Friday, August 21, 2015


“It is courage, courage, courage, that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely and present a brave front to adversity.”  Horace, Roman poet

Sunday, July 26, 2015

To not give up is all we can do

Beethoven suffered from deafness and lead poisoning.
We attended the final installment of the 2015 Steans Institute for Piano and Strings at Ravinia.  It featured string quartets by Mozart, Bartok and Beethoven.

"Did you really like it?" my companion asked after it was over.  "I didn't hear anything, just notes."

I have had that experience, too, very recently, and it is frustrating.  Nothing is worse than being ensconsed in a concert hall, with glorious sounds pouring forth, but unable to receive or decode any of them because one is tired, or distracted or depressed or whatever.

Yesterday, however, on closing day as it were, I was able.  I didn't hear notes, per se, or even the melody-harmony-rhythm that makes up music, per se, but rather I experienced each personage behind their pen.

Perhaps it had been because I had earlier come across this quote from Virginia Woolf, and it was rolling around my subsconscious:  "How Shakespeare loathed humanity -- the putting on of clothes, the getting of children, the sordidity of the mouth and the belly!  This was now revealed to Septimus;  the message hidden in the beauty of words.  The secret signal which one generation passes, under disguise, to the next is loathing, hatred, despair.”  From Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

What did these three composers think of humanity, I wondered.

In Mozart, we have the quintessential Opera Man (in business centuries  before Adam Sandler created the comical character).  We have the creator of both Figaro, and Don Giovanni, the admirable, and the reprobate.  Mozart takes it all in, and says with a wry smile and perhaps a scatological invective (he was famous for that), 'for better or worse, this is humanity, God save us all.'

Bartók, the severely intellectual Hungarian, seems on the surface, not so optimistic about things.  In fact, his SQ No. 2, has a wonderful caprice in the middle movement, but movements one and three are dour, pessismistic, depressed.  For many, this is life, not television life, but the real life.  Bartók doesn't recoil from it, or whitewash it over.  Life as pain, suffering, tragedy unspeakable.  Much of his music takes this straight on (though his final and major work, Concerto for Orchestra, affirms life nonetheless.  In his own words: “except for the amusing second movement, the general character of the work represents a gradual transition from the harshness of the first movement and the solemnity of the death song in the third movement towards the affirmation of life in the final movement.”)

Beethoven, however, writing in his Op. 131, in his penultimate year, seemingly never wavers in his embrace for all that God is and has for us,  at least in his music, and all that humanity is or isn't and ever shall be.  Beethoven is the will, the volition, the comeback, the never give up that each one of us must have to some degree just to start the next day after getting knocked flat on our back the day before by things great and things small.

The mighty Beethoven, knocking on God's door, speaking for like-minded humanity, saying in effect, "Don't forget us, don't give up on us, because we don't give up on life.  We don't give up on you, Lord, even though you are hidden from us today, some day we shall see you face to face."

Beethoven once wrote that apart from music, everything in his life he had done had been done stupidly or badly.  Mighty Beethoven, deaf, wracked by lead poisoning, miserable from that condition much of his life, would not give up on his music, (thank God) and so left a legacy and blueprint and trust of the human will for every human who came after him. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

Paul Blart, er, Kevin James on Making a Comeback

The star of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 knows all about characters who thrive when the odds are against them. He’s been there.

I’ve always loved the underdog.

I think most people do. In my case,  it’s because I was one. When I was born, I weighed less than eight pounds! I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t chew solid foods and I’d go to the bathroom right in my pants. I cried a lot, too.But I overcame the odds and conquered all those things.

When I was a kid, my favorite movie was Rocky.  I  can still remember throwing punches in my seat, trying to will Rocky into beating the invincible Apollo Creed.Ever since then, I’ve always rooted for the underdog, both in movies and in life. There’s something truly American about being born with nothing and making it on your own, with only your brains, your talent or whatever it is that makes you special. And when you come up against bigger, stronger, faster people, to not give up because beating them at their own game, when all logic says you have no chance, is the sweetest victory of all.

We love underdogs because we’ve all been there in one way or another—when every bit of reason and sense would tell you that you have absolutely no shot, but you toss reason aside and jump in anyway. And that’s what motivates Paul Blart, mall cop, to put on his uniform every day—the hope that he can defy the odds.

That’s the kind of guy I wanna see come through in the clutch. When nobody thinks Paul Blart can save the day, he’s just getting warmed up. He’s gonna be the hero. He’s like Batman—no, wait, he’s betterthan Batman. You heard me. No offense, but anybody can be a hero with 180 pounds of sculpted muscle and all of the gadgets a billion bucks can buy. All Blart has to work with is some non-lethal pepper spray and a wicked pair of love handles.

When I was growing up, my dad sold insurance and my mom took care of me and my brother and sister. I wasn’t the greatest student. I dropped out of college and got a job driving a forklift, which I thought I was pretty good at; but I got fired, so apparently not. After that, believe it or not, I worked as a personal trainer at a gym. I’m not saying I was any good; I would lose count of the reps my client was doing, and then I’d be like, “Uh, that’s good enough—let’s go grab a chocolate energy bar.”

When I started doing standup, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t have industry connections. I was on Long Island—not in New York City—so even if I did great with an audience, who knew if anybody would see it? One time, an agent asked me what my goal was, and I said to have my own sitcom. He laughed and said that would never happen: “You just don’t have the look.The sooner you embrace that, the better.” Well, I’m glad I didn’t embrace that, or The King of Queens would’ve never happened. And I would never have been in movies.

So here’s to all the underdogs, the Paul Blarts, the Mets, the Jets, the Knicks... all of you. Keep fighting. Ignore those who tell you that you can’t do something. Find that inner strength—or just relax and go have a chocolate energy bar. Because anything is possible. I know that firsthand.


Starring as deliveryman Doug Heffernan on the hit CBS sitcom The King of Queens and in a number of supporting and starring movie roles, standup comedian-turned-actor KEVIN JAMES has a natural feel for chumps who turn into champs. On April 17, he’ll be back on the big screen as the Segway-riding security guard spurred to heights of heroism in the new comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The remarkable comedown of Serafim Todorov

A victory in the ring, and a regrettable decision sent his life on a downward spiral.

In the multitude of counselors there is safety......