February 20, 2019

Princeton Professor Emeritus Stanley Corngold will be at Labyrinth Books on Wednesday, February 27, at 6 p.m. to discuss and read from his biography, Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic (Princeton Univ. Press). This event is co-sponsored by Princeton University’s Humanities Council.

A Princeton professor for 30 years, best known for his book Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre, Walter Kaufmann (1921–1980) was a charismatic philosopher, critic, translator, and poet who fled Nazi Germany at the age of 18, emigrating alone to the United States. Corngold’s “luminous biography” (Kirkus Reviews) is the first in-depth study of Kaufmann’s thought, covering all his major works. According to Alexander Nehamas, author of Nietzsche: Life as Literature, Kaufmann “was erudite, passionate, opinionated, and deeply controversial. In this sweeping intellectual biography, Stanley Corngold paints a lively and engaging portrait of a thinker whose views on philosophy, art, literature, politics, religion, and modernity remain of immediate importance today―a portrait that is as touching as it is compelling.”

Stanley Corngold is professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at Princeton University. His many books include The Fate of the Self: German Writers and French Theory; Complex Pleasure: Forms of Feeling in German Literature; Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka; and Franz Kafka: The Ghosts in the Machine.

By Stuart Mitchner

And I’m conquered in a car seat,
Not a thing that I can do…
— Van Morrison, from “Cyprus Avenue.”

I’m driving down Nassau Street on a fine brisk late April afternoon in 1976 when something called “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on the radio. Fresh from the birth of a son, I’m like a happy Ancient Mariner ready to stop people on the street to tell them my story, only instead of coming from the realm of the living dead I’ve been to the promised land of life and love. Now this piece of music erupting from the ancient Dodge Dart’s equally ancient radio, is giving me what I need, matching my emotional overload, speaking to and for me: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

Somewhere between the stoplights on Nassau, I’m wrenched from “easy come, easy go, a little high, a little low” to “Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” The words “life had just begun” rhyme with my first-time parental bliss, but not “I’ve gone and thrown it all away.” Looking back at the moment, I see the ultimate “little did he know” scenario. Go ahead, sing along, fool, blissfully ignorant of the highs and lows of the epic manic depressive opera of fatherhood awaiting you. Again, the song seems to know where I’m going. No sooner do the words “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all” voice the lament I hear from my troubled son four decades later, here comes the zany, out-of-nowhere cry of “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango,” a light opera Harpo Marx Bronx cheer for apocalypse (“thunder and lightning very very frightening”), and then, incredibly, absurdly, thrillingly, “Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Figaro, magnifico!”  more

“BICYCLE FACE”: Passage Theatre has continued its Solo Flights series with “Bicycle Face.” The show is written and performed by Hannah Van Sciver (above), and directed by David O’Connor. (Photo by Kate Raines)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre continued its annual Solo Flights series with Bicycle Face, which was presented February 15-17. Written and performed by Hannah Van Sciver, and set in Philadelphia, this provocative monologue is a work of performance art. Multimedia is blended with live performance — dramatic and musical — to examine cultural attitudes in the late 19th century, the present, and a hypothetical future.

Created in 2015, the show premiered in June of that year in the Philadelphia SoLow Festival. Subsequent performances have included the Razor’s Edge Solo Performance Festival in New Orleans and the United Solo Theatre Festival at Theatre Row in New York City. more

Carol Thompson and Mort Paterson, seen here in ActorsNET’s 2017 production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” are the star and playwright of the world premiere production of “The Crimes of Diana Eastlake” at The Heritage Center Theatre, 635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, Pa., March 8-24. The play concerns a society widow whose daughter is kidnapped by Syrian terrorists. Parental discretion advised. Call (215) 295-3694, email actorsnet@aol.com, or visit www.brownpapertickets.com for reservations.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) announces its 2019-2020 Season celebrating Music Director Rossen Milanov’s 10th Anniversary. Milanov was recently named the PSO’s inaugural Edward T. Cone Music Director.

The season offers Saturday and Sunday performances of all programs at Richardson Auditorium, and features soloists including pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton and Natasha Paremski, cellist Pablo Ferrandez, clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, and violinist Stefan Jackiw. Violinist Daniel Rowland returns to perform Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with cellist Maja Bogdanovic and pianist Steven Beck.

An all-Mozart opening concert; symphonies by Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Beethoven; Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade; Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; concertos by Rachmaninoff, Elgar, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven; and contemporary works by Anna Clyne and Julian Grant are planned. In keeping with the PSO’s commitment to supporting today’s composers, the orchestra performs a new work by Saad Haddad, his second to be co-commissioned.  more

“BOLTS & STITCHES”: “Aquatic in Nature” a sculpture by Gene Hracho, above, and “Power Pose,” a cloth and stitch work by Peggy Hracho, below, are part of an exhibit at Artworks Trenton on view March 12 through April 13. An opening reception is March 16 from 7 to 9 p.m.

“Bolts & Stitches,” works by Gene and Peggy Hracho, will be on view in the main gallery at Artworks Trenton March 12 through April 13. An opening reception is Saturday, March 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. more

“THE HISTORY OF HER LIFE WRITTEN ACROSS HER FACE”: This work by Margo Humphrey is featured in “From Durer to Digital and 3-D: The Metamorphosis of the Printed Image,” an exhibit at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park, on view March 8 through April 28. An opening reception is March 8 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The Trenton Museum Society presents “From Durer to Digital and 3-D: The Metamorphosis of the Printed Image,” a new exhibit at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cawalader Park in Trenton, on display March 8 through April 28. The exhibit, curated by Judith K. Brodsky, shows how printmaking has evolved from traditional techniques like engraving and woodcut to three-dimensional works printed on the computer. 

An opening reception is Friday, March 8 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Brodsky will give a talk at 7:15 p.m. more

“RETABLO OF JOSÉ CRUZ SORIA”: This 1960 oil on metal work is featured in “Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants,” an exhibition of small-scale paintings on view at the Princeton University Art Museum March 16 through July 7.

More than 50 Mexican retablos — folk paintings dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary, or saints to commemorate a miraculous event — will be presented in an exhibition March 16 through July 7 at the Princeton University Art Museum. Vibrant and emotive, the small-scale paintings on metal span the entirety of the 20th century, serving as both historical documents and as personal expressions of suffering, insecurity and salvation, particularly in regard to the challenges of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The works in “Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants” were offered by Mexican migrants at churches and pilgrimage sites throughout western Mexico and the United States. more

STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: A celebrated musical director (Tomasz Kot) and an aspiring young singer (Joanna Kulig) find romance behind the post-World War II Iron Curtain in the romantic drama “Cold War.” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

By Kam Williams

Dateline: Poland, 1949. The countryside is still devastated by the blight left behind in the wake of World War II. It is amidst these ruins that we find young Zula Lichon (Joanna Kulig) auditioning for a spot in the national entertainment ensemble.

The aspiring singer-dancer survives the tryout because the repertory company’s powerful musical director, Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), is quite taken by her beauty. The pretty peasant girl, in turn, is quite flattered by the attention being lavished on her by her handsome and relatively-sophisticated advocate, even though he’s old enough to be her father. more

February 13, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

I was the first so-called black hippie.

Love’s Arthur Lee

On Valentine’s Day 1969, 50 years ago tomorrow, John and Yoko and Paul and Linda were heading for March marriages and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) was still on the Billboard album chart, where it remained until March 1 after 88 consecutive weeks.

Forever Changes (1967), the third album by the L.A. group Love dropped off the Top 200 after 10 weeks, having peaked at No. 154. It did better in the UK at No. 24 and returned to the chart in 2001, a year before admirers in the British Parliament passed a “light-hearted” motion declaring it “the greatest album of all time.” In 2008 Forever Changes was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The title comes from a break-up story recalled by Arthur Lee in which the girl says, “You said you would love me forever,” and is told, “Well, forever changes.” Lee figured that since his band’s name was Love, the album’s title was actually Love Forever Changes. more

By Nancy Plum

Continuing Princeton University Concerts’ 125th Anniversary season, Richardson Chamber Players presented an afternoon of mixed chamber works composed during the inaugural season of the Concerts series. In a Sunday concert at Richardson Auditorium entitled Then and Now, six musicians of the Richardson Chamber Players juxtaposed works composed in 1894 and 1895 with music of today, demonstrating connections among pieces written more than 100 years ago. Most of the works on Sunday afternoon’s program paid tribute to the University Concerts’ inaugural year, with the Eric Nathan’s very contemporary Threads for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano making the compositional leap into the 21st century.

The Chamber Players began their journey into Then and Now with a work for solo piano as pianist Geoffrey Burleson performed a paraphrase for solo piano of 19th-century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Paraphrases were virtuosic solo instrumental works based on popular melodies of the time, in the case of Saint-Saëns’ La mort de Thaïs, music from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Saint-Saëns set the opera’s “Vision” tableau of Act III, as well as the more well-known “Meditation,” and Burleson began the work with clarity in opening octaves punctuated by rolling arpeggios. Burleson played percussively, creating tension which moved the music along. This paraphrase was more driven than dreamy, although Burleson was effective in stretching the lines in a more pensive second section. Burleson finished the Saint-Saëns piece in majestic style, with virtuosic flourishes from the keyboard.

German composer Richard Strauss composed a generation later than Saint-Saëns, which can be heard in his boundary-pushing harmonics and emotional setting of text. Strauss composed more than 200 songs, and soprano Rochelle Ellis, accompanied by Burleson, presented four of them in thoughtful and unhurried fashion. The four songs performed by Ellis set poetry of varied text and mood, and Ellis well demonstrated Strauss’ picturesque writing with solid control of the vocal lines and animated storytelling. The third song in particular, “Heimliche Aufforderung,” showed an especially free-flowing accompaniment from Burleson and a sensitive ending to the text from Ellis. more

State Theatre New Jersey will present star soprano Renée Fleming on Wednesday, February 27, at 8 p.m. The theater is at 15 Livingston Avenue. The preceding day, Fleming will appear at Mason Gross School of the Arts for “Music and the Mind: A Conversation with Renee Fleming,” at 7 p.m. in Rutgers University’s Nicholas Music Center, 85 George Street, New Brunswick.

Tickets are $49-$99 for the State Theatre event. Admission to the lecture is free, but advance registration is required.

“Renée Fleming is one of the most extraordinary singers of our time and we are proud to bring her to New Brunswick for her State Theatre debut,” said Sarah K. Chaplin, State Theatre New Jersey president and CEO. “We are especially proud to partner with the Mason Gross School to present Ms. Fleming in the free lecture, Music and the Mind.” more

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University will present real lies, an original production choreographed and directed by Princeton seniors James Jared and William Keiser that explores a multitude of dichotomies — discipline/pleasure, internal/external, and performer/audience, among others — through dance.

Uniting the story of Pinocchio with a study of artistry and performance, two casts and two choreographers share one stage. Shows are February 21 at 8:30 p.m., February 22 at 9:30 p.m., and February 23 at 2 and 8:30 p.m. at the Hearst Dance Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton University campus. The performances are free and open to the public, however advance tickets reservations are encouraged. more

“THE ART OF SEATING”: This 19th century centripetal spring arm chair designed by Thomas E. Warren is part of “The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design,” an exhibition showcasing a private collection of iconic and historic chairs reaching from the 1800s to the present. It is on view at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., through May 5.

The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., now presents “The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design,” an exhibition showcasing a comprehensive private collection of iconic and historic chairs reaching from the 1800s to today’s Studio Movement. Developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville and organized for tour by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C, these works of art have stories to tell about our national history, the evolution of American design, and artistry and craftsmanship. The exhibition will be on view through May 5. more

“WOMAN IN MEADOW GRASSES”: This photo by Laura Hawkins is featured in “Healing Trails,” on view through April 5 at D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center. The exhibit is in partnership with the Princeton Photography Club. An opening reception is Friday, February 15 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

It’s a walk. It’s an app. It’s an art exhibit. “Healing Trails,” introduced by D&R Greenway Land Trust, is all of the above. The exhibit, in partnership with the Princeton Photography Club, is on view through April 5 at D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton. Both the Healing Trails app and an upcoming walk will be unveiled at the “Healing Trails” opening reception on Friday, February 15, 5:30-7:30 p.m. RSVP by calling (609) 924-4646 or go to www.rsvp@drgreenway.org.  more

“THIS IS NOT A POSTER, AND THAT’S NOT A BOOK”: An exhibition of “handmade” poster designs and artists’ books by seniors and juniors in Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts Program in Visual Arts is on view in the Hurley Gallery at Lewis Arts complex through February 21. The exhibition is free and open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Photo by MT Simao)

The Lewis Center for the Arts Program in Visual Arts now presents “This is not a poster, and that’s not a book,” an exhibition of “handmade” poster designs and artists’ books by seniors and juniors in the Program in Visual Arts. It is on view in the Hurley Gallery at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton University campus through February 21. The exhibition is free and open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The senior posters are a response to a project for the students in the Exhibition Issues and Methods Seminar to make a “handmade” poster while considering their upcoming spring thesis shows. The students determined what “handmade” could mean to them at this point in digital culture and gave them a chance to contemplate the history of artists producing their own visual aids in regards to their exhibitions. This class is taught by faculty member Pam Lins. more

I’LL GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS: A grieving father (Liam Neeson, right) is determined to find out why his son, who had no history of drug use, died of a heroin overdose. His search leads him to a powerful kingpin known as Viking (Tom Bateman, left) in the vigilante thriller “Cold Pursuit.” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment)

By Kam Williams

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is Kehoe, Colorado’s most reliable snowplow driver. He was recently named the popular ski resort area’s Citizen of the Year for keeping its treacherous mountain roads clear during the blizzards which routinely threaten to disrupt the town’s tourist season. 

Not used to making public appearances before an audience, the shy civil servant needs some help from his wife (Laura Dern) dressing and preparing an acceptance speech. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes the night of the awards dinner when their son (Micheál Richardson) dies of a drug overdose in nearby Denver. more

February 6, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.

—Mick Jagger in Performance

Asked if the line spoken by Turner, the character he plays in Donald Cammell and Nick Roeg’s enduringly outrageous film, could serve as a motto for performing live with the Rolling Stones (“When the Sixties Went Dark,” TLS Dec. 21&28), Jagger admitted “there’s something in it — its more interesting performing on the edge than going through the motions.”

This being Oscar month, I’ve been thinking about performers and performing and how when Warner Bros bankrolled a film called Performance in 1968, studio executives thought they’d scored another Hard’s Day’s Night. The Rolling Stones might be lowlifes, the dark side of the Beatles, but they were the second biggest rock group on the planet, and with Mick Jagger starring, there was sure to be a best-selling soundtrack album. Money in the bank! What Warners got instead was Swinging London in hell, the Citizen Kane of decadence, unremitting cinematic anarchy swarming with sex and drugs, and not a word from Mick Jagger for the first hour, just a heavy dose of London underworld mayhem featuring James Fox as a ruthless enforcer on the run after killing someone against the mob boss’s orders. By the time Jagger entered, he was swallowed up in the chaos described in Jay Glennie’s Performance: The Making of a Classic as “a heady cocktail of hallucinogenic mushrooms, sex (homosexual and three-way), violence, amalgamated identities, and artistic references to Jorge Luis Borges, Magritte, and Francis Bacon.”   

According to legend, the wife of a Warners executive vomited during a test screening; the studio seriously considered destroying the negative; and at a sneak preview, most of the audience walked out. Shelved for two years, the film was savaged by reviewers when it was finally released in 1970. If there had been an Academy Awards category based on the reviews, Performance would have copped the Oscar for the most pretentious, repellent, disgusting, fundamentally rotten, and completely worthless motion picture of 1970.  more

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 10-year relationship with Music Director Rossen Milanov this past weekend, with concerts paying tribute to the musical leadership which resulted from Milanov’s first concert with the Orchestra. Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) featured Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 — the work which Milanov conducted in his debut with Princeton Symphony — as well as a Brahms piano concerto within the classical framework.

Johannes Brahms’ 1858 Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor reflected the composer’s homage to Robert Schumann, who served as a mentor to Brahms, and was originally intended as a sonata for two pianists — Brahms and Schumann’s wife Clara. Featured in this weekend’s performances by the Princeton Symphony was pianist Dominic Cheli, who received his training both at Yale University and Manhattan School of Music and is currently pursuing an artist diploma at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.   

Like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 which followed in the program, Brahms’ Concerto stated the music ferocity from the outset, with an extended orchestral introduction to the piano solo marked by both subdued strings and effective dynamic swells from timpanist Jeremy Levine. In his opening piano solo line, Cheli emerged from the orchestral texture seamlessly with thoughtful and sensitive playing, positioning the piano as a fellow instrument in the orchestra, rather than set off with its own part.    more

JAZZ PIANO: Steve Kramer, left, and Michael Bernabe bring jazz to the recital hall at Jacobs Music in Lawrenceville on Sunday, February 10, at 3 p.m.

The Greater Princeton Steinway Society will present a Jazz Musicale by pianists Steve Kramer and Michael Bernabe on Sunday, February 10, at 3 p.m. in the Recital Hall at Jacobs Music, 2540 Brunswick Pike (U.S. Route 1), Lawrenceville. A reception with refreshments and conversation with the performers will follow the performance.

Kramer has played and conducted from Broadway to Hollywood to the White House, and over his long career has played and conducted with many jazz musicians and comedians including The Artie Shaw Band, the Ice Capades, and the National Dance Institute under Jacques D’Amboise. He currently teaches in the Princeton public schools, has private students, and performs locally with his own band. Bernabe plays regularly throughout the tri-state area with musicians Jeff “Tain” Watts, Randy Brecker, Buddy Williams, Tony Campbell, Roger Humphries, and Victor Lewis. more

TELLING HIS STORY: PU Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera performing his one-person, multimedia, autobiographical play, “I Was the Voice of Democracy.”It will be presented Friday, February 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Godfrey Kerr Theater Studio in the Lewis Center for the Arts complex. (Photo by Kip Malone)

I Was the Voice of Democracy is an hour-long, solo performance written and performed by Princeton University Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera, will be presented Friday, February 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Godfrey Kerr Theater Studio in the Lewis Center for the Arts complex.

The show recalls the true story of a 17-year-old who is briefly thrust into a peculiar kind of fame when a patriotic speech he writes on a whim ends up winning a national contest. Through autobiographical storytelling, this one-person, multimedia event offers a mix of analysis and anecdote, both humorous and heartbreaking, as Herrera puzzles through the memories, mementos, and artifacts that comprise the archive of his own teenage experience. more

“BRONZE LION”: This watercolor painting by artist Jun Zhan is one of many now on view at the Plainsboro Library Gallery. A reception will be held on Saturday, February 9 from 12 to 2 p.m. in conjunction with the library’s annual Chinese New Year Festival.

The Plainsboro Library is hosting an exhibit by accomplished artist Jun Zhan through February 27. His large format and detailed watercolors depict scenes of the Forbidden City in Beijing, as well as portraits of seniors from the Xinjiang Uygur region in China. A reception will be held on Saturday, February 9, 12 to 2 p.m., in conjunction with the library’s annual Chinese New Year Festival.

Jun Zhan paints portraits, still life, and cityscapes in a photo-realistic style. Most of his compositions are meticulously detailed close-ups of daily scenes, produced with a combination of methods derived from Western classical painting techniques, the “negative space” aesthetic in Chinese painting, and a documentary photography style. The Plainsboro Library exhibit will focus on the Forbidden City and portrait collections. more

“JUJU”: This work by Will “Kasso” Condry is featured in “Stand Up Men,” on view through March 3 at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park. The exhibit also includes works by Habiyb Shu’Aib and Autin Dean Wright.

“Stand Up Men,” a new exhibit at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park, is on view through March 3. It features works by three Trenton artists — Will “Kasso” Condry, Habiyb Shu’Aib, and Autin Dean Wright.

“Stand Up Men” is a celebration of Trenton’s African American male artists and their use of canvas, photography, and sculpture to convey the pathos of what it means to exist as a man within the realm of Trenton’s black culture and beyond. “Stand Up Men” inhabits the world of the quiet, deliberate Trenton arts movement forged in love, life, and courage.

Trenton native Will “Kasso” Condry, whose murals still grace much of Trenton’s cityscape, conveys both chaos and beauty in his work. His work has graced spaces throughout the United States and echoes his strong commitment to both urban renewal and the challenges of being a local artist. His muralist approach to his work produces bold, moving images which focus on themes of history, community and humanity. He is one of the founders of the S.A.G.E Coalition, a nonprofit diverse group of visual artists, engineers, fabricators, musicians and teachers dedicated to the rebirth of Trenton. more

HOW AM I GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS?: A Hollywood makeup artist (Gina Rodriguez) is kidnapped by the leader of a drug cartel in Mexico, who dupes her into committing a crime. She is forced to prove her innocence by helping the U.S. government bring down the crime syndicate in the action thriller “Miss Bala.” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is a Hollywood makeup artist sorely in need of a break from her abusive boss. The straw that broke the camel’s back came the day he condescendingly responded to her resourcefulness with the insulting, “Honey, we’re not paying you to think.”

So, on her way out the door, Gloria stole a couple of bags of cosmetics for her lifelong friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is about to enter the Miss Baja beauty contest. Suzu still lives south of the border in their hometown of Tijuana with her little brother, Chava (Sebastian Cano).

Not long after Gloria arrives in Tijuana, the friends head out to a disco to attend a party sponsored by the pageant. But they are soon separated when a gunfight breaks out between the police and La Estrella, a drug cartel led by the bloodthirsty Lino Esperanza (Ismael Cruz Cordova). more

January 30, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

Through long, long years I sang my songs. But when I wished to sing of love it turned to sorrow, and when I wanted to sing of sorrow it was transformed for me into love.

— Franz Schubert (1797-1828), from “My Dream”

If the metaphor popularized in the 1934 tune “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” is on my mind, it isn’t because tomorrow, January 31, is the 222nd birthday of Franz Schubert, it’s because I’ve been listening to a Jazz Age guitarist from Philadelphia named Eddie Lang (1902-1933). What happens when Lang plucks the guitar strings, each note crystal clear, shining and separate, expresses something like the ebb and flow of love and sorrow Schubert muses on in “My Dream,” which was written in 1822 when he was 25 and had only six years to live. Lang was 25 in 1927 and had less than six years to live when he recorded much of the music that’s been haunting me for the past week, thanks to A Handful of Riffs, a CD with liner notes rightly referring to Lang as “one of the great originals,” the first to give the guitar “real soul in jazz.”

The heartstrings metaphor seems less banal when you put it together with a lyric about “a melody that haunted me from the start,” when “something inside of me started a symphony,” and “all nature seemed to be in perfect harmony.” And surely  there’s nothing to be ashamed of in a line like “Your eyes made skies seem blue again,” especially when sung on YouTube by a glowing sixteen-year-old Judy Garland a year before The Wizard of Oz. more