The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

The Present Day Composer #18
Great Madmen of the 20th Century #9


Shortly before his death on August 14, 1972, Pianist/Composer/Actor/Raconteur Oscar Levant turned up at Richard Avedon's studio in Manhattan for this Portrait session wearing pajamas, slippers, and a bathrobe replete with foodstains from God only knows when. No one's essence has been rendered in a single frame more bluntly, more cruelly.

8 comments :

swac said...

Christ, for a second I thought that was Gilbert Gottfried after a bad fight. I've never seen that image before...it gives one the chills.

Tom Sutpen said...

It's a disturbing piece of work, to be sure; as though every particle of madness in Levant took over his entire being; which, by the end, it pretty much had.

Can you imagine what the contact sheet looks like?

Rob said...

Poor Oscar - his madness was pretty much a private thing, until that session. He was a quirky musician, but interesting nonetheless. His television appearences were tinged with a little weirdness, too. I'd rather remember him for his wonderful work in "Humoresque", I loved that, and many other bit parts.

BCNU

swac said...

I wonder if my Jack Paar DVD has that moment when Levant lights a second cigarette while he's still smoking the first one...

Tommy O'C said...

I've seen several other shots from that season. Horrible.

I don't believe that Levant showed up at Avedon's studio, rather the other way around, only because Levant was so destroyed by pill addiction that it was all he could do to get out of bed, let alone step aside his door. A minor point but, if I'm right, it casts Avedon in an even worse light for actually seeking out Levant to take these photos.

Craig H said...

This is right up there with the shocking Avedon photo of Candy Darling naked from the waist down.

Laraine said...

I never fully understood the references to "crazy cousin Oscar" I'd heard throughout my childhood.

His life was truly tragic.

Devin McKinney said...

If I remember right, this shot was taken on a trip Avedon took to Beverly Hills to photograph a number of old Hollywood greats. I don't know if this was a magazine assignment or a personal project of Avedon's, but in the same two-month period he shot Groucho Marx, John Ford, Lewis Milestone, etc. In one of his books (An Autobiography or Evidence), there is a contact sheet, and all are pretty much equally disturbing.