Monthly Archives July 2022

Protest and Patriotism: Kota Ezawa’s “National Anthem” Video

A row of black men clad in black uniforms is down on one knee, their arms interlocked along the sideline of what is obviously a football field. Their heads are bowed, while behind them stands a row of racially varied men in casual, mostly identical civilian clothes, their arms also hooked together as they stare into the near distance.

It commands a kind of tender patriotism that asks: What is it to love one’s country, and, for that matter, to love anything?

Music from deep mournful cellos begins to play as the scene comes to life, though the figures and subsequent scenery from around the stadium are animated, and in a rich palette of colors.

It is impossible not to notice that no words are ever spoken, either from the figures on screen or any narrator. It is left to the cellos to carry the entire audio load.

But the pacing and texture of the sounds are just different enough from the original song being rep...

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Brilliant Songs #30: Tandyn Almer & The Association’s “Along Comes Mary”

It was always the “psychodramas and the traumas” that caught my ear. I must have heard The Association’s “Along Comes Mary” a thousand times in the months after its March, 1966 debut, drawn by its almost hypnotic drive, melodic refrain and multi-syllabic wordplay.

But the words tumbled forth with such breathlessness and clung together so tightly that I never saw fit to peel them apart to ponder and appreciate not only their meaning, but also the verbal dexterity they required of the singer.

Proof positive of the latter would be to stick the lyrics in front of yourself after you’ve finished here and just try to sing along as I did recently with: “And every now and then I spend/My time at rhyme and verse and curse those faults in me.” Or: “And when the masquerade is played and neighbor folks/Make jokes as who is most to blame today.” Good luck!

But over the years, it was always the “psychodramas and the trau...

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A Poem of Thanks, Belated: Ada Limón’s “The Raincoat”

I had the great good fortune of returning to my old stomping grounds in California last month, where I welcomed a grandson into this world and beheld the exquisite pleasure of seeing my daughter assume the role of motherhood. I don’t think I had really anticipated the sublime joy of those moments, though they gave rise to what did become my anticipation of all the wonders—leavened by the pretty much requisite trade-off of occasional heartaches—that lie ahead for her.

Like most all grandparents I have ever heard from, I was about bursting with joy to hold, nuzzle and coo with the little guy before retreating for a spell, returning again, retreating again, all in the knowledge there had been little to no retreat for the parents in this equation.

Right about the time their child takes its first breath, parents can hardly take a breath of their own without concern for their child’s welfare.

For them, atte...

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Life on the Farm: E.B. White’s “Death of a Pig”

Like all city boys (I spent my formative years in Los Angeles), I was enchanted when I finally got out to the radically different milieus of the coastal beaches, the small town countryside, the mountains that became visible around the LA basin when the smog finally lifted in winter, and the deserts that sprawled out seemingly to infinity on the far side of San Bernardino.

The slower pace, the natural grandeur, the different recreations and preoccupations engendered by distance from the urban hubbub.

It was like a new life had been opened to me, featuring new vistas over which my eyes could wander and my heart could soar.

By the time my year and a half or so of farm living was up, we would wind up eating both Beatrice and Abby, an occurrence that had me wondering about the wisdom of ever having given them names.

These feelings only quickened as I graduated from college and a school for the severely handicap...

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Who Would Be on Your Train? A “This Is Us” Tribute

A  beautiful woman—the matriarch in the sprawling, multi-generational television show “This is Us”—is sitting alone, gazing out the window of a luxurious passenger train car. What appears to be a porter—well-dressed and dignified—looms over her shoulder, but before he says anything, she informs him she is waiting for someone.

But then she launches into an impromptu reminiscence on her long-dead father’s love of such trains, and his promise that someday the two of them would journey on one. Whereupon she looks happily up at the porter and invites him to “sit with me.”

Soon, she is asking him to recite a poem they both apparently know, and it becomes obvious they are familiar with each other. Then, courtly as it is possible to be, he asks, “Would you like to go to the bar car with me, Rebecca?”

Now she repeats that she is waiting for someone, and he replies, “I know.”

And he rises, inviting her to f...

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