Here's the singer:
Here's a great big but beautiful clue. And I'm thinking, if you were mine, I'd never let you go. . . -- DL
June 1939. Standing left to right: Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion), Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), MGM executive L.K. Sidney, Yip Harburg, composer/ conductor Meredith Willson (who wrote The Music Man), music publisher Harry Link. Seated: Judy Garland and Harold Arlen. (Photo courtesy of Yip Harburg Estate)
Arlen wrote the music and Harburg the lyrics for the score of The Wizard of Oz. Harold turned 34 that year and had the world on a string. -- DL
Chamber music patrons are a mellow lot. I’ve always thought the act of seeking beauty in a small space acts as a tonic to calm the mind before a single note’s been played. Music lovers enter the elegant concert halls of this city, like the lovely jewel box theater at the Frick (above, right), with quiet assurance that the performance they are about to hear will meet a deep need to spend an hour or two with great works of art in an intimate setting. Concert halls in museums are a double gift: strolling through the galleries before a chamber music concert is one of the greatest pleasures I know.
There’s something wonderfully extravagant about listening to chamber music. When composers express themselves in miniature, it’s as if all their gifts are compressed for maximum effect. For his New York recital debut in October, the English pianist Charles Owen (above, left) chose a traditionally structured program of works from four centuries that displayed his considerable talents and reminded all of us of the big impression an artist can make in a small venue.
The first half of the program was devoted to music of the 18th and 19th centuries. Opening with a late work of Felix Mendelssohn, Variations serieuses, Op. 54, Owen’s elegant playing filled the tiny concert hall—it seats only 175—and we were plunged into a wonderful afternoon of music. The pianist’s deeply felt slow movements were magical throughout his performance. Mendelssohn’s elegiac melodies unfolded with great beauty and solemnity. In the early going the tempos of the faster variations were occasionally rushed, sacrificing some of the work’s emotional depth. By the second piece on the program, Bach’s Partita No. 4 in D Major, Owen brought the full force of his ability to the music at hand. The Bach had an unexpected regal quality and a tenderness that charmed the audience.
After the intermission Owen performed two short works by the young contemporary composer Nico Muhly and finished the program with Claude Debussy’s Twelve Preludes, Book One. Debussy, the accessible revolutionary of the early 20th century, was determined to discard the vast Germanic heritage of the previous two centuries, preferring instead the art of seduction. Owen took just the right approach in each piece, playing with grace and pointed enthusiasm.
Concerts at The Frick Collection are recorded by WQXR, 105.9 FM, for future broadcast and stream at wqxr.org. The 2014–2015 concert season is the Frick’s 76th. The schedule for the remaining concerts, which run through April, 2015, can be found here. For more on the works by Nico Muhly, stay tuned to The Best American Poetry blog for an upcoming interview with the composer.
Georgia Tucker is on the faculty of Riverdale Country School. Prior to her career in education she worked in fine arts broadcasting.
Tonight in 1957 one of the all-time great Broadway musicals made its debut: West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein (left, in 1947), lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents, and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
The show translated Romeo and Juliet into a Broadway show -- but with a tragic soul and a socially-conscious purpose absent from the most notable previous instance of Shakespeare transmuted into musical comedy: Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, which took as its text The Taming of the Shrew. This is not to denigrate Porter's wonderful show, with its immortal "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," its superb blend of lyricism and humor ("Always True to You, Darling, in My Fashion"), and its crazy witty backstage plot blending the antics of inept gangsters and a troupe of players in and out of costume.
What made West Side Story unusual was that it took to the furthest extreme the strand in musical theater that begins in Showboat (1927), continues with Porgy and Bess in the 1930s and in the postwar South Pacific (1949). In each case, elements of seriousness and melancholy, of defeat even unto death, coexist with the singing and dancing, sometimes joyous, always life-aiffrming. In each, too, there is a spark of serious indignation -- a moral insistence on right and wrong.
West Side Story brings this theme home. It takes place not on a Mississippi River barge in the nineteenth century, or in a segregated African-American community in the deep South, or on a south Pacific island in World War II. West Side Story takes place in the very city synonymous with Broadway -- only about six miles to the north on the edge of Washington Heights.The fights between Jets and Sharks, whites and Puerto Ricans, are as pointless as they are homocidal. And the fault lies not in our laws or the authorities (clueless and indifferent though they be) but in our selves.
Musically, Bernstein in West Side Story produces a score that in its sheer variety and sublime lyricism appears not only to define its genre but somehow to transcend it. It is a quality that perhaps only Kern, Gershwin, and Rodgers possessed. This places Bernstein in the highest company of Broadway composers. But he had a complicating predicament. Lenny (everyone who knew him called him Lenny) had a second career, even a third. Skills lead to imperatives. Bernstein was an inspired conductor, and he was a composer of quote serious unquote music at a time when high art and low dwelled in places where border patrol was tight -- a time when a major composer was expected to write masses and symphonies, not just a divertimento or two. You weren't supposed to be satisfied with the likes of On the Town, Candide, and West Side Story. At the same time Bernstein felt an equal and opposite pressure. There were aways people saying to him, "Why don't you run upstairs and write a nice Gershwin tune?"
Most of the critics liked West Side Story. Brooks Atkinson, the dean of New York theater reviewers, said he was "profoundly" moved by this "organic work of art." Kenneth Tynan aired a more ambiguous note. He felt that the music "sounds as if Puccini and Stravinsky had gone on a roller-coaster ride into the precincts of modern jazz," a grand simile that makes you wonder whether the writer knew much about either jazz or amusement park rides. Howard Taubman, who (if memory serves) succeeded Brooks Atkinson as the NY Times chief drama critic, said that Bernstein's score fell short on "melodic invention." Ha! The songs thus indicted include "America," "Tonight," "Maria," "Something's Coming," "There's a Place for Us," "Gee, Officer Krupke," "Cool," "I Feel Pretty," and the Jets' song.
But the cake was taken by Harold Clurman, the widely respected critic for The Nation, who questioned the authors' sincerity. West Side Story was, said Clurman, "phony," the appropriation of "the pain of a real problem" for the sake of "popular showmanship." Furthermore, Bernstein and company were guilty of "intellectually slumming." The worst of their sins was to combine the goal of being "progressive" in their views with the objective of attracting "several million playgoers" as if it might be wiser to aim at being reactionary and closing after two performances.
Not that this sort of treatment is unprecedented. Earlier shows containing immortal scores by Kern (with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") and Berlin (with "No Business Like Show Business") were polly toed by reviewers with a tin ear and a close deadline. So if your poems or your novel or your play or your songs get denounced by a compulsive loud-mouth or practitioner of critical dummheit, take heart. You have distinguished company.
For more on this score, in two senses, read Allen Shawn's new book, Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician, just out from Yale UP. -- DL
08 / 22 / 08
Claude Debussy was born.
I remember where I was and what I was doing
one hundred years and two months later:
elementary algebra, trombone practice,
Julius Caesar on the record player
with Brando as Antony, simple
buttonhook patterns in football,
the French subjunctive, and the use
of "quarantine" rather than "blockade"
during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was considered the less belligerent word.
Much was made of it in 1962,
centenary of Debussy’s birth.
And if today I play his Rhapsody
for Saxophone and Orchestra
for the ten minutes it requires of
my undivided attention, who will attack me for
living in Paris in 1908 instead of now?
Let them. I'll take my stand,
my music stand, with the composer
of my favorite Danse Tarantelle.
-- David Lehman
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) wrote poems -- good ones, too -- as you'll learn if you pick up The Leonard Bernstein Letters, edited by Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press). And today is Lenny's birthday -- and STACEY'S! She had the good sense to pick the 18th of August to come into this world.
Sinatra sent Lenny birthday congratulations when he turned 70. The letter began: "Dear Genius."
The genius arrived ninety-six years ago on this day, and we can do worse than to honor him with a poem he wrote to and for Stephen Sondheim. Wunderkind Steve wrote the lyrics for Lenny's majestic music in West Side Story and the fellows remained close friends and good correspondents from that time on.
"Sorrowful Song" was written in 1986, when Lenny was 68. It was posted to Sondheim and was signed "Love, L":
I sat down and wrote a poem.
I looked at it and didn't like it much.
So I started
All over again,
Making (major and minor but) significant
I looked again and din't like it much better.
So I changed it back
To Version One
Which I wote last night,
And this is it.
The Leonard Bernstein Letters (ed. Nigel Simeone; Yale University Press) is a wonderful volume. The letters are to or from such luminaries as Serge Koussevitzky, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen, Betty Comden, Elia Kazan, Aaron Copland, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Arthur Miller, Richard Rodgers, Marc Blitzstein, James M. Cain, Aldous Huxley, Ingmar Bergman, Richard Avedon, Farley Granger, Jacqueline Kennedy, Andre Previn, Nadia Boulanger, Lena Horne, the late Lauren Bacall (who sang a Sondheim parody of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's "Saga of Jenny" in the Tanglewood tribute to Lenny on his 70th birthday), and Sinatra, who saluted the Maestro's 70th with a toast in his act at a Reno night club. It's as good as a biography. Better, in fact.
I look forward to writing about Lenny at greater length soon. But it's his birthday and we can't overlook that.
Also great from Yale UP: The Richard Burton Diaries (ed. Chris Williams)-- DL
A few weeks ago I was looking for something to listen to, searching out – as I often do -- a mood, a tone. I picked out Horace Silver’s Re-entry, a compilation of live dates from 1965-66. As with many of Silver’s CDs, Re-entry was pure toe-tapping fun. The joyful tunes stuck with me for days afterwards. So I felt an immediate sadness when I read about Silver’s death last week because his music -- especially “Cape Verdean Blues” -- was still very much alive in me. I’m sure the sadness was heightened by the knowledge that most of the jazz figures I grew up with and loved are gone now and I’ll never get to see them again.
As part of the Blue Note “stable,” Horace Silver, along with artists like Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Miles, Monk, Freddie Hubbard, and Booker Ervin, produced endless numbers of great albums during the hard-bop era of the Fifties and early Sixties. Jazz had a cultural cache then that it doesn’t have now: jazz musicians would play on TV, their images would grace the covers of TIME and NEWSWEEK. Jazz was a signifier during that time-- authentic or not -- for being cool or hip. These artists made music that was relatively accessible (funky beats and melodies galore), identifiable and yet full of playful invention: this primarily rhythmic music grew out of gospel and R & B as well as post World-War II bop traditions and the “Blue Note Sound” was characterized by a capacity to swing and by artists who were very accomplished – a few self-taught – on their respective instruments.
Horace Silver was a special case: first of all he was an innovative composer, creating a stew of Latin and African rhythms to add to that thumpy gospel, bluesy sound. He perfected the jazz quintet (led by tenor and trumpet players), a trend that had became popular with Blakey when Silver played in his band in the early Fifties. For a decade or more Silver’s recordings were especially well-loved: when he played at the Half-Note or the Village Gate you’d often see lines around the corner, because folks who knew his recordings wanted to see him live. A half dozen times I was among these fans, sometimes lucky enough to get in and listen.
Silver had a distinctive style, a recipe, as it were. Generally the songs began by establishing a rhythm with a strong two or three beat bass line. Then the piano might come in briefly to state the theme and the horns would join in to play the head (either in harmony or in unison), which sounded to me something like a waterfall, the notes cascading in a downward progression, or a roller coaster, down and then up. Then Silver would solo: usually a series of block chords with the left hand and while he approached melody with the right hand (mostly using one or two fingers). He played modest and relatively brief solos while letting his horn players carry the weight of improvisation. His solos’ substantial pleasures came from rhythm, the piano as a percussive instrument. Though an ingenuous composer, his own solos were rarely especially inventive, they just had a recognizable sound: a great beat and an infectious melody.
So Silver had a distinctive style, a signature sound: the pleasure of that signature was like welcoming a familiar voice, a member of the family. The danger of a style of course is calcification, resulting in a dulling of the listener’s senses. We all know poets with distinctive styles who wrote the same poems over and over again until we stopped listening: repetition made the work predictable. I wouldn’t say that he sought out commercial success (though it’s never been easy for jazz musicians to make a living so many artists of the ear hoped for a “hit” like Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”): time just seemed to pass him by. I associate his wonderful music with the world before the civil rights movement and Viet Nam. Before all the black rage and innovation that came from the likes of Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. Jazz became more challenging: in the shift to “free jazz” melody and rhythm no longer seemed to suffice: it reflected neither evolving musical nor minority experience. To advance the art and to reflect the artist in the world it seemed like one needed a huge capacity for improvisation and the kind of roughness, rage and darkness you might hear in the percussive piano playing of a Cecil Taylor or an Albert Ayler. He became aware of the rift: On a ’68 record cover for “Serenade to a Soul Sister,” he’s quoted as saying that he didn't believe in allowing "politics, hatred, or anger" into his music. One might suggest Silver came from a more innocent time, but the Fifties were by no means innocent. Retrospectively, the Fifties and early Sixties reflected a relatively comfortable and joyful period for jazz; it was a time when musicians digested Parker and Gillespie and extended their discoveries. Of course the British Invasion arrived then too: the Beatles and the Stones’ in many ways displaced jazz as a popular music. And now we live in an world that rarely welcomes difficulty; serious jazz artists mostly go to Europe and the Far East to play their music. But in the years before the revolutionary change, esp. in Horace Silver’s case, you could virtually dance to the music.
Re-Entry was for me probably the last really successful adventurous date of Silver’s band. Oh Silver continued to compose, occasionally often for larger bands, sometimes with strings, sometimes suites in the Ellington mode, even occasionally evoking the earlier funky style, but none of the dates that followed had for me the vitality of Silver’s wonderful decade plus of successful recordings, from 1954 to 66.
As with many live dates Re-Entry cuts stretch out and I associated the album with the kind of impulsive risk-taking that many studio recordings lack. But listening to the album again after Silver’s death, I can also hear restlessness in the horn solos: Joe Henderson’s solos -- as they were whenever he played with Silver – were fresh and inventive, but by this time he’d also listened to and absorbed some Coltrane. Two years away from his own Black Narcissus, he was already moving on, and when Silver plays after him the music takes a turn to the conventional: his solos seem static, a little too familiar. Woody Shaw, just finding his own way, was also moving away from the hard-bop sounds of early LeeMorgan and Clifford Brown (great trumpet players who also provided a model for the second trumpet player on Re-entry, the highly underrated Carmell Jones). The cuts on Re-entry represent for me the apex of Silver’s accomplishment: we hear developed versions of so many of his great upbeat songs (like “Song for My Father,” “Cape Verdean Blues,””Senor Blues””Sister Sadie,” “Filthy McNasty” and “The African Queen” that still give us pleasure (I only wish they’d played “Nica’s Dream,” one of my all-time favorite Silver tunes). These songs have all been covered by any numbers of musicians since that time, so Silver’s music will certainly live on. But this album also suggests the end of an era: ultimately the most imaginative solos belong to Henderson.
Finally I’ll never forget one beautiful Silver ballad, “Peace,” though I’m thinking now of how it was heartbreakingly played by Chico Freeman. It’s a great tribute song, a wish, a longing, an acknowledgment of bereavement. It sums up for me the loss I feel in his absence. He captured a time in jazz, and it’s hard to think of anyone funkier that Horace Silver. My toes are still tapping.
Ira Sadoff is the author of seven collections of poetry, including most recently True Faith (BOA EDITIONS,2012), and Barter, and Grazing (U. of Illinois), a novel, O. Henry prize-winning short stories, and The Ira Sadoff Reader (a collection of stories, poems, and essays about contemporary poetry). This fall Sadoff's Palm Reading In Winter will be reissued as part of the Carnegie-Mellon Classics Series. He teaches at Colby College and the MFA program at Drew University. Find out more about Ira Sadoff here.
Shakespeare asked whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The question’s more complicated than it looks.Take the moniker of the Washington Redskins. By revoking the squad's trademark, the US Patent and Trademark Agency did its bit this week to get the football team to change its name from one that is patently "disparaging to Native Americans."
Unless you can make the case that the team's market value would go down if it changed its name -- and that's a hard case to make -- there are only sentimental reasons for resisting the writing that's on the wall.
Team owner Dan Snyder has no intention of making a change. To him "Redskins" must be as innocent as the games of Cowboys and Indians that kids used to play. Good clean juvenile red-blooded American fun.
But say he kept an open mind. There are a lot of options, and remember he is legally entitled to keep using the logo and image associated with the 'Skins. From the summer-camp practice of pitting the “shirts” versus the “skins” in games of pick-up basketball, he could opt for the Washington Red Shirts. In time this would be abbreviated to Reds, just as baseball’s Cincinnati Redlegs became the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Stockings became the Chicago White Sox..
But where’s the gain in doing that – other than good will toward a group that is sensitive to its unique place in American history? There's no getting around it. The native Americans, who were here before the rest of us, were vilified, its people depicted as savages and brutes, when in fact the tribes were routinely victmized as the United States moved is frontier to the Pacific Ocean.
Snyder is the defiant type. Perhaps he fears that his fan base will lose its ardor if he caves. Maybe it's a macho thing, a bit of Republican resistance to the forces of political correctness.
Or maybe he just hasn't come up with the right new name that will set his spirits soaring?
Here's a suggestion. Surely Dan remembers the old Washington Senators, hapless cellar-dwellers, in the 1950s when the mighty Yankees diominated baseball. The joke had it that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” There was even a novel about the plight of the Senators’ fan: Douglas Wallop’s The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. It was turned into one of the immortal musicals of the 1950s, Damn Yankees -- with great songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a superb performance by Gwen Verdon as the naughty bawdy temptress Lola. "Whatever Lola wants, Lola Gets." She it was "who took the wind out of the sails / Of the Prince of Wales."
In Damn Yankees, the long-suffering fan makes a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for a Senators’ pennant. It turns out that the devil is a Yankee fan, but you’ll get no more spoilers from me -- except to say that the show's all about "heart": "When the odds are saying, you'll never win / That's when the grin / Should start."
There is, at the moment, no Washington team bearing the name of the Senators. If you’re Dan Snyder, you could change that in a flash. I say, keep the logo and the helmet, but embrace the heritage of the Washington Senators and see if you can't get the perennial losers to redeem themselves.
I am open to other suggestions and hope that readers will suggest away -- just in case Dan is one of the blog's secret admirers. -- DL
It has been such a pleasure to guest-blog here at BAP and I’m a little sad to be hanging up my spurs when I hit “publish” on this entry. This last post is a bit more scattered than my previous ones--it’s a round up of poetry-related (or kissing cousins to poetry) projects I wanted to share with you.
First, I want to mention that our reading period is open at Augury Books. Do you have a poetry manuscript, a short story collection, or a nonfiction book (full-length or a collection of shorter pieces) that is looking for a home? Send it to us please--we’re really excited to read new work. Secondly (I’m going to keep everything connected to organizations that I represent here in this one paragraph), The Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities, a nonprofit center located in Stamford, Connecticut, is offering two half-scholarships this summer for Vijay Seshadri’s (this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his book 3 Sections) workshop. The class is called Transitions and Transfigurations and runs from August 18th through August 22nd on Mayapple’s campus. If you want to study with an amazing teacher somewhere beautiful this summer, you should send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org with your CV and writing sample by June 30th.
Are you familiar with cellpoems? It’s a poetry journal that sends out one weekly text message containing a beautiful short poem. It’s free to subscribe and they publish a great mix of emerging poets, as well as established names like Charles Simic and Sherman Alexie. This poem by Heather Cousins has run through my head since I first read it almost four years ago. You may also like Motionpoems, a nonprofit production company that makes short film adaptions of contemporary poems. I can’t get over how gorgeous their movie-poems are--watching each one is like being able to step into a snippet of someone else’s dream.
Girls in Trouble is another project that I love, although related to poetry more tangentially than directly; it’s an art-rock band helmed by poet Alicia Jo Rabins. Girls in Trouble’s music tells the stories of women in the Torah through songs that fuse American folk, indie rock, strings (violin and cello!), and gorgeous verse. Also, this is my new favorite tumblr--it isn’t poetry-specific, but poets (and everyone) should contribute. Cristina Henriquez’s newest novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, tells the story of immigrants whose voices aren’t often heard. She created a tumblr to accompany it that asks people to share their own and their families’ experiences moving to the United States. I’ve loved reading the stories that are posted and I hope some of you will want to add yours.
Finally, I want to leave you with a poem:
A Book of Music
Coming at an end, the lovers
Are exhausted like two swimmers. Where
Did it end? There is no telling. No love is
Like an ocean with the dizzy procession of the waves’ boundaries
From which two can emerge exhausted, nor long goodbye
Coming at an end. Rather, I would say, like a length
Of coiled rope
Which does not disguise in the final twists of its lengths
But, you will say, we loved
And some parts of us loved
And the rest of us will remain
Two persons. Yes,
Poetry ends like a rope.
There are many things to love Jack Spicer for, ranging from the Vancouver lectures where he described the poet as a radio receiving “transmissions” from the “invisible world” (“The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a counterpunching radio.” Sporting Life) to his apocryphal last words as he died at age forty in the poverty ward at San Francisco General Hospital (“my vocabulary did this to me”), but this poem is one of the things I love best. There is so much beauty inside the darkness here--we have come to the end of things, the lovers are exhausted, and yet the title reminds us this is “A Book of Music.” I also love the plaintiveness of the you saying, “But...we loved” and how it leads into the ambiguity of the three lines below: is the “you” still speaking or can we potentially read the “And some parts of us loved / And the rest of us will remain / Two persons” as the speaker briefly agreeing, acknowledging that there was love (“some parts of us loved”) there, but then asserting separation again. What moves me the most about the poem every time I read it is that sudden shift at the end from love into poetry, the implied conflation of these two things: how the last line (and the “Yes” above it) are simultaneously devastating--the rope and its gallows-connotations, that the rope ends--and yet also somehow strangely uplifting. Despite the actual stated meaning of that bleak last line, the word “rope” also includes within it a subliminal rhyme with “hope,’ as well as connotations of rescue, of salvation.
Thank you for listening to me this week.
Click on this link to read Lloyd Schwartz on the 1936 screen adaptation of the classic 1927 musical (words by Oscar Hammerstein, music by Jerome Kern). There's a new DVD of this picture starring Irene Dunne and Allan jones (Jack's papa), with Paul Robeson's rendering of "Ol' Man River" and Helen Morgan from the original Broadway cast playing Julie and singing "Bill." Lloyd discusses it on NPR's Fresh Air and you can read his comments here. -- DL
One day last week I spent the afternoon with my colleague Luke Malaise, downtown maven of the marvelously new and ugly. Wearing a black shirt buttoned to the top without a tie in his case, and sporting a black Underarmor t-shirt in mine, we were strolling along Horatio Street thinking about death in the afternoon. Check that. Scratch "strolling," substitute the hipper "hoofing." And along comes our friend Sal Marada, a person of smoke, with whom we like to associate becuse it gives us cachet and separates us as "punks" from the "punks" who are "punks" in the dreary old-fashioned sense of immature youngsters who need a good whack in the backside from father figures who aren't decked out in aprons like milquetoast Jim Backus in "Rebel without a Cause." We have no cause, either, just like Brando and Dean, but we are punks not because we are young and presumptuous and getting ready to be slugged by a tall Irish cop who says, "I've frisked a hundred young punks like him, he's clean," en route to geting shot at a Bronx restaurant that serves the best veal in New York. No way, Giuseppe. We are punks in the classy sense of being declasse rockers who rock like Johnny Rotten or even better the vicious kid named Sid for whom we feel a plaque at the Chelsea Hotel is in order, and you may wonder why there has been no reference to music in this piece when ostensibly I am the music critic and that is because we were hoofing down Hudson Street and whom should we run into but David Lehman wearing a gray Cavanagh fedora that I am sure he bought at Housing Works, a tweed sports coat (Paul Stuart), a J. Press shirt (red and blue checks), burgundy silk tie (Dior), and black loafers (Prada) and we decided hey this guy is fucking not hip! We are hip and he likes "Blue Moon" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "Too Marvelous for Words" and "Isn't it Romantic?" and "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" (which we believe should be reserved strictly for Margaret Thatcher) and "Change Partners" and "Begin the Beguine" and "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and even worse "Ol' Man River," which has been something of a joke, a racist joke for decades, no matter what Paul Robeson may think, and that gave us an idea. Why don't we write a book called "Punks of New York": about the three of us plus certified hipsters of our choosing? Like why Paul McCartney ("simply having wonderful Christmas time") could never be hop or punk, while Lou Reed is effortlessly both even when dead. When we brought the idea to a publisher, she said "you need a thesis" so Luke thought quickly. "OK," he said. "Our thesis is that we who are hip in a punk way, or punk in a hip way, but not definitely not in a hippy way, are deep down the least hip kids in the high school of our lives," and the publisher ate it up, and then we smoked this blunt that Sal gave Luke, had a couple slices of pizza in a place only four other people know about, and I sat down to write about the noise scene in New York today compared to the noise of the five other cities worth talking about, Los Angeles, Tokyo, the London of the clubs, the Paris of the Seine, and the rows of linden trees you walk under in Berlin. Meanwhile the suckers from the New York Times keep writing about who is hip and who isn't, not realizing that writing about who is hip and who isn't is the first sign that you isn't. -- SFJ
(Ed note: In a file of rejected letters to the editor from 2011, this epistle emerged. It was never published, perhaps because of the editors’ not unreasonable suspicion that the undersigned was either a pseudonym, a hoax, or a stand-in for the wounded performer.) -- DL
To the Editor,
I am writing in response to today’s front-page article asking when the time is right for an old geezer past his prime to get off the stage. The piece begins with a scathing account of a recent concert by Bob Dylan. You illustrated it with a cartoon of Dylan with a prune juice bottle at his elbow.
My first reaction was yeah. I was at that concert. I’ll never pay to hear him anymore. And it was expensive. The cost to pleasure ratio was way out of whack. However, then I considered the unexamined premise behind the piece, which is that age brings infirmity and loss of prowess without a compensatory gift, in this case the beautiful nobility of Mr. Dylan’s professional presence. I’d rather have a croaking Bob Dylan than 90% of what’s out there.
And how typically inconsistent for the Wall Street Journal to say in one breath that Dylan at 69 is too old to perform and in the next breath that we should extend the retirement age to 69.
As a free-market capitalist I feel that Dylan should retire when the market says he should.
(signed) R. Zimmerman
In memory of Maxine Kumin, here is a short song I wrote on her poem "The Revisionist Dream". This is a performance by Angela Denoke and Roger Vignoles at the Kölner Philharmonie.
For almost a century, Pete Seeger walked the walk and embraced the possible. He was a man who understood the power of art and the dignity and worth of each human being; who risked imprisonment and endured the blacklist for refusing to compromise either his principles or the Bill of Rights; and who worked locally to change the world globally and globally to change the world locally. But mostly, he was a man who never forgot that singing is joy and all of us are singers.
He sang with Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Cisco Houston. He saved old American songs from obscurity and gave them new life in a contemporary context ("We Shall Overcome"). He collected folk music from all over the world and brought it to a new audience in America ("Wimoweh," "Guantanamera"). His "Rainbow Quest" television show of the early 1960s was a barebones production that featured as guests some of the most important folk, country, and blues musicians of the 20th century: Mississippi John Hurt, Richard and Mimi Farina, the Clancey Brothers and Tommy Makem, Johnny Cash, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Hedy West, Judy Collins, Malvina Reynolds, Jean Redpath, Bessie Jones, and more. His 1967 anti-war song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" was censored out of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" as too critical of the President (it was later reinstated after fans of the show objected vociferously). In his later years, he devoted himself to saving and restoring his beloved Hudson River through the Hudson River Clearwater Foundation. He toured with Arlo Guthrie, his good friend Woody's son, to whom he acted as a surrogate father, for many years. In January 2009, he sang "This Land is Your Land" (all the verses!) at President Obama's bitterly cold Inaugural Concert (what a vindication that must have felt like!). Into very old age, he was still fighting for the rights and diginity of all people, once showing up unexpectedly to give encouragement to and sing some songs with the Occupy Wall Street protestors.
The song we all sang at camp, "If I Had a Hammer," was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 in response to the government's charging the Communist Party of America with attempting to overthrow the government. In 1955, Pete himself was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. In his testimony, Pete refused to answer the committee's questions, condemning their unconstitutional disregard for the First Amendment. He was found in contempt of Congress and sentenced to one year in jail (the conviction was finally overturned in 1962). Later, "If I Had a Hammer" became one of the great anthems of the Civil Rights Movement. The last time Pete sang it in public was at this past year's Farm Aid concert.
Rest in peace, Pete. We sure are gonna miss you.
Spring 68 at Columbia was the season of the strike,
The occupation of the buildings (Low, Hamilton, Avery
Mathematics, and Fayerwether where a righteous
Mininster married a young couple), and Mitch and I
Went to the West End Bar to talk tactics because
We knew the "tactical patrol force" (TPF) was
Going to come and hit hard. The days went by
And the arm bands worn by angry students
Went from green (amnesty) to black (mourning
For Alma Mater). But I still had my music
Humanities final to face and I was so ignorant
I did the only thig I could do: bought Mozart's
Jupiter, and Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, and 7th,
And lucked out when on the final the prof
Played the slow movement of the 7th.
And the next summer I spent in Oxford
And the bells of one of the churches played
The opening of the Jupiter every hour
On the hour. Years later I learned
Mozart's birthday was also that of Kern,
Jerry Kern of "Show Boat" and "The Way
You Look Tonight" and "Long Ago
And Far Away." So I will just say
To both of you: happy birthday!
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.