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 :-)


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, Théodore Géricault:


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:


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.

The Karaoke Guy

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but I’ve been listening to an inordinate amount of 80s music … and loving it all over again. The 1980s was my coming-of-age decade, the era of nostalgia for those of my generation. Malign the 80s all you want for exalting money and materialism as noble pursuits – a la Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” – but the period nevertheless produced boatloads of notable pop culture phenomena and plenty of kick-ass songs. Maybe I’m swimming in nostalgia these days because my birthday is rapidly approaching and my subconscious is mercifully steering me away from the reality of turning 47. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself enthusiastically singing along when Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love” comes on the radio as I’m driving on the Long Island Expressway.

Songs of our youth inevitably carry memories. And a memory came rushing through me recently, prompted by – of course – an 80s song on the radio. That oldies station is getting quite a workout on my car radio these days! The memory is not a major one in my life. It has no significant meaning or any kind. In fact, it’s meaningless. But it is vivid. And fun. And offers a tiny, fleeting glimpse of my youthful years when I was boy-crazy, flirty, and spent a lot of time in the drinking establishments of my native Queens. A little side note, Queens is the hardest boozing borough of the city of New York. This is a 100% true statement and it’s not open to debate ;-)

So here’s the scene. It was 1989. I was 21 years old. Me and my then-boyfriend (who many years later became my husband, and then my ex-husband) were out with a gaggle of friends at a bar in Kew Gardens, Queens for karaoke night. I was probably wearing some skimpy tank top and had my hair pouffed out as big as I could get it. My stomach was filling up with pints of Guinness, and my boyfriend’s loudmouth buddy was ordering shots of Jägermeister for the group that no one ever requested but were forced to drink at gunpoint, figuratively speaking. This was not some fancy-schmancy Manhattan martini place full of suits, mind you. This was an old-school, working class joint that had been there forever – a joint that had played host to generations of electricians, mechanics, and off-duty firemen, boys who worked in their fathers’ heating and air conditioning businesses and construction companies. That kind of joint. A place where they laugh at you if you ask for a glass of chardonnay.

The Bartender, by Toulouse-Lautrec:


So the next karaoke singer stepped up to the microphone. He was super cute, maybe 24 or 25. He had brown hair and green eyes (my favorite combination) and wore jeans and one of those long-sleeved thermal shirts, dark blue. Before the music recording began, he pushed up his sleeves to reveal a tattooed arm. He was muscular, but not a meathead. And he had an unlit cigarette wedged behind his ear. It’s amazing the minuscule details one can remember. And I remember that cigarette.

And then it began. Cute green-eyed Queens guy launched into his rendition of Billy Idol’s 1982 hit “White Wedding” . . . and HE. WAS. AWESOME. Friends, you must understand, this guy rocked the house. From the moment the lyrics “Hey little sister what have you done?” flowed through his voice, every girl in the place, myself included, just stood there with our mouths open. Whoa. This guy.  After an hour of awful karaoke singers, most of whom were drunk and kept messing up the lyrics, this guy got up there and was killin’ it. He was exciting. He was a potential American Idol finalist in an age before American Idol even existed. And it kept getting better. When he got to the part of “Start agaaaiiiiinn!!”, cute guy nailed it, his voice on pitch and deep and smooth with just the right amount of rough rock and roll edges. He sang that song, dare I say, better than Billy Idol.

When the song was over, cute guy received a thunderous round of cheers and applause from the inebriated bar crowd. He flashed a smile and returned oh-so-casually to his group of friends. He snatched that cigarette from his ear and lit up. Mission accomplished.

Interior of a Tavern, by Peder Severin Kroyer:


In case any of you are wondering if I sang karaoke that night, the answer is yes. Another girl and I got up there together, because we were too chicken to go solo, and performed Blondie’s “Call Me”. It was an abomination. Cute guy was watching .. and no, he never called me. Only in my dreams ;-)

A Music Monday inspired by a Guinness-fueled karaoke night in Queens from 26 years ago. Why not? Music acts as a marker of memories, both profound and prosaic. Actually, the music memories that aren’t sappy and sentimental or wrapped up in mawkish emotion are rich and intense in their own way. I wonder what happened to Mr. White Wedding? Here’s Billy Idol … trying to sound as good as the guy from Kew Gardens :lol:


Well hey there gang. How’s everyone doing? I’m enjoying a couple of days off from art modeling after a busy few weeks. Gotta say, it’s quite nice to sleep late, catch up on reading, tend to my houseplants, and get started on spring cleaning. Rather than bore you with the details of propagating succulents from stem cuttings (yes, I love it!) I’ll just subject you to more Led Zeppelin, because as loyal Museworthy readers it’s mandatory that you indulge my love for the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Just kidding, it’s not mandatory. But it is recommended ;-)

With spring rolling along nicely, summer is around the bend. This groovy song by Zep has always mad me think of warm, unhurried summer evenings, with bare feet in the grass, the fragrance of night blooming jasmine in the air, and stars in the clear night sky above. From the album Led Zeppelin III, this is “Tangerine” for Music Monday. Enjoy, and I’ll catch you soon!


Nude Blond Woman with Tangerines by Felix Vallotton, 1913:


A Toast to Verdi

The classical music “flash mob” fad has really grown on me. You can find videos all over YouTube of cheerful cellists, violinists and the like bursting into performance in public places to the delight of commuters and pedestrians. The scenes can truly lift your spirits.

I came across this video that I thought would make a charming Music Monday. Canadian opera singer Jonathan Estabrooks organized and directed this “flash mob” at an upscale New York City event. During the cocktail hour, unsuspecting guests were treated to a spontaneous performance of the merry “Drinking Song” from Verdi’s La Traviata by incognito opera singers who had been blending in with the crowd. Good fun. Raise a glass and enjoy!


A splendid portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini. Verdi sat for this piece reluctantly, but both artist and sitter were quite pleased with the results. Pastel on cardboard, 1886:


Building Blocks

Life as a born-during-the-Johnson-administration 46 year old in a millennial-driven culture felt a little less alienating this week when the rock music world celebrated the 40th anniversary of Physical Graffiti. Led Zeppelin’s epic double album was released on February 24th back in 1975 and can now be called, officially, “middle-aged”. We’re in good company, yes! I like it :-)

Since I’ve already opined extensively about Zeppelin on this blog, I’ll spare my readers another fawning monologue and highlight instead the album cover for Physical Graffiti. But first I want to mention that I love the MP3 phenomenon as much as anybody. For all us music lovers it’s been, truly, a revolution. But if we lost anything of value with the death of LPs (the need for ample upright storage space not among them) it’s the art and design of the album cover. Particularly the rock album cover. Can you envision them? I’m sure you can. The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. Sure there are covers to CD releases today, but it’s not quite the same.

Peter Corriston designed the iconic cover for Physical Graffiti which is instantly identifiable to Zeppelin fans:


The source for this image is a block in New York City’s East Village, building street numbers 96 and 98 on St. Mark’s Place. My town has provided countless settings and images that have made their way into popular culture, and it always makes me proud. From the Empire State Building to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights, in music and television and movies, New York City is everywhere … and don’t you forget it! Here are the Physical Graffiti apartments:


The top floor of the building was cropped out and the window spaces on the album were cut out and inserted with liner notes and illustrations. You can read more about the Physical Graffiti album cover at this page.

It looks like I’ve just done a Music Monday at midnight on Saturday. So I might as well go the whole nine yards and conclude with actual music. But what to choose from this magnificently rich, confusing, strange, uninhibited double album? One on which you can detect the wear and tear in Robert Plant’s voice, and savor Jimmy Page falling obsessively in love with his guitar? No we won’t do the masterpiece “Kashmir”, but an acoustic ditty that was recorded outdoors in the garden at Mick Jagger’s house. From Physical Graffiti, this is “Black Country Woman”.


Have a great weekend, friends! Be back soon. Until then, peace ..