For the past two years I've been making videos of the Lionel Train display at the New York City Transit Museum Annex and Gift Shop in Grand Central Terminal. This year I've paid more attention to the models of New York City landmarks (Grand Central itself, the Met Life Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the SONY--formerly AT&T--Building with its Chippendale top), ordinary buildings, and rustic scenery, as well as model train action.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Thursday, December 05, 2013
What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.Addendum: my friend John Wirenius has these sage remarks.
Second addendum: here's a video of Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler on vocal) with Eric Clapton performing a tribute to Mandela on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Wembley Stadium, London, 1988 (thanks to my friend Mickey Waldrup for the link):
Photo at top: Wikimedia Commons.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
It's December so, of course, it's time to think about surf guitar music. In this instance, surf guitar music from places far from Southern California, although the first one is from another O.C. What started me thinking about this was that a movie called Anesthesia was filming in my neighborhood. This brought to my mind "Anesthesia" by the Nation Rocking Shadows, which I heard once in the spring of 1967 in a friend's dorm room at the University of South Florida, but which stuck in my mind over many years, as did "Believe Me" by the Royal Teens and Uska Dara by Eartha Kitt. My friend who had the record said the band was from Orlando, that he had seen them live, and that they had tons of electronic equipment onstage.
Cut to about twenty years later, at the bar of the Lion's Head, where I heard a man reciting to a woman "Anesthesia's" peculiar spoken bridge: "Scalpel, scalpel, scalpel, scalpel, sponge, sponge, sponge, sponge, suture, suture, suture, suture...." He omitted the scream at the end, or he would have gotten some unfriendly attention from the bartender. I said I didn't know anyone outside of Florida (besides, of course, me) had ever heard of this odd piece of music. He assured me there were those like him who had.
I didn't actually listen to "Anesthesia" for a second time until a few days ago, when seeing the movie title made me curious enough to do a web search that led me to the YouTube clip embedded above. The music begins with an ominous "drip drip drip" on bass, some alarming guitar riffs and an organ build, then it resolves into a main theme that seems a variation on the Chantays' "Pipeline". This is broken by the spoken bridge quoted above, which ends with a scream. The main theme then returns, but shortly after gives way to riffs like those near the beginning, and ends in cacophony.
Thinking of the Nation Rocking Shadows, from Florida, made me think of another surf guitar band, this one coming from far from any ocean. The Astronauts called themselves the "mile high surf band," having originated in Boulder, Colorado. "Baja," which you can hear in the clip above, is one of my favorite surf numbers. The staccato high notes on the guitar foreshadow a style that is frequent in contemporary pop, as in "Night," by Dolly Trolly. The suggestions of similar music YouTube gives to the right of the "Baja" video includes a piece that seems akin to surf music, though also coming from a long distance from California: "Wild Weekend" by Buffalo's Rockin' Rebels.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Sam Edwards, I'm told, was a bartender at "55," the joint next door to the Lion's Head. I seldom went into 55; whenever I did my nostrils were assailed by the smell of insecticide. There was good jazz there, but in those days I'd yet to develop an ear for it. My few visits were occasioned by hearing that someone I liked who'd been 86'd from the Head (which, despite its raffish reputation, maintained fairly strict standards of decorum) was having a drink there. It was owned by Bradley Cunnigham, who also owned Bradley's, an upscale bar and restaurant on University Place where my appreciation for jazz got a jolt one evening from listening to Joanne Brackeen. I heard that Bradley made more money off 55 than from Bradley's. Bradley's, like the Lion's Head, is long gone, but 55 survives.
Sam's video and poem, for which I must again offer thanks to Michael Simmons, is about Greenwich Village before I arrived; the Village of my high school and college aspirations that I, and others like me, unwittingly helped to destroy. Like Michael, I was delighted to see, in one of the photos in the montage that accompanies the reading of the poem, a poster for a concert by David Amram.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
I posted this e.e. cummings poem two years ago on Easter. Yesterday I found this version set to music by Elliot Z. Levine, a member of the a cappella choral group The Western Wind. The poem and song seems appropriate for today. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Sunday, November 24, 2013
"Think Bo Diddley on acid," Marshall said as she started to strum the familiar "shave-and-a-haircut, two bits" rhythm, then sang about "the difference between falling in love with the way you feel around somebody and falling in love with somebody."
She ended the show with the title, and closing, track from the album:
"Blaze of Glory" is an autobiographical song about changes in music, in mores, and in Marshall. Unfortunately, when she calls for a sing-along, you can hear me. I didn't have the song in mind a couple of weeks ago when I took, and titled, this photo, but I will whenever I look at it again.
Addendum: I almost forgot to add; Marshall sang her achingly lovely lament for Tim Krekel.
Friday, November 22, 2013
My wife was invited to the play by a friend who had a spare ticket because her husband couldn't attend, so I secured my own ticket. I waited until late, and consequently got what was probably considered one of the least desirable seats. These plays are in the Public's Anspacher Theater, where the "stage" is a flat floor with steeply tiered rows of seats on three sides. The first row of seats is at stage level; mine was one of these, furthest toward the back of the stage. This actually proved to be a fortunate location, as I was close to the table where most of the action took place. So close, in fact, that, not having dined before the show, I had to fight the temptation to ask one of the actors if I could have a plate of the mac and cheese sitting enticingly in a bowl a few steps from where I was sitting.
It also helps to be close because these plays are performed in almost ordinary conversational, not full "stage", voices (the Public advises those who might have trouble hearing to get amplification devices they supply). This also aids the "suspension of disbelief." One really has the sense of being at an intimate family gathering. Some months after seeing Sorry, I found myself musing, "Who were those friends we visited up in Rhinebeck?" This illusion may have been facilitated by the fact--disclosure here--that two of the actors, Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett, Richard and Barbara Apple, brother and sister, in the plays, but husband and wife in real life, have been friends of ours since our children were classmates in elementary school.
Each of the plays is set on a historical date--That Hopey Changey Thing on the date of the 2010 midterm elections, Sweet and Sad on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Sorry on the date of the 2012 presidential election, and Regular Singing on the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. Each of the earlier plays has had its opening on the actual day on which it is set; Regular Singing will have its opening tonight.
Regular Singing, like Sorry, takes place in the home of Barbara Apple, a schoolteacher, in Rhinebeck, New York. Rhinebeck is a small town in the Hudson valley, an easy drive north from New York City. One of the play's characters notes that Rhinebeck's main street, followed south, eventually becomes Broadway. Some affluent City residents have summer and weekend houses in and near Rhinebeck, but the Apples are locals. Richard became a successful lawyer in the City, but in Regular Singing he's moved to Albany, where he holds an important position in state government.
Moving seems characteristic for Richard. He's tightly wound, ready to spring, but at the same time elusive. In both Sorry and Regular Singing he keeps saying he needs to leave while Barbara implores him to stay. Barbara, single and childless in middle age, is the nurturing mother figure of the Apples. She shares her house with a younger sister, Marian (Laila Robins), also a teacher, who separated from her husband, Adam, after their daughter's suicide. There is a third, even younger, Apple sister, Jane (Sally Murphy), described as "a non-fiction writer", who lives nearby with her boyfriend, Tim Andrews (Stephen Kunken), an actor. Benjamin Apple (Jon Devries) is the siblings' uncle and a retired actor. He also shared Barbara's house after he suffered a heart attack that put him into a coma, from which he emerged with a mild dementia. The conflict in Sorry centers around the decision to have him moved to an assisted living facility, a decision that Barbara, ever the in-gatherer, opposes.
As is appropriate for a play set on the anniversary of an assassination, and perhaps for the final play in a series, the theme of Regular Singing is death. The Kennedy assassination is discussed, but the central concern is the impending death of Adam who, despite their separation, has remained close to Marian and to Barbara, who has made her house his hospice. The play begins with the family gathered around the dining room table, and Jane and Tim breaking into song, a song to be sung at Adam's funeral. This leads to Tim's short discourse on the play's title, which was a liturgical controversy in colonial America. As the play progresses, Marian is frequently called to attend to the needs of Adam's mother, who is in a room offstage with her dying son. Richard seems a caged tiger; after Barbara gets him to sit down he accuses her and his other sisters of sabotaging his marriage. This leads to the play's emotional fulcrum, where his vulnerability becomes manifest. Amid the sturm und drang Uncle Benjamin, with his flat affect, sounds a note of stability. That may be why Barbara repeats almost everything he says.
Near the close of Regular Singing Barbara reads to the others sentences each of her students has written about death, an assignment she gave them in connection with the Kennedy anniversary. Then there is a recitation of a secularized 23rd Psalm Adam wrote for his own funeral, ending with, "and I shall dwell in Barbara's house forever."
I'll close with what Richard Nelson, the playwright, had to say about the Apple plays:
I wrote in the note for SORRY that it is my hope that these plays are about the need to talk, the need to listen, the need for theatre, and the need to be in the same room together.
Maybe it's really just saying the same thing another way, but I want to add that it is also my hope that they are about the need to know, in small or even some bigger ways, that we are not alone.I'm very glad to have been in that room.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, depicts the showroom as it was at a time when the dealership sold Porsches as well as Mercedes.
In 2001, when the lease of the principal tenant at 430 Park expired, The New York Times reported that its owners, "a partnership headed by Oestreicher Realty and Midwood Management," decided to do an extensive renovation intended to make it "fit in better visually with its neighborhood and become what its managers hope will be a prime location for corporate tenants." I had hoped to be able to show a "before and after" comparison of the building, but can't find a photo of it as it was before the renovation. The photos below shows it as it is after:
To me, the building does look better. The principal change is that the narrow north and south walls, which were previously clad in white brick, now are glass and metal, with windows, like the facade facing Park Avenue. While the long Park Avenue facade still has its pattern of horizontal strips of window alternating with strips of opaque green, the appearance is somehow softer. The overall effect is to make the building look like something inviting to touch, like a hand-held electronic device.
Mercedes Benz vacated their space in 2012, consolidating their sales operations in Manhattan at one location on the West Side, where many other auto dealers are located.* The Wright space was ready-made for another such dealership, but either none expressed any interest in taking it over, or (more likely is my guess) the new building owners wanted something there that would generate more, and more steady, revenue. Could it have been adaptively re-used by, say, a high end clothing boutique or shoe store? Possibly, although some modifications would have been necessary. In any event, the Crain's New York video below shows what happened (the narrator refers to the Wright-designed space as "the Hoffman showroom" after the dealer who occupied the space before Mercedes):
The building's owners acted lawfully and within their rights. And, as this New York Times article notes, the showroom wasn't considered one of Wright's more significant works. The article quotes the late, and eminent, Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, as calling it "cramped." Still, some saw in its spiral ramp an adumbration of the Guggenheim.
I'm very sorry that it's gone. Part of my sorrow is that few seemed to know about it, so I felt I was in on a choice secret. I liked to imagine taking one of my architect friends there and basking in their delighted surprise. In a better world there would have been public funds sufficient and available to compensate the owners for the loss of income, which for a prime Park Avenue commercial space could be substantial, they would suffer from preserving it. Perhaps it could have been acquired, or leased for a long term, and used as a small museum commemorating Wright's life and works.
I can't resist the obvious gesture of closing with this Simon & Garfunkel song:
*For some reason, it seems to make economic sense for car dealers to locate in proximity to each other. Maybe the idea is that you get spillover from other dealers' potential customers who didn't like what was offered there. In giving up the Park Avenue location, though, Mercedes abandoned the place where, as reported by one of my fellow lawyers who spotted him, Jerry Seinfeld came to shop for a car. In any event, I can't help but wonder if Mercedes' decision to leave the space wasn't in some way encouraged by the building's new owners.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Saturday, November 02, 2013
I first met Lou Reed at the Holiday Fundraiser Fair at Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, the day after Thanksgiving, 1967.Lou at the Grace Church Fair? My wife has been a stalwart Fair worker for maybe the last thirteen years or so. Of course, 1967 was well before our time here in the Heights. I was starting my first year of law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she was a sixth grader at a Catholic school in Lynn, a few miles away. Had we been introduced at the time, and told that we would someday be married, we would both have been very surprised, perhaps even (at least in her case) horrified. (I would probably have thought: "Well, she's not the upper middle class WASP princess of my dreams, but she is pretty." She might have thought: "What an pretentious, pseudo-intellectual twit.")
Anyway, Lou was not present in person at the '67 Fair. Mr. Philips, fourteen at the time, "met" him in the form of a stack of the first Velvet Underground LPs (you can always get some really good stuff at the Grace Church Fair; trust me), one of which he bought, took home, played, and didn't like. He described Lou's vocal delivery as "Bob Dylan with a Brooklyn hitter accent." Two years later, stoned, and with a friend, he pulled the album out, played it, and SHA-ZAM! He was converted.
Later, Mr. Philips had several in person encounters with Lou, almost all of them in music stores. In one of these, he did manage a brief, inconsequential conversational exchange about a guitar. I was once (apart from the Detroit concert) in Lou's presence. This was at a party, sometime around the '70s-'80s cusp, in the then edgy (now touristy) Meat Packing District. My friend Charlie (not to be confused with Binky's friend Charlie) pointed him out to me, standing maybe twenty feet away. I resisted the temptation to introduce myself, knowing I was not cool enough to merit his attention.
Mr. Philips writes that he was in the Grace Church Choir (by which he presumably means the Youth Choir) for three years. Among his choir mates at that time might have been Robert Lamm, later keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter for Chicago. Harry Chapin would have preceded him by a few years.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
I've marked other Halloweens with some obvious choices: "Night on Bald Mountain" and "The Monster Mash", and a less than obvious one: "Ambrose (Part 5)", by comely Brooklynite Linda Laurie. This year I've gone back to something obvious.
I remember "Spooky" from my first year of law school. I wasn't crazy about it; I was more into hard rock and folk at the time, and "Spooky" sounded a bit too jazzy for my taste. Now, having looked at the song's Wikipedia entry, I know that it started as a saxophone instrumental that was a minor hit for Mike Sharpe. Still, I noticed that the song seemed to stick in my head; as a rock critic would say, it had hooks. And their singer, the late Dennis Yost, had a way with a tune.
One of the WRKO DJs mentioned that the group was from Atlanta. Now, having seen the band's Wiki, I know they originated in my old home state, Florida, specifically Jacksonville. They have a history that intertwines with that of Southern rock at large. Two members of the group later joined fellow Jacksonvillian Robert Nix in the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Nix had been the drummer for the Candymen, a group that had been the backup band for Roy Orbison and several other stars before going on its own to record "Georgia Pines":
I also heard "Georgia Pines" during my 1L year, one night when I was up late studying and listening to WBCN, Boston's first "underground" FM rock station. The DJ introduced the song as "Southern white soul" and said the lead singer was Rodney Justo. I've since learned that Rodney is a fellow Tampan. (Some of my old friends have taken to calling themselves "Tampanians" because "Tampan" sounds too much like something else; I say "Who cares? We can absorb it!"). Rodney was with Nix in ARS as their lead singer. ARS did a cover of "Spooky", as did Dusty Springfield, Lydia Lunch, and many others.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Sunday, October 27, 2013
This past June I posted the good news
that Lou Reed had undergone what appeared to be a successful liver transplant. Today the news turned bad; he died at 71.
Lou was a terrific guitarist, but it was his vocal performances that for me are most memorable. Delivered in, as Ben Ratliff's New York Times obituary puts it, "his Brooklyn-Queens drawl", lacking any soaring dynamics, they could be sardonic, scathing, or sweet. Sometimes they were mixtures of all three almost at once. "Coney Island Baby," the song he does in the video clip above, emphasizes the sweetness, but without being mawkish.
I saw him in live performance once, at the State Theater in Detroit during the 1980s. I was there for a meeting with several friends and colleagues from New York. One of them was a nun living in the secular world who ran a consulting business to fund her charitable ventures, which included serving Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds of homeless people on the streets of Harlem. She enjoyed the concert very much, although she found "Sex with Your Parents" a bit perplexing
In January of 1987 Lou and his former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale appeared together in concert in my neighborhood. They performed the complete contents of their album Songs for Drella, made as a memorial to their artistic patron and friend Andy Warhol. I somehow missed this; fortunately, my Brooklyn Heights Blog colleague "Homer Fink" was there, and today published this recollection of the event, as well as his appreciation of Lou.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Sunday, October 20, 2013
When I arrived in Cambridge for law school in September of 1967, I was quickly made aware that the local team was on a roll. When they won the pennant, things went wild. "Owah Sahx ah th' greatest!" a townie kid cutting across the Yard on his way home from school yelled as he passed me. "They'ah gonna beat those Cahd-nuls." So I started paying attention to the sports news and learned about Lonborg and Yaz and Scott and Rico and the tragic injury to Tony C.--I found out that my then girlfriend, who lived in Richmond, Virginia, had a crush on him--that would keep him out of the World Series lineup. I heard "The Impossible Dream" on the radio a hundred times.
The dream would prove impossible. It took seven games, but the Cards beat the team that had last appeared in a Series the year I was born (1946) and last won one two years after my mother was born (1918). By 1986 I had become a Mets fan--a logical extension of my first baseball love, which was for the Brooklyn Dodgers--and so celebrated the Sox loss of that Series, though with just a hint of wistfulness.
This year I'm rooting for a reversal of 1967, in part because my wife is a Sox fan, but since I've long had a soft spot for the Cards on purely aesthetic grounds, I hope it goes to seven games again.
Addendum: Archaeopteryx reminds me that 2004, the year the "curse" on the Sox was lifted, was also a replay of '67, Sox vs. Cards, though it was won by the Sox in a four game sweep. Because of my father's illness (he died the night the Sox won game four) I didn't pay much attention to that Series. Also, Richard B points out that the '46 Series also featured the Cards against the Sox. It was, like '67, a seven game battle won by the Cards, and featured two of the past century's greatest players: Stan Musial (Cards) and Ted Williams (Sox).
Monday, October 14, 2013
Zagat's fifty state sandwich survey: beef on weck gets its due, as does the Connecticut lobster roll.
Connecticut lobster roll (photo above). There's more about it here. Not surprisingly, the Maine version gets the nod as the Pine Tree State's characteristic sandwich.
My old home state, Florida, gets what it ought to: the Cuban sandwich. The one Zagat chose to feature, however, doesn't look like any Cuban I've ever had. That's probably because it comes from a cafeteria in Miami, not from my old home town, Tampa, the Ur of el Cubano. My first, and therefore iconic, Cuban came from the Silver Ring Bar in Ybor City, an establishment that failed to survive the transformation of Tampa's Latin Quarter into a corporatized tourist mecca. There's a lively discussion in the comments on the Zagat piece about what a proper Cuban should, or should not, include. The Zagat description fails to mention what I consider the sine qua non: that the sandwich be pressed in a plancha, a device resembling that used to press panini.
My wife wanted to know what Zagat considers the characteristic sandwich of her home state, Massachusetts. She was amused and pleased to know that it's the fluffernutter, a variant of the PB&J with Marshmallow Fluff in place of the jelly. Evidently the General Court (what they call the legislature in the Bay State) and Governor made it the Commonwealth's official sandwich. Zagat tells us that Marshmallow Fluff was invented in Somerville (though it's now made in my wife's hometown, Lynn) by a man named Archibald Query, who sold it door-to-door. Somerville now has an annual Fluffernutter Festival, and it seems we just missed National Fluffernutter Day. Did Congress and the President actually agree to proclaim that? Ah, for the days when they could find common ground on important matters.
The Zagat folks threw a few curves. For my native state, Pennsylvania, one might well expect the Philly cheesesteak, no? No. The "cheesesteak" award goes to...drumroll...Idaho. I put cheesesteak in quotes because the version Zagat chose is made with chicken and bacon. Turning to Philly, Zagat anoints as the Keystone State's sandwich a hoagie made with roast pork, melted provolone, and broccoli rabe. It looks and sounds delicious, so the next time I'm down there I'll try to find time to visit Tommy DiNic's at the Reading Terminal Market.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
So, I'm hoping that the Cards soundly thrash the Dodgers (they're tied at 2 in the 11th in the opening game at St. Louis as I write this) and that the Red Sox beat the Tigers (but not so badly as to be humiliating.) This would set up a replay of 1967, the year of the Sox' "Impossible Dream," when I had just arrived in Cambridge and, after years of baseball latency, succumbed to Fenway fever until they fell to the Cards after a hard fought seven games. This year I hope they go seven games again, but that the Sox win the Series.
Update: Cards go one up in the NLCS thanks to a walk off single in the 13th by ex-Met Carlos Beltran.
Second update: Cards now up by two in NLCS (yay!), but Anibal Sanchez and the Detroit bullpen blanked the Sox as the Tigers won the game 1-0 and went up 1-0 in the ALCS.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, perhaps the greatest pop tunesmith of the nineteenth century. The video above shows the chorus va pensiero sull ali dorate, or the "Hebrew Slaves' Chorus," from his opera Nabucco. The opera company and venue aren't identified, but the set looks like that of the Metropolitan Opera production I saw some years ago. When I saw the Met's Nabucco, at the close of this chorus someone in the audience yelled Viva Italia! A friend later told me that va pensiero is considered "the unofficial Italian national anthem."
This video is of the triumphal march from Verdi's Aida, at the Metropolitan Opera in 1989. This march, which I first heard on the Columbia Records album Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music, bought by my parents when I was about eight, provided the soundtrack for my most grandiose childhood fantasies.
Update: WQXR is celebrating Verdi Week.
Monday, September 30, 2013
They also did it despite what it seems has become so characteristic of the Mets: a DL that looks like a casualty roster from Chateau-Thierry or Ypres; one that this year included a season ending elbow ligament tear to promising young starter Matt Harvey. At first it was thought Harvey would need Tommy John surgery; now he has decided to try rest and rehabilitation. Depending on how things go, he could be available sometime next season.
The Mets won't be in the postseason, but as of now there are three teams still standing that I wouldn't mind seeing a World Series winner. The Red Sox, whom I like out of spousal loyalty, take the best record into the playoffs. The Pirates--my affection for them is explained here--have clinched one of the NL wild cards. My old home town's Rays may get an AL wild card if they can beat the Rangers tonight. Update: The Rays live, having got by the Rangers 5-2 in the elimination game, so they advance to the playoffs.
Second update: Matt Harvey had a talk with Mets' GM Sandy Alderson (a Harvard Law alum I had the pleasure of meeting at an HLS alumni event this summer), and he will now have the surgery, which means he's definitely out all next season. Meanwhile, the Pirates and Rays both advanced past their wild card elimination games. Since then, the Pirates and Cards have split the first two games of their series, and the Rays got clobbered by the Red Sox 12-2 in the opening game of theirs. My wife is happy.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
I got to know Larry Kirwan back in 1978, when he and Pierce Turner, as Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, were the house band at the Bells of Hell, one of the two greatest bars (can you guess the other one?) that ever were in New York. The Bells closed in 1979, and Larry and Pierce continued on for a while, making a move into electronica and disco as the Major Thinkers, then each went his own way. For a while, Larry concentrated on his other talent, writing, and produced a play called Liverpool Fantasy, based on the question: What would the world be like if the Beatles never made it? (Larry has since expanded it into a novel.) Then, in the late 1980s, Larry got together with some other superb musicians and formed Black 47, a band that I love despite having once tongue-in-cheekedly described them as "traditional Irish hip-hop thrash metal punk" or something similar. In the video above, they do my favorite of their songs, one about the 1916 Easter Rising, "James Connolly":
My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die,I've posted before about my visit to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, where the surviving sixteen leaders of the 1916 Rising were taken and shot; the wounded Connolly having been tied to a chair to face the firing squad.
But to fight for the rights of the working man, the small farmer too,
Protect the proletariat from the bosses and their screws,
So hold on to your rifles, boys, and don't give up your dream,
Of a republic for the working class, economic liberty!
Larry has now sent word that, a little over one year from now, on the 25th anniversary of their first gig, Black 47 will disband. As their website notes:
There are no fights, differences over musical policy, or general skulduggery, we remain as good friends as when we first played together. We just have a simple wish to finish up at the top our game after 25 years of relentless touring and, as always, on our own terms.In their remaining year, they'll continue to tour, and are working on one final album, Last Call. I will get a copy, and attend as many of their gigs as I can. I'll report more here from time to time.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Shortly after arriving in New York some forty three years ago, I noticed another piece of Grand Central ceiling art (see photo above). There is a corridor between the northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Graybar Building. (I never noticed those rat sculptures--have to check that out.) The corridor has a vaulted ceiling; from the center of each vault hangs a chandelier. The vaults are all painted white except for this one, on which each facet of the vault bears a painting.
I presume these paintings were made around 1913, when Grand Central was opened [But see below.]. My web research, and cursory looks at published histories of Grand Central, has revealed nothing about them. Does anyone know about them, especially the identity of the painter?
Update--mystery solved: and to think, all I should have done was to ask Francis Morrone. He provides the following information:
That painting in the Graybar Passage is by Edward Trumbull, who also did the ceiling mural in the Chrysler Building lobby. He was a student of a student of William Morris and was once married to Brooklyn Heights's own doyenne of modern art, Katherine Sophie Dreier. The paintings date from the Graybar construction in the 1920s.Regarding the date of the painting, I should have paid more attention to the aircraft. The monoplane (second in the race) looks remarkably like the Ryan christened Spirit of St. Louis and flown by Charles Lindbergh from Roosevelt Field, now a shopping mall, in Garden City, New York, to Le Bourget field, Paris in 1927.
Second update: Christopher Gray has kindly sent me a link to his New York Times "Streetscapes" column from September 3, 1995, in which he responds to a reader's question:
Q. In the passage that leads from Lexington Avenue to the Grand Central Terminal, under the Graybar Building, I think there used to be more than the single ceiling mural now there. Can you shed any light on this? . . . Maria Carmiciano, Manhattan.This corrects one surmise--that the workers depicted on the southern panel were laying track: actually, they are working on telephone cable--and answers a question: Were there once paintings in the other ceiling vaults? The answer is yes, but only of clouds.
A. You probably do remember more murals, but period photographs and written accounts indicate that they were only cloud forms...The artist Edward Trumbull painted an industrial panorama, four sections showing railroads, airships, telephone communication and skyscraper steelwork. Trumbull also did murals in the Chrysler Building and the Oyster Bar.
In 1927, The New York Times noted that the other ceiling panels were painted only in imitation of cumulus cloud forms, which have indeed been painted out, perhaps because later owners considered them just smudges of white. S. J. Vickers, writing in The Architectural Record, praised the main mural and regretted that Trumbull had not been retained to do all the vaults.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
I've known Tania Grossinger--whose self-description on her web page is "Author; Consultant; Raconteur; Talk Show Guest; Travel Writer; Troublemaker"--since sometime in the late 1970s, when we were introduced--by whom I've forgotten, though it was likely Dermot McEvoy--at (where else?) the Lion's Head. She was one of those honored by having a book jacket displayed on the saloon's wall. The jacket collection ranged from Kitty Kelley's Jackie Oh! through various novels and poetry anthologies to a textbook on statistical analysis. Tania's contribution to the wall was the autobiographical Growing Up at Grossinger's, about girlhood at the Catskill resort that was the jeweled buckle on the Borscht Belt. I didn't read it; tales about resort life and visiting celebrities didn't seem especially relevant to my interests at the time.
Tania's and my times at the Head didn't overlap much. She tended to be there early in the evening. I was part of the later night crowd, which wasn't helpful to my career as a corporate lawyer. Now, having read her Memoir, I regret not having gotten to know her better.
Over the course of her life, Tania came to know several people who have been important to me, though only at a distance. As a young girl at Grossinger's she became a friend of Jackie Robinson. (The Brooklyn Dodgers were my first love in baseball, and Robinson was one of those I rooted for while watching the 1955 World Series.) While working as the publicist for Playboy (my "how to be cool" manual during my college years) Tania had a very funny (imagine!) encounter with Ayn Rand. (At thirteen, responding to a challenge from my eighth grade math teacher, I read Atlas Shrugged, then followed it with The Fountainhead. I decided that really smart, ruthless people should rule the world, and if being a brilliant, highly individualistic architect like Howard Roark could land me a girlfriend like Dominique Francon--never mind that I didn't look like Gary Cooper--that's what I wanted to be. I was safely over Rand by high school, but I'm still grateful to her for introducing me to the world of ideas, even if they were mostly bad ones.) To top things off, Tania once had her lunch tab paid by then Senator John F. Kennedy in gratitude for her having been his tour guide at Brandeis University several years before, when she was a student.
Her most important accomplishment as a publicist was her work for Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique. As Tania tells the story, Friedan was one tough sell. At their first meeting, Friedan told Tania "she was out to change the world" and that Tania "was going to help her do it...and that was that." Tania did just that, although it was no easy task. At first, Friedan seemed determined to undermine her own project. Tania was able to schedule an appearance on a TV show called (I'm not making this up) Girl Talk, hosted by an old friend of Tania's, Virginia Graham. Before the show, Friedan insisted on stopping at Sardi's for a drink. When she went on the air Friedan was fried. Graham immediately challenged her, asserting that "girls" preferred being homemakers to having careers. Friedan answered by telling the viewers that Graham just wanted them to stay at home to be her "captive audience." During a commercial break, Friedan faced the studio audience and said that if Graham didn't let her have her say, she would "say the word 'orgasm' on television ten times!" This was very much a no-no in 1963.
Tania didn't let this disaster derail the project. She called in a chit to get a very reluctant Merv Griffin, one of the top TV hosts of the day, to allow Friedan on his show. Betty was at her best, and buzz for the book burgeoned. (I still have this thing for alliterations involving the letter "b.") Afterward, Tania was hired by the publisher, W.W. Norton, to handle publicity for The Feminine Mystique full time. One detail not to be missed from this time is the "Jewish mother" letters Tania would periodically receive from Friedan. Tania's success in promoting the book was such that, during my senior year (1963-64) at Robinson High School in Tampa, it seemed that at least half of the girls in Mrs. Blalock's Advanced English class gave book reports on something they invariably called The Feminine Mystic, which I assumed was about women who held seances, did tarot readings, or gazed into crystal balls.
(Speaking of which, Tania has a chapter on her experiences with "Psychics, Seers, and the Supernatural." I suggest you read it and decide.)
Another of Tania's assignments, from the publisher Stein & Day, was to promote the novel Down All the Days by Christy Brown, the Irish writer, poet, and artist who had a form of cerebral palsy that made him barely able to speak, and unable to write except by tapping out code with the toes of his left foot. Tania had some success getting excerpts from his book read on TV, accompanied by scenes of where he'd grown up. Still, she wanted to get him on camera, and speaking. To accomplish this, she needed to find a good interlocutor. She introduced him to Malachy McCourt, an actor and founder of the Bells of Hell. At the Bells bar, they quickly became friends, and alcohol loosened Brown's tongue. Tania convinced the now recently deceased David Frost to have the two of them on his show. Frost initially objected to Tania's condition that they both have had a few drinks before going on air. "What if Christy falls off his chair?" Frost asked. Tania said he'd be strapped to his chair, and that, if the strap should break, "we'll take a commercial break, focus on the Irish musicians we've hired for the spot, pick him up, and proceed from there." The show was a great success, and the book sold well enough to be made into a movie with the title My Left Foot, in which Christy Brown is portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis.
Memoir isn't all tales of Tania's adventures with celebrities, although she's the sort of person for whom failure to name-drop would be a character defect akin to hiding one's light under a bushel. One story I found especially poignant is from Tania's time as a college student. She was a psychology major, and volunteered to help in a hospital for mentally ill children run by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On her first day there, she noticed a girl who was being punished severely by the staff because she failed to respond to orders. Tania, who had learned basics of American Sign Language during her time at Grossinger's, guessed that the girl was deaf, and signed to her. The girl responded. When Tania pointed this out to the staff, she was asked to leave, and Brandeis was told not to send her back. Such were conditions in supposedly enlightened Massachusetts in the early 1950s. In 1966, Frederick Wiseman made a film, Titicut Follies, that exposed mistreatment of inmates at another Massachusetts facility, Bridgewater State Hospital.
I've focused above on some of the personalities and incidents described in Tania's Memoir, but I haven't discussed the book's major underlying theme: identity. Like me (I was a military brat), Tania had a peripatetic early life. She was born and lived in Chicago until shortly after her father died, when she was eight. Her mother then took her to Los Angeles, where they stayed until her mother lost her job with a high fashion hatmaker and, at the invitation of her father's cousin, they moved across the continent to Grossinger's, where her mother worked as a hostess. In L.A. Tania had been sent to a Christian Science Sunday school; it was only on her arrival at Grossinger's that she learned she was Jewish. At sixteen, having completed the requirements for high school graduation, she entered Brandeis University in the Boston suburbs. After college, she returned to L.A. for a while, then back to Chicago, the site of her unfortunate marriage. Tania's frequent changes of venue required her to re-establish her identity with new sets of schoolmates, friends, and others with whom she had frequent contact.
Tania also explores the question of identity through accounts of her loves, both failed, as in her early and brief marriage, and fulfilling, as in her relationship with Art D'Lugoff, a well known Greenwich Village club owner, which blossomed in her middle years and lasted through his death. Following that, for a time, Tania wrote, "I lost track of the real me, even doubted at times that there was one."
The one problematic love that is a thread throughout the book is that between Tania and her mother. Karla Seifer Grossinger's identity remains to some extent a mystery to her daughter even now. Born into a fairly prosperous Polish Jewish family, she went to Vienna and studied at the university there, though as Tania later learned she never received the degree she claimed. Karla eventually came to Chicago, where she married Max Grossinger, an undistinguished businessman who was a cousin of the founder of the resort, and who died under mysterious circumstances that Karla would not discuss with Tania. Many members of Karla's family died in the Holocaust. She had two brothers who survived, but Karla was not on close terms with either of them. She was never abusive or harsh to Tania while her daughter was growing up, but always remained at something of a distance. Toward the end of her life she became emotionally demanding, to the extent that they became estranged. The penultimate chapter of Memoir has the title, "Trying to Reconcile with Mother."
Tania acknowledges that her relationship with Karla was the principal cause of her decision never to have a child. She does not, in retrospect, question this decision. Still, she was moved to write Memoir as a series of letters to "Natasha," a daughter she never had. She begins the final chapter, "Looking Back: Childless by Choice":
Knowing this will be my last letter to you, Natasha, saddens me more than I anticipated. Through this one-sided correspondence, I've made an attempt to share and make sense of my life, only to discover that lives may not be meant to be made sense of....At times it's been as if I'm writing about someone I'm meeting for the first time. I've been so many different people in so many different situations in so many different places that one needs the skills of a magician, which I most definitely am not, to pull it all together.At the close, she notes that she is writing at the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, "[t]he one holiday that even secular Jews like myself observe." (Even I, a non-Jew, have come to appreciate the Days of Awe.) She observed the custom of Tashlich, "symbolically casting [her] sins (via nuggets of bread) on the waters, in hopes they will be forgiven." I'm writing this on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. May your coming year be fruitful, Tania. May your Memoir find the success it richly deserves, and may you produce more good works.
Memoir of an Independent Woman is published by Skyhorse Publishing, New York City (2013).
Saturday, September 07, 2013
Today, though, while reading a news report about a court decision concerning efforts to save Long Island College Hospital, which serves our community and where my daughter was born, I saw this:
The Wednesday ruling also required SUNY Downstate to account for the Othmer Endowment Fund by Sept. 20—a $130 million endowment gifted to LICH by the Othmer family.--Sarah Matheson, "Ambulance Services Restored at Brooklyn's LICH," Epoch Times, September 6, 2013 (emphasis added).
The reason I've Italicized "gifted" in the quotation is that it's incorrectly used as a verb. It's an adjective that roughly means possessing greater than average intelligence or skill. The correct word in the context of the quoted sentence would be "given," the past participle of the verb "to give."
Why do I care? Because "gift" is a noun that doesn't need to be made into a verb, There's already a verb form, "give," that has no more letters than "gift," and therefore gives us no advantage in economy of expression. Consider, for example: "To verb an noun," thereby using the noun "verb" as a verb, has an advantage of brevity over "To make a noun into a verb." By contrast, "He gifted a book to his daughter" is longer, and clumsier, than "He gave a book to his daughter." Also, to use "gifted" as the past tense of "to gift" creates confusion with its use as an adjective. Would "a gifted child" mean a child blessed with talent, or one who was made available for adoption (not that they mightn't be the same)?
Addendum: I should mention that "give" is sometimes used as a noun, in a way that doesn't bother me. It's used as a synonym for "flexibility," as in, "There's some give in it."
Second addendum: Ugh!
Monday, September 02, 2013
I may even have been in the same room with Heaney without knowing who he was. One of my friends reported on Facebook that he was known to visit the Lion's Head when in New York.
A Catholic born and raised in Protestant dominated, and British ruled, Northern Ireland, Heaney had a sharp sense of the way tribal divisions affect communication. His poem "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing," quoted in Saturday's New York Times obituary by Margalit Fox, concludes:
O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,Some of Heaney's compatriots found his work insufficiently engaged with the political conflict in Northern Ireland, condemning him as "accommodationist." According to the Times obit, his reply was in an essay on Osip Mandelstam, exiled by Stalin:
Of open minds as open as a trap,
Where tongues lie coiled, as under flames lie wicks,
Where half of us, as in a wooden horse
Were cabin'd and confined like wily Greeks,
Besieged within the siege, whispering morse.
“We live here in critical times ourselves, when the idea of poetry as an art is in danger of being overshadowed by a quest for poetry as a diagram of political attitudes,” [Heaney] wrote. “Some commentators have all the fussy literalism of an official from the ministry of truth.”While most criitcs praised Heaney's work, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995, he had his artistic, as well as political, detractors; those who, the Times observed, found his work "facile." The obit quotes Al Alvarez, in a 1980 review of Heaney's Field Work:
If Heaney really is the best we can do, then the whole troubled, exploratory thrust of modern poetry has been a diversion from the right true way. Eliot and his contemporaries, Lowell and his, Plath and hers had it all wrong: to try to make clearings of sense and discipline and style in the untamed, unfenced darkness was to mistake morbidity for inspiration.The reference to "clearings of sense and discipline and style in the untamed, unfenced darkness" made me think of a poem I love, Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West." It begins with the image of a woman walking on the beach, singing, against the sound of surf. Stevens observed:
She was the single artificer of the worldThe poem continues:
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.
Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,Stevens took particularities--a woman singing on a beach; the lights on boats at anchor--and used them to illustrate how artifice imposes order (also see his "Anecdote of the Jar"), making, if you will, "clearings...in the untamed, unfenced darkness." Heaney gave us particularities, as in the short poem "Nerthus," which Alvarez quotes in its entirety:
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.
For beauty, say an ash-fork staked in peat,This poem includes an artifact--the ash-fork--that is simply there, a "taker of the weather." It does not impose any order or scheme, it was simply, in Heaney's view, beautiful. The natural features--peat, kesh, loaning, and heather--have their own beauty, but the ash-fork is beautiful in their context. It could be beautiful in some other context, or none, as well.
Its long grains gathering to the gouged split,
A seasoned, unsleeved taker of the weather,
Where kesh and loaning finger out to heather.
The modernists Alvarez contrasted to Heaney--Eliot, Lowell, and Plath--had in the critic's view what Stevens (whom I would add to that group), in the final stanza of "The Idea of Order at Key West" called "blessed rage for order." (I believe that his "Connoiseur of Chaos" supports that argument.) Heaney didn't rage; he showed us what is there. He didn't idealize or prettify it. He could, for example in one poem, "The Skunk", that Alvarez cites as an example of Heaney at what, in the critic's view, is his best, compare his memory of his absent wife to the skunk that visits his porch in California:
It all came back to me last night, stirredSo, what do I prefer: the "rage for order" or the savor of the particular? My answer is typical for me: I prefer neither, and like both. I've sometimes been accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it, too. My answer is, "Who wouldn't?" To me, the modernists and the particularists are like the Thatcher brothers in Peter Wheelwright's As It Is On Earth, epistemological yin and yang, forever connected and completing a whole.
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.
And, as an epitaph for Heaney--I promise to read Beowulf and more of your original poetry soon--I offer a paraphrase of Auden's elegy on Yeats:
Earth, receive an honored guest;But, though the vessel lie empty, let the poetry live on, and on... .
Seamus Heaney is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
Addendum: Christopher Benfey remembers Heaney as a teacher in this New York Review of Books piece.
Photo: By Sean O'Connor, cropped by Sabahrat (File:Seamus Heaney.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons