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I post a weekly diary of the historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I featured this past week in "Cheers & Jeers". For example .....

The nexus between politics and entertainment is never wide .. sometimes it darn near coalesces .....

FATHER-SON? - future Senator John McCain and TV star George Eads ("CSI").
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OK, you've been warned - here is this week's tomfoolery material that I posted.

ART NOTES - works by Renoir, Magritte and Gauguin are on display at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture in Missoula through March 12th.

HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY to the pianist Dave Brubeck - who received the Kennedy Center honors last year - and who is featured in the documentary "In His Own Sweet Way" by Clint Eastwood on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) this week. To top it all off, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was first named the Best Small Jazz Group in Downbeat Magazine's readers poll in 1957 .... and lo and behold: by a scant twenty votes, his current Quartet just earned the same title in the 2010 readers poll.

FILM NOTES - all right, you knuckleheads: the Farrelly Brothers production team is preparing to bring a Three Stooges feature-length film to a theater near you.

MONDAY's CHILD is Flippy the Cat - the star of a YouTube video entitled "How To Wrap A Cat For Christmas". But the video has come under fire from animal welfare agencies ...
... and moreover: it turns out that Flippy was put to sleep on July 6th after weeks of complications from renal failure.

CHEERS to the American poet Elyse Fenton who has been awarded the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize - set up to honor the Welsh poet and encourage writing among the young - for a collection of 21st century war poetry partly written while her army doctor husband was deployed in Baghdad.

GRANDMOTHER-GRANDAUGHTER? - film star Faye Dunaway ........
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................... and Taylor Swift the pop star.

AGRICULTURE NOTES - as government-subsidized acres of lucrative biofuel crops are increasingly crowding out conventional grains such as barley, brewers in Germany say the drive for alternative energy sources will force them to raise the price of beer.

ART NOTES - the first U.S. museum exhibition of the sculpturer Jonathan Meese is at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Florida through February 13th.

A RECENT CARTOON by Tom Tomorrow outlines "The New Bipartisanship".

THOUGH IT'S a LENGTHY read: do take a look about the debacle of an upscale Massachusetts pizza chain that sought to grow by hiring a stream of workers smuggled into the country from one area of Brazil. Though the hirings were illegal, the arrangement at least seemed satisfactory for management and labor at first ... until the CEO wanted to expand and started to exploit his workers ... who (most unusually) decided to fight back.

TUESDAY's CHILD is Winslow the Cat - a Massachusetts shelter kitteh suffering from feline leukemia - but who can be adopted with a "Care for Life" program (where his medical bills are paid for life).

MUSIC NOTES - based upon their fabulously successful 2009 jazz-rock world reunion tour, Chick Corea plans another Return to Forever tour next summer. A somewhat different line-up this time: guitarist Al DiMeola will not be touring, but instead his predecessor (Bill Connors) will be, along with French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty as well.

ALTHOUGH HE IS SCHEDULED to retire in early 2013: the gay New Hampshire Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson does not foresee a quiet retirement. Rather, he plans to continue his ministry to people who have had bad experiences with churches, and become more involved in public policy issues.

SEPARATED at BIRTH - Prince William's fiancée Kate Middleton and Lindsay Lohan.
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SADNESS but CHEERS to reading one of those "sports stories that transcend mere sports" and an unlikely one it is: about a coxswain on a college rowing team. But the story of UC-Berkeley's Jill Costello - a non-smoker nonetheless afflicted by lung cancer - became an inspiration not only to her teammates, family and community but also her rivals: leading the president of arch-rival Stanford University to designate a personal assistant to facilitate medical appointments. Though it's a long read, have a look - this woman exhibited more courage than I'll ever have.

ART NOTES - works by the photographers Cyprien Gaillard & Mario Garcia Torres are at the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. through March 27th.

MUSIC NOTES - singers who have been banned in their home countries (such as the Ivory Coast, Turkey, Sudan) have joined together to record an album of hope.

QUOTE for today: the economics editor of the Irish Times newspaper characterizes the ineptness of the nation's two main parties thusly: "Fianna Fail, a catch-all centrist party ... and Fine Gael ... also a catch-all centrist party".....

WEDNESDAY's CHILD is Tiger the Cat - whom a 97 year-old Michigan woman believes saved her life. Surrounded in her garden by four pit bulls (one of whom bit her) Tiger got involved, leading the dogs to chase her ... and thus, enabling Sophie Thomas to escape inside.
Luckily, Tiger showed up (unharmed) at her door at this link a short time later.

IN REMEMBRANCE of the murder of John Lennon thirty(!) years ago today: the Kinks' leader Ray Davies has a short but sweet Op-Ed essay today.

ENVIRONMENTAL NOTES - Italy is moving ahead with plans to ban the production and distribution of non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags starting January 1st.

BEVERAGE NOTES - I know this is a popular brand of bourbon: but normally I think of names such as Wild Turkey or Jim Beam. By contrast, Evan Williams sounds - for all the world - like the name of a fashion designer.

LEGAL NOTES - The chief prosecutor of Spain's National Court Javier Zaragoza has formally requested an investigation into the "niños robados" - the so-called stolen children who were taken from their parents during the Francisco Franco years.

FRIDAY's CHILD wants you to know that with colder weather arriving that you can Winterize Your Cat ... with a few simple rules.

BUSINESS NOTES - my late father was heartbroken in doing it: but in the 70's he finally caved and bought an artificial Christmas tree when he grew increasingly weary of "tying down the car trunk in dank, freezing weather" to lug a real tree home. Now, it's super easy to order one on-line and have it delivered to your door.

ART NOTES - works on paper by Steve Wolfe are at the Los Angeles County, California Museum of Art through February 20th.

NOT MERELY CONTENT with being the reigning Mrs. Germany: Cathrin Durakovic convinced her snowboarder husband to enter the similar Mr. Germany contest .. and he also won - besting more than 1,000 rivals to win the title.

HISTORY NOTES - a coded manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci has been discovered in a public library in Nantes, France after a journalist came across a reference to it in a Leonardo biography. It was among 5,000 manuscripts donated by wealthy collector Pierre-Antoine Labouchere in 1872, forgotten ... and has yet to be deciphered.

THURSDAY's CHILD is Amiel the Cat - the kitteh of Dr. Susan Little, a vet who works exclusively with felines and who is known as "Canada's cat whisperer".

JEERS to the reactionary Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry who managed to hijack the swearing-in ceremony of the new, conservative Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Cherry went from being merely a retrograde NHL coach of the Boston Bruins in the 1970's (complaining of French-Canadian and European players) to a CBC commentator who complained about .... well, those same things (plus being a vocal Iraq War II supporter, among other political rants).

This week, though: the always-flamboyant Cherry wore a pink floral jacket to the new mayor's debut - and launched into a 3-minute introductory tirade criticizing "pinkos, bike riders and the left-wing media", concluding with "Put that in your pipes, you left-wing kooks." - and thus, overshadowing anything the new mayor might say. Canadian TV critic John Doyle - who notably squabbled with Bill-O over Fox's debut in Canada - summed it up best: "It’s Loony-Right Night in Canada, brought to you by the CBC".

SEPARATED at BIRTH - film star Marisa Tomei and TV star Eva Longoria.
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......and finally, for a song of the week ............... though being largely inactive since the 1960's has made him a forgotten name to the general public, Mickey Baker did not acquire the nickname "Mickey (Guitar) Baker" for nothing. He appeared as a session musician on several legendary R&B recordings from the 1950's-60's, recorded under his own name in a short-lived but famous duo ... and despite being largely self-taught: wrote a seminal 1955 guitar book which has is still in-print today.

Born MacHouston Baker in Louisville, Kentucky in 1925, he did not have an idyllic childhood. He believed he was the son of a teenaged prostitute, and spent his youth in various youth homes, reform schools and the like. He ran away for the last time from an orphanage at the age of 16 (when they gave up looking for him) and wound up in New York City. He was a pool shark and drifter before walking into a pawn shop at age 20, hoping to buy a trumpet (as he wanted to play jazz, avoiding the blues music of his native South). But he couldn't afford the $30 to buy one, until the pawnshop owner said he'd let him have a ramshackle guitar for $14.00 - which he did have. He turned out to have an ear for it, blending the Latin sounds he absorbed in New York during the private lessons he took.He dedicated himself so much that he was able to find session work by the end of the 1940's.

He then formed his own band but found difficulty obtaining work, and so he moved to California. He had no better luck finding work as a Charlie Parker-style player, until another fateful moment happened: attending a Pee Wee Crayton concert. Crayton's band was performing the jump-blues style made famous by Louis Jordan, and while Baker was unhappy to think about reverting to the blues he grew up with: he was impressed with the crowd reaction (and the big car Crayton was driving) and decided he needed to get on-board. He returned to New York and this time got some high-profile session work at Savoy, King and - most importantly - Atlantic Records, where he was present-at-the-creation of the R&B revolution (which spawned rock music shortly thereafter).

Even if his name is still a blank, you may have heard some of the classic songs he was a session guitarist on. These include: Ray Charles (on "Mess Around"), Big Joe Turner ("Shake, Rattle & Roll"), The Drifters ("Money Honey"), Big Maybelle ("Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On"), Amos Milburn ("One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer"), Ike & Tina Turner ("It's Gonna Work Out Fine") and Ruth Brown ("Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"). When famed DJ Alan Freed brought his program to New York in the mid-50's, his rock & roll shows needed an orchestra, and featured Mickey Baker on guitar upon the recommendation of local record executives. He also began recording once again under his own name, this time on instrumental R&B tunes.

Earlier in the decade, he backed-up a young singer named Sylvia Vanderpool (who became a guitar student of his) and inspired by the example of Les Paul & Mary Ford - as Les had been Baker's role model as a recording musician - they formed the Mickey & Sylvia duo (below photo left). Though they recorded from 1956-1965: in reality their were a duo for only three years, when they split to make other recordings and only sporadically worked together afterwards. But as the All-Music Guide's Richie Unterberger says, "Their recordings were inconsistent, but at their best they offered a fetching blend of blues, calypso, and doo wop" and had some R&B hits in the late 1950's. Sylvia (later as Sylvia Robinson) went on to a noteworthy career as a record company CEO of Sugar Hill Records that helped pioneer hip-hop music. Mickey Baker went on to record more instrumentals (including his famous Wildest Guitar album) and some guitar instructional recordings as well.

But all along, Mickey Baker was tiring of the American music scene: especially for a black man in the civil-rights era when he was playing to sold-out shows and appearing on TV - yet had to eat at separate restaurants. And so in 1965, he joined other jazz and blues ex-patriate performers by settling in France (center photo) where he backed up singers such as Ronnie Bird and Chantal Goya for a number of years.

Meanwhile, his Mickey Baker's Guitar book series - which the future Who guitarist Pete Townshend cited as a learning tool - were first released in 1955, and last updated in 1992. They have remained in print for fifty-five years and still used today. If nothing else, he helped many an aspiring guitarist to learn what he mastered in less than ten years: an accomplishment in itself.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mickey is still alive in France at age 85 (photo right). Though retired and very private, he spends much of his time writing classical fugues and teaching. But his legacy is solid: he was named in 1999 by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation as one of its Pioneer Award winners, and by Rolling Stone as #53 of its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. For someone who had as awful a childhood as one could imagine: here is an Horatio Alger story of the first magnitude.

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The one song of his that many people recognize (that was released under his name as part of Mickey & Sylvia) was Love is Strange (fair-use extract below) which reached #11 on the Billboard charts in 1957. It was written by Bo Diddley (but credited to his then-wife, Ethel Smith) and Jody Williams, who developed the distinctive lead guitar riff (with its stark, almost tinny sound).

The song's coy dialogue (racy for its time) and Latin-influenced beat made it a popular choice for film producers: "Dirty Dancing", "Badlands" and most prominently in 1972's "Deep Throat". The song also marked the first recording of drummer Bernard Purdie who went on to become one of the most recorded drummers of all time. And it has been covered by many performers, such as Buddy Holly, Sonny & Cher, Paul McCartney, Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton and Chubby Checker. And below you can hear the original.

Love is strange
A lot of people take it for a game
Once you've get it you never wanna quit
After you've had it you're in a awful fix
Many people, don't understand
They think loving is money in their hand

Originally posted to Ed Tracey on Sun Dec 12, 2010 at 07:03 AM PST.


Who Lost the Week?!? (besides us, the unemployed, etc)

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