Reviews and articles by Paul Paolicelli
Reflections on a Good man
I happened to be visiting  DC last week when the obit of former Senator J. Glenn Beall, Jr. appeared in the Washington Post. Like the man himself, the article was understated, subdued, dignified. And, like the man himself, it left much unsaid.
  In that now long-gone era, I was Beall's Press Secretary for the last three years he served as the junior Senator from Maryland. Beall was from a patrician family, a group of Scots who arrived in this country in the late 17th century and founded, among other places, what is now Georgetown. He married the lovely Nancy, a descendant of Virginia's Lee family. He was the son of a former Maryland road commissioner, Congressman and Senator. As the grandson of Italian immigrants, I marveled at his pedigree.
Beall was a man who didn't like the spotlight, didn't enjoy attention. It made my role of press secretary somewhat difficult. I, along with the others of our staff, felt he deserved better ink and broadcast coverage, but he never sought out exposure. We'd argue with him to take a stronger stance, make a clear and simplified comment on his Senate doings, but he refused to synthesize complicated issues into snappy soundbites. He had a profound respect for the process of the Senate and believed that the popular media was often off the mark with superficial and glib analysis of far deeper issues.
The author with Senator Beall in 1976
Yet, for all of that, he came reluctantly into public office. On the eve of Richard Nixon's resignation, the Senator and I, along with a few other staffers, dined at a Capitol Hill eatery. Beall told the story of having been summoned to the Rose Garden, of Nixon throwing his arm over the young Congressman's shoulders and a waltz among the flowers that resulted in Beall giving up a safe sinecure of his Western Maryland seat to make a "Townhouse" funded  run for the U.S. Senate against Joe Tydings. "Everything that man touched turned to dust," he said, referring to the resigning President. It was a reluctant criticism, not because he defended Nixon's actions, but rather because patricians just didn't criticize others.
   Perhaps nothing demonstrates Beall's sense of dignity better than an incident that happened during 1976, a campaign year and his last in the Senate. The parents of  a constituent he'd appointed to the Merchant Marine Academy called him at home one evening (his number was listed in the phone book) and told of their daughter being expelled for having sexual relations with another student. What troubled the parents and Beall the most was that the young man involved in the incident had been allowed to graduate, while the young woman, Beall's constituent, was asked to leave. Beall quickly got on the phone and made several calls, demanding that either the young man's diploma be revoked or that the young woman be reinstated. It was about equal treatment, his resolve was clear, unequivocal. Our office staff, myself included, found out about the incident only after the woman had been reinstated and the case resolved. When we questioned him about it, he brushed the matter aside. It wasn't a staff issue, he said.
    At the time, "The Tom Snyder Show" was the late night talk king. The producers of the show learned of the incident and invited the Senator, through me, to appear on the program. "Absolutely not," was the reply. It was an election year. Baltimore was Maryland's largest city and a Democrat bastion. Snyder was a popular program in Baltimore, and this issue put Beall in a very favorable light to exactly that same demographic. "No way," he said. He was not going to "exploit that girl or her family. It's a private matter and we'll leave it at that."
   I hope and pray there are still Senators today who would give up an opportunity to appear on a highly-rated national talk show to protect a constituent's privacy. George Beall was quoted in the
Post obituary as saying that the family always stressed public service, a notion that almost seems quaint by today's standards. In 1976, there were about 7,000 of us who served as aides to the members of Congress. Today there are more than three times that amount. And I'm not sure that the concept of public service is at the core of this employment, or has ever been the common denominator.
   Glenn Beall lost the election in 1976 to Paul Sarbanes who, like Jimmy Carter on the national ticket, rarely mentioned his opponent; both ran quite successfully against Richard Nixon and all that disgraced administration stood for. It was certainly the end of an era--the end of the Watergate shenanigans and illegalities, which also brought down a decent man from Maryland who shared a political party and little else with the Nixon White House operatives. A man whose fundamental being believed in public service, respect for his constituency, and the institution in which he served.
  Let it be known that J. Glenn Beall, Jr. was foremost a good man.
  And may he rest in peace.
Take Five
The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
By Doug Ramsey
Parkside Publications, Seattle
ISBN 0-9617266-7-9
Review by Paul Paolicelli
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Sunday, May 8,2005
    This book is as much the story of a remarkable period of jazz  as it is the tale of a tremendous talent from that time.  And it’s as much  loving paean from a friend as biography of a musical giant.

     Doug Ramsey is one of America’s most accomplished and passionate jazz voices. His  ear and pen combine in this work to form marvelous combinations on the written page. In writing on the work of his friend, Paul Desmond, Ramsey examines the intricacies of that unique style in a way that few can,  and offers detailed analysis of the saxophonist’s remarkable sound without losing the sense of joy in the music nor the power of the written narrative. Perhaps a story even more powerful since Ramsey was there and shared many of the magic moments of Desmond’s performances in the late 50s and 60s when the Dave Brubeck Quartet became the model for post WWII jazz.

     You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to recognize Desmond’s still poignant and intelligent sound on the alto saxophone. Two or three notes will get most there…or the simple vamp at the start of his most famous composition, “Take Five,” the best selling jazz side up to the time of its release. Desmond was (and remains through recordings) one of the most gentle and sophisticated voices ever. His often repeated desire to make his instrument “sound like a dry martini,” really doesn’t approximate the legacy he left the musical world. Desmond’s elegant and fascinating approach to his music, and his dedication to lyrical and rhythmic exploration and invention, was thoroughly complemented and completed in an equal genius, Dave Brubeck. That relationship is loving and logically detailed in this work.

     The private man in this book is one of that same “dry-martini” wit, great humor, a lifelong fascination with beautiful women, and a life style that led to early death. Ramsey accomplishes the task of revealing this man to the reader mostly by getting out of the way and allowing Desmond’s own words and writing tell his story. An accomplished wordsmith, Desmond writes in the spiraling, sparkling and witty phrases that mark his soloing. He had been an English major at San Francisco State—he already knew what the music courses had to offer thanks to his father, Emil Breitenfeld, an accomplished and respected composer and arranger. In a series of letters reproduced in this book, Desmond offers a lifelong narrative of his musical and social experiences, his respect and admiration for the two most significant relationships of his life—his talented father and Dave Brubeck—his thoughts on women, Pontiacs, Broadway plays, Dewar’s Scotch, life on the road, among other things.

     Ramsey has put together a remarkable portrait that is lushly accompanied by dozens of beautifully reproduced photos, transcriptions of Desmond’s most famous solos and the observations of dozens of critics, friends and colleagues. The only frustration is the lack of an accompanying CD that would allow the reader to hear the highlighted work. (Publishers have shied away from this sort of combo deal, apparently in fear that it might appear too gimmicky).
     Desmond’s view of life and humor was mostly rooted in subtle irony. This despite having been raised by a phobic mother who refused to touch him in infancy. His father’s soothing sense in coping with a troubled wife and his obvious pride for his son provided guidance to that son in both life and music, and probably provided the direction for Desmond’s consistent sense of amusement.

     Born Paul Breitenfeld, he became Paul Desmond once he found that trail his father helped blaze, and he was dedicated, forceful,  and ultimately quite successful in creating not only a new name for himself, but his own definitive style and approach to his music. He determinedly did not want to and did not sound like the other icon of his era; Charlie Parker. Thus it is the ultimate irony that he died, much like Parker, in a swirl of self destructive behavior years before fulfilling a natural life span. And, it is equally ironic that, like Parker, his music is as vibrant, colorful and creative today as when he left us.

     Had there only been more.
Why Carson Counted
By Paul Paolicelli
for "ShopTalk"  January 2005
With the possible exception of Walter Cronkite, there has been no greater unifying voice in American television that that of Johnny Carson's. What Carson represented for the three decades he thrived in the environment of the television talk show-- which he helped invent--was the steady and calming voice of middle America reflecting common sense, basic values in the midst of some rather amazing and sometimes agonizing history. During the Vietnam war, Carson's nightly monologue poked fun at the politicians who had created that war while America's youth and some more hotly inclined citizens took angrily to the streets. Carson stayed medium cool during those so very torrid times. During Watergate, Carson quipped away without ever wandering from satire and into commentary, his inner compass unerringly brilliant in knowing where that line was and in never crossing over. During the Reagan years, now celebrated by some as the political equivalent of the Roman Republic, Carson ragged Reagan about his age, his naps, his fellow mid-westerner's approach to conversation and political exchange. He kidded Clinton not so much for sex but for sax playing and a penchant for junk food, stood as an ironic and satirical witness to all of the comings and goings of movie stars and moguls, the important and the self-important, and was a reliable soothsayer in discovering the truly funny or interesting people of our times.
Carson listening,  as was his way.
There will never be another Carson because there will never be another time in American broadcasting when one person can garner so large and so loyal an audience with so broad an appeal. The band has widened now to accommodate narrower interests. Talk show hosts today fill niche appeal and, while some are still fairly broad by broadcast standards, they are much less in their reach and in affect.

Carson brought us all to the communal campfire to tell our stories late at night. Not so much our important stories, but the amusing ones. Carson was to late night what Cronkite was to early evening; both bound us up in a communal sense, gave us an insight into our days and times, introduced us to those making a difference and those who would be making a difference, and kept themselves neatly and appropriately beyond the story and the issue. Lyndon Johnson once insightfully sighed that if he'd lost Cronkite's positive opinion, he'd lost the nation's. Every President since has checked the late night talk shows for the opening monologues, invented by Carson, to hear what they were saying. But it was Carson's monologue that had always carried the most punch and panache.

We've lost that now-gone sense of community. Our children can isolate in their bedrooms on their computers while MTV runs in the background. Parents can arrange their individual viewing into Tivo sessions that fit conveniently into busy schedules, young adults can view the late night programming that best fits their particular demographic and sense of humor, and the elderly can find cable programming that reminds them of a time when fewer tattoos and epithets flew magically through the public air. There is no single voice left that can capture what most of us think or would think if we had the time for reflection and focus. There is no Midwestern common sense gag man left who can talk to us en masse and make us laugh at ourselves, show us the oddballs and offbeat, deflate the pompous or help us heal as Carson once did.

There are many who now follow in Carson's footsteps. But, just like Cronkite's shoes, they can never and will never be filled. Because both men lived in a time and place and electronic environment that will never come again. Both men came from a generation that had invented the medium and defined its parameters in and for their time. And both men had an inner core that was incorruptible and devoid of the ego needs that seem to spur so many contemporaries into annoyingly noisy and garish grabs in what sometimes seem an endless plea for attention. When Carson left "The Tonight Show," at the top of his game, it was truly the end of an era, just as Cronkite's departure ended the golden age of CBS. I, for one, am grateful to have been able to form the memory of those men and those times.
Let Us Now Praise Famous (Anchor) Men
By Paul Paolicelli
July, 2004

A local television station manger recently asked me an intriguing question; what did I think was the major difference between my Vietnam-Era generation of television journalist and the current, more business-oriented, dot com-era crop?

So much has happened in a generation, both to my group of baby-boomers and the industry in which we made our careers. We had joined a young business during its most exciting period. American journalists were as much, if not more than any other factor at the time, responsible for the end of a segregated south, the loss of public support for the Vietnam war, and revelations of the shenanigans of the  Nixon administration, among many other, lesser issues. Journalists, both print and broadcast, were better respected than the politicians they covered. It was what attracted us to the business. When we broke a story of corruption or scandal, action followed by government or police. There were results. We were the good guys.

     But we, boomers--some of us (sadly all too few) freshly out of the Vietnam era uniforms and into mufti-- weren’t the key players in that system. We were the junior members paying our oft-cited dues.

      So, I had to make a simple deduction to the manager’s question: The main difference between this contemporary generation of journalists and my generation is, I believe, how the craft was taught and, more importantly, who taught us.

      We were taught by mostly men, mostly white men, but men who were veteran’s of what another contemporary journalist has called “The Greatest Generation.” We were taught by a group that had seen the world in its worst moments, who had been tested to the outer limits of human endurance and strength, who had considered “service” to one’s country a duty, and who, most importantly, knew the difference between a news story of community relevance and an audience-luring piece of fluff.
They hated fluff. They’d seen war, blood, death, concentration camps, disease. They knew how to focus on stories that had impact and relevance.

     The icon for that generation at the national level was Walter Cronkite. Straight, sober, down-the-middle. Even the name “Walter;” could it be more middle American? He’d been a UPI reporter who’d taken risks, seen action. After the war, when he made the risky jump to a local television station in Washington, D.C., he brought with him not only the skills of a war correspondent who could write quickly and accurately about huge, sweeping events; but also the values of one tested in war and chaos. He was rock steady with his middle-of-the road approach, thorough in his search for detail, fair in his sense of balance, just with his questioning. It was no accident that he became the most famous player in the new business of national broadcasting of the evening  news. Cronkite represented the best of us -- the average guy working hard every day with a firm sense of the American values that hard work and honesty will always be enough. When, finally, Cronkite made a rare editorial comment regarding the Vietnam war, President Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying that if he’d “lost” Cronkite, he’d lost the American public. Johnson, who had been so wrong about that war, was right on the dime about Cronkite’s role.

     I started to work at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, PA during the summer of 1971. I’d just gotten out of college and was hired on to help fill what was then a huge news hole, an open-ended early news that ran up to ninety minutes because of a local newspaper strike. I’d been a reporter in the army and had enough in the clip file for the news director to take a chance on a raw rookie. I found myself in close proximity to the first man I’d ever seen on television; Bill Burns – Pittsburgh’s version of Walter Cronkite. I was intimidated, this was my first experience with a “star.” He found my use of “Mr. Burns” both refreshing and amusing. Unlike the other, more seasoned iconoclasts that filled the Channel Two newsroom in those days, I was wide-eyed and virtually awe-struck. The few times Burns spoke directly to me,  I felt as if I were talking with a legend. I made it clear to “Mr. Burns” that I was truly amazed that I’d stumbled into such a magical position, and virtually ran around the place trying to please.

Within two years, I’d become the producer of the 11 o’clock news, a position I was very proud of, and something that to this day remains a major point of accomplishment. That meant that I was primarily responsible for editing down the early news into a digest for the later broadcast, as well as covering and incorporating any late developments into the broadcast. The late news was what Burns’ considered to be his showcase program. He was deeply involved in the production and always wrote the lead story himself. I faced a daily (or nightly) public dissertation with him; he’d come into the studio around nine p.m. and I had to be able to justify the use of every story I’d stacked in the broadcast, it’s position, length and content. Strangely enough, I came to enjoy his questioning and my answers must have satisfied him since he never asked that I be reassigned – something he was not loathe to do when he lacked confidence in a junior colleague.

     Burns knew Pittsburgh and local news better than any other newsman or woman I’ve ever known. If there was a major breaking political story, Burns knew exactly whom to call to get the straight answer. And he’d make the call before the rest of us would think to ask. If there was a criminal investigation, Burns had contacts and they were never misleading or inaccurate. We were so far ahead of everyone else in town, including the morning newspaper, that local politicians, businessmen and community leaders would be criticized by other news organizations for talking with us (Bill Burns) before any other news outlet. (Our then news director, the late lamented Bruce MacDonell, would gleefully send out baskets of grapes to our competition on those occasions). 

We were  the highest rated local daily news program in the entire United States.

     And that was mostly because of Bill Burns.

     One of the many things I admired most about Bill Burns, and an admiration that has only grown over the years, was his knowledge of himself and his own limits. Because of the exceptional ratings on his programs (he did his signature Noon News, the program where I’d first watched him as an elementary school student, all of his career, as well as the 11 p.m. news) television stations all around the country tried to hire him away. He’d had offers from, among many others, New York and Los Angeles – all places where he could have doubled or trebled his already considerable Pittsburgh salary. But he stayed put. He knew Pittsburgh, it was what he knew best, and he also knew that his relevance to the Pittsburgh market was not so much his “star” appeal, but his actual knowledge and contacts. He told me once that he’d rather be the “big fish in the Pittsburgh pond” than a “minnow in Los Angeles,” no matter the money.

      It took a while, but eventually Bill regarded me as a younger friend. I knew this because he invented a nickname for me, and only those of us with Burns’ invented nicknames could qualify for the inner circle. In my case, it was “Pavalooch,” a Slavic mispronunciation of my Italian surname. I joined  “Boom-Boom,” “Pooch,” “Smokey,” “Coump,” “Peaches,” and the others (“Peaches” was none other than the equally legendary Marie Torre) in the Channel Two elite. Another accomplishment that remains a point of pride.

     A conversation that would remain with me for the rest of my life came one day after our assignment editor and friend, Ed Furey, but dubbed “Smokey” by Burns because of his ever present unlit cigar, had suffered a stroke while at work. Burns was the only one who could get through to the hospital and nurses station for updates on our colleague’s condition. Smokey was going to make it, but the experience had been truly rattling for all of us. While musing over life’s unexpected turns, Burns had asked me something about my own experience in the army. I told him that I was certainly no hero, I’d been stationed in Germany, and that I’d never gone through anything like him or his generation had gone through, or even my generation under fire in Vietnam, and didn’t know if I could have met the same standard.

     “Heroes,” he laughed. “More like a bunch of scared kids.”

     Burns never talked about himself, his life, his experiences. He was Irish, had a famous dancing eyebrow which was ironically raised during stories of questionable content,  told lots of jokes. He had an hilarious and ironic wit, made funny and insightful observations about everything and one around him (“Ah, the Legionnaires are in town for another convention…every year they come with  a clean shirt and a fifty dollar bill and never change either one.”-- “Ah, he was an officer in the army. That explains it. He spent too much time playing with his privates…”), but never about himself. So, when he continued, unprompted that long ago afternoon about himself, I knew I was on to a personal exclusive.

     Everyone knew that Bill was a veteran,  was a expert on the history of the Second World War.  When Burns had a question that related to the war, veterans, or other issues, he’d call his buddy, retired General Omar Bradley, who also lived in Western Pennsylvania. Bradley—“The GI’s General” -- had been one of the key strategists in the European theatre. The men shared an obvious closeness. But beyond an interest in history, Burns wore a leg brace and walked with a limp as permanent souvenirs of that war. None of us knew where or how he’d been wounded, and none of us asked because he’d made his sense of privacy very clear. So it was even more astonishing, and quite an honor, for Bill to tell me about his war experiences.

     He told me about landing on the beach at Normandy. About being so frightened that it was as if he were watching someone else make the movements his own body was making. The dry mouth and pounding heart and complete devolution into instinct that combat instills. His description was like all of his news stories, unsentimental, straight and uncomplicated. After D-Day, his unit moved inland. A few days later, they caught up with a German patrol in a hedgerow battle. Burns was surprised by a German soldier so close he could hear his breath, and instinctively stabbed the man with his bayonet. He said he could still recall his face, see the fear in the soldier’s eyes, hear the death rattle. That night, or the next, he and some others from his unit slept in a local French barn. They were awoken early the next morning by a German 88 shelling. It was the explosion of one of those shells that blew away part of his leg and ended the war for Burns.

     “Let me tell you something, Pavalooch,” he said. “The only thing you are in battle is scared. And anyone who tells you they weren’t, are liars, or have never been in battle. There aren’t any heroes. Just a bunch of scared kids trying to stay alive.”

     It’s my belief that D-Day and that German shell were, in part, responsible for the highest rated daily news cast in the U.S. Bill Burns in Pittsburgh, like Walter Cronkite in New York, knew the difference between life and death. Knew the difference between what was important and merely popular. Knew and took the measure of men. And communicated so effectively because they knew the value and impermanence of words.

     My generation had the privilege of learning from men so experienced and tested. And we were, for many years, compared to and with that level of human experience and understanding.

     Today, is very different. Large publicly-owned companies own the majority of news outlets, responsible to shareholders and brokers for ever increasing margins of profit. Local news is often a too-frequently aired commodity lacking in both impact and importance. The drive and need for ratings have largely subsumed what were once the standard operating principles defined by a generation tested in a struggle for the most basic definitions of society and government. Today’s definitions are the result of marketing and bookkeeping. And, unfortunately, the current generation is more influenced by bookkeepers and business people than by anyone tested in a life and death struggle for democratic principle.

     And yet, would we have it any different? It’s the ultimate accomplishment of my teachers that my child doesn’t have to see or know what they saw and knew. That my child can be raised in a society absent the organized horror, destruction and fear of my parent’s generation.

     Still, there’s a big part of me that wishes we could and would stand more often for something greater than corporate profits. And something in me that says my generation might have failed for not making the brilliant battle, or at least good fight, to keep news values separate and distinct from Hollywood gossip or tabloid tripe. We’ve lost that war and might never regain that territory. Cronkite was once voted the “most trusted man in America.” Some recent polls have placed contemporary journalists in competition with used car salesmen and ambulance-chasing lawyers at the bottom of the trusted heap. “Reality” programs are now entertainment because they represent a “reality” that isn’t; Burns’ reality, Cronkite’s reality, was something to leave in the past and the future was something to believe in and build on.  

     Maybe if you’ve never experienced war, or your father or friends have never told you about it, eating bugs and camping out can be an accomplishment. But when I think of Bill Burns wading ashore on D-Day, Cronkite reporting from Vietnam, the “reality” programs and over-hyped news broadcasts strike me as nothing more than trivial.

     And what interests me most now is what this younger generation will say about us for allowing this to happen?
Book Reviews...
East Liberty
by Joseph Bathanti
Banks Channel Books
207 pps.  $21.95
Reviewed by
Paul Paolicelli
East Liberty is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, once the domain of recently-arrived Italian immigrants. It is also, in Joseph Bathanti's stunning new book of the same title, a state of mind poignantly and poetically described and frozen in time some forty years ago. The narrative is a first person coming of age of  Bobby Renzo and his mother, Francene, grandchild and child of immigrants from Naples and living in the then mostly Italian ward of a working class city. Bobby's garlic and parsley smelling grandmother and silent, drunken and dying grandfather provide a Tarantella-like counterpoint to his and his single mother's struggle.  The book has a dream-like quality about it, reminiscent of Call it Sleep, and the non-fiction Angela's Ashes, both classics in their respective genre.
Bobby Renzo's tale reads like a convoluted diary; exactly the way a pre-pubescent boy would organize his thoughts, and an extremely difficult point of view to write from successfully as a full grown man. But Bathanti maintains this boy's vision brilliantly, weaving his text in lean, economical, almost muscular writing. Not surprising since Bathanti is also the author of four previous books of poetry. East Liberty has the sense of a narrative poem, its imagery and characters drawn in rich metaphor and crisp action. The geography of East Liberty is a character in itself, drawing Bobby into its mysteries and filling his imagination with the mythology of its streets and the ever-beckoning Hollow Bridge which defines both the geographical and intellectual boundaries, limiting that first generation of Pittsburgh's Italians to their superstitions and defining the limits of their assimilation in their adopted land.
Like Bathanti and his character Bobby Renzo, I too, grew up looking at that Hollow Bridge. Only I saw it from the other side of the city from East Liberty, sat on my grandfather's back porch in Oakland and was told over and over how long it had taken and how hard it had been to climb out of that Hollow to live on the hill. I had advantages Bobby Renzo didn't; I had a living father married to my mother, an intact family, a grandfather who avoided the wine and earned his fortune. Unfortunately for Bobby Renzo, his grandparents stayed mired in their mental and physical ghetto, and tried desperately, yet ultimately unsuccessfully,  to keep their independent-minded daughter there as well. But you don't have to be from Pittsburgh or descended from Italian immigrants to appreciate the well drawn imagery of this young boy and his mother's struggle.

It is in the triumph of Francene's will, her underlying sexuality, her sensual approach to life that demonstrates her character. It is in her love for her son where she is truly defined. Bobby takes the reader on a run through the back allies and main drags, into the Catholic school where the nuns pressure him to choose a "vocation," and through the amazing years of 1959 and 60 when the nation chooses its first Catholic president.  A
Route 66 episode is shot in East Liberty and the Pittsburgh Pirates manage to overcome the New York Yankees with a game winning bottom-of-the-ninth home run. They were the defining years of all our  youth, certainly for those of us growing up in Pittsburgh, but in a larger sense, an entire generation who grew up in a time when our first glimpse of a naked woman was, like Bobby's, drawn by our own version of Mickey D'Andrea and passed about in whispered awe. A much more innocent time for childhood, yet no less complicated for those, like Francene and Bobby, trying to form a life of their own in a neighborhood that defines a sometimes stifling and encompassing code of behavior.

East Liberty
is a beautifully crafted book. Especially impressive as a first novel, Bathanti's work is certainly a voice from the Italian-American experience that should be heard.
Venice Against the Sea,
A city Besieged
                 by John Keahey
Thomas Dunne Books
St. Martin's Press, New York, NY ($25.95)
Reviewed by Paul Paolicelli for L'Italiano Americano, Los Angeles, CA.
     When I think of Venice, I dream of distant empire rich in trade, music, fashion, literature, of a mysterious and magical place filled with the energy and wit of a remarkable people, the traces of which are still evident. I see masked balls and costumed revelers dancing through the ancient shadows, hear lyric tunes floating on the Adriatic nights. I watch as small boats slip through the dark canals as gracefully as swans and smell ocean breezes cut with the aroma from ancient kitchens still cooking, as water laps eternally on smoothed stones.
       What I don't think of is the inexorable, inevitable and unrelenting erosion of the underpinnings of this magnificent relic, and its eventual reclamation into tidal backwaters.

  John Keahey's latest effort, Venice Against the Sea, A City Besieged, is a dark and realistic portrait of Venice?s scientific and natural fate, absent the sentiment of singing Gondoliers and cooing pigeons in San Marco plaza. Keahey looks at the historical and natural elements that lead to Venice's development as a point of civilization, analyses its construction and expansion, interviews the key scientists and politicians currently evaluating its options, and reviews tons of scientific data relating to climate and tidal movement.

  Keahey works his way through this highly detailed narrative of Venice's past and future cautiously, deliberately and factually. He begins in the mists of pre-history as land and water formations occur along the Adriatic coast and lagoons are formed from settlement of earth being rushed to the sea by deliberate rivers. He narrates the flight from Barbarians that formed the social core of the initial settlers, of their fierce independence and determination for self rule. It is in this legacy of self government where Venice truly distinguishes itself and, through that legacy, by which market principles grow and allow for wealth to pour into the city at the same speed with which the early Venetians developed engineering and architecture to keep out, or channel, the ever present water. 

   In perhaps a little too much detail, Keahey annotates the effects of tides, winds and global warming on the lagoon city. But the casual reader or Venetian fanatic should not be deterred by this tendency towards statistics on Keahey's part. The book still holds as an interesting story and the detailed numerical information can be easily skimmed. What is important, and what Journalist Keahey does necessarily detail, is the continuing  only in Italy debate as to what is to be done about this sinking treasure. The argument comes down to this: should the city and the Italian government fork out billions to construct and maintain a questionable system of gates that would, in theory, hold back the Adriatic from the lagoon, or should the city and national government pursue other options to preserve the international jewel from the sea's reclamation? Keahey poses the question thoroughly and allows the reader to ponder the answer.

The book includes excellent maps and photographs. Keahey's narrative style takes the reader along on his various expeditions into the dying city's walkways and on its ever-droning
vaporetti, as they beat their way against high waves or chug along the ancient canals. Keahey's passion for the place comes through, though this is not a passionate book, but rather a persuasive one. The Epilogue is a surprise coda to the continuing Italian family argument over Venice's fate. And, like the city the book is about, that argument seems eternal, but not always particularly well grounded.

Play it Again, Duke
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
August 31, 2002
A 1969 White House concert, now available, reprises an era's conflicts
By Paul Paolicelli
This week a new jazz album is being released that was actually recorded in 1969. Thanks to the legacy of Richard Nixon and the unique political passions he stirred and continues to stir, it had been held up all these many years.

Duke Ellington 1969: All-Star White House Tribute is from Blue Note Records. The album chronicles an April 29, 1969, performance at the White House by Ellington and 15 other jazz greats, following a gala dinner in Ellington's honor. Nixon also awarded Ellington the Medal of Freedom that night. The incomparable Ellington, a Washington, D.C., native, was the son of a former White House butler.
On that same date, I was 5,000 miles away wearing olive drab and unable to attend. But a mere five days later, I was holding $700 -- the most cash I'd ever seen up until that day -- my discharge papers and a "stand-by" ticket on Allegheny Airlines, trying to get to Pittsburgh and my family for the first time in nearly three years. I would shortly be caught up in the times as a civilian and become a part of the media that played such a high-profile role in defining our society during those sometimes dreadful days.

It wasn't until 1973 that I learned about that Ellington concert, directly from one of the jazz legends who was part of it: Billy Taylor.

Taylor had come to Pittsburgh to play at Walt Harper's Attic, then a jazz club in Market Square. He was probably also promoting a program for underprivileged kids, as he usually was and still is. Marie Torre had interviewed him on her afternoon program at KDKA-TV. I was a young producer/reporter at Channel 2 at the time, and I was grateful for the chance to meet him.

It was fascinating to hear Taylor, off camera, defend Nixon -- the man most of my generation believed was evil incarnate. According to Taylor, Nixon had done more to promote music and literature than most of his predecessors.

Pitching a report on music was, and remains, a difficult sell to most big city editors. But my passion for jazz has never waned, and I've continually fought throughout my career to get something of music and its people on television or in print. I was successful that night because of the Nixon connection.

Later that same evening, Taylor elaborated on his thoughts in between sets at The Attic, where he performed elegantly and flawlessly while we filmed. I had arranged for a crew to record the session as a musical "bed" to accompany the interview that I was preparing.

I remember much of what Taylor said. He talked about the Ellington tribute, all the more poignant to those in attendance since the Duke had been snubbed a few years earlier by the Pulitzer Prize committee. He mentioned that a tape had been made of the performance, which featured Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Pittsburghers Earl
Fatha Hines and Joe Williams, and Dave Brubeck, among others. Alas, it wasn't available. Legal technicalities were holding it up, he said.
* * *
Last Sunday, I finally discovered what those legal technicalities were.

Former Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment, who is also a jazz saxophonist, published an article in The New York Times Arts & Leisure section about "Duke Ellington, 1969." He noted that among the musicians who had performed at the White House concert, there was one holdout who would not agree to the commercial release of a recording. Guitarist Jim Hall, a strong opponent of the Vietnam War, refused to consent to anything that might show Nixon in a favorable light.

In the late 1990s, producers made a new effort to release a recording of the concert. "Hall, for the benefit of his fellow surviving musicians and of music history, gave his consent," wrote Garment, "though he made clear that this was not to be taken as a sign of any diminution in his dislike of Nixon."

It's not clear to me how denying people the chance to hear one of jazz's great evenings accomplished that protest. But Hall's belief is a measure of the passions of that era.
My interview and the two sets we filmed with Taylor probably still exist in the KDKA archives. It was an unforgettable night in my life and a pivotal time in our history.

The term "Nixon and the Arts" seems a non sequitur today. By the time Nixon was forced to leave his office, I had moved on from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and become a press secretary for a Republican senator from Maryland. I worked a mile up the road from the Nixon White House at the Capitol.

Those were more than fascinating times; they were defining times for all of us who participated. They were confusing, contradictory, compelling, sometimes bitter and always engaging days that we lived through so forcefully that none of us realized at the time how truly significant they were for both the past and future of this country. Every political decision today has its roots in that era. Every politician was framed or influenced by those events. Every journalist and college professor was altered, rearranged, redefined by what was going on at that time. It was a gift to have been a part of it all.

And the role of jazz in our history is as germane and primal as is Watergate. For me, jazz has always been the ultimate expression of our democracy, the metaphor for our society, the one pure art of the American experience. Jazz represented our style and elegance as a civilization. Now, in this post-Watergate, post-Enron world, I believe much of our music and our arts, like much of our business, have too often become artless, ham-handed products of greed.
All the more reason I'm going to be one of the first to buy the Ellington CD. It will remind me of a long-ago night in Pittsburgh with a jazz legend talking about a corrupt president's redeeming grace and an era that changed everything.
A Review of "Joe DiMaggio, The Hero's Life"
"Ferramonti's Concentration Camp" written for Italian American
"8 of Hearts" published in "Primo" Magazine
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