Monday, December 1, 2008

Gilbert Kaplan summits his Mahler experience

ONE April Saturday in 1965, an economist at the American Stock Exchange was taken by a friend to an orchestral rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. He watched impassively as Leopold Stokowski, the aged Hollywood maestro who conducted “Fantasia”, stop-started Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.2 in C minor all afternoon. The economist thought little of it until later that night, when, sleeplessly, he tossed and turned, haunted by the music he had heard. Next morning he bought a ticket and at the concert “just found myself sobbing, absolutely hysterical”.

read on

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Here's an excerpt from "Extraordinary Comebacks 2" -- available January, 2009:

Montero, Gabriela

When it comes to the love of music, music teachers are often more effective at quenching it than stoking it. So it was with Gabriela Montero. The young Venezuelan debuted at five, and performed with the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra 'Simon Bolivar' conducted by Jose Antonio Abreu at eight.

By eleven, young Gabriela Montero was at a crossroads: already a big fish in a small musical pond. Her parents decided to bring her to the U.S. to study.

She said they thought it their responsibility to provide everything they could for her development.

The family found a home in Miami. Montero’s talent was profiled on local television. She was a star to the world, but inwardly she was doubting. Her teacher questioned her talent, and belittled her improvisation.

Improvisation has a long and fabled history within the greater story of music history. It was once considered de rigeur that an artist could and would improvise from a provided melody. Immortals like J.S. Bach were famous for their ability to improvise. So, too, Beethoven, Mozart, countless other masters.

But Montero’s teacher knew better. It was nothing special, certainly not worth cultivating, or so he said.

The teacher, however, was quenching the very gift for which she would become most famous. Not only that, it was the love of her life, expression through improvisation.

There is nothing like a music teacher to kill the love of music. No one does it better.

She kept playing, but the meaning and enthusiasm was ebbing away. Eventually, there was no impetus to play at all. As a twentysomething, she stayed away from the keyboard for two years.

She took some lessons, played some concerts, married (twice), had children (two). But piano? It wasn’t really going anywhere.

Then, at thirty-one (2001), she sought out a guru to help her sort her conflicting feelings, one who had been there herself: superstar pianist Martha Argerich. One night, after a few too many drinks, Montero played for the famed pianist, Beethoven, plus improvisations.

Argerich saw something of herself in the player and playing. Praising her, she provided Montero the validation she had sought her entire life.

Montero moved to the classical capital of the world, New York, and reinvigorated, went about renewing her career, this time for keeps.

Critics love the spontaneity she brings to her improv-tinged playing, and even better, her CDs sell. Gabriela Montero is now one of the most sought after names on both the classical, and jazz stages.

Making a glorious comeback to the keyboard she had left alone for two years a decade before, she said she had found her sense of purpose. What could be greater? Or a greater comeback?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

They rebuild their spirits with classical music

What comes to mind when you mention Venezuela? Hugo Chavez probably, or oil, or baseball? What probably does not come to mind is classical music.

And yet, Venezuela is the home of a music program that’s so extraordinary it has been hailed as the future of classical music itself.

As correspondent Bob Simon first reported in April, it's called "el Sistema" - "the system" - and it’s all about children, about saving them - hundreds of thousands of children - through music.

CBS 60 Minutes tells the story.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Comeback for Nadal

In what's being called the "greatest tennis match ever," Wimbledon finals, today, Sunday, July 06, 2008, it was Roger Federer who thrilled viewers by coming back from two sets down to make the eventual champion Rafael Nadal perform at an unbelievable level for five sets to claim his victory.

The comeback?

Nadal had lost -- to Roger Federer -- in 2007, and 2006. But he kept his eye on his goal, and powered by a legendary work ethic, strong family support and a modest personal mien, he came back to Centre Court to claim his hard-won victory.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rx: Gladiator

We avoided the 2000 Academy Award Best Picture "Gladiator" for a long time -- just didn't sound interesting.

Boy, were we wrong.

This is a comeback story writ epic large. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In collecting stories of Extraordinary Comebacks, occasionally, we say to ourselves, 'nothing can top this.' Then, along comes The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It's a true story. Our protagonist, Frenchman and free spirit Jean-Dominique Bauby, 43, was in the prime of life, editor of Elle, with a sports car, three adoring children, a mistress, a forgiving (divorced) spouse, and the world by the proverbial tail. In one instant, he suffers a stroke and is submerged in a world where he can understand but not communicate, a victim of "locked-in syndrome" -- as the author states, "a hellish trap as likely as being caught in as winning the lottery."

Reduced to these abject and terrifying circumstances, he says he would be the happiest man if all he could do was swallow. But he can't.

So -- with an active mind that is disconnected from his entire bodily function with the exception that he can blink his left eye -- what does he do? He honors a previous contract to write a book the only way he can.

By blinking his left eye.

A translator painstakingly repeats letters of the alphabet in order of most frequent use. When the letter he wants comes up, Jean-Do blinks. And so goes the "dictation." And so through this tiny, pinprick-sized hole, his imagination can trickle forth -- one letter at a time: essays on life in the hospital in his new condition, imaginings of his children, gourmet food, events of his past life. Regarding the latter, forever gone in physical reality, but persistently alive in his spirit.

This story is all at once horrifying, uplifting, numbing, life affirming. And finally, heroic. Bauby died just 10 days after his book was published -- it was his mission to communicate, to affirm life itself, that kept him going.

Made into a film by artist and now director Julian Schnabel. Not for the squeamish, but also, not to miss.

Cancer survivor adds no-hitter to World Series win

Jon Lester, 24, pitched a no-hitter May 19, 2008 against the K.C. Royals. More...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Beethoven of chefs

Beethoven could not hear, and Chicago Chef Achatz could not taste when afflicted with tongue cancer. A remarkable story of Diet Cokes, 20 hour work days, ignoring symptoms, multiple misdiagnoses, friendship, refusing conventional treatment, and of course, his comeback, via an experimental program at the University of Chicago. A story as complex as life itself as only the New Yorker could tell it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Last Lecture

The Randy Pausch story, as told on ABC Primetime.

Forty-something, fit, handsome, brilliant young professor and family man with three young children is struck with pancreatic cancer, and finds he has months to live.

He presents his thoughts, his candor, his courage in "The Last Lecture." Now something of a global phenomenon, it has changed attitudes, changed lives, even pulled viewers back from the precipice of suicide.

A comeback that leaves us speechless. You can't always defeat your opponent, but as Andre Agassi says, you can make him feel your game. Dr. Pausch does that and more....must watch TV....

Monday, April 7, 2008

Julie Andrews has had more comebacks than we knew....

In "Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success", we covered Julie Andrews loss of singing voice due to a botched surgery.

Turns out she had come back from a whole lot of difficulties her whole life, and starting very young. She details those in her new book, and it was featured on CBS Sunday Morning, April 06, 2008, as follows:

(CBS) Millions, if not billions of people around the world know Julie Andrews from her songs in movies such as "The Sound of Music." Less well-known is the true story of her path to stardom. Our Sandra Hughes separates fact from fiction in this Sunday Profile:

We've heard the story so many times about the discovery of Julia Andrews' voice, and now we know that was just a myth.

"Well, it was a publicity gimmick," Andrews told Hughes. "You know, 'Julie Andrews' voice was discovered in the air raid shelters of World War II.' And it's not true."

But what is true about Dame Julie Andrews is that, in a town that's seen 'em come and seen 'em go, she seems to be forever, above it all.

Generations of movie fans know her as the magical Mary Poppins, or as Maria, the sweet singing governess in "The Sound of Music."

Then there are her roles in films directed by her husband of 40 years, Blake Edwards: Dudley Moore's long-suffering girlfriend in the movie "10," or the down-and-out actress pretending to be a man impersonating a woman in "Victor/Victoria."

With so memorable a career, you might find it difficult to believe that the Oscar, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning Andrews has far fewer warm memories from her youth.

"Well, I didn't have a normal childhood, but I didn't know that I didn't," she said.

It was a childhood marked by divorce, alcoholism and poverty.

"I'm so grateful that I had my voice, my singing voice, which gave me an identity, which gave me something to do when I was a child," she said, "because otherwise I think I might have been a little bit at sea, a little lost."

She was born Julia Elizabeth in 1935 to Ted and Barbara Wells. He was a teacher. Her mother was a pianist. They separated when she was just four years old.

Soon afterward, her mother teamed up with singer Ted Andrews to form a musical act. They married and eventually made it a family affair.

"Yeah, I had a kind of freak, four-octave voice that I could sort of do all sorts of calisthenics with it."

It was the sort of voice that captivated audiences throughout England. It wasn't long before young Julie became the act's star attraction.

"Their act was Ted and Barbara Andrews with Julie, with Little Julie," Andrews recalled. "And when it became Julie Andrews and Ted and Barbara, I think it must have hurt dreadfully."

By age 15, "Little Julie" was the breadwinner of the family, supporting her mother, stepfather and two younger brothers.

"It mattered very much that we raise ourselves up from the poverty that began our lives. So, yeah, I did everything I could to help and support and be responsible as well."

"I wouldn't say that it was a particularly happy childhood," said her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, "although she convinced herself it was a happy childhood."

Hamilton helped her mother write her new autobiography, "Home" (Hyperion).

"When we were working on the book together, I think she several times said to me, 'This is pretty grim. I don't think I quite realized how, you know, dark sometimes some of these moments in my childhood were.'"

There were some difficult things that she went back and talked about: her step-father and his alcoholism, and his inappropriate behavior towards her.

Andrews recounts the story in her new book:

"I noticed that he smelled of alcohol and was breathing heavily. Suddenly he said, "I really must teach you how to kiss properly," and kissed me full on the lips. It was a deep, moist kiss - a horrible experience."

"He was inappropriate," Andrews told Hughes, "but he was a sick man. He was an alcoholic. There were days when he tried. And there were days when it was just impossible."

It was very hard on Andrews' mother, being in the middle.

"Yes. I think she felt very guilty for all of the children. But it was what it was. I mean, compared to so many other people, we were surviving."

Surviving as a family also meant keeping secrets. Andrews was 14 before her mother told her that her real father wasn't the man she thought.

Andrews recalls in the book, "She explained that she had a one-time liaison with a man by a beautiful lake not far from where we lived. She went on to say that it had been very hard to keep this secret for long."

"At first i wasn't sure it was true," Andrews said. "And I never mentioned it to anyone because if it wasn't true I didn't want to make my brothers unhappy. And many, many years later I asked my aunt if it was true, and she said, yes, it was."

Despite all this, Andrews says she considers herself "blessed."

"I call the book "Home" I hope people will say, 'Well, what was home? Was it the theater? Was it really 'home' that I am referring to?"

Moving from adolescence to adulthood, Andrews found a new home on the London stage.

And at age 18, she caught the eye of the producers of a musical comedy called "The Boy Friend," and was offered the lead in the New York production.

She opened on Broadway on the eve of her 19th birthday. That performance led to the role of a lifetime - Eliza Doolittle… in "My Fair Lady"

But there was nothing magical about what came next: When it came time to cast the film version of the play, Julie Andrews was passed over in favor of a more established star, Audrey Hepburn.

It turned out to be the biggest break of Julie Andrews' career. That same year she went on to become a movie star in her own right, winning the Oscar for Best Actress for the movie "Mary Poppins."

Does any one of the characters she's portrayed seem the most like her and her personality, Hughes asked.

"Well, I suppose to some extent they all are a slight reflection of me," Andrews said, "but I'm told by friends who know me that probably the most like me is probably something like 'Sound of Music,' that kind of energy and joy. I do occasionally get very weary and tired, and I rush into the studio and say, 'Oh, I'm absolutely exhausted,' but I say it in such an excited, happy voice that they say it's very hard to believe that I'm really that exhausted! And I mean it; I just happen to say it with enormous enthusiasm!"

That enthusiasm endures, even though the one thing that makes Julie Andrews Julie Andrews - her singing voice - was all but silenced in 1997 after she underwent surgery on her vocal cords.

"I've got about five good bass notes. So if you wanted a rendition of 'Old Man River,' I can manage it. But the amazing thing is, it was quite devastating. And I was fairly depressed for a while. And then, it was either stay that way for the rest of my life, or get on and do something."

So, just like the determined Maria von Trapp, she "did something," taking full advantage of a bad habit:

'Well, I can occasionally curse with some wonderful Anglo-Saxon four-letter words."

"I just can't see that," Hughes. laughed.

"Stick around."

Daughter Emma says it was her mother's penchant for swearing that led Andrews to discover what's become one of the great joys of her life:

"The very first children's book she ever wrote was a result of the game she was playing with us kids. We all had a bad habit that we had to give up. And one slip of the tongue and she lost the game. And my stepsister Jennifer said, 'Well, now you have to pay a forfeit.' And she said, 'Well, what's my forfeit gonna be?' And Jennifer said, 'Write me a story.' And that started her lifelong relationship to writing children's books."

She's now up to 18 books, most co-authored with Emma.

So, what's next for Julie Andrews? A lot more books for children, she says.

Which is not to say she's given up on films: She's the voice of the queen in two "Shrek" movies, and has another royal role in Disney's "The Princess Diaries" series.

At 72, Julie Andrews continues to rise, like Mary Poppins, above adversity.

Find out more about "Home: A Memoir of My Early Years" at the Hyperion Books Web site.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fighting off cancer with a $92,000 shot, tennis, weightlifting -- and a very positive attitude

Had a call from an old friend that I had not heard from in some time. Turns out since our last contact (last summer) he had been to hell and back.

Gordon I., 78, is a hale and hearty and gregarious MIT-educated engineer, retired, and passionate tennis player and captain. He has organized tennis activities for men's (and women's) teams in his hometown, Winnetka, Ill., for more than 20 years.

During a routine medical exam, it was discovered he had colon cancer, mantle cell lymphoma to be specific. Some $25,000 worth of CT and PET scan tests showed it moved to his bone marrow as well. He found a doctor who had confidence in the latest technology -- radioactive, injected chemo drugs that found there way to the cancer and killed only the cancer, not all the surrounding cells, like conventional chemo.

Called the "Zevalin regimen" ($92,000 hospital list price) --- a one shot procedure which is good for three months.

Side effects were minimal, a bit of tiredness. Meanwhile, Gordon kept up his tennis regimen ("dawn patrol" doubles, 6:30 a.m., three to four times a week), and added weightlifting apres-tennis!

At 78.

Credit mostly the medicine, but the combination of the shots, the tennis, the fitness regimen, and especially his positive attitude worked. Gordon reported the latest tests, colon and bone marrow, showed no signs of cancer. He is in remission!

All the more remarkable because Gordon fought and defeated (lung) cancer several years earlier.

Hats off to Gordon -- his athletic regimen, (and positive attitude) puts many of his younger tennis partners to shame!

Regarding any more travels to hell, Gordon is planning NOT to go back, he tells me. "And Thank God for Medicare and my secondary health insurance!"

Update J.K. Rowling

In "Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success", we featured the story of Harry Potter author and billionaire J.K. Rowling, who in her early days, was broke, living with her sister and husband, unemployed, divorced and the mother of a young child.

As you might expect, she was also depressed.

How bad was it?

Turns out very bad, she considered suicide, she told a student journalist from Edinburgh University, and sought medical help. (Source TIME, April 7, 2008.)

Good thing.

Proves no matter how dark one's feelings, the reality is that a victory beyond imagination might be "just around the corner." What story better proves the old saw about suicide being the 'permanent solution for the temporary problem?'

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rx: just say 'thank you'

We are always on the lookout for "Extraordinary Comebacks", and Thank You Power by Deborah Norville doesn't stint in providing them, e.g.

  • Mountain climber Aron Ralston who had to cut off his arm to save his life. He was able to see the amputation as a rebirth.
  • Bicyclist Anne Hjelle, who was biking with a friend and attacked by a mountain lion who had just just attacked and devoured another cyclist. She sped up her recovery by creating a foundation to give bikes to kids who don't have one, in the tradition of the slain cyclist.
  • A simple, non-violent (no blood) and touching story of one Sal Morales, a terminated TV station personality who took a chance, sent Deborah an email, gets an answer much to his surprise and goes on to correspond with our author by email (we are conducting the same experiment), find his inner resources and a way to salvage his self-esteem through his next series of ups and downs. (It never ends, does it?)

She could have recounted her own story as well, the dust-up some 20 years ago with NBC, and her resurgence as host of INSIDE EDITION.

Deborah is a Christian, and she lets you know, but to her credit, she doesn't beat you up with it, making it easy for readers of all stripes to make their way through the text without having a reaction.

At 150 pages, a slim volume, and goes down easy. A pleasing palette of anecdotes, science (lots of studies are cited) and Deborah, the personality.

Couple criticisms, and very small ones at that: I didn't "get" the story about Norville's tip to a stage manager she meets in Dayton to wear high heels to boost her self-esteem, seems kind of antiquarian and anti-feminist, no?, but I suppose it's a "girl" thing, and we'll give the author her space on that. After all, she is a TV celeb and Georgia Junior Miss (1976). Minor thing. Also, the book needs an index. A little less minor.

But here's the bottom line: if you're grateful for what you have, instead of grieving for what you don't, you're going to change your brain chemistry. More effectively than with Prozac or any of the other drugs on the market.

Hats off to Deborah Norville for reminding us of this simple and powerful medicine available to everyone without Rx and without charge: gratitude. Let's all try it together for 21 days....and make it a habit.....

PS D.N. ends the book with a tip to take the test at to find your "signature strengths." Should say "tests"-- they offer 17! at this writing. Excellent resource, very interesting, worth doing....

PPS One last thing: "thank you" for reading this.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Bowl 42 leaves us with more than empty pizza boxes and a pile of chicken wing bones....

Sometimes sporting events have little or no meaning, except maybe to the participants.

Sometimes there's a lot of meaning -- for all of us.

Take the Feb. 3, 2008 Super Bowl 42.

Glamor boy and ladies man to actresses and models Tom Brady and his undefeated Patriots vs. self-described "mama's boy", plier of the family business, Eli Manning, long overshadowed by his older brother Peyton.

Down for the most of the game, with four minutes remaining, Manning and his Giants mount a comeback. With one minute left, 3rd and 5 to go, Manning drops back, swarmed by a herd of Patriots, surely to be sacked, ESCAPES!, looks downfield, heaves the ball to David Tyree, who goes up and pulls the ball down on top of his head, while getting tackled -- but holds on!

But holds on! There's the operative phrase.

With 0:59, Manning and the Giants go on to score a touchdown, and win Super Bowl 42 by a score 17-14. The Patriots came into the game undefeated, 18-0, leave 18-1.

The Giants? They were 12 point underdogs.

Tyree, the hero of the game, had quite a back story turns out. He had just lost his mother, 59, to a heart attack six weeks earlier. Of the catch that was called one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, coming down with the ball pressed against the top of his helmet, and holding on somehow, he said it was: "Something that didn't make sense, and when things don't make sense, I attribute them to God."

He added: "If nothing else great happens to me in my career, it will still be all icing on the cake with cherries and ice cream on the top."

After a past that included major troubles with drugs and alcohol, Tyree and his mother became Christians several years earlier, and he cleaned up. She died while working for a ministry; he said she had experienced the presence of God, and while the loss hurt, he knew he would see her again. His faith made it bearable.

"God has a plan for everyone," Tyree said in post-game interviews. "My mother has gone to be home with her Lord, and since she's gone there, the team's been on fire."

When receiving condolences from teammates back in December, 2007, Tyree said: “I’m actually very excited for her. Because that’s what we’re working toward. We’re living to live again.”

After the former special teams member scored the first touchdown of the game, he pointed to the heavens in her honor.

Lots of Super Bowls are forgotten, but from this one we can take several things that are worth remembering.

Sometimes the dorky, plodding mama's boys can beat the glamor boys.

You can start over ---- and succeed.

And while sometimes life can be a battering one day, full of loss, and an exultation the next, the key, like Tyree, is to 'hold on.' Through it all.

Even if there's only one minute to go, great things can happen.

And if things don't work out that way, as David Tyree told his teammates, this life is not the end of the story.


You can see his great catch at ABC and on You Tube.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Emmy-winning sportscaster writes his wife's (and his) comeback story

If we have our way, this powerful story -- it will knock you on your back -- will be in a follow-up effort to our "Extraordinary Comebacks". We work on these all the time, and this one is slated for volume 2, chapter 168.

The life and love story of the Kings, Maggie and Rich:

You see members of your TV news teams every day. They come into your home, like family or friends. You think you know them (you don't), and that their lives are pretty charmed (sometimes), and breezy and effortless and glib as the jokes at the end of the late night itself (not for sportscaster Rich King or his Maggie).
Behind the video image, Rich King's wife Maggie was engaged for years in a titanic struggle against blindness, and hearing loss, and all that entailed, as as a result, so, too, was he. When breast cancer, then ovarian cancer joined the battle, it was nothing less than a life and death struggle.

In his book, My Maggie, Rich recounts the story, and it will knock you flat on your back.

The story starts plainly enough. Maggie and Rich met a neighbor children in Pilsen, near West Side Chicago neighborhood. Awkward and gangly, Maggie wore hearing aids, starting age 4. While in third grade, she told friends she would marry Rich. He was nonplussed until high school, then he fell hard for her. By this time, Maggie had developed night blindness as well, but it didn't dissuade Rich. He loved her, all of her. Both afflictions would get worse.

Despite her hardships, Maggie got through high school and enrolled in Eastern Illinois University, but her poor vision brought her closer to home; sheattended University of Illinois at Chicago for a time with Rich, then found her way to a practical nursing program at a South Side Chicago hospital, then put in two more years to become a registered nurse at St. Mary of Nazareth hospital. Meanwhile, Rich finished off his broadcasting studies at UIC, and landed a job with CBS. He would stay for 20 years.

Despite her impaired vision and slowly declining hearing, Maggie, too, was able to work in her profession for 20 years. It would be their golden age -- stone crazy in love, with lots of trips, friends, dining and shopping adventures. With Maggie's health problems, no, they didn't "have it all," but they had a lot, and in the category of romantic love, more than most will ever have, or even come in contact with.

But then life turned unspeakably cruel. Maggie's sight declined rapidly, and her hearing followed suit. It was at this time, in her 40s, that it was determined that she suffered from Usher's syndrome, an exceedingly rare malady that attacks both sight and hearing, condeming the victim to a netherworld devoice of sight and sound.
Maggie and Rich were devastated, but amazingly Maggie determined to fight back. After a kick start from a brusque, loud, well-meaning and effective counselor (himself blind), Maggie was injected with the hope that she could get on top of her blindness and not allow it to rule and crush her life.

Indeed, she was so inspired she herself determined to switch careers and become a counselor to the blind. Maggie traveled -- by herself, assisted only by her cane -- to attend a seminar at the Helen Keller Institute, Long Island, N.Y., then enrolled in a two-year program to earn her degree in social work at Chicago's Loyola University.

An extraordinary comeback in the face of debilitating setback.
Fate was not through with Maggie, however. Breast cancer piled on, then ovarian cancer. Tragically, the latter metatasized, and could not be overcome.

Buoyed by her husband Rich and best friend Arlana, Maggie kept her love of life and fighting spirit intact all the way to her last breath.

In the book, gutsy Maggie becomes our heroine, yes, but Rich, too, becomes our hero, too, in baring his soul as the author. His recounting of My Maggie is not a sugar-coated idyll by any means, (he is plain spoken about her flaws and his), but a book of grit and stubble and devastation and overcoming and an ultimate triumph in the spirit realm, if not the physical. We all succumb, sooner or later, to that last one.

Someone once said of "Extraordinary Comebacks" volume one that when you're feeling down, 'read a few of these stories to see what's possible.' My Maggie is the nonpareil story in that regard. No one, and we mean no one we've encountered in these researches, does more with less than the extraordinarily courageous, indomitable Maggie King. As a counselor, Maggie had the power to change lives, and now that Rcih has captured her essence in this biography, she will keep on doing that for many years to come.

As Rich King would say simply, she would like that.