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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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:
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
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,
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
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
Venite, venite in Bethlehem;
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
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,
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?
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).
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”
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?)
comes Sani Tized
here comes Sani Tized
right down Sani Tized way…
saw mommy kissing Sani Tized…
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
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
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
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
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.”
New York Times