What I’m Reading: April 2016

What I’m Reading: April 2016

A Tibetan Mystery and …and how the Philadelphia Group cracked the JFK Case
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White Lama by Douglas Veenhof (Harmony Books) 2011

It’s amazing what books you may stumble across when simply browsing through a library shelf….and just by chance I came across this intriguing and important biography of American yoga pioneer Theos Bernard at the Honolulu State library in downtown Honolulu recently. Douglas Veenhof, himself a distinguished yoga figure and journalist, has pieced together the epic and now long forgotten tale of one Theos C Bernard, an enigmatic and interesting tantric yoga researcher who became one of the few westerners to penetrate and be accepted by Tibetan and buddhist lamas of the most learned variety in the the 1930s and 1940s.

Bernard himself hailed from a interesting family that included his father Glen Bernard, an early researcher into yoga and tantric practices and his uncle Pierre Bernard who led a commune of sorts known as the Clarkstown Country Club in Nyack, New York in the 1920’s and 30s. From these two relatives Theos Bernard was able to straddle the worlds of academia and high society as he pursued his quest to research and share the mysteries of tantric and hatha yoga with the western world. He wrote a best selling book ‘Penthouse of the Gods’, made efforts to teach yoga and Tibetan thought in New York and Los Angeles and was married three times to women of both intelligence and glamour.

Suddenly however he disappeared. Or died. In the autumn of 1947 on yet another expedition into mystic Asia, Bernard was either killed by a pack of bandits who threw his body into the Chandra River or he became lost on his return from the Ki Monastery and decided to never return to the western world.

Back in the US Theos Bernard left a wealth of artifacts and important source material on Tibet and other important areas in Central Asia in boxes and crates at his Los Angeles home. Some of the material was invaluable color film from his journey in the 1930s to Kalimpong, the Chumbi Valley and Lhasa. Decades later the material was auctioned off to Cal Berkeley.

Veenhof’s book is well written and engaging and is but one of several biographies of Bernard that has appeared in the last few years. If you are interested in finding out more about how Asian culture was studied and embraced by western scholars of the early 20th Century I highly recommend this 2011 volume.

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The Last Investigation by Gaeton Fonzi (Thunder’s Mountain Press) 1994

It was more than fitting that one of the most vocal groups of Warren Commission critics hailed from Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy and philosophy. Journalist Gaeton Fonzi was one of of these critics, who along with lawyer Vincent Salandria led the Philadelphia Group, who perceived much of the conspiracy at a a time when the general public was believing the theories presented by the Warren Commission without question. By 1974 when Senator Richard Schweiker was heading a subcommittee to track down leads in the JFK murder case, Fonzi was getting first hand accounts from people and groups that appeared to be on the fringes or deeply involved with a conspiracy that led to the death of President Kennedy.

By 1978 the subcommittee had morphed into the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the last investigation by the US Government on the murder of their president. Fonzi plods on through the hall of mirrors that one encounters when investigating assassinations, intelligence operations and the like. He is “slapped in the face” more than a few times as he follows leads in the Cuban expatriate community, the CIA community and the legal community that ultimately failed to piece together the conspiracy when they issued their final report in 1979. Yes the House Select report does indicate that JFK was killed in what was probably a conspiracy- the blame was generally placed on a loose alliance of Mafia figures, none of whom were ever pursued by prosecutors.

But Fonzi’s book is a triumph as he candidly details his trials and tribulations as he grows from an unsuspecting Philadelphia magazine writer to a somewhat jaded cynic of the American way of dealing with important crimes. Through all of Fonzi’s investigations and depositions he himself actually came up with one of the most important tangible links that lay the foundation for the argument for conspiracy. In the late 1970s Fonzi was able to obtain firsthand eyewitness testimony, from Antonio Veciana, the leader of the important anti-Castro group known as Alpha 66, placing an important CIA official, David Atlee Phillips, in the company of Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination in Dallas. That the House Select Committee leader G. Robert Blakely failed to follow up on this lead speaks volumes- but does not take away anything from Fonzi and the Philadelphia Group, who saw through the false mystery of JFK’s death and pursued the path of truth against all obstacles.

A great book of journalistic ideals and a fascinating journey on the crime of the century and its affects on one man……this should have been the movie Oliver Stone made.

What I’m Reading: April 2016

What I’m Reading:

April 2016

Of Washington and Southern Rock in the 70s

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Washington A History of Our National City by Tom Lewis (Basic Books)

Really enjoyed Tom Lewis’ tome on the history of Washington DC. Lewis writes smoothly like a finely mixed martinis…dry and satisfying. His insights into how America’s capitol was conceptualized and the arguments for and against its’ creation bring to life an overlooked dilemma that faced the new nation: how to create a national city from scratch. Or in this case from mud. Lewis traces the development of Washington DC as it is first chosen as the location (many in Congress wanted it to remain in a northern city) and how the land was surveyed by L’Enfant, Ellicot and Banneker- all interesting characters…in an interesting and epic tale.

An aspect that I was unaware of was how George Washington himself played such a prominent role himself in getting the project off the ground. Washington chose Pierre L’Enfant, over much protestations, to design the original city plan that has intrigued observers ever since. Lewis does not go into any conspiratorial aspects that many recent books about Washington DC do- but he does not refrain from providing interesting information on the Freemasons and other societies that influenced the city’s designers and architects over its first few decades and beyond.

Lewis presents his narrative in an accessible manner that brings to life how the city developed through the eyes of the people themselves. The War of 1812, slavery and the Civil War come to life vividly as Lewis presents the history of America’s national city with fascinating anecdotes and historical profiles.

American history lovers will find this book a joy to read and will want to add it to their book shelf for future reference.

Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Lynyrd Skynyrd byMark Ribowsky (Chicago Review Press)

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There have been a few critics sniping at Mark Ribowsky for his use of anecdotal comments in this interesting account of Lynyrd Skynyrd that was issued late last year. Overall though the author has written a concise and illuminating account of one of the more interesting and important bands of the 1970s. As Ribowsky notes early on Skynyrd were a band of contradictions form the beginning as they strove to combine southern rock with blues and boogie. i always liked Skynyrd, mainly for their music, but also because their lead singer had an attitude that went against the grain of so many of those 1970s posers….in an age of ego Lynyrd Skynyrd were anonymous as the trudged on with a handful of hit singles and a streak of 5 consecutive Gold albums. Then it all came to an end on a Southern October night..too many concerts..too many flights…..the free bird was free at last.

Besides providing interesting details on the band’s recording sessions, Ribowsky attempts to place Skynyrd in its’ proper pantheon of rock music in the 1970s. He seems to settle on southern rock…between the Allman Brothers and the Eagles…but I would offer a counter view that Skynyrd and Ronnie Van Zant actually owe a kinship to the Doors…and maybe even the polished sounds of Little Feat. To me Skynyrd always had rhythm and their production always lended itself to airplay on both AM and FM…no matter…they gave us some great tunes to and said what they said….if you love the music of the 1970s (and who doesn’t)…Ribowsky’s book will be one that you enjoy with a pitcher of margaritas……or Souther Comfort…

What I’m Reading March 2016

What I’m Reading

March 2016

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Fun City and Miss O’Dell…the 60s and their importance on our life and memory

 

    Fun City: John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and How Sports Saved New York in the 1960s
by Sean DeveneyFun City: John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and How Sports Saved New York in the 1960s

by Sean Deveney

Fun City is a fun book! In fact I would call it a masterpiece as it shrewdly combines the various strands on New York life in the late ‘60s into a fast paced and exciting narrative. Deveney focuses mainly on the personalities of the dashing New York Mayor John Lindsay and the spectacular football superstar Joe Namath, yet he also offers insightful accounts of the New York Mets and the New York Knicks championship season of 1969.Deveney’s portrait of Lindsay is concise and fluid as he pinpoints the major aspects that affected the progressive liberal Republican as he navigated his way through the colorful and chaotic world of late 60s New York City. Deveney’s sympathetic profile is especially relevant as we sit hear in an election year and yearn for a world where issues were discussed intelligently and passionately, regardless of party affiliation or political leaning. While Lindsay may not have been as strong a mayor as he aspired too- he never wavered from his views that called for social justice and pragmatic political approaches that benefited all. And Deveney does a wonderful job as he paints the colorful and contradictory saga that Lindsay essentially chose to live as an unswerving Liberal (with a capitol L) Republican……

As Deveney delves into the portrait of Namath and the supporting sports narratives his true genius shines through. Deveney places the Namath saga among the the gallery of New York heroes that stretches back to Babe Ruth et al, noting in particular Namath’s heroic similarities to the soon to be retired Mickey Mantle. Namath was in many ways the first true superstar in American sports as he used his astronomical $400,000 salary to indulge in that hedonistic lifestyle that defined the late 1960s, regardless of pop culture genre. As a player Namath was spectacular and erratic as he miraculously survived those brutal days of AFL vs NFL (on a shattered knee) and led the New York Jets to a historic Super Bowl triumph in early 1969.

While you might think you’ve read enough about the 1969 Mets and their mad dash to the 1969 World Series, Deveney is such a talented writer and weaver of historical strands that his take on Gil Hodges, Tommie Agee and Tom Seaver is well crafted, engaging and poignant.

I didn’t want this book to end…..it’s a powerful and detailed account of an important time in American history….whether viewed from the sidelines of politics or sports…Bravo!!

 

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Miss O’Dell (by Katherine Ketcham, Chris O’Dell)   
Being a lover of the Beatles story and having poured over the tons of historical account that have been published…I wanted to hate this rather personal account by Apple Records employee Chris O’Dell. Perhaps my annoyance stemmed from the fact that the book is “written” by two different people…O’Dell and her associate Katherine Ketcham. As it is presented in first person narrative- how can someone other than O’Dell be listed as the “writer”? That being said the writing is a bit clunky (at least in the opening chapters) and we are not quite sure who Miss O’Dell is and why she comes into contact with Beatles PR impresario Derek Taylor and lands a job at Apple Record in 1968.

As an out of place (i.e.. read not specifically talented or purposeful) music industry personality O’Dell offers a kiss and tell viewpoint on the late 1960’s travels of the Beatles and their record company Apple Records. While her fly on the wall remembrances are fascinating too a degree they ultimately seem frustrating as O’Dell lacks real insight as to what was really happening. Allen Klein, the executive who essentially exerts a Beatle-ending power play to essentially inflate his ego even larger- gets scant mention as we are instead treated to minute details of a party at George Harrison’s house in early 1970. The greatest rock band in the world is imploding and the “eyewitness” to history seems to have had her eyes closed…or at least looking somewhere else. And also..I have problems with books that use “direct quotes” from casual conversations from over 40 years ago…especially when the conversation was undertaken by soused rock star insiders while smoking hash…hahah

Yet this IS worth reading- O’Dell had a long and interesting career that connects her to the Stones and Bob Dylan and her onetime boyfriend Leon Russell. O’Dell also offers reflection on her trials and tribulations with alcohol and substance abuse and her devotion to being a good mother to her son. The Beatles and their contemporaries are presented here as normal human beings- a nice way to see them after all the books of adoration and deifying.

What I’m Reading: Jan/Feb 2016

What I’m Reading

Jan/Feb 2016

 

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Did Dulles Do Dallas? The Devil’s Chessboard: David Talbot’s Epic Expose on the demise of JFK

Baby Your A Rich Man: Stan Soocher pieces together the Financial Fights of the Fab Four

(Honolulu)

JFK Research has entered a new phase recently. As the ‘Crime of the Century’ (the 20th Century that is) reached its’ 50th anniversary in 2013 researchers began to feel that many of the pieces to the puzzle had fallen in place. The half-century of researching, debating and arguing had broadened our perspective as to what transpired that fateful day in 1963.

David Talbot’s well written volume on CIA spymaster Allen Dulles, The Devil’s Chessboard (Harper) is perhaps the most interesting JFK volume since Jim Douglass’ epic 2010 book ‘JFK and the Unspeakable’ . Talbot does not make an overt argument that Dulles, whose long enigmatic career takes up more than half of this 700 page tome, orchestrated the plot that led to JFK’s death. He really doesn’t need to. The plot was intricate, precise and diabolical and the reality is that the people with the abilities to create such a plot only exist in a certain strata of our social world: the intelligence community.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 2.44.22 PMTalbot is a smooth and easy to read writer. He takes complex scenarios and manages to illuminate them with such ease that you are able to digest their implications quickly. Perhaps the largest and most significant piece to the puzzle that Talbot highlights in The Devil’s Chessboard is the fact that it appears that Dulles was a supporting force in the attempted coup against De Gaulle in 1961. In between the Bay of Pigs operation and JFK’s famous visit to Paris in 1961 a serious overthrow of the French government was in place that came very close to happening. You won’t read about it in history books, but it bore all the hallmarks of those pre-packaged coups in Guatemala, Iran and Indonesia that the CIA and its’ allies have admitted to orchestrating.

Did Dulles do Dallas? Who is #1?…….That would be telling…;-)

Baby-rich-man.jpgI actually found lawyer and associate professor Stan Soocher’s book on the Beatles legal woes a bit more disturbing that Talbot’s conspiratorial implications. Well read Beatle fans think they know much or the story of how the Beatles financial fortunes spiraled out of control in the late 1960s and eventually led to their demise in 1970. What is not too well know are the facts, figures and actions outlined by Soocher in this dry matter-of-factly- written book that covers many of the financial pitfalls the band faced from the origin on up until today. The amount of time and energy that consumed the Fab Four after they broke up in attempting to untangle their financial arrangements is mind boggling. Needless to say Allen Klein is in the middle of a lot of these problems but isn’t the only one. A far more sinister character, Morris Levy, is covered in many of the chapters on John Lennon’s 1970’s legal battles. Levy apparently was a harder, meaner and perhaps even more cut-throat version of Klein and he fought Lennon tooth and nail over a copyright lawsuit and then a recording deal that left Lennon so disillusioned with the music industry that he went into retirement in 1975.

Lennon’s lawsuits with Levy were highly charged and personal and ending with rulings that effectively favored Lennon when they came to head in the late 1970s. Of course we all know the final chapter of Lennon’s comeback in 1980. He begins recording new material, signs a record deal with the newly formed Geffen Records and spends his final days, hours and minutes in the midtown recording studios close to his Upper Westside home…..finally on December 8, 1980 he is brutally gunned down. Was Chapman a lone nut? Did certain parties have a real motive to murder Lennon??? Soocher has perhaps given up ample food for thought as to who else may have had the means, motive and opportunity to snuff out the outspoken Mr Lennon. hmmmm

Sanders and the Spirit of ’76

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Sanders and the Spirit of ‘76

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(Feb 9)- If one had to put a label on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential Campaign I would put “The Spirit of ’76” on it. Sanders has embraced his campaign

with a sense of enthusiasm long dormant in the American political scene. Sanders believes in the American system yet believes it needs a shakeup that echoes the sentiment of Thomas Jefferson, who once declared that the US should have a revolution every 20 years or so.

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“The Spirit of ’76” was the original battle cry of the American Revolution and was meant in part to indicate a radical free spirit that continually challenged the status quo. As the United States was formed in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s people who lacked the vision and enthusiasm to be progressive were often said to lack or even betray the spirit of ’76. Without a doubt many American voters feel that virtually all of the politicians on the national stage seems to lack any trace of the “Spirit of ’76”.

Sanders is a “call it like I see it” kind of guy, similar in some ways with Trump, but with one vital and admirable difference: he’s honest! People like honesty and for too many decades and centuries it has not been seen as a trait of importance of people leading this nation. The media of course despises Sanders for many reasons and honesty is a tough one for them to attack. Smears and falsehoods will no doubt be coming to Sanders as this race progresses and it will be a telling tale for all players in this ritual (the media, Sanders and the public) to see how they react to the treatment of an honest Presidential candidate.

Will we allow him to be made sport of by yellow journalism and standard modern political tactics that border on criminal? Or will we become more vocal ourselves and not be so idle as a person of integrity wades into the toxic mess of modern US politics??

The Spirit of ’76 is a vibrant ingredient of the American story and is essentially the core principal that drove the US into being founded. It asks us to be free, be responsible, have vision and tolerance.

As the campaign of 2016 continues…maybe the Spirit of ’16 will be recalled by future voters who put honesty back on their list of important characteristics for governing our democratic republic.

An Interview with G.Philip O’Rorke

An internet interview by Stephen Vincent O’Rourke with G. Philip O’Rorke of London, recognized Chieftain of the O’Rourke line and direct descendant of Lord Brian Ballaigh O’Rourke.

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How does one become a Chieftain?

To go back to Gaelic Law, Kingship was confined to a particular family within the tribe. This family was a large agnatic kindred group. For most practical purposes the real kindred were the derbfhine – literally the ‘certain’ family group. This included first cousins and extended over five generations. The successor to the Kingship came from within this circle and was by election.

However the existing King would normally appoint his tanaiste (heir-designate) during his life. Primogeniture was not recognised in Irish Law, but seniority in the male line was the normal criterion for headship of the kindred. In practice, the eldest son was usually appointed tanaise unless he suffered from some illness or infirmity. In the medieval period a sort of ‘de facto’ primogeniture developed. Since the Elizabethan conquest Chiefs or Chieftains have normally been eldest sons or the nearest senior blood relative.

As to recognition, the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland recognises the title by courtesy, as does the Ulster King of Arms of the College of Arms in London and the European Almanack de Gotha. The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs (of which I am a member) also recognises the titles.

The 19th century Volume of O’Hart’s Pedigrees contains a list of several O’Rourke lines; are you descent from any of these?

I’m afraid I do not have O’Hart’s Pedigrees so cannot answer this question. However I must be descended from one of the lines listed. I descend from Tighernan, King of Breifne (ca 888 ad), via Brian Ballach Mor (last King of Briefne, died 1562 ad).

Was O’Rourke history a big part of your upbringing?
Yes. Particularly the stories of my great aunts who lived in Dublin.

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Does your family have any ancient artifacts from the medieval O’Rourke estates?
No. The destruction of the O’Rourke castles and the dispossessions during the Elizabethan conquest and plantation period was pretty thorough!

.Why is it important for us to remember our O’Rourke roots; is it still relevant to care about all of this history?

I could write and essay on why it is relevant to care! In a time when we are increasingly losing our identities (as individuals and countries) it is more than ever crucial that we hold on to our inheritance, even more so in a family like ours that was torn from its roots and spread around the globe. The Ua Ruairc sept was one of the great septs of Ireland with a history and tradition going back over 1,400 years. We must not allow this rich history to disappear.

What I’m Reading August: Of Eagles, Arguments and Fascist Plots

Book Reviews: August 2015

What I’m Reading: Don Felder on his Life in the Fast Lane and Beyond and details on the Plot to Overthrow FDR

(Oahu) Don Felder  is perhaps the one of the most overlooked figures in recent pop music history. His quiet ‘matter of fact’ manner and his devotion to his family life shielded him from the prying eyes of the rock media even as his band was becoming the top American band in the world. When anyone mentions The Eagles, Don Henley and Glenn Frey are the main figures that usually come to mind. Felder is obscure…almost like he’s a member of Steely Dan..hahah

2265789His 2008 book Heaven and Hell is an enjoyable autobiography that traces his life as a struggling guitarist in the late ’60s on through his epic run as Eagles lead guitarist. Felder’s tale is interesting and his tone folksy as he recalls his meetings with Tom Petty, Stephen Stills and Bernie Leadon in his Florida youth and his eventual signing with the eagles in 1974.

Intriguingly Felder’s first recordings to be issued in his career came with a deal with jazz producer Creed Taylor in 1970 in the hippie band called Flow and he seems to have been from an early point to have been able to leave a positive impression of himself with important people. Fast forward a few years and Felder is in California working with Graham Nash and quickly thereafter he is a member of the Eagles- entering a business agreement with his “buddies” Don Henley and Glenn Frey.

Although this book falls in to you typical “rock star” tale of sex, drugs and too much of everything Felder’s calm demeanor serves as a welcome respite and offers an intelligent reflection on the pitfalls of the American Dream. In a world of narcisstic assholes Felder emerges as a good guy who is able to keep his sanity.

The Plot To Seize the White House is a 1974 book by Jules Archer about the 1930’s archer-plot-1974plot to overthrow newly elected President FDR. The plotters wanted to install war hero Smedley Butler as a puppet figure and pull the strings of the US Government as if it were a right wing business conglomerate. Butler was never swayed by their arguments and led the plotters on until he was able testify before Congress and reveal the plotters intentions. Of course the mainstream media of the day made sure the story never fully reached the eyes of Joe Q Public and for decades Butler’s allegations remained a well kept secret. In the Watergate era they resurfaced and are nicely documented in this intelligent volume.

Rock Music: Countdown To Ecstasy A Brill Building West Masterpiece and Quinn Martin production

 

Music History

Great Albums: You Should Be Listening To

Released in the summer of ’73 ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ was recorded by the original Steely Dan ensemble during their brief heyday as a funloving bunch of hippies. It was a slow selling Top 40 album that nevertheless showcased the wonderful talent of the various players that made up the ‘Dan at that moment.

Guitar playing was the big thing during the ’70s and Steely Dan had two of the best in Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias. Both guitarist are showcased on the LP’s opening track ‘Bodhisattva’- a sort of ‘Dharma Bums’ ode to zen Buddhism. Not releasing this track as a single was one of the big mistakes for Steely Dan in promoting the album.

When ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ ws issued by ABC Dunhill Records in July of 1973 Steely Dan was coming off a series of well received concerts and the huge success of 2 major hit singles- the most recent being ‘Reeling In the Years’- a wonderful ode to college days gone by. Perhaps thinking too much about things at this point- and already cynical of their record company’s motives- the band chose ‘Show Biz Kids’- the LP’s opening track on of side 2- as their 3rd single. ‘Show Biz Kids’ is perhaps the oddest song in Steely Dan’s entire catalogue and is a murky, funky summer of ’73 audio zeitgeist. It slinks along with cryptic lyrics that even give namechecks to the “Guernsey Fair”, “El Supremo”…”the Washington Zoo” and celebrities who wear “Steely Dan T-shirts”. Musically the track utilizes the percussion of one Victor Feldman– a forgotten jazz genius- on vibes and the slide guitar of noted rock star Rick Derringer, a close personal friend of Steely Dan’s bass player Walter Becker.

As hit singles go ‘Show Biz Kids’ was not a hit, reaching only 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. The same can be said for ‘My Old School’ which hit #59 in the fall of 1973.

‘My Old School’ however has had a long shelf life and remains one of the songs Steely Dan uses to close out its concerts in the 21st century (yes their still touring). Lyrically ‘My Old School’ chronicles the 1969 days of Becker and Fagen (and his girlfriend Dorothy A. White..aka Dotty of Hollywood-the creator of the funny LP artwork) when they attended Bard College in Annandale-on the Hudson, New York. Fagen detailed the entire farce in his funny book ‘Eminent Hipsters’ and musically this track showcased the funky guitar of Baxter who had had unique style that combined hippie psychedelica and Brill Building fuzztone. The unedited version of ‘School features a wonderful horn arrangement by the great Jimmie Haskell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmie_Haskell)- longtime collaborator with fellow ABC Dunhill stars the Grass Roots.

The five other tracks on ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’- are themselves wonderful creations of Fagen and Becker’s own little Hollywood Brill Building machine.

Razor Boy- A bizarre lyric pulled straight from ‘Naked Lunch’ draped on an acousitc ambiance that features jazz great Ray Brown on stand up bass and Victor Feldman again on vibes.

The Boston Rag- Another college day flashback with strong guitar from Baxter and wonderful hippie vocals from Fagen and Palmer.

Your Gold Teeth- Early ‘Dan jazz…..a 7 minute ode to waking up in an Asian brothel…yeah baby—cool electric piano solo by (?) either Fagen or Feldman

Pearl of the Quarter- an odd cajun country poem with perfect pedal steel from Baxter and King Of the World- a computerized country-rock classic about life after a nuclear bomb has exploded on the Rio Grande- Denny Dias dazzles and a surprising vocal input from Becker make this track an outstanding way to close out the LP and the year of 1973.

All n all a fine musical product from the days of leisure suits, the Brady Bunch…..and Quinn Martin Productions.

Happy Fourth to these Forgotten Founders

Alternative History

Behind the Revolution; Of Stars,Stripes….and a cask of wine….Happy 4th of July to these Forgotten American Pioneers

We all know the storybook version of the American Revolution: The courageous George Washington crossing the Delaware- the inspired Jefferson writing the epic Declaration of Independence- the brave Paul Revere telling us “The Red Coats ar Coming.”

Who else had a hand in the founding of the United States? Surely it was not merely the work of our famed Founding Fathers…..here are a few names from the past that we should all raise our glass to as we celebrate another 4th of July with beer, hotdgogs, pizza and baseball.

The American Revolution was a spectacle of unique vision and devotion- and without the work of those listed below we might still be subjects of the English Crown.

Francis Hopkinson- if you do not know who Francis Hopkinson is by now- shame on you! Hopkinson hailed from a prominent Philadelphia clan closely tied to Benjamin Franklin and was a prolific musician, artist, philosopher and statesman. Long overlooked by historians Hopkinson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and played a

 

significant role in the design of the Great Seal of the United States and the first US Flags. Betsy Ross aside, Hopkinson was the only individual to actually claim the credit for the design of the U.S. flag in the 1700s. Hopkinson however was modest to a fault and he years later he facetiously billed Congress for “a quarter cask of the public wine” for his efforts. Although Congress did not outright deny Hopkinson’s claim they failed to act on it for years. Only after Hopkinson rebilled his claim for cash, ‘along with other claims for other emblems’, did Congress act on it, denying it on the grounds that Hopkinson was not the only person who had a hand in designing the flag ‘and other emblems’. Ouch! Is that any way to treat an original American patriot??

Hopkinson was very much caught up in the spirit of the American Revolution and in addition to his work on the Great Seal he designed seals for the Board of Admiralty (the Navy), the Treasury Board (for Continental currency) and was a prominent member of the Amercian Philosophical Society.
Stephen Moylan
– Another Philadelphian, Stephen Moylan was born in Cork, Ireland and educated in Lisbon, Portugal. After settling in America in 1768 as a shipping magnate Moylan gravitated into Washington’s circle, being appointed him Muster-Master General in 1775 (http://www.qmfound.com/COL_Stephen_Moylan.htm). Moylan became a powerful force in the revolutionary movement- one of the first to advocate total seperation from the UK. Proud of his Irish roots Moylan was part of the Friendly Sons of St.Patrick, a group who played a significant role in aiding the American Revolution financially and militarily. But perhaps Moylan’s most lasting contribution lies in a simple phrase: he coined the term ‘the United States of America’ in a letter in January 1776. (http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/The-forgotten-Irishman-who-named-the-United-States-of-America.html)

Thomas Barclay  – Barclay was a rock star diplomat during the revolutionary era and in the years that followed. At the behest of Jefferson Barclay undertook a difficult task of negotiating with the Barbary Sultans of Morocco in 1786. Barclay’s treaty is seen as one of the first diplomatic successes in US history. The treaty was ratified by Congress in July 1787. How strong was Barclay’s treaty……well as late as 1967 a standing United States Department of State official observed that, “the basic provisions of the 1787 treaty [have] never been broken, making this the longest unbroken treaty relationship in United States history.”

Incidently Barclay, like Moylan, was a successful Irish born Philadelphian merchant. He would also be the first US diplomat to die overseas- dying in Paris in 1793 while on an assignment for President Washington. Intriguing……

speaking of rack stars…how about Benjamin Bannekerthis Baltimore native was one of the countries first astronomers, mathematicians, scientists, surveyors and almanac authors. Bannekers is also credited with inventing the first workable clock in America in 1761. Banneker played an important role in surveying the land that became Washington DC and began publishing a detailed ephemeris in the 1790s. A free black in the bitter era of slavery Banneker even exchanged his views with Thomas Jefferson in a series of letters, being bold enough to chastise the Founding Father for his hypocrisy in still being a slave holder.

Charles ThomsonThe Secretary to Congress during the American Revolution Thomson was a prolific revolutionary figure- signing the original Declaration of Independence and eventually designing the final version of the Great Seal of the United States with William Barton  Thomson was a meticulous chronicler of this early era of American history and was a valued elder statesman in the decades following the revolution, dying at an advanced age in 1824.

What I’m Reading: July 2015: Of Brill Buildings and Baseball Giants

Book Reviews

What I’m Reading: July 2015

Of Baseball and Brill Building; How baseball took hold of New York…and how a building built the New York music scene in the ’60s.

The Giants of the Polo Grounds by Noel Hynd This 1989 volume traces the entire saga of the New York Giants baseball team from their 1880s origin right up to their sad 1957 departure from the Big Apple. Normally one would expect this type of chronology to be a dry tombe bogged down by our modern day obsession with the “numbers” of the game- happily this is not the case as Hynd literally brings to life an epic saga of hope, despair, money-grubbing, booze-hounding and good old basic baseball- played in the daytime on a patch of green on Manhattan’s Emerald Isle. Hynd has a way with words and he has weaved a wonderful drama atop the bare bones of each years statistics as we march on through time viewing the details of the lives of Mutrie, Ward,McGraw, Mathewson, Hubbell, Terry, Ott, Mays and Durocher. By concentrating on this definitive New York story Hynd has written one of the more important baseball volumes ever. Where Ken Burns seemed to be obsessed with a certain personal strain for each of his narratives Hynd has managed to retain the core essence of baseball- the game itself- as the cornerstone for each tale. A joyous book, not just for baseball lovers, but people who just love a good book!

Always Magic In the Air by Ken Emerson
Modern pop music owes a great deal of debt to the Midtown New York area that incorporates the Brill Building. Nearby by the Brill Building is another building at 1650 Broadway. Housed in these building during the 1950s and 1960’s were the composers of many of the standard pop classics that continue to serve as the cornerstone for Oldies and Classic Rock radio stations. The grand-daddios of the Brill Building were Lieber and Stoller two hip cats who essentially ushered in the rock era with ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in the mid-50s. Lieber and Stoller established the songwriting composing team charicature (ie. a piano, a desk and 2 people vocalizing as they create a #1 song) and they were soon followed by the enduring teams of Bacharach/David…Goffin/King…Mann/Weil…Barry/Greenwhich…..etal.
Author Emerson presents a meticulous chronology that is full of vibrancy and a joy to read. Emerson doesn’t bog the reader down with too many personal details about the principals and sticks to the core story of how the craft of songwriting of that era seemed to capture the magic of the socio-politcal mood that defined the ’50s and’60s. These composers were bright, aware people who used the template of popular song to communicate how and what they felt…..many of these songs are not complicated and were produced (many by the eccentric Phil Spector) in a simple high quality manner that has allowed them to be re-embraced in the digital age.
Like a perfect martini Emerson has captured their story and serves it up without comment, allowing us to digest at our leisure.