Thursday, January 31, 2013

Yesterday's Milestones: Birth, Marriage, Anniversary, and Death

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday, January 30th, 2013, witnessed the advent of several cultural and historical milestones, most of which made the news.  One (significant to me primarily because of the piece that I posted on this blog two days ago) was the 76th birthday of actress Vanessa Redgrave.  (I told the story of Ms. Redgrave’s birth being announced on the stage of the Old Vic by Laurence Olivier.)  Sadly, her birthday was not deemed newsworthy by the mainstream media.   Of course, that same media failed to point out that it was also the birthday of my favorite United States President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The other three milestones did make the news.   First, on January 30th, 2013, Jim Nabors, television’s Gomer Pyle, announced that he had married his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader.  That’s right – Gomer married a man!   Shazam!  What would Aunt Bea have said about that? 

Yesterday was also the 80th anniversary of the Lone Ranger.  The masked man and his faithful Indian sidekick, Tonto, made their radio debut on January 30th, 1933.   A new movie version of the Lone Ranger is scheduled for release this summer with Armie Hammer in the title role and featuring Johnny Depp as Tonto.  (I predict Depp’s Tonto will be a bit quirkier than the one presented on television for many years by the late Jay Silverheels.)

And finally, Patty Andrews, the lead singer for the iconic trio, The Andrews Sisters, died at the age of ninety-four.  She had been the last surviving member of the sibling singing group.  The Andrews Sisters entertained more troops during World War II than any other individual or act, with the notable exception of Bob Hope.  In addition to singing, they also had their own radio show and were featured in several movies.  Some of the group’s classic songs were “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me,” “Drinking Rum and Coca-Cola,” “Apple Blossom Time,” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.”

In summation:  Laurence Olivier was right when he announced the birth of a “great actress,” Stan Cadwallader has made an honest man of Jim Nabors, the Lone Ranger rides again – and has been doing so for eight decades, and a little bit more of World War II has slipped from our grasp.   Time and the River Styx roll on.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bipolar Sunday Nights

by Pa Rock
Culture Vulture

Now that I have television, I make a strong effort not to become too dependent on it – deliberately trying not to schedule my life around the times that certain programs air.  And since television offerings are not particularly stellar, that is often easy to do.  Sunday nights, however, are proving to be more of a challenge.

A few weeks ago when Downton Abbey premiered its new season, I determined to sit down and try to get a fix on what all of the buzz was about.  Having been overseas during the initial two seasons, I would be a newbie to the star-laden show.

But there was a problem, Houston.

At exactly the same time Downton Abbey was rolling out its new season on PBS, the American version of Shameless was also beginning its third season on HBO.   I had been a big fan of the British version of Shameless (now in its tenth season) before heading off to Japan -  and had quite a bit of knowledge about the colorful Gallagher family.  But I had never had the opportunity to see what the Yanks had done with the show

Downton Abbey tells the tale of the stuffy and aristocratic Crawley family and their household staff living in an expansive mansion that in many ways resembles a fine old British castle.  Shameless focuses on the other end of the social spectrum.  The Gallaghers (in the British version) live in public housing and (in the American version) in a working class area of Chicago.  

Both Downtown Abbey and Shameless feature compelling looks at families as they strive to function and survive in a changing world, though in many respects the two families are planets apart.  The Crawley’s have a co-dependent relationship with their servants with each needing the other in order to achieve a certain level of prestige and sustainability.  The Gallagher’s, a family of six children and young adults essentially raising themselves, are dependent upon one another and function fairly successfully in spite of their worthless, drunken father and absent mother.

The night of the twin premiers I was busy flipping back and forth in an effort to follow both stories, a mind-bending effort that left me feeling somewhat like an untreated patient with bipolar disorder.  By the end of the evening I knew that I needed to make a decision, something which turned out to be relatively easy.  While Downton Abbey has its charms, in an Oscar Wilde sort of way, Shameless is far more engaging and awfully damned funny.   The former examines a world that once was, while the latter focuses on a world that all too often is.

Now I spend my Sunday evenings with the Gallaghers.   It’s a matter of class, and I ain’t got none!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shakespeare Uncovered, An Appreciation

by Pa Rock
Culture Vulture

PBS is currently airing a six-part, six-hour special series on the life and works of William Shakespeare.  The series originally ran on BBC in Great Britain last summer.  As luck would have it (“luck” because I am not a subscriber to any television guides), I was fortunate to catch the first two episodes last Friday night on the Phoenix PBS affiliate.

The series is called Shakespeare Uncovered.

The first episode featured Ethan Hawke discussing and exploring one of the Bard’s darkest plays, Macbeth, the story of a king with blood on his hands – literally.    Young Mister Hawke talked about the tragic king as he (Hawke) walked the nighttime streets and alleyways of New York City.    He showed clips of older productions and visited the rehearsal of a contemporary, off-Broadway production of Macbeth which had an interesting feature of some nudity.  He also did a dramatic reading from a 400-year-old folio of the play.  

A lot of really good stuff was compressed into one brief hour, and the result was stunning.  Ethan Hawke walking through New York City at night in his street-tough clothes came across as a character who could have easily been penned by Shakespeare.

The second episode was hosted by actress Joely Richardson, the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and a contemporary representative of the legendary Redgrave acting family.  Ms. Richardson’s emphasis was on the comedies of Shakespeare, particularly Twelfth Night and As You Like It.   She, like Hawke, used clips from old performances to reinforce her commentary on the comedies, and she also interviewed her famous mother regarding the role of Rosalind which Ms. Redgrave played to much critical acclaim in the movie version of As You Like It

Two of the things that made the Richardson segment so enjoyable for me were her visits to a couple famous London landmarks, both of which I experienced a decade ago.   One was the renowned Old Vic Theatre in London’s theatrical West End.    A major highlight of my brief trip to London was having the opportunity to see a young actor named Ben Wishaw play Hamlet at the Old Vic.  (Wishaw and Patrick Stewart star in a new film version of Richard II for Great Performances which will be one of the productions featured next Friday evening when Shakespeare Uncovered looks at that play.)

The Old Vic is one of the more historic theatres of London.  When I attended the production of Hamlet in 2003, the American actor, Kevin Spacey, was the theatre’s artistic director, and Dame Judi Dench sat on its board of directors.  Ms. Richardson told the story of her mother’s birth being announced at the Old Vic.  On  January 30th, 1937, Sir Laurence Olivier was playing Hamlet at the famous theatre and Michael Redgrave was his co-star playing Laertes.   After the last curtain call, Olivier stepped out in front of the curtain and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight a great actress has been born.  Laertes has a daughter!”  And indeed, a great actress had been born that evening.

The other British landmark that Joely Richardson and the BBC crew visited which had special meaning for me was the beautiful reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which sits on the same location as the original along the Thames River.  My niece, Heidi Pfetcher, and I visited the Globe during the summer of 2003 where we saw a great production of Much Ado About Nothing starring Yolanda Vazquez.  We were in the “cheap” section where audience members stand in front of the stage.   In one scene from last week’s Shakespeare Uncovered, Ms. Richardson strolled across that same open area, at night with snow falling.    It was starkly beautiful, undoubtedly like many of the actual evenings when the Bard himself trod upon the same magical ground.

The four remaining episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered will be shown on PBS during the next two Friday nights in Arizona.  They include Derek Jacobi examining Richard II, Jeremy Irons taking a look at Henry IV and Henry V, Trevor Nunn on The Tempest, and David Tennant (my favorite Dr. Who and a very talented Shakespearean actor) discussing Hamlet. 

I will be sitting squarely in front of the television box for each and intend to enjoy them immensely!  Shakespeare Uncovered is superbly entertaining as well as exceedingly educational.  It's a grand and glorious twofer!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "Old Woman of the Roads"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

T.S. Eliot told us that April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead ground and all of that.  And perhaps he was right, but I find pleasure in seeing the earth force its beauty up through the hardness of a long, cold winter.

April may be the cruelest month, but surely January is the loneliest.   The holidays have past and and taken with them the family, and friends, and mirthful activities of the season, leaving so very many more weeks of depressing winter with little to look forward to short of spring - which remains weeks away.

I was wrapped up in my January blues when I came across the following poem, "Old Woman of the Roads," by Irish poet and novelist Padraic Colum.    The verse touched me deeply and I knew at once that the poet had found me - just as I had found him.  His words were as comforting as a flickering fire in a tight little house.

Old Woman of the Roads
by Padraic Colum

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods against the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!
To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!
I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!
Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house - a house of my own
Out of the wind's and the rain's way. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love Makes the World Go 'Round, Even in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Theatre Patron

The man who scanned my ticket as I was entering the Phoenix Theatre last night heard an odd beep from his machine.  He did a careful examination of the gadget's readout, and then looked up at me and grinned.  "Thank you for  being a subscriber," he said.  I acknowledged his thanks and walked on into the lobby feeling a bit proud of being a contributor to that classy corner of the Phoenix arts society.

Being a subscriber means that I have a ticket to every show for the season.  I was also able to get the same seat, six rows back toward the center, for each show.  Most of my reservations are for the first Saturday night of the productions, and, last night, my neighbors in the auditorium were the same individuals who had sat by me a month ago when we all showed up to see 'S Wonderful, and though I don't personally know them, we all spoke and it felt kind of family-familiar.

'S Wonderful, the most recent show at the Phoenix Theatre, was a musical retrospective of the works of the Gershwin brothers.  The current production, Love Makes the World Go 'Round, is very similar endeavor, but with the focus on the music of Bob Merrill.   Merrill wrote hundreds of unique songs with catchy lyrics like People (Remember Barbra Streisand belting that one out?), to the quirky How Much is that Doggy in the Window? by the singing rage, the late Patti Page.  "Doggy" topped the charts the year I was born.

Love Makes the World Go 'Round involves three women who show up at a New York City piano bar one evening and slowly become acquainted with one another while the wily piano player brings them together through Bob Merrill's music.  Each of the ladies has issues revolving around romance.

The oldest of the three, Irene, (Patti Davis Suarez), is a cynic who has loved and lost on multiple occasions and seems to be in the process of giving up on love.  Miss Suarez has a commanding presence on the stage, and her character has some of the best lines in the musical review.  (I have been a fan of Patti Suarez for over thirty years, from back when she was a local television newscaster and personality in southern Missouri.)

Anna (Jeannie Shubitz) is the middle woman in age.  She is a divorce lawyer whose own marriage is falling apart.    Through the music of Bob Merrill, Anna begins to remember some of the reasons that she  originally fell in love with her husband.  Miss Shubitz had some of the most moving musical numbers in the review, and she was truly mesmerizing.

Natalie (Allison Houston) is a young adult who is involved in her first serious relationship with a man.  Unfortunately, she has made such a poor choice, a low-level gangster named Mr. Gambino, that everyone in the bar and the audience immediately knows that he is a bum who is taking advantage of a sweet kid lacking worldly experience.   Not only does Miss Houston have great physicality and comic timing, she can belt out a song in a way that would make Ethel Merman sit up and take notice.

All three of these ladies weave in and out of the spotlights and musical numbers while the piano player, Henry (Brad Ellis), anchors the production.  Mr. Ellis, who plays Brad the Pianist on the television show Glee,  provides the continuity and keeps the story flowing.  He is a wonderful musician and very adept at bar banter.

It was cool and rainy in Phoenix last night, which is a very odd circumstance in the Valley of Hell, and there were numerous empty seats at the Phoenix Theatre.  Those who chose to stay home because of the weather missed out on a great night of musical theatre.    That, sadly, was truly their loss.  I enjoyed the evening immensely.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Telephone Outrages

by Pa Rock
Angry Consumer 

I have been struggling with getting electronic services since returning to the Valley of Hell last July.  Initially I bought an iMac and an iPhone (to go with my iPod) and secured telephone services through Verizon.  My Internet connection was through the "personal hotspot" on the iPhone.  It was very expensive, and I didn't even have cable figured into the mess.

In December I secured satellite television through Direct TV.  All told, I was paying over $200 a month to be connected to the outside world.

Two weeks ago I stopped by the Verizon store and talked to a very pleasant young man to see if I could scrape some money off of my monthly charges.  He assured me there was no way to save much until I told him matter-of-factly that I was just going to pay the fee to bail on my contract and do something different.  At that point he pulled out a much more sensible alternative and I was able to save some money.

Today I went back to Verizon to get some questions answered over things that I was unclear on.  Today's saleslady was less-than-pleasant as she explained that I was actually paying more than I realized.  Turned out I hadn't saved that much and had many more limitations.

I talked to my sister later in the morning and she told me about her no-contract plan with Wal-Mart that gave her unlimited phone time and texts.  I don't do Wal-Mart, but headed out to Costco to see what they could do.  Two young men there gave me a glorious run-around until I told them that I would bail on Verizon and take my business to what the less-than-pleasant young lady at the Verizon stored called a "mom-and-pop" provider - and she sneered when she said it.  At about that point, they whipped out a great T-Mobile plan for $30 a month.

I have upgraded to a Verizon "jet pack" for my Internet (what they used to call their "air card"), and I am comfortable with that an Internet source.  I don't do Internet with my iPhone and am therefore paying "media" charges that I don't benefit from.   Tomorrow I will sign up for the T-Mobile cheap plan and hope to be happy with that as well.  One of my kids will receive my iPhone, and I suspect that will be appreciated.

A few weeks ago I heard part of a Diane Rehm broadcast on NPR dealing with cell phone service providers.  Diane's guest said that the major companies all collude in fixing their prices (anyone surprised at that?), and that they contribute to (bribe) state and national legislators to safeguard their price-fixing.    (We had a mini-scandal here in the Scorpion State a few years ago when it was alleged that one of these major service providers had rushed out and put up a cell tower next to John McCain's Sedona ranch because...well, because he was John McCain.)  Diane's Rehm's guest said that the same cell services in other parts of the world, particularly Europe, are significantly cheaper.

The thing that truly angers me about the whole situation is this:  Why won't the cellular service providers show customers all options up front?  Why do we have to do the dance for weeks and months and threaten to quit before they finally relent and roll out the stuff that ordinary people can afford.

Well, actually two other things anger me as well:  Why are we forced to have passwords for our phone service?  Some of us just are not good with passwords!  And why does it take so long to reach a human being when you call the phone company?  Press "one" if you think that is a bunch of crap!

There is lots that stinks about cellular phone service in America, and very little that smells like a rose.

Friday, January 25, 2013


by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Vice President Joe Biden is the President’s point man on the on the politically sensitive issue of gun legislation, and Biden, being Biden, is not backing down or sounding demure in any way.    (The man ain't no wallflower!)  The Vice President has begun doing “Google Fireside Chats” over the Internet and also going on the road.  Today he is scheduled to meet with experts who have been working on gun safety issues following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech a few years back.

Much of the Vice President’s fire has been directed at assault weapons and large ammunition clips.  One participant at yesterday’s fireside chat stated that a need for assault weapons might exist in the event of a natural disaster – presumably to protect oneself against looters or hungry neighbors.  The ever-practical Mr. Biden responded that a shotgun was much better protection than an assault weapon, being easier to aim and more likely to hit the target.  He suggested investing in the double-barreled variety.

The Vice President also pointed out that police officers and police organizations support a ban on assault weapons because America’s cops feel “outgunned” by the bad guys who are benefiting from the proliferation of these weapons.

The remark about being “outgunned” set the Internet on fire with comments from readers of various news sources which ran the statement – and many of the responses were less than complimentary of America’s police.  It would almost seem, to the cynics among us, that “outgunning” the police was the primary reason for owning assault weapons.

The National Rifle Association, a lobbying group for the gun industry, reports that its current membership is “4.2 million and rising,” but, as with any information emanating from the NRA, that figure has to remain suspect.   However, the organization obviously has many members, and they appear to be steeped in a level of near-religious fervor and paranoia that would make an Ayatollah proud.  The NRA exerts political pressure for the benefit of its gun-manufacturing and gun-selling masters by cranking up their membership to lobby legislators – often with noise and veiled (or unveiled) political threats – and, as with other lobbying groups, they also grease politicians with good, old-fashioned cash.  It’s an ugly business whose primary purpose is to sell more guns.

So who are the members that form the muscle of the National Rifle Association.  Well, it’s a private organization (that functions in a very public arena), so that information is private.  Based on the Internet howlings disparaging America’s brave police, it would be interesting to see some research on the percentage of NRA members who have criminal records or have been diagnosed with mental issues.

Not accusing, just saying…