Saturday, September 30, 2023

Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris. "Hickory Wind"

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

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

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

While Gram was still in high school he played in several rock bands and later in an acoustic folk group, the Shilohs. His stepfather, Bob Parsons, converted a small warehouse building in Winter Haven to a "teen age night club" called the Derry Down, in large part to provide a venue for Gram and his groups to perform. In 2008 I attended the grand re-opening of the Derry Down, featuring a Cosmic American Music Festival. "Cosmic American Music" was what Gram called his works.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 02, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Buffett, "A Pirate Looks at Forty"

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

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

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

A bold prediction; a chastened update.

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

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2023

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Tony Bennett - "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2023

I can't give up on the Mets


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 05, 2023

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2023

10,000 Maniacs & David Byrne, "Let the Mystery Be" -- a (sort of) theological reflection.

The clip above shows 10,000 Maniacs, with their then vocalist Natalie Merchant and a guest appearnce by David Byrne, doing "Let the Mystery Be", a song by singer and songwriter Iris DeMent. At first hearing, this may seem a paean to agnosticism. However, it made me remember a conversation some years ago with the Rev. Stephen Muncie, then Rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights. I was expressing my doubts about some aspects of Judaeo-Christian doctrine because they did not comport with my understanding of physics and of cause-effect relationships. Steve's response was, "Mystery, not mastery." He also gave me a quotation from Anne Lamott that I treasure, and give below in its full context:
“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me -- that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.”

Anne Lamott, Plan B -- Further Thoughts on Faith 

Addendum: Here's the original version of "Let the Mystery Be" by Iris DeMent, with accompanying musicians. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tina Turner (1939-2023) - "What's Love Got To Do With It?"; a remembrance.

As I noted twelve years ago, and gave the reason there, actors, artists, and musicians I have loved over the years are dying with frequency. The latest is Tina Turner, a two time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.The first was in 1991, as Ike and Tina Turner, with her ex-husband, Ike, who got her career started in 1958, and gave her the name Tina (she was born Anna Mae Bullock, and took the name Turner when she married Ike). The second induction was in 2021 as a solo artist. 

I'm not sure when I first heard Ike and Tina Turner. It may have been 1960, when "A Fool in Love" made it to number two on the pop chart, and I could have heard it on WDAE in Tampa. I know I heard "River Deep, Mountain High", probably on Boston's WRKO during my first year of law school. She was not a bel canto singer; her voice had a rasp that conveyed struggle and the grit to overcome. "River Deep" gave her more melodic structure and a chance to broaden her vocal ability.

After she separated from and divorced Ike, she went through several years of struggle. Her big break came in 1984, with the release of her album Private Dancer, which includes "What's Love Got to Do with It?" (clip above), her first song to go to number one on the pop chart. Although the song was co-written by Graham Lyle and Terry Britten, it seems almost autobiographical. Much recording and touring success followed Private Dancer, She also appeared in two movies, including a leading role as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  

She died on Wednesday, May 24 at her and her second husband, Erwin Bach's, home in Küsnacht, Switzerland. She has received many tributes from fellow musicians. My favorite is from Beyoncé, as quoted in the Daily News
“My beloved queen,” Beyoncé's post reads. “I love you endlessly. I’m so grateful for your inspiration, and all the ways you have paved the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion. We are all so fortunate to have witnessed your kindness and beautiful spirit that will remain forever.”

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Fairport Convention - "Reno Nevada" by Richard Fariña at Cropredy 2017

A lttle over a year ago I posted about Fairport Convention's doing Emitt Rhodes' "Time Will Show the Wiser" on their first album, recorded in 1967, and fifty years later, at the 2017 Cropredy Festival, with the same lineup of musicians except for the drummer. The clip above is also from Cropredy 2017, and shows them doing "Reno Nevada", a song by Richard Fariña. described by The Guardian as a "lost genius who bridged the gap between beats and hippies." He and his wife Mimi, who was Joan Baez's sister, were a folk singing duo. I remember him best as the author of Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me, which I read during my third  year of law school, not long after it was published in 1966. To me it is the ultimate sixties novel, although it is set in the late fifties. It is suffused with the sixties spirit that was being brewed in the late Eisenhower years. There is no mention of Vietnam, which wasn't in the news at the time, but the novel ends when its protagonist, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, gets a draft notice. No one uses marijuana, but "Paps" gets high smoking tobacco cigarettes that have been soaked in paregoric. A few days after Been Down So Long was published Fariña, then 29, died in a motorcycle crash.

I think Fairport's cover of "Reno Nevada" is excellent. One thing I especially like about this video is that it shows Judy Dyble, with whom I enjoyed a lively trans-Atlantic electronic friendship for about seven years, until her death from lung cancer three years ago, doing what I had read she often did on stage during long instrumental breaks: knitting.

The Mets are showing some life ... Updated!

... as are the bats of Pete Alonso and of Francisco Lindor (photo). True to form, the Mets started the season hot, but this year the collapse was quick in coming. They were doing well through most of April. Despite being swept by the Brewers in their second series of the season, they came off a California trip, usually Death Valley for the Mets, with a sweep of the As, two of three from the Dodgers, and a two-two split with the Giants, in which the Giants won the last two. From the loss to the Giants on April 22 through that to the Rays on May 16, the Mets' record was 7-17.

They're now sitting on a scorching three game winning streak. The first two were over the Rays, who now hold the best record in the Majors. On May 17 Kodai Senga held the Rays to one run while striking out 1welve. Unfortunately, and characteristically for most of this season, the Mets' batters gave him no support. so he left the mound at the end of the sixth with the score 1-0 Rays. It then became a question of which bullpen would do the least damage. Four Mets releivers gave up six runs, but the Rays' pen yielded eight. the last being a walk off homer in the bottom of the tenth by Alonso, so the Mets won 8-7.

In the last game of the Rays series, starter Tylor Megill allowed two runs over six innings, but the Mets batters supplied three and the bullpen held firm for a 3-2 Mets win. Friday's game with the Cleveland Guardians was another nail biter. Mets starter Carlos Carrasco gave up five runs in five innings, continuing what for him has been a difficult season, notching his ERA up to 8.68 and leaving the mound with the score Cleveland 5, Mets 2. In the bottom of the sixth a Brett Baty homer made it 5-3, but in the top of seventh, Mets reliever Dominic Leone allowed another two runs. In the bottom of the seventh a grand slam by Alonso tied the game. In the top of the tenth Cleveland scored two runs, but in the bottom of the tenth the Mets scored three runs to win, all on RBI singles, the last by Lindor.

The Mets are now a .500 team, third in the NL East. The game Saturday was postponed by rain, so there will be a double header with Cleveland today. It's possible the Mets will revert to the mean and lose both games. As I noted in a post some years ago, the Mets have "the ability to rouse hopes, then smash them like cheap china." 

Update: the Mets swept today's doubleheader with the Guardians, so have now won five straight. The really good news is that Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander both were in good form, so the top of the order, at least for now, may be solid.

Photo: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Another friend gone: Anne Hagman McDermott

The photo above shows Anne Hagman McDermott as I most remember her, in the company of a group of friends. I'm at the right, in my Mets cap (Annie was a Mets fan); she is behind me and to my left in the photo, with a hand on Jeanine Flaherty's shoulder. Her husband, Joe McDermott, is to her left. Others in the photo are, left to right photo-wise, Jack Deacy, Barry Murphy, and Ethan Eldon. The occasion was a gathering of Lion's Head alums  several years ago at the White Horse Tavern, a Greenwich Village fixture known in its heyday, like the Head, for attracting writers and artists.

I was introduced to Annie by my friend Allen Sack sometime around the cusp of the 1970s and '80s and we maintained a friendship that was a steady source of joy for me. We were with friends at the Head watching a Mets game when she proposed a version of West Side Story featuring the Mets instead of the Jets. She suggested,"When you're a Met, you're a Met all the way, from your first training camp to your last ball in play." Allen came up with "Ojeda, I just met a lefty, Ojeda!" My contribution was to have the players' wives and girlfriends get together during preparations for the World Series and having them sing, "They don't know how to play in the American, pitchers don't bat in the American, etc." That's now obsolete with the unfortunate universalization of the designated hitter rule.

Annie once unwittingly almost got me into a fight at the Head. It was a bitterly cold night. I came in and took the only vacant stool, at the corner of the bar nearest the door. To my left was a man I'd never seen before. Annie was around the corner, seated next to the wall. The stranger kept giving Annie, who was single at the time, pick-up lines, to which she responded politely but noncommitally. After a while, Annie said good night to all around her and went out the door. The stranger followed her and held the door open while he implored her to stay or to go with him. Annie continued to respond politely, though negatively, while freezing air billowed into the bar. Someone, probably the bartender, yelled, "Close the goddamned door!" Annie, hearing this, skedaddled. The stranger slammed the door shut and confronted me with "F--- you!" I was about to give a response along the lines of, "Sir, I'm not the one who complained, but I'm grateful to whoever did." Just then Nancy Duggan, a tough as nails redhead, came in and took the seat Annie had vacated. It was a classic instance of drawing fire. The guy turned from me to Nancy and deployed a line of breathtaking sophistication: "Hey, babe, you ever think about using your equipment?" Nancy shot back, in a voice approaching a snarl, "Ye-e-eah, I use it ALL the TIME." I decided this was a terrific time to visit the men's room. When I came out two minutes or so later, the guy was gone.

Yes, Annie could be, as the saying goes, kind to a fault. I don't doubt that, if she or someone for whom she cared (which was just about anyone) was in danger, she would have responded appropriately. She was a vital component of the Lion's Head scene, which proved vital to her in that she met her husband, Joe McDermott, there.

Goodbye, Annie. You are sorely missed.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Some thoughts on English and Portuguese history, an admirable woman, and two boroughs of New York City

Today King Charles III was crowned. This led me to think of the last British monarch to bear his name, Charles II (portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). He was more fortunate than his father, Charles I, whose reign ended with his beheading. The young Charles was sent into exile in France. He returned to England and was crowned in 1660; his reign lasted until his death in 1685

While he has been called the "Merry Monarch" his reign was far from untroubled. In 1665 a terrible plague struck England, and the following year saw the Great Fire of London. What caused tension throughout his reign was his sympathy for Catholicism, inherited from his father and undoubtedly strengthened during his French exile. 

In 1670 Charles entered into the Secret Treaty of Dover, in which he pledged to support France in its war against the Dutch Republic and to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified time (he did so, on his deathbed). This led to the Third Anglo-Dutch War, concluded in 1674 by the Treaty of Westminster, under which, among other things, the Dutch returned their colony of New Netherland to the English, who renamed it New York. 

New York City's Borough of Brooklyn, where I have lived for the past forty years, is co-extensive with the County of Kings, so named in honor of Charles II. Our neighboring County, and Borough, of Queens is named for his consort, Catherine of Braganza (portrait by Peter Lely, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). She was a Portuguese infanta, or princess, whose marriage to Charles at the age of 21 was, like almost all European royal marriages, diplomatically arranged. Her dowry included Bombay, now Mumbai, thereby helping to establish the British foothold in India. The marriage didn't get off to a good start. She developed a nosebleed and fainted when told that Charles had made his favorite mistress, Barbara Palmer, her Lady of the Bedchamber, or personal attendant. 

Despite this and many other discourtesies, Catherine remained faithful to Charles until his death. To his credit, Charles resisted entreaties to divorce her when she suffered three miscarriages and failed to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. After Charles died she remained in England through the short, unhappy reign of her brother in law, James II, and  the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, which sent James into French exile and gave the crown to his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, whose marriage had been arranged by Charles to placate Protestants and secure realtions with the Dutch. Under William and Mary, Protestant power was solidified by Parliament, which passed an "Exclusionary Act" barring Catholics from the throne. Catherine returned to Portugal in 1692, where she spent her later years active in affairs of state, serving on two occasions as regent for her brother, Peter II, and helping to secure a treaty between Portugal and England. She died in 1705 and is buried at the monastery of São Vicente de Fora.

As a Brooklynite I hate to say this, but, Queens, you got the better of the two royals.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Gordon Lightfoot (1938-2023), "Seven Islands Suite"

No, this isn't turning into a music blog. It's that every week lately seems to bring news of the death of a musician I've loved. I'm 77, so it's not surprising that many of the musical idols of my younger days,  of whom a good number were ten or so years older than me, are now reaching their actuarial expiry dates.

I loved Gordon Lightfoot both for the quality of his songs and for the fact that his voice was in a range I could handle. I've told this story before. In conversation with Lester Bangs of beloved memory, who disdained any music that wasn't a "full frontal assault", I confessed to liking Lightfoot. Lester gave a dismissive "Hmph!" He said something like, "I know Gord. Do you know what he does when he's trying to write a song and needs inspiration? He goes to a hardware store and stares at the labels on cans of paint." That night, when I got home to my apartment, I pulled out my Lightfoot albums and scanned the song titles for color imagery. None there. 

The video is of Lightfoot doing my favorite of his songs, "Seven Islands Suite", at Massey Hall, Toronto, in 1974.    

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Harry Belafonte, "Jamaica Farewell"

Harry Belafonte died last Tuesday at the age of 96. According to his New York Times obituary his singing career began while he was a teenager, and he began to be recorded in the early 1950s. His "Day-O (Banana Boat Song)", made it to the pop charts in 1957, but didn't do quite as well as an almost contemporaneously recorded version by the Tarriers, a folk group consisting of Alan Arkin (later better known as an actor), Bob Carey (who was Black, thereby making this the first well known racially integrated American folk group), and Erik Darling my pleasant encounter with whom you can read about here. The Tarriers' version is an amalgam of two Jamaican folk songs put together by the American folk singer and songwriter Bob Gibson, who had visited Jamaica. The songs were "Day-O" and one called "Hill and Gully Rider". I'm pretty sure the first version I heard had the "hill and gully rider" chorus, so likely was the Tarriers' version.

"Day-O" was included on Belafonte's album, Calypso, which was the first long playing album to sell a million copies. The video above is of Belafonte singing "Jamaica Farewell", which was also on Calypso and charted in 1957 after "Day-O".  It was written and composed by Irving Burgie, a Brooklyn native whose mother was from Barbados, and who wrote the lyrics for the Barbadian national anthem, "In Plenty and in Time of Need". He was a prolific songwriter, who wrote many more songs for Belafonte, some of which, like "Island in the Sun", became hits. He also performed as a singer, using the name "Lord Burgess".

There is some controversy over whether "Day-O", an adaptation, on which Burgie collaborated with Belafonte, of a Jamaican folk song, or "Jamaica Farewell", written by Burgie but considered part of a Jamaican folk tradition called mento, should be considered "calypso", a musical style that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. According to MasterClass, calypso "spread throughout the West Indies." MasterClass includes Belafonte in its list of "5 Notable Calypso Musicians" and calls "Day-O" calypso, no doubt because it shares calypso's call-and-response format and rhythmic structure. "Jamaica Farewell" lacks the call-and-response, but MasterClass calls mento a "subgenre" of calypso. "Origins of Mento", on, disputes this, arguing that while the two styles "share many similarities, they are separate and distinct musical forms."

One thing that cannot be disputed is that Harry Belafonte had a profound and lasting effect on American popular music, as well as that of other nations. His talent was not limited to singing. He also saw success as an actor, having met his close friend Sidney Poitier while they were both in an acting class, and as a television host. He is the only person to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Academy Award. The last was in a noncompetitive category; he was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his work to advance civil rights in the U.S. -- he became a close friend of and co-worker with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. -- and in South Africa, and for his efforts to provide relief for victims of famine and other disasters worldwide.

Update: read about an event in Belafonte's life, that helped to sharpen his commitment to civil rights, here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Born to Be Wild: Ann-Margret rocks!

Ann-Margret, at 81, has recorded "Born to be Wild", an album of covers of rock classics, with help from Pete Townshend, himself no spring chicken, among others. The clip above is of her doing the title song. The cover photo is from 1967, and shows her on a Triumph Tiger motorcycle. This New York Times story gives all the details.

Maybe there's still time for me, at 77, to realize some of my adolescent fantasies. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Happy Easter! Zissen Pesach! Ramadan Mubarak!

According to Magee Hickey on WPIX 11 Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, three important holidays of the three Abrahamic faiths, overlap only once every thirty years or so. This is one of those years. She quotes Rabbi Aaron Raskin of Bnai Avraham synagogue here in Brooklyn Heights:
"When all these holidays come together it's a time of unity ... [t]o see how we complement one another to see how we can work together to make the world a better place."
Holiday blessings to my Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends; to all others, enjoy a glorious spring.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

King's College Cambridge Choir, ""All Glory, Laud and Honour"

This morning's Palm Sunday service at Grace Church, Brooklyn began, as it customarily does, with the joyful hymn "All Glory, Laud and Honor", sung in the video above by the choir of King's College, Cambridge. Following the clergy and choir, we left our pews and sang it in procession, holding our palm fronds in one hand and our programs, with the lyrics, in the other. We sang, with help from the choir, as we left the sanctuary, went through the courtyard, and out along the sidewalk at Hicks Street.

The service ended on a somber note with "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded"; a hymn I associate with Good Friday. Ten years ago I posted a video of the Concentus Musicus Wien performing J.S. Bach's O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, from the St. Matthew Passion, which is the basis for "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded". In my commentary on that post, I noted that Bach had used a tune by Hans Leo Hassler. I also noted in that post that the tune was later used by Tom Glazer for "Because All Men Are Brothers" and by Paul Simon for "American Tune".

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Scarlatti Harpsichord Solo: The Cat's Fugue, Elaine Comparone

The prolific Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) wrote many single movement fugues for solo harpsichord. One of these, his Sonata in G Minor (K.30) became known as the Cat's Fugue because of a story that it was inspired by the sound made when Scarlatti's cat, Pucinella, walked across the keyboard. The rendition in the video above is by Elaine Comparone. Martha and I were once treated to a brief recital by Ms. Comparone at her apartment when a friend of both hers and ours who had retired to Cuernavaca, Mexico, was staying there during a visit. We have a Lyrichord CD of Ms. Comparone playing the Cat's Fugue along with other Scarlatti solo sonatas.

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.