Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Frank Sinatra: His Song Lives On

Frank Sinatra, the American singer and actor whose phenomenal career spanned sixty years ending in 1995, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on this day in 1915.   During his career he produced a discography spanning the eras of jazz, swing, big band, and pop music. I had the good fortune to attend two Sinatra concerts during the '60's. Both were unforgettable opportunities to see this American icon at work as a storm of rock music swept the nation and displaced the popular song as the dominant music genre in our culture.

Sinatra at the White House, Washington, D.C., 1973

Writing at nationalreview.com on the centennial (2015) of Sinatra's birth, Deroy Murdock begins his exploration of the life, times, and legacy of "Ol' Blue Eyes" with this:

Saturday completes a century since Francis Albert Sinatra belted out his first note as a newborn, 13-and-a-half-pound baby in Hoboken, N.J. He grew up to become the finest male vocalist of the 20th Century, alongside his female counterpart and occasional partner in rhyme, Ella Fitzgerald.
But Frank was much more than just a crooner. He excelled as an actor, dancer, TV host, entrepreneur, record-company executive, and even music conductor. His timeless fashion sense defined style and elegance for gentlemen from the 1940s until today. He left enormous footprints on popular culture and was as original an American as this nation has produced.
After 100 years, a hundred superlatives barely could do Sinatra justice. Rather than wade through the many adjectives that define the man, the best way to appreciate Sinatra and his gigantic contribution is to savor his artistry and epic life story.

What follows is a rich overview of the man in sight and sound. It's not to be missed.

For those who simply want to remember and enjoy Sinatra at his best I offer his version of One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) (1943), music by Harold Arlen, words by Johnny Mercer:

He left us in 1998 as a man who had a way with a song quite unlike that of any other singer in the 20th century. 


Photos and Illustrations:

public domain photo in the United States, Modified version of Image:Andreotti Sinatra Nixon.jpg (NARA - ARC Identifier: 194505)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Second Sunday In Advent 2017

With the lighting of the second candle of the Advent wreath today, we acknowledge the messengers sent to prepare the way for Christ. John prepared people for Christ's first coming by preaching repentance: 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.’” 

The Night of Peace    William Blake, Milton's On the Morning Of Christ's Nativity, 1814

Today's messengers prepare people for Christ's return. God wants us to view these messengers as evidence of his love. He wants us to listen to their message, through which God himself makes us ready.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending, 
Once for favoured sinners slain; 
Thousand thousand saints attending, 
Swell the triumph of His train: 
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 
God appears on earth to reign

Every eye shall now behold Him 
Robed in dreadful majesty; 
Those who set at naught and sold Him, 
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree, 
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, 
Shall the true Messiah see. 

The dear tokens of His passion 
Still His dazzling body bears; 
Cause of endless exultation 
To His ransomed worshippers; 
With what rapture, with what rapture 
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, amen; let all adore thee, 
High on thine eternal throne; 
Saviour, take the power and glory; 
Claim the kingdoms for thine own: 
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 
Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Repeal Day: Aid For The Pour

From 1920 to 1925, he worked for members of Congress out of an office in the Cannon House Office Building until he was arrested. After a brief hiatus, he returned to serving his loyal customers from 1925 to 1930 out of an office only this time it was in the Russell Senate Office Building. His name was George Cassiday. He was known as "the man in the green hat" and his business was supplying Congress with booze during the Prohibition.

Reason TV has a brief article and five-minute history about Mr. Cassiday and his most interesting job. I'm left to conclude that the period 1920-30 had to be one of the happiest decades in history for our esteemed statesmen on Capital Hill.

And why are we discussing this story today? This is Repeal Day, celebrating the 84th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. This thirteen-year (1920-1933) attempt to end alcohol consumption in the United States was a disaster at every level and an object lesson is the futility of legislating morality.

 H.L. Mencken, (r) celebrates the end of Prohibition at the Rennert Hotel, Baltimore

And it so happens that one of my favorite musical selections addresses this alcohol theme. Those unfamiliar with the piece will enjoy the translation below the link.  This is a fine performance played as intended by the composer. I suggest you pour your favorite beverage, find your best earphones and comfortable chair and enjoy the meaning of the day.  Cheers!

When we are in the tavern 

When we are in the tavern, 
we do not think how we will go to dust,
but we hurry to gamble, 
which always makes us sweat. 
What happens in the tavern, 
where money is host, 
you may well ask, 
and hear what I say. 
Some gamble, some drink, 
some behave loosely. 
But of those who gamble, 
some are stripped bare, 
some win their clothes here, 
some are dressed in sacks. 
Here no-one fears death, 
but they throw the dice in the name of Bacchus. 
First of all is to the wine-merchant 
the libertines drink, 
one for the prisoners, 
three for the living, 
four for all Christians, 
five to faithful dead, 
six for the loose sisters, 
seven for the footpads in the wood, 
Eight for the errant brethren, 
nine for the dispersed monks, 
ten for the seamen, 
eleven for the squabblers, 
twelve for the penitent, 
thirteen for the wayfarers. 
To the Pope as to the king 
they all drink without restraint. 
the mistress drinks, the master drinks 
the soldier drinks, the priest drinks, 
the man drinks, the woman drinks, 
the servant drinks with the maid, 
the swift man drinks, the lazy man drinks, 
the settled man drinks, the wanderer drinks, 
the stupid man drinks, the wise man drinks, 
The poor man drinks, the sick man drinks, 
the exile drinks, and the stranger, 
the boy drinks, the old man drinks, 
the bishop drinks, and the deacon, 
the sister drinks, the brother drinks, 
the old lady drinks, the mother drinks, 
this man drinks, that man drinks, 
a hundred drink, a thousand drink. 
Six hundred pennies would hardly 
if everyone drinks 
immoderately and immeasurably. 
However much they cheerfully drink 
we are the ones whom everyone scolds, 
and thus we are destitute. 
May those who slander us be cursed, 
and may their names not be written in the book of the righteous.

You can enjoy the Latin poem and this English version together at the You Tube link. 


Photos and Illustrations:

prohibition, baltimoreorless.com/2012/05/the-rise-and-fall-of-prohibition-in-baltimore-maryland-1918-1933/

Tonight's The Night Of The Krampus

I suppose kids still hear about receiving 
a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking as payment for a year of bad behavior.   So much for gifts as a sign of grace at Christmastide. On the other hand, given the state of behavior of too many children these days perhaps we are a bit overdue on restoring some form of payment - punishment if you will - for the erosion of good conduct. 

We don't have to create something new for this plan. Some years ago I stumbled on an Old World solution that's been around for centuries in many central and eastern European cultures. To boot, for the last thousand years or so he has been associated with the most benevolent and generous of figures, Sinterklaas, or as we know him today, Saint Nicholas, or Santa. So who is this Bad Santa, the other half of the holiday team? His name is Krampus. Unfortunately, he is extreme to the point of terrifying for children. In fact, an unexpected visit from this visage in the dead of night would insure obedience from most rational adults.

St. Nicholas and Krampas            Arnold Nechansky, Wiener Werkstatte, 1912

I first discovered Krampus through an interest in post cards. When I began looking at cards from central Europe, especially those printed by the magnificent Wiener Werkstatte in the early decades of the 20th century, I noticed that two figures often appeared on the Christmas cards depicting a visit to a welcoming family. One was a traditional Saint Nicholas character dressed in ornate flowing robes and carrying a bag of gifts. The other was a shabbily dressed rather grotesque if not devil-like creature carrying a bundle of switches and a bag. The intention of the visit was to leave a nice gift for the good children or a lump of coal for the "behaviorally challenged." While good children enjoyed their presents, moderately bad boys and girls could expect a swat or two from the switches. The worst cases went into the bag and carried off to who know where or what.

Please, I'm not advocating whipping, kidnapping, and cooking as a corrective for youth beyond the bounds of civilized coexistence. Rather, I'd just like a little balance for all the feet jabbed into my Economy Class back between Atlanta and anywhere, the screaming tantrums endured at finer restaurants, and the toxic aerosol clouds projected my way by sneezing toddlers.  Yes, it is time to modernize the deliveryman and bring on the coal acknowledging of course that the traditional Krampas needs plenty of modification to work as a disciplinarian in the 21st century!

Tonight, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, is the Night of the Krampus. Although this night for European adults has taken on an almost Halloween-like character often fueled by alcohol, it remains a fascinating, ancient story of the dual nature of our existence. Those who understand that good does not stand without evil, just as there are no mountains without valleys, can learn more about the Krampus tradition here.


Photos and Illustrations:


Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday in Advent 2017

A stunningly beautiful full Cold Moon, the best supermoon of the year, cast its light across north Georgia this evening. It was a wonder-filled event to usher in the close of  the First Sunday in Advent 2017.

The Descent of Peace   William Blake

I give you the end of a gold string.
Only wind it in a ball,
It will lead you to Heaven's gate
built in Jerusalem's wall.
                                                                             William Blake, "Jerusalem"

As we enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmastide, it is time once more to explore almost two thousand years of music written and performed for this holy time. Dating from the 7th century, here is the plainsong, Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night):

Here is some background on the hymn including its original text and an English translation.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winston Churchill: A Lion Is Born

Today is the birthday (1874) of one of the leading statesmen of the 20th century, Winston Churchill..

Churchill in 1895

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill KG OM CH TD DLFRS RA (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British statesman who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdomfrom 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.

For more information on Winston Churchill go here. And here - thanks to Steven Hayward writing at Power Line  - is a teachable moment from the great political philosopher, Leo Strauss, on hearing of Churchill's death in 1965. Finally, we cannot forget Churchill as a historian. He was both an extraordinary observer and compelling writer. New readers should start their journey with My Early Life: A Roving Commission, first published in 1930. It's a personal favorite and a book I believe will lead others to read more from this masterful writer. 

The Lion with his son and grandson in 1953

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

C.S. Lewis: "...'Where Dreams...Come To Life, Come Real...."

The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity, Surprised By Joy. These books, known throughout the world, came from the pen of Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis,  one of the last century's leading scholars, novelists, and Christian apologists, born on this day in 1898. I was introduced to the author through a gift. My best friend gave me a copy of The Four Loves as medication for a wounded relationship with Marti, the girl of my dreams at the time. Eventually, she rekindled a friendship with a professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill and from my perspective the story of their relationship was left to Heaven. On the other hand I was left with a life-long literary relationship with Lewis.

C.S. Lewis in 1947                             Arthur Strong

Lewis had a extraordinarily broad literary career immersed in a world of teaching and scholarship that included a close friendship with his colleague, J. R.R. Tolkein. Like most writers he appreciated his privacy but was by no means reclusive and fondly recalled as an excellent lecturer and conversationalist who loved humor. It's unfortunate that we have so little audiovisual material featuring Lewis but there is one brief tape from the World War II era where he discusses topics that would later be incorporated into his book, Mere Christianity:

From this writer's perspective, if you cannot enjoy a Lewis book you simply haven't read enough of his work. Readers of any age and ability will surely find something of interest among his more than eighty titles of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Choose...and enjoy.

Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
                  from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis, 1950


title quote, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952