Friday, December 23, 2011

Sting, "There is no Rose of Such Virtue"

One of the songs associated with the Advent season and Christmas that I've come to appreciate later in life is "There is no Rose of Such Virtue", also known by the title Rosa Mystica. Here it is sung by Sting, also playing oud, and with choral and orchestral accompaniment, at Durham Cathedral, England, in September 2009. Clip thanks to Aliceclypsis.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Country & Northern

A few days ago a friend, whose judgment I respect, posted this on Facebook:
I am more than a little bit tired of Canadian pop stars because they are seriously wack. When was the last time Canada sent us a decent musical artist???? Think back. WAY back. It was Corey Hart or maybe early Bryan Adams. Everything since then? WACK.
I could've responded with Arcade Fire as a counter-example, but instead chose Kathleen Edwards doing her hockey song, "You Get the Glory, I Make the Dough." My friend's response was:
And Claude Scales, in the time that I've known you I've found that you have SUPERB taste in music, but this Kathleen Edwards? She lost me at the "I'm a Ford Tempo, you're a Ma[s]erati..." No. Just, no. I'm a purist; I like my country music sung by folks below the Mason Dixon line.
Well, being an Air Force brat, I spent much of my childhood and youth below the Mason Dixon line, but my earliest memories of country music were from the radio at my grandmother's in Pennsylvania, or on the road across Ohio on the way to my father's family home in Indiana.

And, yes, as I learned later in life, there was country music north of the border as well. One of the most admired country music stars of the 1950s and '60s, Hank Snow, was born and raised in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Geologically speaking Nova Scotia is part of Appalachia; it would seem to be culturally as well.

The clip above (thanks to PeterRabbit59) shows Hank, with the Rainbow Ranch Boys, doing "I'm Moving On." You do have to endure a lengthy introduction by a guy from Arkansas who admits to having been influenced by Hank (and who, near the beginning of his talk, seems inexplicably to refer to Hank as a "lady"; well, he does wear a pink Nudie suit).

I can't give up on Ottawa's favorite daughter, Kathleen Edwards, either. Here she is (courtesy of building55), doing what I think is a first-rate country-rock song, "Change the Sheets," at Stephen Talkhouse, Amagansett, Long Island, July 17, 2010.

k.d. lang (she spells her name in all lowercase) is from the high plains of eastern Alberta, and her songs sound as expansive as that wide-open country. Listen to "Big, Big Love," courtesy of TheLangChannel.

I could go on, but I'll close with "Early Morning Rain," a song that touches on many country music themes: getting drunk, riding freight trains, longing for an absent lover. It's performed here by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, who begin with some talk about the breakup of their long marriage and musical partnership, which hasn't affected their friendship or ability to sing together. They're joined on the last verse by the song's author, Gordon Lightfoot (forgive me, Lester Bangs). Ian and Sylvia, and Lightfoot, are usually classified as "folk" musicians, but, heck, it's a fine line.
I walked down there and ended up
In one of them coffee-houses on the block
Got on the stage to sing and play
Man there said, “Come back some other day
You sound like a hillbilly
We want folk singers here”
--Bob Dylan, "Talkin' New York"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More morning walk photos: focus on maritime heritage.

This photo is from a walk a couple of weeks ago. It shows the small tanker Commencement taking on bunkers from the barge Double Skin 32, brought to her side by the tug Oyster Creek. Commencement is docked at Port Authority Brooklyn Pier 7, near the foot of Atlantic Avenue. In recent years, it received ships carrying bagged cocoa beans, but it is now leased by a beer distributor which doesn't, to my knowledge, take cargo from ships there. It does serve as an occasional dock for ships, like Commencement, taking on fuel or perhaps just needing a parking space between charters. I took the photo from Pier 6, which is now part of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

This photo, and the rest on this post, is from my walk this past Saturday. This was taken at the Atlantic Avenue entrance to Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park.

After walking the edges of Pier 6, I took the path northward that leads to Pier 1. On the landward side of the path, near Pier 5, which is being made into athletic fields, I saw these bollards, forlorn reminders of when the pier was an active dock.

This is the ruin of Pier 4, which once received barges carrying freight cars from the railroad terminals in New Jersey.

The skeleton of the cargo shed on Pier 2 remains. It will be re-covered to house indoor athletic facilities.

The East River is actually a tidal strait that connects two arms of the Atlantic Ocean: New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. The tide was low during my Saturday walk. I believe that the greenish strip of rocks in the middle of this photo marks the normal high to low tide variance, while the grayish strip to its right marks the extent of two recent unusually high tides: one during Hurricane Irene, and the other a more recent "king tide", when the moon's and sun's gravitational pulls were combined.

The tops of these pilings were barely above water during Hurricane Irene and the "king tide." While most of Pier 1 was made into parkland, the deck of the southernmost portion was stripped off to expose the pilings, which provide a habitat for marine life and resting places for sea birds. The buff masts and spars towering over the white high speed ferry on the Manhattan side of the East River belong to the bark Peking, part of the South Street Seaport Museum's collection of historic ships and boats.

Saturday was the date for SantaCon NYC, and a crowd of hipsters in Santa garb thronged South Street Seaport's Pier 17.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lionel Train display at New York City Transit Museum Annex, Grand Central Terminal

The first Christmas I can remember--I think I was three--was when I was given a Lionel train set. It's still at my parents' house in Tampa, packed away. My daughter, now eighteen, wants it someday. She'll get it.

Every year the Transit Museum's Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal has an elaborate Lionel layout on display during the holiday season. The clip above, which I made this past Thursday, shows this year's version. It features a mock downtown Manhattan, complete with Brooklyn Bridge, as well as some rural, mountainous territory.
There are also static displays of historic Lionel trains along the walls of the gallery. The steam (top) and electric (bottom) trains shown in the photo above probably were made in the 1920s or '30s.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

iPod Log 6

I haven't done one of these for a couple of years. These are the pieces of music I heard on my morning walk from my apartment to Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and back, yesterday morning. I've included photos of what I was seeing while listening to each piece. Where I've been able to find them, I've included links to video clips in the text.
Jimmy Cliff, "The Harder They Come." The title song from Cliff's 1972 movie makes a teriffic starter for my morning jaunt, and sustains me through 35 push-ups.
Siegel-Schwall Band, "Leavin'." Siegel-Schwall was one of the many electric blues bands formed in the late 1960s. There's no video of "Leavin'", but here's Corky Siegel doing solo harp and vocal at the Ladder House, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on February 20, 2009.
Tom Rush, "Statesboro Blues." Tom Rush is one of my favorites of the generation of folkies that came to prominence in the middle 1960s. On one of his early albums he does an excellent cover of Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues". There's no video of Rush doing this song, but there is of him singing his own "No Regrets".
Bessie Smith, "Gimme a Pigfoot."
At the break of day,
You can hear old Hannah say,
Gimme a pigfoot, and a bottle of beer...
Bessie Smith is regarded perhaps second only to Robert Johnson as an influence on the development of the blues as a musical style. There's no video of "Gimme a Pigfoot," but here she is doing "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."
Scott Joplin, "Sunflower Slow Drag", by the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, Gunther Schuller, conductor. My iPod reaches back further in the history of American popular music for an orchestral arrangement of a Scott Joplin rag. Here's a piano roll version of the same tune.
George Gershwin, "Piano Concerto in F, Movement III", by Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone. This comes from the album Virtuosi (Concord 2105-2), on which Burton (vibes) and Ozone (piano) do pieces ranging from Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) to Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) to Gershwin (1898-1937) to Jorge Cardoso (b. 1945), and an original piece by Ozone. There's no video of them doing Gershwin, but here's their take on Scarlatti's Sonata in E (K20). Here's the Gershwin with full orchestra and piano (NHK Symphony, Marek Janowski conducting; Peter Jablonski, piano).
The Dovells, "You Can't Sit Down." You may have noticed that my iPod has, so far, followed a more or less sensible progression, from reggae to late '60s electric blues to mid-60s acoustic folkie blues to 1920s jazzy blues to ragtime to jazz influenced classical music. Now we have an abrupt shift to mid-'60s Philly R&B. I first heard this song when I was with the Robinson High debate team at a tournament at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Some of my teammates and I were having burgers and milkshakes at the student union cafe, which had a jukebox and dance floor, when the song came on. A couple who looked like they stepped out of a Norman Rockwell illustration of typical American youth--he with a perfectly coiffed ducktail and pegged khakis, she with a tartan skirt and saddle Oxfords with bobby sox--took the floor and danced very energetically, twirling vigorously, and he once lifting her by the waist and swinging her overhead. This song is notable for its perhaps earliest uses of "hippie" and "hip hop" in american pop culture parlance.
Terry Allen, "Truckload of Art."
Yes, an important art work was thrown burning to the ground,
Tragically landing in the weeds,
And the smoke could be seen for miles around,
But nobody knows what it means.
From '60s Philly R&B we go to 1979 Texas tongue-in-cheek country. Hear it here. Apologies to Kei Andersen, Mark Crawford, Mike Sorgatz, and any other artist friends who may be offended by this.
Fleetwood Mac, "One Together." This is a cut (of which, unfortunately, there's no video) from Kiln House, one of my favorite albums despite its less than enthusiastic critical reception. One Rolling Stone writer characterized it as "Buddy Holly obsessed"; in my opinion, to paraphrase Yellowman, Buddy Holly is a nice obsession.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Reyes to Marlins

Huffington Post
I can't say I was surprised. Like so many things concerning the Mets, I have mixed feelings about this. He's a great player when he's not on the DL, though sometimes inclined to surprising lapses in judgment, both on defense and on the basepaths. Since he's staying in the NL East, I'll get lots of chances to test the curse of the ex-Met theory.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Corries, "Flower of Scotland": happy St. Andrew's Day

During the summer of 1975, after driving down from Ullapool, taking the ferry from the Kyle of Localsh to Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye (there was no bridge until 1995), and spending a long day touring around Skye, I checked into a hotel at Portree, had dinner, and retired at about 9:55. At 10:00, I was on the verge of sleep when the public bar downstairs closed, and the local people who had spent the evening there came out, gathered in the parking lot not far from my window, and sang "Flower of Scotland" in lovely, ale-and-whiskey-aided harmony. The version in the clip above, thanks to Iain40, is of the Corries doing the song, probably during that same year, in a fairly intimate setting in front of a fire that may account for the hazy quality of the video.

November 30 is the feast day of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"O come, o come Emmanuel"

Today marks the start of the season of Advent, and the beginning of a liturgical new year. Veni Emmanuel, typically sung at the beginning of Advent, is a hymn that has always sent shivers down my spine, even though I sometimes do a Spoonerism in the first verse, changing "that mourns in lonely exile" to "that lorns in moanly exile" (which actually sort of makes sense). In the clip above, thanks to Ikje86, it's sung by the choir of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Your correspondent suffers an identity crisis, of sorts.

My wife is a genealogy buff, and has made enthusiastic use of the resources of For the past month or so, she's been doing research on her mother's family. Her mom was the daughter of Newfoundlanders who emigrated to the North Shore of Massachusetts early in the past century, along with many who came to work in the fisheries at Gloucester or the General Electric plant at Lynn--"the G.E.", as my wife always calls it.

Recently, though, following a visit to my mother's home in Florida, she turned her attention to my family tree. Thanks to her initial research, I can now add Tennessee, birthplace of my great grandmother Sarah Napier Scales, to the list of states in which I have ancestral roots. The others are Indiana (birthplace of my father and his parents), Pennsylvania (birthplace of my mother, her mother, and her mother's parents), California (birthplace of my maternal grandfather), Illinois and Missouri (birthplaces of my maternal grandfather's father and mother, respectively).

What's caused the identity crisis is that her research also showed that my paternal grandfather's name was Claude Marion Scales, not Claude Moreland Scales. I've always given my full name, when asked, as Claude Moreland Scales, III.* Indeed, that's what's on my birth certificate, which identifies my dad as Claude Moreland Scales, Jr., the name he always, to my knowledge, used. But if Grand-dad, a kindly man whose only words I can recall, probably from the last time I saw him when I was about twelve, were, "That boy's growin' like a weed", had Marion as his middle name, then dad wasn't a "Jr." and I'm a "Jr." not a "III." Not that I'm planning to go to court and have this rectified; it would only cause bureaucratic angst arising from the fact that my now deceased father and I are both military veterans and my still living mother receives survivor's benefits in his name, and so on. Anyway, I've been "III" for over 65 years now, so it's become one of those mistakes that, because of the passage of time, is cured. Still, it's a bit troubling to know I was sailing under false colors all those years.

*Having a Roman three at the end of my name has sometimes caused confusion to mechanical scanners. Devices that read addresses sometimes pick it up as my surname, turning the second two characters to the lower-case "i"; thus "Iii." I once received a letter from a company that offered, for some money, to give me the history of the Iii family, along with an illustration of its coat of arms. I was strongly tempted to send my check.

Monday, November 14, 2011

For fans of fog and fall foliage.

Last Thursday morning a low cloudbank blanketed New York City as I went out for my morning walk. Above is Manhattan as seen from Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park. The rays of the rising sun reflect from the lower parts of the buildings.
Brooklyn Bridge, as seen from the crest of the ridge on Pier 1.
Brilliant red leaves adorn this tree--pin oak or maple?
In the distance is the tower of the former fireboat station at Fulton Ferry, now home to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
Walking back along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, I noticed that the fog had lowered, and that a reflection from a skyscraper was cast on a patch of the East River.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

David Amram and Tom Paxton, "Wild Mountain Thyme."

On my earlier post about the memorial gathering for George Kimball, I mentioned two great musicians and Lion's Head veterans, David Amram and Tom Paxton, playing a spine-tingling version of the Scottish tune, "Wild Mountain Thyme (Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?)." Here, thanks to David and to Dermot McEvoy, is a clip of them (David on tin whistle, Tom on guitar) doing it at the Philadelphia Folk Festival this summer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Real Baseball Wins.

Wall Street Journal
For once, I didn't curse a team by rooting for them to win the Series. All else being equal--that is, if the Rays or Red Sox (spousal loyalty) aren't involved--I'll back the NL, or, as I like to call it, the "Real Baseball League," team over the AL, or "Phony Baseball League," entry. My distaste for the DH rule is well documented.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Are McGill University scientists good dancers? Watch this video--if you do, you'll support cancer research.

Cancer researchers at McGill University in Montreal strut their stuff. For every hit on this video, Medicom will make a donation to support their work. Enjoy, and thanks to Stacey Mankoff for the link.

Leningrad Cowboys and Red Army Choir do "Sweet Home Alabama".

Who'da thunk it: a Finnish neo-punk band and Russian soldiers covering Lynyrd Skynyrd. Thanks to Jean Moshofsky Butler for cluing me in, and mwezz for the clip.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Go Cards!

For the past week, I've been hoping for a Detroit-Milwaukee Series (and probably cursed both teams by doing so). Now, I'm casting my lot with the Cardinals, for all the reasons stated here and here, and hope I don't curse them, too.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Can Kathleen Edwards make me a hockey fan?

My sports acculturation took place in Florida in the 1950s and '60s, so hockey wasn't part of it. The Tampa Tribune sports pages had short pieces about the exploits of teams with odd names like Maple Leafs (Didn't they know the plural of leaf is leaves?) and Red Wings, but they were there for the benefit of snowbird vacationers and retirees. I've been to two hockey games in my life. The first was in 1970, when I was a junior lawyer at a New York City firm visiting a client in Buffalo and got taken to a Sabres-Bruins game in which Bobby Orr set some record (a friend who knows hockey suggested it was probably "scoring by a defenseman"). The other was a Rangers-Senators game at the Garden in the 1980s, about which I remember nothing except that I'm pretty sure Ottawa won. I did learn a little about the rules of hockey from watching Slap Shot.

Kathleen Edwards is a Canadian singer I got to know, and like very much, through the good offices of Eliot Wagner. Her video of "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" (clip above), including her attempt to imitate the Hanson Brothers, gives me a whole new perspective on the game. I'll lace up your skates anytime, Kathleen.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mets finish fourth again; Rays get wild card.

The Mets failed to meet even my modest hopes, once again finishing fourth in the National League East, largely because of a dismal late-season performance against the Nationals. As consolation, my old hometown (and now, sorry dearest wife, favorite American League) team, the Rays, have won the AL wild card. Should they survive the playoffs, I'll be forced to root for the Phony Baseball League entry in the World Series. Brace yourself for a few more baseball posts.

Update: The Rays start strong with a 9-0 drubbing of the Rangers. If they were the Red Sox, my wife would take this as a bad omen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Copenhagen Phil, Ravel's Bolero, and Four Loko, or, why Irish coffee doesn't kill you.

"Copenhagen Phil" may sound like a nickname for a snuff addict, but it's shorthand for the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra. In the clip above, Copenhagen Phil assembles, flash mob style, in the city's main railroad station, and does a surprise performance of Ravel's Bolero, a piece of music to which I became addicted in my high school years, and recordings of which, I later remember reading, were supplied by the Soviet government to childless couples for its alleged--ahem--stimulative effect.

No doubt this performance had a peculiarly stimulative effect. It's one thing to go to your seat in a concert hall knowing that you're going to hear Great Music, sit patiently while the orchestra slowly assembles and tunes, applaud the conductor's entrance, hush as the baton is raised, and listen. Its another to encounter highly skilled musicians performing such music at a time and in a place that's part of the ordinary routine of your daily life. Context engenders expectations. This gets us to Four Loko.

In 2005, three Ohio State students invented a new alcoholic drink they named Four Loko. I'm going on a limb and guessing these students were guys, and that they were after what male students in my day and, I suspect, ever since, have been after: an easy way to get laid. Since they hadn't hit on the idea of inviting a woman into their dorm room and playing a recording of Bolero, they fell back on another classic, "Get her drunk." Drunk enough to overcome inhibition, but not so drunk that she passes out. So, mix in some caffeine to keep her awake. Also, disguise the taste of alcohol so thoroughly that she won't get her guard up. The resulting concoction, I've read (I haven't tried it), looks and tastes like fruit punch.

Unfortunately, like many best-laid plans, this one sometimes led not to getting laid but to lying on a stretcher in an emergency room, and in a few instances to a morgue. The first reaction was to blame the caffeine, which was thought to have some dire effect when mixed with alcohol. But alcohol and caffeine have enjoyed a long and friendly association in rum and Coke, Irish coffee, and no doubt in other mixed drinks and coffee flavored liqueurs. The true source of the problem, according to McMaster University psychologist Shepard Siegel, as reported in this Scientific American blog post by cognitive psychologist Jason G. Goldman, is that encountering alcohol in the guise of Four Loko is like walking into a railroad station and finding a symphony orchestra playing Bolero. As Goldman puts it:
When consuming alcohol in ways that are not typical for alcohol consumption, its effects are intensified. Instead of the usual tolerant response to a drug, where a user needs more of the substance in order to get the equivalent effect, a larger response occurs. In a 1976 paper in Science, Siegel termed this the situational specificity of tolerance.
This would explain why few emergency room visits are the result of drinking Irish coffee: you expect it to have an alcoholic, as well as a stimulant, effect, and you can taste the whiskey. It may also explain why so many office parties lead to embarrassment: while some of those there may be people you socialize with over drinks after work, most of them won't be, and it's not likely to be held in your usual drinking venue. Context is important.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Can the Mets at least satisfy modest hopes?

Before the 2010 season, I allowed that I would be happy if the Mets just improved on their miserable performance the previous year, and finished no worse than third in their division. It was not to be. This year I expressed no such hope, though I inwardly clung to it. As I write this, the Mets are in third place by the narrowest of possible margins, a half game ahead of the Nationals. The Mets are where they are by dint of having won a series in Atlanta from their arch-nemeses, the Braves. This, however, came after they were swept in three by the Nats, dropping them from third to fourth. Such have been the Mets this year, playing well against good teams and poorly against mediocre ones. They've provided moments of satisfaction and, at times, excitement. They have nine games left. The best they can do is hang on to third. Let's go, Mets.

Mets cap image courtesy of Filipino Nurses, whose services the injury-plagued Mets could have used this season.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tom Paxton, "The Bravest"

Tom Paxton, whose song "Comedians and Angels", about his old Lion's Head friends, was featured in an earlier post, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the memorial for George Kimball, here does his song in memory of the heroes of September 11, 2001. Thanks to Dermot McEvoy for the link and teach58 for the clip.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

South Florida tops Notre Dame

My alma mater must have been quite the party scene last night, as its football team upset the highly favored, nationally ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. I expected the Bulls to give the Irish a good fight, but years of watching upstart teams appear to have the South Bend boys on the ropes, only for Notre Dame to bounce off, come back swinging, and prevail in the final seconds, clouded my hope for an upset. I wasn't surprised to see the Bulls take an early lead, but was that the Irish failed to score in the first half. Still, a 16-0 halftime lead would be easily surmountable.

When halftime turned into a two hour weather delay, I felt sure that Notre Dame would use the extra time to make the adjustments they needed to overcome their numerous first half mistakes and to circumvent the South Florida defense. Their "d" had done well so far; the Bulls' scores had come on a fumble return and three field goals. The Irish did come back, with a new quarterback, scoring a TD halfway through the third quarter. Early in the fourth, the Bulls answered with their first TD scored by the offense. ND then scored again, and tried a two point conversion, which failed despite a penalty against USF on the first attempt. So the score was 23-13 with about four minutes left on the game clock when another weather emergency was declared and the teams left the field.

Horrid visions filled my head: the Irish come back with a quick TD, get the two point conversion, succeed with an onside kick, get within field goal range, and win as the final seconds tick down. As it was, when the second storm passed, ND did get another TD, settled for the safe one extra point, then tried an onside kick, which the Bulls recovered and ran out the clock for a 23-20 win. For once, in my experience, luck was not with the Irish.

As a USF alum, I should be elated by this victory. I am glad they were able to beat yet another (they have, in past seasons, beaten Auburn, Florida State, Miami, West Virginia twice, and Louisville when they were ranked tenth in the AP poll) highly regarded team. But the argument can be made, and undoubtedly has been by some pundits, that South Florida didn't win this game so much as Notre Dame lost it. The Bulls, not even among the "others receiving votes" in the preseason AP poll, will probably be ranked somewhere between 20th and 25th in the coming week's poll. Wins over their next three opponents--Ball State, Florida A&M, and Texas-El Paso--are unlikely to improve their standing much, while a loss to any of them will drop them off the chart. Their real test begins September 29, when they begin their round of Big East Conference games at Pittsburgh. Historically, while the Bulls have had great success outside their conference, they've had great difficulty with Pitt, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Rutgers, all of which they play in that order this year, all on the road except Cincy, which they've scheduled for Homecoming on October 22 (see Bulls schedule here).

Is this the Year of the Bull? I used to subscribe to the conventional wisdom that there would never be a Year of the Gator, and was proved wrong. I like being wrong about these things.

Update: My prediction about South Florida's AP poll ranking was on the money. They're number 22 this week. What I didn't expect was for Notre Dame to fall out of the top 25.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Songs for Labor Day: Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg

I first heard this song on Pete's album I Can See a New Day, which I acquired during my first year of college. I loved the passion Pete brought to the lyrics, and the way his twelve string guitar clanged like a bell on the second round of the song. The clip above is of a performance in Australia in 1964. I next heard it on the Byrds' first album, Mr. Tambourine Man, in a cover version that featured the group's ethereal harmonies and jangling Rickenbacker guitars. The Byrds changed one word in the song. Where Pete sang, true to the words written by Welsh coal miner turned teacher and poet Idris Davies*, "Who robbed the miner?", the Byrds asked "Who killed the miner?" The notes to I Can See a New Day said the song was about a strike, while those to Mr. Tambourine Man claimed it was about a "mining disaster". I suspect the folks at Columbia, the Byrds' label, mandated the change because they thought a song about a disaster was less politically sensitive than one about a strike.** Then again, maybe they just thought "killed" was more compelling than "robbed".

Now, for a rousing Labor Day anthem, here's Billy Bragg:

This was made at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival last year; thanks to shrewsburyfolkfest for the clip.

Addendum: Will Van Dorp sent me this clip of Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman doing "Union Town":


*The notes to the Byrds' album credited the lyrics to "I.D. Ris Davies".

**To be fair, Columbia was also Pete's label for some of his albums, including I Can See a New Day, which included "robbed" and the strike reference in the notes. But a Seeger album was made for a niche market of hard-core folkies, presumably mostly of leftish political views.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Pinch me! Mets win seven of last eight.

Yeah, they're 22 games behind the division leading Phillies, and any combination of Phils wins and Mets losses adding to six will spell mathematical elimination. Still, they're performing well enough to hold third place in the NL East. If they can stay there--they now hold a four game lead over the fourth place Nationals, who they beat 7-3 tonight--they will improve on last year's standing, which has been my modest hope for them this season.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy birthday, Van Morrison

Yesterday was this blog's sixth; today is Van's sixty-sixth. Keep on keepin' on.

Thanks to endesp for the clip.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Now we are six.

It was six years ago today that I started this blog. That I'm still doing it could be taken as a good or bad reflection on my state of being. It has become an important part of my life. Not only is it a way of sharing my odd set of obsessions with whomever I can tempt to partake of them, it's also a way of honing my own thinking. Writing is a useful discipline.

To those of you who read it regularly--I know there are a few--I thank you for your loyalty and your patience in putting up with its, as one reader put it, relentless eclecticism. I hope to continue our conversation, and I want it to be a conversation, that is, I want very much to hear from you when you like something or when you don't, for more years to come.

Image courtesy of Responsible Nanotechnology.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jerry Leiber, 1933-2011

I clearly remember the first time I heard rock and roll. It was 1956 and I was ten, riding in our car with my father on a two lane road through the pine woods of the Florida panhandle, listening to radio from one of the nearby towns (Crestview? DeFuniak Springs? Niceville?). I'd heard of Elvis Presley, even seen a photo--I think in TV Guide--of him, with his carefully coiffed ducktail, spit curl dangling over his forehead, wearing a frilly shirt that may even have been lavender. I knew girls went crazy over him, and supposed he must be a crooner in the manner of Frank Sinatra. So, when the deejay said, "And now, here's Elvis Presley," I expected a romantic ballad. Instead, I heard "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog," in a voice that was between a bellow and a snarl. "This is a song this guy did as a joke," I thought, "but I love it."

I didn't wonder about the provenance of the song; indeed, I may not even have known the word "provenance" at the time. If I'd been asked, I'd probably have guessed that Elvis wrote it, or that it was a folk song from that mysterious state a little to the west, Mississippi, where Elvis grew up, and which must have lots of really pretty women, since it seemed to produce more than its expected share of Miss America finalists. If I'd been told it was written by two Jewish guys in L.A., I'd have been surprised. Elvis might have been, too. It had previously been recorded by African American blues singer "Big Mama" Thornton, and Elvis would likely have thought it was of African American origin, like his earlier local Memphis hit, "That's All Right", written by Delta bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup.

Those two guys in L.A. were Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Both came from the East Coast--Leiber from Baltimore and Stoller from Long Island--and met in Los Angeles after their families moved there. Leiber was the lyricist; Stoller the composer. They met at a record store, and became friends because of their shared love for rhythm and blues. "Hound Dog" was one of their earlier joint efforts; "Big Mama" had a minor hit with it on the R&B charts in 1952. They went on to become the most influential songwriters and record producers in American pop music over the second half of the past century. They produced the Drifters' 1959 hit "There Goes My Baby", which introduced production techniques into R&B, such as the use of strings, that foreshadowed Phil Spector's "wall of sound"--Spector got his start in the music business working for Leiber and Stoller--and thereby determined the quality of much of pop music in the early to mid 1960s. Leiber and Stoller also co-wrote, along with former Drifters lead singer Ben E. King, the R&B classic "Stand by Me", which became a number one hit on the R&B charts, and number four on the pop charts, for King in 1961.

Leiber and Stoller didn't limit their work to R&B. They wrote "Is That All There Is", the "existentialist song" with which Peggy Lee went to number eleven on the pop charts, number one on the "adult contemporary" chart, and won the Grammy for best pop vocal by a female singer in 1970. They also wrote "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots", a 1955 hit for the Cheers. Considered part of the teenage tragedy genre popular in the late 1950s, it doesn't have the maudlin quality of some later hits like "Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning or "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson (misspelled "Paterson" on the linked video). I was surprised to learn that "Black Denim Trousers" was translated into French with the title L'Homme à la Moto and, as such, was recorded by Edith Piaf. In 1979 contemporary art music composer and pianist William Bolcom and his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, recorded an album, Other Songs by Leiber and Stoller, that features, along with "Is That All There Is", some of their lesser-known works in which, in the words of a Gramophone review, "the simplicities of rock are abandoned in favour of giving an American accent to approximately the sort of music that was heard in the artistic cabarets of Berlin and Paris during the 1920s."

When I think of Leiber and Stoller, though, I think mostly of their work with the group with whom they are most closely associated, a four man R&B ensemble called the Coasters. They had a string of hits, all written by Leiber and Stoller, from 1957 through 1961. Their songs had wacky, engaging lyrics, mostly done in an upbeat style and featuring occasional spoken breaks. I was a great fan during my junior high and high school years. The clip above is of "Yakety Yak", their only number one hit. This is the original 1958 version, featuring a terrific, snarly sax break by King Curtis.

Jerry Leiber died last Monday, at the age of 78. Mike Stoller survives. As I noted in an earlier post, the people who shaped popular culture in my youth are dying at an increasing rate. Jerry Leiber wrote the lyrics to much of the soundtrack of my salad days.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mets blank Braves

As we hunker down for Irene, I savor one of the few bits of good news to come from the Mets lately. My only regret is that it was at Citi, not Turner Field, the latter having bugaboo status in Mets lore. It was good to see Chris Capuano, the veteran acquired from Milwaukee in the off-season, having a creditable outing to join some others in his career so far with the Mets, despite a 10-11 record and 4.43 ERA. It was also encouraging to see good hitting by the likes of Lucas Duda and Justin Turner, who appeared in only 29 and four games, respectively, for the Mets in 2010. Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Oldest fossils?

David Wacey/New York Times
This seems to be a year for superlatives in paleontology--well, maybe, if you consider smallest dinosaur to be a superlative. Anyway, Nicholas Wade reports in yesterday's New York Times that "[a] team of Australian and British geologists have discovered fossilized, single-cell organisms that are 3.4 billion years old and that the scientists say are the oldest known fossils on earth." If these are indeed fossils of living organisms, they show that life evolved very early in the earth's history, at a time when, as Wade notes, the atmosphere was rich in methane, and only a few islands rose above the surface of an ocean that was the temperature of a hot bath. The Australian sandstone formation in which these structures (see photo above by David Wacey of the University of Western Australia who, along with Martin D. Brasier of the University of Oxford, discovered them) were found was, 3.4 billion years ago, a beach on one of those islands.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can a Chicago dog bark in Brooklyn?

Yesterday afternoon I took a walk to Pier 1 of Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I saw lots of kites flying. On the way back, as I turned onto Everit Street from Old Fulton, ready to head up Squibb Hill to Brooklyn Heights, I saw this sign. "Chicago Dog" brought to mind an al fresco snack during a lake shore stroll years ago. Although I'd had a light lunch earlier--a sambusak and spinach pastry from Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Avenue--my brisk postprandial walk had opened gastric space. Resistance was futile.

When I asked for a Chicago dog, the proprietor seemed pleased by my request, but regretted not having seeded buns on hand. I said that was OK, but added, "I hope you have sport peppers." He nodded yes, and asked if I was from Chicago. I said I had been there many times over the course of my career, and had come to appreciate its many fine points, gastronomic and otherwise.
Here is the finished product. The reason for the epithet "dragged through the garden"--appropriate for a city whose motto is Urbs in Horto*--is evident, as chopped onions, peppers, pickle, relish, and tomato are visible. The Vienna Beef frank seemed rather bland (rather like the wagyū in Mile End's beef on weck), but the condiments, especially the peppers and the proprietor's robust homemade mustard, made up for that.

As you can see, I chose a foreign beverage to wash it down, but if Dad's Root Beer had been on offer, I'd have gone for it.

The Landing is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Word is that the proprietor is looking for an indoor space to make it more than a seasonal operation. I hope his search succeeds. Next time, I may try his "Sheboygan bratwurst".

*"City in a Garden". Mike Royko, an astute observer of Chicago politics, suggested replacing it with Ubi est Mea ("Where's Mine?").

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Remembering George Kimball, Part 2, and re-encountering Niall Toibin

I've confessed in an earlier post that I wish I had gotten to know George Kimball better. Wednesday evening, I felt like I had, by dint of attending a memorial gathering for George in the ballroom of the old Edison Hotel near Times Square (the Edison was chosen, I'm told, because George was frequently there when it served as headquarters for the New York State Boxing Commission). During the course of an hour and a half, I heard recollections of George's life and wit, and selections from his writing, from family members, including his ninety year old mother, Dr. Sue Kimball, whose mellifluous Southern voice (I hadn't known of George's Dixie heritage on the distaff side) was sure and full as she recounted a childhood and youth marked by precocity and portents, as well as from fellow writers and other friends. Among the journalists who shared memories of their beloved colleague was Pete Hamill, who said he and George had met while fellow students at "the University of the Lion's Head."

One person I was surprised and delighted to find paying spoken tribute to George was the great Irish actor Niall Toibin, whom I had the pleasure, through the good offices of our mutual friend Jack Deacy, to meet while I was on vacation in Dublin in 1989. At the time, Niall was playing the part of the older, narrator Brendan Behan in Borstal Boy, Frank McMahon's dramatic adaptation of Behan's autobiographical novel, at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin. (He is doing a reprise of that part in the video clip above.) After I bought a ticket, a phone call to Niall's home and the invocation of Jack's name got me an invitation to join him backstage after the play for a drink, in the course of which we talked about Behan, the Irish theater, and friends and places we shared in New York. After the ceremonies for George, I approached Niall and renewed our acquaintance, and also met his daughter.

Along with the spoken reminiscences there was a slide show spanning George's life, and a video of a speech he gave while running for sheriff (unsuccessfully: the Lion's Head knew its share of quixotic political aspirants, including George, Norman Mailer, and Kinky Friedman) in Lawrence, Kansas. There was also music. First came a recording of folksinger Rosalie Sorrels, good friend of my late friend Cicely Nichols, doing a song that included the repeated line, "Love is like a lizard/ Nibbling at your gizzard." Next Tom Paxton took the stage and sang "Comedians and Angels", his reminiscence of old Lion's Head friends, which he followed with the Irish lament, "The Parting Glass".

Then another Head veteran, composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and raconteur, as well as recently minted octogenarian (an event he celebrated at the Bowery Poetry Club with George and his wife in attendance; see the clip above) David Amram, on piano, played a duet arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime" with the superb young trumpeter Nabaté Isles (who doubles as a sportswriter). For the final number, David was joined by Tom Paxton, and they did an eye-misting guitar and flute rendition of "Wild Mountain Thyme" ("Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?").

Many thanks to George's family and friends for a heart-warming evening.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Shark! Where?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, HuffPo comes out with a piece about a shark that has the ability, like Gollum with his "precious", to make itself invisible. Happy Shark Week.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Remembering George Kimball

Muhammad Ali and George Kimball (
George Kimball, sports writer extraordinaire, died on July 7. I got this sad news quickly via the Lion's Head grapevine established by Dermot McEvoy. I didn't post anything immediately, as I had for other Lion's Head companions. I remember meeting George, and having some conversations with him, but I have no specific memories of anything he said. This is to my detriment, not his. It may just be that they occurred late enough in the evening (or should I say in the morning?) that alcohol, the universal memory solvent, had its way with them.

So I was glad to find (again, thanks to Dermot) that my friend Larry Kirwan has written a eulogy for George in the Irish Echo. The money line: "To George, sports was life at hyper-speed, the way he often lived it." Like Larry, I wish I had spent more time with him.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Patti Smith at Castle Clinton, July 14, 2011

A week ago last Thursday my daughter and some friends went to a performance by Patti Smith at Castle Clinton, part of the River to River Festival. They arrived too late to get free tickets for seats inside the Castle, so stood near a door behind the stage, where they could at least hear the concert. As they stood there, a woman walked past and said "Hello!" before entering the Castle. It took a moment for them to realize this was Patti.
Also in the audience at Castle Clinton was DelphiSibyl, who made the clip above of Patti and her band doing "Ghost Dance".

Addendum: In his review of Carolyn Burke's No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, David Hadju recalls that, in his undergraduate days at NYU, "Holding my nose to Edith Piaf, I bowed to Patti Smith, without realizing that Smith was doing Piaf with a New York accent." I have but one quibble here: Patti does Piaf with a Philadelphia accent.

Suleiman Osman on authenticity and gentrification: The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn

Suleiman Osman's The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, has as its ponderous subtitle, Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York. "Authenticity" is a word that's long grated against my mind like steel wool on a rusty pot. What does it mean to be "authentic"? Osman doesn't give us a concise definition, but implies that, with respect to neighborhoods, it means having originated and evolved organically, in accordance with the desires and needs of its inhabitants, instead of as a result of some private or governmental developer's plan that seeks to impose a rational scheme.

Osman states that the "Brownstone Brooklyn" neighborhoods to which (mostly) young professionals and artists began to move in the late 1950s and after, as an "authentic" alternative to modernizing neighborhoods in Manhattan or to the alienating conformity of suburbia were, in their origin, the creations of speculative real estate developers of the nineteenth century. With the exception of a few purpose built for wealthy owners, the brownstone houses themselves were cookie-cutter creations for which the "artistic" details were mass-produced offsite. They were, in Osman's words, "in original design and intention no more or less authentic than a Levittown Cape Cod." (P.27)

Just as the physical neighborhoods were not the products of some bygone era of artisinal integrity, according to Osman the communities of people inhabiting them were not, on the whole, stable, traditional societies.
Brownstone Brooklyn before gentrification was not a premodern gemeinschaft with aging Brahmins and Old World ethnics shielded from mass consumer culture. No authentic communities or traditional neighborhoods sat ready to be discovered -- or, alternatively, destroyed -- by young urban professionals. Brownstone Brooklyn offered a rich sense of place and history. But it was a landscape that was perpetually changing, fluid, polycentric, and hybrid. (P.21)
This isn't to say that the newcomers were always welcomed, or that they were able to fit in easily. Nor did the lack of "authentic communities or traditional neighborhoods" mean that there were no territorial conflicts. As Osman also observes:
[I]n drawing borders around enclaves such as Boerum Hill, new middle-class residents also transgressed other indigenous places. In an industrial cityscape with a large working class, an assortment of machine politicians, unions, organized crime syndicates, and street gangs divided the area into fiercely defended "turfs" and "corners." Many of the later conflicts between the new middle-class and poorer residents over gentrification was rooted in these conflicting conceptions of urban place. (P.47)
"Gentrification" is another troublesome word. The earliest I can remember seeing it was in the early 1980s, when I saw a banner stretched across the front of a tenement building in Manhattan Valley with the words "GENTRIFICATION IS AMERICA'S APARTHEID." Critics of gentrification see it that way: the displacement of poor, mostly non-white people from housing they can afford by affluent, mostly white usurpers. Others, including the Brooklyn "brownstoners", saw it as the revitalization of historic neighborhoods that had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where they became targets for government-sponsored slum clearance programs. According to Osman:
The relationship between young college-educated landlords and older tenants -- often poor or elderly -- was filled with ambiguous feelings of guilt and displeasure. Often the same settlers who evicted residents from their individual townhouse also celebrated the diversity of the neighborhood as a whole. But the desire both to remove the poor and to celebrate their authentic folkways was an inherent tension in the ideal of historic diversity. (P.124)
Osman does not cite a primary source for this statement, though he does, in respect of an earlier passage in which he quotes a brownstoner as worrying if her or his "home improvements" as well as "civic activities" and "walking tours" are making the neighborhood uniformly "middle class" and even "suburban" in nature (p.5), cite as a source for this statement an article titled "Responsible Approach to Saving Abandoned Brownstones: Save Social 'Mix' in Your Neighborhood", Today's Brooklyn, April 2, 1969. (For Hollywood's take on this conundrum, see Hal Ashby's 1970 movie The Landlord, starring Beau Bridges.)

In the event, Osman does not take a stand for or against gentrification. As he confesses in the introduction:
This book has tried to avoid the Scylla of lionizing a creative class and the Charybdis of yuppie-bashing. But in exploring the complexities of the question, this history of gentrification may seem to be a frustrating example of fence-sitting. (P.15)
The "complexities" to which he refers include the politics of the brownstoners as well as of the people who were living in the area before the brownstoners arrived.
Brownstone Brooklyn residents together in these decades [the 1960s and '70s] espoused a "new localism" that was anti-statist but neither exclusively right or left. African Americans calling for community control of schools, white ethnics resisting scattered-site housing and busing, middle-class whites fighting the demolition of townhouses, and mixed-race coalitions fighting hospital expansion and expressways all shared a deep distrust of mega-institutions, expertise, planning, executive power, and private-public consensus....All described Brooklyn as a diverse mosaic of independent neighborhoods rather than an integrated modern system. (P.238)
Here I think Osman's "all" over-generalizes. The various groups he mentions were not, I suspect, averse to invoking "executive power" or "expertise", or calling on "mega-institutions", when they believed it could advance their interests. Still, I think he is right in noting that, in general, their politics represented a break from the New Deal paradigm of central planning and rationalization, "championing instead voluntary service, self-determination, and do-it-yourself, bootstrap neighborhood rehabilitation." (Id.)

If Osman, by his own admission, doesn't reach any comprehensive conclusions about the desirability of the political, social, or economic effects of the brownstoners' project, his book still tells a fascinating story about the transformation of a storied place. One fact I learned was that there was once an attempt, perhaps inspired by the 1969 Norman Mailer/Jimmy Breslin campaign to have New York City secede from New York State, to make my own neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, a self-governing entity.
In 1972, about 150 Brooklyn heights activists belonging to the area's multiple block associations [and] civic groups...met for the first Brooklyn Heights Town Meeting....The participants hoped to form a "Brooklyn Heights Township" with a permanent neighborhood assembly free of city control, made up of local citizens, and dedicated to "democratic self-government." (P.253)
Needless to say, this was no more successful than Mailer's and Breslin's effort.

As for the "romantic" desire for authenticity:
In the 1960s, the new middle class looked to food cooperatives, farmers' markets, balcony gardens, independent bookshops, ethnic restaurants, and renovated brownstones as sites of authenticity in an increasingly technocratic society. In the 1980s, as former counter-cultural pottery shops and antique stores became high-end boutiques and ethnic restaurants became loci of gourmet cuisine, the same accoutrements had seemingly become symbols of a materialistic yuppie culture. Rather than subverting class privilege, Brownstone Brooklyn to some disappointed critics had simply reworked the standards of taste for a new white urban bourgeoisie. (P.279)
Did brownstone Brooklyn thus become inauthentic? Osman concludes, "perhaps the romantic question itself needed to be questioned." (P.280) Perhaps the pursuit of authenticity is, of necessity, the pursuit of a will-o-the-wisp.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hot and hotter: Lovin' Spoonful and Arthur Brown

With the temperature and humidity making it feel like 91 degrees, I couldn't help but think of this Lovin' Spoonful classic.

If your answer to "Hot enough for you?" is "Hell, no!", here's Arthur Brown:

Saturday, July 09, 2011

This Mets fan salutes Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit.

Lisa Swan, a true blue Yankees fan, has expressed her reservations about the hoopla, and, were I a Yankee fan, I might well feel the same. Nevertheless, I'm delighted to see a great player achieve this distinction, even if he had to do it by getting a home run against my favorite, old home town, Designated Hitter League team. After all, I owe Jeter a debt of gratitude for his house having driven more traffic to my blog than any topic except Grace Slick or Pierre Bonnard. (Photo taken at the bar of the Heights Cafe.)

Friday, July 08, 2011

How to make an egg cream.

Kenny shows you how to make the classic Brooklyn refresher. Note that it contains neither egg nor cream. He doesn't mention it, but you do need to use whole milk; otherwise, you won't get that good, foamy head. You can also use different flavors of Fox's syrup, including coffee and vanilla.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Littlest Dinosaur: Ashdown Maniraptoran

Matt Martyniuk/University of Portsmouth
Being the smallest dinosaur is like being the biggest Chihuahua: it goes against the point of the thing. Of course, "smallest dinosaur" is always a qualified designation; "of which we know" is the unstated qualifier. The present holder of the title is the "Ashdown Maniraptoran," from the early Cretaceous of southern England, thought to have been about thirteen to sixteen inches in length and, according to the restoration shown above, to have looked something like a partridge in search of a pear tree. This restoration is based on one fossil cervical vertebra found by amateur fossil hunter Dave Brockhurst, who kept it in a drawer for about two years before sending it to University of Portsmouth paleontologists Darren Naish and Steve Sweetman, who identified it as coming from a very small adult dinosaur of the clade Maniraptora (also the title of a friend's excellent website).

You may quite reasonably wonder how this restoration could be made based on a single vertebra. Matt Martyniuk, the artist who made it, owns that it is "entirely speculative" but explains his methodology in this post and defends it in the discussion thread following.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Goodbye, Clarence Clemons.

Once again, I must bid farewell to a beloved musician. While his memory is inextricably bound to that of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, my friend Petra, AKA "The Changeling" of Bed-Stuy Blog, provided the video above of him performing with Jackson Browne. On it, along with his oh-so-sweet sax, we hear his oh-so-winsome voice.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Your correspondent celebrates Bloomsday with a reading.

Yesterday, June 16, was Bloomsday, the annual remembrance of the day in 1904 that James Joyce chose, probably because it was the day of his first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife, to chronicle the quotidian occurrences in the lives of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus in his massive and seminal novel Ulysses. At the invitation of Larry Kirwan, I went to a Bloomsday event, at Ulysses' Folk House in lower Manhattan, that featured readings from the novel. I chose to read a review of a Blarney Stone restaurant and bar from Jim Quinn's 1973 restaurant guidebook Word of Mouth, which book I described in this post, and which review includes a lengthy quotation from Ulysses. My reading is preserved in the above YouTube clip, thanks to Larry's wife, June, who shot it with my camera.

There were many excellent readings, prominent among them being Larry's rendition of the "Nausicaa" chapter of Ulysses; Larry styles himself "the foremost male interpreter of Gerty McDowell", and I can't gainsay that claim. The climax (literally and figuratively) was Aedin Moloney's reading of a portion of Molly Bloom's soliloquy, which closes the novel. I tried to video her performance, and unfortunately ran out of memory card capacity. I found a clip of her reaading the entire soliloquy, which is 22 minutes long but, in my estimation, well worth it, below:

Addendum: Erik Brogger posted this comment on Brooklyn Heights Blog:
As a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association, I attended an event down on Pier One last night where the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and SYFY provided us with telescopes. Since it was Bloomsday (eve) I wanted to show people a particular double star – Mu Bootis – which, according to the Norton Star Atlas, is 107 Light Years distant from us. This double star is oddly appropriate to the famous paired relationship between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses, the-greatest-novel-ever-written that-I-never-quite-finished. I wanted to make the romantic claim that anyone looking at this double star was looking back in time to “June 16th, 1904.” Then I’d conclude with an appreciation of Joyce’s words from chapter 17: “The heaventree of stars hung with humid night-blue fruit.” Alas, it was cloudy. The only stars I could show anyone were the Stars and Stripes flying from a flag pole atop the Brooklyn Bridge.

Maybe next Bloomsday I’ll be looking for find another star, this time 108 Lights Years away.