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

Thursday, May 27, 2004


Last Friday I lurched my car alarmingly close to the curb in my rush to change the station as Amy Goodman on her syndicated public radio news show detailed some specifics of the torture done in our name at Abu Ghraib, trembling with horror and outrage and rage. I immediately thought of Jack Nicholson’s line in that movie “A Few Good Men.” Playing the American military commander of Guantanamo Bay, on trial for his role in the death-by-hazing of an American sailor (I think it’s Navy), Nicholson barks at the prosecutor, “You Can’t Handle the Truth.” I can’t look at the pictures either. Maybe I could deal with the details if I had some power over the situation.

It’s been said by many others: Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld’s decision to toss out the Geneva Conventions -- monstrous.

The only power I have over the situation is to do my part to vote the bastards out in November.


On the all-hits station today, heard a lovely R&B ballad by a man with a lovely tenor and falsetto. I’d heard of the singer, a young man named Usher. Interesting tune, the hook is medium-slow simple lovely melody played on (I’m guessing) a keyboard with a harp-like sound, while the song by contrast is fast, tricky, intricate, nervous, impassioned, while the (probably electronic) percussion quietly nervously groovily percolates below. Minimal instrumental arrangement with lush vocal richness, which I hear a lot on the all-hits station, especially in R&B. I didn’t catch many of the words, something about “let it burn” -- it, the heart, the self, the emotions -- a love lost song, I think. A modern update of Marvin Gaye, with a similar vocal texture and sexy funkiness in the instruments as “Sexual Healing,” except the hook is in the keyboard, not the vocal melody, and the relationship between the vocals & the rhythm is considerably more complicated. Beautiful song -- I hope to hear it again soon.


The school-days rule against double negatives fell apart in my mind today. The school-days rule says that when Roger Miller sings, “I ain’t got no cigarettes,” he is committing a grammatical error, and that logically the double negative -- “ain’t” and “no” -- means that he does indeed have cigarettes.

The anti-double-negativists don’t know from logic. By positing that “no cigarettes” is a positive possession that a person can have or not have, they are arguing that the “no” in the sentence “Roger has no cigarettes” attaches to the cigarettes, and not the verb, not to the word “has.” This makes no sense. If the “no” attaches to the cigarettes, the phrase-word “no-cigarettes” can only mean anything-but-cigarettes. “Roger has no cigarettes” must then be taken to mean that he has anything which is not cigarettes, WHICH DOES NOT PRECLUDE ROGER FROM HAVING CIGARETTES AS WELL. “Well sure,” Roger says, “I have this banana in my pocket, which constitutes my no-cigarettes, but I never said I didn’t have cigarettes too.”

The anti-double-negativists argue that by saying “I ain’t got no cigarettes,” the double negative logically indicates that Roger has cigarettes. But by their logic, all it means is that Roger doesn’t have anything which is not cigarettes. In addition to that, he may or may not have cigarettes as well. By their logic.

Clearly, the word “no” in the sentence “Roger has no cigarettes” attaches to the verb, not to the noun.


The logic of double-negativism is an accumulative emotional logic. “I ain’t got no cigarettes” may be denotatively redundant. “I ain’t got cigarettes” denotes the same state of lacking cigarettes with one word less. The double negative isn’t wasted though; it connotes an emotional emphasis.


The composer and critic Gavin Borchert writes in response to recent posts on 20th century critic-composers Virgil Thomson and Constant Lambert, and a slightly older post on a concert I heard by the Seattle New Music Ensemble.

John: It was great to read an account of the SNME concert on the 15th--I hated to miss it, but I had to. They played a piece of mine wonderfully at their concert last October. Absolutely you should explore Thomson's newspaper writings; there are a couple anthologies out, one published in the 70s, which should be locatable at any used bookstore, and one more recent one.

The State of Music is overripe with generalizations, but his newspaper reviews (he wrote for the NY Herald-Tribune for 14 years) have an insight and precision of observation that are breathtaking. And in turn I'll try to find the Lambert book, which I've heard about & always been curious about.
~~Gavin Borchert

JOHN REPLIES: Thanks very much for your generous comments. I wince over an overripe generalization of my own, having written last night that maybe other critics like Thomson because of his superior attitude toward music. I based that on one experience with one annoyingly attitudinous classical critic who touted Thomson. My apologies to Thomson fans, and I will keep on the look-out for his newspaper writings, and may even break down and order them online.


My friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey, who lives in Queens, writes in response to yesterday’s post on Hank Williams singing “Rambling Man,” and adds a report on a TV special on Beatles producer and orchestrator George Martin, of whom Jay & I are big fans:

Hank had that haunted/haunting quality -- especially disembodied on that one. There used to be a subway picker around who had a kind of General George Custer look going on that sang that song over and over, day after day. I imagined it his life's work. He sang it well and always got a crowd.

Saw a fragment of a BBC show featuring George Martin talking music -- Rhythm of Life I believe was the title, obviously a series, and aimed at the layperson. Anyway, in this one he focused on melody and tried to explain what made some great (and memorable) and others not.

Simplicity was his answer. Not novel, but he outlined it nicely, using Beethoven (the 9th being the ultimate catchy tune), Mozart and Oasis and Billy Joel. He nicely paralleled some suspension/pedal tone elements in Oasis (who the guy from could not articulate himself) to a bit of some Mozart symphony (can't remember) and called Mozart, of all things, the master of simplicity. positing that what made him great was couching simple,
scalar melodies within formal and harmonic complexity -- always
grounding. Michael Tilson Thomas was interviewed and played a particularly flighty Mozart melody and broke it down into scalar components to an underlying sweet and simple run -- and then revealed the Wolfy wrote it when he was four.

Anyway it was fun to watch and Sir George's enthusiasm was nice, and he had the LSO on hand to play examples.

JOHN REPLIES: It’s nice to imagine how nice it would be to have the London Symphony Orchestra on hand to play examples. But I’d probably be overcome with bashfulness -- “oh go ahead guys, just play what YOU want to play.”

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