Friday, May 31, 2013

You Go to My Head: Coots, Not Cole

I can't be the only one who thought that "You Go to My Head" was a Cole Porter song. How could it not be, with lyrics like: "You go to my head / And you linger like a haunting refrain / And I find you spinning round in my brain / Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne." Or verse two: "You go to my head / Like a sip of sparkling burgundy brew / And I find the very mention of you / Like the kicker in a julep or two."

Well, it was actually written in 1938 by J. Fred Coots (music) and Haven Gillespie (words). I became intoxicated (rim shot) with this song after hearing Dianne Reeves sing it a capella at the Newport Jazz Fest a few years ago. She cast a mystical, musical spell that day. So when I got home I went to my copy of "Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook," and it wasn't there, which made no sense, given how great the song is. So I did a little research and found the truth.

At any rate, it wasn't totally a "one hit wonder" thing for those guys, especially when you consider that Coots wrote "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." For those keeping score, it ranks as the 42nd most-recorded song at Not bad at all.

Here's Dianne Reeves performing the song with Roy Hargrove.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

S. Neil Fujita: The Look of Jazz

In 1959, the late S. Neil Fujita created two of the most iconic album covers in the history of jazz: Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" cover and Charles Mingus' "Mingus Ah Um." For me, this will always be what jazz "looks" like.  Beyond music, he played a big part in defining that mid-century style that every "Mad Men" set pays homage to. (Or do I mean fetishizes?) You can view lots of Fujita images here. Read his NYT obit here. One more thing. Both of these recordings are quite significant musically in the history of jazz, so we have a nice auditory-visual synergy happening in terms of cultural influence.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reagan Didn't "Win" the Cold War

All right, enough already. Listen up, neocons, because I'm only saying this once: Ronald Reagan did not "win" the Cold War. To the extent that things got better in terms of the lessening of tensions, and they did, it was because Reagan had a counterpart in the Soviet Union who was willing to meet him way past halfway, i.e., Mikhail Gorbachev, the person whom most of the world sees as the most important statesman of that time.

Supposedly, Gorbachev was scared of Reagan's bluster and crumpled like a Dixie Cup. "Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev!" I don't think so. Gorbachev acted for his own reasons, pursuing a less militarized and totalitarian path for his country. This was called Glasnost. What if Reagan's counterpart had been a Soviet version of Ahmadinejad, bellicose, intransigent, and full of contempt for the U.S.? We can see how much good tough talk has done with Iran. What if the Soviet leader was an ideologue who preferred to see his country go down in flames?

American conservatives should actually revere Gorbachev for taking the first steps toward dismantling the Soviet Union, but doing so would shatter what Larison identifies as the dearly-held fallacy -- make that, delusion -- that the U.S. has unlimited power to shape internal events in other countries through blustering rhetoric and the advocating of ill-considered and foolishly aggressive foreign "interventions."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rain Haiku

Five days of mist and rain.
Heavy leaves pull branches down
Almost to the sidewalk.

M. Bogen, May 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

(A Somewhat Arbitrary) Jazz Top Ten

Duke Ellington, 1899 - 1974

I'm finally getting around to posting my jazz "desert island discs." Once I accepted that dozens of essential recordings simply would have to be left off, I was ready to proceed. (Yes, I do take this parlor game that seriously.) I also accepted that this list is not the same as a "best" jazz recordings list. Though these are all great recordings, to be sure, and many would in fact make some all-time best lists -- most notably the Rollins and Coltrane selections. I do know that I have listened with great appreciation to these for many years and would continue to enjoy them for many years to come, if they were the only ones available to me. (I did feel the need to cheat a bit, and take two recordings from Jarrett and Shorter.) I'll write about these individually in future posts, offering some of the merits of each as well as my rationale for choosing it.

1. Steve Swallow, Home

2. Arthur Blythe, Lenox Avenue Breakdown

3. Keith Jarrett, At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings / The Koln Concert

4. Art Blakey, A Night at Birdland

5. Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil / Native Dancer

6. Duke Ellington, The Far East Suite

7. Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus

8. Billie Holiday, The Essential Billie Holiday (the Columbia Years)

9. Joe Lovano, From the Soul

10. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rauschenberg & the Texture of Ideas

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled Mixed Media Collage, 1955

I like "idea art" a lot, but I like it best when it has texture, some of that sensual quality of painting. Robert Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008) is known for neo-Dada stunts like erasing a DeKooning drawing and creating what I think is the first all-white painting, sort of a counterpart to John Cage's silent composition, 4'33". Rauschenberg is also identified as a pop artist, but that's way too simple. What he was, was someone who worked in between all genres in a fun and provocative manner. I tend to like the "in-between" artists and musicians more than others, in that they can merge the best of all worlds. Though the paint in Rauschenberg's work looks "back" to abstract expressionism, I wouldn't like his work nearly as much without that element. I should mention that his works tend to be big, and the texture is a lot more evident at that scale in person than what can be discerned here. If you are on a device you can manually enlarge the screen and see a lot more detail.

A great essay on Rauschenberg resides here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Following the Lead of Dr. Johnny Fever

In a great episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati," the radio station is in danger of being shut down. When the DJ Johnny Fever is told he might lose his job, he responds, "But who will tell the children about Bo Diddley?" That's a good question and I know how he feels. Often, when I consider the awesome responsibility inherent in creating this blog, I ask myself, "What shall I tell the children?"

And then my mind starts racing. Get to know the music of John Prine? Hike the Maroon Bells? Read Alan Watts? Watch all of "Eyes on the Prize"? Walk Commercial Street in Provincetown? Download Coltrane's "A Love Supreme"?

All good stuff, but most of all, trust yourself. And if none of the above appeal to you, find those things that do, and pursue them with your whole being.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Take on Game of Thrones

So many of you have written* asking me about my thoughts on "Game of Thrones," I decided to share some here.

1. Every time I watch those two bearded weirdos explain key scenes during the "Inside the Episode" segment that runs after the closing credits, I'm like, how come I didn't understand any of that when I was watching the actual scene?

2. I never thought it would ever even occur to me that a show could be guilty of gratuitous sex and nudity, but there it is. "The Tudors" looks like "Little House on the Prairie" by comparison.

3. I like how that Wildling girl calls him "Jon Snow" all the time. I think I'll start doing that, address everyone by their first and last name.

4. Peter Dinklage's fake British accent is adorable. It's plausible, if not quite realistic. And it really sticks in your head, kind of like Renee Zellweger's Bridget Jones voice.

5. George R. R. Martin is kind of lazy with those names. The Red Waste? The Brotherhood Without Banners? The White Walkers?

6. Like everyone, I'd like one of those dragons as a pet.

* No one wrote, but I always wanted to start a blog post like that.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

We Used to Call It Wisdom

You have no doubt encountered the deluge of "brain science" or neuroscience findings flooding the media these days. These findings are often "counterintuitive" and tell us surprising things about the often mistaken ways we see the world, lead our lives, interact with others, seek happiness, deal with death, etc.

For me this begs the question: Before brain science how did we manage to build good lives? Well, we reflected on our experiences and learned from our mistakes and successes. This was called wisdom. Rarely will you see a brain science finding that a wise person has not already intuited for him- or herself and tried to impart to others. I enjoy reading the brain science findings, but suspect that most of us will still have to learn things the hard way -- in the course of vigorously participating in life -- for many of these insights to stick.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kerouac's Icebox Haiku

Jack Kerouac, Native of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1922 - 1969

This is my favorite among Jack's many "Western" haikus. It conjures a vivid shared experience, with a subtle metaphysical undercurrent. I'm pulling this from his Scattered Poems, City Lights, 1971.

Missing a kick
at the icebox door.
It closed anyway.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hail, Hail Chuck Berry!

He is the be all and end all, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. The sine qua non, the epitome, the originator nonpareil. The quintessence. The poet, the storyteller, the wordsmith, the word slinger. The purveyor of the Duck Walk. The ax man, the font of eternal, inexhaustible licks; the provider of six string DNA. The god who sprang fully formed from the forehead of the blues. The hippest, the baddest, and yet . . . the most taken for granted, too. He is the inimitable Chuck Berry, the father of rock and roll.

The Niall Ferguson Flap

So now historian and conservative commentator Niall Ferguson says, having just said the exact opposite, that "it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations." This observation is part of his "unqualified apology" posted this week to his website. As a childless person I am indeed offended by his remarks, but, you know what, I don't need an apology, nor does the legacy of John Maynard Keynes, the object of Ferguson's musings on the relationship between being gay and not caring about long-term consequences. People say offensive and stupid things all the time. I've seen him in Harvard Square, but I don't know him in the slightest. If he wants to apologize personally to his good friend Andrew Sullivan, that's another matter.

The thing is, he is a public intellectual. So what I want to know is why he said it in the first place. Is he in the habit of saying in public the exact opposite of what is "obvious"? Was he drunk, in the manner of Mel Gibson? Or maybe this is more of a Mitt Romney, 47 percent thing. Do you remember how, at the time, Romney disavowed his comments entirely in the media and then the day after the election repeated them verbatim to fundraisers? He was merely sorry for having been caught expressing his true beliefs.

Most of us from time to time express ourselves poorly or give voice to ill- or partially-formed opinion. But in those cases very, very few of us, I think, make statements 180 degrees away from our intended thoughts. If Ferguson is one of those rare cases, I'd like to hear him explain the thought processes that led him down that mistaken path. This is important, because I bet there are a lot of people who think that what he said was not mistaken at all. Those people could be "set straight," so to speak.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Night Haiku

moonlight on the bedroom floor
a message vibrating in the dark
welcome to earth

M. Bogen, April 4, 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Haiku

fallen pear blossom petals
arranged in bright constellations
on black asphalt skies

M. Bogen, May 1, 2013