Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


There’s a vogue for rockers of a certain age singing pre-rock standards lately. I’ve heard about, but haven’t heard, Rod Stewart’s attempts. Boz Scaggs’s take on “What’s New” features some Elvin Jones-esque drumming, which is always a plus. Boz doesn’t sound either heartbroken or stoic or self-deprecating, and since it’s a stoicly self-deprecating heartbroken song that means he misses the point, but it’s not terrible. He sounds a little miffed in an attractively breezy and masculine way.

Barry Manilow -- well, maybe he doesn’t count as a rocker covering old standards, because he probably doesn’t count as a rocker. But, like the Carpenters, his thing was informed by rock. Whether or not he counts, I recently heard his version of Glenn Miller’s theme song, “Moonlight Serenade.” Gorgeous melody (one of Miller’s few hits that he wrote), gorgeous big band arrangement, and Barry’s beautiful voice, singing the words with perfect idiomatic ease and emotional connection. Banal words, but sweet and romantic, to go with the ultra lush romantic tune and arrangement.

Carly Simon -- another rock-era star of dubitable rocker credentials -- does the most poignant version of “My Funny Valentine” that I’ve ever heard. I heard it on the pre-rock-pop station a couple months ago. At first I was thinking, oh Carly Simon, she has a nice voice, giving a rather emotionally cool rendition that suits her. And then the words and Simon’s cool rendition hit me hard. “Is your figure less than Greek? Is your mouth a little weak? When you open it to speak, are you smart? No.” Oh, how sad! The man is not smart when he speaks! Nor is he particularly good looking! And his lover is openly telling him! How hard on his dignity!

Pretty brilliant, the gender switcheroo. I’d always thought of that song as tender. It’s not. It’s as tender as an insult. So what if the singer desires the subject of the song. It’s still an insult. Funny how I never noticed how insulting it was until I imagined myself as the sung-to, not the singer.


Old friend Nick Griffin, of San Francisco, writes in regard to American musicians significantly modifying their instruments:

“Do you know about the adaptions to the banjo machines that allow you to bend notes and then return to the original tuning?  I think Bill Keith might have invented them but maybe not since Earl Scruggs used them.  They're a cool device.  I had them on my banjo.

“I heard Earl on Fresh Air a few weeks ago. First time I'd heard him talk.  I studied banjo with his text book.  It was a cool interview, especially when his wife came into the booth. She's managed him and Flatts and Scruggs all these years.  They sounded so unpretentious.”


In my post of January 29, I failed to mention the heavy metal elements of Brown’s herkin’ guitar solo. Blues, metal-of-blazing-speed, and country licks all came together in an ear-grabbing way. It was the lyrics, when they came in, that did nothing for me.

And -- Nick’s right. The banjo string-bender was a dandy mid-20th century development of an already-existing instrument. Earl Scruggs is a serious master and a major dude.


Bush's National Guard record has been in the news quite a bit lately. Apparently he failed to show up at required physical exams, lost his flight status, and didn't show up for his last year and a half of duty. The "Boston Globe" reported this in 2000, but most of the press ignored it.

We can thank Michael Moore for bringing the issue back. He and Wesley Clark took a lot of flak because Moore called Bush a "deserter" at a Clark rally, and Clark didn't repudiate it, thereby opening him up to charges of intemperence and Bush-hating. Others have written, accurately, of the painful double-standard here: how Bush has NEVER been asked to repudiate the ads comparing Democrat Max Clelland, the Viet Nam vet who lost three limbs while serving, to Osama; and no Republican has EVER been criticized for calling Clinton a draft-dodger, which he wasn't. Because of the higher standard to which the press holds Democrats, Moore's comment may have hurt Clark's candidacy, but it helped the Anybody But Bush party.

Thanks, Michael Moore.
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