Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Posh Nosh

"We make our own stock, but by all means buy prepared stock if you have
no self-esteem."

"I use only Tuscan Extra VIRGIN olive oil. This is an old tart."

"Cooking really upsets food."

"We bamboozle our samphire - there's no other way."

"Better get your bottarga from the source - right off the docks at
Calegari - no later than six in the morning when the fishermen are still wet."

"Thoroughly exasperate your currants ... then vilify as usual."

"Today we're focusing on the wine's color - it's gold - heavenly gold -
like God's weewee." (sips) "Better."


WHY have all you people been keeping this glorious gift of the BBC from me
for whom (obviously) it was designed? Or (gasp) are you too in ignorance of
its wonders? I found out about it from my next-door neighbors, and in
New York, you know, one never even talks to one's next-door neighbors.

The comedy is deceptively mild, deceptively quiet - words superbly, elegantly mis-used in highfalutin ways to mean "cook": "Degrade the eggplant into one-inch cubes"; "Brando your chicken with the butter," "assault an aubergine." Further, there's that old standby, the funniest thing in the world to any Brit, someone of the lower classes aspiring upwards and getting the tone just a bit wrong - remember Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket? On Posh Nosh, our hostess, "my father was a publican," seems blissfully unaware that the handsome, upper-class husband whom she has married and with whom she runs a restaurant is gay as Ikea on Superbowl Sunday. "Where would you be without me?" "Mykonos." In fact - the series' final episode reveals - she knows just what is going on; as long as he's happy and she's upper class, she doesn't care. "You know what mother said when she first met you? 'She'll make the trains run on time.' You know, like Mussolini." "Wasn't he a man?" "It's a compliment!"

Fortunately the eight ten-minute bite-size bits that constitute the show are to be found under "Posh Nosh" on youtube. God bless youtube - it's like sipping whiskey (notes of apple, charred sticks and plastic) through a noose.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Too Late Now"

Do you know this lovely song?

"Too late now to forget your smile/ The way we cling when we dance a while/ Too late now to forget and go on to someone new..."

It suits my mood these days: the wry, smiling, self-conscious lyric (Alan Jay Lerner), the gently dawdling, reflective melody (Burton Lane) that matches it superbly: the A theme is in two parts, going to a false high the first time, then to a surprisingly higher one to send the sentiment soaring. A really fine merging of words and music - I wonder which came first? (With both Lane and Lerner, the words usually came first.) No wonder jazz men love to play with this tune.

The sentiment, too, is superbly ambiguous: It is not clear whether it's "too late" because the affair is over and the singer blew it, or because it's too late to break it off now that s/he realizes s/he's fallen in love, that some other person has become necessary. Both melancholy catastrophes! Thus it can be sung sadly or with an uplift at the end.

Jane Powell introduced it in Royal Wedding, the very bad 1951 film with wonderful songs (including "I Left My Hat in Haiti" and "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life") and the famous sequence when Fred Astaire dances up the wall and across the ceiling, which was later mimicked by Ingmar Bergman in Hour of the Wolf, which I suggest would not make a good musical. (An opera by Franz Schreker, maybe.)

I have recordings of "Too Late Now" with Jane Monheit (too expiringly smokily languid) and Michael Feinstein (who just plain sings it badly, with gaping ugly hollows under his voice like puddles under icy slush that you slip into and get muddy ice in your shoes) and Dorothy Loudon (who sounds 85 years old). None of them inspire me, but the lovely song does.

Happily, my friend Irwin made me a CD of 13 other versions from his matchless collection of you-name-it, including superb renditions by Mel Tormé and Ann Hampton Calloway.

On youtube, I have found Audra Macdonald in a superb "straight" rendition (she has the voice for this melody) and Peggy Lee, who seems to sing it with a sexually content smile on her lips. (I mean, that is how the lyric comes through - we do not see her on this clip.) Judy Garland is a bit too husky with it. Paul Sheesley a little too jazzy - the jazzy mind set fights with the sentiment of the song. (Of course, wandering around youtube this way, I stumbled on something else wonderful, Frank Sinatra's somewhat too up-tempo version of Johnny Mercer's "I Thought About You," another song currently repeating in my head.) (No iPod here! I just sing them to myself while biking around town!)

A fine tunesmith Lane, mostly for the movies - he had one great Broadway hit - at the same time as Royal Wedding (Finian's Rainbow, soon to be revived, a show on which I passionately fixated at age six, memorizing all the songs in Ella Logan's Scottish accent though I had no idea what two-thirds of Yip Harburg's glorious lyrics meant). Then Lane was blacklisted for years. He got back to Broadway together with Lerner for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (Richard Rodgers having given up in exasperation at Lerner's dilatory ways - Rodgers was used to Hammerstein, who would sit in the office with him all day and come up with a lyric a few hours after they had decided what sort of song ought to go in what part of a show). On A Clear Day is also full of great tunes (and great lyrics) - "What Did I Have That I Don't Have," "The S.S. Bernard Cohn," "Don't Tamper With My Sister," the talking-to-flowers song - but the book is a mess.

Due to an accident backstage (an actress fell off a ladder), I was deprived during the recent New York Fringe Festival of a revival of 1967's How Now Dow Jones, a show that flopped memorably and was excoriated by Ethan Mordden. But friends who did see the brief revival said it wasn't bad at all (heavily rewritten, songs by Carolyn Leigh and Elmer Bernstein), and I'm in the mood to learn a new musical - but it would have to be a musical with clever lyrics and dreamy or delicious melodies, and they stopped writing that kind thirty years back when Lane and Lerner and Styne and Comden & Green were still alive, and Kander & Ebb were in their heyday.

(This is my idea of a brief, casual blog post.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thalia Nights (An homage to Ingmar Bergman)

Must have left twenty running shoes over years
Stuck to the floor of the gum-mangled Thalia
Long summer nights there in Plato’s glum cavern
Observing, believing, the motile shadows,
God-knows-what going on, behind, in the booth…

Arletty, the goddess, Laughton, the painter,
Mifune, the warrior, Moreau, the temptress,
Signoret, the cynic, Masina, the clown, Mastroianni, the bored –
these were our gods in the Thalia pantheon,
our greater trumps, our cards of fortune;
shaping our summers, haunting our winters.

Sing out, o bards!
Bunuel! Renoir! Satyajit Ray!
Eisenstein! Kurosawa! Fellini! Truffaut!
The syllables sing in the mouth like wine.

But most mighty of all, filmgoers’ philosophe,
Bergman the troubled, cantankerous Swede,
Took a sing-song tongue, made it sound prophetic,
Gnomic, organic, epigrammatic, portentous;
Made us see with the eyes of men being Bergman
And idealize the actress he currently bedded,
Bergman heroic! The atheist pastor!
The Freudian mystic! The thinker on film!
Even his jokes were layered with mythos –
Isn’t Death playing chess the art-house totem?

His actors were family: we followed the serial,
Image by image, aspect by aspect –
Never doubting that one would serve family supper.
Harriet, swinging the hips of false promise,
Doe-eyed Liv, crazy waif, suffering wife,
Bibi as sane as she ever was sensual –
Given the choice: Liv or Bibi or Harriet
And one long solstice Swedish night,
Which would you take?
Defend your position in two hundred words
Dripped in the glass like water-of-life.
Max, noble everyman, serious, murderous,
Handsome as some austere cathedral;
Gunnar, the distinguished we feared we’d grow into;
Erland, bitter fellow we feared that we were –

So: mix and match and match and mix –
Playing chess with the puppets he whittled unceasing
(If there isn’t a maze, there can be no solution):

The face overhearing (or reading the diary);
The couple enisled, spitting intimate daggers;
The acting troupe, offstage, lounging and lusting;
The man of God who is losing his faith;
The man of no God losing his mind;
The unman made-up,
The maid unmade;
Sex as war and war as sex;
The sea-borne dream, waves troubled as nightmare;
Papageno Vogler and Alma, the Soul –
We’ve done it that way; let’s try it this way:
The point is amusement while stating the problem.

I sing of Ingmar – Scanian lodestar –
unsinking sun of the Nordic night –
unwarming depth of the Baltic tide –
whose coolness freshened our Thalia summers.