In the course of a piece on the French economic wonder, the lifestyle des intermittents du spectacle, and (anti-)Americanism, Adam Gopnik writes that when “the country and its joys can be shut down by part-time trombonists …, something is wrong, or at least ridiculous.” Mr Gopnik underestimates the threat posed to global security by trombonists. In Collaborators and renegades in occupied Shanghai, Bernard Wasserstein writes of Evgeny Mihailovich Kojevnikoff, alias Eugene Pick, alias Hovans, alias Doctor Clige:
Pick’s circle of more than forty paid agents, informers and associates constituted a Who’s Who of the foreign underworld in Shanghai. They included the hit-man Nathan Rabin, a former member of the ‘Purple Gang’ in Chicago who had a sideline as a professional trombonist. An American intelligence source described him as 5′ 9″, strongly built, with a ‘Polish face, crude expression’ and a swagger. The report stated that Rabin was:
… one of the most notorious Japanese gang members in Shanghai, extortionist and blackmailer. Killer when drunk. His sole aim with the Japanese: obtain as much money as possible by criminal means and hide behind Japanese officials.
That sounds like a trombonist, and probably a part-time trombonist. The predominantly Jewish Purple Gang is usually said to have been Detroit-based, but, strangely, 333 pages of FBI files available here don’t seem to mention a gangster called Rabin. And, although the post-war Oscar Rabin band is still quite well-known, principally for the sax mouthpiece anecdote, neither am I getting any ghits for a 30s Michigan-based trombonist called Rabin.
Other prominent Shanghai residents in the early 30s:
|Dr Albert von Miorini||Abortionist, brothel-owner, sexual extortionist|
|Hermann Erben||Monkey expert, narcotics dealer, “doctor”|
|Hilaire du Berrier||Shady Franco-American journalist, aviator, pimp|
|Don and Dolly||Dancers|
|Mr Steptoe||“British Secret Intelligence Service representative”|
|Princess Sumaire||Nymphomaniac Indian dwarf model|
|“Captain” “Eugene” “Pick”||Shaven-headed Cossack murderer, blackmailer, vodka drinker, drama student|
The Gopnik article is via Prentiss Riddle. Shanghai is up for another appearance soon (possibly), with some extracts from memoirs of the German diplomat, Erwin Wickert. Wickert was based in the city as WWII got going, and later returned as ambassador to Beijing. He wrote an unforgettable account of the firebombing of Tokyo which I translated into Catalan last year but never got round to posting. Maybe this year.
- On the French penchant for inventing things already in existence elsewhere
François Dominique Séraphin, Bourbon favourite and reputedly the father of ombres chinoises (shadow puppetry), began operating 15 years later than is generally thought, and may have copied his techniques from an itinerant Italian or a London Alsatian. Featuring the memoirs of the valet to the later Louis XVII, early descriptions of the delights of the renovated Palais Royal (including a pygmy show), jolly old Baron Grimm on the lamentable state of French opera, shadow plays, and marionettes, and William Beckford’s favourite designer of theatrical perversions.
- The worst translator in the world? “Quoth she, so much I hate this nation, / I’ll damn this author in translation”
The London Magazine, 1734:
Verses occasioned by Mr. Budgel’s modest Proposal, in the Daily Post-Boy of Aug. 31. to give the Publick a new and accurate Translation of a late celebrated French Treatise, on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans, and which has been already translated.
Dulness, good goddess, chanc’d to
- Wilful mondegreens from the popular repertoire
Lionel Richie opens a butchery in Bradford, while Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra refuse to sell a raspberry ripple to the Archbishop of Canterbury in Jerusalem. With a generational categorisation of Millennials.
- Rhyme vs reason
Restif de la Bretonne goes one step beyond Shakespeare and says that poetry is the language of Gods and beasts, and that reason speaks in prose.