Paul Simon On World Cafe

Paul Simon.

Paul Simon. Mary Ellen Matthews/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Mary Ellen Matthews/Courtesy of the artist

  • “The Werewolf” (from Stranger To Stranger)
  • “Wristband” (from Stranger To Stranger)
  • “Riverbank” (from Stranger To Stranger)

Paul Simon releases his 13th solo album, Stranger To Stranger, today. In making the album, he did some things old-school — like luring his longtime engineer, Roy Halee, back behind the desk. But, as he always does, he worked hard to find new sounds. A wealth of percussive sound drives Simon’s new material, which incorporates Harry Partch’s avant-garde instrumentation, tracks from the Italian electronic artist Clap Clap and field recordings.

World Cafe sat down with Simon last month at his rehearsal studio, where he discussed several of the songs on Stranger To Stranger. He says that, at 74 years old and with so much work in his catalog, he often finds he’s competing with himself. Hear the conversation above.

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The Metropolitan Opera Baton Passes To Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in New York in February 2015.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in New York in February 2015. Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

It’s not quite right to say the news came as a shock when the Metropolitan Opera announced Thursday that Yannick Nézet-Séguin would become the house’s new music director, beginning in the 2020-21 season. He follows in the footsteps of James Levine, who said in April that he was stepping down after leading the Met for four decades.

Nézet-Séguin, a 41-year-old Québécois conductor, is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He had long been the subject of intense speculation by opera fans, who thought he might ascend to one of the world’s most prominent and prestigious posts.

Discussion has also ranged wide in the classical music community about what such a succession plan means during a particularly bruising era at the Met. Limp ticket sales and financial woes are ongoing. The wounds of a bitter public battle between the house’s management and unionized musicians — which nearly led to a lockout two years ago — are still healing. There was also a stinging appraisal, published last year in the New Yorker, of the Met’s internecine warfares, even among the company’s board members.

Nézet-Séguin’s news came in two bursts Thursday morning. The first was that the affable Canadian was being granted the Met podium, along with a title that has only been given to three conductors in the New York house’s storied history. Less than 20 minutes later, the Philadelphia Orchestra announced he is also extending his contract there until at least the 2025-26 season.

I spoke to Nézet-Séguin by phone Friday in Tokyo, where he is on a tour of Asia with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The conductor was cagey about what he plans to do at the Met in terms of repertoire; he said that more details will come this fall, though he did say that his engagement leading Wagner’s Flying Dutchman in the spring of 2017 “is maybe the beginning of more involvement in the next few seasons in German repertoire.” He also said he is beginning to think about how his two East Coast appointments might intersect collaboratively.

But what he was more interested in discussing now is how he envisions his role in the Met’s mission — and how he is already trying to signal his intentions to the world.

Shortly after yesterday’s announcements, the Met organized a livestreamed video presentation with Nézet-Séguin, who appeared via video hookup from Osaka. Gathered in New York were Met general manager Peter Gelb; two leaders of the Met’s board, chairman Ann Ziff and president/CEO Judith-Ann Corrente; Jessica Phillips, acting principal clarinetist in the orchestra and the chairman of the musicians’ union committee; and the orchestra’s concertmaster, David Chan. (I have known Phillips as a friend for more than 20 years, and was unaware she would be part of the presentation.)

Nézet-Séguin said in the Friday interview that the symbolism of bringing that particular group of people together was highly deliberate, given the Met’s widely known struggles between all those constituencies. “You know, one function of the music director — or one privilege, I should say, which becomes a function or even a mission of mine — is that the music director is at the center of all of these forces,” he said. “There are many, many, many components of the Met family, and an opera house as big as this one is a huge family. And I see the role of the music director as being maybe someone who can bring people together, the way a conductor is bringing people together, whether it’s onstage or in the pit.”

“I believe this is the role, institutionally, that I should have,” he continued, “and this is why we did the announcement in this significant way. I’m a team player, and what attracts me to the Met is that it has the potential to be just the greatest team in the world. It was symbolic. It was an indication of the spirit in which I already intend to have my own voice in the whole Met family.”

He said there were pressing reasons to have made the announcement at this particular juncture, even though he was halfway around the globe at the time: “First, James Levine announced his resignation and became music director emeritus. A house with the importance of the Metropolitan Opera has got to have a plan in place, so that at least we have a certain vision of where it’s going. Even if I’m not on the podium so much in the next season, I will start immediately being involved in all the planning, because it is all four to five years in advance. So it’s necessary to have someone there right away to have someone there in charge of the music.”

“I can understand how some people who don’t know how the opera world works are a bit surprised that it’s only starting in 2020,” he said. “But quite frankly, reading some of the articles today, I was surprised that some of the insiders of our world did not understand that actually, 2020 is the season that we’re planning right now. The rest of the seasons are planned and cast. Everybody knows who’s conducting, who’s singing. A house like the Met is always planned four to five seasons in advance. There was no way I could start earlier.”

“The second reason to make the announcement now is that this is the end of the season for both the Met and for Philadelphia, so I think it was only fitting,” Nézet-Séguin said. “And that leads to the third reason. It’s important to have a certain clarity about my commitment to both institutions, both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Of course I’m aware that there’s been some speculation for quite some time, and nobody is so surprised that I’m here at the Met now. But that also means that there was a lot of speculation in Philadelphia about whether or not I would renew. And I’m so happy that the two institutions could come together in a really collaborative spirit, in terms of what it indicating what it means for the future, and have this secured. And then we can really imagine, plan and dream, together and separately, where we’re heading for.”

Nézet-Séguin adds that he believes that his ascension at the Met might also mark an opportunity for the house to reshape its identity — not just in the opera world, but as a wider presence in New York.

“There is this role for New York as a city, as a community, and as a very diverse city, to maybe diversify our offerings — to be the house of the entire city, and therefore maybe be an example also internationally of how we can be the house of every people, and make opera passionately relevant to as many people as possible,” the conductor said. “One deep value that I have in the next months, and years, is to work with the Met’s staff and with every artist who are giving their skills and their hearts to this institution, to develop and imagine how the Met can be as present as possible in the hearts of New Yorkers and everyone else in the world.”

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To Solve This Puzzle, You Must Name A Person Of Fame

Sunday Puzzle.


On-air challenge: For each word given, name a famous person, past or present, whose name contains it. In each case, the word will bridge the first and last names. The dividing point is for you to discover.

For example: SWILL —> Venus Williams

Last week’s challenge: Name a common household item in six letters, change the middle two letters to a P, as in Peter, and you’ll get the five-letter last name of a famous person who professionally used that item. What’s the item, and who’s the person? So again, a common household item, six letters, change the middle two letters to a P and you’ll get the five-letter last name of a famous person who professionally used that item. What’s the item and who’s the person?

Answer: Camera —> (Frank) Capra

Winner: Daniel Rosenblum of Teaneck, N.J.

Next week’s challenge from listener Harry Hillson of Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J.: What is the most consecutive points a tennis player can lose and still win a best-of-five-sets match? There’s no trick. It’s a straightforward question. The modern tennis tiebreaker rule does not come into play.

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday, June 2, at 3 p.m. ET.

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Chicago Releases Videos Of Police In Alleged Excessive Force Cases

Rev. Jesse Jackson comforts Laquan McDonald's aunt Tanisha Hunter during a vigil for the 17-year-old McDonald in November, 2015.

The city of Chicago today released hundreds of videos of police shootings and arrests, some in cases where critics contend police used excessive force. The city is struggling to regain public support for its police force after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Since then other shootings in Chicago, many involving young black men, have fueled ongoing public outrage in the city.

Rev. Jesse Jackson comforts Laquan McDonald’s aunt Tanisha Hunter during a vigil for the 17-year-old McDonald in November, 2015. Paul Beaty/AP hide caption

toggle caption Paul Beaty/AP

In the McDonald case, the Chicago Police Department didn’t release a video of that shooting until a court ordered it more than a year after McDonald’s death. When the video finally was released, it appeared to conflict with police accounts of the shooting. It showed the teenager backing away from officers when he was shot. In the latest development in that case, a Cook County judge agreed yesterday to appoint a special prosecutor to try the police officer who shot and killed McDonald.

By releasing the trove of video footage and other records today, officials are attempting to restore trust in the police force. “These past few months, as this city has struggled with so many questions about policing and about police accountability, it has been clear that we all agree that there’s a lack of trust and that increased transparency is essential to rebuilding that trust,” Sharon Fairley the chief of the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, said at a news conference.

In one of the videos just released, an officer shoots a man after he charges toward the officer in an aggressive manner. In another case, police are shown slamming a handcuffed woman onto the hood of a car.

Chicago authorities say in the future they will release video of shootings and other violent incidents involving police within 60 days of the incident. The recordings include videos from police body cameras, patrol car dashboard cameras, as well as audio from 911 calls.

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Alan Clare On Piano Jazz

June 3, 20164:06 PM ET

British pianist Alan Clare (1921–1993) was Marian McPartland‘s guest at the BBC’s Delaware Road studios in London. Clare began his professional career at age 11 and went on to work with George Shearing, Stephane Grappelli and Spike Milligan. He also fulfilled regular engagements at the London residence of the U.S. Ambassador for parties honoring guests such as Queen Elizabeth and President Reagan.

In this 1990 episode of Piano Jazz, Clare plays his composition “John O Groats” and joins McPartland for a go-around in “In A Mellow Tone.”

Originally broadcast in the spring of 1990.

Set List
  • “John O Groats” (Clare)
  • “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” (Ellington, Russell)
  • “Squeeze Me” (Ellington, Gaines)
  • “You And The Night And The Music” (Dietz, Schwartz)
  • “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Ellington, Russell)
  • “Holland Park” (Clare)
  • “Dreams Of Castilla” (Clare)
  • “Twilight World” (McPartland, Mercer)
  • “A Girl Like Me” (Clare)
  • “Is It Always Like This?” (Wilder)
  • “Where Are The Good Companions?” (Wilder)
  • “In A Mellow Tone” (Ellington, Gabler)

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U.S. Women's Soccer Team Cannot Go On Strike, Court Rules

The U.S. women's national team — including Meghan Klingenberg, seen here in a game Thursday — doesn't have an option to strike, a federal judge says.

The U.S. women’s national team — including Meghan Klingenberg, seen here in a game Thursday — doesn’t have an option to strike, a federal judge says. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Affirming the status of a collective bargaining agreement, a federal judge sided with U.S. Soccer today, ruling that players on the women’s national team are prohibited from going on strike by their collective bargaining agreement.

The case is separate from a federal complaint filed by several high-profile players filed against U.S. Soccer in March, when they accused the federation of wage bias.

The status of the players’ labor agreement had been in dispute: It expired at the end of 2012 but was extended by a memorandum of understanding that the players association had recently threatened to end if “significant progress” wasn’t made in talks for a new contract.

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman’s ruling in Illinois’ Northern District removes the possibility that the American women might refuse to play in this summer’s Rio Olympics as part of the maneuvering over their union contract. The specter of a work stoppage led U.S. Soccer to file a complaint in early February, seeking a court order to prevent a potential strike. As a result, the players will now continue to operate under the terms of a CBA that dates to 2005.

The federal wage case that was filed by several star players — including Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, and Alex Morgan — centers on a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accuses U.S. Soccer of paying the reigning World Cup champions far less than it does their male counterparts.

The U.S. women’s national team will begin its Olympics campaign in Brazil on Aug. 3, facing off against New Zealand.

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'Art Bastard': A Rebel With A Canvas

The artist Robert Cenedella, who is now 76 now, in his studio in the early in his career.

The artist Robert Cenedella, who is now 76 now, in his studio in the early in his career. Robert Cenedella/Courtesy of Cavu Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Robert Cenedella/Courtesy of Cavu Pictures

Robert Cenedella, the titular painter in the briskly entertaining new documentary Art Bastard, is a New York artist who has spent years battling the New York art establishment. To be clear, he is a bastard, in that he was born to parents who weren’t married. But also in that he’s an inveterate troublemaker — a mocker of other artists — who can be a thorn in the side of even people who are trying to help him.

A publisher, say, who once offered him an ad on an art magazine’s back cover, only to have him submit an image of a faux Rothko with the word bulls*** scrawled across it. The publisher, who had thought he was doing Cenedella a kindness, suddenly found himself in a position of either censoring the ad or endorsing what amounted to an attack on another artist. He ended up publishing, but did so, he tells director Victor Kanefsky, with “annoyance.”

Perhaps understandably, Cenedella has never been a fashionable artist. He says his heroes were 1920s and ’30s activist painters like Ben Shahn and George Bellows, who painted bread lines and Depression scenes.

“They recorded history,” he says admiringly. And they had “legitimacy” (a word that crops up a lot in this documentary) because their works were hanging in museums. But by the time Cenedella was hitting his stride, abstraction had taken over the art world — the poured and dripped paintings of Jackson Pollock, for instance, in which expressing a point of view was impossible. Quite apart from which, says Cenedella, “where people might say, ‘well, that’s a bad Hopper, or a bad El Greco,’ I’ve never seen anyone say ‘that’s a bad Pollock.’ Either they’re all bad, or they’re all good.”

That sort of dyspeptic view did not endear Cenedella to the art establishment. His own paintings, meanwhile, influenced by the fiercely political early work of his mentor and teacher George Grosz, were about the bustling New York he lived in: colorful, action-packed, vibrant, with caricatures of real people.

In the film, director Kanefsky makes his paintings kinetic from the opening shots. A subway painting called Fun City Express is filmed in jiggly close-ups that pan across painted straphangers so that it feels as if you’re riding the A train with them.

Another painting started out as a satirical piece about boxing, but when Cenedella realized he had painted one of the boxers to look like the father he grew up with, he decided to make it more personal. He painted the other boxer to look like the man he later learned was his real father.

Robert Cenedella's Father's Day was therapy on the canvas.

Robert Cenedella’s Father’s Day was therapy on the canvas. Courtesy of Cavu Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Cavu Pictures

“They’re punching each other, and I was the one getting hurt. This was definitely a painting where I was doing therapy on the canvas. So what else are you gonna call it? Father’s Day.”

How’s that for putting “legitimacy” at the forefront of your work?

Legitimacy in the art world, though, is something determined by galleries and museums, and the film chronicles why that sort of legitimacy has mostly eluded Cenedella. Some of this is self-inflicted. In the 1960s, the explosion of Pop Art — a movement he had no use for — led him to set himself up as the anti-Warhol. For a show he called Yes Art in 1965, instead of Campbell’s soup cans, he painted Heinz soup, and in place of Warhol’s lithographs of Green Stamps, he gave out actual Green Stamps to people who bought his paintings.

It was a joke that worked. The press went wild. It could have been his moment had he done more of it, but he said no, that to do more of it would just have made him “one of them.”

And therein lies the rub: Art Bastard is a film about a man who has tilted — and continues to tilt — at the art-world equivalent of Don Quixote’s windmills. He is hardly alone in that. Lots of talented artists will never be shown in museums. And lots of talented artists would doubtless agree with his assessment that the cultural establishment has rigged the game.

“It’s not what they show that bothers me,” he says quietly while visiting a museum in the film, “it’s what they don’t show.”

And they still don’t show Cenedella. But at least for the moment, movie theaters will. And the film company has arranged that some of those theaters will have his work hanging in their lobbies. Not quite the legitimacy he was looking for, but a victory of sorts for a proudly unrepentant Art Bastard.

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Push To Crack Down on Drug That Killed Prince Echoes Fight From 1980s

Above are fentanyl pills, as shown by the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Medical Examiner's Office. That's the same drug believed to have caused Prince's death. Lawmakers are debating ways to cut down on its use.

Above are fentanyl pills, as shown by the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Medical Examiner’s Office. That’s the same drug believed to have caused Prince’s death. Lawmakers are debating ways to cut down on its use. AP/Cuyahoga Medical Examiner’s Office hide caption

toggle caption AP/Cuyahoga Medical Examiner’s Office

Criminal penalties for possessing the highly addictive opioid substance that authorities say killed music icon Prince could soon be going up, if one senator gets her way.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has offered amendments to a defense spending bill that would trigger a mandatory, minimum five-year prison term for anyone caught with as little as half a gram of fentanyl. The current trigger for such a punishment is 20 times that amount of the drug. Fentanyl is often used in hospitals to treat severe pain.

But, in recent years, it’s contributed to a spike in overdose deaths, particularly in New England. The dangers of the drug are not in dispute. But advocates are bitterly divided over whether to treat fentanyl use as a criminal justice crisis or a public health emergency.

That debate turns to Capitol Hill next week, when the Senate considers the National Defense Authorization Act and the Judiciary Committee holds a hearing Tuesday about “deadly synthetic drugs.”

A bipartisan group of lobbyists and interest groups, who have been pressing Congress for years to roll back penalties for drug crimes, call the proposal a “huge step backward.”

“There’s a strong push to do criminal-justice reform for drug-related crimes,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This flies in the face of all of that.”

Collins said half a gram is so little that, if a prosecutor wanted to build a case against someone who used the drug — like Prince — in theory, that could subject them to a minimum five-year prison term.

Intent to distribute” has to be proved, but, as Collins points out, trafficking charges are often easily tacked on by a prosecutor saying a user planned on selling it to a friend. That’s exactly what often happened with crack cocaine.

Fentanyl use in the Northeastern U.S. has risen “exponentially” over the past two years, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2014, heroin traffickers began spiking that drug with fentanyl to boost its strength. A DEA spokesman said fentanyl is 25- to 50-times stronger than heroin — and also more profitable for drug cartels.

“People who engage in criminal behavior like drug use are not deterred by harsh penalties,” Jason Pye of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks wrote in a new blog post. “They commit crimes because of addiction and the chances they will not be caught…There is very little reason to believe that harsher penalties will deter use.”

Pye said that the best response is not punishing addicts but rather offering them more drug treatment and targeting enforcement efforts at the international drug trade.

“Though the DEA estimates that fentanyl is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, the penalties for trafficking in the two drugs are significantly different,” Ayotte spokeswoman Chloe Rockow said in an emailed statement. “As New Hampshire battles a growing substance abuse crisis, the state has seen an increase of overdose cases linked to fentanyl. With support from NH law enforcement, Senator Ayotte introduced legislation — and this amendment — to ensure that the penalty for trafficking in fentanyl reflects the deadliness of that substance.”

New findings from a medical examiner about the death of Minneapolis-based star Prince have once again vaulted fentanyl into national headlines. The brief report released this week attributes the musician’s death to a self-administered dose of the drug.

For drug-policy experts, the echo to a long-ago fight over the danger of drugs is both familiar and alarming. In 1986, basketball star Len Bias died of a crack cocaine overdose at age 22. Lawmakers swiftly passed a mandatory minimum penalties that have since been criticized as contributing to racial disparities in punishment and over-crowded prisons.

“We’ve been here before,” Collins said. “We’re seeing the same type of hysteria around fentanyl that we saw in the 1980s around crack.”

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