Ashes to ashes, airplanes to spread them, Damon Runyon and silver bells; Wrights flew on December 17, on December 18 an airplane spread Damon Runyon’s ashes (not the same year)

December 18, 2016

Spent a day with my aging father-in-law last week. Conversation is difficult, but memories always flow. We watched the movie version of “Guys and Dolls,” with Sinatra and Brando, and Stubby Kaye’s get-up-and-sing version of “Sit Down! You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

He was happy to see the thing again, though in the first few minutes he said he didn’t think he’d ever seen the film. My fondness for the piece, and for Damon Runyon’s stories, goes back (too many) decades to a production of the play by the Utah Valley Opera Society. They hired our high school drama director, David Larson, to direct. On a lark I auditioned, telling them I couldn’t really sing or dance, and ended up with a lot of lines in a couple of supporting roles, and singing and dancing both in the chorus.

When my father-in-law joined in the movie chorus of “Fugue for Tinhorns,” I knew we had a good couple of hours. We laughed, watched, reminisced, and sang along.

Damon Runyon could tell stories, true stories about real people. Sometimes the names were changed to protect the innocent, or the guilty; sometimes the real names were more entertaining than the fictional names Runyon invented.

Some time ago I stumbled across the story of Runyon’s son, Damon Runyon, Jr., using an early airplane to spread the playwright’s ashes. It’s a story Runyon would have appreciated. It’s appropriate for the day after the anniversary of the Wrights’ first flight; December 18 is the anniversary of the event.

On December 17, Orville and Wilbur Wright got their heavier-than-air flying contraption to actually fly with motor driving it along.

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 1...

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip. Photo from Wikipedia

On December 18, Damon Runyon, Jr., got Eddie Rickenbacker to fly over Broadway to scatter the ashes of his father, Damon Runyon.

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 9...

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, American ace, standing up in his Spad plane. Near Rembercourt, France. Photo from Wikipedia. This photo dates near World War I; Rickenbacker remained a hero for a couple of decades. In 1946, he flew a DC-3 over New York City, and illegally scattered the ashes of raconteur Damon Runyon over his beloved Broadwary.

Not exactly the next day. 43 years and one day apart.  The Wrights first flew in 1903; Runyon died in 1946.

Today in Literature, for December 18:

On this day in 1946 Damon Runyon’s ashes were scattered over Broadway by his son, in a plane flown by Eddie Rickenbacker. Runyon was born in Manhattan, Kansas; he arrived at the bigger apple at the age of thirty, to be a sportswriter and to try out at Mindy’s and the Stork Club and any betting window available his crap-shoot worldview: “All of life is six to five against.” Broadway became his special beat, and in story collections like Guys and Dolls he developed the colorful characters — Harry the Horse, the Lemon Drop Kid, Last Card Louie — and the gangster patois that would swept America throughout the thirties and forties.

A lot of history packed in there.  Runyon’s early reportorial career included a lot of that history — he wrote the lead story for United Press on the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, for one example.  Runyon found a uniquely American vein of literary ore on Broadway in New York City, and in the ne’er-do-wells, swells, tarts and reformers who flocked to the City that Never Sleeps to seek fame, or fortune, or swindle that fortune from someone else.

As a reporter and essayist, he smoked a lot.  Throat cancer robbed him, first of his voice, then his life at 56.

Runyon’s ashes were spread illegally over Broadway, from a DC-3 piloted by Rickenbacker. Runyon would have liked that.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Factoids of history:

  • Twenty movies got crafted from Runyon stories, including “The Lemon Drop Kid” — in two versions, 1934 and 1951. Appropriate to the Christmas season, the 1951 version introduced the song, “Silver Bells” composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (Great explanation of the movie, and song, here.)
  • Runyon got fame first as a sports writer.  He was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.
  • According to Wikipedia, Jerry Lewis and others owe a great debt to Damon Runyon:  “The first ever telethon was hosted by Milton Berle in 1949 to raise funds for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.”
  • One might salivate over the varied fare offered in the theaters of Broadway in 1946, Runyon’s final year, “Annie, Get Your Gun” through Shakespeare, and everything in between and on either side
  • Runyon and H. L. Mencken both covered the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the accused (then convicted) kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh’s baby son
  • Yes, of course, “Guys and Dolls.” Frank Loesser created it, but not of whole cloth, but from the stories of Damon Runyon; it is a masterpiece, perhaps in several realms.  In homage to Runyon, Adam Gopnik wrote:

    Just as Chandler fans must be grateful for Bogart, Runyon fans have to be perpetually happy that the pure idea of Runyon, almost independent of his actual writings, produced the best of all New York musicals: Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls,” which made its début in 1950 and is just now reopening on Broadway in a lavish and energetic new production. But then “Guys and Dolls” is so good that it can triumph over amateur players and high-school longueurs and could probably be a hit put on by a company of trained dolphins in checked suits with a chorus of girl penguins.

    Your author here, Dear Reader, was once one of those trained dolphins. It was magnificent.

“Silver Bells,” from “The Lemon Drop Kid,” with William Frawley, Virginia Maxwell and Bob Hope (1951 version):

More:

A view of New York City in 1946:

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975)

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) “The Artist’s Show, Washington Square,” painted in 1946

Times Square, showing part of Broadway, in November 1946, from the magnificent archives of Life Magazine:

Brownout Time Square.November 1946.© Time Inc.Herbert Gehr - See more at: http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/29/old-photos-times-square-through-the-years/#sthash.ru9W0F9h.dpuf

Brownout Time Square.November 1946.© Time Inc.Herbert Gehr – See more at: http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/29/old-photos-times-square-through-the-years/#sthash.ru9W0F9h.dpuf

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Beethoven’s birthday and baptism, and accident on the way to the concert hall

December 18, 2016

Beethoven takes an unplanned swim in his rush to the concert hall in Google's Doodle honoring the composer's 245th year. Image from Google, via Washington Post

Beethoven takes an unplanned swim in his rush to the concert hall in Google’s Doodle honoring the composer’s 245th year, 2015. Image from Google, via Washington Post.

Maybe we should say “happy baptism.” The infant Ludwig von Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770; he was born the previous day, perhaps (some historians disagree). In 2016, Beethoven is 246. No longer alive, of course.

But the point is, Google honored Beethoven with an interactive Google Doodle in 2015, one of the best they’ve ever done. The Doodle features the composer finishing scores and heading to the concert hall — with a series of mishaps along the way that scatter his musical scores and leaves them torn up, speared and generally out of order.

Then you, Dear Reader, get a chance to re-arrange the score in order. When you do that, it plays. Finally Beethoven gets to the concert hall.

It’s a great learning device, really. Can Google do this for history? Can we figure out a way to create these for use in our classrooms?

Here is the intro to the piece (I’m not skilled enough to embed the entire quiz). Click to Google for the entire piece, with the quizzes.

Now that you’ve finished the quizzes, relax for 42 minutes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, The Pastorale, performed by the Bremen symphonie, directed by Paavo Jarvi.

Information:

Beethoven: Symphony No.6 in F, “Pastorale”, Op.68
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Paavo Jarvi, dir.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience. Just teaching history requires patience.

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Down in the River to Pray, with Longhorn Tubas

November 30, 2016

I love low brass.

An Ohio friend alerted my wife to this piece from the University of Texas Tuba/Euphonium Studio:

Nice production of an old folk/gospel tune, “Down in the River to Pray.” (Considerably different from the Allison Krauss “O, Brother Where Art Thou” version, no?)

Did they record this as a recruiting tool? Or just for the beauty of it?

Credits:

The University of Texas Tuba/Euphonium Studio
Charles Villarrubia, Associate Professor Tuba/Euphonium

Euphonium
Alex Avila
Jose Flores
Luke Gall
Eric Gonzales
Fabian Vargas

Tuba
John Flores
Clay Garrett (soloist)
Keith Packman
Danny Trumble
Ben Vasko
T.J. West

Taylor Rudd, Director of Photography
Mario Mattei, Camera Operator
Jacob Ryan Hamilton, Aerial Photography
Joshua Gall, Recording Engineer
Ani Villarrubia, Production Assistant

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UTTubaEuph/

Tip of the old scrub brush to Donna Hughes and Kathryn Knowles, and their decades-old, interstate friendship.


October 31, we remember the sinking of the Reuben James

October 31, 2016

U.S.S. Reuben James (D-245) on the Hudson River in April 1939, over two years before she was sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic.

U.S.S. Reuben James (DD-245) on the Hudson River in April 1939, over two years before she was sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic. Photo from the Ted Stone Collection, Marines Museum, Newport News, Virginia, via Wikipedia

It was a tragedy in 1941, but before the U.S. could develop a serious policy response to Germany’s action, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.  Within a week after that, our policy towards Germany was set by Germany’s declaration of war on the U.S.

It’s important history for a couple of reasons.

  • The sinking was part of the massive, years-long Battle of the Atlantic, which the Allies won only by building ships faster than Germany could sink them.  Had the Allies lost this battle, the war would have been lost, too.
  • While the USS Reuben James was a Navy destroyer, the key weapons of the Battle of the Atlantic were Merchant Marine cargo ships, carrying goods and arms to Britain and other Allied nations.  “Civilians” played a huge role in World War II, supplying the soldiers, armies, navies and air forces.
  • Recently, politicians took to making claims that the U.S. declared war on Germany without any hostile action having passed between them, without Germany having perpetrated any hostilities toward the U.S.  Look at the dates, it’s not so.
  • Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the event, giving us a touchstone to remember.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub covered the event with longer, detailed articles in past years, including these, which you should see especially if you are a student in a history class or a teacher of one:

Europe has changed. The world has changed.  The U.S. has changed.  War has changed.  We should remember, especially those people who died defending the merchants who defended the idea of the Four Freedoms.

Where did the ship get its name? From a Barbary War hero:

Reuben James was born in Delaware, Ohio about 1776. He joined the U.S. Navy and served on various ships, including the frigate USS CONSTELLATION. It was during the infamous Barbary Wars that the American frigate PHILADELPHIA was captured by the Barbary pirates. Having run aground in the pirate capital of Tripoli on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the crew had to abandon ship and formulate a plan of attack. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, along with a group of volunteers which included Boatswain’s Mate Reuben James, entered Tripoli harbor under the cover of darkness in an attempt to set the PHILADELPHIA to the torch so that the pirates could not make use of her.

The American volunteers boarded the PHILADELPHIA on 16 February 1804 and were met by a group of the savage Barbary pirates who were guarding their prize. A furious battle ensued, and during the bloody chaos of hand-to-hand combat, a villanous pirate made ready to end the life of Lieutenant Decatur. Reuben James, with both of his hands already wounded, in an act of selfless dedication and courage did throw his hand before the pirate’s cleaving blade! Willing to give his life in defense of his captain, Reuben James took the blow from the sword!

Having proved to the world over the courage and dedication of United States Sailors, Reuben James also hammered home the fact that US Sailors are undefeatable by not only surviving, but recovering from his wounds and continuing his career in the U.S. Navy! After spending many more years with Decatur, James was forced to retire in January 1836 because of declining health brought on because of past wounds. He died on 3 December 1838 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C.

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 


A suitable hymn to new beginnings from Michael Hunter Ochs

October 5, 2016

In the spirit of

In the spirit of “Playing for Change,” Jewish cantors and congregations from around the world cooperated to produce the 92nd Street Y’s version of “A New Year,” a song by Michael Hunter Ochs. Pictured is Cantor Julia Cadrain, Central Synagogue, New York City.

New York’s arts-active 92nd Street Y produced a fine little video of several Jewish congregations and cantors from around the world collaborating on a tune for Rosh Hashana.

“A New Year” would be a suitable tune for any congregation that sings, I think, regardless faith. While the video is for the new Jewish year 5777, no reason it can’t be adopted by any group needing a song to see in 2017, or a new liturgical year, or a new fiscal year.

In fact, it would do the nation good were Congress to walk out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and sing this song at the start of every Fiscal Year, on October 1 (not too late for this year, Paul Ryan . . .).

Details about the film from the YouTube site:

Published on Sep 28, 2016

Communities around the world join together in song to celebrate…A New Year. #NewYearPrayer#RoshHashanah2016#RoshHashahah

Download the lyrics and the sheet music here: http://www.92y.org/…/Bronfman/A-New… Special thanks to Michael Hunter Ochs for writing such a beautiful song! http://www.ochsongs.com/bio/

Subscribe for more videos like this: http://bit.ly/1GpwawV

Your support helps us keep our content free for all. Donate now: http://www.92y.org/donatenow?utm_sour…

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On Demand: http://www.92yondemand.org

(Note: I get a “runtime error” when I try to link to the sheet music; I hope you have better luck.)


Top Ten Labor Day songs? What would you add to this list?

September 5, 2016

At Bill Moyers’s site the blog features an historic post from Peter Rothberg, associate editor at The Nation, feature his admittedly-too-exclusive Top Ten Labor Day songs.

It’s a good list, but as he wrote in the introduction, there are many others. In comments, give us your favorites not listed here — with a YouTube link if you have one.

Top Ten Labor Day Songs

1. Pete Seeger, Solidarity Forever

2. Sweet Honey in the Rock, More Than a Paycheck

3. The Clash, Career Opportunities

4. Tennessee Ernie Ford, Sixteen Tons

5. Judy Collins, Bread and Roses

6. Dolly Parton, 9 to 5

7. Woody Guthrie, Union Burying Ground

8. Phil Ochs, The Ballad of Joe Hill

9. Hazel Dickens, Fire in the Hole

10. Gil Scott-Heron, Three Miles Down

Bonus Track #1: The Kinks, Get Back in Line

Bonus Track #2: Paul Robeson, Joe Hill

 


What does music do to our brains, or did Einstein really know what he was doing?

August 16, 2016

Einstein playing his violin in 1931, aboard the S.S. Belgenland, travelling from New York to San Diego. Vintage Everyday image.

Einstein playing his violin in 1931, aboard the S.S. Belgenland, travelling from New York to San Diego. Vintage Everyday image. Einstein claimed to get great joy from his violin. Did it also help his physics work?

Albert Einstein played a mean violin. I don’t think any recordings exist, but some say he was good enough to have earned a slot in a decent symphony.

Albert Schweitzer made money to support his work for health in Africa by offering organ recitals.

Thomas Edison liked to hire men in his lab who played instruments. In the midst of high pressure experimentation, they would often take a break as a group, and do a performance just for themselves.

People who make music often claim they do it to relax, but there may be more than mere relaxation going on when we play an instrument or sing. It’s possible making music makes us better at doing other things, too.

Should we be surprised this showed up from the World Economic Forum?

It’s an article by Assal Habibi who is a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, at the website of WEF, explaining where his group is going to find out how music training affects the way we think and work.

Over the past two decades, several investigators have reported differences in the brain and behavior of musicians compared to nonmusicians.

Music training has been found to be related to better language and mathematical skills, higher IQ and overall greater academic achievement. Also, differences between musicians and nonmusicians have been found in areas of the brain related to hearing and movement, among others.

However, the interpretation of the findings remains unclear. For example, the differences reported between adult musicians and nonmusicians might be due to long-term intensive training or might result primarily from inherent biological factors, such as genetic makeup.

Or, as with many aspects of the nature-versus-nurture debate, the differences may well result from contributions of both environmental and biological factors.

One way to better understand the effects of music training on child development would be to study children before they start any music training and follow them systematically after, to see how their brain and behavior change in relation to their training.

It would involve including a comparison group, as all children change with age. The ideal comparison group would be children who participate in equally socially interactive but nonmusical training, such as sports. Follow-up assessments after their training would reveal how each group changes over time.

Go take a look.

If you’re a teacher, ask whether you should be incorporating more music into your social studies, language or science classes. If you’re a manager or employer, ask whether you should be encouraging your team members to find musical outlets.

If you’re just curious, ask whether you wouldn’t be better off to volunteer in a local choir or band.

Maybe we should all dance to beats of different drummers, and violinsts, and guitarists, and clarinetists and . . .

Three years of this study remain. But these interim results are promising. They support previous findings on the positive impact of music training on brain development.

Our findings suggest that music training during childhood, even for a period as brief as two years, can accelerate brain development and sound processing. We believe that this may benefit language acquisition in children given that developing language and reading skills engage similar brain areas. This can particularly benefit at-risk children in low socioeconomic status neighborhoods who experience more difficulties with language development.

Should we be using this tool to better educate our kids?


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