Friday, April 30, 2010

Another US Presidential Opera

Following the great success of "Nixon in China," plans are underway for another opera:  "Bush in Germany."  The setting is Heiligendamm, a Baltic Sea resort where George W. Bush and other G8 leaders met in 2007.  President Bush and members of his entourage became ill during their visit, and, in her soon to be published autobiography, Laura Bush suggests that they may have been victims of a poison plot.

With this high drama in mind, President Bush sings the following aria, set to the tune of "I Feel Pretty."  Viewers are encouraged to sing along.

I feel nauseous--
Oh so nauseous.
Next time I eat out,
I'll be cautious.
Wish I felt joy
Like my buddies drinking Lowenbrau.

I had knackwurst
And then bockwurst
And with weisswurst
I was sure I was thrice cursed.
And so nauseous--
One more bite and I was sure to burst!

What did they put in my lunch today?
I know it's something bad that I ate.
Could it be a plot?
Something in the pot?
Has some fiend dropped poison at the G8?

I'll call Cheney.
He's so brainy.
He'll send agents from the land of the free,
Someone who'll take a schnitzel for me!

(Glorious finish)

And then we'll all scram
And get the hell out of Heiligendamm!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beating Around the Bush

It has come to our attention that Laura Bush has written, and had published, an autobiography. The book has not yet been released, but Pointless Digressions has received excerpts from one of the publisher's galley slaves (note clever word play, for which P.D. is famous).

Ms. Bush's book is titled "Spoken from the Heart," the title "Bushwhacked" having been rejected. It joins a long line of memoirs by ex-presidents, ex-first ladies, ex-hangers on, and ex-wannabes, many of which may be found on a remainder table near you.

One of Ms. Bush's items recalls a visit to the White House by Prince Charles.  She and her staff were puzzled, she writes, when the Prince of Wales requested a glass with a scoop of ice  On receiving it, he produced a flask and poured into it what she guessed to be "straight gin."  To most of us, the reason for this is obvious:  in the Bush White House, the beverage of choice was probably Dr. Pepper.   The Prince, wisely, had followed the dictum of a favorite archbishop who advised "the wisdom of carrying your own flask."  

Ms. Bush also laments the negative labels pasted on her husband by Democrats, as she no doubt remembers the generosity and charity of comments by Republicans regarding President Clinton and presidential candidates Gore and Kerry. 

Finally, she suggests that the gastrointestinal distress suffered by her husband, herself, and members of W's staff during a G8 summit in Germany may have been the result of an attempt to poison the President (an excuse not thought of after Bush Major's up-chuck in Japan).  And she may be right.  However, it should be noted that Bush Minor felt a similar queasiness after viewing Oliver Stone's film "W."

"Laura," he said, "I feel nauseous."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Literary Notes from All Over

This date in 1667, John Milton sells the rights to "Paradise Lost" for ten pounds.  This leads to his great sequel, "Royalties Lost."

This date in 1737, Edward Gibbon ("The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire") is born in Putney, Surrey.  The Duke of Gloucester, to the historian:  "Always scribble scribble scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?" Later in life, the historian falls to his knees to propose marriage to Lady Elizabeth Foster.  She bids him rise, and, after some struggling, Gibbon, who has added a few pounds of the fleshly kind, finds he cannot.

And one day back, in 1731, Daniel Defoe ("Robinson Crusoe," "Moll Flanders." "Journal of the Plague Year") shuffles off this mortal coil in London's Ropemaker Street, hiding from creditors. Many of us know how he felt.

Monday, April 26, 2010

George & Will

April 23 was St. George's Day.  Wendy's was sizzling dragon burgers.  

It was also William Shakespeare's birthday.  Shake, as those of us close to him called him ("Hey, what's shakin', Shake?") entered the world at Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1564. You may recall that he said "all the world's a stage," and he made his exit, with his usual dramatic flair, exactly fifty-two years later, also on April 23.  (Duke Ellington once said "God has blessed my timing," and Shakespeare could have said the same.  And possibly did.)

Appropriate celebrations:  a keg of mead and DVDs of several worthy films:  Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V," Olivier's "Richard III," Roman Polanski's "Macbeth," and (and especially) the recent Ethan Hawke take on "Hamlet."  There have been other Shakespearean films, but too often, as in the Leslie Howard-Norma Shearer version of "Romeo and Juliet," the players are twenty-five years older than the characters they are pretending to be (although it is fun to see Basil Rathbone and John Barrymore duel as Tybalt and Mercutio).  

Or, passing all those, you might find a DVD of "Kiss Me, Kate," Cole Porter's riff on "The Taming of the Shrew," and flip thru to Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore performing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Sample lyric:  "If you quote a few lines from Othella, she'll think you're a hell of a fella." 

Face it, pal--Shake always had better lines.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Hooch Monger

Some years ago, Reader's Digest had a running feature called "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power," or something like that.  Possibly the magazine continues to jack up its readers' vocabularies; we don't know, because Pointless Digressions now gets only the National Enquirer and the Watchtower.

However, we do want to help our viewers increase their word power, and so we offer this word de jour:  "hoochinoo."  Hoochinoo is a distilled liquor made by a Tlingit tribe named--wait for it--Hoochinoo (also spelled Hutswunu). Hu nu? 

And, of course, the word "hooch" is derived from "hoochinoo," although how this term became part of the jargon of bootleggers in Saskatchewan and Chicago remains a mystery.

Which brings us to the quote of the day, from that well-known philosopher W.C. Fields:  "A man has to believe in something.  So I believe I'll have another drink."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bad Tie Day

No one is a stranger to Bad Hair Day, although for many in the provincial legislature it is more often Bad Comb-Over Day.  But our topic today is not what is (or is not) on the top of the head, but what is under the chin; to wit, Bad Tie Day.

None of our elected representatives is voted into office on the basis of sartorial elegance, although that would be as good a reason as any, and better than most; but it seems to our Dept. of Snide Remarks that our esteemed MLAs are as much in need of wardrobe counseling as media training.

Of particular note was the purple explosion recently adorning the shirt front of Health Minister Kevin Falcon.  He would never have gotten away with it in the reign of Bennett Senior.  W.A.C. would have banished him from caucus until he returned with more suitable neckwear.

We are reminded of an exchange in "I Don't Think I'll Fall in Love Today," a duet by the Gershwins:

"Did you choose that cravat?"

"I did that."

"Ouch!  Here's your hat."

True, politicians never have been noted for their fashion statements, most choosing to be conservative even when Liberal, turning up in outfits which would be considered sombre even by morticians.  There have been exceptions:  Pierre Trudeau showed an Astaire-like flair for innovation, and we have it on good authority that Jack Layton is "a snappy dresser."

Possibly the solution for our gang in Victoria is to have a selection of acceptable neckties at the entrance to the Parliament buildings, as they have at exclusive gentlemen's clubs.  "Ah, Minister Falcon--why not try this regimental stripe?  And you might also avoid the Larry King suspenders."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nine-year-old Author Makes Debut

My nine-year-old granddaughter has written a story.  Quite a good story.  I greet this event with mixed emotions:  awe, pride, and professional jealousy.  Not only does she write better than I do, her typing skills are vastly superior.

I can see the future now:  by the age of 12 she will have written more books than Stephen King and earned more money than Nora Roberts.  I, meanwhile, will continue receiving rejection slips, which have progressed from the coldly impersonal to the insultingly abusive (e.g.:  "What makes you think any editor would publish #$%*& like this, you &*+!$% illiterate?") 

By the age of 15, she will have her own television show and be considered cooler than Tina Fey.

By the age of 17, she will have a wall to herself at Chapters.

By the age of 18, she will have received the Nobel Prize.

I am considering signing my name to her story and submitting it.  Would this be a very bad thing to do?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hit Parade Anomalies

Some time ago--the early Jurassic period--one of your correspondent's weekly duties was scripting "Your Hit Parade" and "Your Western Hit Parade."  And I wish to assure you that the top songs of that day were every bit as banal as today's hits.

But there were rare exceptions, anomalies on the hit parade chart.  Three that ruled the number one spot for weeks and weeks and weeks were Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance," Anton Karas's "Third Man Theme," and Irving Berlin's "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" as performed by Les Brown and his Band of Renown.

Khachaturian was probably astonished that his "Sabre Dance" hit the top of the charts (as we old deejays say).  He never had another piece on the hit parade, although the adagio or love theme from his ballet "Spartacus" could have been turned into a pop ballad.

Anton Karas was a zither player whose theme for "The Third Man," the memorable Graham Greene-Carol Reed film, was another unexpected chart-topper--after which Karas returned, presumably, to the smoky haze of Viennese coffee houses.

Les Brown, who began his career at Duke University leading the Duke Blue Devils, was the only one of the three really in the pop music biz.  He had a number of big band hits ("Sentimental Journey," "A Good Man is Hard to Find") as well as many tasty jazz originals ("Leapfrog," "High on a Windy Trumpet") with such soloists as Ted Nash and Jimmy Zito, but it was a wonderful surprise to find his very tight arrangement of the Berlin song riding the hit parade for much of 1948, at a time when the usual hit parade material was treacly stuff like "Near You" and "Rumors are Flying."

And one more surprise:  all three of these hit parade anomalies are as listenable today as they were then. 

This is the aging deejay signing off.  Back soon--same time, same blog spot.  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sp Show Hits Hamilton

News of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's scheduled appearance in Hamilton tonight was hailed as good news by members of the United States Tea Party.  "It's reassuring," said a spokesperson, "to know there are wackos up north as well." 

Organizers of the event said that persons disappointed by the non-appearance of Ann Coulter qualify for a discount on a picket reading "America's Failin', Give Us Palin!"  It is reported that Rex Murphy, who recently praised Palin in his National Post column while denigrating President Obama's response to her criticisms, is looking for a mud puddle over which he can throw his cloak for her to walk upon. 

Ms. Palin is said to be looking forward to her Hamilton  visit.  "I couldn't see Hamilton from my front porch, the way I could see Russia, but I knew it was out there somewhere."

Special Offer:  Send $12.95 for an advance copy of the Christmas album by The Three Tremors--Rex Murphy, Conrad Black and Father Raymond De Souza.  Send money now--help bail out the National Post!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Questions and Answers (kind of) on Parliament Hill

We have noted that Transport Minister John Baird has also become Minister in Charge of Deflecting Uncomfortable Questions.  The following exchange provides examples.

Michael Ignatieff:  "When will this government finally come clean on the Afghan detainee question?"

John Baird:  "Mr. Speaker, this government has always come clean.  All members shower daily and are fastidious in their habits."

M.I.:  "Mr. Speaker, how long must we wait for revelation?"  

J.B.:  "Revelation, Mr. Speaker, one of the great books of the Bible.  No need for the honorable member to wait for Revelation; I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that he and other members of the opposition spend more time with the Good Book." 

M.I.:  "Mr. Speaker, is it not time for this government to cease evading the hard issues and instead take the high road?"

J.B.:  "Mr. Speaker, this government has always taken the high road."

Several Conservative MPs rise and produce bagpipes.

J.B. (singing):  "We take the high road, you take the low road, and we'll be in power before ye."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reading Chandler

It has always seemed interesting, and perhaps significant, that P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, two of the twentieth century's most talented word arrangers (to borrow a term of Mr. Gothe's) both had been classics scholars at Dulwich College.  Do you think it's too late to apply?  Even if one is still carrying grade ten algebra?

One could write about Wodehouse forever, and many have, but the Pointless Digressions Book Club wishes today to talk about Chandler, having just read--for perhaps the twelfth time--"The Lady in the Lake."

All of Chandler is worth reading and re-reading, from the early short stories ("The King in Yellow," "Pearls are a Nuisance") through the novels (especially "Farewell, My Lovely" and "The Long Goodbye"),  and his classic essay, "The Simple Art of Murder."  One could also watch and read (if available) the screenplays--"Double Indemnity," "Strangers on a Train," "The Blue Dahlia."

Of the novels, the P.D. Book Club has concluded, "The Lady in the Lake" may be the closest to perfection.  Chandler always wrote memorable prose, and "Lady" is full of it.  The plot is perhaps his cleverest, and the characters are wonderfully drawn.  (There is a rural California constable who would have made a great role for Burl Ives and would be now for Wilford Brimley.)

"The Lady in the Lake" was, indeed, made into a film, as were most of Chandler's novels.  This film was the most experimental of the lot.  Robert Montgomery, who played Philip Marlowe, Chandler's principal private eye, and was also the director, determined that all of the action should be seen through Marlowe's eyes, making the viewer a participant in the action.  The single time Marlowe's (Montgomery's) face appears is when Marlowe looks in a mirror.

Other actors who played Marlowe:  Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, George Montgomery, Robert Mitchum, Van Heflin (on radio), and Elliott Gould.  Fine as they all were--especially Bogart, in "The Big Sleep"--the P.D. Raymond Chandler Appreciation Society believes that Gould, in Robert Altman's film of "The Long Goodbye," was tops.  Gould has also recorded, for Audio Books, almost the entire Chandler oeuvre, and these tapes/CDs are worth seeking out. 

Final note:  "The Long Goodbye" introduced many of us to the gimlet.  If you're reading or re-reading Chandler tonight, consider mixing one (similar to a Martini, but in this case, icy gin with a health-giving hit of Rose's Lime Juice).  And the right background music:  something by Charlie Haden's L.A. Quartet.  Haden is a Chandler devotee, as shown in such works as "Bay City Blues" and "Hello, My Lovely."

And turning to sports news--we are raising a class of Advokaat and spearing pickled herring to toast Hendrik Sedin, winner of this season's Art Ross Trophy as highest NHL scorer of the season, a noble tradition that began decades ago with Moose Jaw's Elmer Lach.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Talent Search

It is widely speculated that Prime Minister Harper will nominate a successor to Michaelle Jean as Governor-General.  While Madame Jean has proven to be both effective and popular, it is said that the Prime Minister was piqued by being kept waiting for two hours for approval to prorogue Parliament.

However, Pointless Digressions' crack team of investigative reporters has learned that the principal cause of the PM's vexation was the Governor-General's refusal to join his group of backup singers--The Stevettes. 

"This meant," said our Ottawa source, "that the spot between Helena Guergis and Leona Aglukkaq had to be taken by John Baird."  

Several names have been floated as possible candidates for the Rideau Hall gig.  Our personal choice is Leonard Cohen.  But whoever is selected, we may be sure it will be someone who won't keep Prime Minister Harper waiting for two hours. 

In other news from the nation's capital, the Prime Minister's Executive Assistant in Charge of Reading Stuff has responded to the latest literary gift from Yann Martel, writing "We are returning to you this copy of Pinocchio.  The Prime Minister does not appreciate nose jokes."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jerry, meet Hamid

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan and the most distinguished statesman on the international stage since Ish Kabibble, has declared that unless people stop nagging him about petty matters like government corruption and the opium market, he will join the Taliban.  The Taliban quickly responded, saying "Hey, we've got enough problems.  Tell Karzai to join something else, like the Phoenix Coyotes."

"Good idea," said Karzai.  "I will join the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Kabul, making it the world capital of sand hockey."

The surge of global popularity enjoyed by Karzai has led to plans for a film biography.  Jerry Lewis is set to star as "The Nutty President."

In other news, journalists around the world petitioned Kyrgyzstan to change its name to something easier to spell.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Herb Ellis

Guitarist Herb Ellis was born in 1921 near Dallas in McKinney, Texas, where--as W. Royal Stokes tells us in "The Jazz Scene"--Buddy Tate's aunt ran the dance hall.  He died (or, as Zoot Sims would have said, he "went on the road") last week.

Most of the stories that followed tied Herb Ellis to the Oscar Peterson Trio, the one that had Ray Brown on bass; and while that can be understood, it didn't fully represent Ellis's career, which had many more chapters to it than his time with O.P.  (As did Brown's.  In fact, one of the tastiest, lighthearted jazz outings one can find is on a CD called "Soft Shoe," with a quintet led by Messrs. Ellis and Brown.)  

There are scores of recordings featuring Herb Ellis's guitar, which could move easily from Texas blues to mainstream swing to bebop, but one the Pointless Digressions crew remembers with particular pleasure is "Rhythm Freddie," a duet date with Freddie Green, Basie's longtime rhythm guitarist.

Herb Ellis's first instrument was the harmonica, which he started playing when he was three. He told Royal Stokes that he tried the banjo next, and then picked up a guitar someone "left at my house, just left there."  He taught himself to play it, and, even though he majored in music at college, he never had a guitar lesson.  

Our favorite Herb Ellis story comes from an evening when he was part of the Peterson Trio. Oscar played a blistering, smoking solo; Ray Brown took off on the bass; then it was Herb's time to solo.  Instead, he got up and did a little dance around the stage.  

Gotta love a guy like that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Roll Those Eggs!

The traditional Easter Monday White House Egg Roll takes place today, as it has each Spring since the 1870s.  This year's White House eggs carry a cartoon of a jogging Easter Bunny, branded by Tea Party protesters as a Marxist or Fascist or both. 

But now, the Pointless Digressions crew takes you to the South Lawn of the White House for this report from Roving Reporter Vincent Capoluto.  Take it away, Vince!

Thanks, Fred.  Well, there's much excitement here, although many Republicans miss the appearance of former Veep Dick Cheney in his role as Humpty Dumpty.  Dick has now become Grumpty Dumpty for Fox News.

Wait a minute, Fred, I think we're going to be able to pick up some holiday greetings from the President and Vice President.  Let's listen in:  

Vice President Biden:  "Wow, this is one big--"

President Obama:  "Don't say it, Joe."

And there go the eggs, rolling across the South Lawn, chased by happy scrambling children, with members of the Cabinet egging them on.  (Catch the clever wordplay, Fred.)  This Easter Egg Roll is turning out to be everything it's cracked up to be, touching even the heart of this hard-boiled reporter.

That's it from the White House, but we have this note from Ottawa:  Prime Minister Harper is considering a Tim Horton doughnut roll on Parliament Hill.  As Humpty Dumpty, he has appointed Senator Mike Duffy.  Egg-zellent!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Eggs for the Czar

It is true, of course, you will not have heard of me.  No, you will have heard of that fop who made jeweled eggs, everyone has.  But mine was the true art, created from dark chocolate and spun sugar, butter creams and rare liqueurs, exotic fruits and nuts.  I was the Imperial Easter Egg Maker in the Court of Nicholas and Alexandra, and my art was even greater for its evanescence. A Possipov confection was like a Nijinsky entrachet dix--impossible to capture, but once experienced, never forgotten.

I was working in my father's humble candy shop in the village of Kobal, stirring a kettle of caramel, when the Czar's messengers came for me.  I had no time to pack or change; off I went in their coach still in my apron, taking only my wire whisk and a sausage for the journey.  My family waved farewell, proud tears in their eyes.  "Remember the hard ball in the water trick," my father cried to me as the horses clattered over the cobblestones.

When we reached the palace, it was ten days before Easter.  "The Czarina has heard great things of you," said General Malinsky, Commander of the Royal Kitchen.  "She wants you to create Easter eggs for the prince and princesses.  You make, we hide.  We have a secret police for such things.  Now, is there anything you require?  Is the larder satisfactory?"

My poor peasant eyes grew wide.  Satisfactory?  Never had I seen such treasures:  peach halves in Cognac, figs the size of gourds, sacks of cashews from India, barrels of South Pacific coconuts, apricots glazed with lavender honey, coffee beans from Costa Rica, gigantic slabs of Belgian chocolate, peppermint plants from the Czar's own greenhouse.

I worked without ceasing, without sleeping, until dawn of Easter Sunday.  I made chocolate eggs in the shapes of mosques, bears and ballerinas.  I sculpted Cossack riders in butterscotch, I reproduced the Crown jewels in candied tropical fruits, I wrote Pushkin's poetry on chocolate with peppermint fondant.  Finally I fell exhausted in a corner of the kitchen.  But before I lost consciousness, my heart sang at General Malinsky's words of praise:  "Not bad, Possipov."

And so my career began, and gloriously it continued, for many joyous Easters.  (I did, of course, create confections for other seasons--like the life-size chocolate St. Nicholas that stood in St. Petersburg at Christmas.  Children of the nobility were allowed to come and nibble on it.)  But Easter was the great time of year. 

Then, the changes began.  First, that grotesque pig Rasputin arrived, and began to demand X-rated eggs.  Whole corps de ballet he wanted, jumping out of eggs (and their tutus) at officers' dinners.  Then, worse, came the Revolution.  Lenin never ate chocolate.  He had adored it as a young man, but now he forbade himself its taste, as a test of endurance.  The toll such restraint exacted was the falling out of his hair.  As for Stalin, he ate nothing but yak jerky, and had the vilest breath in all the Caucasus.

Soon, I realized my life was in danger.  I began to plan my escape.  And my escape was the high point of my art.  I constructed an enormous chocolate egg--hollow, but with a shell six inches thick.  I carefully drilled miniscule holes in the shell, crawled inside, and sealed the egg from within.  What a yolk on the Bolsheviks!

And that is how I came to leave Russia.  I had prepared a packing crate for the egg, and arranged to have it shipped to an overseas address.

The giant egg and I were delivered to the United States of America, to a small town in the State of Pennsylvania.  With the chocolate egg as my capital, I went into business (anonymously, of course; they are everywhere).  But you may have heard of the town:  it is called Hershey.

Kisses to All!  Vladimir Possipov.