Blog Posts

History of Rosh Hashana

October 9, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories:

ROSH HASHANA

Rosh HaShana designates the beginning of the Jewish new year. “Rosh” is Hebrew for “head” and Rosh HaShana refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month. Judaism has a solar/lunar calendar system, in which the lunar reckoning predominates. The first in the cycle of months is Nissan (which has nothing to do with the automobile manufacturer), the month in which Passover occurs. However, solar years are reckoned to begin at Rosh HaShana. The new year is heralded with the blowing of the “shofar” or ram’s horn by the “baal t’kiah” (meaning master of the shofar-blast). Some scholars have suggested (perhaps “speculated” would be a better word) that the Jews marked the beginning of the year at this time subsequent to the period of their Babylonian Captivity, in following with the Babylonian custom. It also marks the day on which God is said to begin examining the record of each person’s actions during the preceding year; Jews are called upon to take an “accounting of the soul” with the aim of correcting defects in one’s behavior — the ultimate goal is to help “repair the universe.” The audit is considered to end on Yom Kippur, on the 10th day of Tishri, which we will examine next time.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Patriot Day: 9-11-2001

September 9, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories:

HISTORY OF PATRIOT DAY

With the following words and many others, President George W. Bush designated September 11 to be regarded as Patriot Day, or America Remembers:

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

On this first observance of Patriot Day, we remember and honor those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We will not forget the events of that terrible morning nor will we forget how Americans responded in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania — with heroism and selflessness; with compassion and courage; and with prayer and hope. We will always remember our collective obligation to ensure that justice is done, that freedom prevails, and that the principles upon which our Nation was founded endure.

The President inaugurated this observance on September 4, 2002 and repeated it the next year, following a joint resolution approved December 18, 2001 along with the US Congress, intending that it be firmly planted into the consciousness of the American people, and each year recalled to our memory “that more than 3,000 innocent people lost their lives when a calm September morning was shattered by terrorists driven by hatred and destruction.”

As the forth anniversary of this event occurs, what most people call September 11th or just 9-11, I am reminded of the article I wrote in the wake of it, and the one I wrote a year following. Should we remember these kind of events, recalling history? The words of the Oxford don C.S. Lewis are particularly relevant.

Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

– from “Learning in War-Time” (The Weight of Glory)

Lest we forget

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

Concert Review: Chicago/Earth, Wind, and Fire at Red Rocks in Denver

August 25, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories: , ,

Concert Review: Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire at Red Rocks in Denver

Red Rocks above Denver is a natural amphitheater that has been hosting concerts for almost a hundred years and is where the Beatles appeared 41 years ago. Paul McCartney, during his last concert in Denver commented that when the Beatles performed there, they had a hard time finishing their set, due to the elevation. The walk from the parking lot alone is a formidable ascent.

The teaming of these two legendary bands is phenomenal, each performing for over three decades. Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) originally came from Chicago. The band Chicago, I’m not sure where they’re from.

The play list for Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire was essentially the same as their Platinum selling DVD recorded in Los Angeles in 2004 Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre.

Everyone cheered and rose to their feet as both bands entered together to do the Chicago song “Beginnings” with 21 musicians on stagetrading guitar licks between the bands

Already, the smell of burning herbs wafted across the twilight air. By the end of the evening the air was redolent with the unmistakable fragrance of superheated recreational pharmaceuticals.

EWF then did some funky dance music from “We Can Make It Happen” as the bands intermingled sides and shared lyrics.

They slid right into “We can make it happen,” then upshifted into an energetic tune with their trademark high voices.

Philip Bailey, the young lead singer of EWF is local to Denver and said, “Nice to be home. We used to sneak over the fence back there to see Chicago.”

Chicago left the stage and EWF opened their solo part of the show with an instrumental of blaring guitars superceeded only by horns gone wild. It was more felt than heard.

Then they did “Party People”, heavy on the thump, that was followed by “Party Like It’s Saturday Night”

The awaited “Boogie Wonderland” was pure discomania.

Philip played the kalimba, a beautiful African thumb piano.

It was a real treat to watch aging boomers recapturing their youth. But the middle aged gent in front of me was dancing to the music in a way that suggested he never had rhythem, even in his youth.

Then EWF did some blues followed by the love song co-written by Chicago’s Bill Champlin “After the Love Is Gone.” He invited the participation of the audience to sing along, and instrumental solos covered the fact that he just couldn’t hit the notes anymore.

EWF did some songs from their forthcoming (on September 20) CD, Illumination

They then did “Hearts Afire ” followed by Philip doing a riff from somewhere “Over the Rainbow” where he hit notes higher than many women I know. What a set of pipes!

This was followed by the Beatles cover “Got to Get You ionto My Life” and “12th of Never.” It was a funkalicious fantasy.

They had 12 people on stage, though only two from the original band: Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. They had 3, count ’em 3 drum sets — and bongos. Did I mention the cowbells?

Following the break, Chicago started their part of the show with a drum duel between their drummer and EWF’s drummer, and were later joined by steel drums by EWF. While there were 8 people on the stage, only 4 were from the original band: Robert Lamm, Walt Parazaider, Jimmy Pankow, and Lee Loughnane.

Then was “Great Shouts of Joy.” Great horns, but Bill Champlin’s weak voice couldn’t hit the notes so he kicked beyond it. Where EWF made up for their lack of precision with energy and enthusiasm, Chicago made up for weak voices with horns and guitars. While the horns were brassy, they couldn’t make up for the missed vocal fidelity.

When Chicago did “Color My World” the crowd went wild, especially for the flute solo.

Phillip Bailey of EWF (mercifully) sang “If You Leave Me Now” as no one in Chicago had the voice for it.

At Red Rocks, the wind came up and microphones got wind blasted.

Chicago did lots of hits from the 70’s. When they sand the lyrics “I Love You, you know I do, you love me too” one longed to have their former bassist/vocalist Pete Cetera on the stage.

They did “I am Alive Again” but not nearly as many people were on their feet as they had been for the entire EWF section. Indeed, while I came to hear Chicago and not EWF, Chicago suffered by comparison following EWF.

Chicago did some hits from their landmark album “Chicago 16” from 1982: “(Youre a) Hard Habit to Break.” When the sang “Being Without You” it pointed out that the band was without Pete Cetera. Did I mention that? I felt that way more than once.

“Old Days”, good times I remember brought them to their feet again.

When they did “Just You And Me” they covered their weak vocals with improvizational instrumental emblandishment.

The crowd came alive for “Saturday ion the Park”
“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” then brought everyone to their feet.

“I’m a Man” sounded like a plane taking off.

Chicago’s final song was the rambunctious double hit from Chicago 16 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away”. It was a veritable rock-o-rama.

EWF joined them for the encore including “25 or 6 to 4” and “Shining Star” but I did not stay, I’d had enough.

Bill Petro
www.billpetro.com

Concert Review: Chicago/Earth, Wind, & Fire at Red Rocks in Denver

August 25, 2005 / 1 Comment
Categories:

Concert Review: Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire at Red Rocks in Denver

Red Rocks above Denver is a natural amphitheater that has been hosting concerts for almost a hundred years and is where the Beatles appeared 41 years ago. Paul McCartney, during his last concert in Denver commented that when the Beatles performed there, they had a hard time finishing their set, due to the elevation. The walk from the parking lot alone is a formidable ascent.

The teaming of these two legendary bands is phenomenal, each performing for over three decades. Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) originally came from Chicago. The band Chicago, I’m not sure where they’re from.

The play list for Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire was essentially the same as their Platinum selling DVD recorded in Los Angeles in 2004 Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre.

Everyone cheered and rose to their feet as both bands entered together to do the Chicago song “Beginnings” with 21 musicians on stagetrading guitar licks between the bands

Already, the smell of burning herbs wafted across the twilight air. By the end of the evening the air was redolent with the unmistakable fragrance of superheated recreational pharmaceuticals.

EWF then did some funky dance music from “We Can Make It Happen” as the bands intermingled sides and shared lyrics.

They slid right into “We can make it happen,” then upshifted into an energetic tune with their trademark high voices.

Philip Bailey, the young lead singer of EWF is local to Denver and said, “Nice to be home. We used to sneak over the fence back there to see Chicago.”

Chicago left the stage and EWF opened their solo part of the show with an instrumental of blaring guitars superceeded only by horns gone wild. It was more felt than heard.

Then they did “Party People”, heavy on the thump, that was followed by “Party Like It’s Saturday Night”

The awaited “Boogie Wonderland” was pure discomania.

Philip played the kalimba, a beautiful African thumb piano.

It was a real treat to watch aging boomers recapturing their youth. But the middle aged gent in front of me was dancing to the music in a way that suggested he never had rhythem, even in his youth.

Then EWF did some blues followed by the love song co-written by Chicago’s Bill Champlin “After the Love Is Gone.” He invited the participation of the audience to sing along, and instrumental solos covered the fact that he just couldn’t hit the notes anymore.

EWF did some songs from their forthcoming (on September 20) CD, Illumination

They then did “Hearts Afire ” followed by Philip doing a riff from somewhere “Over the Rainbow” where he hit notes higher than many women I know. What a set of pipes!

This was followed by the Beatles cover “Got to Get You ionto My Life” and “12th of Never.” It was a funkalicious fantasy.

They had 12 people on stage, though only two from the original band: Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. They had 3, count ’em 3 drum sets — and bongos. Did I mention the cowbells?

Following the break, Chicago started their part of the show with a drum duel between their drummer and EWF’s drummer, and were later joined by steel drums by EWF. While there were 8 people on the stage, only 4 were from the original band: Robert Lamm, Walt Parazaider, Jimmy Pankow, and Lee Loughnane.

Then was “Great Shouts of Joy.” Great horns, but Bill Champlin’s weak voice couldn’t hit the notes so he kicked beyond it. Where EWF made up for their lack of precision with energy and enthusiasm, Chicago made up for weak voices with horns and guitars. While the horns were brassy, they couldn’t make up for the missed vocal fidelity.

When Chicago did “Color My World” the crowd went wild, especially for the flute solo.

Phillip Bailey of EWF (mercifully) sang “If You Leave Me Now” as no one in Chicago had the voice for it.

At Red Rocks, the wind came up and microphones got wind blasted.

Chicago did lots of hits from the 70’s. When they sand the lyrics “I Love You, you know I do, you love me too” one longed to have their former bassist/vocalist Pete Cetera on the stage.

They did “I am Alive Again” but not nearly as many people were on their feet as they had been for the entire EWF section. Indeed, while I came to hear Chicago and not EWF, Chicago suffered by comparison following EWF.

Chicago did some hits from their landmark album “Chicago 16” from 1982: “(Youre a) Hard Habit to Break.” When the sang “Being Without You” it pointed out that the band was without Pete Cetera. Did I mention that? I felt that way more than once.

“Old Days”, good times I remember brought them to their feet again.

When they did “Just You And Me” they covered their weak vocals with improvizational instrumental emblandishment.

The crowd came alive for “Saturday ion the Park”
“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” then brought everyone to their feet.

“I’m a Man” sounded like a plane taking off.

Chicago’s final song was the rambunctious double hit from Chicago 16 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away”. It was a veritable rock-o-rama.

EWF joined them for the encore including “25 or 6 to 4” and “Shining Star” but I did not stay, I’d had enough.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culture vulture
www.billpetro.com

History of Labor Day

August 23, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories:

HISTORY OF LABOR DAY

Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through in order to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday.

Labor Day is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement. While it is still disputed whether the holiday was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, the leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist — observances of the holiday go back over a century.

The first Labor Day celebration was September 15, 1882 in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establishment a regular holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass it on February 21, 1887. It was first proposed as “a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

But it was on June 28, 1894 that Congress made the first Monday in September an official Labor Day holiday. In 1909 the Sunday preceding was designated as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of the Holidays

August 23, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories:

History of the HolidaysHISTORY OF THE HOLIDAYS

Welcome to this year’s edition of the History of the Holidays. I’m Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian. From now through the Spring or vernal equinox, we celebrate most of the major secular and sacred holidays. This is a series that recounts the history behind the major American holidays, some of the minor ones, and a few international ones as well.

Sacred and Secular

Many of the sacred holidays in our American “Judeo-Christian” heritage have secular associations, while many of the seemingly secular holidays actually have religious roots.

One example of the mixture of sacred and secular was that in ancient Rome the death and resurrection of Attis, the god of vegetation, was celebrated on March 24 and 25, corresponding to the vernal equinox.
(more…)

Concert Review: James Taylor at Coors Amphitheater in Denver

August 21, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories: , ,

James TaylorConcert Review: James Taylor at Coors Amphitheater in Denver

I’ve seen James Taylor in concert about half a dozen times from the Greek Theater in Berkeley to Red Rocks above Denver. This performance at the Coors Amphitheater in the Denver Tech Center was the most relaxed I’ve seen. It is wider than either of the other venues and seemed to add greater intimacy and immediacy to his style. He has a very easy going style with audiences and a relaxed manner but I’ve never seen him so chatty with the crowd. He was cracking jokes, handling hecklers and signing autographs several times between acts and encores.

He began with a relaxed acoustic “Secret Of Life,” then was joined by the band for “Summer’s Here,” where each mention of “beer” in the lyrics brought people holding their Coors beer bottles high.

Andrea Zonn, one of his female singers is also a terrific fiddler. Her Irish tunes were delightful, especially as he performed the unexpected “The River is Wide.”

He performed two of his original pieces that were distinguished by having had Ray Charles cover them: “Nothin’ Like a Hundred Miles” and the mournful “Everybody Has the Blues.”

“Fire and Rain” seemed to be what everyone was waiting for. And “Handy Man” lit up the audience. With 8 instrumentalists and three background singers, there was quite a lot on stage. The harmonies were rapturous. He improvised still more beyond his already jazzed up live versions (which you can hear on his Live album) than his studio standards.

At numerous times during the concert, he joked with the audience. He talked about his “Elvis collar” that phenomenon which occurs when the wind blows your collar up. At another time we couldn’t hear the question from the audience, but his reply was

“…their pitching is a little weak, but it’s still early in the season.”

When people felt compelled to call out song requests, “Mexico” came out loudest. His reply,

“We’ll get to it (holding up his blackboard). See, it’s right down here. We’ll have to get through this crap first though.”

Later, when someone was quite insistent about a song he said,

“I’m going to do this song instead. It’s really just like that song, except there are some differences, actually it’s not at all like that song. Never mind.”

When he did get to “Mexico” he introduced his Cuban drummer who dazzled the audience. Following a 20 minute break, he pointed out that to be environmentally friendly the second half’s songs were written on the backside of his blackboard. He performed “Sonny’s Eyes” and a song he said he learned from the Dixie Chicks “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”

His horn section was terrific: Walt Fowler on trumpet and Lou “Blue Lou” Marini on sax and flute — you’d know him from the Saturday Night Live Band and The Blues Brothers.

James’ performance this time of “Carolina” used the backup singers like an a cappella church choir. I’ve never heard it so good.

He did a rather long introduction to “God Have Mercy on the Frozen Man” where he told the background to the story, then got off-track and decided to forget it. He similarly had a long intro to “Line Em Up” discussing the Nixon Whitehouse juxtaposed to the last verse relating to the marriage of 5,000 people by Rev. Moon at Madison Square Garden. He said there was so much matrimonial energy that some of it leaked outside and some people on the street were spontaneously married.

But one introduction caught the crowd by surprise.

“This is a song I wrote for my nephew… on the occasion of his birth. It’s been a number of years now. He was named after me and this was intended as a cowboy lullaby” — and now the audience has figured it out — “His grandmother is in the audience tonight.”

Could this have in fact been both the grandmother of Sweet Baby James as well as the mother of James Taylor? This performance had an accordion and a steel string guitar. Lovely.

He did “Country Road” and donned his electric guitar to play “Steamroller Blues.” It turned into a jam session featuring solos by trumpet, keyboard, and guitar. He ended with “How Sweet It Is.”

The expected encore brought him back to do the old Drifters’ hit “Up On the Roof.” By now, the sky above the venue was dark. As he sang about “the stars up above” a shooting star lit the sky.

He followed this with “Summertime Blues” and left the stage, only to return with another encore and signing of autographs for the front row. A good time was had by all.

Bill Petro
www.billpetro.com

Theatre Review: The Philadelphia Story at the Old Vic in London

August 21, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories: , , ,

Philadelphia StoryTheatre Review: The Philadelphia Story at the Old Vic in London

Sometimes you meet famous people when you attend the theatre in London — I did at a recent performance in early June. I attended the new London version of The Philadelphia Story which though most people know by the Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant movie, was originally a play. Indeed, it had been originally customized to Hepburn. The one in London is being done this year while Kevin Spacey is the artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre. He also stars as CK Dexter Haven. Jennifer Ehle has the starring role of Tracy Lord, and she makes the part her own. You may remember her as Lizzy Bennet from the British miniseries Pride and Prejudice. But more on this play later.

I hadn’t been to the Old Vic Theatre in years, indeed not since Patrick Stewart was doing his one-man version of “A Christmas Carol.” Back then I thought I’d go to the stage door around back to meet Captain Jean-Luc Piccard of Star Trek‘s USS Enterprise. So did a couple of hundred other “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans. While I did not get to meet him, I did get close enough to breathe the same air molecules. But that was all.

One time though, my waiting at the stage door paid off. I waited behind the Wyndhams Theatre in London following Dame Diana Rigg‘s performance in “Medea,” for which she subsequently won a Tony on Broadway. It’s a real Greek tragedy: everyone dies in the end… and she kills them. Dame Diana breezed out 45 minutes after the show and apologized to the two of us waiting for autographs. I said I’d been following her career since the TV show The Avengers in the 60’s. She cooed, “Oh, the black and white ones?” She signed my program and I floated back to my hotel.

Rosemary Harris

Rosemary Harris

The night I attended I had a good seat in the second row of the stalls (translation: first level of balcony) and during the second interval (translation: intermission, and yes, there were two) across the row in front of me walks Rosemary Harris returning to her seat. I could not take my eyes off her. You know her as the kindly Aunt May Parker from the original Spider-Man movies, but back in her day she was an actress of great renown and prowess both in London and on Broadway, having won Tony, Obie and Emmy awards. She has appeared opposite Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, and Michael Redgrave.

I spoke with her for a few minutes as we left the show. Her presence there was significant for two reasons. First, she had done 5 plays in this same theater, indeed, her picture is on the wall with Peter O’Toole in Hamlet in 1963. But second and more importantly, the starring role of tonight’s play was her daughter, Jennifer Ehle. I told her that I thought her daughter had done a marvelous job in the role, and I asked her what she thought. She thanked me and said it she was quite proud to watch her. I asked her if it was a thrill seeing her daughter perform in the same theatre that she had performed in back in 1963. She said yes and that she had to pinch herself… and that she had also performed here along with Richard Burton in Othello “in 1954, or was it 55?” (It was 1956.) And she had done Julius Caesar, Troilus & Cressida, and Uncle Vanya, and she couldn’t remember them all, there were five.

I told her that her daughter had made the part her own, and so she had. The play is a bit different than the movie, where Tracy Lord’s brother Sandy is absorbed into the role of CK Dexter Haven, making Cary Grant’s role much larger in the movie. In the play, the lines and the plot elements go to her brother, consequently, CK Dexter Haven has a rather smaller role. Ms. Elhe is the dominant role and she embodies the character so that you forget that she’s not the person you usually associate with the role. Her vocal range and presence on stage gave her a gravitas that grows on you. Her “American” accent was almost flawless, as were most of the British Actors. Her younger sister Dinah was played with whiny adenoidal delight by Talulah Riley in her stage debut. Nicholas Le Prevost’s Uncle Willy was a particular delight with a somewhat expanded role. Julia McKenzie’s Margaret Lord was a special breath of off-handed humor.

Kevin Spacey, as I mentioned, had a smaller role than expected, but he had fun with it. He delivered some of his lines as W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx. He was nimble and light on his feet and seemed almost outside the play at times. He did with volume and anger what Cary Grant did with tone and eyebrow. But Spacey’s emotion revealed nuances I hadn’t caught in my dozen viewings of the movie, and he can throw away a line like nobody but Sean Connery as 007.

As I left the play, Ms. Harris and I spoke for only three or four minutes, but at 78 she is gracious and poised. I told her it was a treat to meet her and she thanked me as we parted and walked off into the night.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood theatre buff
www.billpetro.com

Future of the Moon

August 2, 2005 / 0 Comments
Categories:


FUTURE OF THE MOON

As a follow-up to my article commemorating landing on the moon in 1969, there is an interesting site here that shows what it will look like in the future:

In honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, we’ve added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor. Happy lunar surfing.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood futurist
www.billpetro.com