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

Thursday, April 29, 2004


As I drove to work last Friday the local college folk-jazz-world-music-news station played a tune that caught & intrigued & delighted my ear. Clarinet, vibraphone, a brass instrument, bass & drums started in an attractive Steve Reich-like repetitive pulse pattern, broken by the vibraphonist’s improvising in a jazzy manner. The whole ensemble shifted to a jazz style, then to a raucous free-jazz style and back to a calmer, more conventional jazz style. The smooth naturalness of the transitions impressed me, and I was anxious to hear where the piece would end up, having traversed over a few different styles, but I worried: it was coming hard upon 9 o'clock, I knew the news started then, and I knew the station's volunteer DJs often put on tunes too long for the time left allotted for them. Would this DJ vex me up by robbing me of the tune's resolution? Alas! She did! She faded out the tune & faded in, a second late, the BBC World News report. Why! Why do they do this to me! It's so disrespectful! Disrespectful of the music! If you only have time for a 3 minute tune, don't play a 4 minute tune! Don't cut it up! Don't hack it to bits!

That was my reaction a week ago, but now, after calm reflection, I'm happy to have heard what I did hear of the piece, grateful for the enthusiasm of the volunteer DJs, and amused and embarrassed by my constant irritable reaching after fact and reason, my inability to be happy in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts. I mean, isn't radio listening often a fragmentary experience? I admire, though not to the point of wanting to emulate, people who love music and books and movies without ever being able to remember the names of the pieces or who made them. I suppose it's possible to be happy to emulate them when circumstances force me to. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


From the current issue of the BBC Classical Music Magazine:

"A Miami driver accused of violating the city's noise ordinance by playing loud rap music, was sentenced by a judge to listen to opera as his punishment. He chose LA TRAVIATA -- and enjoyed it. 'I think it's pretty relaxing,' he said."

Football stadiums and lawn mowers routinely break the noise limits, but the people writing the laws make exceptions for such practices. How about that.


The other day I realized: When someone in a car is listening to (usually rap) music so loud that the bass frequencies audibly rattle the car's doors and windows, the car itself becomes a de facto musical effect, like an electric guitarist's fuzz box. Pretty cool.


Music happens differently in different spaces. One of the problems with recorded music is that any single specimen re-creates at least one (often more) acoustical space which is then projected into a second space. And with amplification, much recorded music of the last 75 years creates a fictional space, where a singer murmurs intimately in your ear as a band wails mightily in some psycho-acoustical background "place." Mick Jones of the Clash -- to take an example that struck me on the radio the other day -- conversating about "Somebody Got Murdered" as Topper Headon pounds the drums. The pounding drums create the illusion of loudness; Jones's singing creates the illusion of quiet; the listener can choose quiet or loud as the setting. A very different *work of art* than a live performance of the song, which can only be LOUD in that particular arrangement.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


The baby fell asleep in my arms as we listened to a recording of a calliope playing Sousa’s Liberty Bell March (song 3 on the link), but when I put him in his crib he exploded in shrieks of anger. I picked him up and rocked him to sleep again, and when he exploded a second time upon impact with the crib matress, I told him he needed to nap and left the room hoping he’d cry himself to sleep. I went in and checked in every once in a while, and after about an hour of his screaming I went in and started singing a song my grandpa taught me, which his mother had taught him. The baby, who had been sitting and screaming, immediately got quiet. I sat down and kept singing, and he stayed quiet, but when I told him to lie down, he cried. I lay down at the foot of the bed opposite his crib, facing him, and kept singing, eventually switching to another waltz (baby dude loves him some waltzes). He sat quietly, awake, alert, and eventually I sang myself to sleep. Only just barely dozed off for a few seconds, woke up and laughed, declared victory for having gotten him to stop screaming, and got him out of the crib, whereupon we had a nice lunch and played for a couple hours in perfectly good cheer until he finally did go down for a nap. I guess for some people there’s nothing so refreshing as an hour-long scream when you’re sleepy.


The writer Devin McKinney informs me that Rod Stewart’s drummer on “Every Picture Tells a Story” is “Mickey Waller, one of the greats.” Judging by this one record, yes!

Josh Ronsen of The Pierre Boulez Project affirms that Boulez called for the destruction of all art of the past in 1971, when Boulez was 50, and more than 50 years after F. T. Marinetti first requested the past’s disappearance. Mr. Boulez, your demand was a little passe, huh?

And the composer and critic Kyle Gann, proprietor of the postclassical music blog PostClassic, though a staunch critic of the academic serialism promulgated by Boulez, nonetheless recommends two of Boulez’s compositions, “Pli Selon Pli” and “Rituel.”

Question answered, fact clarified, and music recommended -- thanks!

Monday, April 26, 2004


Heard 3 terrific records driving home from work this evening. First, on the "quality rock" station, "Every Picture Tells a Story" by Rod Stewart. I didn't catch all the words but he made the hooky repetitive melody sound urgent, and the syncopated staggering rock drum pattern between vocal lines just rocked. Gotta look that drummer up. He has a religious fervor about the snare drum -- I can only nod my head, squint, and respectfully, satisfiedly, say, "Yeah." At one point Stewart mentions his inability to quote Dickens or Shelley or Keats, noting that it's all been said before -- I don't remember the exact words, but the rueful & subversive wit of the line! Rod & the drummer take it up a notch for the finale, as he chants "every picture tell a story, don't it" and the whole band wails.

I turned the dial to the "great songs, great memories" station & heard Johnny Mathis sing "Misty," and at the end of the instrumental break when he comes in a measure or two early with a high falsetto note, starting quietly and building into the reprise of the last strain, singing "Aaaaaahhhhhnn my own / will I wander through this wonderland alone," -- it melts me. That high note, sneaking up on you.

Then the same station played Linda Rondstadt singing "I think I'm gonna love you for a long, long time," a cry, a love-lost lament, with a great sobbing vocal making that enveloping melancholy mood, until the very end when she takes it up a notch too and sings harder and more heartbroken and more desperate even than before as the melody makes a variation too, "I've done everything I know to try and make you mine" -- oh, it's great. Catharsis.

The songs build beautiful patterns of expectation, and at just the right moment -- THAT moment -- the singers (in one case aided by the drummer) break the expectation with an excess of knowing feeling. Excess. Excess. Can't get enough of it.

Sunday, April 25, 2004


I wrote the other night on April 20 about the rhetorical influence of the talented and lively (and literally Fascist) poet F. T. Marinetti on 20th century modernist arts. Reading his stuff again today, I came across "The Pleasure of Being Booed," dated 1911-1915, shortly after his initial Futurist manifesto. It is, but naturally, another list of rules:

"1. We Futurists, above all, teach authors to *despise the audience* and especially to despise first-night audiences . . .

"2. We especially teach *a horror of the immediate success* that normally crowns dull and mediocre works. . . .

"3. Authors should have no preoccupation except *an absolute innovative originality*. . . ."

Marinetti -- he's the secret rhetorical wellspring for 20th century avant-gardism and manifestoism. These rules read like the "crazy uncle" who tells all the family's suppressed secrets.


On Thursday night I posted on how music makes people feel good. Last night we had friends over for dinner, and when it was time to put the baby to bed, our five-year-old friend played some soothing piano music to help calm the baby so he would sleep. The sweet music may have helped do the trick (the baby went down without a fuss), though I nervously asked our friend to play verrrry quietly.

The pianist had had no lessons. His mother, a good pianist with years of training, told me the five-year-old had told her, "I just play what I feel."

Music makes me feel good. Once more with feeling.


My friend Nick Griffin wrote me on Friday:

"Who sings that song "Alone Again, Naturally"?  I thought I saw on the web Gilbert O'Sullivan. Was there a '70s singer named that as opposed to the Pirates of Penzance composers?

"I heard that song this morning in a coffee shop.  Man, it's great."

John replies:

Great song! Yes, it's Gilbert O'Sullivan, whose real name, I learned at this web site, was Raymond Edward O'Sullivan. He was born in 1946 in Ireland, and he also sang the lovely song "Clair," which was about his manager's daughter.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


One of the slogans of the Oldies station caught my ear today. "Music that makes you feel good!" A nice idea, right? And true enough, often enough, for me.

It's also a cliche. A conceptual cliche. "Music makes people feel good." A few nights ago I posted on how I dislike conceptual cliche but have less trouble with descriptive cliche. It turns out I have no problem with conceptual cliches either, if I agree with them.

The other night, when digging around Robert Christgau's writings, I found part of the introduction to his terrific book Grown Up All Wrong on line, and I copied this passage because it captured this cliche (which I fervently endorse) in specific and engaging imagery.

"I'm driven by a continuing quest for music that will serve some function or other in my life and yours--inspire, amuse, enlighten, calm, excite; help a person do the dishes or stay awake on the interstate, get through a bad night or a good marriage, know beauty and feel truth."

"Feel truth" is not the same as "feel good," but the other functions can fall under the banner of my local Oldies station. And Christgau is right. Music can help a person feel truth.


Heard “New Year's Day” by U2 on the Quality Rock station driving to work this morning.  One of The Edge’s best guitar solos – beautiful, really – I’ve always admired The Edge – and it struck me like it never had before just how solid the bassist & drummer are, how they keep things moving, how dramatic and stoic and rocking that bass riff is.

Good melody too. I’ve warmed to Bono over the years.  A 19th-century long-hair Romantic type of singer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Three nights ago I posted in defense of the term "driving beat," which Robert Christgau considers a cliche.

Today I'm feeling that it may be close to a semi-technical musical term, like "swing."

Our definitions of rhythm are famously imprecise, "swing" included. "Driving beat," I would characterize as having a feeling of pushing the beat restlessly forward, accenting just ahead of where the beats fall. Swing, typically, accents just behind where the beats fall, producing a paradoxical feeling of liveliness and relaxation. Driving beats don't have that relaxation vibe.

Driving beats drove rock from the beginning through the mid-'60s. The beats fell more mellowly through most of the '70s, even a lot of heavy metal. John Bonham of Led Zeppelin swung. Punk drove the beats forward again, as did techno and house music.

If someone has a better term for this phenomenon, I'm all ears. But it's the best I can come up with.


My friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey wrote me today:

No good radio in the AM going to school, but just heard My Sharona on the radio-equivalent in the coffee shop downstairs.

Good tune. S'got that new wave singing going on, but the lusty lyric justifies the quavering intensity. The kicker is the Layla-esque coda with some nice melodic lead guitar.

One album wonders, the Knack.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


On March 27 I knocked Pierre Boulez's dominating influence in the transnational university composition school. I've never heard Boulez's music.

This deficiency bothered me. How could I knock someone whose stuff I've never heard? So I did some web searching, trying to determine whether it might be worth my while to track down some of his music. I found a web site devoted to knocking Pierre Boulez by the doing him the justice of taking him seriously. You see (and a dim recollection of this was in the back of my mind when I knocked his influence), Boulez is one of these people who proclaimed that all the art of the past must be destroyed. And so The Pierre Boulez Project is soliciting recordings of Boulez's music for the purpose of destroying them. After all, his recordings are now the art of the past.

Boulez was pronounciating against the past in the '40s and '50s and maybe as late as the '70s. His dogmatic insistence that his own compositional method is the only one worthwhile is part of the peculiar 20th century tradition of Manifestoism. Manifestoist artists have polemicized that their way is the only way. There had been pugnacious artistic "isms" before Manifestoism, but the dogmatism got stricter, and the polemics became more central, in the 20th century.

F. T. Marinetti was the founder of Manifestoism. His Ism was Futurism. And he was right. The dogmatism he espoused proved as influential as his ego knew it would.

Marinetti was an interesting guy. A genuine Fascist in the literal Italian political sense; a friend of Mussolini's; and unlike his less talented successor in poetry, manifestoes, and Fascism, Ezra Pound, he was an accomplished soldier who fought in genuine, literal wars.

Rule 10 of his "Manifesto of Futurism" states: "We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice." And later, in the same piece, "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" (of which the "Manifesto" with its enumerated rules is but a part), he states, "So let them come, the gay incendiaries with charred fingers! Here they are! Here they are! . . . Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums! . . . Oh, the joy of seeing the glorious old canvases bobbing adrift on those waters, discolored and shredded! . . . Take up your pickaxes, your axes and hammers, and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly!" (Ellipses in the original, as translated by R. W. Flint.)

Marinetti was writing in 1909, 35 to 50 years before Boulez stole his ideas and blanded them out, taking out all the color and vivacity. "Destroy the past," said Boulez, shamelessly stealing from it and bowdlerizing it.

When I went to college in the early '80s, I knew a couple music composition majors. 12-tone atonal serialism was the ideology their professors forced them to deal with. I was fairly incredulous. My view was -- Cage has happened! Ornette Coleman has happened! Gertrude Stein has happened! All the conventions have been up-ended, and the schools are teaching these arcane rules?!?

In a post-Cage, post-Coleman, post-Stein world -- where any sound is admitted into music (Cage); any pitch can be in tune (Coleman); and language can flow without conventional syntax or signification (Stein) -- Manifestoism is clearly out-of-date. We're on our own, my friends. Anything goes, so it's up to each of us to make what makes sense to us.

I've characterized this rule-less approach differently over time. When I read Barthes, I couch the quest in terms of "desire"; when I read Pater, the rhetoric is about "intensities." "Passion" became a touchstone word; I don't remember the source. (Not Mel Gibson!) More recently in my reading, the art critic Dave Hickey has persuaded me of the centrality of "beauty"; and just a few months ago the "New Yorker" art critic Peter Schjeldahl convinced me of the importance of "conviction." In my way of thinking about the post-manifesto-ist art-music-literary world, these words can easily sub for each other. Desire, intensity, passion, beauty, conviction. If a work of art can convey these qualities, bravo.

("But what about sincerity?" asked the Method Actor of the Old Ham. "Ah, that's the secret," came the reply. "If you can fake sincerity, you've got it.")

As a good anti-manifestoist, I happily acknowledge that manifestoists have produced beautiful, passionate, intense works of art. And you may even be right that your way is the ONLY way. For you.

Monday, April 19, 2004


Thinking further about Robert Christgau’s aversion to cliche after posting last night, I'm convinced that he works so hard to avoid commonplace expression from a devotion to his craft. And you gotta respect that.

Also, it was unfair of me to implicate Christgau with effete-ness on the basis of his aversion. He’s a genuine populist, the only grand old rock critic from the ‘60s that I know of who’s still open to new music including teen pop, and his writing reflects a healthy engagement with lust & wrath & the rest of the 7 deadlies that rock & pop so exuberantly convey.

After last night’s writing, I did take one of Christgau’s volumes off the shelf and poked around in the introduction, curious whether I’d find any cliches, which I did. Which proves my point: if your style has any intersection with conversational tone, Martin Amis’s “war against cliche,” like the war against terror and drugs, is doomed.

The cliche I found? “On the other hand,” Christgau said, without first having established that he was employing “hands” metaphorically. An unexamined metaphor-turned-cliche. And nothing wrong with that.


“One never knows, do one?” asked Fats Waller, echoing Walt Whitman’s magnificent line, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Fats’s “one” is, grammatically, both singular and plural. The paradox of personhood being both unitary and multiple. Brilliant man, as well as large & multitudiness, that Fats.


My Mom’s birthday today -- happy birthday Mom! The transcontinental phone call, and a belted rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” by me & my beloved spouse. We sang it traditionally, like it’s meant to be sung, starting out in separate keys but somehow ending up together.


The U.S. military is using music as a psychological weapon in Fallujah, blasting recordings of the Australian classic metal band AC/DC from enormous speakers. The U.S. did this in ‘89 in Panama too, trying to annoy the crap out of Manuel Noriega. Military music goes way back, of course. Charles Ives’s father led a Union band in the Civil War. I worked one summer with a Vietnam War vet who’d since turned pacifistic Buddhist who said one day, “Bagpipes would be great music to go to battle,” with a battle-lusty glint in his eye. He turned Buddhist, I think, because it scared him how much he enjoyed soldiering. According to poet W.S. Merwin’s introduction to his translation of the medieval Spanish “Poem of the Cid,” the first time anybody heard drums on a European battlefield was in October 1085, in a battle between Spaniards and Moors; the thunderous sound the Africans made scared the crap out of the Spaniards, who thought the earth was shaking.

The first piece of heavy metal music was Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” “Make it loud,” said his patron the czar. “OK,” said Tchaikovsky, who brought cannons into the orchestra pit.

Now, of course, we use recordings and loud speakers in war. USO tours are dodgy enough without dragging the bands onto the front lines for psychological operations. My only question is (besides the rapacious and pitiless folly of Bush’s war), why do we still fund military bands? My information is out of date, but I remember reading about 20 years ago that military bands had a larger budget then than the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


During the Q&A session of Friday morning’s panel discussion at the Experience Music Project’s annual Pop Conference, I embarrassed myself by puting up a half-baked defense of cliche. One of my favorite music writers, Robert Christgau, had presented a brief lecture/demonstration on editing, in the manner of Robert Graves’s book “The Reader Over Your Shoulder.” Graves, writing in the ‘30s, had taken passages from the writings of famously great authors and with gleeful maliciousness pointed out how they were poorly written and/or edited. Christgau, with no glee, little maliciousness, and more judiciousness, did the same thing with four rock writers, two esteemed critics from the world of journalism and two rockademics. Christgau carefully balanced his presentation with praise for the writers as well.

Christgau deprecated the cliche “driving beat” in a passage by the academic musicologist Susan McClary, a musical thinker I admire, as does Christgau. Devin McKinney, whose presentation I wrote about in last night’s entry, briefly mentioned that one should strive to avoid cliche in one’s response to or analysis of musical moments as they pass.

I inarticulately attempted to defend cliche as the coin of communal experience and communication, taking “driving beat” as an example of a serviceable, meaningful phrase. Christgau said that he Googles his own writing to ensure that he doesn’t repeat his formulations, and that “driving beat” reflects the relative poverty of rhythmic vocabulary among writers whose background is more classical than rock, as McClary’s is.

Christgau is a virtuoso phrase-maker, and he’s one of the few music writers I re-read for pleasure. But I can’t follow him down the cliche-free path (to use a cliche). Most people don’t have his writing chops, and as much as I try to enliven my own amateur writing with vivacity and clever turns, if I were to stop in my tracks (cliche) every time a cliche came to hand (cliche) in order to come up with a clever turn-away-from or substitution of the cliche, I’d never say anything. Doubtless most people would consider that no loss, but as a reader and a writer, I’m more interested in insight than style. That’s not 100% true; a few months ago I read a stylish and charming bio of Gilbert & Sullivan, and I remember very little about it beyond a few meagre biographical facts and the experience of having enjoyed the read. Maybe this formula: style can draw me in; only insight sticks. While I love reading Robert Christgau, and his style draws me into his humorous, loving, humane, cranky, erudite, insightful consciousness, Susan McClary’s insights have struck me harder, despite her style being plainer.

After the Q&A, I regretted not having delineated between descriptive cliche and conceptual cliche. While no firm distinction can hold between the two, descriptive cliche -- “driving beat” -- bothers me less than conceptual cliche -- “rock is rebellious.” “Rolling Stone” magazine is the ruling arbiter of conceptual cliche and the convention center of conventional wisdom in rock. I have no doubt that conceptual cliches rule my thought in ways that are invisible to me.

Martin Amis recently published a collection of literary essays called “The War Against Cliche.” I have read none of it, but I saw a couple reviews when it came out, and I just scanned some comments on Amazon.com, and nobody has mentioned that “war against” is itself a cliche. (If Amis himself mentions this, one would think that a reviewer would repeat it, to innoculate Amis from mirror-driven speculations such as this.) Not ubiquitous like wars “on” drugs or poverty or (Orwellianly) terror, but partaking of the same futile, cliched milieu. I wanna say, I do say -- Dude! Check yourself out! Pretty embarrassing!

I’m not the only defender of cliche. Ira Gershwin in his charming, poignant, witty, insightful memoir-essay “Lyrics on Several Occasions” defends his dependence on cliche as a lyric writer and says that when fitted to music, cliches can regain their original provocativeness. Bob Merrill, lyricist for Barbra Streisand’s smash hit “People,” claimed he loved cliches and wrote them down every chance he got. Gershwin is right that lyric-writing has different goals and parameters and contexts than music-essay-writing, and lyrics gain emotional power from the music to which they’re married. Even given those differences, though, an aversion to cliche in prose strikes me as wanting healthy vulgarity that is the lifeblood of pop.

And: Roland Barthes in “A Lover’s Discourse” points out that every time anybody says “I love you,” they’re quoting.

Still, Marduk bless writers like Robert Christgau who avoid cliche, and Marduk bless the rest of us as well. Virtuoso phrase-makers can come up with endless ways of telling me that a beat is driving, and that’s cool, as long as they tell me what’s important.

Saturday, April 17, 2004


During the recent posts on Fats Waller, from 3 and 4 nights ago, I forgot to mention his tag line.

“One never knows, do one?”

I love that line.

The dogmatic skepticism: the impossibility of knowledge; the unmasterability of the mystery of existence and its ten thousand things, its constant flowing happening.

The exuberant grammar. So humorous!

I don’t know much about epistemology, but I know what I like.


I belong to this e-discussion group populated by a bunch of rock critics and rockademics, some of whom are among the music writers I admire most. Paul Allen’s Hendrix Fantasia and Monument to ‘90s Excess, a/k/a Seattle’s own Experience Music Project, sponsors the group as an offshoot of EMP’s annual Pop Music Conference. The host invited me to join as a consolation prize for having submitted a rejected paper proposal for one of the conferences. Odd thing is, I never attended the conference, not out of intentional neglect, only out of too-busy-ness. Until yesterday.

When I got this year’s schedule, I was disappointed to find that one my favorite music writers was presenting a paper on Friday morning -- work time, for which my days off are too dear and valuable to take even to go hear a favorite writer. Luck struck and I had to work today, in exchange for which my supervisor granted me yesterday off. My beloved spouse further granted me a few hours of hookie from child care duties, and so I went.

This favorite writer presented on a panel devoted to -- felicity of felicities! -- the topic of writing about music. Also on the panel was the author of a book I admired in my 20s but recently had trouble stomaching though I still admired its reach and ambition: snapshots of 1980s American musical icons across genres, from jazz and rock and performance-art to Broadway and new classical and neo-traditional classical, musicians the writer admired as he urged us all to conceive of music holistically and without snobby dogmatic genre boundaries. A worthy vision, I just no longer found what he had to say about any of the musicians to be astute or incisive or surprising when I tried to re-read the book a few years ago.

The third speaker on the panel, a writer I’d never heard of named Devin McKinney, gave me much pleasure in listening. He spoke on The Mechanics and Mysteries of the Pop Music Moment, a topic near and dear. He liberally quoted my main man Walter Pater; the prophet of the ecstatic aesthetic moment; the harbinger of 20th-century modernism; a huge influence on Oscar Wilde, Yeats, Pound, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce; a subjective ethicist who urges that the only basis of understanding comes from attention to one’s reactions to any particular moment. “What does this mean *to me*?” During his talk Devin played clips from particularly favorite music of his, including a haunting Carole King song I’d never heard before called “A Road to Nowhere,” and he linked “nowhere” to utopia, its etymological twin. (U-topia = “no place.”) And he talked about the mystery of poweful music emerging from known and knowable mechanical techniques. Magic! The magic of communication, the mystery, the unknowability of communication, of communion; never REALLY knowing the full panoply of associative backdrops that LIE behind any person’s use of any word or string of pearly words. And Road being a word I wrote about here on April 12, and Utopia making its rhetorical appearance around these parts, and Mystery being near and dear, and the music clips being so lovingly presented and absorbingly lovely -- well, . . .

The Greatly Assembled Great and Famous Music Writers present -- they seemed to dig the presentation as much as I did.

Mystery and music and magic and communion -- one never knows, do one?

Thursday, April 15, 2004


Driving to work this morning I heard on the modern country station a catchy rockin’ number called “Young” by someone I’d never heard of named Kenny Chesney. Rock beat, loud ‘80s rock drums, distorted rock lead guitar -- these things indicate “rock.” What made it “country” was the singing -- Kenny Chesney sings with a southern accent, and you could hear the words, loud & clear, front & center. The chorus spoke to me:

We were wanna-be rebels who didn’t have a clue
With our rock-and-roll T-shirts and our typically bad attitudes
Have no excuses for what we had done
We were brave, we were crazy, we were mostly young

Fuckin’-A I’m glad I survived the stupid things me & my friends did as teen-agers. Driving 85 in a 35 MPH zone. Driving 100 on country highways. Exciting, delusionally immortal, stupid. We were brave, we were stupid, we were male, we were mostly young. Kenny Chesney puts it more nicely.

Later in the day some smooth-jazzy piano surprised me coming out of the alt-rock alt-country college station. It disoriented me. Then I noticed the nice (& fashionable) hip-hoppy electronic dance beat, and then a lovely child’s voice singing a simple wordless riff, repeated in a loop like they do nowadays. Really nice music. Followed by some less memorable though still very nice slightly-dancy mellow background atmospheric music. The second group was the French duo called Air, whom I’d heard of but never heard. The first, more interesting group was called Lemon Yellow, I think.

Still later the Oldies station played one of my favorite Petula Clark songs, “I Know a Place.” That explosively joyous chorus. A de facto youth manifesto. “A cellarful of noise.”

Where the music is fine and the lights are low. I know a place where we can go.

Jay Sherman-Godfrey heard some tasty music on the radio this morning too:

Mac's back in school after the Easter break, so in the car again in the AM searching for songs to uplift the day.

After listening to the ever-present awful news of Bush's Folly, switched to the reliable oldies station, CBS-FM. They had a topical promo for today, tax day. IRS, not the internal revenue service, but the "Incredible Records of the Sixties (and Seventies)!" After this buoyant, goofy moment, up fade the opening, party-atmosphere seconds of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? Not the morning pep I was looking for, but a poignant and no less topical listen. Pulling up to the school, we sat in the stopped car and listened all the way through.

Marvin's question, and his plea, unanswered.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


Yesterday my cubicle mate was humming "Good-bye Yellow Brick Road" to herself. Naturally this caught my interest, as I'm reading "Emma" by Jane Austen and one of the main characters is a "Mr. Elton." I pretty much know "Emma"'s plot because I've seen the wonderful movie from several years ago, "Clueless," which adapted "Emma" and set it an a '90s rich suburban LA high school. The writer, who also directed the movie, took a cue from Austen's character "Mr. Elton" and named three of the main characters after '70s pop stars. "Mr. Elton" became Elton, of course; Emma was named Cher; and Cher's best friend, who was a black girl, was named Dionne. A clever and charming idea.

"Good-bye Yellow Brick Road" boasts Elton's single most memorable line. It's been spinning pleasurably in my head on and off since yesterday.

"You can't plant me in your penthouse."

And, well, you can't. You just can't. Can't do it. Nope.


My friend, correspondent, and original guitar teacher Jay Sherman-Godfrey writes in response to yesterday's post about Fats Waller:

Read the Waller entry on your blog. I've got a funky Waller CD out of
Europe, 1 in a series of 15, I think. There's some big band stuff on
there that you will most certainly dig. I'll find out what the series is
called tonight and forward.

Basin Street Blues -- Learned that on my Gibson baritone uke. Always
loved that tune. After I was turned on to Bob Wills by Jeremy, I finally
heard what I feel is the end-all for that song. A live radio transcription
with the great Tommy Duncan on vocals, tempo slow as mollases, but groovin'. He so gets the world weary reminicense that is at the core of that lyric -- the way he represents it, anyhow -- and is prodded ever so lovingly throughout by Bob. I believe it's on theTiffany Transcription series.

John replies: I remember it from a cassette of some of the Tiffany Transcriptions that Jay made for me almost 20 years ago. A terrific version of an interesting and lovely song. Basin Street was the center of nightlife in New Orleans at the time Spencer Williams wrote it in 1928. Where one went to meet friends and hear music.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


My parents started me on my life of jazz-fandom on my 15th birthday, when they gave me the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. One nugget it took me years to appreciate was a solo piano piece by Fats Waller. But now, wow.

Fats. First of all a great songwriter: Ain't Misbehavin', Jitterbug Waltz, Honeysuckle Rose, Keepin' Out of Mischief Now. More famously, maybe, as a comic jazz singer-pianist-bandleader. If you haven't seen the clip of him singing "The Joint it Jumpin'" (his own song), you have something to look forward to. An enormous man with a high-pitched voice, batting his eyes at the camera, singing and playing in a crowded roomful of dancing people. Cops knock on the door to bust the party, but they hear the music and start dancing too. Utopia.

Songwriter and singer, yes, and as a pianist, damn. Out of the Harlem school of "stride" piano, a big influence on Count Basie (even though they're the same age) and Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. He recorded many beautiful stride solos in the '20s. But one particular recording session on June 11, 1937, he set a standard for ruminative sweet nostalgic humorous gorgeous melancholy solo piano playing that's never been matched. The Waller tune on the Smithsonian Collection is from this session.

He only recorded five tunes that day. I hadn't known how many until the other day. I'd heard three of them on two different Fats compilations, and loved them so much I ached to hear more, if more there were.

Via Google, I found this Fats Waller web site. Not only does it list all of the songs he recorded on that date, but you can listen to them, complete, for free. The happiness of finding my question answered was immediately topped by the realization that I could listen to them RIGHT NOW. And FOR FREE. The ones I hadn't heard were just as great as the ones I had.

These are the songs.

Basin Street Blues by Spencer Williams. Interesting and prolific African American songwriter; great song. The "chorus" of the song is the first song I learned on guitar; I didn't know the words or the melody, but the chords were cool. Turtletop correspondent Jay Sherman-Godfrey taught me.

I Ain't Got Nobody by Abel Baer, Samuel Lewis, and Joseph Young. Don't know these guys, but the song was made famous by Louis Prima and, later, David Lee Roth in a Prima homage.

Keeping Out Of Mischief Now by Fats Waller. Barbra Streisand sang this on her first album, with a wink of Waller-ian insincerity -- oh yeah, I'm keeping out of mischief!

Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael. One of the most beautiful songs ever. Fats's version may be slightly over-the-top, with harp-like arpeggios in the treble as the left hand plays the melody. I love it.

Tea For Two by Vincent Youmans, words by Irving Caesar. A '20s classic.

Free music. And astoundingly beautiful. Fats is a king.

Monday, April 12, 2004


Had to go back to work tonight after dinner, and everything on the radio seemed so much more poignant than usual. The sadness of my having to go to work when I’d much better be curling up with my Jane Austen, in my nice house with my lovely spouse and darling sleeping toddler -- oh, songs just sounded sad. The folky-jazzy college station played some middle-aged white folky singing about “the road,” and apologizing for saying that he’s the child of the wind, or maybe he didn’t apologize but he did say that he’s too old to say such things but he’s going to say it anyway, he’s a child of the wind. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that other times it would have struck me as hokey, but not tonight -- how sad, I have to go back to work, he’s the child of the wind. And I thought, well, I’m the nephew of the wind. I’m pretty settled and rooted, but I understand my cousins, blowing around like they do. I’ve felt the temptation to blow around, but that’s not me. The wind is not my parent but the sibling of my parent, the romantic genderless aunt or uncle.

And that got me thinking about The Road. When I was 18 I fell in crush with a smart 20-year-old hippie woman, and though the crush was unrequited we became great pals, and she persuaded me to read Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which was fine. And all through my 20s and much of my 30s when I had spare time I would go on road trips across America, seeing much of it from the interstates and sometimes smaller roads, this big old beautiful crazy country, such a luxuriously mostly-monolingual continent. Ah, the road, the romance of the road, beat beat beep beep, for years and years, until it slowly dawned on me with rose-colored fingers. The road has got to be the most pampered place on earth. Nothing wrong with pampered, mind you, but even when camping, even when sleeping outside, I always had enough money in my pocket to buy my meals cooked and to sleep inside if I felt like it. Big endless state-smoothed pavement, a giant rocking cradle laid by big daddy Uncle Sam to soothe my waking dreams as I gazed through the cinematic windows while hurtling across the land. Feeling romantic, while the Invisible Hand of the state carried me along in sweet comfort.

Nothing wrong with loving comfort. Ascetics can do their thing; I’ve even admired one or two actual ascetics I’ve known; but it’s not for me, nor for most people.


The road is romance, or work; in any case travel.

The street is real, tough, dangerous.

The avenue is campy, showy, pleasurable; the boulevard even moreso; both are old-fashioned.

The lane is nostalgic, rural, innocent, protected.

The path -- well, we each got out own, no matter how well-trod.

Happy trails!

Sunday, April 11, 2004


The flu took away my appetite and even my appetite for music. The sound of it grated. Live, unamplified music probably would not have grated so much, but any recorded music did. I didn't lose my appetite for reading though, and indulged one of the few luxuries that I miss from my life before parenthood: reading in bed. Made it most of the way through "Emma" by Jane Austen (I'm a slow reader). Almost finished and enjoying it tremendously. Laugh-out-loud funny.

In one scene, an out-of-town guest prompts a spontaneous dance party after a dinner party by imploring one of the ladies present to play the pianoforte. Always the ladies, only the ladies play the pianoforte. In the early 19th century, no other source of listening to music exists. The party lasts for two dances before people have to go home. And everybody very much enjoys it.

A hint of how precious music is, *especially when it's scarce.* I swim happily in the ubiquity of recorded music, and contradictorily sometimes rue how overproduction devalues any particular scrap of it. One thing I will always stand by, though: amateurs playing for free. Even bad white hippie drummers, like the two guys playing in the park near our house the other day. Next to no gift for music with either of them, and still it was sweet music to my ears.



Those are my main sources. Some evening when I'm not feeling so rushed I'll add the links to my linklist. Juan Cole is a history professor who lived in the Middle East and has contacts there and reads and speaks Arabic. He's the main source.

News is bad. Iraqi Governing Council members quit in protest; some are rumored to have fled the country fearing for their safety. Those remaining wrote a letter to the US Government protesting the "collective punishment" of Fallujah, an eminently reasonable comment. 3 Shi'a members of the Council attempted a negotiation with Sadr, leader of the Shiite rebellion, offering amnesty to him if he would dissolve his militia and band with the Iraqi National Army or whatever it's called. Uncertain whether Sadr would have accepted; made pitifully moot by the US Government's repudiation of the negotiation attempt. The IGC, note well, is the US-appointed puppet team of mostly returned exiles with little-to-no local credibility. And THEY'RE defying the US.

One would think that years of failed hard-liner-ism against Palestinian militants would serve as an example. But no. Bush and company are hellbent and hellbound.

Speculation runs that the crack-down against Sadr's newspaper, which precipitated the reaction, came from a desire to clear the path for Ahmed Chalabi to become puppet president. Evidence shows that the US has been shoving aside his rivals. The bitter gall of it: Chalabi is Cheney & Rumsfeld's dude; he's a convicted (in absentia) felon with a warrant for his arrest in Jordan (neighboring country! moderate Arab!) for bank fraud; and he's defrauded the US Government of millions of dollars, having served up some of the juiciest bits of knowingly false evidence linking Saddam to WMD and al Qaeda, and doing it on the US Government's payroll, knowing that the false evidence would "build" the "case" for invasion, which would hopefully end up with himself as puppet president.

Democracy -- phooey. Cheney & Rumsfeld consorting with a known swindler and pushing him for president (Chalabi is on the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council) is gangsterism pure and simple. That ANY of these people has the slightest SHRED of mainstream credibility in the American press is mind-googling.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


For a couple years I’ve been whispering to friends, “I’m probably paranoid, but I can imagine Bush suspending the 2004 elections, especially if there’s another terrorist attack.”

It turns out I wasn’t being paranoid. The Bush administration really is planning this. Martial law, suspended elections, censored media including “seditious web sites.” And wrongwing talk radio is already laying the propagandistic groundwork.

(The story, by Maureen Farrell, is on ”Buzzflash”, and I found it via Whiskey Bar.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


The highly esteemed political blog Talking Points Memo has a link to a BBC News article with a hint as to a way out of the present bind in Iraq.

It seems the Iraqi Shia have strong divisions as to whether the present uprising makes sense. If -- if, if, if; a giant, long-shot if -- the U.S. were to engage with the Shia leaders staying on the sidelines, a deal could possibly be cut that would get things back on a peaceful track. Some of the Shia remember that the 1920 rebellion against the British ended by saddling them with Sunni rule over them until the present moment, and some people worry about a repeat.

Longshot is better than no shot. But the chances that the U.S. leadership would even be interested -- well, that strikes me as a long shot too. Pity the senseless death. The “flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.” (Joseph Conrad.)

Time for regime change in the good old U.S. of A. A necessary, but insufficient, step.


Regular Turtletop correspondent Jay Sherman-Godfrey sent me these Sousa links.

This tidbit from Sousa's bio: "1867: His father enlisted him in the Marines at age 13 as an apprentice after he attempted to run away to join a circus band."

And some Victrola recordings of Sousa's band to listen to.


The high-school-student-run "Seattle's hottest music" station has been playing a really good song in heavy rotation -- it seems I hear it every time I surf onto that station. They rarely announce song titles or singers, so all I can do is describe it: A Middle Eastern or North African-sounding riff played on an oud-like instrument (maybe even an oud!) over the typical (for the station) upbeat electronic dance percussion along with a North African-sounding drum (which may be electronic too); a lovely-voiced diva singing lead in some language I don't recognize (maybe Arabic?); and a chorus of men singing nice background parts. Catchy and galvanic -- and it makes so happy to hear the high school kids playing what sounds like Arabic music.

Also on that station today a kid with a significant speech impediment read a public service announcement about an opportunity to volunteer at an animal shelter. It was really great to hear someone with really thick, "sh"-sounding "s"'s on the radio. The people!


Lately my favorite song in the world is "Golden Slumbers" by the Beatles. I heard it the other day. Always liked it fine -- very pretty, nice recording. This time, though -- when Paul, seemingly out of nowhere, starts shouting "Golden Slumbers fill your eyes / Smiles awake you when you rise," it blew me away. Over-the-top, excessive, borderline hysterical, scarcely related to the words, antithetical to the idea of a lullabye, seemingly out of nowhere -- and I thought, yup, that's parenthood. Fierce tenderness. Can't think of another song like it, that captures that feeling.

I mention it because it came up at band practice tonight. We practice at the bass player's house, typically, because his partner is in school at night and they have a daughter 12 days older than my son, and so we practice there. The little bugger wasn't going to sleep tonight, and I started singing "Golden Slumbers" to her. The bass player looked surprised and said, "I've been playing that song all the time on piano lately. I was playing it this afternoon." We agreed: Gorgeous song.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Grim news in the world today. Has there ever been a shortage of grimness? Doubtful.

The good luck of occasional happiness. The baby has been sick lately but he was pulling out of it today. Clingy and whiney in the morning, but after his afternoon nap he was chipper and we went to the park. Met a cat on the way, a friendly cat who rubbed herself all over the baby and me. The baby loves little critters. We communed with the cat for 3 or 4 minutes, sitting on the sidewalk. A privilege.

(Typing this, it occurs to me he's maybe not a baby any more! He definitely toddles -- he's a toddler! Starting to talk, too.)

When we got to the park, the toddling boy played on the slide, while a long-haired white man wearing shorts and sandals played guitar nicely and sang classic '60s & '70s rock in a nice tenor. "As Tears Go By" by the Stones; "It's Only Love" and "You Can't Do That" by the Beatles; a '70s Eagles-esque tune of which I don't remember the name or the singer. Then he did an extended, soulful version of the Louis Armstrong hit, "What a Wonderful World," in 6/8 time. Never really liked that song until I heard Joey Ramone's very moving, very rocking deathbed version.

It's easy to wring cheap irony out of the song, but not when a dying man is singing it straight. The singer in the park was loving the song, sitting on the bench, eyes closed and head thrown back in a classic rock stance and belting with what sounded like all his heart. (Between songs he nipped from an illegal bottle of beer.)

Few people know that Armstrong re-recorded the song a few years after his initial version. By then it was the late '60s and he was pushing 70 and didn't have many years left. His last version had a spoken introduction:

"People say to me, 'Pops, how come you say it's a wonderful world?  Wars all over the world - what's wonderful about that?  And all this poverty and pollution - that ain't so wonderful either.'  But what I say to them is, it's not the world that's messed up, but what we're doing to it.  It seems to me that if we would just let the world be, it really would be wonderful. Love, baby, that's the secret.  If more people loved, then this world could be a gasser!"


My friend John Logie sent me an e-mail yesterday with the word "MEKOMMENTS" on the subject line. A week and a half ago on two nights I wrote about seeing the Mekons at a neighborhood rock club. I didn't like the show, but I tried to understand why someone else might have -- and most people in the club seemed to be enjoying it very much. Logie writes in gracious disagreement with my assessment:

I'm sorry the Mekons disappointed, but context might, MIGHT, have helped. (Full disclosure, I have been wholly Mekonned by this point. Lester Bangs jokingly described them as "better than the Beatles." I believe this to be true, and NOT because I'm so jaded that I've decided to dislike the Beatles on any significant level . . . solo careers notwithstanding). This was by no means a standard-issue Mekons tour. This is the "Punk Rock" tour, which is a sort of experiment.

The band has had a core of Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh forever, with the other members circulating around them. For their previous tour they did three-night stands, each devoted to roughly eight years of their musical oeuvre. What they discovered is that their first phase, the "punk rock" phase, was transformed by performance with a band who largely post-dated the original recordings. So they went back and re-recorded the arguable best of their earlier tunes with the current band, a sort of "knowing what we know now . . . this is what punk rock is to us" gesture.

Thus, as opposed to a typical Mekons show which would have offered both the range and virtuosity you found lacking, you saw the band working within the admittedly narrowed confines of their founding genre and identity.

For me the telling and heartbreaking element of your report is that you left before the encores, when the band undoubtedly shifted gears into its standard repertoire, elements of which are for me transformative and transcendent (most times). I'm not saying they've NEVER sucked, indeed two of the 10 worst  rock shows I've ever seen were Mekons (or Mekons-branded) efforts. But three or four of the best were too.

To encapsulate my point: I'm stuck in Minneapolis with two beautiful baby girls and can't see the Mekons this tour and you could, so I'm jealous, and wish some trace of the mojo I experience when they play had settled upon you.

Or, to put it another way, give 'em another chance.

John (Turtletop) replies: With such a recommendation, I will be happy to.


It will be decades, perhaps centuries, before anybody will ever be able to say the words "Mission Accomplished" in English without the grimmest sense of irony.

A minor sin made possible by the major catastrophic sins of our bastard ("illegitimate") president.

Remember: This is the administration that Deliberately Fired anybody involved in planning post-invasion Iraq WHO KNEW ANYTHING ABOUT IRAQ.


Withdraw from Iraq? Pour more soldiers and marines in? Tell you one thing, I'd like to see every arm-chair bully-coward who thought an illegal invasion against a country that posed no threat to us was a good idea to ENLIST NOW. Convictions take courage. If you think the war was a good idea, you should fight it.

My information is sketchy, but it's damned hard to see a secular human-rights-based pluralistic progressive democracy emerging from the conflagration any time soon. Which was my question to the bully-cowards in my acquaintance before the invasion: How do we get to that? Does anybody know? Clearly not.


I don't have a clue as to how to proceed now, but clearly the bastards in the White House don't either. Oh sure, bomb and kill, but where does that get us in the end besides being hated more?


But to whom? To Civil War and chaos, apparently. Piteous. Hideous.


A very good chance that the end result of the Iraq Invasion Chapter of the Orwellian War on So-Called Terror will be a much more dangerous, volatile, hateful regime than Saddam. Which is why the traditional American reactionaries have always loved fascists leaders abroad. Fascist leaders abroad keep their people in line. Which is why Republicans always supported Saddam. I never understood why the American reactionaries turned on their old pal. He was a bulwark against the fanatical Islamic anti-westerners; he was a secularist. A secularist with a hideous penchant for murdering his opponents, real or perceived, but that's never given the American reactionaries pause.


Images of consumerism brought down the Berlin wall. The eastern Europeans wanted STUFF, the west had it, and the commies weren't providing. Couldn't this be a model for -- what do they call it? -- nipping anti-Americanism in the bud? Share the wealth? Promote humanism and democracy? Isn't that what most people would really want, given a choice? (I said "most." Trying to acknowledge that not everybody wants that. And it's a question; if you think the answer is no, tell me. Let's talk. That's what this is about.) A long way off from being able to offer that in any meaningful way to the people whom we haven't happened to have killed in Iraq. Horrible.


No clue. The Iraqi insurgents -- about whom we apparently know very little, and certainly I know almost nothing -- do not appear to be good prospects for enlightened leadership. Hope I'm wrong.

Monday, April 05, 2004


Last week on March 27 I mentioned that my beloved spouse had found some great Calliope music on the web. Here's the link. "The Liberty Bell" march by Sousa is "song 3" of the Delta Queen Calliope. Haunting and sweetly slightly out of tune.

I knew that Calliope was one of the nine muses but I had to Google to find out which one. She was the Muse of Epic Poetry and the mother of Orpheus. Which is exactly the type of association that the makers of merry-go-round music were thinking about, I'm sure.


I once asked my beloved grandpa, who was born in 1907, what music he liked when he was a kid. Brass band music, was the answer. That was popular music then.

We tend to think of brass bands strictly as marching bands nowadays, but there were also concert bands with virtuoso soloists and circus bands. Wynton Marsalis played the cornet solos on a lovely album of concert band re-creations called "Carnaval." Tuneful "light classical" pieces and popular songs featuring blazing bell-clear cornet leads.

I mention this because my friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey sent me this note today:

So Sunday was Ringling Bros. w/ Mac at Madison Square Garden. First, tix were a reasonable (these days in NYC, anyway) $28.50 and we managed to spend only $15 at the over-pricing venue.

Music, on the whole, resembled post-A.L. Webber/Disney broadway. In fact, the whole thing was structured around songs -- not a bad idea, but the songs were pretty pedestrian. MC, in addition to announcing, was solid and pleasing broadway tenor. Female singer was one of the top-billed stars -- grating, thin, acrobatic r&b alto. There was an inept hip-hop segment, saved only by the excellent, rubber-boned clown dancing. They did have a live band, however, which we were seated very near. A brass band (still), more or less, with synth, electic bass and guitar, and a trap kit. They were excellent, but the kit was mic'd badly. I noticed a valve trombone, which took a few solos, and the fender bass player doubled on tuba!

Very little traditional jaunty circus music, but some - mainly to accompany the clowns -- who were excellent. Sound effects were triggered by the soundman at ringside -- I could see him fingering a small keyboard and some percussion pads.

Sound reproduction was pretty bad. Couldn't make out a lot of what the MC was saying. That hurt the performance -- the over-the-top introdutions being so important for full circus effect.

Mac really enjoyed it -- the herd of elephants was awesome, stunning horse act and a guy aptly named Crazy Wilson who was sort a a daredevil jack of all trades -- high wire and motorcycles. The main clown was ok, his second set piece being grabbing audience members, assigning them to an instrument/noise maker on a stand in the center ring, and condcucting them. John Linnell of They Might Be Giants does this with band members and audience each and every show to better effect.

Overall, I missed the oom-pah. I wonder if rock-and-roll had infiltrated the Ringling Bros. circus we saw as kids?

Sunday, April 04, 2004


At the ends of my baby boy's crib hang two stuffed-animal-music-boxes. Fuzzy creatures with ties at the top designed specifically for hanging from the end of a crib. With handles at the tail for the boy to pull, and when he pulls, the music boxes activate. The holstein cow's tune is "Old MacDonald." The yellow elephant's tune is a jaunty number I don't remember having heard elsewhere. After putting on my son's night-time diaper, I put him in the crib before putting on his night-time shirt and pajamas. Lately he's taken to pulling both of the music boxes and getting a polyrhythmic polyphonic polytonal thing happening, and dancing a wild dance, hands in the air and tongue wagging, sometimes a fierce expression on his face. He laughs when I imitate him. Which I do every night. I love dancing.


Pounding stakes in the front yard to put up a fence to pen in the baby, the hammer echoing from the industrial laundry facility across the street.


An e-mail from late last week from my good friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey (the person named Mac referenced in the note is his 3-and-a-half year old son):

Trying to seek out one joyous, ecstatic radio song per day, flipping channels as Mac and I drive to school. Today's track:

My Best Friend's Girlfriend -- Cars

I usually prefer the Ben Orr lead vox songs to the Ocasek lead vox songs in general, but this one crackles. Great lead Gene-Vincent-Galluping-Clif-Gallup style guitar, cool keys (almost constantly shifting tone and timbre), and that explosive, Roy Baker Thomas signature, Queens-style extra double exploding backing vocal
chanting the title.

Put together like a brick house. Class-A pop radio. (On the Classic Rock station, BTW)

Saturday, April 03, 2004


My beloved spouse and I rented a terrific movie (on video cassette) last night, “The World of Henry Orient” from 1964. Very sweet and funny story of two junior-high-age girls running around New York City, obsessing over a crush on a womanizing concert pianist played by Peter Sellers. And when I say “running,” I mean it literally -- lots of shots of them RUNNING around New York. Very endearing.

A great movie for music. By Elmer Bernstein. The girls’ themes are jaunty and innocent in what sounds like a shifting 5/4 meter; humming it now, the next day, I can’t recreate it confidently.

Contrasted with the pianist’s themes -- HEAVY ROMANTIC, pastiche-Rachmaninoff maybe, for Henry Orient’s passionate seductions of married women.

Plus, an avant-garde orchestral concert, featuring Henry Orient’s late-romantic piano solo accompanied by a heavy-dissonant 20th century avant-garde orchestra. Pastiche, meant to be satirical, and musically really interesting and engaging. The dissonant chords are really really thick; the pastiche-romanticism of the piano is entertaining.

In the last scene, when the 2 teen-agers have graduated from crushes on glamorously unobtainable adults to crushes on boys their own age, the music turns to early-’60s pastiche rock, very effectively.

Stylistically interesting acting too. All the characters are played straight and poignantly, except Henry Orient, his first paramour, and a couple minor characters, who are played for farce. Peter Sellers is funny in the role. And the main story, of the girls’ friendship and their complicated, painful relationships with their parents, is really touching. Very few movies of teen-age girl friendships. This one is sweet.


“Rolling Stone” magazine has a new list out. The 50 Greatest [rock-related] Artists of All Time, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Rock. (Dated from Elvis’s first Sun sessions, I’m assuming, not having read the intro.)

Lists are fun and annoying and always embarrassing, “Rolling Stone”’s lists moreso than most. Their 100 Greatest Guitarists -- nothing against any of the people on the list. But. Where’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe? Where’s Django Reinhardt? Where’s Lonnie Johnson? It is to shake one’s head in disbelief. I mean, if you go for these things.

And!! Manitas de Plata? Where’s he? Baden Powell?

And so on.

Picking up the magazine today, the only article I wanted to read was the one defending John Lennon’s inclusion as a solo artist. (Beatles were Number One.) They justified it on one great album (“Plastic Ono Band”) and a handful of songs, including David Bowie’s “Fame,” which Lennon co-wrote and sang on. OK, that works for me. One great album, and a handful of great songs. Worthy of The List? Acchhh -- sure, why not. That is, you know, I mean, ah yes but you’re all wrong. That is, I think I disagree.

“Rolling Stone” lists. Forgive me.


Several weeks ago I saw a PBS documentary on Nat King Cole. He's as charming to watch as to listen to. Comes across as . . . a nice guy. Having a good time. So at ease, even when playing piano at lightning speed. Singing a song while playing intricate piano accompaniment and looking at the camera.

Looking at the camera. So when he slightly emphasizes the word "ridiculous" in a song (see previous post), he's trying to "put the song across," as the old show-biz saying goes, implying: to communicate is to "put something across." What does communication put across? Ideas, emotion, images -- the wealth of comprehended experience; meaning. What is the something across which communication puts its meanings? The gulf which separates people.

The other night (March 29) I was scratching at the distinction between meditative, introspective music and more outward-looking, socially-positioned music. The approach to singing exemplified so beautifully by Nat King Cole -- communicative, attentive to verbal nuances, looking at the camera -- it's antithetical to most rock singing. The typical presentation of a rock song illustrates the idea that the listener is eavesdropping on the singer's private thoughts. Singer's eyes are closed, rolled back in his head, staring at the ceiling, staring into vacant space -- no eye contact with the listener. Soliloquy, meditation, introspection -- funny words to describe a rock singer bellowing at the top of her lungs, but that's the rock passion.

One of 'em anyway.

Thursday, April 01, 2004


My next door neighbor lent me a wondrous Nat King Cole album the other day, "After Midnight" from 1956, featuring Cole's brilliant piano and gorgeous singing, a sweet rhythm section with a tasty guitar soloist, and guest swing greats taking turns sitting in one song at a time. Cole started as a jazz pianist, highly esteemed by the be-bop founders as a brilliant peer, and almost accidentally became a huge singing star who often didn't even play piano on his records. He made "After Midnight" as a synthesis album featuring both his huge talents on every song.

A gem of a song I'd never heard sweeps my heart up every time. "You're Looking At Me," a lament of shattered romantic confidence.

Who had the girls turning hand springs?
Crazy to love him claimed he
Who could so misunderstand things?
You're looking at me

With Cole's absolutely absorbing understated sad tenderness of delivery. Just beautiful.

Where is that boy who was certain his charms couldn't fail?
Where is that boy who believed every word of this ridiculous tale?

I love the way Cole sings "ridiculous." Just the slightest hint of bitterness. An unusual word to hear in a song. Shimmers with unexpected just-rightness.

Bobby Troup wrote the song. Composer also of one of Cole's biggest hits, the jaunty standard "Route 66," and of a beautiful ballad for the Four Freshmen, "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring," the lyrics of which Brian Wilson re-wrote for the Beach Boys as "A Young Man Is Gone." Three gorgeous songs -- I want to hear more.

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