Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tis Wonderfulish: Yip Yip Hooray for Finian's Rainbow

Forget Washington, DC for the moment. Hope, happiness and the promise of change have touched down at the St. James Theater, although re-emerging from an earlier era, courtesy of Burton Lane (music), Fred Saidy (book) and "Yip" (Isidore Hochberg) Harburgh (lyrics and book). This wonderful and lively musical, combining song and dance, Broadway standards, Irish music, gospel and blues with a sincere progressive message combined with warm sentiment and broad comedy is a delight.

Jim Norton as Finian; Kate Baldwin as his daughter Sharon; Cheyenne Jackson as Woody; Christopher Fitzgerald as the remarkable leprechaun Og; Terri White as Dottie, belting out a remarkable "Necessity"; Chuck Cooper as the post-wishful gospel singing senator Rawkins; William Youmans (who we last caught in his amazing performance as the melting/shrinking evil mother/witch in "Coraline" off-off Broadway at MCC) as Buzz; Guy Davis as Sunny; Alina Fey as Susan---the talent of this ensemble cast seems endless. Up, down and all around Rainbow Valley in Missitucky, it's a play with so much heart and soul that by curtain you think you might bust.

The progressive message of equality is anti-consumerist and anti-corporate but actually rails against greed in all its forms (remember credit swaps, anyone?) And while Harburgh took a swipe at the GOP, his major target is the racist Senator Rawkings, based on real racist/red-neck Democratic senators of the era. Although it seems to be teetering close to the rails of cornpone and historical naivete, in an era that elected the first Black U.S. President, there is an essential sincerity here, which may be why "Finians Rainbow" still seems to be playing to packed houses while "RagTime" with its more complex and darker tones, is posting a closing notice.

Yip, Yip, where are you now that your nation needs you? Despite the accomplishment of 44 in D.C., Harburgh, who was too much the artist and iconoclast to belong to the Communist Party, would not be loathe to challenge the inconsistencies and confusion of the not-so-new administration. As I recall, Harburgh also wrote:
"Democracy gives you a choice, of which machine to vote with/Or choose which brand of razor blade/You'd rather cut your throat with."

Leaving the theater, some of the audience was crowded around the stage door. When Cheyenne Jackson emerged, bundled against the cold. He smiled and his first words to a youngster proferring a playbill and a pen was "Where are your gloves?"

More on Yip Harburgh here.

The N.Y. Times' Edward Rothstein muses on Yip Harburgh's "Grandish Wordplay" in "Finian's Rainbow," "The Wizard of Oz," "Flahoolie," and other works.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Art of the Crash @ Fusion Arts Museum: Closing Night Event, Sunday, December 27

Art car at the Fusion Arts Museum, above.

Above, Fusion art by Shalom Newman.

An entertaining end-of-year art event: a Closing Night Party for "Art of the Crash" plus a special screening of "Automorphosis" CLOSING NIGHT PARTY FOR "ART OF THE CRASH" plus SPECIAL SCREENING of "AUTOMORPHOSIS," tonight, Sunday, December 27, 2009,6 PM - 9 PM

Fusion Arts Museum, 57 Stanton Street, Lower East Side highlights this "Art of the Crash" comprising all automobile-based art, including sculptures made from automotive parts, and an ornate highly decorated vehicle. The title of the show can be taken literally, referring to a car crash, or a metaphor for the state of the economy. This also will be a last opportunity to see this timely and unique exhibit, which will include a lively year-end performance by Trystette and Bobbie Rae. More details on the Fusion Arts Museum here.

The Fusion Arts Museum includes a permanent exhibit of work by fusion-, multimedia artist Shalom Newman, founder of the Museum.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

President Obama, Political Climate and Health Care Reform

Despite some recent diminishing polling numbers for President Obama and his administration, today's Quinnipiac poll showed some interesting nuggets, hidden among all of the continued looming uncertainty on the economy and the complexity and doubt spiraling around the current health care reform initiative:

"But voters say 49 - 29 percent that Obama's policies will help the economy and voters trust him rather than Republicans in Congress 45 - 36 percent to handle the economy.

"In what might be his brightest point in an otherwise dark economic picture, more Americans believe President Obama's policies will help the economy, even if they don't believe those policies will help them personally," said Brown. "And they trust the President more than the Republicans to fix things."
From December 15 - 20, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,616 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points.

Nevertheless, a total of 91 percent of American voters describe the economy as "not so good" or "poor." Voters split 28 - 28 percent on whether it is getting better or worse with 43 percent seeing no change. The results on both questions are virtually identical to when Quinnipiac University asked them in July.

"On Wall Street, the stock market's performance has many people optimistic and economists may be telling us that the recession is over. But on Main Street, Americans think the economy is still in the toilet," Brown said.

Details here.

In a related topic, opposition to the Obama health care reform initiative comes from both left and right:

The GOP/Right: Opposes financial penalties for failure to buy health insurance. Opposes costs to business including increased taxes to support the plan. Opposes use of any public monies for performance of abortions. Opposes additional debt that will result from the health care overhaul, among other issues.

The left: Opposes absence of a public option in the health care plan (the bill provides for health care provided from a pool of corporate insurers). Absence of a
provision for public funding of abortions. Proposed bill will not permit purchase of pharmaceuticals from Canada.

Based on the previous Clinton administration's failure, concern that this will represent the last opportunity for health care reform, at a critical point where the future of the American economy depends on this reform to spur business and growth, highlights the likelihood that the administration will fashion a new approach to health care that, out of the box, will satisfy neither left nor right but will open the door for subsequent "reform of the reform" that may in fact offer economic relief and, hope and, yes, "change."

Dylan and Kubler-Ross: The 5 Stages of "Christmas in the Heart"

"Love and Theft" ? "Love and Death" ? Good grief!

Harold Lepidus's review in the Examiner.Com takes the long way around to enthusiastically appreciate Dylan's new holiday album "Christmas in the Heart." It may be too soon to tell if it will in fact assume Holiday Classsic Status. And, since the unusual Christmas (or Xmas) cover material, arrangements, and mix of musicians and singers may at first be off-putting to fans who have found new appreciation of Bob Dylan as he seemed to renew his relationship with "American roots" music in the past decade or so, Mr. Lepidus compares the shock 'n awe for fans of this new Dylan album to the 5 stages of grief assigned to dealing with death in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's "On Death and Dying":

"Bob Dylan fans are familiar with these feelings. When he went electric. When he went country. When he put out Self Portrait. When he "found Jesus" and stopped singing his old songs. When he made Hearts Of Fire. When he asked Michael Bolton to collaborate on a song. If you were a Dylan fan during any of these endeavors, there's a good chance it was a shock to your system.

"Then the Kubler-Ross model kicks in. Denial - "This can't be happening." Anger - "It's not fair ! Who is to blame?" Bargaining - "If I can just go on long enough until he's onto something else." Depression - "I give up." Acceptance - "Dylan does it again. It took a while, but I love it ! " Who among us have not felt that way about something Dylan has done ?

"When Dylan sings on Christmas In The Heart, I listen to the lyrics just as I would any of his other albums. It's interesting to pay attention to the craft of songwriting that inhabits each and every song here. You can see why he chose these classics. To Dylan, the cliches are invisible. What's even more fascinating to me is that the lyrics are more Dylan-esque than one would ever imagine. Can't you just hear the lines, "The ox and lamb kept time," or "Jump in bed and cover your head" on Bringing It All Back Home ? How about " As we dream by the fire to face unafraid the plans that we made, " or "Some day soon we all will be together, if the Fates allow. Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" on Time Out Of Mind ? "

The full text here

Let's see, perhaps the following epigraphs are suitable:

"I make shoes/for everyone, even you/But I still go barefoot" - "I & I " -Bob Dylan

"I did it for you/And all you gave me was a smile" - "Cry A While" - Bob Dylan

Monday, December 21, 2009

The 500 Words for Snow...

Inuit and other native peoples to the Far North ostensibly have a panoply of words to describe snow. I do admit right after the Thanksgiving holiday thoughts start to turn toward the holidays and the first snowflakes. Well, yesterday, we got 'em, wuff, and then some, with a vengeance.

We spent an hour or so shoveling the stairs and sidewalk around the house, and then another couple of hours attempting to get the cars free. (My Better Half is a NYC teacher at a school in East New York - Bushwick, and there is no easy public transportation access to her school.)

So, after a few hours with my son spending some "Quality Time" shoveling, pushing (with thanks to the considerate help of our neighbor as well), and sweating out the snow hassle, and generally freezing, I have already had it with snow for the Winter of 2009-2010. Dean Martin's "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow," will not be on my play list for the foreseeable future..

Now, I, too, can think of -- if not hundreds--dozens of words to describe the snow, none of which are really printable here....

Well, still, it's good to be home for the holidays although Rome last year wasn't so bad, either.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Got Physics? Toying with the Infinite for the Holidays

Above, Strange Magic over Norway, as reported by UK Daily Mail.

Above, Large Hadron Collider, Fired Up in Switzerland. Subatomic particle tracks from colliding protons on Sunday at the Large Hadron Collider.

According to the UK Daily Mail, Norwegians reported the above gorgeous yet bizarre sky show earlier this week. Barring a welcoming celebration for 44, currently in Norway accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, suspicions pointed to the failed test of a Russian missile, which may have released fuel, creating the spiral sky show with a flashing, emanating blue streak.

While that may be all well and good, the NY Times in today's paper reported that "With a Mighty Smash, Europe seizes the lead in Big Physics" with the successful test earlier this week of our good old pal, The Large Hadron Collider, at CERN labs in Switzerland. The LHC, as you may recall, has been cast in the role of possibly discovering the Higgs-Boson (aka "The G-d Particle.") C'mon, gang, there is no connection?

Colorful lightshows as the LHC toys with the Infinite. A great Bob Dylan Christmas album? Hey, anything's possible. Stay tuned, or better yet, Watch the Skies.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Invention and Reinvention of Man Ray: "All New York Is Dada"

Above, Man Ray in a "Rayograph" Self Portrait. The current "Alias Man Ray" show at the Jewish Museum explores Man Ray's life, work, and the millieu in which he fabricated his identity as an artist and perenniel outsider.

Salvador Dali, left, and Ray in Paris in a photo by Carl Van Vechten, June 16, 1934.

Man Ray in a letter to Tristan Tzara: "Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.”

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) was an American born painter, sculptor, photographer and dadaist (August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976). He spent most of his career in Paris, France. Perhaps best described simply as a modernist, he was a significant contributor to both the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. Best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, Man Ray produced major works in a variety of media and considered himself a painter above all. He was also a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. He is noted for his photograms, which he renamed "rayographs" after himself.

While appreciation for Man Ray's work beyond his fashion and portrait photography was slow in coming during his lifetime, especially in his native United States, his reputation has grown steadily in the decades since.

The current "Alias Man Ray" show at the Jewish Museum explores Man Ray's life, work, and the millieu in which he fabricated his identity as an artist and perenniel outsider. In 1999, ARTnews magazine named him one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century, citing his groundbreaking photography as well as "his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage, and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art" and saying "Man Ray offered artists in all media an example of a creative intelligence that, in its 'pursuit of pleasure and liberty,'"—Man Ray's stated guiding principles—"unlocked every door it came to and walked freely where it would."[

From Wikipedia: From the time he began attracting attention as an artist until his death more than sixty years later, Man Ray allowed little of his early life or family background to be known to the public, even refusing to acknowledge that he ever had a name other than Man Ray.

Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890, the eldest child of recent Russian-Jewish immigrants. The family would eventually include another son and two daughters, the youngest born shortly after they settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1897. In early 1912, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray, a name selected by Man Ray's brother, in reaction to the ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism prevalent at that time. Emmanuel, who was called "Manny" as a nickname, changed his first name to Man at this time, and gradually began to use Man Ray as his combined single name.

Man Ray's father was a garment factory worker who also ran a small tailoring business out of the family home, enlisting his children from an early age. Man Ray's mother enjoyed making the family's clothes from her own designs and inventing patchwork items from scraps of fabric.Despite Man Ray's desire to disassociate himself from his family background, this experience left an enduring mark on his art. Tailor's dummies, flat irons, sewing machines, needles, pins, threads, swatches of fabric, and other items related to clothing and sewing appear at every stage of his work and in almost every medium. Art historians have also noted similarity in his collage and painting techniques to those used in making clothing.

More on Man Ray here.

The excellent exhibit at the Jewish Museum here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Zero Hour: Brochu Shines as Painter/Actor/Comic Zero Mostel

Jim Brochu as Sam "Zero" ("Zee" to his friends) Mostel

"Zero Hour" at the Theater at Saint Clements

With the recent hegemony of Mel Brooks' film-to-Broadway comedy classics, it is ironic and perhaps unfortunate that the role for which Zero Mostel is most remembered by many, "Max Bialystock" in Brooks' 1968 film, The Producers, was a role that he hated. This and many other stories emerge from the fascinating life of Sam "Zero" Mostel ("Zee" to his friends) as brilliantly portrayed by Jim Brochu in his passionate and very funny play, "Zero Hour."

Initially living in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the family moved to Moodus, Connecticut, where they bought a farm, later returning to the Lower East Side. As a child,Mostel's mother would dress him in a velvet suit,sending him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy masterpieces. Zero had a favorite painting, John White Alexander’s Study for Woman in Black and Green, which he copied every day, to the delight of the gallery crowds. One afternoon, while a crowd was watching over his velvet-clad shoulder, he solemnly copied the whole painting upside down, delighting his audience. Later, studying art, he began to lecture -- often humorously -- about art, which later turned into a nightclub, theater and film career.

Jim Brochu's play, directed by Piper Laurie, brings the joys, passions and often withering, sarcastic wit of Mostel alive. Although Mostel clearly loved to perform, as he did in works as diverse as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," "Ulysses in Nighttown," "Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," Ionesco's "Rhinoceros," and in numerous films, including "The Hot Rock" ("Afghanistan, Banana Stand!") filmed in Brooklyn, and his lamented appearance in "The Producers" he was at heart, as the play depicts, a dedicated and serious painter, who periodically needed to seclude himself in his studio on West 28th street (the setting for the play) and get paint on his hands.

Still, Mostel's many triumphs and high profile in the performing arts, brought him, as it did many other artists and writers, including many of his friends, to the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, as they scrutinized the youthful radicalism of some of America's most talented people, destroying many careers--and lives--in the process. The HUAC hearings are receding in history, but with the expiration of the Patriot Act later this year, it is a reminder, that even in times of national crisis, as the Cold War represented, and as the threat of terror suggests today, eternal vigilance is required to protect civil liberties. However, Mostel, as depicted here with great power and comic effect by Mr. Brochu, stood up to the Committee, refusing to name names for the sake of his career, and even sparring with and challenging the committee with great humor. Some excerpts from Mostel's actual appearance before HUAC will give you a flavor. Mr. Brochu, in "Zero Hour" explores this part of Mostel's life in depth.

In the course of an interview with an unseen NY Times reporter, Jim Brochu explores this and many other stories from his life, in the process celebrating "Zero," sometimes tenderly, sometimes ferociously, but always with great warmth, humor and charm.

Through January 31, 2010. Information here.

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo