Today, Thursday, I'll be joining Hugh Hewitt on the radio live coast to coast at 6pm Eastern/3pm Pacific. We'll be talking about the expanding Bergdahl/Taliban scandal and other news of the week. And hopefully making more sense than the United States Government:
As the grim reality sinks in that this person represents the global superpower to the rest of the planet, I feel the sudden urge to put on a sad face and hold up a cardboard hashtag saying "#TakeAwayOurGirls".
In two years' time, she'll be Treasury Secretary.
Still, her curls are bigger than the President's.
~King Juan Carlos has announced that he is abdicating the Spanish throne in favor of his son the Prince of Asturias. I generally take Queen Elizabeth's line (and not just because of her own particular heir) that monarchy is a job where you're carried out by the handles. But the Continentals feel differently: in little over a year, three monarchs have abdicated - the King of the Belgians, the Queen of the Netherlands, and now the King of Spain. That's four if you include the Pope, which I don't, not really, but it is meant to be an elective monarchy, and a Pope Emeritus still feels kinda weird to me.
Juan Carlos came in as Franco's chosen successor, and there was no reason to believe he would be any more than that title implied. But his finest hour came in 1981 when he took to the airwaves in the midst of an attempted fascist coup and saved Spanish democracy. He presided over the transformation of an Iberian backwater into a First World economy whose pre-2008 GDP was nibbling at the heels of the G7. For most of the last four decades, the King rarely made a wrong move in public - and in private made all the right moves, on an almost industrial scale: he is said to have bedded over 1,500 women during his reign. This seems to have been an open secret, at least among Spain's elite. I believe he hit on the Princess of Wales, although without success.
In recent years, it all began to unravel. Spain was one of those nations hardest hit by the 2008 economic nosedive. It has phenomenal rates of youth unemployment, and no very clear way out. Shortly after telling a reporter that he was so distressed about the unemployed that he was unable to sleep, Juan Carlos was revealed to be enjoying himself shooting elephants on a 10,000-euro-a-day hunting trip in Botswana. His daughter, Princess Christina, became the first member of the Royal house to testify in court - over a corruption investigation into her husband. When he ascended the throne, the King was about the only element of the Spanish state that wasn't part of the problem. In the 1981 coup attempt, he was, almost singlehandedly, the solution. By the time he stepped down, a hitherto quiescent republican movement was back in business, and demanding a referendum.
The reign in Spain falls - mainly on the Botswana plain, and other scandals. Not the end most of us would have foreseen 30 years ago.
~I've met his consort, Queen Sofia, on a couple of occasions. In fact, we sat next to each other at a conference for a couple of days - not by her choice, I hasten to add, but because the seating was alphabetical, so "Steyn, Mr Mark" came after "Spain, HM The Queen of". She was delightful company, and not just by comparison with the ruthless Euro-bruiser on my other side. During the longuers between "keynote addresses", she laughed at all of my jokes. I wondered if she was just being polite, but on the second morning, without wishing to be ungallant, I noticed she (or her lady-in-waiting) had applied her makeup a little hastily and an hour or so later I said something that made her shake so hard with laughter that a great cloud of powder wafted off her beautiful cheekbone and landed all over my shoulder. I didn't feel I could brush it off, so for most of that morning I looked as if I had a bad case of one-sided dandruff.
~Speaking of Spain, who can forget Baccara and their seminal Euro-disco hit from the early Juan Carlos era, "Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie"? Well, okay, I haven't given it a lot of thought in several decades, but I'm using it as a rather clunky segue into a piece Ed Driscoll drew my attention to. It's by Jesse Walker: "Disco Doesn't Suck. Here's Why."
I took his headline literally, but he doesn't really live up to it. It's mostly sociocultural stuff, except for a throwaway parenthesis:
And if you were more inclined to regard those later dance records as harsh robotic noise, their '70s precursors started to sound more appealingly human. (Why, some of them had live musicians. Singers! Horns!)
ln 2010, I decided on a whim to make a disco version of my 2008 Christmas single with Jessica Martin, "A Marshmallow World". I hadn't listened to the disco stuff in decades, and back then I was just boogieing around in platform boots and trying not to take out the glitterball with my afro. So I wasn't really listening to it. And, when I did, in the summer of 2010 in Bermuda, I was amazed at how good the orchestrations were. Mr Walker is right: Yes, they did have live musicians. And the horn charts are great. And the bongos. And the vocal harmonies. And a lot else, too. The string arrangements on Gloria Gaynor's early stuff ("I Will Survive" et al) are terrific.
Jessica's and my excellent arranger, Kevin Amos, who spent most of the disco era boogieing to Mahler, agreed with me. I'd conceived of our little megamix in the spirit of that Seventies micro-phenomenon, whereby desperate singers re-recorded all their old hits in disco versions (the Ethel Merman disco album is the acme of the genre). But one day Kevin and I came across Andy Williams' disco arrangement of his blockbuster hit from Love Story, "Where Do I Begin?" And we expected it to be cheesier than the cheesiest cheesecloth shirt. But in fact it's powerful and passionate, and a spectacular orchestral chart. In the end, I lifted a fair bit from Donna Summer - the intro of our megamix is "In The Bleak Midwinter" re-cast as the opening of "Last Dance", and the outro was inspired by the big finish of Donna's duet with Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)". But I've never forgotten that feeling I had with my headphones on and the volume up, listening to three-decade-old disco hits and it suddenly dawning just how solid and sophisticated those orchestrations were.
~Ed Driscoll observes that with hindsight "1979 was a unique quiet highpoint for rock". He has a point. But I wonder for how long he'll get to enjoy it. I think it was Jay Currie** who observed, after the closure of a once popular theatre in Vancouver a few years ago, that a diminishing market for Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan and even Shakespeare was hardly surprising given that the city's main source of demographic energy was Chinese. Likewise, as Kathy Shaidle often says, if Islam is the major supplier of new Canadians, "Hockey Night In Canada" will one day be as unpopular as Oscar Wilde in Vancouver. And, in an ever more Hispanic America, I'd be surprised if there was much money rock even on the oldies stations a generation hence. Orwell said that he who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future*. Including the jukebox and the radio playlist.
But maybe "Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie" can bring us all together.
(*Apologies for getting Orwell backwards on first draft. Not enough caffeine.)
(**It was, indeed, Jay Currie. See here:
Demographics and culture make a huge difference. Vancouver is now 50% Asian. (Some people argue the number but close enough for the argument.) An Asian community does not have much of a link to Shakespeare, still less to Chekhov and likely none at all to Tom Stoppard. And, yes, I am speaking generally – no doubt there are legions of Chinese Chekhov fans but only relative to a more general cultural indifference to Russian playwrights in translation.)