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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HAL Is Waiting In The Wings

One of the things the year 2014 will bring is a tiny chip. It will be able to automate tasks that until now require painstaking programming. Thanks to that chip computers will be able to learn from their own mistakes and adjust to new information. This change in technology is based on the biological nervous system. The chip emulates the way neurons react to stimuli and exchange information with other neurons. We may safely assume that in a few years computers will be smarter than humans. Most probably they will try to create a perfectly effective world in which economic and social functionality has the highest priority. Sooner or later the combined force of the world's artificial intelligence will try to get rid of what prevents perfect function: Humans. Remember HAL in Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's no longer mere fiction. HAL is about to enter the scene.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Tracy Letts

In Shel Silverstein's great song A boy named Sue a father gives his son a girl's name to harden him against mockery and aggression. I don't know what Mr. Letts' parents intended by calling their boy Tracy, but I do know that the name of one the greatest living male dramatists is Tracy Letts. He is the author of August: Osage County, a play that won both a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. A film version, written by Letts himself, was just released. This amazing playwright has produced just five plays in 18 years, and although I only know the one mentioned, I am positive that he belongs to the same league as Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee. The 48-old actor and writer is a recovering alcoholic and former chain smoker who dropped out of college to go to Chicago where he became a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble and started to write for the company. We all will hear a lot of him in the upcoming years.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Great First Sentence

Franz Kafka opens his novel The Trial like this: "Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested." What a great first sentence!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Write A Great First Sentence!

Whatever you write, give the opening sentence a lot of consideration. The first sentence must attract and hold the reader's attention. It decides if he or she is willing to read on. By now there are lists of great opening sentences from famous novels on the internet, such as All-Time Favourite Opening Sentences. The undisputed number one on my personal list is the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude from Gabriel Garcia Márquez that goes like this: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice". That's as good as it gets.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Short Description Of Life By William Shakespeare

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
to the last syllable of recorded time;
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
signifying nothing.
"Macbeth"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bruno On Truth

It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.
Giordano Bruno


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Houdini, The Musical

The Hungarian entertainer Erik Weisz who became Harry Houdini, the world's most famous magician, is on the project list of many musical makers. Although Houdini was hardly the best illusionist of all, his unique talent for gimmickry and self-marketing made him so famous that almost 90 years after his death his name is still a brand. So it comes as no surprise that a new Houdini musical is in the making and already on its way to Broadway. The original creative team included Tony Award nominee and three-time  and my favorite scriptwriter, Aaron Sorkin, who was supposed to write the book. The producers announced that Hugh Jackman would play the title role. Sorkin departed the project in early 2013. He'll be replaced by David Ives who "rewrote" my Dance of the Vampires for Broadway 12 years ago. Hugh Jackman left the project last Monday. The musical that has shifted the timeline for its Broadway arrival several times has now been scheduled for a 2015-16 opening. The historic Houdini freed himself from chains, shackles and ropes, dangling from skyscrapers and submerged in water. I wish my friend Stephen that his project will be as triumphant in the end as its protagonist who always managed to escape.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Writer's Block? Huh?

Too many writers talk and act as if writing were a slow torture, a form of procreation without arousal and romance - all dilation and contraction, grunting and pushing. The writer's struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfillung prophecy, the best excuse for not writing.
Roy Peter Clark

Monday, December 23, 2013

Kindred Pen Mate

I’ve never written anything that I don’t wish I could get another chance at. “A Few Good Men” has been my white whale for 25 years. Just a few years ago, I did a new draft for a West End production. I’m older and more experienced now, and I could write it better.
Aaron Sorkin

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Leonardo Anuedo

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Night To Remember

Yesterday evening we went to the Blue Note in New York City's Village to see and hear Chris Botti perform. As everyone knows Botti is an incredibly versatile trumpet player whose melancholic sound keeps reminding me of the unforgettable Chet Baker. Chris fully justified his reputation. And what a fine group of musicians has he gathered - each of them a world class soloist. Among them pianist Andy Ezrin, arguably the best jazz keyboarder since Oscar Peterson, and guitarist Leonardo Anuedo whose prowess is simply awesome. You would think musicians of such a caliber must be arrogant. But no! Not puristic at all, they mix elements of pop, traditional and free jazz with classical and rock music. Good music is limitless. We left the Blue Note amazed, overjoyed and grateful.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Unanswered Question

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'
Sigmund Freud

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Psychology

As Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung sailed into New York harbor, a large group of admirers awaited them at the pier to greet the creators of modern psychologogy. Watching the cheering crowd from the ship's railing, Freud reputedly said to Jung: "Don't they know we are bringing them the plague?"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Correction

Gentleman: What you write about my sister and me is all nonsense. I'm not reading Blox, I don't even know what that is, I'm half-blind and have better things to do. My assistant, Emma Lazarus, found your stupid remarks on my late sister's relationship with me. It was all the other way round. Joan envied me all her life. All she achieved she owes to me. She always felt second class, and she was. That's why she played the part of "I" in Rebecca so well. She did not have to act "to be not good enough". And because she always looked at me with a suspicious mind, she did not have to act in Suspicion either. And why should I grudge her dying first? I'm the older one, and I survived her. No small achievement. Apart from all that we were loving sisters.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Perennial Feud

Once upon a time there were two ambitious sisters , named Olivia and Joan. They were British with royal blood. Their father was an attorney in Japan, and both were born in Tokyo. After their mother learned of the father’s affair with his Japanese maid, she whisked them to California. Still teenagers they decided to become movie stars. While Olivia, the older one, soon made a splash in earlie talkie Hollywood, Joan struggled in small roles. Over and over again she saw her older sister get the roles she had auditioned and hoped for. Despairing of ever making it, Joan curled up in bed to read a new best-seller called Rebecca and instantly saw herself in the put-upon heroine struggling against a powerful (if dead) rival. The next night she happened to find herself at a dinner party seated next to producer David O. Selznick. No writer had plotted this, it was sheer fate. She told Selznick how much she liked the novel, and he told her that he had just bought the rights and was preparing a screen version. Joan tested for the lead role but had little hope to get the part.  Again her sister also auditioned, and she was already an established star. Against all odds Joan made it this time.  Rebecca became her first big hit. She returned to director Alfred Hitchcock for another blockbuster hit movie, Suspicion, and was nominated for Best Actress. So was Olivia, for Hold Back the Dawn. Joan, only 24 then, took home the Oscar, becoming the youngest best-actress winner at the time. Olivia never forgave her.
Yesterday I learned that Joan Fontaine, one of the last remaining links to Hollywood’s golden age of the 1930s and ’40s, has died at age 96. She is survived by her sister, Olivia de Havilland. The sisterly feud never ended. “I married first," Joan purportedly said, "I won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!"

Monday, December 16, 2013

Making Mistakes


A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Only Nine More Days!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Book Of The Year

I'm not sure whether the rankings made at the year's end are always fair. Many just seem to state the well-known trends of fashion and public approval, some serve the image of the people who decide what's praise-worthy. I do agree, though, that The Sleepwalkers
 How Europe Went to War in 1914
 by Christopher Clark is one of the best books of 2013 as The New York Times declares this weekend. A good friend gave Clark's book to me a few weeks ago, and I devoured it in one go. It is well-written, profound and gives in a single volume a comprehensive survey of the events leading up to World War I. Christopher Clark shows that the participants stumbled like “sleepwalkers” into that tragedy. “The outbreak of war,” Clark writes, “is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse.”
I do realize that within three days this is the second book I praise. Blame it on the upcoming holidays when we all will have more than the usual time to read.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Talent Needs Change

“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent (which I cannot deny myself to be without being impious) will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Voltaire In Love

I just came across a wonderful book, Nancy Mitford's Voltaire in Love. First published in the 1960's it's almost a classic by now, but still very readable for someone interested in history, philosophy and gossip. It tells the unique love story of François-Marie Arouet, who himself as "Voltaire", and Emelie, Marquise du Châtelet. She was a married woman, eleven years younger than Voltaire, living the life of an upper class Parisian woman of society. Their affair was of course considered inappropriate, but they ignored the rules of acceptable conduct, went to the opera, dined at the most respectable inns, and even appeared together in the audience chamber of the King. Eventually they decided to live at the Chateau of Emilie's husband. Voltaire loaned the Marquis 40,000 francs at low interest to pay for the renovation and bought him a home in the country where he could hunt. Voltaire was a wealthy man; they wanted for nothing, and lived in luxury. He and Emilie collected a library of 21,000 books. Time was spent reading, analyzing, and discussing the work of many writers to determine what they believed was the truth on many subjects. The lovers obviously had similar values and supported each other's intellectual goals and achievements. Nevertheless they fought often and intensely. After Emilie's death in 1749, Voltaire wrote to a friend:"It is not a mistress I have lost but half of myself, a soul for which my soul seems to have been made."



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On Fame

"For, as Cicero says, even those who argue against fame still want the books they write against it to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising fame. Everything else is subject to barter: we will let our friends have our goods and our lives if need be; but a case of sharing of fame and making someone else the gift of our reputation is hardly to be found."
Michel de Montaigne

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A New Movie Version Of "Cats"?

Andrew Lloyd Webber has let the cat out of the bag: Cats – the second longest-running musical in Broadway history – could be about to get the silver-screen treatment. The composer told London's Daily Mail that Universal Pictures owned the screen rights to the project and talks were taking place about the possibility of a film as a result of the success of the screen version of Les Misérables, which grossed more than $450m worldwide. "Universal has now got Cats out of the drawer in which they locked it years ago when they bought the rights, and suddenly they're talking about a film," Lloyd Webber said. The stage production was filmed live and released on DVD in 2000, two years before it closed on its 21st anniversary in the West End.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Great Ratings, Bad Reviews

The live broadcast of Sound Of Music was a big success for NBC. As Maria they cast Carrie Underwood, a country singer who won the “American Idol” competition in 2005. That's probably why the musical drew a big, and surprisingly young, audience. Altogether it pulled in 18.47 viewers. Critics didn't like it, though. The Times' Alessandra Stanley wrote: "It was a live performance of a legendary musical that felt muted and a little sad." Carrie responded to the heavy criticism she received by branding the critics "mean people."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Favorite Mandela Quotation

Now that Nelson Mandela passed away newspapers around the world praise this extraordinary man. My favorite Mandela-quotation goes like this: "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." This sentence actually happens to summarize the theme of a show I am currently working on. If that should turn out as good as I hope it will I may dedicate it to Nelson Mandela.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

Amazing Alex Hepburn

In case you haven't heard of Alex Hepburn yet - listen to her right now! She's an amazing singer-songwriter talent.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Musical - Live On TV

Operas and rock concerts have had live broadcasts often before. The live telecast of a musical performance is a novum. Today Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical The Sound of Music will come to the screen in a new live television adaptation starring Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle. The three-hour event airs live at 8 pm Eastern time on NBC. The telecast is based on the original 1959 Broadway production of the show, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Six-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood stars as Maria and “True Blood” star Moyer as Capt. Georg von Trapp with Tony Award winners McDonald (Ragtime, Master Class) as Mother Abbess, Benanti (Gypsy, Women on the Verge) as Elsa Schrader and Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, "Smash") as Max Dettweiler.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Librettist's Challenge

A great show needs a great story, and a great story is much like a house of cards; each card has its exact place within the overall structure. Every card is essential to the stability of all of the others and, just like a well-told story, the result is a thing to marvel at, as long as each card is in its proper place. To build that perfect story, you must consider all of the elements, beginning with a premise that will provide a solid foundation for the characters, plot, and theme all woven together, seamlessly. structuring a show means to plan all of these elements developing a character arc. You build a solid foundation for your story by developing your premise and working with your protagonist's character arc. From there, you will build your outline, working with the three-act structure. Once your foundation is solid, you will focus on adding texture and balance to your story. It seems like an insurmountable task to weave all of the essential elements seamlessly, but the truth is that it isn't, if you properly develop and outline your story ahead of time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Choosing Your Guide

“In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.”
Heinrich Heine

Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Self-Promoter

“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.”
Gore Vidal

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Writer's Self-Promotion

In the late 80s I met Tom Wolfe during his promotional tour for his book Bonfire of the Vanities.  I was surprised to see him intensely engaged in self-promotion. Like a pop star he created an image of himself. Only now I discovered that he was copying a famous role model. The first writer to brand himself was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. As early as 1873 he had tried to trademark "Mark Twain", and in  1908 formally established the Mark Twain Company to promote his work and image. Starting in 1909 the company, rather than Twain himself, retained copyright to new works. Mark Twain cigars and Mark Twain whiskey were already on the market. From early on, Twain made sure that his image remained distinctive and unforgettable -  from the shaggy mustache, shock of white hair and ever present cigar to the white serge suits, worn year-round, that were his signature outfit. Twain had become iconic. Those invited to his 70th birthday celebration in 1905 were given foot-high plaster busts of Twain to lug home.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

If You're Inspired, Don't Ask

“Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak..surrender to them. Don't ask first whether it's permitted, or would please your teachers or father or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that.”
 Hermann Hesse

Friday, November 29, 2013

Santa's Bag

I just discovered a free app that  is a smart shopping list manager for iPhone with a Christmas twist. It's called Santa's Bag. It gives you space to put down all your gift ideas, sorted by the person who’ll be receiving the gifts and including sections for you to keep track of spending. You can enter photos of each person in your list, and keep track of which gifts you’ve bought and which are left to buy. The interface is slick and easy to use, and the ability to view your data as a list of gifts or by recipient could relieve some pressure during your actual shopping. You can even set a pass code so prying eyes can’t see what gifts you have planned. The downside is that the app is ad-supported and the ads may annoy you. Plus, while the countdown to Christmas display in hours, minutes and seconds is cute, it could stress you out as the holiday nears. For $3 you can upgrade to ditch the ads and get extra features like Dropbox backups and the ability to archive gifts from past years.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Michael Richards Is Back

There are a few comedians I am really fond of. Woody Allen of course, the late Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon are among them. Since the 90's when I became a fan of Seinfeld I added Michael Richards to that list. Playing the part of Cosmo Kramer Richards proved to be a first class entertainer and actor. He was banned from the screen in 2006 when a clip was placed on Youtube which showed him losing his temper and insulting a guest at a live show. After that he moved away from Los Angeles and didn’t seek work and casting directors did not come after him. He took up photography, did a lot of reading, a lot of writing and traveled a bit. It was not just the incident of 2006 that put him out of work. Because he was so identified with the Seinfeld show probably nobody knew what to do with him. Now the 62 year old comedian will come back to TV, again playing a sidekick to a comic entertainer. This time he’s a chauffeur to Kirstie Alley, playing a woman called Madison Banks. I'm glad he's back.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vertigo

“Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
Milan Kundera 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Six By Sondheim

James Lapine, who has frequently collaborated with Stephen Sondheim, notably on the musicals Sunday in the Park With George, Passion and Into the Woods, has directed a HBO documentary about my idol titled "Six by Sondheim". I had the pleasure of working with James on "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" in Berlin a dozen years ago. Executive producer of the film is the infamous former New York Times theatre critic and journalist Frank Rich. The documentary is supposed to be brimming with what seem like hundreds of different filmed interviews with Sondheim, dating from 1961 to the present day. Many are interviews Lapine didn't know existed and had never seen, some of them shot on British programs. Strung together, the many interviews are said to draw a consistent portrait of the artist over the years. Sondheim's ideas about his work seemingly formed early and rarely wavered. Neither did his willingness to openly discuss his artistic choices and process. I can't wait to watch the film. It will air Dec. 9, 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Songs Still Make Money

Spotify, which started in Sweden in 2008, is now available in more than 30 countries. The internet service that makes millions of songs available for streaming, by subscription or free with advertising, is eager to expand around the world, as the download market cools and competition for streaming music intensifies. Now the subscription music service, has completed a $250 million financing round that values the company at more than $4 billion. The investment comes from Technology Crossover Ventures, a firm whose media and technology investments have included Netflix, Facebook and Groupon. $ 4 billion is a lot of money. What's in it for the song writers who supply the contents of Spotify ? I'm afraid they altogether will get less than 0.0001 % of the profit.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Notebook's Got A Twin Brother

I carry my Moleskin reporter notebook wherever I go. Since I have an iPhone I can make notes digitally, and by using the Dragon app even verbally. But I don't want to give up the old habit of writing comments and ideas in my little black book. Now there is a handcrafted case for my new iPhone 5 on the market that make my digital companion look like a twin brother of my old time notebook. It's produced by Pad and Quill, a small company in Minneapolis. The leather covers are made in Mexico, and the wood is cut and finished in St. Paul, where the cases are then assembled in a bindery. The Little Pocket Book case costs $ 70. That's not cheap, but it is worth every penny. The phone rests in a cradle of Baltic birch, which is then wrapped in top-grain leather. The exterior is stitched and embossed and includes an elastic band that keeps the case closed. The front flap has three small interior pockets for cards and a larger one for bills. The case even has a ribbon that looks like a bookmark, completing the appearance of a notebook.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Keep Learning!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.
Mark Twain

Friday, November 22, 2013

What A Woman!

“As for my own part I care not for death, for all men are mortal; and though I be a woman yet I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am indeed endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat I were able to live in any place in Christendom.”
Elizabeth I 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lady Bess Cast

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Farewell, Syd!

Sad news. Last Sunday Syd Field, one of my revered teachers, passed away. He was often called the original guru of screenwriting. It is less known that he also inspired a lot of my drama musical dramaturgy. Syd was 77. He wrote eight best-selling books on screenwriting over the course of his career, including Screenplay, published in 1979, which is considered the screenwriter’s bible. He was the first writer to outline the three-act script paradigm followed not only by many TV and film writers today, but also by contemporary librettists like myself.
Born Dec. 19, 1935 in Hollywood, Field received a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. He spent much of his career writing for the orignal Biography TV Series and worked as a script consultant for 20th Century Fox, Disney, Universal and Tri-Star Pictures. He was inducted into the Final Draft Hall of Fame in 2006 and was the first inductee into the Screenwriting Hall of Fame of the American Screenwriting Association.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lady Bess

At a press conference in Tokyo today Lady Bess will be presented to the public. That's how Sylvester Levay and I call the brand new musical we created over the last three years. The picture shows a moment at London's Sphere Studios where we have recorded the main songs for demonstration. Lady Bess tells the story of the young Elizabeth Tudor (1533-1603) before she became the most famous Queen of England. When Bess was two years and eight months old, her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed. Bess (as she was called by those close to her) was declared illegitimate and deprived of her place in the royal succession. When her  older half-sister, Mary, became Queen, she suspected Bess of plotting against her. Bess was brought to court, and imprisoned at the very room of the Tower of London where her mother had waited for her execution. The dramatic story of Lady Bess is told on stage by an elderly playwright, Robin Blake, who once fell in love with the princess when he was a young poet. It's basically a tale of growing up. My libretto is inspired by well-known historic events, not based on any specific book or movie. Rehearsals for the show start next February. The opening at Tokyo's prestigious Imperial Theater is scheduled for April 13, 2014.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Musical Adaptation We Were Waiting For

Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of the film Shakespeare in Love will open at the Noel Coward Theatre next year. The production, adapted from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, will be directed by Declan Donnellan and have design by Nick Ormerod. Together, Donnellan and Ormerod formed theatre company Cheek by Jowl in 1981 and have since directed and designed more than 30 productions together, including Shakespeare plays such as Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare in Love will be produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions. Friedman said: ““Every now and then a story comes along that cries out to be staged. This is one such story.  Shakespeare in Love bursts with life and is a moving and hilarious celebration of everything that we love about the inspirational and transformative power of theatre. This project has been several years in development and Tom Schumacher [from Disney Theatrical Productions] and I are thrilled to be confirming its world premiere in London.” Preview performances of Shakespeare in Love will begin in July, 2014. Hall’s other stage credits include the musical Billy Elliot and The Pitman Painters.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wrong Question



Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, "What's in it for me?"
Brian Tracy

Friday, November 15, 2013

Very Early Beatles Tracks

Many of my friends are fans of the Beatles. I'm sure they are excited to learn that there are two "new" Beatles albums out featuring tracks never before released. Here's the review of Allan Kozinn from the New York Times:

In the summer of 1971, one of the first Beatles bootlegs turned up, packaged in a white sleeve with “The Beatles — Yellow Matter Custard — Previously Unreleased Studio Material” rubber-stamped across it. It offered an odd lineup of tracks (performances of Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman”; Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”; Carl Perkins’s “Sure to Fall (in Love With You)”; Arthur Alexander’s “Shot of Rhythm and Blues”), 14 in all, in decent, if slightly tinny, quality.

Beatles scholarship was in its infancy then, and collectors had no idea what these tracks were. When a fan played the disc for John Lennon in 1972, he said it was the Beatles’ failed Decca audition from a decade earlier. He was wrong. By the late 1970s, the recordings’ provenance was established: The Beatles recorded these songs in 1963 for a 15-week BBC radio series, “Pop Go the Beatles.”

Few American fans knew of the half-hour show, or knew that the Beatles performed regularly for the BBC from 1962 to 1965, and British fans rarely mentioned it. On both sides of the Atlantic, the Beatles narrative focused instead on the group’s amazing musical development, as captured in its EMI studio recordings.

But the BBC was crucial to the Beatles’ career. It presented them on its airwaves months before they had a record deal, and when it offered them “Pop Go the Beatles,” the group had released only three singles and one LP.

A new release, “On Air — Live at the BBC, Vol. 2,” and a reissue of its 1994 predecessor, “Live at the BBC” (both Apple/Universal), are a reminder of how important this material is to understanding what made the Beatles tick.

And a lavishly packaged, deeply researched new book, “The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962 to 1970” (Harper Design), by Kevin Howlett — a former BBC producer who has assembled several shows about the Beatles’ BBC work, and is an executive producer of the CDs — clarifies the importance of the relationship to both sides.

Consider that the Beatles’ EMI studio output, from 1962 to 1970, amounted to 212 songs (not counting variant versions or post-breakup releases). At the BBC, they recorded 88 songs, most in multiple performances, for a total of about 280 tracks. Among the 88 are 36 songs, nearly three albums’ worth, that the Beatles never recorded for EMI.

That’s a significant chunk of repertory. Most are covers of American records, and though that may seem a drawback for a band distinguished by its songwriting, they tell us what most influenced the Beatles: namely, Motown hits, Chuck Berry, rockabilly (mostly Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley) and East Coast girl groups.

You know that from the covers the Beatles included on their early albums, of course, but the BBC recordings add depth to the playlist.

“Live at the BBC” includes 30 of the non-EMI 36. “On Air” adds two more — a rocked-up version of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” and Mr. Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” — and a third, Perkins’s “Lend Me Your Comb,” that was included on “The Beatles Anthology 1.”

“On Air” also offers hits that the first volume ignored (“She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” among them) and alternative performances of tracks on the earlier set, some superior, all different in illuminating ways.

The accounts of Little Richard’s “Lucille” on the two sets were recorded only two weeks apart, but show Paul McCartney taking different approaches to the screaming lead vocal. Lennon sang the version of Perkins’s “Honey Don’t” on “Live at the BBC.” Ringo Starr sings it on the new set.

Because the BBC performances were essentially live in the studio, they are closer to the Beatles’ live performances than to the carefully tweaked and polished EMI versions. Among the highlights of “On Air” are performances of “Anna,” “Misery,” “You Can’t Do That,” “Words of Love” and “Roll Over Beethoven” that are more sharply etched and more electrifying than the studio recordings.

And there are striking differences in the arrangements: “And I Love Her” and “Till There Was You,” gently acoustic on LP, are electric on “On Air.”

These performances are historic in other ways, too. At the Beatles’ first BBC taping, on March 7, 1962 (Pete Best was still their drummer), they played a cover of the Marvelettes’ 1961 hit, “Please Mr. Postman.”

That performance was the first time any song on the Tamla-Motown label was played on the BBC. Oddly, nothing from that first show — which also includes a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby,” one of the three still unissued non-EMI songs — is included on either of the Apple sets. (The show has been available on bootlegs since the 1980s.)

To its credit, Apple has revamped “Live at the BBC.” All the tracks were freshly transferred, and a few have been replaced with recently discovered, upgraded sources, and a few minor extras have been added. The annoying cross-fading between tracks has been removed, as has the original’s heavy-handed noise reduction.

Alas, Apple has kept the set’s nonchronological running order, as if this were an original Beatles album rather than a compilation.

“On Air” is an enjoyable extension of the franchise. Like “Live at the BBC,” it draws heavily on bootlegs — the BBC, astonishingly, recorded over its early 1960s tapes, so bootlegs are Apple’s main sources, as well as recordings kept by BBC outposts around the world and master tapes taken home by producers — but it presents the music chronologically.

The compilation also includes plenty of the between-songs banter, which, given the Beatles’ personalities, is amusing enough to bear repeated listening.

But these sets merely scrape the surface. The most comprehensive bootleg compilation, “Unsurpassed Broadcasts” (2012), runs to 12 CDs, and, like most bootlegs today, it is an altruistic project — assembled by obsessive collectors, with sound-editing skills, who sequenced it chronologically, provided artwork and notes, and then offered it free on the Internet, entirely because Apple hasn’t done this itself.

At the rate Apple is working, with 19 years between two-disc installments (despite the first set’s sales of five million copies), it will take 80 more years for all the tracks be released. Apple should rethink that. A complete, chronological edition that would put this extraordinary body of work into the official catalog is long overdue.

I recently asked Mr. Howlett whether such a project was being considered. He said it was not: Apple and Universal, he explained, want to appeal to the casual listener, not the specialist.

Could they be mistaking the Beatles for some obscure cult band?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Respect The Lyrics Too!

Music authors' associations and the music industry in general aggressively go after websites for using copyrighted music without permission, especially on YouTube videos. Lyrics demand respect too. According to the National Music Publishers’ Association of America there are five million Google searches each day for lyrics, and more than half of all lyric page views are on sites that reprint song lyrics without licenses, selling advertising based on the enormous traffic they attract. Lately the NMPA was filing take-down notices against what it called the 50 “worst offenders”. This was not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites or the many websites that provide lyrics legally. The target were 50 sites that engage in blatant illegal behavior, which significantly impacts songwriters’ ability to make a living. Actions against websites publishing unlicensed lyrics have been largely successful so far, either by getting the sites to properly license songs or to shut down. The publishers’ association prevailed in court against two sites that failed to comply, and is expected to win in any future cases.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fame and Honor

It's very common to aspire fame and honor in life. There's nothing wrong about it if it motivates you to give your best. Nevertheless it's an illusion to assume that your fame means anything to the world around you. Nor is it proof that your life is important and meaningful. Maybe you'll be forgotten a few years later than those who don't give a *** about that kind of recognition. What's the difference? You will not experience what happens after your death. So you'd better try to be what you are and do what you have to do without considering how people judge you. Oops, I didn't mean to preach, just had to get it off my chest since some people think I care about fame.
.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Turning Point Maker


As for types like my own, obscurely motivated by the conviction that our existence was worthless if we didn't make a turning point of it, we were assigned to the humanities, to poetry, philosophy, painting -- the nursery games of humankind, which had to be left behind when the age of science began. The humanities would be called upon to choose a wallpaper for the crypt, as the end drew near.
Saul Bellow

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Most Precious Gift


Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have - life itself.
Walter T. Anderson 


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Only Thing


It was my 16th birthday - my mom and dad gave me my Goya classical guitar that day. I sat down, wrote this song, and I just knew that that was the only thing I could ever really do - write songs and sing them to people.
Stevie Nicks 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How Creators Age


It takes a long time to become young.
Pablo Picasso