Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nicely passin' out the whisky

Today’s Desert Island Disc conversation is with my friend Joan G.  Joan is another in a string of Bronx Science graduates that Mary and I know.  I’ve known Joan for about 30 years (she is a very close friend of our family) and she still one of the bravest (she’s traveled to Russia, China and Africa) and smartest persons I know (who doesn’t seem to know that she’s the smartest person in any room she enters.)  I’ve had some very great adventures with Joan, among them were; the first porno movie I ever saw in a movie theatre (I’ll just leave that dangling there,) and ordering Peking duck in Beijing with Joan and friends.

I went on one of the most Romantic (non) dates with Joan in Los Angeles.  We both had to work in L.A. and I was able to wangle a limo to pick her up to grab dinner.  It was a very Chandleresque evening: it was a warm, foggy evening and the local landmarks floated vaguely ominously in the night sky.

Among Joan’s many accomplishments is that she is the the Senior Writer & Producer for the Fred Friendly Seminars.

Joan's Desert Island List

In no particular order:

1.    Stubby Kaye, Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat, from Guys & Dolls.

Guys & Dolls is my favorite musical.  I've never gotten tired of it. And Stubby Kaye's “I've Got the Horse Right Here,” and especially “Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat” are my two favorite songs in it.  Much as I love all of Guys & Dolls, when I watch it now part of me is just waiting for that show-stopper.

2.    Beethoven’s Ninth SymphonyLondon Symphony Orchestra

Here's where I reveal my utterly plebeian tastes.  With all the classical music I've been exposed to in my life, I don't really have something I've become powerfully attached to. But, like everyone else on earth, I like this.  If I have to listen to the same eight pieces of music over & over, one of them should be complex enough that over time I'd come to understand more and more about it.  This should qualify.  Yes, it's the most popular piece of classical music of all time, but there's probably a reason for that.  

3.    Frank Sinatra, I Get a Kick Out of You.

I'm killing two birds with one stone here: I love Sinatra and I love Cole Porter.  When the kids were babies I'd sing along to Rat Pack and Cole Porter tunes endlessly while trying to get them to sleep.   

 4.     Talking Heads, Life During Wartime.

If I remember correctly, I got a hold of Talking Heads 77 my junior year in college, didn't know what to think of it at first, then found myself playing it over and over and over.  I was hooked.  If I had to pick my favorite band over the course of my life, I think I'd have to pick Talking Heads. 

When I was clerking at the Supreme Court, and still young enough to feel “waking up in the morning and going to work five days a week” to be a bit of a hardship, I played Life During Wartime every single workday  morning, to get me in the mood to get shit done.

5.    Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side

I have no story to go with this.  I have always loved Lou Reed.  For some reason, the darker his songs, the more they make me smile.  (In fact, for ages I tried to track down a “phantomLou Reed song, a fantastic version of Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend that makes it sound like the most cynical thing you've ever heard.  I only heard it once, but years later I would still, every so often, try to find it. Turns out it's by T. Bone Burnett – but other people have noticed the resemblance.) 

6.    Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

Hey, why not?  I like shaking my head to it. 

7.    Pet Shop Boys,  Being Boring.

They do wistful very well.  I'll probably be spending a lot of time on that island engaged in wistfulness. 

8.    They Might Be Giants,  Birdhouse in Your Soul.

I said above that, if I had to pick a band as my favorite “over the course of my life,” I'd have to say Talking Heads.  But if we split my 53 years down the middle, I'd give the first half to Talking Heads, and the second half to They Might Be Giants.  I went to a TMBG concert, I think at the Puck Building, with a friend, having never heard them before; this, I think, was when I was at Davis Polk, around 1987-90.  Just seeing the name of one of their songs on some paper while we waited for the concert to start – Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head – tickled my brain.  By the time the concert was over I was in love. 

Their stuff for kids is also great – and a perfectly timed development as far as I'm concerned – but my heart belongs to their grown-up stuff.  “Birdhouse” is not my favorite of all their songs.  I don't have a single favorite; I like too many of them too much.  But I had to pick one for this list (not wanting to include any artist more than once), and this seemed like a good example.

What was one piece of music did you not get to pick?:

I'm sure if I were asked this a year from now, several songs on the list would change, just because I had forgotten about them before.  While some picks are definite, Pet Shop Boys or Queen could be replaced, and I might go with a different Sinatra or Cole Porter song.  But, taking the list as it is, if I could add one more, for the moment I'll say the song Now That We're Men, sung by SpongeBob and Patrick in the SpongeBob Movie.

Have your muscial tastes changed over the years?:

Not much.  I think only one big change occurred.  When I was in high school, my favorite artists were Elton John, Billy Joel and Jethro Tull (all conveniently located under J in the record store).  After Talking Heads, I think all my favorite contemporary stuff falls into a general nerdy/geeky sort of rock, with clever (and usually dark) lyrics that you can make out easily. If I had a much longer playlist, Violent Fems and the B52s would be in there too, and one or two from REM.  I once saw a humor piece that predicted people's other interests based on their musical preferences, and it nailed me exactly: The TMBG fan who loves Monty Python and MST 3000.  

What Book would you take with you?:

I'm assuming that some sort of “How to Survive and Escape from a Desert Island” book either won't be necessary or won't do any good.  So: Do I bring a book I've already read, and figure is dense enough to engage me multiple times, or do I use this opportunity to finally finish Gravity's Rainbow?  (I've given up on ever finishing Ulysses – Stately, plump Buck Mulligan will be holding that bowl of lather forever.)  This is a very tough call.  I think I'll go with Brothers Karamazov.   But I was also thinking about going with some gigantic tome on the Chinese language.  Maybe I'm taking this “stranded on a desert island” thing too literally, but I'm afraid that I'd be bored out of my mind, and would need things to accomplish to keep from going nuts.  So perhaps I could work on my Chinese.

What one luxury item would you bring with you?:

Once again, I'm assuming that somehow my survival is being taken care of, and I'm already getting enough to eat and at least a sleeping bag or something.  I would definitely want unlimited paper and pencils.  If I could have something else, it would be something on which I could see all my photographs of all my family and friends.  And if I could have a third luxury item, it would be an Xbox and Grand Theft Auto.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

... How that music used to make me smile.

I've been puttering around on this blog and the other so that the sum total will help my daughters get to know me as a real person and not just their father.  And important element of me is my friends, so I've come up with a way to take a 'snapshot' of them, as real people.

I'm letting each person, for the most part, speak for themselves (since I get to make up the arbitrary and capricious rules:  I will remove certain proper names and situations to preserve people’s privacy.)

And so first up, MB's Desert Island List

Today’s Desert Island Disc conversation is with my friend MB. MB is going to be one in a long line of Bronx High School of Science grads that we know.  MB is Mary’s oldest friend and I’ve known her since she was just 16, (gallantry prevents me for saying just how long I’ve know her.)  We’ve gone to a lot of great concerts back in the day.

MB comes from a large family and we have spent many a happy evening ensconced in their warm embrace.  MB’s family enjoys the holidays and much like Dicken’s Fezziwig - they knew how make merry of Christmas.  Lord and Taylor’s holiday windows have nothing on MB’s home during the holidays.

MB is currently the owner of Creative Waves, a Qualitative Research firm.

    I choose each of my songs because of the memories they evoke and clearly not because they are great pieces of music.  (Everyone has been so apologetic about their choices.)
1.    Moon River, Frank Sinatra

    My parents made my sisters and I memorize this song and sing it for company while my oldest sister played it on the piano.  It makes me think of giggling with my sisters and watching my parents entertain and have a good time.  It takes me back to simpler times for me and story telling from my dad and grandfather.

2.    American Pie,  Don McClean

[This was the] first album that I ever owned. My Dad got it for me - he loves music and used to buy records all the time.  Last year my kids were playing Rock Band and I asked to play this song with them and they were laughing so hard because apparently, I've been singing the wrong words all these decades.  LOL.

3.    Bat Out of Hell,  Meatloaf

4.    Piano Man,  Billy Joel

these two songs are all about the high school years and senior summer for me.  One of the best times in my life and you, Mary and John were all apart of that.  I went to my first Billy Joel concert at Carnegie Hall with Mary (when we were sophomores.)  I love the piano runs in the Piano Man album and the song Piano Man always struck a chord with me.  I could clearly envision everyone he talked about in the song.

5.    Vacation, Go-Go's

[I'm almost embarrassed that] I picked the Go Gos. But, when my kids were younger, we would play this song in the car and all sing to it.  It was a necessity for a road trip or driving to Ocean City, MD for vacation.  We all got into it and it was a song that energized us. I equate it with happy stuff. Every time I hear it, I want to get up and dance!

6.    Someone to Watch Over Me,  Linda Ronstadt

I've always loved strong female voices - Jane Oliver, Adele, Edith Piaf, for example.  This was my wedding song.  It is the one piece of music that bridges the type of music my parents listened to and grew to love and, my marriage. I loved that we had this song as our wedding dance song -- although I remember the surprise look on David's face when he finally heard all the words to it on the dance floor.

7.    Something, The Beatles

David played The Beatles for the kids all the time and brainwashed them.  Now my eldest son is a Beatles fan, loves John Lennon and Paul Mccartney.  It's the one music we can easily agree to in the car....not bad for 3 teens and 2 parents.

8.    London Calling,  The Clash

I'd have to pick this because it symbolizes David for me; he'd probably pick a totally different song to symbolize his taste in music. It was his ring tone for awhile and although he is a Grateful Dead fan, I don't think I want to listen to that on a desert island, I rather listen to the Clash for a little variety in my own music world.

What was one piece of music did you not get to pick?

Did I leave off anyone?  Absolutely: White Christmas by Bing Crosby ... for all the obvious reasons, I've always loved Christmas; Carol King (almost anything from the Tapestry album);  Robert Goulet singing on the original broadway cast of Camelot; Carly Simon on her Hotcakes album; Johnny Mathis singing Gina; My Way by Frank Sinatra; songs from Wicked; Katy Perry makes me smile; Like a Prayer by Madonna; I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, I'm on the Top of the World by the Carpenters - I'm going to stop her here or well have dozens more.

I've added a question not in the original Desert Island Disc, Have your muscial tastes changed over the years?

No, I don't think so; I've always loved "pop" music.  However, what I get to listen to has totally changed. My eldest son loves Nirvana, Aerosmith, John Lennon and Rap. My daughter loves Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and others. David loves anything that isn't mainstream.  So I rarely listen to "my music" which is why when I think about music that makes me smile, I think about music from previous years.

What Book would you take with you?:

One book to take?  not sure about that one. i'll have to get back to you.  I've enjoyed many books 
(esp now that I'm in a book club) but I can't say there's one I'd read over and over again.

Luxury Item:

MB didn't pick a luxury item. (silly girl)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sometimes we might want to get back the Emperor

Joshua Norton was a businessman in San Francisco in the 1800's. In the 1840's, just before the Gold Rush, he tried to corner the market on rice and failed. He went from being very wealthy to being destitute overnight and the experience completely shattered his reason. A couple of months after this event, he put on a formal admiral's uniform, complete with gold braid and epaulets and strode in to the office of the newspaper. He handed the editor a large, official looking proclamation which stated in quite formal language that, due to popular demand, he hereby declared himself Emperor Norton I of San Francisco, California, and Mexico, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He bade all his subjects show him loyalty and the other courtesies due a person of such eminent stature.

The editor, with a rich sense of humor, decided to publish the proclamation on the front page of the newspaper, in all seriousness. The citizens of San Francisco, being what they are, immediately decided that this sounded like a good idea and, by unanimous acclamation, accepted Norton as their Emperor. It is undoubtedly the only time in history they ever had an unanimous vote on anything.

(From the pictures of Emperor Norton, it is immediately apparent that this guy has gone around the bend and ain't coming back. His eyes pointed in different directions, and neither one quite caught straight ahead. His uniform was formal to the point of almost gaudy and, at the same time, it was quite apparent that he and soap were not of regular acquaintance.)

He reigned for about forty years. During that time he ate in all of the finest restaurants and slept in the finest hotels for free -- because he was the Emperor. He had three seats permanently reserved in the front row of the San Francisco opera house -- one for him, and one each for his two dogs. Twice a year he would review the police and fire departments as they paraded by, and then he would make a grand speech to the assembled crowds. He printed his own money, which was accepted in business establishments around San Francisco as legal tender. When bicycles first came out, they got him a bicycle, too, and he looked all the more daft because of it. When one of his dogs died, 10,000 people turned out for the funeral to console their grief-stricken emperor. When the Civil War rolled around, he graciously offered his alliance and military support to Abraham Lincoln, who politely declined.

Make no mistake about it, the Emperor Norton was as good a loony as you have ever run across and I can't help feeling that a man who was that intelligent must have had some idea of just how completely nuts he really was.

Now here's the problem. During his reign as Emperor, Norton came up with three major ideas:

1) He called upon the other leaders of the world to join him in forming a League of Nations where disputes between nations could be resolved peacefully.

2) He suggested that parts of San Francisco Bay be filled in to make more room to build.

3) He proposed that a suspension-span bridge be built across the spot where the Golden Gate stands now. He even laid out a complete design that looks remarkably close to the bridge that was built sixty years after he died. He correctly predicted that only a suspension span bridge would have the strength to span such a large stretch, and the flexibility to stand up under the extreme stress which would be placed on such a structure. He did this at a time when the only suspension bridges ever built were rope bridges in remote parts of Africa.

Of course, when he proposed these ideas, the response was long and uproarious laughter -- the Emperor was up to his old tricks again. In time, all of his ideas became reality.

At the time, no one believed him.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Do not accept rides from unfamiliar mosquitoes.

Surprisingly, New York City has not been plagued, as it has been in the past, with a large number of West Nile Virus cases this summer. ACME takes some pride in this and once again we would like to publish this importance health update:

West Nile virus can cause encephalitis, which causes swelling of the brain, which can in turn cause enlargement of the head. Contrary to the examples of encephalitis you see in the newspaper every day — such as Charlie Brown and Calvin — encephalitis is a deadly condition whose victims would be less likely to play with frisky beagles or stuffed tigers than to vomit blood and die.

West Nile virus is easy to avoid: like most viruses, it's very small, very slow, and not especially bright. Unfortunately, it's often carried by mosquitoes that are bigger, faster, and fiendishly clever.

It's not always easy to discern whether or not a given mosquito is carrying West Nile virus, so the prudent move is to avoid all mosquitoes.

This may be unfair to innocent mosquitoes who mean you no harm--the so-called "moderate" mosquitoes--but political niceties must be subordinated to threats to your survival.

It's important to remember that mosquitoes are masters of disguise. With a little makeup or a fancy hat, any mosquito can take on the appearance of several other species. They cannot, however, conceal their stingers.

Avoid all insects with stingers. If you encounter one that claims its stinger is merely a golf-club wedged into its rectum, do not believe it: insects don't golf.

Do not open your doors or windows to strangers before ascertaining whether or not they're mosquitoes. If they acknowledge being mosquitoes but deny carrying the West Nile virus, do not trust them. Some mosquitoes may even offer to show you a doctor's certificate, but such evidence is meaningless: they may have picked up West Nile virus in the time elapsed since their doctor tested them.

Be wary of delivery men, plumbers, electricians, and cable guys with stingers trailing from their jumpsuits.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dogs never bite me. Just humans.

Norma J. Mortenson was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Her mother was insane, her father unknown. After her mother's institutionalization, Norma lived in foster homes and orphanages until 1937, when she was taken in by one of her crazy mother's friends. Five years later that woman's husband was transferred to the east coast (there was a war on), and the couple couldn't afford to bring the girl with them. To avoid returning to the orphanage, the now 18-year-old Norma married a boy named Jimmy Dougherty. He joined the Merchant Marines and was shipped out to the Pacific in 1944.

While he was away Norma got a job on the assembly line of a Burbank munitions factory. One day a photographer from "Yank" magazine came to the factory to take pictures for a piece on beautiful young factory workers with insane mothers. When the magazine was published, Norma's pictures were extremely well received. This quickly led to a successful career of letting people take pictures of her.

Returning from the war in 1946, Jimmy asked Norma what the hell kind of woman served meatloaf without mashed potatoes. She divorced him and signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox.

She earned $125 per week, which was not bad for the divorced, factory-working daughter of a madwoman. It wasn't quite enough for Norma, however, so she dyed her hair blonde and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe didn't do much better than Norma Jeane Baker until 1950, when she was given the role of Claudia Caswell in All About Eve. This led to bigger and bigger film roles and enabled her to begin dating baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in 1952. Upon the release of Niagara in 1953 she became an actual star, enabling her to marry him in 1954.

They divorced nine months later, in part because Marilyn was always lifting her weary eyes and asking Joe where he'd gone.

From this point forward she appeared only in famous movies. Two years later she married playwright Arthur Miller. She divorced him in 1961 and spent the rest of her short life Artlessly.

50 years ago today she died of natural causes, aggravated by sleeping pills, in her Brentwood home.

Unless she was murdered.