Monday, February 21, 2011

"Our job is to lie, cheat and steal"

Here's a paragraph from the end of an entertaining new book, The War for Late Night, When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy by Bill Carter. He writes with a real "You are there" perspective. This story concerns Lorne Michaels, the long time chief of Saturday Night Live. Years ago Michaels became dissatisfied with SNL, and wanted to leave. HE went in to the office of NBC Entertainment Chief Irwin Seglestein, intending to resign. Here's what Segelstein had to say:

" When you leave, the show will get worse. But not all of a sudden, gradually. And it will take the audience a while to figure that out. Maybe two, maybe three years. And when it gets to be , you know, awful, and the audience has abandoned it, then we will cancel it. And the show will be gone, but we will still be here, because we're the network and we are eternal. If you read your contract closely, it says the show is to be ninety minutes in length. It is to cost X. That's the budget. Nowhere in that do we ever say it as to be good. And if you are so robotic and driven that you feel pressure to push yourself in that way to make it good, don't come to us and say you've been treated unfairly, because you're trying hard to make it good and we're getting in your way. Because at no point did we ask for it to be good. That you're neurotic is a bonus to us. Our job is to lie, cheat and steal. Your job is to do the show."

Friday, February 18, 2011

That Horrible F Word

Well, there I was, pretty in pink all ready to go on the air with a live chat show I get to host 2x month. Today's topics were arts and culture. I invited three guests who well represent the local arts community. Two were charming, articulate, smart and made great radio. The third was someone I didn't know except by (excellent) reputation. I did know he had that sort of "angry young man" thing going on. It's all about good radio, about engaging the community, giving the community useful information, being entertaining and having fun.

Five minutes into the broadcast didn't my new friend chose to answer a question with, "Well I spend half my time loving it here and the other half wanting to get the fuck out."

I'm a guest host. I love this gig. This is live radio with no delay at all, which I made clear to everyone, even our angry young man newbie and there it was after three minutes, what my late mother always referred to as "That Horrible F Word."

Guest no. 1 blanched a bit but was calm and professional. Guest #2 shot a look hat could kill. Your obedient servant, the host, fumbled a bit and went on. The AYM was nonplussed. Doesn't everyone speak this way? (Yes, most of us do but as I explained before AND after NOT ON LIVE BROADCAST). What threw me was that HE wasn't the least bit fazed. Had he never heard of George Carlin and the infamous 7 words ? At the first break I kicked him out of the studio. Go. Who knows what he would say next? It's a shame because he was off to a good start.

He sent an e mail apology stating again he didn't know cursing was forbidden. Dear God.

Happily our wonderful producer hit a button just in time and "that horrible F word" did not go out live. The TV feed and podcast have to be cleaned up. That's better than being screwed by the FCC. Somebody called in and complained that I cut off the guest. The screener said THE GUY SAID FUCK IN THE AIR! 'Nuf said.

He apologized by e mail. I told him it was bad and serious and immature but that he was a gifted guy with a lot of good work to do. And yes, I told him I was in no position to criticize someone else's language but I DON'T CURSE ON THE AIR

And people wonder....

Monday, February 14, 2011


I'm listening to Mozart's Symphony 36 in C- the Linz.

This past weekend Opera Columbus did a good job with The Marriage of Figaro. In my pre performance talks I mentioned that some productions of this work depict Count Almaviva not only as unpleasant but as violent-a wife beater. The Countess becomes an abused wife. I can't hear this at all in Mozart's music. Mozart did everything in music better than anyone else (except Bach-although Bach wrote no operas) What Mozart did not do was violence. There's no raging bloodshed in any Mozart I've ever heard, opera or otherwise. There's joy, sorrow, grief, anger, sex, love, love and more love, laughter, fear, unhappiness, even tragedy. But where is Mozart ever violent? I don't hear it. His music is all about grace and proportion, and the humanity that lives within. But blood and guts, not really. The human heart and all its joys and perils, yes.

Now, back to the Linz. What a gift on a rather dreary day!

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Listening Table

This past weekend's Columbus Symphony program was superb. I'm so pleased we got a fine live broadcast Saturday night. Larry Rachleff conducted Rachmaninoff' s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Symphony 11 of Shostakovitch, The Year 1905. Kirill Gerstein was the piano soloist in the Rachmaninoff and he was dazzling. The audience fell in love with him. Conductor Rachleff was unknown to me (where have I been?!?) Sensational. He had an immediate grasp of Shostakovitch's gripping score-and he sold it it brilliantly. I could have heard the entire concert all over again and I suspect most of the audience felt the same way.

Inspired by this, I've put away Bellini and Monteverdi and Maria Callas temporarily and am now concentrating on

Shostakovitch String Quartets
Bartok Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Dvorak Symphony 8
Liszt Piano Sonata in b minor (with Kirill Gerstein)

A wonderful journey awaits.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Greatest Composers?

A young friend recently e mailed to ask if I'd seen the New York Times series by Anthony Tommasini naming the 10 greatest composers. Here's my reply:

I saw the Times piece and the media. I imagine Tommasini was told by his editors to do something really provocative, hence this study. I never do these "best of" lists well. I can't get away from subjectivity. To me, greatness in any endeavor belongs to those who break the mold and force the rest of us to think in a different way. So my list would be something like this:

Josquin Missa Pape Marcellae
Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, L'Orfeo, Poppea
Bach Passions, Brandenburg Concerti, Cello Suites, everything
Haydn-perfecting the string quartet
Mozart everything
Beethoven symphonies, quartets, Missa Solemnis, everything
Wagner Tristan und Isolde
Mahler Symphony 3, Das Lied von der Erde
Stravinsky Rite of Spring
Schonberg Moses und Aron
Ives Concord Sonata

That's 11 , not 10-but its my blog so what the hell.

And yes, it breaks my heart to omit Verdi and Puccini. Their operas have given me more pleasure then many of the above named, but truly great in the mold breaking sense, I'm afraid. One could argue for Gershwin. Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, all magnificent (what's more exquisite than Schubert's Die Forelle?) but they don't predict what is to come.

Anybody want to list their favorite composers?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Just Kids

La boheme, with its description of student poverty and fatal illness amid the rooftops of Paris is only romantic and beautiful because of Puccini's music. It may be true that a lot of us keep a fond memory of our basement apartments and hopeless love affairs from a time gone by, but who really wants to turn back the clock? Poet-Rocker Patti Smith does just that with her book Just Kids. This was the National Book Award Winner and gave new profile to an artist I knew best from Gilda Radner's SNL riff in the '70s as "Candy Slice". ("Let's get together....and get sick!")

The center of this book is Smith's long relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. They began as nice kids from suburbia. Mapplethorpe was an altar boy from a devout Catholic family. They met and connected in New York. Patti was on a blind date that was not going well. A young man walked by and she managed to whisper, "Hey, pretend you're a friend and help me get out of here." Robert did. And for several years, the two were inseparable.

These years, late 60s, early 70s, were years of homelessness-sleeping on front stoops in Brooklyn, panhandling and squats. They were years when two people were struggling to create: poetry and pictures-which morphed into music and photography. The days of controversy over Mapplethorpe's photography ("Piss Christ") postdate this book. This is a memoir about becoming. Along the way they live in New York's seedy and wonderful Chelsea Hotel (Virgil Thomson upstairs and Martha Graham down the hall) and we frequent the adjacent El Quixote or Max's Kansas City. Janis Joplin and Andy Warhol and his coterie make regular appearances. But the book is about Patti and Robert, friends, soul mates (overused but there's no better word here) lovers. They are two people who can't live without each other until sucess and sexualty separate them. Both get to the top of their fields, but there is no ego in this book .The tone is of truth telling. There's nothing sensational in this writing of two lives that were, frankly sensational.

At night, after trudging through the snow I found him waiting for me in our apartment, ready to rub my hands to make them warm. He seemed always in motion, heating water on the stove, unlacing my boots, hanging up my coat, always with one eye on the drawing he was working on. He would stop for a moment if he noticed something. Most of the time, it seemed as if the piece was fully formed in his mind. He was not one for improvising. It was more a question of executing something he saw in a flash.

Patti's album Horses-for which Mapplethorpe did the photography- launched her career. Mapplethorpe found a patron and created the images that disturb many to this day. Patti Smith married in 1980 and had two children. Robert Mapplethorpe died in 1989 at the age of 43. Don't miss Just Kids. It's poignant and moving and sad and lovely.