Monthly Archives: July 2023

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RIP, E. Devers Branden (1933-2023)

I awoke this morning to the very sad news that Estelle Devers Branden passed away on July 26, 2023, after a long illness. Devers was a very dear friend of mine.

Born on October 2, 1933, Devers was a businesswoman who subsequently turned to the profession of psychotherapy. She married writer and psychologist Nathaniel Branden in 1978, and though they later divorced in 2002, they remained close friends. With Nathaniel, she coauthored The Romantic Love Question and Answer Book (1982, subsequently republished as What Loves Asks of Us). Her enormous impact on the lives of those who were touched by her perceptive insights and caring guidance—both in Nathaniel’s various intensives and in her therapeutic practices—will be remembered by anyone who had the privilege of getting to know her.

In the aftermath of Nathaniel’s death in December 2014, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies published a grand symposium on his life and legacy. Devers provided us with a photo of Nathaniel for that December 2016 double issue. Of the sixteen featured essays in that symposium, several discussed Devers’s various contributions, including Deepak Sethi (“Personal Reflections on Nathaniel Branden”), Andrew Schwartz (“Adler, Branden, and the Third Wave Behavior Therapists”), Joel F. Wade (“Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden and the Discipline of Happiness”), and my very close friend, the late Michael Southern, whose essay “My Years with Nathaniel Branden” explored, on a very personal level, the ways in which Devers’s innovative Jungian subpersonality techniques helped him through enormous mental health challenges. Nathaniel credited Devers for having enabled him to integrate these techniques into his eclectic arsenal of psychotherapeutic practices.

I first met Nathaniel in 1993; he had provided me with invaluable feedback on an early draft of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Nathaniel’s influence on me was immeasurable—not just as the author of countless essays during his years of association with Ayn Rand, not just for his pioneering work in the realm of the psychology of self-esteem, but also as a person who would become a dear friend over the years, a source of immeasurable love and support. So, it was only a matter of time for me to finally meet Devers. The two of them visited me in Brooklyn in the spring of 1998, and I took them for a whirlwind tour of the borough. From Nathan’s hot dogs in Coney Island to pizza at L&B Spumoni Gardens, from the mansions on Bedford Avenue to the waterfront at Manhattan Beach, we had a wonderful time. I still have vivid memories of the two of them dancing on the famed pedestrian bridge in Sheepshead Bay. Before they departed for the airport, I asked them both to inscribe my copy of their coauthored work, The Romantic Love Question and Answer Book (an image of which appears below).

The following year, my sister Elizabeth and I took an early spring trip to California. We had left New York City, which was enjoying temperatures in the 80s, to travel to Sunny California, where it was snowing in the San Fernando Valley. Snow aside, that trip would not have been complete without a visit to the Beverly Hills 90210 home of Nathaniel and Devers (image of me with them below). It was a spectacular experience. Our lengthy conversations spanned from the personal to the professional, the spiritual to the intellectual. We shared so many stories, we ate well, we laughed, and we held each other in a warm embrace before we left. Though that was the last time I saw Devers, we continued to talk on the phone for many years thereafter, a source of enormous joy for one another.

I last spoke to her in mid-April 2023, knowing how sick she was. She had told me that she had made her peace with death. But there was still so much life left within her. Knowing how enormous my grief was in the wake of my sister’s passing in November 2022, she comforted me. She knew how much my sister meant to me and how deeply my sister loved me. I cherished her gentleness with me.  We ended our phone call saying “I love you” to one another. At her request, I sent her copies of all my recent essays, and she sent me a recent photo of her with her beloved dog, Gigi (image below).

Devers was a kind, humane, caring soul. And a remarkable human being. I will miss her enormously.

I extend my deepest condolences to her family and friends.

Also see my Facebook post.

Song of the Day #2056

Song of the Day: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”), written and performed by Fred Rogers, opened this PBS series, which aired from 1968 to 2001. There’s a certain poignancy in the gentle lyrics to this lovely TV theme. It was also featured in the 2019 film, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. Hanks sings the theme in the film, but there’s nothing like the original [YouTube links].

Song of the Day #2055

Song of the Day: Living Single (“Main Theme”), written and performed by Queen Latifah, opened this Fox comedy series, which ran from 1993 to 1998. The show had an impact on the development of many sitcoms, from “Friends” to “Insecure“. The theme is a poppin’ jack/jill swing groove. Check out its use in the opening credits as well as an extended version [YouTube links].

45 Years Ago: The Birth of Disco 92

Forty-five years ago on this date, July 24, 1978, at precisely 6 pm (ET), the Soft Rock station, “Mellow 92” (92.3 on the FM dial) morphed into “Disco 92“, changing the landscape of FM radio, swiftly becoming the #1 station in New York City. I know Disco is a dirty word for a lot of folks, but this station is memorable for giving us a fiery blend of dance, disco, Latin, and R&B music unlike no other station. (Much credit for the commercial success of KTU goes to general manager, David Rapaport, father of actor Michael Rapaport, whose purchase of 200 disco records initiated the station’s playlist.) Among its disc jockeys were Paco, G. Keith Alexander, Jim Harlan, JD Holiday (Paul Zarcone), Dale Reeves, Freddie Colon, Carlos DeJesus, Joe Causi, Rosko, and Al Bandiero, with whom I spoke on several occasions in later years, reminiscing about the station’s legacy. With artists like Thelma Houston, the Puerto Rico All Stars, Constellation Orchestra, Rick James, and Donna Summer, whose Oscar-winningLast Dance” was the first featured song, here are 39 minutes in the birth of a radio phenomenon …

Check out the interesting Facebook conversation sparked by this post here.

Tony Bennett, RIP

I am so saddened to learn of the death of Tony Bennett, at the age of 96—one of the finest interpreters of the Great American Songbook. I’ve featured so many “Songs of the Day” by him throughout the years. We are so lucky that this native New Yorker left behind such a great musical legacy. A multiple Grammy Award– and Emmy Award-winning artist, he was a Kennedy Center Honoree, and a painter as well.

My sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra, had the pleasure of working with him and his wife Susan Benedetto, during the lead-up to the opening of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens.

Among my all-time favorites:

I Wanna Be Around

The Good Life

The Best is Yet to Come

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

For Once in My Life

If You Were Mine

Live at the Sahara: From This Moment On

And his timeless recordings with legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans

… the list goes on and on and on…

Postscript: I should also note that Tony Bennett was among the first artists to inspire my rhythmic sense! As a child, I used to walk around our living room coffee table to his bouncy version of “Put on a Happy Face” (from the musical, “Bye Bye Birdie“)

By City of Boston Archives from West Roxbury, United States – Unidentified woman with singer Tony Bennett, CC BY 2.0

Song of the Day #2054

Song of the Day: Moonlighting (“Main Theme”) was produced by Nile Rodgers and co-written by Lee Holdridge and Al Jarreau, who provided the smooth jazz vocals for this theme to the ABC-TV series. Starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, the series ran for 5 seasons (1985-1989). The song peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Check out two sweet renditions of it here (below) and here [YouTube links].

Lunar Wonders Never Cease

On this night, back in 1969, I sat with my family to watch this extraordinary historical event unfold. As we viewed the ghostly images on our black-and-white television, we were understandably nervous that something might go wrong—and utterly awestruck by the enormity of the accomplishment. I was only 9 years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, while Michael Collins orbited above in the command module that would return all three safely to the earth. But my memories of that night are vivid. The wonders of Apollo 11 never cease to amaze.

Song of the Day #2053

Song of the Day: Barry (“Change for the World”) is credited to the members of the funky Brooklyn-based Menahan Street Band, as well as Charles Bradley, on whose album, “Changes“, this track first appeared in 2016. The song also features The Gospel Queens, but it is only the first few notes that we hear as the main theme to this dark comedy crime drama, which ran for four seasons on HBO, from 2018-2023. I recently streamed the entire show and really liked it! Created by Alec Berg and SNL-alum Bill Hader, who stars in the title role, it also features stellar performances from Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, and Anthony Carrigan, all of whom have received their share of Emmy nominations in the Comedy series categories. Hader, nominated this year, has won twice for Outstanding Lead Actor and Winkler, also nominated this year, has won once before for Outstanding Supporting Actor; he’s up against Carrigan, also nominated this year in the Supporting category. The final season of “Barry” received a nomination this year for Outstanding Comedy Series. Check out the full theme [YouTube link].

A “Super” Moon River

This is my dear friend, Roger Bissell​’s grandson, Miles Troxler​, aka “Super Milesio“… doing a Jacob Collier-arranged rendition of the Henry Mancini gem, “Moon River” (with lyrics by Johnny Mercer), from the 1961 film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“. Just wonderful. Check it out here [YouTube link].

Also check out his Super Mario Bros. takeoff [YouTube link].

Song of the Day #2052

Song of the Day: In Living Color (“Main Theme”), co-written and performed by Eddie F and Heavy D, opened this Wayan Brothers show, which ran from 1990 to 1994 on Fox. It’s a really nice New Jack swing theme, that continues to inspire; even Bruno Mars paid homage to it in his “Finesse” remix video with Cardi B [YouTube link].