So, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, mate.
As you may know, this year is the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street. This is a very nice behind-the-scenes tribute to the show that was done on 60 Minutes -- but no, not that 60 Minutes, but the one that they do down under in Australia.
So, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, mate.
I wanted to write this last week, but other issues and the holidays jumped ahead in line. It came to mind after watching the Democratic debate.
I watched about an hour -- it was interesting enough, but I found a lot of repetition from having watched the other previous debates, and saw enough, figuring anything else of note that came up would be covered on the post-debate analysis. But as time passed, by the next day, the more I thought about it, the angrier a particular section of what I saw made me. The clip in question got shown a lot, so it's likely many, if not most people have seen it now, as well. However I didn’t hear any commentary saying that the problem with it was the same as what I felt. Other here may not either. But for me, the issue has just grown. It was when Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth -- and to a lesser degree, Bernie Sanders -- got snipping at each other over fund-raising in “wine caves.”
What bothered me at the time, and all the more as I kept thinking about and see the clip over and over, is that there are three goals to the 2020 election – 1) Beat Trump, 2) Beat Trump, and 3) Beat Trump. And some of these Democrats, mainly Warren and Sanders at that debate, are trying to be SO freaking pure that they’re complaining about where someone legally raised money.
To be clear, I'm a strong supporter of strict campaign finance laws. And I love being on the side of the Angels. And I think holding out with purity as the goal should be striven for.
This coming year, 2020 -- as long as it’s absolutely legal and without any fishy stretching of the limits, and as long as we have no evidence of a candidate being corrupted by it – with the three top goals "Beat Trump," then I think Democrats should try to raise as much money as they possibly can!!!!
If a candidate is against holding these small, elite events and doesn't want to hold them, fine, don’t hold them. But the three goals are all to Beat Trump, so don’t start ripping part the Democratic Party because of where someone else raised money. It was legal, we know of no corruption, and it was money, and it counts as money. We can all be pure in 2024. But I’m absolutely fine with setting a high standard in the Democratic Party for fundraising that is legal and decent and fair and above board. What I don’t need is climbing even higher on the mountain top for “pure” in 2020 against Trump. To paraphrase the old saying – that’s bringing lace gossamer doilies to a gun fight.
I understand that undue corporate influence in politics is something to work to avoid. And I understand that favoritism to those who can buy it is unfair. What what I also understand that the absence of these standards is not corruption. Acts of corruption are corruption. Legal, decent and fair are uncommon, good standards in politics And when the goal is to defeat someone using Russian assistance, and using voter suppression, and using improper gerrymandering, and using impeachable extortion against foreign governments, and throwing people off the voter rolls, and is taking children from their parents and putting those children in cages, and is aligning himself with foreign dictators and is siding with white supremacists and is running an administration which is the dictionary definition of fascism --
-- then as long as its legal and without corruption, I couldn't care less if someone holds a fundraiser in a wine cave. Or wherever they're doing their fundraising. It's legal. And without corruption.
If the question is "But how do we know it's not corrupt?", the answer is that asking a question is not proof of something's existence. If it was, if questioning something meant the answer was proven, then pretty much everything would be suspect. And we would live in Conspiracy Believer's Heaven. Actually, there's an even better answer: We know something is corrupt when there are indications and evidence of it. Holding a fundraiser in a wine cave is not a corrupt act -- it's done because, when you're raising money, there's a good chance that that's where you're going to find money.
I understand wanting the most noble candidates to be elected. And I don't mean that facetiously, but seriously. But being legal, decent and fair, but not "pure," is not being corrupt nor even underhanded or improper. It's being legal, decent and fair.
And the goal in 2020 is not to rip apart the Democratic Party for a lack of purity. The goal is three things -- 1) Beat Trump, 2) Beat Trump, and 3) Beat Trump.
For 2020 most especially, as long as it's legal, decent and fair, I couldn't care less less where a fundraiser is held. I care that every legal, decent and fair action -- every one -- helps to Beat Trump.
Okay, so this isn't particularly unknown, given that it's Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But what the heck, it's a great, uncommon video that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus made only a few years ago under the baton of Riccardo Muti. (They pretty much never release full videos, but this was funded as a special memorial tribute, which the video explains.)
The whole thing is glorious, but If you only want to celebrate the season with the Ode to Joy section, that comes in at the 52:12 mark, and you can just jump directly to it.
Today's song comes from what I believe was the first season of the animated series South Park. It was their initial Christmas special, centered around the adventures of Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, which brought the show even more attention. I have a tangential story connected to the song, "It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas."
As I think I've mentioned, back in my dark days of P.R. I was the unit publicist on the movie BASEketball, which was directed by David Zucker (of the Airplaine! and The Naked Gun series, which was why he brought me along) and starred Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who did -- and still do -- South Park. During the movie's production, which overlapped with them being in production on South Park (so, in essence, they were doing two jobs at the same time), Matt and Trey mentioned that the only reason they signed to do the movie is because they were sure the TV series would be canceled after 10 episodes, and they'd have plenty of time to make the movie. Ha. So much for the best laid plans. It was during the movie's production that the TV series started peaking -- for instance they made the cover of both Time and Newsweek during the film. They said that if they had any idea that the TV show would still be going on, they never would have agreed to be in the movie. It was a crushing schedule -- including having an editing trailer for them on the set every day, and going back to their production offices after the day's filming -- but they handled it seriously impressively.
Anyway, going back several months, we had a read-through of the movie script one night, and given that it was the "South Park guys," families and kids were invited. And as it happened, the read-through took place the night after their Christmas special aired.
In the milling around phase of the evening, I went over to Trey and Matt to introduce myself, and I also wanted to tell them how much I particularly had love this specific song. Given the fame of South Park at that time, they were not surprisingly surrounded by a bunch of young boys gushing about the show. But in particular, they were gushing about another song in the TV special. So, I stood off to the side and waited for their fans to finish.
The other song in the show as sung by the character 'Cartman," and lasts about 30 seconds, with the words basically being, "Kyle's mom is a big fat b*tch, she's a b*tch, b*tch, b*tch, she's a big fat b*tch," over and over for half a minute. The little boys just loooooved that. And one after another, they enthused to Matt and Tray about it, singing the song.
After they all departed, I finally walked over. I said hi, we chatted a bit, and then I said how terrific I thought the song, "It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas" was. That the lyrics were so funny, yet touching, and the music was wisftul, and it was just really nicely crafted. And what was hilarious and memorable was how their faces suddenly filled with a smile of relief. They completely understood why the little boys all loved the "Kye's mom is a b*tch" song -- but this other was an actual song. And one they took great pride in. So, they were SO relieved to have someone praise it, rather than the one getting all the attention.
I also had one question for them. About a minute into the song, the character Kyle singing it mentions some Hebrew phrase which I couldn't make out, words from some Hebrew Hanukkah song he has to sing instead of getting to sing "Silent Night." I asked what it was, since I didn't recognize the song, and if they did research to find it or what. Trey broke out with a big laugh, "Oh, that," he said, "we just made the words up. We didn't know any Hebrew, so we just wrote some gibberish that sounded right."
(Note: Though this is the audio track of the song from the special, it's only a still of the scene. I couldn't find a full video of the song.)
If you haven't read it -- or even if you have -- here is Mark Evanier's glorious tale about his crossing paths with Mel Tormé, who co-wrote "The Christmas Song." I love this story for two reasons: one is that's it's so wonderful and told so beautifully. And the other is that my mother went to high school in Chicago with Mel Tormé, at Hyde Park High. (I got to tell him this personally when he had a cameo appearance in the movie Naked Gun 2-1/2 that I was working on.) You can find the story here.
This is a fun sketch that Saturday Night Live did in 2014 to parody the famous Christmas caroling scene in the movie Love Actually with guest host Amy Adams.
Every year around this time, there are articles about which recorded version of A Christmas Carol is "the best." Usually it comes down to the films that starred either Alistair Sim or Reginald Owen.
But for me, it's this one. It's not a movie, though, or a TV production. It's, of all things, an audio version that was done in 1960 for, I believe, the BBC. It's quite wonderful and as good an adaptation of the story as I've come across. It stars Sir Ralph Richardson as Scrooge, and Oscar-winner Paul Scofield as Dickens, the narrator. Casts don't get much better than that.
I first heard this on radio station WFMT in Chicago which has been playing this every Christmas Eve for many decades. (And still does.) Eventually, I found it on audio tape. I've listened to it annually since I was a kidling. Some years I think I won't listen to it this year, but put it on for a few minutes for tradition's sake -- but after the first sentence it sucks me in.
There are four reasons why, for me, this is far and away the best version. But one reason leaps out.
First, the acting is as good as it gets. Scofield is crisp and emphatic as the narrator,and almost every creak of his voice draws you in to the world, and Richardson as Scrooge is a Christmas pudding joy. Second, being radio, you aren't limited by budgets to create the Dickensian world. Your imagination fills in every lush and poverty-stricken, nook and cranny -- and ghostly spirit, aided by moody sound effects and violins. Third, the adaptation sticks closely to the Dickens tale, and Scrooge comes across more a realistic, rounded-person than as a Mythic Icon.
And fourth, and most of all by far, unlike any of the other version, this includes...Dickens. While the story of A Christmas Carol is beloved, it's Dickens' writing that makes it even more vibrant than the story alone is. And that's all lost in the movie versions, even down even to the legendary opening line, "Marley was dead, to begin with." Or any of the other classic narrative lines. Or the richness of Dickens setting the mood and tone and description of the gritty and ephemeral and emotional world. All that's gone in movies, good as the productions may be. But all of that is here in this radio adaptation, and Scofield's reading of it is joyously wonderful and memorable. For many, this will be A Christmas Carol unlike any other you're aware of, giving it a meaning and richness you didn't realize was there. The ending of the tale is so much more moving and joyful here, as we listen to Dickens' own words, that begin with "Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more," and it soars from there, to perhaps my favorite passage about the new Scrooge and how good he is in the "good old world. Or any other good old world."
If you have the time or inclination, do give it a listen. If only for five minutes to at least get the flavor. You might find yourself sticking around. Let it play in the background, if you have other things to do. It runs about 55 minutes.
(Side note: speaking of Dickens, if you know the original cast album of Oliver!, the actor here who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, Willoughby Goddard, was Mr. Bumble on Broadway and in the original London production.)
This might not play immediately, since it's a large file and may have to buffer first. But be patient, it's worth it.
Moving along into Hanukkah, this is a very nice (and fairly lesser-known) song from Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Peter Yarrow. There are two versions of this from their PBS concerts, the first coming on their 25th anniversary concert. But I like this one that they did on their holiday special. Sometimes on the holidays, schmaltzy works...
To help celebrate the first full day of Hanukkah, here are three different versions -- all wonderful in their own way -- of Tom Lehrer's terrific song, "Hanukkah in Santa Monica"...which was originally written (in today's Little Known Fact) for A Prairie Home Companion.
I remember the first time I was in Santa Monica and heard the song played during Hanukkah. It was a joy and hilarious. Here's the original version, nicely edited with visuals by the person posting it --
This is fun, especially-animated version performed to the great surprise and pleasure of the audience by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.
And finally, this is the most enthusiastic and perhaps most-appropriate version of the song from the Klezmer group, Art of Time -- even if singer David Wall twice screws up the same word and blows one of Lehrer's over-the-top rhymes.
“I never understood wind. I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody. I know it is very expensive. They are made in China and Germany mostly, very few made here, almost none, but they are manufactured, tremendous — if you are into this — tremendous fumes and gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right?”
“So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right spewing, whether it is China or Germany, is going into the air,”
No, this wasn't said by someone on a street corner bellowing at the moon. (Or at the wind.) And no, this wasn't said by Don Quixote. And no, it isn't a parody article from The Onion about a deranged speech by Trump. This was from an actual speech given by Trump over the weekend, this past Saturday.
My favorite comment on it was a Tweet that wrote if you were sitting next to someone in a bar who said this, you'd likely move two stools over. And the person replying to it said that the bartender would likely ask for the guy's keys and call for cab.
This isn't the first time that Trump has made a lunatic speech, though it may be one of the more deranged, taking things to a higher level.
It's so hard to know where to begin. I guess the first line is the most obvious. What is so difficult about understand wind? It's air. Not much more than that, air that moves between high pressure areas and low pressure areas. Certainly there is much more about the wind to study, and people have have careers studying it. But to understand the basics, that's about it.
And then you have to jump all the way to the very next sentence, "I know windmills very much." While that's reasonably clear, it sounds like something a Hollywood screenwriter would write to create in shorthand that the person speaking is from perhaps Pakistan who knows English well, just not as fluently as a native. And the sentence continues with what is also fairly clear -- I have studied it better than anybody -- though not as clear as likely intended. Does he mean that he has studied windmills for more years than anybody, or that he has been more effective than anybody in what he's studied of windmills. Or is he referring to what he's learned about windmills or just that he's studied them the best but still doesn't understand them, since he just said that he doesn't understand the wind, and it follows that if you don't understand the wind you probably have a hard time understand windmills.
For that matter, it's not exactly clear whether "it" -- in "I have studied it better than anybody" -- refers to the wind, which is nuts, or to windmills, which is both nuts and bad grammar. Who knows?
By the way, to be clear, I am not attempting to be the grammar police here. But this is the president of the United States, and his giving a public speech that makes no sense, so I think it's proper to try and look at it closely and clear, because when the U.S. president speaks, it matters, word-by-word. Not only for the meaning he wants to present to the world, but also for the sensibility and leadership and foundation of being a role model to Americans, including in some ways most of all to children.
It's all important well for seeing his egotism and desperate need to be The Best in Everything. And the delusion, thinking that everybody will believe that he is the world expert on wind (which he says he doesn't understand) or on windmills or whatever he means, ignoring the realty that we know there are actual scientists who have PhD degrees for studying meteorology.
Hey, maybe this is why he felt comfortable re-drawing the U.S. Weather Service map with a Sharpie for Hurricane Dorian. And why he was so wrong, given that he says he doesn't understand wind.
As for the rest, all that about Germany, China, fumes, carbon footprints, gas, spewing, the world, the universe and all the rest of the gobbledy-gook, God in heavens knows what he means. I suspect even he doesn't. Because the odd thing here that hasn't gotten much attention -- since the headline is how nuts it is -- is that it appears that he's explaining and supporting Climate Change!!! Except that he denies Climate Change.
But it's all just so unhinged, “I never understood wind. I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody. On and on, rambling, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel. Like a never-ending...
Wait! That's when I realized what this reminded me of. A real-world interpretation of the Oscar-winning song from the original 1968 The Thomas Crown Affair -- "The Windmills of Your Mind." A moody number by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman that are utterly nonsensical, a jumble of word salad that rhymes, though in fairness perhaps effective in creating the film's sense of bewildering uncertainty and total confusion.
From the film's soundtrack, this is Noel Harrison (son of Rex). It has now be re-interpreted 51 years later in public by Trump.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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