Monday, March 29, 2010

Cool African Paintings in New Haven

My very talented artist friend David Barton is having a show at ArtSpace in New Haven. It’s of his African paintings, a compelling, unique series of wildly imaginative paintings inspired by African culture. Some reflect the motif of a Rousseau-like jungle that also runs through his architectural series, where the jungle quietly invades the cast iron buildings of Manhattan and the A-frame houses of Booth Bay Main. Others capture the magic of cultural masks.

These jpegs don’t do justice to the vibrancy and energy of the works. Get thee to Connecticut to see them in person, through May 1.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bach baby

Church musicians the world over greeted each other today with a nod and a smile that the 5th Sunday of Lent this year shares its cosmic mojo with the 325th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Bach.

Bach’s output as a composer is so extraordinary that it’s impossible to appreciate all at once. The best way in is to really study The St. Matthew Passion, or the Mass in B Minor, or the Goldberg Variations, and then you will be startled over and over at the specific intricacies, the astonishing brilliance of word painting, the depth of the intellectual underpinning of the pieces, the profound reverence of the uber Lutheran.

I’ve wondered why there is no movie of Bach’s life. A musician friend thinks it’s because he had a fairly boring life. He was a family man with 20 children (10 whom lived past infancy) who worked as an organist and a composer, although his genius to compose wasn’t recognized in his lifetime. He married Maria Barbara, and then Anna Magdalena when Maria died. There is no mysterious “Immortal Beloved” woman that gives some sexiness to Beethoven’s life.

This morning I sang the harmony Bach wrote to Isaak’s Innsbruck tune for O esca viatorum (O Food of Exiles Lowly), which transforms the piece entirely. After the piece our very talented music director Preston Smith elegantly slipped “Happy Birthday” into the organ improvisation that followed on the theme. Bach’s disciples honor the big man in many wonderful ways.

Here's Richter with the second 2 movements of the Italian Concerto. The Andante is very famous, used in many movies for a sad or rainy scene. It doesn't "sound" particularly like Bach. The Presto is typical J.S. fireworks, up and down the keyboard, faster than human fingers have a right to move.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

That's Happy St. Patrick's Day in Irish. I started the day at an Irish-language Mass at St. Agnes. The Irish priest was fluent in that startling, guttural yet musical tongue.

As I quietly responded to some of the Mass parts in English, I became deeply conscious that this language--which the Irish people mastered beyond all others in the talents of Yeats and Joyce--is the language of the oppressor, of the conquerors. The country, my ancestors, should be speaking this Irish language; the English should never have been allowed to force their language upon them.

From there to the parade. Starting with the Fighting 69, and those majestic greyhounds. I stayed through the march of NY's finest, a sea of blue on the avenue. The only disappointing thing on this gorgeous day is that the parade didn't flow the way it should. The line of march was stopped far too frequently. When I got to the office I watched it on the WNBC live stream on my computer. I think the parade was stopped so often for the performances on tv. But I hated that the experience of being at the parade is lessened for the virtual experience online/tv.

'Tis Himself

A blast from St. Patrick's Days past: Me Da in the ritual of Irish coffee after dinner. Recipe: teaspoon of brown sugar, mixed with Irish whiskey into a luscious paste, then add the coffee. Topped with heavy cream. A 'belt of Bushmills' was the whiskey of the movies of the 30s and 40s. But Bushmills is made in Northern Ireland, and Da wouldn't send money their way, never sure who was funding whom during the Troubles. That's a bottle of Jameson's in his hand.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Craic 2010

There is a special annual festival in New York that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, The Craic, Irish for an Irish sense of the word crack meaning fun, entertainment, and good conversation. For 12 years now producers Terrence Mulligan and the Fleadh Foundation have brought Irish film (and music) to the forefront near the feast of St. Patrick. It’s where I saw the excellent Irish language film Kings last year.

This year it was Conor McPherson’s ghost story The Eclipse (which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year), and the New York premiere of a documentary on Liam Clancy from Alan Gilsenan. (I missed the Friday night documentary on Gabriel Byrne, Stories from Home.)

There’s No Ghost Story Like an Irish Ghost Story
The rain was pelting, hard, fast, with an angry force. At the crossroads by the canal the winds swirled in powerful eddies as the banshees howled and screamed relentlessly. Those daring to cross felt nearly a solid wall of wind against them, barring their way.
No, that’s not the film. That’s my experience getting to Tribeca Cinema to see The Eclipse on Sat. March 13, in the middle of the Nor’easter.

Conor McPherson is an Irish playwright deeply connected to the mystical side of his people’s race. The Weir, Shining City, The Seafarer, Dublin Carol all have characters haunted by obvious, rational memories, but McPherson knows that which lies beneath. He brings Satan into a poker game, not some metaphor for evil, but Satan himself. It’s not a matter of belief; for McPherson the elements of the religious and supernatural simply exist. Some people are conscious of them, others aren’t.

The Eclipse is based on a short story by playwright Billy Roche, who cowrote the film with McPherson. It’s set in the seaside town of Cobh, Cork, during a literary festival. The great Ciaran Hinds (whom I saw as Mr. Lockhart in the Broadway Seafarer) plays Michael Fahr, a widower raising 2 children after losing his wife to cancer who volunteers for the festival. His father-in-law (his old Seafarer colleague Jim Norton) is not happy in the nursing home Michael has put him in. And so there’s some rational haunting going on.

Michael feels a connection to an English author he’s been driving to festival venues (the glamorous Iben Hjejle) who writes ghost stories. She’s being dogged by a fool of an American author played by Aidan Quinn. A triangle of sorts, and then there are “the others.”

It’s an appealing, seductive contemporary Irish film. The dialogue is witty, the stunning scenery beautifully shot, and the soundtrack an appropriately haunting new composition from Fionnuala Ni Chiosain, think Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem meets Enya. Kyrie eleison. Agnus Dei.

But it’s Ciaran who draws you in with his natural, beguiling gravitas. And as John Anderson said in Variety, “That the drunkest person in an Irish film is an American (Quinn) will have to be considered payback for what we did to Barry Fitzgerald.”

The Life and Times of Liam Clancy

O yellow bittern! I pity your lot,
Though they say that a sot like myself is curst -
I was sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
For I fear I should die in the end of thirst.

The documentary filmmaker Alan Gilsenan chose this Irish-language 18th century poem as the title of his intimate portrait, The Yellow Bittern: The Life and Times of Liam Clancy. It was five years in the making, with Liam on a huge sound stage, perched on a stool with his guitar and signature cap, regaling us with a lifetime of stories and clips shown on a large screen in front of him. It’s fascinating to see the threads of his life come together.

What a life it was, blessed by “the sound.” The Clancy Brothers’s singing is bracing in its perfect harmonies, exuberant in sound and spirit. Each of the brothers had a distinctive voice highlighted by particular songs. Liam’s voice was the purest, the sweetest, light and piercing.

The youngest of 11 Clancys, he was brought to New York by Diane Hamilton, the Guggenheim in hiding who went to Ireland to research and capture folk singing in 1955. Diane had met Paddy and Tom Clancy in NY, and they told her to go see their mother in Tipperary. There she met Liam, and took him on her journey around Ireland and Scotland, and to the home of Sarah Makem, where Liam met Tommy Makem for the first time. Cliche or not, the rest is history.

Liam tells the story of his involvement with Diane, and does not shy away from the later alcoholic nervous breakdown he had. It’s an honest look at the life behind the performer, the ups and the downs. And Gilesnan broadens the scope of the film to see the Clancys in relation to what was going on the in 1960s.

Even if you aren’t Irish, Liam is a good raconteur who spins a tale that draws you in. And he has some universal words of wisdom about “growing up, growing old.” Here he is with his brothers and Tommy Makem, from their 1984 reunion tour, and “The Shoals of Herring.”

Liam Clancy died on December 4, 2009, the last of the quarter to leave us.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Particular Place to Go

As a city dweller I don’t think much about cars. But I grew up on Long Island, and so it’s in my DNA to appreciate the allure of them, the romance of them, the attachment to them.

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car. E.B. White

I was reminded of this by a recent article in the NY Times about an old colleague of mine, Rich Conaty, and his Nash Ambassador. I met Rich, as most people do, through his distinctive radio show on WFUV called The Big Broadcast. His knowledge of the music of the 20s and 30s—as well as the entire career of Bing Crosby—is staggering. Our paths then crossed when he wrote the radio section of a book I edited about Jack Benny.

But this weekend it was all about his car. He was in the Automobile section of the Times due to his classic 1950 Nash Ambassador Custom, the car he saw on Superman as a kid, and fell in love with. That’s the great thing about growing up—sometimes you get to have your heart’s desire.

A car can massage organs which no masseur can reach. It is the one remedy for the disorders of the great sympathetic nervous system.
Jean Cocteau

I’ve only owned one car in my life, a 1973 Pontiac Lemans. It was a hand-me-down from my brother that I was thrilled to have at college when I moved off campus. My father gave me credit cards for 5 different gas stations, and always paid the gas bills. I loved driving the route from Massapequa to Rutgers—Southern State to the Belt Parkway, to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, through Staten Island to the Outerbridge Crossing to the Jersey Tpk-—because the Lemans was a MACHINE, heavy, solid, with a big, powerful engine.

“From 1973 to 1977, the LeMans and other GM intermediates were much larger in size than previous models due to evolutionary changes that resulted in larger cars year after year and federally-mandated 5 mph crash bumpers that added weight and length.”

Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything to be obliterated.
Jean Baudrillard

The BFF Eloise ALWAYS has a car. She’s had at least 20 vehicles, including all kinds of trucks and motorcycles over the years. One of the most special was the 1964 Chrysler Newport, V8 440 engine, Dune Beige. It had a pushbutton transmission, sometimes called a typewriter transmission. It suited her style beautifully. We had many adventures in that car, including driving it to Florida with a beloved dachshund named Cassandra.

The other car dear to my heart is some type of Mini that Cadfael rented for our trip through Tuscany. It was tiny, just perfect for going down stairs! on the isle of Elba and getting through all sorts of tight streets.

Being a mass transit girl, I have lost some of the sense of movement that driving-—or the finer art of motoring-—brings to life. Since I don’t drive much, I have perfected partnering with drivers as "the navigator." I am available for trips of all lengths. References upon request.

What I like, or one of the things I like, about motoring is the sense it gives one of lighting accidentally, like a voyager who touches another planet with the tip of his toe, upon scenes which would have gone on, have always gone on, will go on, unrecorded, save for this chance glimpse. Then it seems to me I am allowed to see the heart of the world uncovered for a moment.
Virginia Woolf

Ok Chuck, sing us on out:

Riding along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel
I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile
My curiosity running wild
Crusin' and playin' the radio
With no particular place to go

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Real and Virtual Oscar Party!

We're throwing a First Annual Interactive Academy Awards Party at the Paley Center. What does that mean? Red carpet, food, drinks, and watching the show on a big screen with a live Twitter feed. Join us from your living rooms! Use #paleyoscars.

I'll also be posting over at Alan's

and a list of things thrown together five minutes ago

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Wit of Swift Is Silenced

May you live every day of your life.
Jonathan Swift

Tom Watson shared the sad news today that our fellow blogger Jon Swift died of complications of suffering two sudden aortic aneurysms while on his way to his father’s funeral in Virginia. He was 46. He had indeed exercised the satirical wit, piercing intelligence, and quiet largesse of heart of his chosen online identity and truly lived every day, until they unexpectedly stopped.

I met Jon through Tom’s newcritics gang. I won’t call him by his ‘real’ name---you can read many tributes over at Tom’s for that info—-because the times I met him in person he took the idea of the blogger persona very seriously.

It was his destiny to make Facebook safe for all of our online identities. In 2007 was thrown off of Facebook for violating their terms of service. From a Softpedia news item:

"Fake accounts are a violation of our Terms of Use. Facebook requires users to provide their real first and last names. Impersonating anyone or anything is prohibited. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reactivate this account for any reason. This decision is final", the email read, according to the blogger [Swift].

Woah. Thems were fightin' words. Jon would not stand for this. Friends created a “Let Jon Swift Back into Facebook” page, and there was an avalanche of articles written in support of him.

It wasn’t fraud because he created Jon Swift and he is Jon Swift. And lo and behold, he received another nameless email from Facebook, and he was reinstated, making it safe for the M.A. Peels and Lance Mannions of the world.

Of course he was much, much more than that. As one of his oldest friends, Jason Chervokas writes, his success as a “big blogger” didn’t protect him from struggles and doubts.

"As love without esteem is capricious and volatile; esteem without love is languid and cold."
Jonathan Swift

One can only hope that in the esteem he found through the talents of his writing, he also got to enjoy the love and affection his commenters so obviously felt for him.