Sunday, November 29, 2020

Where have all the players gone, long time ago

"Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors."  -- Ernest Miller Hemingway

"I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings."  -- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

People who have been coming here for a while probably know I worked at a newspaper or two or three in the past and also that I received a pay check from the Department of Corrections in South Dakota once upon a time.

I assume most know from their own experiences that if four or five individuals witness an event it is not only possible, but likely, there will be four or five variations to exactly what happened. People often believe their own versions no matter what the "facts" indicate happened.

At one newspaper, one of my "sidelines" was putting together a weekly arts and entertainment "section" (two or three or four pages) weekly, depending upon what was happening and how much print space was available in a news sense. When time and opportunity and space were available in a staff sense, I occasionally would assign two or three reporters to review the same book or to attend the same concert or the same stage play or the same film and run their reviews side-by-side.

I thrived during these exercises, especially when it involved two or three reporters "debating" the merits (or the lack of them) of an event. (I am using the word "event" in the context of a book / concert / play / film review here.) Criticism, if you check out the word, means pointing out both the positive and the negative of an event.

Christmas music is among my favored and I have begun the season this year by listening to it very early. Realizing also that different individuals have differing tastes in music, I have pulled out two versions of, "Oh, Holy Night," and am including them here today. For any who care to partake in the "experiment," they are there waiting for you to listen to them and to offer an opinion in the form of a comment. Remember, critics should point out both the good and the bad, if they find any of either.

If you are feeling shy about writing a comment regarding these two singers and their presentations of this song in a critical manner, I will mention I never have worked with a reporter/reviewer who had any vocal or acting experience other than during their "school days," much less been a "trained singer" or an "acting studio" graduate. So, feel free to watch / to listen / to write. My reviewers essentially all were reporters, mostly with limited newspaper experience and only a few ever had done a review of any sort in their life before then in or out of journalism. The one thing they all had in common was a willingness -- even an eagerness among a few -- to give it a try.

The first rendition of, "Oh, Holy Night," is presented by musicians from Hillsong Worship, a religious organization in Sydney, Australia. Taya Gaukrodger Smith, originally from a country town in northern Australia and active in the Sydney music community, is the soloist.

The Raskasta Joulua event has the same song, "Oi Jouluyö," performed in Finnish in sort of a rock style and party atmosphere by a very pregnant Floor Jansen, currently vocalist with the symphonic rock band, Nightwish, and who occasionally performs in a freelance manner, as she is doing in this instance ....


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Santa Claus either needs a new calendar or ....

Whether Saint Nickolas (aka Santa Claus) became confused about the dates or his gift-giving burden is becoming so tremendously huge and out of control that he needs to leave a month early to ensure all the good little boys and little girls and puppy dogs receive a gift under their trees is a matter of dispute. Buddy W. Fram could care less about the reason .... he simply is happy and thrilled to have a new bed for afternoon naps.

A review is a review is a review .... or is it?

Part 1 of 2

"Realism is a bad word. In a sense everything is realistic. I see no line between the imaginary and the real." -- Federico Fellini, movie maker ....

"Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist .... can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is .... and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be .... " -- Robert A. Heinlein, writer ....

As a graduate-student-college-boy, I took a class on foreign films -- "foreign flicks" -- as we called them, which included some by Federico Fellini which often have been described as a blend of fantasy and reality. In this class, we would watch a film one day, write a review / criticism / critique of it to be turned in at the next class, which centered on a discussion of the movie we had seen, and then, during a third classroom day, discuss / argue / debate our written evaluations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the class, and the two elements which absolutely amazed me were how often we agreed on elements of the film and how often and widely ranging our disagreements were. There, you see my logic for multiple reviewers of books and performances -- which will be clarified in Part 2 of this piece.

My memory about these things was stirred by having recently watched, "La Strada,"  a 1954 Italian film directed by Fellini. It translates into "The Road."  This is one Fellini flick I had not seen before. I will not comment on it other than to mention I think the movie is a minor masterpiece, in the least,  (although I hesitate to name a major film masterpiece) and the casting could not have been better done.

The central characters are Gelsomina, a young woman played by Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife; Zampanò, a brutish, angry man portrayed by Anthony Quinn; and Il Matto, a high wire performer and clown played by Richard Basehart.

I never have cared for Quinn simply because he is brutish in appearance and often portrays such creatures in movie roles -- but, he is a fine actor and between his appearance and his talent is perfect for this character.

Likewise with Basehart, in an opposite sense. His appearance is rather wimpish in my eyes, but often he is inappropriately cast as "hero-type" characters. Il Matto literally and figuratively is "The Fool," which is why I believe he fits this part well.

Giulietta Masina, I think, is a bit too old for her part, but the child-like nature of the character and Masina's extraordinary ability to create expressions perfect for the scenes make her the centerpiece of the production. Her talent has been compared to that of Charlie Chaplin.

Might someone else see and interpret this film in different ways? Yes .... absolutely. Even more reason for multiple reviewers. Let us end this now before I find myself trying to analyze the film characters and the actors playing them, or begin to indulge in the history of Italian film making.

There are two videos here – one the soundtrack from the film, "La Strada," composed by Giovanni Rota Rinaldi, an Italian composer, pianist and conductor working under the name of Nino Rota. He was a close friend of Fellini. My own thought is that the music sounds better in context with the film, rather than as a stand-alone piece.

Present also is a tribute piece to Kenneth William David "Ken" Hensley, a guitar and a keyboard man and, most notably, a composer. He died at age 75 on November 4. Hensley joined the hard rock band, Uriah Heep, around Christmas 1969 and wrote or co-wrote many of the group's early songs. He composed "Sunrise" and co-wrote "July Morning" with lead singer, David Garrick, who used the stage name David Byron. I mention those two compositions specifically because they are two of my unconditional favorites .... eloquent thoughts set to music ....

Happy Thanksgiving .... barring the unforeseen, Part 2 will arrive eventually ....

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Eu não quero te tocar muito, bebe

A Winter evening .... as seen from my Minnesota driveway ....

Here we go again ....

Every autumn, I begin to think about leaving the sea of blogs. Although I first found my way here in August 2008, it was not until January 2009 that I began posting one .... two actually, but the first was gone before January ended. Being a rather organized individual who likes to do things in a logical, sequential manner, in the autumn I think that my January anniversary date would be an appropriate time to disappear.

Invariably, I begin to look through old posts with their words and photographs and music and never quite work my way far enough along to utter the words -- it is over. The swirling snow photograph is part of the reason. This is the third post in which it has appeared since it was taken on February 20, 2014. There is nothing particularly remarkable about it, but to me it roars Minnesota and is a perfect illustration of what some people love about the place and what others hate about it. The photograph does have a rather ghostly and surreal quality to it, I think. Anyway, I like it and here it is again.

Also included are four pieces of music:

Yahoo is a Brazilian band formed in 1988 which performs and records both in English and in Portuguese. This particular piece, titled "Mordida de Amor" and sung in Portuguese, probably sounds familiar. It is a cover of "Love Bites," a very memorable song from Def Leppard. The Yahoo lineup includes Zé Henrique (bass guitar and lead vocals), Serginho Knust (guitar, acoustic guitar and vocals), Val Martins (keyboard and vocals) and Marcelão (drums and vocals).

Vixen is an American hard rock band formed right here in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1980 by then high school student Jan Kuehnemund. Its most successful period was from 1987 to 1992, with Kuehnemund (lead guitar), Janet Gardner (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Share Ross (bass guitar) and Roxy Petrucci (drums). Kuehnemund died of cancer at age 51 in 2013. Here is the band performing "Edge of a Broken Heart." Kuehnemund is the young lady with a mountain of blonde hair seen mostly on the right side of the stage.

A few days ago on another blog, I wrote: "My favorite variations of it (the 'Boléro') are with Jorge Donn dancing, alone or with others, and choreography by Maurice Béjart. It is a song meant for dance, I think, and not purely as an instrumental piece .... although in any form it instantly captures you and pulls you deeply into it and along with it."  Since then, I have watched French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem dance to the music.  I think she does it with more aplomb and grace than Donn. Here is Guillem's  final performance of Béjart's Boléro as it appeared live on television on 31 December 2015 as the clock counted down to midnight in Yokohama, Japan. I also watched for one more time British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean win their Olympic gold medal skating to it in 1984. Their performance is timeless.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel" is sung here in Latin as "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" by New Zealand singer and songwriter Hayley Westenra, who sings in a number of languages. Perhaps, this song will awaken the holiday spirit within you. The hymn has been around for a while and has its origin in monastic life and lore in the 8th or 9th century. Can you grasp how many times "Veni" has been sung since then?

Now then .... after an offering of a number of written words and a photograph of a snowy night appearing for the third time and four pieces of varied music, the question still remains: To blog or not to blog ....

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Then & now .... Marine Corps

This USMC photograph shows Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller in the center-right foreground cutting a multi-layered birthday cake somewhere in Korea on November 10, 1950, while a multitude of Marines gather around awaiting a "piece of the action." Puller was the most decorated Marine in American history. He is one of two men to have been awarded five Navy Crosses, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps second-highest decoration for valor in combat. His other awards included a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart and a few more. Puller retired as a lieutenant general from the Marine Corps in 1955 after 37 years of service. He died at age 73 in 1971. The other Marines in the photograph shall remain anonymous.

The first video is here to instill the fact that every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman. The corporal reciting the "Rifleman's Creed" is holding a Springfield model of 1903 rifle and the creed was written in late 1941 or early 1942, which dates this film to that time frame. The second to offer a glimpse into the Marine Corps of today. The last to help you remember tomorrow -- November 11 --  is Armistice Day / Veterans Day / Remembrance Day. By whatever name you identify with it, I hope you take a few moments to reflect on it and to think of a way you can contribute to make your neighborhood / your town / your state / your country a better place for those who call it home.

Happy Birthday, USMC .... 245 & counting

The United States Marine Corps was "born" on November 10, 1775, when the Second Continental Congress established the Continental Marines consisting of the First and Second Battalions under the command of a colonel. A recruitment drive was held at Tun Tavern and brewery in Philadelphia. Rumor has it not a single drop of liquor in any form could be found at the establishment when the doors were finally closed that night.

Although the anniversary always has been November 10, it was not until 1921 when observation of that date became official. It is my assumption that fact has escaped the attention of most, both inside and outside the Corps.

Prior to 1921, Marines celebrated the birth of the USMC on July 11 with little fanfare. Major Edwin N. McClellan, in charge of the historical section, sent a memorandum to Commandant John A. Lejeune on October 21, 1921,  suggesting the original birthday of November 10 be declared a Marine Corps holiday. Lejeune did just that in Marine Corps Order 47 issued on November 1, 1921. It read in part:

"On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name 'Marine'. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history."

The first formal "Birthday Ball" was staged in 1925, though no records exist that indicate the proceedings of that event.  Birthday celebrations since have taken varied forms, with most including dances and guest speakers. Some accounts include mock battles, musical performances, pageants and athletic events.

This, the 245th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps, is unique in that a plague is on the loose and gatherings range from limited to prohibited. Still, there is no doubt cakes will be cut and speeches given and stories told of times and experiences now living in memories. Traditions will go on as long as memories exist ....

To all Marines, those among the dead, those who still live, those yet to be born: Semper Fidelis, to the end of time ....



Sunday, November 1, 2020

We do not know what we do not know ....

What we have here is an unidentified man sort of leaning against a big, old Cottonwood tree, which some argue is more than 100 years old. Since I have not been around nearly that long, I cannot vouch for the claim one way or another. There evidently is a way of learning the age of a tree without cutting it down to count the rings. Someday, maybe, I will be at the right place at the right time to check out the method. To celebrate our tree, we have two video offerings: "Trees," a Joyce Kilmer poem, and a taste of Old Norse mythology called Yggdrasil and Odin.

Flights of fancy & other nonsense ....

This is my mother's pet tree. I suppose I could say it is mine, as well -- although I never realized it at the time. This area once was part of a lakeshore yard in my hometown. My mother grew up in a house which once was only a few paces away, and I spent the first few months of my life there -- although I never realized it at the time.

The tree is a Cottonwood, and first was noted and recorded around the  turn of the 19th Century into the 20th. Old codgers claimed to have observed the tree about the time the region was being settled in the 1870s, but since many Cottonwood trees existed in the area not much credence was placed in their "recollections."

Sometime before my first birthday, the house was sold and another purchased for our family conveniently located at the edge of the downtown area. Another family moved into the "lake house." I was inside it a few times when I was a boy, but I did not know of my own history as a resident of the house until I was somewhere around thirty.

I envied my mother for having grown up adjacent to this tree and for having her own private, lakeside, sand beach. I had more-or-less "adopted" the lake when I was a young boy and later could only imagine the times I would have had living on it. Of course, I suppose either the tree or the lake might have killed me, too. We do not know what we do not know ....

When the parents of the family which had replaced my own in the house died, the city purchased the lot from their children and the parcel next to it, tore down the houses and turned the property into a public park and beach. Of course, boylike creature that I am, I remain jealous and envious and feel all the other things I should not about this situation.

Whenever I return to the hometown, which is very seldom, I stop by the old tree and touch it and ask if it remembers me from when I was an infant. So far, the old tree has remained silent. When you live more than a century, I suppose you have encountered too many people to remember them all .... especially long-ago babies who now have become sort of handsome / intelligent / wise / modest / daring young men ....

Something special ....