Yet Another Tribute to a Dead Celeb: Monkee Edition

This is my third dead celebrity post in a day! Sad. Still, I can’t not mention Mike Nesmith, who died before Christmas. “After school” for kids in the 1970s meant the following: the hours of 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. spent plunked down in front of the television watching reruns of the Monkees, Get Smart, Bewitched and the Brady Bunch. It was a couple of hours of bliss before the nightmare of my bullying older brother and/or the turmoil of dealing with my parents’ troubled marriage began. Nesmith was a very talented musician (whose mother invented liquid paper – I gather his creative gene came from her) and after his death I went down memory lane online listening to old and familiar songs. Interestingly, I discovered a song I had not heard before that I’d like to share here. He is in a duet with fellow Monkee Mickey Dolenz and it is just lovely. The harmonies! The lyrics (though I don’t think he wrote the song). So sweet.

Sidney Poitier

One of the ironies of the great actor‘s death is how so many progressives/leftists are posting to their social media this late-1960s interview, in which Poitier expresses frustration with the fact that the media are only asking him questions about his race. They are posting it as a criticism – as in, “How terrible! He was not viewed as a man, but only as a black man!” – seemingly unaware of the fact that they only ever want people to talk about their race.

Poitier was indeed the first black actor to win an Oscar, and there is nothing wrong with remembering that about him. Above all, though, he was an actor and for a time, a huge box office draw. In 1967 alone he made three extraordinary movies – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, To Sir with Love and In the Heat of the Night. I adore the first two, of course, but I want to focus on In the Heat of the Night: it was certainly Rod Steiger’s best role, but it is the last scene of the movie that, for me, is most noteworthy. Imagine the same film made in today’s climate – the ending would include either a grovelling apology from Steiger about the wrongness of his ways, or an acknowledgement of his white privilege, or a hug between the two men, or all of the above. Now watch this scene – that wonderful “You take care. You hear?” The smiles from Poitier and Steiger. Real respect has developed. And so perfectly acted.

Betty White

What can I add to all of the tributes? An animal advocate, a World War II volunteer, a talented comedienne – it has all been said these past ten days. I, of course, first really saw her when I was a kid watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show with my mother. I watched it again in reruns…and again…and again. I must have encyclopaedic knowledge of the show. I also loved The Golden Girls as did my parents. My father took to nicknaming my mother “Rose,” as the absurd and lengthy stories she told over the years – filled with Norwegian names, all preposterous – were so like Rose’s St. Olaf stories on the series. Hard to choose a preferred Betty White moment, but this comes close – two brilliant performers combined with great writing. Enjoy, and RIP, Betty.

Epiphany

January 6 is always a bittersweet day for me. There’s still an element of post-Christmas letdown, especially since this is the day I take down all of our decorations. I’m a traditionalist: Christmas decor goes up the first Sunday of Advent and comes down on Epiphany. So there’s that to bring on some blues. And, of course, it is also my oldest brother’s birthday – he would be 73 today. Always missed. I can hear him saying, “Rondi, enough with your post-holidays lollygagging! Get on with it.”

So yeah, I’m going to try.

Llwyn On: The Ash Grove

I watched How Green was my Valley last night, and, of course, went through about fourteen boxes of Kleenex. Music is such a big part of that film and while I love “Men of Harlech” and “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer,” I think my favourite musical moment in HGWMV is the Welsh version of “The Ash Grove.” It is sung by the townspeople as Ivor and Bronwyn leave the church after their wedding. Here is a version from Thomas L. Thomas, the Welsh baritone.

Sir Tony Blair

This – everything. One hundred percent. Blair’s knighthood is long overdue.

He saw in Kosovo a resurgence of ethnic conflict in Europe and outlined his Chicago Doctrine of liberal interventionism. He saw public services that had benefited from significant injections of resource without enough in the way of reform. There is courage with him, too. It would have been easy for him to do a Schröder or a Chirac in the aftermath of 9/11 and pander to domestic anti-Americanism. He would have won plaudits from his own party, the media and the liberal intelligentsia. Instead, he stood by the US, not least over Iraq, because he considered it a moral struggle and thought by America’s side was where Britain ought to be. Approve or revile his decision, he made it aware of the political costs at home… Does he deserve a knighthood? Of course he does: for service to our country, for service to his party, for the wise counsel he provides on everything from the Middle East to Covid-19. The only question is why it took so long for him to become Sir Tony.

Absolutely.

Tutu and Didion

Too lazy to write two posts, so I will include both of these very different people here. Bishop Tutu died and the laudatory headlines were everywhere. Would anyone, I wondered, have the courage to write about his, er, uncomfortable relationship with Jews and the Jewish state? Melanie Phillips to the rescue with this must-read. (I had not been aware with just how vile some of Tutu’s views were. Now I – distressingly – am.) Apart from Phillips, though, there has been little criticism or challenging of Tutu – it reminds me of when Helen Thomas died and nobody would mention the antisemitic elephant in the room. It was all, what a feminist icon, blah blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

My internet friend Rick McGinnis (still have not met him, but hope that I will, one day, post-pandemic) wrote about Joan Didion three years ago. An original take – as he calls it, her “uncomfortable fit” in American (counter) culture.

Ring out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson