Today's Piano Puzzler
I figured that amid all the party frivolities tonight we'd end the year with a Piano Puzzler, and this week's contestant is Matthew Rhea from Fishers, Indiana. And the song should be easily guessed. The hidden composer likely will fall between a couple of possibilities. And happily I got it. (For basically the same reasons that the contestant says that made him of the correct composer, as well.) A good way to head into the year.
Everything's Coming Up Roses
I've mentioned often in the past how my good friend, writer-director Mick Garris is the son-in-law of Louis Zamperini, the subject of the book and now-movie, Unbroken. His wife, my friend Cynthia, is Louie's daughter, and she and her brother and have been involved with helping promote the film, participating in Q&A's for the film, carrying on for their father who was expecting to do the events, but passed away this past summer,
I was trading emails yesterday with Cynthia, about how incredibly well the movie did in its opening four days, making a huge $46 million. She offhandedly mentioned in return something about the Rose Parade
This surprised me a bit, and I asked if that means she’s participating in some way with the Rose Parade. I thought maybe, possibly she would reply that she was going to be on a float. But even that seemed a stretch. Perhaps she just meant being involved with some events tied in with the parade. Or maybe she was referring to the traffic, which gets really heavy with tourists and locals want to the parade.
Involved in “some way” I had wondered?? Ha! Little did I know.
Cynthia wrote back and mentioned that what she was referring to is she and her brother are going to be…are you ready…the Grand Marshals!!!!
It turns out, you see, that her father was supposed to be the Grand Marshal, but the Rose Parade officials still wanted to honor Louie, and so they asked his kids to be it instead. So, now, of course, I absolutely have to watch. Or at least record it. Thank goodness for the DVR.
I had no idea. But how cool – she’s going to be Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade!
So, if you were planning to watch the Rose Parade on New Year's Day, keep an eye out for the Grand Marshall's. I'm sure that she has been practicing her wave to the crowd.
This is who you should be looking out for. Her brother will be the other one.
A Benny for Your Thoughts
I figure that this is a good way to go out the year on.
I love Jack Benny. He may be my favorite comedian -- he most definitely is high on the list. (And he was my grandmother's favorite comedian. Even as a little kid, I used to get almost as much pleasure watching her enjoy him as I enjoyed him myself.)
I realized that I haven't posted enough Jack Benny material here. Like none. So, it was time that I rectify this massive oversight.
This is a classic Benny sketch from his TV show -- all the more fun because there's almost no dialogue in it, just a master of knowing where the humor is and giving the slightest expression. It's the "Violin Duet" he did with Gisele MacKenzie.
Gisele MacKenzie was a reasonably popular singer of that era, probably best known for appearing on the show, Your Hit Parade. It turns out, she was a pretty fair violinist. And it turns out, as well, that she has fine comic timing, too. Not bad when you're opposite the master...
So, here it is. Just two people doing nothing more than playing a simple tune on the violin. But what a warm pleasure.
NOTE: after posting this, and clicking on it to check, it turns out that -- although the video is still available -- you have to go directly to YouTube to watch it. You can get to it by clicking here.
The Wonder-ful Steve Goodman
For all the holidays songs that were played here and elsewhere during the season, it worth noting too that we're nine days into winter officially, and that brings to mind one of my favorite recordings.
I've written a lot here about Steve Goodman, whose work I love. But wonderful as his songs and recordings are, they still don't give a great sense of how tremendous he was in concert with an audience. I've told the story about being at the concert where he won over the 3,000 maniacal fans of Steve Martin at the Universal Amphitheatre. He just was a joy -- a cherubic, short, enthusiastic bundle of energy and personality.
What I love about this recording is that comes as close to giving a sense of Steve Goodman in concert as any, even though it's just audio. It's recorded living during a concert -- I believe from when he appeared on Austin City Limits, though it was cut from the TV broadcast (though I can't swear it's from that). What happens is that someone in the audience calls out for him to sing, of all things, "Winter Wonderland," a song that has never been part of the Steve Goodman repertoire. But being game for pleasing the audience, he dives in...even though he doesn't know how it goes.
And what he ends up with is not just one of my favorite Steve Goodman recordings, but perhaps my favorite rendition of "Winter Wonderland."
About six weeks ago, I wrote that the Chicago Bears were so dismal this year and were being so massively embarrassed on national television against their rivals the Green Bay Packers that I had sent an email to a friend at halftime that the team should fire the coach before they left the locker room. And I am not someone who tends to call for the head of the coach when a team is doing poorly. (I follow the Cubs and Northwestern sports. Doing poorly comes with the territory.) But the Bears looked clueless even in the pre-season exhibition games.
It only took six additional weeks, but yesterday the team not only fired their coach, but also the General Manager. The Bears historically don't do this, but keep their coaches through the run of their contracts, if not beyond. And I never recall them firing both the coach and GM at the same time.
There was a moment at the press conference yesterday that got a lot of national attention. It was when team president George McCaskey (grandson of former team owner/coach/and player, the legendary George Halas), said with great emphasis how "pissed off" his 91-year-old mother, Virginia McCasky, daughter of Halas, and still the team's principal owner, was.
My favorite exchange was with a friend who's a big Bears fan, though who I refer to as Mr. Sunshine. He sent me a note after the firing that basically said -- and I'm not exaggerating -- that although he Bears just made a significant change that needed to be made, and which he'd been pushing to be made, “We’re doomed.” And if the Bears hadn’t made the change, he absolutely who have moaned, “We’re doomed.” And when running through the list of experienced coaches the Bears could hire, wrote, “We’re doomed.” And if it turned out that they hire an up-and-coming inexperienced coach, for certain, "We're doomed.
By the way, he almost hates the team's quarterback Jay Cutler and wants him gone...
I wrote back: "Methinks your hatred of Jay Cutler has been put in the proper Mr. Sunshine context."
To his credit, he wrote back.
"And we're doomed."
Note: people take their sports seriously in Chicago...
Putting Up Your Dukes
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) is the third top-ranking official in the U.S. House Republican Party, serving as the Majority Whip. He's now in the midst of a controversy about speaking 12 years ago at a conference for an organization headed by former KKK leader David Duke.
I have no idea what Mr. Scalise said at the event, and neither does Mr. Scalise, he says, explaining that he has no records from back then. There's also no video or recording of the speech that's yet surfaced. And he says that he was poorly-staffed at the time, when a state representative, and therefore didn't do much vetting for his speeches, but was willing to speak to pretty much anyone as he tried to build his public profile.
To be fair, that's very possible. To be equally fair, it might be malarkey. And I'm not being facetious when I say I don't know which is true.
Mr. Scalise acknowledges speaking at the conference and knowing who David Duke is -- being a Louisiana politician at the time (or a Louisiana breathing entity), it would have been near-impossible not to know -- just not knowing apparently that the white supremacist organization he was invited to was David Duke's. And that's absolutely possible, too.
Possible and likely, of course, are two different fish. I have a hard time believing that a Louisiana state politician didn't know about an organization led by David Duke. Duke was incredibly high profile at the time, everywhere, but especially in Louisiana. A decade earlier he had been the state's Republican nominee for governor and then had run for the U.S. Senate -- both times getting huge local and even national attention for his Klan involvement. It's certainly possible that Steve Scalise didn't know that the conference was Duke's. Though the Chicago Cubs' minor league baseball affiliate did. Really.
(The Iowa Cubs, a Triple-A team, was in New Orleans at the time and found out that the hotel they were scheduled to stay in was the same one where the Duke organization's conference was being held. The team voted unanimously to move and stay elsewhere. Go, Cubs!! So, minor league baseball players coming from Iowa knew, just not Steve Scalise, a Louisiana politician.)
But even if it's all innocent, and Steve Scalise just gave a campaign speech to what he thought was some random group, there are still problems. He's on record just three years earlier talking to Roll Call, when both he and David Duke were considering running for the same House seat, and Mr. Scalise told the publication that he "embraces many of the same 'conservative' views as Duke, but is far more viable." as a candidate.
To be fair, only a few years later Steve Scalise was highly critical of David Duke -- who by then was in federal prison on a a tax conviction -- and told a New Orleans paper, the CityBusiness, "David Duke is an embarrassment to our district and his message of hate only serves to divide us." To be equally fair, there were reports that Mr. Duke was considering running for Congress in that very same district Steve Scalise was interested in.
But again, I really don't know what happened at that white supremacist conference. I honestly mean it when I say it could have been an innocent confluence. Such things do happen. I suspect that it wasn't innocent, but that's just a guess. I have no idea.
However, it's a pickle for the GOP. Republicans in the House of Representative has to vote soon on who they want their party leaders to be there. And even if Steve Scalise was so utterly naive to not know that he was invited to speak at a racist organization headed by the former GOP candidate for governor and KKK leader who he had been interested in running against for office just three years before -- the congressman is still on record as saying that he shares many of the conservative views of the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
The GOP will do what it wants. Me, I think it's a poor idea having such questions swirling around your party's highest standard bearers. But given the Republican Party's history is riling up their base against the black president, who knows?, they may consider Steve Scalise's credentials a good thing and mark in his favor...
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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