Friday, August 31, 2007

George Enescu

I came through late adolescence in an era when kids were too serious about popular music. We listened to recordings over & over, without viscereal pleasure, searching for layers of meaning & nuance. Very few albums warranted this kind of close examination, & it got worse when "art rock" was the thing & bands went into the studio with the intent of making music as complex or opaque as possible. Friends tried to make me sit through tedious, bombastic records by Yes & Emerson Lake & Palmer, stuff I didn't even consider rock. With some exceptions, I wasn't comfortable dealing with rock in terms of spiritual profundity & musical complexity. I didn't worship technique in rockers. Some, like Jimi Hendrix, were obviously virtuosos. But they often stumbled trying to find contexts for their abilities, & I felt sorry for them. Jerry Garcia's endless noodlings left me cold. I preferred Neil Young, who wrote great songs, hired a bar band, cranked up the amps & just got on with it. Slick studio production didn't impress me unless it included great riffs & hooks.

That's pretty much what pushed me toward classical music. Plus a job in a great independent record store. Beethoven couldn't have imagined records & headphones, yet his deafness forced him to compose music that was made for them, since he was hearing it all inside his head anyway. Whether it was four musicians sawing on strings, or 100 reading off scores while keeping an eye on an egomaniac waving a stick, or one person banging on a complex machine with 88 levers called a "piano," classical music repaid repeated listenings. It was composed with care, required disciplined technique to perform. No matter how familiar a great classical work became, I never quite sorted it all out. The more contemporary (or ancient) the music was, the more it challenged ears accustomed to resting in the music rather than intellectually engaging it. Rock rarely ever did that, I saw no reason why it should. The dissonances & raw noise I soaked up from rock bands prepared me for the same sounds in other kinds of music.

I'm thinking about this because of a new CD, a symphony by George Enescu. He composed it around 1912, not a period that gives me much difficulty anymore. But it was a strange time in the arts, struggling to get out of the 19th Century against massive resistance.

Enescu composed exactly one piece that all classical fans know & anyone can love; Romanian Rhapsody No. 1. He was Romanian, but also a cosmopolitan man, a great violinist & brilliant all-around musician who traveled widely & loved Paris especially. I was familiar with two other of his works, Romanian Rhapsody No. 2 & a chamber composition for wind instruments. None of them prepared me for his Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 17. Apparently, nobody was a nearly century ago, even Enescu. It was performed once in his lifetime, & he didn't have it published. I played the CD Saturday night & didn't know what to make of it. It almost completely baffled me because i couldn't fit it in any convenient category, I couldn't figure out where the door to it was located.

It was dense & sounded terribly difficult to perform - too many notes! It seemed to go forward without going anywhere, ideas dropped in & never developed. But it wasn't really "modern." In the long 3rd & last movement, something Romanian popped up, a gypsy violin maybe. But that sound receded. Then a piano joined the orchestra, like somebody had accidentally wandered in from the romantic piano concerto next door. The whole thing charged & sputtered & leaped through the last 5 minutes in a finale unlike anything I'd ever heard, rumbling, jumping & finally exploding into a big splashy chord. The ending knocked my socks off. My stunned reaction was, "What the hell was that all about?" Did I like it? Couldn't say. Did it keep me entertained? Most of the time, yes, but I didn't know if it would the next time around. I had no idea how Enescu had gotten to that chord at the end.

So I listened to the symphony, in whole & in pieces, over the next few days. I was fascinated by this intense music. Its sophistication became more apparent. I began picking out themes & motifs. The first movement was confused, but it sounded delberate, as if Enescu was taking an inventory. The quiet middle movement turned into a bittersweet love song. & the third movement, which at first seemed morose, then martial, was mapping out something more purely musical. In fact, it struck me as passionately Romanian at heart. Toward the end of the long movement, Enescu was playing the entire orchestra like a gypsy violin, the fiddler becoming more & more energized, & in the process crashing through the limits of his own provincialism. (Not a very musical analysis of the work.)

On a continent approaching another murderous war over obsolete beliefs & national borders, ethnic & religious hatreds, this sophisticated, sensitive, well-traveled musician from a country considered a cultural & political backwater was feeling something quite different. He was sick of it all. He wanted to be Romanian & be free, too. Just as he was free to go where he wanted, in the music he performed & in the music he composed. He was a man of a different, better spirit. Not a revolutionary, but not a reactionary, either.

George Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody No. 2; Symphony No. 2
Cristian Mandeal, George Enescu Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra (Arte Nova)


Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the banks of the old Raritan

You won't find savvy college football commentary at The Rix Mix. I don't know what Rutgers will have to do to this year to prove they're as good as their #16 ranking. Starting with a blowout at home against Buffalo tonight, for sure. Because the schedule gives the Scarlet Knights every possible advantage for going 7-0. By contrast, it could be a long season for The Contrarian, who worships at the Shrine of Touchdown Jesus in South Bend Indiana. Dante Alighieri designed the schedule for unranked Notre Dame.
(Rutgers 38, Buffalo 3)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Suffering beyond comparison

I wrote a brief blog post about Hurricane Katrina on 8/29/05. I'd been up late the night before watching news reports & weather radar. Although the Gulf Coast had suffered a terrible blow, the full picture of the destruction hadn't emerged yet. But tt looked like New Orleans had escaped a catastrophe. We know what happened then, when the levees broke & couldn't be plugged up.

Even a competently managed FEMA wouldn't have been adequate for the task. But few Americans in 2005 realized Bush had done with that agency what he'd done with so much of the federal government; staffed it with incompetent cronies & then ignored it. It was another example of the Repug strategy to prove that government doesn't work by providing poor government. Yet, FEMA was one federal agency Americans wanted & expected to be professionally administered, generously funded, & to maintain a high level of preparedness. Bill Clinton reformed it when he took office in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, elevating it to a cabinet level position & appointing as director a friend from Arkansas who also happened to be superbly qualified for the job. Bubble Boy gutted Clinton's reforms & made FEMA so inept that people were calling for it to be abolished after Michael "Brownie" Brown did a "Heck of a job." Mission accomplished. In a way FEMA was already gone, incorporated into the Dept. Of Homeland Security, tucked inside a new super-bureaucracy where the White House wouldn't have to pay any attention to it. The result was human suffering & waste of money beyond comparison, if we don't compare Hurricane Katrina with Iraq.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A glory hole for Larry Craig

"Anyone who spends more than two minutes in an airport men's room is guilty of something."
David Letterman
I'm sure you're all familiar by now with Idaho Repug Senator Larry Craig's predicament. One of those political stories that inspires laughter & anger. He did - & continues to - play the homobigot role very, very well. Rich Kim writes in The Nation that Republicans believe "it would be better to be seen in the public eye as an avowed racist than as someone who likes to have sex with men sometimes."

Democrats are different. Not perfect, but better to be sure. When former Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey came out of the closet in 2004, the fact of his being gay was the least scandalous aspect of the "scandal." Sentiment was generally how unfortunate it was that he had chosen to live a closeted life, & that his political ambitions had been one of the deciding factors in his choice. Being closeted had led him into a series of lousy personal decisions hurting those most close to him, & then the rest of us. Mainly we were disappointed & angry about other stuff. McGreevey was a gifted politician - one of the best I'd ever seen, & when he had the opportunity to do the most good with his political talents, he didn't, & maybe couldn't. But in the Republican Party, just being gay means "You're a bad man! You're a very bad man!" - to quote Billy Mumy from a memorable Twilight Zone episode. Hiding in the closet & terrified of being outted warps a life in a thousand ways & directions. At its worst, it makes some people turn their self-loathing on others. & if they go all the way to the Senate, they vote against hate crime laws & for Protection of Marriage amendments & everywhere they look they see their reflections in funhouse mirrors.

Susan Sarandon is hot

"I didn't realize that everything was supposed to fall apart at 40. So I just slid past 40 and 50. When you're an outsider and not paying attention to the rules the hurdles are a little lower."
Jersey girl. Catholic girl. Smart. Liberal. Susan Abigail Tomalin Sarandon is a couple of years older than me so the crush I first got on her when she was in Joe (1970) was like a college sophomore for a senior, the slightly "older" woman, & it stayed that way through the decades. I completely fell for her as Sally Matthews, an oyster shucker with dreams in Atlantic City (1980), her second film with Louis Malle (Pretty Baby the first). She's never tried to be ageless or stop the clock. She always looks swell. She likes men the way I like women to like men. She was on Letterman tonight & she wasn't on the screen long enough for me.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Michael Vick is a sadist

Michael Vicks is a sadist. It helps to be one in the NFL.
In his written plea, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings, but merely associating with gambling can result in a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.
I don't care if he actually placed bets or that he associated with gamblers. That's an NFL problem. Vick had a $130 million contract & he got a thrill out of torturing & killing animals. In his own home. Contrition isn't enough.
Outside the courthouse, a contingent of Vick supporters sang "This Little Light of Mine" and other hymns, while holding signs that said "We Love You" and urged Vick to seek support in religion. Steven Terry, pastor of Deliverance Tabernacle Church in the Tidewater area, organized the group of at least two dozen supporters.
Go home, Dr. Terry, you have more important work to do. Michael Vick needs psychotherapy. Maybe some time in the slammer will convince him to get it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ocean Beach NJ

Some people scoffed at the miles of cheap little boxes that sprung up on the sand north of Seaside Heights in the 50s & 60s, as if the sweltering masses were not entitled to their personal plot of sand. But look more closely at those folks relaxing on their postage stamp patio. You might find them there on a sunny weekend in October. These prefabs - many of them double units - have long since sprouted decks, air-conditioning, satellite dishes, & even patches of lawn. Retirees have converted them into year-round homes. I used to be with a young woman whose family owned 1/2 of one in Lavallette, beach block, a short stroll from the boardwalk. I loved it. They rented it out through an agency most of July & August & enjoyed it the rest of the year. The baseboard electric made it expensive & slow to heat, so it didn't get used much over the winter, but the place was never shuttered off-season. We spent a New Year's Eve down there on a whim, too windy cold & desolate that year. A huge, deliberate loophole in Jersey's environmental zoning laws permitted a beachfront condo development at the end of the street that literally blocked the sea breeze. You can purchase a 50 X 30 foot piece of paradise for under $400,000.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Checkout Time

For everyone who vacationed last week at the Jersey shore:

Souvenir Of Ocean City

In the crack between the end
of the ballgame & sleep,
TV glow flickering on a white wall,
an Ocean City appears in pastels
with beige houses built of sand,
their grainy textures crumbling,
& a blue sky, always blue except
where there is rain, gray clouds
dropping puffs of gray haze
as they float over gray waves.

Beach chairs on a large front porch
surrounded by victorian trimmings,
a postcard colored with flesh tones
of pale young hands & faces,
sullenly playing gin rummy
through an afternoon drizzle
in "America's Family Resort,"
no alcoholic beverages sold,
no movies on Sunday, the theater
turns non-denominational,
competing with the pinball arcade.

How long ago? A four cent postage stamp.
Cappy Dick regrets to inform you
that you are now too old to enter
the newspaper coloring contest.

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Friday, August 24, 2007


Some waitresses at the big Copacabana Diner like to go across the street to the 7-11 during their breaks for ciggies or lottery tix or some beverage the diner doesn't have, or just to get out for a few minutes. The other evening, a tall, stocky, good-looking waitress - whatever's Spanish for zoftig maybe - was in there for a pack of Newports & a couple of scratchoffs. She paid for them out of a large wad of mostly singles she had jammed in the front pocket of her black apron. It was about 7:30, right after the supper rush. She walked like she had the sorest feet on the planet. The diner closes at midnight on weekdays, she still had a long way to walk.
Excellent Mets win tonight, beat Dodgers 5-2, fine pitching by Oliver Perez but it was David Wright's game. homered & made two sharp plays at third base. What's with closer Billy Wagner? Almost threw another one away in the 9th, loading up the bases. Scott Proctor pitched the 8th for L.A. & he was as lousy as he was for Yankees before he got traded; 95 mph fastballs he can't put in the strike zone & curve balls that hang over the plate like the grapefruits the machines toss in the boardwalk batting cages. He's 30 years old & been in the big leagues three years, a big goofy likable guy from Florida & you want his control to be as good as his natural talent, but time's running out for you, Scott, & luckily you're still pitching for a contender.
Ordered a couple of CDs. Real CDs with liner notes, both symphonies. Total cost was $10 & change. A symphony or any large scale classical work is worthwhile if you like it, because it takes many listens to become familiar with it, & many more before you think you really know it. Sometimes I'll listen to a new classical piece a couple of times, not get it, file it for awhile & come back later, or try something else by the same composer. You can focus on it completely or play it while you do something else & let it seep in. I give some thought to choosing symphonies, read reviews, keep a mental list of those I might like & eventually one or another shows up on Amazon deeply discounted new or used.

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Meanie [the queenie], one of Gina's four cats I visit when she's at the shore on weekends. Meanie thinks a human lap is her absolute entitlement. I do not, particularly when I am surfing Gina's satellite channels or reading the newspaper. She sneaks into the room, runs the last few feet & jumps on. This is compulsion, not true neediness. So when gently rejected, Meanie makes an indignant noise & sulks on the end of the couch until she decides to move to the afghan behind my head. She's usually content there, sleeping or gazing out the window. Sometimes she decides to wash my thin hair. Sometimes, if she's moody & I forget about her & move my head, I feel her claw in my scalp. Yes, I do award her my lap during a movie or Mets game, as long as she keeps those claws reasonably retracted when I scritch her.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The "Authentic" Student

Colleges seek 'authenticity' in hopefuls

If there's a sign of the times in college admissions, it may be this: Steven Roy Goodman, an independent college counselor, tells clients to make a small mistake somewhere in their application — on purpose.

"Sometimes it's a typo," he says. "I don't want my students to sound like robots. It's pretty easy to fall into that trap of trying to do everything perfectly and there's no spark left."

What Goodman is going for is "authenticity" — an increasingly hot selling point in college admissions as a new year rolls around.

In an age when applicants all seem to have volunteered, played sports and traveled abroad, colleges are wary of slick packaging. They're drawn to high grades and test scores, of course, but also to humility and to students who really got something out of their experiences, not just those trying to impress colleges with their resume.
Prove you really really wanna go to our school. Screw that. Humility? Yeah right, that's a quality colleges look for in a top scholastic or athletic prospect. It's the other 95%, the hoi polloi, that have to jump through hoops. All through grammar & high school they've been regurgitating facts & trying to parrot their teachers' views in reports & essay test questions, & now they're supposed to worry about their "authenticity," too? Some schools are just about being smart or talented enough to get in. All schools want to brag about the applicant to acceptance ratio. The problem is getting the potential student to actually enroll at the school. There are several thousand first rate, competitive colleges in America below the "elite" level, most of them small compared to public schools, most promoting themselves as more selective than they really are, touting their Princeton Review rankings ("Top 20 for Professors making themselves accessible."). No kid with a solid academic record should need to kiss or jive ass to get into them. Private schools not in the top tier ought to stop with the sincerity games & just offer discounted tuition to anyone they accept who puts down a nonrefundable deposit by April 1 for the Fall semester.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hurricane Dean

It's really something, a Category 4/5 hurricane passed through the Caribbean & slammed into Yucatan without heavy loss of life & apparently without catastrophic damage. Yet the remnants of a tropical storm & a stalled high pressure system have caused serious flooding for a week & 22 deaths so far from Texas through the upper midwest, tremendous rainfall, & nobody can get out of the way. & there's a terrible heatwave in the southeast.

Temp barely broke 60 today, drizzly & overcast. This week is usually an excellent gamble for the Jersey shore. Of the five midAugust midweek specials I've had in Wildwood, only one disappointed weatherwise - sort of. That was 1994, a hurricane was slowly moving up the coast about 200 miles offshore, spinning off low clouds & high tides. The flat Wildwood beaches were covered with a few inches of water all the way to the boardwalk, interesting to see, you couldn't go on them much less swim, & the waves weren't spectacular. It didn't rain more than damp spritzing, but there was an unrelenting grayness for 3 days. Except on the mainland. As you drove west over the causeway & bridges, the sky brightened. Over there was good deal of sunshine, but it was also a steambath. The Cape May Zoo was the only big attraction of interest to kids, it was packed. So was the K Mart, a heckuva place to spend a vacation afternoon. A profitable week for the shops & bars of Cape May City, spent a lot of time there, too. At least at night the Wildwood boardwalk was its usual craziness - even more than usual as all the pent up energy spilled on to it. Thursday improved, beaches still awash. Friday, checkout day, was gorgeous, great for people arriving at the expensive weekend rates.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Your change, sir

It was a pleasant dream at first, I was playing acoustic guitar in a band at a loose recording session, & nobody seemed to notice that I can't play guitar & was plucking combinations of notes that fit with the country-rockish music (I never remember the music in my dreams, it rarely happens & it's usually pretty nice & may even be original). But I was wishing I was at a piano or organ. Afterward, I'm in the backseat of a car with some of the musicians at a gas station, & we're pooling money for gas, & I reach out the window & hand the attendant a twenty, which he tucks in the breast pocket of his greasy shirt. Now he's got more than enough to pay for the gas & owes us change, but starts walking away. I say, "Hey, I gave you a twenty." He says, "No you didn't." So I say to another man working there, "I just gave that guy a twenty & we have some change coming." The man shrugs. He's also carrying a pipe wrench. It's not a big chain station, an Exxon or Shell, but pumps in front of a funky repair shop, & pursuing the matter is not only pointless, it's probably dangerous. That part of the dream ended, my unconscious mind lucid enough to abandon the narrative thread & move on. But I was annoyed when I woke up. (This seems related to yesterday's post, but the feeling was entirely different.)

A Jersey Transit ticket machine ate a fiver last month late on a Wednesday afternoon just as a train was due. It surprised me because those machines are reliable. It took the bill & clunked into the no bills no change mode, nothing happened on the ticket selection screen. Couldn't even cancel. I knew I'd never see that $5 again unless I made a special trip to the ticket window when it was open & fought for a refund. I also knew I'd gotten much more than $5 in a free trips over the past year from conductors not collecting my ticket on crowded cars between Newark & Elizabeth. I have a card that lets me buy tickets on the train without the surcharge, so I said to the pestiferous panhandler lurking near the machine & watching me, "You can have that five bucks if you can get it out of there." As I walked down the platform to meet the train, he was banging on the ticket machine & pressing all the buttons. I'm sure it kept him busy for awhile.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Creole Amen

At about 9:45 AM I'd been awake for 1/2 an hour. I was trying to listen to the news on the clock radio & be patient. The radio hadn't wakened me, I'd turned it on. What roused me was Haitian pentecostal music in the next apartment. & now I could hear the man singing along with it. It's been louder, a lot louder. Last Sunday the Praise the Lord in Creole went on for nearly six hours, mid-afternoon to after 9 pm. I didn't complain then. I was afraid he was in a trance. But it'd never started this early. I couldn't concentrate on the news. I wanted to go back to sleep for a little while. Finally, I pulled on some jeans & went into the hall & listened. Oh yeah, I wasn't making something of nothing. I knocked on his door, four times, hard, & waited. I heard his two kids on the other side, heard them run to get their father. I waited. The door opened about a foot & there he was, short black man, in his jockey shorts, looking at me suspiciously, with something else in his expression, what was it, contempt? He's a scappy small guy with a temper, once kicked his door open when his wife deliberately locked him out. That was over a year ago.

"Your music is too loud. Please turn it down."
"It's not loud." (Music blaring from behind him, through the open door.)
"If I'm out here on Sunday morning saying it's too loud, it's too loud."
"Oh yeah?" He stared at me, the kind of look that would get you knifed on the subway if you did it to a gang banger. Is he disrespecting me? He's looking at a bleary-eyed, skinny, older white guy. His English isn't good. He knows he's pissed me off before. But he is a holy roller Christian.
"OK. I'm not going to stand here & argue or yell," I said. "It's too loud & if you don't turn it down you're going to have problems with the landlord. That's all." I went back to my apartment.

The music stayed at the same level for about 5 minutes. He's the boss because he controls his own stereo system? Well alright. I wasn't gonna be passive-aggressive about it. No notes taped to his door. No banging on the wall with the Collegiate Dictionary with the imitation leather hardcover. No pulling the dusty guitar amp out of the closet, plugging the small boombox into it, cranking up the bass, aiming it at his wall, & introducing him to some of the more adventurous modern music in my collection, or Neil Young with Crazy Horse, or Bach's Mass in B Minor, or the Javanese gamelan orchestra known as "The Venerable Thunder of Flowers." I've never gone directly to the landlord with problems here, even the overflowing bathtub upstairs was settled through the building handyman, I didn't complain about the tenant to the landlord. But whenever the landlord sees me he asks if I have any problems with my neighbors, & he's never had to replace a door I broke down.

Suddenly, the volume dropped. I could still hear the music, but I could tune it out. That's all I ask. I turned off the news, took one ibuprophen, read a few pages of a mystery novel, & snoozed. Hopefully, he'll keep it down for a few weeks.

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Strathmere NJ

Modern conveniences. Great bungalow. I'll take it.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bar Talk

I'm tired of explaining
who I am & what I do,
I said to the woman sitting
next to me at the bar.

You never have to do that,
she said, but I knew she meant
I didn't have to explain
the poems she would never read.



Friday, August 17, 2007

No Nerdy Surprises

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Literature Nerd

Does sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea/chocolate, and a book you can read for hours even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance? Then you fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and it's eloquence; and you may like to read/write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society, however you can probably be overly-critical of works.

Musician Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Social Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Drama Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Anime Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

Needs a Political Nerd category. Sports bloggers are nerdy, too. Science & math are not the same, & I'm a bit of a Weather Nerd.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elvis 1977-2007

Back in the Eighties, when WFMU was broadcasting from a clammy basement at Upsala College, I occasionally did a silly bit in the low tech spirit of the place then. We had an album, Having Fun With Elvis On Stage, entirely of his absurd, stream-of consciousness stage patter. I set up a mic in the record library, cued the record on the library turntable, cranked up the monitors. Just before a mic break, I'd start the record, & at some point I announced, "Let's hear what's happening in the record library," & brought the remote mic on the air. The effect was startling, & funny. It didn't sound like a recording, but like Elvis was actually in the library doing a show, except he never got around to singing.

It was at WFMU that I learned to love Elvis, all of Elvis. Not just the classic Sun recordings & the scattering of great RCA singles released throughout the remainder of his career. Not just the two or three quality movies & the comeback TV special & Memphis sessions. Not just the lean young Elvis in the leather suit. Oh I have my personal favs: "Trying To Get To You," "Mystery Train," "Don't," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Kentucky Rain," "Polk Salad Annie," "Return to Sender," "Burning Love," the 1960 gospel LP, His Hand In Mine, & "I'm Coming Home," an early LP cut composed by Charlie Rich. But it's no fun to be too selective about Elvis. It's most fun just to embrace Elvis as he really was, "Do the Clam" & all. Elvis didn't like singing that crap, but he didn't think it was tragic. His own tastes weren't always an improvement.If you don't love Elvis unconditionally, you don't really love Elvis. I won't say that about Sinatra, he doesn't deserve that kind of love anyway. & I don't need to say it about Louis Armstrong.

1965: In high school, Elvis was invisible. It didn't matter that the British rockers idolized him. Elvis simply did not figure into teen culture in Jersey in the mid-Sixties. Nobody went to his movies, except at the drive-in with the speaker turned off. Elvis was out of sight & out of mind. There were no "oldies," everything was new, so we believed.

1968: The story is that TV producer Steve Binder, to prove a point, coaxed Elvis out on to Sunset Blvd. El was terrified The King would be instantly recognized & mobbed. The freaks totally ignored him. That's why the 1968 "Comeback Special" really is special. My reaction: Hey, where was this guy hiding?

1972: "My Way." Decline is obvious. Again. Weight problems. Pills. Frozen personna in Vegas & on tour. A cash cow. Lousy live albums galore. Elton John releases Honky Chateau, described by Jon Landau as "a rich, warm, satisfying album that stands head and shoulders above the morass of current releases." The bar is very low & getting lower.

1976: The Ramones.

1977: It's completely unraveling for Elvis. Memphis Mafia members exposé, Elvis, What Happened. Can The King go on like this for another 30 years? Will he let himself be rescued by Nick Lowe. Elvis Costello, or Steve Van Zandt? At the time, that's as likely as Ronald Reagan becoming President. On August 16, Elvis Presley saves his career by making the ultimate sacrifice for it.

With Elvis' passing, we got lucky. There was no reason to expect he would be guided into middle age by personal trainers & sharp management. Mick Jagger, only 8 years younger than El, was about to demonstrate the possibilities. Yet, the release of The Sun Sessions LP in 1976 had connected Elvis to the rockabilly inclinations of punk; he was an inspiration, not a target. Vegas soon underwent another transformation, becoming a sanctuary where every aging "star" could come & be renovated & given a long-term lease on a showroom stage & marketed like Elvis, free of the pressure of appealing to ever-changing "youth" demographics. In the Eighties, Nashville blended Elvis with The Eagles & the formula worked so well that it still dominates the country charts. Elvis could easily have covered the songs on this week's Billboard Hot Country Top Ten.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

G.I. Blues

The only Elvis Presley movie I ever saw in a theater was G.I. Blues, & that was because mom made me go to the movies one rainy Saturday afternoon just to get me out of the house. It was awful & most of the slightly prepubescent audience hooted all the way through it. I was sitting next to Patty Clark, a cute Army brat, her father was on local recuiting duty, they rented a house & moved away the next year. Patty watched the movie quietly.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phil Rizzuto

Played before my time. Decades listening to Phil calling Yankee games. Sometimes infuriating when he lost track of the count as he wished happy birthday to all the nuns on his list for that day. But who's to say his anecdotal style, discursive & casually hyperbolic, didn't seep into mine, or that of any number of Nuyawk area writers? Ball two. Leave the zeppoles, take the cannolis. There'll be Rizzuto memories everywhere for the next week. Start with The Contrarian's dad, & this from the New York Times obit:
Rizzuto met Cora Ellenborg in 1942, after substituting for DiMaggio as a speaker at a communion breakfast in Newark. He had been invited to her home afterward for coffee and cake by her father, a Newark fire chief. “I fell in love so hard I didn’t go home,” Rizzuto recalled. He rented a hotel room nearby for a month to be near her.
Phil Rizzuto Park is three blocks from here, done with a baseball theme, but there's a soccer field, not a diamond. Huckleberries.

From the Daily News, Phil & Cora visit Pier 94 after 9/11.

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Elvis on Ed Sullivan

September 9, 1956,

I remember this because it was an event. I don't recall any of Elvis Presley's previous network TV appearances on the Milton Berle or Steve Allen Shows. Nor do I recall Charles Laughton substituting for Ed Sullivan that night. I remember little at all about it except for Elvis himself. I was 7 years old & Ed Sullivan wasn't my thing & it was probably around my bedtime anyway. I know how my family reacted.

Dad: Elvis was gawdawful music, just noise. He despised all rock & roll. This set the tone for the family. But he didn't even like the swing pop music of his own generation. He had a few peculiar tastes in music, & enjoyed Broadway show tunes & the "Victory at Sea" soundtrack (Broadway melodies dressed up as as pseudo-classical). I think he had a tin ear & no feel for rhythm. I never saw him dance, except briefly at a wedding.

Mom: Bemused. Mom understood & generally accepted the concept of a generation gap. Teen culture didn't rattle her for another decade, & even then not The Beatles but The Rolling Stones & The Animals.

Nana: Had her own TV in her bedroom.

Joe (age 15, high school sophomore): Unimpressed. Never got with the rock & roll. Gravitated toward jazz & hipster culture. Dad, believing he had an ally, gave him an "I Hate Elvis" button, which Joe promptly tossed in his sock drawer.

Jim (age 11): Liked Elvis but wouldn't admit it. Later bought rockabilly records with his paper route money.

Jean (age 9): She was fascinated by everything about teenagers. By the time she reached puberty, Elvis was out, Frankie Avalon & Bobby Rydell were in, dreary period in rock & roll, kind of like the early 70s. Or now.

Me (age 7): Huh? Where's that guy who paints the face on his hand & makes it talk?

The music I really liked hearing on the radio as a little kid was vocal harmony, doo wop or Four Freshmen varieties. It took smiling Fats Domino & twerpy Buddy Holly to interest me in individual rock & roll personalities.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Full Moon - Diamond Cuts the Circle

last night about eleven
at the end of the baseball game
they said it was full

it filled the TV screen
while the credits ran
& Tim McCarver recapped

craters & creases shaded out
on the left edge -
there's a cold night for you

umpire try to rub that ball
with your magic Jersey mud
it will never fly like junk

Willie Randolph's double
over the right fielder's head
hitched a three run inning behind it

the Mets won oh glory oh goddess
a bench of boys with bats & bucks
but the moon was not full


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Wildwood NJ

There's still a Jay's Motel. I miss Wildwood.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pastor Dan

Article in today's New York Times, "A Pastor Finds a Way to Serve Two Disparate Flocks" by Samuel G. Freedman. It's about the Rev. Daniel Schultz, pastor of a farm country United Church of Christ congregation & also a founder of Street Prophets, a progressive "faith and politics" website. I've been active at Street Prophets from its inception. It's where I got to know, & become very fond of "PastorDan," as he is known there. The closest I get to having a pastor. Dan had qualities that set him apart from other "progressive Christians" (many of whom, like Jim Wallis, Anne Lamont, Amy Sullivan, can really annoy me). Something in Dan resisted the program, how the celebrity Christian liberals framed & spun the issues. It was a combination of things; his great "Catholic girl" wife, his taste in music (Link Wray, some punk), his dogs, his sense of humor, his ground level view of American religion - particularly protestantism. He's a minister. He was stuck in Lancaster PA, doing substitute preaching while he worked at a social services job. Then last fall, not long after the Amish schoolgirls were killed, he & Mrs. P went back home to Wisconsin, moved into an old parsonage house next to Salem UCC, church cemetary around back, cornfield across the street. Oh yeah, concrete barbecue pits for Salem's annual Chicken Barbecue. They like it there. Fixed up the grounds, took in a pair of foster children, became a family. He ministered. That's what he does. Of course he relates to his congregation. He grew up around people like them, his dad was a UCC pastor, in a real way he's from them. But he's not convinced that we ought to be compromising or bargaining away our progressive principles to win a few Evangelical votes. Not in a national election. Pastor Dan's getting his first 15 minutes of fame. It won't change him.

Samuel Freedman, an excellent writer on religion, is the brother of Ken Freedman, general manager of WFMU.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Hocus Pocus

Ugly. Billy Wagner blew a save at Shea against the mediocre Marlins tonight & now the Mets & Yankees have identical records, 64-51.

Both Paul & Heather are vacationing in the Hamptons. Sez the gossips: "And having them both on Long Island is proving a nightmare for hosts who cannot have them at the same event." Let's see, one was a losing contestant on "Dancing With the Stars." The other is a Beatle, sings & plays the piano, & brings primo pot.

I'm struggling to the conclusion of Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen, which turned in on itself like Rococo picture frame about 100 pages ago. I prefer the later novel of his I've read, the even more whackadoo Sick Puppy. I'll recover with an old Travis McGhee by John D. MacDonald.

Also read Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus, published in 1990. He seems to have written it much like his fictional author, Eugene Debs Hartke, claims at the beginning, on scraps of paper of varying sizes. Not having read this novel before, or anything of length by Vonnegut in years, & because of his death last April, I can't say if Hocus Pocus is a good or not so good or in between Vonnegut novel, & I'm not even disposed to weigh the matter. It was an entertaining read, & I savored it very much. After seeing a statistic yesterday that African-Americans comprise 14% of Jersey's general population but 60% of the prison population, plus the scandalous, inhumane conditions at privatized prisons (aren't the government run ones terrible enough?), two basic premises of Hocus Pocus are true enough. Typical of Vonnegut, it's so bitterly funny that you can't laugh. Bought it for a quarter at a church rummage sale. There's more Kurt Vonnegut Jr. than John D. MacDonald in Carl Hiaasen.


Covering the Ivy Hill Murders

I'm disappointed by the unexceptional reporting & commentary coming out of the Star-Ledger over the past week. The venerable Newark newspaper had a tragic & frightening story dropped on its doorstep last weekend, a terrible crime, & a pivotal event with a half-dozen & more angles; murder, police investigation, politics, citizen outrage, public safety, human interest, city history, & now immigration. The paper needed to be on top of & inside this story in every way. But it couldn't summon up the kind of concentrated focus it delivered (& won a Pulitzer) for the more investigative tale of the Jim McGreevey scandal & resignation. Even the resident misanthropic columnist, Paul Mulshine, should have been politely asked to go up to Ivy Hill or over to City Hall; Paul at least knows that where innocence & evil collide, often so do clarity & sentiment. Perhaps the Ledger's confusing website is part of the problem, & I haven't read everything there is to read in the blog section. It's difficult enough to get back to a web page one has read. The tags are useless. Breaking news favors TV cameras & sound bites, but a local newspaper still has the edge in breadth, depth, & reflection. Most likely, the Star-Ledger is understaffed.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Our Bungalow of Dreams

Good radio show last night but I had to work for it, & it took an hour to settle in. Probably the heat. The WFMU library had been reorganized - I was expecting that. But some of the music on my list wasn't there, had been moved to the basement or we never had it to begin with. The show prior to mine was broadcast from the upstairs studio & the DJ didn't know I was filling in, so I didn't get a next up filling in for intro, which is annoying. Then I couldn't get the computer screen & new unidirectional mic lined up comfortably, & when I first went on mic I sounded like I was speaking from 3 feet away because I'd bumped the microphone sideways, it doesn't look any different turned sideways, & it had me baffled.

I made a DJ screwup while cueing up a CD, punching the stop button on the CD player that was going out over the air. When that happens, you feel total confusion & utter panic packed into less than five seconds. The light of reason tries to shine into your dark, chaotic mental space. Sometimes, the next move you make is also wrong, as occurred last night, "Shit, I started up my talkover music." Then I made a third wrong move, restarting from the beginning the music I'd originally cut off. But in fact, as I then realized, the music I'd cut off had been less than 30 seconds from the end anyway. So just stop everything & begin the next song. It was nothing. Everyone has had really terrible experiences. I remember listening to an aircheck tape & only then discovering to my horror & shame (& later amusement) that I hadn't stopped a turntable & fully turned down the volume when the song ended, had started another song, taken off the headphones, & gone into the music library as two songs went out over the air simultaneously. I must have come back into the studio after a few minutes & shut off the turntable thinking the volume was already down, & only then turned up the studio speakers. The glory of WFMU, & of the kind of programming I used to do quite often, is that most listeners no doubt thought it was deliberate. But it really sucks if I'm not having the fun.

At 10:50 I put on a long salsa jazz cut to finish the show, planning on using that time to roll the record cart back into the library, & organize everything for quick refiling & packing so I could be out the door in Jersey City ahortly after 11, making the midnight train out of Newark Penn Station. But the 11 pm to 2 am shift DJ hadn't arrived. This is a rare enough occurrance, at night it's a real anxiety producer. The #1 responsibility & rule is that the DJ has to remain at the control board until someone else takes over. It's the law, too. You play DJ, but in the eyes of the FCC your purpose for being there is broadcast engineering. Five of, still no DJ, & he's a reliable veteran. I ran through the necessities & options. If I stayed past 1 am I'd be stuck all night. I'd have to phone the Program Director, whose first reaction would be to ask me me to hang in there for a full double shift, bribing me with promises of future delicious Chinese takeout & everlasting gratitude. There isn't much he can do at that hour on short notice. Ah, but there was a young DJ upstairs in Studio B just listening to music. So I could call the Program Director, switch call to extension 242, & let him order that guy downstairs into Studio A. I could easily make it to midnight with the recordings I had on hand. I did an official I.D. at 11. Oddly, the salsa number went back to the beginning, I must have accidently had the player on repeat. I let it play while I considered what to do next. At 11:01 the tardy DJ walked in, agitated from his journey on New York's flood-plagued subways but ready to go. I went back on mic, closed out my show, signed off on the engineer's log & got out of there fast as I could. Amazingly, a PATH train pulled in just as I walked on to the Exchange Place platform, & I caught the 11:48 out of Newark. Thank you Jesus.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Early Morning Rain

Constant thunder rumbling in the distance got me out of bed late last night & looking at the online radar. Intense storms were approaching, one cell with a purple vortex icon signifying cloud rotation & possible tornado. Fortunately, it disappeared. I shut down & went back to bed knowing I wouldn't fall back sleep for another hour. The storms came, lightning & thunder, & rain splattering on the metal a/c outside the window. But not much wind. My mom didn't need radar. A light sleeper, distant thunder vibrated her antennae. A certain frequency pulled her out of bed, probably in a semi-somnambulant state, she'd walk like a zombie through the house in total darkness shutting every window facing the direction of the approaching storm, never stumbling or bumping into anything, make a quick bathroom visit, & return to bed. I had a child's normal fear of night time thunderstorms. Now I like them, except when they vibrate my antennae too much at 4 am.

I'm filling in for Dave Mandl at WFMU from 8 to 11 tonight. Might even play "Woman From Tokyo" by Deep Purple. But I have to get from here to the train station in air like warm pea soup, which means packing a spare tee shirt in my backpack.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

National Night Out

NATIONAL NIGHT OUT is designed to:
Something is happening at Newark Bears Stadium, not a Bears game; no info on the City of Newark webpage. In the aftermath of Saturday's murders, folks might feel anxious about getting home safely from the stadium. Elizabeth's event is at Hanratty Little League Field, on the border with Roselle Park, in the city's most affluent neighborhood, probably the only area that doesn't need a special Night Out, & the least accessible place for those who do. Rahway has a carnival where it ought to be held in that city.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Orange Netroots

Jill wraps up her weekend at Yearly Kos. She met Pam "Houseblend" Spaulding. A number of bloggers have griped about the size of the convention facilities, that it was too difficult to get around the place & to meet people. Next year's event, wherever it is & whatever shape it takes, will be quite different. Kos is taking his name off it, & it's OK to question his motives for doing so. Presumably, we'll know the Democratic nominee. So the event becomes the major runup to the National Convention. Both the DNC & the presidential candidate's campaign organization will lay heavy hands on the netroots gathering, trying to control the "messages" coming out of it & suppress the most contentious bloggers (mission impossible). Many Repug agents & dirty trick experts will be there, also, recording every single word spoken on & off the record. A wild weekend for sure.

500 300 four

A fine weekend for baseball. Heard A-Rod's 500th homer on the radio. Watched Tom Glavine's effective, nonflashy 6.1 innings as the Mets scraped together 8 runs out of 16 hits & 7 walks to give him his 300th victory. Of course, Barry Bonds tying Hank Aaron, which wasn't such a big deal around New York.

Not a good weekend in Newark. Four murders on Saturday night, including the shocking execution-style killings of three young people in a schoolyard. A 4th victim survived. Information is sketchy on what exactly happened & why. The possibility that there is no why is frightening: No drug connection, no war between rival gangs. Just thugs with guns & no fear of using them when they feel disrespected. [It's now reported as a robbery. But that doesn't explain it. ] The people of Newark are living in a terrorist environment. They risk violence when they speak out against violence or attempt to gain some control over gang-infested neighborhoods. The gangs mock Newark, the police, & Mayor Booker - who must now consider the possibility he'll be a one term wonder. But that's not enough for the gangs. They're intent on destroying, by any means, the fine dreams & aspirations of young people. This is unmasked, demonic evil. In cities, few citizens even bother calling the police to report gunshots late at night; it's usually the brothers driving around & having a little noisy fun with their weapons, shooting at nothing & no one in particular when they could be getting laid or playing with each other's dicks. You can't expect or demand ordinary, sane people to offer themselves up as martyrs against these sociopaths.
I'm certain I wasn't dreaming on Saturday evening when CNN alarmingly reported several times that a "van" driven by men of "Middle Eastern descent" & "packed with explosives" had been stopped on a highway outside Charleston SC. It was treated as a breaking story although there was no solid information. No mention of it on New York local news at 11 pm, & it wasn't in the AP top headlines at midnight. The story is atrophying today. Note to idiotic college students from the Middle East & anywhere: Do not speed, especially on roads near military installations, while possessing firecrackers. For you, there's no such thing as a "routine traffic stop."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ocean CIty NJ Music Pier
The "famous" weekly band concerts were silly.
I just stood outside & listened. Might be fun to play in the band.
At the end of the week, the sad drive home. Why can't we move there?
A Week in Ocean City

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Do the Opposite

In the Seinfeld episode "The Opposite"
"George ... decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong and resolves to do the complete opposite of what he would normally. He suddenly begins to experience good luck, getting a girlfriend, moving out of his parents' house, and even landing a job with the New York Yankees."
George 26% decided he needed more executive power to eavesdrop without permission of the courts, & Gonzales is still running the Justice Dept. Why have 16 Senate & 41 House Democrats not yet realized that whatever George wants to do, they should be demanding he do the opposite?

Friday, August 03, 2007


Last night you dreamed
you were doing tricks
on a bicycle
near the Grand Canyon

In my dream I gave you
a bowl of tuna fish salad
which you did not like

We slept well together
no longer strangers
in my bed
I took a day off from work

Now I must remember
to eat breakfast
take out the garbage
return phone calls

Mixing the possibilities
of your dreams
with a good night's sleep
& my same old tuna salad


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Jill is blogging from the Kos Karnival in Chicago. I've received a confirmed sighting that she is really there & not playing skeeball in Seaside Heights, where she may wish she had gone right about now on this balmy summer evening.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Candles In the Wind

“Hopefully, the next movement in music will tear down the internet.“

"Let’s get out in the streets and march and protest instead of sitting at home and blogging."

“I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut down the whole internet for five years and see what sort of art is produced over that span."
Sir Elton John


I'm not phobic about bridges. Even old ones that look unsturdy - there's a number of them in New Jersey. Gargantuan suspension bridges make me a bit anxious, but that's more from their height, & the structures towering over the roadbed. I would have enjoyed crossing the 35W bridge over the Missisippi on a daily commute, hardly giving a thought to how many tons of concrete & steel were used in constructing it. But after it fell, all that went into the structure was exposed. The photos are astonishing. Cars teetering over precipices, balanced on girders. sitting on slabs of concrete in the river, the entire bridge a jumble of pieces. Looking at some of those cars, assuming the people in them escaped serious injury, I wonder how they had the presence of mind to climb out & find their way to safety. Some of the cars are so positioned that you'd risk falling to your death just by opening the door stepping out. If you get out - & apparently most of the people in those intact cars survived - where the hell are you? Through your shock you're thinking, maybe this bridge isn't done collapsing. If you climb up, you're just going to a part of the bridge that has farther to fall. If you're safe on a concrete island in the river, it would be crazy to try to swim. Except when you look up, a whole section of the bridge appears about to crash down on you. You are in an absolutely alien landscape, in the middle of scenery you'd seen hundreds or thousands of times from another perpective as you drove through it sipping coffee & listening to the radio.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ocean City Midweek Special

As a kid, I wasn't comfortable with the wealth in Ocean City NJ. Nearly everything there was for people with more spending money than my family had. The affluence wasn't in-your-face; hardly anyone would have been impressed by anything ostentatious except boats & restaurant menu prices. There were richer towns at the shore. Ocean City's prevailing, traditional style was the quieter money of doctors, bankers, starched collar businessmen, ministers with large mainstream churches, thrifty Methodists, & families passing their homes from one generation to the next. The "newer" Ocean City south of the boardwalk was more of the same. Grace Kelly's millionaire dad, Jack, had a place down that way, he had a"regular guy" rep & had been a great athlete. Ocean City lifeguards & the girls in the boardwalk shops looked like college kids doing it for a summer hobby, many probably were. Ocean City had a bayside upper bourgeois, the city elite with their large lagoon homes, boats & yacht club. But it seemed like everyone had plenty of dough. Of course, many vacationers were people of modest means saving up all year for their summer week. There were plenty of modest rooming houses & apartments catering to us a few blocks away from the beach. The boardwalk had lots of food & stores, no large amusement rides, few arcades, nothing honky tonk.

The only noticable working classes were in the local service trades. The only blacks were hotel & restaurant workers commuting from Atlantic City & the mainland. Blacks did not vacation in Ocean City. Before the Sixties, the entire Jersey shore was segregated in practice to one extent or another, not only by color but in many places by ethnicity & religion. Cape May County, where Ocean City is located, was openly proud of being entirely below the Mason-Dixon line if extended straight through Jersey. Atlantic City, & later Seaside Heights, were happy revelations for me, with egalitarian boardwalks; no matter how little dough you had, those resorts were glad to entice it away from you. In Ocean City, I always felt broke & bit out-of-place, like I was faking it in some way.
A Week in Ocean City

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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