Weekend Film Recommendation: The Music Man

The Music Man is a joyous, funny and romantic musical that has been lifting hearts for decades. Iowa native Meredith Willson laboured for years to fashion the tale of a fast-talking huckster who comes to fleece the small town rubes of River City and finds more than he bargained for, including romance with the lovely local librarian. The role of the would-be con man, Professor Harold Hill, made Robert Preston a huge Broadway star. Cary Grant saw the play many times, and was asked to essay the part of Hill in the 1962 movie adaptation. He allegedly responded “Not only will I not accept the role, but if you don’t get Preston to do it I will not even watch the movie”.

Since at least the time of Clara Bow, Hollywood casting directors have debated whether particular actors have “it”. Well, whatever “it” is, Preston’s got “it” in abundance. Hill is not a nice person. He wants to mulct the town into investing in a boys’ band it doesn’t need and he hopes to seduce and abandon the goodly Marian the Librarian along the way. But the second Preston comes on screen, everyone is cheering for him to pull it off. He is not, truth be told, a great singer at the level of Gordon MacRae, but he is a great actor and an irresistible charmer on screen.

If asked to think of a fresh-faced musical film actress with great pipes and screen appeal, most Americans of a certain generation would come up with Julie Andrews, perhaps remembering Shirley Jones only as the mom on a TV show that their kids watched. But Jones, who plays Marian, was a very big star in her day, and deservedly so. And she wasn’t just effective at playing wholesome All-American innocents as in this film and Oklahoma!: She after all won an Oscar for playing a vengeful prostitute in Elmer Gantry. Of the principals of the Music Man, she is far and away the best singer, and she also conveys warmth, fire and depth as Marian, the unmarried small town lass with a much-gossiped about past.

Preston and Jones are the hubs of the show stopping numbers, including “Ya Got Trouble” and “76 Trombones”. Except for Shipoopi, with singing and dancing by Buddy Hackett (Ack! – but at least he makes a good comic sidekick for Preston), there isn’t a less than good song in the film, and the music grows on you with repeated listenings.

It is worth mentioning also, given that so many child stars came to bad ends, that little Ronny Howard has a nice part in the film. He went on as we all know to become one of the great movie directors of his generation, which based on the little singing he does here was a wise decision.

Some NYC and LA-based film critics have read this film as a condemnation of the ignorance and small-mindedness of Iowans, which to me seems like coastal snobby not borne out by facts. Yes, the people in the town are sometimes petty and are easily taken in by the conniving Professor Hill, but Wilson also shows us that River City is a place of simple decency, youthful idealism and of course honest, redeeming love in the person of Marian. The movie thus stands as one of the three best statements of everything that is good about Iowa (The other two of course being Field of Dreams and the nearly all-white 2008 democratic caucus nominating Barack Obama).

Here is one of the lesser known but still marvelous numbers from the movie, showing off Preston’s smooth con artist ways and the mellifluous voices of the Buffalo Bills:

Pub Quiz Fun

At a recent pub quiz night at the Phoenix in Denmark Hill, our team was triumphant, but tripped up slightly on one of the questions.

Give this trivia question a shot. You are on your honour not to Google.

The question was “Five people have had #1 Billboard U.S. hit singles and also won an Oscar for acting. Name three of them.”

I am sure there are at least six correct answers and may even be seven. Answer after the jump. Continue reading “Pub Quiz Fun”

‘Til There Was Rock You Only Had God

Like a myriad of prior college students, when my friends and I first came to London we took pictures of ourselves standing in the phone booth that David Bowie made famous (We also did the obligatory “walking across the Abbey Road” photo. We were one person short but it didn’t matter; we just chose our John Lennon from the many obliging tourists waiting to stage their own photos). This week others came to honour the legendary red phone booth and the sacred spot under the “K. West” sign.

If the diversity of London’s magic can be captured by the citation of a single pub quiz-worthy fact, it might be that only two fictional characters are memorialized here by English Heritage blue plaques: Sherlock Holmes and Ziggy Stardust. Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp tells the tale of the iconic album cover that introduced the world to Ziggy.

One of the treats of the 30th anniversary edition of the classic album is this previously little known acoustic track of the title song, sung by Bowie with just the right touch of rawness in his voice. Enjoy.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Impromptu

Artistic stars of 1830s Paris are brought vividly to life in the high-spirited and entertaining 1991 film Impromptu. Directed by Tony-winning Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, the film stars Judy Davis in a bravura performance as George Sand. She spends the film avoiding prior lovers (including Mandy Pantinkin as Alfred de Musset) and chasing a new one, Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant, in the sort of gentle and innocent performance that he could credibly give before we all came to know more about him). Liszt (Julian Sands) and Delacroix (Ralph Brown) are also on hand for the frolic, most of which takes place at a French country home presided over by a culture-starved and rather daffy Duchess (Emma Thompson, who is very funny).

If you are one of those film goers who laments the lack of strong, intelligent woman characters in most Hollywood productions, you will find Judy Davis’ performance particularly enjoyable. The screen writer, Sarah Kernochan, is justly known for creating multi-faceted female characters. She and Davis give the audience a George Sand who is complicated, passionate, endearing and also at times maddening. (Not incidentally, in the art imitates life department, Sand here is a brilliant woman absolutely intoxicated by a man’s musical ability, and Kernochan is married to Lapine).

Partly a fictionalized look at high culture and fame and partly a romantic romp, this movie includes not a dull or unappealing moment. The wonderful music and art direction add further pleasure to Impromptu, making it a complete and satisfying piece of cinema.


No, I didn’t watch.  But I discovered that the powers that be eliminated a whole bunch of categories.  There are now 20 award categories in Pop, Dance, Rock, R&B, and Rap, a quarter of the total.  Jazz has four, down from 11; Latin went from 16 to four; classical 15 to seven.   The Latin four are Pop,Rock or Urban; Regional Mexican or Tejano, Banda or Norteño, and something called “Tropical” which apparently covers Brazil, Cuba and everything else: one winner for half a hemisphere that’s produced a completely disproportionate share of the best music in the world, and more really different kinds of same as those 20 commercial American categories.  Chucho Valdès has to go up against Nina Becker? Come on! No, there’s no Latin jazz slot.

It is completely ridiculous, art appreciation by deaf people looking in a cash register and, I believe, a symptom of the general collapse of a functioning market for music in a digital age.



WTF (music)

Rolling Stone has a list titled “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.  Not “…of the specific time and style of music my little world encompasses,” and “…where great means “even I sort of understand it, it’s got a good beat, nice to dance to”: greatest  of all time.  It is the kind of list made by an intellectually and artistically incurious hack who thinks music was invented just when he started listening to a single kind of it and never left, and of course such people have every right to make lists.  The mystery is why RS, which has some pretensions to deserving the attention of paying customers and serious people, would publish it.

The list is sort of interesting because of its wilful artistic tunnel vision and ignorance, and because there seem to be no women on it. But it’s most interesting because it wasn’t made by an overworked inkstained wretch in a cubicle under deadline, but by a long list of guitarists.  I have a lot better idea what’s wrong with popular music today: it’s because the musicians seem to be living in a sealed bubble listening only to people who (from any reasonable perspective) whose collective style and vision runs the gamut all the way from do to, um, re flat? It’s highly cautionary about, for example, academic league tables of economists made up by economists and maybe about peer review of scholarship the way we do it.

I didn’t go through the whole thing, because I got to 20 before I hit Les Paul and 21 before I got to Chet Atkins.  30 is Elmore James, for Pete’s Sake, and I bailed out because by then we still have not hit any of (in no particular order, and off the top of my head, and I am not a musicologist):

Andres Segovia, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Luiz Bonfà, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Mauro Giuliani, Niccolò Paganini, Rafael Rabello, Kenny Burrell, Charlie Byrd, Marco Pereira, Wes Montgomery, Carlos Paredes, Dino 7 Cordas, Narciso Yepes, Merle Travis, Christopher Parkening…

No women in my list either, blush. Here’s a page of women rock guitarists [link corrected 13/I/12], in partial penance.  There’s definitely something wrong with all these lists being so relentlessly male.

Comments are of course open to folks who want to hip the rest of us to your overlooked favorites, and since I have Paredes on my list (guitarra portuguesa) I’ll even broaden the scope to charango, très Cubano, ukulele, and cavaquinho. But no banjo, oud, lute, balalaika or mandolin; those are for another post on another day.

They Tripped Through Its Wires

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “The Joshua Tree”?

I’m just back from a week at Joshua Tree National Park.  I was enormously fortunate to attend a fabulous Jewish Wilderness Spirituality program of Torah Trek, the brainchild of Rabbi Mike Comins.  Comins’ book, A Wild Faith, is the fundamental starting point for examining the connection between religion and wilderness. If you are interested at all in the relationship between nature and spirituality, Torah Trek does it better than  anyone.  Highly recommended!

One strange thing jumped out at me, though, when looking at the National Park Service materials.  For the last year, the Park has celebrated its 75th anniversary: President Franklin Roosevelt created the Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936, and thanks to the efforts of Senator Dianne Feinstein, it became a full-fledged national park under the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.  So of course the Park Service, and the Joshua Tree National Park Association, produced some excellent short histories of the park and the natural history of desert wildlife.

But one thing was missing from every single document: U2, the band that brought The Joshua Tree to national consciousness.  Not in the history of the park.  Not in the descriptions of the park.  Nowhere in any of the materials.  There was even a guitar raffle – and nothing about the Irish rockers.

It’s hard to argue that the band’s album meant nothing to the status of the area. The Joshua Tree  came out in 1987, stayed for nine weeks at #1 and for 35 weeks in the Billboard Top 10.  It eventually went triple-platinum, and U2 appeared on the cover of Time magazine — only the fourth band ever to do so.  Preservationists had fought for decades to upgrade the Monument to a National Park, to no avail.  Seven years after U2, it happened.

So what gives?  How could the National Park Service write a history of a park and ignore the most important cultural event in the park’s history?

It could be simple incompetence.  But perhaps there is some bad blood here.  It should be mentioned that although U2′s members have been quite philanthropic, and Bono has done terrific work on international poverty and global debt relief, it seems as if they have had little use for the park or the area since the album came out.  As far as I know, the band members have never returned, or even mentioned the place.  The Joshua Tree was never really a living thing in the album: it was just a metaphor for spiritual desolation — a metaphor that distorts the vibrancy of the real California desert.

This past week, Rabbi Comins taught us something that will always stay with me: give back to nature what you take from it.  It provides us with sustenance, and we have no right not to repay it.  U2′s members, for all their good work (and better music), may have forgotten this (and in the case of guitarist The Edge, may be guilty of despoiling other natural wonders).  If Joshua Tree really is God’s Country, then The Holy One does not figure to be pleased.

One Book, Three Challenges

Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits
by Lesley Rosenthal
(John Wiley & Sons 2012)

As I embarked on writing Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits, well-meaning and concerned folks cited at least three reasons why no one had written such a book before, and (implicitly) why I shouldn’t try: it’s too dangerous, too hard, too scary.

The “too-dangerous” crowd, personified by some of the most successful leaders of nonprofit turnarounds on several continents, worried that legal information in non-lawyers’ hands would result in the unlicensed practice of law by a bunch of irresponsible, budget-strapped do-it-yourself nonprofiteers. Who knows what kinds of mission mischief non-lawyers would make with their newfound knowledge – the legal equivalent of sewing your own sutures! Fortunately my own boss, the President of Lincoln Center, and several of my other mentors before him, including a former Bar Association president and a federal judge, helped forge my conviction that the law belongs to the people. They encouraged my desire to put it into plain English for all to know.

The “too-hard” folks, also well meaning, recognized the enormous variety of laws that commonly arise in nonprofits and thought it impossible to provide a general overview in one volume. I know what they meant: the tangle of specialized state and federal laws that make our sector one of the most highly regulated in the whole economy, such as state nonprofit corporations laws, Section 501(c) of the internal revenue code, IRS rules, regulations and expectations surrounding the tax exemption and good governance, multi-level filing and disclosure requirements, pension, endowment and investment laws, lobbying restrictions, and a web of 50 different states’ fundraising laws. Many fine books have been written on each of these subjects, but rare is the legal resource that touches upon them all. Then, the skeptics continued, there are also general business laws that apply to these organizations – contract law, labor and employment laws, intellectual property laws, consumer regulatory laws, real estate laws, building codes and more. And business laws apply to the nonprofit sector in weird ways not necessarily intended by lawmakers, forcing volunteer-driven organizations, for example, to think long and hard about how to structure their activities to comply with minimum wage and hours laws. Pile on top of all of those layers the additional specialized laws that apply to the wide world of nonprofits, such as FDA regs for blood banks, student privacy laws for higher ed, permitting and accreditation for hospitals and mental health facilities and so on, and the whole enterprise of writing a book about the legal context of nonprofits threatens to die under its own weight.

The “too-scary” people are the most sympathetic people of all. They are the good-hearted lawyers who are already serving as counsel, as board members – or as both simultaneously – to nonprofit organizations. Their values may line up perfectly with the mission of the organization they serve – an elder care lawyer, for example, serving on the board of a community-based senior center, a real estate lawyer counseling a neighborhood development organization, a sports and entertainment lawyer doing board duty on her town’s local Little League or scout troop – but their legal expertise may be far afield of the legal issues facing the organization. It scares them to no end when a legal question arises in the boardroom and all eyes turn toward them. UBIT – what’s that? Conflict of interest policy pertaining to co-investment interests? Ugh. Section 501(h) election for lobbying activities? Isn’t this meeting almost over? They could have just begged off answering these questions – that’s not my area of law, you see, you wouldn’t ask a dermatologist about your chest pains, would you? – if only Good Counsel didn’t exist to connect the dots between the law they do know and the law they need to know to better serve their favorite charity.

Good Counsel is intended – charitably – to defy all three objections. In 300 pages it places the law of nonprofits in the hands of board members that oversee and executives that actually run the organizations – CEOs, CFOs, program managers and staff, fundraisers, personnel directors, communications professionals, operations and facilities managers and more. Does it answer every question? No. Does it sensitize non-lawyers to common legal issues in the highly regulated context in which they operate? I sure hope so.

Lawyers who make their living practicing in this field needn’t worry that this one volume will displace them; to the contrary, placed in the right hands, the book will generate more sophisticated questions and ultimately more and better client relationships. Corporate and transactional lawyers who have not yet found an outlet for their volunteer yearnings – because it seems that most pro bono projects are more aligned with the skills of litigators, not business lawyers – may feel empowered to see how readily they can translate what they know to the legal needs of prospective nonprofit corporate clients.

Law school deans concerned about the criticism being leveled at the entire enterprise of legal education may find a path forward in Good Counsel. With case studies, work plans and focus questions following each chapter, the book lays out a path for law students supervised by clinical professors to engage with a particular nonprofit organization and assess its legal needs – growing the students’ legal skills and stretching their capacities as counselors in ways that will serve them well even if they do end up in private practice after graduation, as most do.

And the legal profession, which despite the canon of lawyer jokes is as public-spirited as any I know, may find that Good Counsel can be used to foster and strengthen more pro bono relationships between lawyers and organizations. There is a great deal of goodwill for nonprofit organizations among public-spirited lawyers. I know, because I have been both a purveyor and voracious consumer of pro bono legal services, that there is more time and willingness to serve among the legal profession than has been fully tapped to date. A pilot program of the New York State Bar Association and the New York Attorney General’s Office Charities Bureau has adopted Good Counsel as a training resource for that very purpose: to help launch up to 50 new pro bono relationships between lawyers and charities in the initial pilot year of a program called Charity Corps: Lawyers Helping Nonprofits.

Far too many of our nation’s one million public charities lack regular access to counsel. At the same time, good-hearted lawyers are floundering in their efforts to help their favorite nonprofits, or are afraid to try because they think the field is so distant from subject matter they know. Law students graduate in debt up to their ears but lacking the practical skills they need to begin servicing clients after law school. Good Counsel is a playbook, intended for all three audiences.

And while I admit it was a little hard, scary and dangerous, ultimately there were far more supporters than skeptics for this project. I invite readers – lawyers, nonprofit leaders, and academics – to take a look and let me know if it works.

Lesley Rosenthal


Schedule of upcoming Good Counsel events in NYC, LA, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, DC and Buffalo, NY available on www.facebook.com/GoodCounselBook or at the book’s website, www.goodcounselbook.com.

Available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1118084047/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Review copies for academics, media, upon request to tbatanchie@wiley.com

May Day Mayday

This semester I laid on a freshman seminar about Art and Despair, partly because I was already offering Arts and Cultural Policy,  partly because Cal had set up a program to encourage freshman seminars about art and promised Oakleys for any art event on campus.  And partly because at that point in the fall I was particularly uncertain about how to present policy analysis to my students with a straight face as something that could make a difference, or had any relevance, in a world where something aggressively mindless, ugly, and terrifying was slouching towards the ballot box to be born, and a corrosive slime was steadily leaking out of Fox and coating what we used to call public deliberation.

At that time a song popped into my head, which I was unable to put aside.  I hummed it, played on the piano, and listened to it, for example here.  This had ambivalent results. On the one hand, I was further despondent reflecting on the loss occasioned by Wunderlich’s early death falling down a flight of stairs, then by all the other blighted and shortened young lives spent in war and lost by neglect.  But the song is a hymn, the content is neither sappy nor dishonest (Schubert, another life truncated by neglect, paid real dues), and my realist, skeptical intention not to fall for a cheap sentimental anodyne was overcome by the art. A world that has music is worth pushing a pretty big rock uphill for.

“Something is going on here”, I thought.  Continue reading “May Day Mayday”