Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Noah Griffin, "It's New Year's Eve"

My friend and law school classmate Noah Griffin sings a song he wrote for his wife. Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Yusef Lateef, 1920-2013.

My introduction to the music of Yusef Lateef, who died Monday at 93, came in 1967, when I was a first year law student. My dorm neighbor, Bob Bell, was a jazz aficionado. I knew next to nothing about jazz. I'm not sure how it came about: I may have been talking with Bob about music, or I may have heard something wafting from his dorm room--Jazz on flute? That's odd--but I ended up borrowing his copy of Lateef's album Psychicemotus, which sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.

Lateef's music was eclectic and syncretic. His roots were in big band swing and be-bop, but he later incorporated musical styles from other parts of the world, including Africa and Asia, as well as European art music, into his works. He also used instruments not often or ever before found in jazz; not only flute but oboe, as in the video clip above, and styles not common to jazz, such as the bowed, instead of plucked. bass viol in the same clip. He didn't like to call his music "jazz"; instead he called it "autophysiopsychic music." In the video, he's accompanied by Kenneth Barron on piano, Bob Cunningham on bass, and probably-- he's not identified on the video, but was on all of Lateef's recordings around the time (1972) the video was made--Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums.

Lateef was a teacher as well as performer. He held a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and taught there, and at Amherst College, until near the end of his life.

I must add a footnote about Bob Bell: at the time I knew him, he had the distinction of having his name in the Constitutional Law casebook. He was the named appellant in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Bell v. Maryland, which vacated and remanded his and several others' convictions for criminal trespass arising from their participation in a sit-in demonstration at a Baltimore restaurant. In a delicious bit of irony, Bob later became Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the same court that had affirmed his conviction before it was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Veni Veni Emmanuel

Veni Veni Emmanuel ("O Come, O Come Emmanuel") sounds ancient, but had its origin as an Advent hymn in the eighteenth century. It "is a synthesis of the great 'O Antiphons'" which are of ancient provenance. The linked clip is of a performance by L'Accorche-Choeur, Ensemble vocal Fribourg, under the direction of Zoltan Kodály. The English translation is from the mid nineteenth century, by John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Gram, Emmylou, and Linda; Emmylou, Dolly, and Linda

When I go for walks, I usually take my iPod set in the "shuffle" mode. Because of my eclectic interests in music, this sometimes leads to odd concatenations, as on a recent walk during which the Sinfonia from Verdi's Nabucco was followed immediately by the Holy Modal Rounders' version of "Flop-Eared Mule". Sometimes these conjunctions are serendipitously pleasant, as on one walk several years ago when the first, allegro movement from J.S. Bach's Second Brandenberg Concerto was followed by a lively Cajun song.

A few days ago I started out with the iPod playing Gram Parsons' haunting, autobiographical "In My Hour of Darkness," with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on harmony vocals, from Gram's posthumously released album Grievous Angel (audio clip with still of album cover above); next came "My Dear Companion" from the Trio album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt (audio clip below). It's easy for me to speculate that "My Dear Companion," on which Emmylou takes the lead vocal, was chosen by her as a tribute to Gram, her late musical companion and friend. I never met Gram Parsons, but I knew of him before he became famous. While I was at the University of South Florida in the mid to late 1960s I became friends with several fellow students who had known him in his home town, Winter Haven. They told me about this brilliant, talented guy who was a folk singer, and who performed with his group, the Shilohs, at the Derry Down, a night club for teenagers that was owned by his stepfather. I heard that he was at Harvard, and, later, that he had dropped out and started a group called the International Submarine Band, in which he was later joined by fellow Havenite Jon Corneal. I was thrilled when, in my second year of  law school, I read that he had joined my favorite rock group, the Byrds. I bought their newest album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which includes what has become Gram's signature song, "Hickory Wind". I followed his career as he left the Byrds and, along with another former Byrd, Chris Hillman, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, then had a solo album, GP, which introduced to a wide audience the voice of Emmylou Harris. His death from a drug overdose in 1973 saddened me enormously.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Another Annunciation scene, from the Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights Advent Pageant

My most popular post over the course of the past year has been about Henry Ossawa Tanner's painting, "The Annunciation," which I first saw thanks to The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights. In my post I contrasted Tanner's depiction of the angel Gabriel as a shimmering shaft of light and Mary as a young Middle Eastern peasant woman huddled in her bedclothes with the traditional one--represented by a seventeenth century painting by Phillipe de Champaigne--of Gabriel as a human figure with wings and Mary as an apparently well to do European woman.

Yesterday's Advent pageant at Grace Church began with the Annunciation (photo above); a more traditional representation than Tanner's but a more realistic, in my estimation, one than de Champaigne's.
Here's a better view of Mary, holding the infant, and attended by a very appealing calf.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Moon over Brooklyn.

Yesterday afternoon I saw this bright waxing gibbous moon rising over one of the buildings in MetroTech Center.

Monday, December 09, 2013

iPod and photo log: across the Brooklyn Bridge and back.

Another iPod and photo log (or, if you prefer, photo log with music). This one is longer than the one I posted on November 27, as this time I went over the Brooklyn Bridge, did a circuit of City Hall Park, stopping to look at some pieces in the "Lightness of Being" sculpture show there, then back across the Bridge, down to Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park, up and across the pedestrian bridge, then back down the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to home. I've let some of the photos speak for themselves, but have added explanatory notes for others.
1. The Four Tops, "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)": a Motown classic. I was fortunate to hear the original lineup live at a National Association of Insurance Commissioners meeting on Mackinac Island back in the 1980s. Listen here.
2. Tracy Nelson, "Ruler of My Heart": deep blues from a lovely woman with whom I had a pleasant chat at the Lion's Head bar years ago. Listen here. 
3. The Cranlyn apartment building (80 Cranberry Street, corner of Henry) (H.I. Feldman, 1931) is a fine example of the high art deco style popular between the two world wars. The photo shows a decorative motif above a doorway that may have been inspired by a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign.

Kingston Trio, "Utawena": I've dished on these guys before. Call them button-down shirt wearing bourgeois poseurs; well-to-do white men singing poor folks' music. Still, they were damn good singers and instrumentalists, they had a Mets connection (Nick Reynolds dated Tom Seaver's sister), and they introduced American audiences to what we now call "world music." Then there's "Utawena," which doesn't appear to be in any known language. You can listen here.
4. A monument to New York City Mayor (1910-1913) and Brooklyn resident William Jay Gaynor, designed by sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman, stands near the north end of Cadman Plaza Park.

The Everly Brothers: "Bye Bye Love": these Kentuckians were reliable hitmakers from the late fifties through the sixties. "Bye Bye Love" was their first, going to number two on the Billboard pop chart and number one on the country chart in 1957, and began their long collaboration with songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. It was later covered by Simon & Garfunkel and by George Harrison. Hear it here.
5. Great Big Sea, "Boston and St. John's": Newfoundland's most popular folk group does a bittersweet piece about a sailor leaving his woman for a short voyage. Live performance video here.
6. The west (Manhattan side) tower of the Manhattan Bridge (Leon Moisieff, 1912), seen from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Giuseppe Verdi, Sinfonia from Nabucco, Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Fiorenze, Ricardo Muti, Cond.: here is an audio clip of Muti conducting the Nabucco overture with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
7. The west tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (John Roebling, 1883) seen from the pedestrian walkway. This tower was completed in 1875, but the bridge would not be completed until eight years later.

The Holy Modal Rounders, "Flop-Eared Mule": from grand opera we go to...a group once described as "the originators and sole exponents of the genre known as acid-folk." Join the real world here.
8. The 76 story 8 Spruce Street/"New York by Gehry" shows off its Bernini drapery in the morning sun. Peeking past it to its right is the top of the Woolworth Building (Cass Gilbert, 1912); to 8 Spruce's left is 1 World Trade Center (David Childs/SOM, expected completion 2014). At the far left is the top of the "understated and deferential" 4 World Trade Center (Maki and Associates, 2013).

Neil Young, "The Emperor of Wyoming": this dreamy cowboy movie music is the opening track of Young's first solo album after Buffalo Springfield's breakup. Hear it here.
9. A gilded pyramid crowns the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse (Cass Gilbert, 1931), named for civil rights lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in a rededication ceremony in 2003. The building was Gilbert's last major commission.

Neil Young, "The Loner": this track immediately follows "Emperor"; I have the two joined as a segue on my iPod, but there's no video or audio track that combines the two, although I think they belong together. When you get to the orchestral bridge just past the middle, you'll know why. Listen here.
10. For the past several years I've kept watch over the Brooklyn Bridge cactus. A year and a half ago, I was distressed to find it bisected. Now it's becoming overshadowed by something that looks like a spider plant.

Dusty Springfield, "That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)": down 'n' dirty blues by Goffin and King, with a little inspiration from Cab Calloway. Hear it here,
11. 250 Broadway (Emery Roth & Sons, 1962), at right, is typical of the "wedding cake" style of New York City skyscrapers designed between 1916, when a zoning rule limiting the bulk of tall buildings and requiring setbacks went into effect, and 1961, when the regulation was amended to encourage tall buildings without setbacks so long as developers provide adjoining public plazas. To the left is the Woolworth Building (photo 8 above); in the background is 7 World Trade Center (David Childs/SOM, 2006).

Derek & the Dominoes, "Layla": one of the three best rock songs about being in love with someone else's wife. (The others are "Midnight Confession" by the Grass Roots and Neil Young's "Saddle Up the Palomino.") Here's a version of "Layla" by Eric Clapton, with a different band, that's still dynamite.
12. Part of the "Lightness of Being" sculpture show in City Hall Park is "inverse reverse obverse" by Cristian Andersen. It's topped by two bronze broad-brimmed hats. Behind it is the Manhattan Municipal Building (William M. Kendall/McKim, Mead and White, 1914), topped by another sculpture, "Civic Fame," by the same Adolph A. Weinman who designed the Gaynor Monument (photo 4 above).

The Royal Teens, "Believe Me": I heard this once as a pick hit of the week on WDAE in Tampa when I was in eighth grade, then never heard it again until I was in my thirties and, flipping through a record bin in one of those Bleecker Street oldies shops, found a Royal Teens greatest hits album. I ran home to play the song that had been engraved on my memory so many years before. Hear it here. The tinkling piano is by one of the song's co-authors, Bob Gaudio, who later became part of the Four Seasons, wrote Sherry and, with Bob Crewe, other hits of theirs.
13. Another set of sculptures in the "Lightness of Being" show is this untitled group by the late Franz West, described by Ken Johnson in The New York Times as "brightly painted bulbous shapes, like enormous carrots planted point-first in the ground."

The Kingston Trio, "Across the Wide Missouri": the Trio's version of a traditional American song, also known as "Oh Shenandoah." Listen here.
14. Statuary decorates the exterior of the Surrogate's Courthouse (John R. Thomas/Horgan & Slattery, 1907), formerly called the Hall of Records, at the corner of Chambers and Centre streets in lower Manhattan. The statues are by sculptors Philip Martiny and Henry Kirke Bush-Brown.

The Rolling Stones, "No Expectations": on my more optimistic days, I think the Mets' theme song should be Dolly's Faut y croire (loose translation: "Ya gotta believe!"); on my gloomier ones, I think it should be this Stones ballad. Live version here.
15. The South Street Seaport Museum's tall ships Peking and Wavertree, seen from near the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Peking is in the foreground; Wavertree, which is still under restoration and missing her topmasts, is behind.

R.E.M., "Driver 8": an infectious guitar run; inscrutable lyrics. What more could you want? Video here with railroad scenes featuring pre-CSX B&O/C&O locos bearing the "Chessie" logo. (It takes almost a minute until the music starts.)
16. Neil Young: "Cowgirl in the Sand": didn't I hear this on my previous walk? That's OK; I love this song so much I don't mind hearing it again so soon. Hear the studio version here.
17. Hank Williams, "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me": maybe the best country song about being in love with someone else's wife who used to be your wife. Listen here.
18. This Georgian apartment building on the north edge of Brooklyn Heights sports precast triangular "English sunrises" above the dormer windows. Also note the dentils below the cornice.

John Prine, "Paradise": "Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay?/ Well, I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in asking. Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away." Hear it here.
19. Fenton Robinson, "You Don't Know what Love Is": Robinson, who died in 1997, was a solid Chicago blues artist and author of "Loan Me a Dime," which was a hit for Boz Scaggs with Duane Allman. This song should not be confused with another, recorded by Billie Holiday, which is also on my iPod. Listen here.
20. Doug Sahm, "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?": from the Doug Sahm & Friends album; this cut features, among others, Bob Dylan on harmony vocal and Flaco Jimenez on accordion. Hear it here.
21. Scott Joplin, "Magnetic Rag"; Itzhak Perlman, violin and Andre Previn, piano. From The Easy Winners. Listen here.

22. The Tom Russell Band, "Haley's Comet": a song about the lonesome death of rock 'n' roll pioneer Bill Haley. Live performance recording, with Dave Alvin and Katy Moffat, here.
23. Seen from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Manhasset Bay tows a much smaller tug down the East River, past Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

George Thorogood & the Destroyers, "It Wasn't Me": an able, nay, exciting, Chuck Berry cover by the hottest band ever to emerge from Delaware. Live performance video here.
24. Looking across from the Promenade, I saw the Manhattan Municipal Building (see photo 12) briefly bathed in sunlight.

Delbert McClinton, "Before You Accuse Me": another cover, this of a Bo Diddley b-side, by a superb Texas bluesman I once heard at the old Lone Star Cafe on lower Fifth Avenue. Hear it here.
25. Vivian Blaine, "Adelaide's Lament (A Person Could Develop a Cold)": a bathetic tale of blighted love, in Brooklynese, from the original (1950) Broadway cast recording of Guys and Dolls. See and hear Ms. Blaine's live performance from the 1971 Tony Awards here.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

This Year's Lionel Train Display at Grand Central Terminal

For the past two years I've been making videos of the Lionel Train display at the New York City Transit Museum Annex and Gift Shop in Grand Central Terminal. This year I've paid more attention to the models of New York City landmarks (Grand Central itself, the Met Life Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building,  the SONY--formerly AT&T--Building with its Chippendale top), ordinary buildings, and rustic scenery, as well as model train action.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Two of his many memorable quotations (thanks to Huffington Post):
What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.
Addendum: my friend John Wirenius has these sage remarks.

Photo at top: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

"Anesthesia" by the Nation Rocking Shadows and "Baja" by the Astronauts

It's December so, of course, it's time to think about surf guitar music. In this instance, surf guitar music from places far from Southern California, although the first one is from another O.C. What started me thinking about this was that a movie called Anesthesia was filming in my neighborhood. This brought to my mind "Anesthesia" by the Nation Rocking Shadows, which I heard once in the spring of 1967 in a friend's dorm room at the University of South Florida, but which stuck in my mind over many years, as did "Believe Me" by the Royal Teens and Uska Dara by Eartha Kitt. My friend who had the record said the band was from Orlando, that he had seen them live, and that they had tons of electronic equipment onstage.

Cut to about twenty years later, at the bar of the Lion's Head, where I heard a man reciting to a woman "Anesthesia's" peculiar spoken bridge: "Scalpel, scalpel, scalpel, scalpel, sponge, sponge, sponge, sponge, suture, suture, suture, suture...." He omitted the scream at the end, or he would have gotten some unfriendly attention from the bartender. I said I didn't know anyone outside of Florida (besides, of course, me) had ever heard of this odd piece of music. He assured me there were those like him who had.

I didn't actually listen to "Anesthesia" for a second time until a few days ago, when seeing the movie title made me curious enough to do a web search that led me to the YouTube clip embedded above. The music begins with an ominous "drip drip drip" on bass, some alarming guitar riffs and an organ build, then it resolves into a main theme that seems a variation on the Chantays' "Pipeline". This is broken by the spoken bridge quoted above, which ends with a scream. The main theme then returns, but shortly after gives way to riffs like those near the beginning, and ends in cacophony.

Thinking of the Nation Rocking Shadows, from Florida, made me think of another surf guitar band, this one coming from far from any ocean. The Astronauts called themselves the "mile high surf band," having originated in Boulder, Colorado. "Baja," which you can hear in the clip above, is one of my favorite surf numbers. The staccato high notes on the guitar foreshadow a style that is frequent in contemporary pop, as in "Night," by Dolly Trolly. The suggestions of similar music YouTube gives to the right of the "Baja" video includes a piece that seems akin to surf music, though also originating a long distance from California: "Wild Weekend" by Buffalo's Rockin' Rebels.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sam Edwards, "In the Last Days of the Empire."

Sam Edwards, I'm told, was a bartender at "55," the joint next door to the Lion's Head. I seldom went into 55; whenever I did my nostrils were assailed by the smell of insecticide. There was good jazz there, but in those days I'd yet to develop an ear for it. My few visits were occasioned by hearing that someone I liked who'd been 86'd from the Head (which, despite its raffish reputation, maintained fairly strict standards of decorum) was having a drink there. It was owned by Bradley Cunnigham, who also owned Bradley's, an upscale bar and restaurant on University Place where my appreciation for jazz got a jolt one evening from listening to Joanne Brackeen. I heard that Bradley made more money off 55 than from Bradley's. Bradley's, like the Lion's Head, is long gone, but 55 survives.

Sam's video and poem, for which I must again offer thanks to Michael Simmons, is about Greenwich Village before I arrived; the Village of my high school and college aspirations that I, and others like me, unwittingly helped to destroy. Like Michael, I was delighted to see, in one of the photos in the montage that accompanies the reading of the poem, a poster for a concert by David Amram.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

e.e. cummings, "i thank you God," by The Western Wind.

I posted this e.e. cummings poem two years ago on Easter. Yesterday I found this version set to music by Elliot Z. Levine, a member of the a cappella choral group The Western Wind. The poem and song seems appropriate for today. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

iPod and photo log from a short walk around Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Yesterday morning I took a walk down the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, across the pedestrian bridge to Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, around the pier, and then along the new path through the Pier 3 and 4 uplands to Pier 5. I did a circuit of Pier 5, then went up Joralemon Street to Hicks, across Hicks to Remsen, over to Montague Terrace (former address of W.H. Auden and Thomas Wolfe), then home. On my walk I had my iPod set on shuffle, and made a log of the music I heard on the way. As each song played, I took a photo of what I was passing. I've listed the songs, with video or audio links where available, below each photo. I've let the photos speak for themselves, except for some explanatory notes at the end of the post.
1. Martin & Neil, "Baby": Vince Martin's and Fred Neil's only album together, Tear Down the Walls, was released in 1964. My college roommate had a copy; I loved it and got my own. Years later, I met Vince at the old Lone Star Cafe on Fifth Avenue. I told him I how I liked that album: he asked if I wanted to sing a song from it. He borrowed Rick Danko's guitar and we sang "Dade County Jail", with me trying to reach Freddy's low notes. "Baby" is Florida blues at its best, about "sailin' on that St. John's River", with raga-style strumming on the twelve string guitar and John Sebastian on harp. You can hear it here.

2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Cowgirl in the Sand": This has been a favorite of mine since I got their first album, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, during my last year of law school. The version on my iPod is from Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970. Video of another live performance here.

3. Rod Stewart, "Reason to Believe": Rod the Mod takes a Tim Hardin song and makes it a gut-wrenching masterpiece. It's from Every Picture Tells a Story, one of the best rock albums ever. Live performance video here.

4. Fleetwood Mac, "Station Man": a driving rocker from Kiln House (1970), the band's first post Peter Green album and the last to feature Jeremy Spencer, and with cover art by Christine McVie. Hear it here.

5. The Byrds, "The Times They Are a Changing": jangling Rickenbacker guitars and vocal harmonies make this Dylan song a rock anthem. My generation were "your sons and your daughters" then. Live performance video here.

6. Yvonne Fair & the James Brown Band: "I Found You": From Roots of a Revolution, a chronicle of James Brown's early days with King Records, based in Cincinnati. The Ambassador of Soul later took this song and made it a hit under the title "I Feel Good." Hear the early version, with Ms. Fair, here.

7. The Flying Burrito Brothers, "Do Right Woman": Gram Parsons' and Chris Hillman's post-Byrds group did this Chips Moman/Dan Penn song, a favorite of my mom's, on their first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Hear it here.

8. Sue Foley, "Shake That Thing": uptempo blues by a Canadian singer I like a lot, and not just because she shares my wife's surname. Listen here.

9. Dolly Lyon, "Palm of Your Hand": solid R&B from 1957 by a singer who, not for lack of talent, never made it big. There's excellent instrumental backing, including what I'm pretty sure is Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson on sax. Read about the singer and hear the song here.

10. Bunny Berigan, "I Can't Get Started With You": one of my favorites from the Bells of Hell jukebox. Hear it here.

11. Bob Dylan, "Gospel Plow": from his first, eponymous album, a frenetic blues and one of his earlier original compositions. Hear it here.

12. Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, "Second Chance": T&K were the house band at the Bells of Hell for a year or so. Pierce Turner has since become a successful solo artist while Larry went on to front the soon to disband Black 47 and to be a playwright and novelist. There's no video or audio link to this song, but there's one video, with less than optimal sound quality, of them doing "Freeborn Man of the Traveling People".

13. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, "Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)": the King of Western Swing and his band got together in 1974 to make an album titled For the Last Time, which includes this lively number. Live performance video here.

For architecture and theater buffs, photo 1 is of the Arlington Apartments (Montrose Morris, 1887), 62 Montague Street, a fine example of the Romanesque revival style, and home of playwright Arthur Miller before he married Marilyn Monroe.

For tugboat buffs, photo 3 is of JoAnne Reinauer III heading out of the East River toward the Buttermilk Channel, with Governors Island in the background.

For picturesque ruin and rail buffs, photo 7 is of the collapsed outer end of Pier 4, formerly a rail car float terminal at which freight cars were loaded onto, and unloaded from, barges that ferried them between the railheads in New Jersey and the docks below Brooklyn Heights. The remains of Pier 4 are being made into a sanctuary for birds and marine life.

For ferry buffs, photo 10 is of the ferry that runs between the lower tip of Manhattan and Governors Island, seen at its Governors Island dock.

For horticulture buffs, photo 11 shows some colorful ornamental kale along with a small evergreen and something that might be ivy.

For steeply inclined street buffs, photo 12 was taken on Joralemon Street between Furman and Hicks, perhaps the only block to live on in Brooklyn if you miss San Francisco.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Marshall Chapman does songs from her album Blaze of Glory at Hill Country, New York City.

Last Wednesday night I went to Hill Country NY a restaurant, market, and music venue, to see and hear my old friend Marshall Chapman, whom I hadn't seen since 2006. This proved to be a much better venue than that on her previous visit, when she had to play in a pit behind a pool table. She opened the show with the first track on her latest album, Blaze of Glory, the lively rocker "Love in the Wind":

"Think Bo Diddley on acid," Marshall said as she started to strum the familiar "shave-and-a-haircut, two bits" rhythm, then sang about "the difference between falling in love with the way you feel around somebody and falling in love with somebody."

She ended the show with the title, and closing, track from the album:

"Blaze of Glory" is an autobiographical song about changes in music, in mores, and in Marshall. Unfortunately, when she calls for a sing-along, you can hear me. I didn't have the song in mind a couple of weeks ago when I took, and titled, this photo, but I will whenever I look at it again.

Addendum: I almost forgot to add; Marshall sang her achingly lovely lament for Tim Krekel.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Richard Nelson's Apple family plays at the Public Theater

Tuesday night we saw a preview of Regular Singing, the last in Richard Nelson's series of four Apple family plays. Last year we saw Sorry, the preceding play in the series. We've yet to see the first two, but will.

My wife was invited to the play by a friend who had a spare ticket because her husband couldn't attend, so I secured my own ticket. I waited until late, and consequently got what was probably considered one of the least desirable seats. These plays are in the Public's Anspacher Theater, where the "stage" is a flat floor with steeply tiered rows of seats on three sides. The first row of seats is at stage level; mine was one of these, furthest toward the back of the stage. This actually proved to be a fortunate location, as I was close to the table where most of the action took place. So close, in fact, that, not having dined before the show, I had to fight the temptation to ask one of the actors if I could have a plate of the mac and cheese sitting enticingly in a bowl a few steps from where I was sitting.

It also helps to be close because these plays are performed in almost ordinary conversational, not full "stage", voices (the Public advises those who might have trouble hearing to get amplification devices they supply). This also aids the "suspension of disbelief." One really has the sense of being at an intimate family gathering. Some months after seeing Sorry, I found myself musing, "Who were those friends we visited up in Rhinebeck?" This illusion may have been facilitated by the fact--disclosure here--that two of the actors, Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett, Richard and Barbara Apple, brother and sister, in the plays, but husband and wife in real life, have been friends of ours since our children were classmates in elementary school.

Each of the plays is set on a historical date--That Hopey Changey Thing on the date of the 2010 midterm elections, Sweet and Sad on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Sorry on the date of the 2012 presidential election, and Regular Singing on the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. Each of the earlier plays has had its opening on the actual day on which it is set; Regular Singing will have its opening tonight.

Regular Singing, like Sorry, takes place in the home of Barbara Apple, a schoolteacher, in Rhinebeck, New York. Rhinebeck is a small town in the Hudson valley, an easy drive north from New York City. One of the play's characters notes that Rhinebeck's main street, followed south, eventually becomes Broadway. Some affluent City residents have summer and weekend houses in and near Rhinebeck, but the Apples are locals. Richard became a successful lawyer in the City, but in Regular Singing he's moved to Albany, where he holds an important position in state government.

Moving seems characteristic for Richard. He's tightly wound, ready to spring, but at the same time elusive. In both Sorry and Regular Singing he keeps saying he needs to leave while Barbara implores him to stay. Barbara, single and childless in middle age, is the nurturing mother figure of the Apples. She shares her house with a younger sister, Marian (Laila Robins), also a teacher, who separated from her husband, Adam, after their daughter's suicide. There is a third, even younger, Apple sister, Jane (Sally Murphy), described as "a non-fiction writer", who lives nearby with her boyfriend, Tim Andrews (Stephen Kunken), an actor. Benjamin Apple (Jon Devries) is the siblings' uncle and a retired actor. He also shared Barbara's house after he suffered a heart attack that put him into a coma, from which he emerged with a mild dementia. The conflict in Sorry centers around the decision to have him moved to an assisted living facility, a decision that Barbara, ever the in-gatherer, opposes.

As is appropriate for a play set on the anniversary of an assassination, and perhaps for the final play in a series, the theme of Regular Singing is death. The Kennedy assassination is discussed, but the central concern is the impending death of Adam who, despite their separation, has remained close to Marian and to Barbara, who has made her house his hospice. The play begins with the family gathered around the dining room table, and Jane and Tim breaking into song, a song to be sung at Adam's funeral. This leads to Tim's short discourse on the play's title, which was a liturgical controversy in colonial America. As the play progresses, Marian is frequently called to attend to the needs of Adam's mother, who is in a room offstage with her dying son. Richard seems a caged tiger; after Barbara gets him to sit down he accuses her and his other sisters of sabotaging his marriage.  This leads to the play's emotional fulcrum, where his vulnerability becomes manifest. Amid the sturm und drang Uncle Benjamin, with his flat affect, sounds a note of stability. That may be why Barbara repeats almost everything he says.

Near the close of Regular Singing Barbara reads to the others sentences each of her students has written about death, an assignment she gave them in connection with the Kennedy anniversary. Then there is a recitation of a secularized 23rd Psalm Adam wrote for his own funeral, ending with, "and I shall dwell in Barbara's house forever."

I'll close with what Richard Nelson, the playwright, had to say about the Apple plays:
I wrote in the note for SORRY that it is my hope that these plays are about the need to talk, the need to listen, the need for theatre, and the need to be in the same room together.
Maybe it's really just saying the same thing another way, but I want to add that it is also my hope that they are about the need to know, in small or even some bigger ways, that we are not alone.  
I'm very glad to have been in that room.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

So long, Frank Lloyd Wright: one of his few designs in New York City was demolished.

The space behind these papered-over windows at 430 Park Avenue, between 54th and 55th streets contained an interior designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, widely regarded as the greatest American architect of the past century. I used to work in 430 Park, when it was a banal 1950s vintage international style building (originally a 1920s vintage apartment building that was stripped of its brick and limestone facade and given a glass and steel front), a poor cousin to the nearby Lever House and Seagram Building. When I began work there, I noticed that the ground floor housed a Mercedes Benz dealership that had a spectacular looking showroom. I later learned that this showroom had been designed by Wright, and had the distinction of being among only four things by him in New York City, the others being the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street; The Crimson Beech, a prefab house on Staten Island; and a display room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now only these last three remain.
This photo, from Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, depicts the showroom as it was at a time when the dealership sold Porsches as well as Mercedes.

In 2001, when the lease of the principal tenant at 430 Park expired, The New York Times reported that its owners, "a partnership headed by Oestreicher Realty and Midwood Management," decided to do an extensive renovation intended to make it "fit in better visually with its neighborhood and become what its managers hope will be a prime location for corporate tenants." I had hoped to be able to show a "before and after" comparison of the building, but can't find a photo of it as it was before the renovation. The photos below show it as it is after:

To me, the building does look better. The principal change is that the narrow north and south walls, which were previously clad in white brick, now are glass and metal, like the facade facing Park Avenue. While the long Park Avenue facade still has its pattern of horizontal strips of window alternating with strips of opaque green, the appearance is somehow softer. The overall effect is to make the building look like something inviting to touch, like a hand-held electronic device.

Mercedes Benz vacated their space in 2012, consolidating their sales operations in Manhattan at one location on the West Side, where many other auto dealers are located.* The Wright space was ready-made for another such dealership, but either none expressed any interest in taking it over, or (more likely is my guess) the new building owners wanted something there that would generate more, and more steady, revenue. Could it have been adaptively re-used by, say, a high end clothing boutique or shoe store? Possibly, although some modifications would have been necessary. In any event, the Crain's New York video below shows what happened (the narrator refers to the Wright-designed space as "the Hoffman showroom" after the dealer who occupied the space before Mercedes):

The building's owners acted lawfully and within their rights. And, as this New York Times article notes, the showroom wasn't considered one of Wright's more significant works. The article quotes the late, and eminent, Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, as calling it "cramped." Still, some saw in its spiral ramp an adumbration of the Guggenheim.

I'm very sorry that it's gone. Part of my sorrow is that few seemed to know about it, so I felt I was in on a choice secret. I liked to imagine taking one of my architect friends there and basking in their delighted surprise. In a better world  there would have been public funds sufficient and available to compensate the owners for the loss of income, which for a prime Park Avenue commercial space could be substantial, they would suffer from preserving it. Perhaps it could have been acquired, or leased for a long term, and used as a small museum commemorating Wright's life and works.

I can't resist the obvious gesture of closing with this Simon & Garfunkel song:

*For some reason, it seems to make economic sense for car dealers to locate in proximity to each other. Maybe the idea is that you get spillover from other dealers' potential customers who didn't like what was offered there. In giving up the Park Avenue location, though, Mercedes abandoned the place where, as reported by one of my fellow lawyers who spotted him, Jerry Seinfeld came to shop for a car. In any event, I can't help but wonder if Mercedes' decision to leave the space wasn't in some way encouraged by the building's new owners.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Wall

My old Civil Air Patrol buddy Steve Scrivener's name is there, as are those of several soldiers I helped to train during my Fort Polk days. WNYC's website links to an interview with Maya Lin, who designed the memorial. There's also a recollection of the dedication on the same website.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Update on Lou Reed: his Grace Church connection (thanks to Binky Philips).

I damn near vandalized my briefs when I read the first sentence of Binky Philips' Huff Po piece:
I first met Lou Reed at the Holiday Fundraiser Fair at Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, the day after Thanksgiving, 1967.
Lou at the Grace Church Fair? My wife has been a stalwart Fair worker for maybe the last thirteen years or so. Of course, 1967 was well before our time here in the Heights. I was starting my first year of law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she was a sixth grader at a Catholic school in Lynn, a few miles away. Had we been introduced at the time, and told that we would someday be married, we would both have been very surprised, perhaps even (at least in her case) horrified. (I would probably have thought: "Well, she's not the upper middle class WASP princess of my dreams, but she is pretty." She might have thought: "What an pretentious, pseudo-intellectual twit.")

Anyway, Lou was not present in person at the '67 Fair. Mr. Philips, fourteen at the time, "met" him in the form of a stack of the first Velvet Underground LPs (you can always get some really good stuff at the Grace Church Fair; trust me), one of which he bought, took home, played, and didn't like. He described Lou's vocal delivery as "Bob Dylan with a Brooklyn hitter accent." Two years later, stoned, and with a friend, he pulled the album out, played it, and SHA-ZAM! He was converted.

Later, Mr. Philips had several in person encounters with Lou, almost all of them in music stores. In one of these, he did manage a brief, inconsequential conversational exchange about a guitar. I was once (apart from the Detroit concert) in Lou's presence. This was at a party, sometime around the '70s-'80s cusp, in the then edgy (now touristy) Meat Packing District. My friend Charlie (not to be confused with Binky's friend Charlie) pointed him out to me, standing maybe twenty feet away. I resisted the temptation to introduce myself, knowing I was not cool enough to merit his attention.

Mr. Philips writes that he was in the Grace Church Choir (by which he presumably means the Youth Choir) for three years. Among his choir mates at that time might have been Robert Lamm, later keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter for Chicago. Harry Chapin would have preceded him by a few years.