The other week, I wrote here about one of the most bizarre screenings I ever went to, an egomaniacal film written and directed by and starring Anthony Newley, Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? As I mentioned, the movie was being screened on my college campus at Northwestern, and what made it so bizarre is that the film had the reputation of being a salacious, Playboy-approved film overflowing with naked women, and while it was, it was also -- at heart -- a self-centered musical. I knew that, but the rest of the audience didn't, and they emptied out in a stampede.
I also mentioned that the score, by Newley and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer (who later wrote the English lyrics for Les Miserables), was quite good. Not that that mattered to the audience. And I noted one of my favorite, a music hall-type song called "On the Boards." I couldn't find it, and didn't expect to at this point. But, being diligent, I kept searching...and actually found it!!
Though the song is different than most of the others in the film, the scene itself may be more indicative of how utterly strange the movie was.
Just for slight perspective, because otherwise you'd be TOTALLY at sea here -- the film is semi-autobiographical, and we see a very young Heironymous (played by Newley in his classic white-face clown makeup) listening adoringly to his beloved uncle sing to him about a life in the theater. (The uncle is played by Bruce Forsythe, a popular British vaudeville star. When the Broadway musical Do-Re-Mi opened in London, Forsythe starred in the role originated by Phil Silvers.) And after the song ends, George Jessel appears in his recurring role of God.
I have to note two things. One is that I like this song, as a song. It's a great-fun music hall number. And the second is that, if memory serves, this is the second song in the movie and is when the mass stampede exodus began in earnest. Given that most of the college audience was there to see naked Playboy Playmates, you will not be surprised.
But hey, I love musical, so I stayed. And lest one roll your eyes at my supposedly ludicrous action -- remember that I got the bonus of also seeing all the beautiful, young naked women that everyone else (and I mean almost literally everyone) missed. On the other hand, while I also got to hear the good songs, I had to sit through the mess of a movie.
But hey, it's a fun song.
The Poetry of 94
Today is my dad's 94th birthday. He's always written a slight bit of doggerel every once in a while -- not often, but it's something he's done even since he was a kid. In fact, when he was 10 he wrote a terrific three-verse poem, "Why I Want to Be a Doctor," that my grandfather had printed up. (I still have a copy.) It's worth adding, that he did indeed become a doctor, and was in the profession for probably close to 50 years.
For the past 4-5 years or so, though, that lyrical spiggot has poured open, and he's been writing little poems several times a week, ranging from little ditties to parodies to longer efforts. (What most impresses me, probably more than the poems themselves, is that he remembers them all. He doesn't sit down at the keyboard when writing them, but laying in bed or sitting in his chair -- and it isn't that he remembers them long enough to write down, but many of them he simply remembers, period. And some are fairly long. At any age that would be notable, at 94 it's remarkable.)
He wrote a new one a couple days ago, and I thought it was a hoot. So, in honor of his 94th birthday, I thought it only appropriate to offer it.
Romeo and Juliet
by Edward I. Elisberg, M.D.
Romeo took Juliet to a restaurant one night.
When they arrived and looked about
They had an awful fright --
At a table that was set
Was the family Capulet.
They went to one across the street,
But Montagues were there to eat.
So back into the city square
And found an empty restaurant there.
One with main floor and second upper
And that is where they had their supper.
So after the two had met,
I tell to you, and it is true --
Romeo and Julie et.
A few weeks back, I posted here a wonderful 23-minute video of Alfred Drake performing a medley of some of this famous songs from Broadway. It's was particularly special since there is so little footage of him in performance.
Probably his most famous role was the lead in the original Broadway production of Cole Porter's huge hit, Kiss Me, Kate. Happily, among the very few productions he did for either TV or movies, in 1958 Drake re-created his starring role along with Patricia Morison, his leading lady from the original Braodway cast, in an edited-down production for television. Unhappily, that full production appears to be lost. Happily, some of it still exists on film.
And happily, here he is with one of the wonderful numbers, "I've Come to Wife It Wealthily in Padua." The musical is a show within a show. Drake plays egotistical actor Fred Graham, who is starring in and directing a musical production of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew as Petruchio -- trying to keep the show together, as his ex-wife and leading lady is planning to quit and marry another man -- and one of the supporting actors his being hounded by two thugs for a gambling debt, but making them believe it's Graham who owes the money. In this song, we're in the Taming of the Shrew part of the show, and Petruchio has arrived in town with one goal on his mind.
War and Peace Update
Well, I hit the page 1,300 mark. A paltry 155 pages to go! That's like rolling downhill. The end is not only in sight, but you can smell the breakfast cooking from here.
I know that in general terms 155 pages is almost half a novel. But in this case, it just feels like the final wrap-up, tying loose ends together. Napoleon and the French Army are crumbling and on the run, and I'm sure that Tolstoy can get an easy 30 pages out of that alone. Then there's the remaining Counts and Princes and Princesses still left alive and how their lives have changed. For the most part, that's getting pretty clear, though there are still a few relationships yet to be resolved.
But at this point, it's just floating down the Volga...
I understand that not everyone supported the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. Not everyone supported the Court's decision on Brown v. the Board of Education either. Or Bush v. Gore. Of course, if everyone agreed about everything there wouldn't be a need for a Supreme Court. So, I understand the divide of disagreement. And I understand the hurt. And anger. More than many rulings, it dealt with an emotional topic.
What I found striking, though, about the reaction to the decision was not that people disagreed, but how the level of angst expressed seemed beyond irrational to the point of zealotry. And not just the general public bemoaning things, but all minority members of the Supreme Court itself.
For instance there was Chief Justice John Roberts trying to shame advocates in the case by using a “logic” so tangled it would confuse Lewis Carroll – lecturing the winning side of all they’d lost “and lost forever” by virtue of winning. (A claim that would do honor to the Jabberwock.) On the other hand, he no doubt must actually be personally overjoyed at the decision, believing that everyone on the losing side, himself included, is now rejoicing at all they’d won – and won forever – by losing.
By his convoluted baying at the moon, the Chief Justice apparently feels it better to deny a Constitutional right for the sake of hoping that the public of each state would all vote in favor of the law – one day. Of course, by that same standard, we might still today have slavery, and womenfolk would still be hoping for the right to vote.
Leading the way, though, in judicial distemper is Justice Antonin Scalia, whose very opening of his dissent read: "I join THE CHIEF JUSTICE’s opinion in full. I write separately to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy."
A threat to democracy. Seriously. He wrote that. Really. And not just any democracy, but a threat most specifically to American democracy.
I think it's appropriate to point out to Mr. Scalia that the Citizen's United decision and the decision in favor of Hobby Lobby were FAR greater actual threats to democracy than who someone marries. When you determine that money is somehow speech, then a single person with more money that 100,000 people can push his views louder and farther in a democracy than they can together. And when people can ignore laws simply because they claim it's against their religious beliefs (most especially without having to define that religion, which can be almost anything, for who are we to say what a man's religious beliefs are), it opens the door in a democracy to anarchy.
Who you marries falls quite a ways lower than those standards on the "threat to American democracy" scale. If it exists on the same scale at all.
I expect the crazy drunk who is standing in the middle of traffic and holding up a cardboard sign to express such a screed. I don't expect it of a a Supreme Court Justice. Even one as hyperbolic as Antonin Scalia. (Indeed, I'm still waiting for the long-overdue apology from Mr. Scalia who 21 years years go claimed that Henry McCollum was the "perfect example" justifying the death penalty, only to have Mr. McCollum just pardoned for not committed the crime.) So, while I'm not remotely surprised that Justice Scalia had a hissy-fit meltdown over a same-sex marriage decision he didn't agree with, that it's still so angst-ridden even by his standards is impressive, if bizarre.
After all, it's worth noting (and importantly so) that even before this Supreme Court decision, same-sex marriage was actually legal in 37 states throughout the U.S. and, in case it passed Justice Scalia's notice, democracy has handled itself not only just swell, but without a hiccup.
I also completely understand why those with deeply-conservative religious views disagree with the decision. (Though to be clear not all those with religious views, or even all those with Christian views disagree with it. Just mostly this evangelical subset.) If in their interpretation of the Bible the decision goes against what they personally believe God teaches them. it would be surprising if they weren't upset. Just as those who are strictly religious and don't believe one should work on the Sabbath.
But the lack of their understanding how laws and democracy -- and religious belief -- work is what has stood out so profoundly.
Listening to the radio after the decision, I heard the head of a religious organization lamenting his unhappiness in a manner that seemed to leave him lost, and anxiously bewildered. I suspect he spoke for many when he asked, "What about all the people whose religion teaches them that same-sex marriage is wrong???"
It was at moments such as this you wished your radio had one of those great two-way communication buttons, so you could explain. And it is an explanation that seemed pretty basic --
"You're okay. Nothing changes. You are free to believe whatever you want to believe. That's your Constitutional and God-given right. You still have to follow the laws of the United States -- that's what democracy and citizenship is about -- but you can believe whatever you want. If you don't want to marry someone of the same sex, you don't have to. If you don't want to attend a same-sex wedding, you don't have to. If you don't even want to associate with anyone who is married to another person of the same sex, you don't have to. In fact, if you want to believe that everyone who supports the law is going to Hell, you are free to. (This doesn't mean they will, but you are free to believe it.) If you want to move to a country that doesn't permit same-sex marriage, you can -- though the number of countries open to you where you'd likely be happy to live is dwindling. All of North America, nearly all of South America, and much of Western Europe are out.. You should also remember that the very day before the Court's decision, you were living in a country where 74% of the states allowed same-sex marriage, and you seemed to survive that just fine with your religious beliefs. Of course, you could also find another minister of your church whose understanding of the Bible is able to teach you a different interpretation and bring you in comfort and concert with God's word and U.S. law. After all, over the ages, mankind has adjusted so much of what the Bible says to the ever-changing world, and some things we once saw as specific teachings of God, like stoning women and stoning our children, we now see in another light. But even if you don't want to move or change your understanding, you can still believe exactly as you do now. Because religious belief is what is in your heart and your heart alone, and how how others believe and act has no bearing on that at all. It is how you manifest your personal beliefs in your actions towards others in the outside world that define who we are. Your religious belief is your own and will remain your own. It is only your actions in life towards the world that is at one with all mankind. So, don't worry. The Supreme Court ruling doesn't effect at all how you believe."
And what I understand, too, is that when there are Supreme Court decisions such as this, there will always be politicians who pander to the masses in expressing their "outrage." But when you go beyond that and have people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- or not just "like" Ted Cruz, but specifically Ted Cruz -- trying to curry favor with the religious right and write an op-ed in the National Review to express their supposed displeasure with the decisions by proposing a Constitutional Amendment for public voting on Supreme Court Justices, it only serves to prove as explicitly as possible why our Founding Fathers separated the three branches of government and Justices are appointed for life.
Still, as far as "threats to democracy" go, it would be nice to hear how Antonin Scalia chimes in on that one.
Today's Piano Puzzler
This comes for the Piano Puzzler archives of two years ago, with Sherry Mills of Austin, Texas. As I wrote at the time, I found this quiz happily easy to get, both for the hidden song and composer-style. I was surprised that the contestant had as much difficulty as she did, though I do understand it's trickier when you're playing on-the-air, rather than in the comfort of your home.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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