Trump and the GOP cast a big, dark shadow over my 2018. Nothing really matters when our government is run by traitors, crooks, and their enablers.
But I refuse to have my micro-life destroyed. On a personal level, I had a great 2018.
And 2019 will be even better. With another grandson on the way (late April) and another novel – WHEN I GOT OUT – to be published on September 10, it’s almost guaranteed to be a terrific year for me.
All I need is a little Impeachment and a few more indictments to make 2019 a really great year.
But here is what floated my boat in 2018:
BEST EVENT: THE MIDTERM ELECTION
I know that I’m not the only American who is obsessed with the dire state of our government and our nation. So I was happy with the results on November 6th. There were some tough losses – Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Gillum, Stacy Abrams – but the big Blue Wave started to roll.
Despite gerrymandering, voter suppression, outright election theft, legislative power grabs, and a huge advantage in money, thanks to the greed of a few dozen super-rich families, the trend is working inevitably against the GOP.
The key result was:
Democrats: 59,525,244 (53.2% of total popular vote)
Republicans: 50,516,570 (45.1%)
The GOP’s 40-seat loss was the third-largest change of seats in the post-Watergate era -- eclipsed only by the 54 seats the GOP gained in 1994 and the 63 they won in 2010.
The Blue Wave in November was just the beginning of change, I hope. This country can be turned around, and midterm election was a good first step in that direction. And after Mueller releases his report and the Democrats start to uncover more corruption, malfeasance, and treason, who knows what can happen?
Nothing else really matters.
BEST POP CONCERT: THE SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO REUNION CONCERT
The best pop concert I saw this year was the Sweetheart of the Rodeo Reunion concert. According what I read in reviews and on social media, this tour has been spreading joy all across the country since the first show in Los Angeles. Chris Hillman said it’s the most fun he’s had in forty years, and I can believe him. The concert is a pure love-fest with great songs and brilliant musicianship.
The only change they’ve made in the setlist is to substitute Tom Petty’s “King of the Hill” for his “American Girl.” Otherwise, they’ve kept to the script, told a good story, and let the music dominate.
Here’s what I wrote about the show we saw in July:
Just when we got back from vacation, we went to one of the happiest, most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in a long time. It was a concert celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the release of the Byrds’ SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO album with Byrds’ co-founders Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman backed by Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives at the Ace Hotel here in Los Angeles.
For many people, myself included, SWEETHEART was an important album. There might have been other “country rock” albums before, but this was the one that made it OK for rockers to listen to country music, use it, and embrace it. (And it was the world’s first wide exposure to the soulful brilliance of Gram Parsons.) I always had an ear for country music. Early on, I spent hours with a few Merle Haggard albums and a yellow “Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits” on my turntable. There was something basic about country music that I’ve always loved. Harlan Howard’s phrase “three chords and the truth” just about nails it.
Except for the Beatles, the Byrds were my favorite group. I saw them five times: once at the Fillmore East (opening acts: Tim Buckley and the Foundations), twice at Carnegie Hall (opening acts: the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Holy Modal Rounders, and then Redbone), once at the Capitol Theatre in Portchester, NY (opening act: Mother Earth with the fabulous Tracy Nelson), and once in Central Park (opening act: Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, with special guest King Curtis, two weeks before he was killed, knifed by a drug dealer in a fight outside his apartment building after the dealer refused to move from the entrance when Curtis was trying to carry an air conditioner inside.)
All were memorable shows. By the time I saw that first Fillmore East show, original members David Crosby and Gene Clark were gone. Gram Parsons played piano in the background. The last four shows were the Roger McGuinn-Plus-Some-Other-Guys Byrds. Fortunately, one of those other guys was Clarence White, one of the slickest, most talented guitarists ever, so the band was good and still had some relevance. And McGuinn was always the essential sound of the Byrds anyway: his reedy voice and his 12-string Rickenbacker.
The country rock sound that the Byrds pioneered – “The Byrds invented it; the Flying Burrito Brothers perfected it; and the Eagles cashed in on it.” (Chris Hillman) – formed the basis for much of the music I listened to in the decades after SWEETHEART, and even today. Emmylou Harris, the Jayhawks, Steve Earle, the Mavericks, Lucinda Willliams, etc., etc.
The concert was pure joy, a love fest, really. It was the first official show of the tour (they had done a tune-up show in Nashville) and the outpouring of emotion from the audience was undeniable. Everyone in that hall had listened to this music for a long, long time, and to hear it again – played so well!! – was thrilling. When the band played the refrain of the very first song, Dylan’s “My Back Pages” – “Ah, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now,” we knew that we were in good hands. McGuinn sounded like McGuinn, even if his voice weakened toward the end of the evening, Hillman’s tenor was strong, and Marty Stuart’s band was the perfect choice to back them up.
Toward the end, Mike Campbell, Tom Petty’s guitarist, came onstage, and the show turned into a mini-Tom Petty tribute, almost hijacking the proceedings. But it made a kind of roundabout sense: the Heartbreakers were obviously influenced by the Byrds (“American Girl” always sounded like a Byrds’ outtake), and Tom Petty produced Chris Hillman’s most recent record. I was OK with it; any chance to see Mike Campbell play guitar is not to be missed.
Here’s the setlist –
-- My Back Pages
-- A Satisfied Mind
-- Mr. Spaceman
-- Time Between
-- Old John Robertson
-- Wasn’t Born To Follow
-- Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man
-- Mr. Tambourine Man
“SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO” SET
-- Country Boy Rock ‘N Roll
-- Time Don’t Wait
-- You Ain’t Going Nowhere
-- Pretty Boy Floyd
-- Hickory Wind
-- Life In Prison
-- One Hundred Years From Now
-- Nothing Was Delivered
-- Blue Canadian Rockies
-- The Christian Life
-- You’re Still On My Mind
-- You Don’t Miss Your Water
-- I Am A Pilgrim
-- You Ain’t Going Nowhere (again, as a sing-along)
-- So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
-- American Girl
-- Runnin’ Down A Dream
-- Turn! Turn! Turn!
It was a truly wonderful -- and for those of us who grew up on the Byrds -- satisfying show. The TG liked it. My very good friends liked it, especially my very good friend with whom I saw four out of five of those Byrds shows, almost fifty years ago.
I even bought the T-shirt.
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – from the LA show we saw on July 24th – nice mezzanine shot
“You Don’t Miss Your Water” – from the Mountain Winery a few nights later
“My Back Pages” – from the second night in LA
BEST THEATRE: THE BAND’S VISIT
We saw some very good things this year, including my great good friend ALAN BLUMENFELD’s Ovation-Award-nominated performance in THE CHOSEN at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. He was right up there with --
THE BAND’S VISIT at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
We saw this in March, and it’s stayed with me, the way that all good theatre does. I wish we had seen it with Tony Shaloub, but Katrina Lenk’s performance is the one that will be Broadway legend. She was spectacular. (I did, however, read some complaints about her accent: that it was more Greek-sounding than Israeli. This was from Israelis.)
No matter: everyone should see this show. It won 10 Tonys, too.
The show’s website --
Here’s what I said:
“Once, not very long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”
I’ve been seeing musicals my whole life—since THE MUSIC MAN in 1959--but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical quite like THE BAND’S VISIT. Though it’s filled with music, it has the attitude and impact of a straight play. The show’s premise is simple: a mix-up sends a police band of Egyptian musicians to a remote Israeli town. When the locals take them in for the night, lives converge.
I loved this show. It’s going to win quite a few Tony Awards next month, and it will have a long, long life, if not on Broadway, in community, regional, and college theatres all over the world, forever. (The physical requirements of the show—14 actors plus musicians, no huge technical demands—will make it, for a full musical, comparatively easy to stage, once the musicians are found. Getting it right might be a different matter.)
I loved this show—with one big reservation. The two main roles are Dina, the owner of the one café in the isolated Israeli town, and Tewfig, the leader of the band of Egyptian musicians. I saw the spectacular Katrina Lenk as Dina, but by the time I saw the show, the original Tewfig, the wonderful Tony Shaloub, was gone, replaced by Dariush Kashani. Mr. Kashani was fine, but I can only imagine how much better the show would have been with Shaloub. (Check out a few clips below, and you can see the electricity between Lenk and Shaloub. Kashani played the part was more like her uncle, not a potential lover.)
I don’t know if Katrina Lenk will be a permanent Broadway star, but I suspect that she will. In any case, she is a star in this show, for sure and certain. How sexy and insinuating was her performance? The Tiny Goddess compared her to Marlene Dietrich. She’ll win the Tony and more. Check out her masterful reinterpretation of “If I Were A Rich Man” from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, complete with fiddle. This is a woman of Major Talents.
Major kudos go to composer-lyricist David Yazbek and book writer Itmar Moses; they will have a nice income from this show for a good, long time. I’ve admired director David Kromer’s work for a while, and his hand is steady and true in this show. There’s not a false note, the entire night.
I talked to a guy who saw the show with Tony Shaloub; he said that his scenes with Katrina Lenk were sensational. I bet. Meanwhile, the show is worth seeing anyway. Just for the amazing Ms. Lenk. Hers is a performance which will settle comfortably into Broadway legend.
“WELCOME TO NOWHERE” – from THE BAND’S VISIT – an excerpt
Clips from THE BAND’S VISIT
Tony Shaloub and Katrina Lenk – on THE BAND’S VISIT
Behind the scenes of the commercial shoot for THE BAND’S VISIT
“Answer Me,” the show’s hit song
Broadway Life – visits Katrina Lenk
Katrina Lenk sings “Omar Sharif,” a beautiful song from the show – out of context here in a TV studio, but you’ll get the sense of her performance
An insightful panel discussion with THE BAND’S VISIT creators – David Yazbek (music and lyrics), David Cromer (director), and Itamar Moses (book), and Katrina Lenk (star)
THE BAND’S VISIT – the band plays outside in front of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre after a performance – dig the killer conga player
THE BAND’S VISIT – a full hour performance and discussion at Google
THE BAND’S VISIT – The Leonard Lopate Show – lots of info
The brilliant Katrina Lenk puts her spin on “If I Were A Rich Man” from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF – a super-talent at work
BEST MUSEUM: THE HERMITAGE, THE RIJKSMUSEUM, and THE VAN GOGH MUSEUM (three-way tie)
Unquestionably, one of the highlights of my year was the cruise of Baltics that the TG and I took during the summer. High among the pleasures of the cruise were our visits to these three great museums. It was a thrill to see so many great works of art, paintings I’d seen in books all my life – right there in front of me.
There are 8,760 hours in the year 2018, and we spent perhaps three hours in the Rijskmuseum, two hours in the Van Gogh Museum, and five hours in the Hermitage. It wasn’t that much time according to the clock, but those ten hours – and all the things we saw – will remain fresh in my mind for the rest of my life.
Museums hours offer concentrated joy, perhaps like nothing else in the world.
Here’s some of what I blogged before:
[on the Rijksmuseum]
Besides the major Pantheon Three – Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh – there are Hieronymus Bosch, both Bruegels, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp, Jacob Ruisdael, Hendrick Avercamp, Dieric Bouts, and dozens of other first-class painters. Every time I go to a museum, I discover more wonderful Dutch artists. In the perfectly named Gallerie d’Honneur in the Rijksmuseum, I got a megadose of their genius.
The focal point of the Gallerie d’Honneur is Rembrandt’s magnificent “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq,” commonly known as the ‘Night Watch.’ As with most wildly famous paintings, you never really understand them until you are in their presence. First of all, the “Night Watch” is huge: 11′ 11″ x 14′ 4.″ Standing in front of it, I could see details – the fired musket, the dangling chicken – that I never appreciated before. Forgetting about the size, the “Night Watch” is a remarkably exciting painting. I was scanning through the photos on my computer for my son with my grandson Calder seated in my lap, and when “Night Watch” came on the screen, Calder exclaimed, “Wow!” I can’t think of any sharper art criticism than that.
[on The Van Gogh Museum]
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was one of the true highlights of the trip. I studied Vincent van Gogh and wrote a big paper (“a contract!”) on him in a modern art class I took at Sarah Lawrence with the estimable Carol Duncan. I thought that I knew something about van Gogh – I read many of his letters to Theo and studied the big critics from back then: John Rewald, Meyer Schapiro, etc. -- but this visit opened my eyes fully to van Gogh’s incredible achievement and the reasons for it and his worldwide acclaim.
In a vacation filled with thrilling museum moments, my lingering time in front of “Sunflowers,” “Vincent’s Bedroom,” and “Wheat Field With Crows” was perhaps unequaled.
Fortunately, a lot of this magnificence is online. In person is better, but these sites are better than nothing.
The Hermitage site – slow but searchable – one of the world’s great museums, really – like the Met and MOMA combined
The Malachite Room in the Hermitage
All of Van Gogh’s oil paintings – all 862!
Paintings from the Van Gogh Museum
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Johannes Vermeer
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Vincent van Gogh
BEST CLASSICAL CONCERT: LABEQUE SISTERS PLAYING, BYCHKOV CONDUCTING
It’s a good time to be a fan of classical music in Los Angeles. We have the conductor (Dudamel), the orchestra, and two spectacular venues: the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. The TG and I have been subscribing to a series for more than ten years, not long after the Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003.
I love our seats in the front of the Front Terrace. The classy cafeteria food downstairs from the Patina Restaurant Group, Joachim Splichal’s Pinot empire, is good enough. The lectures are good-to-great. Recently, we saw greatest-living-American-composer Steve Reich talk about his newest work. There is so much I don’t know about classical music. The parking is efficient, and we’re home in twenty minutes. It’s almost a guaranteed good time.
From the concerts we saw this year, I think my favorite was with the Labeque sisters, Katia and Marielle, playing pianos, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, Marielle’s husband. They have all played together frequently (the French sisters since childhood, obviously), and the music-making was integrated and nuanced. We’d seen Bychkov conduct before – he’s one of the regular guest conductors we get when the Dude isn’t on the podium – but we’d never seen the sisters who have been classical music stars since the 1980s. It’s easy to see why they are stars: there is something extra wonderful about watching siblings work together across two Steinways. The program was Ravel, Max Bruch (new to me), and Tchaikovsky.
After seeing this show and writing the blog, I spent a lot of time listening to the Labeque sisters on my music stream (Deezer) – especially the “Rhapsody In Blue” (in both an arrangement for two pianos and with full orchestra) -- and watching their sensational “West Side Story” performance on YouTube (see below).
Here’s what I wrote at the time.
We’ve been seeing some very good live music: the two French piano-playing sisters KATIA AND MARIELLE LABEQUE, doing Ravel and a wonderful concerto for two pianos by Max Bruch, a composer whose works I have neglected. Which led me to his wonderful Violin Concerto.
The Labeque sisters play some of Ravel’s “Mother Goose” suite – just how our concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall started – charming!
The Labeque sisters play a WEST SIDE STORY suite (with two percussionists) – stupendous arrangement!
The Labeque sisters’ million-selling version of RHAPSODY IN BLUE
AND BEST COVER SONG OF THE YEAR --
The Gibson Brothers – cover R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”