Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Century of Steins

The only statement I can make about Ludwig Wittgenstein and Albert Einstein with any veracity is that everything they had to say is beyond my reach. They never met but they had many mutual friends in the Vienna Circle and at Cambridge in the decades following World War I. Just as Einstein’s theory of Relativity displaced Newtonian physics so Wittgenstein’s linguistics challenged philosophy itself. As for E=mc sq. I have never, for an instant, doubted it.

Gertrude Stein famously described Oakland as, There is no there, there. However her address in Paris was an important there where she collected art and artists at her regular salons. Her poetry (a rose is a rose) and prose signaled the literary extension of Cubist art and deconstruction to follow.

If Oscar Hammerstein only wrote the lyrics for Ol Man River he would have been immortalized but he co-wrote 850 other songs many of which have become classics of musical theater. In fact he is credited with inventing the art form.

Stein is a German word meaning stone or stoneware as in a 
beer mug. Why that suffix attached itself to so many Jewish surnames I leave to Talmudic scholars or more properly to Yiddish historians. It probably owes its provenance to those creative gate-keepers at Ellis Island.

Arthur Rubenstein was a piano virtuoso at age three and performed publicly for the next eighty-two years. His repertory or valise, as he put it, contained works by Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky and most prominently, his fellow Pole, Chopin. The century would have been all the poorer without his early exuberant sound which mellowed over the years allowing the instrument to more fully breathe.

There are no Marc Blitzsteins out there today …that I know of. He was a composer-librettist-lyricist whose creative voice spoke for the true forgotten man during the Depression. His major work produced in 1937 was The Cradle Will Rock as well as a translation / adaptation of Brecht and Weil’s, Threepenny Opera.

The Epstein brothers, Julius and Phillip gave us the film, Casablanca, said to have been written on the fly, a triumph of intuition. It was certainly more than a hill of beans. It struck the perfect blend of serious fun with Bogie and Bergman on the eve of American entrance into World War II.

Since it is his 200th anniversary Frankenstein deserves some mention. In film after film he’s been roaming our inscape warning us of technological wreckage.   

Make Someone Happy is what Jule Styne did writing the music 
which  jumps out of the American Songbook including, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, I’ve Heard that Song Before,  It’s Been a Long, Long Time and Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week. Where would Sinatra have been without him and where would be without Sinatra?

Leonard Bernstein had that Gershwin sound in his signature 
though he went beyond as a pianist, composer, conductor and teacher. Also a child prodigy his ambitions extended into writing and even poetry. His Westside Story changed musical theater and it remained his greatest achievement along with Candide.  

Sondheim was to Hammerstein as Michael Feinstein was to Ira Gershwin, archiving and learning at the master’s knee. He has gone on to interpret the songs of his antecedents and is now the acting ambassador of what has become to new ears as Old Music….which is to say my music.

I can’t think of any famous Goldsteins except for Rebecca, the novelist and Ruby the boxing referee……….but the list of notables includes a Nobel Prize winner, physicist , historian and actor Eliot Gould who changed his name.

I might find room for Dianne Feinstein, the ageless Senator who seems to have never lost an election. And then there is Rob Rosenstein whose chapter in American History is still being written. I suspect he will become more than a footnote.

Finally there is Harvey Weinstein who has stained the Stein name. But I shall not allow his misconduct to blight the Steins of the century. Let us raise our stoneware, Hear, Hear !

Thursday, January 25, 2018


I’m a sucker for Thursdays. There’s something about the sound of the word. It feels juicy to me, bursting with nectar. Not arid like Wednesday with that silent D…such a waste of a letter, parched and withered. Thursday is Thor’s day, Jupiter, god of thunder foretelling wetness…which proves my point.

Thursday is an auspicious day. The one when the Declaration of Independence was signed back in 1776. It’s a day plump with possibilities. Fifteen years before that Benjamin Franklin flew his kite also on a Thursday….which also proves my point.

What was my point? I’ll think of something by the time I reach the bottom of the page.

Thursday was a holy day for me because it had a way of always preceding Friday which meant weekly tests. Not being very bright I decided I might need a touch of providential intervention to get me through the ordeal. So every Thursday night I became devout only to correct the doubtful attribution by the next day.

Franklin Roosevelt died on a Thursday. In a strange way I count that as my day of entry into the adult world. He was literally a god to me. PresidentRoosevelt was one word. I knew no other. Sad and shaken as I was that April afternoon in 1945 I felt no longer a child at age twelve. Everyone was crying openly. A poor Black man was asked if he knew the president and he replied, No, but he knew me. FDR intoned the way you’d expect a deity to speak…from on high. When he died, god died and I was existentially on my own.

Thursday is the well-chosen day for our most secular quasi-religious holiday when we gather together to thank the cosmic crapshoot which brought us to this table as guests rather than as the sacrificial turkey stuffed with assorted breadcrumbs, berries and savories.

And what better day than Thursday for Peggy’s weekly poem which she lets fly to eager eyes? She chooses one from a vast store of poetry replenished daily with new work. Her art embodies her soul and her spirit.

I think my point has something to do with belief…which is necessarily elusive. One might even say, mysterious. Interesting to note that the word mysterious has its origin in the Greek word myein which meant closed…as in a mouth. So mystery is akin to mute. I’ll say nothing more about the subject.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Things We Swallow

Flu or Fly? It's going around. This cough, spasms of it making unproductive chasms.

Yes, doctor, one year ago I swallowed a fly. I don’t know why I swallowed a fly. He is buzzing around in my eye and he’s in my brain besides. Sometimes I laugh but more often I cry. 

I’ve been watching the specimen through one-way glass. How he frets and struts. What he spouts and flaunts. A few others have swallowed this fly… about 100 million of us and are also watching and listening to him. We’ve never seen an Ego and Id of such abnormal size.

Abe Lincoln and Mary were watching the play when Booth shot him four score and seven times, took his stovepipe hat and became president. It’s all theater, he said and you people, of, by and for…your name is now Mudd. Next on stage whispering in Oval Office ears were the Robber Baron penny-pinchers and lynchers, Birchers and Birthers. They bequeathed it to Elmer Gantry, Archie Bunker and Citizen Kane.

I don’t know why this nation keeps swallowing flies. When the fly hasn’t reached its demise we swallow a spider that wriggles and jiggles and tickles inside her. That must be this dreaded cough. Then we swallow a bird, how absurd, in order to swallow the spider. Maybe we will swallow a swallow. The Rust Belt swallowed a goat; they just opened their throat, then they swallowed a horse; they will die of course.

Men and women in white coats, scholars, and writers are up all night chronicling the specimen’s actions, transfixed on his slurs and rants, his boasts and blather. He’s got us. We don’t know if he is ill or brilliant, half deranged from the Cuckoo’s Nest, half Tony Soprano and the third half, Mortimer Snerd. If he is Mr. Magoo or was born on Krypton with a chest of superlatives. He is that fly on the wall. He has me climbing the wall. No, not that wall.  

Don’t you think it is time to turn away? Yes, doctor, I wish I could cough it out. You say the condition is not covered by my HMO. But it has reached pandemic proportions. The fly eats up my day. I see it in every book, every film. It’s in Greek drama. In Shakespeare. He's the poisoned apple in my fruit salad, the toxic mushroom in my pizza. Schedule me for surgery. Call it elective.

Friday, January 12, 2018


News thy name is mud. Tons of the stuff. Tragedy and grief for the un-evacuated after torrential rain. Mudslide in Montecito, at the rate of a one inch deluge every fifteen minutes, like a broken spigot, unstoppable, mountain-side rushing to the sea, rivers of scorched and slimy earth and ash, high-end debris, downed oak trunks, roots, overturned cars, twelve dead, make it fifteen, boulders, swamped living rooms, current of drenched soil, rescuers falling into swimming pools, man holes, upped now to seventeen.

Felled or falling also that team from the tower on 5th Ave. He in his slipping down life, never humbled but ever bumbling, he appears to be tweeting bird-droppings with a wounded wing. Humpty-Dumpty fell off his wall. Humpty-Trump also falling into a swamp of dossiers, Papadopoulos yapping, Flynn flipping, Manafort in muck up to his ankle bracelet, mud-slinging from on high. Bannon falls from grace for running off at his mouth. Time to evacuate with an avalanche of un-fake facts, corruption, collusion, obstruction, obfuscation, indictments, truth leaking in torrents, streaming, men in suits falling, first family falling, incumbents dropping out.

Stars from Alabama falling, leading men toppling, directors, producers in high chairs and couches are falling like flies (unzipped), hierarchies, and patriarchies crumbling with a thud. 

Empires fall. The Romans fell famously with barbarians at the gate. Britain did it quietly. Communism fell in velvet. The U.S., no longer exceptional, is withdrawing stage right and falling.

Falling in love is a divine falling. Downed by Cupid’s arrow. Something seismic shifting, something yielding, Apollonian walls crashing, hormones dripping. On our knees struck but lifted, buoyant in a floating world. Waving, not drowning. Chirping not tweeting. Something singing like sycamore flushed with hues falling.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What's New?

Everything and nothing. It’s a new year, a new day, a new ballgame. 

New, may be our favorite word here in the New World. After all, Reagan declared, it is Morning in America. FDR brought us a New Deal. JFK brought us to the New Frontier. My toothpaste is New and Improved. The advertised cars are brand new, though they all look the same to me. When restaurants have new menus that means they’ve just raised their prices. God wasn’t given to so many temper tantrums in the New Testament as he/she was in the Old.

How do we become new, I ask you? Change is on my mind. It seems to me very few public figures have undergone a makeover in terms of their political stripes. And yet ....

A few years ago I wrote a blog called Black and White. It was about the two Supreme Court justices who, amazingly, did become new in their coloration. Byron (Whizzer) White was an All-American football player and a liberal appointee by John Kennedy. He ended up dissenting along with Republicans on both the Miranda decision and Roe v Wade. Before him was Hugo Black picked by Franklin Roosevelt in 1937. In his early years Black was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But he turned out to be a major voice in the Civil Rights decisions. 

In fact California Governor Earl Warren, once an advocate of Japanese internment later repented as Supreme Court Chief Justice to lead his associates to a unanimous decision desegregating public schools. Go figure!

Newness can happen. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll think of something I can testify to……… I used to hate walnuts; now I love them, if caramelized.

In today’s polarized spectrum it strains credulity to imagine Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow switching channels. However in a recent segment on Sixty Minutes a former skin head / American Nazi revealed how he had a sudden moment of enlightenment when making eye contact with a Black man he was beating up. He has since rehabilitated dozens of hate group members while risking his own life.

Eye contact can be a mirror into oneself. Trump is, of course, beyond repair but there must be others with a full functioning brain and consciousness capable of compassion. A few retiring Senators, no longer for sale, have dared utter truth in defiance of their benefactors, at least rhetorically. Faustian pacts have their expiration dates.

If detergents and I-phones can be NEW why not greedy, climate-change deniers or at least the voters who installed them in office?