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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Going through the files, I found an un-posted draft of a farewell post, written September '08. And blogging has drifted from being a practice to being an occasional what-the-heck, and that's fine. Better to fade away then to burn out. Anyway, this was the picture, which I liked too much not to post.

The year's almost over. A few stray farewells.

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Santa Claus As Gladiator

A fave Xmas music find of the Season: On the Beach Boys' version of "Blue Christmas," during the instrumental break, the arranger quotes the famous main theme from Rhapsody in Blue. I'd heard that record dozens of times and never noticed it. Very clever. Their version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" used to annoy me, with its circus-music quote -- Santa Claus as clown, the allusion implied -- though over the years I gradually came to like it, until, this Season, I love it, when I realize that the title of the famous circus march quoted is "Entry of the Gladiators", by the Czech composer Julius Fučík (1872-1916). Santa Claus not only as clown, but Santa Claus as gladiator! Now that's weird! Santa could kick Russell Crowe's ass any day of the week! But we would, of course, spare Russell his life. Merry Christmas.

The Beach Boys made their Christmas album in 1964. Brian Wilson wrote and arranged five originals, including the perennial "Little St. Nick" and a couple of other dandies (and not a bad one in the bunch), and he arranged a gorgeous, Four-Freshmen-esque a cappella version of "Auld Lang Syne." They recorded an additional six standards with full orchestra arranged, at Brian's request, by Dick Reynolds, who had written arrangements for the Four Freshmen, one of Brian's big influences. I haven't heard any witty quotes in Reynolds's other four arrangements for the album, but I'll keep my ears open.

About those pictures: Santa is by George Hinke, from a favorite book from my childhood, that I've kept all these years, Jolly Old Santa Claus, with a mediocre text (unclaimed by any author), and beautiful artwork by a man named George Hinke, born 1883 in Germany. The gladiator is an 1872 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, a painting called Pollice Verso, which is usually translated as "Thumbs Down." Thank you, Messrs. Hinke and Gérôme, as well as Messrs. Reynolds, Wilson, Fučík, and Gershwin.

I've been loving lots of other Christmas music this season, from before Bach to Mariah Carey, but this is the only thing that made me pick up the phone to call a musician friend -- "Hey, the Beach Boys' 'Blue Christmas' quotes Gershwin!"

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actual Valentine's Day card sent by Julia Child and her husband Paul to their friends,
a scene recreated in the recent Meryl Streep movie

I enjoyed the recent flick Julie and Julia, and noticed an odd elision: In the movie, Julie, the young woman blogging her way through Julia Child's first cookbook, finds out that Julia Child "hates" her project -- it's very upsetting. Her concerned husband asks, "What did she say? Does she hate you?"

"No, she didn't say she hates me" -- but we never find out what she did say. And there's a reason why we don't. Julia Child called Julie Whatever-her-last-name-is's project a stunt. Which is what it was. Entertaining movie, because Streep is so good, as is Stanley Tucci as her husband. This "doing something busy or extreme for a year" is a very pop thing right now, and good on Julie Whoever for hitting it big with such an idea, but stunts are fads; Julia Child's accomplishment had substance, and the movie suffers the imbalance that the elision points to. (A minister friend gave me a book about living Biblically for a year, and I heard part of a radio interview with someone who read the Oxford English Dictionary in a year and wrote a book about it; I'm sure there are others out there. I'm thinking of singing the phone book myself.)

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Dig the original hipster,
with the dark mustache and soul patch
contrasting with the multi-hued blond-streaked dark hair.
Francisco de Quevedo, Spanish poet, 1580-1645,
painted by Velazquez.

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Happy New Year, everybody! Here's hoping for a better decade for us all. Drop me a line if you have the chance. A lot's been going on, which I haven't written about, and, if you know me, I'd love to get caught up. I'm sure a lot's been up with you too. Hope it's been good. See you around, I hope. Cheers.

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