Monday, September 22, 2014

The Stories Behind Several Greatest Songs of Autumn; And a Happy Rosh Hashanah and an easy Yom Kippur

An easy Yom Kippur!

Happy Rosh Hashanah!


Autumn in Central Park

by Mary Dawson The Internet Writing Journal

"It has already started! The air is getting colder and crisper. Time for candlelight and popcorn -- falling leaves and soon, falling snow. It's "that time of year" once again. It's not quite Christmas, but the emotions are ramping up. We start thinking about family gatherings, parties, romantic evenings snuggled up by the fire with the ones we love. And under it all, is the magical music of the season.

In my never-to-be-humble opinion, some of the greatest songs ever written were inspired by the Season of Autumn. If you can't name at least a few songs about this season and the songwriters who created them, it's time to join us as we explore the stories behind the wonderful melodies and lyrics that mark this time of year.

The first song that comes to mind is the haunting, "Autumn in New York" written by Vernon Duke back in 1934. Never heard of him? Stay tuned.

You may be familiar with Billie Holiday's amazing rendition of this song, but then it has also been recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Diane Schuur, Ray Charles, Mantovani, George Shearing, Rosemary Clooney, Charlie Parker and dozens of other major artists. Year after year this song keeps reappearing with new arrangements and different artists, but definitely the same words and melody written by this guy, Vernon Duke. This song is what's known as a standard -- the goal of every songwriter. Now do you want to know a little more about Mr. Duke?

Vernon Duke was born Vladimir Alexandrovich Dukelsky in a train station in Prafianovo, Russia, on October 10, 1903 as his mother was traveling to another Russian town. Growing up in an aristocratic family, Vladimir showed amazing talent for music at a very early age. When he was eleven, he had already been admitted to the distinguished Kiev Conservatory to study under the famed composer, Reinhold Gilere.

After the Russian Revolution, the Dukelsky family made its way to the United States where Vladimir's classical compositions began receiving rave reviews. In America, Vladimir became friends with the famous George Gershwin, who encouraged him to begin writing popular music. Gershwin also suggested that he consider changing his name to something more "American" -- like Vernon Duke. From that point onward, the composer began his double life -- using the name, Vladimir Dukelsky, for his classical works and Vernon Duke for his pop songs.

In the 1920's Vernon/Vladimir moved to Paris where he wrote oratorios and music for ballet and symphony, becoming friends with Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev and artist, Pablo Picasso. When he would travel to Britain or the United States, like Superman, he would step into a phone booth and come out as Vernon Duke, writer of popular songs for theater and the Ziegfeld Follies. Collaborating with other great songwriters of the era, Duke wrote such classics as "April in Paris. Taking a Chance on Love," and "I Like the Likes of You."

With that as a backdrop, take some time to enjoy "Autumn in New York." You can download the song easily from iTunes or another online song store, and you can study the magical lyrics here. Consider that this Russian-born songwriter wrote these words in his second language and the stunning melody as the result of his ability to communicate musically to the ordinary listener as well as to the classical connoisseur.

Autumn in New York, Billie Holiday

If that story doesn't challenge your creativity, let's examine the scoop behind another Autumn Hit -- the beautiful "Autumn Leaves" by Joseph Kozma, Jacques Prevert and Johnny Mercer.

The lovely minor melody of this song conveys the bittersweet emotions of Autumn, and the very few, but well-chosen words, use the metaphor of Autumn's fading beauty to describe the melancholy of lost love. Originally, this song was a French composition written by composer Joseph Kosma and French poet, Jacques Prevert, and was originally entitled, "Les Feuilles Morte." The song was introduced by Yves Montand in the French film Les Portes de la Nuit in 1946.

But that's not the end of the story. Enter...American songwriter, Johnny Mercer!

Johnny Mercer was one of the most prolific songwriters of all times with more than 1000 songs to his credit. While he was primarily a lyricist, he also often wrote his own music. He said that usually the title or idea would come first and then "the rest of the lyrics just fell into place." When he wrote both words and music, he would write a few words and pound out a melody for them with one finger on the piano. Then he would go on to the next group of words. Several times in his life, Johnny tried to really learn the piano by taking lessons, but he always seemed to revert to his one-finger method. Hey, if it ain't broke...don't fix it, right?

In the songwriting of the 1930's and 40's, the music was usually composed first. Then the lyricist would set words to the completed melody. Because of his ability to set lyrics to music, Mercer was often asked to create English words for foreign music. Such was the case with "Autumn Leaves." Although not an exact translation, Johnny was able to capture the dreamy and pensive mood of the song in just 60 words!

Friends and neighbors...that's great lyric writing. Check out these lovely lyrics with their technicolor images here.

And be sure to listen carefully to this exquisite song again this fall. The melody will transport you simply and elegantly into the emotions of the season. You will certainly have your choice of artists for this song too! Everyone has recorded it -- from Edith Lou Rawls…Willie Nelson…Frank Sinatra...Barbra Streisand and many others! My personal favorite is by Eva Cassidy from her stunning CD, Songbird.

Autumn Leaves, Eva Cassidy

If you write words only, get up off your "comfort zone couch" and challenge yourself to become a lyricist like Johnny Mercer, capable of capturing the mystery of music with lyrics. The more you learn about genius writers like Mercer, the more you will aspire to greatness.

OK! Time for one more quick story. The song is "September in the Rain" by Harry Warren (composer) and Al Dubin (lyricist). Only 75 words in this song, but every one of them counts. Every one of them is perfectly matched to the melody like an artist's paintbrush touching the canvas, creating images that stay in the heart.

Harry Warren was born Salvatore Guaragna, the son of Italian immigrants in the late 19th Century. The eleventh of twelve children, he taught himself to play the piano and tried to supplement his family's income by playing for carnivals and in vaudeville shows. After serving in World War I, he found a job at a music publishing company in Tin Pan Alley, New York.

Al Dubin, the lyricist, was born in 1891 to a Jewish family in Switzerland. When he was two years old, his family immigrated to the United States where Al began to show an early love for music. Often he would cut his school classes to sneak into the back of a theater for a matinee musical. After a series of attempts at other careers, Al began writing music for silent films, which he did for most of the 20's.

Both Dubin and Warren were "surviving" as songwriters, but then in the early 1930's they met each other. The spark met the kindling and the resulting relationship resulted in a "co-writer's marriage made in heaven." In the decade that the two men wrote together, they turned out more than sixty hit songs including such classics as: "I Only Have Eyes for You, We're In the Money" and "Lullaby of Broadway," which earned them the Academy Award in 1935.

"September in the Rain" was one of the last songs the two writers created together. Dubin, who had long struggled with drug, alcohol and food addictions, had become less and less reliable in his work ethic. Warren had often had to resort to other lyricists -- including Johnny Mercer -- to complete his projects. After a particularly difficult period, Dubin agreed to undergo treatment at the Mayo Clinic for his addictions. When he returned from rehab, he produced the exquisite lyrics for "September in the Rain" which became one of the duo's most enduring standards. Could it be that these lyrics were a metaphor for Dubin's own failing struggle with his personal demons? It is well worth the 99 cents it will cost you to listen to this lovely song. Again, you will have a host of major artists and arrangements to choose from, from Dinah Washington to Norah Jones. You can study the amazingly concise and picturesque lyrics here.

September in the Rain, Marian McPartland, Norah Jones

The Songs of Autumn only become more striking and lovely when you learn the stories behind them. Just as "every life has a story," so does every hit song. For me as a writer, getting to know the behind-the-scenes craftsmen who penned our favorite songs only makes them more compelling. I hope you have been challenged, as I have been, by the Stories Behind the Hit Songs of Autumn. Now let's go have a cup of spiced cider by the fire and get lost in their magic."

p.s. I found Mary Dawson's piece thoroughly inspiring and invigorating...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Gloria" is a free-spirited divorcee looking for love. And, "Words and Pictures", writing or art, which is most effective?

Plot:  Gloria is a 58-year-old divorcée. Her grown son and daughter have their own lives. She meets Rodolfo (Hernández), seven years her senior who, like her, is seeking companionship.
A story set in Santiago, Chile, and centered on Gloria, a free-spirited older woman, and the realities of her whirlwind relationship with a former naval officer whom she meets at a dance club. Passionate and authentic!  Beautifully done! 

Gloria, Laura Branigan

Dina and Jack are school teachers in an advanced public school. Dina teaches art but her ability to paint is severely diminished by rheumatoid arthritis. Jack teaches English but his job is at risk because he is an alcoholic. The two argue about whether words or pictures are more effective at conveying ideas and make this the focus of an upcoming school performance. Meanwhile, despite themselves, they are falling in love.

Although the debate over which art form is most effective is somewhat predictable in its ending, the journey between Dina and Jack is believable and fun.  A sweet and endearing film.

Waiting For My Real Life To Begin, Colin Hay

You Bring the Sun Out, Randy Crawford

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dolce and Gabbana Fashion...poesia in movimento (poetry in motion)

It's fashion runway season around the world, and if I could, Italy's D&G is for me.  The 2014 and 2015 winter runways are poetry in motion with sequins and brocades in reds and golds, in beautiful prints and lace, in all lengths, with practical tweeds and coat dresses to fanciful dresses and billowing gowns.  Below are the full runway shows between my "escape" choices. ;))



Winter 2015

Winter 2014

Poetry in Motion, Bobby Vee

Fashion, David Bowie

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A single flower is left over the names of those who died in the World Trade Center South at the 9/11 Memorial.

Monday, September 8, 2014

It is what it is...or, is it?

The following is a quote from the film, The Fugitive, which had me thinking about the point of this post.

Marshal Biggs: This is hinky. This guy's a college graduate, he went to medical school, he's not gonna come through all the security, go to the county lockup, to find someone his own people say does not exist. Hinky.
Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: Well, what does that mean Biggs, 'hinky'?
Marshal Biggs: I don't know. Strange.
Marshal Henry: Weird.
Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: Well, why don't you say strange or weird? I mean hinky, that has no meaning.
Marshal Biggs: Well, we say hinky.
Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: I don't want you guys using words around me that have no meaning. I'm taking the stairs and walking.
Marshal Biggs: [sotto voice] How about 'bullshit?' How about 'bullshit', Sam?

Was hinky, which "has no meaning," a pet peeve for Samuel Gerard.  I think so.

Well, I thought I'd share a pet peeve of an expression I've heard used often, which, for me, has no meaning; it's empty, with nothing to sink your teeth into, a cop out.

The expression: It is what it is...

What is?  How poor many are, children with cancer or autism, world conflict ... What is its meaning?

To me, it's throwing one's arms into the air, evading trying to understand the underlying meaning of any or anyone's situation.  Is the observer feeling so helpless or paralyzed to do something about it, so It is what it is?

It's a blanket statement which leaves no understanding or empathy to what It Is. It seems to me, that many of us would rather face the truth -- good, bad, or ugly -- while others just don't have the time to understand what is more than meets the eye, or just bury their heads in the sand.

Life is complicated with limitless shades of gray.  Would we say Robin Williams' suicide by asphyxiation is what it is, or do we try to understand the pain he was in to resort to such an ending to his life.

Yes, I find a lack of empathy and caring in making the blanket statement, it is what it isThere's no feeling, no compassion, no commitment.  Honestly, I'm tired of hearing it.  Life just isn't that simple.

I wholeheartedly agree with the above, "It is what it is. But you have the power to turn it into an isn't."

The Fugitive Opening Theme

Thursday, September 4, 2014

JOAN Alexandra Rosenberg RIVERS (née Molinsky; June 8, 1933 – September 4, 2014)

(CNN) -- Comedian Joan Rivers died in a New York hospital Thursday afternoon, a week after suffering cardiac arrest during a medical procedure, her daughter said.
"She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends," Melissa Rivers said in a written statement.
The funeral for Rivers will be at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan on Sunday, according to temple spokeswoman Elizabeth Fezrine. Details, including the time and if the public will be allowed to attend, are not yet known, she said.
Rivers, 81, had been on life support at Manhattan's Mount Sinai hospital, where she was taken after she stopped breathing at the Yorkville Endoscopy clinic last Thursday.  Rivers was undergoing an apparently minor elective procedure at the clinic when she suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest, according to the New York Fire Department.

Paramedics took her by ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital, about a mile from the clinic, where she was initially listed in critical condition. The outpatient clinic is now being investigated by the New York State Department of Health, spokesman James O'Hara said.
Her death also has triggered an investigation by the New York medical examiner's office, its spokeswoman, Julie Bolcer ,told CNN. "The cause and manner of death will be announced at some point," she said.
The Rivers family made very little information about her medical condition public, finally confirming Tuesday that she was on life support. "My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother," her daughter said. "Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated.' Melissa Rivers and her son Cooper have spent the past week by Rivers' hospital bedside, rushing there last Thursday when they learned of her illness.
'My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh," Melissa Rivers said. "Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon."
The clinic has not responded to repeated calls from CNN about the state's investigation.
Yorkville Endoscopy's website says it is an "ambulatory surgical center" that has been "approved by the Department of Health." The description of its accreditations is blank.
"Yorkville Endoscopy is a state of the art facility, staffed by highly experienced endoscopists whose mission is to provide safe and compassionate care to patients and their families," the website says.
Tributes to Rivers and her long career included one from former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose close circle of friends included Rivers. "Joan Rivers was not only a dear friend, but one of the kindest and funniest people I ever knew," Reagan said. "I doubt there's anyone who hasn't laughed at her or with her until they cried. Today our tears are those of sadness. I know I join millions in saying, 'Thanks for the good times Joan, we will truly miss you.' My love and deepest sympathy go to Melissa and Cooper."
Former CNN host Larry King knew Rivers for 45 years. "She knew no boundaries," King said. "Everything was funny to her. You couldn't' really object because she took no prisoners."
Donald Trump, who chose her as the winner on a season of "Celebrity Apprentice," said Rivers "was stronger at the end than she was at the beginning. She had unbelievable stamina."
Ryan Seacrest, who worked with her on E! shows, called Rivers "a trailblazer in so many ways."
Liza Minnelli said Rivers was "my dear friend." "I will miss her but I will always remember the laughter and friendship she brought into my life," Minnelli said.
E! and NBCUniversal, producers of River's TV show "Fashion Police," sent condolences to her family on "this incredibly sad day." "For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings and revolutionized comedy," the studio said.
"She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us and has left an indelible mark on the people that worked with her and on her legions of fans.  She's been a much beloved member of the E! family for over 20 years and the world is less funny without her in it.  Today our hearts are heavy knowing Joan will not be bounding through the doors."

Joan Rivers Interview

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), Manhattan, New York, champions the future of the independent storytelling community..."

"The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) champions the future of storytelling by connecting artists with essential resources at all stages of development and distribution. IFP fosters a vibrant and sustainable independent storytelling community, represents a growing network of 10,000 storytellers around the world, and plays a key role in developing 350 new feature and documentary works each year. During its 35-year history, IFP has supported over 8,000 projects and offered resources to more than 20,000 filmmakers, including Debra Granik, Miranda July, Michael Moore, Dee Rees, and Benh Zeitlin."

Member from 2000-2005

"IFP guides storytellers through the process of making and distributing their work. It offers creative, technological and business support through year-round programming, which includes Filmmaker Magazine, Independent Film Week, Envision, The Gotham Independent Film Awards, and the Independent Filmmaker Labs. IFP’s latest initiative, the Made in NY Media Center by IFP, is an incubator space developed with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, where storytellers from multiple disciplines, industries, and platforms can create, collaborate and connect. Through its programming—which also includes seminars, conferences, and mentorships—IFP creates exciting opportunities for promising new voices from a diverse range of racial, ethnic, religious, ideological and sexual perspectives.
Founded in 1979, IFP is the larges and oldest not-for-profit dedicated to independent film." More info at

"Programs help filmmakers navigate the industry, develop new audiences, and encourage close interaction between all participants."

According to Empire Magazine, following are the top 15 of the 50 greatest independent films, as presented on AMC.

15. Blood Simple (1984), d. Joel CoenThe Coen Brothers launched themselves upon an unsuspecting world with this noir throwback in 1984, and they haven't looked back. But all their subsequent success - and many of their trademark flourishes - can be dated back to this Texas-set tale of private eyes, murder most foul and more double (triple, and quadruple) crosses than you can count. The style is present and correct in the almost black-and-white locations and bright red blood, but it's the tone that stands out. Like Fargo without the warmth of Marge Gunderson, or Miller's Crossing without the qualms of conscience, Blood Simple is the darkest, and arguably up there with the best, of the Coens' films.
14. Stranger Than Paradise (1984, W. Ger/US), d. Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch is another in the small canon of American directors who have spent their entire career outside of the mainstream - hell, even when he's got Johnny Depp in his movie the box office seems relatively unperturbed. But it's this early work - just his second feature - that stands among the best. Possibly the biggest reason for Stranger Than Paradise's inclusion here is, despite all outward appearances, Jarmusch's craftily disguising that he knows exactly what he's on about. It wasn't for another film or two that his themes of the universality of humankind, regardless of race, creed or colour, became apparent. Consider also his legacy on the likes of Wayne Wang and Greg Araki.
13. Memento (2000), d. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan's modestly budgeted sleeper hit managed to claw it's way over the indie fence and into mainstream recognition on pure ingenuity. Before Memento, the 'character with amnesia' subgenre was, generally, a rather tired one (and has become so again since), but using the simplest of devices - telling the story's episodic structure in reverse order - the filmmakers (Nolan's brother Jonathan wrote the basis of the screenplay) forged a tale that was arse-clenchingly compelling, and ironically, unforgettable. And let's not forget it was the first major breakthrough in screenwriting structure since Pulp Fiction and its many clones, which in itself deserves an award.
12. Eraserhead (1977), d. David Lynch
Another piecemeal movie - shot over five years on a virtually non-existent budget, prompting lead Jack Nance to keep that same distinctive pre-Marge Simpson haircut for the duration of the shoot - Eraserhead is one of the strangest, most perplexing movies you'll ever see. It's jam-packed with deeply unsettling imagery, a grating, scraping, percussive soundtrack and an almost omnipresent sense of dread and doom. Despite all that, it's one of Lynch's most complete, a true surrealist masterpiece for everybody, barring the guy who made it - in Lynch's world, this is probably the equivalent of Bad Boys 2.
11. Bad Taste (1987, NZ), d. Peter Jackson
Compared to the long hard slog that was making Bad Taste, the Rings trilogy was a walk in the park. Famously funded almost entirely by himself and shot on weekends over a period of FOUR YEARS, Jackson not only wrote, directed, and appeared in a couple of roles, but supervised the special effects, constructed makeshift 'steadicam' equipment and probably made the tea, too. The result is as ramshackle as you'd imagine, but is also an endlessly inventive, vibrant alien invasion movie with extraordinary levels of gore, black comedy and an early peek of the scampish, OTT sense of humour that is evident in even the most serious and worthy of PJ's canon. At times you can almost hear him giggle himself silly, behind the camera.

A few favorites:

Memento, Trailer

Sideways, Trailer

Monty Python's Life of Brian, Trailer