Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's Eve with the President

We are anticipating New Year's Eve with Barack Obama, and wondering what will be poured into the glasses with the White House seal. As the President has just returned from Hawaii, perhaps it will be Frosty Coconut Mojitos. If you would like to join in the mixing, you will need coconut rum (who knew?), coconut milk, coconut water, lime juice, simple syrup zipped up with mint leaves, and a handful of ice. Toss it all in the blender, and you're ready to party.

But considering the recent rapprochement with Cuba, the President might favor daiquiris, and one cannot get better than the Hemingway Daiquiri. The drink Hem used to call for at La Floridita in Havana (now dubbed the Papa Doble) is simply double rum, lime juice, and a dash of maraschino over crushed ice. It is said that Hemingway could put away twelve of these at a sitting, but that is probably one of those legends that keep on growing.

And resolutions? Obama has what might be called a resolution, and it's a good one. Looking ahead to his final two years in the Oval Office, and channeling his inner Marshawn Lynch, he said, "We are entering the fourth quarter, and really important things happen in the fourth quarter."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Yuletide Reading & Viewing

The second most famous Christmas story has to be "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, which can be found in a handsome Modern Library edition along with two less familiar Christmas stories, "The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man," and an introduction by John Irving.

Donald Westlake's "A Likely Story"is nothing like Dickens's tale, but it is about a writer who tries to solve various problems, romantic and financial, by coming up with a commercially successful Christmas book, which roughly parallels Dickens's situation at the writing of "A Christmas Carol."

Several actors--George C. Scott, Albert Finney, Lionel Barrymore, et al.--have taken on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, but the most memorable performance has to be Alastair Sim's, filmed in 1951, and essential Christmas viewing every year since. Bill Murray has a nice spinoff in "Scrooged," also well worth watching, if only for the sight of Miles Davis as a street busker.

The other great (at least to us) Christmas films include Vincente Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis," perhaps Judy Garland's best picture, and a delight, even if the Margaret O'Brien character has always (again, to us) seemed dangerously psychotic. Richard Curtis, writer-director of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill," among other Hugh Grant films, has him again (as a Tony Blair-style British Prime Minister) in "Love, Actually," rewarding Christmas entertainment which might have been better served by another title.

Finally, for those who like to look on the dark side, Jake Hinkson has assembled a list of Christmas season noir, entirely lacking in peace and goodwill. Included are "L.A. Confidential" and the less known 1940s "Christmas Holiday," based on a grim Somerset Maugham story and which has Deanna Durbin, pride of Winnipeg, singing "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year."

Good wishes to all, and apologies to those still pulling for "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cubana-Be, Cubana-Bop

That's the title of a once-famous Dizzy Gillespie recording featuring the Cuban drummer Chano Pozo. We're listening to it today (while sipping coffee from our Obama "Hope" mug) in recognition of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. High marks to Stephen Harper and his Ottawa team for facilitating the coming together thru low-radar talks, possibly in the 24 Sussex Drive man-cave.  And, of course, to the estimable Pope Francis for pressing Obama and Castro to get together. ("Hey, guys--it's fifty years. Peace and goodwill.")

Florida Republicans Jeb ("My daddy was President and my brother was President, and now, by damn,  it's my turn") Bush and Marco (the road company Ricky Ricardo) Rubio quickly condemned the move, to the surprise of all those who thought they'd say, "Golly, Barack--good job!"

The current lack of wisdom is that Obama has not brought off the miracles he was expected to, and while it is true that he was unable to change the toxic environment in Congress, due to the intransigence of the other team, he has accomplished two things that were beyond the capability of former chief executives: the introduction of affordable health care, and now a return to friendly relations with Cuba. (He also told people to forget Kim Jong-Un and go to the movies, for which Seth Rogen and James Franco will be thanking him.)

There are those who complain of the problems in getting what his critics call Obamacare off the ground, but hey, think it was smooth sailing for T.C. Douglas when he brought his health care plan to Saskatchewan?

Back to "Cubana-Be, Cubana-Bop," which sounds like Stravinsky and his Firebird in Havana, and a last word from Manny Goodman of the Jazzmanian Devils: "Can't wait to see Obama sitting with Raul smoking some honkin' big Havana stogie."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kim Jong-Un and Seth

North Korea's Magna Films announced today it has begun production of a film about a plot to assassinate Seth Rogen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Singalong with Steve

The Prime Minister has been channeling his inner Billy Joel, and when he performed at a Conservative Party Yuletide party, he received a standing ovation. But then, as John Ivison noted in the National Post, it was no surprise, since he could fire everyone in the room.

Ivison went on to describe PM Harper as "the Pat Boone of hell-raisers," and said he was "sweating spinal fluid."

Could this catch on? will Tom Mulcair start doing hip-hop? Could Justin Trudeau become a rapper? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the three federal party leaders have sent out their Christmas cards (or, as they would put it, their "holiday greetings"). In each case the card features a photograph of the leader with his family. This suggests a confusion among Messrs. Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair over whose birth and which family we are celebrating.

But now, On to the rooftops! Over the hills!
Balance the budget, pass all those bills!
On Yelich and Clement, Go Ambrose and Wong!
Prance, Finley and Oliver--Ritz, give us a song.
Step lively, MacKay and Fantino.
And certainly not--no stopping for vino!
Faster, Baird and Poilievre! Speed on, Alexander and Raitt!
An election is coming--you know we can't wait!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Prime Minister visits Santa

Scene: A department store in downtown Ottawa.

"Well, little--uh--fellow, what's your name?"


"And have you been a good boy this year?"

"I haven't prorogued Parliament once."

"Well then, what would you like for Christmas, Stevie?"

"Could I have Justin Trudeau's hair?"

"Sorry, Stevie--that model is no longer available."

"How about Tom Mulcair's beard? You know, for a more manly look?"

"That's already been claimed by Leona Aglukkaq."

"That's a very unkind thing to say."

"Listen, you think it's easy sitting here saying 'ho ho ho' all bleeping day? A guy's gotta have a break now and then, get back his inner Don Rickles. And does anyone ever ask me what I want for Christmas? Oh, no--it's all gimme gimme gimme."

"Well, Mr. Claus., what would you like for Christmas?"

"A minority government in 2015."


"With Rick Mercer as Prime Minister. Now get off my lap, kid--here comes Wally Buono."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chestnuts roasting...

Some of us once enjoyed working at a very civilized radio station that would not play Christmas music until December 15, and then played only music deemed listenable. That would exclude, for example, "Rockin' 'Round the Christmas Tree." Oh, that's one of your favorites? Sorry.

Having reached December 15, it's time to once again provide our completely unnecessary Christmas music list. We won't recycle the story of how Bob Wells and Mel Torme came to write "The Christmas Song," having told it countless times before, but we will note that there is a lovely performance by Jane Monheit on the album "An Appalachian Christmas." This album also includes James Taylor's "Ol' Blue," in which he sings, "When I get to Heaven, first thing I'll do, is call Ol' Blue." And Ol' Blue will come runnin'', because Pope Francis has assured us dogs do go to Heaven.

There are other fine, slightly off-beat Christmas albums, among them "On Yoolis Nights," a collection of medieval carols by Anonymous 4; "Russian Christmas" by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir; and "Winterludes," an eclectic compilation assembled some years ago by Starbucks, and right up there with their Christmas blend coffee.

But moving beyond the major works (Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and others) we should look at jazz takes on Yuletide music. Our favorites: "England's Carol" (actually "God Bless Ye Merry, Gentlemen") by the Modern Jazz Quartet; "Sleighride," a wild ride indeed by Art Pepper, Richie Cole and Roger Kellaway; "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Dexter Gordon (gently swinging, though not as poignant as Garland's); and a very Brahmsian "Away in a Manger" by George Shearing and Don Thompson.

The Bill Evans Trio does a charming, candy cane "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and, oh yeah--there's Louis's "Zat You, Santy Claus?" Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" doesn't qualify as jazz, but Ms. Kitt purringly does.

Okay, Vince Guaraldi's "Charlie Brown Christmas" music remains essential, and, though not in any sense Christmassy, there is "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Ray Charles and Betty Carter (written originally by Frank Loesser as a party song for himself and his wife). And finally, folks--yes, there is a finally--how long is it since you've heard Les Brown's great early 1950s recording of Irving Berlin's "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"? Just as we thought, way too long. Pour yourself a mug of something warming, and enjoy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Grog Blog

In a moment of sly subversive humor, CBC Radio announced the "sobering news" that consumption of alcoholic beverages aboard Royal Canadian Navy vessels would no longer be tolerated.  This means no more twice-daily tots of grog, a tradition reaching back to 1756, when the ration was put in place in the Royal Navy.

The initial half-pint (one restorative drink at noon, another at the end of the day) was a mixture of weak beer, lemon or lime juice, rum, and water. It was introduced to seamen under the Union Jack by Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon, and it is from this illustrious mariner that the drink took its name. Vernon, always attired in a grogram cloth coat, was dubbed Old Grog; thus, the drink became grog.

That liquor should be banned on RCN ships doesn't seem to us the sort of command that would be issued by the Old Salts of the service. We suspect the directive came from the seriously sober inhabitants of 24 Sussex Drive, where the only kick in the Yuletide punch comes from an extra spoonful of Sweet 'n' Low.

So our sympathy to Popeye and his pals. Meanwhile, we landlubbers will rase our glasses, and say, "Here's to you, Old Grog!"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Breaking Relationships

Paul Simon told us there are more than fifteen ways to leave your lover. Now we need Paul, or Dr. Phil, or somebody, to tell us how to leave a website. Or, how to get a website to leave us. You cannot take an online service to dinner and after a glass or two of wine say, "It's not you--it's me."

Internet providers of information we do not want have a tag in small print saying, "To unsubscribe, click here." But when these people get our clicks, they say to themselves, "Oh, I'm sure he doesn't mean it--he's just having a bad day." And they keep sending their material--day after day after day.

They are relentless. A simple request to learn more about a group can result in being dragged into that group, made a member, vulnerable to e-mail from every other digitally brain-washed member. It's like being drawn into a cult of cyber-worshippers. It is easier to resign from the Mafia than from these persistent online-pals.

Please, Paul--send advice. Tell us how to access the anti-social media. But don't add us to your daily e-mail list.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mail thinks this is junk

A team of researchers in the University of British Columbia psychology department believes frequent checking of one's e-mail increases stress. There is a link, a Vancouver Sun story suggests, between e-mail and anxiety.

This may be the basis for the famous Burt Bacharach-Hal David song "E-Mail Keeps Falling On My Head" (later slightly altered for a film).

But there are those who enjoy checking their e-mail every time they hear that friendly Ding! Even junk mail is welcomed, as noted in another pop hit, "Can't Get Enough of That Spam, Ma'am."

And as for the now notorious attempts by techno-con artists to extract money and personal information ("This is a message from Revenue Canada. To access your funds, please enter your bank account and credit card numbers and all your passwords.") who doesn't get a kick out of those? The musical response, by Ernie and the Byte Kings: "I Just Hate ta Give Up My Data." (Alternative pronunciation version: "Whatsa Matta? You Want My Data?" And the follow-up: "Get Away from My Data--You're Persona Non Grata!")

Reading the UBC researchers' report, we have resolved not to check our e-mail more than once or twice every forty-five seconds. Unless, of course, we are assured it is safe, and accompanied by our personal psychologist, Dr. Jack Daniel.