Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day 2015: As A Band Of Brothers Joined, Peace And Safety We Shall Find

Happy Independence Day!

Liberty Bell postcard, ca. 1905
Tomorrow there will be parades, picnics, fireworks and other holiday festivities honoring the 239th day commemorating the declaration of America's independence from Britain. I'm going to add to the music this year with two pieces that may be unfamiliar to readers. First we have a piece written for George Washington's first inaugural in 1789 by Philip Phile and originally titled, The President's March. Nine year later Joseph Hopkinson added lyrics and the song became known as Hail, Columbia. It was one of several song used as an unofficial national anthem until 1931 when Congress selected The Star Spangled Banner.

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,
Defend your rights, defend your shore!
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,
While off'ring peace, sincere and just,
In Heaven's we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.


Behold the chief who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands.
The rock on which the storm will break,
The rock on which the storm will break,
But armed in virtue, firm, and true,
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When glooms obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.


Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great name
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.


Our second piece is by Charles Ives a seriously original composer. He debuted Variations on America on July 4, 1892 to a somewhat shocked audience. The piece wasn't published until 1949 after listeners and the music world began to recognize his genius.  The performance is by the equally original and amazing Virgil Fox. Only once did I see the man in concert. No one will ever take his place.

In the spirit of the freedom of the American Experiment established on July 4, 1776, our cultural experience continues to reinvent itself every day. We can thank the Founding Fathers for that freedom, but with that it comes the awesome responsibility to preserve the system that created and sustains it. I hope you take some time this weekend between the burgers, the parades, the fireworks and whatever to think about that responsibility and resolve to keep our democratic republic strong for ourselves and future generations.



family postcard archive



Friday, July 3, 2015

The Birth Of Crosby, Stills, And Nash

CSN's first album, released May 1969

Music flows like water coursing through shoals, eddy lines, and pools in an ever-changing pattern. One could say those who make the music follow similar and often bumpy routes that leave little time for thought about destinations. By 1968 that was the case with three young musicians. The Byrds had already fired David Crosby, Buffalo Springfield broke up leaving Stephen Stills without work, and Graham Nash felt far too restrained working with the Hollies. They knew each other through the music scene in Los Angeles and networks that develop naturally among like-minded folks. Crosby and Stills had already been jamming in Florida and elsewhere. Both knew Crosby through his American tours.

The fourth name in our post today is singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell, the catalyst in our story. She shared Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood just north of Hollywood, with many other music industry notables and up-and-comers. Mitchell's home was described (Mark Volman) as "a little different...not so much maternal but about holding court in terms of songwriters who could find themselves there on any given night...and present their music to a kind of inner circle of people." On July 3,1968, circumstances brought Crosby, Stills, and Nash together at the house. "Nash asked Stills and Crosby to repeat their performance of a new song by Stills, “You Don't Have To Cry”, with Nash improvising a third part harmony."  In a Daily Mail interview, Nash recalled, "That night, while Joni listened, the three of us sang together for the first time. I heard the future in the power of those voices. And I knew my life would never be the same."

Neither would music for millions around the world. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and later, Neil Young, would go on to phenomenal success and influence in folk rock and popular music, a force very much with us today.

N.B. Among the principals, there is disagreement about the location of this monumental event; however, Mitchell, Crosby, and close friend, Elliot Roberts, insist it was at Mitchell's home. The official CSN biography by Dave Zimmer and Henry Diltz concurs.

Sources:, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, "An Oral History of Laurel Canyon, the 60s and 70s Music Mecca"," March 2115


"You Don't Have To Cry" quote is from
Nash quote,
Volman quote: Hotel California: The True Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Barney Hoskins. Wiley, 2007

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Wolfman: Still Growling In Syndication After All These Years

Wolfman Jack from the NBC television series, Go, 1974

One of the most recognizable voices in entertainment, Wolfman Jack, passed away on this day in 1995.  If you're an older boomer and listened to rock and roll on the radio in the '60's and '70's you surely heard him at least once on one of his very offbeat programs on the Mexican "border blaster" stations, on WNBC in New York, and in syndication out of KRLA in California .  If you're a youngster - under 35 - you've likely only encountered him in this clip from the 1973 blockbuster film, American Graffitti.

Most appropriately, a BBC News program recently called the Wolfman "the most outlandish, most thrilling and most elliptical disc jockey of the American 1960s." For more on this enigmatic and influential American entertainer, go to Kip's American Graffitti Blog. It's an essential source filled with photographs and audio links. If you enjoyed the film you can spend hours exploring the whole site

It would not be worth writing about the man without linking to some audio. Here is the radio master at work at WNBC in 1973. Oh yeah!



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

National Meteor Day 2015

Perseid Meteor 2012
Today is National Meteor Day, also known as National Meteor Watch Day. It's a fine time to go outside tonight and watch these small bits of space debris put on a show. Most meteors only survive about one second as they hit the earth's atmosphere at around 25,000 to 160,000 miles per hour. The show takes place anywhere from thirty to seventy miles above in the atmospheric region known as the mesosphere. Depending on composition and speed, meteors can appear in a variety of colors including white, orange, yellow, blue, purple, and red. If a meteor reaches the ground it becomes a meteorite. Thankfully, few meteors actually hit the earth intact but about six tons of meteor dust settles on our planet every day.

National Meteor Day is also a good reminder that the Perseid shower, the most reliable of the year, is a little less than six weeks away.  With the moon approaching a new phase - no moon - light conditions will be perfect this year.

Here is a link for more information about the day. For a forecast of what you can expect to see tonight and for the remainder of the week, check out the American Meteor Society's Activity Outlook page.


Photo: Visian ICL Blog, visianinfo.con, Roberto Porto


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Blazing Saddles! Mel Brooks Turns 89 Today

Mel Brooks in a still from Blazing Saddles, 1974.
Care to guess which director has three of the top fifteen films on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Comedies?  It's none other than Mel Brooks, performer, writer, director, and producer of some of the finest comedy to grace the American stage, big screens in theaters, and the television screens in millions of our homes. Brooks started in comedy in the Catskills in the late 1940's, became a television comedy writer and performer in the early 1950's, and graduated to film direction with The Producer's in 1968. The rest is history, a laugh track of films including:

Blazing Saddles (1974)   "Pardon me while I whip this out."

Young Frankenstein (1974)   "Abby...Normal."

Silent Movie (1976)  "Non!"

High Anxiety (1977)   "Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup!"

History of the World Part I (1981)   "It's good to be the king."

Spaceballs (1987)   "May the schwartz be with you."

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)   "Actually Scarlet is my middle name. My whole name is Will Scarlet O'Hara. We're from Georgia."

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)   "I have been to many stakings - you have to know where to stand! You know, everything in life is location, location, location...."

The Producers (musical) 2001   "Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers.

The Producers (film remake) 2005   "My blue blanket! Give me back my blue blanket!"

It's amazing to realize that Brooks has been entertaining us for over 65 years. He has no plans to stop. A musical production of Young Frankenstein is back in the news. What I find even more remarkable is the fact that the Mel Brooks on stage and film is most often the same man one finds in private life. How does he do it?  Regardless, we're wishing one of the funniest men on the planet a very happy birthday.

And now, an unforgettable three minutes and twenty seconds from the film he calls his personal favorite, the 1968 production of The Producers:


n.b.  The American Film Institute list referenced has The Producers at #11 , Blazing Saddles at #6 , and Young Frankenstein at #13.



Thursday, June 25, 2015

George Orwell: A Mind For Our Times

Six years ago the American polymath, William Katz - the man behind Urgent Agenda - posted this timely quote from George Orwell's novel, 1984:

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians.

It has taken the American experience a bit more than two generations to take on the meaning of government by the "new aristocracy" Orwell described.

George Orwell Press Photo, 1932

So who was this prescient and enigmatic writer? George Orwell - Eric Arthur Blair - was born on this day in India in 1903, educated at Eton College, and through self-study and his experiences in Asia and Europe. Wikipedia defines him aptly as "an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism."

Most of us know him only as the author of 1984 but there is much more to read and appreciate from this man who is consistently described as one of the most influential writers of the last century. If you only know him as a novelist, I suggest you read some of his early essays, especially Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938). These works explore social justice themes in some of the finest, most vivid, and descriptive writing to be found in modern English. For another aspect of Orwell's insight readers should explore his literary criticism, available in several compilations.

For a man who passed away at 46, George Orwell left us an enormous body of work that I am sure will influence social and political thought for a very long time.

For the visually inclined, here is the first part of a seven-part biography available on Youtube:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The First Single -Engine Round The World Flight Begins In New York In 1931

Wiley Post and Harold Gatty left New York on this day in 1931 on the first single-engine flight around the world.

The two successful ocean fliers during their stopover at the Central Airport in Berlin - Tempelhof about to start their flight to Moscow .
It's hard to believe this event occurred just fifteen years before my birth. We've come a long way in aviation and when you think about all the aircraft in flight around the world at this very minute the Post-Gatty flight seems insignificant. As readers of this blog know, I'm somewhat fond of aviation so I'm perfectly happy to give these pioneers the credit they deserve in a time when history seems little more than an afterthought.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

Lyrics, Charles Anthony Silvestri

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…

And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…

And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)

Scratching quill on crumpled paper,

Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)

Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.

…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)

Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.

Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
and leaps…

“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)

Sources:, almanac

Deutsches Bundesarchiv, photo 102-11928