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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
A day late, I know, but R.I.P. Gene Wilder, dead at 83. Wilder was a superb comic actor and, from every account I’ve ever read, a thoroughly good man.
“Young Frankenstein” is one of my very favorite movies and certainly my most favorite Mel Brooks movie. This is primarily due to the writing, in which I believe Wilder had a significant hand. (Well, okay, the outstanding cast, too.) The trouble with most Brooks comedies is that they tend to start wandering, devolving into sledge-hammer slapstick or getting too cutesy. (The latter is my main problem with “Blazing Saddles”. Of course, it has a lot of good material in it, but it can’t stay in character, and by the end has gone completely haywire.) Not so with Y.F. – even with all the silly little asides, it holds true to the genre it parodies right the way through. As I say, I believe Wilder should be given credit for this.
It also occurred to me that I haven’t seen “Willie Wonka” in quite a long time, so I tossed that into the ol’ Netflix queue just now. I’ve often wondered how that film compares to the Roald Dahl book. (On principle, I’ve never seen the Johnny Depp remake bye the by.) Certainly it is old-fashioned in its rayther strict morality and quite out of date. The kidz are all Mike TeeVees and Veruca Salts now, and any suggestion that parents are responsible for such spoiled rotten brats would probably get one sent to the Camps.
(Mention of Wonka reminds me of a little throwaway bit in the movie of interest to musick-lovers. At one point, Wonka plays a little tune on a “musical lock” in order to open a door (into the fizzy-lifting water room, I believe). Mrs. TeeVee leans over to Grampa Joe and smugly mutters “Rachmaninoff”. Of course, the tune is nothing of the sort but is instead the opening couple of bars from the overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”. Wonka gives Mrs. TeeVee the smallest part of a condescending glance before moving on. I’ve often wondered what percentage of the audience the writers expected to get that bit. Significantly higher back when the movie came out than now, I’d bet.)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo was saddened this week by the news of the death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt at age 86.
Who, you may ask?
Well, said Nick was the godfather or, if you prefer, teh grand daddy of the “period instrument” or the “historickally informed” performance movement, the idea that (especially) 17th and 18th Century musick ought to be performed the way the composers of said times intended, in terms of instrumentation, phrasing, tone and all the rest, and not in conformity with 20th Century values.
My old father had a great number of recordings of baroque musick from the 50’s and 60’s that intrigued me in my misspent yoot, but never moved me because they seemed so mechanical and over-instrumented. When I first heard the Harnoncourt-inspired revisions of said pieces? It was like looking at the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel after all teh gunk had been removed.
Despite a great deal of blowback from the Establishment, Harnoncourt persisted. As I recall, he began to make waves in teh 60’s and 70’s but really hit his stride in the 80’s. His first three followers were Christopher Hogwood (who died fairly recently), John Eliot Gardiner, and Trevor Pinnock, all of whom came to prominence (and to Robbo’s attention) at about the same time. Since this most excellent trio, the movement has expanded exponentially, to the point that I cannot keep up with all of them.
Bully, says I. As I say, the movement gave new and justly-deserved life to a collection of musick far and away better, IMHO, than anything that has been produced since.
UPDATE: My apologies for such a sloppy, disjointed post. (I’ve tried to clean it up a bit.) Pollen has become a thing again in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor and my, ah, self-medication for my sinus headaches, while effective, sometimes hamper my compositional style.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As mentioned in the post below, ol’ Robbo decided to give up the grape for Lent this year. We’re now in the middle of the fourth day, and although so far I’ve been able to avoid the temptation (said by H.L. Mencken to be felt by all normal men) to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats, it hasn’t been easy.
I know, I know: Offer it up.
In order to avoid overloading myself with abstinences to teh point of bringing down the whole programme, I decided that it would be a bad idea to try also, as I usually do, to cut out (secular) books, musick and teevee/film (and, I guess, the innertoobs), at least at first. We’ll see how things go. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not pursuing my Lenten reading. (As usual, I’m starting out with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales.) Instead, it means that I’ll probably fiddle around with the mixture, gradually thinning out the pleasure part as the season progresses. My goal is to be able to devote Holy Week to pure contemplation of Faith.
Anyhoo, I thought I’d offer up a few random observations on what I’m reading, listening to, and watching at the moment.
Books: I think I mentioned somewhere below that I had started in on Anthony Powell’s magnum opus, A Dance to the Music of Time. Arranged in a quartet of books of three smaller novels each, it tells (from his point of view) the story of Nicholas Jenkins, a young man of respectable family, from his school days in the 1920’s up through the 60’s. It begins with the interactions at school among Nick and his friends Charles Stringham and Peter Templar, as well as those with the awful Kenneth Widmerpool, and gradually expands outward, taking in family, friends, professional and chance acquaintances, spinning a complex web of repeated personal encounters and relationships as the characters leave school and pursue their various lives, loves, and careers. All of this is set against the backdrop of the (arguably terminal) change in British society across the 20th Century: Post-WWI; Roaring 20’s; 30’s crash; WWII; post-War hardship; rise of the Left; goddam 60’s hippies. And of course, not only do the characters interact with each other, they are all enmeshed in these larger social movements as well.
On Ash Wednesday, ol’ Robbo found himself in the middle of Temporary Kings, the next to last of the twelve books, and decided that, since I am so close, I would push on through to the end. Ol’ Robbo has never been what one might call a “quick” study. I usually have to read a book repeatedly to really start getting into the meat of the thing. This is, I believe, my third time through ADTTMOT, and I must say that I am enjoying it exponentially more than my last go. As I say, Powell weaves an immensely complicated web of personal interactions in a quite satisfying manner, but what I appreciate more and more is his rayther droll wit. While Nick (whom I suppose to be the author’s alter ego) is caught up in the immense personal and social upheavals going on all around him, he never really gives away much about what he thinks of it all. From Powell’s deliciously dry observation, however, I’m guessing the answer is not that much. (UPDATE: I noticed that the last book in the series, Hearing Secret Harmonies, published in 1975, was dedicated to Robert Conquest, the great anti-Stalinist and social conservative. So there you go.)
Musick: Recently, long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, in the process of cleaning out his collection, sent ol’ Robbo a big box of CD’s of Renaissance Musick, figuring they would find a good home at Port Swiller Manor. Of course, he was right: Ol’ Robbo loves teh vitality of this era, from the dolorous introspection to the toe-tapping exuberance, all of it pleasantly free of the self-centered navel-gazing of the Romantics. On the whole, ol’ Robbo likes his musick a bit more formalized (the Baroque period being my favorite), but this gives him plenty of delight as well.
Anyhoo, I’ve started working my way through the stack. A few observations:
Dansereye 1551, Tielman Susato (c. 1500-1561): When thanking ODT for his gift, I mentioned that very few of the composers (apart from some of the English ones) were at all familiar to me. I put this CD on thinking I was in for something new, as Susato’s name did not immediately ring any bells, but soon started laughing: The first few tracks happen to be included (in different arrangements) on a compilation of Renaissance dance musick I own and love entitled Terpsichore. Small world after all. By the bye, the performance here is by the New London Consort under Philip Pickett, a very good group. The CD is copyrighted 1993 – I hadn’t realized they had been around that long.
Los Ministriles – Spanish Renaissance Wind Music: Composers such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Manuel de Tavares and Manuel Cardoso. Good stuff, but I couldn’t tell you what makes it particularly Spanish in character. (I suspect some of this musick is also, in fact, Portuguese.) This is not due to the album, but to my own ignorance. Of course, the “Renaissance” took different forms in different parts of Europe. I also believe that, given Spain’s particular history, it took different forms in the different kingdoms united under Ferdinand and Isabella. Naturally, then, so would the arts within those kingdoms.
On that front, let me also recommend a CD in my own collection: 1492: Music From The Age of Discovery – The Waverly Consort. Mrs. Robbo and I saw them perform this album in concert eons ago and bought the CD on the spot. It blends Spanish, Italian, Jewish and Moorish musick from the time in a most satisfactory combination that really gives you the flavor. (There are some similar Old/New World crossover CD’s in ODT’s stack that I haven’t reached yet, but will mention when I get to them.)
Fortune My Foe: Music of Shakespeare’s Time – Les Witches: So far as Renaissance artists go, this is closer to ol’ Robbo’s own home turf, featuring composers such as John Dowland, Thomas Morley and Michael Praetorius. (It also includes the weird -and aptly-named – Nicholas Le Strange. However despite what the Amazon description at the link may say, William Byrd is not included.) Ironically, despite the album’s subtitle, most of these composers were, in fact, chased out of England by Queen Bess in the early 1570’s on (among other things) anti-Catholic grounds, and set up shop in Sweden and Northern Germany. The local publick radio station used to run a track from Les Witches some years ago that must have been from this album – they’ve only put out a few, and most of them very recently – but I can’t recall which one it was.
Screen: The other day, because she had been watching it in her English class and wanted my opinion, Eldest Gel and ol’ Robbo sat down to watch Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet. I lasted about 45 minutes of the scheduled four hours of screen time. In a word? Bombastically unwatchable. Nobody tops ol’ Robbo in his admiration of Branagh’s obviously outstanding talent as a Shakespearean actor, but I’ve been saying the same damn thing ever since his Henry V first came out: What Branagh needed more than anything else in his efforts to bring the Bard to the big screen was an iron-fisted director with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!!” Alas, he didn’t have one and went to seed as a result.
Similarly, I’ve been picking my way, act by act, through the old BBC production of Othello starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins. Hoskins is great as the scheming Iago, but as fine an actor as he otherwise is, I just don’t get Hopkins’ treatment of Shakespeare. He hesitates, blanks out, inflects oddly, sometimes doesn’t quite seem to grasp the psychology of his character. It was the same thing when I saw him on stage in 1987 doing Lear. Strange.
I am also working my way through Christopher Guest’s cycle of “mockumentaries”, just having polished off Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Made in the early 2000’s, part of me wonders whether these films could even be offered these days, given the number of triggers in them that would send the Social Justice Movement cry-bullies into catatonic fits. Indeed, the inclusion of the fact that I’ve watched them on my Permanent Electronic Record is probably more than enough on its own to get me sent to the Happy Fun Reeducation Camps when the revolution comes, if not simply shot out of hand. On the other hand, they’re all wicked funny, so it would be worth it. (Anyhoo, there’s plenty other anti-revolutionary material on my PER already, so the question is largely moot.)
Finally, I just finished the 1st season of Star Trek: The Original Series, with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (with a young Joan Collins) and “Operation – Annihilate!” (the one with the flying killer washcloths, one of which hits Spock in the back: I once saw an outtakes clip where it hit him in the fanny). I don’t have much to say about Star Trek:TOS except that the show has held up surprisingly well all these years and is just as entertaining to me now in my 50’s as it was in my misspent yoot (obviously for a different combination of reasons, although skimpily-clad alien space babes still enter into the calculus). Of note: Netflix offers up the revised versions of the old shows, with modern computer graphics cleaning up and enhancing the more painfully primitive special effects of 50 years ago. While I abhor the kind of retro-tinkering George Lucas indulged himself with in the Star Wars franchise, I have no problem with what has been done here: The alterations are seamless, in line with the original spirit, and not designed to draw attention to themselves. It’s amazing what can be done when Ego is taken out of the equation.
At any rate, there you have it.
UPDATE: R.I.P. Justice Antonin Scalia. As I may have mentioned here before, his family are fellow parishioners of mine and I’ve seen him many times at Mass although I never got up the nerve to try and start a conversation. I’m sure he would have been gracious about it, but I’m equally sure he would have been annoyed at having to deal with a groupie on Sunday.
I must say that I was flatly repulsed by the amount of pure bile and venom that erupted across the innertoobs when news of Scalia’s death broke yesterday. Disgusting.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Yes, the Family Robbo survived Snowzilla intact. Indeed, we didn’t even lose power this time around, owing to the lightness and dryness of the snow. Deo gratias.
Dulles recorded 29″ while they got 22″ downtown. I think we probably split the baby here.
In any case, I’ve spent the last three days heaving snow off the Port Swiller driveway and my arms and shoulders ache something fierce as a result. (I also think I pulled something in my abs today.) But the real story of the cleanup was the Eldest Gel. I had mentioned casually to her a couple days before the storm that I expected her to help shovel out, given that her own car was involved in the matter. Nonetheless, I had envisioned that when push came to shove she would balk, finding some excuse for weaseling out and leaving the whole job to ol’ Robbo (who, quite frankly, is getting a bit old to deal with this sort of thing all by his lonesome.)
Well, was I pleasantly surprised. Both yesterday and today, the gel was actually on station and shoveling away even before I even got out of bed. Plus, not a single word of complaint the entire time, indeed, the closest she came was to say, “I hate this, but I know it needs to be done.” Instead, we chatted and listened to her iThingy playlist of classic rock.
Musick to ol’ Robbo’s ears. That the gel is thinking like a responsible adult is something I’ve been praying for, for a very long time indeed. Also, although I suppose we could have hired somebody to come and dig us out, ol’ Robbo was brought up with the idea that hard work (including manual labor) is important to character development. The gel felt damned proud of herself for pitching in, and so she should have. (And get this: She also asked if she could borrow my copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, as she has felt the need recently to shore up the underpinnings of her faith in the face of all the hostility she gets about it from some of the kids at her school.)
Oh, speaking of musick, at one point I was at the top of the drive while she was working closer to the garage. “Bohemian Rhapsody” turned up on her phone, and even though I was some distance from her, at the appropriate point I went into “Wayne’s World” head-banger mode. The gel laughed and laughed.
Good times. Good times.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Yes, ol’ Robbo is still around, although I confess that I have yet to finish the bottle of port I got in for the Christmas festivities. (Some reveler I am.)
Anyhoo, I may have missed some regime change, but why will Safari and iMac suddenly not let me copy and paste Innernet links or YooToob videos? (I was going to do a retrospective on the late David Bowie’s song “Changes” and ol’ Robbo’s varsity crew winter training at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, CT back in the day, but the ability to insert links suddenly seems to have disappeared from my screen.)
UPDATE: Oh, I think I see. Whereas previously the link to a specific page at, say, Amazon automatically appeared in the, er, linkie bar, now it just says “amazon.com” and you have to click again to get the specific page address. Or something.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, I warned in the post below that New Year’s additions might be sparse, but it turned out more complicated than I had thought. You see, one of Mrs. R’s aunts died – suddenly but not unexpectedly – over the weekend, so there was more knee-bent running around advancing behavior than even I had anticipated.
Anyhoo, the upshot was that while Mrs. R went up to Lon Guyland to see to her aunt’s remembrances, teh Gels and I traveled to the vast but secure land holdings of the Former Llama Military Correspondent, there to participate in our joint families’ twenty-first Noo Year celebration together.
Because ol’ Robbo’s Wrangler won’t hold four adults and luggage, we took teh Eldest Gel’s Honda CRV. Because it was her ride, I respected her choice of musick and asked no questions about the 180-odd tunes she synched up on her iWhatever for the trip.
Teh Eldest is, shall we say, eccentric. As I’ve said before, she believes Freddy Mercury was the greatest musickal genius ever to have lived. Thus, her playlist was chockabloc with Queen. What I hadn’t realized is that she has been pushing out in her taste for Classic Rock. As we cruised down the highway, I got a hefty sampling of ’60’s, 70’s and 80’s icons: Aerosmith, Rush, Huey Lewis, Elton John, the Beatles, the guys who sang “Sister Christian”, Rockwell. She also threw in some Sinatra.
One of teh Gel’s tunes was “Tainted Love”, the Soft Cell cover. Foolishly, ol’ Robbo noted that he actually bought that album back in the day in the hope of impressing the “cool” kids with which he was trying to hang out.
Teh Gel nearly put the car into the ditch laughing over that one.
“Wait, wait, ” she gasped, “Were you trying to get in with the band geeks?”
“Well…..yes,” I admitted.
“Oh, ha ha haaah. I knew it! ” she said.
Shut up. And get off my lawn.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The Eldest Gel reminds ol’ Robbo that today is the centennial of the birth of Frank Sinatra. While she continues to believe Queen and Freddy Mercury to be the greatest musick evah, she also likes her some Ol’ Blue Eyes.
I’ve got no problem with that.
Speaking of the Eldest, she went out the other day all on her own and bought Ben Shapiro’s book Bullies. Turns out that for some time now she’s been reading Shapiro and that Milos Whatshisname fellah over at Breitbart. She also has become an ardent fan of “South Park”.
I guess that apple didn’t fall all that far away from the tree after all.
(OTOH, this is the same whippersnapper who, when confronted with the fact that once again she had left her dishes piled in the sink, said, “I deliberately leave them for you to do, Dad. I read where that kind of task is good for slowing the onset of dementia in old people and am just trying to help.”)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As regular friends of the decanter may be aware, ol’ Robbo drives a soft-top ’03 Jeep Wrangler. As more closely observant friends may know, I keep the side and back panels off/open in all possible seasons. One of several reasons for this is that I like to hear what’s going on around me as well as seeing it.
Whelp, recently I can’t help noticing a surge in some kind of mechanical innovation in the more la-dee-dah cars on the road. Seems that at stop signs and red lights, their engines cut out, either altogether or else sliding into some kind of sleep mode. In either case, when they need to engage again, there is some kind of mini-starter motor. When activated, it makes a distinct gervoosh sort of noise.
This irritates ol’ Robbo on two distinct grounds.
First, simple mechanical noises can play the part of “ear-worm” just as readily as any bad musick. (Ol’ Robbo would never throw out examples here like “Su-Sudio” or “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“. You can thank me later.) Said gervooshing is getting on my nerves for its own sake.
Second, there is something repugnant to me about the idea of gratuitously flipping the on/off switch back and forth. Somewhere in my education, it was impressed upon me that such needless mechanical tap-dancing simply wears out the parts more quickly. I’m sure somebody has a reasoned, justified response in this instance, but I don’t care: It still seems wrong to me.
St. Cecilia is, for obscure reasons, the patron saint of musick, so I’m sure you can understand why she is very special to Ol’ Robbo. Indeed, she is more or less an unofficial patron for me and I have a frieze of her by Botticelli perched atop my piano. I’m little more than a sight-reading hack these days, and while I do very much enjoy making musick, I am also keenly aware of my shortcomings in that respect, and also of my tendency to employ rayther a lot of bad language when banging on the keys. I look to her to aid me in fighting these shortcomings and making my efforts more pleasing to God.
A great task, I admit, but a worthy one.
St. Cecilia, ora pro nobis.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Veterans’ Day! A glass of wine, well a cup of coffee anyway (sun/yardarm and all that), with all of you who serve or have served or who have family or loved ones who do or did. Looking back, I regret that I never did.
Anyhoo, now that the Gifting Season (that is what I’m going to call it with respect to commercial matters) has set in, the catalogs have started to fill up the Port Swiller mailbox. One of the ones that came yesterday was from the National Geographic, and I must say that it surprised me: Since when has Nat Geo gone all Smithsonian in the stuff it flogs? Books and maps and whatnot, I take for granted. But fashion? Jewelry? Have I just not noticed this before or is it a new thing? (Toys, too. The Little Boy that still lurks within Robbo looked mighty wistfully at the working drone, the magnetic levitating globe and the laser Khet game.)
About that fashion and jewelry: Almost all of it is “themed” – Irish, Far Eastern, African, etc. Is this not cultural appropriation at its basest? Is this not an outrage to our sensibilities? Is this not a micro-aggression?
Pardon me while I assume the fetal position and let loose a cry-bully primal scream.
/logs back on
Ah, that’s better. I hope you learn a little lesson from this, Nat Geo.
My old grandmother used to give me a yearly subscription to National Geographic magazine when I was a kid and I must say that I really appreciated it. No, not for the pictures of half-naked African women (at least not mostly), but because I’ve always been a nut for maps and exploration. (For example, I’m the one driver in ten thousand who appreciates the elevation sign at the top of the pass or the announcement that one is entering or leaving the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And I confess that Google-maps and all its little functions are like catnip to me.)
We used to get the “bonus gift” that came with the renewed subscription, too – books on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (I’ve still got them) and several record albums. (Anyone who doesn’t know what a “record album” is can get off my lawn right now.) One of the albums was of Revolutionary War era songs, many of which I still sing to myself. Another was of Mississippi steamboat songs, the only one of which I can recall being Stephen Foster’s “The Glendy Burk“. (I still sing the first verse and teh chorus.)
I remember that latter album mostly because it had a painting of a big paddle-wheeler on the cover that I used as a model to draw a cover for a 7th grade book report I did on Tom Sawyer. When Mr. Richter looked at my report – clear plastic binder, elaborate cover art, neat handwriting – I recall him saying, “Now this is a typical Robbo the Swiller effort.” I’m sure it was part of the reason that he recommended I move up to advanced English in 8th grade. (Why I had been placed in regular English for 7th, I never learned.) From there, the rest was history – English major and law school.
Funny how life works out.