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

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Yesterday, driving home from work, "Jimmie Mack" by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, mid-'60s Motown in its sublimest "Sound of Young America" factory-mode; Supremes-style rhythm section of pounding quarter notes from the drums & piano & bass, touched with whole-note vibraphone chords; and Martha's robust vocal a powerhouse where Diana Ross would be a sinuous flirtation. And it struck me, the Funk Brothers were the All-American Rhythm Section of the 1960s -- they echoed & updated the coiled, swift, muscular lightness of Count Basie's classic '30s rhythm section, famously called the All-American Rhythm Section. And, more deeply (in a few senses), the 1960s' Sound of Young America and the 1930s' All-American Rhythm Section each boasted the most influential bassists of their times: Walter Page in Count Basie's orchestra institutionalized the even 4-to-the-bar walking bass (others, such as Pops Foster, had done it earlier, but only intermittently and occasionally); and James Jamerson of the Funk Brothers made the electric bass a new and individual instrument where before it had mostly been a louder stand-up bass -- Jamerson made it a funky instrument, a highly syncopated riffing instrument with its own sound and timbre and attack and decay. Without the influence of jazz (and Page), bass might never have become central in country and bluegrass (it hadn't been before). From Egyptian disco to country to funk to rock to gospel to polka, bass and its electronic keyboard duplicator is everywhere. We can thank Page and Jamerson. And mostly, thank them for their beautiful music.


This morning, getting ready for work, no time to play piano with the toddling dude in my lap, so he sat down and plonked tone clusters and sang, "ah ah ah ah ah." It was very pretty, and it made me very happy.

Monday, August 30, 2004


Most days at some point the toddling dude sits in my lap as I plunk mostly one-fingeredly through songbooks on the piano. I’m psyched that he’s starting to let me play from books other than children’s songbooks. I started him out with the Yip Harburg Songbook -- got the book years ago because he’d written lots of my faves & I wanted to learn some of them. Lyricist of the Great Depression classic Brother Can You Spare A Dime and the great Great Depression movie score “Wizard of Oz,” as well as the metaphysical love song It’s Only a Paper Moon and the metaphysical heartbreak song Last Night When We Were Young. I broke the toddling dude in with several days straight of “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” from the show “Finian’s Rainbow,” which also boasts the chesty standard “That Old Devil Moon,” which the otherwise lovely 1968 movie version (directed by Coppola!) embarrassingly turns into dewy-eyed soft rock. (One of Fred Astaire’s last dancing performances, in the title role, pushing 70 years old and so, so beautiful. Fred plays a searcher looking for his pot of gold, which he’d planted in Kentucky [a la Fort Knox] to make it grow. Fred’s search brings happiness to everyone except himself, who gives up the gold because others need it more. As it ends he dances away with tremendous grace and poise and melancholy, still searching. And I couldn’t help thinking -- a parable of the artist in society. Very self-flattering parable, true, but the story-in-itself worked for me.)

“Glocca Morra” gradually readied my toddling son for more Harburg lyrics, so today we sang “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” a song I’ve performed on guitar at political rallies regarding homelessness and poverty. Rich, tasty chords, great melody, and those lyrics. Sometimes they make me cry.

The intro, mygod -- “They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead.” Already having mentioned he’d been a soldier, he’s talking about the War to End All Wars. Now, it’s the Great Depression, and he asks, “Why should I be standing in line just waiting for bread?”

Into the song proper, a jaunty tune -- “once I built a railroad, made it run, made it race against time” -- proud, boastful; then, the tune turns melancholy as the work’s gone now -- “once I built a tower. Now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?” The beautifully forward American immediacy and friendliness (and impositioning) of “Brother.”

Next strain, same pattern, opening jaunty & boastful, “Once I built a tower to the sun!” Babel, Ozymandias -- now, the work ended, melancholy tune: “Once I built a tower. Now it’s done. Brother can you spare a dime?”

And then the bridge -- he was a soldier in World War 1, the tune is a little martial, we looked good, we slogged through hell, “I was the kid with the drum.”

Last strain, hysteria and desperation start in, and the tune is no longer jaunty, it’s a little freaked, starting an octave higher: “Say don’t you remember, they called me Al, it was Al all the time.” (An aside: Paul Simon should be ashamed -- ashamed! -- for trivializing that line on “Graceland.”) A little quieter, “Say don’t you remember,” then, explosive, climactic, utterly desperate: “I’m your pal!” Ending, pathetic, the familiar “brother” declined to a less personal, more distanced epithet, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”

It’s that line “I’m your pal!” that’s made me cry many times while singing it, and tonight with my beloved toddling son in my lap. Hysteria in song touches me deep.

After my son went to bed I got out my guitar to remember how I used to sing it. This time, fuggedaboutit.

I’d always had trouble with the bridge. The jauntiness of the soldier’s boast as the tune turns to a major key and a martial rhythm. And tonight it hit me, the jauntiness is sheer sarcasm; or at least it is from the singer’s perspective NOW, even if he originally did feel splendid in his uniform, now it’s pure bitterness of pain and outrage and betrayal, and that’s how I sang it, the second time through. Don’t know why I never got it before. Gall, gall, gall, gall, gall.

Once in khaki suits
Gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee-doodley-dum
Half a million boots
Went slogging through hell
I was the kid with the drum

Say, don’t you remember?
They called me Al? . . .

I broke down sobbing for 3 or 4 minutes and couldn’t finish the song, and even as I type this tears stream down my face.


The other day I read that Colin Powell cancelled his trip to the Athens Olympiad out of worry that his presence would inspire anti-American protests. I thought, wow, we’ve really sunk low. Unprecedented. Fear of protest rallies in allied European democratic countries.

I’ve mentioned this here before but it struck me harder than ever: The “New American Century” envisioned by Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Feith, Kristol, “and the rest” -- (may they all rot forver on a deserted isle, lost from a shipwrecked 3 hour tour) -- it’s utterly ignorant and ahistorical. These chumps looked around after the fall of the Berlin Wall (ahem, NOT the fall of communism, just ask Fidel, just ask Beijing), noticed that the U.S. had the numero uno military, and decided through sheer violence and intimidation, sheer bullying, we could hold onto that position FOREVER. Not having noticed -- or having forgotten -- that this has never worked, not for long anyway, never in the history of the world.

But ah, it worked on them. Except Rumsfeld, who served in the period between the Korean and Vietnam wars, none of them are vets, and most of them were of service age during the Vietnam War, which they all loved, like chivalrous medieval troubadours, from afar. WAR INTIMIDATED THEM. WAR FRIGHTENED THEM. THEY WANTED NOTHING TO DO WITH IT PERSONALLY. THEY HAVE PROJECTED THEIR COWARDICE ONTO THE WORLD. “IF I’M A COWARD, MUSTN’T EVERYBODY BE ONE? MUSTN’T EVERYBODY QUAKE BEFORE THE MIGHTY POWER OF THE AMERICAN WAR APPARATUS, AS I DID AS A YOUNG MAN?”

Um, no? Um, you might have noticed something about suicidal terrorists? Um, that deterrence is not really operational? You know, that fear is not really a factor? Uh, all throughout history, you know, these, there have been, like, PEOPLE, who fight against tremendous odds, because they believe in what they’re fighting for? You know, like, the American Revolution? Like, the Vietnam War itself? You know, history? And, you know, this thing about believing in what you’re fighting for, you cowardly liars wouldn't know about that, because YOU WOULDN’T EVEN FIGHT FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVED IN.

Through the calumny of the Supreme Court 5 and the Florida Secretary of State, and through the absurdist farce of the Palm Beach County butterfly ballots, these cowardly mean-spirited anti-American bullying IGNORAMI seized power behind their shrewd and ignorant Salesman-in-Chief. And they’re playing it out, as they inspire anti-American protests around the world, as they make us and everybody less safe, as they kill more Americans than Timothy McVeigh, as they kill thousands and thousands of innocent people.

Gall, gall, gall, gall, gall.

Throw the bastards out.

Friday, August 27, 2004


I was reading the other night Leonard Bernstein’s 1975 book of lectures, “The Unanswered Question,” which my friend Jay lent me. One of the first musicians Bernstein mentions is the classical Indian dance troupe leader he styles Uday Shan-kar. Uday Shan-kar was one of the first classical Indian performers to tour Europe. He did it in the 1930s. His European secretary was a man named Rene Daumal, who happened to be highly regarded poet and experimental novelist; he wrote “Mount Analogue,” which a very happening experimental Seattle band (who are also real nice guys) adopted for their name. Daumal wrote a still-highly regarded book on Indian aesthetics, “Rasa,” which takes its title from an Indian word for “savor” or “essence.” This Shan-kar fellow made some important connections, and 40 years after his tour, Leonard Bernstein was still talking about the music he heard.

Dancing in his troupe in this mid-’30s European tour was his teen-age younger brother who later gave up dancing and took up the sitar and became, among other things, George Harrison’s friend, Philip Glass’s teacher and collaborator, and Norah Jones’s father. The world of ‘30s French poetry seems forever away, but Uday’s brother Ravi is still very much alive.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


The most immediate regret is a too-hasty comment last night about the folly of describing and prescribing what makes good song words. In my haste I missed that the instigator of this rocksongword discussion, Carl Wilson, had made some good, positive suggestions on the topic, to wit: “My inclination, I think, is toward lyrics that do two things: 1. amplify musical effect, by their own inherent musicality and compatibility or contrast with their setting; and 2. offer something emotionally or intellectually unexpected. In general lyrics need to give you substance without giving so much substance that they overcrowd - you can lead up to the killer line with a lot of vague atmospherics or even cliches, then yank the scaffolding out with a turn of phrase, a pun, whatever ammo you've got.”

This makes sense to me but something nags that it's not exhaustive, and I doubt that Carl would suggest that it is. One of the best lyrics I ever heard: About 5 years ago, listening to the local high-school-student-run dance music station, a heavy riffing techno tune with one line repeated over and over, a woman wailing: "Remember me? I'm the one who had your baby." It made me cry.

Another regret: A few nights ago I made some sardonic ironic remarks about Bob Hope’s role as a wartime entertainer. Around the time he died, I watched some of those TV tributes. He could be funny, he could sing, he could dance, and -- humblingly -- he had the courage of his convictions. He put himself in harm’s way to entertain people he believed in. My sardonicism is sheer sneering arrogance. (I’ve gone back & edited the comment out; suppressed it; something I rarely do.)

On to amplifications. Regarding early REM’s difficult-to-decipher words, Franklin Bruno makes the following very interesting observation: “Stipe banning ‘I’ and ‘you’ for a couple key years (not denying the lyric self, I think, but doing an end run against the most uncritical ways of constructing one).” Which strikes me as a move reminiscent of Mallarme’s reticent hermeticism. It’s still lyric, yes yes.

Poet Jordan Davis, as well as saying all sorts of other interesting things on his blog, points out that “Stipe always acknowledged Wire, Roky, and Robyn Hitchcock as his leaders in willful obscurity.” Didn’t know that either; happy to learn it. To which I would add (as a precursor if not a consciously regarded influence on Stipe) the Jagger of “Get Off Of My Cloud” -- probably an influence on Roky too.

Amplification 2: After listing my few favorite rock lyricists of the last 15 years, I thought of two more, slightly less obscure (though much more obscure than Sheryl Crow): NYC (now Nashville) country-rock singer-songwriter Amy Rigby, and Fred Cole of Portland’s classic punk band Dead Moon. My initial list consisted of one megastar, two local Seattle writers, and an old friend. The second layer of listing includes a Portland writer who’s played Seattle many many times (great shows) and a singer on whose debut album my oldest friend in the world played guitar. This local-personal focus leads me to believe that there are probably a lot of other really good lyricists out there, and I have no reason to doubt the quality of Franklin Bruno’s or Jessica’s lists.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


First, I just want to say I’m not sure what I was trying to say in last night’s critique of the fact-iness of prose, and its antipathy to lyric. Hugh Kenner’s idiosyncratic, wonderful book “The Counterfeiters,” which I wrote about here on July 28, was in my mind, but his critique of the invasion of empirical scientific rational fact into 17th and 18th century poetry is different than the question of professional prose fictioneers writing songwords. I’m skeptical, but hopeful -- hopeful that the collaboration Carl Wilson describes turns out beautiful.

In last night’s urge to defend the classical lyric heritage of song lyrics, I forgot to mention another classical verse genre that has a lot of bearing on the discussion: Satire, which is a strong stream running through the sea of song, including Anglophonic song of the last 150 years. Horace was a lyricist as well as a satirist, but he kept the genres separate in his collections, as did William Blake and Ben Jonson. Anglophonic songsters have usually felt no need to keep them separate, and that’s fine.

Just as powerful a current in the sea of Anglophonic song as the lyric and satiric is a current that can combine them, and that, as far as I know, lacks a classical source: the ballad. Nick Tosches in his terrific book Country traces the geneology of the folk-country hit “Gypsy Davey” a/k/a “Blackjack David” a/k/a several variants back to the Medieval English mid-length epic “Sir Orfeo,” and thence to Homeric epic proper. I’m not so sure. A characteristic of the ballad as it has come down to us is the verbal (and musical) refrain, or chorus, which “Sir Orfeo” lacks. The earliest poetry I know with refrains is that of the Goliard Poets, Late Medieval Latin writers throughout Europe who, although they wrote in a Classical tongue, aren’t considered Classical -- not from the Classical period, not Classical in sensibility (supposedly -- the “Classical” sensibility is extremely wide-ranging). The Victorian Englishman John Aldington Symonds called his collection of translations of the stuff “Wine, Women & Song.”

The ballad is a supremely flexible form -- funny, tragic, uncanny, satirical, political. The 18th century collections of anonymous English ballads (which may be much older) -- they rock me. 19th century American cowboy ballads, well, Buffalo Skinners conveys the beauty and splendor and violence of nature, it’s political, and dramatic, and the ending is a shocker. One of the great songs, and one of the great poems, ever. And it lacks a refrain, which just goes to show that Franklin Bruno was right, several days ago, to warn us away from prescribing how good songwords get writ. (The absence of wise men in the vicinity should have been a warning to me not to rush in, but has that ever stopped me before? No.) (Carl Sandburg collected “Buffalo Skinners” -- it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lomaxes did too -- and Woody Guthrie sang it; I’ve never heard Arlo’s version; my favorite is my friend John de Roo’s, which as far as I know he never recorded.)

The ballad’s refrain worked its way into lyric poetry as well, as the closing song from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night shows. The refrain lines are the 2nd & 4th of every quatrain, not unlike countless Tin Pan Alley and jazz-era and Broadway gems, with their tag lines at the beginnings or ends of phrases -- “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me”; “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

Conclusion: etymology shmetymology. Song lyrics have an upstream in classical lyric, but also in satire and medieval ballad. Goddessspeed us all, be we gentle songworders or gentle else.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Sasha Frere-Jones agrees with me that REM is a source of recent rock's muffled verbal incomprehensibility, and asks what REM's source was. (Like Mr. Frere-Jones, I love REM, and even forgive them for copping "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" on one of their Eponymous hits.)

Carl Wilson answers, Pere Ubu, one of those bands I've heard of for 20 years but have never tracked down. (Why is that? Random -- I've tracked down a fair amount of stuff, and some I just plum haven't. Henry Cowell was another -- champion of Ives, teacher of John Cage -- I first read about him in high school and finally heard him for the first time last week -- and he's gorgeous!) Carl quotes Ubu singer David Thomas: "Rock music as an art is designed to communicate that which is beyond words. It's visionary, nonlinear, nonverbal, non-narrative, inarticulate. We're dedicated to the art of cohesive, intelligent, nonverbal communication.... I wouldn't know a thought if it came up and bit me. When you ask a question the answer springs out of nothingness and I flap my gums. If I like the sound of what my voice speaks then I learn it by rote so that I can roll it out like a monkey the next time. The form of the words triggers a recognition of meaning."

This catches my interest, being midway between Diderot's proto-romantic theory of lyric-poetry-as-interjection as proposed in Rameau’s Nephew (a central text in the history of western thought & sensibility, and a funny bit of music criticism to boot), and Mallarme, Hugo Ball, and the Cocteau Twins. (Thomas's "monkey" is in the middle, but then, like a Homeric beginning, aren't we all.)

Carl then wins me over forever with his very next sentence after the Thomas quote: "I think the precedent you'd track for that stance has to be Louie Louie." All right let's give it to 'em right now!

Franklin Bruno brings it all back home when he points out my mistake in attributing the words of "All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun" to Sheryl Crow. Says Mr. Bruno: "[R]ecall that 'All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun' may be the only recent hit based on a pre-existing, on-the-page poem, by one Wyn Cooper, a workshoppy sort with several collections to his credit." Not being a Platonist, I can't recall if I never knew, but thanks for the information! And as Franklin says, this does "bring it around," since the whole big wordy blogfest was initiated by Sasha's reaction to Carl's piece on a new album coming out with lyrics all by novelists.

Carl’s original piece (which is linked in the post below, as "lit rock") tells an interesting story well, of a band that got friendly with a bunch of writers and decided to make an album with the prosers writing the lyrics. In objective journo mode, Carl didn’t seem to weigh in too heavily as to whether this was a good idea or a bad idea -- it’s just an interesting story, right? Though shining the light of publicity on anything implies positive vibes unless otherwise stated -- and that’s fine, right?

I’m curious to hear the results of the novelists’ rockwords, but I’m not too optimistic. My reasons why have to do with an observation that Franklin raised in an earlier post, that we don’t call songwords “words,” we call them “lyrics,” implying that they have a special sung (or rapped) status, not just recited or silently read. This reminded me of a story: Shortly after Irving Berlin first hit it big, the Tin Pan Alley sheet music publishers started saying “lyrics by” instead of “words by.” Irving complained, thinking the new phraseology pretentious. (Don’t remember where I read this. Sorry.)

I feel Irving’s discomfort, but the verbiage is etymologically sound. Song lyrics are, by and large and for the most part more-or-less, lyric poems, as opposed to epic, epigrammatic, philosophical, or dramatic. They’re in the tradition of Sappho rather than Homer, the Greek Anthology, Parmenides, or Aeschylus. They’re all about “I love and I hate,” to quote the paradigmatic Roman lyricist Catullus. And they’re often addressed to “you,” and used to be addressed to “you” a lot more, before Wordsworth (in poetry) and REM (?) (in rock) turned inward, introspective, soliloquacious. (This is mostly cribbed from classics scholar W. R. Johnson’s excellent book, “The Idea of Lyric.”)

Lyric poetry is in the language of feeling, and is somewhat allergic to the language of fact. (Calling Hugh Kenner, whom I blogged about recently; calling Wyndham Lewis, Kenner’s inspiration with his anthology of “bad poetry,” “The Stuffed Owl.”) Facts are fine in poetry, as long as the lyricist (page-poet or song-) feels strongly about the facts and can convey the feeling in her or his idiom.

THIS is what makes me skeptical about novelist-lyricists. Many novelists are described as “lyrical,” but they’re still (by and large for the most part more-or-less) dealing with the language of story and fact more than the language of feeling.

In fact (FACT!), the only recent songs I know with lyrics by a professional proser are a couple songs on the next-to-most-recent Klezmatics CD, with lyrics by playwright and essayist Tony Kushner. Facty lyrics. They don’t really work. But it’s hard to tell whether the fault is in the words themselves, or in their musical setting & delivery. Setting lyrics is a delicate thing, and one thing about Sheryl Crow, she did it real well with that big hit song, and facty and storyfull as those words are, a lyric poet wrote them as a lyric poem.

(Personal note: I’ve set poems by Shakespeare, Dickinson, Mother Goose, Edward Thomas, J. M. Synge, Blake, James Whitcomb Riley, and others to music, as well as theatrical lyrics in plays by Caryl Churchhill and T. S. Eliot. Words words words!) (BTW, Eliot was a kick to work with -- tea breaks during rehearsals, a droll sense of the absurd, sly jokes at the expense of the Roundheads; he originally wanted George Jones to write the music -- a meeting of the Old Possums, but, well, you know.)

Thanks, fellow bloggers, for the gourmet all-you-can-eat-buffet-for-thought.

Monday, August 23, 2004


Sasha Frere-Jones probably started it, by saying (intemperately, by his own later admission) that rock lyrics for the last 15 years have sucked massive ass.

Franklin Bruno said, hey, here’s a whole bunch of people who don’t suck ass, and then he said a bunch of other interesting things.

Carl Wilson jumped in with stuff about, among other things, how now that teen-idol generation of Britney fans are heading off to college, we should be getting some more rockin’ lyrics again -- Springsteen rather than Monkees, for inst. (Actually, Sasha’s original post was inspired by an article by Carl lit rock.)

And Sasha kept on saying interesting things too.

Me, I’m a dilettante, and I haven’t *heard* most of the rockers of the last 15 years, except in passing as I desultorily listen to college radio. (I haven’t even read all the posts in this discussion.) But has mere ignorance ever stopped me from jumping into a fray? No.

So. Non-suck-assitude is a pretty freakin’ low bar. I’m interested in whatever happens to rock my boat, or float it, as befits my sailing conditions. And, as it happens, one of my favorite rock lyrics ever is that of a Monkees song (since Carl Wilson mentioned them), “The Last Train to Clarksville.”

I’d never really thought much about the song, never really even liked it, not nearly as much as other Monkees faves, such as “She” or “Steppin’ Stone” (which my high school band played a la the Sex Pistols’ version) or “For Pete’s Sake,” until I heard Cassandra Wilson’s moody jazzy cover of 10 years ago or so. And hearing her version, I remembered something my old friend John de Roo (lead singer of my band in high school, who introduced me to the Pistols and Dylan and the British Invasion bands, 13 years after the fact in the latter instance, when we were 14 ourselves) told me one night 10 or 15 years after high school: That the Bacharach/David Dionne Warwick classic “I Say A Little Prayer” had been a favorite among American soldiers in Vietnam. If you know the song, you can imagine why: The singer is going through her day, full of its daily details -- putting on makeup, catching the bus to work, taking a coffee break -- and all the while, “I say a little prayer for you.” And that prayer, BANG, it’s explosive, Dionne wailing at a peak of emotion, in a rush of syntax -- together together, forever forever, that’s how it must be, to be without you would only mean heartbreak for me. What in heck is that all about? Ah, her boyfriend (or husband) is a soldier. And he might not come home, ever.

When I heard Cassandra Wilson’s cover of “Clarksville,” a song that had never touched me suddenly did. The singer URGENTLY wants to see his beloved. (I prefer the Monkees’ version, even though I never really HEARD it until Cassandra’s.) He has one more night, he’s leaving, he’s at the train station, they’ll have one more night together, time only for some coffee-flavored kisses and a bit of conversation (great, beautiful detail, and no money for a hotel room), he’s calling his beloved on the payphone, it’s noisy in this lonely railway station and “I’m feeling low. Oh no no no no!” And, crucially, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

And thinking of "I Say A Little Prayer" and the comfort it gave to the freaked out American soldiers in Vietnam, and hearing Cassandra Wilson’s seriousness, it suddenly struck me. The singer’s been drafted. And he’s leaving to report to duty.

Now THAT’S a great song lyric.

(Other possible scenarios don’t make it: He’s leaving to dodge the draft. But he wouldn’t sound so scared. Or, he’s on the lam. But he wouldn’t take the train, and he wouldn’t wait another night. So -- drafted it is.)

Last 15 years -- rock only now -- my favorite lyricist is probably Sheryl Crow. The gorgeous Whitmanesque epiphany at the end of “All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun.” The piercing pathos of “If It Makes You Happy.” The exuberantly hopeful sorrow of “Every Day Is a Winding Road.” The awesome line in “Leaving Las Vegas,” bellowing at the top of her lungs, “I’m standing in the middle of the desert waiting for my ship to come in” -- the wit and despair and desperation. (Anyone who says Sheryl Crow isn’t rock -- and they’re out there -- is a metaphysician who isn’t much interested in how music SOUNDS.) (Not to be argumentative or anything.)

My other rock fave lyricists range from quite obscure to totally -- Christie McWilson, formerly of the Picketts (local Seattle, country-rock); Gary Heffern (Seattle singer-songwriter); John de Roo (childhood friend, unsigned singer-songwriter living in Tucson, who’s probably stuck in the Folk genre since he hasn’t had a band in forever and plays solo acoustic). These are the ones who make me think most often, damn, I wish I’d written that.

As for non-suckitude, I tend to prefer teeny bop lyrics to college rock -- open lust and heartache to muffled “je ne sais quoi.”

Cutting the discussion off at 1989 keeps us from what I think is the biggest influence on rock lyrics and rock vocal production of our period -- early REM. They were the ones who popularized obscurity and low vocal mixes. You can really hear it if you surf from college rock to Top 40 to country to Oldies on the radio -- one of these genres is not like the others in that it’s hard to understand the words at all. Or harder, anyway. And that’s REM’s influence.

Words, words, words.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


Michael Ventura’s book of essays “Shadow Dancing in the USA” features a dandy called “Hear that Long Snake Moan” (title courtesy of Blind Lemon Jefferson), a speculative history of the African American beat from 19th century Louisiana voodoo ceremonies through jazz & R&B & rock and roll. Thesis: That the Rhythm & Blues of Louis Jordan and others partook of the same religious-ceremonial-musical-intense-rhythmic impulse and is in the direct lineage of jazz and Louisiana voodoo, and that R&B’s successor style, rock and roll, is of the same water, and that African American gospel is front & center in the mix too. Historically and musically, this makes a lot of sense: Louis Jordan himself played alto in the Chick Webb band that gave Ella Fitzgerald her start; his beats & sounds aren’t far removed from those of Webb or especially Lionel Hampton. Therefore: In the post-big-band ‘40s, when “the history of jazz” tells us that bop was the next move, there were actually two new jazz moves: bop and R&B. That only one of the moves got called jazz is neither here nor there.

I dig this thesis; it comports with the other thesis I carry around like a suitcase or an albatross, which is the Andre Hodeir / Martin Williams thesis, that rhythmic innovation always takes the lead in newness in jazz. They take innovation to equate with increase in complexity and/or subtlety: bop is more complex than swing and free jazz is more complex than bop (both more-or-less). But innovation can just mean change too: The R&B innovation from swing made the beats harder, not necessarily more complex -- and that’s still innovation.

Gospel went through similar yet distinct innovations. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a big band swing singer in the early ‘40s as well as a country-blues style solo guitarist (and maybe the first ever rock-and-roll-style electric guitarist, sounding like Chuck Berry 14 years before “Maybelline,” but that’s another story for another night); by 1956, her stripped-down electric gospel band was making a lot of the rhythmic and sonic (timbre) moves that Aretha Franklin *and* Bob Dylan and the Band would be making 10 years later. Telling detail: Her bassist and drummer also played big band music with her 15 years earlier. (This detail is repeated in the story of most of Motown’s house band, as told in “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” [haven’t read the book, but loved the video]: most of those guys played jazz before they played Motown.)

Since Motown and Memphis soul owe more to gospel than to R&B, and since funk, disco, hip hop, techno, and their myriad stylistic permutations and descendants owe more to soul than to blues or rock and roll, gospel’s centrality and lineage fit in well with the Ventura/Hodeir/Williams hybrid thesis that “it’s all jazz and rhythmic innovation drives newness.”

Right now, Top 40 R&B is at the center of rhythmic innovation. Heard a song a couple times on the radio the other day sung by several female voices (may have been one singer, overdubbed) that displayed a beauteous rhythmic virtuosity and innovativeness. Songs I’ve heard by Usher strike me similarly -- these artists have an ability to keep multiple rhythmic-melodic-vocal balls in the air simultaneously, with subtlety and complexity that I haven’t heard before. The rhythm sections -- electronic percussion & bass -- don’t feel super-new to me; these melodic-rhythmic innovations feel like the freshest moves since Charlie Parker or Lester Young. I remember when dancing to Prince’s “Controversy” and the Time’s first couple records in the early ‘80s, and thinking, “will this music ever sound dated?” Prince & the Time brought sonic (timbre) innovations, but there’s a lot more Funkadelic & Sly Stone & James Brown in there than I knew at the time. This new stuff is different.

Last night my beloved spouse & I had a great time at the CD release show for a compilation of Seattle’s best soul and funk, 1965-1975, with many of the original musicians playing, now in their 50s and 60s and 70s. The terrific band Cold, Bold & Together gave Kenny G his start 30 years ago -- they smoked it like mofos last night & they sound terrif on the CD. (Mr. G didn’t make the show; his solo on the CD is a little rough but energetic.) Cold, Bold & Together were in a serious Earth Wind & Fire bag; Maurice White, EWF’s main writer and leader, had played in the (jazz, popular gospel-influenced instrumental jazz) Ramsey Lewis Trio, and he thought of EWF as playing in the Coltrane and Miles tradition. The patriarch of the slightly less rippin’ but beautifuller-singing family band Broham, Curtis Hammond, played sax with Coltrane and Miles and Ray Charles -- and last night Mr. Hammond’s three sons still sang beautifully & he himself, who’s gotta be in his 70s, reigned on that horn.

Ray Charles -- from Nat King Cole stylings to inventing soul music by singing secular over gospel rhythms.

Now one of the top 2 most loathed musicians in the world (along with Britney), Kenny G is the king of Smooth Jazz. My local smooth jazz radio station plays early ‘70s Marvin Gaye regularly. Serious jazz critics pretty much all loathe it (“Marvin’s cool, but he’s not *jazz*, and DON’T get me started on Kenny G”), but the Smooth Jazz guys -- they’re right.

Friday, August 20, 2004


“Mei” is the toddling dude’s word for music. He’s crazy about it.


Today, at the beach, dancing to the tune of the ice cream truck. He’s allergic to milk and its derivatives, and he’s too young to know what he’s missing, but he loves that ice cream truck.


At the zoo the other day, in the butterfly tent, string quartet music from the Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert period was playing (I *think*). Very, oh, I liked it, despite the cheesy arty movie quality of it -- or maybe because of it (I liked it a LOT) -- though I wished the string quartet had been LIVE. Anyway, after a slow quiet movement, the beat picked up & the toddling dude started dancing. Not all of what we now call classical music was originally made for us to sit our butts down for.


The toddling dude thinks all small plastic gadgets should emit music, since so many toys do. “Mei?” he says questioningly, having picked up someone’s calculator.


At my parents, my mom turned the dial of a tiny “boom” box to the local NPR station, which was playing Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” The toddling dude held the radio on his shoulder and swayed.


Not exactly a music story, but it took place at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Along with being crazy about music, the toddling dude loves dogs. The unamusing comedian Wavy Gravy, one of the fest’s MCs, dressed like a clown and walked with a plastic fish at the end of a leash. The toddling dude saw this man walking by with something on a leash and took off after him to pet the dog. He sped away from where we had been sitting & I had to get up & chase him as he rounded a corner behind a stage. When he caught up with Mr. Gravy, his disappointment at not finding a dog at the end of the leash -- oh, it was sad. Mr. Gravy thought it was funny that a little kid chased him only to be disappointed, and he had no real friendliness or sympathy.


Several weeks ago in the car, hearing Aretha’s “Respect,” and the background singers chanting “Hoo,” the toddling dude thought they said “Boo” and started playing peek-a-boo in his car seat. “Boo!” he said.


Almost every day he asks for “bah” or “bo” or “bow,” his word for piano. He sits in my lap and I plunk through children’s song books. He requests the songs he likes, which he recognizes by the pictures illustrating them. “Sailing sailing, over the bounding main” is a favorite we share. On songs with “la la la” choruses, sometimes he sings along.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


Saw it last night. The sorrow. Michael Moore lets the sorrow flow. He’s funny sometimes too, but from the beginning, he gets the tone right -- from the stolen election through the atrocity of 9-11 and on through the Iraq catastrophe, it’s all drenched with sorrow.

Funny: I almost didn’t catch it, but my friend Jake laughed & I figure it out: When Moore shows Bush’s Air National Guard record, regarding Bush’s failure to appear to a medical exam, the soundtrack plays just the guitar riff of the ‘80s classic rock hit “Cocaine.” For just a second or 2. Music as icon, suggesting the song’s lyrics.

Afterwards, walking to our cars, some serialist humor: Jake’s dad, a retired composition professor and serialist composer, said, “Now we can watch it retrograde.” I laughed.

Moore’s thesis is right on, that the “war on terror” is straight outta Orwell’s vision of 1984 -- endless, unwinnable, and designed to oppress the population.

(Let it here be noted that the Jackson 5’s Victory Tour took place in the year 1984.)


I caught about half of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” on the quality rock station this morning. Hadn’t heard it in years, really digging it despite the loose, energetic, awkward funklessness of the band, until the last verse, when Jagger threatens to lay my soul to waste, and I just had to shake my head and snort in derision. Some skinny white guy waste my soul? I don’t think so. Not only did Jagger fail to convince, but my experience with the devil tells me he’s a smooth-talking con man with no power on his own to waste anything, just the power of persuasion. The devil is salesman extraordinaire, selling lies, paranoia, laziness, complacency, a bunch of crap I don’t need.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


It rarely happens that a tune gets stuck in my head to such an extent that I get sick of it, but it happened on vacation at my parents’ last week. The sad thing is, the tune that drove me sickly was one I wrote! The day before leaving Seattle, I made up a melody for this poem that I posted here on August 5th, and all the time I was home I hummed it. (Home! Seattle is my home too.) And one day I got sick of it. I like it again now, but I remember that feeling.

I played and sang it for my mom. She said it sounded sad. And it does -- it’s melancholy. But the poem is about mortality, right?

My friend Jay once told me that Michael Stipe composes the words and melodies of some of REM’s songs and then sings them a cappella to his bandmates, who then harmonize the song & come up with accompaniment. Since he told me that, I’ve written a few songs that way, when I’ve had words I wanted to set to music. Just work on a melody without guitar or piano. It’s an interesting process. When I figure out the chords afterward, they almost always end up being fancier than is usual for me -- major sevenths and suspended 4ths and diminished chords and the like.

With this “Gull Lake” poem, the first few dips in the well came up with blatant Tin Pan Alley steals from Nat King Cole’s repertoire. I’m not aware of the final tune being a lift. I haven’t finalized the chords yet. I’m thinking of sending the melody to Jay, to see what harmonies he comes up with.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Sure, it’s a pretty tune, but what’s up with that bit about the bough breaking and the cradle falling and down coming baby, cradle and all? Maurice Sendak might say it plugs into kids’ absolutely accurate knowledge that life is precarious, and so we shouldn’t censor; an analyst of the soul’s conflicts with itself might say that it expresses the resentment of a parent toward a baby who’s been squalling for hours. My question is, who put the cradle in the freakin’ tree in the first place?

Monday, August 16, 2004


Like the Shirelles said, it’s a swingin’ thing.


I heard the original (? I think) Henry Mancini recording of his movie theme (ace lyrics by ace lyricist Johnny Mercer) on the old people’s radio station today, and the bland white group muzak-y singers made me hear Leon Russell in my mind’s ear instead, the lyrical closeness to Russell’s great song “This Masquerade” making me realize how well Mancini & Mercer’s great song would work sung by a pained wry singer.


Also heard Stevie Wonder’s lovely song on the old people’s station today. “And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.” First reaction: how trite. Lasting reaction: So what! I believe him. The guilelessness overwhelms with embarrassment and charm. Then, at the end, a la Kenny Rogers and Barry Manilow, a gratuitous key change! Incorrigible. Irrepressible. Delightful. Reading the lyrics, I notice Wonder’s craft, saying it’s just an ordinary day, not New Year’s, Valentine’s, April shower, June wedding, July warmth, August harvest, fall, Libra, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas -- a whole calendar from start to finish, just tucked in conversationally. An ordinary day. Any day. Everyday.

From the bottom of my heart.


Martina McBride’s current country hit -- well, she’s always an excellent singer, and here she combines yearning pathos with a rousingly uplifting chorus. Like she really wants all the girls to be uplifted, and it pains her that so many girls can use the uplifting, and that want and that pain come through her singing even as the music uplifts, uplifts, uplifts.


My dad installed new cabinets in the kitchen. My mom found in her mother’s things sheet music for a four-handed piano arrangement of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (the “Pastoral”). My new nephew Michael is a very pretty baby. My childhood friend Jay is working on a beautiful lullabye for his kids; he thinks he needs a second verse but I’m not convinced that he couldn’t go straight to the bridge after the first verse. My cousin Skip is figuring out whether to buy 2 Michigan football season tickets or 3; his family seems well and his son has grown amazingly since I saw him at Christmas. My mom’s sister pointed out to the widow of my dad’s late brother that she plans to join my dad and his family in voting for Bush, unlike my mom and her children. Mrs. Ransel, Mr. Longman, Mrs. Turner, and Miss Ellsworth all died (in their 90s, though Mr. Longman may have only been in his 80s) this winter and spring, leaving my mom the senior member of the beach; Mrs. Ransel is the only one I knew very well; she was a really charming person, energetic and friendly; she grew up in the summers with my maternal grandfather and in the winters with my paternal grandparents. Her son, Mr. Melvin, plays golf every Monday with his next-door neighbor Chris, who’s cognitively disabled and has the most courtly manners of anyone I know; Mondays and Saturdays are Chris’s days off from the grocery store. Chris’s sister Amy and brother-in-law Andy and their two sons moved back to Ann Arbor from Boston, making everyone in the family happy (me too). My childhood friend Peter changed his name to Guven, got his PhD in anthro, and this year published his dissertation as a book; I hadn’t seen him since his sister’s wedding in 1988 (a picture of me with my immediate family from that wedding adorns my kitchen window sill); his kids (11 and 10 now) are really nice. His sister Ellen has three kids, two of whom have the same names as me and my sister -- she stays home with them and they all seem well and happy. My mom’s second cousins still aren’t on speaking terms with most of us (Mom has exchanged pleasantries with them), which is how we want it anyway, but it can be uncomfortable since we’re next-door neighbors.

These are all people I’ve known all my life.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Off to my ancestral summer home at Gull Lake, Michigan, tomorrow, me & the toddling dude flying to Chicago; my beloved spouse, having to work on Sunday, will join us on Monday. Probably won’t be computing till I get back, and so, adieu, my lovelies.

At work I have the Boris Realtors Gull Lake Calendar on my cubicle wall.  August has a photo of a poet who lived 100 years ago on the stream that drains Gull Lake.  I love this poem, never having read it before a couple days ago; nor had I heard of the poet:

Gull Lake

I love you dearly, bonny Gull,
I love your groves and highlands,
I love your water clear and cool,
I love your bays and islands.

If I could dwell beside your shore
Or by your peaceful river,
I’d be content and ask no more
Than live and live forever.

            -- Howard Dwight Smiley

That last line -- it sounds so sentimental at first, but if you think about it, it’s CRAAZY.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


What makes me angriest about other people, sometimes, is when they remind me of things I don't like about myself, only I haven't realized it yet. And then when I do, oh man, the red face of embarrassment.


No place. The web's image of itself, except of coure it's a grid in physical space, and -- what's the word -- *servers*, big computers storing all the bits and orts and dribs and drabs and flotsam and jetsam of typed verbal whatnot and pictorial images and sonic configurations. The English saint and courtier who coined the word from Greek -- his name was MORE. U = "no" or "not"; topos = "place"; u + topos = "no place." It's also a town in Texas.


The eyes droop from having attended too long, too long in the waking. Waking waves cascading behind the prow of the ship of time as it sails across the ocean of What Is.


Flotsam = whatever still floats after the shipwreck.

Jetsam = the stuff that someone has jettisoned from the sinking ship, in order that maybe it won't sink now that's lighter.

In case you were wondering.

I think Guy Davenport told me this. In a book. Good writer, that Guy Davenport; wonderful essayist. Whom I sometimes think of as Dude Couch. (I know, it's a weakness.)

Sometimes I think of Ezra Pound as Nehemiah Kilo.


Weddings and deaths and dinners and hours and wandering animals. And pinball.

Monday, August 02, 2004


Last night I said that a director is almost always worse than no director. So negative! I’m not into negative. (I’m way into negative; I just find it distasteful when I see it lodged unnecessarily in my soul’s mirror.)

To make the case positively: theater is much more like chamber music than like orchestral. Chamber music doesn’t need a conductor, because the musical instruments are few enough that everybody can hear what’s going on. (And the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has been making symphony orchestra music without a conductor for more than 30 years.) Almost all theater is made with a small number of actors on the stage. People who know the theater don’t need a weatherman to tell them where to put the fan for the storm scene.

That wasn’t the positive case, that was the analogical case.

Here’s the positive case. Most actors know what they’re doing. When they have control over and complete responsibility for their interpretations, they are sure to be committed. Any actor worth her salt is going to be committed to her interpretation anyway, in any but the most dire of directorial circumstances. When there is no director, though, the actor can invest herself in the entirety of the production, giving notes to other actors, contributing to the set and costume and sound design, anything and everything. From my limited experience (half dozen shows acting with a director in college; about a dozen shows acting and/or playing music with the director-less Theater Oobleck), having no director led to more exciting, more committed productions. After I stopped working with Oobleck, their productions, when I saw them, still stand among the best-directed shows I’ve seen.

Oobleck members take turns serving as the “outside eye,” watching rehearsals and commenting, and friends not in the shows would serve as well. Similarly, Orpheus members take turns serving as “outside ear” (not their term for it), “taking turns listening from the auditorium for balance, blend, articulation, dynamic range and clarity of expression.” Working with Oobleck was much more like being in a band than singing in a choir.

The negative case still stands: It’s hard for me to see the benefit that most directors bring to a production.


My friend the filmmaker Ross Lipman, who wrote two plays that I acted in way back when, and for one of whose experimental films I made a collage soundtrack, slightly less long ago, wrote to disagree with my assessment last night that the Free Shakespeare Company’s years-ago directorless rehearsal-less production of “The Taming of the Shrew” benefitted from not having been burdened by a director’s “concept”:

“hey yo !  telling the actors to do their own thing w/ no rehearsal or costume coordination or meetings etc. & just show up is a concept!  they just used a producer/actor's concept & not a director's in that case.  glad it worked!  i love the ensemble-creation of jazz et al & although the works emerging from director-based creative modes may have different characteristics than ensemble-based as a result of that methodology, they're no worse inherently..  it all depends on the creators, the project, & the wind that day..

my two cents.”

JOHN REPLIES: Yes, telling people just to show up without rehearsal is a concept -- it imposes a loose, multi-stylistic interpretation on the text. I happen to like that, maybe especially with Shakespeare, for whom just putting the words and the story across is accomplishment and engrossing enough. (One of my favorite things about one of my favorite movies, “Gold Diggers of 1933,” is the clash of acting styles between exaggerated vaudevillians and gum-cracking wise gals.) I also agree on the question of directors. The question is, to paraphrase Glennda the Good Witch of the North, “Are you a good director, or a bad director?” Now, I’m no Dorothy Gale, and I’m not going to reply, “Good director! I didn’t know there was such a thing as a good director!” Though part of me, obviously, really really wants to. But only for rhetorical purposes. Thanks for writing!


Last Friday I listed experiences which I feel have made me a better human being. Thinking more about that, I realize I have no way of knowing. Every experience goes into who I am. I am inclined to agree with Nietzche that even disastrous experiences have probably made positive contributions to my current humanity. I lack his strength of character to actually treasure those disasters, so I listed some experiences I treasure. I realized after posting that I forgot my friends, except that most of my closest friends are either current bandmates, former bandmates, or former theatermates. I also forgot to mention dancing and jokes. And a bunch of other things -- the list goes on. Emily Dickinson’s poems, Rilke’s, Robert Duncan’s, Gertrude Stein’s, Alice Notley’s, David Antin’s; love poetry of Sappho, ancient India, Robert Herrick, Tin Pan Alley; . . .


On Sunday, July 11, I wrote about “Modernism, Originality, Distinctiveness.” My friend the writer and actor Mickle Maher (in one of whose plays I acted in, way back when, and who acted in one of mine) wrote in with these quotes:

“Hey John, while reading your posts on modernism and innovation, by chance I came across this thing from T.S. Eliot (in an essay about Tennyson):

“’...innovation in metric is not to be measured solely by the width of the deviation from accepted practice. It is a matter of the historical situation: at some moments a more violent change may be necessary than at others. The problem differs at every period. At some times, a violent revolution may be neither possible nor desirable; at such times, a change which may appear very slight, is the change which the important poet will make. The innovation of Pope, after Dryden, may not seem very great; but it is the mark of the master to be able to make small changes which will be highly significant, as at another time to make radical changes, through which poetry will curve back again to its norm.’

“Not sure what he thinks poetry's ‘norm’ is, and I wish he'd elaborate on what was significant about Pope's small changes to Dryden's form, but it's an interesting take: the fever for innovation rises and falls. I guess that I've always thought (without really thinking much) of it as kind of steadily increasing, like populations and industry.

“Also reminded of something Robert Lowell said (in his introduction to Ariel): ‘Oh for that heaven of the humble copyist, those millennia of Egyptian artists repeating their lofty set patterns!’”

JOHN REPLIES: Thanks for the interesting quotes! Though I suspect Robert Lowell of bad faith -- it seems he could have found equivalent work to that of the Egyptian artists had he really wanted. Like maybe a colorist for comic books or animated films. Or a symphony violinist.


On Wednesday, July 14, I posted twice about a discussion among classical music and theater bloggers about elitism and transcendence in the arts. I see now that I wasn’t completely fair to one of the bloggers I criticized. A. C. Douglas, the unabashed elitist, wasn’t, in his posts, necessarily saying that old popular arts aren’t classical. What he did say was that classical music has the possibility of subsuming all other musical experiences, which is absurd, and that what distinguishes classical music from other music is its inherent aspiration to transcendence, which is a matter of faith. My own view -- or faith -- is that an aspiration to transcendence inheres in almost all artworks, even a sitcom episode, even a Celine Dion song, even a Thomas Kinkade painting.

GEORGE HUNKA, whom I also rather snarkily criticized, and who has a very different understanding of transcendence than mine, wrote me a nice e-mail in response to a note I sent him:

“Dear John,

“I can't speak for ACD, but you're right in concluding that my own attitude towards artistic experience is that aesthetic transcendence is achieved via the act of contemplating the will through the artistic object. ‘Mr. Hunkas Schopenhaurean will-lessness might be readily found at a rave’? I can't go there, sorry. There's a difference between the willful urge to oblivion via physical activity and the willful denial of physical experience, the attempt to renounce the phenomental world. Feeding our appetites and desires for physical sensation to satiety and beyond is no Stairway to Heaven, regardless of what Led Zep says. One seeks to deny desire and appetite, not to appease it, in the artistic experience as defined by Schopenhauer.

“This isn't to say that art is the only way to this experience either. Schopenhauer also saw transcendence as possible through the religious avenue and (that dirty-minded 19th century German) through sex. Mind you, there's a difference between sex and mere physiobiological rutting. It's always good to bear that in mind.”

JOHN REPLIES: I don’t know whether I’ll have to read a lot more Schopenhauer, dance a lot more, or have a lot more sex before I’ll understand why he distinguishes between physical satiety through dancing and physical satiety through sex, but I’ll consider all three alternatives. I’ve never read much Schopenhauer, though I think of one of his lines whenever I come across the crypto-creationists who call their version of anti-evolutionism “Intelligent Design.” I don’t remember the exact words, but it’s something to the effect that, “If God made the world with human happiness in mind, He sure made a horrible botch of it.”

As for transcendence, my understanding is Homeric polytheism, not Schopenhauerean will-lessness. Art aspires to making the god(s) appear. Often the gods appear in human beings, temporarily. In the Iliad, the god “stands with” whom he or she favors, and that person is inspired, often unknowingly, by the god’s presence. That’s what I’m looking for, that’s what I crave.

In any case, thank you, George, for your thoughtful response and blog.


ArtsJournal.com is hosting a group mega-blog of 13 classical music critics, including Kyle Gann, Greg Sandow, and Alex Ross, each of whom I’ve linked to many times here, to discuss the future of classical music composition. A completely speculative and problematic premise has inspired interesting dialogue as well as numerous bumps in the road. The host has invited readers to comment. I’ve been taking part, playing the role of the interested, sometimes cranky, semi-informed dilettante that comes so naturally.


Saw my friend Dan Tierney play Brutus in a free outdoor production of “Julius Caesar” Saturday night. My beloved spouse and I took the toddling dude, who, we shouldn’t have been surprised, had no interest in sitting still and quietly. So my spouse and I took turns missing the play and finally she gave up & took the toddler to a playground elsewhere at the park.

Dan was quite good as Brutus, and the actor who played Marc Antony rocked it too; and this is good, to have the best two actors in the best two roles. The production design had everybody in contemporary power suits until the civil war, at which time they switched to embarrassingly Fred Flinstone-esque Roman garb. It seemed designed to strengthen my prejudice that production “concepts” and Shakespeare don’t mix. The most memorable Shakespeare production I’ve seen was “The Taming of the Shrew” by the Free Shakespeare Company in Chicago in the late ‘80s. No director and *No Rehearsals* -- the producer (one of the actors, a really good acting teacher named Frank whose last name unfortunately I’ve forgotten) assigns the roles, they have a meeting to decide on entrances and exits, and that’s it. So everybody gets their costume together, and it’s a mishmash, and the acting styles are a mishmash, and it worked great. They were all professional union actors. It was refreshing to see actors coming at you directly, unfiltered by some director's “concept.”

A long time ago I had the privilege of working with Theater Oobleck, a terrific company in Chicago that puts on its own plays. Early on we decided never to use a director. A lot of the group had strong political convictions that non-hierarchical life was better for the people living it. I shared that belief, but I also felt that most directors were worse than no director. Good directors are rare.

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