“An Enormous Yes”

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The parade sound wafting from the sidewalk Monday morning is Sidney Bechet on soprano sax playing “Maple Leaf Rag.” Click on the video above to hear.

For Sidney Bechet

by Philip Larkin

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares—

Oh, play that thing! Mute glorious Storyvilles
Others may license, grouping around their chairs
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced

Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manqués nod around unnoticed
Wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes.  My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood,

And greeted as the natural noise of good,
Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.

Revolutionary Quiz Show

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Monty Python in a great sketch done live in 1982 at the Hollywood Bowl. I particularly like John Cleese’s understated Lenin portrayal.

Fun fact: John Cleese’s father’s original last name was Cheese, but his father changed it as a young man. Somehow that explains a lot to me. Cleese is correctly pronounced to rhyme with Cheese.

Thanks to YouTuber Haunting Europe

Too Young: Nat King Cole

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Some people say that Nat King Cole was arguably the greatest 20th century American  male singer. When I listen to a performance such as in the video above, I have a hard time disagreeing…

This recording was number one on the American charts in 1951.

 

The Dumb Waiter

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Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times has more great comic set pieces than just about any other movie I can think of (see here, here, and here for examples). The waiter scene above is yet one more clip from the film that makes me just drop my jaw at its conception and execution.

Left Turn

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Gadzooks, it’s Magic and Marxism.

I had an opportunity last Saturday to speak about and perform magic at this year’s Left Forum, an annual gathering of political leftists, with hundreds of lectures and panels throughout a hectic weekend. The theme of the panel for which I was performing was the neurotic pitfalls of doing political work. My tenuous contribution to the other panelists’ fascinating talks was a magic performance that emphasized the vulnerability of all of us—even Marxists!—of falling victim to deception and self-deception.

You can see a video of the performance by clicking on the video above.

Thanks to panel organizer Mitchel Cohen, and panelists Irene Javors, Ann Snitow, Debbie DeSpina Sophia Stamos and Margaret Stevens.

I Drove All Night

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Monday morning, Roy Orbison is in your bedroom from the night before, dark glasses intact.

It would be hard to miss the obvious influence Orbison had on Bruce Springsteen.

Thanks to YouTuber MusicMike’s “Flashback Favorites”

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

FAIL-Cats-We-shall-decide

I had planned on posting a video from a magic performance I presented at the Left Forum yesterday, but I’m having technical difficulty, so until I’m able to post the video I’d like to share with you something said at the plenary session by one of the participants, the popular musician and revolutionary, Immortal Technique.

His remark was in the context of addressing  the possibility of forming a truly viable leftist party in the United States, given that so many recent efforts seemed to have been failures with little impact.

His reply was this: “The reason that I’ve achieved the position that I have is because I have failed. Failed over and over. More importantly, I’ve failed many more times in my art than most people have even tried to take a chance. There has to be space for failure.”

There’s almost no way for an artist to be good without first being bad. Artists need the space and permission (from themselves!) to be bad. Each painful lousy performance or draft is one step closer to getting it where it wants to be.

As Samuel Beckett said, “Try again, Fail again. Fail Better.”

People Change

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Singer/songwriter Nick Lowe wrote a number of pop rock songs like “Cruel To Be Kind,” and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” that were big pop hits for other artists, such as Elvis Costello.

Lowe has continued writing and recording his own songs through the years, and “People Change,” from 2007 is one of my favorites. It’s a great combination of pungent lyric, catchy melody, and simple, but affecting performance.

Click on the video to play.

Running In Place

running.jpg

I was reminded today, as I stood in front of my students with my aching back, the funniest and most profound statement I had ever heard about the profession of teaching, words uttered by a veteran high school teacher I once knew:

“The amazing thing about teaching,” he said, “is this: each year, you get older, but the students stay the same age.”

Girls Just Want To Have Fun

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Monday morning, Cyndi Lauper lays down the law to her parents.

Catch the appropriation of The Marx Brothers’ State Room gag from A Night at the Opera towards the end of the video.

Sleight of Finger

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While you, Mr. Magician, are YouTubing coin rolls and card flourishes, the really cool high school students are watching videos featuring finger tutting. So, Meyer Yedid, eat your heart out, It’s Finger Fantasies: The Next Generation.

Click on the video above to view the impressively impassive finger tutter, Pnut.

Thanks to YouTuber StatusSilver

“Time Is An Ocean”: Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades

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The short-lived original 1998 Broadway production of The Capeman had a beautiful score by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott. And it was sung superbly by two icons, Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades.

The video above was uploaded last month to YouTube by Blades himself. In this song, Ruben Blades plays the older Salvador Agron, the so-called Capeman murderer, looking back and trying to reach his younger, 16-year-old incarcerated self, played by Marc Anthony.

I hope that someday more video surfaces, as that show really needs to be re-evaluated. It was performed for a few times in the summer at Central Park’s outdoor Delacorte Theatre in 2012, but was not picked up for a longer run. If anyone is interested, I’ll tell a funny story concerning my viewing of that production.

Leonardo’s Children

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Some extraordinary examples of street art illusion—the drawings are seemingly three dimensional, but in fact they are all done on a flat street surface with paint and chalk. The illusions depend on the perspective that the camera vantage point enforces, and the projective geometry of anamorphosis.

The realistic nature of the drawings allows passersby to interact with the drawings by posing with them, further reinforcing the three-dimensional illusion.

Thanks to YouTuber Mind Blowing

Quality

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Monday, the singing teen-agers on the corner wake you up at 4:00 in the morning.

In 1996, Paul Simon, along with Derek Walcott, wrote the music and book for the Broadway play, Capeman,. The critics killed the show, unfairly in my opinion, but the songs are some of Simon’s best work. The play took place in 1950s New York City, and the music was an amalgamation of doo-wop and salsa. This song was one of the decidedly doo-wop influenced songs.

Click on the video to play

Thanks to YouTuber nostalgicdoowop

Mystic Descendant: The Offering

mystic

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Mystic Descendant is the name of a shiny new periodical for the mentalism community, published by mentalist Ron Chavis. Ron, among other hats that he wears, is the genial web host of a deliberately not-so-well-known mentalism website. He has taken on the formidable job of producing a mentalism quarterly of 50+ pages, no small task, and his first issue is a low-key, but enjoyable read.

You can tell right away that Mystic Descendant is going to be different from other mentalism periodicals, because unlike The Jinx, Magick, or Syzygy, MD is not a newsletter or stapled mimeographed affair, but a perfect bound, glossy color-covered magazine (some of the publicity material likes to call it a book, but I think that’s stretching it), printed on decent quality paper.

Mystic Descendant casts its net wide, covering traditional mentalism, but it’s also not afraid to cover such topics as psychic readings and bizarre magic presentations as well. The one thing it is not interested in is mental magic, so if that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. While there is discussion of methods, the focus so far is really on compelling presentations for casual and close-up performance. The periodical describes itself as aimed at “a beginner, a part or full-time performer, or a hobbyist,” and I think that’s a fair description. I think all of the above can find something to appreciate and enjoy here.

The contents are an eclectic mix of interviews, effects, presentations, stories, and random thoughts and that is part of the charm of the magazine. It’s the kind of thing you sit in the lounge chair with, and chuckle to yourself as you’re reading it. It’s imaginative in its diversity, and firm in its conviction about the importance of storytelling.

You can get an idea of the full contents by clicking here, but I’ll just mention that the highlight of the issue for me was the interview with Swedish mentalist Anthony Heads. He is primarily a stage performer, and it was fascinating to read about how he overcomes the reticence of his Swedish audiences to express emotion. Here’s hoping to the continued success of Mystic Descendant.