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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

President speak with forked tongue

I didn't listen to the State of the Union. Why deliberately put my ears in the way of an uninformed, incurious, banal and amoral liar? Amoral liars can be entertaining, but not this one -- except -- now I'm curious -- how often did he flick his tongue out? I love that tic of his -- so serpentine! "Eat of the fruit, trust me, come on, whaddaya got to lose? You're going to believe some blowhard voice that you never even see? Trust me, I tell ya, me! Me! Take a bite, you won't regret it! The Voice just wants to hog it all to himself!"
woody & hank

Woody Guthrie's style came out of the Carter Family; Hank Williams might be Jimmie Rodgers's heir; both the Carters & Rodgers first recorded in Bristol, Virginia, within a day or two of each other in 1927. Woody & Hank -- not typically thought of together, but they both could be grandsons of Bristol, and both of them tremendous, wide-ranging, beautiful songwriters. (And both wrongfully disparaged as singers; Guthrie doesn't get a fraction of the respect he deserves, and I remember a crusty 70-ish white guy telling me on a bus ride between Chicago and St. Louis, "Hank Williams wasn't a singer. He had a voice like a saw cutting through wood." He said it as if that were a bad thing!)

They had at least one tune in common. They both recorded "A Picture from Life's Other Side," a Tin Pan Alley weepie from 1896 by Charles Baer. I don't know whether they shared any other cover songs; this one sure is grim.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding had his first scary dream that he could articulate last night. He woke up crying because a dog was eating his foot. He was pointing at a pile of blankets, thinking it was a dog.

He had trouble going back to sleep, so I joined him on his queen-size futon and he was fine. I woke up a couple hours later when he rolled over and flopped his fingers into my mouth. My first thought upon waking was, "I sure am glad my reaction wasn't to bite."

He talked about his bad dream when I put him to bed tonight. He said tonight he would dream about Cookie Monster eating rocks. I asked him if he dreamt that last night too. He said Yeah. I asked him if it was a funny dream. He said Yeah and he laughed, and said again he would dream about Cookie Monster eating rocks. I said that I hoped he would have nice dreams.

* * *

Karen our 8-and-a-half-year-old chicken laid an egg yesterday. It had been more than half a year since her last one. Rock on, Karen.

* * *

Johnny Mercer songs stuck in my head tonight, one in particular.

"If you need a new face
or a tenor or bass
you can tell 'em I'll be there"

"In the cool cool cool of the evening . . . "

The glamour of abundance and sociability.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mozart's 250th birthday today. The BBC Classical Music magazine features the Big Mo this month. Touting the breadth and depth and range of human experience comprehended in his music. I can dig it.

I woke up this morning at 1:45 AM and listened to the beginning of a 1948 recording of his D minor piano concerto (number 20) played by Artur Schnabel with the Philharmonia Orchestra as I put on my boots and raincoat. And then went out and joined a couple hundred volunteers of the county's Coalition for the Homeless in the annual street count of people sleeping outside. My group saw a few people sleeping in cars but nobody outside in our area, though there are 100s in Seattle sleeping outside tonight.

Back to bed for me now, for an hour or 2, the strains of Mozart's passionate music and the sorrows of people cast off by society sing my lullaby. Try to stay warm. Be safe.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Charles Reznikoff

Via Ron Silliman, an excellent review by jane dark’s alter ego Joshua Clover of a new book collecting Charles Reznikoff’s shorter poems. Reznikoff was born in the 1890s in New York. He’s long been a fave of mine. For many years his republished books have been edited by a man I knew between the ages of 4 and 10, when my family lived 2 doors from him, an English professor at Western Michigan University (at least he was back then) named Seamus Cooney. I don’t remember him much but remember his kids. His daughter was my age and his 2 sons were older. We played together. I first saw a Beatles record at their house, and the long hair and beards on the cover of “Let It Be” frightened me. Mrs. Cooney was a ceramicist and made beautiful cups. Mr. Cooney didnt hip me to Reznikoff’s poetry, and it was a nice surprise years later to find his name associated with these marvelous poems. Here’s a favorite Reznikoff poem in its entirety.
Here beggar, three pennies--
your fare to serenity;
abstinence, reticence, diligence--
hunger, silence, and sweat.

The hard stoicism and compassionate bitter irony of stating the case as it is; and also the case as it is euphemized and the case of what that euphemism masks; social relations in 15 words -- and the critique of the role of Latinisms in our language v. Anglo-Saxonisms -- amazing poem.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Grand Entry at the pow-wow yesterday -- and if you've never been to one, I recommend it; they're generally open to the public and very relaxed about attendance and attention, at least in Seattle -- very moving, all the dancers, most dressed in fabulous regalia, dancers from little kids to old people, whoever wants to dance, including a man pushing a walker, not dressed up except to hang colorful handkerchiefs from his walker -- I think seeing him is what moved me most, the idea that the dance is open to any tribal member who wants to join. Before the Grand Entry a man came and blessed me & my beloved spouse & our son by fanning burning sage over us -- he asked first, whether we wanted the blessing, and of course we were happy to receive it, and he was very friendly. (Note: in case you don't know, we're white.)

I dug into the music more than I had before. I've always liked Native American chanting, and found it to be mysterious, where the accents come, how the rhythms work. Unison singing of intricate rhythms over a relentless 2-beat on the big drum, the singers gathered around the drum, all hitting it in unison. Occasionally the drums will accent a few measures on the first beats, then another time they'll accent a few measures on the second beats. The melodies on the whole have a triple-meter feel, setting up a 3-against-2 rhythm, the triple meter in the voices overlaid on the strong duple meter on the drum. The phrase patterns remain opaque to me, and I was only able to pick them out on one song: A 15-bar (or 30-beat) cycle, 7 bars followed by 8 bars. With occasionally (I think) a few extra bars thrown in; I wasn't able to discern when they would come.

The singing was powerful -- keening, hard-edged, intricately accented.

The M.C. was a witty, friendly, boistrous man. He introduced himself (I don't remember his name) and said, "Or you can call me, 'Hey you, Indian guy,' or 'Hey good lookin'"; just don't call me late for breakfast." There were several drumming-singing groups. What the M.C. called "the host drum" was a group called Dancing Eagle; another group was the Yakama Boys. Many of the people attending came from Eastern Washington and Idaho.

People generally don't applaud after a song, and the singers don't acknowledge the audience. My most powerful memory of this performance ethos comes from November 1999 -- a date etched in Seattle history. The night before the big march against the WTO in downtown Seattle a big old downtown Methodist Church hosted a rally for international debt forgiveness, what Christians and Jews call the Jubilee, from the tradition in the Jewish Bible of freeing all slaves and forgiving all debts every 50 years. I got there too late to get into the church, but the action in the street was tremendous. Thousands of people gathered in the pouring rain. A van pulled up and blasted out wonderful electronic dance music; people danced.

Best, most memorable, most moving of all, across the street from the church, sheltered from the rain by a deep overhang making a plaza to the entrance of a bank building, a Native American drumming-singing group set up and sang their songs. After each song the hundreds of gathered lefties & assorted punks & hippies (almost all white) would roar with approval. The singers never even looked up, never acknowledged their audience, never even smiled, unless it was in private conversation among themselves. They were just there to sing their songs and be present; nothing else mattered.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Universe Today (as of June 2, 2005)
(Artist's conception.)

My beloved spouse was doing the crossword and the word "universe" came up. I remarked on the oddness of the word -- literally, etymologically, "one turn"; though I also like to think of it as "a single line of poetry," which is a rather beautiful conception of the whole sh-bang. Curious as to how the word came to be, I pulled out the dictionary. It comes from the Latin; "one" and "turn" are the roots, but in the sense of "turned into one." "The One-ness" might be a more direct translation of the Latin, except it lacks the implication of transformation and perhaps willfulness that the word "turned" carries.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It's a funny thing to take over someone else's email address. I hadn't meant to. I just wanted "turtletop." For the blog. Some guy named Jeremy had the address before me. Half the junk email I get is addressed to him. The other half is addressed to Turtletop. The auto-spammers don't even take the time to look at my blog and see that my name is John! How rude!

Occasionally I get personal emails for Jeremy too. He left no forwarding address.

* * *

I was wrong about "Mary Poppins" being Dick Van Dyke's first musical. He had had a singing role in "Bye Bye Birdie" too.

* * *

I found a used copy of the "Mary Poppins" soundtrack in my neighborhood used CD store, but I didn't buy it, because the 14-minute Dance of the Chimney Sweeps faded out after 2 minutes. (I listened.) Thinking about this pushed me to pull out my collection of six Fred & Ginger soundtracks which I picked up new for 12 bucks in a super-cheap 3-CD set called Ginger & Fred. (It doesn't seem to be available as a set any more.) 3 Irving Berlin films (Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, and Carefree, the last of which I've never seen), one Gershwin (Shall We Dance), one Kern & Fields (Swing Time), and one with 3 composers (The Gay Divorcee). What's great about the collection -- besides all the wonderful songs & terrific singing -- is that it includes all the music for the big dance numbers.

"Let's Face the Music and Dance" from "Follow the Fleet" goes for 7 minutes 45 seconds. Fred's (beautiful) singing takes less than a minute and a half of it. The arranger pushes the tune into big, bold, beautiful places. The record Fred cut of the song for the radio and for selling is beautiful too but half as long and half as intense. There's a substantial duet for tap dance and machinery on "Slap that Bass" from "Shall We Dance." Industrial!

The importance of the arranger: In the 19th century classical paradigm, the arranger would have gotten the credit. Composition on a theme by Irving Berlin. The tunesmith's tune, after all, could often be no more than 32 bars of music -- a minute and a half for "Let's Face the Music." I appreciate the justice of giving the arranger credit, but still, in 20th century pop-jazz America, Gunther Schuller was wrong to call his arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross," "Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (Criss Cross)". 45 years ago it was a way to steal royalties -- I don't think it would fly now.

* * *

We recently found out: They still do the hokey-pokey at roller rinks. For how many decades have roller skaters been doing the hokey-pokey? 5? 6? Subject for future ethnomusicological research.

The hokey pokey: still fun.

And like the song says, that's what it's all about!

* * *

Fun, and the divine. Hearing Osvaldo Golijov's composition The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (David Krakauer's clarinet playing rules) made me want to re-read Rabbi Herbert Weiner's late '60s journalistic study of Jewish mysticism, 9 1/2 Mystics. Reminding me: music isn't mere fun, mere pleasure: it's a bridge to the inexplicable divine. If you don't go for supernaturalist metaphor, then please tell me -- why do you love music like you do? Why do you want to hear some pieces of it ("pieces," yes, a very mystical Jewish way of putting it -- the original unity of music having been shattered) -- why do you want to hear certain pieces of music over and over again?

* * *

Via Alex Ross, a recording of Walt Whitman’s voice.

Walt, man, Walt -- he stops somewhere waiting for you.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I rented “Mary Poppins,” thinking my son might like it. We watched it after dinner in installments. After the 2nd installment he lost interest. But I was enthralled and had to watch the 3rd and last installment last night after his birthday party.

I’m a sucker for such stuff, and I loved it. I’d seen it before, once maybe 10 years ago, and maybe a couple times in childhood.

The powerful tug of fantasy-myth. The stranger who floats into town and sets the social order -- in this case a family -- right. Julie Andrews is radiant, witty, warm, inscrutable, and goddess-like. “I must make one thing perfectly clear. I never explain anything.”

Great songs, catchy and energetic and witty and thick with emotion. Mr. Banks’s early songs excellently modelled on the songs Lerner and Lowe wrote for Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady” -- the Sherman brothers’ take on the style isn’t as virtuoso as Lerner & Lowe’s, but still excellent. “It’s a jolly holiday with Mary” modelled on the great Irving Berlin number for Fred Astaire, “Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain.” Not as voluptuous with longing and passion as the Berlin song, but still marvelous. Co-songwriter Richard Sherman has said that “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” were inspired by English music hall (a style about which I know nothing) and the song of the bankers was inspired by Gilbert & Sullivan. Excellent songs all, whatever the stylisitic inspirations.

Dick Van Dyke was charming as Bert the musician-painter-chimney sweep, despite his lamentable attempt at a Cockney accent. Surprising to learn from the DVD’s supplemental material that he had never had any dance training and this was his first musical at age 38 or 39. Another fantasy character -- the endlessly resourceful and kind and talented impoverished man. The lengthy dance of the chimney sweeps -- utopia -- utter joyous chaotic abandon; with a hint of threat when they dance through the Banks’s house, a threat never to be carried out (at least not in the world of the movie), but only to be asserted as a sign of power held-in-check.

“Chim Chim Cherree” -- what a mysterious song! Strength and sorrow and beauty all wrapped together.

I cried buckets when Michael gave his tuppence to his father. The wish of the child to do anything to help his or her parent, and the incompetence to accomplish anything. I’ve felt it as a son and seen it as a parent. The heart of the movie.

And Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert, the intensely real childlike wish to keep the party going forever. Man, I’ve been there too.

And the immense renunciate love between Mary and Bert. At a couple points you can see flickers of loss across Bert’s face as he is reminded that their love will remain intermittent and either unconsummated or subterranean. Reminiscent of troubadour myths and of Hinduism. Mary Poppins is the goddess; Bert is the ecstatic devotee or Bhakta. Mary Poppins comes and goes as she pleases; Bert can only ask that she come again soon.

Mary’s departure, so sad and beautiful, like Fred Astaire’s at the end of “Finian’s Rainbow” -- the same story arc: the stranger coming to town and setting the social order right while gaining nothing for him or herself except more people to miss as she or he has no choice but to keep moving on, unmissed by the people she or he has so greatly helped.

Mary’s child-rearing style very seductive. “I am always kind, but very firm.” I’m working on it.

The “Step In Time” dance of the chimney sweeps is where the fantasy of the movie bleeds into what Kenneth Rexroth called the Social Lie. The affluence of the Banks family, with its ethos of kindness exemplified in the song “Feed the Birds,” depends on the upper economic classes “pressing their advantage” against the lower economic classes. The class-cohorts of the chimney sweeps -- in America at least; I don’t know Britain’s labor history -- expressed their power in strikes which sometimes turned violent, and people on both sides of the picket line died. (Far more Labor than management/police died.) This Social Lie persists to this day. I can only wish that the ethos of kindness would transcend its limitations and eliminate the inequities of distribution that terrorize so much of the world; and I can fantasize about universal ecstasy, including that of the economically denied.

And work toward a world of transcendent kindness and universal ecstasy, and ending the economic denial.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A picture of me by my 2-and-a-half-year-old next-door neighbor

Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding turned 3 today. We had people over for dinner and cake. Mr. JCP’s babysitter made him a birthday crown which he wore the whole party. My mom sent New Year’s Eve tooting blowers, and the party ground to a noisy, merry halt for 5 minutes as everybody blew them -- a gas!

Can’t believe it’s been 3 years. It was a very nice party. With too much sugar and a very cranky bedtime, but worth it.

The next-door neighbors came. The 2-and-a-half-year-old gave Nat a family portrait. I’m psyched about how she sees me -- the bolt red hair, the giant green eyes -- you’d know me anywhere.

* * *

Bragging on the wife. My beloved spouse had an op-ed in last Saturday’s Seattle Times, about the city government’s plan to direct money away from homeless shelters and toward transitional programs, which in effect would abandon the most severely mentally ill homeless people in favor of people with less severe problems. A couple days ago we heard through the grapevine that our (good centrist Democratic) mayor was literally pounding his fists on the table, demanding to know why this Flo Beaumon was writing such terrible things. She got to him. Hopefully it will have a positive effect.

Correction: Mayor Nickels pounded his fist on the table, not his fists. Visions of Kruschev.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It kind of snuck up on me -- I was going to throw a party, invite all the other blogs over for cake and games, but here is the date & I have no plans.

This blog is 2 years old today. Thanks for coming by. Just knowing you're on your way, as far as I'm concerned it's a party.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Terry Riley, hippie. 1968.

I picked up Music for “The Gift” and other pieces, a CD of early tape manipulation pieces by Terry Riley today, stuff before “In C” and Steve Reich’s tape loop pieces. I’d never heard any of it before.

One word: Stupendous.

I’ve loved Reich’s tape loop pieces “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out” since I first heard them in college. (I’ve only once heard his slightly earlier, far less well-known tape-splicing piece “Oh Dem Watermelons,” which takes a recording of Stephen Foster’s song of the same title and cuts it up.) I’ve read of Riley being dissed by fans of Reich and Philip Glass because his music is hippie-ish. That might be why I prefer it to Reich and Glass’s, on the whole.

Three of the four pieces on the Riley CD use tape looping -- “The Gift,” “Bird of Paradise,” and “Mescaline Mix.” (The fourth might too, but it didn’t make a strong impression on me -- it sounded like a live recording of a performance art piece that depended heavily on its visual element for its impact.) His approach pre-figures Reich’s (and therefore hip hop and modern dance music), but his feel -- or should I say his “vibe” -- is very different.

“The Gift,” from 1963, is perhaps the most impressive of the 3 pieces: Live improvisations by a jazz trio fronted by trumpeter Chet Baker, with Baker’s licks looped and stacked into thick buzzes of pulsing sound. (The CD credits a trombonist in addition to the trumpet-bass-drums, but I didn’t hear the trombone -- will listen for it.) Riley’s use of looping and sound-stacking feels improvisational, not doctrinaire; impulsive, not compulsive; intuitive rather than rigorous. I like where his intuition takes him -- what he does with the music. It’s all about the gorgeous surprise, not about the theory. I still love those Reich pieces too, but I hear them a different light now that I’ve heard Riley’s earlier stuff.

“Bird of Paradise” is harsh and garish and beautiful -- late night free-form noise-improv college radio could play it this week-end and it wouldn’t sound of date. From 1964.

“Mescaline Mix” from 1960 is sweeter and dreamier, with hiss-heavy loops of people talking and laughing and Riley playing dreamy piano.

Inspiring stuff.

* * *

In an African import store today looking at masks with my son -- who loves masks -- I buzzed on an Oumou Sangare disc the store was playing. One song had a rippin’ polyrhythm going that took me a few minutes to parse: a highly syncopated 6 in the bass and guitar over a very fast, straight 16 on the shaker, with the 2nd 16th note in each group of 4 on the shaker a rest, like so:


Once I felt how the two rhythms related, it was great to dance to. And great riffs and melodies too. I might have bought the CD, but I’d already spent my limit on the Riley disc.

So much tremendous music.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thunderbird above Dzunukwa, Alert Bay, British Columbia
(We saw this pole on vacation last summer.)

I’ve mentioned before that Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding has made a great imaginary friend of Dzunukwa, the Kwakwaka’wakw “Wild Woman of the Woods” and ancestral goddess. For some weeks now Dzunukwa has been the foil to our family, a creature for Mr. JCP where everything we parents say is safely contradicted. The contradictions aren’t contentious, but merely point to an alternate reality where what he imagines really exists.

Two examples from the last few days:

The other night when I was having a beer, and Mr. JCP asked for some of it, my beloved spouse said, No, alcohol is not for children. Mr. JCP said, “Dzunukwa gives alcohol to her children.”

The other morning when I was getting out of the shower, the topic of conversation was stinkiness and sweat. “Do boys and girls sweat?”


“Do statues sweat?”

“No, statues don’t sweat.”

“Dzunukwa saw a statue once and it sweated.”

“Well, Dzunukwa has seen a lot of things that I haven’t seen. She gets around!”

Rock on, Dzunukwa.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I own a CD of Piano and String Quartet by Morton Feldman, a 79 minute and 33 second piece of intense quietude and stark beauty. Beautiful, but I've never been able to sit through the whole thing. Maybe I'm too busy. Tonight, I just came upstairs to go to bed before it was over. I left the CD playing, giving the impression that the music lasts forever. It seemed to suit the music, to leave it in the middle, leaving me to imagine it goes on forever.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas; today we’ve been putting away the decorations and the Christmas music. As the Season closes I’m left with questions, questions about Vince Guaraldi’s music for Charlie Brown.
I love the soundtrack, though for years I’ve thought that Side 1 and Side 2 were mislabeled, leading to the opening song coming right in the middle (at what used to be the beginning of Side 2), directly preceded by its lengthy instrumental reprise (at what used to be the end of Side 1) -- this ordering makes No Sense. Easy solution in the LP days: listen to Side 2 first, which results in the album beginning with the shows opening song, and closing with the reprise, very nicely. (I never owned the LP.) The CD release also pointlessly tacks on a completely different version of “Greensleeves” at the end, one with a different band, from a different session, and with considerably more dissonance, breaking the smooth lovely melancholy mood. Why did they add it? I don’t get it.

Watching the video this Season, I noticed discrepancies between the music in the show and on the recording. Three songs on the soundtrack Album don’t appear in the show: “Greensleeves,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Chestnuts Roasting.” Contrariwise, I noticed 4 tunes in the show not represented on the soundtrack album:

* Snoopy’s home-decorating theme, with horns! (The album and the rest of the film feature only keyboards, bass, drums, and kids singing.) It’s a catchy tune.

* Sally’s love theme, for Linus. Very brief, and very sweet.

* Rehearsal music, during the play rehearsals (not when they’re dancing.) A strong tune never emerges, but the music seems distinct from anything on the soundtrack album. I could be wrong about this.

* Very briefly, a melancholic, lovely reharmonization of “Jingle Bells.”

I’m guessing Guaraldi never worked up full “tune-length” versions of any of these snippets, just leaving them very nice snippets for the show. Too bad. Much as I like his versions of “Greensleeves” (the original, not the tacked-on one), “Chestnuts Roasting,” and “Drummer Boy,” these would have been terrific too.
Another film, another jazz pianist-composer, another lost great tune: Duke Ellington’s great soundtrack for “Anatomy of a Murder”; at one point James Stewart’s character plays a rippin’ boogie woogie arrangement of “Oh Danny Boy” (a/k/a “Londonderry Air”); it’s obviously Duke’s playing, but a full take never showed up, and Columbia’s otherwise comprehensive re-release of the soundtrack album lacks this tiny gem.

Acchh -- shouldn’t regret too much the ones that got away, when we’ve been blessed with musical riches beyond all reckoning.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Field recordings from around the world, donated by volunteers. Documentary phonography as an analogue to photography -- I'm into it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My mom jamming with her grandkids, a couple days before Christmas

* * *

Almost a week ago, waiting with my son to meet my beloved spouse for dinner at a waterfront restaurant, we found a coin-operated band organ, 50 cents a song. We listened to two old songs (one of which I knew but now don’t remember) in the chill night air; my son was rapt; I was digging it; and passersby would stop for 3 seconds and look before moving on. After 2 songs my son wanted a third, but I was out of quarters, and then my wife showed up. I’d walked by that band organ, I don’t know how many times. Psyched to have found it.

* * *

Courtesy of The Anachronist, a great old -- 100 year-ish, I’m guessing, from the stiff rag-timey band accompaniment -- recording of Auld Lang Syne sung by a resonant baritone named Frank C. Stanley, who sings, in addition to the traditional verse & refrain, an obscure stanza and accurately translates the lost Scots word “fiere” as “friend,” a word I’d come across in an early poem of Ezra Pound’s. Thanks, Anachronist, as if in answer to my request!

* * *

In Chicago 2 weeks ago I found an attractive book, The Best Loved Poems of the American People, edited by Hazel Felleman. 650 pages. The most represented poet: Unknown; a better designation than “Anonymous,” since “Anon.” implies intentional anonymity, and the intention of most unknown poets is unknown. Date: 1936. Felleman was the editor of the “Queries and Answers” page of the “New York Times Book Review” for 15 years; these 100s of poems were the ones that people asked about. No moderns: no Eliot or Pound or Williams or Stevens or Crane or Stein; but also no Frost; not even any Whitman or Dickinson or Hardy or Hopkins. The real pop poetry of 70 years ago. The NYT published a Queries & Answers page because the publisher, Adolph Ochs, was a poetry nut; one of the poems in the book, he inquired after, having remembered only one line and wanting the whole poem back. Two of the poems I set and recorded for my November album project are in the book. Funny that the NYTimes gathered the poems so long ago, and that a 3rd song in my November project is a letter addressed to a recently retired NYTimes reporter. Haven’t read very deeply into the book, but enjoying what I have & looking forward to more. “What a cool reprint,” I thought, “Who put it out again and under what circumstances?” Nope: copyright page says it’s never been out of print & it’s the original edition in its 90th printing.

* * *

My friend Jay gave me the new Paul McCartney album. Beatle Paul explores his classic period, circa “Help” to “Band on the Run,” with a batch of beautifully sung, highy tuneful songs. Enjoying it very much. Sometimes I think, “Oh, that sounds like Squeeze,” or, “that sounds like Billy Joel”; then I realize, No, they sound like him. A couple Messianic passages in the lyrics about Changing the World (though less preachily than his old mate Beatle John); a couple love songs more convincing than anything I’ve heard from him outside of “Maybe I’m Amazed” (one of my all-time favorite songs by anybody ever -- the freaked-out joyous surprise & awe of Love); and a couple really nifty lyrical turns: In “Friends to Go” the singer is a loverboy hiding in his sex partner’s closet, waiting for her friends to leave because he’d really rather they didn’t know he was there -- a great image. “Promise to You Girl,” the singer is an old man, reflecting on his past, and starting a new life & new family, not at all unlike the biographical circumstances of Our Singer, with really tour-de-force music. Jay points out: Paul’s piano sometimes does the Brian Wilson thing of putting the bass notes on the 8th-note offbeats (Jay busted my own hackish piano playing for doing the same thing -- guilty!). And, I agree with Jay: really beautiful singing; just a lovely voice, and sometimes singing so High and so Softly -- remarkable.

* * *

Last Spring Alex Ross wrote a New Yorker column about Spanish viol player and bandleader Jordi Savall that made me want to rush out & get some of Savall’s music. I hadn’t yet gotten around to it, which is why I was struck by the uncanniness that my wife’s sister’s husband sent me Savall’s album, La Folia: 1490-1701 as a Christmas present. I’ve met my brother-in-law only a handful of times; I really like him, but we only talk when for some reason he’s calling my wife to relay a message from his wife and I happen to answer the phone, or vice versa; we’ve never discussed classical music. How could he have known? Well, he heard the music on the radio and thought it was gorgeous, and I agree: Medieval Spanish/Portuguese dance music, played by virtuoso classical improvisers led by Savall on 3 different violes de gambe. Hearing Savall play, it’s impossible to imagine the advantage the more modern violin, viola, and cello have over his instruments. Great verve in the rhythm, gorgeous tone, virtuoso articulation. The Portuguese word “Folia” is our “folly,” with a similar double meaning; in Portuguese, “wild amusement,” and “insanity.” I hear exhultation; exuberant dance music played by a a hot small band, including two percussionists; much of the music improvised.

* * *

My sister salvaged from my mom’s record collection two gems she knew I would enjoy, a 10-inch LP of “University of Michigan Music” by the marching band and Glee Club, “produced by the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan,” which my mom got as a 20-year-old (the record has her maiden name written on it, and my parents married at 21); and a commercially-released, on Vanguard records, Michigan marching band LP with the great title, Touchdown, U.S.A.: The “Big Ten” and Other Great College Marches of the Gridiron. “Touchdown, U.S.A.” has the fastest version of Michigan’s great march “The Victors” that I’ve ever heard -- it smokes; a fellow Wolverine with whom I listened to it asked if the record player somehow got switched to 45 rpm. Vanguard records got great blurbs for the record jacket.
Ferde Grofe: “One of the finest bands in the nation.”
Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman: “The University of Michigan Band, according to my judgment, has no superior among University Bands, and is truly outstanding in its achievements.”
Robert Russell Bennett (whom I’d never heard of but who has an impressive list of credits as an orchestrator): “It is the finest band I ever heard.”
Henry Cowell: “The University of Michigan Band is one of the best I have ever heard.”
Henry Cowell!

* * *

Old business. In comments to a post from a couple weeks ago, A. C. Douglas suggested that Coca Cola codified Santa’s red-suited, fat, merry look. I mentioned my query to my sister, who said the same thing: Coke did it. This collection of Victorian Santas shows otherwise. Coke’s ad campaign of the 1930s may have solidified the image, and influenced subsequent illustrators, but the idea that they gave Santa his look seems like an urban legend that, coincidentally, works as pretty shrewd marketing for the Coca Cola company.

By the way, I should underline, The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum gives a fascinating & readable account of alternative Christmas histories. There are things to quibble with, but on the central point Nissenbaum is right: The family-centered Christmas wasn’t the only Christmas available 200-years ago; Puritan Americans tried to ban it from our shores early in our colonial history; urban celebrations circa 1800 probably looked more like Mardi Gras does today, except rowdier.

Also, I highly recommend this Dover edition of “The Night Before Christmas” for the complete, feral, Puck-ish Boyd illustrations to the poem, nothing like the more familiar Nast illustration pictured on the book’s cover!

* * *

Probably light blogging for a while, as I’ve volunteered for a couple larger writing projects and I want to finish 2 albums I’ve been working on; plus I need to sleep more than I have been.

* * *

But before I go, a few new links -- old links I’ve long liked but have simply neglected to link to. They all live in the Northwest -- Seattle, Portland, Seattle, and Yakima -- though I’ve only met one of them.

Pop music critic Michaelangelo Matos assimilates a ton of music and puts it together pop-critically in interesting ways.

Pop music critic Douglas Wolk sponsors the November album project, for which I will be forever in his debt. At various nationwide alt-weeklies he’s a go-to guy for stories on technology & music biz.

Ann Powers blogs eensy weensy, moving and frank anecdotes about life as an adoptive parent; when I met her & her daughter at a kid’s music concert she belied the stereotype of the uber-hip pop critic (which she is) and seemed like a very nice person.

Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides covers jazz. I dig his breadth of knowledge, enthusiasm, and graceful writing.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?