Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's not a lie, if you believe it

The New Yorker has just published the best telling yet of the Hatto saga, although it's remarkable how the author (Mark Singer) is simultaneously aware of Barrington-Coupe's (Hatto's widower) incapacity to tell the truth and yet openly drawn in by the con man's charm. It would seem that Barrington-Coupe is a supremely gifted manipulator.

In the end, I still haven't gotten my question answered about how the telltale information got plugged into iTunes (I don't believe iTunes made the match just on timings), but maybe that's a secret that won't get out. Also, reading the article absolutely confirms that a movie must be made out of this story. Maybe even an opera, with Barrington-Coupe as a Dulcamara-like buffo role.

And remember, you can read that lengthy New Yorker article, or you can get all you need to know about Hatto in six stylish sonnets.

UPDATE: More comments in the comments.

4 comments:

Andrys said...

Part of the info was plugged in, in that, as you likely have read, queries of the database Feb 15-18 showed that the label was still listed as Concert Artists rather than BIS.

As for being 'drawn in' I think that description may be overstated in that while what is done can be seen in b&w terms (right/wrong), the story is interesting partially because the main characters were not b&w.

Michael Monroe said...

I guess what I mean by "drawn in" is that Singer is open about not wanting to provoke Barrington-Coupe. True, it's unlikely that provoking B-C would get anywhere, and it would make everyone feel bad. I agree that much of the interest in this story is what a fascinating character Mr. B.-C. is. He seems to be a pathological liar who's also gracious and, in a strange way, fairly harmless (except for the ability to cause a lot of embarrassment) - but also deceptively thick-skinned. As far as I can tell, it doesn't really matter to him if something he says is "found out" because he'll just keep spinning new explanations; this was what made the entire hoax so remarkably succesfully. What he did was so brazen because there was almost no way he wouldn't eventually be found out; however, the sheer brazenness is what kept the Hatto story afloat. Who would imagine that someone would try to pull that off?

So, when Singer says . . .

"In the course of the next five hours, he dissembled and I silently marvelled at his technique. He seemed to make things up effortlessly as he went along. As he angled for my sympathy and confidence, he remained courteous and affable, a perfectly decent-seeming fellow."

and

"I didn’t plan to bring up, for instance, a story in the Independent that quoted Hatto’s radiologist to the effect that she’d received her first cancer diagnosis in 1992 rather than in the early seventies, as legend had it."

and

"Another question I didn’t bother asking Barry is whether Hatto was in on the con."

. . . I don't really blame him. He knows he wouldn't have gotten straight answers; I guess there's just something that doesn't sit right about these stories always turning sympathetic to B-C - even though I find myself sympathetic as well. I also found it odd that Singer chose throughout to refer to B-C by the more familiar "Barry." There's little question that B-C's age and genial manner have something to do with the gentle treatment he gets.

I also found it a little frustrating that the article didn't tie up some loose ends - such as clarifying how the iTunes mechanics worked or revealing the identity of the pianist who played the Mendelssohn/Rachmaninoff Scherzo. I was able to find out on Farhan Malik's site that this was a sped-up version of Alexander Ghindin's performance, but it felt like the article slowly morphed from being a well-told narrative to a character study that is incomplete without more facts. I haven't followed the various message-boards enough to keep up with all this, and maybe it's unrealistic to expect this article to cover everything, but I was hoping for more clarity.

The bottom line is that nothing B-C says can be taken at face-value; it's almost like he lives in his own alternate universe where things like facts and logic don't matter - although his universe draws people in by doing a good job of appearing to be plausible. It must be something to be so untethered to reality. I think that's what makes B-C so compelling.

Andrys said...

I certainly agree with your final assessment. Apologies, just got back here.

What you describe as being 'drawn in' seems to me a wily non-confrontational mode, as one that was more accusational would not produce desired results but stiffen resistance, and we see this often in disagreements.

What he does do, from my read, is give him 'enough rope' which then gives us a too-good picture of the essence of the fraudster, how he watches, thinks, operates. WB-C has been confronted before, to no avail but we got less from those.

For me, it seems an investigative, explorational piece into a truly outrageous hoax with a bizarre psychological component (a pianist who could enjoy praise for playing by other pianists under her own name) involving a con man who seems to even con himself at times.

As for "Barry" it occurred to me that forever writing 'Barrington-Coupe' is awkward. On the forums we tend to say WB-C or BC rather than write it out. And Robert von Bahr has said a few times that WB-C's former name was Barrington-Cooper.

The iTunes mechanics don't quite make sense in this case because, as 3 people discovered from Feb. 15-18, the CD database showed the Artist as Laszlo but the Label as Concert Artists.

Normally, iTunes/Gracenote works in looking at the total time involved with the number of tracks (something like that). In this case there were two tracks played by two other pianists. So people are still asking Gracenote about this.

Re loose ends and clarifications (the article didn't seem to focus on who actually played but in what was behind the hoax, the mindsets, the reasons, such as they might be -- the article isn't from the classical-music area of the magazine), we just found out yesterday, thanks to work by Farhan Malik, that the influential excerpt of the Mephisto Waltz was played by Janina Fialkowska, who is playing in Canada on Monday and has a backstory of her own that rivals Hatto's created one.

For more details and links, see http://www.andrys.com/hatto.html#news

Thanks for your thoughtful blog!
I enjoy it. Especially the article on timing and intervals recently.

- Andrys

Andrys said...

Michael! Just to belabor this a bit more, I was quite taken with the 2nd paragraph of the Guardian blog on this very matter yesterday. I'll quote it here in case it goes offline, but it's currently at http://tinyurl.com/2dg4tu

Re WB-C, by Guy Dammann
"...consciousness so cocooned from the hazards of truth-telling that there simply would have been no point in attempting to confront him directly. Singer is content simply to let the man spin his own web of self-contradictory half-rememberings, floating in a kind of parallel universe in which his wife really had lived up to her astonishing, misled, obituaries..."

- A