Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Chopin Celebration

March 3, 2010

“Hats off, gentlemen; a genius.” Composer Robert Schumann on Frederic Chopin

March 1 2010 marks the 200th birthday (*disputed) of Frederic Chopin, the greatest piano composer the world has ever known. Celebrations kicked off with a marathon 171-hour concert of Chopin’s music in his native Poland on February 23. The featured video (above) is from that marathon… Polish pianist Marek Drewnowski plays Grande Valse Brillante op. 34 No. 2 at the Palace of Łancut, Poland.

The G Minor Ballade was reportedly Chopin’s personal favorite.

Here are mine: Berceuse Op. 57, Waltz in C-sharp Op. 64 no. 2, Grand Valse Brillante,, Prelude No. 15 “Raindrop”, Op.64 no.1 Minute Waltz, Op.10 no. 3 Tristesse, Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4, Ballade No. 4, Nocturne op. 15 no.3 in G minor, Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66, and his pop masterpiece Polonaise As-Dur Op 53 “Heroique.”

The best Chopin interpreter is unclear. However, most mention Arthur Rubenstein first and then in no particular order: Vladimir Ashkenazy, Vladimir Horowitz, Ivan Moravec, Krystan Zimerman, Alfred Cortot, Maurizio Pollini, and Guiomar Novaes.

And then there was Art Tatum. Horowitz once said that if Tatum ever seriously took up classical piano, he’d quit the next day.

Laurel and Hardy

February 9, 2010

Laurel and Hardy were The great comedy team from Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Their best films were made before 1935. They won an Academy Award for short subject with The Music Box in 1932. Eventually, their popular improv-style shorts were turned into expensive and structured features and they became too old to be knockabouts. But television brought them back into the limelight in the 50s and 60s with a cult worship that keeps regenerating.

Some of their best include Sons of the Desert, (1933) Helpmates, (1932) Busy Bodies (1933) and Big Business (1929). with archfoe James Finlayson, aka “Mr Doubletake” who invented the Homer Simpsons’ d’Oh! expression.

Recently-found rare clips include their final farewell to their fans via The Water Rats, the English music-hall performers’ union, and their final appearance together in a home movie shortly before Hardy’s death, as well as an insightful interview with Stan Laurel one week after Hardy’s death in 1957. (Laurel died in 1965.) And then there’s this one.

The classic soundtrack for the Laurel and Hardy films was created by Leroy Shield and their opening theme song was Dance of the Cuckoos by Marvin Hatley.

And there’s the persistent rumor that Laurel and Hardy were actually portraying gay characters. I think that there are enough unusual moments in their films to suggest that they were at least playing it as a gag. But I think it was just a gag.

You too can join Sons of the Desert, the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, by going to their website.

The Big Snit

January 10, 2010

A most hilarious and unforgettable apocalyptic cartoon is The Big Snit by Winnipeg’s Richard Condie for the extraordinary National Film Board of Canada. The HD version is here.

Canadians are some of the world’s funniest, most inventive filmmakers and comics. I’ve been awestruck by Guy Maddin, John Paizs’ Crime Wave, Donald Shebib’s classic Goin’ Down the Road, Tom Green and the inimitable Jim Carrey.

The Strange Life of Barry Sadler

December 26, 2009

Barry Sadler was born in Carlsbad, NM in 1940. He dropped out of school in tenth grade and wandered across the country. He eventually joined the US Air Force at 17 and later joined the Army and became a Green Berets medic in Vietnam, where he was severely wounded. He recovered from a harrowing knee injury that left him near death and suddenly catapulted to instant stardom with the release of his mega-hit #1 single The Ballad of the Green Berets in 1966.

Sadler tried to duplicate his success with other Vietnam-related songs but there were no hits, so he turned to writing a series of books about soldiers. In the late 70s, he shot and killed Lee Emerson, a country songwriter. He pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and ended up serving only 30 days out of a 4-5 year sentence.

Mystery still surrounds Sadler’s death. He moved to Guatamala City in the mid 80s and was allegedly shot in the head one night in a taxi. He languished for months in a coma, and was transferred to a US hospital by friends from Soldier of Fortune Magazine. Later, he was kidnapped and returned while still in the coma. Sadler died after fourteen months in the hospital. It’s still unclear whether his death was a suicide, a botched robbery or a result of his training Nicaraguan contras, which prompted death threats.

What Causes Crime

November 30, 2009

“I hated everybody I saw.” serial killer Carl Panzram

Killer: A Journal of Murder, is a little-known crime book classic written in part by serial killer Carl Panzram and edited by Gaddis and Long. The sensational book was made into a not-too-convincing movie with James Woods in 1996.

The story goes that Panzram was recovering after one of his many prison beatings, and a sympathetic guard slipped him a dollar. The guard’s kindness inspired him to write the book, with smuggled pen and paper. Panzram wrote on his experiences in crime and how a child must be taught to live right by the age of seven:

Any child, if properly taught, will live the way he is taught to live. All criminals are merely overgrown children. It is in your hands to make us or break us. We, by our own efforts, are failures in life, simply because we don’t know any better. We don’t know how to live decent upright lives. Heredity has very little to do with the shaping of our lives. The main causes of why we are what we are is because of our improper teaching, lack of knowledge and our environments.Every man’s philosphy is colored by his environments. If you don’t want us to rob, rape and murder you, then it is your place to see that the mental and moral misfits are properly taught a sufficient amount of useful and sensible knowledge and put into the proper environment where they can be best fitted to exist in life. Otherwise, they will be misfits and failures and you are the actual cause because they don’t know any better and you do…

Computer Neck!

November 9, 2009

You may never have stopped to think about this, but…

The habit of craning your neck with non-stop work at a computer is very destructive. The human body is not designed to hold the same posture for more than thirty minutes. For every inch the head postures forward, it increases the weight of the head on the neck by 10 pounds.

(The average adult head already weighs about as much as a bowling ball, between 10-15 lbs.)

Habitual neck problems don’t stop at the computer. There’s also Reader’s Neck, Couch Neck, Driver’s Neck and Military Neck. Consequences over the years are severe, including the dreaded arthritis and hunchbackism. Female office workers are especially at risk.

The first step in solving this creeping problem is to recognize it. You must actively combat Computer Neck to reverse the process. Strengthening exercises and stretching and yoga should help and there are special devices designed to address the problem. Also, here are the top ten ergonomic upgrades for your workspace.

Most important of all is to adjust your habits. Correcting your posture to Ear-Shoulder-Hip-Behind Knee-Ankle is a huge step. Consult your doctor first, and do take care!

The Invention that Changed Everything

October 23, 2009

A curiosity of early musical recordings from the 1890s through the 1920s is that there are thousands of recordings featuring obscure musicians but there were no recordings by some of the musical masters of the time.


Because the microphones of the time were primitive. They were only designed to pick up extreme frequencies, so the sounds of the banjo and tuba were in and so were singers with booming voices, like Caruso, Al Jolson and Bessie Smith. Meanwhile, certain instruments like the piano were too quiet to be recorded, so great artists like Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb and Tony Jackson were left with zero recordings. A real shame!

The invention of the electric microphone (1924) changed everything. Out went the old style and in came a more subtle, sophisticated music era. Crooners like Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra emerged and became even more popular than the bands that accompanied them. Phased out of pop music were the sounds of the banjo and the tuba. They were replaced by the modern guitar and stringed bass.

(Thanks to the Elements of Jazz Course by Prof. Bill Messenger.)

Beatles Heaven

September 30, 2009

I recently discovered this precious clip of George, Paul, and Ringo (minus John) together for perhaps the last time in 1995 singing the old song “Ain’t She Sweet” on a sunny afternoon in a park. This must be what heaven is like.

Speaking of the Beatles, Lucy Vodden, the inspiration behind The Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” has died of Lupus. She was only 46. As a toddler, she was a classmate of John’s son Julian. One day at school, he painted a picture of her… later, he showed it to his dad and coined the title phrase LITSWD.

The song became a classic on the Sgt. Pepper album and in the 1968 pop art animation feature “Yellow Submarine,” which is now all set to be remade by Disney. (noooo!) Please think of Lucy and donate to the Lupus Foundation.

There Were Giants

September 17, 2009

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
–Bible, Genesis 6: 1-

Evidence suggests
that a race of giant people has existed on earth since the beginning of time. Rich ozone conditions thousands of years ago spawned an Age of Giant Life, including giant insects, plants and animals.

Experts say that Giants were more prevalent before the flood. In the Noah story, the Lord sent the flood to exterminate the offspring of “the daughters of man” (human women) and “the sons of the Lord” (angels, in some interpretations).

The Trilithon of Baalbek
is one of the most famous of the ‘Nephilim’(aka “The Fallen Ones”) structures. This series of 1,000 ton stones were somehow quarried, lifted 25-30 feet in the air, moved five miles and put together so closely, that it’s impossible to fit a razorblade in between the blocks.

The tallest man in modern times is 8’11 Robert Wadlow of Alton, IL. The tallest living person is 8’1 Sultan Kusen of Turkey. Some say that Golliath was the tallest man in history at up to 13 feet, but the Biblical King Og of Bashan was at least that tall.

The largest man in recorded history was Mills Darden at 7’5″ and 1,100 pounds.

(*Credit the Gustave Dore Bible Illustrations for the picture of David and Golliath.)

Good Jerry/Bad Jerry

September 5, 2009

The buck teeth. The white socks. The craziness. Dennis Miller once said that Jerry Lewis is only funny when he’s trying not to be. And despite being one of the world’s top humanitarians, Jerry’s embarrassments  are many.

From the bitter  feud with Dean Martin to the legendary bomb“The Day the Clown Cried,” from his eerie self-portrayal in “The King of Comedy”  to the  the skeletons in the closet,  and from the shocking weight gain to even throwing out socks after wearing them only once… that despite his gigantic efforts, Jerry just doesn’t seem like a very nice guy.

But at 83 he is a comedy legend. He is hosting his  44th MDA Telethon this weekend. And he has raised over $2 Billion for “Jerry’s Kids.” So, even (his recently deceased imitator) Sammy Petrillo would be proud.