You’ve got to love Graham Parker. Well, I do, anyway. He was on “Soundcheck” on WNYC today, talking about his new album and about  his on-line project, “Sunglass(es): The Graham Parker Show.” The combination of music and wit is irresistible. “Well, irresistible to me,” anyway.

According to Parker, the album was prompted by his two fruitless forays into writing TV themes. Both songs  that he wrote and recorded and submitted to TV producers who were soliciting themes were rejected. His idea of revenge, or maybe only justice, was to write an album’s worth  of themes to non-existent shows. The album notes consist of descriptions of each of these shows.


The clip from the album that was played on “Sound Check” was from the theme for a show about an agoraphobic guy whose well-to-do parents put him up in an apartment in a busy downtown area. Since the guy never goes outside, he sees and understands the world only from the vantage point of his apartment window. In the lyric, he wonders out loud where all these people are going, what they’re carrying with them, and why, as Graham sort of put it, “they would be scared off by a forecast of occasional showers.” The album, “Imaginary Television,” is aptly named; it’s the product of a fertile imagination.


Like a lot of people in music, Parker is tuned into the radical changes that have affected the recording industry, and he, too, is trying to make his mark in the new media. So the imagination that never sleeps, at times with the help of his 14-year-old son, produced “Sunglass(es).” Has it caught on? Parker says it hasn’t gone viral — that it’s more on the order of “bacterial.” So far, he has posted only Episode 1, which is available at THIS LINK. Like Parker himself, it’s a stitch, and we do get to hear him sing.

In the interview with “Soundcheck” host John Schaefer, incidentally, Parker made some interesting comments about the career of Johnny Nash — the unlikely reggae artist from Texas. You can hear the interview at THIS LINK.


We watched a 1955 Carol Reed movie, “A Kid for Two Farthings,” which is clumsy in some respects, but quirky enough to hold our interest.

The story takes place in a crowded mercantile neighborhood in London’s East End, where a young boy named Joe and his mother room with an aged Jewish tailor named Kandinsky. Joe’s father has been in South Africa for two years on a vaguely described quest to make his fortune. Whether he’s ever coming back is an open question, and the uncertainty is a source of anxiety for the boy and his mother.


Kandinsky has an assistant in the shop, a muscle-bound young man named Sam, who has been engaged for four years to a bleached blonde named Sonia, but hasn’t been able to afford a ring.

Sam hopes to win an international bodybuilding title so that he can afford to buy the ring, marry Sonia, and set up housekeeping, but a wrestling promoter, Blackie Isaacs, keeps pressuring him to take on a few rigged matches with the promise that he’ll earn enough quickly to  carry out his plans. Under pressure from Sonia, Sam finally agrees to a rigged match with a has been that will lead to a bigger bout with a giant named Python Macklin.

Macklin ridicules Sam and bad blood develops between two, adding to the implications of their scheduled match.


Joe, the little boy, spends a lot of time listening to Kandinsky’s philosophy and learns from the old man about the magical properties of unicorns — specifically that they are capable of making dreams come true. The boy has a lot of dreams — his father’s return from South Africa, a ring for Sonia, and a steam presser for Kandinsky, who is still using an ancient iron. When Joe’s pet chick dies, Kandinsky gives the boy money to buy a dog, but Joe comes back with a sickly goat that has a single horn growing from its forehead. The arrival of this “unicorn” — real or imagined — drives the rest of the story.

This film is a visual treat because much of it takes place in the teeming market place, Kandinsky’s rusty old shop, and a seedy wrestling arena.


Celia Johnson as Joe’s mother, Joanna; David Kossoff as Kandinsky; and Lou Jacobi as Blackie Isaacs give especially good performances. Some commentators have speculated that Kandinsky is a metaphor for the lives of Jews in Europe after the Holocaust and the Second World War, and there is a rabbi in Old World clothing, praying and listening to an old Gramophone, who appears several times in the marketplace – including in the final scene of the movie.

In way that is unique to his own personality, Primo Carnera — the colossal former world heavyweight boxing champion — is very effective as the evil Macklin. On the other hand, Diana Dors as Sonia and Joe Robinson as Sam display as much acting acumen as two blocks of mahogany.

All in all, this is a sentimental, brooding, haunting film — far from perfect, but worth the time.


The 20-inning game the Mets won on Saturday got me to thinking about a 22-inning game between the Yankees and the Tigers in June 1962. I was watching that game at home, but I left, drove about 10 miles to visit a friend for several hours, and then drove home and found my brother watching the Yankees and the Tigers. That was long before VCRs and the YES Network’s “encores,” and I was dumbfounded when Tony told me it was the same game I had been watching before I left. It ended exactly seven hours after it had started. The Yankees won, 9-7.

As if the game wasn’t enough of a curiosity in itself, the way it ended was one of those delightful surprises that baseball is so good at providing. For a few years back then, the Yankees carried on their roster an outfielder named Jack Reed, whose job was to play center field in the very late innings so that Mickey Mantle, near the end of his career, could rest his battered and diseased legs.


Nothing more was expected of Reed, and usually nothing more was forthcoming. But the young man from Silver City, Mississippi, picked the top of the 22nd inning in that game to hit the only home run of his career, providing the Yankees with the runs they needed to win. Reed, incidentally, may not have spent much time in major league baseball, but he is one of a handful of players who can boast of appearing in both the World Series and a college bowl game – three games with the Yankees in the 1961 fall classic, and the 1953 Sugar Bowl with Ole Miss.

Yankee third baseman Cletis Boyer had hit a three-run homer in the first inning off Tigers starter Frank Lary, who was usually hard on the Yankees.


And while Rocky Colavito probably would have said that he’d rather the Tigers had won, even if he had gone hitless — ballplayers always say things like that — he had one of the biggest days of his career, collecting seven hits in ten times at bat. Meanwhile, the Tigers pitchers held the Yankees scoreless for 19 consecutive innings in that game — two shutouts, end to end.

Another note: Yogi Berra, who was 37 years old, caught the complete game.

School children in Heimaey. The island has about 4500 inhabitants.

The news of a volcanic eruption in Iceland and the lingering aftermath has had me thinking of our visit a few years ago to Heimaey, one of the Westman Island group off the southern coast of Iceland — the only one that is inhabited.

We took the ferry out to Heimaey, a trip of about four nautical miles, spent the night in a very nice little hotel, and then wandered all over the island and took a cruise around its outskirts.

The centerpiece of Heimaey is Eldfell, a volcano that erupted in January 1973, an event that continued until the following July. Besides the initial output of volcanic ash — an estimated 1.6 million cubic feet were blown onto the town — there was substantial flow of lava that threatened to close the island’s harbor.

A cluster of typical Icelandic buildings on Heimaey with Eldfell in the distance.

Overnight the whole population of Heimaey was evacuated, largely thanks to the fleet of fishing boats that was in the harbor at that time of year. If the lava had continued to flow unabated, it would have closed the narrow channel into the harbor which would have been disastrous to the fishing industry that supports the island’s economy. However, the islanders prevented that by pumping sea water onto the lava, redirecting the flow of the molten rock and causing much of it to solidify.

There was enormous damage to the town. Also, because of the lava flow, the length of the island grew from about 6 miles to about 8 miles. Ultimately, the residents returned and the town was restored. Video of the 1973 eruption is a THIS LINK.

A mural on an exterior wall of a building in Heimaey depicts the principal occupations of the residents.

Besides learning about the Eldfell event, I was preoccupied in Heimaey with the mindset of the people who live there. It’s human nature for a person to think of himself as standing at the center of all that is — even if intellectually he knows otherwise — and it’s a part of that conceit to wonder how anyone living on a tiny island in the North Atlantic could entertain such an idea. The people we met appeared content and cheerful, which seems counterintuitive to someone whose whole life has been spent in the New York-Philadelphia megapolis. I suggested to my companions that it would be an interesting experiment to relocate to Heimaey for, say, six months to see how it would affect one’s world view. They didn’t share my curiosity.

A panorama of Heimaey, the largest island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, first settled in the ninth century AD.


I had an opportunity this week to talk to William Henline, a young playwright who is about to introduce a drama about Edwin Booth, the most prominent American actor of the mid and late 19th century and the brother of John Wilkes Booth. The focal point of the play is Edwin Booth’s effort to come to terms with what his brother had done. The dynamics are not the obvious. Edwin and Wilkes Booth lived at politically opposite poles. Wilkes was a Confederate sympathizer and operative who despised Abraham Lincoln, as many people did at the time. Edwin supported the Union, and Henline’s research shows that the only two times Edwin Booth is known to have voted, he voted for Lincoln. The brothers’ political differences ran so deep that they were incapable of discussing the subject.


Still, Henline discerns that there was a fraternal love that underlay this fissure between the brothers and that survived even Edwin’s revulsion and humiliation over the murder of Lincoln. Edwin, it seems, was constitutionally incapable of rationalizing or excusing Wilkes Booth’s crime, but was equally incapable of casting off his sibling — even if he did once say that he didn’t want Wilkes Booth’s name mentioned in his presence.

Edwin Booth’s rooms at the Players Club in New York have been preserved as they were on the day he died in 1893. Near his bed is a portrait of John Wilkes Booth.

Henline also called my attention to the fact that there is a recording available of Edwin Booth reciting part of a speech from William Shakespeare’s “Othello.” The quality is as poor as one might expect from such an early recording, but if you listen to it at THIS LINK, you can follow the text on the screen and understand most of the speech. Considering who Edwin Booth was and when he spoke these words, it’s a stirring experience to sit at a laptop in 2010 and hear his voice.

John Wilkes Booth, left, as Marc Antony; Junius Brutus Booth Jr. as Cassius; and Edwin Booth, right, as Brutus, in a production of “Julius Caesar” in New York in 1864. It was the brothers’ only joint appearance on stage.