Friday, January 30, 2015

The Times They Ain't a Changing

The French have a saying -“Plus les choses changent plus elles restent les mêmes”. In English this means “The more things change; the more they remain the same." Looking through this old newspaper confirms that saying in either language.

Now, this is no ordinary newspaper. This paper is from January 30, 1931. My father was born that day in Brooklyn, New York. He would have been 84 today had he lived. But he didn’t, and as a result he lost a long standing bet with himself that he would outlive me. It was a silly bet of $1,000.*

Now here’s where the French come into it; the headlines are pretty much the same as today's paper. The House was set to vote on Food Relief, seeking $25 million to feed the unemployed. Just like the Great Recession we just had a few years ago. The Secretary of the Treasury was backing payment of the War Bonus to the Veterans of the First World War, which they would never get; similar to the current state of affairs with the VA.

Below the fold is a story about Einstein and his theory on sunspots; and the tiny planet Eros was veering out of its usual orbit and passing the Earth at a distance of 16 million miles. There's your space exploration and Stephen Hawking all in one.     

On page 3 there is a Coast Guard Cutter capturing a rum runner; an earlier incarnation of today's continuing and unsuccessful War on Drugs.

Calvin Coolidge is on the front page, a former President undercutting the presiding one, which was Hoover. That’s about like Jimmy Carter today.

The blame for the St. Valentine Day Massacre; barely 2 years old at the time; is laid at the feet of the Chicago Police Department. There’s your Police corruption and drive by shootings neatly packaged for your enjoyment. So, cops and robbers don’t seem to have changed much either.

In my old neighborhood apartments were renting for about $35 a month. Stenographers were earning about that for one week’s work. Maids were going for $70 per month; which is about a quarter of what the stenographers made. Wage disparity is still an issue today.

The ads are all kind of quaint; advertising the latest in radios and Victrola’s. We have ads for the latest I-phones.  

Actually, about the only thing that has really changed is the Want Ads. Gone are the various categories for Men and Women. And, there are even ads for “Colored Help”. Wonder what color was cool that year? Must’ve been a shade of white I suppose. Though you don’t see those ads any longer; I have a suspicion that some folks would love to see them again.
I love to look at old newspapers - it's such a useful way to look back upon the past and see what; if any; progress we have made.  The cars have changed, the technology is advanced; but things are surprisingly the same. Much like this post; which is an expanded version of something I posted on this day 5 years ago. “Plus les choses changent plus elles restent les mêmes”.

*For the full story of that bet go to; 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Democracy Wall - China (1978)

I’ve run across references to the Democracy Wall in several books I’ve read about China over the past few years. I have this image in my head of a wooden board, posted in the middle of town on a wall, where people post things; opinions; items of local news; and maybe some swapping of goods and services, are all what I would imagine to be on that sort of thing. I envision it as something akin to what we have at the laundromats and supermarkets. But, I’m not really sure.

So, I’m going to find out and tell you about it. I mean, what are they reading about in the picture above; and where are the women? Was this photo taken during the Mao years? And where did the guy get that green jacket from?

Well, the answer to the first question; what is it and where; is pretty cool. The Democracy Wall actually sprang up out of one of the Communist Party purges, in which the people were encouraged to post their opinions concerning the Four Evils. At the time; shortly after Mao’s death; there was mass dissatisfaction on the part of the Chinese people.
In October of 1978; when these events occurred; the Communist Party was engaged in a campaign of "seeking truth from facts," which was a way of trying to get to the bottom of the way people were feeling in the aftermath of the death of Mao Tse Tung. As with most things in China at the time, and to a certain extent even today, the phrases are not always in line with the outcomes. In other words; what you hear is not always what you get.

Literally, thousands of Chinese citizens posted written grievances of protest on a stretch of blank wall located on Chang'an Avenue; to the west of the former Forbidden City, and close to Mao’s tomb. This site became known as "Democracy Wall."

At first the postings were news and ideas. These were in the form of the large character posters known as “daziba”; similar to the ones in the picture above. The first posting of note was by Huang Xiang. It was posted after he had planned the event and told 3 of his fellow poet/dissidents about it.  Those men were Mo Jiangang, Li Jiahua and Fang Jiahua. They arrived at their destination on October 11, 1978. They had a bucket of handmade flour paste and went to the alley off Wangfujing Avenue Beijing near the offices of The People's Daily. There they began to posting over one hundred of Huang Xiang's poems. The first posting was “The Fire God Symphony.”

With not much else to do, a crowd began to form and watch as the 4 men posted these writings and then they began reading them. A traffic jam ensued, calling attention to the event and bringing the police. When they arrived the crowd linked arms to prevent them from getting Huang; who then began to recite his poetry out loud. The crowd was dispersed but returned that evening to re-read the poems by torchlight.

This was a huge victory, and would have remained so had not the 4 men returned to the same location in November, when they posted another 70 yards of poetry; this time overtly dissident in nature. As a matter of fact, that particular 70 yards was on the fence surrounding the mausoleum of Mao Tse Tung in Tiananmen Square. Here is an excerpt from the first posting;

“Of course, internal problems cannot be solved overnight but must be constantly addressed as part of a long-term process. Mistakes and shortcomings will be inevitable, but these are for us to worry about. This is infinitely better than facing abusive overlords against whom there is no redress. Those who worry that democracy will lead to anarchy and chaos are just like those who, following the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, worried that without an emperor the country would fall into chaos. Their decision was to patiently suffer oppression because they feared that without the weight of oppression, their spines might completely collapse! To such people, I would like to say, with all due respect: We want to be the masters of our own destiny. We need no gods or emperors and we don't believe in saviors of any kind...we do not want to serve as mere tools of dictators with personal ambitions for carrying out modernization want to modernize the lives of the people. Democracy, freedom, and happiness for all are our sole objectives.”

Now, this alone took balls, but then Huang crossed another line; one which would have severe repercussions for him. Dipping his brush once again, he penned the following two slogans right outside Mao’s tomb;

"The Cultural Revolution Must Be reevaluated!" and "Mao Zedong was thirty percent right and seventy percent wrong!"

Both of these sentiments were unthinkable; even two years after Mao's death. This was something which the authorities felt called for immediate action. Apparently there was a limit to what you could post. Moreover, he used his real name and address  and named Deng Xiaoping by name.

Accordingly, Premier Deng ordered Huang’s immediate “detention.” Now while you and I think of detention as being kept after school for a few hours, the Chinese have a completely different concept of the matter. Hence, Wei was promptly arrested and convicted of "counterrevolutionary" activities “. He was then “detained” for 18 years and not seen again until he was briefly released in 1993.
Even when he was released in 1993 Huang continued his activities by speaking to visiting journalists; which was forbidden by the terms of his release; and as a result he was imprisoned again until 1997, when he was granted Medical Asylum in the United States.

But what of the Democracy Wall today? While there is ample evidence and history of the Wall here in the west, it has been largely eliminated from all official accounts of Chinese history of the period.  Which is a shame because the event marked one of the first attempts by the Chinese government to right some of the problems caused by the reign of Chairman Mao. It should have been celebrated rather than erased. The whole event took place only a few streets from the offices of what was called the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee; which was engaged in enacting reforms.

As for the “Democracy Wall” itself, today there is no trace of the wall, no monument to mark the spot; as there is in Berlin to mark the places where the “wall” once stood. Rather, it is now a shopping mall with no evidence that the people who live, shop and work there are even aware of the history which happened where the fancy shops and boutiques now stand. And that’s sad; because without Huang and his 3 friends, those shops would not be there today.

And, as for the green jacket; apparently it has no significance. It’s just a green jacket. I suppose that; unlike the “Democracy Wall”; even in China, sometimes things are just what they seem to be. But I never did find out where the women were.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Portrait of a Delta Bluesman" - Pinetop Perkins

This is the 3rd time in the past 5 years that I have posted something about Pinetop Perkins, the iconic jazz/blues pianist. He was still playing up until his death in 2011 at age 98.  Born July 7, 1913 he had been performing since 1927. At that time he played guitar, but he felt as if he were drowned out by the piano player. So, he took up the piano and a legend was born. The truth is that he hurt his arm in the 1940’s and the piano was easier on him.

This album is kind of like a personal story, with Joe Willie “Pinetop” telling stories about some of the wilder adventures on the road back in the 1930’s. The Chimney tale and the John Lee Hooker story are the two best. His wit and sense of humor were still intact until his passing.

In 1969 he was the replacement for Otis Spann in Muddy Waters Band. He was with Muddy for 12 long years; which sounds like the title for a great blues song. One of the most amazing things about Pinetop Perkins is that he did not begin to perform as a solo artist until he was in his eighties. And then he released an album per year for the next 15 years! He was even nominated for a Grammy in 1997; 2000 and again in 2005. That has to be some sort of record; to be nominated at age 92!

If you have never listened to Pinetop Perkins this album is one of the best ways to become familiar with both the man and his music. You will be enchanted by every word and note. Just look at those weathered hands on the cover. The leathery, worn skin tells it all.

Note: The photo above was taken in 2010 when Pinetop was performing in Spain. He was 97 at the time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Lilyhammer" with Steven Van Zandt (2011)

Here’s a series I never heard of before. It was at the Library, filed under L for Lilyhammer. There’s no telling how many times I may have passed it by without notice, but for whatever reason this time I took it home with me. Glad I did.

Frank the Fixer; played by Steven Van Zandt; has testified against his “boss” in New York and as a result he needs to go into the Witness Protection Program. But he chooses not to head to Arizona or Florida; warm climates where most of the people in the program usually opt to relocate; he decides it would be safer if he were to relocate somewhere more obscure; and cold.

Remembering that he has seen Lillehammer on TV during the Olympics a few decades ago, he decides to cast his himself as a former restaurant owner and heads off to begin his new life in “Lilyhammer”; which is the way he pronounces it.

Once there he has to come to terms with life in a social democracy; where political correctness is the norm and hunting is not allowed. All of these things come into play as he navigates his new life, meeting his neighbors and in some cases corrupting them.

From the very first episode it is apparent that this man; who is trying to live his life unnoticed; is not going to quietly “fit in” with his new environment. He has troubles with the Employment Office; a personality conflict with one of the town’s police officers; is mistaken for an Islamic terrorist newly released from Guantanamo; and extreme difficulty understanding the passivity of the people.

But in spite of all the social differences; or perhaps because of them; Frank quickly discovers that people everywhere are really the same. They all want to be one step ahead of one another.  Great viewing; get ready to binge watch this one.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Tinseltown" by William J. Mann (2014)

There is something unique about reading a book which has no conclusion. The 1922 murder of Billy Taylor has never been solved. And that’s the pleasure in this type of book; you can read it and draw your own conclusion. Then you can read it again and convict somebody else; and never be wrong either time.

Who killed William Desmond Taylor, the President of the Motion Pictures Directors Association? That’s a question which has been bandied about Hollywood since his death in 1922. What makes the case so hard to crack? Well, it could be that so many people had so many reasons to kill him. He wasn’t a bad man, really. Just a fellow caught up in an extraordinary place at an extraordinary time in the history of entertainment.

Hollywood was fairly new in 1922, and author William J. Mann paints a concise and compact picture of its history; from the first film efforts in New York and New Jersey, to the first film studios, stars and early scandals of Hollywood. Little has changed over the course of almost a century in Tinseltown. The actors and actresses who died from drug overdoses; as well as the ones caught up in sex scandals back then were just the first of a long unbroken line of broken lives that chronicle the history of Hollywood.

There were 3 actresses involved in this scandal, which is also the story of the rivalry between 2 ex business partners; Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew; who were embattled in a struggle for the control of the film industry, from the making of the film and its distribution, all the way through to the ownership of the theaters where the films would be shown. Had the book been only about these 2 men it would have been enough to hold the interest of the reader.

But, even as these 2 titans raced literally to the top; both would build skyscrapers in New York City, with theaters on the ground floor; they faced a battle of public opinion over the influence of moving pictures on the morals of the nation. Zukor’s building still survives at 1501 Broadway, although the theater is long gone. His daughter would marry Loews son; much to the chagrin of her father. These men were so different, yet possessed the same desire to rule. The big difference was that Loew was compassionate and well loved by all who worked with him; while Zukor was detested and feared by all who worked for him. One was a tyrant; while the other was more akin to the captain of a team.

Both men found themselves facing public outrage over the drug use and violence which seemed to continually be pouring out of Tinseltown in the years after the First World War and the advent of the talkies. These were the troubles that brought about the first movie codes; issued by the Hays Office. William Hays was an odd man, too. He was lured into the position of being Hollywood’s first real censor from his government job, and was even paid by Zukor’s studio. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! .

At first Hays was compliant and willing to do whatever the studio bosses required of him to keep his $100,000 a year position. But as the scandals became increasingly frequent, and the public outrage grew, Hays was finally forced to take a stand on the side of the “decency leagues” and really perform the job he was paid to do. This aspect of the book sheds light on the history of Motion Picture Codes and how they came to be.

There is also the murder itself, which is the core of the book. Three young actresses; Mabel Normand, Mary Minter and Margaret Gibson; are all connected to the victim in one way or another. But the one most suspected of the murder is the 19 year old actress Mary Miles Minter, who had been in love with the older Desmond Taylor for some time. He kept her at arm’s length, careful not to upset the girl, while also remaining mindful of her mother; a woman who had on occasion threatened to kill him if he did not stay away from her daughter.

That was a pretty big request on her part, considering that her daughter worked with the older man. It was also rumored that she was in love with Taylor herself. The prevailing theory was that she had discovered them flagrante de lecto and killed him. Her gun was discarded by the grandmother, who made a special trip to Louisiana to dispose of it in the Bayou. The gun had been given to Mary’s mother by the Chief of Police in Hollywood, who was rumored to be having an affair with her. But there was a secret which Mr. Taylor held very close; rendering his own affair with either woman unlikely at the very least.

Mabel Normand was a recovering cocaine addict. She was aided and befriended by Taylor, who had even gotten into some shouting matches with the blood sucking dealers who would come to her home to leave drugs for her. His life had been threatened by at least one of them, and so this was another avenue of investigation.

Then there was Margaret Gibson who had a checkered past. She had been arrested in a raid on a drug house where she was working as a kimono clad dancer.  Rumors were that this was also a brothel. She had managed to wriggle out of a conviction, though her reputation was already tarnished by the time of Taylor’s killing. Her connection to him, along with the unsavory con artists and bunko operators with whom she lived, also led the police to believe that he was the victim of blackmailers. He did; after all; have a big secret to hide.

The author makes an analogy of the events depicted here to the book “The Day of the Locusts.” In that book; later made into a very bad film with Donald Sutherland; the author likens the people who come to Hollywood to prey upon the successful ones as locusts. This group of people is composed of those who come to Hollywood to achieve stardom but fail to attain that elusive prize, instead becoming part of the nefarious atmosphere of Tinseltown, replete with "hangers on."

This is a very detailed book which has been extensively annotated and researched. Not only does it explore the various aspects of the crime at hand, it also gives a great insight into the early days of the studios and how they merged and grew. Written in a highly entertaining fashion the book moves along almost like a film noir story. The big difference, of course, is that this story is deliciously real.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tal Henry & his North Carolinians (Undated)

There’s a great misconception of North Carolina when it comes to music. Many people think of the state as being predominantly represented by such musical acts as Earl Scruggs and Andy Griffith, or “shag music” from the shore. And we’re proud of that stuff. But our musical history is much more diverse than that. It covers all genres; including the rare and elusive traveling jazz -dance band orchestra and comedy act of Tal Henry and His North Carolinians.

Well, in actuality Tal Henry was born in Georgia in July of 1898. He arrived in North Carolina; Burlington to be exact; after he had completed his education at Shenandoah Conservatory of Music located in Dayton, Virginia. In North Carolina he worked at Elon College, near Burlington, where he taught violin, an instrument he had been playing since he was 7 years old.

His first experiences playing for entertainment seem to have been in the Burlington area around 1919. He was the violinist with Frank Hood and his band; now making his home in Greensboro. By 1924 he had taken over the band which he named Tal Henry and His North Carolinians. It’s not clear just how many of the band members were from North Carolina, but the name was a big draw at college campus parties and social events in the surrounding area.

Next the band found work in Washington, Pennsylvania doing the same thing as they had in Greensboro; playing dances and events; only now they had a home at the Washington Hotel where they were under contract as the house band. Remember that radio was just coming into play as a major means of entertainment, and so “society bands”; as they were known at the time; were still in great demand.

The next move the band made was to Charlotte; which at the time was poised to become the great center of music that Nashville became later on. Charlotte only lost her hold due to the logistics of the vaudeville circuit. At the time her 50,000 Watt transmitter at WBT-AM was the largest one in the South, and as such the station drew all kinds of entertainers to its studio on Tryon Street. Arthur Smith was a regular and had his own show. He loved Charlotte so much that he never left it; dying there (here to me) just about a year ago. There the orchestra performed at the opening of the Hotel Charlotte in 1924. But the bands big break finally arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when they were introduced to Bob Hope and George Burns. They were booked to join the troupe for a sixteen week tour beginning immediately.

From then on the band worked more or less non-stop for about 27 year; appearing on stage, at galas and celebrations, on radio, television and even a few movies along the way. They worked with just about everybody in show business at the time, including; Bob Hope, ,Mary Pickford, Kate Smith, Kay Kyser, Fred Waring, Paul Whiteman, Jan Garber, Duke Ellington, Vincent Lopez, Randolph Scott, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Hal Kemp, Jack Marshall, Nat "King" Cole, Ina Ray Hutton and even a young Lionel Hampton.

I have run across the name of the band several times over the years while reading both fiction and non-fiction books. I figured it was high time to find out who he was and how he fit in to the history of music in North Carolina. He may not have been born here, but North Carolina is the place he learned how to swing.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"The Rise of ISIS" - PBS Frontline (2014)

The basic message of this film is that our policy failures under the Bush; and later Obama; administrations are the primary cause of the radical Sunnis going berserk; cutting off heads, burning schools and going back to Sharia law. They ask you to believe that this is all due  Iraqi President Maliki; who is Shiite; double crossing the US and persecuting the Sunnis in violation of the Constitution worked out with the US for governing Iraq after we left. Remember, we had deposed Saddam Hussein; who ruled with an iron fist in order to avoid the chaos which you are seeing now; which is nothing more than the rise of Al Qaeda on steroids, masquerading as ISIS.

This film asks me to believe that the stupidity of Bush and Obama is a legitimate excuse for the barbaric behavior by ISIS. The premise that this is solely in response to Maliki’s double cross is absurd. This is simply the true agenda of Radical Islam unmasked. Maliki and the US aside; this is the chance that the radical Islamics have been waiting for. That we provided them with that opportunity is no excuse for their behavior; either before or after the fact.

While this film is an important one to see; if only to gather some facts; it is important also to realize that it has an agenda. It seems to be aimed squarely at blaming the current reign of ISIS on the Obama and Bush administrations; and hence the West in general; for the terror and insanity of Radical Islam; which ISIS represents. But remember that Islamic extremists have been terrorizing the world for decades now; long before the current state of events. Keep that in mind when watching this film.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Ruggles of Red Gap" with Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles (1935)

This movie is a rare and delightful treat. Egbert Floud (played by Charlie Ruggles) is on a trip to Europe with his would be cultured wife, Effie (played by Mary Boland.) They are from Red Gap, somewhere out West in the United States. The movie begins with Lord Bumstead (played by Roland Young) waking up hungover after losing his butler, William Ruggles (played by Charles Laughton) in a game of poker with Egbert Floud.

Egbert is very uneasy with the idea of having a servant but his wife is insistent and so he finds himself with a "man servant", or "butler." When they arrive in Red Gap, Ruggles sees that he is now free from being cast as a servant at birth, leaving him with limitless choices, and so he begins to rebel.

Falling in love with a local widow, Mrs. Judson (played by Zasu Pitts) awakens in him the desire to be more, and he finally works up the courage to stand up for himself. This is the result of a remarkable discussion in a saloon, about "...just what did Lincoln say at Gettysburg?" The answer comes in the form of the best recitation of the Gettysburg Address; delivered by Charles Laughton; that I have ever heard. (This is fitting, as originally only the English reporters of the time thought the speech to be of any note. In America it was looked upon as a short, though passionate, disappointment. It was only years after Lincoln's death that his speech was fully appreciated here.)

What follows is one man's discovery of what it means to be equal and rise above his own beginnings. Embracing opportunity is something that Ruggles has never had the chance to experience. And though initially aghast at the idea of being something other than a butler, when the chance is laid before him, he is ready to seize the day and further his destiny. In short, he decides to "enter into trade." Egbert, who didn't want a "butler" in the first place, is only too eager to assist him.

Opening a restaurant in Red Gap causes a great stir, particularly due to the fact that Egberts' wife has already introduced Ruggles to everyone as an English Lord, rather than as a butler. When his former boss, Lord Bumstead, comes to take him home, he is met by a new Ruggles; one who is intent upon reaching his potential in this new country. And this has unintended consequences for Lord Bumstead as well, as he finds himself questioning the rigid autocracy of which he, himself, is also a product.

This wonderful and optimistic film is worth watching if for no other reason than to hear English spoken so well by Laughton. Loaded with some of the best character actors Hollywood has ever produced, this film has long been a favorite of mine. I first saw this one on "The Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9 - WOR TV in New York as a kid. I was so glad to see that it has been transferred to DVD. It would be a shame to lose this gem of a film.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

James Holmes and the Insanity Plea - Inconsistent Reasoning

James Holmes; the celebrated movie theater killer of 2 years ago; is set to go on trial after much delay. His delays and tests; along with the quest to have the trial moved elsewhere, have a ll failed and he is now on trial for his life. Let me be clear on this point; I am for the death penalty. But I am aghast at the way this case is being manipulated to prove that Mr. Holmes is sane enough to go on trial for his life.

Examine the facts; in addition to what he did in that theater, which is clearly beyond sane as he had no real motive; he is now tethered to the floor of the courtroom where he is being tried as sane. Does this make any sense?

I refer to a post on this which I did about 2 years ago at the time of Mr. Holmes arraignment. In short, I am for killing Mr. Holmes, but I am against the charade which would have us believe that this man is sane. I just want to call a spade a spade. Here is that post;

Much has been written of late concerning the use of the Insanity Plea as a defense in general and, in particular, in the case of James Holmes.  Holmes is the young man accused of multiple homicides in the shooting at a midnight showing of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Colorado, which resulted in 12 people being killed and another 59 wounded. Police say the suspect acted alone and had no prior criminal record or ties to terrorism. He had, though, been under the care of a Mental Health professional at the time, and his case was reviewed, at the direction of his doctor, by a crisis management team just days before the killings took place.

Now the deed is done, and the Monday morning “Quarterbacking” has begun in earnest. The talking heads on my TV all say that the Insanity Plea is a dead end, as Mr. Holmes clearly planned this attack beforehand. This line of thinking, in determining whether Mr. Holmes is sane or not, is like comparing an orange to a watermelon. It makes no sense.

If, for example, I were to plan a murder for profit; and then say I was crazy; that would be a ridiculous plea, which would carry no merit. I would, in that case, be “crazy as a fox.” Obviously my crime would have had a criminal purpose; I was driven by greed. But what about the Holmes case? Let’s take a look at it.

Here’s a young man; with known mental difficulties; whose own doctor even questioned whether or not he was a danger to himself and others. He has planned, in meticulous detail, a crime too heinous to imagine. And then he actually carries it out, resulting in the deaths and injuries mentioned above. He hopes to gain no profit from his act. He doesn’t even have a sense of reality about the whole event; he even asked a deputy, after the shooting, how the film ended.

When considering an Insanity Plea, the question is not whether we believe that the subject was capable of premeditation in the crime for which they stand accused; the real question is how sane was the plan to begin with. What possible gain was there for Mr. Holmes to attain, even if he had gotten away with the crime? The answer is patently obvious. There was no gain, no real motive other than to commit the crime. That’s insane. Just like the guy who contemplates whether or not he can fly by jumping off the roof, he’s clearly insane.

Is this a plea to spare Mr. Holmes life? Not a chance. I believe in the death penalty. I just believe in being honest with ourselves about why we execute people when we do. The law says we do not execute people who are insane. So, in order to execute Mr. Holmes, he must be found to be sane.

No matter how much we kid ourselves to the contrary, Mr. Holmes is damaged, and likely will never be “fixed”. I mourn for the families of those who lost loved ones by his actions. If he is found guilty, I support the application of the death penalty for his crimes. Just don’t expect me to believe that he is sane.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Rowan Museum in Salisbury, N.C.

Sue is a wizard at finding places to go which are still close enough for me to visit comfortably. She often “discovers” places which I have passed without notice several times; such as this little museum in Salisbury, the seat of Rowan County. 

It’s located right next door to the Rowan County Court House and Police Station; two  places with which I am familiar. I’ve filed many documents in the one; and pled to a few citations in the other. But I never noticed the small Greek revival building next door on Main Street.

But Sue did. Actually she read about it in one of those little papers which most men don’t ever look at. You know; the local ones with coupons and gardening stuff. Also; apparently; articles about local historical sites in the area. That’s where she ran across this one.

Located on Main Street, next door; as I’ve said; to the Courthouse, is a small Greek revival building which looks as Southern as it can. It was built in 1855 and was home to the original County Courthouse until 1914, when the building next door opened. It is now home to the Rowan Museum and is open Monday through Saturdays from 10 AM to 6 PM and is free of charge; though donations are encouraged.

When you walk through the doors your senses are assaulted with color from all of the objects displayed in cases which line the walls of the main hallway. Off of this hallway; to either side; are rooms which are devoted to different aspects of the history of Rowan County. These rooms range from the early settlers; this was once the Western frontier, long before the Wild West of Hollywood fame; to the more modern ones about the mill towns and textile industry; which was once such a predominant part of the economy here.

The room dealing with the impact of the First World War locally was of special interest to me as my grandfather trained in nearby Spartanburg, S.C., right before shipping off to France in the summer of 1918, just in time for the final offensive drive to Berlin. All in all, this was a delightful meander back through the county’s attic; so to speak; not unlike the Smithsonian in its own unique way.

I know that Sue was especially delighted to see this room; which serves as the meeting room for the local DAR chapter, as she is a member in the Mooresville one. Her great, great, Grandfather Henry Pensinger fought in the Revolution; losing a leg at the Battle of Ticonderoga humping cannon over snowy mountains for the surprise raid on the British. Then they humped the cannon back over the same mountains on the way home.  There is also the actual old courthouse; which is located upstairs and I did not see. Sue did, and she can finish telling you about that as well as more about the local DAR chapter. Take it away, Sue....
The Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was chartered in 1898. It is named for Elizabeth Steele as she was a “Salisbury Patriot”, who operated a Tavern just up the street from this corner during the American Revolution. The story is that General Nathanial Greene stopped overnight at the Tavern. When Mrs. Steele realized he needed funds for his Troops, she gave him her life savings. (Note the money bag on her portrait on the wall.)

The second floor is the actual old courtroom with a wrap- around interior balcony.  You can stand in the balcony and imagine the old courtroom scenes below. It has been refurbished and is available for event rentals. To the side of the courtroom, are doors that lead you out to the exterior balcony that overlooks the historic downtown.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Talmud" by Harry Freedman (2104)

Get ready to relearn some of the things you think you already know about the Talmud with this exciting and compelling book by author Harry Freedman. It’s exciting because the Talmud is often confusing to people who are not of the Jewish faith; prompting some to ask me where they can get a “Jewish Bible.” I usually answer “Well, just rip the last 300 or so pages out of your King James Version and you’ll have a Jewish bible.” But that doesn’t really explain much. This book does a better job of it than I do.

The reason for the confusion is simple enough. Many Jews; Rabbi’s included; often tell stories from the Mishnah or the Talmud, which lead the listener to think they are hearing stories from a Jewish Bible. A few years ago I went to a temple to see a lecture on Judaism which was aimed at non-Jews. The audience was left in the dust as soon as the Rabbi began relating stories from the Mishnah and Talmud, giving them the full weight of Biblical stories and confusing the audience in the process.

The importance of this book is that it serves as a ground level entry for the seriously interested; or confused; where the Jewish faith is concerned. The Talmud is simply a codification of the first 5 Books of Moses which comprise the Jewish Torah. It is often referred to as the Old Testament; unless you’re Jewish. Then it’s simply the Torah.

The Talmud goes hand in hand with the Mishnah in that it explains further the traditions and meanings behind the Commandments spelled out in the Torah itself. These are the explanations behind the 613 Commandments contained in the Torah. And you thought it was hard enough to keep only 10! These explanations are akin to the Christian Parables. While they may not be the actual word of God, they are important in the understanding of the New Testament and the things which Jesus did. The same is true of the Talmud.

The author very carefully goes though the history behind the Talmud, beginning with the Torah; or the 5 Books of Moses; which was handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai some 3,000 years ago. That was called the written law. But the next step was the “oral law”, which was not transcribed but verbally transmitted by Moses to Joshua in the desert after Mt. Sinai. Think of this as Moses telling Joshua all the details of his encounter with the God of Abraham.

Next there came the Mishnah, in about 100B.C. This was a codification of the 5 Books of Moses and it would be written and reworked for over 2 centuries, until about 100 A.D. This codification explained just how to accomplish the 613 commandments in the Bible. It is divided into 63 sections and is the forerunner to the Talmud itself, which first made its appearance around 150 A.D. during the Roman occupation of the Holy Land. This is known as the Jerusalem Talmud, not to be confused with the later Babylonian Talmud, which was written between the years 230 and 500 A.D.

The book also gives great insight into the differences between the Saducees and the Pharisees. These 2 sects were somewhat akin to the differences between Conservatives and Liberal, with the Saducees, who had assimilated with the Romans, believing only in the Torah and not the Oral Law or the Mishnah, making them kind of like today’s Conservatives. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in the Torah and the Mishnah. They believed that the two went hand in hand, with the Mishnah guiding the understanding of the Torah. Kind of like the “living Constitution” in which today’s Liberals believe.

The author takes the history all the way forward through the centuries, examining each of the times in the world’s history when we almost lost the Talmud, along with the race of people who were chosen to receive the Torah. For those who wonder why that is of any importance this book will both educate and enlighten you. 

You needn’t be Jewish to enjoy this book; it has much to offer in the way of explaining today’s religious differences, many of which drive today’s world politics. That’s the part which makes it compelling.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shrine of the Sacred Flower

This is the Shrine of the Little Flower, located in Royal Oak Michigan. I first became aware of this shrine when looking through the contents of my father’s army wallet, which I wrote about a few days ago. Realizing that I knew very little about the place I decided to look on line to see what I could find out. As always, I’m glad I did.

Catholic Shrines have always been of interest to me. Although I am Jewish, my father was Catholic; as in Irish Catholic. It was Latin and incense, blood and body of Christ; and no meat on Friday’s until the Pope said it was okay in the 1960’s. I even went to church with him until I was about 6 years old. I found it spooky; all in Latin and dark with the nuns wearing their wimples. But I have always been fascinated with the Shrines; as they usually represent some interesting story, and even; in some cases; a miracle. That interest is what sparked me to find out about this particular Shrine.

The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church is a Roman Catholic National Shrine, as well as a functioning church. It was built in two stages between 1931 and 1936. It serves as an active parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Father Charles Coughlin; the controversial evangelistic preacher; helped to fund it. He even broadcast some of his programs from the tower during the 1930's.

The shrine itself was erected in honor of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux ; also known as the Little Flower. The church was built in 1926. The area was largely Protestant and within about two weeks after it opened the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of the church. The original wood structure was destroyed by a fire in March of 1936. The construction of a new church was already underway; having  begun in 1931; with the entire project completed by 1936, shortly after the fire.

The large limestone Art Deco tower is known as the Charity Crucifixion Tower. It was completed in 1931 and has sculptures by Rene Paul Chambellan, including one of Christ on the Woodward Avenue façade. It was built as a response to the Ku Klux Klan as a "cross they could not burn." Pretty cool, huh?

The sides and rear of the building contain a crucifix which can be lit from the inside. The upper four corners of the structure are representations of the Four Evangelists, and carved below the feet of the figure of Christ are the Seven Last Words. Just below that is a doorway with "Charity" and "Christ Crucified" carved above it. On the sides of the doorframe are depictions of items associated with the Passion.”  This doorway leads to a balcony resembling a pulpit. It is carved with depictions the Archangels Jophiel, Raphael, Michael, Gabriel and Uriel. And, across the terrace facing the crucifix there is a depiction of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is carved into the wall. This sculpture is also by Chambellan.

As for the Little Flower herself, well she was in reality Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, born on January 2, 1873. She was a French Discalced Carmelite nun from the age of 15 until her death 9 years later from tuberculosis at the age of 24. She is popularly known as "The Little Flower of Jesus". She is also known as simply the “Little Flower”. In 1997 Pope John Paul II named her as a Doctor of the Church; the youngest so honored and only the 3rd woman to hold that position. As a result her already wide following has increased.

What made her so revered were the volumes of poetry and writing she left behind. Her extreme ordinariness was the very quality which led to her writings becoming the basis for her eventual canonization in 1925. Her spirituality in the face of her illness is what she is revered for. Her feast day is October 1st.

If you wonder why I am taking the time to find this out, it’s all just an extension of trying to understand my father; as well as get to know a bit more about Roy; pictured above at about the time he got the crucifix which he gave to my Dad. While I may not be able to make these journeys physically, through the wonders of technology I can walk the grounds and see where Roy once went and where he bought that crucifix. And the story about the Little Flower isn’t bad either…

Note: The above photo of Uncle Roy is courtesy of Aunt Gloria from the Williams Family Collection; which is housed in various drawers and photo albums across the land.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why We Will Never Win

With all the talk of the Earth being in peril due to the antics of mankind I thought that this photo might calm everyone down a bit.
Until 2 years ago a house stood on the spot you are looking at. All that remains of the home are the steps- and they too will soon be overtaken by nature.

We can give the planet a hard time- as we are at present. But in the end it will not be mankind destroying the planet. No, it will be mankind destroying ourselves and the planet will simply go on to cleanse itself of our presence.

So conserve what you can while you can; but remember this; when the Earth has had enough of us, we will be gone. She will regenerate and remain. And I find that comforting....

Friday, January 16, 2015

"The Blue Tail Fly" - Revisited

We learned this song in elementary school. The other day I was playing it on guitar, when I stopped as I realized the words and their full import. This song was sung far and wide when I was growing up, and in some places it is still a staple of childhood rhyme schemes. I have no problem with it, as the children singing it usually have no idea of what the lyrics mean. Some folks even think that the lyrics are two separate songs.

The above live performance by Burl Ives is a bit out of synch. I could have used another clip, but this one from 1964 shows just how out of synch most of America was regarding race relations at the same time as the country was experiencing massive racial unrest. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had yet to be passed, and the events in Selma, Alabama were still a year away.

Some folks have objected to this songs continued use in schools due to the racial overtones of the lyrics. The main character is a slave who tends to his masters every need. Some find that offensive. But listen more closely and you will realize that this song makes sport of the master’s dependence upon his servant, who actually may have played a small part in his own demise. The last verse is the best, and if you remove the quotation marks from the epitaph then the whole meaning changes. Instead of an epitaph it becomes a confession on the part of the servant.
As the world evolves, changes get made and things get lost. I hope that the people who object to this song will stop and really hear it for what it is; it’s a satire about the people who only think that they are in charge, but haven’t got a clue. If they did, then the blue tail fly could never have hurt them.

“The Blue Tail Fly” by Elie Siegmeister and Walter F. Kerr

When I was young I used to wait
On my master and hand him his plate
And Pass the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

And when he'd ride in the afternoon
I'd follow after with my hickory broom
The pony being rather shy
When bitten by the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

One day he ride around the farm
Flies so numerous they did swarm
One chanced to bite him on the thigh
The devil take the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

The pony run, he jump, he pitch
He threw my master in the ditch
He died and the jury wondered why
The verdict was the blue-tail fly.

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

He lay under the 'simmon tree
His epitaph is there to see
"Beneath this stone I'm forced to lie
The victim of the blue-tail fly."

Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
My master's gone away.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The Trip to Bountiful" with Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams (2013)

In this Horton Foote play; directed by Michael Wilson; Cicely Tyson plays the elderly Mrs. Watts who lives with her son Ludie and daughter in law Jessie Mae; played by Blair Underwood  and Vanessa Williams, respectively. Ludie only wants what is best for his aging hymn singing mother; but the old woman is a thorn in the side to his wife. It’s worth noting that Ms. Williams’ portrayal of Jessie Mae is so spot on that you will despise her character within only a few moments of meeting her.

Mrs. Watts lives off her “government pension check”, which never seems to arrive early enough to suit Jessie Mae. She has even instructed the local grocer to never cash the check for the older woman; making sure that she is using the check to pay for her room and board. The elderly Mrs. Watts wants only one thing in life before she dies; she wants to return home for a visit to her hometown of Bountiful in Louisiana. Her memories of it are so vivid that she can feel the sea air wrapping around her face as she once did while sitting on her front “gallery”.

As things in her son’s house get more and more difficult for the old woman to bear she hatches a plan. Hiding the monthly check from her daughter in law she packs her things when no one is home and goes to the bus station, intent on making the trip to Bountiful on her own. It is while at the bus station that she finds out Bountiful is nothing more than a ghost town between 2 other stops on the bus line. With her uncashed check and nothing but the $4.50 bus fare in change, she gets a ticket to the town 12 miles short of her destination.

Waiting for the bus she spots her son and daughter in law looking for her. She eludes them with the help of a young woman named Thelma; played sweetly by Keke Palmer; whose husband has just left for “overseas”. She is returning home to stay with her parents during his absence.  The two women sit together on the bus and find kinship with one another and the vagaries of life. They even sing hymns together; in sharp contrast to the older woman’s life at home, where her daughter in law forbids her to sing and her son is not man enough to stand up for her.

Arriving in the town of Harrison at midnight; 12 miles short of Bountiful;  Mrs. Watts discovers that she has left her purse, with the uncashed check in it; aboard the bus, which has now left and will not return until 5 AM. This turn of events coincides with the departure of Thelma on a connecting bus to her destination, leaving the older woman alone to spend the night on a bench in the bus station waiting room.

But she is not really alone. Aside from her hymns she has the bus station’s elderly ticket agent to keep her company. She chats with him for a while before they both drift off to sleep; her on the bench and he behind the window of the ticket counter. When her purse arrives at 5 AM he elects to let her sleep until her son; who has phoned the local Sheriff; is scheduled to arrive to pick his mother up and bring her back to his home.

Before that can happen though, the local sheriff; played by Clancy Brown, arrives and asks the agent to keep her there and phone him if she becomes unstable. Her daughter in law has portrayed her as crazy to the Sheriff in an effort to thwart Mrs. Watts’s efforts to elude her son. But the Sheriff is taken by the older woman’s pluck and agrees to drive her on out to Bountiful for a look at what is left of her old home.

On the way the two are able to establish a rapport which transcends the racism and bigotry of the time and place in which this story takes place. As a matter of fact, the only times race relations come up in this movie are when you see the Colored Waiting Room signs and notice the attitude of the ticket agent in the first bus terminal towards African-American passengers. This laissez-faire attitude towards the “elephant in the room” does much to enhance the film. Without “beating the dead horse” the story is more focused on the human aspect of Mrs. Watts wanting to go home. And that’s something we can all identify with at one point of our life or another.

In the end, Mrs. Watts gets to go home; via the courtesy of the Sheriff. And her son does arrive to pick her up; but not at the bus station, as planned. He too, must make that extra journey of only 12 miles; if only in order to understand his mother more fully. And, I think it’s fair to say that we all need to make that extra journey in order to understand one another. This was a delightful; and poignant; film. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Live from Mountain Stage" - John Hartford (2000)

I became a fan of John Hartford in about 2 seconds while watching the opening segment of the old “Glen Campbell Show” on CBS. If you’re old enough to remember, Glen Campbell used to sit in the audience and stand up as the show began, singing his landmark recording “Gentle On My Mind”. Standing with him was the song’s author, John Hartford, playing the banjo.

For years afterwards I always looked for John Hartford, either as a solo act, or playing backup on other artist’s recordings. Ask anyone in the music business and they will tell you with all honesty that John Hartford was the man who helped keep the genre of “Americana” alive through all of the changes in music which occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was the curator of part of our cultural history.

With his trademark bowler hat and sleeve garters, Mr. Hartford tap danced and fiddled his way across America during his almost 5 decades in show business, appearing on TV Shows, College Campuses and County Fairs. He was like a vision; a glimpse into the past of America; a time when steamboats roamed up and down the Mighty Mississippi, transporting cotton, and gamblers to their respective destinations. He was like a part of that scenery, although 100 years removed.

American music is composed of so many different styles, and comes from so many different roots. In it, you hear jazz, blues, slave chants, folk tunes from scores of countries, and even oriental influences combined into something unique. John Hartford fell hard for the Scots/Irish blend of fiddle music and banjo playing. And along the way he learned to write. From his earliest hits, like “Gentle On My Mind”, to his most obscure of later work, his music always evoked something of the American past. You can hear it in “Gentle On My Mind.” That banjo part just cuts through the whole song.

Curiously, he was born in New York City, before moving at an early age to Missouri, where he first saw his beloved river. In addition to all of his musical accomplishments; he played several instruments, and wrote many songs; he was also a licensed riverboat Captain.

This album is a compilation of three concerts recorded by Mr. Hartford for West Virginia’s NPR “Mountain Stage” shows at the West Virginia Cultural center Auditorium in Charleston; between March of 1994 and May of 1996. This album was released in 2000, a year prior to Mr. Hartford’s death in 2001. Just a quick look at the song list above will give you an idea of who he was musically. 

From his performance of these classics; such as Johnny Bond’s “I Wonder Where You are Tonight”, and Carl Butler’s poignant “My Tears Don’t Show”; and even his own songs, such as “Lorena”, “Gentle On My Mind”, and the humorous “Bring Your Clothes Back Home”; it is easy to feel the connection that he had with his audience. They loved the man. It was that simple, and palpable. He frequently tapped danced as he played, and you can hear his feet accompanying him on many of the tracks.

His death in 2001 left a vacuum in American music which has never quite been filled. But, whenever you see a juggler, a street musician, or anyone engaged in “street” art, you are looking at part of Mr. Hartford’s soul. He was our troubadour; our wandering minstrel. And, we will likely never see his like again.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Black and White" by Richard Williams (2014)

I only took this book out of the library because I was interested in Richard Williams’ early life growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 1950’s. He was born there in 1942 and by his teen aged years was a justifiably angry young black man with very little hope for a secure future. At least that’s the way it would’ve worked out if not for two things; a strong mother and a commitment to break away from the expected outcome of his life.

On that level the book delivered beautifully, living up to my every expectation. But the real surprise of this book was that it was able to hold my attention all the way through his daughters winning their celebrated championships.

But the meat of this book is in the fact that Mr. Williams; no relation to me; had the idea of creating the award winning sisters before they were even born. He was married at the time to the woman he loved and was raising 3 step children with her. Life was perfect. Many people do not realize that Mr. Williams was already a very successful businessman before his daughters became champions. He owned a cleaning service, a car wash and some real estate. Before he was 30 he had amassed around $800,000 before giving it all away.

Watching TV one day with his adopted daughters he saw a young woman winning $20,000 for a tennis match. He was instantly seized with the vision of raising 2 girls to become champion players. His adopted children were too old at the time to train adequately. So he proposed the idea of having 2 more daughters to his wife. Whether she believed in the idea, or was just enthusiastic about “trying” we will never know for sure.
Shortly after the girls were born, about a year and a half apart, Mr. Williams moved his family from a comfortable home in Long Beach to the crack infested neighborhood of Compton in Los Angeles. He wanted his daughters to be strong and independent, and to that end he showed them the prostitutes, the drug slingers, the gangs hanging on the corners; all in an effort to show them what they should aspire not to be.

He literally fought the street gangs to regain control of the local park tennis courts; which were on the “turf” of the gangs. He lost 10 teeth and had countless ribs cracked; and he even chased them down with a shotgun before finally winning.

In short; this is a book which will surprise you. If you think you know enough about Venus and Serena Williams from reading the headlines and the magazines; think again. Until you have gotten to know their father, you haven’t even scratched the surface.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Valley of Tears" - Solomon Burke with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

This is one of the most beautiful performances of this song you will ever hear. Gospel music is a balm for the pain in life. It gives hope when all seems to be lost. The sorrow turns to hope and joy when set to music. In the world of gospel music, there is Aaron Neville, and then everyone else. The only one, in my opinion, who even comes close, is Solomon Burke. You Tube him sometime and treat yourself to an incredible wealth of music from his 6 decades of recording.

In this beautiful spiritual;  written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; Solomon Burke teams with the writers to deliver a beautiful performance of a haunting song, while all the while holding out hope that he will overcome his troubles. There is another gospel song by the same name as this one, written by Antoine "Fats" Domino and Dave Bartholomew. It was also recorded by Buddy Holly as well as Solomon Burke. But this is the one that really hits "home" for me.

Lamenting that people “stand in line- just to hear me cry” underscores the sorrow which the singer feels deeply, yet the audiences hunger to see his suffering lifts him up spiritually. He will not go to the valley. Instead, he sings his way through the pain, all the while praying for the deliverance of those who would rather see him suffer, if only to assuage their own pain.

The intersection of Solomon Burke with Gillian Welch gives further credence to our ability to overcome our superficial differences when we concentrate on our mutual emotions and needs. And music is such a great place to begin that journey.

Note: real life partners Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have been quietly influencing American independent music for several decades now. Her singing and writing, along with his deep love of playing guitar, combine together in such a way so as to communicate their love for one another to the audience without ever saying a word to one another. They are among my favorite musical artists. 

Valley of Tears” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

I've been riding high, but i don't know why
everybody wants to send me down to the valley of tears.
It's a sunny day and i'm on my way
but everybody wants to send me down to the valley of tears.

People stand in line just to hear me cry.
I wanna know the other side
but everyone i choose only brings bad news.
Everybody wants to send me down to the valley of tears.

People stand in line just to hear me cry.
I wanna know what's on the other side.
I've been riding high, but i don't know why
cause everybody wants to send me down to the valley of tears.

It's a sunny bright day and i'm on my way
but everybody wants to send me down to the valley of tears.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Any Bonds Today" - Leon Schlesinger (1941)

Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Secretary of Treasury under Franklin Roosevelt; had a problem. He had come up with the idea of the Lend Lease program to help the British with the Battle of Britain in 1940 against the Nazi’s, but he needed to come up with a plan to pay for the goods being lent. There was also a possibility that we would not be paid back. Struggling; as we were to come out of the Depression; we could ill afford to lose the any money. The plan called for the creation of a public campaign to champion the cause.

To that end, he put together the idea of a promotion along the lines of what Al Jolson and Charlie Chaplin had done in the Liberty Bond program in the First World War in 1917. Even Irving Berlin got involved in the effort, penning the song “Any Bonds Today?” and copyrighting it to the US Treasury; ensuring that the royalties would go to the government rather than himself.  The song was based on his own song "Any Yams Today?” which had been sung by Ginger Rogers in 1938. That song was also a version of "Any Love Today?” which he wrote in 1931 but never recorded. By now it was July of 1941.

“Any Bonds Today?” became the theme of the CBS program “The Treasury Night”. On those nights the network would host various celebrities who would perform and ask for people to buy the War Bonds to finance the Lend Lease program. In the first month alone Americans bought over $440 million dollars of the bonds, which were the same as Savings Bonds. The song was also recorded by by the Andrews Sisters, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Dick Robertson and Kay Kyser and even and Gene Autry in the film "Home in Wyoming."

By July of 1942 the song was being used in a short film to promote the Bond Drive. It was called “Any Bonds Today?” and featured many big name performers, as well as a new cartoon character named Bugs Bunny, who caused quite a stir when he did a black face imitation of Al Jolson.  The cartoon was actually just about 1 minute long.  At the end Bugs is joined by Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig. The cartoon is independent of the Merrie Melodies series and also not listed in the complete catalogue of the Looney Tunes series. It is an independent production done exclusively for the War Department. The entire film took 3 weeks to film and distribute.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Everybody Loves Music - Jazz for Cows

If you need any further proof that music crosses all boundaries of life, you need look no further than this footage of cows in Southern France, which is from 2011. At first, the cows react to a lone tuba player. Then, as more musicians join in, more cows appear. Who says that animals have no soul?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"I Am an African" - Dumi Senda (2011)

Poetry is the balm which holds our souls together in times of trial. No poet captures that spirit as beautifully as Dumi Senda, who wrote this piece about returning to Africa, and the land of his birth. The video above was posted by Mr. Duma, and I believe that is his voice reading his own work, capturing every nuance of the words. The African experience of Diaspora parallels that of the Jewish people, and the poetry which comes from both of these experiences illustrate the passion, and sorrow, of two vastly different people; in separate places, and separate times; turning to the soothing resilience of poetry to make it through their ordeals.

This is the 2nd poem by Dumi Senda which I have posted on Rooftop Reviews. The words to this poem are reprinted below. Note how Mr. Senda uses sound and voices to help convey the sense of what Africa is; a collection of people, all with the same wants and needs for the basic necessities of life.

And here is that other poem "I Am Coming Home". It reflects the Jewish Diasporo more directly than "I Am an African"; which is a statement of identity. In "Coming Home" the poet reflects more on the hopes and dreams of returning to his native land; much in the way the refugees returned to Palestine at the close of the Second World War.

Mr. Senda has said of that poem; "This is a poem I have performed at many events over the years. I always find that a lot of people relate with the words, emotions and the story the poem carries and conveys. It’s a story that has told itself in millions of us, especially Africans in the 20th century with the emergence of the so-called diaspora generation. And one theme that runs common in many a sub theme is that of returning home one day or at least dreaming to!"

Here is that poem;


Now then
Do you see, now and then?
The furrows of history's whip
On my skin
And what I am to this pain attribute?

Do you heed the harrowing cries?
Of generations wallowing
Not only my being
But my seed that rebukes?

When you peek at the clouds
Are they dark enough to mirror my face?
Is there a silver line on the heaped cloud's edge?
Mocking like clowns at a fete my fate?

I am an African
Listen to the wind whistle the confirmation
And lithe trees like servants bowing before the Kings
Listen to the sounds of the seas 
Do you hear them hissing?
Listen to the valleys and the gullies
And the orchestral cricket in the night 
That will not be denied a say

I am an African
When you look at me
Why do you despair?
I'm the wave at sea drifting free
The menace in a lion's roar 
Thunder when lightning strikes
Spine of the earth's core

I'm the prance in a Zulu dance
Yes the dabble in dabbling sharks
I am African, no denying it

Ask the slow moving turtle ever so polite
Ask the leaping Nile ever so proud
Ask the trumpety moving mound, the breeze, the lion
And yes the land we ply on
Ask it in Swahili or Kinubi for 
I am in every language
I am an African.

For more about Mr. Senda, and his poetry, please visit his website at;