Around the State
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Fort Worth and Austin say “Uncle”—Miltie, that is. Plus: The art of rock and roll in Austin; college athletes in the swim in Dallas; an operatic debut in Dallas with a familiar Ring; and a post-war jazz master plays San Antonio.
THE MAIN EVENT
Must See Mr. TV
Dear Milton Berle: Or should I say Uncle? You know, Miltie, I’ve been a big fan since It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, so the news that you’ll be playing Fort Worth and Austin in January cheers me enormously—especially since you turned ninety last summer. Can you really be that old? It seems like only yesterday that you began prancing around in women’s clothes. In fact, it was half a century ago. (Hell, RuPaul wasn’t even born yet.) Back then it was still cool to steal other people’s jokes, as you did openly and with great glee; today that offense will get you fired from your job at the Boston Globe. It was also a time when a cigar was a cigar, not a punch line to some joke about the president or a prop for retro doofuses who took Swingers a little too seriously. And you didn’t earn the nickname Mr. Television for nothing: NBC’s Texaco Star Theater often got an eighty share. An eighty share! These days, the network’s biggest hit, ER, can’t even get half that—and forget about Saturday Night Live. Every Tuesday restaurants and nightclubs arranged their schedules to ensure their customers wouldn’t miss your show. Can you imagine anyone doing that for Just Shoot Me? I could go on, but I’ve already blown enough smoke up your, uh, dress. Happy belated birthday. Here’s to another ninety. Evan Smith
Few works illustrate the impact of rock music on contemporary art more provocatively than Robert Mapplethorpe’s poignant photograph of Patti Smith (above), taken in New York in 1975. Fittingly, this portrait is part of “It’s Only Rock and Roll: Rock and Roll Currents in Contemporary Art,” which takes the stage at both locations of the Austin Museum of Art this month. Some one hundred other works in a variety of media are included in this first-of-its-kind traveling exhibit, which was organized by David S. Rubin, the curator of twentieth-century art at the Phoenix Art Museum. “This is not a show about rock and roll memorabilia, sixties posters, or art by rock stars,” says Rubin; rather, it’s a contemporary look at how rock and roll culture has influenced painting, sculpture, photography, and other visual arts during the past fifty years. Among those whose work is on display: Andy Warhol, Terry Allen, Christian Marclay, and Nam June Paik. “Contemporary art is something that tends to intimidate people until they have a meaningful experience with it,” Rubin says. “Art is just a language. Approach it like a foreign language and it’s not so foreign once you really get into it.” Just like rock and roll? “Exactly.” Eileen Schwartz
Everything’s Going Swimmingly
Most swim meets aren’t viewer-friendly; enduring the preparation and the wrap-up for each event can be about as exciting as listening to Al Gore talk about global warming. But the Seventeenth Annual Dallas Morning News Swimming and Diving Classic, held January 22 and 23 at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, doesn’t water down the excitement. The men’s meet includes squads from Florida State, Michigan, Minnesota, SMU, Tennessee, and Texas and features only such fast, spectacular events as the 50-yard freestyle and the 400-yard medley relay. “You’re looking at some of the best collegiate swimmers in the country going head-to-head,” says Eddie Sinnott, SMU’s men’s swimming coach. The mixed-conference meet arrives just in time to offer audiences a preview of the 1999 NCAA Championships, to be held in Indianapolis March 25-–27. Though 1998 NCAA Swimmer of the Year Lars Frolander is no longer on the SMU squad, spectators can expect to be dazzled by one of the Mustangs’ hottest prospects, Steve Barnes (above), currently the WAC champion of the 1,650-yard freestyle. “This meet is made for spectators,” Sinnott says. “Come see it, boom, action, get out. That was the idea when we invented it, and that’s still the way we do it.” Katy Vine
At last the great bass-baritone James Morris makes his Dallas debut. As Wotan, the king of the gods, he’ll be conniving his way into Valhalla in Das Rheingold, the two-and-a-half-hour prequel to Richard Wagner’s operatic miniseries, The Ring of the Nibelung. The 51-year-old Morris (above) first gained international recognition in 1975 at the Metropolitan Opera when he played Don Giovanni in Mozart’s masterpiece. Since then he has become the Wotan of choice on stages from Vienna to San Francisco, even recording competing performances of the complete cycle with conductors James Levine and Bernard Haitink. The most immediately appealing of the four operas, Rheingold is Morris’ show, both vocally and dramatically. Wotan sets off the chain of events that leads through almost twenty hours of music to the destruction of the Teutonic gods at the end of the fourth opera, Götterdämmerung. Fortunately for those of us who like to give our music dramas breathing room, Dallas Opera will parcel out the tetralogy at the rate of one a year. Even better, Morris will return in 1999 to portray Wotan confronting his wayward daughter Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. Chester Rosson
Ahmad Jamal began playing piano professionally in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1941, when he was eleven. In the 58 years since then, he has continued to refine his delicate, spare, contemplative jazz style, which is aptly displayed in works such as The Awakening, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, and Chicago Revisited. He’s now attained the position of a revered and ancient master, and it’s a rarity to hear him in Texas. That’s why his appearance at the Carver Community Cultural Center in San Antonio on January 17 is so inviting. He has had an important influence on post-war jazz: Miles Davis in particular found his work sympathetic, and Jamal’s ideas, such as his treatment of rhythm, are integral to Davis’ later work. His music is beautiful, accessible, and—if it’s not too much to say—wise. GREGORY CURTIS