Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gene Lees: Of Rhythm, Rhyme, And Reason

If you follow this blog, you know how much I value the role of participant-observers in interpreting the American experience. With specialized knowledge and insider perspectives, they often bring great presence and deep analysis to their subjects, especially when guided by objectivity. The world of American music history lost one of its best participant-observers this week with the passing of Gene Lees. Lees wrote a number of biographies from the world of jazz and the Great American Songbook. In addition, he produced his subscription-only Jazzletter for almost thirty years.

His NYT obituary is available here.

The photograph is by John Reeves and appears on the back panel of the dust jacket of Lees's Portrait of Johnny (The Life of John Herndon Mercer), published by Pantheon Books, October 2004.

Never Underestimate The Power Of Suggestion

How many times have we heard the phrase, "mind over matter?" Here's more evidence how perception can perform magic within the mind. When I studied perception forty years ago, we had little more to go on than faith in that phrase. Our studies have come a long way.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ella!

Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, was born on this day in 1917. You can link to my entry from last year here. You can read this video-rich tribute prepared by Scott Johnson blogging at

Fifty years ago, Fitzgerald was in the midst of recording her famous "Songbook" series of eight albums representing the best of the Great American Songbook. Nothing since has quite matched it. Doubt anything will. Though she left us in 1996, Ella simply "is." I can only imagine the look on the faces of the heavenly hosts when she waltzed through those pearly gates scat singing all the way.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Grand MGM

MGM has been a Hollywood fixture for almost 85 years. Today, it's teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and maybe looking for a buyer after struggling for almost a generation to return as a major player in film production and distribution. The corporation practically defined entertainment beginning late in the Roaring Twenties, an identity that lasted well into the 1950s. It has been a long, slow fall from greatness as a definer of the American cultural experience. Sometimes we are too close to the subject to make an objective appraisal of contributions to culture at large. That's what makes this list of MGM's most memorable films so interesting. It comes from the British perspective of the staff at

OTR hopes you enjoy the movie memories from this grand old enterprise. As with all lists, this one will have a ringer or two for every reader, but that's what lists are for.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How Obama Will Dupe Americans Into Accepting The Value Added Tax

My brother-in-law brought this essential column by George Will to my attention. It's a magnificent point by point description of how the Obama administration will use the entitlement crisis to sell the Value Added Tax (VAT) to gullible Americans.

Democrats Make Great Strides In Achieving Communist Goals For America

Before you write me off as a paranoid Bircher straight out of the the 1950s, please pay attention to this list of 45 Communist goals read into the Congressional Record in 1963. The list comes from the work of Cleon Skousen, who really was linked to the John Birch Society at a time when it was discredited by what was to become the mainstream conservative movement led by William F. Buckley Jr. When you put many of these points, especially related to geopolitics and defense, in the context of 47 years of history, the outcome doesn't sound nearly as loopy as it may have two generations ago.

Thanks to Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit for the link.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thoughts From The Recession

Here is a choice example of the value of participant-observers in helping us understand the American experience. As much as we might long for stability and permanence, our reality is one of uncertainty and change, a social construct with vital, yet delicate, linkages.

I am reminded again of this line from Fritz Lang's monumental film, Metropolis (1927):

Between the mind that plans and the hand that builds there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.
Be sure to read the comments following the post. I think you will agree that Hanson's effort touched the heart of many of his readers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Prayers For Poland

Our prayers go out to Polish people everywhere on news of the loss of many of their most notable countrymen in this morning's aircraft crash in Russia. Polish history and culture was an important theme in almost a third of my career. In that time, I met many visitors from Poland and from the large Polish community resident in Chicago. They are a proud people with a proud history. Today, their hurt is deep, but they will survive. Your prayers for comfort and healing will help them on their way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Preserve, Protect And Defend

Today, there is plenty of buzz about Obama working his hope and change on our nuclear weapons and defense policies. One weapons expert observes that Obama's goal appears to be "a world without American nuclear weapons."

As a patriotic American, I really need a refreshing change of pace from this disturbing, if not pathological thinking. Other presidents from the Democratic Party have maintained a far more realistic attitude in order to protect us and the beacon that is the Constitution of the United States of America. One of them was John F. Kennedy. In his thousand days in office, he delivered several memorable speeches, and more than some presidents did in three thousand days. Take these next few minutes to read - or listen to - his inaugural address where he weaves a compelling policy of idealism and realpolitik in a dangerous world. It's hard to believe that fifty years have passed since that bitterly cold day in January 1961. The time may have passed, but the dangers have not. Oh to have that kind of voice in the White House today.

For the visually inclined, video of the speech is available here on Wikimedia.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter 2010

Postcards from the 1909 family archives

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spreading The Debt Around

It's interesting how the news is coming out more and more on both sides of the political aisle that Obamacare legislation was really more about the redistribution of wealth than it was health reform. Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has more on this story.

That could be the case, but I think the politicians and pundits have it all wrong. In order to redistribute wealth, both tangible and intangible, the bottom line on the balance sheet still needs a plus sign. Taking on more than a trillion dollars of debt to nationalize 17% of our economy and project an improvement in national "health" some decades into the future doesn't sound like much of a wealth building policy. In fact, it sounds just the opposite, given the soon to be upside down Medicare and Social Security programs.

On the campaign trail in October 2008, Obama made the statement that one of his intentions was to "spread the wealth around." I'm not very hopeful that borrowed money from China and India processed through Obamacare will result in any tangible wealth. When was the last time you remember a government business making serious profits? As for the intangible wealth of better health, I be in my eighties before I can tell you, the good Lord willing.

And by that time, the national economy itself is projected to be upside down, flat broke. No tangible wealth to support the intangible health. Sounds like Obama has been spreading something else around the country, and it isn't wealth or debt, my friends.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris celebrates her 63rd birthday today. Last year, I wrote my own entry about this Sweetheart of the Rodeo. You can read my comments here. And we can always depend on Powerline's Scott Johnson for first-rate work on musicians and the music world. Link to his multimedia entry on Harris here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reviving The Old Beach Resorts

I really enjoy the coast and it's hard for me to imagine beach towns in decline. Of course, it has happened in recent times, Atlantic City being the leading example. The same fate has beset several smaller Victorian resort towns in Britain. While the gaming industry may have saved Atlantic City, a completely different kind of "gaming," 2012 Olympic style, in conjunction with vast sums of public and private money for the arts and education, will be used for the British beach towns. Clive Aslet writes about this new renaissance in an article at The host of comments makes for good reading as well.