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July 06, 2020

Song of the Day #1797

Song of the Day: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Main Theme) was composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone for the Sergio Leone-directed 1966 epic Spaghetti Western film. Today, Ennio Morricone, one of the most prolific film score composers of his generation, died at the age of 91. Check out the original soundtrack version and the 1968 Hugo Montenegro hit version [YouTube links]. Then, in keeping with our Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), check out, from the 2007 tribute album, "We All Love Ennio Morricione" this Quincy Jones-Herbie Hancock collaboration, and a truly superb live jazz interpretation featuring Herbie, Steve Woods, and Patti Austin [YouTube links].

July 05, 2020

Independence Day Fireworks: A Tribute to the Spirit of New York

For those who didn't catch the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Display... check it out here (cued to the beginning of the show).

It was staged throughout the week and combined with live footage, extending from Times Square to the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty to Brooklyn's own Coney Island (where the Wonder Wheel is celebrating its 100th anniversary ... ). And with a little "New York, New York" thrown in from < href="https://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog/archives/002032.html">Ol' Blue Eyes for good measure, it was as much a tribute to the resilience of the people of New York (and its first responders) as it was to the 244th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

July 04, 2020

Song of the Day #1795

Song of the Day: When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again has a history of varied origins, but was most likely written by Irish-American bandleader Patrick Gilmore during the American Civil War. The song was sung by people North and South who yearned for the return of their friends and relatives from the field of battle (though it was later used by Ulysses S. Grant as a campaign song with lyrics promising to leave the KKK "a-tremblin' in their shoes"). This staple of the Independence Day Songbook was even resurrected by later generations and immortalized in World War II films such as "Stalag 17" [YouTube link]. In keeping with our Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), there are at least two notable renditions: a classic take by the Andrews Sisters and a swinging scorcher by jazz organist Jimmy Smith [YouTube links] (with Quentin Warren on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums). Americans mark this as the day on which the colonists---imperfect as they were---pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in declaring their independence from the British Empire. The project of this country's founding remains incomplete, but forever emancipatory. I yearn for the day when all the Johnnies, Janes, and everyone in-between come marching home again---in a world of peace and freedom. Have a Happy and Safe Independence Day!

July 01, 2020

Celebrating Lives and Legacies

When Carl Reiner (March 20, 1922-June 29, 2020) died the other day at the age of 98, the actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, and author left behind a legacy of uproarious hilarity. I was first exposed to him in "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (and CBS will be airing back-to-back colorized episodes of the show on Friday, July 3 at 8 pm ET!). I greatly enjoyed his many movies and television specials over the years.

Today, another legend from Reiner's generation is celebrating a birthday. Olivia de Havilland, one of the few surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, turns 104! From her films with the great swashbuckler Errol Flynn to her Oscar-winning turns in "To Each His Own" and "The Heiress," she has provided us with quite a film legacy.

So I'm celebrating two lives tonight... and two legacies.

June 29, 2020

Celebrating the Ray Harryhausen Centenary

Today marks the centenary of the birth of master special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen---born on this date in 1920. Turner Classic Movies is celebrating tonight with a line-up of some classic films that feature his remarkable stop motion animation.

I can't even begin to put into words what Harryhausen's films meant to me growing up. So it's best to let his genius speak for itself! From the 1963 film, "Jason and the Argonauts," augmented by a superb score from Bernard Herrmann.

June 21, 2020

On Statues, Sledgehammers, and Scalpels

As protests in the wake of the recent murder of George Floyd have spread throughout the United States (and even throughout the world)---something I addressed in my essay, "America: On Wounded Knee"---I've been participating In several Facebook discussions, nearly all of which have been unpleasant. Nevertheless, I wanted to add this postscript to a very heartfelt post for the record, most of it drawn from these various Facebook threads.

I recently saw for the umpteenth time the 1991 Oliver Stone-directed film, "JFK", which opened with this quote from American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.

A more prescient observation in these times would be hard to find. It is unacceptable to be silent in the face of injustice; standing by the courage of our convictions---and protesting against tyranny anytime we see it---is a necessity for any of us who care about human freedom and dignity.

But as my previous essay made clear: the means of protest often make all the difference moving forward in terms of the shape of things to come.

Much has been made of the tearing down of confederate statues that pepper the states of the former confederacy; I have discussed this several times before, most notably in this post. I think that these symbols of oppression are reprehensible. One important point has been obscured in the discussion of the statues of the confederacy in particular. Most of those statues were not built in the wake of the Civil War to commemorate the "heroes" who fought in the "war of Northern aggression." They were built during times of extreme civil rights distress, with the clear purpose to intimidate African Americans who were getting too "uppity" in their struggles for human freedom.

Nevertheless, the historian in me sees the controversy over these statues as "teachable moments." As relics of a bygone age, their preservation in some form---a museum or some other gallery---can provide people of different walks of life an opportunity to understand the cultural narratives embodied in these symbols of hate.

As protests have spread, so too has the ire of the protesters, who turn toward statues of such figures as Christopher Columbus, striking at the heart of the brutality of the European "discovery" and colonization of the Americas and the destruction of indigenous peoples. I understand the anger and actions of protesters with regard to Columbus and what follows is not an apologia for any of his misdeeds. It is, however, an attempt to contextualize the push-back that inevitably follows when different narratives collide.

Statues, like all symbols, convey different meanings to different peoples, giving rise to conflicting narratives. Knowing something about the Italian American experience, I fully understand the attitudes of many Italians, especially of an older generation, who came to America, viewing Columbus as having opened up a "New World" to which they could emigrate, in search of greater opportunities. No matter how incorrect their perception of Columbus was, it still remained a powerful symbol for that group of immigrants, among them my paternal grandparents.

As I have observed here, Italian immigrants were met with ethnic prejudice of a sort that made them second only to African Americans in terms of the number of lynchings they experienced in the years between 1870 and 1940. It was a "murderous spree" that spanned states from Colorado to Mississippi to Illinois to North Carolina to Florida. And when they weren't being lynched by those who saw them as dangerous "others", harboring a "foreign" religion (Catholicism) and "anarchist" tendencies (Sacco and Vanzetti, anyone?), they were targeted by their own people. The so-called Black Hand extorted "protection" money from residents and businesses alike (that is, protection against Black Hand thugs who would target any Italians who refused to buy into the form of "protection" they offered, in the face of indifference from the predominantly Irish police force in NYC.) The shift away from outright extortion to more subtle forms of extortion (through oaths of mutual loyalty) came with the rise of Mafia organizations---something accurately portrayed in the story of the rise of the young Vito Corleone in "The Godfather, Part II".

So given the symbolism of Columbus to many Italian Americans, I can understand the predictable push-back toward those who have targeted statues of the explorer. It will probably take a generational shift in the culture of Italian Americans before anyone could entertain even the possibility of dismantling that statue reigning over Columbus Circle in NYC (which has had that name since the late 1800s). But what some folks don't understand is that the annual Columbus Day Parade is, essentially, an annual Italian American Day Parade, in the same way that there is a Greek Independence Day Parade, a Puerto Rican Day Parade, a St. Patrick's Day Parade, and a Pride Day Parade. Each of these parades may be rooted in an historical event, culture, or person(s), but ultimately, they become extensions of the groups and traditions they are meant to celebrate. I don't think I've watched a single Columbus Day parade where the Grand Marshall extolled the "virtues" of Columbus, colonialism, or Native American genocide. It's always focused on the Italian American contribution to American culture and life... and I don't think this will change, at least not in my lifetime.

Nevertheless, the practice of taking sledgehammers to statues has now moved from symbols of the confederacy and symbols of European colonization to symbols of the founders of the American republic, most of whom were, indeed, slaveholders. The toppling of statues of George Washington has been met with applause from many of my libertarian friends and colleagues. Even the NYC City Council is considering removing the statue of Thomas Jefferson, another American revolutionary who owned slaves in his lifetime.

Jefferson surely was an imperfect, flawed human being, a man who owned slaves and may have fathered children with one of them. But he was also the author of these words in the founding document of the American republic:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

That these words would ultimately serve as the inspiration for those seeking to abolish the very institution that Jefferson the man sustained is, in itself, a testament to his enduring intellectual legacy. Even Jefferson would have understood the need for people to rise up, protest, and rebel against injustice. "The tree of liberty," he famously declared, "must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure."

Ironically, even a thinker as far left as Slavoj Zizek has emphasized the importance of treating Jefferson as qualitatively different from, say, Robert E. Lee. As he wrote in Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity (H/T to my pal Eric Fleischmann):

The point is not just to debunk the War of Independence as fake: there undoubtedly is an emancipatory dimension in the works of Jefferson, Paine, and so on. In spite of being a slave owner, Jefferson is an important link in the chain of modern emancipatory struggles, and one is justified in claiming that the struggle for the abolition of slavery was basically the continuation of Jefferson's work. Jefferson was a different kind of man from Robert E. Lee, and the inconsistencies in his position just demonstrate how the American revolution is an unfinished project (as Habermas would have put it).

It was this project that led Benjamin Tucker to identify anarchists as "unterrified Jeffersonian democrats."

So if we're going to view every flawed eighteenth century individual through the 20/20 hindsight of 2020, at least let's get some corrective lenses to help us grasp more fully the nuances of the larger historical and systemic context. With the use of every sledgehammer to bring down every statue, it is essential to retain the intellectual scalpels required for a more delicate, surgical dissection of America's past: its flaws and its virtues, its injustices and its promise.

Ironically, there is an historical figure that is, in many ways, more flawed than Jefferson, and yet, in the narrative of American history, that figure looms large over the emancipation of African Americans from slavery: Abraham Lincoln. On almost every level, Lincoln was neither a model President nor a model libertarian. And yet, despite his nationalist economic policies, his suspension of habeas corpus and his odious racialist views, his soaring rhetoric of freedom rang clear to generations of African Americans. Before his assassination in 1865, he fought hard to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that would forever abolish slavery in the United States. It led many to view him as The Great Emancipator, and gave the vast majority of African Americans a reason to vote Republican until the New Deal era.

And so, in Washington, D.C., there sits a huge memorial to Abraham Lincoln---one that overwhelmed me when I saw it as a five-year old kid who toured the historic district for the first time. When opera singer Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because she was blocked by the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and made history. When Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington in 1963, he gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech in the shadow of that same memorial. Given the history of that memorial in the struggle for civil rights, and despite the terribly flawed man to whom that memorial was erected, one has to ask: Do we burn it down to the ground because of the flaws of the man, or keep it as part of our historical memory precisely for its evolving significance to generations of people yearning to "breathe free"? ("I can't breathe" is indeed far more symbolic here than a mere call for simple survival: it is the very negation of life and liberty in every meaningful way.)

When the sledgehammer is wielded without any consideration of the larger context of American history, the wider cause of justice for all cannot be served.

Over the last century or so, we have seen the atrocities committed by "top-down" canvas cleaning, from the Nazis to the Soviets to the Maoists to the Taliban. "Bottom-up" canvas cleaning is an entirely different species. It is an understandable reaction against systemic and institutionalized oppression. But in cleaning the soiled canvas of the American experience by toppling the statues of flawed men, a transcendence is required, or we risk toppling the ideals that some of these men---especially the American founders---extolled. These ideals, if followed to their logical conclusion, are the most potent weapons in fighting injustices around the world.

My friend Roderick Tracy Long recently quoted Michel Foucault, and it's worth repeating here:

My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism. I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make every day is to determine which is the main danger. ("On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress," afterword, in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

This is a call to focus on the main dangers that surround us, challenging them radically, at their fundamental roots, with all the courage demanded of us in the face of injustice. Destroying statues is easy; the truly Herculean task before us is to build alternative statues, symbols, and structures of meaning that do not replicate the injustices of the past, and that move toward the realization of the very ideals of freedom, equality, and social justice embraced by some of those flawed fellows who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defeat the tyrannies of their time.

Postscript (22 June 2020): Some discussion of these issues took place on Facebook, and I reproduce some of my comments from the various threads here. My dear friend Ryan Neugebauer remarked: "Imagine thinking society should be a giant museum where you have to preserve everything as it is for all times and places. No change, you must always see the past wherever you go. I would not want to live under such thinking. It's ridiculous also because every era ends up replacing previous ones. Even the ones you think you are preserving replaced ones before them."

I replied:

I agree, and this is is why we have museums---where relics of the past might sit and be more properly contextualized. But I do think a greater context needs to be grasped here (and I'm not suggesting that the current folks tearing down monuments are on a par with the Taliban or the Maoist cultural revolutionaries). Nevertheless, massive social change is not going to be achieved by the kind of "canvas cleaning" that would demand the dynamiting of Mount Rushmore (the way the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan) or some Maoist-like cultural revolution, which tried to wipe out every last vestige of the past as if it didn't happen, taking thousands of lives along with it.
We don't have to forever preserve the past in temples glorifying bad acts or bad people. It is easy to bring down a statue or a monument with 20/20 hindsight and 2020 sensibilities; the more difficult task is building new monuments that take on greater meaning and symbolism for a new generation in affecting the kind of cultural change upon which any radical political change must ultimately depend.
Look, all I'm saying is: The whole goddamn country's history is drenched in blood "from sea to shining sea." And there probably isn't a society on earth that isn't drenched in blood. Here alone we have seen massive systemic violence directed against indigenous populations, "imported" populations (as in slavery), immigrant populations, or populations of marginalized people (LGBTQ+). Ultimately, you can't turn back the clock; you can try to topple symbols or contextualize them, but the really demanding project is in building alternative, parallel, more powerful symbols to supplant the older ones---without necessarily destroying everything from the past. Folks can make this a "teachable moment"... creating anew, without aiming to destroy every last vestige of the past. It does not work. It never has. It never will.
Social change is always messy---but thank goodness it's not a "top down"- dictated social change that we are currently witnessing. We are far more likely to see a better outcome even from messy "bottom-up" and "spontaneous" excesses than anything we would witness if "change" were dictated by folks in high places with guns and gulags.

On another thread was reproduced the famous Lord Acton passage that, in full, states:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.

... to which I responded:

Mostly applicable to politicians and rulers. Not to comedians, like, say, "The Great One" (Jackie Gleason). All depends on the context. :)

Jeez... even that got push-back! When one reader suggested that maybe it applied to Gleason as well, since his oft-repeated line---"One of these days, Alice ... pow!"---glorified "domestic violence for laughs", I replied:

Except that in the end, Alice always proved to be the wiser one. She was practically a feminist hero, way ahead of her time, who was ultimately always right. Not to mention the number of laughs Alice got, which far "outweighed" anything Ralph Kramden could ever say, since she targeted his "weight" for more laughs than any "Bang, Zooms" that came out of Ralph's mouth. More than that, her put-downs of him were far more biting and riotous than anything he could ever say. If somebody ever really did an examination of those "Honeymooners" scripts and saw how Alice handled "the King of the Castle", they'd easily see just who was really the "king" of that castle. I'd go one step further: Show me one other 1950s sitcom that portrayed a stronger woman than Alice Kramden. In an era dominated by "Father Knows Best" and such, she was truly in a class by herself.

... and the beat goes on ...

June 20, 2020

Song of the Day #1790

Song of the Day: What is this Thing Called Love?, words and music by the great Cole Porter, was featured in the 1929 Broadway musical "Wake Up and Dream," where it was introduced by Elsie Carlisle [YouTube link]. At 5:44 pm, today, the Northern hemisphere enters the Summer Solstice. And so begins the Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition). This entire summer, I'll be spotlighting jazz recordings---from artists past and present. Ironically, long after my playlist was set in stone for the festival, I discovered that TCM has been running a wonderful series of "Jazz in Film" (Mondays and Thursdays in June). This festival was also planned long before recent events, but it is a celebration of a genre that owes so much to the African American experience---while transcending the divisions of social life through the universality of music. Fortunately, for today, I get to highlight one of the great contributions to the Great American Songbook. Though this is going to be a Jazz Summer, I won't be posting many jazz standards, since my ever-growing list of "Favorite Songs" has been featuring such standards for sixteen years! But today's song asks one of the most enduring questions of the human condition. Musicians from every walk of life---every race, every ethnicity, every gender---have explored their answers to that question in a variety of ways over the years, including stride pianist James P. Johnson, Fred Rich and his Orchestra (featuring jazz violinist Joe Venuti and both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey), twice by jazz guitar giant Django Reinhardt and legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, the Artie Shaw Big Band, guitarist Les Paul, pianist Dave Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly, soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet and trumpeter Charlie Shavers, jazz guitarist Joe Pass, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist Kenny Barron, trumpeter Clifford Brown, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and drummer Max Roach, jazz violinist Thomas Fraioli, New York Swing (with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, pianist John Bunch, bassist Jay Leonhart, and drummer Joe Cocuzzo), the McCoy Tyner Quartet (with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Al Foster), and pianist Danny Zeitlin [YouTube links]. One of my favorite instrumental renditions comes from jazz pianist Bill Evans [YouTube link] from his 1960 album "Portrait in Jazz"---with its trailblazing interplay between a trio of co-equal improvisers, which included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The album was recorded eight months after Evans's collaboration with Miles Davis in creating the best-selling jazz album of all time, "Kind of Blue." That revolutionary album was largely based on the pianist's impressionistic, harmonic conceptions and modal approach, which led many to view Evans as "the principal creator of [the] album." There have also been some wonderful vocal renditions of this Porter classic by such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Keely Smith, and Bobby McFerrin (with Herbie Hancock on piano) [YouTube link].

June 18, 2020

Song of the Day #1789

Song of the Day: Scoob! ("Summer Feelings"), words and music by Lennon Stella, Charlie Puth, Invincible (Producer), Alexander Izquierdo, Charles Brown, Simon Wilcox and Lowell, can be found on the soundtrack to the 2020 animated flick "Scoob!" (short for Scooby Doo). This duet, featuring Lennon Stella and the deeply jazz-influenced Charlie Puth, is a precursor to our Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition). This year has been a transformative one in so many ways and on so many levels; I've seen things that I could never have even remotely predicted when I toasted the New Year as the ball dropped in Times Square. I have refused to stay silent and have spoken out about so many issues over these many months; so I don't want to be accused of being a modern-day Nero, fiddling while our own Rome burned. This song has little to do with jazz, but everything to do with those "summer feelings"---and I can think of fewer ways to express such feelings than by celebrating one of the most significant cultural gifts bestowed upon world music, emergent from the African American experience, and taking a distinctive form through the blending of African and European idioms. This was something I planned long before the events of the day. But before we start the newest installment in our annual Summer Music Festival, on June 20th, indulge those "summer feelings": check out the original studio recording of this song, the official video, the Quarantine Video Version, the Bassboosted Remix, and the Nightcore Whore Remix [YouTube links].

June 06, 2020

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

Back on May 5, 2020, I was first tagged by my friend Daniel Bastiat (on Facebook) to engage in a book challenge: To post the covers of seven books over a seven-day period that had an effect on you, with no explanation. I listed the following seven books (and tagged other people with this, and subsequent challenges):

1. "Dialectical Investigations", by Bertell Ollman
2. "A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State", edited by Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard
3. "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", by Ayn Rand
4. "National Economic Planning: What is Left?", by Don Lavoie
5. "The Disowned Self", by Nathaniel Branden
6. "Nationalism and Culture", by Rudolf Rocker
7. "The Libertarian Alternative", edited by Tibor Machan.

This was followed by a ten-day "Album Challenge", posting key albums that affected you throughout your life:

1. "Ben Hur" (1959 soundtrack)
2. "Concierto de Aranjuez" (Julian Bream)
3. "Concierto" (Jim Hall)
4. "Intuition" (Bill Evans)
5. "The Mad Hatter" (Chick Corea)
6. "Thriller" (Michael Jackson)
7. "Ultimate Sinatra" (Frank Sinatra)
8. "At the Close of a Century" (Stevie Wonder)
9. "I Wanna Be Around" (Tony Bennett)
10. "Getz/Gilberto" (Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto/Astrid Gilberto/Antonio Carlos Jobim)

And that was followed by the final challenge: List ten films and ten TV shows that had an impact on your life or tastes or that loom large in your memory (they need not even be ranked among your all-time "favorites", though clearly they may very well be). So here were my choices for that challenge:

Day 1:
Film: "King Kong" (1933)
TV: "Looney Tunes Cartoons" (1930-1969)

Day 2:
Film: "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
TV: "The Honeymooners" (1956)

Day 3:
Film: "North By Northwest" (1959)
TV: "The Twilight Zone" (1959)

Day 4:
Film: "Ben-Hur" (1959)
TV: "The Fugitive" (1963)

Day 5:
Film: "Inherit the Wind" (1960)
TV: "I, Claudius" (1976)

Day 6:
Film: "Planet of the Apes" (1968)
TV: "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977)

Day 7:
Film: "The Exorcist" (1973)
TV: "The Winds of War" / "War and Remembrance" (1983/1989)

Day 8:
Film: "The Godfather: The Complete Epic, 1901-1959" (1977)
TV: "The X-Files" (1993)

Day 9:
Film: "The Deer Hunter" (1978)
TV: "The West Wing" (1999)

Day 10:
Film: "Alien" (1979) / "Aliens" (1986) - I know, it’s cheating, but I can’t pick one without the other!
TV: "24" (2001)

And that's all folks! Next up will be the Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), which will begin when summer arrives in the Northern hemisphere and conclude on the day of the autumnal equinox.

May 28, 2020

"Music is God": Alice Herz-Sommer, Beethoven, and the Power of Music

For those who have never heard of Alice Herz-Sommer (26 November 1903-23 February 2014), she was a Prague-born Jewish pianist who survived Theresienstadt concentration camp (the conditions of which were starkly dramatized in the grand miniseries "War and Remembrance," 1988-1989).

She died at the age of 110, one of the world's oldest known Holocaust survivors, one year after having been featured in the 2013 Academy Award-winning "Best Short Documentary" film: "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life."

For a glimpse of that film, check out the clip below on YouTube (the full film is available here), which ends with several glorious quotes from figures as varied as Plato ("Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything") and Ludwig van Beethoven ("Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy").

On 17 December 2020, we will mark the 250th anniversary of the great German composer's birth. He was one of Alice's personal heroes. She once said: "Music saved my life and music saves me still ... I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion."

Coronavirus (26): Gallows Humor In These Times

So I was watching the Daily Cuomo Coronavirus Press Conference, and on hand were comic personalities who have lived in Brooklyn: Chris Rock and Rosie Perez. And toward the end of the conference, Chris Rock cracked a joke that made me chuckle, in the grand tradition of Brooklyn Gallows Humor (remember Marisa Tomei playing Brooklynite Mona Lisa Vito in the 1992 film, "My Cousin Vinny" saying "'Cause he's dead" [Yarn link]?).

Here's the clip from the conference:

Well, not everybody thought it was funny. The clip was posted to YouTube by "The Red Right and You" who complained:

Emperor Cuomo introduced Chris Rock and Rosie Perez as his new spokespeople to communicate the importance of social distancing in New York. Towards the end of the press conference Cuomo was talking about the spring breaker who said he wasn’t going to let the virus stop him from partying. Chris then said “now he’s dead“ and Cuomo gave a great big belly laugh. Will he apologize? Just imagine if that was Trump and what the media would be saying about him joking about someone dying from the virus.

To which I replied:

Where is your sense of humor? I didn't vote for either Cuomo or Trump, but I chuckled over this, the way I regularly chuckle over things that come out of Trump's mouth. Chris Rock is hilarious... and for New Yorkers, like me, who have had neighbors dying to the left and dying to the right, this was the kind of gallows humor that has emerged in these times. Gimme a break!

Sheesh.

May 12, 2020

Coronavirus (24): Three Cheers for the Ol' Folks

Having previously addressed one of the more absurd episodes during this Corona-Crisis with regard to calls for old folks to sacrifice themselves for the common good, I was happy to read three human interest stories that I found uplifting in the extreme.

Submitted for your approval: the case of one Maria Rodriguez, 87 years old:

When Brooklyn great-grandmother Maria Rodriguez realized she was losing her fight with coronavirus at home, she braced herself for the worst. She checked into NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn on Monday. And then she told her daughter, Norma Collado, to be strong and to be patient if she couldn’t be buried right away. She asked that her great grandchildren be taken to the cemetery to see her off when the time came. And she put fresh nail polish on her fingernails so the mortician wouldn’t have to. "The color was purple, like a lilac," Collado said. But as it turned out, the 87-year-old Rodriguez was stronger than the coronavirus that put her in the hospital. Rodriguez, of Borough Park, is now recovering at her daughter’s home in Perth Amboy. Three days after she entered the hospital---eight days after she first fell ill---Rodriguez became the 850th patient who tested positive with coronavirus to be discharged from NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn.

I'm all the more happy to hear about how well NYU Langone is handling this situation; I was due to have a lithotripsy there in mid-March, for a stone that has taken up residence in my left kidney since the summer of 2018. Right now, "elective" surgeries are still not available in NYC. But even if they were, as long as my stone continues to defy the laws of gravity, I'm electing to stay as far away from any medical facility in this city for as long as I can. Yes, hospitalizations and intubations are down in the state and in the city, and for two straight days, we have had death toll tallies of under 200 per day. Given a plateau of nearly 800 deaths per day... there is cause for some optimism.

With the gradual improvement of the situation here in the Big Apple, there was another news item in the New York Daily News that was just as nice to read. Score another one for the Ol' Folks.

Submitted for your approval: the case of Tony Vaccaro, 97 years old, famous war photographer:

Tony Vaccaro's mother died in childbirth, and at a tender age he also lost his father to tuberculosis. By age 5 he was ... orphaned in Italy, enduring beatings from an uncle. As an American GI during World War II he survived the Battle of Normandy. Now, a celebrated wartime and celebrity photographer at age 97, he is getting over a bout with COVID-19. He attributes his longevity to "blind luck, red wine" and determination. ... Vaccaro lives in Queens, a New York City borough ravaged by the novel coronavirus, next to his son Frank, his twin grandsons and his daughter-in-law Maria, who manages his archive of 500,000 photographs. He might have caught the virus in April from his son or while walking in their neighbourhood, his daughter-in-law said. He was in the hospital for only two days with mild symptoms and spent another week recovering. Then he surprised everyone by getting up and shaving. "That was it," she said. "He’s walking around like nothing happened."

Since this virus has ravaged the elderly, news about an 87-year old great grandmother and a 97-year old celebrated photographer beating the virus is an inspiration. But they're practically kids next to this next victor!

Submitted for your approval: Frances Abbraciamento, who turned 107 on May 9th:

Centenarian Frances Abbracciamento of Queens had caught a cold in late March during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New York. Days later the 106-year-old was diagnosed with pneumonia, and her four children prepared for the worst. "We really thought we were going to lose her," her daughter, Alda Spina, told the Daily News. But by the end of April, Abbracciamento ... had made a near-full recovery---and it was only then that her family learned she had survived coronavirus. "We couldn't believe it," said Spina, who received her mom's COVID-19 test results on April 21. "I never thought in a million years she would survive it. People don't survive it."

I am reminded of that 1962 third season "Twilight Zone" episode, "Kick the Can," wherein Rod Serling reminds us, in his closing narration "that childhood, maturity, and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate."

Three cheers to these three ol' folks for having "kicked the can" down the road... and survived their respective bouts with COVID-19. Here's to kicking the can down the road for the thousands of others affected by this pandemic.

May 05, 2020

Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation

[On Facebook, I posted the following introduction to this essay: This is the twenty-first installment in my discussion of the Coronavirus and its implications. It is as much a self-critique as it is a critique of other points of view; it is also an examination of the fault lines I have witnessed over the years that have torn at the soul of libertarian thinking. It started out as a piece that aired my disgust with some of the attitudes I've encountered; it ended as an appeal to human empathy.]

On February 16, 1967, NBC aired the twenty-second episode in Season 1 of "Star Trek"; it was called "Space Seed," known to Trekkies as the episode that introduced the world to the character Khan Noonien Singh, he who would come back with fury in the 1982 film, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

For those who aren't familiar with this episode, the Starship Enterprise intercepts the SS Botany Bay, a spacecraft with 84 humans aboard, in suspended animation. Only 72 of them survive, including Khan, all of them products of a selective breeding program that led to the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. Khan led these genetic superhumans to conquer one third of the world, until they were driven to abandon planet Earth.

Toward the beginning of the episode, when all the facts of the unfolding mystery of Botany Bay have not yet been made clear, there's an interesting exchange between Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) and the ever-logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy):

Kirk: So much for my theory. I'm still waiting to hear yours.

Spock: Even a theory requires some facts, Captain. So far, I have none.

Kirk: And that irritates you, Mr. Spock?

Spock: Irritation?

Kirk: Yeah.

Spock: I am not capable of that emotion.

Kirk: My apologies, Mr. Spock. You suspect some danger, then?

Spock: Insufficient facts always invite danger, Captain.

Kirk: Well, better get some facts.

I recently saw this episode after many years, and just shook my head, thinking of how timely that advice is in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

While I'm going to do my best to deal with "some facts," I am not a Vulcan. As a human being, I am very much prone to feeling "irritation." This post is going to express a lot of irritation. But it is a cathartic exercise, one that I hope will go a long way toward healing some of the divisions I've seen among many people who call themselves "libertarians." Rather than "disown" such an emotion, I'm just going to get it off my chest. A wise psychologist once told me: "Don't keep anything in! Give the other guy the ulcer!"

Well, I don't wish any ulcers on anybody, anymore than I wish that the "naysayers" among us get coronavirus and die just to prove a point.

Since I started blogging explicitly about coronavirus (and this is the twenty-first post on that subject, beginning with a March 14, 2020 entry), I have lost count of the number of times that I have found myself irritated---or downright outraged---over the kinds of things I have heard coming out of the mouths of self-described libertarians.

In this post, I am focused primarily on libertarian responses to the virus because that is the community with which I've been associated for the bulk of my professional and intellectual life, albeit advocating a "dialectical libertarianism" that has always tried to push my colleagues and friends toward a greater understanding of the larger context within which human freedom flourishes---or dies. But this confession of my irritation with some folks is as much a therapeutic exercise that I urge everyone to embrace, no matter where you stand on the current debate. Better self-understanding goes hand-in-hand with a better understanding of those with whom you disagree. It also tends to shed more light than heat. And, Lord knows, we've had a lot of heat over these last two months.

For the record, I'll just state the obvious: As a radical libertarian (or radical liberal, in the classical sense), I am typically irritated with folks on both the socialist left and the nationalist right who have never met a crisis they would not use as a means of increasing government power in the spheres of their respective interest for "the common good." But critique must begin at home. And since I find so much discord in my libertarian home, I feel the need for even greater self-examination. I won't allow irritation with others to cloud my vision of their humanity or their very real concerns.

Pandemics as the Pretext for Advancing Statism

Nevertheless, as part of this therapeutic exercise, I wish to make explicit the very first time I began to feel a level of irritation with some of my libertarian colleagues. It came from those who first declared it a hoax or an exaggeration, being used by those in power who sought to augment the power of the state over our lives. To be generous, many of these folks come from a "good" place; they are understandably concerned with the history of corrupt entanglements that mark the state-science nexus, which has given us every instrument of mass terror and every weapon of mass destruction in the modern era. They see that with advancing government control over our society in the name of an emergency, there comes a form of militarization that starts to infect the body politic in ways that are just as insidious as the virus itself.

I am deeply aware of the importance of this issue. As I pointed out in my second Notablog entry on the coronavirus, "Disease and Dictatorship":

First, there is a need to put all this into a larger context with regard to the policies of the Chinese government [which dealt with the first outbreak of the virus in the city of Wuhan]. This is the same government that has maintained concentration camps (euphemistically described as "re-education camps") for nearly two million Muslims, while waging war on those seeking freedom from Beijing's control over the people of Hong Kong. So the "Chinese model" continues to be an authoritarian one, whether it is used to contain people or pandemics. I don't know all the answers on how to confront a pandemic, but clearly the draconian measures enacted by some of those in power will have an impact that far outlasts the containment of any disease. Most governments have referred to this as a war, but all wars have always been accompanied by a vast increase in the role of the state in ways that never quite go-back to "pre-war" levels. This isn't a call to anarchy (at least not yet...)---but it is a call to vigilance on behalf of human liberty, even in the face of a dreaded disease.

Indeed, as my friend Pete Boettke recently reminded us, it was in volume three of Law, Legislation, and Liberty that F. A. Hayek warned:

"Emergencies" have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded---and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed such emergency powers to see to it that the emergency persists.

The Problem of Confirmation Bias

But there was something about the early response to the coronavirus as a "hoax" or an "exaggeration" that was eerily familiar to me. Back in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was killing off a generation of gay men in the West (while ravaging a largely heterosexual population in Africa), some libertarians (including those influenced by Ayn Rand), ever fearful of those who proposed a growing governmental role in both medical research and in locking down bathhouses that were transmission belts for promiscuous, unsafe sex, grabbed onto the work of the molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who played a major role in what became known as the AIDS denialism controversy. Duesberg was among those dissenting scientists who argued that there was no connection between HIV and AIDS, and that gay men were dying en masse because of recreational and pharmaceutical drug use, and then, later, by the use of AZT, an early antiviral treatment to combat those with symptoms of the disease.

If the scientific community had accepted Duesberg's theories, hundreds of thousands of people would be dead today. The blood supply would never have been secured, since HIV screening of blood donors would never have become public policy, and countless thousands of people receiving blood transfusions would have been infected by HIV and would have subsequently died from opportunistic infections. A whole array of "cocktail" drugs were developed that have targeted HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and they have been effective in keeping people alive, reducing their viral load down to undetectable levels, boosting their T-cell counts, and allowing them to go on to live normal, productive, and creative lives. Still, safe sex remains the mantra of the day.

So, while many libertarians have been at the forefront of rolling back the state's interference in people's personal lives, advocating the elimination of discriminatory anti-sodomy and marriage laws, there were some libertarians who, early on, in the AIDS epidemic, grabbed onto Duesberg's theories as scientific proof that the whole HIV/AIDS thing was a pretext for the expansion of the state-science nexus. Confirmation bias is an especially strong urge for anyone with strong convictions. All the more reason to constantly check one's premises, as Rand once urged.

My own libertarian approach has always had a dialectical hue---which means that I try not to jump to conclusions with ideological blinders, without first addressing the real conditions that exist, and placing them within a larger context. No state can wipe the canvas clean; the historical attempts to do so have left oceans of human blood in their wake.

And yet, each of us is part of the very canvas on which we wish to leave our mark. This must be recognized especially by those of us who offer a political vision for a noncoercive society free of oppression.

So I can't wipe my own canvas clean. Just as I remain a hard-core libertarian, I am also a New Yorker to my core. And I've seen up close and personal the death and destruction that this virus has caused to the people in my state and in the city of my birth, the city where I will stay until the day I die---because no terrorists, no viruses, will ever drive me away from the place I call home. It is deeply saddening to see my hometown re-discovering, yet again, what it means to be crowned "Ground Zero."

When New York first earned the "Ground Zero" distinction, back on September 11, 2001, the ideological fissures in the libertarian movement were just as apparent. Neoconservatives were leading the way, not merely to strike back at those responsible for the terrorist attacks, but to begin a "nation-building" crusade, with no regard for the cultural or historical context of the countries impacted by their wrongheaded policies. What followed was a vast expansion of the National Security State through the Patriot Act (opposed by only three Republicans in the House of Representatives), which continues to be used in ways unrelated to "Homeland Security," further eroding civil liberties in this country. An unjustified war in Iraq destabilized the entire region, leading to unintended consequences that will be with us for generations to come.

At the time, I found myself at odds with many libertarians of a more "Objectivist" bent who wanted to annihilate the Middle East with nuclear weapons, unconcerned with the side effects of, say, a nuclear winter. Times were tough for any libertarian, like myself, who argued that 9/11 was primarily a blow-back event brought about by years of brutal US intervention abroad, but who also condemned the mass murder of thousands of innocent civilians by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in their terrorist attacks on that tragic day. I supported targeted strikes against Al Qaeda, while also arguing that the United States should get the hell out of the Middle East and the rest of the world's hot spots. I was called a "traitor" by many in Objectivist circles. It never phased these folks that Rand herself had opposed US entrance into World War II, and actively opposed US wars in Korea and Vietnam, the latter, while troops were on the ground, even counseling draftees to get good attorneys, because she was also opposed to military conscription. Unlike her progeny, she saw that there was a highly toxic, organic relationship between domestic interventionism at home and "pull-peddling" interventionism abroad.

Ironically, one of those Objectivists who favored the war in Iraq was Robert Tracinski. Today, I find myself in greater agreement with Tracinski, especially in a recent, wide-ranging essay, which dissects the arguments of those who downplay the impact of COVID-19, people like Richard Epstein, Michael Fumento, Tucker Carlson, Britt Hume, Glenn Beck, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (whom I excoriated here) and various Objectivists. Tracinski criticizes those who argue that

"there are no libertarians in a pandemic,” the idea that the coronavirus response proves how much we need Big Government. ... But there has also been an attempt to portray the pandemic as an overblown hysteria, a hoax designed to impose dictatorship on us in the form of mandatory social isolation. The unstated premise is that if the pandemic were real, it actually would make the case for Big Government, so therefore it cannot be admitted to be a genuine threat. ... The basic facts are that this virus spreads more quickly and easily than the flu and is about ten times more deadly, with a mortality rate in the neighborhood of one to two percent. ... This is not the Black Death or Ebola, diseases with mortality rates of about 50%, and I have no doubt there are eras in history when a mortality rate of 2% would barely have been noticed. But we are very fortunate not to live in one of those eras. Given our high standards of medical care and low death rates from other causes, COVID-19 produces dramatic increases in mortality to levels far above the norm. And just in terms of absolute numbers, a morality rate of one to two percent means that its unchecked spread would be likely to produce a death toll in the millions in the US alone, in the span of just a year. By comparison, a little over 400,000 Americans died in all of World War II. I don't know by what standard a potential death toll greater than that of a major war would not be considered a catastrophe. ... The point is that this is not "fake news" coming from the left-wing media. It is really happening, and people we know are trying to tell us about it.

Facing Facts

In the face of growing evidence, it does seem that the "hoax" theory has ebbed in most libertarian circles. But there are still those who hang onto the belief that this whole "pandemic" (in scare quotes) is overblown and nothing to worry about, except for those older folks with pre-existing conditions (like me, for example), who are going to die at some point anyway (aren't we all?). It's the kind of stance that leads people to view libertarians as not having a single empathetic bone in their crippled bodies.

And some of these folks have claimed further that the New York statistics in particular are being artificially "inflated" to prolong the current lockdown. I addressed that issue directly in this post, and I have yet to receive a satisfactory response to it.

While it may take years to truly understand the full story of this virus, in the end, I must begin with the evidence of my own senses. As I related in that "Reality Check" post cited above, it was on the last day of February that I sat in an Emergency Room at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, dealing with some complications from a lifelong medical condition, and could not believe the growing volume of patients being ushered in for immediate care. The EMTs, doctors, and nurses, all expressed astonishment over the number of people who were reporting upper respiratory distress. The warning signs for COVID-19 precautions were plastered all over the ER that night; it was only a preamble to all that was to come. As it turned out, this was the day before the very first reported death in New York state attributed to COVID-19. Since that date, Mount Sinai Brooklyn has been overwhelmed.

I have spoken to scores of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and first responders, and neighbors from all over the tri-state area. The horror stories I'm being told by people I trust implicitly make the statistics pale by comparison. The bodies are piling up faster than the hospital morgues or the funeral homes can handle. In the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, not far from my neighborhood, friends of mine have complained about the odor of decomposing bodies being stored in U-Haul trucks outside the Andrew Cleckley Funeral Home on Utica Avenue. The news has reported that between "30 to 60 bodies were being stored in two U-Haul trucks outside the funeral home" in "unsanitary and undignified" conditions. This is the reality in New York.

But anecdotal evidence does not take the place of raw statistics. So let's discuss those statistics, because they will sober-up even the coldest utilitarian minds among us.

Today, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York state are at a staggering 320,000+ and rising; the number of deaths attributed to the virus nears 25,000. And, of these, New York City accounts for nearly 19,000 deaths. New York state has a death rate of 126 per 100,000 people; the city itself has a death rate of 219 per 100,000. Even if some of my libertarian colleagues wish to dismiss 20% of these casualties because they are typically listed under the category of "probable" rather than "confirmed" deaths, that still means that in excess of 20,000 people in my home state are dead from this virus in two months. We need to put this in perspective because I'm tired of hearing how accidents kill more people in a year or how influenza and pneumonia kill more people in a year, and nobody talks about it. In a typical year, like, say, 2017, 7,687 people died in accidents and 4,517 people died from the flu and pneumonia in New York state. COVID-19 has now killed more than the annual total of these two leading causes of death combined in this state in just two months. It is therefore astonishing to me how any person would indict the state's healthcare system as somehow to blame for the horrific death toll---whatever problems that are inherent in that system---especially when it has been stretched to its limits, and its doctors, nurses, and first responders have worked heroically to treat and save so many lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, throughout the United States, there are over 1.1 million cases, and over 67,000 deaths. But Ryan McMaken drives home a crucial point that is fully cognizant of the catastrophe that has befallen New York and New Jersey, in particular. As of April 25, 2020, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than 51 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States. All the other states combined constituted less than 48.5 percent. "The difference becomes even more stark as we move west and south. New York's death rate is now 22 times as large as Florida's and 25 times that of Alabama. Many states now report total deaths per 100,000 that are one-thirtieth the size of New York's toll. ... Were New York a foreign country, the US's total death rate from COVID-19 would be cut by 36 percent." McMaken argues persuasively that "[t]his wide variation means that other variables---like population density or subway use---were more important. Our correlation coefficient for per-capita death rates vs. the population density was 44%. That suggests New York City might have benefited from its shutdown---but blindly copying New York's policies in places with low COVID-19 death rates, such as my native Wisconsin, doesn't make sense."

McMaken asks an important question, though: "Indeed, these numbers are so high that one wonders if deaths are even being counted properly, or if there is something about New York's medical infrastructure that is especially inferior. Perhaps New York is home to a particularly virulent strain of the disease. Perhaps the disease was in circulation for far longer than the experts insist is the case. The experts don't know the answers to these questions."

Sadly, some of the comments following McMaken's essay only escalated my irritation. Some commentators were practically gleeful that NYC was experiencing such a terrible loss of life---punishment, it appears, for allowing "illegal immigrants" into our domain as a "sanctuary city."

It should be noted that the first hotspot in New York state was not even in New York City proper. It was at a synagogue in New Rochelle. Cases swiftly navigated toward "Jew York City" (yes, that's what one "libertarian" told me before I hung up on him). So let's Blame the Jews! Or blame those damn Italians who came here in droves during and after the holidays to visit their families in New York City! Or blame the gays---who were also responsible for bringing us HIV/AIDS. Or let's just blame New York City itself and its "New York Values"---you know, values such as openness, cosmopolitanism, acceptance, tolerance.

When people attack this city for its virtues, they are attacking the American dream. They speak of liberty but they'd prefer to extinguish that Torch in the Harbor. New York has taken the brunt of this crisis because it is the city that people from all over the world want to visit. It is among the greatest cultural and economic accomplishments in human history. For this New Yorker, it's the greatest city on earth.

So let's examine some more facts that might help to explain why New York has been so badly hit. As we all know, the virus was first manifested in the city of Wuhan, China (and scientists continue to debate whether this was a transmission from another species or some kind of laboratory experiment gone wrong). The CDC reports that "after Chinese authorities halted travel from Wuhan and other cities in Hubei Province on January 23, followed by US restrictions on non-US travelers from China issued on January 31 (effective February 2), air passenger journeys from China decreased 86%, from 505,560 in January to 70,072 in February. However, during February, 139,305 travelers arrived from Italy and 1.74 million from" other European countries, "where the outbreak was spreading widely and rapidly." The pandemic first hit Italy at the end of January, ramping up in February. (Interestingly, northern Italy has the largest concentration of Chinese people in all of Europe, many of them involved in business travel between China and Italy.) The vast majority of travelers from Italy and other European countries came to New York City. Gotham attracts an average of 65 million tourists each year---seeded primarily through the three major airports in the metropolitan area: Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia---and of these over 13.5 million came from overseas last year alone. During the holiday season, about 800,000 tourists per day flood into Rockefeller Center. Citing the CDC study, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated: "When you look at the number of flights that came from Europe to ... New York and New Jersey during January, February, up to the close down, 13,000 flights bringing 2.2 million people" came into the metropolitan area. From February 5 through March 16, 2020 alone, nearly 4,000 flights from Europe landed in JFK and Newark Airports, a sobering statistic, given that the vast majority of coronavirus strains were identical to the ones from Europe. And there is growing evidence that mass transit (especially the subways) became one of the chief transmission belts for the spread of the virus. The subways handle between five and six million riders per day, and given that many Latinos and African Americans work at jobs that are least likely to be resituated remotely, it is no coincidence that these communities, which depend on the subways for transit to and from their places of employment, have been disproportionately hurt by this pandemic.

But during this pandemic, as in the days following 9/11, we are seeing once again how New Yorkers are helping their neighbors in every way they know how, and as safely as they can. We are not sheep being led to the slaughter. We are a rowdy bunch. And it didn't take a political lockdown for the vast majority of New Yorkers to respond to the facts of this pandemic. The overwhelming majority of us are social distancing or self-quarantining when symptomatic because it is the most rational thing to do under the conditions that exist here. But through it all, from the growing networks of mutual aid that deliver food to those in need to those working on the healthcare frontlines, this city is showing the guts for which it is known.

Through the concerted efforts of local authorities, healthcare workers, first responders, and the people of this city, things are improving. We are no longer seeing daily deaths hovering at the level of 800 per day. Hospitalizations are down. Intubations are down. New cases are down. And we are now seeing fewer than 300 individuals dying each day. Will there be a second wave? If I had a crystal ball, I'd be able to answer that question.

Opening Up

Moving forward, one of the key principles that must guide our commitment to fully re-opening our communities is that one size does not fit all. The New York "model" is not applicable to Alaska, where only 370 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified and only 9 people have died. Given that there are at least vestiges of federalism still in effect in this country, and that centralized institutions at the federal level often cannot respond with as much immediacy to the situation on the ground as do localized institutions (a Hayekian insight, so-to-speak, applied to governmental entities), different localities will muddle through in different ways, with different timelines. Some regions, like the Northeast corridor, will work in concert because they are far more interconnected in such ways that the actions of one state will invariably impact on other states within that region.

Yes, everything in this world is interconnected in the wider context. If somebody had told me that a December 2019 virus in Wuhan, China would have led to 25,000 deaths in New York by May 2020, I would never have believed it. But contexts are continually evolving over time.

Paying attention to context means paying attention to changing contexts. This is not some NORAD computer playing “Tic Tac Toe” (as in the 1983 film, "WarGames"), where the context never changes and the outcome is always a stalemate. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, who have bungled this from the very beginning, understand that they cannot kill the host, the social economy, upon which their very existence depends.

As Pete Boettke argues, a genuinely realist approach must navigate between the false alternatives of "Romance" and "Cynicism"---the Scylla and Charybdis---that we typically face in all crises that have led to an augmentation of government power:

Romance lead[s] us astray by framing political leaders as saintly geniuses, whereas Cynicism leads us astray by framing the system as completely corrupt and devoid of any hope for improvement. Nothing in the Humean dictum that in designing institutions of government we should assume all men are knaves is either descriptive or hopeless. In fact, the hope in that dictum comes from ... minimizing the loss function in the design from the possibility of knaves ascending to power. It is from constructing the institutional rules of our governance such that bad men can do least harm, rather than assuming that only the best and brightest among us will rise to leadership, or that whatever system of governance we talk about it will devolve into corruption and immorality.
Realism forces us to reason through the tricky incentives that actors face in making their decisions. Realism also forces us to place the theorist in the model itself. Why do theorists choose the theories that they do, why do they make the statements that they do. The old political science "law" that where you stand is a function of where you sit, is just as true for scientists and academics as it is for Senators and Congressmen.

I fully agree with Pete that this pandemic has become a "testing ground" for our biases and ideas. The first step toward freedom is liberation from our ideological blinders. That doesn't mean a renunciation of our core values and convictions. It is an admission that human beings are

fallible yet capable creatures that when given freedom from the oppression of servitude (Crown), dogma (Altar), violence (Sword), and poverty (Plough) ... unleash their creative energies and lead to improvement in not only the material conditions of humanity but physical, spiritual and interpersonal. True radical liberalism is an emancipation doctrine, and seeks to cultivate a social system that exhibits neither discrimination nor dominion, and promises a social system that strives to minimize human suffering while maximizing the chances for human flourishing.

***

On the wall next to my desk, I have a small plaque, gifted to me by my family doctor when I was a young boy, who had emerged from life-saving surgery, after suffering for fourteen years without any diagnosis. It's an "Indian Prayer" and it says: "Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins."

I have seen the pain caused by this pandemic on every level, though as someone who has had 60+ surgeries in his life to combat the side effects of my own illness, I naturally share an affinity with those who become sick, for any reason. I have seen neighbors to the right of me and neighbors to the left of me who are sick, dying, or dead.

But I am not oblivious to the other pain that is being experienced by people who are not sick. They too are my neighbors. They are out of work, their unemployment checks are held up, some of them are too "proud" or ashamed to even apply for food stamps, until they realize that they can't afford to feed their own children without some help.

The human costs of this pandemic run deep, among families that are grieving over the loss of loved ones, among those whose businesses may never recover, whose jobs may never reappear, and whose dreams have been aborted. I have seen too much suffering on both sides of this divide.

But if we are to make the case for a new radicalism, each of us must be willing to engage in self-critique, to make transparent and examine our own biases. This must be coupled with a willingness to embrace the very real human need for empathy, the ability to truly share and understand the struggles of other individuals, especially those with whom we may disagree.

Without that empathy, I fear that the things that divide us may become irreparable not just to the libertarian project, but to the ideal of human freedom that we seek.

Postscript: Thank you to Rad Geek for mentioning the Jeffrey Harris study cited here.

Also my thanks to Amir Abbasov for translating this blog essay into Azerbaijanian.

Postscript (12 May 2020): A few additional points were raised by this post on the Facebook Timeline; below are some of my comments in response to reader's questions. One reader wrote that the claim by Boettke and Hayek was "over stated. If there are plenty of ordinary cases where government handling of emergencies is not intended simply to augment state power, we can’t conclude that that’s the case in large scale extraordinary emergencies." I responded:

I would say that this is why we need to study history. Once again, it's evidence that must guide us, not an ideological blueprint. When I look at large-scale events in the twentieth century like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, for example, it's pretty clear to me that each of these augmented state power enormously in the United States, and left institutions in place that allowed for further expansions of state power when the crises were over. In fact, the War Collectivism of World War I (part of the War Industries Board, which basically put in place a corporate state of sorts, while the country was on war footing), laid the basis of the corporatism of the New Deal programs, which were further centralized by the War Production Board in World War II. And the policy of "permanent war for permanent peace" throughout the post-war, Cold War era is what ultimately led even Dwight Eisenhower (hardly a radical libertarian) to warn of the excessive influence of a vast military-industrial complex. His 1961 farewell speech is worth quoting at length, for its insight into the ways in which this complex was distorting American social life:
"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.
"Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
Pretty good for a Republican...

I added:

My post certainly sees the current pandemic as a large-scale extraordinary emergency, and it specifically warns against viewing this through the lens of "hoax" and "conspiracy" theories, which reduce this to a power-grab by the state. It also accepts the possibility that, like any emergency, this can be used as a pretext by political and economic actors in ways that could augment state power in the long-run, something that requires our vigilance. Still, it's clear to me that Boettke does not adopt the kind of strict dualism that one finds in too many libertarian discussions of this kind. He himself makes clear that we can't be led "astray by framing political leaders as saintly geniuses," or "by framing the system as completely corrupt and devoid of any hope for improvement," and that to assume that all political actors are "knaves is either descriptive or hopeless." He explicitly rejects the assumption that "whatever system of governance we talk about ... will devolve into corruption and immorality." Yes, he would prefer an institutional order "such that bad men can do least harm"---but who wouldn't?
I think that natural catastrophes certainly fall under the category of large-scale extraordinary emergencies; I think of things like earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina, even Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the tri-state area. And I think that given the conditions that exist, it was necessary for the institutions in place to step-up actions to save populations and property. I don't think it is necessarily the case that state action under those circumstances is a power-grab. I also think that a lot can be said for the extraordinary efforts made voluntarily by individuals and through networks of mutual aid, which saved the lives of countless numbers of people.

Postscript (25 May 2020): Irfan Khawaja addresses "Puzzles of the Pandemic: 'The Nursing Home Massacre'", in which some folks have blamed NJ Governor Murphy and NY Governor Mario Cuomo for having "spiked" the deaths in their respective states by returning from various hospitals recovering COVID-19 elderly patients to the nursing homes from which they came. I responded in the comments section:

Well, if you listen to the folks at Fox News, Cuomo, Murphy, etc. purposely sent patients, who previously lived in nursing homes and were subsequently hospitalized for and designated as having recovered from COVID-19, back into the nursing homes from which they came. The Fox Folks claim that this was some diabolical plot to kill off the elderly population and/or to inflate the death tallies in NY and NJ, since many of those who were designated as “recovered” were still capable of infecting others. But yes, aside from the Fox Folks, there are legitimate questions about the wisdom of the policy of sending these patients back to the nursing homes—though it is not at all clear that the infection rate within nursing homes was strictly a result of this policy. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the spike in nursing homes was as much the result of nursing home residents coming into contact with asymptomatic infected staff.
The initial policy was adopted because the hospitals in NY were being overrun and taxed to a catastrophic degree, and when the USS Comfort arrived, and the Javits Convention Center (along with four other centers in the outer boroughs) were set up, they were opened to take in patients who were not sick from Coronavirus; they were to be places where folks facing traumatic medical problems unrelated to the virus could be cared for under “virus-free” conditions. The private and public hospital network were to shoulder the burden of the growing population of sick and dying patients from the virus, while these other places (the Comfort, Javits, etc.) would provide medical care for those not infected with the virus, but in need of urgent medical care (so-called “elective” surgeries were all postponed, but, obviously, there are many other medical problems that people face, for which they require treatment, in medical facilities that are not death traps for those with underlying pre-existing conditions).
Though the official reversal came at the beginning of May, the policy actually started to change at the beginning of April. It was at that time that the Comfort and the Javits Center were finally opened up to care for the overflow of COVID-19 patients.
But, yes, the damage was done. And I suspect that’s what Cuomo’s mea culpa is about. He’s certainly not in agreement with the Fox Folks that his policy was designed to kill people; but it was a policy that was shaped by the exponential growths in hospitalizations and intubations that were happening in late March and early April, until the state hit a plateau of 800-1000 deaths per day. Once it became clear that the healthcare network, as taxed as it was, would not collapse, and that these other facilities could take in COVID-19 patients, the practice of sending recovering nursing home patients back into nursing homes started to change. And extra precautions were put into place at the beginning of May, as Michael indicates above.
Clearly, mistakes have been made at every level of government; but it’s a huge leap to characterize something that was a tragic mistake to viewing it as a criminal act. I live in NY; I’ve lost neighbors, a cousin, friends, and even cherished local proprietors, to this horrific disease. There’s a lot of blame to go around; those most at fault, however, were the folks who denied that there was even a virus at work, that the whole thing was a hoax, and that one could just wash it away with a little detergent or by mainlining bleach.

Finally, I note that yesterday (27 May 2020), the United States officially reached a grim milestone: Over 100,000 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses. What can one say in the face of such a horrific statistic? Stay safe. Wear masks. Practice social distancing. The motto of the day remains "Better to be six feet apart, than six feet under."

April 25, 2020

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office

I have not ventured out much since the Coronavirus pandemic deepened here in New York City. But I did have a chance around the time that I went grocery shopping (three weeks ago) to stop by the Post Office to mail a small package to a friend. I have truly marveled at the hard work---and courage---displayed by all of the men and women who are delivering the mail during a period of high stress and high volume, whether from the USPS, Fed Ex, UPS, or any number of other delivery services, not to mention the folks who deliver from restaurants, pizzerias, and other eateries in the neighborhood.

But my last visit to the Post Office gave me a chuckle. Three postal workers are sitting behind thick plexiglass windows, and the line is short. A window opens as the customer just ahead of me departs. I walk over to the window.

Here's a dialogue worthy of Plato:

She (the postal worker): Oh, I was just going on break.
Me: Oh, I'm sorry. That's okay, I'll just wait for the next window to open.
She: No, no, it's okay, sweetheart. Hand it over.
Me: Are you sure? I can wait, it's not a big deal!
She: No, no, I'll be happy to take care of this quickly... it's just that I gotta pee like Seabiscuit!
Me: (Convulsed in Laughter... happily handing the package over to the postal worker) -- At least I'm old enough to know who Seabiscuit is!
She: Don't make me laugh, sweetheart, or there's gonna be a problem!

Only in New York! :)

April 18, 2020

Song of the Day #1783

Song of the Day: El Cid ("Friendship") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is featured in the 1961 epic historical drama starring Charlton Heston as the medieval Castilian knight, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and Sophia Loren as his wife, Jimena Diaz. The film's gorgeous score received an Oscar nomination, as did "The Falcon and the Dove" for Best Original Song. Today is the 113th anniversary of Rozsa's birth [pdf link]. He is one of my all-time favorite composers; this soundtrack is one of his finest achievements. And I can think of fewer things in these difficult times in need of greater celebration than friendship.

Song of the Day #1782

Song of the Day: You Say You Care, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Leo Robin, was featured in the 1949 Broadway musical, "Gentleman Prefer Blondes," that introduced Carol Channing to the world. It was sung in the musical as a duet by Yvonne Adair and Eric Brotherson [YouTube link]. It is also one of the highlights on a lovely duet album, "One on One," with jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. This marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release date of this classic album by two legendary jazz instrumentalists---no longer with us, but still very much alive in their recorded performances. Check out their inspired duet here [YouTube link].

April 15, 2020

From The Warren Five to Fox Five!

I've been singing the praises of my Long Island cousins, The Warren Five (in alphabetical order: Andrew, Ariana, Dana, Marie, and Zoe), who have been serenading us for 33 days now as part of their #QWARRENtine performances, every night at 8 pm, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday---just like they do on the Great White Way!

Well, tonight, they were featured on our local Fox affiliate, Channel 5 News, and provided us with a nice backstage look at all the work they do to bring music and love to the hearts of everybody who has heard them. Check out the Fox story as presented on television here.

And keep on keepin' on, cousins! Love you all!

April 13, 2020

What's In a Number? (Part Two)

On 26 July 2002, the New York Daily News published "New Yorkers of the American Imagination: From The Fountainhead: Howard Roark"---which I'd written for their series, "Big Town Classic Characters." It was later republished on the site of the Atlas Society here.

On that same day, I began blogging on what I would call "Notablog." It started as a page on my home site, until "October 1, 2004," the title of my first post to the new interface with which New York University provided me. Through the years, I have written on subjects as diverse as economics (especially Austrian economics), culture, dialectical method, education and pedagogy, film, TV, and theater, fiscal policy, food, foreign policy, frivolity, music (including a "Song of the Day" feature now up to #1781 and counting), politics (not just elections, but a focus on theory, history, and current events), Ayn Rand studies (including the "Journal of..."), religion, remembrance, sexuality, and sports.

Earlier today, I posted a somber update on the Coronavirus pandemic, asking "What's in a Number?" Tonight, I ask that same question, with a far less somber tone. For with this entry, I have reached the 3,000th post in the history of Notablog over these last eighteen years. In many respects, it seems like a relatively small output, when you consider that there have been nearly 6,500 days since that very first post. But I'm very happy to have reached this milestone, if, for nothing else, to count my blessings that I'm still here and that I've been around long enough to keep writing---shedding some light and, on occasion, some heat, but always doing my best to tell it the way I see it.

To 3,000 more! Or 30,000! Nothing will shut me up after all this time!

April 07, 2020

Long Live Pussy Galore: Honor Blackman, RIP

In the midst of all the tragedies around us, I just found out that Honor Blackman, who famously played Pussy Galore in my all-time favorite James Bond film, "Goldfinger," passed away at the age of 94 on 5 April 2020. She also played the trailblazing, self-confident, martial arts expert, Cathy Gale, in the British TV series, "The Avengers", alongside Patrick Macnee.

As she once stated in a "TV Times" interview: "Pussy Galore was a career woman --- a pilot who had her own air force, which was very impressive. She was never a bimbo."

Her introduction to 007 (played by Sean Connery in "Goldfinger") remains a golden cinematic moment [YouTube link], no pun intended!

April 06, 2020

Song of the Day #1781

Song of the Day: In the Heights ("96,000"), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a highlight of the 2008 Tony-Award winning Browdway musical, which offers a snapshot over three days of the largely Dominican American neighborhood of Washington Heights, a community that, today, has the most reported Coronavirus cases in the borough of Manhattan. This rousing production also won Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations (four awards out of a total of thirteen nominations!). Check out the recording from the original Broadway cast production as well as a performance of it on the 2008 Tony Awards [YouTube links]. And finally, check out the Warren Five, my cousins on Long Island, who, after having performed this song live for their growing Facebook Audience [Facebook link] during the #QWARRENtine, have just produced a music video for their own terrific rendition [YouTube link]. Love 'em all!

March 30, 2020

Coronavirus (10): "Standing Man" as Metaphor ... or Blessed are the Healers!

Today, I watched yet another harrowing update on the situation in New York State, where, through late last night, there have been more than 66,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases---36,400+ of these in New York City alone. And of the 1,218 deaths from this virus thus far throughout the state, nearly 800 derive from New York City. The United States now has nearly 160,000 cases, and 2,951 deaths from this pandemic.

I could not help but think of the remarkable men and women in the fields of health care and medicine and the first responders, who have put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. Many have themselves become infected. And tragically, some have died. But most keep standing up, no matter how many times they get slammed down.

Their resilience reminds me of a remarkable scene in the 2015 Steven Spielberg-directed film, "Bridge of Spies," starring Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, who served as the attorney for convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance, in an Oscar-winning turn as Best Supporting Actor.

In this scene, Donovan is about to discuss plans for an appeal of Abel's conviction, and Abel compares Donovan to someone he remembers from his youth, a friend of his father, who, interrogated by border guards in the days of Czarist Russia, kept getting slapped down, only to stand back up again. Again and again, his persecutors beat him down, and yet, he kept standing up. Until the beating stopped. Abel recalls that the guards referred to him as "Stoykiy muzhik"---"which he translates as 'standing man'," though its more accurate translation is "resilient man" or "tough man"... "a man who stands his ground."

It's National Doctors Day, but I dedicate this scene to all the "standing" men and women in the healthcare profession and among the first responders who, somehow, refuse to sit by, while their fellow human beings are suffering and in need of crucial assistance. My deepest appreciation goes out to every single one of them.

In the meanwhile, check out this wonderfully acted scene from the film ... and, in anticipation of some new idiocy, puh-lease, spare me the criticism that, in featuring this scene as a metaphor for those who keep "standing", I am somehow showing my support for the Soviet spies of old!...

March 28, 2020

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos - A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal

This post is not about politics, even if my dialectical sensibility prevents me from looking at any specific problem without considering its relationships to other problems and to the larger system within which they are all manifested, keeping an eye on how such problems first appeared, how they developed over time, and where they might be tending.There you have it---a snapshot description of what it means to be "dialectical."

But dialectical methods, like all methods of thinking, begin with a consideration of the facts. Another US President from another time, John Adams, once said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

I have to express my total and complete frustration with folks who have been saying to me that this entire Coronavirus thing is "overblown". For those who believe this, this is probably not the post for you to read. I do not intend to get into any arguments with anybody over whether this is as bad as folks are making it out to be, or how it's nothing next to, say, the "Swine Flu" epidemic in 2009-2010. Please move on and leave me alone. Your comments are not welcome.

So the first thing I want to address is facts. It was only on New Year's Eve that China confirmed a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown origin. It was probably around the very beginning of December that the first cases of what has become known as the Coronavirus disease (CORVID-19) was found in Wuhan, Hubei, China. If anybody had ever told me that a little less than four months later, New York City, my hometown, would become the epicenter of what is now a global pandemic, I would never have believed it.

But the virus spread swiftly. Indeed, only a month after China was designated as the country of the virus's origin, Italy reported its first case, and, today, a mere eight weeks later, 92,000+ infected people in Italy, and 10,000+ deaths in that country of my paternal grandparents, have now been eclipsed by the United States, which leads the world in the number of CORVID-19 cases. With over 600,000 reported cases globally, the United States now accounts for over 104,000 cases---with 1,843 deaths reported thus far. But 728 of those deaths have occurred in New York State, which accounts for 52,000 cases, roughly 50% of all the cases in the U.S. Of these, 29,123 cases are clustered in New York City, with the following breakdown in the five boroughs that constitute the Big Apple: Queens has just overtaken Brooklyn with 9,228 confirmed cases; Brooklyn has 7,789, the Bronx has 5,352, Manhattan has 5,036 and Staten Island has 1,718 cases. It has only been 27 days since the first case was diagnosed in this state---and 517 deaths of New York state's total have occurred in NYC, 209 of them within the last 24 hours.

We have now reached the point where President Trump is considering a quarantine of the tri-state area.

It's not my intention to debate any of the politics of this right now, right here. But it is my intention to convey the seriousness of this situation by expressing it in the most personal terms possible. This is not something that comes easy to me. I don't talk much publicly about my own health trials and tribulations. But I'm going to make an exception today---if only because I've been inundated with inquiries from so many friends and relatives, with regard to the state of my health and the health of those in my immediate family. I can think of no better way than this post to get the word out about how things are right now, especially since I know that it will resonate with those who have pre-existing medical conditions and who have justifiable concerns about their health in the weeks and months ahead.

As many of you know, I have had a lifelong bout with a serious congenital intestinal disorder, which required life-saving intestinal by-pass surgery in 1974, when I was 14 years old, and which has necessitated 60+ surgical procedures since, to deal with increasingly difficult and complex side-effects from the condition. Have no fear! I intend to be here for a long time to come.

But the Coronavirus outbreak has affected me and my family on a very personal level. I was due to undergo a procedure to pulverize a rather stubborn and large kidney stone on March 13th, but it had to be postponed to March 30th, due to technical difficulties with the lithotripsy machine at the hospital. But by that point, since the procedure was considered "elective" surgery, it was canceled indefinitely. My only hope is that the stone, floating around and growing in size within my left kidney since the summer of 2018, will continue to defy the rules of gravity and stay put---because there is nothing... NOTHING... on earth that I have ever experienced to rival the pain of a lodged kidney stone. And I am a person who has a pretty high threshold for pain tolerance. Nevertheless, on a scale from 1 to 10, the pain level of a lodged kidney stone is about a 13. It's like giving birth to the Planet Jupiter through a pinhole. Way back in 1995, I suffered agonizing, excruciating pain from a single stone fragment that got lodged in my ureter after a lithotripsy procedure. I was hospitalized for a full week, with routine morphine shots that might as well have been infusions of simple tap water. I had to endure the placement of a stent in me, which stayed there for about a month, before it was removed with the help of nothing but a local anesthetic. I cannot imagine that anything conjured up by medieval torturers could have been worse than that experience; my screams must have cleared out the urologist's office.

But that was 1995. And this is 2020. And if I can help it, I'm going to will that kidney stone to stay put, so that what is currently considered "elective" surgery doesn't necessitate an emergency procedure that would require me to go anywhere near a hospital---at a time when the hospitals in NYC are being overloaded by Coronavirus cases. I had two endoscopic surgical procedures scheduled in April, and they too are being postponed, regardless of my wishes, inclinations, or the dictates of my passion.

But I have a GI specialist, who has been at my side for over four decades, and whose home phone number I have, so that if I suffer any complications from my condition, I can call him at any hour of the day or night to address my concerns. This is a necessity at this point, just to avoid, as much as possible, any treks to hospital Emergency Rooms---rooms that I was compelled to visit five times between December 7, 2019 and February 29, 2020 for problems related to my core medical condition.

And not even a half-hour ago, my primary care physician---our family doctor over these same 40 years---called my home, unsolicited, to make sure that I was okay, and to make sure that both me and my sister---who has her own set of long-term upper respiratory problems related to her asthma---were staying put. We've also had his home phone number for a long time, and we don't hesitate to call him whenever we need to. Doctors like these are rare; to me, they practically walk on water.

In the midst of all this, I have to say that I really, really miss my friends and my relatives---those within New York and from out of town---who are all keeping away, because they must. Thank goodness for things like email, Facebook, phones, and other means of communication, which conquer distance and which keep the people I love close to heart.

But I want to remind everyone that, at least with regard to those of us living in New York, nothing will deter us from conquering these hardships. And I wish that same resolve to everybody else affected by this pandemic no matter where you live.

Still, New Yorkers are a tough breed. We got through the nightmare of September 11, 2001. We survived Superstorm Sandy. We will survive this. Because it's our home and---sentimentality or not---"there's no place like home" [YouTube link].

We look forward to the time when "social distancing" is truly distant in the rear-view mirror, so that our doors will once again be opened... to share the best pizza, the greatest of home-cooked meals, tightest hugs, sweetest kisses, and all the joy our loved ones have come to expect when they visit the Sciabarra family.

Postscript: This post was also published on 29 March 2020 on "Policy of Truth: The Website and Group Blog of Irfan Khawaja" as the second part of Irfan's "COVID-19 Narrative." As Irfan states on that blog:

This is the second in my series of COVID-19 Narratives, by my dear friend Chris Sciabarra, sheltering in place in Brooklyn, New York. Though the series is primarily about what I called the "supply side" of the health care equation during this crisis, I wanted to run some posts that described the "demand side" as well, that is, what it's like to be a patient during the pandemic. Particularly valuable about Chris's post is how it illustrates the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for people with serious medical conditions whose previously scheduled medical procedures have now been deemed "elective." "Elective" in this context doesn't mean "optional." It means downgraded to second or third priority out of sheer, dire necessity: hospital beds, equipment, and personnel have to be left vacant or unused to absorb the overwhelming crush of COVID-19 patients we expect to see. And even at the center of the pandemic, we haven't yet reached the peak of that crush.
Meanwhile, people like Chris and many others have to suffer in patient, uncomplaining silence, hoping that their conditions will remain "quiet" for the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis. I know one person whose elective procedure has been indefinitely postponed, and who was told that she couldn’t receive treatment unless she went into renal failure; on asking what she ought to do about her condition, she was advised to reconcile herself to God's existence and start "reading the Bible." Obviously, the people I happen to know are just a minuscule fraction of the numbers out there. I've heard people say that they're "bored" having to quarantine in their house, and that "the economy" can’t wait forever for this lockdown. Such claims are myopic and insensitive in the extreme. It's patients like Chris and others who face the real trial here. When we ultimately tally up the medical costs of the COVID-19 crisis, we should resolve to remember secondary victims like him---the non-COVID patients whose care has been delayed because of the COVID crisis itself.
The post ... is taken with permission from Chris's blog, Notablog. I highly recommend the whole ongoing series he's written on COVID-19; the first post dates to March 14.

I added on my Facebook Timeline:

I just wanted to thank my dear friend Irfan Khawaja, for re-posting this Notablog entry on his own website and group blog, "Policy of Truth." Readers should check out the entry there, if only for Irfan's own enlightening introduction (and for his always hilarious "mutual placating" with yet another dear friend of mine, Roderick Tracy Long). I am honored to have my own testimony added to his ongoing "COVID-19 Narrative".

March 27, 2020

Coronavirus (6): Corona-Comedy - A Little Gallows Humor To Get Us Through

I've already posted on the rising rates of Coronavirus infections in the US and in New York state and NYC in particular, and chatted about all the politics behind the pandemic... but amidst all the statistics and bantering, you still have to pause and laugh a little.

This TikTok video is making the rounds, and with the "star" of the video sounding a bit like she's from my neck of the woods, I found myself convulsed with laughter. If harsh language is not your thing, please do skip this. But if anybody asks me who Geppetto is, "you're dead to me"... :)

March 11, 2020

Song of the Day #1776

Song of the Day: High Hopes features the words and music of a host of writers, including lead singer Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco, which brought this song to #1 on five Billboard charts and into the Top Five of the Hot 100---the biggest hit in the band's chart history. Winner of the Top Rock Song at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards and of the MTV Best Rock Video, this upbeat song, telling us to "go make a legacy," was the second single from the band's sixth studio album, "Pray for the Wicked." Not to be confused with that great Sinatra tune [YouTube link] from the 1959 film, "A Hole in the Head", check out this song's award-winning official video [YouTube]. With this track, we've hit Song of the Day #1776! Think of the Declaration of Independence! The Wealth of Nations! Or just keep on dancin'...

March 10, 2020

Song of the Day #1775

Song of the Day: Trolls World Tour ("The Other Side"), words and music by Sarah Aarons, Ludwig Goransson, Max Martin, Justin Timberlake and SZA, is featured on the soundtrack to this upcoming sequel to the 2016 animated flick "Trolls". This newly released song has a retro R&B dance feel. Justin continues to show the impact of Michael Jackson on his musical style and choreography, giving us that MJ toe stance on his kicks in his very first dance move in the video [YouTube links].

March 09, 2020

Max von Sydow, RIP

As I stated briefly on Facebook in remembrance of Max von Sydow, who died yesterday at the age of 90:

How very, very sad: From his reverent portrait of Jesus in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" to his powerful, vulnerable embodiment of Father Merrin in "The Exorcist" ... I've always cherished his performances.

RIP, Max.

February 29, 2020

Song of the Day #1770

Song of the Day: At the Circus ("Lydia the Tatooed Lady"), music by Harold Arlen, with clever lyrics by Yip Harburg (the team that gave us the Oscar-winning song "Over the Rainbow" from the 1939 film, "The Wizard of Oz"), made its debut in this other 1939 film, a Marx Brothers comedy. New York-born Groucho, the greatest Marxist of them all, introduced this song in this hilarious romp [YouTube film clip]. Groucho was in a class by himself, indeed [YouTube link]. But Kermit the Frog also delivered this song on "The Muppet Show" as did Virginia Weidler in "The Philadelphia Story" (1940) [YouTube links] (hat tip to Roderick Long). And so, we end our sixteenth annual Film Music February on a leaping comedic note [YouTube link to a Dick Cavett interview in which Groucho sings this signature song], and look forward to revisiting the magic of film music again next year!

February 28, 2020

Song of the Day #1769

Song of the Day: Until They Sail ("Main Title"), music by David Raksin, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is sung over the opening credits by Eydie Gorme. This 1957 Robert Wise-directed film includes an all-star cast of Jean Simmons, Paul Newman, Joan Fontaine, Piper Laurie, and Sandra Dee. Check out the Eydie Gorme single (which goes through 2 minutes and 42 seconds at that YouTube link). This is the second time in two consecutive years in which Paul Newman starred in a film directed by Robert Wise, with a main title featuring lyrics by Sammy Cahn!

February 27, 2020

Song of the Day #1768

Song of the Day: Somebody Up There Likes Me ("Title Track"), music by Bronsilau Kaper, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, opens this 1956 film about the life of Brooklyn-born middleweight boxer, Rocky Graziano, played by Paul Newman. This is the first of two back-to-back years that Paul Newman starred in films directed by Robert Wise, with a title song whose lyrics were written by Sammy Cahn! (We'll check out the second of these collaborations tomorrow!) Perry Como sings this song over the opening and closing credits to the film [YouTube links].

February 26, 2020

Song of the Day #1767

Song of the Day: Point Break ("Take Me Down"), words and music by Michael Hodges, Kayla Morrison, and Gerald Trottman, is sung by Genevieve over a pulsating dance groove, featured on the soundtrack to this 2015 action thriller. The film didn't receive a great reception, earning an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, nowhere near the original Kathryn Bigelow-directed 1991 original, but the films share rockin' soundtracks. Check out this propulsive track here [YouTube link].

February 25, 2020

Song of the Day #1766

Song of the Day: Sabrina ("Opening Title") [YouTube link], composed by Friedrich Hollaender, opens this 1954 Billy Wilder rom-com, starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden. In 1995, the film was remade by director Sydney Pollack. The Wilder version received six Oscar nominations, winning only in the category of Best Costume Design, for Edith Head, who, in her lifetime, was nominated 35 times, winning 8 Oscars along the way. It is rumored, however, that Hepburn personally chose outfits created for her by Hubert de Givenchy.

February 24, 2020

Song of the Day #1765

Song of the Day: Lady Sings the Blues ("Love Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Michel Legrand, who was born on this date in 1932. This is one of the few original compositions on the soundtrack to this 1972 biopic of Billie Holiday, portrayed by the Oscar-nominated Diana Ross with heartbreaking realism. The soundtrack includes, of course, some of the grandest gems from the Great American Songbook.

February 23, 2020

Song of the Day #1764

Song of the Day: Lady Be Good ("Fascinating Rhythm"), music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, originated in the 1924 Broadway production "Lady, Be Good!," and was introduced on the stage by Clint Edwards, Fred Astaire, and Adele Astaire (Fred's older sister). It has been recorded by so many artists through the years, becoming a bona fide entry in the Great American Songbook [pdf link]. Listen to Astaire's original Broadway version [YouTube link] and then check out the epic tap sequence [YouTube link] by Eleanor Powell, which comes immediately after a sequence with the Berry Brothers [YouTube link], both featured in the 1941 remake of the 1928 silent film version. And for a little extra fun, check out Fred Astaire's appearance at the 1970 Oscars.

February 22, 2020

Song of the Day #1763

Song of the Day: Murder, Inc. ("The Awakening") [YouTube link], words and music by George Weiss, is introduced by Sarah Vaughan in her first screen credit, in this gritty 1960 docudrama, which earned Peter Falk, in the role of Brooklyn-born gangster Abe Reles, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (the first of two consecutive nominations he received in 1960 and 1961). Facing the electric chair for a series of murders in which he was implicated, Reles, who was a member of the organized crime group known as "Murder, Inc." turned government informant, sending other gangsters to the hot seat. He eventually met his death by, uh, suicide, trying to "escape" from Room 623 of the Half Moon Hotel located on the Riegelmann Boardwalk in Coney Island on the very day he was due to testify against Mafia hood Albert Anastasia---forever dubbing him "the Canary Who Could Sing, But Couldn't Fly." Funny how these things happen, eh? [Daily Motion, part 2, clip at 49:00] Check out the song as delivered in the film by Sassy in a lounge scene [Daily Motion, part 1, clip at 42:19].

February 21, 2020

Song of the Day #1762

Song of the Day: Wait Until Dark (vocal rendition), music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, is sung by Sue Raney (performed by the artist live and from the soundtrack [YouTube links]) over the end credits to this 1967 thriller (based on the 1966 play by Frederic Knott), starring Audrey Hepburn, who earned an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Actress. A lovely song that builds on the eerie themes of the main title [FSM mp3 link], in a much less sinister way than one would have anticipated.

February 20, 2020

Song of the Day #1761

Song of the Day: Anastasia ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Alfred Newman, opens this 1956 film, which stars Ingrid Bergman, who resembles the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, rumored to be the only surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas II, who was executed by the Bolsheviks as a member of the Romanov family in 1918. Bergman was awarded the Oscar for Best Actress and Alfred Newman received an Oscar nomination for "Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture," but lost out to Victor Young, who won the award posthumously for his score to "Around the World in 80 Days." But Newman and Ken Darby did walk away with a statuette for their scoring of a musical picture ("The King and I"). Bergman's co-star in this film, Yul Brynner, had a banner year; in addition to this film, he also starred as Ramesses II in Cecil B. DeMille's blockbuster "The Ten Commandments" and received the Best Actor Oscar for his role as King Mongkut of Siam in the film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "The King and I." I highlight this film today for a very special reason: Today is the 101st anniversary of my mother's birth. Known as Ann or Anna to her friends and relatives, her full Greek name was Anastasia, and for those who loved her and were loved by her, she was royalty incarnate.

February 19, 2020

Song of the Day #1760

Song of the Day: King Cobra ("Luuvbazaar"), words and music by Cody Baker Critcheloe and J. Ashley Miller, closes the credits to this 2016 film based on the book Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice, by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway. The unsettling film stars Christian Slater as Bryan Kocis, James Franco as Joseph Kerekes, and Garrett Clayton as Brent Corrigan. On the soundtrack, the song is performed by SSION (and check out their music video too) [YouTube link].

February 18, 2020

Song of the Day #1759

Song of the Day: King of Jazz ("Wild Cat") [YouTube link], a duet between jazz violinist Joe Venuti and jazz guitarist Eddie Lang (both of whom are credited as composers of the tune) backed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, is a brief snippet in the 1930 "talkie" film with early two-color Technicolor, providing only a glimpse of Venuti's virtuosity. This is the first of two consecutive cues from films referring to a "King" ... tomorrow, something entirely different, to say the least!

February 17, 2020

Song of the Day #1758

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Balthazar's World") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, incorporates several motifs from the film score, including the Prelude, the Christ theme, and the theme for the "Adoration of the Magi"---all speaking to the character of Balthazar, one of the three wise men who has returned to Judea to find the child he first encountered in a manger in Bethlehem, following the star that proclaimed his birth. William Wyler once joked that it took a Jew to make a good film about Christ (indeed, in music, as in film, such Jewish Americans as Irving Berlin, who wrote "White Christmas" and Mel Torme and Robert Wells, who wrote "The Christmas Song," have contributed some of the finest "chestnuts" to the soundtrack of the Christmas holiday season). Be that as it may, this film's soundtrack, written by one of the greatest composers of his generation---or any generation, has always provided me with a special kind of spiritual nutrition, even during some of my most difficult days. The 1959 all-time Oscar champ (tied only by "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"---each with 11 Oscars) recently celebrated its 60th anniversary; it was released on 18 November 1959. And now, yes, today, I too am 60. It has become a tradition of sorts to feature a cue from this epic---my all-time favorite film---on my birthday. How fitting to celebrate a 60-year old film and soundtrack, when a 1960 baby celebrates his Beddian Birthday (or should that be "his Ben-hurdian Birthday"?).

Postscript on Facebook: It is an overwhelming experience to have a few hundred people sending you Happy Birthday wishes. I 'hearted' every person who posted to my 60th Birthday Timeline... because words can't express how much I appreciate such an outpouring of love and kindness. But 60 or not... this was one of the T-shirts I got for my birthday... and youthful spirit that I am, this one just about says it all!

Chris1960ShirtSmall.jpg

February 16, 2020

Song of the Day #1757

Song of the Day: Touch of Evil ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Henry Mancini for this 1958 film noir classic, directed by and starring Orson Welles. Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Marlene Dietrich round out the cast of this film, which critics regard as among the finest of its genre. Welles was aghast at how the studio edited his film---but this is Mancini at his classic, gritty best. A year later, Heston would win his Best Actor Oscar for "Ben-Hur" and two years later, Janet Leigh would meet a different fate in Hitchcock's "Psycho" [iSpot.tv link]. But in this film, with its unforgettable, iconic uninterrupted opening tracking shot [YouTube link], Welles delivers one of the last and best of this genre's genuine classics.

February 15, 2020

Song of the Day #1756

Song of the Day: Khartoum ("Main Theme and End Titles") [YouTube link], composed by Frank Cordell, opens and closes this 1966 historical drama, which centers on the siege of Khartoum in the late 19th century. Charlton Heston portrays General Charles Gordon, Laurence Olivier portrays Muhammad Ahmed (the Mahdi), and Ralph Richardson portrays British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. Historical inaccuracies aside, politically correct concerns aside, the film boasts an intelligent script and a wonderful score. This is actually the first of three films in our Film Music February salute, starring Charlton Heston.

February 14, 2020

Song of the Day #1755

Song of the Day: The Godfather, Part III ("To Each His Own"), music by Jay Livingston, lyrics by Ray Evans, was a popular hit for several recording artists in 1946: Eddy Howard, Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, Tony Martin, The Modernaires with Paula Kelly, and the Ink Spots [YouTube links]. Though this song was released in the same year as the 1946 film of the same name, starring Oscar-winning Best Actress Olivia de Havilland---who is still kickin' at the age of 103---it is only tangentially related to that film! But it is a standout track to the third installment of "The Godfather" trilogy, performed in the 1990 film by Al Martino [YouTube link---with the Sicilian turn-of-phrase "Salsiccia's Own"). On this Valentine's Day, celebrate love ... "to each his own."

February 13, 2020

Song of the Day #1754

Song of the Day: Home Room ("Main Theme") [site link], was composed by my friend Michael Gordon Shapiro, for a 2002 film, a cue from whose soundtrack I highlighted last year. This film, starring Erika Christensen, Busy Philipps, and Victor Garber, portrays the traumatic after-effects in the wake of a high school shooting massacre. On the eve of the two-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this cue has special poignance. I truly love and value so much of Michael's music over the years and encourage listeners to explore his ever-growing body of work.

February 12, 2020

Song of the Day #1753

Song of the Day: Blue Gardenia ("Title Song"), words and music by Lester Lee and Bob Russell, is sung by Nat King Cole (playing himself) in the Blue Gardenia restaurant and nightclub in this 1953 film noir, directed by the great Fritz Lang. Check out the studio version and the film version [YouTube links]. It would also become a signature song for the great Dinah Washington [YouTube link].

February 11, 2020

Song of the Day #1752

Song of the Day: The Mark of Zorro ("Soundtrack Suite") [YouTube link], composed by Alfred Newman, includes all of the key themes to this swashbuckling 1940 adventure film, starring Tyrone Power as Zorro. The score was among the seventeen scores nominated in 1940 for "Best Original Score" (losing out to "Pinocchio"). It illustrates just why Newman is considered one of the great composers of the Golden Age of Classical Hollywood Cinema. With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring training for both the New York Mets and the New York Yankees, it would be nice to see a little swashbuckling magic in the upcoming 2020 MLB season!

February 10, 2020

Song of the Day #1751

Song of the Day: L.A. Confidential ("Soundtrack Suite") [YouTube link] was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who was born on this date in 1929. The suite, derived from the terrific 1997 film, provides just a glimpse of that Goldsmith magic, which has made an indelible mark on American cinema, running the gamut from "Patton" (1970), "The Sand Pebbles" (1966) and "Chinatown" (1974) to "Planet of the Apes" (1968), "Alien" (1979) and "The Omen" (for which he won his only Best Original Score Oscar in 1976 out of a lifetime eighteen Academy Award nominations).

February 09, 2020

Song of the Day #1750

Song of the Day: Since You Went Away ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Max Steiner, opens the 1944 film, which centers on the American home front during World War II, with a stellar cast that includes Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple. The "Golden Age" composer would go on to win the Oscar at the 17th Annual Academy Awards for "Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" in a field of twenty nominees! Tonight, another composer will win an Oscar for Best Original Score at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards. Tune in and find out who gets the Oscar statuette.

February 08, 2020

Song of the Day #1749

Song of the Day: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ("Duel of the Fates") was composed by New York-born John Williams, who turns 88 today---the number of people in the choir accompanying the London Symphony Orchestra in this recording. This composition is one of the most brilliant, rousing symphonic pieces in the Williams repertoire. With Sanskrit lyrics based on "Cad Goddeu," an archaic Welsh poem, the track actually charted on MTV's "Total Request Live" for eleven days after its release as a single! The composer just won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Symphonic Suite" [YouTube link], a piece inspired by the Disney Themed Land dedicated to the "Star Wars" film franchise, which opened in the summer of 2019. Williams, who has won twenty-four Grammy Awards and five Oscar Awards (out of 52 nominations, second only to Walt Disney), has also created the music for the entire nine episodes of the central "Star Wars" franchise, including its 2019 finale, the J. J. Abrams-directed "Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker," for which he has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score this year. This is the fourth "Star Wars" soundtrack that has earned Williams an Oscar nomination---the others being the original 1977 Oscar-winning soundtrack for "Star Wars: Episode III - A New Hope" (for which he also won both Golden Globe and Saturn Awards); the 2015 soundtrack to "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" (for which he also won a Saturn Award); and the 2017 soundtrack to "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi". Identified as one of the greatest symphonic composers for the cinema, Williams remains a global treasure. Happy birthday, John! Check out the soundtrack album version, the official music video and the action-packed scene (spoiler alert!) [YouTube link] in the 1999 film in which this triumphant theme is heard.

February 07, 2020

Song of the Day #1748

Song of the Day: An American In Paris ("I Got Rhythm"), music by George Gershwin (who wrote the original 1928 jazz-influenced orchestral composition that inspired this film adaptation) and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, was first heard in the 1930 Broadway musical "Girl Crazy." But it was among the highlights of this 1951 musical, starring Gene Kelly. Check out the scene from the 1951 film that features this wonderful jazz standard [YouTube link], which embodies Kelly's vocal and choreographical charm.

February 06, 2020

Song of the Day #1747

Song of the Day: Sing ("Faith"), words and music by Francis Farewell Starlite, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, and Ariana Grande and Stevie Wonder, who duet on this original rockin' jam from the soundtrack to the 2016 animated motion picture, "Sing". Check out the studio version, the music video, and a live performance of this sizzling, gospel-influenced song [YouTube links].

February 05, 2020

Kirk Douglas, RIP

We are in the middle of Film Music February, and I've just learned that the legendary actor, Kirk Douglas, passed away today at the age of 103.

A three-time Oscar nominee, Douglas was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 1996 Oscar ceremonies [YouTube link]. We have honored Douglas through song choices in Film Music February entries in the past, including his portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in "Lust for Life", his heart-wrenching portrait of a tragic jazz trumpeter, inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, in "Young Man with a Horn" (in which he co-starred with the late Doris Day), and, of course, his immortal performance of the title role in the 1960 epic, "Spartacus" (cues from which I've noted here and here).

RIP, Kirk.

Song of the Day #1746

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("The Bird"), words and music by Prince, Morris Day, and Jesse Johnson, was first released by The Time as part of their 1983 album, "Ice Cream Castle." Except for guitarist Johnson, Prince played all the instruments on the original studio version of this single, but it was later released in a live rendition [YouTube link]. The group performs the song in the 1984 film, "Purple Rain." Check out a clip from the film and as part of a twentieth anniversary tribute concert [YouTube links].

February 04, 2020

Song of the Day #1745

Song of the Day: Demetrius and the Gladiators ("Soundtrack Suite") [YouTube link], composed by Franz Waxman, incorporates some of the themes made famous by the glorious soundtrack to "The Robe", composed by Alfred Newman. But Waxman still retains his own musical voice throughout the score. This particular suite gives the full flavor of many of the cues heard throughout the 1954 film, the CinemaScope sequel to "The Robe," featuring Victor Mature as Demetrius, Susan Hayward as Messalina, and Jay Robinson as the utterly insane Emperor Caligula (check out these two interviews of Robinson on YouTube). The script has some of my favorite lines; Hayward delivers one of the best: "When the truth is ugly, only a lie can be beautiful."

February 03, 2020

Song of the Day #1744

Song of the Day: Godzilla ("Godzilla!") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, opens the 2014 reboot of the classic 1954 monster movie whose main theme we featured yesterday. Desplat has been nominated for ten Academy Awards for Best Original Score in his career, having won two (for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "The Shape of Water"). Having had a long-time love affair with "Monster Movies" since childhood, I am all the more impressed by Desplat's fresh approach to a film franchise with a long history, which is both an homage to the original "Godzilla" themes, while never losing its unique voice in the process. Oh, and btw, the little monsters, both Punxsutawny Phil and Staten Island Chuck, predicted an early spring!

February 02, 2020

Song of the Day #1743

Song of the Day: Godzilla ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Akira Ifkube, opens the classic 1954 Japanese film, "Gojira," that launched one of the biggest monster movie franchises in cinema history. It was released in 1956 to American audiences as "Godzilla: King of the Monsters!" and re-edited to include Raymond Burr as journalist Steve Martin. Today, of course, we're looking not to a beast as Super Bowl large as Godzilla but to the relatively smaller, though not necessarily less vicious Groundhog [YouTube link to ex-NYC Mayor Bloomberg getting his finger bit by Staten Island Chuck!], who will let us know how many more weeks of winter we'll have to endure in the Northern Hemisphere! Tomorrow, we'll check out the main theme of the 2014 reboot!

February 01, 2020

Song of the Day #1742

Song of the Day: Of Human Bondage ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the "father of film music," Max Steiner, is heard over the opening credits to the 1934 film version of the W. Somerset Maugham novel. In previews, RKO executives were not too fond of Steiner's initial score, and he literally had to write a new one, with motifs for each of the characters. The opening credits feature, however, a lovely waltz, which doesn't begin to convey the venomous power of one of Davis's most memorable performances, with one of the most memorably delivered lines in cinema history: "And after you kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth. Wipe my mouth!!!" [YouTube link]. Alas, our sixteenth annual Film Music February begins today, February 1st and runs through February 29th. Today also begins TCM's Annual 31 Days of Oscar celebration.This leap year, the Oscars air a bit earlier than usual: on February 9th. But we will be celebrating film music every day in February, running the gamut from score cues, suites, and main titles to songs that originated in film and those used in film, even if they originated elsewhere. This year, we'll be focusing more attention on scores from the Golden Age of American Cinema (broadly interpreted). So fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy month [YouTube link]!

January 25, 2020

Holocaust Remembrance Day

I was chatting with my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer about "Holocaust Remembrance Day," which will be marked on January 27, 2020. In echoing the sentiment, "Never forget," I said in part:

"[T]here comes a point at which one must at least pause long enough to contemplate those grim films of bulldozers pushing thousands upon thousands, nay, millions, of skeletal-like nameless corpses into massive pits.
That is what should never be forgotten, regardless of whatever other lessons can be drawn from this particular day. We are marking the 75th anniversary, with each passing month, of the various monuments to statist horrors on a massive scale, just from World War II alone.
The state in all its forms---fascist, socialist, "liberal-democratic"---has been singularly responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths. The Third Reich's final solution stands alongside the Soviet gulags and the Maoist "cultural revolution" in the post-war period, not to mention the U.S. dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are all reminders of how the human race, armed with modern forms of technology in the hands of legitimized institutions of coercion, can ultimately wipe itself out."

How to Shorten an Impeachment Trial

I have to admit that I've been watching the melodrama unfolding in Washington, D.C. aka the Impeachment Trial in the Senate of President Trump. Hours and hours and hours of blah, blah, blah from one side to be followed by hours and hours and hours of blah, blah, blah from the other side. And I think we all know what the outcome will be anyway.

The whole thing could be shortened dramatically if each side just took the approach of my cousin Vinny [YouTube link].

Postscript: So I post this frivolous comment on Facebook, and one person commented that "Yah, facts, law and trials are SO BORING." To which I responded:

Just trying to lighten up: If I personally thought it was boring I would not be watching the hours and hours and hours of facts, law, and trials. But most of us have a sense that in the end, what will it matter? I truly believe Trump will never be convicted, and if the Democrats lose their minds completely and nominate some far-left candidate, Trump may very well be re-elected in a landslide. And for the record: I've made it pretty clear over the last few years that I bear no great love for Trump, the GOP, the Democrats, or for that matter, the whole system! But sometimes, you just have to laugh at the farce of it all!
The system endures. Pass the popcorn.

The person further commented that the Democrats could only win with a far-left, "plain speaking" candidate, like, say Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), if she were old enough to run. "That is why Trump won." To which I responded:

I guess we'll see; a year from now, we'll be five days into the second Trump term or the first post-Trump term. But anytime the Democrats have nominated candidates with bona fide left-wing credentials (McGovern in 1969; Mondale in 1984), folks who were merely tagged as 'bleeding-heart liberals', they've lost in landslides to the Republican Party. I don't think voters are quite ready to vote for candidates who have taken to labeling themselves outright "progressive democratic socialists." Call it a hunch. Unfortunately, however, the "moderates" in the Democratic field aren't exactly the types who will go for the jugular, a tactic that Trump has mastered to the undying support of his base. So, we'll see.

My critics continued, asserting that "it has little or nothing to do with ideology. Rather, it has to do with rhetoric and a willingness to accept that contests for power are not mannerly. The American People aren't a Great and Nobel People, they are a rabble. They want a dogfight with no holds barred. The Republicans, since Nixon and his Dirty Tricks have know this and acted accordingly. The Democrats are just catching on. We'll see if they've learned their lesson."

I replied:

To be clearer: It has a lot to do with the rhetorical power of labeling your opponents something that most people seemingly won't accept. Labels like "fascist" and "socialist" seem to have precisely that rhetorical power, but since Washington, D. C. looks like a rabble unto itself, I'm not sure the Democrats are going to win this one: Not in the Impeachment Trial or in the 2020 election.
I just knew that posting something frivolous like this would lead to something less frivolous. In the end, I'm sorry to say, I don't see anything changing fundamentally now or at any point in the foreseeable future. I could be wrong. But it remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, I shall continue to subject myself to the hours and hours and hours of this trial and the debates and the primaries and election night... because I'm a glutton for punishment! :)

January 02, 2020

Don Larsen, RIP

Don Larsen, the only pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to throw a perfect game in a World Series, died yesterday at the age of 90. The Yankee pitcher, who didn't have a particularly noteworthy career (he went 81-91 in a career that spanned from 1953 to 1967, pitching for seven different major league teams) was perhaps the least likely candidate to pitch the first---and only---no-hit perfect game in a World Series. It took place on October 8, 1956, Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, in which Larsen threw 97 pitches, 70 of them for strikes [YouTube link].

He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1956 World Series, which the New York Yankees won over the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games. I wasn't even a gleam in my parents' eyes back in 1956, but the great Vin Scully's classic call of the end of that game, in which Yogi Berra jumped into the arms of Larsen, is branded in my memory of greatest television sports moments [YouTube link].

My fondest memory of Don Larsen was when he showed up on Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium on July 18, 1999, and threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi. What followed was almost surreal. Yankee pitcher David Cone, as if anointed by the presence of two blessed Yankees, went on to throw a regular season perfect game [YouTube link], only the 16th perfect game in MLB history at that time, out of a total of 23---21 of these in the modern era, which began in 1900.

RIP, Don Larsen.

January 01, 2020

Song of the Day #1740

Song of the Day: Happy New Year, words and music by Gordon Jenkins, is featured on the 1957 studio album, "Alone," by Judy Garland. It has a certain sadness to it, but given the recent resurgence of interest in Judy (see the 2019 film with Rene Zellweger), I thought it was a poignant way of bringing in the new year [YouTube link]. To better days in 2020, filled with love, health, and happiness!

December 23, 2019

Gaslighting? Watch the Films Today on TCM --- From Which That Word Derives

For years, I have heard lots of folks use the phrase "gaslighting," especially in a political context, which describes, as Stephanie Sarkis observes, "a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed." Wikipedia tells us:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. ...
The term originated from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations (both titled Gaslight), in which a character tries to make his wife believe that she has gone insane to cover his criminal activities.

Now, I don't own shares of stock in Turner Classic Movies, but for those of you who have never seen the 1940 or 1944 film adaptations of the Hamilton play, especially the latter, for which the great Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for Best Actress---please turn on your televisions today (or, if you have a DVR, set it up to record!). TCM is showing both films back-to-back in its monthly feature, shining a spotlight on the original and remade versions of films over the years.

The 1940 British version is on at 1 pm (ET) and the 1944 remake is on at 2:30 pm (ET). You owe it to yourself to discover the original context from which this common political term derives. And you'll be entertained twice as much.

Enjoy!

December 22, 2019

Song of the Day #1738

Song of the Day: A Week and a Day, words and music by I Have No Clue, made its debut on the 19 December 2019 "Late Late Show with James Corden." A parody of 90s-era boy bands, the song was performed in a music video setting by "Boyz II Menorah," featuring Zach Braff, James Corden, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Josh Peck and Charlie Puth. For years, the only Hanukkah songs we could rely on were "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" [YouTube link] and, of course, Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" [YouTube link]. So check out this funny, good-natured celebration [YouTube link] of the Jewish festival of lights and a Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends! And a Happy Solstice, especially to all those who live in the Northern hemisphere, as we now march toward the light!

December 17, 2019

All I Want for Christmas Is ... A #1 Single! Wow!

I'm sure many of you are probably tired of hearing this 25-year old song, and it's not even a Song of the Day, since I featured it way back on December 28, 2008. But today, with its sales and streaming combined, Mariah Carey's perennial ol' time song ("All I Want for Christmas Is You") has finally ascended to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first Christmas song to hit #1 in sixty-one years! The last Christmas song to hit #1 was "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" [YouTube link] (which I featured on December 28, 2005). Mariah's song was a true original from her 1994 holiday album, "Merry Christmas."

That gives Mariah nineteen #1 singles (first among solo artists and only one behind the all-time Beatles record twenty #1 singles)! Check out three different videos to the song [YouTube links]. And while you're at it, check out Mariah's appearance on "The Late Late Show" with James Corden and her brand new video celebrating the song's ascent to #1 [YouTube links], where the production gives a wink to Busby Berkeley. And check out this chat with Mariah Carey about the song [YouTube link].

Plenty of folks have said that the song has a 50s or 60s vibe, but don't kid yourself: You could easily do a Lindy Hop (or, if you prefer, a Jitterbug) to this song with no problem---and that sound goes all the way back to the swing era, which is why "All I Want for Christmas Is You" has been embraced by children of all ages!

So, we're decorating for the holidays---there's no "war on Christmas" in this house---and cranking up the volume, mixing those great traditional carols and popular songs delivered by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diane Reeves, Henry Mancini, Donny Hathaway, Joe Pass, Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Jose Feliciano, Paul McCartney, Karen Carpenter (speaking of which, unrelated to Christmas, check out this remarkable duet of Karen and Ella), Vince Guaraldi (with the "Peanuts" gang), Wham!, and, yes, Mariah Carey too [YouTube links]! It's time to Deck the Halls (and the windows and every other room in the apartment)!

December 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1737

Song of the Day: You're No Good, words and music by Clint Ballard, Jr., was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick [YouTube link] in 1963. Other renditions of this song by Betty Everett and The Swinging Blue Jeans [YouTube links] charted in 1963 and 1964, respectively. But it wasn't until 1975 that Linda Ronstadt [YouTube link] took this song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was one of the highlights on her #1 breakthrough fifth solo studio album, "Heart Like a Wheel." Last night Ronstadt was among the honorees at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors, where Trisha Yearwood [YouTube link] delivered this song in tribute to the artist. Though retired since 2011 due to ill-health, Ronstadt was in attendance and clearly moved by the tribute to her remarkably diverse musical legacy [YouTube link]. Other honorees included Michael Tilson Thomas, Sally Field, Sesame Street (which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year), and Earth, Wind & Fire. A tribute to that seminal group served as the rousing finale to this year's festivities, with some wonderful performances by John Legend, Cynthia Erivo, Ne Yo, the Jonas Brothers, and an all-cast performance of "September," which brought down the house [YouTube links]. It was a really entertaining night. Bravo to all the recipients! But, note to the committee: I'm still waiting for Chick Corea to become a Kennedy Center Honoree!

December 10, 2019

Song of the Day #1735

Song of the Day: Demolition Man, words and music by Sting, was first recorded by Grace Jones as part of her 1981 album, "Nightclubbing." The Police would record their own version of the song on their 1981 album, "Ghost in the Machine," as would Mannfred Mann's Earth Band for their 1983 album, "Somewhere in Afrika." Sting himself would release his own version as part of a 1993 EP in support of the Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snypes film of the same name. I put this song up today with a little tongue-in-cheek (and with a hat tip to my friend, Brandon). For those who don't know why I've made this the Song of the Day, no explanation is possible; for those who do, no explanation is necessary. :) Check out the various versions: Grace Jones, The Police studio version and performance video, Mannfred Mann's Earth Band, and the Sting solo rendition [YouTube links].

December 01, 2019

Sassy, Mel, and Merv

I was a senior in high school, and one night I caught a showing of the "Merv Griffin Show" that was absolutely splendid. I pulled out my trusty audio cassette recorder [a Wiki link for those who don't know what that is] and immediately hit the record button. On the show that night were two of my all-time favorite singers: Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme. Each did a solo spot (Sarah did "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Mel did a stupendous "Porgy and Bess Medley" [YouTube link to his studio version of it]). But then, the two jazz greats joined forces for "Lady Be Good" and an impromptu version of "I Got Rhythm." All these years, all I had to go on was the audio cassette version of this wonderful musical TV moment.

And then, just the other day, I was having a chat with a friend, mentioning one of the lyrics to "Lady Be Good" and I did a haphazard search on YouTube and---lo and behold, I found a clip from the "Merv Griffin Show" of Sassy and Mel doing the version that has been emblazoned in my mind due to my audio cassette recording of it back in the 1970s. And watching it, I was practically able to sing along and "scat" along with every note the two traded in their exhibition of the art of vocal improvisation.

So this is not a song of the day, since I featured "Lady Be Good" on---believe it or not---November 30, 2006 (where I referred to this Sass-Mel duet!), the very date (yesterday) that I shared with my friend one of the lyrics to the song. But for those who have never heard or seen this wonderful duet, check it out on YouTube [YouTube link]. If for nothing else, you will see on display the pure joy of two giants trading in a currency unique to them, which can be appreciated by anyone who trades in the universality of music.

November 18, 2019

Grace and Rosemary Share the Same OB-GYN?

If anybody tells me I've got too much time on my hands, it'll be "Bang, Zoom!" [YouTube link].

I just happened to be watching episode 4 ("The Chicken or the Egg Donor") of the reboot of "Will and Grace" (season 11), and noticed that ol' SNL regular Vanessa Bayer is back and that "In Living Color" regular Ali Wentworth made an appearance as Grace's OB-GYN (Grace is expecting a child): Dr. Saperstein. Both had their hilarious moments.

But was I the only one to notice that Grace's doctor shares the same name with another famous OB-GYN from film history? And I'm not talking about Henry Winkler's "Dr. Saperstein" from the sit-com "Parks and Recreation."

I'm talking about Rosemary Woodhouse's OB-GYN, Dr. (Abraham) Saperstein, played by Ralph Bellamy in the 1968 classic horror film, "Rosemary's Baby" based on the famous Ira Levin novel.

Now, I don't think that they are intending for "Will and Grace" to take a demonic turn and I doubt that Grace is carrying the Devil's progeny. But this just can't be a coincidence that a couple of OB-GYN Dr. Sapersteins have shown up on TV shows in the post-1968 era! Has to be a paean to the horror classic. Or just an inside joke. Right? :)

October 20, 2019

At Least There Were the Geico Commercials ...

Yes, at least there were the hilarious Geico commercials to watch during the American League Championship Series, like this one about the guy who passes up an opportunity to purchase a new home because of what's in the attic. Yeah, THAT made me laugh.

The American League Championship Series: Not so much.

Kudos to the Houston Astros for beating the Yanks, whom they out-pitched, out-hit, and out-played. I really thought we might be going to a Game 7, but the Astros took the American League Pennant in the bottom of the ninth inning after a thrilling comeback two-run homer by DJ LeMahieu tied the game in the top of that inning. But He Who is Not Mariano Rivera gave up a two-run homer to He Who Shall Not Be Named to lead the Astros to a 6-4 victory over the Yanks in Game 6 in Houston.

I'm super-pissed off at the Yanks for leaving so many guys in scoring position and not being able to come up with the big hit when the team needed it. And for not beefing up their starting pitching. And for ... oh, well, what's the sense?

Anyway, I'm not bitter at the Astros.

(Go Nats.)

September 22, 2019

Song of the Day #1730

Song of the Day: Whiskey Cavalier ("Love Me Again"), words and music by Steve Booker and John Newman, was the main title to this 2019 sleek spy comedy-drama with Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan that I actually enjoyed in its 13-episode run on the ABC network---which meant, of course, that the show would be cancelled. The song was actually released by John Newman in 2013 for the album, "Tribute." It can be heard as part of the "Intro Opening" to the show, and in its entirety in this clip with scenes from the series, as well as in its original music video [YouTube links]. Enjoy tonight's Emmy Awards!

September 21, 2019

Song of the Day #1729

Song of the Day: I Want to Take You Higher, words and music by Sly Stone was actually the "B" side to "Stand!", the first bona fide Woodstock performance [YouTube link] I featured in this year's Summer Music Festival, coinciding with the Golden Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Even as a "B" side, "I Want to Take You Higher" hit the Top 40 chart in 1970 for both Sly and the Family stone and Ike and Tina Turner, who did a cover of the song [YouTube links]. This song was one of the highlights of "Woodstock: The Director's Cut", an expanded version of the 1970 Oscar-winning Best Documentary Feature. Check out the Woodstock performance [YouTube link], which took place in the wee hours of Sunday, 17 August 1969. It's the final entry in our Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute to Woodstock. Tomorrow's entry marks the 71st Annual Emmy Awards, but we return in the wee hours of 23 September 2019, to conclude this year's Summer Music Festival with the same artist who opened it---all before the Autumnal Equinox hits the East Coast of the United States at 3:50 AM.

September 04, 2019

"Conversion Therapy": From Straight to Gay

My friend, Ryan Neugebauer, posted a piece from People magazine, "Conversion Therapy Founder Comes Out Publicly as Gay After 20 Years of Leading Homophobic Program," which I've shared on my Facebook Timeline. I stated there:

As I commented on this thread, posted by Ryan Neugebauer, there is a similarly sad story portrayed in the book "Boy Erased," a memoir by Garrard Conley, and adapted into a well-received 2018 film starring Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Lucas Hedges.
In "Boy Erased," the character Victor Sykes, based upon real-life "conversion therapist", John Smid, underwent his own similar "conversion" to same-sex relationships---after all the damage he'd done. Indeed, prior to this self-realization, he had been "director of the Memphis, Tennessee ex-gay ministry Love In Action, a group that claims to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality," as a Wikipedia entry states. In his memoir, "Ex'd Out," he admits to having "wounded" many young teens during his years at "Love in Action." The entry on Smid states: "In 2011, three years after leaving Love In Action and stepping down from its leadership, Smid announced he was still homosexual and stated he had 'never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.'" Further:
"In the 2018 film 'Boy Erased', based on the book of the same name, the character Victor Sykes, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, is based on Smid.
"A November 2018 Radiolab podcast titled "UnErased: Smid" features Smid's life story. Before claiming he had changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality, Smid lived for years married to a woman and fathering children. It was during this marriage that he realized he was gay, divorcing his wife in 1980. Four years following his divorce, Smid became a Christian and sought conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality. In November 2014, Smid married his same-sex partner, Larry McQueen. The couple live in Texas."

When will these folks ever learn the first principle of healing from the "Hippocratic Oath": "First, do no harm"?

Or as Johnny Fontaine, played by Al Martino, sings in "Godfather III": "To Each His Own" [YouTube link] (the Livingston-Evans song, with an Italian twist, is more like "Salsiccia His Own"... translated colloquially as "to each his own sausage", no pun intended!)

Ed.: In response to one critic who argued that my "worldview" blinded me to the ways in which children are "indoctrinated" into being gay, I wrote a series of replies:

Before I begin, I am not adopting any "worldview" in this post; I'm discussing how certain folks involved themselves in so-called "conversion therapy" that has destroyed lives---including the lives of those who ostensibly were trying to do the "conversions."
Now, confusion and evolution are human conditions; what you say about folks who might be confused and who engage in same-sex activity is just as applicable to folks who might be confused and who engage in opposite-sex activity, when in reality, they have a same-sex orientation. In fact, I suspect that the proportion of folks doing the latter is far greater than those doing the former. That's where the very notion of "living in the closet" came from. Culture, religion, conventional parental upbringing, etc., favor heterosexual relations, and it takes a lot for individuals who are experiencing same-sex feelings to face potential rejection from loved ones, fear of social acceptance, and even fear of self-acceptance, should they act on these feelings.
I also believe that you have to distinguish between an orientation and behavior; just because a man is able to marry a woman and have children does not make him a heterosexual---not if he's spending all his spare time "in the closet" looking at gay pornography or engaged in self-destructive actions (often manifesting themselves in substance abuse, etc.) to repress feelings that are part of who he is.
And just because adolescent experimentation often spills over into same-sex interaction does not mean that the adolescent is "gay" through-and-through.
Personally, I believe that there is much more fluidity to human sexuality than most people are comfortable to admit.

This was followed by yet another exchange that provoked this response from me:

Do you honestly think that children are being "indoctrinated" into being gay? Please do tell. I'd like to meet these kids. If you're referring to the actions, say, of priests who abuse children, and how these kids emerge from their time as altar boys as drug addicts and psychologically damaged---that's got nothing to do with indoctrination and everything to do with criminality.
But I've never met anyone who was "indoctrinated" into being gay. I think the socialization process that goes on throughout childhood is complex, but the deck is way stacked against kids who are "different."
And why on earth would anyone choose to engage in an activity that is condemned by virtually every religion, and that is still illegal in over seventy countries worldwide, which have used imprisonment, flogging, and torture to punish those who are different---and in ten of those countries, such behavior is punishable by execution by stoning, hanging, beheading, or being thrown off buildings as official government policy, legitimized by various states' interpretations of Islamic law?
It seems to me the most significant conspiracies that have been advanced worldwide are the ones mounted against those who express the "love that dare not speak its name"---and who have paid with their lives.

Yet another exchange was provoked, in which the critic insisted that I was still blind to gay "indoctrination" that led to a disproportionate number of kids engaging in same-sex activities because they were being "exposed to propaganda" and that "most gay men report some sort of abuse scenario in their childhood." (As an aside: the data on this is not as clear as the critic thinks: most gay men were not molested as boys and men who were molested as boys do not necessarily "become" gay. One thing is fairly certain: among the most socially abused and bullied members of our society, one finds that one in four pre-teen suicides are LGBTQ-related, a catastrophic indication that, "propaganda" to the contrary, those who are perceived as "different" are disproportionately victims, rather than victimizers.) Somewhat fed-up with the continuing exchange, I gave this final response:

Do you have any clue what you're talking about? I mean, truly? Every cultural signal that bombards every child from the moment they are brought into this world is of a heterosexual nature. We are taught by virtually every religion that homosexuality is immoral. Just because the government now applies equal protection under the law to folks who are gay who serve in the armed forces and would like to get married legally does not mean that the entire culture has changed into this massive Gay Onslaught!
The whole celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion was about basic individual rights. It wasn't about ramming down your throat, or anybody else's, the idea that everybody should be gay. This is the last I'll have to say about the matter and we'll have to agree to disagree.

Boy, this subject really does get folks riled up. Sheesh.

September 03, 2019

"Enemy Aliens": The Italian American Experience

For years, I've commemorated a "day of remembrance" in February, where I've focused attention on the internment, during World War II, of Japanese Americans, by executive action from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Less known is the internment of German Americans during that same period, and while I was aware of similar actions taken against Italian-Americans (and I'm half-Sicilian by ancestry), I was taken aback by the level of political and cultural repression faced by my ancestors.

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently completed an enormous re-organization of my library and file system and have quite a collection of newspaper clippings, which I've organized by topic and which will become the subject of various blog entries in the coming months. I am going to get into the habit of posting on Notablog and on Facebook, links to some of these articles, which, I believe, provide enlightenment on topics of interest.

As some may know, there was a recent Twitter war that erupted when Chris Cuomo of CNN was caught on a YouTube video, going ballistic in public. Out with his family, he was confronted by a person who referred to him as the "Fredo" of the Cuomo family. President Trump had a little devilish Twitter fun with Cuomo (brother of the current New York governor, Andrew Cuomo), after Cuomo's "meltdown" over being so characterized. Cuomo saw it as an ethnic slur against Italians. Trump responded that he too believed Chris to be the "Fredo" of the Cuomo family. And Trump's son, Donald Jr., piled on, saying: "Take it from me, 'Fredo' isn't the N word for Italians. ... It just means you're the dumb brother."

Now, with all due respect to the Trump and Cuomo 'families' (no ethnic slur intended), I couldn't care less who scores points in any Twitter slug-fest. But aside from a note in a Roderick T. Long Reason Papers essay, "The Justice and Prudence of War: Toward a Libertarian Analysis," I have to confess to an embarrassing ignorance of the history of bigotry and violence against Italian Americans in this country. I remain an unreconstructed fan of "The Godfather Epic" and don't agree with some of what Rosario A. Iaconis states in a New York Daily News op-ed piece, "Cuomo was Right to Be Offended" about "The Godfather" reference. Iaconis believes that the Coppola classic "has been as toxic to Italo-Americans as 'The Birth of A Nation' was to African Americans." To me, there are fewer films that depict so brilliantly the rise of organized crime in America with such transparency, or that illustrate the corruption of the human soul through the inversion of values, allegedly designed to protect loved ones from harm. From its sprawling, truly epic storytelling to its magnificent editing, cinematography, and score, it remains one of the triumphs of the American cinema.

But here's the takeaway material from the Iaconis essay that shattered my illusions of the government's relatively "hands-off" policy toward Italian Americans in the wake of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew the United States into World War II:

In his landmark book Vendetta, Prof. Richard Gambino states that between 1870 and 1940, "Italians were second only to blacks in numbers of lynch victims." And this murderous spree spanned such states as Colorado, Mississippi, Illinois, North Carolina and Florida.
In a missive to his sister regarding the 1891 massacre of Italians in New Orleans, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.”
After Dec. 7, 1941, as the result of FDR’s executive order, some 600,000 Italian Americans were labeled “enemy aliens.” On both coasts, Italian-American homes and businesses were confiscated; newspapers ceased publishing; and draconian curfews were established. Fishermen were not permitted to sail their boats and earn a livelihood.
In California, 10,000 were evacuated from coastal areas and sites near power plants, dams and military installations. Another 257 Italians were shipped to internment camps for up to two years.

Sacco and Vanzetti and the Mafia to the contrary, many of my own relatives fought and died in World War II for the Allied cause.

As Karl Marx once famously said in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

With continuing talks of the "enemy aliens" among us, it's a sobering reminder that my own ancestors were often treated as enemies of the state. My crystal ball tells me that both tragedy and farce will continue to haunt the American experience.

August 29, 2019

Song of the Day #1721

Song of the Day: Don't Matter To Me is credited to numerous writers including Paul Anka, Aubrey "Drake" Graham, and Michael Jackson, who was born on this date in 1958. As I explained in my essay, "Michael Jackson: Man or Monster in the Mirror," published on Notablog on the tenth anniversary of MJ's death this past June, I believe that even if it could be proven that some artists engaged in destructive behavior during their lives, it need not erase our appreciation of the art they created. Ultimately, it's something that each person has to decide for themselves. But the case of Michael Jackson is particularly troublesome because there are so many contemporary artists who have openly acknowledged how deeply they were influenced by him. One of these artists, Drake, had been very vocal in his acknowledgment of MJ's influence on his music [MTV clip]---so much so that he asked the Jackson estate if he could include samples from a previously unreleased MJ song for his 2018 album, "Scorpion". Today's "Song of the Day" is that "collaboration"---a duet that drove the track into the Top Ten on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop charts. It's not as if allegations of MJ's exploits with children were unknown prior to the release of the documentary, "Leaving Neverland"; but in the film's wake, Drake decided to remove this song from his setlist on his current world tour in support of his album. Jackson's lyrical contribution to the track is now all the more ironic: "All of a sudden you say you don't want me no more. All of a sudden you say that I closed the door. It don't matter to me. It don't matter to me what you say." Even MTV, on which MJ made a huge impact, has been pressured to strip his name from the Video Vanguard Award at its VMAs. Protests from his most recent accusers may have led MTV to drop his name during the presentation of the Award this past Monday. But this year's recipient, Missy Elliott, would have none of it---her epic performance and acceptance speech proudly paid tribute in both choreography and words to MJ [YouTube links]. She even thanked MJ's sister Janet for all her support through the years.

For reasons I explained in June, I continue to celebrate MJ's artistry. Deep down, I'm sure Drake still acknowledges Jackson's impact on his music. But if he fears a public backlash or feels that guilty about this particular song appearing on his album to the point that he won't even perform the "duet" publicly, maybe he ought to send all the proceeds he made off this Certified Gold Single to charities supporting victims of child abuse, as SNL's Pete Davidson [YouTube link] once bitingly suggested. Either way, I remain undaunted in highlighting Jackson's contributions, even if they are featured on present or future posthumously released singles. Check out this track's original music video, with its haunting MJ vocal chorus. And then check out the Zanderz dance remix [YouTube links].

August 26, 2019

Song of the Day #1720

Song of the Day: You Need to Calm Down features the words and music of Joel Little and Taylor Swift, who released this as the second single off her new album, "Lover." Swift ties Ariana Grande with ten nominations each for tonight's MTV Video Music Awards. The truly bold video single [YouTube link] to this infectious song has more cameos than one can count and its message of tolerance (which extends even to her long-time feud with Katy Perry!) has led to over 100 million views on YouTube alone. Check out Swift's live "Prime Day" performance of the song as well [YouTube link]. And check out the Video Music Awards tonight! Missy Elliot will be the recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. In three days, we'll be marking the 61st anniversary of MJ's birth with a new song that has an interesting history.

August 17, 2019

Song of the Day #1716

Song of the Day: Green River, words and music by John Fogerty, was the title track to the third studio album of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song was a Certified Gold Single that peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Check out the single version [YouTube link] and the live version [YouTube link] of the song, which the group performed on this very day fifty years ago at Woodstock (it was the second song in their set, which lasted from 12:30 a.m. to 1:20 a.m.). The song has been heard in several films through the years, including "The Post" (2017), in which it is used anachronistically---since it plays over a scene in 1966 Vietnam, three years before this single was released! One film that it was not heard in was "Easy Rider," which debuted on 14 July 1969 (during the same month that our song of the day was also released). This is therefore the Golden Anniversary Summer of a landmark "counterculture" film, which starred Peter Fonda, who, died at the age of 79 yesterday (16 August 2019). Fonda considered himself a part of the counterculture of the 1960s and was "Born to Be Wild" [YouTube link], indeed. It was all the more ironic then that, in 1999, he would receive a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for a Miniseries (for the Showtime movie version of Barbara Branden's book, "The Passion of Ayn Rand"), playing Frank O'Connor, opposite Helen Mirren, who assumed the role of his wife, Ayn Rand, and who would go on to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie.

August 15, 2019

Song of the Day #1714

Song of the Day: Pinball Wizard, words and music by Pete Townshend, was featured on "Tommy," the rock opera recorded by The Who in 1969. Check out the original album version [YouTube link]. Today marks the first of four days coinciding with the Golden Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. I will be focusing primarily on some of the songs and artists who appeared at that festival (with one quasi-exception tomorrow). But our Woodstock tribute will continue until the end of the Summer (in September). Since I will be posting entries over these next four days, which coincide with the dates of the original festival, I think we should note a few things about Woodstock itself---given the bad press it received with its legendary rampant drug use and "free love" in the mud on open display.

This festival took place on Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Having received $75,000 for the use of his private land for the very public festival, Yasgur, who was a pro-Vietnam War conservative, was also deeply committed to the American principle of free expression. He addressed the crowd that had come to his property and openly celebrated the "kids" in attendance at the event [YouTube link]. He observed correctly that this was one of the largest gatherings of youth "ever assembled in one place"---one marked by no violence, despite some very real "inconveniences" (like severe rainstorms and shortages of both food and toilets). Even the local community rose to the occasion; the largely conservative, rural town residents, who would not have ordinarily sat down with anyone from the "hippie" generation, gladly donated food, water, and other resources to aid the young people who were overwhelmed by the sheer size and unpredictable scope of the event and its hardships. Even the Medical Corps of the armed forces flew in supplies---to monumental applause from the hundreds of thousands of people who were there.

The Summer of '69---which we have been commemorating in this year's installment of our Summer Music Festival---is a study in contrasts (Ayn Rand herself saw it as a battle between "Apollo" and "Dionysus"). But it is also a study in convergence. In July 1969, two human beings walked on the surface of the moon for the first time, while in August 1969, nearly half-a-million human beings embraced the music and message of a festival, featuring more than 30 artists and/or bands, embracing 'cosmic' peace (I'm sure some of the participants thought they were walking on the moon themselves, at various times over that four-day period!). Whatever one's attitudes toward the views of that era, of its culture or its "counterculture", this remarkable convergence of events demonstrated what was possible when people reached across a "generation gap." At Woodstock, the "counterculture" [pdf to one of my encyclopedia entries]---many of them left-wingers who were not particularly enamored by the institution of private property---nevertheless assembled on private land to very publicly voice not just their disenchantment with the Vietnam War and the draft, but to nonviolently celebrate "peace" and "love" through the music of their day, at the end of one of the most turbulent, violent decades in American history. In the summer of 1969 alone, there were thousands of military and civilian casualties in Southeast Asia, not to mention ongoing unrest and violence at home, including a sensational murder spree in early August committed by the Manson cult that led to the horrific deaths of five people in Los Angeles (including actress Sharon Tate, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant). And yet, for all its "countercultural" hoopla, only two people died at Woodstock (one from a drug overdose; another from a tractor accident). It's as if a Wizard had simply waved a wand to show, in a single unforgettable summer, what was possible---in the stars and on earth---when people of different ages, backgrounds, views, and perspectives could claim to have "come in peace for all mankind."

And so we kick off the height of our Woodstock Summer with a song of Wizardry. It was featured about half-way through The Who's set at the festival [YouTube link], in the wee hours of 17 August 1969, followed by what has become known as the "Abbie Hoffman incident" [YouTube link] (one of the few disruptions during any musical set, not counting delays due to pouring rain!). Of course, for those of us who saw the 1975 film version of "Tommy," it's not possible to forget Elton John's performance of this song [YouTube link] or its re-imagining in this year's Elton biopic "Rocketman" [YouTube link]. But wizards work magic, and in that summer, fifty years ago, there was pure magic on display in so many significant ways.

August 03, 2019

Song of the Day #1710

Song of the Day: The Oscar ("Maybe September"), music by Percy Faith, lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, was featured in the 1966 movie, with an all-star cast, including Tony Bennett, who made his film debut and sang its theme song. The song appears on two of Tony's albums: "The Movie Song Album" and the second of two albums he did with the jazz piano legend Bill Evans, "Together Again". Check out the original version and the Evans collaboration [YouTube links]. And Happy 93rd Birthday to Tony!

August 01, 2019

Erika Holzer, RIP

I have learned that author Erika Holzer has passed away. She was a dear friend for many years, from whom I learned much.

Erika and I developed a warm, personable relationship back in 2004, as she worked on a wonderful essay, "Passing the Torch," which was published in the first of two Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposia marking the Rand Centenary. That particular issue was devoted to Rand's literary and cultural impact---and Erika's essay served as a springboard to her 2005 book that traced her "mentor-protege relationship with the author of Atlas Shrugged": Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher (the book was reviewed by Kirsti Minsaas in the Fall 2006 JARS).

Erika's literary contributions were discussed at length in the pages of JARS by writers such as Jeff Riggenbach, whose essay, "Ayn Rand's Influence on American Popular Fiction" appeared in the same issue as Erika's "Passing the Torch" and Robert Powell, whose essay, "Taking Pieces of Rand with Them: Ayn Rand's Literary Influence," appeared in the December 2012 issue of JARS.

Erika's body of work included some very fine thrillers, Freedom Bridge: A Cold War Thriller (which is actually a revised version of Double Crossing) and Eye for an Eye, which was made into a suspenseful 1996 film, directed by John Schlesinger, starring Sally Field, Kiefer Sutherland and Ed Harris. She also co-wrote two nonfiction books with her husband Henry (Hank) Mark Holzer.

Significantly, in the late 1960s, Erika and Hank had tracked down the original negative of the 1942 Italian film adaptation of Rand's first novel, We the Living, starring Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi. Under Rand's initial guidance, Erika was immensely helpful to director Duncan Scott, in the re-editing and restoration of the film, which was released in 1986, with English subtitles.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Erika Holzer was among the most empathetic of human beings I've ever known, greatly supportive of me through some of my most difficult periods grappling with a life-long illness. I loved her and I will miss her very much.

My deepest condolences to her husband Hank, her family, and friends. Her literary work and her pro bono work as a lawyer on behalf of human rights cases stand as her ultimate legacy.

June 25, 2019

Michael Jackson - Ten Years After: Man or Monster in the Mirror?

This essay makes its Notablog debut on the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of Michael Jackson. It can also be found in the essay section of my home page here. It deals with one of the most difficult issues we face in evaluating art---and its creator.

Can Bad People Create Good Art?

Writing in The New York Times, Charles McGrath asks: "Can bad people create good art? If that question pops up on an exam or at a dinner party, you might want to be wary. The obvious answer---so obvious that it practically goes without saying, and ought to make the examinee suspicious---is that bad people, or at least people who think and behave in ways most of us find abhorrent, make good art all the time." McGrath then gives us a laundry list of folks who are frequently cited as pretty bad people who created good art, among them such notorious anti-Semites as the proto-fascist Ezra Pound, composer Richard Wagner, who "once wrote that Jews were by definition incapable of art," and Edgar Degas, whose anti-Semitism led him to defend "the French court that falsely convicted Alfred Dreyfus." (And Lord forbid any of you should respond with a slight nod of aesthetic approval to just one of these paintings, for it will only prove that you are a secret admirer of young Adolf!)

But the list of "bad artists" who may have created "good art" is legion: There's Norman Mailer who "in a rage once tried to kill one of his wives"; the "painter Caravaggio and the poet and playwright Ben Jonson [who] both killed men in duels or brawls"; Jean Genet, gay prostitute and petty thief; Arthur Rimbaud, who flaunted all the conventions of his time; Gustave Flaubert, who "paid for sex with boys," and so it goes.

We can add to that list: Director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after pleading guilty to a statutory rape charge, but who gave us the classic horror flick, "Rosemary's Baby,"; the great neo-noir mystery "Chinatown," and "The Pianist," a harrowing biopic of Holocaust survivor Waldyslaw Szpilman (played by Oscar-winning Best Actor Adrien Brody). Most recently, let's not forget: Producer Harvey Weinstein, who may not have been an artist, but who produced Oscar Award-winning films and Tony Award-winning plays, and was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a series of horrific allegations leading to his arrest on charges of rape and sexual assault---practically giving birth to the #MeToo Movement; R&B singing sensation R. Kelly, who was once indicted (and found not guilty) on charges of child pornography, only to be re-indicted this past Februrary on ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse; funk musician Rick James, who gave it to us with "Super Freak," only to end up in prison on everything from draft evasion to rampant drug use that led to kidnapping and sexual assault convictions; long-beloved comedian Bill Cosby, who is now serving a three-to-ten year sentence for aggravated indecent assault.

In the ideological sphere, honorable mention goes to Dalton Trumbo, among the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, whose trials and tribulations were the subject of a fine 2015 film starring Bryan Cranston, which doesn't once mention that Trumbo was an apologist for the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. But it does remind us of what a gifted writer he could be, when you see re-created scenes from the momentous 1960 epic "Spartacus." And let's not forget Kate Smith, whose recording of "God Bless America" has now forever been banned from Yankee Stadium during the seventh-inning stretch, because she recorded a couple of records almost ninety years ago (in 1931) with racist lyrics.

Indeed, once we open up that ideological and historical can of worms, we're faced with calls to obliterate various monuments to the American revolutionaries who fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, including Thomas Jefferson, who, despite penning the Declaration of Independence and speaking out against slavery, owned over 600 slaves himself, freeing only seven in his lifetime.

Human beings are a complicated lot. As McGrath points out, however, it is very misleading to ascribe "badness" and "goodness" especially in the context of artists and art, because these concepts can have different referents: they can point either to the person's moral worth or to the aesthetic merit of that person's work. Take Wagner. For this film score fan, the impact of Wagner on the art of the score is immeasurable. Even "[t]he conductor Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, is a champion of Wagner's music, for example, and has made a point of playing it in Israel, where it is hardly welcome. His defense is that while Wagner may have been reprehensible, his music is not. Barenboim likes to say that Wagner did not compose a single note that is anti-Semitic." McGrath states further that "the disconnect between art and morality goes further than that: not only can a 'bad' person write a good novel or paint a good picture, but a good picture or a good novel can depict a very bad thing. Think of Picasso's Guernica or Nabokov's Lolita, an exceptionally good novel about the sexual abuse of a minor, described in a way that makes the protagonist seem almost sympathetic."

McGrath recognizes that art, like ideas, is one of those realms of human experience that can inspire us, enlarging "our understanding and our sympathies." He hits upon an even more interesting point when he states, in almost Randian fashion, that "the creation of truly great art requires a degree of concentration, commitment, dedication, and preoccupation---of selfishness, in a word---that sets that artist apart and makes him not an outlaw, exactly, but a law unto himself." Of course, from a Randian standpoint, there is a virtue of selfishness, even if it is typically viewed as a vice. And it needn't mean that the artist qua selfish is necessarily tortured or bad. Yet, it is nevertheless true that many artists have been tortured souls throughout the centuries. Finding ways to express their inner conflicts and tensions through the sheer act of creation can provide for a kind of cathartic experience. For those of us who respond to that art, it provides a form of objectification that allows us to appreciate the art work on its own terms, whatever the moral merits of the person who created it.

But comedian Pete Davidson scored a few points in the Gallows Humor Department in one of those "Weekend Update" segments on "Saturday Night Live" [YouTube link]. "Once we start doing our research," he quipped, "we're not gonna have much left, you know, because it seems like all really talented people are sick." Well, I wouldn't go that far. Moreover, not every artist has a cesspool for a soul. Thank goodness.

But when we admire a piece of art, whether it be a painting hanging on the wall of a museum or a work of music, we don't have to contemplate how lost, how tortured, or how awful the artist may have been as a person when they engaged in the act of creation. If the work speaks to us, whether we respond to it on the level of "sense of life" or just because of our mood on that particular day, what we are responding to is that work, not necessarily to the person who created it.

Distinguishing Between the Creator and the Creation

If we focus long enough on the artist, rather than the art, or the writer, rather than what is written, we might be led to airbrush out of existence some of the most important and influential artists or intellectuals---be they "good" or "bad"---throughout human history. This is a subject that hits close to home for a scholar such as myself. In my work, I have spent much time analyzing the legacies of many individuals whose ideas stand in diametric opposition to one another. Though I stand by the dialectical mantra that "context matters"--that is, though I am inclined to place the work of a thinker within the larger context of that thinker's life and the culture within which that thinker came to maturity, all of which helps us to better understand his or her ideas---it would never lead me to dismiss that thinker's work on the basis of their personal or cultural context. Let's take Karl Marx as an example; many have focused on evidence that he "lived in filth and neglected his own children." That may be true. But I would not treat his work with a sweeping ad hominem dismissal---especially since one of my goals has been to grapple with his intellectual legacy and his use of a dialectical method of social analysis, so important to my own project of rescuing dialectics for libertarian theory. And, as a Rand scholar, I have had to face all sorts of criticisms of Rand the person---from those who despise her work, and who dismiss it wholesale on the basis of her questionable personal attitudes toward everything from Beethoven to homosexuality, or who view her as nothing more than a pop-novelist and cult-leader who had a scandalous sexual affair with her protege, Nathaniel Branden, twenty-five years her junior, which destroyed their personal and professional relationship, and which she never acknowledged publicly. And on the other side of that equation, I've had to come to grips with those Rand acolytes who dismiss all of Branden's work on the importance of self-esteem to human survival, because he lied repeatedly to Rand as that relationship dissolved, thus showing him, and, by extension, his ideas, as, at best, hypocritical, or at worst, a sign that he was nothing other than a self-aggrandizing con man.

Michael Jackson and "Leaving Neverland"

And so, finally, we come to the subject of Michael Jackson, the boy who became a man before his time, as he led his brothers in the Jackson Five straight into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and who, as a solo artist, amassed a discography that has sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide, giving him his own place in that same famed hall. Jackson's impact on music, dance, fashion, and culture has influenced scores of artists over the past fifty years. His music has been sampled, reinterpreted, and resurrected by everyone from Justin Timberlake and Drake to Alien Ant Farm, Chris Cornell, and the 2Cellos [YouTube links].

But there were those allegations that first emerged in 1993, when police descended on his Neverland Ranch, investigating claims that Jackson had molested a 13-year old boy. An exhaustive search found no incriminating evidence, though a civil case brought by the boy in question, Jordan Chandler, and his parents, was eventually settled out of court. Later, in 2005, Jackson was charged with the child molestation of Gavin Arvizo, serving alcohol to a minor, conspiracy, and kidnapping, facing twenty years in prison. His homes were ransacked by the LAPD, but nothing incriminating was found, and an in-depth investigation by the FBI came up with no evidence of wrongdoing. In the end, Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

As Forbes magazine reported, however, choreographer Wade Robson had testified in the 2005 trial under oath, that as a child and young adolescent, in the many years that he knew Michael Jackson, the artist had never touched him inappropriately or sexually abused him. James Safechuck, who spent time with Jackson in the 1980s, also defended Jackson back in the 1993 case. Various events thereafter occurred which led these two men to eventually file suits against the Jackson Estate, nearly four years after Jackson's tragic death on June 25, 2009 (a decade ago this very day), seeking $1.5 billion in damages, claiming that they had, in fact, been sexually abused by Jackson: Robson, when he was between 7 and 14 years of age; Safechuck, when he was 10 to 12 years of age. Both the Robson and Safechuck cases were dismissed in probate court.

On January 25, 2019, at the Sundance Film Festival, the documentary, "Leaving Neverland," directed by Dan Reed, featuring both Robson and Safechuck, as well as some of their relatives, made its debut. HBO showed the four-hour documentary over two nights in March 2019, followed by an Oprah Winfrey-hosted special, with Reed, Robson, and Safechuck as guests. I watched the documentary in full and the "After Neverland" Winfrey interviews, and was left feeling deeply saddened and sick at heart. The dead cannot defend themselves, and the documentary offered no cross-examination, no counter-testimony [YouTube links], and no alternative narratives [Quora Digest link]. But that didn't take away the sting of hearing the shattering testaments or of observing the body language of the two men as they painted shockingly graphic portraits of their sexual abuse by someone who had befriended them, groomed them, and subsequently betrayed their trust.

If none of what they say is true, it is a travesty to the memory of a man, who was probably abused as a child himself, and who went on to raise millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for children worldwide with his "We Are the World" single (co-written with Lionel Richie) and his Heal the World Foundation.

If only 10% of what they say is true, it is a horrifying portrait indeed. But for the sake of this essay, which marks the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of a truly unique artist, let's say it's all true.

What does this mean for those of us who grew up listening and dancing to Michael Jackson's music?

Reassessing Jackson's Artistry? Reassessing Myself?

Michael Jackson's music was, for all intents and purposes, like the coming-of-age soundtrack of my youth.

Indeed, I can tell you that as a 9-year old kid, in December of 1969, I sat in front of my black and white television and was inspired to see somebody about my own age stepping out onto the stage of the "Ed Sullivan Show" to belt out "I Want You Back" [YouTube link] like he was an old pro. I can't count the number of times, as a mobile DJ in my college years, how I lit up the dance floor with the propulsive beats of the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" or "Walk Right Now" [YouTube links] or how I got a group of tired teachers up at a school reunion to dance over and over again to "The Way You Make Me Feel" [YouTube link]. Or how MJ drew me into a world of romantic intrigue with his "Heartbreak Hotel" (aka "This Place Hotel") [YouTube link]. Or, more personally, how I danced, with a blind date, to the disco beats of "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You" [YouTube link] from MJ's pathbreaking solo album, "Off The Wall." Or how awestruck I was when I saw him on the "Motown 25" special doing his sensational signature Moonwalk to "Billie Jean" [YouTube link] (predictably, on the recent "Motown 60" special, he was practically airbrushed out of existence). Or the first time I saw the chilling, thrilling video to the title track of the album [YouTube link] from which "Billie Jean" emerged, the all-time global best-selling "Thriller." Or that first sensuous kiss I experienced with somebody, in a moment of intimacy, listening to the "Quiet Storm" sounds of "The Lady in My Life" [YouTube link] from that same album.

I saw MJ perform live in concert two times, once with his brothers (on the "Victory Tour") and once as a solo artist (on the "Bad" tour). He was a lion on stage, the quintessential song-and-dance man of his generation who merged the grace of Astaire and Kelly with the grit of the street. Filled with irrepressible energy that fueled more than two hours of one greatest hit after another, his choreography was staggering to watch, his vocals were purer than anything you'd hear even on a carefully produced studio album. Even my mother went to those shows, she loved him so much!

So, where does this leave me? Am I to feel guilty that my foot still starts to tap, almost involuntarily, every time I hear that bass line that opens "Billie Jean" or "Bad"?

Maybe Michael Jackson was really trying to tell us something literally when he sang, "I'm bad, I'm bad, you know it." Or maybe when he metamorphized into that monster in the "Thriller" video, he was giving us a glimpse of the horror within. Or maybe he was telling us something even more personal when he sang: "I'm gonna make a change for once in my life. ... I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself. And make a change."

Perhaps he was that Man in The Mirror [YouTube link], who was incapable of taming the monster within. Perhaps not. All I know is that my heart broke when I heard of his death on the radio ten years ago this day, and my heart breaks today every time I hear one of his songs. I can't erase what he did or may have done to those children, but I am equally incapable of erasing the part his music played in my life. And so, today, I can only be brutally honest: I highlight one of his recordings as my "Song of the Day"---"Who Is It?"---still wondering who he really was, but unflinching in my appreciation of his artistry.

June 09, 2019

Song of the Day #1695

Song of the Day: The Music Man ("Seventy-Six Trombones"), music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson, is one of the rousing highlights from this 1957 Tony Award-winning musical, starring Robert Preston (who won for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical) and Barbara Cook (who won for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical). The cast album would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. In October 2020, a revival of the musical, starring the irrepressible Hugh Jackman, will make its debut on Broadway. (Jackman actually performed "Rock Island" [YouTube link] with LL Cool J and T.I. on the 2014 Tony Awards, giving us a glimpse into the "rap" nature of one of the classic opening numbers to the musical!) Check out the original Broadway cast version of today's song from the musical and the 1962 film version [YouTube links], both led by the great Robert Preston. And I'm one to enjoy even one [YouTube link], let alone seventy-six, trombones. Enjoy the Tony Award's celebration of the Broadway stage tonight!

June 08, 2019

Song of the Day #1694

Song of the Day: Cabaret ("Maybe This Time"), music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, was one of the winning songs not included in the original 1966 Broadway musical, which nonetheless won a total of eight out of the eleven Tony Awards for which it was nominated: Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role (Joel Grey), Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role (Peg Murray), Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, and Best Costume Design. I wasn't fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production, but I did see its absolutely spectacular 1998 revival, which won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (the stupendous Alan Cumming), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Natasha Richardson), and Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role (Ron Rifkin)---four awards out of a total of an additional ten nominations. The musical derives from the 1951 play, "I Am a Camera," which itself was adapted from the short story by Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin. This song made its way from the film into the musical revival and it remains one of its highlights, sung by the character Sally Bowles. Check out the rendition sung by Natasha Richardson in the 1998 reboot, and, of course, the Oscar-winning Best Actress performance of Liza Minelli [YouTube links], in the Bob Fosse-directed 1972 film adaptation. Today starts a two-day tribute to the 2019 Tony Awards, hosted by James Corden, which will air on Sunday, June 9th, on the CBS Network.

June 06, 2019

Song of the Day #1692

Song of the Day: I Love You, words and music by Cole Porter, was the #1 song on this day, June 6, 1944, for the fifth week in a row, as sung by Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra. The song came from Porter's 1944 stage musical "Mexican Hayride." It was first recorded by Wilbur Evans (who played the character David) in that musical, but it was Bing Crosby's recording of the song that took it to the top of the charts. This weekend, other musicals will be honored at the Tony Awards. But it is of particular interest that the American public had embraced a sentimental song of love for the five weeks leading up to the Allied invasion of Normandy, the largest air, land, and sea invasion in human history that proved to be the beginning of the end of World War II. That war, which led to estimated fatalities of 70 to 85 million people, may have signified the "nadir of the Old Right"---but it also brought forth the intellectual seeds of a libertarian resurgence in the decades to come. Nevertheless, I post this song today as an expression of love to my own family members who fought and died in that most horrific of wars, and in honor of those who survived that battle on the beaches of Normandy, and who have returned to those beaches today, to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of that invasion, knowing that, in the words of Herman Wouk: "The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance." Check out the original Wilbur Evans version of this song and the #1 Bing Crosby hit [YouTube links] that serenaded Americans at home, who listened to the music on the radio, with news bulletins that, they prayed, would move the world one step closer to peace.

May 17, 2019

Politically Incorrect: Dennis Miller & Don Rickles on Frank Sinatra

A friend sent me a link to a Dennis Miller monologue on his dinner with Frank Sinatra. It really has to be watched to be appreciated. Miller recounts that this was toward the end of Sinatra's life, and that comedian Don Rickles remarked that Frank was suffering from Sicilian Alzheimer's Disease: "He only remembers the grudges."

Folks could never get away with that kind of humor today. But this is worth a watch; check it out on YouTube.

May 14, 2019

Song of the Day #1690

Song of the Day: The Tim Conway Show ("Main Theme") was composed by Dan and Lois Dalton, for the short-lived 1970 CBS-TV series that re-united Tim Conway and Joe Flynn (check out parts one and two of "Mail Contract") from their multi-year stint as part of the ensemble that made up "McHale's Navy," a TV show that I watched religiously from age 2 through age 6. It starred Oscar-winning actor Ernest Borgnine as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale and introduced me to the hilariously funny Emmy-winning actor and writer Tim Conway, who played Ensign Parker [YouTube link]. Conway would go on to a comedic career that encompassed classic stints on "The Carol Burnett Show" [YouTube link to "Went with the Wind!"] to his own variety show [YouTube link]. Today, the funnyman died at the age of 85. RIP, Tim [YouTube links].

May 13, 2019

Song of the Day #1689

Song of the Day: The Man Who Knew Too Much ("Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"), words and music by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, made its debut in Alfred Hitchock's 1956 remake (with James Stewart and Doris Day) of his own 1934 film. The song became central to the plot of that suspenseful remake, and it was the great Doris Day who sang it numerous times in that film, taking it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song and became Day's signature tune and the theme to her TV show, which ran from 1968 to 1973. Doris Day passed away today at the age of 97. A powerhouse and often underrated talent, she will be remembered for her work in film, television, and song, and as one of the most humane defenders of our domestic pets and family members. For years, folks lobbied to get her that honorary Oscar that forever eluded her. Now her charming legacy belongs to the ages. Check out this song as performed in the film, not once, but twice and in its studio version [YouTube links]. RIP, Doris.

Postscript (8 June 2019): I just wanted to alert those who are interested that Turner Classic Movies is running a 24-hour marathon of Doris Day films tomorrow (June 9th) starting at 6 am Eastern time (more information here).

Artists Seen and Unseen

On Facebook, I was prompted by my cousin Michael J. Turzilli, to participate in a game of sorts, in which one lists twenty bands/artists one has seen in concert, which includes one lie. Folks were invited to leave a comment on who they think is the lie. Here was my list---but after lots of guesses and countless Facebook PMs, I spilled the answer. Scroll down.

Here's my list:

1. Stevie Wonder
2. Michael Jackson
3. Chick Corea
4. Chuck Mangione
5. Joe Pass
6. Charlie Puth
7. Bruno Mars
8. Justin Timberlake
9. Michel Legrand
10. Benny Goodman
11. Sting
12. Phil Woods
13. Stephane Grappelli
14. Bill Evans
15. Pink
16. Prince
17. Madonna
18. Barbra Streisand
19. Sarah Vaughan
20. John Williams and the New York Philharmonic

The one artist I didn't see, to my great dismay, was #19, Sarah Vaughan. In honor of The Divine One---the singer of whom Frank Sinatra once said: "Sassy is so good ... that when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor"---I'm re-highlighting my "Song of the Day #1079," in which jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan gives a Master Class in the Art of Scatting.

I literally taped this off my own television back in 1974, when I was 14 years old, from "In Performance at Wolf Trap", a live-recorded concert for PBS, where Sassy's voice shows its four-octave range. Years later, I was able to digitize it. Check out "Scattin' the Blues."

April 21, 2019

Happy Passover and Happy Easter to the Westerners

Well, it's just after midnight here in New York City, and the ABC Network is showing "The Ten Commandments," and Chuck Heston (as Moses) just parted the Red Sea, all of which can mean only one thing: A Happy Passover to all my Jewish friends and a Happy Easter to all my Western Christian friends. (Yes, I was going to say "A Happy Western Easter", but my dear friend, Roger Bissell, said that the phrase sounded a bit like an oxymoron.)

Either way, for those who celebrate, enjoy the holidays, and for those who don't, embrace the joys of Spring (though my tree pollen allergies put a damper on its joys!). Next week, it will be "Christos Anesti" to all my Eastern Orthodox friends, something with which I'm much more familiar, having been baptized Greek Orthodox not too long after I was born!

Postscript (added on 22 April 2019, from Facebook):

I wrote on Sanford Ikeda's timeline, after he commented that he couldn't believe how few Biblical films were on television this weekend; I figured I'd share my reply to him here---because the link I posted is still (to me) hilarious:

I agree! Something was very wrong with TV this weekend. I saw more listings for slasher films and films of demonic possession than any Biblical epics.
However, as noted, "The Ten Commandments" was on the ABC network on Saturday night, and while "Demetrius and the Gladiators" played on FX Movie Channel, "The Robe" was nowhere to be found---either in its widescreen or flat-screen versions (the latter, far better acted version of that classic, hasn't been seen in about 30 years on any station!).
However, the great "Ben-Hur" was making its rounds last week on the big screen for its 60th anniversary, so it too was nowhere to be found (TCM regularly plays "Ben-Hur": it was shown around Christmas, during their "Sword and Sandals" January feature, and again during their "31 Days of Oscar" in February).
But TCM did play "The Silver Chalice" (with Paul Newman) and "Barabbas" (with Anthony Quinn) in the early afternoon, and, at night, after "Easter Parade", they played the Nicholas Ray-directed "King of Kings" (1961)---with the blond-haired, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, the film that sent Oprah Winfrey to confession because after she saw it, she felt she had sinned for having 'lusted after Jesus'. The was followed by the silent DeMille version with H.B. Warner as Jesus (known as "The King of Kings").
But an obscure cable channel did play the 1965 epic, "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (with Max von Sydow as Jesus, who would become Father Merrin in 1973's "The Exorcist"), of which I caught only the last scenes---starting with the absolutely classic lines uttered by John Wayne as the Centurion. The film is filled with cameos from many Hollywood stars, but the Duke sounds like he just got off his horse in some old Western: "Truly this man was the son of Gaad."
And that's your sparse Biblical movie round-up for this past holiday weekend!

March 14, 2019

The Mafia in NYC: Dead and Alive

Just the other day, it was reported that longtime Colombo family boss, Carmine Persico, died at the age of 85. It prompted a discussion among a couple of friends as to whether the Mafia was really a force in organized crime anymore. Seemingly crushed in the 1980s by a series of then-federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani's indictments and convictions of "Five Family" major Mafia figures, the Italian-American contingent of organized crime was rocked to its core. We remembered back in the 1970s and early 1980s, how often we'd watch our local WABC's "Eyewitness News," with report after report [YouTube links] by famed journalist Milton Lewis ("Now listen to this") about the comings and literal goings of Mafia chieftains.

So it came as an almost creepy surprise this morning when we awoke to hear a report by John Montone on the "all news all the time" AM radio station, 1010 WINS, that Gambino-family crime boss Frank "Franky Boy" Cali was gunned down outside his Todt Hill house in Staten Island last night, the first Mafia rub-out in New York City since the Paul Castellano hit in 1985, ordered by Dapper Don John Gotti! (Jeez, did he have to have the last name, Cali, which is the first name of my cat, who has no ties to organized crime?)

Montone ended his report with a bit of his classic, stinging sarcasm, saying that there was no gun found at the scene, and no cannolis either [YouTube "Godfather" link]!

March 04, 2019

Song of the Day #1680

Song of the Day: Beverly Hills 90210 ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John E. Davis, opened up the coming-of-age television teen drama during its ten-year run on Fox. It was a guilty pleasure, I admit, but I watched all ten seasons, and at least one of its various spin-offs ("Melrose Place"). As in all teen-age soap operas, the series had one brooding young male character, and in '90210', it was Dylan McKay, played by Luke Perry, who died today at the age of 52, due to complications from a massive stroke. The only person I ever actually visited from that zip code was Nathaniel Branden, back in 1999. Today, however, is a date seared into my own memory---for my own father died on March 4, 1972, at the age of 55 from a massive coronary. As you get older, it's only natural that you are reminded of your own mortality, but at the age of 59, you tend to think that this happens to folks older than you. At some point, of course, the mathematics tend to outweigh the thoughts. Still, at 52, Perry is another person gone too soon. RIP, Luke. RIP, Dad.

February 25, 2019

Song of the Day #1679

Song of the Day: The Monkees ("Main Theme" or "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees"), words and music by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, was the theme song of the TV show "The Monkees," that I regularly watched as a child. On February 21st, Peter Tork, one of the quartet's original members, passed away. Check out the memorable theme [YouTube link].

February 24, 2019

Song of the Day #1678

Song of the Day: Yentl ("Papa Can You Hear Me?") features the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and the music of the late Michel Legrand, who would have turned 87 today. I still feel the sadness of his passing. How apropos then to conclude our Film Music February tribute on Oscar Day with a song from this man who died on January 26th, days before our annual tribute began. He gave so much to the art of the score throughout his illustrious career. This song comes from the 1983 film, directed by and starring Barbra Streisand, who became the first woman to win a Golden Globe Directing Award (for a Musical or Comedy), as the film itself took home Globe honors for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). This particular song, along with "The Way He Makes Me Feel," was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song, but lost out to "Flashdance: What a Feeling." But Legrand and the Bergmans took home the Oscar for Best Original Score (Adaptation). Tonight, composers and lyricists will take home awards for scoring and songs at the 91st Annual Academy Awards. And we'll be back next year for another Film Music February tribute. For now, check out this song as heard in the 1983 film [YouTube link].

February 23, 2019

Song of the Day #1677

Song of the Day: Sharky's Machine ("High Energy") [YouTube link] was composed by Bob Florence for the jazz-infused soundtrack to this 1981 thriller, directed by and starring Burt Reynolds. Reynolds is sure to be among those mentioned in the "In Memoriam" segment of tomorrow night's broadcast of the Academy Awards. This particular track from the film is performed with blazing heat by the Doc Severinsen Band.

February 22, 2019

Song of the Day #1676

Song of the Day: Christmas in Connecticut ("The Wish That I Wish Tonight"), music by M. K. Jerome, lyrics by Jack Scholl, is heard over the opening credits to this 1945 film, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, and Sydney Greenstreet. Check out the music in the title sequence and as sung by Dennis Morgan in the film. The song was also a hit for the Ray Noble Orchestra with vocalist Trudy Erwin and Jo Stafford [YouTube links].

February 21, 2019

Song of the Day #1675

Song of the Day: The Godfather, Part III ("Promise Me You'll Remember"), words and music by Carmine Coppola and John Bettis, was the love theme from the concluding part of the Francis Ford Coppola "Godfather" trilogy. Nominated for "Best Original Song" at both the Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Awards, it was performed on the film's soundtrack [YouTube link] by Harry Connick, Jr.

February 20, 2019

Song of the Day #1674

Song of the Day: To Catch a Thief ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Lyn Martin, provides a lively opening to this visually stunning 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. This was one of four films that Grant did with Hitchcock and one of three films that Kelly did with Hitchcock. The pairing of Grant and Kelly in a Hitchcock [YouTube "Dick Cavett" interview clip] film with the French Riviera as backdrop thrills audiences with romance, suspense, and literal fireworks [YouTube link]. Today is the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth; she passed away in 1995, but not even a five-year bout with lung cancer could dull the intensity of her love for Cary Grant (she would practically fall over from excitement, watching Cary run in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" famous crop-duster scene! [YouTube link]). So this one's for Mom... and for Cary!

February 19, 2019

Song of the Day #1673

Song of the Day: Airport ("Emergency Landing") [YouTube link], composed by Alfred Newman, is a musical highlight from the 1970 film that originated the "disaster genre" that would come to dominate the decade. This was the last film Newman scored prior to his death on February 17th of that year, a month before he would have turned 70 and less than a month before the release of this film (on March 5, 1970). Nominated for forty-five Oscars throughout his scoring career, Newman would go on to win nine Academy Awards for Best Original Score, third behind Walt Disney, with twenty-six, and art director/production designer Cedric Gibbons, with eleven.

February 18, 2019

Song of the Day #1672

Song of the Day: El Cid ("Palace Music") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is a gentle theme for flute and guitar for the soundtrack to the 1961 Anthony Mann-directed epic (which was lovingly restored by Martin Scorsese in 1993), starring Charlton Heston in the title role and Sophia Loren as Dona Ximena. For his gorgeous cinematic soundtrack,Rozsa received an Oscar nomination as well as for Best Original Song ("The Falcon and the Dove"), losing to Henry Mancini in both categories (who won for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Moon River," respectively).

February 17, 2019

Song of the Day #1671

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Anno Domini") [YouTube link] composed by Miklos Rozsa, comes immediately after the "Overture" in the 1959 Biblical epic, which still holds the all-time Oscar record with 11 Academy Awards, including "Best Picture" (tied by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" except "Ben-Hur" is the only one among these that includes two Oscars for acting categories). This cue opens with the score's famous three-note motif and serves as the backdrop for the narration [YouTube link], which tells us the story of Rome's occupation of Judea, a prelude to the Nativity scene [YouTube link]. Director William Wyler bookends this "Tale of the Christ" with the birth and crucifixion of Jesus [YouTube link], whose presence is felt throughout the film, without ever seeing his face or hearing his voice---except through the expressions and experiences of the other characters. Known as the first "intimate epic" [pdf], this film remains my all-time favorite with my all-time favorite score, and it's become a tradition of sorts for me to highlight a cue from this soundtrack on this date, my birthday. Unlike the film, however, I'm not yet 60! Not that there's anything wrong with that [YouTube link]. For those who haven't seen the finest film version of the classic Lew Wallace tale, it will be shown as part of TCM's 31 Days of Oscar tomorrow afternoon.

February 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1670

Song of the Day: Love, Simon ("Roller Coaster"), words and music by Jack Antonoff and John Hill, can be heard on the soundtrack to this endearing coming-of-age 2018 film. The Bleachers' song (not to be confused with that great jazz track [mp3 track] by that illustrious duo Carl Barry and Joanne Barry, my jazz guitar brother and jazz vocalist sister-in-law, nepotism aside) is a retro-80s-sounding rock track [YouTube link]. It first appeared on the Bleachers' debut album, "Strange Desire" and was also heard in the second season finale of the Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why."

February 15, 2019

Song of the Day #1669

Song of the Day: Home Room ("Going Home") [site link] was composed by my colleague and friend, Michael Gordon Shapiro, for a 2002 film, starring Erika Christensen, Busy Phillips, and Victor Garber, dealing with the traumatic psychological effects in the aftermath of a school shooting. It is a phenomenon that continues to haunt American society (yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting), and Shapiro brings to it an understated poignancy that reflects the tragic, numbing sense of loss that one would expect in a score of this nature.

February 14, 2019

Song of the Day #1668

Song of the Day: Dr. Zhivago ("Lara's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Maurice Jarre for his Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 1965 film, remains one of the most famous, sprawling romantic melodies to emerge from the cinema. From the David Lean-directed epic, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie and based on the Boris Pasternak novel, with the Russian revolution as backdrop, the theme can also be heard with accompanying film clips and in a jazz arrangement by the Harry James Band [YouTube links]. But it was by request of singer Connie Francis that a vocal version (with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) materialized as "Somewhere My Love" (nominated in 1967 for Grammy Song of the Year). It was recorded first by Ray Conniff and the Singers (who took it to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100), and also by Connie Francis and Andy Williams [YouTube links]. Whatever melancholy one might find in the lyrics, I want to wish a Happy Valentine's Day to all!

February 13, 2019

Song of the Day #1667

Song of the Day: Two for the Road ("Something for Audrey") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, is only one of the lush, romantic tracks from the utterly gorgeous score for this 1967 film, starring Audrey Hepburn, with whom Mancini had a musical love affair. Mancini received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Score, and long considered the title song [YouTube links] from the film his all-time favorite and it's one of my all-time favorites too!). The film also stars the late Albert Finney, who passed away on February 7, 2019 at the age of 82 [YouTube links from one of Finney's best moments in "Erin Brockovich," for which he received one of his five Oscar nominations]. The Stanley Donen-directed flick was experimental for its day, since it told its story of a twelve-year marriage (the principals played by Hepburn and Finney) in a nonlinear fashion. This was Hepburn's third Donen-directed film (the others were "Funny Face" and "Charade," the latter featuring another great Mancini score [YouTube link]). Today's Film Music February entry is just preparing you for a romantic tomorrow.

February 12, 2019

Song of the Day #1666

Song of the Day: Soldier in the Rain ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, is one of the maestro's most beautifully orchestrated film themes. It can be heard in this 1960 film starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, an unlikely pair, indeed. Adapted from the William Goldman novel by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin, the film has a lot to say about the special bonds of friendship that can be forged between folks who often march to a different beat. Today begins a two-day appreciation for Mancini's melodic movie music.

February 11, 2019

Song of the Day #1665

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Robin Hood ("Main Title") [YouTube link] is the rousing opening composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold for the truly wonderful 1938 film, starring the great swashbuckling Errol Flynn and his steadfast co-star Olivia de Havilland, with whom he appeared in eight films. She is still going strong at 102 years of age. I highlighted a classic cue from this Korngold Oscar-winning soundtrack back in 2007, but the Main Title still shines as memorable movie music.

February 10, 2019

Song of the Day #1664

Song of the Day: The Wind and the Lion ("Love Theme") [YouTube link] composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is a highlight from the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-nominated Best Original Score, from this 1975 film, starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen. Tonight the Grammy Awards will present yet another Original Score award. Today would have been Goldsmith's 90th birthday and it is only fitting that he is among the illustrious composers who have been honored by the Recording Academy with nominations in this category.

February 09, 2019

Song of the Day #1663

Song of the Day: The Detective ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, the 90th anniversary of whose birth we honor over the next two days. This cue opens the 1968 neo-noir film version of the Roderick Thorp novel. It stars Frank Sinatra, and the title theme has a touch of that Sinatra swagger.

February 08, 2019

Song of the Day #1662

Song of the Day: The Post ("The Presses Roll") [YouTube link] was composed by John Williams for the 2017 Steven Spielberg-directed film, focusing on the controversial publication of "The Pentagon Papers," which revealed the extent to which the U.S. government had engaged in a systematic policy of disinformation in its conduct of the Vietnam War. Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) give fine performances as the principals who published these classified documents in The Washington Post, which, with The New York Times, went on to win its First Amendment case in a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Today, our birthday boy, John Williams, turns 87 years old. He is the consummate maestro whose cue, here, can make even the functions of a printing press sound heroic.

February 07, 2019

Song of the Day #1661

Song of the Day: Cactus Flower ("The Time for Love is Anytime"), words and music by Cynthia Weil and Quincy Jones, is delivered with sass by Sarah Vaughan. This song opens the 1969 film starring Ingrid Bergman, Walter Matthau, and Goldie Hawn, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Check out the Divine One's vocals for the film's main theme [YouTube link].

February 06, 2019

Song of the Day #1660

Song of the Day: The Firm ("The Death of Love and Trust") [YouTube link], composed by pianist Dave Grusin, is one of the jazziest, most sensual cues from the Oscar-nominated soundtrack to this 1993 film, directed by Sydney Pollack and based on the John Grisham novel. The film stars Tom Cruise and a strong supporting cast.

February 05, 2019

Song of the Day #1659

Song of the Day: The Red Shoes ("Ballet of the Red Shoes") [YouTube link] was composed by Brian Easdale, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Score for this highly stylized 1948 film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Easdale was the first British composer to win in this category. The film also earned a well-deserved Oscar for Art Direction. The wonderful Moira Shearer plays the role of Victoria Page [YouTube link from "The Birdcage"], and her dancing in this particular ballet, choreographed by Robert Helpmann, influenced a generation of people who were inspired to become professional dancers. An adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, this iconic film underwent a magnificent restoration in 2006, and has been praised by directors as diverse as Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese.

February 04, 2019

Song of the Day #1658

Song of the Day: Furious 7 ("See You Again"), words and music by Andrew Ceder, Justin Franks, Cameron Thomaz, and Charlie Puth, who provides the vocals to match Wiz Khalifa's poignant rap tribute to Paul Walker, who had portrayed the protagonist in the series (Brian O'Conner), and who tragically died in an automobile accident before this 2015 film was released. This lead single from the film's soundtrack spent 12 nonconsecutive weeks at #1, tying Eminem's Oscar-winning "Lose Yourself" and the Black Eyed Peas "Boom-Boom-Pow", as the longest-running rap track atop the Billboard Hot 100. It is among the most streamed and most viewed videos (exceeding three billion views) in history, and was among the best-selling singles of 2015. We did a Puth spotlight this past summer. Check out the video single and a live performance of it at Berklee by Charlie and in concert (at 01:23:10).

February 03, 2019

Song of the Day #1657

Song of the Day: Bohemian Rhapsody ("We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions") are two separate songs that have often been paired when heard on the radio, going all the way back to their 1977 debut on the Queen album, "News of the World." The first song is credited to Brian May, the second to Freddie Mercury. With its "Boom, Boom, Clap" beginning, and its anthemic sound, "We Will Rock You" has probably become the most sampled track in history for use at sports-stadium events. It was also part of the last medley performed by a reunited Queen at the Live Aid charity concert at Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1985 [YouTube link]. In 2005, Queen's 20+ minute set [YouTube link] was voted by sixty artists, journalists, and music industry executives as the greatest live performance in the history of rock. It is also only one of the highlights of this 2018 Oscar-nominated Best Picture, one of the most emotionally-wrenching paeans to the tortured soul and artistic genius of Freddie Mercury, played courageously and poignantly by the Oscar-nominated Rami Malek, who has already won Best Actor Awards for his performance from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild. I confess that the film often left me a slobbering mess, in terms of its emotional impact, which speaks to its powerful cinematic portrait of Mercury. Check out this remarkable side-by-side comparison of the Live Aid performance and its depiction in the 2018 film [YouTube link]. And also check out the original album recording [YouTube link]. Today, in Atlanta, where the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots will be vying for the Super Bowl Championship, one team is going to rock the other and declare "We Are the Champions."

Postscript: Love them or hate them, Brady does it again, as the Pats win their Sixth Super Bowl Title (with Brady wearing five of those rings). And celebrating the 50th anniversary of his own Super Bowl win, former New York Jets QB Joe Namath brings the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the podium.

February 02, 2019

Song of the Day #1656

Song of the Day: Groundhog Day ("I Got You Babe"), words and music by Sonny Bono, was a huge hit for Sonny & Cher, peaking at #1 for three weeks in August 1965. It is also the song heard over and over again in this 1993 film that TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) wakes up to every morning in a seemingly endless time-loop, covering the findings of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day, which just so happens to be today! (In New York, we rely on Staten Island Chuck, who has had a habit of biting past NYC Mayors.) Here's to the Groundhogs that do not see their shadows; we can use an early Spring!

February 01, 2019

Song of the Day #1655

Song of the Day: Call Me By Your Name ("Mystery of Love"), words and music by Sufjan Stevens, was a 2017 Oscar nominee for Best Original Song. Based on the Andre Aciman novel, this coming-of-age drama, starring the young and talented Best Actor-nominated Timothee Chalamet (a graduate of Brooklyn's LaGuardia High School) will tug at your heartstrings. The film also features wonderful performances by Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg (whose scene with his son near the end of the film is itself worth the price of admission) [YouTube link, spoiler alert!]. Check out the song, accompanied with film clips [YouTube link]. So we begin this year's 15th Annual Film Music February en route to the Oscar Awards on February 24, 2019 with a song from one of last year's "Best Picture"-nominated films. Let's remember that Film Music February includes not only film score cues and original songs featured in film, but also songs previously recorded that found life again in film soundtracks. So be prepared for a very wide variety of music over the next 24 days! Today also begins TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar!

January 29, 2019

Song of the Day #1654

Song of the Day: Baby, Come to Me, composed by Rod Temperton, and produced by Quincy Jones, both of them at the top of their craft, made its debut on "Every Home Should Have One," a 1981 Patti Austin album, in which Patti duets with James Ingram, who died today at the age of 66. Ironically, there is a connection between Ingram and Michel Legrand, who I honored in a tribute on January 26, 2019, when he passed away. Ingram sang with Austin on the first recorded rendition of the Legrand-Bergmans' Oscar-nominated song, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" [YouTube link], from the 1982 film, "Best Friends." Today's "Song of the Day" duet, which predates the film duet, only reached #72 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1982. But it was regularly heard by fans of the ABC soap opera hit, "General
Hospital
," as the love theme for the character Luke Spencer, and in October 1982, it was re-released, reaching #1 by February 1983 on the Hot 100 chart. Check out the lovely single [YouTube link]. RIP, James. Your velvety voice will be missed.

December 17, 2018

The Don Dumps on SNL but SNL Dumps on Everybody!

In the news: President Donald Trump thinks that "Saturday Night Live" is colluding with the Democratic Party in its ongoing skits that "defame and belittle" him and he thinks that the show should be taken to court! Good luck with that! Not even the Rehnquist court (in an 8-0 decision) would interfere with public parodies of Jerry Falwell that appeared in Hustler magazine!

I've been watching SNL since it began, and not a single President has been spared its parodies. In fact, prior to Trump, I could think of no President who caught more heat or hilarity than Bill Clinton, who, last time I checked, was still a registered Democrat. Do people forget those unbelievable skits with Phil Hartman or, even more biting, those of Darrell Hammond, impersonating our "feel your pain" President biting his lip as he apologized to the nation for his upcoming impeachment trial? Or those absolutely classic John Goodman skits portraying Linda Tripp during the whole Monica Lewinsky debacle? Not even Obamacare was spared; indeed, SNL's spoof of the Obamacare website fiasco was noted as far closer to fact than hilarious fiction.

So my message to The Don: Lighten up!

December 11, 2018

Song of the Day #1649

Song of the Day: Psycho ("Main Title"), composed by Bernard Herrmann, is heard over the opening credits to the 1960 classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller. This is just a little precursor of what is to come in our fifteenth annual Film Music February, which celebrates songs, cues, and other music heard in the movies---en route to the Oscar broadcast on February 24, 2019. I post this entry today, however, for two reasons: First, it comes from a film that was featured in my very first Film Music February tribute (which highlighted the "Murder" that occurs in the famous shower scene). Second, for film fans who might remember, this is the exact time and date on which the action of this film begins: at 2:43 p.m. on December 11th (a Friday in the film, a Tuesday this year). A classic Herrmann score for a classic Hitchcock film. And tune in to Notablog for the 2019 Film Music February tribute!

November 11, 2018

Veterans Day: A Centenary Remembrance of the "War to End All Wars"

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, when the guns of World War I were laid down on the Western front at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In 2018, the United States marks this day as Veterans Day.

My family gave many of its native-born American sons to the armed services; my maternal grandparents came from Greece and my paternal grandparents came from Italy, and their American-born children went off to war---the Second World War, to be precise, a war that was not supposed to happen after the "war to end all wars," the "Great War," which led to the deaths of over 16 million people, including 7 million civilians. Some of those in my family who fought in World War II came home as veterans: my Uncle George Sciabarra and my Uncle Al, who fought in the European theater, as part of the Allied invasion of Italy, from which their parents had emigrated; my Uncle Charlie Sciabarra, who ended up in a German POW camp, liberated after the war; my Uncle Anthony "Tony" Jannace, who as a member of the Second Infantry Division eventually became part of Patton’s Third Army, in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on June 7, 1944, spending over 300 days in combat, involved in five campaigns---in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe---as they fought to liberate Paris, Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. My Uncle Tony got frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, and after being hit by mortar on April 7, 1945, he received the Purple Heart. My Uncle Frank was not as lucky; he was killed in that battle, in which American forces suffered heavy casualties, under the weight of a German tank offensive. Other than my Uncle Frank, all of my uncles came home as veterans of World War II.

One of those veterans, my Uncle Sam (Salvatore) Sclafani, I had the honor of interviewing in 1976; that interview formed the basis of a 2004 Memorial Day tribute to him---but as a naval veteran of World War II, he was one of those Veterans of Foreign Wars who, perhaps more than any other relative, had the greatest impact on my early thinking about politics. I remember Uncle Sam telling me about a 1939 film, "Idiot's Delight," starring Clark Gable (in the same year in which he starred in "Gone with the Wind") and Norma Shearer. The film was an adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's 1936 play, for which the playwright won a Pulitzer Prize. It was Uncle Sam who had introduced me to several antiwar films from the early days of cinema that had a profound effect on his thinking about the horrors of war. Among these films were the 1925 silent movie, "The Big Parade" and the 1930 version of "All Quiet on the Western Front," based on the Erich Maria Remarque antiwar novel.

And yet it was the 1939 Clark Gable movie that left a profound effect on my Uncle Sam, just for a couple of lines of dialogue that resonated with him through the years---precisely because he experienced first hand the nightmares of war, as he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands, the closest U.S. base in proximity to the Japanese mainland. The character Achille Weber (played by actor Edward Arnold) asks: "Who are the greater criminals [in war]? Those who sell the instruments of death or those who buy them and use them? It is they who make war seem noble and heroic . . ."

In fact, my Uncle Sam cast his first vote in the 1940 Presidential election for Franklin D. Roosevelt for his promise that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. As my Uncle Sam later observed: "He forgot to add: 'They'd be buried in it.'" His distrust of politicians from that moment on lasted for more than three decades, as he refused to walk back into a voting booth. He was outspoken in his political views, always politically incorrect, but whatever views he held were colored deeply by his experiences in World War II. I'd like to highlight a link to my 1976 interview with Uncle Sam, which was the basis of a Memorial Day tribute to him back in 2004, on the site of the History News Network. It's still a good read, especially on this 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. You can find the essay here.

Whatever one's view of war and peace, my Uncle Sam always honored veterans; coming from a family of veterans, I too honor them---because they lived to bear witness to the horrors of war, and fought for the ideals they held dear, despite the dishonesty of the politicians who helped to make the twentieth century the bloodiest century in the history of humanity.

September 20, 2018

Song of the Day #1641

Song of the Day: At the Hop, words and music by Artie Singer, John Medora, and David White, was originally called "Do the Bop," but when Dick Clark heard it, he suggested a title change, and after it premiered on his "American Bandstand," this 1957 recording by Danny and the Juniors would go on to #1 on the Hot 100 and the R&B Best Sellers list, and #3 on the Country chart. This huge rock and roll / doo-wop hit opens up the final weekend of our Summer Dance Party, where we will go back to the era that started this year's annual dance tribute. Check out the original single version as well as one of its many covers in later years, including a rendition by Sha Na Na heard at the 1969 Woodstock Festival [YouTube link] and that of Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids, who perform it on the soundtrack (as "Herby and the Heartbeats") to the 1973 George Lucas film, "American Graffiti" [YouTube film clip].

September 17, 2018

Song of the Day #1638

Song of the Day: Surviving: A Family in Crisis ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the late, great James Horner, is heard sparingly over the opening credits and in variations throughout this painful, heartbreaking 1985 television movie on teenage suicide [YouTube link to film]. The film, which was later released in edited form on VHS as "Tragedy" (it remains unreleased on DVD), features a stellar cast that included Ellen Burstyn, Marsha Mason, Paul Sorvino, and a young River Phoenix. It centers on the tragic dual suicide of teenage characters, played by Zach Galligan and Molly Ringwald. Horner's score provides the perfect backdrop for this haunting film, which was originally shown on ABC. Tonight, television honors its best at the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on the NBC network.

September 06, 2018

Song of the Day #1632

Song of the Day: Sharky's Machine ("Love Theme"), words and music by Cliff Crofford, John Durrill, Snuff Garrett, and Bobby Troup, appears on the wonderful jazz soundtrack to this action-packed 1981 thriller directed by and starring Burt Reynolds (in the title role). Reynolds passed away today at the age of 82. The song is delivered in Sassy fashion by Sarah Vaughan. Check out the Divine One on YouTube. RIP, Burt.

September 02, 2018

Song of the Day #1629

Song of the Day: Shame, words and music by John H. Fitch, Jr. and Reuben Cross, was a Top 10 Billboard Hot 100, R&B, and Dance Club hit for Evelyn "Champagne" King. From her 1977 album, "Smooth Talk," the track became one of her all-time signature songs. Other renditions of the song were recorded, first for the 1994 soundtrack to "A Low Down Dirty Shame," by the soul duo Zhane and then by Kim Wilde in a more faithful-to-the-original 1996 version [YouTube links]. But neither version tops the original, in my view. Check out the original 12" vinyl version of this classic from the Disco era [YouTube link].

August 29, 2018

The Dialectics of Liberty: A Forthcoming Collection

I am honored to announce that our contract with Lexington Books, a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield, has been signed, sealed, and delivered [Hat Tip to Stevie! YouTube link] and that a superb new collection entitled The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom will be published in 2019-2020.

The book, co-edited by Roger E. Bissell, Edward W. Younkins, and yours truly, features the contributions of eighteen extraordinary scholars in fields as diverse as aesthetics, business, economics, higher education, history, the humanities, law, philosophy, politics, psychology, and social theory. Despite spirited disagreements among them, and the diversity of perspectives represented, all of our authors work under the Big Tent that is "dialectical libertarianism"---a form of social analysis that seeks to understand the larger dynamic and systemic context within which freedom is nourished and sustained.

The homepage we have developed is sparse right now, because we are in the process of collecting, editing, and organizing essays from our contributors and integrating them into an organic unity; in other words, you might say that the very creation of this trailblazing volume will be an unfolding dialectical process---so, for now, we are purposely not providing a list of our contributors. That will come in time; indeed, very soon, we'll unveil our stellar cast of authors.

But the news of the book's acceptance for publication was just too wonderful not to share with you. I look forward to filling in the blanks very soon. But most importantly, I look forward to the publication of the volume itself.

And speaking only for myself, as a person who felt as if his was the voice of one crying in the wilderness over the past forty years, in championing the very notion of a "dialectical libertarianism" with my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism), I have immense personal satisfaction in having played a part in bringing together this remarkable group of contributors from whom I've learned so much---and who have honored us with their presence in what promises to be one of the most important and provocative contributions to the scholarly literature of its generation.

Song of the Day #1625

Song of the Day: Speed Demon features the words and music of Michael Jackson, who was born sixty years ago on this date in 1958. This track from Jackson's 1987 album, "Bad," was never released as a single, but it is memorable for its funk-rock music video, featured on the artist's "Moonwalker" 1988 video anthology. Check out the album version, the fun video with its cool animation, the Extended Alternate Mix, the Dilemmachine Edit, the DMC Remix, and the Nero Remix included on the 25th anniversary edition of "Bad" [YouTube links]. The song has even been covered by British heavy metal band Xerath [YouTube link].

August 25, 2018

Song of the Day #1623

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("Symphonic Dances") [YouTube link], composed, arranged, and conducted for the concert stage by the great Leonard Bernstein, is derived from his score for the classic musical. Here, Bernstein lifts his baton to lead the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (for which he was the Musical Director from 1958 to 1969) at Lincoln Center, which was built over the very terrain on which the movie version of this classic Broadway musical was filmed. He actually made his debut conducting the Philharmonic on November 14, 1943 at Carnegie Hall, on a few hours notice, when conductor Bruno Walter came down with the flu. On that date, he led the orchestra in a challenging program that included Richard Strauss's "Don Quixote," along with works by Schumann, Wagner, and Miklos Rozsa---and was met with enthusiastic applause and critical acclaim. In this 1976 clip, the composer interweaves so many of the wonderful themes from the musical, illustrating his distinct ability to integrate elements of classical, jazz, Latin, and other idioms into his repertoire. So in keeping with our Summer Dance Party theme, this gives you dance of another kind entirely. Let us hail the Maestro, in a Centenary Tribute on the date of his birth, one hundred years ago today.

August 09, 2018

Pizza Museum in Chicago? Fuhgedaboudit!

My long-time pal Nick Manley alerted me to this article in the Chicago Tribune: "New Yorkers are angry U.S. Pizza Museum is in Chicago." Invariably the question comes down to: Chicago Pizza or New York Pizza? Having had a classic Chicago deep-dish, I could not help but say: "Is there really a debate here? New York, Hands Down... Fuhgedaboudit!" As I said on Facebook:

Let's just be historically specific for a change, since even a leftie (Doug Henwood) and a libertarian (me) can agree on this: The first pizzeria in America was Lombardi's and the first baker of that first pizza later came to Coney Island in Brooklyn to establish the second pizzeria in America: Totonno's---both of these classic Neapolitan pies! [Ed: Papa's Tomato Pies in Trenton, New Jersey may actually have beaten Totonno's by a couple of years to earn the second historical spot.]
Add to this, the greatest Sicilian slices you'll ever get (L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn), and there is nothing else to talk about. As I said: Fuhgedaboudit!!! [YouTube link to the memorable "Donnie Brasco" linguistic explanation of that phrase].

July 18, 2018

Rand, Darrow, and "The Power to Think"

On Facebook, James Peron posted an interesting article, "Ayn Rand, Nietzsche and the Purposeless Monster." I shared it on FB, but also commented on a couple of points raised by the essay with regard to Rand's understanding of the wider context and similar themes that showed up in the courtroom presentations of Clarence Darrow. For me, the best fictional representation of the latter comes from the 1960 film, "Inherit the Wind." Here's what I had to say:

A very interesting discussion, Jim. Ironically, it shows that Rand as an individualist was still willing to understand the context within which human beings grew---and how that context either nourished, stunted, or utterly distorted what they might become. After all, "We the Living" is a grand-scale indictment of a social context that crushes the possibility for individual enrichment, since it must necessarily corrupt individuals, leading them to a living death---where even the possibility of escape is robbed as you're shot attempting to cross the border (it's original working title was "Airtight"---since dictatorship, in Rand's view, creates an airtight environment in which all that is possible to the individual is suffocated).
On Clarence Darrow, I have to say that, for me, the best fictional representation of him (as Henry Drummond, played by Spencer Tracy) remains "Inherit the Wind," where in his courtroom questioning of the opposing lawyer (the William Jennings Bryan-based character, Matthew Harrison Brady, played by Frederic March), he presents one of the most powerful tributes to the power of the individual human mind you'll ever see on film. [Check it out on] YouTube.

July 12, 2018

Song of the Day #1601

Song of the Day: Sober is credited to a host of writers, including The Futuristics, Charlie Puth and rapper G-Eazy, on whose fourth studio album, "The Beautiful & Damned," this portrait in darkness appears. This is not the first rap track on which Puth has been featured; his collaboration with Wiz Khalifa for "See You Again" (from the 2015 film, "Furious 7"), a poignant tribute to the late actor Paul Walker, remains among the most streamed videos of all time (over 3.45 billion streams!). Check out today's unsettling offical video and a dance remix of the track [YouTube links].

July 11, 2018

Marx, Hayek, and Utopia: Kindle Edition Finally!

For the first time, the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," is available in e-book form. SUNY Press had long made it available as a Google ebook on Google Play, but it was not a searchable document. Today, for the first time, my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, has been made available in a searchable Kindle Edition! Of course, as editor of an academic journal, on these "wages", I can barely afford to purchase it! But it's still nice to know that "MHU" is now available as an e-book. (Special thanks to Janice Vunk at SUNY for making it all happen!)

mhuamazon.jpg

Soon, I'll have some great news to share about the forthcoming Kindle edition of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, because when that finally happens, with the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical already Kindle-ized, my trilogy will have finally entered the twenty-first century!

Stay tuned!

July 10, 2018

Song of the Day #1599

Song of the Day: A Time for Love, music by Johnny Mandel, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, was an Oscar-nominated song from the 1966 film, "An American Dream." It has been treated lovingly by many vocalists and instrumentalists alike, including singer Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Evans [YouTube links]. One of the most sensitive readings of the song, arranged by Sammy Nestico, was recorded by trombonist Bill Watrous [YouTube link]; it was the title song for his 1993 album in tribute to "The Music of Johnny Mandel." Today, I learned of the death on July 2, 2018, of Bill Watrous, trombonist extraordinaire, whose effortless playing would leave you breathless. He was 79 years old. Whether he was playing a lush standard from the Great American Songbook, like "Body and Soul" [YouTube link] or performing a live rendition of "Spain" [YouTube link], with Chick Corea and an all-star 1976 Downbeat Awards Show line-up that included Hubert Laws (on flute), George Benson (on guitar), Stanley Clarke (bass) and Lenny White (drums), Watrous took us to musical heights for which he will be long remembered.

July 07, 2018

Steve Ditko, RIP

I have just learned that on June 29, 2018, Steve Ditko, "the legendary artist who co-created some of the most iconic characters for Marvel Comics"---and even some at DC Comics---died in New York City. He was 90 years old.

I had the great fortune to correspond with Ditko in the months leading up to the publication of an article I was working on for the first of two Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposia celebrating the Ayn Rand Centenary. I had invited Ditko to contribute to the symposium devoted to the subject, "Ayn Rand: Literary and Cultural Impact," but as I expected, he politely declined, stating that he preferred that his work speak for itself.

But he expressed interest in my work and certainly acknowledged his debt to Rand---a debt that showed up in many of his comic book characters, including Mr. A (as in "A is A") and The Question. His most famous creation was among my favorite comic book heroes---if only because he was situated in real-life New York City: Peter Parker, a boy from Queens, who would become Spider-Man (making his debut in 1962).

Ultimately, I wrote the lead-essay to that Rand centenary symposium, "The Illustrated Rand" which is still available on my home website as a pdf file here. The essay devotes a section to Ditko and the impact that Rand made on his work.

I cherish my correspondence with him and celebrate the gifts he left us.

July 02, 2018

Song of the Day #1594

Song of the Day: I Love Music, words and music by the Philly soul team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, was featured on the 1975 album, "Family Renunion," by the O'Jays. This iconic '70s dance track ("Part One") was a Top 5 Hot 100 hit and a #1 Billboard R&B chart hit. But in its full-length album version ("Part One" and "Part Two"), it spent eight weeks atop the Hot Dance Club chart. It was also featured on the soundtracks to "Carlito's Way" (1993) and "Pride" (2007). A little trivia: The solo bongo intro was played by comedian Bill Cosby and the "Get it On" chorus was sung by Cleavon Little. Check out the album version and the extended 12" version in all their '70s Disco Glory [YouTube].

June 29, 2018

Song of the Day #1591

Song of the Day: Shake Your Groove Thing, words and music by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren, was a 1978-79 Peaches and Herb hit that made the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Disco chart. This song has made its impact on popular culture, featured in various film and television shows throughout the years. Check out the single version, the album version, and the original 12" remix [YouTube links]. We're beginning an extended "Song of the Day" run that will take us right through July 4th. So no excuses: Shake your groove thing!

June 21, 2018

Our Little Cali-co Finds a Family

On March 16, 1987, our family suffered some real heartache when our cat, Buttons, passed away at the age of 18 years. We swore we'd never get another pet.

By 1990, that sworn promise was broken when our dog Blondie entered our lives. She would live to the age of 16, dying on January 12, 2006. And we swore we'd never get another pet.

Until Dante entered our lives not too long thereafter. But on November 11, 2017, our family suffered more heartache when Dante died, at 17 1/2 years of age. And we swore we'd never get another pet.

The amazing thing about each of our pets is that every one of them had their own personality, their own quirks, which made each of them truly unique, and none of them a mere "replacement" for the last one lost. Pets have always had a way of finding us, rather than the other way around.

The human heart is immense, and "Pet People"---folks who form very real connections to their pets, and who benefit from the companionship and the "visibility" (a la "The Muttnik Principle") that a pet provides---have an almost limitless capacity to fall in love again, even after the devastating loss of a cherished member of the family.

Apparently, about 9 days after we had brought Dante's body to our neighborhood clinic (The Jacobson Veterinary Clinic) for cremation, our vet, Dr. Linda Jacobson, welcomed into that clinic a cat named Cali (short for Calico). She was 5 months old, having been born on June 21, 2017. She immediately got all her shots, and a microchip, and in January 2018, she got her hysterectomy.

So, on May 17, 2018, we spoke to the folks at the vet's office, who wanted us to meet Cali. Dr. J encouraged us to give Cali a "trial run" on the weekend of May 18th. Somewhat worried about "falling in love" again, we took the challenge. Poor Cali was petrified entering this apartment, especially when I let her out of her carrying case. Within a short while, with an odd "Twilight Zone" twist of irony, Cali discovered the only place where she could find comfort. It was under a small table in the corner of our front room---in the very space where Dante's bed had once been located, the very space where Dante died back in November. She stayed there all night. Until about 5 am... when I got up, and she and I met in the darkness and she was so startled she went speeding by me.

And then, she was gone.

Now, she could not have left the house; we had closed off the doors to two bedrooms and a storage room and she had nowhere to hide. Or so I thought. It was 12 hours later. I'd looked under every table, every piece of furniture, and even under the sink, where we have one of those carousel storage cabinets. No sign of her.

Another couple of hours passed. It was now around 8 pm. Surely this cat had to visit her litter box at some point. I mean, I know that I could not hold it in for 15 hours (let alone 15 minutes). So I checked under the sink again. And I suddenly saw two glowing eyes staring back at me. I talked in a high-pitched voice, "Come on, Cali, come on." And I went to fetch a flash light and returned---and she was gone again. I emptied the carousel of all its contents, and put my whole body under the sink---no small feat! And I discovered that there was this slit between the back of the cabinet and the wall. I got myself a mirror, and put the mirror diagonal to the slit, and I shined the flash light on the mirror. And there she was. God knows what was behind a slit that I never knew existed. And we've been living in this apartment for over 30 years! She wouldn't come out for anything. Not for food, water, or conversation.

I spoke to Dr. J and she suggested that we just leave the cabinet open and allow her to come out on her own. I took out a couple of old sheets, and a roll of duct tape, and told my sister: "If I should hear this cat in her litter box, then I'll know she will have left that little safe space, and I will race to the cabinet, stuff sheets in the slit, duct tape it shut, put everything back on the carousel, and duct tape the cabinet closed."

And so, sleeping lightly, I heard the scraping in that litter box. It was 4 o'clock in the morning, almost 24 hours from the time she had probably entered that space.

I raced to the kitchen to complete the mission of closing that hiding space. It was an exhausting 24-hour period.

When my sister got up for work a couple of hours later, I said to her: "Next time somebody offers us a new pet, slap my face!"

But it wasn't Cali's fault. After all, she had spent most of her life being bullied by her half-sister, and then when she came to the vet, she spent most of her life in a large cage, coming out to be nourished and nurtured, but still going back into that small space that was her home.

When she entered this apartment, with its seven rooms, it must have looked like a vast continent, too intimidating to explore. I'm happy to say that the trial period ended within about a week. Cali is now a new member of the Sciabarra family, and today, she has turned one year old. Happy birthday to Cali!

Cali_1.jpg

Cali Stretching Out After "Playtime"


Two weeks after her arrival, I joked to Dr. J: "Cali is like the Indominus Rex in 'Jurassic World': She is discovering what life is like beyond the enclosure she had lived in for so long, and I'm not sure we want to find out how mischievous she will be in figuring out where she sits in the house hierarchy."

Well, we're slowly discovering that she is vying to become Queen of the Castle. And who is going to argue with her?

Judging by how she has explored this new continent, making bottle caps, rubber bands, and tissues into toys, in addition to her regular array of playthings, it is clear that she is a very young, very healthy, and very energetic cat.

Cali_11crop.jpg

Cali: Diva In the Making


We'll probably have a makeshift cake for her tonight, made of the finest ingredients, and sing her a chorus of "Happy Birthday."

In any event, I've gotten so used to writing loving obituaries, that I thought it was time to speak of this new joy in our lives. May Cali live nine lives and more---providing us with the gift of her unique character, with health and vigor. She is already getting all the love her new family can give her in return.

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Cali: Dog Tired After Her All-Night, In-House, Nocturnal Run

June 10, 2018

Song of the Day #1582

Song of the Day: Dear Evan Hansen ("You Will Be Found"), words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is a musical highlight from this 2017 Tony Award-winning Best Musical. With lead vocals by Tony-Award winning "Best Actor in a Musical," Ben Platt, the song is an inspiring call to "let the sun come streaming in" when "the dark comes crashing through." Tonight, another musical will take the top award at the Tony Awards. For now, we can enjoy a gem from last year's winner, featured on the Broadway cast album [YouTube link].

June 09, 2018

Song of the Day #1580

Song of the Day: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical ("Heaven Knows") features the words and music of Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, and Donna Summer, whose recording of this 1978 song (with the background vocals of The Brooklyn Dreams and lead vocals by Joe "Bean" Esposito) reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, #1 on the Billboard Dance Club Chart, and was a Top Ten R&B hit. The song, from Summer's album "Live and More", is also featured in "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical," which boasts two Tony nominations for Leading Actress and Featured Actress in a Musical (LaChange and Ariana DeBose, respectively, who play Donna at different points in her life). Check out the original Summer single, an alternative take with Esposito singing the lead vocal, the original 12" single version, the 12" Purrfection Version, and finally, "The MacArthur Park Suite," of which this song was a part (13:26 in the suite) [YouTube links].

June 05, 2018

RFK Assassination: Fifty Years Ago

I was only three years old when President John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963 [graphic YouTube link]. I was at my grandmother's house that day; she had fallen, and my mother took me in her arms and ran to the house to help out. While there, "As the World Turns" was on TV, and Walter Cronkite had interrupted the broadcast with a series of special reports about the JFK shooting in Dealy Plaza. For days thereafter, all the TV networks devoted 24-hours of coverage leading up to the funeral and burial at Arlington Cemetery. Among the shocking events that unfolded before my young eyes was to witness live, on television, the shooting of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jr., by Jack Ruby [graphic YouTube link].

This was my introduction to the 1960s. Those who speak much today about how polarized our society is tend to suffer from a case of historical amnesia. I don't think I ever lived through a more turbulent period than that which lasted from 1963 through the mid-1970s.

By the time I was 8, I had already seen a President shot, followed by years of nightly news coverage of civil rights and antiwar protests, both violent and nonviolent, along with scenes of carnage coming from Southeast Asia and thousands of body bags of U.S. soldiers returning to American soil each week. Within a few years, there were revelations of government lies about that war coming to light from the "Pentagon Papers," followed by all the lies that could be summed up in one word: "Watergate." Trust in government institutions was at an all-time low. Sound familiar?

On April 4, 1968, I felt bewildered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We watched as the special reports came in on television, around the time of the evening news, with regard to King's assassination [YouTube link]. That night, Robert F. Kennedy gave a famous speech about the assassination in Indianapolis, Indiana [YouTube link], as cities across the United States were lit up with riots and violence. I returned to my neighborhood school the next day; it was P.S. 215, and our principal's name was Morris H. Weiss, and we were all encouraged to talk about the events of the previous day. (By the time I had graduated from that school, it had been renamed the Morris H. Weiss School!) But I remember all-too-well, the sadness that I saw in the eyes of one of my classmates. Her name was Wanda and she was a young, bright, African American girl. She said to me: "One of your kind of people shot one of my kind of people." And I said to her: "That white guy was a bad man. Not all white people are bad. There are good and bad in every group." And she seemed to relax after I had said that. What I said wasn't as profound as the speech RFK had given, but it seemed to have had a similar effect.

Little did I know that almost two months later, to the day, Robert F. Kennedy would fall to another assassin's bullets. It was June 5, 1968, around 3:30 a.m., fifty years ago today, when the phone rang. Usually, when a phone would ring at that hour in our home, it could only be bad news. It was my Aunt Georgia, who was a late night TV watcher, back in the days when Johnny Carson was hosting "The Tonight Show" on WNBC and WCBS was showing movie after movie with something it dubbed "The Late Show" and "The Late Late Show," and so on. She told us to turn on the TV: "Robert Kennedy was shot!" [graphic YouTube link].

We turned on our black-and-white television, and what we saw was pure pandemonium [YouTube link], but I remember seeing photos of RFK laying in a pool of blood. I don't recall going to school after daylight arrived, and the following day, June 6th, was Brooklyn-Queens Day, when schools in Brooklyn and Queens were closed. And it was in the early morning hours of that day, nearly 26 hours after being mortally wounded, that Robert F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

We watched the RFK funeral, which took place at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on June 8th, and I remember well the eulogy given by another Kennedy brother, Ted, as he spoke through his tears [YouTube link]. Ted quoted RFK's words, which were actually a paraphrase from a work of George Bernard Shaw. It is a quote etched on the side of a building in downtown Brooklyn, once belonging to the Brooklyn Paramount, taken over in 1954 by Long Island University: "Some men see things as they are, and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?'".

It was an inspiring quote to me at the time. And I suspect that with all the intense news coverage that I watched as a child, my interest in history and politics took root. It was not all doom and gloom, because I was also a kid enthralled with the space program, and the images of seeing Neil Armstrong taking his first steps upon the moon on July 20, 1969 [YouTube link], were heroic enough to make me truly realize that the things that never were, could be.

And so I mark today's fiftieth anniversary of RFK's assassination. It makes no difference if you were a fan or an opponent of his politics or the politics of other public figures who were shot down in the 1960s. I mark this date because, like other moments from that difficult time period, it was one of the defining events that shaped my own political consciousness and that of a generation to come.

April 09, 2018

Chuck McCann, RIP

The site of the NYC-based WPIX Channel 11 tells us: "Anyone who grew up in the 1960s in the New York area knows the face and voice of Chuck McCann."

I should know. I was born in 1960 and grew up watching Officer Joe Bolton, Captain Jack McCarthy, Bozo the Clown, and, always, after elementary school let out, I'd come home to "The Chuck McCann Show."

What childhood memories! I'm sad to report that yesterday, Chuck McCann died at the age of 83.

March 31, 2018

Song of the Day #1572

Song of the Day: Ciaconna (from "Partita in D-minor for Violin No. 2"), BMV 1004, is the last part of a five-movement partita (sometimes rendered in its French spelling as "Chaconne," each part corresponding to a dance of the time), written by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born in 1685 on this date, at least according to the Gregorian calendar. One of the greatest composers of all time, Bach wrote music that was definitive of the Baroque period. This work has a special place in my heart, and I was able to track it down with the help of my friend Roger E. Bissell. The intensity of the piece is displayed by violinists Hillary Hahn and the great Itzhak Perlman [YouTube links]. It has also been played by classical guitarists Andres Segovia and Julian Bream [YouTube links]. Ironically, however, I was first made aware of the piece due to an extraordinary video posted on YouTube in memory of jazz guitarist Joe Pass. It was recorded at the Adelaide Festival S.A. (sometime between 1-8 March 1990). It is heard during a seminar that included Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco Pena, blues guitarist Leo Kottke, classical guitarist John Williams (not the film score composer, whose birthday we celebrated last month as part of my annual Film Music February series), and jazz guitarist Joe Pass. Beginning at around 2:15 in the 5:26 minute video, we are reminded that the classical masters were basically improvisers: they came up with a main theme and then "improvised" variations on the theme, which were written down. Guitarist Williams is obviously fascinated by the spontaneous improvisation of the jazz artist, and to illustrate the spontaneity and brilliance of the process, he lays down the basic melodic structure of the Chaconne, and invites Pass to improvise simultaneously over that melody. Pass throws in a few jazz licks that get a chuckle out of the audience, but the whole video provides us with a lesson on the universality of music. Check out the video clip here [YouTube link]. The piece can also be heard throughout the eerie 1946 film, with Peter Lorre, "The Beast with Five Fingers" [YouTube trailer].

March 27, 2018

Ayn Rand and the World She Knew

The title of this blog entry is a take-off on Anne Heller's biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The reason for this will become apparent.

I've been having a conversation with a few friends, and among the issues we were discussing was why it seemed that the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand set herself up against so many on the left and the right, and burned so many bridges to folks across the political spectrum, who might have been her allies.

It is as if Rand and her acolytes created a world, a "Galt's Gulch" of their own, which became hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Even as Rand warned against the fallacy of "thinking in a square," too many of her devoted followers have been incapable of stepping out of that box and critically engaging with the wider intellectual world.

This is not just a debate between those who have advocated a "closed system" approach, which views Rand's thought as consisting only of whatever she wrote or endorsed in her lifetime, versus those who have argued that Rand's philosophy is an open system: that is, we can agree on the fundamentals she set forth in each of the major branches of her philosophy, but that with intellectual evolution over time, there will be many additional contributions that will fill in the many gaps that were left by Rand and consistent with her fundamentals.

On this point, I've always had one major question for those on either side of the divide: Where do we draw the line as to what is "essential" or "nonessential" or "fundamental" or "not fundamental" to Objectivism?

o Her views on why a woman should not be President?
o Her views on the "disgusting" character of homosexuality and on the sexual roles played by men and women?
o Her views on Native Americans?
o Her very specific tastes in painting, sculpture, film, literature, and music?

And the list goes on and on and on. I've never quite heard a satisfactory answer to these questions. It is ironic, too, that so many advocates of the "closed system" approach almost always find a way to bracket out of that closed system the very real contributions made by both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden---when Rand herself argued that the work of these individuals, prior to her break with them in 1968, were among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism."

And regardless of whether one ascribes to a "closed" or "open" system approach, what is the ultimate goal of those who claim to be Rand's intellectual progeny? To be consistent with "Objectivism" or to be consistent with reality? In one sense, the work of anybody influenced by Rand may not be consistent with "Objectivism" but consistent with a "Randian" approach to philosophy and social theory, broadly understood. To this extent, "we are all Randians now."

One thing I think is fairly clear, however: Over her lifetime, Rand definitely became more and more insulated and isolated, unwilling to engage those on the left or the right. And even though she clearly had no problem with "purges" during the days of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, today, those associated with the Ayn Rand Institute have turned such "purges" into an art form.

But I think that at least with regard to Ayn Rand, too many people on either side of the "closed" or "open" system debate tend to be extremely ahistorical in their understanding of Rand's intellectual evolution, which sheds light on why she became more isolated and less ecumenical in her approach to her perceived opponents.

I have argued in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, that, despite her claim of challenging the ideas of 2,500 years of cultural and philosophic thought, neither she nor anyone could possibly extricate themselves from the culture in which they were embedded as they came to intellectual maturity. Every thinker---every person---is of a particular time and place.

On this point, it must be understood that there was always a genuine Russian streak in Rand insofar as she was both a novelist and a philosopher. Throughout the history of the Russian literary tradition, especially during the Silver Age, when Rand was born and came to intellectual maturity, writers were almost always considered both novelists and philosophers (or at the very least advocates of a certain set of intellectual ideas), and virtually all of these writers found themselves on the outskirts of power, using literature as a means to struggle against various kinds of social oppression. Dostoevsky comes to mind and Rand, of course, was a great admirer of Dostoevsky’s methods, especially his penchant for using various characters as expressions of certain ideas.

It therefore comes as no surprise that when asked whether she was a novelist or a philosopher, Rand answered: "Both." She is also on record as saying that virtually all novelists are philosophers whether they wish to be characterized as such or not; it is just a question of whether they choose to express their philosophical ideas or assumptions explicitly or implicitly. Most, of course, were writers of implicit "mixed" premises. For Rand, the realm of ideas was inescapable for novelists. She was a master of projecting philosophical ideas in the context of fiction---a very Russian project. And like all the Russian dissident writers before her, those ideas were almost always opposed to the status quo, seeking to alter it fundamentally. In the end, Rand may not have become a full-fledged technical philosopher, but she was a fully radical social theorist, much like her Russian forebears.

Rand did say that the goal of her writing was the projection of the ideal man (and whether she meant it or not, the ideal woman as well). She realized that she had achieved at least a certain aspect of that goal in her creation of Howard Roark, the triumphant architect in The Fountainhead. But she turned to the larger social questions in Atlas Shrugged because, as she has written, there could be no projection of ideal men or ideal women without also projecting the kinds of social relations that such individuals required in order to fully flourish, to bring forth their talents and creativity in a social environment. Sociality was inescapable. Don’t be fooled by all her comments about how “society” doesn’t exist, that only individuals exist. She stated many, many times that “society” must be treated as a unit of analysis, insofar as it constituted the various social relations among individuals. These relations were expressed in organizations, institutions, and throughout civil society. So the reason she became such an unbending advocate of capitalism “the unknown ideal” was because she recognized that the fullest flowering of ideal individuals could not occur under social conditions that were anything less than free. Even in her essays on the conflict of men’s interests, she says that in a less-than-free society, conflicts are a necessary part of the kinds of social relations that both reflect and perpetuate the various forms of statism that had so distorted the character of human social interaction.

Rand may never have wanted to become a technical philosopher, but she was writing nonfiction essays early in her career and the equivalent of philosophical tracts within every novel she authored. You can find these in Anthem, We the Living, The Fountainhead, and, of course, Atlas. Her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, basically extracted all of the philosophical speeches from her works of fiction to show the kinds of ideas she was projecting, even if she had not yet reached the point of full integration. But it is there, right in her novels.

So many people from so many political persuasions were attracted to aspects of her thought. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama admitted to having gone through a "Rand" phase. But Rand would have had none of it. Over time, she had systematically demonized conservative, liberals, libertarians, and socialists. But she once stated that her appeal was ultimately to the nontraditional conservatives and the nontotalitarian liberals. I think that as she aged, she realized there were fewer and fewer representatives of those groups.

Among conservatives, she became increasingly frustrated by the ways in which they seemed to “water down” the defense of a free society: she watched as the conservative movement, so committed to the Old Right ideas of noninterventionism both at home and abroad, morphed into a group of rabid anticommunists, hell-bent on fighting a Cold War without end, endorsing everything from military conscription and the emergence of the National Security State to fighting in wars that she opposed (from World War II to Korea and Vietnam). And then there were those conservatives who embraced the Jim Crow laws of apartheid in the South as a means of perpetuating institutional racism, which utterly disgusted her. As the years went by, and her close relationships with those among the Old Right collapsed, she witnessed how conservatives increasingly embraced a religious defense of capitalism, while she was fighting for the idea that capitalism must be defended as the only rational and moral social system (an odd parallel with those atheistic, secular leftists who fought for "scientific socialism").

As for the libertarians, I think a lot of Rand's falling out with that group was due to her experiences with folks from the Circle Bastiat (Murray Rothbard chief among them). I think she was so appalled by the idea of anarcho-capitalism (as both ahistorical and acontextual) that she ended up branding all libertarians as anarchists, something she did not do in the late 1940s and early 1950s (when she even referred to Mises as a “libertarian” and was apt to consider herself a libertarian strictly in terms of her politics). But she lived during a time when, to her, "libertarianism" was as much of a mixed bag as conservatism. And when Rothbard became Mr. Libertarian, she became increasingly hostile to a group of fellow travelers in politics (most of them advocates of limited government rather than of anarcho-capitalism). She repudiated libertarians as "hippies of the right," who then turned around and attacked her with as much ferocity as the religious and traditional conservatives.

Finally, I should add that Jeff Riggenbach has made a persuasive case that Rand had a decisive impact on those among the New Left, those he termed the “disowned children of Ayn Rand," but who were, at various points in their lives, inspired by her call to individualism and to activism (and this included an impact on the emergence of individualist feminism and the gay liberation movement). But, of course, Rand was just as adamantly opposed to the New Left as she was to the conservatives and the libertarians.

So what are we left with? We’re left with a woman who wanted very much to reach the minds of people on all ends of the political spectrum, in the hopes that she could decisively alter the trajectory of American politics. And in the end, she had made so many enemies on the left and the right that it became almost impossible for her---or any of her acolytes---to truly engage their philosophical opponents. And those opponents became so hostile to Rand that they sought to remove her from the canon as a thinker worthy only of disdain and dismissal.

Rand's acolytes have only dug-in their heels in response to such attacks, clinging to a siege mentality that cultivated isolation from the wider world. Either you were for Rand in toto or opposed; either you were among the Chosen or the Damned.

For those of us who are so inclined, I think it is essential to address those on the left and the right in a spirit of critical but respectful engagement. That has been the strategy of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. This was a woman who fought the Welfare-Warfare state, who battled on the front lines against U.S. entry into World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and who understood the institutional workings of the warfare state---as much as she fought against the regulatory state that enriched certain business interests at the expense of others and a welfare bureaucracy that became inevitable.

Rand reminded us that those who fight in the future must live in it today. She fought for that future and advocated the kinds of ideas that she believed were essential to the fundamental social change that was possible---and necessary---to the survival of the human species.

March 09, 2018

Song of the Day #1571

Song of the Day: When You're Smiling/The Sheik of Araby is a Tin Pan Alley duet made famous by the rip-roaring pair of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. Keely Smith would have been 90 years old today. "When You're Smiling" was written by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher, and Joe Goodwin in 1928; "The Sheik of Araby" featured the music of Ted Snyder and the lyrics of Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, and was a response in song to the popularity of "The Sheik," which starred the smoldering silent screen star, Rudolph Valentino. Greatly influenced by Louis Armstrong, trumpeter and vocalist Louis Prima, a native of New Orleans, brought a spicy touch of Sicily to the popular sounds of jazz and early rhythm and blues. In fact, it was in the largely Italian-owned social clubs of the city that Prima learned much of the vernacular of early jazz. But it was in the magic pairing of Prima with jazz singer Keely Smith that the two would launch one of the earliest and most successful lounge acts on the Las Vegas strip. Though the pair divorced in 1961, their studio and live recordings were legendary. Prima died in 1978 at the age of 67, and Smith died at the age of 89 in December 2017. But at their height, they were selling out five shows a night at the Sahara in Vegas. Check out their duet of this classic medley (with smokin' saxman Sam Butera) and Smith's own 1958 live recording of it as well [YouTube links].

March 05, 2018

Song of the Day #1570

Song of the Day: The Champion features the music and lyrics of Chris DeStefano, Brett James, Christopher Bridges, and Carrie Underwood, who recorded this song to open NBC's coverage of Super Bowl LII, but it was used by NBC throughout the 2018 Winter Olympics, which ended on 25 February 2018, and is an appropriate post-Oscar tribute to all those who took home statuettes last night. Check out the Champion vocal pipes of Underwood in the Super Bowl opening and in the official video, which features a rap by Bridges (aka Ludacris) [YouTube links].

March 04, 2018

Song of the Day #1569

Song of the Day: Star Wars: The Last Jedi ("A New Alliance") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, constitutes proof that a Jedi master composer can continue to provide new thematic content to a long-time Star Wars franchise with which he has been associated since 1977. In this cue from one of this year's Oscar-nominated scores to the latest installment of the franchise, we hear a familiar theme, but The Maestro takes us in other directions, transporting us into a galaxy, far, far away, as our annual film music tribute comes to a conclusion. At 86 years old, Williams earns his 51st Oscar nomination with this score; he is only four years younger than the Academy Awards. So, until next year's Film Score February, enjoy the 90th Annual Academy Awards, hosted for the second consecutive year by Jimmy Kimmel. And May the Force Be With You!

March 03, 2018

Song of the Day #1568

Song of the Day: The Omen ("Ave Satani"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, whose birthday we celebrated on February 10th, is the theme that opens the devilishly scary original 1976 film, "The Omen," starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. The film would spawn two sequels, and a 2006 reboot. This song actually received an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Song category, the only song sung in Latin to ever be so nominated---though it would lose to "Evergreen" from the Streisand version of "A Star is Born". Goldsmith still walked away with a well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Score, because it did everything that could ever be asked of a soundtrack: contributing to and augmenting the things we see on the screen. And that it does quite well! Now, let me be clear about one thing; I've been called many things by many folks: a Hegelian, a Marxist, even a nutjob, but one thing I am not is a "Satanist," even if I'm highlighting this song on this day. I am a fan of many film genres and their corresponding scores---horror films among them. And this is certainly one of the most eerie soundtracks to ever be honored in this category---definitely not something to listen to before you go to bed, unless you want 666 nightmares before dawn! Check it out on YouTube. Don't say I didn't warn you! Now here's a bit of ironic horror cinema trivia: On this date, March 3rd in 1692, Elizabeth Selwyn, accused of being a witch, was "Burned at the Stake in Whitewood, Massachusetts" [a metal track from "Horror Classics and Other Tributes to the Darkside" by Those Left Behind]. Before the flames consumed her, she cast a Satanic curse on the town to last for all eternity (spoiler alert: nothing lasts forever). Well, that's how the 1960 British film "City of the Dead" [YouTube film link] opens. It is known to some horror film fans as "Horror Hotel" (which was slightly edited for its American audience) and scared the daylights out of me when I first saw it as a kid. As did "The Omen" [YouTube film clip]. All the more appropriate then to feature this selection from Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score on this devilish date (called "The Witches' Sabbath" in "The City of the Dead")!

March 02, 2018

Song of the Day #1567

Song of the Day: Ferdinand ("Home") features the words and music of Justin Tranter, Nick Monson, and Nick Jonas, who sings the lead from this song, which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, but is not among the nominees for this year's "Best Original Song" Oscar category. It is, however, a highlight from the 2017 3D-animated flick, "Ferdinand." Check it out on YouTube.

March 01, 2018

Song of the Day #1566

Song of the Day: Me, Myself, & Irene ("Totalimmortal") was originally recorded by AFI, and featured on their extended play album, "All Hallow's E.P." The song was subsequently covered by The Offspring, and heard over the closing credits for this "black comedy," released in 2000, starring Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger. Check out the original and its Offspring [YouTube links].

February 28, 2018

Song of the Day #1565

Song of the Day: Batman ("Batdance"), composed by Prince, uses the Batman hook [YouTube link] from the campy 1960s TV show I grew up watching, starring the late Adam West as our Caped Crusader. This song was featured in the Tim Burton-directed 1989 Batman reboot, starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as an over-the-top off-the-wall Joker. Check out the official music video [YouTube link].

February 27, 2018

Song of the Day #1564

Song of the Day: The Dead Pool ("San Francisco Night") [YouTube link], composed by Lalo Schifrin, is featured over the end credits for the 1988 film, which was the fifth and final installment in the "Dirty Harry" series. This particular film Includes an unforgettable car chase in which Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan, driving his unmarked Oldsmobile 98 squad car, is pursued by a bomb-loaded electric race buggy. As far as film scores go, you know you're in an Eastwood movie, because it is almost always jazzy, and Schifrin's soundtrack doesn't disappoint.


February 26, 2018

Song of the Day #1563

Song of the Day: The Giant Behemoth ("Main Title") [YouTube link at 1:15], composed by Edwin Astley (no relation to Rick), opens this Eugene Lourie-directed 1959 film, in which a prehistoric beast terrorizes London. Lourie also directed the similarly themed 1953 monster movie, "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," in which the prehistoric beast terrorizes Manhattan (even though the monster is ultimately defeated in Coney Island, Brooklyn. He obviously picked the wrong place to go on a monster rampage!). This film includes classic stop-action animation by Willis O'Brien, of "King Kong" fame (whereas the "20,000 Fathoms" film featured that same technique used by one of O'Brien's greatest students: Ray Harryhausen).

February 25, 2018

Song of the Day #1562

Song of the Day: Hollywood Canteen ("What Are You Doin' the Rest of Your Life?"), words by Ted Koehler, music by Burton Lane, can be heard in this 1944 film performed by Jack Carson and Jane Wyman (with the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra) [YouTube link]. Not to be confused with, perhaps, my favorite song of all time, the very first entry ever featured on "My Favorite Songs" (written by yesterday's birthday boy, Michel Legrand), this song, nonetheless, is a musical highlight of the Canteen film. It was also recorded in 1945 by Vaughn Monroe [YouTube link].

February 24, 2018

Song of the Day #1561

Song of the Day: Dingo ("Paris Walking II") [YouTube link] was composed by the only Michel Legrand, who turns 86 today. His jazzy score to this 1992 Australian film is all the more significant because it features the trumpet work of the only Miles Davis, who also stars in the film and received co-composing credits. Michel will be making a four-night stop at the Blue Note jazz club in NYC in April! Happy birthday, Michel!

February 23, 2018

Song of the Day #1560

Song of the Day: Imitation of Life ("Main Theme"), music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, is sung in the title sequence by Earl Grant (who has a Nat King Cole-ish delivery). It is a lovely song from one of the signature Douglas Sirk films of the 1950s. The 1959 film stars Lana Turner and John Gavin. Check out the theme over the opening credits [YouTube link].

February 22, 2018

Song of the Day #1559

Song of the Day: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar ("Turn it Out"), words and music by Shep Pettibone and Steve Feldman, is sung by Labelle, led by the soaring pipes of Patti Labelle. This dance track was featured in the 1995 comedy, which starred gender-bending Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo. Shake that booty on YouTube. And then check out "The Bomb" 12-inch remix [YouTube link].

February 21, 2018

Song of the Day #1558

Song of the Day: Courage Under Fire ("Main Title") [YouTube link] was composed by the late James Horner for this 1996 film starring Denzel Washington. The theme features certain phrases that are quintessentially Horner (such unique phrases are a hallmark of virtually all composers, whether for the concert stage or the silver screen). Gone too soon, James Horner left a body of work that has withstood the test of time.

February 20, 2018

Song of the Day #1557

Song of the Day: The Bourne Identity ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Powell, gives us that pulsating, suspenseful motif we've come to expect from the film franchise. Matt Damon takes on the role of Jason Bourne in this 2002 film, the first film in the Bourne film series. He would go on to star in four of the five films in the series thus far.

February 19, 2018

Song of the Day #1556

Song of the Day: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Vocal), composed by Frank DeVol and Bobby Helfer, was derived from one of the rock-oriented themes from the soundtrack to the 1962 thriller starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This single was actually released, featuring both Debbie Burton (who dubbed the singing voice of the young Baby Jane Hudson in the film) and Bette Davis. The single can be heard here and here [YouTube links]. Susan Sarandon, playing Bette Davis, nails it in Episode 4 of the series, "Feud," a miniseries on the legendary feud between the two actresses. Check out Davis's performance of this on the Andy Williams show in 1962, as well as a "mashup" of the Davis and Sarandon versions [YouTube links].

February 18, 2018

Song of the Day #1555

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ ("Chariot Race") [YouTube film clip], music by Carl Davis (for the restored 1987 version), highlights the rousing chariot race from the 1925 epic silent version of the famous Lew Wallace novel. The film stars Ramon Navarro as Judah Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala; they battle it out in one of the finest silent screen action sequences ever filmed. It is noteworthy that the 1959 Oscar champ, with its glorious film score by Miklos Rozsa, has no musical accompaniment for its famed chariot race [YouTube film clip excerpt], which was staged by famed Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt. It was a terrific choice, artistically speaking, because the audience is engulfed by the sounds of the arena---its gruesome violence depicted by the clashing chariots, their riders and horses, and thousands of extras, none of it generated by CGI effects. A silent film, however, had no such luxury; Carl Davis's soundtrack provides the audience with a dramatic motif that augments the action we view on screen. A genuine triumph. One other piece of cinema trivia: In this 1925 silent epic, William Wyler was an uncredited Assistant Director, and A. Arnold Gillespie was an uncredited set designer for the art department. Both Wyler and Gillespie would go on to win Oscars for the 1959 version, in the categories of Directing and Visual Effects, respectively.

February 17, 2018

Song of the Day #1554

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("The Mother's Love") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the most melancholy themes from this William Wyler-directed 1959 blockbuster, which won a record 11 Oscars, including a well-deserved one for its magnificent score. Equaled but not surpassed by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" in its Oscar tally, this epic is the only film among those holding the record to have won Oscars in the acting categories---one for Charlton Heston as Best Actor (in the role of Judah Ben-Hur) and the other for Hugh Griffith as Best Supporting Actor (in the role of Sheik Ilderim). Heston has the distinction of appearing in what is considered to be the last of the "classic" costume epics ("The Ten Commandments") and this, the first of the modern intimate "thinking man's" epics ("Ben-Hur"), noted for providing deep characterization amidst grand spectacle. Ironically, in both films, actress Martha Scott played Charlton Heston's mother (and today's theme captures "the mother's love" so poignantly). It's become a tradition during my annual film music tribute, which started way back in 2005, to pick a cue on this date, my birthday, from my all-time favorite film and film score---and I have no intention of changing that tradition anytime soon. How appropriate to highlight this selection especially for "the mother's love" that gave me life and nurtured me as I grew to maturity. Today also happens to be the 32nd Annual American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement Awards, in both theatrical releases and television, hosted by TCM's Ben Mankiewicz. Apropos, among the 11 Oscars received by "Ben-Hur" was one for "Best Color Cinematography" by Robert Surtees. For this year's TCM "31 Days of Oscar" celebration, films are being featured by Oscar Award category each day. "Ben-Hur" is the final film---in the climactic final category of "Best Picture"---in TCM's annual tribute, scheduled for 2:45 a.m. ET on March 4th. It's the most obvious period at the end of any cinema sentence, since it is still among the most honored films in Oscar history.

February 16, 2018

Song of the Day #1553

Song of the Day: Where Eagles Dare ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Ron Goodwin for this 1968 British World War II film. The military thematic content is accentuated here, a musical set-up for the story to come. The film starred an international cast, which included Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. From the screenplay based on the novel by Alistair Maclean to the stunt work of the legendary Yakima Cannutt (who plays no small role in tomorrow's entry in our series), this film bursts with talent. "Broadsword calling Danny Boy!" [YouTube link].

February 15, 2018

Song of the Day #1552

Song of the Day: Cinderella ("A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes"), words and music by Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston, was sung by the character Cinderalla (vocalist Ilene Woods). It was on this date in 1950 that the Disney film, "Cinderalla," was released. This is one of the loveliest songs to emerge from the Disney musical catalogue. Listen to the original animated version of this song [YouTube link] and then check out an instrumental rendition that is among my favorites; it was recorded by the Rob Mounsey Orchestra for the album, "Jazz Loves Disney" [YouTube link].

February 14, 2018

Song of the Day #1551

Song of the Day: The Thomas Crown Affair ("Chess Scene") [YouTube link], composed by Michel Legrand, is featured in the original 1968 version of the film, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. In this particular scene, the music augments the chemistry and sensuality between the stars. After viewing this sexually charged scene, you'll never again look at the game of chess the same. It's a nice way to celebrate those loving hormones often generated by Valentine's Day. Legrand lost the Oscar for Best Original Score, but got one for Best Original Song (along with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman) for the film's classic tune, "The Windmills of Your Mind" sung by Sting in the fine 1999 remake [YouTube link]).

Postscript: On Facebook, I added two comments on Michel Legrand:

And speaking of Michel Legrand (whose birthday I'll celebrate later this month as part of the Film Music February salute): a pair of "Olympic Athletes from Russia" did a lovely figure skating routine last night to an orchestral version of the Legrand theme to "Summer of '42". Beautiful.
Legrand is one of the most brilliant composers, arrangers, and conductors of the modern age. I saw him in concert many years ago at Hunter College, and actually went back stage to shake his hands (ever so lightly, because they were numb from having played his butt off for nearly 2 hours).
In any event, for those who have fallen in love with his film scores, there is a whole other side to him, which started with "Legrand Jazz", and has gone on till this day. His album with Sarah Vaughan, for example, is outstanding---the orchestrations beyond belief.
But one of his finest compositions is a three-movement orchestral piece, "Images," with Phil Woods as the featured alto saxophonist. The unison lines that Woods and Legrand play are breathtaking, and the improvisation within the piece is just remarkable (I didn't appreciate the level of improvisational brilliance until I heard a second recorded performance of this piece, certainly wonderful, but with a French alto saxman Herve Meschinet, who, as far as I am concerned, couldn't touch the dexterity and fluidity of Woods.)
In any event, the album ("Images"), on which the Woods version appears, received a Grammy Award for "Best Jazz Ensemble Album" in 1976, and the track, "Images," received the Grammy for "Best Instrumental Composition", both well deserved. You can check out the piece, in all its virtuosity, on YouTube. It is best heard with the volume all the way up, during the day---so as not to provoke the neighbors from calling the police.

February 13, 2018

Song of the Day #1550

Song of the Day: From the Terrace ("Love Theme") [Film Score Monthly excerpt link] was composed by Elmer Bernstein for this Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward 1960 film. The theme serves as the main title and can be heard in full at the beginning of this YouTube film link. This cue provides us with an example of Bernstein's capacity to write soaring, lush, and passionate themes.

February 12, 2018

Song of the Day #1549

Song of the Day: My Fair Lady ("On the Street Where You Live"), music by Frederick Lowe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, was a highlight in the 1956 Broadway musical (in which it was sung by John Michael King [YouTube link], and in the 1964 film version, where is was sung by Bill Shirley, dubbing for actor Jeremy Brett. Check out the film score version here [YouTube link]. But I provide this additional "Song of the Day" today because I've just learned of the death of singer Vic Damone, another singer who was deeply influenced by Ol' Blue Eyes, who said of Damone that he had "the best pipes in the business." The Brooklyn-born Damone recorded the most popular version of this song, which went to #4 on the Billboard chart. Check it out on YouTube.

Song of the Day #1548

Song of the Day: The Rat Race ("Main Title" / "Soundtrack Suite") [YouTube link] was composed by Elmer Bernstein for the 1960 film, featuring Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. It provides yet another taste of the jazzy sounds for which the composer was well known. Curtis plays a jazz saxophonist named Pete Hammond, Jr. in the film (one year after having played another jazz saxophonist named Josephine in the gender-bending comedy classic, "Some Like It Hot"), and he gets support from real-life jazz saxmen, Sam Butera and Gerry Mulligan.

February 11, 2018

Song of the Day #1547

Song of the Day: The Man with the Golden Arm ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Elmer Bernstein for the 1955 film featuring Frank Sinatra as a struggling heroin addict. The soundtrack has been characterized by some as the #1 jazz-infused score, due to Bernstein's integration of elements of West Coast Jazz and Afro-jazz. Also check out the theme as heard in the opening credits to the film. We'll be spending a little time with Bernstein's scores [a YouTube link to one of his rejected scores] over the next few days.

February 10, 2018

Song of the Day #1546

Song of the Day: Air Force One ("Main Title/The Parachutes") [YouTube link] was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who was born on this date in 1929. This theme is featured in the Wolfgang Peterson-directed 1997 film, which stars Harrison Ford as President James Marshall, whose Air Force One plane gets hijacked by Russian nationalists, led by Egor Korshunov, played to the villainous hilt by Gary Oldman (who is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year for his performance as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour"). The original score by Randy Newman was rejected by the studio and Goldsmith produced this heroic soundtrack in a miraculously swift twelve days.

February 09, 2018

Song of the Day #1545

Song of the Day: Peter Rabbit ("Feel It Still") is credited to the band that recorded it, Portugal. The Man (with credit for interpolations from "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes). The song, from the band's album, "Woodstock," reached #1 on six major Billboard charts, while being featured in several commercials and the soundtrack to the 2018 animated flick that hits theaters today, "Peter Rabbit"---about the famous "rascal rebel rabbit," with featured voice roles by Sia and James Corden, the host of this year's Grammy Awards. A Grammy winner in the category of "Best Pop Duo/Group Performance," this song is a pop-oriented, funky track with a retro feel. Check out the official video, and its use in two trailers to the film [YouTube link]. "Ooh, woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks now..." Irresistible.

February 08, 2018

Song of the Day #1544

Song of the Day: The Poseidon Adventure ("Main Title"), composed by birthday boy John Williams, opens the Irwin Allen-produced 1972 film. Allen was known as the Master of Disaster, and this disaster film, featuring a stellar ensemble cast, is one of the best. For this soundtrack, Williams, who turns 86 today, received an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Original Score, one of his remarkable 51 Oscar nominations---second only to Walt Disney, with 59 Oscar nominations. Though Disney's winning percentage is greater (22 wins out of 59 nominations to Williams's 5 wins out of 51 nominations), Williams is the most nominated living person in Oscar history. And how appropriate it is to celebrate a Williams birthday as the 2018 Winter Olympics begin; after all, he even wrote one of the famed Olympic themes [YouTube link].

February 07, 2018

Song of the Day #1543

Song of the Day: The Big Country ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Jerome Moross, opens the sprawling William Wyler-directed 1958 Western, starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, Carroll Baker, and Burl Ives, who won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. And if it weren't for the relationship forged between Wyler and Heston in this film, Chuck would never have gone on to Oscar glory in "Ben-Hur." The Moross score received an Oscar nomination (but it lost to Dimitri Tiomkin's score for "The Old Man and the Sea").

February 06, 2018

Song of the Day #1542

Song of the Day: Sully ("Sully Reflects") [YouTube link] is credited to a musical collaboration between director Clint Eastwood, Christian Jacob, and the Tierney Sutton Band. It has that jazzy feel that one associates with all things Eastwood. This 2016 film tells the story of the Miracle on the Hudson in very personal terms. Tom Hanks gives us a measured, steady performance in the role of pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. At a time when the sight of any plane flying low over Manhattan Island would elicit a post-9/11 traumatic reaction, this is the story of a genuinely heroic Hudson River landing in which not a single person lost their life.

February 05, 2018

Song of the Day #1541

Song of the Day: Sunflower ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, opens up the 1970 Italian film ("I Girosoli"), starring Sophia Loren. This is truly a Mancini Musical Moment, just another example of why he was one of the most melodic composers in the history of film scoring. The soundtrack received an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Score" but lost out to the score from "Love Story."

February 04, 2018

Song of the Day #1540

Song of the Day: Say Something features the words and music of Larrance Dopson, Floyd Nathaniel Hills, Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley, Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake, who recorded this duet for JT's newly released album, "Man of the Woods." We interrupt our Film Music February tribute briefly only because JT will be doing the Half-Time show for Super Bowl Sunday. There should be no "wardrobe malfunctions" [YouTube link] this time around! Check out the official video to this electro-country-rock tune. Stapleton and Timberlake are no strangers to one another, having performed a duet melody at the Country Music Awards in 2015 [YouTube link]. And then check out today's game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. Ugh. What's a New York football fan to do with that match up?! So, go JT! [Ed.: Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles on their First Super Bowl Win and to JT for Killin' It during Half-Time!]

Song of the Day #1539

Song of the Day: Eye for an Eye ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Newton Howard, opens up the 1996 thriller based on Erika Holzer's suspenseful novel of the same name. The film stars Sally Field and Kiefer Sutherland, in a role that is neither Jack Bauer-like nor Presidential. He's a sleaze and, well, I won't spoil it for you. But "an eye for an eye"...

February 03, 2018

Song of the Day #1538

Song of the Day: The Ten Commandments ("Go, Proclaim Liberty!") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is featured in the final scene to the Cecil B. DeMille epic story of Moses (played by Charlton Heston). The 1956 film received Oscar accolades for its eye-popping special effects. Till this day, I have a tendency to call any epic visual effect a "Red Sea Moment" [YouTube link].

February 02, 2018

Song of the Day #1537

Song of the Day: Against Time ("Main Theme") [site link], composed by my colleague and friend Michael Gordon Shapiro, is a sensitive orchestral theme to a 2001 film starring Oscar-winning actor Robert Loggia, as well as Craig T. Nelson and John Amos. The film was originally titled "All Over Again," but was released in 2007 as "Against Time." Shapiro's touching score is a quintessential example of how scoring can enhance a film's emotional impact. This main theme is only one example of his many gifts (for those who own a DVD copy of the film, the "Deleted Opening Music" can be found in the "Special Features" section, but this lovely theme can be heard in variations throughout the film). Somewhat ironically, it is fitting to feature a song from a time travel movie on a day when groundhogs are telling us how much more time we have to wait for Spring!

February 01, 2018

Song of the Day #1536

Song of the Day: Speed, words and music by Billy Idol and Steve Stevens, is the title theme of a 1994 thriller, starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, and Sandra Bullock. This hard-rocking song is classic Idol, a perfect match for a hard-rocking film. Check out the official video (featuring some scenes from the film) as we kick Film Music February into high gear!

January 31, 2018

Song of the Day #1535

Song of the Day: Rosemary's Baby ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Krzysztof Komeda, features the vocals of "Rosemary Woodhouse" herself: actress Mia Farrow. This creepy, haunting theme opens the equally creepy, haunting 1968 horror film, directed by Roman Polanski and produced by William Castle. The film is based on the 1967 novel by Ira Levin, among whose influences was Ayn Rand. Rand loved his first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, but went ballistic over this horror classic, viewing it as an embodiment of the Middle Age's obscene "spirit." Rand may not have been a fan of horror movies, but this film is one of the most intense psychological thrillers of its era. "All of them witches!"

January 30, 2018

Song of the Day #1534

Song of the Day: Evita ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina") features the lyrics of Tim Rice and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, along with Leonard Bernstein, was honored on Sunday night, January 28, 2018, at the Grammy Awards. This song was famously delivered in the original 1979 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical production of "Evita," by Tony Award-winning Patti LuPone, who played the lead role of the Argentine political figure, Eva Peron. LuPone revisited this song at the Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday [see her brilliant Grammy performance here]. Check out LuPone's rendition from the Broadway cast album, and Madonna's performance in the 1996 film version, as well as its inevitable dance remix [YouTube links], which went to #1 on the Billboard dance chart. Even though this song is from a Broadway production, it appeared in a film, which is why it's part of our Film Music February tribute en route to the Oscars. As part of this annual series, we cover everything from songs and cues to main themes and source music.

January 29, 2018

Song of the Day #1533

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("Cool"), music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is one of the highlights to the score of the Broadway musical and 1961 Oscar-winning film version of "West Side Story." Yesterday, the Grammys celebrated the contributions of the great Leonard Bernstein, in this, the year of his centenary (I will feature some classic Bernstein around the time of his 100th birthday on August 25th). The very talented Ben Platt---who won a Tony Award for "Dear Evan Hansen" and yesterday, as part of the cast, he was a winner in the Grammy category of "Best Musical Theater Album"---sang "Somewhere" [check out his tribute here from the famed score]. Three cheers to the Grammys for featuring music not confined to the pop charts and for providing us a smooth transition (albeit an early kick-off) to Film Music February, our annual tribute to film score music as we approach the 90th Academy Awards. Check out the film version of this song [YouTube link], with the lead sung by Tucker Smith as the "Jets" character "Ice," highlighted by the brilliant choreography of Jerome Robbins. Word has it that director Steven Spielberg has acquired the rights to remake this musical classic, which won 10 Academy Awards, the most of any movie musical. Spielberg is certainly one of my all-time favorite directors. And his relationship with composer John Williams has added such depth to even his most popcorn-friendly summer blockbusters. We've been assured that the remake will retain the Bernstein score, but the only question I have is: Why would anyone want to remake "West Side Story"? (On another topic, actually a postscript to our Bruno-fest, which concluded yesterday, Grammy Day: Mars won everything for which he was nominated in a clean sweep! Six Grammys, including "Song," "Record," and "Album" of the Year! Can I pick 'em, or what?)

January 28, 2018

Song of the Day #1532

Song of the Day: That's What I Like, credited to an ensemble of writers, including Philip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, and Bruno Mars, is nominated for "Song of the Year," "Best R&B Song," and "Best R&B Performance," at this year's 60th Annual Grammy Awards, which will be televised tonight on CBS. Bruno is scheduled to perform on the show; whether he wins or not, he's obviously got a fan in me! Check out the album version, the video single, a remix featuring Ludacris and Gucci Mane, and a house remix by Lightstruck and Sir Eri.

January 25, 2018

Song of the Day #1529

Song of the Day: Versace on the Floor, words and music by an ensemble of writers (including some of the Hooligans), led by Bruno Mars, is a slow, sensuous gem from "24K Magic," which has garnered six Grammy nominations in various categories for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, to be broadcast this Sunday, January 28th, from Madison Square Garden in New York City. This artist has consciously integrated the diverse sounds of everything from doo wop to classic rock to hip hop in his music, richly influenced by an eclectic group of musical heroes, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince (check out last year's Prince tribute with The Time at the Grammys on VIMEO), James Brown, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, whom he impersonated as a child. It is reflected in his compositions, singing, dancing, and live performances. I'll be featuring a few more tracks from this 2017 album, one of my favorites of the year, from one of my favorite artists and concert performers, leading up to the Grammys. Let's call it a mini-Bruno-fest to follow our mini-Django-fest. (And to answer those who asked the tacky question: No, this is not the "Main Title" to the new Ryan Murphy-produced series, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.") Check out the album version, the video version, a live performance at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards, and a David Guetta remix [YouTube links].

January 13, 2018

Song of the Day #1526

Song of the Day: They All Laughed, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, was first heard in the 1937 film "Shall We Dance," where Ginger Rogers introduced it before joining her legendary dance partner Fred Astaire in a classic routine [YouTube links]. This standard from the Great American Songbook has been recorded by many wonderful jazz artists from Ella to Sassy [YouTube links]. In last night's PBS broadcast of "Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song," a wealth of talent performed to honor Tony as the newest recipient of the award. As the first "interpretive singer" to be so honored, Tony opened up his own set with this standard. His rendition last night swung hard, but YouTube has a few versions at more moderate swing tempos, from "The Essential George Gershwin," a 1999 live version with Tony's long-time pianist Ralph Sharon, and in a peppy duet with Lady Gaga from their album, "Cheek to Cheek" [YouTube links].

January 08, 2018

Golden Globes and Golden Memories

I watched the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards last night, and enjoyed the festivities; as most folks know, we are fast approaching that time of the year when I begin my annual tribute to film music (dubbed "Film Music February", which, this year, will run from February 1 till March 4, the date of the 90th Annual Academy Awards). In any event, I posted this comment on the site of the Miklos Rozsa Society today; we were asked: "Can You Remember the Moment You Discovered Rozsa and His Music," and I replied:

I don't remember the first date exactly, but my mother had the collectible soundtrack with accompanying book [to "Ben-Hur"], having seen the film around Christmas 1959 in New York City at the Loew's State Theatre (where the film debuted in November of that year). I was born in February 1960, so I was most likely serenaded by Rozsa while still awaiting my entrance into this world. Later on, maybe when I was around 5 years old, I had manifested a real love for music, listening to everything from Chubby Checker and Joey Dee to Ahmad Jahmal, Joe Pass, and the soundtrack to "Ben-Hur." Indeed, by the time I saw the film in its re-release at the Palace Theatre in NYC in 1969, I knew virtually every note of the soundtrack, and had fallen in love with it. It only predisposed me to utterly fall in love with the film, which remains my all-time favorite till this day.
I tell the story of my first encounter with that epic film, my all-time favorite, here and explain why it's my all-time favorite, here.

I look forward to this year's Film Music February, as my entries are already locked and loaded, awaiting release on Notablog. It should be fun.

I also hope to publish my long-awaited comparative review of the 2016 version of "Ben-Hur" with its predecessors sometime later in the spring--when the snow has disappeared from the streets of Brooklyn, and Easter is in the air!

Postscript [9 January 2018]: My pal, Michael Shapiro, says that Rozsa's film score to "El Cid kicks Ben-Hur's butt, musically speaking," and I replied:

Well, it's hard to argue with Rozsa versus Rozsa; I love the score to "El Cid" too much to say anything negative about it. I suspect it's just a personal thing... how I connected with "Ben-Hur" as a child (maybe even before being born!), and how it made such a huge impression on me before even seeing the film. (I think I can say, however, that "Ben-Hur" is the superior film; but there's no doubt that "El Cid" is beautiful to look at---Sophia Loren alone is beautiful to look at!---and a heroic tale.)

Michael raised the "deus ex machina problem" of the film, and I responded:

I deal with that "deus ex machina" problem in my essay on the subject. At least I think I do. I think that Wyler loads the 1959 film with remarkable symbolism every step of the way, which can be viewed in strictly secular terms, especially in the manner in which he uses water, blood, stone, light, and darkness. The Biblical "miracle" in the film is depicted by the cleansing of leprosy. But that can be viewed as a metaphor for the real "miracle" that takes place in Judah Ben-Hur's soul, his tale one that mirrors the "Tale of the Christ," which bookends the film.
It's truly an amazing and intimate epic that uses the Biblical subtext to show the transformation of an individual, as he goes from a prince among his people to an unjustly condemned man who eventually vanquishes his enemy in an empty victory, which embitters him and consumes him with hatred and vengeance. By film's end, the events he witnesses remove "the sword" from his hand and spirit, as he finds a road to individual redemption.
I find the film very uplifting on so many levels. A really excellent book on the subject, edited by Barbara Ryan and Milette Shamir is Bigger than Ben-Hur: The Book, Its Adaptations, & Their Audiences. I don't agree with every essay, but I think it clearly shows that, as my own essay suggests, even "atheists" can appreciate this very earthly tale of struggle and triumph.

I added:

Wyler once said that it took a Jew to make a really good film about Christ. Considering his resume, he also said he took on the film because he wanted to have the experience of making a "Cecil B. DeMille" film. The irony is that in many ways, he retains the spectacle of a DeMille film, but ushers in the first "intimate epic" of its time, which would change the nature of epics thereafter (witness "Spartacus", for example, released in 1960).
A little bit of trivia: Wyler was an uncredited assistant on the 1925 silent version of "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ."

Still...

There could have been no Wyler, no "Spartacus", and so forth, without a DeMille. (For that matter, DeMille had a soft spot in his heart for a young woman named Ayn Rand; and Rand and her husband-to-be, Frank O'Connor, were extras in, of all DeMille films, the silent version of "The King of Kings.")
DeMille often said that the key to success in his Biblical costume dramas was to have just the right mixture of scripture... and sex---and you'll find that on display in everything from "Sign of the Cross" to "Samson and Delilah," and the two versions (silent and sound) of "The Ten Commandments."

December 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1523

Song of the Day: The Christmas Blues, words and music by David Holt and Sammy Cahn, is, yes, a bluesy song for this Christmas, recorded most famously by Dean Martin [YouTube link] and heard on the "L.A. Confidential" soundtrack. It was later recorded by Jo Stafford [YouTube link]. Don't let the blues get you down [link to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Medley by jazz pianist David Benoit; hat tip to Alexandra York]! A very Merry Christmas with peace on earth and goodwill to one and all!

December 24, 2017

Song of the Day #1522

Song of the Day: Snow, words and music by Irving Berlin, was originally written for the Broadway musical, "Call Me Madam," with the title "Free," but it was eventually dropped, and resurrected with some new lyrics for the 1954 film, "White Christmas." In the film, it is sung by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen [YouTube link]. My gut instincts tell me that New York City is going to have a lot of that white stuff this winter. But nothing warms the heart more than a little dusting on Christmas Eve, the silence of the night brightened with twinkling Christmas decorations. Right now, it looks like New York City is going to have a mixture of a Wet and slightly White Christmas this year; but that doesn't mean we can't track Santa on NORAD in his global travels!

December 13, 2017

Song of the Day #1521

Song of the Day: Night Fever is a song written and recorded by the Brothers Gibb (or as they are more famously referred to as "The Bee Gees"). It made its first appearance on the mega-soundtrack to the 1977 hit movie, "Saturday Night Fever," a film that was released forty years ago this week. I did a 30th anniversary salute to the soundtrack, so there weren't many other tunes to choose from---but there is no better one to feature than the one that seems to have inspired the very title of the pathbreaking film, which brought international fame to John Travolta who, as Tony Manero, hustled his way onto the dance floor of Brooklyn's 2001 Odyssey disco (which later became a gay dance club named Spectrum and today is a Chinese restaurant). Check out the classic original recording by the Bee Gees and then the scene in which it is heard in the film [YouTube links].

WTC Remembrance: Spanish Translation of 2016 Installment

As readers of Notablog are aware, I've been writing annual installments to my 9/11 "WTC Remembrance" series since 2001. The 2016 installment of that series, "Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine," was just translated into Spanish (it had been translated into Portuguese some months ago). Given Monday's attack at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, we are only reminded of the fragility of life during a period of what seems to be an unending "war on terror."

I'm happy that my essay, which recalls the horrific events of September 11, 2001, now reaches a wider audience.

October 31, 2017

Song of the Day #1518

Song of the Day: Ghosts, words and music by Michael Jackson and Teddy Riley, was first featured on Jackson's album, "HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I," but can also be found on a newly released album, "Scream," just in time for Halloween. In fact, many of the songs from this new compilation album could be heard in the most recent MJ animated special, "Michael Jackson's Halloween," seen on CBS last week. It was also the basis of an ambitious video written by MJ and Stephen King, and directed by Stan Winston. A short form of the video can be found on YouTube. Also check out Mousse T's Club Mix, the DJ Rmx extended version, and the Stepper's Mix. And for old time's sake, check out the King of All King of Pop Videos, the John Landis-directed short film for "Thriller" [YouTube link], featuring the great Vincent Price, and recently named by Billboard magazine as the #1 Halloween-themed recording. Check out the video version prepared for "This is It" and the Steve Aoki Remix too! And have a Happy Halloween!

September 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1511

Song of the Day: Diggy [YouTube link with lyrics], by Spencer Ludwig, is featured on the "Target" commercial "Vibes" [YouTube link] focusing on "Leggie Moves." Having just watched the Emmy Awards, honoring excellence in television, I figured it would be nice to note some danceable music on TV commercials! Check out the full video version as well, in keeping with the Summer Dance Party theme that started way back in June. We're in the final few days of the season, and promise to go out dancing every day until summer ends!

September 17, 2017

Song of the Day #1510

Song of the Day: Feud ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Mac Quayle, is heard in the title sequence to one of the best of this past season's TV minseries (as is another one of my favorites: "The Night Of"), focusing on the "feud" between legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which reached its climax in the production of the classic horror-fest "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Susan Sarandon (as Bette) and Jessica Lange (as Joan) deliver fine performances, and both are nominated in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Television Movie. And Quayle has earned nominations for "Outstanding Original Dramatic Score" and for "Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music"; in fact, the opening credits have been nominated for "Outstanding Main Title Design," giving "Feud" a total of 18 Emmy Award Nominations. Check out the Emmy Awards tonight on CBS.

September 16, 2017

WFAN-AM: My 2 Minutes and 30 Seconds of Fame

So let me report on my 2 minutes and 30 seconds of chit-chat on New York Sports Radio WFAN-AM (660), where I called the knowledgeable and hilarious sports commentator, Steve Somers sometime around midnight. I was a first-time caller, and once I was screened, I was put in the queue, as I waited for Steve to announce "Chris from Brooklyn."

The reason for my call was because a few nights ago, I was listening to his broadcast, and a gentleman had called from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn (the neighborhood one step removed from my Gravesend section of the county of Kings). Steve remembered that Bensonhurst was home to Lafayette High School, famous for its many sports alumni. They mentioned Dodgers pitching Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, the wonderful Mets reliever John Franco, and Mets owner Fred Wilpon (whom Steve affectionately calls "Fred Coupon" for his unwillingness to spend any money to improve the Mets organization). And then, the guy from Bensonhurst got stuck and said something about another Lafayette alumnus, named "Marv," who ran with Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. And Somers wondered, because the guy couldn't be talking about sports announcer Marv Albert, who was born six years after those Olympic games, and was actually a graduate of another Brooklyn educational institution: Abraham Lincoln High School.

So I'm sitting home, and screaming at the radio: "Not Marv Albert"---it was that other voice of New York Knicks basketball (for 21 years), mentor to Albert, and famous also as the radio voice of the football New York Giants (for 23 years), among other sports: Marty Glickman. And Glickman was not a graduate of Lafayette High School, but of James Madison High School. I should know, because my Mom was in the same graduating class as Glickman, and she remembered what a great athlete he was.

So I called for two straight nights and couldn't get through; lo and behold, I got through after midnight today, and finally spoke to Steve on the air! It was a hoot. First I told him, very sincerely, that I thought he was the most entertaining guy in sports commentary, and that anyone who uses snippets from films like "The Ten Commandments" to make fun of sports moments was out of this world. He couldn't thank me enough.

So we finally turned to the nature of my call, and I reported the facts to him. I told him that the guy from Bensonhurst was actually referring to Marty Glickman; of course, Steve knew immediately about the Great Glickman, and we spoke a bit about the superb HBO documentary on his life. It was actually Glickman and fellow runner Sam Stoller, who were removed at the last minute from the track and field events at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. We recalled that the U.S. didn't want to embarrass or offend Adolf Hitler, the host of the games by having two Jewish American athletes on the Olympic field. Of course, Hitler ate dirt anyway, because one of the athletes who took the place of Glickman and Stoller was Owens, who went on to win the Gold Medal.

When I told Steve that my Mom had been a member of Glickman's senior class at Madison High, he mentioned "Ah! Six Degrees of Separation." He added that Brooklyn had given the world so many famous people, including Barbra Streisand from Erasmus Hall High School.

So my 2 minutes and 30 seconds were over, and knowing I was a first-time caller, he told me to call back anytime.

Now that was a lot of fun!

September 05, 2017

Song of the Day #1505

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Judgment Day, Part 2, Finale") [YouTube TV clip, Spoiler Alert!], composed by Dominic Frontiere, is the music that highlights the climax of the 120 episodes of one of the most iconic "TV Noir" shows in the history of the medium: "The Fugitive," which ended its four-season run on Tuesday, August 29, 1967, in front of over 78 million viewers. It was the largest audience to watch any show in TV history up to that date [YouTube, Leonard Goldberg interview]. But in the "Epilog" of that famed Quinn Martin production, narrator William Conrad tells us that it was "Tuesday, September 5th, the Day the Running Stopped" [YouTube TV clip]. And in those closing moments, the haunting theme of the show, composed by Pete Rugolo, re-emerges, as it must. Frontiere, who was a great fan of Rugolo from the days when he arranged and composed for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, got the chance to complete the score to the climactic finale. Cheers to a great series, its great score, and its unforgettable finale [YouTube link to the final two episodes in their entirety], which concluded, in narrative legend, fifty years ago, on this date.

August 22, 2017

The Trouble with Trump and with "Antifa"

Recently, I have been deeply critical of President Trump, especially with regard to his tepid response to the mini-Nuremberg-like rallies of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in places like Charlottesville, Virginia (whether they have ACLU-approved permits or not). Trump, I have argued, is becoming more and more like a typical politician, rather than the "outsider" he claimed to be; it seems to me that he is not wanting to offend some of these groups, since they were among the constituencies that voted for him. And the first goal of all elected politicians is to be re-elected; a politician can't achieve the latter by alienating core groups that were supportive of his or her election in the first place.

When all the political pundits were predicting a Clinton victory, I was predicting a Trump victory back in July 2016. I saw that he was speaking to a large swath of American voters who felt disenfranchised and disillusioned, but I was especially critical of some of the proposals he was putting forth as solutions to the economic and political problems faced by the United States. His high-tariff, protectionist agenda was certainly in keeping with the nineteenth-century roots of the Republican party, with its "pro-business" neomercantilist policies and support of banks and infrastructure (back then, especially railroad) subsidies. But I warned that Trump's proposed anti-immigration policies, which threatened to round up 11 million undocumented individuals, had all the makings of a police state in terms of its enforcement. Fortunately, though he's taken a tougher stance on immigration, I suspect that his proposals for walls and such may fall by the wayside.

And while I've been critical of the fact that Trump's hirings and firings in the Oval Office or the West Wing appear like weekly installments of "The Apprentice," it is clear that despite Republican control of both Houses of Congress, 26 governorships, and 32 state legislatures, the GOP is so fractured that it is as much a demonstration of Madisonian "checks and balances" and frustrated ambitions, as if two or more parties were vying for power, as my old NYU politics professor, the late H. Mark Roelofs spoke about in his wonderful book, Ideology and Myth in American Politics: A Critique of a National Political Mind. As I have maintained, due to "this political fragmentation, the GOP can't seem to do one fundamental thing to alter the course that this country has been on for a hundred years or more... a 'road to serfdom' paved by both Democrats and me-too Republicans . . ."

I have never been comfortable with Trump's alliance with Steve Bannon, so his departure from the White House brings no tears to my eyes. And I am not fond of the so-called "alt-right", even though its stance---and Trump's original stance---against the neoconservative foreign policy that has dominated this country for too long was a breath of fresh air. Alas, now, even Trump's noninterventionist "instincts" against unending war are at odds with his newly declared policy shift in the Middle East. No timetable has been offered for 'strategic' reasons for the end of the longest war in American history, but at least Trump retains the view that the United States should not be attempting to "rebuild" other countries in its own image. Gone is the "nation-building" agenda put forth by the neocons who ran George W. Bush's foreign policy, of which Trump was deeply and justifiably critical. But how much longer this war lasts is anyone's guess. Judging by the longevity of Islamic terrorist memory, we could be looking forward to at least a century or two more of armed conflict before any armistice.

To be clear, however, my criticisms thus far of Donald Trump's policies are not an open endorsement of what has become known as "Antifa." It is supposed to be a short-form designation of a variety of groups that are "antifascist" in their agenda. Well, I'm as antifascist as any libertarian can be; I'm also an anticommunist, an antisocialist, or in libertarian parlance: an antistatist. I do not believe that augmenting the power of the state in any way, shape, or form benefits the "common good." As I pointed out in my post on "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins," it was Hayek who noted in his Road to Serfdom that

. . . the more politics came to dominate social and economic life, the more political power became the only power worth having, which is why those most adept at using it were usually the most successful at attaining it. That's why, for Hayek, "the worst get on top." Well, I don't know if we have yet seen the worst, but one thing is clear. It is in the very nature of advancing government intervention that social fragmentation and group balkanization occurs; indeed, one might say that the rise of statism and the rise of group conflict are reciprocally related. Each depends organically on the other.

So, to be "antifascist" tells us nothing about what one is for. It is not sufficient to be "anti-" anything if one does not know what one is fighting for. When the Nazis and the Soviets signed a 1939 nonaggression pact, too many voices on the "antifa" left, who had formerly opposed Hitler, fell silent, as the Nazis and the Soviets carved up Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania. And when war finally came to the Soviet Union, those same voices were raised in concert for United States intervention in World War II on the side of the Soviets to defeat fascism in Europe. For the Old Right, the "America First-ers" of their time, fighting on the side of one mass murderer (Stalin) to defeat another mass murderer (Hitler) had no inherent value for the victory of human freedom. That debate was effectively ended in the wake of the events of December 7, 1941, which made it impossible to keep the United States out of a war that led to the deaths of over 60 million people and the birth of the nuclear age.

What my "instincts" tell me is this: adopting the thuggish behavior of the thugs one opposes, leads, almost inexorably, to the victory of thuggery, under whatever political guise. Perhaps those who oppose the policies of Donald Trump should study the works of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution. He is one of the foremost theoreticians of nonviolent resistance. And make no mistake about it: whether it was practiced by Gandhi in India or Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, the nonviolent techniques that Sharp has articulated in his many works are fully in keeping with the strategy of resistance. But they do not duplicate the paradigm of force that is being practiced by those whom one opposes. Inevitably, the use of coercive force by opposition groups merely replaces one form of coercion with another. It has been argued, persuasively, that "[f]rom 1966 to 1999, nonviolent civic resistance played a critical role in 50 of 67 transitions from authoritarianism." So if "Antifa" wants to show its commitment to another, "revolutionary" form of politics, it should start by renouncing violence. And if "Antifa" wants to fight effectively against any perceived authoritarian threats from the Trump administration or its supporters, it needs to take pause, for among its ranks is a collection of groups, some of whom would replace America's "neofascism" with yet another form of statist tyranny.

For the record, I want to state that I am not very optimistic about the future of individual liberty in this country. I fear that the promise of genuine freedom and individual rights is becoming a distant dream. But if you oppose those elements of Trump's policies that will undermine liberty, you gain neither freedom nor rights if you happily join hands with folks who would slit your throat in a new battle for political power, in a system where political power is the only power worth having.

Postscript: My friend Irfan Khawaja had a nice retort to my post: "I don't know about this non-violence stuff. I mean, I'm not one to cast the first stone. But the second one has its attractions...."

I responded:

I know. I just think that there are a lot of strategies within civil disobedience that can be amazingly effective. Civil disobedience is not turning the other cheek, but being disruptive in ways that can put one on the moral high ground and bring down walls of power.
But I'm also from Brooklyn. And half-Sicilian to boot (no pun intended). And the second stone can sometimes stop power in its tracks too. There are contexts where I, myself, don't see how nonviolence is a universal prescription for resistance. How, for example, does one use nonviolence as one is being led by SS guards into a gas chamber? Bombing the trains that led into Auschwitz, and massively disruptive riots in the Warsaw Ghetto can be acts of heroism too, but the Holocaust still happened. And let it be noted that 13,000 Jews died in the Warsaw uprisings, in contrast to 300 Nazis, while the vast majority of the Ghetto residents (estimated to be around 300,000+) were to die in Treblinka.
It's a tough question to answer. But there's a wonderful story told about surviving terror by literally standing up, no matter how many times you are struck. It's in the [2015] film "Bridge of Spies," a story told by the Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance), to attorney James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), about "Standing Man."

Jim Farmelant raised a good point with which I agreed, in general, when he said: "Violence should never be one's first resort. But it is foolish to take it off the table completely." Chris Despoudis raised another good issue, stating:

Regarding Civil Disobedience, it reminds me of Slajov Zizek's comment that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler specifically because his civil disobedience aimed directly at disrupting the existing edifices of the system totally and without backing out. I think he's correct to some degree. Non-violence works when you're opponent cannot see you as an externalized other that needs to squashed, when those who are fighting aren't willing to do terrible things for their country instead of merely great things. The issue of Germany on 1939 was not an issue of non-violence. The issue was that Germany had to be destroyed completely in order for its system to be able to be changed.

I replied:

Very interesting points; but you know, some studies have been done of the concentration camp guards at the various death factories in Germany. And it was no coincidence that so many of those who threw the victims into the gas chambers were also habitual drinkers, as if they had to numb themselves from any feelings of concscience.
One of the kernels of truth of nonviolent resistance is that at some point, the people who are victimizing you start to realize that you are a human being, and for those who have any vestige of conscience, that reality eventually takes hold, and begins to erode their own capacity to victimize you. The key to the Nazi ideology, the Nazi "social psychology," therefore, was to create a culture that saw all non-Aryans as not human; this was fatal for the victims, but it was also essential to those who would be doing the victimizing, for if you are convinced that what you are killing is not human, you will exempt your conscience from human empathy.
Obviously, for some, this did not work; alcoholism and habitual substance abuse was a way of drowning out any thoughts that the Other was human. Interestingly, Leonard Peikoff has a good chapter on this in The Ominous Parallels but one can find good studies of this throughout the post-World War II literature. And let us not forget the famous "Milgram experiment", which illustrated just how far intelligent people would go in following the orders of a superior. It showed that even highly educated folks, when ordered to do so by an "authority figure" would be drawn to inflict more and more "pain" on folks who didn't answer questions correctly (the pain inflicted was only indicated on a scale, not actual; but this fact was not known to those who were being ordered to inflict greater and greater levels of pain intensity on the actors who were playing the part of students answering incorrectly).

August 07, 2017

The Summer of Sam: Forty Years Later

Forty years ago this week, on August 10, 1977 to be exact, the man known to the world as "Son of Sam" was arrested after more than a year of terrorizing the city I've always called home. David Berkowitz, first dubbed the .44 caliber-killer, was caught outside his Yonkers apartment after a year during which he had murdered six people, while injuring seven others, and holding 8 million people hostage to his random carnage.

Having lived through the "Summer of Sam," a time during which New York City was in fiscal disarray and intense urban decay, I can say that we were all more than a little bit jittery, reading the daily news articles and keeping up with the nightly TV reports. In fact, on the day that Berkowitz was arrested, the New York Daily News had put on its front page a police sketch of the alleged serial killer that didn't resemble him in the least. The Daily News had played a pertinent role in the story as it unfolded, because Berkowitz was busy writing a series of bizarre letters to columnist Jimmy Breslin that spooked the public. Up until July 31st, however, Berkowitz had restricted his killing to the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. But then, on the night of July 31, 1977, he came to the corner of Shore Parkway and Bay 44th Street in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn, not far from my home, and opened fire on a car parked there as two people, Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz. were sitting inside. Their first date had ended with Violante losing his sight, and Moskowitz dying a day or so later from the .44 caliber bullets that had exploded into her head. The Son of Sam had come to Brooklyn; the word on the street was that now, even the Mafia was going to find and "take out" this "nutjob."

I had just finished my senior year at John Dewey High School, preparing for my long stint at New York University, which would begin in September 1977. Till this day, I look back at that 1977 summer and I honor the memory of the victims of those horrific shootings, while keeping their loved ones in my thoughts.

But every tragedy seems to elicit memories that provide a little relief in the form of gallows humor. I remember that during that summer, every time my sister and cousin Sandy (who was staying with us at the time) went out, they were very much aware that virtually all of the victims of Son of Sam had dark hair. Both my sister and cousin had brown hair, and Sandy even took to wearing a hat. But on the night after July 31st, in the wake of that shattering news of a senseless Brooklyn murder, we had taken an evening walk, about ten blocks from our apartment, to visit our grandmother, aunts, uncle, and cousins. We were there quite late; it must have been about 1 am, and we finally decided to walk along the brightly lit Kings Highway back to our apartment. I told my mother and sister not to worry. "I will protect you," I announced, confident in my Brooklyn street smarts. About half-way through our walk, we passed an all-night gas and auto service station. And in the silence of that hot and humid summer night, one of the cars in the service area suddenly backfired. Well. I must have jumped about two feet in the air and let out a scream that could have awakened the dead. My mother and sister were nearly bent over in laughter; even I got so hysterical with laughter that tears rolled down my cheeks. "Yeah, yeah, you're going to protect us!", they ribbed me but good. "Sure, sure!"

Fortunately, ten days later, the police had arrested the creep that had so defined the Summer of 1977. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

But we still chuckle when we remember our walk home, when a car backfired in the still of a steamy August night.

July 29, 2017

Song of the Day #1483

Song of the Day: Give Me Your Love, words and music by Bruce Fielder, John Newman, and Steve Manovski, was released in 2016 by British DJ Sigala, featuring the vocals of John Newman and some added production by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nile Rodgers. The song, which was a Top Five hit on the UK Dance chart, was showcased in several routines of this week's episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" (my favorite dance competition show, the first to give Mandy Moore a platform for her choreography, before she went off to "La La Land"). Check out the song's official video and these remixes: Cedric Gervais, Andy C, Alex B-Cube & Michael Klash, Jacob Doehner, Kasmet Bootleg, MZT, Tough Love, Cliak, PBH and Jack Shizzle, DJ eMa, Viduta, Shimron Elit, and the Rap Remix.

July 18, 2017

In Memory of Three New Yorkers: Wolff, Landau, and Romero

This past weekend, three New Yorkers died, each of whom left a significant mark on American popular culture.

On Saturday, July 15, 2017, legendary sports broadcaster Bob Wolff died, at the age of 96. Born in New York City on November 29, 1920, Wolff broadcasted his first sporting event in 1939 as a student at Duke University. He had the longest career of any sports broadcaster in history; he also has the distinction of having called games in the four major American sports: hockey (for the New York Rangers), basketball (for the New York Knicks), football and baseball. In fact, throughout his eight decades as a sportscaster, he called two of the most iconic games in football and baseball history: the 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and the Colts and Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series (between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers).

Also on Saturday, a son of Brooklyn, New York (born on June 20, 1928), died at the age of 89: actor Martin Landau. Landau made his debut on the Broadway stage in 1957, but his film career began with a bang, as a supporting actor in my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, the 1959 classic "North by Northwest," starring Cary Grant, James Mason, and Eva Marie Saint. He would go on to star in memorable roles on both the small screen (in the TV series "Mission: Impossible") and the big screen, for which he received three Oscar nominations throughout his career, winning in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of film icon Bela Lugosi in the 1994 Tim Burton film, "Ed Wood."

Of course, Lugosi was the famed actor who brought Bram Stoker's Dracula to life, so-to-speak, on both the stage and screen. Speaking of vampires brings to mind another category of the Un-Dead: the Zombie. And no director was more instrumental to the development of the Zombie genre of horror flicks than the Bronx, New York-born George Romero, who died on Sunday, July 16, 2017, at the age of 77. Romero (who was born on February 4, 1940) directed the first in a series of Zombie cult classic films, the creepy 1968 black-and-white movie "Night of the Living Dead," which scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. In fact, it's still not a film I like to watch before going to bed. But for any fan of horror flicks, Romero remains the "progenitor of the fictional zombie of modern culture."

Each of these men, in his own distinctive New York way, had an impact on entertainment in general, and on my youth in particular, as I developed my love of sports and film. They will be missed.

July 14, 2017

It's a Wonderful ... Christmas in July!

There is a Facebook thread that tears apart one of my all-time favorite movies, but also one of those films that Rand-fans especially have made into a cinematic pinata: "It's a Wonderful Life." According to this story, Rand, who was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in its efforts to uncover communist propaganda in the American film industry, apparently pegged the 1946 Frank Capra classic as pinko propaganda.

I've addressed this issue several times before on Notablog, especially in a 2016 post about the 1946 film, and in a 1999 interview with "The Daily Objectivist" on the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," starring Alastair Sim, who gives a superb, nuanced performance as Scrooge.

On Facebook, I added these comments:

People who cannot look at a film on different levels are guilty of context-dropping; Rand was not always consistent. "It's a Wonderful Life" says more about the remarkable impact that a single individual can make on the lives of many people and as such, it is a celebration of a "wonderful life." Is it guilty of having "mixed premises"? Sure. What film isn't?
Rand herself wrote some wonderful screenplays in her day ("Love Letters" is one of my favorites; "The Fountainhead" succeeds on some levels, but is botched on other levels). But one can disagree with her assessment of a film and still agree with the fundamental principles of Objectivism. I'm quite frankly appalled by the kind of knee-jerk response that I always see from Rand-fans to films like this or, say, "A Christmas Carol" (the 1951 version especially, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge), which tells the story of a man whose life is fractured and dis-integrated. In the end, Scrooge does not renounce business; he becomes a more integrated human being. Does the film have mixed premises? Like I said: There are few films that don't have mixed premises. And any art form, especially film, can and should be appreciated on a variety of levels. Some of those films were made in black and white, but they were superb at showing the greyness and complex textures of life, as well as the remarkable color of character and individual integrity.

And that's my "Christmas in July" moment, especially fitting when you're coming off things like Amazon Prime Day and 90-degree temperatures with 80% humidity.

Merry Christmas! And good premises! ; )

Postscript: In reply to a question about how faithful the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" was to the original Charles Dickens story, I wrote:

The 1951 film version considerably embellishes the original Dickens novel with a deeper backstory as to how Scrooge evolved into the dis-integrated individual he had become, truly a man with a "disowned self." I think when viewed through this lens, the complexity of the character and his transformation is made all the more poignant.

Postscript II: In response to Michael Stuart Kelly, who points out that the original article link posted on Facebook qualifies as "fake news", I wrote:

I agree with everything you said, Michael, about the "fake news" character of the original link that prompted the initial thread on this topic. But it was in that thread from which my discussion comes that I was reacting not so much to the link as to the fact that it got nearly forty "Thumbs Up" from people sympathetic to Rand who find any condemnation of "It's a Wonderful Life" a welcome relief. Indeed, it has become a seasonal ritual of late that some Objectivist or libertarian goes on some tirade about the Capra flick or any variation of "A Christmas Carol" because they allegedly depict business people in a bad light.
In truth, we do know this much: Rand never got the chance to tell HUAC what she really wanted to: that among the most loathsome films of 1946 was "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which, I consider a cinema classic for the reasons described here), as Susan [Love Brown] mentions above. Rand despised that film's depiction of bankers "with a heart" etc., and completely overlooked the cathartic character of a film that depicted the difficulty of people returning from the worst carnage in human history (World War II) and trying to adjust to civilian life. She was asked by studio folks to stay clear of such a public condemnation of such a popular film, and was incensed to focus attention instead on "Song of Russia"---clearly a trivial propaganda film made during the war to "humanize" communists, with whom the U.S. had allied in the fight against the Nazis (Lillian Hellman had a field-day ridiculing Rand over this in her book Scoundrel Time, but Robert Mayhew discusses the whole affair in much greater detail in his book, Ayn Rand and "Song of Russia": Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood).
If it were not for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rand (and Isabel Paterson, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, and others on the Old Right) would most likely have continued to adhere to the "America First" line, which was adamantly opposed to U.S. entrance into that war; Rand even declared that she would have rather seen the Nazis and Soviets destroy each other, such that if the U.S. were drawn into the conflict, it would have been fighting a much-weakened foe.
Indeed, it should be noted that Rand is on record as having been against all US involvement in virtually every twentieth-century war: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; that noninterventionist stance should give us pause, considering that so many of her followers were ready to atomize the Middle East after 9/11. I treat this a bit more extensively in Chapter 12 of the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, in a new section called "The Welfare-Warfare State".
In any event, getting back to this thread: though the article I linked to may qualify as "fake news," what I was responding to in the original thread was mainly Rand-fan condemnations of films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol", which are offered up as Christmas pinatas every season for their alleged depiction of business in a bad light. This past year, it was libertarian Tim Mullen's turn to take a crack at both films; his comment on "A Christmas Carol" was that it was a tale of one man stalked by three left-wing ghosts. Well, maybe Dickens was a soft socialist, but the 1951 film version to which I point is the one that most speaks to the horrors of living a dis-integrated life. There is nothing I find in it that is so loathsome, when the point of the film is the reintegration of one's disowned self. Scrooge never denounces his own business or becomes any less rich than he always was; he simply becomes a healed man who understands the roots of his self-alienation.
But I do appreciate you pointing to the various errors in that original link; I laughed at some of the comments therein as well.

I added:

Well, you know where I stand on the topic of "gate-keepers." :) But the original thread to which I posted my comment got 39 Thumbs up, not quite 40... it is here. And I really can't stand seeing Jimmy Stewart called a Pinko. But that's another story...

In the continuing discussion, I made one further point on the issues of aesthetic reponse versus ethical evaluation:

[On the issue of how Scrooge is portrayed in film,] I think it depends on which version of Scrooge we look at; it is very clear in the 1951 version that Scrooge is very self-alienated, and the time spent on his past establishes the facts and tragedies that led to this.
But on another subject, I would just like to make one comment about politics and aesthetics: we all know that there were communists in Hollywood and that politics sometimes showed up in screenplays and stories. But I can't help feeling distressed that some people will dismiss any writer, actor, musician or other talented artist strictly because of their politics or personal flaws, such that we can't possibly endorse their art. If that were the case, you might as well give up listening to music, watching films, reading books, or enjoying any art whatsoever.
I was not a fan of Dalton Trumbo's politics; but I loved "Spartacus"; I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand's politics, but I adore "Funny Girl" and all the music she has made, gal from Brooklyn that she is; for all I know the charges against Michael Jackson regarding pedophilia may be true, but that doesn't stop me from loving "Off the Wall" or "Thriller" or being enthralled by the elegance of his dancing. I bet a high percentage of artists from ancient times through today, were tortured souls, who spilled out their guts in works of sculpture, painting, music, and literature. Bill Evans, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the twentieth century, was a tortured drug addict, but it was his modal take on jazz that made "Kind of Blue" what it became, as Miles Davis himself testified; when Evans played--and I was fortunate to see him play live at the Village Vanguard--it was as if he became part of the piano he was playing. At some point, you have to separate aesthetics and ethics and be willing to accept the fact that you can respond positively to art by folks you might not like, politically, ethically, or personally. It would be a very boring world if we all had to toe the party line every time we responded with any kind of emotional impact to any work of art.

Postscript III: My friend, Mark Fulwiler, raised the issue that Paul Robeson was a Stalinist, even though he was a good singer, and then asked the proverbial Hitler question: "What if Hitler were a great singer?" I replied:

Well, I can tell you that Hitler was definitely NOT a good painter. But Robeson was a great singer. And I suspect that if Hitler were a great singer, he would not be singing "Billie Jean"; I suspect it would be something really dissonant with some pretty scary Aryan theme. So I probably wouldn't respond to it aesthetically, if I was blinded and didn't know who the artist was.
But let's take a better example concerning somebody whose work we do know and whose contributions to music and compostion are well known: Richard Wagner. Wagner's racism and anti-Semitism are repugnant to me, but can anyone deny the brilliance of his harmonies, textures, or his use of leitmotifs in music? I have a hunch that Wagner did more to influence the whole development of what has become known as the film score than any single composer in history.
I'm not particularly fond of the work of Ezra Pound, who embraced Mussolini and Hitler, but I can't deny the impact of his work on everybody from Robert Frost to Ernest Hemingway; Ayn Rand herself detested many writers and their views; she made it a point of stating, for example, that she thought Tolstoy's philosophy and sense of life were "evil, and yet, from a purely literary viewpoint, on his own terms, I have to evaluate him as a good writer."
All I'm arguing here is that there is a lot of art out there, be it painting, sculpture, literature, film, music, etc., and if I had to use an ideological litmus test as a filter with regard to what I might like or dislike, I might find myself very unhappy because there are too many artists out there, talented in their own right, whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to my own. I don't live like that, and I think we impoverish ourselves if we bracket out of our aesthetic scale anybody and everybody with whom we disagree.

Mark liked the points I made, but said, "What if I told you I had a recording of Hitler playing Rachmaninoff on the piano with the Berlin Philharmonic?" -- to which Jerry Biggers replied, "But you don't!"... to which I replied:

LOL ROFL... sorry, I tried to take this one seriously, but you have to make me bust a gut. And you KNOW I can't afford to bust a busted gut! LOL

Jerry Biggers added: "What if I told you that I had a recording of Stalin (or other Soviet thug) having private ballet lessons for an exclusive presentation of Aram Khachaturian's "Spartacus" ballet to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet? So?......"

Chris Matthew Sciabarra (has finally collapsed into hysteria)

June 30, 2017

Song of the Day #1470

Song of the Day: Stormy Weather, words and music by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler debuted in 1933 at the Cotton Club in Harlem by Ethel Waters [YouTube link]. But one of its most famous versions was recorded by the Tony- and Grammy-award winning singer and actress Lena Horne, who died on 9 May 2010, at the age of 92. Lena sang this timeless tune in the 1943 movie of the same name. Check out Lena's film rendition and her 1943 single, which went to #21 on the U.S. Pop chart [YouTube links]. In honor of the centenary of her birth on 30 June 1917, I celebrate the gift that was Lena.

June 28, 2017

Song of the Day #1469

On Facebook, I prefaced this "Song of the Day" entry with this comment: It is officially June 28, 2017; on this date in 1969, in the wee small hours of the morning, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. With all the hoopla of this past weekend’s “Pride” events nationwide, some folks seem to forget that the parades emerged initially to commemorate what happened in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. For despite the ritual nature of these police raids, it was on this night that the patrons fought back on the basis of a crucially important libertarian premise; they rioted and rebelled in defense of their individual rights to live their own lives and to pursue their own happiness in private, safe havens, away from the brutality and harassment they faced on an almost daily basis. It is in this spirit that I add another song to my Summer Dance series. From “To Wong Foo…”, it’s Chaka Khan blowing a hole through the roof with "Free Yourself":

Song of the Day: Free Yourself, words and music by Sami McKinney, Denise Rich, and Warren McRae, is given a scaldingly hot treatment by Chaka Khan, whose pipes tear the roof off the motha'. The song is featured on the soundtrack to the 1995 comedy, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (and is also played over the end credits). I dedicate it today to those who participated in the Stonewall Rebellion, which began in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, in response to yet another regular police raid on a gay bar, this one in NYC. It remains a symbolic event for those who have sought equality before the law and the right to live their lives and to pursue their own happiness, without the interference of government. It began on this date as a quintessentially libertarian reaction against state repression of establishments that catered to a clientele of gays, lesbians and even their straight friends, who in their consensual social interactions just wanted to enjoy themselves at a Christopher Street bar in Greenwich Village, a safe haven away from police and social brutality (though it should be noted that such bars were typically "protected" by Mafioso who traded in under-the-table police payoffs). This track from the 1990s wasn't on the Stonewall Inn's famed 1969 jukebox, but it is an appropriate dance burner to mark the day, in keeping with our Summer Dance Party. Check it out on on YouTube.

June 11, 2017

Song of the Day #1461

Song of the Day: Hello, Dolly! ("Before the Parade Passes By"), music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, was featured in the 1964 Broadway musical that clobbered yesterday's "Funny Girl" at the Tony Awards that year. It won a then-record 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Carol Channing). Ironically, Streisand, who lost the Tony to Channing, would go on to star in the 1969 film version of the musical. In any event, this year, it is nominated in the Best Musical Revival category, with Bette Midler receiving a nomination for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical." Check out the original Carol Channing rendition and Bette Midler's rendition. And so concludes our mini-Tony tribute; check out the Awards tonight.

June 10, 2017

Song of the Day #1460

Song of the Day: Funny Girl ("You are Woman, I am Man"), music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, was featured in the 1964 Broadway musical that made Barbra Streisand a star. Streisand would go on to sing this duet with Omar Sharif in the 1968 film version of the musical about the life of Fanny Brice. Check out the Broadway musical version [YouTube link], which featured the Tony-nominated Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie, as Nicky Arnstein. And then check out the charming 1968 film version [YouTube film clip], the one in which Babs got her Best Actress Oscar, tying with the Great Kate, who won for "The Lion in Winter." This was only one of six ties in Oscar history and both actresses were certainly equally superb in their roles.

June 09, 2017

Song of the Day #1459

Song of the Day: Show Girl ("Liza, All the Clouds'll Roll Away"), music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn, debuted in the 1929 Ziegfeld musical by Ruby Keeler (of later "42nd Street" fame), with stage accompaniment provided by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Keeler's husband, Al Jolson [YouTube link] recorded the song, and is said to have freqently serenaded Ruby with it. And for a trip down memory lane, check out this wonderful instrumental version [YouTube link] by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and the legendary gyspy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

June 08, 2017

Song of the Day #1458

Song of the Day: You Never Know ("At Long Last Love") words and music by Cole Porter, written for the 1938 Broadway musical, where it was sung by Clifton Webb (yes, he of "Laura" fame!). It was also featured in the 1975 film, "At Long Last Love." It's become a standard of the Great American Songbook, and has been covered notably by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne (who provides the lovely introduction), Nancy Wilson, Jack Jones, and Carmen McRae (a lively live recording featuring Jimmy Rowles on piano and Joe Pass on guitar) [YouTube links]. Today begins my mini-Tony Awards tribute to music from the Broadway stage. The Tonys air on CBS this Sunday, June 11, 2017.

May 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1456

Song of the Day: Star Wars: A New Hope ("Throne Room / End Title") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary John Williams, was part of the Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 1977 first installment (later known as "Episode #4") in the "Star Wars" franchise. On this date, forty years ago, the film made its debut, and the most epic space opera in cinema history was born. It is no secret that Williams's "Star Wars" scores have been among the most majestic achievements in his repertoire and so important to the success of this franchise. So Happy 40th Birthday to the first film. And May the Force Be With You!

May 23, 2017

Song of the Day #1455

Song of the Day: Moonraker ("Main Title"), lyrics by Hal David, music by John Barry, was the theme to the 1979 James Bond film, starring Roger Moore, who passed away today at the age of 89. Sean Connery remains my favorite Bond, but Moore had his moments. This song was the third Bond theme sung by Shirley Bassey, who had previously recorded the vocal themes to "Diamonds are Forever" and, most famously, "Goldfinger" [YouTube links]. Bassey provides different renditions of the song at the film's opening and the more upbeat end credits [YouTube links]. RIP, Roger Moore; and my deepest condolences to those of his fellow Brits, who are mourning today the deaths of those attending an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, victims of a shameful act of terror.

May 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1454

Song of the Day: Casino Royale ("You Know My Name") features the words and music of David Arnold and Chris Cornell, who died yesterday at the age of 52. This 2006 song features Cornell's lead vocals, from the first 007 film starring Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond. Actually, Craig's "Skyfall" (2012) is one of my favorite Bond flicks). But today's tribute goes to Cornell, another talent gone too soon. Check out the opening credits [YouTube link], and while you're at it, check out Cornell's transformative version of the Michael Jackson hit, "Billie Jean" [YouTube link]. RIP, Chris Cornell.

May 03, 2017

Song of the Day #1453

Song of the Day: The Every Thought of You, words and music by Reid Hall and Chuck Moore, was, for years, the theme song of "Private Screenings," hosted by the late TCM pioneer, Robert Osborne, who was born on this date in 1932. The version performed on the show is by jazz vocalist Rene Marie, in a smoky jazz room sort of way. Listen to this lovely song at 6:26 in the closing credits of a show [YouTube link] in which Osborne interviewed Liza Minnelli. Osborne was always at the top of his game; as a film historian, he participated in a "Buy the Book" program designed for educators and students, introducing viewers to "The Fountainhead." Check that out here [YouTube link]. In the meanwhile, do check out Rene Marie; finding her music has been a real eye- and ear-opener. Just wonderful.

April 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1452

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 #1451

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.

April 22, 2017

Song of the Day #1448

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 #1447

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."

Ha Ha "Hail, Caesar!"

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!

April 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1446

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 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1444

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 #1443

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

Song of the Day #1442

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

Mr. Warmth is Gone But His Insults Live On

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].

March 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1440

Song of the Day: Johnny B. Goode features the words and music of Chuck Berry, who died today at the age of 90. A genuine rock and roll pioneer, Berry brought a wonderful R&B sensibility to his music.  This 1958 song [YouTube link] is one of his best, ranked in the Top Ten of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also a comedic-musical highlight of the 1985 film "Back to the Future" [YouTube link] with Michael J. Fox. RIP, Chuck!

March 06, 2017

Robert Osborne, RIP

I was sad to learn today about the death of Robert Osborne, aged 84, who was selected as the host of the nightly broadcasts of Turner Classic Movies, when it opened up shop in 1994. He had been absent from this year's TCM annual "31 Days of Oscar" salute (which coincides with my own "Film Music February"), and viewers knew that he had not been well.

TCM has set up an Osborne Tribute page, which provides valuable information about the Peabody Award-winner's life and work. He was a warm and classy presence on a network dedicated to showing a broad range of cinema classics, uncut and typically, in their original theatrical format, from the silents to the contemporary era. His knowledge of film was astounding. I very much valued his presence on "The Essentials" (and his foreword to the book version, celebrating "52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter.") But more importantly, I valued his wonderful way of introducing a film, with poignancy, with wit, and always with respect for the craft of the cinema. There's a really wonderful TCM tribute that was aired on Osborne's 20th anniversary with the network; "Ben-Hur" was one of his favorites, but seeing the multiple takes of him trying to pronounce "La Cienega Boulevard" are a hoot!

I had written to him with regard to the two vastly different film versions (one flat-screen, the other becoming the first "CinemaScope" film release) of the 1953 Biblical epic, "The Robe," which is, ironically, being broadcast tonight, the first night of a month-long tribute to TCM's Star of the Month, Richard Burton. But I'd received no reply; I knew he was ill, and doubted I'd hear back from him.

He was a massive presence to lovers of the cinema as a beloved host, and he will be missed by loyal viewers of TCM. RIP, Robert.

Ed: TCM has announced that it will devote 48 hours of its broadcast schedule (the weekend of March 18-19, 2017) to tributing Robert Osborne.

February 26, 2017

Song of the Day #1439

Song of the Day: That's Dancing! ("Invitation to Dance") features the words and music of Brian Fairweather, Dave Ellingson, Martin Page, and Kim Carnes, who sings the song over the closing credits to this wonderful choreographical retrospective, following in the footsteps of the MGM film-clip franchise "That's Entertainment," which recaptures the glory days of Hollywood musicals. The 1985 film focuses on the art of dance; it takes us from the silent era thru Busby Berkeley, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly, from "42nd Street" (1933) and "West Side Story" (1961) to Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" strut (1977) and the ensemble dance steps created by Michael Jackson and Michael Peters for "Beat It" (1983) [YouTube link], marking a definitive moment in the evolution of the music video. Given the reemergence of the classic Hollywood musical, in "La La Land," a 2016 film that could conceivably become the all-time Oscar champ tonight, with 14 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, it's fitting not to forget the significance of choreographer Mandy Moore, a favorite from television's "So You Think You Can Dance," for her contribution to the success of this film. Hence, it's all the more appropriate to highlight a selection from this 1985 cinematic celebration of dancers and choreographers throughout film history. Whoever takes home the Oscars, one thing is clear: Tonight, there should be lots of Oscar winners dancing in the aisles with their golden statuettes in hand. So, we conclude our annual Film Music February tribute with today's song [YouTube link] and with a reminder to watch the Oscar broadcast this evening! Till next year . . .

February 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1438

Song of the Day: Hacksaw Ridge ("One at a Time") [YouTube link], composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, encapsulates an extraordinary motif in this shattering 2016 film, which tells the story of Desmond Doss, who served as a conscientious objector during World War II, receiving the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of an estimated 75 infantrymen in the Battle of Okinawa, one man at a time. Andrew Garfield, who played Spiderman in two films, plays real-life superhero Doss, who refused to even hold a gun or to kill another human being in military engagement, but vowed to save human life as a medic on the battlefield. It is a role for which Garfield has earned a well-deserved 2016 Best Actor Oscar nomination. I have seen many films concerning "war and peace" in my life, and this Mel Gibson-directed Oscar-nominated Best Picture, which depicts all of the unspeakable horrors and miraculous heroism of battle, easily makes my Top Ten-ish list in that cinematic genre. [Ed: See also Lawrence Read's FEE essay, "Hacksaw Ridge Deserves an Oscar for Redefining Heroism."]

February 24, 2017

Song of the Day #1437

Song of the Day: Cinq Jours en Juin (Five Days in June: "Love Makes the Changes") [YouTube link] features the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and the music of Michel Legrand, who was born on this date in 1932. Legrand also directed this 1989 film, and in case you were wondering, the song is delivered with soul and grace by the only Ray Charles, accompanied by the greatest jazz harmonica player to have ever graced this earth, Toots Thielemans, both men no longer with us. The soundtrack is pure Legrand, but boasts a few pieces by some lightweight composers, folks like Frederic Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach. In any event, Happy 85th Birthday to one of my all-time favorite musical innovators, a brilliant and legendary composer who also happens to be a remarkable jazz musician.

February 23, 2017

Song of the Day #1436

As I stated on Facebook:

Today, as our Film Music February series moves toward its final weekend, I tribute Manton Moreland---one of the greatest and most talented African American comic actors, a trailblazer who broke through the walls of the cinema with his remarkable timing and often improvised use of the double entendre. It's exhibited in today's featured music from Kay's soundtrack to this 1941 film.

Song of the Day: King of the Zombies ("Main Title") [YouTube link, full movie, check the first minute), composed by Edward J. Kay, is from one of those classic comedy/horror hybrids. The 1941 film opens with music over ominous drumming. Remember that drumming, because it is key to one of the most memorable lines in the movie (at 1:00:52). With "voodoo" drums playing in the distance, Bill Summers, played by John Archer, asks his valet, Jefferson Jackson, played by the utterly hilarious Manton Moreland: "What does that sound like to you?" Moreland replies: "I don't know, but it ain't Gene Krupa."

February 22, 2017

Song of the Day #1435

Song of the Day: The Women ("Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone"), words and music by Sam H. Stept, Sidney Clare, and Bee Palmer, was actually written in 1930, but it first made its way into film in this 1939 version of the Clare Booth Luce play, where its first line was sung by Norma Shearer (playing the character Mary Haines) to her lady friends at 00:19:08 into the movie [MovieZoot link]. The film sported an all-star cast, which included among others, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine. It can also be heard in the 1949 film "House of Strangers," the 1951 film "Lullaby of Broadway" [check out the YouTube discussion], and the 1955 animated short "One Froggy Evening." The song became a jazz standard, and has been recorded by so many wonderful artists through the years, including Billie Holiday, Rat Packers Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, as well as Ella Fitzgerald with the Count Basie Orchestra [YouTube links].

February 21, 2017

Song of the Day #1434

Song of the Day: The Help ("Swingin' on a Rainbow"), words and music by Peter De Angelis and Robert Marcucci, was recorded originally by Frankie Avalon as the title track of his 1959 album. Anything with Frankie Avalon's name attached to it brings to mind films with beaches, blankets, and bingo. But this swingin' song was among the "source music" used in this critically acclaimed 2011 period film set in the Civil Rights era of the early 1960s. Source music can play a crucial role in the cinema, providing an aural authenticity to films with an historical setting. Check out the teen idol's swingin' song on YouTube.

February 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1433

Song of the Day: I Want to Live! ("Main Title" / "Poker Game") [YouTube link to the entire soundtrack album; these tracks encompass the first 6:50] was composed by the ever-jazzy and wonderfully prolific Johnny Mandel. It provides a superb backdrop for this Robert Wise-directed 1958 tale based on the harrowing true story of Barbara Graham, who went to the gas chamber for murder. Susan Hayward gave an Oscar-winning performance as Best Actress, playing the "brazen bad girl . . . implicated in murder and sentenced to death row." Two scores for the film were actually released---"Johnny Mandel's Great Jazz Score" and "The Jazz Combo from 'I Want to Live!'"---the former received a Grammy nomination for Best Soundtrack Album (losing out to Andre Previn for "Gigi"). The film's soundtracks feature such jazz luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Frank Rosolino, Jack Sheldon (the trumpeter who delivered Mandel's haunting 1965 "Sandpiper" score with such passion), Art Farmer, and Shelly Manne (who was also featured on Previn's "Gigi").

February 19, 2017

Song of the Day #1432

Song of the Day: Hell to Eternity ("Main Title") [YouTube link], music by Leith Stevens (who provided that great score for the splendid 1953 George Pal production of "War of the Worlds"), is an appropriate theme to highlight on this day of remembrance, a day we forget at our peril, when the United States government opened internment camps during World War II for Japanese Americans. The 1960 film stars Jeffrey Hunter, along with David Janssen (who played Dr. Richard Kimble in the trailblazing TV series, "The Fugitive"). It is a biopic about Marine hero Guy Gabaldon Pfc. (played by Hunter), who went on to fight in the Pacific theater of the war, using his considerable Japanese language skills in the Battle of Saipan, where he persuaded the Japanese commander to order the surrender of about 1000 troops and 500 civilians.

February 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1431

Song of the Day: Son of Frankenstein ("Main Title"), composed by Frank Skinner, is from the third film in the Universal Studios Series of Frankenstein films. The first two, "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), directed by James Whale, were followed by this 1939 film, the last in which Boris Karloff played the role of the Monster---and the first to feature the character Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi (famous, of course, for his "Dracula" role in both the 1927 Broadway adaptation and 1931 film versions of the Bram Stoker novel). Skinner had a wide range of scores to his credit, from "Saboteur" to the Douglas Sirk classics, "All that Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life," but he is especially noted for contributing to the definitive soundtracks for several Universal Monster Movies, including "The Wolf Man," "The Invisible Man Returns," and that ultimate horror-comedic hybrid, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

February 17, 2017

Song of the Day #1430

On Facebook, I wrote the following preface:

Today’s entry in my film music series comes from an epic story of struggle and redemption with which I’ve always identified. And it’s a custom I’ve developed, every February 17th since 2005, to choose a cue from the glorious Miklos Rozsa score to my all-time favorite film, “Ben-Hur,” which made its debut at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1959, just a day over 3 months before my birth in 1960. Perhaps I fell in love with the film before I was even born, since Mom saw it around the 1959 Christmas holidays, but one thing is certain: I actually first fell in love with the soundtrack to this film, playing it over and over on the ol’ Victrola for a good 5 or 6 years prior to seeing the MGM Oscar champ for the first time on its tenth anniversary re-release, which began its run on June 18, 1969 at the Palace Theatre in NYC, the Overture, Intermission, and Entr’ Acte still intact. I should add that the re-release ran in 70 mm through November 5, 1969, in preparation for the 70 mm showing of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." My family and I saw the film in the late summer of 1969. The lobby of the Palace was already adorned with Roberto Gari's famous portrait of Judy Garland, in the wake of Garland's death on June 22, 1969---Garland having given a series of legendary performances at the theatre.

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Valley of the Lepers" / "The Search") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the more mournful themes from his majestic soundtrack for this 1959 film, winner of 11 Academy Awards, including one for Rozsa's score (a record tied by "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," but never surpassed). It's a tradition during Film Music February to pick a cue from my all-time favorite film, on this particular day because it's my birthday! This ain't birthday party music---no victory parade or parade of the charioteers! [YouTube links]. But it shows another thematic side of the grandest symphonic film score ever written by one of my all-time favorite composers. And while you're at it, check out 10 Famous Lines from this Oscar champ [YouTube link]---though at least four classic lines are missing: "Bravely Spoken," "Down Eros, Up Mars" [TCM link], "Ramming Speed" and "We keep you alive to serve this ship: So row well and live!" [YouTube links]. That last one is a line I've used in some of my more whimsical moments with contributors to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. It's very effective!

February 16, 2017

Song of the Day #1429

Song of the Day: The Godfather, Part II ("Immigrant Theme") [YouTube link] is a superb Nino Rota composition, conducted by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola, the director of "The Godfather" (1972) and its two sequels (1974 and 1990), adapted from Mario Puzo's original 1969 novel. But nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing beats the re-edited version of the first two "Godfather" films known as "The Godfather Epic" (a later collection, "The Godfather Trilogy," incorporates "Godfather III"). The original re-edited epic (now playing regularly on premium cable channels, though originally broadcast on NBC in 1977, with a bit of language-scrubbing, as "A Novel for Television") provides us with the whole Corleone family history arranged chronologically (with many scenes not shown in the original theatrical film releases seamlessly integrated). Here, the Family history begins with the tragic youth of Vito Andolini of Corleone, Sicily, fatefully renamed as a child upon his arrival at Ellis Island, as Vito Corleone. Coming to maturity, Vito (superbly played by Robert DeNiro) settles in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. We then move on to the mature Mafia Don of the Corleone syndicate (played brilliantly by Marlon Brando) with special attention focused on one of his American-born sons, Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino, who gives us a master class on evolutionary character development). Michael is an idealistic World War II hero who eventually becomes the family's chieftan, wielding his power with shocking precision. Overall, seeing this brilliant epic, a masterpiece of direction, writing (and improvisation), acting, cinematography, and the use of symbolism, in this chronological reconfiguration provides us with one of the most fascinating cinematic portraits of the power of values in human life---by showing what happens when they are gradually inverted and corrupted. (And for cinemaphiles, check out the the uh, shooting locations that were used in the original film, including Clemenza's house, only ten blocks from where I live!) This particular Rota theme (featured originally on the soundtrack to "Godfather II," for which both Rota and Carmine Coppola shared a much-deserved Oscar in the category of "Best Original Score") is one of my all-time favorites. It expresses the yearning of those who emigrated to this country in search of the American Dream, even as it provides us with a sense of a tragic, underlying American nightmare.

February 15, 2017

Song of the Day #1428

Song of the Day: Now, Voyager ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], was composed by Max Steiner, who won the Academy Award for Best Music Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for this 1942 film, starring the great Bette Davis, along with such acting luminaries as Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. Steiner's music rises to a crescendo when Davis turns to Jerry (played by Henreid) and utters, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." It's a line that was ranked #46 by the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 Cinema Quotes. Check out the last scene on YouTube and also a lovely musical tribute by composer and former Boston Pops conductor John Williams, featuring violinist Itzhak Perlman.

February 14, 2017

Song of the Day #1427

Song of the Day: Brooklyn ("End Credits") [YouTube link], composed by Michael Brook, is from the 2015 film of the Colm Toibin novel about Ellis Lacey, an Irish woman (played by Oscar-nominated Saiorse Ronan) who settles in Brooklyn, and who develops a relationship with Anthony "Tony" Fiorello, a man of Italian descent (played by Emory Cohen). This is just one of those love stories that tugs at the heart strings, perhaps because in the end [semi-spoiler alert!], the woman realizes where her real home is. It's a romantic story about the power of love and the power of home. Fuhgedaboudit [YouTube link to a classic exchange in the 1997 film "Donnie Brasco"!]. The film is practically a Valentine's Day card to Brooklyn, New York. Just the greatest borough in the greatest city on earth (in this regard, "IMHO" is not part of my acronymic vocabulary)! But love is universal, so Happy Valentine's Day to all!

February 13, 2017

Song of the Day #1426

Song of the Day: In the Line of Fire ("Taking the Bullet") [YouTube link], music by Ennio Morricone, exhibits one side of perhaps the most versatile film score composer of his generation. This cue from the 1993 film, starring Clint Eastwood, Rene Russo, and an utterly maniacal John Malkovich (who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), encapsulates all the tension and suspense of an unsettling political thriller.

February 12, 2017

Song of the Day #1425

Song of the Day: Trolls ("What U Workin' With?") features the words and music of Max Martin, Ilya, and Justin Timberlake, who joins Gwen Stefani in a duet from the soundtrack to this 2016 animated flick (which my pal Jeffrey Tucker likens to Atlas Shrugged in some of its basic themes). The soundtrack yielded a #1 single for Justin, whose "Can't Stop the Feeling!" received the People's Choice Award and has been nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar this year. It has also received a Grammy nomination for "Best Song Written for Visual Media." [Ed: He won!] Given that the Grammy Awards are being broadcast tonight, I think it's only fitting to highlight another song from the Justin-produced soundtrack, which also includes Justin's homage to "Earth, Wind & Fire" in a terrific rendition of their 1978 hit, "September" [YouTube link]. Justin and Gwen also provide the voices for two of the characters in the flick (Branch and DJ Suki, respectively). Check out the song on YouTube. And check out the Grammy Awards tonight on CBS television, hosted by James Corden, noted for his hilarious Carpool Karaoke stunts on his Late, Late Show!

February 11, 2017

Song of the Day #1424

Song of the Day: Ocean's 11 ("Ain't That a Kick in the Head"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, was first recorded by Dean Martin in a swingin' Nelson Riddle arrangement in May 1960; it is performed by Martin in an alternative arrangement with the Red Norvo Quartet, in this wonderful 1960 Rat Pack heist film. What better way to mark the 11th with Danny Ocean played by Frank Sinatra) and his up-to-no-good gang of 11! Check out this song's original arrangement and its film rendition [YouTube links].

February 10, 2017

Song of the Day #1423

Song of the Day: Hoosiers ("Best Shot") [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Goldsmith, expresses the thrilling athletic adventures of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team, coached by Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman, who delivers one of his best performances). This 1986 film provides many "feel-good" moments, and few composers could express this with more majesty. On this date in 1929, Goldsmith was born, and his music graced some of greatest films of his time. This humble little tale is embodied in Goldsmith's score, which expresses all the excitement, passion, and poignancy that were endemic to his artistry.

February 09, 2017

Song of the Day #1422

Song of the Day: The Magnificent Seven ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is just one of the most memorable title themes of any western---indeed, any film---in cinema history. A 2016 remake was good, and both the remake and the rousing 1960 original film (inspired by the great 1954 Japanese film, "Seven Samurai") had terrific ensemble casts, but, for me, nothing beats the title theme of the 1960 film.

February 08, 2017

Song of the Day #1421

Song of the Day: Close Encounters of the Third Kind ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], music by John Williams, is featured today, for it was on this date that the great composer was born in 1932. The Oscar-nominated score for this wonderful 1977 sci-fi film shows us, in five simple notes, that music really is the universal language. Alas, Williams lost the Oscar for this film that year to another film score of his: a little movie called "Star Wars." This score features a clever reference to the composer's famous "Jaws" theme (from his Oscar-winning score to that summer blockbuster). I'll give you a hint: it's near the two-minute mark in this YouTube clip. (And in the "Main Theme" of today's selection, there is an homage to "When You Wish Upon a Star," from Disney's "Pinocchio", at around 4:30.) See if you can catch it, uh, while you can. And Happy Birthday, Maestro!

February 07, 2017

Song of the Day #1420

Song of the Day: Batman ("Trust"), composed by Prince, features sampled horn parts from jazz trumpeters Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss. This Prince soundtrack album to the 1989 film, directed by Tim Burton, stars Michael Keaton as our Caped Crusader. The film also boasts an utterly off the wall, over-the-top, but still classically Jack Nicholson performance in the villainous role of the Joker (formerly played in the 1960s campy TV series by Cesar Romero, and later played much more darkly by the posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winner Heath Ledger in the 1998 film, "The Dark Knight"). Check out this song and the scene in which it unfolds as well as a rockin' Shep Pettibone 12" dance remix [YouTube]. And so concludes our mini-tribute to Prince's film music repertoire.

February 06, 2017

Song of the Day #1419

Song of the Day: Under the Cherry Moon ("Kiss"), words and music by Prince, is heard in the 1986 film, which featured the first of many collaborations between the artist and jazz pianist Clare Fischer. The soundtrack to the film was marketed under the title of "Parade." This song was a huge hit; it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot 12" Singles Sales, Hot US Club Play, and Hot Black Singles. Check out the single (it's #11 at this link). The song has been covered by many artists, but among the most fun-filled recordings is the one by Tom Jones. And it's not unusual! [YouTube links]. I'm sure that today Gisele Bundchen is not the only person wanting to Kiss Tom Brady, for leading the New England Patriots to an epic, comeback, overtime 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

February 05, 2017

Song of the Day #1418

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("When Doves Cry"), words and music by Prince, is featured in the 1984 film and was the biggest hit single from the soundtrack album. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Black Singles chart, and Dance/Disco chart. It is one of those notable R&B-inspired tracks lacking a bass line, but certainly not lacking in soul. On the soundtrack album, Prince plays all the instruments in addition to providing the vocals. Check out the music video [video link]. Some football fans are going to be crying at the end of Super Bowl Sunday; maybe this song will ease the agony of de-feet. If not, then watch the commercials for a laugh or embrace Lady Gaga's halftime show for a little shock and awe.

February 04, 2017

Song of the Day #1417

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("Darling Nikki"), words and music by Prince, hit the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart. It's a raw, sexually charged track from the 1984 film that prompted the use of "Parental Advisory" stickers on the soundtrack album, despite never having been released as a single. It has been covered by many artists, but there is only one Prince. Check out the film version [YouTube link].

February 03, 2017

Song of the Day #1416

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("Purple Rain"), words and music by Prince, is the title track to the artist's quasi-autobiographical 1984 film. In 2016, I paid tribute to Prince on the occasion of his untimely death in a week-long celebration of his birthday in June. This week, as part of my annual celebration of film music, I feature a few classic songs from Prince's cinema repertoire. This iconic signature tune is one of his best. Check out the soundtrack album rendition on YouTube.

February 02, 2017

Song of the Day #1415

Song of the Day: King Kong ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Barry, has all those Barry signature touches of intrigue and mystery, which could be found in every one of the eleven James Bond film soundtracks he scored (and we shall not forget Ayn Rand, who was born on this date in 1905, was a fan of the early Bond films, especially "Dr. No," for which Barry was the uncredited arranger of the famous Monty Norman Bond motif, though there is lots of controversy surrounding who actually composed that theme). Sadly, this 1976 remake of the classic 1933 film doesn't quite live up to the majesty of the subject matter or the score, but the movie did introduce to the world of cinema, a wonderful actress in her first film role, Jessica Lange. The ending, like all the "King Kong" remakes does feel a bit like Groundhog Day (because the fate of our famous ape is sealed the moment he is brought to New York City). But this particular film features an ending that fans of the Twin Towers will never forget.

February 01, 2017

Song of the Day #1414

Song of the Day: The Gauntlet ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Fielding, opens this 1977 film, in which Clint Eastwood has to deliver an escort (played by Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix to be a witness in a mob trial. As is the case with so many Eastwood vehicles, this one offers a genuinely jazzy score. The soundtrack features trumpeter Jon Faddis and saxman Art Pepper. Today we throw down the gauntlet to start what has become, since 2005, an annual feature of Notablog: Our tribute to music featured in film, hence, Film Music February, beginning on this first day of the month (like TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, which begins at 6 a.m., tributing films with Oscar winners and nominees, this year, in alphabetical order!). The only difference is that our tribute, which exhibits a reverence for the art of the score, concludes on February 26th, the date on which the 89th Academy Awards will air. Within this month, I'll be showcasing songs, famous themes, terrific cues, and other "source" music that have been featured in films throughout the years. And we'll also devote time throughout the tribute to some folks who get special recognition, for one reason or another. So sit back, get out the popcorn, and enjoy 26 Days of Cinema Music.

January 09, 2017

Trump versus Streep

Last night, Meryl Streep was honored at the Golden Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Our President-elect took great exception to Streep's eloquent words in opposition to some of the attitudes projected by Trump on the campaign trail (though never actually using his name in her remarks). Trump has not been kind to Hollywood types, foreigners, or the press (and the feeling has been, generally, mutual), and since the Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep, who is probably one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, used her acceptance speech to put folks on notice that she fully intended to work toward holding the President-elect accountable. Streep was exercising something that is fundamental to this country: the right to speak freely.

In an era where the President-elect reaches his fan base with policy statements that are 140 characters or less, Trump tweeted, in a classic ad hominem, that Streep was "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood . . ." Mr. Trump, you may be right on a lot of things, and wrong on a lot of things, but if you can achieve half of the accomplishments in politics that Ms. Streep has achieved with her talents in the art of acting, then you'll be a great U.S. President. I just find it amazing that a man can be so thin-skinned as to feel the necessity to belittle one of the finest talents to have ever graced the screen. If he'd simply said: "I didn't expect to be celebrated among the Hollywood elites, and Ms. Streep didn't disappoint, but I hope to prove her wrong," it would have been a welcome break from his typical Twitter tirades. Unfortunately, I think we'll have to settle for at least four years of what is typical of him.

Postscript: I'm reminded by a colleague that in her lifetime, Streep has had 19 Oscar nominations and only 3 Oscar wins in nearly 40 years. If anything, she's not been over-rated; she's been overlooked and underappreciated; for a person who has consistently delivered a remarkable range of performances (and dialects), from her roles in "Sophie's Choice" and "Silkwood" to becoming Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher, she's been taken for granted.

December 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1410

Song of the Day: Singin' in the Rain ("Good Morning"), music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, made its debut in the 1939 film "Babes in Arms." But it was made super-famous by the wonderful singing-and-dancing trio of Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds in the great 1952 movie musical "Singin' in the Rain" (and while you're at it, check out the original Garland-Rooney "Babes in Arms" performance) [YouTube links]. Yesterday, I posted a tribute to Carrie Fisher, who died at the age of 60. I have just learned of the death of her 84-year old mom. To have to post, a day later, a tribute to Reynolds, whose many movies and television appearances I so loved (from "The Debbie Reynolds Show" to "Will and Grace," where Reynolds debuted the "Told Ya So" dance [YouTube link]), just goes beyond tragedy. It is almost literally unbelievable to see within a few days, the deaths of celebrities such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and now, Debbie Reynolds. I am greatly saddened. For me, Debbie Reynolds was as "unsinkable" as Molly Brown. RIP, Debbie.

December 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1409

Song of the Day: Star Wars: A New Hope ("Princess Leia's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the great John Williams, was first heard in "Episode Four," which for those who have been living under a galactic rock for 40 years, is actually the first film in the "Star Wars" franchise, which began in 1977. It is fitting to feature this theme in remembrance of the sad passing of the woman who first brought Princess Leia to life: Carrie Fisher, who died today at the age of 60. Daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, she was a gifted talent, who achieved many wonderful accomplishments in her life. But she will forever be identified with this role, which she also played in "The Empire Strikes Back" (Episode Five, 1980), "Return of the Jedi" (Episode Six, 1983), and "The Force Awakens" (Episode Seven, 2015). The setting of this epic space opera may have begun "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," but Fisher's force will be with us for light years to come. RIP, Carrie Fisher.

December 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1407

Song of the Day: That's What Christmas Means To Me, words and music by Harry Revel, is heard in the heart-warming 1947 film, "It Happened on Fifth Avenue." The title of this tune might pertain to at least four different songs, but this rare soundtrack gem can be heard in a TCM film clip. The film received an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Story", but it actually lost out to another wonderful Christmas film: "Miracle on 34th Street." For an extra dose of good cheer and good will, check out another holiday classic by the wonderful USAF Band playing "Jingle Bells/Auld Lang Syne" [YouTube link]. It may have you dancing right into the New Year (a tip of the Santa hat to Roger Bissell for that wonderful video!). And a Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends!

December 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I just finished reading a typical "libertarian" takedown of yet another classic Christmas tale, long celebrated in American culture: "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the finest Frank Capra films ever made. This critique is by Tom Mullen. Years ago, I read another typical "libertarian" takedown of "A Christmas Carol," (and Tom Mullen appears to be of the same school of thought on this story as well) and what occurs to me is that in both cases, the libertarian critics completely miss the point because they are too busy focusing on the dollars-and-cents issues of how businesspeople are portrayed in these tales. I'll grant the critics one major point: these tales do contain what Ayn Rand often called "mixed premises." Such "mixed premises" are on display in much of Western literature, film, and art in general. But anyone who shares in the larger, benevolent sense of life that Rand saw in American culture should learn to "bracket out" some of the conventional "pink" premises often slipped into films that give us cardboard-cutout portraits of greedy businessmen who operate in very one-dimensional ways almost always understood in terms of strict dollars and cents. Rand herself, however, often fell victim to being incensed by such portraits that she could not see the value of great films, like "The Best Years of Our Lives," which put forth such nefarious notions as "the banker with a heart." Rand didn't "get it": as a 1946 film release, like that of "It's a Wonderful Life," this movie reached deeply into the cultural psyche of a war-weary American public. Debuting about a year after the official end of the most horrific war in human history, the film provides its audience with a cultural catharsis. It does a terrific job of depicting the palpable struggles of World War II's survivng veterans. The film resonated with the audience, which saw on the silver screen riveting portraits of post-traumatic stress and the struggles of veterans trying to live "normal" lives, despite having lost their limbs in battle. In fact, Harold Russell who actually lost both his hands in the war, received an Oscar for Supporting Actor and an Honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who identifies with the subtexts of films that are complex enough to appreciate on a level that might not seem obvious at first blush---hence, till this day, my favorite film of all time remains "A Tale of the Christ": the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur," directed by the same William Wyler who directed "The Best Years of Our Lives," and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. Of course, even Rand the atheist could appreciate great literature and great film, no matter how deep its religious context. As I state in my essay on "Ben-Hur":

Ayn Rand herself counted a Biblical work of historical fiction as among her favorites. She regarded Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz as one of the greatest novels ever written. In fact, Rand tells Ross Baker (Letters of Ayn Rand, 11 December 1945, 251): "A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest recipe for a bestseller) have always been religious novels with a good story (Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis?, The Robe [all made into spectacular epic films--CMS] )--and that The Fountainhead is a religious novel [insofar as] it gives to . . . readers . . . a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift."

Well, then, for me, and for so many other viewers, there is both reason and rhyme in viewing such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as providing precisely that "sense of faith, courage and moral uplift" that nourish the requisite spiritual inspiration sought by most of us on this planet we call home.

So let's turn to "It's a Wonderful Life," the newest punching bag among some critics in libertarian circles. Contary to what Tom Mullen has said in his essay, there is no evidence that George Bailey has been anything but honest with his customers. Even when there is a run on the bank in 1929, when the Stock Market crashes, George tries to explain to each person who put their money in the Bailey Building and Loan Company, that every single one of them signed a contract when they made their initial deposits, with the stipulation that their money would be secure and that if they wanted to withdraw all of their savings at any time, they would receive it within sixty days.

From the first moments of the crash, something engineered by the Federal Reserve System during the Roaring Twenties, Ol' Man Potter, the guy whom Mullen extols as the real "hero" of the film, offers folks 50 cents on the dollar if they come to his bank (not exactly the "generous offer" Mullen celebrates). He's the kind of guy who was probably involved in the Fed's 1913 formation, which made twentieth-century booms and busts both possible---and inevitable, including the 1929 crash depicted in the film. And he's also the kind of guy who took pride in running the Draft Board, assisting his government to draft men into involuntary servitude on the precipice of World War II. Yeah, a real hero, that Mr. Potter.

And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT!] that Potter is as guilty as sin for stealing $8000 from the absent-minded Uncle Billy, who was just about to deposit it. There is nothing redeemable about sending another business into a tailspin by stealing its deposits in an act of outright thievery.

Now, let's get back to the real meaning of "It's a Wonderful Life," and why it is that so many people regard it as a holiday classic. The irony is that when it was released, it wasn't as successful in its first run because people found it too "dark"; after all, the plot twist of the final reel reads like a script from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone": at the end of his rope, with $8000 of bank deposits missing, the prospect of financial scandal and prison hanging over his head, George Bailey is ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge. And Clarence, Bailey's Guardian Angel, is looking to earn his wings, which he can't do unless he saves George. So Clarence jumps into the water and starts screaming for help. George Bailey, played beautifully by the great James Stewart, forgets his own intended act of self-sabotage, because inside of him is a benevolent sense of life, a sense of life so profound that at the moment of contemplating suicide, he saves the life of another man. When Clarence explains that he can't "earn his wings" without saving George, George is so mystified by all this "angel" talk, and he's beyond disgusted: "I wish I'd never been born."

In a moment of remarkable inspiration, Clarence grants George his wish. That's it, he says: You've never been born. There's no George Bailey.

So when George makes his way back to Bedford Falls, Clarence tagging along, he discovers that the town is now known as Pottersville, and it is like one gigantic speakeasy, violent and decadent. He goes into the local bar, and the bartender doesn't recognize him. George sees an old, haggard Mr. Gower, his first employer, enter the bar. He's just been released from jail, apparently, serving a prison term for manslaughter for having poisoned a child. Bailey tells Clarence that this is impossible: As a kid, George worked at Mr. Gower's pharmacy; Gower (played by the gracefully expressive H. B. Warner), distraught over the death of his own son from influenza, mistakenly mixes poison into a prescription meant for another child. But Clarence tells George that the boy died because George wasn't around to alert Mr. Gower of his carelessness. Angry exchanges ensue in the bar, and before you know it, he and Clarence are thrown out on their butts.

George tells Clarence that Harry, his brother, had just gotten the Medal of Honor for saving an amphibious transport by shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific War against the Japanese. But Clarence tells George that Harry Bailey wasn't there to save the transport because George wasn't alive to save Harry, who nearly drowned as a kid, falling into the ice on a frozen lake in Bedford Falls. George has no wife (Mary became an "old maid," says Clarence), no children, and a bitter mother who doesn't know him. George is slowly degenerating into a raving maniac, inhabiting a universe that is as unknown to him as he is to it. As the cops chase after him, he runs back toward the bridge, the place where he sought to end his life, and he is crying: "I want to live again."

And suddenly, the nightmare is over: George Bailey lives again to see another day; and all the townspeople who were the beneficiaries of his Building and Loan Company come through for him, as does an old friend, to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Reunited with his wife and family, with the townspeople singing "Auld Lang Syne," his brother Harry alive, George is holding his little girl Zuzu in his arms, and a little bell rings on the Christmas tree behind him. Zuzu tells him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. He opens a gift, it's a book from Clarence (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain), and in it, there is an inscription: "No man is a failure who has friends."

What Capra is telling us in this remarkable film (whose plot twist has been used as a device in so many other stories on both the big and small screen) is that each one of us has the capacity to lead a wonderful life by the very fact of our existence and by the choices we make that are essential to sustain our lives. We learn that every action we take is like a pebble thrown into still water, the ripple effects of our choices and actions moving out in concentric circles, affecting people, even some people we've never met, in ways that none of us could have possibly anticipated.

Now, it is true that sometimes action or inaction can cause bad unintended consequences. But the importance of Capra's story is that George Bailey is a beautiful soul, and that if we suddenly wipe out the existence of that beautiful soul, the ripple effects cease; it is as if the pebble never touched the still water. And all the things that were done are now undone. And even when we are at the end of our ropes, so-to-speak, it is valuable to pause and to think about all the good in our lives, all of our achievements, personal and professional, and, by that fact, all the effects we have had on those around us. What a truly wonderful testament to the power of a single individual to shape and alter the people and the realities around him. What a tribute to the honor and dignity and life-altering power of the individual that each of us has by virtue of our humanity.

Now, while we're at it, let me turn to another favorite film of the holiday season that has had its share of libertarian naysayers: "A Christmas Carol." In "Scrooge Defended," Michael Levin uses a tactic similar to Tom Mullen, this time in defense of Scrooge as a good businessman, like Ol' Man Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life." A long time ago, on the now defunct site of "The Daily Objectivist," I defended the famed 1951 film version starring the extraordinarily gifted actor, Alastair Sim, who gives a multilayered performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. As I said back in the year 1999:

I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book [by Charles Dickens] have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable [as libertarians or Objectivists, etc.]. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives.

So to the naysayers of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," there are only two words appropriate in reply, and it's not "Merry Christmas." I say: "Bah, humbug!" Count this libertarian out if you think it's better to live in a world of Pottersvilles or that those who are less fortunate than us should die and decrease the surplus population.