Monday, December 31, 2012

Octogenarian Blues

Clear the air waves, stop the presses,
Get set for something that depresses.
Yes, dear friends, here's breaking news:
We've got the Octogenarian Blues.

Yeah, got them Octogenarian Blues--
A feelin' I just can't lose.
Played my gig, paid my dues,
All I've got to show for it
Is the Octogenarian Blues.

Back when I was a mere seventy-nine,
I was feelin' mighty fine.
And seventy-eight
Was also pretty great,
But let me tell you, matey,
It ain't the same at eighty.

Right now, I'm feelin' quite perplexed--
I can't tweet and I can't text--
This aging thing has got me vexed!

"Listen, chum, don't sound so glum.
As once Maurice Chevalier said,
Better to be old than dead,
So suck it up, buttercup."

Friday, December 28, 2012

Getting fit with the Governor General

In his New Year's message, David Johnston, Canada's Governor General, urged Canadians to "embrace healthy living." His Excellency extolled the benefits of regular exercise and physical activity, and we are sure his words resonated throughout the country, and especially within the corridors of power in Ottawa.

That is why we may expect to see Prime Minister Harper and cabinet members John Baird, Jason Kenney, James Moore, et al., slimming down and beefing up, becoming models of fitness for all Canadians.

We can hear the Governor General now, running the drill in the executive gym: "Okay, Stevie, down on the floor and gimme twenty-five!"

The new Conservative strategy: to make Harper look as fit as Justin Trudeau. (Now if they could only get rid of that hair stylist they got from Donald Trump...)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas on the Road

There were two Christmas parties each year at CSYM that Jack Madison remembered, both recorded for broadcast later, one on Christmas Eve, the other on Christmas Day. One was the staff party, at which everyone was required to perform, and at which, one year, Gavin Stone managed to secrete a cache of cocktails around the hotel mezzanine, in planters, behind settees, under curtains.

The other party, significantly less boisterous, was at the Orange Benevolent Home, a boys' orphanage in the countryside around Wellesley. In mid-December, Jack and a crew would drive there with a troupe of musicians and singers from the Beaver Lumber Barndance show, perform for the children, hand out treats and gifts, and conduct interviews.

On one particularly cold afternoon Jack was riding in the station car, which, unfortunately, had a back door that would not close. It was held in place by a rope tied across the seat, from one handle to the other. Gilbert Favely, from the promotion department, was driving. Hughie, the engineer, was beside him. Jack sat in the back with Hughie's equipment, shivering, cursing, and wishing he had gone in the Barndance bus. Hughie had been reluctant to go--probably missing a real party, thought Jack--but Leo, who usually made the trip, had cracked a leg in a beer league hockey game.

They arrived around two, lugged equipment and instruments through the snow, and were met by the supervisor and her staff. The boys were arranged in orderly lines, all wearing white shirts and black ties, and expressions that were a mix of fear and anticipation. It looked, thought Jack, like a scene out of "Oliver Twist."

"Boys," the supervisor called out, "our guests from the radio station are with us. I expect you to be on your best behavior and not embarrass us."

I better loosen this up, thought Jack. "Hey, guys," he said, "we're back! I'm Jack, the guy with the sack!" He shook the bag of toys. "And don't worry about your behavior--we're here to have fun! Right, Andy?"

"Right, Jack," said Andy, leading the Barndance band, and the Sunshine Trio swung into "Frosty the Snowman."

The afternoon went well, although the boys were hesitant in their interviews, conscious of the supervisor behind them. During one of the Barndance numbers, Jack said to Gilbert, "Do me a favor, will you, pal? When I start the next round of interviews get Miss Grinch into a conversation and drag her away from me."

On the trip back to Wellesley, Jack said, "Gilbert? This time I drive. You get the air conditioning in the back."

Gilbert was dropped off at his apartment, and Jack drove Hughie and the equipment to the station. "What do you think, Hughie?" said Jack. "Decent show?"

"Pretty good, Jack. Nice break for the kids. Although when the tape's played, the supervisor may not like some of the interviews."

"Well, tough for her."

"No, tough for them if she gets mad. Maybe you should edit some of that stuff."

Hughie was quiet for a time, and then said, "You know, Jack, they're not all orphans. Some are from messed up families, or poor families with too many kids. But however they get there, it's a lonely life."

Jack pulled up in front of the hotel, and said, "I'll help you carry this stuff upstairs."

"It's alright, Jack. I've got it."

"Hughie, you've been awfully quiet tonight. Anything wrong?"

"No, I'm okay."

"I know you didn't really want this gig. Something upset you there?"

"Memories, maybe."


"Yeah, a lot of memories. I lived in that place until I was fourteen.

"Merry Christmas, Jack."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas: Feasts and Memories

One wintry afternoon at Le Napoleon, Alain Daniel's charming, rustic restaurant on Hamilton Street, someone ordering the dessert known as boule de neige. The waiter--was it Hubert?--standing on the snowy deck calling back "Une vrai boule de neige?"

Bill Bellman, remembering a weekend furlough from the Canadian Army during World War Two--it might have been during the Christmas season--when all he had to feast on was a packet of Planters Peanuts. Years later, at CHQM, directing the assembling of Christmas baskets for the staff, which would include almond-stuffed olives in sherry, Molly O'Rourke's Irish Whisky fruitcake, and all manner of good things, among them, always, a red Bordeaux, a white Burgundy, a sparkling wine and a liqueur.

College students in The Snug at Victoria's Oak Bay Beach Hotel, singing slightly tipsy Chrismas carols.

Chez Victor, a day or two after the holidays had ended, three people at the counter in the tiny restaurant on Davie at Seymour--a deliveryman, a radio writer, and a motherly lady who must have worked in the neighborhood, as she lunched there regularly. Victor bringing out, as a gift, bowls of an elegantly composed fruit salad in Cointreau.

New Year's morning in the almost empty restaurant at Frank Baker's Georgian Towers, being served by the lone waitress, a Scot with a blinding hangover. Remembering Jack Wasserman's line: "It's better to have a morning after than never to have a night before."

To all, wherever they now may be, fond wishes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Friends of Mickey Mouse

We were talking, the other day, with Jack, the four-year-old arts critic, and he told us he was very impressed by the remastering of several classic cartoons by the elves at the Walt Disney studios--cartoons drawn in the pre-computer age, which was about as labor intensive as an activity could be.

We agreed with Jack that Mickey Mouse is a hero for the ages, accompanied by Minnie, his demure inamorata; Pluto, the faithful pooch; and Goofy, who might have been the model for Kramer on "Seinfeld."

But there are others in Mickey's tales to remember and toast--that lovely couple, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow; brave Captain Doberman; and even Mickey's arch-enemy, Peg-Leg Pete.

Time to go back and spend the holidays with them--and then we'll drop in on Donald and Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie. And we hope that Scrooge McDuck will have had a change of attitude before Christmas Eve.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friends of George V. Higgins

The current Brad Pitt film, "Killing Me Softly", a title that makes it sound like a Roberta Flack musical, is based on "Cogan's Trade," a 1974 novel by one-time Boston district attorney George V. Higgins.

Anthony Lane, probably the best writer on film we have at this time, asks, in The New Yorker, "Why aren't more movies stolen from George V. Higgins?" and goes on to praise Higgins's ear for speech as she is spoke in the down and dirty sections of society.

Only one other of Higgins's novels has been filmed. That would be "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," still a good film, still a terrific book.

The opening scene of "Cogan's Trade":  "Amato in a gray suit with a muted red stripe, textured pink shirt with his initials on the left French cuff, a maroon and gold tie, sat at the kidney-shaped, walnut veneer desk and stared.  'I got to give to to you," he said, "you're a great-looking couple of guys. Come in here about four hours late, you look like..."  Well, you get the idea.

Or how about the fast takeoff in the opening of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle": "Jackie Brown, at twenty-six with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns." Zero to sixty in twelve words, best quick-start since James M. Cain.

Dennis Lehane, author of "Mystic River" and "Gone, Baby, Gone," said Higgins's "Eddie Coyle" was the best novel ever written about Boston. Higgins died in 1999, but he left a lot of work deserving our attention (including, in nonfiction, "The Friends of Richard Nixon," which has a wonderful cover by Edward Sorel, depicting Nixon and his Watergate gang--Mitchell, Haldeman, Erlichman, et al.--holed up and shooting at the cops like 1930s movie gangsters).

Of "Eddie Coyle," Norman Mailer said, "What I can't get over is that so good a novel was written by the fuzz."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

St. Nick in the Pawn Shop

St. Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus (in life, a fourth century Turkish bishop), is the patron saint of not only little boys, sailors, parish clerks, scholars, the city of Aberdeen and the land of Russia, he is also the patron of pawnbrokers.

The three gold balls that hang above the entrance of pawn shops commemorate Nicholas's gift of three bags of gold to the daughters of a poor family, thus saving the young women from a future of hardship and woe. St. Nick, it is said, tossed the bags through their door secretly, making a midnight visit exactly in the manner of S. Claus.  

As for the legends regarding small boys and sailors--tune in next December.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave takes five

If Dave Brubeck had been killed in the horrendous accident that reworked his face more than sixty years ago, we never would have heard "Strange Meadowlark," "In Your Own Sweet Way," "Blue Rondo a la Turk," or any of a dozen other jazz classics. But, happily, Dave survived that accident, and survived until the day before his ninety-second birthday, when he made a graceful departure this week in Hartford, Connecticut.

Brubeck was one of the most popular musicians of the second half of the twentieth century, and the Brubeck Quartet album "Time Out" was one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, out or in. In 1954, Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the sort of mainstream attention that offended jazz cultists. There were criticisms--his music was too difficult, too cerebral, it didn't swing. But, as Oscar Peterson said, the music lasts, the critics don't.

The Brubeck Quartet had its first great success on college campuses. Its sound was defined by the alto saxophone of Paul Desmond, who said he wanted his music to have the character of a dry martini. The clever, pencil-thin Desmond, composer of "Take Five," the quartet's most recognized piece, had planned to write a memoir titled "How Many Are There of You in the Quartet?" In that quartet, the bassist was Eugene Wright, and the drummer, the most praised by critics, was the near blind Joe Morello.

One of Dave Brubeck's most performed pieces is known as "The Duke," but its full title is "From Darius to the Duke," reflecting Brubeck's stylistic progress from the classical mentoring of Darius Milhaud at Mills College to the jazz world of Duke Ellington--a progress Milhaud encouraged.

Dave Brubeck's music--his own recordings, and his compositions played by others--will go on.  As Oscar said, the music lasts.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Yuletide Reading

Your correspondent has decided that thru this month of December he will read only stories related, in some way, to Christmas.

This is not a great challenge, as an enormous amount has been penned on Christmas, from St. Luke on down. There are, to begin, Dickens's Christmas tales, not only "A Christmas Carol" but also "The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man," all three collected in a Modern Library edition, and "The Cricket on the Hearth," which some of us remember, if not well, from grade nine English class.

"Christmas at The New Yorker" is, to steal a phrase, a great plum pudding of a book, with stories, poems, cartoons and other work by all the usual New Yorker suspects--Cheever, Updike, Thurber, O'Hara, E.B. White, Peter DeVries, Nabokov, Garrison Keillor, Ogden Nash, Calvin Trillin, et al.

There is even a surprisingly large number of mysteries set in the Christmas season. Our choice this year: "Upon Some Midnight Clear," another Chief Mario Balzic yarn by the great K.C. Constantine.

So on to the book shelves. (We'll get around to shopping, decorating, and mailing cards sometime in 2013.)