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

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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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?

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

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

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