Tone Poem Tuesday

 I’ll have more to say about Raiders of the Lost Ark later this week (the movie came out 40 years ago this week!), but for now, here is John Williams conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in one of the most iconic of his many iconic themes, the Raiders March. I especially love Marion’s Theme, which forms the mid-section of this march; her theme has a lot more of a yearning sensuality to it than any of Williams’s lyrical themes from the Star Wars movies to that point.

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On Ned Beatty and HEAR MY SONG (in part, a repost)



Actor Ned Beatty has died at the age of 83. Beatty had a long and wonderful and varied career, and he played a wide variety of characters. I suppose he’s seen more as a “character actor” than as a lead, but…I don’t know, surely there should be something between a character actor and a proper lead, right? Beatty was always recognizable, but he never seemed the same, if that makes any sense. Every time I saw him in something he managed to create something all new. My first exposure to him was in Superman: The Movie, which remains my favorite superhero movie to this day, even after everything the MCU has done, and he showed up pretty reliably over the years. Even if the movie I was seeing was a total stinker–the Richard Pryor movie The Toy leaps to mind, and it’s mindboggling that a movie that bad could result despite the presence of Pryor, Jackie Gleason, and Ned Beatty–there was always a total professionalism to Beatty’s work.

My favorite of Ned Beatty’s movies is Hear My Song, a comedy from 1991, which is not at all well-known. I take every opportunity that comes along to beat the drum for this movie, because it’s just a warm-hearted joyful romp through the world of beloved Irish tenors, old seaside villages, skeevy concert promoters, and angry tax cops. I wrote about Hear My Song some years ago, and I repost that review below. I’m only sorry to note that I don’t actually single out Mr. Beatty’s performance in the movie for special mention, because the movie wouldn’t work if he wasn’t absolutely fantastic.

Please watch Hear My Song, if you can! It’s available to rent on YouTube (and as I write this, the entire thing is actually available for free via some user I don’t know, but who knows how long it will take the copyright folks to shut that down). You won’t regret it, I promise.

Thanks for the movies, Ned Beatty! You were one of the greats.
Hear My Song (1991)
Years ago, when we’d been dating a year or so, The Girlfriend (now The Wife) rented a movie for us to watch. It was a British comedy that I’d never heard of, called Hear My Song. We both absolutely loved it, and it’s been one of those movies that I’ve wanted to watch again ever since, even though it’s been really hard to locate a copy, to the point where it then became one of those movies of which I have greatly fond memories that maybe I don’t want to revisit, on the off chance that my memories of it are more nostalgic than accurate. Or, to put it another way, I was afraid that maybe this movie had been visited by the Suck Fairy.

Well, Hear My Song is, as of this writing, available for streaming on Netflix, which proved to be a temptation too great. So I watched it, and…absolutely loved it again.

Adrian Dunbar (who co-wrote the movie, and who would later secure semi-immortality in Star Wars lore by playing Senator Bail Organa in The Phantom Menace, only to see his scenes cut entirely from the film and the role recast with Jimmy Smits in the subsequent Prequels) plays Mickey O’Neill, a young man who runs a dinner club and musical revue. The place isn’t making great money (in the first scene, Mickey has to take the stage himself) and he isn’t popular with his landlords, who decide to evict after a scheme to let word of mouth sell tickets for a crappy singer named Franc Cinatra results in bad blood. His next money-making effort is to book Irish tenor Joseph Locke, who is legendary in this town but has lived in Ireland for more than thirty years because he’s wanted for tax evasion.

Locke is the Maguffin of the movie. First, no one is sure if the guy claiming to be Locke is really Locke or not, and second, Locke didn’t just evade taxes as much as he literally ran out of town, avoiding arrest by inches (and by pushing a cop off the boat on which he was fleeing) and running out on the affair he was having with a local beauty queen. This beauty queen turns out, later on, to be Mickey’s girlfriend’s mother, and after she has a late-night tryst with the man claiming to be Joseph Locke, she loudly announces that he is not. Ouch. Mickey loses the theater, his girlfriend, everything…unless he can get to Ireland and bring back the real Joseph Locke.

There’s nothing in this movie that’s really all that surprising at all, at least until the end, when things turn in a way that is reminiscent of endings like The Shawshank Redemption‘s, in that elements that have been in place the entire way suddenly turn out to be relevant in surprising and deeply pleasing ways. I don’t want to spell it out, but this movie has one of my favorite endings, ever.

But an ending can’t work as well as this one does by being clever; it also has to have the emotional heft to it, and this one does. This is a movie about likable people who have, occasionally in their lives, done unlikable things, but in most cases they are trying to atone for them, or recognize their misdeeds when they come back to haunt them. There isn’t a single unflawed character in this film, all the way to Mickey himself, who seems emotionally stunted in some ways, and whose main skill in life seems to be a gift for bullshit. (One of his favorite tricks is to appeal to the older generation, who lived through World War II, by giving a speech that starts off with “I grew up in peacetime.”

With comedies like this, it’s easy to describe them in such a way that makes them sound like serious dramas. Hear My Song is most definitely a comedy; in fact, it ranks high on my personal list of funniest movies I’ve seen. A scene involving a bar full of Irishmen trying to assist one of their brethren with a dental problem is hysterical, and the best gag involves our two drunken heroes and their curiosity as to the depth of a particular well. More than that I must not say.

Hear My Song is, for me, so good that I don’t understand how it’s managed to fall so completely off the radar. It has a wonderfully witty script full of memorable characters, it’s photographed beautifully, the music is fantastic, and the cast is tremendous, led by Dunbar and by Ned Beatty as Joseph Locke (the real one). And if you’ve ever watched Star Wars: A New Hope and wondered just how good an actor William Hootkins really was (he sadly died a few years back), well, Hear My Song will give you an answer.

What a wonderful, wonderful movie!

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Ladies and gentlemen….

 The Internet, for all its annoyances and horrors, is also a place of fun and wonderment, and it’s always nice to see a reminder of that. One example is a person on Twitter who has made it his job to post the same thing, each and every Friday.

It’s a video clip of actor Daniel Craig, from an episode of Saturday Night Live that he hosted. It came time for him to introduce the episode’s musical guest, a Canadian singer named Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. Tesfaye’s stage name, however, is “The Weeknd” (spelling intentional), so what Daniel Craig says is: “Ladies and gentlemen, The Weeknd.”

When saying that, Craig does this little shake of his head and a spreading of his arms as if to say that he can’t believe he’s lucky enough to be introducing this artist…and as the clip has been repurposed, it sounds like Craig is amazed that we made it, that we survived another week: “Oh wow, we got there. We’re here, folks. It’s OK.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, the weekend.” Spelling intentional.

It’s Friday night. Ladies and gentlemen, the weekend!

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Something for Thursday

 Classic rock is often on the playlist at Casa Jaquandor, for many reasons. This is the popular music I grew up with, the “soundtrack of my youth” as it were, though in my case, not as strongly as for others (because the main part of the soundtrack of my youth was John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and their comrades). Nevertheless, I couldn’t help hearing a great deal of classic rock as it was new, in restaurants and on car stereos and in bars and camps and generally all over the place. I tend to associate a lot of this music with the road, since the car radio was often the way much of this stuff was consumed, and between moving and road trips a-plenty, we spent a lot of time in the car when I was a kid. (In and out of it…I don’t want to convey an idea of endless automobile-related experiences as a kid, but my parents were of a general mindset that if you live within a few hours of something neat, why on Earth wouldn’t you drive there and check it out? More than once, if it turned out to be really cool? I have adopted much the same mindset later in life.)

Oddly, though I’ve heard a great deal of classic rock and many of the songs are familiar or even well-known to me, I am often not very good at all at knowing which band did what song, or even what each song is! The age of Google, with the ability to search for song lyrics and then mobile devices whose search engines are equipped with song identifiers, has been a boon for people like me. Here’s one song that shows up a lot on the Pandora classic rock station The Wife plays or on the Sirius XM classic rock station I enjoy sometimes. For years I’ve known neither the name of the song nor which band it is, but I enjoy its lyrics about failure to commit to a relationship and yet wanting the relationship to endure, and I love the song’s opening guitar hooks and the general beat of the song. This isn’t just the soundtrack of my youth; in a lot of ways songs like this are the soundtrack of the road trips of my youth.

And to think, I didn’t know the name of this song, or who played it, until yesterday. Go figure. Here is “Sister Golden Hair”, by America.

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Tone Poem Tuesday (and Composer Focus: Sibelius, part 4)

 It’s not Tuesday. Sorry about that.

But let’s give a listen to something our boy Jean Sibelius wrote in 1908: a tone poem called Night Ride and Sunrise. It’s quite an evocative piece, starting with a brief fanfare figure in the brass before settling into a rhythm that suggest hoofbeats along a dark road, the “Night Ride” of our title. It seems as if we’re going to be in for a long stretch without a melody, until one arises in the upper woodwinds, playing above the rhythmic pulse; this melody yearns and stretches and yet somehow manages to stay almost in the background. Our rhythm gives way to long scalewise passages in the winds, as our texture becomes colder, stormier, more dramatic.

Eventually, though, our sunrise arrives, and it is exactly what one might expect from a Sibelian sunrise: shot through with clarity and nobility, with simple magnificence. Even here, when the chorales in the winds and brass take over, there is still momentum to spare in the continuing pulsing rhythms. I’m coming to see that for Sibelius, a blend of textures is always afoot.

Here is Night Ride and Sunrise by Jean Sibelius.

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Images from the Ridge

 From Chestnut Ridge Park yesterday.

It was a beautiful day. The stream was rather low for this point in the season; the deep pools should be about six inches deeper than they are and there should be more water flowing through there. But there was enough for the water skimmers!

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On Memorial Day

Here is my annual reposting of some things that pertain to Memorial Day. This particular year’s iteration of this day gives me pause to consider my sense that many of the things for which the men and women we honor today fought and died may be slowly, or quickly, passing into memory. I hope not….

First, a remembrance of a soldier I never knew.

Fifteen years ago I wrote the following on Memorial Day, and I wanted to revisit it. It’s about the Vietnam Veteran whose name I remember, despite the fact that I had no relation to him and clearly never knew him, because he was killed four years before I was born.

Memorial Day, for all its solemnity, has for me always been something of a distant holiday, because no one close to me has ever fallen in war, and in fact I have to look pretty far for relatives who have even served in wartime. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War I, but both had been dead for years when I was born. I know that an uncle of mine served during World War II, but I also know that he saw no action (not to belittle his service, but Memorial Day is generally set aside to remember those who paid the “last full price of devotion”). My father-in-law served in Viet Nam, but my own father did not (he had college deferments for the first half of the war, and was above draft age during the second). So there is little in my family history to personalize Memorial Day; for me, it really is a day to remember “all the men and women who have died in service to the United States”.

One personal remembrance, though, does creep up for me each Memorial Day. It has nothing at all to do with my family; in fact, I have no connection with the young man in question.

When I was in grade school, during the fall and spring, when the weather was nice, we would have gym class outdoors, at the athletic field. On good days we’d play softball or flag football or soccer; on not-so-good days we’d run around the quarter-mile track. But the walk to the athletic field involved crossing the street in front of the school and walking a tenth of a mile or so down the street, past the town cemetery. I remember that at the corner of the cemetery we passed, behind the wrought-iron fence, the grave of a man named Larry Havers was visible. His stone was decorated with a photograph of him, in military uniform. I don’t recall what branch in which he served, nor do I recall his date-of-birth as given on the stone, but I do recall the year of his death: 1967. I even think the stone specified the specific battle in which he was killed in action, but I’m not sure about that, either.

That’s what I remember each Memorial Day: the grave of a man I never knew, who died four years before I was born in a place across the world to which I doubt I’ll ever go. And in the absence of anyone from my own family, Mr. Havers’s name will probably be the one I look for if I ever visit that memorial in Washington. I hope his family wouldn’t mind.

I looked online and found these images, first of Mr. Havers’s obituary and then of Mr. Havers himself. The things you remember. I wonder what kind of man he was. He has been gone for more than half a century. His name is not forgotten.

Mr. Havers’s service information can be found on the Virtual Vietnam Wall here. He was born 14 October 1946 and died 29 October 1967, in Thua Thien.

Next, my annual repost for Memorial Day.

Tomb of Unknown Soldier


Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.

— Guy Gavriel Kay

“The Green Field of France”, by Eric Bogle

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile ‘neath the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And I can’t help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

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Scenes from Recent Adventures….

 From our recent trip to the Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY:

Candid: Flower power! #RochesterNY #LilacFestival

Rochester Lilac Festival 2021

Rochester Lilac Festival 2021

Rochester Lilac Festival 2021

Rochester Lilac Festival 2021

Rochester Lilac Festival 2021

Fried chicken. I got the 3-piece knowing that I would temporarily regret it later, but temporary regrets become warm memories. I think I read that in a fortune cookie. Oh yeah babe. #yum #FriedChicken

And these, from a recent mini-trek down to Buffalo’s Outer Harbor and Wilkeson Pointe:

Buffalo Outer Harbor, 5/22/2021

Buffalo Outer Harbor, 5/22/2021

Buffalo Outer Harbor, 5/22/2021

Buffalo Outer Harbor, 5/22/2021

Buffalo Outer Harbor, 5/22/2021

I live in a wonderful area.

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Something for Thursday

 Sorry to be so late with this! Crazy week here at Casa Jaquandor (nothing bad, just busy). Anyway, here’s something cool: the “official video” for Elton John’s classic song “Tiny Dancer”. The song dates from the 1970s, well before the notion of music videos, so this is a newer development: a short film that tracks several people through their daily lives in Los Angeles.

One of my favorite uses of “Tiny Dancer” comes in the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous, in which an underage teenage kid is using journalist credentials to tour with a rock band called Stillwater. The band isn’t good enough to be an A-list band, but they aren’t good enough to just peter out, either. This scene comes around halfway through, depicting the point where the initial excitement of being on tour has worn off and all that’s left for now is the grind.

Here’s that scene:

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Tone Poem Tuesday

 Greek-born composer Nikolas Labrinakos has come to my attention recently. After growing up in Greece, he went to London to study music composition, eventually getting a Ph.D. from the University of Surrey. He is an active composer of both film music and concert music, and what I’ve heard of his is fascinating and atmospheric, displaying a gift for shimmering, evocative string writing.

The present work, The Last of England, is a pastoral work in the tradition of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth, and Gerald Finzi. The piece is inspired by the seascape of England’s southern shore, with its cliffs overlooking the great gray expanses of water. Melodies seem to arise from meditative chords and sink back into them again, often with a soloist in the orchestra singing somewhere not quite in the foreground. This isn’t the music of a stormy sea, nor the sad music of the water where all things end, but a singing contemplation of life at the edge of our world’s most permanent feature. The Last of England is neither sad music nor happy music. It is…music that is.

Here is The Last of England by Nikolas Labrinakos.

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