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.