AUGUST 29, 2016
Song of the Day: Say, Say, Say, words and music by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, appears on McCartney's "Pipes of Peace" album, and spent six weeks at number 1, stretching from 1983 to 1984. Produced by long-time Beatles producer, George Martin, it was the seventh top ten hit for MJ within the "Thriller"-dominated year of 1983. Check out the Bob Giraldi-directed video, the 12" Jellybean Benitez remix, and a 2015 re-release by McCartney, in which the vocal roles of the duet partners are reversed [YouTube links]. (And speaking of collaborations, check out this really rare video of a spontaneous "collaboration" with James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince on the same stage!). Today, would have been Michael Jackson's 58th birthday. Though he is no longer with us, we can still "remember the time." [YouTube video flashback]. And we can also revel in the fact that he has left us with music open to such diverse interpretation--from the rock sounds of Chris Cornell and the jazz tribute album, "Swingin' to Michael Jackson," to a wonderful "Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson," and the classically-trained "2 Cellos" and Hungarian pianist Bence Peter [YouTube links].
AUGUST 27, 2016
Song of the Day: The Pleasure Principle, words and music by Monte Moir, was recorded by Janet Jackson for her #1 album "Control," and it went on to #1 in June 1997 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and by August of that year, it hit the summit of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop singles chart. Barry Lather won an MTV "Best Choreography in a Video" Award and Janet made dancing with a chair look easy. Check out the original video, the Shep Pettibone Remix, the Classixx Recovery Mix, the Cajoline Remix, the GARREN remix, the David Morales Legendary Club Mix, and the Danny Tenaglia/Todd Terry remix. In two days, we'll extend our "Saturday Night Dance Party" into Monday, in a birthday tribute to Janet's late brother, Michael.
AUGUST 21, 2016
Back on March 23, 2016, I posted a Notablog entry, "A New 'Ben-Hur' Looms . . . Oy Vey!," where I provided links to the first promotional trailers to the newest version of the classic Lew Wallace "Tale of the Christ." Preceding this newest version, there was a 1907 one-reeler, a 1925 MGM silent spectacular, and a 1959 11-Academy-Award-winning epic (not to mention a 2003 animated version and a 2010 television miniseries). I had every intention of seeing the 2016 version, and I will do so... once it is released on DVD and/or Blu-Ray. With very few exceptions, the film has received a host of ghastly reviews, and I've just decided it's not worth the effort to go to a theater to see it. But I will provide a serious comparative review when I do have the chance to see the new film, and will reserve judgment on it. What I could not reserve judgment on, however, was the characterization of the record Oscar-winning, William Wyler-directed version as a "kitschy 1959 sword-and-sandals epic," by the New York Times reviewer, Stephen Holden. So I posted a reply yesterday, and the Times published it today at this link. I wrote:
The 1959 "Ben-Hur" is my favorite film of all time. It was the first "intimate epic" that never buried the characters' inner struggles, despite its spectacular grand scale. Heston's performance---even his silent moments and expressions---was worth Oscar gold. This "Tale of the Christ" has always been a parallel story of Judah and Jesus (though director Wyler never clobbers us over the head with religiosity; even an atheist can revel in its spiritual message). And ultimately, it is about redemption; Judah goes from an optimistic, wealthy man to a galley slave bent on vengeance, and finally to a healed man (and that is the true miracle depicted, the curing of Judah's mother and sister's leprosy a physical symbol of a larger spiritual redemption, when Judah says he felt Jesus's words to "'forgive them' . . . take the sword out of my hands"). The film deserved every one of its 11 Oscars, a record tied twice but never beaten. Wyler's brilliant direction and use of symbolism (e.g., take notice of Ben-Hur & Messala aiming their spears where the beams "cross", or Pilate's crowning of Judah after the chariot race as the people's "one true god", or the use of water--and blood--as a cleansing agent) are unparalleled. From its acting, cinematography & editing to Rozsa's greatest film score, it is a crowning achievement. It redefined a genre and stood the test of time. So much for "kitsch." I'll wait for the DVD of the 2016 remake.
Most of the reviewers, to their credit, did not feel the need to pan the 1959 epic; most were laudatory in their evaluations of its intimacy, epic scale, and especially for its thundering chariot race sequence, filmed without the aid (or distortions) of CGI, as one of the three most important action sequences ever to be seen in the cinema (the others being the crop-dusting scene with Cary Grant in the great Hitchcock classic, "North by Northwest," and the Steve McQueen-driven car chase scene in "Bullitt"). And most critics have condemned the new 2016 film as a cut-rate "Classics Illustrated" version of the story, with well-bred actors who are nonetheless puny when compared to the stellar cast of its 1959 predecessor. They have vastly augmented the role of Sheik Ilderim (played in 2016 by Morgan Freeman, and by Oscar-winning supporting actor Hugh Griffith in 1959) and have eliminated entirely the important character, admiral and Roman consul, Quintus Arrius (played with remarkable depth by Jack Hawkins in the 1959 version).
Based on this advance notice, I'm already predisposed toward a less-than-positive review; but, as I said, I will reserve judgment until I see the film. Till then, all I can do is to repeat what I said the first time I posted on this topic: "Oy vey."
Postscript: A number of Christian-oriented publications posted reviews that showered praise on the 2016 version for depicting the virtue of forgiveness even more explicitly than its 1959 predecessor. I reply to this in a Facebook post:
Interestingly, some of the Christian-oriented print media are praising this version of "B-H" as more "forgiving" than the 1959 version, for in this one, Messala lives and the two rekindle their friendship after the crucifixion. The Christian message seems more prominent if only because the 2016 film was produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett who brought us those none-too-subtle "Bible" and "AD" miniseries for television. But if that's the case (and again, I reserve judgment), I think it completely misses the subtlety and power of the Wyler film. Watch the chariot race closely; Messala begins to whip Judah and the two play a tug of war over the whip till Judah takes the whip from Messala and strikes back. And yes, all this is achieved with real men riding real chariots in a real arena, not with CGI effects. But Messala is riding a Greek chariot, with blades meant to rip the wheels off the other chariots in the arena, and he gets so tangled up with Judah's chariot that his own wheels come off and he is dragged and trampled by the other competitors in the arena. At that very moment, watch Heston's expression very closely. He turns and sees Messala fallen, and his expression is not that of a victor, but of somebody who is feeling anguish and pain. He visits the dying Messala, perhaps in a quest to hear something of value. When Messala tells him, in effect, 'you think you've won a victory over your enemy,' Judah responds with: "I see no enemy." But Messala exacts one last cruelty by telling Judah that his mother and sister are not dead, but can be found in the valley of the lepers "if you can recognize them." For Messala, the battle goes on, even with his dying breath. When confronted by Pilate later in the film, an increasingly bitter Judah is told that he's been made a citizen of Rome. Pilate tells him that the intelligent man must learn to live in the real world and for now, that real world is Rome. Pilate admits that there was great injustice in the deeds of Messala's, but despite his anger at his former friend, even at this moment when his lover Esther tells him, "hatred and bitterness are turning you to stone... it's as if you had become Messala," Judah tells Pilate that the deed was not Messala's. "I knew him ... well." He blames the cruelty of Rome for having poisoned his friend, and Pilate tells him, in essence, to get out of Judea, for he is too rich and powerful among his people and a potential threat to the Roman occupation. Judah, in essence, believes that the only way to cleanse this land is "in blood" to scour off their bodies the filth of tyranny. His bitterness begins to shed only when he recognizes Jesus en route to Golgotha, that this was the man who gave him water in the desert and the will to live, when he was first sentenced to the galleys. "What has he done to merit this?" he asks. He attempts to give the fallen Jesus water (the symbolism of water is omnipresent in this 1959 version), but it is kicked away by a Roman soldier. He witnesses the crucifixion--for its time, a very explicit hammering is depicted, and when Jesus dies, his blood falls into the water of a storm, and it travels throughout the land. A symbolic irony here, as the land is indeed cleansed "in blood." When Judah returns home, it is only then that he tells Esther, his lover, that almost at the moment he died, Jesus uttered the words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And he says that he felt those words "take the sword out of [his] hands." Reunited with his cured mother and sister, amidst a glorious Miklos Rozsa backdrop of rising music, we understand the power of redemption, and of not giving in to hatred and bitterness. Wyler achieves this with subtlety and grace. That subtlety and grace is what makes the 1959 version a masterpiece, a work of art. Downey and Burnett's productions have always clobbered us over the head with their evangelical message; if the new "Ben-Hur" depicts that, then it is only a fool who cannot see the greater power, and universality, of the 1959 version, precisely because of its subtlety.
Postscript II: A reader on Facebook suggests that the 1959 film has been criminally underrated by many critics because of its religious content, but often don't see it from the perspective of one of its screenwriters, Gore Vidal, who added another layer entirely to the tale. I replied:
You are absolutely correct; Vidal claims that he told Wyler that they should approach the relationship between Judah and Messala as a kind of lover-relationship gone bad, with the latter wanting to start up again, and the former, having moved on. Wyler films it that way. And there are the explicit "homoerotic" trappings of "bromance"--even as the two of them look into each other's eyes and intertwine their arms when they drink wine together upon their first meeting after so many years. It is clear that they loved each other very deeply. The truth is that I also think a lot of critics just couldn't stand Heston for his conservative politics, so they forgot about stellar performances in "Touch of Evil," "Ben-Hur," "Will Penny," "The Agony and the Ecstacy," and a host of trailblazing sci-fi films. Heck, even though the script was corny, can you imagine another man parting the Red Sea? But this politics stuff is taken too far and it's a joke, considering that he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights, in Washington, D.C. and was President of the Screen Actor's Guild, and only later went on to support Reagan and the NRA. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, that paragon of virtue, George Clooney, remarked that Heston announced he had Alzheimer's, but he forgot he had announced it already. Nice, huh? Make fun of a disease that is destructive and debilitating, no matter how cruel, because you hate the fact that the man said he'd hold onto his guns with his "cold dead hands." Heston is said to have answered that he loved Rosemary Clooney, and that it was clear "class" had skipped a generation.
I added (in several Facebook replies):
If we were to look through the lens of politics or personal predilections, we'd probably dismiss three-quarters of the giants of Western civilization, and 90% of pop culture. You don't like Streisand's politics, so does that make her a horrible singer or actress? You think Sinatra was a womanizer and a bully, so does that make him anything less than The Voice of the 20th century? You think Michael Jackson was a pedophile, so does that mean you can't love his dancing or embrace his music? Sometimes people just can't evaluate art for what it is, and when politics gets in the way, they go blind. . . . Quite frankly, without Wagner, the art of the film score might never have been born--that's how important his influence has been on the development of music-as-story-telling, and most of the great Golden Age Hollywood film composers would credit Wagner with that impact. Everything has to be put in perspective (context, context, context :) ) ... and it is possible, and necessary, in fact, to evaluate things and people and achievements on different scales and from different vantage points, As my friend Douglas Rasmussen once reminded me: "Art is not ethics." Indeed! . . . [And] just because I love "Ben-Hur" (1959) does not mean that there was not a "sword and sandals" genre that flourished in its time, which makes the achievement of "Ben-Hur" all the more important as a break from many of the former incarnations of the genre. As the first "intimate" epic of its kind, it was the "fountainhead" so-to-speak of other "intimate" epics, none of them Biblical, per se, but certanly historical, such as "Spartacus" and "Lawrence of Arabia," both of which also benefited from magnificent film scores (Alex North, composer of the former; Maurice Jarre, composer of the latter). To a certain extent, it was even the template for what James Cameron achieved in "Titanic," and Cameron would be the first to admit the impact of "B-H" on his own evolution as a director. All the more interesting because "Titanic" tied the "B-H" record for 11 Oscars (though none of them in acting categories).
Song of the Day: Summer Samba ("So Nice"), music by Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with Portuguese lyrics by Paulo Sergio Valle, and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by so many artists through the years, second, perhaps, only to the bossa nova anthem "Girl from Ipanema," to which Gisele Bundchen [video link] strutted her stuff in the Opening Ceremonies [video link] of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. We heard this song too during the Opening Ceremonies, and we have been treated throughout these last two weeks to so many entertaining musical interludes featuring this lyrical Brazilian bossa nova fusion of samba rhythms and jazz, each derived from both African and (North and South) American roots. But tonight the Torch is extinguished as the Summer Olympics come to a close. The games were "So Nice" to see and to root for some of our favorite international athletes. Check out renditions by the Walter Wanderly Trio, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Nancy Ames, organist Walter Wanderly with vocalist Astrud Gilberto (who sang that great "Girl from Ipanema" [YouTube links] rendition on the Grammy-award winning album featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, called "Getz/Gilberto". Check out a TV performance of the Ipanema classic with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz [YouTube link]). And yes, this repeats another song from my long list, so I've called it "Song of the Day #1381a."
AUGUST 20, 2016
Song of the Day: Rather Be, words and music by Jack Patterson, James Napier, and Grace Chatto, Nicole Marshall, won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, for the British group Clean Bandit, featuring Jess Glynne. The track hit the #1 spot in November 2014 as a Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Song, and made its way onto a total of seven of Billboard's prominent charts. Check out the single, official video, Lash Remix, Elephante Remix, LiTech Trap Remix, the Magician Remix, and Merk & Kremont Remix. And for a different take on the song, check out the Pentatonix cover version.
AUGUST 17, 2016
Ilana Mercer recently made me aware of some off-the-wall [YouTube, sorry, couldn't resist MJ] comments by stand-up comedian David Cross on Ayn Rand. I'll just have to chalk up his, uh, misunderstanding to the fact that he's a comedian, and not somebody who has actually studied Rand's corpus. On his new Netflix special, he makes the following statement:
"Let's be honest, that's what makes America weak, is empathy. When we care about those less fortunate than ourselves, that['s] what brings us down. . . . Ask Ayn Rand�I believe you can still find her haunting the public housing she died in while on Social Security and Medicare."
Now, it's not my intention to simply defend Ayn Rand; she did a good job of that when she was alive, and her writings have stood the test of time, whatever one thinks about her position on this or that particular issue. But Cross is just all crossed up. About so many things.
First, let's clear up one grand myth: Ayn Rand never lived in public housing. I recently queried Rand biographer, Anne Heller, who wrote the 2009 book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Heller could provide us with every address Rand ever lived at, and not a single one of them corresponds to a public housing project. But even if Rand lived in the Marlboro Housing Projects in Brooklyn, who cares? More on this, in a moment.
Now, it is true that Rand did collect Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated writer, Onkar Ghate, addresses the so-called hypocrisy of this fact about Ayn Rand's life in his essay, "The Myth About Ayn Rand and Social Security." Ghate reminds us that Rand opposed
every "redistribution" scheme of the welfare state. Precisely because Rand views welfare programs like Social Security as legalized plunder, she thinks the only condition under which it is moral to collect Social Security is if one "regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism" (emphasis hers). The seeming contradiction that only the opponent of Social Security has the moral right to collect it dissolves, she argues, once you recognize the crucial difference between the voluntary and the coerced. Social Security is not voluntary. Your participation is forced through payroll taxes, with no choice to opt out even if you think the program harmful to your interests. If you consider such forced "participation" unjust, as Rand does, the harm inflicted on you would only be compounded if your announcement of the program's injustice precludes you from collecting Social Security.
Rand felt the same way about any number of government programs, including government scholarships, and such. In reality, Rand got a free education at the University of Petrograd in the Soviet Union, a newly-minted communist state; next to that, collecting Social Security is "a mere bag of shells," as Ralph Kramden would put it. But, you see, that's the whole issue, isn't it? Rand was born in the Soviet Union, and even that state wasn't "pure communism," as Marx envisioned it; for Marx, communism could only arise out of an advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his quasi-utopian imagination, would solve the problem of scarcity. The point is that there is not a single country on earth or in any historical period that has ever fit the description of a pure "-ism"; to this extent, Rand was completely correct to characterize her moral vision of "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."
But there is a second point that is lost on critics who accuse Rand of hypocrisy; there is not a single person on earth who isn't born into a specific historical context, a particular place and time. At any period in history, we live in a world that provides us with a continuum of sorts, enabling us to navigate among the "mixed" elements of the world's "mixed" economies, that is, those economies that have various mixtures of markets and state regimentation. But as that world becomes more interconnected, the destructiveness of the most powerful politico-economic institutions and processes extend in ripple effects across the globe. And as F. A. Hayek never tired of saying, the more political power comes to dominate the world economies, the more political power becomes the only power worth having... one of the reasons "why the worst get on top." What Hayek meant, of course, is that in such a system, those who are most adept at using political power (the power of coercion) for their own benefit tend to rise to the top, leaving the vast majority of us struggling to make a buck. The "road to serfdom" is a long one, but serfdom is among us; it comes in the form of confiscatory taxation and expropriation to sustain an interventionist welfare state at home and a warfare state abroad.
I have always believed that context is king. And given the context in which we live, everyone of us has to do things we don't like to do. Even anarchists, those who by definition believe that the state itself lacks moral legitimacy, can't avoid walking down taxpayer-funded, government-subsidized sidewalks or travel on taxpayer-funded government-subsidized roads and interstate highways, or taxpayer-funded government-subsidized railroads, or controlled airways.
Then there's the issue of money. You know, whether of the paper, coin, or plastic variety. There are many on both the libertarian "right" and the new "left" who have argued that the historical genesis of the Federal Reserve System was a way of consolidating the power of banks, allowing banks (and their capital-intensive clients) to benefit from the inflationary expansion of the money supply. This has also had the added effect of paying for the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state to control the poor and the warfare state to expand state and class expropriation of resources across the globe. And it has led to an endless cycle of boom and bust. And yet, there isn't a person in the United States of whatever political persuasion who cannot avoid using money printed or coined by the Fed. Even among those on the left, so-called "limousine liberals" (a pejorative phrase used to describe people of the "left-liberal" persuasion who are hypocrites by definition) or those who advocate "democratic socialism" of the Sanders type, or those who advocate outright communism, own private property and buy their goods and services with money from other private property owners. It seems that there is not a single person on earth of any political persuasion who isn't a hypocrite, according to the "logic" of David Cross.
Ever the dialectician, I believe that given the context, the only way of attempting even partial restitution from a government that regulates everything from the boardroom to the bedroom is to milk the inner contradictions of the system.
But some individuals can't get restitution, because they were victims of another form of government coercion: the military draft. Ayn Rand believed that the draft was involuntary servitude, the ultimate violation of individual rights, based on the premise that the government owned your life and could do with it anything it pleased, including molding its draftees into killing machines, and sending them off to fight in undeclared illegitimate wars like those in Korea and Vietnam (both of which Rand opposed). What possible restitution is available to those who were murdered in those wars, or even to those who survived them, but who were irreparably damaged, physically and/or psychologically, by their horrific experiences on the killing fields?
The draft is no longer with us, and David Cross should be thanking that good ol' hypocrite Ayn Rand for the influence she had on the ending of that institution. Such people as Hank Holzer, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Martin Anderson were among those who mounted the kind of intellectual and legal challenge to conscription that ultimately persuaded then President Richard M. Nixon to end the military draft.
And yet, Rand's taxes were certainly used to pay for the machinery of conscription and for the machinery of war; does this make her a hypocrite too, or should she have just refused to pay taxes and gone to prison? Yeah, that would have been productive. Perhaps she could have authored more works of fiction or nonfiction anthologies, chock-full of essays on epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, and culture from Rikers Island. Yeah, then Cross would have been correct: Rand surely would have been living in the worst public housing imaginable.
Thanks for giving me a chuckle, Mr. Cross.
Postscript: I was just made aware of a very detailed essay on the subject of "Ayn Rand, Social Security and the Truth," at the Facebook page of The Moorfield Storey Institute.
Postscript #2: Thanks to Ilana Mercer, who alerted me to Cross's "comedy," and for reprinting this post on her own "Barely a Blog." We're obviously compadres; a "Notablog" and a "Barely a Blog" are close enough to be cousins. :)
Song of the Day: The McLaughlin Group ("Main Theme") [Television Tunes link] opened up this show every week, where viewers have been treated since 1982 to shouting matches between the discussants, among them, regulars such as Patrick Buchanan and Brooklyn-born Eleanor Clift. I often thought that only New Yorkers could really appreciate the ability of the discussants to speak louder and louder over each other, but the show has always been syndicated and appreciated nationally. Sadly, the host of the show, John McClaughlin, missed his first show in the entire run of the series last weekend [YouTube link] (though he still provided the voiceovers for the opening and the "Issue 1," "Issue 2" and so forth announcements). He passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I don't know how or if the show will continue, but it certainly provided this political junkie with a half hour of entertaining discussion of current events every Sunday morning. Check out also an alternative rendering of the theme, an orchestral version of the theme, a YouTube remembrance, his appearance in the film "Independence Day," and his famous "Bye Bye" [YouTube links].
AUGUST 16, 2016
Song of the Day: Holiday, words and music by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens, spent five weeks as the #1 Billboard Dance Club Song for Madonna from her 1983 self-titled debut album. The song was produced by the famous South Bronx DJ John "Jellybean" Benitez. We post it today as part of our Summer "Saturday Night Dance Party," extended into a Tuesday, in celebration of Madonna's birthday. Like Prince and Michael Jackson, she was a 1958 baby. Unlike them, she is still with us. As an honored member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she has carved a remarkable career. And having seen her in concert, I can say she gives a great show and honors all of those, including her fallen comrades, who have had an impact on her music. Check out the original album track and her original video (made with considerably less production value than the videos to come!) [YouTube links]. Then check out this massive mash-up [YouTube link] with the classic R&B hit, "And the Beat Goes On," by The Whispers (one of my all-time favorite SOLAR groups).
AUGUST 13, 2016
Song of the Day: Latch features the words and music of James Napier, Howard Lawrence, Guy Lawrence, and featured vocalist Sam Smith, who infuses this track by the garage house duo Disclosure with his own distinctive soulful delivery. The song, with its 6/8 time signature, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Song chart. Check out the steamy video on YouTube. The talented a cappella group, Pentatonix, also provides a cover medley [YouTube link] of this song and "La La La" that's worth checking out.
AUGUST 11, 2016
Readers should check out an extraordinary full-length New York Times Magazine exclusive, "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart."
So much of what is discussed in this article provides us with too many examples of the unintended consequences and boomerang effects of U.S. foreign policy, a lesson in how the "chickens come home to roost," whatever the intentions of the initial actors in history.
Of course, U.S. foreign policy cannot be evaluated as a sole causal agent in the history of the Middle East, and the Times series does not even suggest this; after all, the U.S. has been involved in the Middle East for a century or so, but the tribalist and ideological insanity that has been embedded in that part of the world has gone on for centuries. I've had a lot to say about this for over a decade now. So I've taken an opportunity to provide readers with an index to many of the essays I've authored on the subject over the years:
"Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" (March 2003) [a .pdf file]
"History and Oil" (December 2003)
"Dick Cheney�s Words of Wisdom, Circa 1992" (27 December 2003)
"Flames and Oxygen"(27 December 2003)
"A Question of Loyalty" (November 2003 - January 2004) [a .pdf. file]
"Consequences: Intended and Unintended" (11 April 2004)
"The Birth of a Narcostate" (13 June 2004)
"Weighing in on a Foreign Policy Debate, Again" (29 July 2004)
"Education and Nation-Building in Iraq" (15 August 2004)
"Unintended Consequences Not Unforeseeable" (12 September 2004)
"Freedom and 'Islamofascism'" (6 October 2004)
"Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept" (8 October 2004)
"America First" (10 October 2004)
In December 2004, I turned my attention to a five-part review of Peter Schwartz's book, The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, published on the Liberty and Power Group Blog of the History News Network:
"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part I: Introduction / Schwartz's Core Arguments" (6 December 2004)
"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part II: Foreign Aid and the United Nations" (7 December 2004)
"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part III: Saudi Arabia" (8 December 2004)
"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part IV: The History of U.S. Foreign Policy" (9 Decemer 2004)
"Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy, Part V: The Current War / The Folly of Nation-Building / The Inextricable Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy" (10 December 2004)
Additional essays followed:
"The Costs of War, Part 1" (23 March 2005)
"The Costs of War, Part 2" (25 March 2005)
"Iran, Again" (3 November 2005)
"ARI, Iraq, and Healthy Dissent" (22 December 2005)
"Iraq: A Perception Problem?" (22 March 2006)
"A Crisis of Political Economy (1 October 2008)
None of the above essays, intensely critical of U.S. foreign policy, has anything to do with my own thoughts about September 11th 2001, the date on which a vicious attack on the home of my birth forever altered our lives. I've written 15 essays, beginning on that infamous date, and continuing each year in an annual tribute to those who lost their lives, those who saved lives, and those who have lived and learned to build again. Check out the index to those essays "Remembering the World Trade Center." A new essay in that annual series will be posted on the 15th anniversary of the attack: September 11, 2016.
AUGUST 09, 2016
While sitting here watching Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and Simone Biles and the US Women's Gymnastics Team kick ass, at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, I have been answering two-month old emails (that's what happens when you spend so much time working with a couple of dozen people on a pathbreaking double-issue of JARS... you fall behind in too many other things!!!). I have also updated my entry for "Song of the Day #1343," "Can't Stop the Feeling!," by Justin Timberlake, which went to #1 on the Billboard charts for the Hot 100, Digital Songs Sales, Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40, Dance Club, and Mainstream Top 40, as well as hitting the Top 5 on both the Dance/Mix Show Airplay and Rhythmic charts. And that's just in the U.S.; Timberlake hit #1 in 22 other countries as well. I picked the song way back on May 20th. Can I pick 'em, or what?
In the meanwhile, do check out the updated links to my Song of the Day #1343 Timberlake entry, which now includes many diverse remixes of the song and a few hilarious "Storm Trooper" videos. No, I can't explain them; they are whacked out!
AUGUST 08, 2016
Song of the Day: Basin Street Blues, music by Spencer Williams, lyrics by trombonists Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller, has been recorded by so many great jazz artists through the years. But today, we highlight a classic version by the late great Dixieland trumpeter Al Hirt and the late, great Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain. Fountain passed away on Saturday, August 6, 2016; he was a spirited player who was greatly influenced by the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, and New Orleans clarinetist Irving Fazola. Check out the Hirt-Fountain rendition of this classic Dixie-jazz tune on YouTube.
AUGUST 07, 2016
Song of the Day: The King and I ("Hello, Young Lovers"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the highlights from the 1956 film score of this classic Broadway musical. I highlight the film version, which starred the Oscar-winning Yul Brynner as the King of Siam (a role he immortalized on the Broadway stage, and for which he won the 1952 Tony Award as "Best Featured Actor in a Musical"), in the same year that he played the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II in the DeMille epic, "The Ten Commandments." Brynner starred opposite the lovely Deborah Kerr, who lost the Best Actress Oscar, but won the Golden Globe for her role as Anna Leonewens. In the film, her singing voice was dubbed by one of the greatest invisible talents of the silver screen: Marni Nixon, who just passed away on July 24, 2016. Dubbed the "American cinema's most unsung singers," she was the singing voice of Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." Check out her rendition of this unforgettable song from the film version of "The King and I" [YouTube link].
AUGUST 06, 2016
Song of the Day: He's a Pretender, words and music by G. Goetzman and M. Piccirillo, was the lead 1983 single of the Motown group High Inergy, from their final album "Groove Patrol." This song was a Top 30 Dance Hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. And it was performed with high energy in a "Can't Stop" medley with DeBarge on the classic special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever." It was a performance, no doubt, a little vague in the minds of many, because it was on that special that Michael Jackson performed with the Jackson Five, before showing the world how to moonwalk in an unforgettable solo rendition of "Billie Jean" [YouTube link]. Speaking of Jackson, his sister Latoya did a version of this song as well, as did Jennifer Holliday [YouTube links]. Nevertheless, check out the original High Inergy single and their Motown performance with DeBarge of this rhythmic track, part of our Saturday Night Dance Party [YouTube links] and perfect for the political season, full of those "pretenders" seeking election or re-election.
AUGUST 05, 2016
Song of the Day: Taking a Chance on Love, music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John La Touche and Ted Fetter, is a popular standard first published in 1940 and featured in the 1940 musical, "Cabin in the Sky," with an all-black cast, where it was sung by Ethel Waters and Dooley Wilson [YouTube link] and in the 1943 film version, featuring Waters with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson [YouTube links]. It has been recorded by countless artists, but it is an especially poignant way of noting how much Bennett credits the African-American contributions to his own exploration of the jazz idiom. So, we end our tribute on an upnote with an uptune, from a magical 1959 Bennett album: "In Person!," featuring a very jazzy Bennett with the ever-jazzy Count Basie and His Orchestra; check it out on YouTube, and take it from one who knows: Always take a chance on love! For love, love of his music, his art, his fans, the special people in his life, is the driving force of Bennett's career. This may conclude our mini-tribute, but there's no doubt he'll appear again on my ever-expanding "favorite song" list.
AUGUST 04, 2016
Song of the Day: Yesterday I Heard the Rain, words and music by Gene Lees and Armando Manzanero, is the title song of Bennet's 1968 album, but can also be heard in a live version with Count Basie and a duet with Alejandro Sanz [YouTube links; this last from Bennett's 2012 "Duets II" album]. Like Sinatra, Bennett could deliver a ballad and infuse it with the heartache he most certainly experienced at points in his life. That he has triumped over this heartache and remains with us, still performing at 90, is a milestone worth celebrating. Last night, the Empire State Building provided the native New Yorker with a lovely light show in honor of his 90th birthday. Check it out on YouTube. Tomorrow, we conclude our mini-tribute; after all--where there is heartache in losing a love (and Bennett felt that heartache), there is always the need to take a chance on love, no matter how young or old you may be.
AUGUST 03, 2016
Song of the Day: This is All I Ask, words and music by Gordon Jenkins, is an appropriate way to say "Happy Birthday, Tony Bennett," for on this day in 1926, he was born. From Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra [YouTube links], this standard has been recorded by many artists. And yet, there is a special resonance in the lyric, on this day more than any other, as Bennett sings: "As I approach the prime of my life, I find I have the time of my life, Learning to enjoy at my leisure all the simple pleasures. And so I happily concede, That this is all I ask, This is all I need . . . Take me to that strange, enchanted land grown-ups seldom understand. . . . And let the music play as long as there's a song to sing. And I will stay younger than Spring." For fans, Tony will always be "younger than Spring." This was the title track from Bennett's 1963 album, but first appeared in a different arrangement on his 1961 album, "Alone Together." Check out the 1961 version and the more intimate 1963 version [YouTube links], with the opening accompaniment of his pianist and long-time musical director, Ralph Sharon. He also recorded it in a duet with Josh Grobon [YouTube link] for his 2012 album, "Duets II," released in conjunction with his 85th birthday. Well, Tony is still going strong at 90, the "prime" of his life has been given a long extended remix for the benefit of generations of fans who still appreciate his boundless talent and energy. Happy birthday to a fellow New Yorker of Italian descent. Stick with us through Friday, when we conclude our mini-tribute to an American treasure.
AUGUST 02, 2016
Song of the Day: The Touch of Your Lips, words and music by Ray Noble, who wrote the song in 1936, has been recorded by many artists through the years, most notably and sensitively by jazz trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker (with some nice guitar work by Doug Raney) [YouTube link]. It was the title track from his 1979 album. But our birthday boy of the week also provides us with an unforgettable rendition, a magnificent collaboration with the immortal pianist Bill Evans, from their 1975 album "The Tony Bennett - Bill Evans Album." Check out the two lyrical masters on YouTube.
AUGUST 01, 2016
Song of the Day: Skyscraper Blues, music by Gordon Jenkins, lyrics by Tom Adair, is from the 1959 Bennett album, "Hometown, My Town," featuring reflections in song on the city of his birth. The orchestrations of Ralph Burns are wonderful; the big band featuring such jazz artists as tenor saxman Al Cohn, guitarist Al Caiola, and trombonist Billy Byers.This more than 7-minute track plays almost like a symphony of changing sounds, moods, and hues, encapsulating the lonely blues and swinging ways that Bennett's New York City can evoke in any individual who might become almost overwhelmed by the greatest skyline, the greatest sights, and the greatest sounds of the greatest city on earth. Check it out on YouTube.