Luck Be A Lady from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical, Guys and Dolls…Song #28/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

As a young and very nerdy boy, I attended this high school from 1978-82.

Way back in the day, I went to high school at a place known as Morrison Glace Bay High School. Back home, the school was simply known as Morrison. In the 1970s, Glace Bay was still a town that was fairly divided along religious lines: Morrison became known as the Protestant or public high school while across town, St. Michael’s was where the Catholic kids in town went. Needless to say, there existed a fierce rivalry between the two schools. Every sporting tournament contained elements of a Battle of Glace Bay. Like all intense rivalries, sometimes my school came out on top and sometimes we didn’t. But one thing that I think Morrison did better than St. Mike’s, year after year, was our production of a full-blown high school musical. We were lucky at Morrison to have a teacher on staff who championed this cause and was highly proficient at shepherding everyone through the dramatic process involved in putting on a quality play. Because of a lady named Harriett Townsend, our school became known for the quality of our theatrical productions. While Miss Townsend helped to put on several musicals over the course of my time there, the one that made the most impression on me was Guys and Dolls.

Author, columnist, screenwriter Damon Runyon.

Guys and Dolls is a musical that is based upon a series of short stories written by one of America’s most colourful writers, Damon Runyon. In the first half of the 1900s, Runyon wrote for newspapers that were run by mogul William Randolph Hearst. Runyon was a gambling man, a drinker and a smoker, too. He ran with a crowd that many would consider to be unsavory, such as mobsters, politicians, homosexuals (at a time when homosexuality was still considered a crime in many jurisdictions), “women of the night” and so on. Runyon’s newspaper columns routinely featured stories on the sporting world (particularly boxing and horse racing), along with the world of Broadway musicals. Damon Runyon wrote with a style that became known as Runyonese, which meant that he usually called his characters by imaginative names, his stories often took place in the underbelly of New York society circles and he was known for his use of made up language or slang terminology. In 1932, he wrote a short story entitled “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”. In that story, he wrote about the unlikely romance between a habitual gambler and the wholesome church lady who viewed him as a sinner worth saving. Two decades later, that short story was adapted for Broadway and became known as Guys and Dolls.

When Guys and Dolls debuted on Broadway, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The script for the musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. The world beyond the Big Apple was introduced to the vernacular of Damon Runyon where the men were all known by nicknames such as Lefty or Shorty or Skinny, and the women were all known as dames or broads or dolls. The story of Guys and Dolls revolves around gambling, but at its core, it is about redemption and love. The original cast recording of the musical won the Grammy Award for Best Recording by a Group or Ensemble. The most famous song, among many from this soundtrack, is “Luck Be a Lady”. This is a song that is sung by a group of gamblers all hoping to have the cards fall their way or the dice come up with anything other than snake eyes.

Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and fellow cast members looking sharp!

What I remember most about Guys and Dolls appearing at Morrison Glace Bay High School was how the costumes completely transformed those who appeared on stage. Boys who normally wore jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers every day suddenly appeared on stage in the sharpest of suits, the shiniest of shoes, all topped off with slicked back hair and fedoras. These boys became men as they sang of their hopes for making it rich on the roll of the dice or the speed of the ponies. And the girls…my word…these girls who I had sat beside in class for years appeared on stage in make-up, in heels and form-fitting dresses that sashayed when they moved. These girls of my youth transformed into women before my eyes in a way that I never had thought them capable of doing until that moment. The story of Guys and Dolls was all dressed in stylish garb and grownup language and allowed the students and citizens of Glace Bay to catch a glimpse of a part of the world that only New Yorkers had known up until then. It was gritty, dangerous and filled with virtue and tenderness at the same time. Guys and Dolls had it all. No wonder it is one of Broadway’s most honoured and respected musicals of all time.

Guys and Dolls became a movie, with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando starring in it. The musical has also been performed by all manner of touring companies from the four corners of the world. But for me, Guys and Dolls will always be a high school musical. Without question, the time one spends in high school helps to shape the rest of your life. While the academic studies help to prepare you for your post-secondary career and/or the world of work, there is so much else that goes on beyond the walls of those classrooms but within the walls of the school that adds so much colour to one’s life. Whether those extra-curricular experiences come on the playing field or on the stage doesn’t matter. What does matter is that kids, some of whom are going through the most confusing and pressure-filled times of their lives, get to don uniforms of one sort or another, step out of their lives for a while and become someone different, if only just for a short time. But, in that short time, they can grow in ways that just aren’t possible sitting at a desk in a classroom taking notes. So, kudos to all high school adults who willingly volunteer to provide such rich experiences for our children: experiences that go beyond academics and help our children to forge a sense of identity that is necessary to take on the world that awaits on the other side of graduation. Extra applause for those young people who step up and grasp those opportunities being presented to them. Taken together, extracurriculars enrich us all.

The link to the video for the song “Luck Be A Lady” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Guys and Dolls can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Guys and Dolls can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie version of Guys and Dolls can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Linus and Lucy from the original Soundtrack Recording of the Television Show, A Charlie Brown Christmas…Song #27/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Jazz was the first genre of music I ever really liked. At the time, I had no idea it was called Jazz. All that I knew was that the opening theme to A Charlie Brown Christmas made me happy. I was all of one year old when A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on national television in the United States. I had no idea how groundbreaking it was for there to be a prime time animated television show voiced by children for children. I didn’t bat an eyelash when the character of Linus gave his famous speech about the Nativity scene using language taken directly from the Bible. I also guess I figured out when to laugh and when to listen quietly without the need for a laugh track, which was something Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schultz demanded I be allowed to do. But, more than anything, there was just something about the tinkling of the ivories all throughout this TV show that gave it the feel of being in a nightclub or a piano bar all the while being just the perfect soundtrack to a story that everyone can relate to about life during holiday time. Failure and redemption. Loneliness and friendship. The bullying sound of mocking laughter directed your way and the joy of lifting your head to the Heavens in song. A Charlie Brown Christmas had it all. It had it all then and it still has it all today. It remains my favourite holiday show to watch at this time of year. This is the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time in 1965. The characters in the show all came from the comic strip called Peanuts. The Peanuts comic strip was created by Charles M. Schultz. It was already a huge hit as it was syndicated in newspapers all across North America. The world was different in those days. Back in 1965, most people got their news and information from radio, television and via daily newspapers. One of the features of newspapers back then was that there was always a page or two devoted to comic strips. These comic strips would be used to tell jokes, to tell stories in serial form, and in some cases, to teach lessons and/or to offer some sort of morality tale as told in three or four panels. One of the most popular comic strips at the time was Peanuts. So when CBS Television decided to create original family programming for the holiday season, bringing the Peanuts gang to the small screen seemed like a logical idea. When the Coca Cola company signed on as sponsor, the wheels were set in motion to make the very first prime time animated television show in broadcasting history.

Charles M. Schultz

Charles M. Schultz only agreed to participate in the project if certain criteria were met. First of all, because he was a staunch ally of children everywhere, he insisted that they be treated with respect every step of the way through the planning and production process. Schultz was very fearful that if left in the hands of studio executives, his beloved characters would be used to talk down to children viewing the show from their homes. Schultz insisted that the show would resonate more with children if real child actors voiced the roles of each character. This was unheard of at the time. The studio heads initially thought that the likes of Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke would become the voices of Charlie Brown and Linus, for example, but Schultz had other ideas. So, child actors were hired to speak for all of the characters who appeared on screen. The second thing that Charles M. Schultz argued successfully for was the elimination of a laugh track. Almost every standard thirty-minute television show being made on soundstages in America was produced with a laugh track (for comedies) and musical soundtracks (for dramas) that would help audiences know how to react to what they were seeing on screen. In Schultz’s mind, he believed that children were much more intelligent than many adults ever gave them credit for. He trusted that children watching from their homes would know which parts of his show were meant to be funny and which were meant to be more reflective and serious, and that they would know how to act accordingly. The lack of a laugh track is one of the defining features of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It helps to give the show a more quiet and cerebral feel. In addition, it allows viewers to appreciate those moments, such as when everyone is skating on an outdoor rink or catching snowflakes on their tongues. In real life, those moments outside in the winter time are often experienced in silence, as the snow muffles the usual hubbub of everyday life for a short while. Charles M. Schultz insisted that his show be more quiet than loud, and because of that the other big thing that happened was that the musical soundtrack of the show was allowed to shine through.

Vince Guaraldi and his animated companion, Schroeder.

When a musical soundtrack is done correctly, it adds layers of atmosphere to the onscreen visuals, but it does not detract from or compete against what you are watching. When Charles M. Schultz removed the laugh track and insisted upon telling a quiet morality tale, he also wanted to give a gift to those watching at home…that gift was an introduction to Jazz. The show’s musical score was created by a man named Vince Guaraldi and his band The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Prior to creating the music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi had never created a musical score before. In many ways, this lack of experience freed his mind and left him more open to try things that went against the conventional wisdom of the entertainment industry experts. In speaking with Schultz and understanding that he wanted the entire show to feel intimate and quiet, Guaraldi immediately thought of those smokey, dimly lit Jazz clubs where the music plays in the background while the swingers swing and the lovers conspire in whispers. To bring that vision to the Peanuts gang, Guaraldi made good use of the piano-playing character known as Schroeder. While Schroeder had usually been known as a classical pianist in the comic strip, Guaraldi postulated that it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to think that Schroeder would like other genres of piano music, too. He also thought it would be good for viewers to see the serious Schroeder cutting loose. So, Guaraldi created a song called “Linus and Lucy”, which acts as the thematic opener of the show. Completely instrumental, “Linus and Lucy” introduces the setting, most of the main characters, and does so with a peppy, uptempo Jazzy beat. By the time the opening credits had finished rolling on the debut showing, most of America had heard a Jazz song for the very first time…and they loved it! A Charlie Brown Christmas won the Emmy that year for Best Animated Feature and Guaraldi won for Best Song for “Linus and Lucy”.

Not all heroes wear capes. Some carry blankets instead. This is Linus giving his famous speech during A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The final aspect of A Charlie Brown Christmas that set it apart from anything else that was airing at the time was the quality of the storyline and the lessons that poured out of it. One of the things that Charles M. Schultz understood most of all was the complex social journey that children all make as they grow up. Peer pressure is a very real part of adolescence, and Schultz nails it with how he portrays the stressful nature of accepting a social role that forces you into the spotlight. Charlie Brown had many opinions about the state of the holidays, as we all do. But, being convinced to act upon those opinions is not something many of us choose to do in the end. It is far easier to sit quietly by and stew in your own discontented juices than it is to stand up and take action in a public manner. The easy thing for Schultz to have done would have been to have let Charlie Brown enjoy a moment of easy triumph as a reward for agreeing to run the Christmas pageant at school. But Schultz is nothing if not true to his characters, because instead of allowing Charlie Brown to become the hero, Schultz did something to a main character that is rarely allowed to happen on prime time TV: he allowed Charlie Brown to fail. Not only that, he allowed Charlie Brown to fail in a very public and humiliating manner. As anyone who has ever been bullied can tell you, the sound of mocking laughter is what stays with you long after the bruises have healed. But then, with that laughter reverberating in our ears and Charlie Brown shrinking under the weight of it all, Schultz swept in with a moment of redemption in the form of a bystander stepping up, as one should in such a situation. Having Linus come to centre stage and give his Nativity speech is much more than the endorsement of the Biblical story of Christmas than it may seem at first blush. When Linus came to centre stage he, essentially, saved his friend Charlie Brown. He stood up and stopped the mocking laughter of his friend in its tracks. That is such a hard thing to do in real life, as we all probably know, to our own personal shame. It takes such courage to not only protect a victim in public, but to rehabilitate their image at the same time, which is what Linus did for Charlie Brown. If the ultimate lesson from this television show was to reject commercialization and return to what the true meaning of Christmas is all about…love, family, friendship, peace…then Schultz accomplished that in one brilliant scene. It is not surprising that the scene with Linus is immediately followed up with the scene where everyone stands around Snoopy’s doghouse and sings “Christmas Time Is Here”, which is a lovely song that is made better because it requires many voices singing in harmony to make it right.

I was just a toddler when I first heard Jazz, but I have loved music my whole life since. I have also lived my life in the warm embrace of those I love and who love me in reply. So, as we wend our way ever closer to Christmas Day, my wish for all of you is to be next to those you love most, to share a thought or two for those you love who cannot be with you and most importantly, to do it all with a great holiday soundtrack like the one for A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the background. Peace be with you all. Merry Christmas.

The link to the video for the song “Linus and Lucy” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio from the Original Television Soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Christmas Time Is Here” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio from the Original Television Soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer to A Charlie Brown Christmas can be found here.

The link to the official website for the comic strip Peanuts can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Walking In The Air by Howard Blake from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the Film, The Snowman…Song #26/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

A day or two ago I hand-delivered Christmas cards to all of the homes in our neighbourhood. Bringing handmade cards to the homes of our neighbours was a project that I started a few years ago with my youngest daughter, Sophie. At the time that we began this Yuletide event, we barely knew even one-quarter of those who lived around us. That seemed shameful so we set about to begin the process of change by the creation of a handmade craft by Sophie to be placed with a Christmas card from our whole family. To top it all off, we decorate the outside of the envelope with some seasonal scenes. Then, out into the snow we go.

For three years, we have trudged through the snowy streets and walkways of our neighbourhood, delivering good cheer from our home to theirs. Initially, our neighbours were hesitant to respond or even acknowledge our cards and craft. One man even walked all the way down our street, knocked on our door and then asked if he had been given this card by mistake because he didn’t know us. But, as time went on, our small act of creativity has become a tradition that our neighbours look forward to. Some deliver cards of their own to our home and many others actually give us gifts, many of which are homemade (just like Sophie’s craft was). Of the cards we get back from our neighbours, all contain greetings for Sophie and words of appreciation to her for her efforts to brighten their homes with a piece of seasonal art.

So, two days ago, I stepped out into the wintery world that our neighbourhood had become and made my rounds. The morning air was crisp but not unbearably cold. I carried my gloves, along with a basket of colourful cards and crafts. My boots crunched in the snow. Other than that crunching noise, the whole street was still. I was the only person out in the snow. Up walkways and down driveways I went, sliding our masterpieces into mail slots, dropping them into black or brass mailboxes. Nobody stirred. Even the dogs held their tongues. There is something magical about being out in freshly fallen snow, with cards in tow at Christmas time.

The magic of being out in the snow has been the subject of many children’s picture books, none better than Raymond Briggs’ 1982 classic wordless book, The Snowman. This book follows a day in the life of a young boy and a snowman who has come to life. The boy and his snow friend go to many places and have many adventures over the course of their own magical day. But, in the end, the snowman melts and dies, leaving the boy with cherished memories of a magical day. It is easy to draw conclusions about a story that ends with the death of one of the main characters. But The Snowman is far from dour. It is uplifting and inspirational, actually. Life is meant to be lived in real time and experienced first hand. So, step away from your screens for a while and go outside. Breath in the air. Feel the sun on your skin. Watch your words curl to the sky in slender strands of language and meaning. Live.

The Snowman was made into a feature film. The film was scored by a man named Howard Blake. As part of the film’s soundtrack, a song was written called “Walking In The Air”. The lyrics to this song were originally sung by a choirboy from St. Paul’s Cathedral named Peter Auty. Auty’s solo voice reached the highest of musical scales, which was important, because his words were eventually paired on screen with the actions of the snowman and the boy when it came their turn to fly through the air. “Walking In The Air” became a Top Ten hit in the UK. The movie has been played on the BBC every year since its debut and remains an integral part of the holiday culture in England.

Traditions help us to keep our memories safe for when we need them most. These times of ours may still be fraught with danger from diseases, greed and violence but every once in a while, we are gifted with the chance to forget about it all. It’s a magic formula made up of softly falling snow that muffles the noisy aspects of our world, a moist tongue for catching the plumpest flakes as they fall and boots that were designed for crunching as you move. There is something wonderful and fresh about newly fallen snow. Come on, everybody. Power down your screens. Let’s go out and play. The memories are yours for the taking.

The link to the video for the song “Walking In The Air” by Howard Blake from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film The Snowman can be found here. ***Lyrics video is here.

The link to the official website for the character of The Snowman can be found here.

Somewhere In My Memory by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Home Alone…Song #25/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Last night, my lovely wife announced that she was tired of her work-related stress and that to combat it, she was going to give herself a strong dose of Hallmark Christmas movies medicine. So, about two-thirds of the way through the evening, she disappeared downstairs to our den in the basement and began to take her tonic. A while later, as we lay in bed, I turned to her and asked what movie she had watched. After thinking for a while, she admitted that she couldn’t actually remember the title, because, “They’re really all the same”. Well, today’s post concerns a movie that is definitely not like the others. Today, we put our hands to our faces, let our eyes grow wide as we realize the focus of today’s post is none other than that holiday classic, Home Alone.

Home Alone was released in 1990. It starred a young actor named Macaulay Culkin, who was only ten years old at the time. Culkin’s shocked facial expression at the realization that his family had left for vacation without him has gone on to become one of the most iconic Christmas entertainment images of the last thirty years. Home Alone has grossed almost half a billion dollars in sales since its release, making it the second biggest-selling Holiday movie of all time (just slightly behind Jim Carrey’s rendition of How The Grinch Stole Christmas). In addition to the movie being a box office hit, both Macaulay Culkin and composer John Williams ended up with Academy Award nominations…Culkin for Best Actor and Williams for Best Original Song for Somewhere In My Memory. It is funny how, at times, the inspiration for the most successful movies can originate from the simplest of moments. In the case of Home Alone, the idea for it came from Director Christopher Columbus, who, when packing for a trip with his own family, offhandedly remarked to his wife that they had better remember to pack the kids as well as whatever else they were packing. Apparently, as soon as Columbus had uttered those words, his mind started thinking about the possibilities of what might happen if they had actually forgotten one of their children and had left them behind. By the time the plane that Christopher Columbus was on had landed, he had a complete eight-page outline of the entire movie. Over the course of the next few weeks, he fleshed the story out and was shopping it to movie studios a short while later. Warner Brothers signed on right away, and the process of creating a professional script and hiring the cast took place not long afterwards.

The story of how the movie was made is filled with tidbits of entertainment trivia. For instance, if you have seen the movie, then you know that once Macaulay Culkin’s character, Kevin, realizes that he is home alone and has time to process that information, his mood changes, and he begins to think about all of the things he wants to do that normally he is not allowed to. One such indulgence is being able to eat all of the snacks he wants while watching a violent gangster movie on TV. The movie he starts watching is called Angels With Filthy Mouths. This black and white “movie” was inspired by a real movie called Angels With Dirty Faces starring the great James Cagney. However, the movie that Kevin watches was actually made specifically for the movie by Director Columbus. It is entirely fake. As authentic as the look and the sound of it are, this movie-within-a-movie was shot with different actors while the main movie was being shot with the real cast. It is this kind of attention to detail that helps elevate Home Alone from being “just another kids’ movie” to being recognized as the classic it has become.

Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern…the not-too-clever criminal masterminds from Home Alone.

According to Columbus, there were a variety of logistical hurdles that he had to overcome during the shooting of the film. For starters, Macaulay Culkin was only ten years old when this movie was made. Because of rules enacted to protect child actors, Culkin’s work day could only be so many hours long each day and could never go past ten o’clock at night. Thus, all night time scenes had to be shot within a very small window of time each day. Furthermore, because he could only shoot for so many hours per day, you will notice that there are many scenes in the movie in which Culkin, as lead character, does not appear at all. His absence was due to time limitation rules in place for him, which forced Columbus to fill in the downtime with tightly planned scheduling that made the best use of the other adult actors’ time. When you watch the movie with this information in mind, it is amazing how rarely Macaulay Culkin actually appears on screen with other adults. Think of all of the dramatic scenes in which the burglars are attempting to enter the house where Kevin lives…there are many back-and-forth action scenes, but almost never is MacAulay Culkin in the same room at the same time as Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, the thieves. All of those action sequences were shot separately: one set of scenes for Pesci and Stern and a completely different one for Culkin. The magic lay with the edits.

Composer John Williams holding one of his five Academy Awards out of the 52 he has been nominated for, including for Home Alone and, specifically, “Somewhere In My Memory”.

In real life, I always maintain that Christmas time isn’t about the presents but is, instead, about family and love. When Christopher Columbus set about finding the right person to create the musical score for his movie, he consulted with fellow director, Steven Spielberg. Having worked a lot with John Williams, Spielberg was quick to nominate his friend for the job. It was a fortuitous choice because Williams instinctively knew from the script that as much as this was an action-comedy movie, it was really a movie about the importance of family. Kevin’s family spends most of the film desperately trying to get back home to find him. Kevin spends most of the movie…while avoiding the bad guys…wishing his family was there with him so he wouldn’t have to deal with so many issues on his own. The emotions that freely flow when the family is finally reunited at the end somehow feel genuine, despite the slapstick nature of the film to that point. John Williams captured that feeling of the importance of being together with one’s family at Christmas time perfectly with a short piece of original music that plays over the opening credits called “Somewhere In My Memory”. The song is a combination of orchestral playing and choral singing. The lyrics are short but poignant and spell out the movie’s theme in a few short lines:

Candles in the window

Shadows painting the ceiling

Gazing at the fire glow

Feeling that gingerbread feeling.

Precious moments, special people

Happy faces, I can see.

Somewhere in my memory

Christmas joys all around me

Living in my memory

All of the music, all of the magic

All of the family, home, here with me.

As mentioned earlier, John Williams received an Academy Award nomination for this song, to go along with his 52(!) other Oscar nominations for his music, making him the second most nominated individual in Academy history after the great man, himself, Walt Disney.

As I write these words to you, I am alone in the house on an overcast day. I am sitting in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights. There are presents starting to appear under the tree. Everywhere I look around me, I see ornaments and decorations that remind me of the people who gifted them to me and my family. But, most of all, I feel the presence of my family with me in this room. I have always believed that this time of year is for creating a sense of warmth and of magic for the ones you love. So, I have done what I can to create an environment that is welcoming for all who enter, but mostly, I have tried to make a world for the ones I love, so that they feel safe and protected and, most of all, loved to bits. I will know if I have succeeded by the memories that my girls take with them to adulthood. Once they have their own homes and families, I hope that they will look back upon their childhoods and remember, with warm affection, how Christmas felt in our home. Christmas is a feeling, as much as it is an event. And that feeling is about family and love.

The link to the video for the song “Somewhere In My Memory” by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Home Alone can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the movie trailer for Home Alone can be found here.

The link to the official website for Macaulay Culkin can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Fame by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Fame…Song #24/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

One of the great truisms of being an educator is that the students under your care are all unique individuals. They enter into your classroom with varied life experiences, states of intellectual readiness and physical health, minds and hearts filled with hopes and dreams that are theirs alone and, of course, you have those who don’t want to be there at all and would rather still be tucked safely and warmly in their beds. As a teacher, I always built my programme around the fact that I shouldn’t expect all of my students to learn the curriculum in the exact same manner nor at the exact same speed. I had to find ways to help each child to be successful on their own terms. So, each school year, I tasked myself with creating 20-30 individualized academic programmes of instruction and ran them in a collective social setting. What made this easier for me is that, in reality, in any classroom setting the majority of the students fall into a fairly broad band of academic achievement that roughly translates to being in “the middle”. These would be the students who traditionally earned “B”s and “C”s on their report card. While there would be slight variations between these students, most were successful most of the time and were on course to successfully meet the requirements for that particular grade level. At the opposite end of those students who were in “the middle” were those students who struggled mightily and those students at the top end who excelled. While educators often spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how to help those students who are struggling, that will not be the topic of today’s post. Instead, for a change, we are going to focus on the needs of those kids who excel.

Photo of a young Scarlett Johansson when she was a student at the Professional Children's School in New York City.
Actress Scarlett Johansson when she was enrolled at the Professional Children’s School in NYC.

Despite how it may seem, it isn’t always easy to be an academic rock star in a regular classroom setting. One of the main reasons for that is simply boredom. When you possess tremendous skills and knowledge, it can become frustrating to always have to be waiting for your peers to catch up to where you got to a long time ago. In the public school system where I was a teacher, students who excelled at a tremendous rate could be tested for academic giftedness. If the testing process revealed that a student was, in fact, functioning at a gifted level then, a whole host of additional programming options could, in theory, be made available to that child. In other countries, there are whole schools established with the sole mandate of helping children who have displayed giftedness in The Arts or in Athletics, for example. Today’s post begins at one such school in the US called The Professional Children’s School. This school was established in New York City in 1914. It was run for the benefit of children who worked professionally in some facet of the entertainment industry in New York. A quick look at the names of some of those who have graduated from the PCS is to read a veritable Who’s-Who of the entertainment world. Professional Children’s School alumni include Yo-Yo Ma, Beverly Sills, Marvin Hamlisch, Buddy Rich, Vanessa Carlton, Milton Berle, Peggy Lipton, Lorna Luft, Macaulay Culkin, Carrie Fisher, Elliott Gould, Scarlett Johansson and many, many more, including a young singer and dancer named Irene Cara.

Head shot of actress Irene Cara smiling.
Irene Cara.

Irene Cara was enrolled in the Children’s Professional School in the 1970s. While a student there (and then later upon graduation), Cara earned roles in many Broadway plays and musicals and had some small supporting roles in soap operas and television serials. In 1979, Cara showed up to try out as an extra for a new movie that was inspired by the musical, A Chorus Line. This movie was centred upon a group of young people in a school for the arts who were all trying to break into the world of show business. When Cara performed her audition for a role as an extra, the producers were blown away by her singing voice and by her onscreen presence. In fact, the producers of Fame ended up creating an entirely new character for the movie named Coco Hernandez and gave the role to Irene Cara. Not only that, they had Cara sing the title track to the movie. The song called “Fame….I’m Gonna Live Forever” announced Irene Cara’s arrival as a star! The movie, Fame, became a huge box office hit. Cara won the first of her two Academy Awards for Best Song. She would win her second Oscar shortly thereafter for the song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling!”. Not long after Fame ended its theatrical run, word came out that the story being told in the movie was going to be continued in a television series. Many of the original movie cast signed on to reprise their roles on the small screen. Many assumed that Irene Cara would do so as well, but she declined that opportunity and her role was given to a new actress. Cara justified her decision to turn her back on the role of Coco Hernandez by saying that she believed that many other movie roles awaited her in Hollywood and that she didn’t want to become typecast as Coco just as her career was beginning.

The television version of Fame enjoyed a few seasons of success on network TV before being canceled. Meanwhile, Irene Cara had teamed up with music producer Giorgio Moroder to write the hit song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling!” for the movie of the same name that starred Jennifer Beals as a wannabe dancer searching for her big break. Around the same time, Cara starred in a sequel to the television mini-series, Roots called Roots: the Next Generation. Irene Cara received a Golden Globes nomination for her role as author Alex Haley’s grandmother in this continuing saga. As the 1980s reached their midway point, Irene Cara was one of the brightest names in the entire world of the entertainment industry. And then, it all went away for her.

Movie poster for Fame.Top half shows the word, FAME in lights. The bottom half of the poster shows students rehearsing on a stage.

Another one of life’s truisms is that history is told by the victors and not the vanquished. It is difficult for me to say with any certainty exactly what happened to cause the downfall of Irene Cara’s career but some facts are known and I will share them with you now. As Irene Cara became a bigger and bigger star, she began to receive career advice from other people who were stars in the world of music and television. Those people were becoming concerned about how Irene Cara was being managed by her management team. Specifically, they advised Cara to have independent lawyers look into the terms of her management contract because they felt she was being denied royalties to her music that were rightfully hers. With hit songs such as “Fame” and “Flashdance” under her belt, Irene Cara should have been earning enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle. But, the fact was that she was continuing to live paycheque to paycheque. So, Irene Cara hired new lawyers and soon launched a lawsuit against her own management team in an attempt to recoup lost royalties she felt she was owed. Because Cara had little money of her own to begin with, her management team countered with a succession of lawsuits that essentially bankrupted Cara. The lawsuits dragged on for over a decade. By the time the dust settled, Cara had won a settlement of 1.5 million dollars. Not long after the decision of the court was issued, her management team declared bankruptcy itself. This caused Cara to have to begin new lawsuits aimed at recouping a fraction of that settlement, with her as a creditor. All throughout the time she was engaged in her legal battles, Cara began finding it harder and harder to get work in the entertainment industry. She claimed that her management team had placed her name on a blacklist that prohibited others from hiring her. Her former management team denied this and countered her claim by stating that Irene Cara had always had a reputation for being difficult to work with, and on top of that had become addicted to cocaine and was, in fact, the author of her own misfortune, and that it all had nothing to do with them. What the real story is, I cannot say but, the reality was that toward the end of her career, Irene Cara’s only source of income was from doing voice-over work for commercials and for animated movies. As many of you may know, Irene Cara passed away recently at age 63. The exact cause of her death is unknown.

Facade of The Professional Children's School in New York City. Banners with the school name hang down over the sidewalk.
The Professional Children’s School in NYC.

One of the things that I learned from being a teacher was that ensuring the academic success of my students was only one part of my role in their lives. The physical, social and emotional health of my students was of equal importance and required just as much attention from me as did all of the ABCs and 1-2-3s of the world. I have often felt sorry for young performers such as Irene Cara, Macaulay Culkin, Michael Jackson and others who achieved great fame at a very early age. It must be tough to bear the weight of the responsibility for million dollar entertainment franchises when you are still so young that you don’t even really know who you are as a person yet. One of the goals of The Professional Children’s School was to provide counseling services for their students to help them deal with the pressure that comes from being so famous at such a young age. That such services are necessary speaks to the cutthroat nature of the world in which Irene Cara found herself as she left her teens and entered her twenties. To protect such children from ruthless promoters was one of the reasons that The Professional Children’s School was started over a century ago and why it still exists today. At the end of the day, it can’t be easy to be gifted with such talent. Somewhere along the way, balance becomes equally as important as ambition and intellect and creativity and talent. Irene Cara’s story stands as a cautionary tale, not only for those with exceptional talent but also, for those who surround them. It is important to strive for greatness, for sure but, it is also important to love and be loved for that is the true path to happiness.

The link to the video for the song “Fame…I’m Gonna Live Forever” by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Fame can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Flashdance can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Fame can be found here.

The link to the official website for Irene Cara can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Professional Children’s School can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Slow Ride by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Dazed and Confused…Song #23/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

At the time of writing this post, I have two daughters who are both in their teenage years. All throughout their lives, they have been encouraged to ask my wife and I about anything that is on their minds. We have always believed that having open communication channels is important between parents and children. We want our girls to feel comfortable talking with us. I believe that they are comfortable talking to us because they are always asking us questions. “Where did you and Dad meet?” “Where did you go on your first date with your first boyfriend/girlfriend?” “What jobs did you have when you were a teenager?” And on and on it goes. Their questions always seem to match their own experiences at the time. But one of the questions that I have the most trouble answering is one of the most basic of them all…”What was high school like for you, Dad?”

The fact of the matter is that I can’t remember all that much about my high school years in specific terms. What I do remember is the more general feeling of doing not much of anything at all. I hung around a lot with my friends. That was really it. I sat for hours in school hallways with my back against a locker as kids copied my homework and we talked about what was on TV the previous night or who was having a party soon. I went downtown on Friday nights and hung around the main street in town with the other kids, leaning against telephone poles or else sitting on the stone fence that fronted St. Paul’s Church, listening to the sounds of Trooper and April Wine blasting from car stereos as guys drove round and round in a loop through town. Sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we would travel to the mall and play video games at the arcade, stopping for a burger before heading home. But, truth be told, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all during my high school years. In fact, if anything, the feeling I had was that I was like a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. So, for me, high school was a time spent preparing to leave Glace Bay. To answer my daughters’ question, what I remember most about my highschool years was simply putting in time in the belief that there was something better somewhere else. I had no real idea at the time what that “something better” might be but I knew for sure that it wasn’t going to be found there in Glace Bay.

There have been a lot of movies made about life as a teenager. However, there have been very few that seemed able to replicate that feeling of nothingness that I experienced as a teen. None of us went on secret spy missions. No one found treasure. None of my classmates were secretly vampires or monsters who revealed themselves when the moon was full. There were no UFOs or celebrity encounters or riots or anything. There were drugs for some, alcohol for others, fights for a few and sex for many but none of that for me. I abstained from it all, not because I felt above it, but more because I was simply too introverted and nerdy to be invited to partake or to force my way in. So, I hung out. I was a friendly nerd among jocks and cool kids and tough guys and fashionista girls. That was high school for me. One of the very few movies I have ever seen that captured what that sort of high school experience was like was Dazed and Confused.

Milla Jovovich was just one of many young stars who got their start in Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused was directed by Richard Linklater. It was his first feature film. Dazed and Confused was set in the 1970s in a small nameless Texas town on the last day of high school. It starred a bevy of young actors who would go on to become big stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Adam Goldberg and a host of others. The storyline revolved around one teen…the captain of the football team…who has been recruited to play at a prestigious college, which makes the whole town feel a sense of pride as they take his accomplishment as reflecting on them all. As part of his recruitment, he is asked to sign a pledge of good conduct by the end of his high school year. This pledge includes a promise to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. So, as Johnny football hero deals with the peer pressure from his town and ponders whether or not to sign away his freedom to live as he pleases in return to gridiron glory, the rest of his graduating class prepares for their last day in the safety net that high school provides. They all know that when tomorrow comes, they will no longer be high school kids but will, in fact, be part of the real world. Dazed and Confused follows this band of jocks, cool kids, misfits, stoners and lovers during the entirety of those final twenty-four hours, as each faces the prospect that the future is there now, knocking at the proverbial door. There is not a lot to the plot of this movie, just as there was not a lot to the real life experience of being in high school for me. These kids hang around a lot and talk a lot. They start the day at school and end the day at a party in a park. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They make out. But, most of all, they simply are who they are, all together, one last time. The movie has a really great soundtrack that is filled with many of the top classic rock tunes of the 1970s. The reason I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat as the song for this post is because that song is the soundtrack to the closing scene in the film. In that scene we learn what Johnny football hero has decided to do, as he drives away with a few of his closest friends down a road that leads off into the future. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen the film, but the choice of a song like “Slow Ride” was purposeful by director Linklater and speaks to the nature of life being a journey, rather than a destination.

A very young Matthew McConaughey in character.

Even if you haven’t seen Dazed and Confused for yourself, you may be aware of the famous catch phrase uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s character. McConaughey plays a character who has graduated a few years prior and has chosen to still keep hanging around the high school scene as if he has never left and gotten on with life. He spends the movie doling out advice about the real world that he feels is wisdom. At one point, he says, “Alright! Alright! Alright!” in his slight Texan drawl that McConaughey has become famous for. That catch phrase has been associated with him throughout the remainder of his career. He even ended his acceptance speech with it when he won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Dallas Buyers Club. That iconic line came from Dazed and Confused. ***FYI, if you haven’t heard this speech, it is one of the better Oscar speeches ever given. McConaughey did a super job. You can watch and listen to it here.

If my two daughters end up reading this post, then I am sorry that your Dad wasn’t a more exciting person when I was your age. But the truth is that, unlike the movies, in my real high school experiences, I never once snorted cocaine off of the stomach of a bikini-clad Paris Hilton lookalike while poolside, nor did I battle aliens or develop a computer programme that almost started a nuclear war or build a robot sex slave in my basement. What I did was watch a lot of television. I hung out with friends doing nothing in particular. I listened to tunes on my headphones in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed. I vacationed with my family. I was a nerd. I was liked by many but loved by no one. I got through it all. And so will you. Real life isn’t often like it is portrayed in the movies…unless it is like it is portrayed in a movie like Dazed and Confused.

The link to the video for the song “Slow Ride” by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Dazed and Confused can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Dazed and Confused can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Andrew Lloyd Webber, as sung by Elaine Paige from the Original West End Cast Recording of Evita…Song #22/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The history of politics is filled with compassionate souls who have entered into the field of public service because they felt they had something to offer that would make the world a better place in which to live for everyone. To those kind folks, I salute you. Our world would be a much kinder, fairer and more just place to be if those sitting in the big chairs did so as leaders possessing charitable hearts. But, the reality of political history all throughout the world is that many who enter the political arena do so for less magnanimous reasons; power and money being chief among them. Politics has always been, or so it seems, an occupation not for the faint of heart. It is far too rare that political opponents join forces in pursuit of a common goal. Most often, we have maneuverings and intrigue, leaving someone to be the victor and someone to be the vanquished. And as the hoary old cliché goes, the history of our times is always written by the victors.

Who ends up dictating the events of history is an important factor to consider when discussing the story of one of the most controversial, beloved and misunderstood figures in any era of modern world politics, Eva Perón. In all of the research that I have conducted into almost one thousand songs, I have never encountered such a polarizing figure as the lady who would go on to inspire the hit musical, Evita. In fact, the information that I have read about her varies wildly depending upon who is doing the telling…the victors or the vanquished. So, let me take a few moments and give you the broad strokes of the story behind who Eva Perón was and how she came to hold such a position of influence within the country of Argentina. I state the following facts as being as true as I can know them to be. I am not an Argentinian scholar, by any means. If anyone reading this post has a greater pool of knowledge to draw from and can add to or correct what I am about to write then please, by all means, feel free to do so below.

Eva Peron as she while acting as the First Lady of Argentina.

Every biography of Eva Perón that I have read states that she began her life as Eva Duarte and that she had an impoverished upbringing. As she grew up and became a teenager, Eva Duarte began to have dreams of becoming a movie and music star. She knew that she would never become a star where she was living so she began to devise a plan that would see her move to the capital city of Buenos Aires. Not having money, Eva Duarte used her beauty to attract the attention of men in positions of power. It was through her relationships with these men that she made her way from her small town all the way to the big city. Once in Buenos Aires, Duarte began venturing into nightclubs and theatres looking for an opportunity to make herself known to those with the power to advance her career. As her teenage years moved along, she began getting roles in musicals, as well as opportunities to sing on stage in clubs. It was while working at a benefit fundraiser that she met one of Argentina’s rising young political stars, Col. Juan Perón. There was an attraction between the two and soon they began a torrid love affair. *(Up until this point in her story, the only bone of contention between those who consider Eva Perón to be akin to a saint and those who despise everything about her is whether she made her way to the top of Argentinian society because of her cunning determination and ambition or whether she prostituted herself). From what I have read, there appears to be no middle ground in this matter.

Eva and Col. Juan Person made for a glamorous couple.

Once Eva Duarte and Juan Perón became a romantically involved couple, they entered into a political partnership. As anyone with any knowledge of politics probably knows, no one rises to positions of power in isolation. They do so because they have supporters working behind the scenes, as well as in front of the cameras, who help their candidate of choice acquire enough popular support among the electorate to gain power. This is where the story of Evita becomes muddled and why it is important to understand the motives behind whoever is telling her tale. As the Peróns ascended to the Presidency of Argentina, they started a series of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of the working class. Hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc…, all received an influx of funding that flowed from the pens of Eva and Juan Perón. Up until their arrival, charities in Argentina were often run by the wealthy who would pocket much of the money that was raised from the citizens of the country. Needless to say, when Eva Perón essentially nationalized philanthropy, she made a lot of powerful enemies among the ruling class. It bothered them further that she was beautiful and revered by those she was helping. To her supporters in the working class, Eva Perón is viewed as an angel who made a concrete difference in their lives. For those who disliked her, she was nothing more than a political opportunist who stole from the rich to enrich herself and whose charity was nothing more than a power move to solidify support from those she considered her base. Many who oppose her claim that she was no better than another notorious First Lady, Imelda Marcos of the Philippines. Eva Perón died from cancer in her mid-thirties. Her husband was the subject of a military coup. Perón’s body was removed from its crypt by thieves and spirited away to Italy, where it was held for ransom for several decades before finally being allowed to return to Argentina. She was eventually laid to rest in the Duarte family plot in the same small village in which she had been raised. Her life had come full circle.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is a famous creator of musicals, as many of you are aware. He has a musical partner named Tim Rice. Rice often composes the musical scores that accompany Webber’s lyrics. It was Rice who first heard of the story of Eva Perón. He spent years researching her life story. He visited Argentina dozens of times, going to all of the places that played a major role in her life. In his mind, the story of the life of Eva Perón was an obvious choice to be turned into a musical. However, his partner wasn’t so sure. Webber argued that no one outside of Latin America knew who she was and that the general public wouldn’t rush out to see a play about the First Lady of Argentina, even if they did. But Tim Rice persisted and eventually Andrew Lloyd Webber agreed to give it a try. Initially, the compromise solution was to create a live cast recording and leave it at that. But, as tracks were recorded, the story that became Evita began taking on an energy of its own to the point where even Andrew Lloyd Webber himself had to acknowledge that this was a musical waiting to happen. But this is where the politics of the storyteller’s perspective come into play.

The plaque placed on her tomb by the taxi drivers union. It was the inspiration for the song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was not entirely certain as to how to accurately portray Eva Perón on the stage. As noted, she is a historically polarizing figure whose biography varies a great degree depending upon who is doing the talking. So, what Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up doing was to insert a character into the story called Ché. *(This may or may not be a reference to the famous revolutionary leader, Ché Guevara). The character of Ché is used by Webber in the role of the traditional Greek chorus. Ché is cynical of Perón and her motives and helps provide a perspective that contrasts with the mythologizing of Eva Perón that comes from the rest of the cast who play the citizens of Argentina. That she was adored and despised in equal measure appears to be the truest path to tread when it comes to evaluating Perón’s legacy by those of us who were never there at the time and who have to rely on the perspectives of those with something to gain by how they share her story. In the end, Andrew Lloyd Webber appears to have come down on the side of those in her corner. For the show stopping number, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, Webber drew upon the true story of how ordinary citizens reacted upon hearing the news of her death. At her gravesite rests a plaque that was paid for by donations raised by the taxi drivers union of Buenos Aires. The plaque states that they will not cry for her (because they felt blessed to have had her in their lives, even for such a short time as it turned out to be), but that they would cry for their country (because of the opportunity for charity and compassion that had been lost).

Evita has gone on to become one of the most successful musicals ever made. The song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song in a Musical the year it was released. In the 1990s, Evita was made into a Hollywood movie that starred Madonna as Eva Perón. Madonna had campaigned for years to play the role of Eva Perón because she felt that Perón’s life story bore a striking resemblance to her own. The movie opened to mixed reviews, mostly due to Madonna’s acting and singing voice. That may seem like a strange thing to say, since Madonna is one of the biggest selling singing stars of all time. However, what her performance showed, more than anything, was that there is a big difference between being a singer who sings Pop songs recorded in a studio as opposed to being a singer who belts it out on stage every night. Prior to Madonna singing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” in the movie, the song had been famously sung by such women as Barbra Streisand, as well as the legendary West End star, Elaine Paige *(who you will remember from her star turn in Cats as she sings that musical’s show stopper, “Memories”, which you can read about here). For my money, Paige is simply the gold standard. It is her version of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” that I will feature below. I will include Madonna’s, too, just so you can compare the two performances for yourself.

The politics of storytelling is not reserved for musicals and dramatic film adaptations. We are seeing this bear fruit in real time in our own society as more and more of our newspapers, television news stations and social media outlets are being taken over by those on the right wing side of the political spectrum. When the information we are being presented takes on the perspective of those who view themselves as the victors, then their reality becomes our history. An easy modern example is the resistance to Climate Change initiatives. Who are the ones who believe in a “Green” future, and who seek to maintain the status quo because it is good for the bottom lines of those in charge? Who are the victors and who are the vanquished, and, just as importantly, who gets to tell the tale? Our future just may very well depend upon the answer to that question. Perhaps I should tweet about my feelings on Twitter but, then again…..

The link to the video for the song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” as sung by Elaine Paige can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer of the West End musical, Evita, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” as sung by Madonna from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Evita can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Evita can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Eva Perón Society can be found here.

*As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner with the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Opening Theme: Schindler’s List by John Williams…Song #21/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The country of Israel is known as the homeland of those with Jewish ancestry. The creation of Israel was one of the political consequences of World War II. After suffering through the Holocaust, it was determined, going forward, that all people of Jewish ancestry needed a safe haven to return to in times of trouble. As many Jewish people experienced during the War, being Jewish in a foreign land was often a precarious position to be in. As many Jewish citizens attempted to flee in the face of German policies that placed their very lives at risk, there were many countries that refused them entry for political and religious reasons. Thus, when WWII ended, those Jewish people who had survived banded together and swore to never again be cast adrift on the world’s stage. So, the country of Israel was created to be the Jewish Homeland for ever more. ***Of course, politics and history being what they are, how the State of Israel came to be is not as black & white as I am making it out to be. Its creation is multi-hued, to say the least. But, for the sake of contextualizing today’s musical selection, the essential facts are important to know so I have presented them as such.

The Holocaust, or “Final Solution”, was a formal policy devised and implemented by members of the Nazi Party of Germany during the 1930s and into the 40s. The aim of the Holocaust was to remove all people of Jewish ancestry from Europe. The policy was carried out with tremendous efficiency. Starting in Germany, itself, and then spreading out to all countries that were conquered by the German Armed Forces during the War, the Holocaust was a cold, highly-organized administrative effort that saw laws enacted that limited the rights of Jewish people to work, attend school and to own property. They were even required to be seen in public wearing identifying yellow stars. As the lives of Jewish citizens were increasingly restricted, they were soon rounded up by military officers/police and placed in certain small, confined areas where they could be monitored. Their former homes, businesses and possessions were looted and then sold to others who were officially approved by the German government. Those Jewish citizens who were forced into these confined areas were then shipped by trains to work camps erected by the Germans. In some cases, these camps were used strictly for extermination purposes. In other cases, the Jewish people who ended up there became slave labourers who produced goods needed by the German war machine. By the time WWII ended, it was revealed that over six million people of Jewish ancestry had been killed in the Holocaust. As the scale of the atrocity was first being reported, many found the news difficult to believe. How could murder occur on such a vast scale, seemingly under the watchful eyes of the world?! Well, since that time, the stories of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust have been told in the hope that by doing so, we may be better able to prevent such cruelty from manifesting itself again. In the words of the survivors, the world must never forget.

Oskar Schindler.

Amid the great cruelty, there were moments of great courage and sacrifice. One such story that seemed to stand out from the horror was the case of German industrialist Oskar Schindler. The short strokes of his story are that after the German Blitzkrieg had rolled through Poland and the “Final Solution” had begun to be implemented as official policy there, many German profiteers appeared on the scene to scoop up the spoils of war for themselves at a reduced price. One of those profiteers was a small-time industrialist known as Oskar Schindler. Schindler was no saint when he first arrived in Poland. In fact, one of the very first things he did upon arrival in Krakow, Poland was to bribe his way into Krakow and commandeer a factory for his own purposes and profit. The factory he appropriated was one that made enamel products. As Schindler moved into the factory, it came to his attention that some of the employees that he was going to need to effectively manage it were, in fact, Jewish. This was particularly true of a man named Stern, who was the bookkeeper. Using money as bribes, Schindler was able to pay off the German officers in charge of Krakow so that they would leave his Jewish employees alone. Just as all of this was happening, the new local German officer in charge of Krakow, Amon Goth, was charged with rounding up all of the Jewish citizens of Krakow and placing them in a holding area that became known as the Krakow Ghetto. From there, these citizens would be shipped to a new work camp that Goth was in charge of building. The purpose of this camp was the killing of Poland’s Jewish people. Needless to say, there was much chaos and cruelty on display during the process of rounding up the Jewish citizens of Krakow, which was a fairly large city to begin with. As panic took hold of Krakow’s Jewish community, many learned of Mr. Schindler and how he had protected his Jewish employees through bribes. Suddenly, those seeking protection began showing up at Schindler’s factory begging to be allowed in. Before too long, the list of those deemed as “essential employees for the war effort” grew and grew. Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper, managed the list. As one can imagine, that list became the difference between living and dying for over one thousand Jewish citizens of Krakow, Poland. No one knows the exact moment that caused Oskar Schindler, Nazi Party member, to change from a war profiteer to a humanitarian and saviour but that transition did happen. It even went so far that when German officer Goth built his new extermination camp, Schindler asked to move his factory nearby so as to have access to “more labour” (when, in fact, he was trying to shield Jewish people right up until the end when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. The Jewish people whose lives were spared because their names appeared on Mr. Schindler’s list became known as the Schindlerjuden or “Schindler’s Jews”.

Director Steven Spielberg.

In 1962, in the spirit of “Never Forget”, one of the Schindlerjuden decided that Oskar Schindler was a hero and that his story needed to be shared with the world. A man named Poldek Pfefferberg made it his mission to get Schindler’s story published. Finally, in 1982, a novel was written by an Australian writer named Thomas Keneally called Schindler’s Ark. It was based upon Pfefferberg’s story of his time with Oskar Schindler. A few years after that, a review of Keneally’s book was given to director Steven Spielberg to read in the hopes of turning it into a movie. At first, Spielberg, who is Jewish, felt overwhelmed by the cultural importance of such a story and was reluctant to touch it. He tried to get several other directors to take the project on (such as Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski), but each declined for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Eventually he agreed to helm the project but only if it could be filmed as more of a documentary than a feature film. The movie was shot on location in Poland and used all German and Polish actors as the extras for the film. Spielberg filmed the movie in black and white to give it a historical feel. Most scenes were filmed with hand-held cameras, too. A then relatively-unknown actor named Liam Neeson was hired to play the role of Oskar Schindler. Ben Kingsley, of Gandhi fame, was hired to play Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper. Ralph Fiennes was cast as the ruthless German officer, Amon Goth. Schindler’s List went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, for Spielberg.

Composer John Williams.

Through it all, Spielberg has stated that the experience of making this movie was like no other, and that he required counseling and much emotional support in order to merely complete his task of finishing the movie. Many of those who worked as extras and as crew members relate similar tales of how devastatingly emotional it was to make this movie. One of the most important people who was asked to become involved in this project was somebody who didn’t appear on screen for a single second…it was Academy Award winning musical composer and film scorer extraordinaire, John Williams. As you may know, Williams shot to fame as the composer of the highly successful Star Wars series of films. When Spielberg first showed Williams the initial scenes that he had shot, Williams turned Spielberg down, saying that this movie required a better composer than he was. To which Spielberg replied that he agreed with Williams but that Mozart and Beethoven were already dead, so Williams was the next best choice he had. For the opening theme, Williams contacted renowned violinist and cellist, Itzhak Perlman. It is Perlman who captured the essence of this story by playing notes that appear as tears. For many, the opening theme is an excruciatingly sad piece of music. It is heartbreak as expressed in notes and chords.

Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews at his grave site in Israel. Schindler is the only member of the Nazi Party to be granted a honorary citizenship by the State of Israel.

One of the things that Steven Spielberg did with Schindler’s List that helped to make it the great film that it is, concerns how he ended it. It is easy to take a story like the Holocaust and to wallow in the tragedy of it all. Make no mistake, the Holocaust was as horrific as a story can be. However, Spielberg knew that the counterbalance of horror and loss is hope. Spielberg knew and author Keneally knew and Schindlerjuden, Pfefferberg knew that unrelenting pain is unbearable, and that to simply pound audiences over the head with gore and pain would cause them to turn away in the end, which is the opposite of the “Never Forget” philosophy. So, at the end of the movie we get to meet those who have survived. We meet the Schindlerjuden. The importance of ending Schindler’s List in this fashion is to show the extent of the good that Oskar Schindler did in protecting as many Jews as he was able to in Krakow. Each one of those people who survived went on to do something with their lives that would not have happened if not for Schindler’s intervention. Some survivors turned out to become doctors and artists and teachers…most became parents of children who would never have been born without the help of Oskar Schindler. The power of helping out in times of trouble is shown in a way that makes a narrator’s voiceover explanation unnecessary. When there is Hope, there is Life. The Schindlerjuden are the proof of that.

In the world in which we all live, each person is worthy of life. This was true back in the 1930s, and yet much of the world turned a blind eye to genocide as it played out in Europe. It remains true in the 2020s. The story of the Holocaust is an important story to keep retelling, not just because of how it affected Jewish people. It is an important reminder that our history is replete with instances of groups of people being targeted for abuse and/or extermination because it suits the political agenda of others to do so. One need look no further than to cases of Pro-Nazism being on the rise around the world, including in my own country of Canada. Anti-semitic attacks are rising in lockstep. The times appear to be approaching a danger point once again. The importance of never forgetting has never been more relevant than it is right now. As much as I admire what Oskar Schindler did for the Jewish people in Krakow, Poland, I would rather that we all live in a world where such valour is not required at all. Instead, let’s strive for a world in which we would live in societies built upon the premise that all lives are worthy, and then live our lives by treating each other accordingly. That is my Hope.

The link to the video for the composition “Opening Theme: Schindler’s List” by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the film Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the stories of those who experienced the Holocaust, can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow, Poland can be found here.

The link to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio ft. L.V. from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Dangerous Minds…Song #20/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The man who started it all…Johann Sebastian Bach, composer of Prelude in C minor for piano.

Over 300 years ago, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a little piece for piano or lute that went by the title, “Prelude in C minor”. Of all of the music he composed over the course of his lifetime, the “Prelude in C minor” is well-regarded and is regularly included in lists of the best preludes Bach composed. Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer, lived on until the 1750s but his music lives on forever. Proof of this is the fact that Bach’s prelude is the opening link in a chain of musical and personal connections that bring us to today’s song, Gangsta’s Paradise” by rapper Coolio. Let’s connect the dots, shall we?

Stevie Wonder playing the violin….seriously! From Songs in the Key of Life, this is the first known use of synthesizers to recreate a full violin ensemble.

Two hundred and fifty years after “Prelude in C minor” was created by Bach, another unbelievably talented young man was searching for inspiration for a new album he was putting together. In the mid-1970s, Stevie Wonder was arguably the most talented and prolific musician in the world. From his early days at Motown as “Little Stevie Wonder” who would headline the Motown Reviews along with Motown’s stable of other stars, Stevie Wonder’s musical career had evolved right before our eyes. By the time the middle of the decade rolled around, Stevie Wonder was enjoying a string of success not seen since Elvis and The Beatles hit the stage. By 1975, Wonder had had four consecutive strong albums, three of which reached #1 (Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale plus, Music of my Mind, which reached #4). At this point, Stevie Wonder engaged in contract negotiations with Motown. He was threatening to quit music altogether and become a missionary in Africa. Motown buckled. Wonder was given a contract valued at close to 37 million dollars and, just as importantly, he won the right to exercise full creative control over what appeared on his albums. After the acrimony of the contract negotiations, Wonder asked for a year off to recharge and reorient his passions. As the year went on, Wonder began writing again. His vision for his career was as an ambassador for the downtrodden, the weak, the lonely, the unloved and those pushed to the margins of society. At the end of that sabbatical year, Stevie Wonder returned with an album that critics have hailed as one of the most magnificent albums ever recorded in the whole history of modern music…Songs In The Key Of Life. While songs such as “Sir Duke”, “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and “Isn’t She Lovely?” emerged as the hit singles from this album, there was another song that was inspired by a piece of music that was two and a half centuries old. “Pastime Paradise” borrows the chord structure of the opening eight notes of Bach’s “Prelude in C minor” but, instead of piano, Wonder used a synthesizer to mimic a full orchestra of violin players. It was the first use of a synthesizer in this manner. Normally, a song uses a drum beat to establish the rhythm or beat of a song. For Stevie Wonder, he used the synthesizer to create the beat. Nestled amid a selection of songs that spoke to social justice, “Pastime Paradise” speaks to the importance of a positive attitude and a strong work ethic in achieving goals that might lift someone out of poverty, for example. The song denigrates those who champion materialism and possessiveness. Songs in the Key of Life may be rated as Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece but it wasn’t his last work. Wonder wrote many more albums in the 40 plus years that have followed and is still a respected and revered figure in the world of music and in life, in general.

LouAnne Johnson as she looked in the 1970s when she was a member of the US military and was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines.

While Stevie Wonder was putting the finishing touches on Songs in the Key of Life, a lady named LouAnne Johnson was enlisting in the US military. Johnson was posted to Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines. While there, Johnson took university level courses and ended up with an Honours degree in Psychology. Upon leaving the military, Johnson decided to become a teacher. Much to her surprise, her very first application was accepted and she was given a job in a high school in California. Unbeknownst to Johnson at the time, this high school was located in an inner city neighbourhood known for gang violence, drug use, rape, teenage pregnancies, poverty and much more. When Johnson showed up for her first teaching gig, she understood why her application had been accepted so quickly by school board officials. Finding teachers who were willing to work in this school had been a challenge. FInding teachers who would stay was an even bigger challenge. Well, not only did LouAnne Johnson fulfill the terms of her teaching contract, her students thrived. She wrote about her experiences in a book called, My Posse Don’t Do Homework. This book was a hit and ended up being turned into a movie called, Dangerous Minds. Michele Pfeiffer played Johnson in the film. Dangerous Minds grossed almost $200 million dollars during its run but much of what drove the success of the movie came from the soundtrack and, in particular, a song called “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio ft. L.V.

This would be Coolio and L.V and those would be Grammy Awards for “Gangsta’s Paradise” that they are holding.

In the links below, I will have a spot for you to listen to Stevie Wonder’s song, “Pastime Paradise”. I encourage you to give it a listen, even if you only do so for the opening thirty seconds or so. If you do give “Pastime Paradise” a listen and then give Coolio’s song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” a similar airing, you will see that Coolio basically sampled the core of Wonder’s synthesized rhythm track. The two songs have an almost identical musical structure. So similar are the songs that Stevie Wonder was given a song writing credit on “Gangsta’s Paradise”. As a further condition of allowing Coolio to sample his work, Wonder put down a clause that was important to him…no profanity allowed! Thus, “Gangsta’s Paradise” is one of the very few hit Hip Hop songs that uses lyrics that are completely clean. The fact that profanity is absent does not detract from the power of the message contained within this song nor does it impact Coolio’s powerful oration. He raps his way through “Gangsta’s Paradise” with passion and emotion, almost as if his life depended on him getting these lyrics said aloud. Coolio has stated that he was well aware of the song’s historical connections, with Stevie Wonder, as well as with the gospel-tinged nature of the music that gives it a religious fervor. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was the #1 selling song in the US the year it was released in 1995. It won the Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance, as well as a host of other awards.

From Johann Sebastian Bach to Stevie Wonder’s seminal album, Songs in the Key of Life to 1995’s Song of the Year, “Gangsta’s Paradise”, the musical dots are connected. It is amazing to think of how an eight chord progression created almost three centuries ago would be the catalyst for a hit Hip Hop song in 1995 that was created as a result of the life story of one of America’s first female marines, LouAnne Johnson that was made into a hit movie starring Michele Pfeiffer. But, that’s how it all lined up. Historical dominos do not always fall quickly but, in the end, fall they do.

The link to the video for the song, “Prelude in C minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, ft. L.V., as sung on the Billboard Music Awards show with Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Gangsta’s Paradise” sung a capella by Coolio and L.V. on the Howard Stern Radio Show can be found here. ***For what it is worth, I think this is an awesome live version. What a voice Collio had! This is a home run performance for sure. ***Lyrics version of “Gangsta’s Paradise” can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie, Dangerous Minds can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the official website for LouAnne Johnson can be found here.

The link to the official website for Coolio can be found here.

***FYI: Coolio passed away just recently. This post was created in his memory. #RIP

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Man of Constant Sorrow by Blind Dick Burnett from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou…Song #19/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a movie that was released in the year 2000. It was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen Brothers have a long history of producing movies that are quirky and innovative, with memorable characters and great scenes. They have directed The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, one of my personal favourites, Barton Fink (which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), Inside Llewyn Davis and the Academy Award winning, No Country For Old Men and Fargo. Needless to say, these talented men know how to put together a movie that resonates with critics and regular movie audiences alike. They do this partly by being students of literature and cinema. There is no clearer example of this than O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The movie stars Goerge Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three convicts who have escaped from a chain gang in the southern US and head off on a journey to find buried treasure. Along the way, the trio are faced with numerous challenges, meet a wide variety of interesting, dangerous and/or mysterious characters and, as is often the case, wind up changed as humans by the end of the story. That O Brother, Where Art Thou? uses the old storytelling strategy of having a physical journey tell the story of a personal journey doesn’t make it unique among movies. There are a whole host of movies that use this storytelling device to tell their tale. What makes the Coen Brothers’ take so unique is that they have based their movie on the original story of a journey….the epic poem, The Odyssey by Homer. Without going into too much detail, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer are considered two of the most important works of literature in all of human history. In both cases, Homer became one of the very first people ever to tell an epic tale in written form. For the sake of this post, let’s take a very quick look at The Odyssey and see how it inspired the Coen Brothers in their making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Sirens attempt to seduce Odysseus and his men in a scene from Homer’s The Odyssey, just as they do to George Clooney and his compadres in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. In this story, Odysseus fights for ten years in The Trojan War and then, once the war is over, the story follows him and his men as they struggle for ten more years to get back home. Along the way, Odysseus and his men encounter interesting, dangerous and/or mysterious characters such as the Cyclops and the Sirens. Because it takes Odyesseus two decades to get back to his home, his wife, Penelope, has assumed that he has been killed and has sought to go on with her life. This includes remarrying. So, part of the story of The Odyssey involves scenes in which Penelope deals with various suitors who are asking for her hand in marriage. All the while, Odysseus is struggling, straining and battling his way back home to be with her as well. For O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coen Brothers have made almost a scene by scene updated adaptation of The Odyssey. George Clooney plays the Odysseus character. Holly Hunter plays the role of Penelope. John Goodman plays a KKK Bible salesman who has only one eye (Cyclops). John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson play characters based upon Odysseus’ lieutenants. Singers Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris play a trio of singers who attempt to seduce and rob our escapees (the Sirens). As it turns out, just as Odysseus journeyed to return to his one true love, Penelope, so George Clooney does the same to be with his true love, Holly Hunter. He ends up discovering that true treasure does not necessarily come in gold and silver form.

Writer/Director, Preston Sturges. The Coen Brothers got the title for their movie from a scene in his 1940 movie, Sullivan’s Travels.

In a further tip of the cinematic hat, the Coen Brothers named their film after a scene in another movie about the Great Depression and the southern US called Sullivan’s Travels. This movie was directed by Preston Sturges. In the movie, there was a character who wanted to direct a movie called O Brother, Where Art Thou? about the reality of life for ordinary folks in the South. Not only did the Coen Brothers get the title for their movie from the Sturges film but another draw was the fact that Preston Sturges paved the way for them to make movies like they do. Sturges was one of the very first people in Hollywood to create their own original screenplays and then direct these screenplays and make them into a movie. At the time that Preston Sturges was making history in the 1930s and 40s, it was common practice for screenwriters and directors to be separate people. But, as Sturges proved, one person could fill both roles just as the Coen Brothers are proving that today with the films they write and produce.

Dan Tyminski is a member of the band, Alison Krauss and Union Station. Dan is the real singer of “A Man of Constant Sorrow” in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

As is the case with all good directors, the Coen Brothers are known for their attention to detail. An example of that is how they used music throughout O Brother, Where Art Thou? First of all, all of the music contained in the original motion picture soundtrack is historically accurate to the time and location where the movie takes place. I have often used the phrase “woven into the fabric of society” to describe instances where a song ceases to just be a piece of music that exists in isolation and, instead becomes integrated completely into the environment in which it is being played. This is the case with the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? This movie is set in the Appalachian region of the US which includes Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi and so on. The period in history the movie is describing is the 1930s. At that time in the Appalachian region of the southern US, Bluegrass and American traditional folk music was the popular style of music among ordinary people. In both styles of music, harmonies play a big role when singing. The instruments used tended to be fiddles, banjos, pianos and acoustic guitars. In fact, as was the case in the Maritime provinces of Canada, there were a great many immigrants who settled along the US seaboard who originally came from England, Scotland and Ireland. When they arrived, they brought many of their customs and traditions with them. When it came to music, they brought fiddles and guitars. It is claimed that banjos originated from slaves. In any case, over time, music took on a flavour of its own in the Appalachian region and, as a result, Bluegrass and Traditional American Folk music came to be. So, for the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, all of the music reflects the culture of the time and location of the movie. The most popular song to come from the soundtrack is a centuries old song called “Man of Constant Sorrow”. No one knows who originally wrote this tale of woe and perseverance but the first person to be credited with recording a published version of the song was a bling guitarist from the South called Blind Dick Bennett. As is the case with many folk songs and spirituals from the distant past, there have been many recordings of this song by all manner of singers such as Bob Dylan and Ginger Baker, all the way through a host of local Appalachian singers who covered the song because it has cultural meaning to them. For the movie, George Clooney and his gang lip sync their way through the song while on stage. The real voices belong to members of Alison Krauss’ band, Union Station. Specifically, the lead vocals are sung by Dan Tyminski. Because of the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, there has been a resurgence in appreciation among fans and fellow musicians when it comes to Bluegrass music. In fact, modern bands such as Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, etc., use the same instruments and harmonize in the same manner when singing as do those who sing on the soundtrack that the Coen Brothers put together. Taking it one step further, electronic dance music super DJ, Avicii, even recorded an EDM-inspired tune called, “Hey Brother” that was taken directly from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“A Man of Constant Sorrow” won the Grammy Award for Country Single of the Year and the soundtrack album won for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards, as well as at the Country Music Association Awards. I guess it just goes to show that when you are respectful of your roots, whether it be in music, cinema or storytelling that good things often end up being the result. If you have any comments about O Brother, Where Art Thou? or any of the other Coen Brothers movies, feel free to let me know in the comment box below. Thanks for taking the time to read my words. I appreciate having you stop by.

The link to the video for the song, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” from the original motion picture soundtrack of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Go To Sleep Little Baby” from the original motion picture soundtrack of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022