May 2011


If You Build It They Will Come: Apple, The Store

What hath Steve Jobs wrought? Answer: a business model that has evolved into a religion. One now sporting over 300 “churches” throughout the world, disguised as stores. The first of which having only opened its doors ten years ago this coming May 15th, in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. These have become places where those might come to pray at the Altar of All Things Apple.


Initially of course, it was about the product itself. And one might trace that birth, for all intents and purposes, to January 22, 1984 when the “1984” commercial aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. It is now considered to be a defining moment, not only for Apple, but for the advertising industry as well. By general consensus, it is one of the most successful and memorable TV commercials of all time.


But who knew? Who knew that one day, we’d get from there to here: a place open 24/7/365, at which we would find our self one night at 2 AM? And our prayer? That one of the geeks behind the “Genius Bar,” could get our outdated MacBook up to speed. The poor “machine” had become so old in the eon of the three years that we have owned it, that it could no longer operate on its own steam without the help of some precious new software. An upgrade that would enable it (hopefully) to interface with a whole new generation of wireless printers. A generation born, apparently, while we were sleeping.

But tonight we are awake. And we have arrived via a tubular elevator —so much of an illusion itself, that we bumped our head on its door which at first appeared to be open, but alas, wasn’t. (And no we had not been drinking). Slightly shaken, we stepped off onto the floor beneath that magnificent 32-foot cube, a beacon in the night, beckoning other lost souls such as we.





One automaton who works at this place, told us that it was the third most visited tourist attraction behind the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. That seemed a little far fetched. But would an automaton lie? And according to Flickr (the image and video hosting website) it is indeed the fifth-most photographed place in the city.

And then, MacDailyNews (a house organ), toots its own horn in proclaiming its lofty place within the rankings of the top New York City landmarks:

1) Empire State Building
2) Times Square
3) Rockefeller Center
4) Grand Central Station
5) Apple Store – Fifth Avenue
6) Columbus Circle
7) Liberty Island

Hype? Maybe. But totally believable if one is there during daytime hours to witness the endless stream of those descending the floating spiral staircase. They are like ants in a frenzy at an abandoned picnic.

But we are now here in the wee hours, attempting to avoid that very insanity. And still there are about 100 people in the store. And as we wait our turn (even with an appointment) we note that one man has fallen asleep at the “Genius Bar.” (Drunk on too many applications?). And after about two hours—in which we will spare all of the agonizing details as to why it would take so long to fix the problem—we emerged from down below at 2:15 AM. Though weary, now starving. And there at street level was a vendor selling food! We wondered at his business model, as chomping on a humongous pretzel, we made our way happily home.






Bach to the Future


Speaking of churches, on Palm Sunday in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we began singing a hymn that we knew well from our youth entitled, “O Sacred Head Surrounded".


According to Wikipedia:

“Johann Sebastian Bach arranged its melody and used five stanzas of the hymn in his St. Matthew Passion…”

Bach was putting music to a poem that has been attributed to a couple of poets who proceeded him by 500-600 years. Gotta’ be the longest interval in a creative collaboration in history. But instead of singing that first stanza which goes something like this—depending on which version is sung—Christian or specifically Catholic…

O sacred head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding head, so wounded,
reviled and put to scorn!

…rather gruesome lyrics we realize, (but whoever said Catholicism was fun?) instead we found our self singing:

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune

Great lyrics; wrong venue. For those lines are from Paul Simon’s song, An American Tune. And it has bugged us for a few decades now whenever we have chanced to hear that song (which first appeared on the 1973 released album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon) that it seemed like out and out pilferage! Can one be said to plagiarize a tune? Or is there another word for this sort of thing? Well according to Wikipedia there is, and it’s called “Cryptomnesia.” Although, we couldn’t find it in our Webster’s Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary, which is about the size of a coffee table.


In essence, crytomnesia, means “subconsciously copying,” and not deliberate theft. It is rather like experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration. (Are people who do this compulsively, therefore called cryptonesiacs? And is there any medication for it?)


This all came to the forefront in the George Harrison/My Sweet Lord case (1971), in which he was found to have subconsciously copied the earlier Chiffons hit, He’s So Fine. In losing the case, George had to give up the majority of the royalties from "My Sweet Lord" and partial royalties from All Things Must Pass, the album in which the song appeared. This setback no doubt reduced him to being just a mere billionaire. But back to Bach.


Is Paul Simon, now age 70 (if can you believe that) ever going to fess up to this? He never acknowledged Bach in his album. In fact, to the contrary. In the liner notes within, it somewhat disingenuously states: “All songs composed by Paul Simon.”


This is not to suggest that he is not a giant in his own right (though all of 5’ 3”). And in all fairness, the bridge of his own construction in this song, is sublime:

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying.

And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying.

If you haven’t heard it in a while, it is worth another listen. Some feel it now has a particular poignancy since 9/11, and the current mood of the day. It truly is a beautiful piece of poetry put to a classical piece of music. Uplifting and “lifted,” so to speak, at the same time. Here is Paul singing it in 1975. Forgive the bad haircut.






Calling an Audible on a Poem



We were about to go with a poem this month entitled Too Much of Poetry. But as we approached the line of scrimmage and we learned that Phoebe Snow had died, we “called an audible.” (And to those who are not football fans, forgive the metaphors. Google it and get over it).


Her signature hit, Poetry Man, appeared in ’74 on her eponymous first album, Phoebe Snow. And we would use the refrain from that song as an inspiration and an epigraph, for a poem we would come to write some three decades later. And we, an erstwhile poetry man, would make things all rhyme in an A-B-C/A-B-C scheme.


Though the poem itself is a tribute to poets and what they dedicate their lives to trying to do, and not about Phoebe Snow per se, we’d still like to dedicate it to her on her passing (1950-2011).


The Poetry Man

You’re the poetry man
You make things all rhyme

—Phoebe Snow

The face no longer angular
           not nearly so clearly defined—
                      the jaw once jutted now fading


in a world shaped more triangular—
           I no longer sign on the dotted line.
                      That’s me masquerading


as Johnny Appleseed.
           Though in lieu of apples—planting poems
                      in a forest of hands:


from the elite to the common breed
           who upon leaving their homes
                      would come by chance


to meet me at locations far from prime.
            Call me a man with a mission,
                      though aging, continuing at a pace


bent on a legacy of reason and rhyme;
            to restore what is lost through attrition
                      with wisdom and a sense of grace.


                                                       —Ron Vazzano






Fidel’s New Duds


In a parenthetical remark in last month’s Muse-Letter, we 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 more importantly, would there be school the next day? 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 bad 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.






Quote-of-the-Month Club

She’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, she’s really a spoon.


                                                                                                    —Francis Lawrence*



* Not to be confused with the film director of the newly released, Water for Elephants, who goes by the same name.






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