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!"