Wednesday, August 31, 2016

To Sir, With Love (1967)

This is a video clip of the final few scenes of To Sir, With Love (1967), a British-made movie focusing on social and racial issues of an inner-city school in London’s East End. In today’s parlance, the students come from a lower socio-economic background and are a little rough around the edges. It stars Sidney Poitier as a teacher who does not give up on these students and who does not have the same low expectations as many others do. Besides teaching them some academics, he teaches them life’s lessons and the importance of character and respect, which will help them throughout their adult years. Do schools, even private schools, teach/discuss character any more? Is this considered important/essential for educating young minds? I do hope so.

The title song is sung by Lulu (Lulu Kennedy-Cairns). If you are of a certain vintage, and have seen the British movie, you will tear up. Love, respect and appreciation has won the day. You can hear Lulu sing the full song in 1967 here;  then 40 years later, in 2007, here; and a few later on “American Idol” here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gene Wilder (1933–2016)

In memory of Gene Wilder (born Jerome Silberman June 11, 1933; Milwaukee, Wisconsin) here is a video clip from Young Frankenstein (1974) in one of the funniest parts of the movie. Wilder wanted to make people laugh, and that he did. Wilder was married to the late great Gilda Radner (1984-89), who passed away from ovarian cancer (aged 42) in 1989. After her death, Wilder raised awareness of ovarian cancer, promoting early detection and treatment. Wilder passed away on August 29th; he was 83.

The Lovin’ Spoonful: Summer In The City (1966)

The Lovin’ Spoonful, an American rock/folk band, play “Summer In The City,” a 1966 hit song written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian and Steve Boone. The song is apropos for Toronto (and many other cities around the world), given the hot, sticky weather we have been experiencing since late June/early July. The song was first released as a single on July 4, 1966, and then placed on the last track on their third album, Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful, released in November 1966. The band has its origins in the folk music scene of NYC’s Greenwich Village (lower Manhattan) during the early 1960s. The original four members are John Sebastian (lead singer/keyboard), Zalman Yanovsky (lead guitar), Joe Butler (drums) and Steve Boone (bass); the group derived its name from a lyric of “Coffee Blues,” Mississippi John Hurt’s classic blues song.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rural Post Offices

Photo of the Week

71316, David at the Old Post Office, Acme, LA: Harper's writes in “Browsings“: “Rachel Boillot from Post Script, her series documenting the closure of rural post offices in the South, which is currently on view at the Half King Photography Series, in New York City.”
Photo Credit
Rachel Boillot 
Source: Harper’s

I have a love of post offices, particularly rural ones; for me. they form a means of communication to the outside world, and the people who work there are conduits of information. I enjoyed my regular trips to the post office to mail letters, packages and parcels. (The U.S. Postal Service always provided excellent service.) Such was my feelings of appreciation when I resided in rural New Hampshire (03225) more than a decade ago.That many such post offices are not only being closed, but torn down, does not bode well for future communication of the kind that involves intimate contact, a physical proximity. Sure, it is about something being lost, but not only a physical building. Assuredly, not everything can be measured in a financial ledger, and the people who think it can have likely never been to a rural post office to send a package across the country.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Guess Who: Hand Me Down World (1970)

The Guess Who: Hand Me Down World (1970)
Via: Youtube

The Guess Who, the legendary Canadian rock band, perform “Hand Me Down World,”which was released as a single in Canada in June 1970 and a month later in the United States. It is the third track on their seventh studio album, Share the Land, released on October 5, 1970. Hand me downs are second-hand goods, suggesting something old and previously worn, often in sufficiently good condition, but sometimes not. It suggests something not in vogue, not au courant.

The song was written by guitarist Kurt Winter, one of the two lead guitarists (the other being Greg Leskiw) who replaced Randy Bachman earlier in 1970. Bachman had left the band due to creative differences, chiefly a result of his conversion to Mormonism. Burton Cummings is the lead singer here. Rounding out the group is Jim Kale (bassist) and Gary Peterson (drummer). They continued as the Guess Who, with many changes in its members, until they officially disbanded in October 1975.

The generation gap persists today, largely explaining the song’s cri de cœur. Every new generation gets a hand-me down world, fashioned by previous generations, seeing its deficiencies as glaring and thus seeing and feeling a need to protest in some form. Behind such thinking is a fear of the status quo, thus motivating a desire to repair the rot, to turn bad into good, to make the world better, more just. Such is the prerogative and energy of youth—fueled by idealism and righteous indignation—and no matter how previous generations tend to view such actions and behaviours, it needs to run its course.

Without the possibility of positive change, without the hope of improvement, humanity finds itself lost and locked in hopeless despair and cynicism. That being said, is not youthful idealism better than its counterpart? To fight the good fight? But not with anger and divisive language; this only makes things worse. The goal is to bring people together for a common good.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dark Matter, Dark Energy & Dark Forces Of Nature

Particle Physics

Large Hadron Collider (LHC): Physicists tend to be cautious when announcing the discovery of a new particle. An anomaly in an experimental run is insufficient reason to say a new particle has been discovered; for scientific certainty, it requires five sigma effect, or 99.99994% confidence. So far, such explains the blip found in December 2015 at the world’s largest atom smasher, the LHC. Cathal O’Connell of Cosmos magazine writes: “New particle ... or nothing at all? Unfortunately, a bump in a graph from the Large Hadron Collider turned out to be the latter.”
Image Credit: David Parker; Science Photo Library

An article, by Cathal O’Connell, in Cosmos magazine discusses the possibility of whether particle physicists are on the right track to confirming another fundamental force of nature, thus adding to the four already known. Or is this just another case of an anomaly leading to nothing significant? Such describes much of the work of particle physics today: trial and error.

Particle physicists and cosmologists, among others, are working on weird, not easily explainable, areas of science. Although the connection is not direct, much of the search for a fifth force is a result of trying to make sense of dark matter—so-called non-baryonic matter that we can’t observe, and yet cosmologists and astrophysicists say it makes up a significant part of our Universe. This is, undoubtedly, a mysterious force of nature. 

In “Have physicists discovered a fifth force of nature?” (August 22, 2016), O’Connell writes:
Everything we can see is governed by just four fundamental forces of nature. Three – electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force – are explained to wonderful precision by the standard model of particle physics. The fourth force, gravity, is the realm of Einstein’s much-feted theory of general relativity.
While we haven’t added to this list in more than 60 years, there’s no theoretical reason for there not to be a fifth.
Dark matter, for instance, is an as-yet-unopened treasure trove of potential new physics. We know dark matter is out there, and that it doesn’t interact with ordinary matter. Might it not feel some kind of “dark force” instead?
Perhaps. One of the fundamental questions is determining what is dark matter. Both dark matter and dark energy, adding up to 95%, make up most of the known Universe, astrophysicists say. So, only the 5% measured by our instruments conforms to normal matter. In a nutshell, more is unknown than known when it comes to our understanding of the universe. The Big Bang is discussed rather casually, as if it is understood, when it is not. For example, there is a galaxy—Dragonfly 44— 330 light-years from Earth, and of the same mass as our Milky Way galaxy, which is almost entirely made of dark matter.

No doubt, there is a lot of energy being expended by all kinds of scientists to try to explain some of the strange things that, for example, particle physicists are seeing with their experiments. The question on my mind is whether this fifth force would answer the questions scientists are seeking. Or would it lead to more questions? Yet, it is not time to say that this has been proven. Far from it. If so, it would be the biggest such discovery in particle physics in sixty years.

Science, it appears, has more than a hint of science fiction informing its current narrative of beginnings.

For more, go to [Cosmos]

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Corner Newspaper Stand

Memories & Nostalgia

Newspaper Stand on the corner of av des Pins and boul St. Laurent (Pine and St. Lawrence) in Montreal looks similar to the ones I remember in my youth. By 1996, none existed, a result of municipal bylaws and declining sales. Decades earlier, these mainly wooden corner kiosks were thriving and were as common as mom-and-pop shops. There were many newspaper stands near where we resided on avenue du Parc in the 1960s; the closest was on the corner of Parc and Mont-Royal, across from Fletcher’s Field. Every Saturday morning, my brothers and I would go to buy our comic books, each costing 12 cents (prices were raised two cents in late 1961), the same price as a candy bar. We also picked up the Saturday newspaper, The Montreal Star, which was a fat weekend edition.
Photo Credit: Kate McDonnell, 1991

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ray Charles: What’d I Say (1965)

Ray Charles [1930–2004; born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia] and band, along with the Raeletts perform “What’d I Say” in this 1965 British film, Ballard in Blue. In the film, Ray Charles plays himself. The song, written by Charles, is classic American r&b. It is the title track of the album of the same name released on October 19, 1959. Charles always closed his concerts with this song.

The film was directed by Paul Henreid (playing Victor Laszlo) of Casablanca fame. The intended title of the film was Light Out Of Darkness, and it was released in the U.S. as Blues For Lovers.

The Ray Charles Video Museum writes on its excellent site why this film is not widely known by the public:
Ray later said the film was underfinanced, and got too little promotion. The film opened in London in February 1965 and in New York (titled Blues For Lovers) around December 31st, 1965. In Europe it received some distribution in regular movie theaters in the mid and late 1960s. I've also found several tv broadcasts, everywhere in Europe, mainly in the 1970s. 20th Century-Fox Film picked up the American distribution rights in September 1966. I know of one brief review in The Afro American of 28 January 1967 (here), and found a few traces of U.S. theater distribution and TV broadcasts, but it seems as if the film never got proper attention in the U.S.
What a shame; the film seems worth watching, if only for the music.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our Family Vacation In Minden, Ontario (2016)

Rest & Relaxation

We spent last week at a cottage in Minden, Ontario, which is part of the Kawartha Lakes region and county seat of Haliburton County. It is slightly more than a two-hour drive northeast of Toronto, and after about an hour, you no longer feel part of the urban sprawl of shopping malls, high rises and densely packed people. The town of Minden has less than 6,000 full-time residents with the numbers increasing during the summer. We found a lot of that small-town friendliness and charm, characteristics that are commonly found in novels, and which are not so easily apparent in a big city like Toronto. It was good to get away, and we are already looking forward to a longer stay next summer.

The Lake at dusk; the power lines at a distance; there is a 4.0-megawatt hydroelectric station located on the Gull River.

Eli Drinking green glass-bottle Coke while at a ’50s diner for lunch; red is a common color at such diners. We sat at a booth with red leatherette,

Ice Cream at Kawartha Dairy on Hwy 35; like many, we stopped here for an ice-cream cone. Delicious.

Josh & Eli out on the docks looking for frogs (Anura), which my boys would catch and then release.

Lily Pads by the docks. Where there are frogs, there are also lily pads. There is something serene and beautiful about them.

The Walkway on the Gull River in Minden; the river was used by lumberjacks as a waterway to send logs of pine, spruce and hemlock downstream to Trenton. 

Final and Important Note: Our vacation was made possible through Cottage Dreams, a wonderful organization which its website says, “help families touched by cancer reconnect and rejuvenate at a private, donated cottage.” I would like to thank Debbie Farrell of Cottage Dreams for making the arrangements, and Dan and Leslie Boissonneault for donating their lovely cottage. Merci beaucoup. It is people like you who make the world a better, more humane, place.

All photos: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

William Eggleston’s Portrait Photography

Photo Of The Week

Untitled, 1974 (Karen Chatham, left, with the artist’s cousin Lesa Aldridge, in Memphis, Tennessee): William Eggleston, one of the pioneers of colour photography, sees beauty in the mundane, where the normalcy of the subjects is often deceptive; there’s more to the narrative. So, the ordinary is, by all accounts, quite extraordinary. Aesthetica writes about the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London: “The National Portrait Gallery hosts the most comprehensive display of Tennessee-born photographer William Eggleston’s portrait photography to date. An extensive celebration of the pioneer’s image-making, the exhibition sheds light on his entire career, from the 1960s right up until the present day. Renowned for his vivid, poetic and mysterious images, Eggleston’s distinctive use of colour quickly established him as a pivotal player in the development of colour photography: his solo show at MoMA in 1976 was considered a vital moment in the genre’s recognition as a contemporary art form.” William Eggleston: Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until October 23rd.
Photo Credit: William Eggleston, © Eggleston Artistic Trust.
Source: Aestherica

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Elvis Presley: In The Ghetto (1969)

Elvis Presley sings “In The Ghetto,”a song written by Mac Davis and recorded in 1969 at American Studios in Memphis, Tenn. The words refer to how lack of opportunity, history and cultural forces can lead to poor choices that help shape the future in a negative way, which includes self-destruction. That this is a sad situation is undeniable. We know that this is true, not only yesterday, but also today. Humans tend to judge easily and harshly from a “safe” distance, a default human condition that ostensibly “makes life easier,” less involved, less messy. Yet, it is important to resist such impulses. A belief in someone’s goodness, an outstretched and helping hand can often make a huge difference in a young person's life. In the grand scheme of things, however you view such things, mercy is more important than justice (knowing that law is not the same as justice). Where there is goodness and goodwill, there is living and life; the opposite is also true. With increasing age and maturity, we become convinced that this simple fact is true.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Middle East Faces Long-Term Extreme Weather Conditions

Global Warming

Unbearable Heat: The sustained heat wave in the Middle East has made it unbearable for both humans and animals, including beasts of burdens. Temperatures in some places have soared above 50°C (122°F). In this photo, a man pours water over himself while washing a horse in order to cool it down as part of measures taken to ease the effect of a heatwave at the Beirut Hippodrome, Lebanon. Such weather will become normalized for the Middle East, Karen Graham writes for The Independent: In coming decades, U.N. officials and climate scientists predict that the region’s mushrooming populations will face extreme water scarcity, temperatures almost too hot for human survival and other consequences of global warming.” While one can argue that predictive models on something as complicated as climate can be less than accurate, one must soon realize that when the majority of the world’s scientists can agree on something as controversial as climate change, one can find assurance that what they and the models are predicting must be undeniably true. Denying a reality does not make it go away.  Yet, in the case of devout diehards. common on social media, they will not be persuaded; they will not be convinced. For more, go to [TheIndependent]
Photo Credit: Mohamed Azakir; Reuters

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Old Coke Machine

Nostalgia & Memories

When I was living on Avenue du Parc in Montreal during the 1960s, my parents had a grocery store (called Frank’s Grocery). It was an arrangement where the store was out front and we lived in the back in a fairly large house. The store had a coke machine, similar to the one in the photo, which kept the bottles cold via circulating chilled water. On a hot Summer day, there was something wonderful , even redemptive and restorative, in grabbing an ice-cold Coke (in green glass bottles) from the water, pulling it out and placing the bottle next to your skin, before putting the bottle to your lips and taking a long, hard swig of “the real thing.” Yes, after this brief moment in time you were refreshed, restored and feeling human, again.

Me & My Mom (circa 1967) in front of the store, Frank’s Grocery, the store my parents owned and operated in the 1960s. It was located on Avenue du Parc, in the Montreal neighborhood known as Mile End, which is located in the borough of Plateau-Mont-Royal.
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Heart: These Dreams (1985)

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart perform “These Dreams,” which is the fourth track on the American band’s eight studio album, Heart (1985). The song is sung by Nancy Wilson, the first time that she takes lead vocal; she does a phenomenal job, her voice soaring and yet resonating with so many. This song rekindles dreams of another kind, the ones we have when awake: most everyone I know has had dreams, Big Dreams, Secret Dreams, etc. especially when young. In 1985, I was still young enough (27) to have these kind of dreams.

Only a few realize their original dreams, which is the fuel of hope. I don’t know if any other life form has dreams, but these dreams are a necessary and welcome part of our humanity. Dreams of a better life, one that is better than our current situation. when we get older, dreams tend to become smaller, more modest, but they remain, nevertheless, within the realm of genuine dreams. However modest these dreams may be, they are not always easy to achieve, to reach full potential. For all of us, great and small, these dreams are aching to be realized, to come into fruition, to achieve a form of recognition. When they do, they are marked and accompanied by both pent-up tears of frustration and of joy. The latter often cannot come without the former.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Graphene Degrees Of Freedom

Quantum Spin

PseudospinThe list of extraordinary properties of graphene just keep on growing longer, writes: “Combining graphene with other materials, which individually have excellent characteristics complimentary to the extraordinary properties of graphene, has resulted in exciting scientific developments and could produce applications as yet beyond our imagination.”
Photo Credit: University of Manchester

An article in the form of a press release, by the University of Manchester, announces another new possibility, adding to the already-long list of possibilities that graphene holds in its promise as a super-material. This includes one of the most unusual, and also least understood, properties of this material: the additional degree of freedom that the electrons have:
It is called the pseudospin and it determines the probability to find electrons on neighbouring carbon atoms. The possibility to control this degree of freedom would allow for new types of experiments, but potentially also enable to use it for electronic applications.
Now, writing in Science, Manchester physicists demonstrate how electrons with well-controlled pseudospin can be injected into graphene. The scientists used two layers of graphene, rotated by a small angle with respect to each other and separated by a thin layer of boron nitride, another two-dimensional material and an excellent insulator. Applying strong magnetic field parallel to the graphene layers, the pseudospin state of the tunnelling electrons can be chosen.
Graphene, a slippery two-dimensional material—essentially a thin layer of pure carbon—was first discovered at this university, to wide scientific acclaim, in 2004. Having a thickness of one atom, it is the world’s thinnest known material. It is supposed to display great strength, conductivity, flexibility and transparency. If even half of such claims eventually prove true, it will no doubt be beneficial for a number of materiel science and engineering uses. The article notes that its least understood property—to wit, pseudospin—might prove its greatest benefit. We shall see.

For more, go to []

Friday, August 12, 2016

Elmhurst Dairy In Montreal

Memories & Nostalgia

Sunday Ice Cream: A delivery van pulled by two horses in front Elmhurst Dairy at 7460 Upper Lachine Road in Montreal.
Photo CreditConrad Poirier (1912–1968); taken October 12, 1942
Source: Wikipedia via National Library and Archives of Québec, Vieux-Montréal

This long-time Montreal institution holds a special memory for me. Every Sunday afternoon, we would all hop in my father’s car for a 20-minute ride to Elmhurst Dairy for our ice cream cone. They sold hard ice cream to the public. We did this for years during the 1970s after my father first discovered the place. The site had two iconic cow’s heads out front (Elsie & Elmer) and we would joke that one of them was our mother (she was named Elsie, a popular name for her generation of women.). The cows were a fixture until 1978. Like many things from my past, Montreal’s Elmhurst Dairy is no more. Speaking more to this point, I read recently that Elmhurst Dairy in New York City is planning to close at the end of October 2016, saying it could no longer continue to operate “without ongoing losses.” So, in other words, it wasn’t making a profit; and so the last milk-processing plant in NYC will soon shut its doors.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jimi Hendrix Experience: Jams In Stockholm (1969)

A jam session at the Konserthusetin in Stockhom, Sweden, on January 9, 1969, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, composed of Jimi Hendrix (lead guitar/lead vocals), Noel Redding (bass/backing vocals) and Mitch Mitchell (drums). This was filmed by Swedish TV. Hendrix mentions that the band hasn’t played together in six weeks, so this will be considered “a jam session” and to see “what happens tonight.” [It was actually the second night of a 14-date European tour, the band having played the previous evening at Lorensbergs Circus, Gothenburg, Sweden.] It is evident from this video that the band gets off to a rough start, uncoordinated, but the band at times catches up to Hendrix. But even on a “bad night,” this performance is worth watching, just to see Hendrix play his mesmerizing guitar. There are some good moments in the set; and this film is an essential documentary of an important subculture that influenced the larger surrounding culture 50 years ago.

Here is the setlist:
  1. Killing Floor
  2. Spanish Castle Magic
  3. Magic Fire
  4. Hey Joe
  5. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
  6. Red House
  7. Sunshine of Your Love

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Santa Summer Camp In The Ozarks

Photo Of The Week

Santas Convene: The image of a jolly portly man with a white beard and wearing a red suit is synonymous with the giving of gifts and of the holiday of Christmas. Advertising had a lot to do with the creation of the modern view of Santa Claus, Wikipedia notes: “[The] 1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, along with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.” Undoubtedly, there is more today to being Santa than having a genuine white beard, putting on a red suit, and having a hearty laugh, although these are indeed minimum requirements; it is also about learning from your peers on how to become a better Santa, in what has become a big business in Canada and the U.S., Mary Meehan for National Geographic writes (“Christmas in July—Inside a Santa Summer Camp;” July 26, 2016): “The average age of a Mr. Claus at Discover Santa 2016 is 62.5. Billed as the World’s Largest Santa Convention, the five-day celebration and trade show has drawn 750 Santa Claus impersonators from all over the United States to Branson, Missouri, a town in the Ozark Mountains that’s essentially like Las Vegas but with country music in place of gambling. Here, between the stifling humidity of southern Missouri and the air-conditioning of hotels, the Santas meet with vendors to talk about makeup, beard care, marketing, websites, and North Pole workshop sets—anything that can make them the best Santas possible. Because the life of a professional Santa isn’t easy … and it doesn’t come cheap.” For more, go to [NatGeo]
Photo Credit: Dina Litovsky

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water (2009)

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel [childhood school friends, both born in 1941] sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at NYC’s Madison Square Garden in 2009. The song is the title track on the duo’s fifth and final studio album, released by Columbia Records on January 26, 1970. The song, written and composed by Simon, got some of its inspiration from a gospel song, Wikipedia writes, “partly inspired by Claude Jeter's line ‘I'll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me,’ which Jeter sang with his group, the Swan Silvertones, in the 1958 song ‘Mary Don't You Weep.’ ” At least Simon had the decency to acknowledge this fact, this artistic borrowing. 

You can hear earlier versions, including at NYC’s Central Park, September 19, 1981, [here], and at a live performance before the album was released on November 11, 1969, [here]. In addition, I highly recommend that you listen to the version by Elvis [here], in one of the finest performances of the song I have witnessed. It has universal human appeal, notably because its language is so easily understood and apprehended. We who were listening to music at this time, coming of age and of understanding and appreciation, thought that such music would always be made. We didn’t know then that this would not always be the case.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dancing Young Sunflowers

Sun Worship: Those beautiful young yellow plants, sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), act in accordance with their internal clock to face the sun as much as possible, which helps them grow bigger. (Such is the case with immature sunflowers; mature sunflowers tend to always face east.) The next step in the study is to determine which genes regulate the plant's movements. Sarah Crespi writes for Science magazine: “Every day, young sunflowers follow the sun like spectators at an incredibly slow tennis match. But scientists have never known why, or why the tracking stops when they become adults. Now, a new study suggests that this daily sun worship is guided by circadian rhythms during development. In a series of experiments, scientists tied down young plants to prevent them from moving or rotated them so they were facing the wrong way when the sun rose. When the plants’ normal movements were thwarted, they grew far more slowly than regular sunflowers, with about a 10% decrease in both biomass and leaf area. Researchers say the rhythmic tracking helps the plants grow bigger, allowing them to add cells on whichever side is doing the ‘stretching’: the east side during the day and the west side at night.” 
Video Credit & Source: Science

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Milkman

Memories & Nostalgia

When I lived on Avenue du Parc (in Montreal) in the 1960s, I remember the milkman delivering Borden’s milk to our doorstep (Remember Elsie the cow). If we were good, our mother would surprise us with chocolate milk. I can still recall the delivery truck and the sound of the milkman carrying the glass bottles in his metal contraption early in the morning, around 6. I also remember the cream rising to the top. Milk never tasted so good, it seems to me. Anyone else have similar memories?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Aretha Franklin: A Natural Woman (2015)

Aretha Franklin [born 1942; Memphis, Tennessee], Lady Soul, sings “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center tribute to Carole King (singer/songwriter). The song, written by Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Jerry Wexler, was released first as a single by Aretha Franklin in September 1967 and then was part of her 14th studio album, the fifth track on Side 1 of Lady Soul, released on  January 22, 1968. You can watch a 1968 performance, a few months after her album came out, [here].

Carole King (born Carol Klein in 1942; New York City, New York) sings the song a few years later on the album Tapestry (1971); you can listen to her [here]. There is so much emotion and history behind this song, which this performance by Franklin captures and expresses so well; you will note that President Obama sheds a tear or two. The other honorees in 2015 are George Lucas (filmmaker), Rita Moreno (actress), Seiji Ozawa (conductor), and Cicely Tyson (actress). The 38th Annual Tribute, hosted by Stephen Colbert, took place at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2015. You can view President Obama’s opening remarks [here].

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lou Rawls: A Natural Man (1971)

Lou Rawls [1933–2006] sings “A Natural Man,” a 1971 song written by Bobby Hebb and Sandy Baron, is the title track of the self-named album. This might resonate with some folks today. Some folks want to fit in; others try it but can’t do it. They want to be free and retain a sense of their self, their personality. This is not about anarchism or nihilism or some other destructive and foolish political theory that leads to nowhere, It’s about being free to be yourself without interfering in the lives of others; and wishing that others do not interfere in your life. The second part is as important as the first part. This might be too much for some folks, making no effort to impress, making no effort to impose.

The “Natural Man” stands in opposition to the dehumanization of modern and industrial society, and to the excesses of digital society, which measures without meaning or understanding. To be natural is to be unadulterated, without pretense and to be sincere and genuine. It is the opposite of fear, which often leads to measures that are humanly debilitating and degrading in its many forms and variations. Rawls, who was born in Chicago in 1933, died of lung cancer in Los Angeles in 2006; he was 72.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Friends Of My Youth

On Friendships

This post is the outcome of getting in contact with an old friend (Chris F.) from my university days. I was put in contact with him by another mutual friend (Mark O.) from this period in my life (more than 30 years ago in Montreal) and with whom I also reconnected recently. We three used to spend a great amount of time trying to figure things out, including ruminations on the Big Questions of Life. This got me thinking about friends of my youth and why friends in general are important. While I might not write frequently on this topic, it is part of my regular thought life. I have written about friendship before, including on “The Virtue of Friendship (2010).

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, who has sight so keen and strong
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
“The Arrow and the Song” (1845)

“The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he hasn’t the slightest concern with calculating his interest or your virtue. He doesn’t give a damn, for the moment, about Getting Ahead or Needs Must Admiring the Best, the two official criteria in adult friendships, and when the boring stranger appears, he puts out his hand and smiles (not really seeing your face) and speaks your name (which doesn’t really belong to your face), saying, “Well, Jack, damned glad you came, come on in, boy!”

Robert Penn Warren,
All the King's Men (1946)

A few persons are fortunate—and I truly and sincerely mean what I say— to have friends for many years, for decades. A few people can boast of having maintained the friendships of their youth, where youth is typically defined as between the ages of 15 and 24. Why is it so captivating, so desirable, appealing to have such old friends, notably as you enter the later years of life? Is it mere nostalgia? A remembrance of times of youthful vigor and hope? A time of endless opportunities?

There is some truth in all of these answers, but I don’t think they answer the question sufficiently or completely; I sense that, yes, it has to do of remembrances of the better, if not the best, times of our youth. And, yes, that such friends were part of this history, of our personal narrative during the stages when such narratives were not yet fully formed, fully developed and cast in stone. Yes, this period is filled with opportunity.

Some men, and I speak about the male because it is true that men are far worse than women in maintaining and keeping friendship, have no friends in adulthood. Sure, they might have work relationships, colleagues, acquaintances and associations of various sorts, but they have no friends. No one with whom they can be themselves. This is not an enviable position, and I am not here moralizing but stating a genuine fact. Not having at least one friend to share to unwind and be yourself can be bad for your health. It can also make you the type of person who is self-centered, forever seeking something and forever looking at people as objects to be utilized, rather than as human beings worthy in their own right.

But there’s a warning, as there are in most important areas of life worth pursuing. You have to carefully pick your friends. If you do it with understanding and sensitivity, and with some self-awareness, you can have a friend for life. This becomes important in the days and years ahead when you will have problems—and everyone has problems, whether in business or marriage—and an old friend can make a huge difference in how you work out these problems toward some important resolution or reconciliation.

He can, for example, remind you about the good that you have done and can continue to, things that you have likely forgotten or not considered as important. He can make you laugh like no one else. He can make you believe in yourself and, possibly, in the human race—again. He can bring generosity of spirit and kindness into your life. He can speak into your life as no other can.

Some will say that this nonsense, pure Romanticism. I say that friendship has a long and noble history, and those that deride or minimize friendship probably never had a good friend. More's the pity. Aristotle talks much about friendship and gives it great value in the pantheon of human relationships, which he discusses at length in the Nicomachean Ethics (Book VIII):
But it is not only necessary but also noble; for we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends; and again we think it is the same people that are good men and are friends. 
That ancient book, the Bible, says in the book of Proverbs (18:24): “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” There is also the famous verse in the book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-10), which speaks about the practical understanding of not being alone:
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falls, for he has not another to help him up.
Quite true on so many levels. Such is a special kind of friend, perhaps the kind of friend that Robert Penn Warren describes in the novel above, and which the American poet Longfellow alludes to in his well-known poem. Such is what a friendship can do. It can not only alleviate loneliness and societal alienation, but it can also help make you whole again. Friendship can turn the damaged soul into a functioning and generous one; such is the power of kindness and love.