Special post for those who love and contribute to PBS

Be more, or capitulate more?

Be more, or capitulate more?

In case you haven’t heard, your contributions to PBS are overshadowed by the Koch Brothers. And David Koch is a member of the Board of Directors of WGBH in Boston, one of the “flagship” stations of Public Broadcasting. It is no longer “Public” Broadcasting, as is evidenced by the cancellation of a film about the Koch Brothers’ influence in Republican politics.

Yes, one person determined what would be shown on PBS.

You might as well stop giving to KERA, WGBH, or any other station. Your contribution is meaningless.






“About Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples . . . “

A historic street

A historic street

A friend is in Boston this weekend visiting Emerson College with an eye to enrolling there to finish his undergraduate degree.

Yesterday on PBS radio’s “This American Life” the producer’s mother, Mrs. Matthiessen, challenged the staff to find and record conversations about the “seven things you’re not supposed to talk about” in order not to be boring. One of them is “routes,” that is, the route you took to get somewhere. Sorry, Mrs. Matthiessen, you can stop reading because I’m going to bore you.

The first time I saw Boston my late ex-wife and I were on our way to the wedding of my college roommate in Massachusetts and arrived in Boston in the evening. It was 1970 or so, and we had been married about three years and still had a good time adventuring together.

We arrived in downtown Boston at rush hour—I suppose we took the exit from the freeway at the Prudential (the name of which I can’t remember). We drove on Bolyston and turned up Charles Street, turned left at Beacon Street, somehow made our way to Storrow Drive and hightailed it out of the city on Route 1a. We went all the way to New Hampshire—way out of our way—and found a motel to crash for the night.

We had planned to stay in Boston and see the sights, but we were so overwhelmed by the city and the traffic that we drove right on through. We were used to L.A. traffic, so it was strange that Boston unnerved us so. But that was my first experience knowing that Los Angeles drivers pay no attention to each other but obey the laws; whereas, Boston drivers watch each other like hawks and ignore the laws.

My career was never brilliant

My career was never brilliant

After being overwhelmed by the traffic, we were overwhelmed by the high society folks we were thrown in with for the wedding. Let me say only that the bride’s mother was a friend (college classmate for starters) of Julia Child, and the Larousse Gastronomique would not have been available in English but for her translation.

Ann and I were reduced to scrupulously watching other people in order to obey the rules of the kind of society down into the middle of which we were dropped. The whole experience reminds me still of the movie My Brilliant Career, with the young Australian girl playing over and over and over on the piano Robert Schumann’s “About Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples,” Kinderzenen Op. 15, No. 1.The one right move I made in the entire three or four days was to suggest that the groomsmen’s gift to the couple should be a weekend at Tanglewood.

So my young friend is in Boston this weekend looking over Emerson College and being looked over by them. Emerson is a fine school, and my friend is as bright and personable and talented as he can be, and I am sure they will be a fine fit if they decide they want each other.

But Boston is, for all of its charm and history and elegance and sophistication, a difficult place. I never lived in Boston proper (or is it Proper Boston?) but up on the North Shore. I was, however, chair of the music department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, and I knew Boston very well in the years 1978 through 1994.

Here’s the thing about a place like Boston. You shouldn’t show up there at the time you’re trying to learn who you are. You should either grow up there and have no choice in the matter, or you should go there when you know what you’re about and are not in a position to be influenced (perhaps even molded) by such a city.

I moved to the Boston area (to Methuen, which may not be the Boston area—but soon to Beverly, which is much closer and more Bostonian. One of my acquaintances (I knew many Brahmin types who lived up on the North Shore, both Cabots and Lodges [really!]—but that’s another story) drew herself up to her full height once (when I told her I could not understand the message she left on my phone—as it turned out because an important word ended in “R”) and said, “My deah, I don’t have an “AHHH” in my entirah vocabulahry.” I was out of place from the get-go, and I knew it.

One of my friends (who happened to be drinking beer out of the can at that moment), told me that a brass bowl on her coffee table that I was admiring came from Tehran. Her friend Alice brought back for her. From the Tehran Conference. Alice had accompanied her father, FDR. How’s that for communication links away from the rich, famous, and powerful? My friend lived on Chestnut Street in Salem—the whole street on the National Registry of Historic Places because every house is perfectly preserved from the Federal Period. The condo I owned in Salem was in a not-so-prestigious neighborhood.

He knew about Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples

He knew about Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples

Here I am in Dallas, having come here as a poor student. The suburban church where I directed the music for fifteen years had no Cabots or Lodges as members. I know none of the Bass family or the Hunts or the Crowes. (A friend of mine did have dinner with President Obama the other night.)

I began this writing with a point in mind. I’ve wandered somewhat away from it, but not really. I simply want to say that Mrs. Matthiessen is quite wrong. The “route” by which I arrived here this morning is interesting.  My whole life is about “strange lands and foreign peoples.”

But it’s not the society to which I don’t belong that makes me feel out of place. That’s only a symptom. “Sometimes I always feel like a motherless child a long ways from home.”
(1) “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About.” This American Life. thisamericanlife.org. Nov 8, 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
(2) “McIntire Historic District.” Welcome to Salem, Massachusetts, The City Guide.  salemweb.com/guide. 1995-2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

Eat Fast, Live shorter

Wardie Willis, Plantation Scene

Wardie Willis, Plantation Scene

Last night PBS aired a program “Eat, Fast, Live Longer” about a new radical regime of some sort. I started watching it, but it made me so nervous I turned it off.

I don’t need to hear about a 101-year-old man running his first marathon.

Not when I have gained ten of the 50-ish pounds I lost a year ago, have not been able to attend yoga class since February, have had only one session with a trainer three weeks ago and have not been able to return, and am now in physical therapy twice a week to alleviate the pain in my hip from a fall onto (not in) my bathtub on February 1.

On March 8, I blogged the story of my discovery of “skinny”:

A couple of years ago I was sitting with Dad (he was 96) in the assisted living dining room of Piedmont Gardens in Oakland. I realized all those old folks had one thing in common—they were skinny. Either you get skinny with age or you don’t age unless you’re skinny.

Allen Sapp (born January 2, 1928) is 85 years old. I have three of his paintings hanging in my apartment.  Allen Sapp is not particularly skinny. He is, however, a prolific painter and (according to my late ex-wife) a fascinatingly intense man. I more or less inherited the paintings from her (a long story that I’ll tell you in private if you ask).

Allen Sapp, "Esquoio with Kids Comes Visiting"

Allen Sapp, “Esquoio with Kids Comes Visiting”

Wardie Willis (October 11, 1924 – February 23, 2011) was 87 when she died. She was a “folk art” painter (I guess that’s what you’d call her) in Louisiana. She has not reached any level of fame as an artist. I can’t get the Louisiana Art and Artists’ Guild to answer my email about her although I know she was a member and had her work shown in a New Orleans gallery at least once. I own five of her paintings.

Victor Gugliuzza (December 22, 1921 – June 29, 2011) was 89 when he died. He was a painter of enormous talent that was never realized because he became a “commercial” artist (design and advertising work for Western Auto for decades) before computers made it possible for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to get famous for his desk-top publishing. He was my Uncle Victor’s partner of 69 years. (My uncle is still with us at age 82.) Vic was not “skinny,” but he was healthy. The two Victors folk-danced several times a week for many, many years until he was about 80.

Here’s my question about being 85 years old.

Vic Gugliuzza, "Ancestral Church, Sicily"

Vic Gugliuzza, “Ancestral Church, Sicily”

(But first, my eternal questions about art. Do I love these paintings because I know—at least know first-hand about—the artists? Do I love them because they are beautiful? or because they have some innate quality that makes them loveable? Do I love them because they were gifts, and I’m glad to have any art at all hanging in my apartment? Do I love them because they are here, and I have grown fond of them over the years even though none of them is a work I would have bought myself? Do I love them because they are “great” art—which they may or may not be depending on whose theories you’re reading, Emmanuel Kant, Susanne Langer, or Jackson Pollack. Is there a difference between “art” and “great art?” or is there something about art that makes it “great,” and if a work does not have that je ne sais quoi, it is not even to be considered “art?” Why do many people consider Jackson Pollack’s work “great” but will not give the paintings of, for example, Maxfield Parrish the time of day when clearly Parrish’s work “speaks” to more people than Pollack’s does? The eternal questions.)

But back to my question about being 85 years old. Were those folks in my dad’s retirement community old because they were skinny or, perhaps—and here I’m grasping at straws and coming up with only one of the many possibilities I have thought of over the years—because they kept their minds active? That day I was with my dad at dinner, he had been writing a book until my mother died three years earlier. The 95-year-old woman sitting at the table with him had played a Chopin piano etude for the prelude music at her church the week before.  Wardie and Victor painted until they were in their 80’s, and Allen is going strong.

Skinny body, lively mind, genetics?

No more PBS programs telling me how to live longer. What’s the point of living longer if you’re not writing books, painting Italian churches, or playing Chopin? Living longer is not its own reward.

Siciliano, “Guide our feet into the way of peace, Luke 1:79.” From Five Biblical Prayers for Organ, by Gerhard Krapf. These pieces were published when Krapf was about 52 years old. He was chairman of the organ department in the School of Music of the University of Iowa, and I was a graduate student. He told me when he gave me a copy of the music that he was tired of writing music people found difficult to listen to. Shortly after that he moved to Canada to found the organ department at the University of Alberta.