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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I got this record from the library.

Lots of hot playing. I remember, years ago, when he had a regular column in the V. Voice, Simon Frith saying that Hawaiian slide guitar was the most influential guitar style of the 20th century, more than blues, being decisively influential on the guitar styles of country, southeast Asian pop, African pop, and, yes, blues.

Frith also said that the Neapolitan folk song, via Caruso’s records, was more influential, globally, in the 20th century, than jazz or blues. I wish I could find that column where he said it.

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Peli is having nightmares about turning 25.

In 1990, on a catch-as-catch-can road trip during the course of which I turned 27, my traveling pal Steve and I were in the Bay Area when we decided to hie on down to Santa Cruz to track down our college pal Johnny. We took a bus there without a phone number or address. Got off the bus, and who was there in the bus station, playing pinball, but Johnny’s quite-a-bit-younger brother Zay. I barely knew Zay, but he and Steve were friends, and it was a merry reunion.

“We came looking for Johnny.”

“He’s at work, working at a concert. He’s an usher. I’ll take you there.”

We got to the concert hall, and Zay cooked up a story. Their mom happened to be in town visiting then too -- or maybe she was there for a conference or to teach, I don’t remember. Zay told the outside usher to go inside and get his brother John, and that it was an emergency, because “something happened to our mom!”

Johnny came rushing out, worried worried worried, so worried he didn’t even see Steve and me standing next to his brother. Zay told him what was up, another merry reunion, plans to hook up at Johnny’s house after the concert, and Steve and I would hang with Zay till then.

Zay had a 2-foot rainbow spike mohawk and plans to meet some of his friends down by the levy to drink beer. Sounded good to us. We went down, hanging out, me feeling waaaay old-fashioned to be sporting a bald head, the punk fashion of 10 years previous which I had days before donned on a whim, for the 2nd or 3rd time in my life. Very pleasant to drink and chat with young punks, all in their early 20s, like Zay.

The party abruptly broke up when someone brought news of tragedy. A friend of theirs had taken his own life the night before, on the eve of his 25th birthday. “He didn’t want to get old,” people said. And people made plans to caravan to Los Angeles for the funeral, leaving that night.

Steve and I hooked up with Johnny later and drank long into the night with his housemates and assorted friends of Johnny’s, people I didn’t know, friendly people. The sorrow of the fear of aging made me feel old -- 27! -- but I’d always been old -- in fact I’m younger now than I was then (except for my weight, wrinkles, grey hair, and alcohol tolerance) -- and I pitied the poor young man who killed himself, and his friends who would miss him.

(Enjoy your youth, Peli. Don’t sweat it. Glad that 20’s feeling young.)

A couple of days later, I was back in Oakland, staying with my college pal and former theater-dance-and-music collaborator Leigh Evans (she danced and choreographed, I made music; we did theater together). While reading a book at the laundromat as my clothing spun, a 7 or 8-year-old girl who was there with her mom said to me, “I saw you in Santa Cruz. You were walking on the beach with your friend.” She had been there with her school group. Funny small town encounter. In Oakland. She was utterly nonchalant about it, neither amused nor surprised, just remarking as if it might be slightly less boring than saying nothing.

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More about the Four Freshmen and standards.

Forgot to mention in last night’s post that in the course of discussing the Four Freshmen’s style, my mom mentioned the difficulty of singing half-step harmonies. I’ve done it a little, on my own songs, singing 3-part harmonies in places where there are half-step intervals. It is hard.

And about standards: It occurred to me that it might be interesting to try to sum up the requirements of a pre-rock, non-rural standard popular song:

1) Catchy melody. All of the standards are instantly hum-able.

2) Speech-like prose syntax stretched over a rhyme scheme, with proper grammar and good English sentences.

3) Strong sense of aesthetic decorum, with elaborate rhyme schemes being reserved for high spirited and/or comedic numbers, usually, and plainer rhyme schemes for emotionally heavier songs.

4) Rhetorical-emotional twinning of words and music.

5) A memorable catch-phrase repeated in the song, almost always the song’s title. Alan Lerner, in his memoir The Street Where I Lived, says that when he and composer Fritz Lowe were writing a song, they always decided on the title first. Lowe would write a melody that would convey the song’s emotion, and the melody would include a place for the title, around which Lerner would then write the rest of the song’s words. In a radio interview included as a bonus track to the My Fair Lady original Broadway soundtrack, Lerner and Lowe play an unfinished alternate take of the Camelot song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” where the title phrase comes at the end of a larger phrase, rather than at the beginning, which is where it goes in the finished version.

I’m sure there are exceptions -- if you think of one, please drop it in comments! -- and I may have missed a rule -- and if so, please let me know -- but this is how I hear them.

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While my family was here I didn’t miss my dad -- they had all visited here more than he had, and the hubbub was full and plenty -- but today I did as we went to Seattle Center to go ice skating. My dad loved ice skating and hockey; I wanted to call him and tell him we were going.

After ice skating we went into the Center House, which includes a Food Court with a stage, where community ethnic heritage groups were playing music and dancing. The Finns were finishing up as we got there -- nice mellow accordian-violin waltzes. We caught the whole set of the Hawaiians, a very nicely pleasant and relaxed singer backed by her own ukulele and four guitars -- lap-slide, acoustic rhythm, electric bass, and an 8-string tenor-looking thing that wasn’t a mandolin -- more nice mellow music. Then the Croatians took the stage with a hopping acoustic band led by a tiny, loud, banjo-looking thing -- they were the hottest of the three bands, with the most lively dancing, but we had to leave. You never know what you’ll come across at Seattle Center. The kid dug it; my beloved spouse and I did too. Live! Amateur! But well-rehearsed! And lively! Music!

Thanks, that was really nice to read.
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