In Tune With June
Feb 05, 2014 | 1029 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I’m sure you have favorite programs on television. I find myself avoiding many popular ones that include shoot-‘em-ups, zombies, flash-backs, druggies, decadent behavior, and even (surprise!) music and dance competitions. So, you wonder what is left? If you’re a viewer with a long memory, think of the 1970s series “Upstairs, Downstairs” and then you’d realize that currently there’s another quaint drama about an aristocratic English family and its staff. I’m referring, of course, to Channel 13's hit Masterpiece Classic series, “Downton Abbey.” That program is addictive viewing for me and millions of others are tuning in, too, not wanting to miss the beloved characters, their customs and costumes. One of my favorites is the acerbic Violet, the dowager countess played by Maggie Smith. Among her many zingers is “I do think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.” In Season 4 the “Jazz Age” gets into full swing (ha!). There are new characters; Lord Gillingham (possibly a new beau for Lady Mary), Mr. Green (his valet), Dame Nellie Melba, and Jack Ross (the show’s first black character, who is a London jazz musician). The redoubtable Shirley MacLaine playing Lady Grantham’s feisty mother is joined this season by her feisty American son played by Paul Giamatti. The show’s exterior and above-stairs interior scenes are shot on a 6,000-acre estate ninety minutes from London. Of course the program has an historical advisor who oversees details ranging from proper posture (sit up straight!) and manners (hands off the dinner table, serve food from the left and drink from the right). I enjoy the fact that in this season the middle daughter gets involved as a London newspaper columnist (think of her as the Carrie Bradshaw of the twenties). Well, I’m settling in, pouring a cuppa, and prepared to continue to enjoy my obsessive tour of the blockbuster show. By the time you read this you’ve probably enjoyed several episodes. I can watch them one mo’ time.

Why was I interested in seeing a movie about a major family dysfunction? It didn’t fit into my idea of happy entertainment. The attraction was that two of my favorite stars were appearing in “August: Osage County.” There’s Meryl Streep, a mesmerizing Meryl Streep, who spends the film hissing everyone like a vicious rattlesnake in a disheveled wig. And there’s Julia Roberts, who grabs one in ways she hasn’t before with her angry, edgy Barbara. The two play a mother and daughter who may have more in common than they think. Neither star attempts or achieves charm or likability but both shine in the emotional truth of their characters, situations, and relationships. A sterling ensemble cast gets to at least register discontent if not verbally explode. The family in “August: Osage County” just about defines dysfunction (or at least puts the “funk” in it.) It’s an all-star maladjust-a-thon.

Suppose I mentioned “Piano Man” and “A New York State of Mind,” would you be able to guess the entertainer I’m referring to? Here’s a direct quote: “I am the entertainer / I bring to you my song / I’d like to spend a day or two / but I can’t stay that long.” Well, I’m referring to the internationally acclaimed, six-time Grammy-winning New Yorker, Billy Joel. The latest news is that he is now a resident at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The Garden is generally used for professional basketball and ice hockey as well as concerts and other forms of sports and entertainment. Joel is not new to the 1970s generation. At sixty-four, he will be performing once a month indefinitely at MSG. His middle-age core audience is ready to applaud him and hopefully he will find an audience of younger listeners. It might help that he appeared on an episode of “Glee” last November. Joel’s music is hard to categorize. There’s doo-wop, filtered though America’s musical theater, filtered through jazz, filtered through rock. As many fine musicians, he began piano lessons at age four and continued until he was fourteen. I easily relate to the fact that as a teenager he disliked learning classical music, theory, and the endless hours of practice. The story behind “Piano Man” happened early when he was working in a piano bar and it’s based on that true experience. It became his first top-forty hit single. When Joel married supermodel Christie Brinkley in 1985 (it was his second marriage), it made headlines as did their separation in 1993. Six years later he was honored at the American Music Awards for his inspired song-writing skills, musical arrangement, vocals, key-based prowess, and exciting showmanship. Here are his words: “I look in the mirror and say, ‘Well, you ain’t Cary Grant but you ain’t in the junkyard either.’ But I’m happy with my life, very happy. It’s nothing at all like I pictured it would be.” If all of the above whets your appetite to see Billy Joel at MSG, it’s sold out until August. Sorry!

I never had a pet, not a fish, not a bird, nor a dog or cat. However, all that changed when my daughter, Jolie, turned sixteen. On her birthday, her friend, Randi Simon, appeared at our door cradling a small grey kitten as a gift. Frankly, my reaction was not good. I was ready to slam the door on both Randi and the kitten. However, Jolie took one look and fell in love so how could I deny my one and only daughter? We named the cat “Simon” and had him checked out by a vet. Three years went by and admittedly we equally enjoyed our indoor and outdoor cat until time came for Jolie to leave Simon behind to go to college. Of course, then I became the one and only caretaker, but, as you might guess, I thoroughly enjoyed Simon who purred every time I came near. Unfortunately, there’s not a happy ending to this story. One day, as I drove into my driveway, Simon ran right under the wheels of my car. I mourned his passing in the same way I would have mourned losing my best friend. I don’t own a pet now but my daughter has Tweety. She and her whole family love the cat regarding him as an important member of their family. All of the above came to my mind as I read a new book, “Cat Sense” by John Bradshaw. In his analysis he reminds us that cats are still essentially wild animals but they’ve been anthropomorphized (yes, I looked that word up and it means “ascribing human attributes to a being not human”). The writer says that felines make attractive companions and they catch mice well enough. A domestic cat like Simon and Tweety interacts with people. When cats rub up against you or invite their heads to be stroked they are treating you as a non-hostile cat. “An upright tail is probably the closest way cats show their affection for us.” Bradshaw says cats regard their owners as a combination mother-substitute. If this interests you “Cat Sense” will teach you more about the biology of cats than you never suspected.

You can e-mail June Sturz at intunejune@optonline.net

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