CommentaryCommentary

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

Memories of Pete Seeger

[Editor's note: It's a privilege to here publish this kind, wise and unflinching remembrance of Pete Seeger from Bob Cohen (aka Cantor Bob), who knew him, sang with him, and for a time traveled with him.] I am writing about my mentor and one-time hero of beloved memory, Pete Seeger, or as young women called him back in the day: “Pete’s eager!” I learned so much about the rich, humorous, plaintive, and energetic repertoire of the folks of the U.S.A. and also all over the world from Pete. And I learned from him how …

Posted on February 20th, 2014

Brisk Walks “Boost Your Memory”

Time was that the average human being would go for a brisk walk pretty regularly, for the purpose of fetching water, or firewood, or pursuing a comely potential consort, or escaping from aggressive neighbors wielding spears, or retrieving the newspaper from the lawn. But the internet has changed all that.

Posted on February 18th, 2014

New York City Winter

There hasn’t been a winter like this in New York City since … well, since there were wolves in Wales.

Posted on February 13th, 2014

Cantor Bob at 75

Yours truly has been blessed to get to know a little bit the inestimable Bob Cohen over the last several years through shared interests in music and related shenanigans. In his current life, he is Cantor Bob Cohen of Temple Emanuel in Kingston, New York, and yesterday held a shindig there in celebration of his 75th birthday; essentially it was a chance to play music with and and for his friends, and intersperse it with stories of how he became the Bob Cohen he is today.

Posted on January 27th, 2014

Ariel Sharon: One Last Victory

Following his stroke in 2006, Ariel Sharon was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state.” A few years later a hospital manager was quoted as saying that “the part of the brain that keeps his body functioning, his vital organs, is intact, but beyond that there is nothing, just fluid.”

Posted on January 11th, 2014

A Merry Little Christmas with Hugh Martin and Mark Steyn

I’m cognizant that it could be considered a little odd to pen an appreciation of an appreciation, but here I do so anyway (just in case, I suppose, someone might appreciate it). The multifaceted writer Mark Steyn recently reposted on his website an audio tribute he made to the late songwriter Hugh Martin (who died in 2011). Martin is the composer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” …

Posted on December 23rd, 2013

Snowstorm in Central Park

The statue of Balto (hero sled dog of 1925) watches over the first real snow of winter in New York City today.

Posted on December 14th, 2013

It’s All Good: Bob Dylan and Saint Augustine

So, in addition to exploring the idea that all things are good, you may notice that there’s another way in which Augustine’s train of thought jibes with Dylan’s. One of the verses in Dylan’s song goes “Wives are leavin’ their husbands, they beginning to roam / They leave the party and they never get home / I wouldn’t change it, even if I could / You know what they say man, it’s all good” …

Posted on December 8th, 2013

Morrissey’s Seminal Influence

There’s nothing quite like the pleasure of a great EUREKA! moment, and yours truly experienced it today while reading a review of the new autobiography from Morrissey, the achingly-literate British pop-singer and songwriter and former front-man of the Smiths. Apparently, in an aside while writing about …

Posted on December 7th, 2013

Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research

Once again, scientists have directed their telescopes and most advanced instruments upward, have spent long months studying the data and spending their grant money, and emerged to deliver their important conclusion: The sky is blue.

Posted on November 27th, 2013

Sandy Hook Again

That is, that they are motivated by a desire to inflict spectacular harm that attracts universal attention—even deliberately competing to outdo previous mass killers—in the expectation that the same universal attention will then be focused on themselves and on their own nurtured grievances, frustrations and hatreds, whether contained in published manifestos or not.

Posted on November 26th, 2013

What if Richard Nixon Had Won in 1960?

This got me thinking: if Richard M. Nixon had been the winner of the 1960 presidential contest, would men’s hats have remained in fashion? On consideration, I don’t think so, because I don’t entirely buy the idea that JFK alone altered that fashion; I think it was bound to take place, and he merely hurried it and provided a prominent symbol. Yet, this train of thought leads to other speculations. The 1960 presidential election was one of the most closely-contested in American history. John F. Kennedy ultimately beat his opponent with only 0.1% of the vote.

Posted on November 22nd, 2013

New Video for “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

It is bad enough, if I may say so, that so many of our pop-musical memories are affected by what occurred in the 1980s, namely the MTV revolution and related phenomena. But there is no need to attach a video of any kind to a record as magnificent as “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Posted on November 18th, 2013

Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

A smile can’t change the weather, or stop an earthquake, or deflect a bullet, but somehow it seems to be able to make these and the other challenges of life easier to bear. As it says in the old Charlie Chaplin song

Posted on November 9th, 2013

River of Love – T-Bone Burnett

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

Posted on October 27th, 2013

Lou Reed 1942 – 2013

And his was a true New York voice, albeit one as dark as the shadow cast by a dumpster in an alley behind a strip-bar. When he released his album New York in 1989, the title itself had an air of redundancy: wasn’t all his stuff about New York? But that one had a special time-capsule-like quality, capturing the city at the very lip of the abyss.

Posted on October 27th, 2013

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – The Erasmus Lecture

Yours truly was fortunate enough to attend, and judging by the energy and passion of Rabbi Sacks’ talk, he is not interested in fading away, but looks rather likely to relish his new freedom and devote it to advocating for the value of faith in the contemporary world.

Posted on October 24th, 2013

Visiting the September 11th Memorial

“But,” I went on, “you can’t really get past the fact that it’s a drain.” The water runs down the sides, and then goes down the hole in the middle. You can call it a waterfall if you like, but waterfalls are not enclosed in this way.

Posted on September 12th, 2013

Heschel on Good and Evil

Seen from God, the good is identical with life and organic to the world; wickedness is a disease, and evil identical with death. For evil is divergence, confusion, that which alienates man from man, man from God, while good is convergence, togetherness, union.

Posted on August 30th, 2013

I Love to Tell the Story

The lyric to “I Love to Tell the Story,” a much beloved hymn, was derived from a poem written by an Englishwoman named Arabella Katherine Hankey in 1866, when she was convalescing from an illness at the age of 32. The full poem has 100 verses, and is divided into two parts, “The Story Wanted” and “The Story Told.”

Posted on August 5th, 2013

Sad Commentary: A Fatal Fall at Sutton Place

Many of the most vile remarks were those directed at the dead woman because the story had reported that she was smoking on her balcony when the accident occurred. People felt it worthwhile to pause long enough on the page to leave brief derisive comments such as, “Who wants to date a woman who smokes and smells like tobacco – yuck,” or “She was a smoker. Poor judgment is par for the course.”

Posted on August 1st, 2013

On Prayer: Heschel, Ysabella, etc.

Prayer would seem to be a very simple thing, a straightforward concept that the devout and the atheistic alike easily understand. “Please God, do this for me, make that right, fix this problem.” Yet the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to believe that the beating heart of prayer is actually something far simpler that I ever comprehended as a young person, loaded as I was with the ideas and traditions to which I happened to be exposed.

Posted on July 28th, 2013

Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)

And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.

Posted on July 28th, 2013

Twelve Gates to the City

The walls of the city are said to be made of jasper, and the city itself is described as “pure gold, like clear glass.” As it happens, Bob Dylan once wrote a song of his own presumably inspired by the same passage of scripture, titled “City of Gold” (never officially released by him, but recorded by the Dixie Hummingbirds …

Posted on July 21st, 2013

Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God

Frankly-speaking, this is a double-edged thing for believers (in God, not Mariano). Whenever a sports figure gives credit to God for some achievement — a home-run, a touch-down, a championship — it closely treads the line of complete absurdity. Why would God possibly care if one team or another won, or if one athlete or another triumphed in some nickel and dime contest?

Posted on July 15th, 2013

Knight, DeJesus and Berry: A Statement (and a Message Obscured)

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held captive in a house in Cleveland for about a decade. A man named Ariel Castro faces trial for their kidnapping and abuse and also for aggravated murder in the death of a baby which one of the women conceived during that time. I think it’s reasonable […]

Posted on July 9th, 2013

Bono in “Son of God” Shocker

The interview has generated various headlines, in particular with regard to Bono’s statement that he believes Jesus is the Son of God. The statement is not likely to be too surprising to those who’ve followed U2 and noted the spiritual and biblical content of their work along the way, but any time a celebrity makes such a blatant statement of belief it produces shockwaves of various kinds.

Posted on June 25th, 2013

Everybody Knows (Starting with the N.S.A.)

With all the recent news stories regarding the data that U.S. intelligence agencies are collecting, at home and worldwide, my brain has been hosting a not-entirely-unpleasant ear-worm of the old Leonard Cohen song, “Everybody Knows.” It’s from his 1988 album I’m Your Man, but some of the words sound especially timely right now. Everybody knows […]

Posted on June 13th, 2013
  • Subscribe Via Email


  • ADVERTISEMENTS








  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

    Join other followers