Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All about the glimpses.

Today’s Desert Island Disc conversation is with my friend Stephanie. We've known Stephanie for more than 20 years and she luckily is NOT yet another in the long line of Bronx High School of Science grads that we know (that makes her so much more interesting.)  Stephanie is one of the few people I know that understands the maxim that cooking is alchemy but baking is a science.  She takes her baking very seriously (and gets very good results.)

As I mentioned previously, Stephanie and her very lovely husband, Michael were very sympathetic ears for us during a very difficult time in our lives and we will always be very grateful to them. 

Stephanie is currently enjoying her children (I can make no statement at this time about her enjoyment of her husband) and re-evaluating her profession career, (that's her story and she's sticking with it.)

Music: (in no particular order)

1.)  Mozart Requiem Mass in D Minor (or, if I can't have the whole thing the Introitus and Kyrie)

I am humbled and made small by this music.   It is the embodiment of a direct conversation between man and god.  I'm not a religious person, other than thinking that something must have created the universe and then I stop thinking because my brain begins to hurt, but this piece makes me fall to my knees intellectually and emotionally.  Since I am a Jew, this music won't be played at my funeral but I wish it could be.  Keep that in mind when my desiccated remains are removed from the island. 

2.)  Schubert Quintet in A Major (Trout Quintet)

Maybe it's something about the instrumentation (piano plus strings) since I don't love string pieces but I love this music. Along with the pure enjoyment, I like this work because it makes me think my way through the piece.  Small ensembles let you follow the individual voices.  Somehow this became an important piece of music for me while we were going through infertility treatment. I listened to it in the bath the night before one of those little exploratory surgeries.  On the island, this would keep me in touch with my classical side.

3.)  These Are Days  10,000 Maniacs

A happy song that seems to express the hopes and dreams of your youth and the sheer joy the memories bring.  I love to sing along.  In harmony.

4.)  Express Yourself  Madonna

I love my girl Madonna.  Total girl power in this song.  I'll be dancing under the island palm trees and remembering a great video.

5. )  I Don't Want To Be  Gavin DeGraw

I wish every teenager could swallow and live this one.  It's just a great anthem to be yourself.  Singing this one out loud. 

6.)  Beautiful  Christina Aguilera

One of the most beautiful songs ever recorded, IMHO.  If I had one of those genie wishes it would be to be able to sing like Christina on this recording.  Again, another anthem to loving yourself.  I will need the support while I am alone on the island.

7.)  Accidentally in Love  Counting Crows

Favorite line, "baby I surrender to the strawberry ice cream never ever end of all this love."  I mean so silly but it captures all the over the top happy feelings love brings.  Singing this one out loud too.

8.)  Into the Mystic  Van Morrison

When I am sick or tired and need a little lullaby this tune will be there to comfort me.  It had a special place in my life in college.  It was hard to choose which Van Morrison to pick but he had to be represented. 

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

Sad that I had to leave out Warren Zevon but choosing one was completely impossible and the one that kept coming to mind was Knocking on Heaven's Door from his last album.  It is too emotionally raw but that's how I think of Zevon now.  Too much mortality for my island life.

Have your musical tastes changed over the years?:

Music has never been like candy for me but more like a gourmet treat.  Funny, though, because I think my family is more of the candy type.  They will wear out songs.  I think in many ways this is why REM didn't make my list -- Michael played the songs to death. (Editor's note: No REM song made Michael's list.)

Growing up, my dad would pretty much blast Classical music whenever he played it.  He was a salesman for electronics equipment so the way you can tell what you've got is good is cranking it up, right?  Saturdays were blast the Met Opera days.  I found little to like and still struggle to like any complicated opera.  I'm all about the hit arias and all the overtures when no one is singing.  Being a classical musician for all of my formative years, I just naturally sought out listening to music and then studying it when I had the chance.  I had to play a ton of French Romantic and Modern music on the flute as I got more advanced in my studies and grew to absolutely hate it.  I love being part of an orchestra so I like orchestral music and those few moments when you get a bright glimpse of a flute passage. 

I find that I am much less likely to listen to Classical music than I used to be even though I am now playing the flute again in an ensemble.  The blame will rest completely on my former dentist in the City.  He played WQXR nonstop and I have had a lot of tooth problems so, in a quite Pavlovian way, I have come to associate Classical music with discomfort, especially Baroque music.  Other than that, I don't think much has changed.  From my late teens on I have always preferred alternative but was always appreciate of pop, blues, jazz, even some country.  Wait! I forgot! I am a bigger fan than I used to be of Broadway show tunes.  Drives the family crazy!  I drive the minivan sometimes just because it's got Sirius XM and the Broadway channel. (I used to think people apologized about their classical music choices.  Nope, it's their secret love of show tunes.)

What Book would you take with you?:

I struggled much more with my book selection.  My favorite novel, House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, would make me cry too often and that would be a bit dangerous on a lonely desert island. I've re-read House of Mirth and like so many other things in life, it has became a more nuanced for me. Rather than my original view of Lily Bart's fate was all a result of the lack of freedom and rights for women, I saw how trapped everyone really was by social convention.

So, I am selecting a bit of garbage!  No, not Fifty Shades of Grey.  I choose Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It is the first book of a seven part series, a blend of historical fiction, romance, and time travel. So, a little something to chew on while I am alone.  Other than House of Mirth, it's probably the only novel I have ever read twice. 

What one luxury item would you bring with you?:

I originally wrote champagne but then I got to thinking.  Despite the fact it is my favorite beverage and goes so well with EVERYTHING, including all the fresh seafood I will be consuming on the island, when push comes to shove nothing beats a wonderfully soft bed furnished with luxury bedding (Frette linens) including down pillows. But a Westin Heavenly Bed is fine with me.

I need a good night's sleep more than anything else in the entire world.  Ask Michael

Monday, September 3, 2012

The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.

"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," explained Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Mr. Gompers elaborated further: "All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day. . . is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."

And yet, despite Mr. Gompers's assertions, Labor Day is not a Seinfeldian holiday about nothing. It is, according to Department of Labor, "dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

Workers being whom, exactly?

Whenever someone talks about Labor with an audible capital L, I picture a bunch of sweaty, grease-stained steelworkers, or guys in blue overalls and goggles with soldering irons. Their contribution is the oft-cited "sweat of their brows." Union regulations being what they are, though, they seem to be pretty well compensated for that sweat.

The term "Workers" has to include more than steelworkers and welders—otherwise we could just call it "Steelworkers and Welders Day." After all, a worker is just "one who works." I'm a worker (yes sporadically I consider myself a worker). Almost everyone I know is or was a worker.

The difference seems to be unions. If you belong to a union, you're a Worker or a Laborer (I'm not sure if they have different unions). If you don't belong to a union, you're a lousy lazy-ass—an exploiting bourgeois bastard.

Think what this means: Clint Eastwood, Kathy Lee Gifford, Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh are Workers. Your friends who work awful hours at lousy jobs in wretched offices — they're bourgeois scum.

But let's take a step back and see how we got a Labor Day holiday.

Grover Cleveland was a very unpopular man back in 1896. He was one of the fattest Presidents in US history, (Chris Christie would put up a good fight, if he ran in 2016.) No one really likes a fat man - weighing over 300lbs, his nieces and nephews called him Uncle Jumbo to his face; only William Howard Taft was fatter, weighing in at a ginormous 335lbs, but I digress.

Two years earlier, Cleveland had broken up the Pullman Car strike using United States Marshals and some 2,000 United States Army troops, on the premise that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. Mail. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and 57 were wounded. It didn't win him any friends with the fledgling labor movement in America.

In order to throw a bone to Labor, Cleveland supported a holiday honoring workers on the first Monday in September, hoping it would help Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. May 1st was initially proposed but was then rejected because government leaders believed that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the Chicago Haymarket riots which had occurred in early May of 1886.

Cleveland was proven wrong and the Democratic party suffered their worse defeat ever.

So remember the cynical origins of the holiday while you are BBQ'ing this afternoon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Please don't take my sunshine away

Today’s Desert Island Disc conversation is with my friend Michael. Michael is yet another in the long line of Bronx High School of Science grads that we know (I actually know people who didn't go to BHSS.)  Michael and I also went to Columbia U. together for two years and are fraternity brothers.  Oh the hijinks from our youth (this is code - I'm not sure the statute of limitations has run out on some of the things that transpired - I'll leave it at that.)

Michael and his very lovely wife, Stephanie were very sympathetic ears for us during a very difficult time in our lives and we will always be very grateful to them. 

Michael is currently an Ass't General Counsel for a great Metropolitan Advertising firm.

Michael's Desert Island List

Music (in no particular order)

1. Beethoven’s 7th symphony- Second Movement "Allegretto" Opus. 92"

The piece gives me goosebumps.  And had has such long-lasting flavor.  I pressed Michael about his choice and he insisted that he enjoys the Beethoven piece because it gives him literal goosebumps and he believes he needs to seek medical attention.

2. You are My Sunshine - Ray Charles

He’s just so damn good (almost as good as Margie Hendricks' vocals on this track).  And a reminder that there’s limitless number of ways to present a song. 

3. Abbey Road medley (side 2 of the Abbey Road LP) – The Beatles

Counts as one! (since the rules are capricious and arbitrary - we'll let you go on this one.) What can I say?  Been listening for 40 years without tiring of it (Michael's note to selfuse as metaphor for marriage at some appropriate time).  Prefer slightly imperfect LP version over CD. We'll remember to send Michael to the island with a portable phonograph (for those of you old enough to remember phonographs.)

4. Party Rock – LMFAO

So I can spend time learning those groovy dance moves. I asked Michael if his musical taste have been affected his kids taste. My musical tastes are driven largely by my emotional reaction to the music - things either move me for the good or bad.

5. Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place) – Miles Fisher. 

I find the video a bit disturbing but very funny.  The music is catchy and I find it an interesting counterpoint to my next choice. I appreciated the fact that this song (and the next) suceeded as two different musical genres.

6. PS 22 chorus cover of Naïve Melody

These kids are just so damn passionate about this nonsensical song – except the girl @ 00:35, shrugging while singing “Born with a weak heart – guess I must be having fun”!   Lovely solo @ 2:41. These two songs are really like two different songs. But both are fun, soulful, thoughtful and of course, I find the lyrics completely gibberish.

7.  Land Down Under - Men at Work. 

I'll never tire of the lines: "I said, "Do you speak my language? He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich." And no, I've never had a Vegemite Sandwich, but I'm game.  And after that, I'm on to Haggis.

8.  China Cat Sunflower / I Know You Rider from Europe '72 - Grateful Dead

The joy of youth, freedom and unintelligible lyrics.  If you have to ask ... on a hot day nothing quite refreshs like an ice cream cone to the forehead.

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

I would have taken the Aimee Mann Catalog (cheeky monkey to ask to take an entire catalog) I love her work and it has the added benefit of keeping my wife and children at bay (the management has no comment.) I find there's a great deal of passion in her music

Have your musical tastes changed over the years?:

There's a great deal of fun and energy in some of what my kids like to listen to today. I'm not partial to C & W but I do enjoy a lot of Bluegrass and 'old timey music' like Doc Watson. I absolutely do not like whining or effusive declarations of love in music (yet I do like a lot of the Blues). I think I've had a modest amount of influence on my children's musical tastes (and isn't that how it should be?) They seem to like The Beatles (one of them even likes The White Album). My boys like The Clash - I think I had the only 6 yeat old whose favorite song of all time was White Riot. They also like Green Day (thanks to me!) My daughter and I like a lot of the same Show Tunes.

What Book would you take with you?:

The book I'd take would be Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.  The tale of the building of modern New York rendered in numerous true-life dramas as exciting as fiction, with the hero and villain built into one.  Besides, I need something to contrast the violence and dissipation in the two works (The Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare) that are proffered by our host, Ricardo Montalban.

What one luxury item would you bring with you?:

I’ll take a pen (with some paper if you’re in a giving mood).  I figure that they’ll come for me, Gilligan and the gang eventually, so it will be interesting to have recorded (or to have left behind) my experience.  Wait - that sounds really dull - "Day 198, I had a coconut and listened to Land Down Under" -  um, I'll take an acoustic guitar - yeah, I'll teach myself guitar. (I'll ask our friend David for a recommendation.)

Definitely that. Or, a Vegemite Sandwich.