Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fast away the old year passes...

The title of today's post is from an old holiday song, "Deck the Halls", an 1860's version of a much older Welsh song, which dates back to the 1500's. The original, "Nos Galen", was a song meant to be sung on New Year's Eve. An English translation of the lyric, published in 1794, has it as, "Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. Oh! how sweet the grove in blossom, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. Oh! how blessed are the blisses, words of love, and mutual kisses, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la."

At any rate, I should note that the 'hall' hereabouts was properly bedecked and festooned for the season yet again. Once of these years I keep expecting that I'll stop doing it; but it hasn't happened yet. Acquiring and putting up a tree and etc. has been my own little statement of victory over the vicissitudes of life, a triumph of survival for another year. There have been years when it almost didn't happen, but fate (and the kindnesses of friends and strangers) has always intervened. And so the tradition continues. The tree sports the decorations which were given to me over the years, and the little niceties (such as two little birds touching beaks) once arranged by a close companion. It's my annual tribute to missing friends, the family I was building before time and disease changed things.

In better days, when I had jobs with real benefits, I always took some of my vacation time during the week between Christmas and New Year. My father used to do that. Both of his brothers did that. I liked the idea and continued it whenever possible. They all lived close by each other; there wasn't any real need for them to do it for family visits. Although, when I was young, their Aunt Norma, my Great Aunt, would come up for the week from Washington, D.C. where she lived and worked. And their Uncle Less and Aunt Arlene, both of whom lived several towns and some distance away, would make their yearly pilgrimage to see their visiting sister,, as well as the rest of us. The years, and changes in employment practices (both theirs and mine), eventually ended the week of holiday vacation time off. When I was a teenager, one of my aunts declared that the family should henceforth only give presents to the children (she had the only two at the time). The family, never close to begin with, began to drift apart. Perhaps my attempt to continue the vacation tradition, and my insistence on continuing to use the kinds of Christmas tree lights and decorations prevalent in the late 1950's and early 1960's, was/is really an all too typical longing for family, and a more innocent time before we all changed and grew apart. Maybe it's just because I like that style better than what followed.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. As I grew into my teens in my small town, I would join family members in staying up to watch Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra play in the New Year from a nightclub in New York City; a brilliantly lit ball would slowly descend a mast on the old Times tower until the New Year was declared in dazzling lights, cheers from the assembled crowd, cheers from the nightclub where Mr. Lombardo's wheezy band played 'Auld Lang Syne', 'Always', and other chestnuts of a lifestyle which had already faded and passed. As my father began going away on business trips, and then started dating again, I would find myself sitting home alone, pathetically watching the same routine observances year after year, vowing that another year would not find me in such circumstances. Of course, the next year did, and the years after that. The year I moved to New York City, I headed down to Times Square to join the hoopla. While being part of the madness was fun, I was somewhat uncomfortable in the crowd. Partly, it was the crowd. And partly it was the same kind of discomfort I always felt at parties where I didn't know anyone, and routinely moved myself to a corner where I could watch other people having a good time. I've never been comfortable at parties, even when I know the people there. I wanted to be, I wanted to have a good time, I just didn't know how to go about it. I was too socially awkward and shy, with little patience for some kinds of small talk, hiding that fact behind manners and a ready smile.

I went to Times Square on New Year's Eve one or two more times. At one point, I managed a large bookstore at 43rd and Broadway, right in Times Square. At 2pm on December 31st, we would close the store, put plywood over the windows, and get the hell out. I often joke that that approach was good advice for life. I never thought of that until I was past 50, however, and often never had that much sense when it might have done some good.

I never made enough money to go out to the nightclubs of my own times. I never did get to go to, or stage, any fabulous New Year's Eve parties. There were a few years when that night was held close in a lover's arms, but to tell the truth, I don't remember them very well. The years do tend to blend together. I became content with being a single person. Except for the occasional New Year's Eve, watching whatever passes for the party I could never get to, when my teenage self knowingly mutters that not much has changed in 50 years. And when that little bastard appears with his remonstrations, I just smile, and adjust an ornament on the tree.

For last Saturday's radio show, the old Philco's tuning mechanism got a workout as we sampled a number of different Holiday Week programs over a number of years, listening to broadcasts with everyone from Duke Ellington (performing 'Let the Zoomer's Drool') to Bing Crosby, Artie Shaw (with Roy Eldridge), Tommy Dorsey, Kay Kyser, Cab Calloway, and Louis Armstrong. And, of course, Guy Lombardo.

As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Once more, Dear Friends, unto the Holiday breech

Yet another attempt at this post (my third)  - Blogger is misbehaving. Word wrap vanished into the sub-electronic ether. Certain words seem to be acting as control codes. Typing after the end of a sentence seems to produce no result. If this continues, Blogger will get a few lumps of coal in its Christmas stocking.

And now (drum roll) the paragraphs it took half an hour to produce, thanks to the magic of cut and paste (cymbals clash):


It's 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside on the day before Christmas. This is not the usual December weather for Vermont. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, and Danny Kaye singing, "snow, it won't be long before....". Fat chance. The lyric, by the way, is from the movie "White Christmas". Not this year.

The egg nog, which takes about five hours to make, is now at the stage where it is 'resting' for about three hours in the refrigidaire. (It's the olde Joie de Cuisiner recipe I favour, and contains a somewhat Bibo Vocatus component.) (I am tempted to add a polite "heh, heh", but considering the season, that appellation should really be a "ho, ho, ho", which won't be quite accurate until I've had a few cups of
ye old recipe.)

Hooray, the blogger problem seems to be over. Perhaps there was a site update underway when I started writing. I just popped in to post last Saturday's radio show:

Holiday music is an interesting phenomenon. For the first thousand or so years, all the big songwriters did what anyone trying to make a living would do - they went where the money was. Which means that they wrote for the Church. My interest is in the American Pop Song form, which came along much later. While there were a couple of tunes making the rounds in the 1930's, songs like "Jingle Bells", and "Winter Wonderland", Christmas pop didn't really hit the big time until December of 1941. Oh, Irving Berlin had given the idea a shot in the late 1930's with "Hello Mr. Kringle", which was recorded by Kay Kyser, but there wasn't a lot out there unless you wanted to hear Bing's 1935 'Adeste Fideles', with 'Silent Night' on the flip side. (By the way, the Silent Night used an Irish men's chorus and is really quite lovely. Bing recorded the song several times, starting in 1928 with Paul Whiteman. The 1935 release was held up for awhile, as Bing did not wish to profit from a spiritually aligned piece of music. It was released after the label agreed to donate the proceeds to a charity. )
In 1940, Irving Berlin sold an idea to Paramount Pictures. As part of the package, he would write all the music for a story about an Inn (with a floorshow, naturally) which would only be open on holidays. Paramount assigned the leads to Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Early in 1941, Berlin composed what would become the biggest selling single of all time. No one really recognized what they had at first, "Be Careful It's My Heart" was expected to be the big hit.
On December 7th, 1941, the United States was brought into the Second World War by the bombing of the US fleet at Pearl Harbor and Guam. That Christmas day, Bing introduced the song on the Kraft Music Hall radio program, which he hosted. 'Holiday Inn' was released in August of 1942. The almost mythical imagery of a New England winter struck a chord in a nation at war. By that October, "White Christmas" had become the most popular song on the charts, and it stayed there through January of 1943. It was so popular, Decca wore out the original masters and called all the parties back into the studio to recreate the recording five years later.
'Holiday Inn" would go on to inspire a chain of motels, and a remake released in 1954. That version, "White Christmas", was released in VistaVision and Technicolor. It almost didn't get made - after the death of his wife, Crosby withdrew to spend more time with his troubled sons. Fred Astaire was unhappy at Paramount and withdrew to go to MGM. When the project got back on track, Donald O'Connor was hired to replace Astaire, but illness intervened. Danny Kaye was brought in. When I worked in film distribution, one of the companies I worked for specialized in repertory and art product. They got the theatrical rights to Paramount Pictures (well, at least the ones that hadn't been sold to Universal). The rights to the "White Christmas" movie were another matter. From what I heard, Mr. Berlin, the Crosby  estate, and Mr. Kaye all had percentages, and all wanted One Million Dollars each. Upfront. And that cost would be on top of dealing with VistaVision, an early widescreen process which had a distortion free image by exposing a larger area of 35mm film and running it horizontally through projectors; i.e. equipment that no longer existed. Somehow it all got done. Truth be told, it's not a particularly good movie, but audiences love it. With a limited amount of time for a release window, it was the company's biggest grosser until they put the classic Warner Brothers cartoons back on screen.
At any rate, I digress. After 1942, pop Christmas songs began to fill the charts. Until recently it seemed like every performer who ever existed had to release a Christmas album. There are country Christmases, Hip Hop Christmases, Bebop, Jazz, Lounge, Accordion Christmases, drunks performing Christmas songs, and etc. - the variety is quite incredible and possibly worth some work as a study in mores and marketing.
My Holiday shows are comprised of (mostly) non-threatening secular pop songs which are gluten free as an added bonus.
As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show.
With Bestest Wishes for an extravagantly Merrie Christmas
and a Most Excellent New Year

p.s. Dear Santa, if you take requests, please put some coal into the stockings of the folks responsible for spell check programs. They can be quite wonderful, but sometimes.....

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Bug Going Around

Holy almost Christmas!

I've had some sort of 'bug' for weeks now (by which I mean a pathogen, not something of the hemipteran genus or, for that matter, anything slightly arthropodic). I haven't had more than a mild cold for a number of years. I used to get every little something that wandered by, and always had a difficult time getting rid of it; if the average person had it for three days, I could count on a week. 

This 'whatever it is' started the week before Thanksgiving. I've visited with my doctor, in her professional capacity, twice now. This week she reluctantly proscribed a second round of antibiotics. (The doctors no longer give a shot of penicillin, and keep the antibiotics to a minimum.) Had it not been that I am an asthmatic, she might not have done it. While I would normally agree to keeping such things at a minimum, I have to say that this second round seems to be winning the day.

I wrote "seems to be" simply because I have twice thought I'd gotten over it only to have it return. It's all centered in my chest area and up. After the first two weeks, my lungs recovered, but the other symptoms either returned, or remained. Doctor's nurse noted that this exact scenario has been reported by many patients. My energy levels, which had been disturbingly low, have been increasing.

All of which is this week's explanation for not getting last Saturday's radio show posted. (I felt decent enough both of the last two weeks to go to the studio to do my show, only to return to the mire both times.) I'm beginning to think that I should start a new blog devoted to excuses for not getting a post written, or finished.

I had wanted to spend a little time jotting down a few thoughts about the show and its subject. Last week's show was on December 12th;  Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday. Mr. Sinatra is one of the patron saints of my program. The holy trinity also includes Johnny Mercer as the Patron Saint of Songwriters, and Ella Fitzgerald as the Goddess of Song.

For many of my generation, and most of the younger set, Sinatra has been little more than a late night comedy show caricature, a mobbed up, intolerant arch-conservative, sexist pig. In his later years, he certainly seemed to be trying to live up to that image. But that isn't the real story, it's only the end game that went along with the need to continue performing after the voice had gone, when all that remained was a punch drunk vocal style that relied on arrangements which had once been breathtakingly dazzling, but which had become as punchy as the singing.

The real story is much more interesting, but as I'm working on tonight's show, I don't have the time to tell any of it. I did post a sort of highlights version on the show's Facebook page, using photos with biographical notes in the comments area. Hopefully, this link will take anyone interested to the post. (Non-Facebook types will be able to click through the slideshow, but won't be able to leave comments, or etc.) If that link doesn't work, use this one and scroll down to December 12th: Recycled Radio's page on Facebook.

At any rate, here's the 'Sinatra's 100th Birthday' edition of my little radio show. As always I hope listeners enjoy what they hear.

p.s. Happy Birthday, Mr. Sinatra. And Thanks for all the music.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Jeweler

Today, December 6th, is the birthday of Ira Gershwin. Ira was two years older than George. Where George had been something of a delinquent, Ira was quiet, studious, and downright bookish. George quit school when he was a teenager - he was already making an attractive sum as a song plugger for the music publishers of Tin Pan Alley. Ira stayed in a prestigious New York City High School where he formed a life long friendship with fellow student Yip Harburg, the guy who wrote the lyrics for songs like "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime", and "Over the Rainbow". George began writing music for popular songs, and became internationally famous at the age of 21. Ira, who had worked a variety of jobs including one in the Turkish baths his father managed at the time, began writing song lyrics. He refused to cash in on the family name, and worked under the pseudonym 'Arthur Francis', a bit of Ira's humor; those were first names of his youngest brother and sister.

Ira Gershwin
George, who had encouraged Ira's writing, suggested they try creating songs together. After a show done in (I think) Atlantic City, the brothers created their first Broadway show; "Lady, Be Good" which starred Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. Aside from the title tune, the score also featured "Fascinating Rhythm'.

(left to right) Fred Astaire, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
With that show, and the shows which followed, George Gershwin changed American music. Ira always made sure the spotlight shone on his brother. Perhaps it is because he shunned the limelight, perhaps it is because his lyrics so perfectly fit George's music that they seemed effortless, but Ira rarely gets his due. He changed what was possible in a song lyric. Where Irving Berlin's songs were written to be easily understood by immigrants with little knowledge of English, Ira's lyrics reveled in sly puns, "sound alike" rhymes, and slang. "Life can be delish, with a sunny disposish." A lyric might mention Beatrice Fairfax (an advice columnist), have an introduction composed of other song titles, or contain the names of Russian composers. Ira once spent three days fussing over one word. Other Broadway lyric writers called him "The Jeweler".

The Gershwin brothers, George on the left, Ira on the right.

The brothers' songs became the soundtrack to the Roaring Twenties and provided the sass to fight off the Great Depression. It was an era when the songs composed for Broadway and Hollywood were the popular songs of the day. Songs like "Embraceable You", "A Foggy Day", "I Got Rhythm", "Someone to Watch Over Me", "They Can't Take That Away From Me", "But Not For Me", and the last song George wrote before his untimely death at 38, "Love Is Here To Stay". Ira wrote the lyric for it, and left the business. When he was coaxed back to work  three years later, he wrote lyrics for the likes of Jerome Kern ("Long Ago and Far Away"), Kurt Weil, Vernon Duke, and Harold Arlen ("The Man Who Got Away"). After the last named song, Ira retired and spent the remainder of his years gathering together, and preserving, his brother's manuscripts and memory. Thankfully, that project preserved his own works.  It's time Ira got his due.

This week's radio show was devoted to the lyrics of Ira Gershwin. A lot of lesser known songs were included at the expense of some of the most famous numbers in the American songbook. As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show.  

p.s. Ira was the business manager for the brother's works. An interviewer once asked him, "Which comes first, the words, or the music?". Ira replied, "The contract."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shelter in place

It's happened again, which is no real surprise.

It happened twice yesterday morning - the media didn't latch on to the mass murder in Savannah, Georgia. Only four were shot there, with only one death. Such events aren't really news anymore.
The US is currently averaging one mass shooting per day.

In all of the news stories, whenever the situation hasn't been 'resolved', mention is made that workers/residents/shoppers were told to "shelter in place". It's an awful phrase. What message does that phrase send, I wonder? It implies that the war (any war, any killing, any major storm, any threat) is all around us, it can reach anywhere; take refuge, hunker down, hide, stay out of the way, the evil lurks without even while it is within. The battles around us rage on.

The phrase even has its own entry in Wikipedia. It is an official SAME warning. The acronym means Specific Area Message Encoding. To be honest, it never occurred to me that if bullets were flying, police sirens wailing, bright bluewhitered lights flashing, and etc. that one would need to be told to get out of the way.

Perhaps the message that is being sent is really one of preparation: The war is coming to a theater, home, small town, anytown, everytown near you. Get used to seeing the flack jackets, the camofashion protective suit, the guns, always more guns, the vans, the flashing lights. You'll be seeing a lot more of them. As soon as they become normal, accepted, the tanks will roll up. Will they be there to protect us, or will they be there to protect property - wealth? Will they be coming for us? They will know where to find us - sheltered in place.

Meanwhile, a message flashes across my computer screen - the stock market has opened higher.

The build up of anxiety is almost overwhelming. How will things be straightened out? A superhero - we need a superhero. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade had a new balloon - a bonafide superhero, introduced a year before in the comic books, earlier that year on the radio.
The year was 1940, the war was 'over there'. We'd been through a great economic depression, which was still lingering about. With Thanksgiving falling at the end of the month, thereby creating a short holiday shopping season, a plan was hatched to move the holiday ahead by one week to give the merchants more time to make money. It was considered unseemly to start such sales before Thanksgiving. President Roosevelt agreed. For three years, from 1939 through 1941, Thanksgiving was moved a week earlier. Many did not agree with the idea. The Republican Governor of  Vermont was a Progressive - and even he wasn't having any of it, nor were many of the states. So while Federal employees, many liberals and Democrats celebrated on the third Thursday, State workers, conservatives, and Republicans celebrated on the fourth. As one column in the newspaper noted, the kids loved asking if one was celebrating "Franks, or Thanks?"






The entire second feature which starts on Thursday.... 



The Tuesday night before that traditional Thanksgiving  in 1940, there was broadcast from the new Palladium Ballroom in Los Angeles. It's dance floor could hold 4,000 but on opening night a month before over 10,000 had crowded in to dance to the music of that Sentimental Gentleman of Swing, Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey's girl singer, Connie Haines, was pretty good - but he had a hot new boy singer being backed up by the Pied Pipers, some kid named Frank. The broadcast was on at 11pm on the East Coast - the doors had just opened on the West Coast where it was 8pm and the evening was just getting underway. My radio show last Saturday listened in to that November when the war was overseas.

 As always, I hope any one who listens in enjoys the show.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in America. It's an old tradition, one which goes back to at least the time of Henry the VIII. Here in the US, its origin is traced to the 1620's at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Puritans and Pilgrims would have been familiar with the ideas of fasting and feasting in Thanks for all that God had given them. (The Canadian Thanksgiving goes back even further.) The story has it that the refugees from England shared a bountiful harvest with the Wampanoag Indians, without whose help they might not have survived.

These days, many people take great delight in skewering the story, labeling the arrival of people of white European ancestry as the purveyors of genocide against the native Americans.  Whenever a holiday rolls around, these folks can be counted upon to proclaim what they see as the truthful history behind the myth. Much of their revisionist history is as "full of it" as the stories they seek to debunk.

The myth of America was created over a long period of time. It was once a myth of hope, a light in the darkness. It's long been apparent that these tales weren't literal truth. The greatness of my country lay in the willingness of good people to go out and try to correct the wrongs in our land, to bring the dreams of equality, the chance to better one's self and family through education and hard work, to life for everyone.

These days, we are presented with candidates for the Presidency who talk about making America great again. The current frontrunner for the Republican nomination has advocated everything from requiring registration of all Muslims, to stating that we should use methods of torture such as waterboarding to defeat terrorists. After all, he noted, "they deserve it anyway". He has ridiculed the press who fact checked him (even mocking one respected reporter's disability), and urged the crowds at his events to beat up and eject those who disagree with him - although he has also mentioned protestor's actions as part of the attraction for his rallies - its entertainment value, after all.

It makes me wonder if he pays the protestors to be there.

Personally, I'll hang onto stories like the origin of the U.S. Thanksgiving - stories of cooperation between different races, breaking bread together, freedom and equality. They might not be true, but they are one hell of a goal. I can only hope that we can honor them, and work towards them before those of us who don't fit in are forced to have registration cards, or are taken off to the camps.

Last Saturday's radio show played a couple of songs for Thanksgiving before the juke box got loaded up with nickels to celebrate the birthdays of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

"You can't help that said the cat, we're all mad here..."

The world has gone mad again.

When I was young, I realized that we shouldn't think of evolution as something in the past. It seems clear that the human species is still evolving. Back then, I believed that we were on an upward progression. I no longer have any such certainty.


The above was the start of a post I doubt will be finished. (It will join the pile of discards, where it will find much company.) Partly because I'm not feeling my best (nasty-ish cold running through the system), partly due to time constraints, partly because the writing of it is likely to make me scream at nothing in particular in order to vent building frustration and anger. To resume writing what I had in mind, I'd have to go back to Facebook or some other form of 'social media' to collect images and information. Blogs are social media, but they are different; one can take a little bit of word time to actually express (or attempt to express) one's thoughts or observations. Blogs also have to be sought out, or one has to click on a link. They aren't part of a scrolling feed.

The problem started with the terrorist attacks on Paris. People on Facebook immediately used a program which superimposed the French flag over their personal image icons. Other people immediately responded with links to blogs, mostly think pieces which declared why they wouldn't comment on the terrorist attack on Paris; where were the cries of outrage for the week's other terror attacks, they demanded to know? - those victims were passed by, not mentioned - not worthy - as Paris is a White city, not a place of brown skin people. Now, those posts had a bit of a point, but to post someone else's article about the terrorist attacks on Paris to demonstrate why one isn't posting about Paris is a kind of internet passive aggressive statement of extremely annoying and cloying condescending superiority - and some odd attempt to prove that the poster's heart bleeds for the world more than their ill-informed reader's.

Those posts began to get a response. The me-me posts proliferated. The news media and the video clip posters ran the same footage constantly. The news media did scrabble to send their top anchors or writers to Paris to find the woman who was standing three blocks away from the stadium who heard the bang of the bombs and grew fearful. (Okay, I made that up but the exaggeration isn't that big.)

Then the politicians began chiming in. As most folks who read this blog probably know, I live in Vermont. Our local tv and video news sources originate in one upstate minor city, or from Boston. Both cover the New Hampshire market, where the first primaries in our upcoming (one year away) Presidential contest will be held. We have been inundated with political advertising for months already. Most of the advertising has been for the Republican side, which seems intent on reversing any possible upward trend evolution might provide. They, and a seemingly large segment of the population, have centered on stopping any influx of Syrian refugees into the country (but they're okay if they are Christians). The issue has become a social media war. The images proliferate, with commentary which exposes the sad state of American language skills, the sad state of American education, media, news - oh, hell, the responses below (from people I know to be kind, decent folks) are as frightening as the terror attacks.


It's been a sorry, disgusting spectacle.
This doesn't seem to be particularly appropriate, but it makes as much sense as anything else this past week: Here's last Saturday's radio show. The show did start off with a comment, albeit musical, on the current events before paying birthday tributes to musician-conductor-composer Billy May, singer Jo Stafford, crooner Johnny Desmond (the "G.I. Sinatra"), one of the sadly forgotten early jazz men Eddie Condon, and the 'Father of the Blues' W. C. Handy. Handy was the subject of, and guest on, the show's featured broadcast - 'The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street' of June the 14th, 1940.

As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day

Today, November 11th, used to be known as Armistice Day.

Many of my generation can recite the phrase... "on the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month...". I occasionally wonder how many people know to what event that phrase refers? The thing is, the import and meaning of that day has changed.

An Armistice is defined as an agreement whereby warring parties end their armed engagments. The quote above refers to the end of fighting on the Western Front of The Great War, now known as World War One. November 11th, 1918 was the unofficial end to the war. The paperwork took awhile longer. It always does. Just between the agreement to end the fighting and the arrival of the fabled hour, another 3,000 soldiers were killed in battle. Thousands more were still to succumb to the remains of the conflict.

In both Great Britain and France, a day of remembrance for those who gave their lives in the service of their countries in the war was declared. It became customary to observe 2 minutes of reverent silence in their honor at the 11th hour on Armistice Day.

Part of the celebration in London
the celebration in Paris
 In the United States, something quite remarkable occurred. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th be a commemoration of the Armistice; "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

The key phrase is "sympathy with peace". Armistice Day was a celebration of Peace breaking out. It was intended as a day of reflection on the concept of peace and international co-operation.

Soldiers on the Western Front celebrated

Those who think I am off the mark should look no further than the Congress of the United States, when it issued a resolution on Armistice Day in 1926 with the following words;

"Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples."


In 1938, the U.S. Congress passed an Act which proclaimed the 11th of November a legal holiday: "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."[

In 1954, not quite 10 years after the end of World War Two, the Congress of the United States changed the meaning of Armistice Day, basically by doing away with it. The President at the time, a member of the conservative Republican Party, was Dwight D. Eisenhower. He had previously been known to most of the world as the General whose careful planning helped defeat the fascists in Italy and Germany, ending the Second World War on the European continent, and freeing the world from the vile machinations of the Nazis. The idea for the change to honor all Veterans of all of the US wars came from a WWII veteran, who led a delegation to the Capitol to express the idea directly to the President, who had been a man of War. This occurred in the greater context of the Red Scare, the early days of the Cold War; the Army-McCarthy hearings were underway. It was around the same month that the words "Under God" were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance - a recitation required of US school children while saluting the US flag. The Pledge became an official requirement in 1942, after the US was brought into WWII. It had become a contested practice as the clouds of war had gathered over Europe. There were teachers who refused to institute it and quit their profession rather than require the youth of the country to participate in what they regarded as militaristic training. It was originally written by an Admiral who had fought in the Mexican-American war as well as the Civil War. It was then revised by a Baptist minister with socialist leanings.

Americans in London joined the celebration

At any event, while it is fitting that the people who serve their country be honored, a day dedicated to thoughts of peace was turned into a day of commemoration of specifically military service, which in our own day has become, for various reasons, a flag waving celebration of 'warriors' and military service.

Lest we forget, when the bill to allow conscription was passed as we geared up, ummm, prepared for our possible involvement in WWII, there were warnings that we might never get rid of it. Had it not been for conscription, there would have been no standing army to send to Korea, nor to Vietnam. Soldiers of that era were not volunteers. The idea had been promoted that one owed four years of their life and their youth to the government of the geographic bit of space on which they were born.

celebrants in New York City

Now that we have a supposed 'volunteer' army, our military has become a chance for the underclass to get a leg up towards the "better" lifestyle depicted in the movies and on tv. There are many benefits. I have friends and family who served, and whose service was in army camps in Germany, or other non-combat areas. They were able to buy their homes through Federal assistance to veterans. They get healthcare, and a number of other benefits - depending on their geographical location to access them. They are among the first to fly the flag and point out that they "served", even though they never seem to recall the non-combat part. I don't begrudge them their benefits, even though some of them had no choice in the matter.

These days, after our National Guard was sent to war, after the non-traditional battles against Islamic foes, torture (not ours, theirs), beheadings, and other horrors, it seems as though those who served are honored every day, by specially advertised on television sales deals, special insurance rates - business gladly waving the flag for customers - and at sporting events in large Roman style Coliseums, er... sports arenas. As it turned out, these events have been bought and paid for by the government. They aren't about honoring the brave men and women who served, they are propaganda. Our television programs feature action adventures of specialized government units which used to serve those who serve us, but for several years now mostly fight terrorism, often by breaking the rules or fudging the rights of suspects. The excess military equipment from the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, the Libyan war and etc. has become part of everyday life - given or sold to police departments in my country to preserve the peace - but from whom? A town not far from here, a bit larger than Brattleboro where I live, now has its own tank. Our police, often ex-military people, have a cowboy us versus them mentality. They do not shoot to disarm, they do not shoot to immobilize, they shoot to kill. We've just had the interesting spectacle of a female police officer being exonerated for killing an unarmed civilian. She couldn't see his hands, you see. She demanded that he show her his hands. He was lying face down on the ground. He moved his hands underneath his body. She was certain that he had a gun, so she shot him in the back. A new wrinkle in women warrior rights.

As for our actual warriors, the Republicans in our government (them again!) have cut the budgets which provide for the care of our fighters, then blamed the Democratic government opposition for the lack of care while they wrap themselves in the flag. These Republicans, however, are a world away from anything President Eisenhower would recognize. Once they were a great party, now they are a bowdlerized version of that group, providing lap dog services to the wealthy and corporate elite.

Even though I was a child at the time, I remember President Eisenhower's farewell address. Because I was a child, I didn't understand all of it. But I remember his warning about something he called the "military industrial complex".

The phony cause known as the Iraq war ably served corporate interests, while destroying the minds and bodies of our youth. Those it served well included a company for which the then Vice-President had been Chief Executive Officer. That company earned billions, made more billions vanish into the desert sands of time, and provided services to our soldiers that included such niceties as providing drinking water which wasn't safe. They were but one of many such companies, and their crimes would takes days to list, but since they were making money there have been no trials, no convictions, no investigations, no nothing except their continuing to 'honor' those who serve. Some honor.

So please excuse me for not jumping on the online bandwagon and attempting to wave the flag higher and more ferociously than my friends and neighbors. I won't buy the special coffee that earns money for warriors. I won't buy any of the special products. I don't buy it at all. I'll take time to observe Armistice Day, and think about a time when peace broke out.

pax vobiscum

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Red Cup mania

Rembrandt tulips
Back when I ran bookstores for a living, there was a very successful paperback reprint of Charles Mackay's 1841 opus, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds". One of the chapters examined the tulip mania of the 1640's. Basically, a plant virus struck the Netherlands and caused breaks in the colors of tulips. The desire to possess the affected bulbs built into a frenzy. Fortunes were quickly amassed, and spent, investing in their acquisition. Prices for just one bulb reached to such heights that a well off merchant's lifetime earnings could not afford the purchase of one single bulb. Although the term would not come into use for a number of years, the "economic bubble" burst, destroying both fortunes and lives. The descendants of these tulips still exist: they are usually sold under the name "Rembrandt".

Just one portion of the Solar Hill gardens last June. The entire space,
including my garden, would comprise about eight squares of this size,
including all of the area around the tree center left.
When I last posted, I had just finished planting the tulips. I'm in the process of shutting the gardens down for the winter.  It is a large task (I've also been tending Solar Hill's gardens.) As plants go into their dormancy,  it's a good time for many of them to be transplanted. Several peonies, asters, a daylily, etc. were either being overgrown by their neighbors, or were getting less sunlight due to tree growth, etc. For good garden culture, plants should be cut back, leaves cut off and disposed of to prevent overwintering of diseases, and so on and so forth. I've accomplished most of it, but am still in the final stages of getting it all done.

Generally, I've been in the garden four to five days a week recently. Today was going to be a long garden day, as there weren't a lot of other things which couldn't be put off - I want to finish putting the garden to bed this week. Now, last night there was a meeting of our all volunteer community radio station's Board. This was our first meeting after our annual bash, so yearly Board elections had to be held. I've been returned to the position of Board President/Station Manager. This morning, about 7am or so, I sat down to fire off a few emails based on discussions from last night. Then the phone rang with a DJ's questions. The man calling is learning disabled, and calls several times a week, often asking the same question he asked the day before. He hasn't finished his training, but wants to fill in time slots which other DJs have posted that they won't be able to make. He has a case of radio fever, which often affects new DJs. I've repeatedly told him he has to finish his training, and must have the person who helps him present when he does a show. But he still calls and tries to get me to say something different. There is a DJ doing her last show today, so there needed to be posts to the station's email list, the station's Facebook page, etc. The upshot is that I finally stopped working on station business at 3pm. (By the way, an 8 year old, who has been doing a show with her mother since she was old enough to talk, just did her first 'by herself' show at 2pm. She put many of our adult DJs to shame. There were almost no children's songs that would have been heard on the show she does with her mother. Nope, this kid is into Spearhead, and jam bands.)
The station is another sort of garden.

I did spend about a half an hour of personal time on Facebook, checking responses to posts for my radio show, what a few of my friends and family were up to, etc. There were several Facebook sessions, sending messages to people about station business and etc. It was therefore impossible to escape the issue/outrage of the moment: the Red Cup. It would seem that all of Facebookland is obsessed with the red cup. Folks are posting impassioned diatribes about the issue. Memes, images with a slogan which are easy to repost allowing the poster to avoid having to think through what one might say, are spreading like soft butter on a hot skillet. There is a veritable red cup mania.

What happened is this: some church (or church official) that no one ever heard of called for a boycott of the Starbucks coffee chain. The problem started when Starbucks began using their holiday themed coffee cup. It is red, with a Starbucks logo in green and white. The church was offended, nay, outraged, that there was no "Merry Christmas!" scrawled across the cup. No "Season's Greetings" (which would have caused more of a "War on Christmas" fervor). No pictures of Santa Claus, the Christ child in the manger, nothing. Why, it is another example of the persecution of Christians! This little bit of idiocy has become a target for everyone who wants to outdo their friends by posting an ever more incisive meme (which I still unintentionally read as 'me me') in a frenzy of self righteousness equaled only by the original call for the boycott.

Warning: this being the year 2015, and social media being what it is, one of the examples of the red cup memes contains expressions of common vulgarity.

" ...whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first."
                                                                       - Charles Mackay, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"

Of course, my own cynicism leads me to wonder if the church and its representative actually exist. The large coffee corporation could have hired someone to start all of this just to get themselves a lot of free publicity.
Another object of mass intoxication is the once wonderful holiday of Halloween, which has been built into a merchandising bonanza. The madness now begins in August when "pumpkin spice" English muffins hit the shelves of the supermarkets. Of course, there are no pumpkin spice muffins to be had anywhere near Halloween itself. This past September, in a Halloween products commercial I saw on television, the Halloween goods were displayed in front of a group of fir trees, which were decorated with colored lights. Holiday creep is upon us. At any rate, I never got my radio show of October 31st, Halloween,  posted - so here's that show, mostly big band Halloween songs. I know it seems odd to be posting it over a week late, but I'd like all my shows to be here for friends and family from away who might have some crazy interest in just what I've been up to these last few years.

Well, I thought I might go on about nothing in particular (there a whole 'nother mess o' memes being posted about a Republican Presidential candidate who has been playing fast and loose with the truth, and expressing somewhat surprising opinions such as his belief that the pyramids were built by the Jewish patriarch Joseph to store grain. He is the current Republican frontrunner in the reality show contest for the Presidency of the United States. Instead of continuing in this vein (by the way, I swear I'm not making this stuff up), I think I'll go sample the pumpkin bread I baked while composing this missive.

Herewith, my radio show from this past Saturday, November the 7th, in which we listen to excerpts from the radio, as well as a few of the songs on the jukebox, around early November, 1944. The featured broadcast at the end of the show is one of the Eddie Condon Jazz Concerts, with guest stars Lee Wiley and Red McKenzie.

As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show(s).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Unexpected Sunlight

Today was supposed to be one of those 'rain all day and night' days, thanks to the remnants of a hurricane. It rained a good bit of yesterday, and it rained for a couple of hours this morning. For the last half hour or so, the sun has been shining. The temperature has reached the low 60 degree Fahrenheit range; what we used to call "Indian Summer" is upon us.

Now there's a song cue if I ever heard one. Herewith: 'Indian Summer' as performed by Sidney Bechet and His New Orleans Feetwarmers:

Now that we have a little background music appropriate to the day.... the weather is tempting me to go off to the garden, but I woke this morning with the start of a cold and should stay home to nurse it. The frosts of last weekend wiped out most of what remained of my garden.

After some success with their winter survival and bloom this past spring, I've taken a great leap of faith and decided to plant tulips again. I used two beds which were once problematic for such adventures, being composed of soil which grows only rock and slate with ease; and which retains water to some potentially troublesome degree.

The 'double' tulips planted last autumn survived and bloomed.
The bed which provided success this past Spring isn't much different from the two beds planted the other day. Maybe the years of growing various soil improving plants overrun by copious weeds have finally paid off. But then again, it could have been the voles all along, which was my original suspicion. I hope the warm weather doesn't encourage them to go exploring.

Getting the beds for the tulips cleaned up and the bulbs planted was one victory. Now it's onto planting new daffodils. I was thinking that they would look really nice around the old apple tree. Over the 20 years I've gardened at Solar Hill, it has never produced very many apples. Last year that changed a little bit. This year was a good year for apples throughout the area, and the old apple tree produced hundreds of them. I've taken many for cooking, but there are still so many left to remove. The animals have helped themselves, neighbors who wander through have been encouraged to take some. Every time I think progress has been made, I arrive to find a fresh layer covering the ground. Next year I must get a cider press. As for the moment, my concern is that someone seems to have wandered off with the rake.
Meanwhile, around town the show continues, with sometimes notable changes everyday. The Common has gained color, lost it in the killing frosts, only to recover with the remaining trees seeking their turn in the spotlight. Even the oaks have been seeking attention by turning yellow red orange green instead of their usual brown. I live just a few steps away from the Common and either go by it, or pass through it, daily. Just looking down the street has been breathtaking.

The photo above (looking south towards downtown) was taken two weeks ago.

This, and the photos after it, were taken two days ago.
It's always kind of sad when the tourist information booth closes for the season. (But only 'kind of'.)

Every town in Vermont has a memorial to the men it lost in the Civil War. The list of names on each is quite long.

Well. A couple of the above pictures were volunteers (I've decided to leave them since they themselves jumped into the fray). I've been sitting at the computer for a few hours now, and quite frankly, I need a rest. This is highly unusual; I hope this isn't going to be a bad cold. I would prefer it be just a passing fancy.
Which means it's time to post last Saturday's radio show, which played a few for the extended glorious autumn before visiting October the 26th, 1944, when a different war preoccupied the general populace. The week in question saw the dedication on the Common of the Honor Roll, the list of those off to fight the war. 18 names appeared in gold in the center panel. At the dedication, a single flower was placed for each name. As there would be a permanent memorial for those who gave their lives in the war, a few folks thought it a shame that there wasn't some sort of permanent honor planned for those who went off to fight the war, or those who went to nurse the wounded back to health. They came up with the idea of a memorial to the living. People in town donated their war bonds to the as yet unspecified project. In the early 1950's, Living Memorial Park opened on the edge of town. It included the ski run and tow which had drawn tourists on special trains all the way from New York City in the late 1930's. It's still there, run and maintained now by volunteers. That says something about the kind of town Brattleboro is, and why I'm happy I chose it as a place to live.


The parade for young children, mentioned in the article above, still exists.
It's now known as the 'Horribles Parade'.
20 years ago, they used to close off half of Main Street for the walk to the old armory where a party was held.
The bands have faded away, and Main Street is no longer closed. The kids parade up the sidewalk without fanfare.
It's too bad, I really liked the Horribles, and I miss the town that did something special for young kids.


As always, I hope anyone who listens enjoys the show.

p.s. As I was finishing the above, the sunlight was blocked by forming clouds, and the rains began anew. Gusts of wind provided a veritable blizzard so thick with yellow leaves that driving through them must have been difficult. It was beautiful; and the force of nature was humbling. As suddenly as it started, the storm has passed - for the moment at least. The sun one again tries to peek though.