“I Have But One Passion…

 

to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity…”

-Emile Zola

As a young woman, I devoured the books by French novelist, Emile Zola…they were soap operas; they took on the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised, women, anti-semitism… Today, in 1898, “In France, Emile Zola is imprisoned for writing his “J’accuse” letter accusing government of anti-Semitism & wrongly jailing Alfred Dreyfushistoryorb.com Currently, there is a new movie out starring Jessica Lange based on Zola’s novel, Therese Raquin, titled, In Secret.  Zola fled to England and was not jailed and all charges against Dreyfus were found to be false.

Today, the brilliant educator, professor, activist, philosopher, W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868. If you haven’t read his full length biography by David Lewis (just to name one), do so. Du Bois lived a very full life filled with many accomplishments.

Our Day Will Come,”  a beautiful song sung by Ruby and the Romantics entered the charts today in 1963 when I was 10 years old. Oh how I loved to sing that song and Ruby’s voice?   Silky smooth!!!!

Our Day Will Come means so many different things to so many different people. To Zola it meant the end of anti-semitism; to W.E.B. Du Bois, it meant equality among all people; to Ruby and the Romantics, it meant maybe one day getting the royalties they deserved from their huge hit.

 

 

 

My Lazy Days of Winter

      

      

“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”-Tchaikovsky

It has been 4 days since my last posting. Just didn’t know what to write about. Life has been OK, no emergencies…Mom’s doing all right, though she’s been in the house for weeks due to the weather and the mountains of snow; yet she doesn’t complain. As long as I always have library books for her and she does her daily crossword puzzle, she’s not bored. How lucky I am that she has never been a demanding person who needs to be entertained. Speaking of Mom, I’ve written before on the time she took me uptown to see a panel discussion on Civil Rights in the early 60s at the NY Society for Ethical Culture. The society is over 100 years old. I definitely remember Sydney Poitier and Harry Belafonte being on the panel and I think James Baldwin also was there among others. Well, today is Mr. Poitier’s 87th birthday!!!  I remember mom and I going to the movies to see “Lilies of the Field” and singing “Amen” along with Sydney Poitier and the nuns. I’ve seen every one of his movies. Today also marks the death of the great Frederick Douglass in 1895. It was a sudden death after having a very nice and productive day at a Women’s Rights conference. Folksinger, Buffy Sainte-Marie was born today in 1941. Always loved her music.

So, I found a little inspiration today to do my blog posting! Yay!

Hope all are well out there in WordPress Land!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Pleasure of Reading

   

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”  ~W. Somerset Maugham

Like many of you out there, I have always been a reader; started very young and was encouraged to read and write by my parents. All through school I read lots of books and wrote lots of poems and stories. As a teacher I would tell my students that the more you read, the better you read; and the more you read, the better you write. Reading and writing go hand and hand. I passed the love of reading onto my children, though my son fought it and didn’t become a reader or writer until later on…more so when a graduate student. My daughter took to it right away. Each child is different.  Currently, I just started “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, which has received very good reviews that I usually ignore. I’m not one to choose books by looking at book lists; only what strikes a chord as I’m reading the blurb. So far, so good, but I just started. I so enjoyed the last book I read, “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd, whose “The Secret Life of Bees” I truly loved 12 years ago, even enjoyed the movie, a rarity. Since mom is pretty much homebound, I am always looking for books for her to enjoy. She finds big books too big and too heavy to hold so now I’ve been getting her paperbacks like small mystery series set in England…nothing gory. Also, when I can find a good book set in WWI, like the wonderful, wonderful Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, I make sure to order those through my library. I refuse to buy books. No room. The latest WWI book that mom loved was “Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War” by Jennifer Robson, which I may read too, after I finish “The Goldfinch.”  Reading brings joy. Reading distracts. Reading takes me places without moving one step! Gotta Love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Clearly and Mr. Tolson

    

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”Oliver Wendell Holmes

As an educator, I’ve always found it very important to enunciate each and every sound for my students as I spoke and also to be a model for how they should speak. My students came from all over the world and I would put them in situations where, even though they didn’t know English, they were supplied the words in order to make them feel comfortable, have the new words roll around their tongues, feel good about themselves and shine. The classroom was our stage and we also used the auditorium stage as well as marching into other classrooms and performing. They loved performing, even if they just entered my classroom that day!  It was always an accepting learning environment. A few years ago, the movie, “The Great Debaters” came out starring Denzel Washington as the debate team’s coach, Melvin B. Tolson. Well, today is Mr. Tolson’s birthday and he was born in 1898 in Missouri.

In 1924, Melvin Tolson accepted a position as instructor of English and speech at Wiley College. While at Wiley, he taught, wrote poetry and novels, coached football and directed plays. In 1929, Tolson coached the Wiley debate teams, which established a ten-year winning streak. The Debate Team beat the larger black schools of its day like Tuskegee, Fisk and Howard.

 After a visit to Texas, Langston Hughes  wrote that “Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him.”

 According to James Farmer, Tolson’s drive to win, to eliminate risk, meant that his debaters were actors more than spontaneous thinkers. Tolson wrote all the speeches and the debate team memorized them. He drilled them on every gesture and every pause. Tolson was so skilled at the art of debating that he also figured out the arguments that opponents would make and wrote rebuttals for them-before the actual debate.

 In 1930, he pursued a master’s degree in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University; met V.F. Calverton, editor of Modern Quarterly; wrote “Cabbages and Caviar” column for The Washington Tribune and organized sharecroppers in South Texas.

 In 1935, he led the Wiley Debate Team to the national championship to defeat the University of Southern California before an audience of eleven hundred people. In 1947 he was appointed poet laureate of Liberia by President V. S. Tubman. He left Wiley to become professor of English and Drama at Langston University in Oklahoma.”Wiley College

Melvin B. Tolson was also a writer and a poet. I love his ode to Louis Armstrong:

                                      Old Satchmo’s

                   gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes

                                      set my soul on fire.

                                            If I climbed

                         the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh

                 Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!

                      Are you hip to this, Harlem?  Are you hip?

                           On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say

                                  after he blows his horn:

                    “I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe,

                         if old Satchmo had never been born!”

 

 

 

The Sadness Addiction Leaves Behind

“Addiction begins with the hope that something “out there” can instantly fill up the emptiness inside.” Jean Kilbourne, Can’t Buy My Love

When I heard Philip Seymour Hoffman died, I knew it had to be a heroin overdose and when I heard they found him in his bathroom with a needle still in his arm, I was reminded of Lenny Bruce who was found the same way. We’ve all heard the specialists tell us that addiction is a disease and it is. It’s just so sad…he was someone’s beloved son…someone’s significant other….the father of 3 children whom he dearly loved and was very involved in their lives. Philip Seymour Hoffman had such gifts that we, the viewing audience, can revisit, but his family is left to grieve…to wonder what else they could’ve done…to mourn the abyss that will always be with them. I feel for them.

 

 

 

 

“How Are Things In Glocca Morra?”-Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg

       

“When I got finished, Gershwin paid me the ultimate compliment. He said, ‘Boy, even I couldn’t do that.”-Burton Lane

Composer and lyricist, Burton Lane was born today in NYC in 1912 and he is responsible for so many beautiful songs and lyrics that may have faded, so I’m here to remind all of us! How are Things in Glocca Morra is from his play, Finian’s Rainbow, which was also a movie in 1968.  Lane also wrote one other play, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, (also made into a film in 1970) which singer Robert Goulet sang so beautifully. My dad was a big fan of Robert Goulet and he would sing that song in particular and whistle it so well. A personal favorite song of mine is from “Finian’s Rainbow,” titled: Look to the Rainbow. Burton Lane’s songs have been performed by hundreds of artists and are just as beautiful today in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

“Winter In America”-Gil Scott-Heron

     

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.”-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During Stevie Wonder’s “Hotter Than July” tour in 1980, Gil Scott-Heron joined Stevie in his campaign to bring about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a Federal holiday to remember and honor Dr. King.  Before Heron died in 2011, he wrote about this experience in his memoir, The Last Holiday: A Memoir, “In 1980, Stevie joined with the members of the Black Caucus in the US congress to speak out for the need to honour the day King was born, to make his birthday a national holiday. The campaign began in earnest on Halloween of 1980 in Houston, Texas, with Stevie’s national tour supporting a new LP called Hotter than July, featuring the song Happy Birthday, which advocated a holiday for King. I arrived in Houston in the early afternoon to join the tour as the opening act. By 15 January 1981, King’s birthday, I had been working on the Hotter than July tour for 10 weeks.”

Gil Scott-Heron was a masterful lyricist…the Father of today’s rappers, whether they know it or not. It’s sad that his addictions prevented him from staying around and contributing his words and music to what is happening today. “Winter in America” comes in many forms: all inequalities, poverty, educational divides, global climate changes, technology inequality, food deserts, unemployment, minimum wage, hate, racism, prejudice…I hope that school children in the U.S. who are off from school today have parents that will talk about why schools are closed today; why we should remember Dr. King and the way or ways each individual can do something beneficial for others.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Folk Musings

 

I haven’t seen the Coen Brothers film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” but I will, when it comes on cable. I’ve read many reviews and many opinions of the film, but they do not matter to me since I am just so happy that the music from the film will, hopefully, gain momentum and bring folk music (or “Americana”) to a new high that it hasn’t had in over 40 years. I did see the Town Hall Concert on Showtime (Another Day, Another Time) that presented the artists in the movie and it was so beautiful.  The Coen Brothers are Baby Boomers like me, in fact, they are one year younger. It is inspiring and uplifting that they, along with T Bone Burnett, felt or knew that a story about Greenwich Village in the 60s warranted a movie. I don’t fault them for inaccurate facts, portrayals of folksingers, dates or locales, it’s a movie, it’s fiction. Elijah Wald’s book, The Mayor of MacDougal Street may have impacted them and propelled them to make a movie, but we all know the real Dave Van Ronk is not represented in this movie. Perhaps a movie about Dave Van Ronk and the other folkies who walked the streets of Greenwich Village and played in the clubs will be on the horizon due to “Inside Llewyn Davis,” I can only hope. Recently folksinger Happy Traum weighed in with his opinion after seeing the movie: “In the end, it was a Coen Brothers movie and there were enough flashes of humor, creativity and artful filmmaking that it won me over. It was the story of one guy and his misadventures, and it didn’t have to represent an entire musical community. Best of all, how wonderful that Elijah Wald’s excellent book, Dave Van Ronk’s music, and the phenomenal music scene that had its birth in ‘60s Greenwich Village were given such a huge platform, and generated such heated discussion.”

As for me…I’ve been singing “Dink’s Song” as I drive to mom’s each morning this week. It’s a song I first learned when I took a couple of singing lessons from folksinger Ed McCurdy, probably in the early 70s. Ed was living on the Upper West Side with his wife. He wrote the legendary song, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” and was a character in his own right. Ed was a huge man physically and wasn’t in the best of health when I met him. I liked him, he was bold, brash and held nothing back. The folksingers of the 50s, 60s, early 70s still impact our lives whether we know it or not. The words, the messages of the songs are true to this very day in 2014. Music is understood all over the world and hasn’t lost its power to transform or heal.

 

 

“That’s the Terrible Part. I Swear to God I’m a Madman.”-J.D. Salinger

 

J.D. Salinger was born on New Year’s Day the same year as my dearly beloved dad, 1919. Growing up, I read everything by Salinger and I know I loved his books then. Today, I haven’t a clue, I’d have to revisit him. Recently, when that new bio came out on him, Salinger by Shields and Salerno, I started it, but it was way too detailed and didn’t finish it. I’ll see their documentary on Salinger, which I just read is airing on PBS on January 21st.There was much I did know about him anyhow even if he was reported to be a recluse.  Anytime Joyce Maynard made a comment or wrote something on her relationship with him, I read it. Remember her?  “Joyce Maynard first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Times cover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1973, when she was a freshman at Yale.”Joyce Maynard.com

When I was in the 7th grade, I had a lovely English teacher from England and I mentioned that I read “Catcher in the Rye” and she felt it was inappropriate at my age. I couldn’t understand that and neither could my  mom. I’ll never forget that.

Salinger, himself, remains an intriguing character due to his own persona, something the public never got to know. His written characters remain with the reader 50 years after digesting his stories…I’ll never forget Holden and his sister, Phoebe or Franny and Zooey and the others. Why?

According to Shields and Salerno, unpublished writings of Salinger will come out beginning in 2015 and for several years afterwards.

When Salinger was approached by a reporter and asked why he hasn’t published, this is what he said: “He said, ‘I refuse to publish,'” Eppes , “‘There’s a marvelous peace in not publishing,’ he said. ‘There’s a stillness. When you publish, the world thinks you owe something. If you don’t publish, they don’t know what you’re doing. You can keep it for yourself.'”Bill Chappell, NPR, 8-2013

Opposite of Salinger’s demeanor, Country Joe McDonald was also born today in 1942. I saw him several times and loved his music.

He was way out there in the limelight protesting the Vietnam War.

He’s happily still performing!

HAPPY 2014 EVERYONE!

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday Reflections

“Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk…”-Jane Austin

Yesterday was a very quiet Christmas in our home, the quietest that I can remember. We were never huge celebrators of Christmas since I’m Jewish and our children were raised Jewish, but there were years we had a tree and a wreath on the door. Now my husband and I have a small tabletop fake tree with lights and tinsel that we put out. I love to see the lights twinkling when I go downstairs to the kitchen in the morning. I remember the first few years after we had our daughter that we didn’t want to possibly offend my parents by putting up a tree; then we realized they didn’t care. We spoke to our son who is vacationing in Thailand (remember, he is now living and teaching in India) and having a wonderful time. He and his girlfriend were in Myanamar for 5 days and they were cold since they’re so used to the very hot climate of southern India. Now they’re spending the rest of their vacation time enjoying the islands of Thailand. The both of them are living a life they could never afford to do here in the U.S. My daughter just rested yesterday since everyone she comes into contact with in the city and on the trains is coughing, sneezing, etc and she felt under the weather, too. It was very cold yesterday, so early in the morning I prepared mom’s dinner of pasta, lobster and salad to her home. My husband and I ate at whatever time we wanted to eat and had the true luxury of not being on anyone’s schedule…not worrying about getting anyone to the train on time…not worrying about getting mom back to her house (which is very close by, but still…)…not worrying about anything. We’re lucky that we’ve always enjoyed each other’s company. I watched 2 movies that I had never seen before and enjoyed them: “Assault on Precinct 13” with Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke and then “Gangster” with Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin…2 movies that I have previously passed by as I clicked from channel to channel. I was very entertained by both movies!  Today hubby returns to work and I’ll do what I do everyday: treadmill and bike, breakfast, mom’s house, reading, and whatever else comes my way. Happy Thursday Folks!