Mike Nichols and me

Mike Nichols and I are related…going WAY back. A couple of years ago I sent a swab of my DNA (saliva) to an organization called 23 and me which offers ancestry-related genetic reports. My Haplogroup is J2. Here’s what 23 and me has to say about it:

Haplogroup J2 is thought to have appeared somewhere in the Middle East towards the end of the last glaciation, between 15,000 and 22,000 years ago. Its present geographic distribution argue in favour of a Neolithic expansion from the Fertile Crescent. This expansion probably correlated with the diffusion of domesticated of cattle and goats (starting c. 8000-9000 BCE) from the Zagros mountains and northern Mesopotamia, rather than with the development of cereal agriculture in the Levant (which appears to be linked rather to haplogroups G2 and E1b1b). A second expansion of J2 could have occured with the advent of metallurgy, notably copper working (from the Lower Danube valley, central Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia), and the rise of some of the oldest civilisations.

I am in the subgroup J2b2:

Nowadays J2b2 is found chiefly in south-east and Central Europe, but also in Russia and throughout the Indian subcontinent. All these elements reinforce the hypothesis that J2b2 and G2a3b1 were two minor lineages spread within an R1a-dominant population during the Indo-Aryan invasions of South Asia approximately 3,500 years ago.

Another conceivable possibility is that a minority of J2b2, G2a3b1 and R1b-M269 from the Caucasus region migrated to the Volga-Ural region in the early Bronze Age, propagating with them the Proto-Indo-European language and bronze technology to the Caspian steppe before the expansion of this new culture to Central and South Asia. The drawback of this hypothesis is that it doesn’t explain why R1b lineages strongly outnumber J2b2 and G2a3b1 in Europe but not in South Asia.

Some famous people (men) who are J2:

  • Sir John Anthony Pople (subclade J2b1): was theoretical chemist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 1998.
  • Burt Bacharach (subclade J2a1-L556/L560): is an American singer–songwriter, composer, record producer and pianist. A six-time Grammy Award winner and three-time Academy Award winner, he is known for his popular hit songs and compositions from the late 1950s through the 1980s.
  • Mike Nichols (subclade J2a1b): a German-born American television, stage and film director, writer, producer and comedian. He is one of a small group of people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award.
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz (subclade J2a1b): a Turkish-American cardiothoracic surgeon, author, and television personality hosting the The Dr. Oz Show.
  • Matt Lauer : an American television journalist best known as the host of NBC’s The Today Show since 1996.
  • Alexander Zhulin : is a Russian ice dancer who won the 1993 World championship, and the 1993 European championship, as well as two Olympic medals (1994 silver, 1992 bronze).

If you watched the PBS show Faces of America a couple of years ago, still available online, you saw the portraits of 12 famous Americans, including Mike Nichols, Meryl Streep and Eva Longoria. It turns of that of all the famous Americans profiled by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in this documentary, Eva Longoria has the oldest family roots in America, as her ancestors  sailed from Spain in 1603.  In 1767, Pedro Longoria, Eva’s 7th great-grandfather, moved north to what is now Texas and received almost 4000 acres along the Rio Grande in a land grant from the King of Spain.

But, back to Me and Mike Nichols. In this article,  Is Mike Nichols Related to Everyone?, you will see that he and I are also related to Meryl Streep (!!!!!!!!!!!!) and Albert Einstein (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

38th AFI Life Achievement Award Honoring Mike Nichols - Show

Phern's web photo

albert einstein





On Thanksgiving: Richard Blanco, U.S. Inaugeral Poet

Richard Blanco (born February 15, 1968) is an American poet, public speaker, author and civil engineer. He is the fifth poet to read at a United States presidential inauguration, having read for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the youngest person to be the U.S. inaugural poet. (Wikipedia)

Here is the Thanksgiving excerpt from his poem America:

A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain’s majesty,
“one if by land, two if by sea”
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the “masses yearning to be free”
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.

Here is an excerpt from his new book, The Prince of Los Cocuyos, with a Thanksgiving theme:

Book Excerpt: Richard Blanco’s First ‘San Giving’ | Advocate.com.


Friend Linda Zaretsky on the front lines!



My good friend Linda Zaretsky joins the protest in support of Michael Brown’s family in Carbondale, IL, while on her birthday/Thanksgiving visit to her family’s home.  According to her daughter Natasha, “My Mom is front and center in this photo, which is where she’s been for the last fifty years when it comes to justice. Love you, Mom!” That’s her holding the yellow sign “We are not the enemy”. If you double  click the above photo you can see  a larger photo, and then read the local news article below.

You go girl!


Interview with Joni Mitchell

The Interview: Joni Mitchell

by Elio Iannacci

November 22, 2014

Published in Canada’s Maclean’s magazine

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell on Georgia O’Keeffe, the Kardashians, the men she loved and her life in B.C.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan Galit Rodan/CP

In a rare and wide-ranging interview spanning 90 minutes, singer-songwriter-artist Joni Mitchell spoke from her home in Los Angeles. Her latest project, a box set called Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced, combines her experience as a Grammy-winning musician, a painter and a dance enthusiast by collecting 53 songs into four discs from 40 years of recording.

Q: You just celebrated your 71st birthday in L.A. at the Hammer Museum. Were you happy with the way the tribute went?

A: It was wonderful but now I’ve got laryngitis because I partied too hard—for three days straight.

Q: You once said it was painful to go back and relive your work. This project had you reviewing 40 years of work. Was it distressing?

A: I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a hard time condensing what I wanted to say into one act [or disc]. In that form, the story lacked nuance. Four acts [on four discs] was a challenge but I was lit up to do this.

Q: So what was the motivation this time around?

A: The war ballet [Fiddle and the Drum, performed by the Alberta Ballet Company in 2007] was so well received—especially by men. It was suspenseful, rude and rowdy. Cowboys threw their hats in the air and screamed, “Yahoo!”

Q: Debussy and Duke Ellington are the gold standard you’ve always wanted to get to. Can you say you have reached this bar?

A: No, not at all. I would hate to reach that bar because I wouldn’t be able to listen to anything I’ve done. At least I have some things that I am in awe of.

Q: You’ve always produced yourself. Why?

A: Producers don’t go for something new. For example, on the song Number One, I heard the groove in my head and a very long brush . . . “shhhh-chchchc.” I couldn’t find it and the drummers couldn’t give it to me. One night at the end of a session, the tape was rolling off the heads and made the sound. I went, “That’s it.” I always look for the driving wheel of the feel of a piece of music. Sometimes that wheel finds me.

Q: You’ve long been preoccupied with tapping into what you call the “theatre of a song.” Can you explain what that means?

A: They are all stories. I have to deliver the lines with the right read. I feel like Marlon Brando. He [brought] credibility to the dialogue. God, when I hear people cover the song River with a smile on their face—and you can hear the smile—that is so wrong for the theatre of the song. It’s melancholy. If you are singing it with a smile, it means you’re just a singer, not a performer.

Q: You’ve voiced concern over what you call the “push-button generation of today.” What is impairing us the most?

A: Everything is about channel changing. It has ruined attention spans. I spaced out in school but I didn’t develop attention-deficit issues because I placed attention on my imagination and ignored the curriculum. I didn’t have a million newsfeeds to contend with. It is just like when I have people over to my house to watch a film—it’s like living in a Robert Altman movie! They are always talking over each other. We are all losing the plot. It’s an addiction to phones and too much information.

Q: What repercussions do you think future generations will feel now that everyone is on their phone during concerts, etc.?

A: Here’s an example. My grandson and I were sailing on a boat and he said, “It’s boring.” I asked, “How can you say it’s boring? The sun is shining, we’re going across the water so fast . . . ” And he said, “Not fast enough.” Technology has given him this appetite.


Q: Speaking of which, you’ve been smoking since age nine—which is its own unhealthy addiction. Ever tried to stop?

A: It is a clarity drug for me. If I couldn’t smoke, that would take away my attention. I would be scattered.

Q: The University of Lincoln has a call-out for essays about your work. What recordings caused the most change?

A: I get letters from people that give me some idea of how the songs go into their life. The interesting ones are life-changing. Malka [Marom, co-author of Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words,] having heard I Had A King, went home that night and left her husband. Most of the time [my music] is a pleasant distraction.

Q: In Borderline you write about a world “prickling with pretention.”

A: The song investigates why people divide. In Japan, they have a pecking order of smart and dumb according to blood. A man asked me what my blood type is because he thought I was A-type—which he said was “smart blood.” It is human nature to pull rank one way or another. By principle or blood type.

Q: John Lennon told you that parts of your album Court and Spark were a product of “over-education.”

A: That’s a class difficulty he had. He’s a working-class lad. I’m sure he had that same fight with [producer] George Martin because he was afraid that he was betraying his class. I know I’m going to get into hot water if I get into this but I have controversial opinions about him. I watched this [English film], which was a roundup of the best musicians of the 20th century. As soon as it hit my era, the intelligence of it dropped considerably. When it came to me, this guy folded his arms and crossed his feet and said, “I never liked Joni Mitchell—she’s too twee.” Well, that’s what John Lennon was like. It was that fear working-class people have of middle-class people.

Q: Unlike many, you feel compassion for Hollywood stars trapped by their fame and often quote a poem called The Fishbowl, which you wrote when you were 16. When you see reality-TV shows such as Keeping Up With The Kardashians, is that empathy still there?

A: I wouldn’t watch that show. Ever. They are asking for it. That’s a whole other ball game. They want it and they are thick-skinned and they don’t care whether they look good or bad. I felt sorry for celebrities with talent when I wrote that poem; Sandra Dee was breaking up with Bobby Darin and all the magazines had pictures of her with mascara running down her face, all paparazzied out.

Q: The poem has a line about “the gilded bait” of fame that so many of these stars desired. Did you ever feel like you took the bait?

A: No. I’ve never been very ambitious. I never felt like I had any talent. I was a painter but the musical and writing gift hadn’t come in—even though that poem is pretty precocious.

Q: I imagine Chinese Café would be one of the toughest songs to revisit for this box set. The lyrics—“My child’s a stranger / I bore her / But I could not raise her”—speak to your daughter.

A: That’s before she came back. I was a little more romantic. When we were reunited in [2000], wow, I had my hands full. We’ve worked through everything now. We’ve become this funny little dysfunctional family that I’m so glad exists.

Q: A female singer in popular music is easily perceived as being a songbird, vamp or a diva at any given time in her career. Do you feel you were able to dodge these perceptions?

A: Oh yes, I had the respect of my musicians. In jazz circles, the girl singer was tolerated and called “the chirp.” For the most part, these women were accused of having bad timing and not being able to spontaneously compose. I heard sessions with Billie Holiday where she would have no power in the room. It’s a man’s world. Men wrote most of the songs for women and they were mostly tales of seduction. I wrote my own songs. That ended that.

Q: You’ve called yourself a musical outlaw because of the way you compose. What would you say is one of your most notorious crimes?

A: The two [songs] that stand out that people just hated were Ethiopia and Moon at the Window. I still can’t see what is so eccentric about those pieces. I think that work was closer to jazz than I have ever gone but I was working harmonically outside the laws of jazz.

Q: Laws you felt needed to be broken. For example, your use of suspended chords in songs—which you say men cannot wrap their heads around. Why?

A: Men need resolution and suspended chords keep things open-ended. You go to a man if you have a problem and he tries to solve it. You go to a girlfriend and she’ll pat you on the back and say, “Oh yeah, I get it.” She doesn’t try and come up with some stupid solution.

Q: Many of your paintings reflect so much political commentary as well. Regarding the images you created of George W. Bush, Stalin and Hitler—used in yourFiddle and Drum ballet—do you feel like the ideals from these leaders are still alive and well?

A: Oh God, yes. Toronto had a crackhead for a mayor! What does that say? The distribution of wealth has become so extreme. I think I am the last of the middle-class voices.

Q: When you hear about Stephen Harper’s stance on climate change, what do you think?

A: The leadership in Canada is horrible right now. My country has changed so much since I left. My experience of it was all about seeing that puritan work ethic and that tall-poppy [syndrome]. You know, “Don’t stick out or we’ll be glad to lop your head off.” It is all so tied with American business.

Q: Why don’t you see much dissimilarity between the two countries?

A: I don’t see much of a difference. Especially in Calgary—which is now full of Texans. They’ve mutilated the province. They are starting to announce [ecological problems] now like its news but this happened long ago.

Q: You sang about that in Big Yellow Taxi in 1970.

A: I was just Chicken Little when I wrote that . . . people thinking I was screaming, “The sky is falling.” Well, it is falling now.

Q: Two other songs on this box set—Not To Blame andNo Apologies—also sound like they could have been written yesterday. They touch on the current discussion of sexual abuse and violence against women.

A: You know I did an interview with a CBC commentator. I exorcised the house after this guy left. I smudged it and opened all the windows. Now it comes out that he has been fired from CBC. People kept saying, “What a great interviewer.” I didn’t think so. After about the 20th one, I said, “What did you think was great about it?” That he couldn’t knock me over? They would look stunned when I said that. To me, his behaviour was overtly hostile.


Q: You stated in the book—Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words—that befriending two young gay men as a child in Saskatoon helped you realize your gifts.

A: They—Peter and Frankie—taught me to dream big. They were musical protégés. As adults, Peter went into an opera company and Frankie became the choir director at a Montreal church. They didn’t play gender roles either. They let me [pretend to be] Roy Rogers. When I played with the other boys, they would never let me be Roy or assume leadership. They’d have me be the German who was to be shot. That’s the story of my life. I always had to be the villain because I was the only girl with a pack of boys.

Q: Your song Two Grey Rooms was another ahead-of-its-time song. Was there pushback from the record company recording a song about one man falling in love with another?A:

They always pushed me back but I take as much liberty as I can get away with. That’s why I’m not a feminist. When I heard, “You can’t do that, you’re a girl,” I went ahead and did it anyway.

Q: Yet feminism was monumental in the ’70s.Why weren’t you interested?

A: I’d rather go toe to toe with a guy than have a posse. I’m like Katharine Hepburn—I don’t know why but I just feel equal. I thought people should fight for their rights individually—not in a group. The feminists I met were so hostile. They would say, “You like men and they just want to f–k you.” They were browbeating me. They were also so undomestic. I have a lot of respect for domestic women. A lot of them were made graceful by supporting and serving a man. I tried to cook for two men but it was a thankless job.

Q: One of the songs missing on this project is Ladies of the Canyon. Recently, Annie Burden—one of the women you write about in the song—said that she looks back at the song as “a painful perspective of my own naïveté.”

A: That time was naive and she was the good ole lady back at home baking brownies. It was the romantic notion that we were going back to the pioneer days. In the end though, the ’70s became apathetic. The hippies sucked their thumbs and turned into yuppies.

Q: You’ve stated in your liner notes that the Grammys look like a porn convention. Many people consider Beyoncé to be subversive. A:

I once found the whole pimp-ho underbelly very interesting too. I’m not afraid or critical of that scene—I find it very colourful. But when it rises to the top and you find a five-year-old saying, “Plant it here, bitch,” we’ve got a problem. America loves to glorify its criminals. It’s not good for children.

Q: Sinead O’Connor wrote an open letter to Miley Cyrus pleading she not allow the music industry to make a prostitute out of her.

A: Right on. That’s what it’s become: “show us your tits!” I also got buried at Geffen Records because of it. Girls were being harassed and [executives] told me, “Your music doesn’t make me feel young and happy.” Whitesnake was their lead act and when the company got sold for the fourth time, I called the owner and said, “My name is Joni Mitchell, I am an artist on your label, did you know that?” He said, “No.” I said, “Of course you didn’t because you haven’t made a dime so the people buying from you don’t know either, so give me back my masters.” Well, he wouldn’t.

Q: Not many people know about your friendship with Georgia O’Keeffe.

A: She was a testy old bird. She reminded me of my grandmother. When I first visited her, I left her a book of my drawings. She didn’t like that and threw her head back like, “Oh for God’s sake” and left the room. Months later, I was reading an interview with Georgia and she was saying, “In another life, I would come back as a blond soprano who could sing high, clear notes without fear.” I visited her many times afterwards. She confided in me, “I would have liked to have been a musician too but you can’t do both.” I said, “Oh yes you can,” and she leaned in, like a little kid, and said, “Really?” They gave her a hard enough time as it was as a woman painter! She told me that the men said she couldn’t paint New York City and she did anyway.

Q: Somebody must have come along and tried to marry you again.

A: I had several loves so I’ve lived it. There was Graham [Nash]—who was very affectionate and that was a warm and friendly love affair. Then the next one was [musician] John Guerin, who loved women, his mother and grandmother were great women and taught him to be naughty in the best way, but mine is a very hard life. I’m sick a lot. The men in my generation bascially didn’t know what to do if their women got sick. It was a very narcissistic and irresponsible generation. Peter Pans were everywhere—especially artists—and they were very self-centred.

Q: What do you do to stay informed? Do you travel or go online a lot?

A: I can only take two flights a year or I’ll get sick. I spend half a year in British Columbia and I just drop off in the bush. My life has been somewhat overstimulating so I’ll never get bored. I don’t watch news. I’m not a fish so I don’t want to get caught in the net so I’m not on the web. I only use my iPhone as a camera, I don’t even know my number. I don’t belong to this modern world and I’m out of it, but I don’t want in.

The Divine Miss M

I first heard Bette Midler in 1972 when my gay roommate Ray brought home the new album The Divine Miss M, containing songs she made famous singing at the Continental Baths in NYC, including the great ‘Do You Want To Dance?’, ‘Friends’, Hello In There’, and ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’.  She said in 1998, “Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I’m still proud of those days. I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of ‘Bathhouse Betty’ with pride.” She was and always will be a gay icon. Her new album “It’s The Girls” is a tribute to the girl groups of the 60s…and more. Here she is on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Kimmel:

Here is the trailer from the album:

The Kale Margarita, a Ridiculously Healthy Cocktail

When my friend Melinda gave me her Magic Bullet blender, which she was no longer using (it’s complicated), I told her ‘this will help me eat kale’. I just had to have that superfood.  I’m not crazy about cooking it or putting it in a salad, so this small speedy blender for one was a great idea. As soon as I got it I started making  kale smoothies: with yoghurt, blueberries, apples, carrots, cucumbers, pears…lots of combinations. Every day I would report to her on the kale smoothie of the day. Then I added, “Oh, and I made a margarita last night too.” She said, “Just as long as it’s not a kale margarita!” I thought, Why Not? I already consider tequila to be a health food drink (probably not)…adding kale will make it a monster! So I googled kale margarita and decided to try it out.  Here is my favorite recipe:

The Garden Variety Margarita, Saveur Magazine

My version: get a Magic Bullet Blender from Target


Put all of the following ingredients in it until totally liquified and smooth:



1 teaspoon  crushed ginger
crushed ginger
One handful of  baby kale greens
2 oz. blanco tequila
tequila silver
2-3 oz. lime juice
1 teaspoon agave nectar
Salt, for rimming the glass…Salud!
kale margarita
For non-drinkers, this drink without tequila is still fabulous.

My Own Private San Francisco Masked Bandits…defeated.

It was 10 years ago that we landscaped our backyard and transformed it into the beautiful garden that it is now.
2005 house view of backyard
The centerpiece to the garden is the pond, seen here in 2005:
 2005 House pond
For about 8 of those years I have been battling nightly visits from the Bernal Heights dwelling raccoons.
…and their determination to ruin the pond.  
Build It And They Will Come.
racoons 2
They destroyed two pond liners, at a great expense to me. Then my gardener Remy and I began a several year trial and error, morstly error, scientific project to outsmart them, save the pond and allow me to keep my fantasy going of having a fountain. We eliminated the pond liner and  divided the pond into two sections, made of two sturdy plastic/rubber tubs. We surrounded those tubs with earth, plants and rocks. That stopped them from destroying the actual pond. Then I survived another 5 years of nightly destruction of every fountain I ever had. 
I cannot tell you how many fountains and pumps we went through. I found them at the bottom of the pond and strewn about the yard with tiny teeth marks on them. By the way, we gave up on fish a long time ago.
2005 Koi pond
These masked bandits use the pond and fountain as their night time waterpark. The drought has not helped either, with so little water around for them to drink or play in…not that I am getting sympathetic here.
I acually gave up on everything a few months ago, and just let the water sit there. But I kept searching for a better idea, another way to still have my fountain. Finally, Remy came up with a great idea: to secure the fountainpiece between large cement blocks inside the pond and to put the old round millstone on top of it, also made of cement, with the fountainhead barely sticking out…so the raccoons could not budge it or knock it down. As of today it has been two weeks of problem- free fountainizing! The timer turns it on around 8 am and off around 6pm. Remy says it’s better than Versailles…he’s French, so he should know.
I’m listening to it right now. Ahh.
Now you guys will have to find somewhere else to play/torment humans.



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