Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sadie & The Side Effects

Recently I took Sadie, my golden retriever, to the vet. (That's her in the foreground. Lexi owns the couch.) Sadie had developed a limp, "possibly arthritis in the shoulder," said the vet, who gave me a prescription for her. Meloxicam. 1 tablet by mouth every 24 hours. Note: If it hadn't said "by mouth," I'm not quite sure of how I would've administered the pills. I hate to think of the alternative.

I had the prescription filled, brought it home, gave her a pill, then decided to read the lengthy info sheet that came with the tiny pills. Big mistake. You probably know as well as I that you should never read about the possible side effects with any medication. Guaranteed you will end up not taking it, preferring to suffer with the disease or ailment rather than risk the side effects.

Meloxicam is classified as a NSAID. That's Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug. Sounds like the perfect treatment for arthritis or anything that makes a joint hurt or, in a dog's case, makes her limp. I looked at my beautiful dog, in the process of slowly digesting her Meloxicam, and realized what may be in store for her.

Of course there were the usual suspects: heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney failure, bleeding in the stomach and intestines, etc etc. It seems just about every prescription drug comes with these risks. Even Advil, Tylenol and aspirin have their dark side. I've never looked closely at a bottle of Pepto-Bismol but I suspect that lurking in that pink solution some evil malady awaits the man or woman with gastric distress.

So, back to Sadie and Meloxicam. It was some of the other side effects that caught my eye, started me wondering. For instance, "Asthma Attack." I would be hard pressed to distinguish between asthma in a dog and just plain panting. Unless, of course, they made a wheezing sound. No, I couldn't picture Sadie wheezing. Wheezing doesn't sound like a dog thing. "Dizziness" was another. I don't think I've ever seen a dizzy dog. I know dizzy people, but a dog? I guess that could be like a drunk dog, a weaving dog, like an art director I used to work with after several shots of vodka. He kept a bottle in his file cabinet. 

Among possible stomach reactions were constipation and diarrhea, which I won't discuss. Not a happy subject for man or beast. But there is one other that amused me. "Gas." Now I don't know if you've ever been around a dog that has gas, but it's a pretty disgusting scenario. Usually the action is silent, which means the effect hits you a few seconds after the expulsion. The dog is gone, and will have no idea what you're upset about if you try scolding him or her. Flatulence in a dog, however, can have dire social consequences. I know of this first hand. A friend of mine, many years ago, had a fox terrier named Daisy with chronic flatulence. Daisy seemed to store it up until my friend had a party. Then, while we were all sitting around the living room, Daisy would pick someone out, walk over to them, sit by their side, and emit a silent burst. She would then walk away. A few seconds later we'd all catch the drift and stare at the person in the center of the activity. The funny part is that no one would say anything, just accept it and move on. I'm convinced Daisy knew what she was doing. 

One final side effect deserves mention. "Slurred Speech." I can't even imagine what Sadie would sound like if she developed "slurred speech." I suppose that translates to "slurred barking" or "slurred whining." That reminds me of an old nightclub routine by Woody Allen. He talks about a pet store that specialized in damaged pets. Birds that can't whistle, hamsters with no tails, fish that can't swim. He mentions a dog that stutters. It goes 'B-b-b-bow, W-w-w-wow." A funny bit. I would put "slurred barking" in that same category. Like a dog who drinks vodka instead of water, then goes out to chase squirrels. 

Happy to say, the Meloxicam has alleviated Sadie's limp, and she is free from all side effects. As far as I know. Still, every day I check her for "swelling of the lips."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cole and the E-Flat Chord

Several people emailed comments to me about my recent post about "Stardust." Usually I just put these away in a folder. 

But I have to share this one with you. It's from Steve Kopcha. You probably don't know the name, but Steve is one of the most creative, intuitive, dedicated ad guys I ever worked withe. He also has a sharp sense of humor, which you need to survive in advertising. Steve, who now lives in New Hampshire, was Creative Director at D'Arcy Advertising, in St. Louis, then in Detroit.  I think that was during the '60's and '70's.Steve was a major influence on Budweiser's great advertising. His presentations were effective and entertaining, even if the client didn't buy it all. After D'Arcy, he became a professor of advertising at Mizzou in Columbia. Along the way he honed his chops as a somewhat talented alto sax player. 

It's in this musical role that Steve responded to my thoughts about the old songs.

"Nice piece, and I agree with you 100 percent. Regarding the "old" composers, here's an anecdote for you:

Many years ago, I decided to teach myself to play the piano so I could play from songbooks. I was hesitant, because when I was a second-grade pupil, I just could not grasp the concept that the bass clef notes were not the same as the treble clef notes. Upside-down and backwards or something like that.

Then I had the Big Idea of my Life.

I already knew how to play the notes with my right hand---I could read them direct from the music, and hey, I could memorize the fingerings for the chords (the guitar/piano chords also in the music).

Once I did that, I could play any song as long as they had the guitar/piano chords printed. This is old stuff to you as a keyboard guy, but it was huge for this sax player. I discovered that when you fingered, say, an E-flat chord, you could fill in the holes with various arpeggios, etc. and they would mostly be right as long as you honor the key signature for sharps and flats. Your hand was already poised over all the right notes within the scale.

Then, the other big discovery:

After playing through many "Great American Songbooks" I noticed something happening, time after time.

The songs I found that had "something extra" going for them...the songs that were richer and more engaging to the mind...mostly all came from the same guy: Cole Porter.  And furthermore, many were in the key of E-flat, a nice key for piano and singer.

I became a Cole Porter fanatic, learning all i could about him. I even drove hundreds of miles from Detroit to Peru, Indiana, his home town (the chubby girl at the gas station in the middle of town thought I was from Mars, I guess, when I asked where Cole Porter's boyhood home was. "Who's he? Never heard of him," she said)  Yikes!

Anyway, when my son Mike went to Yale, I was thrilled to find out that Cole Porter, class of 1914, had written many of the Yale songs...and they still sing them today. 

Also, the Waldorf-Astoria (where Cole lived) had his piano on display in the lobby and I managed to sneak up to it one time and played an E-Flat chord, just for the magic of it. I did the same thing in Salzburg, waiting until the museum was almost empty to reach over the velvet rope and run my fingers down Mozart's clavichord. I thought I would die of rapture...touching the very same keys my idol, my adored Wolfgang Amadeus had touched.

Then I went down to the gift shop and bought some Mozart Balls...little chocolate confections about the size of a golf ball. They were good.

Thanks for the cool piece on the best composers and songs ever."

Thanks for the story, Steve. I, too, saw the Porter piano at the Waldorf many years ago, but didn't have the cajones to play a note, much less an entire chord. Beautiful piano, though.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Sometimes I Wonder Why - "

Here's a short quiz for you music lovers. One of the most recorded songs of all time is "Stardust." The question is, Who wrote it? I'll give you two clues. One, he also wrote "Georgia on My Mind," and Two, Nat "King" Cole recorded the quintessential version of it. No, the answer is not at the end of this post. I'll tell you right now. It's Hoagy Carmichael. That's right, the guy from indiana with the strange voice.

Hoagy wrote a lot of other distinctive songs that made the pop charts, like "Skylark" and "Two Sleepy People," but "Stardust" remains one of the greatest American songs ever written. 

At least I thought it was, until I attended a seminar recently. Several of us were discussing popular music and immortal songs, when someone mentioned "Stardust." Five people, all under the age of forty, asked "What's that?". I sang a few bars - not a great rendition, but adequate. They had never heard it before!

I realize then that great American songs, the ones you and I grew up with, are in danger of joining TWA, Burger Chef and De Soto cars in the lost and found of our memories. Let's face it, where can young people hear songs by Hoagy, and Rodgers and Hart and the Gershwin's and Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin? Not on the radio stations they listen to, not on TV, not in clubs. They can search for it online, like old YouTube videos or iTunes, but they have to be motivated to slip into a search mode. Maybe their parents or grandparents have given them access to their LP's or CD's. Come to think of it, they probably don't know what an LP is, right? If it was written B.E. (Before Elvis) and it's not in a digital format, how relevant can it be? I'd love to find just one person under the age of twenty with one of Hoagy's tunes on his or her iPod or iPhone. I might as well search for the Holy Grail.

Just think of all the incredible music they'll never be familiar with. I don't understand how a person can go through life without knowing the rhyme Lorenz Hart came up with for "We'll take Manhattan...", or the repetitious note that signals Cole Porter's "drip, drip, drip" at the start of "Night and Day." I still believe those songs will live forever, but the audience keeps shrinking. There are rays of hope, however. Artists such as Rod Stewart, Boz Skaggs, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Michael Buble and Judy Collins have recorded many of those songs. You may know of some others. What we need is more of them. Perhaps Lady Gaga Sings Irving Berlin (although she did make an album with the ageless Tony Bennett). How about Pit Bull: A Tribute to Johnny Mercer. Or Kanye West Does Harold Arlen? Maybe forget that one. Immortality has its limits.

This populist approach just might be the solution: the start of a musical movement to Save the Great American Songs. I'd start off with "Stardust" performed by a popular singer. Who? I Googled "Most Popular Male Singers of 2014." Here are the top four: Drake, Jason Derulo, Chris Brown and Bruno Mars.   I have no idea what they would do to one of those great songs, or even if they could. You ever hear of them? Maybe there's someone out there, a Super Hero for Great Songs. Suggestions welcome.

And now, all together, join me: "Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely night...."

Monday, December 15, 2014

For My Brother

An oncologist, a neurologist, and a cardiologist walk into a bar. The bartender says, ”What’ll it be?” 
They say in unison, “A miracle.” 
The bartender looks under the bar, on the back bar, says, “Sorry, we’re all out of miracles.” Then he adds, “How about a round of hope...on the house?” 
“Too late for that,” says one of the three and they leave.

Actually the three specialists meet in room 7104 at Barnes Jewish Hospital. They are there for a good reason: my brother, Barry, who lies silent on the bed.

The oncologist says, “I think he needs A.”
The neurologist says, “I’d like to pursue B.”
The cardiologist says, “I suggest C.”

The patient says nothing. It’s Barry’s life they’re discussing, but it’s all he can do to maintain his breathing, keep his heart pumping and his mind from floating into that nether world where the line between reality and illusion has been erased.

Eventually the scene plays out. The three caballeros agree on next steps, Barry is wheeled into three different rooms over the next five days, with brief stops in ICU and cardiology before the sensors are disconnected, the monitors switched off, the drip stops dripping, and he takes a chauffeured ride in his own personal ambulance 23 miles west to his villa in Chesterfield, to await the arrival of hospice, a special bed, raised toilet seat, little bottles of vanilla Ensure, pads and swaths and other appointments associated with “End of Life” care. 

You know as well as I that it’s really a “Death Watch” but everyone wants to avoid the dreaded “D” word. “End of Life” sounds like a play that is over, and everyone goes out to get a bite to eat.

For five days, we - the family and those closest to him - wait. None of us are really interested in the Blues or Tigers games but they dominate the large-screen TV in the living room. No one is really hungry but we eat whatever is set out on the table. This is the kind of scene that calls for a grandfather’s clock ticking loudly down the hall, chiming away the hours, a cold wind and swirling snow outside the windows, candles flickering in the drafty room. That’s one version, had it been described by Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens. 

Then there’s the Norman Rockwell version of “The Wait”: Gentle days and feathery clouds, a lowering sun, the family gathered as for a Thanksgiving dinner or birthday portrait, from the bed a faint smile, a few final meaningful words, the gentle send-off. That is the ending we had expected. 

That’s not how it happened. Eventually it became a silent ship, slipping away from the dock, headed through the dense fog to a rendezvous at an unknown destination. 

When Barry exhaled for the last time, about 12:20 on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 8, I expected the world to perhaps pause a little, a slight hesitation or flicker, just for a nanosecond in recognition of the passing of this most extraordinary man. But traffic continued to speed by on Olive Boulevard, venti lattes were brewed and served without cease, the gray clouds maintained their slow crawl across the heavens, and CNN didn’t break into its never-ending tales of protest and politics.

Where is it written that the older brother give a eulogy for the younger brother? If it is indeed written, it must be in the chapter titled “Planning Your Life and Other Misconceptions.” Because just when you think you have it figured out, along comes a surprise. His eulogy was difficult to write, even tougher to say aloud to the more than 200 witnesses at the temple on Wednesday. But, later on, I was lifted by the stories I heard about his acts of kindness and charity, his role as mentor, organizer of lunches and dinners with old friends, and his exemplary decisions throughout the highs and lows of his life.

Barry and I were different. 
His passion was sports. Mine, music. 
He was a short, chunky kid. I was tall, thin. 
He had fun at Washington U. I studied. (Got mediocre grades. I should have done it his way.)
He was a CPA. His career was numbers. Mine, words.
But in so many ways, important ways, we were alike. A product of loving parents Milt and Diana, a recognition of the importance of family, love and support for our kids. And we cared deeply about each other, stayed in touch over the decades through lunches and jazz concerts. 

How quickly the older generation is replaced by the younger generation, as they themselves soon become replaced by the next. With each passing, we lose part of ourselves. On that Monday, part of my foundation broke away. I now feel off balance, slightly askew. I know what’s missing but have trouble finding solid footing. For now.

A good friend of mine sent these beautiful words:
“Every loss is just that, something not to be recovered, but remembered well in the swirl of memories that make up our lives.”


When Barry was three years old and I was eight, we lived on Midvale, across from Flynn Park. He used to follow me everywhere. I would leave with a couple of buddies to go across the street to play in the park, and he would tag behind, his knickers down to his ankles, his nose running, his shirt out. My little brother. On this particular day, I didn’t want him following us. So I got a long piece of rope from our garage and tied him firmly to a tree in our front yard. We left. Barry yelled and cried, but couldn’t get loose.

Now I realize that whenever I look back, my little brother will not be there. Not a footstep, not an echo, not a shadow. But I know his spirit - a warm, shining presence - will always be with me. And with his family and many friends. Perhaps that is a form of eternal life. I hope so.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Eulogy for a Feathered Friend

We’ve come to that time of year when we pause to say “Thanks for the blessings we have received.” Unfortunately there’s a large segment of the animal kingdom that offers no thanks, only trembling fear and mindless flight.

Yes, Thanksgiving is upon us. As an integral part of the celebration, millions of turkeys will lay their necks on the block for us, hoping for a painless departure and eventual placement on a large platter surrounded by bowls of dressing, yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie, with a circle of hungry humans seated at the ready, teeth bared, knives and forks in hand. 

I know of no other nation that decimates such a large segment of its animal population to feed their citizenry. How this hapless bird became the centerpiece for this well-intentioned celebration baffles me. Ben Franklin believed the turkey should be the national bird instead of the eagle because there were so many turkeys in America. Somehow the gobbler ended up in the oven and the eagle ascended to the top of flagpoles.
It’s as though the eagle lobby was better organized than that of the poor turkeys. Given the recent state of affairs in Washington, the turkey would have been more appropriate. Be that as it may, the holiday gathered momentum under President Lincoln, who declared it a National Holiday in 1863. You’d think, with all he had to attend to, like the Civil War and Secession and Slavery, he would’ve had more important things to do. FDR got into the act in 1939 when he moved the holiday up a week. Of course it met with Republican opposition, headed up by Alf Landon. (I can’t believe our nation would’ve ever elected a man named Alf to be president). Europe was being overrun by the Germans, Britain was in deadly peril, but Americans now had more time for Christmas shopping. 

Here comes the really ugly part of this history lesson. 
“Parental guidance advised. Some scenes may be too graphic for young minds, or bird lovers.” According to the National Turkey Federation (I’m not kidding; Google it), 200,000,000 turkeys were eaten in the U.S. last year. Two hundred million! That’s bigger than the combined populations of Paraguay, Serbia, Thailand, Argentina and, yes, Turkey. Those poor birds waddled to their death much as soldiers did in the Civil War and The Great War. Only this onslaught occurs every year, regular as clockwork and the tides. More from the NTF: 46 million are eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas, 19 million at Easter. Good thing the Jews, Muslims, and atheists don’t have a bird-centered holiday.

The Turducken
I’m not suggesting you have a New York Strip on Thanksgiving, or even that amalgam of birds known as a turducken, a twisted invention that combines the boneless bodies of a turkey, a duck and a chicken. You can get one for $60 on the internet. I’ve heard they’ve added a fourth bird this year. A parakeet, buried deep in the center, with feathers, as kind of a colorful surprise for eating your way through the outer layers. If you stick with turkey, you obviously can roast it in the oven (the traditional way) but now I hear deep-fried turkey is a treat to behold. Also smoked turkey is a favorite in some areas. Whatever pleases your palette, go for it.

But remember the following day. Black Friday. It’s really not about WalMart and Best Buy and Amazon, and up to 70% off if you show up before sunrise. No, Black Friday is a day of mourning for the forty-six million who gave so we could receive. A grateful nation bows its head and gives thanks to the noble turkey. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Sounds of Music in St. Louis

Listen. Can you hear it? It’s out there. A violin. A trumpet. A bass. A Steinway and a Selmer. These are the sounds of autumn. As nature’s world goes through her changes, leaving summer behind. the Sounds of Music flourish in St. Louis.
     I learned Beethoven's “Fur Elise” on the piano when I was ten, thanks to my mom’s love of classical piano. Her favorite was Chopin. At a statewide competition I won a tiny gold piano pin for that number. And so it began with classical music.

     Jazz came next, in the shape of two LP’s from Columbia - “The 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.” I had never heard songs and players like this before. Their names are still magic for me: Harry James, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Jess Stacy, Babe Russin. And of course the great Benny on clarinet. I still have those albums, framed on my office wall.
     Which brings me to the point of these musings: I love this time of year in St. Louis. Sure, the trees are colorful and yard work is about over (except for raking), the "back to school" ads have been recycled. Even as the autumn leaves pass by my window, I can hear the downbeats, the count-offs, the tuning-ups, the reverent silence and enthusiastic applause just around the corner.
     The music season has returned to St. Louis, much of it centered on Grand Avenue. I don't mean to imply that there isn't music scattered throughout the city and county throughout the year. It's just that Grand is where the lights shine brightest.
     St. Louis is home to one of the premier jazz clubs in America, The Bistro, aka Jazz at the Bistro.
It sits near Grand and Washington, about a hundred yards east of the magnificent Fox Theater. The Bistro underwent an extensive face-lift during the summer, which promises to make it even more audience friendly and "cooler" than before. Gene Dobbs Bradford has done a terrific job over the years keeping jazz on track in our town. 
     One word of caution: this place is “respectable.” Which is good, but I also remember, quite fondly, the jazz clubs here in the '50's and 60's.
Peacock Alley, the Dark Side, Jazz Central, the Glass Bar, Gino's, Georgie’s, and - on the East Side - the Blue Note, the Terrace Lounge, the Palladium. Those clubs had "atmosphere." Which means they were crowded, had uncomfortable chairs, watered down drinks, lots of chatter, and almost everyone smoked or so it seems. Even today there are times when I’d like a Newport and a bourbon while listening to jazz. I quit smoking 30 years ago. Still.....

     Okay. Enough about jazz. Let's modulate over to classical. From The Bistro, stroll three blocks north and you're at Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. 

     While we're on Grand, one final word about music. Namely, The Broadway Musical. Thanks to Mary and Leon Strauss, the Fox is still a showplace over eighty years after it first opened. Back then it was movies, one of the great palaces on Grand. Today the road companies from Broadway, as well as popular music acts of all genres, keep the Fox and the neighborhood vital. 

One block west of the Fox is the Sheldon Concert Hall,
built in 1912 and another superlative music venue with perfect acoustics. I went there Sunday night with my brother to see Spokfrevo Orquestra, a 17-piece band from Brazil that blew the roof off. One of the most exciting musical events I've ever seen. St. Louis was one of only 7 cities in the U.S. to book this band, and The Sheldon did it. According to the program, frevo music is a combination of "vivid, frenetic and vigorous rhythm" with an amalgam of several Brazilians music genres. In other words, you've gotta hear it to believe it.  In Concert: Spokfrevo
     So let the leaves fall, the chill winds blow, and summer become a memory. As long as there’s a soundtrack for autumn, I’m happy. And what better way to close off this show than with the Stan Getz definitive recording of "Early Autumn." Sit back, relax, and listen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Note of Appreciation to William Goldman While He's Still Alive

A movie made in 1969 and a recent round of emails and Facebook comments are responsible for this posting. It's rather traditional to wait until someone dies before saying all those good things you meant to say before, but then you find out you're too late.

That's why I'm writing about William Goldman now. Not his bio or a tribute, but just what he has meant to me with his ideas and stories and characters, both on the printed page and on the screen (movie, not TV or iPad). 

I watched "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" recently, screenplay by Goldman, and posted a short comment on FB about a particular scene (the card game near the beginning). One of my favorite all-time scenes, a model of perfection.

Card Player #2:  Well, looks like you just about cleaned everybody out, fella. You haven't lost a hand since you got to deal. What's the secret of your success?
 Sundance Kid:  Prayer.

Jeb Schary, who has movies in his veins, commented about Goldman's writing, may just be his favorite writer.
Bill Wine commented with 3 words: "Is it safe?" An unforgettable phrase, frequently repeated in Goldman's movie and novel, "Marathon Man."
Chris Snyder came up with, "Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"

Over the past few days, I've thought about how many books by Goldman I've enjoyed and how many of his movies have kept me glued to the screen, all with characters and stories that remain alive in my mind long after the book is closed and the film has ended. 

Here, in no particular order, are my favorites. 
It starts off with the first book I read by him, in 1973. (egads, that was 40 years ago!). "The Princess Bride" is still one of my all-time favorite novels. It's ingeniously structured and a delight to read... and re-read. Others are "Marathon Man," (I gave a copy to my dentist to read the part about drilling the tooth). Other novels are "Tinsel," Magic," and "The Color of Light." 

My non-fiction favorites (Hollywood and Theater observations, with sharp-edged humor and criticism) are "Adventures in the Screen Trade," ""Which Lie Did I Tell?", and "The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway." The last one was written in 1969 and examines why some shows are hits and some flop. Of course Broadway has gone through upheavals since then. Still, it reflects Goldman's love of theater.

As a screenwriter, Goldman is responsible for some of my lasting favorites: "The Princess Bride," the aforementioned "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Marathon Man," "Misery," "All the President's Men," "A Bridge Too Far," "No Way to Treat a Lady," and "Harper." I urge you see them all, twice. The first time to enjoy the movie. The second time to listen to the words, the silences, the storyline, the relationships between characters

If you'd like to see and hear Goldman talk about screenwriting, about his books and movies, and what he thinks about Hollywood, I urge you to check out this 90 minute video from The Writers Guild. It's all fascinating, especially the last half hour, when he talks about things more personal for him. It took place in 2010. Actually, it's all relaxed and personal and totally void of ego. 
William Goldman talks about writing

To close out this note of appreciation, here is what Goldman said about his own writing in 2000. 

"Someone pointed out to me that the most sympathetic characters in my books always died miserably. I didn't consciously know I was doing that. I didn't. I mean, I didn't wake up each morning and think, today I think I'll make a really terrific guy so I can kill him. It just worked out that way. I haven't written a novel in over a decade... and someone very wise suggested that I might have stopped writing novels because my rage was gone. It's possible. All this doesn't mean a helluva lot, except probably there is a reason I was the guy who gave Babe over to Szell in the "Is it safe?" scene and that I was the guy who put Westley into The Machine. I think I have a way with pain. When I come to that kind of sequence I have a certain confidence that I can make it play. Because I come from such a dark corner."
Goldman has also said of his work: "I [don’t] like my writing. I wrote a movie called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I wrote a novel called The Princess Bride and those are the only two things I’ve ever written, not that I’m proud of, but that I can look at without humiliation."

I'm still hoping for one more novel or screenplay from him. In the meantime, Thanks, Mr. Goldman. You've enriched my life with your words.