Ever since seeing the French musical group “Les Primitifs de Futur” at the MOMA and watching Fay Lavsky take a blues solo playing the Theremin, I’ve been thinking about an old acquaintance of mine Steve Martin, and a documentary he did about the Theremin. I must say that I’ve seen one being played several times, and have heard them in the background in some movies, but I had never experienced anyone take a hot blues solo on one until Fay Lavsky, and it definitely grabbed my attention!
Some of you might be going, “what’s a Theremin?” It’s an electronic musical instrument that is played without touch and was created in Russia by Leon Theremin in 1919. It sports two metal antennae that sense where the player’s hands are with one controlling pitch (the vertical antennae) and the other volume (the horizontal). The signals are then amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. The instrument has an eerie sound, but one you would recognize from its use in scary movies (The Day the Earth Stood Still) and horror flicks and other avant-garde and popular musical pieces.
In the 1920’s Leon Theremin came to the United States to promote his new instrument. He taught several musicians how to play and tried to bring his invention into the public eye. In 1938 he was forced to leave the U.S. and return to Russia leaving family and friends, a wife, and a studio. He was put in a Soviet prison camp. He later worked for the KGB and designed other electrical objects for them including “the bug.” He was out of the public eye for 50 years after having a very public presence in NYC and the world, leaving everyone to wonder where he had been and what had happened to this musical pioneer.
In 1993 Steve Martin made the documentary film “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey,” which garnered the prestigious Filmmakers Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival. After meeting Steve in the late 90’s I immediately went out and rented the movie. The film delves into the history of the man who created the Theremin, the instrument itself, and its most famous players including the musical-prodigy Clara Rockmore who had been a violinist until a problem with her hands forced her to give up the violin. She was a student of Theremin’s and went on to become the world’s greatest player. The movie also features interviews with music industry legends such as Robert Moog, who built Theremin’s before synthesizers, Todd Rundgren, and Brian Wilson as well as interviews with its founder Leon Theremin. It is an interesting film definitely worth seeing so check your local video store, Amazon, or Netflix.
Below is a video of Clara Rockmore playing “The Swan” (Saint-Saëns) on Theremin, accompanied on piano by her sister, Nadia Reisenberg. To catch a rare glimpse of the world’s greatest Theremin player simply cut and paste the link below into your browser.
There were so many moving performances in the Leonard Cohen movie “I’m Your Man,” it was hard to choose one. But Antony is such a different sort of character and his performance of “If It Be Your Will” was so emotional and beautiful, that he is where I ultimately landed for this entry.
To me Antony has such an unusual sounding voice it rises above most others. Watching him perform you feel as if you are being given entry to a very private moment, a glimpse into the man’s soul, and if you move you might break up the chemistry or you could be asked to leave. He seems to channel his voice from a deep place within. At times he can look uncomfortable and even disturbed, moving his hands back and forth, digging to the place inside himself where his expression lives. But you know what he is touching is very pure and as its essence is revealed his vocal performance comes alive and washes over you.
Antony, whose full name is Antony Hegarty, plays with a group called Antony and the Johnsons. You can also see and hear him in the Lou Reed movie, “Berlin,” Steve Buscemi’s movie “Animal Factory” and several others. He can be heard on the soundtrack to the Dylan inspired movie, “I’m Not There,” as well as many other artistic vehicles. In 2005 Antony and the Johnsons released the “I Am a Bird Now” LP on the Secretly Canadian label.
To see Antony perform “I’m Your Man,” simply click on the link below or cut and paste it into your browser.
So I have to admit it I should be in a sticky note 12 Step program. I am confessing to you that I am a sticky note addict! Yes computers are great, contact management programs are helpful and necessary, calendars are good too, but I could not live without my yellow sticky notes. My sticky note of preference is the 3M yellow 2 7/8”X2 7/8” square “Post-It’s.” My world revolves around them. They are almost as important to me as food and water and have been for a number of years.
I organize my life with these beautiful yellow creatures and I have friends, relatives, coworkers past and present who will testify to that effect. I always have to have a pad close by. I’d be lost without them! Anything important that I need to remember, appointments, to do’s, sometimes as simple as “wash hair,” “clean litter box,” or “do laundry”, it all gets written down. At work it used to be “call so and so,” “contract musicians for session,” “call back the drummer and see if he’s solid,” “get string player referrals.” Yes most of this was in my computer on ACT, but if it was really important it was also on a sticky attached to the side of my computer.
At home they are organized by the day in my kitchen. I write something down so I won’t forget it, then put it in the pile under the day it needs to get done. Every morning I look under that days sticky notes and I feel that much better. I have back up. My sticky notes act like my own personal assistant reminding me of what “really” needs to be accomplished that particular day. I have managed multi million dollar projects this way without dropping the ball. It’s quite humorous to my friends and co-workers, but it works for me. Did you ever see Lily Tomlin’s “in Search of Intelligent Life?” There’s a scene with sticky notes and the woman is so obsessed with them that she has them posted all up and down her arms, well that’s me only I have them posted in my kitchen, on my computer, and on rare occasion on my desk chair so I remember to do something or call someone the second I return.
Today I have confessed. I have come clean with you about one of my little somethings that grows between the cracks. I endorse the use and utility of 3M yellow 2 7/8” X 2 7/8” Post-It’s. My life would be a mess without them and I don’t plan on giving them up anytime soon. This product can be found in most drug stores, stationary stores, grocery stores, and office supply stores. And I swear to you 3M did not pay me to write this, although I would be an amazing spokeswomen for them if somehow by some chance, they read this post.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself flipping through the channels on my television and saw that “I’m Your Man,” the Leonard Cohen concert documentary was on PBS again and I decided I needed to see it one more time as it is such a great film. Not only is it inspiring musically, but you hear Leonard Cohen in his own words talk about his life, his struggles, his weaknesses, his thoughts, and what drove him to write at different times during his long prestigious career.
Directed by Lian Lunson with music produced once again by famed music producer Hal Wilner, the concert portion of the film takes place in Sydney, Australia in 2005 at the Sydney Opera House and stars an impressive roster of guest artists performing Leonard Cohen songs. This included the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Beth Orton, Antony, with backup singers Peria Batalla and Julie Christensen and a special performance by Leonard Cohen with U2’s Bono and The Edge filmed specifically for the movie.
The story is told by Cohen and is taken from interviews that were filmed in LA. It is interspersed with old photo’s and home movies from Cohen’s life, spanning from his childhood in Montreal, to his life as a monk, the past and the present. Cohen speaks candidly about his personal journey; his influences, the twists and turns his life has taken; his spiritual quest including becoming a monk; and it also delves a bit into the rumors of his romantic life and female escapades of which he has also became famous.
“I’m Your Man” is worth seeing on so many levels. Released in 2006 this award- winning story is incredibly interesting and the music is fantastic! If at any time over the past 40 years you have found yourself taken by this wonderful musician poet, or if this is the first time you are being introduced to Leonard Cohen, he is someone you will want to know, and this is a movie you will want to see. Available on DVD, it also plays occasionally on PBS. If you haven’t already experienced its pleasure, consider taking the time to do so.
Below is a link to the movies trailer. Get a preview by either clicking on the link below or cutting and pasting it into your browser.
Years ago my girlfriend in Paris who lives in the 5th, told me she wanted to take me to a café on her favorite little street in all of Paris, Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest streets in Paris. At that time I had only been to Paris 2 or 3 times. It was winter and we were with friends, happy because it was the holidays and also happy because we were in Paris. We proceeded to walk from her apartment bundled up in our warm coats, scarves and gloves, and soon found ourselves on this little quaint cobblestone street all lit up for the Christmas season. Walking up the street looking in the windows everything looked absolutely perfect!
We had a wonderful meal and later I told a friend, that I was in love with this street and we had to come back the next day so I could see it in daylight. The following day we returned and the cobblestone street was bustling with commerce. The freshest flowers filled the stalls, stands were piled high and full of color with farmers vegetables. Looking left and right I saw every kind of cheese imaginable and the patisseries all were perfect. You could hear them beckoning you to walk in and try more than one. Cafes and small restaurants to sample line the street. They kept us occupied more than once, and the neighborhood with its wonderful side streets gives both the native and the traveler a lot to explore, and we did.
From that night on whenever I am in Paris, I never miss an opportunity to walk up or down the gentle cobblestone slope called Rue Mouffetard, also referred to as “Le Mouffe”. It’s got to be my favorite place in Paris, if one can choose. Located in the 5th arrondissement near the church Saint Medard, by what I always consider to be the base of the street, is a circle with a fountain surrounded by little cafes and patisseries. From there, your nose and the colors will lead you to where you want to go. Some people say the street represents the history of Paris. So if you’ve never walked on Rue Mouffetard, and you’re going to be in Paris this summer or any season, try to find time to savor this vibrant colorful neighborhood. You’ll be happy you did.
A short walk from the Pantheon, the nearest Metro stops are Place Monge and Censier-Daubenton.