Monday, April 23, 2018

Shakespeare and St. George

"For Harry, England and St. George!" Henry V cries, to rouse his troops before the battle of Agincourt. And it is our call today, April 23, St. George's day, the day on which we honor the patron saint of England, slayer of dragons, rescuer of maidens.

It is also the presumed birthday of William Shakespeare, who exited this world on the same date, fifty-two years later. Apparently Shakespeare had a flair for drama.

A similar display of mortal showmanship was given by Mark Twain, born in 1835 on a night when Halley's comet flashed thru the sky. Twain predicted he would die the next time the comet appeared, and in 1910, he did. (Next sighting of the comet is due in 2061.)

St. George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday--write a sonnet; take a dragon to lunch (or rescue a maiden).

And a good morning to those still coming in on the Sun Run.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Prize in Every Box

A past week of prizes--the Pulitzers and the Glenn Gould. The Glenn Gould Prize went to the majestic soprano Jessye Norman, whom some of us were fortunate to hear at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre a generation ago. She sang the Strauss "Four Last Songs," which has become her signature work, but she also sang some cabaret songs, giving a clever Dietrich impression.

Much excitement over the Pulitzer Prize in music going to rapper Kendrick Lamar for his album "Damn." it has been noted that he is the first pop artist to receive the prize. The jazz breakthrough came in 1997, when Wynton Marsalis was awarded the Pulitzer for his oratorio "Blood on the Fields." Then, in 2007, Ornette Coleman was rewarded for "Sound Grammar."

The most notorious incident involving the music award came in 1967, when the administrators of the prizes refused the judges' recommendation that it be given to Duke Ellington. The judges, including critic Winthrop Sergeant, resigned in fury, but Ellington remained cool--at least, in public---saying, "Fate has been kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to become famous too young." Ellington was then sixty-seven. He was awarded a citation, posthumously--the same belated honor given to George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Hank Williams. Bob Dylan was still around to receive his.

Not all winners have accepted the prize. Among those who said, "Thanks, but no thanks" was William Saroyan, awarded the Pulitzer for drama in 1940. He declared that "commerce should not judge the arts."

But knowing writers, we bet there were moments later when he wished he had taken the $1,000 prize. (It's now $15,000.)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Imaginary Reviews of James Comey's Book

"Really caught the essence of this wonderful President, a man we have all come to know and love for his caring ways" -- VP Mike Pence.

"Big Jim is a real stand-up guy. Just wish I was that tall. Or half as tall." -- Jeff Sessions.

"Delightful! So full of entertaining stories! What adventures Donny has had! Laughed and laughed!"  -- Melania.

"Generally don't read anything unless it's by Tom Clancy, but this book really is the bee's knees. (Do people still say that?)" -- General John F. Kelly.

"Comey not only delivers a great read, he's also a very hot guy. Hubba hubba! (Do people still say that?)" -- Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

"Loved it! Syriaously! Ha ha! Little play on words there. And people say I don't have a sense of humor." -- D. Trump.

"Can't wait for the movie." H. Clinton.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April, one more time

"Oh, to be in England, now that April's there"

Robert Browning was in Florence, where he lived from 1846 to 1861, when he wrote that.

April has stirred the spirits of many songwriters; thus we have "Lost April," "April Showers," "I Remember April," "April Love," and--perhaps best known of all, thanks to Thad Jones's great arrangement for the Count Basie orchestra--Vernon Duke's "April in Paris."

Who can forget seeing the Basie band in Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles" playing "April in Paris" in the middle of a desert?

As the Count liked to say, "one more once."

Browning would agree.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Do Not Be a Gowk

April 1, 2018, is both Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day--the first time this curious juxtaposition has occurred since 1945.

The origin of Easter celebrations is well known, but the background of April Fool's (or All Fools) Day is more confused. It may have sprung from the Roman Cerealia, held at the beginning of April, commemorating the rather nasty trick played on Proserpina and her mother, Ceres, by Pluto.

In India, tricks are played as part of the March 31 Holi Festival. In France, an April fool is un poisson d'avril--literally, a poor fish. And in Scotland, a person successfully gulled this day is a gowk, or cuckoo.

Be on guard. Don't be a gowk. And Happy Easter.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday and Springtime

It is Good Friday, and a lovely, gently sunny spring day--which seems wrong for a day that should be grey and bleak, overcast and leaden. But there are always surprises.

"Good" may seem an inappropriate word for the day, considering what it commemorates; but in this usage, "good" means "holy." Many will be in church today, or taking part in processions, marking the Stations of the Cross. For contemplation alone, there is Bach's Mass in B Minor, and John Donne's "Good Friday, 1613: Riding Westward."

Then there is a Hemingway story--little known, and a curiosity in the Hemingway collection--called "Today is Friday." It imagines a conversation among Roman soldiers in a tavern after the Crucifixion. Faulkner also wrote a story on the theme of the Passion; he called it "A Fable," and it is set in France during World War One. And in Philip Wylie's "Opus 21" a mysterious figure named "Chris" appears on the Enola Gay, and urges the crew not to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

Finally, this piece of good news for some: those whose birthday falls on Good Friday are said to have the ability to see spirits and the power to combat them.

And in three days--Easter!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Scam Season & Russian Roulette

As the deadline approaches for tax filing, there is the usual rash of cyberscams and telephone calls--fake messages purported to be from Canada Revenue, either promising a refund or threatening legal action.

But recent news regarding the cyber tampering with votes, from the US presidential election to Brexit, makes these other scams seem puny and amateurish.

Electronic communication systems are wonderful in many ways, but it was harder pull off trickery when people communicated by chipping their messages in stone tablets.

Meanwhile, as western nations continue to penalize Russia by expelling diplomats and closing consulates, President Trump has gone a step further, saying he is returning his volumes of Dostoevsky. "Didn't read them all that much anyway," he said.

Some nations are trashing their albums of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov. "However," said a spokesman for the Canadian Senate, "we are not getting rid of our vodka."

He added, "Except, of course, in the traditional way. Although we draw the line at ordering a Moscow Mule."