Friday, February 03, 2023
Sunday, January 29, 2023
The Philadelphia Eagles, or "Iggles" as true Philadelphians call them, have won the NFC championship, and so will face the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. After the Eagles won the NFC championship game, the Empire State Building was illuminated with green and white, the Eagles' colors. The New York Daily News demurred, noting that the Eagles are "locally despised".
I'll confess that I'd rather see another team that wears green, the New York Jets, heading to Arizona in February. Still, I'm casting my lot with the Eagles this year. I have nothing against K.C.; I've had some good times there; sampling, among other things, Arthur Bryant's Barbecue. But I'm a Keystone State native (albeit from closer to Pittsburgh than Philly). Thanks to my wife's genealogical research I know that my great-great-great-great grandfather Samuel Miles served for a year as mayor of Philadelphia. He declined to serve a second term, probably to devote his attention to business matters. Also, my daughter, her partner, and my granddaughter live in Chester, Pennsylvania, part of the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
So, go Iggles!
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Saturday, January 21, 2023
Crosby later became my least favorite Byrd. What precipitated this was "Mind Gardens", to me at the time (1967) the one great blot on the Byrds' otherwise superb fourth album Younger Than Yesterday. My musical taste at the time was broad, encompassing classical, baroque, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and soul, along with rock. Thanks to the Beatles I was beginning to appreciate Indian raga, and to Dave Brubeck jazz. "Mind Gardens", though, was a step too far for me at the time. Crosby's solo vocal and the instrumental accompaniment didn't follow any convention I could understand; it simply sounded discordant. Despite its ultimately optimistic lyrics, it seemed to me to lead nowhere.
"An artifact of psychedelia's experimental heyday, 'Mind Gardens' is a parable about protection and openness, with an Indian-tinged vocal line rising above a multi-tracked droney web of guitar picking: acoustic and electric, picked and sustained, running forward and backward and completely reveling in disorientation."
Now, with the benefit of half a century plus more of living, which have included a generous share of disorientation, I've come to appreciate "Mind Gardens", along with other Crosby songs like "Everybody's Been Burned", also from Younger Than Yesterday, which ends with the lines, "But you die inside/ Every time you try to hide/ So I guess instead I'll love you."
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Sunday, January 08, 2023
In 1953 BBC television's signal didn't extend beyond metropolitan London, so we listened to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on our radio. She had been Queen since February 6, 1952, the day her father, King George VI, died. Her ascension to the monarchy took place while she and Prince Phillip were on tour in Kenya. In the almost year and a half from then until the coronation I saw many newspaper and magazine articles with photos of the, I thought, beautiful young Queen. She was also a prominent subject of conversation at the Sandon County Council School, where I was the only American but, in the course of two and a half years, became thoroughly anglicized in habits and speech.
I would no doubt have been surprised to know, at age seven, that her reign would last until I was almost seventy seven. Indeed, I would have been surprised to know I would live that long. I was a military brat, and thought that my destiny was to die gloriously in battle, after uttering some phrase that would later resound in history. The Queen was not known for stirring quotes, but this one seems very characteristic: "It’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change."
As I've noted before, with my advancing age, every year brings a larger number of contemporaries and admired or influential elders who have died. This year I won't try to make a comprehensive list; I'll stick to those who were most important to me, either because I knew them personally or found them especially impressive or influential. Besides the Queen, among those who were influential worldwide that we lost were Mikhail Gorbachev and Madeleine Albright. Although I'm not a soccer fan, I can't not mention Pelé.
F. Donald Logan was Martha's professor, mentor, and history major adviser at Emmanuel College. I got to know him when Martha and I visited Boston on several occasions, and enjoyed his hospitality, cooking, and love for Bailey's Irish Cream. He was a superb raconteur with a great depth of knowledge about medieval Europe, Church politics, and contemporary controversies. I enjoyed reading his The Vikings in History. Once, when I was attending a convention in Boston and Martha was unable to join me, Don let me stay in his Brookline apartment alone while he was on one of his annual trips to London, thereby saving my clients a hotel bill.
Clark Green schooled me in the fine art of church ushering during his term as Head Usher at Grace Church. Another Grace parishioner I will miss is the always delightful Shirley Baldwin. A neighbor missed by Martha, me, and many is Lesley Carter, a charming Scottish woman whom I would often encounter during my daily walks as she walked Bear, her massive and placid brown Labrador. Whenever we stopped to chat, Bear would attract kids who would shower him with attention, which he received gladly. I lost a Facebook friend whom I never met in the flesh, Walter William Milner, whose intelligence and wry English wit I'll never forget.
Among the ever dwindling roster of Lion's Head alumni, ones I will keenly miss are former co-owner Al Koblin (the Kettle of Fish, which Al mentions in the linked interview, later moved into the spot at 59 Christopher Street previously occupied by the Head), Cheryl Floyd, Jules Kohn, Marie Murphy, and Virginia Lucy Zox, known to all as "Sha", who served on the waitstaff and was a constant source of joy. She became a character in Head alum Robert Ward's novel The Stone Carrier. Thanks to friend Dermot McEvoy for keeping me, and many others, abreast of news concerning former Head regulars.
Among the musicians lost were all-around wild man Jerry Lee Lewis (for a comprehensive biography see my late friend Nick Tosches' widely praised Hellfire), composer Ned Rorem, jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, singer-songwriter and producer Thom Bell, singers Gary Brooker, Loretta Lynn, Christine Perfect McVie, Meat Loaf, Olivia Newton-John, Anita Pointer, Bobby Rydell, and Ronnie Spector, guitarists and singers Ronnie Hawkins and Danny Kalb, mandolinist and singer Roland White, and drummer Dino Danelli.
The stage and cinema world lost, among many others, actors Kristie Alley, Angela Lansbury, James Caan, William Hurt (whom I had the pleasure of seeing in 1989 when he played Augie-Jake in Joe Pintauro's "Beside Herself" at Circle Repertory Company, for which I then served on the Board of Advisors), and the incomparable Sidney Poitier; comedian and fellow USF alum Gallagher; and directors Peter Bogdanovich and Jean-Luc Godard.
The visual arts lost painters Carmen Herrera, Sam Gilliam, Jennifer Bartlett, and Paula Rego, along with sculptors Lee Bontecou and Claes Oldenburg and New Yorker cartoonist George Booth. Among those lost to the world of literature are my law school classmate John Jay Osborn, Jr., author of The Paper Chase; historian David McCullough; historical novelist Hilary Mantel; drama critic, biographer, and playwright Terry Teachout; satirist P.J. O'Rourke, with whose political views I didn't always agree but whose writing I often found delightful; Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the indispensable Nickel and Dimed; and restaurant critic Gael Greene, whose novel Blue Skies, No Candy. was once described as an exemplar of the "shopping and f---ing" genre.
One writer lost last year with whom I was unfamiliar is Peter Straub, whose works are described in his linked New York Times obituary as "novels of terror, mystery and the supernatural" but who "insisted that his work transcended categorization". As he observed, "Adult human beings live with the certainty of grief, which deepens us and opens us to other people, who have been there, too." He was the father of Emma Straub, also a novelist, and the co-owner of Books Are Magic, which now has a location two blocks from where I live.
Now I'll turn to appreciations. As always, I must start with my wife, Martha Foley. For those who don't know, I fractured my left ankle on November 24, 2021. Since then I have had two surgeries and periods of rehabilitation, and now face a third surgery this coming Thursday, January 12. This has been a most trying period for Martha, who has had to do household chores and shopping that I would otherwise do, tend to my medical needs, and work for her clients as well as volunteering at the Brooklyn Women's Exchange. I'm hoping this coming surgery will resolve all remaining problems. My thanks to the physicians at NYU Langone Health, including Doctors Kenneth Egol, Pierre Saadeh, Mikel Sadek, and Mona Bashar, and the physicians' assistants, nurses, and technicians, who have provided me with the finest of care.
On to pleasant matters. Our daughter, Elizabeth Cordelia Scales, and her partner, Drew Rodkey, have presented us with a granddaughter, Ada Xiomara Rodkey. They live in Chester, Pennsylvania, just south of Philadelphia, and we have enjoyed two visits, the most recent over Christmas. We're also grateful to Drew for the work he did on our apartment and furniture during their visit. We look forward to seeing them again soon.
Finally, thanks to all my friends and readers for your support and encouragement. I wish you all the best of everything for 2023.
In 1956 I was ten years old and riding with my father in our '55 Chevy on a two lane blacktop in the pine woods of Northwest Florida. Dad had the radio tuned to a station that played country music. The DJ said, "And now, here's Elvis Presley." I'd heard of him, and seen his photo on the cover of a magazine. I presumed, from the way he wore his hair, and his clothes, and that he drove girls crazy, that he was a crooner; perhaps a next generation version of Frank Sinatra. But what I heard was the clang of a single guitar chord, followed by, "You ain't a-nothin' but a hound dog!" in a voice that snarled. I thought, "This is a song this guy has done as a joke, but I love it!"
Wednesday, January 04, 2023
In accordance with my love for connecting visual arts with music -- see here and here -- the painting immediately brought to mind a song I first heard on the radio some time around 1968 to '69, Neil Diamond's "Brooklyn Roads":The odd thing is, when I first heard the song, I understood the title to be "Brooklyn Rows". I knew that Brooklyn, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was at the time, was characterized by row houses. Besides, "rows" was a perfect rhyme with "those", which ends the preceding line. Also, "rows" is the way he sings it, with no noticeable "d" at the end of the line.
Sunday, December 11, 2022
We are eagerly anticipating Repast's next concert, "Dutch Masters: Painting and Music in the Early Baroque", on Saturday, January 28 at the McKinney Chapel of the First Unitarian Congregational Society, in Brooklyn Heights. It will also be held on Sunday, January 29 at 3:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Country School. It plays to my fascination with connections between music and the visual arts -- see here and here. It will feature an expanded musical line up, with parts for recorder, theorbo, and a second viola da gamba.
Saturday, December 03, 2022
One style of music of which I've long been fond is "old time" or "roots" music, including its predecessors and offsprings Appalachian, bluegrass, hillbilly, honky-tonk, and recently "Americana", formerly "folk rock", which combines rock and traditional country styles, and which has its origins in Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and in Gram Parsons' Cosmic American Music, A few days ago I was introduced to the music of The Wayfarers, a young (at least from my perspective) band whose "style encompasses Appalachian dance music, traditional mountain fiddle tunes, and pre-bluegrass music of the 1920's - resulting in a dose of nostalgic Americana." The group includes Josh Hartman on guitar, Brandon Bankes on mandolin, Matt Opachick on fiddle, Justin Rayner on banjo, and Nathan Zangmeister on washtub bass.
In the video above they play two very lively fiddle tunes, "Angeline the Baker" and the enchantingly titled "Sal's Got Mud Between Her Toes". It's 3:34 of sheer joy.
Monday, October 17, 2022
The delights of the Fenimore Art Museum: Part 2: decorative arts, Hirschfeld caricatures, and Americans in Venice
According to the late playwright Terrence McNally, with whom I enjoyed a brew or two at the Lion's Head,"No one 'writes' more accurately of the performing arts than Al Hirschfeld. He accomplishes on a blank page with his pen and ink in a few strokes what many of us need a lifetime of words to say."
Sunday, September 18, 2022
While I was ignorant of Mr. Patterson's work, other than by reputation, I wasn't of Dolly Parton's. I've been a fan of country music since my childhood, when it was what I heard on the car radio when my parents and I made our annual triangular trip from Florida to visit relatives in central Pennsylvania and southern Indiana. I first knew of Ms. Parton when I read that Jerry Garcia was a great fan. Despite that recommendation, I can't say she's my favorite woman country singer. Her voice seems a little too saccharine. I prefer the harder edged sounds of Emmylou Harris, or Lacy J. Dalton. I love it when Dolly joins Emmylou and Linda Ronstadt on harmony, for example on Rodney Crowell's "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" from Emmylou's album Blue Kentucky Girl, and later on Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" on the splendid Trio album the three of them made in 1987.
I have other reasons for liking Ms. Parton. Her philanthropic activities are well known; especially her Imagination Library, which provides free books for children. I give her kudos for purchasing two Baldwin built narrow gauge steam locomotives from Alaska, now named "Klondike Katy" and "Cinderella." that power the Dollywood Express on tours through the Great Smoky Mountain foothills. I've been a train buff since early childhood when, on visits to my grandmother in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, Dad would take me to the station to watch traffic, much then steam powered, on the four track main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Trains are also a popular theme in country music.
The next thing we know about AnnieLee, she's arrived at her destination, Nashville, somehow without wrecking, or being arrested for driving, a very large stolen vehicle with a trailer likely loaded with hot merch. Why Nashville? She's a musical prodigy; someone who can spin a song from a moment's thought, and can play guitar.
"It's a hard, tough business . . . A tiny thing like you? You'll get chewed up and spit out like a hunk of gristle. Sure, you might taste success, but you're more likely to end up broke and alone."
AnnieLee's response to this includes an F-bomb. Of course, this isn't the end of the adventures these three characters -- AnnieLee, Ethan, and Ruthanna -- will have together, each while dealing with their fears, regrets, and secrets. AnnieLee, with help from Ruthanna and Ethan, will "taste success" in plentiful draughts, while escaping occasional attempts by mysterious men to kidnap her. The last of these will lead to another improbable occurrence: her surviving a four story fall from a hotel balcony.
Improbables aside, this was a book that kept me going; 409 pages in three days. The writing is concise and compelling. As I noted above, I was not familiar with Mr. Patterson's style. It may be best described as a lack of "style." There are no flourishes. He is sparing in his use of adjectives; he does not tell you something is "horrifying"; he describes it and lets you draw the conclusion.
Although I'm convinced Ms. Parton could write a novel by herself -- she has written an autobiography -- stylistic uniformity makes me assume Mr. Patterson did all, or almost all, of the composition of the novel's text. Where does that leave Ms. Parton's claim to co-authorship? We know she wrote the lyrics, quoted in the text, of AnnieLee's songs (all of which, including some not quoted in the novel, can be heard here). Beyond that, I'm sure she contributed considerable knowledge of the Nashville music scene -- on that score I have also to recommend my friend Marshall Chapman's autobiographical Goodbye Little Rock and Roller -- and a description of the level of pain a woman's feet can endure from wearing stiletto heels.
Sunday, September 04, 2022
Fenimore Art Museum is on the outskirts of the Village of Cooperstown, New York, named for William Cooper, who founded it in 1786. The Museum is named for his son, James Fenimore Cooper, a novelist known for his depictions of Indigenous Americans and of frontier life. The Museum's building was originally the mansion, completed in 1933, of Edward Severin Clark, an heir to the Singer Manufacturing Company (best known for sewing machines) fortune. After his death his brother, Stephen Carlton Clark, gave it to the Museum, along with substantial collections of American fine and folk art. The Museum also has a large collection of Indigenous American art.
"explores Fasanella's portrait-making as a vital tool for staying connected with people in an intimate, emotional, personal way, in order to give meaning to their collective actions in society at large."
"Zingarella" (1973) above is, according to the explanatory text accompanying the painting, "an Italian word for a lively and vivacious woman." It is "loosely based on a friend, Virginia Simon, who encouraged Fasanella to draw in the mid 1940s."Marc Fasanella went on to get a PhD in Art and Art Education from New York University and now does consulting work on environmental design through Ecological Design Partners. According to his website linked above, he
"has also written and lectured about his father, a self-taught social realist painter, and wrote the monograph Ralph Fasanella: Images of Optimism which was published by Pomegranate Press in 2017."
Leaving the Fasanella exhibition, I made another fortuitous discovery. On the hallway wall outside was an exhibit concerning The Florida Highwaymen, twenty six Black artists who, according to the explanatory material, "from the early 1950s through the 1980s . . . used vivid and bright colors to capture the beauty of the untouched Florida landscape." The Highwaymen "were self taught and painted on basic material like Upson board, a material made of compressed wood fiber, and used crown molding for frames."Mary Ann Carroll (1940-2019), the only woman member of the Highwaymen. "The painting depicts a singular palm tree surrounded by lush greenery and the inviting blue waters of the ocean." The one on the right is by Tracy Newton, considered a second generation Highwayman as he is a nephew of Harold Newton (1934-1994), considered a founding member of the group, and a son of Sam Newton (1948-), also considered one of the original twenty six, but who denies that either he or Harold was ever part of the group. "[Tracy's] landscape, done in the same style as his predecessors, depicts the changeable Floridian weather as a storm rolling in on the Atlantic Ocean."
There will be a second part to this account of our visit to the Fenimore, in which will be some Al Hirschfeld caricatures and some American artists' views of Venice.
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
By no reasonable person's standards could he be considered a saint. Attaining the position he held at the apex of his power, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which he held from 1985 to 1991, required a high degree of ruthlessness. He combined this with skill at making allies who would support his ambition. According to his New York Times Obituary, as a student "[h]e became familiar with Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hegel and Rousseau."
During his time as General Secretary he pursued perestroika, or restructuring, and later glasnost, or openness (though perhaps not quite transparency). These were pragmatic moves. Throughout his career he became keenly aware of the sclerotic condition of the Soviet economy and politics. He sought a way to change Soviet society so as to eliminate the sclerosis while staying within the Marxist-Leninist tradition.
In December of 1990 I attended a Christmas party given by a friend and law school classmate and his wife. My friend had become a United Nations official and worked in a division of the Secretariat that, under U.N. protocol, was always headed by someone from the Soviet Union. My friend's boss, who to hold that position most likely was at least a KGB colonel, was there. He was quite the contrast with a predecessor of his whom I had met at a Christmas party during the Reagan years who, when I asked him how he liked living in New York, scowled and said, "Why should I like it?" The new boss was nothing like that, and I recall his insisting that we should take what "Michael" - he deliberately used the English version of Gorbachev's name - was saying and doing seriously.
It's tempting to use the buzzword "transformative" to describe Gorbachev's time as General Secretary. In some important ways the transformations he helped to bring about endure today. The former "captive nations" of Eastern Europe are now independent, though some, Hungary in particular, are lapsing into authoritarianism, as Russia itself unfortunately has. In his later years, Gorbachev had an uneasy relationship with Putin; the Times reports that he praised the seizure of Crimea and Putin's restoration of order after the chaotic Yeltsin period, but opposed "Mr. Putin's crackdown on news media freedom and his changes in electoral laws in Russia's regions." Gorbachev described Putin as thinking himself "second only to God".
Thursday, August 25, 2022
“'Millennium,' yes; 'pandemonium'!Roy Campanella leaps high. Dodgerdom crownedhad Johnny Podres on the mound."
Marianne Moore, "Hometown Piece for Messers Alston and Reese"
Sunday, August 21, 2022
"She made me the woman I am today, without question. I feel like it was no mistake that she came into my life, and I think she's been strengthening me from the moment I met her."
Ms. Hunter responded: "Every time I play her, I leave proclaiming, 'This is how I'm going to be now' . . . and then I realize how hard that really is."
"I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Don José, for the person he becomes and the trajectory of his experience. . . . By the time we see him in Act Four he's not a priest, he's not a corporal, he's not the lover of Carmen. He's lost his mother, Micaela, his dignity, home, country, everything. Carmen rises in society. . . . That's what I want to show in our production, this incredible elevator effect where he's going down as she's going up."
As the Glimmerglass program tells it, the librettist Mr. Dye drew on his own upbringing in a small Mississippi town where his family belonged to a charismatic church, although one without snake handling. "It completely captured [his] imagination as a child." When his family turned to a more conventional, mainline Protestant church, he was "suddenly left with an empty feeling, a great sadness, a sense of disconnect." He transferred that feeling to Kayla.
Holy Ground opens with three archangels listening to signals from earth, hoping to find a woman with a pure soul who will consent to give birth to God's son. Unlike the story in Luke, consent by the prospective mother is required. Their scanning device picks up a promising signal, coming from a young Black American woman named (you guessed it!) Mary (soprano Jasmine Habersham, who also was Mimi in Tenor Overboard). The archangels deputize Cherubiel (tenor Jonathan Pierce Rhodes, a member of the Young Artists Program), newly promoted to their order, to try to convince Mary to accept. He's reluctant, as 849 other women (implicitly including Galilean Mary) have refused. The other archangels convince him that he can do what hasn't yet been done.
Meanwhile, Mary is facing an impending marriage about which she has serious misgivings. Her mother, Ann (soprano Alyson Cambridge, also Elsa Schraeder in Sound of Music), argues that she must go through with it, as a woman without a husband is not safe. (This is evidently some perhaps near future Handmaid's Tale style dystopian America.) Still, Mary thinks she wants something beyond safety with a man. This is when Cherubiel appears with his offer. As the program puts it, Mary "experiences a kaleidoscope of emotions" but concludes that she cannot do it.
Mary then suffers nightmares in which "[m]ultitudes cry out for help, but there are too many for her to save." Ann tells her that when she became pregnant she initially didn't want to be a mother, but changed her mind and gave birth to Mary. Cherubiel, braced by several (ambrosial?) cocktails with, and encouragement from, the other archangels, returns for a second try. This time Mary says "Yes." Cherubiel concludes with, "Hail Mary, full of grace."
Addendum: Martha tells me that she found Trevor Bowen's costume designs for Holy Ground to be spectacular.
Monday, May 16, 2022
When the show begins, Willie has left and joined the Fighting 69th, a U.S. Army regiment formed during the Civil War and made up entirely of Irish immigrants. While Willie is away fighting, Nelly is left to run the saloon. Its customers are a mixture of Black and Irish people, reflecting the neighborhood as as a whole. Their nights at Paradise Square are a joyous outpouring of music and dance, combining Irish and African styles, in which all participate, for which Bill T. Jones has been nominated for the Best Choreography Tony.