Sunday, August 31, 2014

Oscar Hammerstein Festival

There will be a Festival honoring Oscar Hammerstein in New Hope, Pa. It will be hosted by Robyn Goodman and Alexander Fraser, the directors of the Bucks County Playhouse. “As a producer of new musicals," Ms. Goodman explained, "I have become increasingly concerned that lyric writing is not getting the attention it deserves. The lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein have stood the test of time and show us how metaphor, poetry and simplicity have been lost in the age of Twitter and texting.” The festival’s main program is “Getting to Know You: An Enchanted Evening of Oscar Hammerstein II,” with Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, from the Broadway production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” Mandy Gonzalez (“In the Heights”) and Lewis Cleale (“The Book of Mormon”). The festival will also include an evening of scenes and songs by young theater composers and songwriters. Holders of a festival pass can also go on a tour of Highland Farm, near Doylestown, where Hammerstein worked on “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel” and “The Sound of Music.” The tour will be led by the lyricist’s grandson, Will Hammerstein.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Old Wisdom For Young Writers

According to Marcus Tullius Cicero dicere enim bene nemo potest, nisi qui prudenter intelligit (No one can speak well, unless he thoroughly understands his subject). Writers know that scribere enim bene nemo potest, nisi qui prudent intelligit (No one can write well, unless he thoroughly understands his subject) is even more true. Most bad writing is caused by the writers's ignorance about the people or facts he tries to describe.

Friday, August 29, 2014


This Friday, 50 years ago, on 28 August 1964, in a room in the Delmonico hotel at Park Avenue and 59th in New York City the Beatles encountered Bob Dylan for the first time. The rendezvous was brokered by Al Aronowitz, journalist, mutual friend and assiduous self-publicist. At this occasion, so the legend goes, the folk singer genius introduced the English band to marijuana. Ringo Starr, the first to be offered a smoke and ignorant of dope etiquette, chugged through that first joint like a stevedore attacking his first Woodbine of the morning and collapsed in a giggling mess. Brian Epstein became so stoned he could only squeak,"I'm so high I'm up on the ceiling." Paul McCartney believed he'd attained true mental clarity for the first time in his life and instructed Beatles roadie Mal Evans to write down everything he said henceforth. Dylan, meanwhile, lost his cool and began answering the hotel phone by shouting, "This is Beatlemania here!" Otherwise they drank wine and acted the goat, like bands do.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Art's Purpose

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Pablo Picasso

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Flag Stunt

The Berlin artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke climbed in the night of July 22 on the towers of New York's Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags up there by hand-stitched all-white versions. The police started a criminal inquiry, but the two artists left New York before they were found out. In an interview with Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times, weeks after the switch, they explained that however the appearance of white flags over the Brooklyn Bridge may have looked, they meant only to celebrate the bridge as an example of “the beauty of public space,” and to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the death of John Roebling, the German-born engineer who designed the bridge. Yesterday the New York City police told ABC News that the removed flags have been returned to the United States embassy in Berlin. No determination has been made about whether Mr. Leinkauf and Mr. Wermke will be charged with felony burglary.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Haruki Murakami On Writing

I don’t have any idea at all, when I start writing, of what is to come. For instance, for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the first thing I had was the call of the bird, because I heard a bird in my back yard (it was the first time I heard that kind of sound and I never have since then. I felt like it was predicting something. So I wanted to write about it). The next thing was cooking spaghetti – these are things that happen to me! I was cooking spaghetti, and somebody call. So I had just these two things at the start. Two years I kept on writing. It’s fun! I don’t know what’s going to happen next, every day. I get up, go to the desk, switch on the computer, etc. and say to myself: “so what’s going to happen today?”It’s fun!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tony Kushner On The Fear Of Writing

I find writing very difficult. It’s hard and it hurts sometimes, and it’s scary because of the fear of failure and the very unpleasant feeling that you may have reached the limit of your abilities. You’re smart enough to see that there’s something that lies beyond what you’ve been able to do, but you don’t know how to get there, how to make it happen in the medium in which you’ve decided to work. I can be very masochistic, but that kind of anxiety is something I tend to want to avoid. The lesson I learn over and over again—and then forget over and over again—is that writing won’t be so bad once you get into it. One’s reluctance is immensely powerful. It’s like what Proust says about habit—it seems tiny in the grand arc of a person’s life narrative, but it’s the most insidious, powerful thing. Reluctance is like that. When you feel most terrified—I think this is true of most writers—it’s because the thing isn’t there in your head. I’ve found it to be the case that you’ve got to start writing, and writing almost anything. Because writing is not simply an intellectual act. It doesn’t happen exclusively in your head. It’s a combination of idea and action, what Marx and Freud called praxis, a combining of the material and the immaterial. The action, the physical act of putting things down on paper, changes and produces a writer’s ideas.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Matthew Weiner On Creating "Mad Men"

When I started out, there were few dramas on TV. They were out of style. There were four news magazines a week, and there was Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, or whatever, and the procedurals and the game shows. Reality TV hadn’t happened yet. Then, while I was doing it, situation comedy went from being the most lucrative and exciting place to be in television to disappearing. All the things that people hate about network TV were starting to fail economically, and still the networks were asking, How do we re-create Friends? By the time I wrote the Mad Men pilot, the syndication market had dried up. Survivor happened when I was writing on the sitcom Becker. Survivor, The Sopranos, and Lost all happened within a few years of each other. By then, drama had become really big. And then David Chase hired me for The Sopranos based on my script for Mad Men. Mad Men would have been some sort of crisp, soapy version of The West Wing if not for The Sopranos. Peggy would have been a climber. All the things that people thought were going to happen would have happened. Even though the pilot itself has a dark, strange quality, I didn’t know that that was what was good about it. I just wanted an excuse to exorcise my demons, to write a story about somebody who’s thirty-five years old, who has everything, and who is miserable.
The important thing, for me, was hearing the way David Chase indulged the subconscious. I learned not to question its communicative power. When you see somebody walking down a dark hallway, you know that they’re scared. We don’t have to explain that it’s scary. Why is this person walking down a dark hallway when he’s on his way to his kids’ school? Because he’s scared about someone telling him something bad about his kids. He’s worried about hearing something that will reflect badly on the way he’s raised his kids, which goes back to his own childhood. All that explanatory stuff, we never even talked about it. And I try not to talk about it here. Why did that happen? Why do you think? You can’t cheat and tell people what’s going on, because then they won’t enjoy it, even if they say they want it that way.
You know how sometimes I give you a note that says, Why don’t you do X? and you say, That’s the thing I wanted to do? That’s what I learned at The Sopranos. That’s the note I try to give to everyone who writes here. Take the risk of doing the extreme thing, the embarrassing thing, the thing that’s in your subconscious. Before The Sopranos, when someone said, "Make it deeper", I didn’t know what they meant. Or really, I knew in my gut—but I also knew that it was the one thing that crossed my mind that I wasn’t going to do. To have Peggy come into Don’s office after he’s had the baby and ask for a raise and be rejected, and look at the baby presents, so we know she’s thinking about her own baby that she gave away, and then to have her tell Don, “You have everything and so much of it.” There is something embarrassing about that. A scene that was really just about her getting turned down for a raise became a scene about her whole life. That was the sort of thing I learned from working with David Chase.
Another thing that happened when I began writing on The Sopranos was I noticed that people were always telling me anecdotes. They would throw out a line of dialogue they’d heard somebody say or that someone had said to them—and that was the story. I did not know how important that shit was. There’s an episode where Beansie and Paulie are reminiscing and Tony dismissively says, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” And it’s devastating. David Chase had witnessed that actual statement. Now I have a ton of stuff like that I’ve saved, things people have said to me that are concise and devastating and sum up some moment in their lives. When I’m talking to some woman on an airplane, and she says, "I like being bad and going home and being good", that is very useful.
Matthew Weiner

Friday, August 22, 2014

Change The World!

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
Martin Luther

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bill Gates On Success

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.
Bill Gates

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Genesis Of "War Horse"

"War Horse happened because of a happy coincidence, and because Tom Morris [who co-directed the stage version for the National Theatre] listens to his mother.
Tom was determined to do a show with Handspring Puppets, but because of its talent for lifesize animal puppets he needed something with an animal hero. He didn't find anything he liked for quite some time. But then his mother heard me on Desert Island Discs, wittering on about this book I had written. She loved it, and passed it on to Tom.
He rang me up and told me he wanted to make War Horse into a play. I was utterly thrilled. But then they told me the bad news: they wanted to use puppets. I thought to myself: there is no way that puppets can enact the seriousness of the first world war.
Tom knew I wasn't convinced, so he invited me to London to see a video of Handspring Puppets in action – a giraffe. It was worked by three men and I remember feeling so moved by this creature, how it somehow breathed life. Suddenly, I knew it would work.
When Handspring came over from South Africa, I took the puppeteers down to Devon and we spent some time on a farm, so they could get a sense of what horses are like. At rehearsals, I sat with the cast and answered their questions: about farming and Devon and the first world war. I loved being involved.
I looked at all of Nick's scripts and told them what I thought, what changes to make. They listened to some of it. I was well aware I was the amateur among the professionals, so I bit my tongue – sometimes. I remember speaking to Philip Pullman [whose series His Dark Materials was adapted by the National] and he said: "Honestly, they know what they're doing. You shouldn't get involved in theatre or film if you don't think they can do your book."
On the first night of previews, War Horse didn't work. The puppets looked great, the music and acting were good, but somehow it didn't come together. It was as if all the pieces of the jigsaw were right, but they didn't fit. And there was only a week to fix it.
I didn't go to see it again because I was so upset. I didn't sleep for three or four days. I couldn't see it lasting more than a couple of weeks. But on press night, the most magical transformation had taken place: the jigsaw puzzle fitted. Midway, I was suddenly aware of this extraordinary atmosphere around me: the audience was so engaged, in a way I had never seen before. At the end, a thousand people rose as one. Tears were streaming down faces. It was an extraordinary achievement.
War Horse belongs with me, not to me: it belongs to everyone else now. But I don't want to let it go. About once a year I put a costume on and go on stage in a crowd scene and sing the songs, just to feel part of it again.
This year is the centenary of the first world war and it is a happy thing that the play they began 10 years ago is still on today. Still, it annoys me that I didn't see the play before I wrote the book: I would have written a much better book."
Michael Morpurgo, author of the book

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Copyright

The latest Sherlock Holmes Case is a trial known as Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. An author who used the character of Sherlock Holmes in a stage play had been sued by the Estate of Conan Doyle. The trial court ruled that the characters and plots of the Holmes “canon” were in the public domain; all that remained under copyright were “increments of expression” from the last ten stories published after 1923. This was an important decision for dramatists who can find themselves on both sides of this issue, adapting someone’s work while having one’s own work adapted by another author.
Of course, this also put severe inhibitions on the Estate’s ability to collect license fees from adaptations of the characters and plots of Sir Conan Doyle. To some, an appeal from the Estate seemed inevitable.
Since then, two related decisions have come from the appeals court, both authored by Judge Richard Posner. Judge Posner is one of the few judges who also serves as a public intellectual in the tradition of an Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (d. 1935) and Learned Hand (d. 1961). Among Posner’s many publications is the 2003 masterpiece, The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law.
On June 16, 2014, Judge Posner denied the Estate’s appeal. The judge rejected the Estate’s argument that “copyright on a ‘complex’ character in a story, such as Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson, whose full complexity is not revealed until a later story, remains under copyright until the later story falls into the public domain.” The attorney for the Estate specifically attempted to distinguish between “flat” and “round” fictional characters, himself dramatizing the concept of “round” characters “by describing large circles with his arms.”
Not surprisingly, waiving around one’s arms does not help an insufficient legal argument. In fact, Posner concluded his description of the Estate’s argument thusly: “What this has to do with copyright law eludes us.” Consequently, the decision as described in “The Fake Person In Your Play” is affirmed.
On August 4, 2014, Judge Posner issued a sequel to the June opinion, this time considering Klinger’s request for attorneys’ fees incurred upon him by the Estate’s appeal (i.e., excluding attorney fees from the trial court). Posner’s decision? Granted! Under the authority of Section 505 of the Copyright Act, Judge Posner awarded the prevailing party the full amount of $30,679.93.
The court explained that attorney’s fees can be awarded, as in this case, “in order to ensure that an infringement defendant does not abandon a meritorious defense in situations in which ‘the costs of vindication exceed the private benefit to the party' . . . For without the prospect of such an award, [an infringement defendant] might be forced into a nuisance settlement or deterred altogether from exercising [its] rights.”
Showing more than a little disdain for the Estate, Judge Posner stated that Klinger had laudably acted as “a private general attorney, combating a disreputable business practice--a form of extortion--and he is seeking by the present motion not to obtain a reward but merely to avoid a loss. He has performed a public service.”
Consequently, Judge Posner’s latest decisions have not only confirmed and clarified what may be adapted without incurring a license fee. They have also praised an author for standing up to a bully. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hamilton The Musical

Lin-Manuel Miranda became known because his first Broadway Musical, In The Heights, was a fresh approach to the genre. I loved it. He received a Tony award which was well deserved. Many wondered what this new player would create next. He surprised all. No one expected him to write a historical. His new musical, scheduled to open in February next year, is called Hamilton. It tells the story of one of America's Founding Fathers and the country's first Secretary of the Treasury. Other characters of the show will be George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and of course Aaron Burr who shot Hamilton. Mr. Miranda himself will play Hamilton. Doesn't sound very interesting? Now get this: The score is pure hip hop. And Miranda presented his new show not before a bunch of potential producers in some rehearsal space, but in the White House of all places. The audience included President Obama and the First Lady.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ascending Path

Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.
Sir Winston Churchill

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Boogie Man

Henry David Epstein was born in the Bronx and grew up in northern Manhattan. His father, a salesman, died when Henry was a boy. His mother, a destitute seamstress, placed Henry in an orphanage. There the the boy heard a record of Louis Armstrong and took up the trumpet.
He served in the Army during World War II, playing in a band. After his discharge, he changed his last name to Stone. He made a living by peddling records to restaurants and bars for their jukeboxes. In Miami he recorded a handful of songs. One of them was performed by a young blind singer, then known as Ray Charles Robinson, who would later go by the name Ray Charles. On his De Luxe Records, he recorded “Hearts of Stone” by the Charms, which reached No. 1 on several rhythm-and-blues charts. By now Mr. Stone was an established producer who recorded several rhythm-and-blues artists in the 1960s.  When most major labels decided to distribute only their own product, he was forced to set up his own company, TK Records. This company, which Mr. Stone ran with Steve Alaimo, a former pop singer, grew to become one of the industry’s largest independent labels during the disco era.
Its biggest hit makers were KC and the Sunshine Band, whose leader, Harry Wayne Casey, was a part-time employee at the company before the band began turning out a string of hits, including “Shake Shake Shake (Shake Your Booty),” “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “That’s the Way I Like It” — uh-huh, uh-huh — and “Get Down Tonight.” But the company and its subsidiary labels also released successful records by other artists — among them George McRae, Benny Latimore, Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright and Anita Ward — whose upbeat melding of funk, soul and disco came to be identified as the Miami sound.
Henry Stone died last week in Miami. He was 93.
(Based on the NYT obituary by Bruce Weber)

Thursday, August 14, 2014


When everything happens to you when you're so young, you're very lucky, but by the same token, you're never going to have that same feeling again. The first time anything happens to you - your first love, your first success - the second one is never the same.
Lauren Bacall

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What Remains

In America they really do mythologize people when they die.
Robin Williams

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Leonard's Birthday Present

Leonard Cohen will celebrate his 80th birthday next month with the release of his 13th album called Popular Problems. Amazon France list the album on its pages, with a release date of 22 September, a day before his birthday. Leonard Cohen last released an album in 2012. Old Ideas, the singer’s twelfth studio album, was his highest-charting release in the United States and topped the charts in eleven countries.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Spielberg's Next Project?

Steven Spielberg still seems keen to make a new film version of West Side Story. Appearing alongside Oprah Winfrey on ABC News this week to promote The Hundred-Foot Journey, which the duo co-produced, Spielberg was asked about the reports he’s developing a new version of Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein‘s show. "Well you know something," was his answer, "West Side Story is one of my favourite Broadway musicals and one of the greatest pieces of musical literature, my goodness, one of the greatest scores and some of the greatest lyrics ever written for a musical so just let me put it this way: it’s on my mind."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why He's Better

A lot of people are more talented than I am, but I work harder.
Steven Soderbergh

Saturday, August 9, 2014

McCartney's Latest Hit

Collectors of Paul McCartney’s music will have to add a new format – a version of PlayStation or Xbox — to their stacks of LPs, tapes, CDs, DVDs and digital downloads. His next major project is the score for Destiny, the highly anticipated video game from Bungie and Activision, due on Sept. 9.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Straight To NYC - From Iceland

The theme of a new musical called “Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” is the global financial crisis of 2008,  particularly in the island country of Iceland where a banking bubble in the 2000s lent its people an unsustainable prosperity before bursting. It's remarkable enough that an author can find a producer for a show with such a title and such a theme, but the real miracle is that Ivar Pall Jonsson, a former journalist from Reykjavik, managed to get it produced as a world premiere in New York. All of its budget of $1.3 million comes from Icelandic investors. The new rock musical with the unusually long title will have an American cast and a British choreographer and is slated to open next Wednesday.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Top Five E-Book Highlights

According to Amazon theses are the five most highlighted e-book passages. Readers of Suzanne Collins seem to be the wildest highlighters. If this list is believable it doesn't teach us anything. I expected readers to highlight quotable jewels of human expression. Instead...

5. "I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you," Peeta replies.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, highlighted by 8,500 Kindle users.

4. It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, highlighted by 8,833 Kindle users.

3. The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, highlighted by 9,031 Kindle users.

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, highlighted by 9,260 Kindle users.

1. Because sometimes things happen to people and they're not equipped to deal with them.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, highlighted by 17,784 Kindle users.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Big Brother Amazon

Last week Amazon released a ranking of books based upon the number of passages highlighted by readers of Kindle e-books. I happen to read e-books I buy from Amazon, and I have the habit of highlighting certain sentences I wish to remember. I don't think that is unusual. I find it highly unusual, however, that the company I buy my books from keeps track of what I read and registers which sentences I find remarkable. Nobody seems to mind. Several newspapers reported about the ranking based on the Amazon survey. None saw a problem in Amazon's interest in their users' personal interests. I do see a problem. I am upset. Maybe I am too sensitive, but I don't want to be watched by some big brother when I read a book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014


“I am ready to disclaim my opinion, even of yesterday, even of 10 minutes ago, because all opinions are relative. One lives in a field of influences, one is influenced by everyone one meets, everything is an exchange of influences, all opinions are derivative. Once you deal a new deck of cards, you've got a new deck of cards.”
Peter Brook

Sunday, August 3, 2014


And so it was that later as the miller told his tale that her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.
Gary Brooker & Keith Reid

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I wouldn't mind being the lead guitarist in an incredibly successful rock band. However, I don't play the guitar.
Ian McEwan

Friday, August 1, 2014