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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/15/20

Happy Wednesday, Tax Day and Steve Fishman’s Birthday!



When many of us were kids, the world seemed simpler and our communities smaller and more inter-connected. We watched the same TV shows (and knew the schedule by heart), we watched the news with either Huntley/Brinkley or with Walter Cronkite (I suppose the occasional oddballs tuned in ABC, but we didn’t associate with them), read the same magazines (generally, Time, Newsweek, and Mad), and shopped at the same stores.

A common complaint about modern society is its increased granularization—we increasingly are associating only with people who look, act and live where we do. We consume endless amounts of programming that is curated for our tastes. We get our news from different sources (or non-news sources of propaganda), often biased and often not fact-checked or edited. What news we consume often is light years different from what our neighbors read. We seem to lack a common purpose.

I don’t believe that our current dilemma (or any tragedy) is a “message” to us or that somehow we are being “tested.” It just happened and now we’re dealing with it. That said, from adversity often comes transformation. Perhaps a byproduct of what we’re going through is a growing sense of community. We’re all in this together. The virus does not stop at the City limits; it doesn’t attack one race or religion. It is indiscriminate in its ubiquity. We’re all on lockdown. We’re all impatient. We’re all losing wealth (some from savings; others from decreased or non-existent income). We all know people who have gotten sick or have died. Increasingly, we have been thrown together with delivery people; we’ve been trying to provide support to the kitchen and bus staffs of our favorite restaurants; we appreciate our service providers. We are grateful for paramedics, nurses, and police. In our isolation and reflection, perhaps we have learned to treasure our connections to others.

Maybe, just maybe, that feeling of shared experience and common purpose will come out of this.



For those who follow these Musings, you know how much I love Sondheim. So does Samantha Millman, who provided the following recommendation of a Sondheim-esque spoof (which I watched; it’s fantastic):

“Since you are a fan of Sondheim (I share your sentiment that he is the best theatre talent ever), you might enjoy Season 3, Episode 3 of the show Documentary Now! The episode is entitled “Original Cast Album: Co-Op” which is a parody of “Original Cast Album: Company” and follows the stars of a fictional Broadway musical as they record their cast album on the day their show is prematurely closed due to poor reviews.”

After having watched this, I poked around some of the other shows in Documentary Now! There are 21 episodes spanning three seasons on Netflix, mostly take-offs on real documentaries, all having a great style—complete with Masterpiece Theatre style introductions by Helen Mirren. There’s a takeoff on Nanook of the North, another on Jiro Loves Sushi (called Juan Likes Rice and Chicken), and another starring Cate Blanchett as a performance artist. If you like Christopher Guest (and who really doesn’t), you will love these mockumentaries.



There is a subgenre of non-fiction about common, often forgotten, things that are both essential and world-changing. Consider how the spice trade upended Europe and the world order. Here are a few “quirky,” yet entertaining books:

  • Salt - A World History, by Mark Kurlansky (2003). A New York Times best seller. ‘The only rock we eat’… Kurlansky charts the fascinating history of one of the most common and ubiquitous chemical compounds. As in his other works of nonfiction, Kurlansky uses a seemingly simple subject matter as a vehicle to present precise historical research in the form of compelling and fascinating tales. While Kurlansky notes Homers assertion that Salt is a ‘divine substance’ that literally keeps us alive, he shows in relatively short book how it became a principle economic, social and culinary commodity that shaped the world in which we live.

  • Coal, A Human History, by Barbara Freese. This is a short book that begins in the 14th century tells the story of this initially convenient form of climate control, charcoal, the pollution of 19th century London, the role in production of iron, price fixing and corporate greed, the role of labor and the rise of the labor movement, and climate change.

  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansky.

  • The Story Behind: The Extraordinary History Behind Ordinary Objects, by Emily Prokop. Very cool stories about ordinary stuff.

  • The Fifties, by David Halberstam. Okay, so not really about odd things. But it’s a book with many small chapters on many things that happened in the Fifties or came from the Fifties (like McDonald’s, Disneyland, cars with fins, Holiday Inns, U-2s, “I like Ike,” etc.).

  • The Way Things Work, various. This is here for fun—it is a relic of my childhood. This book, published in 1967, was a gift from my parents. It was a marvelous book that unlocked the mysteries of technology of the era. I read from it voraciously. Much is still relevant. The front cover boasts, “From the ball point pen to the computer, from the Polaroid Camera to the Atomic clock…” Included are the tape recorder, dry cleaning, briquetting, and spinning—all the advances of modern society. The Foreward (sic) describes the book as a joint Anglo-American project of translation from the original German edition, “Wie funcktioniert das?”



Since this began, the L.A. Phil has been offering several short videos “inside the music.” This is a five minute clip of Symphonie Fantastique with three orchestra members describing their favorite parts of the piece (clarinet, bass, E-Flat clarinet). I was introduced to this symphony that tells a story—of opium dreams, unrequited love, madness and art— back in my junior year of high school and have loved it ever since. Give it a try:



“When we no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Wishing you a great day,


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