Friday, February 27, 2015


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Leonard Nimoy's finest Star Trek moment

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Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner: the memory of all that

A delightfully goofy interview with two cultural icons. Poignantly, Nimoy's breathing is so laboured you can sometimes hear it, and Shatner protectively puts his arm across his shoulders. The rest of it is just plain hilarious - they manage to avoid answering a single question. Even with illness and frailness, Nimoy was full of joie de vivre, with that marvelous un-Spock-like goofy grin.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The one that got away

The night is bitter
The stars have lost their glitter
The winds grow colder
And suddenly you're older
And all because of the man that got away.

No more his eager call
The writing's on the wall
The dreams you dreamed have all
gone astray.

The man that won you
Has gone off and undone you.
That great beginning
Has seen the final inning.
Don't know what happened. It's all a crazy game!

No more that all time thrill
For you've been through the mill
And never a new love will
be the same.

Good riddance, goodbye!
Every trick of his you're on to
But fools will be fools
And where's he gone to?

The road gets rougher
It's lonelier and tougher.
With hope you burn up
Tomorrow he may turn up
There's just no let up the live-long night and day.

Ever since this world began
There is nothing sadder than
A one-man woman looking for
The man that got away...
The man that got away.

Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin

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Azure, turquoise, aquamarine: the Rhapsody reborn

I still haven't decided if this makes me insane or sends me into orbit, but I can't stop listening to it. This guy takes that old war horse of the concert hall, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and blows it wide open. His dizzy improvs open the piece, creating space for unexpected and highly exotic bloom. Mere orchids become jasmine and patchouli. It's gutsy to do this, though he does it with applomb. No doubt some people hate it. For some reason I keep thinking Leonard Bernstein would hate it. Oscar Levant would hate it, because, as eccentric as he was, he was a musical conservative. You see, nearly all these great composers of the early 20th century were old-school, classically-trained Russian Jews. Gershwin was no exception. So here comes this cocky Asian guy -  not exactly a kid, but not too old either - and blows his sacred work out of the water. It's startling, unnerving, because I know every goddamn note of this thing, forwards and backwards. Along with Beethoven's Fifth, it was part of the bread and butter of my musical education.

There are a million bad versions of this. I just ploughed through a dozen of them to try to find something interesting. I don't like the various edited versions that run 9 or 10 minutes. They edit out that great chunka, chunka, chunka, chunka choo-choo part that I love so much (and which GG even mentioned: train sounds were a great inspiration to him). No part of this can be left out, of course, but what can be added? But he isn't adding. He's riffing. Riffing, in jazz, is absolutely sacred. Jazz wouldn't be jazz without it. That twilight-evening-star-sparkling string part - I can't hum it now, you wouldn't be able to hear it, but you know what I mean - has the most incredible circular riff in it, and it is Gershwin's very hallmark.

Anyway, I'm flailing around in the topic as usual, trying like hell to get through the 900-page doorstop biography - I think there must be a few dozen Gershwin bios out by now, including a really filthy one by Joan Peyser that I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on. And yes, indeed, there is a lot of evidence that GG sired a son with a chorus girl, cliche as that sounds. It seems unlikely the man could still be alive, but he insisted all his life that he was George's son, and apparently he even looked exactly like him, even unto the insolent lips, enigmatic eyes and Hapsburg jaw.

(Just found some photos of him, and he even  has a Facebook page - but then, so do a lot of dead Gershwin's-illegitimate-son pretenders. It has nothing much on it, to my disappointment, but the photos made me go "Ho. . . ly. . . shit." Same flattish face, long jaw, high forehead - George was well on his way to baldness when he died - and the lips - well, no one else had lips like that.)

I will never get a fix on Gershwin, not altogether. He is even harder to fathom than Oscar Levant, who was complicated and ferociously gifted, but (and he knew this) no George Gershwin. In a sense, GG swallowed up Levant's career the way he swallowed up his brother Ira, who became a sort of living monument to his brother's genius to the end of his days.

So anyway, enough blathering about all this. This is very unfocused and I don't think I will try to focus it, but it's important to my mental health that I write something today. Today marked one week since I lost my sweet little bird Paco, and I still can't get my head around it, that I will never see her again. I have a new project coming up, and if it works out, it could change things a lot around here. The energy will change in the household. But we'll see, it's not quite there yet.

Meantime, I wish I could find a good account of this in one of the Gershwin books, so I'll have to paraphrase. He died horribly of a malignant brain tumor, after being told for months that his agonizing headaches, olfactory hallucinations, and the complete collapse of his coordination were just "psychosomatic". Ira's wife Lee thought they were a mere attention-getting ploy (as if breaking down and being unable to finish a concert would garner him the kind of attention he wanted).  But the tumor sure did some weird things. He tried to push this guy out of a moving car, somebody he liked actually, and in some weird kind of behavioural seizure he took a box of chocolates, squashed them up in his hands and started rubbing them all over his face and body.

I never thought I'd find a cartoon of this! But I sort of did. This is from a very weird Gershwin documentary in about four languages, with subtitles on its subtitles. Someone would be talking in English, and suddenly a translator would begin to narrate on top of it (in English). I don't like the subtitles, but they add another dimension of weirdness to the whole thing. This gif dramatizes the great and dramatic chocolate-crush, and the way the front of his dressing gown got all sticky and messy, a thing meticulous George never was.

I'm sure Ira was baffled.

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Bird sex: just a peacock and a Chevy

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Death of the Bird

For every bird there is this last migration:
Once more the cooling year kindles her heart;
With a warm passage to the summer station
Love pricks the course in lights across the chart.
Year after year a speck on the map, divided
By a whole hemisphere, summons her to come;
Season after season, sure and safely guided,
Going away she is also coming home.
And being home, memory becomes a passion
With which she feeds her brood and straws her nest,
Aware of ghosts that haunt the heart’s possession
And exiled love mourning within the breast.
The sands are green with a mirage of valleys;
The palm-tree casts a shadow not its own;
Down the long architrave of temple or palace
Blows a cool air from moorland scarps of stone.

And day by day the whisper of love grows stronger;
That delicate voice, more urgent with despair,
Custom and fear constraining her no longer,
Drives her at last on the waste leagues of air.
A vanishing speck in those inane dominions,
Single and frail, uncertain of her place,
Alone in the bright host of her companions,
Lost in the blue unfriendliness of space,
She feels it close now, the appointed season:
The invisible thread is broken as she flies;
Suddenly, without warning, without reason,
The guiding spark of instinct winks and dies.

Try as she will, the trackless world delivers
No way, the wilderness of light no sign,
The immense and complex map of hills and rivers
Mocks her small wisdom with its vast design.
And darkness rises from the eastern valleys,
And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath,
And the great earth, with neither grief nor malice,
Receives the tiny burden of her death.

A. D. Hope

It has only been a few days, but they have elongated in the most
bizarre way. I wake up far too early, and there's a hole in my
day that I can't explain. Right now it feels like it must be 9:00
at night, when in truth it's not even 5:00 o'clock.

How can I NOT be reminded by everything? My watch band was
all chewed up, for she loved chewing my watch more than anything.
I had to change the band, not because it was chewed but because I
couldn't bear to look at it. A little candy dish I was putting away
used to be her bird-bath. I've never seen a bird fling herself into
bathing like Paco did: water flew everywhere and soaked

Today in the dollar store I was looking at craft stuff, and my hand
 nearly went to a bag of bright buttons that I knew she would love.
 When we get home, the house is dead-silent, devoid of the peeps
 and chirps and trilling that told me Paco wanted to come out and
see me.

A lot of birds don't want to come out of the cage. Paco couldn't
wait to come out and see everyone,  and screamed like a brat when
she had to go back in. But it was the cage that killed her, wasn't it?

We could have had years together. I still don't know for certain what
killed her, but we have to assume it was a fall. Then why didn't I set
the cage up better?

Did she swallow something inedible, with her eternal beaking of
everything in sight? I couldn't watch her every minute, could I?
Yet I did, as much as possible.

I loved it when she drank, for she would tip her head back and
"chew" the water, clicking her beak. If she didn't like a seed in her
dish, she picked it up and threw it across the room.

One day I decided to make a stack of alphabet beads, little cubes
about 1/2" across. When I was finished, she strutted over to it and
sent the whole thing flying with her beak. But then. . . she picked
up a cube, walked over to another one and began to tip and tilt the
cube this way and that, as if trying to get the two to balance
on each other. Birds can be taught those kinds of things, but this
quickly? After seeing it only once?

Her favorite perch was on my right shoulder. She would butt her
head on my chin, and nestle. Sometimes she just wanted me to
cover her with my two hands while she went peep, peep, peep.

Paco was beginning to learn a skill that identified her as female:
she was learning how to make nesting material out of paper.
She would beak the edge from left to right so that it was neatly
 perforated, then pull and pull to try to get it off. Then she would
chew the strip until it looked like that packing material you use for

And then there are the grandchildren: they adored her, and she was
gregarious enough to visit everyone in equal measure. She even
astounded my son by hopping a long distance off my arm to land
on his wrist and clamber up his arm to his shoulder. Once he
delighted Erica by snacking on her hair.

I feel stunned and disoriented. How could this have happened?
I know many people seem to think "it's just a bird", as if I am
grieving a dead goldfish. They have never had that sharp, sweet,
canny attachment, nor the nestling feathery closeness. I was her
mother, her mate, her everything.

She lived for exactly 100 days.

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What not to say to a depressed person


“It’s all in your mind.”

“You just need to give yourself a good swift kick in the rear.”

“No one ever said life was fair.”

“I think you enjoy wallowing in it."

"Depression is a choice, you know."

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

"There are a lot of people worse off than you.”

“But it’s a beautiful day!”

“You have so many things to be thankful for!”

“You just want attention.”

“Happiness is a choice, you know.”
"Just read this book. It'll fix you right up."

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“There is always somebody worse off than you are.”

“You should get off all those pills.”

“You are what you think you are.”

“Cheer up!”

“Have you been praying/reading your Bible?”
"People who meditate don't get depressed."

“You need to get out more.”

"Don't you have a sense of humour?"

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

“Get a job!”

“Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.”

"Just read this book. It'll fix you right up."

“But you don’t look depressed. You seem fine to me.”

“You can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it.”

“Snap out of it, will you? You have no reason to feel this way.”

“I wish I had the luxury of being depressed.”

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

"Just read this book. It'll fix you right up."

"Do you want your family to suffer along with you?"

“Can't you at least make an effort?"

“Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. I was depressed once for several


“Turn it over to your Higher Power.”

“I think your depression is a way of punishing us.”

“So, you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?”

“You’re always so negative! Look on the bright side.”

“What you need is some real tragedy in your life to give you perspective.”

“You’re a writer, aren’t you? Just think of all the good material you’re getting

out of this.”

“Have you tried camomile tea?”

"I TOLD you to read that book."

“Go out and help someone who is worse off than you and you won’t have time

to brood.”

“You have to take up your bed and carry on.”

“Well, we all have our crosses to bear.”

"I was depressed until I tried yoga."

“You don’t like feeling that way? Change it!"


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The kindness of strangers

I normally wouldn't share something so personal, but I feel very alone today. I lost my beloved Paco overnight. We are not sure what happened, but it was likely a fall. She was 3 months and one week old as of today. I am stunned. She was becoming just a lovely companion bird, friendly and amusing, very cuddly. The grandchildren adored her and now I don't know what to say to them. I don't want this to be real.
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