Sunday, March 31, 2024

Mets swept at home in season opening series

The Mets were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers in their season opening three game series at Citi Field. The last time the Mets began a season 0-3 was in 2014. That year they finished 79-83, tied for second in the NL East. Nothing great; but not disastrous. They did better than the fourth place finish that most pundits have predicted for the Mets this season. 
There's some reason for hope. Starter Kodai Senga is back to throwing in a recovery program that is said to be "making progress" and closer Edwin Diaz is back and has pitched one inning, allowing no runs and getting one strikeout. Still, injury problems keep cropping up. Tylor Megill, who is taking Senga's place in the starting rotation, was taken out of today's game after four innings, having struggled with control and feeling shoulder tenderness. He will get an MRI.

Along with problems on the mound, the Mets were weak at the plate. They were outscored 14-9, and had twenty hits to the Brewers' thirty one. In one respect the Mets were better: Mets batters struck out twenty one times to the Brewers' thirty. 

A reason to be upbeat is that so many times I've seen a hot start devolve into a "meh" season. My wife is a Red Sox fan. She believes it's a good sign if the Fenway lads struggle as the season begins. They're 2-2 now, in a three way tie for last in the AL East.  I guess she can feel cautiously optimistic, as do I about the Mets.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Pierce Turner, "Hail Glorious St Patrick"

Pierce Turner is an old friend from my days in the late '70s when I was a regular at a Greenwich Village club, the Bells of Hell, where Pierce and fellow Wexford native Larry Kirwan, as Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, were the house band for some time, playing songs that "mixed traditional Irish folk music with full-blown progressive rock."  Later they added a bassist and a drummer (as Turner & Kirwan, Larry banged a drum using a pedal while he played guitar and sang; Pierce played Moog and sang) and became The Major Thinkers. In 1985 Pierce returned to Ireland and began a very successful solo career as a singer and songwriter. Larry remained in New York, became frontman of Black 47, and later conceived and co-wrote the musical Paradise Square, which was nominated for ten Tony awards, including Best Musical. 

The song "Hail Glorious St. Patrick" is "[b]ased on a hymn that was first published in 1853, with words attributed to Sister Agnes, of the Convent of Charleville, County Cork." The music, according to Pierce, "is credited with being 'ancient' -- an apt description, as the melody is as familiar as your mother's scent -- it slips on like an old woollen winter coat, there is no avant-garde challenge." For his version, Pierce kept the chorus and second verse of the original, and "rewrote the rest updating the song for the 21st century, for a world where 'a new kind of evil has blinded our minds.'" 

Pierce's old partner, Larry, has this to say:
Pierce Turner is an Irish national treasure. So, what better man to reimagine Hail Glorious St. Patrick. This is a track for the ages. But don't just take it out for the big day -- it will sound great on the other 364 too. I'll be playing it.

Beannechtai na feile Padraig!  

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Flaco the Owl, 2010-2024

Flaco ("skinny" in Spanish, though he appeared anything but), a Eurasian eagle owl, was hatched in a sanctuary in North Carolina in March of 2010. Two months later he was taken to New York's Central Park Zoo, where he lived alone in an enclosure until February 2, 2023 when a vandal broke the screen and allowed him to escape. In the photo (Wikimedia Commons) he's peering through the window of poet, playwright, and lyricist Nan Knighton

During his year of freedom, Flaco was often seen in and around Central Park, though he occasionally ventured to other parts of the city. Not surprisingly, he became a local celebrity and favorite photographic subject. To the dismay of his many admirers, though to the relief of the local rat and pigeon populations (but they still have to contend with red-tailed hawks), yesterday Flaco was found dead on an Upper West Side sidewalk, apparently the victim of a collision with a building.

Adios, Flaco. Gracias for the joy you gave to so many during your flights around the city.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Peter Schickele ("PDQ Bach"), 1935-2024

Peter Schickele, who died Tuesday at 88, was a serious composer of "more than 100 symphonic, choral, solo instrumental and chamber works" who also did arrangements of folk music for Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie; however, somewhat to his regret, he was best known for a fictional character he invented, P,D.Q. Bach, the least known of Johann Sebastian Bach's myriad children. Schickele claimed to have discovered P.D.Q. and his works while serving as professor of music at the University of Southern North Dakota's branch campus at Hoople.

The clip above shows Schickele introducing P.D.Q. Bach's "Classical Rap," followed by audio of the piece. Schickele explains that P.D.Q. wrote it about a neighborhood in early 19th century Vienna, but that he modified it to describe life on Manhattan's Upper West Side. 

Martha and I were fortunate to attend several P.D.Q. Bach concerts some years ago. Most began when Schickele "slid down a rope suspended from the first balcony." If I recall correctly, the opening number for one was another favorite of New Yorkers, the Concerto for Horn and Hardart. For non-New Yorkers, Horn and Hardart was the company that owned the famous "Automat" restaurants.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Thomas Curtiss, Jr., 1941-2023

The photo is of one of the the last times Tom Curtiss and I were together, some years ago, when he and his husband, Charles Neeley, visited New York from L.A., and Martha and I had lunch with them at a Midtown restauruant.

Tom and I were classmates at Harvard Law School from 1967 to 1970.  He stood out in the photo book given to entering students because he was wearing a dress Marine Corps officer's uniform. It showed his home as Novelty, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We didn't have much contact during our first or second years. The third year we both joined a club for law students called Lincoln's Inn, named for one of the London Inns of Court. After we had been together there during meals and parties, he invited me to join a group that met in his large corner dorm room on Friday evenings to drink beer or cheap Scotch, socialize, and listen to tapes on his Akai reel-to-reel deck. These included Joan Baez's Farewell Angelina, Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home,and a collection of Wagner orchestral pieces, including the overture to Die Meistersinger

The gatherings at "Club 222," as we called it after Tom's dorm room number, were typically all male. Tom was known to date women from time to time. One, a fellow Clevelander, became known by the sobriquet "Long Suffering Kate." There was a proposal to open membership in Lincoln's Inn, which had been male only, to women. I was in favor. Tom said, "A woman should be a date on your arm, not a competitor for a seat at a table." Tom lost; women were admitted. 

Tom had the sort of background that, before I arrived in Cambridge, I feared most of my classmates would have, and that would make them consider me, a public school and state university graduate from the South, something of a yokel. He was a corporate executive's son with impeccable prep and Ivy credentials: Exeter and Yale. The friends he chose for Club 222 didn't conform to those specifications.  They were more like our class as a whole, except for the absence of women or Blacks, both of which groups were under-represented in our class.  They were almost all non-Ivy graduates, about half from state schools, and from middle class families with homes in various parts of the country.

As Tom and I spent more time together we found common interests beyond drinking and music. I was from a military family, and was in Army ROTC during law school as draft deferments for graduate students had ended the year I entered. Tom had deferred law school to join the Marines. He told me he had been accepted by both the Harvard and University of Virginia law schools during his senior year at Yale. When his four year Marine Corps tour of duty was almost over, he wrote to both schools, noting that he had been accepted before going on active duty, and asking if he could now attend. Virginia turned him down, saying their admission standards had increased, but Harvard said he was still welcome. Tom gave me some advice on what to expect during my active duty term. We also found a common passion in running. One time, after the party at 222 went later than usual, I collapsed on his couch. In the morning he said he was going for a run and invited me to join him. We ran down to the Cambridge bank of the Charles River, went about half a mile downstream, crossed to the Boston side, then ran back. We repeated this several times before graduation. 

I found a law firm in New York that was willing to take me on knowing I would have to leave for a possible two year Army commitment a year after graduation. Tom chose a firm in Los Angeles, a city he had come to love during his active duty Marine years. In October of 1970 I took my first vacation from my law firm and visited Tom in L.A., a city with which I was then unfamiliar. Tom was sharing an apartment with Joe, another Marine, Tom told me there's no such thing as an "ex-Marine"; one is a Marine for life. He suggested dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We got in his car and went a mile or so on the freeway, exited, and foud the restaurant closed. He said, "There's another not too far away." We got back on the freeway and went what seemed like three or four miles in the direction opposite from which we'd come. We had a delicious Mexican meal, and I gained an appreciation of what "not too far" means in L.A. terms.

The rest of our short visit Tom showed me the Santa Monica Pier and some things off the usual tourist trail. One of these was a sprawling outdoor farmers' market. Several years later he told me he had walked by a live poultry stand and spotted an unusual looking rooster. Intrigued, Tom bought him and took him to the backyard of the house he'd bought on Micheltorena Street, where he made a coop. Hearing his staccato crowing the next morning, Tom gave him the ironic name Chanticleer.

Over the succeeding years Tom and I got together in L.A. and New York several times, and once at a Law School reunion. After a succession of housemates, Charles Neeley became a constant. I began to suspect that Charles was more than a housemate when Tom called and said both of them would be staying in New York for a few days before leaving on a trip to Europe.  During that visit Martha had a commitment one afternoon, so Tom, Charles, and I took Cordelia (then known as Liz) in her stroller on a tour of SoHo and the Village. Martha developed an immediate liking for both Tom and Charles.

Their last visit to New York was about fifteen years ago. They went with Martha, Cordelia, and me to mass at Grace Church, and after to brunch at Jack the Horse Tavern, a favorite neighborhood spot named for a lake in Minnesota, the owner's native state. During brunch, I asked Tom if, during our law school years, he'd been so far in the closet he didn't know he was there. He said , "No"; he had known he was gay since his teens. He also said he'd had a discreet affair with one of the Club 222 members.

After brunch I invited Tom and Charles to join me on a walk down to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Tom regretted that he couldn't; he was bothred by neuropathy. After that his health went into decline, and our communications became, apart from Christmas cards, exclusively electronic. It came as no surprise when Charles announced his death on December 23.

Tom's and my friendship lasted over fifty years. We came from different backgrounds and had some differing views, but it was a friendship from which I believe we both benefited. I will miss him.

Friday, December 22, 2023

"Angels We Have Heard On High" by the Portland Choir and Orchestra

This is one of my favorite carols, in part because of how "the 'o' of 'Gloria' is fluidly sustained through 16 notes of a rising and falling melismatic melodic sequence" (Wikipedia). It is based on a French traditional carol and on the nativity story in Luke 2:1-20. In the clip above an arrangement by Mack Wilberg is performed brilliantly by the Portland (Oregon) Choir and Orchestra, conducted by David M. Thomas and featuring soprano soloist Emily Thomas.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Andy Irvine's "Never Tire of the Road," a tribute to Woody Guthrie

I've been neglecting the blog lately. It's a combination of work (yes, I still do that), helping to keep the Brooklyn Heights Blog - a labor of love - going, and reading my old friend and colleague Jim Woods' gripping mystery novel The Niantic Caper. Then I came across this video of Andy Irvine, a singer I admire, doing a song he wrote about Woody Guthrie, whom I also admire. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Andy some years ago, after a performance at the old Eagle Tavern on East 14th Street in Manhattan. I was introduced by my companion that evening, the now late Zane Berzins, who was possibly the only native of Latvia to be fluent in Irish Gaelic. I once asked her if Zane was the Latvian equivalent of Jane. She said, "No, it's more like Carol." I later learned that Martha, now my wife of over 33 years, was at the same performance. I had yet to meet her.

I hope you enjoy the song, with its references to the Dust Bowl, California, World War Two Merchant Marine service, and a chorus that's hopefully relevant today.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Queen Claude and Anne Boleyn

In my post about the global art market I noted that my given name, Claude, is gender neutral in French. Today, thanks to Tina Brown's review of Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the Marriage that Shook Europe, by John Guy and Julia Fox, I know there was a Queen Claude of France  (image above: School of Jean Clouet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). She was consort of King François I from 1515 until her death in 1524. During their nine years of marriage, she and the King had seven children. One of them succeeded his father as King Henri II.

The connection between Queen Claude and Anne Boleyn is, as Ms. Brown notes, that Anne served as the Queen's "teenage demoiselle" following her service as "maid of honor" to Margaret of Austria. About these youthful exposures to women in Continental courts, Ms. Brown quotes Mr, Guy and Ms. Fox, "Anne found herself in a world in which women could exercise power in strikingly different ways." This was, according to Ms. Brown, in contrast to "the dour, dutiful sewing circle serving Katherine of Aragon at the British court," to which Anne returned. She found Henry still in his unhappy marriage to Katherine, and Anne's younger sister Margaret as his favorite mistress. During and after the divorce from Katherine, he turned his attention to Anne. What ensued is well known. Ms. Brown notes that a special executioner "had been summoned from France" and that "the only remnant of Anne's Francophile influence was her executioner's axe."

The supreme irony is that, although a reason for Anne's execution was her failure to produce a male heir, her daughter, Elizabeth, eventually succeeded to the crown and became one of Britain's most revered monarchs.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris. "Hickory Wind"

The clip above is from Dj Pj-roc Reacts, a hip-hop Dj's exploration and appreciation of country music. It includes audio, with photo montages, of what is considered Gram Parsons' signature song, "Hickory Wind." It begins, following some commentary, with a version from late in his career that he sang with Emmylou Harris. Here's a link to a clip, audio only, of the original 1968 version from Gram's brief time with the Byrds, in which he appeared on their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Today's New York Times has this story by Lindsay Zoladz, in which she argues for a new focus on Gram's role as, if you'll pardon my use of a fashionable buzz-word, a disruptor. She quotes Gram's friend, Keith Richards, in his autobiography, written with James Fox, Life, that Gram "changed the face of country music, and he wasn't around long enough to find out."

Addendum: before her story linked above was published in the Times, Lindsay Zoladz had a piece in the paper's "Amplifier" column,  The Legend of Gram Parsons in 12 Songs in which she links to videos of performances of his songs she considers most memorable. Ten of them feature Gram on vocal and guitar, either solo or with groups he was in: the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, in chronological order. One is by Elvis Costello: "I'm Your Toy," his re-titled cover of "Hot Burrito #2"; the other is Emmylou Harris' heart wrenching version of "Boulder to Birmingham."

While Gram was still in high school he played in several rock bands and later in an acoustic folk group, the Shilohs. His stepfather, Bob Parsons, opened a "teen age night club" called the Derry Down in downtown Winter Haven, in large part to provide a venue for Gram and his groups to perform. In 2016 I attended the grand re-opening of the Derry Down, featuring a Cosmic American Music Festival. "Cosmic American Music" was what Gram called his style, which combined elements of country. rock, blues, and soul. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Does being romanticized in a 1960s or '70s pop song spell present day disaster for a city?

I wonder how many of my fellow Baby Boomers, on hearing of the dreadful earthquake that struck southern Morocco, had this 1969 Crosby, Stills & Nash song playing in their heads.

I also wonder if, over the past week or so, some of us have had this 1973 Loggins & Messina song in our heads.

I hope this Scott McKenzie song from 1967 doesn't portend another Big One for the Bay Area (or, for my Tampa friends, the Other Bay Area).

That terrible events may have summoned these songs from memory doesn't diminish my horror at the loss of thousands of lives and homes, as I'm sure it doesn't for others. Indeed, in my instance, it increased it. If you would like to contribute to relief for the victims of the Morocco earthquake, you may donate here; to contribute for victims of the Maui wildfires, you may donate here.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Secrets of the global art market, revealed through family drama.

The painting above, Caravaggio's "The Lute Player,"circa 1596 (image: Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons), now on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is part of the vast collection of the Wildenstein family. This New York Times story by Rachel Corbett tells how two women, Sylvia, widow of Daniel Wildenstein and Jocelyne, widow of his son Alec, were cheated out of their inheritances by claims that, in Alec's case he was penniless because he had been an upaid assistant to his father, and in Daniel's that he had amassed ruinous debts. Jocelyne, who lived with Alec in New York, retained lawyers here and got a judge to rule that Alec's claim of poverty "insults the intelligence of the court." This resulted in a very favorable settlement for Jocelyne, reported to be in the low billions.

The Times story focuses on Sylvia's case. It begins with her stepsons (Daniel's by an earlier marriage) Alec and Guy convincing her to give up her inheritance, which she did readily given a promise that she would be taken care of financially. A matter of particular concern to her was the family's stable of thoroughbred horses, which Daniel had entrusted to her care and which she considered her "babies." After some time she got word they were being raced under a name other than "Mme. Wildenstein"; that of a company owned by her stepsons. This spurred Sylvia to consult a lawyer, Claude Dumont Beghi (a woman; I learned that "Claude" can be either a man's or a woman's name in French when a philosophy professor told me I had the same name as his wife), who sent a letter denying that ownership of the horses had been transferred.

What Dumont Beghi heard from Sylvia concerning her renunciation of her inheritance convinced her, in the words of the Times story, that "there was more going on than a dispute over horses." With Sylvia's permission, Dumont Beghi began an investigation, described in detail in the Times story, that led to a court order undoing the renunciation because, based in part by evidence from Jocelyn's case, it was procured by fraud. 

For me the most interesting, and disturbing, fact that is disclosed in the Times story, not a secret but a little known fact except by those involved in the art or other valuable goods markets, is the existence of "free ports" which "allow traders [including art merchants] to ship and store property without paying taxes or customs duties." The free port at Geneva, Switzerland is "the size of 22 soccer fields" and "is said to contain more art than the Louvre." There are six more free ports, in Zurich, Luxembourg, Singapore, Monaco, Delaware and Beijing. My objection to these free ports, in addition to their denying revenue to governments, is that in some, perhaps many, instances significant art works may languish in them for many years. A buyer who is a speculator may put a purchased work there and leave it until offered an attractive price. If the second buyer is also a speculator, the work may remain locked up, possibly for years, until another attractive offer materializes, and so on. The argument for free ports is that they greatly reduce transaction costs, thereby making it easier to buy and sell artworks. In and of itself, this is a benefit to artists or to their estates, so long as the artists or their heirs don't mind their works being hidden from sight, perhaps for a very long time. 

I also learned from the Times story that the Wildensteins held a substantial number of paintings, perhaps 180 out of the estimated 700 or so the artist had produced, by a painter I admire, the French "post-impressionist" (it seems now that everything artistic is "post" something) Pierre Bonnard. In 2009 I saw an exhibition of his paintings and drawings at the Met, "Late Interiors," and posted about it here. The photo at left, which comes from another post about "Late Interiors" in Carol Gillott's "Paris Breakfasts" blog, shows Bonnard at work, using his unconventional technique of painting while his canvas is fastened to a wall,

Bonnard died in 1947. His wife predeceased him and they had no children. According to the Times story, his most proximate heirs were "three estranged nieces-in-law." Daniel found another relative with a colorable claim, bought his inheritance rights for $1 million, and funded a lengthy lawsuit on his behalf that led to a settlement in which Daniel acquired 500 paintings and the nieces got 25, though "Daniel promised them more to avoid further litigation." The Times story tells how Dumont Beghi and an appraiser went to the Geneva Free Port to examine the Bonnards kept there by Daniel. She found there paintings by an artist "known above all for his radiant use of color" that were "locked behind an armored door" in a "gloomy bunker."

As an example of Bonnard's "radiant use of color" consider his "Corner of the Dining Room at Le Cannet" (Pierre Bonnard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

So it is that three determined French women, two widows, Jocelyne and Sylvia Wildenstein, whose late husbands' family tried to cheat them of their inheritances, and one very conscientious and thoroughgoing lawyer, Claude Dumont Beghi, broke through what the Times story (which you should read to get the full detail and flavor) calls the Wildensteins' "code of omertà" and, in so doing, brought to light the shadowy corners of the global market for fine art works.

Jimmy Buffett, "A Pirate Looks at Forty"

His New York Times obituary calls him a "rougish bard of island escapism." According to his website, "Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs."

The video above is of my favorite of his songs, "A Pirate Looks at Forty," a wistful mid-life take on what he'd seen and done and what he wished for. I liked his melange of country and calypso, and his commitment to the environment. Fair winds, Jimmy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

A bold prediction; a chastened update.

 The Mets will be a better than .500 team for the rest of the season; this despite what appears to be a daunting schedule. It won't be enough to make the playoffs, but may at least lift them to third in the Eastern Division.

Why? Because of something I suggested in a post seven years ago. They will no longer be burdened by expectations. I've seen them display this sort of resilience in the past when, say, a key player suffered an injury, and the rest of the team responded with better play.

Update: call me a cock-eyed optimist. Since I posted this, and since the departures of Scherzer, Verlander, and Canha, the Mets are 0-6 with a combined score of 14-39. So much for resilience. Coming up is a three game series with the Cubs, followed by four with the Braves; hardly encouraging. It would be like the Mets to confound me and suddenly get hot, unlikely as that seems. Please, let me be confounded.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sinead O'Connor - Oro Se do Bheatha Bhaile, an Irish Rebel Song

Thanks to my long time friend Dermot McEvoy for sharing with me and many more of the old Lion's Head crew this clip of Sinead O'Connor singing Óró Sé do Beatha ‘Bhaile. Dermot noted that the song was written by Padraig Pearse. one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. In a post in 2012 I gave a link to Sinead singing "The Foggy Dew," a song about the 1916 Rising, In the post, I told how Pearse, and thirteen other of the leaders of the Rising, were executed by firing squad in the courtyard of Kilmainham Gaol.

Looking for an English trnslation of Óró Sé do Beatha ‘Bhaile, I found there are two versions. of which Pearse's is the second. Pearse's version, written just before the Easter Rising, imagines an Irish army, led by the "pirate queen" Grace O'Malley (also known as "Grainne," 1530-1603), coming to free Ireland from British rule. The earlier Jacobite version evidently expresses a desire for "young Charles," grandson of the deposed Stuart (and Catholic) King James II, to come to Ireland "[w]ith French and Spanish volunteers" to overthrow British rule. Unfortunately for the Irish nationalists, Bonnie Prince Charlie's 1745-46 campaign ended in Scotland with his army's defeat at Culloden.

In my email to Dermot thanking him for the link to Sinead's version of Óró Sé do Beatha ‘Bhaile, I called it "poweful" and noted that it brought to my mind the concluding line of William Butler Yeats' "Easter, 1916": "A terrible beauty is born."

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Tony Bennett - "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams"

If you've wondered what Tony Bennett's first hit was, this is it.

He was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto (the late British humor magazine Punch did a fake Italian to English phrasebook in which both Basso Profundo and Tempo Rubato were translated as "Tony Bennett's real name") in Long Island City, Queens, on August 3, 1926 to Giovanni and Anna Benedetto, who both came from Calabria, in southern Italy. Giovanni (later John) arrived as an immigrant at age 11. Anna was a native born Amrican, having arrived in the womb. 

Despite his most remembered song being "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", Tony Bennett was devoted to his native New York. At the age of ten his music teacher arranged for him to sing with Mayor Fiorello La Guardia at the opening of the Triborough (now Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge.  Later, he began to get paying gigs, but his budding career was interrupted when he was drafted, He served in the Army in Germany, was involved in combat in the late days of the war, and was among the troops who liberated the Landsberg concentration camp.

Back in New York after the war, he began to get work as a singer in night clubs, using the stage name Joe Bari, a name he took from a port city in southern Italy. He was working at a club in Greenwich Village when the owner offered to make Pearl Bailey his headline act. She agreed, but only if he kept Joe Bari as her opening act. One night Bob Hope (I've given a link to Bob Hope on the optimistic theory that I might have one or two Gen Z readers who have never heard of him, even from their Gen X parents) was there to hear Ms. Bailey, and ws so impressed by Joe Bari that he offered to make him the opener for his show at the Paramount Theater. The conditon was a change of name; Mr. Hope didn't like the name Joe Bari. After a bit of rumination on "Anthony Benedetto," he came up with "Tony Bennett," 

At this point I could write, "The rest is history," but I want to mention a couple of perhaps lesser known facts about Tony Bennett's life. The first is his committment to the struggle for civil rights for Black people, perhaps springing in part from his friendly relationship with Ms. Bailey, and also with Harry Belafonte. He joined the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama civil rights march in 1965 and sang with many other stars at a rally near the end of the march.

The other relates back to his love for New York, as well as for children and for the arts. He and his wife provided the funds to establish a high school for the arts in New York City. In a typical gesture of humility, they insisted that it be named for his friend, Frank Sinatra.

Perhaps the best summing up of Tony Bennett's personality is this passage from his New York Times obituary, linked above, that quotes Simon Hattenstone in the Guardian
“He mythologizes himself, name-drops every time he opens his mouth, directs you to his altruism, is self-congratulatory to the point of indecency. He should be intolerable, but he’s one of the sweetest, most humble men I’ve ever met.”

Thursday, July 13, 2023

I can't give up on the Mets


The All Star Break is a traditional time to assess a team's performance and its prospects for the rest of the season. On May 21 I expressed optimism based on the Mets' seeming to have recovered from a deep slump that, in typical fashion, followed a hot start. That optimism was quickly proved unfounded as the Mets went into a vertiginous tailspin that included a three game sweep by their divisional archrivals, the Braves. 

Recently, they showed some improvement. Their record over the last ten games before the break is 6-4. Still, at the break they are in fourth place in their division, six games under .500, and 18.5 games behind the NL East leading Braves. They are also ten games behind the second place Marlins and six behind the third place Phillies. There is still a miniscule chance they could be a wild card team but, "Ya gotta believe!" aside, it stretches credulity.

Nevertheless, I'm yet to be in a funk as bad as I was in June of 2008. The presence of a very deep pocketed owner who is happy to sign checks but by and large willing to let the baseball pros make decisions, even if they're not always the best decisions, helps. I also took some cheer from this New York Times column by David Brooks. No doubt I'll take some brickbats from my compatriots on the left for this, but I've long liked David Brooks. Knowing he's a fellow Mets fan confirms and strengthens my liking him. We disagree on some very important things, principally that described by David Coates here:
"David Brooks’ recent essay on 'The Character Factory' would have us believe that 'nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children' while 'nearly every government anti-poverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t.'”
It's the statement about anti-poverty or, as I think of them, "safety net" policies, not that about parents, with which I disagree. I'll have more to say about that in a future, non-baseball post. I must also note that there are some things, other than Mets fandom, about which I agree strongly with Brooks; for example, I believe in, and identify with, his notion of a "second mountain," on which I find myself now.

I've ascribed my Mets fandom to a penchant for supporting underdogs, one that, in baseball, was first manifest in my decision to cheer for the Brooklyn Dodgers -- I lived nowhere near Brooklyn at the time -- in the 1955 World Series against the Yankees. It was re-awakened in 1985 when I attended my first Mets game with my friend Pat Carroll, who said, "What you have to know about the Mets is that they're the Brooklyn Dodgers continued by other means." (I have friends who were New York Giants fans in their childhood who would dispute that claim.)  My timing was impeccable; the following year I got to see the Mets win their second, and to date last, World Series. 

At 77, I think I have a fair chance of living long enough to see another Mets championship. If I do, it's likely to come about in a way that can be described by the adjective used by their first manager, Casey Stengel, to describe a first season expansion team that set new records for futility, "Amazin'.


Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Alan Arkin, folk singer (and more), 1934-2023

Alan Arkin, who died last Thursday at 89, was blessed with many talents. Before his career as an actor began in earnest he played guitar and sang as part of a folk group called the Tarriers, who were formed from a group of musicians who would gather in Washington Square Park in the mid 1950s to play and to share songs. You can read more about the Tarriers and about my encounter with Erik Darling, who had been a member of the group, here 

A big break came for the Tarriers when Art D'Lugoff, music promoter and owner of the Village Gate cabaret, asked them to back Vince Martin on "Cindy, Oh Cindy."  (You can read about my duet with Vince, which came courtesy of Rick Danko, here.) The song was co-written by Robert Nemiroff and D'Lugoff's brother, Burt, under the pseudonyms Robert Barron and Burt Long. The record was released in 1956 and reached the top ten in the pop chart that year. It was quickly covered by Eddie Fisher, whose version also charted. In my memory, I associate the song with Boy Scout camp in the summer of 1957. Here's the Martin/Tarriers version, with Arkin on guitar and harmony vocals:

The Tarriers followed "Cindy" on their own in early 1957 with "The Banana Boat Song" which made it to number four on the pop chart. Almost contemporaneously, Harry Belafonte released "Day-O (Banana Boat Song)" which charted at number five, but is better remembered than the Tarriers' version today. Here's the Tarriers' version:


Note that the record label lists the authors of the song as "Arkin-Carey-Darling." Bob Carey, who along with Arkin and Darling made up the Tarriers, was Black. I had assumed that he was the lead vocalist on "Banana Boat," but in this interview he said it was Arkin.

Carey also said that the Tarriers, with the lineup of himself, Arkin, and Darling, did a version of "Tom Dooley" that predated the hit version by the Kingston Trio. On this, Carey had the lead vocal

Alan Arkin left the Tarriers in 1958 to pursue his acting career. I have little to add to all that has been written about that, other than to mention that I especially enjoyed his portrayal of the anti-hero Yossarian in Catch-22 (1970), directed by Mike Nichols.and based on the 1961 novel by Joseph Heller.

Arkin excelled as a director as well as as an actor. He directed another "dark comedy," Little Murders, by Jules Feiffer, first as an award winning off Broadway stage production, then as a 1971 movie in which he also played a role as an hysterical policeman. I used Little Murders as the opening theme in my 2008 attempt to answer the question, "What is Art?"

Alan Arkin brought his keen mind and artistic sense to whatever he did. He will be sorely missed.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Some thoughts concerning the legacy of Daniel Ellsberg (1931-2023)

First, I consider Daniel Ellsberg a hero. He broke the law. but did so not out of desire for personal gain but to expose to the public a pattern of deception concerning U.S. involvement in Vietnam that spanned both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations. He was willing to face the legal consequences of his action, which could have included a long prison sentence. Largely because of prosecutorial misconduct, the charges against him were dismissed. He spent the rest of his long life in a campaign to warn against the danger of nuclear war. 

My first reaction on learning of Ellsberg's death was sorrow. Soon after, though, it struck me that his re-emergence into public consciousness could provide an argument, in the form of "whataboutism," for those defending the former President's purloining of classified documents. I believe the cases are easily distinguishable. Ellsberg's motive was clear, and while his disclosure didn't reflect well on some government and military officials, "there was not a single secret damaging to national security" anywhere in the Pentagon Papers, as is admitted by Gabriel Schoenfeld in a New York Times opinion piece that is otherwise critical of Ellsberg's disclosure. Schoenfeld puts his thumb on the secrecy-as-"crucial"-adjunct-to-statecraft side of the scale; I put mine on the transparency-except-where-vitally-necessary side.

Former President Trump's motive for taking classified documents isn't clear. Bill Barr, his own Attorney General, attributes it to Trump's narcissism. Mark Esper, who served as Trump's Secretary of Defense, said that Trump's action not only endangered national security but put service members' lives at risk.

"Whataboutism" aside, what troubled me more deeply was the contribution that Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers had made, if unwittingly, to a corrosive cynicism about the very legitimacy of our liberal small "d" democratic system of government. As David Brooks puts it in his Times essay:
"This cynical attitude has become pervasive in our society. Proper skepticism toward our institutions has turned into endemic distrust, a jaundiced cynicism that says: I’m onto the game; it’s corruption all the way down."

Ellsberg responded to this concern when he was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour three months ago: 

"I.F. Stone, the journalist, used to say, 'All governments lie, and nothing they say is to be believed.' That doesn’t mean that everything they say is a lie. It does mean that anything they say could be a lie, and it’s not the last word. You have to look for other sources of information and check it against your common sense."

If the National Weather Service tells me a hurricane is headed my way, "common sense" tells me to take precautions without looking "for other sources of information." Still, I think Ellsberg's advice is generally correct. We should be skeptical without being cynical.

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 Carlos Carrasco 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.