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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 #1645

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 #1644

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 #1642

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 #1640

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 #1639

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 #1630

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 #1629

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 #1628

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 #1627

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 #1626

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 #1625

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 #1624

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!)

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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!

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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.

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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.

December 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1403

Song of the Day: Spartacus ("Overture"), composed by Alex North, is featured on this day, the 100th birthday of the very much alive actor, Kirk Douglas. From his starring roles in such movies as "Champion," "Lust for Life," and "The Bad and the Beautiful" (all for which he received Oscar nominations in the category of Best Actor) to "Paths of Glory" and his seven films with Burt Lancaster (including "Seven Days in May"), Douglas has been Hollywood royalty for decades. He was awarded an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement [YouTube link]. But there are few films that capture his grit at its most heroic than the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1960 blockbuster, "Spartacus." Happy birthday to the "Young Man with a Horn." And instead of singing Happy Birthday, I'd like to stand up and say: "I'm Spartacus."

John Glenn, RIP

One of my earliest memories as a child was sitting in front of the black-and-white TV we owned, which was the centerpiece of our living room. It was February 20, 1962. I had just turned two years old on February 17th, and the 20th was my mother's birthday (and the birthday of my best pal, Paul, who lived in the apartment next to us). Maybe it was because it was Mom's birthday, or maybe it was just because I was, at two years old, completely and utterly dazzled by the images I saw on the small screen that day.

John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, having lifted off from Cape Canaveral in his Friendship 7 rocket, among the very first group of astronauts of the young Mercury program. And he orbited our planet three times before making a dramatic splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is amazing to me that I have such vivid memories of that day in front of the television set; it would be my freshman orientation, so-to-speak, with what became a lifelong education and love affair with the very idea of space travel. In later years, we'd sit in front of the TV to see the Apollo 11 moonlanding and to view the first two human beings from the planet Earth to walk on the moon. I was pinned to the TV when Apollo 13's crew announced, "Houston, we have a problem." I saw a rover drive across the surface of the moon, and the Apollo-Soyuz dockings, and the heartbreaking, tragic Challenger disaster. I have never lost my childlike fascination with space, with the potential of space travel, and with the heroic spirit that motivated those space travelers, each taking "one small step for a man," and "one giant leap for mankind."

This is all quite apart from any of the political dimensions that surround the dawn of the space age, or the political career of Glenn, when he served as Senator of Ohio (and got mixed up in political scandal. Hat tip to Christopher Baker!).

For this two-year old, still lurking inside me, Glenn's flight still encompasses the majesty and wonder of human achievement.

And so it is with sadness that I learned of the passing of John Glenn yesterday, December 8, 2016. He provided me with my first encounter with space travel; that the memory has stayed with me in such a vivid way for over 54 years now is almost as remarkable as the event itself. It was Glenn who ignited, in this two year old, the seeds of the belief in a world of boundless possibilities.

RIP, John Glenn. And thank you.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, some questions were raised about John Glenn's post-astronaut, political career, and, by extension, about the nature of government intervention that made the space program possible. I added the following comment:

Thank you Caroline, and Christopher, read the blog entry: I give you a hat tip! I added the point about the political ramifications of the space program (and the political scandals with which Glenn's name is linked) as outside the context of this specific post: how a 2-year old kid watched a man leave the ground atop a rocket, only to orbit the Earth three times and return safely to that Earth. That thrill is forever etched in my mind, regardless of what Glenn was (as a man) or who he became (as a politician). And regardless of the fact that the US space program was government-funded on taxpayer revenue seized by force, by definition, that achievement is what it is. Ayn Rand herself made the distinction of being able to celebrate the moon landing, as a triumph of human achievement, while being opposed to the funding of programs to propel man into space. She was deeply aware of the kinds of distortions in the evolving structure and development of production that resulted anytime the government has stepped in to socialize the risks of "development", as it did with the building of transcontinental railroads in the 19th century (see her essay, "Apollo 11," September 1969, "The Objectivist"). She wrote that the " 'conquest of space' by some men ... [was] accomplished by expropriating the labor of other men who are left without means to acquire a pair of shoes." She points out, of course, that in the space program, taxpayer funding notwithstanding, "the scientists, the technologists, the engineers, the astronauts were free men acting of their own choice. . . . Of all human activities, science is the field least amenable to force: the facts of reality do not take orders." This said, Rand was also aware of another sobering fact: that when government does become heavily involved in the directions of scientific research, what often results is an interventionist dynamic that alters everything from educational to economic institutions, resulting in a self-perpetuating system that leads to a kind of 'military-science-industrial complex' more suited to producing the means and weapons of mass destruction, rather than tools for mass creation. Check out my expanded section in the second edition of "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical", in Chapter 12, "The Welfare-Warfare State," as well as the story of Project X in Rand's magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged."

I also added:

I should add that there is much to be said about what Murray Rothbard called the power of the market to transform the products emerging from coercive intervention into products that are of use to consumers, what he called, "a process of converting force to service." See Chapter 6 of my book, "Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism."

December 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1402

Song of the Day: Chunky features the words and music of Philip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, and Bruno Mars, who performed this on both "Saturday Night Live (@ 3:39 in the YouTube video of his performances on the October 15, 2016 show) and the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" [YouTube link] last night. I don't how those razor-thin models reacted to a song extolling the virtues of "girls with the big old hoops," but Bruno was #1 on the runway for me. His new album, "24K Magic" (whose title track, with a spotlight-solo dance segment on November 20th's American Music Awards [YouTube link]) was a pure MJ throwback), has a touch of James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson, on whose shoulders he proudly stands (see his "60 Minutes" interview [CBS News link]). Pure Magic. 24K. (Oh, and check out this great cinema montage set to the Mars-Ronson hit, "Uptown Funk".)

December 02, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

On this day, marking the one-year anniversary of the San Bernardino terror attack, I pause to remember the victims and the survivors.

And yet, somehow, we have survived. There is a culture of life in this country, but especially in this city, New York City, the grandest city on earth, which in 2001 suffered a horrendous attack of its own.

Nothing seems to dampen this country's (or this city's) ability to rise above the rubble, not even a contentious election that has left many of us with the feeling that Armageddon is around the corner. Yet, from the moment Santa Claus comes riding into town at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on its 90th anniversary, surrounded by about a thousand cops, seen and unseen, with submachine guns, something good happens to this city.

Indeed, every time you think the world is heading for the apocalypse, just turn on the Hallmark Movie Channel, where they've been showing Christmas movies nonstop practically since Halloween! The other night I was watching Happy the Cat and Happy the Dog on The Happy Yule Log---and I'm a long-time fan of the ol' WPIX Yule Log, so you know you have to go a long way to move this New York loyalist! But moved I was. How could I not be?

And on Wednesday night, thousands of people gathered around Rockefeller Center in the pouring rain to watch the annual Christmas Tree lighting, along with Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Donald Trump (actually actor and SNL Donald-impersonator Alec Baldwin) and Hillary Clinton (actually SNL comic and Hillary-impersonator Kate McKinnon), striking a chord for unity. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can dampen the New York Values that light up our streets and our hearts at this time of year. This city is a universe unto itself, and if you've not seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or the remarkable light displays that blanket Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, well, you ain't seen nothin'!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; we live to grieve those who have lost their lives on American soil on this sad anniversary (in which people were murdered in a facility filled with celebratory Christmas decorations), but we embrace the warmth of a holiday season that reminds us how much life is worth living.

November 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1399

Song of the Day: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ("Main Themes"), composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith, graced the original TV show in various iterations for its mid-1960s small-screen run. It led to a series of spin-offs and film adaptations, including a 2015 movie version. The show was inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond series; indeed, Fleming contributed to the development of the original show, which featured two characters, one Soviet and one American, who join forces in a secret international counter-espionage agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law Enforcement). The Soviet agent, Illya Kuryakin, was played by the handsome, blond David McCallum and the American agent, Napoleon Solo, was played by cleft-chinned Robert Vaughn. It was a fun show that I'll always remember from my childhood. I post this theme in remembrance of Robert Vaughn, who passed away today at the age of 83.

November 09, 2016

The Day After...

Some years ago, ABC Television showed a made-for-TV film about a nuclear attack on the United States called "The Day After." Well, for many, today is, indeed, "The Day After" the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. His Trump Revolution, over which I expressed grave reservations, propelled him into the greatest bully pulpit the world over.

And yet, despite poll after poll expressing the possibility of a victory for Hillary Clinton, I had my doubts; this morning I expressed those doubts in a post on Facebook, in reply to a comment by my friend and colleague, Douglas Rasmussen, who thought Clinton would win. I wrote:

I have been thinking for a long time that there was a larger constituency that might vote for Trump but that was not showing up in the polls because people were embarrassed to admit it (and I don't blame them!). It's entirely possible of course that Clinton may have still won the national popular vote, but not the Electoral College. I was for neither candidate but hoping that some gridlock would remain to block either candidate's excesses; I'm of the belief, however, that whether this country elected a US-version of Evita Peron or a US-version of Benito Mussolini, there is little if any "establishment" check on the power of those who wield it in the shadows (though I am concerned about Supreme Court candidates who might rollback abortion rights, privacy rights or equal civil marriage rights, etc.). But most real "power" in the US resides outside of the official channels anyway: e.g., the Fed, what libertarians are fond of calling the "state-banking nexus" and the entrenched regulatory-welfare-warfare establishment that benefits "elites" who are forever in the shadows. The bottom line is: This country will see no fundamental change as long as the greatest powers that regulate our lives remain beyond the effects of the ballot box. Period. As long as all the institutional barriers to freedom remain a part of an entrenched system, no one man or one woman can possibly make a difference. They say the job of the next person to become President is to make the last one look good. Well, to the old bosses: welcome to the new boss. Today, the NY Daily News has on its cover a photo of the White House and the banner headline "House of Horrors". Let's just hope that the new boss doesn't make the last one become a candidate for a place on Mount Rushmore (which has a few questionable images sculptured into it already!).

In short, as the Talking Heads never tired of saying throughout the campaign, stealing a line from Bette Davis in "All About Eve": "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Let's just hope there is a truly emergent sunny day after the long, long night that still lies ahead.

October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

September 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1393

Song of the Day: Sesame Street ("Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street"), composed by Joe Raposo, originally featured the ever-recognizable harmonica of the late, great jazz musician Toots Thielemans [YouTube link]. A vocal version often opened the series (and check out the Jimmy Fallon-Roots version as well) [YouTube links], while Thielemans closed it out in a strictly instrumental rendering. I just learned of the death of this jazz giant, who passed away at the age of 94 on August 22, 2016. He was one of my all-time favorite musicians. Now, while this theme closes our mini-tribute to TV themes for 2016, it also opens a two-day tribute to Toots. I first heard his talents on display when he whistled in unison with his melodic and inventive improvisational guitar playing, so deeply influenced by Django Reinhardt, on an original Toots composition [a .pdf file], which became his signature tune: "Bluesette" [YouTube link]. So when I was later introduced to his harmonica playing, I was utterly floored by what I heard. (In fact, he played a harmonica rendition of that classic composition in a live harmonica duet with Stevie Wonder [YouTube link].) Whether he was enriching the sounds of a film score ("Midnight Cowboy," "Sugarland Express" [YouTube links]), accompanying such artists as Vanessa Williams and Sting on "Sister Moon" [YouTube link], or conjoining his musical talents with the incomparable Michel Legrand for a lovely rendition of the main theme from the Oscar-winning 1971 Legrand film score for "The Summer of '42" [YouTube link], Toots could play that small instrument with all the dexterity of a jazz saxophonist. Check out his jazz work on such tunes as "Au Privave" [YouTube link] (a live recording with guitarist Joe Pass and pianist Oscar Peterson), "The Days of Wine and Roses" [YouTube link] (with jazz pianist Bill Evans), and "Manha de Carnaval" [YouTube link], from the first of a two-volume collection of melodic, lyrical Brazilian classics.

September 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1392

Song of the Day: Batman ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the celebrated jazz trumpeter, composer, songwriter, and arranger, Neil Hefti, opened every episode of the campy 1960s series starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne / Batman, and Burt Ward as Robin facing off against a host of villains played by an evolving all-star cast, including The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin and John Astin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt), among them. The cartoon graphics at the beginning of the show inspired a hilarious SNL parody, called "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" [YouTube link]. I was so swept away by the series as a kid that I went out to my Aunt Joan's house in Bellmore, Long Island, just so I could see Adam West and Burt Ward pass by in a Long Island bus tour! And my sister, my cousins, and I made the cover of Long Island's Newsday in a photo showing me holding up a sign of greeting as high as any 7-year old kid could. Tonight, they'll be lots of people holding up Emmy Awards in the Primetime broadcast. Tomorrow, I'll have one more encore TV theme, in honor of one of the greatest musicians who ever lived, now gone. But tonight, check out the Emmys.

September 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1391

Song of the Day: Queer as Folk ("Sanctuary"), words and music by Brian Canham and Ben Grayson (both formerly of Pseudo Echo), was recorded by Origene and featured prominently in Season 4 of the pathbreaking Showtime series. "There is a place within all of us, it is sacred, so free of judgment, and this is yours to share with who you wish. . . this is your sanctuary . . ." It is a lyric so in sync with the individualist ethos of the series in which it was heard. Moreover, the song's dance rhythm meshes well not only with our TV-themed week, but also as a contribution to the final weekend of our Summer Saturday Night Dance Party, which ends officially on the last full day of Summer (September 21st). Check out the original telescore single mix, the extended Harry Lemon remix, and the Ivan Gough remix.

September 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1390

Song of the Day: The Passion of Ayn Rand ("Love Is, Love is Not"), words and music by Jeff Beal, is sung by Shirley Eikhard over the closing credits of the 1999 Showtime film, based on Barbara Branden's 1986 Rand biography of the same name. The film earned awards for some of its stellar acting performances: an Emmy Award for Helen Mirren in the lead role of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand ("Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie") and a Golden Globe Award for Peter Fonda in the role of Rand's husband, Frank O'Connor ("Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for TV"). Check out the sensitive jazz-infused song on YouTube.

September 15, 2016

Song of the Day #1389

Song of the Day: I Love Bosco, words and music by John Edwards and Lyn Duddy, featuring the adorable Bosco bear, was a commercial staple during the children's TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s. (Though, in truth, I was an even bigger fan of Farfel from Nestle's!) Check out the jingle on YouTube.

September 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1388

Song of the Day: Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should, ghost written by Margaret Johnson and her husband Travis Johnson, was performed by their Song Spinners group for one of the most recognizable cigarette commercials in TV history. You don't see these commercials anymore, but the jingles stay in your head, if you were among those situated in front of the TV from the 1950s through the 1970s. Our Emmy mini-tribute this year includes a couple of those jingles, as memorable as many of the TV show themes we all grew up listening to. Check out this unforgettable commercial jingle on YouTube.

September 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1387

Song of the Day: TCM Feature Presentation Theme [YouTube link], is a familiar and friendly instrumental, featuring a lovely clarinet, and an uncredited composer. For regular fans of Turner Classic Movies, it's just an indication that another genuinely classic movie is about to grace our television screens.

September 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1386

Song of the Day: Land of the Giants ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by the great John Williams for the Irwin Allen-created sci-fi TV series. As an eight-year old kid, I enjoyed this TV series when it premiered in 1968. The show lasted two seasons on the ABC network.

September 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1385

Song of the Day: The Night Of [YouTube link], music by Jeff Russo, opens each episode of the tense HBO miniseries that recently concluded its summer run. The show was to star the late James Gandolfini, who retains a posthumous executive producer credit; his role was subsequently offered to Robert DeNiro, but due to scheduling conflicts, it was ultimately played superbly by John Turturro. And so begins our annual-ish tribute to television themes en route to the Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast on Sunday, September 18th. Though seemingly simple in its composition, this show's theme seems to take its 'cue' from "Psycho" and "Jaws," warning us of the ominous things to come. After viewing hours of touching tributes today, we have come to the night of September 11th. The twin beams of light from downtown Manhattan can be seen clearly from my apartment in Brooklyn, in tribute to the shattering events that occurred on 9/11/2001, destroying the WTC Twin Towers. There is a bit of irony to commence a mini-tribute to television themes with a show centered on a murder mystery in a post-9/11 America. Indeed, over the years, not even television series have been able to sidestep the ultimate "reality show" that took place on this day, fifteen years ago.

WTC Remembrance: Fifteen Years Ago - Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to my own personal reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the day that my hometown was attacked in 2001, a day that changed our lives forever. These reflections emerge from my viewing of a series of VHS tapes that I used to record the tragic events of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed. My focus for this essay is exclusively on the unfolding minute-by-minute television coverage from 8:46 a.m. to midnight on the day of terror that we commemorate today.

I have to admit that this essay was one of the most difficult, and yet cathartic, pieces I've ever written in my entire life. I invite readers to view the newest addition to my annual series here.

I also provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine


Never forget.

Postscript: Much appreciation to Ilana Mercer, who has noted the newest essay on her blog here. She writes:

I recall calling Chris Matthew Sciabarra around the time September 11 happened. Like the best of New York, Chris was hyper, in fight-but-never-flight mode. That’s my Chris. And he has commemorated the attack on the greatest city in the world—was I overcome by patriotism when I visited New York!—his hometown, in the most personal way each year.

Postscript 2: Much appreciation to Rational Review News Digest for making this the lead commentary in their September 11th edition. See here. Special thanks to long-time colleague and friend Thomas L. Knapp for noticing.

August 21, 2016

Ben-Hur 2016: I'll Wait for the DVD

Back on March 23, 2016, I posted a Notablog entry, "A New 'Ben-Hur' Looms . . . Oy Vey!," where I provided links to the first promotional trailers to the newest version of the classic Lew Wallace "Tale of the Christ." Preceding this newest version, there was a 1907 one-reeler, a 1925 MGM silent spectacular, and a 1959 11-Academy-Award-winning epic (not to mention a 2003 animated version and a 2010 television miniseries). I had every intention of seeing the 2016 version, and I will do so... once it is released on DVD and/or Blu-Ray. With very few exceptions, the film has received a host of ghastly reviews, and I've just decided it's not worth the effort to go to a theater to see it. But I will provide a serious comparative review when I do have the chance to see the new film, and will reserve judgment on it. What I could not reserve judgment on, however, was the characterization of the record Oscar-winning, William Wyler-directed version as a "kitschy 1959 sword-and-sandals epic," by the New York Times reviewer, Stephen Holden. So I posted a reply yesterday, and the Times published it today at this link. I wrote:

The 1959 "Ben-Hur" is my favorite film of all time. It was the first "intimate epic" that never buried the characters' inner struggles, despite its spectacular grand scale. Heston's performance---even his silent moments and expressions---was worth Oscar gold. This "Tale of the Christ" has always been a parallel story of Judah and Jesus (though director Wyler never clobbers us over the head with religiosity; even an atheist can revel in its spiritual message). And ultimately, it is about redemption; Judah goes from an optimistic, wealthy man to a galley slave bent on vengeance, and finally to a healed man (and that is the true miracle depicted, the curing of Judah's mother and sister's leprosy a physical symbol of a larger spiritual redemption, when Judah says he felt Jesus's words to "'forgive them' . . . take the sword out of my hands"). The film deserved every one of its 11 Oscars, a record tied twice but never beaten. Wyler's brilliant direction and use of symbolism (e.g., take notice of Ben-Hur & Messala aiming their spears where the beams "cross", or Pilate's crowning of Judah after the chariot race as the people's "one true god", or the use of water--and blood--as a cleansing agent) are unparalleled. From its acting, cinematography & editing to Rozsa's greatest film score, it is a crowning achievement. It redefined a genre and stood the test of time. So much for "kitsch." I'll wait for the DVD of the 2016 remake.

Most of the reviewers, to their credit, did not feel the need to pan the 1959 epic; most were laudatory in their evaluations of its intimacy, epic scale, and especially for its thundering chariot race sequence, filmed without the aid (or distortions) of CGI, as one of the three most important action sequences ever to be seen in the cinema (the others being the crop-dusting scene with Cary Grant in the great Hitchcock classic, "North by Northwest," and the Steve McQueen-driven car chase scene in "Bullitt"). And most critics have condemned the new 2016 film as a cut-rate "Classics Illustrated" version of the story, with well-bred actors who are nonetheless puny when compared to the stellar cast of its 1959 predecessor. They have vastly augmented the role of Sheik Ilderim (played in 2016 by Morgan Freeman, and by Oscar-winning supporting actor Hugh Griffith in 1959) and have eliminated entirely the important character, admiral and Roman consul, Quintus Arrius (played with remarkable depth by Jack Hawkins in the 1959 version).

Based on this advance notice, I'm already predisposed toward a less-than-positive review; but, as I said, I will reserve judgment until I see the film. Till then, all I can do is to repeat what I said the first time I posted on this topic: "Oy vey."

Postscript: A number of Christian-oriented publications posted reviews that showered praise on the 2016 version for depicting the virtue of forgiveness even more explicitly than its 1959 predecessor. I reply to this in a Facebook post:

Interestingly, some of the Christian-oriented print media are praising this version of "B-H" as more "forgiving" than the 1959 version, for in this one, Messala lives and the two rekindle their friendship after the crucifixion. The Christian message seems more prominent if only because the 2016 film was produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett who brought us those none-too-subtle "Bible" and "AD" miniseries for television. But if that's the case (and again, I reserve judgment), I think it completely misses the subtlety and power of the Wyler film. Watch the chariot race closely; Messala begins to whip Judah and the two play a tug of war over the whip till Judah takes the whip from Messala and strikes back. And yes, all this is achieved with real men riding real chariots in a real arena, not with CGI effects. But Messala is riding a Greek chariot, with blades meant to rip the wheels off the other chariots in the arena, and he gets so tangled up with Judah's chariot that his own wheels come off and he is dragged and trampled by the other competitors in the arena. At that very moment, watch Heston's expression very closely. He turns and sees Messala fallen, and his expression is not that of a victor, but of somebody who is feeling anguish and pain. He visits the dying Messala, perhaps in a quest to hear something of value. When Messala tells him, in effect, 'you think you've won a victory over your enemy,' Judah responds with: "I see no enemy." But Messala exacts one last cruelty by telling Judah that his mother and sister are not dead, but can be found in the valley of the lepers "if you can recognize them." For Messala, the battle goes on, even with his dying breath. When confronted by Pilate later in the film, an increasingly bitter Judah is told that he's been made a citizen of Rome. Pilate tells him that the intelligent man must learn to live in the real world and for now, that real world is Rome. Pilate admits that there was great injustice in the deeds of Messala's, but despite his anger at his former friend, even at this moment when his lover Esther tells him, "hatred and bitterness are turning you to stone... it's as if you had become Messala," Judah tells Pilate that the deed was not Messala's. "I knew him ... well." He blames the cruelty of Rome for having poisoned his friend, and Pilate tells him, in essence, to get out of Judea, for he is too rich and powerful among his people and a potential threat to the Roman occupation. Judah, in essence, believes that the only way to cleanse this land is "in blood" to scour off their bodies the filth of tyranny. His bitterness begins to shed only when he recognizes Jesus en route to Golgotha, that this was the man who gave him water in the desert and the will to live, when he was first sentenced to the galleys. "What has he done to merit this?" he asks. He attempts to give the fallen Jesus water (the symbolism of water is omnipresent in this 1959 version), but it is kicked away by a Roman soldier. He witnesses the crucifixion--for its time, a very explicit hammering is depicted, and when Jesus dies, his blood falls into the water of a storm, and it travels throughout the land. A symbolic irony here, as the land is indeed cleansed "in blood." When Judah returns home, it is only then that he tells Esther, his lover, that almost at the moment he died, Jesus uttered the words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And he says that he felt those words "take the sword out of [his] hands." Reunited with his cured mother and sister, amidst a glorious Miklos Rozsa backdrop of rising music, we understand the power of redemption, and of not giving in to hatred and bitterness. Wyler achieves this with subtlety and grace. That subtlety and grace is what makes the 1959 version a masterpiece, a work of art. Downey and Burnett's productions have always clobbered us over the head with their evangelical message; if the new "Ben-Hur" depicts that, then it is only a fool who cannot see the greater power, and universality, of the 1959 version, precisely because of its subtlety.

Postscript II: A reader on Facebook suggests that the 1959 film has been criminally underrated by many critics because of its religious content, but often don't see it from the perspective of one of its screenwriters, Gore Vidal, who added another layer entirely to the tale. I replied:

You are absolutely correct; Vidal claims that he told Wyler that they should approach the relationship between Judah and Messala as a kind of lover-relationship gone bad, with the latter wanting to start up again, and the former, having moved on. Wyler films it that way. And there are the explicit "homoerotic" trappings of "bromance"--even as the two of them look into each other's eyes and intertwine their arms when they drink wine together upon their first meeting after so many years. It is clear that they loved each other very deeply. The truth is that I also think a lot of critics just couldn't stand Heston for his conservative politics, so they forgot about stellar performances in "Touch of Evil," "Ben-Hur," "Will Penny," "The Agony and the Ecstacy," and a host of trailblazing sci-fi films. Heck, even though the script was corny, can you imagine another man parting the Red Sea? But this politics stuff is taken too far and it's a joke, considering that he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights, in Washington, D.C. and was President of the Screen Actor's Guild, and only later went on to support Reagan and the NRA. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, that paragon of virtue, George Clooney, remarked that Heston announced he had Alzheimer's, but he forgot he had announced it already. Nice, huh? Make fun of a disease that is destructive and debilitating, no matter how cruel, because you hate the fact that the man said he'd hold onto his guns with his "cold dead hands." Heston is said to have answered that he loved Rosemary Clooney, and that it was clear "class" had skipped a generation.

I added (in several Facebook replies):

If we were to look through the lens of politics or personal predilections, we'd probably dismiss three-quarters of the giants of Western civilization, and 90% of pop culture. You don't like Streisand's politics, so does that make her a horrible singer or actress? You think Sinatra was a womanizer and a bully, so does that make him anything less than The Voice of the 20th century? You think Michael Jackson was a pedophile, so does that mean you can't love his dancing or embrace his music? Sometimes people just can't evaluate art for what it is, and when politics gets in the way, they go blind. . . . Quite frankly, without Wagner, the art of the film score might never have been born--that's how important his influence has been on the development of music-as-story-telling, and most of the great Golden Age Hollywood film composers would credit Wagner with that impact. Everything has to be put in perspective (context, context, context :) ) ... and it is possible, and necessary, in fact, to evaluate things and people and achievements on different scales and from different vantage points, As my friend Douglas Rasmussen once reminded me: "Art is not ethics." Indeed! . . . [And] just because I love "Ben-Hur" (1959) does not mean that there was not a "sword and sandals" genre that flourished in its time, which makes the achievement of "Ben-Hur" all the more important as a break from many of the former incarnations of the genre. As the first "intimate" epic of its kind, it was the "fountainhead" so-to-speak of other "intimate" epics, none of them Biblical, per se, but certanly historical, such as "Spartacus" and "Lawrence of Arabia," both of which also benefited from magnificent film scores (Alex North, composer of the former; Maurice Jarre, composer of the latter). To a certain extent, it was even the template for what James Cameron achieved in "Titanic," and Cameron would be the first to admit the impact of "B-H" on his own evolution as a director. All the more interesting because "Titanic" tied the "B-H" record for 11 Oscars (though none of them in acting categories).

Song of the Day #1381a

Song of the Day: Summer Samba ("So Nice"), music by Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with Portuguese lyrics by Paulo Sergio Valle, and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by so many artists through the years, second, perhaps, only to the bossa nova anthem "Girl from Ipanema," to which Gisele Bundchen [video link] strutted her stuff in the Opening Ceremonies [video link] of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. We heard this song too during the Opening Ceremonies, and we have been treated throughout these last two weeks to so many entertaining musical interludes featuring this lyrical Brazilian bossa nova fusion of samba rhythms and jazz, each derived from both African and (North and South) American roots. But tonight the Torch is extinguished as the Summer Olympics come to a close. The games were "So Nice" to see and to root for some of our favorite international athletes. Check out renditions by the Walter Wanderly Trio, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Nancy Ames, organist Walter Wanderly with vocalist Astrud Gilberto (who sang that great "Girl from Ipanema" [YouTube links] rendition on the Grammy-award winning album featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, called "Getz/Gilberto". Check out a TV performance of the Ipanema classic with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz [YouTube link]). And yes, this repeats another song from my long list, so I've called it "Song of the Day #1381a."

August 17, 2016

Ayn Rand, David Cross, and Hypocrisy

Ilana Mercer recently made me aware of some off-the-wall [YouTube, sorry, couldn't resist MJ] comments by stand-up comedian David Cross on Ayn Rand. I'll just have to chalk up his, uh, misunderstanding to the fact that he's a comedian, and not somebody who has actually studied Rand's corpus. On his new Netflix special, he makes the following statement:

"Let's be honest, that's what makes America weak, is empathy. When we care about those less fortunate than ourselves, that['s] what brings us down. . . . Ask Ayn Rand—I believe you can still find her haunting the public housing she died in while on Social Security and Medicare."

Now, it's not my intention to simply defend Ayn Rand; she did a good job of that when she was alive, and her writings have stood the test of time, whatever one thinks about her position on this or that particular issue. But Cross is just all crossed up. About so many things.

First, let's clear up one grand myth: Ayn Rand never lived in public housing. I recently queried Rand biographer, Anne Heller, who wrote the 2009 book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Heller could provide us with every address Rand ever lived at, and not a single one of them corresponds to a public housing project. But even if Rand lived in the Marlboro Housing Projects in Brooklyn, who cares? More on this, in a moment.

Now, it is true that Rand did collect Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated writer, Onkar Ghate, addresses the so-called hypocrisy of this fact about Ayn Rand's life in his essay, "The Myth About Ayn Rand and Social Security." Ghate reminds us that Rand opposed

every "redistribution" scheme of the welfare state. Precisely because Rand views welfare programs like Social Security as legalized plunder, she thinks the only condition under which it is moral to collect Social Security is if one "regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism" (emphasis hers). The seeming contradiction that only the opponent of Social Security has the moral right to collect it dissolves, she argues, once you recognize the crucial difference between the voluntary and the coerced. Social Security is not voluntary. Your participation is forced through payroll taxes, with no choice to opt out even if you think the program harmful to your interests. If you consider such forced "participation" unjust, as Rand does, the harm inflicted on you would only be compounded if your announcement of the program's injustice precludes you from collecting Social Security.

Rand felt the same way about any number of government programs, including government scholarships, and such. In reality, Rand got a free education at the University of Petrograd in the Soviet Union, a newly-minted communist state; next to that, collecting Social Security is "a mere bag of shells," as Ralph Kramden would put it. But, you see, that's the whole issue, isn't it? Rand was born in the Soviet Union, and even that state wasn't "pure communism," as Marx envisioned it; for Marx, communism could only arise out of an advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his quasi-utopian imagination, would solve the problem of scarcity. The point is that there is not a single country on earth or in any historical period that has ever fit the description of a pure "-ism"; to this extent, Rand was completely correct to characterize her moral vision of "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

But there is a second point that is lost on critics who accuse Rand of hypocrisy; there is not a single person on earth who isn't born into a specific historical context, a particular place and time. At any period in history, we live in a world that provides us with a continuum of sorts, enabling us to navigate among the "mixed" elements of the world's "mixed" economies, that is, those economies that have various mixtures of markets and state regimentation. But as that world becomes more interconnected, the destructiveness of the most powerful politico-economic institutions and processes extend in ripple effects across the globe. And as F. A. Hayek never tired of saying, the more political power comes to dominate the world economies, the more political power becomes the only power worth having... one of the reasons "why the worst get on top." What Hayek meant, of course, is that in such a system, those who are most adept at using political power (the power of coercion) for their own benefit tend to rise to the top, leaving the vast majority of us struggling to make a buck. The "road to serfdom" is a long one, but serfdom is among us; it comes in the form of confiscatory taxation and expropriation to sustain an interventionist welfare state at home and a warfare state abroad.

I have always believed that context is king. And given the context in which we live, everyone of us has to do things we don't like to do. Even anarchists, those who by definition believe that the state itself lacks moral legitimacy, can't avoid walking down taxpayer-funded, government-subsidized sidewalks or travel on taxpayer-funded government-subsidized roads and interstate highways, or taxpayer-funded government-subsidized railroads, or controlled airways.

Then there's the issue of money. You know, whether of the paper, coin, or plastic variety. There are many on both the libertarian "right" and the new "left" who have argued that the historical genesis of the Federal Reserve System was a way of consolidating the power of banks, allowing banks (and their capital-intensive clients) to benefit from the inflationary expansion of the money supply. This has also had the added effect of paying for the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state to control the poor and the warfare state to expand state and class expropriation of resources across the globe. And it has led to an endless cycle of boom and bust. And yet, there isn't a person in the United States of whatever political persuasion who cannot avoid using money printed or coined by the Fed. Even among those on the left, so-called "limousine liberals" (a pejorative phrase used to describe people of the "left-liberal" persuasion who are hypocrites by definition) or those who advocate "democratic socialism" of the Sanders type, or those who advocate outright communism, own private property and buy their goods and services with money from other private property owners. It seems that there is not a single person on earth of any political persuasion who isn't a hypocrite, according to the "logic" of David Cross.

Ever the dialectician, I believe that given the context, the only way of attempting even partial restitution from a government that regulates everything from the boardroom to the bedroom is to milk the inner contradictions of the system.

But some individuals can't get restitution, because they were victims of another form of government coercion: the military draft. Ayn Rand believed that the draft was involuntary servitude, the ultimate violation of individual rights, based on the premise that the government owned your life and could do with it anything it pleased, including molding its draftees into killing machines, and sending them off to fight in undeclared illegitimate wars like those in Korea and Vietnam (both of which Rand opposed). What possible restitution is available to those who were murdered in those wars, or even to those who survived them, but who were irreparably damaged, physically and/or psychologically, by their horrific experiences on the killing fields?

The draft is no longer with us, and David Cross should be thanking that good ol' hypocrite Ayn Rand for the influence she had on the ending of that institution. Such people as Hank Holzer, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Martin Anderson were among those who mounted the kind of intellectual and legal challenge to conscription that ultimately persuaded then President Richard M. Nixon to end the military draft.

And yet, Rand's taxes were certainly used to pay for the machinery of conscription and for the machinery of war; does this make her a hypocrite too, or should she have just refused to pay taxes and gone to prison? Yeah, that would have been productive. Perhaps she could have authored more works of fiction or nonfiction anthologies, chock-full of essays on epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, and culture from Rikers Island. Yeah, then Cross would have been correct: Rand surely would have been living in the worst public housing imaginable.

Thanks for giving me a chuckle, Mr. Cross.

Postscript: I was just made aware of a very detailed essay on the subject of "Ayn Rand, Social Security and the Truth," at the Facebook page of The Moorfield Storey Institute.

Postscript #2: Thanks to Ilana Mercer, who alerted me to Cross's "comedy," and for reprinting this post on her own "Barely a Blog." We're obviously compadres; a "Notablog" and a "Barely a Blog" are close enough to be cousins. :)

Song of the Day #1379

Song of the Day: The McLaughlin Group ("Main Theme") [Television Tunes link] opened up this show every week, where viewers have been treated since 1982 to shouting matches between the discussants, among them, regulars such as Patrick Buchanan and Brooklyn-born Eleanor Clift. I often thought that only New Yorkers could really appreciate the ability of the discussants to speak louder and louder over each other, but the show has always been syndicated and appreciated nationally. Sadly, the host of the show, John McClaughlin, missed his first show in the entire run of the series last weekend [YouTube link] (though he still provided the voiceovers for the opening and the "Issue 1," "Issue 2" and so forth announcements). He passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I don't know how or if the show will continue, but it certainly provided this political junkie with a half hour of entertaining discussion of current events every Sunday morning. Check out also an alternative rendering of the theme, an orchestral version of the theme, a YouTube remembrance, his appearance in the film "Independence Day," and his famous "Bye Bye" [YouTube links].

August 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1375

Song of the Day: The King and I ("Hello, Young Lovers"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the highlights from the 1956 film score of this classic Broadway musical. I highlight the film version, which starred the Oscar-winning Yul Brynner as the King of Siam (a role he immortalized on the Broadway stage, and for which he won the 1952 Tony Award as "Best Featured Actor in a Musical"), in the same year that he played the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II in the DeMille epic, "The Ten Commandments." Brynner starred opposite the lovely Deborah Kerr, who lost the Best Actress Oscar, but won the Golden Globe for her role as Anna Leonewens. In the film, her singing voice was dubbed by one of the greatest invisible talents of the silver screen: Marni Nixon, who just passed away on July 24, 2016. Dubbed the "American cinema's most unsung singers," she was the singing voice of Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." Check out her rendition of this unforgettable song from the film version of "The King and I" [YouTube link].

August 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1374

Song of the Day: He's a Pretender, words and music by G. Goetzman and M. Piccirillo, was the lead 1983 single of the Motown group High Inergy, from their final album "Groove Patrol." This song was a Top 30 Dance Hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. And it was performed with high energy in a "Can't Stop" medley with DeBarge on the classic special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever." It was a performance, no doubt, a little vague in the minds of many, because it was on that special that Michael Jackson performed with the Jackson Five, before showing the world how to moonwalk in an unforgettable solo rendition of "Billie Jean" [YouTube link]. Speaking of Jackson, his sister Latoya did a version of this song as well, as did Jennifer Holliday [YouTube links]. Nevertheless, check out the original High Inergy single and their Motown performance with DeBarge of this rhythmic track, part of our Saturday Night Dance Party [YouTube links] and perfect for the political season, full of those "pretenders" seeking election or re-election.

July 31, 2016

Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90

A "Song of the Day" Tribute to Tony Bennett

For the next six days, I will be featuring a Notablog tribute in honor of a great American artist as part of my "Song of the Day" series: "Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90."

Introduction

Today, Sunday, July 31, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to Tony Bennett (a Wikipedia link that provided me with the basic information herein). Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, this man would become one of the greatest vocal interpreters of The Great American Songbook. On Wednesday, August 3rd, he will celebrate his 90th birthday. Like Frank Sinatra, whose centenary we celebrated last year, Bennett recorded so many albums that I grew up listening to in my home, which was always alive with music, seemingly every waking hour of every day. Like Sinatra, Bennett was a talented Italian American singer nourished on a diet of swing and jazz. But unlike Hoboken's best, Bennett was a native New Yorker, a child of Astoria, Queens (indeed, one of his finest gifts to those who live in Astoria, was his founding of the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts, for high school students). He is a man who, like Sinatra, saw his ups and his downs, but who grew to embrace, without compromise, the music that inspired him and even the painting that he embraced as a creative product of his boundless imagination.

Favorite Songs

It is almost impossible to come up with enough songs in tribute to the great entertainer, because anyone looking at "My Favorite Songs" would find him among my most cited singers: "A Child is Born," "Darn that Dream," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Falling in Love with Love," "For Once in My Life," "Give Me the Simple Life," "The Good Life," "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Could Write a Book," "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If I Love Again," "If You Were Mine," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "I'll Be Seeing You," "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," "In a Mellow Tone," "It Was Me," "I've Got Your Number," "I Wanna Be Around," "Just in Time," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Let's Face the Music" (also check out a sweet duet version with Lady Gaga [YouTube link]), "Let the Good Times Roll," "The Moment of Truth," "My Baby Just Cares For Me," "Nuages," "Once Upon a Summertime," "Polovetsian Dance No. 2," "Put on a Happy Face," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Street of Dreams," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "Thou Swell," "Until I Met You," "We'll Be Together Again," "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "You Must Believe in Spring." Without a doubt, my all-time favorite album of Tony's is and remains: "I Wanna Be Around," and nearly all of the songs from that album are on the list above.

My Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

I could easily give you a Top Ten list of my favorite Bennett recordings, not in any particular order except alphabetical (and all the titles below are hyperlinks to their original Bennett recordings, as featured on YouTube):

1. "For Once in My Life" [YouTube link]. Stevie Wonder may have had the bigger chart hit, but he's always said, "This is Tony's song." Appropriately, Tony did a version of this song in a tribute to Wonder in the TV special celebrating "Songs in the Key of Life" [YouTube link]. And the two also did a ballad duet rendition of the song on Bennett's "Duets" album [YouTube link].

2. "The Good Life" [YouTube link]. The lead-off track on Bennet's great "I Wanna Be Around" album, this one rose to #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1962.

3. "If I Love Again" [YouTube link]. This one also appears on "I Wanna Be Around," and it is one of the most sensitive, heart-breaking renditions of this song ever recorded.

4. "If You Were Mine" [YouTube link]. Obviously, a champion of communicating heartbreak, Bennett recorded this one for the "I Wanna Be Around" album as well.

5. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" [YouTube link]. Written by two Brooklynites (George Cory and Douglass Cross), this one became a signature tune sung by the boy from Queens, one of two officially recognized anthems for the city of San Francisco (joining the song "San Francisco," title theme from the 1936 film). It peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

6. "I Wanna Be Around" [YouTube link]. This one still remains one of the great, bitter "screw you" songs in the history of lost love. It is the title song from my all-time favorite Bennett album, released in 1963.

7. "Just in Time" [YouTube link] . Introduced in the 1956 musical, "Bells are Ringing," Tony scored a big 1960 hit with this one.

8. "The Moment of Truth" [YouTube link]. From his album, "This is All I Ask" and as a bonus track on the CD release of the album "I Wanna Be Around," this one swings hard.

9. "Put on a Happy Face" [YouTube link]. So good, I picked it TWICE (by accident) for "My Favorite Songs."

10. "The Shadow of Your Smile" [YouTube link]. Bennett delivers the utterly definitive version of a classic Oscar-winning "Best Original Song" from the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor 1965 film, "The Sandpiper" (and this song has been recorded umpteen times by artists as varied as jazz pianist Bill Evans and dance group D Train! [YouTube links]). Bennett's recording actually won the 1966 Grammy for "Song of the Year." His rendition, with its introductory lyrics intact (not heard on the original score), was arranged and conducted by the man who composed and arranged the original film score: Johnny Mandel, who also collected a Grammy for "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media," a perfect match for the shatteringly beautiful backdrop of Big Sur, featured in the film. The lyrics were written by Paul Francis Webster. And the score itself features the achingly beautiful trumpet work of Jack Sheldon.

So those are my Top Ten Bennett songs, alphabetically arranged; as for my Number One Bennett impersonator, there is only one: Alec Baldwin [among these "Saturday Night Live" skits, check out, especially, the Baldwin "Tony" interview with "Phony Bennett" played by the real one!].

Bennett's Career

Bennett emerged on the music scene in the early 1950s, a child of the Sinatra generation, who would go on to sell over 50 million albums worldwide. Bennett was impacted by many of the same artists that Sinatra listened to, from Bing Crosby to Louis Armstrong (and one of my favorite jazz violinists, the great Joe Venuti). He served in World War II, and didn't get his first musical break until 1949, when Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Signed to Columbia Records, he was warned by Mitch Miller not to sound like an imitation of Sinatra, though it was impossible for anyone in that era not to have been touched by the greatness of Ol' Blue Eyes. His artistry deepened with his collaborations with the great jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne (a man whose "consecutive-picking technique" greatly influenced the approach of my own brother, jazz guitarist Carl Barry, to whom Wayne was a dear friend). Wayne became Bennett's musical director for his first LP, "Cloud 7" in 1954, but by 1957, Bennett began his long musical relationship with pianist Ralph Sharon, with whom Bennett embraced an even deeper jazz idiom, resulting in albums featuring Herbie Mann, Nat Adderly, Art Blakey, and several with the Count Basie Orchestra. For me, the heights of his intepretive jazz work can be found on two magical sessions with the immortal pianist Bill Evans.

Yet the times they were a changin', musically speaking, and as the rock era came to dominate the music scene, Bennett fell into a great depression, his art form seemingly lost. He had no recording contract, no concerts outside of Las Vegas, a failing marriage, and increasingly severe tax problems with the IRS. He suffered a near fatal cocaine overdose in 1979. But with the help of his son Danny, he began to turn his life around. Stressing the music that made him grand in the eyes of generations of fans, he reached the MTV Generation, winning a 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year for his "MTV Unplugged" concert. Recognized for his achievements, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. He has won 2 Emmy Awards, and 19 Grammy Awards (mostly in the category of "Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance"). In 2001, he became a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner." In 2005, he was inducted as an honoree of the Kennedy Center, and in 2006, he was honored with the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Award.

It is no coincidence that Frank Sinatra, the singer whose centenary I marked with a three-week tribute in November-December 2015, called Tony Bennett "the best singer in the business." Over the next week, we'll have a chance to hear a few of the reasons why Sinatra was so moved. Our tribute starts today with a beautifully appropriate "Song of the Day," a sign of their personal, mutual admiration society: "Last Night When We Were Young," a track from the 1992 album, "Perfectly Frank," Bennett's tribute to one of his musical heroes.

When our celebration is complete, I will list all the songs of the tribute here, with their accompanying links.

July 30, 2016

Song of the Day #1367

Song of the Day: La La La features words and music credited to a host of writers, chief among them being Shahid "Naughty Boy" Khan, James Napier, Jonny Cofler, and Sam Smith, who provides the central vocals for this 2013 "Naughty Boy" production. The track charted on no fewer than five Billboard charts and went to #1 in 26 countries. It also served as the theme song for the 2013 film, "The Internship." Check out its steaming beats and infectious vocals on the White Panda X Gazzo Remix, James Egbert Remix, and DEvolution Remix.

July 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1360

Song of the Day: To Each His Own ("Main Title"), composed by Victor Young, is from the 1946 film that won Olivia de Havilland her Academy Award for Best Actress, and today, on July 1st, we celebrate her 100th birthday. (She and her sister Joan Fontaine, with whom she had an estranged relationship, are the only sisters to share the distinction of having won a Best Actress Oscar each.) Ironically, there was a popular Livingston-Evans song released in that same year, but it is unrelated to the film. How can one go wrong, then, picking the main theme from the film that brought Olivia her Oscar, when the music was composed by the great Victor Young, in fine melodic form. Check out the lush opening credits on YouTube.

June 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1356

Song of the Day: Stitches, words and music by Danny Parker, Teddy Geiger, and Daniel Kyriakides, was a top 5 Billboard hit for Canadian singer, Shawn Mendes, for his 2015 debut album, "Handwritten." As I watched the 70th Annual Tony Awards last night, I thought of this song [YouTube link], for the Awards show opened with a tribute to the 50 known dead, murdered in an Orlando, Florida gay dance club, Pulse, which has also left more than 50 people injured, many of them critically. I've wanted to post this song for a long time, for the young singer seems to capture the pain of someone who has lost his love; but today, when I read some of the song's lyrics, I cannot help but think of this terrible tragedy, the worst mass killing in U.S. history (not counting the obscenity of 9/11). "You watch me bleed until I can't breathe," Mendes sings. "Shaking, falling onto my knees; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches; ripping over myself; Aching, begging you to come help; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches..." No stitches will bring back the loved ones who were massacred in that club. For the LGBT movement, living in a country that until recently didn't even recognize their civil right to marriage--"civil right" has never implied that religious institutions be forced to perform gay marriage ceremonies--this is truly a horrific tragedy. This community opened the doors of a dance club peacefully, joyfully, welcoming people of all lifestyles, to celebrate a Gay Pride month that marks the anniversary of that day in libertarian history when the gay rights movement was born at the Stonewall Inn, when drag queens were sick and tired of being harassed and arrested, and having their clubs routinely raided by the tormenting forces of law. It took decades for that community to get certain civil rights recognized under the constitution as applicable to all people. But it wasn't just the opposition of the police and the law that the LGBT movement faced. The process of "coming out," after all, is something that is intensely personal; many gay men and women have also dealt painfully with the rejection of their parents of various faiths, who have viewed homosexuality as a sin, punishable by everything from excommunication to prison, and in some tribalist cultures, even death by stoning. They say that this terrorist act was committed by an ISIS-motivated gay-hating whackjob; but there was a time in this country that the death of 50 people, most of them probably gay, would have been a party event for those on the Christian Right, who, like Fred Phelps, showed up at the funeral of the murdered, martyred Matthew Shepard, with placards declaring "God hates fags" and that the young gay man was now condemned to eternal damnation in hell because he had not repented. And let's not let the left off the hook either, for communist societies have been known for their gay gulags, many of them adhering to the Marxist mantra that homosexuality was simply a sign of the decadence of capitalism. Let me be clear: This is not a fight simply of doctrinal religious differences or political differences. It is a fight that goes to the deepest core of a society's cultural values. Until a time comes when people can simply live their lives free of coercion or of coercing others, there is not an individual alive in this country who will be safe from the culture of hate, a culture that simmers when stoked by rejecting parents, holier-than-thou religious leaders, and prejudiced politicians. A few years ago, the U.S. government invaded a country in the Middle East, and partially justified the insanity as an exercise in "nation-building"--in a section of the world that still has no conception of what a nation is or what kinds of nonbarbaric cultural values any human society must embrace in order to sustain itself: values such as the rule of law, the sanctity of individual rights, and the pursuit of justice. The apocalypse that has resulted is the kind of blowback that people of good will warned against at the time. Today, however, this is not just a fight for your right to liberty and or your right to justly-acquired property, but a fight for your very right to life, your very right to exist, whatever sexual orientation you are. This is a country and a world that will not, and cannot, be held together in "stitches." Every person of any orientation must be able to find the courage, the "eternal vigilance" that it takes to preserve life and liberty. Those who kill in the name of a hateful God are truly of the godless; and if there is a hell, it is not the innocent dead in that club who will be consumed by its inferno, but the killers themselves who will burn on the very ninth circle they wish to create on earth.

June 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1355

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("A Lot of Livin' to Do") is another gem from the Adams and Strouse soundtrack to the 1960 Broadway musical. Check out the original Broadway cast recording, the 1963 ensemble film version, and a few really swinging renditions by: Chita Rivera (who was in the original musical; this one is about 2 minutes into her "Great Performances" concert), Sammy Davis, Jr., Judy Garland, Jack Jones, and Nancy Wilson [YouTube links], which only goes to show how much of Broadway's music has made its way into the Great American Songbook. So we end our mini-Broadway tribute today; enjoy the Tony Awards tonight!

June 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1354

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("Kids") is a sweet and funny song from the Adams-Strouse songbook for "Bye Bye Birdie," a 1960 musical I'm tributing for three days, since I'm a 1960 baby. Paul Lynde made a career in the center square of the old game show "Hollywood Squares" (for which he won two Daytime Emmy Awards, his answers so typically hilarious), and, of course, he was the warlock Uncle Arthur on the classic TV series, 'Bewitched." But he shines in song as well, with his duet partner Marijane Maricle (on stage) and Maureen Stapleton (in film), in both the original stage production and in the film version [YouTube links].

June 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1353

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("Put on a Happy Face"), with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse, was a memorable song from the hit Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" in 1961 (for the 1960 season). As a 1960 baby, I'm tributing three of my favorite songs from that year from this musical, also adapted for the film version. It was, of course, the 1963 screen version that I saw as a kid and loved. Check out the cast album version and the film version [YouTube links] (both performed by the ever-cheerful Dick van Dyke, joined by Janet Leigh in the film version) and then jump on over to the joyful rendition of our Queens-born neighbor, Tony Bennett [YouTube link], who turns 80 years old on August 3rd (and we'll be doing a mini-tribute to him as well).

June 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1352

Song of the Day: Hello Dolly ("Hello Dolly") is the memorable theme from the 1964 Broadway blockbuster that featured the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman. The musical faced stiff competition from Barbra Streisand's sparkling star turn in the Broadway production of "Funny Girl," but it swept the night, winning 10 Tony Awards, including one for Carol Channing over Streisand. Streisand would later win a 1970 Special Tony Award for "Star of the Decade." And it is not without some irony that she went on to play the Dolly role that Carol Channing made famous in the Gene Kelly-directed 1969 film adaptation of the musical. So here's a nice line-up for comparison: the original Channing rendition with the ensemble, the Streisand film version, which included Louis Armstrong, and, my favorite version of all time: the Louis Armstrong solo version [all YouTube links], which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 9, 1964, ending 14 consecutive weeks at #1, dominated by various singles from an obscure British band.

June 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1351

Song of the Day: Oklahoma! ("Oklahoma!") was the first musical that teamed composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The original Broadway hit opened on March 31, 1943, and hence, it preceded the first Tony Awards. It did, however, receive special Tony recognition on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1993. But that doesn't mean we can't jump from a mini-Prince tribute to a mini-Tony Award Tribute in honor of the American stage. The main title was delivered in the original production by Alfred Drake and Chorus [YouTube link] and the original album released by Decca Records on 78 r.p.m. records, was the first Broadway cast album to sell a million copies. We should also note that this musical spawned countless revivals and, of course, the wonderful 1955 film version, in which it is Gordon McRae who delivers the unforgettable theme [YouTube link].

May 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1343

Song of the Day: Can't Stop the Feeling! features the words and music of Max Martin, Shellback, and Justin Timberlake, who debuts with this single from the animated film, "Trolls," due out in November 2016. This is Timberlake's fifth solo #1 Hit and, perhaps, the most retro-disco sounding recording of his career. The voice cast has fun with the song in a pre-release video, even as the official video was released this week [YouTube links]. I remain a life-long Timberlake fanatic, and disco just might usher me through the Pearly Gates or the Disco Inferno, whichever is in store for me. Ed. Note: Since posting this as Song of the Day #1343, the video community has provided us with hilarious takes on the song; check out the Storm Troopers videos, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. And the DJ community has provided us with a plethora of wonderfully diverse remixes: the Chris Chrone remix, the Daniel Simon Tov Remix, the Tripping Nationz Remix, the Thascya Remix, the Fenton Gee Remix, and the PLP DJ Remix.

April 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1341

Song of the Day: The Ten Commandments ("The Red Sea") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, provides a musical backdrop for what remains one of the greatest cinematic moments in motion picture history: Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film's rendering of the parting of the Red Sea [YouTube link]. The Jews are liberated after ten plagues, the last brought about by Pharoah's mocking of God, resulting in the death of the first born of Egypt, including Pharoah's own son. A vengeful Pharoah (played by Yul Brynner), chases the Jews through the desert. But Moses shows the power of God; as a pillar of fire blocks the Egyptians, he lifts his arms, allowing the Jews to escape through the midst of the waters, and subsequently destroying Pharoah's chariots in their pursuit after the pillar dissipates (celebrated on the seventh day of the Passover holiday). Charlton Heston plays Moses in the way that only Heston could play it; the film's screenplay is not the most contemporary, but its reverence is genuine. It is said that Heston was in the last film of the old Bibical epics, and the first film of the modern Biblical epics, "Ben-Hur," one which did not dispense with the intimacy of characterization, while retaining the cinematic grandeur that only Hollywood could deliver. To all my Jewish friends and colleagues, celebrating the last day of Passover, I wish health and happiness.

April 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1338

Song of the Day: Calamity Jane ("Secret Love"), music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Weber, was composed for the 1953 movie musical, where it was introduced by the incomparable Doris Day, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on April 3rd. With a melody based on the opening theme of the A-major piano Sonata D.664 [a Wilhelm Kempff version on YouTube] of Franz Schubert, this song was released before the film, and made it to #1 on both the Billboard and Cashbox charts, before going on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. For years, fans have lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give Oscar recognition to Day for all of her wonderful film performances through the years, from the title role of this film to her co-starring role with Kirk Douglas in the 1950 Bix Biederbecke-inspired film, "The Young Man with a Horn" (and that was the legendary Harry James providing the trumpet work) to the 1956 Hitchcock thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much," opposite Jimmy Stewart, where she introduced another Oscar-winning Best Song, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)." Check out this lovely Grammy Hall of Fame single by the lovely lady who knew how to sing it in a film clip and in the longer studio version [YouTube links]. And check out this sweet Shirley Bassey tribute to Doris as well. A belated Happy 92nd Birthday to one of the world's greatest animal lovers, who will always be an Award-winner in my songbook!

March 28, 2016

Nucky Thompson Was Right

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson — racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger — lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to "the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards," who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This nightmarish "noble experiment" lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR's initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:

Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of "black-market violence" and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement's hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol... [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

One of the few really good things to have come out of that era has been a terrific flow of really good gangster movies, including the 1987 Grammy Award-winning Ennio Morricone-scored film, "The Untouchables," with Robert DeNiro as one terrific Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, and a fine Sean Connery, who played Jimmy Malone (based on the real-life Irish American agent, Marty Lahart), who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In the end, Capone was brought down not by his criminal activities, per se, but by tax evasion.

With prohibition repealed, however, the model for the expansion of organized crime extended into the prohibited black markets for hard drugs, from cocaine to heroin. From Mafia chieftans to drug lords running operations across the world, from Latin America to Afghanistan, much of the profits of this business have boosted the money flow to terrorist organizations of all sorts. Crime has soared. And the prison population in the United States began to outstrip that of every modern society.

Last week, a cover story with regard to the "War on Drugs," was published by the New York Daily News stating that John Ehrlichman, who went to prison for Watergate-related crimes, and "who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief," admitted that the ‘War on Drugs’ strategy was a "policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’." Apparently, these revelations were made in an interview with journalist Dan Baum, for a 1994 book, but were not revealed until the current April 2016 issue of Harper's, where the writer provides a wide-ranging discussion of how to seriously readjust drug policies in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article:

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said in the interview after Baum asked him about Nixon’s harsh anti-drug policies. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying,” Ehrlichman continued. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” . . . By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law — the majority of whom were African-American.

The following day, the News reported that Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean expressed shock over the revelations "but admitted 'it's certainly possible.' . . . If this was indeed true, it would have been the Nixon-Ehrlichman private agenda.'"

On this issue, a fine piece appears today from Mark Thornton, writing on Mises Daily (the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute): "The Legalization Cure for the Heroin Epidemic." For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a "War on Drugs," 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed — drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets — but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia.

It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those "beautiful, ignorant bastards," until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.

March 23, 2016

A New "Ben-Hur" Looms... Oy Vey!

Given that this is Holy Week for Western Christians, I thought it was high time to take a look at the two trailers for a new film version of the classic story of "Ben-Hur," based on the great "Tale of the Christ" published by General Lew Wallace in 1880. The story was adapted for the stage, but saw its first cinematic expression as a 1907 one-reeler, then a 1925 silent classic, and finally, a 1959 blockbuster. (I should note that there was also a 2003 animated adaptation with the voice of Charlton Heston, who received the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 version [a nice documentary link at YouTube], and a very forgettable 2010 miniseries starring Klaus, from "The Vampire Diaries," as Judah.)

You can take a look at the two trailers for the 2016 film version: here and here [YouTube links].

I've actually commented on the Collider Crew review of the trailers at YouTube, where I said the following:

I must admit that this film is going to have to go a long way toward topping the 1959 version, winner of 11 Academy Awards, and perhaps the greatest "intimate" epic ever put on screen. From its larger-than-life Academy Award-winning actors to its remarkable cinematography, special effects (none of them CGI--those guys rode the chariots and there were 6000 extras in the arena, not computer-generated people), to its utterly superb score by Miklos Rozsa and its superb direction by the immortal William Wyler, whose use of symbolism throughout the film can be the subject of a book in itself, the 1959 "Ben-Hur" is still the standard by which epics are judged. Can't the folks in Hollywood leave classics alone? Is there nothing original? Must everything be reinvented? We'll see...

Apparently, the screenwriters for the new version thought the 1959 version spent too much time on revenge, rather than forgiveness. To which I can only say: Bollocks, and I'm being polite.

The 1959 film is the ultimate story of redemption, captured brilliantly by Wyler's magnificent symbolic use of the cleansing nature of water and blood (see my essay on why the Wyler version is my all-time favorite film).

So, I'll see the new one... but all I can say is, God help us. But to my Western Christian friends, I say: Have a Happy Easter this coming Sunday. My orthodox Christian upbringing will allow me to join in the festivities on May 1st (Eastern Orthodox Easter almost always arrives around the time of the Jewish Passover).

Ed.: A "hat tip" to my friend Don Hauptman for bringing the new trailers to my attention.

March 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1335

Song of the Day: Toccata [YouTube link] is an adaptaion of the fourth movement of Albert Finastera's First Piano Concerto, in this instance featured on the classic progressive rock album, "Brain Salad Surgery," arranged by Keith Emerson (Carl Palmer did the percussion movement). Emerson tragically died on March 20th of an apparent suicide. Emerson, Lake,& Palmer were perhaps among the most significant keyboard-driven rock/classical/jazz fusion groups to grace the genre. They were often dismissed by critics as "pompous" and "pretentious" like most other bands in the genre, but there was always a touch of envy in that critique, for few rock keyboardists could integrate that fusion with the effectiveness of Keith Emerson. The piece has an almost cinematic feel to it, suited for the sci-fi screen.

March 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1334

Song of the Day: Love Me Do, words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was the first single released by The Beatles in 1962 in the United Kingdom, and later, in 1964, in the United States, where it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the British Invasion was underway (even if the original version released in the U.S. had Andy White on drums and Ringo Starr on tamborine, though versions with Starr on drums, and Pete Best before him, were also recorded). Leading the charge of this invasion, however, was the man who worked behind the scenes as a producer, the so-called Fifth Beatle, who was no Fifth Wheel: the deeply talented and visionary George Martin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Martin was an amazingly prolific producer, arranger, and composer, for both the recording studio and the cinema. He produced over 20 #1 singles in the US and 30 #1 singles in the UK. And he was responsible for the string arrangements brought to one of my all-time Beatles favorites, "Eleanor Rigby," something that was influenced, he acknowledged, by the work of the great film score composer Bernard Herrmann. But it's best to start at the beginning; check out the original UK single, with Ringo on drums, and remember the love [YouTube links].

February 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1333

Song of the Day: Alone Together, words and music by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, is featured on the Gleason production "Music for Lovers Only," and includes another sparkling Hackett solo. The 2016 88th Annual Academy Awards gave its "Best Original Song" statuette to Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes for "Writing's On the Wall" from the Bond flick, "SPECTRE," and the "Best Original Score" went to the immortal Ennio Morricone for "The Hateful Eight." Meanwhile, having closed out our Film Music February yesterday, we can now conclude our Centenary tribute to Jackie Gleason. "And Away We Go...." Check out the warmth of Hackett's trumpet in this track [YouTube Link], which could only have been produced by a warm and loving Jackie Gleason. In this cantankerous political season, I can think of nothing more triumphant than a full-hearted embrace of the cultural contributions of The Great One, who arose from the blisters of his childhood and even above the bluster of his most famous characters to Leap Up and Declare, with undiluted joy: "How Sweet It Is."

February 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1332

Song of the Day: I Cover the Waterfront ("Main Title"), music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, was originally released in 1933 as a popular song, inspired by the 1932 novel of the same title, written by Max Miller. The book also inspired a 1933 film, which right before its release, was re-scored to include this song. It has been recorded by so many artists, including everybody from Billie Holiday to Sarah Vaughan [YouTube links]. In keeping with both our Film Score February music tribute, which in its final three days intersects with our mini-tribute to the Great One, Jackie Gleason, I should mention that this song was also featured as an instrumental, with a sweet solo by the great trumpet and cornet player, Bobby Hackett, on Gleason's first album, "Music for Lovers Only," which still holds the record for the album longest in the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks). And so, we end our annual Film Music February, but we're going to give one more encore to Jackie tomorrow, thus concluding our mini-Gleason tribute. In the meanwhile, enjoy the Oscars tonight, especially those competitive categories dealing with music! For now, just dim the lights, and check out the Gleason and Hackett rendition [YouTube link].

February 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1331

Song of the Day: Requiem for a Heavyweight ("Main Title"), composed by Laurence Rosenthal, is the soundtrack for the film version of this boxing drama. It was filmed initially as a 1956 installment of TV's "Playhouse 90", and Rod Serling's teleplay won a Peabody. But it was remade into a 1962 feature film. There are more than a few literal "Bang! Zooms!" in this one. Mickey Rooney and Anthony Quinn co-star; and contrary to any intuitive thoughts you might have had, it was Jackie Gleason who played the role of the manager, not the heavyweight. Quinn observed that Gleason did things just like Frank Sinatra. One take, sometimes with improvisational flair, and he was satisfied. Quinn needed a few more takes than that; but either way, it contributed greatly to a film that was a much darker movie than its small-screen counterpart.

February 26, 2016

The Jackie Gleason Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

"A SONG OF THE DAY" GLEASON TRIBUTE BEGINS WITH "THE HUSTLER"

Facebook Announcement: The first episode of the famous television series "The Honeymooners" made its debut in prime time, and so I've waited for prime time to debut this essay in honor of the man who gave "The Honeymooners" life: Jackie Gleason. One hundred years ago today, Jackie Gleason was born. Since my celebration of Gleason's Centenary intersects with my Annual Film Music February Tribute, I have decided to post an exclusive Notablog essay (and brief musical series) on the importance and impact of Gleason, and to highlight music cues from films in which Gleason appeared on the culminating Oscar weekend of Film Music February.

This essay can be found in the Essay Section of the Sciabarra "Dialectics and Liberty Site" but I am reproducing it here as a Notablog Exclusive.

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Today, Friday, February 26, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to one of the greatest entertainers to have ever graced American culture: Jackie Gleason. Just as I grew up listening to the music of Francis Albert Sinatra, an artist who was the focus of my centenary celebration in November-December 2015, so too did I grow up watching the television shows, and films, and listening to the music produced by the man whom Orson Welles called "The Great One," Jackie Gleason. Gleason was a native Brooklynite, born in my hometown one hundred years ago on this date.

Though he was a co-recipient (with Perry Como) of the 1955 Peabody Award for his contributions to television entertainment, his career is notable for what he didn't get: despite five Emmy nominations, for situation comedy ("The Honeymooners"), variety shows ("The Jackie Gleason Show"), and general Recognition ("Best Comedian"), he never won an Emmy. Despite three Golden Globe nominations, he never won a globe. Despite an Oscar nomination as "Best Supporting Actor" in "The Hustler," he never won an Oscar (though he did receive the Golden Laurel Award for the performance). And despite having produced nearly 60 albums that charted on The Billboard 200 album chart, including
"Music for Lovers Only"---which was the #1 album of 1953, spending 153 total weeks within the Billboard Top Ten (nearly twice the number of weeks in the Top Ten that Michael Jackson's opus, "Thriller," which, with 78 weeks in the Top Ten [and 37 weeks at #1], and at 100 million worldwide units sold, is the biggest selling album of all time)---he has never been recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, not even with a "Hall of Fame" induction. Indeed, Gleason practically gave birth to the genre of "mood music" and his first ten theme albums sold over a million copies each.

It being "Film Music February," it should be said that it was film that inspired Gleason to produce such albums. So impressed was he by the capacity of film scores to magnify emotions on screen, especially in romantic scenes, he once said: "If [Clark] Gable needs music, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate." Let's not forget that Gleason himself was no slouch in the melody department; he was, after all, the composer of the themes to The Honeymooners ("You're My One and Only Love") and "The Jackie Gleason Show" ("Melancholy Serenade").

But his talent could have been stillborn if he did not battle his way out of poverty and parental abuse. His mother was an alcoholic, whose first son Clemence passed away from spinal meningitis at age 14. Determined to protect her second son, she tied young Jackie to a chair during the day while she imbibed in the bar downstairs. When he showed his fine skill at loosening knots, his mother nailed the windows shut. The only solace he had was to go with his father on weekends to see Vaudeville at Brooklyn's Halsey Theatre, and to soak up the comic antics of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the silent films of his childhood. He had decided that this is what he wanted to be when he grew up: an entertainer. He started school too late, because of his mother's paranoid antics; he attended Public School 73, and John Adams and Bushwick High Schools, but he was never to graduate with a high school diploma. His father abandoned the family in 1925, something for which Jackie always blamed himself, and ten years later, his mother succumbed to complications from alcoholism. He had to quit school, and fought loneliness, alienation, and the ever-empty wallet, by hustling pool halls to make money (experiences that served him well years later for a film role that netted him an Oscar nomination).

He was alienated and depressed and he self-medicated by overeating. Indeed, he spent his life battling the side effects of living large after living so small---smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much. But those binges were not possible without the ability to earn a living. He quit school, and he began a quest to become an entertainer. His first efforts at fame were humiliating failures, whether attempting stand-up routines on stage or playing bit parts in early Warner Brothers comedies . At first, he was good at stealing the material of others, like Milton Berle, and making it his own. But he hung out with people across entertainment, including many jazz musicians. I suspect that it was the jazz bug that made Gleason's comedy so infectious, for it was at its best when it was improvisational. Lou Walters caught his show, and gave Gleason a chance to perform in a Broadway revue, "Hellzapoppin'." By the late 1940s, he got his big break, landing the role of Charles A. Riley for the first TV incarnation of "The Life of Riley," a show for which William Bendix was famous to the radio audience. He eventually was seen on the DuMont Network's "Cavalcade of Stars." Whereas Gleason was never really a stand-up comic, he was superior in an ensemble setting, where he played off of his co-stars with utterly perfect timing. He was notorioius for very little rehearsing and for hilarious ad-libbing.

Gleason's show capitalized on the great music scene in New York City; he brought in fine musicians, and even a Busby Berkeley-type dance troupe, the June Taylor Dancers, whose precision choreography was always a highlight of the show. But the show allowed him to nourish his strengths; he developed sketch comedy routines drawn from the real-life characters of his youth: Reginald Van Gleason III, the Poor Soul, and Joe the Bartender (with Frank Fontaine playing Crazy Guggenheim) among them.

Most importantly, though, Art Carney joined the cast of the "Cavalcade of Stars" in 1950, but his experiences acting with Gleason went far beyond single-sketch comedy. Indeed, the two starred together in a 1953 Studio One production, "The Laugh Maker," which showed audiences that Gleason's talents went beyond the comedic. He had some serious dramatic acting chops, as they say in the business. He portrayed the tortured comedian who sought compulsive laughs to hide his insecurities. By 1954, CBS gave him a contract larger than any in the history of television, offering him $100,000 a year for the next 15 years to appear exclusively on their network. Among his first changes to the CBS line-up were producing back-to-back filmed episodes recorded before a live audience of "Stage Show," which offered viewers a half hour of music that embraced everyone from Duke Ellington to Elvis Presley; and that was followed by a full 30-minute version of "The Honeymooners," as a self-contained situation comedy. So identified was he with the Every Man, with a dream of making it big that he was celebrated as an American icon. Years later, a life-size statue of Gleason, dressed in the bus driver uniform of Ralph Kramden, was placed outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

Ultimately,it was the chemistry of Gleason and Carney that boosted the early "Honeymooners" sketches within the "Cavalcade of Stars," the highest rated show for the fledgling DuMont network. The show was subsequently sold to CBS in 1952 and, renamed "The Jackie Gleason Show." It was being watched by one third of the nation's television viewers by 1953.

"The Honeymooners" came to dominate "The Jackie Gleason Show." Early on, with Audrey Meadows replacing Pert Kelton as Alice and Joyce Randolph replacing Elaine Stritch as Trixie, the stage was set for a spin-off that led to 39 half-hour episodes that have become known as "The Classic 39," and it was in later years that those 39 were syndicated, permeating pop culture with a slew of scripted and unscripted sayings that became part of the American vernacular:

"A-Homina-Homina-Homina"

"You're a Riot, Alice, You're a regular Riot."

"I'm King of the Castle"

"Bang, Zoom, To the Moon"

"I Got a Big Mouth"

"She's a Blabbermouth!"

"One of these days, Alice, POW, right in the kisser!"

While the episodes that preceded these were preserved in kinescopes (the so-called "Lost Episodes"), "The Classic 39" were filmed with an advanced Electronicam system, as were all "Honeymooners" episodes that followed the 39 half-hour season. And for those who have not seen the post-39 "Lost Episodes," I recommend them highly: they were written for an hour-long "Jackie Gleason Show" slot, and included episodes that will have you laughing to the point of needing oxygen, and crying, for the remarkable poignancy shown in such episodes as "The Adoption" (a 1955 episode that was remade subsequently in 1966 as a musical version).

The Kramdens and the Nortons win a riotous trip through Europe: England, Spain, Paris, Rome, and even behind the Iron Curtain. And by this point, Gleason was already pioneering original musical numbers into the sketch comedy; this became a staple of the so-called "Color Honeymooners" when Gleason's show moved to Miami Beach, Florida (and Sheila McRae replaced Audrey Meadows as Alice and Jane Kean replaced Joyce Randolph as Trixie).

Though Gleason never received in life the awards and accolades he deserved, his ensemble players brought out the best in each other: Art Carney, after all, won six out of the dozen Emmy nominations he received, and of these six, four were for his work on "The Jackie Gleason Show" and one for his stint on the Classic 39 of "The Honeymooners." Carney, of course, went on to receive a "Best Actor" Oscar award for the 1974 film, "Harry and Tonto." And Audrey Meadows, nominated for four Emmys during this period, won a single statuette for her work on "The Jackie Gleason Show."

But let's grasp just who was the center of this universe. It was Gleason who was Every Man. He gave expression to every person's natural fears, desires, dreams, and disappointments, with comedic genius and with a simple flair for showing poignancy and empathy. When he goes on a television competition show, in search of "The $99,000 Answer," and [SPOILER ALERT!] loses on his very first guess, your laughter is covering a bit of sadness for every disappointment you've suffered in the hopes of getting that grand payoff that will make your day, or that will help every loved one you know. Even if he loses a "mere bag of shells," you can't help but feel for him.

One other thing stands out, however, in "The Honeymooners." In Pictures of Patriarchy, Batya Weinbaum tried to place the show under the rubric of typical patriarchy (South End Press, 1983, 119-20)). But let's not kid ourselves: This was not the idyllic picture of the 1950s: this wasn't "Father Knows Best" with the family unit living behind a white picket fence, graced by the wisdom of its Father Figure; this wasn't even "I Love Lucy," in which Ricky Ricardo gets to regularly remind his crazy red-headed wife Lucy that she needs to go see a "phys-i-kee-a-trist." And even if you were expecting a loudmouth "King of the Castle" who was always right, just how Ralph advertised himself, what you more often understood was that Alice Kramden was the only one playing with a full deck in this situation comedy. She was the smartest, most rational, most practical, and most loving wife on television, loving enough to forgive her husband the flaws of his endless foibles. [Ed: I found this essay, "Alice Kramden: The First TV Feminist," after posting my tribute and it's worth taking a look at!] I once co-edited a book called Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand; it would not surprise me if somebody suggested a book entitled Feminist Interpretations of "The Honeymooners"
(or, perhaps, "The Honeymooners" and Philosophy) because there are few women in 1950s television that could have rivaled Alice Kramden as a character both strong and loving and virtually always right. (Oh, and don't kid yourself, some scholar out there would contribute an essay based on the Eddie Murphy-inspired homoerotic idea, only this time filtered through the lens of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, that the real love affair here is between Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, since women, like Alice, are merely the mediating presence in a triangle between men who share a "romantic" bond that is unconsummated. Alice suggests as much on more than one occasion that the two of them act like a married couple!)

By 1959, David Merrick offered Gleason the chance to perform in "Take Me Along" on Broadway. For this role, Gleason won the only major award in his career, as Helen Hayes handed him the Tony Award for " Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical" He began his speech with, "I have always wanted to meet Helen Hayes, and it couldn't have been at a better occasion." He went back to television with a show called "You're in the Picture," which bombed and literally played for one week on the tube. The following week, he got on television and made such fun of how bad the show was, that he charmed the audience back to his good graces. He finished out his season with "The Jackie Gleason Show" reimagined as a talk show.; But in 1961, despite unpleasant memories of his early years in Hollywood, he returned to Hollywood, and received triumphant reviews for "The Hustler," losing his Oscar to the tidal wave that was "West Side Story." This was followed in 1962 with a Gleason-inspired story of a mute simpleton who falls in love with a prostitute and her daughter; it was Gene Kelly who directed "Gigot." And in that same year, he starred with Mickey Rooney and Anthony Quinn in "Requiem for a Heavyweight," the big screen adaptation of Rod Serling's small screen masterpiece. Quinn later lauded Gleason for his ability to get everything right in one take; he likened his artistry to the pure talent of Frank Sinatra in this regard. A year later, Gleason added another film credit to his growing filmography, and with it came the first hearing of the "catchphrase," "How Sweet It is!," from the film "Papa's Delicate Condition."

All was ready for his triumphant return to television, with band leader Sammy Spear, and the sketch comedy that made him famous. In 1964, however, Gleason decided to move the entire show to Miami Beach, Florida. CBS knew Gleason was difficult to work with, but he was irreplaceable. On August 1, 1965, the cast, the press, and a swinging Dixieland band boarded the Great Gleason Express, and thousands of tourists lined the parade route to Miami. But Gleason was dismayed that "The Honeymooners" in syndication was doing better than his current show; so he reinvented the show, with a reboot of the Honeymooners later dubbed "The Color Honyemooners" with Sheila McRae and Jayne Keene taking the roles of Alice and Trixie, respectively. He'd eventually end those episodes with another classic sign-off, "Miami Beach Audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!" (probably because most of their inhabitants had migrated from New York City!)

Eventually, CBS and Gleason went their separate ways as cultural mores seemed to change. But Gleason kept moving. He did "Smokey and the Bandit" and its two sequels with Burt Reynolds. He starred in "Izzy and Moe" with his old pal Carney; opposite Laurence Olivier in the two-man 1983 HBO special, "Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson," and with Tom Hanks in "Nothing in Common" (1986). He suffered through the filming of that movie, knowing that complications from colon cancer had metastasized to his liver. But he gave the performace of his lifetime, and when he passed away on June 24, 1987, his fans seemed to have uttered, in one united voice, "Baby, You're the Greatest." On the Centenary of his birth, he remains "The Great One."

Referenes: In addition to drawing from online sources such as Wikipedia, this article drew material from such video recordings as "Golden TV Classics: The Jackie Gleason American Scene," "A&E's Biography, Jackie Gleason: The Great One," and DVD collections of "The Honeymooners" including the "60th Anniversary Edition of "The Honeymooners" Lost Episodes: 1951-1957," "The Honeymooners: 'The Classic 39 Episodes' and several DVD editons of "The Color Honeymooners" and "Honeymooners" holiday specials aired in the 1970s.

Song of the Day #1330

Song of the Day: The Hustler ("Main Theme [Stop and Go]" and Various) [YouTube link], is a masterful soundtrack composed by Kenyon Hopkins in the kind of superb jazz idiom for which he is known. The main theme begins with the unmistakable sounds of jazz alto saxophonist Phil Woods. I can think of no better way to kick off a few days in celebration of the Jackie Gleason Centenary, than to start with the claustrophobic black and white 1961 film that netted him Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as "Best Supporting Actor," in his role as the great pool player, Minnesota Fats (though there are questions about the authenticity of the story of Minnesota Fats). Authentic or not, there are no stunt doubles for Gleason: He plays pool authentically from beginning to end. As my Centenary tribute essay indicates, Gleason hung out in pool halls from the time he was a young teenager. Now, in some instances, there was a stunt double used for Paul Newman, who plays Fast Eddie Felson, who salivates at the prospect of competing against Fats. Newman earned an Oscar nomination too, but he's probably the only Oscar winner who received an Oscar for the same role in a sequel, entitled "The Color of Money" a 1986 film in which he co-starred with Tom Cruise (though I've always believed that the Academy awarded Newman the gold because the membership knew that he really deserved it for his shattering performance of a lifetime in "The Verdict"). Nevertheless, I'm going to echo the Gleasonian phrase here: "How Sweet it Is" with a twist; for in this movie, the tension makes you wonder "How Sweaty It Is" in the pool hall. ("How Sweet It Is" is the Welcoming Traffic Sign that graces the Brooklyn exit off the Verrazano Bridge; that's how much this man is celebrated as Brooklyn's son!)

Newman's tension rises because his respect and awe rise as he watches the artistry of his competitor. He marvels at the way Fats plays with cool confidence, with the grace of an Astaire and the grit of a Cagney. Though I highlight the Main Theme here, I've taken the liberty to add two other tracks from the score, illustrating Hopkins's terrific jazz sensibility. On the first additional track, you have entered the pool hall [YouTube link]; it sounds like a smoke-filled room, with immaculate pool tables, and the grit of a jazz score in the background just to keep the atmosphere a little naughty. And finally, the second additional track is the Suite [YouTube link], featuring some of the finest jazz players of the era, or any era, including Woods and trumpeter Doc Severinsen. In any event, take a look at this scene [YouTube link] in which Gleason doesn't just embody Fats because of the simple weight parallel. He becomes Fats, moving "like a dancer" and using a cue stick "like he's playing the violin," as Newman's Felson tells us.

February 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1329

Song of the Day: Madame X ("Main Title") [YouTube link] features music composed and adapted by Frank Skinner, who draws directly from the "Swedish Rhapsody" of the Austrian composer and conductor Willy Mattes (aka Charles Wildman). Sometimes referred to as the "Love Theme from Madame X," it has been covered in a variety of styles, including a jazz-influenced version by Sammy Kaye [YouTube link] and in a semi-classical mode by pianist George Greeley (born Georgio Guariglia, the Italian-American pianist, conductor, composer, and arranger), with the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra for the album "The World's Ten Greatest Popular Piano Concertos." Skinner adapted the theme through a variety of cues, textures, and emotions, including those that are a pure expression of the "Depths of Despair" [YouTube link]. And despair pervades the story of this 1966 film, which stars John Forsythe and Lana Turner as "Madame X." The 1908 stage play by French playwright Alexandre Bisson upon which this film was based has spawned about a dozen other adaptations from the silent era to today. Skinner, who brought us themes for "The Wolf Man" and "Son of Frankenstein," was able to swing effortlessly from horror monsters to horror romances [YouTube links]. And with scores composed for this film, and more than 200 others, including such Douglas Sirk-directed classics of the genre such as "All That Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life," Skinner received only five Oscar nominations in his lifetime, the gold statuette eluding his grasp.

February 24, 2016

Song of the Day #1328

Song of the Day: Back Street ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], was composed by Frank Skinner, whose music I highight for the next two days. I have visited Skinner's music before; it is familiar to horror fans the world over for many of those great Universal monster films, from "The Wolf Man" to "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." But he was also known for writing some of the lushest scores to some of Hollywood's famous romantic melodramas (and perhaps there are dialectical relationships between horror and romance that need to be investigated!). The lovely theme here was written for the 1961 film (based on the Fannie Hurst novel) starring Susan Hayward, and co-starring John Gavin and Vera Miles, who, just one year before this film, co-starred in Hitchcock's "Psycho."

February 23, 2016

Song of the Day #1327

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Stairway Chase") [YouTube link], music by James Newton Howard, is one of those truly frenetic chase scenes captured perfectly in the way it is both edited and scored.This is a fine 1993 film reboot of the absolutely magnificent original 1960s television series, which starred David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, who brilliantly portrayed the painful loneliness, fear, and alienation of the innocent man on the run. For the series, composer Pete Rugolo created one of the most expressive scores, always infused with a jazz idiom, to have ever graced a television show. Howard is certainly up to the task, and someday, I'm going to reveal a few cues from the film that are homages to Rugolo's scoring. Whereas a multiyear television series provides us with an opportunity to truly develop its characters, the film provides us with a complex puzzle that must be solved if the fugitive is to find justice. All of this takes place amid a predatory chase between the hunter, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones,who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, as Lieutenant Sam Gerard (in the TV series, the character was played by Barry Morse and was named Philip Gerard, and the name change remains a mystery) and the hunted, well played by Harrison Ford, who maintains his innocence, despite being found guilty for killing his wife, and sentenced to execution by lethal injection. But, like the series, Kimble escapes and goes on a quest to find the one-armed man who murdered his wife. In the film, his search for this one-armed man takes place within the context of a larger conspiracy. I've chosen a cue that is used in a scene in which the unjustly convicted fugitive takes his chances by seeking out one potential suspect behind prison walls. Lietenant Gerard is hot on Kimble's trail and finds him at the prison. What results is a scorching chase scene, neither on motorcycles nor cars, but on foot, down a spiral staircase, through to the exit doors of the prison, with Gerard shooting to kill. It makes for rousing adventure and give us a lesson in how terrific Oscar-nominated scoring augments the excitement on screen (Howard was a casualty of another shattering John Williams score, the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" soundtrack, which got a little help from the virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman; Williams, ironically, has only five Oscars, out of an amazing 50 nominations, second only to Walt Disney [pdf link]!). For a little entertainment, check out a YouTube video on the "Top Ten Movie Fugitives."

February 22, 2016

Song of the Day #1326

Song of the Day: The Great Escape ("The Chase") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is just a snippet of the music that captures an heroic and thrillingly suspenseful scene from this superb 1963 World War II epic, directed by John Sturges with an all-star cast. Bernstein captures the suspense perfectly as we watch Steve McQueen (who plays "Hilts," the so-called "Cooler King"), an escapee from a German POW camp, hijack a German motorcycle in an attempt to make it to freedom. We use the word "iconic" a lot, but it's unavoidable: this is one iconic scene and among the most memorable moments in cinema history. McQueen did virtually all the driving himself, except for the final jump. Check out the full scene (edited) on YouTube.

February 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1325

Song of the Day: The Thing from Another World ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, opens this chilling 1951 sci-fi/horror film. There have been remakes [YouTube link], but there is just nothing like the original. In truth, I first saw this film at the Sommer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, which, sadly, no longer exists. Today, it's a Walgreen's. When I was 5 years old, I went with my Uncle Sam and my sister Elizabeth to see this film in a double feature with the 1933 classic film, "King Kong." I'd never seen either film; it was just prior to their endless appearances on classic TV movie shows like Channel 2's (WCBS) "The Late, Late, Late Show," or, perhaps, Channel 7's (WABC) "The 4:30 Movie," or Channel 9's (WOR) "Million Dollar Movie" or, Channel 11's (WPIX) "Chiller Theatre." In any event, I attempted to see "King Kong" but "The Thing" was the first feature; then came Intermission (where, maybe, they'd show a cartoon or two). The theater was dark suddenly, and Kong was finally going to begin, but the crowd of kids was chanting with a single voice, rising in decibels with each passing second: "KONG! KONG! KONG! KONG!" Well, I didn't know what to expect when that curtain rose. And my uncle and sister definitely sensed that this 5-year old was getting a bit panicked. "Are you okay?," they asked. "Well," I explained, "it's a little noisy." I would not allow my apprehension to rise up to visible fear and I would not admit it to anybody, brave young 5-year old tough Brooklynite that I was. "Very loud," I said. "Well, maybe we should come back and see this some other time. It's okay," they both assured me. Relieved, to say the least, I said, "Okay. Sounds good." And we headed for the exits. So, though I later got to see the original Kong on the big screen, it was not to be on this day; but "The Thing" [full-length feature film link] was great '50s sci-fi, and Tiomkin's music provided just the right amount of rising tension throughout the film.

February 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1324

Song of the Day: Jurassic World ("As the Jurassic World Turns") [YouTube link], is composed by Michael Giacchino, as a theme that evolves, almost organically, out of the original "Jurassic Park" theme, composed by John Williams. It is a terrific musical homage, while standing on its own, and if you're wondering: Yes, I utterly loved the 2015 film, which clearly picked up every clue and cue of the original franchise to provide us with thrilling entertainment, eye-popping special effects, and a really exciting adventure story. The great power of film is that it can move us deeply, emotionally and intellectually, and it can entertain us, and there need be no dichotomy between the two. In this case, however, let's face it: it's time to get out the popcorn and enjoy yourself. You'll find yourself rooting for Blue the Raptor and the T-Rex in their battle against the Indominous Rex [YouTube link, with SPOILER ALERT]. I especially like the way that Blue strategically jumps from the T-Rex to the Indominous Rex during the fight to the finish!

February 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1323

Song of the Day: Sophie's Choice ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Marvin Hamlisch, is a soft, loving theme that cushions the blow of an utterly devastating film. I only saw this film about a year ago, and was deeply affected by the horrors it depicts during the years of the Nazi holocaust. Without referring to the "choice" that Sophie must make in the film, I can say that it reminded me of Ayn Rand's novel, We the Living, which depicts the horrors of Soviet communism, in one important sense: the insanity of totalitarian political systems that allow no choices except among forms of death and decay. It is all the more fitting to remember that nightmare on this day, which is a "day of remembrance" for those who were the subject of Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps within the United States during World War II. Ironically, it was film that first made me aware of those camps, when I first saw "Hell to Eternity," as a child, a 1960 movie with Jeffrey Hunter (who played Christ in the 1961 film, "King of Kings") and David Janssen (who was "The Fugitive" in that remarkable television series of the 1960s). Those camps certainly were not extermination camps, but they are a symbol of what happens during wartime, when individual rights are abrogated both at home and abroad. In any event, the 1982 film gave Meryl Streep a much-deserved Oscar award for Best Actress, and Hamlisch received a much-deserved nomination for Best Original Score, losing out to the iconic John Williams score for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." It is difficult to find a moment of joy or laughter in films of this nature, but I will never forget Sophie's admiration of Stingo's seersucker jacket [YouTube link]. The film's house was situated in Brooklyn, New York, and it stands still on Rugby Road in Flatbush.

February 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1322

Song of the Day: The Thief of Baghdad ("Suite") [YouTube link] captures some of the textures of Miklos Rozsa's soundtrack to this 1940 fantasy film with Sabu. Rozsa's compositions for film and the concert stage remain among the finest symphonic work of any twentieth-century composer. It has been said that Rozsa went through five distinct periods in his illustrious scoring career: what he characterized as the "oriental" or "exotic" period (featuring work on fantasy films with exotic locations, of which "The Thief of Baghdad" is one of the best examples); the "psychological" period (exploring complex psychological portraits, e.g., his Oscar-winning score for Hitchcock's film, "Spellbound"); the film noir period (with films such as "Double Indemnity" and his Oscar-winning score to "A Double Life"); the Historico-Biblical period (of which "Ben-Hur" yesterday is his crowning achievement); and his sci-fi phase (which includes films such as "Time After Time"). This particular suite shows the breadth of his first period, and the lovely violin interlude gives us just a hint of what he provides for the concert hall). The charming British technicolor film was a spectacle for special effects in its day, marking the first major use of film bluescreening. Produced by Alexander Korda, it won Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction, Special Effects, and Rozsa's soundtrack was nominated for Best Original Score.

February 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1321

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Gratus' Entry To Jerusalem") [YouTube link] is a dark, imperial march composed by Miklos Rozsa that begins immediately after "Salute for Gratus" (included here as well) on a 5-disc edition of the score to my favorite film of all time: "Ben-Hur", the Best Picture of 1959, which set a winning record of 11 Oscars that has been tied, but never beaten. In a sprawling Oscar-winning soundtrack filled with grand and diverse themes, Rozsa provides a wide range of emotions, which capture the "soul" of this remarkable film. It is not without significance that the film has been called the first modern "intimate" epic, one that could stage grand-scale naval battles and real chariot races of widescreen scope without the help or need for CGI, while at the same time exploring the essential depth of its main characters and the intimacy and complexity of their relationships. Much of the credit goes to Oscar-winning director William Wyler, and the performances he elicited from his actors (two of whom brought home Oscar gold: Charlton Heston for "Best Actor" and Hugh Griffith for "Best Supporting Actor"). Rozsa's piece captures the coercive imposition of ancient Roman will on Judea, the oppressive character of imperial occupation on a section of the world that, till this day, remains in turmoil. In any event, it is in keeping with my annual practice of featuring something from "Ben-Hur" on the occasion of my birthday, which always coincides with Film Music February. So I've chosen this muscular piece from Rozsa's greatest, most triumphant symphonic film score, perhaps one of the greatest scores in cinema history.

February 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1320

Song of the Day: The Man in the Iron Mask ("Opening"; "A Boy") [TCM clip], composed by Lud Gluskin and Lucien Morawek, received an Oscar nomination for their score to the 1939 film loosely based on the last section of The Vicomte of Bragalonne: Ten Years Later, the third and final section of the third and final book of the "d'Artagnan Romances" (following : "The Three Musketeers" and "Twenty Years Later"). Even the story by Dumas is based on French legend, but this film is notable for several milestones: it was the first film to introduce us to actor Peter Cushing; it was directed by the great James Whale; and it stars Louis Hayward in a remarkable double role. Born to Louis XIII, the first son is seen as the legitimate heir of France, but a twin is born (Philippe) and the king is persuaded to send the second son to Gascony, to be raised by d'Artagnan (in this film, portrayed by Warren William). The first son grows up to be the hated monarch Louis XIV, imposing oppressive taxes and repressing the people of France. Through a series of dramatic twists, it is discovered that there is a twin, who is much more kind and compassionate, and Louis XIV imprisons him, placing an Iron Mask on his brother's face, so that no one shall ever discover his twin, hoping his brother will simply strangle as his beard crowds out the oxygen within the mask. The Three Musketeers and d'Artagnan come to the rescue, and when Philippe assumes the throne to right the wrongs of his brother, Louis XIV, he enunciates something about the laws of justice and retribution, something from which my mother always used to quote, any time news of some criminality, especially political criminality, hit the headlines: "There is one law in life, brother, that not even a king could escape: The law of retribution. The pendulum of the clock of life swings so far in one direction, then very surely swings back. The pendulum is swinging for you, brother," not so much for the injustices suffered by Philippe, but for all the injustices suffered by the people of France whose sacred trust the King had violated. This Philippe says before the Museketeers put the mask on the corrupt king. Mom didn't realize that she was providing a budding libertarian with a few maxims about the fight against tyranny! Mom is gone over twenty years, but her birthday is on February 20th, so I'm giving her a little tip of the Yankee cap (she was a Yankees fan, after all) a few days early.

February 15, 2016

Song of the Day #1319

Song of the Day: The Three Musketeers ("Themes") [TCM Trailer], music by Herbert Stothart (with some inspiration from the themes of Tchaikovsky), provides the rousing backdrop for what I believe is the best version of the Alexandre Dumas tale, starring Gene Kelly as d'Artagnan! Yes, the song and dance man had more than a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to choreographed sword play (indeed, the film's outstanding choreographed sword sequences have inspired a generation of contributors to the genre). The 1948 swashbuckling Technicolor film is just wonderful, action-packed entertainment with a score to match (and apparently almost impossible to find!). On the other hand, the Grammy Awards are easy to find on the dial. Enjoy!

February 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1318

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("I Have But One Heart") is a 1945 popular song, adapted from an 1893 Neapolitan theme "O Marenariello" (here, sung by Andrea Bocelli) with words by Gennaro Ottaviano and music by Salvatore Gambardella. The adapted English-language version features music by Johnny Farrow and lyrics by Marty Symes and was Vic Damone's debut single [YouTube link], rising to #7 on the Billboard chart. In 1972, in the film version of Mario Puzo's novel "The Godfather," it was given new life when it was sung by the character, Johnny Fontane (portrayed by Al Martino) [YouTube links to Martino's renditions in the film and on the soundtrack], at the wedding of Connie Corleone (portrayed by Talia Shire), daughter of Don Vito Corleone (portrayed by the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-winning Best Actor Marlon Brando). A long-time family friend, long-assisted by the Don at crucial points in his career, Fontane asks the Don if he could help get him a role in a film for which, he believes, he would be pertectly cast, but the producer Jack Woltz (played by John Marley), despises Fontane and won't give him the part. The Corleones approach Woltz, offering various deals and favors, but Woltz won't budge on this issue. . . until he's given an offer he can't refuse. But Valentine's Day is not the Day to be speaking of SPOILER ALERTS [YouTube link at your own risk!]; it is to be speaking of that "One Heart" you have for your Valentine. Pulling a song from "The Godfather" songbook today gives us an opportunity to note the passing of Abe Vigoda, who portrayed the character Salvatore Tessio in the first film of Francis Ford Coppola's gangster epic. So wipe that film's imagery from your Head, and think of Hearts instead!

February 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1317

Song of the Day: Stowaway ("Goodnight My Love"), music by Mack Gordon, lyrics by Harry Revel, is a truly memorable song, performed by both the young Shirley Temple [YouTube link] and Alice Faye [YouTube link] from this 20th Century Fox 1936 film. Temple also sang it as part of a medley in the 1938 film, "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The song also got the royal treatment by two of the greatest vocalists in the jazz pantheon: the 1936 classic recording with Ella Fitzgerald and the Benny Goodman Orchestra (the 80th anniversary of its recording will be marked on November 5, 2016) and Sarah Vaughan.

February 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1316

Song of the Day: High Society ("Well, Did You Evah?"), written by Cole Porter for the soundtrack to the 1956 film, but originally written for the 1939 Broadway musical, "DuBarry Was a Lady," which starred Bert Lahr, Betty Grable, and Ethel Merman. Gene Kelly, Red Skelton, and Lucille Ball starred in a film version later that year that dispensed with much of Porter's score. But those songs enjoyed a resurrection in "High Society." This particular song is a witty duet in the 1956 musical comedy, featuring Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra at their best; their ad libs kept the song fresh, playfully referring to their generational and intergenerational appeal with a series of "wink-winks" to its audience. Going full circle, we conclude our mini-Bing tribute within our ongoing film music February. Check out two pros who had an innate ability to charm the camera [YouTube link].

February 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1315

Song of the Day: Going My Way ("Title Song"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, was sung by Bing Crosby, Rise Stevens, and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir (one of several songs Crosby sang in this 1944 film, which won a Best Song Oscar, for "Swinging on a Star"). Overall, the fillm was nominated for ten Oscars, and was among the only films to nominate an actor, Barry Fitzgerald, for "Best Actor" and "Best Supporting Actor" for the same role, from the same film, in the same year. As it turned out Bing got the Best Actor Oscar, and Barry got the Supporting Actor Oscar (and, in 1945, Bing received another "Best Actor" nomination for the same character, Father Chuck O'Malley, for the film, "The Bells of St. Mary's"). Sounds like the makings of a Jeopardy "answer" ... Check out the title track here.

February 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1314

Song of the Day: Here Comes the Waves ("Ac-Cent-TchuAte the Positive"), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, was written in 1944 and heard on the radio documentary, "Pop Chronicles." It was later featured in the 1944 film, "Here Comes the Waves," in a rendition by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters [YouTube link].

February 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1313

Song of the Day: High Society ("Now You Has Jazz"), written by Cole Porter for this 1956 film, which was a musical version of the "The Philadelphia Story" (1939 play), subsequently made into a 1940 romantic comedy with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn (who starred in the Broadway play), and James Stewart. The musical has an all-star cast as well: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong as himself. Check out this wonderful scene, with Pops offering his "definition" of jazz, by just blowing that great horn, playing and interplaying with Crosby at his best [YouTube link]. For the next few days, we're turning a little attention to Crosby, who contributed so much music to the film score soundtrack of our lives.

February 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1312

Song of the Day: Earthquake ("Main Title"), [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is the classic "disaster film theme" when the genre was hot (as was this film in 1974). For a composer who has mastered virtually every genre, we celebrate his 84th birthday.

February 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1311

Song of the Day: The Monuments Men ("Opening Titles") [YouTube link]. composed by Alexandre Desplat, takes its inspiration from some of those great war films of the 1950s and 1960s. The film is an astonishing tribute to those who recovered and preserved the art looted by the Nazis during World War II. Check it out on YouTube. The big monument today, however, has little to do with such grand history; it is the Trophy that went to the Denver Broncos and their quarterback Peyton Manning, who won Super Bowl 50.

February 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1310

Song of the Day: Paris Holiday ("Nothing in Common") features the music of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, and, by the title, one would think of it as something that could have been a product of one of those Hope-Crosby "Road To . . . " films. And, indeed, it was recorded and released by United Artists as a single by the pair [YouTube link] in February 1958, the same month as this film's release, and with obvious links to the film in its marketing. But this wasn't a "Road To" film and Crosby never appeared in it; the original duet was filmed for the movie by Bob Hope and Martha Hyer but was cut from the final edit. The song was also released in 1958 in a pumped-up Billy May arrangement by Frank Sinatra and Keely Smith [YouTube link]. So here we have a song from the movies that wasn't in the movies.

February 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1309

Song of the Day: Hole in the Head ("High Hopes"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, became a hit for one of the stars of this 1959 Frank Capra comedy, Frank Sinatra, a singer who took up quite a bit of cyber-ink by this writer at the close of 2015. The film's score was written by Nelson Riddle, but it was Miklos Rozsa who took home the Score Gold in 1959. Nevertheless, it was Jimmy and Sammy who walked away with the Oscar for Best Original Song for this hit record. It was one of the few Oscars "Ben-Hur" didn't win that year, having walked away with 11 statuettes that till this day remains a record, tied twice thereafter, but never beaten. The song was later adapted with substitute lyrics in Sinatra's campaign for JFK. Check out the original, the song as heard and seen in the film, and the campaign rendition.

February 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1308

Song of the Day: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner ("The Glory of Love"), with words and music by Billy Hill, was recorded in May 1936, becoming a #1 pop hit by the great clarinetist Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, featuring Helen Ward on vocals [YouTube link; and check out this sweet clip of BG with Ella and Peggy Lee doing the song). Ironically, given the subject matter of our film choice today, it's worth noting that the King of Swing was one of the most heroic musicians of his era, "swinging" a bat at the notion of segregation in jazz, and in music, working with Fletcher Henderson, who wrote wonderful arrangements for BG's big band, and forming an original trio and quartet, which featured two African-Americans, respectively, pianist Teddy Wilson and vibes player Lionel Hampton (and later, the trailblazing guitarist Charlie Christian, who was a featured player in Goodman's Sextet and Big Band). On tour, Goodman refused to play in "Jim Crow" Southern states that required the exclusion of his black musicians. Years later, in 1951, the Five Keys took the song to #1 on the R&B chart [YouTube link]. And it has been recorded by countless artists since, making its way into many films as well, from the 1988 tearjerker, "Beaches" (check out Bette Midler's rendition [YouTube link]), to the 1981 film "Pennies from Heaven" and the 2009 horror film, "Orphan." But no film used this song to greater effect than this Stanley Kramer-directed 1967 movie, on our tribute list today. The film is "dated" in some respects, but it boasts a wonderful cast, headed by Spencer Tracy, in his last film role (he received a posthumous Oscar nomination in the Best Actor category), Katharine Hepburn, who won the Oscar for Best Actress (and who repeated that feat the following year for her brilliant performance in "The Lion in Winter," tying with Barbra Streisand, who received the Oscar for her terrific film debut in "Funny Girl"). In any event, the issues with which this film deals were controversial in its day, but the problems surrounding racism, integration, segregation, and the institution of marriage itself remain with us. After all, in this film, Sidney Poitier, who gives us a typically fine performance, wants to marry Tracy and Hepburn's daughter (played by her real-life niece Katharine Houghton), and when the film was released, it was only six months after the last 17 states in the United States were forced to recognize interracial marriage, because the U.S. Supreme Court had finally struck down antimiscegenation laws (with obvious parallels to the more recent debate over same-sex marriage). Sadly, Tracy had actually passed away two weeks after filming his final scene in the movie, and two days after the Court's decision. His character goes through immense pain dealing with the issue of knowing that his daughter could marry a "colored" man, and that they would be tortured by the harsh cultural forces around them, forces that exist till this day. But his character undergoes a transformation throughout the course of the film, and his final monologue [YouTube link] becomes, in essence, a paean to "The Glory of Love" [YouTube link].

February 03, 2016

Song of the Day #1307

Song of the Day: And Justice for All ("Main Title" / "There's Something Funny Going On") [YouTube link], music by Dave Grusin, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is heard over the closing credits of the 1979 film; it has that late '70s disco vibe, as it is performed by Zach Sanders and the NY Jailhouse Ensemble. Directed by Norman Jewison, this film is a cynical look at our judicial system (there are fewer ways to look at the structural deformities that often pass for "justice," and this motion picture captures it with touches of satire and tragedy). Al Pacino is virtually forced to defend a hated judge (played by John Forsythe of "Dynasty" fame), [SPOILER ALERT] whom he discovers to be guilty. But you've got to see the entire closing scene of the film, with Pacino at the peak of his career (and Jack Warden, who provides one of his finest turns as the wonderful character actor he is). The scene is just one of those "I'm As Mad As Hell and I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore" 'Network' moments that all of us should have more often. Check the scene out on YouTube. The film opens with an instrumental "Main Title" version [YouTube link] of the closing credits song; it features the unmistakably fine sax work and sound of Tom Scott.

February 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1306

Song of the Day: Son of Kong ("Runaway Blues"), music and orchestrations by Max Steiner, William T. Stromberg, and John Morgan, and lyrics by the uncredited Edward Eliscu, is sung by Helen Mack, in a hilarious scene in this 1933 sequel to the iconic Great Ape film, "King Kong." Carl Denam (played by Robert Armstrong) and Captain Englehorn (played by Frank Reicher) ship off from New York City to avoid the onslaught of lawsuits being readied to cash-in on the destruction wrought by King Kong, shot down from atop the Empire State Building. Denam tells Englehorn that Nils Helstrom, from whom he got the map of the prehistoric Skull Island, hinted that there was a treasure on the island. While en route, Denham and Englehorn stop off in the Dutch port of Dakang, and check out the local show, featuring performing monkeys and Hilda, who sings this song. "She's got something," Denam says to Englehorn. "Well it certainly isn't a voice." You be the judge; check it out on YouTube, along with this expanded version, which includes three variations (though the film has been colorized! For shame!). The film has an awfully unnecessarily tragic ending, but cannot be overlooked due to the superb Steiner score, which expands on many of the themes first established by Steiner in "King Kong" (and let's not forget that Steiner scored the 1949 film version of The Fountainhead). The film features great stop motion animation by the legendary Willis O'Brien. This is the only film I could think of that encapsulates two of the chief themes of the day: "Runaway Blues," the perennial song of the Groundhog who can't wait to run back into his burrow, less he face the blues of six more weeks of winter (and it's official: for Puncsutwaney Phil, "There is no shadow to be cast, an early spring is my forecast" and Staten Island Chuck, who once took a chunk out of former Mayor Bloomberg's finger, and who remains the champ of correct forecasting, agrees with Phil completely: Expect an early spring.) All the better if you want to see The City clearly from atop the Empire State Building. In that grand Art Deco masterpiece of a building, there was once housed the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which, for years, had been publishing and disseminating the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who was born on this date in 1905.

February 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1305

Song of the Day: The Music Goes 'Round ("The Music Goes Round and Round") features the music of Edward Farley and Mike Riley and the lyrics of Red Hodgson. It became a 1935 hit for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with Edythe Wright on vocals [YouTube link]. In February of 1936, almost 70 years ago to this day, a film, "The Music Goes 'Round" made its debut to less-than-sparkling reviews, and used this song for its interlude, something the New York Times said was "the best thing in the new picture," and many artists through the years would agree with that. Today begins Film Music February, an annual tribute that I post every year; it gives a nod to a film score cue, a song, or even music that wasn't specifically written for a film, but whose presence in the film gives moviegoers a scent of familiarity, while embedding it in an entirely new cinematic context that evokes a fresh emotional response for those who experience it (talk about shifting dialectical applications!). We'll feature a different daily selection right up to the Oscars, and beyond, as our film tribute metaphorizes into a paean to another Centenary Saint. For me, one of the most memorable versions of this particular song was issued in 1959 by the late great Sicilian American jazz entertainer, Louis Prima, who always honored his greatest influence, Satchmo (and, for those of you following Black History Month, which begins today, take note: It was the great Louis Armstrong who did the 1936 classic rendition [YouTube link] of this song). Take a listen to Prima's version here. And check out another film in which the song is featured [YouTube link], the entertaining 1959 biopic of cornetist, Red Nichols (played by Danny Kaye), "The Five Pennies", in which Armstrong has a cameo.

December 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1297 (The Sinatra Finale)

Song of the Day: That's Life, words and music by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, is one of my absolute all-time favorite Sinatra recordings, an album title track that went to the Top Five (a #4 singles hit) on the Billboard pop chart, smack in the middle of the rock-dominated Beatles era. It also hit #1 on the Easy Listening chart for three weeks (December 1966 to January 1967). It had been previously recorded by others, including O. C. Smith [YouTube link]. But unlike Smith's slower, bluesier version, Sinatra swaggers through it and makes the song his own. He first performed the song on his television special, "A Man and His Music, Part II." The TV version, however, takes a backseat to the recorded version [both YouTube links], which was produced by Jimmy Bowen and conducted by Ernie Freeman.

Uplifting a glass, Francis Albert Sinatra offered this toast on more than one occasion: "May you live to be 100, and may the last voice you hear be mine." Sinatra passed away in 1998, at the age of 82. But if I were blessed to live to 100, the loveliness of his recorded performances gives me the opportunity to hear "The Voice" on my way to the Pearly Gates... or whetever warmer climates my Maker has in store for me. But today is not about obituaries; it is about births, rebirths, resurrections. For today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra. We conclude with One Hundred toasts to a man who was indeed a poet, the so-called "poet laureate of loneliness," but no less a poet of joy. He was the recipient of Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys (and he has three stars on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame," commemorating his work in film, television, and recording, respectively). I've tried to provide this tribute with a widescreen version that encompasses all of his artistry, but ultimately, I have always returned to song, for it is here that his magic conjoins the supreme method actor to the supreme musician. He could introduce the Grammy Awards [1963 video], and haul home a wagon full of them. He was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner (1965), a Grammy Trustees Award Winner (1979), and a Grammy Living Legend Award winner (1994; presented to him with style by U2's Bono) [Grammy video link]. He has five albums and eight singles inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Among his "Hall of Fame" albums are: "Come Fly with Me" (1958; inducted in 2004); "Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely" (1958; inducted 1999); "In the Wee Small Hours" (1955; inducted 1984); "September of My Years" (1965; inducted 1999); and "Songs for Swingin' Lovers!" (1956; inducted 2000). Among his "Hall of Fame" singles: "The House I Live In" (1946; inducted in 1998); "I'll Never Smile Again" (1940, with Tommy Dorsey and the Pied Pipers; inducted in 1982); "I've Got the World on a String" (1953; inducted in 2004); "I've Got You Under My Skin" (1956; inducted in 1998); "My Way" (1969; inducted in 2000); "One for My Baby" (1958; inducted in 2005); "Strangers in the Night" (1966; inducted 2008); and the "Theme from 'New York, New York'" (1980; inducted 2013). I've got links to each of them on "My Favorite Songs."

It took a bit of thought to come up with a musical finale best suited for the occasion. "My Way" could have played the part, but it is already among my ever-growing list, used thematically for a commercial by Hall-of-Fame-bound Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, to mark his retirement from professional baseball. Surely the lyrics, written by Paul Anka are even more appropriate for Francis Albert Sinatra, who retired several times along the way, only to come back to that music, which was hard-wired into his DNA. He sings of a life that's full, acknowledges the few regrets he's had along the way, and takes pride in the "charted course" he planned. He admits his doubts, his loves, his joy, his "share of losing." He concludes with the ultimate statement of individual integrity: "For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught to say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows, I took the blows. And did it My Way."

Alas, given my policy of never repeating a song, I can still appreciate its significance as one of Sinatra's signature pieces. But, for me, the very first words of the song provide an almost maudlin context. If this Centenary Sinatra Tribute has proven anything, it is that the end was not near, even when Sinatra passed away in 1998. When I think of Sinatra, so many themes come to mind, so many definitive renditions of songs from the Great American Songbook that were stamped by Sinatra in an almost autobiographical way. As appropriate a song as "My Way" was, for Sinatra, a statement of individual integrity, it is still sung when "the end was near." That end will never come as long as humans have ears to hear with and minds and hearts to think and feel with.

I conclude this tribute with one of those quintessential Sinatra recordings, which expresses the guts of the kick-ass "I-ain't-beaten-yet" genre that Sinatra championed. This is the Sinatra for whom the end is never near and it certainly resonates with me and so many others, expressing a universal motif for people who have faced life head on, and who won't give in to anything or anyone who "get[s] their kicks, stompin' on a dream." When you focus on these lyrics, it is as if Sinatra could have written the song himself. He is the prizefighter personified who gets knocked down, bruised, battered, bloodied . . . but still, somehow, gets back on his feet and stays in the ring. . . He stands up because, and only because, this is a life worth living and fighting for.

That's life (that's life) that's what all the people say. You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May. But I know I'm gonna change that tune, when I'm back on top, back on top in June.
I said that's life (that's life), and as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing: Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.
That's life (that's life), I tell you, I can't deny it, I thought of quittin' baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing: Each time I find myself layin' flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race.
That's life (that's life), that's life, and I can't deny it, many times I thought of cuttin' out, but my heart won't buy it. But if there's nothing shakin' come this here July, I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball a-and die.
My, my!

Sinatra could understand and communicate a remarkable range of human emotion, for he lived it: as an actor, a singer, a concert performer, he could embody everything from grief to ecstasy, from defeat to defiance. We complete our tribute and commemorate his birthday as one of the greatest artists to have ever graced this world. Bravo, Ol' Blue Eyes.

The entire series of essays, songs, and Facebook announcements have been collected and edited into a single essay, which can be found on my website: "The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon."

December 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1295

Song of the Day: Strangers in the Night features the English lyrics of Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder,and the music of Bert Kaemfert, who actually composed the instrumental as part of the score for the 1966 film, "A Man Could Get Killed." The Sinatra recording is the title track of his 1966 album (also featured on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra"), and was one of only two singles of his in the rock era to go to #1. It reached #1 on both the Hot 100 and the Easy Listening charts. The album became Sinatra's most commercially successful release among the many he released throughout his career. And in 1967, though he won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for "A Man and His Music," he received two additional Grammys recognizing this song: Record of the Year (his first win in this category, despite seven former nominations) and Best Male Vocal Performance. Over the years, this was never one of my all-time Sinatra favorites (and it is said that it wasn't one of Sinatra's own all-time favorites either). It was akin to the case of Stevie Wonder, an artist who has given us such brilliant albums as "Innervisions" and "Songs in the Key of Life,"and an array of wonderful compositions, from "Superstition" to "All in Love is Fair" to "Another Star." And then he receives an Oscar for Best Original Song and a matching Golden Globe for "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (from the 1984 film, "The Woman in Red"). Like Sinatra's "Strangers," Wonder's tune became his most commercially successful single, going to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts. As I said, Wonder's song was really never one of my favorites (and the critics were not kind to it either). But then, it grew on me. And that was primarily due to the fact that I watched the 1999 Kennedy Center Honors, where Stevie was one of the honorees. One tribute segment featured jazz pianist Herbie Hancock accompanying jazz vocalist Diane Schurr, who spoke authentically about how she, as a blind woman, had received such inspiration from Wonder. What followed was a completely altered jazz-infused rendition of the song; if you have never seen or heard it, check out this musical magic on YouTube, and you'll find out why it eventually became an entry on "My Favorite Songs." But "Strangers" is another matter entirely. It was difficult to like, and became increasingly difficult to embrace as the culture grabbed onto it, satirized it, and butchered it countless times to the point of sacrilege. It was even the title of a gay porn film (and the lyrics lend themselves to the chance meetings of people in forbidden places) and then came a Teddy and Darell 1966 gay parody [YouTube link] that is now considered part of Queer Music History 101. In any event, I gave in because something in that song just grew on me over time, particularly because of its fade out, when we hear that utterly famous Sinatra-ism. All together now: "Do-Be-Do-Be-Do." It became one of those phrases that have been eternally incorporated into the American Zeitgeist from Sinatra's repertoire (another being "Ring-a-Ding-Ding!", the title track from Sinatra's 1961 album). It just endears the song to me on another level entirely. In the 1970s, I used to wear a T-Shirt that said, on successive lines: "To Be is To Do" - Socrates; "To Do is to Be" - Sartre; "Do Be Do Be Do" - Sinatra. A Centenary Tribute to Sinatra without this would just not be complete. Listen to the original #1 Hit by Frank Sinatra on YouTube. Stay tuned for a Double "Song of the Day" today!

November 24, 2015

The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

A "Song of the Day" Sinatra Tribute Begins "From This Moment On"

Today, Tuesday, November 24, 2015, I begin a tribute to Francis Albert Sinatra, which will culminate on Saturday, December 12, 2015, the day on which we will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. Yes, he was The Voice for seven decades of the twentieth-century, from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s. But his enormous artistic gifts have been preserved forever in film, vocal recordings, and concert performances, allowing future generations a glimpse of the ever-lasting impact he made on American culture, art, and music.

When Sinatra first entered the scene, he was this scrawny kid from humble Hoboken, New Jersey in search of a stage. But this was a proud Italian American, whose father emigrated from Sicily and whose mother came from Genoa. As a first-generation American son of immigrant parents, he was open to the musically diverse American palette. At first, he absorbed much from the crooner school of Bing Crosby, and, like Bing, he was deeply influenced by one of the most distinctly American musical idioms: Jazz. Sinatra's schooling in jazz came from a diverse array of artists, starting with sizzling hot trumpeter Harry James with whom he first sang. James would routinely throw him an improvised musical curveball, which Sinatra would learn to field vocally, so-to-speak. He submerged himself in the New York club scene, and learned much watching the live performances of English-born cabaret singer, Mabel Mercer and, especially, of Billie Holiday. But it was his tenure in the Big Band of trombonist Tommy Dorsey that taught him more about singing than any vocal teacher could possibly offer him. He always said that he learned more about breath control by watching Dorsey's trombone solos, played with such seamlessness that one could barely detect the jazzman's breathing. Before too long, his talent brought him front and center on the stage, as he captured the excitement of the bobby-soxer generation. The kids simply went wild. But he did not become The Voice, Ol' Blue Eyes, or the Chairman of the Board overnight. He didn't simply collect Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Oscar statuettes; in the early years, he battled his self-destructive tendencies, and it would take years for him to truly find himself, reinvent himself, giving new meaning to the Koehler lyric, "I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow, got the string around my finger. What a world! What a life!" What a life, indeed.

Eventually, it was Sinatra's self-reinvention that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar Awards for his film work, Grammy Awards for his singing, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement and Legend Awards. In fact, he received recognition for Lifetime Achievement from so many of the industry's associations, that a brief summary doesn't do him justice. The accolades came from such institutions as the Screen Actors Guild; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame; the Kennedy Center; the American Music Award of Merit; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, he was a two-time winner of the critics' Downbeat poll for Male Singer of the Year, while the Downbeat readers named him Male Singer of the Year for sixteen years and Personality of the Year for six years.

A Deplorable Excess of Personality?

In the 1993 film version of "Jurassic Park," John Hammond, the creator of the park, played by Richard Attenborough, characterizes Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) as a person who suffers from a "deplorable excess of personality." Some might have said the same about Sinatra, whose excesses often undercut his early successes. So before we go on singing the praises of this Patron Saint of Song, it's best that we put some issues to rest, for they are not unimportant. I know that there are many people out there who find it impossible to separate the art from the artist. In some respects, it would be horrifically ahistorical and acontextal; grasping the artist's cultural or personal context might go a long way toward understanding and appreciating his accomplishments. But it is also true that many great artists throughout history have created magnificent works of art that either gave expression to the demons within, or provided a cathartic means by which to exorcize them. The point here is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the greatness of art because the artist suffers from character flaws. One thing that Sinatra accomplished, however, is that he emerged from these early years a better singer and a superior artist. As he says it in one of his signature tunes: "The record shows, I took the blows and did it My Way." By acknowledging his excesses and failures, Sinatra, in his vocals, became ever more expressive of a raw honesty, which came through whether he was singing of lost love, or of the joyous possibilities of life.

But the maturity of his art could not have emerged without his very public ups and downs. His critics viewed him as a thug, made all the worse because he was an Italian American with all the bigotry that this fact of ethnicity implied, especially in an era that gave us both the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Gangsta rappers have nothing on Ol' Blue Eyes. We've seen and heard it all: from his mug shot, to his tumultuous affair with and marriage to Ava Gardner and his subsequent attempts at suicide; and, later, his rowdy days and nights in Las Vegas with the Rat Pack, which fueled rumors of rampant womanizing and alleged Mafia ties.

And then there were emergent political problems he had to face. Having been declared 4F for service in the military, he and actor Orson Welles campaigned fiercely for FDR. His ability to entertain on the home front, and to film such extravaganzas as the 1945 musical comedy, "Anchors Away" (in which he worked like a "prizefighter" behind the scenes to keep up with the gifted choreographer, dancer, singer, and actor Gene Kelly), made him a bona fide star, and uplifted many spirits in a world consumed by war. But his liberal FDR-friendly politics, his embrace of a 'progressive' New Deal agenda, and his public stances against racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry at the end of World War II (as expressed in the 1945 short film "The House I Live In," which won an Honorary Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Good Will), provided fodder for his tabloid critics. Many branded him a "red," a "leftist," and an out-and-out commie, to which Sinatra is reported to have replied: "Bullshit." There is a touch of irony in all of this red-baiting: despite being a virtual cheerleader of "High Hopes" [YouTube link], the very song Sinatra adapted for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign, the singer was marginalized by JFK, given his connections to mobster Sam Giancana and others. Sinatra's political journey went from supervising JFK's inaugural party to supervising the presidential gala of Republican Ronald Reagan, for whom he had become a vocal supporter, and from whom he received the "Medal of Freedom."

In the years after filming "The House I Live In," the McCarthy era press became increasingly suspicious and hostile toward anyone suspected of left-wing views. This was the era of the Cold War, which turned increasingly hot in places like Korea. He was advised by actor Humphrey Bogart to ignore the tabloids, because he could never win any battles against a hostile press. Sinatra being Sinatra, of course, ignored Bogie's sound advice. On April 8, 1947, he went to see Peggy Lee's opening night at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip; behind him, he overheard the voice of his chief newspaper nemesis, the columnist, Lee Mortimer, who questioned Sinatra's patriotism in print, and who, on this night, referred to Sinatra as a "dago" and "guinea bastard." This was overheard by an overheated Sinatra, who recalls: "I tapped him on the shoulder, and I hit him so fucking hard I broke the whole front of his face, and he banged his head." Mortimer said he was going to destroy Sinatra, but ultimately, the issue was settled with Sinatra paying damages. He never forgot Mortimer, though; any time their paths crossed, Sinatra would spit at him. (These priceless stories are from the terrific HBO two-part documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," from which I've drawn quite a bit for this essay.)

There is no doubt that this period in Sinatra's life took its toll; his excesses, his losses, his alcohol abuse, led him to a catastrophic collapse in his recording and acting career. His record company axed his contract and few film offers came his way. Even before the Ava Gardner-related suicide attempts in the early 1950s, Modern Television and Radio magazine was asking plainly in December 1948: "Is Sinatra Finished?"

If Sinatra's career had simply ended right then and there, we would barely be talking about the centenary of his birth. For indeed, the melodrama of his life dredges up the old debate about whether one can appreciate art apart from the artist, who might very well be a suicidal (or homicidal) maniac. Before discussing how Sinatra turned his life around, it's important to talk about this issue, for it has been raised so many times before with regard to other artists and their art.

For example, let's just say for a moment that every last accusation against Michael Jackson were true (with regard to the sexual abuse of minors, something for which he was acquitted in the only case to make it to trial). For me, it would not in any way, shape, or form, diminish my love and admiration of Jackson's talents as a musician, composer, and dancer. Jackson provided me with the soundtrack of my youth, and I cannot for a moment imagine a world without the songs I danced to, or laughed to, or cried to. I cannot for a single moment imagine a world where I'd never had the opportunity to see and hear him live, on stage, in a series of utterly brilliant concert performances. He was the quintessential "song-and-dance" man of my generation who touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide, which explains how deeply shattered we were by his own tragic death in 2009. So, whether he was a drug addict or a pedophile or a nutjob of the first order would have made no difference with regard to this fan's love of his art; and so it is with everyone from jazz guitar legend Joe Pass (who emerged from Synanon), or rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or even to those classical philosophers, composers, musicians, painters, scultptors, writers, artists, etc., of whose flaws many of us are perenially unaware. Rest assured, if there was a tabloid press during the days of Classical Greece or Ancient Rome or the Renaissance, I can't imagine the stories that would have come to light about some of our philosophical and artistic heroes! It probably would have made the Robert Graves work, I, Claudius, look tame by comparison.

Loving a work of the creative imagination does not provide an apologia for the alleged or real sins or political views of its creator. In any event, our aesthetic responses are not generally guided by conscious reflection or articulated moral judgments about those who create. They are emotional responses that often emerge from the deepest and most complex corners of our soul. And here's the irony: a tortured artist (and there are plenty of them throughout history) might create a work of sublime beauty that speaks to those aspects of his own soul, crying out for objectification. And as responders, we may openly embrace that creation. Or perhaps, that same artist's tortured soul and life experiences might fully inhabit a work of art in its depiction of unimaginable sadness. But whatever our response, it is not necessarily a psychological confession concerning the depravity of our sense of life. It might simply speak to our own life experiences of loss, regret, and unfathomable grief. And we respond accordingly.

It is no accident that Sinatra was a consummate story-teller, for the way he delivered a lyric of heartbreak elicited responses from his fans, who, as part of the human family, had suffered through feelings of similar grief, loss, and regret. In "Angel Eyes" [YouTube link], there's that image of Frank sitting by himself in a bar, contemplating lost love. He tells us, conversationally, painfully, "Try to think that love's not around, but it's uncomfortably near. My old heart ain't gaining no ground, because my angel eyes ain't here." The listener feels every syllable of loss with his impeccable diction in the delivery of the lyric. He's an actor telling a story, yes; but he's connecting that story to the real losses he has experienced in his own life. The grief is palpable. It's as if he had adopted the technique of "method acting" to the very art of song. It helps one to understand just why he was referred to as "the poet laureate of loneliness."

A Life Worth Living: The Sinatra Revolution

One thing is clear about Frank Sinatra, perhaps best expressed in one of my all-time favorite recordings of his; when he hit bottom, he was determined to turn it around. "That's Life" [YouTube link, and here too], after all, "as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around." He sings with defiance: "I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race. . . . I can't deny it; I thought of quitting, baby, put my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly."

But the vehicle for his comeback was neither a bird nor a song; it was a film. And a legendary Fedora (or shall we call it a Cavanaugh?).

It was with his reading of the 1951 James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, that he became convinced that he would be perfect for the role of Private Angelo Maggio, for the upcoming 1953 film adaptation. He secured the role (most likely with the help of Ava Gardner, not Don Vito Corleone, and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Film wasn't the only medium to conquer; Sinatra, after all, was a consummate stylist. He was no longer the scrawny looking kid from Hoboken; now, with a cocked Fedora atop his head, he seemed to define the very essence of cool, of attitude, of self-assuredness. And he influenced a whole generation of men on the sexiness of hats. My own Dad wore one of those hats till the day he died. Nevertheless, despite the Fedora, film was the central vehicle driving the Sinatra revolution to the next phase of his creativity.

Over the years, his very presence on the screen commanded your attention. He could move you to dance (in the 1955 film of "Guys and Dolls"), to laugh (in the 1960 heist film starring all of his Rat Pack cohorts, "Ocean's Eleven"), to cry (playing a heroin addict, with chilling film noir scenes of detox, in the 1955 film, "The Man with the Golden Arm"), to take notice, when his character depicted intense realism (in the 1962 film, "The Manchurian Candidate," and the 1968 film, "The Detective") and, finally, to suffer profound grief just when you thought you were on the precipice of glory (the 1965 World War II POW film, "Von Ryan's Express").

I actually saw "Von Ryan's Express" in 1965 when it first came out, at the age of 5 years old. The memory of it is so vivid, so engrained in my psyche because it was a night of trauma for me. The family took the drive out to Long Island to see the film at the Sunrise Drive-In Theater in Valley Stream, New York. Being at a Drive-In was a big thrill back then, and at the age of five, it was an overwhelming experience for me. I mean, you could go and get popcorn, and never miss any part of the movie. The thing about drive-ins though, is that they are built so that cars can be perched at an upward tilt, on mini-gravel hills. Well, when I went with my sister to get the requisite popcorn, I was running up one of those mini-gravel hills (which appeared closer to the size of Mount Everest to me). Somehow, I got tangled in my sneaker-laces, and went flying downside when I reached the apex of Everest. Naturally, like every other 5-year old boy, I ripped open my right knee for the umpteenth time of my youth. I had previously ripped it open getting caught in the metal of a fence, while I climbed it. And then there was the Becky Incident. Becky was the dog of my best friend's family, and she gave birth to my first dog: Timmy. In any event, I so wanted to walk Becky the Beagle, so, as a precaution, my best friend's mom tied Becky's leash to my wrist so that she would not run away, while I walked her. The stage was set for catastrophe. When the dog saw my friend up the block, she got very excited, and proceeded to run full-speed ahead along the sidewalk of Highlawn Avenue. The leash was still attached to my wrist. In hindsight, I figured this is what it must have felt like to be Messala, in "Ben-Hur," holding on to the reins, but being dragged to my death by horses galloping with a fallen chariot.

The gash scars from the Drive-In movie, and other sporting events, are still quite visible, even now, at the age of 55. But being a 5-year old at the Drive-In, I couldn't fight back the tears, from the pain, and from witnessing the blood pouring out of my wound. Mom and sister cleaned me up, and we returned to the car, to watch the epic climax of Sinatra's war film. He played the role of Colonel Joseph Ryan, leading a POW escape to Switzerland, across Nazi-occupied Italy. And [SPOILER ALERT!], in the final scenes, as the prisoner train is just about to cross into Switzerland, Ryan is running frantically behind that last train car, trying desperately to escape the Waffen-SS troops in pursuit. He is shot by machine gun rounds. Tragically, he falls dead.

Well, this was just too much for my traumatic night. I got hysterical crying, and it took lots of assurances from my mother and sister that Frankie was still alive; it was only a movie. Come to think of it, the last Drive-In theater experience I had also featured a tragedy; it was in April 1998, virtually one month to the day before Ol' Blue Eyes passed away. We were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, and went to the De Anza Drive-In, where, fortunately, I did not rip open my knee, but I do admit to crying again, as I watched the last heartbreaking moments of the sinking "Titanic" on a huge 70mm screen!

The Essence of Sinatra's Vocal Revolution

Having conquered the film world and the style world, there was nothing left to conquer but that which Sinatra was born to be: The Voice. To say he was musically triumphant in the 1950s and 1960s would be an understatement. He retains the distinction of being among the very first artists to bring into the market the idea of "the concept album." Sinatra would go on to sell more than 150 million albums throughout his prolific recording career. Among the classic "concept albums," one finds such gems as "Songs for Young Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Come Fly with Me," "Nice 'n Easy," and "September of My Years. But we can't forget some of those magnificent live concert recordings such as "Sinatra at the Sands" (with Count Basie), and those utterly remarkable sessions with artists who transcended global boundaries and eras, m