Friday, May 26, 2023

10,000 Maniacs & David Byrne, "Let the Mystery Be" -- a (sort of) theological reflection.

The clip above shows 10,000 Maniacs, with their then vocalist Natalie Merchant and a guest appearnce by David Byrne, doing "Let the Mystery Be", a song by singer and songwriter Iris DeMent. At first hearing, this may seem a paean to agnosticism. However, it made me remember a conversation some years ago with the Rev. Stephen Muncie, then Rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights. I was expressing my doubts about some aspects of Judaeo-Christian doctrine because they did not comport with my understanding of physics and of cause-effect relationships. Steve's response was, "Mystery, not mastery." He also gave me a quotation from Anne Lamott that I treasure, and give below in its full context:
“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me -- that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.”

Anne Lamott, Plan B -- Further Thoughts on Faith 

Addendum: Here's the original version of "Let the Mystery Be" by Iris DeMent, with accompanying musicians. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tina Turner (1939-2023) - "What's Love Got To Do With It?"; a remembrance.

As I noted twelve years ago, and gave the reason there, actors, artists, and musicians I have loved over the years are dying with frequency. The latest is Tina Turner, a two time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.The first was in 1991, as Ike and Tina Turner, with her ex-husband, Ike, who got her career started in 1958, and gave her the name Tina (she was born Anna Mae Bullock, and took the name Turner when she married Ike). The second induction was in 2021 as a solo artist. 

I'm not sure when I first heard Ike and Tina Turner. It may have been 1960, when "A Fool in Love" made it to number two on the pop chart, and I could have heard it on WDAE in Tampa. I know I heard "River Deep, Mountain High", probably on Boston's WRKO during my first year of law school. She was not a bel canto singer; her voice had a rasp that conveyed struggle and the grit to overcome. "River Deep" gave her more melodic structure and a chance to broaden her vocal ability.

After she separated from and divorced Ike, she went through several years of struggle. Her big break came in 1984, with the release of her album Private Dancer, which includes "What's Love Got to Do with It?" (clip above), her first song to go to number one on the pop chart. Although the song was co-written by Graham Lyle and Terry Britten, it seems almost autobiographical. Much recording and touring success followed Private Dancer, She also appeared in two movies, including a leading role as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  

She died on Wednesday, May 24 at her and her second husband, Erwin Bach's, home in Küsnacht, Switzerland. She has received many tributes from fellow musicians. My favorite is from Beyoncé, as quoted in the Daily News
“My beloved queen,” Beyoncé's post reads. “I love you endlessly. I’m so grateful for your inspiration, and all the ways you have paved the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion. We are all so fortunate to have witnessed your kindness and beautiful spirit that will remain forever.”

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Fairport Convention - "Reno Nevada" by Richard Fariña at Cropredy 2017

A lttle over a year ago I posted about Fairport Convention's doing Emitt Rhodes' "Time Will Show the Wiser" on their first album, recorded in 1967, and fifty years later, at the 2017 Cropredy Festival, with the same lineup of musicians except for the drummer. The clip above is also from Cropredy 2017, and shows them doing "Reno Nevada", a song by Richard Fariña. described by The Guardian as a "lost genius who bridged the gap between beats and hippies." He and his wife Mimi, who was Joan Baez's sister, were a folk singing duo. I remember him best as the author of Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me, which I read during my third  year of law school, not long after it was published in 1966. To me it is the ultimate sixties novel, although it is set in the late fifties. It is suffused with the sixties spirit that was being brewed in the late Eisenhower years. There is no mention of Vietnam, which wasn't in the news at the time, but the novel ends when its protagonist, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, gets a draft notice. No one uses marijuana, but "Paps" gets high smoking tobacco cigarettes that have been soaked in paregoric. A few days after Been Down So Long was published Fariña, then 29, died in a motorcycle crash.

I think Fairport's cover of "Reno Nevada" is excellent. One thing I especially like about this video is that it shows Judy Dyble, with whom I enjoyed a lively trans-Atlantic electronic friendship for about seven years, until her death from lung cancer three years ago, doing what I had read she often did on stage during long instrumental breaks: knitting.

The Mets are showing some life ... Updated!

... as are the bats of Pete Alonso and of Francisco Lindor (photo). True to form, the Mets started the season hot, but this year the collapse was quick in coming. They were doing well through most of April. Despite being swept by the Brewers in their second series of the season, they came off a California trip, usually Death Valley for the Mets, with a sweep of the As, two of three from the Dodgers, and a two-two split with the Giants, in which the Giants won the last two. From the loss to the Giants on April 22 through that to the Rays on May 16, the Mets' record was 7-17.

They're now sitting on a scorching three game winning streak. The first two were over the Rays, who now hold the best record in the Majors. On May 17 Kodai Senga held the Rays to one run while striking out 1welve. Unfortunately, and characteristically for most of this season, the Mets' batters gave him no support. so he left the mound at the end of the sixth with the score 1-0 Rays. It then became a question of which bullpen would do the least damage. Four Mets releivers gave up six runs, but the Rays' pen yielded eight. the last being a walk off homer in the bottom of the tenth by Alonso, so the Mets won 8-7.

In the last game of the Rays series, starter Tylor Megill allowed two runs over six innings, but the Mets batters supplied three and the bullpen held firm for a 3-2 Mets win. Friday's game with the Cleveland Guardians was another nail biter. Mets starter gave up five runs in five innings, continuing what for him has been a difficult season, notching his ERA up to 8.68 and leaving the mound with the score Cleveland 5, Mets 2. In the bottom of the sixth a Brett Baty homer made it 5-3, but in the top of seventh, Mets reliever Dominic Leone allowed another two runs. In the bottom of the seventh a grand slam by Alonso tied the game. In the top of the tenth Cleveland scored two runs, but in the bottom of the tenth the Mets scored three runs to win, all on RBI singles, the last by Lindor.

The Mets are now a .500 team, third in the NL East. The game Saturday was postponed by rain, so there will be a double header with Cleveland today. It's possible the Mets will revert to the mean and lose both games. As I noted in a post some years ago, the Mets have "the ability to rouse hopes, then smash them like cheap china." 

Update: the Mets swept today's doubleheader with the Guardians, so have now won five straight. The really good news is that Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander both were in good form, so the top of the order, at least for now, may be solid.

Photo: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Another friend gone: Anne Hagman McDermott

The photo above shows Anne Hagman McDermott as I most remember her, in the company of a group of friends. I'm at the right, in my Mets cap (Annie was a Mets fan); she is behind me and to my left in the photo, with a hand on Jeanine Flaherty's shoulder. Her husband, Joe McDermott, is to her left. Others in the photo are, left to right photo-wise, Jack Deacy, Barry Murphy, and Ethan Eldon. The occasion was a gathering of Lion's Head alums  several years ago at the White Horse Tavern, a Greenwich Village fixture known in its heyday, like the Head, for attracting writers and artists.

I was introduced to Annie by my friend Allen Sack sometime around the cusp of the 1970s and '80s and we maintained a friendship that was a steady source of joy for me. We were with friends at the Head watching a Mets game when she proposed a version of West Side Story featuring the Mets instead of the Jets. She suggested,"When you're a Met, you're a Met all the way, from your first training camp to your last ball in play." Allen came up with "Ojeda, I just met a lefty, Ojeda!" My contribution was to have the players' wives and girlfriends get together during preparations for the World Series and having them sing, "They don't know how to play in the American, pitchers don't bat in the American, etc." That's now obsolete with the unfortunate universalization of the designated hitter rule.

Annie once unwittingly almost got me into a fight at the Head. It was a bitterly cold night. I came in and took the only vacant stool, at the corner of the bar nearest the door. To my left was a man I'd never seen before. Annie was around the corner, seated next to the wall. The stranger kept giving Annie, who was single at the time, pick-up lines, to which she responded politely but noncommitally. After a while, Annie said good night to all around her and went out the door. The stranger followed her and held the door open while he implored her to stay or to go with him. Annie continued to respond politely, though negatively, while freezing air billowed into the bar. Someone, probably the bartender, yelled, "Close the goddamned door!" Annie, hearing this, skedaddled. The stranger slammed the door shut and confronted me with "F--- you!" I was about to give a response along the lines of, "Sir, I'm not the one who complained, but I'm grateful to whoever did." Just then Nancy Duggan, a tough as nails redhead, came in and took the seat Annie had vacated. It was a classic instance of drawing fire. The guy turned from me to Nancy and deployed a line of breathtaking sophistication: "Hey, babe, you ever think about using your equipment?" Nancy shot back, in a voice approaching a snarl, "Ye-e-eah, I use it ALL the TIME." I decided this was a terrific time to visit the men's room. When I came out two minutes or so later, the guy was gone.

Yes, Annie could be, as the saying goes, kind to a fault. I don't doubt that, if she or someone for whom she cared (which was just about anyone) was in danger, she would have responded appropriately. She was a vital component of the Lion's Head scene, which proved vital to her in that she met her husband, Joe McDermott, there.

Goodbye, Annie. You are sorely missed.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Some thoughts on English and Portuguese history, an admirable woman, and two boroughs of New York City

Today King Charles III was crowned. This led me to think of the last British monarch to bear his name, Charles II (portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). He was more fortunate than his father, Charles I, whose reign ended with his beheading. The young Charles was sent into exile in France. He returned to England and was crowned in 1660; his reign lasted until his death in 1685

While he has been called the "Merry Monarch" his reign was far from untroubled. In 1665 a terrible plague struck England, and the following year saw the Great Fire of London. What caused tension throughout his reign was his sympathy for Catholicism, inherited from his father and undoubtedly strengthened during his French exile. 

In 1670 Charles entered into the Secret Treaty of Dover, in which he pledged to support France in its war against the Dutch Republic and to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified time (he did so, on his deathbed). This led to the Third Anglo-Dutch War, concluded in 1674 by the Treaty of Westminster, under which, among other things, the Dutch returned their colony of New Netherland to the English, who renamed it New York. 

New York City's Borough of Brooklyn, where I have lived for the past forty years, is co-extensive with the County of Kings, so named in honor of Charles II. Our neighboring County, and Borough, of Queens is named for his consort, Catherine of Braganza (portrait by Peter Lely, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). She was a Portuguese infanta, or princess, whose marriage to Charles at the age of 21 was, like almost all European royal marriages, diplomatically arranged. Her dowry included Bombay, now Mumbai, thereby helping to establish the British foothold in India. The marriage didn't get off to a good start. She developed a nosebleed and fainted when told that Charles had made his favorite mistress, Barbara Palmer, her Lady of the Bedchamber, or personal attendant. 

Despite this and many other discourtesies, Catherine remained faithful to Charles until his death. To his credit, Charles resisted entreaties to divorce her when she suffered three miscarriages and failed to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. After Charles died she remained in England through the short, unhappy reign of her brother in law, James II, and  the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, which sent James into French exile and gave the crown to his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, whose marriage had been arranged by Charles to placate Protestants and secure realtions with the Dutch. Under William and Mary, Protestant power was solidified by Parliament, which passed an "Exclusionary Act" barring Catholics from the throne. Catherine returned to Portugal in 1692, where she spent her later years active in affairs of state, serving on two occasions as regent for her brother, Peter II, and helping to secure a treaty between Portugal and England. She died in 1705 and is buried at the monastery of São Vicente de Fora.

As a Brooklynite I hate to say this, but, Queens, you got the better of the two royals.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Gordon Lightfoot (1938-2023), "Seven Islands Suite"

No, this isn't turning into a music blog. It's that every week lately seems to bring news of the death of a musician I've loved. I'm 77, so it's not surprising that many of the musical idols of my younger days,  of whom a good number were ten or so years older than me, are now reaching their actuarial expiry dates.

I loved Gordon Lightfoot both for the quality of his songs and for the fact that his voice was in a range I could handle. I've told this story before. In conversation with Lester Bangs of beloved memory, who disdained any music that wasn't a "full frontal assault", I confessed to liking Lightfoot. Lester gave a dismissive "Hmph!" He said something like, "I know Gord. Do you know what he does when he's trying to write a song and needs inspiration? He goes to a hardware store and stares at the labels on cans of paint." That night, when I got home to my apartment, I pulled out my Lightfoot albums and scanned the song titles for color imagery. None there. 

The video is of Lightfoot doing my favorite of his songs, "Seven Islands Suite", at Massey Hall, Toronto, in 1974.    

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Harry Belafonte, "Jamaica Farewell"

Harry Belafonte died last Tuesday at the age of 96. According to his New York Times obituary his singing career began while he was a teenager, and he began to be recorded in the early 1950s. His "Day-O (Banana Boat Song)", made it to the pop charts in 1957, but didn't do quite as well as an almost contemporaneously recorded version by the Tarriers, a folk group consisting of Alan Arkin (later better known as an actor), Bob Carey (who was Black, thereby making this the first well known racially integrated American folk group), and Erik Darling my pleasant encounter with whom you can read about here. The Tarriers' version is an amalgam of two Jamaican folk songs put together by the American folk singer and songwriter Bob Gibson, who had visited Jamaica. The songs were "Day-O" and one called "Hill and Gully Rider". I'm pretty sure the first version I heard had the "hill and gully rider" chorus, so likely was the Tarriers' version.

"Day-O" was included on Belafonte's album, Calypso, which was the first long playing album to sell a million copies. The video above is of Belafonte singing "Jamaica Farewell", which was also on Calypso and charted in 1957 after "Day-O".  It was written and composed by Irving Burgie, a Brooklyn native whose mother was from Barbados, and who wrote the lyrics for the Barbadian national anthem, "In Plenty and in Time of Need". He was a prolific songwriter, who wrote many more songs for Belafonte, some of which, like "Island in the Sun", became hits. He also performed as a singer, using the name "Lord Burgess".

There is some controversy over whether "Day-O", an adaptation, on which Burgie collaborated with Belafonte, of a Jamaican folk song, or "Jamaica Farewell", written by Burgie but considered part of a Jamaican folk tradition called mento, should be considered "calypso", a musical style that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. According to MasterClass, calypso "spread throughout the West Indies." MasterClass includes Belafonte in its list of "5 Notable Calypso Musicians" and calls "Day-O" calypso, no doubt because it shares calypso's call-and-response format and rhythmic structure. "Jamaica Farewell" lacks the call-and-response, but MasterClass calls mento a "subgenre" of calypso. "Origins of Mento", on, disputes this, arguing that while the two styles "share many similarities, they are separate and distinct musical forms."

One thing that cannot be disputed is that Harry Belafonte had a profound and lasting effect on American popular music, as well as that of other nations. His talent was not limited to singing. He also saw success as an actor, having met his close friend Sidney Poitier while they were both in an acting class, and as a television host. He is the only person to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Academy Award. The last was in a noncompetitive category; he was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his work to advance civil rights in the U.S. -- he became a close friend of and co-worker with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. -- and in South Africa, and for his efforts to provide relief for victims of famine and other disasters worldwide.

Update: read about an event in Belafonte's life, that helped to sharpen his commitment to civil rights, here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Born to Be Wild: Ann-Margret rocks!

Ann-Margret, at 81, has recorded "Born to be Wild", an album of covers of rock classics, with help from Pete Townshend, himself no spring chicken, among others. The clip above is of her doing the title song. The cover photo is from 1967, and shows her on a Triumph Tiger motorcycle. This New York Times story gives all the details.

Maybe there's still time for me, at 77, to realize some of my adolescent fantasies. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Happy Easter! Zissen Pesach! Ramadan Mubarak!

According to Magee Hickey on WPIX 11 Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, three important holidays of the three Abrahamic faiths, overlap only once every thirty years or so. This is one of those years. She quotes Rabbi Aaron Raskin of Bnai Avraham synagogue here in Brooklyn Heights:
"When all these holidays come together it's a time of unity ... [t]o see how we complement one another to see how we can work together to make the world a better place."
Holiday blessings to my Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends; to all others, enjoy a glorious spring.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

King's College Cambridge Choir, ""All Glory, Laud and Honour"

This morning's Palm Sunday service at Grace Church, Brooklyn began, as it customarily does, with the joyful hymn "All Glory, Laud and Honor", sung in the video above by the choir of King's College, Cambridge. Following the clergy and choir, we left our pews and sang it in procession, holding our palm fronds in one hand and our programs, with the lyrics, in the other. We sang, with help from the choir, as we left the sanctuary, went through the courtyard, and out along the sidewalk at Hicks Street.

The service ended on a somber note with "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded"; a hymn I associate with Good Friday. Ten years ago I posted a video of the Concentus Musicus Wien performing J.S. Bach's O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, from the St. Matthew Passion, which is the basis for "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded". In my commentary on that post, I noted that Bach had used a tune by Hans Leo Hassler. I also noted in that post that the tune was later used by Tom Glazer for "Because All Men Are Brothers" and by Paul Simon for "American Tune".

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Scarlatti Harpsichord Solo: The Cat's Fugue, Elaine Comparone

The prolific Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) wrote many single movement fugues for solo harpsichord. One of these, his Sonata in G Minor (K.30) became known as the Cat's Fugue because of a story that it was inspired by the sound made when Scarlatti's cat, Pucinella, walked across the keyboard. The rendition in the video above is by Elaine Comparone. Martha and I were once treated to a brief recital by Ms. Comparone at her apartment when a friend of both hers and ours who had retired to Cuernavaca, Mexico, was staying there during a visit. We have a Lyrichord CD of Ms. Comparone playing the Cat's Fugue along with other Scarlatti solo sonatas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sarah Stone plays Bach's Cello Suite No.1 - Prelude -- Happy Birthday J.S.!

In honor of Johann Sebastian Bach's 338th birthday, here is our friend and superb cellist Sarah Abigael Stone playing the prelude to his Cello Suite No. 1.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sane in the City by Sophie Malleret: a tribute to our friend, Barbara Cahn, 1952-2023

Barbara Cahn and her husband, Alan Ginsberg, have been treasured friends of Martha's and mine throughout our now almost thirty two year marriage. Yesterday we received from Alan the shocking and saddening news of her sudden, unexpected death. The video above, by Sophie Malleret and forwarded to us by Alan, gives a view of her activities in the LaGuardia Corner Garden and at her wheel in her pottery studio. She was a lover of all things beautiful and a superb artist, and brought joy into the lives of all who knew her. We miss her terribly.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Twelve days until Opening Day and things are looking bad for the Mets.

Edwin Diaz, arguably the best closer in Major League Baseball last season, has been lost for the entire 2023 season because of a knee injury he incurred in the celebration of Puerto Rico's victory over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. This comes shortly after starting left handed pitcher Jose Quintana, whom the Mets acquired off free agency during the off season, was sidelined until at least July by a rib lesion. This leaves the Mets likely with an entirely right handed starting lineup until Quintana's return. Since the injury to Diaz, centerfielder and lefty slugger Brandon Nimmo has been put on the DL with an ankle injury and is considered unlikely for the start of the season. 

Spring training still has some days to go, and already the Mets' injury list, in addition to the players mentioned above, includes relief pitchers Sam CoonrodBrooks Raley, and Bryce Montes de Oca. In one bit of heartening news, the Mets have acquired reliever Dennis Santana off waiver from the Twins.

As spring training continues and as the regular season unfolds, the Mets are bound to suffer more injuries; some to key players. Of particular concern are the aging starting pitchers Max Scherzer (38) and Justin Verlander (40), and outfielder/slugger Starling Marte (34).

Am I ready, this early, to give up on my hopes for the Mets this year? In June of 2008 I wrote a diatribe in which I gave up hope for that year's Mets. A month later I walked back that prediction. As it turned out, the Mets kept winning until near the end of the season, and had they won the final regular season game, would have had a one game playoff against the Brewers for the last NL post-season spot. Instead they lost that last game to the Marlins. Last year proved similar to 2008 except that the Mets were consistent winners through the season until September, when the Braves overtook them to win the NL East. This left them facing the Padres in a playoff for the wild card, which the Mets lost in three straight. 

Despite all, I'm sticking with the old saw, "Ya gotta believe!" 

Edwin Diaz photo: D. Benjamin Miller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 17, 2023

FourWinds FleadhTV TG4 The Rollicking Boys Around Tandragee

Four Winds is a band that does "Irish Traditional Music in a modern and creative context, while maintaining deep roots in the tradition." In the video above, they are, left to right, Daoiri Farrell, Tom Delaney, Caroline Keane, and Robbie Walsh. 

I wish you all beannachtaí na féile Pádraig, "blessings of St. Patrick."

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Malachy McCourt beats the Reaper

Laurie Gwen Shapiro, in this New York Times story, tells how Malachy McCourt, at age 91, was "kicked out of hospice for not dying quickly enough." He now looks forward to marching on St. Patrick's Day in his electric wheelchair. He also has, post hospice, "resumed his role as a co-host of a Sunday morning radio show on WBAI."

Ms. Shapiro tells of Malachy's long career as a bartender, bar owner, radio show host, actor, playwright, and autobiographical author. She doesn't mention his ownership, in the mid 1970s, of the Bells of Hell, which was my regular hangout from the summer of 1976, shortly after Malachy had sold it, until the fall of 1979, when it closed. I was told that during Malachy's ownership Con Ed had shut off the Bells' electricity several times because of overdue bills, which is why the Bells had an antiquated  mechanical cash register and a copious supply of candles. 

For many years, Malachy was an almost mythical figure to me. During my post Bells years of hanging out at the Lion's Head I got to know his brother Frank, from whom I heard, while we were sitting at the bar, some of the stories that later appeared in Angela's Ashes. I finally met Malachy, and enjoyed some pleasant conversation with him, about fifteen years ago at a party hosted by another Lion's Head alum, Jack Deacy, and his wife, Bonnie Stone.

In her reply to Dermot McEvoy's email yesterday to the listserv he maintains for Lion's Head alums, Mary Breasted Smyth told of how she met Malachy in 1972 at the Lion's Head when she and Malachy were being interviewed, on different subjects, by Ken Auletta. Mary's first book was Oh! Sex Education. Read the linked review and see how her book anticipated, from 1970, the controversies that political figures like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are exploiting today. In her reply to Dermot's email Mary mentions how Malachy lost his job as host of a radio program on WMCA when a listener called and asked Malachy's opinion about President Nixon's firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox (who was my Constitutional Law professor in 1968-69). Malachy's response was, "I'd say he's a right Cox-sacker!"

 Photo: David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Wayne Shorter, 1933-2023 - "Footprints"

"An important cog in the ever turning wheel of universal humanism has passed through leaving all he touched better than it was before. He was and will always be: purveyor of pentatonic perfection; master of blues inflected melodies; hero of vertical and horizontal harmonic implications, giant of saxophone regardless of register; improviser extraordinaire in any and all musical environments; mercurial wit and biting humorist with uncommon humility and depth of understanding, seer, reader, and interpreter of ancient and modern myth…..jazz messenger. Rest In Peace." - Wynton Marsalis

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Burt Bacharach, 1928-2023, "What the World Needs Now is Love"

Burt Bacharach, who died on Wednesday, had a peripatetic life. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, spent his teenage years in Forest Hills, Queens, New York City, began his formal musical education at McGill University in Montreal, then continued it in New York and California. He was "classically trained," with teachers who included composers Darius MilhaudHenry Cowell, and Bohuslav Martinů. He considered Milhaud, who was influenced by jazz and by Brazilian music, and who, according to Bacharach's NPR obituary encouraged him "to follow the kind of music he felt compelled to write," to have been his greatest influence. When he was 28 he got an early career boost when he became arranger and conductor for shows by Marlene Dietrich, and "traveled the world with her for over a decade."

The clip above shows Bacharach at the White House during a 2012 tribute to him and to his lyricist partner Hal David, who was unable to attend, and died later that year. He gives a spoken entry and sings the opening verse of "What the World Needs Now Is Love," which he then accompanies on piano while it is sung by Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, Michael Feinstein, Mike Myers, Lyle Lovett, Rumer, Sheléa, and Arturo Sandoval.

A myriad of singers have sung and recorded songs by Bacharach and David. A particular exponent of their works during the 1960s and '70s was Dionne Warwick. In the clip above (audio with a montage of photos) she sings "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (1964). Again from the NPR obituary, she rebutted the notion that Bacharach's compositions were "simple" by noting that song has frequent time signature changes.

Friday, February 03, 2023

Aly Bain with Jenna Reid - Sophie's Dancing Feet / Andy Brown's Reel

I had the pleasure, and honor, of meeting the great Shetland fiddler Aly Bain after a Boys of the Lough concert at Town Hall in the mid 1980s. My introduction was enabled by my date's having been his sister in law. In the video above he's joined by another fine exemplar of the Shetland fiddle tradition, Jenna Reid. They do a segue of two lively traditional fiddle tunes, "Sophie's Dancing Feet" and "Andy Brown's Reel." Backing them is a true all-star group of musicians: traditional Irish music stalwart Dónal Lunny on bouzouki, a Greek instrument that has become widely used in Irish music; Jerry Douglas, whose work on dobro guitar has spanned bluegrass, jazz, and Celtic music; Russ Barenberg, known for his contributions to old time and bluegrass music, on guitar; Phil Cunningham, a many talented Scottish musician known primarily as an accordionist but who here plays piano; and English multi instrumentalist Michael McGoldrick on whistle.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Go Iggles!

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!

UPDATE: It looks like I cursed them; never seems to fail. It was an exciting game, anyway. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

R.I.P. Tom Verlaine

Lately this blog has been a sad series of death notices of musicians I've loved: Jeff Beck, then David Crosby, and now Tom Verlaine, guitarist, singer, and songwriter of the band Television. Verlaine, born Thomas Miller, took his professional name from the French Symbolist, and later Decadent, poet Paul Verlaine. While Television was considered part of the punk rock scene that emerged in the mid 1970s, their style differed from the minimalistic three chord approach of groups like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. Verlaine and Television's other guitarist, Richard Lloyd, played complex runs that reflected jazz influences as well as, according to Verlaine, inspiration from surf guitar bands like the Ventures. You can hear them, along with Verlaine's vocal, on the clip above of Television's live performance of "Foxhole."

Saturday, January 21, 2023

How I learned to love David Crosby

The past few months have seen the passing of three musicians who profoundly influenced the development of rock music: Jerry Lee LewisJeff Beck, and now David Crosby, who died Wednesday at the age of 81. The clip above, made in 2018 when Crosby was in his late 70s, shows him, along with mandolinist Chris Thile, doing "Déjà Vu", the title song of the first (1970) album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

I first became aware of David Crosby in 1965 when I was nineteen and a student at the University of South Florida, and heard on the University Center café jukebox the Byrds' cover of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". What excited me was the "jingle jangle" of Jim (later called Roger) McGuinn's Rickenbacker guitar and the group's celestial singing harmony. I didn't know it at the time, but it was Crosby's high tenor and precise melodic sense that gave the harmonies their special quality. 

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. 

Jon Pareles, in the New York Times, provides a list of what he considers Crosby's "Fifteen Essential Songs". About "Mind Gardens" he writes:
"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

R.I.P. Jeff Beck; another rock great lost.

Certainly one of rock's most exciting guitarists, Jeff Beck, died today. In the clip above he plays "Little Wing" as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Vocal and drums are by Naranda Michael Walden.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Remembrances and appreciations, 2022

 On June 2, 1953, Coronation Day, I was with my parents and Rex, the bull terrier mix puppy I had been given as a seventh birthday present, at Stile End, a cottage built, if you believed what was on the doorpost, in 1597. We occupied half of the cottage, located at the edge of the village of Rushden in Hertfordshire. The other half belonged to its owners, a farm family named Warner. They were lovely people, and their daughter, Peggy, single and in her thirties, was my caretaker whenever my parents were out for a play in London or an event at the Officers' Club at Chicksands, the small outpost in Bedfordshire where my father, a U.S. Air Force captain, was stationed. 

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 BrookerLoretta LynnChristine Perfect McVieMeat LoafOlivia Newton-JohnAnita 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 AlleyAngela LansburyJames CaanWilliam 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 HerreraSam GilliamJennifer 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 EgolPierre SaadehMikel 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.

Homage to the King

Elvis Presley was born on this date, January 8, in 1935.

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

Wherein I connect Edward Hopper with Neil Diamond -- trust me!

Edward Hopper's "A Room in Brooklyn" (1932) came to me courtesy of my friend Adrian Rice. My first reaction was, "Wow! Here's a view of some row houses seen from a bay window, just as I have from mine here in Brooklyn." I've long been a Hopper fan, and eagerly await a visit to "Hopper in New York" at the Whitney Museum.  

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.

What I think happened was that someone at MCA, Neil Diamond's label at the time, thought that "Brooklyn Rows" would sound odd to the suburban detached houses or college dorms audience to whom the song would be pitched, so changed it to "Brooklyn Roads." This wouldn't be the first (or certainly last) time a record company exec would change a song's lyrics; consider how I think Columbia Records changed the Byrds' version of Welsh poet Idris Davies' "The Bells of Rhymney".

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Repast Baroque Ensemble performing music of the Italian baroque.

Martha and I have been fans of the Repast Baroque Ensemble; indeed, have been friends of the musicians, for almost a decade. This video shows them performing Fuggi dolente core ("Flee broken heart"), a sonata by the seventeenth century Italian composer, Biagio Marini. The musicians are, clockwise on the video: Amelia Roosevelt, violin (she plays two parts, recorded separately and synced for the video); Sarah Stone, viola da gamba; Gabe Shuford, harpsichord; and Stephanie Corwin, bassoon. Ms. Corwin's husband, Joseph Di Ponio, did the superb editing.

Repast has had a recent change in its core musician roster. In order to devote time to environmental and climate matters Ms. Roosevelt has yielded her position as first violinist to the equally capable Natalie Kress. Amie will remain very active with Repast as its executive director.

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

The Wayfarers: Appalachian roots music from Southeastern Ohio

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that my taste in music is wide ranging. It includes pre-baroque through contemporary "classical"* music, all kinds of jazz, folk (American, English, Irish, and Scottish), blues, R&B, soul, country, Cajun, rockabilly, calypso, surf, British invasion, punk, psychedelica, reggae, '70s and '80s rock, and (yes) hip-hop.

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. 

 * I put "classical" in scare quotes because I've long wondered what to call music composed in our times that is played to audiences in places like David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center. I asked my friend, the composer Theodore Wiprud, what music he and his contemporaries are making today is called. How can you call contemporary music "classical"? Ted said some call it "symphonic", but noted that much of it is made for small chamber groups or for solo instrumentation. I've also seen it called "serious" music, but I wouldn't want to be the one to tell Wynton Marsalis that jazz (or tell Mick Jagger that rock) isn't "serious." Same for "artistic." I'm left with "music I enjoy that doesn't fit any other category."