Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the supper club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Be sure to bring your own supper, because we don’t have any. But make yourself at home. I mean, you’re probably at home while you’re reading this so I don’t really need to tell you that.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last week we were going through the American League divisions and we finished up out west, where 46% of you thought that the Oakland Athletics would claim their second-straight division title. Another 39% believed in the Houston Astros and coming in third were the Mariners breaking their 20-year drought with 11%.
You may not discuss tonight’s 13-3 Cubs’ loss to the Phillies, the tenth-straight defeat for the Northsiders. I actually can’t stop you if you want to, but why would you want to?
Here’s where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question. You won’t hurt my feelings.
I haven’t written about South African jazz yet, and since I heard the South African jazz show on SiriusXM today while driving, I figured this was a good day to rectify that.
I can’t say I’m an expert on South African jazz, but I know that sometime in the post-war era, American jazz records started to get imported into South Africa, where the genre took on a life of its own. The Black faces on those discs were a huge inspiration to the Black African population in South Africa, and they started out by imitating their heroes. But sometime in the fifties, they started doing their own thing, merging the musical traditions of the tip of Africa with those American greats, making their own thing. (And there is nothing more jazz than making your own thing.) Unfortunately, we don’t really have much record of the origins of South African jazz, since white-owned recording companies were not in the habit of bringing in Black artists for a studio session.
But the jazz musicians made a decent living playing regularly in the clubs, until the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. The apartheid government responded to the unrest by making all mixed-race meetings illegal and any private meeting of more than ten people was forbidden.
The music clubs were all forced to close after this, and most musicians who could flee to Europe did, where they could continue to make a living. It’s in the 1960s that we get our first recordings of South African jazz, albeit in exile.
This is the piece I heard today in my car, and I have to say I thought it was pretty darn good. It’s the title track from 1969’s Inhlupeko [Distress] (VIDEO) by the Soul Jazzmen. As far as I can tell, the Soul Jazzmen were a one-time supergroup led by pianist Tete Mbambisa and saxophonist Duku “Duke” Makasi. This is their one album, kind of like The Postal Service, but there is still a group in Cape Town with an ever-changing lineup that performs under the Soul Jazzmen name.
You should be able to hear the hard-bop influence that’s been present in a lot of the stuff I’ve posted (Davis, Coltrane, Jazz Messengers, etc.) but there’s a different enough twist to it make it it’s own thing.
I have some movie traditions that go around certain holidays. I have movies that I try to watch on Halloween, Christmas and Easter. (One guess which movie I watch on Groundhog’s Day.) I don’t watch them on the holiday every year, but if I’m in the mood and I have nothing else to do, I’ll watch them. Many of these films I’ve watched over a dozen times in the last 25 years.
I won’t reveal what movies I watch on other holidays, but my tradition for Independence Day is to watch the 1972 musical 1776 on Turner Classic Movies. They play it every year and before there was a TCM, it played every year on WTBS. I probably saw it for the first time on WTBS in the early-80’s and I’ve seen it many times since. (In full disclosure however, my first exposure to the film was probably in a Mad Magazine parody years before. Although maybe it was one of those Mad knockoff titles that were around in the 1970s.)
Last night I was in no mood to go sit on the grass in 100° heat to watch fireworks, so when 1776 came on TCM, I sat down and watched it again. The film is based on the Broadway play that preceded it and most of the Broadway cast repeated their role for the film. Although the leads, William Daniels (John Adams), Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson) and Howard Da Silva (Ben Franklin) were regulars before and afterwards on film and television, many of the supporting roles were played by Broadway actors and this was their only feature film performance.
When 1776 came out, it got mixed review and was generally considered a box-office disappointment. Since then, probably from its repeated showing on TV around the Fourth of July, it’s become a bit of a classic. Lin-Manuel Miranda has made no secret that he loves the play and the movie and that 1776 was a major inspiration for Hamilton.
Whenever anyone tells a historical story on the movie or television screen, they are going to make choices that are not going to accurately represent what actually happened. We had a saying in graduate school that “History is just one damn thing after another” and that’s absolutely true. There is no narrative to history other than what we give it. But the historian (or in this case, the filmmakers) have to give it a narrative or imbue it with some meaning or no one will understand it. And while the people behind 1776 certainly wanted to educate the public about the founding of America (Sherman Edwards, whose idea the play was and who wrote the music and lyrics, had taught history to support himself as a young struggling songwriter), their main purpose was to entertain and sell tickets. The story has to be told in a compact, understandable and entertaining way.
The problem with telling the story of the Declaration of Independence is that no one wrote down what was happening at the time. (The Wire’s Stringer Bell’s famous quote “is you taking notes on a criminal [censored] conspiracy?” comes to mind here.) So what we have are the memories of people who were there, writing ten, twenty or thirty years or more later. Any historian will tell you that while recollections can be valuable, they are not nearly as reliable as contemporaneous accounts. Memories fade and details can be forgotten. People often portray themselves in the past in a far more positive light than they may have deserved.
To the credit of the writers, they went back to those memoirs and recollections and incorporated the actual words of the men (and women, in the case of Abigail Adams) involved into the script. But for the most part, the film employs what I like to call “the truth through lies.” Much of this film is historically inaccurate, but the overall portrait the film leaves you with is not that far from the truth.
For example, while there is no evidence to the contrary, it is generally assumed that the Founding Fathers did not break out into song and dance at regular intervals during the Second Continental Congress because that would have been considered silly at the time. As well as today.
John Adams, for example, was the leading force behind independence, although the film sometimes leaves you with the impression he was the “only” voice and not just the leader of a faction. (His cousin Samuel Adams, for example, got written out of this story. At least he got the beer.) Adams is portrayed as “obnoxious and disliked,” which Adams really wasn’t until years later, after his presidency. And we really only have Adams describing himself that way—no one else seemed to say it. Adams was depressed in his old age.
The other two leads, Jefferson and Franklin, are portrayed fairly accurately. Franklin really was one of the most famous men in the world in 1776, known throughout America and Europe. Jefferson was smart, broody and quiet, although Martha Jefferson (Blythe Danner) never came to Philadelphia during the Congress.
The lesser Founding Fathers get treated worse, but always in the service of a greater truth. No one comes off worse than John Dickinson (Donald Madden), who is basically the villain of the piece. Dickinson was a true American patriot who argued for American nationalism long before anyone else. His opposition to independence wasn’t based on a loyalty to the king or a conservative nature, as the film implies, but rather out of his Quaker faith and his deeply-held beliefs about pacifism.
But Dickinson is a stand-in this film for the Tory faction of the United States and much of what he says in the film are mostly the arguments of American loyalists. So that real debate about American independence gets put into the mouth of Dickinson, whose opposition to independence was much more nuanced and unique. But Dickinson was resigned to being the villain in history anyway, so he probably would have expected that.
Similarly, Edward Rutledge (John Cullum) really was a delegate from South Carolina, a slave holder and no doubt a supporter of the “peculiar institution.” But there’s no evidence that he was a firebrand leader of the opposition to independence based on the protection of slavery. In fact, most of what we do know is that Rutledge’s opposition was based on a feeling that the time wasn’t right yet and came around when he was convinced the colonies were united in the cause. The arguments he makes about slavery in the film are more at home in the national debates of the 1840s and 1850s than of 1776.
This leads to the entire climax of the film, where independence is nearly derailed by a debate over slavery. In truth, there was no such debate. Jefferson did put a clause in the Declaration decrying slavery and the slave trade and unspecified “Southern” delegates objected to it. The clause was removed without much debate as the Northern delegates quickly agreed that it wasn’t necessary.
But that “fiction” which provides the climax of the film actually illustrates a larger truth about America’s original sin of slavery and the necessary compromise and hypocrisy necessary to win independence. “All men are created equal,” Jefferson wrote, but some men are born in chains. King George III is a tyrant, but the colonists themselves engaged in acts of tyranny against Africans and Native Americans. Besides, the invented debate gives us one of the best songs in the musical, “Molasses to Rum,” [VIDEO] which explains the Triangle Trade.
There’s another interesting story behind my viewing 1776 on TCM last night and that was that the song “Cool, Considerate Men” had been restored to the film. The song was in the Broadway production but when it came time to make the movie, President Richard Nixon objected. The song is a lampooning of the rich landowning “conservatives” who believe that independence or not, they’ll come out on top in the end. Nixon hated the song and thought it made conservatives look unpatriotic. So he called his old friend, studio head Jack Warner, whom he had known for decades from his days in California politics. He asked Warner to take the song out and Warner didn’t want to deny a favor to an old friend who was also the President of the United States. He ordered it cut out without even consulting the director. But recently, the scene has been restored to the film and so I present “Cool, Considerate Men” here. [VIDEO] Even if you’ve seen the movie in the past, there’s a good chance that you haven’t seen this musical number.
Welcome back to all those who skip the jazz and film discussion, although right now, I can’t imagine why anyone wants to talk Cubs baseball rather than jazz or movies. But we do because we’re Cubs fans and that’s what we do.
This past week has been one of the most depressing weeks in recent Cubs history. Oh, it can’t compare to Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS or Games 5 through 7 of the 2003 NLCS, but it’s been bad. I don’t think anyone thought this was a great team, but I certainly thought it was a decent team with a puncher’s chance to win something. I certainly never thought that they were capable of tearing off a ten-game losing streak.
So my question tonight is “Are the Cubs done?” And basically that comes down to whether the Cubs should start trading away players now or wait. The trade deadline isn’t until the end of the month, so there are still four weeks to go. As unlikely as it seems at the moment, it is possible that the Cubs start a ten-game winning streak tomorrow. In which case, the team would probably want to wait a while to start dealing.
So is it time for the Cubs to start offering their best players to other teams? As my daughter’s multiple choice tests state, pick the best answer.
Should the Cubs start trading the impending free agents?
This poll is closed
No! Keep them and try to re-sign them this winter!
Start dealing the lesser players, but wait until the deadline to deal the big names.
It won’t hurt to wait a week or two to see if the team turns things around.
There’s no reason not to wait until the final days of July.
Start calling the other teams and ask for their best offers.
Thanks for stopping by in these difficult times. We’ll see you again tomorrow with a shorter edition of BCB After Dark.