Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2023

FourWinds FleadhTV TG4 The Rollicking Boys Around Tandragee

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Malachy McCourt beats the Reaper

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Wayne Shorter, 1933-2023 - "Footprints"

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

Saturday, February 11, 2023

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 03, 2023

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

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

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Go Iggles!

The Philadelphia Eagles, or "Iggles" as true Philadelphians call them, have won the NFC championship, and so will face the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. After the Eagles won the NFC championship game, the Empire State Building was illuminated with green and white, the Eagles' colors. The New York Daily News demurred, noting that the Eagles are "locally despised". 

I'll confess that I'd rather see another team that wears green, the New York Jets, heading to Arizona in February. Still, I'm casting my lot with the Eagles this year. I have nothing against K.C.; I've had some good times there; sampling, among other things, Arthur Bryant's Barbecue. But I'm a Keystone State native (albeit from closer to Pittsburgh than Philly). Thanks to my wife's genealogical research I know that my great-great-great-great grandfather Samuel Miles served for a year as mayor of Philadelphia. He declined to serve a second term, probably to devote his attention to business matters. Also, my daughter, her partner, and my granddaughter live in Chester, Pennsylvania, part of the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

So, go Iggles!

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

Saturday, January 28, 2023

R.I.P. Tom Verlaine

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

Saturday, January 21, 2023

How I learned to love David Crosby

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

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

Crosby later became my least favorite Byrd. What precipitated this was "Mind Gardens", to me at the time (1967) the one great blot on the Byrds' otherwise superb fourth album Younger Than Yesterday. My musical taste at the time was broad, encompassing classical, baroque, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and soul, along with rock. Thanks to the Beatles I was beginning to appreciate Indian raga, and to Dave Brubeck jazz. "Mind Gardens", though, was a step too far for me at the time. Crosby's solo vocal and the instrumental accompaniment didn't follow any convention I could understand; it simply sounded discordant. Despite its ultimately optimistic lyrics, it seemed to me to lead nowhere. 

Jon Pareles, in the New York Times, provides a list of what he considers Crosby's "Fifteen Essential Songs". About "Mind Gardens" he writes:
"An artifact of psychedelia's experimental heyday, 'Mind Gardens' is a parable about protection and openness, with an Indian-tinged vocal line rising above a multi-tracked droney web of guitar picking: acoustic and electric, picked and sustained, running forward and backward and completely reveling in disorientation."

Now, with the benefit of half a century plus more of living, which have included a generous share of disorientation, I've come to appreciate "Mind Gardens", along with other Crosby songs like "Everybody's Been Burned", also from Younger Than Yesterday, which ends with the lines, "But you die inside/ Every time you try to hide/ So I guess instead I'll love you."

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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

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

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Remembrances and appreciations, 2022

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

In 1953 BBC television's signal didn't extend beyond metropolitan London, so we listened to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on our radio. She had been Queen since February 6, 1952, the day her father, King George VI, died. Her ascension to the monarchy took place while she and Prince Phillip were on tour in Kenya. In the almost year and a half from then until the coronation I saw many newspaper and magazine articles with photos of the, I thought, beautiful young Queen. She was also a prominent subject of conversation at the Sandon County Council School, where I was the only American but, in the course of two and a half years, became thoroughly anglicized in habits and speech.

I would no doubt have been surprised to know, at age seven, that her reign would last until I was almost seventy seven. Indeed, I would have been surprised to know I would live that long. I was a military brat, and thought that my destiny was to die gloriously in battle, after uttering some phrase that would later resound in history. The Queen was not known for stirring quotes, but this one seems very characteristic: "It’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change." 

As I've noted before, with my advancing age, every year brings a larger number of contemporaries and admired or influential elders who have died. This year I won't try to make a comprehensive list; I'll stick to those who were most important to me, either because I knew them personally or found them especially impressive or influential. Besides the Queen, among those who were influential worldwide that we lost were Mikhail Gorbachev and Madeleine Albright. Although I'm not a soccer fan, I can't not mention Pelé.

F. Donald Logan was Martha's professor, mentor, and history major adviser at Emmanuel College. I got to know him when Martha and I visited Boston on several occasions, and enjoyed his hospitality, cooking, and love for Bailey's Irish Cream. He was a superb raconteur with a great depth of knowledge about medieval Europe, Church politics, and contemporary controversies. I enjoyed reading his The Vikings in History. Once, when I was attending a convention in Boston and Martha was unable to join me, Don let me stay in his Brookline apartment alone while he was on one of his annual trips to London, thereby saving my clients a hotel bill.

Clark Green schooled me in the fine art of church ushering during his term as Head Usher at Grace Church. Another Grace parishioner I will miss is the always delightful Shirley Baldwin. A neighbor missed by Martha, me, and many is Lesley Carter, a charming Scottish woman whom I would often encounter during my daily walks as she walked Bear, her massive and placid brown Labrador. Whenever we stopped to chat, Bear would attract kids who would shower him with attention, which he received gladly. I lost a Facebook friend whom I never met in the flesh, Walter William Milner, whose intelligence and wry English wit I'll never forget.

Among the ever dwindling roster of Lion's Head alumni, ones I will keenly miss are former co-owner Al Koblin (the Kettle of Fish, which Al mentions in the linked interview, later moved into the spot at 59 Christopher Street previously occupied by the Head), Cheryl Floyd, Jules Kohn, Marie Murphy, and Virginia Lucy Zox, known to all as "Sha", who served on the waitstaff and was a constant source of joy. She became a character in Head alum Robert Ward's novel The Stone Carrier. Thanks to friend Dermot McEvoy for keeping me, and many others, abreast of news concerning former Head regulars.

Among the musicians lost were all-around wild man Jerry Lee Lewis (for a comprehensive biography see my late friend Nick Tosches' widely praised Hellfire), composer Ned Rorem, jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, singer-songwriter and producer Thom Bell, singers Gary BrookerLoretta LynnChristine Perfect McVieMeat LoafOlivia Newton-JohnAnita Pointer, Bobby Rydell, and Ronnie Spector, guitarists and singers Ronnie Hawkins and Danny Kalb,  mandolinist and singer Roland White, and drummer Dino Danelli

The stage and cinema world lost, among many others, actors Kristie AlleyAngela LansburyJames CaanWilliam Hurt (whom I had the pleasure of seeing in 1989 when he played Augie-Jake in Joe Pintauro's "Beside Herself" at Circle Repertory Company, for which I then served on the Board of Advisors), and the incomparable Sidney Poitier; comedian and fellow USF alum Gallagher; and directors Peter Bogdanovich and Jean-Luc Godard.

The visual arts lost painters Carmen HerreraSam GilliamJennifer Bartlett, and Paula Rego, along with sculptors Lee Bontecou and Claes Oldenburg and New Yorker cartoonist George Booth. Among those lost to the world of literature are my law school classmate John Jay Osborn, Jr., author of The Paper Chase; historian David McCullough; historical novelist Hilary Mantel; drama critic, biographer, and playwright Terry Teachout; satirist P.J. O'Rourke, with whose political views I didn't always agree but whose writing I often found delightful; Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the indispensable Nickel and Dimed; and restaurant critic Gael Greene, whose novel Blue Skies, No Candy. was once described as an exemplar of the "shopping and f---ing" genre. 

One writer lost last year with whom I was unfamiliar is Peter Straub, whose works are described in his linked New York Times obituary as "novels of terror, mystery and the supernatural" but who "insisted that his work transcended categorization". As he observed, "Adult human beings live with the certainty of grief, which deepens us and opens us to other people, who have been there, too." He was the father of Emma Straub, also a novelist, and the co-owner of Books Are Magic, which now has a location two blocks from where I live. 

Now I'll turn to appreciations. As always, I must start with my wife, Martha Foley. For those who don't know, I fractured my left ankle on November 24, 2021. Since then I have had two surgeries and periods of rehabilitation, and now face a third surgery this coming Thursday, January 12. This has been a most trying period for Martha, who has had to do household chores and shopping that I would otherwise do,  tend to my medical needs, and work for her clients as well as volunteering at the Brooklyn Women's Exchange. I'm hoping this coming surgery will resolve all remaining problems. My thanks to the physicians at NYU Langone Health, including Doctors Kenneth EgolPierre SaadehMikel Sadek, and Mona Bashar, and the physicians' assistants, nurses, and technicians, who have provided me with the finest of care.

On to pleasant matters. Our daughter, Elizabeth Cordelia Scales, and her partner, Drew Rodkey, have presented us with a granddaughter, Ada Xiomara Rodkey. They live in Chester, Pennsylvania, just south of Philadelphia, and we have enjoyed two visits, the most recent over Christmas. We're also grateful to Drew for the work he did on our apartment and furniture during their visit. We look forward to seeing them again soon.

Finally, thanks to all my friends and readers for your support and encouragement. I wish you all the best of everything for 2023.

Homage to the King

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

In 1956 I was ten years old and riding with my father in our '55 Chevy on a two lane blacktop in the pine woods of Northwest Florida. Dad had the radio tuned to a station that played country music. The DJ said, "And now, here's Elvis Presley." I'd heard of him, and seen his photo on the cover of a magazine. I presumed, from the way he wore his hair, and his clothes, and that he drove girls crazy, that he was a crooner; perhaps a next generation version of Frank Sinatra. But what I heard was the clang of a single guitar chord, followed by, "You ain't a-nothin' but a hound dog!" in a voice that snarled. I thought, "This is a song this guy has done as a joke, but I love it!" 

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

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

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

In accordance with my love for connecting visual arts with music -- see here and here -- the painting immediately brought to mind a song I first heard on the radio some time around 1968 to '69, Neil Diamond's  "Brooklyn Roads":

The odd thing is, when I first heard the song, I understood the title to be "Brooklyn Rows". I knew that Brooklyn, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was at the time, was characterized by row houses. Besides, "rows" was a perfect rhyme with "those", which ends the preceding line. Also, "rows" is the way he sings it, with no noticeable "d" at the end of the line.

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