The Shocks That Flesh Is Heir To

26JOAN3-jumboThe Kronos Quartet was founded in 1973. They released the first of their 43 studio albums in 1979. I went looking for a copy of the rather obscure Music of Dane Rudhyar after I’d bought several of their more accessible albums, including Monk Suite: Kronos Quartet Plays Music of Thelonious Monk; Terry Riley: Cadenza on the Night Plain; and White Man Sleeps. I’m sure I saw them perform in person at least once. I was a fan.

They were known for playing a range of music not usually associated with string quartets (“Purple Haze”, most famously) and also for wearing cool clothes on stage. They were very modern.

My interest wasn’t totally musical though. One of their members was a blonde woman, a cellist with a mellifluous name: Joan Jeanrenaud. I wondered what she was like when she wasn’t playing cello.


As these things happen, the Quartet and I eventually went our separate ways. 

Then, what should pop up yesterday on YouTube but a video of the Kronos Quartet? They were playing a piece of medieval English music: Thomas Tallis’s Spem In Alium

There was something different, however. Where there used to be a blonde woman, there was now a dark-haired man. Where was Joan Jeanrenaud?

From The New York Times in 2012:

It’s still hard to picture the ubiquitous Kronos Quartet without Joan Jeanrenaud. For 20 years there they were: three hip-nerdy guys and one willowy, glamorous woman.

Then, in what seemed eerie emulation of an early role model, the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré, Ms. Jeanrenaud was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She took a long-term leave, starting in 1999, that morphed into retirement from the quartet and its arduous six months of annual touring. . . .

. . . the impact of the illness has, in her case, been relatively benign. Ms. Jeanrenaud’s condition affects her legs. Du Pré’s began with a loss of sensitivity in her fingers, disastrous for any instrumentalist.

Jeanrenaud has had a solo career that’s included teaching, performing, recording and composition. When the Times article was written, her multiple sclerosis was under control. More recently, however, she was filmed entering a room in a wheelchair and slowly repositioning herself before beginning to play. 

Suddenly seeing her again 20 or 30 years later, dealing with partial paralysis, well, what is there to say?


Growing old sneaks up on us. But I suppose gradual is better than sudden when it comes to aging.

YouTube has Jeanrenaud’s 2008 album Strange Toys. This track is called “Waiting”.

PS: The all-American Ms. Jeanrenaud was born Joan Dutcher in Memphis, Tennessee. She attended Indiana University before studying in Europe.

Nebraska in Black, White and Gray

Since I recently expressed great disappointment with Gravity, one of the movies nominated for Best Picture last year, it’s only fair that I express great appreciation for one of the others: Nebraska. That’s the one in which Bruce Dern plays a cantankerous, confused old man who thinks he’s won a million dollars from an outfit that’s pushing magazine subscriptions.

It’s an old-fashioned picture, beautifully filmed in black and white, with some wonderful performances, especially by Dern (a healthy 77-year old runner in real life) and June Squibb as his extremely outspoken wife. Their performances were both nominated for Oscars, as were the screenplay, directing and cinematography. 

I had a little problem with the premise of the movie — hadn’t Dern’s character ever gotten one of those “We are authorized to award you one million dollars!” notices in the mail before? And when his wife and sons try to convince him he hasn’t really won anything, don’t they point out the very big “if” in the small print?

Putting that quibble aside, Nebraska is the most consistently enjoyable movie I’ve seen in months. I don’t know how a young person would respond to it (a lot of old people, plus black and white?), but the characters and relationships in the movie resonated with me. My parents didn’t age gracefully, I had an uncle who wouldn’t stay put, and I’m wondering what kind of old man I’m turning into. Contented, grumpy, quiet, outspoken, wise, befuddled? Probably all of the above.