Out of My Head
Peter Gallay

The Least of Fights... I mean, The Feast of Lights
July 8, 2024

Chanukah is the oldest continuously celebrated Jewish holiday, except for the ones that started earlier.

It commemorates the rededication of the second temple of Jerusalem. The first temple, known as Solomon's temple, was destroyed by the Babylonians. It must have been a pushover, since it didn't even require Adultlonians.

The second temple fared no better than its predecessor, ultimately coming under the control of the ruling Greek-Syrians (in those days mixed marriages were common). The Seleucids, as they were seldom called, tried to foist their culture and beliefs on the local Jews, who, like the present-day Orthodox in Israel, refused to fight, citing the age-old Talmudic principle of "chicken."

However, in a Jerusalem suburb, there lived a family of Scottish Jews (in those days mixed marriages were common), led by a pugnacious young woman named Judy MacAbee.

Always ready for a fight, the MacAbees donned their yalmulke-o'shanters and set off to liberate Jerusalem. Vastly outnumbered, the small band resorted to psychological warfare. They surrounded the enemy camp and laid down a ceaseless barrage of bagpipe music, which in short order sent the opposition screaming into the hills. Jerusalem was recaptured.

Now comes the Chanukah part.

The MacAbees entered the temple and went to relight the sacred menorah, which was meant to burn with an eternal flame. But they found only one day's worth of the olive oil used for fuel. It seems the Seleucids had been dipping into the strategic reserve for their Caesar salads.

According to the pre-Roman calendar, "one day" was much shorter than "eternal", so the MacAbees swung into action and searched out all the local fuel sources. But all they could find was ethanol, which they couldn't use because it was treyf.

Alas, they had to make do with the small amount they had. But lo or behold, the one-day's worth of oil ended up burning for eight full days, giving them time to obtain a new supply.

This was hailed as a miracle of God and is the origin of the actual Chanukah holiday.

At times scholars questioned whether it was actually a miracle or if there was a more mundane explanation.

Rabbi Shandor Koufax theorized that the menorah didn't need that much oil in the first place, since it was a hybrid. When the oil ran out the batteries took over.
(He also had a great fastball.)

Whatever the truth of the matter, the event has been memorialized over the years along with some well-known traditions:

   Chanukah gelt - chocolate disks wrapped in gold foil given to children as gifts. (Interestingly, chocolate    wrapped in foil was the actual medium of exchange in those days.)

   Latkes. Potato pancakes. Highly symbolic in that each pancake contains enough oil to burn in a menorah    for eight days.

   Dreydls. Four-sided spinning tops that symbolize four-sided spinning tops.

Today, the Chanukah holiday is celebrated all over the world, except in Wyoming. No one knows why.

Prominent in those celebrations are the MacAbees, particularly their leader, known to her followers as Big Mac. And therein lies a bizarre footnote to the story. Judy MacAbee became the object of worship by a strange order of Christian monks in the second century. She was known as Big Mac with an order of friars.

Bar Mitzvah  
More Jewish Cultural Exegesis
May 30, 2024

Contrary to the belief of many Texans, The Bar Mitzvah is not the name of a cattle ranch that raises kosher beef. (That ranch is The Lazy Matzo, which accounts for the confusion.)

Actually bar mitzvah is a traditional Jewish punishment for adolescent boys. It marks the passage from boyhood to manhood, or, in the case of bat mitzvah, from girlhood to manhood.

The origin of bar mitzvah is the subject of much Talmudic debate. Rabbi Christopher Soleveichik in 12th century Lithuania suggests that it was the invention of a struggling caterer who was looking for ways to drum up business. However, that theory was dismissed on the grounds that any rabbi named Christopher couldn't be taken seriously.

The earliest mention of bar mitzvah was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in a section headed "Events for the coming week…" Listed right after "Stoning Chaya the Witch" is the entry, "Bernstein Bar Mitzvah." Archeologists have managed to piece together a rough description of what that ceremony was like. It took place in a large wooden structure which during the week was used as the village stable. On the Sabbath, the faithful filed in and took their place among the goats and sheep, being very careful where they stepped. Wisely, the women chose to sit separately behind a strong partition.

The first bar mitzvah ceremony was a simple affair: just the regular Sabbath service during which the young man was called up briefly to read a bit from the Torah. And afterward, a modest celebration for friends and family — some wine, traditional dancing and a taco station.

One question that's often asked is why the rite takes place at age 13. (Mostly asked by 12 year-olds.) Thirteen seems very young to take on the responsibilties of a man. Rebbe Shlomo of Lupsch posited that since Hebrew is read from right to left, actually the age was supposed to be 31, which made a lot more sense. However, Rav Jacob Sissel hotly disputed this and demanded a Shlomo instant replay.

Over the years bar mitzvahs have grown in elaborateness. Now they are great galas at country clubs, with live bands, professional entertainers, and themes such as baseball, Star Wars, or the Holocaust. Some lament the event's true meaning has been lost. Indeed, according to Rabbi Biff Lieberman of Beverly Hills, any bar mitzvah that costs less than $40,000 is considered blasphemy.

Today, the rite of bar mitzvah is complicated by the woke movement. Some think the gender-specific designations bar and bat should be replaced. One suggestion is bax mitzvah, but a latinx activist called it cultural appropriation.

As for the future of bar mitzvah, perhaps the best forecast lies in the wisdom of the Talmud, which says, בִּשְׁלָמָא חַיָּה אַחַיָּה לָא קַשְׁיָא: הָא רַבִּי יְהוּדָה, הָא רַבָּנַן. That summarizes it nicely. (Except for הָא רַבִּי יְהוּדָה, which is obviously irrelevant).

How I'm Spending My 80s  

May 25, 2024

Watching days and weeks go faster,
Waiting for the next disaster.

Based on a true story.
April 17, 2024

Once up a time, the Jews were slaves in Egypt — forced to pick cotton and sing spirituals when when they'd rather be studying the Talmud or applying to medical school. So God sent their leader, Moses, to plead for their freedom before the king, whom he respectfully addressed as 'my king,' but of course in Italian.

"Mia Pharaoh," he said, "let my people go."

At first there was some confusion involving actresses and Woody Allen, but then the king got the point.

He replied, "And if I don't?"

"Soon yi will have ten plagues visited upon yi."

The king wasn't impressed. "Don't pack your satchel just yet."

"It will start with a plague of frogs. Millions of Frenchmen flooding into Cairo."

The Pharaoh shrugged, unconcerned. "C'est la vie."

So Mo reeled off the rest of the menu. Lice, fleas, pestilence, hail, boils, locusts, darkness. He even threatened to turn their water to blood, like in Flint, Michigan.

But no dice. Moishe reported back to God, who upped the ante.

"I will kill the firstborn son of all the Egyptians," God said.

"A bit asymmetric, isn't it?" asked Moses.

"Go," God said, "tell your people to kill a lamb and mark their doors with the blood to show they're Jews. And be careful not to get any on the mezzuzah."

It worked, but afterward there were some complaints about the blood stains.

"Why blood? Why couldn't we just have marked the damn door with chalk? Or maybe tied a couple of balloons to the mailbox?"

When the Egyptians woke up the next morning and found their eldest sons geharget, they were none-too pleased. They quickly banded together and coined the catchy phrase that would resonate throughout history. "Kill the Jews!"

Moses and company got the hint and immediately took it on the lam - in this case, the Paschal lam. The Pharaoh's gang took off after them, heading into the blazing desert and stepping onto the scorching sands with minimal footwear. In other words, hot on their heels.

The Jews were making good time and were able to stop for a quick lunch. Moses ordered BLTs for everyone, until someone reminded him what the B stood for. "Okay," he corrected himself, "make that LTs for everyone."

What followed was the birth of two great traditions.

First, the company's baker, Herman Manischewitz (not to be confused with the writer of Citizen Kane), stepped forward and said, "We couldn't wait for the bread dough to rise, so this is what we came up with." Behold, matzo — the first great tradition.

There was some grumbling in the company, but the matzo was distributed with orders to eat every morsel, in order to keep their strength up. But a couple of rebellious types got together and conspired to get around the order.

"I know!" said their leader. "Let's HIDE THE MATZO."

Thus, the second great tradition.

Cutting back to the chase, after lunch they continued their flight and in time came to the shores of a great sea and could go no further. They were desperate. Off in the distance they could see the Pharaoh's posse gaining on them.

"Who are those guys?" asked one of the more obtuse escapees.

"Shut up, Goldman," Moses said, "I'm thinking."

And then a miracle occurred. Quoting now directly from Exodus 14:21 "At God's command, Moses held his staff out over the water, the water parted, and the Israelites hauled ass."

When the Egyptians followed, Moses did the staff shtick again and the waters came crashing back down, annihilating the Egyptian army (which actually established another tradition).

In the end, the Jews all made it across safely. Those few who suffered minor injuries were rushed to Mount Sinai.

Moses was hailed as a great hero, praised and exalted throughout the land. When God saw he was getting all the credit — when it was God himself who did all the heavy lifting (plagues, first born, the Red Sea, for chrissake!) — he was plenty miffed. So he pulled a few strings and Moses's role in the whole affair was stricken from the record.

And to this day, if you check, you'll see that Moses is not even mentioned in the Haggadah — completely passed over in the story of the exodus. Hence the name of the holiday we celebrate each year.


Options for Israel . . .  
And their effect on world opinion.
March 10, 2024

1. Continue the war against Hamas.
Jew-hatred increases

2. Agree to a temporary cease-fire.
Jew-hatred increases

3. Unilaterally end the war and withdraw all troops from Gaza.
Jew-hatred increases

Coming to Terms With My Inevitable Mortality  

February 7, 2024

Just turned eighty,
Can't ignore it.
Man, that's asking for it!

You Be The Judge  
Harvard Turning Crimson With Embarrassment
December 26, 2023

Some lines in Claudine Gay's writings that led to accusations of plagiarism:
   ...To be or not to be, that is the question.
   ...It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
   ...Call me Ishmael.

Legal Corner  
Strict Construction Zone
December 25, 2023

I wrote a terrific play that never got off the ground. It got great advance publicity and on opening night every seat was filled. The action built to a climactic firing squad scene. The audience was on the edge of their seats. The commander shouted, "Ready!" "Aim!"

Suddenly the company's lawyers rushed onto the stage and stopped the show. They said we couldn't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. The damn play closed that night.

Quick Critique  

October 26, 2023

I know Albert Brooks is smart, but he's no Einstein.

(I also like Woody Allen, but he's no Konigsberg.)

Music of the Orient  

October 19, 2023

A quick stroll through YouTube reveals a wealth of young jazz musicians in Asia. In the last couple of years I've come across a few who are standouts. Here are some examples (one not so young).

MASAHIRO SAYAMA is a terrific Japanese pianist who began playing professionally in the early 1970s. I wish I had discovered him sooner. All those years he was around and I didn't know it. He died in 2018 at the age of 64.

There Will Never Be Another You - Harry Warren

KIM HYE-SEUNG, his name according to Google's translation of Korean characters, is a mystery. I've searched the internet and can find no information on him anywhere. All I know is what can be gleaned from the video: he's young and he's brilliant. I'm struck by his attitude as he plays. He sits upright at the keyboard and doesn't move much, letting his hands do the work. It all looks so relaxed and effortless, but of course it isn't. And man, can he play.

It Could Happen To You - Jimmy Van Heusen

LEE HA-GYEOM and JEONG SEONG-HYUN (again per Google Translate) are another mystery pair. A couple of youngsters with impressive skills having a good time. Wish I knew more.

There Will Never Be Another You - Harry Warren

By the way, these three recordings are examples of my favorite school of jazz. Sometimes known as straight-ahead jazz, it's a style that developed in the 1950s and 1960s with roots in previous decades, whose typical repertoire are tunes from the Great American Songbook.

NOTE: Refresh the page to reset the videos.

The Holiest Day of the Year  
10 Tishrei 5784
September 22, 2023

Note on Pronunciation

Yom Kip-OOR
Are you sure?
So much hipper
To say Yom KIPP-er.

It's Hebrew versus Yiddish
The Hebrew makes me skittish
I much prefer to credit
The way my bubby said it.


In the shul the rabbi's praying,
You don't know a thing he's saying.
Feel you're getting hungry, then you
Find there's nothing on the menu.
Reason for this isn't hidden,
On this day all food's forbidden.
Asked the cause of this condition,
Just like Tevye, "It's TRADITION!"

Now you have to make a choice
And listen to your inner voice.
Fast or food? It's up to you.
What's a hungry Jew to do?

What's the Talmud have to say?
Both the sides should meet halfway.
That's the perfect attitude,
You'll compromise.
You'll eat fast food!

(I'm lovin' it.)

Interesting Joke  
The same phrase is simultaneously the set-up and the punch line.
August 26, 2023

A nearsighted convict walks into a bar.

Coming Attractions!  
Movie Remakes For the Woke Era
July 14, 2023

Snow White and the Seven Differently-Heighted
Runaway princess finds refuge in the woods (albeit with uncomfortably small furniture).

How Green Is My Valley
Welsh mining village goes solar.

How The West Was Won Back
Indian casinos are cleaning up.

Six Angry Men, Three Angry Women, Two Angry Trans, One Angry Refuse to Answer
Jurors clash when they need to use the bathroom.

Gone With the Wind: The Later Years
Raising cotton on Tara with modern farm equipment.

Sleepytime Down South  

June 6, 2023

Ron DeSantis is so anti-woke that he won't allow an alarm clock in his house.

Trigger Warning  

February 21, 2023

Comment on a Certain Celebrity Changing His Name to "Ye"  

October 25, 2022

My first thought, just off the cuff,
Wasn't "Kanye" dumb enough?

Taking My Life

October 23, 2022

I've taken my life, that is, my biographical and biodegradable sketches, and moved them to their own spot so they now may be ignored in proper chronological order.

Follow the Science  

August 6, 2022

The latest data shows the average life expectancy for men is 76.1 years. For women, 81.1. I'm 78. I'm considering sex change surgery.

What's in a Pronoun?  
Rodgers and Hart Updated
January 27, 2022

He/she gets too hungry for dinner at eight
She/he loves the theater and never comes late
They'd never bother with people they'd hate
That's why the lady is a trans.

Doesn't like gay bars, they're really a mess
Won't go to Harlem while wearing a dress
Man or a woman? It's anyone's guess
That's why the lady is a trans.

He loves the free, fresh-- oops, I mean "She"
We're judgment free
They're woke, it's oke
Hates JK Rowling and all of her fans
That's why the lady is a trans.

The Sphincter Report  
Number four in the trilogy.
November 8, 2021

The wait is over! After thousands hundreds dozens pairs of requests, my new novel is here at last. (Actually it’s a novella, so it’s herela atla lastla.) Prepare yourself for a hilarious literary joyride. Then read something by P.G. Wodehouse. After that come back here and take a shot at this feeble attempt.

(This book is not short-listed anywhere, however its author was short-sheeted at Camp Kinder-Ring in 1952.)

Anti-Semitism vs Anti-Zionism  
The Difference
October 6, 2021

An anti-semite hates the Jews.
An anti-Zionist doesn't hate the Jews, but doesn't care what happens to them.

December 24th at Starbucks  

September 8, 2021

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
They all took their coffee black.

Israel Standard Time?  

August 27, 2021


Coming Soon!  
If we're not careful.
May 13, 2021


His Friends Called Him Benny  

February 19, 2021

This may seem similar to my anecdote about Cal Jackson, but it's oh, so much more.

I'm not much given to hero worship. I can be a huge fan of someone — musician, writer, performer, (no athletes, thank you) — but hero worship takes it to a plane that I have rarely visited. A major exception is Benny Carter, who's been a part of me since I first heard him on a recording some 60 years ago. I could try to explain the attachment I've felt to him and his music over the years, but I'm sure I'd fail. Just take my word for it — conjure up your best idea of h-w and he's been it for me.

So here's the scene. It's 1989, I'm having lunch with a bunch of writers at Musso and Frank's, sitting at a table in the dining room.Benny CarterI glance over at the booths along the front wall and do an internal double-take. Could it be? Yes! That's him! What do I do? I've never, ever, intruded upon a star in public (I think autograph hunters are imbecilic). But I do some quick mental calculation (read rationalizing): he's not well-known by sight, probably doesn't get bugged a lot by fans, I'll never get this chance again, I'll never stop kicking myself if I miss it. I excuse myself from the writers and walk over to the booth.

"Excuse me," I say, diffident as an awkward teenager. "Are you Mister Carter?"

Mister Carter looks up at me, considers for a moment, looks over at his companion, looks back at me, then...

"My friends call me Benny." And he offers his hand to shake.

No need to go further into the tale, except to say I uttered some fawning, sycophantic words -- all of them heartfelt. He invited me to sit for a few moments and introduced me to his companion, a young musician who would be appearing with him soon, and who said, referring to my gushing reverence, that he felt the same way. I lingered for an extra moment then left God to his club sandwich. A brief encounter, and a highlight of my life.

Benny died in 2003 at the age of 96. He's still my hero.

Here's Benny with Oscar Peterson

Something Just Occured To Me  

December 13, 2020

I've had amnesia for as long as I can remember.

I Just Realized...  

December 12, 2020

I've had amnesia for as long as I can remember.

FLASH! Mahoney Gets Socially Distanced!  

November 20, 2020

The Joe Mahoney series has been moved to its own section of the website. That's good news for everyone, since it makes the stories much easier to avoid. So whatever you do, don't click on the MAHONEY menu item above. That'll just take you to the Mahoney page and ruin everything.

No More Mr Nice Guy  
Another attempt at the Nobel Prize for Literature. (See Bob Dylan, below.)
August 21, 2020

My new novel about a nice young man thrown into battle against the mob. It's actually a modern retelling of the biblical* tale of Jeraloois and his heroic fight to recapture Jerusalem after Rome lost control to Naples in the Battle of Saltimbocca. The Naples forces comprised three factions based on geographic heritage: Africans, Caucasians, and ruddy-complected Mediterranians (which led to the locals referring derisively to Neapolitan as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry).

*In this case neither the Old Testament nor New Testament, but the recently discovered Used Testament.

News Item  

July 7, 2020

A Frenchman killed an Israeli and a Palestinian accused him of cultural appropriation.

Fools' Gold  
What, another one?
June 11, 2020

Is there no end to my cruelty? Here it is, another assault on your sensibilities. Fools' Gold is an adventure story, but don't be misled. It's not Moby Dick. Insightful, affecting and humorous, full of fascinating facts about the whaling industry. It's nothing like that.

This is a story about a treasure hunt. And reading it will be just like a real treasure hunt: a total waste of time. So go ahead. What else have you got to do?

Note: No trees were destroyed in the creation of this book. However, several animals were harmed, including my neighbor's barking dog, the late "Buddy."

All You Can Eat  
Available at an Amazon near you.
May 24, 2020

My new short novel -- technically a novella, or in Italian romanzo breve, or in French un morceau de merde.

Here's what readers are saying:

"Couldn't put it down." PETA member referring to his sickly 17-year-old cocker spaniel
"Every page a delight." Unnamed US Senator accused of pedophilia
"Don't miss it." Target Shooter Magazine
"Unforgettable." Emma Hudson, Alzheimer's Association President... or Treasurer... or Secretary...
"Gallay is today's J.D. Salinger, except for the writing." Weekly Reader

Zürich Post Office, 1926  
May 9, 2020

Thoughts on The Alternative  
May 6, 2020

As people age there comes a point
When aches appear in every joint
And then one day you trip.
You wait, despite the urgency,
Six hours in Emergency
To learn you broke your hip.

It's not the greatest way to live
But sure beats the alternative.

Now you get a diagnosis
Of arteriosclerosis,
Bypass is required.
So despite what you were hopin’
Doctors rip your chest wide open
And you get rewired.

A sorry plight with which to live
But sure beats the alternative.

Add to this your hypertension,
Diabetes, not to mention
Polyps and neuritis.
Hearing loss and melanoma,
Stroke, depression, gout, glaucoma,
Signs of hepatitis.

It's such a struggle just to live
But sure beats the alternative.

Now the final straw, God sent ya
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia,
Brain has been deleted.
And what may be even sadder
You cannot control your bladder
Or what gets excreted.

So now at last you've understood
Alternative looks pretty good.

The Greatest 60 Seconds in Classical Music  
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor
April 18, 2020

My first memory of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is in the movie Humoresque, whose soap opera story is eclipsed by a profusion of terrific music and the presence of Oscar Levant. I’ve probably seen it fifty times.Felix Mendelssohn Also of interest in the movie is the way they made it look like John Garfield was playing the violin. Garfield stood with arms behind his back while Isaac Stern’s hands supplied the fingering and another violinist the bowing. The effect was flawless and amazing.

But on to the concerto. It’s one of the great violin works of all time. You can get expert musicological analysis elsewhere, I’m not qualified for that. What I do know is that I’ve been hooked on the final minute of the piece since first hearing it at about age 10. It never fails to excite me (if I’m alone I’ll invariably sing out with it). To get the full effect you should probably listen to the whole third movement, or even better the entire concerto. But the clip below is what thrills me. Especially the scales starting at 46 seconds into the countdown and repeated an octave higher at 38 and culminating in that brilliant high E at 28. Chills...spine.

One other interesting thing about the concerto. There’s no break between movements. Each proceeds immediately to the next. In Mendelssohn’s day, it was the custom for the audience to applaud between movements. (Now it’s considered a faux pas.) Crafty old Felix didn’t like that, so he just kept things moving, leaving no gap for applause.

The Best Day of My Life
As of 1964
April 2, 2020

Cal Jackson was a classically trained composer and pianist in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He was prominent in the film industry (an Oscar nominee), but best known as a dazzlingly wonderful jazz pianist.

(Brief digression. Over the years, I’ve had three piano teachers. If you heard me play, you might conclude they were all highly incompetent. They weren’t. I was. Undisciplined, never practiced. What little I’ve learned came from fooling around on my own in the years when I wasn’t taking lessons.)

One of my teachers was a lovely man named Sidney Fox, a professional music educator who had been one of Cal Jackson’s early teachers. As part of my training, Sid had me listen to Jackson’s records over and over. This didn't improve my playing (see undisciplined and never practiced, above), but I loved listening to them. That was in 1956.

Cal Jackson Now it’s 1964 and I’m working as an insurance investigator for a company called O’Hanlon Reports. My job is to check out insurance applicants to make sure they’re good risks. On this day I’m in South Pasadena making my rounds, and I see my next client is one John Calvin Jackson. I ring the doorbell, a pleasant and attractive woman answers and I begin my spiel about why I’m there. Suddenly, from somewhere inside the house, there comes the sound of a great live piano. The sound flicks a switch in my memory and I look again at the file in my hand. John Calvin Jackson.

“Is your husband who I think he is?” I stammer.

“Cal Jackson?” she asks, knowing exactly who I mean.

The upshot is I’m invited in, introduced to Jackson, and spend the next hour sitting alongside him on the piano bench while we exchange Sid Fox stories and talk about music, with Jackson hitting the keyboard now and then to illustrate a point or demonstrate a riff.

I left the Jackson house floating on music and thinking if there’s a heaven, I’ve just been there.

The Night The Lights Went Out at the Philharmonic

March 28, 2020

The audience poured into Symphony Hall.
They seated themselves, settled in one and all.
The oboist sounded his usual 'A',
His colleagues tuned up and got ready to play.

A moment of silence, an expectant pause,
Then in strode the maestro to eager applause.
He mounted the rostrum and rapped his baton,
All eyes turned to him and the concert was on.

He gave them the downbeat, the sign to begin,
Expecting the strings and the brass to come in.
But lo and behold not a sound did they make,
For suddenly everything started to shake.

"An earthquake!" yelled someone, excited and manic.
A stronger voice yelled, "Keep your seats and don't panic!"
On stage all the music stands started to tumble
And all of the instruments fell in a jumble.

The shaking subsided, 'twas mercifully brief,
And everyone there breathed a sigh of relief.
"It's over!" "It stopped!" came a yell and a shout,
Calm once again reigned -- then the lights all went out.

The room turned to blackness in one second flat
And left all assembled as blind as a bat.
The maestro took charge with a soothing remark,
"It's fine, everybody, we'll play in the dark."

He faced the musicians that he couldn't see.
(At least he turned toward where he thought they should be.)
"Now please find your instruments best as you can.
We'll pick it up back where the concert began."

The players all groped in the dark disarray
And fumbled around for the things that they play.
They all grabbed an instrument, retook their chairs,
(The instrument not necessarily theirs).

And now the conductor, who still couldn't see,
Spoke into the darkness, "All ready? On three..."
He gave the three count and the orchestra started.
What came from the stage was not for the faint hearted.

The opening called for a violin to slow bow,
The screech that was heard came from bowing an oboe.
And likewise the contrabassoon-playing fellow
Got nothing from blowing the neck of a cello .

A piccolo player got ready and then
He played a scherzando on his fountain pen.
Then someone mistook a tall guy for his bass
And bowed 'cross his belly and fingered his face.

Instead of the cymbals he thought he had crashed,
The drummer grabbed two colleagues' heads that he smashed.
A lucky trombonist, in spite of the trend,
Retrieved his own horn -- then he blew the wrong end.

A fiddler whose bow wasn't found in the hunt,
Rosined the hair of the woman up front.
A French horn was plucked and a clarinet strummed,
A cellist surrendered to fate, and just hummed.

They knew they were making a god-awful sound
'Cause no one could play on the thing they had found.
"Let's swap with each other," said one clever person.
But that only made the cacophony worsen.

A violin was banged on,
A piccolo clanged on,
A trumpet was sawed on,
A tuba was clawed on,
A tambourine tooted,
A harpsichord hooted,
A double bass bunged on,
And then triple-tongued on.

Violas were variously shaken and whacked,
And every which way was the piano attacked.
The mix was so plainly a dissonant blend,
It finally -- mercifully! -- came to an end.

The lights came back on and yet nobody stirred.
All sat there in shock, not a single clap heard.
And as they filed out, some bewildered, some mad,
They all had the feeling somehow they'd been had.

While seemingly everyone thought it was frightful,
One post-modern critic thought it was delightful!
In spite of the curve balls the blackout and quake threw,
The music he hailed as an avant-garde breakthrough.

"A new work of genius!" he dared to proclaim.
"This opus puts Shoenberg and Bartok to shame."
The rest of the music establishment followed,
So naturally it's what the dilettantes swallowed.

The maestro, whose ego was now so inflated,
Suppressed the real story, and shamelessly stated,
"At last I've achieved my life's greatest ambition
By writing a radically new composition."

Like kings with no clothes, no one dared to deny it.
A world full of lemmings was eager to buy it.
The music was lauded, became all the rage,
And that is the story of Maestro John Cage.

Who's Going To Do It?

March 26, 2020

Theresa May
George Will
Immanuel Kant

Musical Archeology
Give It Back To The Indians by Rodgers and Hart
March 21, 2020
Old Peter Minuit had nothing to lose
When he bought the isle of Manhattan
For twenty-six dollars and a bottle of booze
And they threw in the Bronx and Staten
Pete thought that he had the best of the bargain
But the old red man just grinned
And he grunted ‘Ugh’ meaning okay in his jargon
For he knew poor Pete was skinned.
We’ve tried to run the city
But the city ran away
And now Peter Minuit
We can’t continue it...

Broadway’s turning into Coney
Champagne Charlie’s drinking gin
Old New York is new and phony
Give it back to the Indians.

Two cents more to smoke a Lucky
Dodging buses keeps you thin
Now New York is simply ducky
Give it back to the Indians.

Take all the Reds on the boxes made for soap
Whites on Fifth Avenue
Blues down in Wall Street losing hope
Big bargain today...Chief take it away!

Come you busted city slickers
Better take it on the chin
Father Nick has lost his knickers
Give it back to the Indians.

Above is the one and only lyric written by Lorenz Hart that contains an egregious misrhyme. Actually, a series of misrhymes: gin, thin, chin is rhymed with Indians. (Correct would be gins, thins, chins.) This has always struck me as not just aberrant, but downright impossible. Hart, the cleverest and purest rhymer of all the great lyricists, was utterly incapable of committing this amateurish blunder.

It was a mystery, but I believe I have solved it. The solution lies in the lyric itself. The misrhymes are easy to account for: Hart simply never wrote them. What he wrote was give it back to the Indian. Singular. Poof, the misrhymes are gone. Where’s the evidence for this? It’s mostly in the verse. Note who Peter Minuit was negotiating with: the old red man just grinned, he grunted “Ugh!,” he knew poor Pete was skinned. Pete was dealing with just one Indian. Singular. And the smoking gun? The bridge: Big bargain today... Chief take it away! In other words, give it back to the Indian. Who changed it? Who knows? I'm guessing it was the publisher, Harms Music, to accord with the cliché already in the public mind. In any case, whoever did it left a blot on Hart's canon that has lasted for 81 years. I believe this unblots it.

Elegy on the Death of a Word

March 17, 2020

We gather in this somber room
To pay our solemn last respects
And praise with eulogistic texts
The late lamented ‘whom.’

Among the terms a person chooses
Or, as far as we have heard
‘Whom’ is the one four-letter word
That person never uses.

Although it pains us all to learn
And leaves grammarians bereft
Aside from them, there’s no one left
To who it may concern.

Rumination On People Who Use "it's" As A Possessive
Not by Ogden Nash
March 5, 2020

The thing they do with an apostrophe
Is a catostrophe.

The Lonesome Death of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Bob Dylan, for God's sake!
October 13, 2016

The times they surely have a-changed
The Nobel lit prize is deranged.
And though it may be sad o’ me
To say it, the Academy
Awarded to a man, this time,
Who thinks that ‘home’ and ‘unknown’ rhyme.
Or likewise words like ‘sand’ and ‘man’,
(In Swedish, though, perhaps they can).
If we could hear Herr Nobel's voice
He'd say regarding this year's choice
"You couldn't find a dimmer man
Than Robert Allen Zimmerman.
It’s outrageous, so I’m gonna
Take back every single krona.
And what’s more, without a pang
I’ll dynamite the whole shebang.”

Words I Live By
September 9, 1972

Procrastination is a writer's worst... [more later]

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