Previously, DL and I have had some discussions about the importance of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "Ol' Man River" from the seminal American musical, Show Boat, and the varied performances of it since its premier in 1927. Here's another one. From the 1997 "A Celebration of the American Musical" concert at Avery Fisher Hall, it features the wonderful operatic bass, Samuel Ramey, and the American Theater Orchestra, conducted by Paul Gemignani. I'm posting it because...well, just because it's terrific.
This was a fun, star-studded concert, and I highly recommend checking it out. One especially entertaining selection is Ramey, baritone Dwayne Croft, and the late tenor Jerry Hadley, singing "There is Nothing Like a Dame" . The whole concert, though, is well worth your time. (And who said opera guys can't be funny?)
This is the real Celtic Thunder, not the Enya-crossed-with Michael-Flatley cheesy-schlocky thing on PBS, the real group co-founded in the late 1970s by BAP's own Terence Winch and his brother Jesse. The sold-out show was presented by the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Eastern Avenue, and it was wonderful. Great Irish music both new and old, amazing step-dancing, and Terence's poetry between songs, with an appropriately rowdy and appreciative audience clapping, tapping, and singing along.
If you haven't heard Celtic Thunder (the real Celtic Thunder, mind), then I feel sorry for you. You can buy their CDs online (but make sure you get the REAL Celtic Thunder CDs!) In the meantime, here's a sampling of last night's revelries, as they perform Terence Winch's "When New York Was Irish":
(Left to right, Jesse Winch on bouzouki, Dominick Murray on vocals and guitar, Linda Hickman on flute and vocals, Tony DeMarco on fiddle, and Terence Winch on button accordian)
There are faint rumors that this reunion might become an annual event. Here's hoping!
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Or, as they say in the old country, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona!
The late Madeline Kahn (1942-1999) was one of the most talented women of the 20th century. She received two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, the first in 1974 for her performance as Trixie Delight in Paper Moon; the second the next year for Blazing Saddles, in her unforgettable turn as Lily Von Shtupp, "The Teutonic Titwillow." In this movie, she sings possibly the dirtiest song ever written that never actually mentions sex, "I'm Tired"
In fact, her comic performances for Mel Brooks are what she is most remembered for: Blazing Saddles,Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, and The History of the World, Part 1. She also did some brilliant work in early episodes of Saturday Night Live. If you have Netflix, check out her first appearance, from May 8, 1976. (Some of the clips are available on Hulu.) Her range is amazing: Marlene Dietrich, Pat Nixon, a twelve-year-old girl explaining sex to her friends at a pajama party, a film noire vamp singing "I Will Follow Him" with John Belushi's Jack Nicholsonesque private eye. There is also a sweet couple of minutes with Gilda Radner, which leads into Kahn singing this exquisite version of "Lost in the Stars" from Kurt Weill's musical of the same name (an adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country, which just happens to be one of my favorite books). I remember watching this the first time it aired and, at the age of 14, being completely stunned. I've been looking for it again for 35 years. (I apologize for the poor quality of this clip. NBC is very stingy with their material, and this is the only version I have been able to find online, other than embedded in the complete SNL episode.)
Kahn was one of those people who got singing. What I mean is that, on top of a powerful voice with impressive range and lovely pitch, she knew how to present songs so that the lyric and music blended into a whole work of art, in the tradition of Sophie Tucker and Judy Garland, so that her singing became a true performance and a song-writer's dream. As funny as she was - and she was funny as all hell - this is what I love best about her as a performer. She could sing anything - from some blues to a duet with Sesame Street's Grover. Finally, here's a clip of her from the 1988 celebration of Irving Berlin's 100th birthday. Don't be surprised at how wonderful she is.
It's Shrove Tuesday, and while New Orleans may have Mardi Gras, we here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country have Fasnacht Day.
What is a fasnacht, you ask? It is a kind of super-doughnut, made with potato flour, sugar, and lard. Don't scoff. They are terrific. They are only sold one day a year - today, the day before Ash Wednesday. Historically, they were the last gastronomic hurrah before Lent, a way to use up all the sugar and lard in the pantry before forty days of fasting began. As you might imagine, they are not health food. No one, as far as I am aware, has ever calculated the calories in a fasnacht. Really, it's better not to know.
An Italian greyhound being "stacked" prior to a going-over by the judge.
The 136rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is going on right now at Madison Square Garden. Purebred dogs of all shapes and sizes compete to be judged "Best in Show" and have their names engraved on the big trophy. It may seem confusing - how do you compare a chihuahua and a Great Dane? - but the dogs aren't really judged against each other. They are measured by their breed standard, compiled by the breed's parent club, which describes the ideal specimen of that dog. The closer a particular dog gets to perfection, the higher the chance of being chosen "Best in Show." But there are also those indefinable characteristics of personality and sparkle, that make the judging so exciting. It isn't always about the numbers.
2011 Best in Show Winner: Scottish Deerhound Grand Champion Foxcliffe Hickory Wind. (Hickory to you and me.)
The annual WKC show also introduces new breeds to the American audience. Of course, most of these breeds aren't "new" at all; in fact, many have been around for thousands of years, but they may be unfamiliar here. To be a recognized breed in the US, the parent breed club must make an application to the American Kennel Club, proving a sustainable US population with responsible breeding practices. There are six new breeds this year: the American English Coonhound, the Cesky Terrier, the Entelbucher Mountain Dog, the Finnish Lapphund, the Norwegian Lundehund, and - take a deep breath before attempting to pronounce this one - the Xoloitzcuintli (left). The "Show-Lo," as its called for short, can be traced back to the ancient Aztecs and is the national dog of Mexico. You may know it as the "Mexican hairless."
All dogs begin in their breed competition. The winners of each breed go on to their group competition. Groups are made up of breeds with similar purposes or jobs. The AKC recognizes seven: the Terriers (self-explanatory), the Herding Group (German shepherds, border collies, corgis, etc.), the Working Group (mastiffs, Rottweilers, etc.), the Hounds (everything from dachshunds to Irish wolfhounds); the Sporting Group (setters, spaniels, and retrievers); the Toy Group (little guys bred solely for companionship); and the Non-Sporting Group (everyone else who doesn't fit into any of the other groups). The winners of each group go on to the Best in Show competition; the winner here is literally the top dog.
One of the fun parts of watching the WKC show is hearing the dogs' registry names. Like the names of racehorses, these names reflect the ancestry of a particular dog. At Westminster, they are proceeded by the word "Champion;" to be a Champion, a dog must have earned at least 15 points (depending on placement) at AKC sanctioned dog shows. Only dogs with this distinction can be entered at the WKC show. But all of these dogs are also family pets. It's kind of impossible to holler, "Come back here, Champion Oreo Cookie of Royal Nabisco," so of course, all the dogs have "call names." Sometimes they are diminuitives of their registry names (like Cookie or Biscuit for above); sometimes not (like Sport or Butch). For example, growing up I had a registered German shepherd. His registry name was "Conrad Von Dornberg." We called him Atlas.
The registry names can be pretty pretentious. With this in mind, Slate has posted a little quiz. Can you identify which of these is the real name of a WKC group winner and which is a real line from Allen Ginsberg's Howl? I got 15 out of 15 (I teach Howl regularly, so I had an advantage). No cheating - and let me know how you did. Make your puppy proud.
Tune into the USA channel tonight at 8pm to watch the last three group competitions and root for Best in Show.
Best American Poetry's own Jill Alexander Essbaum is featured today in the New York Times' "Learning Network" Blog's post, "Poetry Pairing." Click here to read Jill's wonderful poem "Precipice" and the discussion as the poem is compared to two other pieces about time.
Way to go, Jilly!
One of my favorite holiday television moments. Hokey 1970s Christmas special set-up, but worth it when you hear how sweetly Bing's baritone and David Bowie's crystal-clear tenor blend together, and when you realize that this was Bing Crosby's last television appearance. The special, "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas," was first shown on November 30, 1977; Crosby had died of a heart attack on October 14.
Thanks to Margaret J. for this one. Proof that there are no small parts, only small performers.
And now, for your holiday listening pleasure, the Marimba Ponies:
My reaction, upon first hearing that Goucher College's theater folks are putting on a production of The Fantasticks, was a not-so-inward groan. A chestnuttier chestnut you could not find, unless it was Oklahoma or Godspell. Goucher has a stellar theater department that has put on some pretty cool stuff recent years, including a stage version of Animal Farm and the infrequently performed but historically important Cradle Will Rock. But The Fantasticks? I mean, come on.
Was there ever a more cheeseball song than "Try to Remember?" Thinking of an 18-year-old singing it was cringe-worthy. What does a college student have to remember - fifth grade? And then there are all those corny, over-orchestrated, throw-up-in-your-mouth-sentimental versions of it. Do a search on YouTube and you get thousands. Ed Ames. Perry Como. Julie Andrews. Andy Williams. The Brothers Four. Roger Williams. Gladys Knight and the Pips (who super-schlocked it by combining it with "The Way We Were" in a medley). Blech blech blech.
But then something occurred to me. There's a reason things become cliches: they hit a universal nerve. And The Fantasticks' original 1960 Off-Off Broadway production is the longest-running musical in history: 42 years and over 17,000 performances (top that, Book of Mormon). Someone somewhere is always performing it. Why?
First off, it's a mash-up of familiar plots. It's (very loosely) based on a play by Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac, with some Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer's Night Dream, Greek mythology, and opera thrown in. Second, the scenery is stylized and minimal: some chairs, a kind of balcony thing, a cardboard moon. Third, all you really need is a piano-player, although you can use a harpist who doubles on percussion if you've got one. So you can produce it on the cheap; the original version cost less than $1000 to stage. But it isn't just the performers who like it - audiences love it. An Off-Broadway revival has been running since 2006.
So I decided to go back to 1960 and listen. On YouTube, I found the original cast recording of "Try to Remember," sung by the late and decidedly great Jerry Orbach, who originated the role of El Gallo (left - younger readers may remember him as the voice of Lumiere in Disney's Beauty and the Beast or as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order). So I listened. And I was blown out of the water. In this recording, Orbach is at the peak of his vocal powers. He sings simply and straightforwardly, no flourishes; it's just his voice and the accompanying piano. Not a mournful oboe or soaring string quartet to be found. Not an atom of schlock or cheesyness. Perfect. And suddenly the song is fresh and new and moving and lovely. Here it is. Pretend all those other singers haven't gotten their paws on it and listen.
Unfortunately, there is only one Goucher performance and it's tonight, so I've missed my chance to see what those fresh, young, unschlocky theater students can do. I hope they've listened to Orbach and trashed the rest of the recordings. I really do. And next time, I'll be less scornful of chestnuts, and more willing to crack open the nutshell and see what's inside.
Stacey asked us to post our gift recommendations for the holiday season. But if I do that, people will know what they're getting from me. So instead, I thought I'd help out you generous souls and offer a suggestion or two for me, in case you were stumped.
I want a cruise to the Titanic.
As reported in an article in today's issue of The New York Times and in honor of the April 2012 centennial of the sinking, Deep Sea Expeditions is offering their customers the opportunity to participate in one of the last cruises and dives to the most famous shipwreck in the world. The 12-13 days cruise costs $59, 680 and includes the following: " [a] dive on MIR submersible for scientific expedition tour of the RMS Titanic wreck; accommodations aboard the support ship; one night accommodations in St. John's; orientation meeting; three meals daily (starting with breakfast on Day 2 and ending with breakfast onboard the support ship on disembarkation day); activities within the program: lectures, briefings, slide/film shows; baggage handling, amenities/gifts, personal video memento." It does not include transportation to the ship or your bar tab.
(This is not their most expensive package. They also offer the "20,000 Leagues Under the Atlantic" cruise, which follows the adventures in Jules Verne's book across the North Atlantic, lasts 35 days, and includes 15 Mir dives. Price tag: $375,000.)
I will take lots of pictures for you and bring you a souvenir baseball cap from the ship. Also, you can be sure nobody else will have gotten me the same thing. Finally, you won't have to wrap it.
Just an idea. I'd also like a Snuggie if that's easier.
I have many things to be thankful for this year. First, that I am alive and cancer-free. Second, for my incredible family and friends who not only have buoyed me on this insane rapid-shoot, but who remind me again and again of how lucky we poets and artists are, to be able to do the work we do. Third...
Well, I could go on and on.
I think most people, if they stop and breathe and think for a minute, can come up with a list like this. We are good at remembering the big stuff. It is, after all, the big stuff. What is more difficult is to be mindful of the smaller bounty we receive every day, the "simple gifts" of the Shaker hymn that enrich us, the things that we take for granted and so almost always overlook.
For me, these are things like strong coffee with cream in it, being able to sing, my animals, the way frozen grass crunches under my shoes, hot baths in my old clawfoot bathtub, getting back my curly hair, birds at the window feeder, The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, cookies (any variety), colored Sharpie pens...and a million others. What are yours?
Here are two gifts from me to you. Happy Thanksgiving, I say. You're on my gratitude list, too, you know.
by Marilyn Nelson
Thank you for these tiny particles of ocean salt, pearl-necklace viruses, winged protozoans: for the infinite, intricate shapes of submicroscopic living things. For algae spores and fungus spores, bonded by vital mutual genetic cooperation, spreading their inseparable lives from equator to pole. My hand, my arm, make sweeping circles. Dust climbs the ladder of light. For this infernal, endless chore, for these eternal seeds of rain: Thank you. For dust.
from The Fields of Praise, New and Selected Poems, LSU Press, 1997
Back in the day, before the Internet and five million cable channels and YouTube and Netflix, television viewers were pretty much at the mercy of network programmers. Of which there were then three: ABC, NBC, and CBS. In the late 1960s, they were joined by PBS; in the early 1980s, by CNN. CNN, however, being an all-news channel, there was little chance of getting emotionally attached to any of the programming.
Otherwise, every season television viewers ran the risk of becoming deeply involved with a show, only to have it canceled after 13 or 26 weeks. (Yes, dear readers, once upon a time, a season was half a year long.) And canceled meant canceled: shows disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again - until the Web arrived to save the day, as long as the master tapes hadn't been erased. (This almost happened to Monty Python's Flying Circus. The BBC were getting ready to pitch the originals when Terry Gilliam, no fool he, bought them for almost nothing.)
One such show was Our World. Broadcast on ABC during the 1986-1987 season, it was a news magazine hosted by the journalists Linda Ellerbee (right) and Ray Gandolf (below left). Each program featured a short but significant era in American history, and explored the historical, political, artistic, and pop culture context of the time with interviews, film clips, music, and commentary. Ellerbee and Gandolf were wonderful hosts - old-school journalists who eschewed spin, but humorous, warm, and cognizant of their audience's intelligence. It was a terrific show, stylish, smart, fun, and informative. It also had the misfortune of airing opposite one of the most popular programs in television history: The Cosby Show.
It is difficult to know what goes on in the minds of television programmers. Our World got rave reviews from critics, educators, and viewers alike, but it could not compete with the juggernaut that was The Cosby Show's audience. News programs always have smaller audiences than entertainment programs; ABC must have known that and known that Our World would never match Cosby's numbers. In fact, over the course of the season, Our World did not lose any viewers; those who loved it, loved it and stayed loyal. But instead of moving Our World to a different time-slot and maybe building its audience, ABC canceled it after one season.
I've been pissed at them ever since.
I thought Our World was gone forever, until a couple of weeks ago, when I found it on YouTube. The only reason it's there is because a YouTuber uploaded it from old VCR recordings. (God bless you, vistavuelounge.) Below is part 1 of the first episode: "The Summer of '69." You also get the benefit of some vintage '80s commercials (no such thing as DVRs back then), but they're fun, too. Then I've included the links to the rest of the episode - you can find other episodes by following them back to YouTube. (And no laughing at Linda Ellerbee's ginormous glasses. I bet you had a pair just like them.)
I wish ABC would release Our World on DVD. It's the least they could do. I've been waiting almost 30 years.
The post-Irene footage from New Jersey, New York, and Vermont is sobering and sad. Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much.
In 1927, Bessie Smith was scheduled to perform in Mississippi when the area was hit by torrential downpours. The Mississippi River flooded, innundating the area, and Smith was taken to the venue via row boat. The audience, many of whom had lost everything in the storm, asked Smith to sing a blues about the flood. She told them that she was sorry, she didn't know one, but she would write one for them. She wrote "Backwater Blues" that evening. This recording features Smith accompanied by the great stride piano master, James P. Johnson.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.