The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘music’


It’s Sunday – even here in Las Vegas.  We are currently enjoying a much needed break from the sweltering heat that made its way here and across much of the country.  We’ve even had two days of substantial rain and last night I stood in the dog park with Gracie and enjoyed the coolness as the droplets soaked me through and through.  (I think Gracie was less impressed with this than I was).

So even though the casinos are saying farewell to their weekend visitors, many of whom said farewell to their stash of cash while they stayed here, it is important to me to try to keep things in perspective and try to set aside some time away from that which is worldly and direct myself toward higher things.

On Sundays. as part of that discipline, I try to do some contemplative thinking.  That may take the form of reading or it may incorporate listening to music or a combination of both.  But this was a busy Sunday.  I had a few grocery items I needed to purchase for the dinner I was making and a car battery to replace.  Car batteries in the desert have about the same life expectancies as fruit flies.

So as I was coming home with a new battery installed and my groceries on the passenger seat, I had rolled down the windows as it was still in the mid-80’s and there was a nice breeze blowing.  As I waited for the light to change, a man pulled up next to me in a large, new SUV which obviously had a very high-powered radio installed.  He was playing rap music and I’m sure that the volume was sufficient that it could have been heard in our state capital, Carson City nearly 450 miles away..

One of the things you learn when you live in Las Vegas is that we have some of the longest street lights in the world.  When I first moved here I wondered whether some of them at which I had been stopped ever changed.  I now know better.  They do change eventually – but in this case the wait seemed interminable.

I thought about rolling up the windows – but I thought that would have been as rude as the driver’s behavior in subjecting me to this “music”.  So I waited somewhat impatiently for the magic green disk to appear on the signal.  It finally did, but not before I had heard more than my fair share of M*ther F*cker and B*tch.

I realize that my classical music traditions would seem as strange to the driver of this car as his music does to me.  Well, there’s no accounting for taste – or lack of it.  But since music has been such an important influence in my life I can’t help but feel that the kind we choose to hear has a significant impact on how we see the world and how we treat each other.  Or perhaps the way that we view ourselves and the world determines our choice in music.

Somehow I don’t see a person who listens to music which through denigration and vulgarity demeans others as a person who is likely to be one of those “touchy-feely” types.  I could be wrong.  But I believe that we are what we eat – and that is true of the food we consume, the literature we read and the music to which we listen.

I do know that for me music is a refuge.  It brings out the best in me and comforts me when I am troubled.  And this being Sunday, I thought I would share the hymn which I played when I came home from my excursion.  It is of American origin, probably dating from the mid-19th century and was composed by one of those best know authors, Anonymous.

I played it several times just to unwind from the traffic light episode.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have over many years.


Scarcely a person alive hasn’t at some time been the subject of criticism.  Critics abound with the frequency that flies lite on cow pies in the dead heat of a blistering day in Yuma, Arizona.  They are our personal gadflies – sent as a scourge by a lesser deity.  But it is not to these I refer in this post.

No, the critics of whom I speak are those who have made a profession of it.  They are the ultimate arbiters (the Enlightened Ones) of what passes for good taste and have been placed on this earth to inform the rest of us (The Un-enlightened Ones) what we should read, hear, and enjoy – and conversely what we should not pick up, listen to and abhor.  It is a noble profession – and one for which there is really no professional training.  (This might be a possible career choice for those in the OWS movement as it carries with it no baggage such as student loans).

There was a memorable critic in Chicago by the name of Claudia Cassidy.  If it is true that “only the good die young”, Ms. Cassidy went on to live to be 96 years of age – but I have always disputed the validity of that aphorism.  She was indeed an influence in the development (and retardation) of art in Chicago.  Her moniker, “acidy Cassidy” would be understood by anyone who read or heard a typical reiew.

For years she worked as a critic for The Chicago Tribune, submitting freelance offerings.  But I came to know her through her regular half hour Sunday broadcast on Chicago’s classical music station, WFMT.  I can attest to her impact by saying that in order not to miss one of these broadcasts which spanned fifteen years, I attended an earlier service at church to be sure I would be home to hear this famed critic.

If I could think of a way to describe the persona that she projected, I would have to say that the words she spoke reminded me of a nasty and vitriolic Oscar Wilde, delivered through the gravelly voice of a whiskey-downing cigarette-smoking Edith Piaf.  Her delivery and her ability to turn a phrase (usually against the artist she was reviewing) were truly classic.  Listening to her was a bit like playing with a loose tooth – a combination of pleasure and pain.

Ms. Cassidy abruptly passed from the milieu of Chicago’s cultural scene.  One day she reviewed a concert which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had given under the leadership of guest conductor Thomas Schippers.  She took apart both the Maestro’s ability to lead an orchestra, the orchestra’s performance of Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and went on to further impugn the Austrian people as a whole for having produced such a “monstrous composer” and inflicting him on the world.

Sadly, Maestro Schippers had decided that he didn’t like the rehearsals of the piece and, at the last moment, had substituted Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World” in its place.  And so ended a vainglorious career.

If there is a moral in this it can have been expressed no better than by Polonius in “Hamlet” when he said, “To thine own self be true.”  As in relationships and in art, you are your own best critic.


We had received the invitation and mom checked the calendar.  Because of a previous commitment she would not be able to attend the Parent/Student dinner that year – but dad would be in town and he would take me.

The dinner was, in essence, a school fund raiser but it was one of the school’s major events of the year and not attending would have been inappropriate.  We sent in our response and our check and dad and I were all set to attend a few weeks later.

The night of the dinner dad and I dressed in our finest to make sure that we were appropriately attired.  We got to the dinner right on time, our tickets in hand with our seating arrangements appropriately noted on our tickets.  The school seated people together whom they thought would enjoy  each others company and who would have something in common to discuss.  Boy did they goof!

Dad was a simple person.  He had more interest in reading a Zane Grey novel than in knowing who was doing whom or what in Hollywood.  In this respect he was different from mom who felt more of a need to keep abreast of the news and the glamorous people that were momentarily enjoying fame.  Many of those wandered through the doors of her Madison Avenue store.

So there we were in my school’s auditorium.  Dad was going to be seated next to a celebrity – and had no concept whatever who this man was.  It happened that this was the auditorium where my school orchestra gave its performances.  As I sensed the tragedy that was about to unfold I could hear an invisible orchestra begin the quiet opening measures of Ravel’s “Bolero.”

I wanted to help my father out of the inevitable consequences of his reading too many western novels and spending too little time reading the gossip magazines.  I wanted to let him know who it was that he was going to be seated next to – but unfortunately this dinner companion arrived before I had the chance to accomplish my mission.

In the background, I heard the Bolero increase in intensity.

I tugged frantically at my father’s suit jacket, hoping to bring him up to speed.  He was speaking with a man who was not only a Broadway producer but who had his own talk show on television.  (I knew dad was clueless).  I have only decided to withhold this person’s name as it is not nice to speak ill of the deceased.

The celeb introduced himself by name – expecting a gratuitous, “Wow” or some equivalent.  He asked my dad what he did for a living.  Dad explained his business to this man.

The Bolero had reached its loudest moment as the invisible orchestra continued playing.

And then it came.  The ultimate faux pas – one which I considered so grave that I seriously considered never returning to my grammar school because of the embarrassment of the question I could sense was about to protrude from my father’s lips.  And then he delivered it.

“And what do you do for a living?”

That was the final conversation these two men had as the dinner bell rang and we sat down to eat.  I think that my face was red throughout the meal.  I had the dumbest dad in the world.  I was truly ashamed of him.

Over the course of many years I have replayed that evening countless times.  I remember my anguish at realizing that I had a dumb dad.  And as the years passed I realized that dad wasn’t that dumb – but my reaction to his ignorance was.  And most of all, I realized that the celebrity who needed no acclamation other than his Nielsen ratings and Broadway successes was the dumbest of the three of us.

I hope that if I am ever really successful I never forget my simple beginnings.  And I hope that my simple beginnings will allow me a success that transcends what we consider to be fame.


Although the late Anna Russell is best known for her entertaining analysis of Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” the skit which I most enjoyed was her piece entitled, “How To Write Your Own Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta.”  There are three reasons for my feelings.

The first is that while I do love grand opera, I can only take Wagner’s music in small doses.  I would grant that he probably composed some of the most lyrical melodies of all time – but you have to sit through so much other incredibly cacophonous stuff that it hardly seems worth the wait.  He is one of the few composers whose music I will only buy in it’s highlighted form.

Second, as a freshman in college I lived down the hall from a person who went far beyond the definition of being a devotee to Wagner.  This student played the entire Ring Cycle from beginning to end interminably – and at such a high volume that it could be heard two counties away.  This did nothing to elevate my feelings for  Wagner nor did Wagner’s political philosophy which Hitler greatly admired.

Third, in a grammar school production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s, “The Mikado” I got the part of Yum Yum – thus endearing those two collaborators forever to me.  So I’m going to take diva Russell’s advice and use the formula she set out and embark on writing my very own G & S operetta.

I’ve entitled it “The Abominable Snow Job.”  Although I’ve only completed the libretto thus far I have also penned the words for many of the songs and have just started sketching out the music – so the completed work will have to wait for a bit and you’ll have to check back later.

Our operetta is set in Flimflamington, the capital city of the country Dweeblandia.  There is much stirring as the citizens of Dweeblandia are distressed that they are being forced to work in order to learn a living.  They are outside the Commander of Cheats’ home, calling for an end to their suffering. They break into the opening chorus, “We Aint Gonna Work No More No More, We Aint Gonna Work No More.”  At the conclusion of their song Huzzahs go up from the throng.

Our next scene takes us to the legislative center of Dweeblandia where the leader of the House of Ill Repute, Ninny Pepperoni is planning to seize even more power.  She sings her solo, “Promise Them Anything But Give Them Arepege” in which she describes her plan to cover the stench from the rapidly failing infrastructure by casting perfume on the refuse and offal that are rapidly accumulating throughout the land.

At the conclusion of her aria she is joined by the leader of the Upper House, Hapless Henry Road-Kill who confesses that he hasn’t had an original thought in his entire life and is happy to go through the balance of it without entertaining one.  He then sings his solo, “Life Is Like A Box Of Buffalo Chips.”

The two of them exit as a new player enters the stage.  This is our hero, a strange and exotic minstrel with a propensity for Rhythm & Blues music which he performs with difficulty on his one-string guitar.  His name is Jumbled Lyah – and other than the fact that he comes from somewhere out west, he reveals little of his own background.  He has come to Flimflamington to seek fame and fortune as he describes in his solo, “Gimmee, Gimmee, Gimmee.”

As he finishes his song, the chorus of Dweeblandians come on stage.  Charmed by this interesting stranger they kneel at his feet and explain their plight.  Jumbled Lyah promises that if he were ensconced as Commander of Cheats he would remove their suffering, take away their pain, make their lives enjoyable and they would forevermore have all that they wanted and far more than they needed.  He would bring equality and fairness to the land.

The ecstatic crowd picks Jumbled Lyah up and carries him triumphantly off the stage as they sing “Happy Days Are Here Again” and then refrain, “We Aint Gonna Work No More.”

The curtain falls as Act I concludes.

The Madding Crowd has elevated Jumbled Lyah into the office of Commander of Cheats – sweeping his predecessor,  Dunderhead Bush-League into a well deserved obscurity.  But all is not well as Jumbled Lyah begins to assemble the staff who will assist in his dominance over the Dweeblandians.

The annoying people who opposed him, members of the Garrulous Old Poppycockers have challenged his appointment for Chancellor of the Exchequer – Tomothy Can’t-Get-It-Rightner.  They have challenged his capability to run the country’s finances since it has come to light that he doesn’t comprehend the tax code which he will be sworn to uphold.

But Can’t-Get-It-Rightner defends himself in the energetic song, “It’s All Done With Smoke And Mirrors.”  At the conclusion of the aria, he is confirmed in his position as the members of the upper chamber understand his thinking and explanation – true models of their own actions.

Meanwhile, in another part of the House of Ill Repute, Jumbled Lyah, Ninny Pepperoni and Hapless Henry Road-Kill are having a clandestine meeting in one of the cloak and dagger rooms.  They are distressed that they are unable to deliver on the promises that they have made to the Dweeblandians and decide that the only way they can stay in power is to make even greater promises that they will not be able to fulfill – putting off the day of judgment.   They sing the trio, “It’s Our Party And We’ll Lie If We Want To.”

As Dweeblandia falls into yet greater ruin an elder statesman, Romulus Paulinus attempts to set things right but is castigated by the state-dominated media and his message is lost on the general populace.  He sings the dirge, “If I Could Give My Life To Set Things Right.” 

At the conclusion of his song the populace decides to grant his wish by burning him at the stake.  They seize this elder statesman and prepare to execute him as they bind him to a post and fuel the fire with all the bonds that their government has printed – thus killing two birds with one stone.

Alas, the fury of the flames does more than immolate statesman Paulinus.  A strong gust of wind comes up during the execution spreading the flames to the House of Ill Repute which burns to the ground and which ignites further devastation ultimately razing all of Flimflamington. 

Amid the disaster the Dweeblandians rejoice and sing the final chorus, “We Are One.”  They have brought equality to their land.  Nobody any longer has anything and in that abundance there is more than enough for all.

The curtain falls on Act II.

End of the operetta – and perhaps much more.


 In 1976 the primary focus of my executive search business was in finding people with public accounting background to place with corporate audit staffs. I was recruiting one day from one of what were then known as “the Big 8” firms when I spoke with a young man. He told me that he was leaving his firm to start his own company and added that he was looking for investors.

He and two other members of his firm were starting a business which was going to repackage old song hits. They were going to sell these on a mail-order only basis and were going to be millionaires. At least that was the plan.

The company’s ads – which aired over late night television – all began, “Sessions Presents…” Perhaps you heard some of them. The first package that the company put together was a compilation of Connie Francis’ greatest hits.

I made a modest investment in the company and at the end of our first Christmas season attended a stockholders meeting. The company was within inches of insolvency. We had sold a lot of product – but we had overpaid for our advertising during the pre-Christmas season. Those costs far outweighed our profits.

So the shareholders had to decide. Did we want to fold the company or make an additional investment to keep the company going for another year? Some of us chose to take the risk – others chose to take their loss and move on to other ventures. Those of us who stuck with it kicked in more money to enable us to survive what would be our second and perhaps final year.

That next year we began making a little bit of money. The first quarter was good, the second okay but summer was slow as people were involved in other activities than watching television. And then came the period to which most businesses look forward – that period before Christmas. That was our dead season. We looked forward to starting our extensive ad campaign on December 26th.

During the summer, one of the original founders, who was in charge of the fulfillment center, left the company. The remaining two asked if I would take over his duties. I agreed to this four month commitment and promised that I would find someone to replace me when our busy season had ended.

Our projections were that we should sell no less than 150,000 records, eight-tracks and cassettes during the first quarter. As it turned out we sold over 250,000. When we were in high gear, I worked two shifts a day six days a week and one shift on Sunday through the entire first quarter.

The fulfillment facility had a permanent staff of only eight employees. But during our busy season I needed to hire 125 people. These employees would open the orders which were forwarded to us by the television stations, remove the checks and money orders (and even cash) which were sent to us, input the customers’ addresses into our computer system, print the labels and pull and package the products for shipment.

I began hiring for these positions at the beginning of December. That was a tough time of year to recruit since people were more focused on the Holidays than they were on employment. The fact that it was a full time position but would only last three months added to the difficulty.

I was twenty short of the number of people I needed and had no further applicants to interview. Then I happened to read about a private agency in a nearby suburb that assisted wheelchair-confined individuals in finding employment.

I called them and explained my situation and the skills I needed. They assured me that they could find me the necessary twenty people – and would provide them transportation in a special bus that they owned. They came through for me with flying colors.

This was before there were requirements that provision had to be made so that handicapped people would have a way of gaining entrance to a business via ramps. So John, who headed up our shipping department, the bus driver and I would help them over the curb leading to our facility.

As I was walking to the door one day to assist these employees, I heard one of my permanent staff make the comment, “Here comes the geek squad.” It was one of the few times in my life that I was truly mad. But I continued to get our employees in from the winter weather and then asked the employee who had made the comment to see me in my office.

My comments to her were brief. I said, “Darla, you don’t know how lucky you and I are. We don’t have to deal with a handicap – and we should be grateful for that. The people you refer to as the ‘geek squad’ would trade places with us in a heartbeat. So if I ever hear you make a comment like that again, rest assured it will be the last words out of your mouth as an employee of this company. Am I clear?”

I never heard her say anything disparaging about these employees again. In fact, she went out of her way to try to assist them. I was delighted to see her attitude adjustment. And as Darla was second cousin to the town criers of old – I think our conversation in my office made the rounds.

Based on my experience with these handicapped workers, I would have filled the entire distribution center with them. Not one of them ever missed a single day of work – and the volume and quality of their work output matched or exceeded that of their co-workers who had all their physical capabilities.

I never heard a single word of complaint from any of them. But most importantly, when I passed out the paychecks each Friday, each one thanked me – and on their face was a look of sincere gratitude.

I knew that they meant it.



For some reason the old Shaker Hymn, “Simple Gifts” ran through my mind today. 

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free …”

Today, two days after Spenser’s death I was wandering around the house – picking up his toys which were both upstairs and downstairs. I knew that over the years he had accumulated a large collection of tennis balls – I thought about two dozen. Actually, when the count was done there were 57 of them. I washed them all and will donate them to a local dog adoption service this Saturday. Tennis balls were his favorite. But a very close runner-up were pine cones.

We live about a two minute walk from a little neighborhood park. A number of pine trees were planted when the community was built 17 years ago. Those pine trees have flourished – even here in Las Vegas – and yield a very fertile annual crop of pine cones. Spenser, Gracie and I would often take our late night walk around midnight. I would let them off lead as there was no traffic at that hour and we would go to the park.

When the pine cones had fallen, Spenser would find one – carefully pick it up – and then find a comfortable place on the grass where he would proceed to demolish it – tearing each of the segments from the base of the cone. You could always tell when we had been in the park as we left behind us a pile of pine cone debris.

I never understood his attraction to pine cones. My first golden retriever, Dickens lived most of his life with me in Chicago where there were many pine cones and I don’t recall his ever having any interest in any of them. But Spenser was Spenser and I didn’t question his enthusiasm. Unless he tried to bring one home with him.

On occasion – perhaps I hadn’t stayed out long enough for him to finish the “pine cone demolition” job – he would try to smuggle one home to complete his work. Although he was a small golden, he would fit it into his mouth so that nothing showed and try to get it by me. Most of the time I would catch on – but once in awhile he would sneak one by me resulting in pine cone debris in the living room. It was part of his simple and endearing charm.

In our world, obsessed with the latest in technology so that we know where our “friends” are, how to find our way home with GPS, what the latest badly-behaving “star” is up to, we have managed to do everything within our power to make sure that we are victims of sensory overload.

By contrast, Spenser was simple – and now he’s free.

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