10 AM
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You jest, but you are obviously unaware of Bethlehem, PA? Again: Disambiguation, baby!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 1:17 AM
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Antarctica, song by John Cale.

I have a horrible fear that most people who have heard "I Put a Spell on You" deez days associate it with Nina Simone. Not that there's anything wrong with Nina Simone.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 2:06 AM
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That's Nina Simone, the American singer, right?

It's also house style on Aaronovitch Watch (Incorporating "World of Decency") to ensure that no confusion is made between Alan Johnson, the minister and Alan "Not The Minister" Johnson, the college lecture and apostle of British war-liberalism.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 2:37 AM
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to use the indefinite article

Or should it be "to use an indefinite article?" I seem to find confusion (see 5.71 vs. 15.9), where I might have hoped for clarity. (Although perhaps they are carefully distinguishing between "indefinite article", the grammatical construct, and "indefinite article", the descriptor for particular words. )


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 3:41 AM
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29: I am still (quietly) waging my one-man campaign to get arts writers and editors to stop writing sentences like "Rapper Ice-T (Tracy Marrow) is condemned to play police officers for the rest of his career." If it's a news story, I can see some justification for including the birth name, but when do you ever see a non-hip hop entertainer referred to that way? "Björk (Guðmundsdóttir) attended the premiere with her friend Tom Cruise (Thomas Cruise Mapother IV)" Not bloody likely.

Also, remember how the Punch house style was to write things like: "Mr. Steve Gutenberg, the tragedian, attended the premiere with his friend Mr. David Spade, the tragedian."? I always thought that was funny.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 5:17 AM
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Somewhere I have a Screaming Jay CD called "Black Music for White People" which features a picture of Hawkins with a bone in his nose, holding a spear on one side and a white woman on the other.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 6:20 AM
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this one


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 6:21 AM
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and likely the ones who decided which vaguely scoped rule to apply to Muddy Waters

I'm always looking for more reasons to hate OCLC, but this rule--it's AACR2 22.11: Entry Under Phrase--was adopted by the LOC.

"Enter in direct order a name that consists of a phrase or appellation that does not contain a forename.
Also enter in direct order a phrase that consists of a forename or forenames preceded by words other than a term of address or a title of position or office. Make a reference from the forename(s) followed by the initial word(s).
If, however, such a name has the appearance of a forename, forenames, or initials, and a surname, enter under the pseudosurname. Refer from the name in direct order."

Heed the LOC!


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 7:06 AM
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Speaking of barbarisms, Jeff Zucker's remark that American Idol may be the "most impactful show in the history of television" makes me want to kill.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 7:27 AM
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The Library of Congress subject heading for Malcolm X was Little, Malcolm (his birth name).

In that case consistency demands "Morganfield, McKinley". Or were the cookie eaters so ignorant they couldn't find out Muddy's birth name?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 7:36 AM
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Hey, everybody, carbon fiber leg boy is getting a shot at the Olympics!


Posted by: Gaijin Biker | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 7:52 AM
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I think that's ridiculous. He should put an outboard motor on himself and enter for the single sculls, while he's at it.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 7:58 AM
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Maybe he could enter equestrian events riding a motorcycle.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:01 AM
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Bryan Ferry did a cover of "I Put a Spell on You", which on the face of it is a patently absurd idea, but somehow he makes it work okay. He's good at the unlikely cover.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:03 AM
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Which version did they sell in Starbucks?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:05 AM
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The Library of Congress subject heading for Malcolm X was Little, Malcolm (his birth name).

Malcolm X's current LCSH is "X, Malcolm, 1925-1965." "X" is treated as his surname, whereas "Muddy Waters" is treated as a phrase, like Poor Richard, or Calamity Jane, or Boy George. "Muddy Waters" is the subject heading instead of "Morganfield, McKinley" because "Muddy Waters" is the name he produced (most of) his work under.

In that case consistency demands

The Library of Congress laughs at your puny demands for consistency!


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:09 AM
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51: Your mother's.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:15 AM
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53: excellent choice.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:19 AM
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54: Eh, her vocals are a little weak.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:24 AM
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I'll put a whuppin' on you!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:26 AM
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Stop screaming, Sifu!


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:27 AM
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"Muddy Waters" didn't want people to know that he was Jewish.

There were at least two Howlin Wolves, as I understand.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:29 AM
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58. Chester Burnett and who else? Multiple Sonny Boy Williamsons, certainly.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:31 AM
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There's only one New Jersey Slim, though, AFAIK.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:37 AM
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60:

Doesnt she sing with the Undulating Unionistas?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:39 AM
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"Enter in direct order a name that consists of a phrase or appellation that does not contain a forename.

My thinking on this is that since people called him Muddy (didn't they?) it's unclear how to treat the name as a whole. This works just fine for Howlin' Wolf; no one called him "Howlin'".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:40 AM
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58: "Muddy Waters, the Jewish bluesman" or "Muddy Waters, a Jewish bluesman?"


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:41 AM
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2: I thought Tha Doggfather was just the title of Snoop [Doggy] Dogg's sophomore album.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:41 AM
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(And as you know, within a single artist's oeuvre, the correct ordering is chronological by release date.)


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:45 AM
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61: That's Ululating Unionistas, Will. Get your mind out of the gutter.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:48 AM
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They should be the Ululating Mommies.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 8:50 AM
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67: Thinking about MILFs now? Geez, Will, try a cold shower.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 9:03 AM
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Yes, Will, you should be thinking about actresses and songstresses in the flower of their youth.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 9:13 AM
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But to use the indefinite article--O cruel ignominy! it's as much as to assert that no one knows who Hawkins is. Can this be true? Surely not.

Of course not. Everyone has heard of him. It's just that I can hardly believe he could sing well with that voder-vocoder he has to use.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 9:16 AM
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One of my favorite "the XXX" was in the NY Timesin 2000. They ran a letter from Frank Gehry and under his name the identified him this way: The writer is the architect.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 9:36 AM
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71: I think they should have put it:

The writer is the "architect".


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 9:52 AM
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My thinking on this is that since people called him Muddy (didn't they?) it's unclear how to treat the name as a whole.

A faction at the LOC made exactly this point. They were crushed ruthlessly.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 10:06 AM
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Ted Hawkins, the former Venice Beach street musician, is another Hawkins with a great voice. His version of Webb Pierce's iconic "There Stands the Glass" is definitive (I can't find a linkable recording, so listen to this guy instead).


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 10:34 AM
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"the" architect, I think.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 10:38 AM
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I still fondly recall a Norton anthology that actually glossed a reference to "Paris" in a poem with the helpful "a city in France". Making it "the city in France" wouldn't help at all, though.

Personally, I like to think of Paris as "the Paris of France", having previously lived in a place that liked to call itself "the Paris of the Piedmont"


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 12:28 PM
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Paris: A. Hilton. B. Latsis. C. City in France. D. City in Texas. E. Mythological figure. F. Place where plaster is made.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 12:34 PM
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I saw Screamin' Jay Hawkins live. Sadly, he was not very good. "i put a spell on you" is a very good song though.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-16-08 1:09 PM
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