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, against the Tigers. 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.

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 bat...like 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, 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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tom Rush in concert at First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn, presented by First Acoustics.

Tom Rush is a singer whose art I've held especially dear. I first heard him in the spring of 1968, on the back half of my first year at Harvard Law, when I discovered WBCN, Boston's first FM rock station. It was, for me, a time of emotional turmoil. I was nearing the end of my first New England winter--I'd been living in Florida since age eight--while dealing with academic demands and with having fallen into a hopeless infatuation with a woman in my class. Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going" is about autumn fading into winter, and loss of love. I heard Tom's cover of it as winter was beginning to yield to spring, and as I yearned for a love that never was to be. Still, it fit my mood perfectly. This past Saturday, I heard Tom live in concert for the second time--the first was at Greenwich Village's late venue the Bottom Line in 1975--at the First Unitarian Church a few blocks from where I live, in a concert presented by First Acoustics. As if answering my unspoken request, he opened with "Urge for Going":

The video is courtesy of The Boston Globe. On it, Tom credits the song's popularity to WBZ. I believe WBCN was their FM radio affiliate.

Another of my favorites Tom sang at the concert was "No Regrets," which he followed with the haunting instrumental "Rockport Sunday." He told how he wrote "No Regrets" and sang it for the first time while visiting Judy Collins, who served tea. When he finished the song, Judy's response was simply to pour another cup. Thus discouraged, Tom didn't release the song for several years. It became his first hit, and has been covered by, among others, the Walker Brothers and U2. Tom said he now realizes Ms. Collins' lack of response was because "she was overcome by emotion."

In the clip above, Tom sings and plays "No Regrets" and "Rockport Sunday" at Club Passim, a nonprofit venue for musical performances and center for the preservation and encouragement of folk music, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge is where Tom got his start as a folk singer in his days as a Harvard student and after, in venues like Passim's predecessor, Club 47.

Tom also did a song I hadn't yet heard, "Remember Song," from his latest album, What I Know.  The lyrics made me think of an old joke: a minister says to an elderly parishioner, "Do you ever think of the Hereafter?" The parishioner says, "Sure. I often walk into a room and think, 'What am I here after?'" It happens to me way too many times these days. I also thought of going to a Kingston Trio concert some twenty or so years ago, where Bob Shane, his slate gray pony tail hanging to his waist, looked out at us and said, "God, you all look old."

I was pleasantly surprised by another song Tom did, which is also on What I Know (I hadn't heard the album yet, but it's now on my Christmas list). He covered one of my favorite R&B songs, "Drift Away," originally done by Dobie Gray. Does it cut Dobie's original? No. Still, it has a compelling, older guy perspective.

Tom ended his regular set with another of my old favorites, his song about growing up in New Hampshire, "Merrimack County." This is prefaced, as most of Tom's songs are, by a longish but very funny story.

Called back for an encore, Tom finished with a rousing medley of "Who Do You Love?" and "Hey, Bo Diddley." He did every song I had hoped to hear, and charmed my wife, who had been dubious. When I worried about getting there early to get good seats, she said, "It's not like we're going to a Beatles concert." Afterward, she said, "He's from my neck of the woods."

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sure 'n' begorrah, I'm more Irish than anything!

And maybe a bit Spanish, too. Not at all what I was expecting when, at my wife's urging, I sent a sample of my saliva to the lab at Ancestry.com so they could analyze my DNA and tell me from whence my ancestors came. I was sure I knew. I believed all of my ancestors on my father's side were of English descent,* with the exception of one great grandmother, who had the Scottish name Napier.** She was born in Tennessee, which makes me think she was Ulster Scots, or "Scotch Irish," a descendant of the Protestant Scots who were "planted" in Ireland during the reign of James I in an effort to subdue the Catholic Irish, and many of whom later emigrated to America where they settled in Appalachia and the lands to the west.***

My mother's maiden name was Lane. Her father showed me what purported to be a family crest. Above the shield, topped, as I recall, with a knight's helmet, was the name "O'Leign." So, it seemed, the Lanes were Irish. My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Miles, which I assumed to be English, but which I now know to be of Norman French origin, and to be known in both England and Ireland. Other ancestral names on my mother's side are Mott, which could be English or German, Woods, and Rush, both of which seemed quite English.****

What I expected my DNA to show was that I was perhaps sixty percent or so English, maybe twenty five percent Irish (with some Scandinavian mixed in, thanks to the Vikings), and the rest a mixture of Scottish, German, and maybe a few surprises from some generations back (French? Native American?).

What I got as the sources of my genome was: Ireland, 34%; Scandinavia, 27%; Europe West (basically France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries), 14%; Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), 14%; Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), 6%. The remaining five percent is divided among traces of Italy or Greece; Finland or Northeast Russia; Poland or Ukraine; and a less than one percent dab of North Africa, which I suspect came en suite with the Iberian Peninsula connection.

I was surprised that Ireland and Scandinavia together accounted for over sixty percent of my genome, and that Great Britain, which for Ancestry.com comprises England, Scotland, and Wales, contributes only six percent. I now know this was because of my mistaken belief about the origin of the name Scales (see footnote * below), which turns out to be Scandinavian, arriving in England by way of Ireland, where some Irish may have gotten mixed with it. It's also possible that my Miles ancestors on my mother's side were of Irish origin (see footnote **** below).

The Iberian connection just about floored me, as I know of no Spanish or Portuguese ancestors on either parental side. One suggestion from a co-worker is that some of my Irish forebears may have married survivors of the wrecks of Spanish Armada ships on the Irish coast. This often expressed theory about the origin of the dark haired and eyed "Black Irish" is, it is said, supported by very little evidence. My wife, whose late father could be described as "Black Irish," has no trace of Iberian in her DNA. Perhaps in her ongoing genealogical research, which includes my family as well as hers, she'll find where there's--to borrow a book title from John Lennon--A Spaniard in the Works.


* When we were in England, from 1951 to '54, my dad got an historical map of Hertfordshire, the county where we lived. Not too far a drive from our house (well, nothing in Herts is too far a drive), according to the map, there was a dotted outline labeled "Scales Castle." We got into our Austin A40 and went there, finding nothing but a pasture. I now know that the castle belonged to the holders of the de Scales barony, descendants of a Norman nobleman who arrived in England with William the Conqueror. I also know that I am almost certainly not descended from the noble de Scales family (the barony was terminated during the reign of Richard III, as the family were at the time on the losing side of the Wars of the Roses, although there have been attempts to revive it).

During my first year of law school (1967-68), while on a weekend afternoon stroll, I went into the Widener Library, found the reference section, and in it the Century Cyclopedia of English Names. In the book I found "Scales" followed by the notation "A-S", which I took to mean Anglo-Saxon. It then said the name meant "dweller in the hut," a "scale" being a crude lean-to hut or shelter. A more recent source repeats that story of the name's meaning, but gives its origin as not Anglo-Saxon, but Scandinavian. Many Vikings settled in North-West England during the tenth and eleventh centuries after being expelled from Ireland by Cearbhall and Brian Boru. It's believed that these Viking immigrants from Ireland are the forebears of most, if not all, of the people named Scales in England.

** I've seen two versions of how the French word napier became a Scottish surname. The one I don't believe, because it is the more romantic, is that the first to bear the name so distinguished himself in battle that the King said, "Tha hast nae peer [no equal]."  The one I believe is that the family were linen keepers, perhaps for the royal family, and took the French word for such as their name. Napier can also be an English name, but my father believed that his grandmother was somehow related to John Napier (1550-1617), the Scottish philosopher and mathematician who discovered the principle of logarithms and invented the first crude slide rule (a device still used by my generation during our school years, but now supplanted by the electronic calculator), called "Napier's bones."

*** The term "Hillbilly" was given to Scotch-Irish settlers in Appalachia because of the popularity among them of the name William, a popularity stemming, no doubt, from the victory of William of Orange's army over the Catholic rebels at the Battle of the Boyne. King William is also the source of the term "Orangemen" for Northern Irish Protestants.

**** I've now learned that Woods can be either English or Scottish. Rush is commonly English, but is found in Ireland as a derivative of several Gaelic names, or may be an Anglicization of a German name. It's an oral tradition in my mother's family that we're descended, through my great grandmother Ellen Susan Woods Miles and her mother, Susan Rush Woods, from Benjamin Rush, physician of the Continental Army and signer of the Declaration of Independence. This was reported as fact in my great grandmother's obituary in the Tyrone Daily Herald. Unfortuntely, because of a lack of information available about Susan Rush, it's proved so far impossible to trace the lineage. What I've seen in various Rush family genealogies strongly suggests that Susan was not a descendant of Dr. Rush, though she may have been a collateral relative.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tampa's streetcars.

On my way to the American Victory Museum I saw one of Tampa's streetcars (photo above). I was going on foot from the Riverwalk across town to where American Victory is docked, on a hot, humid August afternoon. When I passed one of the streetcar stops on Channelside Drive, not far from American Victory, I saw a map showing that the route, which used to run only between the Convention Center and Ybor City, had since been extended to the southern edge of downtown, a few blocks from where my car was parked. The map below shows the streetcar route in red.
After touring the ship, I headed for the streetcar stop I had passed earlier and, after a few minutes' wait, boarded a car headed for downtown.
This is the view looking forward, through the motorman's cab. The car was air conditioned and the seat comfortable.
This is the view looking to the rear. There were few passengers on this run, in the early afternoon on a weekday. The system began operation in October of 2002, and quickly exceeded ridership expectations. Nevertheless, in 2006 the possibility was raised of the local transit agency, HART, not renewing its contract to operate the system. The reason given was that few local people, as opposed to tourists, used it. Extension of the system to downtown evidently has relieved this problem.
Here's a view of the streetcar taken just after I got off in downtown. Most of the system's cars are replicas of classic Birney streetcars that were used in Tampa from 1920 to 1946. The  replicas are made by Gomaco Trolley Company of Ida Grove, Iowa. The Tampa fleet now includes a restored Birney that was used on the city's old system, as well as a replica of an open air "breezer" car.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

iPod log: Brooklyn Heights; Brooklyn Bridge Park; Fulton Ferry; DUMBO; Cadman Plaza Park

Haven't done one of these since January. The idea is: I take a walk, usually around my neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, as well as through Brooklyn Bridge Park and adjoining areas, but sometimes across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. On my walk, I have my iPod on, set in the "shuffle" mode so that it plays music randomly. At or near the start of each piece of music, I take a photo. The photos are therefore also random, though I do try to shoot whatever looks best or most interesting at the time. What follows is the log of a walk I took on September 16. After each photo I tell what was playing when I took it, giving a link to a site (usually a YouTube clip) where you can listen to it. Where necessary, I also give some explanation of what's in the photo.

1. Spinners: "One of a Kind Love Affair." Classic early 1970s Philly R&B, produced by Thom Bell. Hear it here.

2. Gin Blossoms, "Miss Disarray." One of many songs Eliot Wagner has turned me on to. Hear it here.

3. Great Speckled Bird, "Trucker's Cafe." In 1969 the Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia, who had earlier recorded an album, Nashville, with backing by Nashville studio musicians, decided to go the country rock whole hog, and formed a band, into which they briefly merged their identity, named for a classic country song. The band recorded one, eponymous, album, which I love, and which was Todd Rundgren's maiden production. "Trucker's Cafe" features the voice of Sylvia Fricker Tyson, backed by Buddy Cage on pedal steel, Amos Garrett on guitar, and N.D. Smart on drums. Hear it here.

Photo: This is a view down the "charming cloister like walkway" (Francis Morrone, An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn) that leads from Hicks Street to the entrance to the Grace Church Parish House (1931), which also houses the Grace Church School (pre-K and K; hence  the carriages on the walkway). On the right of the photo is the south wall of Grace Church, completed in 1848 and designed by Richard Upjohn, one of the pre-eminent American church architects of the nineteenth century.

4. Sue Foley, "Careless Love." More Canadian content, from another woman singer who knows how to do the blues. Here she does a traditional song of obscure origins, but which was in the repertoire of Buddy Bolden perhaps a century ago or more. Live performance video here.

Photo: This is a portion of "The Fence", which extends most of the length of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and showcases the work of photographers who will be featured in Photoville, an annual event at the Park.

5. Rod Stewart, "Tomorrow is Such a Long Time." Rod covers a Dylan song on Every Picture Tells a Story, one of the best rock albums ever. Hear it here.

Photo: In the foreground, the harbor tanker Patrick Sky (not named for the folk singer) leaves Buttermilk Channel heading into the East River, while a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris collection vessel (probably Driftmaster) goes in the opposite direction.

6. Jimmy Crawford with Frank Motley's Crew, "That Ain't Right."  1954 R&B from the vaults of Savoy Records, Newark's pioneer indie label. "Don't nobody stay out and drink bad green wine all night." Hear it here. I think of this as the metaphorical flip side of Dolly Cooper's 1953 gem "I Wanna Know", also from the Savoy archives.

Photo: The former U.S. Navy helicopter training carrier Baylander and the "Fredonia" type fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard, which belongs to the South Street Seaport Museum and is used for educational purposes in conjunction with the New York Harbor School, are moored beside Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 5.

7. John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, "Steppin' Out." A lively blues instrumental, written by James Bracken and originally recorded by Memphis Slim, featuring a young Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Hear it here.

8. Johnny Cash, "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart." A heart-rending ballad of lost love, from the legendary Live at Folsom Prison album. Hear it here.

Photo: The sculpture is part of Dahn Vo's We the People, in which the sculptor has modeled, in full scale, fragments of the Statue of Liberty, and placed them in locations around the world, including Brooklyn Bridge Park.

9. The Light Crust Doughboys, "Knocky, Knocky." John "Knocky" Parker was a professor in the English department at the University of South Florida when I was a student there in the mid 1960s. He would sometimes give jazz piano performances, and I heard that he had a career as a musician before becoming an academic. I later learned, by dint of acquiring the album OKeh Western Swing, which included "Knocky, Knocky", that he had been a member of the Light Crust Doughboys. There's no video of "Knocky, Knocky", but you can play it on Spotify here (if you aren't registered on Spotify yet, you can do it for free), and you can hear Professor Parker playing Scott Joplin rags here.

10. The Rolling Stones, "Sweet Virginia." "Got to scrape that shit right off your shoe." Live performance video here.

11. Neil Young, "Ohio." The version I have on my iPod is his solo acoustical performance, at Massey Hall, Toronto in 1971 of this gut-wrenching song about the unjustified killings of four Kent State University students in May of 1970. This song was originally recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and included in their album 4 Way Street. There is no video of the Massey Hall performance, which I think unparalelled for its emotional immediacy, but I found this clip of another performance, with a montage of scenes from the Kent State killings.

12. John Stewart, "Friend of Jesus." This isn't the John Stewart of The Daily Show, of whom I'm a fan, but the singer I loved. "Friend of Jesus" was originally on his album Willard, but I have it as a bonus cut from the CD version of California Bloodlines. You can hear it here.

13. J.S. Bach, Brandenberg Concerto No. 2, 1st Movement, Allegro; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner, Cond.  One of the liveliest things Big Daddy Bach wrote. There's no video of the Academy performing this piece, but there's a clip here of an uncredited orchestra (commenter "Chuck Norris" suggests the conductor may be Karl Fischer) playing the piece, accompanied by a "graphical score" made by Stephen Malinowski, which I found fun to watch. It shows you what the various instruments are doing.

14. Saïan Supa Crew, "La Patte." What better to follow German baroque than French hip-hop (with a segment in English by guest rapper and techno-geek Will.I.Am)? Video here.

15. The Chieftains, "Jabadaw." My iPod decides to jump the English Channel with this version of a dance tune from Cornwall by Ireland's Chieftains, taken from their album Celtic Wedding. There's no video for this, but you can listen on Spotify here.

16. The Kingston Trio, "Low Bridge." Raise your hand if you didn't sing this song in elementary school music class. You probably knew it as "The Erie Canal," but on the album The Kingston Trio No. 16 it got the title "Low Bridge." The Trio's version is probably a bit more uptempo than the one you knew, and has some extra lyrics. Hear it here.

17.  Jo-El Sonnier, "Jambalaya." Hank Williams made this song a hit. Here it's done in the original Cajun French. Hear it here.

18. Bonnie Raitt, "Love Has No Pride." The "definitive version" (Dave Marsh) of this doleful but lovely Eric Kaz/Libby Titus song. Hear it here.

19. James Cotton, "No Cuttin' Loose." Cotton, a blues musician with an eclectic backgrouund, shows his talents on harmonica and as a singer on this piece. Hear it here.

20. Joan Baez, "Farewell Angelina."  This song takes me back to my third year of law school, and to my friend Tom's dorm room, were he was host to a weekly TGIF. Several of us would gather there to drink cheap Scotch, get high, and listen to tapes on Tom's Akai reel-to-reel. One of these was the Joan Baez album of which this is the title song. Hear it here.

Photo: What we see from the back is the Henry Ward Beecher Monument (1891), by John Quincy Adams Ward. Beecher was the first minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, and is remembered principally for his fierce dedication to the cause of abolishing slavery. Flanking the pedestal of the monument are images of slave children, their arms stretched upward in their struggle for freedom.

21. Robert Johnson, "Sweet Home Chicago." Robert Johnson was a gifted singer and guitarist who is credited with having established the style that became known as Delta blues. There's a clip here where you can hear "Sweet Home Chicago," accompanied by vintage film of life in the City of Broad Shoulders.

Photo: Late summer bounty at the Borough Hall Greenmarket.

22. Warren Zevon, "Mohammed's Radio." "Don't it make you want to rock and roll all night long, Mohammed's radio?" Hear it here.

22. Marlene Dietrich, "Schlittenfahrt." Ever wonder what "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from Oklahoma sounds like in German? The Blue Angel will let you know, if you dare.

Photo: This is the south facade of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church. It was designed by Minard LaFever, another pre-eminent nineteenth century American church architect, and completed in 1847. It has the first complete set of figural stained glass windows to have been made in North America.

24. Ian & Sylvia, "Maude's Blues." My walk ends with another example of Sylvia's talent for singing the blues. Hear it here.

Photo: These are the facades of two adjoining mid-1880s apartment buildings on Montague Street, the Berkeley at left and its near twin, the Grosvenor at right. Both were designed in a typically Victorian style by the English born architects the Parfitt Brothers.