Monday, November 29, 2010

A Weekly Dose of Darin - Mack the Knife

“I’ve heard a few people say I’m premature about going for adult audiences, but I have to be the one to decide that.”

When I first started posting about Bobby Darin, my intent was to stay away from obvious song selections and attempt to find things that might not be known to everyone. As I said then -
“… the hope is to go beyond, “Beyond the Sea,” and “Mack the Knife,” so that those unfamiliar with the Darin canon and history will be exposed to his impressive and varied body of work while, at the same time, his more knowledgeable and loyal followers will still find something to pique their interest.”
So, consequently “Dose of Darin” has shared “Things,” Distractions,” and “Simple Song of Freedom” among other choices that the casual fan may be unaware of. But, sometimes, one has to acknowledge greatness, and history, and perhaps veer slightly off-course from initial intentions when specific situations require it. On this date, November 29th, 51 years ago, Bobby Darin was honored with two Grammy Awards - Best New Artist and Record of the Year for “Mack the Knife.” While well-deserved, the interesting thing about being crowned Best New Artist of 1959 is the fact that Darin had already charted the previous year with “Splish Splash” and ‘”Queen of the Hop,” had been appearing on television since 1956, and had been releasing recordings since ’57. But why quibble, historically the Grammy-folk have always been a little slow on the uptake (word has it that Adam Ant is a current contender) it was a triumphant year for Bobby and one that saw his career move in a dramatically new direction.

As reflected in the opening quote, Bobby Darin desired to expand his repertoire beyond the pop/rock songs that he was recording and felt, although still a very young man, that he was ready to make his move into more sophisticated and adult material. He had already been performing “Mack the Knife” in his live act, so this was not unfamiliar musical territory for him.

“This is not really what I’m about. I want to record an album of standards.”

When Darin approached Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records with this radical new idea, his reaction was negative but not unexpected, “What are you talking about? You’ll ruin your career!” So, undeterred and using personal funds to pay for the recording session, Darin began work on the album, “That’s All.” Ertegun eventually came around and the result changed Darin’s career, popular music history and the karaoke industry worldwide.

The following day, November 30, 1959, became a celebrated one in Bobby Darin lore as well. This was the day of the famous, and infamous, UPI story quoting Bobby as saying, “I hope to surpass Sinatra in everything he’s done.” As innocent and unimportant as that statement appears, it caused a seismic stir in the music industry and in the public’s perception of Darin. Even today, there is still much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of that citation. “Dose of Darin” did cover and comment on this event in an earlier blog, posted on Sunday, October 23, entitled “Two of a Kind” - http://nycityman.blogspot.com/2010/10/sunday-dose-of-darin-two-of-kind.html
(So, I’ve already quoted myself and am now referencing a previous post. I sincerely hope that when I’ve completed composing this I’ll be able to fit my considerably increasing cranium through the bedroom doorway.)

Darin on your Dial -
Check your local PBS stations, for they’ve just begun running a pledge week special, “John Sebastian Presents: Folk Rewind,” that features a clip of Bobby Darin, that master of musical multiplicity, performing his original composition, “Simple Song of Freedom.” If you find that you’re not in the mood for two hours of sometimes, saccharinely-sincere and overly-earnest folk group vocalizing very likely to convince you that you’ve stumbled upon the film, “A Mighty Wind,” Bobby Darin’s clip comes in at about the forty minute mark of the program.

And now a song, arrangement and recording that needs no introduction - except, I guess, that this entire post has been an introduction - it’s iconic, timeless and simply one of the greatest records since “Edison recorded sound.” From the 1959 album, “That’s All,” from the Brecht/Weill work, “Threepenny Opera,” with an exceptional and almost startling orchestration by Richard Wess - Bobby Darin performing his signature song, “Mack the Knife.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Devil in Disguise - Pondering Palin

“I thought that I was in heaven
But I was sure surprised
Heaven help me, I didn't see
The devil in your eyes”

Simple, seductive, satanic Sarah - this blog has been dancing around her like I’m Fred Astaire and she’s a coat rack. Since its very inception I’ve poked, prodded, preached, proselytized and protested but always within the confines of other subjects. There’s been the occasional jab, a frequent needle, but never an entire posting solely dedicated to the wonder that is Sarah Palin. The reason - the school of thought (school: skuul noun - 1. an institution from which Palin gained very little and one that produces educated individuals, a quality she considers to be negative and highly elitist) that should we all just ignore her, she would eventually vanish upon her, ignorance is blissfully, way. Alas, between her job at Fox News, her reality show, her frequent appearances on “Dancing with the Stars” and her succeeding Jigsaw in the next installment of the “Saw” series, it has become abundantly clear that, like crohn’s disease, that other stomach turner, she will not go away simply by being ignored. The role, then, of any thinking and reasoning human being, or even of any species that might possess an opposable thumb, is to regularly remind the voting public who, after all, have already gifted us with George W. Bush twice (okay, once) of the wasteland behind the wink, the superficiality behind the smile and the bull behind the “you betcha’” that is “Weekly Standard” page 6 girl, Sarah Palin. In order to properly protect ourselves, our peoples and the future of the greatest democracy the world has ever known we must remain alert of what the un-intelligentsia has in mind (using the word “mind” loosely, of course) for our nation.

As an xy chromosome individual, and as a vessel for testosterone, I do comprehend the appeal that Palin carries for certain hormonally-heavy members of our population, and I’m fully aware that many men would desire her mukluks under their beds anytime. But, simultaneously, as a beneficiary of the evolutionary process, blessed with a frequently employed and fully functioning cerebral cortex, I can rise above my native Neanderthal nature and surmise that running, and not ruining, our republic requires distinctly different qualities than just good looks, skintight clothes and “f - me” pumps.

"Obviously we gotta’ stand with our North Korean allies."

North Korea - South Korea. North America - South America. North Carolina - South Carolina. Or even the novel, “North and South,” by John Jakes. When you’re proudly ignorant, indifferent and often incoherent, facts, actualities and realities can be difficult to grasp and retain. On last week’s “Meet the Press,” moderator, David Gregory, began a question for Hillary Clinton with the suggestion that Sarah Palin has now approached Clinton’s level of accomplishment. Secretary Clinton, demonstrating remarkable poise and restraint, did not resort to her “second amendment remedies” in response but rather answered as if a query of some astuteness had been posed. (Where have you gone, Tim Russert? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.) So what exactly are these accomplishments to which Gregory refers? Sarah Palin won the title of Miss Wasilla of 1984 and was the runner-up in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Idaho in 1987 and, said degree in hand, became a working member of the “lame-stream” media, as a TV sports reporter in Anchorage. Entering politics in 1992, she won a seat on the Wasilla City Council. (Population 5469, more people live on my block.) Four years later, she was elected mayor of that same tiny hamlet. In January 2007, Palin began her position as Governor of Alaska (population 698,475, that about covers my neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen) a post she resigned from a mere two years later to prove to the world that she was dedicated to public service and not a “quitter.”

I believe, perhaps optimistically so, that Palin will not run for President in 2012. While clearly not the sharpest icicle in the igloo (don’t think about that too much as it actually makes very little sense) she may just be smart enough to realize that she’s not smart enough to be the leader of the free world. With her beauty pageant training and her television background, what she is knowledgeable in, is show business. She knows how to play a crowd, she knows marketing and she knows how to promote her brand. A major worldwide failure in the political arena could hurt her entertainment future and damage her vast money-making potential. While seeing her constant, daily presence in every possible media outlet from television to newspapers to Facebook to podcasts - until finally. Krueger-like, she invades our very dreams - may certainly seem torturous, imagine the torture she could inflict both literally (she was pro-Bush water-boarding) and figuratively, should she ascend to the highest office in the land. Among other things, Miss Wasilla supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. She opposes all abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Ecologically, Sarah believes that climate change is a myth, and despite the recent disastrous Gulf oil spill she wishes to continue deep water drilling and wants to expand drilling even into protected areas. She believes not in evolution but creationism and so envisions a Flintstones-like past of a 4000 year old earth where humans and dinosaurs co-existed. We need her to stay on Fox.

And now, “Deep Thoughts by Sarah Palin” -

"They are also building schools for the Afghan children so that there is hope and opportunity in our neighboring country of Afghanistan.''

''If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?''

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil." - defending one of her many fictional claims

“Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate."

“They're in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom." - getting the vice president's constitutional role wrong after being asked by a third grader what the vice president does

"I want to help clean up the state that is so sorry today of journalism. And I have a communications degree."

“Dr. Laura: don't retreat...reload!” - coming to the defense of radio host Laura Schlessinger who decided to retire after using the N-word on the air 11 times in 5 minutes

"Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant - they're quite clear - that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments."

"Who calls a shot like that? Who makes a decision like that? It's a disturbing trend." – defending yet another falsehood that "In God We Trust" had been moved to the edge of coins by the Obama administration

"I think on a national level your Department of Law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out." - referring to a department that does not exist

“How are we going to kick in the plan that will get this economy back on the right track and really shore up the strategies that we need over in Iraq and Iran to win these wars?"

"I like being here because it seems like here and in our last rally too - other parts around this great Northwest - here in New Hampshire you just get it."

"We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity." - quoting fascist right-wing columnist Westbrook Pegler, an avowed racist and anti-Semite who once expressed his hope that Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated

"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."

"What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?" - encouraging Wasilla librarian Mary Ellen Emmons to ban books.

“It’s you and me forever
Sarah smile
Won’t you smile awhile with me, oh Sarah?
If you feel like leavin’
You know you can go” - Hall and Oates

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hey Kid, Get Off My Lawn! - Grumpy Thoughts from a Cubicle Dweller

My after-work beer gang in the early days of my office

As I approach the start of my 24th year with the same employer, it’s hard not to reflect on how dramatically the workplace environment has been transformed, primarily for the better, in that relatively short period of time. Surely to some of the younger blog readers, 24 years would seen akin to a time travel jaunt and a pleasant visit with Aristotle (I would thank him for “Poetics.“ written in 350 BC and still an indispensable tome for those learning the skills of dramatic writing.) On the other hand, considering the topics covered on this webpage, it’s highly likely that my younger readers may have actually studied with Aristotle. When I speak of said changes and differences with youthful co-workers (to quote Jean Shepherd’s, “A Christmas Story,“ soon to be seen on TBS, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) they look at me as if I have “lobsters crawling out of my ears” and I commuted in to work that morn via horse and buggy. Well, juvenile jobbers, there were, in fact, periods of recorded human history, prior to your very essential existence, when events and changes of actual consequence did occur. And so in the great tradition of older, crankier people lecturing younger, more na├»ve people about how much harder we perceive we used to have it - listen well, take heed and believe - or perhaps, instead, gather that this is all but a weak set-up for a litany of office-place related jibes - your choice.

In the early days of my current employment, ashtrays were given out as corporate swag, company logo proudly displayed - and make no mistake about it, they were put to use in cubicle after cubicle. Great, grey clouds of cigarette smoke billowed from office to office, down winding corridors, seeping into conference rooms and air ducts, infiltrating entire buildings. Choking, coughing, red-eyed and ashen-faced, we met our daily duties. Smokers had not yet been forced to become nicotine-addicted postmen - neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these smokers from the swift completion of their appointed tokes - huddled together against the elements and the harsh environs, leaning against building exteriors, sheltering under eaves, bodies pressed tightly, one against the other, like Survivor contestants, desperate for the warmth projected by a co-workers body heat. Such is the embarrassment, the shame, the degradation that has befallen these once proud people, despondently clinging to their back of the bus high school days and their mythology of cool.

On each and every desk one would find a large, bulky, weighty typewriter - and we loved them. If you were fortunate enough to have one with a correction ribbon you awoke each morning with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and animated blue birds on either shoulder. What computers there were, were the size of the highest-compensated executive’s offices. Massive, “Colossus: The Forbin Project” monstrosities, they excreted millions of cardboard punch hole cards which were meticulously ordered, numbered, filed by hand, only to be disposed of; while large tape reels were continuously being spooled, un-spooled and then pointlessly exchanged by silent drones in white lab coats. Happily, these primitive computers have all been replaced, as movie depictions teach us that they were planning the eventual take-over and destruction of all mankind.

Office conversation consisted of phrases like, “say, what’s the big idea?” “so’s your Aunt Tillie,” and “well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” If a female co-worker proved exemplary, corporate policy was to reward her with a pat on the posterior as a sign of approval. Not only was interoffice fraternization not discouraged, it was actually required. There were more “accidents” from office parties than from a Bristol Palin abstinence lecture (sorry, mess with the purity of America’s most sacred reality program and one has no choice but to bristle, Bristol.) Monthly expenses were calculated on abacuses, and when lengthy memos needed composing, we would read into dictaphones. Unfortunately, since I have previously pledged to never work blue (although, I may occasionally slip into periwinkle, for as Aristotle tells us on page 56 of Poetics, “polysyllabic ‘p’ words are always amusing” ) I must regrettably pass on this logical opportunity to share the ancient dictaphone joke that concludes with the punch line, “no, I use my finger.”

In conclusion, and with that last proud gag (although I defy you to find any other blog that references Aristotle three times, and a genitalia joke in the same posting) I actually thank you younger co-toilers for patiently listening to the repetitive prattling and exaggerated eccentricities of days of yore - and can you show me, just one more time, how this new software works again? I hold down “control” and then what? Which is control?

And now, for no particular reason but that I’m in a Kinks mood and I love the wit and intelligence of Ray Davies' writing, “Sunny Afternoon.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Weekly Dose of Darin - As Long as I'm Singing

“And if this band don't desert me
Then there's nothin'
In the world can hurt me”

The gala return of a Dose of Darin, after my brief and extremely eventful respite (working, sleeping, drinking Brooklyn Lager at House of Brews – ah, those days were full and fruitful), is a tad atypical. A “Dash of Darin” might even be a more appropriate moniker for, this week, we reveal a Bobby Darin that could really cook. And not “cook” as expressed by faux-50’s, jazz-hipsters, or by their modern-day equivalent, Williamsburg residents - but literally, “cook,” as in “preheat the oven to 450 degrees” cook. In my eager and incessant endeavor to search out, seek and share only the most critical, most vital and most essential documents in the vast and varied annals of human-kind - the Magna Carta, the lost Shakespeare Sonnets, Decision Points – “…and several butcher’s aprons,” presents with much pride, pleasure and even a certain degree of smug, self-satisfaction – Robert Walden Cassotto’s personal creamed spinach recipe. And I can already sense the elation and excitement coursing through the internet tubes. Oh, the hours, the effort, the sources one must scour to continually uncover new fascinating, captivating and enthralling information – or in this case, the email one has to open. For this bit of research, I must confess, no blood was drawn, no sweat was dripped and no tears were shed, I simply rediscovered an email sent a little over a decade ago when a friend and I were going through our creamed spinach phase. And after all, as painful as it sometimes may be, who among us hasn’t experienced a creamed spinach phase? Now, from the celebrity cookbook, "Singers & Swingers in The Kitchen" by Roberta Ashley, Bobby Darin’s creamed spinach. I have not prepared this myself, but if any of you do, feel free to comment and share your results.

Bobby’s Favorite Spinach
(Serves 6)

2 packages frozen chopped spinach
3 tablespoons butter (or margarine) 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour 1 cup milk (or light cream) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2
teaspoon ground nutmeg

Follow the directions on the spinach boxes; drain thoroughly when cooked.
Melt the butter over low, low heat; add the onion and cook until the onion
is soft, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat; mix in the flour
(no lumps now). Add the milk slowly, and cook until it's thick. Stir in
salt and nutmeg, and then mix this sauce into the drained spinach. Heat a
bit longer over a low flame.

A Fictional Bobby Darin Sighting -

Yesterday, Kevin Spacey and I happened to be lunching in the same dining establishment – Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, Maze. Nothing of any great import occurred - Spacey was not warbling in a bright yellow suit, and Ramsay did not appear to be present, and so we were not privileged to enjoy his always appealing lack of charm or his vulgar manner.

This Week in Darin History -

On November 19th, 1967, Bobby Darin appeared on the Debbie Reynolds television special, “And Debbie Makes Six,” other guests included Frank Gorshin, Jim Nabors, Donald O’ Connor and Bob Hope. It appears that Darin had no solo numbers but rather performed a few duets with Reynolds.

Almost exactly three years later, in 1970, Bobby made a guest appearance on the November 20 episode of the Flip Wilson Show, where he sang the song, “Melodie,” and with Wilson and Roy Clark, “Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter.”

And on November 17th, 1959, Bobby Darin guest-starred on the TV special, “George Burns in the Big Time,” alongside some amazingly important and historical performers who, unfortunately, are very likely mostly forgotten today - Eddie Cantor, George Jessel and Jack Benny. Darin performed, “Clementine.” We’ll delve substantially more into George Burns and his place in Bobby Darin’s personal and professional life sometime in the near future.

A Double Dip of Darin -

Lastly, we conclude with another fun look at an original Darin composition, first as performed by Bobby himself, and then as covered by another artist.

Released as a Capitol single in 1962 and performed here on a January 1964 episode of “The Jack Benny Program,” here’s a really great clip (I know I always say that) and a great find - Bobby Darin and “As Long as I’m Singing,”

And from the 1998 album, “The Dirty Boogie,” the Brian Setzer Orchestra with their interpretation of the very same song.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nightmare on East Capitol Street!

“Too many distractions.
False retractions.”

I miss mouthing off. To the detriment of the rest of the English speaking world, I guess it’s just in my nature to share my thoughts and opinions. Whether it’s desired or reviled, I’m apparently always going to impart my self-perceived wisdom on humankind. I speak to animals, as well, but I’ve come to believe that their rapt attention is based much more on my supply of Beggin’ Strips than on my thoughtful musings on Alaskan ex-governors. The ego, being a well-developed and powerful force, has convinced me to return to the possibly pointless pursuits of the blogosphere. So Facebookers, I set you free once more. Your days of unintentionally reading reams of radical rants are over.

Superman was disposed of, at one point (how’s that for a segue?) and yet, still he lives to perplex myopic sky-watchers (to hopefully finally put this to rest - Birds are small feathered creatures who are likely to defecate on your shoulder. Planes are extremely large, metal crafts and have a distinct and loud engine sound. Superman is a person in blue tights and a red cape. Are they really so hard to distinguish between?) If a rebirth is acceptable for Superman, an illegal alien who, by law, is prohibited from battling baddies in the enlightened state of Arizona, a revival would seem in order for Nycityman too. And while my, heretofore, secret super power is much less impressive (injected with a serum called Haberdasherum, I can correctly ascertain one’s clothing size with a mere swift glance) “… and several butcher’s aprons” returns to bewitch, bother, bewilder and bore.

I’ve been told that there was some form of government take-over while I was gone at the cryogenics facility. Candidates who have openly campaigned on eliminating or privatizing Social Security, the VA and Medicare; eradicating the Department of Education, health care and unemployment insurance; forcing rape victims to carry their babies; proposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; giving tax cuts to the top 2% wealthiest in the land and ending any regulations on Wall Street, banks and other financial institutions have, reportedly, been voted into positions of power. Taking a rational step back, clearly this cannot be true. No one would ever actually vote for such ludicrous, un-American and harmful ideas. Then it came to me. I understand that Jackass 3D opened at this very same time. One can only assume that such an incomprehensible political outcome was, in actuality, just a promotional stunt perpetrated by Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and the other mono-syllabic, Cro-Magnons from MTV. I look forward to the genuine elections, whenever they might occur.

Which of these 3 is the new speaker of the House of Representatives?

Being the astute observer of human behavior and trends that I am, and being a student of all things political, in my last blog I predicted - nay, not predicted, but guaranteed - that the Democrats would retain, not only the Senate but also, the House of Representatives. In my civics class defense, and this will surely impress, I wrote comically negative profiles on three of the Republican/Teabagger candidates - “Crazy” Carl Paladino, Christine “Samantha Stevens” O’Donnell and Sharon “nothing clever here, just plain bat-s**t” Angle, and none of them enjoyed a successful conclusion to their political campaigns. Had I but a clue of the prolific power that I was wielding I would have skewered and scorched every right-winger from Rand “Papa’s Boy” Paul to Michele (everyone do this one with me) Bachmann “Turner Overdrive.“ On to 2012!

“I’m not a witch. I’m you.” First off, I resent that remark and am highly insulted by it. Secondly, maybe I’m alone on this, but I don’t want our leaders to be just like me. I don’t care whether they’d be jolly to share a Brooklyn Lager with. I want someone better than me. I want someone smarter than me. I want someone more experienced than me. When did knowledge and intelligence become a negative thing in our culture? If I’ve been unclear, I don’t want someone just like me in charge of our nuclear arsenal. I want someone a hell of a lot more qualified. What are you all thinking? Get up right now and go look in the mirror. Now, take a long, hard, critical look. Is that the person you want to run this country? I seriously think not.

Finally, although this is not a “Dose of Darin” post, I did want to return and conclude on a note from Bobby. From his folk period, and feeling somewhat appropriate for this just concluded, frenzied, cable news channel driven, election period - Bobby Darin and “Too Many Distractions.