Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike dies at age 76 - One of the greatest Essays ever written

"The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories." - John Updike in Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu (1960)
Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

by John Updike

Author: John Updike ©. Published: 1960-10-22. Appeared On: The New Yorker.

Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities. Its right field is one of the deepest in the American League, while its left field is the shortest; the high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface at right-handed hitters. On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 28th, as I took a seat behind third base, a uniformed groundkeeper was treading the top of this wall, picking batting-practice home runs out of the screen, like a mushroom gatherer seen in Wordsworthian perspective on the verge of a cliff. The day was overcast, chill, and uninspirational. The Boston team was the worst in twenty-seven seasons. A jangling medley of incompetent youth and aging competence, the Red Sox were finishing in seventh place only because the Kansas City Athletics had locked them out of the cellar. They were scheduled to play the Baltimore Orioles, a much nimbler blend of May and December, who had been dumped from pennant contention a week before by the insatiable Yankees. I, and 10,453 others, had shown up primarily because this was the Red Sox's last home game of the season, and therefore the last time in all eternity that their regular left fielder, known to the headlines as TED, KID, SPLINTER, THUMPER, TW, and, most cloyingly, MISTER WONDERFUL, would play in Boston. "WHAT WILL WE DO WITHOUT TED? HUB FANS ASK" ran the headline on a newspaper being read by a bulb-nosed cigar smoker a few rows away. Williams' retirement had been announced, doubted (he had been threatening retirement for years), confirmed by Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox owner, and at last widely accepted as the sad but probable truth. He was forty-two and had redeemed his abysmal season of 1959 with a—considering his advanced age—fine one. He had been giving away his gloves and bats and had grudgingly consented to a sentimental ceremony today. This was not necessarily his last game; the Red Sox were scheduled to travel to New York and wind up the season with three games there.

I arrived early. The Orioles were hitting fungos on the field. The day before, they had spitefully smothered the Red Sox, 17-4, and neither their faces nor their drab gray visiting-team uniforms seemed very gracious. I wondered who had invited them to the party. Between our heads and the lowering clouds a frenzied organ was thundering through, with an appositeness perhaps accidental, "You maaaade me love you, I didn't wanna do it, I didn't wanna do it . . ."

The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories. It falls into three stages, which may be termed Youth, Maturity, and Age; or Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis; or Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.

First, there was the by now legendary epoch when the young bridegroom came out of the West, announced "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.' " The dowagers of local journalism attempted to give elementary deportment lessons to this child who spake as a god, and to their horror were themselves rebuked. Thus began the long exchange of backbiting, bat-flipping, booing, and spitting that has distinguished Williams' public relations. The spitting incidents of 1957 and 1958 and the similar dockside courtesies that Williams has now and then extended to the grandstand should be judged against this background: the left-field stands at Fenway for twenty years have held a large number of customers who have bought their way in primarily for the privilege of showering abuse on Williams. Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Williams' case the hostility has been systematic and unappeasable. His basic offense against the fans has been to wish that they weren't there. Seeking a perfectionist's vacuum, he has quixotically desired to sever the game from the ground of paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it. Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek to newsmen. It has been a costly theory—it has probably cost him, among other evidences of good will, two Most Valuable Player awards, which are voted by reporters—but he has held to it from his rookie year on. While his critics, oral and literary, remained beyond the reach of his discipline, the opposing pitchers were accessible, and he spanked them to the tune of .406 in 1941. He slumped to .356 in 1942 and went off to war.

In 1946, Williams returned from three years as a Marine pilot to the second of his baseball avatars, that of Achilles, the hero of incomparable prowess and beauty who nevertheless was to be found sulking in his tent while the Trojans (mostly Yankees) fought through to the ships. Yawkey, a timber and mining maharajah, had surrounded his central jewel with many gems of slightly lesser water, such as Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Rudy York, Birdie Tebbetts, and Johnny Pesky. Throughout the late forties, the Red Sox were the best paper team in baseball, yet they had little three-dimensional to show for it, and if this was a tragedy, Williams was Hamlet. A succinct review of the indictment—and a fair sample of appreciative sports-page prose—appeared the very day of Williams' valedictory, in a column by Huck Finnegan in the Boston American (no sentimentalist, Huck):

Williams' career, in contrast [to Babe Ruth's], has been a series of failures except for his averages. He flopped in the only World Series he ever played in (1946) when he batted only .200. He flopped in the playoff game with Cleveland in 1948. He flopped in the final game of the 1949 season with the pennant hinging on the outcome (Yanks 5, Sox 3). He flopped in 1950 when he returned to the lineup after a two-month absence and ruined the morale of a club that seemed pennant-bound under Steve O'Neill. It has always been Williams' records first, the team second, and the Sox non-winning record is proof enough of that.

There are answers to all this, of course. The fatal weakness of the great Sox slugging teams was not-quite-good-enough pitching rather than Williams' failure to hit a home run every time he came to bat. Again, Williams' depressing effect on his teammates has never been proved. Despite ample coaching to the contrary, most insisted that they liked him. He has been generous with advice to any player who asked for it. In an increasingly combative baseball atmosphere, he continued to duck beanballs docilely. With umpires he was gracious to a fault. This courtesy itself annoyed his critics, whom there was no pleasing. And against the ten crucial games (the seven World Series games with the St. Louis Cardinals, the 1948 playoff with the Cleveland Indians, and the two-game series with the Yankees at the end of the 1949 season, winning either one of which would have given the Red Sox the pennant) that make up the Achilles' heel of Williams' record, a mass of statistics can be set showing that day in and day out he was no slouch in the clutch. The correspondence columns of the Boston papers now and then suffer a sharp flurry of arithmetic on this score; indeed, for Williams to have distributed all his hits so they did nobody else any good would constitute a feat of placement unparalleled in the annals of selfishness.

Whatever residue of truth remains of the Finnegan charge those of us who love Williams must transmute as best we can, in our own personal crucibles. My personal memories of Williams begin when I was a boy in Pennsylvania, with two last-place teams in Philadelphia to keep me company. For me, "W'ms, lf" was a figment of the box scores who always seemed to be going 3-for-5. He radiated, from afar, the hard blue glow of high purpose. I remember listening over the radio to the All-Star Game of 1946, in which Williams hit two singles and two home runs, the second one off a Rip Sewell "blooper" pitch; it was like hitting a balloon out of the park. I remember watching one of his home runs from the bleachers of Shibe Park; it went over the first baseman's head and rose meticulously along a straight line and was still rising when it cleared the fence. The trajectory seemed qualitatively different from anything anyone else might hit. For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter's myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers' dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport's poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.

By the time I went to college, near Boston, the lesser stars Yawkey had assembled around Williams had faded, and his craftsmanship, his rigorous pride, had become itself a kind of heroism. This brittle and temperamental player developed an unexpected quality of persistence. He was always coming back—back from Korea, back from a broken collarbone, a shattered elbow, a bruised heel, back from drastic bouts of flu and ptomaine poisoning. Hardly a season went by without some enfeebling mishap, yet he always came back, and always looked like himself. The delicate mechanism of timing and power seemed locked, shockproof, in some case outside his body. In addition to injuries, there were a heavily publicized divorce, and the usual storms with the press, and the Williams Shift—the maneuver, custom-built by Lou Boudreau, of the Cleveland Indians, whereby three infielders were concentrated on the right side of the infield, where a left-handed pull hitter like Williams generally hits the ball. Williams could easily have learned to punch singles through the vacancy on his left and fattened his average hugely. This was what Ty Cobb, the Einstein of average, told him to do. But the game had changed since Cobb; Williams believed that his value to the club and to the game was as a slugger, so he went on pulling the ball, trying to blast it through three men, and paid the price of perhaps fifteen points of lifetime average. Like Ruth before him, he bought the occasional home run at the cost of many directed singles—a calculated sacrifice certainly not, in the case of a hitter as average-minded as Williams, entirely selfish.

After a prime so harassed and hobbled, Williams was granted by the relenting fates a golden twilight. He became at the end of his career perhaps the best old hitter of the century. The dividing line came between the 1956 and the 1957 seasons. In September of the first year, he and Mickey Mantle were contending for the batting championship. Both were hitting around .350, and there was no one else near them. The season ended with a three-game series between the Yankees and the Sox, and, living in New York then, I went up to the Stadium. Williams was slightly shy of the four hundred at-bats needed to qualify; the fear was expressed that the Yankee pitchers would walk him to protect Mantle. Instead, they pitched to him—a wise decision. He looked terrible at the plate, tired and discouraged and unconvincing. He never looked very good to me in the Stadium. (Last week, in Life, Williams, a sportswriter himself now, wrote gloomily of the Stadium, "There's the bigness of it. There are those high stands and all those people smoking—and, of course, the shadows. . . . It takes at least one series to get accustomed to the Stadium and even then you're not sure.") The final outcome in 1956 was Mantle .353, Williams .345.

The next year, I moved from New York to New England, and it made all the difference. For in September of 1957, in the same situation, the story was reversed. Mantle finally hit .365; it was the best season of his career. But Williams, though sick and old, had run away from him. A bout of flu had laid him low in September. He emerged from his cave in the Hotel Somerset haggard but irresistible; he hit four successive pinch-hit home runs. "I feel terrible," he confessed, "but every time I take a swing at the ball it goes out of the park." He ended the season with thirty-eight home runs and an average of .388, the highest in either league since his own .406, and, coming from a decrepit man of thirty-nine, an even more supernal figure. With eight or so of the "leg hits" that a younger man would have beaten out, it would have been .400. And the next year, Williams, who in 1949 and 1953 had lost batting championships by decimal whiskers to George Kell and Mickey Vernon, sneaked in behind his teammate Pete Runnels and filched his sixth title, a bargain at .328.

In 1959, it seemed all over. The dinosaur thrashed around in the .200 swamp for the first half of the season, and was even benched ("rested," Manager Mike Higgins tactfully said.) Old foes like the late Bill Cunningham began to offer batting tips. Cunningham thought Williams was jiggling his elbows; in truth, Williams' neck was so stiff he could hardly turn his head to look at the pitcher. When he swung, it looked like a Calder mobile with one thread cut; it reminded you that since 1953 Williams' shoulders had been wired together. A solicitous pall settled over the sports pages. In the two decades since Williams had come to Boston, his status had imperceptibly shifted from that of a naughty prodigy to that of a municipal monument. As his shadow in the record books lengthened, the Red Sox teams around him declined, and the entire American League seemed to be losing life and color to the National. The inconsistency of the new superstars—Mantle, Colavito, and Kaline—served to make Williams appear all the more singular. And off the field, his private philanthropy—in particular, his zealous chairmanship of the Jimmy Fund, a charity for children with cancer—gave him a civic presence somewhat like that of Richard Cardinal Cushing. In religion, Williams appears to be a humanist, and a selective one at that, but he and the Cardinal, when their good works intersect and they appear in the public eye together, make a handsome and heartening pair.

Humiliated by his '59 season, Williams determined, once more, to come back. I, as a specimen Williams partisan, was both glad and fearful. All baseball fans believe in miracles; the question is, how many do you believe in? He looked like a ghost in spring training. Manager Jurges warned us ahead of time that if Williams didn't come through he would be benched, just like anybody else. As it turned out, it was Jurges who was benched. Williams entered the 1960 season needing eight home runs to have a lifetime total of 500; after one time at bat in Washington, he needed seven. For a stretch, he was hitting a home run every second game that he played. He passed Lou Gehrig's lifetime total, then the number 500, then Mel Ott's total, and finished with 521, thirteen behind Jimmy Foxx, who alone stands between Williams and Babe Ruth's unapproachable 714. The summer was a statistician's picnic. His two-thousandth walk came and went, his eighteen-hundredth run batted in, his sixteenth All-Star Game. At one point, he hit a home run off a pitcher, Don Lee, off whose father, Thornton Lee, he had hit a home run a generation before. The only comparable season for a forty-two-year-old man was Ty Cobb's in 1928. Cobb batted .323 and hit one homer. Williams batted .316 but hit twenty-nine homers.

In sum, though generally conceded to be the greatest hitter of his era, he did not establish himself as "the greatest hitter who ever lived." Cobb, for average, and Ruth, for power, remain supreme. Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Jackson, and Lefty O'Doul, among players since 1900, have higher lifetime averages than Williams' .344. Unlike Foxx, Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Hank Greenberg, and Ralph Kiner, Williams never came close to matching Babe Ruth's season home-run total of sixty. In the list of major-league batting records, not one is held by Williams. He is second in walks drawn, third in home runs, fifth in lifetime averages, sixth in runs batted in, eighth in runs scored and in total bases, fourteenth in doubles, and thirtieth in hits. But if we allow him merely average seasons for the four-plus seasons he lost to two wars, and add another season for the months he lost to injuries, we get a man who in all the power totals would be second, and not a very distant second, to Ruth. And if we further allow that these years would have been not merely average but prime years, if we allow for all the months when Williams was playing in sub-par condition, if we permit his early and later years in baseball to be some sort of index of what the middle years could have been, if we give him a right-field fence that is not, like Fenway's, one of the most distant in the league, and if—the least excusable "if"—we imagine him condescending to outsmart the Williams Shift, we can defensibly assemble, like a colossus induced from the sizable fragments that do remain, a statistical figure not incommensurate with his grandiose ambition. From the statistics that are on the books, a good case can be made that in the combination of power and average Williams is first; nobody else ranks so high in both categories. Finally, there is the witness of the eyes; men whose memories go back to Shoeless Joe Jackson—another unlucky natural—rank him and Williams together as the best-looking hitters they have seen. It was for our last look that ten thousand of us had come.

Two girls, one of them with pert buckteeth and eyes as black as vest buttons, the other with white skin and flesh-colored hair, like an underdeveloped photograph of a redhead, came and sat on my right. On my other side was one of those frowning, chestless young-old men who can frequently be seen, often wearing sailor hats, attending ball games alone. He did not once open his program but instead tapped it, rolled up, on his knee as he gave the game his disconsolate attention. A young lady, with freckles and a depressed, dainty nose that by an optical illusion seemed to thrust her lips forward for a kiss, sauntered down into the box seats and with striking aplomb took a seat right behind the roof of the Oriole dugout. She wore a blue coat with a Northeastern University emblem sewed to it. The girls beside me took it into their heads that this was Williams' daughter. She looked too old to me, and why would she be sitting behind the visitors' dugout? On the other hand, from the way she sat there, staring at the sky and French-inhaling, she clearly was somebody. Other fans came and eclipsed her from view. The crowd looked less like a weekday ballpark crowd than like the folks you might find in Yellowstone National Park, or emerging from automobiles at the top of scenic Mount Mansfield. There were a lot of competitively well-dressed couples of tourist age, and not a few babes in arms. A row of five seats in front of me was abruptly filled with a woman and four children, the youngest of them two years old, if that. Some day, presumably, he could tell his grandchildren that he saw Williams play. Along with these tots and second-honeymooners, there were Harvard freshmen, giving off that peculiar nervous glow created when a quantity of insouciance is saturated with insecurity; thick-necked Army officers with brass on their shoulders and lead in their voices; pepperings of priests; perfumed bouquets of Roxbury Fabian fans; shiny salesmen from Albany and Fall River; and those gray, hoarse men—taxidrivers, slaughterers, and bartenders—who will continue to click through the turnstiles long after everyone else has deserted to television and tramporamas. Behind me, two young male voices blossomed, cracking a joke about God's five proofs that Thomas Aquinas exists—typical Boston College levity.

The batting cage was trundled away. The Orioles fluttered to the sidelines. Diagonally across the field, by the Red Sox dugout, a cluster of men in overcoats were festering like maggots. I could see a splinter of white uniform, and Williams' head, held at a self-deprecating and evasive tilt. Williams' conversational stance is that of a six-foot-three-inch man under a six-foot ceiling. He moved away to the patter of flash bulbs, and began playing catch with a young Negro outfielder named Willie Tasby. His arm, never very powerful, had grown lax with the years, and his throwing motion was a kind of muscular drawl. To catch the ball, he flicked his glove hand onto his left shoulder (he batted left but threw right, as every schoolboy ought to know) and let the ball plop into it comically. This catch session with Tasby was the only time all afternoon I saw him grin.

A tight little flock of human sparrows who, from the lambent and pampered pink of their faces, could only have been Boston politicians moved toward the plate. The loudspeakers mammothly coughed as someone huffed on the microphone. The ceremonies began. Curt Gowdy, the Red Sox radio and television announcer, who sounds like everybody's brother-in-law, delivered a brief sermon, taking the two words "pride" and "champion" as his text. It began, "Twenty-one years ago, a skinny kid from San Diego, California . . ." and ended, "I don't think we'll ever see another like him." Robert Tibolt, chairman of the board of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, presented Williams with a big Paul Revere silver bowl. Harry Carlson, a member of the sports committee of the Boston Chamber, gave him a plaque, whose inscription he did not read in its entirety, out of deference to Williams' distaste for this sort of fuss. Mayor Collins presented the Jimmy Fund with a thousand-dollar check.

Then the occasion himself stooped to the microphone, and his voice sounded, after the others, very Californian; it seemed to be coming, excellently amplified, from a great distance, adolescently young and as smooth as a butternut. His thanks for the gifts had not died from our ears before he glided, as if helplessly, into "In spite of all the terrible things that have been said about me by the maestros of the keyboard up there . . ." He glanced up at the press rows suspended above home plate. (All the Boston reporters, incidentally, reported the phrase as "knights of the keyboard," but I heard it as "maestros" and prefer it that way.) The crowd tittered, appalled. A frightful vision flashed upon me, of the press gallery pelting Williams with erasers, of Williams clambering up the foul screen to slug journalists, of a riot, of Mayor Collins being crushed. ". . . And they were terrible things," Williams insisted, with level melancholy, into the mike. "I'd like to forget them, but I can't." He paused, swallowed his memories, and went on, "I want to say that my years in Boston have been the greatest thing in my life." The crowd, like an immense sail going limp in a change of wind, sighed with relief. Taking all the parts himself, Williams then acted out a vivacious little morality drama in which an imaginary tempter came to him at the beginning of his career and said, "Ted, you can play anywhere you like." Leaping nimbly into the role of his younger self (who in biographical actuality had yearned to be a Yankee), Williams gallantly chose Boston over all the other cities, and told us that Tom Yawkey was the greatest owner in baseball and we were the greatest fans. We applauded ourselves heartily. The umpire came out and dusted the plate. The voice of doom announced over the loudspeakers that after Williams' retirement his uniform number, 9, would be permanently retired—the first time the Red Sox had so honored a player. We cheered. The national anthem was played. We cheered. The game began.

Williams was third in the batting order, so he came up in the bottom of the first inning, and Steve Barber, a young pitcher who was not yet born when Williams began playing for the Red Sox, offered him four pitches, at all of which he disdained to swing, since none of them were within the strike zone. This demonstrated simultaneously that Williams' eyes were razor-sharp and that Barber's control wasn't. Shortly, the bases were full, with Williams on second. "Oh, I hope he gets held up at third! That would be wonderful,'' the girl beside me moaned, and, sure enough, the man at bat walked and Williams was delivered into our foreground. He struck the pose of Donatello's David, the third-base bag being Goliath's head. Fiddling with his cap, swapping small talk with the Oriole third baseman (who seemed delighted to have him drop in), swinging his arms with a sort of prancing nervousness, he looked fine—flexible, hard, and not unbecomingly substantial through the middle. The long neck, the small head, the knickers whose cuffs were worn down near his ankles—all these points, often observed by caricaturists, were visible in the flesh.

One of the collegiate voices behind me said, "He looks old, doesn't he, old; big deep wrinkles in his face . . ."

"Yeah," the other voice said, "but he looks like an old hawk, doesn't he?"

With each pitch, Williams danced down the baseline, waving his arms and stirring dust, ponderous but menacing, like an attacking goose. It occurred to about a dozen humorists at once to shout "Steal home! Go, go!" Williams' speed afoot was never legendary. Lou Clinton, a young Sox outfielder, hit a fairly deep fly to center field. Williams tagged up and ran home. As he slid across the plate, the ball, thrown with unusual heft by Jackie Brandt, the Oriole center fielder, hit him on the back.

"Boy, he was really loafing, wasn't he?" one of the boys behind me said.

"It's cold," the other explained. "He doesn't play well when it's cold. He likes heat. He's a hedonist."

The run that Williams scored was the second and last of the inning. Gus Triandos, of the Orioles, quickly evened the score by plunking a home run over the handy left-field wall. Williams, who had had this wall at his back for twenty years, played the ball flawlessly. He didn't budge. He just stood there, in the center of the little patch of grass that his patient footsteps had worn brown, and, limp with lack of interest, watched the ball pass overhead. It was not a very interesting game. Mike Higgins, the Red Sox manager, with nothing to lose, had restricted his major-league players to the left-field line—along with Williams, Frank Malzone, a first-rate third baseman, played the game—and had peopled the rest of the terrain with unpredictable youngsters fresh, or not so fresh, off the farms. Other than Williams' recurrent appearances at the plate, the maladresse of the Sox infield was the sole focus of suspense; the second baseman turned every grounder into a juggling act, while the shortstop did a breathtaking impersonation of an open window. With this sort of assistance, the Orioles wheedled their way into a 4-2 lead. They had early replaced Barber with another young pitcher, Jack Fisher. Fortunately (as it turned out), Fisher is no cutie; he is willing to burn the ball through the strike zone, and inning after inning this tactic punctured Higgins' string of test balloons.

Whenever Williams appeared at the plate—pounding the dirt from his cleats, gouging a pit in the batter's box with his left foot, wringing resin out of the bat handle with his vehement grip, switching the stick at the pitcher with an electric ferocity—it was like having a familiar Leonardo appear in a shuffle of Saturday Evening Post covers. This man, you realized—and here, perhaps, was the difference, greater than the difference in gifts—really intended to hit the ball. In the third inning, he hoisted a high fly to deep center. In the fifth, we thought he had it; he smacked the ball hard and high into the heart of his power zone, but the deep right field in Fenway and the heavy air and a casual east wind defeated him. The ball died. Al Pilarcik leaned his back against the big "380" painted on the right-field wall and caught it. On another day, in another park, it would have been gone. (After the game, Williams said, "I didn't think I could hit one any harder than that. The conditions weren't good.")

The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his bat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.

Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

Every true story has an anticlimax. The men on the field refused to disappear, as would have seemed decent, in the smoke of Williams' miracle. Fisher continued to pitch, and escaped further harm. At the end of the inning, Higgins sent Williams out to his left-field position, then instantly replaced him with Carrol Hardy, so we had a long last look at Williams as he ran out there and then back, his uniform jogging, his eyes steadfast on the ground. It was nice, and we were grateful, but it left a funny taste.

One of the scholasticists behind me said, "Let's go. We've seen everything. I don't want to spoil it." This seemed a sound aesthetic decision. Williams' last word had been so exquisitely chosen, such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution, that already it felt a little unreal in my head, and I wanted to get out before the castle collapsed. But the game, though played by clumsy midgets under the feeble glow of the arc lights, began to tug at my attention, and I loitered in the runway until it was over. Williams' homer had, quite incidentally, made the score 4-3. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out, Marlin Coughtry, the second-base juggler, singled. Vic Wertz, pinch-hitting, doubled off the left-field wall, Coughtry advancing to third. Pumpsie Green walked, to load the bases. Willie Tasby hit a double-play ball to the third baseman, but in making the pivot throw Billy Klaus, an ex-Red Sox infielder, reverted to form and threw the ball past the first baseman and into the Red Sox dugout. The Sox won, 5-4. On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.
Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieuby John Updike© 1960

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dar Williams and Joshua Radin at Webster Hall
Live Music, MusicJanuary 26th, 2009
Dar Williams at Webster Hall

Photos: Matt Fricovsky


Dar Williams loves her fans as much as they love her, but feels strange saying it back, is what she revealed at Friday night’s (Jan 23) show at Webster Hall. Another one of Dar’s great performances of captivating and endearing story and song, this time sharing the stage with Joshua Radin and opening act Jesse Harris.
It was a mix of old and new and although most songs were in support of her latest release Promised Land, I was delighted to hear one of her older songs, one I haven’t seen her do live in a while, “February”. It was also great to hear her play both solo and with the accompaniment of a full band, which conveniently was the same band that played with Joshua Radin, with Norah Jones’ pal Jesse Harris playing lead guitar.
Dar opened her set with the upbeat and optimistic “It’s alright” then followed it with the song “The Tide Falls Away” a song she co-wrote with The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris. She followed this with a story about being a free spirit with high morals, then went into my favorite track off Promised Land, “The Easy Way”. It was a short set although she packed it with enough of that Dar magic to make it feel like a full show.
Her final song of the night was “The Babysitters Here”, ending the night with a song of admiration and idolization, the best part was somewhere in between “unicorn” and “my babysitter” she snuck in an “I love You” for all her admiring fans.
- Stacy Wiedenmuller
Set list and more pictures after the jump.
Dar Williams Set List (1/23/09)
It’s Alright
The Tide Falls Away
The Easy Way
Book of Love
Spring Street
The Beauty of the Rain
February
The Mercy of the Fallen
You are Everyone
Trouble Times
(encore) The Babysitters Here
Dar Williams

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Celebrity sighting

At the Jesse Harris, Josh Radin and Dar Williams show last night at Webster Hall, I looked to my left because someone was there. That someone was Norah Jones. Also Ingrid Michaelson was there to sing with Joshua.









Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Capricorn Horoscope for week of January 22, 2009

Capricorn Horoscope for week of January 22, 2009

Most art critics long regarded Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) as a second-tier modern painter, writes Don Thompson in his book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. But that estimation got upgraded in 2006, when one of Klimt's paintings sold for $135 million. Art history was rewritten with a checkbook, says Thompson. According to my reading of the astrological omens, there's a possibility that your worth will also jump to a higher octave in 2009, Capricorn. But unlike Klimt, who didn't do anything new, you'll have to take action to earn your rise in status. How? Some suggestions: 1. Practice forgiveness with more intensity. 2. Be more tolerant of imperfection in yourself and others. 3. Expand your capacity to give.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Inaugural Address

Transcript
Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address


Published: January 20, 2009

Following is the transcript of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as
The latest on the inauguration of Barack Obama and other news from Washington and around the nation. Join the discussion.


PRESIDENT BARACK Thank you. Thank you.

CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation...

(APPLAUSE)

... as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

(APPLAUSE)

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

(APPLAUSE)

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

(APPLAUSE)

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality...

(APPLAUSE)

... and lower its costs.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

All this we can do. All this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.


Til to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

MR. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public's knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

(APPLAUSE)

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

(APPLAUSE)

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.

And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

(APPLAUSE)

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those...

(APPLAUSE)
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


(APPLAUSE)

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.

It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

(APPLAUSE)

So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

And God bless the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

my Hero Colicchio

Tom Colicchio is well-known in the food community as a great chef, a fair judge on Top Chef and a successful restaurateur. After last night, we can now also add hero to his list of accomplishments. He was in attendance at an Art.Food.Hope dinner in Washington, D.C. when cookbook author Joan Nathan (most famously known for Jewish Cooking in America and The New American Cooking) choked on a piece of chicken.

According to Ezra Klein of the Internet Food Association, who was also in attendance at the dinner, Alice Waters came running, shouting for someone to perform the Heimlich Maneuver after Nathan began to choke. Colicchio happened to be close by and was able to dislodge the offending morsel quickly.

Klein had an opportunity to speak with both parties after the incident. Colicchio offered an unassuming "I just happened to be nearby." Nathan commented with flattering appreciation, "He's so strong!"

Praise song for the day

Transcript
Inaugural Poem

Published: January 20, 2009

The following is a transcript of the inaugural poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander,

The latest on the inauguration of Barack Obama and other news from Washington and around the nation. Join the discussion.



Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bette and the Ceasar Salad Girls

Bette in Vegas

I have a dream speech

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the
greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand
today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a
great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the
flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long
night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years
later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of
segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro
lives on alonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material
prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of
American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've
come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the
architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the
Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which
every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black
men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that
America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofaras her citizens of color are
concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the
Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient
funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to
believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of
this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us
upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce
urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take
the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the
promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of
segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our
nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of
brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This
sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until
there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is
not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow
off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation
returns to business as usual.
And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is
granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to
shake the foundations of ournation until the bright day of justice emerges.


But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm
threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining
ourrightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to
satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and
discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical
violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting
physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not
lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as
evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny
is tied upwith our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom
is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you
be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of
the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as
long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the
motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be
satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger
one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their
self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only."


We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a
Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not
satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters,
and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and
tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of
you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered
by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the
faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to
Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana,
go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow
this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still
have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true
meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former
slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at
the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering
with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be
transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of
their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with
its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and
"nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black
girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as
sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and
mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the
crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.


With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a
stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords
of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we
will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to
jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free
one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children
will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from
every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city,we will be able
to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men,
Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing
in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last

The greatest american patriotic song

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thursday Night at The Bellagio





O

Bette Midler has lots of jokes about the French Canadian acrobatics, divers, clowns that make up the Cirque du Soliel. She also joked about never knowing that the F**k it was about. I found both to be true.

O the greatest of Cirque was set with 1.5 million gallons of water. Clowns, divers, fire throwers, Fan dancers, French courtesans,.acrobats, contortionists and water... the costumes are great and skin tight, the staging magnificent and the set was stunning. I was not sure what I was watching but I was captivated by O.


Cirque du Soleil weaves an aquatic tapestry of artistry, surrealism and theatrical romance in the timeless production, "O." Inspired by the concept of infinity and the elegance of water's pure form, "O" pays tribute to the beauty of the theatre - from the simplest street performance to the most lavish of operas - where anything is possible and where the drama of life plays itself out before our very eyes. World-class acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters perform in, on, and above water to create a breathtaking experience. Only at Bellagio, Las Vegas.

who the hell would have thought... O was infinity and the water its pure form... Cirque is way too esoteric and full of itself but it was pretty and a great way to spend 2 hours in Vegas.

Wednesday night in Las Vegas. Birthday celebration







The Showgirl Must go on
A Naughty-but-Nice Miss M Sets Up Shop in Sin City


By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
Published: March 3, 2008

LAS VEGAS — Just what this city desperately needed: a bracing injection of vulgarity.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Laura Rauch for The New York Times

B
Bette Midler, queen of a Louis Vuitton mountain in Las Vegas.

Bette Midler, who ignited a career by giving a good name to bad taste, has arrived in this sprawling gambling mecca, a steroidal temple of tackiness. And she claims to be right at home.

For as she merrily boasts in her new extravaganza, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” she has been telling dirty jokes for three decades, and flashed her flesh way back in the day. (Not for the paparazzi either, like these crazy kids today, but for paying audiences, thank you very much.) Sin city, antiseptic and corporate though it mostly feels today, is her kind of town.

Ms. Midler has lost little of the verve, bawdiness and originality that first captivated gay audiences back in the early 1970s. That hip-wiggling strut — how many entertainers can be said to have a trademark walk, by the way? — is every bit as manic, even if the heels are a tad lower. The voice still throbs with palpable feeling, even when the sentiment would sound ersatz sung by almost any other performer.

But Ms. Midler’s movie career has brought her a wide audience, and the culture has happily embraced all that once seemed transgressive in her act. By the standards of today her winking brand of vulgarity — the old-school Sophie Tucker gags, the jubilant camping — seems positively wholesome.

So it is that Ms. Midler is now installed in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, where Celine Dion recently held court for a five-year stint. Ms. Midler has moved in with her own $10 million spectacular, playing five nights a week for a total of about 100 performances a year for two years. Beginning in May, Cher will alternate with her in this cavernous space of more than 4,000 seats, where Elton John is also in residence. Noting the appeal of this showbiz trinity, Ms. Midler quipped, “Does it get any gayer?” Well, possibly — O Barbra, where art thou? Is it a little dismaying for longtime fans of Ms. Midler to find her installed in Las Vegas as the latest luxury product for high rollers in a city awash in them? (Ticket prices top out at $250, which could also buy dinner for one at Guy Savoy in the same hotel.) Well, possibly. And “The Showgirl Must Go On,” a career survey offering a sort of Midler 101, is clearly aimed at the masses who flock to this city in stupefying numbers in fervid search of ways to get rid of their money.

In a speedy 90 minutes (apparently the maximum time audiences here will agree to be entertained away from the slots and tables), and backed by a strong 13-piece band, Ms. Midler performs virtually all of her hits and signature tunes. She sings with a polish — and in a few cases, an emotional intensity — that belies the passing of the years and the many occasions on which she has been called upon to perform them before. Now 62, she makes self-pitying sport of her supposed infirmity in the course of her dash through her songbook, but when the encore arrives — the inexorable, the inevitable, dare I say the infernal “Wind Beneath My Wings” — Ms. Midler hits all the notes with breath to spare.

After a somewhat uninspired entrance — the diva ascends from under center stage atop an enormous pile of Louis Vuitton luggage. Ms. Midler, trim in a silver sequined pantsuit, her hair a nimbus of tight blond curls, hurls herself into high gear to perform the blazingly funny title song, a new composition that pays witty homage to that great Las Vegas institution of the showgirl.

Racing back and forth across the truly colossal Colosseum stage (it is 120 feet wide) Ms. Midler showers the audience in tart patter — she laments that she’s got an adjustable rate mortgage on the place — and introduces her latest trio of backup singers, the Harlettes (2.0? 3.0? 12.0?), and the 20 leggy chorines who back them up. “The best thing is, not one of them is a French-Canadian circus performer,” she exults, referring to the ubiquity of the Cirque du Soleil brand in the city.

Interspersed with performances of all her standards — “Do You Want to Dance?,” “From a Distance,” “Hello in There,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” — are affectionate nods to entertainers associated with Las Vegas. The city was once a refuge for the oddballs and also-rans of showbiz, so Ms. Midler’s Delores DeLago character, the wheelchair-riding mermaid with the odoriferous lounge act, is naturally right at home.

She is introduced, via video, by the arbiters of “American Idol,” and sings a medley of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra hits. Soph, the naughty jokemistress modeled on Sophie Tucker, is reimagined here as an indomitable showgirl, encumbered by a headdress “half the size of Tennessee,” in another standout segment.

Ms. Midler’s outsize persona — the Divine thing — serves her well here. Staging a show of this kind on a long strip of stage must be like putting a Broadway show on a subway platform. The strain sometimes shows; even 20 leggy women aren’t quite enough to eat up the space, and the choreography by Toni Basil, delightful in the Soph-and-the-showgirls segment, flounders at other points.

The set designs, by the opera veteran Michael Levine, are dominated by a series of shimmering curtains of gold coins that pay elegant tribute to the tradition of Las Vegas glitz. But there’s no escaping the flattening influence of the giant video screen that looms over the stage and makes the space feel a bit like a supersize Imax theater.

That Ms. Midler is capable of instantly warming up a room this daunting and filling a stage this forbidding is a testament to her consummate skills as an entertainer. The temperature dips now and then, but she keeps the antiseptic at bay with regular infusions of the down-and-dirty earthiness that is so central to her appeal.

Flinging herself on her back at one point, in mock exhaustion, she crankily observes that her predecessor “must have been a robot.” Having seen Ms. Dion’s show, I can attest to the perspicacity of that assessment.

Nobody leaving “The Showgirl Must Go On” will confuse Ms. Midler with a mechanical contraption. She still tears into the soulful ballad “When a Man Loves a Woman,” to cite just one example, with a fierceness that excavates every ounce of pain from it.

Like all great showgirls, she may wear sequins like a second skin, but the woman underneath is all flesh and blood, humor and heart.

Tuesday night in Las Vegas


About The Show

How did four blue-collar kids become one of the greatest successes in pop music history? Find out at Broadway's runaway smash-hit, Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2006 that takes you up the charts, across the country and behind the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. As Clive Barnes in the New York Post says, "It's just too good to be true." Discover the secret of a 40-year friendship: four blue-collar kids working their way from the streets of Newark to the heights of stardom. And experience electrifying performances of the golden greats that took these guys all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Dawn," "My Eyes Adored You," and more. The New York Times says, "The crowd goes wild!"

Capricorn Horoscope for week of January 15, 2009

Capricorn Horoscope for week of January 15, 2009

In one of his journal entries, Henry David Thoreau wrote about stumbling upon a single stalk of corn deep in the woods. It looked out of place there, so far from any cornfield, growing next to a pine tree. And yet it was doing just fine. How did its seed get there? By wind or animal? I suspect you will soon make a comparable discovery, Capricorn: a blaze of vitality that seems out of its element but is perfectly beautiful. Should you pluck it or engage with it or simply admire it? The freshest part of you knows the answer.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

W. D. Zantzinger, Subject of Dylan Song, Dies at 69

W. D. Zantzinger, Subject of Dylan Song, Dies at 69


By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: January 9, 2009
William Devereux Zantzinger, whose six-month sentence in the fatal caning of a black barmaid named Hattie Carroll at a Baltimore charity ball moved Bob Dylan to write a dramatic, almost journalistic song in 1963 that became a classic of modern American folk music, died on Jan. 3. He was 69.


William D. Zantzinger was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six months in 1963 in the death of Hattie Carroll.


His death was confirmed by an employee of the Brinsfield-Echols Funeral Home, who said Mr. Zantzinger’s family had prohibited the release of more details.

Mr. Dylan took some liberties with the truth in the song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” though there is disagreement over just how many. He recorded it in 1964 for the Columbia album “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” for some reason dropping the letter “t” from Mr. Zantzinger’s name. It begins:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll

With a cane he twirled around his diamond ring finger

At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.

The incident occurred on Feb. 8, 1963. Mr. Zantzinger, a 24-year-old Maryland tobacco farmer, and his wife, Jane, had stopped with friends at a restaurant on their way to Baltimore’s annual Spinsters’ Ball, a white-tie affair.

Mr. Zantzinger was wearing a top hat and carrying a toy cane he had picked up at a farm fair. At the restaurant, he became disorderly, hitting employees with the cane, then left with his group after they were refused more drinks.

The party moved on to the ball, at the Emerson Hotel. A recapitulation of the evening in The Washington Post Magazine in 1991 said Mr. Zantzinger had entered bellowing: “I just flew in from Texas! Gimme a drink!”

As the evening progressed, he hit several hotel employees with the cane and used racial epithets. Time magazine said he pushed his wife to the floor. He later strode to the bar and ordered a drink from Mrs. Carroll, 51. But she was too slow, he said, and began criticizing her. Then he repeatedly struck her with the cane. Fleeing to the kitchen, she told co-workers that she felt “deathly ill.” An ambulance was called.

Mr. Zantzinger was charged with disorderly conduct and released on $600 bail. But on the morning of Feb. 9, Mrs. Carroll died of a stroke. Now Mr. Zantzinger was charged with murder.

In the trial, Mr. Zantzinger testified that he could not remember hitting anyone. His lawyers said Mrs. Carroll’s stroke could have been caused by the hypertension she was known to have. A three-judge court agreed that the caning alone could not have caused the death and reduced the charge to manslaughter.

Mr. Zantzinger was convicted in June, and in August he was sentenced to six months in prison.

On Aug. 29, The New York Times published a dispatch by United Press International, reporting on the sentencing. A friend of Mr. Dylan showed the singer the article. Some accounts say he wrote the song at an all-night coffee shop on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, others that he wrote it at the singer Joan Baez’s house in Carmel, Calif.

The literary critic Christopher B. Ricks wrote a chapter about the song in his book, “Dylan’s Visions of Sin” (2004), praising Mr. Dylan’s “exact control of each word.”

Clinton Heylin, in his book “Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited” (2001), countered that the song “verges on the libelous” because of “its tenuous grasp of the facts of the case.” One criticism was that Mr. Zantzinger’s “high office relations,” as Mr. Dylan called them, were overstated: his father had been a one-term state legislator and a member of the Maryland planning commission.

The song did not mention that Mrs. Carroll was black, although listeners made that correct assumption. It also did not refer to the reduced charge of manslaughter, only the six-month sentence.

One error of fact in the song was that Mrs. Carroll had 10 children; she had 11. Critics suggested that 11 did not fit the meter.

Time magazine called Mr. Zantzinger “a rural aristocrat,” who enjoyed fox-hunting. He attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington and the University of Maryland. The magazine Mother Jones reported in 2004 that he had worked alongside his farm employees, including blacks.

After prison, Mr. Zantzinger left the farm and went into real estate. He sold antiques, became an auctioneer and owned a night club.

In 1991, The Maryland Independent disclosed that Mr. Zantzinger had been collecting rent from black families living in shanties that he no longer owned; Charles County, Md., had foreclosed on them for unpaid taxes. The shanties lacked running water, toilets or outhouses. Not only had Mr. Zantzinger collected rent for properties he did not own, he also went to court to demand past-due rent, and won.

He pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of deceptive trade practices, paid $62,000 in penalties and, under an 18-month sentence, spent only nights in jail.

Information on Mr. Zantzinger’s survivors was unavailable. Though he long refused interviews, he did speak to the author Howard Sounes for his book “Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan” (2001) , telling him of his scorn for Mr. Dylan.

“I should have sued him and put him in jail,” he said.