Friday, December 19, 2014

“On the Nickel” – The Cover Version #4

Some music for your Friday; & some heartbreakingly beautiful music at that.

It’s no secret that I’m a big admirer of Tom Waits’ music, & today’s selection has been a long-time favorite of mine. Waits recorded “On the Nickel” for his 1980 Asylum release, Heartattack and Vine. His next studio project was the album Swordfishtrombones, released on Island in 1983, & that signaled a major departure from the sound Waits had perfected from the mid 70s through Heartattack & Vine.

“On the Nickel” actually was part of the soundtrack Waits composed for the 1980 film of the same name. “The Nickel” of the title is 5th Street in Los Angeles—skid row—& Waits has described the song as a “winos nursery rhyme.” The lyrics are dense with imagery, & they contain some memorable lines: “I know a place where a royal flush can never beat a pair; & even Thomas Jefferson is on the nickel over there” is one of the best examples. Actually, the lyrics Waits sings on Heartattack & Vine are not the original words, which I generally like even better, especially the great line: “You’ll never know how rich you are till you haven’t got a prayer.”

Just as the songs lyrics pack a lot of punch, the music is notable for modulating up by full steps before taking an unexpected turn at the end. Starting out in the key of F#, the song then progresses through A-flat, Bb, & finally resolving in the key of G; since Gm is the relative minor of Bb, & is a chord used prominently during the Bb section, the resolution to G almost has the effect of a Picardy third. Waits’ gravelly vocal, hovering between melody & speech rides beautifully on top of a piano & strings arrangement.

In the cover version I’ve selected, we get to hear another singer I’ve long admired, Carla Bozulich. Bozulich has fronted a number of bands & has been a long time fixture in the Los Angeles punk & indie scene, but I know her best for her work with one of the great cow-punk bands, The Geraldine Fibbers. When they released Lost Somewhere Between Earth & My Home in 1995 I couldn’t get enough of it, & their sound & lyrics certainly were an inspiration to the poetry I was writing at the time. After the breakup of the Geraldine Fibbers, Bozulich has kept busy with a number of projects, performing in Bloody Claw, the Night Porter, in a duo with Ches Smith, as a solo artist, & perhaps most notably in her ever-morphing group, Evangelista.

I love Bozulich’s interpretation of “On the Nickel.” She stays close to the spirit of Waits’ original with the lush string background, but the short bursts of dissonance that punctuate throughout are a perfect accent. Although Bozulich is known as a singer who can belt out a song with the best of them, her voice is almost fragile as she sings these lyrics; a more melodic singer than Waits, Bozulich uses that fragile sound to convey the “winos nursery rhyme” sensibility of the song, & also to deliver its poignancy in an understated but very immediate way. It’s simply a beautiful recording.

Hope you enjoy it.

Image links to its source at Wiki Commons
Photo of Carla Bozulich: Michelle Cottam. Original uploader was Trobik at en.wikipedia
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“Like Michelangelo, Only the Opposite”

Like Michelangelo, Only the Opposite
Miss Custer,
pretty as a movie star,
blonde, blue-eyed,
picks me
--well, George Guerrieri and me--
because she likes me--
well, because I draw and paint so well--
for the Christmas poster contest.
(Guess she likes him a little too,
or why couldn't I paint it myself?)

For weeks that late fall
we stay after school, in the art room,
on hands and knees,
just the three of us counting Miss Custer,
like Michelangelo, only the opposite,
the canvas on the floor not the ceiling,
drawing and then painting
Santa Claus, reindeer,
sleigh full of packages.

Our painting wins.
They put it on a billboard
on Wood Street facing downtown.
The whole family goes every night to see it
right up until Christmas.

But that isn't the best thing.
the best thing is when we work on it,
when it's time to quit
and Miss Custer has us stand one at a time
(That's when I wish George wasn't there too),
and with her lovely eyes up close to mine
so I can see me in them,
wipes the paint off my face
with a damp rag,
tilting her head this way and that,
like she's painting a picture herself.

Carmen Leone
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Colony For Artists Under Six- Evacuees To Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, England, 1941.
Danny Ludlow, evacuated from Gravesend in Kent, shows his teacher Miss Betty Hall a painting that he has been working on at Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon. Miss Hall was evacuated to Dartington Hall with the children.
Date     1941

Public domain [see note at this link]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"pick it up"

pick it up

A/N: Thank you to S. for putting in the line breaks for me.

she dropped a beat somewhere early in this slate sky early late winter day
and forgot in all the chaos to pick it back up

half eight and she's banging down on her boyfriend's door,
man, don't you know this kid ain't gonna drive herself to school?
and the beat pulses in her pocket like a dead man's missing heart
while he shuffles sleepy and sheepish looking for shoes

one two one two one two and

the way the world spins turns whirls
(faster than men's heads when she come by in those jeans)
drops her from where she was dropping off her daughter
pico de gallo burrito warm kiss on cold air
at tzarich cama devar ken aval ma?
And she hit the ground,
less like an egg hits the floor -
with all the urgency and bruises of a lockdown drill -
and less of the shatter of glass on pavement but more like

one two one two one


one two

and can't shake that sick feeling of something lost forever

she's choking on her own thoughts by four
like they're dry swallowed pills,
dry heave at the bitter taste and constricted throat
and the world, it don't care if she wanna get off

the cold is forever, she says
because in hell even permanence be some comfort to the damned
cold is forever, she says
gulps down ice like ocean death like nicotine like that kiss she can't have

one two one two

slam of horns slam of breaks loss of light loss of life
spin like you want a simple gift
spin til you outspin the sick stomach and spin again until you drop break fall

on your knees with your hands in the air the only way the world gonna take you

don't bother
don't even front
ain't no other way
and don't say that hard cold gravel pavement frozen ground wet grass don't feel a little bit like redemption soakin through your stockings don't don't even

like a dropped penny it's there
in the grass

on your knees
hands up
only way you take the world


one two

one two one two one two

pick it up child

one two one two one two one two ...

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
“foto 1” - Augusto De Luca
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Linus and Lucy" – Jazz on Nylon #7

Okay, I really promise not to contribute overmuch to the ubiquitous holiday soundtrack, but I do have a wonderful performance today of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” as part of the Jazz on Nylon series. It’s such a delightfully buoyant composition, & it seemed just the thing for a rainy Portland day.

“Linus & Lucy” became known through A Charlie Brown Christmas special that first aired in 1965—& yes, I was one of the many who watched during that first airing. Guaraldi’s score for the special produced not only “Linus & Lucy”, but also the lovely “Christmas Time is Here” & “Skating”. The song was originally written in Ab & is notable for an immediately recognizable bass line that weaves under the melody.

Vince Guaraldi was, of course, much more than a one-off composer who happened to score a Peanuts special. He was a highly respected jazz pianist & composer who also had a hit with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”, released in 1962. Unfortunately, Guaraldi passed away in 1976 at the young age of 47.

Today’s version is by a formidable guitarist, Andrew York, who was one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. York’s recording career dates back to the mid 1980s with Perfect Sky, which not only includes his version of “Linus & Lucy”, but also some of his own noteworthy compositions like “Andecy” & “Sunshine Rag”. His most recent release is Yamour, which came out on Majian Music in 2012.

York’s version of “Linus & Lucy” is in an interesting tuning that I’d not encountered previously: DADF#BE. The open strings form a D6/9 chord, & it’s a hybrid of standard tuning & open D tuning. Using this tuning—not to mention his very impressive chops!—York keeps the bass line moving as he moves the melody all over the fretboard. But the performance is much more than a tour de force; it’s a joyous & lyrical interpretation.

Hope you enjoy it!

Image links to its source. This is an image in Andrew York’s press kit; the photograph is by Terry De Wolf

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

American Tune – The Cover Version #3

Some music for your Tuesday & your Thanksgiving week. It seems “seasonal” to me in many ways, & not just the obvious.

Paul Simon wrote “American Tune” for his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, his second solo release following the break-up of the Simon & Garfunkel act. In the context of the United States in early 1970s, with the Watergate scandal, the lingering effects of the long Viet Nam war, & ongoing civil unrest, the  song addressed a country that had neglected its better angels, as the Statue of Liberty is seen sailing away
in contrast to the approach of the Mayflower, with its underlying hint of Governor Winthrop’s “city on a hill”. The song has some nice harmonic wrinkles. Originally composed in C, the changes come quickly under the melody, with shifts from the major to the relative minor, & with some additional variations that take the song's structure beyond the basic I-IV-V format.

If we fast forward to the 2000s—& those of us who’ve been around to witness since the 1970s & before may feel that time span to have simultaneously gone by very quickly & also stretched back over a gulf—we find the song’s themes continue to be relevant. In today's video, recorded in 2008, John Boutté & Paul Sanchez give the song a reading that renders it both immediately relevant & timeless. This live recording is a nod to their wonderful album on Threadhead, Stew Called New Orleans, which is brought to a sublime close by an “American Tune.”

Fans of the Treme television series are familiar with John Boutté’s singing, & to my mind he is one of the most soulful & passionate singers around, as well as one who possesses formidable technical chops in terms of phrasing & range. There’s always an urgent immediacy about his singing, & he can transform songs drawn from a wide musical palette—from Big Joe Turner to Leonard Cohen, from Hoagy Carmichael & Gershwin to Stevie Wonder & Sam Cooke, & lots more. Sanchez is a frequent collaborator with Boutté & is himself an impressive singer & songwriter.


Image links to its source on Photo by Michael Crook

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Here’s That Rainy Day" – Jazz on Nylon #6

Music for a Friday—& a rainy Friday at that for those of us in Portland.

“Here’s that Rainy Day” was written in 1953 by the songwriting team of Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Burke; Van Heusen & Burke were of course prolific, & wrote many other standards in the “Great American Songbook,” including such notable songs as “Swinging on a Star”, “Moonlight Becomes You”, “It Could Happen to You”, & “Imagination”. Both Van Heusen & Burke collaborated with others, Van Heusen working with Sammy Cahn, with whom he composed “All the Way”, “Call Me Irresponsible”, “Come Fly with Me” & many others. Burke meanwhile also worked with (among others) Arthur Johnston, with whom he penned the standard “Pennies from Heaven”. “Here’s that Rainy Day” was written in F major, & was debuted by Dolores Gray in the Broadway musical, Carnival in Flanders.

Here’s a fine short analysis of “Here’s that Rainy Day” by Jeremy Wilson on

John Barrett Jr. aptly described “Here’s That Rainy Day” as “a gentle yawn, the sun rising on a sad feeling.” It is a ballad about lost love, about love turning to a cold, rainy day. With a relaxed tempo and a feeling of melancholy, the lyrics and music support each other in creating the mood. That is not to say that it is a simple song. Alec Wilder, in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, comments that “Here’s That Rainy Day” is “a very difficult song” with a complex bass line. He characterizes it as “powerful,” “affecting,” and with “great weight and authority.” The song is an excellent example of the sophistication that became acceptable in popular songs in the 1940’s.

Jazz musicians appreciate the elegance of “Here’s That Rainy Day” with its surprising melodies and harmonies. The song’s flexibility has allowed it to be recorded hundreds of times as a ballad, a swing number, and even an up-tempo, bossa nova tune.

Eric Hill is today’s guitarist, & I wish I knew more about him. He does have a website, & we learn there that he retired after a long career as a professional classical guitarist & teacher. He also mentions that his retirement occurred after recovering from a serious illness, & goes on to say that in retirement he plans to work on improvisation using jazz standards. His YouTube channel has a handful of videos, each excellent—& each will probably appear in this series as it continues—but it’s worth noting that he hasn’t uploaded anything since 2008; not sure what that means, but it is certainly a loss, because Mr Hill is a formidable player.

Hope you enjoy this.

Image links to its source at

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"bossa ballade "

bossa ballade

Triste é saber que ninguém pode viver de ilusão
Que nunca vai ser, nunca vai dar
O sonhador tem que acordar


green guitar: a foliage of notes spreading into twilight,
notes chocolate, blue smoke, yellow orchid, a
single mayfly, a heart in my hand transfixed with a
half note’s stem, calla lily in perpetual shade & the
sunset’s tendrils as she lets down her hair—your
name inscribed on the one planet visible to the east,
the airplane glides past never touching down as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

& so far so good—a mockingbird in the willow singing
ultra-violet: triste é viver na solidão—a water-
fall drifting through rocks hollow like cups that can’t
contain water long, which is the garden’s sad
melody amongst rhododendrons—the blue streetcar’s
sighs transformed to major 7 chords in the hills, these
sunflowers gone black against a pale sky as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

your beauty itself an airplane—perplexity in a
sky so clear, a quarter note’s fade, a willow’s
witness to this sunset—a word arriving from
silence becoming magnolias, a blue train lost in a
forest, a teakettle’s vapor, a crimson cloche—what
wonder: a common language—this evening star
so green, guitar so green, airplane gone as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

how can the mockingbird be lonely being many
o dreamer awaken like a guitar strummed at dusk
how that airplane soars close by the planet as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

A.K. Barkley
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Juan Gris: "View Across the Bay" – 1921
Public domain

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Spanish Flang Dang"

Some music for your Monday, played by someone who will be familiar to at least some of you.

Yes, resurrecting something from deep in the recesses of this blog’s past, it’s yours truly playing guitar on video. A lot has changed since I used to do that.

This recording is Elizabeth Cotton’s version of “Spanish Flang Dang”, AKA “Spanish Fandango”. The original version was in 3/4 time (waltz time) like Cotton’s rendering, but the tune was often played in 4/4 time by any number of notable guitarists, including Mississippi John Hurt & Mance Lipscomb. The tune was originally copyrighted in 1869 by Henry Worrall, a British born guitar instructor who’d immigrated to the United States; on the same day, Worrall copyrighted the piece “Sebastapol”, a composition in the open D tuning, & that also became a staple among guitar players. Just as “Spanish Fandango” often became “Spanish Flang Dang”, “Sepastapol” became “Vestapol”.

In any case, open G tuning was, & still is, sometimes referred to as “Spanish” tuning in honor of this tune, just as open D tuning is sometimes called “Vestapol”. Open G tuning, for the non-guitar players out there, simply means that the guitar is tuned so that the unfretted strings produce a G major chord—as heard at the very beginning of the piece. A guitar’s standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E, while open G is D-G-D-G-B-D. As you can see, three strings remain the same, which is why this is often considered the “easiest” open tuning for a guitar player brought up on standard tuning to adopt. It also is very close to the standard tuning of a 5-string banjo (at least these days), which is g-D-G-B-D (the small case G indicates that the drone string is tuned high, an octave above the open G string). As a result, it is often possible to adopt banjo tunes to the guitar open G tuning & vice-versa. “Spanish Flang Dang” is one that works quite well that way, though of course you lose the bass notes.

Open G or Spanish tuning was quite common in Delta blues; it was used by such notable blues artists as Charlie Patton (“Pea Vine Blues”, “Bird’s Nest Bound”, “High Water Everywhere”); Willie Brown (“Future Blues”, one of the Ur-Delta songs that inspired lots of imitations, especially by Patton); Robert Johnson (“Cross Road Blues”, “Terraplane Blues”, “Walking Blues”); Son House (“My Black  Mama”, “Death Letter Blues”, “Jinx Blues”); Muddy Waters (“I Be Troubled”, etc. etc.) Of course sometimes these musicians would crank the tuning up to Ab, A or even Bb, but the intervals between the strings stayed the same.

Hope you enjoy my humble efforts.

Image links to its source.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Method Acting/Cortez the Killer" – The Cover Version(s) #2

Some music for your Thursday.

In my initial post about great cover versions of popular songs, I noted that often musicians who are themselves talented songwriters produce some of the best covers. Today’s selection certainly does nothing to disprove this, as the team of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings have produced some of the most compelling music in the “singer/songwriter” vein over the past 20 years. & indeed, if you look around on YouTube, you’ll notice that Welch & Rawlings also do a number of great covers. Interestingly, not all of those involve music in the “Americana” vein that this duo calls its musical home—they cover material from bands as diverse as the Jefferson Airplane & Radiohead, as well as songs closer to home like selections from Townes Van Zandt & Bob Dylan songbooks.

In a bit of a twist on the usual, Rawlings is the lead singer here, with Welch providing vocal harmony. Of course, Rawlings has his own act (which typically includes Welch), the Dave Rawlings Machine, & despite being known most for his beautiful guitar work, he’s also a singer who can employ great tone & feeling.

The medley Rawlings has put together here works nicely. Bright Eyes’ song “Method Acting” moves quite seamlessly into one of Neil Youg’s best songs, “Cortez the Killer.” Rawlings has said the combination came together simply by playing “Method Acting” on his own & stumbling across the musical connection. Others have pointed out how similar “Method Acting” is to the Neil Young song “Camera,” & suggested that Rawlings may also have noted this. However, I can find no indication beyond speculation that he actually made this connection. Lyrically as well as musically, the songs complement each other well, especially given the powerful moment in "Cortez the Killer" when the song turns abruptly from Young's mytho-historical reading of the Mexican conquest to a stanza that poignantly speaks of lost love. It really is a startling musical moment, & it takes someone with Young's songwriting skill to put it across. Rawlings & Welch underline this moment beautifully in their performance.

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings always bring so much immediacy to their music. As a duo, their sound is intimate—voices, acoustic guitars. This is a beautiful & moving performance.


Image links to its source. This is an image that Welch makes available as part of her press kit. The original photograph is by Mark Seliger.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Black in the Shadow Again"

Black in the Shadow Again

As far as we could tell on the black and white screen
Gene Autry’s shirt was black
his horse Champion was black or gray
with a white patch down his nose
Gene’s hat was white and seldom left his head
his sparkling guns blazed white
his guitar was plain gray wood and strings
the mountains in the background and the trees
were black and gray and white
the shadows as in life were always black
Gene smiled and sang happy through his sparkling white teeth
till down Mexico way
the sad and pretty senorita in the black shawl
watched him ride off North to the border
waving promises
she cried and waited and prayed herself to whiteness
in the black shadows of the candlelight
that’s where he found her when he came back one day
she didn’t see him black in the shadow
then he rode off
yipee ky yi yay
back in the saddle

Carmen Leone
© 2014

Image Links to its source on Wiki Commons
Publicity photo of Gene Autry for his appearance at a banquet to announce a contest for the Seattle Packing Company-Bar-S brand.  14 April 1960
Wikipedia claims that this image was not copyrighted, & therefore is in the public domain. Specifically, Wiki Commons states: “This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sighs of Autumn Rain #3 (After Du Fu)

Sighs of Autumn Rain #3 (After Du Fu)

in Chang’an who will notice the commoner?
locked behind gates & watching behind walls
the old folk don’t venture out & weeds sprout
children bustle unworried through wind & rain
the rain moans & sighs & carries the chill early
the goose finds it hard to fly on wet wings
since Autumn has come we haven’t seen the white sun
when will the muddy dirt again become dry earth

Jack Hayes
© 2014
based on Du Fu:
秋雨叹三首 (三)
qiū yǔ tàn sān shǒu (sān)

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
View of Chang’an: mural in Prince Yide’s tomb, 706 AD, unknown artist
Public domain

Friday, October 31, 2014

“Her name is Afrikka”

[This is Barbie Angell’s most recent poem, written for a young friend who was lost to the world far too soon; a video of Barbie reading the poem appears at the end of the post. To learn more about Afrikka, & if possible, help her family in their time of need, please visit the Her Name is Afrikka site at this link.] 

Her name is Afrikka

Her name is Afrikka…
And you don’t get to judge her.

Her name is Afrikka.
She was a target. She was a victim.
She’s not just a sound byte.
She’s more than a headline.

She was a diva…Her name is Afrikka.
You don’t get to decide her legacy.
You don’t get to admonish her past.

Her name is Afrikka.
She was the light in her mother’s smile.
She said her mother was her queen.

She was a poet. She was a singer.
Her name is Afrikka.
She was a beauty. She was adored.
She was silly. She was brave.

Her name is Afrikka…
And like the continent she was named for, she struggled.
She fought to find a better way.
For herself, for her future, for the child she would never have.

She died too young. He was a monster.
Her name is Afrikka.
And you won’t see his name here.
And you won’t hear me speak it.
He does not get that gift.
He does not get my words.

Her name is Afrikka.
She is not a punch line. She is not a body.
She is not just a faceless name. She is not just a trending topic.

Her name is Afrikka…
And when I met her so many years ago, her smile shook me.
And when we spoke I said something lame; “Your mother and I were very close.”

Her name is Afrikka.

And she had her mom’s uncertain grace. She lived in the home her mother and I shared and I knew she would have the turmoil and triumphs that ruled my days in that institution for children. And I knew that things were better for her than they were for us. And I hoped that she would find the peace that I found after I left. And I spoke to the people who cared for her, the same ones who cared for me so many years before. And I knew that they would encourage her spark. I knew they would fan that spark into a flame…into a fire…into an inferno of possibility.

Her name is Afrikka.
Her past tense was imperfect.
Her future; never written.
Her presence was too short.

Her name is Afrikka…
And, while her breath has ceased, her story will not.

Her name is Afrikka…
And she lives on in these words.
She lives on in the hearts of people who never met her.
Who never will.

Her name is Afrikka…

Barbie Angell
© 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Autumn Leaves" – Jazz on Nylon #5

Some music for an October Tuesday.

Odd tale indeed how this video came to be posted. I visited YouTube on Sunday wondering if there was a version of “Autumn Leaves” played on classical guitar. Indeed there is, & a very good version at that, played by a terrific guitar player I’d never heard before Naudo Rodrigues.

There was only one catch—embedding wasn’t available. Undaunted, I looked through what turns out to be Naudo Rodrigues’ vast catalog of performances—not only mind boggling in number, but also in the diversity of music he covers. Everything from traditional songs to jazz standards to rock to pop. He is clearly a phenomenon, & I would encourage anyone to check out his YouTube channel. There’s also a playlist assembled by another user, which can be found here. In any case, I found a live version of Django Reinhardt’s beautiful “Nuages,” & decided that would be a good fallback option. The sound quality isn’t as good, but the performance is first rate for all that—& embedding was allowed. Then this morning as I began to put the post together, I found that, overnight as it were, embedding had been disabled on this version of “Nuages”! On a whim, I checked back, & found that embedding is now allowed on “Autumn Leaves.” The vicissitudes of YouTube. Anyway, this is a caveat that the video may not available on the post for long, but if the embedded version goes away, it can be found at this link.

Naudo Rodrigues, as I was saying, appears to be a singular musical genius. There’s very little biographical information about him. He was born in Brazil & now lives in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He does perform locally. On the other hand, I can’t find much recording information, though there are about a dozen songs on iTunes. He seems to be—in addition of course to his live shows in Tenerife—a YouTube phenomenon. YouTube in its infinite wisdom closed down one of his accounts for copyright violation, but Rodriques opened a new one. In any case, his playing is superb, & he really deserves to be heard by a wide audience.

“Autumn Leaves” needs no introduction. Originally composed as “Les Feuilles Mortes” by Joseph Kosma with lyrics by the wonderful French poet, Jacques Prévert, the song moved into the “Great American Songbook” when Johnny Mercer composed the English lyric we know today. Yves Montand gave the original version its premier in 1946 in the film Les Portes de la Nuit, while Jo Stafford premiered Mercer’s English version.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Sighs of Autumn Rain #2

Sighs of Autumn Rain #2 (After Du Fu)

unstoppable autumn gales, rain with no let up, thrown together
the four seas, the eight wastelands are under one cloud
the horse departing the ox coming can’t be distinguished
the muddy Jing the clear Wei can’t be distinguished
the grain heads ripen the millet spike blackens
the farmer’s wife has no news of the farmer
in the city 10 quarts of rice cost a silken quilt
and all agree it’s a bargain at that

Jack Hayes
© 2014
based on Du Fu:
秋雨叹三首 (二)
qiū yǔ tàn sān shǒu (èr)

Image Links to its source on Wiki Commons
Dau Jin: Wind and Rain, Returning by Boat, hanging scroll, color on silk (15th century)
Public domain

Friday, October 17, 2014

“Somewhere” - The Cover Version (#1)

"I've found it's next to impossible to have an original thought, with so many people thinking." So says the Venerable Kusala Bhikshu. Sometimes he gets more specific, & amends this to “seven billion people thinking.”

Indeed. This strikes me as a deep thought, & it can lead me in a number of directions. Being a musician of sorts myself, one direction it takes me to is contemplation of that red-haired stepchild of popular music, the “cover version.”

What is all the hullabaloo about originality anyway? Does it all go back to the Romantic Movement in the arts, transmogrified but still going strong some two hundred plus years along? Does it have to do with the American mythos of the individual & the current manifestation of that into a concentrated cult of self? Can it be laid at the feet of the corporate powers that run a music industry fueled by rampant greed? What about the omnipresence of recorded music, which makes the “original” always at hand for the purposes of invidious comparison? It’s really quite amazing that within the history of human civilization, which dates back 5,000 to 8,000 odd years depending on your point of reference, the mass distribution of recorded music has supplanted live performance as the main source of music “consumption” for the majority of people except those in very isolated circumstances in less than a century.

It’s probably all these things & more. After all, nothing in culture really happens for any one reason. But it seems to me a shame that such an opportunity for artistic creation—because in its own way, interpretation is creation—is given short shrift. In my own little way of redressing this, I’ve decided to post a series of “cover versions” that I particularly like. There will be no schedule, as is the norm around here these days—& no, it won’t take the place of the “Jazz on Nylon” series, which will continue (& which in its own way also involves “cover versions”!) But this series will focus on popular music, because unlike jazz, classical, or traditional music, popular music no longer has a set of “standards.” Is that a loss? It’s not my place to say. But I can say that some artists are able to transform popular songs into something rich & strange.

What better place to start than with Tom Waits’ version of Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim’s “Somewhere”? In the original context of West Side Story, the song is a hymn to a time when society can move beyond racial & ethnic prejudice; a beautiful melody that plays against a complex chord structure, with the final resolution moving inexorably & startlingly into another key a dominant seventh above the original key center.

Waits’ Blue Valentine, released in 1978 on Asylum, is a highly poetic & in its own way a highly romantic exploration of the wild side of life—it tells the story of skid row bums, petty criminals, prostitutes, runaways, the halt, the lame & the lost—even the haunted lover of the album’s final cut & title song—with a mixture of humor, insight, pathos, charged language & a tattooed heart worn for all to see with the sleeve rolled up. In that context, Waits transforms “Somewhere” into a fitting prelude to the album—it’s the opening song, & as an old friend of mine used to say, “What a voice to come out of the silence.” That Crown Royal & Chesterfields baritone, with its 3:00 a.m. growl that sings about hope against hope against an improbable but perfect string chorus. “Somewhere” becomes the song for all the misfits & the lost who will people the remaining original songs. Although the song wasn’t written by Waits, he makes it integral not only to his larger vision, but also to the specific & organically unified vision of the album. We can hear any of those characters singing softly to himself or herself: “Someday, somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living; we’ll find a way of forgiving, somewhere.” This is beautiful music & beautiful poetry combined.
Until next time.

The images of the cover art for Blue Valentine & West Side Story link to their sources on Wiki Commons, which claims “fair use.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sighs of Autumn Rain #1

Sighs of Autumn Rain #1 (After Du Fu)

ground cover rots in these autumn rains
though under the steps the sicklepod blooms, the
blunt green leaves canopy branches like feathers
uncounted blossoms flash yellow as coins
the cold wind whistles and buffets you
I’m afraid you won’t be able to stand against it
upstairs the scholar his white hair uncovered faces the
wind breathes in the fragrance three times, weeps

Jack Hayes
© 2014
based on Du Fu:
秋雨叹三首 (一) 

qiū yǔ tàn sān shǒu (yī)

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Zhang Lu – “Hasty Return Before the Rain”; (15th-16th century) ink & color on silk

Friday, October 3, 2014

“All of Me” – Jazz on Nylon #4

Some wonderful music for your Friday listening pleasure.

All of Me”is a staple in the Great American Songbook, & has been recorded at least 140 times  since it was first composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons in 1931. The song was debuted that same year in live performance by Belle Baker, while the original recordings were by the Paul Whitman Orchestra & Ruth Etting, both in 1932.

Marks & Simons are not among the better known songwriters of that period, but each had his hand in other notable compositions.  Marks composed “Is It True What They Say About Dixie”, while Simons collaborated with Richard A. Whiting on “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze.” Certainly “All of Me” was their most notable achievement.

The song was originally composed in “the people’s key” of C, & is typically performed in that key when played instrumentally. The chord progression is one I associate with ragtime compositions, as the first change jumps from the tonic to the 3 chord in its major iteration, & then follows a circle of fifths progression through the first 16 bars. There’s also a bridge involving a typical move from the 4 major to the 4 minor chord. “All of Me” is a 32-bar song, which is of course typical of Great American Songbook tunes.

Francesco Buzzurro is a virtuoso guitarist from Italy. His mix of swing, feeling & pure chops is truly formidable, as he uses both impeccable classical & flamenco techniques with a lightning fast right hand. Buzzurro favors a Godin classical guitar as his primary instrument.

Hope you enjoy this!

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons.
“Francesco Buzzurro guitarist in concert” 20 March 08. The file has generously been released into the public domain by its creator “Albatros978”. (dead link on Wiki Commons)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"love poem"

love poem

between nine o'clock and midnight
five thirty a.m. and just past eight
those are the witching hours

when my phone won't stop buzzing
and neither will my skin
raw with your imagined touch

when you could never bear to touch me
and my cursed flesh would burn

and all the things i want to tell you
swirl around in my mind
and in the cigarette smoke at the bus stop
in the breath that rises to God
on a cold morning
like all my pick up lines are for His ears only
and not for yours

every hell the doorway to a higher heaven,
i want to tell you
like dante
you always know what i mean

sometimes we don't talk for days
because we already know
what we would have said

my skin buzzes anyway

i crawled my way out of the first one
like out of a fresh dug grave
and my finger nails were bleeding when
i finally found the frosted air above
i wasn't buried alive
but pulled myself, dirty,
from the frozen ground
and came to life

you know i didn't come back for you
but still,
it could be nice sometimes,
if we pretend

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
"Bohley Eingeschlossene", ein Werk von Annemirl Bauer (1939-1989) aus dem Jahr 1984, in dem sie wegen ihres Eintretens für Reisefreiheit und für die Bürgerrechtlerin Bärbel Bohley aus dem Künstlerverband der DDR ausgeschlossen wurde

Copyleft: This work of art is free; you can redistribute it and/or modify it according to terms of the Free Art License. You will find a specimen of this license on the Copyleft Attitude site as well as on other sites.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Today: a suspended chord hovering between two open doors….

thru one the eggplants & tomatoes & peppers hang on their vines & absorb whatever sun breaks thru; the pears that were out-of-reach are still ripening yellow & falling; the zinnias are orange & magenta in the herb bed by the oregano, itself blooming white….

thru one the willow & cottonwood leaves are turning & starting to fall in the breeze—yellow raincoats strewn across the gravel driveway—the small apples at the fence line are ripening & dropping too….

This morning: the twilight’s first pale blue is a scar across the night where the horizon’s wrist folds into the sky’s hand curving black & starry overhead….

Night isn’t really infinite, it’s just a hand that’ll lift us into prehistory; the stars are so many diamonds compressed from wishes & memories & prayers swirling away ….

The moon shrinking white & quiescent into the last quarter, rising late in the night & wandering thru the afternoon sky between the clouds….

Summer was a waking daydream—even the short night’s a daydream of heat & smoke & crickets, & falling asleep in the daylight—here at the western brink of Mountain Time where the sunlight lingers almost into tomorrow (which never comes)….

& the pears we couldn’t reach hang on the boughs for a short time yellow & ripe….

Autumn will be a wakeful night, the cold light of planets & constellations burning back thru time—a thousand thousand lighthouses burning in a dark sea you won’t cross except in the thoughts that carry you thru the nighttime….

Today—briefly—a balance as day & night both leave their doors ajar—a suspended chord hanging between the stars glinting like pinpricks glittering thru black fabric & the leaves glinting yellow & slick as the sun breaks thru….

A balance—the blue scar of morning’s twilight a tightrope you’re walking between the day & night—

A tightrope—balanced on the streak of magenta—a wound between the horizon & the gray clouds at sunset—

A stasis that doesn’t last—a chord that could ring chilling or hopeful between the stars & the horizon & between the sunlight & the cottonwood leaves all falling yellow, & the chord asks to be resolved….

Jack Hayes
© 2010

[In the interest of full disclosure: this was written in 2008 when I was still living in Idaho - hence "Mountain Time" - & has been posted on the blog in the past, but not for some years. In addition, it can be found in my poetry collection The Spring Ghazals.] 

Image is from the 15th century "Nuremberg Chronicle, " Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff - public domain

Friday, September 12, 2014

"The Jitterbug Waltz" – Jazz on Nylon #4

Some wonderful music for your Friday listening pleasure!

It occurred to me a while back that if I was going to run a series called Jazz on Nylon, there were a few players who simply couldn’t be omitted. While the series so far has focused on guitarists who aren’t as well known, & while that may continue to be the focus going forward, I don’t want to simply overlook the handful of guitarists who’ve made a significant reputation for themselves in the jazz world while playing a classical guitar as their main instrument. Of course Charlie Byrd has to be high on that list,

Although Charlie Byrd began playing guitar as a boy on a regular steel string acoustic, he began studying classical guitar after being discharged from the army in 1945. In the 1950s he studied with Sophocles Pappas & then later with the great Andrés Segovia. Byrd’s first major engagement was a European tour with Woody Herman’s Herd in 1959—this version of the Herd also included Vince Guaraldi & Nate Adderly. Also around this same time Byrd began to develop an interest in Bossa Nova, & he & Stan Getz recorded the seminal Jazz Samba in 1962 for Verve Records. Byrd’s passion for Bossa Nova continued throughout his career, & you can hear him playing such classics as “Samba de Orfeu” & “Corcovado”on YouTube.

Unlike the other guitarists featured so far in this series, Byrd really didn’t work as a soloist. He collaborated with many notable players, including his work with Herb Ellis & Barney Kessel in Great Guitars. But his standard format was the trio, as in this video; & as in this video, his bass player was often his brother Joe Byrd.

“The Jitterbug Waltz” is a true jazz classic. Written by the great Fats Waller, who first recorded it on Hammond organ in 1942, the song was reportedly inspired by some piano exercises his son Maurice was studying. Waller is a giant in the jazz world. Although he was known for his comic persona & his novelty songs like “All That Meat & No Potatoes” & “Your Feet’s Too Big,” he was a masterful composer & a virtuoso both on piano & organ.

Byrd’s rendering of the song is just lovely—plenty of swing, as well as the great warmth & clarity of tone for which he is always noted. Hope you enjoy this beautiful music.

Image links to its source at

Monday, September 1, 2014

Photos of the Month – August 2014 (Guys & Gals of Summer Edition)

A shot from the bleachers at Erv Lind field as the Giants & A's square off in a BoomerPDX game

Something a bit different with photos of the month this time around. First, not all of the photos were taken by me; second, not all of the photos were taken this past month; & third, even those that were taken by me don’t fit the usual criterion of being the “best” photos I took in the month. But they do illustrate very much what my August has been about—& indeed, my spring & summer in general.

The 2013 D'Backs team photo - however the 2014 team had the same players

As you’re aware if you know me at all or follow the blog closely, I started playing softball again last year after an 11 or 12-year layoff & despite dealing with a respiratory condition with the 50-cent name of Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Last year I played in an over-50 men’s league in the summer, & then joined a regular adult co-ed league in the fall. Needless to say I was the oldest player on that latter team! This spring I entered another adult co-ed league, & that team—which had some players from the fall team—has coalesced into a wonderful group that has continued to play not only in spring, but also summer weeknights & will continue into the fall. In fact, we finished an undefeated summer season by securing the league championship.

The Underhanded Compliments on opening evening of the Summer League (14 of 15 players)

Underhanded Compliments, League Champs 2014 - such a hot evening! I was as tired as I look!

I also came back to the same team in the over-50 league, & while we went somewhat to the opposite extreme (2 wins, 10 losses), it still was fun. Despite my physical issues, I played every inning of the 11 games I was able to make at third base, & acquitted myself respectably in the field. We played our last game this past Sunday (a 12 to 4 loss).

A Giants hitter squares off against the A's pitcher. We had some roster issues this summer, so the Giants had to supply a catcher in this game to give the A's a full squad.
Seconds before a home run - this A's hitter took this pitch well over the left field fence!

Of course there are serious logistical problems with taking photos while one is actually playing, so the photos from the over-50 league are from the first game of the weekly doubleheader—there are only four teams in the BoomerPDX league. We get to play in a small stadium—Erv Lind field (part of Normandale Park), which is also where the Portland State Women’s fast pitch team plays.

The Entrance to Erv Lind Stadium
Otherwise, there are various team photos to “flesh things out,” as it were, as well as a photo of Irving Park, where the co-ed team plays.

Irving Park - the scene of spring, summer & fall softball adventures

I can’t stress often enough how grateful I am to still be playing softball on the eve of my 58th birthday. It’s not that I was ever an outstanding player—average in my prime, I certainly have lost speed, stamina, reflexes & so forth over time. But I think I somewhat compensate for these deficiencies by just being more relaxed about everything (as I’ve mentioned before in other softball-related posts.) & gratitude does help keep things in perspective!

I happily serve as team captain for my co-ed team, & on the night of our championship, they gave me this baseball shirt. I was so touched by this gesture!

Hope you enjoy this little album.

Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, August 25, 2014

“No Water, No Moon”

When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

    In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
    Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
       to break
    Until at last the bottom fell out.
    No more water in the pail!
    No more moon in the water!

*   *   *

Text is from 101 Zen Stories, a 1919 compilation of Zen compiled by Nyogen Senzaki, &  a translation of Shasekishū, written in the 13th century by Japanese Zen master Mujū (無住) (literally, "non-dweller"). The book was reprinted by Paul Reps as part of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  See Wikipedia page.

Image links to source on Wiki Commons
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892): “Lady Chiyo and the broken water bucket”

Friday, August 22, 2014

“My Funny Valentine” – Jazz on Nylon #3

Music for today: one of my favorite songs from the Great American Songbook, the lovely “My Funny Valentine” from Roger & Hart, as played on classical guitar by French virtuoso Roland Dyens.

Rogers & Hart composed “My Funny Valentine” for the 1937 musical, Babes in Arms, & it was sung in the original production by Mitzi Green. The song was also featured in the 1957 film adaptation of Pal Joey (it was not part of the Broadway play on which the film is based). Interestingly, the song was not included in the 1939 film version of Babes in Arms directed by Busby Berkeley & starring Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland. There have been a number of notable versions of the song by jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Anita O’Day, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughn & many more.

In addition to featuring one of Hart’s best lyrics, the song features a haunting minor key melody with an underlying harmonic structure built on a descending chromatic bass line leading from the tonic to the dominant chord. This particular chord structure comes up in any number of popular songs (just for example among very many, it’s also in the verse of “The Hotel California”!) but it works with particular effectiveness in this tune. “My Funny Valentine” was originally composed in C minor. It moves to Eb (the corresponding major key) in the bridge & also features a final resolution to Eb major in the tag, usually in some form of major 7 or 6 chord.

Roland Dyens is not only an accomplished classical guitar player; he’s also a composer of some note, as well as a skilled improviser, so it makes sense he’s able to make a jazz standard come alive on the classical guitar.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
The guitarist Roland Dyens in concert, Munich 8.April 2000. Image is by Wiki Commons user Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), & is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ullambana in Portland

August 2014

eastern horizon carved from rooftops,
construction sites, one towering backyard
spruce spire—sneakers dangling from a
phone line silhouetted against
dusk—full moon you turned to glimpse
looming over your shoulder—a
softball diamond’s skin infield, white
chalk lined basepaths—& of course orange
trumpet vine blossoms draped
on a slat fence back of that Chevron station—that
goes without saying—there’s no chronology:
it always seems to be last Thursday—
& why these clothes scattered a-
cross a rock garden next to the curb on Fremont?
tarnished yellow, clouded pink, checked
canvas deck shoes, each untouched for
3 days & 3 nights—death’s constant
surprise—black leaves massed on the
black plum outside the Thai restaurant—&
especially the bamboo wind chimes up the street
clacking a G note with no larynx—there’s
no direction home, in
fact no directionality, the soccer ball
bangs dissonant off the chain link playground
fence after dark even when the weeping
cherry blooms in March—the butter
yellow daylilies proliferate in this
evening’s supermarket next to
shelves of artisanal bread loaves

        & one night the rain fell:
this parking lot glimmered black
water too deep for memory out my back
window: amnesia visible—when one
image inflates to a full moon swamping
the horizon east to west, when the first
horse chestnuts drop by the park still
green—when it all transits past breath, solarized
image, resonance: I’d ask not to utter dry un-
satisfied names in pentatonic tones with-
in the bamboo’s whispers

Jack Hayes
© 2014

Ullambana: Per Wikipedia (see link), "The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival in modern day, Zhong Yuan Jie or Yu Lan Jie (traditional Chinese: 盂蘭節) is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in Asian countries. In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh month (14th in southern China)."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

All About Ann Blyth: A Q&A with Jacqueline T Lynch

I’m very happy to present a Q&A today with talented writer, historian & blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch. Jacqueline is the blogger behind Another Classic Movie Blog, which is staple reading for those interested in classic film, & has been for years. In addition, Jacqueline writes the fine New England Travels blog. Beyond her online presence, she also is a published author, with seven novels, three works of historical non-fiction & seven plays to her credit, as well as collections of short stories & a children’s book—an impressive résumé! 

But today’s Q&A isn’t about Jacqueline’s past achievements. It’s about her current project, a book on actress Ann Blyth. In this case, Jacqueline is using a Kickstarter campaign to fund some of the necessities for what promises to be a first-rate publication. I encourage you to support this project in any way you can. You can reach the Ann Blyth Kickstarter at this link  or from the dedicated link at the top of this blog’s right sidebar.

& now, let’s read what Jacqueline has to tell us about her project:

Okay, the $64,000 question: Why Ann Blyth?

Sometimes the subject finds you.  I had written about Mildred Pierce in a previous year, but that post focused on the cinematography of the movie and not really the performances.  I’d always meant to get back to it and cover it from the angle of the performances.  Then the summer of 2013 I wrote about I’ll Never Forget You, (a time-travel romance I recently re-visited in another post for my year-long series on Ann Blyth’s movies).  I was struck by two things:  first, how meaningful her portrayal was of this 18th century woman, how much her delicate performance enhanced the story as well as our knowledge of the time in which it was set.   Second, I was struck by how profoundly different this character was to the volatile and scheming Veda of Mildred Pierce.  

I decided it was time to write more on Ann Blyth, but was then shocked to discover I had only seen about a third of her films.   I had been watching old movies since I was old enough to toddle over to the TV and manually switch the dial and manipulate the rabbit ears by myself.  Why had I seen only 10 Ann Blyth movies in all those years?

Then I discovered that so many were hard to get, never seen, not available either on DVD or VHS.   This woman had been the flavor of the month all through the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, on enough magazine covers to choke a horse, and as famous in her day as any young star could be.   Today, she is nowhere to be seen in that kitschy souvenir shop universe where classic film fans can easily snag T-shirts and coffee cups and posters of Clark Gable and The Three Stooges, Mae West and Betty Boop, and, of course, the ever-exploitable Marilyn Monroe.   

Where was Ann Blyth?  She never retired from performing.  She had, unlike most other stars of that era, performed in all media from radio to TV to stage, and was successful in all of them.    Far, far more talented than any other 1950s glamour girl, yet she is not as well known today among younger classic film fans.  I wanted to know why.

Paradoxically, among those older fans whom I’ve heard from in the past year, Ann Blyth is remembered with deep and abiding love, with an admiration and wistful, sweet affection I have not heard expressed for other stars.  I wanted to know why.

I also wanted to know why most of her films are so hard to obtain.   Well, you tell the girl she can’t have cookies, and she immediately starts climbing up the shelf to reach the cookie jar.  It became a mission.  To my amazement and chagrin, there’s still one film, Katie Did It, that I just cannot seem to find.

How has following the career of one actress for a year on your blog changed your perception of the blog' s purpose & possibilities?

At first this just seemed to be an interesting project, a change of pace, if you will, for a blog that just started its seventh year.  I thought it might shake things up a little, if not for the reader, then for me.  

Very quickly, however, following the career of one actress changed the tone, I think, of the blog and made it more personal, as well as more about the nuts and bolts of the industry.   My approach to blogging about classic films has always been to discuss a movie in the context of the time in which it was made.  For me, the era is part and parcel to understanding a movie and enjoying it more.  I’ve mentioned often that if one has little knowledge of what the US or the world was like in 1939 or 1952, or whatever year, then there’s a whole lot about the movie that will go right over that person’s head.  That is a shame, for movies are probably one of our greatest tools to learn about history, because they are truly time capsules, valuable most especially for their unselfconscious faults and virtues.

But focusing on one person’s career altered my background comments to the film, which became more directed toward Ann Blyth’s personal experiences, what she said at the time, what others said about her, things that happened off set.   What I learned about her personal life (most of which I have not mentioned on the blog because I really do want to keep to her career) has moved me deeply.  One reader joked early on that this series would become a kind of archive for people to come to who want to know more about Ann Blyth.  I hope it will become, not an archive, but a steppingstone for people to discover more about her work. 

If someone wanted an introduction to the films of Ann Blyth, which three would you recommend & why?

That’s a tough one, because she’s like a chameleon, and the more of her films you see, the more impressive this quality of versatility becomes.

I’d have to say Mildred Pierce, because of the skillful ferocity, the maturity of her work, and because she was only 16 years old when she did it.  That alone is astounding.

Then Once More, My Darling, because it really is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen and her work in this charming, offbeat story is splendid.  This film definitely needs to be better known.  She is a subtle, guileless, and devastatingly funny comedienne.

Then I guess Kismet, because it is a musical with a lovely score and Ann gets to display her marvelous lyric soprano.  

Just seeing these three movies, say in the course of one day, one is apt to say, “Was that really the same person?” 

What are the Kickstarter funds going to?

The funds will go to obtaining never published or rarely published photos currently in the collections of libraries, museums, and newspapers that currently hold the rights.  I will have to pay licensing fees to use them.  As funds permit, I would also obtain additional research materials, and pay for editing, proofreading, and cover art.  This will be the first book written about Ann Blyth’s career. [editorial note: emphasis by yours truly]

How has studying one actress in so much depth altered your views on classic films?

I think I am even more awed by how hard one must work to get anywhere in the business, and how much luck is involved, how much is due to the help and contribution of others, from makeup, publicity, and anyone in the production end willing to go to bat for a performer, and how much is out of one’s hands.  Ann always appreciated her contract with Universal, but the studio did not always showcase her in the best movies.  On the one hand, she enjoyed a variety of genres and experiences.  On the other hand, there was no clear and strong trajectory to her path.  She controlled as much of her course as she could with admirable prudence.  What she could not control, she handled with quiet resolution.

I am fascinated about the child of six who found work in the worst years of the Great Depression as a radio performer.  That as a 12-year old, she appeared on Broadway in one of Lillian Hellman’s most important dramas, and thereby helped support her family.   A shy, self-effacing girl, not from a show-biz family, whose single mother struggled to support her, and yet taught this young girl lessons she would need on perseverance, self-discipline, faith, kindliness, and humility that she would need to get her through tragic times and keep her steady when she finally ended up in Hollywood and in a world that ate up and spit out a lot of other sensitive people.  

It is often commented that Ann Blyth retired after her last film in 1957, The Helen Morgan Story, but she didn’t.  She acted and sang for decades afterward, not working in film because either she was not offered the roles, or the roles she was offered did not appeal to her.   Of course, she also curtailed her schedule to raise her children.  A celebrity drops off the radar if the glare of the lights and piercing eye of the camera are not always on them, and this is perhaps the greatest insight into our perception today of classic films.  To the classic film fan, Cary Grant is as big a deal as he was when he was alive, when he was a star in the 1930s. 
But Ann Blyth is alive.  She did not retire.  She’s going on a Turner Classic Movies Disney cruise in October.  I know her old fans are eagerly interested for any news on this.  What I hope, however, is that my blog will introduce her to many new fans, who will enjoy the privilege of showing their appreciation for her work while she is still with us and can know it.   Classic films are not just about the stars, or the studio system, or the moguls, or the movies.  They are also the fans of today that keep them alive.  I think coming to understand this is one of the most profound aspects on the study of classic films that I’ve learned from this series.

Thanks so much Jacqueline! Now please folks, support this important project!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Lines Composed at Indian Shores"

Lines Composed at Indian Shores
July 2011

How briefly enlightenment
emanated from my being!
Yesterday, I mistakenly took two one-a-days.
Soon after, my pee lit up the windowless bathroom,
making a light unnecessary.
By nighttime,
darkness had set in again.


In the early morning
I slush along the beach
counting Hail Marys on my fingers
in the absence of beads,
constantly losing count
and, to be safe, giving the Lord and his mother
a few extras to think about
in these fifteen or twenty minutes of my trudge
before devoting the rest to my own musings
and to the sights and sounds of sea and birds.


When Holmes stops by to visit
he sits at the kitchen table
and we share a pot of coffee.
Then he gently places a mollusk on the table.
identifies it as a chambered nautilus,
and equates it with the soul.
After a trip to the beach
Holmes always returns a poet.
I, on the other hand, return sunburned.

Carmen Leone
© 2011

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons

This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at // under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Roberto Clemente & the Mythographers

One of the central tenets of Robert Graves’ two-volume The Greek Myths is the idea that the myths change depending on who tells the story; the same images, in fact, can lead to vastly different narratives.  Graves called the process by which this happens iconotropy—the “turning” of images.  Thus, for instance, a representation that the patriarchal Dorians might have “read” as the Judgment of Paris would have been originally, in Graves’ reading, a representation of the Triple Goddess. Graves actually postulated these ideas first in The White Goddess, which was published in 1948, seven years prior to The Greek Myths.

Graves’ theories in their specifics are at the very least controversial; Classical scholars have found errors of attribution, as well as what seem like willful misreadings used to buttress his points; this is particularly true of The White Goddess & the interpretive sections of The Greek Myths. But I do think that the idea of iconotropy is a useful one, whether or not Graves was correct in many of his specifics; it encodes the notion that the teller recreates the mythic material in a way that corresponds to a world-view; & just as that could be the case with the same mythic material in the stories of the Dorian Greeks versus the stories of the Minoans, so it is also true in the stories of individual mythographers: the Dionysus of the Homeric Hymns is not exactly the Dionysus of Euripedes’ The Bacchae, just as Jane Harrison’s Dionysus is not the same as Robert Graves’.

& of course this all relates to baseball! 
Literary critic Leslie Fielder wrote, “we have always been, insofar as we are Americans at all, inhabitants of myth rather than history.” Within this U.S. landscape, a handful of baseball players carry cultural meaning typically reserved only for politicians & movie stars—whether or not you are a baseball fan, the names Babe Ruth, Willie Mays & Jackie Robinson are imbued with meaning for you, a meaning that springs initially from their prowess in playing the game, but which has since accrued significance beyond that. One player whose mythic status remains resilient (especially in his native Puerto Rico & Latin America overall) is the great Roberto Clemente—a player who still remains larger than life to me. 

Clemente had many achievements within the game: in brief, he finished his career with a .317 batting average & led the National League in batting four times in an 18 year career; he also accumulated 3,000 lifetime hits. In addition, he was National League MVP in 1966 & World Series MVP in 1971—a series in which he was a truly dominant player—& won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves for fielding excellence—indeed, Clemente is acknowledged to be one of the greatest fielding outfielders ever. Not only did he demonstrate great skill in tracking down balls, he also possessed an uncannily strong & accurate throwing arm. Legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully once said, “Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.” Mythic indeed.

Clemente’s death in an airplane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972, while trying to bring supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua of course added to the mythos; in Latin countries he achieved a martyr’s status. Following his tragic death, the Hall of Fame waived the usual five-year waiting period, & he was inducted in 1973. In eulogizing Clemente, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said, "He gave the term 'complete' a new meaning. He made the word 'superstar' seem inadequate. He had about him the touch of royalty."

& I would say: more than a touch of the mythic. So I was interested to notice  that the third most popular search phrase leading to my old baseball blog, Beer League Box Score is “Why do sabermetrics devalue Roberto Clemente?” I found this fascinating, & on more than one level: first, I asked myself, is this true? Is Clemente “devalued” by sabermetric measures? 

I looked at Clemente on the list of best all-time “wins against replacement player” on Baseball Reference.  WAR is an encapsulation of performance, & considered one of the major sabermetric measures. Clemente ranks 38th on this list with a career WAR of 89.8. He ranks just above Bert Blyleven & Albert Pujols (but because Pujols is an active player, he will pass Clemente soon, as WAR is cumulative), & just behind Carl Yastrzemski & Phil Neikro. But because WAR is cumulative, Clemente would have had a higher career WAR had he played until a typical retirement age. He would have been 38 in 1973; as a point of comparison, his contemporaries Willie Mays & Hank Aaron retired at age 42, & Frank Robinson retired at 40—these men played 22, 23 & 20 seasons respectively.  Clemente’s WAR in 1972 was 4.7—still quite good. Had he averaged a 4.0 WAR for three more years, he would have retired with a WAR close to 102, which would have ranked him in the top 25 players ever. That seems fair to me.

Then I looked at his defensive wins against replacement, which is a component of overall WAR. Now defensive WAR is one of the most controversial parts of the measure, because it is truly difficult to assess a player’s defensive contributions by means of statistics. There are a number of systems for doing so, but they all have their limitations & faults, along with their strengths. Also, the farther back in time one goes, the more limited the information becomes.
Clemente’s career defensive WAR is 12.0, which ranks 154th all-time. This initially struck me as too low until I looked at the players ranked ahead of him. Defensive WAR favors the critical “up the middle” positions of catcher, shortstop & second base, & centerfield. Third base is also given quite a bit of weight. It makes sense then, that the first 153 players are overwhelmingly middle infielders, catchers, & third basemen, with a handful of centerfielders as well. The highest rated outfielder is Andruw Jones, whose defensive WAR stands at 24.1. The other outfielders who rank above Clemente (again, all of these including Jones are centerfielders) are Paul Blair (18.6); Willie Mays (18.1); Devon White (16.1), & Jimmy Piersall (15.2). Clemente ranks the highest of any corner outfielder, & that seems appropriate. It does seem that the top 150 contains a lot of 19th century & very early 20th century infielders, & it’s counter-intuitive to me that all of those players’ skills should put them in such lofty company, but I have nothing to back that up. Looking at his ranking among outfielders, I’d say Clemente’s position is fair.

Of course, WAR is far from the only sabermetric measure, but it is widely accepted in the sabermetric community as measure for getting a general sense of a player’s comparative value. & as a Roberto Clemente fan, I can’t say that WAR devalues his achievements. I also don’t say this as an apologist for either sabermetrics in general or WAR in particular (neither am I a detractor—I say the more stats the better!)

But sabermetrics also place a high value on statistics related to on-base percentage & slugging percentage. It is true that Clemente didn’t take a lot of walks, & that there was never a significant spread between his batting average & his on-base average. Of course, Clemente was able to maintain excellent on-base percentages on the strength of his hitting. Still, in comparison with other hitters who are ranked among the greatest of the great, Clemente’s OBP is low: lifetime, he posted a .359 mark, which ranks 463, tied with Rocky Colavito—a good player, but not elite. Ted Williams leads in all-time OBP with a truly majestic .481—Williams reached base an astounding 48% of the time during a 19 year career! In fact, the first 58 hitters in all-time OBP all accrued figures of .400 or higher.It’s also true that Clemente wasn’t a slugger; while he was capable of hitting for power (he did hit 29 home runs in 1966, & that was a good number during that time period), he himself said, “I am more valuable to my team hitting .330 than swinging for home runs.” But as a result his lifetime slugging percentage was only .475, which ranks 216th all-time, between Leon Durham & current Arizona outfielder Justin Upton. These figures would affect statistics like FanGraphs wOBA (weighted on-base average) & wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created +), which are considered key evaluative numbers by the sabermetric community; in fact, Clemente’s career wOBA & wRC+ are 366 & 129, which are not elite figures. Still, it should be noted that FanGraphs does award Clemente a 91.0 lifetime WAR.

Do I dispute these statistics & measures? No. They are statistics—I understand what they mean & how they’re derived. I think they complicate our picture of Clemente, & that this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. While Robert Graves may have believed the Dorian iconotropic reconfigurations of Bronze Age matriarchal myths marked a definite point in the West’s great decline into patriarchy (& I don’t argue with the view that patriarchy has a lot to answer for—practically everything!), I don’t see the “new statistics” as representing a decadent interpretation of baseball—but they are certainly a retelling of the stories.  Also, as revealing as statistics may be (& I believe sabermetric stats offer good information & an interesting perspective), I would also say that it’s impossible to completely quantify any human performance in formulas & equations.  

Finally, the question made me think about baseballs’ great myths, & how these stories are transmitted. The mythographers of my youth were sports periodicals, baseball guides & annual yearbooks. These publications dealt in traditional stats & made traditional observations about ballplayers’ character strengths & weaknesses.  This was all part of the mythos surrounding baseball through the 1960s & into the 1970s. By the 1980s, with Bill James line of publications launching their own Dorian invasion, the stories began to change. At this point, the sabermetric community, insofar as it holds sway on the internet, has seemed to gain ascendancy over the old school print community that is associated with more traditional statistics & attitudes, & that has been in the business of baseball mythmaking with beat writers & box scores since the 19th century. So the stories will change—they will change because the media is changing (& yes, I am a McLuhan fan), & they will change because we have different numbers & these numbers also change perception.

I’m not a young man, & as such, I stand vulnerable to the charge of being a curmudgeon. To me, the glory days of baseball were the 1960s through the 1970s, because those were my formative years—though I acknowledge this is entirely subjective, I also realize all the baseball myths for me are filtered through the mythography of that particular era. An older person who watched baseball in the 1940s & ‘50s would be subject to an earlier mythographic filter, & in turn a younger man or woman raised on the game more recently understands the game on a transformed mythic field.  The great players’ names remain the same—their mythic meaning shifts.

When I think of the myth of Clemente, I don’t think as much about his statistics. I think of his pride & passion, of the difficulties he faced as a black Puerto Rican in an era when baseball was still in the early phases of integration—in fact, in Clemente’s rookie year of 1955, three clubs had yet to integrate at all (the Phillies, Tigers & Red Sox); I think of how he was devalued even during his own career by baseball people & sportswriters who saw his pride as “uppitiness” & who ascribed his missing games due to injury as malingering. I think of his transcendent play in the 1971 World Series, a truly seminal event in my own history as a fan—& of his tragic death. Clemente himself said, "I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give,” & I think that is his legacy indeed—except one might say “man,” not “ballplayer.”

So I encounter the Clemente I knew, because that was the Clemente I learned from the mythographers of my formative time; I knew him from reading, from baseball cards (my 1970 Clemente baseball card is one of my cherished possessions), from the World Series & playoffs & NBC Game of the Week on a black & white TV, & from memory.  I don’t begrudge a later generation their re-assessments, & in fact I enjoy the profusion of stats—& after all, how many baseball fans now really consider the greatness of Tris Speaker (to give an example—& I certainly include myself in that!)—yet in his heyday & for long afterward, he was considered one of the greatest players ever.  Myths are elastic—we can only marvel how they allow for their constant re-shaping, whether the myth is a story surrounding a Greek deity or a human ballplayer whose exploits seemed to accrue meaning pointing far past the quotidian.

Images link to their source
  1. Roberto Clemente:
  2. The judgement of Paris, side B from an Attic black-figure neck amphora (ca. 540-530 BC): Wiki Commons - photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, who publishes it under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
  3. Clemente makes a catch:, tho this image is found on many online sites.
  4. Oedipus (on the right), the Sphinx (on the middle) and Hermes (on the left). Attic red-figure stamnos, ca. 440 BC. [another myth Graves claims was subject to iconotropy]: Wiki Commons - photo by Wiki User:Jastrow, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
  5. A sequence showing Clemente making a catch: from
  6. Clemente stands on second base after getting in 3,000th career hit, a double in his last game ever:
  7. Clemente batting: :
  8. Theseus and the Minotaur. Side A from an black-figure Attic amphora, ca. 540 BC. [another myth Graves claims was subject to iconotropy]: Wiki Commons - photo by Wiki User Jastrow, who releases it into the public domain worldwide.
  9. Yours truly with 1970 Topps Roberto Clemente baseball card! 
  10. Clemente scores a run in 1958: from   

Full disclosure: this post previously appeared on my currently dormant "Beer League Box Score" blog.