Another weekend doddle while I continue to be late uploading John Wilson: An English Conductor. (Blame it on my annual respiratory episode. Feeling better now.)
Here’s a blast from the past. When The Kid was still in my belly, Mr Grumble and I managed to get the sublet on a 3-room apartment in the East Village, which we upgraded a few months later to a 4-room with renewable 2-year lease for $250 a month. Yes. Only two hundred and fifty smackers a month. Which means we could make it on theatrical gigs and more-than-occasional temp work, even after paying $60 a week to Maxine Wilkes, God bless her memory, for taking him every weekday, 7:30am – 6:00pm, to play/be fed/hang out with her other charges and the rest of her large brood in their enormous 8-room $110(!) a month apartment in the Campos Plaza project 3 blocks away. That project, I recall, had the cleanest, best-kept playground in the neighborhood (not stinky like the one in Tompkins Square Park, for example) and little one learned to walk, then run, in that yard. Was grateful to Our Lady every day to be able to bring the Bograt over to such a nice place—warm, messy, safe, and good-hearted.
Anyway, on the weekends we had him all to ourselves, and would take The Kid—Boggy, his name was then—around with us bar-hopping. Trendy Holiday Lounge on St Mark’s and Downtown Beirut on 2nd… Vazac Hall on Avenue B, which made an appearance on Edward Woodward’s TV show The Equalizer… And that other Polish bar over on 7th, the Blue & Gold. All with the greatest jukeboxes… [more later]
I had a dream about you a few days ago, John. It was very short. You were maybe 17, 18… You were standing on Tyne Bridge looking down at the river… It was a cool glassy day and the river was cool and glassy… And you were standing there, thinking and pondering that this was the finest sight there ever was… Then you turned your gaze eastward, toward the North Sea… But all you could see was a shimmery horizon, and maybe it was the sea, but it was calm as well and it made you think about how infinite and endless it was (you were only 17, after all)… And then after a few more seconds of pondering you turned to look at me and you said, ‘And that’s when I decided to love Vaughan Williams.’
Above the maestro and the sea, Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Chorus, the BBC Youth Choir, and soloists Sally Matthews and Roderick Williams in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no 1.
I only caught this flick on Prime because Peter was in it, and Peter’s the only Gyllenhaal I think I’d actually enjoy having a beer with even now. The last time we met in New York he had just done Jarhead. Maggie was six months pregnant and being fussed over by her mother, Stephen was in the men’s room on his Blackberry talking to his analyst, and Jake was skulking outside the restaurant—we were at Balthazar—wearing a hoodie and hiding in the shadows. It was that kind of family.
Yes, teenage Cantara made out in early 70s Minneapolis with males who looked and dressed exactly like this. Peter Sarsgaard in Lovelace (2013).
One of the first things Peter did, after we were introduced and he gave first Mister Grumble then me a firm friendly handshake, was try to engage us in a conversation about Melungeons. “You know,” he told us mock-confidentially, “Elvis was a Melungeon.” I evinced surprise and interest—I’d never heard the term before, ever—and Peter obviously was about to launch into a carefully-considered patter about Melungeons, when Maggie came over to fetch him. He smiled at us a dazzling smile, excused himself and trotted off with her.
So for now, enough of Peter and on to the movie he was in: Lovelace, a 2013 indie based on the book Ordeal by Linda Boreman aka Linda Lovelace, which is chiefly about her experience making the influential porn classic Deep Throat (1972). As a movie it doesn’t play too badly; some hack wrote the script, but the same politically savvy gay filmmakers who produced/directed The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, Howl, The Celluloid Closet, etc evidently had a lot of artistic control over this project. So there’s quite a lot of fooling around with the narrative structure and other arty bullshit like that, but it’s not enough to hide the fact that there’s really no core idea or message. Not to mention there’s not a lot of entertainment value, either… Nope, in this package there’s absolutely nothing clever, insightful, sensitive, or aesthetically satisfying—all screen values, incidentally, which would NOT be out of place in a porn movie.
Peter was good, but Peter’s always good at playing soft-spoken villains. What really interested me was Hank Azaria’s portrayal of one of my directors, Gerard Damiano. A small role but well-executed. Mr Damiano himself was soft spoken, I remember, and very patient. His was the last word on the set. Everyone respected him. He also paid me a compliment I immediately put into my mental jewelry box, and there it’s stayed ever since…
That snooty critic fart Andrew Sarris once mock-praised my old boss Rouben Mamoulian for his early cinema innovations that never quite caught on. Hah! When’s the last time you were so proud of your old boss’s work you wanted to make sure the world never forgot it? So—here’s the most audacious musical film sequence ever directed, which magically links up the movie’s two singing stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald:
Happy 2021, my darling Local Low Fell Lad Made Good. I just tried getting on your management’s website for you (johnwilsonconductordotcom) to check for your January gigs when I was sent to the sinister Your connection is not private page, which perturbs me a bit as it sounds like the server might’ve been hacked.
[Sorry, have to go be with Mister Grumble for a while. More later, promise.]
[2 Jan 2021 14:20] Later. I’m back, dear. Glad to see that fixed, for now. Mister Grumble and I had a date to listen to what I just found on YT: the 1978 NYE Grateful Dead concert from The Closing of Winterland—you know, the one where [legendary band manager] Bill Graham glides down to the stage on a giant lit joint (as I described it to my blind angel which he recognized at once)—and really, it was a great night, or so the Mister tells me. The Mister is the one who turned me on to The Dead, back at our old commune in San Francisco.
[making dinner now, Bavarian-style pork chops with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes; I’ll come back to wrap this up as soon as I can, promise]
[6 Jan 2021 14:21] Okay, now that I’ve served all your wonderful fans around the world, let me have my say.
The BBC Proms 2017 semi-staged production of Oklahoma! pissed off 3 people I care about even though one of them is dead: Mister Grumble, a proud Oklahoman, who hated to see this nuanced Sooner tale turn into some weird English panto; original 1943 director Rouben Mamoulian, who even though dead howled in his grave at your dismissive use of his name in promos, oh, and for perpetuating a “mistruth” about him and his artistic relationship with Agnes de Mille; and me for two things: one, your use of the Robert Russell Bennett orchestration (which was never meant to play to a room the size of the Albert) instead of the film orchestration (by Bennett+Courage+Sendry+Deutsch) which, if I remember rightly, you actually used in your 2010 show for the last number, “Oklahoma!”, and it was gorgeous; and two—Marcus Brigstocke as Ali Hakim!!!??? Who the hell at the BBC was responsible for thatwhitewashing? And why didn’t the UK press call the Beeb on it? (I mean, if you’re all going to be hoity-toity over Maria in West Side Story…) Now, I can lay the former at your door but maybe not the latter, as the Beeb seems to have gone off its rocker on its own… But c’mon.
But let that pass. What really impresses me about my lust for you is that it started me on the road to thinking about The Old Man again. And actually, really, I should thank you for that. Mamoulian ought to be remembered—not for being a cranky old has-been, but for having directed some classic pictures and classic stage musicals like, you know, Oklahoma! I knew him. Our minds matched. That there was some weird man-woman friction going on between us toward the end makes no difference. It fries me how little regard he gets nowadays, even in the film buff world. So, ultimately, there’s no rancor on my part toward you re Mister M. (As a matter of fact, I think I’ll work out all my mental stuff about Mamoulian in a mystery one of these days.)
But now my love, here’s the last item and I hope I can finish it before I have to go in to make dinner.
Okay. Here’s the connection between you and Mamoulian, and it has nothing to do with you as a musician. It has to do with that damn full dress of yours.
From Playbill.com: Conductor, arranger and musical scholar John Wilson will bring his 58-piece orchestra to the Shaw Theatre August 20-23 for That’s Entertainment!, an evening of music and song that celebrates the great MGM musicals.
The John Wilson Orchestra will perform original orchestrations and scores, many of which have been newly reconstructed by Wilson himself, to pay tribute to some of America’s greatest composers and songwriters, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harry Warren, Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers as well as the great Hollywood arrangers Conrad Salinger, Johnny Green and Nelson Riddle. The evening will feature music and songs from some of Hollywood’s best-loved MGM musicals: High Society, Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Ziegfeld Follies, Meet Me in St. Louis and The Wizard of Oz. Special guest vocalists are Matt Ford, Rachel Weston and Gary Williams.
As a conductor, Wilson works regularly with the Hallé, City of Birmingham Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC Scottish and BBC Concert orchestras. He is a frequent guest conductor in Europe: Recent visits have taken him to the RTE Concert Orchestra in Dublin, and to Scandinavia, Iceland and Bulgaria. Last year he made his Australian debut in Melbourne and Adelaide and his London Philharmonic debut at the Royal Festival Hall. He is also a musical arranger for film, radio and TV, where his credits include orchestrating Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for the BBC production of Gormenghast, which won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Film Score; Howard Goodall’s score for the BBC/HBO film The Gathering Storm about Winston Churchill; and the soundtrack for Kevin Spacey’s Beyond The Sea biopic of singer Bobby Darin, which gained my brilliant, bonny John a Grammy nomination. He has also worked with Sir Paul McCartney and has orchestrated and conducted several of Sir Paul’s compositions with the London Symphony Orchestra.
He has also reconstructed the orchestrations of the major MGM musicals High Society, Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and An American in Paris. In January he gave the first European performances of his orchestrations of The Wizard of Oz with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, synchronized with the film.
I got my first record collection when I was 3 1/2. We had just moved into a little bungalow in Northeast Minneapolis and the previous owners had left a stack of old, old 45s and 78s—Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Nelson Eddy, Rudy Vallee etc etc. which my mother, God bless her, let me keep for myself to play on my kiddie record player! This, mes amis, was my first true introduction to The Great American Songbook. But wasn’t until I started working at ASCAP (at 18) where I had to learn the names of the melody and lyric writers the name “Billy Rose” came popping up (year is date of recording):
Front Row: What’s so enthralling to you about the music of Erich Korngold?
John: It’s very much his own style… You hear two seconds of music and immediately you know it’s by Korngold because by the way he was 13 or 14 he had a fully developed late-Romantic Austro-German style and, you know, had it not been for the Nazis and the Second World War he would have continued to develop his operatic skills, his symphonic skills, and he would now be as established as Richard Strauss…
Front Row: What made you choose the particular pieces [for the Chandos recording] that you did?
John: I think the Symphony, Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, is the last great Austro-German romantic symphony and…it was written 1947 to 52, it took 5 years, and…I think it was the piece that Korngold spent, lavished the most time on. I think it was the piece that he felt was he felt he really had to write because it was a labor of love… And you know, he couldn’t get a satisfactory performance out of it during his lifetime because he was considered old hat…and in 1972 I think it was, it was discovered in the Munich orchestra’s library and the first recording performance given… And I just felt that the time had come for a revised sort of conception of this symphony of Korngold’s.
Under new guidelines, there are fewer available seats in the Barbican Hall, set as single tickets or in groups of twos, threes and fours. You can only sit in the same seating cluster as someone from your own household (or support bubble) and we ask you to not swap seats so we can maintain a safe distance between you and other groups. Tickets must be booked online in advance. Two performances: 3.30pm & 6.30pm.
The performances are expected to last 1 hour. There will be no interval. The performances take the place of the concert originally scheduled at 7.30pm on Thursday 21 January. Tickets here.