“Drawing Warmth Out Of The Cold”

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As we do each year around this time, we post about that Monday morning when Amber’s uncle got an unexpected visit…

Amber called her uncle, said “We’re up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay”
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, “It’s Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style”
She said, “Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it’s been awhile”

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, “Is it true that you’re a witch?”
His mom jumped up and said, “The pies are burning,” and she hit the kitchen
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, “It’s true, your cousin’s not a Christian”
“But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere”

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And where does magic come from, I think magic’s in the learning
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning

When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, “Really, no, don’t bother”
Amber’s uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father
He thought about his brother, how they hadn’t spoken in a year
He thought he’d call him up and say, “It’s Christmas and your daughter’s here”
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, saw his own son tug his sleeve saying
“Can I be a Pagan?” Dad said, “We’ll discuss it when they leave”

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold

 

Listen carefully and you’ll hear Dar Williams’ s update of the last verse…

Thanks to YouTuber eTown

The Nosy New Yorker

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Photo by Ana Paula Nardini on Pexels.com

I have always been an eager surreptitious listener to strangers’ conversations, curious about what other people have to say, and their manner of communication with each other. But nowadays I do not have to strain— on the New York City subways, for example, people no longer have a sense of appropriateness, and they’re as public and loud with their private conversations as a Twitter feed. It’s like the town square. Here are a few snippets that I overheard—or rather that were broadcast—on the subway last week. Each could be a story starter.

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Man to another man: “Just because you look stupid doesn’t mean you have to act stupid.”

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Woman to another woman: “New Year’s with my parents will be sweet, it just won’t be any fun.”

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High school girl to another high school girl: “Every text, make it funny, so that he’ll take you serious; laugh at everything he says. He’ll like that. Just write “Ha-ha.”

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Man to woman: “I wonder if I just need to be less sugar-coated.”

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Woman to man: “Every time my boss gives a presentation, he looks at me. I want to tell him on a scale of one to ten, it’s a two.

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Woman to another woman: “What was so important that he didn’t text me at all for five hours?”

The Christmas Song

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The two neighbors dropped by the other night, sat down to the piano and plunked out a tune. Fortunately I was able to get a video of it on my cellphone. Sorry for the black and white filter.

Thanks to YouTuber BestArtsJudy

 

Hey Jude

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I was in high school and my one can’t miss television show was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. One day in October, they played this, and soon it was on the AM radio, seven minutes long, when the standard for that format was 2-3 minutes tops. It was pretty mindblowing for us. It still amazes.

More Beatles at  The Beatles

Writers Under Surveillance

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Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

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What did Ray Bradbury, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, Ernest Hemingway, and Hannah Arendt all have in common? They were all victims of FBI surveillance under J. Edgar Hoover. You can listen to my radio interview, which ran yesterday on Arts Express WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, with J. Pat Brown, editor of Writers Under Surveillance, a collection of FBI files obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act, by clicking on the grey triangle above.

Affair On 8th Avenue

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Another great Gordon Lightfoot song. Just when you think it’s headed to cliche, he comes up with an impossibly beautiful and mysterious line.

I really like what one YouTube commenter, Thomas Hofheinz, said about this song:

“This makes me remember something that never happened to me.”

Thanks to Youtuber tony blackhall

I Am Spartacus!

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If you haven’t seen or don’t remember the classic scene from the the movie Spartacus about the leader of a Roman slave rebellion, click on the very short video below, so that the rest of this makes sense:

 

Now watch what the geniuses at Improv Everywhere, the ringleaders of the international multi-city No Pants Subway Ride, did at a local Starbucks:

More videos at Improv Everywhere

Three Magic Biographies

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Recently, I’ve been enjoying reading a few magic biographies. All three books are highly recommended, and any one of them would make a nice gift for that magic aficionado in your life.

1) “If there was any doubt that Guy Jarrett was nuts, it ended in 1936.” That’s how magic inventor and writer Jim Steinmeyer in Jarrett introduces the cantankerous illusionist, author of the eponymous  Jarrett, Magic and Stagecraft, Technical. It’s not hard to see why Jim Steinmeyer was drawn to write about Jarrett. Jarrett was not just a magician but, like Steinmeyer, a stage illusion inventor of extraordinary ingenuity. Couple that with Jarrett’s eccentric life, acerbic wit, and amusing public persona and you have the kind of subject that an author loves to write about.

Jarrett enjoyed publicly trashing the magic royalty of the day. Houdini, Goldin, Thurston, —none of them were off limits. With the introduction and annotations by Steinmeyer, it soon becomes apparent that Jarrett’s curse and glory was his perfectionism. To Jarrett’s mind, the shaving of a few inches off the side of a production cabinet or table was the difference between beauty and illusion on the one hand, and utter crap on the other. Practicality and budget were excuses to him, and as far as Jarrett was concerned most of the illusionists of the day like Thurston were satisfied to settle on crap.

As befits a man who spoke his mind so openly and contemptuously, Jarrett didn’t retain a wide circle of friends. With his characteristic self-sufficiency, Jarrett published his book himself, setting all the type himself on a foundry typesetting press, pretty much as Gutenberg had done centuries before.

But the eccentric Jarrett (my favorite photo in the book is Jarrett at 74 years old standing upside down in the top of a tree) according to Steinmeyer was the real deal when it came to designing illusions. Jarrett’s efficient descriptions and drawings of such illusions as “The 21 Person Cabinet” and the disappearance of Bela Lugosi in the original Broadway production of Dracula make for entertaining reading and broadened my appreciation of illusion design.

2) Dai Vernon: A Biography, by David Ben, is the authorized biography  of the man who revolutionized the study and performance of close-up magic. and it draws upon many previously unseen original sources. It has some wonderful photos, including the famous one, repeated many years later, of Vernon, cigarette in hand, staring down at the Ace of Clubs. Ben’s prose is pretty pedestrian, but it gives a fully rounded picture of the man and his times. What one really gets from this portrait of Vernon is just how tenaciously Vernon strove to carve out his own artistic path. As an art student at the Art Students’ League an artist he met told him that continuing in art school would ruin him for creativity and originality. Vernon took that to heart and never allowed himself to swerve from a life that would allow him the freedom to explore and play to his heart’s content.  Many times he could have traded on his skill and connections to become famous with the general public, but at each turn he almost compulsively avoided or sabotaged those opportunities in favor of living a Bohemian lifestyle, free from the hard spotlight of fame and stultifying routine. He was a brilliant ne’er-do-well who was terrified of being tied down to any responsibility but his art.

Another wonderful revelation in the book is the portrait of his wife, Jeannie. She was a Coney Island magician’s assistant, full of practical knowledge and no mean slouch either when it came to art. She was a very creative person in her own right, an accomplished costumer and mask maker (there’s a wonderful photo of her beautifully lifelike mask of Cardini) and she was essential in costuming Vernon’s Harlequin turn. She understood her own predicament in being the creative spouse of another more talented and obsessive creative person. Once she had left Vernon she wrote her own account of what it was like to live with him in her manuscript, I Married Mr. Magic, or Laughter is the Only Shield.

This volume, the first of two, only covers the years 1894-1941, when Vernon had the construction accident which was to break his arms and change his life. Unfortunately, there is no word on Ben’s website as to when Volume II is expected (it’s been over a decade now), so we’ll have to be patient. But surely, that too promises to be fascinating, as it will cover the Magic Castle years to Vernon’s death. This is a compelling portrait of genius at work and play.

3) Milo and Roger: A Magical Life is the title of Arthur Brandon’s autobiographical account of his childhood, and his longtime partnership with Roger Coker as the comedy magic team Milo and Roger. If there is a sweeter and funnier account of one’s magical journey, I don’t know of it. Brandon devotes a lot of the book to his Norman Rockwell upbringing in small town Ohio, and he vividly brings to life the characters, the grifters, and the tradespeople who inhabited his childhood world. His parents—his mother in particular—were lovable eccentrics who were accepting and encouraging of their moony son’s infatuation with all things magical. Brandon goes on to small time fame by following his instinct and love for magic, meeting along the way his lifelong partner Roger who complements everything Arthur does. They travel the world together, much of the time only a few dollars short of broke, but somehow they always make it out to their next adventure, spurred on by their love for show business and magic. At turns nostalgic, laugh-out-loud funny, sweet, sour, and sad, this is one of the most entertaining show business autobiographies I’ve read. I can well understand why this is a favorite of many.

 

Put On A Happy Face

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Dick Van Dyke and the eloquent Sharon Lerit from the Broadway stage production of Bye Bye Birdie dance up a storm.

Van Dyke learned years later that the producers had wanted to fire him out of town, but Gower Champion had fought hard to keep him. Van Dyke and the show made it to New York and hit it big.

Thanks to YouTuber lee a

The Five Boons of Life

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Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

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Mark Twain’s bittersweet short fairy story, as broadcast last week on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC. Performed and produced by Mary Murphy and myself.

Click on the grey triangle to listen.

Hymn For A Sunday Evening

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Department of Self-Referential Videos Department.

The original Broadway cast of Bye Bye Birdie–including the fabulous Paul Lynde– singing the Ed Sullivan song–on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to YouTuber lee a