Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Seven-Ups" with Roy Scheider (1973)

A terse police drama set against the backdrop of New York in the early 1970’s, “The Seven-Ups” is the story of an elite police anti-crime unit in the days before cell phones. Roy Scheider plays Detective “Buddy”, who, along with partners Mingo, Barilli and Ansel, comprise the special unit who wage a war against everyone in their path, and rack up some good “collars” in the bargain. (These characters have no last names except for the cryptic “Seven-Up” which is used to describe the minimum sentences each of the crooks will receive if found guilty of their crimes.)

While battling a counterfeit money laundering scheme, they inadvertently stumble upon a plot by one of their informants to kidnap, and hold for ransom, some of the city’s biggest loan sharks. The kidnappings are done by men in police uniform, who pose as cops and get the loan sharks to accompany them to “headquarters.” When one of the “seven –ups” is killed after being “outed” as an undercover officer, suspicion quickly falls upon the team itself as the source of the fatal leak.
Beautiful scenes of New York before it got cleaned up in the 1980’s; and a hair raising car chase through the city’s streets; round out this thriller. Victor Arnold, as Barilli; Jerry Leon as Mingo; and Ken Kercheval as Ansel; all give realistic performances in this story by Sonny Grosso, adapted for the screen by Albert Ruben and Alexander Jacobs.  Careful direction by Philip D'Antoni keep this film rolling without letting the plot become overly complicated.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"You Nazty Spy" with The Three Stooges (1940)

Charlie Chaplin always gets the credit for satirizing Adolph Hitler in his film “The Great Dictator”, particularly the scene in which he does a ballet with a globe. We were on the verge of war with Germany when his film was released, but before the war even began, there were others who saw the insanity unfolding in Europe, and lampooned it for what it represented. There were very few who were willing to tackle the “elephant in the room” before the war began. Even the Marx Brothers; who were Jewish; didn’t tackle Hitler with “Duck Soup” until after the war began. No one did; except for the Three Stooges.

In this, one of the most outrageously funny anti-Nazi films, the 3 Stooges, who; just like the Marx Brothers, were Jewish; fight the battle for freedom with one of the best weapons known to mankind; ridicule. When seen in the light of humor, all bullies look small and foolish. When the spotlight of humanity is cast upon them, they shrink from the large ogres which they would have us believe them to be, becoming objects of mirth instead.

This is great political satire from the legendary Kings of Slapstick.


New York City Police Officer Helps Homeless Man

Any words here would be superfluous.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"A Concert for Hotspur" - December 3rd

Lacey “Hotspur” Long; a close friend of my daughter Sarah for several years; passed away a few weeks ago. Her friends have gotten together and planned a concert in her memory at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, where most of them first met. Although they all graduated and many moved on to different schools, they managed to stay in touch and even socialize together; friends for life.

It is always a tragedy when someone passes away. The world is diminished by each death, for we all have something to offer. Although I only met Lacey a few times, I was instantly struck by her vibrant personality and interest in almost all things. She was a very rare individual; one of those people you feel as if you have known forever; even if you have only met them once.  
There is an old English rhyme which was used on the cover of a Rolling Stones album that was intended as a tribute to Brian Jones. I have a feeling that Lacey would have been very comfortable with it as an epitaph of sorts;

"When this you see, remember me,
and bear me in your mind.
Let all the world say what they may,
speak of me as you find."

RIP Lacey

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Where the Sidewalk Ends" with Dana Andrews (1950)

Dana Andrews plays a detective who accidently kills a murder suspect he believes to be innocent. Now, he finds himself in the awkward position of trying to prove the dead man guilty of a murder which he never did, even while trying to cover up the crime he himself has committed.
When he falls in love with the dead man’s widow, played by Gene Tierney, things get even more complicated. This is one of those truly underrated film noir classics with a great storyline and some serious acting, including Karl Malden as the new chief of Detectives, who has his doubts about the methods his men use, but still must answer to his own higher ups in order to justify his job.

Dana Andrews acts with a rare intensity in this film, opposite a sizzling Gene Tierney as they take you back to the days when detectives were “gumshoes” and the gals were “dames”. Round it out with some good old fashioned detective work, and it all adds up to a great viewing experience.

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Fever Season" by Jeanette Keith (2012)

Science, religion and an epidemic outbreak combine to fuel this story of the Yellow Fever outbreak in Memphis in the summer of 1878. Just as they always have, science and religion were  both battling one another in the 19th century; only this time they were both fighting as one; to save the life of their city.

Beginning with a background on the history of Memphis, centering mostly on the days leading up to; and including the Civil War; the author paints a picture of the town, and its inhabitants on the Mississippi River. What little was known about the disease is discussed, and a history of prior epidemics; including the 1873 Smallpox/Yellow Fever outbreak; give the reader a sense of being “in the moment”, armed with limited knowledge about the disease and how it spreads. This part of the book has definite applications today, when some segments of society refuse inoculations for diseases which have been under control for decades; or more; in obedience to a religious or tribal doctrine. They are unwittingly turning back the clock to a time when annual outbreaks of various epidemics killed thousands at a time.

In the 1873 outbreak, the town’s entire leadership fled, leaving the populace to fend for themselves. But, in the 1878 outbreak, some remained. They established committees to administer aid to the sick and dying; enlisted donations of food from Washington, as well as the surrounding states; even had former slaves working side by side with whites, which was unheard of at the time. There is no enemy as potent as yellow fever to make people forget their superficial differences, at least for a while.
These local leaders found themselves in a quandary; one which is still applicable today; most, if not all, of the leaders were former Confederates who believed in limited government, state’s rights, and above all else; the Constitution, which made no reference to supplying aid to states in time of crisis. Now, they needed, and were glad to receive this aid from their former enemies. I can’t help but wonder what they didn’t understand about the phrase “to promote the general welfare…” in the preamble to the Constitution.

There were rampant burglaries committed during this time. Some residents arrived home; after the outbreak had subsided; only to find the corpse of a dead burglar lying in the house, a victim of yellow fever, as well as greed.
But, at the same time as these few crimes were being committed, Nuns worked alongside of prostitutes as Memphians put religion, class and even racial differences to the side as they battled the advance of the disease. The scarcity of food was the real danger to civil order. In the Black and Irish quarters; where people felt they were being shortchanged; a petition was drawn up and posted, warning Memphians that “...we can’t starve and don’t intend to do so…if something is not done…. We shall take the law into our own hands.” The food was distributed equally and no mob violence was necessary.

In spite of malicious reports; all untrue; of African-Americans raping sick and dying women, no race riot occurred. People were simply too busy staying alive and helping one another to engage in such trivialities. As a matter of fact, during the entire outbreak, the streets were patrolled by Negro troops and even deputies. And so much help poured in from the Northern states; which only 13 years previous had been the enemy; that many Memphians of that generation would never refer to a Northerner by the derogatory term “Yankee” again.
Even people not acclimated to the fever came to Memphis to help. A male physician, Dr. Besancny, traveled to Memphis and came to the aid of one woman, Miss D.P. Rutter, and after her health was restored he took ill, and she nursed him. A month later they were married, with no doubt that their “ties that Bind” were extra strong due to the nature of their courtship.

There were many and varied reactions to the outbreak, with both heroes and villains enough to fill several books. The author has chosen the finest examples of both, with an emphasis on what we can all do to help one another in times of crisis. This was a time when Protestant and Catholic were bitterly divided, but the outbreak of the fever called upon all of the different religious sects to act as one to defeat a common enemy. In the Jewish community there had been 3,000 people at the onset of the disease. On Rosh Hashanah in 1878, there were only 18 people at services held jointly by the Orthodox and Reform Congregations.

J.M. Keating, editor of the Memphis Appeal, stayed in the stricken city for the duration, keeping lines of communication open and acting on all of the necessary committees required in keeping order and providing whatever means available to alleviate the suffering. He is truly one of the heroes in this story, and shines as a beacon of what the press; and its attendant power; can accomplish when in the hands of principled persons.
There are many stories in our history which illuminate the dark side of human nature. What a pleasure to read a book about a time and place, where; challenged by the most virulent of opponents; people stood together, helped one another as best they could, and even learned from that experience. In the face of recent events, both here and abroad, Ms. Keith has given us a glimpse of man’s “better angels.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Something In the Air" - Thunderclap Newman (1969)

"Something In the Air” is one of those songs which linger in my memory from 1969. The band was formed with help from Pete Townshend of The Who, along with Speedy Keen, a musician friend of Mr. Townshend’s, who produced their first album. There is a great jazz piano break near the end of this song, which acts as a bridge. The song itself is fairly radical for the times, and was even used in the end scene of “The Magic Christian” with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. It’s the scene at the end, the one which illustrates just how far people will go to have money.

The 1960’s was a time when values, particularly in England, were changing world wide. The difference was that in England the British had had such a rough time of it that the older generation was afraid for the younger generation, concerned only with security. The fact that this quest for security came at a time when England was still on rations; which they were into the early 1960’s; never occurred to them as a contradiction. The young saw it as ludicrous; I mean if you can’t have enough food and gasoline, then what security are you speaking of; the security of want?
Here in America, where we had been virtually untouched by war, the young merely wanted to avoid being drafted and sent to war. They wanted artistic freedom and musical change. And that’s where all of the music entered into the equation. The people in power had the money, but the young people had the music, which could be converted into money by the artists, making them somewhat equal with those in power.

Ever since Elvis visited Nixon in the White House, there has been a steady stream of performers; from Bono to Michael Jackson; and no President gets elected without the support of un-elected celebrities to support them and bring in the youth vote. Even if you don’t like it, you have to acknowledge it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Holiday for Drumsticks" with Daffy Duck (1949)

In this 1949 Daffy Duck cartoon celebrating Thanksgiving, Mel Blanc is at his all-time best providing the voiceovers, as Daffy finds himself the unwitting center of attention after helping a turkey avoid becoming Thanksgiving dinner for a hillbilly family.

When the patriarch of the family throws the turkey out in the yard to fatten him up, Daffy is incensed that he will be sharing his food with him. So, he explains to the turkey that in order to avoid being eaten for the holiday, he must lose weight. Of course this leaves all of the food for Daffy, who soon becomes as plump as a turkey, while the turkey becomes emaciated.
But when the holiday rolls around, and the turkey is found to be unsuitable for a feast, all eyes turn to a fattened Daffy for sustenance. Lots of laughs and a clever ending make this cartoon the gem that it is.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday and Hotel Rooms

Black Friday; this is what it’s all about; camping outside in the pre-dawn hours for that extra special, super-duper, early bird, smart shopper deal. Ah, the camaraderie, the sense of community and holiday cheer as you wait in line. Then the doors open and you trample over the old lady with the walker in front of you to save a few bucks. Don’t look for me there!

This year Sue and I went to Chapel Hill to have Thanksgiving with our daughter Sarah. Dinner was great; it was good to see Sarah and her husband, Michael. But, Sue and Sarah have a holiday tradition of meeting one another at the mall on Black Friday, so we spent the night at a local historic hotel; supposedly haunted; so that they could meet one another early today. I’d rather have gone home. The ghosts don’t bother me; I’d just rather be at home.
But, “home” is where you lay your head; and so, accordingly I brought along a few things to make my time in the hotel room more enjoyable, providing I don’t annoy the ghosts. So, with guitar in hand, an I-pod in my pocket, along with a good book to read, I’ve settled in for a comfortable morning while Sarah and Sue go shopping. Sue left at the ghostly hour of something like 6 AM, which didn’t bother me as I am usually awake at that hour anyway, getting ready to take a nap.

After a light breakfast and reading the morning paper, I will probably play some guitar; providing the ghosts are not annoyed; and listen to some music while I shower. Then I’ll work on my blog, looking for something suitable for tomorrow’s weekly cartoon. By the time I finish fooling around with all of this; once again provided that I have not annoyed the ghosts; it will be about time for Sue to return and we’ll check out. Then we’ll head home, stopping along the way to eat and look at stuff. That’s what we do.
So, don’t look for me in the crowds today. You won’t find me. I do my shopping at about 2 PM on weekday afternoons, when the stores are virtually deserted. But, I have to admit, there is nothing as relaxing as being in a hotel room; where you can’t possibly run into something you forgot to do around the house. And, even if you do, there’s not much you can do about it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Tale

I don’t think I have ever written down the story of George Edwards and the turkey before; but I have told it every year during the holiday season with the usual reaction; disbelief. But, I’m here to tell you that it really happened, and though I was not present at the time these events occurred, I can state that they were related to me by both his wife and children.

This was Thanksgiving Day 1992; which was about 20 years and a lifetime ago. It was like any day at the Edward’s house-hold; George was not drinking anymore; at least not until 4 PM. He would, by that time have consumed several packs out of his daily carton of Parliaments. I’m not kidding; a carton of cigarettes on one match. Do the math. 6 minutes to a cigarette at 20 per pack is 2 hours times 10 packs is 20 hours. Throw in 4 hours of sleep; which is all he slept; and there’s your carton a day. I don’t lie.
Anyway, back to the story; George was the type who did not believe in holidays and particularly despised the entire period from Thanksgiving through News Years. No one was ever quite sure why; though I do understand him more now that I am older; and anyway I’m sure he didn’t know himself.

So, Thanksgiving Day approached and George laid in an extra few cases of beer and several cartons of cigarettes; content with watching some football on television. But, his wife Anne; a sweet woman, and great cook; had decided to invite friends and family for dinner. He vowed not to come downstairs and join in the celebration; electing instead; to remain upstairs in his pajamas and watch TV.

The guests arrived and after some light refreshment and small talk, began to be seated at the table. The table, I might add, was piled high with food, in the center of which stood; gleaming with juices from the oven; a beautiful 25 pound turkey on a silver tray. Remember this stately bird.
As the guests sat down George bellowed from upstairs; he was a former iron worker in the days before cell phones or even walkie-talkies; “Anne, bring me a beer!” Of course Anne was embarrassed and ignored this request, as well as the two subsequent ones which were even less civil.

Finally, George himself appeared at the top of the stairs, clad in an open robe, wife beater tee-shirt and boxer shorts, shouting, “God damn it Anne, when I ask for a m-f-ing beer I ain’t kidding!” Anne was mortified and tried to soothe him with words, enraging him all the more, until finally; clad as formerly noted, but wearing work boots; he took the turkey from the table and flung it out the door of the house and clear across Benfield Blvd. It landed on the windshield of some poor, unsuspecting motorist, who was last seen staring at the heavens, wondering why he was chosen to receive this gift in the first place; and in such an unusual manner. For that man’s children; who were about 6 and 8 as I recall being told; the holiday has undoubtedly been ruined forever. But I still can’t help but laugh whenever I think of George and the outlandish things he did in the midst of a 30 year drunk.
Eventually, Anne left George and the house on Benfield Boulevard; I bet you didn’t see that coming; and they remained in touch with one another until his death in the late 1990’s. I think of him often, and have not written enough about him. On holidays, which he abhorred, I tend to think of him a bit more. He was a man of many contradictions, and I wish I had a photo of him to post here. But some of the greatest memories in life are not stored on film; or a camera card; they’re in your head, where they can never be erased.

And when Thanksgiving rolls around; year after year; I can see that turkey sailing across Benfield Boulevard, launched by George; bathrobe flapping in the frigid November air; as the guests quietly departed by the side door. And if you think that’s odd; wait ‘til I tell you about the Christmas tree…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jim Garrison's Closing Summation -

Jim Garrison is still the only person to have ever brought to trial the conspirators in the murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963. His reputation has been tarnished for the ages by ridicule and disbelief. If you have ever seen Oliver Stone’s film “JFK” then you have heard the following closing argument made by Mr. Garrison in court on February 28, 1969. Although copies were handed out to the press at the end of the proceedings, the summation has never really garnered much attention in the mind of the public. Much of this is due to the reaction against the film by Mr. Stone. Yet, when you actually read the text of Mr. Garrison’s closing remarks, one cannot help being affected by the veracity of his words. It is an important and eloquent speech which contains much truth. Here is that argument, just as it was delivered in court in 1969.

May it please the court. Gentlemen of the jury. I know you're very tired. You've been very patient. This final day has been a long one, so I'll speak only a few minutes. In his argument, Mr. Dymond posed one final issue which raises the question of what we do when the need for justice is confronted by power. So, let me talk to you about the question of whether or not there was government fraud in this case--a question Mr. Dymond seems to want us to answer. A government is a great deal like a human being. It's not necessarily all good, and it's not necessarily all bad. We live in a good country. I love it and you do too. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we have a government which is not perfect.
There have been indications since November the 22nd of 1963--and that was not the last indication--that there is excessive power in some parts of our government. It is plain that the people have not received all of the truth about some of the things which have happened, about some of the assassinations which have occurred--and more particularly about the assassination of John Kennedy.

Going back to when we were children, I think most of us--probably all of us here in the courtroom--once thought that justice came into being of its own accord, that virtue was its own reward, that good would triumph over evil--in short, that justice occurred automatically. Later, when we found that this wasn't quite so, most of us still felt hopefully that at least justice occurred frequently of its own accord.
Today, I think that almost all of us would have to agree that there is really no machinery--not on this Earth at least--which causes justice to occur automatically. Men have to make it occur. Individual human beings have to make it occur. Otherwise, it doesn't come into existence. This is not always easy. As a matter of fact, it's always hard, because justice presents a threat to power. In order to make justice come into being, you often have to fight power.

Mr. Dymond raised the question: Why don't we say it's all a fraud and charge the government with fraud, if this is the case? Let me be explicit, then, and make myself very clear on this point.
The government's handling of the investigation of John Kennedy's murder was a fraud. It was the greatest fraud in the history of our country. It probably was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of humankind. That doesn't mean that we have to accept the continued existence of the kind of government which allows this to happen. We can do something about it. We're forced either to leave this country or to accept the authoritarianism that has developed--the authoritarianism which tells us that in the year 2029 we can see the evidence about what happened to John Kennedy.

Government does not consist only of secret police and domestic espionage operations and generals and admirals--government consists of people. It also consists of juries. And cases of murder--whether of the poorest individual or the most distinguished citizen in the land--should be looked at openly in a court of law, where juries can pass on them and not be hidden, not be buried like the body of the victim beneath concrete for countless years.
You men in these recent weeks have heard witnesses that no one else in the world has heard. You've seen the Zapruder film. You've seen what happened to your President. I suggest to you that you know right now that, in that area at least, a fraud has been perpetrated.

That does not mean that our government is entirely bad; and I want to emphasize that. It does mean, however, that in recent years, through the development of excessive power because of the Cold War, forces have developed in our government over which there is no control and these forces have an authoritarian approach to justice--meaning, they will let you know what justice is.
Well, my reply to them is that we already know what justice is. It is the decision of the people passing on the evidence. It is the jury system. In this issue which is posed by the government's conduct in concealing the evidence in this case--in the issue of humanity as opposed to power--I have chosen humanity, and I will do it again without any hesitation. I hope every one of you will do the same. I do this because I love my country and because I want to communicate to the government that we will not accept unexplained assassinations with the casual information that if we live seventy-five years longer, we might be given more evidence.

In this particular case, massive power was brought to bear to prevent justice from ever coming into this courtroom. The power to make authoritive pronouncements, the power to manipulate the news media by the release of false information, the power to interfere with an honest inquiry and the power to provide an endless variety of experts to testify in behalf of power, repeatedly was demonstrated in this case.
The American people have yet to see the Zapruder film. Why? The American people have yet to see and hear from the real witnesses to the assassination. Why? Because, today in America too much emphasis is given to secrecy, with regard to the assassination of our President, and not enough emphasis is given to the question of justice and to the question of humanity.

These dignified deceptions will not suffice. We have had enough of power without truth. We don't have to accept power without truth or else leave the country. I don't accept either of these two alternatives. I don't intend to leave the country and I don't intend to accept power without truth.
I intend to fight for the truth. I suggest that not only is this not un-American, but it is the most American thing we can do--because if the truth does not endure, then our country will not endure.

In our country the worst of all crimes occurs when the government murders truth. If it can murder truth, it can murder freedom. If it can murder freedom, it can murder your own sons--if they should dare to fight for freedom-- and then it can announce that they were killed in an industrial accident, or shot by the "enemy" or God knows what.
In this case, finally, it has been possible to bring the truth about the assassination into a court of law--not before a commission composed of important and powerful and politically astute men, but before a jury of citizens.

Now, I suggest to you that yours is a hard duty, because in a sense what you're passing on is equivalent to a murder case. The difficult thing about passing on a murder case is that the victim is out of your sight and buried a long distance away, and all you can see is the defendant. It's very difficult to identify with someone you can't see, and sometimes it's hard not to identify to some extent with the defendant and his problems.
In that regard, every prosecutor who is at all humane is conscious of feeling sorry for the defendant in every case he prosecutes. But he is not free to forget the victim who lies buried out of sight. I suggest to you that, if you do your duty, you also are not free to forget the victim who is buried out of sight.

You know, Tennyson once said that, "authority forgets a dying king." This was never more true than in the murder of John Kennedy. The strange and deceptive conduct of the government after his murder began while his body was warm, and has continued for five years. You have seen in this courtroom indications of the interest of part of the government power structure in keeping the truth down, in keeping the grave closed.
We presented a number of eyewitnesses as well as an expert witness as well as the Zapruder film, to show that the fatal wound of the President came from the front. A plane landed from Washington and out stepped Dr. Finck for the defense, to counter the clear and apparent evidence of a shot from the front. I don't have to go into Dr. Finck's testimony in detail for you to show that it simply did not correspond with the facts. He admitted that he did not complete the autopsy because a general told him not to complete the autopsy.

In this conflict between power and justice--to put it that way--just where do you think Dr. Finck stands? A general, who was not a pathologist, told him not to complete the autopsy, so he didn't complete it. This is not the way I want my country to be. When our President is killed he deserves the kind of autopsy that the ordinary citizen gets every day in the State of Louisiana. And the people deserve the facts about it. We can't have government power suddenly interjecting itself and preventing the truth form coming to the people.
Yet in this case, before the sun rose the next morning, power had moved into the situation and the truth was being concealed. And now, five years later in this courtroom the power of the government in concealing the truth is continuing in the same way.

We presented eyewitnesses who told you of the shots coming from the grassy knoll. A plane landed from Washington, and out came ballistics expert Frazier for the defense. Mr. Frazier's explanation of the sound of the shots coming from the front, which was heard by eyewitness after eyewitness, was that Lee Oswald created a sonic boom in his firing. Not only did Oswald break all of the world's records for marksmanship, but he broke the sound barrier as well.
I suggest to you, that if any of you have shot on a firing range--and most of you probably have in the service--you were shooting rifles in which the bullet traveled faster than the speed of sound. I ask you to recall if you ever heard a sonic boom. If you remember when you were on the firing line, and they would say, "Ready on the left; ready on the right; ready on the firing line; commence firing," you heard the shots coming from the firing line--to the left of you and to the right of you. If you had heard, as a result of Frazier's fictional sonic boom, firing coming at you from the pits, you would have had a reaction which you would still remember.

Mr. Frazier's sonic boom simply doesn't exist. It's part of the fraud-- a part of the continuing government fraud.
The best way to make this country the kind of country it's supposed to be is to communicate to the government that no matter how powerful it may be, we do not accept these frauds. We do not accept these false announcements. We do not accept the concealment of evidence with regard to the murder of President Kennedy. Who is the most believable: a Richard Randolph Carr, seated here in a wheelchair and telling you what he saw and what he heard and how he was told to shut his mouth--or Mr. Frazier with his sonic booms? Do we really have to reject Mr. Newman and Mrs. Newman and Mr. Carr and Roger Craig and the testimony of all those honest witnesses--reject all this and accept the fraudulent Warren Commission, or else leave the country?

I suggest to you that there are other alternatives. One of them has been put in practice in the last month in the State of Louisiana--and that is to bring out the truth in a proceeding where attorneys can cross-examine, where the defendant can be confronted by testimony against him, where the rules of evidence are applied and where a jury of citizens can pass on it--and where there is no government secrecy. Above all, where you do not have evidence concealed for seventy-five years in the name of "national security."
All we have in this case are the facts--facts which show that the defendant participated in the conspiracy to kill the President and that the President was subsequently killed in an ambush.

The reply of the defense has been the same as the early reply of the government in the Warren Commission. It has been authority, authority, authority. The President's seal outside of each volume of the Warren Commission Report--made necessary because there is nothing inside these volumes, only men of high position and prestige sitting on a Board, and announcing the results to you, but not telling you what the evidence is, because the evidence has to be hidden for seventy-five years.
You heard in this courtroom in recent weeks, eyewitness after eyewitness after eyewitness and, above all, you saw one eyewitness which was indifferent to power--the Zapruder film. The lens of the camera is totally indifferent to power and it tells what happened as it saw it happen--and that is one of the reasons 200 million Americans have not seen the Zapruder film. They should have seen it many times. They should know exactly what happened. They all should know what you know now. Why hasn't all of this come into being if there hasn't been government fraud? Of course there has been fraud by the government.

But I'm telling you now that I think we can do something about it. I think that there are still enough Americans left in this country to make it continue to be America. I think that we can still fight authoritarianism--the government's insistence on secrecy, government force used in counterattacks against an honest inquiry--and when we do that, we're not being un-American, we're being American. It isn't easy. You're sticking your neck out in a rather permanent way, but it has to be done because truth does not come into being automatically. Individual men, like the members of my staff here, have to work and fight to make it happen--and individual men like you have to make justice come into being because otherwise is doesn't happen.
What I'm trying to tell you is that there are forces in America today, unfortunately, which are not in favor of the truth coming out about John Kennedy's assassination. As long as our government continues to be like this, as long as such forces can get away with such actions, then this is no longer the country in which we were born.
The murder of John Kennedy was probably the most terrible moment in the history of our country. Yet, circumstances have placed you in the position where not only have you seen the hidden evidence but you are actually going to have the opportunity to bring justice into the picture for the first time.
Now, you are here sitting in judgment on Clay Shaw. Yet you, as men, represent more than jurors in an ordinary case because of the victim in this case. You represent, in a sense, the hope of humanity against government power. You represent humanity, which yet may triumph over excessive government power-- if you will cause it to be so, in the course of doing your duty in this case.
I suggest that you ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

What can you do for your country? You can cause justice to happen for the first time in this matter. You can help make our country better by showing that this is still a government of the people. And if you do that, as long as you live, nothing will ever be more important.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Lincoln" with Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Fields (2012)

Outstanding performances by Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln; and Tommy Lee Jones as the irrepressible Congressman Thaddeus Stevens; make this film come to life in the hands of director Steven Spielberg. Focusing as he does, on the last part of Lincoln’s life, between November 1864 and the passage of the 13th Amendment in January 1865; which prohibits slavery, lends the urgency which drives this film. During this period of time, with the nation almost at the end of the Civil War, Lincoln had to face a very hard choice. He could accept the negotiated peace sought by the Southern States, or he could continue fighting to achieve the goal of abolishing slavery in the United States forever. To do otherwise would leave the question open; and by necessity would have to be dealt with again sometime in the future.

Daniel Day- Lewis gives one of the most nuanced performances of his career in this film. Some viewers may find the President’s voice to be surprisingly high pitched and slightly nasal. This is no mere interpretation on the part of Mr. Day. That is how Lincoln spoke. Although there are no voice recordings of the man, there are many written descriptions concerning the subject. His interpretation of the President, and his penchant for story telling in order to communicate a point, is spot on to everything we know about Lincoln. His affection for his sons is palpable, as is his consternation with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, brilliantly portrayed by the lovely Sally Fields.
Thaddeus Stevens; one of the most important characters in this film; known as the 'dictator' of Congress; was born in Vermont and moved to Pennsylvania after completing his education at Dartmouth.  He became a member of the Federalist Party, but moved to the Anti-Masonic Party, before becoming a Whig, and then finally joining the Republican Party. In 1833, he became a congressman, running on an Anti-Masonic platform. He served as Congressman until 1842. During his time in local office he opposed the state constitution because it did not permit African-Americans to vote. In 1848 he returned to Congress, serving until 1853 as a Whig. He then returned as a Republican in 1853, serving until his death in 1869. Passage of the 13th Amendment would not have been possible without him.

In his personal life he was never really married, living for 23 years with his quadroon widowed housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith. She was considered to be his common in law wife and neighbors referred to her as Mrs. Stevens. She had 2 sons by her first husband, both of whom were adopted by Mr. Stevens. She invested some of her own money in a boardinghouse and several other businesses which were prosperous and provided for her in old age after the death of Mr. Stevens. When he passed away he left her a choice of taking a lump sum payment, or an annual stipend. She chose the lump sum, using it to buy the house where she and Mr. Stevens had lived their lives together.
The film captures the mood of the nation as the Civil War is about to come to a close. The South was exhausted, both spiritually as well as materially, and a delegation was sent to Washington to negotiate peace terms. This was all done in great secrecy, with the President rejecting any offer that did not end the slavery issue once and for all. To this end a new Amendment was proposed to abolish slavery forever. The Congress was sharply divided on the issue, concerned that the Southern states would never agree to uphold the Amendment. The Southern negotiators wanted to be admitted back into the Union before the Amendment was ratified by the Senate. Lincoln was adamant in getting the Amendment; the first of the “Reconstruction Amendments”; ratified before the Southern states retook their place in the Senate, where it could strike the Amendment down.

This is the dilemma which Lincoln faces in the closing months of 1864 and January 1865, as he struggles with the Democrats, as well as his own Republican Party, to assure passage of the Amendment. Calling in every favor owed, and twisting arms when all else failed, the President was able to push the bill through Congress, where it was proposed, and passed on January 31st, 1865. The law was then approved by the President on February 1st; even though the Constitution does not allow for that occurrence. The bill was not formally ratified by the Senate until December 1865, some 8 months after the President’s death. This may not have been clear in the film.
The makeup, and performances, by each of the principal actors  were extraordinary.  As a director, Steven Spielberg is without a doubt one of the great film makers of our time. And with this film, he has once again proven that point.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Who I Am" by Pete Townshend (2012)

Art schools, or colleges, in England during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, produced some of the most influential musicians of the modern age. From the Beatles to groups such as the Kinks, Rolling Stones and even the Who, these “art schools” played a tremendously important part in the cultural upheaval that defined the 1960’s. With it came the friction between 2 generations; one tested by 2 world wars and an economic Depression; the other born after those hard days were over. It’s almost as if, after fighting for so long, the older generation had to fight with someone, and so the new enemy became the new youth culture.

“A Quick One”, performed on “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”, was the initial influence for the later creation of the rock opera “Tommy”. The song had been born of necessity as the group had 10 minutes left to fill an album, prompting Pete Townshend to write the 10 minute “mini-opera”. It is largely autobiographical, as were parts of “Tommy.” This was a very fascinating section of the book for me, as I have always been a fan of “A Quick One”, and having its meaning explained in terms of the author’s own experiences growing up makes it even more enjoyable to listen to. The story involves Mr. Townshend’s growing up in a very dysfunctional home, with his mother having an intense affair, which split the family apart and had Pete living with his grandmother, who was also equally dysfunctional. It was during this period of his youth that he was molested. These early years would come to define much of his life and the choices he made regarding his expressions of anger and violence in his work.

Exploring the early work of bands such as The Small Faces; later The Faces with Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane; Mr. Townshend is able to paint a vivid picture of the arts scene in England at the time, and which would then reverberate around the world. His work on his solo albums, as well as the story behind his all too brief collaboration with Ronnie Lane on “Rough Mix” was of special interest to me. That album, which is one of my favorites, encompasses folk, country, rock and even a wonderful number called “Street in the City”, in which Mr. Townshend accompanies an orchestra with his acoustic guitar to create a musical portrait of a city street on a “working day.” I was surprised at the many characters in that song who come from the author’s own childhood.
This is also the story of Jim Marshall and the creation of the Marshall Stack amplifiers, which were a great leap forward as they allowed the musician to recreate, in person, the power formerly relegated to the studio.  Also of great interest are Mr. Townshend’s own contributions to the fusion of light and sound in order to bring to life the visions in his own head and create a “new” form of musical expression.

In so many ways The Who enabled the arrival of bands such as Led Zeppelin, and even Jimi Hendrix, who first came to Pete Townshend for help in creating his sound using the Marshall Stack system. But the music scene was a two-way street, and Mr. Townshend freely admits his admiration for groups such as The Kinks, and their early attempts at rock operas such as “The Village Green Preservation Society” and their later album “Arthur-The Fall of the British Empire”, as influences on his own work.
From Mods and Rockers, and on through “Quadrophenia”, Mr. Townshend hacked out a new avenue of approach to the music of a younger generation. His destruction of musical instruments as a form of aggressive expression became a mainstay of the earlier Who performances, and the author credits the beginnings of his hearing loss to the explosion on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.
Through his manic depression, drinking, and limited use of LSD, the author is honest and candid about his own failings, and unflinching in his criticism of others when they deserve it. In exploring his beginning interest in the teachings of Meher Baba; which eventually became his spiritual haven; he lends a unique insight into one of the world’s most well-known rock icons.
Surprisingly, though they were all close friends, they never did seem to share the camaraderie of let’s say the Beatles, or even the Rolling Stones. Mr. Townshend puts that down to two things; the first being that he is, by nature, a loner; the next being that he has never been comfortable with co-writing anything, let alone a song. In spite of their many differences over the years, the 4 men remained close until the untimely deaths of both Keith Moon and John Entwistle.
The author has penned one of the better rock autobiographies, and this book stands tall, right alongside them all. Being a rock star has a certain allure, but beneath it all, they suffer from  the same insecurities which afflict us all.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Andy Griffith Show - "Opie the Birdman" (1963)

All the Andy Griffith shows are like treasures to me. They harken back to a simpler time, when there were lines not to be crossed. Though things were far from perfect in many respects, sometimes it’s still easy to long for the sepia toned days of our not too distant past. But the entire myriad of social issues aside, there was more of a civility in the air of the times. Even the struggles for Civil Rights were tangible evidence that, for the most part, people were at least trying to get in touch with their “better angels.” Contrasted with today’s sharply divided nation, those times were less complex, and we could at least imagine a way forward.
This first episode from the 1963 season of “The Andy Griffith Show” addresses responsibility, a word which is rapidly disappearing from our vocabulary. After getting a slingshot; which was every young man’s dream back in the “old days”; Opie is at first content with shooting tin cans and other inanimate objects. But soon he sets his sights on a bird in the tree in front of his house, and without thinking about the consequences of his action, kills it. He is heartbroken and filled with guilt and shame. The chirping of the baby birds; who are unable to fly yet; as they await the return of their mother to feed them, eats away at him.

Andy; in his usual calm way; let’s the boy feel the pain he has caused and makes him provide for the baby birds until they can fly on their own. When the time comes to let them go, Opie has learned several lessons from his transgression. Beginning at the 19 minute mark, Andy explains to Opie about letting go. And that’s something we all have to learn how to do at some point.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"8 Ball Bunny" with Bugs Bunny (1949)

Bugs Bunny takes on more than he can handle when he attempts to escort a lost Penguin to his home in the South Pole. Of course, it’s all a misunderstanding on the part of our floppy eared friend, but then again, that’s his charm, isn’t it?

Watch for the very funny cameos by Humphrey Bogart, a la “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, as the “fellow American” who shows up in the strangest of places, always asking for a handout. That is, until the day when Bugs turns the tables on him, and disposes of his responsibilities to the Penguin as well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Deadly Justice" with Richard Crenna (1985)

You never can tell what you will find in the $1.99 bin. Most of the stuff isn’t worth the time to watch, but when you find a film starring Richard Crenna it’s a good bet that it will be worthwhile. In this film from 1985, he plays the very cynical and jaded Police Detective Richard Beck. When confronted with the new Rape Crisis Officer, played by Meredith Baxter Birney, he is slightly annoyed. He is one of those officers who believe most rape victims got “what they deserved.” That is, until he himself is raped by 2 vicious criminals one night while conducting his own “night patrol”.

What follows is almost poetic justice, as he is navigated through the same cynical system of which he has been a part for his entire career. Seeing the pain and destruction of lives his apathetic attitude has caused, he embarks on a personal vendetta to bring the two criminals to justice, while at the same time recovering his self-esteem.
The most important thing about this film is that it took on the issue of male rape almost 30 years ago, way before “Law and Order: SUV”. Outstanding script and direction, with intense performances by both Richard Crenna and Meredith Baxter Birney make this film a keeper.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"The Autumn" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1833)

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.

Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!
The dearest hands that clasp our hands, —
Their presence may be o’er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh’d our mind,
Shall come — as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.

Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them —
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Wages of Fear" by Henri-Georges Clouzot (1952)

I saw this film about 40 years ago in the Village in Manhattan, across the river from Brooklyn, where I lived. It held me mesmerized with its myriad of languages and cultural differences. Little did I know that in a few short years I would be one of the characters in a similar drama; many times; as I worked aboard oil-tankers, transporting millions of gallons of fuel on ships which were often crewed by merchant seamen who did not speak the same language as one another. When you’re working with millions of gallons of fuel, this can become a concern, and so you have to learn how to communicate; and trust; the people with whom you are working. This film has always reminded me of that. So, when it beckoned from the foreign film section of the library, it was a natural for me to pick it up and take it home.

I was very interested with how I might view it differently after all these years; as well as my own personal experiences. Not much has changed in my interpretation of the film. Basically it is the story of 4 men who work for an oil company in South America. They are tasked with the most dangerous mission of all; they are to transport the nitroglycerine which is needed at an oil field located in the jungle. To get there they will have to transport the volatile cargo over some very rough terrain.

The men are divided into two teams, each with a truck of nitro to deliver to the same location. The men develop a sort of rivalry between them; as they struggle not only against their own uncertainty about the mission at hand; but also begin to question the validity of their own motives in undertaking the job in the first place.
A lot of things have changed over the years, and the village life depicted in this film was largely on the way out when I was traveling. Still, I did get to a number of places which were almost identical to the villages and airstrips shown in the movie. And I met a lot of the same characters, too. Some were good; and some bad. I’m glad that I did. No doubt these places still exist, but they have grown fewer and further between. Also, at the time this film was made, donkeys and burros really did compete for space on the road and in the marketplaces.

Filmed using 4 different languages; including English in the appropriate parts; lends a reality to the film, as that is the way it is when working overseas. You either learn to communicate with one another; using a variety of methods; or you fail at your assignment. In the end it’s all about teamwork, and the desire to prevail. This film captures; perfectly; the grit of the do or die nature inherent in some of the hardest jobs on earth, as well as the motivations behind those who take on those tasks.

Note: I have aged since I last saw this film; and though I can still pick out parts of the foreign languages, I found the English sub-titles to be very helpful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Blues Mcgoos - Kraft Music Hall (1967)

The Blues Magoos are one of those bands that receive very little credit for the hard musical turn that rock and roll took in the late 1960’s. Hailing from the Bronx amid the British Invasion, you had to have something more potent than just Dion and the Belmonts, as the "times, they were a changin’.”
I’m in the middle of reading Pete Townshend’s autobiography, and in it he recounts the beginnings of the acid-rock scene in London about 1966. He was introduced to Ron Gilbert and Ralph Scala; two members of the Blues Magoos;  and  who were also  interested in the extraterrestrial conspiracy theories of George Adamski, who is considered to be the first human being contacted by aliens from another universe. That event happened on November 20, 1952. It was an incredible claim for the time; and still would be today. That event made him famous but also drew the ire of the military and corporate world, both of which went out of their way to heap ridicule upon him in an attempt to discredit his claims. His works are still studied by UFO enthusiasts today.

At the same time as this, Pete Townshend was also reading “The God Man”, a landmark book by British author Charles Purdom; which chronicles the life of Meher Baba; a Hindu mystic who passed away in 1969. He claimed to be a direct descendant of one of the Supreme Deities, and amassed quite a following during the 1940’s and on through his death in 1969. He believed that man is part God, and was also very opposed to the use of psychedelic drugs as a means to expand the mind.
While all of this may seem to be a bit rambling and unconnected to the video above; it’s not. The 1960’s was a very turbulent decade, one in which people all over the world were exploring their intellectual limits. Some called it expanding their minds, while some just tuned in, turned on and dropped out; and still others went on to achieve a self-satisfaction and inner peace unattainable through ordinary means. For some that meant drugs; and for others it meant spiritualism.

I suppose the only relation that all of this does have to the video concerns the conversation between Jack Benny and the band at the end of their wildly lit rendition of “Tobacco Road.” While it may seem as if the band is putting Mr. Benny on concerning the fusion of light and sound, they were deadly serious. All over the world people were looking at new ways to create the sounds of a new age. More about that in next weeks review of Pete Townshend's autobiography, which brought my attention to the Blues Mcgoos as an influential rock band. Until now I had always considered them merely average, so perhaps, along with Jack Benny, I just didn't "get" it either! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

"L.A. '56" by Joel Engel (2012)

This book has it all. Los Angeles in the 1950’s was not a great place to be black, or Mexican. It was the City of the Angels, caught in the Devils Grip. Danny Galindo was a Hispanic Detective working for the LAPD at the time. He was only a handful of blacks and Mexicans on the force, which was known for its racism and brutality. Still, Danny Galindo was no ordinary man, and as the old saying goes, the cream always rises to the top. So it went with Danny Galindo.

This is also one of those stories that almost escaped being written down. The author, Joel Engel, became sidetracked with many other projects over the years, but this story always hung in the back of his mind. He began to write it all up in 1990, but then became sidetracked again when he was called upon to work; pro-bono; on a rape case in which the man was innocent, and Mr. Engel, along with a team of lawyers, worked successfully to free him. During that time, he became aware of the many similarities in the mishandling of the latter case to that of the earlier one from 1956. This was the catalyst which moved Mr. Engel to finish writing this book. That case almost sent an innocent man to his death for crimes he did not commit. That the man was a former police officer was no help to him at all in 1956. He escaped the ultimate penalty only through the hard work of Detective Galindo at a time when minority officers were mere tokens.
In the summer of 1956 there was someone roaming the lover’s lanes of the Los Angeles area impersonating a police officer. He was a big man, and black. His usual way of operating involved a phony police badge and a flashlight, which he used as props to separate young couples he found necking in cars. Posing as a police officer he would order the young man to get in his car; an old Desoto; and then drive him a distance away before letting him out. He would then return to the woman and rape her.

The attacks escalated and soon came to involve a handgun as one of the props. The rapist, Willie Fields, bought the gun from a friend who was a World War Two combat veteran and had taken the German luger pistol from a dead Nazi. It was clear to Detective Galindo that the criminal was becoming more bold and daring in his crimes, and that only a short time existed before he graduated to murdering his victims.
Detective Danny Galindo was an unusual man for the LAPD in the 1950’s. As a Mexican-American he was tolerated by his colleagues, but never encouraged. In spite of that he continued to move forward in his career, even helping Jack Webb with the television series “Dragnet.” If you are a fan of the original TV show then you will recall that many times Joe Friday was always telling someone to give certain cases to another Detective, sating, “Give it to Galindo.”  This was an inside joke between the two men who had formed an unlikely friendship. That their friendship would help to solve this case was probably the furthest thing from Detective Galindo’s mind as he struggled with the crimes.

Complicating matters is the fact that former Police Officer Todd Roark is charged with the crimes committed by Willie Fields. And as far as the top brass are concerned, they have their man. So, unless the rapist strikes again, Todd Roark is going to take the fall for these crimes.
Meantime, Danny Galindo has met with the victim of Willie’s first attempted rape, a young white woman named Margie. From her he is able to draw the strength he needs to close this case. But, at the same time, he is falling in love with her; and she with him. If this were to become apparent to anybody in the Department; or even out of it; Danny’s career would be ruined.
The incident which brought Willie Fields to justice was a sting operation involving 12 units of two officers apiece perking in lover’s lanes waiting to be attacked. With the help of the Universal Studios make up department, half of the officers are outfitted as women and sent to various parts of the city to wait an attack. They didn’t have to wait too long.

After about 10 days of stakeouts, and at about the time when even Detective Galindo is ready to call it quits, Willie Fields attempts to attack Galindo and the woman officer he is parked with. A chase ensues and the suspect gets way. But, as worked up as he is, he cannot go home and almost immediately attacks another decoy officer nearby. He is finally captured and sent to prison.
The author has taken the time show how justice isn’t always justice, by following up on what happened to the main characters in the investigation. Willie Fields, the rapist, ended up serving two years for multiple rapes, robberies and assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon. While in jail he took carpentry lessons and was gainfully employed as a carpenter until his death. He married and had a family.

Todd Roark, on the other hand, was the victim of not only Willie Fields and a corrupt, racist justice system; he was also the victim of his former wife, who never told his daughter that he was cleared of the rape charges against him. She did not learn the truth until her father had already passed away, with his daughter never forgiving him for something he hadn’t done in the first place.
Danny Galindo was the real winner in the whole story. He went on to work the Manson case, and also married Margie and together they raised a family. This is a quickly read book which calls attention to our perceptions versus reality, as well as the way times have changed since the events depicted in the narrative. I can’t wait to see this one made into a movie.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day with the Andrew's Sisters

Happy veteran’s Day to all of my fellow alumni who have served in the Armed Forces. Whether it was peacetime service; as mine was; or you saw combat makes no difference. You are unique among your fellow Americans in that you have given something of your selves and helped to move the “machine” forward. It doesn’t mean that we liked the direction of the foreign policies we were/are asked to support; that is for the elected branch of the government to decide. Those who serve do so at their direction; and that direction comes ultimately from all of us, collectively, as citizens.

We have just had an election, and a lot of people may be grumbling. But, put it behind you; just as you once did in the service; in order to help move the “machine forward”. Let’s all play on the same team for the next four years and see what we can do, just as we did as ship’s crews, infantry units or air wing members. Without one another, then, as now, we are no-one.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Susie - The Little Blue Coupe" - (1951)

I’m one of those people who believe that everything has feelings. Even inanimate objects can elicit feelings of sympathy from me. Take a car as an example. We use it all day, and then leave it alone in the night, subject to the cold of winter and the sweltering heat of summer. It may sound crazy, but this has always made me feel kind of bad for whatever car I have owned. They serve me so well, yet they get treated just like any other tool; used for a purpose and then tossed aside until needed again.

That’s what really caught my emotions in this Walt Disney cartoon from 1951. The title says 1952, but the copyright is 1951, so I’m going with that date. The story begins with a man enamored of the automobile he sees in the window at the dealership. It’s almost as if she is calling out to him to take a drive, which he does.
From there the cartoon takes off, showcasing each aspect of a car’s life as seen from an almost human perspective. I had never seen this cartoon before, but it could’ve been lifted right from my imagination. Enjoy the cartoon; I’m going  to take my car out for a tank of Premium. If the adventures of Little Susie are any indication of reality, then my car deserves it!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Paul Harvey - The Boy Who Couldn't Come Inside

When I was growing up Paul Harvey was a staple of AM radio. His “The Rest of the Story” series always began with an air of mystery about them, only to have that mystery solved by the end of his 5 minutes or so. And, the upbeat endings gave the listener a much needed respite from the ordeals of an average day. His topics ranged from history to entertainers; and from fables and myths to morality. And, if you disagreed with him on political issues; and some did dismiss him as a kind of “John Birch Lite”; his voice was still something which you could not ignore.
As a kid I always had a transistor radio close at hand, along with a wristwatch, and I would tune into Paul Harvey at noon; and if my memory serves me correctly, he was also on another station at 4 PM, which I also managed to listen to regularly.

In this story, Mr. Harvey tells us the tale of a boy from the “other side of the tracks”, and how a short meeting with Lonzo Green changed his life, and affected the whole world.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cole Porter - "Begin the Beguine" - 2 Versions

Artie Shaw performed this iconic rendition of  Cole Porter's classic masterpiece “Begin the Beguine” in 1938 for a short film. His swing version has become the most familiar; it topped the charts at #3; and many people even think he wrote it. When Cole Porter met Artie Shaw he is said to have quipped, "I'm glad to finally meet my collaborator." Shaw asked him, in return, "Does this mean I get half of the royalties?"

The song was actually written in 1935 by Cole Porter while on a Pacific cruise aboard the Cunard liner Franconia. In October of that same year the song made its Broadway debut with June Knight singing it in the musical “Jubilee” at New York’s Imperial Theater. It didn’t cause any stir at all. Even the following year when Josephine Baker came over from France and performed the song with the Ziegfeld Follies as a dance, it garnered little notoriety. It would be two more years before the song found its place.
Artie Shaw, the great bandleader and clarinet player, heard the song and was drawn by its unusual composition of 108 bars; as compared to the standard “pop” song which has 32 bars; or measures. Artie Shaw, along with the help of his arranger Jerry Gray, scored the song as a swing number, which Mr. Shaw and his orchestra can be seen performing in the video above.

A bit of background on the song itself; the term Beguine derives from the 13th century, when it denoted a Christian woman living in a religious community without taking the ordinary vows.  The term was somehow corrupted to mean a “white woman” in the Creole communities of the Caribbean on Martinique and Guadeloupe. After that it became the term for a slow style of “couples” dancing, which was a staple of Latin and French ballroom dancing. When Cole Porter used the term in song, and Artie Shaw made the song popular, the term became a part of ordinary language.

Due to its unusual composition, Cole Porter claimed he could never remember it without having the music in front of him. Over the years just about everybody has recorded their own version of this classic. It’s no easy feat to perform. All of the big bands released their own versions, and all of the great vocalists; from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald and even Elvis Presley have taken a turn at it. Even the great painter Max Beckmann used the title for one of his paintings.
To give you an example of how versatile this song is; without losing its original beauty in any genre; here is a link to the most unlikely vocal interpretation by Pete Townsend, who originally recorded it in 1970 and then re-released it sometime in the late 1970’s. Though the version by Artie Shaw is my favorite instrumental rendition of the song , Pete Townsend’s is my favorite vocal arrangement. The flash player says it’s too big to upload here; so I have provided the link instead;
And here are the beautiful lyrics from Mr. Cole Porter;

When They begin the Beguine by Cole Porter
When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green.

I'm with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra's playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine.

To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart
And there we are, swearing to love forever
And promising never, never to part.

What moments divine, what rapture serene
The clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean.

So don't let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine

O yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
Till the stars that were there before return above you
Till you whisper to me once more, "Darling, I love you"
And we suddenly know what heaven we're in
When they begin the beguine.

When they begin the beguine.