Sunday, October 31, 2010

Master Rule

"There are only three principles necessary for a lyric writer. They underlie everything I've ever written. In no particular order, and to be written in stone: Content Dictates Form, Less Is More, God Is in the Details - all in the service of Clarity without which nothing else matters. If a lyric writes observes this mantra rigorously, he can turn out a respectable lyric. If he also has a feeling for music and rhythm, a sense of theater and something to say, he can turn out an interesting one. If in addition he has qualities such as humor, style, imagination and the numerous other gifts every writer should use, he might even turn out a good one."
Stephen Sondheim

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.
André Malraux

Friday, October 29, 2010

Farewell, Paul!

Paul the octopus, who successfully predicted all of Germany's results and the outcome of the World Cup final has died in his aquarium. Argentina's fans hated him, Iran pronounced him decadent, but a lot of people all around the world revered him as some kind of new Nostradamus. The accuracy of his predictions was stunning, but Paul was not the only animal ever to be blessed with the power of prophecy. In the 1930's, Jim the Wonder Dog, drew crowds by predicting the winners of seven Kentucky Derbies. And Oscar, a hospital cat in Rhode Island, indicated which patient was to die by curling up with the respective one. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mysterious Left

Studies show that sleeping on your left side is best. The reason is not entirely clear. One hypothesis holds that right-side sleeping relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, between the stomach and the esophagus. Another holds that left-side sleeping keeps the junction between stomach and esophagus above the level of gastric acid. In a study in The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, scientists recruited a group of healthy subjects and fed them high-fat meals on different days to induce heartburn. Immediately after the meals, the subjects spent four hours lying on one side or the other as devices measured their esophageal acidity. Ultimately, the researchers found that “the total amount of reflux time was significantly greater” when the subjects lay on their right side.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It Started With A Fifteen Dollar Idea

In the early 40's Joseph Stein had a career as a social worker for several years. Then he happened to meet the comedian Zero Mostel through a mutual friend. Mr. Mostel mentioned that he was looking for comedy material for a radio show, Mr. Stein threw out an idea, and Mr. Mostel paid him $15 for it. His writing career had begun. In 1948, Mr. Stein made his Broadway writing debut, creating a single sketch with Mr. Glickman for “Lend an Ear,” a musical revue that starred Carol Channing and was choreographed by Gower Champion. And he became part of the writing staff of Sid Caesar’s classic 1950s comedy-variety series “Your Show of Shows.” He won glowing reviews for his book of “Enter Laughing,” a comedy, based on a book by Carl Reiner, about a Jewish boy who wants to become an actor. In 1964 Joseph Stein's  "Fiddler On The Roof" opened on Broadway, a musical based on Sholem Aleichem’s short stories about a Jewish milkman and his family who face terrifying change in a small Russian village in 1905.  Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics and Jerry Bock’s score captured the high notes of the praise, but Mr. Stein’s book hardly went unnoticed. Joseph Stein died last Sunday in Manhattan. He was 98.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Attention Sondheim Fans!

Today, Tuesday October 26th, a DVD of the 1966 television musical "Evening Primrose" is being released. It is the first time the work will be available to the public. It was broadcast only once, on Nov. 16, 1966, on “ABC Stage 67” . By that time Mr. Sondheim had already achieved success with “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” For Sondheim fans the "Evening Primrose" is what the Black Mauritius is for stamp collectors.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Advice To A Young Songwriter

"Listen kid, take my advice, never hate a song that has sold half a million copies."
Irving Berlin 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From Siberia To America

Israel Baline was born in a small village in Siberia. When he was four years old his family fled Russia because of a pogrom and immigrated to New York. He went to work at age eight selling newspapers, and by his teens was employed as a singing waiter at various taverns and restaurants. Eventually he worked himself up to song plugger at Tony Pastor's Music Hall in Union Square. While working as a singing waiter at Pelham's Cafe in Chinatown, he and the pianist were asked by the proprietor to write an original song for the cafe. That's how Israel became a lyricist. Unhappy with the composers who musicalized his words, he became his own composer, and despite he never learned to read and write music, almost single-handedly invented American popular music. Until today people all over the world hum the tunes of - Irving Berlin.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


If I had to choose a superstition, I would take numerology. Believers tell me that it helps determine and reflect a persons characteristics, talents, motivations and path in life. Letters of the alphabet also can be represented by certain numbers. If you're a numerologist the sum of numbers in your name as well as your birth date have a direct cosmic relation to themselves, and to who you are. Numerology experts are able to determine key points in people lives, and moments in which to make major moves and decisions, such as traveling, investing and marriage. Isn't it an enviable belief?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ingenious Simplicity

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
Albert Einstein 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tribute To Harbach

The songwriter Otto Harbach is not well known today. During the 1920s he contributed to dozens of Broadway hits; at one point in 1925 Otto Harbach had five plays running simultaneously on Broadway, something no one before or since has been able to claim. But Harbach’s importance is not due to his prolific output; he belongs with the influential early songwriters because he brought lyric and libretto writing to an adult level. He will always be one of my heroes for writing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. His best remembered show is No, No Nanette. The rest of his work has paled with time, Harbach laid the groundwork for Oscar Hammerstein II and others who would develop his ideas and shape the musical theatre into what it became in the 1940s.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed."
Jonathan Swift 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Paid For Education Or Paid Education?

The answer to who pays for higher education depends largely on how society views the benefits. In the United States and Japan university education is viewed as a private good. In those countries student fees can be very high, and are paid either by the students themselves or by their parents and families. In most Euopean countries they believe higher education is a social good, like clean water or paved roads, so they make it free for everyone, paid for by high progressive taxes. For people from disadvantaged social backgrounds, who may be nervous about accumulating high levels of personal debt, this approach eliminates the risk factor. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden currently do not charge any fees for university education. Germany even pays students a kind of rent for studying (Bafög). 

Monday, October 18, 2010


The fish trap exists because of the fish.  Once you've gotten the fish you can forget the trap.  The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit.  Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare.  Words exist because of meaning.  Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.  Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him? 
Chuang Tzu 

Sunday, October 17, 2010


A broke, struggling actor in New York was asked by a friend to take care of his "grandfather's semi-automatic typewriter" while he went away for the weekend. Prior to this the actor had never seen writing as anything but a chore to be gotten through for a school assignment. The planets aligned that Friday night, making it especially conducive to writing. It was raining and the TV was kaput, and the house sitter realized, "There was literally nothing to do on this Friday night but stick a piece of paper in my friend's grandfather's semi-automatic typewriter and see if I could entertain myself that way." He stayed up all night typing dialogue, and caught the writing bug for good. A few weeks later he had written his first script which was picked up by an agent. Today the former actor is the world's number one screenwriter. Quite rightly so, because currently nobody writes more intelligent and better structured films. Just watch "The West Wing", "A Few Good Men" or "Social Network", gems created by the one and only Aaron Sorkin.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Love May Hurt, But It Also Relieves

Researchers from Stanford University studied the link between love and pain by scanning the brains of 15 college students who all professed to being deeply in love. The eight women and seven men were placed in brain scanners that tracked their body’s response to pain — in this case a heated probe placed on the palm of the hand. Looking at a picture of a loved one reduced moderate pain by about 40 percent and eased severe pain by about 10 to 15 percent, compared to viewing the picture of an acquaintance. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Simple Explanation

All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. 
Blaise Pascal 

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In some ways, Bordeaux is a victim of its own success. With the most famous wines – Margaux, Latour, Pétrus, Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild – selling for $800, $1,000 a bottle, many consumers find it difficult to believe that a Bordeaux at $15 or $20 is drinkable. They need not be concerned; there are approximately 7,000 chateaus in the Bordeaux appellation, and many make remarkably good wines at reasonable prices. The most famous wines are invariably excellent, but prices reflect cachet and scarcity as much as quality. A succession of good vintages makes specific vintages less important. Starting with 1990, and except for 1991 and 1992, Bordeaux has had a amazing streak of good years, with 1990, 2000 and 2005 ranking among the best ever. Cabernet sauvignon may be the most important grape in Bordeaux, but Americans have often been partial to the softer, fruitier, merlot-based wines of St.-Émilion and Pomerol. These days, though, it’s hard to go wrong with wines from anywhere in Bordeaux in almost any price range.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

‘Sister Act’ On Broadway

Joop van den Ende's Stage Entertainment company triumphs. The musical adaptation of “Sister Act,” the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy, will come to the Broadway Theater this spring, press representatives for the show said on Tuesday. The musical, which has a score by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, will be directed by Jerry Zaks, a consultant on the Broadway incarnation of “The Addams Family.” It is to begin previews on March 24 with an opening night set for April 20. No casting was immediately announced for the show’s Broadway run; a West End version of “Sister Act” starring Patina Miller as Deloris opened at the London Palladium in June 2009. The German premiere is scheduled for December 2010 in Hamburg.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Good Answer

After attending a performance of Wagner's Lohengrin the old Gioacchino Rossini was asked by a journalist how he liked it. "One can't judge it after a first hearing, " Rossini answered, "and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nervous Breakdown Ahead

Pedro Almodóvar's film, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” is about to become a new Broadway musical. It tells a story of love and abandonment in 1980s Madrid, the gazpacho is laced with Valium, the boyfriends are cads and terrorists, and theater royalty, Patti LuPone, is in full diva glory. Playing a jilted wife fresh from 19 years in an insane asylum, Ms. LuPone glowed in platinum blonde curls and oversize jewels at a recent rehearsal — a wigged-out kinswoman of her Tony Award-winning characters in “Evita” and “Gypsy.” And her opening lines in the show’s first number, appropriately titled “My Crazy Heart,” set the tenor of the show to come. The $5 million show is a rarity: a new musical based on a foreign film from two decades ago that is probably not widely known among the tourists who are the backbone of Broadway box offices. And the show is opening in New York without the traditional out-of-town tryout used by every other new musical now on Broadway to test material and make corrections. The technical demands of the show, like the copious projections showing Madrid architecture and other images, have been such that the producer, Lincoln Center Theater, twice delayed preview performances. David Yazbek, the composer and lyricist, and a Tony nominee for his scores for “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” said he was initially skeptical of signing on to the musical, saying that he was turned off by any semblance of “hysterical women flailing their hands or running around like their hair was on fire.” Bartlett Sher, the musical’s director, , a Tony winner for his smash 2008 revival of “South Pacific”, said: "Pedro had a guiding point of view about life: The world is a perfect place except for one thing — that men abandon and cheat on women. But he has an allergy to direct sentiment, and knowing that helped us think less predictably about the storytelling in this musical.” It all sounds as if the creative team is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Empty Driver Seats

Autonomous cars are years from mass production, but technologists who have long dreamed of them believe that they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has. Google has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver. Seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. At the same time Daimler is testing a car with a similar system on European streets. In a few years autopiloted cars may well become a familiar sight on highways and in cities.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nice Little Gadget

Naturally I own a video camera. But you know what? I rarely use it. It's just too bulky, I don't want to carry it around. Instead I bought a tiny Flip Camera which is smaller than a cell phone and fits in any pocket. The quality of its video recording is not comparable to that of a big camera, of course, but it's amazingly good. The best thing about this gadget is that the recordings can easily be transferred to my computer. The Flip has a USB plug which I put in my Powerbook and - bing - the film is automatically going into my iPhoto Files. The little miracle isn't very expensive either. I paid 169 Euro for mine. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Punished Enough

During the French revolution Voltaire was living in exile in London where anti-French sentiment was high. One day, walking through Mayfair, he was surrounded by an angry mob. „He’s a Frenchman,“ someone shouted. The crowd yelled: „Hang him! Hang the bastard!“ Voltaire stayed calm. He addressed the mob with the following words: „Men of England! You wish to kill me because I am a Frenchman. I’m asking you: Am I not punished enough in not being born an Englishman?“ The crowd had to digest that answer for a moment, then the same guy who had started the scene cried: „The man is right!“ The crowd cheered and escorted Voltaire safely back to his lodgings.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Don't Help The Woodcutter!

A woodcutter had broken or lost the handle of his hatchet and found it not easy to get it repaired at once. During the time, therefore, that it was out of use, the woods enjoyed a respite from further damage. At last the man came humbly and begged of the forest to allow him gently to take just one branch wherewith to make him a new haft, and promised that then he would go elsewhere to ply his trade and get his living. That would leave unthreatened many an oak and many a fir that now won universal respect on account of its age and beauty. The innocent forest acquiesced and furnished him with a new handle. This he fixed to his blade and, as soon as it was finished, fell at once upon the trees, despoiling his benefactress, the forest, of her most cherished ornaments. There was no end to her bewailings: her own gift had caused her grief.
La Fontaine

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


"It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action."
Orval Hobart Mowrer (1907-1982)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.  
Chinese Proverb

Monday, October 4, 2010


Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simply too long.
Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Core Of Germany's Problem

"This Sunday marks 20 years since German unification. It also coincides with a low point in the commitment of post-war Germany to European unity. The two are directly related.
Alone in Europe, the people of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) did not have to qualify for entry into the European Union. German unification made them automatically full-fledged members.
Nothing was asked of East Germans for this extraordinary benefit. Nor were they educated about the European project and Germany’s unique role, based on its history, in building a common European home.
All other former Soviet-bloc countries — Poland, Hungary, Latvia, etc. — had to work hard for E.U. membership, both in the complex formal qualifications and through years of learning to become “European” in a pragmatic sense. For these countries, entering “Europe” was a long-sought goal and finally a celebrated achievement. Eastern Germany never moved up this learning curve.
The opening of the Berlin Wall confronted people in the east with huge economic dislocation and social stress. Most of their efforts over 20 years have been directed to achieving parity with western Germany, still unfulfilled. The equally important need to accept an identity as Germans within a broader Europe has lagged far behind.
Eastern Germans needed more attention to their European obligations than their eastern neighbors did because the G.D.R. had taught its citizens — especially its young people — that they bore none of the burdens of Germany’s past; all the guilt supposedly lay with West Germany.
Sad to say, this convenient doctrine was widely accepted. A German-speaking Polish tour guide in Warsaw in the late 1980s noted this attitude in the German student groups she escorted. Asked if they wanted to visit the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, the West German students always affirmed their need to do so, but the young East Germans invariably refused, saying “that has nothing to do with us.”
This mindset, compounded by the prolonged physical and social isolation of East Germany, contrasted sharply with the openness toward Europe which had been the hallmark of western Germans since the war. Now, two decades on, eastern Germans are integrated into Germany but not into Europe. The E.U. was not something they chose, let alone worked for, so they do not identify with it. The sharing of obligations at the core of European integration remains alien to people who see “Europe” as a distant and expensive abstraction."
A NYT-Commentary by E. Wayne Merry, former member of the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


It started with a Twitter message on Sept. 19: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet. And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Traitor or Savior?

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, in 1924, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me . . . in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.” Less than two months later, Brod, disregarding Kafka’s request, signed an agreement to prepare a posthumous edition of Kafka’s unpublished novels. “The Trial” came out in 1925, followed by “The Castle” (1926) and “Amerika” (1927). Was this a betrayal or a service to his late friend? As a writer I would want my friend to burn the manuscripts I don't wish others to see. But then again I will never be a Kafka. And as a reader I would not like to have missed Kafka's immortal novels.