Words and Music

Words and Music

Once in Love With Mary

In delighted receipt today of the complete box set of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, recently released a mere four and a half decades after it aired. I’ve placed it underneath my framed copy of the Rolling Stone cover (March 26, 1976) featuring star Louise Lasser, which I’ve carted around to at least 15 homes since then. 38 discs! 325 episodes! Plus 10 complete programs of Fernwood 2 Night!

If you were around for the original broadcast — way too weird for network, it began in syndication — MHMH is a scenic tour of the cultural trash fire of these United States. The show was hugely popular in its time, also a source of anxiety for viewers since, as a twisted soap, it broadcast five nights a week, and in those days the episodes were on and gone. (Woman I heard leaving a major Broadway revival: “God, I wish we’d seen Mary Hartman instead.”) It’s a very strange series: funny as hell but in a queasy, hypnotic sort of way. To see a thought entering Louise Lasser’s mind is an experience in itself. In that blank hang time before something registers — that her grandfather is the Fernwood Flasher, for instance — you can see her foreknowledge that whatever it is, it’ll be a bummer; she’ll have to cope with it; and when she’s done coping with it, everything will be worse than before. Every now and then the whole show has that feel, as if it’s lifting off like a trash bag in the breeze.

Wonderful stuff. 325 episodes. Right now it’s the next best thing to a vaccine.

Song of the Day: Natalie Merchant and David Byrne, “Let the Mystery Be”

Words and Music

Roxies Hart

Prompted by the Fosse/Verdon eight-parter, I’ve been following Chicago in its many manifestations backward into the past. Among my discoveries: Susan Misner, who plays Fosse’s pre-Gwen wife Joan McCracken (famous in her own day as “The Girl Who Fell Down”), and who previously played the long-suffering Sandra Beeman on The Americans, appeared in the movie version of Chicago as Merry Murderess #1: “You know how people have these little habits that get you down?….You pop that gum one more time….” She’s a sensational dancer:

Cell Block Tango

There’s also a great dance scene in the 1942 version, Roxie Hart, which isn’t a musical at all so it comes out of nowhere. Maybe Ginger Rogers insisted. Reprise of sorts here:

Roxie Clip

Finally, here’s the glamour-puss who started it all. Beulah Annan, real-life inspiration for Roxie:

“We both reached for the gun….”

She said it.

Song of the Day: Gus Arnheim and His Orchestra Live at the Cocoanut Grove:

Fine Dining

Anchovies and Sheep

For reasons that need not detain us I recently bought a South African cookbook published in 1891. Old cookbooks are the trippiest things this side of Doors of Perception. I remember seeing a first edition of The Joy of Cooking a few years ago containing a recipe for possum which entailed fattening it up for a week in a cage. The past is another menu.

Anyway I thought I’d share a couple of entries from Hilda’s Where Is It? Of Recipes in case you’re tired of the same old Mediterranean salsa and would like to try something new. To be clear, I’m not saying they’re all silly. I’m sure some would be delicious, but sometimes the ingredients make my hair stand on end, and I’m not the target market for “A Pleasant Gruel.” Whopping great booze recipes however.

BLOATER TOAST: 1 teaspoon full of bloater paste, 1 teaspoon of anchovy sauce, 1 tablespoon of cream, 1 oz. of butter, a little cayenne — spread on toast. That’s just mysterious.

CURRY SOUP: Head and feet of sheep…. That’s as far as we’re going.

FOR HORSES SEIZED WITH VIOLENT SPASMS OR COLIC: 50 drops of Laudanum, 1/2 pint of whiskey, 50 drops of peppermint oil. This would never have gotten as far as my horse.

Some of the cakes look tasty.

More on this to come perhaps.

Song of the Day: Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, That’s What I Like About the South 

Words and Music

Poetry in Motion

A new book about the ad business, The Adman’s Dilemma, brings to light a cool attempt to monetize poetry far from the halls of Hallmark.  In 1955 the Ford Motor Company was so flummoxed about what to name their fabulous new midsize model that Robert B. Young of the Marketing Research Department reached out to  Marianne Moore, the iconic poet, for help. It was all balls of paper around the office, and the guys were wondering if she might have some ideas. For inspiration, Mr. Young wrote, “you might care to visit with us and muse with the new Wonder which is now in clay in our Advance Styling Studios….All we want is a colossal name (another ‘Thunderbird’ would be fine.”

Miss Moore said she’d give it a shot, which frankly makes me like her poetry better. Over the next few weeks they exchanged several letters — in which, to give him his due, Mr. Young’s literate and sprightly style outshone hers. But I’m taking too long to get to the names. Herewith a sample of her suggestions:

Mongoose Civique

Ford Silver Sword

The Impeccable

Thunder Crester


Varsity Stroke


Triskelion (three legs running)

Pluma Piluma (hairfine, feather foot)

Andante con Moto (description of a good motor?)

Turcotinga (turquoise cotinga — the cotinga being a solid indigo South American finch or sparrow)

Tir a l’arc (bull’s eye)

Resilient Bullet

Intelligent Bullet

Bullet Cloisone

Bullet Lavolta

Ford Faberge (that there is also a perfume Faberge seems to me to do no harm, for the allusion is to the original silversmith)

The Intelligent Whale

Hurricane Hirundo (swallow)

Hurricane Aquila (eagle)

Hurricane Accipter (hawk)

….43 in all.

Separate and last she sent in on December 8, 1955:

Mr. Young, May I submit UTOPIAN TURTLETOP? Do not trouble to answer unless you like it.

On December 23 Miss Moore received a bouquet of roses, eucalyptus and white pine with a note from Mr. Young:

Merry Christmas to our favorite Turtletopper.

December 26, her reply: Dear Mr. Young, An aspiring turtle is certain to glory in spiral eucalyptus, white pine straight from the forest, and innumerable scarlet roses almost too tall for close inspection. Of a temperament susceptible to shock though one may be, to be treated like royalty could not but induce sensations unprecedented august…..

Nearly a year went by. Then in November 1956 Miss Moore received a note from a Mr. David Wallace in Marketing telling her the company had, as we would say today, gone in a different direction:

“We have chosen a name out of the more than six thousand-odd candidates that we gathered. It has a certain ring to it. An air of gaiety and zest. At least, that’s what we keep saying. Our name, dear Miss Moore, is: Edsel.”

Song of the Day: Jan and Dean, Dead Man’s Curve


Words and Music

Titanic Under Alles

I’m fresh from seeing a very strange movie called Titanic. It is indeed another film about the sinking, the difference being that this one was made in 1942 under Hitler’s regime and all the characters speak German. The movie elevates English greed and bumbling to towering heights, and the lone voice of sanity is (totally fictional) First Officer Pederson, the only German on board, who practically begs the stupid owner and the stupid captain to slow down because if we hit an iceberg at this speed then oh the humanity. Production notes: the film was conceived and propelled by Goebbels despite the enormous costs as a great propaganda vehicle. Partway through the filming the director, Herbert Selpin, made some complaint about the regime so Goebbels had him killed. A new director came in to finish filming the traumatized cast. Finished at last! Time for the premiere! But by then the Allies were bombing Germany all up and down so  Goebbels blocked its release on the theory that the public might be  demoralized by a film full of death and panic when they were getting so much of it right outside.

But, to return to first principles, it’s watching characters like buffoon John Jacob Astor and his idiot countrymen freaking in German that stays with you. The sinking stuff (water pouring in etc.) is very well done.

Song of the Day: Norah Jones, Sinking Soon

Stolen Rembrandt — keep your eye out — big reward


Words and Music

Too Misty

Outstanding creative writing advice via Muriel Spark. This is the opening of her novel Finishing School:

“You begin,” he said, “by setting your scene. You have to see your scene, either in reality or in imagination. For instance, from here you can see across the lake. But on a day like this you can’t see across the lake, it’s too misty. You can’t see the other side.” Rowland took off his reading glasses to stare at his creative writing class whose parents’ money was being thus spent: two boys and three girls around sixteen to seventeen years of age, some more, some a little less. “So,” he said, “you must just write, when you set your scene, ‘the other side of the lake was hidden in mist.’ Or if you want to exercise imagination, on a day like today, you can write, ‘The other side of the lake was just visible.’ But as you are setting the scene, don’t make any emphasis as yet. It’s too soon, for instance, for you to write, ‘The other side of the lake was hidden in the fucking mist.’ That will come later. You are setting your scene. You don’t want to make a point as yet.”

Song of the Day: In a Mist, Bix Beiderbecke

Words and Music

Wondrous Italian Clarinet Player and Some Russians in Evening Wear

Now and then I come across a song on Youtube I’d love to play on my radio show, but something vital would be missing without the visuals.  So I happily bring you here:

First, Hetty and the Jazzato Band, an Italian swing outfit. They’re all good, but the clarinet player is the coolest thing ever:

Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano

The second group is called The Sexican (I think). From the comments section I’m guessing they’re Russian though I don’t usually picture Russians doing this stuff with their bodies:

Cuarto de la Banda

Weird and expensive.


Words and Music

Goat Testicles in Other Hands

I got a check this week from my agent, payment connected to my book Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him and the Age of Flim-Flam. It’s for translation rights: the book’s being translated into Russian and Korean.

Now, there’s been no explanation forthcoming as to exactly why Charlatan, which was published ten years ago, has suddenly attracted the interest of our brothers and sisters over there. On its face, you wouldn’t think the story of a notorious quack of the 1920s and 30s who made millions of dollars implanting goat testicles into impotent men as a virility booster, would be a big draw in those markets. Why would someone who was also a genius media manipulator, who drew massive crowds at political rallies and filled their heads with pernicious nonsense, why would a person like that be of interest to…. Hey, wait a minute….

Personally, I’m just looking forward to seeing the book in two entirely new alphabets.

Song of the Day:  Cyndi Lauper Sings Carey




Words and Music

Rosa Bathurst

I was in Rome not long ago and went to visit the graveyard where Keats and Shelley are buried. While there I discovered a large monument with this engraved on it:

Beneath This Stone Are Interred The Remains Of Rosa Bathurst Who Was Accidently Drowned In The Tiber On The 11 Of March 1824. Whilst On A Riding Party; Owing To The Swollen State Of The River, And Her Spirited Horse Taking Fright. She Was The Daughter Of Benjamin Bathurst Whose Disappearance When On A Special Mission To Vienna, Some Years Since, Was As Tragical As Unaccountable: No Positive Account Of His Death Ever Having Been Received By His Distracted Wife. He Was Lost At Twenty Six Years Of Age. His Daughter Who Inherited Her Father’s Perfections, Both Personal And Mental, Had Completed Her Sixteenth Year When She Perished By As Disastrous A Fate. Reader Whoever Thou Art, Who May Pause To Peruse This Tale Of Sorrows, Let This Awful Lesson Of The Instability Of Human Happiness Sink Deep In Thy Mind.- If Thou Art Young And Lovely Build Not Thereon, For She Who Sleeps In Death Under Thy Feet, Was The Loveliest Flower, Ever Cropt In Its Bloom.- She Was Every Thing That The Fondest. Heart Could Desire, Or The Eye Covet, The Joy And Hope Of Her Widowed Mother Who Erects This Poor Memorial Of Her Irreparable Loss. “Early, Bright, Transient, Chaste as Morning Dew”, She Sparkled, was Exhaled and Went to Heaven.

Thunderbird/Thelma and Louise



Words and Music

Went to See the — No, I Can’t Say It

“Actors’ Equity Association…announced this week that it would cease using the title ‘Gypsy Robe’ to describe one of its most cherished insider rituals – the passing of a colorful patchwork garment from one chorus to another on a Broadway show’s opening night – citing the potential  offense to Roma people.” — NYT

I don’t think they completely thought this through. If it’s such a terrible word, how can the musical Gypsy ever again shame a marquee? They’ll have to change the name. But to what? I know: how about Ramblin’ Rose? They’d have to work out the copyright business with whoever wrote that song and of course there’s the massive Nat King Cole association to cope with — or no, probably not since our cultural memory has dropped to practically zero….Might have to wait till Sondheim’s dead…. But as for inserting the number itself, that should be easy. Herbie’s always needed a song of his own.

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Embraceable You