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Welcome to Washington

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bob Dylan @The Anthem

Last night, I attended the Bob Dylan show at the Anthem here in DC. Now I don't review shows, but I I did, this is a much better account by bJoe Heist of the Washington Post than I could compose.
It’s hard to know what to make of Bob Dylan these days. In that sense, nothing has changed. Over his six-decade career, the Hibbing, Minn., songwriter has perfected inscrutability — winning over devoted fans with his genius and frustrating them with his studied mysteriousness. Even his autobiography reads like a fable.
At the Anthem on Tuesday night, the 76-year-old Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner only added to his reputation for intrigue, performing a 20-song show that felt both riveting and oddly removed. 
Dylan has never been one for engaging with an audience, but over the years that lack of interest has compounded. During the 90-minute show, he neither acknowledged the crowd nor spoke a single word. Even his superb five-piece band went unintroduced. It was almost as if they were playing before an empty house.
To keep reading this article, click here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Digital Project Looks at Washington DC in 1968

In her latest ambitious project, historian and humanities scholar Dr. Marya Annette McQuirter is trying to dispel a common myth about her native Washington DC - that after the riots following the shooting death of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King in 1968 the city was devastated until a rebuilding followed the institution of a Metro subway system in the late 1970s.

"The whole city was not destroyed. That's a stereotype and a single story. And a single story is always dangerous," Dr. McQuirter explained recently in a talk at the Smithsonian Museum of American History where she described her dc 1968 online project.

The project is a curated and crowdsourced digital retrospective amplifying the proliferation of activism, art, and architecture that occurred in DC in the aftermath of Dr. King's slaying. Dr. King had many close connections to the Washington community. Of course, he delivered his iconic "I Have  Dream Speech" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time of his death, King was planning a poor people's march on the city.

"The single DC story references only the aftermath of Dr. King's death, not his life," McQuirter says. "It claims nothing was built or created here in the year of his death (1968), but that's just not true."

A still-smoldering H Street in 1968
"We also want to counter the single image of DC. The uprising was only one of the ways DC responded to Dr. King's death. The single image is a visual trope and the way a single story is brought to life," she added.

Dr. McQuirter said the retrospective will utilize photographs, yearbooks, newspapers, religious bulletins, letters, diary entries, ticket stubs, posters, and other objects culled from archives, libraries, and the personal collection of Washingtonians.

"We want to share the daily stories of the individuals, institutions, and organizations that made 1968 in DC such an extraordinary year," she said.

According to the historian, the nation's capital was an epicenter of activism in the days after Dr. King's death. Black activists left the rural and urban south and joined Washingtonians in a struggle for Black Power, human rights, and statehood. Anti-war activists resisted in local high schools, universities, and in the city's streets. Artists supported the cause with abstract images, while local musicians created improvisational protest music.

Dr. McQuirter's academic background makes her ideal to lead the project. She was born and still lives in Washington. Her doctoral dissertation Claiming the City: African Americans, Urbanization and Leisure in Washington, DC, 1902-1957 explored race, gender, class, and sexuality here in the early 20th Century.

She also authored the award-winning African Heritage Trail Guide, Washington, DC, a 100-page guide highlighting the life and contributions of African Americans in the nation's capital.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Host Dick Cavett Donates TV Interviews to the Library of Congress

(Photo courtesy of Bruce Guthrie)
Dick Cavett has donated more than 2,000 episodes of his TV talk show to the Library of Congress.

The donation, which includes episodes of the popular "The Dick Caveat Show" from his 35 years as a host during the 1960s to the1980s, was announced earlier this month at a special program celebrating 50 years of PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

Featured guests on the Cavett show included Muhammad Ali, Orson Welles, Groucho Marx, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.

Two of the most historic episodes included a confrontation between writers Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer and a 1971 interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in which they discussed their relationship and the Beatles.

Cavett, a member of the News and Public Affairs Talk Shows panel at the ceremony, described some of the reasons he shifted from commercial television to PBS.

"Why the move? Well, I was fired," Caveat joked, adding that he had more freedom over guests and content at PBS.

The problems with the commercial networks began with his initial show, which featured Muhammad Ali, Gore Vidal, and Angela Lansbury.

After the taping network officials expressed dissatisfaction with the episode. "They said 'who gives a damn about what Muhammad Ali and Gore Vidal care about the Vietnam War," Cavett explained. Based of their directive, he taped a more innocuous initial episode as a debut. The first show actually aired second.

But Cavett actually received final endorsement of his initial choice. "The reviewers said the Cavett show really found itself on its second show," he said with a laugh.

Cavett said one of his favorite interviews was with "that lovable old couple the Lennons "

"When I first met John I asked him why he wanted to be on my show and he said  'you have the only half-way intelligent show on'. So then I asked him why he wanted to be on a half-way intelligent show and he laughed" Cavett said.

Cavett explained the move to PBS also eliminated another criticism he faced during ihs years on commercial TV. "People said that show is for intellectuals and that is a very dangerous label in television" he noted.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Peter Pan @Synetic Theater

Now I readily admit I might be biased when it comes to the Synetic Theater since the world-class troupe best known for its renditions of silent Shakespeare classics both rehearses and performs in the 11-block Crystal City Underground, located beneath the apartment complex where we live.

Synetic makes a fabulous neighbor.

However, you don't have to have a personal connection to the group to figure out that their current production of Peter Pan is brilliant, dazzling, captivating, and most of all, fun. You simply have to see it.

In deciding to produce Pan, Syntetic artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili wanted to explore why the character Peter Pan has become such a fixture of popular culture and an almost universal icon.

He arrived at two separate answers - one for children and the other for the adults they will become.

"For children, in an age of schedules and demands, the desire to hang on to happy childhood memories and fantasies, to withdraw into a place entirely of your own invention that responds to your every dream and nightmare is incredibly seductive," Tsikurishvili writes in the program notes.

To adults, the more-than-100-year-old-story from British writer J.M. Barrie speaks symbolically to fears of aging and a desire to stay young.

"For an ever increasing number of men and women, painful surgeries such as facelifts and tummy-tucks as the wrinkles and pounds accumulate over time are modern answers to achieving Pan's reality of eternal youth," Tsikurishvili noted.

"In fact the promise of eternal youth and eternal life has been a feature throughout all of world literature. Everyone from the characters of Greek mythology to the Knights of the Round Table to Indian Jones have all sought  the kind of immortality which Peter Pan so effortlessly and carelessly displays in his playful rejection of the real world," the director added.

Tsikurishvili maintains that Barrie's classic story of the boy who won't grow up and a girl whose family insists she must has a timelessness of image, theme, and universality that rivals those of the great tales of Shakespeare, Dante, and Goethe.

"And the magical world that Pan has willed into being around himself is a perfect setting for a Synetic production," the director explains. "Filled with mythical creatures (Tinkerbell, swimming mermaids) and legendary heroes (Pan and Wendy) and villains (Captain Hook, Smee, and the first crocodile ever to roam the Crystal City Underground), Neverland gives us the freedom to put our own unique spin on the tale - shedding new light on Peter's relationship with his guardian fairy Tinkerbell and to the Shadow, that in our adaptation serves as a kind of alter-ego and source of Peter's Power)," he explains.

So if you want your friends and family to enjoy a perfect pre-holiday season event, bring them to see Synetic's Peter Pan, which runs until November 19. It won't make anyone eternally young, but it will certainly leave you feeling young at heart.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Solving Murders @The Renwick Gallery

A new exhibit at the Renwick Gallery explores the unexpected intersection between craft and forensic science.

Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death explores the surprising intersection between craft and forensic science. It also tells the story of how a woman co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation and to establish herself as one of its leading voices.
Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) crafted her extraordinary “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”—exquisitely detailed miniature crime scenes—to train homicide investigators to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” These dollhouse-sized dioramas of true crimes, created in the first half of the 20th century and still used in forensic training today, helped to revolutionize the emerging field of homicide investigation.
Lee, the first female police captain in the U.S., is considered the “mother of forensic science” and helped to found the first-of-its kind Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University when the field of forensics was in its infancy. At the time, there was very little training for investigators, meaning that they often overlooked or mishandled key evidence, or irrevocably tampered with crime scenes. Few had any medical training that would allow them to determine cause of death. As Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change this, tools were needed to help trainees scientifically approach their search for truth. Lee was a talented artist as well as criminologist, and used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to solve this problem. She constructed the Nutshells beginning in the 1940s to teach investigators to properly canvass a crime scene to effectively uncover and understand evidence. The equivalent to “virtual reality” in their time, her masterfully crafted dioramas feature handmade objects to render scenes with exacting accuracy and meticulous detail.
More examples of Lee's forensic craft

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dia de los Muertes in the Museums

Given the sweets, costumes, and spectacularly decorated dancing calacas and catarinas (male and female skeletons), many might think of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) as an extension of Halloween. 

The tradition of ofrendas (offerings to the deceased), however, demonstrates that the Day of the Dead is deeply significant, intensely personal, and a celebration of our humanity and mortality.

Day of the Dead events take place on November 1st and 2nd of each year and coincide with both pre-Columbian and Catholic celebrations. 

Family and friends gather to honor those who have passed with ceremonies that include feasts, music, vigils, and the creation of temporary ofrenda altars. The ofrenda is a significant part of the Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition and is meant to conjure memories of people who are no longer with us as well as places and particular events gone by, powerfully bringing them into the present.

To keep reading this article, click here.

From the Chamber of Mystery Popup @The Library of Congress

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

10 Ghost Stories About the U.S. Capitol

Cloture Club wants to wish you a HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 

Here are some of the ghoulish stories that have been cataloged throughout the history of the US Capitol. 

We hope you enjoy them and remember to keep your eyes open as you walk around the Capitol grounds to see if you have any ghostly sightings of your own.

To keep reading this article, click here.

'The Monster Mash': After 55 Years, It's Still a Graveyard Smash

If you’re a Baby Boomer and you have a favorite Halloween song, chances are that tune is the self-proclaimed graveyard smash “The Monster Mash.”

Of course, in the 55 years since it was first released, Halloween enthusiasts and music fans of all generations have learned to love the creepily classic performance of Bobby “Boris” Pickett, the Coffin Bangers, and their vocal group The Crypt-Kicker Five.

So just how popular is “The Monster Mash,” which has been labeled the national anthem of Halloween?

Well, over 360 covers of the song by other artists currently exist. And the tune still receives the biggest seasonal spike of any song in the data base of the streaming service Spotify. For example, in 2015, records show that the world collectively listened to 43,253 hours of the 2:57-second song on Spotify alone. On YouTube, “The Monster Mash” is searched for as much as 50 percent more than average around Halloween. It has also been used not once, but twice, as background for The Simpsons, as well as at least a dozen popular TV shows.

In addition to being the haunted season’s most popular song ever recorded, “The Monster Mash” also has a notable chart history. Initially released in 1962, it spent the two weeks before Halloween as America’s No. 1 song. However, it re-charted in August 1970 and in May 1973, once again becoming a Top 10 hit and actually making it to No. 1 in Australia and No. 3 in England during its final run.

The origin story of The Monster Mash focuses on its singer and co-writer Bobby Pickett, an early 60s revival of interest in the classic Universal Studios monsters of the 1930s, and two early 1960s dance crazes – the twist and the mashed potatoes.

Born on the East Coast, Pickett moved to Los Angeles in 1960 to become an actor. However, with acting jobs difficult to come by, he joined a singing group The Cordials, who featured the 1957 hit “Little Darlin’’’ in their stage act. The song included a monologue in the middle and Pickett began using his Boris Karloff voice for that break.

His bandmate Lenny Capizzi suggested that he and Pickett try to put the spot-on Karloff impression to work in a novelty record they would write. So, on a Saturday in 1962, the duo sat down at a piano in an LA recording studio and knocked out the song in about two hours. The entire recording process took only two days.

The songs eerie sound effects were low-budget bits of studio improvisation. For example, the coffin door sound is a rusty nail being pulled out of a board and the noise of the witches’ cauldron is water being bubbled through a straw.

“The Monster Mash” was released on August 25, 1962, and the rest, as they say, is Halloween history.

But a further exploration of how the song came to be reveals it is a perfect reflection of the pop culture times in which it was created.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, America experienced a revival of the movie monster craze initially unleashed during the 1930s and 1940s with the classic monster films by Universal Studios, starring iconic horror actors such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney. Versions of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and their various offspring became a staple on late-night local TV shows, many named “Shock Theatre.” The new Baby Boom generation, which had never seen the original movies in theaters, rapidly took to the half-scary, half-sick-humor shows hosted by actors (Dr. Shock) or actresses (Elvira, Queen of the Darkness) and the classic horror films they offered.

The burgeoning monster craze was further fueled by the decision of the Aurora model company to release a series of monster models you could paint and make in your own home. In fact, the Aurora Frankenstein was one of the most popular Christmas gifts for boys in 1961. Aurora, under licensing from Universal, continued releasing the monster kits for the next few years. At the same time, to feed American boys’ hunger for all things horror, companies began releasing monster trading cards, posters, and even lunch boxes.

But while younger Baby Boomers were into monsters, their older sisters and brothers were being swept up in another craze – dancing to the latest pop hit tunes of the day.

In 1961, Chubby Checker, a Philadelphia protégé of American Bandstand host Dick Clark, released his version of a cover of Hank Ballard’s song “The Twist.” Suddenly all of North America was twisting the night away. The twist craze even hip-swiveled into the White House, where First Lady Jackie Kennedy was joined by Washington’s young political elite turning 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue into a late-night twisting disco.

A year later, a second dance craze – the mashed potatoes – joined the twist as the must-do dances of the moment. The new dance sensation – originally a move used by soul icon James Brown in his live concerts - was sparked with the release of “Mashed Potato Time,” a huge hit for Philly artist Dee Dee Sharp. Sharp immediately followed up with a second hit “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes).

When they were creating their novelty Halloween song, Pickett and Capizzi were obviously aware of the monster and the dance crazes. In fact, studio lore contends that the song was going to be called “Monster Twist.” That was changed to “The Monster Mashed Potato” before the duo finally settled on the short, but alliterative “The Monster Mash”.

Of course, while all this background might help clarify the song’s initial success, it doesn’t  explain its incredible lasting power.

For that, we must turn to scholars and scientists who work to find scientific underpinnings for the popularity of certain songs.

According to Ethan Hein, a doctoral fellow in music education at New York University, part of what makes “The Monster Mash” stand out from other Halloween songs is that it is the opposite of what you would expect in a spooky-season song. While there are elements of horror in the song – the ghoulish narrator’s voice, the creepy special effects, the litany of allusions to Frankenstein, Dracula, and other famous monsters – the structure of the song is quite playful, making it appropriate for listeners of almost any age.

(Author’s note of personal experience: I remember first playing an animated video version of “The Monster Mash” for my granddaughter and grandson when they were 4 and 3 and their imploring pleas to “play that Monster song again, Grandpop.”)

Hein further contends that some of the popularity of the song arises from its wildly popular chord progression, which in music terms is labeled “the ice cream progression” for its naturally appealing effects to the human ear.

The chord progression I-vi-IV-V (C-Am-F-G, F-Dm-Bb-C etc.) has been used in some of the biggest hits in pop music including such songs as “Duke of Earl,” “Stand By Me,” “Please, Mr. Postman” and hundreds of others.

Probably, much of the popularity of song stems from the fact that it is a music heirloom, passed down from generation to generation, just like I did with my son and then my grandchildren.

Amy Belfi, a neuroscientist at NYU agrees with that theory. “Something I have studied a bit in my research is the associations between music and autobiographical memories – the thing that happens when you hear a song and it takes you back to a previous memory of a time in your life,” Belfi told Rae Poletta of Inverse: Science and Chill earlier this month.

 “I think that might be one reason why people enjoy ‘The Monster Mash’,” Belfi added. “I know, at least for me, when I hear that song it reminds me of being a little kid around Halloween time. I’m guessing a lot of people have similar associations with this song, and Halloween is so fun that the memories associated with it are likely to be positive ones.”

Of course, it’s virtually impossible to recreate something - which in today’s terminology would be labeled viral - like “The Monster Mash” while working from any pre-planned script. But that didn’t mean Bobby Pickett, who performed until he died in 2007, didn’t try. But his other attempts – “Monsters’ Holiday” (1962),  (“Monster Rap” (1985) and “Climate Mash” (2005) – all failed to chart.

But those very failures led to a success that only Bobby “Boris” Pickett will ever achieve – he is recognized as a one-hit wonder who is responsible not only for the world’s top Halloween hit, but also the number one novelty rock record of all time.

Pickett, who in his career took to the stage wearing a bloodied lab coat with spiders on its shoulders, clearly understood his role in the world of pop music. “I’d like to play a medley of my hit,” he would often say before breaking into the rollicking Halloween anthem he gave the world.

In a 1996 interview with People magazine, Pickett expressed his gratefulness for the lighting flashing luck he was able to capture with his “monstrous” creation. “I’m truly glad I did the song because some people never get to do anything,” he said.

A Booming Encore Encore
Some “Frightening” Fun Facts About “The Monster Mash” You Probably Don’t Know.

·      The band behind the song featured some key figures in rock and roll. There was Leon Russell, later one of the truly great pianists and composers in all of classic rock, but then just a session man trying to pay his bills. Some say he was late for the session and didn’t play on “The Monster Mash,” but others say he did. Russell was definitely playing piano on the B side of the single, however. One of rock’s greatest backup singers, Darlene Love, sang as part of the girl group on the tune.
·      Of the 360 covers of the song, the most famous is by The Beach Boys, who loved to play it in their live shows. Later, the Halloween-themed punk band The Misfits would make it a staple of their live performances as well.
·      The song was briefly banned in the United Kingdom during its initial release because censors there found it “too morbid.”
·      The horror actor Boris Karloff loved the song and actually performed it on a Halloween special edition of the TV show “Shindig!” in 1965.
·      Elvis Presley, however, hated the song, calling it the “stupidest” song he had ever heard.
·      When the song rose to the top of the charts for a final time in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia in 1973, Pickett was driving a cab in New York City to make ends meet.
·      In his 50-year career, Pickett appeared as an actor in such (not) noteworthy films as It’s a Bikini World (1967), Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), Deathmaster (1972) and Lobster Man from Mars (1989). He also starred in the 1995 movie The Monster Mash, playing Doctor Frankenstein.
·      Pickett also composed a couple other not-so-well known novelty songs – “Star Drek” and “King Kong (Your Song)”.
·      In 2007, Dr. Demento aired a documentary about Pickett on his popular show.
·      As far as we know, even though everything’s cool and Drac’s a part of the band, he still hasn’t found out “whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?”