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July 30, 2019

Ayn Rand and Martial Arts: Barrowman on Bruce Lee

JARS contributor, colleague, and friend, Kyle Barrowman, has written a provocative new piece, "Bruce Lee and the Perfection of Martial Arts (Studies): An Exercise in Alterdisciplinarity." Here is the abstract to the article:

This essay builds from an analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do to an analysis of the current state of academic scholarship generally and martial arts studies scholarship specifically. For the sake of a more comprehensive understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of jeet kune do, and in particular its affinities with a philosophical tradition traced by Stanley Cavell under the heading of perfectionism, this essay brings the philosophical writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ayn Rand into contact with Lee’s writings during the time that he spent formulating his martial arts philosophy. Additionally, this essay uses the philosophical insights of Emerson, Rand, and Lee to challenge longstanding academic dogma vis-a-vis poststructuralist philosophy, the methods of academic intervention, and the nature of philosophical argumentation. Though pitched as a debate regarding the content and the status of Bruce Lee and his combative philosophy, this essay endeavors to inspire scholars to (re)examine their conceptions of Bruce Lee, martial arts, and martial arts studies.

The article appears in the latest edition of Martial Arts Studies, hosted by Cardiff University Press, devoted to "Bruce Lee's Martial Legacies" and is co-edited by Kyle. In his contribution, he brings Bruce Lee together with Ayn Rand and Ralph Waldo Emerson---while taking a few additional jabs at poststructuralism, as he's done in such articles as "Philosophical Problems in Contemporary Art Criticism: Objectivism, Poststructuralism, and the Axiom of Authorship" and "The Future of Art Criticism: Objectivism Goes to the Movies," which appeared in the December 2017 and December 2018 issues, respectively, of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

What is of particular interest about Kyle's essay is how he highlights Rand's relationship to a philosophical tradition of perfectionism (which, of course, has Aristotelian roots) and his view of Ralph Waldo Emerson as an ally of Objectivist philosophy. Folks can download the article here [pdf link].

Song of the Day #1658

Song of the Day: Old Town Road (Remix), words and music by Kiowa Roukema and Montero Hill (aka Lil Nas X) with a sampled beat from "34 Ghosts IV" [YouTube link] by Nine Inch Nails (credited to the Oscar-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), breaks the all-time Billboard Hot 100 record today, logging its seventeenth straight week at #1. It passes both "Despacito" (by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, featuring Justin Bieber) and "One Sweet Day" (by Mariah Carey and Boys II Men), each of which held the previous #1 record at sixteen consecutive weeks. Lil Nas X paid $30 for the right to use the Nine Inch Nails sample and added Billy Ray Cyrus to the performance, producing one of the most interesting crossover sounds, merging elements of country, rock, and rap. And I'm just going to say it: Whoever dreamed that a song that started as a meme [YouTube link], which went viral, featuring the 57-year old country-singing father of Miley Cyrus and the 20-year old African American rapper who recently came out would be the longest running #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 charts? Goes to show you---life offers us a rainbow of possibilities! But it helps if your song is really catchy. Check out the mini-movie video version of the song [YouTube link] (with some hilarious cameos) and the truly infectious single version [YouTube link].

July 26, 2019

Song of the Day #1657

Song of the Day: We Shall Overcome is a gospel song descended from a 1900 hymn by Charles Albert Tindley and other African American spirituals. It was sung by many folk singers, such as Pete Seeger, Frank Hamilton, Joe Glazer, and others, as a protest song during the civil rights era. But it was the Staten Island-born Joan Baez, who had first met and befriended Martin Luther King, Jr. back in 1956, that would become most associated with this song. A civil rights and antiwar activist, she sang it at the 1963 March on Washington, near the base of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of 300,000 people. During her set at Woodstock, the visibly pregnant Baez spoke eloquently about how her husband at the time, David Harris, who opposed conscription [YouTube link to a Johnny Carson interview with Ayn Rand, who opposed both the draft and the Vietnam War], was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for draft evasion in July 1969. (He would later be paroled in October 1970). So it was no coincidence that she'd close her own Woodstock set with this song [YouTube link] in the wee hours of Saturday, August 16, 1969.

July 24, 2019

Song of the Day #1656

Song of the Day: Let's Get Loud, words and music by Gloria Estefan and Kike Santander, was featured on Jennifer Lopez's 1999 debut album, "On the 6." Though the song was not released officially as a single, it was a Top 40 hit on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. Today, the Bronx-born Jenny from the block, like Woodstock---a child of 1969---turns 50 years old! Check out the album version and remixes by Kung Pow, Castle Hill, and D.MD Strong [YouTube links].

July 21, 2019

Baseball Hall of Fame: Mo and More

I just finished watching the live MLB broadcast of the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of the 2019 inductees into Cooperstown. It is very difficult for any baseball fan to watch a ceremony like this and not be moved or sometimes brought to tears by the presentations, speeches, and various tributes. And this year was no exception.

The 2019 inductees included: the late Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mariano "Mo" Rivera, along with "game era inductees" Harold Baines and Lee Smith.

Former New York Yankee outfielder, Bernie Williams, opened up the ceremonies with an instrumental rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" on guitar (see here [YouTube link]). And he also provided us with a sweet guitar rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (with a touch of "Enter Sandman") before Mo took the stage. Indeed, by the time Mariano Rivera reached the podium, as the last person honored today, with the other three members of the Core Four present (who won five World Series between 1996 and 2009)---Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter---well, there wasn't a dry eye left in the Sciabarra household.

I was privileged to see Mo throw his wicked cut fastball to record just a few of his 652 regular season saves (not to mention 42 postseason saves) when I traveled to the old Yankee Stadium some years ago. I am delighted to have seen him enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, the only baseball player to have ever been selected unanimously by the Baseball Writers Association of America. You did good, Mo, and you once again "closed out" a sporting event with a touch of class.

July 20, 2019

Song of the Day #1655

Song of the Day: Moon Maiden, words and music by Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, was commissioned by the ABC News Network to debut on the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing and moon walk. Awaiting the first walk upon the surface of the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above in "Columbia," the command module, ABC anchor Frank Reynolds introduced the piece. This performance by Duke was actually recorded live on 15 July 2019 but aired on the ABC network on this date fifty years ago, after the lunar module, "Eagle," touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. Check out the rare footage of its debut by Duke Ellington and a later studio recording [YouTube links] with Duke "speaking" the lyrics, accompanied by his own playing on the vibes-sounding celeste. As a 9-year old kid, I cannot even begin to describe the level of utter elation I felt watching the grainy images of human beings on the surface of a celestial body other than the Earth. I had followed the space program from the earliest moments of my consciousness of such things (the politics of it never crossed my mind at the time); I remembered John Glenn's orbit around the earth, the Apollo 1 fire, and the Christmas Eve moon orbit of Apollo 8. But nothing could compare to the excitement I felt watching my TV fifty years ago this day [YouTube link], the sense of awe I felt hearing Neil Armstrong's first words on the lunar surface, and the sense of hope that was inspired in me, hearing him enunciate the words on the lunar plaque: "We came in peace for all mankind" [YouTube link]. It gave credence to Robert Browning's poetic tribute to human potential: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" The promise of that which seemed impossible made real inspired me to use that line from "Andrea del Sarto" as an epigraph to Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy."

July 19, 2019

Song of the Day #1654

Song of the Day: Dark Star, lyrics by Robert Hunter, music by the lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and his bandmates, is best remembered in its 23+ minute rendition [YouTube link] from their 1969 live album, "Live/Dead," which blended psychedelia, jazz, and jam elements. By contrast, the original single version, at 2 minutes and 44 seconds [YouTube link] sold only 500 copies and "sank like a stone," as band member Phil Lesh put it. The song was also a respectable 19-minute highlight from their set at Woodstock [YouTube link]. Today's "Dark Star" is a prelude to our commemoration tomorrow of a fundamentally bright cosmic event in human history.

July 12, 2019

Song of the Day #1653

Song of the Day: Evil Ways, words and music by jazz guitarist Clarence "Sonny" Henry, was originally recorded in 1967 by jazz percusionist Willie Bobo [YouTube link] for his 1967 album "Bobo Motion." It was later recorded by the group Santana, led by Mexican American Carlos Santana, who pioneered a fusion of rock and roll with Latin jazz. Gregg Rolie provides both the vocals and the Hammond organ solo. The song appears on the band's self-titled debut album, which was released on August 30, 1969, only two weeks after their performance of it at the Woodstock Festival [YouTube link] on August 16th. "Evil Ways" wasn't released as a single until December 30, 1969, becoming the group's first Top 40 and Top 10 hit. Check out the the really cool, studio version, as well as covers by the Village Callers, Johnny Mathis and jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine [YouTube links].

July 07, 2019

Joao Gilberto, RIP

I learned earlier today that Joao Gilberto, who, along with Antonio Carlos Jobim, was one of the most important figures in the creation of the sounds of samba and bossa nova, died yesterday at the age of 88. He was one of my all-time favorite artists. In fact, his trailblazing album with jazz saxophonist, Stan Getz, "Getz/Gilberto," would go on to win the 1965 Grammy for Album of the Year, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Its famous single, "The Girl From Ipanema," which featured vocals in Portuguese from Joao and in English from Joao's wife, Astrud Gilberto, would go on to win the 1965 Grammy for Record of the Year. The album remains one of my all-time favorites---one of those recordings that, if necessary, I would take to a Desert Island with me. I couldn't put up a "Song of the Day" in honor of Gilberto, because I've featured him so much on "My Favorite Songs." Among the songs that I have highlighted through the years, featuring Gilberto's magic touch, check out:

"The Girl from Ipanema" [listen here]

"So Danco Samba" [listen here]

"Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado) [listen here]

"Desafinado" [listen here]

"O Grande Amour" [listen here]

"Vivo Sonhando" [listen here]

"Doralice" [listen here]

"Bim Bom" (written by Joao) [listen here for Joao's version and here for the classic Brasil 66 recording of it]

"Para Machuchar Meu Coracao (To Hurt My Heart)" [listen here]

"Meditation" [listen here]

There are so many others... just type his name in "YouTube" and you'll be introduced to a world of musical genius.

July 05, 2019

Song of the Day #1652

Song of the Day: Ball and Chain was a hit record in the early 1960s for its writer: Big Mama Thornton [YouTube link]. It was later recorded by Janis Joplin in 1967-1968 with Big Brother and the Holding Company for the 1968 album "Cheap Thrills" [YouTube link], which went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Chart. She performed the bluesy song famously at Monterey Pop and as the finale to her own set at Woodstock [YouTube links].

July 04, 2019

Song of the Day #1651

Song of the Day: The Star-Spangled Banner features lyrics taken from an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key, "Defence of Fort M'Henry," written during the War of 1812, with music based on a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club for amateur musicians. In truth, my personal all-time favorite "patriotic" song remains "America the Beautiful" (especially as delivered by the great Ray Charles [YouTube link]). Quite apart from the controversies that have surrounded the U.S. national anthem over the years (and to all my 'anarchist' friends, chill a moment!)---from those who claim that one of its rarely sung stanzas expresses racist content to those who have taken to kneeling during its presentation prior to sports events---I have marvelled at the way it has been performed by some of the most diverse artists through the years, including Yankee stadium stalwart, the late opera singer Robert Merrill, the late Whitney Houston [YouTube links], who delivered a heartfelt rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl XXV, and the "controversial" Latin-tinged, acoustic version performed in Detroit in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series by Jose Feliciano [YouTube link]. His version became the first recorded rendition of the anthem that ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #50; Whitney's version peaked at #20). But in keeping with the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival, there remains one truly electrifying instrumental rendition of the anthem by rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who performed as the last artist to appear at Woodstock [YouTube link]. To some, this performance was a sacrilege; to others, it was a sign of the turbulent and violent era to which it spoke. Hendrix actually plays a couple of notes from 'Taps' to drive home the point of a nation at war abroad---and at home. Nearly all the critical commentators on the event have viewed this as the most iconic performance of the four-day festival. It reflects both the fireworks of its time and, in a twist of irony, the fireworks set off on this day in 1776 when American rebels---whatever their own flaws, embodied in the contradictions of their time---pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, in declaring their independence from the British Empire. A Happy and Safe Independence Day to all!

Postscript #1: Context: I'm a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores.

Having been on the Brooklyn Promenade back in 1983, when there was a fireworks display to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, I thought I'd never see a better fireworks display. But the Macy's Fireworks display tonight, which focused its attention on NYC's East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the world's great, iconic spans, against the backdrop of some of the greatest film themes ever written (by everyone from Alfred Newman and Max Steiner to Elmer Bernstein and John Williams) was one of the best I've ever seen.

If the program hasn't reached your time zone yet, I'm sure it will be on YouTube or the NBC site soon. But definitely check it out! You won't be disappointed. Truly wonderful. (Yes, and they even included the love theme from "The Godfather." :) )

Postscript #2: Here is a link on YouTube, starts about 16 seconds in, from the national anthem to Alfred Newman's Fox Fanfare to Casablanca (Steiner), and so forth. Somebody on the YouTube thread objected to "The Godfather" being included. But what's America without the Family? ;) And don't miss Jennifer Hudson's wonderful rendition of "Over the Rainbow," which includes the rarely heard opening verse or that absolutely spectacular John Williams segment. At 55 mins., the fireworks display is shown again, with an introduction by historian David McCllough, discussing the Brooklyn Bridge---built by immigrants---completed in May 1883.

Postscript #3 (6 July 2019): Remarkably, one reader interpreted the fireworks display as symbolizing the destruction of the Bridge. My response was light-hearted, but I think it made a few essential points. As I stated:

Maybe you need a high-definition television. :) I mean, they were by no means "covering" the bridge [with explosives]. They were cascading off the bridge like waterfalls; they were shooting straight out of the cathedral towers of the bridge. And they were---believe it or not---in complete sync with the magnificent film score medley; even during the love theme to "The Godfather" there were red, heart-like shapes forming over the bridge; rainbow colors accompanied "Over the Rainbow", and "celestial" shapes accompanied the John Williams segment, and so forth. But as I said: To each his own. I opened the original thread about this fireworks display with "Context": That I was a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores. I was also there when the Grucci Family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge; here is a link to that fireworks display; Macy's actually adapted the very same "waterfall" and cathedral firework effects from that celebration, as a paean to the Centennial display. Why on earth are we debating this display as if it were a symbol of celebration or nihilism? Inquiring minds want to know...

The reader responded that there was a distinct difference in context between the 1983 display and any displays after 2001. I replied:

Well I appreciate that; but I truly am not interpreting this as some kind of expression of post-9/11 terrorism. Remember that part of the glory of fireworks on the Fourth of July is that despite all the explosives, the iconic image still stands (whether it be the flag in "The Star-Spangled Banner" or the Brooklyn Bridge). To me, the effects highlighted the Bridge and its glory; to you, it is destruction. I just think we should agree to disagree. You're no less a Brooklynite if you despised the display then or now. Cheers!

July 01, 2019

Song of the Day #1650

Song of the Day: Heart of Glass features the words and music of Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, who as the lead singer of the new wave group, Blondie, took this song to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979. The song is featured on the band's third studio album, "Parallel Lines" (1978). Check out the Stanley Dorfman-directed video, the 12" dance remix, the Shep Pettibone 1988 remix, and the Philip Glass "Crabtree" remix. In 2014, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, with producer Bob Sinclar recorded a charity single cover version of this song; check out the video. But in my mind, I always hear the voice of Debbie Harry, who today celebrates her 74th birthday!