Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sarah Stone and friends perform English and Scottish music at Communitea.

On Friday evening Sarah Stone, on cello in the center of the GIF above, along with (left to right) Francis Liu on violin, Kevin Devine on harpsichord and hurdy gurdy (you can see him cranking it in the GIF), and soprano Madeline Healey, shown above tapping on a small drum similar to what in Irish music is called a bodhrán, gave a delightful concert of English and Scottish songs and instrumental pieces at Communitea, in Long Island City, Queens.

This was not "classical" chamber music, although some of the tunes were by classically esteemed composers like Purcell, but rather "pop" or "folk" music of its time. The first set began with three songs about drinking and food. "The Wine Was Made to Rule the Day" introduced us to the awesome (an adjective that actually belongs here) voice of Ms. Healey, with its crystalline clarity and precision. "A Song in Praise of Old English Roast Beef" had us joining in on the chorus. "Ye Mortals That Love Drinking" described all, or at least most of all, of us there.

Some of the remaining pieces in the set gave Mr. Devine a chance to show his skill with the hurdy gurdy. The first three of these were selections from the Scottish composer James Oswald's Airs for all Seasons, all of which are named for seasonal flowers: "The Fox Glove"; "The Periwinkle": and "The Rocket". There were five Playford Dances: "The Virgin Queen"; "Young Jemmy"; "Never Love Thee More"; "Coxes Dance"; and "Up Its Aily". John Playford adapted these from an informal folk dance tradition popular among "country" people, who had no time nor money for formal dance instruction. City sophisticates took to these because on a long evening they would tire of the elaborate formal dances typical for their class. A modern parallel to this can be seen in the "urban cowboy" craze of about forty years ago.

Playford dances are still done in England, as the video above shows.

After an intermission, the second set began with three Scottish songs, sung spritefully by Ms. Healey (I was searching for an adjective that would describe her singing while continuing an "s" alliteration; I may have been influenced by my first car's having been an Austin-Healey Sprite). The first song was a lullaby, "O Can Ye Sew Cushions", followed by the mournful ballad "Auld Robin Gray", written by Lady Anne Lindsay, but the third was much sprightlier.

"There's Nae Luck About the House" is a lively ballad with lyrics by the poet Jean Adam, sung in the clip above in its intended Broad Scots, by the Glasgow Irish singer Ella Logan, as it also was by Ms. Healey.

The set, and the evening's program, concluded with a series of short songs recounting the courtship of Jenny and Jockey. I'll quote here from Ms. Stone's notes, which lead to a sad conclusion:
Ending the program is the everyman story of Jenny and Jockey, told again and again by composers throughout England. Jockey is a shepherd. Jenny loves Jockey. Jockey is a wagg and doesn't want to get married. Someone should warn Jenny before her 'Maiden's Treasures' gone or (according to Purcell) 'she'll 'go to London-town... to Kiss for half a Crown'.
As with many a song tradition that has found root in various parts of the British Isles - see, for example, my summary of my late friend Nick Tosches'discussion of the evolution of the Greek Orpheus legend in British folk music (the summary is in the fourth paragraph of the linked post) - the Jenny and Jockey story has many variants. In Scotland,it may have a happier ending.

This was a most enjoyable evening, and we look forward to Ms. Stone's next performance at Communitea. We are also delighted that she has become a regular member of the Repast Baroque Ensemble, whose concerts we regularly attend (and I'm tickled pink that I'm quoted in the second paragraph on their home page).

Monday, October 21, 2019

Nick Tosches, 1949-2019

Nick Tosches died yesterday. I hadn't seen or been in communication with Nick for years, but there was a time, from the late 1970s to the early nineties, when I counted him as a close friend, and I believe he would have said the same of me. There was no rupture because of a disagreement. Marriage and fatherhood pulled me away - though not so quickly as my wife would have liked - from long hours in the Greenwich Village demimonde where Nick and I spent time together. Meanwhile, Nick was entering an especially prolific time in his writing career. Martha, my wife, says she still has somewhere a letter Nick wrote celebrating the birth of our daughter. As I recall, he wrote that it was an occasion "making November 4 a holiday."

Nick and I got to know each other at the Bells of Hell. What got our friendship going was a common love of country music. My fondness for it began in mid-childhood, when every summer my parents and I took a triangular trip from Florida to central Pennsylvania to visit my mother's relatives, then across Ohio to southern Indiana to see my father's family, then back to Florida. On these trips the car radio was always on, and in the territory we traversed country was the music you got. I came to associate it with these trips, which I enjoyed very much, partly for the visits with my grandparents, including a great grandmother who lived to be 103 and could remember the Civil War, but also because I loved seeing the country. My maternal grandmother lived near the then four track main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and I became a railfan early in life. In those pre-Interstate days of two lane blacktop, highways often paralleled railways, and I got to see trains on many different lines, including the sleek green, white, and gold diesels of the Southern, and the hulking steam articulated locos of the Norfolk & Western.

Nick's interest in country music stemmed from his love of rock and roll, a love I shared. Nick's first book, titled Country, was published shortly before I met him. Its original subtitle (see image of cover above) was The Biggest Music in America, but the third edition had a new one: The twisted roots of rock 'n' roll. Another thing we had in common was a love of history; I once loaned him my copy of William Appleman Williams's The Roots of the Modern American Empire, which I never got back. As a writer about rock, Nick became interested in its origins, which took him back to several sources. Three of these were in Black music: Delta blues, jump blues and rhythm and blues. Another was a style called "rockabilly," which took elements from the Black styles and combined them with the Appalachian ballad tradition.

One chapter of Country that I especially enjoyed was titled "Orpheus, Gypsies, and Redneck Rock 'n' Roll," in which Nick interviewed rockabilly artist Warren Smith, who years before had recorded a song called "Black Jack Davy."  Nick asked Smith where he got the song; Smith said, "I wrote it." Nick's next paragraph begins, "Cut to Athens, 800 B.C." He then tells of the origin of the Orpheus legend, and over several pages gives a detailed history of its inclusion in Ovid's Metamorphoses, its retelling in Latin by Boethius, King Alfred's translation of Boethius into Old English, and the Orpheus legend's subsequent metastasization into English, Irish, and Scottish folklore. Here it became the story of a Gypsy, eventually known as Black Jack Davy, who steals a nobleman's wife. In later versions, she chooses to stay with the Gypsy.

Another short chapter, "The Girl Singer," that Nick later described, in the preface to the Da Capo edition of Country, as "truth masquerading as fiction masquerading as truth," tells of his apparent encounter with a transgender person.

Nick's second book was Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story. The British newspaper The Guardian rated it first in its list of the fifty greatest music books ever. Nick told me that, when he was interviewing Jerry Lee. he asked about an incident in which Jerry Lee shot his bassist. This had been ruled an accident. Nick asked if it really was an accident. Jerry Lee said, "A sanctified preacher don't make no mistakes."

Nick had many more books, some but not all of which I've read. I gave a copy of Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Nick's biography of Dean Martin, to my father, who liked it very much. It's referred to in Neil Genzlinger's NYT obituary, which is linked at the top of the post but linked here again for your convenience.

While I earlier wrote that there was no disagreement between Nick and me, I think that, on a fundamental level, one that nevertheless didn't affect our friendship, we were very different. The NYT obituary includes this observation, given in response to a Times interviewer in 1992 concerning the Dean Martin book: “Life is a racket,” he [Nick] added. “Writing is a racket. Sincerity is a racket. Everything’s a racket."

Nick's cynical view may reflect his background, growing up on the streets of Jersey City, while mine, which holds that things may improve despite human imperfectability, could reflect my having been the cosseted only son of parents of middle class means. This is a topic I mean to explore further in future posts.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Saying Farewell to John Phillips

Two weeks ago Martha and I attended a memorial service for someone I thought would be an honored guest at mine.

By way of background, my father retired from the Air Force in February of 1958, when I was on the cusp of twelve, and we moved to Tampa. We settled into 3910 Wyoming Avenue, and were warmly greeted by our neighbors from 3912, Burt and Mary Phillips. Burt, a Gulfport, Mississippi native, worked for an oil company; Mary, who grew up on a farm near Conway, Arkansas, was a nurse. I'll confess to having had an adolescent crush on tall, auburn haired Mary.

After a couple of years, Mary became pregnant. She and my mother had become very close, and during what must have been her eighth month, Mary was at our house for a visit. She said to me, "Come here," as she lifted her shirt. Pointing to a spot on her distended belly, she said, "Put your hand here." I did, and felt movement. "That's a foot," she said. So it was that my first contact with John happened before he was born. Many years later, when I told John this story, he said, with mock horror, "You did THAT to my mother?"

As an infant, John was our next door neighbor for a couple of years, until Burt and Mary moved to a spiffier neighborhood on Tampa's north side. Nevertheless, their friendship with my parents and me remained strong, and we were frequent guests at their new house. I was a teenager; John was a little kid. Our contacts were minimal; he was often off on play dates during our visits. Indeed, I had little contact with John, other than at the occasional holiday meal and party we shared with his parents, through my high school, college, and law school years. One detail I remember, told by Mary, was of his having adopted a cat that he named Jennifer. When a vet said the cat was male, John called it "Jennifer He"; perhaps an adumbration of gender fluidity.

My friendship with John began in the 1980s when he, having graduated from Stanford, came to New York to study for an M.B.A. at New York University's Graduate School of Business Administration. We became bachelor neighbors in Greenwich Village, as he lived in a dorm a few blocks from my apartment. We had in common having taken courses at G.B.A., now called the Stern School after alum and birdseed magnate (Hartz Mountain) Leonard Stern. I introduced him to the Lion's Head. After his first visit there, when I was there alone, a woman friend asked, "When is that cute John Phillips coming back?"

Eventually, John let me know he had fallen in love with someone he met at G.B.A., Alyssa Cohen. Martha and I were together when we attended their wedding, and rode to and from it (It was in Nassau County; Alyssa's home) on something someone has called the "Gator Bus" because it was full of people from Florida.

After the wedding, Martha and I visited John and Alyssa at their apartment in Manhattan's Chelsea district. Later, they moved to suburban Larchmont. They had two daughters, Sarah and Veronica. We visited them on several occasions, sometimes with Burt and Mary up from Florida. On one of these visits, Mary, in her Arkansas patois, kept referring to Alyssa and her parents, Gabe and Ina, as the "Coynes." This made me wonder if she thought John's wife and in-laws were Irish. Of course, she would have noticed the rabbi at the wedding. On one of our visits, John, who had been working in television, told me of being fired by Lou Dobbs. He didn't seem upset by this; I thought it was a badge of honor.

We also stayed in touch through correspondence, in which John and Alyssa kept us advised of their travels, their daughters' accomplishments, and other matters. The messages we received always reflected John's bizarre sense of humor.

Martha and I were both dismayed by the news of John's death, while in his fifties, from pancreatic cancer. We attended his memorial service at an Episcopal church in Larchmont, at which the celebrant was a priest who had been John's high school classmate. There were many testimonials by high school, college, and grad school classmates, in which I learned, among other things, that he and I shared a love for the humor of Monty Python,

I wish I had known him better.


Friday, October 04, 2019

The Mets play it well, but not well enough.

Back in March, I asked if the Mets' winning their opening game was a bad sign. I noted there that my wife, a Red Sox fan, believed that a team's early success portended later collapse. That's what happened to the Mets in the early season. They started red hot, then went into a funk that lasted until the All Star break. After that, they went on a winning streak, but one punctuated by couple of short instances in which they were swept by divisional rivals. They managed to stay in contention for a wild card spot until a few days before the regular season ended. They finished third in their division, one spot ahead of where they finished last year.

I'm delighted by the Mets' Pete Alonso having set a new record for home runs by a rookie, beating that set by the Yankees' Aaron Judge. I have nothing against Mr. Judge, who I'm sure is a fine person as well as a superb player, but I always love to see the Mets eclipse the Yankees in any category. This year they tied the Yanks, 2-2, in their interleague series.

Next year they'll have a new manager, as Mickey Callaway was given his walking papers today. If they can resist trading away promising prospects for aging "quick fix" superstars, and if the injuries that have long plagued them are kept to a minimum, they could have a very good 2020.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Met's "Play It Loud!"

I saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll yesterday, two days before its closure on Tuesday, October 1. There was a very long line, as the galleries were packed and people were being allowed in five or six at a time. The first instrument on display, at the exhibition's entrance, was the Gibson ES-350T hollow bodied electric guitar (photo above) that was owned by Chuck Berry. Giving this instrument pride of place was appropriate as, although Chuck Berry didn't invent rock and roll, he probably had more influence on its development than any other artist.


The video clip above shows Berry in live performance in 1958, doing "Johnny B. Goode," probably his best known song, which George Thorogood called "the rock and roll national anthem." It also shows him doing his famous "duck walk."

The first gallery displayed instruments by some of rock's pioneers and early stars. The Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone above was owned and played by Louis Jordan, whose "jump blues" style is considered an important precursor of rock.

This video shows Jordan, age about 58, performing "Saturday Night Fish Fry" on TV in 1966. Note the go-go dancers.

Another genre that had profound influence on rock was the electric blues that, from the late 1940s on, evolved in Chicago from the acoustic blues of the Mississippi Delta. The Fender Telecaster guitar shown above, called "The Hoss," belonged to one of the greatest exponents of this style, McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters.


The video above shows Muddy doing "I'm a King Bee" at ChicagoFest 1981.

Bo Diddley was another very influential artist in early rock. He popularized the "hambone" or "shave-and-a-hair-cut, two bits" rhythm found in the work of many who followed him. I'd long wondered why he often played rectangular guitars like this one, which he called the "Twang Machine," and which was custom made for him by the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company of (Yay!) Brooklyn. According to the text accompanying this display, Bo "built his first guitar from a rectangular piece of wood fitted with a pickup made from Victrola turntable parts."

 
The video above is of Bo doing "Who Do You Love" at the Sevilla Expo '92 with Steve Cropper, Dave Edmonds, and others. This song has been covered many times by, among others, the Doors, the Blues Project, Tom Rush, Quicksilver Messenger Service. George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and Elise LeGrow.

Early rock wasn't an all male show. Wanda Jackson, who played this customized Martin D-18 acoustic guitar, was called the "Queen of Rockabilly."


Here's Wanda doing "I Gotta Know" on the Marty Stuart show. The song, written by Thelma Blackmon, was recorded in 1956. It starts slowly and mournfully, but quickly gets wild.

This "baby grand" piano, painted gold, was the home piano of Jerry Lee Lewis. I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Jerry Lee in the fall of 1979 at the Lorelei, a former German beer and dance hall on East 86th Street in Manhattan that someone had bought and turned into a Country and Western venue (this was during the "urban cowboy" craze). Jerry Lee, being a "rockabilly" artist, was considered appropriate for this setting. Indeed, he was preceded that evening by Otis Blackwell, an R&B artist and  prolific songwriter whose works were recorded by Elvis Presley and others. The hall's owner hadn't touched the decor; seeing Jerry Lee pumping his piano under posters of Mad King Ludwig's Bavarian castles was close to psychedelia.

 
Above is Jerry Lee doing "Meatman" at Church Street Station, Orlando (date not specified).


The gallery with instruments of pioneer and early rockers was relatively uncrowded, but those of later stars, such as the Beatles, Stones, Prince, and Joan Jett, were so tightly packed that it was difficult to get good photo shots. Above are some art nouveau style posters for shows during the "Summer of Love" psychedelic rock period. I did manage to get a shot of an instrument I considered significant, below.
I've long loved the look of the Gibson "Flying V" guitar. This one was played by one of my favorite artists, Neil Young, although his "furious and melodic sound is most often created with another Gibson guitar, his modified 1953 Les Paul."


Here's Neil, making the most of that Les Paul in a live performance in Berlin in 1982 of my favorite song of his, "Like a Hurricane." The video is 14:24, but he finishes the song at about 8:20, and the rest is highlights repeated.

I'm glad I got to see this exhibition, but sad I didn't see it in time to tell others how great it was. At least I can share some of it with those of you who didn't, or couldn't, see it.

Monday, September 02, 2019

What We Did on Our Holidays - Part 2

Our second mini-vacation was to the Glimmerglass Festival, held at the Alice Busch Opera Theater (photo) near Cooperstown, New York. We've attended Glimmerglass together for several years. With our friends Marc and Stuart we rode in Marc's car from Jersey City to Cherry Valley, New York.
There we checked into the Limestone Mansion, where we have stayed now for three summers, enjoying the comfortable rooms and the sumptuous breakfasts prepared by Wolf and Loretta; the latter enjoyed in surroundings like that shown in the photo above.

We arrived mid-afternoon Friday, which gave me time to stroll around Cherry Valley's little "downtown" and discover this "historic" laundromat.

Cherry Valley is about a ten minute drive from the Alice Busch Opera Theater. On Friday evening, we dined on sandwiches and salads from the Festival's outdoor cafe.
We then saw our first opera of the Festival, the world premiere of Blue. It began with a young black man in street clothes alone on the stage. Three policemen emerged from offstage, evoking the possibility of an arrest. Instead, one of the policemen handed the black man a blue shirt and pants. The black man, known throughout only as "The Father" and played by Kenneth Kellogg (photo above, from his website), went offstage and returned in his new blue uniform, and there were handshakes all around.
The Father then married The Mother (Briana Elyse Hunter; photo, from her website) and she became one when a son was born, to great celebration by all, including The Father's police colleagues. All went well until The Son (Aaron Crouch) reached his teens. He was a good student, showing promising talent at art, but he also became involved in demonstrations against police brutality. This  caused a confrontation with The Father, ending with The Father's assurance that he would love The Son, no matter what. Shortly after, The Son was shot dead by one of The Father's fellow policemen, though not one of his friends, while The Son was participating in a demonstration.

The plot then turned to The Father's reaction to this tragedy, told through his interactions with The Reverend (Gordon Hawkins). First he wanted revenge, later he questioned his belief in God. At The Son's funeral, The Mother asked Jesus to take him in his hands as she had asked The Father to take him when he was a newborn. There is a final, poignant scene: a flashback to the family around a table, where The Son announced that his art teacher said he showed great talent, and thought he could get a scholarship to RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design; a highly regarded institution). He then casually mentioned his intention to participate in a peaceful demonstration.

I've described the plot of Blue without mentioning the singing or the orchestral music, both of which were excellent. The music is by Jeanine Tesori and the libretto by Tazewell Thompson, who also directed the performance. The orchestra was conducted by John DeMain.

On Saturday morning we went into Cooperstown and spent some time in Willis Monie Books, a labyrinthine store offering both new and used books at attractive prices. At eight bucks apiece, I couldn't resist Producers versus Capitalists: Constitutional Conflict in Antebellum America, by Tony A. Freyer, University Research Professor of History and Law at the University of Alabama, and The Rosy Future of War (who could resist such a title?) by Philippe Delmas.

We didn't visit Cooperstown's most famous attraction, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, on this trip; we had visited it on an earlier one, and will return someday.
Later we went to the Fenimore Art Museum and viewed the exhibit of photographs by Herb Ritts, who shot photos of many stars of rock, pop. jazz, folk, and blues. The introductory panel featured his photo of Tina Turner.
David Bowie showed up in grungy street clothes, but had a costume for his photo session. Ritts wisely suggested he stay grungy.
Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie had the ability to inflate his cheeks, which assisted his playing. Ritts wanted to get a photo of it, but Gillespie refused. Ritts happened to turn quickly and got this shot.
Ritts got this lovely profile of Joan Baez; yes, that's her own hand.
Little Richard: "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, A-wop-bam-boom."
Ritts mostly worked in black and white, but he got this shot of Madonna on the beach at Malibu in color.

On Saturday afternoon we saw our second opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, with music by John Corigliano and libretto by the late William M. Hoffman. Ghosts had its premiere in 1990 at New York City's Metropolitan Opera, and has played at several other venues since. The photo above is of the scrim before the opening of the opera's first act. Several "ghosts" are visible, including Marie Antoinette (Yelena Dyachek) and some courtiers at the right in the photo, and Louis XVI (Peter Morgan) at the left.

The central character in Ghosts is Pierre Beaumarchais (Jonathan Bryan). Beaumarchais had a remarkable life as a watchmaker, playwright, musician, spy, and lover. In Ghosts he is portrayed as being in love with Marie Antoinette, who desperately wanted to be brought back to life. Beaumarchais promised to do this by means of an opera, based on Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, which was itself based on a play written by Beaumarchais. In this opera, Figaro (Ben Schaefer) is to steal a valuable necklace and use it to bribe for Marie Antoinette's release before her execution, after which Beaumarchais would take her to safety in America. "We will live in Philadelphia!" he exclaimed, which evoked laughter from the audience.

Beaumarchais' scheme went awry when, in the opera-within-an-opera, Figaro rebelled and refused to cooperate. All was resolved at the end, when Marie Antoinette decided it is best not to disturb history, but to enjoy her afterlife with Beaumarchais.

Ghosts is long, has many characters, and with its nested operas structure, is complex. At times it made me think of Firesign Theatre's "Further Adventures of Nick Danger". Hoffman inserted bits of humor, such as the "Philadelphia" line and some others that got chuckles from opera buffs. At the close of one particularly chaotic scene a woman wearing a helmet with horns and a breastplate emerged from backstage and proclaimed, "This is not opera. Wagner is opera!"

As with Blue, the singing and the orchestra, here conducted by Joseph Colaneri, were excellent. Ghosts also featured some superb dance performances.
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Glimmerglass always includes one Broadway musical comedy in each summer's roster of performances. This year's selection was Show Boat (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein, 1927). I'd never seen Show Boat on stage, though I did see the 1951 movie version when I was about six years old. One thing I remember from the movie is William Warfield's rendition of "Ol' Man River." In the Glimmerglass production, it was sung by Justin Hopkins as Joe. I'd rate his performance as equal to Warfield's. In the video clip above, Hopkins sings it accompanied by the Philly Pops. Perhaps the other best known song from Show Boat is "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," sung beautifully at Glimmerglass by Judith Skinner as Queenie.

The plot of Show Boat is probably familiar to most readers, and certainly to fans of Edna Ferber, on whose novel the show is based. There's a sub-plot, certainly controversial in 1927, concerning Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law and the notorious "one drop rule," the latter of which, ironically, saved Julie La Verne (Alyson Cambridge) and Steve Baker (Charles H. Eaton) from imprisonment, though they both had to abandon their leading roles in the boat's itinerant drama.

The main story concerns Magnolia Hawks (Lauren Snouffer), daughter of the boat's captain, Andy Hawks (Lara Teeter), and the riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Michael Adams) with whom Magnolia fell in love. She and Gaylord replaced Julie and Steve in the show's cast, but when Cap'n Andy's wife (and Magnolia's mother), Parthy Ann Hawks (Klea Blackhurst), opposed their marriage, they left the boat and eloped.

For a time, Gaylord's luck ran well, and they lived in Chicago's elegant Palmer House. Then it turned bad; they got evicted, and Gaylord, in shame, abandoned Magnolia, whom he didn't know was pregnant. Magnolia gave birth to a daughter, Kim, and raised her as a single mother while developing her own career as a cabaret singer. Eventually, she and Ravenal were reunited, he met his daughter for the first time, and presumably all was well thereafter.

Again, the singing and the orchestra, conducted here by James Lowe, were superb.

As always, we were impressed by Glimmerglass' selection of musical offerings and by the quality of the singing and orchestral performances. Our special congratulations to Artistic Director Francesca Zambello.
Some of us had to be back to work on Monday, so, with reluctance, we packed, enjoyed one last Limestone Mansion breakfast, and headed back to New Jersey and New York City. I took the photo above of the countryside just east of Cherry Valley, with Lake Otsego in the background, from the window of Marc's car.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Happy 74th, Van Morrison!

To quote another great musician, "What a long, strange trip it's been." May it go on, and on.  As I've written before, my first encounter with Van's music came in September of 1967, when I had just arrived in Cambridge to start law school. Here's one of my favorites of his, "Crazy Love":

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Simon Dinnerstein's Fulbright Triptych at the McMullen Art Museum, Boston College, September 8 through December 8, 2019.

Simon Dinnerstein painted The Fulbright Triptych (above) over a period of several years during and after living in Kassel, Germany on a Fulbright fellowship, studying print making. It is leaving its permanent home at the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University on loan to the McMullen Art Museum at Boston College, where it will be from September 8 through December 8. The McMullen Museum website says the Triptych will be on view starting Monday, September 9, but Mr. Dinnerstein's email says it will be open on Sunday, September 8 from noon until 5:00, and that he will give a talk about the painting at 3:00.

As the Museum's press release, linked above, points out, the Triptych
was produced in an era of postwar art [the early 1970s] when minimalism, video art, and and installation dominated the New York scene. At the time, figuration, and even painting itself were out of fashion. 
Mr. Dinnerstein's email gives a link to "Triptychs and Temporality." an article, from the Journal of the National Academy of Art and Design, by Larry Silver, Farquhar Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Silver discusses the references to historical artistic styles and artists that appear in the Triptych, with illustrations that focus on details of the painting.
I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Dinnerstein twice. The first time was after he gave a talk about the Triptych at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The second was when, at the suggestion of my friend Louise Crawford, I visited his home and studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and took the photo shown above. The story of that visit, along with those of mine with six other artists over a two day span, is here.

If you're wondering what became of the baby held in her mother's lap in the left side panel of the Triptych, watch the video above.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What We Did on Our Holidays - Part 1

I've been on a Fairport Convention kick lately, so I decided to purloin the title of their second album for two pieces on what Martha and I did on our two short holidays ("vacations" in American) this summer.

For our first, we once again enjoyed the hospitality of our friends John and Susan Proctor in their spacious house in the town of Orleans, just past the "elbow" of the Cape Cod peninsula. Their house is a comfortable walk from Skaket Beach (photo above), which is on the bay side of the peninsula.
On our first day, at John's and Susan's suggestion, we visited the French Cable Station Museum. The history behind it is that in 1879, tired of having to route all their transatlantic cable traffic through London, the French laid their own cable from near Brest, on the Brittany peninsula, to St. Pierre, a small island to the south of Newfoundland that is part of Metropolitan France, and extended it from there to Cape Cod. It landed in the town of North Eastham, but because the location there was remote and difficult to access in winter, in 1891 the cable was extended on land to Orleans, just to the south, and the Cable Station (photo above) was built there. No doubt the French were pleased to have it terminate in a place with a French name. 

In 1898, a new cable was laid directly from Brest to Orleans. During World War I General Pershing, commander of American forces in France, used it to communicate with the Army Department in Washington, and in 1927 it brought news of Charles Lindbergh's safe arrival in Paris. During the German occupation of France in World War II, U.S. authorities closed the station for security reasons. It was re-opened in 1952 and remained in operation until 1959.
Because of the constrained size of the cable, it was not capable of transmitting keyed Morse Code dashes and dots it the same way telegraph lines could. Instead, it transmitted variances in voltage, with low voltage representing a dot and high a dash. The equipment an operator would use to translate the voltage variations into conventional Morse Code for forwarding inland is shown above.

As we were leaving the Museum, I noticed that next door was the Addison Art Gallery. I suggested that we go in for a look, and the others readily agreed. I'm glad I did. The Gallery was presenting After Hopper, a series of events commemorating Edward Hopper, who spent many summers and did many paintings on the Cape. As the Gallery's website puts it: " 'After Hopper' celebrates the artists of today who continue to pursue Hopper's path in their own unique ways." Some, like John Murphy are faithful to Hopper's fairly strict representational style. Some, like Marc Kundmann's "Stella in the Morning",  pay homage to Hopper's works; in this case Hopper's "Morning Sun." Others, like Catherine Hess, have a more impressionistic style.
On summer saturdays there's a flea market at Wellfleet's still active drive-in cinema. I bought a copy of George Johnson's Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, which I may read someday, and John Patrick Diggins's The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority, which I will read, because it bears upon things on my mind now.
Coming back from one of my daily walks to Skaket Beach, I passed this typical Cape Cod house with an atypical floral display.
On our arrival back in New York City, we were greeted by this sign.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I remember where I was ...

... when Neil Armstrong took "one small step... ." At 10:30 P.M. EDT on July 20, 1969 I was at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania, prone on the ground next to an M-60 machine gun, with my poncho draped over me as it was raining steadily. I was there with other members of my ROTC summer training platoon, waiting to ambush an "enemy" convoy that never showed up. It was near the end of a field exercise that lasted several days and was the capstone of our training. We may have known of the launch of Apollo 11 before we boarded the helicopters that took us to the training area, but we didn't know of the successful moon landing until we returned to our barracks, and our radios.
 
There were other events I missed during my time at IGMR.  Jimi Hendrix played "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock. On my way back to Tampa, I stopped to visit a friend in Richmond. She said something about Chappaquiddick, and I said, "Chappa who?"

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

Erratum: when I first wrote this, I put the date of the moon landing as 1979 instead of '69. My bad, and I've corrected it.

Moon landing photo: CCO Public Domain.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Remembering Sandy Denny

Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny, known to the world of devotees of British folk and folk rock, of which I'm part, as Sandy Denny, died on April 21, 1978 at the age of 31, following a fall down a flight of stairs. I got this news by radio while driving across the George Washington Bridge on my morning commute from my home in Greenwich Village to my job in suburban Rockland County. I got a lump in my throat, but managed to keep my eyes on the road.

I first heard Sandy Denny's voice coming from the dorm room of my law school classmate John Lovett in the spring of 1970. I was walking past his partly open door when I heard something sounding stately, like Anglican chant, with a lovely female lead and male harmony vocals. I knocked and asked John what he was playing. "Fairport Convention," he said.


The song I heard coming from John's room was "Percy's Song," an obscure Bob Dylan piece I didn't know. It was from Fairport's third album, Unhalfbricking. I didn't buy a Fairport album until after I graduated and moved to New York. The first one I got was Liege & Lief.


"Tam Lin" is a typical example (in my opinion a particularly good one) of the songs on Liege & Lief, which represent Fairport's turn, under Sandy's influence, to folk rock arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads, or new songs reflecting those influences.

After Liege & Lief, Sandy left Fairport and joined her future husband, Australian born singer and songwriter Trevor Lucas, in a group called Fotheringay, named for the castle in which Mary Queen of Scots spent her last days and was executed. The group had one, in my opinion excellent, eponymous album.

The album included "Peace in the End," an optimistic song about the then (1970) apparently insoluble "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Fotheringay broke up after one year, as Sandy decided to pursue a solo career. In 1971 she released a critically acclaimed album, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens.


 That same year, at the behest of Robert Plant, she sang with Led Zeppelin on "The Battle of Evermore."

After Sandy left Fairport, it continued as an all male band.  Their first album in that guise had the title Full House, which I thought a bit cheeky, although I liked the album nevertheless. In November of 1974 I went to my first Fairport concert, at Carnegie Hall. When the band took the stage I was surprised to see Sandy taking her seat at a grand piano. A man sitting not far from me called out, "Welcome back!" She answered with a chirpy "Thenk you!"


They proceeded to give a riveting performance that included some old favorites from Liege & Lief and earlier albums, but also new material, including the searing antiwar ballad "John the Gun."


In 1975 Fairport released Rising for the Moon, with a stirring title track that showcased Sandy's voice beautifully. Its opening lines -- the lyrics are by Sandy -- tell of the life of a traveling musician:
I travel over the sea,
And ride the rolling sky,
For that's the way it is,
That is my fortune,
There are many ears to please,
Many people's love to try,
And every day's begun,
Rising for the moon.
Also in 1975 Sandy and Trevor Lucas, who were married in 1973, left Fairport. They had a daughter. Their marriage lasted until Sandy's death in 1978.

Yesterday I saw this Chicago Tribune piece by Greg Kot about Sandy, and how her influence lives in the work of groups like Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, and the Decembrists. Kot focuses on the first song of hers to gain wide attention.

That song was "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" It was made popular by Judy Collins who, as Kot notes, was a shrewd judge of talent, a year or so before Sandy recorded it with Fairport. Sandy's version is in the audio clip above.

I disagree with Kot in one respect. He calls Fairport's first and eponymous album, made before Sandy joined the group, "unremarkable." Its sales may have been disappointing , but I think it's a fine bit of artistry. It was the second Fairport album I acquired, and I was struck immediately by their rendition of the driving rocker "Time Will Show the Wiser". I was also captivated by their rendition of Joni Mitchell's "I Don't Know Where I Stand," featuring the voice of their first woman vocalist, Judy Dyble (unfortunately, no clip of this is available). She has -- she is still singing and recording -- a strong but sweet voice. It was perhaps stronger -- more Grace Slick than Joni Mitchell, although I think she covered Mitchell brilliantly -- than the guys in the group wanted for their turn towards more folk influenced material.

A version of Fairport Convention still exists; they most recently released an album in 2015, and may be the longest surviving major rock band save the Rolling Stones and the Who. Sandy Denny was an essential element in their success.

Sandy Denny photo: John Lyons, 1972

Monday, May 27, 2019

Farewell, Bill Buckner, who made my day in 1986.

In October of 1986 I was at home watching my Mets play the Red Sox in game six of the World Series. The Sox led the series 3-2, and this game had gone into the tenth inning, with the Sox holding a 5-3 lead and three outs left to secure their first Series victory since 1918. Ignoring Yogi Berra's advice - "It ain't over till it's over" - I left my apartment and headed for a bar where I knew my friend Bill, a Springfield, Massachusetts native and thus a cradle Red Sox fan, would be, so as to congratulate him. On my way to the bar, I heard a loud crowd noise coming from an open window, which I now know signalled the Mets' having scored two runs to tie the game. When I got to the bar, I looked in through its large front window and saw everyone jumping up and down and cheering, except for Bill, who stood stock still with his face ashen. When I got in, I went to Bill and said, "What happened?" He gestured at the TV just as it showed a replay of a ground ball skittering between the legs of a Sox player.

That player was Bill Buckner, the Sox first baseman. His error allowed the Mets to score the go-ahead run, and to tie the Series. They then won game seven, gaining their second Series title following their victory over the Orioles in 1969.

Bill Buckner died today at 69, a victim of Lewy Body Dementia. Although Buckner had a solid career that touched parts of four decades, included a National League batting title, and an All Star appearance, his fate was to be remembered for his one error watched by millions.

The grounder he misplayed was hit by Mookie Wilson, who became a close friend of Buckner's after they retired. It's unfair, as Mookie and so many others have said, for Buckner to be remembered for one error during a long and praiseworthy career. Still, it's ironic that, were it not for that error, he wold now be remembered only by older and obsessive fans of the Red Sox, Cubs, and other teams for whom he played during his long time in the Majors.

Bill Buckner photo: Craig Johnson from San Diego, CA, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Monday, May 13, 2019

Farewell, first crush!

Well, first celebrity crush. Sometime in my earlier, polymorphously perverse years, there was a redhead named Irene from whom I, in my first of many displays of male emotional fuckwittage (to borrow a term from Bridget Jones), surreptitiously pocketed and took home a toy airplane, on the belief that a girl had no business owning such a thing. After my father spotted it and couldn't recall buying it, I surreptitiously returned it.

When I was seven, my father took me to the local cinema (we were living in England at the time) to see Calamity Jane, starring Doris Day in the title role (photo) and Howard Keel as her love interest, Wild Bill Hickok. From the opening scene, I knew I was in love:

To me, at age seven, there seemed something compellingly attractive about a woman who could do guy things but still be very much a woman.

Later in life, when my love interests became more complicated, there were times when I couldn't listen to "Secret Love," also from Calamity Jane, without my eyes misting over:


So, rest in peace, Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff from Cincinnati. You meant a lot to me, and to millions of others, both men and women. You also meant a lot to animals, whose welfare you championed. An admirable person in all respects.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mets win opener. Is this a bad sign?

It's not an entirely facetious question. My wife, a Red Sox fan, is convinced that the better her team does early, the worse their season is likely to be. Lately, the Mets seem to have followed a similar pattern. This happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Mets' triumphal 1969 season, in which they lost their season opener to the Montreal Expos 11-10. Today they beat the Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, 2-0.  The game pitted two of MLB's best pitchers -- Jacob deGrom of the Mets and Max Scherzer of the Nats, against each other. The Mets managed to tag Scherzer for a run in the first, and deGrom was untouched until turning it over to the bullpen, which held fast while the Mets got a second run off Scherzer.

It's a most satisfying result. As a Mets fan, though, I know not to get my hopes too high too soon.


Monday, January 21, 2019

"The Drum Major Instinct"


Two months before he was murdered, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon on "The Drum Major Instinct." He began with the text in Mark 10:35-41, in which James and John asked Jesus if they will be given the right to sit at his right and left hands in glory. Instead of rebuking them, Jesus said this honor was not his to give, and concluded
[W]hosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
Dr. King then observed,
[W]e must understand that we have some of the same James and John qualities. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.
He then illustrated ways that instinct affects us badly: through competitive consumerism that leads us to live beyond our means; by bragging, name-dropping, and spreading pernicious gossip; by anti-social behavior meant to attract attention; and by a "snobbish exclusivism," including racial prejudice, which, he ruefully observed, is found in some churches.

Like Jesus, Dr. King did not condemn this "drum major instinct." Instead, he said, it should be re-directed in a positive way:
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.
At the conclusion of the sermon, he said:
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.
Just before these final words, he quoted from the lyrics of "Then My Living Will Not Be In Vain," sung here by Patti LaBelle: Ms. LaBelle sang this as a tribute to Oseola McCarty, a washerwoman who, following a life of hard work and thrift, was able to leave a bequest of $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi.

You can read the full text of Dr. King's sermon here and hear a recording here.

Dr. King photo: File photo-Public Domain.