I can’t honestly affirm that winter is my best-loved time of year. Though I will admit it produces some phenomenal – and singularly glaring – images. Further what I can say without irresolution is that just being alive is a huge profit! Now let me be clear, I don’t say this merely to repeat the obvious which is that being alive is axiomatically a win. I mean to capture the broader perspective; namely, that being alive at any time, now or in the past, young or old, with or without whatever, rich or poor, healthy or decrepit, sane or bonkers, is by any other standard unimpeachable. Just being alive is so far beyond comparison that it begs the adage, “The best things in life are free”. Free because that’s essentially the mechanics by which we get what we’ve got.
Nor for a second do I fantasize that my present circumstances have anything to do with anything other than chance. Say what you will about the critical elements of life, every one of them was free as far as I’m concerned. It would in my opinion amount to unpardonable and superior absurdity and arrogance (quite apart from hopelessly misguided presumption and an utter corruption of thought) to advance or imagine that we have somehow “paid” for any one ingredient of life, as though we wrote the script or score, libretto or screenplay for any of the innumerable talents or performances of humanity. We don’t control a particle of time or creation any more than the common weed or rose. And clearly not the weather. In the result every element, including both the worst and the best, was and is free.
It is hardly to be suspected that any one of you would suggest your perils in life were something for which you paid in advance, for which you left a deposit or transferred a gratuity, to which you were perversely entitled. Yet both the perils and the fortunes are proven or accepted as merited by our silly standards. We queerly promote or assign the favour or disparity by our own preposterously fabricated rules or other travesties of biology, history or reward. We had nothing whatever to do with any of it. We take the good with the bad; and we have earned both equally. Don’t flatter yourself. Even good looks and intelligence – or hard work or artistic talent for that matter – are just accidents of life. So get over the other blandishments; and just enjoy the feast with the rest of us! Make no mistake, we’re all sitting at the identical table. We’re in this together, feeding at the same trough.
Today as I fulfilled my habitual custom (which you’ll be rapt to hear I shall not, for fear of damaging your ear drums or gastric sensibilities, repeat or reiterate or poetically or otherwise insinuate) I listened to Jackie Gleason’s Orchestra. It was another of those inexorable benefits of Apple Music (conveniently, I might add, as close to one’s mercurial whim as Siri). And if you require any proof of what I have just stated about life, you need only consider Gleason’s biography (of which I have here attached only a segment of the best without alluding to the worst).
John Herbert Gleason (February 26, 1916 – June 24, 1987), known as Jackie Gleason, was an American actor, comedian, writer, and composer also known as “The Great One”. He developed a style and characters from growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and was known for his brash visual and verbal comedy, exemplified by his city bus driver character Ralph Kramden in the television series The Honeymooners. He also developed The Jackie Gleason Show, which maintained high ratings from the mid-1950s through 1970. The series originated in New York City, but filming moved to Miami Beach, Florida, in 1964 after Gleason took up permanent residence there.
Gleason enjoyed a prominent secondary music career during the 1950s and 1960s, producing a series of bestselling “mood music” albums. His first album Music for Lovers Only still holds the record for the longest stay on the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks), and his first 10 albums sold over a million copies each. His output spans more than 20 singles, nearly 60 long-playing record albums, and more than 40 CDs.
It isn’t all sweetness and light. Moments prior to listening to “The Best Things in Life are Free” by the Jackie Gleason Orchestra I listened to the Artie Shaw Orchestra performing “Got the Misry” (featuring lead vocal Tony Pastor with composition and lyrics by Artie Shaw, Walter Bishop, Emma P. Lafrenière and Willie Smith).
Widely regarded as “one of jazz’s finest clarinetists”, Shaw led one of the United States’ most popular big bands in the late 1930s through the early 1940s. Though he had numerous hit records, he was perhaps best known for his 1938 recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” Before the release of “Beguine,” Shaw and his fledgling band had languished in relative obscurity for over two years and, after its release, he became a major pop artist within short order. The record eventually became one of the era’s defining recordings. Musically restless, Shaw was also an early proponent of what became known much later as Third Stream music, which blended elements of classical and jazz forms and traditions. His music influenced other musicians, such as Monty Norman in England, whose “James Bond Theme” features a vamp possibly influenced by Shaw’s 1938 recording of “Nightmare”.
And if you think the connection between Artie Shaw and James Bond is unprecedented, consider too Shaw’s more remote and less frequently expostulated connection to Stravinski’s “Firebird“.
The Firebird ballet draws from Russian folklore. With the help of the mythical Firebird, Prince Ivan Tsarevich seeks to free thirteen princesses who have been imprisoned by the spells of an evil sorcerer Koschei. Through dancing, The Firebird casts her own spells on Koschei and his guards, making them fall asleep. The Firebird then guides Prince Ivan to a tree stump to destroy an egg where Koschei hid his soul, which breaks the evil sorcerer’s spells, and the princesses awaken and are freed.
You can see where I’m going with all this, it’s an interminable path of fortuity and chance. Whether it were Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval tales or the fruition of what you learned yesterday afternoon at the coffee shop, it’s all but a dot along the astronomic trail of light. If you happen to have any substance whatsoever by which to contradict this gratuitous theme I shall be delighted to suffer the endurance, granted a calculated affront, but really I have little if any expectation of sustainable debate. And the cost? Nothing. Free Gratis, as the late John Hawley Kerry was wont so learnedly to observe.