I first learned about Robert Ashley through Peter Greenaway, thanks to his Four American Composers series. I rented all four videos because I was interested in John Cage and Philip Glass. I didn’t know who Meredith Monk was, or Robert Ashley.
As it turns out, the episode on Ashley interested me the most. I didn’t understand the opera being discussed, Perfect Lives, but I knew I had to hear and watch the whole thing. I took to the internet and discovered that I could order it directly from Lovely Music, on VHS. I did so. It cost me $100—but I had to hear it.
Few people I knew at the time had ever heard of Robert Ashley. When I moved to Illinois and met Mark Tardi and Jeremy M. Davies, we bonded in part over our shared love for Perfect Lives, “an opera for television” made in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s still not widely known. It’s still never been broadcast in its entirety in the US. But I’m not alone alone in regarding it one of the greatest operas and long poems in the English language. (John Cage wrote of it: “What about the Bible? And the Koran? It doesn’t matter. We have Perfect Lives.”)
Another day, another obituary for the publishing industry which, despite countless instances of garment rending for its death, somehow manages to continue… not dying. Garrison Keillor begins his lament by naming all the fancy writers he ran into at a fancy New York party, the implication being that he doesn’t quite belong in the fancy writing world and yet, there he is. Of course, because this is Garrison Keillor, he has to make an aw shucks reference to the Midwest and continues to offer his bona fides as a man of the people because he drives a car with 150,000 miles on it. That’s such a quaint practice when it’s a choice, driving a car into the ground. For people who cannot afford a new car, 150,000 miles probably holds considerably less charm. Keillor does this, of course, to remind us, yet again, that he is not one of the publishing glitterati. He is a stranger in a strange land, or at least, that’s what he wants us to think so he can continue hawking his down home Midwestern charm and wisdom, or what some might call, schlock.