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A photograph of Madonna posing naked on a bed whilst smoking a cigarette has sold for nearly £15,000 at Bonhams in New York.

The sum is three times the estimate placed on the image that was taken in 1990, by the same photographer who did the work for Madonna’s 1992 book Sex.

Judith Eurich from the saleroom said: “It is an absolutely stunning image and it is just a beautiful tone of grey. It is not just black and white it is grey and silvery. Madonna was posing for a number of photographers at the time this was taken in the 1990s when she was in her early 30s. She was going through a phase of having bleach blonde hair and heavy dark eye make-up that gave her a dramatic look – and of course she has a gorgeous body. She is a very healthy person and I’d imagine the cigarette is just a prop to make her look sexy and sultry.”

The price paid was $23,750 or £14,761.

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(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

In the annals of literature there is no more dark and disastrous career than that of this American poet and story writer, whose inherent faults of character and bad training combined to quench in early death a truly fine and original genius.

From his mother, an English actress, and his father, a stage-struck youth of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., who left him an orphan in infancy, Poe inherited a highly nervous and emotional temperament, that needed the wisest and kindest oversight. Instead, the handsome, precocious boy, alternately indulged and treated with severity, was brought up as the spoiled heir to the fortune of his godfather John Allan, of Richmond, Virginia, who adopted him. Then, after he had been taken from Virginia University and expelled from West Point Academy for his dissipated habits and insubordination, Mr. Allan disowned and disinherited him.

At 25, with expensive tastes and no training for a profession, Poe was obliged to live on the charity of his father’s poor sister, a Mrs. Clemm, of Baltimore. There he took local prizes for prose and verse, and discovered literary talents for which he found employment in Philadelphia and New York.

A man of striking personal appearance, charming manners, and obvious gifts, Poe readily secured positions on the leading magazines of the day. But his weakness of will and occasional dissipations made him unreliable and kept him in poverty. Yet in intervals of deadening hack work, Poe wrote short stories and verse, which, while small in amount, are among the most precious of American literary classics.

In poetry his genius was unique. He makes no appeal to the intellect, but, as a result sometimes of his own morbid state of mind, expresses a melancholy, sensuous emotion in verse, whose perfection of melody suggests fine musical compositions. His prose stories have an equal fascination. He gives form to horror and fear, or constructs and unravels mysteries with fidelity to scientific principles.

Poe is more truly a world author than almost any other creative American writer, but so purely his own was his inspiration that he would have appeared a literary alien in any country. In the United States there is greater appreciation of his poetry than of his prose, while in France especially his short stories are classic models, on which famous writers have formed their style. A conscientious literary artist, he revised and perfected everything he wrote, and only by infinite painstaking secured his clearness and impressiveness.

The publication of “The Raven” made him the literary lion of the day, but good was followed by ill fortune. He had married his beautiful cousin, Virginia Clemm, the “sainted maiden” of “The Raven”. Two years after the appearance of this famous poem his idolized young wife died, after a long decline and amid the tragic privations of poverty. In grief and remorse Poe made a heroic effort to conquer his weakness, but he died wretchedly in a Baltimore hospital following a bout of delirium tremens. His last words before he died were: “Lord help my poor soul”.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.

Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 62 and had been a longtime resident of Harlem.

R.I.P. Gil Scott-Heron, poet, musician and author, born 1 April 1949; died 27 May 2011

(Originally published in the Grauniad on 7 April 1971)

Igor Stravinsky has died in New York at the age of 88. It was obvious half a century ago that his three early Diaghilev ballets – “Firebird”, “Petrushka” and “Rite of Spring” – were classics, but instead of resting on that unique achievement he ranged wider in search of new fields to conquer. He lived long enough to see his many stylistic experiments justified. In his eighties he remained more consistently creative than any other great composer before him, even Verdi. On his last visit to London he was tackled on his age. “Me? Old?” he snapped in mock irritation. “I just live. It is not my fault that I do not die.”

That was the characteristic of his eternally youthful approach to music and musicians. There was a chameleon quality in his ability to soak in influences from any and every source around him, even in Hollywood, where he lived during old age. Critics of the twenties and thirties saw in this characteristic a sign of declining powers, but what over the last generation has become more obvious was that his own personality triumphed unfailingly over any deliberate eclecticism. Even when he turned circle, and adopted serialism as a composition method (in his seventies) the results were always immediately recognisable for their unmistakable Stravinsky flavour.

History will probably decide that Igor Stravinsky was the most influential composer and also the greatest of the twentieth century thus far. Wagner in “Tristan and Isolde” may have foreshadowed the harmonic anarchy which would lead to Schoenberg’s twelve-note system and the whole world of serialism, but in “The Rite of Spring” Stravinsky liberated rhythm with such barbaric splendour that no musician from Debussy onwards (not even Mick Jagger dare we suggest) would have been quite the same without him.

In a sense Stravinsky was the first truly “modern” composer. He made a great deal of money out of music. He conducted most of his major works in the recording studio convinced that future generations would want to play them, and determined there should be none of the interpretative squabble which sometimes surround the great masters of past centuries. He was a gawky, birdlike figure on the rostrum, but a compelling one, as several generations of orchestral players and concertgoers in Britain remember. Almost to the last, he remained a cosmopolitan, a globe-trotter, and indeed some thought that his spiritual homelessness ever since the Russian Revolution was part of his musical essence.

Tom Brook was the first British journalist to report live from the scene of John Lennon’s murder outside the former Beatle’s home in New York on 8 December 1980. Here, he gives his personal recollections of what it was like to cover the shooting, and its aftermath, for BBC News:

On the evening of 8 December 1980 I was a young inexperienced journalist living in New York who’d recently arrived from London. I was totally unprepared for the drama that would unfold.

It began with a late night phone call from pop impresario Jonathan King, who was then a columnist for BBC Radio 1 living in New York. He told me he’d heard reports of a shooting outside the Dakota, Lennon’s home, and that the former Beatle was possibly the victim.

Before long I was racing up 8th Avenue in a taxi and I arrived at the Dakota sometime after 11.00 p.m. bearing a tape recorder and notepaper.

There was an eerie silence – the street had been cordoned off – there were a couple of police cars outside the entrance to the Dakota – a few people had begun to gather.

Minutes before I arrived at the building, Lennon had been rushed to nearby Roosevelt Hospital – hauled over the shoulder of a policeman. Dr Stephan Lynn and his team at the emergency room worked frantically to try to bring him back to life.

A few days ago Dr Lynn told me exactly what was going on inside the resuscitation room. As he recalled: “He had no signs of life, no blood pressure, no pulse. He was unresponsive. We opened his left chest, I did it, with a scalpel. We made an incision.

“I actually held his heart in my hand as the nurses rapidly transfused blood. I tried to massage the heart as we put blood into his body. We knew that there was no way that we could restore circulation, there was no way that we could repair the massive injury to all of the blood vessels in the body.”

Outside the Dakota I was trying to get in touch with my colleagues in Broadcasting House in London where it was before dawn.

There was no breakfast television in those days, radio ruled the morning airwaves but international communications were far from instantaneous. There was no internet, no email, no texting, no mobile phones, in many instances no direct dialling to London.

From a public phone booth not far from the Dakota I managed to get through to Today – the night editor told me to get whatever I could but to make sure I got back in touch by 6.30 a.m. when the programme went on the air.

I returned to the crowd which was now growing rapidly. I recorded people’s comments. Among the tearful and grieving was a young woman from Britain who said “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach”. Those words summed up exactly how everyone felt.

I persuaded the night duty clerk in a building opposite the Dakota to let me use his telephone so I could feed the taped comments to London. Sending audio to London in those days was cumbersome.

You had to unscrew the mouthpiece from a telephone handset and then attach a special lead with crocodile clips – the other end of this lead connected to the output of the tape recorder. It was a precarious and tricky operation – but it worked that night.

The clerk wouldn’t take any money for the gigantic phone bill I must have clocked up. He told me he didn’t want any payment because he loved John Lennon and his music.

Pretty soon I was broadcasting live. I’d always been a big John Lennon fan. His music and lyrics had really engaged me.

On the air, the late Brian Redhead, who was co-presenting Today, pressed me for some detail and I remember finishing off his question with the words: “…and now he’s dead.” I was pretty composed – but the finality of that statement got to me. I thought I might lose it.

I’ve kept some of the notepaper I used from that night. I had to file for the Radio 4 bulletins. Every time I’d write out a rough script the facts would change so there are all kinds of corrections.

There’s a lot of scrawl – it began to get messy. It was stressful and the story was very emotional.

The crowd was expanding exponentially. Soon it was several hundred strong. People arrived at the Dakota in tears, bearing candles, they sang Lennon songs, it became an all-night vigil.

A few days ago I learned that for one of Lennon’s famous acquaintances – American singer-songwriter James Taylor – the violence of that night came very close to home: “It seems amazing to me now, but I lived in the building one up from the Dakota and I heard him shot – five, just as quick as you could pull the trigger, about five explosions. And his assassin had button-holed me in the tube station, the subway stop, right in front of 72nd Street the day before.

Sean Lennon says it’s always difficult when the anniversary comes round and he tries to look out for mother Yoko Ono “The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do and his stuff with how John was interested, and he was going to get in touch with John Lennon. And it was surreal to actually have contact with the guy 24 hours before he shot John.”

It took Yoko Ono some time before she began to talk publicly about the night. I interviewed her just before the second anniversary of Lennon’s death in 1982.

To her it seemed like her famous husband was still among the living. In a composed voice she told me: “He’s still alive, he’s still with us, his spirit will go on. You can’t kill a person that easily, that’s the way I feel about it.”

Sean Ono Lennon, Yoko Ono’s son by John Lennon, was only five when his father was killed. He was at home in the Dakota when it happened.

To him it’s a difficult anniversary: “It has been 30 years since he passed away, and this time of year I tend to just sort of look out for my mum and make sure that she’s alright. That’s basically it, I just want to make sure that she’s ok.”

The anniversary of Lennon’s death has brought forth an outpouring of unadulterated admiration from both his fans and some of the biggest names in the music business.

U2’s front man Bono, who was passing through New York at the time of the shooting, says: “I just know I wouldn’t be standing without him, and my whole life as an artist was kind of shaped by him and I can’t exaggerate enough the effect his music had on me.”

Lennon probably wouldn’t be happy with all this retrospective praise.

In one of his last major print interviews published in Playboy he said: “I don’t have any romanticism about any part of my past. I don’t believe in yesterday. I’m only interested in what I’m doing now.”

John Lennon may not have wanted to dwell on his past but judging from all anniversary tributes, millions of us remain, 30 years after his death, intensely interested in him and his music.

(Source: Guardian)

How did a groundbreaking production of Tristan und Isolde make it to the stage? With help from kneepads, booze, painkillers and video artist Bill Viola, reveals company manager Henrietta Bredin in her tour diary:

Back in 2004, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, director Peter Sellars and artist Bill Viola created the all-enveloping, sensurround Tristan Project. Their hugely ambitious version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde mixed Viola’s video art with Sellars’ choreography and direction against a semi-staging of the immense opera. The piece played in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, and Salonen began planning to bring it to London. Six years later, reimagined and retitled, Tristan und Isolde has been performed in Switzerland and Germany and is about to go to Birmingham, before finishing up in London’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday. This new take brings the musicians out of the orchestra pit and on to the stage. Over their heads is a vast screen – 11m x 6.6m – on which Viola’s images, of fire and water, faces and reflections, moonlight and waves, are projected. The screen is in a horizontal position for the first two acts and then pivots on its own axis to a vertical position. The entire thing weighs 1,740kg, as much as a car, and has to be transported to and erected in each venue. At various points during the performance, singers and solo instrumentalists perform from different places within the concert hall, which produces an extraordinary three-dimensional effect, immersing the audience in Wagner’s music. I was brought in as company manager by the London-based Philharmonia, where Salonen is principal conductor, to put together a mini opera production team of technical director and stage managers, and then to look after the singers and keep things on track while the show went on the road. We started with rehearsals in London …

Last week, 35-year-old actress Christina Hendricks – the curvaceous, wasp-waisted star of hit U.S. TV series Mad Men – was reported as saying she was struggling to find a designer who would dress her for the red carpet at the Emmys.

“Not one designer will loan me a dress. They only lend out a size zero or a size 2. So I’m still struggling for someone to give me a darn dress!”

Do you need more proof how downright sizeist the fashion world is?

In the end, New York designer Zac Posen stepped up to the mark to dress Christina for the Emmys. He wanted to accentuate her shape, rather than hide it. The lilac, cleavage-baring, hourglass dress in chiffon with hand-stitched feathers was specially made for her, with a structured, boned bodice.

Christina’s breasts were at the forefront of Posen’s mind when he made the dress.

“She’s got a beautiful body, there’s no reason to hide anything. Let’s celebrate what she has,” he said.

Good for him. Finally, a woman who looks like a woman. Not like a child or an adolescent boy. And most certainly not like a coat hanger.

(Source: Liz Jones, Daily Mail)

Spain 1, Holland 0

Sting is performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York with the one and only Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and preparing for the release of a new album, “Symphonicities,” containing orchestral arrangements of his songs.

Sting, 58, said the appreciation for classical music he cultivated from the piano playing of his hairdresser mother and BBC radio of the 1950s was not something he could readily confess to back in his Police days.

“It was frowned upon,” he said, “and that’s the whole ridiculous premise of rock ’n’ roll becoming this Taliban-esque, closed thing. ‘You can’t do that, you can’t do that.’ What’s the spirit of rock ’n’ roll except freedom – freedom to do whatever you want?”

“I have a feeling that all New Yorkers, no matter what they’re doing, are in their own TV series with their own theme music, and you are merely a guest on their show,” he said. “We’re all celebrities in this town. I find it very comfortable.”

Pretentious arsehole.

Staring at these is infantile

But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

(A.A. Milne, The End)

Christina Hendricks is a serious actor who happens to have enormous norks. She is pictured at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” exhibition wearing a blue silk chiffon floor-length dress by L’Wren Scott which shows them off. The readers of Esquire magazine recently voted her the sexiest woman with a pulse in America. In return, she provided them with an open letter to men. Click the link for the full article.

We want you to order Scotch. It’s the most impressive drink order. It’s classic. It’s sexy. Such a rich color. The glass, the smell. It’s not watered down with fruit juice. It’s Scotch. And you ordered it.

Stand up, open a door, offer a jacket. We talk about it with our friends after you do it. We say, “Can you believe he stood up when I approached the table?” It makes us feel important. And it makes you important because we talk about it.

A tank top is underwear. You’re walking around in your underwear. Too much.

No man should be on Facebook. It’s an invasion of everyone’s privacy. I really cannot stand it.

The men who look, they really look. It doesn’t insult us. It doesn’t faze us, really. It’s just – well, it’s a little infantile. Which is ironic, isn’t it? The men who constantly stare at our breasts are never the men we’re attracted to.

Also in Esquire:

Cheese of the Week: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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