Friday, June 29, 2007


Well, I think my speculation will turn out to be unfruitful.

I'd said earlier that Hermione's name might turn out to be important, because it sounds like an old wizarding name, even though she's the daughter of Muggles. People from old wizarding families, good and bad, tend to have classical names: the more obscure the better, and the Darker the more pronounced this trend is. The name Nymphadora, for instance, belongs to a delightful character on the good side, but from a distinctly Dark family. The name Ginevra, on the other hand, is the only name in the Muggle-loving Weasley family to betray that family's old wizarding ties. Everyone else has names that sound normal to the modern Muggle ear.

I searched in vain for any reference to that topic, so I thought that it might come up as a surprise. No one has ever mentioned the issue to JKR in interviews before. But.

I did recently run across a couple of references she made to Hermione's name in other contexts. Turns out that she just thought Hermione was a likely name to be chosen by upward-striving middle-class people for their daughter. So, there you have it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


In modern novelists, we ask for observations of life that ring true, and yet feel fresh. No different from what Alexander Pope wanted when he said that the best writers write "what oft was thought but never so well expressed."

JK Rowling is often praised as a children's writer, and often praised for her explosive action and intricate plotting, but the fact is that she turns in her fair share of fine observation too.

Any writer could say:
'Safe flight, then,' said Harry and he carried her to one of the windows; Hedwig took off into the blindingly bright sky.

But Rowling adds just a few words:
'Safe flight, then,' said Harry and he carried her to one of the windows; with a moment's pressure on his arm, Hedwig took off into the blindingly bright sky.

That moment's pressure, and we really feel what it's like to have an owl take off from our arm.

Any writer could describe the dead-tired and emotionally drained group of people sitting around the table as Arthur Weasley lies in the hospital between life and death:
Fred fell into a doze, his head lolling sideways on to his shoulder. Ginny was curled like a cat on her chair, but her eyes were open; Harry could see them reflecting the firelight. Ron was sitting with his head in his hands, whether awake or asleep it was impossible to tell. Harry and Sirius looked at each other every so often....

Rowling shows us what those looks between Harry and Sirius feel like:
Fred fell into a doze, his head lolling sideways on to his shoulder. Ginny was curled like a cat on her chair, but her eyes were open; Harry could see them reflecting the firelight. Ron was sitting with his head in his hands, whether awake or asleep it was impossible to tell. Harry and Sirius looked at each other every so often, intruders upon the family grief....

Could Updike have written that better?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Ken Slavin took this pic of me hard at work in the studio. (That's phenom pianist Morris Nelms below.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Have you headed over to Luna for the Thursday night thing yet? We're playing one set there, then it's comedy for the second set. They call it Jazz y Jokes. Looks like we'll be playing there in July as well! It's nice for people who don't want to stay out late; we start right at 9.

Last Thursday, we used the gig to record our next Protagonists Jazz Party for KRTU. Seeing as July is Harry Potter miracle month, we decided to do a whole set of music inspired by the books, including some original tunes, classic standards, and — my favorites of the evening — songs from the movies: Hedwig's Theme, which most people think of as the main theme, usually played on a celesta, and "Magic Works," the slow-dance song that the Weird Sisters did at that excruciating Christmas ball in movie 4.

The show will be airing Tuesday evening at 9pm. Get on over there and listen to it, either at 91.7FM or online at

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


fudge verb (trans): to present or deal with (something) in a vague, noncommittal, or inadequate way, esp. so as to conceal the truth or mislead

Who has any respect for Cornelius Fudge? His wife, maybe, who doesn't quite know what's going on and who at any rate might see him through a colored lens. But maybe not even her. He seems to be two things: a] precisely the sort of weak man who is wrong for the job of Minister of Magic, obedient in all the wrong ways to all the wrong people, self-preserving at all costs including, ultimately, his own preservation; and b] precisely the sort of man who rises to become Minister of Magic.

He could have been remembered, in office or out, as a brave and great Minister. But instead, losing his life as he saved it, he'll be remembered for all time as the man who stepped aside and gave Voldemort a second chance to destroy.

Of all the kinds of bravery, political bravery must be the rarest. It does take a special person to be able to stand up to the Lucius Malfoys of the world, when they storm into your office demanding that something be done or else.

JKR is an old-fashioned writer. Her goal seems to be the classical goal for art, to delight and instruct. The first she does beyond what the audience had ever come to expect. Could we have ever thought a novelist would speak to the world Zeitgeist again? Or that there would even be a world Zeitgeist again? The second she does without ever pulling out the blackboard. There's not one whiff of moral propaganda here, as there is in so many fantasy books of a certain kind. (The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials both come to mind.) And yet it's there, unmistakable.

She wants you to admire Harry's courage (and not admire his nastiness and haste); she wants to you admire Ron's and Hermione's loyalty to Harry and to the cause (and not admire Bellatrix's loyalty to the other cause). And she wants to you despise Cornelius Fudge.

Know him for what he is, and despise him. Recognize his facial expressions and his gestures, and his words. Recognize his refusal to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world, his blinding love of office, his mad desire to remain in his high position, even at the cost of ripping the world in half. He actually refuses to do what's right because he'd be fired, and says so to Dumbledore (who, we remember, was fired at least twice, becoming more powerful each time).

Despise him, so that you can vow never to be him, and so that you can know him when you see him in real life, and do what you can to drive him out of office.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

a bad place to be

"Well, times like that bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Crouch's principles might've been good in the beginning — I wouldn't know. He rose quickly through the Ministry, and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemorts supporters. The Aurors were given new powers — powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn't the only one who was handed straight to the dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side."

Sirius Black

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Friday, June 15, 2007

severus, please


I've had several friends comment that they believe Snape is fundamentally good, and that his apparent badness is some kind of cover. In fact, I've long held out for that possibility. Consider the following scenario:

Dumbledore has destroyed one Horcrux, at the cost of his health and his shrivelled hand. He knows he's on his way out. (If for no other reason, the Wise Bearded Mentor can't last all the way to the end — the hero has to go it alone. That's a rule.)

Dumbledore hears of Voldemort's plan to kill him through Malfoy (really, a way for V to get revenge on Lucius, if you ask me). So, he calls Severus in. This is all still before the action of book 6 starts. He tells Severus all this, and asks him to be the one to kill him. After all, we know now what murder does to you: it [ahem] severs your soul. It splits you somehow, and Dumbledore doesn't want Draco to become a murderer. So, he asks Severus to do the deed, ensuring that a] Draco is spared from becoming a murderer; b] Severus is spared as well, because it's a favor and a necessity and therefore not really a cold-blooded murder; and c] Severus now has an inarguable in with Voldemort and company. By acting this way in the battle, Severus can help win the war.

Hence, when the time comes, Dumbledore's plea — "Severus, please" — isn't a plea for his life, but rather a plea to please do it, carry it through, and save Draco. Narcissa thinks she has made Snape promise to do it to save Draco, but it's only a microscopic "saving": it saves his life from Voldemort (highly unlikely, by the way: no doubt Draco will be in hiding for much of 7, right up till he gets killed). Snape, though, knows he's saving Draco in a macroscopic way: protecting his soul.

Hmmmmm. Very compelling, and yet I think I've come to the conclusion that Snape is bad after all.

It's like when you take an exit from the highway. You're going along parallel, seemingly with the traffic you've just left, but then inevitably the thing curves away, and you might say that at that point you wish you could just go along straight, but you made your decision way back there. Same thing with Snape. He made that unbreakable vow, and there you have it: his decision was made. He was on the Dark side after all, after a lifetime of dancing on the edge.

Sure, we often get scenes of Snape apparently doing wrong, but then really being on the right side after all, even if a bit reluctantly. He despises Sirius, but he's still in the Order with him. But, though Rowling misleads, she never lies. She drops hints all along.

Here's an enormous indication of the type of person Snape is. At the end of book 3, Snape walks into the Shreiking Shack under the Invisibility Cloak, and listens to most of the conversation. He hears everything that Lupin and Sirius and the kids say (right after they notice that the door has opened but don't see anyone come in.) He knows that Sirius is innocent, he knows that Pettigrew is alive, and yet he's still able to lie about it, present himself as the true do-gooder, the kids as troublemakers who should be expelled, Lupin as an aid to Sirius's crimes, and Sirius himself as a doomed man, whom Severus is glad to deliver to the Dementors to administer their kiss.

What kind of guy is that?

Is this someone who really belongs in the Order of the Phoenix? Time and time again, Snape proves throughout the series that he's simply not other-directed in the way that Rowling consistently shows a decent person must be. His universe revolves around himself. He's still the goth kid who glamorizes his outcastness and his Dark crush. He's still the high-schooler with high-school grudges who can't get past his own nasty view of human nature.

Now the fact is that he's no good for Voldemort either, and my prediction is that he'll be useful to the Order, as he has been, but only inadvertently.

My vote: Snape is bad.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I've never heard anyone else wonder this, never heard anyone even mention the possibility of a connection. I'm a good Googler, but I've never been able to find any reference online, either.

Hermione is a Dark, pureblood name.

Think about it. Think of all the wizards that surround Hermione: the Muggle-borns, the half-bloods, the purebloods that are right-minded: They have names like Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Harry, Katie, Dean, Angelina. Now let's think of people from old, pureblooded, Dark-leaning families: Draco, Lucius, Narcissa, Andromeda, Regulus, Sirius, Bellatrix.

So, how does the daughter of two rather ordinary Muggles wind up with a lengthy, obscure name based in classical mythology? Will we find out?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I celebrated my fortieth birthday in May. Forty years! It was a fantastic celebration, with some nice private dinners and some stupendous gifts, as well as a giant party hosted by my parents. Catherine asked me what kind of cake I wanted: I said, "Outdo yourself." She came up with a tangerine blueberry cake with — weird, but perfect! — rosemary baked in. Perfect as usual.

After the celebration, we went back to our beautiful mansion. Alas! We'll miss that place. Jason and Erin were staying with us, two of the too-few guests in our Rose Bedroom. When we got home, I did something I'd been waiting to do for several years now. I opened up the Porto Rocha.

Some time ago, Paul gave me a gift that I vowed not to open till my fortieth birthday: a 1967 tawny port, bottled the very year I was born. It's not too often that you get to drink something older than you (though I've smoked a pre-embargo Cuban). Erin took a picture of it that should be in a magazine, I opened it up and poured out some beautiful tawny liquid, and we all sat back and marveled at a complex, beautiful wine. It attacks the tongue with a peppery spice, then gets a bit smoky, then just blossoms forth with a garden of tastes. I've never had anything like it.

Apparently, 1967 was a great year for the sui generis.