HAPPY SONGS FOR DARK TIMES #4: The “HAPPY” Happy Songs

If I was hopeful that the dark times might brighten after the Orange Menace was evicted by the people, well, those hopes look if not dashed, surely bruised and battered on the floor.

Homegrown fascism and bigotry have only more fully taken over the GOP, monstrous, genocidal fascism has uncloaked itself most viciously by Russia. And the Earth ain’t getting any cooler – remember that existential threat?

Okay. I’ll stop there. And provide another edition of Happy Songs for Dark Times. Instead of serving up one very particular tune that especially cheers me personally (like I have here, here and here), I will serve up a smorgasbord of happy songs, specifically happy songs that actually and rather helpfully have the word “happy” in their title.

And for that, naturally we must start with the king of the “happy” songs, Pharrell William’s “Happy”:

Pharrell starts the video of “Happy” in a dark alley, as if to indicate the gloom he will be banishing with this undeniably catchy, buoyant tune. For the rest of the video he and a diversity of fellow humans (and some Minions – “Happy” is the Oscar-nominated song from “Despicable Me 2”) sing and dance along, affirming that happiness is a truth. And when you hear this song, I feel positive you too will want to sing and dance and affirm happiness is a truth along with them.

This really is one of the happiest-making songs out there – I imagine it would top any poll of the happiest songs the world can agree on.

But there are more happy “Happy” songs. Let’s give a listen:

I just declared Pharrell’s “Happy” the likely winner of any happy song poll. Bobby McFerrin may want me to hold his beer. This a capella classic – McFerrin impressively provides every vocal, or voice and body produced sound – may not have the exuberance of Pharrell’s “Happy”, but it will make you smile with its joyous, infectious, laid back optimism. It cradles you in a blissful groove. Like you’re swinging in a hammock or gently strolling and skipping on a sunny sidewalk. Plus the video features the two great American clowns of the past century: Robin Williams and Bill Irwin.

“Let me give you my phone number, when you’re worried, call me, I’ll make you happy” indeed!

Imagine me and you listening to this song. The verse starts in minor, and the singer sounds slightly pained, but then he suggests we could be “happy together”, and bursts into a chorus so joyous, so exuberant, all sorrowful puppy dog feelings weighing down the verse are dispelled by a parade of sunshine and banners and streamers. So “Happy Together” indeed.

This classic is perhaps more affirmative than joyous, but hey, how can such an unabashedly declarative affirmation not make the recipient of these words overjoyed: “You’ve made me so very happy. I’m so glad you came into my life. I want to thank you, girl, every day of my life.” Man, guy, wow, really means a lot to hear you see that. Yep, that makes me happy too!

Happily The Beatles also have a happy song with “Happy” in the title. And in this clip from the movie “A Hard Days Night”, as a wink wink nudge nudge, the performance of “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” is preceded by a TV showgirls routine to the same tune.

This song has only just been released (on YouTube) two weeks ago. Infused with confident Jamaican joy, it invites you to party in a groovy, laid backed way, singing along, whether in tune or not it’s all good, to the catchy chorus: “Happiness – We no inna nothing with stress … (words I can’t discern but it’s okay) … Happiness – We no inna nothing with stress …”

I almost didn’t include this song, because although it emphatically declares “Happiness”, the video is more effective in selling me a car than on joy. But maybe you will find this mid-tempo dance track more endorphin eliciting than I.

That’s the “happy” pop tunes I’ve selected (by which I mean “Happy” pop tunes that actually are happy*). But we will find even more “happy”-ness originating on the stage:

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Pit and Pendulum Image Tease

This is my favorite screenshot of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, my musical short film Edgar Allan Poe adaptation.

I like its visual composition. I like the emotion that radiates from it. I like the mystery that pervades it.

Sharing it may be a bit of a spoiler for the film, but as long as I don’t say any more about the context in which this image occurs, hopefully not too much of a spoiler. And hopefully it will intrigue the viewer, make them curious to see more.

And maybe also stand by itself. Invite the viewer to read their own thoughts and feelings into what they see, beyond its placement within a short film, linked to the actions of the moment or the drama that precedes or follows it.

Just as a still image evocative and meaningful on its own.

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ART EXPO 2022

Once again (as in then and then and then and then), Ed and I went to the Art Expo (it’s nice to get free tickets), this time not at a pier on the Hudson as previously, but at Pier 36 at the South Street Seaport.

Here are some impressions:

Iris Band
Piero Gianfranceschi
Samir Sammoun
Harold Braul
Dewei Zhao
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Central Park at Dusk

The other day I crossed Central Park from West 72nd to East 79th streets just as night was creeping. I had seen a horror film at the movies, and felt inspired to take some moody photos as I made my way through the dusky park.

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BROOKLYN SNAPSHOTS – Part 2

And we’re back, ambling around the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Gowanus, Boerum Hill and Park Slope. Plus a little bit of Red Hook.

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BROOKLYN SNAPSHOTS – Part 1

Walking around my neighborhood I’m sometimes struck by an image, a perspective, a detail that compels me to take out my phone and frame a picture. More often than not these shots are posted on my Instagram account. I’ll collect some of my recent favorites in this post (and the next). Most of these pictures were taken in the Park Slope, Boerum Hill and Gowanus sections of Brooklyn.

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ANTICIPATING SPRING

Here’s to the Blooms of the Ornamental Pear Tree

Spring is just around the corner, this Sunday officially. The crocuses and the daffodils are already blooming in our garden. But the trees are still bare, for now.

The first trees to bloom in our neck of the world, Brooklyn, are the ornamental pear trees. We have many of those aligning the streets and avenues of Park Slope, Brooklyn. They bloom in a splendid riot of white buds that celebrate the arrival of spring like a freeze frame of white fireworks. These blossoms burst before these any other trees show any sign of awakening from their winter sleep. Then when a week or so later the small, light green leaves of the ornamental pear start to appear alongside the white blossoms, the trees look like the most delicious risotto.

Then the blooms fall, covering the neighborhood in tiny white down, and the ornamental pear trees look rather plain, like any old street tree, for 7 or 8 months. Then in autumn their leaves turn a deep crimson red that depending on the year can be just as spectacular in their dark colorfulness as the blinding white of their spring.

This year’s white ornamental pear blossoms are still in waiting. I took these pictures last year. I post them now in anticipation of another riot of cotton candy blossoming.

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P&P – Day 4 (& 5) – On the Rack

I already shared the above picture in a previous blog post about the colors of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”, my short film adaptation of the classic Edgar Allan Poe short story. You probably guessed then (and found it confirmed by the trailer) that that close-up is from the scene where the protagonist is tied to a rack above which something very cutting and deadly swings back and forth – the titular pendulum scythe, natch – getting lower and lower to the protagonist’s chest, threatening death by eventual slow but certain slicing in two.

Above is a shot of me on the rack, as seen through the on-set monitor. My wrists are not yet tied to their restraints. Instead I am holding my folder with the script and story boards. So this is clearly a shot taken during set up. We started shooting the “Pendulum” scene in the evening of Day 4, and continued all through Day 5. In this case that meant all the shots of the protagonist reacting to the pendulum as it swings by again and again, getting lower and lower and lower.

The pendulum itself would be shot separately and added later. I’ll get to that in another post…

Above, Mariana Soares da Silva, our production designer, wraps the strips of cloth around my wrists that would then be tied to the metal attachments on the rack.

I would end up spending most of one and a half days tied down to that rack to get shot after shot, angle after angle. My wrists would only be untied when there would be longer breaks between shots.

The protagonist of The Pit and the Pendulum endures many tortures in Poe’s diabolical short story. The director/actor on the set of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” would endure his own fair share (far less deadly but still uncomfortable). Yet whereas Poe’s protagonist could point to the monks of the Inquisition for his pains, I had no one but myself to blame.

Charlotte Purser, the assistant director, shows me the relevant script section for whatever moment we were shooting next. The on-set monitor would also have to be put in a position where I could see it from this prone and tied down position. The character may be on his back and in bonds, but the director still has to direct somehow.

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Prospect Park / Grand Army Plaza

As I was walking in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park towards the Grand Army Plaza exit, I caught this view through the trees and took a picture with my phone. I like this photo so much I decided it is worth featuring in its own special blog post. Especially since it comes out so evocatively in black and white too.

FYI, that’s the James S T Stranahan statue holding his hat by his side, and a Prospect Park entrance column and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch of Grand Army Plaza in the background.

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P&P – Day 4 – The Pit Beckons

I stared into the abyss, and the abyss stared back

That is a paraphrase of a famous quote from Nietzsche, but doesn’t it read like something Poe might have written? Actually I hear this line in the voice of Werner Herzog, as imitated by Mark Kermode, who will often quote Herzog saying it on his BBC radio review program.

Which is to say, in this P&P shooting diary entry, we stare into the abyss, or more specifically Poe’s dark deadly Pit.

On day four of the shoot for my musical short film Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, we were still capturing shots within the lightless cell our protagonist finds himself in, this time filming his discovery of the pit in the middle of the cell, a pit into which he may have fallen to his death had he not tripped over some rocks and found himself on the ground, his chin at the pit’s edge.

Above is the overhead shot as it appears in the film. Below is how the shot looked on the on-set monitor, with set elements reflected on the monitor’s screen surface.

Here is a close-up of my profile as I lie on the ground by the pit’s gaping maw. This black and white look, as described in my previous on-set diary post, represents the fact that there is no light in the cell, and the protagonist is rendered effectively blind. He feels his chin is resting at some crevice, sensing peculiarly smelling air wafting up from below.

For this shot the circular opening of the pit was cut into a platform that rose maybe half a foot above the ground.

Here is another angle of that same moment. However to catch this angle from within the pit and below its opening, we built another platform which raised the pit’s opening at least 5 feet off the ground. For various practical reasons we couldn’t use that set and the regular cell set at the same time. So this shot was actually captured not on day 4, but on day 7. That’s the way it sometimes goes with film shooting logistics. You have to return to a scene on a completely different day to catch an angle that wasn’t possible on an earlier day.

I feel for and grab a small stone – shot on day 4.

I drop the stone into the pit – shot on day 7.

I listen to the stone fall down the pit – shot on day 4.

Something really upsetting happens after the stone drops – I will leave what that is for another blog post, for now let your imaginations run rampant – this reaction was shot on day 7.

But me scrambling away from the pit and pushing back against the cell wall, that was shot, you guessed it, on day 4.

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Impressions from ASSEMBLY

Fierce and Fabulous

If I was allowed just two words to describe the fantastic performance of Rashaad Newsome’s “Assembly” I enjoyed last night at the Park Avenue Armory, those would be the two.

Given more words to describe the experience, I could wax mightily effusively, but for expediency sake I might just quote: “the evening performance is its own collage of music (band and gospel choir), dance, poetry, and dazzling graphics. It’s more concert spectacle than cohesive theatrical event, but the various components—spoken word (a passionately delivered rant against straight men by Dazié Rustin Grego-Sykes), opera (gorgeously sung by Brittany Logan in a fabulous gold Elizabethan collar), or the fantastic vogue dancing—each contains its own sense of drama and character.

The choreography—by Kameron Saunders, Ousmane Omari Wiles, and Maleek Washington—delivers all the spiraling hand gestures and exciting floor dips that give voguing its strut and structure. But it also offers enlightening variations on the form by slowing it down into a kind of vogue adagio that infuses it with existential longing and a rare melancholy.

(The dancers) make the politics of vogue viscerally felt. When layered and put into conversation with the stellar singers and musicians, Assembly accomplishes Newsome’s aim of honoring Black struggle, ingenuity, and beauty, becoming a living tapestry as rich and magnificent as his bejeweled backdrop.”

Those quotes are from Brian Schaefer’s review in Bloomberg.com, which I recommend you read in full. Assembly, as you may have gleaned already, is not “only” a (brilliant) evening of dance, vogue, music and rap celebrating black trans artistry and community. It also comprises an exhibit and installation and workshops.

These photos are not from the performance (you can see images of that in the Bloomberg article I linked to), but of the exhibit and performance space in the huge Drill Hall in the Park Avenue Armory, which I recommend you experience by arriving 30 – 50 minutes before the performance starts.

Consider these photographs a little visual taste of the full effect (music and spoken text and movement) of the exhibit, and a preamble to the climactic performance itself. Then get thee to the Armory by March 6.

In the Main Cabin/Cargo Bay: “Wrapped, Tied & Tangled” from the Rashaad Newsom Studio.

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NIAGARA at Night

After the sun sets, Niagara Falls is lit with colored lights.

Click here for NIAGARA Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3

First views are of the Horseshoe Falls

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NIAGARA Part 3 – Into the Mist

Looks like I saved the most dramatic pics & vids for Part 3…

(Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2)

We took the elevator from Prospect Point down to the dock where we waited for our tour boat into the falls.

This was August 2020, by the way …

Reminder of the Niagara Falls layout:

The boat takes us past the American Falls.

Approaching Horseshoe Falls

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Wet Snow in the Backyard

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NIAGARA Part 2

A Wider Tour of the World around the Falls

After our first approach to the falls (see Part 1) we walked south from Terrapin Point around Goat Island, with a special visit to the Three Sisters Island, before returning to the American Falls at Prospect Point.

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NIAGARA Part 1

The Rapids along the Path to the Falls

Pics and Vids taken August 2020


We start on the road along the shore at the left side of this map.



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