been listening to

Why I don’t enjoy the Rolling Stones anymore

If I were to make a list of the top groups/performers during the critical 1964-1973 period, no doubt the Stones would make the top five handily, perhaps the top three.  They also belong to that select tier with more than six excellent and important albums.  They probably have created more great and memorable riffs than any other rock and roll group, ever.

So I don’t think I am unappreciative.  My favorite cuts are probably the acoustic country songs on “Beggars Banquet’ and “Let It Bleed,” plus the riff-based songs from the mid- to late-1960s, such as “Under My Thumb” or “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

Still, I have not heard anything new in a Rolling Stones song for more than twenty years.  I don’t mean that their later work is worse (though it is, much, for forty plus years running), rather I don’t hear anything new in their very best work and thus repeated re-listening is a waste of time.  I don’t enjoy it.

In contrast, I’ve been listening to Jimi Hendrix for about forty years and still hear new bits in his songs most of the time.  I am almost always excited to hear this work again.

I have two other objections.  First, most (all?) of their blues covers are worse than the originals (the Beatles’ “Money” and “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and “Long Tall Sally” are all improvements, in contrast, not to mention John Lennon’s “Be Bop a Lula” or Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”).  Second, you don’t have to invoke political correctness to feel that a lot of the early misogyny has worn thin and aged poorly.

So the Stones are boring, mostly, though still excellent in the abstract.  It’s hard to imagine classic rock and roll, or the 1960s, without them.  But in terms of lasting overall aesthetic merit they are just a wee bit closer to The Who than you might like to think.

stones

Fanfare meta-list for classical CDs

Loyal MR readers will know that late fall I survey the yearly “Want Lists” of Fanfare music reviewers.  If you don’t already know, Fanfare is the world’s premiere journal for classical music reviews.  My meta-list is simply those recordings which are mentioned as best of the year by more than one polled Fanfare critic.  This year the winning discs with multiple nominations are:

1. Busoni, late piano works, Marc-Andre Hamelin

2. Prokoviev piano concerti, by Jean-Effiam Bavouzet and  Gianandrea Noseda.

4. Sylvia Berry, Haydn piano sonatas.

5. Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Richard Strauss tone poems.

Another meta-list would be discs which I recommend and which a Fanfare critic also recommends, that would include:

Gillian Weir playing Messiaen organ works.

Bach, Brandenburg Concerti, Freiburger Barockorchester.

Gerald Finley and Julius Drake, Winterreise, Schubert.

Igor Levit, Beethoven late piano sonatas.

I would give all a very high recommendation, with this second meta-list being better than the first meta-list.

Other “best of the year” lists will be coming later this month.   Here are earlier posts on what I’ve been listening to.  Here are earlier Fanfare meta-lists.

Caleb says I haven’t blogged music lately

I agree with the Simon Reynolds thesis of aesthetic musical stagnation, nonetheless I’ve been listening to: Abigail Washburn, City of Refuge, Cecil Taylor Feel Trio, 2 T’s for a Lovely T (lots of discs, all wonderful, lasts for years), Rose of Sharon (American vocal music),  Scarlatti vol. I by Carlo Granta (my favorite of any Scarlatti recording), anything by Isabelle Faust, Diabelli Variations by Paul Lewis, Ravinahitsy, by Damily (acoustic guitar music from Madagascar, an underrated category), Juju in Trance, and Khyam Allami’s Resonance/Dissonance.

The new releases by Malkmus/Beck and Kanye/Jay-Z haven’t stuck with me.

Stan Kenton and Leslie Kenton

I never knew my paternal grandfather, but I was told he loved the music of Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, and above all, Stan Kenton.  My grandfather was a professional jazz drummer in the era of big band, supposedly with more talent than workplace discipline.  Maybe because it's a way of keeping a connection with Grandpa Tom, but I've been listening to the music of Stan Kenton for about thirty-five years.  In any case the best Kenton cuts (download here) still strike me as underrated.  Despite the clunky and sometimes elephantine side of Kenton's style, his work draws upon, and anticipates, developments in compositional jazz, European modernism, Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound," and early Latin rhythms, all topped off with an energetic American brashness.  I eagerly lapped up last year's new Kenton biography.  But now — what am I to do? I've just read Leslie Kenton's Love Affair: A Memoir of a Forbidden Father-Daughter Union, which among other things is a very good treatment of how little consent lies behind father-daughter incest (review here, and it was from ages 11 to 13).

None of Kenton's previous biographers seems to have suspected this horror and overall he had the reputation of a straight-laced man.  I had long thought of him as a somewhat dour disciplinarian, firmly wrapped up in middle American values. 

The lesson is how little we know of an individual life.  And what do we still not know?  When we judge others, or decide not to, that is worth keeping in mind. 

Three tweets for the web

Here is my article in the Wilson Quarterly, in their latest issue on "The Death of the Book."  Excerpt:

Sometimes it does appear I am impatient. I’ll discard a half-read book that 20 years ago I might have finished. But once I put down the book, I will likely turn my attention to one of the long-running stories I follow online. I’ve been listening to the music of Paul McCartney for more than 30 years, for example, and if there is some new piece of music or development in his career, I see it first on the Internet. If our Web surfing is sometimes frantic or pulled in many directions, that is because we care so much about so many long-running stories. It could be said, a bit paradoxically, that we are impatient to return to our chosen programs of patience.

Another way the Web has affected the human attention span is by allowing greater specialization of knowledge. It has never been easier to wrap yourself up in a long-term intellectual project without at the same time losing touch with the world around you. Some critics don’t see this possibility, charging that the Web is destroying a shared cultural experience by enabling us to follow only the specialized stories that pique our individual interests. But there are also those who argue that the Web is doing just the opposite–that we dabble in an endless variety of topics but never commit to a deeper pursuit of a specific interest. These two criticisms contradict each other. The reality is that the Internet both aids in knowledge specialization and helps specialists keep in touch with general trends.

They also asked me for the Twitter version of the article, and it is this:

“Smart people are doing wonderful things.”

MJ, R.I.P

Koons-michael-jackson-and-bubbles-1988

He's one of the few musicians I've been listening to since I was six years old.  I've long thought I Want You Back is one of the best songs, period.  She's Out of My Life has for a long time been a personal favorite, as is GirlfriendBillie Jean survives being overplayed on muzak.  Off the Wall is an underrated album, as is History.  His personal legacy is perhaps a dubious one, but he was one of the great dancers and entertainers of his century and it is a shock to read of his passing.  The J. Randy Taraborelli biography, despite stopping in the early 90s, is very good.

Today was not a good day for the 1980s (Fawcett, McMahon).

Best classical music recordings of 2020

As you might expect, this has been a pretty spectacular year for listening to classical music on disc, too good you might say.  Here is what I enjoyed the most:

Beethoven Complete Piano works, by Martino Tirimo.  I probably know the performance canon for Beethoven piano sonatas better than any other area of classical music, and this is one of my two or three favorite sets of all time.  They are fresh, direct, and to the point, and remind me of the earlier Yves Nat set, though with better sound and the mistakes edited out.  Here is one review: “It’s decades since a pianist has managed to convey such an overwhelming sense that we’re listening to pure Beethoven. And there are 20 hours of it — surely the greatest recorded achievement of this anniversary year.”  The pianist is a 78-year-old Cypriot who is barely known even to most of the concert-going public.

Beethoven Bagatelles, by Tanguy de Williencourt.  This is Beethoven at his most arbitrary and willful and whimsical, all good things.  I have many recordings of these pieces, but these are perhaps my favorite.  Why again is it that French pianists are so good with Beethoven?

Beethoven, Complete works for Piano Trio, van Baerle Trio.  Again, the best recording of these works I have heard, and there is stiff competition.

Masaaki Suzuki put out more Bach organ music, and conducted an incredible version of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  His genius remains under-discussed, as he is also a world-class harpsichord and keyboard player, and has produced the definitive recording of Bach’s entire cycle of cantatas.  Why is there no biography of him?  He is one of the greatest creators and performers in the entire world in any area.  If you are wondering, his parents were Japanese Protestants and he is a Calvinist.

Chopin CD of the year would be by Jean-Paul Gasparian.

Morton Feldman piano box set, played by Philip Thomas.  Five CDs if you go that route, this is what I listened to most this year.  It is also very good played at low volume, a useful feature in crowded pandemic homes.

I listened to a good deal of Szymanowski, who has finally started to make sense to me.  In prep for my CWT with Alex Ross, I relistened to a great deal of Wagner.  What rose in my eyes was the von Karajan Die Meistersinger and the Clemens Krauss Ring cycle.

As for contemporary classical music, I enjoyed:

Hans Abrahamsen, String Quartets.

Philippe Manoury, Temps Mode d’Emploi.

Caroline Shaw, Orange, Attaca Quartet.

This year I also rediscovered Robert Ashley’s opera Atalanta (Acts of God), and Raymond Lewenthal’s Alkan CD, one of my favorite recordings of all time, a kind of proto-rock and roll.

As for concert life, I did manage to see Trifonov play “Art of the Fugue” at the Kennedy Center before the whole season shut down, and in January the Danish Quartet playing Beethoven in NYC.

My Conversation with Alex Ross

And:

ROSS: …conducting is so mysterious in terms of what is actually happening between the conductor and the orchestra. There are explicit messages being sent. There’re instructions being given, but there’s also this slightly mystical side to it, where once you get to a figure like Klemperer, or today, Bernard Haitink, who just retired, or Herbert Blomstedt, who is incredibly vital and active in his 90s.

COWEN: Coming back at age 93 in Switzerland.

ROSS: Yeah. Even before they say anything, just the mere fact, when [they] arrive at the podium, there is a level of respect. There is a level of attentiveness and readiness in the orchestra. They don’t have to be won over when Herbert Blomstedt is in front of them. His reputation . . .

Blomstedt — someone like this can just skip all the preliminaries and just go for fine-tuning these points, and everyone plays better because they’re in the presence of this celebrated, legendary older musician. It’s almost as if they don’t even need to do anything anymore. They do, of course. They are working very hard, and Blomstedt is delivering very particular instructions to the orchestra.

But there’s that psychological dimension. The musicians are excited to be having this opportunity, and they think this might be the last time, so they give something more. So that’s the mystery of conducting.

I always think of that anecdote about Furtwängler — I think it was Walter Legge who told this story — watching the orchestra rehearse with a different conductor, and they were playing all right, nothing too inspired. He’s looking straight ahead and looking at the orchestra, and suddenly something changes. Suddenly the playing is electrified, transformed. The conductor seems to have done nothing different. And so, “What is going on? How did that change take place?”

Then he happens to look over his shoulder. Furtwängler is standing by the door, watching. In the few minutes that he’s entered the hall and has been standing at the back, the orchestra noticed him there, and their playing changed completely. So that’s the weird, the slightly occult power that the conductors can have. Just their mere presence transforms the playing.

And I start with this:

COWEN: I have so many questions about Wagner. Let me start with one. Why is it I have the perception that the truly great Wagner recordings come from the 1950s or the 1960s? If I think even of the talk you gave for the New Yorker — well, you talked about Keilberth and Solti and Furtwängler. Those are ancient recordings. Clemens Krauss, that was what, 1953? What has happened to the recording quality of Wagner?

Recommended.

The turn to “comfort music”

Pop music has become less popular during the pandemic.

With millions stuck at home due to coronavirus shelter-in-place orders and searching for entertainment, data suggest that new releases by major pop artists are drawing fewer listeners than normal. Instead, streaming metrics show, listeners are tuning in to old favorites from the likes of Bob Marley, Dixie Chicks and Bill Withers—the singer of “Lean On Me,” who died last month.

Several factors are denting pop-music listening. Major artists are delaying album releases, and workers ordered to stay home aren’t commuting, cutting into time spent listening to radio, analysts say, adding that news is drawing more interest for those who do tune in. And without live concerts or performances on talk shows, music labels’ promotional machines are less powerful…

On Spotify, the largest streaming service by subscriptions, cumulative streams of the top 200 U.S. songs have fallen in recent weeks—tumbling 28% from the week ending March 12 to the week ending April 16 to the low point for the year so far. The drop-off is especially pronounced, given that those weeks saw new album releases from major streaming artists including J Balvin, the Weeknd, Childish Gambino and Dua Lipa. Meanwhile, catalog music—songs more than 18 months old—has been on the rise and hit a high for the year in the week ended April 9, accounting for 63% of total audio streams, up from 60% the week ended March 12, according to Nielsen/MRC.

“We are seeing something of a shift towards comfort music,” says Midia Research analyst Mark Mulligan.

Here is the full WSJ piece by Anne Steele.  Here is my earlier post on the shift toward comfort food.

Classical musical recordings of the year

We are approaching the year-end “best of” lists, so why not start with the one you care about least?  I had a very good year for classical music listening, with the following as new discoveries:

John Cage, Two2, by Mark Knoop and Philip Thomas, now perhaps my favorite Cage work?

Alvin Curran, Endangered Species, two CDs of jazz and popular song classics but done with piano distortion, plenty of spills and turns, a genuinely successful hybrid product.

James Tenney, Changes: 64 Studies for Two Harps, more listenable than you might think.

As for old classics, the Marek Janowski recording of Bruckner’s 4th is my favorite in a crowded (and impressive) field, recommended as a Bruckner introduction too.

This year I also started to enjoy Szymanowski for the first time, though that remains a work in progress.

I usually do a Fanfare meta-list, namely the recordings recommended the most by the critics of this outlet for classical music reviews.  This year there were three clear winners represented on the lists of multiple reviewers:

Poul Ruders, The Thirteenth Child (Danish opera, sung in English).

Feodor Chaliapin, The Complete Recordings, 13 CDs (not my thing).

Wilhelm Furtwängler, The Radio Recordings, 1939-1945 [sic].  James Altena writes: “…layers of aural varnish have been stripped away to uncover the true glories of one incandescent performance after another, from the conductor’s most inspired period of music-making during the horrors of the Nazi regime and World War II.”  Other critics concur, so political correctness has not yet come to classical music reviewing.  If you are reluctant to spend so much money, you can always try the Furtwängler 1942 “Hitler’s birthday” recording of Beethoven’s 9th and see how offended you feel.  So far I can’t bring myself to buy this one.  (By the way, even the Nazis still played Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza to the Beethoven violin concerto…Kreisler was Jewish).

I’ll turn to other musical genres soon.

My favorite things Venice

1. Favorite playwright: Carlo Goldoni, eighteenth century, best if you can see one rather than try to read it.

2. Play, set in: William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice.  Read it carefully and repeatedly, it is far subtler on issues of racism and prejudice than you might have been expecting.

3. Opera, set in: Verdi’s Otello (James Levine recording).  Even as a dramatic work I (perhaps oddly) prefer this to Shakespeare’s play.

4. Memoir, set in: Casanova, though I suggest you read an abridged edition.  I strongly recommend reading Marco Polo as well, though I am not sure that counts as a “memoir.”

5. Short story, set in: Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice.”  But a close runner-up is Henry James, “The Aspern Papers.”

Are you getting the picture? Venice has inspired numerous major writers and artists.  However I don’t love John Ruskin on Venice.

6. Painting: Ah!  Where to start?  I’ll opt for Giorgione’s The Tempest, or any number of late Titian works.  And there are so many runners-up, starting with Veronese, Tintoretto, the Bellinis, and later Tiepolo.  Even a painter as good as Sebastiano del Piombo is pretty far down the list here.  Canaletto bores me, though the technique is impressive.

7. Sculptor: Antonio Canova was born in the Venetian Republic, and I believe he is now one of the most underrated of Western artists.  His greatest work is in Vienna.

8. Composer: I can’t quite bring myself to count Monteverdi as Venetian, so that leaves me with Luigi Nono and also Gabrieli and Albioni and Vivaldi, none of whom I enjoy listening to.

9. Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli.  I enjoy his Mahler and Strauss and Elgar, and his take on Verdi’s Aida was special as well.

10. Photographer of: Derek Parfit, here are some images.

11. Movie, set in: I can recall the fun Casino Royale James Bond scene, but surely there is a better selection attached to a better movie.  What might that be?

11. Maxim about: Pope Gregory XIII: “I am pope everywhere except in Venice.”

All in all, not bad for a city that nowadays has no more than 60,000 residents and was never especially large.

I’ll be there in a few days time.

The company that is Amazon

Let’s pause to reflect that the company that has made one-day shipping of tens of millions of items the industry standard is also the global leader in cloud computing services, owns the Whole Foods grocery stores (and is building a second chain), helps police departments identify criminals, is building its own air cargo fleet, has an $11 billion-a-year advertising business, is working on a plan to give everyone on Earth internet from space, has put always-on microphones in at least 1 in 10 U.S. homes, built an Oscar-winning film and TV studio from scratch, and is competing directly with UPS, FedExGoogle, FacebookAppleMicrosoftIBMthe entire book-publishing industryNetflix, HBO, DisneyWalmartTarget, CostcoKrogerCVS, Walgreens and countless startups.

I don’t like Alexa, and wouldn’t take one for free!  Still, this is overall a remarkable record of both innovation and competition across many markets.  That said, I wonder for how long Amazon can keep this up without becoming a bloated, inefficient conglomerate.

Here is more from Christopher Mims at the WSJ.  You will note also that Walmart is several times larger in U.S. retail than is Amazon.

What is China’s Belt and Road?

Another form of domestic politics?  Here is Andrew Batson on his blog:

The Belt and Road is really the expansion of a specific part of China’s domestic political economy to the rest of the world. That is the nexus between state-owned contractors and state-owned banks, which formed in the domestic infrastructure building spree construction that began after the 2008 global financial crisis (and has not yet ended).

Local governments discovered they could borrow basically without limit to fund infrastructure projects, and despite many predictions of doom, those debts have not yet collapsed. The lesson China has learned is that debt is free and that Western criticisms of excessive infrastructure investment are nonsense, so there is never any downside to borrowing to build more infrastructure. China’s infrastructure-building complex, facing diminishing returns domestically, is now applying that lesson to the whole world.

In Belt and Road projects, foreign countries simply take the place of Chinese local governments in this model (those who detect a neo-imperial vibe around the Belt and Road are, in this sense, onto something). Even the players are the same. In the 1990s, China Development Bank helped invent the local-government financing vehicle structure that underpinned the massive domestic infrastructure. Now, China Development Bank is one of the biggest lenders for overseas construction projects.

Those who defend the Belt and Road against the charge of debt-trap diplomacy are technically correct. But those same defenders also tend to portray the lack of competitive tenders and over-reliance on Chinese construction companies in Belt and Road projects as “problems” that detract from the initiative’s promise. They miss the central role of the SOE infrastructure-complex interest group in driving the Belt and Road. Structures that funnel projects funded by state banks to Chinese SOEs aren’t “problems” from China’s perspective–they are the whole point.

The fact that this model was dubbed the “Belt and Road Initiative” and turned into a national grand strategy by Xi Jinping effectively gave the SOE infrastructure complex carte blanche to pursue whatever projects they can get away with. These projects were no longer just money-makers for SOEs, but became a way to advance China’s national grand strategy–thereby immunizing them from criticism and scrutiny.

And Andrew is always worth reading on music and jazz.

The internet, vs. “culture”

The internet gives us the technological capability to transmit digital information seamlessly over any distance.  The concept of culture is more complicated, but I mean the influences and inspirations we grow up with, such as the family norms and practices of a place, the street scenes, the local architecture and cuisine, and the slang.  Culture comes from both nearby and more distant sources, but the emotional vividness of face-to-face interactions means that a big part of culture is intrinsically local.

Rapid Amazon delivery, or coffee shops that look alike all around the world, stem in part from the internet.  The recommendations from the smart person who works in the local bookstore, or the local Sicilian recipe that cannot be reproduced elsewhere, are examples of culture.

Since the late 1990s, the internet has become far more potent.  Yet the core techniques of culture have hardly become more productive at all, unless we are talking about through the internet.  The particular aspects of culture which have done well are those easily translated to the digital world, such as songs on YouTube and streaming.  When people are staring at their mobile devices for so many minutes or hours a day, that has to displace something.  Those who rely on face-to-face relationships to transmit their influence and authority don’t have nearly the clout they once did.

The internet gaining on culture has made the last twenty years some of the most revolutionary in history, at least in terms of the ongoing fight for mindshare, even though the physical productivity of our economy has been mediocre.  People are upset by the onset of populism in world politics, but the miracle is that so much stability has reigned, relative to the scope of the underlying intellectual and what you might call “methodological” disruptions.

The traditional French intellectual class, while retrograde in siding largely with culture, understands the ongoing clash fairly well.  Consistently with their core loyalties, they do not mind if the influence of the internet is stifled or even destroyed, or if the large American tech companies are collateral damage.

Many Silicon Valley CEOs are in the opposite boat.  Most of their formative experiences are with the internet and typically from young ages.  The cultural perspective of the French intellectuals is alien to them, and so they repeatedly do not understand why their products are not more politically popular.  They find it easier to see that the actual users love both their products and their companies.  Of course, for the intellectuals and culture mandarins that popularity makes the entire revolution even harder to stomach.

Donald Trump ascended to the presidency because he mastered both worlds, namely he commands idiomatic American cultural expressions and attitudes, and also he has been brilliant in his political uses of Twitter.  AOC has mastered social media only, and it remains to be seen whether Kamala Harris and Joe Biden have mastered either, but probably not.

Elizabeth Warren is now leading a campaign to split up the major tech companies, but unlike the Europeans she is not putting forward culture as an intellectual alternative.  Her anti-tech campaign is better understood as an offset of some of the more hostility-producing properties of the internet itself.  It is no accident that the big tech companies take such a regular pounding on social media, which is well-designed to communicate negative sentiment.  In this regard, the American and European anti-tech movements are not nearly as close as they might at first seem.

In the internet vs. culture debate, the internet is at some decided disadvantages.  For instance, despite its losses of mindshare, culture still holds many of the traditional measures of status.  Many intellectuals thus are afraid to voice the view that a lot of culture is a waste of time and we might be better off with more time spent on the internet.  Furthermore, many of the responses to the tech critics focus on narrower questions of economics or the law, without realizing that what is at stake are two different visions of how human beings should think and indeed live.  When that is the case, policymakers will tend to resort to their own value judgments, rather than listening to experts.  For better or worse, the internet-loving generations do not yet hold most positions of political power (recall Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress).

The internet also is good at spreading glorified but inaccurate pictures of the virtues of local culture, such as when Trump tweets about making America great again, or when nationalist populism becomes an internet-based, globalized phenomenon.

The paradox is that only those with a deep background in culture have the true capacity to defend the internet and also to understand its critics, but they are exactly the people least likely to take up that battle.

What Europeans Talk about when They Talk about Brexit

I am tempted to call this long piece on a boring subject the best I have read in 2019, but you know I think that might remain true by the end of the year.  Here is an excerpt from the Belgium section:

I was in Brussels recently, taking my son to watch Anderlecht play, when I heard some English people in a café asking the waiter why no one liked the English. They were nice people asking a genuine question, but often it’s the wrong people who ask the right questions. The waiter replied, politely and in perfect English: ‘We can read your newspapers and watch your television; we hear what your politicians and your journalists say about us.’ That summed it up: all this time we Brits thought we were talking to ourselves, and we were, but everyone else was listening in. Belgians are not surprised by Brexit: it’s just the coagulation as policy of what’s been flowing as attitude for decades.

Or Denmark:

The leftish Information provides the most useful articles. One has a headline in English, though anchored in the land of Elsinore: ‘To Be or Not to Be, That Is Not the Question’. The real ‘question’ doesn’t concern the merits of Leave or Remain, but the complexities of a twin crisis, in both the UK and the EU. Another piece, published shortly after the referendum, describes the division of a nation into Leavers and Remainers as afgrundsdyb. Meaning ‘abyssal’, the term, I am told, hints at the unfathomable as well as the unbridgeable, while evoking something that is certainly dangerous to approach.

I enjoyed this line:

Croatia has more experience than most of entering and exiting alliances.

From the Germany section:

‘Brexit shows that the Brussels bureaucracy, that alleged monster that employs no more civil servants than a central German city administration, has done a great job. The extent of interconnectedness at all levels has to be renegotiated: supply chains, industry standards, food and pharmaceutical standards, security architectures, rural and air transport structures, fishing rights, research collaborations, student exchanges, a vast frictionlessness system is now in jeopardy’ (Gustav Seibt, Süddeutsche Zeitung).

This I had not known:

…in Norway the conservative right is overwhelmingly in favour of joining the EU.

And finally:

Being a Brit in Sweden can be embarrassing just now. We’re one of the Swedes’ favourite peoples, admired for our history and culture, and loved for Engelskt humor. Shocked they may be; but a diet of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers means that Swedes are not altogether surprised.

The authors are numerous, the whole piece was published in The London Review of Books, definitely recommended.  I would note that “what group X really thinks of Y” remains an under-exploited genre in journalism, and elsewhere, and it is one of the best ways of learning about a topic.