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

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Photograph by Tony Cenicola of a design by Paul Sahre, New York Times

Hearty congratulations to Alex Ross, whose book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, made the New York Times’s list of the 10 Best Books of 2007 as one of the Top 5 Nonfiction Books. I read Alex’s book a few weeks ago, thoroughly enjoyed it, will be learning from it for a long time to come, and will be posting more on it soon.

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A variant on the genre of songs-about-themselves: Songs-about-singing-as-if-they-weren’t-being-sung-right-now.

“I Feel a Song Coming On” by Dorothy Fields, music by Jimmy McHugh. Well, sure, you’re singing one! And when Judy Garland sings, “Let those heavenly drums go on drumming / Cause I feel a song coming on,” as though this singing isn’t the singing she’s feeling to be coming on, as though this isn’t the full-meal real deal, as though this is just the warm-up -- look out!

“Music, Maestro, Please!,” words by Herb Magidson, music by Allie Wrubel.

Tonight I mustn't think of her
Music, maestro, please!
Tonight I must forget
How much I need her
So, Mister Leader
Play your lilting melodies
Ragtime, jazztime, swing
Any old thing
To help me ease the pain
That solitude can bring
She used to like waltzes
So please don't play a waltz
And she danced so divinely
And I loved her so
But there I go
Tonight I mustn't think of her
No more memories
Swing out!
Tonight I must forget
Music, maestro, please!

When the Mills Brothers sing it, so sweetly, and such a lilting melody -- well, any band that the poor soul in the song goes to hear will have a hard time doing anything more lilting than that.

Irving Berlin: “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.” She might be like this melody, for example.

Duke Ellington wrote this one with Irving Mills, Henry Nemo, and John Redmond, and we’ve gone from simile to metaphor:

I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
It was the sweetest melody
I know I lost heaven 'cause you were the song

The beloved isn’t like a melody, the beloved is a song.

As is the case here, by Oscar Hammerstein, music by Jerome Kern, the title of which I quoted to close my last post:

Why can't I let you know the song my heart would sing?
Beautiful rhapsody of love and youth and spring
The music is sweet, and the words are true
The Song Is You

If the beloved is the song, and the song is the one being sung now, then the beloved comes alive only in the singer’s mouth. But as is the case with all of these songs, the one by Irving Berlin possibly excepted, the song being sung is not the song being sung about. These songs pretend they aren’t songs at all; they’re direct emotional expressions; un-mediated utterances
; pre-cultural. Or they are not even utterances, but overheard soliloquies, internal monologues projected outward by telepathy. In these songs, the Song is a metaphysical ideal which any particular song can only partially reflect.

This is close to my religion.

[Part 2 of a series. Here are Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.]

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Major breakthrough today at the used bookstore: while I browsed, the kid amused himself by . . . reading! Very exciting development for me personally. Bears in the Night and He Bear, She Bear by the Barenstains kept his interest. We celebrated by buying the books and then going to get hot cocoa.

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I bought Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. On the back cover is #35, the poem that Martin Sheen opened with when my beloved spouse and I heard him speak a few months ago. Sheen delivered it rapidly and with nuanced passion.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action --
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

I don’t believe in an exclusively paternal deity; nor am I sure about the existence of a deity who responds to one’s personal appeals at all; but other than that, Amen.


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