New Essays Just Added!
'James Baldwin' - from Out Magazine, 2010
'Alexander Scriabin: Toward the Light' - ClassicalTV.com, 2009
'Nina Simone' - ClassicalTV.com, 2009
And MORE... take a look
In the 1970’s, Delacorte Books put out best selling authors like James Clavell, Stephen King, Howard Fast, and Irwin Shaw, and literary authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Yates, Tim O Brien, and Jayne Ann Phillips. In 1979, many of these authors and I too at Delacorte Books had new books being published and our publisher threw a party to celebrate such a galaxy of talent, and so we might also meet the press.
Of all the authors present that I admired, I most wanted to meet James Baldwin, and to read his new novel Just Above My Head. But even for another author getting near Baldwin that evening wasn’t easy. He seemed circled, virtually protected from outsiders.
Finally I pushed through, introduced myself (drawing the expected blank) and said to Baldwin, “In college, we all talked about Another Country. How it depicted relationships between blacks and whites, gays and straights was totally real: As were those moments of unbridgeable gaps.”
“Not unbridgeable,” Baldwin insisted concerned, and he drew me aside to sit, pleased that his book had reached this so important readership. We talked for ten minutes of SNCC, the bus rides down south, the integration movement and its leaders. We finally only parted when interviewers became persistent.
By 1987, I discovered that I had made a literary impression myself. Even so, I was surprised to be invited to speak at The Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It was the midst of the Reagan Era; in a recently published essay I had decried a Media distracted by Reagan’s empty sound bytes and his wife’s fashions into ignoring unsolved national problems. I claimed that under Reagan all the social advances we’d made were being rolled back to the 1950’s. Important people had read my essay and so this also became the theme of my speech to be given and broadcast at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Alexander Scriabin: Toward the Light
Even in a field as noted for its eccentrics as Classical Music is --Beethoven, Alkan, Satie, et al -- Alexander Scriabin stands out by virtue of his personal strangeness, his unusual life-style, his advanced compositions, and especially for the world ranging utopian vision he formulated for his last works.
Born into the upper class of late Tsarist Russia, Scriabin was an exact contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff, but two composers could not be more different. While Rachmaninoff’s compositional style is closely attached to the 19th century just past, and he adapts it to his own time, Scriabin rapidly progressed from the influence of Chopin almost directly into the 20th Century, with his own version of Twelve Tone Music-- and beyond.
Faubion Bowers wrote the standard biography, still available, but Oliver Decker’s marvelous, informative, and visually brilliant hour long film, Toward the Light, serves informatively and entertainingly as a perfect introduction.
Born in 1872, Scriabin lived to know of World War One, but he died in 1915, before the Russian Revolution: died of an infected pimple on his upper lip which led to blood poisoning. Both facts seem strangely relevant to the man and musician.
The nearly breathless phone was from my High School friend Jerry Blatt, Bette Midler’s manager. Nina Simone was in town and would be playing one night only at the Village Vanguard. It was by invitation only and I should tell Art D’Lugoff or whoever was at the door that I was Bette’s guest. Simone, that great singer/pianist/composer, had been battling the I.R.S. and had fled to the Caribbean in 1973 and then taken up residence in France. This trip to New York as well as this one night only concert was totally hush-hush.
The Vanguard was packed and excitement filled the air. Looking only a bit older then when I’d last seen her at the Newport Jazz Festival, almost twenty years before, Simone entered the room, dressed head to toe in brilliantly patterned colors, clad like an African priestess.
“Hello friends,” she said. She was alone, without her famous band. She sat at the piano which had defined her life from when she’d been a child prodigy in North Carolina through her years as a classical pianist at the Julliard School to this day.
In the midst of one of her jazz/soul concerts Simone had been known to toss off a perfect minute-long Bach Gigue or Debussy Etude. But then when Nina Simone was on stage, it wasn’t just a concert, it was a happening, a visitation, a revelation, a political lesson, and a communion. This night would be no different.
She began her concert with standards: "Someone to Watch over Me," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," and “My Funny Valentine,” mentioning other Jazz musicians. Then she stopped, as though receiving a communication from Beyond, and began caressing the piano keys in what I knew was the intro to her cover of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.”