I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in "Cheers & Jeers". For example .....
OK, you've been warned - here is this week's
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES - the feline-focused Cat Art Show - featuring the works of more than 60 artists including Shepard Fairey and Tracey Emin - will be at the 101 Exhibit Gallery in Los Angeles for nine days (from January 25th to February 2nd).
LONG-TIME VIEWERS of Saturday Night Live may well recall the character that the late Gilda Radner created, "Roseanne Rosanadanna" ... who always answered questions submitted by a rather whiny Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey ... who was a real person, yet never actually wrote those letters (he was simply the brother-in-law of an SNL staff writer).
Well, even though Mr. Feder hasn't lived in Fort Lee for some time .... you'll never guess what bridge he tried to cross last September.
THURSDAY's CHILD is Nyankichi the Cat - an injured, abandoned Japanese kitteh brought to a shelter near Osaka .... and now has a job as deputy to the chief veterinarian.
IN THIS CENTENNIAL YEAR of the start of World War, BBC News online is having a series of photo-laden profiles of major European cities as they were in 1914 ..... with Berlin its first stop.
BRAIN TEASER - try this Quiz of the Week's News from the BBC.
THEATRE NOTES - British comedian Tim Minchin has announced plans to turn the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day into a musical on the London stage ... with the blessing of Stephen Sondheim, who gave up on the project.
JUST IN TIME for the Olympic figure skating competition: the memoirs of long-time analyst Dick Button - a two-time Olympic champ himself.
I MAY BE KNOWN as the Separated-at-Birth guy around here ... but here is a photographer's exhibit of Doppelgangers that is staggering.
NOTE on TODAY'S POLL - I have not listed Chris Christie this week because (a) he was the runaway winner last week (and I try to avoid a repeat selection), (b) this past week saw more of a continuation (rather than much that was new), and (c) he may well be a future nominee, as other shoes continue to drop.
FRIDAY's CHILD is Piper the Cat - who was rescued from a school drainage pipe in Findlay, Ohio ... hypothermic, emaciated and covered in mud ... but has recovered nicely, and many have inquired about adopting him.
HAIL and FAREWELL to the actor Russell Johnson - yes, the Professor on "Gilligan's Island" - who has died at the age of 89 ..... and Hiroo Onoda - the last Japanese imperial soldier to emerge from hiding in a jungle in the Philippines and surrender, 29 years after the end of World War II - at the age of 91.
SEPARATED at BIRTH - Kathy Stover-Kennedy, the girlfriend of Freedom Industries CEO Dennis Farrell - the firm whose chemical leak poisoned the Elk River in West Virginia - and Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow.
......and finally, for a song of the week ............... in the field of world music, it is difficult to think of a band whose sound has come to better represent their own nation than The Chieftains - who have been together for fifty years although (with their first seven years spent as a semi-pro band) it has only been since 1970 that they have become known around the world. They have changed the image of Irish folk music through two methods: fine musicianship and a staggering number of collaborations with other musical genres that have brought their sound to a wider audience ... and influenced their own sound, as well.
Before their advent: many people in the Irish diaspora thought of Irish folk music as either (a) the barroom sound of the Clancy Brothers and Irish Rovers, or (b) the sentimental sounds of John McCormack and Mary O'Hara. In fact, the Chieftains came out of the band Ceoltoiri Chualann (a group founded in 1960 and lasting through the decade) that performed traditional music, but removing the highly-orchestrated pop influences (that had crept into traditional music over the years) and adding more improvisation to their sound.
In 1963, its twenty-five year-old uilleann pipes player Paddy Moloney founded the Chieftains (taking the name from the novel "Death of a Chieftain") with some other members of Ceoltoiri Chualann, and he is the only charter member still with the band. Their first four album releases (on a small label) were a big success in Ireland and, later on, in Britain. There were a few personnel changes during the early semi-pro years, with Moloney and violinist and percussionist Martin Fay joined by Seán Keane on violin and tin whistle.
When they became a full-time project (circa 1970) they first found a waiting audience in North America, where younger people were looking for something different and found it in their new Island Records discs (with much wider distribution). Another key addition in 1975 was that of harpist Derek Bell, whose sound gave the music even more panache.
Their big break came later in 1975, where they were enlisted by Stanley Kubrick for the film Barry Lyndon and especially on one song Women of Ireland - which got some airplay on US progressive FM stations (and a few AM Top-40 stations as well). In addition, they were featured on many TV news magazines and even as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live. By the end of the decade, some more personnel changes brought their final new members Matt Molloy on flute, plus Kevin Conneff on vocals and the indigenous Irish instrument bodhran (a hand-held frame drum). This sextet (over the next two decades) would become known as the band's classic lineup.
From the 80’s on, they delved into more collaborations with other performers (more on this later on). They wrote for several film soundtracks, released several live recordings and a Christmas album and had one notable 1988 album called Irish Heartbeat - with Northern Ireland’s own Van Morrison - that won much critical acclaim.
In the new century, the permanent lineup has now become a quartet as in 2002 harpist Derek Bell died just short of his 67th birthday and violinist Martin Fay retired from music at age 66 (and who died ten years later in 2012).
In 2010, the band released its first studio album of new material in seven years, and was one of their most ambitious ever. Paddy Moloney had long been fascinated with the 1845-46 US-Mexican War; fought as part of President Polk’s Manifest Destiny aims. There were a band of US soldiers (who were Irish immigrants) that deserted to fight for the side of Mexico ... and the Chieftains' 2010 album San Patricio was named after that group and told their story. Based upon his success with integrating Spanish-speaking musicians, they hired Ry Cooder as a co-producer, who utilized several Mexican musicians to form an unusual sound that garnered much critical praise.
In 2012, the band celebrated its 50th anniversary and had a long reunion tour featuring every surviving former member. They also released their most recent album Voice of Ages (with T-Bone Burnett as co-producer) with a number of younger musicians from a wide range of genres.
To begin to appreciate their influence on the music world you only need to see the number (and variety) of noted musicians who agreed to perform/record with the Chieftains. A sampler includes the following not already mentioned (and this is a rather incomplete list):
Rock/pop (Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Tom Jones, Sting, Rickie Lee Jones, Natalie Merchant, Art Garfunkel, the Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne), folk and New Age (Loreena McKennit, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Nanci Griffith), jazz (Bela Fleck, Diana Krall, Herbie Hancock), classical (Luciano Pavarotti), reggae (Ziggy Marley) and country/bluegrass (Roseanne Cash, Lyle Lovett, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Willie Nelson). In addition, they have had several other fans including Lennon/McCartney as well as Bob Dylan – shown with Paddy Moloney in the center photo below (and the last Chieftains album features When the Ship Comes In from Bob Dylan's album "The Times They Are A-Changin").
Their impact has been so great that the Irish government formally awarded them the title of "Ireland's Musical Ambassadors" in 1989. In addition, they have won a lifetime Achievement Award from BBC Radio 2, an Emmy award and have six Grammy Awards (out of eighteen nominations). In 1995, they were named as honorary chiefs of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma - the first musical act to have been so honored. They performed an open-air concert in Dublin before an estimated one million people to welcome Pope John Paul II in 1979, were the first Western ensemble to be invited to perform at the Great Wall of China and upon Queen Elizabeth II's first formal visit to Ireland in 2011 ... well, who else would be invited to perform for it?
The Chieftains begin a US tour next month, including my new hometown of Keene, New Hampshire in March (which will be my first time seeing them). And in the photos below, the current quartet consists of: Kevin Conneff on bodhran (age 69), second in left photo, top in right photo ... Paddy Moloney on pipes (age 75), center in
both (actually, all three photos) ... Seán Keane on violin (age 68), next-to-last in left photo, on left in right photo ... and Matt Molloy on flute (age 67), on right in both photos.
What song to choose? Well, why not an example of their traditional music (with a guest vocalist) ... and a celebrated collaboration?
From their most recent album Voice of Ages is the traditional ballad My Lagan Love - sung by a multitude of performers (Irish or otherwise) over the years. This version features the Irish singer Lisa Hannigan - an eclectic performer who has recorded with Celtic bands all the way to Herbie Hancock. You may have already heard her sing five years ago ... if you were someone who watched the video (posted prominently on this website and others) of the Irish pro-same sex marriage TV commercial Sinead's Hand (about what it'd be like for a young man to have to ask strangers if it was OK for him ... to marry his girlfriend). And below you can hear Lisa Hannigan and the Chieftains.
Where Lagan stream sing lullaby
There blows a lily fair
When twilight gleam is in her eyes
The night is on her hair
And like a lovesick lenanshee
She hath my heart in thrall
No life have I, no liberty
With love is lord of all
In 1994, The Who's lead singer Roger Daltrey assembled a series of shows for a musical tribute to his bandmate Pete Townshend. One stop he made (along with their late bassist John Entwistle) was at Carnegie Hall - where the Chieftains backed them up on one of my favorite Who songs, Behind Blue Eyes - which has an acoustic intro and ending. How on earth, though, would they handle the rocking improvisation portion? Below you can hear for yourself.
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies
No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through
But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free