- 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
- 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
- 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
- 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
- 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
- 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004
- 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
- 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004
- 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
- 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
- 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004
- 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005
- 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
- 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005
- 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005
- 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005
- 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005
- 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005
- 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005
- 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005
- 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
- 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005
- 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005
- 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006
- 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006
- 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006
- 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006
- 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
- 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006
- 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006
- 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006
- 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006
- 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
- 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006
- 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006
- 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
- 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007
- 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007
- 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007
- 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007
- 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007
- 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007
- 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007
- 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
- 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007
- 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007
- 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007
- 12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008
- 01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008
- 02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008
- 03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008
- 04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008
- 05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008
- 06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008
- 07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008
- 08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008
- 09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008
- 11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008
- 01/01/2009 - 02/01/2009
- 04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009
- 07/01/2009 - 08/01/2009
- 09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009
- 10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009
- 11/01/2009 - 12/01/2009
- 12/01/2009 - 01/01/2010
- 03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010
Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Thursday, April 27, 2006
I mentioned this poem in a post the other night and remembered the image of Blake's engraving.
I work overtime to make myself unhappy. Forging those shackles. "And on each link, the initial of my name." The ghost of Marley meets the Carter Family meets Wilhelm Reich meets Blake. A foursome for Bridge. Trump! Double! Pass!
The trick-word "forge": to make, and to fake.
My shackles tonight: Too much wine last night, and not enough sleep! Regrets? Oh no.
Woe to you, my Princess, when I come. I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump. And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a gentle little girl who doesn't eat enough or a big wild man who has cocaine in his body.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Mariah Carey & the apotheosis of melisma: a music critic I respect very much sent me a link to an article he wrote a few years back which posited a much simpler explanation for why my musician friend may find the melisma in contemporary R&B too aggressive: as Emperor Joseph said in that lurid, wonderful Mozart movie, "too many notes." Especially as compared with the soul singers of the '50s and '60s. Mariah does sing more notes than Aretha (I picked up an MTV Unplugged Mariah EP for a buck the other day), but I haven't listened enough to tell whether she sings more than Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whom I revere. So, "too many notes" seems plausible, but so far I'm thinking it's just too many enough for me -- I like it!
* * * *
The 3-year-old’s hysterical bedtime fear: turns out he had a fever that night. My beloved spouse figured it out. He's feeling better today, 2 days later.
* * * *
Mentioned the other night having gone to hear a folk concert. The first act consisted of a duo that between them played guitar, ukulele, guitarron, harmonica, and trombone; they played '20s-style pop and blues. I liked them a lot, and the 3-year-old and I danced with other kids and parents off to the side on a gym mat. The second act had a guitar-banjo-mandolin line-up, more trad folky, not as musically accomplished but energetic and very funny. They invited the first band to join them for the last song, and Thaddeus played a rambunctious, idiomatic, and wonderful '20s-New-Orleans-style trombone solo on the Woody Guthrie song with the rousing chorus, “you can’t scare me I’m sticking to the union,” showing the unity of folk, bluegrass, and '20s jazz. It rocked!
Monday, April 24, 2006
I just got an email from a childhood friend who's going back to Kalamazoo to help her ailing father. While she is there she will attend a concert at the Gilmore Festival: an evening of cabaret songs by pianist and composer William Bolcom and his wife, singer Joan Morris.
22 or 23 years ago Bolcom taught a "music composition for non-music majors" class that I took for two semesters at U of Michigan. For one composition 2nd semester I recorded two tape montages for simultaneous playback and recited a fairly long collaged poem which stole from a lot of my favorite poets -- Alice Notley and Frank O'Hara are the ones I remember now. The only thing I remember about the music montages is a snippet of the Portsmouth Sinfonia butchering the "Hallelujah Chorus," and one of the TA's complaining bitterly about it.
Bolcom is a fantastic musician -- he was responsible for two of the most vivid and beautiful evenings of music I experienced in Ann Arbor: the American premier of his 3-hour-long setting of the complete "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" by Blake, and a set of drunken piano improvisations in a smoky bar. The finale of "Innocence and Experience" has stuck with me all these years: a joyous reggae setting of a hair-raising poem that Blake discarded from his manuscript and never printed in color, "A Divine Image":
Cruelty has a Human Heart
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror, the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress
The Human Dress, is forged Iron
the Human Form, a fiery Forge.
The Human Face, a Furnace seal'd
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.
The exuberant party music for full orchestra, choirs, and rock band, and those fearsome, fearless, bitter images -- whoa.
The evening of piano improvs in a bar, he played 3rd after a champion boogie woogie pianist and another music prof doing meticulous and lovely Jelly Roll Morton transcriptions. Bolcom rose to the occasion of competitive display. His first two numbers -- blazingly fast ragtime-blues improvisations, both very short, explosions of melody, just to show that nobody could out-chops him. Then he mumbled something about slowing it down a little, and proceeded to play the most lyrical melodic lovely blues-jazz imaginable. Like floating drunk in love with the sweetbitter brutal tenderness of the world, for 40 minutes.
A great musician, but I didn't learn much from his class. Eubie Blake stomped his foot when playing his rags. One good hint about singing -- not about composition, but about singing -- and another about orchestration. But I dug him anyway.
After my sample-fest collage poetic mess, Bolcom asked if some of the text had been from O'Hara. Yes, it had. Bolcom started reminiscing. It's more than 20 years ago now, so I'm not completely confident, but this is how I remember it. First, a bit of necessary background: Bolcom had been a prodigy at Juilliard, and he had hooked up with an arts scene as a teen-ager or young man. And he told us a story about falling asleep at a party back then and waking up on a couch, party still going, with his head in Frank O'Hara's lap, "and Frank was stroking my hair." O'Hara had been dead for 16 or 17 years when Bolcom told the story, and I'll never forget the wistful expression on his face as he told it.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
(perils of telegraphed style -- i meant that fragment to refer to popular music, but i see that it refers to everyday life as well. and that's fine!)
as northern educated white urbanite, my accent, more or less, is that of the dominant culture. people from outside my subculture who adopt its tone and sound employ an assimilationist strategy. the goal of the persona is transparency, so that the listener doesn't hear the effort but only the finished thing -- the song, the performance, the music.
northern white urbanites who effect non-dominant vocal accents -- Bob Dylan, N. American reggae singers with Jamaican accents, northern country singers with southern accents, American power popsters who use British vowels, Tom Waits's visionary street drunk -- when i know the story, i hear the mask-construction. and i'd much rather listen to songs.
i understand the desire not to assimilate.
alt-country's hatred of Nashville: Nashville is assimilationism incarnate, even with its southern accents.
note: no problem listening to southerners who sound southern or Jamaicans who sound Jamaican and so on. in those cases too, the persona is transparent. i hear the songs, not the mask-construction.
note too: this listening mode may well be meaningless to everybody who isn't me.
every persona is constructed.
the parental challenge of late is dealing with hysterical, irrational fear. usually at bedtime.
"the witch flew out of the computer and is under the chair and is going to kill me," accompanied by tears and screaming.
i grabbed the witch from under the chair, took her downstairs and flushed her down the toilet. the 3-year-old wanted to know whether i locked the bathroom door behind me. i lied and said i did.
last night it was the curtains.
parenthood: a continual refutation of the arrogant claims of rationality.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
[update: links fixed -- sorry!]
Until I saw her on the Grammys a couple months ago, the only things I really knew about Mariah Carey was that she was hugely popular and that respectable rock critics hated her music. One respected critic said a few years ago, “I don't think that there is anyone who can say a good thing about Mariah Carey.” Anybody that popular receiving that much critical disdain pricks my interest, and though it didn’t interest me enough to actually seek out her music, when I saw her on the Grammys, I paid attention and I dug her. Not only does she have crazily gifted pipes, she sang like a woman possessed.
I was glad to read Sasha Frere-Jones’s informative, sympathetic piece in The New Yorker a couple weeks ago. She’s more popular and more influential than I knew, and Sasha confirmed my intuition that her musicianship overshadowed Christina Aguilera’s.
Sasha’s article got me thinking about a very sharp-eared musician friend’s complaint about modern R&B. My friend contends that the melisma of today’s singers sounds aggressive. Robert Christgau’s observation -- from a page disdaining Carey’s music -- that Carey’s mother was an opera singer, along with the news (to me) about her vast influence, may point to the reason for my friend’s discomfort. Operatic technique downplays portamento -- the smooth gliding from one note to another -- in favor of a clearer articulation between distinct notes. Melisma gives many notes to a single word, and R&B and gospel singers before Carey had a smoother articulation. It’s the operatic angle that makes the recent and current singers sound aggressive to my friend.
In case you were wondering.
* * * *
In honor of Earth Day we planted our potted Christmas tree today after a few years of service. Afterwards we went out for lunch and my beloved spouse and I decided on a Greek restaurant.
“Are falafels like waffles?” the three-year-old asked.
Friday, April 21, 2006
At the center of the labyrinth there be a monster.
Or as Fats Waller put it, one never knows, do one?
* * *
On the way to a folk music show this evening, the three-year-old said from his carseat, "Are we there yet? Are we almost there?"
I laughed. Some phrases are instinctual. First time I heard him use that old standby.
We were almost there.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I was listening to the Broadway soundtrack of "Hair" today and dug the funky Motown-esque bass, early adoption of the James Jamerson style, 1968. Earlier than any rockers I can think of, except maybe Blood Sweat & Tears. Lots of great tunes on that album, great funky band (jazzman Idris Muhammad on drums), oddball hippie lyrics, some funny, some sweet, some treacly sweet. "Frank Mills" may fall over the "too sweet" line for some, but not for me.
When I was a sports mad 6 year old in 1969 a hippie cousin arrived on the scene playing beautiful improvised flute. I asked him what his favorite sport was. "Walking," he said. He was a sweet guy, and that answer blew my 6 year old sportsmad mind, and I've loved hippies ever since.
i do enjoy how electric guitarists still want to look like the Keith Richards of 35 or 40 years ago.
highlights: a goth dirge cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Growing Up."
my friend J-Lon's Marshall Crenshaw-esque original and his cover of a song our mutual friend John de Roo recorded 20 years ago. (J-Lon's set was 2 songs long. melody never goes out of style.)
a young punk band playing loud fast & catchy & want to look like a combination of the Sid Vicious and the Elvis Costello of 30 years ago.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Kids absorb songs. When I saw that Billy Crystal - Meg Ryan movie ages ago, and Billy Crystal sang the Petula Clark hit “Call Me” (not the Blondie hit) to her, I knew the song, but I didn’t know how. I later got into Petula Clark, but I’d heard her version, probably on the radio when I was in early elementary school, or before that.
Another one: “Hello Ma Baby.” 10 or 12 years ago I picked up a cheap used LP collection of telephone songs (put out by Ma Bell in 1976, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the invention); a new recording of “Hello Ma Baby” by ragtime champion Max Morath opened it. If you don’t know the song by title, you’ll probably recognize the opening words of the chorus:
Hello ma babyThe tune makes a dramatic, even violent, appearance in Charles Ives’s great orchestral tone poem “Central Park in the Dark”; when I first heard Ives’s piece in high school or college I recognized the tune, but I didn’t know why.
Hello ma honey
Hello ma ragtime gal
It’s become a totemic song in my family. My beloved spouse started keeping chickens some months before we started dating; after I moved in, feeding them became my chore. I often sing to them: Hello ma babies, hello ma honies, hello ma ragtime gals. Sometimes now, when I forget to sing, the three-year-old chimes in. The first time I heard him sing, without prompting, in the chicken coop, “hewwo my wagtime gaa-ohhs,” my chest instinctively puffed with pride. A goof just like his old man!
Tonight I was plunking through a collection of “songs from the 1890s,” and I played through “Hello Ma Baby.” I hadn’t realized: it’s a “coon” song -- originally a blackface song, in which black men are referred to as “coons.” The song has long since been updated, and the personage in the line, “some other coon will win her,” is now called a “man.” The song came out in 1899, same year as Scott Joplin’s first and biggest hit, “Maple Leaf Rag.” As the Anachronist and others have pointed out, there’s little Joplinesque syncopation in pop ragtime songs such as “Hello Ma Baby.” What I hadn’t known until this moment, when I just looked up “Hello Ma Baby” in “Yesterdays: Popular Song in America,” a book by Charles Hamm that I own but haven’t read, is that pop songs that mention ragtime are almost as old and maybe older than published classic ragtime, the first example of which was published in 1897, only two years before my family’s chicken-feeding song.
Looking all this up I got to wondering how I could have heard this song growing up so that when I heard it quoted in Ives and sung on my collection of phone songs, I already knew it. Google gives me the answer: Michigan J. Frog sang it in a Warner Brothers cartoon, which I must have seen as a kid. Being from Michigan myself, and having a fondness for frogs, I’m pleased to learn the frog’s name. Notice the lyrics on the Michigan J. Frog page: no mention of coons. Which is as it should be; we shouldn’t bury the ugliness of history, but when old racist artifacts survive as contemporary popular culture (on re-run networks), the presenters should do what they can to eliminate the horrendous tell-tale racist signifiers.
My other favorite song on that telephone song compilation LP? “Call Me,” sung by Petula Clark.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Carl Wilson is reading about “taste.” I had almost posted something on “taste” a few days ago, but it was a digression in the middle of another post and I deleted it. I’m glad I did because Carl’s post helped me articulate what it is about “taste” that bugs me.
The concept of “good taste” carries a lot of upper-class snob baggage. Velvet Elvises, historically, are a sign of bad taste; meaning, blue collar taste. “Cultivated” taste requires more money, either a lot of it, or enough of it to simulate the possession of a lot more.
People don’t use the term that way any more, but I can’t help but hear the echoes. Putting aside my political prejudice against the word, I don’t find it useful; at its most benign, “good taste” can’t really mean anything more than “I agree with that assessment.”
“Taste” equates aesthetic consumption with eating. That interests me, and music is a tasty, synaeshetic experience for me: bitter, sweet, salty (funk = sweat = salt; and, the saltiness of lust), spicy (hot!); and timbre equates with the feel of food in the mouth -- crunchy guitars, smooth jazz, fat(ty) beats, lush(ious) violins. But that has nothing to do with my “taste” in music.
I prefer the Jane Austen-ish word “sensibility” as a stand-in for “aesthetic preference.” Sense-ability: the ability to sense the appeal of a particular piece. In 18th-century usage it meant, “passion.” I’d much rather have passions than something as dried-out-seeming as “good taste.”
And, you know, after flailing in search of a definition, there’s always the dictionary, and I wouldn’t object at all to being accused of possessing these qualities:
1. The ability to feel or perceive.
2.a. Keen intellectual perception: the sensibility of a painter to color.3. Receptiveness to impression, whether pleasant or unpleasant; acuteness of feeling. Often used in the plural: “The sufferings of the Cuban people shocked our sensibilities” (George F. Kennan).
b. Mental or emotional responsiveness toward something, such as the feelings of another.
4. Refined awareness and appreciation in matters of feeling.
5. The quality of being affected by changes in the environment.
Down with good taste! Long live sensibility!
Seattle has two local burger chains. Kidd Valley keeps guitars and other corny rock signifiers on the walls and constantly plays Oldies from the late '50s and early '60s. The last time I was there I heard a white guy a few years older than me pontificating to his son and daughter, aged about 8 or 9, about Booker T & the MG's "Green Onions," which was playing on the speakers. "That's Jr. Walker and the All-Stars," he said. The kids looked bored. I didn't intervene.
Kidd Valley cultivates a twice- or thrice-removed sense of early '60s nostalgia in a way that makes me dislike a lot of music I otherwise like.
The other local chain, Dick's Drive-In, doesn't cultivate anything "rock and roll," but I've actually had "Happy Days"-type experiences there.
The last time it happened was last week. I was standing at the open-air covered eating counter with a group of strangers, including two young mothers, one with an 8-year-old and one with a 2-year-old. The mother of the 2-year-old was way-out pregnant. Due in a couple weeks.
They had taken the bus from Auburn, a suburb of Tacoma, 25 or 30 miles away, because the pregnant woman had had a craving for a Dick's burger. They weren't sure if it had taken them an hour or an hour and a half to get there. They had no regrets; they were really happy.
My first "Happy Days"-type experience happened 13 or 14 years ago. I had just gotten off work, swing shift, and a bunch of the guys were piling into someone's pick-up truck to go to a bar. I had my bike, so I threw that in the pick-up and rode with it in back, which is now, alas, illegal.* Instead of ending up at a bar, the truck surprised me by pulling into Dick's for a midnight burger. And who could it be standing there but my housemate and another good friend, having come from a rock club.
The best "Happy Days"-type experience was a year or so ago. My spouse and I had had good friends over for dinner the night before, a super sweet couple we had both known independently before we knew each other. S- is vegan and L- is not, though she eats veggie at their house. We served a vegan dinner. The next day, I was getting some fries at Dick's and who should be in her car, about to drive away, but L-. "We love S- very dearly but sometimes we have to have a burger," she said.
Dick's opened in 1954 and the founder still owns the whole chain of five stores. Dick offers full health benefits to all full-time employees and college scholarships to full-time employees who work there for a year or so, he pays better than the national chains, and he gives a lot of money to anti-poverty programs. It's a cheerier place to go than most. You never know whom you'll meet there.
* 2 back-of-pickup stories. 1983, the spring after sophomore year of college, hitchhiking across the country with a friend from the university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We're in western North Dakota, maybe 75 miles from the Montana border. We get picked up by 3 young guys in a pick-up who are driving an hour or two across the state line to go to a bar, because it's Sunday night in a dry county. It's April and freezing; we're huddled in the dark under our sleeping bags, and the 3 guys open the back window when something they think we like comes on the radio. "You guys are from Michigan, right? Here's some Bob Seger!" My friend and I both hate Bob Seger, but we appreciate the gesture. (I've since grown to like some of his songs.)
1986, visiting a friend in Houston. He's just gotten back from an elopement, having married far away from friends and family, and now his and his wife's friends are throwing them a party in a country house an hour east of Houston. A nice party, I only know my friends and their family members. The host has hired the nephew of somebody's cleaning lady to wash dishes. He's 20 and from the Houston slums, a real sweet guy. After the party he and I ride back to town together in the back of my friends' pickup, lying on our backs looking at the stars. He says, sweetly, "I've never seen stars like that before," and I realize -- he's probably never been outside of Houston in his life. We both fall asleep and wake up a while later in a Houston midnight highway traffic jam, amidst all the noise and concrete and glare. It occurs to me that windshields protect us from more than the wind -- it's nice to have a buffer from the ugliness of the big city.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
I never thought much about “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” until a few years ago when I read this magisterial history by Rian Malan of “Wimoweh” a/k/a “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” a/k/a “Mbube”. The dramatic, sordid, surprising details are well worth reading in full. The quick-as-I-can version goes like this: South African singer Solomon Linda wrote and recorded the original, “Mbube,” in 1939; in the mid-‘50s the Weavers had a Top 10 hit with their cover, mis-titled “Wimoweh”; The Tokens had a huge hit in the early ‘60s with a loosely-adapted English-language version, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The latter two versions, especially the Tokens’, made tons of money, none of which went to Linda, the song’s original composer.
Two pieces of news, via wayne&wax:
First, Solomon Linda’s daughters have won the rights to a substantial chunk of the royalties, which have totaled several million dollars. Excellent news.
Second, wayne&wax pointed me to the Weavers’ version, which I’d been wanting to hear. Since reading Malan’s article I had tracked down Solomon Linda’s original, which is wonderful. As Malan points out, Linda sings the famous and lovely melody later adapted to “in the jungle the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight” only once, at the end of the record. Through the rest he dramatically bellows a much simpler, still wonderful, tune, which was familiar to me from Pete Seeger’s solo version, which I first heard 20 years or so ago when I bought his “Greatest Hits” (on Columbia).
I’d wanted to hear the Weavers’ version but hadn’t come across it. The Weavers had had Number One Hit Records before “Wimoweh,” which, contrary to their squeaky Puritan rep, feature brassy big band arrangements courtesy of ace Sinatra & Ella arranger Gordon Jenkins. “Wimoweh” was Number Six and climbing when HUAC called Seeger and a couple other Weavers before the Committee, thus immediately sinking the Weavers’ Top 40 career. (Check out the article in last week’s “New Yorker,” unavailable online, for an account of Seeger’s considerable guts in facing down HUAC; I hadn’t known the story.)
This page hosts 4 versions of Mbube/Wimoweh/The Lion Sleeps Tonight, including the Tokens’, Linda’s tough original, the Weavers’ wonderful brassy version, and another I haven’t listened to yet. Seeger is the bridge between Solomon Linda & the Tokens: He mostly does Linda’s simpler shouting melody, but he does what became the Tokens’ main, sinuous melody twice, rather than once a la Linda. And Seeger & the Weavers & the big band sound fantastic.
Also of keen interest: This wonderful mashup of the four versions by wayne&wax.
Next up in my search: The original source of the lion’s rep as king of the forest or jungle. The lion is a savannah mammal. Doesn’t live in jungles. According to E. Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898) “King of the Jungle” refers to the tiger. I wonder whether Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion’s speculations about what his reign would be like IF he were King of the Forest led to latterday confusion about the lion’s habitation..
In any case, the lion does, indeed, sleep tonight. Hush, my darling.
* * * *
In other, more personal, MP3 news, my dear friend Michael Barrish has posted a copy of the wedding present he brought when my beloved spouse and I married almost 5 years ago. Michael and another friend, Gary Meister, recorded the great Dave Clark Five song “Glad All Over”; I’ve always dug the Dave Clark Five; here is Michael and Gary’s wonderful present.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Too much of it, to begin with. Today: the Beatles, Vivaldi, Terry Riley, Judy Garland, Beethoven, Thelonious Monk, Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Yesterday: the Hilliard Ensemble, Fats Waller, Gesualdo, Brahms, a friend's recently finished and as-yet-unreleased CD.
The secret seed of music, the grasping for the ungraspable and in missing it, reaching it anyway, a taste of it, the sweetness, with the bitterness of its illusoriness; or, perhaps, merely, the bitter truth that canned music "is only so much tea -- it cheers but doesn't inebriate."
A journalist and amateur flautist wrote that about canned music, in the 1930s, a writer named Gerald Johnson in a book called "A Little Night Music"; I quoted it a few weeks ago.
I love tea. I drink a lot more of it than I do alcohol.
But maybe canned music isn't tea. Maybe it smells of formaldahyde. The defiance of death. But a false defiance. The same can be said of writing. A letter my dad got from his mother when he was away at camp at age 10; 8 years later she died, and 40 years after that he found the letter again, the letter saying how much she missed him. She will always miss him, in that letter, and he'll always be 10, but really he's 67 now and he has lung cancer, and he's missed her for 49 years.
In my early 20s once I came upon 2 street musicians: a slender and erect 40-something man with a long salt-and-pepper ponytail and a stoic demeanor, sitting playing accordian and singing, accompanied by a bent-over ancient man playing bowed saw and harmonica simulataneously, making an unearthly plaintive sound together, songs about fate and loss and deprivation. I listened for a while, resumed walking, and never saw or heard them again. If I had a recording, the music would be fixed. Now that I've written them down my impressions are fixed.
The too-much-ness of great music, the reaching for that something-bigger-than-ourselves. The sublimity of a melody -- Bach, Hoagy Carmichael, Brian Wilson, whomever. The shivering shimmer of a rhythm. The multiplicity of counterpoint, the tugging absences of harmony. The bottomlessness of sound.
Music is immense.
I need to read the book again. I still want Mrs. Bennett to be pissed and Mr. Collins to be more dignified-seeming. I’m sure the book pillories them too, but hopefully with room for contrasting attractiveness as well.
In imagining “my” Collins, I keep thinking of Daniel Day-Lewis as the cold, pretentious dandy Cecil in “Room with a View.” And that makes me realize: Bohemianism was a 19th century development. Austen, writing at the turn from the 18th to the 19th century, depicts characters who can be poetry and music lovers, but no aesthetic snobs; only the truly wealthy can afford to be snobbish; there’s no place for the dandy. Keats, who was born later and whose life overlapped with Austen’s, was a lower-middle-class aesthete, but there was nothing of the snob or the dandy in him. Blake, older than Austen but overlapping, was in rebellion against society, but he had none of the dandy’s affectation of languorous detachment.
I gave the woman a hug, but there’s nobody can do anything about death. There is no comfort. The love of friends and strangers helps, but nothing can fill the gap. Time will scar it over, but the wound never completely heals. Loss riddles us.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Friends end up sounding like each other -- it happens all the time. I wonder in which direction the influence primarily flowed.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Malian kora master Toumani Diabate names some of his favorite music in the current issue of “Songlines: The World Music Magazine.”
* Michael Bolton, “he’s got a great voice.”
* “There are a number of Phil Collins records that I like to dance to.
* “I also like to sit and chill to jazz guitarist-singer George Benson.”
* “I’ve always been a huge fan of the German group The Scorpions.”
* * *
20 pounds of baby
She couldn’t meet on short notice, “Because I have 2 and a half year old triplets and a seven year old. We didn’t know we were having triplets. Twins run in both my husband’s and my families; he’s a twin, and there are twins in my family too. My pregnancy was completely normal, we had the normal tests, and we knew were having twins. After the second one came out I said, ‘I don’t think I’m done.’ The doctor said, ‘No, that’s just the afterbirth,’ and then out came number three! We were all surprised!”
“Wow, it’s great that everybody is doing fine!”
“Well, all three of them weighed 6 and a half pounds.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of baby!”
“Yup, that’s 20 pounds of baby!”
* * *
Their Satanic Majesties’ Bowl of Cereal
Talking about the Rice Krispies commercial the Rolling Stones did in 1964, which I linked to last night (by the way, I fixed the link -- sorry if you tried it & it was bad), with my old friend and musical comrade John de Roo.
“Yeah, it would have been great if they had updated it throughout their career,” he said. “In the late ‘60s there would be the Satanic Rice Krispies. In the early ‘70s there would be the heroin Rice Krispies, and a glam Rice Krispies in the mid-’70s. And now, you know, they would do an ad about how Rice Krispies is good for old people too!”
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Posts to come:
Hamburgers and rock and roll.
Twenty pounds of baby.
Throat singing extravaganza.
In the meantime, tragedy and comedy elsewhere:
T: An astonishing personal account of the performance, recording, and CD release of a January 1938 concert where the Vienna Philharmonic, Bruno Walter conducting, played Mahler’s 9th; I can't imagine a better evocation of recording's power to leap across time.
C: Via an Altercation correspondent, this Rice Krispies commercial from 1964 with music by the Rolling Stones -- great rock and roll and lively visuals too (the Stones aren't in the picture).
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Sunday's NY Times had a piece on global brass band music, which brought back memories. 20 years ago or so I asked my grandpa, who died in '99 at age 91, what the popular music of his youth was. "Band music," he said, meaning, brass band music -- the subject of "The Music Man." A few years later when I came across an album of concert band music from the early 20th century featuring virtuoso cornet leads by Wynton Marsalis, I snapped it up. "Carnaval." Brassy sound, zippy horn leads, and lush tunes with peppy rhythms -- lots to like.
I just picked up from the library a CD of parallel material from a recording made 10 years before the Marsalis record, "Turn of the Century Cornet Favorites," conducted by Gunther Schuller and with Gerard Schwarz as featured cornet. A lot of the same composers as the Marsalis but none of the same tunes. And equally wonderful.
All praise to Frank London of the Klezmatics for his global brass band explorations (I've only heard "Brotherhood of Brass," which is wonderful, and am eager to hear the new one). My family and I saw -- and adored -- a brass band from India at last year's Vancouver Folk Music Festival. I have long loved the New Orleans brass bands and the marching band tradition of Sousa, and a friend just got back from vacation in Mexico and brought me a brass band album from Oaxaca -- wonderful stuff. Just today I was reading in a "global music" magazine about the Italian brass band tradition -- so much to hear!
* * *
When I rent musicals I let the 3-year-old watch the songs. The other day I was picking something up for me & my beloved spouse to watch. The boy was with me and asked for a "singing and dancing movie" too. I got "Top Hat," the Astaire-Rogers vehicle with songs by Irving Berlin, for him. Yesterday he told my beloved spouse that his imaginary friend (who happens to be the Kwakwak'wakw ancestral goddess Dzunukwa, the Wild Woman of the Woods) rented a video too, called . . . "Bottom Shoe!" He cracked himself up.
Monday, April 10, 2006
i honestly don't understand why overt sentimentality embarrasses people. it's not as if the embarrassable ones don't feel deeply themselves -- they do. is it a fear of emotion? i don't know.
i've quoted this before on the blog, but it's so acute that i feel compelled to quote it again. it's the poet and critic Malcolm Cowley, reviewing "Viva" by e. e. cummings in The New Republic in 1932. (I have it because a publisher reprinted it as a forward to "Viva.") Cowley is discussing the flight from lyric in contemporary poetry, famously endorsed by T. S. Eliot, and how cummings almost alone stood against the tide (along with the critically-ignored pop lyricists), and what a rare talent he had for keeping fresh the classic themes of lyric -- love, transience, death.
I have known a poet somewhat younger than cummings who discovered that he had irrevocably lost the woman in whom his life was centered; he stumbled home and wrote, with tears gumming the keys of his typewriter, an elegy on the death of Rosa Luxembourg. Once I asked him what he thought of cummings. He said, "A fine poet, a very fine poet, but, I mean -- there's nothing more up that street!"
(The title of this post was Tommy Dorsey's theme song, a gorgeous tune for his gorgeous trombone. Thelonious Monk gave it his intensely forlorn and shattered solo-piano treatment, and Herb Alpert swung it jauntily with his Tijuana Brass; all 3 versions splendiferate.)
The preposterous anti-Americanism of the legal principle that Bush & the Supreme Court 5 endorsed: "First count best count, right or wrong." But naturally that wasn't the real principle involved, which was merely: "By Any Means Necessary to win." An amusing melange of rhetorics, the Zen-flavored poetics of Allen Ginsberg ("first thought best thought") invoked to mask a revolutionary zeal worthy of Malcolm X, only this revolution has been strictly loot-o-cratic plutocratic reactionary spleen and low-affect Ahab-ic obsessive war-making.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
I've mentioned that a motorboat ran me over when I was 10. I have scars on my face and a partial denture, and a partially paralyzed face: the left side of my mouth doesn't work. It sounds so awful when I write it, but I'm really used to it and it's no big deal. When I was 10 and 11 and on into adolescence, it did feel like a big deal. My parents, naturally, wanted me to be happy, and so they looked for solutions to what I felt was a problem. When I was 10, some months after the accident, a Kalamazoo surgeon tried to repair the severed nerve in my face, but it didn't work.
So we tried something else. When I was 11 we drove to Duke University for experimental surgery. Spring of 1975. We stopped at Gettysburg and my parents bought me the tremendous novelistic account of the battle, "The Killer Angels." We stopped in D.C., which I don't much remember. We visited cousins of my mom's in West Virginia. We visited friends of my mom's in Richmond, Virginia; I remember that stop because they had four pretty daughters, one my age, named Nyla, and we stayed up late one night making cookies and running around the house. An older sister was home for spring break from college at Indiana University, which she called "Ippy Yoopie."
The trip was delightful, and hanging over it all was my experimental surgery, which held out such hope. When we finally got to Duke, the surgeon was a short, fat, old and energetic white guy. I remember feeling his balls rub against my arm as I sat in a chair and he leaned over me to show something on my face to my parents. His idea was to tie the upper to the lower mouth muscles. He cut me open and tried it; it didn't work. I don't regret the attempt -- it felt like the right thing to do at the time -- but I don't recommend plastic surgery, unless your face is more disfigured than mine.
We listened to the radio all the way there and back. The hits I remember liking: "Let 'Em In," by Wings; "Southern Nights," by Glen Campbell; and "Rich Girl," by Hall & Oates. I didn't think I would still like "Rich Girl" all these years later, but hearing it again brought that trip back. And that trip was a trip.
"We're ferocious bears!" said my son, smiling delightedly and doing a fleet-footed prancing dance on his tippy toes, like all ferocious bears do when they want to emphasize their ferocity.
Then, a moment later, to my beloved spouse, "Mamu, what means ferocious?" (He's still working out some idiomatic American syntax.)
* * *
My beloved spouse and I are halfway through the 5-hour BBC production of "Pride and Prejudice." It's completely absorbing and does not feel at all too long, though I mostly like the cast of last year's British production better.
I'm chafing at the buffoon-ish characterizations of Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins. Judi Dench had it right in last year's movie as Lady Catherine de Burgh: Yes, she was stupid and pretentious, but she had vivacity and dignity. In my production, Mrs. Bennett is going to be pissed at Mr. Bennett (who's consistently mean to her and their younger daughters); she's the one who's worried about the family's welfare, and being pissed rather than whiny won't undercut her stupidity or ineffectuality, but give her some dignity. Same with Mr. Collins: his pretentiousness should be pitiable, not despicable. He tries to do right by the Bennett family, and with a more human, dignified portrayal it would make Elizabeth's rejection more poignant and Charlotte's acquiescence less absurd.
Any way they do it, it's still a great story. Bridget Jones, the Anglo-Bollywood homage, the Lawrence Olivier (my least favorite). I read the book 19 years ago -- time to read it again.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
[second and now third thoughts below.]
Robert Graves wrote about this: Christianity as scapegoat religion: Jesus as goat, sacrificed to expiate our sins and mollify the angry God.
Graves didn't say: Emotionally we scapegoat Judas.
Presumably Jesus, being God, could have effected his capture by the Romans some other way, without his friend being implicated. But the story is so much more dramatic this way!
Poor Judas. When he knew what he had done, his heart was sore with remorse, and he came to a bad end, hanging himself from the tree.
The religion takes in both meanings of "scapegoat": the anthropological meaning of the sacrificial animal (a goat, in this instance), and the emotional meaning of the One Who Takes the Blame. Jesus says he Takes the Blame of our Sin, but his believers don't blame him, they worship him. With Judas, Christianity builds in an extra scapegoat, one that believers can feel comfortable blaming. A Dual Scapegoat religion: Jesus, the Exalted Scapegoat; and Judas, the Despised Scapegoat. Theologically, Christianity does not absolve us of Jesus' Crucifixion -- the Church teaches that Jesus died for our sins, not from Judas' betrayal. That's the official line, but the storyline is stronger in people's hearts: Jesus was betrayed.
The dual-scapegoat scheme troubles my conscience -- why should someone take the blame for my sins, and why would such a god need a second scapegoat, one to really take the blame? I want to say, Damn me to Hell if that's what this is about: I'll take responsibility for my crimes. Huck Finn comes to mind as an exemplar. Jane Smiley was right to say that it IS nuts and makes NO sense for Huck and Jim to escape by floating South, but Huck has guts, and Greil Marcus's insight in Mystery Train was brilliant, that Huck and Ahab share a willingness to go to Hell as a consequence of their decisions. Huck says it outright twice; the second time makes me cry: when he reasons that by helping Jim escape from his owner he is committing a crime against property, he is aiding in a theft (the theft of Jim by Jim), and therefore violating the Commandment against Stealing; but, he decides, Jim is his friend, and he'll go to Hell rather than betray his friend.
Huck's first declaration of a willingness to go to Hell is closer to the circumstances of my life, and light-hearted. He asks the Widow Douglas, Is Tom Sawyer going to Hell? Then why would I want to go to Heaven anyway?
Second thoughts, the next morning: I changed the caption of the photo. I originally wrote "Judas Iscariot Superstar (from the movie about his friend)," but changed it because that was too sardonic and I didn't want to offend more than I already probably would be. I didn't come up with the "Judas Iscariot Superstar" line. A childhood friend of mine did, who, at the time at least (we've dropped out of touch), was a believing Christian, as was I. The phrase was a complaint against the Lloyd-Webber Superstar show. My friend believed that the show portrayed Jesus as whiny throughout and Judas more sympathetically. My favorite character in the show was always Pilate, because I liked his songs best.
Further second Sunday morning thought: Why is God so angry that he demands a scapegoat to die for our sins? Why must forgiveness only come after great suffering? That's my hang-up in the story. But it still appeals to me too. Sin is suffering; bad habits (such as this, right now, typing away when I should be doing Something Else) are bad because they cause suffering, and knowingly continuing in them is Sin. The "scapegoat" idea is an always-renewable "start afresh" template that says, "don't worry about the past, go and sin no more." And even though I know I will sin again and again and again, and cause suffering for myself and others, I need that push, "OK, don't worry about the past, just do what you need to do and do it the right way starting now," whether I get that push from Jesus or another source. Ultimately, I personally get it from the Jesus story, because that's my culture.
Third thoughts, Sunday evening.
My old friend Ross calls from his L.A. home. "Did you get my email?"
"I haven't checked my email in several hours."
"I sent you something about the recent release of the translation of the Gospel of Judas after I read your post."
"Oh, this is embarrassing! I had seen something about that but had completely forgotten that I had when I went to post! That happens to me a lot. I read something, forget I've read it, and then think that I've thought of it on my own later!"
And get embarrassed when I re-read what I read in the first place.
Do you remember the episode of The Partridge Family where Danny falls asleep listening to Keith write songs, then gets up in the morning and writes the same song himself?
Danny Partridge -- c'est moi.
(And yes, I am aware that "c'est moi" is a quote.)
I love the placeholder word "well." I use it all the time in conversation, as a way to interject my own voice into the discussion while giving me a moment to gather my thoughts. I would guess its etymology is something like a condensation of,
"What you have just said is all well and good, but I have a different view of the matter."
The word as a "header" at the top of a paragraph is cropping up into casual, speech-based prose, but I doubt it has made inroads into formal prose.
Thinking about "well" reminds me of the poet David Antin's brilliance in basing his poetry on speech rather than on prose. Speech is a richer thing than prose, less circumscribed by the canons of reason, discourse, argument, proof, or even description. Syllables as containers of . . . I search for the word . . . (um) . . . unformed thought. Emotionally-charged unformed thought, even if the only emotion is a desire to make oneself heard.
"Well" as a paragraph header always implies a reply to another speech, or at least an expectation. I can imagine a story teller beginning with "well" in a situation where the storyteller expects listeners to have been waiting for him or her to begin. I can't imagine discursive prose beginning with "well."
The singers know the power of "well." Think of the rockabillyists, stretching a "well" at the beginning of a song or a verse for a whole measure or more. What does such a "well" portend? It's bottomless, that well. You could drink from it for generations.
Friday, April 07, 2006
He abruptly stopped screaming.
"What's heavy metal?"
"It's a style of music where the singer screams all the time." (Not exactly true, I know.)
As is his habit, he repeats everything he's just heard to someone else who's been standing there the whole time.
"Mamu, there's a kind of music where the singer screams all the time. Maybe I will go to the audition."
Then he went back to screaming for a few more minutes.
* * * *
Two magnificent metal and country songs from the 1970s agree.
1. No stop sign! No speed limit! Nobody's gonna slow me down!
2. We just ain't a-gonna pay no toll!
# # # #
Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding serenaded us after dinner, singing long songs about I'm not sure what, with gusto.
* * * *
"Draw a line in the sand." It sounds tough, it sounds ominous.
On the beach, the waves will wash it away.
# # # #
"Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah, da da da da da, i di di di di di di, can you brush my teeth Mamu?"
* * * *
"Why do you have a blog?"
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Among the abandoned records, two of my now proudest possessions: an original "Two Virgins" by John & Yoko, and "Poetry Readings in the Cellar with the Cellar Jazz Quintet," Kenneth Rexroth on side one, Lawrence Ferlinghetti on side two. Rexroth reads, magnificently, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," his elegy to Dylan Thomas and many other poets of his acquaintance who died too young. Some people say the poem influenced Ginsberg's conception of "Howl." Rexroth's accent calls to mind a sober and very tough W. C. Fields. The band plays an unswinging style of free jazz. The poem blames the greed of capitalists for Dylan Thomas's fatal alcoholism; I'm not entirely persuaded but it makes for great jeremiad. When Rexroth shouts the closing lines, it's pretty great.
“You killed him! You killed him.In your God damned Brooks Brothers suit,You son of a bitch.”
I listened to Rexroth tonight because a bandmate came over and we were listening to mixes of our CD, and I showed him a monologue I wrote for him for a future song. He has a theater background, and we started incorporating monologues into our band; there's one on the upcoming record. He complimented a line in the new one and I said I stole it from Rexroth, which reminded me to pull out the record, and we listened. I've always wanted to sample those lines. Now more than ever.
(Note on "son of a bitch." It's not a phrase I use; when I want to insult someone I try to leave their mother out of it. The force of Rexroth's delivery, it's pure invective -- he's not talking about anybody's mother -- the people he's addressing are born-again dogs.)
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
On second thought, maybe that's not so different from the blog's normal programming.
I have been digging things I've never heard before. If I can just think of them . . .
I heard a kickin' Dizzee Rascal track today, the heartbreaking "Sittin' Here," powerful poignant pain of growing older and feeling the losses of age. Really great. Also dug the new-wave-techno beats & sounds, reminding me of Devo-era New Wave distanciation. I want to hear more.
Um, Frank Sinatra's cover of "Hello Dolly," with Count Basie, orchestrations by Quincy Jones, has a really moving Louis Armstrong homage. Armstrong had recently hit Number One with the song, and Sinatra couldn't sound happier for his friend. Frank sings the song straight, then he sings it again with different lyrics.
Hello Satch!Sinatra closes with a Satchmo quote, Armstrong's frequent "amen" cadence, "Ohhhhh yeaaaaaaah." Frank rarely if ever sounds so loving; it's an unconditional love. I love it.
This is Francis, Louie.
It's so nice to have you back where you belong.
You're back on top, Louie.
Never stop, Louie . . .
Deford Bailey was one of the first stars of the Grand Ol' Opry, an African American harmonica virtuoso who could hold sustained treble notes while playing rhythmic chords in the bass of the harmonica simultaneously. Really great player. I found him on a "string band" comp from the library, even though he played solo, with no strings. I'd read about him for years but never heard him; glad to be making the musical acquaintance.
My friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey is finishing an EP which will knock people's socks off. A couple of the songs I play over and over again.
Neko Case's "Star Witness" has gorgeous melodies and a huge meandering ghostly production, with wandering keyboards (or is that a theremin?) faintly haunting the edges. If you haven't heard her, the woman has pipes.
Got a Bread anthology from the library. "Guitar Man" is a beautiful song, the musician as eternally unsatisfied romantic quester, with a lovely melody & Gates's pretty voice. My beloved spouse contends it's egomaniacal; I thought, nah, David Gates is just the singer & the storyteller, he's not a guitar man! Your thoughts?
I've been hearing other music too, but mostly scrutinizing my own.
Then he said, excitedly, “I think she will laugh! I think she will find that funny!” (He really talks like that, but with 3-year-old pronunciation; such as, waff for laugh.)
She doesn’t read this blog. The card goes in the morning mail.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
I've lost my dentures twice: once when a housemate found a scuzzy glass of blue bubbles in the bathroom and flushed them down the toilet (ahem, that was denture cleaner; my housemate's insurance got me a new set), once while brushing them over a drain grate while camping -- oops, dropped them. That second loss was fortuitous; the dentures at that point were 15 years old and didn't fit any more. My own insurance at that point paid for half the replacement cost.
This morning I realized I love them. Not only because they make it easier for me to eat. But because they've been a part of me for so long.
Robin Morgan said it: P.C. means plain courtesy. Try not to be unnecessarily rude.
A couple posts in the last couple weeks repeated jokes that had fun with afflictions. Today it occurred to me that if somebody with those afflictions read the posts, they might well find them callous, thoughtless, and rude. The jokes were about Tourette’s and dyslexia.
I went to edit the posts, but the blogging program would not let me edit anything. It would only let me write new posts and delete old ones. So I deleted them. I’ve since re-posted edited versions, now out of chronological order.
My apologies to anybody offended by my thoughtless, unimaginative rudeness. Still learning.
It occurred to me how offensive that name "Minutemen" is.
First, the machismo -- "we can be ready in a minute." OK, if you say so.
Then, the historical allusion. The Minutemen were American Revolutionaries fighting the British. Now they're white vigilante volunteer border patrollers trying to keep Mexicans out.
Equating Mexican immigrants with British colonizers. Offensive. Disgusting.
And the wrapping oneself in the mantle of the American Revolution. Grandiose. Amazing.
The majority of Latin Americans in the U.S. were born here. Many have ancestors who have been here longer than Europeans -- until the mid-19th century large tracts of the American Southwest were Mexican. The vast majority of Latin American immigrants have Indian ancestors.
It was nice to see some friends. And, of course, a lot of people I don't know too.
* * * *
"The Aristocrats" got me thinking about jokes. I've always told them, since childhood. I never remember very many at a time. The one I've told the last few years, I heard on the radio. Here it is.
A bear walks into a bar, bellies up, says, "Give me a shot of whiskey before the trouble starts."
Bartender poors a glass of whiskey, bear throws it back, sets the glass on the bar, says, "Give me another before the trouble starts."
Bartender pours another, bear throws it back, sets the glass on the bar, bartender says, "Uh, you don't have any pockets, how are you going to pay for this?"
Bear shakes its head sadly. "Here comes the trouble."
I heard one that made me laugh today.
Toilet paper who?
Toilet paper says, I only have one name!
The three-year-old made that up while taking a bath. I cracked up. Then he told it over and over again. It was funny the 2nd time too, but not the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th.
He was right to think that musicals were in decline and rock and roll was pouring into the gap. But Fiddler was the wrong show to pick on. While the glory days of Broadway had produced "standards" -- songs performed in dozens of arrangements by myriad performers in a cornucopia of styles -- Fiddler's achievement may be even more astonishing: it gave us folk songs. "Sunrise, Sunset" has been sung at numberless weddings; I have read that that one and "If I Were a Rich Man" have become Yiddish folk songs; millions of people have many of the songs by heart. While the standards became canvasses for professional stylists, these have become the possession of amateurs.
Last Saturday, a week ago, my beloved spouse and I got friends to watch our son for the evening as we went to another friend's 50th birthday party. Bill and Linda had had us over for sing-alongs many times, usually when Bill's old friend Ed was in town. Bill and his family are Catholic; Bill had been a Brother, a member of a religious order with less extreme vows than a monk or a priest but still entailing temporary, renewable vows of chastity and poverty. He and Linda fell in love and went on to make other vows instead. Ed was still a brother who lived "in community" with other members of his order as they did social service for the poor in San Diego.
At every sing-along Ed would do a walloping version of "If I Were a Rich Man," full of gusto and joyful irony. Everyone was pleased one sing-along when I contrived to segue from the strange, klezmer-y "doo doo doo doo" section of "Last Train to Clarksville" into Ed's big feature. I'd always wanted to learn "If I Were a Rich Man" myself, the fierceness of the line, "I Wouldn't Have to Work Hard"; the intense longing when the singer imagines discussing the Holy Books with the learned men 7 hours every day, "and that would be the sweetest thing of all." Sigh.
Ed died a quick death from cancer a couple months ago, a horrible shock. I barely knew him at all, but I can't hear the song without thinking of him. He was a really sweet guy.
Bill's 50th was the grandest sing-along yet. A few guitarists, and someone brought an electric bass and amp, and hand drums and shakers were passed around, and Bill's brother Mark, whom I'd never met, played good piano. An old friend of Bill's flew from Ohio to be there, guitar in hand. We sang a gamut from '60s pop to children's songs to traditional Irish to religious songs to blues. At some point in the ragged end of the evening with only the fanatics still left, I launched into "To Dream the Impossible Dream," but unfortunately I had forgotten all the chords after the opening tonic-major-7th to subdominant-major-7th. It's a great song for guitar, with a fierce galloping 9/8 meter, so I just beat the rhythm and searched for chords and we sang (everybody knew the words & tune) and laughed and laughed at my hopeless flailing. With the rousing vocals continually interrupted by laughter and my frantic, hopeless searching for chords, it was one of the worst performances I've ever heard in my life. And great fun.
Earlier Mark had led us in "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," a tremendous song, swung with a jaunty, strong shuffle beat on the piano. Yearning for the Divine Presence. My other favorite of the evening was a quiet, sweet, intense -- as it should be -- rendition of "Sabbath Prayer" from Fiddler, led by Bill. Folk music. "May the Lord protect and defend you. May He always shield you from shame."
A picture of Ed adorned the fridge, but we didn't speak of him. Singing another song from Fiddler felt like the tribute. And such a lovely, loving, quietly intense song -- I'm not religious, but the hope for protection from shame -- it's a real & heavy matter of the spirit. It was a great birthday party; joyous and hilarious and convivial, while not flinching from life's pains and sorrows. The music brought it all out into the open.
You may converse with a man all an evening and still part total strangers. But you cannot play music with him, or drink with him for an evening, without learning a great deal about the way he is made. And when it comes to acting as a solvent of inhibitions and a loosener of reflexes, one drink, combined with a lot of hand-made music, is far more effective than ten drinks while you listen to a talking-machine or a radio.
In these United States of America this is an especially important matter. We have abandoned the compounds of nitroglycerine and corrosive sublimate that were our tipple for thirteen years and have applied ourselves again to beverages approved by civilized men. But if the nation, while the fit of common sense is on it, could carry the policy one step further and fortify its liquor with strong music, it could remain beautifully tight on a tenth of the liquor otherwise required, to the profit of both of its stomach and of its purse. But the good music the machines provide is only so much tea -- it cheers but doesn't inebriate. It takes bad music you play yourself to send you reeling and happy to bed.
-- Gerald W. Johnson, "A Little Night Music: Discoveries in the Exploitation of an Art," 1937
(Originally posted about a week ago.)
Saturday, April 01, 2006
I fought back tears -- at times unsuccessfully -- all through the grocery.
The regular cashiers haven't been there the two times I've gone this week. (Neither of the victims were cashiers.) They always dote on my son, talking to him, giving him stickers; I wonder whether they'll be back to work. I know my son will ask about them if they don't. I hope I don't cry if he does.