When Punk Rockers Become Parents

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Written By Pinang Driod

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is Cullen Murphy, an editor at large at The Atlantic who has written about a night in the Sistine Chapel and the Chagossians’ struggle to return to their island homes.

Cullen admires the willowy presence of Bill Nighy, the engineering genius of binder clips, a poem by Richard Wilbur about aging, a song that puts an infant at ease, and a novel from postwar Britain that no longer seems quite like satire.

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

  • Why parents struggle so much in the world’s richest country
  • The real Harvard scandal
  • The anticlimactic end of Israel’s democracy crisis

The Culture Survey: Cullen Murphy

The television show I’m most enjoying right now: Slow Horses, which just wrapped up its third season. Based on the riotously seedy Slough House novels by Mick Herron, the show perfectly captures the character of the books—vulgar, funny, knowing, clever, and offensive, with an unexpectedly warm heart. Gary Oldman plays a loyal but loathsome MI5 operative, brilliant and gone to rot—in manner, the opposite of John le Carré’s George Smiley, whom Oldman has also played. He heads a shabby office of rejects. Kristin Scott Thomas is his devious, brittle, equally brilliant spymaster-nemesis at the gleaming headquarters of MI5. [Related: The subversive worldview of Slow Horses]

A good recommendation I recently received: I sent Tom Nichols’s wonderful recent article on geriatric rock to a friend, and she in turn told me about a 2011 documentary, The Other F Word, about punk rockers who have become fathers and are now raising their children and gamely teaching them about moderation, obedience, and other virtues. (Imagine what Take-Your-Child-to-Work Day is like.) The documentary has the feel of This Is Spinal Tap, but it’s all real.

An actor I would watch in anything: Bill Nighy, who seems to have been carved out of a weeping willow. That long face. Those sinewy fingers. He can evoke a world with just a twitch, whether it’s the over-the-hill rocker Billy Mack in Love Actually or the dour bureaucrat Rodney Williams in Living.

Best novel I’ve recently read, and the best work of nonfiction: Fiction: Tory Heaven, by Marghanita Laski. Imagine a group of hidebound English expatriates returning to postwar Britain in the wake of Clement Attlee’s Labour victory. Oh, if only the clock could be set back! If only the Conservatives could have the Britain they wanted! Well, they get their wish—the class stratification, the entrenched privilege, the inbred acceptance of it all—in this 1948 satire, whose good-natured dystopian tone falls somewhere between P. G. Wodehouse and George Orwell. Sadly, it doesn’t feel as much like satire as it once did. Tory Heaven is published by Persephone Books, which is devoted to reviving works by women that have fallen out of print. Laski, the niece of the famous Harold, was not only a novelist but also the contributor who supplied the most quotations (250,000) to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nonfiction: The Lives of a Roman Neighborhood, by Paul W. Jacobs II. A deep—sometimes literally deep, given the archaeology involved—exploration of a single small rione in the city of Rome over a period of 2,500 years. In more recent centuries, this 40-plus-acre neighborhood was the location of the walled Roman Ghetto, and it was here that much of the city’s Jewish population was rounded up in 1943.

The last museum or gallery show that I loved: Go for the Sargent; stay for the Wong. The big exhibition devoted to John Singer Sargent and fashion, at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, is basically a runway show in oils. Sargent loved fabric as much as he did faces, and maybe more. But “Matthew Wong: The Realm of Appearances,” at the same museum, is the show that will change your day. Wong painted these large, bright, colorful landscapes—by turns calm and intricate, haunting and fantastical—from 2013 until his death (at 35), in 2019. These six years account for the entirety of his career. [Related: John Singer Sargent in his studio]

A cultural product I loved as a teenager and still love: Binder clips are a cultural product, I think. They certainly hold a lot of cultural work-product together. They are far superior to paper clips—they don’t fall off or become hopelessly entangled. Also, isn’t the engineering perfect? The way the little wire handles fold back to provide leverage, allowing you to part the jaws? Even as offices become paperless, I still see people with little petting zoos of binder clips on their desks.

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: Vann Newkirk’s article about the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, in the Reconstruction issue. In brief: In 1871, against huge odds, young Black students from Nashville set out on a singing tour in order to raise money to save their school. In the process, they brought the Negro spiritual to white America and changed American musical culture forever.

The last thing that made me snort with laughter: Does Blackstone’s 2023 holiday video count? I may not have been laughing for the reasons Blackstone intended.

The upcoming event I’m most looking forward to: If I can get to it before April, the Mark Rothko show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. [Related: How to restore a Rothko: with light]

A poem, or line of poetry, that I return to: I keep Richard Wilbur close by, and I have a copy of his poem “A Measuring Worm” framed on a table. But for a recent birthday, a friend sent me a hand-printed copy of Wilbur’s “A Black Birch in Winter,” published in The Atlantic decades ago. Read the poem, and you’ll see why it’s good for a birthday. But now I need to get another frame.

Something delightful introduced to me by a kid in my life: Chris Stapleton’s “Think I’m in Love With You.” This song soothes my seven-month-old granddaughter when all else fails.

My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Talking on it.


Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Courtesy of Lee Caggiano’s family.

The Woman Who Didn’t See Stuttering as a Flaw

By John Hendrickson

My friend Lee Caggiano, who died several weeks ago, was not famous. But through her work, she changed one particular corner of the world: Lee made people who stutter, like me, want to talk.

Like 99 percent of the population, Lee was fluent, meaning she never knew what it was like to stutter herself. But her son did. His experience with stuttering made her pivot her life and go back to school. She completed a master’s degree in speech-language pathology in her early 40s and went on to treat patients and teach at NYU and elsewhere.

Her greatest accomplishment, and the reason hundreds of stutterers across the country have been mourning her death, is the profound work she did to de-pathologize this disorder. Lee didn’t see stuttering as a weakness, a failure, a flaw. She didn’t think she could “cure” you. She didn’t try to.

Read the full article.

More in Culture

  • Ferrari puts you right in the driver’s seat.
  • Nine underrated movies that are worth your time
  • American Fiction is more than a racial satire.
  • The new The Color Purple finds its own rhythm.
  • What to read if you want to reinvent yourself
  • Everyone should be reading Palestinian poetry.

Catch Up on The Atlantic

  • Nancy Pelosi: “What January 6 made clear to me”
  • The GOP completes its surrender.
  • The plagiarism war has begun.

Photo Album

Revelers take part in the “Enfarinats” battle—a flour, egg, and pyrotechnics fight to celebrate the Els Enfarinats festival—on December 28, 2023, in Alicante, Spain.
Revelers take part in the “Enfarinats” battle—a flour, egg, and pyrotechnics fight to celebrate the Els Enfarinats festival—on December 28, 2023, in Alicante, Spain. (Zowy Voeten / Getty)

A hedgehog rescue, French tightrope walker, Polar Bear Swim, and more in our editor’s selection of this week’s photos.

Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

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