September 16, 2019

Songwriter Tom Lehrer: Biting Wit and Deep Thoughts

Over the years, I would hear mention of the name Tom Lehrer as this legendary songwriter of irreverent and topical tunes such as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Vatican Rag, or National Brotherhood Week. Nor can one forget Buddy Charles’ stupendous rendition of Masochism Tango or the droll Hannukah in Santa Monica, a non-Christian holiday standard.

Lehrer’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s included LP sales and writing music for the television show, That Was the Week That Was. Lehrer shifted his focus to teaching academic mathematics and musical theater in the early 1970s at places like MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

He was definitely a man of many interests having worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, enlisting in the military and doing a work stint for the NSA.

His relatively small catalogue of songs is still relevant today. Lehrer is now 91 years old. Isn’t it high time we start a tidal wave of interest in his material? Shame on me because I don’t currently have any of his songs in my repertoire, but hope to rectify that soon.

My friend Lydia Stux gave me this link of Lehrer performing a special concert in Denmark. He has this nerdy charm, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his surprisingly good singing and playing.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPmRJIoc2k

Bag Man podcast on Agnew’s departure as VP

Sometimes I just want to get away from current political news and escape to……political history.

I confess to being quite ignorant of what happened during Watergate so I’m always open to learning more about that storied time in our country’s history.

I knew even less about Spiro T. Agnew’s departure from the Vice Presidency.
Along comes Rachel Maddow with Bag Man, a seven-episode podcast shedding light on this constitutional crisis that happened 45 years ago.

As Nixon was teetering towards impeachment or resignation, it came to light that our second-in-command was a big-time crook having taken bribes in Maryland and subsequently as VP in DC. Justice Department professionals were horrified at the possibility that Nixon could be ousted, only to have another suspect person slipping into the White House.

Bag Man not only recaps what happened but sheds new light on who was involved and how decisions were made. Particularly fascinating are interviews with members of Agnew’s defense team and the prosecutors who faced off with Nixon, Agnew and crew.

You can download the podcast app on your phone or find Bag Man at the MSNBC site to listen to the recordings or read the transcripts. However you access this fascinating story, you will feel just a little bit more “in the know.”

https://www.msnbc.com/bagman

The Week paper magazine

downmagaz.com

Just when I had given up all paper news sources, along came The Week, a weekly magazine that a friend started giving me when he was done reading it. Their tag line below the title says “The Best of the U. S. and International Media” and that about says it all.

This is a concise news source for quick overviews of world and national politics, along with blurbs on issues of culture, science, technology and the arts.There are also editorials from around the world on mainstream and lesser known subjects.

For in depth articles, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and magazine web sites like The Economist and The New Yorker take me further into selected topics, but for general news, The Week is easily perused in one sitting and gets me up to speed on most of the current hot button topics.

Curiously, I have visited The Week’s electronic magazine site, but greatly prefer their old-fashioned paper magazine format. They amply use both eye-catching photos and drawings for many articles, including the always amusing cover color cartoon.

downmagaz.com

A black and white cartoon page slants toward the political and is always hilarious. The crossword puzzle on the back page is like dessert after a several course meal of various issues.

Some may criticize the thumbnail approach to hard news, but in the words of Sgt. Friday on Dragnet,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”As far as I know, The Week is giving me just that in one digestible format.

downmagaz.com

The Good Fight on CBS All Access

I finally signed up to see The Good Fight, an exclusive series shown only on CBS All Access. The network has chosen this Good Wife spin-off and a new Star Trek series to lure people to their subscription streaming service. And I bit!

The Good Fight carries on where The Good Wife left off, with many actors reprising their roles from the previous series. Margulies, Chris Noth and Alan Cumming are gone, but Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart is back, as is Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn. The show is peppered with local Chicago actors including Gary Cole as Diane Lockhart’s long distance husband.

Live theater is well represented with Audra McDonald as one of the attorneys at this predominantly black law firm, English actor and director Delroy Lindo as the lead name partner and Bernadette Peters as the wife of a Bernie Madoff-esque client.

Recurring and guest roles are filled by actors like Alan Alda, Louis Gossett Jr., Dylan Baker, Christine Lahti, Matthew Perry and Margo Martindale. Guest roles have included Bebe Neuwirth, Rob Reiner, Judith Light, Wallace Shawn, F. Murray Abraham, Megan Hilty, Christian Borle, Mamie Gummer and Denis O’Hare. Talk about a who’s who of stage, tv and film.

In fact, every episode seems to bring back characters from The Good Wife, created by Michelle and Robert King. The Kings are joined by Alden Robinson in creating this sequel that carries on the tradition of episodes that feature plot lines ripped from the current headlines.

I don’t know if The Good Fight rises to the same level as The Good Wife, but I was delighted to spend more time with these intriguing characters set in the City of Big Shoulders.

This is my girlie side showing, but I want many of the outfits worn by the law ladies of The Good Fight. Whoever chose the show’s wardrobe gets an A plus. The acting and writing are good, but those clothes…….

Janet, Jackie and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The sub-title of Janet, Jackie and Lee is “The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill.” Author Taraborrelli who has written a handful of other books on the Kennedys scopes in on the Bouvier sisters and their indomitable mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris.

There are some titillating revelations like sister Lee having an affair with Aristotle Onassis well before her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping tycoon. Lee frequently was seeing other men while married to Prince Radziwill. Despite the tell-all quality to the book, Taraborrelli’s writing and research are impressive. He seems to have spoken with a myriad of family members, staff, friends and colleagues to paint an accurate picture of the relationships between mother Janet and her two famous daughters.

Lee Radziwill is still very much alive in her 80s and did not want friends to talk to Taraborrelli. Nevertheless, the book contains much information on her surprising friendships (Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nereyev among others) her romances and her varied career choices.

The book is long but the chapters are short so the pages fly by. Two sections of photos add to the enjoyment. We continue to be fascinated with the Kennedy family and their friends, lovers and in-laws.
Janet, Jackie and Lee definitely feeds that hunger.

Ida B. Wells in current-day news

Burnham’s Dream has several historical characters including Ida B. Wells who is in current-day news.

The great-grand-daughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster, is trying to have a Chicago memorial erected in honor of her famous writer/social activist forebear.

Ida Wells created the first black kindergarten in Chicago and worked to get Chicago’s first black alderman elected. She was a tireless journalist, a friend and contemporary of Frederick B. Douglass and travelled to England to lecture about inequality and the lynching of black Americans.

She helped start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Colored Women. She was also a strong advocate of women getting the vote.

The New York Times very belatedly printed an obituary for Ida B. Wells on International Women’s Day this year, 87 years after her death.

The Chicago City Council faces a proposal to change Balbo Drive to Ida B. Wells Drive. If this happened, it would be the first Loop street named after a woman and a person of color. The now-razed housing project that bore her name was not a fitting monument to this brave and vociferous woman.