Wednesday, March 25, 2015

TBT: The Left Banke, "Walk Away Renee"; RIP Michael Brown.

"Walk Away Renée, by The Left Banke was a hit for this previously unknown New York group in 1966, rising to number five on the pop charts. The lyrics are by then sixteen year old, Brooklyn born and raised Michael Brown (born Michael Lookofsky), who died last week (on my birthday) at the now tender age of 65.

Brown was the keyboardist for the band; on this he plays harpsichord, not a usual rock instrument. His father was a classical and jazz pianist, and he had classical training. His father produced this song and other Left Banke cuts.

"Walk Away Renée" has been covered many times, most memorably by Motown legends The Four Tops, who took it to number fourteen in 1969, and most recently by Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mets 6, Yankees 0; a good sign?

Yes, it was a spring training game, and therefore meaningless. Well, unfortunately for the Yanks, perhaps not. One of their prospects, Jose Pirela, suffered a concussion when he crashed into the outfield wall trying to catch a long ball off the bat of Juan Lagares (photo) on the first play of the game. Indications are that Pirela was not seriously injured, but he'll be sidelined for a while.

Meanwhile, we Mets fans can take comfort in Matt Harvey's having pitched six strong, scoreless innings, and in the bullpen's having held firm for the remaining three. Just before spring exhibition games began, I expressed my anxiety about the coming season. My nervousness was quickly confirmed by a double whammy: both starter Zack Wheeler and lefty reliever Josh Edgin will need Tommy John surgery and are out for the duration. Fortunately, the Mets have kept Dillon Gee, a starter with decent stats over his past five seasons. Losing Edgin may be more problematic, as there is no left handed depth in the bullpen. Perhaps Steven Matz, a potential starter in the longer term, could be called up to fill in.

Tyler Kepner, in the Times, rains on the Mets' parade a bit by noting their weaknesses in the bullpen and on defense, where Lagares is the one bright new player. Reader "Stuart," commenting on Kepner's story, says:
I simply don't understand how the Mets can take 6 years to patiently build a young starting pitching staff and then surround them with mediocre fielding. Bringing in the fences doesn't exactly go along with a team built around good pitching either.
Perhaps reliance on aging players like Curtis Granderson and the newly acquired Michael Cuddyer reflects a belief that it's home runs, not spectacular catches or well turned double plays, that brings in the crowds. The Mets did show some offensive prowess in the game against the Yanks, with David Wright and Lucas Duda, along with Lagares, all getting homers off Sabathia. The defense got tagged for one error, but was otherwise effective.

I may eat my words later, but for now I'm guardedly optimistic.

Addendum: Eliot Wagner sends me "All Future and No Past," a spring training anthem from The Baseball Project (Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, Peter Buck, and Scott McCaughey). Here 'tis:

No mention of the Mets, or the Yanks (although one shot of Scott McCaughey wearing a Yankees jersey), or of the Red Sox. I do like it, though, that they mention the 2008 Rays.

Juan Lagares photo: Standing O Sports.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Coney Island Brewing's "1609 Amber Ale."

Coney Island Brewing Company's "1609 Amber Ale" takes its name from the year Europeans first set foot on what we now know as Coney Island. I paired it with a "Smokin' Henry" (smoked turkey, Black Forest ham, smoked Cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Russian dressing) from Lassen & Hennigs.

Here are my tasting notes:

Color: bright amber.

Head: moderate, stood up well.

Aroma: banana and peach, with a toasty malt undertone.

Flavor: good balance of fruit and malt flavors, with a hop finish that's satisfying but not overwhelming.

Technical details (from the brewery's website):  There are five kinds of malt used. Along with the usual two row barley, there are carapils and caramunich, melanoidin, and chocolate malt. The hops are Cascade, Amarillo, Tettnang, and Northern Brewer. ABV is a moderate 4.8%.

This is a well made, satisfying ale that complemented a tasty sandwich but could be enjoyed by itself. The flavor is complex but well balanced.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

TBT: Etta James, "Tell Mama."

We're back to 1967, when Etta James went to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and recorded "Tell Mama," a superb example of pedal-to-the-metal R&B that she co-wrote with Clarence Carter. "Tell Mama" charted at 23 on the pop and ten on the R&B chart.

James had a versatile contralto voice that, during the course of an over fifty year career, was applied to R&B, doo wop, blues, pop, jazz, and rock, while showing gospel influences. She died in 2012 at the age of 73. She is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Three Irish tunes by the Boston Pops

The Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, plays three traditional Irish tunes:"The Cat Rambles to the Children's Saucepan"; The Otter's Nest"; and "Richie Dwyer's." Thanks to WQXR.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

When the World Was Young, by Elizabeth Gaffney

When I was in Mrs. Blalock's 12th grade English class at Robinson High School in Tampa, I was required to give a book report every six weeks. Mrs. Blalock said students must begin each report by saying why they had read the book. With a tip of the hat to my still loved though long deceased teacher, I'll begin this with a disclosure: I read this novel in part because the author is the daughter of a friend, neighbor, and fellow Grace Church parishioner. "In part" because another reason for my reading it is that it's set in the neighborhood I've called home for the last almost 32 years, Brooklyn Heights, though at a time long before I came here; indeed partly before I was born.

The story begins on VJ Day, August 14, 1945 (this is the date Japan's unconditional surrender was announced in the U.S.; Japan did not sign surrender documents until September 3, which is now the official VJ Day). Wally Baker and her mother, Stella Wallace Baker (Wally's full name is Beatrice Wallace Baker) go out into the pandemonium filling even the streets of staid Brooklyn Heights. Stella is taking Wally to the nearby house of Stella's parents, Waldo and Gigi, who are both physicians, as is Stella. As the day progresses, we are introduced to Waldo's and Gigi's housekeeper, Loretta Walker, an African American woman who also serves as Wally's caretaker, and to Wally's closest friend, Ham, who is Loretta's son. We are also, in conversation, made aware of William Niederman, a PhD in mathematics and the college roommate of Stella's husband and Wally's father, Rudy, who, at Rudy's urging by telegram from the South Pacific, becomes a boarder in the spare bedroom of Stella's and Wally's apartment "for the duration." The duration is now over, Bill Niederman will be returning to his family in New Jersey and Rudy will be coming home to his wife and daughter,

As VJ day draws to a close, Loretta and Wally arrive at Stella's apartment a little later than planned; there they find Stella dead on the kitchen floor, a suicide.

From this beginning, the story takes us from Wally's girlhood to young womanhood and, at the close, motherhood. It is a bildungsroman, or novel of growth, but also a todtsroman. It is punctuated by deaths--Stella's, as well as the death of her first love and fiancé, who is killed by a log falling from a truck as they travel to his parents' summer house, which sets the stage for Stella's later, at first reluctant, marriage to Rudy; of Wally's younger brother Georgie, who succumbs to whooping cough because no penicillin is available, it having been sent overseas for the troops; of Waldo and Gigi; and of an ant queen. It is also shadowed by the fear of death--of Rudy's, when he is with the Navy in the South Pacific, and of Ham's, when he enlists in the Army and is sent to Korea. At its close, though, it is a novel of life. Its ending, like that of Peter Wheelwright's As It Is On Earth, brought to my mind the final sentence of Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "Be fruitful and multiply."

Life, both natural, in the form of ants, and imaginary, in the guise of Wonder Woman, pervades the narrative of Wally's growth and maturation. Ham becomes interested in the ant colonies he found in Waldo's and Gigi's back yard, and collects some to form a captive colony inside a fish tank. He communicates his enthusiasm to Wally, who does the same. Gigi takes Ham and Wally to the Museum of Natural History and introduces them to Vernon Somersby, an entomology curator. Somersby is impressed and offers them regular tutelage. He gets Wally onto a team of researchers who are studying how ants communicate, and she makes an important discovery.

Communication, or the lack of it, is the major theme of the novel. Wally regards Stella, who is reticent about her life away from Wally, as a mystery. Bill Niederman is a mysterious figure, engaged in secret war work. A failure of communication between him and Stella, once rectified, sets the action going. Ham is infuriated by Loretta's late disclosure of his true parentage. Wally is grateful for RADAR (always in all caps), a form of communication of which the initial recipient is unaware but which reveals the recipient's location to the sender, for keeping her father alive in the war. There's even a discussion, by Bill Niederman after he returns to teaching math at Rutgers, of the "Traveling Salesman Problem," which has to do with establishing the most efficient routes of travel or communication.

Wally is a fan of Wonder Woman, perhaps in part because she wonders about her mother, who is something of a wonder. Some time before Stella's death, when her mother is away, Wally goes into her bedroom and finds, in a box under the bed, "the most remarkable costume [she] had ever seen." There is a blue sequined cape on which were "long silver triangles plunging from shoulder to hem, like daggers." Its lining is "electric-blue silk with blood red piping." Under it is
a matching dress, short with a sequined bodice and more of those spangly silver daggers on a blue field. Under the dress lay a blue and silver headband and a pair of silver high-heeled booties. It was the costume Wally would have conceived for her mother, if her mother was a superhero.
What clinches it is that Wally sees, embroidered in the lining of the cape, Stella's maiden initials: "S.W."
Worlds opened up in Wally's mind like accordion folds. Long-standing conundrums sorted themselves out.... All those days and nights she was away, too busy for Wally--she'd been striving to make the world safe for her daughter. And the sense of withholding that Wally had sometimes felt, the sense that her mother was keeping something from her, all that made sense now, too....She was Stella Wallace Baker by the light of day, and the Silver Wonder, a shining streak of justice, by night.
My fellow Brooklyn Heights residents will find some interesting history here. Jim Crow was not absent from our neighborhood, as we see when Wally and Ham go to swim in the St. George Hotel's Olympic size poll, and the woman at the entrance directs Ham to the "colored changing area." Ham endures a severe beating when he and Wally go down to the still active docks below the Heights and a longshoreman takes offense at his being there with a white girl. Finally, we get to see what it was like for those living on Columbia Heights--including Waldo and Gigi--when Robert Moses' "Brooklyn and Queens Connecting Highway" (now the BQE) takes away a large chunk of their back yards.

When the World Was Young is published by Random House, New York (2014).

Thursday, March 12, 2015

TBT: Neil Sedaka, "Stairway to Heaven"

Long before there was Led Zeppelin, even before there were Yardbirds, there was Neil Sedaka. Brooklyn born and raised (his father was a cab driver) and trained to play classical piano in Julliard's preparatory school program, Sedaka found his true love in pop music as a teenager. He and lyricist Howard Greenfield, a boyhood friend, became one of the songwriting teams--along with Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman--who had offices in the Brill Building, a 1931 vintage office building at Broadway and 49th Street with an elaborate art deco entrance (photo). Producers Don Kirshner, George "Shadow" Morton, and Phil Spector also had offices there.
Sedaka, like Carole King, was a singer as well as a songwriter. His recording career began in 1957 with "Laura Lee" on the Decca label. His first song to chart was "The Diary," on RCA, for which he continued to record through the remainder of the 1950s and '60s. He cracked the top ten in 1959 with "Oh! Carol," which made it to number nine. In the summer of 1960 "Stairway to Heaven," which apart from its title bears no relationship to the later Led Zeppelin hit, also reached nine on the hit parade.

I remember "Stairway" fondly because it was one of the songs that I heard many times on the car radio, along with Roy Orbison's enthralling "Only the Lonely," the Hollywood Argyles' hilarious "Alley Oop," and Ray Peterson's bathetic "Tell Laura I Love Her," when my parents and I went from Tampa to visit my mother's relatives in Pennsylvania and my father's in Indiana during the summer between my eighth and ninth grade years. I always enjoyed these road trips, and music I heard on them got engraved on my memory. An intriguing feature of "Stairway" is the rising "Bwaaaaah!" sound at the end of each chorus. The musicians credited on the song include Irving Faberman on timpani; this sound is likely produced by pedaling the drum. There's also a sax bridge by the then almost ubiquitous King Curtis.

Sedaka continued to have hits for RCA through 1961 and '62, when he reached the top of the chart with "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." His slow ballad version of that song, released on the Rocket label, reached number eight in 1975, but topped the "easy listening" chart, giving Sedaka the distinction of being the only artist to have topped charts twice with different versions of the same song.

Neil Sedaka will celebrate his 76th birthday tomorrow, March 13, 2015.

Brill Building photo: San Francisco Public Library.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Coney Island Brewing's new "Overpass IPA" compared to its "Seas the Day" IPL.

Coney Island Brewing Company recently released a new brew, Overpass IPA. Why "Overpass" and why the elephant on the label? The overpass in question is the Brooklyn side overpass of the Manhattan Bridge as it descends toward earth a ways inland, and the elephant is because the artists who years ago settled into lofts in the formerly industrial neighborhood beneath and around this overpass called it "DUMBO" for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass." Alas, those artists, other than those who became successful enough to pay ever increasing rents or to buy, have since been banished, as New York's Bohemia is forced farther and farther afield by the inexorble workings of the real estate market.

Last year Coney Island Brewing released "Seas the Day India Pale Lager," which I tasted and reviewed. Having gotten Overpass, their first India Pale Ale, I couldn't resist sampling them side by side (see photo above). The first thing that struck me is that, contrary to my expectation, the lager (on the left) is a deeper amber color than the IPA. Please don't conclude from the photo that the lager produces a much more ample head. Before I poured the brews, I accidentally knocked over the lager bottle, which made it very fizzy. The IPA produced a full, foamy head which had largely collapsed by the time that on the lager had declined to the point where I could finish pouring it. As I did when I reviewed Seas the Day, I paired both brews with a spicy Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich from Hanco's.

Before this tasting, I tried the Overpass IPA by itself. My notes were: aroma--hops predominate, with floral undertones; flavor: hop bitterness dominant throughout. When I gave my wife a sip, though, her reaction was "Malty!" As the ale warmed in the glass, I got more malt flavor.

For this tasting I let both brews sit on the table for a while so that, when I poured, they were not too far below room temperature. This time I noticed malt flavor at the start in both brews, although the hop bitterness seemed more pronounced at the finish in the lager than in the ale. As it got warmer, the IPA seemed almost toasty. But as I ate the spicy sandwich, I noticed the hop flavor in the ale becoming more pronounced again. The principal difference between the IPA and the IPL was that the latter had more pronounced fruit overtones. This seems odd given that the hop mixture in the IPA includes two varieties--Centennial and Nelson-Sauvin, that are not used in the lager and are said to impart fruit flavors.

I find the Overpass IPA a fine, well crafted example of the style; one that, if not served too chilled, has excellent hop-malt balance. Of the two, I think the Seas the Day IPL is more interesting; but why wouldn't an unusual brew like an India Pale Lager be so?

Coney Island Brewing has also recently released a 1609 Amber Ale, 1609 being the year Europeans first set foot on what is now Coney Island. I have a bottle, and will be reviewing it soon.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

It's International Women's Day: here's Aretha Franklin's "Respect"

This could've been another TBT--like my previous ones it's from the "Summer of Love" year 1967--but today, March 8, is International Women's Day, and this song seems especially appropriate for the occasion. 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

TBT: Procol Harum, "Repent Walpurgis."

We're staying in the magic year 1967 this Thursday. Procol Harum, a band named for a cat, had a huge hit that summer with "A Whiter Shade of Pale", with a J.S. Bach inspired melody by Gary Brooker, played on Hammond organ by Matthew Fisher (Fisher would later successfully sue Brooker for partial credit for the music), and surrealistic lyrics by Keith Reid, listed on their album jackets as a band member with the designation "poet."

Procol Harum's follow-up to "Whiter" was a song called "Homburg", but for a while WRKO, the Boston AM top forty station I had on my clock radio (yes, sometimes that fall I was awakened by the Strawberry Alarm Clock) was playing an instrumental with the title "Repent Walpurgis." When I first heard a DJ announce it, I thought he said, "Repent While Purchase," which made no sense, even in Procol Harum's psychedelic terms. I learned the true title when I bought the group's eponymous first album, on which it's the final cut. I knew that the eve of May Day is sometimes called "Walpurgis Night," but I wasn't sure who Walpurgis was. It turns out that the event is named for Saint Walpurga, an English born nun who became an abbess in Germany and was later canonized.

Like the melody for "A Whiter Shade of Pale," that of "Repent Walpurgis," composed by Matthew Fisher, is influenced by J.S. Bach (as is Garth Hudson's organ intro to The Band's "Chest Fever"), and also by the French organist and composer Charles-Marie Widor.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Why I'm worrying about the Mets already.

The Mets are in camp; they've yet to play a spring training game. That comes Friday Thursday, against the Tigers Braves (Update: the Mets won, 8-2). Signs are good: Matt Harvey can throw well following Tommy John surgery; David Wright is healthy (at least for now); everything else seems to be in good order. So, first, why do I have a photo of Babe Ruth, a Yankees hero, although I managed to find a 1916 shot of him in a Red Sox uniform? More about that below.

Truth is, I got nervous when I read this New York Times story. Anything that indicates the Mets are doing something other than concentrating on playing baseball, especially if it smacks of premature triumphalism, puts me on edge. Sort of like Darryl Strawberry's rap "Chocolate Strawberry." recorded and released in 1987, just as the Mets were beginning their as yet interminable decline from their 1986 championship.

And the Babe? Thinking about players' publicity appearances brought to mind a story I read some years ago. It was 1942, and everything had to be about the War Effort. The Babe was to be interviewed on Grantland Rice's radio show, so one of the questions was how sports could contribute to that effort. Rice had scripted an answer; "Well, Granny, as the Duke of Wellington said, the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." This was rehearsed several times until it seemed Ruth had it down pat, but when the show went live, he said, "Well, Granny, as Duke Ellington said, the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Elkton." Asked afterward why the deviation from script, Ruth said he didn't know Wellington but did know Ellington, and while he'd never been to Eton, he married his first wife in Elkton, and would never forget that place.

Update: already the intra-squad sniping has begun.

Babe Ruth photo: Culver Images via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

TBT: The Parliaments, "(I Just Wanna) Testify."

I seem to be stuck in my law school years in these TBTs so far, but heck, this was the whole "Summer of Love" to Woodstock era. The Parliaments (photo) were George Clinton's pre-Parliament/Funkadelic group. This gospel-rooted number sent chills down my spine when I heard it on Boston's WRKO in the fall of 1967.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

TBT: The Candymen, "Georgia Pines," featuring Rodney Justo

Like last week's TBT, this is a memory from my law school years; this one from the spring of 1968, when I was a first year law student and, as a transplant from Florida to Massachusetts, experiencing my first real spring since I was a child. I had spring fever bad, which wasn't helping me concentrate on my studies. Many nights I stayed up late, trying to catch up on assignments and prepare for exams, and would always have WBCN, Boston's first "underground" FM rock station, playing.

Probably because of my emotional state at the time, music I heard often got engraved on my memory. One night the DJ announced what he said was an example of  "Southern white soul," a song called "Georgia Pines" by a group I'd never heard of called the Candymen. He also  mentioned that the singer's name was Rodney Justo. The video clip below shows the Candymen performing "Georgia Pines" at Greenwich Village's famous, and still extant, music venue The Bitter End in 1967:

Despite "Candymen" and "Rodney Justo" sticking in my memory, I didn't follow them at the time. WBCN didn't play the song again, at least not when I was listening, and no Candymen albums showed up in the record bins at the Harvard Coop. My principal musical interests at the time were the harder edged British Invasion groups--the Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds--along with Dylan and the country-tinged rock of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. From the last two I developed passions for, respectively, the "Cosmic American Music" of Gram Parsons and the protean Neil Young.

A few years ago I became Facebook friends with someone I had known in Tampa during my youth, and saw that one of that person's other friends was a "Rodney Justo." "Could it be?" I thought. I went to Rodney's Facebook page and--sho' nuff! It turned out we had both lived in Tampa and went to rival, though not arch-rival, high schools (I to Robinson; he to Chamberlain). Although I had never met him. I sent a friend request, which he graciously accepted. I learned that, before the Candymen, he had led a group called Rodney and the Mystics, which triggered a vague memory, as I'd probably heard of them during my Tampa years (they shouldn't be confused with the Mystics who had the 1959 hit "Hushabye; those Mystics came from what is now my adopted home, Brooklyn).  What I didn't know was that Rodney and the Mystics became the go-to backup band for many established rock stars. Roy Orbison asked Justo to join his backup group, called the Candymen as a reference to Orbison's song "Candy Man".  Although their principal commitment was to Orbison, the Candymen also recorded and performed on their own; witness "Georgia Pines."

After the Candymen, Justo became a founding member of  Atlanta Rhythm Section; the photo at the top of this post is of him while he was with ARS. The video clip below is of a reunited ARS performing "Doraville" live sometime in the not-too-distant past; Justo is the lead singer.

Some years ago Justo left the full time music world and took a job with a beverage distributor because he decided it was more important to be a  successful father than a successful musician. Nevertheless, he still does gigs with Coo Coo Ca Choo, a '60s-'70s revival band, in the Tampa area.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesley Gore, 1946-2015

Lesley Gore, who died today at 68, is most remembered for her first hit, "It's My Party (and I'll Cry If I Want To)," which began a successful collaboration with Quincy Jones as her producer.

She was a Brooklyn native, but her family moved to New Jersey, where she attended the private Dwight School for Girls in Englewood. She was a sixteen year old junior at Dwight when Jones signed her to Mercury Records and she recorded "It's My Party," which went to the top of the Billboard pop chart in 1963. Her recording and performing career continued through high school and Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied drama and literature. She later did some acting; the photo above shows her as Catwoman's sidekick Pussycat in the TV series Batman.

My favorite of her early hits (she continued to record, perform, and write music through much of her later life; her last album, Ever Since, reviewed favorably in The New York Times, was released in 2005) is "You Don't Own Me," described as an "empowering, ahead-of-its-time feminist anthem" by Daniel Kreps in Rolling Stone. The video clip above shows her performing it as part of the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964, when she was eighteen.

While "You Don't Own Me" could be seen as an "answer song" to Joanie Sommers' 1962 hit "Johnny Get Angry" ("I want a brave man; I want a caveman"), Gore didn't see it that way, at least not when she recorded it. She thought of it as something a man could have as easily sung to a woman. Like all of Gore's early songs, it wasn't written by her. It was written by two men, John Madera and Dave White.

Gore was in college when she first realized that she was a lesbian. She didn't announce this to the public until 2005, when she was hosting In The Life, a PBS show about LGBT issues. Her death was announced by Lois Sasson, her partner of 33 years.

Addendum: Friend Eliot Wagner has this observation:
While "You Don't Own Me" was not an answer to any particular song, it responded to an entire era. The late 50s and early 60s were full of songs which instructed women on their role viz a viz men in society: not only "Johnny Get Angry", which you mentioned, but also "Love and Marriage", "Wives and Lovers", and probably the most egregious of the lot, "Bobby's Girl". The fact that "You Don't Own Me" was on the air was a grand signal that even if that era was not over, it would, in fact, soon be history.
It also occurred to me that 1963, the year "You Don't Own Me" was released, was also the year that Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published.

Philip Levine, 1928-2015

...Think of it, 
my name, no longer a portion
of me, no longer inflated
or bruised, no longer stewing
in a rich compost of memory
or the simpler one of bone, kitty-
litter, the roots of the eucalyptus
I planted back in '73, 
a tiny me taking nothing, giving
nothing, empty, free at last.

--Philip Levine, "Burial Rites" (from News of the World; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) Photo: Detroit Jewish News.

Philip Levine, who died on Valentine's Day, was born in Detroit to immigrant Russian Jewish parents, and wrote poetry while he held various blue collar jobs, including working the night shift at the Chevrolet Gear and Axle plant. He later taught at Fresno State University in California, won a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards, and was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2011 through 2012. After he retired from teaching, he divided his time between California and my neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, which he came to consider his real home. In the Cortland Review video clip below, which I embedded in a Brooklyn Heights Blog post in November of 2013, he walked around the neighborhood and talked about what inspired him.

Addendum: his Heights neighbor, Michael Bourne, remembers him fondly:
It was pelting rain in Brooklyn and I was out with my son, then about four, headed to the grocery store. Directly across the street, I saw a lanky elderly man, his iron-gray hair matted with rain, on the top step of his stoop, banging on the front door of his brownstone and shouting up at the third-floor window to be let in. It was the poet Philip Levine. I had seen him around the neighborhood for years, and may have even waved to him the way one does to familiar-looking strangers, but now I recognized him because just a couple weeks before his picture had been in the paper when he was appointed the nation’s Poet Laureate.
Full story here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

TBT: Elvin Bishop, "Calling All Cows."

OK, I can do this "Throw Back Thursday" thing. I've never gotten my scanner to work, so I don't have lots of embarrassing old photos I can share, but I've decided that, every Thursday, Good Lord willin' and the cricks don't rise, I'll post one of my personal musical "golden oldies." I'm starting with this Bo Diddley inspired number that I first heard on WBCN, Boston's first album-oriented rock station, sometime (1967-70) when I was in law school, staying up late to do assigned reading. It's one of those songs that just stuck in my mind, despite never hearing it again until I did a web search yesterday. The clip above is of a live performance at Winterland, San Francisco's legendary rock venue, in 1973.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Don't let "loose" be your noose. Another usage scolding.

"These pants used to be loose, but now they're too tight. I need to lose some weight." In these two sentences, I've demonstrated correct uses of two similar words: "loose," an adjective meaning, in this instance, not tight fitting, but which has other meanings, such as approximate rather than exact; and "lose," a verb here meaning to shed, but which also may mean to fail to prevail in a contest.

Recently, I've been seeing a lot of misuse of "loose" where "lose" is appropriate, even in published articles such as Frank Sonder's (CEO and co-founder of foresee, GMBH) "The Future is Ours: Robots Take Over":
History shows that all industrial revolutions so far had positive effects, even with certain groups initially loosing their jobs to machines.
To be fair, this article (which I found on Linkedin Premium) was probably written in German, so the fault is likely that of the translator (Was a translation program used?) rather than Sonder's. Still, I've seen this error often enough in ordinary on-line discourse that it does seem to be a common one--and a sneaky one because spelling checker programs don't catch it.

I don't recall ever seeing the opposite error--using "lose" where "loose" is meant (e.g. "These pants are too lose"). Maybe the confusion comes from the fact that "loose" can be used as a verb ("I will loose my bulldog from his chain"), although this usage seems almost archaic, having been replaced in contemporary usage by "release."

Go back and read the first two sentences of this post. Got it? Go, and sin no more.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Peter Stampfel sings "I'm Snooki" on a rooftop in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Peter Stampfel is best known among devotees of the bizarre in music as having been, along with Steve Weber and, at times, others, part of the Holy Modal Rounders, once described as "the originators and sole exponents of the genre known as acid-folk." The clip above, for which I'm--as so often--indebted to Michael Simmons, shows Stampfel on a rooftop in St. Petersburg, Russia singing a song he wrote along with Jeffrey Lewis about a now passé reality TV cynosure from New Jersey. As Michael put it, "Utterly twistoid."

Parental advisory: Stampfel lets loose a few f-bombs. Who knows what this may do for Russo-American relations?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks, who died Friday at the age of 83, was one of the greats of baseball during the time I was coming of age. He began his Major League career in 1953, when I was seven, living in England, and knew little of baseball other than that it was a game my compatriots back home played and liked (neither of my parents was a fan). He retired in 1971, when I was 25, had settled in New York, and was beginning to get interested in the game again after a long latency period. 

He spent all of his eighteen year career in the Majors with the Cubs, a team in which I had little interest, although his teammate Hal Jeffcoat was a neighbor in Tampa, and Hal's two sons were in high school with me. Chicago was remote from any of my connections, and the Cubs were a perennial also-ran. Actually, my predisposition towards underdogs--the reason the Brooklyn Dodgers were my first baseball love--has made me, on an occasion when the Mets' outlook for the season had become seemingly hopeless while the Cubs' hadn't yet, briefly root for the Cubs.

Nevertheless, Ernie Banks was one of those names, like Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Mantle and Maris, and Stan Musial, that kept cropping up in my consciousness even when I wasn't following the game. He was great on both offense (512 career homers, .330 on base percentage, .500 slugging percentage) and on defense (.986 career fielding percentage). He's credited with giving Wrigley Field the nickname "the Friendly Confines." His characteristic quotation (on a sweltering Chicago summer day): "It's a beautiful day. Let's play two!"

Addendum: Today's New York Times has a splendid reminiscence by Chicago native and cradle Cubs fan Barry Bearak, who recalls how Banks "wiggle[d his] fingers around the handle of the a virtuoso fingering the keys of a saxophone."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"What will become of his dreams"?

Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him...and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

--Genesis 37:19-20 (N.R.S.V.)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only Love can do that.

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Photo and iPod log: a brisk Brooklyn winter morning walk.

On Saturday, January 10, a blanket of snow remained from Friday's storm. I took a walk along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade--the photo above was taken from the Promenade near the foot of Montague Street, looking down at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I also kept a list of what was playing on my iPod as I walked.

George Gershwin, "Variations on 'I've Got Rhythm'," Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler conducting, Earl Wild, piano. A lively start to my walk. Hear it here.

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, "Miserlou." Dick Dale was born Richard Anthony Monsour to a Lebanese-American father and a mother of Polish and Belarussian descent. His interest in music was spurred by listening to an uncle play oud while accompanying belly dancers. He later played a central role in creating the surf guitar style, to which he introduced Middle Eastern scales, which are a feature of "Miserlou," a folk tune believed to be of Anatolian Greek origin. "Miserlou" is probably now best known for its use in Pulp Fiction (1994) by Quentin Tarantino. Hear it here.

Marshall Chapman, "A Thank-You Note." Marshall's tribute to Hank Williams, with lyrics by Dave Hickey. Unfortunately, like much of Marshall's work, this isn't available on line. You can read about her here, hear two of her songs here, and visit her website here.

The Grateful Dead, "One More Saturday Night." The version on my iPod is from their critically despised Europe '73 album, parts of which I nevertheless love. Here's a live performance video, featuring Bob Weir on lead vocal.

Stan Rogers, "Fogarty's Cove." A sprightly fisherman's song from Nova Scotia by the late and much lamented bard of the Maritimes. Hear it here.

The Boys of the Lough, "General Guinness." The version on my iPod is from their Live at Passim album, recorded at the famous folk music venue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The version here has the same hilarious preceding verse, and is followed by the lively reel, "The Nine Points of Roguery." Some years ago I got to meet the Boys' great Shetland fiddler, Aly Bain, because my date for their concert at Town Hall was his sister-in-law.

Scott Joplin, "The Sycamore," The Southland Stingers. Simply because, I wanna listen to rag. Get your rag on here.

The Band, "Chest Fever." Garth Hudson's organ intro is based on J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." I've never been able to figure out the lyrics--the opening lines sound to me like, "Well I know cheese and crackers/ Any starlet could track her." Hear it here.

The Standells, "Dirty Water." In 1965 an L.A. band recorded a left-handed paean to Boston that first charted in Orlando in 1966. Makes perfect sense, right? Listen up here.

Billy Bland, "Let the Little Girl Dance." Probably the longest "Excuse me" in the history of pop music. "Little wallflower on the shelf...." Hear it here, with footage from Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Superurinary texts.

Several times every workday I find myself standing facing a sign:


Sure thing, boss. (To be sure, this sign is necessary because I work in a very old building with very old plumbing; none of those fancy Japanese self-flushers.)

The sign makes me nostalgic for the unintentionally (I think) funny one I used to see in the same position back when lots of people smoked, and smoking was allowed just about everywhere:


I'm even more nostalgic for the unofficial texts one could see in similar locations. From the Lion's Head:
God made Shakespeare, then broke the mold,
God broke the mold, then made Jacqueline Susann,
MAILER will advise God what molds he's trying on,
Or, from the Bluegrass Inn, in Nashville:
LSD consumes 47 times its weight in excess reality.
Image: Marcel Duchamp, "Fountain" 1917 (original lost). Readymade porcelain urinal. Height 60 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's reflections and shout-outs.

2014, like many years, was a curate's egg for me. I lost several friends, including law school classmate Guy Blynn, and two fellow Grace Church parishioners, Mimi Mead and Terry Morgan (second from right in the photo at the head of the linked story). Others, whom I didn't count as friends but whose departures I've felt keenly are, in chronological order: Phil Everly, Claudio Abbado, Pete Seeger, Jim Brosnan, Robin Williams (and thanks to Richard Cole for sharing the story of his friendship with Robin), Lauren Bacall, and Jean Redpath. There were other notables-- Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Shirley Temple Black, Ben Bradlee, Joe Cocker, Ed Herrmann, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Casey Kasem, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paul Mazursky, Ian McLagan, Tommy Ramone, Paul Revere, Jimmy Ruffin, to name some--that I failed to note on the blog, not out of disrespect but out of distraction.

It was also a year of other losses. I lost my last physical connection to my old home city, Tampa, with the sale of the house that had been my and my parents' home. I missed the last performance of Black 47, which happened in November. I had a previous commitment that I had to honor, but I'll cherish the memory of seeing them live, I have their recordings, and I have this clip (thanks to dartheadmike) of "Living in America" from their farewell performance at B.B. King's:

Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't the best, but you can hear the song as it was recorded for the Fire of Freedom album, accompanied by still photos, here. The tune is based on the Irish rebel song "The Foggy Dew," which you can hear by Sinead O'Connor and the Chieftains here.

While I'll miss the opportunity to see Black 47 live again (perhaps made keener by the surprising knowledge that I'm more Irish than anything), I can't begrudge their decision to disband, still as friends, after 25 years. I've known Larry Kirwan, their lead singer, guitarist, and guiding genius, for 37 years, since he and Pierce Turner were, as Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, the house band at the Bells of Hell. Larry has other talents to pursue, and I'm sure he will appreciate relief from the rigors of touring.

The past year is also when I realized that I will probably never again practice law in the ways I had for over forty three years, in law firms or as in-house corporate counsel. I've kept my oar into the legal stream by working on document review projects. This may sound dull, and it does have its times of tedium, but it's given me the opportunity to see the guts of businesses of which I had little or no previous knowledge; among them banking, Big 4 accounting, construction, and hedge funds. It also allows me to leave work without worrying about having possibly overlooked something, or about an impending deadline. I'm then free to concentrate on my writing, both for this blog and for the Brooklyn Heights Blog.

It's my custom in my New Year's posts (this one is a bit late; the real world has been too much with me) to recognize friends whose help has been useful to my blogging. The statistics I get from Blogger, the Google entity that hosts this blog, show that my most popular post is still Grace Slick at seventy, for which I am grateful to Michael Simmons, who sent me the photo. Michael has given me material for several other posts (and some more I haven't written yet), including another that's made into my all time top ten in popularity, Bob Dylan, "Pretty Saro" (I must confess, that post's popularity is almost entirely because of Michael's having promoted it.)

Holding a strong second place in my post "hit parade" is Lady Day: Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation, for which I owe a continuing debt to the Rector of Grace Church, the Rev. Stephen Muncie. This post has attracted clusters of hits from several institutions of higher learning, probably because Tanner has been mentioned in classes (art? religion? African American studies?) and students have done web searches for him.

In third place is another post about art, Pierre Bonnard, "Late Interiors", at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For this I owe another ongoing debt, to Mark Crawford, a friend and neighbor whose art I admire, and who incited my interest in Bonnard. I must also give Mark partial credit for my sixth most popular post, Sol LeWitt, "Structures," at City Hall Park, New York City, because, while I was photographing LeWitt's sculptures, I encountered Mark, and his comments were helpful in shaping my post. You can see Mark's recent works on his website.

Thanks to Francis Morrone for inspiring, through a reminiscence about the Drake Hotel, my post (though he's not responsible for my opinions expressed in it) about 432 Park Avenue, which, thanks to my linking it to a commment on a Gawker post, has gone, if not viral, at least bacterial, and rocketed to fourth most popular on my list.

Other posts that have received consistent attention have been my reviews of books. These include Tania Grossinger's Memoir of an Independent Woman, Dermot McEvoy's The 13th Apostle (I must also credit Dermot for maintaining an email list that keeps Lion's Head alumni/ae in touch), and Peter M. Wheelwright's As It Is On Earth. I also thank Peter and his wife, Eliza Hicks, for spurring my interest in the Grace Chorale of Brooklyn and for inviting me to a spectacular performance of Cavalleria Rusticana.

Thanks to John Loscalzo of Brooklyn Heights Blog and Brooklyn Bugle for sharing my works and providing me with another forum, and to my wife, Martha Foley, for her support and forbearance. Finally, thank you to all of my readers and friends, and best wishes for the coming year.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Epiphany, or, Dia de los Tres Reyes.

January 6 is Epiphany, marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas and commemorating the visit of the three kings, or wise men, or magi, to the infant Jesus, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is an important feast day in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant traditions. In Eastern Orthodoxy, it is also celebrated as the date of Jesus' baptism, and considered more important than Christmas.

In some Spanish speaking countries it is an especially joyous occasion. The video clip above, courtesy of Conociendo a Puerto Rico, shows the celebration in the city of Mayaguez. There are three costumed "kings" in front of whom children pose for photos and, of course, lively music.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

432 Park Avenue: Harry Macklowe flips off New York City

432 Park Avenue (center in the photo above) claims the title of tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, and second tallest building (after the new One World Trade Center) in New York City, but if measured by roof height the tallest. It's described by its architect, Rafael Viñoly, as designed around "the purest geometric form: the square." Not only is the building's horizontal cross section a square, but all the windows are squares.  It dominates the midtown skyline with the grace of a colossal headless Pez dispenser, or upraised middle finger (the photo above was taken from Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park). Aaron Betsky admires its "relentlessness"; I demur. Betsky also celebrates how 432 Park "represents the transformation of this and every other city into a place for the wealthy to live and play" as if driving out struggling artists and other relatively impecunious but creative people, and the inexpensive infrastructure that supports them, constitutes progress.

With bad luck, we may be subjected to more Viñoly designs, like 125 Greenwich Street, all of which will end up being pieds a terre for billionaires, with perhaps a few lower floor, smaller apartments going to mere multi-millionaires.

Viñoly discusses his design philosophy in this video. He plays piano well.

The developers of 432 Park are CIM Group and Macklowe Properties. Harry Macklowe is a developer whose company was once fined two million dollars for reckless endangerment resulting from the rapid night-time demolition of two buildings. Macklowe compares 432 Park to the Mona Lisa.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lionel Train layout, New York City Transit Museum Annex, Grand Central Terminal 2014

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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Adeste Fideles ("O Come All Ye Faithful"), by Bing Crosby

I first heard Adeste Fideles on my parents' phonograph, sung by Bing Crosby on the album the cover of which is pictured above. I was six or seven at the time. It was my first exposure to Latin, which my father said was a "dead language" (he was a Methodist), but Bing made it sound very much alive.

The video clip above has Bing's Adeste Fideles as the audio track, accompanied by a slide show that starts with the famous "Earthrise" photos taken by one of the Apollo 8 astronauts and is followed by a series of artworks depicting the infancy and life of Jesus. Thanks to manfreadstraw for creating the clip.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

"The Plunge": Coney Island Brewing's winter seasonal.

The Coney Island Brewing Company's winter seasonal offering is called "The Plunge", after the Polar Bear Club's winter swims at Coney Island. With a name like that it should be, well, bracing.

The label says "Belgian-Style Ale with Ginger, Orange Peel and Fennel Seed." As I've mentioned before, I'm leery of brews with additives. To riff on The Lovin' Spoonful, "All I want is malt, yeast, water, and hops just to set my soul on fire." Still, despite initial strong doubts, I liked Coney's summer brew, Tunnel of Love Watermelon Wheat. I found their autumn offering, Freaktoberfest, less pleasing. Pumpkin is not one of my favorite flavors, although the espresso beans added an interesting note.

So, here are my notes on "The Plunge", which I had with a spicy take out from Curry Heights:

Color: vivid amber (see photo).

Head: ample, but not over-the-top (ditto).

Aroma: fruit and spices, hint of licorice (thanks to the fennel).

Taste: a rich mix of fruit, spice, malt, and a muted hop finish, with a touch of licorice. As the meal progressed and the ale warmed in the glass, the fennel accent became more pronounced, and malt carried through to the finish.

The Plunge went well with the spicy curry, its own spiciness complementing rather than amplifying or fighting that of the food. All in all, a pleasant drink, and one I'll enjoy again. Would I compare it to a swim in frigid water? To me, it was more of a sitting in front of a fire on a winter's night kind of beverage. At 6.9 percent ABV, it will warm you up. Technical details are here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Give vs. gift: is the battle lost?

When I saw this sign on Madison Avenue in midtown Manhattan, I was mightily discouraged. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I'm a bit of a usage stickler; not too much of one, I hope, but still determined to hold the barricades on some (and I'll fight that one to the death). Not too long ago, I posted this, decrying the use of the noun "gift" as a substitute for the verb "give." My rationale was, this does nothing to enrich the language, since there's already a perfectly good word for it, and it doesn't simplify things, as "I gifted" is actually longer than "I gave." Also, "gifted" as the past tense of "to gift" could be confused with "gifted" as an adjective meaning what all the children in Lake Wobegon are.

Since then, in part because of a discussion on Facebook, I've come to realize that "to gift" is a back formation of a novel verb, first reported from 1995, to re-gift, or sometimes un-hyphenated "regift." This means "to give (a previously received gift) to someone else." Here I'll confess, "re-gift" has an ironic zing that "re-give" lacks. I can see how this led to the original giving of the gift becoming "gifting." Does this bother me? Yeah, sorta. Still, substituting "gift" for "give" to describe the giving of a gift doesn't seem that big a deal. The confusion of the past tense "gifted" with the adjective seems curable by context.
It seems my neighborhood Kiehl's store is treading the margin.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cavalleria Rusticana in Brooklyn Heights

My wife and I attended Saturday evening's performance of Pietro Mascagni's one act opera Cavalleria Rusticana at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, performed by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn (which does not shy from its acronym), the Grace Chorale of Brooklyn, and a stellar group of vocal soloists. Set in a small Sicilian town on Easter Sunday, Cavalleria Rusticana ("Rustic Chivalry") is a tragic tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, and death that plays out against a background of religious devotion and festivity.

The action begins when Santuzza (Sarah Hetzel; photo above by Arielle Doneson) finds her lover Turiddu (Alex Richardson) in a passionate embrace with Lola (Joan Peitscher). Santuzza first seeks solace with Turiddu's mother, Lucia (Kirsten Sollek), then confronts Turiddu and Lola, then lets Lola's husband, Alfio (Richard Lippold), know he's been cuckolded; he then vows revenge. After the Easter mass ends, Turiddu encourages the townspeople to celebrate while he and Lola share what seems to be the Dogpatch ham of wine bottles. The jollity ends when Turridu is confronted by Alfio, who challenges him to a duel, leading to the fatal conclusion.

Hetzel's rich mezzo voice gives full expression to Santuzza's despair, jealousy, and rage. Richardson's Turiddu, in blazer and open collared shirt, is a sexy good old boy; his ringing tenor runs the gamut from amorous to celebratory to furious. Peitscher, another mezzo, plays Lola as a shameless hussy in a bright flowered dress, dispensing seduction and scorn. Lippold's Alfio, in suit and tie, is a smug yuppie who enters bragging, in his confident baritone, about his good job and having scored a trophy wife on his first pass. Sollek's Lucia is understated, her alto registering emotion in muted but compelling tones. The orchestra, under the sure direction of Eli Spindel, was flawless, as was the choir, directed by Jason Asbury. Overall direction of this superb performance was by Sam Helfrich.

Re-posted from Brooklyn Heights Blog.