Why We No Longer Hear Angels - and a Few Words about Tennis, Chess, Prison & the Healing Power of Classical Music
If you’ve ever visited the circus or a city like San Francisco, then you know a barker is someone who stands outside a theater or sideshow and calls out to passersby to get them interested in what's happening inside the tent. The word comes to mind just now because there seems to be a lot of barking in the public arena these days. And a lot of braying too. All of it a distraction from the things that probably matter most to you—if you haven’t been too distracted by all that noise to figure out what that is.
So, let me depart from my usual commentary in order to share a few things I found touching recently, which you may find interesting too.
WHY WE NO LONGER HEAR ANGELS
The following clip is from Faraway, So Close—a beautiful 1993 film by Wim Wenders, which I heard about this year from a writer friend on Twitter. At only two minutes and fifteen seconds, this bit of dialogue gets to the core of why all that barking can be harmful. It depicts a telepathic conversation between two angels, Raphaela (Nastassja Kinski) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), as they consider why it’s so difficult for their guidance to reach us the way it used to back in the day.
Why 'The Green Book' with Its Echoes of Greek Myth, Huckleberry Finn & Cyrano de Bergerac Is a Must See Movie of 2018
One critic calls it Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. But for my money The Green Book goes a lot deeper as it takes a long, hard look at what ails us—and hints at what’s required to heal our national divide. Even though it’s set during the early 1960s before passage of the Civil Rights Act, the movie’s themes could not be more relevant to today.
If you’ve never heard of the actual Green Book, which gives the film its name, you’ll learn during this two-hour excursion that even high-profile African-Americans were not allowed to eat or sleep in “whites only” establishments when they performed in the American Deep South. The film won’t tell you this, but it was a Harlem post-office employee, Victor Green, who published the book. Between 1936 and 1966, the Green Book was the essential guide for black travelers, providing a city-by-city list of restaurants, hotels, and gas stations where you would not be humiliated or harmed.
The first time I heard Lucinda Williams sing “Blue,” emotion kept me from getting the lyrics right. Instead of hearing, “We don’t talk about heaven, we don’t talk about hell,” I heard: “We don’t talk about heaven, we talk about hell.” Even now, whenever I listen to "Blue" that’s how I hear it. I remembered the wrong words and made them fit my meaning.
The year was 1895. Oscar Wilde was already famous. Married with two children, he was also four years into an affair with 25-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas. When Douglas' father denounced Wilde as a homosexual, the poet, novelist, and playwright sued for libel - and lost. He was sentenced to two years at hard labor at Reading Gaol. At the time of his arrest, The Importance of Being Ernest, was still in production on the London stage. We know him also for The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lady Windemere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and a highly quotable wit.
In our own time, this thing called "sodomy" is no longer the sin it was in 1895. In fact, the US Supreme Court no longer considers it a crime (Lawrence v. Texas 2003). From the perspective of hindsight, one feels the weight of Wilde's tragedy, the injustice of his incarceration, and a sense of sorrowful compassion for what happened to him. He was to die five years later. His wife, Constance Lloyd Wilde, died two years before him. Only Lord Alfred Douglas survived into relative old age, passing away in 1945 at the age of 74.
We all know about his work on the co-discovery of DNA, which earned a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962, which was was shared with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins (but not female Molecular Biologist, Rosalind Franklin, who contributed critical research to that discovery but had died of ovarian cancer four years before the prize was awarded.)
To celebrate his 86th birthday, here's Watson's Ted Talk from 2005. Somewhere in the background, you can hear the grateful prayers of the 300-plus wrongfully convicted men whose sentences have been overturned because of DNA testing. Maury Povich, your ratings owe a debt of gratitude to Watson, et al, too. But let's not go there.
Born on April 6, in 1929, this music prodigy turns 85 today. He's won a staggering number of awards, is a world-class conductor of classical music, a jazz and classical pianist, and a composer whose work includes an opera based on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
Here is former wife, Mia Farrow, introducing the bio for his 1998 Kennedy Center Award.
One of the all-time "greats" of 20th century jazz, this saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, and arranger was born this day in 1927. If you don't know him, look here for the details. If you do know his music, sit back and enjoy this 10-minute clip from the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival, featuring Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond.
Gertrude Stein's Portrait of Picasso on His Birthday; Georges Bizet, Johann Strauss II & Katy Perry Also Born This Day
Here is the opening of Gertrude Stein's cubist portrait of Pablo Picasso, "If I Told Him," to celebrate his arrival on the planet this day in 1881, followed by a lovely four-minute video meditation on his life and work.
"If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if
Napoleon if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him would he like it would he like it if I told him. Now. Not now. And now." You can listen to Gertrude Stein read this here (courtesy University of Pennsylvania).
Born this day in 1838, Bizet still knocks your socks off with his great opera, Carmen. Give yourself three minutes and forty-one seconds with this clip of Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role at Covent Garden, and you will see why Don Jose has been making a tragic fool of himself for generations.
Johann Strauss, II
The Waltz King, as he was called, was born today in Austria in 1899. We could dance all night to his music, and just to put us in the mood, here is Andre Rieu in a performance of "The Blue Danube."
And to think, she's only 28. We love her because she uses today's music to remind of of the imperishable: - "the part you're never, ever going to take away" and love "Unconditionally." Happy Birthday, KP
Rimbaud, Jelly Roll Morton & Charles Ives - Born This Day - A Good Day to Answer "The Unanswered Question"
Gertrude Stein once said, "Our children will not understand what we are doing, but our grandchildren will." Whether we understand the work of Charles Ives today or not is anybody's guess. But at least it is not ignored now as it was during most of his lifetime, which began on this day in 1874 in Danbury, CT, and ended on May 19, 1954, in New York City. In 1906, he composed The Unanswered Question, presented here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. This seven-minute piece will go on feeding you long after you've left the table. But try not to leave before tasting Leonard Bernstein's 1973 response, given at the end of his Harvard Lecture Series, which he aptly named, "The Unanswered Question."
Bernstein's Response to The Unanswered Question
Born this day in 1853, most of his best poems were written before the age of 20. One wonders if they are as well known as his tempestuous affair with the Symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine, who left his wife for the 19-year-old Rimbaud, then shot him and went to prison for it. Here is a clip from the film, Total Eclipse, with Leonardo Dicaprio as Rimbaud.
Rimbaud - A Few Quotes
Jelly Roll Morton
Born today in 1890, he was a tireless self-promoter and brilliant virtuoso, whose seminal contributions to jazz and the blues - whether as great as he claimed them to be or not - are indisputable. Here is a beautiful reminiscence by the late, great Dr. Billy Taylor.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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