With barely 11 months to go before we’re asked to go to the polls and vote our conscience, our pocketbook or whatever our sense of what the lesser of two evils might be, it’s time to take seriously the options being paraded by us.
On the incumbent’s side, we have the President, who this past week seemed most concerned about how many times Americans have to flush their toilets. Many of the Washington pundits view this as a diversionary tactic from the more important question of leaky faucets. Either way, we’re using too much water.
The Democrats currently have somewhere between five and 103 candidates trying to define their party in an effort to win the nomination. It doesn’t seem to be going well.
The candidates seem not to have noticed that Will Rogers, who died in an airplane crash in 1935, defined the party by answering a reporter’s question if he belonged to an organized political party. “No sir,” Rogers said proudly, “I’m a Democrat.”
It’s understandable, of course, that no reference is generally made of Rogers since no Democrat candidate has shown any sense of humor except for Amy Klobuchar, whose dating life seems both humorous and noteworthy.
It seems that every other day or so, somebody drops out and a couple more enter the race. Each of them endorses the modern equivalent of Herbert Hoover’s promise of a “chicken in every pot,” without regard to payment for said chicken or what a suitable substitute might be for vegans. It’s important to note that Hoover made that promise in 1928, before there were any vegans. He also said that if elected he would make sure there was a “car in every garage.”
Since everybody wanted both a chicken and a car—especially the car, provided it had power steering and four-wheel-drive—the Republican Hoover beat Alfred Smith in a landslide. Less than a year later, Wall Street operatives were leaping out of their windows as the nation entered into what became known as the Great Depression. Hoover, a Prohibitionist, was a man who clearly needed a drink just to unwind enough to not seem like Calvin Coolidge’s body double. In 1932, Hoover, who was the scion to the vacuum cleaner family (motto: “We Suck”), handed over the election to FDR with the caveat that the electorate “isn’t very nice.”
As far as I can determine, no Broadway musical was ever based on Hoover’s life, although two minor planets, 932 Hooveria and 1363 Herberta, are named in his honor.
I am a big fan of Broadway musicals.
I co-wrote an adaptation of one that might have bombed in New Haven had it even gotten that far. Commissioned by Cleveland State University, the show was the first theatrical presentation at the Kennedy Center and enjoyed a record-breaking run at the Cleveland Playhouse. We even got “optioned” for Broadway. The night before we were trying to entice investors at a backer’s audition at a Greek restaurant in midtown to give us about half a million dollars, Melina Mercouri opened in Lysistrata and destroyed our chances of becoming the next “big thing” because her show was a flop in the making. Clive Barnes added insult to injury by telling his New York Times readers that Aristophanes could never be adapted to the modern stage.
The show I was involved with was a rock ‘n’ roll treatment of Aristophanes’ The Birds.
The Birds was a political/social satire that took place in Cloud Cuckooland, which is synonymous with the Kingdom of Heaven. Or something like that. Our version took place inside of what looked like a giant birdcage, with the actors all dressed like birds with glittering feathers. There was a lot of cawing and singing, and enough slapstick to embarrass Soupy Sales. The show was much better than I could ever describe. Take my word for it. But we were dead in the water because in 1971 whatever Clive Barnes said was gospel.
The Broadway theater, whose distinction has little to do with the Great White Way and everything to do with seating capacity, has been the setting for many shows and musicals based on classic literature.
Man of La Mancha jumps to mind. Based on the writings of Miguel de Cervantes, the musical version of Don Quixote was an international hit in the sixties.
The Producers, though not strictly based on the works of Franz Kafka, the Bohemian writer whose world view was just to the left of cheery, nonetheless conjured imagery from The Metamorphosis that had a lead character wake up as a giant cockroach.
Camelot, a big hit with Kennedy Democrats, was based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White novel The Once and Future King. Godspell was based on the Book of St. Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. And Annie was fashioned from the panels of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip. OK, so that last one isn’t really literature. Then again, name another Broadway hit based on a comic strip.
Clearly, Neil Simon was influenced by significant works of literature. During the Great Depression, Simon, a young Jewish boy from The Bronx, was grappling with notions of God, free will, morality and patricide as he worked his way through Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Inspired by the dynamic established by the author between Dmitri and Ivan (there was a third brother who is best not mentioned here), Simon, whose real name was Simon, created Oscar and Felix and lightened things up enough to create The Odd Couple.
The movie, by the way, was better than the play which was better than the television show.
As an aside to the subject at hand, Kurt Vonnegut once said that if “there is one book that can teach you everything you need to know about life…it’s The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, but that’s not enough anymore.”
And then along came Pickwick, a musical based on The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, the British author best known for Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and countless other books none of us have ever bothered to read because they’re really long and mostly boring.
Pickwick had a pretty good run in London, but only lasted for 58 performances on Broadway. All of that was in the mid-sixties.
Although dated, Pickwick carries a message that should be considered as we move into the next phase of American democracy. Leslie Bricusse, the lyricist of Pickwick, I believe encompassed what is important in that effort. Although dead and British, I would nonetheless vote for him based solely on his vision as expressed in “If I Ruled the World.”
However naïve and wistful, his words are what I’ll choose to believe as we move forward.
If I ruled the world,
Every day would be the first day of spring,
Every heart would have a new song to sing,
And we’d sing of the joy every morning would bring.
If I ruled the world,
Every man would be as free as a bird,
Every voice would be a voice to be heard,
Take my word we would treasure each day that occurred.
My world would be a beautiful place,
Where we would weave such wonderful dreams.
My world would wear a smile on its face,
Like the man in the moon has when the moon beams.
If I ruled the world,
Every man would say the world was his friend,
There’d be happiness that no man could end,
No my friend, not if I ruled the world.
Every head would be held up high,
There’d be sunshine in everyone’s sky,
If the day ever dawned when I ruled the world.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
To me, a chicken in every pot translates to chicken stock.
3½ – 4 pound chicken
2 leeks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
8 whole peppercorns
4-5 sprigs of parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Place all of the ingredients in a stockpot and cover with four quarts of cold water.
Bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, for about 3 hours. Be sure to skim the fat and foam.
Strain through a fine sieve and let cool. Remove all of the fat that rises to the surface.