My friend and law school classmate Noah Griffin sings a song he wrote for his wife. Happy New Year to all.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Thursday, December 26, 2013
My introduction to the music of Yusef Lateef, who died Monday at 93, came in 1967, when I was a first year law student. My dorm neighbor, Bob Bell, was a jazz aficionado. I knew next to nothing about jazz. I'm not sure how it came about: I may have been talking with Bob about music, or I may have heard something wafting from his dorm room--Jazz on flute? That's odd--but I ended up borrowing his copy of Lateef's album Psychicemotus, which sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.
Lateef's music was eclectic and syncretic. His roots were in big band swing and be-bop, but he later incorporated musical styles from other parts of the world, including Africa and Asia, as well as European art music, into his works. He also used instruments not often or ever before found in jazz; not only flute but oboe, as in the video clip above, and styles not common to jazz, such as the bowed, instead of plucked. bass viol in the same clip. He didn't like to call his music "jazz"; instead he called it "autophysiopsychic music." In the video, he's accompanied by Kenneth Barron on piano, Bob Cunningham on bass, and probably-- he's not identified on the video, but was on all of Lateef's recordings around the time (1972) the video was made--Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums.
Lateef was a teacher as well as performer. He held a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and taught there, and at Amherst College, until near the end of his life.
I must add a footnote about Bob Bell: at the time I knew him, he had the distinction of having his name in the Constitutional Law casebook. He was the named appellant in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Bell v. Maryland, which vacated and remanded his and several others' convictions for criminal trespass arising from their participation in a sit-in demonstration at a Baltimore restaurant. In a delicious bit of irony, Bob later became Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the same court that had affirmed his conviction before it was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Veni Veni Emmanuel ("O Come, O Come Emmanuel") sounds ancient, but had its origin as an Advent hymn in the eighteenth century. It "is a synthesis of the great 'O Antiphons'" which are of ancient provenance. The linked clip is of a performance by L'Accorche-Choeur, Ensemble vocal Fribourg, under the direction of Zoltan Kodály. The English translation is from the mid nineteenth century, by John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin.
Friday, December 20, 2013
When I go for walks, I usually take my iPod set in the "shuffle" mode. Because of my eclectic interests in music, this sometimes leads to odd concatenations, as on a recent walk during which the Sinfonia from Verdi's Nabucco was followed immediately by the Holy Modal Rounders' version of "Flop-Eared Mule". Sometimes these conjunctions are serendipitously pleasant, as on one walk several years ago when the first, allegro movement from J.S. Bach's Second Brandenberg Concerto was followed by a lively Cajun song.
A few days ago I started out with the iPod playing Gram Parsons' haunting, autobiographical "In My Hour of Darkness," with Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal, from Gram's posthumously released album Grievous Angel (audio clip with still of album cover above); next came "My Dear Companion" from the Trio album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt (live performance video below). It's easy for me to speculate that "My Dear Companion," on which Emmylou takes the lead vocal, was chosen by her as a tribute to Gram, her late musical companion and friend.
I never met Gram Parsons, but I knew of him before he became famous. While I was at the University of South Florida in the mid to late 1960s I became friends with several fellow students who had known him in his home town, Winter Haven. They told me about this brilliant, talented guy who was a folk singer, and who performed with his group, the Shilohs, at the Derry Down, a night club for teenagers that was owned by his stepfather. I heard that he was at Harvard, and, later, that he had dropped out and started a group called the International Submarine Band, in which he was later joined by fellow Havenite Jon Corneal. I was thrilled when, in my second year of law school, I read that he had joined my favorite rock group, the Byrds. I bought their newest album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which includes what has become Gram's signature song, "Hickory Wind". I followed his career as he left the Byrds and, along with another former Byrd, Chris Hillman, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, then had a solo album, GP, which introduced to a wide audience the voice of Emmylou Harris. His death from a drug overdose in 1973 saddened me enormously.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Yesterday's Advent pageant at Grace Church began with the Annunciation (photo above); a more traditional representation than Tanner's but a more realistic, in my estimation, one than de Champaigne's.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Monday, December 09, 2013
The Everly Brothers: "Bye Bye Love": these Kentuckians were reliable hitmakers from the late fifties through the sixties. "Bye Bye Love" was their first, going to number two on the Billboard pop chart and number one on the country chart in 1957, and began their long collaboration with songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. It was later covered by Simon & Garfunkel and by George Harrison. Hear it here.
Live performance video here.
Manhattan Bridge (Leon Moisieff, 1912), seen from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Giuseppe Verdi, Sinfonia from Nabucco, Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Fiorenze, Ricardo Muti, Cond.: here is a live performance video of Muti conducting the Nabucco overture with the orchestra of La Scala in Milan.
The Holy Modal Rounders, "Flop-Eared Mule": from grand opera we go to...a group once described as "the originators and sole exponents of the genre known as acid-folk." Join the real world here.
Woolworth Building (Cass Gilbert, 1912); to 8 Spruce's left is 1 World Trade Center (David Childs/SOM, expected completion 2014). At the far left is the top of the "understated and deferential" 4 World Trade Center (Maki and Associates, 2013).
Neil Young, "The Emperor of Wyoming": this dreamy cowboy movie music is the opening track of Young's first solo album after Buffalo Springfield's breakup. Hear it here.
Neil Young, "The Loner": this track immediately follows "Emperor"; I have the two joined as a segue on my iPod, but there's no video or audio track that combines the two, although I think they belong together. When you get to the orchestral bridge just past the middle, you'll know why. Listen here.
Brooklyn Bridge cactus. A year and a half ago, I was distressed to find it bisected. Now it's becoming overshadowed by something that looks like a spider plant.
Dusty Springfield, "That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)": down 'n' dirty blues by Goffin and King, with a little inspiration from Cab Calloway. Hear it here,
The Royal Teens, "Believe Me": I heard this once as a pick hit of the week on WDAE in Tampa when I was in eighth grade, then never heard it again until I was in my thirties and, flipping through a record bin in one of those Bleecker Street oldies shops, found a Royal Teens greatest hits album. I ran home to play the song that had been engraved on my memory so many years before. Hear it here. The tinkling piano is by one of the song's co-authors, Bob Gaudio, who later became part of the Four Seasons, wrote Sherry and, with Bob Crewe, other hits of theirs.
Ken Johnson in The New York Times as "brightly painted bulbous shapes, like enormous carrots planted point-first in the ground."
The Kingston Trio, "Across the Wide Missouri": the Trio's version of a traditional American song, also known as "Oh Shenandoah." Listen here.
R.E.M., "Driver 8": an infectious guitar run; inscrutable lyrics. What more could you want? Video here with railroad scenes featuring pre-CSX B&O/C&O locos bearing the "Chessie" logo. (It takes almost a minute until the music starts.)
my previous walk? That's OK; I love this song so much I don't mind hearing it again so soon. Hear the studio version here.
Listen here (a pallid late 1960s remix was the best I could find, but old Hank's voice still comes through clear).
"English sunrises" above the dormer windows. Also note the dentils below the cornice.
John Prine, "Paradise": "Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay?/ Well, I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in asking. Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away." Hear it here.
hit for Boz Scaggs with Duane Allman. This song should not be confused with another, recorded by Billie Holiday, which is also on my iPod. Listen here.
Flaco Jimenez on accordion. Hear it here.
rock 'n' roll pioneer Bill Haley. Live performance recording, with Dave Alvin and Katy Moffat, here.
George Thorogood & the Destroyers, "It Wasn't Me": an able, nay, exciting, Chuck Berry cover by the hottest band ever to emerge from Delaware. Live performance video here.
Delbert McClinton, "Before You Accuse Me": another cover, this of a Bo Diddley b-side, by a superb Texas bluesman I once heard at the old Lone Star Cafe on lower Fifth Avenue. Hear it here.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
For the past two years I've been making videos of the Lionel Train display at the New York City Transit Museum Annex and Gift Shop in Grand Central Terminal. This year I've paid more attention to the models of New York City landmarks (Grand Central itself, the Met Life Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the SONY--formerly AT&T--Building with its Chippendale top), ordinary buildings, and rustic scenery, as well as model train action.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.Addendum: my friend John Wirenius has these sage remarks.
Second addendum: here's a video of Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler on vocal) with Eric Clapton performing a tribute to Mandela on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Wembley Stadium, London, 1988 (thanks to my friend Mickey Waldrup for the link):
Photo at top: Wikimedia Commons.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
It's December so, of course, it's time to think about surf guitar music. In this instance, surf guitar music from places far from Southern California, although the first one is from another O.C. What started me thinking about this was that a movie called Anesthesia was filming in my neighborhood. This brought to my mind "Anesthesia" by the Nation Rocking Shadows, which I heard once in the spring of 1967 in a friend's dorm room at the University of South Florida, but which stuck in my mind over many years, as did "Believe Me" by the Royal Teens and Uska Dara by Eartha Kitt. My friend who had the record said the band was from Orlando, that he had seen them live, and that they had tons of electronic equipment onstage.
Cut to about twenty years later, at the bar of the Lion's Head, where I heard a man reciting to a woman "Anesthesia's" peculiar spoken bridge: "Scalpel, scalpel, scalpel, scalpel, sponge, sponge, sponge, sponge, suture, suture, suture, suture...." He omitted the scream at the end, or he would have gotten some unfriendly attention from the bartender. I said I didn't know anyone outside of Florida (besides, of course, me) had ever heard of this odd piece of music. He assured me there were those like him who had.
I didn't actually listen to "Anesthesia" for a second time until a few days ago, when seeing the movie title made me curious enough to do a web search that led me to the YouTube clip embedded above. The music begins with an ominous "drip drip drip" on bass, some alarming guitar riffs and an organ build, then it resolves into a main theme that seems a variation on the Chantays' "Pipeline". This is broken by the spoken bridge quoted above, which ends with a scream. The main theme then returns, but shortly after gives way to riffs like those near the beginning, and ends in cacophony.
Thinking of the Nation Rocking Shadows, from Florida, made me think of another surf guitar band, this one coming from far from any ocean. The Astronauts called themselves the "mile high surf band," having originated in Boulder, Colorado. "Baja," which you can hear in the clip above, is one of my favorite surf numbers. The staccato high notes on the guitar foreshadow a style that is frequent in contemporary pop, as in "Night," by Dolly Trolly. The suggestions of similar music YouTube gives to the right of the "Baja" video includes a piece that seems akin to surf music, though also originating a long distance from California: "Wild Weekend" by Buffalo's Rockin' Rebels.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Sam Edwards, I'm told, was a bartender at "55," the joint next door to the Lion's Head. I seldom went into 55; whenever I did my nostrils were assailed by the smell of insecticide. There was good jazz there, but in those days I'd yet to develop an ear for it. My few visits were occasioned by hearing that someone I liked who'd been 86'd from the Head (which, despite its raffish reputation, maintained fairly strict standards of decorum) was having a drink there. It was owned by Bradley Cunnigham, who also owned Bradley's, an upscale bar and restaurant on University Place where my appreciation for jazz got a jolt one evening from listening to Joanne Brackeen. I heard that Bradley made more money off 55 than from Bradley's. Bradley's, like the Lion's Head, is long gone, but 55 survives.
Sam's video and poem, for which I must again offer thanks to Michael Simmons, is about Greenwich Village before I arrived; the Village of my high school and college aspirations that I, and others like me, unwittingly helped to destroy. Like Michael, I was delighted to see, in one of the photos in the montage that accompanies the reading of the poem, a poster for a concert by David Amram.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
I posted this e.e. cummings poem two years ago on Easter. Yesterday I found this version set to music by Elliot Z. Levine, a member of the a cappella choral group The Western Wind. The poem and song seems appropriate for today. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Sunday, November 24, 2013
"Think Bo Diddley on acid," Marshall said as she started to strum the familiar "shave-and-a-haircut, two bits" rhythm, then sang about "the difference between falling in love with the way you feel around somebody and falling in love with somebody."
She ended the show with the title, and closing, track from the album:
"Blaze of Glory" is an autobiographical song about changes in music, in mores, and in Marshall. Unfortunately, when she calls for a sing-along, you can hear me. I didn't have the song in mind a couple of weeks ago when I took, and titled, this photo, but I will whenever I look at it again.
Addendum: I almost forgot to add; Marshall sang her achingly lovely lament for Tim Krekel.
Friday, November 22, 2013
My wife was invited to the play by a friend who had a spare ticket because her husband couldn't attend, so I secured my own ticket. I waited until late, and consequently got what was probably considered one of the least desirable seats. These plays are in the Public's Anspacher Theater, where the "stage" is a flat floor with steeply tiered rows of seats on three sides. The first row of seats is at stage level; mine was one of these, furthest toward the back of the stage. This actually proved to be a fortunate location, as I was close to the table where most of the action took place. So close, in fact, that, not having dined before the show, I had to fight the temptation to ask one of the actors if I could have a plate of the mac and cheese sitting enticingly in a bowl a few steps from where I was sitting.
It also helps to be close because these plays are performed in almost ordinary conversational, not full "stage", voices (the Public advises those who might have trouble hearing to get amplification devices they supply). This also aids the "suspension of disbelief." One really has the sense of being at an intimate family gathering. Some months after seeing Sorry, I found myself musing, "Who were those friends we visited up in Rhinebeck?" This illusion may have been facilitated by the fact--disclosure here--that two of the actors, Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett, Richard and Barbara Apple, brother and sister, in the plays, but husband and wife in real life, have been friends of ours since our children were classmates in elementary school.
Each of the plays is set on a historical date--That Hopey Changey Thing on the date of the 2010 midterm elections, Sweet and Sad on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Sorry on the date of the 2012 presidential election, and Regular Singing on the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. Each of the earlier plays has had its opening on the actual day on which it is set; Regular Singing will have its opening tonight.
Regular Singing, like Sorry, takes place in the home of Barbara Apple, a schoolteacher, in Rhinebeck, New York. Rhinebeck is a small town in the Hudson valley, an easy drive north from New York City. One of the play's characters notes that Rhinebeck's main street, followed south, eventually becomes Broadway. Some affluent City residents have summer and weekend houses in and near Rhinebeck, but the Apples are locals. Richard became a successful lawyer in the City, but in Regular Singing he's moved to Albany, where he holds an important position in state government.
Moving seems characteristic for Richard. He's tightly wound, ready to spring, but at the same time elusive. In both Sorry and Regular Singing he keeps saying he needs to leave while Barbara implores him to stay. Barbara, single and childless in middle age, is the nurturing mother figure of the Apples. She shares her house with a younger sister, Marian (Laila Robins), also a teacher, who separated from her husband, Adam, after their daughter's suicide. There is a third, even younger, Apple sister, Jane (Sally Murphy), described as "a non-fiction writer", who lives nearby with her boyfriend, Tim Andrews (Stephen Kunken), an actor. Benjamin Apple (Jon Devries) is the siblings' uncle and a retired actor. He also shared Barbara's house after he suffered a heart attack that put him into a coma, from which he emerged with a mild dementia. The conflict in Sorry centers around the decision to have him moved to an assisted living facility, a decision that Barbara, ever the in-gatherer, opposes.
As is appropriate for a play set on the anniversary of an assassination, and perhaps for the final play in a series, the theme of Regular Singing is death. The Kennedy assassination is discussed, but the central concern is the impending death of Adam who, despite their separation, has remained close to Marian and to Barbara, who has made her house his hospice. The play begins with the family gathered around the dining room table, and Jane and Tim breaking into song, a song to be sung at Adam's funeral. This leads to Tim's short discourse on the play's title, which was a liturgical controversy in colonial America. As the play progresses, Marian is frequently called to attend to the needs of Adam's mother, who is in a room offstage with her dying son. Richard seems a caged tiger; after Barbara gets him to sit down he accuses her and his other sisters of sabotaging his marriage. This leads to the play's emotional fulcrum, where his vulnerability becomes manifest. Amid the sturm und drang Uncle Benjamin, with his flat affect, sounds a note of stability. That may be why Barbara repeats almost everything he says.
Near the close of Regular Singing Barbara reads to the others sentences each of her students has written about death, an assignment she gave them in connection with the Kennedy anniversary. Then there is a recitation of a secularized 23rd Psalm Adam wrote for his own funeral, ending with, "and I shall dwell in Barbara's house forever."
I'll close with what Richard Nelson, the playwright, had to say about the Apple plays:
I wrote in the note for SORRY that it is my hope that these plays are about the need to talk, the need to listen, the need for theatre, and the need to be in the same room together.
Maybe it's really just saying the same thing another way, but I want to add that it is also my hope that they are about the need to know, in small or even some bigger ways, that we are not alone.I'm very glad to have been in that room.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, depicts the showroom as it was at a time when the dealership sold Porsches as well as Mercedes.
In 2001, when the lease of the principal tenant at 430 Park expired, The New York Times reported that its owners, "a partnership headed by Oestreicher Realty and Midwood Management," decided to do an extensive renovation intended to make it "fit in better visually with its neighborhood and become what its managers hope will be a prime location for corporate tenants." I had hoped to be able to show a "before and after" comparison of the building, but can't find a photo of it as it was before the renovation. The photos below show it as it is after:
To me, the building does look better. The principal change is that the narrow north and south walls, which were previously clad in white brick, now are glass and metal, like the facade facing Park Avenue. While the long Park Avenue facade still has its pattern of horizontal strips of window alternating with strips of opaque green, the appearance is somehow softer. The overall effect is to make the building look like something inviting to touch, like a hand-held electronic device.
Mercedes Benz vacated their space in 2012, consolidating their sales operations in Manhattan at one location on the West Side, where many other auto dealers are located.* The Wright space was ready-made for another such dealership, but either none expressed any interest in taking it over, or (more likely is my guess) the new building owners wanted something there that would generate more, and more steady, revenue. Could it have been adaptively re-used by, say, a high end clothing boutique or shoe store? Possibly, although some modifications would have been necessary. In any event, the Crain's New York video below shows what happened (the narrator refers to the Wright-designed space as "the Hoffman showroom" after the dealer who occupied the space before Mercedes):
The building's owners acted lawfully and within their rights. And, as this New York Times article notes, the showroom wasn't considered one of Wright's more significant works. The article quotes the late, and eminent, Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, as calling it "cramped." Still, some saw in its spiral ramp an adumbration of the Guggenheim.
I'm very sorry that it's gone. Part of my sorrow is that few seemed to know about it, so I felt I was in on a choice secret. I liked to imagine taking one of my architect friends there and basking in their delighted surprise. In a better world there would have been public funds sufficient and available to compensate the owners for the loss of income, which for a prime Park Avenue commercial space could be substantial, they would suffer from preserving it. Perhaps it could have been acquired, or leased for a long term, and used as a small museum commemorating Wright's life and works.
I can't resist the obvious gesture of closing with this Simon & Garfunkel song:
*For some reason, it seems to make economic sense for car dealers to locate in proximity to each other. Maybe the idea is that you get spillover from other dealers' potential customers who didn't like what was offered there. In giving up the Park Avenue location, though, Mercedes abandoned the place where, as reported by one of my fellow lawyers who spotted him, Jerry Seinfeld came to shop for a car. In any event, I can't help but wonder if Mercedes' decision to leave the space wasn't in some way encouraged by the building's new owners.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Saturday, November 02, 2013
I first met Lou Reed at the Holiday Fundraiser Fair at Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, the day after Thanksgiving, 1967.Lou at the Grace Church Fair? My wife has been a stalwart Fair worker for maybe the last thirteen years or so. Of course, 1967 was well before our time here in the Heights. I was starting my first year of law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she was a sixth grader at a Catholic school in Lynn, a few miles away. Had we been introduced at the time, and told that we would someday be married, we would both have been very surprised, perhaps even (at least in her case) horrified. (I would probably have thought: "Well, she's not the upper middle class WASP princess of my dreams, but she is pretty." She might have thought: "What an pretentious, pseudo-intellectual twit.")
Anyway, Lou was not present in person at the '67 Fair. Mr. Philips, fourteen at the time, "met" him in the form of a stack of the first Velvet Underground LPs (you can always get some really good stuff at the Grace Church Fair; trust me), one of which he bought, took home, played, and didn't like. He described Lou's vocal delivery as "Bob Dylan with a Brooklyn hitter accent." Two years later, stoned, and with a friend, he pulled the album out, played it, and SHA-ZAM! He was converted.
Later, Mr. Philips had several in person encounters with Lou, almost all of them in music stores. In one of these, he did manage a brief, inconsequential conversational exchange about a guitar. I was once (apart from the Detroit concert) in Lou's presence. This was at a party, sometime around the '70s-'80s cusp, in the then edgy (now touristy) Meat Packing District. My friend Charlie (not to be confused with Binky's friend Charlie) pointed him out to me, standing maybe twenty feet away. I resisted the temptation to introduce myself, knowing I was not cool enough to merit his attention.
Mr. Philips writes that he was in the Grace Church Choir (by which he presumably means the Youth Choir) for three years. Among his choir mates at that time might have been Robert Lamm, later keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter for Chicago. Harry Chapin would have preceded him by a few years.