Friends and family

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 13, 2014 10:09 PM

After I wrote about my parents’ friends Charlotte and Ed yesterday, I happened to speak with my mother who had happened to speak with Charlotte and Ed the other day. Ed is 91; Charlotte 85. They are celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary and still going strong, at least as strong as people nearing the end of their lives can be.

I told my mother about my dream, and about the salad, and she recounted a story that I’d forgotten. After we moved away from Northern Drive in Fairfiew, where Charlotte and Ed were our neighbors, we bounced around to a number of places. Several in New York, in Maryland and finally into New England. Charlotte and Ed, who in the brief time we were all neighbors had become like family – in some cases better than family – came to visit us in every place. They would pile into whatever vehicle they happened to have at the time, and make the journey regardless of where we were. They were older than my parents, and Ed retired early so they always had time to drive and to spend. They would play golf with my dad; they would visit with my mother. There was always so much laughter in the house when they visited. They had their opinions to be sure, especially Charlotte wasn’t shy about sharing them, but they were and remain good, kind, decent people.

Charlotte trained our dog when we were little. They always had dogs, up until they became older, and when my grandmother gave us a puppy for Christmas one year, my mother was beside herself. I was maybe 10 at the time, perhaps even younger, which meant my brother was 6 and my sister was 3. It fell to my mother to train the pup, and she was miserable. She didn’t know what she was doing and in those days, there wasn’t the plethora of books and videos there are now. She spent many a night on the couch with a whining, whimpering dog that she could not train to pee when and where he was supposed to. Charlotte had the little guy trained within a day.

Charlotte and Ed were designated as our legal guardians in the event of something happening to mom and dad. They were, as I said, family.

I was remembering yesterday the salad incident, being in my mother’s kitchen in New Hampshire and making salad with Charlotte and Ed. Charlotte, I believe was on bread duty. Ed was on drinking duty. I have no idea where the rest of the family was; they all arrived eventually.

Mom told me the story of how Ed used to tease that the only reason they visited was for my mother’s lasagna. When they were coming, my mother busied herself in the kitchen, making a huge pan of lasagna, a salad, and getting bread ready. On one occasion, before she realized the seriousness of Ed’s claim, my dad suggested just doing some cold cuts and making sandwiches. It was easier, and would be ready essentially as soon as they arrived or whenever they wanted to eat. My mother thought that was fine idea. Ed did not.

He was relentless in chastising my mother for years, in a loving way, saying that he had not driven seven or eight hours to have a sandwich. She never did that again, and in fact, the afternoon Kevin and I were making salad, I know my mother had also prepared a big lasagna to feed everyone.

We all have family friends in our lives, people who made lasting impressions and still do. I had Charlotte and Ed. Kevin had Jim and Dora Latner, great friends of his parents who were like family. Justin has Roy and Bobbi, our closest friends who have long been our west coast family. When Justin was growing up, and even through college, holidays were always spent with R & B. When he graduated from high school, the only two people he wanted at the graduation, other than Kevin and I, was Roy and Bobbi. When he went on retreat, and came back to share what he learned, again he wanted Roy and Bobbi with us. When we went to visit him on his ship in May, he wanted R & B there, too.

Friends that become family can sometimes be better than actual family. I am blessed with a great family; people I not only love but also like. Many people can’t say that. As the saying goes, you can’t choose your family. It’s just luck of the draw. In the not very good but extremely beautiful to look at film Tequila Sunrise, the late Raul Julia had a passionate speech toward the end intoning just that.

My brother, sister and I have also been blessed with people like Charlotte and Ed. Kevin and his brother and sisters had the Latners. Justin has R & B. I love how it transcends generations, that Kevin and I had family friends, and that Justin does as well. It’s the proverbial cycle of life, with friends helping complete the circle of living it out loud.

What is it about the standards?

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 11, 2012 12:45 AM

I know I’ve talked a bit about this in the past but I have become completely enamored with much of the music known as “the standards.” Old-fashioned music some would call it. Wonderful, I call it. Music that started right around World War I and oozed its way into the 1950s. Cole Porter, the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Count Basie. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and more.

About five years or so ago, I started developing a real appreciation for the music of the industrial revolution. I have no idea why. I suspect it has something to do with getting older and appreciating history. When I was young, like most youngsters, I figured the older generation didn’t know anything. I was convinced that my parents were complete idiots until I got out of college. Then, as the saying goes, I was surprised and thrilled to discover how much they’d learned in a relatively short span of time.  

It wasn’t because of my parents listened to a lot of standards. I don’t remember my parents listening to a lot of music at all. My dad was born in the late 1930s, my mother in the early 1940s. They were both fairly young when I was born in the 1960s, just as the British invasion was taking over the world. I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the Beatles. Or any of the other British rockers that defined that era. The Rolling Stones and The Who come to mind. My parents were definitely not rockers. I don’t think they even liked Elvis Presley; I’m not sure they knew much of his music. They knew the bebop stuff of the 50s since they were both in high school at that time. But the only thing I remember my mother listening to was Barbra Streisand, Nancy Wilson, Lena Horne and Johnny Mathis (my husband calls him Johnny Mattress; he’s not a fan). I almost remember other LPs of Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet, maybe some Andy Williams and Ray Conniff at Christmas, perhaps some Perry Como.

That was the type of music that played from the big turntable-radio console that we had in the living room. One end was the record player which was stackable and had an arm that held up to six records in place. As one side of one record would finish, it would kick down the next in the stack. We also had the ability to listen to the radio. At the other end was storage for all of the records. It was quite the piece of furniture. I have no doubt it was fairly hi-tech for the day.

As I grew up, I gravitated to rock. The first true rock and roll album I ever bought – and still have – was Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. I also have several Elton John albums from that time as well as Carol King and Peter Frampton, Heart and Fleetwood Mac. Then I started listening to the Doobie Brothers and Bob Seger and Jackson Browne. My mother was not a fan and that was fine with me. She had her music; I had the better music.

But then, a funny thing happened on the way to being old. I started developing a true taste for the old standards. I don’t think it had anything to do with nostalgia, largely because I had no nostalgia to remember. I didn’t live when these songs were first popular so I had and have no sense of loss for a time that I didn’t live through. I suspect it was simple appreciation for the purity of the sound, the rawness of some of the singing, the joy of many of the lyrics; the loss, the heartbreak, the celebration, the revelation that there is another life, and more importantly, another love. One For My Baby; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; How Do You Keep The Music Playing; Stranger in Paradise; The Way You Look Tonight; It Had To Be You; and my all time favorite, Fly Me To the Moon.

Lately I have found myself purchasing CDs with music by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett as well as CDs by more contemporary artists who are singing standards. Rod Stewart, Steve Tyrell, Michael Bublé, Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall. It seems to me that if so many people are still singing these songs, there must be something truly timeless about them.

That, I believe, is at the core of my love of the standards. Yes, they were originally popular once upon a time, but they’re still popular because they transcend trend. They’re sexy and powerful, awash in the deep melancholy of blues and the smoky reality of jazz. There are strings, clarinets, brass instruments like the trumpet and trombone. There is always a haunting piano and the lazy beat of a snare drum.

You can sway to this music, dream to it. I like to put it on the iPad, pumped through and our big Infinity speakers and let it fill the room. It makes me feel. Sometimes good, sometimes sad, but always a depth of emotion that I don’t get from most of today’s contemporary music, no matter how much I like some of it.

I wonder if this happens to everyone as they get into their 40s. They start to appreciate the classics. Cars, music, people. All I know is that I love the music, the style and the singing of that era. It’s what living it out loud, set to music, was – and is ­– all about.

I love you baby, and if it’s quite alright

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 30, 2012 9:50 PM


Like most people, I’m a big fan of music. Unlike most people, I’m a big fan of almost all kinds of music. Most people like one, two, maybe three varieties. But I can’t really think of any music I don’t like. Granted I don’t listen to a lot of country though I don’t mind it. I don’t listen to a lot of classical, but in certain situations, it doesn’t bother me. I like jazz of all kinds, some pop, most rock, the standards, Celtic, new age, some opera. On my desert island list I have songs like Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, Janis Joplin’s rendition of Me and Bobby McGee, several songs by Bruce Springsteen like Thunder Road, Tony Bennett’s Fly Me to the Moon, and Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

You’re just too good to be true; Can’t take my eyes off you; You’d be like heaven to touch; I wanna hold you so much.

The song was written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio and recorded by Frankie Valli in 1967. It quickly went to the top of the charts and was one of his biggest hits. It’s so popular it has become a staple of both film and television, beginning in The Deer Hunter in 1978 when the main characters sang along as the song played on the jukebox. When it was performed by the late Heath Ledger in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, the song – and Mr. Ledger – was nominated for Best Musical Sequence in the MTV Movie Awards.

At long last love has arrived; And I thank God I’m alive; You’re just too good to be true; Can’t take my eyes off you.

The song is also featured in the still-running Broadway musical Jersey Boys, and has been recorded by over 200 different artists, ranging from crooner Andy Williams in 1968 to Maureen McGovern in 1979 to the Pet Shop Boys in 1991 to Australia’s Manic Street Preachers in 1996 to Sheen Easton in 2001 and Barry Manilow in 2006. In 2011, the Welsh rock band Stereophonics’ lead singer Kelly Jones sang an acoustic version as a tribute to former Wales national football team manager Gary Speed. Country band Lady Antebellum (who I think has one of the best group names around) has covered it as has the English rock band Muse.

Pardon the way that I stare; There’s nothing else to compare; The signs of you leaves me weak; There are no words left to speak.

It’s a song about a basic human reflex. Think of it this way: you’re at a party with your favorite person and a person of the opposite sex walks in, and you stare. It’s involuntary but you literally can’t take your eyes off of this person. There have actually been studies done. Jon Maner, associate professor of psychology at Florida State University and three of his graduate students conducted a study of 440 students measuring what they called attentional adhesion, or the length of time something or someone holds your attention even though you know you’re supposed to be looking at something else. Study participants sat in front of a computer terminal as various images flashed on screen including a beautiful face followed by a circle or square elsewhere on the screen. The time it took for participants to shift their gaze to a new image was measured, with differences measured in 100 milliseconds. Beautiful faces were stared at longer than average faces. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

But if you feel like I feel; Please let me know that it’s real; You’re just too good to be true; Can’t take my eyes off you.

I love that there’s scientific evidence that such a phenomenon as not being able to take your eyes off of someone is actually true. I felt that way about my extraordinarily handsome vintage puppy.

I love you, baby, and if it’s quite alright.

I feel that way about my husband.

I need you, baby, to warm a lonely night.

I feel that way about so many things. Things I can’t take my eyes off of. I just have to see them.

Let me love you, baby, let me love you.


The rediscovery of Miles Davis

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 5, 2011 11:12 PM

Miles Davis is a bit of an acquired taste, and I’ve never truly acquired it. As much as I love jazz, especially spontaneous, bluesy jazz, I’ve never been able to warm up to him. Still I could appreciate him as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, leading the way in the development of several types of jazz including bebop, cool, hard bop, modal and fusion.

Born in 1926 in Illinois, he started studying music at 13 when his father gave him a trumpet. By 16 he was playing professionally, when not in school, and started playing with other jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in 1944 when their regular third trumpet was out sick. Davis studied at Juilliard and quickly began jamming at nightly sessions in Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s, both in Harlem. He dropped out of Juilliard and armed with what knowledge he had gained, went out on his own. His Birth of the Cool album in 1956 is what gave the cool jazz movement its name. Davis was a brilliant musician and a drug addict. He was generally admired when he wasn’t hated. His style was smoky and clear. No vibrato, or pulsating change of pitch; he liked “round sound with no attitude in it.” Interestingly the attitude he didn’t like in his music, he evidently spread around easily on and off stage. He was distant, cold, withdrawn and angry. But his nocturnal sound, his whispering voice and the fact that he often played with his back to the audience earned him the nickname “prince of darkness.”

His music is most definitely dark, and haunting. Some of it is actually quite lovely, something I was reminded of last night while watching an episode of “Homeland” on Showtime. They played Davis’ interpretation of My Funny Valentine over a montage of scenes and it was eerie, spooky and sexy. It made me want to listen to more of his music, especially that from his highly improvisational Kind of Blue album. It is the best-selling jazz record of all time, with 4 million copies spinning on countless turntables out there in the ether. Congress, in their infinite wisdom, even passed a resolution honoring the album as a national treasure in 2009.

But it was a song from his album Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (which also featured John Coltrane), released in May of 1956, that got my attention. I’ve always loved the Richard Rodgers song, My Funny Valentine, written in 1937 for the musical Babes in Arms. It’s sad and joyous, warm, tender and even a bit mysterious, depending on who’s singing or in this case playing it.

Watching the show last night, a show we have come to consider one of our favorites, I couldn’t help but notice the music, chosen to set the mood as well as to carry the story forward. There was no dialogue, only sadness and intrigue, a montage of people contemplating their regrets while completely and thoroughly alone.

It made me want to rediscover Miles Davis and perhaps finally appreciate him as I should. Maybe I’ll order a copy of Kind of Blue. It will be on CD, of course, so it will be missing some of the wonder of vinyl. But if I can find a vinyl copy, I’ll get that instead, spin it up on the turntable, lower the lights, pour some wine and wallow in the wonder that is truly great jazz.


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