Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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





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





Tuesday, December 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: NFL.com.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

TBT: Chuck Berry, "Run Rudolph Run".

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


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

Rudolph image: FM99.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

At Advent's end.

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

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

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

Image: Crossing the Streams.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

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

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



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

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



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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio.

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


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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

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

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

Sunday, December 06, 2015

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

My response: I agree.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

The fix: Cut. This makes no sense.

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


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

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

My response: I agree.


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

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

My response: How about "long process"?


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

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

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


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

The fix: Cut; it’s implied.

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


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

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

My response: I'm OK with either.


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

The fix: Cut; it’s implied.

My response: I agree.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

My response: I agree.


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

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

My response: I prefer "askance".


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

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

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


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

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

My response: I agree.


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

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

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


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

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

My response: No preference.


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

The fix: Let’s just go with says.

My response: Yeah, let's.


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

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

My response: I agree.


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

The fix: Stop personifying your subconscious.

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


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

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

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


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

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

My response: I like "censorious".


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

My response: I like "smarts".


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

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

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


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

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

My response: I agree.


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

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

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

TBT: Darlene Love, "White Christmas"

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Louis Menand, how could you?

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TBT: The Marvelettes, "Please Mr. Postman"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2015

TBT: Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"

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


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

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Mets: no regrets.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TBT: The Flamin Groovies, "Shake Some Action", a tonic for the Mets.

All right, my Mets, time to get serious. Get back to Citi and show those Royals what you're made of. This 1976 hit, which I first heard on a "New Wave" anthology I got in 1977, is just the picker-upper you need. Get out there and shake it!

Update: the tonic worked tonight! Mets 9, Royals 3.  Let's keep it up!

A weekend in the Boston area for two reunions.

Last Thursday my wife and I went to the Boston area for two reunions: mine for the Harvard Law School class of 1970 in Cambridge and my wife for an informal gathering of her classmates from St. Joseph's School in Lynn. We spent our first night as guests of one of her former professors at Emmanuel College, who lives in the close in suburb of Brookline. From our Amtrak train at South Station we bought a Charlie Card, named for this Kingston Trio song, and took the Red Line to Park Street, where we caught a Green Line train (photo) bound for Cleveland Circle which let us off a block and a half from our host's apartment. That evening we were treated to beef Stroganoff, fine wine, and scintillating conversation.
Our hotel was on the Boston side of the Charles River (the "Mighty Chuck", as my wife calls it) and afforded a view of the river, Cambridge, and downtown Boston beyond. A women's rowing team was headed upriver, accompanied by a coach rowing solo.

Martha L. Minow is the twelfth Dean of Harvard Law School, and the second woman to hold that position. The first was her immediate predecessor, Elena Kagan, now a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Dean Minow greeted the alumni--my class of 1970 was joined in Cambridge last weekend by the classes of 1955, '60, '65, '75, and '80--with an informative talk about what is going on at the Law School now, much of which is summarized here. I was impressed by her statement that nearly half of the present first year class did not come to the Law School directly from college, but spent a few years working, either in business, the military, or some volunteer service like Teach for America. In retrospect, I wish I had done that. Dean Minow also stressed the changes in the curriculum since we were students, with more emphasis on practical training and a requirement that students perform pro bono service for indigent clients or public service organizations. Dean Minow is a daughter of Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President Kennedy and famous for having characterized television as it was in the early 1960s as a "vast wasteland."
There were several lectures and panel discussions, including one featuring alums who had distinguished themselves in public service. The panelists, left to right, are: my classmate and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Raymond Mabus, former Congresswoman and fellow Brooklynite Elizabeth Holtzman, and Jack F. Trope, Senior Director of Indian Child Welfare Programs and Casey Family Programs. Part of the discussion focused on the role of money in the political process, with Secretary Mabus marveling that, earlier in his career, he had spent several million dollars to win a job that paid $60,000 a year.
John Harvard surveys the Yard from his chair in front of University Hall, the administration building.
Across the Yard from University Hall is Holden Chapel, one of the oldest, and I think prettiest, in classic Georgian style, buildings on the campus. It has, to say the least, an interesting history, as described in this Crimson story .
Here's another view from our hotel window. In the foreground is the art deco former headquarters of Polaroid; the skyscrapers in the background are 200 Clarendon (formerly the John Hancock Tower; Henry N. Cobb, I.M. Pei and Partners, 1976) (left) and the Prudential Tower (Charles Luckman and Associates, 1964) (right).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

TBT: Jackie Wilson, "Higher and Higher"

I'm off to my 45th yer law school reunion tomorrow, so I'm in a nostalgic mood, thinking about the songs I heard on Boston's WRKO after my arrival in Cambridge for my first year in September of 1967. I had my clock radio set to wake me up in time for classes, and most of the time what I woke up to was good--this was a fine vintage year for pop music.

This is one song from that magical time that never failed to rouse me out of bed promptly.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mets vs. Cubs: is it 1969 again?

The Mets didn't play the Cubs in the 1969 National League Championship Series; that lot fell to the Atlanta Braves, then in the NL West. The Cubs were then in the Eastern Division along with the Mets. What did happen between the two teams was that the Cubs had a precipitous late season collapse, which allowed the Mets to win the division. This turn of events was highlighted (or lowlighted, if you're a Cubs fan) during a game at Shea on September 9, when a black cat--Shea had a resident feline population, evidently attracted by a sizable rodent infestation--appeared in front of the Cubs dugout and circled the on deck circle, in which Chicago third baseman Ron Santo was warming up. The Mets went on to win the game 7-1, the division, the NLCS, and the World Series.

Yes, I hope it's 1969 again. I wondered what the number one song was for that year. It was a great time for pop music; Beatles and Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, the Byrds, all the San Francisco psychedelia, and so on. So what was the number one song for the year? (Drumroll):


Well, it was a sweet year for the Mets. I hope 2015 is, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

TBT: Frankie Ford, "Sea Cruise".

Vincent Francis Guzzo, Jr., better known as Frankie Ford, died September 29 at the age of 76. He was long active in the New Orleans R&B scene, and the photo at left shows him costumed as king of the Krewe du Vieux for Mardi Gras in 2009. He had one hit record, "Sea Cruise", which went to number 14 on the pop chart and 11 on the R&B chart in 1959. He also appeared in the movie American Hot Wax.
.The clip above, from the NRRArchives, shows him on the Dick Clark show American Bandstand lip-synching his hit. I can remember around that time saving Beech-Nut gum wrappers which I mailed to get a 45 RPM EP that included, if my memory serves me well, "Little Star" by the Elegants, "You Cheated" by the Shields, "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy, and "To Know Him is to Love Him" by the Teddy Bears (featuring Phil Spector), along with a couple of others that I can't recall.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

TBT: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, "Autumn in New York."

"Autumn in New York", a song that seems to epitomize the word "wistful", has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Just over a year ago I posted Jo Stafford's 1950 version, which was in my parents' 78 RPM record collection and consequently the first I heard. The music and lyrics were written in 1934 by Vernon Duke, who also wrote the music for "April in Paris". I guess you could say he was a seasonal composer.

Here's a splendid rendition by two of the greatest jazz artists of the past century, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

I can't resist also including a link to a guitar instrumental by Tal Farlow that has an almost baroque quality.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Cosmic American Music Festival at the Derry Down.

I first heard of the Derry Down in 1966, when I was friends with some fellow University of South Florida students who were from Winter Haven. It was a nightclub for teens, serving non-alcoholic Daiquiris and the like, and presenting local bands. Early on, this prominently included Gram Parsons' folk group, the Shilohs. After all, Gram's stepfather owned the place.

Although the Derry Down closed many years ago, somehow the rather unprepossessing building survived. It was recently donated by the real estate company that owned it, 6/10 Corp., to the civic group Main Street Winter Haven, which began the Derry Down Project to restore it as a venue for music. To raise funds for the project, Main Street promoted a Cosmic American Music Festival, which I attended. "Cosmic American" was the term Gram used for his music, a syncretic style that melded influences from country, rock, folk, and blues. Today it's called "Americana" or "roots" or "alt/country."
The festival opened the evening of Friday, September 18 with a concert in the Derry Down. The opening act was the Toni Brown Band (photo above). Ms. Brown has a musical history that includes performances with a "Who's Who" of rock and country acts. She is also a former editor and publisher of Relix magazine.


One of the songs she and her band did that evening was "Rabbit Hole Soul" (clip above). Others included the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and Gram's "Sin City," which first was released on the Flying Burrito Brothers' premiere album, The Gilded Palace of Sin
One of several musicians who joined Toni and her band on stage that night was Walter Parks. I noticed he was wearing a Brooklyn Lutherie t-shirt. Later, when I met him and commented about it, he showed me a guitar that had belonged to Richie Havens, for whom Parks had been lead guitarist. It had an abraded surface and other signs of wear, and he said he'd be taking it to Brooklyn Lutherie for repair soon. Also in the photo is sax wizard David Prince.
The night's headliner was Jay Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo, a band that drew on many influences, from punk to Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and, yes, Gram Parsons. After the band broke up because of tensions between Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, who went on to found Wilco, Farrar put together Son Volt, which continued in a style similar to that of Uncle Tupelo. Recently, he's been touring accompanied by another Son Volt member, Gary Hunt, whom Farrar described as "a talented multi-instrumentalist."
Was he ever. Here he is playing fiddle,
mandolin,
and steel guitar.


One of the songs Jay and Gary performed was a favorite of mine from Son Volt's album Wide Swing Tremolo, "Driving the View." The clip above has audio from the album, accompanied by a montage of photos of Son Volt in various configurations. Other songs they did included Farrar's "May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away" and a song about Highway 61 that wasn't Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited." Called back for an encore, they did Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35."

The following day, Saturday, September 19, the show moved outdoors during the afternoon. 
One of the acts to take the stage that afternoon was The Hummingbirds, a power roots duo consisting of husband and wife S.G. and Rachel Wood, Detroit natives who now live in my old home city, Tampa. (Detroit and Tampa are umbilically connected by Interstate 75.) 

The Hummingbirds - 13 Days from Pilot Moon Films on Vimeo.

They did a splendid set that included the title track from their album 13 Days. Other songs they sang included "Leave This Town" and "Horses and Rattlesnakes".
It was hot and humid, but that didn't dissuade these young fans from reviving a late 1950s fad.

Walter Parks (more of him later) did a solo set that afternoon, during which he charmed a toddler fan by coming down from the stage with his guitar. Other groups that appeared were: Have Gun Will Travel" from Bradenton, Florida (check out their "Dream No More"); I Want Whisky from Atlanta (listen to "Poor Man's Dollar"); and the Adam Hood Band (spend some time on "Grandpa's Farm").

Later we went to The Fire Restaurant, where I'd had dinner (oysters and sirloin, both excellent, and at a price that, as a New Yorker, very pleasantly surprised me) the evening before. This time, having had a hefty grouper sandwich from one of the food trucks serving the afternoon outdoor concert, I chose lighter fare: their "Old Skool" burger, It was very good, too.

Finishing my burger, I went to the patio in back where Walter Parks and his band, Walter Parks's Swamp Cabbage, were setting up.
Walther said something like, "We'd never do anything commercial, like playing under a beer sign...oh, wait."


Catch them live in the clip above, doing the Tallahassee Theme to "American Guns." Despite his Southern roots, Walter and the band are based in the New York City area, and gig at local venues. I'll keep my eye out for them.

Returning to the Derry Down Saturday evening for the Festival's final event (well, not quite final; I had an early afternoon flight on Sunday and couldn't make the farewell brunch at Tanner's Lakeside, again featuring I Want Whisky) I was treated to a second performance by The Hummingbirds, this time accompanied by a bass and drums.
Also on the bill that night was a musician who had a closer connection to Gram Parsons than any other in the Festival's line-up: Jon Corneal (photo above; Jon played both guitar and drums during his set). Jon played drums and sang in the International Submarine Band, Gram's first country rock group. He also later played drums with the Flying Burrito Brothers.

 
Jon gets name-checked by Gram as the singer on their version of "Do You Know How it Feels to be Lonesome" on the ISB's only (but superb) album, Safe at Home.


The last group on the bill was the Hickory Wind Band, sometimes called the Hickory Wind Bluegrass Band. They took their name from what most consider Gram's signature song. Also, they're from Waycross, Georgia, a town in which Gram spent his childhood, and which is the locale for the Bobby Bare song "Miller's Cave," which ISB covered on Safe at Home. In the clip above, they're shown from an unusual angle and heard doing the classic fiddle tune "Orange Blossom Special."
To top off the evening, there was a jam session doing a medley of Gram's songs by various performers, including Toni Brown and Ed Munson, Walter Parks, the Hummingbirds, and members of the Hickory Wind Band.

Thanks to all who put this festival weekend together, including Gene Owen and Anita Strang.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

TBT: Jerry Lee Lewis, "Breathless."

Jerry Lee Lewis turned eighty on Tuesday. This is testimony to the wonders of medical science, or divine grace, or both. It reminds me of the joke about the old Vermont farmer who, when asked the secret to his longevity, said, "I always drink new rum and vote Democrat. One pizen neutralizes the other." (The story dates from the time when Republicans were progressives and Democrats reactionary racists. History takes strange turns.)


I saw the Killer live once. It was in the fall of 1979, and I heard that he was playing at a place on East 86th Street called the Lorelei that evening. I hurried there, thinking it was already sold out, but was able to get in. The Lorelei was a German beer and dance hall (East 86th was once the heart of a thriving German-American community) that had been bought by someone who tried to make it into a country music venue (the "urban cowboy" thing was big in '79). The place still had its original decor. Seeing and hearing Jerry Lee singing and pumping his piano under pictures of Mad King Ludwig's castles was close to a psychedelic experience.


Monday, September 28, 2015

The Mets face a dilemma.

It has little to do with Matt Harvey's (photo) pitch or inning count. It has to do with whether to go all out to win their remaining regular season games in an effort to gain home field advantage in the National League Divisional Series they will almost certainly play against the Dodgers, or to rest their best players for the playoffs.

The Mets have a winning record (2-1) against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium this season, but only an even record (2-2) against them in Citi Field. Looking at history, though, their lifetime record at L.A. is .408; at Citi it is .496 (yes, the years since the move from Shea have been less than rewarding until now). What does this tell us? Not much, other than a home field advantage is, as they say, a home field advantage. You do get that last half inning if you need it.

So, home field advantage may be worth something. Still, there is this recent New York Times piece that argues, with historical support, that being hot going into the post-season may actually be an omen of trouble in the playoffs, and vice versa.

What to conclude? I just want them to win. Now, and then.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Winter Haven, Florida revisited after 48 years.

Winter Haven is a small city--population about 36,000--in central Florida. It's a little south and west of Orlando, east of Tampa, and west of Melbourne. It has fifty lakes within or touching its city limits, and is surrounded by citrus groves. One thing it has in common with New York City is a Central Park, with a fountain (photo above).

When I was a student at the University of South Florida I became friends with several fellow students who were from Winter Haven. I visited there on several occasions, and got to like the place very much. I even wrote a paper for one of my political science classes about its city government. (Don't ask me what my conclusions were; I've forgotten.)

From my Winter Haven friends, as I've noted before, I learned about Gram Parsons before he became famous. About two years ago, through social media, I reconnected with one of those friends, Steve Griffith. He told me that there was an effort to restore the Derry Down, the former "teen age night club" established by Gram's stepfather, initially to give Gram and his high school folk group a place to play. I then learned that the group restoring the Derry Down was presenting a "Cosmic American Music [Gram's term for his style, now called "Americana" or "Roots" or "Alt Country"] Festival," and I decided to attend.

I hadn't been to Winter Haven since 1967--48 years. In this post, I'll show some photos of scenes around town, all my photos except where otherwise noted.
One thing you're not likely to find in New York is a cattle egret standing on a car roof in a drugstore parking lot
 Another sign I'm not in the North: Spanish moss hanging from a tree.
The shore of Lake Howard, the largest of Winter Haven's lakes, was a block from where I was staying. I spotted this fly fisherman working along its shore. He's standing on a small boat that's hidden by the reeds.
This handsome building is at the corner of Central Avenue and 4th Street NW. Winter Haven is laid out with lettered avenues going east to west and numbered streets going north to south, divided into NE, NW, SE, and SW quadrants; because this pattern is frequently interrupted by lakes, some circumscribed by drives bearing their names, e.g. "Lake Howard Drive," I once described a map of Winter Haven as a Cartesian grid superimposed on a piece of Swiss cheese. The building is called "Time Square," and was given that name by my friend Steve, who, inspired by the clock on its northwest corner, won a contest to name it when he was eleven or so. I don't recall what prize he won. Photo: LoopNet.com
As a bibliophile, I believe you can tell a lot about a city by the quality of its library. The Kathryn L. Smith Memorial Library, done in the Spanish colonial style popular in Florida, looks impressive and capacious. I wish I'd had time to explore inside.
Lily pads near the shore of Lake May.

Another solitary egret perched by the lake shore.

I'll be doing another post soon about the Cosmic American Music Festival and some of the groups and musicians I saw, heard, and met there.