As noted below, I'll be joining Bill Steelman of Essex Heritage at the mic for First Friday at the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport on April 5. That's a member event (although you can join that night and still get in on the buffet and drinks). But everyone is invited when I'll be on a panel at the Newburyport Literary Festival on April 27. Ghlee Woodworth and I will talking about Newburyport walking trails, local history, the byway and so forth at 11 a.m. at the Newburyport Art Association. And best of all, it's free! And I'll be the speaker at the Lynn Museum's annual membership meeting in May. In each case I'll be selling and singing the Byway Guide for interested parties.
As a juvenile film fanatic, I was given copies of "Truffaut/Hitchcock" and "Stanley Kubrick Directs" one Christmas or birthday in the early '70s, back in the days when you could see all their films at the Brattle or the Orson Welles or at your nearest college film series. DVDs and cable have pretty much put an end to those outlets, but "Psycho" and "Dr. Strangelove" remain perhaps disturbingly close to the top of my list of all-time favorites. And now the Museum of Fine Arts is offering a chance to take in Kubrick's complete filmography in order on the big screen in February.
Offerings include: "Fear and Desire," the little-seen 1953 war allegory in a print restored by the Library of Congress (Feb. 1, 2, 3 and 7); Kubrock's first masterpiece, the World War I drama of cowardice and heroism "Paths of Glory" in a print restored by UCLA (Feb. 7 and 9); and of course his 1964 peak, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," a bit of Cold War insanity that's a shortgun wedding of "Fail Safe" and "Duck Soup," that's also one of Peter Sellers' greatest films (Feb. 14 and 16). And of course those great Kubrick couples - Hal & Dave, and Tom & Nicole - are also on the schedule.
Tickets are $11 (less for members, students, seniors, etc.) at www.mfa.org/film, 800-440-6975 or the MFA ticket desks. Click the web site to find out which theater each show is in and other info.
Hurricane Sandy has local forecasters getting on their foul-weather faces and rolling out their bold-faced fonts, although there's still no telling exactly which way the storm will go early next week. Normally I'm loathe to fall under the spell of publicists who try to tie their arts events to such things - storms, the Red Sox, whatever. (Isabella Stewart Gardner liked going to Fenway, we get it, now give it a rest.) But the New England Philharmonic opens its season this saturday with - wait for it - "Atmospherics." The 8 p.m. at Tsai Performance Center program will focus on composer in residence David Rakowski's fourth symphony - wait for it! - Scare Quotes. Our local forecasters are not involved, but each movement in the symphony use titles taken from The Weather Channel website: Waning Crescent, Current Conditions, Ice to Rain and finally, Double Shot. Each movement "quotes" musical themes from pieces by other composers, including Bach, Mahler and Oliver Nelson with his jazz standard "Stolen Moments." Tickets, $25, at www.nephilharmonic.org. On the (literally) bright side, the program also includes Thea Musgrave's "Rainbow."
Many TV shows kick off a pop culture meme or two, and a brilliant few invade your dreams. "Breaking Bad" invaded reality a couple of weeks ago, as Alabama authorities put an alleged meth cook named Walter White on their most-wanted list. That the arrest of a real-life Walter seemed unsurprising was an interesting data point in understanding just how much this AMC drama about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned badass meth kingpin has gotten under my skin. So it's going to be a bear waiting until next summer for the show's final eight episodes. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
The 2012 finale on Sunday night ended with a classic "Breaking Bad" moment. Walter (the amazing Bryan Cranston) hosted a family party a few days after he told his wife he was out of the meth biz. The unspoken theme was a return to normalcy. But then Walter's DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank, sat down for a little bathroom reading and picked up a volume of Walt (!) Whitman. Inside he found a hand-written inscription that made his jaw drop to match his pants, linking Walter to a murdered meth chemist. I worried Hank was going to have a stroke right there on the can as he faced the absurd truth that he has subconsciously suspected for a long time: Suburban milquetoast Walter has a double life as the evil Heisenberg! Walt is Heisenberg!
DEA agent brother-in-law? Whitman? Toilet? Heisenberg? What? All this may sound like gibberish to the non-fan, but we are so far down the rabbit hole with this show that it's way too late to bring newcomers up to, ahem, speed. Suffice to say that the moment's ruthless plotting, painfully mundane setting, literary touches and wonderful acting (by Dean Norris as Hank) were all expressions of what makes this show great.
Executives of WGBH and Public Radio International say all the right things in this morning's Globe story. That PRI will remain independent after its acquisition by WGBH. That the deal won't affect PRI's distribution deal with WGBH's crosstown nemesis, WBUR. But c'mon. Despite the genteel face everyone likes to put on things in public broadcasting, this is a smart, hardball move by WGBH in its ongoing campaign to catch and overtake WBUR in local radio. One might almost say cutthroat, but public broadcasting people only use such words when talking about, you know, Somali pirates.
PRI distributes "This American Life" and other popular shows to stations including WBUR. And it also syndicates WBUR's "Here & Now." Despite all the nice talk abut how the WGBH deal isn't going to affect that, it's impossible to believe that 'GBH won't have an inside track to get national shows like "This American Life" the next time the contract comes up. And to get their own shows syndicated. They'll all deny it now, but just watch. And if you were running WBUR, would you want to entrust your own shows to a syndicator controlled by your crosstown rival?
They'll say this is all about strengthening WGBH's national profile and PRI's finances and, you know, better serving listeners. But I bet there were a few high-fives behind closed doors at 'GBH HQ when they sealed the deal. After the bad PR they earned with their recent jazz massacre, and the wide lead 'BUR has in local ratings, this is one round that goes to the challenger.
Jazz lovers of all stripes are invited to turn out at 1 Guest Street, Brighton, tonight at 8 for a swinging New Orleans-style jazz funeral, complete with live music. The address is the home of the WGBH broadcast empire (right), and the funeral is for jazz on WGBH-FM (89.7). More of a protest march, really. But swingin'. No word on who'll be carrying the coffin. Or maybe WGBH will come to its senses, and the box will be empty.
If you're reading this, odds are you already know that WGBH is cutting the majority of its jazz programming, shifting the long-running, Monday-through-Thursday "Eric in the Evening" program to weekends, cutting Steve Schwartz's Friday show altogether and - this part is still rumor - cutting the weeknight editions of the overnight syndicated "Jazz with Bob Parlocha" as well. News and talk, primarily reruns of WGBH shows, will replace the missing jazz hours, as the station continues its attempt to win the city's news-and-information audience from WBUR-FM.
The first two moves were announced as a "new focus on jazz," which sounds a lot like Mitt Romney telling us the dog loved it up there on top of the car for 500 miles.
You've probably heard by now that WGBH (89.7 FM) has pulled the carpet from under weeknight jazz listeners, with plans to move Eric Jackson's venerable "Eric in the Evening" jazz show to the weekends, cutting it from 16 hours a week to 9, and eliminating Steve Schwartz's Friday night show altogether. Jackson has been on the air in more or less the same slot for 30 years. Jazz fans were up in arms, storming the barricades via a Facebook page. We'll see how that works.
The best part was that WGBH had the Orwellian brass to call this "a new focus on jazz." Call the BFD! Pants on fire!
Lots of folks noted that jazz fans can get whatever they want from the Internet, and Dan Kennedy perhaps shot from the hip with the observation, "I suspect not many people listen to terrestrial jazz radio in the age of Pandora." I suspect that many Internet jazz listeners are in fact dialing up terrestrial stations online - WGBH when Eric's on, as well as the wonderful WWOZ from New Orleans or KKJZ from Long Beach. (As I type these words, Ella Fitzgerald is scatting on K-Jazz, Dan; I think they knew I was going to mention you.) But yes, the Internet has had its usual impact here. And Jackson is 20th in his broadcast time slot.
That's what it's about, ratings and dollars. WGBH decided some time ago that it must battle WBUR for the large audience that tunes in for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered," "Marketplace" and other "news and information" programming, be it local or national. And that means anything that doesn't fit those plans must be shunted to the sidelines - hence the move of WGBH's classical programming to WCRB (99.5 FM) a couple of years ago. Probably the classical listeners had a Facebook insurrection too, but it doesn't appear to have made much of a dent.
You might be one of those naive old-timers who remembers that public broadcasting was created to provide programming that wasn't supported by the marketplace. About the best spin you could put on the present reality is that fine folks at 'GBH and 'BUR have looked at the degraded news operations of the networks and the cable screamers and decided that their most important, their sole mission, should be to provide a news and information alternative.
That both stations are providing pretty much the (oxymoron alert!) same alternative, well... tough. They're afraid for their jobs like everyone else in the media these days, and if big ratings is what they need to keep them...
But I can't see myself driving along the Charles late some night, looking at the city lights, and wanting to tune in reruns of a midday issues talk show, not matter who's doing the talking.
A 1938 recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, led by Serge Koussevitzky, a 1975 performance of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Rudolf Serkin, led by Seiji Ozawa, and Harbison’s Symphony No. 1 led by John Harbison in 1984 are among the highlights of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's digital celebration of Tanglewood's 75th anniversary.
The BSO will make a single Tanglewood performance available for free streaming each day from June 20-Sept. 2 at BSO.org, after which you can buy the downloads. Most of the 75 recordings featured have been digitally re-mastered and are available in MP3 at 128 or 256 kbps. The performances are from many different eras and feature, the BSO notes, "recorded sound of widely contrasting quality."
Other offerings range from a 1990 performance of Brahms’ Clarinet Trio with Harold Wright, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax to a 1961 BSO pension fund concert led by Danny Kaye. Everything is on the schedule, from works led by BSO music directors and major guest conductors to Tanglewood Music Center performances and Boston Pops concerts. And yesss, there's a 2009 performance by James Taylor with the Pops scheduled to stream on July 1.
You don't have to put on the funkalicious shades like Berklee College of Music President (and drummer) Roger Brown did to greet honorary degree recipient George Clinton the other day. It's easy to see with the naked eye that Berklee's impact has grown under Brown's tenure, which began in 2004.
The museums have been getting most of the ink lately when it comes to cultural impact around here, as the ICA makes itself felt in its new digs, the Museum of Fine Arts unveils its massive makeover, and the Gardner shows off its sleek addition. But despite its own changing profile and big expansion plans, Berklee hasn't gotten quite the same attention.
When I moved back to Mass. almost 15 years ago, the venerable music campus still had to remind us journos at times that it was a college now, not a school, even though that change had taken place back around 1970, when a relative of mine was taking classes there in big-band arranging. Jazz was still what people thought of when they thought of Berklee - the names most commonly mentioned were Pat Metheny and faculty member Gary Burton - as well as the Berklee Performance Center. Those in the neighborhood also knew it as the source of all those kids with instrument cases clogging the sidewalks around Tower Records.
The kids are still there, though Tower isn't. Berklee's student body seems to grow ever more talented and diverse, like this bluegrass fiddler from Prague. Now, though, folks like Clinton regularly pass through the campus, sometimes performing for the public, but almost always hanging and jamming with students. Students, alums and the occasional passing bigger name drop into the school's Cafe 939 to perform. Student and faculty ensembles pop up all over the city with (usually free) performances, especially in warmer weather and outdoors. And in September the Beantown Jazz Festival draws a hearteningly huge and diverse crowd to Columbus Ave as well as venues around the city. (Wish they'd called it something other than Beantown, but ....)
Berklee has long done well at the Grammys, but often with producer or songwriter credits that don't get much attention. Student-turned-faculty-member-turned-jazz-phenom Esperanza Spalding lives out of town now but did much to raise Berklee's image with that surprising 2011 Grammy win for best new artist. Spalding also appears on alum and percussion professor Terri Lyne Carrington's "The Mosaic Project," which followed her into the Grammy spotlight this year by winning best vocal jazz album.
Trey Parker of "South Park" and "Book of Mormon" fame and the brilliant singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi are also alums who were among Berklee's eight Grammy winners this year, as is songwriter Jeff Bhasker, who won best rap song for “All of the Lights” by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, and Fergie.
There are plenty of other signs that Berklee is hitting it right, but I'll name just one more: the Rethink Music conference, which Berklee runs with Reed Midem and Harvard's Berkman Center for Society and the Internet. Last year's event drew a full house of music business insiders to yak for two solid days about whatever the hell it is that's happened to the industry and where it goes next. There were endless podium and hallway debates about copyright and digital distribution and bands charting their own course in the increasingly chaotic field.
This year's event, featuring keynotes from the president of Pitchfork Media and the chief content officer for Spotify, is set for April 22-24 again at the Hynes Convention Center. I encourage Brown - no relation, by the way - to break out the shades, and maybe some nice stack heels too.
Actually it's W.E.L.D.E.R., if you want to get technical about it, which stands for Word Examination Laboratory for Dynamic Extraction and Reassessment. It's an iPhone and iPad game debuted this month by Ayopa Games and Highline Games, a startup from some of the Rockstar NYC people. And it has been the largest single time-suck in my life for about three weeks now. Gameplay combines elements of Scrabble, Tetris and an old-school Jumble. And the touch-screen interface is so well-designed that it's just about impossible to put down. All the uncool kids are doing it.
When you start playing, you face a 64-tile board, much like Scrabble, only it's filled with random letters and a few blank tiles. Tap one letter, then another, and they swap places. The idea is to move them around to make a four-letter or longer word, generally using as few swaps as possible. Double-tap a blank tile and a virtual keyboard appears so you can chose a letter to fill it.
In the first round, it's only adjacent tiles that you can swap, but in subsequent rounds more complicated parlays are available. Each word you make disappears from the board, and random letters slide down to fill in, sometimes forming words on their own, like a Webster's pachinko machine.
Each round you get only so many swaps to make so many words, and the more creative you are in your choices, using rarer letters, the higher you score. More scoring buys you more swaps...
Non-word people are glazing over about now. But what's really addicting about this game - what's making it spread like wildfire, at least among my Bay State tribe - is the interface. The skin is a subtle mid-century Cold War modern, with peeling paint and big red and green buttons, like a word game in a missile silo. Here and there are touches of steampunk, like the brass-framed ticker scoring your words across the bottom of the game board. (Tap a word there, and you get a definition.)
And the sound design features two tracks. While you're thinking, there's an ominous ambient hiss and flutter, like the sound of slow decay in that missile silo or on early first-person shooter games. Feedback arrives as a clanging, dinging clamor when you make a word, reminiscent of the doors and gates sliding down on the opening credits of "Get Smart" or "MST3K." Over all the sense is of being a cog in a machine, combined with a meaningless Pavlovian payout each time you score. Why this is so appealing, I can't say. The sounds also annoy the crap out of anyone in the room with you, which may or may not be desirable.
The game's only real flaw is the dictionary, which misses some obvious words and includes others, while mostly skipping swears that would really come in handy sometimes. But they're taking dictionary suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last I looked, WELDER was $1.99 on the App Store, but it's sometimes discounted to 99 cents. My phone is an Android so I can't say how it would play on that smaller screen, but on iPad it's an addictive joy. I'm stuck on Level 8 at the moment, and my wife greeted the news that I'd scored 670 for PURRS thanks to bonus tiles with the same kind of cheerful but not actually excited "awesome" that she gives when I call her in to see a sports highlight on the news. But by then I was already on to the next word...