The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built
narrated by David Pittu
Tantor Audio, March 01, 2016
print edition: Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$19.59 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit
The way in which I discovered this book is rather odd. I was searching Google for the exact words that Robert Preston used in introducing “Seventy-six Trombones” in The Music Man: “And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when…” Google took me to a Google Books copy of The Secret Life of the American Musical where the author quotes the lines in the introduction. I realized I might really enjoy reading (or listening to) this title.
After finishing my last audiobook I looked up the audio version of this book and used my August Audible credit to get it. What a delight!
Viertel describes the formula followed by most American musicals: an opening number followed by an “I want” song, then the conditional love song, and after that noise: an enjoyable song that probably doesn’t do much to move the plot forward. He notes that shows don’t necessarily set out to use that formula, but as the creators are putting the show together it works out that way.
The author points out that he originally planned on calling the book The Secret Life of the Broadway Musical, but that he realized that the British imports don’t follow the same formula. Hence you will find little about Cats, Miss Saigon, or The Phantom of the Opera in this book.
Viertel is a Broadway producer and has his biases. He considers Gypsy to be the model of the American musical and refers to it throughout the book. He dislikes Camelot as he considers it to be about two uninteresting, self-indulgent members of royalty. (I disagree.) He states that the golden age of the American musical began with the opening of Oklahoma and ended with the closing of A Chorus Line, admitting that this is his opinion and is somewhat arbitrary. Viertel is no traditionalist, however. He has much good to say about The Book of Mormon and Spring Awakening, for example.
Voice actor David Pittu does a superb job of narrating the book. Not only does he do an excellent job of reading the main text, but his interpretation of quoted dialog and song lyrics is well done.
I listened to all of The Secret Life of the American Musical in just a week, so I now must wait three weeks for my next monthly Audible credit. But it was well worth it.
I think it is fair to say that I am a foodie. The bulk of the television programs I record on my DVR are from Food Network. I cook dinner most evenings. So what is on this foodie’s mind? Cooking techniques.
I think it makes perfect sense to say that cooking is cooking, but I tend to divide cooking into two categories: conventional cooking and cooking using a specialized appliance. Conventional cooking uses the stovetop, the oven, and the outdoor gas grill. Specialized appliances include the electric pressure cooker, the air fryer, and the slow cooker.
I have all three. The slow cooker seems to me to be the most conventional while the other two might be a little more gadgety. I have been happy with most of the meals I have made with my ancient and appreciated slow cooker. I have cooked plenty of electric pressure cooker meals as well, but for me the results are often not quite as satisfying as a conventionally cooked meal. Somehow pressure cooker meals can end up all tasting the same. The exception is pot roast, where I have adapted a tried, tested, and true recipe from the pressure email group. It always comes out marvelous.
The air fryer is great for things you might normally deep fry, and far healthier besides, but I have had mixed results. One has to be vigilant. The various models vary so wildly that a given recipe can’t be trusted for your individual air fryer. I have learned the hard way that you need to calibrate a recipe you might want to try against the time chart for your specific air fryer.
Ultimately I’m a conventional cooking kind of guy and that works out well for me.
Alistair Moffat spent many years as an actor and as an executive for the Scottish equivalent of the BBC before retiring to live on his farm in southern Scotland and work as an amateur historian. This book is a product of that second career.
There is far less allure to the book than the title might imply. Much of it focuses on the early history of southern Scotland, describing the comings and goings of the Romans, Angles, and Saxons and their interactions with the native Britons. Moffat also has an ax to grind. It is important to him to establish Arthur’s origins in Southern Scotland, and he goes out of his way to do so.
Moffat writes that there is more evidence for the historical existence of Merlin than there is for Arthur. Yet he then uses place names and historical documents from a couple of hundred years after the supposed time of Arthur to describe the battles he led, to state that Arthur considered himself to be a military leader and not a king, and even give a specific year for Arthur’s death.
Moffat’s efforts are in the end unsatisfying and unconvincing. Despite all the efforts he and others have put into unearthing a historical Arthur, I’m not sure we’ll ever find him. Far better, I think, to enjoy and savor the myth and the legend.
Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History
Narrated by John Sackville
Hachette Audio, May 14, 2019
$20.76 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit
Origins takes a fresh approach to human history. Lewis Dartnell writes about how the earth and its changes have influenced human activity.
He describes how plate tectonics have affected where humans have chosen to live. He explains how continental drift has affected human and animal movements: when there was a land bridge between Asia and the Americas humans went one way and the camel went the other. (Yes, camels originated in the Americas.) He shows how climate in different areas made the difference between the nomads of the steppes and settled agricultural people, and how climate change was in part responsible for clashes between the two types of cultures.
Dartnell discusses how the formation of the continents has affected both wind and water currents and how they affected the voyages of exploration in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He points out that one could sail east or west by changing your latitude in the northern hemisphere, but that in the southern hemisphere you had to wait for the monsoon winds to change.
Narrator John Sackville offers a calm, pleasant reading of the book. Sometimes a bit too calm as I felt inclined to nod off at times, but it was a skilled, listenable narration nonetheless.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, even our radio listening.
When Terry and I lived in Gilroy our evening listening Monday through Saturday consisted of the internet stream from KCSM, the public radio jazz service in San Mateo. When we moved to Hemet in 2015 we began listening to the jazz stations in Los Angeles and San Diego. I wanted to avoid any nostalgia for the Bay Area.
After a couple of years, however, I switched back to KCSM. I decided that I could listen without undue melancholy or remorse, and I very much enjoy the evening hosts on the Jazz Oasis. When COVID-19 hit KCSM switched to a syndicated public radio jazz service, and we began listening to the Los Angeles jazz station, KKJZ, again. Evening host Steve Tyrell provided an upbeat mood in the midst of a time of pandemic, even if his music selections were a bit repetitious.
Recently, however, the engineering staff at KCSM figured out how to let the Jazz Oasis hosts prerecord their shows from home. It doesn’t matter that they are not live; hearing their familiar voices in the six-to-nine time slot is delightful and comforting in this stressful time.
The KCSM web site states, “Thanks to the College and our staff, especially engineers Rene Renard, Hanns Ullrich, and Chris Cortez, for helping the music to play on!” Terry and I thank them as well. Thank you, KCSM, for returning some peace and pleasure to our evenings.
Back in my Claremont cockroach days, the era that began after I graduated from Pitzer College but stayed in Claremont and ended when I headed off to Laredo, Texas to open a B. Dalton Bookseller store, I was a big fan of Loren Eiseley. I loved his writing on nature, natural history, and the happenings of everyday life. I was delighted to discover, then, that much of his work is back in print. I learned this when I saw his book The Unexpected Universe in an Early Bird Books email. I bought it immediately.
Eisley is a skilled essayist. In the opening piece he interweaves Odysseus and Darwin as he discusses their respective journeys, one fictional, one real. In another essay he describes a man on a beach in Mexico throwing starfish which had washed up on shore back into the ocean to give them another chance at life.
He writes beautifully about humankind’s connection to nature:
I saw the drifting cells of the early seas from which all life, including our own, has arisen. The salt of those ancient seas is in our blood, its lime is in our bones. Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments, or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.
Eiseley is not unaware of the destruction caused by humans: “We have become planet changers and the decimators of life, including our own.” And this in 1969. Nonetheless, there is so much beauty, wonder, and awe in Eiseley’s writing that reading his work makes for a most enjoyable diversion in these turbulent times.
Stuff sometimes happens even when you’re minding your own business. Yesterday before I went grocery shopping I checked my email. All was well. When I got home I had no internet access. My router was non-functional. There were no lights lit up on it. None. Completely dark. He’s dead, Jim. It’s a dead parrot.
I called Spectrum and the automated voice support was no help, so I enunciated very clearly rep-RE-sen-TATIVE. After twenty minutes on hold I got a real person who was very friendly, but finally agreed with me that I had a dead parrot, er, router.
While I was on hold I used my Spectrum iPhone app to make an appointment at the Spectrum store to swap out my router, but the first available appointment was the next day. The real person at Spectrum told me that I didn’t need an appointment; I could just head over to the store, which I did.
I had to wait a bit for my turn, but once someone came over to help me the equipment swap was very quick. I brought the new router home, connected everything, and waited. No internet access. Another call to that automated lady, a complete power cycle on both the modem and the router, then voilà, internet access!
I did a speed test and saw that I was getting almost twice the internet speed I had before, which is what Spectrum had been telling me for some months that I should be getting.
It’s a cliche, certainly, but it’s also true: all’s well that ends well.
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic Terry and I agreed, out of an abundance of caution, to discontinue our housekeeping service. Fortunately Pat, the last time Terry spoke with her, had sufficient work to not feel stressed.
Of course not having a housekeeper means we have to do the housekeeping ourselves. That has been manageable, but vacuuming is an issue. Given her bad knee, which will be replaced like the other one after the pandemic is past us, Terry can’t vacuum without pain. I will vacuum when asked, but I really don’t enjoy it.
Terry, having been laid off like so many others, has plenty of time on her hands and was using some of it, unbeknownst to me, to research robotic vacuums. She decided that the Shark was the best option and announced to me one day that she was going to the Best Buy about a half hour away from us to pick one up. I was dubious, but after twenty-six years of marriage I have learned that when Terry makes a decision there is no point in arguing.
She brought the device home and set it up to charge before sending it off on its first mission. The Shark is controlled by a smartphone app, and you need to give it a name. Terry decided on Jimmy. Personally, I might have preferred HAL, but parrot heads will recognize the reference to a certain Jimmy Buffett song.
One thing you learn from the online Shark forums is that it takes several forays for Jimmy to get to know your house. I had my doubts, but on his third or fourth reconnaissance mission Jimmy found the master bedroom. And with that, as the Monkees sang, “Now I’m a believer.”
Tasha regards Jimmy with a certain level of disdain, but for me, not needing to vacuum? I’m good with that.
New York in the ’50s
Open Road Media (February 9, 2016), 355 pages
Originally published in 1992
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $16.24
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $2.99
I had never read any Dan Wakefield. I was only familiar with him as a novelist from his place on the paperback fiction shelf during my days at B. Dalton Bookseller. In this case, however, the title was intriguing and the price was right.
While the title might suggest history or sociology, New York in the ‘50s is in fact autobiography. Wakefield describes his desire to leave his native Indiana and his arrival at Columbia University. He talks about his college years and his decision like many of his fellow and sister students to stay on in New York City after graduation.
Wakefield describes his attempts, generally successful, to survive as a freelance writer and reporter in the city. He recounts his covering Dorothy Day and her hospitality house along with the struggles of drug addicts and those who worked to help them. He writes about life in Greenwich Village and hanging out at the literary watering hole, a bar called the White Horse.
The author is honest about the newness and initial awkwardness of sex and relationships. He is candid about his struggles with depression and alcohol and about his dependence on analysis, something he did five days a week and which ate up a good share of his income.
Ultimately Wakefield found New York stifling and a journalism fellowship allowed him to go to Boston. It was only after leaving the city that he published hist first novel, Going All the Way. But his time in New York makes for entertaining and at times enlightening reading.
I lost my hearing aid in the parking lot at Kaiser Riverside during the so-called storm of the decade a few years ago when I was taking Terry home from one of those routine but unpleasant procedures that we older folks must endure every five to ten years. When I went to replace it I asked for a hearing aid that would connect directly to my iPhone without an intermediate device. The clinic’s ReSound line did just that. I love it.
Sometimes, though, I want to use earbuds. The sound quality is better, and when I am doing yard work or exercising I worry that the sweat could damage my hearing aid. The wired earbuds that came with my iPhone 8 have good sound quality, but the frigging things don’t stay in my ear. Not only that, but if I’m doing yard work the cord gets in my way.
I have avoided wireless earbuds because of the price, but our morning news tech guy on KTLA channel 5, Rich DeMuro, reviewed a product from Letsfit that sold for only $26.99 on Amazon. I thought it was worth a try, and with the rewards points on my Amazon VISA credit card the earbuds cost me six dollars and change with tax. (The price, by the way, was $19.95 at last check on Amazon.)
They are really cool. There are four sizes of ear tips and the sound quality is excellent. When the weather allows me to do yard work I can listen to audiobooks without fighting with the cords or worrying that my hearing aid might be damaged by my sweat. The earbuds are advertised as waterproof and they seem to be. The left one fell into my leftover black beans from El Pollo Loco with no apparent damage. (The only time the seem to fall out is when I am using them while eating, which I probably shouldn’t do anyway.)
Practical, fun, and inexpensive. What more can you ask?