The Strange Inclination of Christian Church Institutions Against Israel

I am continually and genuinely perplexed when major Christian institutions—whether that be particular Protestant denominations or indeed the great Roman Catholic Church—seem to go out of their way to take official positions on matters of international relations that specifically run counter to the expressed security interests of the people of Israel. It is not at all that I think these churches ought to reflexively support the line of the Israeli government of the moment, but rather that I cannot understand why they feel obliged to put themselves out there officially on the given issue at all, versus merely doing what religious teachers are after all most qualified to do, which is to lead people in prayer for good and peaceful outcomes.

Posted on April 13th, 2015

Billie Holiday and What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Today’s the centenary of the great Billie Holiday’s birth, on April 7th, 1915. She died far too soon, only 44 years on the earth. Although she packed a good deal of wonderful music into her career, imagine what she’d have accomplished given another couple of decades; with her light, unstrained but supremely articulate way of singing (and given good health) she could have gone on to make masterpieces and electrify audiences well into her old age. Looking back from …

Posted on April 7th, 2015

Leonard Cohen’s Bow to George Jones

Leonard Cohen is about to release an album of recordings from his most recent concert tours: not so much the hits as the rarities. On it will be his performance of “Choices,” a song that George Jones made his own and made famous.

Posted on April 6th, 2015

Coyotes Now Colonizing Rooftops in Queens (and Why They Should Be Put on the LIRR)

As if to follow up on our story from a few weeks ago (“Coyotes in New York City”), a coyote was spotted prancing atop the roof of a bar in the New York City borough of Queens a few days ago.

Our previous story was really about the surprising development of coyotes showing up in Manhattan, which is a strange island nation about three thousand miles west of France. Queens, by contrast, is generally considered to be a part of the United States, albeit that due to its geography it is possibly even harder for coyotes to get to …

Posted on April 3rd, 2015

Chabad Making Old Things New

I’m a Christian, but I found fascinating a recent article in the Boston Globe on the exponential growth of the Jewish Chabad Lubavitcher organization. In the Boston area Chabad has grown from 7 synagogues to 26 over the past 20 years, but their growth has been nationwide and indeed worldwide. After the 1994 death of Chabad’s most recent leader, the by-all-accounts-inspiring Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, many suspected Chabad would fade away, but instead they have exploded, growing “faster in the last 20 years than in the previous century.” Where are their congregants coming from?

Posted on April 3rd, 2015

Coyotes in New York City

“Act big and make loud noises.” In the bad old days of the Big Apple, this might have been excellent advice for those occasions when you needed to take a walk to the bodega to stock up on beer and cigarettes.

Posted on March 8th, 2015

Insult My Mum and I Will Punch You

Having objected to his comments in this space at the time, it behooves us to follow up on how Pope Francis’ frankly stupid remarks regarding free speech and respect for religion have already been bearing bitter, if predictable, fruit. It was less than a week after the massacre at the office of Charlie Hebdo last month when Pope Francis, discussing those broader issues with reporters, helpfully explained that if someone insulted his mother “he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Posted on February 14th, 2015

Shadows In The Night: A Sinatra Tribute or NOT a Sinatra Tribute?

Back when the album Shadows in the Night by Bob Dylan was first announced, in May of 2014, Rolling Stone magazine and others were all labeling it as “Dylan does Sinatra.” Although Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan have long been the sun and moon in my own musical consciousness (and I’ve always been fascinated by any even-tentative connections between them) I greatly hesitated about jumping on that notion, knowing that a lot of people who don’t know better tend to regard any old popular standards as “Frank Sinatra songs.” We didn’t have a track list. It wasn’t clear what the album was really going to be based upon.

Posted on February 1st, 2015

Frank Sinatra – “Some Enchanted Evening”

“Some Enchanted Evening,” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is not a song owned by Frank Sinatra, in the sense of him having recorded a version so definitive that others wilt before it. It’s been recorded by way too many singers and sung on far too many stages in productions of South Pacific for that to possibly be true. However, Sinatra recorded it on three separate occasions during his career, qualifying it at least as a special number for him.

Posted on January 31st, 2015

Frank Sinatra – “Where Are You?”

“Where Are You” is the title track of the first of the two dark albums that Frank Sinatra recorded during his 1950s’ artistic peak with arranger Gordon Jenkins (the second being 1959’s No One Cares). It’s funny: Sinatra himself was known sometimes to refer laughingly to his loneliness-themed concept records as “suicide albums,” but when he was behind the microphone he was clearly nothing but totally serious about each syllable and every note, and was masterful at constructing these albums with almost terrifying emotional precision.

Posted on January 30th, 2015

Frank Sinatra – “Why Try To Change Me Now”

In a career not short on greatness, “Why Try to Change Me Now” is an especially great Frank Sinatra song, and a great Sinatra moment, all the more so as it is actually two moments: two great studio recordings.

Posted on January 22nd, 2015

Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, 2015: A Very Good Year

Some of us are date-oriented and some of us are not. By dates, I refer neither to the fruity nor to the romantic kind (though the same statement would probably apply to both) but rather the chronological sort: anniversaries, birthdays, milestones and the like. Some of us are date deniers, wondering whether it matters that such and such happened so many years ago on this date …

Posted on January 20th, 2015

Bob Dylan, “Stay With Me,” Studio Audio Released

Way back in May of last year we first heard “Full Moon and Empty Arms” from the forthcoming Bob Dylan album, Shadows in the Night. Today we have the release of the studio audio of “Stay With Me,” a song that Bob Dylan was closing his live performances with on his most recent tour, written by Jerome Moss and Carolyn Leigh and first recorded by Frank Sinatra.

Posted on January 19th, 2015

Pope Francis Punches Out the Wrong Guy

Barely a week since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the additional murders that followed, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, has made some remarks on the broader issue of free speech and the appropriate response to insults to one’s religion. According the Associated Press, he spoke in an interview aboard the papal airplane and opined that there were indeed limits to free speech, which he illustrated with …

Posted on January 15th, 2015

Pens versus AK-47s and Cartoons versus Atrocities

In a free society, the response to criticisms or mockeries of one’s religion cannot be violence, but even more than that, it cannot be the demand and expectation that such criticisms and mockeries by made illegal, because that would be the end of the free society. If there is one idea or set of ideas that can never be criticized or mocked by anyone, then those are the ruling ideas, and there is no true freedom. If those ideas are Islamic …

Posted on January 7th, 2015

For Christmas in New York: Murder

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered in Brooklyn yesterday, five days before Christmas. They were shot to death as they sat peacefully in their patrol car, eating lunch, and performing duty that would have found them without question coming quickly to the assistance of …

Posted on December 21st, 2014

Will the Last Horse to Leave New York City Please Sweep Up After Himself?

Taking up an issue central to the platform of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Council this week introduced legislation that would ban the horse and carriage business in New York City. It remains to be seen if it will be passed.

Posted on December 11th, 2014

Heartburn? Try Sleeping On Your Left Side

However strange one might think it that the president of the United States was first reported to have been sent to the hospital today for “a sore throat” and afterwards was diagnosed with “acid reflux,” it seems an opportune time to share a bit of knowledge I wish someone had shared with me much sooner.

Posted on December 6th, 2014

Bob Dylan Abides with “Stay with Me”

So, on his current tour—or, if you prefer, the current leg of his “Inevitably Going to End One Day” tour—Bob Dylan has been closing his shows in an unprecedented manner, with a song he had never sung in concert before. I’d daresay that precious few singers have sung this song in concert before (and I’d […]

Posted on November 25th, 2014

Why Sad Music is Cheering

Science sometimes makes so complicated those truths which are so very simple.

Posted on November 5th, 2014

Bob Dylan – “Never Gonna Be The Same Again”

Although it was during the mid-1980s that yours truly happened to become a Bob Dylan fan, listening to his albums from that period has sometimes seemed like a guilty pleasure. While I’d stick up unreservedly for a certain number of those songs, there are those others that just seem silly. Yet, sometimes I kind of […]

Posted on October 30th, 2014

Ebola, God, Just Sayin’

These kinds of things tend to be quickly swept away in the major media outlets, so I’m just pausing for a moment to highlight them.

Posted on October 28th, 2014

U.S. Ebola Response Resembles a Dog’s Dinner

This Ebola outbreak is the kind of event that exposes the fault lines in human nature, and we are in the process of seeing the result.

Posted on October 26th, 2014

Leonard Cohen Predicts the Future

So, the other day I saw Leonard Cohen (who as previously mentioned has a new album out) being interviewed on a British television program and during it he was asked if he believed he was an optimistic person, and I thought his response to this question was quite penetrating and timely.

Posted on October 20th, 2014

Is Ebola Coming for My Dog?

In Spain, a nurse’s aide named Teresa Romero Ramos contracted Ebola from a patient (in a manner that has yet to be confirmed). In response, authorities quarantined her husband, Javier Limon, and three other people. And then today they killed her dog, a twelve-year-old mixed breed named Excalibur.

Posted on October 8th, 2014

Leonard Cohen on Being Jewish

Speaking of unnecessary yet needed things, Leonard Cohen (now an octogenarian) has just released a new album, titled Popular Problems. At a press availability in London …

Posted on September 30th, 2014

Heschel on the Need for the Unnecessary

“The soul is sustained by the regard for that which transcends all immediate purposes.”

Posted on September 30th, 2014

“It’s Sunday” – Frank Sinatra with Tony Mottola

In 1983, in between albums, Sinatra was still doing some studio work as it suited him. And a song happened to come along that was apparently written with him in mind, by the famous melodist Jule Styne and the relatively young lyricist Susan Birkenhead. It was a gentle tune called “It’s Sunday,” the words being a reflection on the quiet love of an older couple: just the simple pleasures and the comfortable company of one another. Frank knew a treasure when he heard it, and he wanted to record it.

Posted on September 7th, 2014

Strange Days, Weird Monsters, and Prayers

Look at today’s headlines. Here in the twenty-first century, we turn on our various electronic devices and see photos and read stories of human beings having their heads chopped off, mounted on spikes, and displayed to inspire terror and disgust beyond bearing. And it is not as some strange vestige …

Posted on August 15th, 2014

Music, Mali, Melody and Wales

An old saying goes that God made man in his own image, and to some of us it has also always seemed that music is closer than anything else we can identify to the language of God; if these things are so than it kind of makes sense that it is in music that we can best find our commonality as human beings.

Posted on August 6th, 2014

Articles of Faith (and How to Commit Genocide and Get Away with It)

Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is simple enough and says the following:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Posted on August 1st, 2014

A Church with no God

An article in the UK Telegraph alerted to us to the curious “Sunday Assembly” godless church movement. Although the idea was originally hatched by some comedians (literally-speaking) in London, the article focuses on a congregation in the somewhat unlikely locale of Nashville, Tennessee.

Posted on July 27th, 2014

The Bee Gees via Bob Stanley

A cracker of a retrospective on the Bee Gees was recently delivered by Bob Stanley (“Islands in the Stream,” Paris Review). It’s actually just one piece from his book, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, and the verve and charm with which it is written makes yours truly very interested in reading the whole opus.

Posted on July 27th, 2014

James Garner 1928 – 2014

It’s difficult to re-imagine my own childhood without The Rockford Files in it, and I daresay it must be the same for many others. Sure: it was just one of a bunch of detective shows on TV (and the 1970s produced some great television) but there was something special about Rockford. Who couldn’t relate to him? He was no superhero; he broke the rules, wisecracked his way out of situations, was unafraid to show fear for his own skin, worked for the pay-off but—you always knew—had heart of gold underneath his jaded exterior that prevented him from ultimately doing anything truly wrong and mean.

Posted on July 21st, 2014

The World Dithers While Israel Fights

In Nigeria, the jihadist group Boko Haram is reported to have massacred at least 100 people a few days ago while attacking, taking over and largely burning down a town named Damboa. They gunned people down as they fled their firebombed homes. The official death toll is naturally expected …

Posted on July 21st, 2014

Elaine Stritch and “Two’s Company”

The media is full of those paying articulate tribute to Stritch as a legend of Broadway and the stage, but I can’t do that, having never seen her perform live. I do have a lot of respect for those who pour their chief energies and talent into live performances that exist in the moment and live on only in the memories (and reviews) of those who saw them. Elaine Stritch did some other screen work (recently a role on a show I’ve never seen named “30 Rock”) but all I really know her from is this English sitcom …

Posted on July 18th, 2014

“Forever Young” at the 2014 All Star Game

The interesting thing about this to Dylan fans might be the evidence that “Forever Young” is one of those Bob Dylan songs that has insinuated itself into the national (and global?) consciousness to the extent that it can be referenced on such an occasion. Perhaps then it is one of those Dylan songs that will outlive even the memory of his name. That might seem an odd thought, but we don’t mind odd thinking around here.

Posted on July 17th, 2014

“Autumn Light” – Ron Sexsmith with Don Black

I’m sure that if you’re a music lover you’ve had the experience of being suddenly struck by a song you’d heard before but had not been especially moved by until then. Music being what it is, and our brains being what they are, it just works out that way sometimes. The song might have just passed over or through you until it happened to find its moment: a moment when the right nerve of yours was exposed to be touched by it.

Posted on July 14th, 2014

World Cup Blues (United States versus Germany 2014)

On the face of it, it seemed completely absurd, but I had to concede that the gentlemen doing the commentary were far more knowledgeable than I on the subject of World Cup football. These were the experts, who presumably knew the game from the bottom up, at the local and national and international level. I was just some American dweeb without cable TV who was tuning in because it seemed like the thing to do on the afternoon of June 26th.

Posted on June 26th, 2014

A Young Punk, a Knife and an Elderly Couple

It’s a bloody and unspeakable vignette far too common in America and in this broken world generally. A 25-year-old man had been doing odd jobs in a neighborhood in Springfield Township, in the state of Ohio, including for a 92-year-old World War II veteran named Hugh, and his wife Ruby, aged 89. Apparently he got the idea that they might have a lot of cash in their home.

Posted on June 23rd, 2014

George Herbert and Samuel Menashe; Improvidence and Faith

Very recently I happened upon one of those discoveries (new at least to me) that seems sufficiently obscure to justify being written down, and especially so while it’s still at the frontal area of the old lobe. It is merely a beguiling echo perceived in two poems, written respectively by two poets separated by about 330 years.

Posted on May 20th, 2014

Death is not the End

Just when you might think it’s become old hat, that you’ve been there, done that and moved on, death has this way of reasserting itself in one’s life in some novel and unexpected way. Endlessly resourceful, death may sometimes take a holiday but, just like taxes, will always return demanding to be paid.

Posted on April 6th, 2014

As Usual, It Will Be an Unusually Bad Allergy Season

It will start earlier, end later, be more intense, more merciless, even more inescapable than before. And each year it is for its own special and particular reason.

Posted on March 30th, 2014

Man “Baked to Death” in New York City Jail Cell

On Valentine’s day, February 14th, a week after his arrest, Mr. Murdough was locked into a cell on Riker’s Island at 10:30 p.m., in the “mental observation unit,” where he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes, in case of any suicide attempt. So much for supposin’. Four hours later he was found dead.

Posted on March 20th, 2014

Neil Young’s Pono is Launched, and Fidelity in Digital Music Gets Debated

Championed and promoted by Neil Young, Pono is here (at least for those willing to cough up the dough on the Kickstarter campaign). Content for the PonoPlayer will be sold by the PonoMusic online store. The CEO of PonoMusic, John Hamm, promises “studio master-quality digital music … the way the artist recorded it.”

Posted on March 12th, 2014
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