December 2016




Giving a Reprise



It’s been an odd year. I’m even tempted to call it eerie. Eerie, in the sense of the unexpected. At times I thought I was watching an old Twilight Zone episode.


On a personal note, I’ve lost four friends who have died far too soon and so suddenly. I’ve lost a cousin who lost a long bout with cancer. And a mother, who lost a long bout with time. Then there were the deaths of rock icons David Bowie and Prince, that had little to do with my world, other than to note how sad it made my daughter, who in particular was an ardent fan of Bowie’s. I once hand-painted his likeness on a T-shirt which I gave her as a gift. And then Leonard Cohen died. Which made both of us sad as we had seen him in a memorable concert four years ago at the newly opened Barclays Center in Brooklyn.


On a happier if not equally offbeat note, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a drought that lasted 108 years. They had lost the last one they were in, a mere 71 years ago in 1945, not too long after my birth. I don’t remember it of course, though I was a baseball fan since I was in the womb. Actually, a Yankee fan, so that might explain it. And when the Cubbies won I said to my son— that for sure, is a sign that Trump will now win the presidency. It’s been that kind of year.


If I was on social media I might have Facebooked, Tweeted or Instagramed something about a lot of this. But this Muse-letter is my only real form of techno-communication to the masses. Although no Luddite, I do text. And while my email count is not as large as Hillary’s, it has grown and unlike her I don’t seem to get around to deleting them as I should. Save for the spam. Oh yes, and do on occasion, send those schmultzy animated online Jacquie Lawson greeting cards. But where was I?


Fidel Castro. He finally died, outlasting 11 presidencies since he first came to power almost 58 years ago. Not too long before this news, I read that Bob Dylan has agreed to show up to accept the Nobel Prize for literature he won. Glad you could make it Mr. Zimmerman. But the biggest story this year, perhaps bigger than Trump’s upset victory, might be that Starbucks has capitulated to the whole cup controversy it caused last year, when it introduced its stark red unadorned holiday cups. Not gonna’ make that “new-Coke” type mistake again, as a full page ad in The New York Times with this copy and ten variations in design, attested to:


“Created by You”


“Our customers around the world turned our red cups into holiday works of art. Reminding us that who you are or what you what you believe, we all share one spirit.”


Christmasy enough for you? It brought a tear to the eye. But then again, Christmas is in the eye of the cup-holder. But just out of curiosity, why no blue and white cups with a few Channukah candles? Would it have killed them to add an eleventh cup? Ya know, as a nice sort of gesture.


Anyway, the year will close out for me on a personal happy note. In addition to the Christmas cups, I will be moving this month; “captured” (see the Quote of the Month at the end) by what I call my sixth life. As moving can be all encompassing, stressful, not to mention at times torturous, I’ve not had time to muse much at the moment in any depth. Forget waterboarding, we ought to force prisoners to pack and unpack boxes; force them to decide what to keep or throw out. They’ll talk!


All of this is a roundabout way of saying that in the absence of new material, I’d like to reprise some of the pieces I’ve done, with perhaps a tweak here or there, on some of the people/items I’ve just noted.







Fidel’s New Duds (MAY, 2011 MUSE-LETTER)



In a parenthetical remark in last month’s Muse-Letter, I noted that Fidel Castro’s battle fatigues, at his age, were starting to look like pajamas. Perhaps it was a cheap shot. But hardly as cheap as his shot that allowed the Russians to aim their missiles at the U.S. from a base in Cuba—a mere 90 miles away from Florida. A breach better known as, The Cuban Missile Crisis.

And as we watched JFK addressing the nation that night, we wondered what was to become of us all. But most importantly, would there be school the next day? Should I do my homework?


Unbelievable as it is, next year will mark the 50th anniversary of that moment. It is one forever frozen in the minds of those of us of a certain age.


But we were discussing Castro’s new fashion statement, not his old reckless youth. And in so doing, we wonder if he read last month’s Muse-Letter. Because, gone is the signature “combat green” replaced by a blue, Fila, “lifestyle” jacket. And the irony here is that Fila is one of the world’s largest sportswear companies, with offices in 11 countries worldwide. Capitalism, si…Communism, no. And that they are headquartered in Seoul, South Korea, a country which has evolved into a very successful democracy.


But all political and ideological ironies aside, he still looks…well…like an old man in the wrong clothes. For one thing Fidel, lose the plaid shirt underneath! For another, is this the way you come dressed to a Communist Party Congress last month? One in which you hand over the reins to your brother Raul? Like you just wandered in from a morning walk? In some semi state of delirium no less?



Can you imagine Nixon dressed this way on the day he resigned, and turned the reins over to Gerald Ford? Yet there he sits; pushing 85, and pushing it hard, and having been around through 11 U.S. presidencies since he first took power. So very long in fact, that it is hard to remember now, that he wasn’t always the bad guy in the black hat. That he once was the darling new kid on the block.


In his excellent book published a couple of years ago, 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Fred Kaplan notes that the United States became “the second country, after Venezuela, to recognize the revolutionary regime.” He then offers some further interesting and engaging passages, regarding America’s initial embracement of Castro:


Christian Herter, who was acting secretary of state while John Foster Dulles lay in a hospital dying of cancer… hosted a champagne-and–steak lunch for Castro and his entourage—most of them security guards decked out, like their boss, in green fatigues and long beards.

In New York, he (Castro) lunched with Wall Street bankers, fed a Bengal tiger at the Bronx Zoo, and spoke before 30,000 people at a nighttime rally in Central Park.


If there is a moral here, it might be along the lines of that old saw derived from Matthew 7:15: beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Especially those who speak… in the Sheep Meadow.








Robert Allen Zimmerman Turns 70 (JUNE, 2011 MUSE-LETTER)



Forever in the mind’s eye, he is the James Deanian young man—albeit a rebel with a cause— tooling down the street on a cold day in a far too skimpy jacket.


As the woman on his arm in that iconic album cover, (shot on Jones Street in the Village) Suze Rotolo —who died at age 67 in February of this year—wrote in her wonderful memoir:


It’s obvious that by then we were freezing; certainly Bob was, in that thin jacket. But image was all.


In time he would abandon that image and the protest songs that went along with it. And in turn, go from “acoustic” to “electric.” He never wanted to be the spokesperson for a generation, anyway.


It is still widely debated if this was the reason for the booing that took place following his set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. Though there is no debating that he was roundly criticized by members of the folk movement for the transitions he chose to make. How dare he be as mortal as we!


And yet, don’t we mortals tend to seek some connection with our idols, at times preposterously overreaching, in seeking that goal? No more was that ever as shamelessly in evidence, as the tongue-in-cheek piece I wrote five years ago about my dubious link to Bob Dylan: “600° Of Separation?” (JANUARY, 2006 MUSE-LETTER)


In time, Dylan moved from a more literal, to a stream of consciousness in his lyrics. Which often raised a question, as a 2004 article in Newsweek pointed out

“…there is one question that has confounded music and literary critics for the entirety of Dylan's career: Should Bob Dylan be considered a songwriter or a poet? Dylan was asked that very question at a press conference in 1965, when he famously said, "I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man."

Either way, how can one not “dig” such lines as these from Subterranean Homesick Blues:

Look out kid
Don't matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don't try, 'No Doz'
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows.

While I would not kill to have written those last two lines…I certainly would maim!


They so capture a truth about relying on our own sense of what is going on around us, in lieu of the talking heads to whom so many of us have misguidedly come to rely on, in this world of super saturated Cable TV punditry.


Then at some point down the line when we weren’t looking, Dylan morphed into that classic horror film actor Vincent Price. It’s called aging, and with any luck, we all will get there.



And along with that exterior transformation, the voice got raspier and raspier. Which is fine and has served him well for the material he has written for himself. But if one is ever in the mood for a chuckle, listen to him mangle Latin in the Christmas carol Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) on his Christmas In the Heart album. If not so inclined to download the song, close your eyes and imagine that voice taking on some of this:

Adeste fideles,
Laeti triumphantes;
Venite, venite in Bethlehem;
Natum videte,
Regem Angelorum:

So just how does one get from here to there?



The answer is either “blowin’ in the wind,” or implicit in these lines:

And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin.







Their Cup Runneth Under (DECEMBER, 2015 MUSE-LETTER)



Once there were snowflakes, spruce, doves and deer. It was Christmas at Starbucks, and the whole world was here.


Oh coffee, ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…



While they never said Christmas right on those cardboard cups that come in three sizes (an implicit homage to the Magi?), it was obvious given the whole package. And I mean if you’re a Jew, where was the white and blue? And no Chanukah candles? Nor Kwanzaa candles either for that matter? No, Starbucks was clearly screaming “Christmas.” All that was missing was a manger and an exclamation point, ala Jeb!


There might be annual assassins in our midst trying to do Christmas in (and thank God for Bill O’Reilly’s ever watchful eye in the matter), but not our beloved Starbucks. Until now. Et tu Brute? Yes, it is abundantly clear in which direction Starbucks has decided to go this year.



Their cup has some people seeing red, and has resulted in a whole brewhoho. But all puns aside, did Starbucks really think they could slip this cup past Christians? No way.


One particularly troubled Evangelical soul, ironically, old-testamently named Joshua, took to the internet saying that “Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off their brand new cups. That’s why they’re plain red.” And two-thirds of the initial flood of responses agreed. Trump even suggesting a Starbucks boycott. But really guys, if we all were on the alert, we should have seen this coming. The writing was on the wall (or the cup).

Note the previous year’s 2014 design. Just a few watermarked dabs suggesting a child’s finger painting attempt at a poinsettia? As Jerry Seinfeld might rhetorically have asked, “What’s up with that?” An answer, all the same, could have been forthcoming: “It’s an obvious sign Seinfeld, both literarily and figuratively, that Christmas is fading into the background of American life.” And to offer further examples, we now see stores putting up their Christmas trees and decorations as late as Halloween! And ever notice, you now hear people saying “Happy Holidays” even to those with Hispanic surnames. It could not be plainer.


Look, I get of it. In a piece from almost eleven years ago entitled “The Ghost of C-------- Past” (JANUARY, 2005 MUSE-LETTER), I too wondered if Christmas was becoming too politically incorrect a concept, and doomed to extinction; to become but a distant memory. I even offered a futuristic reimagining of “that jolly old elf’s” attire, along with suggesting an alternative name for him, and recognizing the need to rework the songs and poetry that reference his mission of bringing toys to all good children. (Though he is only able to do this by the way, because he runs a sweat shop that pays far below the minimum wage. And why isn’t Bernie Sanders all over this?)


Here comes Sani Tized
here comes Sani Tized
right down Sani Tized way…


I saw mommy kissing Sani Tized…


Then one foggy Holiday Eve,
Sani came to say…

‘Twas the night before a Holiday—
celebrating all religions
and even atheism—
when all through the house…

I thought long and hard about all of this over a cup of joe, while over at Dunkin’ Donuts, don’t you know. Starbucks ain’t the only ground in town. And as I did, I began to feel the spirit of Christmas coming upon me. Then like Ben Carson, I had a revelation. Well I’ll be darned. It’s gotta’ be the cup. Spelled right out there amid sprigs of holly for every sipper to see, lest there be any ambiguity regarding message or intent… J-O-Y. No plain red cups for this place.


And on that note, I left the store and set out to begin my “Christmas” shopping. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”






The Twelve Days of Excess (JANUARY, 2013 MUSE-LETTER)


Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas World Tour at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn


There is no one like Leonard Cohen, who gave one of the most soulful and unique concerts I have ever seen. And heard. He fits no defined musical genre, and if one were to take a shot at it, you might call it “Poetic-Folk-Rock-Rhythm & Blues.”


Assuming a stance most often resembling a question mark, then often falling to both knees in his singing/recitation of a song— doffing his fedora here and there to transition to another moment—it never comes off as affected. And even after three hours on the stage, during which time he never breaks a sweat, he manages to keep you riveted for the whole stretch.



At age 78, he is sexy, charismatic, lyrical, and comes equipped with a voice that has a lot of miles on it. And when he recited one of his full length poems— in an arena essentially built for the Brooklyn Nets, an NBA basketball team— it was so incongruous to have a place like this so quiet at times, that you could have heard a tear drop:


I know you had to lie to me
I know you had to cheat
You learned it on your father's knee
And at your mother's feet
But did you have to fight your way
Across the burning street
When all our vital interests lay
A thousand kisses deep.






Quote of the Month


“We don’t decide about life; we’re captured by life. In the major spheres, decision-making, when it happens at all, is downstream from curiosity and engagement. If we really want to understand and shape behavior, maybe we should look less at decision-making and more at curiosity.”


                                                                —David Brooks
                                                                                The New York Times







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