It’s quite dark yet beautifully made — and reminds me of a similarly high-quality series called “House Of Cards” from several years ago.
Both of them explore power and how we human beings are often overtaken and damaged by it.
They also both opened my eyes to how complicated, interconnected and corrupt our human-created world can be… especially when our wounded hearts lead us astray into greed, retribution, domination and revenge.
I watched several episodes before bedtime; so it is probably not a surprise that I woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to fall back asleep…
So I got out of bed and skimmed my inbox — which these days means that I deleted inumerable emails asking for money from all sorts of political candidates and organizations — until I found two uplifting pieces of information.
1) News that Catherine Cortez Masso is projected to win her senate race here in the USA.
Greetings after another long pause between blog posts!
I hope you remain well — fellow blogger or visitor from beyond the world of WordPress — and I am very grateful that you are reading this blog post.
I have continued reading (and commenting on) other blog posts during the past many months, but I didn’t have anything I felt compelled to blog about.
When I logged into my account yesterday, however, and looked at my stats, I was delighted to find that people have continued visiting my blog and listening to music even when I am not actively blogging.
It is truly inspiring to learn that — in the first three weeks of May — folks have visited from the USA, the UK, South Africa, Canada, Poland, Australia, Norway, Germany, India, Italy, China, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Åland Islands (which I just learned are part of Finland at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea).
I’ll say/write it again.
Today’s blog post features a song called “Simple Rules” written by my friend Molly Ruggles.
Molly is a songwriter, pianist, arranger and singer who recently retired from her day job at MIT.
She created this lovely vocal arrangement for her and me and our friend Carole to sing — and we recorded it during a brief lull in the Covid pandemic last December.
Molly, Carole and I — as well as the recording engineer Peter Kontrimas at whose studio we were fortunate to book a session — were well-vaccinated AND wore masks except for when we were in our separate recording booths (connected via headphones with each other and with Peter).
We then fixed/mixed/tweaked/mastered it via Zoom with another great recording engineer, Doug Hammer — whose name will be familiar to many of my blog readers because he is also an astounding pianist with whom I have recorded many, many songs.
Molly’s song has inspired me to think about other “simple rules” that we human beings would do well to honor.
For example, this morning I read details on a BBC website about how many of the staff members at 10 Downing Street chose to ignore the official guidelines for appropriate behavior during a pandemic. One staffer explains that they felt that they were in a bubble (of privilege? of denial?) and thus ignored what the official guidelines were.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
One of my favorite “simple rules” is the rule/fact that we animals breathe out what plants need to stay alive (CO2) — and plants breathe out what WE need to stay alive (O2).
I often feel as though we have done a very poor job educating each other about this profoundly simple rule.
Healthy oceans (full of plants ranging from single-celled phytoplankton to forests of kelp) and healthy forests (such as the Amazon jungle) and healthy agricultural fields and healthy gardens are not optional.
They are vital to every breath we are blessed to breathe — and which we hope to continue to breathe — here on planet earth!
Another simple rule/guideline which bears repeating again and again and again is the profound power of apology.
We all make mistakes.
In fact, making mistakes is an important way that we learn things — about how stoves can be too hot to touch, about how we need to look both ways before we cross a street, and about how lemon extract tastes more burningly bitter than delightfully sour (a shocking revelation which I learned at an early age when experimenting in the kitchen with my sister and one of her friends).
Apologies exist to repair human relationships when one person makes a mistake and hurts another person. Or another species. Or another community. Or an entire ecosystem.
In fact, I feel that much of the stress which we experience these days — directly in our own lives and indirectly from politicians, business leaders, and other authority figures — is due to past injuries for which no one has ever sincerely, authentically, and heartfully apologized.
Apologizing is not easy — but it is very worthwhile to do.
And if we are able to make amends for our mistake — taking action to make up for what has happened in the past — that is an even more profound act of healing.
Another deep breath in.
And another deep breath out.
I will end with one final simple rule: short blog posts are easier to read than long ones!
I am aware that I have written way-too-many, way-too-long blog posts in the past.
So I will cut this short and end with my customary thank yous… along with a lovely underwater photo of kelp (breathing in C02 and breathing out 02…)
Thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
Thank you to Molly Ruggles and Carole Bundy for their friendship and for our shared love of music.
More than two months has passed since my last blog post.
I started writing several drafts, but none seemed worthy of completion…
This morning, however, I awoke from very sweet dreams — about returning to my elementary school as an adult — and started the day by stretching on our back porch.
A mockingbird was singing a wonderfully idiosyncratic song from a nearby roof, and the sky above me was totally blue.
Many birds passed high in the sky — swallows swooping back and forth (maybe catching bugs?), a pair of ducks en route from one body of water to another, some cooing doves, a bright red cardinal, and a seagull.
It was first recorded by actress and singer Karen Akers in 1994, and since then it has been performed by a bunch of Broadway folks including Ben Platt, Betty Buckley, Brian Lane Green, and Sutton Foster.
When I recorded it with pianist Doug Hammer, I was still working as the assistant director of a non-profit in Harvard Square — the Cambridge Center for Adult Education — and longing to break free from my day job so that I could devote myself to making music.
I had started at the CCAE by volunteering to help with a new musical series that the PR director, a wonderful singer named Tracy Gibbs, was putting together called The Cabaret Connection.
My offer to help transformed into a part-time job overseeing not only The Cabaret Connection but also another series called The Jazz Chair and a few other special events.
Then I began sharing responsibility for publicizing these events, and when Tracy left for a new job, I was offered a full-time position as PR director for the entire CCAE.
This was not my plan.
My plan was to have a part-time day job so that I could continue to do plenty of music on the side.
But now my day job would INCLUDE music — and I would gain new perspectives (such as what it was like to have performers contacting me about the possibility of being booked into one of our musical series…)
So I said, “Yes.”
After a few years, our development director left, and I took over her responsibilities as well.
Eventually I became assistant director and helped to bridge the transition between the retirement of our beloved executive director and the arrival of his successor.
Then I was laid off.
Time for a deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This was a surprise and a shock — but perhaps also a blessing.
I had been working 40-70 hours per week for many years — and I was grateful to slow down.
I also have a fair amount of “the disease to please” in my emotional constitution as well as a low tolerance for risk.
So even though many of my more psychologically astute (and cherished) co-workers had seen the writing on the wall regarding the pros and cons of our new executive director and had found new employment elsewhere, I had remained loyal (or some might say “stuck”) to the longtime CCAE community of teachers, board members, students and volunteers.
Being laid off might have been the only way to get me to leave.
Now I listen to “Flight” with a very different perspective from when I first learned it — and was feeling such a longing to break free…
Now my time is completely my own — to vision, to plan, to shape, to fill!
I have nothing I want to escape.
My only deadlines are the minor ones I give myself AND the major ones related to climate change which loom ever larger and more terrifying with each passing day of denial and inaction.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I love the imagery in Craig’s lyrics — and the flow of the narrator’s thought processes from one moment to the next…
It reminds me of a sailboat tacking to and fro in response to the ever-changing winds.
However, we human beings were not satisfied with sailboats.
So we created the motorboat, which zooms, noisily and relentlessly — oblivious to what it might run over, hit, injure, or disrupt — in a straight line from point A to point B.
And then the airplane!
Life before fossil fuels seems like it was much less linear.
Paths and roads followed the curves of hills and streams — rather than being bulldozed or dynamited to create the most efficient and convenient line of travel.
I saw this same phenomenon in the sky this morning — with birds swooping in curvy lines while far above them a jet plane left a perfectly straight line of moisture and toxic emissions in the sky…
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
The desire to fly — and perhaps to fly away — has been with us human beings for thousands of years.
I often think about the myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus — who enthusiastically flew too high and too close to the sun (forgetting or ignoring his father’s warning about how the wax adhering the feathers of his marvelously-constructed wings could melt…) and fell to his death in the Mediterranean sea.
Oftentimes our human culture in the 21st century seems to be soaring ever higher on a frantic, teen-aged exuberance for relentless, profit-driven innovation and stimulation.
We ignore wise warnings about how our fossil-fuel-powered desires (for 24/7 computer functionality, for food at any hour of the day or night (much of it shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away), for the ability to travel via motorcycle, car, motorboat, ocean liner, bus, train, or plane wherever we want (and as much as we can afford… or choose to put on a credit card), for alternative currencies, etc. are leading us faster and faster towards global catastrophe.
One would think that any one of the challenges we have experienced in recent years here in the USA — flooding of major cities, changing weather patterns which have led to increased wildfires/hurricanes/tornadoes, as well as a year-long viral pandemic — might lead us to re-think and change our habits of consumption.
And might lead us to listen to scientists with a deepened respect.
But I don’t see much of that happening…
Denial is indeed an extraordinary human phenomenon.
I certainly understand why the likely scenarios — such as famine, wars over water and arable land, vast migrations of desperate refugees, more epidemics of diseases — are too terrifying for most of us to set aside any time to contemplate.
And — getting back to the topic of flight — the creation of rocket ships — which take our human desire for flight to an entirely different level.
I saw a posting on Facebook recently with which I immediately agreed:
“Mars sucks. Its weather sucks. Its distance sucks. Its atmosphere sucks. The little water it has…sucks. It has sucked for billions of years and will suck for billions more…
You know what doesn’t suck?
I have life.
I have vast oceans and lush forests.
I have rivers to swim and air to breath.
But the way I’m being treated — that part sucks.
You use me and pollute me.
You overheat me.
You use every resource I have, and return very little back from where it came.
And then you dream of Mars — a hellhole — a barren, desolate wasteland you can’t set foot on fast enough.
Why not use some of that creative energy and billions of dollars on saving me? You know, the planet that’s giving you what you need to live right now.
Mars can wait.
The only part of this posting with which I don’t agree is the idea that earth needs to be saved.
I am pretty confident that planet earth — having already withstood billions of years of evolutionary changes — will be OK.
We human beings are the ones whose existence is at stake — along with the millions of other forms of life (such as birds and bees and fungi and bacteria and trees and grasses and turtles and whales and algae and shrimp and wolves and bison) which are vital links in the amazing web of life here on planet earth which we are in the process of altering and destroying.
Awake, fellow humans!
Now is the time to make significant changes in how we live here on planet earth…
I am writing this blog post as I watch many inaugural events on TV.
So far everything has gone well.
For this I am deeply grateful.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
The song for this blog post, “New Words,” was written by Maury Yeston — a professor at Yale who also created beautiful songs for the Broadway musicals NINE and TITANIC.
I first heard it sung by a woman named Andrea Marcovicci at Town Hall in New York City.
She also recorded it, along with a bunch of other great songs by contemporary songwriters, on a CD called NEW WORDS.
I performed it as part of an evening of SONGS ABOUT PARENTS AND CHILDREN, and again as part of a cycle of songs I shared at my 25th high school reunion.
Then last year this version gracefully jumped out of my archives of past rehearsals with pianist Doug Hammer— and I decided I would wait until after our new president was inaugurated to release it.
After four years of a certain kind of leadership, I have been hungry for a new tone…
A new sense of respect…
A new vision for the future…
And new words…
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I have been told — and sometimes have experienced with my own eyes and ears — that underneath anger and acting out and conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios and threatening comments and violence and all sorts of drama is simply…
Pain from past hurts…
Past abuses of trust…
Past unhappiness of all different shapes and sizes and colors and tastes and smells and densities…
I breathe them in.
And then I breathe them out.
Like many of us, I’ve experienced new pains and new fears during this past year.
I don’t need to go into any of the details, which I have so far chosen to keep private.
Suffice to say that some of them involve rites of passage related to families and health and time and aging which all of us inevitably experience in one form or another.
And some of them involve things which have happened locally, nationally, and globally.
I have a sense that our new president — who has himself experienced some of the most profound losses a human being can experience — and our new vice-president — who has experienced life as a child of immigrants, as a woman, as a person of color, as an attorney general, and as a US senator — may be able to offer us some new words of consolation.
We shall see…
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
As regular readers of my blog already know, in addition to writing postcards to potential voters in swing states and going for long walks in local cemeteries full of trees, I find refuge and inspiration in music.
The song “New Words” reminds me of the Music Together classes I lead each week — which give me much-needed infusions of joy and spontaneity and playfulness and creativity and connectedness and love.
We set aside the worries of the world for 45 precious minutes and are present with each other — having fun clapping and snapping and drumming and waving scarves and shaking rhythm eggs and singing and dancing together — even via Zoom.
Some families have stayed with me for many years — so I experience the happiness of bearing witness to their children’s new movements, new vocabulary, new ideas, new competencies, new stuffed animals, new Lego creations, and, yes, even new siblings!
Part of me is amazed that anyone would dare to bring a child into a world teetering on the brink of so many disasters.
Yet part of me also sees how these precious, blessed beings can awaken a profound sense of responsibility and interconnectedness in their parents.
I hear mothers who are breast-feeding begin to re-think what they are themselves eating — and start to become curious about how and where and by whom our food is grown and processed.
I bear enthusiastic witness to families’ participation in social justice marches, in political activism, in fighting for a more respectful and sustainable future here on planet earth.
And I feel hope.
I feel love.
I do not know if love really IS capable of overcoming systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental degradation, accelerating rates of extinction, ignorant non-mask-wearers, brain-washed insurrectionists, and the myriad other challenges facing us here in the USA.
A very brave man who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee over 50 years ago once said:
“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” (1958)
“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” (1963)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963)
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” (1963)
And “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (1967)
Yet ANOTHER deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This song inspires me to stick with love.
Thank you to Maury Yeston for writing it.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing such beautiful piano and then helping me to mix and master it via Zoom.
Thank you to the generous photographers at Pixabayfor these glorious images.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
ps: As I was doing my final proof-reading of this blog post, I received an email from one of my favorite former Music Together parents.
“We have been enjoying your music on Spotify! I started following you, and now new songs of yours come up on my new release playlist that Spotify sends out periodically.
Scarlet (her super-sensitive, fairy-like, delightful daughter) especially loves ‘New Words’ — she stopped what she was doing and came over and gave me a hug when it came up on my playlist. She found it so moving, and she didn’t even know it was yours.”
One more deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This is why I do what I do.
If you are curious to learn more about my musical life here on planet earth, you are welcome to visitmy website.
The version I am sharing at the top of today’s blog post is a stripped down piano + vocal recording I made with the wonderful pianist Doug Hammerat his studio north of Boston.
There are so many things one could write about recent events here in the USA that I find it hard to know where to begin.
Here are just a few thoughts that have jumped out at me…
Many white Americans I have seen on TV (and heard on the radio and read online) who have been attempting to make sense out of what recently transpired in our nation’s capital have said things like, “This is not who we are as a country.”
And many people of color have responded — respectfully and persistently — by saying, “Actually, this IS who we are as a country. This IS who we have been as a country for hundreds of years.”
I have found that when I listen to the news nowadays, all I want to hear is what people of color are saying, thinking, feeling and yes — for what must feel like the umpteenth time to them — explaining to the rest of us.
They have lived with violence and threats of violence and terrorist acts — such as public murders/lynchings — for generation after generation after generation.
And — as one woman’s extraordinarily articulate and passionate viral video this summer further explained — they are not (amazing to me…) seeking vengeance.
They are seeking justice.
In recent days I have heard several African-American college historians explain, and re-explain, and explain yet again how every advance made by people of color in this country has been met by a huge — and terrifying — backlash from unhappy (and extremely vengeful) white folks.
They have pointed to our recent election of the first African-American/South Asian-American woman as vice president as well as the election of the first African-American and Jewish-American US senators from the southern state of Georgia as being one of the precipitating factors in the white mob take-over of our Capital building last Wednesday.
Ashton Lattimore, in a recent Prism report explains:
“Any flex of political power by Black and brown people in the United States (is) followed by a reactionary white supremacist show of force. The pattern of racist white backlash to the barest hint of racial progress has persisted since the earliest days of the republic up until now, from antebellum white mobs attacking free Black people essentially just for existing, to the Civil War itself and post-Reconstruction violence punishing Black self-determination in Tulsa, to the violent resistance to the civil rights movement, and then the enraged, panicked genesis of the Tea Party and the Trump era immediately after the election of the first Black president. Against that historical backdrop, the white insurrectionist takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was as predictable as a pendulum’s swing.”
My brain now turns to is something I read earlier today.
A Republican congressman was explaining why many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives continue to support the charade of voter fraud even after an angry mob had burst into the Capitol building and sent them all into hiding.
According to him, they are scared about the safety of their family members.
That’s what terrorism does.
It makes people scared.
I empathize with these scared congressmen and congresswomen AND I want to say to them, “Do you get it now?! This is what people of color have been living with for hundreds of years! Do you get it now?!”
I wonder if any of them do or will.
I have certainly been slow to get it — or at least to begin to get it…
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I chose photographs of sunrises for this blog post from the Pixabay websitebecause I am guessing that most of us have already seen more than enough disturbing images from our nation’s capital.
I hope you are finding ways — going for a well-masked walk, stretching, visiting with loved ones via Zoom, singing, praying, writing, cooking, etc. — to keep well during this seemingly-ever-more-challenging time in our lives.
I offer my (perhaps now familiar) thanks for food, for shelter, for employment, for electricity, for internet access, for running water, for soap, for friends and family, for Doug Hammer, and for my fellow bloggers.
Let the day unfold… this life is wide open.
Every plan we make… can be broken.
We’ve got to find the strength to lose some of our cherished point of views…
We’ve got to have hope… it’s not over!
ps: I am aware that the correct grammar for the chorus of “Let The Day Unfold” is “cherished pointS of view,” but that didn’t rhyme as well.
pps: If you are wanting to hear even more music which might comfort and/or inspire your spirit, you are welcome to visit the mini-websitewhich songwriter Barbara Baig and I have started to honor her (similarly titled) song “Let Me Be Strong.”
Rain is forecast for Christmas Day, which will probably melt the snow that fell last week.
Lot of folks are curtailing their holiday plans and modifying — or outright cancelling — long-standing family traditions in response to the fact that hospitals around the USA are again overloaded with Covid-19 cases.
And the infection numbers just keep rising…partly due to all the traveling that folks did a few weeks ago during Thanksgiving.
And the refrigerated trailer trucks parked outside of hospitals continue to fill up with the bodies of folks who have died — with no friends or family members at their side — as a result of this public health tragedy.
This is sad on so many levels.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Even in the best of years, winter holidays can be a very difficult time for some of us.
I read a couple of blog posts by my fellow bloggers this morning while I was avoiding other tasks on my “to do” list.
Clare from North Suffolk in England shared a bit about the challenges her family is facing this year, especially those who already experience high levels of anxiety about life here on planet earth.
She writes: “The damage all this isolation and lock-down is doing to so many people, physically, mentally and financially is unimaginably great…”
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Clare’s blog post reminded me of this song, written by John Meyer (in the audio player above).
I do not remember when I first heard “After The Holidays.”
Judy Garland performed it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1968 — and many copies of that performance can be found on YouTube.
I am guessing that it was included on some sort of Judy Garland compilation CD — released long after her death in 1969 — which I ended up listening to…
Here is Judy in 1963, photographed by Richard Avedon.
The man who wrote the song, John Meyer, had an intense, three-month-long relationship with Judy when he was starting his career as a writer.
He chronicles it in a very vivid book he wrote called Heartbreaker.
I think his relationship with Judy ended when she got serious about another man, Mickey Deans.
Here she is with Mickey in London during their wedding on March 15, 1969.
Judy was living with Mickey in London when she died on June 22, 1969.
It is my understanding, after reading many books about Judy Garland, that she often did not like to be left alone.
Mel Torme — a wonderful singer who also co-wrote “The Christmas Song” — wrote a book about his time working on Judy’s TV series.
In it he talks about becoming a member of “The Dawn Patrol” — a select group of staff members who would take turns spending the night with Judy and reassuring her that her show was going well.
Loneliness is certainly something that most of us have experienced at one time or another.
And loneliness during the holidays can be particularly excruciating.
By a sweet coincidence, while I was avoiding things on my “to do” list, I also found a video on YouTube about two dogs, Taco (a chihuahua) and Merrill (a pit bull mix), who were dropped off at a shelter together and did NOT want to be seperated.
In hopes of finding someone who would be willing to adopt both of them, the people who worked at their shelter started sharing posts via social media about their special bond.
They ended up being adopted by a family who starteda Facebook page about them, because so many other people wanted to know what had happened to them.
Hurrah for this one, small, canine happy ending!
I also would like for this blog post to have a happy musical ending.
So I am including links to several songs which pianist Doug Hammer and I have released this month to various musical platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.
You canclick hereto listen to our version of “We Need A Little Christmas.”
You can click hereto listen to our version of “Winter Wonderland.” You can click here to listen to our version of “The Christmas Song.”
You canclick hereto listen to our version of “Silver Bells” (which was featured in a recent blog post).
And you canclick hereto listen to our version of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”
Thank you to Pixabayand Wikimedia Commons for the images in this blog post.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his gifts as a pianist as well as a recording engineer.
Thank you to John Meyer for his beautiful song and to Judy Garland for being the first person to breath life into it.
And thank you to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!
May your holiday season be filled with comforting music and light.
I’ve been reading a lot of posts — as well as the comments they elicit — by my fellow bloggers.
One theme that often emerges is Covid-fatigue.
This is not the fatigue that one experiences when one contracts the Covid-19 virus (although I have been told that fatigue is often a symptom of Covid-19 infection and can last much longer than one would like…)
This is being tired of wearing a mask outside and sometimes even inside if one is quarantining at home with others.
This is being tired of not seeing people’s faces — and smiles — while going to work or buying groceries or walking one’s dog.
This is being tired of feeling scared that one might contract the virus.
This is being tired of feeling upset by the folks who have been listening to a different stream of news — one in which mask-wearing is not necessary and the virus is nothing to fear.
This is — in some very sad cases — being heart-broken that one is unable to visit and comfort a loved one who is fighting for her or his life in a hospital.
This is being tired of not seeing one’s extended web of family and friends at Thanksgiving — and probably not seeing them for the winter holidays either…
This is being tired of not being able to do many of the things that some of us formerly took for granted — like BBQ-ing with friends, or seeing a movie in a theater, or going on a date, or eating in a restaurant, or attending a concert or…. you fill in the blank.
The list goes on and on.
The news of surprisingly robust results from many different vaccine trials gives me a shred of hope — a possible light at the end of a long tunnel.
But this will take time — more time than most of us want to acknowledge.
And we will probably need to wear our masks even AFTER we have been vaccinated because there is very little data — yet — about how infectious those who have been vaccinated may be to others who have not yet been vaccinated.
And not everyone — for a spectrum of reasons both historical and personal and political — may agree to be vaccinated…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Then there is the fatigue — physical, emotional, spiritual — that our nurses and EMTs and doctors and others who help to take care of Covid-19 patients are experiencing.
In many cases it is beyond fatigue.
It is trauma.
We are going to emerge from this health crisis with a significant number of our caregivers having been traumatized and in need of all sorts of healing for THEIR bodies, minds and spirits.
Some of them may decide that they can no longer risk their lives taking care of others — especially others who minimize and/or deny the threat of Covid-19 (and thus help to worsen everyone’s collective health and the horrific burden being placed on our health care workers).
I learned recently that one of my friends — a former housemate with whom I lived after college (along with three other people) in a run-down but functional duplex apartment outside Central Square in Cambridge, MA — just spent five days in a hospital fighting to breathe with a Covid infection.
He posted on Facebook:
“I didn’t get the mild version. It was a grueling, terrifying experience. I would like to make a plea for any of you who doubt the danger of this bug to rethink that. If you are thinking, ‘I probably won’t get it’ or ‘it probably won’t kill me’ you’re in danger — and the people around you are as well. Please don’t let your guard down. You’ll never know what you’re missing.”
In another post he shared more details:
“When my COVID was at its worst I had a temperature of 103, and each breath only gave me a few teaspoons of air. I would get panicked, and I would cough and gasp, but there was no more room in my lungs. A nurse at the ER told me to try not to cough; so I started counting my breaths, trying to make it to 100 without coughing. I’d get to about 37 and involuntarily cough/gasp. And then came one of those moments when you realize you had something and never appreciated it and maybe it’s gone. I wanted a regular breath, nothing fancy, and if I could have it I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore. So today I am deeply thankful for my lungs. I’m sharing this hoping that, if you don’t already appreciate your lungs, you’ll take a nice deep breath and appreciate them right now…”
Deep breath in.
So how did my friend end up in the hospital?
“I got a flu shot the Wednesday of the week before Thanksgiving. Felt achy the next day. Not sure if it was the shot or COVID. By Saturday my chest was getting tight. On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to the ER every evening (it gets bad in the evening — no one can tell me how the virus knows what time it is), struggling to breath, doing this sort of gasping/cough thing that just excited my lungs and made them more desperate. Fever kept getting worse — 103 degrees by Wednesday, (when) I went to a new hospital.”
They admitted my friend and started him on a 5 day course of Remdesivir.
“At this point I didn’t know where this was going. The thing about the coughing/gasping is that they really didn’t have anything to stop it. I asked a doctor how concerned he was that I might die, and he said, “Not at all.” That was reassuring. Up until then I was worried about A) being on a ventilator and B) dying. They tell me that they don’t put people on ventilators as much now that they know more about treatment. Gradually, my symptoms receded. Very grateful.”
He was treated in the hospital with Remdesivir, oxygen, cough syrup, nebulizer treatments, and tylenol to control his fever.
He’s pretty sure he got Covid from his 18-year-old daughter, who had a fever for a couple of days and then was fine.
His final comment on Facebook was:
“(Covid infection) varies greatly and it can turn on a dime.”
Another deep breath in.
Paul is the second person I know who has been hospitalized due to Covid.
The other — as regular readers of this blog may remember — is a fellow singer who ended up on a ventilator for many weeks and then spent time in rehab for weeks after that.
Both friends are now at home and gradually recovering their strength.
There but for the grace of g-d — along with a few face masks, a lot of physical/social distancing, and regular handwashing — go I…
And ANOTHER deep breath in.
Yesterday morning I picked up a bunch of postcards for me and two friends to personalize and then mail to potential voters in Georgia.
I loved riding my bike — and not burning any fossil fuels — while picking up and then delivering postcards to my friends.
Climate change is a WHOLE OTHER CRISIS which many of us — similar to the Covid-downplayers and non-mask-wearers during our current Covid crisis — are in denial about.
But that’s a topic for another blog post…
I definitely experienced — and was grateful for — my lungs as I pedaled up a bridge and over the commuter railroad tracks that separate Cambridge from Somerville.
I was also grateful that yesterday’s rain waited until I was home from my postcard pickup and deliveries to begin its gentle precipitation.
And I am grateful to share that a song I recorded many years ago — “Let Me Be Strong” by Barbara Baig — now has its own mini-website.
You can click here to check it out (and you may recognize the names of a few fellow bloggers on the feedback page, bless them…)
As you may also remember from a recent blog post about how modestly streaming platforms currently pay recording artists and songwriters, it is unlikely that we will make much money from distributing “Let Me Be Strong.”
But we have gotten such positive feedback that we decided — as a kind of mitzvah — to create this mini-website and devote some energy to sharing her song with the rest of the world (or at least those people who have access to digital music platforms…)
The chorus of her song says:
“Let me be strong and moving through fear.
When the truth is blinding, let me see it clear.
And when love comes, let me not hide.
Let my heart be open, let love inside.”
Easier said (or sung) than done, I know — but potentially helpful words for the days and weeks and months ahead…
We have begun reaching out to radio DJs, nurses, doctors, yoga instructors, hospital chaplains, ministers, rabbis, and anyone else whom we think might appreciate hearing the song — and possibly sharing it with others.
We would be honored if YOU, too, are moved to share “Let Me Be Strong” with anyone in your web of family and friends.
As we in Massachusetts enter the second week of staying at home due to COVID-19, I have been happy to connect with family and friends and acquaintances via their WordPress blog posts and Facebook updates.
THANK YOU to everyone for your words and images and information!
Since it’s been almost a month since my last blog post, I am finally putting my fingers to the laptop keyboard in order to share another great song by composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg (in photo below…)
Yip lived a full and passionate and creative and principled life — and wrote the lyrics for a bunch of great songs, including “Springtime in Paris,” “Old Devil Moon,” “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” “Down With Love,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe,” “Lydia The Tattooed Lady, and “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”
And then there are the songs he and Harold Arlen wrote for a movie inspired by the work of author L. Frank Baum and illustrator William Wallace Denslow.
These include “We’re Off To See The Wizard,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” and “Over The Rainbow” — which won the Academy award for best song in a motion picture in 1939.
I learned from reading a biography about Yip — co-written by his son Ernie Harburg — that in addition to writing the lyrics for the songs in The Wizard Of Oz, Yip also wrote all the dialogue that sets up the songs — and he even wrote the dialogue for one of my favorite scenes near the end, when the Wizard gives medals to the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion in honor of their heart, brains and nerve.
I also learned that, in classic Hollywood fashion, eleven different screenwriters were involved with the script — with Yip serving as the final script editor, pulling the whole thing together and giving it coherence and unity. But he didn’t get any official screen credit for all of that work on the script.
Yip is also the person responsible for including the powerful metaphor of a rainbow in the movie — which was produced partly to showcase MGM’s Technicolor prowess.
In the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, there is no mention of a rainbow.
Yip’s son Ernie describes in an interview I found on YouTube how “Over The Rainbow” came to be written:
Yip and Harold Arlen’s contract at MGM had run out, and they still didn’t have a key song for Dorothy written.
Frank Baum writes in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz that where Dorothy lived, “not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades.”
Yip and Harold discussed this description, and how Dorothy’s neighbor Miss Gulch had threatened to take away her beloved companion, Toto, and how Dorothy was looking for a way to escape…
At this time in their lives, both Yip and Harold were living in Beverly Hills, with lush green lawns — plus elaborate sprinkler systems to keep them green!
One day when his gardener turned on the sprinklers, Yip was struck by the little rainbows that appeared in the air. When he next saw Harold he said, “Dorothy wants to escape — to be on the other side of the rainbow,” and Harold went away and came back with a beautiful melody which Yip then worked on for three weeks to find words with exactly the right syllables to fit Harold’s melody.
And, thanks to Judy Garland’s beautifully poignant rendition of their song, the rest is cinema history.
“If I Only Had A Brain” (a version of which is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post) is based on a melody for a song called “I’m Hanging On To You” which Yip and Harold had written for — and then cut from — a 1937 anti-war musical called Hooray For What!
Apparently another song that Yip and Harold wrote for Hooray For What! — called “In the Shade of the New Apple Tree” — so impressed the powers-that-be at Metro Goldwyn Mayer in California that they chose Harold and Yip to write the songs for what became The Wizard of Oz.
When they were working on a song to be sung by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, Yip recalled the melody from “I’m Hanging On To You,” and fashioned an entirely new set of lyrics — including short verses (one of which I have included in my recording with pianist Doug Hammer) which were not used in the final cut of the movie.
Rainbows continued to be an important metaphor for Yip throughout his life — popping up in quite a few of his songs.
Yip once explained, “I belong to a tribe of what used to be called troubadors. Sometimes they were called minstrels. Now we’re called songwriters…we worked for, in our songs, a better world, a rainbow world… Now my generation, unfortunately, never succeeded in creating that rainbow world; so we can’t hand it down to you. But we could hand down our songs, which still hang on to hope and laughter.”
For that I am immensely grateful — to Yip and to Harold and to all of the other hard-working songwriters from the 20th century who have left us such a treasure trove of music.
Yip differed from many of his contemporaries in that he was eager to wrestle with social and political issues in his creative projects.
I already mentioned the anti-war musical Hooray For What! in 1937 (two years before the start of WWII) and the Depression-era classic “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” which Yip wrote with one of his first collaborators, the composer Jay Gorney, for a revue in 1932 called Americana.
With composer Harold Arlen he wrote the songs for 1944’s Bloomer Girl, which was set in upstate NY and explored the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements in the years leading up to the Civil War while featuring an integrated cast on stage.
Three years later Yip helped create another musical classic, Finian’s Rainbow — set in a fictional region of the American South called Missitucky. Yip not only wrote lyrics, he also co-authored the script — and the integrated cast featured characters such as a leader of a union of black and white share-croppers, a leprechaun, two recent Irish immigrants, and a white racist Southern Senator who is transformed into an African-American citizen for several days as an opportunity for growth and education.
Finian’s Rainbow gave us a wide variety of songs, including “When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich, “Old Devil Moon,” “Look To The Rainbow,” and “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?”
It may seem a bit odd that a song like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” was written by two Jewish songwriters (Burton Lane was the composer of Finian’s Rainbow).
But Yip was himself the child of immigrants — Orthodox Yiddish-speaking Russian Jews — and he grew up very poor on the lower east side of Manhattan.
His official name when he was born in 1896 — the youngest of four surviving children out of ten total — was Isidore Hochberg, and he was nicknamed “Yip” (from Yipsele, a Yiddish term of endearment referring to a squirrel) because he was so active as a child.
Yip was very successful in grammar school — winning prizes for his ability to recite poems and performing in many musical productions. He earned a spot at Townsend Harris — a prestigious public high school associated with City College of New York where you could earn both a high school and bachelor’s degree in seven years.
He found himself seated alphabetically next to a young fellow named Israel Gershovitz — also known as Ira Gershwin. Yip and Ira became life-long friends — sharing a deep admiration for Gilbert & Sullivan and later co-writing a humor column for the newspaper at City College.
I could go on and on about Yip.
Although he was not a Communist, he was blacklisted from working in the movies, TV and radio for 12 years during the 50s and early 60s.
He kept working on Broadway, however, and even co-wrote a song which was recorded by the folk/pop trio Peter, Paul & Mary.
If you are curious to learn more about this creative and inspirational human being, you can click here to read his Wikipedia entry and/or track down the biography co-written by his son, Ernie Harburg.
Perhaps some of his songs like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” will take on a new resonance in the days and weeks ahead…
For the time being, I remain grateful that we in Massachusetts are still allowed to leave our homes and go for walks in our neighborhoods — as long as we maintain a healthy physical distance from other human beings we encounter along the way — so that I can continue to “while away the hours, conferring with the flowers (and) consulting with the rain.”
While COVID-19 buffets our human societies, the natural world continues — blessedly — to create a new buds, new leaves, new flowers!
Part of the reason for the gap between my last blog post and this one is that I have begun leading half-hour singalongs at 8:00 pm each night via Facebook Live.
If you are feeling hungry for some musical camaraderie and fun, please consider joining us any night starting at 8:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time in the USA).
Previous sing-alongs also remain on my Facebook home page in case you are curious to visit at any time of the day or night.
As longtime readers of my blog probably recall, when I was laid off from my day job as assistant director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education seven years ago, I decided to devote my life to making music.
A few months after my lay-off, a Boston-area jazz pianist named Joe Reid reached out to see if I might like to do a gig at the retirement community where his dad lives.
I had met Joe several years earlier — when HE was in the midst of a life transition from working full-time as a lawyer to working full-time as a musician — and promptly said, “Yes!”
We needed to prepare an hour of music, and I mentioned that I had long loved many songs co-written by composer Harold Arlen — a list which includes “My Shining Hour,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Blues In The Night,” “That Old Black Magic,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” “Over The Rainbow,” “Happiness is Just A Thing Called Joe,” “Let’s Fall In Love,” “Get Happy,” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”
I had sung a few of these songs in a program of music featuring the lyrics of Johnny Mercer with singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — because one of Mr. Arlen’s many collaborators was Mr. Mercer.
And I was familiar with others due to the movie version of The Wizard Of Oz, for which Mr. Arlen composed the music and Yip Harburg wrote lyrics (and a lot of uncredited dialogue — a topic I will explore in a future blog post dedicated to Yip).
I biked over to Joe’s house — in the town next to mine — with a bunch of sheet music.
We spent about 90 minutes running through thirteen songs — picking comfortable keys and exploring tempos/feels for each of them.
And that was it for rehearsing with Joe.
Joe (on the left) is very much a “let’s-trust-in-the-moment” kind of musician who welcomes improvisation and spontaneity.
I, too, value spontaneity — and I also appreciate structure.
So I booked time with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.
We recorded all of the Arlen songs once or twice so that I could have a set of piano-only tracks to play on my iPod as I walked around Arlington memorizing lyrics.
And some of the versions we recorded — such as the version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” included in the player at the beginning of this blog post — came out surprisingly well.
“It’s Only A Paper Moon” was written for a 1932 play (not a musical) called The Great Magoo set in Coney Island which was not a big success.
It is credited to Arlen, Harburg, and impresario Billy Rose — who was somewhat infamous for adding his name to the songwriting credits of other people’s work after having contributed an idea or two during the creative process.
You may recognize Rose’s name because he was married for many years to the great performer Fanny Brice, and his character appears in the movie Funny Lady starring Barbra Streisand as Brice.
Somehow this Coney Island hot dog made me think of him…
Luckily the song was rescued from The Great Magoo and included in a movie called Take A Chance the next year — which led to successful recordings by a wide range of musicians over the past 70+ years.
I love the metaphors and imagery used in the song — all things one might encounter at an amusement park like Coney Island.
I also love the sentiment of the song — that if someone believes in and loves another person, their belief and love can be transformative.
And looking at these photos, I am struck by the way an amusement park transforms from day to night…
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I would like to dedicate Doug’s and my version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” to all of the folks who have at one time or another believed in me — including friends and acquaintances in the WordPress blog-o-sphere.
Your positive feedback regarding my music and my blog continues to touch and inspire me every day.
Thank you to Pixabay for the great color photographs of Coney Island and other amusement parks around the world.
Thank you to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and Billy Rose for writing this wonderful song.
And to Joe Reid for asking me to do a gig with him seven years ago.
Since then Joe and I have done hundreds of gigs together and created twenty five different one-hour musical programs.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his engineering excellence and his playful virtuosity at the keyboard.
And THANK YOU for reading and listening — and even leaving a comment or two from time to time.
As our president speaks on the radio about his recent decision to kill an Iranian general (and others) in Iraq, I thought I might share a post about love and melody and music…
John Herndon Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 in Savannah, Georgia.
From the 1930s to the 1960s he co-wrote a slew of hit songs including “Jeepers Creepers,” “Hooray For Hollywood,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” “Moon River,” “On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe,” “Too Marvelous For Words,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Blues In The Night,” “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Skylark.”
Mercer was nominated for 19 Academy Awards — winning four Oscars for best original song — and had two successful shows on Broadway.
He was also a popular recording artist AND co-founded Capitol Records!
“Skylark” was published in 1941 — when Europe was engulfed in WWII but the USA had not yet entered the fight…
The song had a long creative gestation.
According to Wikipedia, the composer Hoagy Carmichael was inspired to write the melody for what became “Skylark” by an improvisation which his old friend Bix Beiderbecke — a jazz cornet player — had once played.
Bix’s music and too-short life had already inspired a novel called YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN which Hoagy was hoping to adapt into a Broadway show (and which a decade later provided the source material for a movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day and Hoagy Carmichael…)
Apparently the Broadway production never gelled, and after that Hoagy shared the melody with Johnny in hopes that he might write lyrics for it.
Different books report different versions of how long it took Johnny to write the lyrics for “Skylark.”
Most agree, however, that it was a long period of time — several months to a year — and that Hoagy had kind of forgotten that Johnny was working on lyrics for it (or at least Hoagy had stopped checking in with Johnny to ask him if he had made any progress…)
Around this time Johnny had started an on-again, off-again love affair with Judy Garland.
He was 31 years old (and married…and upset because his father had recently died) and she — fresh off her success as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ — was 19 years old.
Many writers have speculated about which of Mercer’s lyrics were inspired by his love for Judy — and “Skylark” is one of the contenders.
Here is Judy in an MGM publicity photo from 1943 — when she was 21 years old.
Beautiful and funny and gifted and smart and hard-working and … inspirational.
Another thing which inspired Johnny was the natural world.
His family had a summer home outside Savannah on a hill overlooking an estuary — and he spent his summers as a child fishing, swimming, sailing, picking berries, and lying very still.
He wrote in an unpublished autobiography, “The roads were still unpaved, made of crushed oyster shell, and…they wound their way under the trees covered with Spanish moss…”
“It was a sweet indolent background for a boy to grow up in…and as we drove out to our place in the country there (were) vistas of marsh grass and long stretches of salt water.”
“It was 12 miles from Savannah, but it might as well have been 100…”
“Out on (our) starlit veranda, I would lie on a hammock and — lulled by the night sounds, the cricket sounds… my eyelids would grow heavy (and I would fall sleep) — safe in the buzz of grown up talk and laughter (and) the sounds of far-off singing…”
I started reading about Johnny Mercer when fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer and I put together a program of his songs that we performed at Scullers Jazz Club here in Boston.
We also were fortunate enough to perform this program of songs on Spring Island — one of the multitude of barrier islands which run along the Georgia and Carolina coast.
Spring Island was once one of the largest cotton plantations in the southern United States.
And echoes of plantation life remain on the island…
Spring Island is now half wildlife sanctuary and half retirement community for folks who are very wealthy — some of whom love music enough that they would fly me and Bobbi and Doug down to perform in their lovely club house.
Although he enjoyed living in New York and California, Johnny returned home to Georgia on a regular basis — usually via a long train trip since he did not like to fly.
He savored the slower pace of life in his hometown as well as the beauty all around.
Having traveled to Spring Island, I have a much more vivid sense of Johnny Mercer’s roots…
A song like “Skylark” or “Moon River” makes sense in a different way now that I have seen and smelled and tasted and heard the environment where he grew up.
Full of streams…
And big old trees…
Thank you to Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer for creating such a lovely song.
And to Doug Hammer for his spectacular piano playing as well as his super-competent engineering skills.
And to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons for most of the images in this post.
And to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!