Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Got Those New Year Resolution Blues?

No sooner were Christmas lists fulfilled, then there were those who may have started to compile another, perhaps shorter, list and check it twice. An inventory of ostensible resolutions one hopes to stick by in the coming months.
Nevertheless, that itemized record, made in the waning days of December when your thoughts may be fogged by alcohol-laced eggnog or stronger drink, is rarely followed or may lead to regret. More often than not, by the end of January, some or all of the entries may be overlooked or broken, and you start to hum the-sorry-I-made-‘em-when-I-never-stick-to-‘em Resolution Blues.
No matter how sincere and sober you were when making that year-end list of vows, it’s inevitably partially violated or ancient history. In fact, some resolutions are probably forgotten by the time the confetti dropped on Times Square streets, after the ball drops to ring in the New Year, is swept up. And it’s long gone by the time Punxsutawney Phil pokes his head out of the ground weeks later to forecast the rest of winter.
Making New Year’s resolutions is a recurrent ritual, coming on the heels of shopping for presents, gift giving and unwrapping, consuming a holiday meal, whether it’s a meat roast or pasta for Christians or Chinese food for those of the Jewish persuasion.
Resolutions usually don’t have religious undertones — after all, every denomination already has its own set of principles. All the same, resolutions may include an increased devotion to one’s faith.
After a brief Internet search, I discovered the origin of resolutions may have a religious link. At the start of each year, Babylonians made promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began a new year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
Seems logical. New Year, new goals.
Procrastinators don’t pay too much attention to resolutions, since they have twelve months to contemplate achieving them.
Resolutions are often like political campaign promises — made with good intentions, like the paved road to hell — but they’re made to be retracted or, at least, revised. In other words, personal resolutions are made to be broken as often as most campaign pledges. (Does “no new taxes” come to mind?)
Essentially, resolutions generally focus on self-improvement. You know, go on a diet, exercise more, quit smoking, drink less alcohol or smoke less pot, reduce credit card debt, keep in touch more with relatives and friends. They may also cover completing home repairs that have been overlooked, finishing the novel you put away after reading the first 100 pages or, perhaps, begin that hobby that got sidetracked by more urgent responsibilities, like a career, marriage, children, divorce, second marriage, second career, etc., etc. Some may also be altruistic, like helping others or volunteering for worthy causes, which may be gratifying even to the surliest curmudgeon. (Does the name Ebenezer Scrooge ring a Christmas bell?)
When you think of it, resolutions are merely self-motivating gestures, that should be steadfast all year long, not just a timely pledge.
My intent is about year-end resolutions not cynicism. However, show me someone who adheres to a list of ten resolutions, and I’ll introduce you to twenty people who’ve never accomplished even one.
The only resolution I ever intend to make again is NOT to make resolutions. Well, almost. I resolve to continue writing columns in 2016, stay as active as my body allows, read more books and…There I go, caught in the ritual I just mocked.

Wishing loyal and occasional readers of this column and my blog, a happy and healthy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Renowned Manhattan Cabaret To Close Due to Busted Bottom Line

First published December 17, 2003
After months of negotiations and uncertainty, it appears the show will no longer go on at The Bottom Line, after a Civil Court judge recently ordered the eviction of the renowned cabaret for non-payment of back rent— almost $200,000 — to its landlord, New York University. The curtain will, therefore, fall for the last time at the 400-seat club in Greenwich Village after nearly thirty years of presenting an eclectic blend of music.
Bottom Line @ West 4th and Mercer
streets was a musical mecca for 30 years
Co-owner Allan Pepper recently admitted the club has faced financial hard times the last several years due to the national economic slump and a decline in business after 9/11.
For those unfamiliar with or who’ve never patronized the small club, it has presented some of the most notable and upcoming names in pop music and jazz since it opened its doors in February 1974 with a show that included a jam session featuring Stevie Wonder, Dr. John, Charles Mingus, Johnny Winter, Mick Jagger, Carly Simon and Bette Midler. Among the diverse mix of artists who have performed there are Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Jimmy Webb, Hall & Oates, Dire Straits and The Police. The latter two were those British bands first New York City appearances, which I attended.
In the summer of 1975, when an emerging rock and roller named Bruce Springsteen performed ten sold-out shows, it literally put The Bottom Line on the night-scene map and forecast what has become one of the most successful careers in pop music. Springsteen has said that those shows are among the most memorable in his career.
Marquee promoting Springsteen's
10-show gig in summer of 1975
The native New Jersey rocker was among the club’s supporters, including a satellite radio network and media executive Mel Karmazin, who recently pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep The Bottom Line from going under, to no avail, as NYU was not open to a deal practical to the club’s owners.
Outdoor stadiums and indoor arenas are designed for sports, not music concerts. Consequently, when veteran rock and roll bands, like the Rolling Stones or Eagles, tour they opt for venues where they can earn the most money by attracting the most fans. The sound, however, is often disappointing, despite modern technical innovations.
When I saw two Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium last summer and two more at Shea Stadium in October, the sound was audible and adequate, but lacked the predictable intimacy of a club. In a setting like The Bottom Line, many seats are up close and personal.
I’ve seen dozens of shows at The Bottom Line, but none in the past decade. Actually, I’ve only been to a handful of concerts in that period, principally because there are few acts I want to see and I refuse to pay ticket prices that now exceed $150 for most classic rock bands. Nevertheless, if I had the opportunity to see a performer at a venue like The Bottom Line, I’d try my best to secure tickets.
As its 30th anniversary approaches, it would be fitting to see The Bottom Line reopen at another Manhattan location to continue its perennial role presenting a wide-range of entertainment.
While it is not afforded the formal status, The Bottom Line is, nonetheless, a landmark for hundreds of performers, as well as thousands of music and comedy fans, who’ve seen scores of up-and-coming and veteran entertainers up close and personal.
The club’s owners and supporters hoped the university would work out a sensible arrangement to keep the cabaret open. But, NYU is only interested in supplementing its real estate portfolio to enhance its bottom line, thereby bringing down the curtain for the 30-year run of the once trendy Bottom Line.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Holiday Movie That's Relevant For All Seasons

There are two movies I routinely enjoy watching this time of year — the 1952 version of “A Christmas Carol” with Alastair Sim, my favorite portrayal of Charles Dickens’ miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and Frank Capra’s “It's A Wonderful Life,” a timeless, feel-good classic, which has been perennially broadcast on NBC between Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past several years. I own DVD copies of both, and prefer to view them, minus intrusive commercial breaks, which in a three-hour TV time slot results in almost 50 minutes of ads and promo spots.                 
I’ve been a fan of the 1946 film "It's A Wonderful Life" ever since I saw it on television about 35 years ago. Shortly thereafter, due to a copyright lapse, the Oscar-nominated movie wound up in the public domain because no one considered an old black and white movie valuable enough to renew it. However, as cable companies steadily emerged, initially in the suburbs and rural communities, “It’s A Wonderful Life” was frequently telecast during the holiday season by local stations or cable companies that did not have to pay fees or residuals and, therefore, pocketed whatever advertising dollars they accrued.
Ironically, it was most likely the copyright oversight that resulted in the movie, which was not an audience favorite when it was theatrically released and subsequently failed to win an Academy Award, gaining newfound popularity with fresh generations of movie fans.
In the mid-80s, with the emergence of home videos, old movies suddenly became valuable assets and, since no one had ownership of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” there was an excess of low-quality copies available until the copyright dilemma was resolved in the 90s, after it had become an annual favorite of millions of movie lovers.
When the title is fully realized in the final scene, which has been known to bring tears to the eyes of women and men of all ages, the movie closes as a poignant and inspiring slice of Americana. Up until that point, its earlier, darker themes of one man's shattered ambition closely parallel persistent harsh economic times and a nation at war — not exactly the elements audiences expect in a holiday movie. Yet, despite a suicide attempt and its sometimes Dickensian bleakness — like “The Christmas Carol” — “It's A Wonderful Life” ultimately offers an frank message of faith and redemption.
 Less than a decade ago, with a shaky outlook, “It’s A Wonderful Life” was more relevant to what was happening in America, an economy mired in a recession, a lingering financial crisis, thousands out of work and a record number of ongoing home foreclosures,
Above all, “It’s A Wonderful Life” is different from today’s usual big screen productions. The 70-year-old film features few special effects and fewer action sequences. And, to the dismay of some younger filmgoers, it was produced in glorious black and white that they tend to shun.
The basic plot revolves around responsible family man George Bailey — splendidly portrayed by Jimmy Stewart — who is dejected by the life he fell into, and the disappointment of not fulfilling the wanderlust he once possessed. Then, he faces his ultimate predicament, an inadvertent financial scandal, due to no fault of his own, in a rendering of the American Dream gone awry.
When Bailey opts for suicide on Christmas Eve, so his family can inherit his modest life insurance policy (a script flaw since life insurance is rarely issued to beneficiaries in the event of the insured person's death), a heavenly messenger, striving to be a full-fledged angel, arrives to show him what the world would have been like if he had never been born.
The film's climactic line
Without him, his hometown of Bedford Falls, a fictional upstate New York community, is named Potterville for the greedy town patriarch. And Bailey witnesses a milder version of what Times Square was like for decades — strip joints, bars and gambling joints thrive — before it was transformed in the 90s.
Realizing he had “a wonderful life” all along, Bailey returns to find that in his fantasy absence, the townspeople save his business, making him “the richest man in town,” not for the money they generously donated, but for their precious friendship.
It still gets me every time “Auld Lang Syne” comes up at the end of the movie.
“It's A Wonderful Life” is entertaining for the whole family — though responsible parents may have to clarify its bleaker elements for preteens.
The movie’s underlying universal message of the movie is not only appropriate for this season, but — for a few hours anyway — it helps escape the harsh reality of troubled times that some may still experience.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Spinning A Remarkable Web of Memorable Music

(This article was first published in November, 1996)
He is one the most Innovative and musically proficient songwriters of our generation,” declared singer/songwriter Billy Joel
“The greatest torch song ever written,” Frank Sinatra said of the classic, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”
The late songwriter Sammy Cahn observed, “His ‘MacArthur Park’ is a major piece of work major! I’d almost compare it to Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’”
High praise, indeed, from a widely-respected music industry trio, referring to a single composer Jimmy Webb.
The following is a short list of some of the performers who have covered his music, which indicates his broad appeal: The Brooklyn Bridge Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, David Crosby, The Fifth Dimension, Art Garfunkel, Isaac Hayes, Richard Harris, REM, Johnny Rivers, Linda Ronstadt and Barbra Streisand.
Just as screenwriters rarely receive the same credit for a film as the actors who transform their words, songwriters, too, are typically overshadowed by the entertainers who sing their material. The name Jimmy Webb name may not strike a chord with music fans, but his songs certainly do.
He has written classics such as “Up, Up and Away,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “MacArthur Park,” among many others. Incidentally, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” written in 1965, has been performed over five million times, according to the music licensor, BMI. Furthermore, five of his compositions were top ten hits in less than two years in the 60s.
For almost twenty years Webb’s fans found it difficult to obtain recordings of his own material. After performing songs — made famous by Campbell, Ronstadt and Garfunkel — for years in concert, Webb steadfastly refused to record his well-known or new tunes.
Fortunately, for his loyal fans and the music-listening public, Jimmy Webb recently changed, so to speak, his tune. Some of his most popular songs are featured on the recent Guardian Records release, Ten Easy Pieces. Billboard, the music industry bible, hailed it as “one of the year’s must-hear albums of the year.”
With a straightforward, exquisite production by Fred Mollen, Webb performs the songs in a relatively austere atmosphere — mainly his voice and a grand piano — with sporadic guitar passages or other instruments effectively utilized, in addition to opportune vocal accompaniment that capitalizes on the talents of Shawn Colvin, Michael McDonald, Marc Cohen and Susan Webb, his sister.
The captivating, often haunting, performances reflect the affection and admiration Webb has for these songs — somewhat comparable to the inherent respect and love parents develop for their children.
Last week, despite a cold and persistent cough, the 50-year-old Oklahoma-born son of a preacher gave me an exclusive interview, in which he spoke about his latest recording and a career that has spanned four decades.
Webb said he had avoided doing a project like Ten Easy Pieces because “I’d become so familiar with these songs that I didn’t know what I could do with them…You’re heart’s not there and you start feeling weird about the material after having performed it a thousand times.”
Besides, he added, “I didn’t want to be obvious” since he viewed “a greatest hits project as a commercial enterprise.” He modestly continued, “I never made a record just to sell.”
Webb noted that the “ten easy pieces” were a compromise among his producer, management, record company and himself. “Most of them were hits,” he acknowledged, but some were selected for other reasons.
Webb cited “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” which had been recorded by many artists, but never charted, and “If These Walls Could Speak,” because he considered it one of his best.
The new album, Webb noted, has been warmly received across the board since its release and he really “likes it, despite some initial trepidation.”
While he is aware of the difficulty of getting the record played on radio, due to the medium’s increasingly narrow format restrictions, and distributed, Webb facetiously said he would “sell it door to door,” if necessary. He mentioned that, in addition to traditional retail outlets, the CD would also be available on a cable shopping channel.
Webb’s career began when he was a young songwriter tied to singer Johnny Rivers’ music company. Rivers recorded several Webb tunes for his 1967 album, Rewind.
Glen Campbell subsequently heard and recorded “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the first of five Webb originals that steadily made the music charts.
The Fifth Dimension, a mixed gender, Los Angeles-based quartet, recording for Rivers’ label in 1967, recorded Webb’s vibrant “Up, Up and Away,” which became an instant hit and launched the group’s successful career.
The impact of these rapid successes transformed Webb into a songwriting sensation while still in his early 20s. He skyrocketed to worldwide acclaim, in 1968, when he produced and orchestrated “MacArthur Park for actor Richard Harris. Webb said that project was an especially memorable experience because he got the chance to travel to Europe and “work with this crazy Irish actor.”
Clocking in at seven-and-a-half minutes, “MacArthur Park was played in its entirety on Top 40 stations that previously only programmed pop songs that tracked under three minutes and rarely over four.
Between 1970 and 1982, Webb commenced his own singing career and released six albums, which virtually came and went unnoticed. Nonetheless, he continued to compose songs for other singers.
In 1993, Webb went back into the studio to record the Linda Ronstadt/George Massenberg produced Suspending Disbelief. The album contains some of his finest songs, including “Postcards from Paris,” “Too Young to Die,” “Friends of Elvis” and “Adios,” which was a top-ten hit for Ronstadt in three years earlier. While the release garnered some distinguished critical praise, including Time magazine calling Webb “our best raveler of the blind spots of the heart” and The New York Times citing it as “an album that may very well be the songwriter’s perfect moment,” it did not sell well.
Many of Webb’s songs concern love remembered, love lost and regret in the wake of broken relationships. Despite the melancholy of those universal themes, Jimmy Webb’s songs eclipse the art of heartbreak and its consequential suffering, so the listener appreciates the sensitive passions and emotions intricately woven into the music and lyrics.
Throughout his career, Webb has garnered numerous accolades, including the distinction of being the only artist ever to win Grammy Awards for music, lyrics and orchestration. In 1993, he was recognized by his peers when he became the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.
Jimmy Webb is unquestionably one of the most important songwriters of the last thirty years and his songs have left a conspicuous mark on our culture.
Though his singing career failed to gain broad recognition, his immense songwriting accomplishments have earned him an exalted position as one of the indispensable talents of our time.
In his forthcoming book about songwriting, Webb states, “The paramount joy of the craft is that, however simply it begun, it can take the songwriter a lifelong voyage across many distant and wondrous musical seas.
Jimmy Webb’s admirers and fans enthusiastically agree they’re glad he embarked on his musical journey.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Medical Marijuana Relief Is Not Reefer Madness

First published May 11, 2006
A leading argument against legalizing medical marijuana is that it could lead to misuse. But, it is not uncommon for prescribed drugs to be misused or lead to dependency. Despite years of urging from medical professionals and convincing scientific evidence, the federal government continually refuses to authorize the use of medical marijuana. Several years ago, the Food and Drug Administration most likely with prodding from the Bush administration issued a report challenging the medicinal value of marijuana.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not legalize marijuana for medical purposes, though Justice Stephen Breyer, who voted with the majority, suggested the FDA might consider making it available with a prescription. Before the Court's decision, medical marijuana use under a doctor's care was legal for patients in only ten states, but New York was not among them.
According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Web site: Symptoms, if not diseases, can be relieved by marijuana but, for most patients, there are more effective approved medicines. On the other hand, basic science suggests the potential benefit from marijuana in combination with other drugs as a compassionate alternative. However, the Institute also recommends additional research to determine any potential lung cancer or other health risks and keeping a tight rein on its use for the terminally ill and patients who don't respond to other treatments.
Nevertheless, patients suffering from debilitating illnesses, including AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis, might reject those risks knowing a prescribed dose of marijuana will offer some relief from nausea and chronic pain. For years glaucoma victims maintained the drug was effective in alleviating the painful pressure caused by the illness.
Actually, the government is preventing further assessment of medical marijuana because it prohibits scientists from acquiring or growing it for testing purposes.
Marijuana's use for medicinal purposes is an age-old remedy. Like the ancient art of acupuncture, which has been known to bring relief to some modern sufferers of a variety of ailments, the Chinese used marijuana as far back as 2700 B.C. for gout, rheumatism and malaria.
Medical marijuana advocates contend there's overwhelming evidence it can relieve certain types of symptoms caused by a few illnesses or by the side effects of harsh drugs used to treat them. And, they say, it does so with remarkable safety and is less toxic than some drugs that physicians regularly prescribe to patients.
Before he was the Majority Leader, Tennessee Senator Bill Frist argued, "I believe that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that there are less dangerous medicines offering the same relief from pain and other medical symptoms."
Perhaps the conservative Republican, who I presume is a recipient of pharmaceutical company donations, might take the time to discuss the issue with patients seeking relief before totally dismissing it.
Marijuana treatment for people afflicted with multiple sclerosis gained widespread interest two years ago when television talk show host Montel Williams publicly acknowledged he had been using the drug under his doctor's authorization. The Emmy Award-winning host, who contracted MS in 1999, said his physician recommended marijuana when prescription painkillers, which caused irritating side effects, failed to relieve his pain or control spasms triggered by the crippling neurological disease. In testimony before the New York State legislature two years ago, Williams said, "I'll continue to break the law every day...it's the only way I can stand here now."
In the wake of Williams' revelation, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau advocated legalization of medicinal marijuana and said he believed those suffering from a variety of ailments would use it "responsibly."
The New York State legislature considered a bill legalizing medical marijuana two years ago, but it lacked adequate support to be offered for a vote in either chamber. Since the 2005 Supreme Court decision, the assembly's health committee is preparing revamped legislation in support for medicinal marijuana, but, for the time being, it remains in typical Albany limbo.
A leading argument from those opposed to legalizing medical marijuana is that it could lead to misuse. But maybe they should be reminded that it is not uncommon for prescribed drugs to be misused or lead to dependency.
It should be noted that several controlled substances i.e. morphine, Valium, some steroids are otherwise illegal, but can be prescribed by physicians in extreme cases.
Conservative radio talk show Rush Limbaugh told listeners several years ago he had become dependent on the highly-addictive pain killer Oxycontin and subsequently admitted he fraudulently obtained over 2,000 pills in a six-month period. And, just last week, Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy, son of Kennedy clan patriarch Senator Ted Kennedy, admitted being addicted to painkillers after he was involved in a traffic mishap.
Medical marijuana exploitation drew interest last spring when federal authorities cracked an international drug trafficking ring that used lawful dispensaries in San Francisco as fronts for distributing illegal drugs and laundering money. That incident clearly demonstrated that should medical marijuana ever be legalized, it must be safeguarded, administered and dispensed with the same painstaking limitations as other prescription drugs.
Narrow-minded opponents of legalizing medical marijuana may be blind to the crux of the issue as they conjure up images of pot-smokers making illicit deals with patients and doctors just to undergo the euphoria that accompanies the marijuana experience. They should, instead, relax, have a cocktail and have a little compassion for those suffering from diseases that make everyday a living hell.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Legalization Won’t Result In Nation of Pot Heads

First published April 18, 2002

In the same week that Mayor Bloomberg reached his 100-days-in-office milestone, his face was plastered in print advertisements helping to promote something with which he’d certainly not choose be associated — the legalization of marijuana.
Last week, NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) kicked off a $500,000 campaign with a full-page ad in The New York Times, using Bloomberg’s image and his resounding 2001 admission about his experience with cannabis, the technical term for the illegal substance: "Yes, I used it. You bet I did. And I enjoyed it."
While the mayor did not appreciate the group using his image and words, uttered last year before he was mayor, to promote their agenda and regrettably becoming their new poster boy, he nevertheless handled the minor incident with aplomb.
"I am not thrilled," he told reporters, but added that he was not going to try to suppress them because "there’s that First Amendment that gets in the way of stopping me."
The group also placed ads in subway stations, on buses and public telephone booths and in other newspapers, with the tag line, "It’s NORML to Smoke Pot."
NORML has been around for over 30 years with one essential issue on its agenda — to get marijuana legalized, which would greatly reduce arrests for merely smoking pot in public. NORML’s radio spot claims there are 50,000 arrests annually for pot smoking in New York City alone!
I support their strategy. However, I don’t advocate anyone, especially those under 18 and those who’ve never tried it, rushing out and sampling marijuana while it remains an illegal substance that may have criminal consequences.
When I smoked marijuana, like the mayor, I enjoyed it, too. In fact, it’s safe to presume that a substantial majority of anyone from 40 to 55 years of age has tried it. I daresay that presumption includes many politicians — except, of course, the most famous repudiator, former President Bill Clinton, who said he smoked but did not inhale. As a matter of fact, such noted politicians as New York State Governor George Pataki, former New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have admitted smoking pot in their youth.
Essentially the only reason the drug hasn’t been legalized is because there’s an unsubstantiated assumption that smoking marijuana leads to harder drugs. That’s like proclaiming consuming beer will lead to drinking 80 proof whiskey!
Neither is addictive nor harmful in moderate use, but those who are long-term users or seek a higher high will likely succumb to more harmful drugs and potent potables.
There was a buzz (pun intended) in the freewheeling ‘60’s that a major American university conducted a study whereby researchers fed lab rats their body weight in marijuana over a period of 30 days. As a result, the pot-saturated rodents showed a multitude of problems, leading to the conclusion that cannabis could result in similar effects to humans.
That study was scientifically questionable and patently unrealistic. Of course anyone capable of smoking their body weight in pot in a month will be harmed — and probably experience a severe case of the munchies!
Anyone who consumes their body weight of anything, whether it’s water, broccoli, tofu, potato chips or Twinkies, in a month, may risk adverse side effects.
The key, as in anything else, is MODERATION.
I don’t know of any conclusive study purporting that smoking an occasional joint does more harm to the human body than a daily shot of liquor. But marijuana is an illegal substance, while alcohol supports a multi-billion dollar business, including retail sales and advertising.
Marijuana legalization was a long shot at best in the early 1970s — and just as unlikely today. Nevertheless, 30 years ago, seizing an opportunity that was too good to miss, there were unconfirmed rumors that several American tobacco companies had copyrighted a bunch of brand names, such as "Acapulco Gold" and other pot-related sobriquets, in case the substance became legitimate. I don’t doubt those copyrights still exist, and will be used if and when marijuana is legalized.
It was recently reported by a national substance abuse group that underage drinking accounts for one-fourth of all alcohol consumed in this country. It’s no surprise that the alcohol industry rejected that estimate as "absolutely wrong."
While continuing to preach "No" to addictive drugs, we should send a similarly stringent message repudiating alcohol, especially to the nation’s youth.
However, despite pervasive use, we’ve not become a country of alcoholics. And legalizing marijuana won’t result in the nation going to pot.
So if you got it, roll another one, just don't Bogart that joint.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Frankly Speaking, Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Incomparable

(Originally published in May, 2008)
Francis Albert Sinatra is unquestionably one of the 20th century’s most popular and successful entertainers, who left an indelible presence on concert stages, recordings and motion pictures. On his centennial birthday, this Saturday, he still ranks as one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with more than 150 million records sold worldwide.
After the media started spreading the news of Sinatra’s death, seventeen years ago, fans from Palm Springs to Passaic mourned the century’s foremost singing sensation.
  For the last 40 years Bruce Springsteen has been the most popular native New Jersey superstar, but before rock and roll, Sinatra was a teen idol when the phrase had yet to be invented and shaped an unrivaled and iconic legacy over four previous decades. While The Boss quickly became my favorite performer, from the first time I heard the opening riff to “Born to Run,” I was figuratively weaned on recordings by Ol’ Blue Eyes.
When I saw Elvis Presley perform “Hound Dog” on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, my appetite for rock and roll was whetted. However, prior to cultivating personal music tastes, my ears were initiated to the music of Sinatra, with the albums my mother often played on our living room hi-fi.
As a pre-teen, returning from occasional weekends in the country, aka the Catskills, the car radio was usually tuned to a popular show, “Make Believe Ballroom” on WNEW-AM, hosted by William B. Williams, while I sat in the back seat with my sleeping brother. Willie B., as he was affectionately known, played Sinatra on a regular basis and, by the way, was the one who dubbed him, “Chairman of the Board.”
Sinatra’s music, to some extent, took a transitory back seat when rock and roll started to dominate the airwaves. However, that fleeting displacement shifted into third gear, in the 60s, as he repeatedly performed to sold-out concert venues and recorded noteworthy music. Some of my favorite Sinatra recordings came in those years, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “Soliloquy,” “Ol’ Man River,” (all in 1963), "The Good Life" and "The Best is Yet to Come" (w/Count Basie, 1964), “It Was a Very Good Year,” (1965), “Strangers in the Night,” “That’s Life” and “Summer Wind” (in 1966), and, what quickly became his signature song, “My Way,” three years later. He earned two Grammy Awards in 1966, the same night he received the music academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
A few years before his death, in an attempt to reach children of the bobbysoxers, who made him a teen idol before the phrase was invented, Sinatra recorded a couple of skillfully engineered, duet albums featuring contemporary artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt and Chrissie Hynde. U2’s Bono also paired with Sinatra in 1993 and, a year later, introduced him at the Grammy Awards, noting “...whether he knew it or not, (Sinatra) embodied the rock and roll lifestyle before there was one.”
Sinatra did not write any of the 1,500 or so songs he recorded, but, a New York Times editorial — published two days after he died at age 82 — accurately noted, he had a “special genius with the ability to make a song his own.”
Despite some flaws — the boozing, the broads and the occasional Rat Pack hijinks — Sinatra will, and should, always be remembered for his incredible library of music, his memorable movie roles and his discreet, unheralded philanthropy.
In addition, for much of his life he was dogged by alleged ties to organized crime, which was depicted in a classic segment in “The Godfather.” Whether or not the scenario, with the character securing a role in a “war movie” has any measure of accuracy, Sinatra nailed the role of Private Angelo Maggio in “From Here to Eternity” that earned him a well-deserved Academy Award.
Frank Sinatra's climactic scene with
Montgomery Clift in "From Here to Eternity"
Sinatra appeared in 57 other films and, for me, his standout performances include “Suddenly,” “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” I also enjoy him in “Von Ryan’s Express” and “Come Blow Your Horn.”
Most young Yankee fans probably don’t know who is singing “New York, New York” over Stadium loudspeakers after every home game, unless a parent or grandparent tells them. In fact, the day Sinatra died one of the numerous milestones in the history of the storied sports franchise occurred as hefty lefty David Wells tossed the team’s first regular season, complete perfect game. Moments after teammates mobbed the hurler on the field, the music blaring from Yankee Stadium loud speakers was Sinatra’s unmistakable rendition of the renowned song.
A perfect singer, belting a perfect song, after a perfect game. Frankly speaking, it doesn’t get better than that.
Frank Sinatra didn’t always have the world on a string — that’s life — but his voice got under our skin and made millions feel so young and he, indeed, made a profound cultural impact.
Ring-ding-ding, my my and doobie, doobie, doo.
Rest in peace, Mr. Sinatra. Your musical legacy endures for future generations to savor.
      (This is for my parents, Dave and Dorothy Friedman, who nurtured my passion for music)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Critics Need To Thicken Their American Skin

First published October 23, 2003
It seems a small number of thin-skinned New York City police officers don’t advocate the department’s slogan — Courtesy, Professional-ism, Respect — when it conflicts with their personal feelings.
After the first of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s tour-ending three-night stand at Shea Stadium earlier this month, the New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the NYPD, specifically, Chief of Department Joe Esposito, the officer in charge of the stadium detail who capriciously canceled the post concert police escort, seemingly because he was unhappy that the singer performed his controversial song, "American Skin [41 Shots]."
An NYCLU executive director wrote to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly that displeasure with a song "cannot be a basis for granting or denying department services."
Springsteen wrote the song four years ago in the wake of the Amadou Diallo tragedy that left the unarmed African immigrant dead after plainclothes police officers opened fire when they mistakenly thought a wallet the victim pulled from his pocket was a handgun. Four officers fired 41 shots, hitting him 19 times. A subsequent investigation cleared them of any misconduct.
Despite being interpreted by some as controversial, “American Skin” is, nevertheless, powerful and poignant, and, unquestionably, not anti-police. Those who take exception to the song should listen more closely. In the opening verse Springsteen portrays a cop "kneeling over (the victim’s) body…praying for his life."
In a revised edition of "Songs," a book of Springsteen’s lyrics, he comments about "American Skin," writing, "I worked hard for a balanced voice…I just wanted to help people see the other guy’s point of view." He also notes his intention to show what "systematic racial injustice" can do.
Neither Springsteen nor any of his representatives have commented on the dispute, wisely choosing to ignore an episode that likely would have gone unnoticed, but for the civil rights group’s intervention.
Granted the escort is a courtesy, but law enforcement authorities usually provide it after many popular groups end a local show. It is essential, not to coddle rock stars, but to whisk them safely away from a congested situation in which a crazed fanatic, like John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman, may be lurking.
I’ve toured with Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones and, in each instance, whether in the U.S., Canada or Europe, a nightly post-concert escort was provided. In fact, after one show outside of Boston, the police escorted the Stones’ multi-vehicle entourage away from the venue in an oncoming lane, a clear inconvenience to approaching motorists.
Some supporters of the Shea Stadium decision contend the courtesy comes at taxpayers’ expense, but ignore the fact that the three Springsteen concerts indeed generated more revenue for the city than the cost of the escort.
The Daily News reported that Mayor Bloomberg was "not happy to hear about the retaliation" and poor judgment, according to his press secretary.
An NYPD spokesperson issued a statement that no formal request for an escort had come from Springsteen or members of his band.
I recently received a copy of an electronic communication, allegedly from a member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The correspondence implies that Esposito had been "stripped of virtually all authority" by Kelly, which may be why he pulled the post-concert security detail after the rock star performed the song that evidently still infuriates a few New York City police officers.
Incidentally, the FOP was brutally critical of the song after Springsteen debuted it in Atlanta in 1999 when only a few people had heard it. At the time, Bob Lucente, president of the group’s New York State chapter, referred to Springsteen using such derisive terms as "a f—-ing dirtbag" and "a floating fag."
Springsteen did not perform the song in question for the last two shows, which some assumed was a surrender to the hullabaloo. That notion demonstrated how little they know about Bruce Springsteen performances. He most likely did not capitulate to the criticism. You see, he rarely performs the same song list two nights in a row, so pulling "American Skin" was probably due to his penchant for change rather than a concession. As a matter of fact, in over 120 concerts in the last two years, Springsteen performed scores of songs with "American Skin" merely sung on a dozen occasions.
Years ago when an adviser told President Ronald Reagan about the Springsteen-penned "Born In the USA" without carefully listening to the song’s angry condemnation about neglected Vietnam veterans, Reagan incorrectly referred to it as a patriotic anthem in a feeble attempt to connect with young Americans.
It appears Chief Esposito and other NYPD officers who remain uptight by the Springsteen song have made a similar blunder. Not only should they take the department’s CPR catchphrase more seriously, but they should also end the petty foolishness that guides their personal feelings, which just might toughen their own American skins.