Sunday, April 28, 2019

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins

I must confess that I love a lot of things Russian, even though I have never been to Russia.  My favorite authors are Russian, and so are my favorite ballet choreographers, and of course, composers.  Here's a personal favorite:  Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite.

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea HotelInside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had read so much about the different people who had lived in the Chelsea Hotel, watched the videos of Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls, as much as I could without falling into a boredom induced coma, other videos about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, Patti Smith... I decided to read a history of the hotel itself.

There is no doubt Sherill Tippins is a good writer. The history from ancient to present flows like oil. We learn of the architects who constructed the hotel in the late 19th century. We learn about the hands who bought and sold the hotel. But mostly we learn about the various famous, and infamous, people who inhabited and co-habited the rooms.

The hotel seemed to be a hub for creative people from the latter decades of the 19th century to the last decades of the 20th. It is still open but closed to all but a few long time residents as new owners have decided to renovate.

The style is Queen Anne, Victorian Gothic, but I also think a dash of Art Deco exists at least in the interior. Just based on the photos I saw.

Authors like Mark Twain, Thomas Wolf, Dylan Thomas, and Arthur Miller stayed. The Beatniks Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Harry Smith and their ilk lived there for a while. In the sixties, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Leonard Cohen were residents. Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgewick made the place famous with their voyeuristic films that last for hours. And hours.

The beginning of the seventies see Robert Mapplethorpe and then girlfriend, Patti Smith, living together, at least until Mapplethorpe decided to "come out" and kick-start his photograph career the old fashioned way by acquiring a rich boyfriend.

The end of the seventies come crashing down for the hotel with death of Nancy Spungeon when she and Sex Pistol's bass player Sid Vicious were staying there. I appreciated the fair way Tippins described that whole chaotic, messy tragedy. How did Vicious murder his girlfriend when he had taken enough Tuinal to put less hardy souls into a coma? And why weren't the others who admitted to entering their hotel room that night, and apparently stole quite a bit of money from Sid, even questioned?

Much of what Tippins says is interesting especially if you like to read about the lives of the above-mentioned people.

However, I did tire of the constant barrage of salacious gossipy details, who was sleeping with whom, especially all the gay sex. It's like the author was trying to titillate the reader. That is not why I wanted to read a history of the hotel.

Although maybe she could hardly avoid it. The hotel sounded more like it was a hospital for drug-crazed socio-paths.

Yet Abby Hoffman, another resident, as well as Arthur Miller and others, felt they had the authority to proclaim judgement on the rest of America and deem them guilty of materialism, capitalism, and the Vietnam War. It became a religion for them. One they worshiped like a group of rabid animals who felt any means necessary justified acts of violence and inciting riots.

I wonder how a group of moral reprobates, living in their own alcohol and drug-riddled enclave, had the temerity to decide what America's problem was and what the solution was. A solution they felt needed to be forced on the people "for their own good".

Sherill Tippins is very much in their camp and cannot help sharing her own political views as to how conservative presidents caused every ill in the U.S. She ignores a lot to make that point.

You will learn more about the people that lived in the hotel than the hotel itself, but, what is a building? If the walls could talk, I'm sure they would have even more shocking things to say than Tippins. As far as it goes, I think Tippins does a fair job giving the walls of Hotel Chelsea a voice.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Mid-Century: An Anthology of Distinguished Contemporary American Short Stories edited by Orville Prescott

I've just discovered this composer/cellist and I like his sound.  He combines his classical training with an Indie style.  I hope you enjoy him, too.  This is Methods and The Masses by Tanekobu.

Mid-Century: An Anthology of Distinguished Contemporary American Short StoriesMid-Century: An Anthology of Distinguished Contemporary American Short Stories by Orville Prescott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A collection of a largely unheard of group of authors from the middle of the last century. Some of them deserve to be revived, although good luck finding copies, since most of then are out of print. Most of them are written in a style that dates the story, but some have a sharp style that really draws the reader in and, in the case, of one pokes him in the eye.

I'll mention a couple:

The Day of the Last Rock Fight was written by Joseph Whitehill and I've had a time finding copies of his work. This story is told in the rare second person, with the narrator being an adolescent boy sent to a school for the emotionally disturbed. He has decided to confess what actually happened at a rock fight he was involved in at his former school where a classmate ended up dead. One finishes the story wondering if the narrator is reliable or bonkers.

The Cave by James Michener is a gripping story about a platoon of Navy soldiers and Marines during WWII who are hiding out in a cave on an island in the South Pacific theater. They are listening to a British man on the radio who is giving away the positions of the Japanese planes and battle ships. But who is he? And where is he that he is able to report so accurately the enemies plans and enemies? The story pulls you to the end, which does not spare the horror of war or the fate that can happen to even the bravest.

My favorite was from an author I had never heard of. Her name is Jessamyn West and she was apparently a prolific writer in her time and I was able to find some of her books on Amazon, eBay and even my local library.

The title of the story is A Little Collar for the Monkey. It is about a selfish, domineering woman who rules her life and the people around her with malicious glee. One reads with dread wondering what is going to happen to her victims, but the ending is not predictable.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Nazi Hunters by Andrew Nagorski

Here is a beautiful Fandanguillo by Joaquin Turina Perez, performed by Julian Bream.  There should be accents on the "i's" but I have no idea how to do that on my computer.

She insisted that only good had any depth. Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet — and this is its horror! — it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world. Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.
-Hannah Arendt

The Nazi HuntersThe Nazi Hunters by Andrew Nagorski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a truly fascinating account of a segment of history that gets less attention each year. I think a wonderful movie could be made of this book.

Nagorski starts with the end of WWII and begins with the rounding up of Nazi War criminals. He describes the lawyers, tribunes, and the victims. Last but not least, he describes the defendants and their atrocious acts of cruelty (not for the faint of heart) and their fate. He even gives a brief history of the hangman who served out justice to the defendants who were sentenced to death. Not all of them were.

Still, many Nazis got away. Some of this was because they tribunal judge decided that being a guard, or in some way serving in a concentration camp was not evidence of guilt. This was changed, years later, after most Nazis were dead, to guilt by association. If you were a part of the machine, you were still guilty.

It's interesting the excuses almost all of the criminals caught gave: They were merely following orders and in times of war, one cannot think or question. But that does not explain why some got such sadistic pleasure out of their job, not to mention that there are some things that transcend government orders. There is a higher moral order we must all answer to.

After the initial trials, interest waned in bringing war criminals to justice, mostly because the nations, especially Germany, but also the United States, wanted to put the past behind them. In the United States case, they had become embroiled in the Cold War and their focus had shifted.

But there were individuals that refused to give up the past until all perpetrators had been brought to justice. We learn about Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor and others who at first fought singlehandedly to bring former Nazis to justice. Nagorski does a nice job giving background information of the Nazi criminals and their hunters.

Much of the book runs like a high action movie. The hunt by the Israeli group, the Mossad, after Adolph Eichmann and the "Angel of Death", Josef Mengele keeps the reader in primed suspense. There are others too. Former Nazis running for offices in German Parliment, France, and also the United Nations.

Nagorski also recounts the efforts of Germany to create a gap in their history for their citizens who were born after the war. Thanks to some piercing documentaries made by a couple of German film makers in the seventies, German youth received a shock and awareness of, not only what happened in their country, but also that beloved relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles, were a part of this notorious regime.

Hannah Arendt, while covering the Eichmann trial in Israel coined the term, "the banality of evil." She meant that "people who commit acts of evil are not always monsters, sometimes they are bureaucrats."

She asserted "that only good can be radical. Evil can never be radical; it can only be extreme."

"Evil can be extraordinary acts committed by otherwise unremarkable people."

Her articles for the New Yorker, which were later compiled into a book (that I just bought and will read soon), caused a lot of controversy among the Jews, who felt she was diminishing the evil work of Hitler and his regime. Arendt was herself a German-Jewish exile.

I think the thought that evil could become normal by average everyday citizens, makes people uncomfortable. But look at what is accepted in our own society. First it was abortion. Now in New York and Virginia, it's infanticide. And people stood up and clapped.

There are heartbreaking stories, one in particular of a Jewish man riding on a train in Germany, chatting amiably with his fellow passengers, everyone friendly. And then the train stops and soldiers take this man away and no one says a word.

My question is would that be any of us? Like watching the child in our school being bullied and we just stand and watch? I remember as I was entering a grocery store I saw a man screaming at his elderly mother. Two elderly woman passed me by. One said, "That's not right." And the other immediately said, "Yeah, but you can't do anything about it," and both walked into the store.

Isn't that most of us? Don't get involved? I did nothing to help the woman that day.

The book brings us almost up to date as to the accomplished work of these hunters and their untiring work to remind people of the past and that there is no statute of limitations on atrocities.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only problem I have with this book is that each biography is brief enough to have me looking through Metaxas' bibliography to read more about his subjects.

Not that Metaxas does an incomplete job writing about these great men but because he whets your appetite.

These men are probably not going to be considered the greatest men by many and maybe some of them shouldn't but I appreciated the author's reasons for including them.

While Mr. Metaxas honestly shows the foibles of each man he shows that humans can also be great while making mistakes or wrong or even immoral decisions.

Also, Metaxas is not set out to write a thorough biography of these men but rather focus on why he believes they are great.

The first biography is of George Washington. Metaxas does not spare the young Washington who lied about the massacre of French soldiers at the hands of a couple of Indians during a diplomatic negotiation that was to hopefully stave off war between the British and French.

He also shows his bravery and his abilities as a war strategist.

But he also points out something that seems to be overlooked in every historical account of our first president.

He agreed to become our president but refused to become our King. This was unprecedented in the entire recorded history of mankind. And people did not simply go along with it. There were several leaders who were bent on making George Washington King and he had a battle to fight against them.

Another important feature about Washington has to do with his slaves. Many authors enjoy pointing out the hypocrisy of a man who spent his life fighting for human freedom as described in the Constitution but not many seem inclined to admit or know that Washington freed all of his slaves before he died and left the elderly slaves with pensions.

It's easy to judge slave owners now, but how many today, of any race, in the same position would have done the same thing back then? How many of us are fighting against the slavery that still exists today throughout the African continent and the Middle East?

Wilberforce is of course included since he helped fight against slavery in England and succeeded in having it outlawed in the country seventy years before it was finally outlawed in the U.S.

Bonhoeffer is described as a radical in his own right because he refused to bend his knee to Hitler and the German Reich Church that thought it could syncretize Christianity with fascism.

He is less clear as to why he sees Pope John Paul II is great although I found his brief biography of the man interesting.

Metaxas also includes his hero and mentor Chuck Colson, the man who worked under President Nixon and went to jail only to become a Christian and start a Prison Ministry that is still serving Prisoners and their families.

One of the most inspiring was Eric Liddell. He was the Olympic gold medalist who became famous in the movie Chariots of Fire. Everyone knows his bravery in refusing to run in the Olympics on Sunday, but not many of us know how about his life as a missionary in China, where he died under Japanese occupation in a prison camp. Or that he died because when offered released gave his place to a pregnant woman and chose to remain in the camp in her stead.

But I must say my very favorite Great Man and the most inspiring to me was Jackie Robinson. Not just because he was the first black man to join a professional baseball team but because of all that he endured, how he refused to fight back and how his Christ-like practice of turning the other cheek forced white America to confront the ugliness of racism and be convicted in their hearts.

This is a highly readable book and I recommend it.

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