Saturday, January 26, 2019

Adieu, Michel Legrand

Michel Legrand has departed this world for whatever paradise awaits.

Almost everyone knows at least one Michel Legrand song--"The Summer Knows," "Windmills of Your Mind," "Watch What Happens," "Pieces of Dreams"--a gorgeous bouquet. One of the most interesting collections of these was recorded by Jessye Norman, with Legrand at the keyboard, Ron Carter, bass, and Grady Tate, drums. Norman sings many of the lyrics in French, which is good, because it means avoiding some English lyrics that have done a disservice to the melodies.

Not as many, perhaps, know what a fine pianist and composer Legrand was in jazz. The album we'll play today is "Michel Legrand: After the Rain," recorded in New York in 1982 with Zoot Sims, Joe Wilder, Phil Woods, Gene Bertoncini, Carter and Tate, and Legrand on keyboards, acoustic and electric pianos, and organ.

All of the pieces on the disc were composed by Legrand (like so many, a student of Nadia Boulanger), and all were recorded in one morning, in the brief time Legrand had between flights from Los Angeles to Paris. The liner notes say there were no formal charts, only lead lines, but another account has Legrand saying he wanted musicians who could sight read instantly, and as the pieces are so well structured, it would seem he had arrangements in mind. However it was done, it is a remarkable achievement, which rewards listening after listening (declares the old deejay).

Adieu, Michel Legrand. May the music continue thru eternity.

Friday, January 25, 2019

More Haggis, More Scotch!

Here we are again at Burns Day, commemorating the birth in 1759 of Scottish bard Robert Burns. It is an occasion for steamed haggis and a great bowl of atholl brose, which is a concoction of whisky and oatmeal.

It struck us this morning (after a few mugs of atholl brose) that Burns is the only writer whose birthdate is celebrated. There is no Shakespeare Day, Tolstoy Day, Proust Day, Jane Austen Day. The closest equivalent is Bloomsday, which doesn't fall on James Joyce's birthday, but on June 16, the day in Joyce's "Ulysses" on which we follow the peregrinations of the hapless Leopold Bloom.

We're not sure how to rectify this, although we would like to have a P.G. Wodehouse Day and a Dashiell Hammett Day.

More haggis, please. More Scotch.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

And the Oscar goes to...

Every year, when nominations for the Academy Awards are announced, there are the same reactions: who should have been nominated and wasn't, who did get nominated and shouldn't have been. It undoubtedly has been that way since 1927, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences had 230 members until today, when there are more than 6,000.

Louis B. Mayer was the principal behind the formation of the Academy, and one of its achievements was the creation of the first program in film studies, at the University of Southern California. The initial faculty included D.W. Griffith and Ernst Lubitsch.

No one is sure how the golden statue presented to award winners got its nickname, but there is a story that Bette Davis dubbed it Oscar after noting its resemblance, in certain features, to one of her husbands.

The usual complaints about the awards ceremony: too long, too dull, too many dreary acceptance speeches, poor choice of host, etc. Even so, most people will remain glued to their television sets until the last cork is popped.

There have been a few changes, at a glacial pace. One of the least necessary, it seemed, was expanding the number of best picture nominees from five to ten, even though five remains the number in other categories. (Oddly, this year, even with ten spots open, only eight films made the cut for best picture.)

It might be an idea to open all categories to ten nominations. Had that been so this year, we might have seen, among the best actor nominees, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood, whose absence was a disappointment to movie goers of a certain vintage.

Enjoy February viewing with the usual menus and accoutrements: the Super Bowl on the 3rd (chili, beer, team jersey), the Academy Awards on the 24th (Champagne, popcorn, white tie).

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Transgender Presidency

Brrring! Brring!

"Is that Ann Coulter again? She's so hard on me."

"No, Mr. President. It's your son, Eric."

"Oh, good. Eric, how are you?"

"Great, Dad. I want you to know I've enlisted in the Marines."

"That's wonderful, Eric. As you know, I have a military background. I went to a military school, even though I didn't actually get to serve in the forces."

"I know, Dad. That's why you're called Sergeant Bone Spurs."

"So, Eric, when do you go to boot camp?"

"Well, there's this problem, Dad."

"Problem? What problem, Eric? What can't I fix with an executive order?"

"Well, today the Supreme Court held up your ruling on transgender persons in the military.."

"I know, my people came through for me."

"And Dad, I'm no longer Eric."


"I'm Erica. I've transed."

"Son, uh, son--daughter, whatever you are--I don't know what to say. What do your siblings think about this?"

"You mean Donalda and Ivan? Gotta go, Dad. There's a transgender protest march tonight. Maybe see you in front of the White House."


"Whoosh. Mick, I'm staggered. I would say I'm totally nonplussed, if I knew what that meant."

"Sir, there's another call for you. I believe it's the First Lady."

"Thank heavens, or whoever's in charge. Hello, Sweetie. I'm glad you called, Melania."

"Don. I have news for you. It's no longer Melania--it's Melvin."

Monday, January 21, 2019

St. Vince

The legendary Vince Lombardi never accepted a loss. When his Green Bay Packers came up on the short end of a score, Vince would say, "We just ran out of time."

The coaches of both the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs could say the same thing, after their narrow losses in the finals leading to February's Super Bowl. Both games were the kind where you knew whichever team had the ball last would win.

And so, the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots (again) move forward to Atlanta. As for the Saints and the Chiefs--they just ran out of time.

--Slap Maxwell.

P.S.:  And however the Super Bowl goes, it will be great to hear Gladys Knight sing "The Star Spangled Banner"!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hello, Central? Give Me Moscow.

Brrring! Brrring!

"Vlad? Vlad, it's me, Don."

"Don. Have I not told you never to call me at this number?"

"I know, Vlad, but this is an emergency."

"And especially do not call when I am watching 'Two and a Half Men.' So what is the emergency? The deep fryer at your local KFC broke down? You got the wrong dye and your hair is now green? Ann Coulter and Judge Pirro are mud wrestling on the White House lawn?"

"Actually, Vlad, I'd like to see that. But no, it's worse than all those things, frightening as they are. It's  the new crowd in the House of Representatives. They're going to start issuing subpoenas, and some people might say bad things about me."

"Do you not run that government? Can you not send those Representatives to a gulag somewhere? Don't you still have Alaska?"

"It doesn't work that way here, Vlad. It's one of the problems with democracy."

"Listen, Don, don't think I'm not sympathetic, but I have to go. It's almost time for 'The Big Bang Theory.' Speaking of which, I've instructed our military to make more bombs. I'll tell you what I'll do, Don: I'll send you a case of Stolichnaya."

"But Vlad, you know I don't drink."

"Probably you should start."

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What Not to Watch Tonight

Donald Trump, the Anti-Mr. Rogers, returns to the screen tonight, having commandeered prime time from all major television networks and cable channels.They didn't have to give him this time (and if he were paying for it, he would have to ask Congress for another $5.7 billion), but they caved anyway.

This, however, does not mean you have to watch Agent Orange. There's always Guy's Grocery Games or All-Star Bowling or that holiday fireplace.

Or you could check YouTube and watch Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dance on a rooftop. Or you could even read a book. Maybe Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America."

Monday, January 7, 2019

Golden Globes High and Whoas

Watching awards shows is something like eating a quart of candy cane ice cream while reading a stack of fanzines and listening to "The Greatest Hits of Alvin and the Chipmunks."  Even so, we were drawn into the Golden Globes, and found these moments memorable, or possibly just difficult to forget.

Best moment: Christian Bale, accepting an award for his portrayal of Dick Cheney, and thanking Satan for inspiration.

Most overwrought moment: Lady Gaga's emotional collapse on hearing "Shallow" cited best song. If she had won best actress, they would have had to carry her to the stage on a stretcher.

Worst beard: Jeff Bridges.

Please explain the reason for this beard: Hugh Grant.

Geriatric triumph: "The Kominsky Method," and applause for the cast making it up the steps unaided.

Most welcome wins: Justin Hurwitz, the "La La Land" composer, for best score, for "First Man;" Richard Madden, for "The Bodyguard."

Best presenter: Steve Carell, announcing that the nominees for the Carol Burnett Award included Christopher Bale and Antonio Banderas, as well as Ms. Burnett.

Best tearing up: Amy Adams, watching Patricia Clarkson accept an award for "Sharp Objects."

Most gracious: Carol Burnett, both serious and funny, and working hard not to tear up.

We now have about six weeks to prepare for the Academy Awards. Stock up on popcorn and Twizzlers.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Morning After

It seems appropriate, following a night of global partying (we presume it was global, although we've heard nothing from Pyongyang) to quote once again Jack Wasserman's immortal words: "It's better to have a few mornings after than never to have a night before."

There are any number of remedies for the morning after, including Jack Webster's and Kingsley Amis's, and a few books, including the recent "Hungover," by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, winner of the Best Author's Name of the Year Award.

But the classic remains "Floyd on Hangovers," by the ever entertaining Keith Floyd, which begins "I have been sitting here for at least an hour with a packet of frozen peas on my head."

Floyd gives recipes for various hangover remedies with names like "The Silly Sod" and "The Gormless Idiot," and concludes with a five-day detoxification program, which might be prescribed for the truly serious, non-ending hangover.

But the most famous remedy may be the one served to Bertie Wooster by the impeccable, imperturbable Jeeves, who says, "Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening."

The concoction is simple: raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper. Bertie Wooster, after downing it, said that at first it felt as though someone had exploded a bomb in his mouth and was running down his throat with a flaming torch. But then, the therapeutic effect kicked in, and, said Bertie, "The sun shone in the window, birds twittered in the treetops, and hope dawned once more."

May it be so for you.