Category Archives: Remembrance

2021 Summer Music Festival (Dance Medley Edition)

I’ve been doing a Summer Music Festival now for six years. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, it was an eclectic mix, but by 2019, I began more “thematic” installments, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. In the summer of 2020, it was a Jazz Edition. Folks who have followed the 1,866 “Songs of the Day” that I’ve posted since 2004 must know that I have an immensely diverse musical palette, which embraces everything from classical, jazz, musical theatre, and the Great American Songbook to R&B, rock, prog rock, and ‘Planet Rock‘ (hip hop). This year, however, it’s all about Dance Medleys! Yep! Unabashed, unapologetic, dance music—much of it even Disco, stretching from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, the very years that I was working part-time as a mobile DJ and MC, playing engagements, weddings, school proms and reunions, New Year’s Eve parties, and Bar Mitzvahs (see photo below, circa 1986). Not to mention doing custom-made mix tapes for people who attended those parties and all my friends!

So, let the Haters sit this one out! This music emerged from R&B, soul, funk, and Latino influences, with many of its early DJs coming out of an urban gay subculture. That might explain some of the hostility heaped on the genre in such events as “Disco Demolition Night” [YouTube link], which took place on 12 July 1979 at Comiskey Park. Alas, Comiskey Park is now history [YouTube link], but disco’s influence on house, techno, electronica, hip hop, and dance pop lives on. And we’re not even counting the hundreds of disco hits that have been “sampled” ever since by artists across all genres in the extension of their craft.

So, it’s time to dance down memory lane! Most of the featured medleys this summer are from Disconet, the New York-based “subscription” label founded in 1977 by Mike Wilkinson. Two of the medleys that I’ll post over the summer were created by me back in the 1980s, and will be making their debut on YouTube publicly for the first time! (And a special shout-out to my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer for guiding me through some of the YouTube tech issues! Thank you! ❤).

There were many fine DJ subscription labels, including Hot Tracks and DMC, but Disconet was the pioneer. I was very good friends with the late Bobby “DJ” Guttadaro, an award-winning club giant, from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, who was a member of the original team of remixers hired by the Disconet service. When we walked into a club where Bobby was mixing, I’d slip him a playlist, and could be certain that at some point in the night, he’d play virtually all of my requests! I dedicate this year’s Summer Music Festival (Dance Medley Edition) to his memory and the memory of all those heroic, trailblazing DJs who mastered the art of the mix. We start on June 20, for by Sunday night at 11:32 pm (ET), the Summer Solstice arrives! Watch this space!

^ Me (DJ’ing, circa 1986)

Song of the Day #1866

Song of the Day: Raiders of the Lost Ark (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link] was composed by John Williams and is performed here by the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s hard to believe … but on this date—forty years ago—in 1981, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” debuted in theaters. Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, the film starred Harrison Ford, and gave birth to the Indiana Jones film franchise! This action-packed adventure never lost its sense of humor, and won five Oscars in the process (for Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects). It also gave us a memorable Oscar-nominated score by the maestro, who won a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.

Song of the Day #1865

Song of the Day: My Spanish Heart, composed by Chick Corea, was the title track to his 1976 album. Check out that version here as well as this rendition [YouTube links] by “The Spanish Heart Band” (from the Grammy-winning “Best Latin Jazz Album“, “Antidote“), which includes vocals by Ruben Blades and Gayle Moran. Today, we celebrate the eigthtieth anniversary of Chick‘s birth, who sadly passed away on February 9, 2021. Viva Chick!

A Photo Trip Down Memory Lane

I’ve been doing a lot of work in my apartment, cleaning up, in anticipation of my sister‘s return from the subacute rehabilitation facility she’s been in for several months now. When she returns home in July, she will not have seen the inside of this house since mid-March. So I’ve been busting my butt clearing things up and readying the space for her continued recovery.

This has led me to go through several file drawers that contain materials which will eventually make their way to the NYU Faculty Archives—after I’m gone. Have no fear, I ain’t going anywhere. Still, some of the stuff made me laugh out loud.

For example, I came upon an envelope of black-and-white stills, which were taken as “promotional” shots for my soon-to-be-released books, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995) and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995). This particular one was taken in 1994 in the backdrop of New York University buildings. We decided to pass on it because I was told to “Fuhgedaboudit“: It was a bit too “Brooklyn.” You decide … 🙂

Me, Circa 1994

“The Greatest Enemies of Peace are Those who Extol War as Noble and Heroic …”

An earlier version of this revised essay first appeared on the Liberty and Power Group Blog (Memorial Day Weekend 2004). It also appears here. This 2021 Memorial Day Weekend mirrors that 2004 calendar.

As people honor the memories of those who died in wars past and present on this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about a man who, not unlike others of his generation, served in World War II. His name was Salvatore “Sam” Sclafani, first cousin to my Dad, married to my mother’s sister, and forever etched in the minds of our family as “Uncle Sam.” Born in 1915, Uncle Sam left us in 1994, having succumbed to prostate cancer. But it was this man who was my earliest inspiration in all matters political; he nourished in me a love of history and politics, and was the guy to whom I dedicated Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

My Uncle Sam was, without doubt, one of the funniest and most benevolent souls to ever grace this planet. And when you got him to talk about politics, it was like a veritable ride aboard the Coney Island Cyclone, that landmark splintery wooden rollercoaster. He was the most opinionated and outspoken critic of politicians, left, right and center, whom I’ve ever had the privilege to know and love.

Back in 1976, I interviewed Uncle Sam for a special project I’d done on the veterans of World War II. His comments are as precious today, as they were back then.

He remembered that “day of infamy” in December 1941. His mother labored by the stove, preparing the traditional Sunday home-cooked Italian meal. In the background, the radio played the sounds of a Swing band … and then, a news flash came that the Japanese had attacked the US military base in Hawaii.

My Uncle had been classified in the army for the draft, but after years of working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he decided to enlist in the navy instead. Several days after his enlistment, he was shipped out to the Great Lakes Military Installation in Waukegan, Illinois, outside Chicago. Like a tale out of a storybook, he married his girlfriend, my Aunt Georgia, the day before he left.

From his hair-scalping at the installation to the strenuous marching, walking, running, rifle and rope exercises, boot-training was a test of his endurance. Even learning to sleep in a hammock—or as Uncle Sam reminisced, “trying to get into them, and involuntarily getting out of them”—was a chore. From Illinois, he was sent to Norfolk, Virginia for further training. He eventually became a part of the Seabees (the United States Naval Construction Battalions), a relatively new branch of the navy that was similar to the army corps of engineers. In learning the arts of naval engineering, these Seabees were taught everything “from building bridges and laying down airfields in record time, to advanced techniques of camouflage.”

From Norfolk, Uncle Sam went on to Pleasantville, California, and then on to the Bremerton Navy Yard in Puget Sound, Washington state, where he participated in the salvage work on the USS Nevada, damaged in the Pearl Harbor raid. As they awaited orders on their next assignment, Uncle Sam’s group was split into two: Group 1 was headed south—to Guadalcanal. By the mere accident of being part of Group 2, Uncle Sam ended up in the North Pacific. “We then realized,” he recalled: “This is it. This isn’t playing anymore. We’re not training. From here on, everything is real.”

Morale was remarkably good on the trip. But there was a common expression on everyone’s face, he told me: an expression of suppressed horror, worry, and uncertainty. There was that constant alert for possible enemy aerial or submarine bombardment. While he remained remarkably calm, many of his newfound pals were desperately ill. “My comrades wished they had died. Men were throwing-up against bulkheads and walls and fainting on decks. They lost their appetites from terrible fear and severe seasickness.”

Ten days after rough riding, the ship neared its destination. A heavy fog descended. And when the land mass came into focus, it looked like the cold, barren surface of a distant planet: no trees, no vegetation, immense mountains of stone and volcanic rock. Uncle Sam wasn’t a few minutes on land before an alert signaled an imminent Japanese air attack. An earlier attack that day had destroyed the boats that lay docked around a makeshift pier. Running to take cover, the men passed an enormous hill of greenish-white pine boxes … coffins waiting for new inhabitants. It was the kind of greeting that sobered the most stubborn among them. “A morbid, depressing and unsettling sensation came over me,” Uncle Sam said. “We were finally aware that we had been sent to the notorious Dutch Harbor in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, the closest US military base to Japan, only 600 miles away.” This was a place where temperatures ranged from 12 below to 60 above. At times, many feet of snow would fall. Certain seasons brought 18-hour days, while others brought 18-hour nights. But always, there was a damp, musty fog; for the two years that Uncle Sam was stationed in the Aleutians, he never saw the sun.

Within the first week of their arrival, the new troops faced air attacks, volcanic eruptions, storms, earthquakes, and “horizontal rain,” due to “winds that could blow a building across the Hudson River.” Those winds, dubbed “Williwaws,” were sudden and severe, up to 200 mph. Ironically, it was the difficult climactic conditions that saved Aleutian Island residents from both constant Japanese aerial bombardment and the typical diseases that infected troops stationed in the South Pacific. “American pilots remarked that there were better odds in flying 50 missions over Berlin,” Uncle Sam would say, “than even one mission over the Aleutian Islands.”

He remembered walking along a dirt road, when a light breeze had suddenly transformed into one of those Williwaws. By the time he had hit the deck, the wind had uprooted steel cables, boulders, and a 13-ton patrol bomber on the beach—smacking it up against a mountain. The Seabees’ efforts to camouflage their work were not very successful because of these winds. “We were forced to build revetments for planes to try to camouflage them with heavy steel-cabled nets. After the first storm, all the nets went flying across the Pacific Ocean and days of work went down the drain.”

But the Seabees transformed the rough Alaskan terrain, by literally leveling mountains. After laying down many miles of airfields with heavy metal stripping, the Seabees paved the way for an Aleutian air-force, since land-based bombers were now able to land.

By this time, Uncle Sam had become a Second Class Petty Officer. His days began at 5 am. His meals consisted of passable substitutes, since there were no eggs or milk. Remarkably, he gained 30 lbs. while living in Dutch Harbor. It was weight he desperately needed, as he worked hard on airfield and submarine installations. (He remembered going into one of those primitive subs: “I was qualified for submarine duty,” he said, “but they were out of their minds: it was like staying in a narrow coffin, cluttered with levers, wheels, and machinery. I would never have survived!”)

When his day of rigorous work was complete, he’d go back to the bunkhouses, which had been built to withstand the wind, the rain, and the war. Fighting his solitude and isolation, he found comfort with his comrades, smoking cigarettes, reminiscing of home, listening to their “Pacific sweetheart” on the radio: Tokyo Rose. Whoever she actually was, Uncle Sam had vivid memories of all the things she told them on the radio. “She’d tell us how our girls were cheating on us back home. She would say that we were very stupid to be fighting … we were going to lose anyway. So we might as well rebel, destroy our superiors, and go home.” It gave them a lot of laughs, he said, but it was hard to avoid sobbing, silently, as you listened to the Swing music she played. From the crackling of the radio speaker, came the Big Band sounds of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey; more than anything “Tokyo Rose” had actually said, the use of this great music constituted a form of psychological warfare that infected everyone with homesickness, he said. “It would place us in a very depressing state. Some men cried openly.”

The men of Dutch Harbor served as a diversionary force in the Battle of Midway. They prepared munitions for the bloody US invasions of Amchitka, Adak, and Attu. They played an active part in the isolation of Kiska, even though they failed to prevent the evacuation of 5,100 Japanese troops, who departed in the middle of a fog-heavy July night to return to Paramushiro Harbor.

During his two-year tour of duty, Uncle Sam experienced about six Japanese air bombardments; though the attacks were only seven to eight minutes in duration, they felt like seven to eight hours. A two-hour alert would usually precede an attack, as men would frantically prepare their anti-aircraft positions. “We were told to run off the ships and scatter into the hills, where there were fox holes.” Men clung to their own hopes for survival, some praying and giving substance to the old adage “there are no atheists in foxholes.” You just didn’t know if “that next bullet would have your name on it. Then you’d hear the incoming planes.” Within seconds, bombs would be dropping, destroying installations, oil tanks, gasoline storage facilities, and piers. Raging infernos and thick, black smoke would engulf the camp. “Things flashed quickly through my head,” he painfully recalled. He had fears of invading parachutists, naval bombardment, “the end of the world. In one attack, our ship, the Northwestern, was blown into a million pieces as a bomb was dropped down the smokestack. Shrapnel and other fragments went flying, as the explosion echoed through the hills and canyons.”

Uncle Sam learned a few things about wars, even “good” wars. He thought it was a joke when some said that the Americans would sell you the noose with which to hang them … until he realized that scrap metal from Manhattan Els (elevated trains) had been sold to the Japanese and used by them to create their machinery of war. He even remembered going over to a downed Japanese Zero. “And on the engine was labeled ‘Pratt-Whitney Motors, USA.'”

While he wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting another human being in order to survive—“quite frankly,” he’d say, “it was either them or us”—he never accepted the notion that he should hate his enemy. “We had been taught to hate the enemy for their bombardment of Pearl Harbor, for their cruel and inhumane treatment of our men.” But when prisoners were caught, “you’d look at these men, ‘our enemy,’ and see a reflection of yourself. I felt sorry for them.”

In 1944, Company C was reorganized and sent back to San Francisco. As his ship neared the Golden Gate Bridge, Uncle Sam cried “like a baby. It was the most fabulous sight I had ever seen. To be on American soil again, a feeling you can’t imagine unless you had been in that situation. And there, on the dock was the American Red Cross—with gallons and gallons of ice-cold milk.”

The climactic changes were not friendly to Uncle Sam. He developed a mysterious illness in which his legs swelled, as he lay nearly paralyzed in pain. When it was apparent that he would be in a military hospital for months, he was given an honorable discharge. In May 1944, he finally came home to New York. For months, he had difficulty adjusting. He was immensely uptight and shuddery. He developed a fear of passing overhead planes—a fear that some New Yorkers might remember, in the wake of 9/11, in a way that my Uncle could never have dreamed. The war had split homes and families, had taken away friends and relatives, and had damaged relationships. “You never know if you’re going to come back during a war,” he stated. “But if you have that luck, you can really appreciate what you left behind.”

A bolder and more “patriotic” American you’d be hard pressed to find. But Uncle Sam had had enough with politicians. He had voted for FDR because he was convinced that the President would preserve the peace. “The President had said that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. He forgot to add: ‘They’d be buried in it.'” For thirty years thereafter, Uncle Sam refused to go into a voting booth.

I come from a family of servicemen. Uncle Sam was fortunate enough to come home and to live a wonderful life, becoming a second father to me, as my own father had passed away when I was 12. But other relatives were not as lucky. My Uncle Frank was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. My Uncle Charlie survived, but was unable to talk about his war experiences for the rest of his life, having lived for years in a German POW camp. Fortunately, my Uncle Al and Uncle Georgie lived to talk about their experiences in the European theater. And my Uncle Tony remained in the army for the rest of his life. They are all gone now.

The human cost of war is usually calculated by raw data on battle deaths, casualties, and medical evacuations. But my Uncle Sam always believed that Memorial Day weekend was not a celebration of the majesty of war. He used to cite the old adage that “the greatest enemies of peace are those who extol war as noble and heroic.” This weekend is about remembering those who were the victims of war, especially those whose lives were sacrificed on its battlefields. It is also important to remember, to tribute, those who survived, those who lived to tell us about the horrors of war, and who did the most heroic thing imaginable: Building and sustaining their own lives in the aftermath, drawing strength from their love of family, of friends, and for life itself.

I honor their memory.

This brick was placed in memory of Uncle Sam by my cousin William Jannace as part of the National WWII MuseumRoad to Victory Brick Program.” It is a commemorative with the exact engraving of the brick therein.

Salvatore “Uncle Sam” Sclafani (1915-1994)

Song of the Day #1864

Song of the Day: I Could Fall in Love, words and music by Keith Thomas, was a promotional single off of Selena‘s fifth and final studio album, released posthumously, “Dreaming of You,” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album chart. Tragically shot and killed at the young age of 23, the Grammy-winning singer was dubbed the “Queen of Tejano Music.” This song is played over the final credits to the very last episode of the recent two-season Netflix series on the singer’s life, giving it a special poignancy. In episode 7 of the second season, her brother, “AB” Quintanilla, sees that his sister is having difficulty putting some things together as her career is blazing forward. He tells her: “Sel, you’re very organic. Everything in you is connected to everything else. That’s who you are. Not just pieces. It’s a whole life. All at once. You’ll figure it out.” A little dialectical insight in a Netflix series! Who knew? In any event, since I finished streaming this wonderful series, I decided to highlight this as today’s Song of the Day. Check it out here [YouTube link].

A Mother’s Love & Humor

It’s Mother’s Day today, and it’s only natural to think about Mom. That’s not all that unusual, because there isn’t a day that passes where I don’t think about her. She’s been gone since 1995, when she died at the age of 76, after a five-year battle with lung cancer. Those were very difficult times.

But through it all, what has kept Mom alive in our hearts and our minds is our memories of her. She was a Force of Nature to whom everyone turned—friends and family—for love, strength, inspiration, and a laugh. A sense of humor was certainly among her top character traits.

I’m thinking of one specific time that illustrates this. It was in the summer of 1988. I had recently earned my doctorate, and we had gone out for the evening. Mom joined me, my sister, and my friends Elaine Thompson and Gema LaBoccetta for a night out on the town. At the end of an evening of fun and entertainment, we made our customary journey to the local diner, to finish off the festivities with a bite to eat.

Mom ordered some coffee, while we were all looking over the menu, and the waitress returned with the coffee and a bowl of those little sealed, flexible milk containers that are used to lighten your coffee to your desired hue.

We put in our orders, and I swiftly picked up one of those little milk container thingies. And I started squeezing it lightly, observing how full the containers were with that cherished milk inside.

Mom (to her 28-year old son): Stop playing with that! You’re going to break it.

Chris: Oh, c’mon, I’m not gonna break it.

Mom: You’re going to break it open. Leave it alone.

Chris pushes a little bit too hard on the container thingy and its milky contents hit Mom square in the forehead.

As the milk drips down Mom’s forehead, moving toward her nostrils, a single drop falls off the tip of her nose. The table grows silent.

Mom: What are you a moron? My son! The Ph.D.!

All of us became so convulsed with laughter that we were literally crying.

She was a great sport. And a great mother. And I miss her very much.

Happy Mother’s Day to All the Moms Out There!

Mom (Ann Sciabarra), 1988

Postscript (10 May 2021): On Facebook, Elaine (mentioned in the story above) wrote this, which I share here on my blog:

Chris,
Even though I was there, seated across from your Mom when this happened, I am literally CRYING right now after reading this!!! Your Mom was a good sport and I can still hear her voice. Gema and I were frozen, not at all sure of how to react UNTIL you almost fell out of your seat HYSTERICALLY laughing, which set us all off. I can easily say that THAT moment is in my top three times in my life where I was literally crying from laughing. I miss “Ma”. Thanks for this awesome memory my dear friend! Love you 3 much!!!

Big Apple 100!

Larry McShane, in yesterday’s New York Daily News reminds us that May 3, 2021 was the 100th anniversary of the first time the term “Big Apple” was used to refer to New York City (by New York Morning Telegraph cub reporter and horse-racing writer, John J. Fitz Gerald). In his article, “Apple of Our Eyes: 100th ann’y of Nickname that’s Synonymous with City,” McShane relies on the work of Gerald Cohen and Barry Popik, who traced the lineage of the term:

Back in 1921, when Babe Ruth was in right field for the Yankees and Mayor John Hylan in City Hall, a horse-racing writer for the New York Morning Telegraph overheard a Louisiana chat between two Black stablehands. The pair mentioned an upcoming trip from New Orleans to New York — the Big Apple, as they called it. …

“Back then, if you wanted to refer to New York by its nickname, it was ‘Gotham’ or ‘Li’l Old New York.’ But not the Big Apple.”

The nickname was resurrected in the 1970s, during the days of rising crime and declining fiscal policy. Of course, folks at that time were talking about how the Big Apple was “rotten to the core.” But jazz aficionado Charles Gillett (and president of the NY Convention and Visitors Bureau) seized on the term, regularly used “among Harlem musicians of the ’30s, who hailed a New York gig as playing the ‘Big Apple’.”

Alas, there is no recognition anywhere in the city of Fitz Gerald (who is buried in an unmarked grave 160 miles north of Belmont Park). Nor has there been any attempt to track down those New Orleans stablehands who used the term that Fitz Gerald brought into print. Just “one more instance of the African-American influence on the language” and on New York City lore.

Song of the Day #1862

Song of the Day: Tribute to Film Composers [YouTube link], arranged and conducted by John Williams, is a celebration of some of the greatest scores—and their composers—to have ever graced the silver screen. It includes wonderful cues from such composers as Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, James Horner, Henry Mancini, Ernest Gold, John Barry, Maurice Jarre, Malcolm Arnold, Jerry Goldsmith, Bill Conti, Elmer Bernstein, Randy Newman, Ennio Morricone (that “Cinema Paradiso” theme from yesterday), Nino Rota, and the maestro himself. The performance of this kaleidoscopic medley was a highlight of the 74th Academy Awards back in March 2002. Tonight, a new film score will take its place among those awarded over the last 93 years of Oscar.

(In the title YouTube link, Harrison Ford tells us back then that Williams had only 45 Oscar nominations, and 5 Oscars to his credit; he now has 52 Oscar nominations, second only to Walt Disney’s 59 lifetime nominations!)

Martin, Johnny, and Bette

This 1988 Martin Short appearance on Johnny Carson is full of hilarious impersonations… and Bette Davis is not amused! LOL