The Garden, 1986

Have you ever sat third row/center at a concert? I did, once. When you’re accustomed to seeing your favorite bands from the nosebleed seats a football field-length away from the action, the third row is an experience like nothing else. Exactly how my friend Faby and I managed to snag such prime seats for the Prince concert at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1986, I honestly can’t recall. But I can tell you it wasn’t through the box officeūüėČ

How can I describe that night seeing Prince perform live? Mesmerizing. Groovy sounds and glittering lights. A rush of adrenaline and shocks of electricity. Shiny instruments, colored smoke, thumping rhythms and sumptuous vocals. Prince’s female bandmates riffing, soloing, being utter badasses. Satin and lace. Funk and psychedelic. A legendary arena packed to the brim with the most diverse crowd of concert-goers I’ve ever seen; 15 year olds and 40 year olds, a Brooklyn Italian guy over here, a Bronx Puerto Rican woman over there. A Manhattan East Side professional, and a gaggle of girls from Long Island. Good kids and troublemakers. City and suburban. Screaming, perspiring, standing on seats and singing along with the lyrics. Prince was, in a word, spellbinding. ¬†A 5’2″ dynamo of talent, charisma, and originality.¬†

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But allow me to share the single most unforgettable detail of that night, one that I can easily replay in my mind like five frames of a film reel because, when you’re 18 years old, this kind of thing burns an indelible imprint in your memory, along with the thrills and chills that accompany it. Prince was dancing at edge of the stage. Faby and I, like I mentioned before, were in the third row. Prince was right there … so damn close it felt like if I had stood on the back of my chair I could launch right into him with one full throttle leap. The fabric of his jacket, the scarves, boots … right there .. right in front us. And then, on the downbeat of the music, he froze for two seconds .. and made eye-contact with me .. and smiled … and … WINKED!!!!! Yes!!! YES HE DID!! Faby turned to me, her mouth wide open, and the teenage girl-screams came forth in crazy shrieks. “Prince winked at you!!! Did you see that??!! Oh my God!!!!!!!”.¬†Thirty years later I can still it, vividly¬†– Prince’s big brown eye looking directly into mine. Annnnndd … W I N K !!!!! It’s my giddy, cherished memory, and no one can take it away from me.

Lest you think that Prince was an indiscriminate winker, I was wearing a purple halter top with my boobs half hanging out, and huge dangly earrings, and 25 bracelets going up my forearm, and waving my hands in the air and blowing him overt kisses all night long. So I’m fairly comfortable saying that I :ahem: got his attention. Mission: accomplishedūüėČ

PrinceWendy

When the news broke of Prince’s death, my Mom sent me a text: “Awful news about Prince. I know you loved him from the very beginning”. Mom is right, because “very beginning” for fans like me means pre-Purple Rain. When his fame blew up and hit the mainstream, we weren’t the least bit surprised. We had recognized his talents.

In the midst of all the “grief porn” flooding the Internet, and the pretentious “thinkpieces” being penned by “cultural critics” (or whatever we’re supposed to call these people) let’s have a different take and consider the impressive state of Prince’s life when he left us at the age of 57. He died having the staunch respect and admiration of his musical peers and colleagues. He died having the loyalty of his faithful, devoted fans. He died having found spiritual enlightenment and religious awakening. And, after the epic legal battle he waged against his record company Warner Bros, he died owning his own masters – no small feat in the notoriously rapacious music business. Although fiercely private, Prince revealed himself in the way all true artists do – through his art. Over the course of his long career, we witnessed him evolve from a raunchy, seductive lothario to a teetotaling Jehovah’s Witness, metamorphosing through the personal stages of his life with the same mastery and imagination with which he navigated all styles of music. And he remained, always, a consummate musician, prolific producer, arranger, performer and songwriter. Influential. Inventive. Enigmatic. Often mystifying. We know we won’t see the likes of Prince anytime soon, if ever.

Special condolences should be expressed, by all Prince fans, to the people in and around the Minneapolis area. They lost a fellow Minnesotan, a native son, a neighbor, a supporter of the community and its music scene. When celebrities reach Prince’s level of fame and success, many of them move to a mansion in Beverly Hills, a beach house in Malibu, or a penthouse in New York. But Prince stayed right where he came from.

And no there’s nothing wrong with your tablet or your computer …. this blog post is written in purple font. Your eyes don’t deceive you!¬†Now you probably think it isn’t possible to “out-cool” Lenny Kravitz, but here’s Prince doing just that. (Sorry Lenny). Watch him shred at 4:47. This is Music Monday. Rest in Peace, purple one … and thanks for the winkūüėČ

Rock Model

I rarely have the opportunity to merge the topic of art modeling with a Music Monday post. Actually, I don’t think it’s ever happened. But a little art world item that came up last week fits the bill perfectly, and I couldn’t resist sharing it here. Rock icon and punk pioneer Iggy Pop posed nude for a life drawing class¬†at the New York Academy of Art.¬†Yes.. Iggy Pop. And the drawings produced during that session will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum¬†in the fall. I got such a kick out of the story, and my initial reaction was, “Yeah! You go Iggy!!” Then, I was completely won over when Iggy posted this perfectly succinct tweet to his Twitter account:

Going fully nude isn’t exactly a daring stretch for Iggy Pop since he hasn’t worn a shirt since … 1972? And we all know that flamboyant shirtless rock stars possess the requisite exhibitionist tendencies involved in nude art modeling. Iggy Pop is 68 years old now. After a lifetime in rock and roll, his body has endured much “wear and tear”, but that’s just fine for artists. Remember, models for art classes are life¬†models – individuals who bring their lives, through their physicality and presence, to others who seek to create, explore, and glorify their fellow human beings. Iggy Pop has experienced a lot over many decades. It took him 68 years to make it to “art model”. Better late than never. Welcome to the club, ¬†Iggy:-)

So you want some more Iggy? Ok, I’ll give you some more Iggy … that is James Osterberg from Muskegon, Michigan. Here he is in his younger and more flexible days, with The Stooges. This is “Hey, Peter”:

Goodbye Bowie

Never imagined having to post something like this for Music Monday. But David Bowie has left us. He was only 69. Sitting here at 2:30 in the morning, I’m at a loss for words. It seems he was battling cancer for many months and kept it a secret. The words “icon” and “legend” are thrown around indiscriminately these days, but in Bowie’s case they are truly applicable. I’ve been a Bowie fan for as long as I can remember. To blend rock and roll, art, and theater – and do it effectively – is not an undertaking for the mediocre or the uninspired. David Bowie could do it. Personally, I liked Bowie the best when he presented himself as a straight-up singer and rocker, and I chose our video accordingly. He really had a great voice. And a great presence. Also, David Bowie was an art aficionado and collector. Here is an interview with him in which he discusses his art tastes and passions.

Rest in Peace David.

Bring the Children

I don’t know if any of you have ever slept for 14 straight hours, but I highly recommend it. ¬†Yes, that’s what I did when came home from Manhattan on Saturday – my last day in the chaotic city until the new year. Weeks of jam-packed subways, throngs of tourists, and drunken Santa Clauses can take their toll. Feeling completely frazzled and weary from commuting and modeling , I got into bed at 7:00 PM and stayed there until 9:00 the next morning. Gotta say, it was awesome:-)

So now I can enjoy the Christmas break, yay! I look forward to holiday fun, activities at church, and hopefully catching up on some reading. I hope you all have wonderful plans as well.

I’m posting a video for Music Monday that I meant to post a few weeks ago, but I believe it got bumped for Bruno Mars! But I didn’t forget about this one. It’s delightful. Some New York City second graders were brought to Carnegie Hall for a surprise concert, and their reactions are priceless. Enjoy, my friends!

Past Meets Present

Start with a clever idea, execute it with skill and creativity, and you can produce something that is really great fun. The folks at Nerd Fest UK did just that with the video mashup we have for Music Monday. One of the most commercially successful music singles released last year was a song called “Uptown Funk” by British music producer Mark Ronson and American singer/performer Bruno Mars. An infectiously catchy and danceable track, “Uptown Funk” was also critically acclaimed for its fun-loving “throwback” quality. For many – especially those of us who are a lot older than the millenials! – it was reminiscent of old-school funk and early Prince recordings.¬†Bruno Mars is one of the truly talented performers among the current crop of pop artists. He’s been praised for his extraordinary vocal ability and “retro” style of showmanship.

So in this video, the Nerd Fest people paired “Uptown Funk” with dancing clips from movie musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly figure prominently of course, but there’s also Judy Garland, James Cagney, Ann Miller, the Nicholas Brothers, Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Temple and a host of others. If you grew up watching those films like I did, you will delight in this video. The editing is mind-blowlingly perfect. The creators have stated that they neither sped up nor slowed down any of the clips, so the synchronizing is genuine and spot on. It’s a real trip to see old Hollywood legends hoofing it to a contemporary song from 2014. The Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson video can be viewed at this link.

Just some of my favorite details: Ginger’s dress at 2:10, Astaire stepping toward his cane at 3:28, Eleanor Powell’s mosh pit at 4:22, and the Berry Brothers do a leap off a balcony into splits, at 4:30, that is one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen. If I did that my leg would be broken in three places! Here’s the mashup. Fabulously well done … enjoy!:-)

Mom at 80

Eighty years ago today, a baby girl was born in upper Manhattan to two Armenian immigrants. It was their first child in their adopted country, and they named her Elaine. She is my Mommy:-)

You don’t get to 80 years of age without experiencing your share of triumphs and hardships, joys and travails, and forging rich meaningful relationships. Mom is beloved and adored by her family and friends, as she should be. It is rare to know a person of such warmth, kindness, generosity, and loyalty. And to have her as your mother is a blessing beyond words.

Since Mom’s birthday falls on a Monday this year, our Music Monday post is all hers. I chose a song that reflects Mom’s eternally hopeful spirit, her persistent wish for the happiness and well-being of her family, her friends, and her community. Mom doesn’t give up. Never has, and never will. And there’s no better person to sing this song than one of Mom’s idols, the one and only Elvis Presley. Though he is frozen in the minds of many as the hip-shaking rock-and-roller on the Ed Sullivan Show, many people forget what a truly expressive vocalist he was. He could bring the goosebumps with the best of them. A magnificently powerful performer. For you Mom … Happy birthday. Love you:-)

Emperor

Art and the world – the turbulent, disillusioning world – are frequently at odds with each other. Art seeks to convey beauty, or some variant thereof. But the world too often has other plans and instead obscures the beauty with violence, despair, and the fear and hopelessness of terrorized people. Look no further than the current events of today; the heartbreaking photos of desperate migrants and refugee children drowning during passage to safer lands. So what is the inspired artist to do when confronted with horror and chaos? Well, they can imitate life as art often does, something Picasso exemplified masterfully with Guernica. Or they can defiantly push forth with sheer beauty in spite of political and personal turbulence.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like to live in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Beethoven was a firsthand witness to much of it, and the great composer found himself and his art roped into the tempestuous atmosphere, unwittingly or otherwise. Like all future tyrants, Napoleon rose to power as a “liberator”; a revolutionary who sought to demolish the aristocracy’s control over the common man and secure rights for all citizens in an egalitarian ideal. An appealing message to be sure. And to the authority-hating Beethoven, who resented class distinctions and roundly rejected the idea that any grown man should bow to another, Napoleon’s message resonated deeply as it did for so many.

Mounted Trumpeters of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard,¬†1814,¬†Th√©odore G√©ricault:

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But Beethoven eventually learned a lesson with regard to charismatic political leaders and their promises. After completion of his monumental and miraculous Third Symphony, which he had named the “Bonaparte” in honor of Napoleon, Beethoven was informed that the supposed liberator Napoleon had now declared himself “Emperor” of France. Emperor. Oh dear. Enraged with feelings of betrayal by a figure he had respected and admired, the composer angrily scratched out the dedication on his manuscript’s title page. Beethoven refused to honor with his music a man he now realized “will become a tyrant like all the others” and “think himself superior to all men!”. In a principled, albeit impulsive, gesture Beethoven changed the Bonaparte to “Eroica”. But that was not the end of Beethoven’s irritations with the French megalomaniac.

Napoleon Receiving the Keys of Vienna, by Anne-Louis Girodet:

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In the spring of 1809, after Austria had declared war on France, Napoleon’s army laid siege to Vienna. While many had fled before it was too late, Beethoven remained in the city. With his house in the direct line of artillery fire, he relocated to his brother’s house which unfortunately didn’t provide the relief he had hoped, as there was no real escaping the onslaught of Napoleon’s military forces. Holed up in the cellar, the 39 year-old Beethoven was determined to finish composing his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major. But the circumstances were harrowing. This was a man who was already enduring the traumatic process of going deaf, with relentless buzzing and ringing and diminished auditory capacity. For a composer of all people, this is pure hell. Now he was being assaulted by the ear-splitting sounds of cannon fire day and night. Beethoven pressed pillows against his ears to block out the din, crouched in corners of the room in anguish, terrified that his already delicate and deteriorating ear drums would be blasted into dead silence .. permanently. And yet somehow, remarkably and incredibly, during and after that war-ravaged spring in Vienna, Beethoven did what brilliant and persevering artists do: he created his work. And boy, was it a doozy. His fifth and final piano concerto. Arguably his best. Although it has come to be called the “Emperor Concerto” that moniker was not Beethoven’s doing. It’s actually something of a cruel irony that the piece has been named as such, given Beethoven’s feelings about the matter.

The death mask of Napoleon. It was cast in May of 1821, two days after Napoleon died while in exile on the island of St. Helena. For a man of such an egomaniacal nature it’s unusual that he didn’t like to sit for portraits. Virtually all of the portrait paintings of Napoleon were done from secondhand accounts with some imagination thrown in. The man in this mask with the chiseled features is the most accurate representation of what Napoleon really looked like. Well, in death at least.

Death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte, 1821

And now, on our Music Monday, the beloved and exquisite 2nd movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. I selected a recording with two acclaimed greats of classical music: conductor Bernard Haitink and pianist Claudio Arrau. This is the creation Beethoven fought for tooth and nail during that miserable, besieged time, amid shelling, explosions, and his busted ears hanging on for dear life. In a melodic, spiritual dream of pathos and joy, art’s transcendent beauty emerges from a deafening war zone. Napoleon may have been defeated at Waterloo, but he was truly “conquered” by Beethoven. God bless this man.