Here’s where I’ve put all the odds & ends that don’t quite fit into the other pages. Info on and links to the Websites of my family and friends go on this page, as do various personal interests.
IMMEDIATE FAMILY: With the exception of my brothers, who have Websites to promote, my entire family declined representation on this site. Nothing personal; they just don’t want to be hounded by cyberstalkers, I guess. Here are the brothers:
Stefan, who currently teaches in Phoenix, AZ, and is a member of the musical band Bartholomew Faire. Stefan’s own Website can be reached at .
Jordan, who is still in college. Here’s a link to his Website, which is chock-full o' interesting musings & observations, and has links to other cool folks' sites on it: http://www.monmouth.com/~jdollak/
FRIENDS: I have a number of friends. However, that doesn’t mean they all want to be named on my site! The only one who has a Website is Preston McClear, and that is the Malibu Books for Children site. Here’s that link: http://www.MalibuBooks.com/
PERSONAL INTERESTS: Art, Literature, Music & Film.
Art: My favorite art style would have to be surrealism. My Dad seems to be partial to this as well; when I was little, he would bring home books of pictures by M.C. Escher and René Magritte. I thought these pictures were just the most incredible things, and I wanted to draw just like that! There are lots of great artists out there, both living and deceased. The most famous of the Surrealists must be Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst (Escher is also still popular, but he’s harder to categorize). However, there are a number of lesser-known Surrealists, whose work is well worth looking into. To name a few:
Paul Delvaux. He’s best known for his “dream” paintings, which depict dream-like settings, with the dreamer herself (usually a nude woman) in the foreground.
Leonor Fini. Her paintings almost always feature very aristocratic-looking women, usually with wild hair and in odd surroundings. The colors and composition remind me of the most artistic of Fellini’s and Jodorowsky’s films of the 1970s – yet she was painting like this as early as the 1930s! There’s a compelling, dream-like quality to her work.
Pavel Tchellitchew. His paintings usually feature distorted perspective and translucency of skin. It’s very hard to find reproductions of his works now, but in the 1960s there was a popular poster of his painting “Hide and Seek,” which is at once a picture of children hiding in the branches of a large tree, a portrait of the four seasons, and a sort of weird pageant of life, filled with hidden people and objects. Critical reviews of “Hide and Seek” range from “an ugly picture, confusing and looking like it’s painted with ketchup and mucous,” to “the most profoundly beautiful and meaningful painting ever executed.”
Literature: I feel that the quality of writing is more important than the subject matter, but I happen to be partial to science-fiction. Fantasy and horror are also favorites of mine. Some books I particularly enjoy:
Dune, by Frank Herbert. Possibly the most complex science-fiction novel ever written. It’s been made into a movie twice. Both movies are good, but I strongly recommend reading the book for the full experience.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. This novel – actually two novels – was centuries ahead of its time as a psychological profile of mad genius driven by sheer imagination. Nobody ever wrote anything quite like it again until the early 1960s, when a frustrated young man named John Kennedy Toole wrote…
A Confederacy of Dunces. The adventures of a latter-day Don Q. in 1960s New Orleans. The fact that this knight-errant is young, poor and grossly fat makes no difference. And you’ll love it. If only it had been published before the author had committed suicide!
The stories of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. Both sci-fi. Bradbury’s very poetic and rooted in feelings and emotions. Clarke is very scientific and more concerned with accuracy. Both capture the beauty and grandeur of the universe in their writings.
The plays of Shakespeare. If you find the language barrier difficult to surmount… well, try harder! An annotated copy should help. This is great stuff. And if you feel intimidated by the Bard’s greatness, remember: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is just a silly play about fairies and clowns. Laugh! It’s hilarious stuff! The film Shakespeare In Love, although a work of fiction, is one of the most beautiful and comprehensive tributes to Shakepeare the all-too-human man, and to the creative process in general. If you haven’t seen it yet, by all means do so.
The Odyssey, by Homer. This is classic Greek storytelling, and one of the earliest examples of the hero succeeding, not through magic, nor through divine pedigree, but through wits and resourcefulness. Fans of Greek history can check out the historical Olympic games and Olympics betting.
Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. The story of the Buddha, told through the mind of a turn-of-the-century German existentialist thinker. Its simple beauty will touch your very soul.
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. “What?” you say. “A comic book?” Please – it’s a graphic novel. It’s also one of the most intricate and cerebral looks at the concept of the super-hero in recent years. Furthermore, it takes full advantage of the graphic novel format, defying any easy translation into film or non-illustrated book form. Other great graphic novels along similar lines are Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, and the Astro City series by Kurt Busiek. And I’m not exactly a big comic-book reader.
Music: In the immortal words of Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, “Well, I suppose some like it hot; I distinctly prefer classical music.” My musical tastes are pretty much along the lines of that which is broadly termed “classical.” This also includes film scores written in this style. Now, there’s an awful lot of classical music out there that, while technically very good, simply does not appeal very much to me. A great deal of music written by European composers of the 17th and 18th Centuries is very formulaic, and I frankly find it tedious. However, there are some gems from among those. I think I’ll break the “Music” section into categories.
Pre-Baroque – There’s a great CD out there called Music of Ancient Greece (The title might be in French, actually), which contains performances of pretty much all the music from Ancient Greece that’s been unearthed in written form. It’s really wild stuff! None of it quite sounds like the cool “Greek dance” we hear in the film Time Bandits; but that piece was written by Trevor Jones, who is not from Ancient Greece. (Actually, Stefan points out, that's just what the end credits say. The exact same piece turns up on a Philip Pickett CD called The Alchemist, where it's called "Bacchanalia" and is ascribed to John Du Prez, who wrote the music to A Fish Called Wanda and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So, who wrote it? Neither of us can be certain. Many thanks to Stefan for his additional fact-fixing on this page!) For those who want more recent fare, a lot of great dance music was composed during the Middle Ages, and even better toe-tappers were written during the Renaissance. Some of these were collected by Thoinot Arbeau for his dance treatise Orchesography. Michael Praetorius collected even more (over 300!). Stefan mentions Susato and Mainerio as well. I'll have to listen to some more of his CD collection, methinks...
Meanwhile, in India, the classical Vedic ragas were being codified; this process began at least as far back as the 10th Century, became somewhat standardized during the 13th Century under the rule of the Moghuls, and probably continues to this day – although the “Classical” ragas of North and South India were pretty much established by the late 19th Century, when an English musicologist collected and notated them in a two-volume treatise. For those not in-the-know, a raga is a melody form common to Indian classical music, consisting of an ascending “scale” followed by a descending “scale.” However, it most certainly does not sound like someone practicing their scales. The “ascending” and “descending” patterns can have descents and ascents within them, the intervals can contain microtones or be larger than the half- or whole-steps of Western scales… It’s really quite amazing. Ragas can be played on any tonal instrument, but are most often played on the sitar (a large dulcimer-like stringed instrument that looks like a guitar’s grandiose dream of itself) and accompanied by a tambura (a fiddle-like stringed instrument that provides a drone) and a tabla (a variable-pitch drum). I still think Ravi Shankar is by and large the greatest living sitar player. His own composition Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra has recently been reissued on CD on the EMI label.
Folk music from almost anywhere is a pleasure to listen to, but the styles I really like are those of Eastern Europe: the Slavs, Roms (Gypsies) and Bulgarians. The composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály collected a lot of this music and wrote it down. It’s really hauntingly beautiful stuff. Some organizations have kept this old folk music alive; I can point out a few CDs that are a great introduction to these musical forms. There’s a cheapo budget CD on the LaserLight label called simply Music From Hungary which is actually a collection of performances (and a few compositions) by the great Sandor Lakatos and his authentic Gypsy band. They also put out a great LP ages ago called The “Real” Gypsies, which is well worth a listen if you can find it. There’s also a two-disk set on the Mesa label by “Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares” (“The Mysteres of the Bulgarian Voice”) of a live performance of the colorfully-costumed Bulgarian State Women’s Chorus. You’ve heard some of their songs on car commercials, of all places; and one of their tunes was stolen by James Horner for his score to the film Willow. It’s an acquired taste, but very beautiful, I think. I once heard it said that “these women sound very strong, like they eat lots of potatoes.” Yeah… they do, don’t they…
Baroque – Aside from rustic-sounding arrangements of stuffier-sounding pieces, my favorite Baroque (17th Century) works are the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, an expatriate Italian composer who lived in Spain and whose pieces sound more Spanish (to me, anyway) than a lot of Spanish music written at that time or for years to come. And… there are the six Brandenburg Concerti of J.S. Bach – some of the most delightful pieces he ever wrote, and they weren’t even performed in his lifetime. He wrote them as an “audition composition” for the Margrave of Brandenburg, who was looking to hire a court composer. The Margrave probably looked at the pieces, decided they were too difficult for his musicians (or for himself; he played the viola da gamba, which appears in #6) and decided that Herr Bach was "over-qualified" (there's that pestilential oxymoron!). He didn't award poor ol' J.S. the post. But he put the manuscripts away on a shelf, where they remained until probably the mid-19th Century.
Classical – Strictly speaking, the Classical Period is mainly to be found in the 18th Century. It’s also so stiff & formal that, with the exception of a few incredibly beautiful late piano concerti by W.A. Mozart (They really start to get interesting after #18), I generally find it too cookie-cutter to really enjoy. However, some interesting forgotten work by Johann Christian Bach (one of J.S.’s 21 kinder) is starting to resurface, and it’s pretty impressive. Mozart himself regarded J.C. Bach as the greatest living composer.
Romantic – Now we’re getting into my kind of music. Of course there’s the monumentally great Ludwig Van Beethoven. His symphonic cycle not only revolutionized the symphony, it’s still a lot of fun to listen to. And my favorite of his piano works are: his piano concerto #4 and his piano sonata #31. It’s not the “Moonlight” Sonata. (Not that the “Moonlight” is not good; it’s just not as good as #31, I think.) Now, some scholars categorize Beethoven as a Classical composer rather than a Romantic. I say it’s silly to quibble over such matters, especially when I’m trying to listen to Beethoven. Shh! Or Franz Schubert, whose piano Impromptus are just lovely. Robert Schumann’s symphonies are a lot better than the critics of the day thought. And my favorite of the whole mid-19th Century would have to be Mendelssohn. Felix or Fanny? Hard to say, since brother Felix kinda stole a lot of sister Fanny’s work, making it hard to tell who wrote what. A great many of Frédéric Chopin’s piano works are also hauntingly beautiful, particularly his Nocturne #7 in C sharp minor (Op. 27 No. 1) and his Ballade in F minor (Op. 52). And then there’s that mad genius Hector Berlioz, whose Sinfonie Fantastique is still probably the most head-bangingest, genuinely frightening symphony ever written! It’s got a story to it, which itself is part of a story. Here it is:
Berlioz was in love with an actress named Harriet Smithson. While
she was on tour, he heard ugly rumors about her private life. He wrote
letters to her asking her to come back and marry him, but she was too
busy. (According to Harold C. Schonberg’s The Lives of the Great
Composers, she didn’t even know him, and frankly found his letters
threatening and scary!) So he became addicted to opium and started
writing this strange symphony. The synopsis to the symphony tells
us that the first movement depicts the composer, pining over an
unrequited love, taking what’s supposed to be a lethal dose of opium.
It doesn’t kill him. He drifts into an intense dream-state filled with
visions of his beloved. The second movement is a masked ball, where
the beloved dances with everyone but the composer, and mocks him.
The third movement is a pastoral scene in which two shepherds signal
to each other from the hilltops – then one shepherd stops returning the
other’s calls. A thunderstorm rolls in. (Ooo… symbolism) In the
fourth movement, the composer has murdered his beloved, and an
angry mob drags him off to the scaffold, where he is executed. In the
fifth movement (a fifth? After his death?), he finds himself on a
mountaintop, where he witnesses a witches’ Sabbath, complete with a
grotesque parody of the Gregorian chant Dies Irae. His beloved is one
of the witches. Mwu-hu-ha-ha-haaa!
After some difficulty, he managed to get his symphony performed.
Reviews outside of France were pretty poor, but word spread of this
weird new piece. Miss Smithson read about it, figured she’d better
marry this guy before he fell apart completely, and eventually married
him in 1832 (after he had essentially stalked her for six years). He was
so happy he kicked his opium habit!
They divorced after a few weeks, according to some sources.
Schonberg claims that they remained married until her death in 1854,
but that Berlioz grew dissatisfied with her very quickly and took a
second-rate singer named Marie Recio as a mistress, whom he married
after Harriet’s death.
The Sinfonie Fantastique was premiered in 1830. It sounds like
it was written much, much later! It has a less well-known sequel named
Lélio, which, despite some interesting parts, is not as good and is even
more incoherent as far as programmatic material goes. Its origins,
though, are actually pretty funny, in a morbid way. In 1831, after
Sinfonie Fantastique’s premiere but before finally marrying Harriet
Smithson, Berlioz fell in love with one Camille Moke, who was
betrothed to another. In a fit of rage, Berlioz set out from Rome (where
he was working) toward Paris, with the intent of shooting Camille, her
mother, her fiancé and finally himself. Fortunately, in Nice it dawned
on him that this was a thoroughly stupid idea, and he decided to
dedicate his life to art. He returned to Rome, literally slapped Lélio
together (most of its parts were stuff he’d already written), and
premiered it 1832, the year of his first marriage.
The four symphonies of Brahms are well worth studying. This is real thinking person’s music. His piano works are also quite beautiful. Brahms saw potential in a young Chechoslovakian composer named Antonín Dvořák and helped him get published. (If that composer's name comes out messed up on your screen, it's because one of its letters is not widely recognized. The name looks like "Dvorak," with a tiny "v" over the "r" and a macron over the "a." It's pronounced [think French] "Dvor-jacques." Sorry; there's no really good English way to explain the pronounciation.) Dvořák is best known for his 9th symphony, From the New World, but he also wrote a great set of orchestral “tone poems” based on Chech folklore; the one called The Golden Spinning Wheel has what must be the best love theme ever NOT written for a movie. (If it weren’t in the same piece along with musical impressions of murder, dismemberment and an enchanted spinning wheel that tattles on the evildoers, it would be perfect make-out music.) Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s ballets and his later symphonies (Symphonies #4, the Manfred Symphony, #5, and #6 [Pathétique] as well as his unfinished and reconstructed Symphony #7) are also really nifty.
Impressionistic – The “Impressionist” Period in music coincided with the Impressionist Period in art (1880s into the 1920s), and also seems to have mostly involved the French. (If the aforementioned Hector Berlioz is any indication, the French seem to be partial to doing things their own way, proudly, and fiddle-dee-dee on what anyone else thinks. So there.) There are a handful of composers in this idiom, but the two who really stand out are Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Ravel is unjustly famous for his annoying Bolero, which he felt was a throw-away piece that would be forgotten – he slapped it together at the last minute for some event starring a popular Spanish dancer. But he wrote a lot of really good stuff too, including a Sonatine for piano, a suite called Le tombeau de Couperin, a complicated piano suite called Gaspard de la nuit and the great ballet Daphnis et Chloe. Debussy is even more fun, I think. Almost anything he wrote is worth a listen, especially his orchestral suite La Mer, his two books of Préludes for piano, his suite Pour le Piano and a delightful piece called L’Îsle Joyeuse, which is the inspiration for my book of that title. L’Îsle Joyeuse was itself inspired by a painting by Watteau called The Embarkment to Cythera, with which I’m not terribly impressed; personally, the music reminds me more of the fantastic jungle paintings of Henri Rousseau.
Modern – Some of the best pieces for showing off your stereo system (or blowing it all to bits) fall into this category. Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets is mind-blowing, especially when you consider that Holst was a really shy guy who was quite embarrassed at his music’s popularity. Igor Stravinsky’s ballets The Firebird and The Rite of Spring are phenomenal examples of the composer’s genius. And Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana will hammer itself into your brain on just one hearing (You can hear part of it in the film Excalibur). Alan Hovhaness has written some wonderful pieces, including his Symphony #2 (Mysterious Mountain), Fantasy on Japanese Woodcuts and a piece for orchestra and five humpback whales called And God Created Great Whales.
Now, I know a lot of people, whether they like “classical” or “popular” music, look down their noses at another of my favorite musical styles: Ragtime. Yes! I really like good old-fashioned ragtime. Scott Joplin is an easy composer to list, because he’s so famous. But there are others. Joseph Lamb is sometimes regarded as “the Chopin of ragtime” because his pieces are so pianistic that they don’t translate well to other instruments. Joplin’s Gladiolus Rag, Bethena Waltz, and Solace are great for a summer’s evening. Lamb’s Ragtime Nightingale is another Art Nouveau gem from this elegant and unhurried time.
Opera – Well, there are lots of bigger fans of opera than I. However, there are a few operas I really honestly enjoy. There’s Purcell’s short & sweet Dido and Æneas and Gluck’s atmospheric Orfeo et Euridice. (For some reason Gluck’s opera is often mistaken for the oldest in the standard repertoire, even though it premiered in 1762 and Purcell’s premiered before Purcell’s death in 1695. The explanation is simply confusing: Gluck’s Orfeo et Euridice is often confused with Monteverdi’s 1607 opera Orfeo, which is based on the same Greek myth and is the oldest opera in the repertoire. To make matters more confusing, the oldest extant opera, written by one Jacopo Peri in 1601, is also called Orfeo; but nobody plays it anymore. He is also credited with writing the very first opera, called Dafne; but it was misplaced and never turned up.) There are Puccini’s Tosca, which for its sheer dramatic power and sense of timing are unequalled; Madama Butterfly, which is just very sweet (Mom and I refer to Butterfly’s loutish American “husband” Pinkerton as “Stinkerton!”); and La Bohème, which has the best death scene in all of opera – the moment of death is not saddled with drawn-out arias or cliché musical swells… only an awful, powerful silence before the reality of the death sinks in. Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelungen, though quite lengthy, is full of nifty moments and tells a great tale of larger-than-life heroes, gods and monsters. My all-time favorite, though, is Engelbert Humperdinck’s (not the pop singer) Hansel und Gretel. The children’s parts are full of the fun of childhood, there’s a snappy tune around every corner, the story’s great for young & old alike, and it’s got a delightfully wicked witch in an edible house besides! What more could you want?
For a hilarious, irreverent yet scholarly overview on music, check out these books on the subject by David W. Barber: Bach, Beethoven and the Boys, When the Fat Lady Sings and If It Ain’t Baroque…
Film Scores – Of course, John Williams’ scores for the Star Wars movies are fantastic. However, some of the best scores are much older, and suffered from terrible recording technology or sloppy editing into the film itself. One is Sergei Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. An orchestral suite from this score, arranged by the composer, has been available for many decades. However, in 1993, a note-for-note reconstruction of the complete score was recorded onto CD. It’s amazing! The disc is available from RCA Victor’s Red Seal collection. The other great “lost” soundtrack that has finally gotten the recognition it deserves is that written by Sir Arthur Bliss for the sci-fi film Things to Come. A 32-minute-long suite has finally been released on the Chandos label, as part of a disc called The Film Music of Sir Arthur Bliss. This is, for all intents and purposes, the complete score Sir Arthur wrote for the film.
Film: Again, I must break this into categories.
Science-Fiction – 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Fantasy – The Star Wars movies, both Thief of Baghdad movies and Excalibur.
Comedy – Some Like It Hot.
Musical – West Side Story. Brigadoon also holds a special spot in my heart.
Drama – Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout, Ken Russell’s The Devils and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
Animation – The Wallace & Gromit movies, and Yellow Submarine.
Documentary – Walking With Dinosaurs.
Horror – Perhaps Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu, the Vampyre, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Hitchcock’s Psycho and The Birds are perennial faves, too.
Action – The Indiana Jones movies, Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and The Rocketeer.
Movie Based on a Shakespeare Play – The 1935 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Prospero’s Books and Titus.
Hard to Categorize – Fellini’s Satyricon.
Television: I don’t watch much of what’s on television. Personally, I find much of it to be too pedestrian for my tastes, and often rather offensive. Now, before you jump to any conclusions (or get really confused about how something can be at once pedestrian and offensive), let me explain: By “pedestrian,” I mean ordinary, predictable. And I mean beyond the fact that the main characters probably will not die – I mean that the problems are ordinary, the reactions to the problems are ordinary, and the outcomes are typical TV-land outcomes, in which everything is resolved and restored to “normalcy.” (Relax, America, your way of life will prevail and continue!) By “offensive,” I can at times be referring to just this pedestrian characteristic; or I can be referring to the equally unimaginative efforts of certain executive producers to be daring and original. Has anyone else noticed that programs lauded as “daring and original” are invariably peopled with vicious, backstabbing characters (not that there aren’t any in real life, but c’mon! May we please see some people with redeeming qualities once in a while? It’s a little harder for impressionable viewers to degenerate into copies of TV villains if they can see how the villainy hurts the good guys – and ultimately the villains themselves), and that the scripts are full of foul language? There’s nothing daring or original about vulgarity. It’s just really unpleasant to listen to and indicates that the character probably has nothing constructive to say.
Okay, so now you know what I dislike. What do I like to watch, then? Well, the programs I watch regularly are anything Star Trek . Yes, I am a Trekkie. Live long and prosper. No, I do not go to all the conventions and wear rubber Spock ears. But I do have a model of the Enterprise on top of my computer monitor. What I find so appealing about the shows are the fact that it appeals to the more noble of human qualities. While so-called "reality TV" (probably the most contrived garbage on the airwaves) concerns itself with nonsense like who's gay and who's sleeping around with whom, Star Trek and its spin-offs deal with ideas. What's out there? What can we do to increase our understanding of other cultures? Are we really all that different from one another? Where is artificial intelligence headed? What are the ingredients in a Klingon pound-cake, anyway? Things like that. I also enjoy The Simpsons (which hasn’t been funny since creator Matt Groening left the show to concentrate on another program I watch, called Futurama), King of the Hill and The X-Files. No, I am not necessarily a Fox network fan. It’s just that most of the shows I prefer happen to be on that network. I also enjoy what Public Television has to offer, especially nature documentaries. National Geographic, Nature and Nova know how to put together a nifty presentation.
I’ll also watch Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link; but I don’t follow them closely or keep score. I just like to see if I know the answers to the questions.