REVIEW POTPOURRI: Christmas classics

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Christmas classics

Allastair Sim

In 1942, Columbia Masterworks released a set of three 12-inch 78s, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) as Ebenezer Scrooge and several other more minor actors and actresses from Hollywood’s truly Golden Age of the ‘30s and ‘40s, when work there was much more plentiful. Although the 1951 Allastair Sim black and white English film is my gold standard for this ever fascinating story, Rathbone brought a powerful, at times mean-spirited edginess to his speaking voice in this 25-minute presentation, one definitely more captivating than the recording of Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954), who drawled his way through a bit too much.

Basil Rathbone

The one good guy role I remember of Rathbone was the series of Sherlock Holmes films with the perfectly cast Nigel Bruce (1895-1953) as Watson. His villains in such classics as A Tale of Two Cities, Captain Blood, David Copperfield and The Mark of Zorro were singularly persuasive as was his appearance in Spencer Tracy’s late ‘50s The Last Hurrah.

The Barbirolli Society, a label devoted to the recorded legacy of the great conductor Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970), released a two CD set, SJB 1084-5, of an October 20, 1960, concert Barbirolli led at the very spacious Free Trade Hall, in Manchester, England, one of the most important classical music events in Great Britain during the last 50 years of the 20th century, the significance of which I hope to convey presently. The concert featured Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s 5th and Gustav Mahler’s 7th Symphonies, both of them powerful large scale pieces now commonly performed but then rarely. The BBC took a risk sponsoring the concert and pushed the envelope by combining two different orchestras, Barbirolli’s Halle Orchestra and the BBC’S Northern Symphony, both of them groups which regularly concertized in the Manchester metropolitan area. They and Barbirolli felt that this was a one time opportunity to provide at least 200 players, instead of the usual 80 to 100, that both Mahler and Nielsen hoped for in their own performance instructions.

The results were two hours of very inspired music-making and a highly recommended cd set to adventurous listeners.

Ellen Hamilton Latzen as Ruby Sue

The late New Yorker jazz critic Whitney Balliet (1926-2007) left a description of singer Tony Bennett’s rented stretch limousine, picking him and his daughter up in front of the New York City Upper East Side apartment building where he resided with his family during the 1970s: “the length of the one Jelly Roll Morton said he had to take to Central Park to turn around pulled up at the curb.”

Chevy Chase’s 1989 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is quite riotous as a comedy film, if a bit overblown at times. Ellen Hamilton Latzen almost stole the show as the eight-year-old Ruby Sue, daughter of an impoverished brother-in-law and family who drop in unexpectedly.

 

REVIEW POTPOURRI: A Down-Home Country Christmas

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

A Down-Home Country Christmas

Sea Shell
P 14992, LP, anthology released 1981.

The above anthology featured selections from the Columbia/Epic Special Products catalog of artists. It was one of dozens of such Christmas anthologies released during the decades of LP availability and these records were usually priced at $1 under the auspices of Goodyear’s, B.F. Goodrich, Grant’s or other outlets.

Ray Price

Ray Price (1926-2013) sang Jingle Bells with commendable persuasiveness via his rich effusive baritone, although my favorite version of this song is still Peggy Lee’s with a children’s chorus.

Initially, Price had considered majoring in veterinary science after high school graduation but had second thoughts, because of his small size, working around large steers and horses in his native Texas. Having already shown talent as a singer and guitarist during his teenage years, he began performing on local radio, made some recordings for small labels and, by perseverance, and sheer luck, achieved fame and fortune.

In 1999, Price made headlines when he was arrested for possession of marijuana. When Willie Nelson, being no stranger to pot smoking himself, heard about Price’s arrest, he hailed it as good news for his friend, claiming that the arrest would give Price $5 million worth of free publicity.

Johnny Cash (1932-2003) narrated the seasonal Spirit of Christmas to the tune of Little Town of Bethlehem.

Jim Nabors (1930-2017) poured on his richly syrupy baritone in singing Come All Ye Faithful.

Jimmy Dean (1928-2010) intoned Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, a song introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie, Meet Me in Saint Louis; who could forget Jimmy’s 1961 megahit, Big Bad John, his appearance in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and his breakfast sausage.

Lynn Anderson (1947-2015) was the daughter of singer/songwriter Liz Anderson (1930-2011) and began her career as a regular on the Lawrence Welk Show for two years before heading to Nashville. A few years ago, I wrote a column about one of her Columbia albums, which was co-produced by her ex-husband, Glenn Sutton. She, like her mother had a sweet voice and her Soon It Will Be Christmas Day, not to be confused with Silver Bells, is quite lovely.

Marty Robbins (1925-1982) charted in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with four very captivating classics, White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation, Story of My Life, Seventeen, and Devil Woman. He died very early just after heart surgery. His Hark the Herald Angels Sing is good but not his best.

Now 62, Tanya Tucker did a very good Silver Bells during her teenage years after achieving fame and fortune at 14 years old with What’s Your Mama’s Name? and Delta Dawn. She had romances with singers Merle Haggard, Andy Gibbs and Glen Campbell, and actor Don Johnson.

The three remaining tracks are as follows:

Charlie Rich (1932-1995) – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Jody Miller , now 79, What Child Is This.

And the last selection, an absolute gem, is the Chuck Wagon Gang’s a cappella Joy to the World.

A solid recommendation for Christmas music.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Ten Famous Sopranos

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Ten Famous Sopranos

London, OS 26206, LP, 1973 release.

This anthology makes for a wonderful introduction to the appreciation of great opera (I know some consider great and opera an oxymoron) via 10 of the finest sopranos active during the last century, although I notice two of London records finest artists Inge Borkh and Mirella Freni are missing.

Renata Tebaldi

Renata Tebaldi, 1922-2004, delivers a heart-rending Vissi D’Arte from Giacomo Puccini’s opera of tragedy, Tosca, in which she is pleading with God to alleviate her sorrow. During Tebaldi’s first engagement in Italy in 1944, she travelled the many miles to and from it on a horse-driven cart under heavy machine gun fire during wartime. Two years later, the great conductor Arturo Toscanini told her that ‘she had the voice of an angel.’

Joan Sutherland

Joan Sutherland, 1926-2010, sings an aria from Gounod’s Faust. She made her very successful Covent Garden debut in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and was visited backstage by Maria Callas, who was a huge fan and one of her best friends. She and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, who’s still living, were both from Sydney, Australia.

Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price, still living at 93, had during her prime years a voice that combined sheer power and astounding beauty. She was from Mississippi and received a scholarship to study voice at Juilliard School of Music in NYC. Within a few short years, she had a recording contract with RCA Victor. Here she sings a magnificent aria from Verdi’s Aida.

Birgit Nilsson

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, 1918-2005, had lungs of steel and recorded the dramatic roles in Wagner and Richard Strauss’s crazy operas — the Wagner 16 hour Ring cycle and Strauss’s violent masterworks, Salome and Elektra. She could also give sweet renditions of Swedish lullabies.

She sings a jubilant aria from Wagner’s Tannhauser.

Regine Crespin

French soprano Regine Crespin, 1927-2007, personified a delectable refinement in her low, middle and upper vocal register.

She was also notorious for her rough and tough high standards and bad temper; during the recording of Wagner’s Die Walkure with tenor James King, he missed a cue and she kicked him on the shin.

She sings Santuzza’s heart-breaking lament, Voi Lo Sapete, from Mascagni’s gorgeous Cavalleria Rusticana, an opera that received 14,000 performances in Italy alone during the composer’s lifetime.

The remaining five sopranos are Pilar Lorengar, Zinka Milanov, Elena Souliotis, Marilyn Horne, and Gwyneth Jones who each sing, in order of appearance, arias from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, Bizet’s Carmen and Wagner’s Flying Dutchman.

In short, a record to cherish.

* * * * * *

W. H. Auden

Some lines from the poem Little Things by the prize-winning 25-year-old Romanian poet Anastasia Gavrilovici in an English translation by Caterina Stanislav and Vlad Pojoga:

“Maybe people really do give their best shot when they’re crushed, just like olives/ Or maybe not, what do I know, my mind is a piece of Swiss cheese through which you can hear the music of lab rats.”

W.H. Auden wrote a poem, The Age of Anxiety, during World War II. Anas­tasia’s poem mirrors the current anxiety going on due to the pandemic and other on-going issues. She is definitely a poet of interest.

 

 

 

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Van Wyck Brooks

Van Wyck Brooks

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Van Wyck Brooks

In his fascinating 1936 literary history, The Flowering of New England, Van Wyck Brooks (1886-1963) astutely commented on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in an essay, justifying the importance of a poet’s profession, its nobility and necessity to life itself:

“Poetry did not enervate the mind or unfit the mind for the practical duties of life. He hoped that poets would rise to convince the nation that, properly understood, ‘utility’ embraces whatever contributes to make men happy. What had retarded American poetry? What but the want of exclusive cultivation? American poetry had been a pastime, beguiling the idle moments of merchants and lawyers. American scholarship had existed solely to satisfy the interests of theology.

“Neither had been a self-sufficient cause for self-devotion. Henceforth, let it be understood that he who, in the solitude of his chamber, quickened the inner life of his countrymen, lived not for himself or lived in vain. The hour had struck for poets. Let them be more national and more natural, but only national as they were natural. Eschew the skylark and the nightingale, birds that Audobon had never found. A national literature ought to be built, as the robin builds its nest, out of the twigs and straws of one’s native meadows. “

Between 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and 1815, when the creative spirits were gaining firmer ground in New England, the country was fighting for survival in an untamed wilderness. Farming and the formation of a civil society under the eyes of a just, loving and wrathful God were facts of life. Art, music and literature were mostly frowned upon except during the few patches of free time.

But a few worthwhile poets did emerge – the Puritan Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672, who married her husband Simon when she was 16); the physician and pastor Edward Taylor (1642-1729, who moved to the remote settlement of Westfield, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires and wrote some very intricate verses during his spare time that were discovered 200 years after his death in the back rooms of the Yale University Library) and William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878, whose family was originally from Knox before settling in Massachusetts).

However, the Romantic period in England and Europe brought about a passionate, very subjective individuality that would inspire Longfellow, his friend Hawthorne and Emerson, Thoreau and other Transcendentalists.

For what it’s worth, English poets were writing Odes and other tributes to nightingales while Longfellow did celebrate the beauties of nature frequently and not just the twigs. I look out on the back lawn in November and see a lot of twigs and stripped branches but do look forward to the end of winter in late May.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composers: Cesar Cui, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, Modeste Mous­sorgsky and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Cesar Cui

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Cui

Orientale; Glazunov: Arabian Melody.
Hans Kindler, cello, with orchestra. Victrola 702, ten inch acoustically recorded shellac from May 27th, 1920, and December 12th, 1921.

Cesar Cui (1835-1918), along with fellow composers Mily Balakirev (1837-1910), Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), Modeste Mous­sorgsky (1839-1881) and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), forged a bond known as the Russian five in writing music with nationalist feeling, rhythms and melodies of their country’s history, legends and folk music sources.

Moussorgsky was best known for the opera Boris Godunov, the Halloween showpiece Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition. Unfortunately he drank himself into an early grave.

Borodin was a medical doctor and organic chemist and composed on a part time basis but left the justly popular opera Prince Igor with its exotic Polovetsian Dances and the delicate tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia. He succumbed to a heart attack while attending a ball.

Rimsky-Korsakov was a naval officer but also taught composition to such pupils as Igor Stravinsky. His arguably most famous work is Scheherazade.

Mily Balakirev

Balakirev was a composer, pianist and conductor who left a solo piano showpiece Islamey and 1 Symphony of note and was the leader of the group as well.

Cesar Cui taught fortifications and wartime strategies at several military academies and may be the least known of the group. His Orientale for cello and orchestra was recorded two years after he died and has a plaintive melancholy and beauty rendering it worthy of popularity. Dutch-born cellist/conductor Hans Kindler (1892-1949) gave a deeply felt performance.

Alexander Glazunov was a famed teacher of composition whose most well-known student was Dimitri Shostakovich. He would unfailingly show up at concerts of his students music, no matter its quality and would sit in front row center with seemly very attentive listening. What was not noticed by many was that Glazunov stuffed his ears with paper tissue so he could be alone with his thoughts.

His very lyrical Arabian Melody also received a rapturous performance. And this old record has stood up with several hearings and can be heard via the internet.

Hans Kindler started the National Symphony Orchestra of D.C. from a small community group in 1931 and, despite the Depression, achieved extraordinary success. He recorded a batch of music on Victor 78 sets including a very exciting performance of Tchaaikovsky’s 3rd or Polish Symphony. His google images have a photo of him shaking hands with FDR.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Tchaikovsky

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 5
Paul Kletzki conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra; Columbia Masterworks, MM-701, six 12 inch 78s; recorded November 13 and 14, 1946.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky finished composing his 5th Symphony in 1888; along with the 4th and 6th (Pathetique) Symphonies; it expresses the most intense extremes of emotion, ranging from harrowing despair to jubilation. The composer himself was manic and tormented his entire life by self-doubts and depression. These three symphonies mirror them but have memorable melodic material and development which have sustained their popularity in concert halls and recording studios since their composition. I have lost track of the number of recordings I have of them.

Tchaikovsky visited Hamburg, Germany, in 1888 and 1889 and was hosted by a locally-prominent music teacher Teodor Ave-Lallemant (1806-1890) during the first trip before he completed the symphony. The two struck up a fast friendship but had a most interesting conversation regarding the older man’s feelings about Tchaikovsky’s music.

Ave-Lallemant felt that the composer’s pieces heard then, which included the Serenade for Strings and 1st Piano Concerto, were horrendous sounding but blamed its lackings more on Russia’s cultural backwardness than on the composer. He insisted that Tchaikovsky had the makings of a great composer if only he would move to Germany to absorb its inspiring traditions.

Tchaikovsky wrote in his journals that “Evidently Herr Ave-Lallemant harbours a deep prejudice against Russia, and I tried as far as I could to mitigate his hostile feelings towards our country, which, incidentally, this venerable Russophobe did not actually express openly but merely allowed to shine in his words. We parted as great friends.”

He dedicated his 5th Symphony to Ave-Lallemant and conducted its German premiere on his 1889 trip to Hamburg. Sadly, the gentleman was too ill to attend and died the following year. Tchaikovsky’s German publisher wrote a letter to the composer conveying the news and the following comment:

“Good Herr Ave-Lallement has died. The most distinguishing event in his life was in any case that which put his name on your 5th Symphony. He accorded you his full sympathy. ”

Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) conducted an especially beautiful performance that was suffused with poetic lyricism and the 1946 recording can be heard on YouTube. Kletzki grew up in Poland and, while he was fighting for his country during its war with Russia, a bullet grazed his skull while all too many of his comrades were killed. Later he fled the Nazis but his parents and a sister were murdered during the Holocaust.

Every recording I have heard of him is quite good and many of them can also be heard on YouTube.

He died on March 5, 1973, after collapsing during a rehearsal with the Liverpool, England, Philharmonic.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Writer: Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Anton Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard

Russian writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) conveyed an astute sense of reality in his short stories and plays , and did so with extraordinary literary artistry, powerful compassion for human beings and ruthless attention to detail. The Cherry Orchard was the last of four major plays to be completed, just six months before his death from tuberculosis.

The play deals with a family of aristocrats who have squandered their vast wealth and are forced to sell their lands, which include a huge and intermittently profitable cherry orchard, their main source of income. They are surrounded by servants and friends who mean well but the bottom line is they are all spending way too much time spinning their wheels.

What compelled me to read this play was Chekhov’s ability to see right through them in every comment and gesture as they interact with each other. He catches their blundering comments, sighs, scheming, despairs, and self-justifications but achieves this in a way through which we recognize ourselves and others and grow to care about them.

These nice folks include Lyubov, the matriarch landowner who gives into every freeloader approaching her for money; her 17 year old daughter Anya who’s under intense pressure to marry and lives in her own wishful dream world; the governess Charlotta seeking a man for decent conversation; Epikhodov, a bungling, disastor-prone clerk etcs.

Lopakhin is a wealthy merchant who wants to buy the estate and turn a profit in real estate development. Formerly a peasant whose father was a serf on the estate, he is now part of the new upper social class. But he wants to help Lyubov’s family too.

His monologue during the opening scene, as he awaits Lyubov’s arrival back from five years in Paris, reveals much about hi own character and gives a taste of why the play has appealed to millions of readers and theatergoers in its infinite number of productions in all languages since its first production in January, 1904:

“Lyubov Andreyevna has been living abroad now for five years and I don’t know how she may have changed. She’s a good soul, a simple, easy-going woman. I remember when I was a young sprout, fifteen years old, my father — he’s dead now, but he used to have a little shop in the village then — struck me in the face with his fist one day, and my nose began to bleed. We’d gone out of doors together for some reason or other and he was drunk. I remember just as though it were now, how Lyubov Andreyevna — she was still a slim young thing — here in this very room, the nursery. ‘Come, come, don’t cry your eyes away; you’ll live to dance on your wedding day, little peasant,’ says she. Little peasant! …True, my father was a peasant, and here I am wearing a white waistcoat and yellow shoes. From the sow’s ear to the silk purse… I’ve grown rich, made a lot of money, but when you come to think of it, to figure it out, I’m still a peasant.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer/pianist: Cecile Chaminade; Singer: William Mcdonald; Russian Symphonic Choir & Billy May and his Orchestra

Cecile Chaminade

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The old, very brittle 78s continue to give the greatest pleasure with their noisy surfaces, brief three to five minute playing sides and vivid sense of history, unmatched by LPs, CDs, and streaming. As so many people are still throwing boxes of them into dumpsters, they do call me and make offers I just can’t refuse.

Here are a few such documents of working musicians who once walked the earth and shared their art with others:

Cecile Chaminade

Serenade Espagnole
Fritz Kreisler, violinist, accompanied by pianist Carl Lamson; Victor, 64503, ten inch acoustic shellac disc, recorded June 22, 1915.

French composer/pianist Cecile Louise Chaminade (1857-1944) achieved fame as a composer for her very tuneful music and keyboard prowess during the era when women were still looked down upon or condescended to. The composer of Carmen, Georges Bizet (1837-1875) examined some of Chaminade’s pieces when she was only eight years old and predicted that her talent would take her far.

Despite early encouragement and progress, she experienced wrath from her father who disapproved of her musical studies.

Chaminade performed her music to acclaim in her own country, Great Britain and the U.S. and recorded several piano rolls which can be heard on youtube. Inevitably, as she grew older, she composed fewer pieces and died in relative obscurity in Monte Carlo at the age of 87, although financially she was set for life.

In 1913, she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, a prize set up by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 for outstanding accomplishments and was the first female composer thus honored.

I have written before about violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1963) who recorded a quite elegant performance more than 100 years ago of Chaminade’s Serenade Espagnole (Spanish Serenade), a piece just under three minutes long with a charming melody. He was accompanied by his pianist of many years, Carl Lamson (1878-1966).

This record can also be heard on YouTube.

William Mcdonald

Asleep in the Deep; In a Hundred Fathoms Deep
Columbia, A986, ten-inch acoustic disc, recorded September, 1911.

The online 78 discography research link had the recording date for this shellac but no information on bass singer William H. Macdonald. The two songs, Asleep and A Hundred Fathoms Deep were frequently sung and recorded 100 years ago but are rarely heard today. They refer to what every ocean explorer knows as Davy Jones’ locker and are very stirring ballads that were expressively sung.

Russian Symphonic Choir

conducted by Basile Kabalchich- Dance ! Gypsy ! (Czecho-Slovakian Dance Song); Volga Boatmen Song; Victor 20309, recorded January 6, and October 26, 1926, 10-inch 78.

Basile Kabalchich’s Russian Symphonic Choir was an ensemble of six sopranos, four contraltos, four tenors and five basses who recorded a batch of 78s for Victor between 1926 and 1927 of folk songs and orthodox church music from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, its studio venue being a converted church in Camden, New Jersey. These performances were very spirited to a feisty, fierce level and contributed to a jewel of a record.

Billy May and his Orchestra

Fat Man Boogie
My Silent Love; Capitol 1794, ten-inch 78, recorded 1951.

Billy May

Jazz/pop arranger and conductor Billy May (1916-2004) collaborated with Frank Sinatra on several of his classic albums for Capitol and Reprise and was one of the singer’s three principal arrangers, the other two being Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle. His utilization of smoky brass and sultry rhythms gave such Sinatra LPs as Come Fly With Me a legendary durability that still attracts listeners .

The two instrumentals, Fat Man Boogie and My Silent Love, make for riveting examples of May’s arranging skills.

Billy Mays was known for imbibing one or more bottles of booze during recording sessions with Sinatra and a number of other singers from the Great American Songbook years, including Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, etc. He also worked with the man of a 1,000 cartoon voices, Mel Blanc and comedian Stan Freeberg. Highly recommended is the YouTube of a 1951 featurette of Mays and Blanc for Capitol records about the process by which records are manufactured.

David Street

I Don’t Care Who Knows; Nevada Victor 20-1683, 10-inch 78, recorded June 1945.

David Street

Actor/singer David Street (1917-1971) achieved some renown on radio, and records and in a few films during the 1940s yet nothing stuck. Until I discovered this record in one of my 78 boxes yesterday and got curious, his name was new to me.

Three names on the record intrigued me- Street’s arranger Frank De Vol who conducted numerous records for Doris Day and some good pop orchestra LPs for Capitol and Columbia; and the gifted songwriters Jimmy McHugh (I Don’t Care Who Knows) and Walter Donaldson (Nevada).

Street had a solid voice in the romantic crooner tradition of Crosby, Sinatra and Como, yet unlike them, not a particularly distinguished one. Still the record is a nice one in the vintage pop category.

 

 

 

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Maine poet: Isaac McLellan

Isaac McLellan

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Isaac McLellan

Maine poet Isaac McLellan (1806-1899) was born in Portland but grew up in Boston. He went to Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, where he was friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and made the acquaintance of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

McLellan practiced law during his 20s, but soon grew bored and devoted himself to writing, hunting and fishing. His poetry and essays began appearing in newspapers and magazines and were collected in several volumes.

McLellan traveled in Europe, Egypt, and Syria and wrote about his experiences in an extensive series of Foreign Travels for the long gone Boston Daily Courier. He was interested in agriculture, hunting and fishing and had a spacious farm in the then peaceful countryside of Dorchester.

McLellan’s poem Autumn has verses that sum up the mixed blessings and beauties of the season; he also prefaces it with a verse by Longfellow which will be quoted first before his own stanzas:

Longfellow – ”‘Round Autumn’s mouldering urn,
Loud mourns the chill and cheerless gale,
When nightfall shades the quiet vale,
The stars in beauty burn.”

McLellan – “Now, in the fading woods, the Autumn blast
Chants its old hymn, – a melancholy sound!
And look! the yellow leaves are dripping fast,
And earth looks bleak and desolate around.

The flowers have lost their glorious scent and bloom,
And shiver now as flies the tempest by;
To some far clime hath flown the wild bird’s plume,
To greener woods, and some serener sky.”

McLellan’s favorite hunting grounds were in Cohasset, Plymouth and Marsh­field, Massa­chusetts, the last area being the farm of Daniel Webster, who frequently visited with McLellan (Webster’s favorite breakfasts consisted of roasted mutton, apple pie and Scotch.).

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Warren Harding; Bill Haley and the Comets

Warren G. Harding

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Warren Harding

During this political season, I was re-reading the rambunctious Baltimore Sun correspondent H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) on one of our great former occupants of the White House ­– the, for me, ever-fascinating Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1923) whose administration was beset by challenges of a unique nature, in particular the Teapot Dome scandal. Books such as the late Francis Russell’s biography, The Shadow of Blooming Grove, abound in pro and con details, while historian Paul Johnson’s Modern Times makes a convincing case for Harding as an underrated president.

Anyways, Mencken comments that Warren G. “takes first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English I have ever encountered.”

The essayist continues developing his main idea in the next paragraph:

“More scientifically, what is the matter with it? Why does it seem so flabby, so banal, so confused and childish, so stupidly at war with sense? ….That answer is very simple. When Dr. Harding prepares a speech, he does not think of it in terms of an educated reader locked up in jail, but in terms of a great horde of stoneheads gathered around a stand. More, it is a stump speech addressed to the sort of audience that the speaker has been used to all of his life, to wit, an audience of small-town yokels, of low political serfs, or morons scarcely able to understand a word of more than two syllables, and wholly unable to pursue a logical idea for more than two centimeters.”

This article can be read in its entirety by googling H.L. Mencken on Warren G. Harding and scrolling down to H.L. Mencken on Balder and Dash.

Mencken did interview Harding and his wife, Florence (1860-1924), who was known as the Duchess; he wrote that Harding exuded charismatic charm and that the Duchess was a very handsome woman.

A worthwhile quote of wisdom from Harding’s inaugural speech – “Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little for it.”

A highly recommended viewing experience is the five seasons of HBO’s series The Wire which ran from 2002 to 2008. It takes place in H.L. Mencken’s home town of Baltimore, Maryland, and deals with the tribulations and small victories in the drug war, the city’s shipyard docks, City Hall, the schools and the Baltimore Sun newspaper’s working conditions.

Bill Haley

Bill Haley and the Comets

Fractured and Pat-a-Cake
Essex, 327, ten-inch 78, recorded in 1952.

These two early examples of rock music were recorded two years before Bill Haley (1925-1981) hit success with the 1954 Rock Around the Clock and are similarly rocking good examples of rock and roll during the Eisenhower years. Later after Haley moved to Decca records, he unsuccessfully sued Essex for unpaid royalties.