APRIL 29, 2017
"Well he was just seventeen, and you know what I mean..." to paraphrase a Beatles' classic; today, it pertains to our little Dante, the cat who has blessed our lives for so many years since the passing of my dog, Blondie.
Today is his 17th birthday! And he's in great company. My brother, jazz guitarist Carl Barry, was born on this date, as was jazz guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans, bandleader Duke Ellington and Willie Nelson (who, as we all know, worships at the altar of jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt). I guess you could say Dante is one jazzy cat (with that adorable pink nose and his adorable pink pads, something he shares with his late step-sister, our dog Blondie)!
In this collage, going across: at the top left is Dante with one of his parents (me); Dante laying on financial statements (intent on not letting me pay the bills); Dante in his Halloween Tie. In the next row, going across: we have Dante sitting on laundry (intent on not letting us sort the clothes); Dante showing his (lack of) interest in The New York Times (he thinks it's fake news); and two photos of him laying on a picnic table in my friend's vacation house in Peconic, New York. And then we have proof that a cat will sleep anywhere, including the windowsill. Finally, Dante just Vogues and strikes a pose!
So a happy birthday to our little baby. Seventeen or not, you'll always be a little kitten to us!
Postscript: I posted the following on Facebook on 2 May 2017:
Anyone who knows cats must know that they do things when they get around to it; so I'm just conveying a message from Dante: thank you for all the love! (He also told me he has at least 8 of the 9 lives left in him, and he'll see y'all next year!)
APRIL 25, 2017
Song of the Day: Too Darn Hot, words and music by Cole Porter, was written for the 1948 musical, "Kiss Me, Kate." It's another one of those songs from Ella's Porter Songbook album, and is an appropriate conclusion to our Centenary Tribute to the Great Ella Fitzgerald, who will always be Too Darn Hot [YouTube link]. Happy 100th, Ella!
APRIL 24, 2017
Song of the Day: I Can See It, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones, is a highlight from "The Fantasticks," the original production of which ran for 42 years Off-Broadway. It is also a highlight of "My Name is Barbra," the first of two studio albums that were tied-in to Barbra Streisand's television special of the same name, which won five Emmy Awards and Streisand's first of four Peabody Awards. For this album, Streisand won her third consecutive Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Female. I was almost three years old when my mother returned from a Broadway show called "I Can Get it For You Wholesale," having enjoyed the production, but telling us that this one performer, "no beauty," had such a voice that she stole the show. "This girl is going places," Mom said. And boy has she. Streisand has collected ten Grammy Awards, along with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Legend Award, a Special Tony Award, nine Golden Globe Awards, two Oscars, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, an AFI Life Achievement Award, and a Kennedy Center Honor. Even though we are in the middle of an Ella Fitzgerald Centenary Salute, which concludes tomorrow, I don't think Ella would have minded one bit giving a "shout-out" to Brooklyn Babs, who today celebrates her 75th birthday. This is one of my all-time favorite early Streisand recordings. Check out the song, arranged and conducted by Peter Matz, on YouTube.
Song of the Day: There's No You, music by Hal Hopper, lyrics by Tom Adair, was first published in 1944, but was covered on "Speak Love," the third of a series of albums that Ella recorded with jazz guitar great Joe Pass. There is a poignant rapport to the two artists as they "speak" to one another in this tender ballad. Check it out on YouTube.
APRIL 23, 2017
Song of the Day: A Felicidade, music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, is featured on the album Ella Abraca Jobim, and is the only song in our tribute not sung in English! The album features so many of the very famous and melodic Jobim songs, but this is one of those rarely heard gems, with the same wonderful Brazilian flavor one would expect from the great composer, and that touch of swing one would expect from Ella. Check it out on YouTube.
APRIL 22, 2017
I've been reading a number of essays online about the alleged "New Age of Ayn Rand," and the authors typically give us a list of folks in the administration of Donald Trump and in the legislative and judicial branches of government who are supposedly Rand "acolytes." Two essays come to mind: Jonathan Freedland's Guardian piece, "The New Age of Ayn Rand: How She Won Over Trump and Silicon Valley" and the far better piece by Thu-Huong Ha in Quartz, "US Repubican leaders love Ayn Rand's controversial philosophy--and are increasingly misinterpreting it."
Freedland goes on and on about how Rand's "particularly hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism" is "having a moment," reflected in views expressed by Speaker Paul Ryan, former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, and his Senator son Rand Paul, and a host of folks in the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Labor Secretary Andy Puzder, and even Donald Trump himself, who once said something nice about Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.
Ha's piece is more nuanced; the writer points out that Rand's atheism, opposition to tariffs, corporate bailouts, and such, run contrary to many of the policies put forth by the Trump administration. (And as an immigrant from the Soviet Union, an opponent of communism and the building of walls, I think she'd have a few things to say about some of the proposals floated by that administration on the issue of immigration.)
I should point out further that Rand's adamant opposition to laws prohibiting abortion, illicit drugs, "obscenity" and "pornography," and sexual activities among consenting adults, run counter to the fundamentalist strain in contemporary U.S. conservatism. She argued that the society was headed toward a "new fascism," which was aided by the efforts of both contemporary liberals and conservatives. It was a form of corporate state that would benefit powerful interests at home and abroad (through the various machinations of foreign "aid," the Ex-Im Bank, the IMF, and the Fed). It is true that she was opposed to the welfare state, but that's only because she rooted the problems it was allegedly created to resolve in the boom-bust cycle generated by a state-banking nexus, exemplified by the Federal Reserve System and its abandonment of the gold standard. (Hat tip to Jeffery Small: Of course, Rand was opposed morally, in principle, to the idea of a welfare state, no matter who the beneficiaries were, be it poor folks, corporations, or the bureaucracy that sustained it. She believed it required the wholesale sacrifice of some groups to the benefit of others, and that it necessarily achieved this through the initiation of force, a violation of individual rights. But she also argued that the whole class of the institutionalized poor was itself an outgrowth of state intervention.)
She was also opposed to the warfare state; her opposition to U.S. entrance into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and her repudiation of any notion that the U.S. could engage in "nation-building" among foreign cultures that had no understanding of the nature of individual rights, all exhibit a grasp of how interventionism abroad almost always created a "boomerang" effect that led to a host of "unintended" consequences. These consequences, much like the interventionist dynamic at home, would lead to further complications and demands for further interventionism, thus creating an almost self-perpetuating welfare-warfare state (see Chapter 12 of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and various essays indexed here).
Today, however, I was going to tell the story about one Rand acolyte who was in a position of immense power and what happened when he was given the opportunity to fundamentally change the institutions he once opposed.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a gentleman named Alan. And he stood firmly against the creation of a central bank, especially the Federal Reserve Bank, which institutionalized inflationary expansion and the inexorable busts; he was an adamant supporter of a gold standard, and talked much about how government facilitated the creation of monopolies with various barriers to entry. Alas, Alan eventually became Chairman of the very Federal Reserve System he once opposed, and was one of the sculptors of the bubble that burst into the Great Recession. But instead of telling that story, I should just refer readers to a wonderful essay by David Gordon posted to the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute: "Alan Greenspan, Sellout." In that essay, Gordon makes clear that even the most fervent acolytes of Ayn Rand become corrupted "once [such folks become] close to the levers of power." I submit that the internal dynamics of government intervention both at home and abroad are too powerful to control; eventually, even those who oppose that intervention become adept at using those very levers of power, and the results cannot be in sync with the philosophy of a woman who stood against interventionism in all its insidious forms, both at home and abroad, both in the boardroom and the bedroom.
This is not the age of Rand. It is the age of the anti-Rand. It is an age where people can cherry-pick and sloganize some of Rand's ideas to justify new and ingenious ways of destroying the fabric of social and economic life. Beware "the New Age of Rand"; it is nothing of the sort.
Postscript: I added a Facebook comment to this essay on 25 April 2017:
I should state for the record that Rand was proudly present at the White House when Greenspan was appointed to Ford's Council of Economic Advisors; she died in 1982, and never lived to see him take the helm of the Fed in 1987. I honestly have no clue what her view would have been; I've heard it said by some of Greenspan's friends that he had hoped to affect change from within the system. The moral of this story is that the system changes just about anyone who becomes a part of it. I do think, however, that Rand's ultimate goal was revolutionary; or else, why speak of "Capitalism:The Unknown Ideal." She declared herself proudly a "radical for capitalism" and fought for a system that had never existed in history.
Song of the Day: Just One of Those Things, words and music by Cole Porter, was written for the 1935 musical "Jubilee." The song is featured on the first of Ella's great songbook albums, released in 1956 as the first album for a new label: Verve Records. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000 and one of fifty recordings selected by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. Check out Ella's rendition on YouTube.
APRIL 21, 2017
Song of the Day: Love is Here To Stay, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, was written for the 1938 film, "The Goldwyn Follies." This jazz standard has been recorded by so many artists through the years, and is another one of those that can be heard in two versions, like yesterday's featured entry: one, a solo version by Ella, the other a duet with Louis Armstrong [YouTube links], heard in the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally."
A Facebook friend, Joel Schlosberg, has been asking me to watch the 2016 film [YouTube link] "Hail, Caesar!," produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Well, Joel, I've finally seen it and it was utterly hilarious. You know they are poking fun at the era of 1950s big budget epics and musicals (the subtitle of the film the characters are working on is "A Tale of the Christ," an obvious allusion to "Ben-Hur.") But in poking fun, they are also doing a loving homage to a bygone Hollywood era, and they do it with one hilariously over-the-top scene after another.
I had to stop and rewind a couple of times because I was laughing so hard. One of my absolutely favorite scenes was, as Joel suggested, the Channing Tatum tap dance number, which readers can see on YouTube. Tatum is a talented guy, and the scene just plays with its audience with a few "wink-winks" that invite more than a few chuckle-chuckles.
In any event, I highly recommend the film; it's entertaining, off-center, and sometimes on-target. After all, it's the Coen brothers! So, thanks Joel!
Next up, and soon, maybe next month, I'll drag myself to watch the 2016 version of "Ben-Hur": I don't anticipate having as nice a reaction, but I'll try to do my best impression of "being objective" (given that the 1959 version remains my all-time favorite!) I've been holding off watching it precisely because I am anticipating a train wreck (and the reviews of the film were pretty awful). CGI might be able to give us some great dinosaurs and fantastic epic space odysseys, but there were no CGI tricks in the 1959 chariot race. Those guys (the actors themselves, with a little help from the great Yakima Cannutt) rode the chariots and when they said there was a cast of thousands, they meant it! But I'll give the 2016 version a whirl. Stay tuned.
For now, I'm still laughing. Hail, Caesar indeed! In this arena, it gets Two Thumbs Up!
I've been having a chat on Facebook about a comment that one person made about Ayn Rand's sexual psychology. The person said:
Ayn Rand seems like the typical masculinized woman who wants to have it both ways. She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard, but she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her.
I was asked what my reaction was with regard to the above quote. At first, I said:
Honestly, . . . whoever said this sounds like he's drawn a ton of deeply psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology through examples from her fiction and her life, perhaps, while trying to place her into "typical" categories into which she may or may not fit. I have no clue. I think such claims fall far too deeply into the area of psychologizing for my tastes. And often these are the kinds of claims that are used to deflect any scholarly attention from a person's philosophy; character assassination is a lot easier than grappling with a person's intellectual legacy.
Apparently, the person who made the above conjecture is a libertarian and not trying to deflect from Rand's accomplishments as a thinker, so I was asked for a follow-up. I wrote:
Well, again, I have absolutely no clue about the sexual psychologies of anybody without having more factual knowledge. I'd have to get to know them somewhat initimately to at least form a judgment on something as private as that. I mean, in some instances, if you have your eyes open, you can see a stereotype coming from a mile away! But in too many instances, I've found that you need to really get to know somebody before you can form a satisfactory conclusion... and even then, you can be wrong.
As for Rand: let's face it, this society does not deal too well with "Type A" women. I did coedit (with Mimi R. Gladstein) the anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and in many of those essays, authors draw assumptions about Rand from her fiction and her life. It's hard not to. I recall her making a comment (I think to Nathaniel Branden) about the sex in her novels, something like, "This is my fantasy, not yours." And in many cases, at least with regard to any fiction-writer, it's very hard not to interpret the sex scenes as at least something that the author has thought about, if not engaged in. There's a lot of "rough sex" in Rand's novels; in The Fountainhead it becomes "rape by engraved invitation" (and writers have debated for years the issue of the "rape fantasy" in Rand's novels). And yes, there are things one can draw from concerning her take on "masculinity" and "femininity" (as "hero-worship") that say something about her view of man-woman relationships (as do her comments on homosexuality among men or women). The character, Dagny Taggart, also says something about her view of the ideal woman. Even her private journals during her break-up with Nathaniel Branden suggest things about her sexual psychology.
But I have enough trouble figuring out people I've known than people I've never met to do arm-chair psychology with regard to what's going on in their minds and bodies! Psychology is definitely not an exact science.
Ross Levatter replied: "Chris, you write that this author draws a number of psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology "through examples from her fiction and her life." Aren't those exactly the sources from where you would expect such inferences to be drawn?" And I answered:
Yes, of course. And with an author who said "And I mean it!" it is at least an indication of something in her sexual psychology. I'm just not prepared to psychoanalyze somebody whom I never met. So much goes into sexual psychology, some things we haven't even truly understood just yet. And we also filter a lot of our psychological inferences through the culture in which we are all embedded. So, with apologies to both Miss Rand and to the person who made the above statements, it's just not that black-and-white.
Well, of course, the discussion has continued. On April 22, 2017, I was challenged for "sitting on the fence" with regard to this issue, and I answered in greater detail:
I don't know why Rick [Giles] thinks I'm "sitting on the fence" on this issue. I just don't think it is easy to dissect a person's sexual psychology in a public forum when we don't really have access to some very intimate details about Rand. Brian, I do agree that you are probably right in your suggestion that Frank was not exactly the embodiment of Rand's stated vision of the ideal man (which was, she said, the "goal" of her fiction-writing).
To state as Rick does that "Ayn Rand is out and out hypergamous without apology" is, quite frankly, BS. If she were so unapologetic about being "hypergamous", why did she not reveal publicly that she was having an affair with Nathaniel Branden (who was probably fulfilling a need in her that Frank could not), with the "acceptance" of both her husband and Nathaniel's then-wife Barbara? For a person who challenged the morality of 2000 years, she didn't flaunt unapologetically the fact that she was in sexual relationships with two men at the same time. In fact, she never mentioned it publicly. She wanted to keep that fact private and secret, which gives one pause about how "without apology" she actually was.
Now, I've heard theories that she didn't want to publicly embarrass her husband. I've also heard theories that because Frank's brother Nick was gay, and because Frank liked gardening and painting, he was probably gay too. You see what I mean about arm-chair psychologizing? You just go down a road with no end and start vomiting conclusions on the basis of little or no evidence.
On the "dominant and submissive" themes in Rand's fiction, I can say this much: I've observed so-called "dominant" and "submissive" behavior in sexuality enough to know that the person who is "submissive" may be either "genuinely" submissive or merely running the show as slickly as a film director---one reason why I have no freaking clue what precisely was going on in Ayn Rand's mind.
Here is what we do know about Rand: She dedicated "Atlas" to both Frank O'Connor and Nathaniel Branden. They both meant something to her on a very deep emotional level. We also know that her novels show that monogamy is not exactly a sacred commandment, that she depicts a lot of rough sex in her fiction (though not quite of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" variety), etc. We know her views on masculinity and femininity and on homosexuality. But for a woman who publicly declared that homosexuality was "disgusting," I've also heard that she cared very much for Frank's brother Nick. (She even stated in her journals that the real affair in "The Fountainhead" was between Roark and Wynand, though not a sexual bond, it was something deeply "romantic"). How do we reconcile these facts? What you see (or what you think you see) is not always what you get.
So her stated views in fiction (as fantasy or projection) and in nonfiction essays (on everything from the idea of a woman president to the Women's Lib movement) and in question-and-answer sessions to public lectures (where she aired her comment on homosexuality) just don't tell the whole story. Nor does her public and private behavior, especially private behavior that she most certainly did not wish to publicize "without apology."
I said it before, and I'll say it again: Sexual psychology is just too complex for one to draw broad conclusions when you don't know enough about the actual person you're dissecting. And I don't think we really know as much as we think we know. So much for my "sitting on the fence."
The conversation went on and on, so I'll just give a summary of what I said in a wrap up (posted on 23 April 2017):
I don't think that every private act ought to be belted out in public, but I think that to say [Rand] was unapologetically hypergamous suggests to me that she was so unapologetic that she could not have cared less what people thought of her having an affair or of anybody she cared about (what happened to "But I don't think of you"?). And I was not so much swearing at you as answering you with the same tone you addressed to me: fence-sitter is not what I am.
. . . [C]alling me a fence-sitter is akin to telling me I'm bullshitting my way out of taking a firm stand, when I'm actually arguing that I can't take a firm stand because I don't have enough information about the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. And who does? We can't make blanket assumptions based on what she projected in her fiction or what we know of her private life. When dealing with a public figure as famous as Rand, who certainly left us some clues about her sexual psychology, I have to take a very cautious approach to making sweeping judgments about a topic so intimate. I'm not a psychologist, but even if I were, I don't have such a depth of access into the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. I don't think anybody has that kind of knowledge.
Rick responded that he was "not socialised in your 1960s New York ghetto slang." He suggested that a private message could have averted a "war." Funny, but I didn't think I had inherited 1960s New York ghetto slang, considering I had not reached the age of 10 until 1970. I guess I'm a little dated. Hmmm... okay, a little more chatting went on.
I'll remember writing you a private message the next time you say that you can't read a paper because it reads like a Sciabarra book. Ahem. You been takin' digs at the ol' man, here, for quite a while now. So I'll wind it back. This is not about any war between us. You're not my enemy. Last time I looked, you were at least a Facebook friend. So let's be friendly.
This whole thread started with a question from Chris Baker asking me to react to a quote about Rand's sexual psychology. Please read that quote. If you honestly think that that quote is not about sexual psychology and that it doesn't make sweeping judgments about Rand's sexual psychology, then we must be reading different quotes. I took your comments as basically seconding the truth of that quote, and my stance is that I can't agree with that kind of a sweeping judgment (or even with its questionable assumptions) based on such a complex area as sexual psychology.
Now let me make one other point: I think I have confused your meaning of hypergamy; at first we were discussing Rand's polyandrous behavior suggested in her fiction and on display in her life. My understanding of hypergamy is being with somebody of a higher class than oneself. Now you really have me confused. Where did Rand ever make any explicit philosophical public statement endorsing mating with folks of a superior caste or class? Dagny Taggart was surely as giant an intellectual equal of any man she was with; I don't think she saw Galt as being of a superior class. And I sure don't think Rand thought Branden to be of a superior class during her affair. So, rewind this conversation and explain what you mean a bit more.
Rick maintained that Rand advocated hypergamy in her philosophical writings. I continued:
Does she really advocate that? I don't see that anywhere in her writing. CB doesn't ask about sexual psychology, but the quote he posts does make assumptions about sexual psychology. When I see terms like "the typical masculinized woman" (which is a term I've usually heard as an epithet to describe gay women), and "a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard," and comments about "her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies" and "fucking some other men as well" ... Jesus Christ on a bicycle ... the whole paragraph reeks of assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology. But while we're at it, I agree with you that a broader discussion is needed with regard to her view of romantic relationships. So hug it out, and let's at least get on the same page, bro!
I was asked to name the assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology that the paragraph's writer makes, so stating the obvious I wrote:
1. Rand is a "typical masculinized woman." What exactly is that and in what context does it make sense? A "masculinized woman" carries with it assumptions about gender roles and how a woman should or should not act, and what constitutes "masculinity" and "femininity"... and all of this relates to sexual psychology. (I was once told by a critic of Rand that she looked like the typical "castrating female"... which also carried with it assumptions about sexual psychology, and what a woman's role "should" be. Not surprising that the critic was a man.)
2. "She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard..." Uh, that's pretty self-explanatory. It speaks directly to the "rough sex" that is depicted in Rand's novels and the "rape by engraved invitation" scene in "The Fountainhead," and it involves assumptions again about Rand's sexual psychology.
3. "...she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her." Again, this kind of comment makes explicit that Rand is a person who wished to carry on encounters with multiple sexual partners, and still have at least one man who was powerful enough to want (and perhaps subdue) her. I find it hard to believe that this needs to be made any more explicit; all of this speaks directly to assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology, not just her philosophical outlook on man-woman relationships.
The whole paragraph isn't even raised as a philosophical point about Rand's views on man-woman relationships; it is a direct "analysis" of what kind of woman Rand was based on what the author thinks of the way she acted in her sexual relationships with men.
So I'm very baffled that I have to explain what I think is plainly there. This is a straight-out statement and labeling about the ways in which Rand conducted herself in matters of sexuality. And it does so in a way that presumes to know what was going on in her mind with regard to her sexual psychology. I don't know what more I can say. It's right there in the paragraph.
Rick Giles answered that I was "hell bent on looking at the inquiry from an application-level psycho-sexual evaluation of one person, Ayn Rand." I replied:
Rick, for a friend to keep telling me what I am "hell bent' on doing, well, I have nothing else to say because none of what you are asking about pertains to the quote I was asked to comment on. That quote was a quote about Ayn Rand the woman and her sex life; I interpreted it as a sweeping statement about her sexual psychology. I did not interpret it as a statement on Objectivism.
This is not a thread about Objectivism's stance on hypergamy. I don't believe Objectivism qua philosophy has a stance on hypergamy or polygamy or polyandry. There is a need to separate the philosophy from the philosopher sometimes, and what you are attempting to do here is to drag "Objectivism" into the discussion. Objectivism is not Ayn Rand's sex life. You want to start a thread on Objectivism and sexuality, go ahead. This was a thread about a comment that some guy made about Rand.
Quite frankly, I think the statement says more about the guy who said it than about Ayn Rand.
I've said all I need to say about that statement, and as far as Objectivism and sexuality, I said all I needed to say in a little monograph called Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, which discussed the various attitudes toward sexuality that one found in the Objectivist movement, attitudes that I believe were antithetical to the philosophy. You seem to have an almost hostile tone to your posts, and I can't for the life of me understand what's upsetting you so much. So accuse me of cowardice, fence sitting, running away from a conversation, but sometimes two people just talk past each other. I think we reached that point several comments ago.
Rick Giles replied: "Oh dear. Sounds like 'hell bent' might be another ghetto trigger word. I just meant dedicated! Focused! Sounds like you're offering me the last word then? I'll take a crack at that later."
As I said: Jesus Christ on a Bicycle. Later indeed!
APRIL 20, 2017
Song of the Day: I Won't Dance, music by Jerome Kern, has two sets of lyrics: the first (in 1934 for the London Musical "Three Sisters") by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, the second (in 1935, for the film version of the Kern-Harbach musical "Roberta") by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. It is the latter version that remains the most recorded, and Ella's Grammy-Award winning rendition with Nelson Riddle (from "Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson") is one of the best. Check it out on YouTube. And also check out another recording of the song that Ella performed with Louis Armstrong [YouTube link].
APRIL 19, 2017
Song of the Day: A-Tisket A-Tasket, a traditional nursery rhyme first recorded in the late nineteenth century, was the basis for the million-selling hit by Ella Fitzgerald with the Chick Webb Orchestra [YouTube link] in 1938. Lyrically embellished by Al Feldman and Ella herself, this is the song that got our Centenary songstress off to a swinging start. Today we begin our mini-tribute to the First Lady of Song, as we move toward the 100th anniversary of her birth on April 25th.
On April 25, 1917, Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia. As we approach April 25, 2017, I will be celebrating the contributions of one of the greatest jazz singers in music history in commemoration of the centenary of her birth. Back in November 2015, when Notablog celebrated the Frank Sinatra Centenary, I took note of the fact that Sinatra himself referred to Ella as "The First Lady of Song." She brought to jazz many of the things that Ol' Blue Eyes emulated: impeccable diction, wonderful intonation, and an almost innate ability never to sing the same song the same way twice. Her improvisational gifts extended not only to her vocal phrasing but to her achievements in that unique art of jazz singing known as scatting.
Ella was raised on a steady diet of music from the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and the Boswell Sisters; in fact, it was largely in her embrace of Connee Boswell's style that she got her big breakthrough in 1934, when she competed in Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. An enthusiastic response from the typically critical audience and from the musicians themselves launched what would become one of the most extraordinary careers of any singer in American popular culture.
Through Benny Carter, a saxophonist in the house band at the Apollo that fateful night, Ella was introduced to many of Harlem's premier musicians; she eventually joined the Chick Webb band, with whom, in 1938, she scored a #1 hit, "A-Tisket A-Tasket," which sold one million copies--not bad for an ol' nursery rhyme. Over time, she recorded with bands led by the musicians who exemplified the changing sounds of the era, from the King of Swing, clarinetist extraordinarie Benny Goodman to Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpeter charging into a new era with the sounds of be bop. Ella's style, emergent in the Swing era, slowly incorporated the idioms of bop, which contributed to her mastery of the art of scat singing, a form of wordless, improvisational vocalizing that allowed the singer to use the voice as if it were another instrument in the band. She actually married the bassist in Dizzy's band, Ray Brown, with whom she adopted a son, Ray, Jr. It was through Ray's producer and manager, Norman Granz, that Ella began appearing in his Jazz at the Philharmonic series, eventually recording a series of "Songbook" albums in the 1950s and 1960s devoted to the works of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and, later, in 1981, Antonio Carlos Jobim. This critically acclaimed work brought her international recognition as one of the foremost intepreters of the Great American Songbook.
Such acclaim manifested in fourteen Grammy Awards, a National Medal of the Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums, giving her final concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991, the 26th time she had appeared at that iconic venue. She passed away at the age of 79 on June 15, 1996.
Ella's global impact makes it a difficult task to do a Centenary Tribute. Indeed, for years, I've been tributing this truly great singer with links to over seventy entries in "My Favorite Songs." I've cited Ella's renditions of the following songs, listed alphabetically--only, in this instance, I link not to my entries, but to YouTube presentations of her recordings, which means, you're a swinging click away from a touch of class. Prepare to be entertained: All of Me; All of You; All the Things You Are; All Right, Okay, You Win; Begin the Beguine; Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered; Bill Bailey (Won't You Please Come Home); Blue Moon; Blues in the Night; But Not for Me; Cheek to Cheek; Don't Be That Way; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Early Autumn; Easy Living (with guitarist Joe Pass); (I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons; Give Me the Simple Life; Goody, Goody; Got to Get You Into My Life; The Glory of Love (with Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman; Goodnight My Love (with Benny Goodman); Have You Met Miss Jones?; Here's That Rainy Day; How Deep is the Ocean; How High the Moon; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; I Could Write a Book; I Got it Bad (and That Ain't Good); I'm Beginning to See the Light; I'm Confessin' (That I Love You); I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; In a Mellow Tone; It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); It's All Right With Me; It's Only a Paper Moon; I've Got a Crush on You; Jersey Bounce; Jingle Bells; Joy to the World; The Lady is a Tramp (and check out her duet with The Chairman of the Board); Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!; Love for Sale; Mack the Knife; The Man that Got Away; My One and Only Love; My Romance; My Shining Hour; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Once I Loved (with guitarist Joe Pass); Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone; 'Round Midnight (live with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown); Runnin' Wild; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Solitude; Sophisticated Lady; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Stairway to the Stars; Stella By Starlight; Sunshine of Your Love; Sweet Georgia Brown (live with the Duke Ellington Orchestra); Take the A Train; Tenderly (with Louis Armstrong); That Old Black Magic; That's Jazz (scatting with Mel Torme); These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You); This Can't Be Love; This Could Be the Start of Something Big; Too Close for Comfort; What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?; Whatever Lola Wants; With a Song in My Heart; and (If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini) [again: all YouTube links to enjoy!]
This list doesn't come close to the breadth of Ella's discography. Over the next week, leading up to April 25th, I'll feature just a few more gems from the Songbook of its First Lady.
And now the inevitable question: Can I give you a Top Ten list of Favorite Fitzgerald Recordings? Well, to paraphrase one of the classic lines from a Jerome Kern song I will highlight this week: I can't say... don't ask me! That's not a dismissal; it's just a reality. The woman recorded and performed so many songs in so many different arrangements throughout the years, that I would be hard pressed to pick ten specific recordings or performances. So let me just say: I love Ella. Start here and spend the next week with me, and you'll understand why.
APRIL 18, 2017
Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Suite") [YouTube link], composed by today's birthday boy, Miklos Rozsa, includes all of the sweeping themes for the grand 1959 epic "Tale of the Christ," starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur [YouTube documentary on Chuck]. This is, to my knowledge, the only suite I have heard that is different from any other pieces I have already highlighted from the soundtrack of my all-time favorite film. But what makes it so very special is that it features the composer himself conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (in 1979). It is a special treat to see this man so alive with the music of the score that remains his crowning achievement. It is a true genius that we honor today [pdf link to my Rozsa essay] on the 110th anniversary of his birth [YouTube documentary on Rozsa]. Tomorrow, we begin a week-long Centenary Tribute to another musical legend from an entirely different genre. Just don't drop your brown and yellow basket because within a week, it'll be filled with the glory of Ella.
APRIL 17, 2017
Song of the Day: Eye of the Needle ("Love Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Miklos Rozsa for this 1981 film based on the Ken Follett spy novel. This lush romanticism shows us another side to the man who composed scores for fantasy films, film noir, historical and Biblical epics, not to mention magnificent orchestral concert works.
APRIL 16, 2017
Allen Mendenhall is in the middle of a series of essays covering The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." Readers should begin with the first installment on "The Legacy of Nathaniel Branden," and proceed to the second installment on "'Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex' by Susan Love Brown." As I remarked on one of the Facebook pages, debating Brown's provocative take on the Rand-Branden relationship:
Folks, all I can say is Allen Mendenhall is doing a remarkable job of covering an extraordinarily diverse selection of essays coming from different disciplines and perspectives. It is not our job, as editors of JARS, to agree or disagree with our writers, but to encourage them to present their cases coherently and in anticipation of potential criticisms. On that count alone, Susan Love Brown's essay certainly qualified as both "controversial" and "provocative"; if we had excluded it because Freudian analysis is not typical in Rand-land, we would be defeating the "nonpartisan" purpose of the journal; we might also have been criticized for sweeping the Rand-Branden affair under the rug. I'm glad it was included, whatever anyone's view of its perspective. It certainly gave us pause enough to want to include it among the sixteen pieces in the symposium.
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the coming installments in Allen's discussion of the symposium. Thanks for the engagement, Allen!
Song of the Day: Quo Vadis? ("Overture") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa for the 1951 MGM film adaptation of the Henryk Sienkiewicz novel, helps us to mark Easter, which is celebrated today by both Western and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The phrase "Quo Vadis?" ("Where Are You Going?") appears in the Latin Bible in both the Old Testament (based on the Tanakh) and the New Testament (including an apocryphal book). It is said to have been asked to the risen Christ by Peter as he hurried along the Appian Way, away from Rome, where he would face certain execution under Emperor Nero. This musical overture is quintessential epic Rozsa, whose music I will feature for the next three days, as we celebrate the 110th anniversary of his birth. A Happy Easter to all my Christian friends! Christos Anesti! And to all my Jewish friends who have been celebrating Passover this past week: a Zesan Pesach [that's a special link to the entire Elmer Bernstein score for "The Ten Commandments", given that Bernstein himself celebrated Rozsa by recording so many of his compositions over the years!]
APRIL 06, 2017
Don Rickles, the iconic comedian of insults, has passed away; I have busted an already busted gut several times through the years, watching his stand-up routines and sit-down interviews. An equal opportunity offender, RIP, Don [YouTube links].
APRIL 04, 2017
I was asked on Facebook by one reader:
What is your definition of dialectics? One definition that I encountered was "inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions." From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Hegel: "'Dialectics' is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides." But this is not the definition. Here, instead of "contradictory process between opposing sides," if we take "perceived contradictory process between opposing sides," then it can be taken as a point for discussion on the subject. But, the underlying premise, as far as I know, of Hegel and Marx on dialectics involves some sort of metaphysical contradictions. In a previous comment on this thread, you had claimed that "There is nothing in dialectics that is in opposition to the law of non-contradiction." This proposition of yours suggests that you are thinking of an entirely different definition for dialectics than what is generally considered by many, including me, as the process of dialectics. I think that if such a definition can be developed through a theory on epistemology, then it would have far-reaching consequences in the field of philosophy. It is my guess is that you have not yet reached your definition of dialectics. It must come only after a long theory taking into consideration Aristotle�s Topics in Organon, and the ideas of Hegel and Marx, and certain points of Ayn Rand, such as what I think an indirect reference to dialectics, that it is a "conditioned reflex."
I respond at length:
The only thing I can suggest is this: Have you read part 1 of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism? I ask because that is precisely what I do. I begin with Aristotle and work through all the differing definitions offered of dialectics through the centuries right up to the current day, all within the first three chapters. I then turn in Chapter four to a much more rigorous definition of dialectics along the lines of genus and species, It is a species of the genus "methodological orientations", and it sits on a continuum among other orientations (I identify four others). I then formally define dialectics as "an orientation toward contextual analysis of the sytemic and dynamic relations of components within a totality." I devote a whole section to unpacking that definition so that you know what I mean by "contextual analysis", "systemic", "dynamic", "relations" and "totality". The shorthand definition I have used, however, is akin to Rand's identification of logic, which she viewed as the "art of noncontradictory identification"; my shorthand definition is "the art of context-keeping", and each (logic and dialectics) entails the other. One cannot keep context while holding a contradiction, and one can only understand a contradiction by keeping context (remember that the law of noncontradiction in Aristotle is that A cannot be A and not A "at the same time and in the same respect"... so the very notion of "at the same time and in the same respect" is a context for understanding what Aristotle means by the law of nonconradiction).
I hate to have to refer you to those first four chapters of Total Freedom but it does, in fact, address all of the concerns you have raised, and begins with Aristotle as the first theoretician of a dialectical mode of analysis.
I should add one comment about this notion of contradiction: there are some folks in the tradition of dialectical thinking who have tried to pit the laws of logic against dialectical thinking. I reject and repudiate any such attempts. Even Hegel, at his best, points to Aristotle as "the fountainhead" (and that is the phrase he uses) of the entire enterprise of dialectical thinking, the first theoretician of dialectics.
What you will usually see in the analysis of certain dialectical thinkers is that they will take a look at two things, events, or problems and say that they "appear" to be in contradiction. But since contradictions cannot exist, they try to unmask the contradiction as, rather, a "false alternative", that is, things that appear superficially to be opposed to one another, but which share a common premise.
The only way to understand that common premise is to shift one's level of generality or one's vantage point on the problem. This is what Rand does when she shows that the alleged opposition of "intrinsic" and "subjective" is not really a contradiction, but that they are false alternatives sharing a common premise, and she proposes that a genuinely objective approach is the only proper alternative. (She also roots many of the false alternatives that she rejects in the "mind-body dichotomy", which is deep in the history of philosophy.)
APRIL 01, 2017
So this morning I posted a really nice song by James Taylor, "I Was a Fool to Care," in honor of April Fools' Day. Alas, we are less than one hour away (ET) from putting April Fools' Day 2017 to bed, and lo and behold, I found a new "Official Membership Card" in my email queue; apparently, I now belong to "Anoopism," whose motto is: "Stand with Us and We Will Stand With You. Together, We are One." And if you look really carefully at the card, you'll see some outstanding images among "Your Anoopist Leadership for the True Anoopist Movement": two dead people (Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) and two people who are very much alive (David Kelley and WOW... Chris Matthew Sciabarra!!!).
I must say that given all that has been going on since Anoop Verma said farewell to "organized Objectivism," in a thread to which I contributed quite a bit (see my Notablog entry for all my comments), all hell has broken loose.
It's just so appropriate that the Membership Card arrived on April Fools' Day:
it is a testament to all the beloved fools that came up with it. If I'm not
mistaken, using images for promotional purposes, especially for this new,
apparently vibrant organization, without the permission of the folks (or the
Estates of the folks who are dead), might be legally
actionable. Of course, there are folks out there belonging to certain
institutes who are litigious to the point of no return. But sometimes, you just
have to laugh at those who embrace the "foolish" in April Fools' Day, even if
they start to resemble a lynch-mob with malignant malice as their only reason
Well, for the record: I am a Cofounding Editor and Board of Trustee member of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Foundation, but I am not now, nor have I ever been a card-carrying member of Anoopism. Anoop Verma tackled a whole lot of books on his reading list (including two of mine) and judged them independently; sometimes I agreed with him, sometimes not. But I would never think to rain on his parade: He has the right to live by the judgment of his own mind. That is, I suspect, the most important lesson he learned from Ayn Rand.
Still, I'm kind of honored that folks went through such trouble to photoshop my image into the Official Membership Card of Anoopism. Some of them, I'm sure, wish I could join two of the other Anoopist leaders who are six feet under.
Sorry, fools: I ain't buried yet. But I hope y'all had a Happy April Fools' Day. The joke is on you.
Song of the Day: I Was a Fool to Care, words and music by James Taylor, is a melancholy song to note on what is an otherwise whimsical day: April Fools' Day. But this song from Taylor's 1975 album, "Gorilla" is a standout selection. Check out the song on YouTube. Also check out a faithful rendition by Mac DeMarco and Jon Lent [YouTube link] (which includes a little snippet from "The Simpsons").