In Tune with June

My daughter, Jolie, is an amazing shopper, and, unlike her mother, she enjoys the experience. During one of her shopping outings she bought me an unusual gift. It’s not big, and it’s not expensive but I use it every day and it makes me smile. That gift was a result of her watching one of her favorite television programs, “Shark Tank,” – a TV phenomenon. It’s a business-themed reality show on ABC TV Network. The “sharks” are tough, self-made multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons searching to invest in what they consider are the best businesses and products. The program gives people from all walks of life the choice to take the American dream and potentially secure business deals that could make them billionaires too. All the good, bad, emotional, and even absurd pitches help showcase the “I wish I had thought of that” business ideas and products. It’s a hit, unscripted series – ingenious and unpredictable. “Shark Tank” premiered in 2009 and is still going strong. By watching it, you’re entertained, inspired, and you end up learning a lot about what it takes to sell your idea and make it a reality. On the program,Jolie learned about my gift: Scrub Daddy, a smiling sponge that’s scratch-free and has texture changes with the water temperature – hard for cold and soft for hot. Not only does it make you happy when you look at it, there’s science behind the brand. After watching “Shark Tank,” my daughter found the cute sponge at Walmart.
It was a most unusual coincidence. At the same time that I was phoning my well-informed son, Andy, to ask him about Bob Dylan’s new album, “Shadows in the Night,” Andy was on his way to hear it in a recording studio. I was interested because it was being called “Bob Dylan’s Sinatra Album.” I am a great fan of “Ol’ Blue Eyes.” Dylan’s album includes ten songs all originally recorded by Sinatra. If you enjoy the music of the pre-rock era you, too, would know most of those songs. They have long histories and long memories. It’s a reminder that interpretive singing has a lot in common with acting. Dylan has been quoted as saying that he will “uncover them, lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” Huh? The singer-songwriter has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Dylan’s choice of songs in “Shadows in the Night” are not of the Sinatra air-borne singer or of Sinatra, the voice of confidence. They are about separation and heartache – “Where Are You?” and “All Alone” – ballads that often luxuriate in melancholy and testify to loneliness. Dylan presents a subdued, sustained, ragged tone and he fully inhabits the lyrics. Most of today’s singers are sloppy and the lyrics aren’t worth listening to. “I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough,” said Dylan of “Shadows in the Night.” Well, I for one, wish he hadn’t. Dylan does it his way – even though “My Way” is not in his album of songs popularized by Sinatra. The album is produced by Bob Dylan under his long-time pseudonym, Jack Frost. It left me cold.
Happy TV viewing – “Downton Abbey” has been renewed for Season 6! Currently it’s my favorite program to watch Sundays on WNET/Channel 13. Conveniently, it is rerun during the week. Just in case you’re not familiar with “Downton Abbey,” it is centered on an English country estate in the 1920s. The period drama series stays true to the elegant world of the aristocrats who ruled in England and to their servants. Manners come into everything: how you dressed, how you ate, how you stood and how you spoke. It all was a secret code that tells everything about Edwardian England. Clothes mattered because everything meant something. Ladies’ dress was extravagantly elaborate and guided by myriad roles. Menswear remained resolutely stiff. A newcomer to society asked in one episode, “Why do the rituals, the clothes, and the customs matter so much?” There are many interesting characters in “Downton Abbey” and I enjoy a special one. Lady Violet, the dowager countess, played by the wonderful Maggie Smith, can be counted on for both insight and comic relief. I find myself waiting to hear her zingers. She explains the rituals. “Without them, we’d be like the wild men of Borneo.” Within the world of “Downton Abbey” a dozen years have passed since the story of Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, along with his family, and their devoted downstairs servants began. That year was 1912, and now it’s 1924. Dark secrets, budding romances, and dramatic turns have set me and many others tuning in. My only complaint is that the characters often talk as if they have marbles in their mouths. Thank goodness for captions.
Admittedly I was slow in appreciating the Beatles. With John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr my favorite quickly became Paul McCartney, the “cute Beatle.” It was more than his looks, of course. It was his extensive musical accomplishments. I’m sure you know that he’s a singer, songwriter, a music and film producer who has been active since 1957. He is a multi-instrumentalist: bass guitar, guitar, keyboard, drums, percussion, mandolin, and flugelhorn. He’s also written or co-written thirty-two songs that have reached number one on Billboard. Wow! Where did all that talent come from? Perhaps it helped that McCartney’s father was a trumpet player and pianist who led a jazz band in the 1920s. He turned the future Beatle onto songs like “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and other pre-rock pop standards (and my son, Jim, knows them from his grandmother and me)! In fact, you can hear those songs on his fifteenth studio album, “Kisses on the Bottom,” that I play over and over again. Personally, it’s fun and touching to hear Paul McCartney crooning his way through the great American songbook with miles of charm. To me it’s the sound of a musician joyfully tapping his roots. The former Beatle is prolific in many ways. Aside from all of the music he’s created he’s the father of five children!
You can e-mail June Sturz at

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