Monday, February 25, 2008

David & Goliath

Want to know how to tell the Oscars were rigged?
Three songs, would you believe it? 60% of the nominated songs?
Three truly atrocious songs, from one film, Enchanted.

You’re kidding, right?
Nobody thought this was a bit much?
Must have been the bazillion dollar budget on this turkey that gave the nominating committee not much pause or hesitation before they launched three of the songs from the movie as legitimate contenders. Must have been a truly sad year for originality as far as movie's songs were concerned.

Want to know how to tell that the Oscars weren't rigged?
Once’s nominated song, "Falling Slowly" won.
I exploded off my chair when it was announced . The little $100,000 engine that could of a film!

Personally, this song was my favorite in the movie. Why it wasn't nominated instead of one of the manatees (my humble apologies to the manatees) from "Enchanted" simply tells me that the nominations were.....RIGGED!

Their Acceptance Speech: (Mr. Hansard had no suits so he had to buy one just for their performance)
Glen Hansard:
Thanks! This is amazing. What are we doing here? This is mad. We made this film two years ago. We shot on two Handycams. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people. It's been an amazing thing. Thanks for taking this film seriously, all of you. It means a lot to us. Thanks to the Academy, thanks to all the people who've helped us, they know who they are, we don't need to say them. This is amazing. Make art. Make art. Thanks.

Marketa Irglova:
Hi everyone. I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, who helped us along way. Thank you.

NB: I went on and on about "Once" last Father's Day in this bit.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Don't Know Much About Opera...But He Do...

In this well-written article in today's NYT Sunday Magazine on the play/opera/musical director, Bart Sher, Alex Witchel extracts this gem from the now-so-hot stage director.

Witchel was discussing Mr. Sher's career while Mr. Sher was simulataneously sprucing up an opera at the "Metropolitan Opera in New York. “Barber of Seville” had returned to the repertory with a less-stellar cast than when it opened. Opera, unlike the theater, is an ongoing jigsaw of international scheduling that draws from a limited pool of performers who tend to sing the same roles no matter the company. The good news is that the singers arrive knowing the music. The bad news is they’ve sung it the same way for so long that they’re not willing to change much."

"Sher paid close attention to the recitatives between the arias. “This is exactly where everyone goes, ‘Zzzzzzz,’ ” he told me. “You need to get through all the plot and keep the audience engaged. What I don’t like about opera is that it starts and stops, you lose consciousness, then you’re back. I want it to be a sustained experience where you’re constantly being pulled in by the story, because by the time you get to the really great aria, you’re prepared. If the situation is clear, the singing is glorious.”

ZZZZZZ, Brother and Amen. Good luck to you, Mr. Sher.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Opining on Opera

I do not like the opera.
Not in New York.
Not in Philadelphia.
Not on a boat in a moat.
Not even with a Croat.
I care not for it in French,
Nor Italian. Not in German or even in English.
Too many high notes and screaming,
Too evocative of the mongering of fish.
Too much pleading of the suspension of belief
That the moving, singing House of Velvet
Is a young lass, deserving of many men's attention,
That the 60 year old slow-moving crooner
Is a young prince, a real swooner.

And then there's the repetition of the same verse. Of the same verse. Of the same verse. And it's not an awe-inspiring verse to deserve such repetition.

I've gone to a few and have been encouraged by Xenoverse to be more open-minded to this art form. I have tried, with no success and much frustration.

My mother, on the other hand, lives for operas. She has the stories all at her fingertips. She goes to at least 5-6 performances a year. She went to a recent one in Princeton where, at least to her studiously judgemental eye, the performance was marred because "The hump! The hump was on the wrong side of Rigoletto!"
"And that singer doing Gilda? Well, she was a little too big. Other Gildas I've seen were slimmer."

I pass these comments on only thanks to the Ever-Loving Wife who, going beyond the safe grounds of most daughter-in-laws, accompanied my mom to this performance. I would have imploded, had I gone, due to all of the reasons listed before. So, some good stories came out of the punishment that opera can be and I pass these along.

These operatic thoughts all came back to me when I was recently watching a DVD of Billy Connelly's performance in New York City. A bit slow at times and not necessarily clicking, the DVD had some golden moments, specifically his take on the opera, which he admitted he liked as an art form. He just thought there should be some minor adjustments, like reducing all performances by 2/3rds. He launches into a 6-7 minute shtick about the "verse repetition" that I moaned about. It's worth the wait just to see this bit, at least if you're having deep unsettled thoughts about opera.

Though I'd generally agree with this review, there were some bits in the program that were worth the wait, specifically one about New South Wales, an Aussie swimmer, and a shark and the bit already mentioned about Mr. Connelly's take on the Opera.

2/25/08: Had to change the photo as the one I'd linked to...disappeared. Seems Mr.Olafur Sigurdarson, in his role as Rigoletto, was a highly prized photo. So, I guess the youngish rogue, Mr. Pavoratti, will have to do.

In the words of the mighty John Candy, "Where's my Provolone!?"


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Let's Talk.......or Not

I have a closed face. Well, that’s what I’ve been told by no less a facial perspective expert than my Ever-Loving Wife (ELW). Easily prompted to fill in the blanks (but not the blankness of my face), she theorized that my Slavic blood and my upbringing by just-off-the-boaters (a club that I include myself in, as well) in the Land of Croats and then in the Land of Asphalt were two factors constituting 90% of the cause of my dour uni-brow look. Throw in being schooled by nuns in 7 of my 8 years of grammar school and you have the balance of the 10% required to walk around life with a look that gives pause to even proselytizing Seventh Day Adventists. My body English translates into the Spanish Inquisition, so the pose that goes along with my face suggests that I’m employed by theStasi, not an organization bristling with friendliness.

My Ever-Loving Wife (ELW), on the other hand, has a face that invites conversation from any sentient being. Dogs come up to her and seemingly hold 10 minute conversations. People? Well, people treat her as the Font of Einfühlung. When the ELW was in the Ever-Loving Fiancée (ELF) stage of our relationship, I was working and living in Montreal. I’d been up there around 6 months, unhappily living in Outremont wondering why people were so unfriendly. In my days as a student at McGill U. in Montreal, I’d experienced the somewhat reserved, some would say cold, attitudes of my fellow students. I always chalked it off as the standard self-doubt of the underclassmen and the course overload (Ah, doesn;t that seem so self-delusional these days of worklife?) that made student life unnecessarily miserable.
So, I’d expected the post-student life to be more open to the non-consequential conversations of humans in the social enclaves of stores, parks, and bus stops. I mean, couldn't I even get a "How’s it going, eh?" or even a close-mouthed "Hello"? It never happened or happened so rarely that the social interactions fit better in the "Never" basket.
Well, the ELF came up to visit for a spell while I resided in these "unfriendly" confines and proceeded to tell me of her experiences her first day in Montreal, when I came from work. She talked with so-and-so. Isn't that bus stop the friendliest place you'd encounter? How about that pâtisserie around the corner? How unfriendly; only 5 people spoke to her there (when I couldn't even elicit a merci beaucoup after dropping $30 for a box of pastries to die for, just a week ago)?
The answer was pretty obvious. It was me. It was the odorless gases emanating from me that either made me invisible or made me, well, odious. The ELF, on the other hand, casts her welcoming airs out and humans, dogs, cats, and bees swarm toward her.
(Quite) smartly, I made sure that the temporary "Fiancée" status was changed to "Wife" within a short timespan. I had to ensure that these social attraction agents began to be absorbed by yours truly. Let's face it folks, if I was hoping to be a father it would help if my kids were not immediately averse to my company. I'm not sure how well this absorption thing has been coming along, but I began to notice that dogs became less skittish around me (except for those constantly-underfoot-yelpy things that are more related to rodents than to real dogs) and that friends' kids were not immediately backing away with darting eyes.
Now, the kiddies are in different states but I'm assuming that they're there for educational reasons. Right, kids? Right?

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Leningrad Cowboys

In a sporadic search on Netflix and elsewhere for a DVD version of Leningrad Cowboys Go America, I was disappointed, again, to learn only a VHS copy is available in the States. In Europe, where musical entertainment of a wider range is available, this movie is available on DVD, but in a format unplayable on USA DVD players. A shame, that. It is a movie worth seeing every once in a while, especially when you feel your life is in a rut and you need to explore alternate lifestyles. If you still have a VHS player, I would recommend you latching onto a tape of this movie, set a few hours free on a Friday night (because you'll need the weekend to recover from the visions of the movie), and lounge back and be prepared to be transported. Mr. Jarmusch even makes a cameo appearance, returning a favor to one of the actors, Matti Pellonpää, who was in Jarmusch's Night on Earth (which FINALLY came out on USA DVD last year!).

So, unable to get a fix from that film, I opted to take a chance on the concert film, Leningrad Cowboys: Total Balalaika Show. This 1993 live outdoor concert in Helsinki was filmed in the town center, with over 70,000 in attendance. The Cowboys played/sang/danced with the Aleksandorv Red Army Choir.

Featured songs include:
Let's Work Together
The Volga Boatmen's Song
Happy Together
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Polyushko Pole (Oh, Field)
Gimme All Your Loving
Jewelry Box
Sweet Home Alabama
Dark Eyes
Those Were The Days

Truly, it is one of the most interesting live concert films I've ever seen. The mix of a rock 'n roll band with a Russian chorus and band, complete with a brass section, a balalaika section, accordions and full military uniforms works well. As you can see, the song selection included 5 Russian songs. Even if you had minimal exposure to folk songs from Mother Russia, I'll bet you've heard, at least once, each of these five songs, although I doubt you've ever heard the versions as performed by the Cowboys and Red Chorus. Both of the groups obviously enjoyed themselves and the audience caught on quickly that the show was not a joke and was, most certainly, a result of a symbiosis of great talent.

The cover versions of "Delilah" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" are sublime. And "Sweet Home Alabama"? Ronnie VanZant would have appreciated the Russian-Finnish version, just to see how the Red Chorus got into it.

Here's the Cowboys & the Red Choir doing a popular Finnish/Slavic composition, "Sweet Home Alabama". Yes, that song.

The extra features on the DVD include 4 song videos and some short films by the director of the movie. All in all, an entertaining way of spending a Friday night in. Nothing offensive, save for the hairstyles and shoe extensions, so family viewing is definitely a possibility.

Crank up the sound and be prepared to hum and laugh.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

PITA, Restaurant Style

It has been suggested, quite frequently in fact, by those close to my heart and to my wallet, that I am a lousy restaurant partner. My body sends off Fearmones that infuse all of my fellow dining guests with the uncomfortable feeling that we will be having a lousy meal. Well, let me confine that to the scenario that I will be the one having the lousy meal. Somehow, forking over money for a meal only means I get to taste the prepared food; the moolah does not, in the view of my fellow diners, allow me to comment, above a whisper, as to the quality and quantity of the food. It seems that I have been wrong in concluding that paying for a meal also means I own that meal. Well, I mean owning it as long as natural processes allow for my person to maintain possession thereof. I am a grown man who, unless I'm dining alone, has been took 'n told that I should just sit 'n eat. My food-related commentaries have fallen on unappreciative ears. That's me sitting in the corner of Chez Swank, with my back to you, mumbling, grumbling, and chewing.
Succintly, as far as a restaurant guest, I'm your basic PITA. And I'm not talking about capitalized Greek bread.

I admit there is a crumb, perhaps a whole loaf, of truth to that perceived reputation. I've gone to restaurants that I've enjoyed in the past and have been tragically disappointed on a repeat visit. My Ever-Loving Wife once extracted a reluctant opinion out of me of a new restaurant we'd just supped at.

"Actually, it was quite good. Attentive service, without the need to exchange names. Arrival of our meals while we were still enjoying our first bottle of fine wine. Bread baskets re-filled without our need to take up the begging position. No hovering; no "And how is your meal now's". Yes, it was a solid evening."

She looked at me, one eyebrow slowly rising in momentary surprise.

"Well", she exhaled, "that'll be the only good meal you have there...."

Sadly, she was probably right. I can't remember if we've been back to that fine establishment that I've enjoyed as much as our initial visit.

In this NYT article, the writer Jeff Bell, a self-described OCD-er, details some of the agonies associated with folks living within this distressing state of affairs when within the confines of a restaurant. Though beseiged with a plethora of maladies, I can honestly state that I do not have OCD. I have, however, wined and dined with folks of that persuasion and can vouch for Mr. Bell's observations. The one point that he never mentions in his article, however, is the topic of personal choice and menus. My social skills at restaurants have evolved from the premise that the main reason, perhaps the only reason, for my being at a restaurant is to eat food prepared by someone other than me or my immediate family.

The steps from the arrival to the departure of a restaurant experience always seemed simple to me.
1) The menu is handed out.
2) There are choices to be made.
3) One makes choices.
4) One orders said choices.
5) One awaits the inevitable heartbreak of a good meal gone bad.

Witty repartee can be interspersed between steps # 4 and #5. However, from step #1 through #4, I tend toward the behaviour of monks who've committed their lives to silence. A menu is not a pamphlet from the door-to-door religious prosletizers to be ignored or put down on the table to catch bread crumbs. It is a treaty to be perused and then agreed to, in a timely manner. While I find your company enjoyable to the point of squealling, I find a table bereft of filled plates a tragedy of massive proportions. The menu is not a legal document that you must carefully study for clauses that will trip you up half way through your meal. It is what our tax laws should be. Direct connection between a promise of a reward, say an appetizer of Gnocchi with Stewed Portobello Mushrooms in a Sherry-reduced sauce, with the cost of said reward. Yes? No? It's that easy. Please!! Don't ask if the trees shading the Portobellos were oak or walnut! Complications and eating; they don't mix.
Decision-making in a dining environment should not exceed the time it takes to enjoy your first glass of wine, say 15 minutes.
Any time ticking past that will not make for pleasant table manners for your fellow trenchermen.
Gnawing on your arms will be almost permissible; table-side drooling will definitley be o.k.

( be continued)

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Thursday, February 14, 2008



The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even
forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins

I was going to post a picture of some of my "memory aids" here but, out of concern for personal safety, opted not to. Suffice it to mention that these "aids" are piled/stacked/organized by my bed, by my desk, by my sofa. Basically, any furniture in the house has a "by my" pile associated with it. Yes, the memory has bee slipping for a while. I believe if I read less or had less books, less would be forgotten. I, however, am of the thinking that, perentage wise, the amount of forgetting as a function of the quantity of printed matter located within the property lines is significantly less than if I had a smaller inventory of books. While the books forgotten quantity may be the same, upping the composition of the divisor, i.e. # of books on hand, makes my forgetten books % lower.

That's my rationalized outlook on keeping the printed words around and I'll stick by it.
Besides, it's been rather chilly lately and the books stacked against the house's outer walls has been keeping us warm.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Internet Jazz

Short post.

I'll be sitting in and dj-ing the next three Fridays from 10:00 pm to 12:00 am for a friend's Jazz show, Avenue C, on WVUD, the University of Delaware's student and community radio station.
Tentatively on cue will be Nik Bartsch's Ronin, The Bad Plus, some Pat Metheny, including his newest CD, some Thelonius Monk, Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Manu Katche and Wes Montgomery. Listeners are always welcome. You can catch it on your computer, here.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Witnesses a Croatian film dealing with the War for Independence back in the early 1990's. Reviews point out that it's not a landmark work (leave it to the Socialists to be downer film critics). Others were more kind and, IMHO, saw the movie for what I thought it was, namely, a film that took Jurica PAVIČIĆ's novel, "Alabaster Sheep" and played off the theme of good and evil during wartime. The director, Vinko Bresan, uses the techniques that Kurosawa used to great effect in Rashomon, namely puling together the perspectives of different main characters in the story.

The technique works well, but that is not the point of the movie, i.e. to compete with Rashomon. The technique's application to the story makes for good reasons to watch this movie multiple times. It's not that the movie is thick or not easily understood, the story itself is relatively simple. It's that the layers of the story and especially the conflicts become sharpened, something that a straight shoot of the story may not have provided. The acting is solid. The setting is a combination of bleak and boring with sudden unplanned action. Basically, from my limited understanding, how a war truly is. The subtitles are the weakest part of the film. The spoken ideas are presented but the fabric of Croatian cursing is left out. A shame, as flamboyant cursing is a favorite artwork of most of the characters in the movie.

If you don't mind being depressed for a bit and you want a glimpse of the horrors of petty day living at a time of war, I' d highly recommend this DVD.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Crack Open Your Ears..

..and give this a listen. Mr. Whisky Prajer has gone podcast. He reads Footnote To a Bread Recipe from his self-published collection of short stories, Youthful Desires.

The story is a bit over 14 minutes. Grab yourself a hot cup of coffee, crank up the computer speakers, and settle back to a gorgeous rendition of one of the wonderful stories contained in Youthful Desires (highly recommended for purchase and perusal!).

He starts with Every day at 4:15 she rescued me from the grain elevator like some kind of gasoline angel, barreling down the dust road in my '67 pick-up to claim the soul of this work-worn soul. Having grown up in a family where the spoken and the written word carry equal weight, it is no surprise that the published words of his story come off strong and uncluttered when read aloud. It is not easy trick to write intricately with a tuned ear for the mot juste, and have the story present itself well both in the reading and in the speaking.

Congratulations to Mr. WP for pulling it off.

In other more pedestrian news, yours truly has recently purchased a replacement box for the twin domestic PC's that gave up the ghost. No, it's not a Mac (pause to dab the tears); it's a Dell. Adequacy in the face of additional buckos. This weekend, I'll be setting it up and hopefully renewing the blogging spirit. For those kind folks that still came to visit here in hopes of some scribbling, I thank you and I will be back, very shortly.

February will be a big month for dj-ing at 91.3. In addition to my semi-regular show, The Morning After, which I'll be hosting on Sunday, February 3rd, I'll be sitting in on a friend's jazz show, Avenue C, while he is on hiatus. The latter is on each Friday night from 10:00 to 12:00 midnight. I'll be dj-ing all of February's Fridays. So, listen in, if you've got somewhere to be within earshot of some happening tunes.

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