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My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Friday, October 31

The Good Wife & Madam Secretary

CBS has two shows we watch faithfully, one old standby, The Good Wife, and one newbie, Madam Secretary. The Good Wife keeps us as viewers because of its surprising plot twists and turns, and because Julianna Margolis is so very good as the good wife, Alicia Florrick. And Archie Panjabi is so very good as the bisexual investigator, Kalinda Sharma. All the characters are so richly drawn, some good, some bad, some really annoying, and some even hateful. Christine Baranski, as Diane Lockhart, is one of the good ones, as is Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos. Then we have the annoying ones: Alan Cumming as Ely Gold and Mary Beth Pell as Jackie Florrick. The hateful ones include Zach Grenier as Diane’s old law partner David Lee and Michael J. Fox as the irritatingly deceitful Louis Canning. And one lawyer hard to categorize, sometimes on the other side of the table and sometimes on the same side as Alicia, the deceptively ditsy yet interesting and much smarter than she acts, Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tiscioni. We can only sit and wait to see what direction The Good Wife will take if and when Alicia is elected as Ohio State’s Attorney.
Then there’s Téa Leoni as the Secretary of State in Madam Secretary. This show is reminiscent of The West Wing in that both give us what we can only hope our elected officials might be—people who are honest, capable, attractive, super smart, and uber-efficient at their jobs. I remember writing a letter a long time ago to the Arizona Republic, stating that if Martin Sheen ever decided to run for president, he’d have my vote, and probably a winning majority of the votes against whoever might be foolish enough to oppose him. I’d also support Téa Leoni as Secretary of State. I and a good many of her viewers, I’m sure, are reminded of Hillary Clinton’s recent role as Secretary of State. Although Ms. Clinton may not be as attractive as Ms. Leoni, she seemed to be just as efficient and capable. Maybe in another year we’ll be able to assess her as US President. I hope so. Then maybe she’ll appoint Téa Leoni as her Secretary of State.

Thursday, October 30

The Producers

“Another opening, another show,” as the Kiss Me Kate cast sang. And we were treated to another wonderful show at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, this time, Mel Brooks’ hilarious The Producers. This show kicked off the tenth season for ABT, and if The Producers is any indication of the quality of the rest of season Ten, we’re in for a great year. I’m continuously amazed at the constant improvement ABT has managed from season One to the present, becoming ever more professional in all elements of musical theatre—the singing and acting, of course, but especially the choreography, set design, and costuming. Kurtis Overby, the choreographer, has brought Broadway-quality dance to the Valley, and Nick Mozak, who does the set designs, keeps me in awe with what he does with the relatively tiny stage at ABT. For example, one of the sets for The Producers is the office of Max Bialystock, with desk, small safe, and small leather divan. When Max and Leo first meet the Swedish beauty Ulla, they hire her as secretary and general office cleaner. So Ulla takes it as one of her duties to paint the office white. The complete set is now white, right down to the safe and the leather sofa, which means that Nick Mozak had to build two identical sets with identical props, one pre-white and one white. This is in addition to the three or four other sets for different locations. All costumes and props are created by the ABT artisans. When Max and Leo’s musical Springtime for Hitler opens, five gorgeous ladies enter in outlandishly beautiful dresses and accessories, all created for just this show. Highlights of the show? Nicole Benoit as the tall, voluptuous Ulla sings “When You Got It, Flaunt It,” and does she ever have it and did she ever flaunt it. In what has to be a really tough role, Michael McAssey was outstanding as the old lecher Max Bialystock. One of the dance segments had a dozen of Max’s geriatric Little Old Lady financial backers doing a tap routine with the legs of their walkers. Hilarious. Probably the only weak spot in the show was Jared Mancuso as the OCD Leo Bloom. His voice wasn’t up to par with the rest of the cast. Overall, though, The Producers rates five stars out of five. Now I can’t wait to see what ABT will do with their fourth show, Les Miserables, scheduled for end of February through early April.

Saturday, October 25

Colonoscopies

On Thursday, I took my wife to the hospital for a colonoscopy, for what she and I hoped would be the very last of such procedures for her. I had my last one a few years ago, and now that I’m over eighty, I won’t be having any more. I guess that once we oldsters hit the eighty mark, a little colorectal cancer doesn’t need to be detected since we’re about to bite the bullet from one thing or another anyway. The procedure itself isn’t awful; it’s the need to drink that ten or so gallons of stuff the night before that’s awful. I keep thinking that modern medicine should have by now found an easier way to clean out our intestines. But that’s like saying medicine should have found a better hospital gown than that old style first used about three hundred years ago.

We arrived at 9:00, thirty minutes ahead of her scheduled time. Got to be sure to be there on time because heaven forbid they should give her time to someone else. They sat us in a small waiting room with five or six other people, some of whom were other colonoscopy patients and others were their designated drivers. One very large fellow could hardly wait for his audience to pay attention to his repertoire of jokes, and he seemed to have an endless supply. He was almost bouncing and humming with joy as he told them. I simply shoved my ear buds in tighter and turned the music on my iPad up higher. Nothing worse than someone who finds a captive audience for his really tired jokes and then pins them all to his conversational wall. Finally, after half an hour, they came to get Rosalie and told me I could come sit with her until she was prepped. And then the really slow process of the prep. It seemed to take longer than I remembered from my previous colonoscopies. One of the prep nurses, Doogie Dugan, regaled us with a story about her hearing problems and how she found a really cheap item in the drug store she could hardly wait to try, only forty bucks instead of the several thousand for hearing aids. The story went on for way too many minutes. Then the countless questions about medication and allergies and surgeries and ailments. And then the anesthetist came in to ask the same questions. Then the surgical nurse to ask the same questions. A good example of bureaucratic redundancy. After all the questions and answers and the taking of blood pressure and temperature and insertion of iv needle, Doogie came in to tell us that they were backed up a little in the operating room and that Rosalie might not get in for another hour or so. Meanwhile, both of us are freezing in the frigid air. I guess the hospital didn't want anyone to feel feverish. Doogie, noticing our blue complexions, brought us each a warm blanket. Rosalie's procedural appointment was for 10:30 and they finally wheeled her in at noon. I found my way back to the waiting room and discovered that the large joke teller was no longer there. Good. I had the room essentially to myself. I thought about colonoscopies and the oddity of the procedure. A bunch of years ago I had a sigmoidoscopy during an office visit to my doctor. It was called a “rigid” sigmoidoscopy, and I shudder to remember the rigidity of the instrument. It required a laxative followed by an enema some time before the appointment. Then the left-side lying, then the inserting, an exam that took only about twenty minutes. I learned that this procedure was primarily for checking the rectum for signs of cancer or excessive hemorrhoidal bleeding and that it didn’t go in the rectum very far. A “flexible” sigmoidoscopy allows the instrument to go in further, then take a peek or two right and left in the alleyways just off the main drag. And a colonoscopy allows the doctor to look all the way up to your tonsils. Just before my last colonoscopy, someone sent me a funny item by Dave Barry, and I just had to share it with my nurses. And now I’d like to share it with my readers:

“I called my friend Andy Sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through Minneapolis. Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn't really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, 'HE'S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR BEHIND!' I left Andy's office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called 'MoviPrep,' which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven.
I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of America's enemies. I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn't eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken broth, which is basically water, only with less flavor. Then, in the evening , I took the MoviPrep. You mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons). Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes—and here I am being kind—like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon. The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, ‘a loose, watery bowel movement may result.’ This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground. MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don't want to be too graphic, here, but: have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.

After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep. The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep spurtage. I was thinking, 'What if I spurt on Andy?' How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough. At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the heck the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts; the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked. Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep. At first I was ticked off that I hadn't thought of this, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.

When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point. Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, 'Dancing Queen' had to be the least appropriate. 'You want me to turn it up?' said Andy, from somewhere behind me. 'Ha ha,' I said. And then it was time; the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

I have no idea! Really! I slept through it! One moment, ABBA was yelling, 'Dancing Queen, feel the beat of the tambourine,' and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that it was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors. I have never been prouder of an internal organ.”

Dave Barry, one very funny fellow.

At 1:00 they called me back to the recovery cubicle where a drowsy Rosalie was just coming back from colonoscopy heaven. Dr. Gordon explained to us what he’d found, what he’d done, and what she needed to do for the next few days before resuming normal activity. And then finally, finally, we got out of there at 1:30, almost five hours after our arrival. Both of us are hoping that’s the last that either of us have to go through this procedure.

Thursday, October 23

Big Bang, Little Bang

One of the worst things about dying is possibly being in the middle of a good book when it happens. I think there’s a metaphor buried in there. I guess I must be considered to be in the last chapter or two, but even then, I’d still like to know how it ends. Not my life, dummy, how the book ends. Book ends. When the right one falls over, the books all tip that way. Messy. I hate tipped over books.

Last night, at that 3:00 a.m. time when the eyes pop open and stare at the clock for an hour or so, I thought again about my impending death, not that it’s pending any time soon, although it could, and probably will in the next few years. I thought about the Big Bang Theory. Not the tv comedy, but the theory itself, that the universe began with a bang, exploding outward from the center (and where, exactly, is the center?). The universe expanding, time and space stretching. And when it reaches the farthest point it can reach, out there touching the void, it will, like a giant balloon that’s reached its capacity, begin to deflate, start contracting, squeezing in on itself, time and space coalescing. Each of us is metaphorically just like that Big Bang, the bang happening at our birth, life then expanding outward as we grow into adulthood with all of life’s possibilities ahead of us. And then, sometime around forty, the air begins to go out of our balloon and our universe begins to contract. My mother, just before her death at 95, told me that all of her friends and acquaintances were gone, all her siblings and relatives, all the people she’d ever known and considered friends were gone. Gone. All the material things that were once so important to her were no longer important at all. All her paintings were passed on to one grandchild or another, all her furniture and jewelry were assigned to one child or grandchild or another until the only thing left to her was her death. She kept getting tinier and tinier until her death. I kept thinking that one day she’d just vanish in a tiny puff of smoke. She was lucky to hold onto her mind all the way. I can think of no worse way to go than to lose the mind as well as the body. My sister-in-law Phyllis exemplifies the latter. Her universe kept shrinking and shrinking, her voice going higher and higher getting squeakier and squeakier. And then that awful place to which one goes when the mind and body contract, that awful “old folks” home where the inhabitants sit around the halls in wheelchairs, waiting through endless days for the next meal or for someone to put them to bed, sleep being the only refuge from their daily horrors, sleep with garbled, meaningless dreams. We watched Phyllis go through this contraction until finally, blessedly, one morning she just didn’t wake up.

I can see my universe contracting. I’m the last of my tribe, all siblings now gone, all cousins on both sides now gone. And when I tally up my friends and classmates, the number keeps shrinking. I inventory my possessions, all the things I thought were so important, and know now that their value is slipping toward zero. I consider all the words I’ve written—the novels, essays, song lyrics, and the mountain of journal entries—and wonder if any of my children will even want them, ever read them. Probably not. But I find that I care less and less if that’s the case. Like I said above, I’m not in the middle of a good book, more nearly the conclusion, maybe the dénouement, but I’d still like to see how it ends.

Monday, October 20

Odd Day, Odd Me

Another odd day in the Valley. The weather isn't odd. The news isn't odd. The Arizona sports teams aren't odd in that both ASU and the Cardinals won rather handily with nothing much spectacular or odd about their wins over the Stanford Cardinal and the Oakland Raiders. That leaves me. I'm the odd one. I got up this morning to go golfing, went into the garage to discover there were no golf clubs on my cart. None. I couldn't figure out where they were. Someone had somehow gotten into our garage and stolen the damn things, and they weren't worth stealing in the first place. I thought it must be a sign from above telling me I should give up the game. I'd played on Friday and had ridden with another guy in our group and I must have forgotten to transfer my clubs to my cart. In all the years I've played this silly game, I've never forgotten to transfer my clubs. But that's just what I'd done. So I drove to the course anyway, and my Friday golfing buddy had left my clubs there because he knew what my tee time was. No sign from above, and I shot well enough to continue to play until I get a real sign from above. I've always said that I'd know it was time to quit when I had to put a rubber cup on the end of my putter to retrieve the ball from the cup or when the fairway bunkers were now in play on my second shots instead of the tee shots. So far neither has come about, but I've noticed that the cup in much farther down than it used to be and the fairway bunkers are almost reaching out to grab my wayward second shots. That day will come, but not just yet.

Just as I did yesterday with links to my comments about poetry, I've decided to put some links in here for anyone interested in my comments about the English language. I know, I know, who cares about the English language? Certainly not our current crop of young texters, but surely some of my readers still care.

ES3 Intro
Time Flies
English Oddities
Commas
Dangling Modifiers
Grammatical No-No's
Passive Voice
English Up's
Words to Play With
The "Esh" Phoneme

Sunday, October 19

Poetic Recap

For anyone out there who's been interested in what I have to say about poetry, here's an easy way to get to those blogs from the past about poets and poetic forms. Just click on one or more.
Poetic Forms, the Sonnet
Poetic Forms, the Sonnet II
The Limerick
Other Forms
Dickinson
Millay
cummings
Teaching Poetry
Concrete Poetry
Longfellow & Ogden Nash
Frost Sonnets
More Frost

It's a quiet Sunday here in the Valley, clear skies, calm, gorgeous. So, what am I doing besides fiddling with this blog? Am I out there enjoying this fine day from the outside instead of the inside? That's right, I'm here waiting for the NFL games to come on, especially the Cardinals/Raiders game. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, the one that the Cardinals are supposed to win but somehow come up short. I get too involved in the games, moaning and groaning over each bad play, feeling exultant over each good play. After a game I feel like I was out there on the field, running and blocking and catching and tackling. I'm too old for such shenanigans. Today, I'll just stay calm and not get too involved in the action. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.



Thursday, October 16

Evolution

I just finished reading a book that our daughter Jeri Travis wrote, based on an idea she’s had since she was very young. It’s called Evolution, The Long Journey Home, and is hauntingly strange, oddly beautiful and comforting. It’s an extended examination of what life may be, what the universe may be, what God is or may be, how life forms evolve here on earth as well as throughout the universe, how man and all of God’s creatures are on a spiritual journey through time and space.

The story is told mainly through the consciousness of Jey, a young man about to go through his society’s rite of passage, a journey that all their young people must take before they can understand their places in society and the universe. And he is fearful that this journey is only a way the elders have of brainwashing the young. He enters the cathedral, sits through the ceremony, drinks the sacramental wine, bids farewell to his parents and his younger sister Trinny, and is then locked in a small room at the rear of the cathedral where he falls asleep and his journey begins. And from there, the story follows him through endless space and time, through numerous incarnations throughout Earth’s history, all the while he is learning about the unity of all beings within the cosmic structure of the universe. He learns that both good and evil must coexist to keep a necessary balance, that the lost souls, the evil followers of Satan, are in a constant battle to win the souls of everyone. Without this battle, man and all the creatures of the universe could not evolve into a spiritual union with the Creator. Whew! I didn’t understand all of it, but I was impressed. I may have been a life-long agnostic, but my mind just creaked open a bit after reading her book.

It’s available through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in soft or hard cover or as an e-book. It’s really quite lovely, with a cover designed by Karley Low. That girl on the cover is Trinny as she is creating butterflies. I hope all of you out there who may read this blog will buy a copy. You wouldn’t regret it, and my daughter could sure use the money.

Wednesday, October 15

The Judge

We went to see The Judge despite the luke-warm reviews. The reviewers seemed to be unanimous, saying that the story was only fair, too predictable to be good, but that the acting of Robert Downey, Jr., and David Duvall took it beyond average. Yup on both counts. It was a movie we both enjoyed but wouldn’t remember for very long. Duval played the judge of the title, sitting on the bench in a small Indiana community for forty-two years. Downey, the judge’s middle son, is a cutthroat defense attorney in New York, defending clients whether they were guilty or not, winning most of the cases he takes. As we first see him, he’s not a likeable person, turning away from a urinal when the prosecutor in his present case tells him what a dirtbag he is, pissing on the man’s leg. I can’t believe how many tv shows and movies have fallen in love with the act of urinating in public places. Anyway, that pretty much sums up what we’re supposed to feel about him as the film begins. He gets a phone call just as his case is about to begin, telling him that his mother has just died. The judge grants him a continuance so that he can return to his hometown in Indiana. He is in the middle of a divorce, which also suggests that he’s not a very nice person. When he arrives, we learn about the division between him and his father. They seem to despise each other, the father despising the son more than the son despising the father. We learn, bit by bit, the reason for their division: Downey was a bad son in his youth, getting in all kinds of trouble, causing a car crash that injured the oldest son Glen, ruining Glen's shot at big league baseball, on the road to small-town hooliganism to such an extent that his father sentenced him to four months in the state prison for youthful offenders. When he got out, he left for college where he graduated first in his class from Northwestern Law. And became the big time, big city schmuck we first see. His father is in failing health, forgetting basic things like the first name of his bailiff of twenty-two years (ah ah! Alzheimer’s), stumbling, falling, shitting himself in the john (ah ha! chemo therapy for colon cancer). The judge apparently strikes with his car and kills a local badass. He is arrested and is tried for first-degree murder. The local lawyer he hires is obviously out of his depth, spitting up on his shoes every time before he enters the courtroom. It’s obvious that despite the old man’s objections about having his son defend him, Downey will be the one to win the case. Then we also have the requisite backstory with Vera Farmiga as his old high school punch, with a daughter who may or not be his child.
I first saw and fell in love with Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air, then again in Bates Motel, and here she was again, looking as soft and sexy as ever. Admirable roles for Downey and Duvall, but not up to Oscar standards. When Duval announced, angrily, that he was seventy-two and deserved to be old and decrepit and forgetful, it caused me great pain to think that I’m almost ten years older than he was supposed to be. I hope to God I don’t look as bad as he did. My mirror may be lying to me when I see my youthful image there. I hope not.

Tuesday, October 14

Complicated Song Lyrics III - The Bergmans

I don’t need to go back sixty or seventy years to find great song lyrics. It’s just that there are more great ones back then than there are now. The best of the present would be by Stephen Sondheim (but he’s pretty much writing for Broadway and that’s a whole different matter). Of those writing for movies or for singers like Barbra Streisand, the runaway best are Alan and Marilyn Bergman. In case anyone is interested, I already blogged about some lyrics they wrote, “What Are you Doing the Rest of Your Life,” in which I explain why I think it’s the best set of lyrics ever written. You can find it at 2/9/2012, with the title, “Bob Dylan vs The Bergmans.” But now I’d like to look at several more by them, which could be considered close seconds to “What Are You Doing.”

I first heard Michael Feinstein sing “Where Do You Start?” on some talk show. Can’t remember which. I was so moved by the words that I went looking for other versions of this song. And I found a bunch, most notably one by Tony Bennett and the best of all by Barbra on her album called What Matters Most, dedicated to the songs of the Bergmans. When I heard Feinstein sing it, I could only see it as a breakup between two gay lovers, but I now know it applies to anyone who loses a loved one, for whatever reason, and how painful that breakup is and how, very likely, the one speaking will always hold a piece of the partner somewhere in his/her heart. Intricate rhyming, lovely images, beautiful song.

"Where do you start?
How do you separate the present from the past?
How do you deal with all the things you thought would last,
That didn’t last?
With bits of mem’ries scattered here and there,
I look around and don’t know where to start.

Which books are yours?
Which tapes and dreams belong to you and which are mine?
Our lives are tangled like the branches of a vine
That intertwine.
So many habits that we’ll have to break
And yesterdays we’ll have to take apart.

One day there’ll be a song or something in the air again,
To catch me by surprise and you’ll be there again.
A moment in
What might have been.

Where do you start?
Do you allow yourself a little time to cry,
Or do you close your eyes and kiss it all goodbye?
I guess you try.
And though I don’t know where
And don’t know when
I’ll find myself in love again,
I promise there will always be
A little place no one will see:
A tiny part deep in my heart
That stays in love with you."

Now that’s powerful, and powerfully moving. And one of the best sets of lyrics ever written.

Two more and then I’ll stop. There are so many of their songs to choose from: “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”, “The Summer Knows,” “The Way We Were,” “So Many Stars,” “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “Little Boy Lost,” and “The Island” (which for pure sensuality might be the sexiest song ever written). Here’s “Little Boy Lost” from the movie Pieces of Dreams. I love “on the tip of your mind.” I love the sequence of “found, a-wondering, wandering, stumbling, tumbling, round!” I love this song.

"Little boy lost
In search of little boy found
You go a-wondering, wandering,
Stumbling, tumbling, round! round!
When will you find
What's on the tip of your mind?
Why are you blind
To all you ever were, never were,
Really are, nearly are?
Little boy false
In search of little boy true
Will you be ever done traveling,
Always unraveling you, you?
Running away
Could lead you further astray
And as for fishing in streams
For pieces of dreams,
Those pieces will never fit
What is the sense of it?
Little boy blue
Don't let your little sheep roam
It's time, come blow your horn,
Meet the morn,
Look and see,
Can you be far from home?"

And last, but not least, this sensual trip to the island of love, “The Island.”

"Make believe we've landed on a desert island.
Bathe me in the waters, warm me in the moonlight,
Taste me with your kisses, find my secret places,
Touch me till I tremble, free my wings for flying
And catch me while I’m falling.
Keep your arms around me
Like there’s no tomorrow.
Let me know you love me.
On our little island, not a soul can see us.
Show me how to love you, teach me how to please you.
Lay your dreams beside me, only stars will listen
To our cries and whispers, you were made to love me
And I was made to love you.
Keep your arms around me
And lose yourself inside me.
Make it last forever.
I can see the island shining in the distance.
Now were getting closer, keep your arms around me,
Oh, now, we’re almost there.
On our little island not a soul can hear us,
Silently exchanging fantasies and feelings
Endlessly exploring, learning one another,
Till the morning finds us, you were made to love me
And I was made to love you
Keep your arms around me,
Lose yourself completely,
Make it last forever.
I can see the island shining there before us.
Now were getting closer, just keep your arms around me.
Come my love, we’re there."

Take a bite of that, all you would-be lyricists. I’ve now said enough.

Monday, October 13

Complicated Song Lyrics II

Another complex song lyric with an unusual story. “Midnight Sun” was originally written in 1947 as a jazz instrumental by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke. And then, according to the story, Johnny Mercer heard it on his car radio and began toying with lyrics to the music and came up with rhymes for words that had never before seen the light of a song lyric day. Chalice/borealis/alabaster palace? It’s written in the traditional AABA form but in fifty bars instead of the usual thirty-two bars, each verse having twelve bars followed by a two-bar refrain, and the bridge having eight bars. It’s the old Mercer style, though, that transports us with his unexpected imagery:

“Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice, warmer than the summer night.
The clouds were like an alabaster palace, rising to a snowy height
Each star its own aurora borealis, suddenly you held me tight.
I could see the midnight sun

I can't explain the silver rain that found me or was that a moonlit veil?
The music of the universe around me or was that a nightingale?
And then your arms miraculously found me, suddenly the sky turned pale,
I could see the midnight sun

Was there ever such a night, it's a thrill I still don't quite believe
But after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve.

The flame of it may dwindle to an ember and the stars forget to shine,
And we may see the meadow in December, icy white and crystalline,
But oh, my darling always I'll remember when your lips were close to mine
And we saw the midnight sun.”

“Lush Life” is another jazz standard from back in the big band era. Billy Strayhorn spent from 1933 to 1938 fiddling with the lyrics until he felt he’d finally got them right. It’s a song about too many lost dreams, a lost love, and too much booze along the way, and is another example of complicated patterns and word choices, with one of the longest intros in any jazz song (all the way to “Again I was wrong”). There is one line that no one seems able to interpret or even sing with the same words—“A troughful of hearts could only be a bore.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, and Billy Strayhorn is no longer with us to give us the answer.

I used to visit all the very gay places,
Those come what may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life
From jazz and cocktails.
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distingué traces
That used to be there, you could see where
They'd been washed away
By too many through the day
Twelve o'clocktails.

Then you came along with your siren's song
To tempt me to madness.
I thought for a while that your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness
Of a great love for me.
Ah, yes, I was wrong,
Again I was wrong.

Life is lonely again and only last year
Everything seemed so sure.
Now life is awful again, a troughful of hearts
Could only be a bore.

A week in Paris will ease the bite of it,
All I care is to smile in spite of it.
I'll forget you I will
While yet you are still
Burning inside my brain

Romance is mush
Stifling those who strive.
I'll live a lush life in some small dive,
And there I'll be while I rot with the rest
Of those whose lives are lonely too.

This story is melded with music in a minor, mournful key, very similar to a song written for a Broadway show that got lost along the way, "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men." In part III I'll examine a few songs by maybe the best husband/wife duo in the song writing business, Alan and Marilyn Bergman.


Sunday, October 12

Complicated Song Lyrics

It’s a lazy afternoon, and I’m here trying to think of something to write about as I watch my usual banquet of NFL games. And that opening comment reminded me of a song I love. I love songs from the past when lyrics were complex and unusual, unlike most of what I hear today. I love the combination of music and lyrics, but I’m an old lyricist so I pay more attention to the words of a song than the music to which they’re set. “Lazy Afternoon” was written in 1954 with lyrics by John LaTouche, and the story told is exactly what one feels when listening to it sung by any number of old singers: June Christy, Tony Bennett, Patty Austin, Shirley Horn, and, of course, Barbra. The tempo is dreamily slow, the words taking us to that summer picnic and the invitation to share it with the speaker: “It's a lazy afternoon / And the beetle bugs are zoomin’ / And the tulip trees are bloomin’ / And there's not another human in view, / But us two. / It's a lazy afternoon / And the farmer leaves his reapin’ / In the meadow cows are sleepin’ / And the speckled trout stop leapin’ up stream / As we dream. / A fat pink cloud hangs over the hill / Unfolding like a rose. / If you hold my hand and sit real still, / You can hear the grass as it grows. / It's a hazy afternoon / And I know a place that's quiet /, ‘Cept for daisies runnin’ riot / And there's no one passing by it / To see. / Come spend this lazy afternoon with me.” Okay, you don’t have to ask me twice. I’ll go.

As far as complex lyrics go, how about “Stardust” from 1929? Hoagy Carmichael usually gets full credit, but he wrote the music and Mitchell Parish provided the words. That long intro sets the stage for this song about lost youth and lost love: “And now the purple dusk of twilight time / Steals across the meadows of my heart. / High up in the sky the little stars climb / Always reminding me that we're apart. / You wander down the lane and far away, / Leaving me a song that will not die. / Love is now the stardust of yesterday, / The music of the years gone by.” And then the slow upward glide into “Sometimes I wonder / Why I spend / The lonely nights / Dreaming of a song. / The melody / Haunts my reverie, / And I am once again with you / When our love was new / And each kiss an inspiration. / But that was long ago / And now my consolation / Is in the stardust of a song. / Beside a garden wall, / when stars are bright / You are in my arms. / The nightingale / Tells his fairytale / Of paradise, where roses grew. / Though I dream in vain, / In my heart it will remain / My stardust melody, / The memory of love's refrain.”

And one of the most complex sets of lyrics of all, “(Ah, the Apple Trees) When the World Was Young,” was originally written in French by the poet Angele Vannier and then later in English by Johnny Mercer with a completely different story line, one for a male singer and a completely different one for a female. Here’s the first as sung by Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra:

"It isn't by chance I happen to be
A boulevardier, the toast of Paree.
For over the noise, the talk and the smoke,
I'm good for a laugh, a drink or a joke.
I walk in a room, a party or ball. "Come sit over here" somebody will call.
"A drink for M'sieur, a drink for us all!
But how many times I stop and recall.

Ah, the apple trees,
Blossoms in the breeze,
That we walked among,
Lying in the hay,
Games we used to play,
While the rounds were sung,
Only yesterday, when the world was young.

Wherever I go they mention my name,
And that in itself, is some sort of fame,
"Come by for a drink, we're having a game,"
Wherever I go I'm glad that I came.
The talk is quite gay, the company fine,
There's laughter and lights, and glamour and wine,
And beautiful girls and some of them mine,
But often my eyes see a different shine.

Ah, the apple trees,
Sunlit memories,
Where the hammock swung,
On our backs we'd lie,
Looking at the sky,
Till the stars were strung,
Only last July when the world was young."

And here’s the female version, as sung by Peggy Lee on an old Judy Garland show: Click Me, Peggy Lee

“They call me coquette, and mademoiselle,
And I must admit I like it quite well.
It's something to be the darling of all;
Le grande femme fatale, the belle of the ball,
There's nothing as gay as life in Paree,
There's no other person, I'd rather be,
I like what I do, I like what I see,
But where is the schoolgirl that used to be me.

Ah, the apple trees,
Sunlit memories,
Where the hammock swung,
On our backs we'd lie;
Looking at the sky,
'Till the stars were strung,
Only last July,
When the world was young."

(An alternate verse) "Ah, the apple trees,
Where at garden teas,
Jack-o-lanterns swung:
Fashions of the day,
Vests of applique,
Dresses of shantung,
Only yesterday,
When the world was young."

(An alternate verse for a male singer)
"While sitting around we often recall,
The laugh of the year, the night of them all,
The blonds who was so attractive that year,
Some opening night that made us all cheer;
Remember that time we all got so tight,
And Jacques and Antoine got into a fight,
The gendarmes who came, passed out like a light,
I laugh with the rest ' it's all very bright."

(An alternate verse for the female singer)
"You'll see me in Cape D'Antibes , or in Spain ,
I follow the sun by boat or by plane,
It's any old millionaire in a storm,
For I've got my mink to keep my heart warm:
And sometimes I drink too much with the crowd,
And, sometimes I talk a little too loud,
My head may be aching, but it's unbowed,
And sometimes I see it all through the cloud.

Ah, the apple trees,
And the hive of bees,
Where we once got stung,
Summers at Bordeau:
Rowing at bateau,
Where the willow hung,
Just a dream ago,
When the world was young."

Is that good or is that good? Is that complicated or isn't it? Where have all the old lyricists gone? Dead but not forgotten.

I'll have more on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8

Gone Girl

Where to begin when talking about Gillian Flynn’s movie version of Gone Girl? Almost anything I could say would be a spoiler, so I’ll keep it really general. My wife didn’t care for it, and most of the audience with whom we saw it apparently didn’t care for it either. There was almost no reaction when it ended, just a silent trudge to the exit. I think, because most of the audience were seniors, they and my wife objected to the several really explicit sex scenes. They were also confused by it. Almost without exception, every movie made of a book I’ve already read comes up short (one exception being Gone with the Wind). This one didn’t. It was a very faithful rendition of the novel. Well, since Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay, I guess it should have been faithful. I had wondered how she would duplicate the time shifts in the first half, with Nick, in the present, finding that his wife Amy had either been killed in their home or kidnapped, and the flashbacks through Amy’s diary entries. In the book, we had only those entries to learn about the past when she and Nick first met and the progress (or lack of progress) of their five years of marriage. But in the movie, we flash back to the visual scenes themselves and only learn later that what we saw may not have been true. She had written the diary just before their fifth year anniversary, the point at which the movie begins. Nearly everything she does before her death or abduction is meant to set Nick up as a wife killer, and oh my does she ever do a good job. If I hadn’t read the book before seeing the movie, I too would have been hopelessly confused. And since there have been millions and millions of us who have read the book (a leading best-seller for the two and a half years since she wrote it) most of the audience would have received the movie as I did, a five-star flick. And you might see both Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike red-carpeting it to Oscar wins, especially Pike as the “psychotic bitch” Amy.
If you like suspense movies with twists and turns, you’ll love this one, because it will bend you into a pretzel before it ends.

Thursday, October 2

Too Much Bad Stuff on the Tube, Too Much Good Stuff

Question of the day: Why aren’t excrement and increment antonyms? One is out and one is in. “Shit out,” as in excrement and “shit in,” as it should be in increment. It seems to me that newspapers and too much television make use of both. The stuff that appears there has it both going out as well as going in.

TV commentary: This season’s opening episode of Big Bang Theory was a real stinker. Now that they’re all getting a million bucks a show, they think they and the writers can get away with stench? I don’t think so. NCIS New Orleans looks pretty good, especially because of Scott Bakula, but they’re using the same irritatingly loud musical background as on NCIS that keeps viewers from hearing what the characters are saying. Do they really think they need a musical score under every scene to make sure we feel the proper emotional response? I don’t think so. The new ones that got dumped right away: How to Get Away with Murder has Viola Davis as a defense attorney who’s teaching her law students how to defend someone who may or may not be guilty, even of murder. She seems to be wasted in this pilot, her acting too good in a show that’s too dark, has too many flashes back and forward, and too many plot complications that don’t make sense. Mysteries of Laura has Debra Messing, who also seems wasted in a poorly written series. Stalker has Dylan McDermott as a really irritating cop who joins an LA unit specializing in stalking. Who needs to be irritated by Dylan McDermott? Not me. And why would a stalker dump gas on two of his stalkees and try to burn them to death? I don’t know. Legends was just too confusing with all the legendary character and accent switches. Red Band Society appeared to be aimed at an adolescent audience, with a plot that was just too adolescent for us, despite the presence of award-winning Octavia Spencer. Of all the new shows, Madam Secretary might be the best. Téa Leoni is believably good as the newly appointed Secretary of State. Of the good returns, The Good Wife is still one of the best on the tube, but I still don't understand why they represent the omninous black drug dealer; Blue Bloods also, even though this season still has Jamie as a street cop when he should have made detective by now; and Jennifer Love Hewitt is a nice addition to the crew in Criminal Minds. We had given up on CM a few seasons ago because of all the really bloody and disgusting crimes committed, but we so like the cast that we began again and just grit our teeth and close our eyes through the gorier scenes.

Today, there’s too much good stuff to watch (movies, television, sporting events) to waste time watching bad stuff. I’m simply amazed at the amount of stuff I can watch on my IPad. I’m an Amazon Prime member, which gives me access to movies and series present and past that I can watch. Six seasons of True Blood, five seasons of Six Feet Under, six seasons of The Sopranos (We may be the only people in the world who've never seen any of this show), seven seasons of Californication, three seasons of Deadwood, and virtually any movie that’s ever been made. I could spend thirty or forty hours a day watching and I wouldn’t even scratch the surface. And that’s just on my IPad. And on NetFlix I can do the same, but that entails the mail in and back by snail mail. I think I may have to dump my NetFlix account. Who’s got time to wait for a dvd to put in s dvd player? Not me.

Wednesday, October 1

Rubbernecker & The Skeleton Twins

More about Belinda Baur. Her fourth book, Rubbernecker, had me by the throat from the very beginning. But it also had my head in a jumble. I just couldn’t figure out all the characters and how they fit together. But I sped onward and by the time I’d finished, it all made sense. The main character, Patrick Fort, is a young man with the odd disability called Asperger’s Syndrome, high-end autism. The “high-end” signifies that he has some abilities that would be considered genius, but also other characteristics like obsessive compulsive behavior, lack of empathy, the inability to interact with people (look anyone in the eye, understand irony or humor, touch or be touched by others). Patrick is eighteen and begins a medical course in anatomy in which he and his fellow students dissect cadavers with the end result of determining cause of death. The other students don’t understand Patrick and his odd behavior, but they put up with him. Patrick is trying to find out not just how people die, but why they die. His father had been killed in a tragic accident, struck by a car as he and the young Patrick were crossing a street. Patrick wants to find out what happens after death. Don’t we all? In the process of dissecting a cadaver, Patrick becomes suspicious about the cause of death listed for Sam Galen, the cadaver they were working on. And off we go with Patrick to solve this mystery. Belinda Baur’s writing is much like another English author I admire, Kate Atkinson. Nearly every sentence of both writers is so quotable. Here’s a sample from the opening chapter of Rubbernecker: “Dying is not as easy as it looks in the movies. ¶ In the movies, a car skids on ice. It slews across the road, teeters on the edge of the cliff. ¶ It drops; it tumbles; the doors come off; it crumples and arcs, crumples and arcs—and finally stops against a tree, wheels up, like a smoking turtle. Other drivers squeal to a stop and leave their doors open as they rush to the precipice and stare in horror, while the car—¶ The car pauses for dramatic effect. ¶ And then bursts into flames. ¶ The people step back, they shield their faces, they turn away. ¶ In the movies, they don’t even have to say it. ¶ In the movies, the driver is dead.” Wow, she’s good.

And speaking of good. We just saw The Skeleton Twins, and it was maybe better than good. The two people borrowed from Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, give convincingly funny and serious (bordering on tragic) performances as the twins Milo and Maggie, both of whom have issues serious enough for them to attempt suicide. They’ve been estranged for ten years when the movie opens, but come together again to help each other through their issues—Milo’s homosexuality and Maggie’s unhappy marriage. The plot is transparent, but the performances are great. You should see it if only for the hilarious lip-synching of “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and the gaseous bit when the two get high on nitrous oxide.

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