Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Lucid Culture Interview: Maestro Dorrit Matson of the New York Scandia Symphony

Dorrit Matson conducts one of New York’s most pioneering and exciting symphony orchestras, the New York Scandia Symphony. Maestro Matson managed to find the time during a whirlwind of rehearsals for their upcoming May 28 performance at Trinity Church to shed some light on the orchestra’s adventurous history and bold mission:

Lucid Culture:  Does the orchestra have a specific mission?

Dorrit Matson: The New York Scandia Symphony was founded by me, in 1988, after I had been working for some years as a free lance conductor in New York. It appeared to me that among all the wonderful concert programs offered in New York City, there were almost none representing Scandinavian composers. When I was able to program music from Northern Europe it was so well received by the musicians. We started the programs in Symphony Space, St. John’s Cathedral, then in Merkin Hall for 3 years. And when it was time to move to a larger space, Alice Tully Hall was economically not within reach. We were then invited to Trinity Church, based on one previous performance in St. Paul’s Chapel.

We have never missed out on presenting a concert season, not even in 2001-2002 after 9/11, when not much else was going on in the downtown area. The Scandia Symphony therefore has a valuable mission: to showcase the music of Scandinavian composers, thereby educating the American public with enlightening and creative programs, and also preserving our own heritage and culture.

LC: You’re from Denmark originally. What differences have you encountered in the world of music here, by comparison to the scene in your native country?

DM: The American orchestras are wonderful to work with. In general, I think they are more efficient and positive compared to European orchestras – especially the freelance scene in New York is amazing. Even with an ensemble that does not play together more than 3 to 6 times a year it is possible to achieve an excellent sense of ensemble among the players, and the sound is often more clear and brilliant than many of the orchestras in Europe. Here the musicians are trained to play in orchestras whereas in Denmark it is often something to do if a solo career is not possible. This changes the attitude and work ethic.

LC:  From your point of view, what are the pros and cons of playing so much material that’s virtually unknown to American audiences?

DM: The musicians find it challenging to work on repertoire that they have not played so many times before. They often express delight and passion for the Nordic music, hearing and imagining the landscapes, colors and culture of these countries as they work on it. The audience is also attracted by the beauty of Scandinavian music, so that is why our venue is most often filled to capacity.  I feel that there is still so much music that needs to be heard, much of it over 200 years old and never performed the US, so there is not a problem finding sufficient quality music to fill the programs.

LC: It seems to me – please correct me if I’m wrong here – that the conventional wisdom is that if an orchestra isn’t at Lincoln Center, or Carnegie Hall, or the 92nd St. Y, you know, the old-guard sheds, that the performance is necessarily second-rate. However, as you know from experience with this orchestra, there are other equally outstanding ensembles playing the most unlikely places. How do we counter that kind of old-fashioned thinking?

DM: It is really very difficult to counter the conventional idea that if you are not at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall then it must not be the very pinnacle of performance.  Scandia has, for example, never been reviewed at Trinity Church in The New York Times; other critics have been difficult to attract to Lower Manhattan. However, once our publicist has managed to have them come in once, they seem to come back. Trinity Church does not pay for advertising in newspapers, so that may make a difference as well. I think it takes a long time and much effort in terms of marketing and PR to change the assumption that a concert that has no admission fee could be worthwhile attending.

LC: You have an all-star cast to rival any other orchestra in town. Where do you get your performers?  

DM: Most of our woodwind and brass players have been with us for almost 20 years, since the orchestra’s inception. At the time most of them were newly graduated from Juilliard and now they are, of course in prominent positions like the Met and others. The string section has changed over time and is now settled. I have had very good advice from the principal string players when making selections or calls for contracting. It is a very complicated issue to build a string section.  I am pleased that Scandia has for some reason turned out to have a “all-star cast,” I believe this is why the musicians like to come here and are so committed to perform at their best every time they go on stage. It is the kind of untold and unwritten agreement among musicians that they perform excellently that forms much of the identity of an ensemble. And then, as a conductor, you naturally trust every one of them and this then reflects on them and the performance as well.

LC: Your home at least for the moment is Trinity Church, downtown, where you frequently play free Thursday lunchtime concerts.

DM: Yes, it has been a long time in Trinity Church. It took a few performances before we all adjusted to the venue. There are so many obstacles in the room since it is a very challenging acoustic environment. It takes a very well articulated group of musicians to play there or otherwise the clarity is nonexistent. Our musicians are so experienced that they make a sound judgment in terms of both distance and balance, often at the first rehearsal. Over time, I believe we have all found ways to turn the obstacles into assets and I think that the church room in the end has contributed to form Scandia’s unique sound and therefore its identity.

So there had been a value and growth in process during all this time. We have also been able to record 4 compact discs, all regularly heard on many radio stations. The CD’s are really the ultimate means of preserving Scandinavian music and cultural heritage. They do not perish with time.

LC: Was part of your decision to play to an audience who might not, either due to unfamiliarity or lack of income, be a crowd who frequent the big, expensive concert halls?

DM: I am actually proud of being able to serve all audiences and offer a full size symphony to explore and enjoy, also for people who otherwise would not be able to afford the experience. Our entire purpose is to reach people and we never know what the music may bring to an individual at that certain time. But humans have at all times needed and sought the message of music in their lives, so this will be true of the future as well. So I believe, even in these challenged times that we have a mission as musicians.

LC:   I know you play frequently around the New York area. Any plans to expand beyond the immediate vicinity?

DM: Scandia has been ready for some time to move to a midtown hall and I hope that we will soon be sharing our programs with audiences in midtown in one of those prestigious and expensive places. That is in the plans. More immediately, the Scandinavian Music Festival in Fort Tryon Park, Billings Lawn starts on June 7th and continues on Sundays in June at 2 PM.

LC: While marketing research puts the age of the average Lincoln Center concertgoer in his or her sixties, your orchestra’s fan base seems to draw from pretty much all age groups. Does it surprise you to see so many young people at your concerts? To what can you attribute this?

DM: I am not sure but that is good. Maybe many of these young people come from jobs at Wall Street? I know, however, that Scandia’s programs have always attracted a very diverse audience.

LC: Of all the pieces your orchestra has played, I understand that a staggering ninety percent are US premieres. Do you intend to continue to premiere new works here, or is there any plan to popularize certain favorites?

DM: It just so happens that many of these Scandinavian compositions, fine masterworks, have never been performed in the US – or in New York. I believe that one of the compositions on Thursday’s program, C.E.F Weyse’s Symphony No. 6 is an example of a US premiere of a 200 year old composition. I must say that the Scandinavians themselves have not done such a profound job of promoting their own music, among other treasures, so that has something to do with the fact that so much of the repertoire in unknown.

LC:  Much has been written about the difficulties of women in music in general, and in conducting as well – in particular I’m thinking of Marin Alsop’s well-publicized struggles with the Baltimore Symphony. Are there special challenges that you’ve encountered, and how can a woman in your position overcome them?

DM: Unfortunately, a number of women conductors involve themselves and the fact that they are women in a traditionally male dominated field when they are afforded the opportunity for promotion and good public relations.  Instead, we should mostly focus on the job itself and the symphony orchestra, as fascinating as it is. If we are sufficiently involved in our performance there is really not any need to be consumed with whether we are a minority or to focus on trying to overcome the barriers. Not to say that those do not exist, and that it will still take some time before there are as many women as men in the field of conducting, including with major orchestras.  Anyway, how would I know if a desired position or opportunity is not made available to me because I am a woman, of foreign descent – or maybe I did not know enough influential people, or had sufficient connection to the money that too often seem to determine how issues are handled and decisions are made?  By the way, I often hear that the musicians feel that it is refreshing to have a woman on the podium…

LC:  What do we have to look forward to at your next concert, May 28, 1 PM at Trinity Church? I see that you have Friedrich Kuhlau’s The Robbers Castle Overture, the US premiere of Gunnar Berg’s Hymnos, Johan Halvorsen’s Suite Ancienne and C.E.F. Weyse’s Symphony #6 on the program…

DM: The concert on May 28th will feature music from the Danish Golden Age, meaning the classical, early Romantic music that was based much on the Vienna School of composers. Also Johan Halvorsen, a Norwegian composer who is not heard too much, but deserves to be presented as one of the masters of the classical era in Norway.

LC:  Of all of these, do you have a particular favorite, or favorites? If you could conduct the work of one or two (or a handful) of composers, who would that be and why?

DM: I have many favorites: Carl Nielsen is one of them – and I love Jean Sibelius.  I have a passion for Gustav Mahler and would like to conduct especially his Symphony No. 2, “The Resurrection”.

LC:  How about you personally? Plenty of conductors are composers as well. Are you one of them? What is your instrument, or instruments?  

DM: My instrument is piano. To prepare myself to become a conductor, I was fortunate to receive solo lessons each week for one year in one instrument from each section of the orchestra. This was part of our training at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.  The strings were the most complicated, of course, but all were very necessary in order to communicate with the orchestra.  The voice studies – and singing – is also really important, especially to improve the breathing with the winds. To adapt to this way of producing – sustaining – the tone and the sound – as in the string instrument as well – was so important, especially for a pianist, or percussionist. Sooner or later, the vertical as well as horizontal movements are applied to our conducting gestures and our perception of the entire concept.

The New York Scandia Symphony plays next at Trinity Church, downtown on May 28 at 1 PM. The concert is free; early arrival is advised.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Years After the Payola Bust, Major Labels and Corporate Radio Still Playing the Same Game

Repost from the Future of Music Coalition via Lefsetz:

Using playlist data licensed from Mediaguide, Future of Music Coalition (FMC) examined four years of airplay – 2005-2008 – from national playlists, and from seven specific music formats: AC, Urban AC, Active Rock, Country, CHR Pop, Triple A Commercial and Triple A Noncommercial. FMC looked at each playlist and calculated the “airplay share” for five different categories of record labels to determine whether the ratio of major label to non-major label airplay has changed over the past four years.

The data in the report indicates almost no measurable change in station playlist composition over the past four years. While this may lead some to conclude that payola is alive and well, and that the Spitzer and FCC agreements were ineffective, the report instead views these results through a broader lens, using the data to describe the state of radio thirteen years after the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The playlist data analysis underscores how radio’s long-standing relationships with major labels, its status quo programming practices and the permissive regulatory structure all work together to create an environment in which songs from major label artists continue to dominate. The major labels’ built-in advantage, in large part the cumulative benefit of years payola-tainted engagement with commercial radio, combined with radio’s risk-averse programming practices, means there are very few spaces left on any playlist for new entrants. Independent labels, which comprise some 30 percent of the domestic music market [editor’s note: actually less, considering the hundreds of thousands of independent, label-free releases every year], are left to vie for mere slivers of airtime, despite negotiated attempts to address this programming imbalance.

This report also confronts a practical challenge in measuring the effectiveness of the policies negotiated by the FCC, broadcasters and the independent music community in 2007. The ambiguous language of the Rules of Engagement and the voluntary agreements make it difficult to set specific policy goals and effectively measure outcomes. In this report’s conclusion, FMC puts forward three policy recommendations – improving data collection, refocusing on localism and expanding the number of voices on the public airwaves – designed to assist both broadcasters and the FCC in ensuring a bright future for local radio and for the music community.

Read the full report here.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If You See Something, Use Your Brain Before You Say Something

They’re all over the subway: those annoying posters from the MTA, encouraging citizens to get in the frame of mind to spy on each other and take us deeper into the Orwellian nightmare. “If you see something, say something…last year, 3456 people saw something and said something,” it taunts, as if we should all be narcing on our fellow passengers. But now that Bush is out of office, isn’t it about time we turned the page?

Case in point: rush hour, uptown train at Chambers Street, downtown.  A bunch of people get off, I get a seat. A couple of middleschool kids – brothers, from the looks of them – board the train behind me. One sits down across from me, the other stands since there’s what looks like an empty shoebox in a blue plastic bag on the seat next to his brother. Maybe he just doesn’t want to sit – he looks restless, like he’s been cooped up in school all day. I look up at the digital screen in the middle of the ceiling of the car to see what time it is. But the time doesn’t come up. And the train doesn’t move. It just sits in the station.

Waiting on the platform, I’d reflexively looked down the tracks to see if the signal was green, an indication that there hadn’t been a train in awhile. The size of the crowd on the platform had reconfirmed that. And the conductor wasn’t imploring or hollering over the PA to get whoever was holding up the train to get the hell out of the doorway. 

I looked around in frustration. There was an older woman to my right, past the doors. She pointed to the box in the bag. “That’s a suspicious package. Somebody called the conductor, he’s gonna come check it out.”

Calling in a bomb threat used to be against the law, but since the early days of the Bush regime it became mandatory behavior. Still, I’d never seen anyone actually be so stupid as to actually do it. I stood up, reached over and gingerly picked up the bag (you never know what kind of disgusting things people will leave behind in a box). It felt light. Obviously the box, one of the kind that has folding flaps to close it, didn’t have anything in it. I pried it open. Nothing.

I put it back on the seat.  The kid sitting there pushed it off and kicked it underneath so his brother could sit down. Then the conductor showed up, bemused expression on his face. Something told me he found this as absurd as I did. He looked around, puzzled. “It’s empty,” I said.

“Well,” he said noncomittally, “You gotta check these things out, I guess, a passenger called it in.”

“Who? What passenger?” I demanded. I knew it was the old lady.

“It was me,” she announced. Proudly.

I felt around for the right words. Obviously, I wasn’t dealing with the sharpest tool in the shed. How could I make my point in a way that would resonate so she wouldn’t do it again? An exercise in futility, I reckoned. Anger got the better of me. “You know, that was really stupid. All these hundreds of people on the train, they want to get home, they have places they have to be and so do I and you just held up the train because of an empty box!”

She muttered something about patience.

I’d been right: there was no use in talking to her. But now I had an audience. I had to redeem myself. “That’s George Bush thinking,” I said. “He wanted to make everybody so afraid of terrorists on the subway so he could fight his stupid war. There are no terrorists on the subway. Now that Barack Obama is President, do you hear anything about terrorists on the subway? No. That’s because he’s smart. You can’t let George Bush ideas make you afraid of everything.” 

It was all I could do to resist the urge to point out that if she’d really been afraid that the empty box had been a bomb, why hadn’t she left her seat, even left the station? Then it hit me a couple of stops later.

Maybe the box was hers.

Some people will do anything for attention.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Culture, New York City, Rant | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Memoriam – Stefan Lutak, 1920-2009

Stefan Lutak, the indomitable and ageless proprietor of the legendary New York East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge passed away last week after a brief illness. He was 89. Born in the Ukraine in 1920, Lutak fought for the Russians against the Nazis in World War II and came to the US four years after the war ended. He and his wife took over the Holiday in 1965. Originally a neighborhood workingman’s bar, it had its share of celebrity regulars, W.H. Auden and Shelley Winters among them. With its minimal, no-nonsense decor, dim lighting, and the laconic Lutak (later joined by his sons) serving up cheap, strong drinks, it was only a matter of time before it became a popular punk rock hangout.

 

According to Lutak, the space was originally a beauty parlor, converted to a bar in 1936. Throughout the years, the bar has barely changed, prices included. One not-so-secret habit shared by many New York musicians (and non-musicians) was to order a Bacardi 151 and coke, which Lutak served at the same price as a regular Bacardi and coke and which would get you drunk twice as fast. During slow periods, it often seemed that Lutak was keeping the bar open simply to keep himself in alcohol: the man had an ironclad constitution, operating with seemingly undiminished capacity from early afternoon til closing time despite being visibly under the influence.

 

In a very encouraging and unexpected turn of events, Lutak’s sons (who also own the building) are keeping the iconic East Village spot open, at least for the present time. If there ever was a time to patronize this place, now is that time.

 

“Over the years we have become close to the regulars and losing one is like losing an old friend,” Lutak is quoted in Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. Stefan Lutak, wherever you are, thank you for your hospitality, your willingness to turn a blind eye to innumerable indiscretions and for being a crucial part of countless delirious evenings forever lost to memory. You were more of a friend than you’ll ever know. Our sincere condolences to the Lutak family.

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Culture, New York City, obituary | , , , | Leave a comment

Lux Interior – An Appreciation

As pretty much everybody knows by now, Erick Lee Purkhiser AKA Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps died this past Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 62.

 

The Cramps made their mark in the punk scene in the late 70s, which was their moment. Backed by his wife-to-be Poison Ivy’s percussive, clanging, macabre retro guitar, Lux Interior’s mad Elvis persona was completely in touch with the original menace of 50s music, taking it completely over the top. Thousands of punkabilly and ghoulabilly bands followed in their wake; none could ever match the Cramps in intensity or flat-out imagination. Lux Interior was fearless, funny and a consummate showman, a wild live performer who would vault amplifiers, stick the microphone in his mouth, assail the audience or simply stumble around in what appeared to be a drug-induced stupor but which was more likely than not a carefully contrived part of the act. He took an iconic American persona, twisted it inside out and made it forever his own. There may have been a lot of kitsch associated with him but he was anything but a kitschy performer. There will never be another like him.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Paradigm-Shifting Inaugural Address

[Editor’s note: after eight years of lies and treason from a regime who took power in a bloodless coup d’etat and who maintained that power in a fraudulent election four years later, it was a pleasant change to see an American President simply acknowledging the existence of reality, admitting that this may not be the best of all possible worlds, that all might actually not be well.  Yet Obama’s Inaugural Address goes much further than this. If this is to be taken at face value – which we most fervently hope it is – it is nothing less than a paradigm shift in the fabric of society, a return to the idea of a civilization that exists for the benefit of its citizens rather than for the continued profit of a tiny cabal of ultra-rich swindlers, traitors and mass murderers. And even if we don’t end up meeting all the ideals expressed in the first Obama Inaugural, it is a profoundly insightful commentary on the essential elements of democracy, without which a democratic society cannot function. Perhaps you’ve already read this. If not, please take a few minutes and see what our President has in mind. It cannot fail to inspire you.]

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

 

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

 

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

 

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

 

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

 

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

 

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

 

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

 

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

 

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

 

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

 

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

 

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

 

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

 

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

 

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

 

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

 

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

 

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

 

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

 

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

 

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

 

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

 

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

 

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

 

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

 

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

 

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

 

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

 

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

 

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

 

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet.”

 

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Politics | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Ron Asheton

We have lost a great one. Iconic guitarist and bassist Ron Asheton – who more than any other artist was responsible for defining the raw, explosive, uncompromising Detroit sound of the 70s – was found dead at his Ann Arbor, Michigan home yesterday. The big, genial man was 60. As a guitarist, Asheton’s screaming, whiplash, bluesy licks evoked both gleeful abandon and anguished intensity, in his work on the first two Stooges albums in addition to his own projects New Order (the Detroit band, the first to use that name), Destroy All Monsters, the New Race with Dennis Thompson from the MC5 and Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman and also Scott Morgan’s Powertrane. As immensely influential a guitarist as he was, ultimately his greatest work may have been as a bassist, particularly in concert and notably on the Stooges posthumous live Metallic KO album. His eerie, boomy, melodic low-register work was a major influence on Joy Division – compare Asheton’s mournfully ascending melody on the live version of Gimme Danger with Peter Hook’s bassline on New Dawn Fades – and still echoes today in the work of bands like Interpol. There will never be another like him. Condolences to the legions of musicians who had the good fortune to work with him and to know his generous spirit, and his millions of fans throughout the world

January 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert | Leave a comment

CD Review: Brave Old World – Songs of the Lodz Ghetto

With a total of eighteen tracks, this is something akin to a musical version of the documentary film Shoah. Recorded live in Bordeaux in 2004, Songs of the Lodz Ghetto is rustic klezmer group Brave Old World’s stark, absolutely haunting tribute to the Jewish musicians slaughtered in the Holocaust whose work documented their last desperate days. Featuring several songs with lyrics by Lodz ghetto composer Yankele Herszkowicz set to music by the band, the cd does double duty as notable artistic achievement and historical document. Brave Old World frontman/multi-instrumentalist Michael Alpert sings in Yiddish. In addition, the cd contains several field recordings of Lodz Holocaust survivor Yaakov Rotenberg singing songs from the ghetto, captured on tape by historian Gila Flam in the mid-80s. Although the tone is stoic and frequently leavened with macabre humor, much of it is absolutely heartbreaking: the generally somber, sometimes funereal, sometimes frantic feel of the music transcends any linguistic boundaries.

 

A recording of Rotenberg opens the cd, singing a caustically sarcastic tribute to Lodz Judenrat chief Chaim Rumkovski, followed by cascades of piano into a bouncy dance. The traditional party anthem A Real Fine Mazltov goes by quickly, its place taken by the mournful accordion, clarinet and strings of an Alpert original, Not Just Joy. Black humor takes center stage in the ghetto folksong Because I’m a Jew, a bleak chronicle of the many ways to die, followed by the riveting It’s Shackles and Chains, a traditional melody in the Middle Eastern hijaz scale with a fiery, bitter Yankele Herszkowicz lyric. Whenever he pops up here, Herszkowicz comes off like a Joe Strummer or a Woody Guthrie, indelibly a refusenik with a vicious sense of humor. He would no doubt approve of this recording. As would Isaiah Shpigl, who survived both Lodz and Auschwitz and whose understated tango ballad Close Your Eyes – an exile’s story – is also represented here. The group plays dark and stately, letting just a bit of light in when the sarcastic humor kicks in, or when they get satirical, as with the military march on There Goes a Yeke (a German Jew). The cd finally closes with a long, somber nocturne credited to Asrael Mandelbaum. As worthwhile a work of art as it is an irreplaceable and particularly timely piece of history. Beautifully packaged by Winter & Winter in a hardcover gatefold case with a lyric book including English translations.  

December 29, 2008 Posted by | Culture, Music, Reviews | 1 Comment

This Would Never Happen at Fenway Park

For many months, fans have been complaining about club security attempting to restrict the movement of customers during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium. Now it seems the rumors are true: according to the New York Daily News, a fan was ejected from the ballpark for leaving his seat to use the bathroom while God Bless America played over the PA.

Yet another reason to laugh while the Yankees play out the string as another disappointing season winds down.

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Culture, New York City | Leave a comment

Remembering George Carlin

Anonymous repost from the absolutely irreplaceable if frequently infuriating Lefsetz Letter:

I had just gotten in at my place of employment at the time which was the afternoon / night shift at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, I was 22 and the year was 1972, while walking over to my section of the store, my section was the comedy section… meaning I had to take records from the under stock and make sure that they were represented in the display up on top, I look and I see one Mr. George Carlin looking through my section. Now George was at the top of his game at the time, he and his manager had just started their own record company called “Little David Records” for which the only other artist on the label at the time was a little known jazz / folk singer named Kenny Rankin….. sorry to say but at that time he wasn’t my cup of tea but still I had received a promo of his album and gave it a listen which said a lot because I used to take albums I had no use for directly over to Aaron’s Records, for those of you who don’t know Aaron’s Records was a place on Melrose Ave. here in Los Angeles where you could take your used and new albums and turn them into $$$$$$…. something that was in short supply in those days. Tower Records was never known for paying their employees a lot of money, I think they figured with all the free records, tee shirts, concert and let’s not forget the store groupies… you were doing pretty well. I didn’t complain I had no bills to pay except for rent.

 

OK back to George, so I walked up to him and I tell George how I’ve been listening to his new LP “Class Clown” religiously and playing it in the store until all of the other employees were sick of it, I know how many times can you listen to the same joke over and over again. Sorry but I loved it and for me it was a learning experience. I asked George joking “would you please show me how you do your Ed Sullivan” and much to my surprise he showed me by saying. “By now you know, by now you know,  just before the aero photography picture of Kate Smith, Topo Gigio the little faggot mouse will be out here to do his thing”. Even thought I’d heard it before on record I laugh so hard that I cried.

 

So we talked for a while. Lets face it George always was one of us…. just peopl,e none of that movie star crap for him… and that’s what we all loved him for.

 

He had a boxed set (stay with me now, this is where the story gets good) of classical LP’s under his arm and asked me “do you have a LP resealer in the back room of the store?”…. we were told by Tower management never to mention the LP resealer, it was Tower’s dirty little secret and you could get fired for that on the spot, so without so much as thinking twice I said “yeah we have one.”  He said to me that he was flying to New York tonight and that tomorrow was his friend’s birthday and wouldn’t it be funny if when his friend opened up the LP he found some drugs inside it instead of LP’s. I said “ABSOLUTELY I WOULD”, so we proceeded to the back room of Tower Records where we heated up the shrink wrap machine and opened up the box set of LP’s that he had and took the albums out of the box and at that point I was thinking maybe he had a little pot to put inside, but George was the big time and there it was…. WOW … George reaches into his pants and pulls out the biggest bag of cocaine I had ever seen in my life… so we proceeded to put the bag of coke into the box set and as I thought … “sorry George” it wouldn’t fit, no problem he said and he opens up the baggy and puts a big pile of coke on the record sleeve, puts the bag back into the box set and it still wouldn’t fit, so George take some more out and we finally get the bag to fit, we send it through the resealer and shrink wrapper until the LP looked just like new. George thanked me very much and I inquired “what about that pile of coke sitting there” he said “no problem, that’s for you for your services” You’ve got to be joking….”no, that’s for you” :):):):) I was used to buying small amounts and never had that much for personal use ever…I said  “Thanks George !!!!!!”  I clean up everything in the back room and walk him out to the front entrance shook his hand and thanked him for everything…. for me a banner day at Tower.

 

Needless to say I was employee of the month and had this great story to tell all.

 

June 25, 2008 Posted by | Culture | 1 Comment