Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Wish I'd Kept My Old Turntable

Vinyl Now Makes More Money Than Ad-Supported Streaming

People will always prefer the tangible.  After all, Christianity is based on incarnation, and that makes a great deal of difference to its adherents.

Europe [Purple] vs. USA [Green/Blue] Hurricane Models

[Hint: the European model is usually the more accurate as it isn't used to hype a television weather report that exists to sell cars and electronics.  No computer model is perfect, though.]

His Parents Probably Said He Wasn't in Church Because He Had Sports

Mounties in Saskatchewan town were called out because a stubborn kid was refusing to leave the coffee shop early Sunday morning

Actually, in this case, the "kid" is a young goat.

The Expanding Definition of "Sympathy" and "Concern"

Looks like plain, old condescending hostility to me.  But, what do I know?  I don't live in Portland, Oregon.

A 5 Megabyte Memory Drive in 1956

This is what one looks like in 2015:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Historically, Weird Things Happen Around the Bishop of Rome, But This Has a Certain Splendor to It

Congressman swipes Pope Francis’ drinking glass
Brady took the glass back to his ­office, where he drank out of it, and held it up for his wife, Debra, and staff members so they could drink from it as well. “How many people do you know that drank out of the same glass as the pope?” he boasted to the Philadelphia Daily News. He then poured the water into a bottle so he can sprinkle later it on his four grandchildren and one great-grandchild, he told the Washington Post.

Best Birthday Ever

Oklahoma man discovers he was shot twice after celebrating birthday

It's Important to Teach Children at an Early Age to Cower Before Irrational Authority

Girl suspended from school for wearing wrong shade of green

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along The Watchtower (Official Audio)

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter

"We thought turntables were for playing records until rappers began to use them as instruments, and we thought airplanes were for carrying passengers until terrorists realized they could be used as missiles.  My big thing is to look at existing technologies and try to see other ways they can be used, which happens in music all the time and happens to be what terrorists are incredibly good at."

How about if I told the reader that the fellow pictured above, Jeff Baxter, is the chairman of the Congressional Advisory Board on missile defense?  Or that he's a consultant to the Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Northrop Grumman, and Connecticut's own General Dynamics?  Or that he's one of the people on whom we count to keep us in the expectation of reasonable safety from terrorist activity?  Yeah, I though so.

Baxter was born in 1948 and is a graduate of the Taft School and Boston University with a degree in Journalism.  While he was still trying to "find himself", he took work as a clerk and occasional guitar repairman at the lamented Manny's Music Shop on the once-famous "Guitar Alley" of W. 48th St.

[An aside: Manny's, Rudy's Music, and the Sam Ash's guitar and instrument store were located between 7th and 8th Avenues, in the shadow of the Brill Building.  Manny's closed six years ago, Sam Ash moved to 34th a couple of years back, and Rudy's, the last holdout, moved to SoHo just a few weeks ago.  Honestly, to see guitar alley cease to exist within the last few years has been like losing an old friend.]

One day, in 1966, a struggling musician named Hendrix stopped by and, after some conversation about guitars, amps, pickups, and the other things that guitarists like to talk about, invited Baxter to play with his group, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.  Suddenly, Baxter found

He played with the Blue Flames for awhile and some other groups of local notoriety, switching from the bass to the guitar with ease.  He then moved from New York to Los Angeles as the musical opportunities were greater and became a founding member of Steely Dan, one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed bands of the era.  His musicianship developed, too, and became rather legendary.  A perfect example can be found below in his solo beginning around the 2:30 mark:

Musicians of Baxter's era tended to divide between those who performed and toured before live audiences and those who mostly worked in recording studios [such as the legendary Carol Kaye, whom we profiled in November].  Baxter was unique in that he enjoyed great renown as a session-man but also deeply enjoyed performing before audiences.  So much so that, when most of Steely Dan decided to quit touring and record only in studios from that point forward, Baxter left the band in 1974 and searched for another.  It didn't take too long.

The Doobie Brothers had been around for awhile and had enjoyed some hits on top 40 radio but, with Baxter now added to the roster, their music became less simple and much more jazzy.  Suddenly not only were their sales enriched, but critics suddenly began to say favorable things about them, too.  A sample of what Baxter brought can be heard in the guitar solo [at 2 minutes and 20 seconds] that favors this DB hit:

By the 1980's, Baxter had outgrown wanting to play for just one band and, as a session musician, now could be heard playing bass, guitar, and slide guitar and composing for other bands, movies, television shows, and tinkering about in the studio with the recording equipment.  Having already lived an envious life, his interest in common electronics would lead him to his next, and very different, career.

Borrowing from some military electronics schematics, Baxter began to experiment with the algorithms used to compress sound waves so that greater aural range could be encoded onto storage devices and decoded through common MP3 and 4 formats to produce a far deeper tone in what would eventually be known as digital music.  It was inevitable that he would be drawn deeper into military technology [this is not unusual; for example, field archaeologists make use of a great deal of formerly proprietary military equipment, from ground penetrating radar to spy satellites] and discover a way to improve missile defense systems.  Eventually, a paper he wrote on the subject [yes, a guitarist who can write sentences] made its way to his congressman's office and, from there, to the Pentagon.

By the mid-1990's, Skunk Baxter, legendary rock and roll guitarist, was now a civilian defense contractor armed with an impressive collection of top secret clearances from an alphabet soup of federal agencies.  So frequently did he rub elbows with the powers-that-be that at some point he was asked to run for a seat in Congress.  Given that he would have had to shave off his legendary "walrus" mustache in order to appeal to the greater public, he declined.

Since 2001, Baxter has been deployed to counter-intelligence activities where his work is classified at the highest levels.  He has been described, with no hyperbole, as a "secret weapon" in the War on Terror, as his asymmetrical problem-solving abilities and concepts seem to bedevil both the enemies of the United States and the entrenched leadership of the Department of Defense.

Still, at the end of the day, in the recording studio in his home, Baxter takes out the six-string and plays original compositions into the equipment that he has designed, built, and calibrated, putting together yet another album or aiding a remarkable collection of musicians, both novice and famous, in plumbing the depths of their talent.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Um, No

Get Your Selfie Printed On A Pancake And Eat It This Weekend

The Bishop of Rome Quoted Thomas Merton Earlier Today

A lot of people don't know who Merton was, so we link to his bio that appeared in our series of Friday features in The Coracle back in 2012.

The Traditional Protestant View of the Papacy

A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Compiled by the Theologians Assembled at Smalcald in 1537
1] The Roman Pontiff claims for himself [in the first place] that by divine right he is [supreme] above all bishops and pastors [in all Christendom].
2] Secondly, he adds also that by divine right he has both swords, i.e., the authority also of bestowing kingdoms [enthroning and deposing kings, regulating secular dominions etc.].
3] And thirdly, he says that to believe this is necessary for salvation. And for these reasons the Roman bishop calls himself [and boasts that he is] the vicar of Christ on earth.
4] These three articles we hold to be false, godless, tyrannical, and [quite] pernicious to the Church.

This is Said Tongue in Cheek, but a Number of Folks are Expressing the Same Sentiment without Irony

Of course, this is what happens when political journalists report on a religious figure who is speaking in front of politicians.

Also, a surprising number of journalists are suddenly experts on Catholicism and historical Christian theology.

I'm Tempted to Make a Snarky Reference to Social Darwinism, But I'll Resist

More people have died by taking selfies this year than by shark attacks

Sooner or later, someone is going to get killed by a shark while taking a "selfie" with it.

"Israel – Fighting for the Future of Christianity"

For Christians are today being relentlessly persecuted throughout most of the region, though with one shining exception – Israel itself. In fact, Christianity is thriving in Israel, with the numbers of churches and believers growing....

Today's Contrarian View

If Pope Francis Wants to Help the Poor, He Should Embrace Capitalism

The Culture of Blame is Getting Out of Control

Earth Blamed for Cracks in Moon

Congrats, Universities. Your Concentration on "Correctness" Over a Classical Education Has Made You Redundant.

Ernst & Young Removes Degree Classification From Entry Criteria As There's 'No Evidence' University Equals Success

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Roy Rogers Riders Club Rules

1.  Be neat and clean.
2.  Be courteous and polite.
3.  Always obey your parents.
4.  Protect the weak and help them.
5.  Be brave but never take chances.
6.  Study hard and learn all you can.
7.  Be kind to animals and take care of them.
8.  Eat all your food and never waste any.
9.  Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.
10.  Always respect our flag and our country.

Especially #9, kids.

Different Century, Same Problem

Navajos slam Obama for inaction

One third of their drinking water comes from the river that was flooded with arsenic and other heavy metals by the EPA; an environmental atrocity for which no one has answered, or ever will.  Nor will the government, which thinks nothing of throwing away billions of dollars in "green" energy scams, grant the river and adjacent reservation the status necessary to budget a proper clean-up.

I stay away from "grievance politics", or at least try to, but this episode rankles me for reasons that are genetically deep.  For all of the identity awareness that has been a frequent, adamant, and pungent part of our public discourse over the last seven or eight years, it's remarkable to me that there still remains a racial demographic that continues to be so nonchalantly victimized by the powers-that-be, regardless of the political party in power.

It's No Cleveland Museum of Art, but It's Nice to Have It Open Once Again

NYT: Wadsworth Atheneum, a Masterpiece of Renovation

Malheureux, mais vrai

The decline of the French intellectual

It Takes a British Newspaper to Actually Say This

Young people on antidepressants more likely to commit violent crime 

90% of recent spree shootings have been committed by those who have been prescribed such medication, yet politicians and social activists have only urged more gun control legislation for the law-abiding as a response.  As these laws do not address the medical issue, and are wildly and easily ignored by criminals and lunatics, they are an empty gesture.

Update:  Looks like our media are catching up, although with a cautious headline.
Antidepressant Paxil Is Unsafe for Teenagers, New Analysis Says

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I Think He May Be Talking About Me

Jason Gay writes about sports for The Wall Street Journal and looks suspiciously like a guy sitting next to me at a coffee shop.  This is a little spooky.

This Does Not Make Things Any Easier

70,000 Fake Qurans Found In Saudi Arabia Ahead Of Hajj

Then there's this theological "bomb":
Researchers in Britain this month discovered that what they believe to be the world’s oldest Quran might in fact predate the founding of Islam. Researchers at the University of Oxford said they found Quran fragments in August that dated to between 568 and 645 A.D.
“This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Quran's genesis, like that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven,” Keith Small, a manuscript consultant to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, told reporters.

Museum of the Bible Overview

It's Come to This

‘Mikado’ Production Canceled Over Racial Concerns

Monday, September 21, 2015

I'm Ready for the Eschaton

It has been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Clearly that’s why Cinnamon Toast Crunch has introduced a “selfie spoon,” a selfie stick with a spoon at the end that extends up to 30 inches so cereal eaters can take photos of themselves while eating cereal.

This is True for Episcopalians, Too

"My Crush on Pope Francis"

Never mind the absurdity of hipster Christians as a concept (Christ died for my sins? Cool story, bro). If anything, Pope Francis is the anti-hipster, earnest and self-deprecating. Though the Bible promises that all things can be made new, there are only so many ways to reinvent its ancient stories, and he brings them back to basics: mercy, humility, concern for the poor and for the vulnerable (including our planet).

By the way, this article from The New York Times is found in the "Fashion and Style" section.  Really.

It's so much easier to be an Episcopalian.

If You Want Truly to Understand the Contemporary World, Please Read This

An Extraordinary Scholar Redefined Islam
In it, he offers an original, challenging definition of Islam completely at odds with what Salafis and other radicals, not to mention many Westerners, believe. Ahmed’s vision of Islam, profoundly informed by more than 1,000 years of history, poetry, mysticism, science and philosophy, offers an authentic, sophisticated and inspiring alternative to the cramped, reductive and often violent versions that predominate today.
Also, if you wish to have a depth of understanding about radical Islam, I would strongly recommend reading the book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright.  

Mice? Seriously?

The Roman Diet Was Full Of Things You'd Never Want To Eat

"Discovering the American Aristotle"

His name was Charles Sanders Peirce and his story is remarkable.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More from Our Post-Christian Age


An Obituary of Note. A Heartbreaking Obituary of Note.

Cyclist, a White House staffer, dies on charity ride after collision with a car

His wife is a former student and a genuinely fine person.  They have a small child and one on the way.  He was only 34.

Il n'y a rien aussi surréaliste que la musique pop française

It's called "ye-ye" and it's spectacular.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Van Morrison and the Chieftains - Star Of The County Down

J. P. Donleavy

"I'm all for Christianity, but insolence must be put down." - Sebastian Dangerfield

These days university campuses are, in the words of an Internet wag, "an oasis of totalitarianism in a desert of freedom."  As it is with humor, it is an overstatement, but not that much of one.  The contemporary literary world is a political stew that fears dissenting opinion and literary raucousness; a place of myriad micro-aggressions where "trigger warnings" must be issued to literature classes before they can study Shakespeare or else the students potentially suffer debilitating emotional trauma.  In light of this, I'm rather glad that J.P. Donleavy is still alive, still writing, and still irreverent.

There was a time, when I had lived in Europe for awhile, when I realized that I didn't want to return to the United States.  At the least, I did not want to return to schools that I had known in the U.S.  In my own country, especially during my high school years, I was perpetually regarded as "having potential" if only I would "apply myself", which is the lazy teachers' way of saying "the teacher would have to work in order to interest this kid in the subject and that's not going to happen".

When I arrived in Scotland, within minutes of my first day at school, one of my math masters introduced himself by saying, "Good morning, Master Robert.  You are very welcome here."  That was 45 years ago and I still remember it vividly, as there was never a time when any of my stateside teachers welcomed my presence.

In Scotland I had classes that were oriented towards discussion and contributions from all, where liminal observations were encouraged and not ridiculed, and where the life of the mind was the highest good.  Well, as long as everyone showed up for "footer" at 3.  Because of their encouragement, my schoolmasters made sure that, by the time I was 15, I was able enough in French to read Proust, in Greek to read Homer, and in geography to know the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia.

Then I returned to the U.S.  Ah, well.  The great thing was I returned with the capacity for self-education.  Yes, it can leave some holes in one's knowledge, but it can also easily overturn dull-witted pedagogues and the stifling restrictions of government schooling.  Being my own teacher has helped me through one U.S. high school, a college, a university, and four graduate and post-graduate programs.  I credit those good people in the U.K. for that.

So it came as little surprise to listen to James Patrick Donleavy explain, once when closed inside an elevator car with him [a long story to be offered in the future], why a fellow such as himself, born in the Bronx in 1926, came to prefer to study, work, and live in Ireland, even going so far as to adopt the fashion of an Irish squire, complete with a ubiquitous three-piece tweed suit so deliciously worn that one expects twigs to fall out of the shoulder pads.  In fact, one gets the impression that, if such a thing existed, he would wear a nine-piece suit.

Having received an adequate education at Fordham Prep near his neighborhood of Woodlawn [it's on the east side of Van Cortlandt Park in an area that still has a lot of Irish-American families], Donleavy enlisted in the Navy during WWII and, returning home at war's end armed with the largesse of the G.I. Bill, sought to enroll in a U.S. college.  None of them would have him so, on a lark, he wrote to Trinity College in Dublin.  According to Donleavy's version, they wrote back, "Come on over."  He did and has never left.

 Really, who could blame him?  This is the Trinity College library.

Even with "The Bill", life as a student was poverty-ridden and Donleavy, like the other expatriate Americans, was barely be able to eat with any regularity.  This caused the already Bohemian-minded Americans to keep their own company and live a riotously Dystopian existence. This gave Donleavy, thinking of becoming a writer, an idea for a novel and, with it, would become one of the voices in what is now known as the "Angry Young Man" movement.  This requires some explanation, however.

English-language literature underwent a significant change shortly after the conclusion of World War II.  In both the United States and the United Kingdom, government money was made available to the returning troops to permit them to attend college.  This opened the opportunities of higher education to a much broader coalition of potential students, especially in the still very class-conscious U.K.  British universities had never before seen the sons of the working class on the quad and their participation in university life brought a new, often visceral, voice to the study and interpretation of literature, history, philosophy, and theology.  It was a necessary correction to a system that favored one narrow class and injected a needed energy into higher education, but it wasn't an easy change for those involved, especially on the part of the entrenched elite.

[I once heard an amusing story from a relative of my wife's, a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, the "band of brothers" whose story was made known in a popular history book and television mini-series, who had fought on D-Day and all the way to the fall of Berlin, liberating a concentration camp along the way.  After his discharge, he and fellow soldiers enrolled in the University of North Carolina where they were chronologically older than the other incoming freshmen, and morally so because of the death and mayhem with which they'd lived for four years.  One of the deans meeting with the new students carried with him a box of freshmen "beanies" that were to be worn during the first semester.  He took one look at the incoming class, in their mid-twenties, barely shaven, and with eyes that had repeatedly stared into the abyss of battle, looked again at the beanies, and announced the end of that particular UNC tradition.  He knew they would never wear them.  He also didn't bother attempting to talk them into joining the glee club, either.]

In the British system, the veterans were not greeted with warm regard and found themselves ostracized from the general company and comforts of the more traditional students, those with acceptable pedigrees with long family connections with the educational institutions.  As the new students were not only older and working class, they tended to be married and with children, another new experience for the schools.  Thus, they were not eligible for dormitory housing.  The local off-campus housing was sub-standard and often squalid, local groceries tended to arbitrarily raise prices for the "wealthy" uni students, and social services were slow to respond.  So the new class of students reacted to this systemic resistance by being provocative and guttural.

Upon receiving their degrees, those who went into the written arts began to publish, or attempt to publish, plays, stories, and novels that reflected their particular voice, one that relished the visceral details of poverty, alcoholism, violence, social constraint and, particularly, anger.  In 1956, John Osborne produced his play, Look Back in Anger, about an educated, working class man caught in an emotionally violent love triangle within the confines of his small apartment.  While a rather bland offering by today's standards, in a theatre world still dominated by George Bernard Shaw's rather polite stage work, the play was an enormous success and engendered the term "Angry Young Men" to describe this new perspective.

Two years earlier, Kingsley Amis had published Lucky Jim, a novel about a working class interloper attempting to become an instructor at a small, English college.  The protagonist does not benefit from a classical education, is condescended to because of his northern English accent, and is manipulated terribly by the woman in his life.  While Osborne's play was raw drama, Amis had a lighter, more comedic touch, and presents Jim's situation with humor.  Although, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of humor knows, it can mask a considerable well of rage.

In the novel's climax, Jim is to give a public lecture on the history of "Merrie England", a topic chosen by his department head.  Intensely disliking the inherent dishonesty of the topic, but knowing that a successful lecture will secure his career, in his nervousness Jim imbibes too much beforehand, delivers an inebriated version of the lecture and, instead of presenting the information palatable to his department chairman, breaks into a brutal re-assessment of English history that shocks the audience.  He then passes out.

In the midst of this renaissance, Donleavy worked his experience as a student at Trinity into a novel, at turns humorous, sentimental, infuriating, and touching, that was of no interest whatsoever to any of the publishers in the U.K. or U.S.  While not obscene by any common standard, and hardly shocking to contemporary readers [after all, the women in my small town recently read 50 Shades of Gray in their book club at the senior center], the novel's protagonist, Sebastian Dangerfield, is so un-apologetically and energetically narcissistic, sybaritic, and carnal, so absolutely an incarnation of the classical satyr, that no publisher wished to chance an obscenity charge.  Donleavy finally found a publisher in France. However, in order to protect themselves legally, the publisher released the The Ginger Man in 1955 through a subsidiary that dealt exclusively in...casual pornography.  The book was in good company, though, as the publishing house also released Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, another book judged "obscene" by the standards of the day, that same year.

[I could review the novel's plot, I suppose, but I'd really rather the novel be discovered by readers of The Coracle.]

Eventually, The Ginger Man would find both U.K. and U.S. publishers, be translated into a successful stage play [with Richard Harris as Dangerfield], remain in print even to this day, and be judged by Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.  Not bad for "casual pornography", is it?

[An aside: Donleavy didn't want to be known as any kind of "pornographer", so he sued the publisher to move his non-pornographic novel to a less controversial subsidiary.  The legal machinations continued for some time until Donleavy, through proxies at a public auction, bought the publishing firm. Due to the curiosities of continental law, this meant that he was now suing himself.]

Donleavy would write many more novels, often re-working the general theme of The Ginger Man, detailing the travails of a raw personality in the midst of a sea of masks; people who disguise their base nature and, unlike their protagonist, become twisted and inauthentic because of their masquerade.  He has also written plays and some volumes of autobiography.  A gifted story-teller, his tales of life as an American in Ireland are always entertaining, as is The Unexpurgated Code, a rude and hilarious guide to life.

As often happens, the school of literature that he represents made the translation to film in the late 1950's and early 1960's, which is the medium through which most people are familiar with it.  While a film was made of Look Back in Anger, with Richard Burton in the primary role, other original or literary adaptations were offered during the same period:

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) 
The Entertainer (1960) 
A Taste of Honey (1961) 
A Kind of Loving (1962) 
The L-Shaped Room (1962) 
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) 
This Sporting Life (1963) 
Billy Liar (1963) 
Alfie (1966)

Donleavy himself is still alive, about to turn 90-years-old, and living still in a rambling Irish manor house that is, like many of those represented in his books, mostly falling down.  In an age such as ours, when university courses in literature are disintegrating, with fewer and fewer students enrolling in the classes or majoring in a subject that is less about stories and more about race and gender politics, and the critical thinking required in lit and art courses having been replaced by the rote repetition of politically correct tropes, it would be healthy to reintroduce the vital narrative voice of the AYM movement.

As he once helped to liberate a stifled intellectual life, Donleavy's characters, and his bloody-minded determination to be anything other than superficial, would be a welcome and refreshing change from the dregs of "Oprah's Book Club".

With that in mind, the photo below of Donleavy with the actor who wishes to turn his works into film gives me some hope that there will soon be such a renaissance.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I Rather Wish Contemporary Atheists Knew Something about Christianity before They Started Writing about It

The other day, The New Yorker [whose editorial board is getting more and more curious in its sources of content] published an article by a physics professor about how "All Scientists Should Be Atheists". This is hardly a radical notion, and one that has been expressed many times over the last 100 years or so, with the tension of religion and theology is exacerbated when between ignorant professors and narrow-minded scriptural literalists.  Perhaps I feel close to this topic as my late father was both a successful physicist and a man of faith and found each discipline informing the other.

I also have to admit I'm becoming a little bored with the cartoon-ish prejudices of those who wish to tell me what I "should" do or be as a Christian, whether they are university-coddled scientists, ecclesial bureaucrats, dull-witted educators, presidential candidates, social justice snarkers, or members of the legislative and executive bodies of both the state and the country.  I was framing a response for The New Yorker's online comments section when I stumbled upon this to which I link below.  Anything that I may offer at this point is moot, as a better writer and philosophical thinker than I has already expressed my perspective.

His errors go well beyond that, as they inevitably must, given the depth of his ignorance and the lack of intellectual rigor tolerated by the editors of The New Yorker. Consider this:
The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise. . . . We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments — totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic — that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred.”
This is, as it should be obvious to those with a passing familiarity with the issues, absurd. It simply is not a part of orthodox Christian thinking — certainly not a part of the Catholic tradition — that “some idea or concept is beyond question,” or that the “commitment to open questioning” is inherently part of “an atheistic enterprise.” In fact, Christian intellectuals have long held exactly the opposite opinion: that truths, including moral truths, are discoverable through ordinary reason without recourse to revelation. This is the basis of the natural-law thinking that can be found prominently in the work of Thomas Aquinas and — if Professor Krauss were inclined to take a peek — in the Declaration of Independence, not to mention pretty much the entire intellectual foundation of the American political order.

To be a Christian is to be in a perpetual cycle of doubt and faith, always questioning one's belief and practices, and seeking a deeper comprehension of the eternal.  To assign us the role of thoughtless clods in need of dismissal is an adolescent perspective and one that reveals how limited and parochial contemporary education has become.

News from a Former Parish

Pennsylvania town asks homeowner to limit lights meant to ward off aliens 

Career-wise, it's been uphill ever since those days many years ago.

Here's a paragraph that I guarantee the reporter enjoyed writing:
Brown also has wrapped part of his house in foil – another defense against aliens, she said – which reflects more light off his property.
[For those wondering, the term "parish" is a geographic concept and does not refer solely to a building that has stained glass.]

Government isn't God

EPA admits never planned for ‘worst-case scenario’ at site of toxic mine spill

Friday, September 11, 2015

Come Fly With Me (1957)

Jimmy Van Heusen

"Sinatra thinks he's Van Heusen but he can't pass the physical." - Sammy Cahn

Try to imagine a day in the life of a composer during the heyday of bands and movie musicals.  I always assumed, rightly in most cases, that they would rise late in the day, have a leisurely breakfast/lunch on the patio by their swimming pool, perhaps recovering from the night before.  Sometime in the late afternoon and early evening they would scribble notes, noodle around on the piano, or meet with their accompanist to smooth the ragged lines of a new song or enter a recording studio to do the same with a singer and orchestra.  The day would end in the middle of the night, after an appropriate period of post-recording revelry, only to start all over again the next, afternoon.

If that's the movie in your imagination, then, at least in the case of Jimmy Van Heusen, it would be an accurate reflection of reality, except for what occupied his mornings.  Instead of sleeping off the night before, Van Heusen would be found at 5 a.m. at the Lockheed aircraft plant outside of Los Angeles where, after spending a night writing songs for the biggest names of his era, he would spend his mornings as a...test pilot.

Van Heusen was born in Syracuse in 1913 as Edward Chester Babcock which, for reasons that should be obvious, he changed to "Jimmy", because it seemed a convivial forename, and "Van Heusen" because that was the brand of shirt he aspired to buy.  He attended Syracuse University where he became good friends with Jerry Arlen, a significant contact in that Jerry's older brother, Harold, was one of the most prolific and popular composers of that decade.  

[Harold Arlen frequently wrote with Johnny Mercer producing songs such as "Accentuate the Positive" and "Blues in the Night"; Arlen also wrote all of the songs for "The Wizard of Oz", including "Over the Rainbow", which was voted the 20th century's #1 song.]

Van Heusen had written silly and fun songs throughout high school and college and the older Arlen sibling gave him a chance to compose something for Cab Calloway's review at the Cotton Club.  The song he wrote, "Harlem Hospitality" proved popular enough to earn Van Heusen a job in the famous Brill Building in New York [it's still there, by the way] as a contract songwriter for several music publishers.  In the year 1940 alone, he composed over 60 published songs.

After coming to the attention of Hollywood, Van Heusen and his then-partner Johnny Burke wrote for both stage productions and movies, including the score for the stage version of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" [that I saw performed at the Goodspeed Opera House back in the '80's] and what may be one of the most transformative songs in recording history, "Swinging on a Star".

In the case of the latter tune, which was written for Bing Crosby to perform in the movie Going My Way, Van Heusen had taken note of what had made Crosby such a popular singer.  As recording technology progressed, musicians were adjusting to the increasing sensitivity of electronic audality.  Where singers once had to flatten their notational nuance and were required to have very deliberate enunciation, "Der Bingle" was able to use microphonic advances to permit a greater range and intimacy in his recorded voice, allowing greater opportunities for the composer, as well.

[This explains the shift from the clarinet, which was the dominant instrument in early records as it could be easily heard through the labyrinth of the recording process, to trumpets and saxophones, as their range and brassiness no longer overwhelmed the equipment.  It's also why, in later techno-musical history, that the saxophone, which was the dominant instrument in early rock and roll, was replaced by the guitar.]

With this in mind, Van Heusen and Burke wrote "Swing...." to take advantage of both the technology and the singer.  This projected an extremely catchy tune to the top of the charts and won them the Best Song Oscar in 1944.

Having picked up a pilot's license somewhere along the way, and using the sobriquet of "Ed Babcock", Van Heusen contributed to the war effort during the 1940's as a pilot for Lockheed's flight test program, perfecting the P-38 Lightning fighter.  It is an interesting reversal that this dangerous service to his country was considered his secret life; in public, Van Heusen became known as Hollywood's best party host and guest.  Given the considerable competition for that title, one may imagine at how gifted he was in this role.  Despite being diminutive, chubby, and bald, Van Heusen never lacked for female company and was known as the life of the party everywhere from dives to the homes of the great producers.  So much so that he became Frank Sinatra's idol, as well as one of his composers and good friends.

Sinatra had noticed that Jimmy Burke's alcohol use was out-pacing that of Van Heusen's, which meant that he not only was he pre-embalmed, but his talent as a lyricist was rapidly dissipating, so, as if on a blind date, Sinatra set up Van Heusen with Sammy Cahn, who was also in the midst of breaking up with his partner.

[If this sounds like a marriage on the rocks, you have no idea.  There is a moment when Sinatra managed to sneak Cahn over to Van Heusen's house so that they could try writing a song together.  Just as they were in the middle of the creative process, Jimmy Burke stopped by and Cahn quickly excused himself through a back door.]

Eventually, though, their union was made secure through the success of their first song together, in 1955, taken from the title of the movie in which it was first performed, and one that is now recognized as an oft-performed American standard.

With Cahn as his lyricist, Van Heusen would win the Academy Award for Best Song in 1957 ["All the Way"], 1959 ["High Hopes"], and 1963 ["Call Me Irresponsible"].  Van Heusen and Cahn also won an Emmy in 1955 for "Love and Marriage".  There were many nominations to such awards, as well.

He would re-pay Sinatra's kindness by rushing the singer to the hospital after Frank's suicide attempt upon his divorce from Ava Gardner.  When Sinatra was at an ebb point in his career, Van Heusen moved him into his own home.  When Sinatra's mother died, Van Heusen played the piano at her memorial service.

The party that was his life was enriched yet again when, for the first time at the age of 56, Van Heusen married.  He would write songs until his mid-sixties and then retire to his ranch in southern California, content that he had written most of the tunes that people still get stuck in their heads.

Upon his death, in 1990, Sinatra had Jimmy Van Heusen buried in the Sinatra family plot with a simple stone that reads "swinging on a star".

An eponymous website may be found here, cataloging all of Van Heusen's songs.
The Songwriter's Hall of Fame also offers an online exhibit of Van Heusen's works at this site.
Naturally, all of his music may be found on CD's, vinyl, in streaming services, and from the voices of artists as diverse as Billie Holiday, Billy Joel, and Sting.