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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Update: My Ten (or Fifteen) Best Movies List

Every year at this time I post my first tentative, incomplete list of best movies of the year--with a few additions to come. I see a lot of movies, including many indie, foreign and doc, but unlike "real" critics, I don't get invited to screenings and so, at this point, I have not seen all the contenders.  So, missing below--for now--are likely adds,  Toni Erdmann, I Am Not Your Negro, and Camerapeson, among others (maybe "Paterson," as well).  Also, I have probably forgotten a couple movies and docs from earlier in the year, and will also have to add them later...So here we go, from what I can say now, in approximate order.

Manchester By the Sea
Hell or High Water
The Witness
The Lobster
The Innocents
A War
La La Land
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
My Love, Don't Cross That River
City of Gold
O.J. Made in America

Note:  Have seen Fences and Elle in past week and despite fine performances too long and disappointing.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Paladino, the Racist Trump Surrogate

A lot of attention today for the racist statements by Carl Paladino while mainly emphasizing   that he was GOP candidate for governor not long ago.  Mostly skipped: that he helped run Trump's campaign in NY this year, as co-chair, and claims he is involved in the transition.   (By the way, we were in college and he was a dangerous douche back then as well.  The university today condemned him.)   Paladino was known to send racist emails a few years back but that did not bother Trump one bit.  Here are a few Paladino/Trump videos:

He introduces Trump at big Buffalo rally.

Paladino on why Trump is not a racist: Paladino on Fox Business one year ago claiming Trump should pick him as his running mate....

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Greatest Concert Ever

Today marks the 208th anniversary of The Greatest Concert Ever. Fellow geezers: Forget the Beatles at Shea Stadium, Dylan in Manchester, the Stones at Altamont, Springsteen at the Bottom Line (I was even there) — and you youngsters pick your fave from the past three decades.

On December 22, 1808, Beethoven himself rented a hall in Vienna and promoted the concert to end all concerts: the debut, over four hours, of three of the greatest works in the history of music: his Fifth Symphony, the Sixth (“Pastoral”) Symphony, and the astounding Piano Concerto No. 4, plus selections from his amazing Mass in C Major, and in closing, the wonderful Choral Fantasia (forerunner to his Ninth Symphony). A bonus: improvisations by the maestro.

This was mid-period Beethoven. He was 38 at the time and would live another 19 fitful years. He had been losing his hearing for almost ten years and would soon be completely deaf. In fact, he would play piano in concert for virtually the last time at this epic 1808 program, as hearing himself play would eventually cease. That wouldn’t stop him, a few years later, from producing his most astounding writing of all: the late piano sonatas and string quartets, the Ninth Symphony, and much more.

If you know Beethoven only from his symphonies you are truly missing nearly all of his most amazing, moving, and profound work. I won’t go into all of the details on the 1808 concert here, but in a nutshell: The hall in Vienna was freezing cold. Beethoven, as a taskmaster conductor, had alienated the musicians, rehearsals were inadequate, he finished one piece on the morning of the concert with (reportedly) the ink still wet that night. Parts of the program went off very well; on the other hand, he stopped the Choral Fantasia after a few minutes and made the orchestra start over. In any case, the show went on, and on. In that era, it was hard enough for any audience to appreciate and/or grasp the unprecedented length — and revolutionary nature — of Beethoven’s compositions, and now they were cold and tired. The key newspaper review at the time noted the genius of Beethoven’s new compositions but also the demands on the audience (“It is known that, with respect to Vienna, it holds even more true than with respect to most other cities, what is written in the scriptures, namely that the prophet does not count for anything in his own country”).

 I will leave off here with the invitation for you to consider my argument that Beethoven was the greatest composer in the history of Western culture.  Yes, I am in deeper than most--not long ago I co-produced an acclaimed film and co-authored a book about Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  But in these tough times, you really might find (as I did) that a little Beethoven will help you make it through your week, and maybe even the Trump era.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

More Love for Christmas

The great Darlene Love made her annual Letterman appearance this week every year to do the annual Christmas song. Here's great one from five years back:

Bowie Minus Bing

Okay, this week in 1977, David Bowie famously sang "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby on Der Bingle's Christmas special.    Here's the Will Farrell-John C. Reilly parody.

When the Santas Go Marchin' In?

Louis Armstrong, "Christmas in New Orleans."

Hallelujah--Leonard for Christmas

Few could imagine that Leonard Cohen--the Jewish Buddhist--once did "Silent Night" live, with Jennifer Warnes.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Massacre, 103 Years Ago

Our folk genius, Woody Guthrie, with the "1913 Massacre" at the miner's Christmas ball, based on tragic true event.  (read all about it, and two films, here).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Parts Left Out of the Springsteen Memoir

Mother Jones just published my piece on how Springsteen (and Bowie) helped bring down the Berlin Wall, derived from my new book, The Tunnels.  So allow me to reflect further:

Forty-four years ago today I got a phone call at my office at the legendary Crawdaddy, where I served as #2 editor for nearly the entire 1970s, that would change my life, for several years, anyway.  It was from a fast-talking dude named Mike Appel, inviting me to catch his top (and only) act in a press event/concert upstate,  the following day, December 7, 1972,  in notorious...Sing Sing Prison.  The act was a total unknown whose debut album had not yet been released, by the name of Bruce Springsteen. 

With editor Peter Knobler,  I drove up to the prison with Bruce in the back of a van, leaving under the old West Side Highway--we were the only two from the entire NYC press corps who bothered to show up.  (See my little video below,)  Then we attended his first NYC gig with the band, at Kenny's Castaways.  We were blown away and decided right then and there to create an unprecedented monster piece on this unknown act who first album wasn't even out yet--though we quickly got a test pressing.

Then after two weeks of hanging out with Bruce and the band, and attending half a dozen club gigs (as one of the very few audience members),  I helped create the very first magazine piece about Brucie--and 8,000 words, at that--written by Peter for Crawdaddy.  We even put Bruce's  name on the cover.   Then, a year later,  I hailed his second album in a major review.  What was significant about all of this:  Most in the press were reacting to Bruce in a lukewarm (at best) fashion at that time and his record company was considering dropping him--until Crawdaddy doubled down, and then Jon Landau offered his crucial "I've seen the future of rock 'n roll" blurb.  We gave him his first magazine cover--two months before Time and Newsweek.

Many other Crawdaddy pieces--and dozens of concert  dates, from Central Park to Santa Monica--would follow and Bruce would become a friend for a number of years.  Crawdaddy even challenged the E Streeters to a softball doubleheader.   He even let me write a book at his house when he was away on his trip to England after Born to Run hit.  The self-described weak driver helped drive me to a gig in my hometown of Niagara Falls and back again. 

For whatever reason, Bruce does not mention any of this in his new memoir.  (His only reference to Sing Sing is in a long list of odd places Appel had him play the following year.)   Still, a gold record for Born to Run hangs on my wall.  He did write the preface to my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, in 2007.   And just this past June, his management gave me four free tickets for his concert in Berlin. 

Bruce even figures in my new book on escape tunnels under the Berlin Wall (and JFK trying to kill CBS and NBC coverage of them).   He performed in East Berlin. to his largest crowd ever a year before the Wall fell.  It's an amazing story in all regards.

Here's (below) a little video about the day I met Bruce in December 1972--in Sing Sing--which also includes excerpts from his very early live performances, including the acoustic  "Growin' Up".   Photo above from December 1972, days after the Sing Sing gig, with me across the table (photo by Ed Gallucci). 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Spayd on the Spot

UPDATE:   There's new controversy this week over Liz Spayd after her latest NY Times column on the use of "alt-right," and an appearance on Fox News, and slamming some of the paper's poltics writers for "outrageous" tweeting.  This is my piece from two years ago,  which I first re-posted a few weeks ago after Spayd, the new Public Editor at The New York Times, began drawing much criticism for her column on "false balance" (or lack of) in current political campaign.  (Jonathan Chait joins in here.)

Unlike a lot of media and political writers I am not one to let bygones be bygones, at least in a very few tragic or high stakes cases.  For example, the media failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, given the consequences.  This explains my reaction to the Columbia Journalism Review today announcing, after a widely-watched search, that it was hiring Liz Spayd of The Washington Post as its new editor.

Now, I suppose I should review her entire career, for context, though others are doing it and you can read about it in plenty of places.  She has been managing editor of the Post for years now and obviously supervised a good deal of important work (and some not so terrific, of course).  But I am moved to recall, and then let go,  one famous 2004 article, by Howard Kurtz, then media writer at the Post, which I covered at the time (when I was the editor of Editor & Publisher) and in my book on those media failures and Iraq, So Wrong for So Long.

In a nutshell:  The NYT, under Bill Keller, had printed as an editors' note  a very brief and very limited semi-apology for its horrific coverage during the run-up to the war.  The Post, almost equally guilty (see headline in photo), didn't even do that, leaving it to one of its reporters, i.e. Kurtz, to report it out.  His piece made the paper look pretty bad, with some embarrassing quotes from editor Len Downie, Bob Woodward and Karen DeYoung, among others.  And there was this passage about Spayd:
Liz Spayd, the assistant managing editor for national news, says The Post's overall record was strong.

"I believe we pushed as hard or harder than anyone to question the administration's assertions on all kinds of subjects related to the war. . . . Do I wish we would have had more and pushed harder and deeper into questions of whether they possessed weapons of mass destruction? Absolutely," she said. "Do I feel we owe our readers an apology? I don't think so."
In some ways, the "hero" of the Kurtz piece was Walter Pincus, the longtime national security who had tried to get more skeptical stories on Iraq WMD in the paper (or get them on the front-page).
But while Pincus was ferreting out information "from sources I've used for years," some in the Post newsroom were questioning his work. Editors complained that he was "cryptic," as one put it, and that his hard-to-follow stories had to be heavily rewritten.

Spayd declined to discuss Pincus's writing but said that "stories on intelligence are always difficult to edit and parse and to ensure their accuracy and get into the paper."
Michael Getler later reviewed his years as ombudsman at the Post from 2000 to 2005, and offered a strong critique of the role of the paper's editors in the Iraq WMD disaster. He observed:
I should say at this point the Post is an excellent paper, and it also did some excellent reporting before the war—more than you might think. But I also had a catbird seat watching it stumble and, while my observations are necessarily about the Post, they may be more broadly applicable. From where I sat, there were two newsroom failures, in particular, at the root of what went wrong with pre-war reporting. One was a failure to pay enough attention to events that unfolded in public, rather than just the exclusive stuff that all major newspapers like to develop. The other was a failure of editors and editing up and down the line that resulted in a focus on getting ready for a war that was coming rather than the obligation to put the alternative case in front of readers in a prominent way. This resulted in far too many stories, including some very important ones, being either missed, underplayed, or buried.
Gelter chronicles the many important stories the Post either did not cover or buried deep inside the paper (including reports on large antiwar marches).   Then he adds:
Here’s a brief sampling of additional Post headlines that, rather stunningly, failed to make the front of the newspaper: “Observers: Evidence for War Lacking,” “U.N. Finds No Proof of Nuclear Program,” “Bin Laden-Hussein Link Hazy,” “U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms,” “Legality of War Is a Matter of Debate,” and “Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations About Iraq.” In short, it wasn’t the case that important, challenging reporting wasn’t done. It just wasn’t highlighted.
Of course, Liz Spayd was just one of a group of editors and hardly deserves full blame for the Post's performance.  But she did defend that record afterward--and said no apology was needed.