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The Weekly Blague

When Crosby, Stills & Nash Came to Flatbush

Marquee of the Kings Theatre, May 2015. Photo © Mary Lyn Maiscott.


Though I tend not to wax nostalgic over dead musicians, even those whose music contributed to the soundtrack of my formative years, I was surprised at the surge of emotion I felt upon hearing about the death of David Crosby of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young).


Yes, Déjà Vu was an album I played to death in the early 1970s, and Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" was a personal anthem back when I was living with my parents and they were incessantly telling me, "Cut your hair! You look like a damn freak!" I very much liked his lyric about the paranoia he felt when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw a police car. Because those were the days when my freaky hairdo was a magnet for police attention, and I couldn't so much as drive around the block without getting pulled over for a "routine" license and registration check.


I should also mention a fond memory of smoking hash in my bedroom with a couple of friends and hearing for the first time CSNY's take on Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" come over the radio, with Crosby providing those ethereal harmonies and rhythm guitar, and thinking that a song never sounded so good.


But whatever emotions I've been feeling about Crosby probably have more to do with the last time I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash, in May 2015, when I'd gone back to Brooklyn to meet some old high school classmates for dinner. They all had tickets to see CSN at the Kings Theatre (formerly the Loew's Kings), which was down the street from our high school, Erasmus. I didn't even know they were playing there that night.


In A Brooklyn Memoir, I describe the Kings as "one of the rococo, multi-tiered Flatbush Avenue movie palaces," where for 50 cents I'd often satisfy my taste for Godzilla, vampires, and James Bond, and once saw the Three Stooges make a live appearance. (Moe was an Erasmus dropout.)


Since I fled Brooklyn in 1975, the Kings, after falling into disrepair, had been restored to a sumptuous entertainment venue equal to its original 1929 magnificence. And it was surreal to walk down Flatbush Avenue and see "Crosby Stills & Nash" on a marquee where I was more accustomed to seeing such offerings as The Three Stooges in Orbit.


In any case, I bought tickets to see CSN that night, sat in the balcony with my wife, and listened to one of my all-time favorite bands, still in fine voice considering what they (especially Crosby) had been through, open with "Carry On," and play, among other classics, "Long Time Gone," "Déjà Vu," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," and, yes, "Almost Cut My Hair" (which it's no longer necessary to tell me to do).


And that's why surprisingly poignant emotions have been welling up over a musician I never met, but who touched my life, and in the final phase of his own life came to my old neighborhood to sing his songs.


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Eleanor Rosen Is Alive and Living in West Palm


I describe my mother, Eleanor Rosen, one of the main characters in A Brooklyn Memoir, as an obsessively clean housekeeper, an excellent cook, a lover of art and literature, a hater of Nazis, and a status-conscious woman who was dissatisfied with her lower-middle-class life in a shabby apartment on East 17th Street in 1950s and 60s Flatbush.


Today she resides in an assisted-living facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, and last week my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, my cousin Mark Coplon, and I visited her. Such visits are emotionally difficult, mostly because my mother is unhappy being "in an institution," as she puts it, and would like to live with my brother, Jerry, or me, which would be impossible. She's having memory issues and problems walking; she'd require a full-time aide. Even putting aside the cost of such an endeavor, neither Jerry nor I have enough space.


A conversation with my mother goes something like this:


"How old am I?"


"You're 96, Mom."


"That's old. Do you think I'll make it to a hundred?"


"Could happen."


"Would you ever move to Florida? I'd feel so much better knowing you were near me."


"Our lives are in New York, Mom, but we'll visit you as much as we can. And so will Jerry and Cindy."


To distract my mother from her obsessions, we went outside to the patio, where I showed her the copy of A Brooklyn Memoir that I'd brought with me. Despite her failing eyesight, she recognized my father and me on the cover, and that the photo was taken, probably by her, on Church Avenue and East 17th, down the block from my father's candy store. Then I read her favorite passage, which begins, "Say what you will about my mother. She knew how to cook, and must be given full credit for her near-supernatural ability to transform the most ordinary cut of meat or low-budget piece of fish into something delicious."


Mark-Coplon.jpg My cousin Mark Coplon, a drummer in The Nickel Bag back in the day.


Later, Mary Lyn took out her guitar and sang for my mother, as Mark, who back in the day was a drummer in a suburban garage band called The Nickel Bag, drummed on the tabletop. My mother then looked up into the cloudless Florida sky and saw two hawks circling above us. It reminded her of a lyric from Oklahoma, which she and my father saw on Broadway before I was born. She asked Mary Lyn if she could play the title song from the show. So that's what Mary Lyn played. My mother remembered the words, and we all sang together:


Oklahoma, every night my honey lamb and I

Sit alone and talk
And watch a hawk

Making lazy circles in the sky.


And for a moment my mother was happy.


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The Day They Hanged Eichmann

Schoolkids in June Zero reading an Israeli tabloid featuring Adolf Eichmann on the cover. Photo courtesy of the New York Jewish Film Festival and Film at Lincoln Center.


In 1960, the Mossad kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Final Solution, off a Buenos Aires street and spirited him back to Israel, where he was tried, convicted of crimes against humanity, sentenced to death, and in 1962, hanged. Israeli authorities wanted to quickly cremate the Gestapo colonel and scatter his ashes at sea before his family could claim the body. They didn't want Eichmann's grave to become a Nazi shrine. But the Jewish religion at the time forbade cremation, and there were no crematoria in Israel. June Zero, an extraordinary film directed by Jake Paltrow, tells the story of how a crematorium was built specifically for Eichmann. There's not a wasted frame or moment that doesn't matter in this intertwining tale of a young Jewish Arab who works at the furnace factory where the crematorium is built; a prison official who guards Eichmann; and an Israeli policeman, a Holocaust survivor, who interrogated Eichmann.


June Zero, the "date," according to Israeli officials, that Eichmann was hanged, serves as a sequel to Operation Finale, the 2018 film about Eichmann's capture, and is a parallel story to the Eichmann section of my book A Brooklyn Memoir, about how the people of Flatbush, a neighborhood where many Holocaust survivors lived, reacted to Eichmann's capture, trial, and execution.


In Hebrew and English with English subtitles.


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Song of the Year

If you've read any of my books and gotten as far as "About the Author" (last page of Nowhere Man), then you know I'm married to Mary Lyn Maiscott, whom I call the Mistress of Syntax because, among other household chores, she edits my books. Mary Lyn is also a singer-songwriter who's been performing and recording for decades. Last year, after the horrendous shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which yet another emotionally disturbed man was able to get his hands on an AR-15, in this case murdering 21 students and teachers at the Robb Elementary School, Mary Lyn was so outraged and upset, she was moved to write a song about it.


"Alithia's Flowers (Children of Uvalde)" was inspired by Alithia Ramirez, a 10-year-old artist who was among the victims. Mary Lyn used one of Alithia's flower drawings for the cover art.


The song had gotten some radio play on Michael J Mand's St. James Infirmary show, on OWWR, at Old Westbury College, on Long Island. For his Album of the Year broadcast, Michael chose "Alithia's Flowers (Children of Uvalde)" as Song of the Year. Mary Lyn is among some excellent company, including Jethro Tull, John Mellencamp, Timothy B. Schmit, Janis Ian, and the Rolling Stones.


You can listen to the song and Michael's heartfelt introduction on the above player, beginning at 2:44:30. Or listen to the whole show. Michael, as usual, has selected some really good music.


Here's hoping that 2023 will inspire Mary Lyn to record a happier Song of the Year.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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