Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Great American Music Ambassador Turns 71 Today

The virtuoso violinist, Itzhak Perlman,  is 71 years old today.  He has entertained the world with a full spectrum of music. He remains quite active with a full schedule of concerts, teaching in New York, and serving as the artistic director and principal conductor of the Westchester Philharmonic. who has entertained us for six decades, turns 70 today.He still maintains a full schedule of appearances around the world as well as teaching in New York and serving as the artistic director and principal conductor of the Westchester Philharmonic.

Rather than write about Perlman I'd rather have you listen to his genius, sensitivity, and joy doing what he does best for adoring audiences that he acknowledges are as much a joy to him as he is honored to perform for them. 

What a national treasure. Happy birthday, Maestro! May your smile and music be with us for many years to come.

Perlman with television showman Ed Sullivan in 1958

Monday, August 29, 2016

Maritime Atlanta: The Sea Breeze Comes To Peachtree Street

Tybee Island, Georgia 

It's been some time since I lived on Tybee Island and enjoyed a daily sea breeze. Have to wait for the one time that those breezes come to Atlanta, and, yes, it's that time of year. For the past week or more Atlanta has enjoyed a wonderful easterly sea breeze courtesy of the aging summer and its easterly waves. Fortunately most of the moisture has been wrung out as a result of temperatures in the low 90's. The pleasant dry winds come with exceptionally blue and mostly clear skies by evening but punctuated here and there with rogue thundershowers. Our aging summer also brought some color to the tulip poplars early in the week and an early beginning for falling leaves among the oaks and pines. It has been dry this year so the acorn crop is about average or a bit low. It's also maturing late so the squirrels have yet to take full advantage of the juicy bounty. I'm hoping the harvest is a sign of a mild winter. Regardless, the hummingbirds know winter is coming. They've started their over aggressive frenzies around the feeders and keeping them filled is an almost daily job now.  I still can't believe that most of these tiny creatures will soon be wintering in Central America. 

All of these seasonal messages, especially with Hurricane Gaston churning the Atlantic, two tropical depression around the Southeast coast, and a disturbance off Texas. have me thinking about the coast and the upcoming Labor Day weekend. But fear isn't in my mind. It's Beach Music, that R&B, cross-racial sound  that's been celebrated on the Carolina coast since the middle of the last century. It's that beat and tempo, and the shag dancing that we'll enjoy from Virginia Beach to Tybee Island, maybe even Jacksonville. Listening to this sound, especially as we approach the end of summer brings fond memories to mind. I could go on with more details, but this is music and the way to learn is to listen and enjoy it. 

Wanna dance?


Photos and Illustrations:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The National Park Service Celebrates 100 Years

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
                                                                                                         Wallace Stegner 

Guidon of the United States National Park Service.svg
Guidon of the United States National Park Service

The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday today, August 25. It's an important day in our household. My wife and I devoted over 55 years of combined employment toward achieving its noble mission so vividly stated in the enabling legislation of 1916: conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Seeking a working balance between preservation and use was often a serious challenge but overall the work was extraordinarily satisfying. Even after several years of retirement our blood still runs green with the memories of working in eight sites and one regional office in eight states. Temporary assignments took us from coast to coast in the lower 48 states and to Alaska as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The journey from an single idea to a complex resource management agency charged with overseeing more than 400 sites has been challenging. Here is part of the chapter, "Early Growth and Administration," taken from a Department of the Interior publication, A Brief History of the National Park Service(1940). It describes the national park movement leading up to the formation of the NPS.

The United States had a system of national parks for many years before it had a National Park Service. Even before establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 as "a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," the Government had shown some interest in public ownership of lands valuable from a social use standpoint. An act of Congress in 1852 established the Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas (which became a national park in 1921), although this area was set aside not for park purposes, but because of the medicinal qualities believed to be possessed by its waters. It was not until 1890 that action was taken to create more national parks. That year saw establishment of Yosemite, General Grant, and Sequoia National Parks in California, and nine years later Mount Rainier National Park was set aside in Washington.
Soon after the turn of the century the chain of national parks grew larger. Most important since the Yellowstone legislation was an act of Congress approved June 8, 1906, known as the Antiquities Act, which gave the President authority "to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.
In these early days the growing system of national parks and monuments was administered under no particular organization. National parks were administered by the Secretary of the Interior, but patrolled by soldiers detailed by the Secretary of War much in the manner of forts and garrisons. This, of course, was quite necessary, in the early days, for the protection of areas situated in the "wild and woolly" West. it is a fact that in this era highwaymen held up coaches and robbed visitors to Yellowstone National Park, and poachers operated within the park boundaries. The national monuments were administered in various ways. Under the Act of 1906 monuments of military significance were turned over to the Secretary of War, those within or adjacent to national forests were placed under the Department of Agriculture, and the rest—and greater number—were under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, established in 1890 as the first Federal area of its type, was administered by the War Department.
Under this disjointed method of operation, national parks and monuments continued to be added to the list until 1915 when its very deficiencies exposed the plan as unsatisfactory and inefficient. The various authorities in charge of the areas began to see the need for systematic administration which would provide for the adoption of definite policies and make possible proper and adequate planning, development, protection, and conservation in the public interest.

Within two years, Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane, had secured the help of the philanthropist, Stephen Tyng Mather, to develop a management system to propose to Congress. Mather did so promptly and by 1917 it had been established and officially organized.

For more information, NPS Historians, Barry Mackintosh and Janet McDonnell, have written an excellent brief history documenting the agency to 2005. Their work, The National Parks: Shaping the System, is available online here.

The former directors of the National Park Service have left us some candid, and in some cases historic, commentary on managing the preservation-use dichotomy referred to above. I highly recommend their books, along with a biography of Stephen Tyng Mather, if readers are so inclined:
Albright, Horace M. (as told to Robert Cahn). The Birth of the National Park Service. Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers, 1985.

Albright, Horace M, and Marian Albright Schenck. Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Hartzog, George B. Jr; Battling for the National Parks; Moyer Bell Limited; Mt. Kisco, New York; 1988

Ridenour, James M. The National Parks Compromised: Pork Barrel Politics and America's Treasures. Merrillville, IN: ICS Books, 1994.

Wirth, Conrad L. Parks, Politics, and the People. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

Shankland, Robert; Steve Mather of the National Parks; Alfred A. Knopf, New York; 1970

Here's wishing the National Park Service a happy birthday. So that friends of the NPS can join in the celebration entrance fees will be waived August 25-28 at all 400+ sites. Go enjoy a park in your neighborhood


Illustration and text:
National Park Service,

Monday, August 22, 2016

Leni Riefenstahl: Pioneer Propagandist

Today marks the birthday in 1902 of the German film maker, Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003). If you were in school during the third quarter of the 20th century there's a likely chance you are familiar with her landmark 1935 film, Triumph of the Will. This legendary propaganda piece was the product of her fascination with Adolph Hitler, the National Socialist movement and his desire to document the party rally in Nuremberg in 1934. It was the second film she produced for Hitler and its success, as well as their ongoing friendship, resulted in other notable projects but nothing approached the success of Triumph of the Will. At the same time, her association with the party, its principals, and her use of the enforced labor of talented Jews brought her a brief prison term at the end of World War II. She was also shunned for three decades by the world-wide film industry.

Hitler greets Riefenstahl in 1934

In the last quarter of her life of 102 years she focused on still photography of nature and culture in Africa. At age 72, she developed an interested in underwater photography, became a certified diver, and went on to produce two books and one film featuring marine life. 

Riefenstahl reached the heights of creativity and controversy in her lifetime. I don't expect interpretations of her legacy will change. To admire her amazing technical innovation in documentary film making one has to ignore her association with evil. It is an association she denied but the evidence in her life and work cause us to suspect otherwise. At this point we are left only with the hard evidence that she was a genius behind the motion picture camera.

Here is the evidence of her talent: The opening sequences from Triumph of the Will...

...and the opening sequence from Olympia (1936) documenting the famous Berlin Games. NEAR-NUDITY AND BARE BREAST WARNING


Photos and Illustrations:

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R99035 / CC-BY-SA

Text:, Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On National Rum Day, "All Roads Lead To Rum"

St. Croix Sugar Mill                                             Pre-20th century, artist unknown
My first serious encounter with rum didn't involve a bottle or a drink. It was 1966 and I was hiking across St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands with the intent of documenting the remains of its many sugar mills. Over the next forty years, my career returned me to St. Thomas and St. John  many times where I became more familiar with a bottle of rum, that most famous byproduct of sugar production.

Though not really a staple in our household, we've come to enjoy rum occasionally. Today, we pour it in the summer to make classic mojitos when there's fresh mint in the garden.  When it's time to entertain on the porch or patio, it's time for some Pusser's Painkiller. Makes for a fine dessert all by itself - try it with a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream - and doesn't need to be powerful to be enjoyed.

And who would think rum could make for a refreshing read? It's true. In 2007, Wayne Curtis, author and contributing editor of The Atlantic, used the subject to write a history book.  My wife and I both found And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails one of the most enjoyable informal histories we'd read in years.

Could there be a  better way to celebrate National Rum Day than sinking into a comfortable lounger with drink in hand and a good book. I doubt it. And with Atlanta's high temperatures pushing to 90 degrees and above in the next two weeks it's perfect  weather for that icy Mojito or Painkiller on the porch. Time to check the liquor cabinet and fridge!

Happy National Rum Day, y'all!




Title quote, W.C. Fields,
Wayne Curtis, And A Bottle Of Rum: A History Of The New World In Ten Cocktails, Broadway Books, 2007
David Wondrich, Imbibe!, revised edition, Penguin Group, 2015

Monday, August 15, 2016

In 1969 The Age Of Aquarius Blossomed On Max Yasgur's Farm

Yesterday, David Crosby, the American singer, songwriter and musician turned 75 years old. He may be a social and political bad boy in the eyes of many, but he remains an iconic figure in the performance and evolution of popular music beginning in the 1960s. His talents, notably his beautiful high harmony, helped propel The Byrds, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young to the top of the charts. Crosby is still on the circuit adding his signature sound --and rather strong it remains--after all these years. Considering the toll from years of unhealthy life choices both emotional and physical, we're fortunate to have him around for another generation of admirers. For me, Crosby ranks among the best of the singer songwriters. 

Crosby's birthday just happens to be on the cusp of one of the most astounding musical events ever. With his band mates, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, Crosby performed at that event, a musical landmark we have come to know as Woodstock.

No, I wasn't there but the music of a generation and more was and in many cases is still with us. So who graced the main stage at the  Woodstock festival? Here is the list according to the Woodstock wikipedia page:

The three-day festival opened on August 15 and attracted an audience estimated at 400,000 or twice what the promoters expected. In 1969, the rock critic Ellen Sander said this about the festival's significance:

No longer can the magical multicolored phenomenon of pop culture be overlooked or underrated. It’s happening everywhere, but now it has happened in one place at one time so hugely that it was indeed historic .... The audience was a much bigger story than the groups. It was major entertainment news that the line-up of talent was of such magnificence and magnitude (thirty-one acts, nineteen of which were colossal) .... These were, however, the least significant events of what happened over the Woodstock weekend. What happened was that the largest number of people ever assembled for any event other than a war lived together, intimately and meaningfully and with such natural good cheer that they turned on not only everyone surrounding them but the mass media, and, by extension, millions of others, young and old, particularly many elements hostile to the manifestations and ignorant of the substance of pop culture.

The Woodstock Preservation Alliance has this to say about the event's long-term significance to the American experience:

Woodstock was the culmination of a transformation in American popular music that had begun with [the] Monterey [Pop Festival]....Woodstock introduced the same wide diversity of talent, albeit on an expanded scale, to a truly mass audience....A subsequent documentary film...and several sound recordings helped establish what only two years before had been underground or avant-garde musical styles and ushered them into the mainstream.
Participating musicians, industry insiders, and rock critics and historians concur that Woodstock changed the way that popular music was programmed and marketed. Festival promoters noted the large numbers of fans who were willing to put up with often inadequate facilities....Promoters saw opportunities to improve their profit margin by more efficiently organizing festivals....They also understood that increased ticket prices would need to be moving the festivals from pastoral settings into sports arenas and convention centers and limiting the shows to a single-day or evening.... [Such changes] altered the festival-going experience... and thereby diminished the sense of community that many commentators considered the sine qua non of the Woodstock experience.
The development of "arena rock" marked the end of the rock "vaudeville circuit," and led to the demise of the smaller concert hall venues....The arenas also gave the upper hand to the style of music called heavy metal, represented by loudly amplified guitar based and blues-inflected bands composed almost entirely of white male musicians, whose aggressive style of playing was ideally suited for filling the audible space in arena settings.
After Woodstock, musicians apprehended the seemingly insatiable demand for their music and began commanding higher fees. It thus soon proved to be no longer economically feasible to book several major bands on the same bill....This in turn led to the segmentation of the fan base....In the years fol1owing Woodstock, however, fans were channeled into attending concerts that featured fewer acts, typically representing one or two musical styles.
Part of the Woodstock Festival's enduring legacy is the continuing efforts to counteract this trend by replicating the multi-performer/genre concert experience. Over the past three decades various parties have staged or attempted to stage successors to Woodstock, either by that name at different sites or else on or near the original site under a different name. [These efforts have had mixed success over the decades.]

Some impact I'd say.

Joni Mitchell didn't appear as scheduled but she penned a perfect description of the event, one that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young would bring alive as a #1 hit that stills captures an audience.

Well I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road
And I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me:
Said, I'm going down to Yasgur's farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land, set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Well, then can I walk beside you? I have come to lose the smog.
And I feel like I'm a cog in something turning.
And maybe it's the time of year, yes, and maybe it's the time of man.
And I don't know who I am but life is for learning.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong,
And everywhere was song and a celebration.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers jet planes riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies above our nation.

We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil's bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.



All quotations:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hiroshima: "We Saw The Flash...And Knew The Bomb Had Worked"

Hiroshima scene six miles and a few minutes following the detonation

Harry Truman's decision to drop an atomic bomb on an enemy target was agonizing for him and controversial for the world.  Although he viewed the bombing of Hiroshima - and Nagasaki three days later - as a tragedy he saw the events as necessities and expressed no regret. Assuredly, his decision brought a very quick end to the war with Japan and in the eyes of most historians and military experts saved the lives of millions of combatants and civilians. For more on this historic event and its aftermath readers should visit a fascinating Harry S. Truman Library and Museum archive of primary sources relating to the story. 

Col. Paul Tibbets, pilot and commander, waves from the cockpit of the Enola Gay prior to takeoff  to Hiroshima

On August 6, 1945, forty-three seconds after releasing the bomb nicknamed "Little Boy," Tibbets was alerted to the blast by radioactivity tingling in his teeth and the metallic taste from electrolysis on his tongue. Ten and a half miles away, tens of thousands had already vanished. For a three minute assessment of the event by Col. Paul Tibbets, visit this link.

The last surviving Enola Gay crew member - Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk - died at his home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 2014. It's one more indication that our greatest generation as an eyewitness to history is itself rapidly moving into history.


Ground photo,
Enola Gay photo, National Archives and Records Service


title quote, Theodore Van Kirk interview,,

Friday, August 5, 2016

Conrad Aiken: Strange Moonlight Over Savannah

Born in that most magical city, Savannah, I was allowed to run wild in that earthly paradise until I was nine: ideal for the boy who early decided he wanted to write.

Every year it is a pleasure to commemorate the birthday of a favorite author, Conrad Aiken, from one of my favorite places, Savannah, Georgia.  Conrad Potter Aiken was born in Savannah in 1889 and lived in an elegant townhouse on Oglethorpe Avenue across the street from Colonial Cemetery. He often played in that ancient burial ground midst tabby crypts and tombstones where the mortal remains of many of Georgia's aristocracy found rest. From the time he was eight or nine he wanted to be a poet. Soon he found himself captured by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and happily sharing the terror with his brother and sisters. He seemed destined for happiness surrounded by wealth, privilege, and pedigree but all was not well. One day, when he was eleven, he returned home to find his mother shot to death, his father dead by suicide. His world changed forever that day and he would never fully recover from the horror he saw.

He went to live with relatives in New England and later became a successful student at Harvard under the guidance of philosopher and writer, George Santayana. There, he also established what would become a life-long friendship with fellow student, T. S. Eliot.

Aiken wrote lyrical poetry, weighted with symbolism and psychological exploration so deep that, in his own words, "Freud was in everything after 1912." By 1920, he moved predominantly to prose expressing his "faith in consciousness" and an endless search for knowledge as the means to quell his personal chaos and bring order and structure to the larger consciousness of the world.  Despite a 1930 Pulitzer Prize for his collected poems, Aiken never received wide recognition for over thirty years until he settled in his city of his birth. Several character traits kept him from the public eye. To begin, he was deeply introverted to the point of being clinically shy and avoiding reading his work in public. Furthermore, he chose to be a most candid critic, a posture that did not endear him to his fellow writers. And finally, during his middle years, he was a resident of both the United States and Europe and never quite on either continent long enough to have the intellectual salons claim him as one of their own. 

By 1960, readers and critics "rediscovered" him after he had been resident in the U.S for some years. Beginning in 1962 he returned part-time to the elegance of Savannah where he spent the winters living next to his boyhood home. For the next eleven years he was the focus of social and academic circles there and sought out by admirers until his death in 1973.
If readers want to learn more about Aiken and his world, I strongly recommend they read this interview published in The Paris Review in 1963.
During his career he wrote or edited fifty books, including his poetry, short stories, five novels, and one autobiography. While much of Aiken's poetry is freely available on line his prose is not; however, one of his most famous semi-autobiographical short stories about Savannah and Tybee Island, Strange Moonlight, is available here.  In its few pages the story bears the full range of hallmarks - symbolism, consciousness, endless search, struggle, need for resolution - in his work. 

Ruinous blisses, joyous pains, 
Life the destroyer, life the breaker, 
And death, the everlasting maker....

Even in death Aiken reinforced his personal struggle as a legacy. On a visit to Savannah's magnificent Bonaventure Cemetery you'll eventually arrive at Aiken Way. At it's end there's an eerie headstone bearing the identical death dates of his parents. Next to it is a memorial bench he installed before his death. It bears the inscription "Cosmos Mariner - Destination Unknown."  Aiken found his epitaph quite by accident while perusing the daily list of port activity - names, arrivals and departures, ports of origin and destination - appearing in the Savannah newspaper. It was a perfect fit for a restless, constant searcher forever sailing through an uncertain sea.  But not to be one without hope, he engraved the directive, "Give my love to the world" beneath the epitaph. I think it's a rather confident wish coming from a restless sailor.  We can pray that every man should find safe harbor, all the while knowing that we are not the final judge of his navigation. And so, in Conrad Aiken, we are left merely to explore the products of a shy and troubled man who could appreciate a bawdy pun and have his say in singing words and lilting prose.



The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Conrad Aiken, entry by Ted R. Spivey
Wikipedia entry, Conrad Aiken
Conrad Aiken: Prodigy Unitarian Poet, by Richard A. Kellaway

opening  quote is from Aiken's autobiography
"ruinous blisses" quote is from his 1916 poem, The Dance of Life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tony Bennett At Ninety

Anthony Benedetto, better known as Tony Bennett, turns 90 today. After more than sixty years on stage, he still draws huge audiences to his full concert schedule of tunes from jazz, to Broadway, to the Great American Songbook. Bennett has been at the business so long he's had two careers, a fifteen-year affair with the Greatest Generation, and a now thirty-year reinvention with new artists, music, and audiences following a lull during the rock and roll era. Bennett has also been in the forefront of introducing current generations to the Great American Songbook.

Bennett performing in 2003 

Bennett is an interesting blend of vocal talent and showmanship, a well-perfected entertainer with a not so perfect voice. You have to learn how to appreciate the value of a permanent vocal strain and a sound out of vaudeville. For me, it was a long learning process, but I've come to appreciate and enjoy the total Bennett experience.

Lately the entertainer has reached deep into the past for material and produced a series of duet albums with vocalist young and old including, Paul McCartney, Diane Krall, Josh Groban, Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, and Marc Anthony. The man shows no sign of stopping either. The news this week, aside from his big birthday bash at Radio City Music Hall, is the production of a second duet album with Lady Gaga. There's good reason for that given this fine performance from their first album, Cheek to Cheek:

If you like what you hear, buy the music and help keep jazz, swing, and the Great American Songbook alive and well.


Photos and Illustrations:
photo, Tom Beetz