Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is about people navigating their way through a cataclysmic event as best they can, or as best as their conscience will allow them to.
Seen from a large 70 mm screen it turned out to be a surprisingly small film.
But then, the enormity of what took place during that particular week in the spring of 1940, along the English Channel near the border of France and Belgium, could have made for a sweeping epic, costing many millions, and still it would have fallen far short of the reality.
Instead of taking that on, the director smartly made an artistic film that used the idea of Dunkirk to focus on a couple of fundamental themes defining the human condition, with stakes sent sky-high by a faceless menace providing sudden death from that sky at any moment, as well as from land or sea.
I won’t spoil things by discussing those themes. But I will say, I enjoyed how the director chose to enhance them through non-linear storytelling, where we see certain events replayed at different times, from new perspectives.
The basic plot is that the good guys, or blokes in this case, are surrounded and nearing possible annihilation, which a history book will show was avoided by most of them. However, those living and dying through it could not know what lay in store from one moment to the next. Hence the drama.
Not that the film doesn’t pay appropriate homage to those who made Dunkirk synonymous with personal sacrifice and stoic British heroism. It does that quite well, mainly through the guise of the various big stars, like Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy, as well as the voice that seemed to be impersonating Michael Cain’s R.A.F. squadron leader from 1969’s The Battle of Britain – which turned out to be an uncredited Sir Michael Cain.
But their altruism, focused on getting as many of their besieged countrymen home as possible, is offset by the main characters, all members of the common soldiery dedicated to getting themselves home by any means necessary.
For all the dire circumstances, there is some nicely underplayed comic relief. I had to chuckle at the affectionate display of inherent Britishness sprinkled across the film.
An old saying declares, “An Englishman standing alone is an orderly queue of one.” And our first glimpse of Nolan’s Dunkirk beach is seen through the eyes of just such an Englishman, as he looks out at queue upon queue of British warriors, all lined up and neatly waiting their turn for whatever fate lies ahead. And then he politely helps a stranger finish burying a dead body before he takes his place at the back the nearest queue.
I highly recommend seeing Dunkirk on the largest screen possible – not for the epic action movie carnage, which does not make an appearance, but for the full impact of the environmental effects that isolate most every shot in the film. Isolation being the key concept here.
Oh there I’ve gone and said one those themes. But it still isn’t the central one.
A FEW MORE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Nolan’s movie does explain what happened at Dunkirk well enough, in an almost stage-worthy condensed form.
The film opens with a decimated British infantry unit arriving at the beach of legend – setting up how this movie was going to use as few actors, extras, boats, and period aircraft as possible to tell its story.
For example, early on, a half dozen plucky French soldiers are seen standing their ground behind a fortified position, guarding the entrance to the seaside a few yards away. That is all that represents the 40,000 French soldiers miles inland at Lille, suffering genuine annihilation as they bravely held off the full might of seven Nazi divisions, so the British and other French forces could escape to England.
From that moment on, every person we encounter is a fictional character on a greatly reduced stage, standing for the great many that did what they did at Dunkirk, ultimately saving Western Civilization for at least another 75 years.
That’s a time period that expired two years ago, by the way.
Despite using the actual beach depicted in the film, along with some dozen historic vessels in the water that were there in 1940, the movie really isn’t about Dunkirk. All in all, it isn’t a war film. It’s a disaster movie.
Like The Poseidon Adventure and This is the End, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is about how various people behave in a catastrophe. And that may say something about the prevailing subconscious concerns of what stands for Western Civilization these days.
The Fourth of July should have the right amount of temperature for hangin’ out!”
Thus the man in the official Knicks jersey, Size XXXL, outside of Union Market in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
He was clearly distressed that things weren’t working out the way he had planned. Like that ever happens during a New York City summer.
I spend eleven months out of every year missing June. So when we have a bad one it can affect my outlook for a very long time.
While we had our share of June Gloom, with considerable downpours, we had more than enough stellar days of mild temperatures and lowish humidity to charge my batteries for the coming winter. And for that matter, the coming swelter.
But I like my Fourth of July to be nice and hot, and that it was, even if it did not work out they way I planned.
I went to the Prospect Park and stationed myself on the bolders that magically appeared under a row of shade trees on the western rim of the Long Meadow. I assume they were removed from the fenced off construction project going on just over the ridge behind them.
One of the rocks has a flat shelf at its edge, perfect for the cushion I typically use for the benches, when my laptop and I turn the park into my summer office.
But being a holiday I had but food and a guitar and was going to run through the songs for tomorrow’s rehearsal, which the Paul Ukena Trio will be performing at the annual Martinfest August 4, in Nazareth, PA.
But before I could even start my metronome, a young Rastafarian stopped to listen to pieces I was using to warm up and compliment me on my playing. When it was clear he wasn’t going away, I stopped to exchange pleasantries. And lent him my guitar so he could show me a song he wrote for his Williamsburg Reggae band.
Then he decided to get off his bike and get his out his own guitar, so he could show me various songs to help play while he sang.
Between the grilling holiday revelers nearby and the various aircraft overheard, I could not hear much of what he was actually saying.
And once he rolled a big spliff and kept it in his mouth like a Film Noir tough guy, it was even harder to catch the words. Too many chunk-chucka-chunk barre chords later, I begged off due to hand fatigue and came home.
And as I listen to the far off sounds of fireworks, I am finishing up some notes for an upcoming whisky review for 1mansmalt.com, which was so disappointing a dram I had to revert to mixers to find it some redemption. It turns out it is not sweet enough to work with soda, but ginger ale isn’t bad. And with coconut water it is terrific, especially for a hot July night. But being single malt and priced as a special edition, it remains a disappointment. Scotch malt whisky needs to have the right amount of price for hangin’ out.
The one and only Bob Dylan gives his Nobel Lecture in Literature
Due to scheduling obligations, the 75 year-old living legend recorded it
Nobelprize.org shared it on YouTube and other outlets
Listen to lecture in Dylan’s own voice while reading along
When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I’m going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.
If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved – the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs – songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great – sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.
He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.
I think it was a day or two after that that his plane went down. And somebody – somebody I’d never seen before – handed me a Leadbelly record with the song “Cottonfields” on it. And that record changed my life right then and there. Transported me into a world I’d never known. It was like an explosion went off. Like I’d been walking in darkness and all of the sudden the darkness was illuminated. It was like somebody laid hands on me. I must have played that record a hundred times.
It was on a label I’d never heard of with a booklet inside with advertisements for other artists on the label: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, the New Lost City Ramblers, Jean Ritchie, string bands. I’d never heard of any of them. But I reckoned if they were on this label with Leadbelly, they had to be good, so I needed to hear them. I wanted to know all about it and play that kind of music. I still had a feeling for the music I’d grown up with, but for right now, I forgot about it. Didn’t even think about it. For the time being, it was long gone.
I hadn’t left home yet, but I couldn’t wait to. I wanted to learn this music and meet the people who played it. Eventually, I did leave, and I did learn to play those songs. They were different than the radio songs that I’d been listening to all along. They were more vibrant and truthful to life. With radio songs, a performer might get a hit with a roll of the dice or a fall of the cards, but that didn’t matter in the folk world. Everything was a hit. All you had to do was be well versed and be able to play the melody. Some of these songs were easy, some not. I had a natural feeling for the ancient ballads and country blues, but everything else I had to learn from scratch. I was playing for small crowds, sometimes no more than four or five people in a room or on a street corner. You had to have a wide repertoire, and you had to know what to play and when. Some songs were intimate, some you had to shout to be heard.
By listening to all the early folk artists and singing the songs yourself, you pick up the vernacular. You internalize it. You sing it in the ragtime blues, work songs, Georgia sea shanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs. You hear all the finer points, and you learn the details.
You know what it’s all about. Takin’ the pistol out and puttin’ it back in your pocket. Whippin’ your way through traffic, talkin’ in the dark. You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man and that Frankie was a good girl. You know that Washington is a bourgeois town and you’ve heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek. And you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums and the fifes that played lowly. You’ve seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.
I had all the vernacular down. I knew the rhetoric. None of it went over my head – the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries – and I knew all the deserted roads that it traveled on, too. I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day. When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it.
But I had something else as well. I had principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.
Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey. Moby Dick is a fascinating book, a book that’s filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue. The book makes demands on you. The plot is straightforward. The mysterious Captain Ahab – captain of a ship called the Pequod – an egomaniac with a peg leg pursuing his nemesis, the great white whale Moby Dick who took his leg. And he pursues him all the way from the Atlantic around the tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. He pursues the whale around both sides of the earth. It’s an abstract goal, nothing concrete or definite. He calls Moby the emperor, sees him as the embodiment of evil. Ahab’s got a wife and child back in Nantucket that he reminisces about now and again. You can anticipate what will happen.
The ship’s crew is made up of men of different races, and any one of them who sights the whale will be given the reward of a gold coin. A lot of Zodiac symbols, religious allegory, stereotypes. Ahab encounters other whaling vessels, presses the captains for details about Moby. Have they seen him? There’s a crazy prophet, Gabriel, on one of the vessels, and he predicts Ahab’s doom. Says Moby is the incarnate of a Shaker god, and that any dealings with him will lead to disaster. He says that to Captain Ahab. Another ship’s captain – Captain Boomer – he lost an arm to Moby. But he tolerates that, and he’s happy to have survived. He can’t accept Ahab’s lust for vengeance.
This book tells how different men react in different ways to the same experience. A lot of Old Testament, biblical allegory: Gabriel, Rachel, Jeroboam, Bildah, Elijah. Pagan names as well: Tashtego, Flask, Daggoo, Fleece, Starbuck, Stubb, Martha’s Vineyard. The Pagans are idol worshippers. Some worship little wax figures, some wooden figures. Some worship fire. The Pequod is the name of an Indian tribe.
Moby Dick is a seafaring tale. One of the men, the narrator, says, “Call me Ishmael.” Somebody asks him where he’s from, and he says, “It’s not down on any map. True places never are.” Stubb gives no significance to anything, says everything is predestined. Ishmael’s been on a sailing ship his entire life. Calls the sailing ships his Harvard and Yale. He keeps his distance from people.
A typhoon hits the Pequod. Captain Ahab thinks it’s a good omen. Starbuck thinks it’s a bad omen, considers killing Ahab. As soon as the storm ends, a crewmember falls from the ship’s mast and drowns, foreshadowing what’s to come. A Quaker pacifist priest, who is actually a bloodthirsty businessman, tells Flask, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness.”
Everything is mixed in. All the myths: the Judeo Christian bible, Hindu myths, British legends, Saint George, Perseus, Hercules – they’re all whalers. Greek mythology, the gory business of cutting up a whale. Lots of facts in this book, geographical knowledge, whale oil – good for coronation of royalty – noble families in the whaling industry. Whale oil is used to anoint the kings. History of the whale, phrenology, classical philosophy, pseudo-scientific theories, justification for discrimination – everything thrown in and none of it hardly rational. Highbrow, lowbrow, chasing illusion, chasing death, the great white whale, white as polar bear, white as a white man, the emperor, the nemesis, the embodiment of evil. The demented captain who actually lost his leg years ago trying to attack Moby with a knife.
We see only the surface of things. We can interpret what lies below any way we see fit. Crewmen walk around on deck listening for mermaids, and sharks and vultures follow the ship. Reading skulls and faces like you read a book. Here’s a face. I’ll put it in front of you. Read it if you can.
Tashtego says that he died and was reborn. His extra days are a gift. He wasn’t saved by Christ, though, he says he was saved by a fellow man and a non-Christian at that. He parodies the resurrection.
When Starbuck tells Ahab that he should let bygones be bygones, the angry captain snaps back, “Speak not to me of blasphemy, man, I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.” Ahab, too, is a poet of eloquence. He says, “The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails whereon my soul is grooved to run.” Or these lines, “All visible objects are but pasteboard masks.” Quotable poetic phrases that can’t be beat.
Finally, Ahab spots Moby, and the harpoons come out. Boats are lowered. Ahab’s harpoon has been baptized in blood. Moby attacks Ahab’s boat and destroys it. Next day, he sights Moby again. Boats are lowered again. Moby attacks Ahab’s boat again. On the third day, another boat goes in. More religious allegory. He has risen. Moby attacks one more time, ramming the Pequod and sinking it. Ahab gets tangled up in the harpoon lines and is thrown out of his boat into a watery grave.
Ishmael survives. He’s in the sea floating on a coffin. And that’s about it. That’s the whole story. That theme and all that it implies would work its way into more than a few of my songs. All Quiet on the Western Front was another book that did. All Quiet on the Western Front is a horror story. This is a book where you lose your childhood, your faith in a meaningful world, and your concern for individuals. You’re stuck in a nightmare. Sucked up into a mysterious whirlpool of death and pain. You’re defending yourself from elimination. You’re being wiped off the face of the map. Once upon a time you were an innocent youth with big dreams about being a concert pianist. Once you loved life and the world, and now you’re shooting it to pieces.
Day after day, the hornets bite you and worms lap your blood. You’re a cornered animal. You don’t fit anywhere. The falling rain is monotonous. There’s endless assaults, poison gas, nerve gas, morphine, burning streams of gasoline, scavenging and scabbing for food, influenza, typhus, dysentery. Life is breaking down all around you, and the shells are whistling. This is the lower region of hell. Mud, barbed wire, rat-filled trenches, rats eating the intestines of dead men, trenches filled with filth and excrement. Someone shouts, “Hey, you there. Stand and fight.”
Who knows how long this mess will go on? Warfare has no limits. You’re being annihilated, and that leg of yours is bleeding too much. You killed a man yesterday, and you spoke to his corpse. You told him after this is over, you’ll spend the rest of your life looking after his family. Who’s profiting here? The leaders and the generals gain fame, and many others profit financially. But you’re doing the dirty work. One of your comrades says, “Wait a minute, where are you going?” And you say, “Leave me alone, I’ll be back in a minute.” Then you walk out into the woods of death hunting for a piece of sausage. You can’t see how anybody in civilian life has any kind of purpose at all. All their worries, all their desires – you can’t comprehend it.
More machine guns rattle, more parts of bodies hanging from wires, more pieces of arms and legs and skulls where butterflies perch on teeth, more hideous wounds, pus coming out of every pore, lung wounds, wounds too big for the body, gas-blowing cadavers, and dead bodies making retching noises. Death is everywhere. Nothing else is possible. Someone will kill you and use your dead body for target practice. Boots, too. They’re your prized possession. But soon they’ll be on somebody else’s feet.
There’s Froggies coming through the trees. Merciless bastards. Your shells are running out. “It’s not fair to come at us again so soon,” you say. One of your companions is laying in the dirt, and you want to take him to the field hospital. Someone else says, “You might save yourself a trip.” “What do you mean?” “Turn him over, you’ll see what I mean.”
You wait to hear the news. You don’t understand why the war isn’t over. The army is so strapped for replacement troops that they’re drafting young boys who are of little military use, but they’re draftin’ ‘em anyway because they’re running out of men. Sickness and humiliation have broken your heart. You were betrayed by your parents, your schoolmasters, your ministers, and even your own government.
The general with the slowly smoked cigar betrayed you too – turned you into a thug and a murderer. If you could, you’d put a bullet in his face. The commander as well. You fantasize that if you had the money, you’d put up a reward for any man who would take his life by any means necessary. And if he should lose his life by doing that, then let the money go to his heirs. The colonel, too, with his caviar and his coffee – he’s another one. Spends all his time in the officers’ brothel. You’d like to see him stoned dead too. More Tommies and Johnnies with their whack fo’ me daddy-o and their whiskey in the jars. You kill twenty of ‘em and twenty more will spring up in their place. It just stinks in your nostrils.
You’ve come to despise that older generation that sent you out into this madness, into this torture chamber. All around you, your comrades are dying. Dying from abdominal wounds, double amputations, shattered hipbones, and you think, “I’m only twenty years old, but I’m capable of killing anybody. Even my father if he came at me.”
Yesterday, you tried to save a wounded messenger dog, and somebody shouted, “Don’t be a fool.” One Froggy is laying gurgling at your feet. You stuck him with a dagger in his stomach, but the man still lives. You know you should finish the job, but you can’t. You’re on the real iron cross, and a Roman soldier’s putting a sponge of vinegar to your lips.
Months pass by. You go home on leave. You can’t communicate with your father. He said, “You’d be a coward if you don’t enlist.” Your mother, too, on your way back out the door, she says, “You be careful of those French girls now.” More madness. You fight for a week or a month, and you gain ten yards. And then the next month it gets taken back.
All that culture from a thousand years ago, that philosophy, that wisdom – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates – what happened to it? It should have prevented this. Your thoughts turn homeward. And once again you’re a schoolboy walking through the tall poplar trees. It’s a pleasant memory. More bombs dropping on you from blimps. You got to get it together now. You can’t even look at anybody for fear of some miscalculable thing that might happen. The common grave. There are no other possibilities.
Then you notice the cherry blossoms, and you see that nature is unaffected by all this. Poplar trees, the red butterflies, the fragile beauty of flowers, the sun – you see how nature is indifferent to it all. All the violence and suffering of all mankind. Nature doesn’t even notice it.
You’re so alone. Then a piece of shrapnel hits the side of your head and you’re dead.
You’ve been ruled out, crossed out. You’ve been exterminated. I put this book down and closed it up. I never wanted to read another war novel again, and I never did.
Charlie Poole from North Carolina had a song that connected to all this. It’s called “You Ain’t Talkin’ to Me,” and the lyrics go like this:
I saw a sign in a window walking up town one day.
Join the army, see the world is what it had to say.
You’ll see exciting places with a jolly crew,
You’ll meet interesting people, and learn to kill them too.
Oh you ain’t talkin’ to me, you ain’t talking to me.
I may be crazy and all that, but I got good sense you see.
You ain’t talkin’ to me, you ain’t talkin’ to me.
Killin’ with a gun don’t sound like fun.
You ain’t talkin’ to me. The Odyssey is a great book whose themes have worked its way into the ballads of a lot of songwriters: “Homeward Bound, “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Home on the Range,” and my songs as well.
The Odyssey is a strange, adventurous tale of a grown man trying to get home after fighting in a war. He’s on that long journey home, and it’s filled with traps and pitfalls. He’s cursed to wander. He’s always getting carried out to sea, always having close calls. Huge chunks of boulders rock his boat. He angers people he shouldn’t. There’s troublemakers in his crew. Treachery. His men are turned into pigs and then are turned back into younger, more handsome men. He’s always trying to rescue somebody. He’s a travelin’ man, but he’s making a lot of stops.
He’s stranded on a desert island. He finds deserted caves, and he hides in them. He meets giants that say, “I’ll eat you last.” And he escapes from giants. He’s trying to get back home, but he’s tossed and turned by the winds. Restless winds, chilly winds, unfriendly winds. He travels far, and then he gets blown back.
He’s always being warned of things to come. Touching things he’s told not to. There’s two roads to take, and they’re both bad. Both hazardous. On one you could drown and on the other you could starve. He goes into the narrow straits with foaming whirlpools that swallow him. Meets six-headed monsters with sharp fangs. Thunderbolts strike at him. Overhanging branches that he makes a leap to reach for to save himself from a raging river. Goddesses and gods protect him, but some others want to kill him. He changes identities. He’s exhausted. He falls asleep, and he’s woken up by the sound of laughter. He tells his story to strangers. He’s been gone twenty years. He was carried off somewhere and left there. Drugs have been dropped into his wine. It’s been a hard road to travel.
In a lot of ways, some of these same things have happened to you. You too have had drugs dropped into your wine. You too have shared a bed with the wrong woman. You too have been spellbound by magical voices, sweet voices with strange melodies. You too have come so far and have been so far blown back. And you’ve had close calls as well. You have angered people you should not have. And you too have rambled this country all around. And you’ve also felt that ill wind, the one that blows you no good. And that’s still not all of it.
When he gets back home, things aren’t any better. Scoundrels have moved in and are taking advantage of his wife’s hospitality. And there’s too many of ‘em. And though he’s greater than them all and the best at everything – best carpenter, best hunter, best expert on animals, best seaman – his courage won’t save him, but his trickery will.
All these stragglers will have to pay for desecrating his palace. He’ll disguise himself as a filthy beggar, and a lowly servant kicks him down the steps with arrogance and stupidity. The servant’s arrogance revolts him, but he controls his anger. He’s one against a hundred, but they’ll all fall, even the strongest. He was nobody. And when it’s all said and done, when he’s home at last, he sits with his wife, and he tells her the stories.
So what does it all mean? Myself and a lot of other songwriters have been influenced by these very same themes. And they can mean a lot of different things. If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means. When Melville put all his old testament, biblical references, scientific theories, Protestant doctrines, and all that knowledge of the sea and sailing ships and whales into one story, I don’t think he would have worried about it either – what it all means.
John Donne as well, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, “The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests.” I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.
When Odysseus in The Odyssey visits the famed warrior Achilles in the underworld – Achilles, who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honor and glory – tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. “I just died, that’s all.” There was no honor. No immortality. And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is – a king in the land of the dead – that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place.
That’s what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.”
5 June 2017
Read the acceptance speeches and other fascinating information about ALL Nobel Laureates at Nobelprize.org
Bob Dylan – Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie – composed and recited when he was 21, this poem puts to rest any argument that Dylan’s writing does not qualify as “literature.” It contains imagery very much in line with what he speaking to in his lecture.
Town Hall, NYC, May, 4 2017 – Final Concert of the Transatlantic Tour
Since 1995 the Transatlantic Sessions have delighted audiences with collaborations between Scottish, Irish, English, and American roots music devotees.
According to their official Wiki – Transatlantic Sessions is the collective title for a series of musical productions by Glasgow-based Pelicula Films Ltd, funded by- and produced for BBC Scotland,BBC Four and RTÉ of Ireland. Each half-hour episode features a core “house band” led by Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, and special guests, recorded at a unique location, such as a stately manner house.
The 2017 American tour was an almost-three hour extravaganza featuring some of the finest musicians ever produced in the UK or Ireland, along with many special guests from the USA, most of whom have appeared at various Transatlantic Sessions in the UK.
Here are some excerpts from the incredible Transatlantic Sessions show last night, with a list of performers listed beneath.
Jerry Douglas – Steel Guitars, Vocals (USA)
Aly Bain- Fiddle (Scotland)
John McCusker – Fiddle, Whistle (Scotland)
Michael McGoldrick- Pipes, Flute, Whistle (England)
Donald Shaw – Accordion, Piano (Scotland)
Russ Barenberg – Guitar (USA)
John Doyle – Guitar, Guizouki, Vocals (Ireland)
Daniel Kimbro – Bass (USA)
James MacKintosh – Drums (Scotland)
Mary Chapin Carpenter (USA)
Rosanne Cash (USA)
Sarah Jarosz (USA)
Declan O’Rourke (Ireland)
Aoife O’Donovan (USA)
John Paul White (USA)
Karen Matheson (Scotland)
Look for Transatlantic Sessions on BBC, PBS, and Youtube
This week marks the 47th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair.
It actually took place over three days (spilling over into a fourth) on a dairy farm outside of Bethel, New York, because the sleepy town of Woodstock voted to reject the initial plan to have it there.
For the 40th anniversary some films were put together, dedicated to first two days.
Here they are for your enjoyment.
Running just under an hour per film, they are full of footage shot for the Oscar winning documentary entitled Woodstock, but much of it previously unseen. This includes fascinating and entertaining examples of the crowds who attended, as well as the people who put on the festival and the musicians who performed there. Many of these performances were not included in the original theatrical release.
Day One Music Line Up: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Ravi Shankar, Tim Harden, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez went on at 1 AM to close the first day’s program.
Day Two Music Line Up: Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janice Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who went on at 5 AM (due to earlier rain delays, ending at sunrise,) The Jefferson Airplane went on at 8 AM, closing out Saturday’s program
Day Three Music Line Up: Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnnie Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Monday starting at 6 AM – Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix
Unfortunately, there isn’t a Part 3 available for these videos. But here are some videos from the musical perofrmances…
Crosby, Stills and Nash (before Neil Young came out)
And an except of Hendrix’s legendary performance, before a small crowd of diehard audience members who remained.
Since 1977 the Cornelia Street Cafe has enriched the cultural life of New York City.
For almost 40 years, this West Village mecca has provided delicious food and the unique, inspiring performance of music and the spoken word.
And it is currently proving as impressive and delightful an experience as ever, if not more so.
Stopping by for an excellent meal, I learned about their summer Solo Fest, starting this week.
Each evening will feature solo performers, beginning with Amy Stiller on Wednesday, July 13, in “Just Think,” a semi-autobiographical journey of the only non-famous member of a very famous family.
All Solofest offerings are at 6 PM and cost $10, which goes to the artist, plus a $10 food or drink minimum.
That is a spectacularly great price for the chance to see Arturo O’Farrill, the multi-Grammy-winning composer and leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, playing alone on the baby grand piano in an intimate setting. As he will on Friday, July 15.
And on Tuesday, July 19, the cafe’s own Robin Hirsch will present “The Whole Word Passes Through” with tales of the many fascinating people, both famous and obscure, who have crossed the threshold of the Cornelia Street Cafe.
This former Oxford, Fulbright, and English-Speaking Union Scholar never disappoints when it comes to his prose or his extemporaneous storytelling.
The festival runs through July 27, with music, comedy, theater, and political satire. See the cafe’s official website for the full line up and the many other performances taking place this summer.
There isn’t an item on the menu I cannot recommend. But my favorites include the kale caesar salad, with just the right amount of avocado and grape tomatoes; the smoked salmon plate with toasted bread, chopped red onion, herb cream cheese, and large capers on the stem; and the richly luscious sea scallops, when they have them.
My go-to entree has been the crusted salmon, which is always excellent. But I only recently had the chicken breast for the first time. Was I ever missing out? It is so tender and juicy and flavorful that it may make you rethink ordering more exotic fare when dining out around New York City. It really is that good.
Mr. Hirsch is understandably proud of the wine list, which offers some interesting and quite reasonably priced selections from around the globe, many of which you are unlikely to taste elsewhere.
I am a new and enthusiastic fan of the Skyline Red, from Idaho, of all places. This blend of several grape varieties is velvety to the point of buttery, with plump dark berries, and integrated oak that is spread throughout, rather than just providing the fruit bowl.
There is also the Cafe’s own label, which appears on a refreshing chardonnay of grape skins, with orchard fruits ripening over time, and on a juicy plum of a pinot noir, both with nicely mild oak and extremely moreish.
And just last night I had a very interesting white wine from France – Perle Bleue, made with a grape used for Cognac and Armagnac. I am not by nature a white wine drinker, but this was extraordinary. Not sweet, but not particularly dry, it had a wisp of sea salt on the nose, and arrived on the palate like an ocean wave, with a vibrant splash that quickly subsided into a relaxing, lingering finish. Itself moreish, but in a curiously enigmatic way.
I cannot speak much to the beers. When people ask me if I am a beer snob, my reply of “Beer is an English word for something made in England by Englishman,” usually shuts down the conversation rather quickly.
But the cafe currently has Bell’s Two Hearted Ale on tap. This Michigan brew is one of best beers in America, with a medium body that is dry yet malty and buttressed by a crisp hoppy edge that remains firm but not overbearing. So it is on par with an English IPA and therefore not the face-puckering astringent grapefruit juice typical of American craft brewing.
But I of all people would be remiss if I did not mention they have some nice Cognac brandy available, which is reminiscent of typical cafe digestifs in France – grounded and pleasant at a decent price. And they also have Brenne, the French single malt whisky.
Made with French barely in French stills in the Cognac region, Brenne is aged in new oak from the Limousin forest, and finished in casks that had previously aged Cognac.
A pure malt spirit of high quality, it is hard to believe it is a scant 7 years old. The telltale toasted marshmallow and wood spice of French oak are further enriched with the orange zest, white pepper, and maraschino cherries of the cognac finishing.
Its youth is revealed by the bubble gum vanillins and lactones on the nose, and the relatively quick finish. However, single malt this young would normally be a blend of various casks, to cover up the rougher edges of immature spirit and smooth out the uncouth tannins. Brenne is bottled as single cask whisky! – astonishing, since it shows none of the harshness normally experienced in younger malts.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the Cornelia Street Cafe is a veritable jewelry box of sensual pleasures and sensational Jazz, poetry, and other artistic expression. It is well worth the time if you are in Greenwich Village, and well worth the effort to get there if you are not.
Open every day except Christmas Day, with 700 shows a year.
Monday, March 21, 8 PM, at Superfine, 126 Front Street, Brooklyn
This coming Monday, musical compositions will be performed, based on Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
A traveling musical performance event, Bushwick Bookclub invites songwriters to create new pieces of music inspired by various literary works. Be it in Seattle or New York City, or wherever, each event features a different novel or play.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starred Ben Gazara and Barbra Bel Geddes, winning the Pulitzer in 1955. It was later adapted for the screen and starred Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
I am pleased to announce I am among the songwriters invited to take part for this particular installment and shall be accompanied by various members of the Highland Shatners and Spoonville.
Superfine is a mighty fine restaurant in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, just under the Manhattan bridge. The York Street stop on the F line is the nearest subway.
Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company will host a post-show discussion centered on the later work of Tennessee Williams following the March 5, 3pm performance of Tennessee Williams 1982. The participants include Tony-winning playwright John Guare, scholar and writer David Savran, scholar and current Tennessee Williams‘ editor Thomas Keith, and professor and writer Annette J. Saddik.
Tennessee Williams 1982 is an evening of two, little known, one-act plays by Tennessee Williams, both completed in 1982, the year before the playwright’s death. Directed by Cosmin Chivu (2013 revival of Tennessee Williams‘ The Mutilated), Tennessee Williams 1982 features the world premiere of A Recluse and His Guest and New York Premiere of The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde. These two chamber pieces epitomize the theatrical imagination the playwright employed throughout his long writing career combined with the freedom he found later in life. Crisply written black comedies, these fierce plays center on the demands of unlikely human relationships in exotic locales fraught with tension.
Critic David Clarke in OUT said. “Tennessee Williams 1982 is a far cry from an evening of light theater, but that’s what makes it spectacular. A side of Williams that has rarely been seen, one in which Williams abandons realism to forcefully hold a mirror up to viewers and make them see the abject horrors of humanity.”
“The vital truths Williams’ reveals in these two one-acts are still present in raw and essential ways,” says director Chivu. “In fact, more that 30 years later, the plays feel more potent than ever-the compassion, the poetic fire, and the heartbreaking vision of American’s greatest playwright speak loudly in these compact works.”
Kate Skinner (The Graduate) leads the ensemble cast and is join by Ford Austin, Declan Eells, Anne Wechsler and Jade Ziane. Completing the creative team is Justin West and Brooke Van Hensbergen (set design), Angela Wendt (costume design), and John Eckert (lighting design), who join Joseph W. Rodriguez (Producing Artistic Director, Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company), Thomas Keith (Creative Producer), Olivia D’Ambrosio (Managing Director, Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company), Dana Greenfield (Associate Director) and Scott Davis (Assistant Director).
In the world premiere of A Recluse and His Guest, we meet a tall person of indeterminate gender-who, we later discover, is a woman named Nevrika. She has walked all winter through the Midnight Forest to a fictional town in a mythical, cold, northern country. In this poignant fable, it is her destiny to always move forward, never back. Looking for someone in the town to care for, she finds a miserable little creature named, Ott. He is the Recluse and she is the Guest who transforms him into a more-human human being, at least for a while.
Making its New York premiere, The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde is a black comedy steeped in the brutal and the fantastic. Using acutely direct, comic, and unflinching action, Williams gives us a theatrical preview of the world we live in now. His vision is filled with humility for those who suffer while highlighting the greed of those who withhold sustenance along with our growing fetish for money and violence, both emotional and physical. However, Williams does offer hope: to recognize ourselves in a world where the “have-nots” are unfairly blamed for the inequities of the world because they are “accident prone.”
Performances of Tennessee Williams 1982 will take place February 14-March 13 (see schedule above) at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, Manhattan). Critics are welcome as of Thursday, February 18 for an official opening of Sunday, February 21 at 7pm. The running time is 90 minutes with one intermission. Tickets, priced at $40 for general admission and $50 for premium seats, can be purchased by visiting playhousecreatures.org or by calling 800.838.3006.
John Guare‘s plays include Lydie Breeze; Bosoms and Neglect; Chaucer in Rome; Four Baboons Adoring the Sun; A Free Man of Color; and The House of Blue Leaves, which won an Obie and NY Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best American Play of 1970- 71 and four Tonys in its 1986 Lincoln Center revival; Six Degrees of Separation, which received the NY Drama Critics Circle Award in 1991 for its Lincoln Center production and the Olivier Best Play Award in 1993. Grove Press publishes Landscape of the Body, A Few Stout Individuals, and A Free Man of Color. Guare wrote the lyrics and coauthored the book for the 1972 Tony-winning Best Musical, Two Gentlemen of Verona and was nominated for a Tony Award for the book of the musical The Sweet Smell of Success in 2002. His screenplay for Louis Malle‘s Atlantic City earned him an Oscar nomination. In 2003 he won the PEN/Laura Pels Master Dramatist Award; in 2004, the Gold Medal in Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; in 2005 the Obie for sustained excellence. He is a council member of the Dramatists Guild and co-editor of The Lincoln Center Theater Review.
David Savran is a specialist in twentieth and twenty-first century U.S. theatre, musical theatre, popular culture, and social theory. He is the author of eight books, whose wide-ranging subjects include The Wooster Group, Tennessee Williams, Paula Vogel, Tony Kushner, white masculinity, music theatre, and middlebrow cultural production. His most recent book is Highbrow/Lowdown: Theater, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class, the winner of the Joe A. Callaway Prize. He has, in addition, published two collections of interviews with playwrights and has served as a judge for the Obie Awards and the Lucille Lortel Awards and was a juror for the 2011 and 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. He is the former editor of the Journal of American Drama and Theatre and is the Vera Mowry Roberts Distinguished Professor of Theatre at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Annette J. Saddik is Professor of English and Theatre at the City University of New York, where she specializes in twentieth- and twenty-first century drama and performance, and focuses on the work of Tennessee Williams. Her most recent book, Tennessee Williams and the Theatre of Excess: The Strange, The Crazed, The Queer (Cambridge University Press, 2015) contextualizes Williams’ plays, particularly the late work, through what she terms a “theatre of excess,” which seeks liberation through exaggeration, chaos, and ambivalent laughter. Her other books include Contemporary American Drama (2007), a study of the postmodern performance of American identity on the stage since World War Two; The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams‘ Later Plays (1999), which was the first exploration of Williams’ post-1961 reputation; and The Traveling Companion and Other Plays (2008), an edited collection of Williams’ previously unpublished late plays. Dr. Saddik has also published essays on contemporary playwrights in several journals and anthologies, and serves on the boards of The Tennessee Williams Annual Review and the Journal of Contemporary Drama in English. In 2015 she was the recipient of Eastern Michigan University’s McAndless Distinguished Professor Award.