The Corner

Culture

Divas

Taylor Swift performs at the 2018 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

I believe I first heard of Taylor Swift and Kanye West on the same day. That was when President Obama called the latter “a jackass.” The year was 2009. The MTV Video Music Awards had taken place. Taylor won an award, and, while she was accepting it, Kanye interrupted her to say she didn’t deserve it.

Last week, Kanye was fêted at the White House, and I have begun today’s Impromptus with Taylor. Life is strange and wondrous. In all likelihood, you don’t come to me for pop culture, which is smart. But my item on Taylor is essentially political.

For a long while, she was criticized for not taking political stands. What was wrong with her? Why had the cat gotten her tongue? Why was she just singing and songwriting and all that? Finally, she went political, endorsing (Democratic) candidates in Tennessee, where she established her career.

Fine with me — in a democracy, you have a right to political advocacy. I just hope Taylor Swift wasn’t forced into it. Bullied into it. People have a right to be free of politics, in a country such as ours. Not everyone has to be a political junkie like you and me.

Taylor’s main problem was that, in not going political, she was suspected of being a Republican or a conservative. I think of a friend of mine, who belonged to a congregation whose members suspected that their rabbi was a political conservative. Why? Because he never talked about politics. Oddly, he just talked about God, the Bible, and religion.

Also in Impromptus today, I talk about “American carnage,” the Chinese Communist Party, the Kremlin, Brexit, “disruption,” the social media, Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), and Mickey Lolich (pitcher). At the end, I share some photos and relate a joke.

In addition to Kaufmann and Taylor, I talk about one other singer: Montserrat Caballé, the great Spanish soprano who died earlier this month. I mention that there are many stories about her but don’t tell one. (I make a point about singing instead.) I’d like to tell a story now, one of my favorites.

Montse was making a recording with Joan Sutherland (the Australian soprano) et al. It was Norma, I believe, in 1984. Montse was annoying everyone, especially Sutherland, by being late for every session, diva-style. Not very late — just a little late. One day, Montse brought in some flowers for Joan, as a peace offering, I suppose.

Sutherland said, sniffily, “Flowers for the diva?” Caballé replied, “No. Flowers from the diva.”

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