Thursday, February 11, 2016

TBT (under the wire): Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks

My TBTs of late have, sadly, been mostly about the recently late. Dan Hicks, who died last Saturday, was a musician of great talent and imagination. His roots were in folk, but he became a member of the Charlatans, regarded by many as the first of the San Francisco Bay Area's "psychedelic" bands. He left them to form Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, a group that had a syncretic style Hicks called "folk swing". The clip below shows them performing two songs, "By Hook or By Crook" and "Shorty Falls in Love" (a.k.a. "Another Night"). Hicks does vocals and guitar, accompanied by the "Lickettes" Maryann Price and Naomi Eisenberg, with Sid Page on violin, John Girton on guitar, and Jaime Leopold on bass.

S.S. United States revived as a cruise ship?

The news that S.S. United States, former flagship of the U.S. Merchant Marine fleet and last holder of the Blue Riband, may be purchased and converted for use as a cruise ship was encouraging to me, as it removes the immediate threat of the great ship's being sold for scrap,

The prospective buyer, Crystal Cruises, has published a rendition (see above) of the ship as modified for cruising duty, The visible changes are minimal: a small extension of the superstructure aftward, and replacement of the long rows of old fashioned open lifeboats with short rows of modern high capacity enclosed inflatable life rafts. I'm delighted to see that Crystal intends to keep the original red, white, and blue funnel paint scheme. Greater change is in store below decks, where steam turbine engines would be replaced by diesels.

The thought of seeing the "Big U" once again heading into or out of New York Harbor -- Crystal's CEO says they intend to make New York her home port -- some day is thrilling. Still, there are a couple of troubling possibilities. The ship is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), carcinogenic substances that will have to be removed before the ship can be put into service. Crystal's CEO has said the cost of remediation, the extent of which will be determined after inspection by the EPA, could be a "dealbreaker". My guess is there's a good likelihood that Crystal will back out because of this. If so, the trip to the breakers seems inevitable, as any restoration of the ship as a public attraction would also require PCB remediation. Fortunately, an earlier owner who had contemplated using her as a hotel and casino had her cleaned of asbestos.

Crystal is under the same ownership as the Norwegian Cruise Line. In fact, NCL bought the United States in 2003 from the last of a series of owners who had failed plans to use her for cruising or as a stationary hotel, casino, or the like. NCL eventually abandoned the plan to make her a cruiser, and, in 2011, sold her to the SS United States Conservancy, which has managed to raise funds sufficient to pay dockage fees and keep the ship stabilized since then. It's interesting to note that NCL previously bought another great transatlantic liner, S.S. France, and, with extensive modifications, converted her for cruising as S.S. Norway. As such, she served successfully from 1980 until 1984, when she was withdrawn from service to have her steam engines removed and replaced with diesels, along with further superstructure modifications, after which she returned to cruising until 2003, when a boiler explosion at the Port of Miami killed several crew members. She was then towed to Europe, laid up, and then sold for scrap in 2006. The whole story, ending with photos of her being dismantled off the beach at Alang, India, is here.

Should the Big U become a cruiser, she would likely face a similar fate after twenty or so years of service, or possibly less. Interest in her preservation is likely to have faded considerably by then; there will be few left alive who can recall having sailed on her, or have fond memories of the heyday of transatlantic sea travel. Her value as scrap is likely to exceed by a good margin whatever might be offered to preserve her.

My hope was that she could be brought to New York, docked somewhere along what was once called "Ocean Liner Row" on Manhattan's West Side, and used as a floating hotel, much like her erstwhile companion Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Ideally she would include a museum devoted to her history and that of transatlantic sea travel. Unfortunately, no one saw this as an economic proposition. Still, if some day I can look out across the harbor and see her, with her magnificent funnels, making her stately way to or from the sea, I will say a heartfelt "Thank you, Crystal."


Thursday, February 04, 2016

TBT: Bob & Ray, "The Slow Talker"; R.I.P. Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott, best known as half of the radio comedy duo Bob and Ray (at left in photo from FamousFix) died on Tuesday. His partner, Ray Goulding, died in 1990. They were both Massachusetts natives, and their comedy had a deadpan New England quality. Their radio skits often took the form of an interview that would go spectacularly wrong, as in "The Slow Talker", one of their most popular routines, heard in the clip below:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Alice Denham: Playboy Playmate, feminist, writer, and friend, 1933-2016.

I met Alice Denham some years ago at--where else?--the Lion's Head. I don't recall what animated our first conversation. Perhaps it was our common Florida background: she was a Jacksonville native; I was a military brat and spent much of my childhood and youth in different parts of the state. Maybe I had noticed the jacket cover of her novel Amo on the wall on which were displayed the many covers of the many books written by Head regulars; like many lawyers, I had a nagging aspiration to write something other than memos, pleadings, and briefs. For whatever reason, we each found the other pleasant enough to continue our conversation when we found ourselves at the Head's bar together. I learned that she had been one of the first Playboy playmates, and later a founding member of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

 I last saw her in 2013, at a party at the Cornelia Street Cafe, to celebrate the publication of her memoir of her days in Mexico, Secrets of San Miguel. Afterward some of us repaired to the apartment of her and her husband, John Mueller. who survives her, for more conversation and drinks. 

Word came today from Jeanine Flaherty, another Head veteran and widow of journalist and novelist Joe Flaherty, forwarded by Dermot McEvoy, that Alice died yesterday, January 27, at the age of 83. Adiós, Alice! It was a joy to know you, and you will be sorely missed.

Correction: When I wrote this post, I misspelled the name of Alice's husband. It's Mueller, not Muller. My apologies, John.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

TBT: Richie Havens, "Freedom (Motherless Child)"; Woodstock, 1969.

Richie Havens (1941-2013), a Brooklyn native who "brought an earthy soulfulness to the folk scene of the Sixties" (David Browne, Rolling Stone), opened the Woodstock festival in the summer of 1969. He wasn't meant to, but the band Sweetwater, scheduled to be the opening act, was stuck in traffic. He sang until he ran out of songs, but then began strumming his guitar vigorously and chanting "Freedom!" over and over, before segueing into the traditional spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child".


While I was at the Cosmic American Music Festival last September, I met (and heard some terrific music by) Walter Parks, who played lead guitar in Havens's group until the singer's death. Walter showed me a guitar, showing marks of hard use, that had belonged to Havens, and which he planned to take to the Brooklyn Lutherie for restoration. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to get a photo. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It's Mozart's birthday.

Today (though it's fast passing) is the 260th birthday of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, better known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ("Amadeus" is a Latinization of the Greek-derived "Theophilus"). He died at the age of 35, leaving a musical legacy with few rivals. Below is a clip of the first movement of his Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, KV. 550, audio with a still image of a posthumous (1818) portrait of the composer by Barbara Krafft. The profile portrait at left is a recently discovered one, believed to be painted from life, probably by the Austrian court painter Joseph Hickel. The performance in the clip is by the Georgian SIMI Festival Orchestra, 1998.


There's a delightful explication of this movement in this PBS Newshour piece, a conversation between PBS's Jeffrey Brown and composer Rob Kapilow, in which Kapilow explains how Mozart started with a simple ten note melody, developed and transformed it, then brought it to a conclusion in what Kapilow calls "the universe in three notes."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

TBT: The Eagles, "Doolin-Dalton" and "Doolin-Dalton and Desperado Reprise" live; R.I.P. Glenn Frey

I'll confess: in my twenties and early thirties I was an Eagles fan. "Take it Easy", the first song I heard by them, was aspirational; yes, I wanted to be that guy in Winslow getting the eye from a girl in a flatbed Ford. "Peaceful Easy Feeling" had a similar allure. "Already Gone" vied with Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" as what I fantasized about singing to any woman who spurned me. By the mid 1970s, though, I'd forsaken the Eagles' easygoing country-flavored rock for hardcore punk and for the edgier country rock of Gram Parsons. A few Eagles songs--"Your Lyin' Eyes"; "New Kid in Town"--stayed with me, along with one album, Desperado, I'd acquired while in the Army in Louisiana.

This past Sunday evening, looking for something I hadn't played in a while, I found Desperado and put it on my CD player. I tried to remember what had affected me so much about this concept album that tells the story, with the inevitable bad end, of the Doolin-Dalton Gang in the old West. Two lines stuck in my mind. One was "The towns lay out across the dusty plains/ Like graveyards full of tombstones waiting for the names", and, most poignantly for me, "It seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table/ But you only want the ones that you can't get."
 
On Monday, I learned of Glenn Frey's death. Here's a live performance video of "Doolin-Dalton" and the reprise of "Desperado". He plays harmonica and guitar, and sings.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr. on extremism.

From Dr. King's "A Letter from Birmingham Jail":
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist... But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel; "I bear in my body the marks of Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the ends of my days before I make butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.,," So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
In a post three years ago I noted that Dr. King's letter, written in his jail cell on scraps of writing paper that visitors secretly gave him, was a response to a letter signed by several prominent Alabama clergymen urging an end to the non-violent demonstrations going on at the time in Birmingham, counseling "patience" on the part of those seeking justice, and praising local news media and law enforcement officials for their "calm" response (which, in the instance of law enforcement, included the use of fire hoses and dogs on peaceful demonstrators, including children).

One of the signatories of that letter was C.C.J. Carpenter, the Episcopal Bishop of Alabama who was then the senior (but not presiding) bishop in the Episcopal Church U.S.A. He was what at the time was called a "Southern moderate"; he probably believed that the system of legally sanctioned racial segregation was both wrong and doomed, but wanted it to end gradually so as not to cause more social stress than he thought necessary. As I noted ruefully in that post, had I been in Bishop Carpenter's position, I would likely have signed the letter. Although I've spent my career in a profession, law, thought to be combative in nature, I was drawn to the side of the work that involved negotiation and compromise. This is fine and well; negotiation and compromise are essential, and we could certainly use more of it in Congress today. Still, there are times when it is necessary to take an uncompromising stand, when "Justice delayed is justice denied" must be the guiding principle.

Photo: Library of Congress.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

TBT: David Bowie (1947-2016), "Heroes".

David Bowie, who died Sunday, was one of rock's protean figures. As he says in the interview shown in the video embedded in the linked BBC piece, "I'm a collector. and I've always just seemed to collect personalities; ideas...."

The clip below shows him in live performance, doing "Heroes", my favorite of his songs:

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

TBT: Sonny Boy Williamson, "Nine Below Zero".

It hasn't quite made it to nine below zero here in New York yet--well, maybe on the Centigrade scale--but it's sure felt like a shock after our mostly balmy December. Still, it's an appropriate time for this blues, led and sung by the greatest of blues harmonicists, Sonny Boy Williamson. Born a sharecropper's son in Mississippi, like many great blues artists he found his way to Chicago and to Leonard Chess, for whose Chess label he recorded.
  The clip above shows him playing and singing "Nine Below Zero", with Otis Spann on piano, Willie Dixon on bass, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy. If one of my blues maven friends can ID the drummer, I'll be grateful.

The photo, by Thomas R Machnitzki, is of Sonny Boy's gravestone, in the Prairie View Cemetery at Tutwiler, Mississippi.

Monday, January 04, 2016

New Year's Shout-Outs and Remembrances

I'll start with remembrances. 2015 took a heavy toll of those I knew and loved, and those I admired. At the beginning of April, my phone rang and Heather Quinlan gave me the shocking news that John Loscalzo, a.k.a. "Homer Fink", founder and publisher of the Brooklyn Heights Blog, had died suddenly and unexpectedly of, as it was later determined, an aneurysm. John left a wife, Tracy Zamot, and a then four year old daughter, Gracie. He also left the BHB crew: Beth, Heather, Teresa, Theo, and me, deeply saddened but determined to keep the Blog going which, with Tracy's support, we've managed to do. I had known John for almost nine years, since he discovered this blog because I posted a photo of a Brooklyn Heights sunset, and invited me to become a contributor to BHB. Over those years, I found John to be a most accommodating publisher, a companion on some amusing adventures, an instructor on the ways of the on-line world and contemporary pop culture and their odd (to me) jargon, and, most of all, a treasured friend.

One of those I most looked forward to seeing at my law school reunion in October was my classmate, and later roommate when we first moved to New York, Mario Diaz-Cruz. When we arrived in Cambridge, I saw from the reunion program that he had died just three weeks before. From friends, I learned the details. It had been a brief but fatal illness that struck while he and Sissy, his wife of 45 years, were on vacation in the Hamptons. He was a superb lawyer and friend.

Another loss in 2015 was Tania Grossinger, an erstwhile Lion's Head companion whom I wish I had gotten to know better after I read her autobiography Memoir of an Independent Woman. My ecclesiastical home, Grace Church, saw the loss of its Rector Emeritus Goldy Sherrill and of Don Yule, veteran of the New York City Opera and stalwart in the bass section of the Grace Church choir.

Others whose passing I've noted here are Ernie Banks, Philip Levine, Lesley Gore, the Left Banke's Michael Brown, Ornette Coleman, Wendell Holmes (whom I had the pleasure of getting to know when the Holmes Brothers were playing at Dan Lynch back in the early 1980s), Yogi Berra (a Yankee hero who became a Met), Frankie Ford, Allen Toussaint, and, most recently, Natalie Cole. No doubt you can think of others I should have similarly honored.

Turning to the more pleasant side, I always credit those who have aided my blogging, either through providing me with material or by giving me encouragement, or both. Some of the usual suspects return:  Michael Simmons; The Rev. Stephen Muncie; architectural historian Francis Morrone; historical novelist and master of good craic Dermot McEvoy. There are also some new ones: John Wirenius, whom I met in the flesh for the first time at a Sunday evening service at St. Bart's in Manhattan, and who was ordained a Deacon of the Episcopal Church earlier this year; old college friends Larry Brennan and Steve Griffith, as well as Gene Owen, to whom Steve introduced me during the Cosmic American Music Festival in Winter Haven, Florida; Tricia Collins, a for a time long lost Lion's Head companion now back in her hometown, Tallahassee, whom I re-discovered through our common friendship with Kevin Clarke, father of one my daughter's elementary school classmates (in which connection I'll also mention Tom Jenkins); and Permian Extinction--that's her nom de Facebook--whom I met on line because of her friendship with Marian Saska, and whom, because of our common interests in painting and birds, I suspect has in common with Marian connections to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. My former LeBoeuf colleague Richard Cole last year gave me a story about his friendship with Robin Williams, and this year allowed me to show him around Brooklyn Heights during a visit to New York; and my law school classmate Richard B. Hoffman has been an invaluable source on movies, theater, law, and much else. I can't end this without mentioning my wife, Martha Foley, and my fellow Robinson Knights, so many of whom I've re-established communication with after many years. If I tried to list you all, along with your contributions to my venture, I'd be up past midnight, and it's a work night. Please accept my heartfelt thanks.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Natalie Cole, 1950-2015

My New Year's celebratory mood is dampened by the news of the death on New Year's Eve, at 65, of an extraordinarily talented singer, daughter of another extraordinarily talented singer, Nat King Cole, who also died relatively young.

The clip below shows her doing a duet with one of her dad's old buddies, Frank Sinatra, whose centenary we recently celebrated. The song is "I Get a Kick Out of You" by Cole Porter, from the 1934 (and since revived several times) Broadway musical Anything Goes.



I wondered if this made-for-TV version of the song would include Porter's original line, "Some get a kick from cocaine...", evidently not a problem for the Great White Way in 1934. No; it gets replaced by "Some like the perfume from Spain...."

Photo: Angela George via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

TBT: Ella Fitzgerald, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"





It had to be this song, and it had to be Ella. The song ends abruptly, as 2015 will when the ball drops tomorrow night. Happy New Year to all!





Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I'm breaking from my football silence to say, "Go, Jets!"

Before you declare me a front-running weasel, understand that I have been a fan of Gang Green for some years. How many years? I can't quite say. The seed was planted in January of 1969, when I was in my second year of law school and along with several floormates went to the room of my sadly now deceased classmate Michael Francis Vincent Peter Vaccaro, the only guy on my dorm floor who had a TV, to watch Super Bowl III, which pitted the New York Jets of the then American Football League against the Baltimore Colts, champions of the NFL.

I had decided to back the Jets, as they were the underdogs, despite, or perhaps because, their brash young quarterback, Joe Namath, had violated lex non scripta by guaranteeing victory the Thursday before the game. I expected it to be a tight game, but it wasn't. The Jets dominated from the get-go, intercepting three times and generally playing ferocious defense that kept the Colts off the scoreboard. The Jets' offense was less potent. Namath completed 17 of 28 passes, none for TDs. The ground game fared better, and the only TD came on a rush by Matt Snell. The Colts' "D" kept the Jets' remaining scoring to three field goals, and Baltimore's only score came in the fourth quarter when legendary veteran Johnny Unitas (when I first started watching NFL games on TV, I thought for a while that the horseshoe on the Colts helmet was a "U" for Unitas) was brought in and tossed for a TD. Final: 16-7 Jets. The moment the final buzzer sounded, Mike, our host, jumped up and turned the TV off. "Why?", someone asked. "Because I couldn't stand to hear Howard Cosell say, 'Broadway Joe Namath, the New York Jets, and the American Football League, all came of age today.'" Someone later told me that's exactly what Cosell said.

After that, the Jets sank into mediocrity and I didn't pay much attention to them, or to pro football generally. After I moved to New York, for a time I declared myself a Giants fan on the strength of having read Fred Exley's A Fan's Notes. Later, I decided that I preferred the Jets because of their second team status, just like that of the Mets, with whom they shared Shea Stadium for some years. And, hey!, the names rhyme. When the Nets moved to my home, Brooklyn, a rhyming triad was complete. And the Jets gave me the opportunity to make a joke in Italian.

The other thing about the Jets that's caught my attention this year is their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick (photo). I first noticed him five years ago when he was with the Bills. I'm loathe to say that his being a Harvard grad affects my opinion of him. I only went to law school there. During my first year in Cambridge I went to a couple of Harvard home games; in the first of these I got to see them demolished by a Princeton team using a single wing offense, considered practically a museum piece in 1967. I later learned that it was considered very uncool for a law student who hadn't gone to Harvard as an undergrad to root for their team, and the fact that my alma mater, South Florida, didn't have a football team at the time didn't count in extenuation. Anyway, I would admire Fitzpatrick even if he'd stayed home and played for Arizona State.

My flutter of enthusiasm my be stilled next Sunday if the Jets lose at Buffalo to a team coached by their former skipper Rex Ryan, and if the Steelers beat the Browns in Cleveland. Anyway, I'll resist the temptation to call an upset (Bills over Jets) that I don't want to happen in order to avoid it.

Photo: NFL.com.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

TBT: Chuck Berry, "Run Rudolph Run".

"Chuck Berry's got to be the the greatest thing to come along." So sang the Beach Boys, as well they should have, since many of their early hits rode on Berry riffs.


Chuck brightened the 1958 Christmas season with "Run Rudolph Run". The song, which has parallels to other Berry hits "Johnny B. Goode" and "Little Queenie", was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie. Marks had, in 1949, written the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", based on a children's coloring book created for the Montgomery Ward company in 1939 by Marks's brother-in-law, Robert L. May. May's book originated the character Rudolph, whom May earlier considered naming Rollo or Reginald. I think he made the right choice.

Rudolph image: FM99.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

At Advent's end.

As the Advent season comes to its end, I'm thinking how different it has been for me this year. I've done the usual things: gone to parties, bought and wrapped presents, wrote and mailed cards. Yet, while the festive mood has gripped me on occasion, I've become more pensive. It may just be that I'm getting older; intimations of mortality and all that. I've thought of friends I've lost; most recently Mario, my law school classmate and roommate for our first year in New York. I've been eating and drinking less. In some ways, it seems more like Lent.

Advent and Lent are both seasons of preparation; Advent for a birth, Lent for a death, but followed by a resurrection. Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit priest imprisoned, tortured, and hanged by the Nazis, had this to say about Advent:
Advent is the time of promise, but not yet the time of fulfillment. The world is still filled with the noise of destruction, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair. But round about the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. And there shines already the first light of the radiant fulfillment to come.
Like Europe in the early 1940s, and like Palestine under Roman rule 2,100 years ago, today we have "the noise of destruction, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, and the weeping of despair." We have calls to hang out the sign, "No room at the inn." We have massacres of the innocent. We have refugees, as Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus became escaping Herod's massacre.

I cherish the hope that this Advent will bring a rebirth of compassion in enough hearts to start to reverse our present course; that the "eternal realities" cease to be silent in those hearts, among those realities being the need to "love those we find it hardest to love."

Image: Crossing the Streams.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

TBT: Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim, "The Girl from Ipanema".

Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday was last Saturday; he died in 1998. Heloísa "Helô" Pinheiro, the original "Girl from Ipanema" (photo), turned 70 last July 7. She was in her late teens when she walked by the cafe where Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes were sitting, and inspired them to write "Garota de Ipanema" ("The Girl from Ipanema"), originally titled "Menina que Passa" ("The Girl Who Passes By") and intended for a musical comedy being written by de Moraes. The song in its final version, in Portuguese, was introduced by Jobim to João Gilberto and Stan Getz, and during a recording session in New York they decided to do an English language version. Gilberto's wife, Astrud, could sing in English, so she was chosen as the vocalist. Her deadpan vocal style added to the song's appeal, and it became a top ten hit on the U.S. pop charts in 1965.



I was looking for something to mark the Sinatra centenary, and hit on this video of his performance with Jobim in 1967. I decided to use it because it's off the beaten track, both in terms of musical style and in his interaction with another singer. Despite my being a reformed nicotine addict, I love it that he drags on a cigarette when he's not singing.

Lionel Train layout, New York City Transit Museum Annex, Grand Central Terminal 2015



Every year from late November to early January there's an elaborate Lionel Train layout set up in the gallery space of the New York City Transit Museum annex at Grand Central Station. For the past several years I've been making videos of the layout and posting them here. Below is this year's video:

The basic structure remains the same: at the end nearest the gallery entrance there's a model of Grand Central, with tracks under it and the Met Life building looming over it. Beyond that is the Empire State Building along with other midtown skyscrapers, then a stretch of lower-rise Manhattan (Chelsea and the Village?), a bit of suburbia with a gas station, and at the far end a mountain (Hudson Highlands or Catskills) with a tunnel. Details and rolling stock change from year to year, although there's always a New York Central passenger train and a New York City subway train, with platform.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio.

NAfME on Twitter notes that today is Ludwig Van Beethoven's 245th birthday and asks this question: "What is your favorite piece by the composer?" That's a tough one; the old Ludwig Van (the linked clip from A Clockwork Orange is NSFW) composed so much magnificent music from which to choose. My favorite is the first movement, allegro moderato, of his Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello No.6 in B flat, Op.97 "Archduke" (1812):


The clip above shows a performance by the John Gould Piano Trio (John Gould, violin; Anne Stevens, piano; and Rita Woolhouse, cello) at the Wesley Music Centre, Canberra, on August 1, 2010. The video is by Col Madden. I think this is an excellent performance, although my favorite remains the first one I heard, by Pablo Casals, Sandor Vegh, and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. What I especially like about Madden's video is how it shows the playing of the cello and violin, especially the part where they are played pizzicato; that is, by plucking the strings.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TBT: The Byrds, "Turn, Turn, Turn"

The Byrds entered my life one day in 1965 as I was in a cafe at the University of South Florida, and from the juke box came the unforgettable sound of Roger (then called Jim) McGuinn's twelve string Rickenbacker guitar opening the band's abbreviated version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man", title song of their first album. "Turn, Turn, Turn", with lyrics from Ecclesiastes and music by Pete Seeger, was the title song of their second album, released in December of 1965. The clip below has the studio album track accompanied by a montage of photos of the band and album covers.
Gram Parsons joined the Byrds in 1967, and was with them for the album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a critical but not commercial success, recorded in Nashville, that took the group deep into country music. McGuinn was not entirely happy with this, and Parsons, accompanied by Chris Hillman, left the Byrds to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. My friend Dorothy Rhoads Cheshire let me know that Chris had a birthday last week, which led me into a web search in which I found this video of a lecture, with music, he gave at the Library of Congress in 2010. It's an hour and 22 minutes long, but well worth it if you are a fan, as I am, of folk, rock, or "roots Americana" music:

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Are these fifty synonyms in Fifty Shades of Grey so bad?


I've not read nor seen Fifty Shades of Grey nor any of its sequels and, good Lord willin' and the creeks don't rise, I never will. I was amused by Patti Greco's piece in Vulture in which she lists what she thinks are "The Fifty Worst Synonyms in Fifty Shades of Grey" and gives what she thinks are appropriate corrections. I agree with some of them, and the sample sentences she's displayed make me think I might not have missed much by ignoring Ms. James's works. In some instances, though, I find her aversion to words that may seem a wee bit erudite or affected--H.W. Fowler might, were he still living and forced to read my prose, find me too fond of "battered ornaments" or hanging out on Wardour Street--and Ms. Greco's wanting to replace them with a string of commonplace words that make the sentence longer, not to my liking. Here's the list:


1-2. The offense: "To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a colossal glass-and-stone edifice."

The fix: "To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a giant glass-and-stone building."

My response: I agree on replacing "colossal", a word that, in my opinion, should be used only for olives or statuary. I like the word "edifice", especially if there's stone involved.


3. The offense: “I squirm; he’s made me feel like an errant child.”

The fix: “I squirm; he’s made me feel like a disobedient child.”

My response: I like "errant", and it's shorter.


4. The offense: “I haven’t made any plans, Mr. Grey. I just need to get through my final exams. Which I should be studying for right now, rather than sitting in your palatial, swanky, sterile office, feeling uncomfortable under your penetrating gaze.”

The fix: Cut palatial…it means the same thing as swanky.

My response: I agree.


5. The offense: “The richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State gave you his cell phone number?”

The fix: The richest, most elusive, most mysterious bachelor in Washington State gave you his cell phone number?”

My response: Almost a draw, but I prefer "enigmatic", which to me has a slight difference in meaning.


6. The offense: “ 'Ray? He’s … taciturn.' ”

The fix: “ 'Ray? He’s … a quiet guy.' ”

My response: "Taciturn" is a good word, but it seems out of place in what appears to be a snippet of ordinary conversation, so I agree with Ms. Greco.


7. The offense: "I refrain from rolling my eyes at him."

 The fix: "I stop myself from rolling my eyes at him."

My response: What's wrong with "refrain"? It's punchier.


8. The offense: “Okay … so his grey eyes are still haunting my dreams, and I know it will take an eternity to expunge the feel of his arms around me and his wonderful fragrance from my brain.”

The fix: “Okay … so his grey eyes are still haunting my dreams, and I know it will take an eternity to forget/shake the feel of his arms around me and his wonderful fragrance from my brain.”

My response: I've long thought "expunge" an ugly word. It sounds like something that formerly was used to soak up spills. In this instance, I'll go with the longer of Ms. Greco's suggested alternatives, "forget", because "shake the feel of his arms" seems awkward.


 9. The offense: " 'Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women sentient and receptive,' he says dryly."

The fix: " 'Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women awake and able to feel what I’m doing,' he says dryly."

My response: I'd go with "awake and receptive".


 10. The offense: "One minute he rebuffs me, the next he sends me fourteen-thousand-dollar books, then he tracks me like a stalker."

The fix: "One minute he rejects me, the next he sends me fourteen-thousand-dollar books, then he tracks me like a stalker."

My response: Six of one; half a dozen of the other.


11. The offense: "I brusquely towel-dry my hair and try desperately to bring it under control."

The fix: "I rush to towel-dry my hair and try desperately to bring it under control."

My response: I agree. "Brusque" may technically be applicable to hair drying, but I don't think of it that way.


 12-13. The offense: "He puts down his cutlery and regards me intently, his eyes burning with some unfathomable emotion."

The fix: "He puts down his fork/knife/spoon and looks at me intently, his eyes burning with some unfathomable emotion."

My response: No problem with cutlery, assuming he put down more than one piece, and no problem with "regards".


14. The offense: “I wanted to run my fingers through his decadent, untidy hair, but I’d been unable to move my hands.”

The fix: Cut. This makes no sense.

My response: I'm not sure why Ms. Greco thinks it "makes no sense." I'm guessing it has to do with bondage. "Decadent" isn't an adjective I'd think of for hair.


15. The offense: “If I could only lean forward, my nose would be in his hair. He smells clean, fresh, heavenly, but I’m fastened securely in my seat and effectively immobile.”

The fix: “If I could only lean forward, my nose would be in his hair. He smells clean, fresh, heavenly, but I’m fastened securely in my seat and can’t move.”

My response: I agree.


16-17. The offense: “He sits down beside me and buckles himself into his seat, then begins a protracted procedure of checking gauges and flipping switches and buttons from the mind-boggling array of dials and lights and switches in front of me.”

The fix: “He sits down beside me and buckles himself into his seat, then begins a dragged-out process of checking gauges and flipping switches and buttons from the mind-boggling array of dials and lights and switches in front of me.”

My response: How about "long process"?


18. The offense: “ 'Christian, what you fail to understand is that I wouldn’t talk about us to anyone anyway. Even Kate. So it’s immaterial whether I sign an agreement or not.' ”

The fix: “ 'Christian, what you fail to understand is that I wouldn’t talk about us to anyone anyway. Even Kate. So it doesn’t matter whether I sign an agreement or not.' ”

My response: I agree. I read enough lawyerese without having to find it in trashy fiction.


19. The offense: “My subconscious has reared her somnambulant head. Where was she when I needed her?”

The fix: Cut; it’s implied.

My response: I'm not sure what's implied, but I don't know how a head can sleepwalk.


20-21. The offense: “He’s facing me, and I have an unprecedented opportunity to study him.”

The fix. “He’s facing me, and I have a chance to study him for the first time.”

My response: I'm OK with either.


22. The offense: “Climbing out of the bath, I take his proffered hand.”

The fix: Cut; it’s implied.

My response: I agree.


23. The offense: “This time he doesn’t stop at my knee, he continues up the inside of my thigh, pushing my thighs apart as he does. And I know what he’s going to do, and part of me wants to push him off because I’m mortified and embarrassed.”

The fix: Pick one. These mean the same thing.

My response: They do, but I think using two synonymous or nearly synonymous words for emphasis can be appropriate and useful.


24. The offense: “I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over in my hands.”

The fix: “I sit on my bed and slip the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over in my hands.”

My response: Ms. Greco is right;"slip" is good and economical. I'll confess, though, to liking "gingerly extract"; perhaps because I'm fond of ginger beer, which is made with ginger extract.


25-26. The offense: “For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run … I need to expend some of this excess, enervating energy.”

The fix: “For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run … I need to work off some of this excess, enervating energy.”

My response: I agree; "work off" is more vivid.


27-28. The offense: “Shaking my head and endeavoring to quell my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening.”

The fix: “Shaking my head and trying to calm my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening.”

My response: I agree.


29. The offense: “He looks askance at my Beetle, but I ignore him.”

The fix: “He looks disapprovingly at my Beetle, but I ignore him.”

My response: I prefer "askance".


30. The offense: “And that’s not the future he envisages.”

The fix: “And that’s not the future he imagines.”

My response: I agree. "Envisage" is not a word for which I envisage much of a future.


31-32. The offense: “Ray pulls his car into the campus parking lot, and we follow the stream of humanity dotted with ubiquitous black and red gowns heading toward the gym.”

The fix: “Ray pulls his car into the campus parking lot, and we follow the stream of people dotted with matching black and red gowns heading toward the gym.”

My response: I agree.


33. The offense: “The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s interminable.”

The fix: “The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s never-ending.”

My response: I'm surprised Ms. Greco didn't catch the contradiction here: that the ceremony did conclude means it was neither interminable nor never-ending. I'm happy with either of those, but I'd replace "It's" with "It seemed".


34. The offense: “Christian! I stare up at him, imploring him to refuse.”

The fix: “Christian! I stare up at him begging him to refuse.”

My response: No preference.


35. The offense: “ ‘Anastasia,’ he cajoles. ‘I am sorry. Believe me. I don’t mean to laugh.’”

The fix: Let’s just go with says.

My response: Yeah, let's.


36. The offense: “ ‘I wish you were here,’ I whisper, because I have an urge to hold him. Soothe him. Even though he won’t let me. I want his proximity.”

The fix: “ ‘I wish you were here,’ I whisper, because I have an urge to hold him. Soothe him. Even though he won’t let me. I want him close to me.”

My response: I agree.


37. The offense: “My subconscious nods sagely, a you’ve-finally-worked-it-out-stupid look on her face.”

The fix: Stop personifying your subconscious.

My response: You don't think your subconscious is a person? As they say, you're never alone....


38. The offense: “…I wonder for a brief moment what it must be like to grow up with both one’s parents in situ.”

The fix: “…I wonder for a brief moment what it must be like to grow up with both one’s parents at home.”

My response: I agree, reluctantly. I've had a weakness for Latin since my father told me it's a dead language. Is linguistic necrophilia a thing? (Side note: lately, I've seen "Is X a thing?" used instead of "Is there such a thing as X?" I like it.)


39. The offense: “He raises a censorious eyebrow at me.”

The fix: “He raises a disapproving eyebrow at me.”

My response: I like "censorious".


 40. The offense: “My heart is in my mouth as I reread his epistle and I huddle in the spare bed practically hugging my Mac.”

 The fix: “My heart is in my mouth as I reread his e-mail and I huddle in the spare bed practically hugging my Mac.”

My response: I agree. An e-mail is not an epistle. An epistle should be handwritten on parchment.


41-42. The offense: “I gaze at my mom. Her earlier jubilation has metamorphosed into concern.”

The fix: “I gaze at my mom. Her earlier excitement has turned into concern.”

My response: I don't think "jubilation" and "excitement" are exactly synonymous, though Mr. Roget and Ms. Greco may disagree. I'd keep jubilation, but substitute "turned" for "metamorphosed", a word that in recent usage has turned into the more compact "morphed". I still prefer "turned".


43. The offense: “Holy shit … something’s amiss — the strain in his jaw, the anxiety around his eyes.”

The fix: “Holy shit … something’s wrong — the strain in his jaw, the anxiety around his eyes.”

My response: I agree. I think "amiss" is a good word, but it doesn't fit with "Holy shit".


44-46. The offense: “I sit on the barstool, momentarily stupefied, trying to assimilate this morsel of information.”

The fix: “I sit on the barstool, momentarily speechless, trying to absorb this piece of information.”

My response: I think all the offensive words have good uses, but I agree with the changes Ms. Greco suggests.


 47. The offense: “He hits me again, and the pain pulses and echoes along the line of the belt. Holy shit … that smarts.”

The fix: “He hits me again, and the pain pulses and echoes along the line of the belt. Holy shit … that hurts.”

My response: I like "smarts".


 48. The offense: “…scalding tears spill down my cheeks.”

The fix: “…hot tears spill down my cheeks.”

My response: I like "scalding"; it gives it more oomph.


49. The offense: “I just want to curl up. Curl up and recuperate in some way.”

The fix: “I just want to curl up. Curl up and feel better.”

My response: I agree.


50. The offense: “Tears course unbidden and unwelcome down my cheeks…”

The fix: Pick one. And stop crying over this loser.

My response: This is one of those instances in which I think using two near-synonyms for emphasis, especially when they alliterate, is a Good Thing. I agree with the advice in Ms. Greco's second sentence.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

TBT: Darlene Love, "White Christmas"

This rendition of "White Christmas" is on Darlene Love's Christmas album (image at left, courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan ). Somehow I missed her performance at the South Street Seaport, one of my favorite venues, ever since I saw the Blue Hill Troupe mount a production of HMS Pinafore on the Ambrose lightship, on a slightly foggy evening that evoked England, but I have it on Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You (1963).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Louis Menand, how could you?

I was thoroughly enjoying Louis Menand's "The Elvic Oracle", his review of Peter Guralnick's Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll, but then I came to this parenthetical:
(Becoming friendly with d.j.s who played the kind of music you recorded was basic industry practice. Leonard Chess, of Chess Records, used to have a trunk full of alligator shoes when he drove around visiting local d.j.s. He’d ask for their shoe size and gift them a pair.)
I've Italicized "gift" in the quotation because, as I've noted before, "gift" as a verb is unnecessary, as "give", which has no more letters, is already available, and using "gifted" as the past tense of "gift" causes confusion with "gifted" as a commonly used adjective.

In any event, thanks to Menand's review, I'm looking forward to reading Guralnick's book and reviewing it here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

TBT: The Schnickelfritz Band, "Turkey in the Straw".

This TBT goes back to four years before I was born. The heading on the YouTube clip says "first version 1942" but the song is older than that. Its origins may be traced back to an Irish song, "The Old Rose Tree", and variants were common in the U.S. during the nineteenth century. It is reported to have been one of the tunes played by Titanic's orchestra as the ship was sinking.

As for the Schnickelfritz Band, they called themselves "America's Most Unsophisticated Band" and appeared in Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), starring Rudy Vallee, whose agent discovered the band while visiting their hometown, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TBT: The Marvelettes, "Please Mr. Postman"

I was wondering what to use as a TBT this week, and the PA system at Key Food gave me the answer with this 1961 hit, which I first heard on the juke box in the "cafetorium" at Robinson High School in Tampa at the beginning of my 10th grade year. The other songs I remember from that time are "Limbo Rock" by Chubby Checker and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens. The last is the title of an essay by the South African writer Rian Malan, which gives a history of the song, and which I'll post about sometime soon.

The tall ship Peking will be leaving South Street Seaport to return to Hamburg, Germany. This is good.

The bark Peking, her tall, buff painted masts reaching the height of at least some lesser buildings on the lower Manhattan skyline, and a dominant feature seen from across the East River, from Brooklyn Bridge Park, where this photo was taken, has been a presence since a few years after I moved to New York.. Launched in 1911 at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Peking was one of the largest steel hulled sailing ships ever built, and one of the last large cargo sailing ships.

In 1933 Peking was taken out of service and sold to an English charity for use as a school for boys. She was renamed Arethusa, and anchored in the River Medway, where she remained until 1975. That year she was purchased by the South Street Seaport Museum, brought to New York, and put on display at Pier 16 on the east side of lower Manhattan.

The museum also owns another tall ship, Wavertree, whose white masts and bowsprit can be seen in the photo in front of Peking. Over the years, the cost of keeping two tall ships in good condition has proved a drain on the Museum's finances. Wavertree is now in drydock undergoing extensive maintenance and renovation, which I hope will include installation of her topmasts and spars.

News has now come that, thanks to funding by the German government, Peking will return to her first home, Hamburg, to serve as a floating museum there. This seems most appropriate to me, as Peking had no historical connection to New York, her trade routes having been mostly between Australia or South America and Germany.  Wavertree, by contrast, was in tramp service, and likely visited New York a number of times.

I'll miss those tall buff masts and that sleek hull, but I'm glad that Peking is going home, and that the Museum will be spared the cost of maintaining her and can concentrate on Wavertree and the other vessels in their collection.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TBT: Chris Kenner, "I Like It Like That"; R.I.P. Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint, who died this past Monday at 77, was a commanding, if nevertheless somewhat self-effacing, figure in New Orleans R&B from the 1960s until now. He was better known as a songwriter than as a performer, although he was a first rate musician who got his break into the business subbing for Huey "Piano" Smith at a gig in Alabama. Some of his earlier compositions, such as "Lipstick Traces" and "Fortune Teller", both recorded by Benny Spellman, were published pseudonymously under the name of his mother, Naomi Neville. "Fortune Teller" was later covered by the Rolling Stones.
 
A favorite of mine from his early works is Chris Kenner's 1961 hit "I Like It Like That". It has the springy rhythm and slightly understated quality of much of the best New Orleans R&B. I also like it for the line,"Let me show you where it's at", which brings to my mind the New Orleans greeting, "Where y'at?" That's the reason speakers of New Orleans dialect are called "Yats."
 
After Katrina did her worst to the Crescent City, Toussaint went to New York, and collaborated with Elvis Costello on a CD called "The River in Reverse". The clip above, "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?", is from that album.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Talkin' New York folk music blues, and meeting Eric Andersen.

This evening I attended a lecture by Stephen Petrus, curator of the "Folk City" exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, and co-author, with Ronald D. Cohen, of Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival, a copy of which I bought, and Stephen kindly signed for me, and which I will review here once I've read it. Based on what I heard earlier, it promises to be a very interesting read. The lecture was held at New York University's Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. One of the topics that came up in the discussion following the lecture is how the real estate market in New York is making the city unaffordable for young, impecunious creative people like those who came here and fueled the folk music boom of the 1960s, memorialized in Bob Dylan's "Talkin' New York".

One of those present was a singer and songwriter I've admired since the 1960s, Eric Andersen, and whom I was able to meet and talk with after the lecture. During the part of his lecture covering folk music of the civil rights movement, Stephen mentioned Eric's song "Thirsty Boots":

Thursday, November 05, 2015

TBT: Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"

The song is by Joni Mitchell, but the version I heard first, on Boston's WBCN during my first year of law school, is Tom Rush's. No offense to Joni, whose work I love, but Tom's rendition has always touched me in a profound way. Although this is a song about autumn fading into winter, I heard it first in spring. And what a spring. I had lived in Florida for years and had not experienced a northern winter since I was seven. The first snowflakes,seen through a classroom window in late October of 1967, were exciting. Having to buy a topcoat and boots was novel, and the comfort they provided welcome. But novelty soon wore off. The New England winter seemed interminable, although I was sheltered from much of it because my dorm was but a few feet of covered walkway from the student center and cafeteria, and that was connected to the classroom buildings by tunnels. I was living like a mole.


Spring finally came, and with it my discovery of WBCN, Boston's first underground rock FM station. Perhaps this song touched me because it reminded me of what I'd just endured. It made me a fan of Tom Rush, who opened his concert in my neighborhood a year ago with it.

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Mets: no regrets.

Yes, I wish they had won the World Series, though I should have known the pundits who predicted they'd win it all (I wanted to put a link here, but got the message "video no longer available"--no wonder) cursed them.

Yes, I can console myself with the knowledge that they did better than I had thought they would do at the outset and even at the middle of the season. They won the National League championship, where I had once thought their best hope was to be a strong second in the NL East to the Nationals and maybe have a shot at the wild card. At season's end, thanks to a monumental collapse by the Nats that was reminiscent of the Mets in some earlier years, they won the East.

I was nervous about their divisional series against the Dodgers, my first love in baseball until they moved to L.A., haunted by the memory of 1988, when the Dodgers had beaten the Mets in the playoffs. This year's series was full of drama, but the Mets managed to get by. The NL championship series seemed formidable, as the Cubs had soundly beaten the Cardinals, who had the best regular season record in the League. For the Mets to beat the Cubs in four straight seemed unthinkable, but they did.

Then there were the Royals. They had lost last year's Series to the Giants, and were hungry. Perhaps not as hungry as the Mets, who hadn't won one since 1986--the Royals won their only Series in 1995--but still very motivated.

As it was, the Royals outplayed the Mets in every facet of the game: batting, fielding, and pitching. My congratulations to them.

Will the Mets be back in as good form, or better, next year? I'll go out on a limb and say, "Yes!"