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

Thursday, July 06, 2006

About 15 years ago I picked up a cassette of Spanish Classical guitar music by John Williams (not the soundtrack composer) and was thrilled. The sweetness of the guitar’s sound, and such virtuosity, and the lovely pieces of music. I had never heard much classical guitar, and it’s great. Late 19th and early 20th century Spanish guitar music pleases especially because the composers knew the idioms of the guitar -- or, the guitarists chose idiomatic pieces to transcribe to guitar, such as Spanish Dance in E Minor, a solo piano piece by Granados with guitaristic arpeggiated (“strummed”) chords; Williams’s transcription and performance of it never fails to sail me.

I’m reading a delightful memoir of Carl Sandburg’s life as a guitarist, written by a friend of his from the New York Classic Guitar Society named Gregory D’Alessio, who packed the book, Old Troubadour: Carl Sandburg and His Guitar Friends, with charming anecdotes and love -- love and admiration for Sandburg, love for his own life and home and spouse, love for music and love for the guitar.

A wealthy socialite and patron of the arts arranged for Sandburg to meet the all-but-single-handed inventor of the classical guitar tradition in the 20th century, Andres Segovia, after a Segovia concert. Sandburg admired Segovia a great deal, and he also loved to plunk a guitar and “boom out” old songs. At the party he played -- by all accounts very simply and basically -- and sang for Segovia. A newcomer to the social scene who did not know that Segovia never played at parties asked if the Maestro would play. Segovia was so taken with Sandburg’s banging amateur performance that he gave another recital on the spot.

I found a used copy of Segovia’s Five Centuries of Spanish Guitar and bought it. It really only covers 4 centuries, from the early 1500s to the early 1900s, but despite the mislabeling it’s wondrous. Segovia’s transcription of Granados’ Spanish Dance in E Minor is different than Williams’s, and he plays it about 25% more slowly. And it’s not because he lacks Williams’s facility with fast tempos -- elsewhere Segovia blazes.

And wow, is it something. Like many classical performers formed in the first half of the 20th century, Segovia plays with more freedom of tempo than his successors, and the romantic rubato suits the composer. But what really gets me is Segovia’s touch and mastery of tone color. He plays that guitar as if it were an organ, with a cello stop and a flute stop and brass stop. I’ve never heard anything like it.

And I’ve never seen anything quite like that record cover. My friend Jay’s grandpa (who was my grandpa’s best friend), late in life (they both lived into their 90s), had a similar approach to the relationship between pants and shirt as Segovia, but I’ve never seen anybody wear a tie like that. And the lovely setting of the photo, a balcony overlooking the sea with a steep parched shoreline hill in the background. Beautiful.

They don’t make record covers like that any more, and if anybody tried, self-consciousness would ruin it.

* * *

Jay drove his son from NYC to Michigan for the 4th of July last week-end. On the 4th itself he drove back. Here is his radio report:

[M]y casual, non-scientific July 4 radio poll. Flipping almost constantly in the 13 hours it took to get from [Michigan] to NYC:

Win: Bruce - Born in the USA (>5), and, curiously, also via Manfred Mann's cover of Blinded by The Light (also >5)

Place: Tom Petty - Free Falling (5), Stop Dragging My Heart Around (4)

Show: Creedence - Fortunate Son (4)

Honorable Mention: (multiple plays <4) Zep, Beatles (Birthday), Who, CSN, Buffalo Springfield, Elton John (Phila Freedom)

Heard a lot of new country and r&b, oldies, and AC but not one song more than twice.

Conclusion: Classic Rock still rules in the heartland, at least on national holidays, and Bruce really IS the Boss.

Note, because I had to ask: “AC” is Adult Contemporary.

* * *

My beloved spouse, our son, and I watched the 4th of July fireworks from the rooftop of my spouse’s workplace, a 4-story former hotel above Lake Union, where the best show is. For 15 years the building has been a transitional housing program for homeless adults. Across the road from the facility are new condos, and large rooftop and balcony parties congregated there as well. One of the residents of my spouse’s program got our group going with some old high school cheers:

We got spirit, yes we do!
We got spirit, how ’bout you?

The cheerleading inspired me to sing “God Bless America,” the great hymn written by a former homeless street kid, an immigrant who made it rich. A few of the residents joined me.

If divine guidance is available, America could use some. The homeless residents of my spouse’s program could attest. I was really happy to sing the song.

The fireworks were the best I’d ever seen.

* * *

A friend writes in response to my post the other night about former proofreading colleagues.

Regarding proofreader who slept at O’Hare Airport, the paper’s publisher “eased him out of his job when they moved to the swanky new digs, but [a sympathetic co-worker] helped find him an assisted living situation years ago somewhere around Broadway and Bryn Mawr. No idea what happened after that.”
I can only hope my old colleague is enjoying a long and happy retirement.

My informant also points out that I mis-spelled Sydney Harris!

How I love the proofreaders, and their love of precision!

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