Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's a Whole New Year

Random notes on various subjects in honor of the new year:


Conventional wisdom, which had more or less consigned Obama to the political graveyard after Election Day 2010, now has lifted him from the grave, so far without noting any vampire characteristics. He's now seen here as having benefitted mightily from the lame-duck session and is ostensibly gearing up to deal effectively with the next Congress.

I agree that he improved his standing generally and probably across the country. I also hope he has learned that he got things done because the Republicans were finally afraid of being caught on the wrong side of the blame game. It may prove fortunate for Obama that the GOP leadership will have to spend time managing its more disparate troops. One almost despairs of Obama or anyone else being able to rally the Democrats who still fail to realize they would have fared a lot better had they run on their and Obama's excellent record. It was their fault that they let the other side depict the image of the health-care and financial-reform legislation and that they didn't remind some rust-belt voters of the fact that Obama bailed out the auto industry--successfully--when the other side would have let it expire.

I can only hope he can have some fun when they start their deficit talk again--by pointing out that the tax cuts for the billionaires (or even millionaires) were clearly far more important to the GOP than any worry about running the deficit. Recall when Gingrich made them shut down the government and put Boehner right on the spot when it comes time to lift the debt limit.


In a few days in New York I could only get to see two shows. One was a Daniel Margolies play, Time Stands Still, which featured the likes of Laura Linney, Eric Bogosian and Christina Ricci. It was good drama--presented nice strong issues with good dialogue. Margolies writes well; I recall seeing his Dinner With Friends some years ago. Also caught Million Dollar Quartet--the show with music (rather than a musical) about the day in the 1950s when Cash, Perkins, Presley and the young Jerry Lee Lewis all were at Sun Records in Memphis together. Levi Kraus played Jerry Lee, won a deserved Tony for his frenetic and superb portrayal of the wild man. Show as a whole was not at the level of Jersey Boys--which had really surprised me with its strength both musically and dramatically.

Best book of the season re shows is Larry Stempel's Showtime, which combines well-written theatre history with some musical analysis. I find it the kind of enjoyable tome that you pick up and read a chapter, whether it be on Broadway's varied moves to cross the operatic curtain, or the fascinating story of Bert Williams, the great vaudevillian, or how Cole Porter and Irving Berlin adapted to the postwar change in how musicals now advanced their stories musically, courtesy of Oscar Hammerstein II, despite his ham-handed story-telling tendencies.

Another enjoyable book was David Lehman's A Fine Romance, which rather ingeniously told the stories of a number of the fabled songwriter composers and lyricists. I didn't know all that much about the lives of either Jerome Kern or Harold Arlen, so I learned plenty about these amazingly skillful tunesmiths. Lehman makes a big deal about their Jewish backgrounds--all but Cole Porter, of course, who defied all the typing by being WASP, Midwestern, rich, and Yale-educated.

Yet another book about Jews and music is Norman Lebrecht's The Song of Names--both his and Lehman's books have been around for a couple of years. Lebrecht has been a columnist and music critic for various London papers and engaged in plenty of controversy, especially in the musical realm. This novel is nicely done in both its musical aspect and its presentation of two English Jewish boys of vastly different backgrounds within that sphere.


If you haven't had the chance to take in The King's Speech yet, do so. It's a tour de force for Geoffrey Rush, playing the Australian speech consultant to the then-Duke of York, soon to be (in the picture) King George VI. Colin Firth is outstanding in the leading role, closely followed by the always-wonderful Helena Bonham Carter as the young Duchess of York who became the long-lived and prescient Queen Mum. Strong casting down the line is evidenced by Michael Gambon as George V and Claire Bloom as the hatless Queen Mary. Probably the most surprising appearances were the now aged Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the no-longer blond Anthony Andrews (Sebastion in Brideshead Revisited) as Tory P.M. Stanley Baldwin. Guy Pearce perfectly captures how Edward VIII was ensnared by Mrs. Simpson.


The current major show at the Museum of Modern Art draws on its most known strength--Abstract Expressionism-New York says it all. These painters have never been my favorites even at MoMA but you do get a chance to see how the likes of Pollock, De Kooning, Guston,
and Rothko, among others, developed. The show in this way reminded me of the major Jackson Pollock show of a few years back. To me, however, Arshile Gorky's Summations was the most fascinating piece in the show--and he was included largely as an influence on the main current of New York art from the 40s through the 60s.


You usually do not think of New York City as a place that features home-calling sports officials, but Kansas State got jobbed at Yankee Stadium's Pinstripe Bowl last week. Calling them for excessive celebration after a last-seconds TD, so that they failed to make the 2-pointer from 17 yards out has to be the height of homer behavior.

In contrast, TCU lifted many spirits--although it was only one of five other teams that defeated the Big Ten on New Year's Day (or a day or two previous). The Horned Frogs were the reps of all the small schools who had been virtually excluded from Bowl consideration but ended up ranked third and thus playing against Wisconsin for the roses in Pasadena. It's too bad that even if Auburn and Oregon look awful in their big name Jan 10, TCU would be unlikely to get the deserved Number One rating.

Winning the battle for the behavioral basement, however, was Maryland, for the ugly and idiotic way the new A.D. bounced Ralph Fridgeon, who took the Terrapin to seven bowls in 10 years and also turned the team around after a disastrous year in 2009. They say it was a rich alum from Texas who wanted to clear the way for the A&M coach, but "Fridge" was the only one to emerge with any class. A long-ago parallel was the way Penn dispatched Steve Sebo as its grid coach (early 60s?) after losing the first two games--he then went on to lead the team to win all the rest of the schedule and the Ivy crown, before departing--later he was A.D. at the University of Virginia.

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