Saturday, September 19, 2020




twirl \twǝrl\ vb : to turn or cause to turn rapidly

--The Merriman-Webster Dictionary

A baton, maybe, but never her principles.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Vital Viewing (You Have a Right to Remain Silent Edition)

Actor Peter Falk was born on this day in 1927 (he died in 2011.) He's best known for playing Lieutenant Columbo, the highly-effective homicide detective who successfully cons murder suspects into believing he's anything but. The made-for-TV movie series ran, off and on, for about 20 years. Early in that run, Falk won an Emmy for the role, which he accepts in the following clip as William Conrad and Mitzi Gaynor look on:  


In his acceptance speech Falk thanks a writer named Steve Bochco. This is the same Steve, or Steven, Bochco, who would later go on to create and produce Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and NYPD Blue. It took a bit of detective work of my own, but after combing through various pieces of evidence found at both IMDb and YouTube, I found a Bochco-scripted clip. Patrick O'Neal plays the person of interest:

I'm not going to tell you who the murderer is. You'll just have to figure that out for yourself.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Quips and Quotations (British Intelligence Edition)

I sort of vaguely knew Patrick Macnee, and he looked kindly on me and sort of husbanded me through the first couple of episodes. After that we became equal, and loved each other and sparked off each other. And we'd then improvise, write our own lines. They trusted us. Particularly our scenes when we were finding a dead body—I mean, another dead body. How do you get 'round that one? They allowed us to do it.

--Diana Rigg


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Sung Off-Key


Please stand for the playing of...


Here's the lyrics:

To Anacreon in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be;
When this answer arriv'd from the Jolly Old Grecian
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
"no longer be mute,
"I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
"And, besides I'll instruct you, like me to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."

I guess an explanation is in order. Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet who was something of a party animal and playboy, both of which informed his lyrical output. He died about fifteen years before Socrates was born and a good three centuries-and-a-half before Christ, but was still well-known enough in 1766 for a bunch of fratboyish amateur musicians in London to name their gentleman's club after him, a club dedicated to wine (Bacchus), women (Venus), and song (Harmony). So their club anthem, the first stanza of which is above, has them asking the late Anacreon's permission for use of his name and getting it. Reputedly written by John Stafford Smith, it was such a popular drinking song that it survived the breakup of The Anacreon Society around 1792, and by 1814 had made it across the Atlantic where the melody was apparently running though the head of  a young American lawyer and amateur poet who just then was being detained on a British warship during the...

…Battle of Baltimore, in particular the defense of Fort McHenry. The young lawyer put down on paper in rhyme what he witnessed that night, a rhyme that Mike Stivic would later argue to his father-in-law glorifies war. But I think that's too broad an assessment. The poem actually glorifies being under siege in a war, the young lawyer's personal predicament eventually becoming a metaphor that casts the United States as history's perennial underdog in a dangerous world (no matter how bloated the Pentagon budget.) But that's still many, many baseball, football, and basketball games in the future. For the time being, the young lawyer, who was not an amateur composer, needed some music to set his poem to, and "The Anacreon Song", which had no U.S. copyright, was there for the taking.

I'm not going to tell you this young lawyer's name, but you should have figured it out by now. God knows I've left enough clues, not least of which is the song's melody, which surprisingly fit the new, high-minded lyrics quite well. Maybe not so surprisingly. Shorn of its original party hearty verses, there's nothing particularly alcoholic about the tune. Still, it strikes me as odd that when writing his patriotic paean, the young lawyer should find inspiration in a Jolly Old Grecian. Of course, I have no way of knowing for sure, but I'd like to think that as he caught sight of the rocket's red glare, and heard bombs bursting in air, the young lawyer said to himself:  

"Man, I could use a good stiff drink right about now."

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Slight Spark of Life


The above is a excerpt from a diary kept by the late 18th century-early 19th century English  intellectual radical William Godwin, covering the last few days of August and the first few days of September in the year 1797. The fourth entry down on the left-hand side describes what was going on in Godwin's life on the 30th, exactly 223 years ago today. It reads:

Mary, p. 116. Barnes R Fell & Dyson calls: dine at Reveley's: Fenwicks & M. sup: Blenkinsop. Birth  of Mary, 20 minutes after 11 at night. From 7 to 10, Evesham Buildings.

So what's all that mean? Well, scholars who have looked into the matter believe Mary, p.116  refers to a 1788 novel Godwin was reading titled Mary: A Fiction, written by the 18th century radical feminist (by the standards of the day) writer Mary Wollstonecraft, whom Godwin had in fact married only five months earlier. Barnes is crossed out so we won't worry about that individual (if it is indeed an individual.) Fell, Dyson, Reveley, Fenwick and M. were all friends or acquaintances of Godwin's. Scholars can't identify Blenkinsop, but Godwin apparently ate supper with him (or her.) Skipping the second sentence for just a moment, Evesham Buildings refers to Godwin's residence, where he was at from 7 to 10. AM or PM? Assuming this diary entry is chronological in nature, I'm thinking it's AM (in which case it's now the 31st.) I say that because Mary is born 20 minutes after 11 at night, hence PM, and we all know 11 comes after 7 (and, for that matter, 10.) So who is Mary? Obviously not Wollstonecraft, who was by then 38. In fact, it's Wollstonecraft's and Godfrey's daughter, the reason the two tied the knot in the first place (though if you do the math, you'll see it's a somewhat belated knot.)

I'd like to report that Godwin's, Wollstonecraft's, and little Mary's story from that point on was one of familial bliss, but, unfortunately, I can't, for 11 days later there was this entry:

                 20 minutes before 8. _________________________ 

 Godwin was now a widower with one daughter and and one stepdaughter (Fanny, Wollstonecraft's daughter from a previous relationship.) He soon remarried a woman with two children of her own, though young Mary was said to have had an uneasy relationship with her stepmother. Hey, it's not always the Brady Bunch.

Godwin for his part doted on Mary, plied her with books, and raised her to be a radical intellectual like himself. He did such a thorough job that she fell in love with an up-and-coming radical intellectual...


….Percy Shelley, who set forth his radical views in rhyme. Mary and Percy actually met through Godwin, for whom the young poet had a great deal of admiration. Godwin seems to have been less than flattered, as he opposed Mary and Percy's eventual marriage. Part of it was that Shelley, a scion of a wealthy family, had promised to pay off Godwin's many debts, only to renege after his parents cut off his purse strings. The other part was that Shelly was already married, a marriage that only ended when his wife drown herself in the Serpentine, a recreational lake in London's Hyde Park.

And so Percy and Mary tied the knot. It was said to be an open marriage, though biographers agree that  he was more enthusiastic about free love than her. Whoever they were sleeping with, when together they enjoyed each other's company. One moment of togetherness had them holed up in a Swiss chalet with Percy's good friend Lord Byron and a Doctor Polidori during a spell of particularly nasty weather. To kill time they decided each would write a horror story. Though Percy and Byron were both published writers at that point, Mary was the only one to actually finish a story. Percy liked it so much that he encouraged her to expand it into a novel. And so she did. A horror novel with an intellectual bent, though for those who haven't read it but recognize the title, it may be more resonant of black-and-white Hollywood and Halloween costumes:

These days, Mary Shelley is more well-known than either William Godwin or Mary Wollstonecraft. Still, she needed their genes. Writers are born, not made.




Saturday, August 22, 2020

Vice-Presidential Nominee Pride

Longtime LGBTQ ally Kamala Harris looking simply stunning in a rainbow-hued denim jacket. And, yes, this is an endorsement (as if there weren't a thousand other reasons not to reelect the incumbent.)


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Graphic Grandeur (Cultural Exchange Edition)

 Cartoonist and illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé was born on this day in 1932. In his native France he's best known for illustrating a series of children's books written by René Goscinny (best known for the comic strip Astérix) collectively called Le Petit Nicolas (in English Little Nicholas.) Here in the United States Sempé is far better known for the many covers he's done for The New Yorker. Take a look (in some cases, a very close look):



Knowing that Sempé is from France makes me think all the above scenes must take place in France. However, The New Yorker is an American magazine, and there's no reason these scenes can't take place in America. The United States obviously has airports and swimming pools and downtowns with lots of traffic. The United States even has classical musicians, a favorite theme of  Sempé's. In fact, there are whole orchestras with such musicians. I live in Cleveland, and I'm told we have a very good orchestra, have had a very good orchestra for quite a while, that it was once led by a man named Szell who in his day was as well-known as Dennis Kucinich. Currently, it's led by Franz Welser-Möst (like most Rust Belt cities, we have a lot of ethnic groups.) Cleveland rocks listens politely and then claps. But getting back to Sempé, whatever their country of origin, most of his characters seem engulfed by their surroundings. They don't seem to know or care that they're engulfed. On the other hand, we know they're engulfed, because we're afforded a bird's-eye view, and we have to care enough to squint to find them. But the squinting's usually worth it. Maybe that's what makes Sempé's work so universal, and particularly appealing for Americans. If there's one thing we have in this country, it's engulfing surroundings.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some squinting to do.