Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Music from Heaven - A7 is A-1!

I listen to a wide variety of music. I do not often write about my tastes in music in the pages of The White Rhino Report. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because musical tastes are so subjective that I do not want to risk boring you with my personal preferences. I just obtained a CD that has prompted me to break my silence and share the wealth, making you aware of a new gift of soul-stirring music. The album is the self-titled “A7” by the group of the same name – a group of six brothers who hail from a small town in Georgia.

The members of the group describe their style as “inspirational urban soul.” The music on this album cuts across boundaries that typically separate genres such as R&B, Gospel, Motown blues and hip-hop. This is a group that combines the silky harmonies of Take 6 or Manhattan Transfer with the gritty sound of Public Enemy. These are preacher’s kids with street cred! The six Harris brothers – Arcelious, Alonzo, Alexander, Andronicus, Antipas and Antonio – are the sons of Pastor James L. Harris, who has worked as an educator while shepherding a Georgia congregation. Alexander explained to me the significance of the group’s name – “A7”: “All six of the brothers’ names begin with the letter ‘A.’ The ‘7’ acknowledges the invisible presence of God as the seventh member of the group. In addition, in the Old Testament Scriptures, the number ‘7’ often connotes completion or maturity.”

Since I gained possession of this album a little over a week ago, I have listened to it dozens of times – at home, in my car, in the office. I can’t get enough. In the midst of a hectic day, the music hits me as a stream of cool, clear and refreshing water – bathing every part of me in a sense of joy, hope and reflection. It is like a chair massage for the soul!

Of the 14 cuts on this album, here are some of the songs that I have listened to the most:

“Bring in the Noise,” written by David A. Harris and Alexander is a call to church goers to be as willing to talk about God on the street as they are willing to “testify” in the safety of the sanctuary.

“Church Time in the South” is a rollicking, Gospel celebration of all that it means to worship in the freewheeling style of Black congregations in the South.

“Don’t Walk Away,” also written by Alonzo and Alexander, just won the top award of “Song of the Year” at the Gospel Choice Awards in Atlanta. The song is a clarion call to those who are down and out not to give up. The song is both inspiring and hauntingly beautiful.

“After Life [Tic Toc]” is an edgy hip-hop warning to consider how fleeting and fragile is our time here on earth. The lyrics are “in your face” and arresting: “She finally made it to church . . . in the back of a black hearse!”

“Always Here with Me” is a gorgeous evocation of the joys of deep friendship and the loyalty that such friendship engenders. It is my favorite cut on this album, and the one that consistently touches me the most deeply as I hit the “repeat” button on my CD player.

The final cut, “Worship Medley,” is enough to make almost anyone say to himself or herself: “I think it is time to get back to church!”

The musicianship of these six brothers is without peer. The production quality of the recording, mixing, editing and design of “A7” is of the highest caliber. This is a classy product - produced by a high-class group of extraordinarily talented and gifted gentlemen. I have had the chance to meet three of the six singers, and it is refreshing to know that their personalities and lives ring as true and harmoniously as do their voices.

The brothers are using this album and their appearances in person and on television to fund a foundation that provides mentoring for youth – In Touch With Communities Around The World. Alexander serves as the Executive Director for the Foundation.

http://www.itwcinc.org/

I have ordered a number of copies of this CD that I plan to present as gifts to friends and family members. I encourage you to visit the A7 Website and order your own copies, or even to invite the group to sing at your church or club.

http://www.a7music.net/index_content.html

The CD is also available from Amazon.com, Virginmega.com or Best Buy.

It you buy this album and enjoy it, please let me know. It will be “music to my ears”!

Enjoy.

Al

Caveat Investor: “Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst” by Dan Reingold with Jennifer Reingold

Over the course of the past 10 years, I have watched with dismay the devolution of the telecommunications industry. My point of reference has been the anecdotal feedback I have received from numerous friends and acquaintances that were employed in a wide variety of telecom companies – AT&T, Lucent, MCI, Global Crossing, to name just a few. It has been a tale of woe, with elements of malfeasance, misfeasance, greed, incompetence and venality.

A friend who works in the world of investments suggested that I read Dan Reingold’s memoir, recently published by Collins, the Harper Collins imprint that produces most of their business titles. The full title of this fascinating and chilling book is, “Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst – A True Story of Inside Information and Corruption in the Stock Market.” From his vantage point as one of the most respected Wall Street analysts covering the telecom industry, Reingold tells the ultimate “caveat emptor” story that should give pause to all of us who make stock market investment decisions.

Reingold tells a very credible tale, mixing in enough elements of mea culpa to make his story believable and accessible. In hindsight, he wonders why he and other analysts did not uncover before it was too late the accounting duplicity and fraud that ultimately led to indictments of several key telecom executives, and that served as the straw that broke the camel’s back of the telecom industry.

In the first 300 pages, Reingold does an excellent job of walking the reader through the development of his role as an award-winning analyst, first within the fledgling MCI, and then on Wall Street with Morgan Stanley and finally with Credit Suisse First Boston. Reingold’s long-time rival and nemesis, analyst Jack Grubman of Salomon Smith Barney, serves as the perfect foil for exposing the abuses and excesses of an industry that continued to blur the line between the analyst side of the house and the investment banking side. The SEC emerges as an “unindicted co-conspirator” for its years of inaction and complacency in turning a blind eye to escalating levels of abuse.

The crucial take-aways for me in reading this book are Reingold’s strong words of warning to individual investors to open their eyes and realize that in many ways we are not competing on a level playing field.

“Last and most important, investors need to be aware that they’re playing a loser’s game. No matter what laws or rules are changed, the investment banking and brokerage businesses are fraught with inherent and inevitable conflicts, conflicts that can hurt even the biggest investors. Rather than trusting in the inherent fairness of the markets, individuals buying stocks should assume that they will never receive the same information as the professionals. It’s an insider’s world, and it always will be.” (Page 301)

“Individuals should not be buying individual stocks. I know this is a radical statement, especially coming from a guy who researched individual stocks for a living. But there are simply too many insiders with too many unfair advantages. Biased research or not, insider trading or not, the markets are, and will remain, rampant with uneven information flow. Some privileged and talented professionals will always receive or ferret out information earlier than everyone else. To be an investor in this environment is like being a drug-free athlete whose competitors are all juiced up on steroids.” (Page 313)

“Individual investors should assume that the information and advice they receive regarding individual stocks are stale and, to a large degree, already incorporated into stock prices. Even the majority of professional investors find the deck is stacked against them, since it is only a minority of well-connected, high-commission paying, deal-absorbing institutions that receive the favored information flow.” (Page 314)

Clearly, this book is one man’s opinion, but that man had a unique “seat at the table” for many years. I told a friend of mine, who is an investment professional, that I would be reviewing this book, and I offered him an opportunity to make his own comments. Look for these comments to be published the week of November 6, after I return from a much-anticipated vacation.

Al

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Boston’s Free Prize Inside – Free Music All the Time!

It is no secret that the Boston area is home to over 100 institutions of higher education. Those of us who live here are reminded of this fact every Move-in Weekend and Move-Out weekend. What many Bostonians fail to realize – and fail to take advantage of – is that from those scores of colleges and universities and conservatories flows a steady stream of free concerts, recitals and performances that are the equal of anything you might pay to see at Symphony Hall or the Wang Center.

In the past several months, I had availed myself of the opportunity to see and hear an astonishing array of outstanding performances. Here is a quick sampling:

World premiere performances of several compositions by New England Conservatory faculty member Larry Bell and by James Orleans, of the NEC faculty and double bassist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Most NEC concerts are held in the intimate confines of Jordan Hall, one of the most acoustically pleasing and aesthetically perfect concert halls I have ever experienced.

An evening of instrumental and choral music by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, the musician who built the bridge between the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music.

A performance by the NEC Symphony with Joseph Silverstein conducting. Silverstein is the former concertmaster and principle guest conductor of the BSO and is the elder statesman among world-class conductors. The program included Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Sibelius’ beautiful Symphony No. 1 in E Minor. The quality of the music and musicianship was on a par with anything I have heard in any of the major concert halls in the world.

For a calendar of upcoming free concerts at NEC, this link will let you know what to plan for:

http://concerts.newenglandconservatory.edu/index.php

* * * *

At Berklee College of Music, a magnet for aspiring jazz musicians from all over the world, I attended a concert that included original compositions by the school's top 20 students of composition and film scoring. It was a memorable evening. I am convinced that the next Ennio Morricone may emerge from among those nascent composers

Here is what Berklee’s Website has to say about the music scene in Boston:

The Boston music scene has long been viewed as one of the most innovative and exciting in the U.S., and part of the reason for that is the strength of the music scene right here at Berklee. The hundreds of student, faculty, and alumni concerts on campus each year make Berklee one of the best places to see and hear what's new in music.

Some basic information about Berklee events:

Most events are free and open to the public.

The ticket price for college concerts in the Berklee Performance Center is $5 for the general public.

See Directions to Berklee and the campus map for directions to Berklee and its performance venues.

You can also keep tabs on Berklee concerts by calling our Concert Office Hotline at (617) 747-8820.

http://www.berklee.edu/events/

* * * *

Harvard University, noted for its academics and “People’s Republic of Cambridge” sensibilities, plays host to a veritable cornucopia of cultural and music events each week. If you had attended student performances a few years ago, you would have heard a young physics student by the name of YoYo Ma playing the cello!

A student performance of “Wonder of the World” by the Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theater at the Loeb Theater introduced me to the remarkable writing of David Lindsay-Abaire.

http://www.harvard.edu/arts/

* * * *

Emerson College has long served as a launching pad into show business – Dennis Leary, Henry Winkler, Jay Leno are among the school alumni. Student productions often rivaled the quality of the higher-priced houses down the street from the Cutler Majestic Theater. A few seasons ago, I was enthralled by the Emerson production of “Children of Eden.”

http://www.emerson.edu/emersonstage/index.cfm

* * * *

Located just around the corner from its more well-known neighbor, NEC, The Boston Conservatory presents over 200 performances each year—from student and faculty recitals, to fully staged works of dance, theater, and opera, to musical ensembles.

http://www.bostonconservatory.edu/performances/index.html

In addition, I have sampled student performances at Brandeis and Tufts. I have never been disappointed in the quality of a performance.

Beyond the realm of academia, Boston also boasts a vibrant local music scene – of every possible musical style and genre. The Arts pages of the Boston Globe every Thursday give a full rundown of choices.

Many excellent bands play in small clubs and bars, where the price of a drink or two will buy you an evening of outstanding entertainment. For example, one of my favorite soul bands, Chicken Slacks Soul Review plays three sets of R&B standards each Thursday night at Central Square’s CanTab Lounge of Massachusetts Avenue.

http://www.chickenslacks.com/

In some cities, most people can’t afford to experience live entertainment. In Boston, you can’t afford not to!

Enjoy!

Al

We Must Never Forget – Keeping the Flame Lit

It was exactly a year ago that I made the trip to Arlington, Virginia to join my friend, Matt, and a host of family members and comrades of Dennis Hay in laying to rest Dennis’ ashes in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery. It occurs to me that many of the regular readers of The White Rhino Report may not have had an opportunity to read my reflections on the events of that day. With those readers in mind, I offer this link to the article that was first posted on October 27, 2005.

As you read this article for the first time – or read it again a year later – please say a prayer for Dennis’ family members and friends who continue to grieve his loss and attempt to live in a way that will honor his memory.

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/2005/10/resting-place-of-dead-has-something-to.html

It is sobering to contemplate that there are over two thousand families of U.S. soldiers and Marines who are grieving the death of a loved one in Iraq. It is estimated that over 40,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the violence that continues to grip that war-torn country. It is easy and tempting to become numb to the escalating statistics of casualties.

One antidote to that creeping numbness is to make a commitment to reach out to one individual or family or organization and offer a concrete gesture of support. In my experience, once the first few weeks and months have passed after a death, most of the world returns to “business as usual” – leaving the family to continue their grieving in relative isolation. If you know of a family that has suffered a loss, consider sending a card or making a phone call or bringing a bouquet or make a contribution in his/her honor. The message can be as simple as: “I know it has been a year since you buried Dennis. I am sure it is still hard. I want you to know that I think about him every day. He will never be forgotten. And I pray for you each day, as well. Is there anything I can do to be of support right now?”

Regardless of how we may feel about the politics behind the war, those who have obeyed orders and have answered the call of duty deserve our support - as do their families. We are all in this together!

Al

Monday, October 23, 2006

Walking The Sands At Iwo Jima – Randy Anderson Shares His Thoughts

My friend, Randy Anderson, served as a naval officer. I first met him when he was studying at Harvard Business School, where he was Co-President of the Armed Forces Alumni Association. Reading last week’s posting in The White Rhino Report about “Flags of Our Fathers,” prompted Randy to e-mail and share with me his personal connection with the sands of Iwo Jima. With Randy’s permission, I share those thoughts.

* * * *

You don't know this, but I am one of the few people still alive that has had the chance to actually tread through the sands of Iwo Jima. As I read this book, my memories transport me to the very locations vividly described in Bradley's prose. I am attaching a copy of an e-mail I recently wrote to a friend (currently serving in Iraq) when he recommended the book to me; I think that you'll find it interesting.

Pablito,

Did I ever tell you that I've been to Iwo Jima? I went on a det there just before I left my first squadron tour in Japan (Feb 1995 - almost 50 years to the day of the invasion). Our airwing went there to do a week of FLCPs (field carrier landing practice, aka "bouncing") to avoid the excessive noise of day and night flying at low altitude over the heads of the natives who lived around NAF Atsugi (about 20 miles SW of Tokyo). I think that they (my old airwing, CAG 5) may go there all the time now. The US Coast Guard had administered the island up until the early '90s (there was an old LORAN station there). They turned it over to the Japanese Self Defense Forces just about a year before I got there. Anyway, when we weren't flying, we were exploring the island and crawling around in the few remaining tunnels. Eerie place. Of course, now it is covered with lush vegetation in most places except the beaches, Mt. Surabachi, and a few areas of raw volcanic rock. At the time of the battle, there wasn't a blade of grass untouched after the air and sea bombardments before the land campaign. Iwo Jima means "sulfur island" and there is a smell of rotten eggs in many parts of the island where sulfur gas vents from the ground.

There's much to tell about the few days I spent there, but I'll tell you about one thing that stands out most in my mind (besides going to the top of Mt.Surabachi where the flag was raised). While walking on the beach (the one the Marines hit), I noticed a little green plastic toy soldier half buried in the volcanic sand. It must have washed up ashore with the usual debris one finds on just about any ocean beach these days (bits of commercial fishing gear, plastic bottles, wood scraps, etc.). This particular piece of beach debris was missing its head. I picked it up, looked at it, said "Huh!" to myself and tossed it aside. After taking a few more laborious steps through the deep sand (it was the toughest sand to walk on that I ever experienced - it was black too), I stopped and thought about the significance of finding a toy soldier missing its head on the very beach where so many Marines died 50 years prior. I turned around, picked it up, and brought it back with me. I sent it to a buddy, a Marine, who was then serving at Camp Pendleton.

I wrote him the story of how I found the toy soldier and asked him to burry it on the base. He was about to PCS to HQ USMC in DC. He forgot to bury the toy soldier at Camp P, but did one better; he buried it at the Iwo Jima memorial in Alexandria, VA! I remember having an odd feeling when finding that toy on the beach, the symbology of it. What are the odds of finding something like that? Something that was thrown away by some kid's mother in a far off land and dumped off-shore with tons of other garbage and then finding its way to the sands of Iwo Jima? Too rare to be brushed off as mere coincidence.

I felt like it was part of the spirit of a young Marine who very likely may have lost his head at that very spot on the beach where it was washed ashore. If it was, I wanted to give it a proper burial. Having it brought to the memorial was very fitting. You know that I'm not a very religious guy Paul, but finding that toy was one of those instances when it made me wonder if divine intervention was at play.

Stay safe and be sure to keep all of your body parts my brother.

Randy Anderson

* * * *

Thanks, Randy, for bringing Iwo Jima and its symolic significance closer to home.

Al

A Thought-Provoking Look at Heroism – “Flags of Ours Fathers,” Directed by Clint Eastwood

Friday night was a night I will not soon forget. Several hundred gathered at the AMC Loews Theater across from Boston Common for a special screening of “Flags of Our Fathers.” The event was planned as a fundraiser for the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. (http://www.mcsf.org/). Prior to the screening of the film, we were greeted by Chris Randolph, the Foundation’s CEO. He, in turn, introduced three Marine Corps General Officers who were in attendance, including Gen. William L. "Spider" Nyland USMC (Ret.), former Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, and LT General-designate Richard F. Natonski, former commanding general of the historic 1st Marine Division.

Each of the speakers briefly alluded to the fact that we were gathered at an event that managed to weave together past, present and future. The past was being honored by the showing of the film about Iwo Jima and those who fought there. We were introduced to two veterans of the Iwo Jima campaign. Their presence in our midst was warmly acknowledged with a standing ovation. The present was represented by the dozens of uniformed Marines in the audience, many of whom have recently returned from service in Afghanistan and Iraq. The future was embodied in the ROTC students in attendance, and by the presence of a U. Mass. student who is a current MCSF scholarship recipient. He is the son of a Marine, and he himself had also served as an enlisted Marine.

The speakers tied our present circumstances – a nation weary of war and massive casualties – with the situation that existed in 1945 when the Iwo Jima campaign was waged and the 7th War Bond drive was undertaken with the Iwo Jima “heroes” as the visible spokesmen.

Clint Eastwood has crafted a moving and thought-provoking look at the issue of heroism – true and imagined. Through the medium of this film, he addresses a number of thorny issues: how we use propaganda and hype to rally support for a war effort, how we create heroes and then cast them aside, how well we support those who have fought our wars and done our dirty work. This film is bloody and frank in its depiction of the horror of war – and of its aftermath.

I walked away from my viewing of the film with the feeling that Eastwood and the entire creative team behind the film had presented a fairly balanced picture. They managed to pay tribute to those who fought and died on Iwo Jima – as well as those who fought and lived – while asking appropriately tough questions about heroism and how we communicate truth and myth for the “greater good.”

At another level, the film explores the price that the survivors had to pay throughout the rest of their lives in terms of the memories they carried of seeing their buddies fall beside them in battle. Over and over they repeated the mantra, “The real heroes of Iwo Jima died there.” The price they paid was a steep one. Three of the flagraisers died on Iwo Jima within days of the storied flagraising. Ira Hayes died in a drunken stupor just a few years after the statue had been dedicated. Rene Gagnon was unable to “cash in” on his hero status, and despite glib promises of prestigious jobs, lived his life humbly working as a janitor in Manchester, New Hampshire. James Bradley lived a quiet life as a funeral director in Wisconsin, but was haunted throughout his lifetime with the image of his best friend, Iggy, who had been captured and mutilated by the Japanese. The film shies away from showing the horrors that had been inflicted upon Iggy; the book is graphic in its description of the atrocities that were visited upon Iggy.

On the way out of the theater, I had a chance to ask the two gentlemen who had fought on Iwo Jima – now well into their 80’s – if what we had seen on the screen was a fair and accurate depiction of what they had experienced on that Pacific island so many decades ago. They assured me that the movie had done a very credible job of capturing the reality of that bloody campaign.

In a moving scene that reminded me of conversations I had with my father as he lay dying, Bradley whispers to his son: “I wish I had been a better father to you.” In that brief vignette, Eastwood demonstrates that he has his finger on the pulse of a universal human experience; we all carry thoughts of things that we regret. War hero or ordinary citizen, we harbor regrets of actions we wish we could take back, ill-chosen words we wish we could retract, deeds undone we wish we could now perform, and words of comfort and hope we could easily have uttered yet never took the time or found the occasion to do so.


This is a movie that should be seen and pondered. One “take away” for me is to be careful to properly thank those who have served and who continue to serve – treating them not as superhuman heroes – but as ordinary humans beings who have had the courage and character to undertake extraordinarily difficult tasks that were not tasks of their own choosing, but to which they had sworn an oath to undertake if so ordered.

Al

Thursday, October 19, 2006

“Flags of Our Fathers” – A Timely Look at a Bloody Battle in Our History

Quite a while ago, Nick Olmsted, a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, recommended that I read “Flags of Our Fathers.” I am glad that I finally got around to taking his advice. This story struck me on many levels at once, and this seems to be an opportune time to share some of my thoughts about this remarkable book, written by James Bradley, the son of one of the six Marines whose iconic picture of the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima riveted a war-weary nation.

The film based on this book is due to be released tomorrow. My friend, Nate Fick, former Marines Corps officer and author of “One Bullet Away,” had invited me to attend a special screening of the film tomorrow evening in Boston. There will be many Marines present for this gala event to raise funds for a scholarship program for the families of Marines who have fallen in combat. Here is how Nate described to me the work of the scholarship committee:

The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation will be showing a benefit premier of "Flags of Our Fathers" at the AMC Theater on Boston Common on Friday 20 October. Military guests of honor will include BGen John Kelly, legislative assistant to CMC, former ACMC’s Generals Nyland and Neal, and perhaps others.

For those who don't know, the MCSF is committed to funding higher education for the children of Marines and Navy Corpsmen, especiallythose killed in action. It's a wonderful organization, and one I've been proud to be involved with during the past several years.

So, before I am influenced by the film’s portrayal of the events on Iwo Jima and the stories of the six men - Harlon Block, James Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Frank Sousley, Mike Strank - whose picture became symbolic of a nation at war, I will share my take on the book. A review of the film will follow in a few days.

James Bradley was motivated to write “Flags of Our Fathers” after the death of his father. As the family sorted through the papers that John Bradley left behind, they found three cardboard boxes full of photos and documents related to Iwo Jima. Finding this secret stash shocked the Bradleys, since James had refused to discuss his role as a famous flagraiser.

“I hungered to know the heroic part of my dad. Try as I might I could never get him to tell me about it.

‘The real heroes of Iwo Jima,’ he said once, coming as close as he ever would, are the guys who didn’t come back.’ (Page 4)

My siblings and I had a similar experience. My father, who served in India with the U.S. Army Air Corps, hardly ever talked about his years of service that cost him four years of his life and compromised his health until he died at the relatively young age of 65. It was as if he had locked that part of his life away in some inaccessible vault. The closest he came to revealing that chapter of his life was to lead us in singing Army marching songs that seemed to play in his head like a continuous loop. Our frequent family drives in the country were filled with many hours of such songs. We whiled away the hours and the miles by singing “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah,” “Alice Blue Gown,” “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder,” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I felt as if Bradley had touched a special rewind button when he wrote these words about the memorial service the family held when they were able to visit Iwo Jima in 1998:

“When I was finished with my talk, I couldn’t look up at the faces in front of me. I sensed the strong emotion in the air. Quietly, I suggested that in honor of my dad, we all sing the only two songs John Bradley ever admitted to knowing: ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.’” (page 14)

Bradley chose an epigraph for the second chapter of the book that is timeless and haunting:

“All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.” Herman Melville (Page 17)

Bradley lays out in clear terms why he chose to undertake the project of writing the book and sharing the stories of the Iwo Jima flagraisers:

“That was the point, I reminded myself, the point of my quest: to bring these boys back to life, or a kind of life, to let them live again in the country’s memory. Starting with my father, and continuing with the other five.

That is how we always keep our beloved dead alive, isn’t it? By telling stories abut them; true stories. It works that way with our national past as well. Keeping it alive by telling stories.”
(Page 17)

I have long been a strong believer in the power of narrative to capture our imaginations and our hearts. The job that James Bradley and Ron Powers have done in this book reaffirms my faith in the power of a well-told story. By Bradley bringing back to life the six Iwo Jima flagraisers and their comrades who fell in battle there, I felt as if he were also connecting me to a piece of my father’s history and bringing him back to life, as well. As you can imagine, reading this book evoked powerful emotions.

This book does a very effect job of contrasting the sanitized view that civilians have of war with the messy reality experienced by those in the midst of the fighting:

“To the civilian noncombatants, war was ‘knowable’ and ‘understandable.’ Orderly files of men and machines marching off to war, flags waving, patriotic songs playing. War could be clear and logical to those who had not touched its barb.

But battle veterans quickly lost a sense of war’s certitude. Images of horror they could scarcely comprehend invaded their thoughts tortured their minds. Bewildered and numbed, they cold not unburden themselves to their civilian counterparts, who could never comprehend through mere words.

Mike, Ira, and Harlon – these three boys back from the Pacific Heart of Darkness – now embraced death. Two were convinced that their next battle would be their last. And one lingered on for ten years before he was consumed by a living nightmare.”
(Page 90)

“Today, a battle-scarred Ira Hayes would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and there would be understanding and treatment available to him. But in the late forties and early fifties, Ira had to suffer alone. Suffer daily with images of and misplaced guilt over his 'good buddies who didn’t come back.’ (Page 333)

Post traumatic stress disorder – or PTSD - reared its ugly head over Iwo Jima and planted its flag in the hearts of those who fought there - and who have fought in every subsequent battle from Pusan and Pork Chop Hill to Khe Sahn and Hamburger Hill to Tikrit and Falujah. (I will return to the topic of PTSD in a series of articles in the coming weeks.)

Throughout the book, Bradley does justice to the legacy of the Iwo Jima flagraisers by addressing an issue that haunted each of them – the question of what it truly means to be a hero. The flagraisers felt that fate had singled them out for notoriety and the label of “hero,” but each man felt in his heart that the real heroes were the ones who did not live to see the flag raised or the parades planned or the War Bond rallies held.

“And finally, I found a full-page newspaper ad from the Seventh Bond Tour, which he had participated in. It screamed: ‘You’ve seen the photo, you’ve heard him on radio, now in person in Milwaukee County Stadium, see Iwo Jima hero John H. Bradley!’

Hero. In that misunderstood and corrupted word, I think lay the final reason for John Bradley’s silence.

Today the word ‘hero’ has been diminished, confused with ‘celebrity.’ But in my father’s generation the word meant something.

Celebrities seek fame. They take actions to get attention. Most often, the actions they take have no particular moral content. Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others. Their actions involve courage. Often, those heroes have been indifferent to the public’s attention. But at least, the hero could understand the focus of the emotion. However he valued or devalued his own achievement, it did stand as an accomplishment.

The moment that saddled my father with the label of ‘hero’ contained no action worthy of remembering. When he was shown the photo for the first time, he had no idea what he was looking at. He did not recognize himself or any of the others. The raising of that pole was as forgettable as tying the laces of his boots.

The irony, of course, was that Doc Bradley was indeed a hero on Iwo Jima – many times over. The flagraising, in fact, might be seen as one of the few moments in which he was not acting heroically. In 1998 Dr. James Wittmeier, my father’s medical supervisor in Iwo, sat beside me silently contemplating my request for him to explain, or speculate on, why my dad never talked about that time. Finally, after many long minutes, he turned to me and softly said, ‘You ever hold a broken raw egg in your hands? Well, that’s how your father and I help young men’s heads.’ The heads of real heroes, dying in my father’s arms.

So, he knew real heroism. He could separate the real thing from the image, the fluff. And no matter how many millions of people thought otherwise, he understood that this image of heroism was not the real thing.” (Pages 260-261)

“Flags of Our Fathers” is a moving and loving tribute to heroes – real and perceived. I am glad that Nick Olmsted pointed the way to it. I hope that Clint Eastwood and Stephen Spielberg’s translation of the story to the screen will honor the spirit of the men who fought on Iwo Jima.

Al

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Trust – The Foundation of Collaboration

My friend, Rasul Damji, is a very reliable source of great ideas and resources. He recently made me aware of a simple, yet, profound, analysis of how trust is created and compromised. I have been dealing with issues of trust in a number of business relationships, and found that the insights provided within this article were timely, relevant and encouraging.

David Womeldorff of the Bainbridge Leadership Center in the State of Washington has kindly granted permission to share his insights with readers of The White Rhino Report. I was not able to reproduce a chart that is part of the original report. Otherwise, the report is as originally published by Mr. Womeldorff.

* * * *

Trust – The Foundation of Collaboration

David Womeldorff and the Bainbridge Leadership Center


Introduction

Central to the success of any team is the quality of trust. It is the foundation upon which collaboration is built. Trust is a complex human phenomenon, which is comprised of at least two inter-related aspects: Intention and Capability. Both must be present for trust to be fully developed and present.

Intention

Intention has to do with perceived motives. When we feel positive about another’s motives, we believe what they say and assume they are authentic/ honest in their intentions. However, if we suspect the other is operating with ulterior motives, operating from a hidden or selfish agenda, displaying a win/lose mindset and/or saying one thing and doing another, we may well assume that manipulation and/or partial disclosure exists and, therefore, feel negatively about their intentions.

Capability

Capability has to do with another’s skill and ability to follow through on commitments and agreements. We positively regard another’s capability when we have witnessed directly and/or assume they have the skill and ability to do what they say that they will do.

We may question or feel negatively about another’s capability for several possible reasons: they may not possess the skills, abilities, and/or knowledge to do what’s required; they may have a demonstrated tendency to over-commit and then not follow through in the way or in the time to which they agreed; or they may lack the level of perseverance necessary to see a commitment through to completion.

The Grid

We can feel positively or negatively about another’s intentions and capabilities. Both must be positive for trust to be fully developed and present. However, sometimes we trust or feel positively about another’s intentions, yet are not comfortable with their capability. On the other hand, we may trust another’s capabilities, but not really trust their intentions. Given this complex interplay between intentions and capability, it may be useful to consider all the possible combinations of these two aspects of trust.

Trust

Trust exists when we feel positively about both another’s intentions and their capability. When we are engaged in relationships where true trust exists, there is a feeling of freedom. We know that agreements made are agreements that will be fulfilled. We also know that if conditions change in some unexpected way that impacts the other’s ability to follow through, they will bring the change to our attention in a timely way in order to “renegotiate” the agreement. We feel free to let go and trust. This results in action between us and the other(s) that is collaborative in nature.

In healthy, fully functioning relationships, trust is the foundation upon which interaction is built. As trust takes root, small mistakes are more easily reconciled when they occur because of that foundation. However, if slips happen, too often it causes one to begin to call into question either intentions or capability and a sense of betrayal may set in and begin to affect the health of the relationship. When a perception or felt sense of betrayal occurs, the relationship often falls into one of the other three conditions.

Doubt

Doubt is the condition of a relationship in which we feel positively about the other’s intention, but negatively about their capability. When this occurs, we often feel frustration in our perceived lack of freedom to believe that what the other said they would do will get done. Our interactions with the other usually take the form of overtly or covertly evaluating or assessing their actions (or lack of action) The way back from DOUBT to TRUST is through increased clarity of expectations/agreements and the resources necessary for follow through. In the process of clarification, it may become apparent that the other needs training to build a skill that is required, they may need additional help or they may need to reprioritize other commitments. We may also find that our expectations are unrealistic and need to be modified. As we become clearer about our agreements, and commitments begin to be met with consistency, we can move toward true trust.

Vigilance

Vigilance is the condition of a relationship in which we know the other is fully capable, but we question and/or are not comfortable with their intention. This condition results in feelings of caution and, in the extreme case, fear. We then begin distancing from the relationship and/or hesitating to interact with the other(s). In order to move from a condition of VIGILANCE toward TRUST, full disclosure of intentions becomes critical. A commitment to win/win, mutually beneficial outcomes must be demonstrated. Mixed messages must become clear and consistent - we do what we say we will do. Our intentions match our actions, and the transition to trust becomes possible.

Distrust

Distrust occurs when we decide we no longer feel positive about either the intention or the capability of another. Depending on how important the relationship is to us, we may feel grief that trust does not seem possible and/or a sense of resignation that the relationship “has come to this.” When we are in a relationship in this condition, we find ourselves disengaging as much as possible and dismissing whatever the other says they will or will not do. When we are in a relationship of DISTRUST, we usually face a deep chasm, which must be overcome if we are ever to reach a state of TRUST. First and foremost, we must make a decision: do we choose to invest the time and energy that will be required to transform the relationship or do we end the relationship?

If our choice is to transform the relationship, we must work to recover or rebuild the trust of both intention and capability by taking the actions described in DOUBT and VIGILANCE. Often the transformation that must occur requires the help of a skilled professional to facilitate the healing and rebuilding process. The reality is that such a transformation is not possible until all parties involved consciously commit to the investment of time and energy.

* * * *

Many thanks to David Womeldorff and the Bainbridge Leadership Center for permission to use this material. I commend you to their excellent Website.

www.bainbridgeleadership.com

Al Chase

Monday, October 16, 2006

Not Your Average Bayer – Ernie Bayer’s Last Trip on the Water

Ernestine “Ernie” Bayer was a remarkable lady and an oarswoman extraordinaire! She died a few weeks ago at age 97, having accomplished more in a little under a century than most individuals could have accomplished in several millennia of walking this earth or rowing upon its waters! I feel privileged to have called her my friend, and to have spent many hours over the years listening to her recount the fascinating tales from her decades of activism as “The Mother of Women’s Rowing” and "The Matriarch of Recreational Rowing.”

I was deeply touched and honored when Ernie’s daughter, Tina Bayer, called to invite me to participate in Ernie’s special memorial services. The events were held yesterday, and were among the most moving and appropriate I have ever observed or participated in. Tina and many of Ernie’s friends from the world of rowing organized a floating memorial service on the waters of the picturesque Squamscot River in Exeter, New Hampshire. At 9:00, under a stunning fall sky, a flotilla of craft – singles, doubles, eights, kayaks, canoes, and launches – were put in the water from the ramp of the Philips Exeter Academy boathouse. We made our way downstream about a mile, just around the bend from the spot along Swazey Parkway where dozen of “landlubber” friends of Ernie had come to pay their respects. The boats huddled together to hear one of Ernie’s good friends offer a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It was a fitting choice, since “Mama Bayer” had spent much of her lifetime reaching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and, as a woman seeking to enter a “man’s sport,” persistently asked “Why, oh why, can’t I?”

I read a poem that I had found that seemed particularly fitting. The poem was written by Verity, and is entitled “A Rowing Poem.”

“On the water the confusion stops,
The peace begins, the tension drops.
Rhythm, run, glide and catch,
Muscles work, mind does relax.
Body and boat synchronized,
The sculler’s grace exemplified.
Forever to be able to use the blade –
To traverse the water – is my heaven made.”

As Tina lovingly offered Ernie’s ashes to the river where Ernie rowed so many nautical miles over the last decades of her life, the other rowers scattered flower petals on the surface of the stream – celebrating a life that had been lived in full bloom.

I offered a prayer that was extemporaneous. When the prayer had ended, Ernie’s biographer, Lew Cuyler, shouted over to me from his double, “Can I have a copy of that prayer to publish in our newsletter, ‘The Catch’?" The prayer was not in written form, but I promised to try to re-create it as best I could. Here is the gist of the prayer I offered as Ernie took to the water and floated on the surface of her beloved Squamscot River for the last time:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
And the earth was without form and was void
And darkness was upon the face of the waters.
And God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light.

Oh, Lord, we thank You for the light that was the life of Ernie Bayer.
We thank You for the illumination that flooded in wherever she appeared.
We thank You for all the lives she touched – friends, family and the rowing community that is gathered here in her memory today.

We pray, oh Lord, that on that day a few weeks ago when she reached the end of her voyage and she crossed the River from this life into eternal life, that You greeted her with Your warm smile, Your strong embrace, and Your words of welcome,
‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’

We pray that You will keep her safely in your perpetual and loving care, just as we will continue to hold her in our minds, hearts, and memories with unabating affection and with a love that will never ebb.

We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The flotilla then headed back upstream, past the crowd that had gathered on the left bank of the river near the bandstand. As we made headway against the current, two majestic blue herons offered a memorial flyover – I am certain in Ernie’s honor.

Once back on land, we continued the celebration at the famed Exeter Inn, where, over brunch, many recounted “Ernie stories.” Among those present were members of the 1984 U.S. Women’s Olympic Gold Medal Crew, with whom Ernie had rowed on numerous occasions. She had continued to row in international competitions into her 90’s!

I read another poem I have found that seemed apt for the occasion. The poem, originally penned in 1995 by Joe Cerniglia, was written from the perspective of a male rower. I explained to those who had gathered in Ernie’s honor at the Exeter Inn that I felt comfortable taking some poetic license and modifying the poem to reflect the perspective of an oarswoman. Here is the revised poem I offered yesterday:

IF ONLY SHE CAN ROW

The sound of water rushing by is music to her ears
And when she bends the carbon shaft, her total mind is clear.
Nothing in her life out there can interrupt the glide
Of glass and metal slipping by the surface which they ride.

When the sacred time has come she gladly lifts her own,
For thought that she might, by some chance, have her power shown.
Standing in a line she’s stood many times before;
Running to the wooden rack and picking out her oar;
The thought of honor and of strength is growing in her chest
Her drive for victory is ready; ready for a test.

Her hand she touches to her head, her shoulders and her chest,
For only God, she knows, will give the strength she need posses.

Her arms and legs and feet and hands are clenched with rage and power.
Only speed and stamina will yield a glorious hour.

So when the rower goes to sleep, the race is never done,
Her mind is churning thoughts of strength and how she’d once begun.
The peace you see on a row’rs face, in her quiet bed,
Deceives the mind of on-lookers, for crew is in her head.
The trials she has passed and the pain she’s suffered through
Are nothing more but calluses. To death loves only crew;
And when that death to her has come she nothing craves but this:
To feel the wooden handle and the pull against her wrist.
A rower’s only absolute, the one thing she may know,
That happiness she’ll only have . . . if only she can ROW!

I bought a copy of Lew Cuyler’s book about Ernie’s life, and am looking forward to reading it soon.

http://www.amazon.com/Ernestine-Bayer-Mother-Womens-Rowing/dp/1419644254/ref=sr_11_1/002-1324620-5768038?ie=UTF8

Ernie’s story and her life were an inspiration to me - and to hundreds and thousands around the world who knew her or who, because of her pioneering efforts, had an opportunity to row in her wake upon waters that she had smoothed through her courage, tenacity and vision. We are all richer because of her.

Farewell, dear friend!

Al

Execution - The Missing Ingredient In Corporate America?

My friend, Bob Glazer, has a new Blog for his consulting practice: Acceleration Partners.

In today's posting, Bob reacts to a recent ludicrous quotation by the CEO of Sprint.

“Mr. Foresee concedes that Sprint has stumbled in the short term, though he says it’s well positioned for long-term growth. “We’ve got one more box left to check and that’s to execute,” he said in a recent interview.

The quotation stikes me - and Bob - as symptomatic of much that is wrong with business today. The mindset of Mr. Foresee (what an ironic name for someone so blind!) points to the lack of foresight and understanding on the part of much of the telecom industry in particular, and corporate America in general, of the importance of execution.

Later this week, I will review a fascinating book that makes the same point from the vantage point of a jaded Wall Street analyst who cover the telecom industry for over 20 years. Look for a posting in a few days reviewing "Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst" by Dan Reingold.

Bookmark or RSS Bob Glazer's Blog. He has a lot to say.

http://accelerationpartners.blogspot.com/

Al

Corteo – A Magical Evening at Cirque de Soleil

This past weekend, a friend introduced me to the wonders of Cirque de Soleil. I had been hearing about their shows for many years, but this was first time I was able to take advantage of the chance to see them in Boston. All I can say is “Wow!” It was a magical evening. This particular show, one of six that are currently touring, is “Corteo,” a dream-like depiction of a clown envisioning his own funeral cortege. Here is the way the Cirque de Soleil Website describes the concept of this show:

“Corteo, which means "cortege" in Italian, is a joyous procession, a festive parade imagined by a clown. The show brings together the passion of the actor with the grace and power of the acrobat to plunge the audience into a theatrical world of fun, comedy and spontaneity situated in a mysterious space between heaven and earth. The clown pictures his own funeral taking place in a carnival atmosphere, watched over by quietly caring angels.”

I grew up with the sights, sounds and smells of Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. We would make an annual family pilgrimage to the old Boston Garden. I looked forward with wonder and anticipation to those annual trips to the circus. When my sons were young, we took them to see the circus several times, and I was amazed - watching now through the eyes of an adult - how seedy and tacky the whole production and enterprise seemed to be. The Big Apple Circus, which travels to Boston on an annual basis, made me aware of a more sophisticated approach to presenting traditional circus fare. My travels to Russia over the last 15 years exposed me to historic European residence circus companies. Moscow has two permanent circuses in residence, and I have enjoyed going to see them with my Russian friends.

Cirque de Soleil stands squarely on the shoulders of this rich European circus tradition, blending beautifully the wonder of the athleticism and dexterity of the tumblers and acrobats with the artistry of the composers, musicians, singers, and the gifted artists who design and create the costumes, sets and lighting. This is circus with style, with class and with panache! The show somehow manages even to incorporate a couple of midgets and a giant into the cast without seeming to pander, exploit or dehumanize them. They are presented without comment simply as artists of different sizes, not as freaks of nature. Many members of the troupe are from Russia and several of the Eastern and Central European countries where circus has been an important element of the country’s cultural heritage. The flags that fly above the Big Top pay silent homage to the diversity of nations from which the members of the troupe hail.

The individual acts are impressive, but in this case, the whole is clearly so much greater than the sum of its parts. It is a truism in the world of entertainment that you should leave the audience wanting more. When the last round of applause - offered by the audience as it rendered its standing ovation – had died out, I turned to my friend, Jason, and said: “I can’t wait to see another Cirque de Soleil show!”

Corteo next travels to the following cities: Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston. In addition, there are currently six Cirque de Soleil shows in residence in Las Vegas, and one in Orlando.

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/CirqueDuSoleil/en/showstickets/corteo/intro/intro.htm

Enjoy it! I certainly did.

Al

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Quick Take on Two Movies – One a Blockbuster and the Other a Sleeper

Occasionally, Hollywood will present the moviegoing public with a spate of films worth seeing. We are in the midst of just such a flood of well-crafted movies. Here are quick takes on two recent releases that I find particularly noteworthy.

With the release of “The Departed,” it is clear that Martin Scorsese has returned to the form that was characteristic of his most impressive period – the days when he demonstrated the ability to mesmerize and shock an audience with seminal works of art like “Taxi Driver” and “Mean Streets.” One reviewer used a well-chosen phrase to describe “The Departed”: “bloody good fun.” This is a violent and disturbing film, but Scorsese masterfully keeps the audience engaged and off-balance by breaking the tension with comedic release provided by a number of the perfectly cast actors.

The ghost of Whitey Bulger hovers over this endeavor, despite the fact that his name is never mentioned in this film. The ensemble cast is impressive – Jack Nicholson weighs in with some of his best work since “The Shining.” Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg all inhabit their characters in a way that make them accessible and believable. Even the Boston accents are uniformly accurate, avoiding the kind of dialect caricatures that many films employ to depict our regional speech.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe is one of the best reviewers I know. See his review below of “The Departed.”

http://www.boston.com/movies/display?display=movie&id=9191

A less-bruited film is “The Last King of Scotland” – a fictional account of the rise and fall of Ugandan madman Idi Amin Dada. The story of Amin is told through the eyes of a bored and na├»ve young Scottish doctor who finds himself practicing medicine in Africa in order to avoid having to join his father in a bucolic general practice in the Scottish countryside. Through a series of chance encounters, Dr. Garrigan find himself in a “Frog in the Kettle” moral dilemma. As Amin’s personal physician - and later as his personal advisor - Garrigan fails to diagnose the metastasizing violence and evil that surrounds him and the Ugandan people. He allows himself to be co-opted with gifts and perquisites that dull his moral sensibilities. Instead of the missionary doctor he had signed on to be, he devolves into the midwife of palace intrigue, betrayal, torture and murder. His own moral compromises stand as a microcosmic reflection of the larger crimes that Amin perpetrates against his own people.

Forrest Whitaker is breathtaking in his portrayal of the manchild, Amin. The actor captures powerfully the mercurial dictator – disarmingly charming one minute and volcanically violent the next.

This little film is worth finding and seeing. In the Boston area, it is playing at the Kendall Movie Theater.

Al

Turkish novelist wins Nobel literature prize

I am pleased to see that the literary world has bestowed its highest prize, the Novel Prize for Literature, on Orhan Pamuk, the author of "Snow."

My review of "Snow" appeared in "The White Rhino Report last spring.

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/2006/04/understanding-turkeys-soul-snow-by.html

The following article, published this morning in the Indianapolis Star, gives a succinct view of Pamuk's background as a writer and a political activist.

Turkish novelist wins Nobel literature prize IndyStar.com

If you have not already read "Snow," I reiterate my strong recommendation that this is a work that will open your eyes to the history and the present conditions in a vitally important part of the world.

Al

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Is “High Fidelity” Ready for Broadway? They Pass Their “Vinyl Exam” in Boston with Flying Colors!

Tomorrow morning’s papers will offer reviews of the Broadway-bound musical “High Fidelity,” since tonight’s performance is the official Press Night at Boston’s Colonial Theater. I offer you my overall impressions based on last evening’s performance that left me and the rest of the enthusiastic multi-generational audience standing and cheering to express our delight and approbation. I give you fair warning that this will not be a “critical review,” since I can find precious little to criticize about this delightful rendition of a thrice-told tale of a record shop owner who can’t manage to attracts customers or hang onto girlfriends.

The story of “High Fidelity” comes to Broadway following a path similar to the one that brought the current popular musical, “The Color Purple,” to New York. Each work started out as a novel, was adapted to the screen, and then was transformed into a musical. Following a rich tradition in theater history, the producers of “High Fidelity” decided to bring the show to Boston to work out the kinks and get it ready for an anticipated New York opening in November.

Before I talk about the substance of this musical, let me digress for a moment to talk about why I chose to see this show in the first place. Since I am not a big collector of vinyl records, the subject matter was not compelling to me. But some of the names associated with the production caught my eye. This past summer, I saw a production, mounted by the Harvard Radcliffe Summer Theater group, of the play, “Wonder of the World.” I found the writing brilliant, magical and captivating. I was not familiar with the playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, but my Googling of him told me that he was a native of South Boston and that he had written the book for the new musical, “High Fidelity.” When I learned that the new play would preview in Boston, I made a note to watch for the announcement that tickets were going on sale. A few weeks ago, I was attending a play in Portsmouth, proudly watching my son, Ti, as he appeared in “Sharp Dressed Men.” During the intermission, I connected with some of the audience members who were old friends of mine from my days of doing theater on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. My friends said to me: “Have you been following the roles that Christian Anderson has been playing? He is in the cast of a new musical called, ‘High Fidelity.’ That clinched it for me; I knew that I had to find a way to see this show!

I have a very simple and subjective way of evaluating whether I have gotten my money’s worth out of an evening at the theater. If, during the course of watching a play, I experience chills running up my spine and tears running down my cheeks, then I know I have invested my time and money wisely at the theater! In the case of “High Fidelity,” the chills came when I heard the opening bars of the Overture. The music, beautifully written by Tom Kitt, and ably performed by a great pit orchestra, reached out and grabbed me from the strident opening bars dominated by blaring brass. The energy was electric from the beginning, and did not falter throughout two well-balanced acts. The tears came as a surprise. I allowed myself to be caught up in the wry, clever, insouciant, irreverent and sardonic tone of the piece – losers poking fun at themselves, at one another and at the world in general. And then, without much warning, the mood shifted dramatically and seismically with the introduction of the hauntingly beautiful ballad, “Your Wonderful Love,” sung as a duet between Rob and his once and future girlfriend, Laura. I found myself deeply touched and moved – by the development in the characters that the song signaled, by the lyrics, written by Amanda Green, and by the singing and delivery of Will Chase and Jenn Colella as the struggling and conflicted lovers.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s writing remains as sharp as I had originally found it to be in “Wonder of the World.” He is prolific in his output of scripts. His much-acclaimed “Rabbit Hole” will enjoy its New England premiere on November 3 at the Huntington Theater. In “High Fidelity,” a project he was initially hesitant about participating in, he wields the English language as both a tool and as a weapon. He sometimes uses his rapier-sharp wit as a surgical scalpel to cut to the heart of the matter and at other times, employs it as a light saber to cut away at hypocrisy and pretense. His words entertain, but as they entertain and draw laughter, they also illuminate, instruct and comment. Pun and double-entendre are among his favorite verbal weapons of choice.

A rare customer in the record shop approaches Dick, a hapless and nerdy clerk, asking about where she might find a certain kind of record:

“Do you have the Blues?

“Well, actually, it is sometimes called
‘Seasonal Affective Disorder.’”

When it dawns on Dick what she is really asking, he takes a beat and continues, “Oh, look over there by the jazz records.”

It is a simple, hilarious and brilliant moment.

The ensemble cast has no discernible weakness, and that is a rare statement for me to make. In almost any show, I can usually find an actor or two who has been obviously mis-cast. Not so with “High Fidelity.” Particularly worthy of note are the previously mentioned Will Chase and Jenn Colella. The chemistry and the tensions between them work beautifully, and I found myself caring about the future of their relationship. Would a 9% chance at success be enough? Will Chase is a major talent. As an actor, he seems very comfortable in his skin – playing a character who is clearly anything but comfortable in his own skin. Christian Anderson plays Dick with a wonderfully understated sense of irony and hopelessness. His painfully inarticulate “It’s No Problem At All” brings down the house. Throughout his career, Anderson has demonstrated great dramatic range. I have seen him portray anguish as Jesus of Nazareth in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” menace as the drug dealer in “Rent” and ineptitude as Dick in “High Fidelity.” Jay Klaitz, as the other store clerk, Barry, is an actor I last saw on stage in Cambridge at the A.R.T. in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” His character, Barry, finally emerges from his chrysalis of geekitude to soar as a moth drawn to the flame of rock stardom! The rest of the ensemble of ex-girlfriends, “wannabe” musicians and “get-a-lifers” present the most loveable assemblage of losers since the 1962 New York Mets.

The musical numbers in the show are as varied in style as the kinds of records in Rob’s store. There is a marvelous Bruce Springsteen send-up, featuring Will Chase and Jon Patrick Walker that is a highlight of the show, walking the fine line between tribute and camp! Rob and Laura (Hello, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore!), sing a scathing duet about the rebound relationships they have fallen into after their break-up. In a “split screen” montage that pays homage to the show’s cinematic heritage, Rob sings, “I slept with someone who slept with Lyle Lovett!” Laura soliloquizes, “I slept with someone who handled Kurt Cobain’s intervention!” The audience can almost smell the sense of desperation oozing from the pores of each of the alienated lovers. It is a moment that is poignant, funny, pathetic and sublime. It is also brilliant theater.

As soon as it is available, I plan to add the original Broadway cast album to my own modest record collection!

“High Fidelity” continues at Boston’s Colonial Theater through October 22, and then decamps to New York. See it here in Boston or there in New York, but see it! I predict a long run on Broadway.

FYI – A small tongue-in-cheek disclaimer: As I spoke with cast members after the show, I discovered that Will Chase and I share common ancestors and are therefore, distantly related. I made my determination that he was a major talent hours before I discovered that we are distant cousins! No nepotism here at The White Rhino Report!

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Brian Freeman – No Sophomore Slump with “STRIPPED”

Last year I wrote in glowing terms about the inaugural novel by Brian Freeman – a work entitled “Immoral” that has gone on to win the Macavity Award for Best First Novel at the Bouchercon mystery festival this past weekend.

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/2005/11/book-review-immoral-novel-by-brian.html

As I predicted a year ago, Brian has been heard from again – and he does not disappoint. Compelling protagonists, Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial, return to anchor the action in "STRIPPED." In this new work, just released in the bookstores today, Jonathan has just made a major move – a move with geographic, career and relational components – to join Serena as a detective with the Las Vegas Police force. Coming from the hinterlands of Duluth, Minnesota, Stride is viewed with suspicion and scorn by the case hardened Las Vegas veterans. He is paired with a partner no one else wants to work with – because the partner, Amanda Gillen – has an unusual past. I will let Brian Freeman explain it in his own words:

“Stride leaned against the machine and impatiently shoved his hands in his pockets. He leaned down to Amanda. ‘So, how did you get stuck with me?’

Amanda took her eyes off the slot reels and gave him a suspicious look. ‘Excuse me?’

‘The lieutenant thinks I should be back in Minnesota shoveling snow,’ Stride said. ‘You must have pissed him off to get stuck with a newbies like me who’s on Sawhill’s shit list.’

Stride knew that Sawhill was just angry at the world. He used to get that way himself sometimes when he was a lieutenant, during those stretches when everything that could go wrong did. Sawhill had lost his favorite detective when the man won the Megabucks jackpot and retired instantly, eight million dollars richer. Then Serena went over Sawhill’s head to the sheriff to plug Stride, an experienced homicide investigator who just happened to be in town, available, bored, doing nothing but letting the city get on his nerves. And so Sawhill found himself with Stride crammed down his throat, and he had made it a point to make sure Stride knew that the lieutenant didn’t think he was up to the task of big-city crime.

‘Oh, now I get it,’ Amanda said, half to herself. ‘I was wondering what you did to get stuck with me. Now that makes sense. Sawhill has it in for you.’

Stride shrugged. ‘I like you fine. You seem smart. You’re something to look at, too. Seems like he’s doing me a favor.’

‘Not hardly,’ Amanda told him.

‘Want to fill me in?’

Amanda took a long look at him. ‘You really don’t know, do you? Serena didn’t tell you?’

‘I guess not.’

‘You’re not just playing dumb-ass games with me?’

‘I haven’t been in the city long enough to play games,’ Stride said.

Amanda laughed long and deep. ‘Oh, that’s good. That’s really good.’

‘Are you going to let me in on the joke?’

‘I’m a non-op,’ Amanda said.

‘What’s that?’ Stride asked, genuinely confused.

‘I’m a transsexual.’” (Pages 20-21)

And so Freeman sets the scene for a story that is a murder mystery woven within a web of characters and relationships that make the phrase “non-traditional” seem woefully inadequate. He places Detective Stride in a situation of perpetual tension – drawn to two opposing magnetic poles – Duluth and Las Vegas. Part of his heart remains on the shores of Lake Superior, but his love for Serena forces him to accommodate himself to a home and a new career in the hot desert town that has not offered him a very warm or welcoming reception.

A series of murders – some current and another twenty years in the past – provide the backdrop for a rollicking ride through the back alleys, gated communities, casinos and haunts that make Las Vegas such a fascinating and dystopian metropolis. Before he is through with weaving his tale, Freeman introduces the reader to the worlds of organized crime, schlocky entertainers, and law enforcement. “STRIPPED” gives us a look at humanity as seen through a series of distorting funhouse mirrors. Throw in a few isosceles love triangles along the way, and you have a story that is engaging and entertaining.

Brian Freeman has already completed work on a third novel featurring Stride and Serena Dial. I can’t wait to read it. I get the impression that Freeman loves what he is doing, and truly cares about the motley cast of characters he has created. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did.

Al