Edna Ferber's Show Boat isn't a great novel but it's great fun — a good story told in a lively way.

It's easy to see, too, why it appealed to Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern as material for a musical play.  It's a book infused with a sentimental love for theater and nostalgia for the romance of its bygone days.

The era of the show boat, coming to an end when Ferber published the book in 1926, is presented as a kind of lost Eden of American show business, somehow magically recovered by modern performers who remember the old ways.

It also deals quite explicitly with the most crucial but often disguised conversation at the heart of American popular entertainment — that between whites and blacks.  (Above is a portrait of Jules Bledsoe, the stage musical's original Joe.)  Ferber is sensitive to the dynamic quality of this conversation and also to the injustice and hypocrisy that inform it.  Julie Dozier, the actress of mixed race expelled from the Eden of Captain Andy's Cotton Blossom, is both an emotional and theatrical inspiration to the novel's (white) female protagonist, Magnolia Hawks.  It is only race that condemns Julie, along with all African-American performers, to a life on the margins of show business, and Ferber's book bristles with outrage over this.  (The poster below features Helen Morgan, the stage musical's original Julie, who reprised her role in the 1929 part-talkie film version.)

Hammerstein and Kern, like most show folk, were clearly sentimental about “the business”, and like most lovers of American music, they were both inspired and instructed by black musical culture.  It remains astonishing, some eighty years on, that they had the ambition to deal with these themes in such a mature and serious way in their stage production of Show Boat.  It was ahead of its time in 1927, and in some ways it remains ahead of our time, too.

Kern's music, of course, exists outside of time, and would have been a miracle in any age.


. . . and the fourth part of the day is already gone.

That's a line from the new Dylan album, Together Through Life, due out on the 28th of this month.

The song, “I Feel A Change Coming On”, has been seen by some commentators as reflecting the dawn of the Obama era, and that might be part of it — but I think it's mostly about the possibility of change in old age.

There was a time, back in the Sixties, when young folks might say, with some truth, that older folks couldn't really get what Dylan was singing about.  Today, older folks might say that young folks can't really get what Dylan is singing about now — that you need some serious mileage on your odometer to feel the depth of the ragged wisdom roiling around in his new work.

I mean, could any young person fully comprehend what these lines from the same song mean:

Well now what's the use in dreaming?
You got better things to do.
Dreams never did work for me anyway,
Even when they did come true.

I don't think so.

                                                                                                                                    Image©Bruce Davidson

The photo by Bruce Davidson on the cover of the new album has some relationship to this idea.  The kids making out in the back seat of the car have no idea where they're going — they aren't looking out to see.  They don't know yet, to paraphrase another song on the album, that beyond their embrace lies nothing.


Almost as soon as my friend Mitch rolled out of town, Eli, an even older friend, rolled in.  Eli is a very successful manager and producer in Hollywood, but I first met her when she was a 16 year-old undergraduate at Yale.  She was, in those days, a hellcat — a wild woman sowing her oats before settling down to marriage, motherhood and a rather spectacular career in movies.

She took me to dinner last Saturday night at Mix, the restaurant on top of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, with its stunning view of Las Vegas and its equally stunning food.  (I apologize for the fuzziness of the picture above, but when I tried to use my flash inside Mix the background was totally blacked out — and the image does give a good sense of how Eli and I were seeing the world halfway through a superb bottle of wine, preceded by a couple of Martinis and beers.)

After our dinner we headed uptown to Tao, where Eli had used her connections to get us on “the list”.  At Tao we took to the empty dance floor to show off our moves just as the club's night was getting going.  (My moves were somewhat pathetic, Eli's much more impressive.)  Our example started the whole crowd dancing, and the whole crowd consisted mostly of packs of young girls dressed like hookers, with a few decidedly colorless young men hovering timidly around them.

My Western box-back frock coat was the coolest item of male attire anywhere in sight.  Let's face it, folks, I've seen better days, but at least I can still make an effort.  On the other hand, Eli's cool clubbin' shoes mirrored the sense of style shown by almost all the women out cruising the town.

What is our world coming to?  Has the matriarchy arrived?  Have young men just given up?

When I dropped Eli off at her hotel, The Mirage, I was pretty drunk, and I knew I should head straight home on a route that did not include a detour through the Mirage's card room.  On the other hand, I was a little too drunk to heed my own advice.

I sat down at a no-limit Hold-'em game, which broke up around three in the morning, but even this was not enough to bring me to my senses.  I headed across the street to the card room at the Venetian, and played for twelve more hours.

It was a shameful episode.  However, there were two mitigating factors.  One, I had a blast, and, two, I staggered home at three in the afternoon having made a clear profit of over three hundred dollars.  I was clearly inspired to daring acts of card play by my earlier dash about town with a hot babe in cool shoes.

In Las Vegas, bad behavior is often richly rewarded . . . and everywhere, the Eternal Feminine leads us on.


My friend Mitch was in town for a few days recently.  Mitch is a wonderful fellow, but a bit eccentric.  He has an imaginary friend, “Michaela” — actually a cut-out paper doll — who shares all his adventures.  He talks to her and even insists on ordering extra food for her when we're out at a restaurant.

Mitch and I played some poker — we both had some good runs and some bad runs.  It was great fun but far from profitable.  The photograph of Mitch above, putting a brave face on things, is fuzzy because I couldn't use my flash, since taking pictures in a card room is forbidden.

The real problem was Michaela, who kept sneaking off to play the slots while we puzzled over the cards.  She lost a small fortune in quarters during the times it took us to track her down.

On the bright side, she made friends with a showgirl who was dancing, for some obscure reason, under the Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign at the end of The Strip.  Michaela says she feels right at home in Las Vegas, because it's an imaginary town.


Here’s something you don’t see every day — a picture of Annie Oakley jumping
over a table.  It’s hard to be sure, because of the condition of the
photograph, but it seems she’s flashing a little garter in the process.

Oakley was not just exhibiting high spirits here.  Although the proximity of
the tents makes it clear that this photograph was not taken in the
arena during a show, Oakley was recreating or practicing one of her
performance routines.  An assistant would launch a glass ball into the
air, Oakley would jump over a table, bare-handed, grab her gun and
shoot the ball out of the air before it hit the ground.

What a gal.


To the shock of some and the delight of many others, President Obama has called for public executions of the Wall Street CEOs whose “extreme avarice and irresponsibility have taken to the world to the brink of economic disaster”.

“These people have gone beyond moral depravity, beyond criminality, into the realm of treason against their own country and the community of nations,” the President said.  “We have a death penalty in place for traditional forms of treason — it ought to be applied equally to those whose selfishness and greed have led them to place the security of the whole world in jeopardy.”

Obama has proposed setting up special tribunals to try the accused under military law, with a greatly abbreviated appeals procedure.  “Justice in these cases needs to be swift, untempered with mercy, and pursued publicly,” the President said, “with nationally televised executions, so that all Americans, young and old, can contemplate the consequences of sociopathic behavior by those entrusted with the financial well-being of the nation.”

Obama has directed the Attorney General to study the feasibility of conducting the executions on Wall Street, in front of the New York Stock Exchange building, so that they will become part of the history of that fabled center of American and world finance.

“Let them die,” Mr. Obama said, “staring at piles of cash representing their executive bonuses for the years in which they were conducting their transgressions — taking one last look at the money for which they sold their honor and integrity as human beings and as citizens of a great republic.”

The ACLU, which initially expressed skepticism about the Constitutionality of Obama's proposal, has formally withdrawn its objections.  “Some actions,” said an ACLU spokesman, “transcend the issue of civil liberties.”

Meanwhile, the National Council Of Churches, an ecumenical organization representing a wide range of Christian denominations in America, issued the following statement on behalf of all its members:

All those who transgress against the laws of God and man, even Wall Street bankers, need to be forgiven — and we do forgive them, in a spirit of humility and true Christian charity.  However, we accept the urgent necessity of publicly executing these particular sinners, as long as the executions are conducted with dignity and humane swiftness.  May God have mercy on their souls.