It’s hard to believe that this will be the eleventh Play Playlist List. Or the twelfth. I’m not sure, really, which makes it even harder to believe. When last we met, I was musing on the choices for the Noises Off Mix; I was toying with the structural link: half a dozen songs are Act One, covers of those same songs in the second Act One, and different covers of the same songs in the third Act One. That seemed like a good idea, but not terribly helpful in picking the half-dozen songs, was it?
Then, in screwing around trying to come up with a mix worth of songs about sardines or songs about bags, one of my favorite lines came to mind. This is near the beginning, when Garry is complaining about the incredibly complicated blocking and prop handling. It’s not in the earlier version of the play, where Garry just says something like: “We’re busting our guts up here, Lloyd, and, I mean, you know, Christ!” In this one, Lloyd is pressing Garry to articulate his complaint and he says: “I’m just saying. Words. Doors. Bags. Boxes. Sardines. Us. I’ve made my point?”
So. Words. Doors. Bags. Boxes. Sardines. Us. Six songs. That’s half a dozen songs, right? And enough for Act One of the mix.
Words: The BeeGees, of course, “Words”. I could go with the Beatles’ “The Word”, but that doesn’t seem as funny to me. Also, BeeGees! On the other hand, I’m open for suggestions.
Doors: This is the tough one. I could of course do “Light My Fire” by the Doors. Or I could try to find two covers of “Open the Door, Richard” by Louis Jordan. There are certainly plenty of covers of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, which makes it attractive, but on the other hand, it’s a song about dying, innit? Not sure I want a song about dying on this playlist.
Bags: I’m going with the Hardest Working Man in Show Business and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”. Aren’t I? I mean, what, P.I.L.’s “Bags”? You think there are two covers of that somewhere worth finding?
Boxes: Well, we were talking about the late Pete Seeger the other day, which leads me of course to “Little Boxes”, which of course has a million billion covers. So we’re probably OK there.
Us: This turned out to be the hard one. There’s a Sixpence None the Richer song. There’s a Regina Spektor song. There’s a Drake song. I don’t particularly like any of them. And the other us songs that come to mind (“Spies Like Us” “Just the Two of Us”) don’t really work. Sir Paul McCartney has a new song called “Save Us”, but nobody will have covered it yet.
Oops! Update: I asked some old high-school buddies about Us and they came up with Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven Help Us All”. I’m still looking at covers, but this one has a strong case. Yeah, that’s Mama Cass. And there’s The Housemartins, for the third act. Or maybe Tom Jones doing a medley with the completely appropriate “I Can’t Stand Up (for falling down)”. So that’s all right, d’y’see?
So. One of the things that happens when a musician/songwriter/singer/instrumentalist dies is that people call up, listen to and share some recordings that are particularly meaningful to them. It’s our internetty age’s response to what radio stations used to do—what radio stations still do, I suppose. There are still radio stations, aren’t there? Anyway, it’s far more interesting in the social media world to see what particular tracks our friends like, and how they think of them.
I was thinking about this—when Lou Reed died, people largely passed along Lou Reed’s own recordings of his songs. Mostly studio stuff, too. Lou Reed is clearly associated in people’s minds with those records (I’m calling them records, because old) rather than with his covers of other people’s songs, or other people’s covers of his songs. And that’s quite right, too. There are terrific covers, but that’s not what Lou Reed is to people.
On the other hand, there are songwriters who are loved in other people’s recordings of their songs. No, I don’t mean Bob Dylan, although of course most of you said Bob Dylan just now. I mean Johnny Mercer, or Lieber and Stoller, or Holly Knight or J.D. Souther. Even Leon Russell—I mean, maybe when Leon Russell dies, people will share something he recorded, but just as likely they will post Delta Lady or Masquerade, and quite rightly, too. And what about Leonard Cohen? Will everyone just post their own favorite cover of “Hallelujah”? Or will the pretentious amongst us post covers of “Everybody Knows” and “Bird on a Wire” and “Suzanne”?
You knew I was leading up to talking about Pete Seeger, right?
So here’s the thing. I don’t like Pete Seeger’s voice very much, and I don’t like the banjo as an instrument very much, and frankly I don’t really enjoy any of the Pete Seeger recordings. Nor, honestly, am I a huge fan of the man’s songwriting. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge fan of the man, of his life and his work and his organizing and all of it. A great American, a hero. Absolutely. And I recognize that for many people Pete Seeger’s voice and banjo are the sound of music. But here’s the thing: if I am sharing a recording to commemorate Pete Seeger, I’m likely to pick this recording of Bruce Springsteen and a terrific band doing “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep”. Which Pete Seeger didn’t write, and on which he does not perform. But this recording exists because of Pete Seeger. Without Pete Seeger in the middle there, you don’t have this.
That one’s obvious, because the album is called The Seeger Sessions and the band is the Seeger Sessions Band. But what about Joan Baez singing “Whe Shall Overcome” at the White House? That doesn’t happen without Pete Seeger teaching the song in the forties to Guy Carawan, who taught it to SNCC. Not just politics, either, or not just directly politics—the Sandpipers don’t record Guantanamera if Pete Seeger hadn’t been singing it (as a peace song during the Cuban Missile Crisis, evidently, so politics is always there), and if the Sandpipers don’t have a hit with it, you don’t have Los Lobos recording a much better version, and you don’t have Wyclef Jean doing his thing with it. There are dozens—probably hundreds—of great recordings by great artists of great songs that Pete Seeger learned and taught. Pete Seeger didn’t write them, and frankly I could do without his recordings of them, but without Pete Seeger in the middle, you don’t have anything from Elvis Costello singing Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes” to the thing that They Might Be Giants did with Solomon Linda’s “Wimoweh” (Guitar), or for that matter what the Violent Femmes did with Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons” (Special).
And that’s not including his influence on songwriters, or his direct support for various songwriters and musicians, or his inspiration to others, or his cultural influence on what kinds of songs were acceptable to cover, or even the result of his organization and activism—there’s no way to identify the great recordings that exist because somebody could afford piano lessons for his kid because of a union job or a segregated workplace, achieved to the sound of Pete Seeger’s singing. That’s the man’s real legacy, of course, the true People’s Songbook. But just looking at him as a figure in the world of music, he is in the middle of a lot of songs and singers, filling a place that I don’t think I really ever realized existed.
I was conversing in real life with one Gentle Reader of this blog, a month or two ago, and one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, we had agreed to each make a playlist approximately an hour in length (call it the length of an audio CD, just for the sake of whatnot) with a collection of… sea chanteys.
We completed our playlists and exchanged them. We are big-category people, happily, and neither collection was comprised entirely of your actual chantey worksong. There were Songs of the Sea—songs of travel and ballads and drinking songs and skiffle songs and modern songs that sound a bit like chanteys until you try to heave the line together and half of you fall over because it turns out the song is in fucking five-four time, and one bonus mining song just because. You know? And the performers, too—Gentle Readers should not be too surprised that I looked for some unconventional covers by such seafarers as Sting, Bruce, Courtney Love, Roger McGuinn, and the Muppets, although in the event I largely stayed away from the ska-core, punk and heavy metal versions.
What you’re wondering, Gentle Reader, is this: how much overlap was there? When two good friends make such playlists, 25 songs on one and 24 on t’other, from such a genre, did they wind up choosing all the same songs and the same performers, different songs and different performers, or what? There was no communication between us about the contents (other than a quick clarification about acceptable levels of profanity, since as we expected these are being played in automobiles with young-uns, and we don’t want to give them more opportunities to embarrass us) during the gathering process, nor have we shared our favorite chanteys in the past. Our general musical tastes overlap quite a bit, tho’ there are certainly areas where they don’t so much, what with people being different one to another, which is what makes the world interesting and fun. So within a fairly narrow subgenre, and one moreover in which a few recording artists really stand out, did we come up with the same discs? Or different ones entirely?
I was surprised to discover that there is very little overlap between the two playlists. There is only one track that made it onto both lists: the “All for Me Grog” with (probably) Jeff Warner leading his brother Gerret as well as Louis Killen and Fud Benson. It’s available from the Smithsonian Folkways store, by the way, and is an excellent version of an excellent song.
The nearest other overlap is that both playlists contain versions of “Barrett’s Privateers” featuring its composer Stan Rogers. My version was an absolutely terrific live one that turned out, once a person listened to it carefully, to begin halfway through the song. Tragically, that person who listened to it carefully enough was not YHB. Well, and there it is. Hmph.
There were five more chanteys that made it onto both playlists, though in very different versions. In two of the cases, they have different titles. One of those has different choruses on the two playlists, but “Haul Away, Joe” and “Haul Away for Rosie” are the same song, really, and count toward that overlap. The other differing title is called on one playlist “Away Rio” and on the other “Rio Grande”; neither has, I think, any greater claim to being the real title than the other, and the lyrics and melodies are, at least so far as Your Unobservant Blogger has noticed, the same. That’s less true for the two versions of “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor”—the melodies are the same, yes, but they have chosen different lyrics from the many available. By the way, Wikipedia asserts that until Burl Ives recorded it with the earl-aye pronunciation, all the known versions have early pronounced the usual way. Can this be true?
We also each chose versions of “South Australia” and “Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her”—I was tempted to go with the Lou Reed version of the latter, but didn’t. Lou Reed! Chantey! And yet… no.
And the other thirty-four tracks?
“The Black Freighter”
“Blood Red Roses”
“Blow Ye Winds in the Morning”
“Bully in the Alley”
“Chicken on a Raft”
“Come All You Bold Sailormen”
“Greenland Whale Fisheries”
“The Handsome Cabin Boy”
“I’se the B’y that Builds the Boat”
“Maid of Amsterdam”
“Married To a Mermaid”
“The Mary Ellen Carter”
“One for the Morning Glory”
“Pay Me My Money Down”
“Randy Dandy, O”
“Roll Alabama, Roll”
“Rolling Down to Old Maui”
“The Sailor’s Alphabet”
“Sea Chanteys (Muppets)”
“Shoals of Herring”
“Stormy Weather Boys”
“The Worst Pirate Song”
“Ye Mariners All”
I was surprised, myself, that I didn’t choose songs from the American South Coasts, particularly from the African American tradition, because, hey, that’s practically blues, ain’t it? Only it turns out that (a) it’s not blues at all, no, and (2) it seems that most of those worksongs involve timing the long slow pull of fishing nets, and as such are long slow songs, and not as much fun as haul-yard songs.
So. As Your Humble Blogger begins the process for As You Like It, it will have occurred to eager GRs to wonder what would be the theme of the Tenth Play Playlist List. Well, and you all probably aren’t so much wondering, as it’s obvious: cross-dressing. This is a play about cross-dressing, and it’s a great play because the cross-dressing is great. So what else would the mix be about?
The problem YHB is having, though, is that there are lots of songs about men dressed as women, but very few about women dressed as men. That I have found, anyway. Songs about men in drag include
“Pretty Lady” Ke$ha
“Rebel Rebel” David Bowie
“Walk on the Wild Side” Lou Reed
“Dude Looks Like a Lady” Aerosmith
“Andrew in Drag” Magnetic Fields
“Out of the Wardrobe” Kinks
Not a bad start. There are two major kinds of songs here: character sketches and stories about romance in which the woman turns out to be a man in drag.
But songs about women in drag? There are a bunch of Sweet Polly Oliver songs about women dressing in drag to go to war. I don’t think I could comfortably put more than, oh, three of those into an hour-long playlist. And the two kinds of songs about drag queens? They don’t seem to exist about drag kings. Or at least they haven’t come to my attention. I did come across a song by a band called Cowboy Mouth called “Looked Like a Woman (But Dressed Like a Man)” but I haven’t managed to actually listen to it yet. Other than that? Drag kings at war, drag kings at sea. I eagerly await y’all’s counterexamples.
The third kind of cross-dressing song, and one that may actually be the bulk of the playlist, is the song that is associated with one singer, and is covered by a singer of the opposite sex. So I might include this Mônica da Silva cover of “Walk on the Wild Side”. Or the cover by Dave’s True Story, which doesn't seem to be online. Anyway, I’m looking for your favorites of those, too.
This morning, I challenged my children to tell me why they weren’t in school and what was special about the day. For the Youngest Member, who is not yet six, I accepted the statement that it was Martin Luther King day, and that Martin Luther King helped people fight against segregation. Not bad. A bit later, as the Perfect Non-Reader of this Tohu Bohu (age eleven) was on her way to her Morning of Service, I got quite a bit more detail out of her. After I was satisfied, my Best Reader asked her what her favorite Martin Luther King Day carol was. The Perfect Non-Reader, without batting a proverbial, responded I know one thing I did right/was the day I started to fight. So that’s all right.
Then I sang some Mary, Don’t You Weep and my Best Reader sang Step By Step and then I sang This Little Light of Mine and the Perfect one sang—I don’t remember, but it was something appropriate. We Shall Overcome, probably. And it was good.
I went on to work, and in the middle of the day went to my employer’s observance, which had a speech and some music and some poetry, and then we were all asked to join in Lift Every Voice and Sing. And what happened, or what I saw anyway among the people who were near me, was that all the African-Americans of a certain age got up and sang. And the white folk of a certain age (Your Humble Blogger is in this group) got up and peered at the words that were printed on our programs and mumbled along as best we could, feeling completely alien. The younger people near me didn’t sing, of course, being younger people. I don’t know if any of them knew the words or not, because, young people in public. Not gonna sing. But amongst us certain-age folk, it was clear: the African-Americans knew the song and expected to sing together; the white folk not so much.
So here’s the thing: we were trying to come up with songs for MLK and we didn’t think of Lift Every Voice and Sing. I’m just saying: we didn’t think of it. And that really isn’t surprising for white Americans of my age. We didn’t even think of it.
It’s Encore time again! Only remember how, when Jed invented the game, he said it might be fun to do “a set of songs that are all Christmas songs”? Well, Happy Xmas Jed! It’s a set of songs that are all Christmas songs! Well, Christmas and winter-season songs. Which, I’m hoping, will also make the thing easier and more fun for y’all.
Remember the rules?
Score: For each word on the list, YHB has in mind one and only one song that contains the word. Gentle Readers (as a team) get one Bragging Unit for each time y’all come up with the song I thought of, but you get two Bragging Units each time you come up with a Christmas (or winter-themed) song I didn’t think of. Up to a maximum of five Bragging Units per word. YHB gets two Bragging Units for having come up with the list. For every word on the list that y’all blank on, I get two more Bragging Units. For any word that y’all can’t come up with any other song than the one I had in mind, I get one Bragging Unit. Any Gentle Reader who posts his or her own list gets two Bragging Units. Jed gets two Bragging Units for having come up with the game. Any Gentle Reader who posts for the first time with a guess gets one extra Bragging Unit. Any Gentle Reader who is able to identify an instance where YHB has screwed up the lyrics again gets one Bragging Unit.
MFQ Rules: Don’t look stuff up and then post it. You don’t have to know the name of the song, but you have to be able to sing (or in this case type) a chunk of the lyric containing the word. It’s better if you sing that chunk of lyric out loud, though, whilst typing. Eight words is the canonical minimum chunk for the Encore parlor game. If you get the lyrics wrong from memory there will be Scorn and Derision, but not so bad as if you looked the lyric up before posting. Don’t just make up shit up, please, and if you do, make it worthwhile. Within that construct, I’m going to rule that songs written by Gentle Readers are not eligible, even if you realio trulio wrote a song with that word in the lyric five years ago. I mean, if you did, let me know, because that’s a whole separate set of Bragging Units. All the songs are primarily in the English Language; no score for translations and multilingual puns, except, you know, anyone who does something really clever gets one Bragging Unit and one S&D unit.
The List: I'll try to keep this up-to-date. If a word is in bold, nobody has come up with nothing. If a word is in italics, at least one Gentle Reader has come up with at least one song containing it. If a word is struck through, some Gentle Reader has come up with the song that YHB was thinking of. If a word is both italicized and struck through, then y'all have maxed out the five BUs available.
The missing X is for Xmas, and because, seriously, right? Be aware that some of these are about the season, rather than the holiday. No Chanukah songs, though.
So, Your Humble Blogger was, as so often, browsing through the Naxos Music Library for something pleasant to listen to at the desk, when suddenly I came across Music for Democrats. In case you thought it might refer to lower-case democrats, who appear to be members of My Party merely because the American Patriotic Classics label uses upstyle in its album titles, they have thoughtfully placed a donkey on the cover. A rather cross-looking donkey, actually. The other one has a kinda sulky-looking elephant.
But here’s the thing: the music is the same. It’s the same album, being sold under two covers. Not a particularly good album: military band arrangements of some typical patriotic songs (“The Star Spangled Banner” , “The Stars and Stripes Forever” , “America the Beautiful”) some more obscure marches (“National Spirit March” , “President Garfield’s Inauguration March” , “The Presidential Polonaise”) and some more recent tunes (“This Land is Your Land” , “Gd Bless the USA”) all recorded by various military bands of our armed forces. But the same.
Yes, the United States Air Force Singing Sergeants sing Woody Guthrie on both albums. No, they don’t sing all the verses. On either album.
So, here’s my question. On the one hand, this is some sort of bizarre attempt to make a buck off people’s political tribalism. And a lazy attempt, as well. I mean, it wouldn’t be that hard to come up with some actual Music for Democrats and Music for Republicans, with only a trifle of overlap. Even within the military-band stuff, it should be possible for a clever person to come up with something vaguely humorous.
On the other hand, you could look at it as a fundamental insight: people in the Other Party can listen to the same music as the people from My Party. Republicans can listen to Woody Guthrie; Democrats can listen to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Political preferences do no have to dictate our tastes in music or art. We do not blacklist songs for being politically incorrect—or we don’t have to.
On the other other hand, there really are tribal differences between Republicans and Democrats. The Parties exist for a reason, and people do join them and stick with them (or abandon them) for reasons, and those reasons do not have to be completely unmoored from culture, either.
Anyway, as long as we’re here, it’s worth looking at the wonderful internal rhymes. Let’s be free with them And share the BBC with them is lovely, isn’t it? There’s another (post-war) version with the line Let’s sweetly sympathize again/And help the scum to rise again, which is magnificent. This, I think, is the set of lyrics for this pre-VE recording. One can of course criticize the politics (tho’ being bitter about being bombed seems totally understandable, whoever is doing the bombing) but the rhythms and rhymes are beyond category. And bye-the-bye, when thinking about verbal elegance, notice how many of the words here are short, common monosyllables; one needn’t employ obscurities to sound erudite and urbane.
Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans, When our victory is ultimately won. It was just those nasty Nazis who persuaded them to fight And their Beethoven and Bach are really far worse than their bite
Let’s be meek to them And turn the other cheek to them And try to bring out their latent sense of fun. Let’s give them full air parity, And treat the rats with charity, But don’t let’s be beastly to the Hun!
We must be kind And with an open mind, We must endeavour to find a way To let the Germans know That when the war is over, They are not the ones who have to pay.
We must be sweet And tactful and discreet, And when they’ve suffered defeat, We mustn’t let Them feel upset, Or ever get the feeling That we’re cross with them or hate them. Our future policy must be to reinstate them.
Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans, When we’ve definitely got them on the run Let us treat them very kindly, As we would a valued friend. We might send them out some bishops, As a form of lease and lend.
Let’s be sweet to them And day by day repeat to them That sterilization simply isn’t done. Let’s help the dirty swine again to occupy the Rhine again But don’t let’s be beastly to the Hun.
We must be just And win their love and trust And in addition we must be wise And ask the conquered lands To join our hands to aid them That would be a wonderful surprise
For many years They’ve been in floods of tears Because the poor little dears Have been so wronged And only longed To cheat the world Defeat the world And beat the world to blazes This is the moment when we ought to sing their praises
Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans. For you can’t deprive a gangster of his gun! Though they’ve been a little naughty To the Czechs and Poles and Dutch, I don’t suppose those countries Really minded very much.
Let’s be free with them And share the BBC with them. We mustn’t prevent them basking in the sun! Let’s soften their defeat again, And build their blasted fleet again, But don’t let’s be beastly to the Hun!
Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans When the age of peace and plenty has begun We must send them steel and oil and coal and everything they need For their peaceable intentions can be always guaranteed. Let’s employ with them a sort of ‘strength through joy’ with them, They’re better than us at honest manly fun. Let’s let them feel they’re swell again and bomb us all to hell again, But don’t let’s be beastly to the Hun.
It’s just a summer song, but I find myself a trifle concerned about Call Me Maybe. I mean, it’s terrifically catchy, and pretty much a perfect pop song in a bunch of ways. The only reason I’m concerned at all, really, is that it’s a good enough song that our household actually purchased it and plays it in the car (see the music habits of YHB’s car), to much bopping and alongsinging, even by the Youngest Member. The song with the profanity in the title last summer, or that other song about putting a ring on it a few summers ago, catchy though they were, were not big hits in our household, and could be largely ignored. Well, ignored insofar as we heard them a lot everywhere we went, of course, but I did not have to wonder what sorts of messages were being absorbed.
And I should unhesitatingly state that I don’t find “Call Me Maybe” highly objectionable in its message, in the way that the ring song was. This one is mostly a straight-ahead love song. Well, sort of a love song. A lust song, anyway. If you don’t know the thing, the first-person singer throws a coin into a wishing well and then sees a hot guy. The rest of the song (the wishing well motif disappears after the second verse) describes the singer’s unrequited longing for the hot guy. It’s a depiction of a young woman, just coming into her sexual power, simultaneously advancing and retreating, vibrating between the need to make an impression and the need to appear indifferent. It’s not terribly eloquent (it’s a summer pop song, after all) but it does evoke that borderline status that I associate with the horrible post-adolescent time.
Let me be specific. On the one hand, she’s making a move: Where you think you’re goin’, baby? she says, giving him her number. She brags about being pursued by all the other guys; she tells him that she likes the way his skin shows through his ripped jeans. At the same time, she’s putting up a front of ambivalence, of coolness, of, well, of not-being-desperate. The song, after all, is “Call Me Maybe”, not “Call Me Tonight”. She says she wasn’t looking for this, and she emphasizes that she doesn’t actually know him, and that frankly, it’s a bit crazy, so what the heck, maybe call her, maybe don’t.
At the same time, there is, to my ears, an undercurrent of real longing. The most memorable line of the song is this: Before you came into my life/I missed you so bad/and you should know that. This, unlike most of the rest of the bubblegum, is actually evocative: the sense that a love object fills an unsuspected emptiness. This is, perhaps, why she finds it hard to look at him—yes, it’s because he so hot, but surely that would make him easy on the eyes. I take it that (as in my memories, at any rate, of unrequited post-adolescent crushes) looking at the love object brings up that whole mess of longing that is so hard to deal with emotionally, and makes it hard to concentrate on anything else.
And here’s my problem: my Perfect Non-Reader is eleven and a half. She will shortly have a crush on someone, probably a boy, possibly to the point where it’s hard to look right at him. That desperate desire, that horrific mix of hormones and romance and icky old life, will get in her way. And I don’t want her to think that the right way to deal with it is the mix of braggadocio and feigned indifference that the narrator of the song pulls off. It’s a familiar mix, one that was thought in my proverbial to be peculiar to boys. I emulated it, along with pretty nearly everyone else—heck, I emulated that Laid-back Lothario business even when I really was indifferent, because that was how I thought grown men acted. I was trying to be cool. And how did I learn how to be cool? From pop music, of course.
OK, here’s something from high culture for y’all folks that got cultchah. After a performance of Twelfth Night this summer, I mentioned to my Perfect Non-Reader that the fellow who played the Duke was a friend of mine. She said that he was really good, and that in particular she admired his portrayal of somebody in love. Now, I think that part of the joke in the play is that the Duke thinks he is in love with Olivia, and he acts like he thinks somebody in love with Olivia should act, but in point of fact, he isn’t in love with Olivia at all. That’s the joke. Only, when you are eleven, you don’t know that it’s a joke; for all you know, that’s what love is.
I want my children to enjoy Shakespeare; I don’t want them to emulate Romeo and Juliet. I want my children to enjoy pop music; I don’t want them to emulate the narrating character of “Call Me, Maybe”. I’m not worried about the Juliet thing, not just because of the whole tale of woe business, but because it’s easier to talk to my kids when we aren’t all dancing and singing.
Your Humble Blogger distributed the Play Playlist List for LWF on Opening Night, as is my wont, and got several pleasant comments about it. As I haven’t worked with anyone in the cast or crew before, they can’t compare it to earlier Mixes, but they did pick up the wide-range of styles.
Adele, “Rumour Has It”
Steve Gibson & The Red Caps,“Dirt Dishin’ Daisy”
Original Broadway Cast of The Music Man,“Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little”
Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington,“Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me”
The Everly Brothers,“Wake Up Little Susie”
Amy Winehouse & Paul Weller,“I Heard It through the Grapevine”
Bonnie Raitt,“Something To Talk About”
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes,“Take It on the Run”
The Spazzys,“My Boyfriend’s Back”
The Go-Go’s,“Our Lips Are Sealed ” (Fatboy Slim Remix)
Lou Reed,“New York Telephone Conversation”
Original Broadway Cast of Fiddler on the Roof,“The Rumor”
Louis Jordan,“You Run Your Mouth (And I’ll Run My Business)”
Mills Brothers,“I Heard”
Elvis Presley,“(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”
Mose Allison,“Your Mind Is On Vacation”
The King Cousins,“The Telephone Hour”
Maxine Brown,“Oh No, Not My Baby”
The Ink Spots,“Whispering Grass”
Dave Dudley,“Talk Of The Town”
Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe,“Baby It’s You”
Billie Holiday,“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”
My director asked me, after listening to the thing over a few days, if I really listened to all those kinds of music. I admitted that I don’t listen to much current music, but that Adele was ubiquitous (particularly since I work on a college campus) so I added it. Otherwise, yeah, I listen to all that stuff. He said he was impressed. I didn’t mention that I restricted my range to songs with lyrics in the English language, and that I didn’t actually include examples of all the kinds of music I listen to. No klezmer, no Early Music, no Dixieland or Afro-Caribbean Jazz, not even any ska or reggae (I suspect I could fairly easily have found some that fit). Pretty much the list had Pop, Rock, Jazz, R&B, Showtunes, and if you want to make it a separate category, Oldies.
A day or two after that, I came across, on the internet, some people who were mocking an absent person’s comment that he liked "all kinds of music". This was, they said, because he had no taste at all. Anyone who actually likes music, naturally, will like some kinds of music and dislike other kinds, because such a person will have personal tastes, tastes that come from thinking about what he is listening to. And I thought—do I have taste?
In fact, there’s lots of music I don’t like. I don’t listen to modern Country (or Country Rock, as I think of it) at all, and I don’t particularly like what I think of as Country and Western (Glenn Campbell and Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels and Larry Gatlin that sort of thing). I don’t listen to Hip-Hop or Rap; I have a few rap songs on my hard drive (mostly a guest vocalist contributing to a song by some pop group I like) but on the whole, I can do without it. I don’t like much disco; I don’t like much of the modern dance music that sounds to me like disco with louder drum machines. I don’t listen to metal of any kind. I don’t choose to listen to orchestral or choral music; I strongly prefer small groups. I don’t listen to any operatic-style opera (is that clear at all? I mean: Philip Glass and John Adams and Kurt Weill don’t sound like opera to me) either, both because of the orchestration and I find very high soprano voices irritating. On the other hand, I do listen to Gilbert & Sullivan, and while I say that Sullivan is the price for the Gilbert, in fact I like Arthur Sullivan’s melodies more than somewhat.
The distinction, perhaps, is that I have listened to the operettas enough to like them. I’ve noticed, in myself, that there are a lot of songs I like, not because I like other songs that sound like them, or because those songs are better than similar songs, but simply because they are familiar to me, having heard them so many times. Most of them are crappy songs on good albums, songs that I have come to love simply because I love them, indefensibly. Others, well, I don’t know for sure. Stuff my elder siblings listened to when I was a kid? The big example of that is Queen—a lot of their stuff sounds awful to me, but there are songs I love which sound exactly the same as the ones I can’t stand. I don’t mean the stuff that sounds different, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, but “I’m in Love with my Car” or “Somebody to Love” or “Now I’m Here”, the stuff with the shredding guitar. The ones I like are the ones I have heard a thousand times; the ones I dislike are the ones that, for whatever reason, I haven’t. Is there any taste involved in that?
To sum up: Yes, I listen to lots of different kinds of music, in different genres. No, I don’t like everything; there are things that are to my taste and things that are not to my taste. On the other other hand, my taste is only partially a matter of what I think of as real taste; even within a genre, while I have Sources of Listener Pleasure and Sources of Listener Irritation, my actual fondness for a song has as much to do with the circumstances of my hearing it as with the song itself. Had I not been looking for a recent song to put on this mix, the verse-to-chorus ratio of the Adele song might have irritated me enough to make me dislike the song, which in actual fact, I like quite a bit.
So, here’s something I thought of today whilst watching this bit from Late Night:
Ready for my point? I thought so.
I think that a few years ago, when Our Previous President was in office, the audience for this sort of thing would have preferred to see Will Farrell portraying the President than to see the President himself. Now, the funny part is that it actually is Our Only President on the show. Part of that is the times, I’m sure, but part of it is that, well, Our Only President is that cool.
Also, for those who missed it, here’s Our Only President with the White House Blues All-Stars:
Volume Nine of the Play Playlist Lists will be the Opening Night mix for Lady Windermere’s Fan. The possibilities are limitless.
I have decided, though, to make a list of songs about gossip. It’s a play about gossip and scandal, more than anything, and the ways people protect themselves against it, or fall victim to it. And there are lots of good songs about gossip, so the problem is less the difficulty of coming up with songs and more choosing which songs (and versions of songs) to put on the mix. Still, this is my semi-traditional plea for recommendations: songs about gossip, please, in any style or genre.
Here’s a large double-handful of things I have come across already. I’ll note that the links are to YouTube, which often starts the video on loading the page, so restrict your workclickage accordingly. Also, I have started amusing myself, in making these mixes, by choosing less well-known recordings of the songs, which I am linking to; if y’all know of wonderful covers you should let me know.
My favorite jazz trumpeter, Cootie Williams, co-wrote the “Concerto for Cootie”, which later got some lyrics added to it, and became Do Nothin’ til you Hear from Me; I’m considering using either the Gladys Knight version or Lena Horne.
And the Timex Social Club, with Rumors. Remember them? Me neither.
Moving on to the Nineties, there’s Something to Talk About, which is a pleasant enough song, although for some reason it doesn’t seem to have aged well.
I Heard You Got Action by Pony Up! may get onto the mix solely because of the title; it’s not really a song about gossip, and isn’t even a very good song, but that title…
And then it’s hard to leave off a song called Listen Up! by a band called Gossip! Alas, it’s not a song about gossip. Too bad.
The most recent song I am familiar with is Adele’s Rumour Has It, which is a pretty good tune, actually.
There being so many songs that fit the category, I am uncertain about including the borderline ones, and even more uncertain about songs (such as Lovable or Baby, It’s You) in which there is a memorable line or two about gossip and reputation and so on and so forth, but in which it ain’t the real subject of the song.
So—What do you think about the ones I’ve started with? What am I missing? How should I put together the mix? I have a month, but (as usual) once I get to tech week, my time for messing about with mp3s is limited.
Your Humble Blogger has mentioned before how I have come to listen to music: a complicated system of ratings that allows me to randomly shuffle from thousands of songs I am not sick of. For the last seven or eight years, most of the time I am at home, this nearly-infinite playlist is on. Before that, of course, most of the music I listened to was in the form of an album of some kind. I had a few mix tapes, and a handful of CDs that collected different performers, but almost everything I listened to was forty-five minutes to an hour from one group of performers, in one musical style. I was born into the Age of the Album, and grew up in it, and that’s how I thought of music. Even the mix tapes were mostly ways for people to introduce me to new bands so that I could get hold of their albums, and then listen to the albums.
Of course, I was unusual, I am led to understand, because I never listened to commercial radio. Not by choice, anyway. Oh, that isn’t quite true—there was, oddly enough, a station in San Diego that I remember fondly from my childhood vacations, which introduced me to The Cramps. But I have always found radio commercials profoundly irritating—they don’t quite keep me from listening to baseball, but I do shut it off at times—and of course I never understood why I would listen to a song I didn’t like while waiting on the speculation that I might like the next one. I did do that sometimes for music videos, but then I was also less irritated by TV commercials as well, and in the heyday of the music video, I had cable and could waste a good part of a lousy three-minute song checking the other channels. Also, I was a teenager. Yich.
Where was I? Oh, yes—even in the Age of Albums, lots of people listened to a gallimaufry of music from different sources, on radio and in dance clubs, but I did not acquire the taste for it until sometime around 2000. What happened at that time (more or less, as I don’t really remember the years) is that I finally got tired of choosing CDs for the player, and as there was now the technology to play music continually, choosing only music I like, well, I adopted it. But I adopted it for home, when I was sitting at my desk by my computer; in the car, I still listened to CDs. Well, in 2000, I didn’t own a car, but I think I was listening to CDs on a Walkman-like device of some kind as I walked or rode the bus. I didn’t get a portable mp3 player until, I believe, 2005 or so.
I bring all of this up because I have finally, it seemed, got tired of listening to albums in the car. Our car stereo has no very easy injack for a mp3 player, and I find the player-to-radio adapters irritating, so I have continued to listen to CD albums in the car up until very recently, when to accompany my drives to and from rehearsal (and other places, although some of my driving is accompanied by WNPR, when they aren’t playing shows I dislike, such as three to four pm, repeated from nine to ten pm) I have put together a half-dozen mix CDs. I didn’t spend much time on them—I asked my player to cough up fifty or so good songs, and I threw twenty of them onto a playlist and burned it to CD, and then I did it again five more times, and will probably do a few more. Because it turns out that I really prefer the mixes to albums, even when they are good albums.
I find this change disconcerting, though. Not for practical purposes, as I know I can still choose to listen to a CD all the way though, if I get the hankering for a musical or a concept album. Just that the Age of the Album was my age, you know? And it’s over for me, now, too.
Your Humble Blogger mentioned the other day that I was putting on my dancing shoes for some quadrille action in relation to the production of Lady Windermere’s Fan. Our Dance Captain (who is actually choreographing the dancing, and may not be taking part in it at all) found a nice set on YouTube; we are doing a modified version of the third round in this video. We have been rehearsing it, so far, to the music of the video itself: the Dance Captain plays the video on a laptop with some speakers, and we cavort. The sound is not terribly good, and the instrumentation is Not Period, but the melody is nice and suits our dancing quite well. I wanted to help out by getting a clean recording of the song.
Well. The first thing I did was to poke around the internet a trifle, doing no more than twenty seconds of research myself. Then I gave up and asked on Facebook; most of my FBFs who dance are Scottish Dancers, not English, and English Country Dancers don’t do the Quadrille anyway, as I understand it, but I tend to assume that any piece of music that is used for any English Dance is also used for a million other Dances, and hoped for some recognition. Worth a shot, I thought, and it was, although I did not come up with the title of the piece.
So. What did I do next? I asked a librarian, of course.
It took all of thirty minutes, perhaps, for the reference librarian at the music library to bring to my desk the sheet music for Les Moulinets from the Original Lanciers from Polite and Social Dances: a Collection of Historic Dances, Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, American; with Historical Sketches, Descriptions of the Dances and Instructions for Their Performance, compiled and edited by Mari Ruef Hofer; 1917 Clayton F. Summy Co.
Your Humble Blogger has access, though employment with an educational institution, to quite a lot of streaming music. It has become my primary source for discovering new music, although by new, Gentle Readers should understand that I mean new to me, not newly recorded. Certainly not newly composed. A lot of consort music and chamber music of the 18th-century, and this and that, and some world music here and there, and lately a ridiculously large collection of jazz.
As I do when faced with such a collection, I immediately searched for Cootie Williams, to see how good a list it would come up with. I was surprised to see something I wasn’t familiar with: a Storyville Records reissue of a Armed Forces Radio show called Jamboree. They paired the episode with Cootie Williams with one featuring the Fletcher Henderson orchestra; Lena Horne fronts them for the best “Honeysuckle Rose” YHB has ever heard. The two episodes are uneven, with some lackluster tracks and some cringemaking humor, but quite a lot of brilliant, brilliant stuff. Storyville has released eight discs, each with two half-hour episodes of the show, and the ones I have heard so far are like that: some lackluster tracks, some cringemaking humor, quite a lot of brilliant, brilliant stuff.
The shows are also interesting as an odd snapshot of the time—almost all the performers are African-American, including the hosts and comics, and they appear to be aimed at the segregated forces. Were the audiences for these live broadcasts in Hollywood mostly white? Were the shows popular on the AFRN, or were they mostly played as records in the black barracks? I have no idea. It sounds to me like there’s a sort of nobody’s-listening-but-us freedom to them (including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson joking about his footman, Jack Benny), but of course I don’t have any evidence of that other than my imagination. On the other hand, it was an official Armed Forces Radio Network show, kind of an ultimate work for The Man, even if it was volunteer.
Speaking of volunteering, the performers, as was (I believe) common for AFRN, Sales Bond shows and dances for the troops on leave, were unpaid, donating their time and talent for the boys in uniform. Some of them, at any rate, did so under the condition that the masters would be destroyed, and that the discs would be the property of the Government, not to be sold or traded. They had exclusive contracts, most of them, and those that owned their own careers presumably also wanted to avoid bootleg competition with their civilian records. I’m happy it wasn’t done, and that seventy years later I can listen to this stuff, but I do admit that I am a bit troubled by the intellectual property question. Not the legal question, so much, but by the moral question: I am clearly benefiting from the violation of the contract under which these recordings were made. Almost all the artists are dead by now, so it can’t hurt them, and I am not morally worried about these semi-bootlegs competing with those that might profit the artists’ children or other beneficiaries. Still, it seems questionable, somehow, and more so because I am not in the Armed Forces, not fighting the patriotic fight for which they donated their time and talent, or doing anything remotely like that. I’m just listening to music.
And so can you! Because it turns out that whatever the copyright status actually is, the Internet Archive has the files not just of the sixteen that Storyville has released on CD but of ninety-three half-hour programs.
Lena Horne, Fletcher Henderson, Cootie Williams. Nat King Cole, The Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rushing. Barney Bigard, Cab Calloway, Carmen Miranda, Louis Armstrong. Count Basie, Earl Hines, Slim Gaillard, Ethel Waters, Illinois Jacquet, Ella Fitzgerald. And on and on. Go on, click.
You Are Warned: Note contains close reading of an Elvis Costello lyric from 1980
So. Your Humble Blogger only today caught a bit of wordplay in an old Elvis Costello lyric.
YHB was quite the Elvis Costello fanatic in the 1980s. I spent quite a bit of the years 1983-1987 listening to the albums that were out at that time—eleven of them, I suppose, as I didn’t have Almost Blue, and that includes the b-sides collection Taking Liberties, which I’m not sure I even knew was a b-sides collection at the time. I didn’t have access to a lot of information about pop music, and wasn’t all that interested in winkling out what information I could get from fanzines, if I could fine any. No, my information about Elvis Costello was largely limited to listening to the albums again and again, paying very close attention to his vocals, and looking at my brother’s copy of A Singing Dictionary. I pretty nearly memorized all the songs on those albums, and still have what you might call a working familiarity with the lyrics. And I adored his facility with puns and double-meanings, his wit, if you will, the way he can turn statements around and make them mean their opposites. I didn’t have a very sophisticated understanding of the themes—I was a teenager, you know, with no real training in interpreting literary tropes—but as far as getting the allusions and catching the puns, I think I was pretty thorough. I ought to have been, given the thousands of hours I put into it.
Anyway, I happened to hear —Just a Memory— today, and I thought I noticed something I had never noticed before. I thought I would share it with y’all, because, of course, you are terribly interested, yes?
The character in the song (Mr. Costello is notable for writing songs as the first-person of interesting characters; it’s not as common as you might think) is depressed, late at night, musing over his botched love affair, writing and then tearing up a love letter, and defensively repeating that the “memories don’t mean that much”. The sound of the song has a loopy, dreamlike, going-nowhere quality with some quirky not to say alienating rhythmic turns; it evokes that late-night feeling of being emotionally stuck. It’s not one of his great songs, actually, and was (it turns out) the b-side to “New Amsterdam”, not making it the cut for Get Happy!!!. The narrator is unreliable, and as is often the case with Mr. Costello’s characters is unreliable even to himself. He uneasily equivocates and backtracks; it’s hard to like him, or even connect to him, as he fades into darkness.
The opening lines of the song are laying about, lying in bed/maybe it was something that I thought I said. The rhythm is important to the effect, as the first line-and-a-half leads naturally to the expectation that the second line will end something that I said, when he interpolates the two syllables, each held for two slow beats, cluing us to distrust, well, everything here. She left him, and maybe (only maybe) it was something that he said, or didn’t say, or he thought he said it but didn’t say it, or he meant to say it, or something. Most likely, that thought is just now coming to him as he lies in bed with his memories, which he claims not to trust and which don’t mean that much to him anyway, despite keeping him up at night.
There’s a verse that isn’t in the version I listened to that shows up in the Dusty Springfield cover as well as the live versions from the 90s. It details that what he is writing with his untrustworthy pen is a letter, a nine-page letter, for which he is trying to disguise his handwriting, and which he eventually rips up. The fundamental lie of the song (his supposed indifference to her memory) is heightened by this attempted deception, and he can’t even believe his lies to himself about what he remembers and what he doesn’t. What was it, really, that led to his loss? We don’t know, and he doesn’t know, or at he least doesn’t believe that he knows, or perhaps just tries to believe that he doesn’t know. But with all of that, there’s a hint that it was something big.
Which leads me to the line I just caught. The song ends with the same couplet that begins it, except that he has reversed two of the words. Instead of “laying about, lying in bed” he is “lying about, laying in bed”. Which may mean the same thing, of course—all of the covers I know of repeat the first couplet intact. But in a song about dissembling and equivocation, it’s also possible that he isn’t just lying about in the sense of lying around, but that he is lying about laying in bed. And, if that’s the case, then the laying that he was doing in the bed, and the lying about it, may have been the real reason why he lost her.
Lemma: If we assume that there is a set P of people who understand John Shaft, a person p is in the set P iff p is John Shaft’s woman, that is, in J intersect W, where objects are in J iff they have a relationship with John Shaft, and objects are in W iff they are women. Further, it is the case that the intersection of W and M is the null set, where objects are in M iff they are men. Therefore, it can be seen that P intersect M is the null set. But Isaac Hayes is in the set M! Therefore Isaac Hayes is not John Shaft’s woman.
*This is actually false; in fact W intersect M is simply ill-defined.
Well, and Your Humble Blogger has been out of town for several days, happily interacting with many people in (as the kids say) real life, and hasn’t had much internettage. And now the sun is going down on the first night of Hanukkah, and I haven’t wished all of you a happy joyous Hanukkah.
I have been so busy, in fact, that I am going to ask y’all Gentle Readers for help rather than doing the research about this question that has been bugging me all day.
You know how Kermit the Frog is an entertainer who plays, among other characters, Kermit the Frog—similar to Gracie Allen or Jerry Seinfeld playing versions of themselves in their television shows. Right? So, here’s my question: was Kermit actually a newsman who went into the entertainment wing of the business, or was he just playing a reporter for all those years?
So. Your Humble Blogger was listening to Maoz Tzur today (only twelve tent-peg-sharpening days until Chanukah!) and noticed something odd about the English.
I mean, first of all, the English is a hundred and fifty years old, and sounds it. The words are evidently by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil, and to nobody’s surprise it isn’t so much a translation as a new song to the same tune. Of course, the Rabbis in question were quite forward-thinking in translating hymns into English at all, rather than the German that most of the Reform synagogues used, and I believe that the English version we use today is derived from a German version that is derived from the Hebrew, rather than being derived from the Hebrew itself. Anyway, here are their lyrics:
Rock of Ages, let our song, praise Thy saving power; Thou, amidst the raging foes, wast our sheltering tower. Furious they assailed us, but Thine arm availed us, And Thy Word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.
The thys become yours and so on, but other than that, those lyrics are the ones I learned. So. Gentle Readers, other than the general tushery of the faux-archaic language, does anything come to mind?
Here’s what jumped out at me as I was listening: the use of avail in a positive sense. That the Divine did, in fact, avail us. The Divine availed us good and plenty. Our own strength availed us naught and were to no avail, but the Divine availed us just fine.
I don’t know if any Gentle Readers use the word avail at all, but I doubt you will be surprised to learn that YHB uses it with some frequency, in both the avail you naught and the to no avail phrases. Both are negative. It’s possible, that something will be of little avail, or will avail you little, but they are still essentially negative—I can’t imagine saying that coming up with a good excuse would be of some avail, or would avail you well. No, avail is one of those things that exists only in the negative.
Well, after writing that and TSOR, I was reminded that I do avail myself of things on occasion; that’s a positive use but is necessarily reflexive. I availed myself of the internet, for instance, and came up with a positive usage, but I couldn’t say that the internet availed me, or that it availed me well, or that it was of good avail. So the word is used reflexively in a positive sense, or non-reflexively in a negative sense, but not non-reflexively positively. That’s even stranger. Particularly with the dearth of reflexive verbs in English anyway, of course. Is what’s going on that avail is just a relic of an archaic word, and that it is only used in peculiar idioms, and so we shouldn’t expect it to make any sense? And therefore Rabbis Jastrow and Gottheil were just using it to engage in tushery (and to rhyme with assailed and failed)? Or what?
Your Humble Blogger watched Yidl mitn Fidl the other night. It’s the classic Yiddish film, the most commercially successful talkie in Yiddish, with not one but two songs that became klezmer standards (or at least very popular songs to play and record), and of course, the defining role for Molly Picon, the Yiddish Helen Hayes (Helen Hayes, when hearing the title, said she always wanted to be the shiksa Milly Picon). So. I finally watched the movie. And it was… interesting.
OK, first of all, there’s a lot of great stuff. Molly Picon was wonderful— she’s playing a teenage (or so) young woman who spends most of the movie pretending to be a boy, and she is funny, sexy and utterly charming. So that’s all right. The two great songs (the title song and Oy, Mama, bin ish farlibt) are great songs, but the demands of the movie make the sound and performances less terrific than some of the other recordings. This is a common problem with songs that can be lifted out of shows, not just in Yiddish but in a lot of the early musical movies. Anyway, they are great songs. There’s also a terrific scene where the musicians help a bride run away from her arranged marriage, with the wedding guests dancing ecstatically and making so much noise that the klezmorim are able to slip away unseen (and more important, unheard). There’s also a lovely running gag with the clarinet player trying to tell stories of when he was in Vienna, or Tel Aviv, or Constantinople, when everybody knows he has never been out of Masovia. The clarinet player is a marvelous character, actually, though I had the impression that neither he nor the bass player (who is Yid’l’s father) had ever seen their instruments being played and had no idea what the process what supposed to look like. Also, neither of them were given enough to do, except in the drinking scene.
That drinking scene, by the way, is wonderful as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough: when Yidl gets up and totters across the room, I readied myself for an extended comic dance, but she just totters across the room and out of the scene, and then totters off to sleep in a haystack. Similarly, when Yidl makes her accidental theatrical debut, she tells a few jokes and reprises a few bars of the title song, but we would certainly have gone along with a full fledged song-and-dance. Given that Ms. Picon was more than capable of it, the disappointment was substantial.
Here’s another thing about the movie, a thing I have to admit I didn’t notice at all until I read a note about it later: there’s no anti-Semitism in the movie. Which, you know, given that it is set and filmed in Warsaw in 1936, is pretty remarkable. But then, there aren’t any non-Jews in the movie at all, and I’m pretty sure that not only does nobody speak any language other than Yiddish, there isn’t anything written in any other language. Not only are there no Poles or Russians or Austrians in the shtetl, which you might expect, there aren’t any in Warsaw! I can’t remember now, but I’m pretty sure that even on the boat to America (all movies end on a boat to America, don’t they?) the signs were in Yiddish.
I’m not sure that counts as an alternate universe, but it surely must have been escapism.
The eponymous one, with the number stamped on the cover
So. Your Humble Blogger has been, for no particularly good reason, listening to the White Album recently. YHB was born in 1969, as I may have mentioned before, so I have no recollection of the Beatles as an active group. To put it in mindset terms, the Beatles had always been the greatest band in the history of history, has always been fresh-faced kids to went all beardy and hippie, and had always been broken up. They had always recorded strange and experimental stuff with odd instruments and effects, too. I spent a lot of time listening to the album (most of the Beatles albums, actually), and listening to it intently in the way teenagers do, memorizing the lyrics and the intros and the solos.
Then the mp3 happened, and I shuffled all my music and only rarely listened to albums after that. Twenty years ago? No, fifteen. Or so. Anyway, I don’t know that I had listened to the White Album in fifteen years (maybe once or twice), but I have heard most of the songs fairly frequently. Then last week I put it in the car and started listening to it. And it occurred to me that for an album that isn’t a novelty album at all, there are an awful lot of joke songs. I can’t really imagine what it would be like listening to it without knowing that already.
The first song is “Back in the USSR”, which is obviously a joke song. It’s a good song, and it might be a good joke (although, you know, dated) but it’s a joke song. The next songs is “Dear Prudence”, which is not obviously not a joke song, if you know what I mean. It’s arguable, but on first listen? And the word Prudence is in the title. The next song is “Glass Onion”—joke song. “Ob-La-Di”—joke song. “Wild Honey Pie”joke song. Or whatever it is, but not a serious song, anyway. “Bungalow Bill” is a serious joke song. And then the seventh song is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which is not a joke song (I think), but it’s a George song. And the side ends with “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, which is three or four joke songs. The whole side is over, twenty-five minutes or so you have been sitting there listening to the first Beatles album in a year and a half, and there are no Lennon/McCartney songs that don’t seem to be jokes. What was that like?
And it goes on: out of thirty songs (thirty tracks, anyway) I think I count eight that are recognizably not joke songs (“Blackbird”, “I Will”, “Julia”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Helter Skelter”, “Long, Long, Long”, and “Cry Baby Cry”), just over a quarter of the album, and less than that by length.
Of course, listeners in 1968 would have already known that the Beatles were funny people, with two very funny movies distributed. I think the Beatles are probably some sort of record for the funniest people in a band that isn’t a novelty band of some kind. Any of the four could have been comic actors in movies or television, and three of them were (and that’s assuming you don’t count George’s cameos in various things). But that doesn’t mean people were expecting joke songs. I don’t know that I count any joke songs on Rubber Soul and only two or three on Revolver; Sgt. Pepper is a kind of joke concept album, but still has only two or three songs that wouldn’t have been recognized as actual songs in 1965. Actually, in 1965 they released the Help! album, a soundtrack to a comic film, and all the songs were recognizable as Beatles songs, not as jokes.
Not that all the joke songs on the White Album are funny. I can easily imagine a Beatles fan from 1968 listening to the thing and wondering what the hell was going in here, and assuming that the joke was on him, the purchaser of the album. I can much more easily imagine that than imagine that person immediately getting the greatness of the thing. I don’t remember not getting the greatness of it (and I do think it’s a great piece of music), but as I said, it had always been there by the time I got to it.
So, and this is probably the last Shabbos Frivolity note. By next week, we’ll be around again on the guitar, and I’ll need something new to mark the day. I will probably go back and finish the Avot, unless I think of some other study (suggestions more than welcomed!) to be a regular part of my weekly observance. I don’t know that this series has been a success at all—I have enjoyed doing it, certainly, but the thing about frivolity is that it is, essentially, frivolous, and I can’t pretend to myself that it isn’t. So if I don’t feel like doing the research and writing up a note on any particular week, I don’t. Which, you know, doesn’t make a very successful series. Plus, of course, even if I do the research and write a note, it’s still frivolous. On the other hand, I was kinda dragging toward the end of 5771, there.
And it’s not like am forbidding myself the klezmer; I’ll write about songs when I feel like it, only (like books) if I haven’t committed myself, I probably won’t. It’s not that everything not specifically forbidden is permitted, it’s that everything not specifically promised is forgotten. So there’s that.
For this week, though, there’s Shabbos Frivolity, and of course I started from the new Klezmatics Live at Town Hall album, because I have been listening to it as often as feasible since getting my hands on it at last. As I was listening, I wondered about one song they performed, off their Shvaygn = Tot album, called “Dzhankoye”. It’s a happy tune sung at tremendous speed (particularly live, when they like to rip right through the uptempo numbers) and there was no hope whatsoever of me understanding the Yiddish words. Whatever Dzhankoye was, they were clearly pretty happy about it, enough to repeat dzhan, dzhan, dzhan, but was Dzhankoye a person, a casserole or an activity? Actually, my guess was that it was a place, either a village or a region, and it turns out to be a Ukranean city in the upper Crimea.
So what makes this area worth singing about? Well, there were some Jewish collective farms in the area, evidently, and the train station in Dzhankoye was where they came to load their produce onto the trains. So they sing: if you want to see something glorious, take a look at our train station, in Dzhankoye, dzhan, dzhan, dzhan! The lyrics celebrate the work on the farm: Abrasha, the singer’s brother, is on the tractor again, and Leye, his aunt, is working the butter churn, and Beyle is at the thresher, in Dzhankoye, dzhan, dzhan, dzhan. So if people tell you that all Jews are lazy and rich, that they are just bankers and capitalists and never produce anything, bring those anti-Semites to Dzhankoye, dzhan, dzhan, dzhan, and I’ll spit right in his face!
What a great song, huh? Here are the Nayekhovichi taking some liberties with it, as well they should:
If you heard the strangely attractive lead singer break into English and talk about love and peace, that’s probably Pete Seeger’s fault. Pete Seeger used to sing the song a lot, in English words he more or less invented, and then there was another verse attributed to Edith Allaire (in The People’s Song Book) about finding brotherhood in work, “Jew and Gentile, White and Negro”. It’s evidently in Rise Up Singing, and the Limelighters recorded it:
The history of that region is a little more complex. Well, not complex, horrible.
So. Crimean war. Tartars. All that. Formerly arable land what is actually tilled by Tartars, until ruined by war. Uncle Joe Stalin wants to cleanse the area of the troublesome Tartars and encourages Jews to settle there (particularly because international Jewry can be counted on to help out if the collective farms aren’t profitable). This song is Soviet propaganda, simple and (when put in context) obvious, both telling the Jews to get out of the cities to the farms, and doing that whole Stalinist extol-the-worker-and-his-noble-work stuff. Which, to be fair, the workers and their noble work. But still, this is right in there with the stuff I grew up mocking, operas about tractors and posters of Russian Youth and all that horrible totalitarian stuff.
So. Forty thousand Jews are shunted into this area between 1928 and 1934, including immigrants from Palestine, from Europe, from America, along with the nearly-volunteer resettlements from inside the USSR. It’s practically Sabra, it is, until Stalin starts with the purges in 1936. And then the Nazis, who burnt down the train station the song is on about, and then after the Nazis, Stalin’s boys scattered or killed anyone left. In point of fact, Dzhankoye is one of those stories about a possible or potential utopia, cynically (if it even rises to cynicism) manipulated by Great Powers outside its control, ending in desolation and death. Twenty-five years after the song was written (Pete Seeger makes the claim for 1926, based on a 2006 interview talking about his visit to the modern city) the remnant of the Jewish community was under repression as bad as under the Czars.
None of which makes it a bad song, but I can’t help thinking of it as luring thousands of people to hideous death and deprivation, dzhan, dzhan, dzhan. But if you’re going to go, go down singing, right?
So. I have mentioned here in this Tohu Bohu on a couple of occasions that I have a lot of music on my hard drive, something close to 15,000 sides. This is my primary music station, this external hard drive. For a few years it was hooked up to a computer that was running iTunes; the computer was almost always on and playing music, and would perform other duties as required. In addition, we own an iPod and three off-brand mp3 players, which we largely used for exercising or yard work or such. We eventually acquired an iHome station for charging the iPod and playing music in a room the computer was not, which worked quite well, except…
Most of this digital music was not acquired through iTunes. I ripped my CD collection over a period of years, using a variety of software tools (and a variety of computers, come to think of it). Almost all of the files are mp3 files, rather than the native iTunes format, which was deliberate. I still store files as mp3s whenever I can. Not that I adore the mp3 format, as I know little about the different ways of storing things, but that was the format that seemed to work across platforms. And, after a while, it just made sense to add files as mp3s because all the rest of them were mp3s. And iTunes doesn’t have any problem playing mp3 files.
But the iPod does have a problem playing mp3 files, or at least it has a problem playing some of them. Or parts of some of them. There are lots of songs that start and then suddenly end twenty seconds in. Or eighty-two seconds in. It seems to be consistent —that is, certain songs never play properly and certain songs always play properly. Songs that don’t play on the iPad play just fine through iTunes. There isn’t any obvious pattern, nothing that would be easy to sort and pull out. Not, for instance, all the songs on a particular album, or all the songs ripped on a particular day, or in a particular folder. Just some of the songs. Quite a few of them, actually. Enough so that any time I am listening to a mix for more than an hour or so, I am likely to find one that skips. If that’s correct—one an hour or so, something in the range of six percent, or almost a thousand files.
Of course, I don’t know if that’s an accurate count, as I don’t tally the times the iPod skips. And since I am shuffling tracks, there isn’t an easy way for me to see what the last song played was; by the song has skipped, it is too late to grab the iPad and look at the track. Often the song has played for long enough to identify, so I could, in theory, write down the information, but (a) that ain’t convenient, and (2) what would be the point?
The point, I suppose, is that (from some internet research) the solution for this skipping business is to re-rip the files in question. I could identify the files, find the CD (I suppose I should re-alphabetize my CDs, which are currently filed by when-YHB-last-brought-them-in-from-the-car-and-dumped-them-in-one-of-the-bins), re-rip the specific file or the whole album, and see whether the thing was cranky again. Or if I turn out to be too lazy to dig up the CDs, I could just burn audio CDs of twenty of the files (because, remember, they work fine on the computer) and re-rip them from that audio CD. Which would probably work. Most of the time. 95% or so, would be my guess.
I am not doing that.
So. My next solution is to invest in an yet another cheap off-brand mp3 player, because those seem to have no problem at all playing my mp3s. None. Never skip a file. Just music. Of course, they don’t sync up nicely, and I can’t bring across my playlists, and there are a handful of other irritations, but none of those are anywhere near as irritating as this music skipping thing.
But before I do that, I wanted to ask—y’all listen to music, right? Does this problem seem familiar? Do you have something like what we used to call a stereo? Do you just listen to the cloud?
Do any of y’all know about The Witches of Lublin? It’s an audio drama by Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom, with Tovah Fledshuh and Simon Jones leading an impressive cast. Mr. Strom is the eponymous leader of Hot Pstromi; Ms. Schwartz is the vocalist with that group and others. I assume that many Gentle Readers are familiar with Ms. Kushner, either from her radio work or her specfic writing, and this of course is both. I came across the companion album, which is perfectly good, although it didn’t totally knock me out. The show itself, though, looks fantastic.
I guess it was broadcast last April, at least on some NPR stations, but either the local station didn’t pick it up or I didn’t hear about it. They are selling a CD (entertainment on a physical medium! Like wild animals in the wilderness!), but I am reluctant to shell out for something that only seems like it might be good. I’m incredibly cheap about entertainment, in case Gentle Readers hadn’t figured it out, mostly because there is so much free stuff that if I pay for something and only watch/listen/read it once, I feel like a sucker. So if some GR out there happened to hear this thing, and could let me know, that would be great.
…and because I like to imbed something funky for y’all, here’s Daniel Kahn and The Painted Bird with their version of the Arbeitslose Marsch, which he calls the March of the Jobless Corps.
I came to klezmer music through Itzhak Perlman, specifically through the Great Performances episode called In the Fiddler’s House.
This may not be true. I can’t swear to it.
I also was given a copy of the Klezmatics’ Jews with Horns at some point. Before? After? I think after, but I don’t know.
At any rate, I am certain that I was at least 25 when I started listening to klezmer. Nearer 30, probably. It wasn’t the music of my youth, nor yet of my father’s youth. It may have been the music of my grandfather’s youth in the Old Country, but he put that country stuff aside when he ran away to play refined music in the spas of Austria. Nor was it the music of my mother’s youth, nor of her parent’s youths. None of that. The sound was recognizable from all the things that were the sounds of my youth that were informed and influenced by klezmer. The liturgy, of course, and the Hebrew (never Yiddish) songs of my synagogue and summer camp. And American theater music and jazz; if you listen to enough Cab Calloway, no nigun will be utterly foreign to you. But the actual klezmer, no, not so much.
Well. That was my introduction to Klezmer: In the Fiddler’s House and Jews with Horns. I have gathered a fair amount since then, of various kinds from various sources, but those two albums have remained my favorites. Well, and I actually like the live In the Fiddler’s House disc more than the studio one. Klezmer, being at least somewhat improvisational, can be tremendous live with an audience. Of course, almost anything can—if it weren’t for technical restrictions, I suspect that the best orchestral music recordings would also be done with audiences.
I have seen the Klezmatics live a few times. Let me see— four times, I think. And I have wanted a live Klezmatics album since the first time. And now there is one! Or nearly, anyway. They recorded their big twentieth anniversary show five years ago, and are now self-publishing a double-CD of it. And they’re beginning with a kickstarter page to raise money for publicity. You can buy the album, you can buy the poster, you can buy autographs, you can buy backstage passes, you can buy pastries, you can buy home-cooked food, and you can get a Klezmatics house concert. It’s a fund-raiser!
It’s my sense, not really based on anything much, that the band has been going through a bit of a wilderness time these last few years. They put out a fantastic album (and won a Grammy for it) that was completely unrepeatable, not least because it was in collaboration with a lyricist who had been dead for forty years. They did that big anniversary show with guests and whatnot. And then, nothing. Well, not nothing, because they have been touring a lot, but the only albums have been re-releases and compilations. I don’t know if they have been writing and recording—recording is still expensive—but there’s no obvious sign of it on the website. Now, for all YHB knows, they may have been a musically rich five years, and the next studio album, whenever it arrives, may be better than any of the others. But I have to say, I’m glad of a live album now.
It still being Between The Gates, I thought I would bring up some lamentations. Y’all are probably familiar with the English round “By the Waters of Babylon” popularized in the Don McLean version. It’s the first line of Psalm 137, which is a lament for lost Jerusalem. It has a lot of different settings in Hebrew, of course, such as this gorgeous one by
During these weeks Between the Gates, it isn’t really appropriate to have Frivolity of any kind—in fact, one isn’t supposed to listen to music at all. On the other hand, I didn’t do a Shabbos Frivolity note last week, and after spending too much of the day focused out of the horrific images coming out of Norway, I should take a break. And what is frivolity for, if not to remind us that the Divine is in the singing and dancing, as well as in the grieving?
Which makes this a good day for Rebbe Elimelech, perhaps. Not for the real Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk, the Rebbe of all Rebbes, but for the Rebbe Elimelech in the drinking song. Who might be the same Rebbe, after all, you know, as the Lizensker was known for his singing and dancing to express his joy in the Divine or sorrow in the world. He probably is not the character in the song, though. The lyrics are sometimes attributed to Moishe Nadir, and sometimes considered Traditional, and we Anglophones know them (more or less) from Old King Cole (Here are Sharon, Lois and Bram singing both); Rebbe gets tipsy and takes off his t’fillin and calls for his drummers two, who drum for a while, and the Rebbe gets a little more freylich, then he calls for his fiddlers two, who scrape their fiddlers for a while, and Rebbe gets even more completely shitfaced and he calls for the cimbalom players two, uswusf uswusf.
You can have a nice orchestral arrangement, if you would prefer, with Itzik Perlman and the Israel Philharmonic, or a choral version recorded at the Museo Diego Rivera, or there’s Mandy Patinkin with a version that starts off slow but gets worth the wait about two minutes in, and then descends (or ascends) into ululation. Or do you prefer Metal? Here’s a version by Gevolt, who refer to themselves as Yiddish Metal Pioneers.
Well. Here’s a group I only recently discovered, called the Sirba Octet. Mind the trippy overproduced video effects, but have a listen (and, if you aren't stoned, a watch); Rebbe Elimelech is the first tune in a medley they call “pot pourri des Rabbis”:
And here is a version a capella by Portotrio that I really like (and I’m not often a huge fan of the klezmer-without-klezmorim):
Your Humble Blogger happened to hear a recording of Di Grine Kuzine today, this one with Moshe Leiser singing, Gerard Barreaux on accordion and Ami Flammer on violin. It’s quite a good version, although not my favoritest ever. Neither is this one, a Danish band on Mexican television:
Not only was this song a standard in the American Klezmer repertoire, it was the canonical example of a particular type of song about the immigrant experience. Like a fair amount of klezmer, it’s a rather terrible story with a rather upbeat tune; I prefer the versions that play it upbeat throughout, although the more soulful versions can be good as well.
The first two or three verses (there are substantial variations, of course) are just about the beauty of the cousin who arrives fresh off the boat. The singer calls her Greenie, but is clearly fond of her. He (or she, one supposes, but I think it works better if the speaker is a male cousin, even if the singer is female) gets the new singer a job with a milliner who lives next door; this part of the song ends with a line that became a Yiddish catchphrase: az lebn zol di goldene medine!, long live the Golden Land. America, you know. The Golden Land that everybody wanted to come to. Freedom, yes, but also the Land of Opportunity, the land of hope.
Then, of course, there’s an instrumental interlude, and time passes. Years pass. The Cousin isn’t such a greenhorn anymore, but then, she isn’t such a beauty anymore, either. There are black circles under the blue eyes. The green now is not her fresh arrival but her sallow skin. And more than that—her hope is gone, too. She says az brenen zol kolombuses medine!, let it burn, this land of Columbus. There was no goldine medine, there was just long hours of piece work in horrible conditions, an eternal round of exploitation and exhaustion. Some song, eh?
Now, here’s a thing about the song that I like. In addition to crossing the miserable disillusion with a perky melody, the lyric crosses its rejection of the American Nightmare with acceptance of the American Language—it’s full of what my Dad called Yinglish. The lady next door is the nekst-dorke, who runs a millineri-storke, offers the Greenie a dzhab. When time passes, it’s measured out in paydes. The speaker-cousin is no greenhorn, and while he is clearly upset that his beautiful young cousin has been so thoroughly ground down by the American job market, he isn’t going to let it keep his own feet from dancing. In fact, there can be a faint whiff of gloating here; is it possible that the singer is relieved that the young greenhorn has so quickly greyed out? It is possible that the singer is drinking with money from the nekst-dorke who profits from the trade? It’s not that I think it is in the song, it’s that the possibility of it colors the whole sound of the song to me. A whiff of danger, of unknown vulnerability, of the potential for distressing discovery beyond the disillusionment, poverty and malnutrition we get to actually sing about.
As I was puttering around the web looking for versions of this song, I found it interesting that like Klezmofobia version up there, this is a song that (it seems to me) has become more popular outside the US than in it. I don’t think that American Jews have rejected this story of the Goldine Medine; we tend to (many of us, enough to say it as a culturally probably truth) maintain our sympathy for the illegal immigrants that our parents and grandparents were, and we don’t (I think) fool ourselves that today’s immigrants have it much better. The stories of Chinatown slavery don’t or shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, nor do the stories about the day laborers cheated out of their pay. Some goldine medine. And yet, we are more likely to sing of the shtetle in Rumania that we are happy to miss so long as we don’t have to live there. And the Romanian klezmorim sing about the Greenhorn Cousin.
Like some other popular klezmer melodies of the thirties, by the way, this one was given English lyrics and recorded by the popular bands of the time, most notably Benny Goodman’s with Peggy Lee singing. The song is called “My Little Cousin”, but it’s not about an immigrant any more. Here’s Cilla Owens singing a version with the Paul Shapiro’s Ribs and Brisket Revue:
I did this a while ago with twenty-five songs, but here are ten. Lyrics are not chosen specifically to confuse and mislead the Gentle Reader, although I did take care to avoid using the title of the song in the lyric, which in some cases limited my choices. It’s only somewhat a quiz—you are welcome to shout out the titles and songwriters and performers (the last mentioned is, I think, particularly difficult for this set), but mostly it’s just something to post. The songs are, as usual, randomly selected from the playlist I was listening to most recently.
I talked to my baby/I talked to my baby/I get a real good feeling talking to you on the phone
Never saw the sun shining so bright/Never saw things going so right
Oh, see the fire is sweeping our very streets today/Burns like a red coal carpet, mad bull lost its way
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, wherever you’d lead me, I would surely follow
Come to my house, be one of the comfortable people/Come to this house, we’re drinking all night, never sleeping
Sometimes I wish I could fly like a bird up in the sky/Oh, sometimes I wish I could fly, fly, fly like a bird up in the sky/Sometimes I wish I could fly like a bird up in the sky/Closer to my home
Now they say that justice and love are the next things to blindness/Well you’re getting plenty of both of them now
It’s not the pale moon that excites me/That thrills and delights me
Many an Aborigine’s mistaken for a tree/You near him on the motorway, the tree begins to breathe
But oh, my/That boy/Won’t be happy/Till he’s seen you cry
So, what’s interesting about this list to me is that it once again points up how my love for complex lyrics full of metaphor, tricky rhyme schemes and rhythmic whatnottage coexists with my love for simple songs with simple words. Also: I really hardly ever listen to any songs written by anyone born after 1960.
Shavuos is on Wednesday, or more importantly, Tuesday night. There are no specific commandments for Shavuos, so a field of traditions have grown up around the holiday, many (or most) of which have only tenuous links to the holiday itself.
Shavuos (or Shavuot, for any Sephardim hanging around—no, no, y’all are welcome, have some kasha) is the celebration of the Mount Sinai event, when the Divine gathered the people Israel in the wilderness and offered them the Torah. It is also a harvest festival; in Temple times, this was one of the pilgrimage occasions. It is the Festival of First Fruits as well as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, as well as the Festival of Weeks, called that because it takes place seven weeks after Passover. It was at Shavuot, of course, on the fiftieth day after Passover, that the Pentecost events take place, hence the name for that in that tradition; Jews try not to use the Greek name these days.
Anyway, the traditions: eating fruit and dairy (Cheesecake and blintzes particularly, although also for some families Hamentaschen with a sort of pudding/custard filling—no reason you can’t have cannoli, too, you know), reading Ruth, decorating with flowers and leafy garlands, and staying up all night studying Torah. All of these are referenced in the following extremely silly video:
I hope to have a serious note about Ruth and Shavuos on the day itself, but now is the time for frivolity.
Your Humble Blogger thought that this Playlist was going to be easy. The play is set among musical comedy folk on an ocean liner in the 1930s, and I have a reasonably extensive collection of music from the 1930s and of songs from musical comedies. In fact, I wound up having some difficulty because I had too many choices. I was afraid I was on the road to making a generic Great Music of the 1930s album, or a Guy Bolton’s America album—which wouldn’t be bad, but wasn’t what I was looking for, either.
So. I started over, concentrating on songs about the sea. Well, mostly about crossing the ocean, ideally, although in many of the songs the sea is either metaphorical or tangential to the lyric. Still, it’s a pretty good mix.
“Reckless Night On Board an Ocean Liner”, Raymond Scott. This is the only instrumental on the mix, and makes a nice mood opener.
“Bon Voyage”, from the 1962 Broadway Revival of Anything Goes. This seemed to be a requirement, pretty much, hitting the time period, the setting and also jokes about the French language that play a minor role in our play.
“Hold Tight, Hold Tight”, the Andrews Sisters. This song has the subtitle (Want Some Seafood, Mama), and is evidently actually about cunnilingus.
“Beyond the Sea”, Rod Stewart vocals. No really, Rod Stewart.
“A Ship Without A Sail”, Dave Frishberg vocals and piano.
“My Ship”, Judy Garland vocals. Lyric by Ira Gershwin, music by Kurt Weill for 1941’s Lady in the Dark, but evidently written to be old-fashioned; it’s a song the Gertrude Lawrence character remembers from her childhood.
“Home By The Sea”, Mel Torme vocals. I have no idea where this song comes from, but it’s catchy.
“I Threw A Kiss In The Ocean”, Peggy Lee vocals, an Irving Berlin song and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Obviously a WWII song, but still worth sneaking on to the list.
“Like a Ship in the Night”, Jean Eldridge vocals. Technically the Johnny Hodges Orchestra with Duke Ellington on piano, but it’s a Duke Small Group.
“Sail Away”, the Noel Coward recording. This is originally from a show called Ace of Clubs that I have otherwise never heard of.
“Little Boat”, the Cleo Laine recording. Bossa Nova, originally titled “O Barquinho”
“Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”, George Harrison vocals and ukulele. No really, George Harrison.
“I Cover The Waterfront”, the Sam Cooke recording, amazingly upbeat and wonderful.
“How Deep is the Ocean”, Eric Clapton vocals and guitar.
“Slow Boat to China”, Bing Crosby & Peggy Lee vocals.
“There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York”, George Kirby from the bizarre 1956 Bethlehem Records recording of Porgy and Bess.
“Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat”, Stubby Kaye in the Original Broadway Cast recording of Guys and Dolls.
“Sea Fever”, Flanders & Swann. Not actually a great song, but sufficiently entertaining to claim a spot.
“Seaside Rendezvous”, Queen. Oh, how I love this song.
“I Saw A Ship A-Sailing”, Natalie Merchant vocals and setting of the Mother Goose rhyme.
Yes, I’ve gone pretty far afield stylistically from the 30s. Listening to it through, it doesn’t sound jarring to my ears. It’s a mix I enjoy listening to straight through, which not all of them have been; the Higgins Archive coming to mind. So that’s all right.
It’s tempting, of course, to devote this Shabbos Frivolity to the putative Rapture, but then it’s not really relevant, is it? I mean, yes, Shnirele Perele, but it’s a whole different concept of the endtimes.
Anyway, tomorrow is Log B’Omer, the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer, traditionally celebrated with picnics, archery and bonfires. So, for your frivolity, here are some very pleasant dancers doing the Bonfire Hora:
And here are some toddlers with torches:
Toddlers with torches. I don’t see how anything can possibly go wrong. And by the way, the lyrics to the first song in the toddler video go “fire, fire, bonfire”, more or less. The lyrics to the Bonfire Hora, on the other hand, go something along the lines of rise up, you sons of poverty and oppression, rise up and dance around the bonfire! But then, you don’t need lyrics to dance.
Since I didn’t write about Passover last week, I thought I would go back and write something about my favorite Passover song, Adir Hu. I was just going to embed somebody singing the thing, and then talk about the structure and the lyrics: the verses comprise an acrostic of adjectives describing the Divine, with one in the first verse, three in the second, four in the third, ten in the fourth and then four in the fifth and final verse. I vastly enjoy the build up and then the ludicrous extension of that fourth verse, where we sing that the Divine is tahor, yachid, kabir, lamud, melekh, nora, sagiv, izuz, podeh, and tzadik.
So. I went to look for somebody with a nice performance of the thing, and found this.
That’s pretty awesome, but it’s not my Adir Hu. An extended search through some video sites turned up lots of versions of that melody, and a few versions of a few other melodies, but nothing in my melody. I was eventually able to find sites with the melody embedded in them such as the zemirot database, which is kind of a cool thing.
But what is really an amazingly cool awesome thing is the Reflections project, which has nine melodies, all able to be played or downloaded as sheet music, and most of which come with histories for the family that used that tune. Not just Adir Hu, mind you. A couple of Hinei Ma Tovs. A couple of L’Cha Dodis, of course. From the Seder, three Hodu Ladonai Ki Tovs. Ten Echod Mi Yodeas. Fifteen Chad Gadyas. They are all taken from the UK, mostly Sefardim is my impression, but still. Cool.
Your Humble Blogger is a socialist, you know. I’m not active within any sort of socialist movement, mostly because I’m lazy, but as an example there is very little in The Socialist Alternative’s list of beliefs that I disagree with. I mean, the focus on nationalizing the “top 500 corporations” seems silly to me; I would focus on the importance of the industries, rather than the size of the corporations, but even there I’m not so much disagreeing with fighting corporate capitalism with nationalism and community ownership. So, yeah. Socialist.
I bring this up because I think of lefty politics as being an important part of my Jewish inheritance. No, not all Jews are lefties, and certainly a passion for Scripture doesn’t imply support for worker control of the means of production. But some of us, I think a lot of us, grew up with an idea that not only were we Slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, but that we were Lithuanian exiles jailed in Germany for editing socialist periodicals in the late nineteenth century, that we were suffragists and wobblies and Freedom Riders, outside agitators and yipsels and red diaper babies. A lot of this is, in fact, true; not only were there Jews in most of the lefty movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but Jews on the whole supported those fringe movements as they moved in to the mainstream. But a lot of it is bagels and lox, if you know what I mean—there isn’t anything peculiarly Jewish about social justice, or about eating a bread roll with a hole in the middle, and if you went back three generations in the families of most American Jews, nobody ate bagels or argued the relative merits of anarchism and socialism.
One of the people who did argue those merits was Morris Winchevsky, the Grandfather of Yiddish Socialism, also known as the meshugganeh philosopher. He was one of the gang of writers who started the Daily Forward, he was one of the sweatshop poets, and in 1890 (before he came to this country) he published a poem called “Akhdes”, variously translated as unity or brotherhood. Un mir zaynin ale brider/un mir zingen freileche lieder, he wrote, we are all brothers, we all sing happy songs. Un mir libn zich doch ale/Vi a chosn mit a kale, we love all of us, like a groom with a bride. vi der khumesh mit di rashi/vi der kugl mit di kasha, with Scripture and Rashi, or with a kugel and some porridge. Mr. Winchevsky was susceptible to the bagel and lox as well.
This poem was made into a song, as was common in those days, and the song became hugely popular, mostly under the name Ale Brider. Where Mr. Winchevsky’s original poem was aimed (as far as I can tell—I can’t actually find a full text of the poem on-line, and while I have his Lieder und gedichte on my desk, my Yiddish isn’t sufficient to find the text in the book, much less read it if I did) at uniting Jews in brotherhood despite the differences between frum and link or more important between anarchist and socialist, the adaptation into song made for a wider net, bringing everyone together. We are all brothers, we are all sisters, we stick together. It was evidently an incredibly popular song in the Labor movement in New York; the simple structure allowed an even moderately clever singer to ad lib a topical couplet, and the wordless chorus makes terrific sing-along music even if you don’t speak the language and haven’t heard the song before.
I don’t know if this is historically accurate, but I think that the Klezmatics brought the song back into the middle of klez culture, in part by playing it so ecstatically (and as an encore) and in part by adding their own lyric (we are all queer, like David and Jonathan) to liberate the song even further. Here’s a fairly recent concert clip with Loren and friends, which will give you some idea. And here’s a pretty straightforward rendition by a student band at Brigham Young University, the KlezMormons, which I’m really just including because that’s funny. Here’s an oddly slow but haunting rendition from Istanbul. Yes?
Since Your Humble Blogger missed Purim last week—missed it on this Tohu Bohu, I mean, celebrated it in real life, albeit soberly—I thought I’d put up this lovely tune from the Budapest Klezmer Band, written as score for a ballet called Purim.
This series of frivolities hasn’t really come up to snuff, has it? I really should write about Amy Winehouse.
I think this is Volume Seven of the Play Playlist Lists; it’s the prettiest of them, I think, despite everything.
Ten Commandments: Psalm 6 (Bay Psalm Book), Margaret Dodd Singers
Psalm 24 (Bay Psalm Book, set: Henry Ainsworth), Gregg Smith Singers
Psalm 39, "Martyr’s Tune" (Thomas Ravenscroft), Gregg Smith Singers
Mein Heiland geht ins Leiden (Georg Muller), Charles Bressler
Thanks Be To Thee (Johannes Herbst), Charles Bressler/Harriet Wingreen
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (Heinrich Schütz), Philippe Herreweghe
Audivi vocem (Thomas Tallis), Taverner Choir
Vigilate (William Byrd), The King’s Singers
De Profundis (John Dowland), Consort of Musicke
When Jesus Wept (William Billings), Colonial Revelers
Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice (18c hymn), Boston Baroque
The Image Of Melancholy (Anthony Holborne), Hespèrion XXI
Daphne (John Playford), Hesperus
Greene-Sleeves (Traditional), Paul O’Dette
The Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night (Traditional), Custer LaRue
The True Lover’s Farewell (Traditional), Baltimore Consort
Old Wife Behind The Fire (Traditional), Bare Necessities
The First of the Princes (Robert Johnson), Musicians of the Globe
Cuckolds All In A Row-Rufty Tufty-Parson’s Farewell (John Playford), Hesperus
Let’s see… the Bay Psalm Book was the first book published in the New World, and had the melodies that were used in Boston in the time that was used. These setting are not exactly what my character would have heard, mostly because these people are professional singers, and the settlers perhaps not so much. There are a lot of things that are fifty to seventy-five years too early, but then these people might well have old-fashioned ideas about music, and may well have heard (probably in Amsterdam) some of the older stuff still being performed. Of course, the Latin stuff is Right Out for our Puritans, but the “Vigilate” is particularly wonderful, so there. There are also a couple of things that are clearly too late, mostly the Billings setting for “When Jesus Wept” and “the Fox”, but they seemed to fit anyway and I liked them.
I tried to make a nice shift between the sinners-in the-hands-of-the-proverbial stuff at the beginning, stuff that the Other Clergyman might have heard or even sung in his church, to the secular tunes that the Other Clergyman would have not quite prohibited.
Oh, one more thing about these: my character was named after the real-life Pastor of the First Church of Boston at the time of the events of the play. That real-life person was known for his fondness for and facility with anagrams, which I do not actually share, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can fake. So, I gave this mix the title Let’s Clatter There: a list for the cast of Retell That Secret; I individually lettered copies with anagrams (such as Let Her Test Claret or Test, Err, Cheat, Tell or Tell Tech Retreat) as well. It amused me, anyway.
I’m not sure if I have ever mentioned Les Yeux Noirs on this blog. I’m not a huge fan of gypsy music particularly, and in a general sort of way the dark-eyed mix of gypsy and klezmer tends to irritate me as I listen for the klezmer bits and am distracted by the gypsy bits. Different people like different things, don’t you know.
Calling Mister Oswald, calling anyone at the scene
Your Humble Blogger recently played Rock Band for the first time. Well, not all that recently. Listen, who’s telling this story?
OK, it’s not actually a story, just an observation. First of all, I enjoyed playing the game, which is clearly extremely well-designed and executed. I was particularly impressed by the MFQ of it, in that people of widely varying expertise can play together without conflict or having the slowest player ruin it for everyone. I had never been in a room with the thing before, another player had probably half-a-dozen goes, and the game’s owner was hard-core, and we all had a good time. That’s kinda awesome. I was also impressed by the level of expertise required by a really good player—the game clearly rewards insane quantities of practice. And I wasn’t really expecting that. I didn’t know much about the game (essentially that people pretend to be playing plastic button instruments), and hadn’t been expecting that sophistication in MFQ.
But after a couple of months, when I find myself thinking about the thing, I don’t really remember the enjoyable game-playing experience I actually had, I remember the frustrating musical experience that I didn’t actually have at the time. Because, of course, we weren’t making music, we were playing a game.
Your Humble Blogger is not terribly musical, as these things go. I love music—I love music, I am passionate about it, I rely on it, I think about music when I can’t actually have any. But I don’t play music. For the game, I watched a couple of songs, played keyboards on one, and sang two. Of course, by keyboards, I mean the keyboard-shaped game controller, and since I was playing at the most introductory level, I was just using two keys. I still had trouble with it until I stopped thinking about it as playing keyboard accompaniment and started thinking about it as zapping the aliens with my lasers while somebody had Duran Duran playing in the other room. I can’t tell you my score, but I made it to the finish line without blowing up. After that, it turned out that I did not, after all, remember the bridge to that Blondie song, although I certainly remember the verses and chorus; I certainly embarrassed myself, but in a good-natured, unembarrassing kind of way. And then I ventured the vocals on “Pump it Up”.
So, an observation. The visual cues of the game are that of a rock concert. At least in the version I was playing (I know there are plenty of others), there were (I vaguely remember) images of the Rock Band arriving at the venue, there were virtual crowds virtually screaming and probably raising virtual lighters and demanding we play “Free Bird”. You know, a gig. But the play of the game does not work with that metaphor; the play of the game is much more like studio sidemen. Well, and really it’s like that thing where the one-hit wonders are re-recording their one hit for the Anthology of Original Hits by the Original Artists, because the licensing is too expensive to get the real recording, and the Original Artists can take the day off work at the insurance office for a couple of grand that is all they can collect since they sold off the rights. But I understand that the more accurate analogy isn’t going to sell a lot of units.
Still, what you are notionally attempting is to recreate the studio recording. I say notionally because of course the players aren’t recording or even playing music, just as the players of other games aren’t actually flying a warplane or settling an island or trading real estate properties. It’s easier to keep up the pretense, of course, and presumably gets easier and easier as a player gets better and better at the game, and the physical actions more nearly resemble the physical actions of actual musicians. But still, it’s a game: the guitar doesn’t have strings, and you don’t have to tune the drums. That’s not a complaint—or, more accurately, it’s not my complaint, as a lot of people have complained about that. I have also seen complaints that the game stifles creativity, because you are simply aping the recordings. If you try to solo, I mean really solo, then you lose points; your job is to play the solo that the original guitarist recorded, not have your spirit moved to do your own thing. That seems to me to be both fair and unfair: viewed as a game, it’s unfair to complain that the rules aren’t the rules to a different game altogether. Viewed as a cultural phenomenon, the sense of disappointment is more obvious, particularly from the point of view is that of a musician who is leaving it all on stage at the club every other Thursday while most his prospective audience is at home pressing buttons and imagining themselves stars. On the other hand, I am not such a musician, and I was choosing between playing this game or playing Settlers or Boggle or Word-O-Rama for a few minutes, not choosing between staying in and going out, or between playing this and honing my own nonexistent chops. No, I didn’t mind, at the time, that it was a game and not a jam session.
No, I think I feel disoriented, all these weeks later, by (notionally) recreating the studio version of the song, while the visual cues indicate you are (notionally) on stage in front of an audience. Because being notionally live would mean that before the last verse of “Pump it Up”, the band should go in to a verse of an old and obscure Motown song before doing a few solo bars each as I introduce them by name.
Your Humble Blogger occasionally comes across a musician or group that is new to me. Today’s is Jontef, a German klezmer/folk group. Actually, it’s just their clarinet player, Joachim Günther, who I really like. I am not so fond of the vocalist, Michael Chaim Langer, although their cover of Aaron Lebedeff’s Roumania, Roumania (by the way and off the topic, check out this klez-core version for the fun of it and for the contrast with, oh, this choral version) is really good. Jontef’s violinist, Wolfram Ströle, is extraordinary, well worth listening to, but the thing that really stood out for me was the clarinet.
So. Just for frivolity’s sake, here is a cute animation with music by Joachim Günther and Jontef.
Your Humble Blogger meant to post this list of Music Listened To Whilst Shoveling Snow During the Ridiculous Snowstorm last week. Alas, I failed to do so before the next snow storm hit. A snow storm, I admit, much less ridiculous, but still requiring the use of the shovel. So this list now contains music listened to whilst shoveling snow during the ridiculous snowstorm last week, as well as some more music listened to whilst shoveling snow during the much less ridiculous snowstorm today.
Andrews Sisters: Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand)
Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem: Butter & Egg Man
Bagels & Fraylox Klezmer Band: Ot Azoy
The Bangles: Walk Like An Egyptian
Tony Bennett: I Wish I Were In Love Again
The Bobbettes: Mr. Lee
Kate Bush: There Goes A Tenner
David Byrne: A Walk In The Dark
Cab Calloway: Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
Tracy Chapman: Give Me One Reason
Rosemary Clooney: Get Me To The Church On Time
Roy Orbison: Oh, Pretty Woman
Nat King Cole: On The Sunny Side Of The Street
Elvis Costello: Bama Lama Bama Loo; Crawling To The U.S.A.; High Fidelity; I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came; Pads, Paws And Claws; Watching The Detectives
Devo: Mr. B’s Ballroom; Working In The Coal Mine
Dropkick Murphys: (F)lannigan’s Ball
Bob Dylan: Dirt Road Blues; Highway 51; Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again; Subterranean Homesick Blues
The Duke Ellington Orchestra: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
Eurythmics: Adrian; Love Is A Stranger
Giora Feidman: Coachman’s Boots Dance
Ella Fitzgerald: Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive; Blue Skies; How’s Chances; I Wish I Were In Love Again; Isn’t It Romantic?; The Song Is Ended; You Took Advantage Of Me
Harlem Hot Shots: Who’s Sorry Now?
Billie Holiday: Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Night And Day
Jools Holland: Dr.Jazz; Ghost At My Door; Wang Dang Doodle
Buddy Holly: Peggy Sue
Jabbering Trout: Pregnancy Tester; Summer
Joe Jackson: Jumpin’ Jive
Etta James: Miss Pitiful
Jim’s Big Ego: ||:This Message:||
The Jody Grind: Love, Love Alone
B.B. King: Help The Poor; Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door
The Klezmatics: Come When I Call You
The Klezmer Conservatory Band: Abi Gezunt
Peggy Lee: Keep Me In Mind
Bobbie Leegan’s Need-More Band: Wash-Board Cut Out
Taj Mahal: Never Let You Go; Rain From The Sky
Martha and the Vandellas: Dancing In The Street
Shane MacGowan & the Popes: Nancy Whiskey
Carmen McRae: Bye Bye Blackbird
Natalie Merchant: I Saw A Ship A-Sailing; It Makes A Change; The Janitor’s Boy; The Peppery Man
Milladoiro: A Farruquina
Mills Brothers: Flat Foot Floogie
Van Morrison: Gloria
Willie Nelson: Laying My Burdens Down
The Pogues: The Wild Rover
Elvis Presley: Ready Teddy; Return To Sender
Ramones: Cretin Hop
Scruffy the Cat: My Baby She’s Allright
The Brian Setzer Orchestra: The Dirty Boogie
Artie Shaw: All The Things You Are; They Say
Charles Sheffield: It’s Your Voo Doo Working
Bobby Short: How’s Your Romance?
Bruce Springsteen: Erie Canal; Froggie Went A Courtin’
Sweet Honey In The Rock: More Than a Paycheck
Talking Heads: Blind
Dave Tarras and Sam Musiker: Der Cholum Fun Yid; Der Yemenite Tanz; Silkene Pajamas
As usual, the sides were more or less randomly chosen from a subset of my 15,000 tracks; priority is given to stuff I haven’t heard a lot, or haven’t heard recently, or have marked that I don’t mind hearing frequently. There was a little weeding for snow-shoveling appropriateness, but not a lot, as witness a fair number of slow slongs. There was too much Ella Fitzgerald in the mix; I recently acquired most of the Songbooks, so there are a bunch of sides that are still listed as not haven’t been played very often, and that’s a lot of tracks. There was quite a bit of Klezmer and associated music, particularly the Veretski Pass and Dave Tarras tracks; if I had hand-picked music for snow shoveling, I probably would have cut that way down. Not that it’s bad music for hard work, but two or three of those together make for a long time without vocals, and I like to sing as I shovel. There was not too much of Natalie Merchant; her new poetry/children album is really, really good and I haven’t listened to it anywhere near enough yet.
Shabbos not so much Frivolity: Debbie Friedman z"l
Your Humble Blogger has been wanting to write a note about Debbie Friedman, who died last week. The difficulty I am having is that I want to express my respect and admiration for her, without dwelling too much on my personal taste for her music. Which, not so much.
In fact, if you want to know about Debbie Friedman, there are plenty of places to go, and if you have any interest in contemporary Jewish music of any kind, you should already know a lot about her, and should learn more. I should learn more myself. She was a remarkable woman, and it is perhaps a measure of her remarkable stature that even someone like me, someone who owns none of her albums or songbooks, and who really wishes we didn’t do her settings of Elohai N’Shamah and her Thou Shalt Love and her Lechi Lach in our services at Temple Beth Bolshoi—even someone like me is saddened to hear of her death. And I have been grappling with that for almost a week, now.
I grew up in a Conservative shul; my traditions are the traditions of the American Conservative movement. Even at that, we were in some ways a conservative congregation within the Conservatives, at Temple Beth Boyhood: none of this egalitarianism, English readings kept to a minimum, and certainly no acoustic guitars accompanying new settings for the prayers. No instruments at services at all, actually, but it would never have occurred to anybody to have a pipe organ, a string quartet, a piano. But it was the seventies, even in Arizona, and we were at least dimly aware that the dreaded acoustic guitar accompaniment was Being Done in Other Places.
I’m not saying we distrusted instruments. I remember my own childhood cantor, Bobby Taff, now Rabbi Reuven Taff, with an enormous accordion, highly decorated and polished and lovely, teaching us songs both new(ish) songs and traditional prayers. It was understood, though, that the accordion was for learning; actual praying was done a capella. And, in fact, the zimriya music festival at summer camp (where he was music director) was done without instruments as well, at least as far as I can remember.
I think Rabbi Taff may have been a bigger influence on me than I realized at the time. I mean, I liked the fellow and all, within the bounds of a kid liking the cantor at his shul. I loved singing along with the songs, particularly at camp, where of course singing was a big part of things. I remember, now that I am thinking about it, that in my last year at the camp, when I was twelve, it became uncool to enjoy singing along, to participate with visible enjoyment and energy. I was mocked for it, by other nerdy twelve-year-old Jewish kids who presumably got over it, eventually. But I loved the songs: if I dug up the sheets with the words, I could probably sing a few dozen of those songs. My memory of the camp is the singing, now, more even than the ga-ga and the woods and the classes and the morning prayers and sneaking out of the tent at night.
Of course, I would need to dig up the lyrics to those songs. I don’t remember them. I never have had enough Hebrew to memorize very many Hebrew songs other than the prayers, and my memory was too good for me to work very hard at learning them, which meant they didn’t stick in my brain all that long. And once camp was over, when would I have sung them? Well, a few, maybe that Rabbi Taff brought back to Hebrew School, but not a lot.
I think my daughter is growing up with a bit of a different idea about music, prayer and Judaism. If she is, the credit of course goes to our own Cantor and to Congregation Beth Bolshoi’s other music director, who is very strong in the acoustic guitar and Debbie Friedman field. Which is to say, to Debbie Friedman.
The truth is, while I don’t care for her stuff as a matter of my own personal taste, I am strongly moved by the idea of her stuff. And by the idea of her, as well. Her personal story, her success doing what she did—could anyone have imagined that? Can my daughter imagine becoming a Leah Abrams, a Julie Silver, a Shira Kline, without that?Not, you understand, that she will go into music, or that I want her to—but I want her to imagine that she could. And I want her to stand in the congregation and sing, knowing that Debbie Friedman set this or that prayer to music, knowing that it isn’t all traditional music from her grandfathers’ grandfathers in Eastern Europe.
Even if that old stuff is what her old man likes best. But sure, and isn’t that the point of generations, to hate each other’s music?
Your Humble Blogger is, as Gentle Readers may already be aware, a fanatic about Elvis Costello. I used to be something of a completist about it. I know, of course, that there were some people who were much more serious Elvis Costello completists, who were in networks of other fans, reading zines and BBS boards and trading tapes. I was never part of those networks, lacking the time, money and energy for it. But I had, oh, half-a-dozen tapes. A couple of concerts that had been taped off the radio, some demos and B-sides. When a friend happened across one of his (numerous) appearances on other people's albums, they would tape them for me. I'd get a cassette in the mail with “The St. Stephen's Day Murders”. That sort of thing.
Of course, when the internet and file sharing took off, it became much easier to be a completist. There were plenty of sites where a fellow could get hold of that track where he sings “Stand Down Margaret” with the TKO horns at the end of Big Sister’s Clothes in Austin in 1983. And you could do it without the actual networking thing—there were opportunities for sending messages and sharing back-and-forth, but there were also opportunities for just taking the files and listening to them on your own. Wearing headphones.
And that grew and grew and grew, of course, and then somewhat shrank and shrank and shrank. Mr. Costello was one of the recording artists who re-released everything with extra tracks, and then with more bonus extra tracks, and then with a second disc of super-extra-bonus tracks and then with a DVD with another song on it.
It is always difficult to be both a completist and cheap. I am cheap. I didn’t buy those CDs, unless either I had never gotten around to buying that one on CD or in one case when my old no-bonus-track CD was damaged, possibly by having, oh, an excess of maple syrup on it. Like happens now and then. The bonus tracks were, for the most part, stuff that had been the most widely circulated anyway, so I had quite a few of them on cassette, although of course eventually my cassettes went away… the thing that really happened, I think, is that owning a bunch of obscure tracks by your favorite recording artist lost its underground cachet. They weren’t obscure tracks anymore. Almost any collection could be duplicated nearly instantly by any jerk with a big bank account. Or with somebody else’s credit card. You didn’t need to dig through the bins at Disc Diggers or Amoeba; you could just buy stuff on-line and have it sent.
And then, around, oh, let’s say 2000 or 2001, when I finally finished ripping my CDs to a hard drive, I found I had too much music already to make new acquisitions seem attractive. I haven’t entirely stopped acquiring music since then, but I have slowed down a good deal, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time or money on getting new music when it takes me a year to listen to the stuff I already have. Something has to really fall in to my lap if I’m going to add it to the hard drive at this point.
But I’m not going to add all of the Elvis Costello stuff on YouTube to my hard drive, am I? All the stuff somebody uploaded from their DVR of his show, all the stuff somebody shot at a concert somewhere—there are thousands of videos. Many of them suck. I mean, many of them wouldn’t have been passed around back in the day, when duping tapes took some time and effort. On the other hand, many of them are wonderful. Brilliant things. And that’s just Elvis Costello—do y’all know about Dr. John and Jools Holland stomping through some boogie-woogie piano on some television show? What do you mean, you’re not a Squeeze UK completist?
Are there any pop music completists anymore? How would that work?
Your Humble Blogger would like you to have some frivolity today. Not too much, but some. If you are a Christian, have a good Christmas. If you are helping a loved one celebrate Christmas, I hope you enjoy it. If you are mostly compelled to take the day off because your workplace is closed, I hope you enjoy the day off, take it easy, try not to get cabin fever just because everything is closed.
If you don’t celebrate Christmas and instead of taking the day off when your work is shut you are volunteering at a hospital or hospice, or are otherwise making yourself useful on a day when otherwise people would either feel they had missed an important family celebration—or other people would do without comfort and company on a day when they would feel particularly sad and abandoned, then my hat is off to you.
Your Humble Blogger is in the helping a loved one camp. It’s a good camp to be in; there’s good food and decorations and a great big ham for dinner. And Your Humble Blogger loves him some ham.
And for all of our frivolity, here are the Klezmonauts (well, one of the bands called the Klezmonauts; the Oregon one, I think, not the Welsh one) with Gd Rest Ye Jerry Mendelbaum from their album Oy to the World:
It’s a reasonable question. Let’s look at them together, shall we?
Start at the bottom, with the executives Art Rupe and Jac Holzman. Mr. Holzman is not a hat wearer, and deserves no more than our pity. Mr. Rupe may no longer wear hats with any frequency (is he still alive?), but is fortunate enough to have come to prominence in an era where a hat was part of the outfit; in the commonly used still, Mr. Rupe is youthful and wearing a well-used fedora. This is, in point of fact, Your Humble Blogger’s favorite style for daily use. Welcome to Cleveland, Mr. Rupe.
The performers are a varied lot. Darlene Love seems to have actively avoided hat-wearing through many changes of fashion, although I did find a snap of her wearing an attractive knitted head-warmer of a cap. Alice Cooper wears his hair down, and despite the occasional posing with a shiny stovepipe has not really turned his powerful imagination to the use of hats, alas. And Neil Diamond, despite flirtation with a flat-crowned Stetson and an acting appearance in ritual splendor, is far too enamored of his hair to let anything get in between it and its audience on a regular basis.
But where Dr. John wears such a plethora of hats that it’s impossible for me to imagine him in just one hat that is Dr. John, Mr. Waits has made that battered black trilby such a part of his image that I think it puts him over the top. Dr. John exhibits his headgear; Mr. Waits inhabits his.
Your Humble Blogger happened to be listening to an Allan Sherman album—actually, the greatest hits album, if you can believe in such a thing—and thinking that it’s too bad that the songs have dated so badly, because my Perfect Non-Reader would enjoy this type of thing, but probably not these songs themselves. Both the subject matter and the song styling are foreign to her; despite my own preference for music that was popular before I was born, she wouldn’t necessarily find any humorous incongruity in a Nelson Riddlish arrangement with the shrill chorus of backup voices and the shlubby guy in front. And of course where Allan Sherman is writing new lyrics to the popular songs of the early 1960s, well, my children may have heard “Downtown”, “A Taste of Honey” and “What Kind of Fool am I”, but they aren’t likely to be amused by references to them.
Of course, it isn’t a problem with the songs, as such. The point of topical humor is to be topical; if you write a song today parodying today’s popular song on a topic of currency, it will very likely not be funny in fifty years. A ten-year-old in 2060 presumably won’t find references to Lost and Jay-Z and Avatar hilarious. Ignorant kids.
Anyway, there I was listening to the great “Harvey and Sheila”, which is of course to the tune of “Hava Nagila” and therefore at least is recognizable. And the gag of the song is that he uses a ton of initialisms. And the thing about initialisms is that once you lose the thing they refer to, they are completely impenetrable; I am hoping, at least, that DADT or DOMA are completely obscure in fifty years’ time. So for my own entertainment and at least conceivably for yours, here is a scoring of the initialisms in “Harvey and Sheila”.
Still in use: IBM is still around, as is MIT, and people still get Ph.D.s. You don’t need a Ph.D. to become a CPA, but you never did. A&P still exists, although they just this year closed all their Connecticut stores, curse them. TV still exists, in a way; it’s where they get stuff to put on hulu. People still call him JFK. Bea and Kay are still plausible (if old-fashioned) baby names, and many school still call their PTO a PTA. As of this morning’s news, the FHA still exists. Swimming pools still use H20. People who become wealthy still move to West L.A., vote GOP and are called VIPs. And the country is still called the USA.
Surprised to find still in use: A PBX was one of those company switchboard thingies, but when it was automated, they still called it a private branch exchange, and evidently they still do, despite there not being a branch, or an exchange, or privacy. True, a woman who works the PBX is now a techie, rather than a receptionist, but there are still women who work the PBX, so that’s all right. BBD&O is evidently not only still around as a company but is doing very well (although they lost their ampersand).
Sort of still in use: There are still used MGs around, of course, but the company doesn’t exist anymore (although there is a Chinese company that bought the name and is selling new MGs, of a kind). RCA went out of business in 1986, when GE bought it, but again there is a company that owns the rights to the name and you can still buy an RCA TV. AT&T lost its crucial ampersand; Macy’s is still very much around but lost the R.H. some time ago.
Not in use: TransWorld Airlines. And HFC is part of Beneficial, which is part of HSBC, which shut down lending from HFC as of about eighteen months ago. I moved this one between categories; the company and the initialism still exist, but Harvey can’t borrow from them any more. Also, for a middle-aged man who has made good financially, buying an XKE is not unheard of, even if it isn’t a new car, but only new to him.
So. Of 26 initialisms, there’s only one that is completely gone, and even that made it into the twenty-first century. After fifty years, the song is as comprehensible as it was at the time. To be honest, I never knew what BBD&O was until I looked it up for this note, and I thought the song was funny when I was ten.
OK, it's embarrassing even to think about what a disaster the Special All-Sondheim Encore was, but just in case any of y'all want the answers, I feel I should proffer them up.
The first one was, I though, only a little tricky. Sure, it's from West Side Story, and it's from one of the most well-known songs from that well-known show, but it's not from the bit that Maria sings, it's from the bit that the chorus sings about Maria:
Have you met my good friend Maria, The craziest girl on the block? You'll know her the minute you see her, She's the one who is in an advanced state of shock.
You can see the clip from the movie on YouTube, of course: I Feel Pretty; my word is at around 2:05. It is possible, of course, that the word is not echt Steven Sondheim; there are stories about the extent to which Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents were involved in the lyrics, but declined credit so as to help out the kid.
The next word I thought was pretty easy: from A Little Night Music; here's a clip from, I believe, a production at Carnegie Mellon, in which the first go-round of “Remember” comes in and our word is at around 2:15.
Remember? Remember? The tenor on the boat that we chartered Belching “The Bartered Bride” Ah, how we laughed! Ah, how we cried! Ah, how you promised, and ah, how I lied.
By the way, it does appear that interested people can watch the entirety of at least two pretty reasonable productions of the show on YouTube. Not the best way to see the show, but heck, not so bad, either.
The third word was guessed: “No Place Like London”, from Sweeney Todd.
I too have sailed the world and seen its wonders/for the cruelty of men is as wondrous as Peru
It also appears that, for now, anyway, you can watch the whole (albeit in a ton of pieces) of the George Hearn/Angela Lansbury production that was filmed for broadcast on Showtime, I think. The relevant clip is this one; my word is around 3:47 or so.
For D, I picked another early one, from Gypsy, another one of the best-known songs, and a song that became a standard, I think.
Honey, everything's coming up roses and daffodils! Everything's coming up sunshine and Santa Claus! Everything's gonna be bright lights and lollipops! Everything's coming up roses for me and for you!
I am surprised nobody got the next one, which is repeated again and again in the title song from Into the Woods.
I wish… You wish to go to the Festival? (The poor girl's mother had died) You, Cinderella, the Festival? You wish to go to the Festival? What, you, Cinderella, the Festival? The Festival?! What, you wish to go to the Festival? The Festival? The King's Festival? (And her father had taken for his new wife) The Festival… (a woman with two daughters of her own).
The next one is from “Please Hello” (1:13), which is in itself worth the price of admission to Pacific Overtures.
But we bring many recent invention:Kerosene and cement and a grain elevator A machine you can rent called a train—maybe later —Also cannon to shoot big loud salute, like so: say hello!
For those who are unfamiliar, well, I could explain, but I'm not sure it would work.
The next one is from Assassins, the “Ballad of Czolgosz”
Czolgosz, Angry man, Said, "I will do what a poor man can. Yes, and there's nowhere more fitting than In the Temple Of Music by the Tower Of Light Between the Fountain Of Abundance and the Court of Lilies At the great Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, in Buffalo.
There aren’t any good quality videos (that I found), but you can find a few clips like this one. I guess the reputation of the show is rising a bit, if lots of colleges and such are putting it on. I dunno. While there are things I like about the thing, as a show, it’s pretty terrible. So I’m not surprised this one went unpegged.
The next one, on the other hand, seemed to me obvious. It’s from “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid”, from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, one of the great show-stoppers of all time.
Everybody ought to have a maid Everybody ought to have a menial Consistantly congenial And quieter than a mouse.
Jed said he wouldn’t be surprised if Nouveau and Optical were in Sunday in the Park with George, and he won’t be surprised that one of them is, in “Putting it Together”
It's not enough knowing good from rotten— You're telling me. When something new pops up everyday— You're telling me. It's only new, though, for now—Nouveau!— But yesterday's forgotten. And tomorrow is already passe. There's no surprise. But that is the state of the art, my friend. That is the state of the art.
Warning, though: I haven’t found a video of this bit of the show. There are lots of versions of the song, often with new lyrics, some of them Sondheim lyrics, but those don’t start with the “state of the art” chat that comes after the Chromolume blows up but before George comes in.
Now we go back to Company for the next word, from “The Ladies Who Lunch”:
And here's to the girls who play smart— Aren't they a gas? Rushing to their classes In optical art Wishing it would pass. Another long exhausting day, Another thousand dollars, A matinee, a Pinter play, Perhaps a piece of Mahler's. I'll drink to that. And one for Mahler!
Hey, somebody else guessed a song! It’s “America” from West Side Story.
Puerto Rico… you ugly island… Island of tropic diseases. Always the hurricanes blowing, Always the population growing, And the money owing, And the babies crying, And the bullets flying. I like the island Manhattan— Smoke on your pipe and put that in!
Because it’s the introductory bit, they often skip it if it’s an excerpt, but they start from the very beginning on the Letterman show in 2009, in a version well worth watching; our word is around 0:55.
Here’s one from Follies, which we haven’t touched yet, I think. It’s from “Could I Leave You”, an incredibly vicious song.
Could I leave you And your shelves of the World's Best Books And the evenings of martyred looks, Cryptic sighs, Sullen glares from those injured eyes? Leave the quips with a sting, jokes with a sneer, Passionless lovemaking once a year?
Here’s Alexis Smith (1:10) with a very dry version; here’s Lee Remick (1:10) with a slightly less dry version, and here’s Carol Burnett with a version that isn’t dry at all, it’s practically submersed—but which doesn’t contain the magic word, alas.
Speaking of Carol Burnett skipping the magic word, here’s her with George Hearn, Bronson Pinchot, Ruthie Henshall and the possibly-a-tad-good-looking John Barrowman, pretty much just singing the first two verses of Old Friends over and over. Grrr.
New friends pour Through the revolving door Maybe there's one that's more. If you find one, that'll do. But us, old friends, What's to discuss, old friends? Here's to us! Who's like us?
There’s a high school production (3:37) that is surprisingly watchable, despite the essential problem with high-schoolers playing these particular roles. Ah, well. At least they sing the whole song and include the word from my list.
The next one is a song I don’t think of as Sondheim, and that I don’t think of as coming from Gypsy, although of course it did.
Got my tweed crest Got my best vest All I need now is the girl Got my striped tie Got my hopes high Got the time and the place and I got rhythm Now all I need is the girl to go with'm
Your Humble Blogger was tempted to offer the rhyme for the next word, although I don't know that it would have helped. Still, it ain't easy to rhyme the word, and once you come up with the rhyme, it ain't easy to make the grammar work.
Have some tea, my lord, some chrysanthemum tea, While we plan, if we can, what our answer ought to be. If the tea the Shogun drank will serve to keep the Shogun tranquil, I suggest, if I may, my lord, we consult the Confucians They have mystical solutions. There are none wise as they, my lord
I don't know whether to be grateful to be living in the YouTube moment, when stuff like this poor-quality recording (2:34) is available. I think they have the whole show chopped up into these little pieces (just this one number is spread over at least three), and with the blurry video and the muddy audio, it's a guaranteed headache to try to watch the whole deal. And yet, I hadn't expected ever to see any record of the original production, and there it is, in the comfort of my own netbook.
We're almost done. Whew!
The next song is another one of those great older-woman songs that Mr. Sondheim writes. Alas, the only lyric that people know from “I'm Still Here” is the admittedly brilliant synopsis of the arc of actresshood: First you're another Sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp. Then you career from career to career. But it's a great list song, almost a patter song, but poignant.
I've stuffed the dailies In my shoes. Strummed ukuleles, Sung the blues, Seen all my dreams disappear, But I'm here.
Let's see… I'm not sure anybody deserves to sing this one more than Eartha Kitt (0:24). Or, if you want to talk about careering from career to career, how about Eartha Kitt (0:23)?
Now, because the rest of these were too damn easy, a couple of tricky ones. First, the title song of “Do I Hear a Waltz?”. Which is tricky enough, but there are two versions, and the one that was in the show doesn't have the bit that goes:
Do I hear a waltz? I don't understand It sounds like a waltz, but where is the band? A rose is a rose, and this isn't Vienna It's me, I suppose, hold my hand, there it goes again, a remarkable waltz that seems to be real but is it a waltz, or just how I feel?
I believe that the original and rejected version that contains the lines above is the one that Mr. Sondheim polished up for the Putting it Together review, from which you can see Carol Burnett and George Hearn take it.
And my W is not from a musical play at all, but from a movie. It's the Madam's song from The Seven Percent Solution, and it's really astonishingly rude and lovely. ”I Never Do Anything Twice” is the title and the theme.
And then there was the abbot Who worshipped at my feet Who dressed me in a wimple and in veils He made a proposition which I found rather sweet And handed me a hammer and some nails
She does get in the habit, by the way, but she doesn't get in the habit. Whenever one of her beaux asks for a repeat performance, she tells them that she knows it's hard, but while she will do anything once, she never does anything twice. Here's someone named Lara Bruckmann (3:35) doing a fine job with it as a cabaret number, which was always its true destiny.
I thought the next one would be easy, actually. George is singing in the voice of a dog, or rather the voices of two dogs.
Stuck all week on a lady's lap. Nothing to do but yawn and nap. Can you blame me if I yap? Nope.
Again, I can't seem to find the Mandy Patinkin clip on-line (I assume it has been policed away), and none of the other clips includes the relevant parts of “The Day Off”, but about four minutes into this clip we have parts of the doggie discussion, with yapping, but without the actual word yap.
And finally, I just realized I cheated for Z: it's from “The Ladies who Lunch” again.
Another chance to disapprove, Another brilliant zinger, Another reason not to move, Another vodka stinger. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! I'll drink to that.
Let’s consider this a new game, then, shall we? Matt H (also known as not-Matthew) has correctly guessed that my atoz consists of words from Sondheim songs. The list is inspired by the release of Finishing the Hat, which I haven’t actually got my mitts on as yet, and which contains only lyrics up through 1981, whereas my atoz goes later than that.
Props also to Jed, who almost immediately guessed that these were all songs from musicals. I could not give him full credit for that, but was a pretty good guess before any songs had been identified as correct—and I think only four or five words had any songs at all. Still, it’s Matt that gets the laurel and hearty handshake, and the Bragging Units, too.
Now, are there enough Sondheim nuts here to come up with all 25 songs? With twelve? I swear I didn’t try to be utterly baffling, but as it has become clear that I was baffling, let’s make the new rule that GRs are explicitly allowed to listen to Sondheim songs in an attempt to find the words., although doing a search in the printed lyrics still seems to me to be cheating. Looking up the list of musicals, though, to spark a blocked brain, seems perfectly reasonable. So draw your own lines.
Advanced in an advanced state of shock
CrueltyMatt: “No Place Like London” from Sweeney Todd
GaudyStephen: “Comedy Tonight” A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum First song guessed!
Kerosene rhymes with a machine
Menial rhymes with congenial
Optical classes in optical art
PopulationJacob: “America” from West Side Story
Quips leaving the quips with a sting
Ukeleles rhymes with the dailies
Wimple dressed me in a wimple and in veils
Yap rhymes with nap
22 words left. More hints can be provided, if y’all want them. Oh, if it isn’t obvious, the rhymes are the rhyming words in the songs I am thinking of, and the phrases are the phrases in the lyrics that contain those words.
Yes, Gentle Readers, it is time once again for Online Encore, the game where Bragging Units are awarded for the ability to come up with lyrics containing words chosen by YHB. This time… there’s a twist!
If you played the first time or the second time this Tohu Bohu went in for Onlin Encore, you know how it goes. Or if you were there when Jed invented it, of course. In that note, my Gracious Host suggested a theme version, with a set of words that are all place names, or all people names, or all math/science terms, or all verbs. Or a set of songs that are all Christmas songs, or all musicals, or all songs by the same person or people. And so on. YHB decided to do a theme this time, so I have changed the scoring.
Scoring: GRs get two Bragging Units for every song that contains a word from my list, up to three songs for a total of six BUs per song, or 75 total available BUs. In addition, I will award 25 BUs to the GR who first guesses the theme. That’s one hundred Bragging Units, ladies and gentlemen, and that’s a lot of bragging.
MFQ: I will not post whether the song GRs have come up with is the song I had in mind for my theme. That would make it too easy. If y’all seem to be stuck, I will cough up that information as a hint, if you like. YHB encourages discussion of thematic possibilities, but I think I would like Official Guesses to be emailed to YHB rather than posted publicly, so no very clever person will ruin the fun for everyone else. Please post that you are sending an Official Guess, though—I don’t check the vardibidian at Jed’s domain (dot org) email account all that frequently, and see comments here through another interface. Should we restrict it to one Official Guess per GR per Day? Or, alternately, would y’all prefer to work together on the Theme and share the BUs, andso such a restriction would be detrimental? For now, let’s stick with one a day.
Oh, and no reference materials, please.
Cruelty Matt gets two points (and the second song in the theme) for “No Place Like London”
Daffodils Stephen gets two points for a campfire song
Festival Jed gets two points for “Welcome”
GaudyStephen gets two points for “Comedy Tonight” from Funny Thing; this was the first guess of a song from my list!
Intervenes Jacob gets two for “Send the Marines”
Kerosene Chaos gets two for a whole album called “Kerosene Hat”
Lilies Stephen gets two for “White Coral Bells” and Melissa R. gets two for “East Virginia”
Population Jed gets two for “Too Many Babies” or else he gets too for “Two Many Babies”
Revolving Matt gets two for “The Universe Song” and Jed gets two for “Sociable Amoeba” (although the rhyme seems to be dissolving, not evolving)
Striped Jacob and his choir get two for “Pinecones and Holly Berries”
Vienna Jacob gets two for “Alma”
Wimple Stephen gets two for “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”
I have, as you see, dispensed with X. If some Gentle Reader can come up with an X that fits the theme, an extra five BUs. If some Gentle Reader can come up with an entirely new atoz that fits the theme, I will award another fifty BUs, but only if no reference material is used. Your Humble Blogger used reference material extensively—the holdings of two libraries in addition to the internet. But it was my idea, so there.
As an MFQ-related note, I have to admit that I have no idea at all whether this is easy, impossible, boring, fun, exasperating or baffling. I would think that coming up with some songs with most of the words would be easy, but coming up with all the songs should be a bit difficult. And I suspect that either somebody will glance at the words and say that’s all songs that were recorded in 1954, isn’t it (except with the actual theme, which that isn’t) or all y’all will never get close. But we’ll see, won’t we? Together?
Your Humble Blogger missed posting on this Tohu Bohu last week, because I was fulfilling one of the obligations without measure, that is, I was rejoicing with the bride and groom. Well, and actually on Shabbos I was traveling across the country, as the actual wedding took place when the sun went down. We began rejoicing in daylight, I should say, but the bride didn’t become a bride until it was no longer Shabbos and she signed the Ketubah. Before that, we were just rejoicing on spec. After that, we were fulfilling one of the obligations without measure.
In the Law, there are three conditions to show that a couple is married, each sufficient alone, but it's a good idea to do all three of them: a signed contract (the ketubah), cohabitation and sex. In the Old Days, the traditional Jewish wedding involved the public signing of the ketubah with attendant ceremony and ritual, then the procession by which the bride was transferred from her father's household (or wherever she was living) to the groom's household, and then, well, yichud, in which the bride and groom have some private time.
Actually yichud, or seclusion, is the rule under which any man and woman who are not married to each other are forbidden from being together without a chaperone; the tradition provides for the first moment when the man and woman are allowed to such privacy, and let them do with it what they will. In a modern wedding, of course, the bride and groom are assumed to have had some private time together during the engagement—but quite possibly not during the week heading in to the wedding itself. Everyone I have talked to that has arranged a yichud room for just after the ceremony has appreciated the opportunity, and thought it was a terrific idea. The ashkenazic version of the tradition where there must be food to eat in the room is also a plus.
Anyway, of course we no longer end the celebration by carrying the bride to her new home. The ceremony is considered complete, and the couple are man and wife, when the couple leave the wedding canopy, or in yiddish go fun der chuppe. So, of course, that moment is a great one, and since the klezmer tradition, perhaps even more than other folk music traditions, is all about the weddings, there are a variety of songs that are called Fun der Chuppe, and a variety of versions of those songs.
This is from the Smithsonian Folkways album Khevrisa, which one fellow described to me as “klezmer early music”. It’s music for sitting and listening to, rather than for dancing, but it’s also music my virtuosos and scholars, and well it’s worth sitting and listening to.
Those who want a little less virtuosity and a little more chutzpah may prefer The Bolting Brassicas. Or here’s an old recording by Israel J. Hochman’s orchestra.
But that wasn’t my point. I was going to talk about what happens after the Bride and Groom go fun der chuppa in a modern ceremony, either directly after or following a little yichud time. They go to the dance floor with their guests. Here is my advice for those who have Jewish family at the wedding: have two good sturdy chairs nearby. See, now, you are thinking that you don’t want that, and I respect that, really I do, except that I don’t respect that at all and none of your guests will, either. And if you are thinking if I don’t set out the sturdy chairs, then there can’t be any of that, this is where the advice comes in. This sort of thinking is what the Rabbis call wishful. If there are no nearby sturdy chairs, you will be up on a folding chair. Submit with good grace, bride and groom, or you will submit with bad grace, and good grace is better. And at the end of the day, you will be married, which is the important thing.
Your Humble Blogger hasn’t been really following NPR’s series on 50 Great Voices, although since NPR is on the radio (when the Youngest Member doesn’t pitch a fit that it is His Turn to listen to Kid Music), I have heard bits and pieces of a few of the profiles. For whatever reason, all the ones I had heard were singers I was altogether unfamiliar with, Argentinian or Afghan or whatnot, which of course was pleasantly informative but not a Big Deal.
Today, though, they were doing a familiar voice. You need schoolin’, there walks a lady we all know, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely.
And here’s the thing: I never liked Led Zeppelin. I never bought an album, never had a copy on cassette, and as far as I can remember, none of my siblings ever had or listened to any of their albums, even IV. I didn’t listen to much pop radio in my younger years, or any years, actually, not by choice. And yet—that voice is a voice of my childhood. It has massive sense memory associations. I never sought out the songs, but they seem to have sought me out, and filtered into the backbrain when I wasn’t paying attention.
I’ve seen acoupleof obituaries for Lena Horne that have included this quote: I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked. That does make me feel a trifle guilty: I think Lena Horne was almost certainly the best-looking woman of the twentieth century. No, really. I am aware that I have seen only a tiny sampling (and I am certainly happy to view more nominees), but I don’t think you can have that conversation without Lena Horne figuring very prominently indeed. And that is independent of her singing, which is lovely. I celebrate her because of her beauty. And I know that’s problematic, but it’s still true that she was a stunner, peerless, beyond category.
I’m not sure, by the way, whether Ms. Horne intended with that quote to indicate that she was accepted, to the extent she was accepted, because she was a beautiful light-skinned black woman, with European features largely in line with White America ideals of beauty. I don’t know. I also don’t exactly know what she means by accepted; she was certainly prevented from becoming a star on the level with Deanna Durbin or Alice Faye, neither of whom come close to competing with her on either looks or singing. Of course, it’s possible she just wasn’t a very good film actress (I have never seen her actually playing a part, as opposed to being the singer in the picture, which (if y’all didn’t know this) was so that her bits could be cut out for the version that would play in the South), but then neither was Dinah Shore, who got a lot more chances to prove it. I also think that her style of singing, which was more soulful and often acerbic, did not lend itself to the kind of movies that were popular at the time. It’s hard to imagine her taking Ginger Rogers’ses’ place in one of her movies, you know? Still, I think accepted is a complicated idea for what happened in Lena Horne’s career.
Of course, she did have tremendous success as a singer, recordings and concerts and so on, and that’s great. She doesn’t quite crack the top level as a singer, for me (which consists pretty much entirely of Ella and Billie), but she holds her own with, say, Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee and Anita O’Day and Ethel Waters and Lee Wiley and that group just below it. I have the impression that’s where she has been in the public consciousness as well. Well, and I think some of the people I put on that level are overlooked or forgotten, and Lena Horne is not. Is that because of her beauty? Probably, in large part. And her longevity; she was still worth listening to in the early eighties, although of course her beauty had faded.
Well. Y’all have likely been hearing “Stormy Weather”, which was her signature tune, and wonderful. But if you really want to hear something, listen to this:
The Youngest Member asked me yesterday, he asked what is this song about? This is a more common question from the Perfect Non-Reader, and I think he was asking it in imitation of her. More usually, he asks what a song is called, which is usually pretty easy to answer. I don’t know that he really has got the idea, conceptually, that songs are about things, or can be. Or perhaps he has. He’s making all kinds of developmental breakthroughs these days, as he leaves his third birthday into the past. Or, as I say, he’s just trying to imitate the conventions of conversation as he hears them, which is itself a bit of a developmental breakthrough.
He was around a couple of weeks ago when the Perfect Non-Reader asked me what a song was about, and that song was “Rainy Day Women No 12 & 35”. I explained somewhat, pointing out that Bob Dylan was clearly playing around with the ambiguity of several meanings of the word stoned, that there are therefore several ways to interpret the song, and that one of the things that often happens when people smoke marijuana is a sort of paranoia that could lead someone who is stoned in that sense to feel stoned in the other sense. I pointed out that on one level the song is just silly and fun, but that when you look at what it is about, it gets difficult and complicated, which is an interesting contrast. I think my Perfect Non-Reader was sick of the conversation at that point (I often punish her curiosity by over-explaining), but the Youngest Member may not have been.
Anyway, there was a song playing, and there was the Youngest Member, asking what it was about. And I had to think for a minute, you know, about exactly what to say and how to say it. The Perfect Non-Reader was there, too, and would be part of any ensuing conversation, so that was a consideration as well.
So I wound up saying that it was a very strange song, and that it was about a guy who talks to himself in French. And then I changed the subject.
It may surprise Gentle Readers to know that YHB has never done karaoke. What I find more surprising is that I have never refused to do karaoke; I simply have never been in a place where karaoke is happening. The closest I have come was once where we were bowling whilst karaoke was going on in the bar, but we were there to bowl. I have wondered whether the folk that participated were there for karaoke night, or were just killing time whilst waiting for a free alley. Anyway, that was the only time I have been where it was taking place.
I should mention that my days of drinking in bars ended, more or less, in the mid to late nineties; my recollection is that karaoke was around but not ubiquitous. And I didn’t do much drinking in bars anyway. I am cheap, and alcohol purchased by the glass is expensive. And one of my character traits, probably more accurately termed a flaw, is that I would rather stick with people I know than meet new friends, so when I did go to a bar it was for a place to sit and chat between the end of the movie and the end of the night. We wouldn’t have gone out of our way to a trivia night or a karaoke night or any other sort of mixer.
And my employment history has not been such to let me in for a lot of team-building events. It just hasn’t worked out that way. I suppose as a faculty spouse (and as a faculty-spouse-in-training) I could have wound up at a department party where art historians and other academics warbled the hits of the seventies. Spared that.
Anyway, the reason I mention it is that I was very nearly involved in a karaoke incident recently. On of YHB’s castmates brought the machine to the theater for hanging around after the show, and if (a) I did not have friends in town I wanted to talk to, and (2) it were not Passover which prevented me from eating much of anything, I would likely have stayed and, it seems reasonable to suggest, sung.
As part of the general backstage camaraderie, I perused the list of available sides. There were, oh, two hundred and fifty or so, not unreasonably tilted to the last few years. Actually, the list was pretty well spread out over the last five or six decades, and although of course there were a bunch of songs and performers I didn’t know at all, and a bunch that I detested, there were probably a dozen or so that I know quite well.
I should add that in the late 70s and early 80s, not coincidentally my preteen and teenage years, I was one of those people who obsessively learn lyrics and sing along with the vocalist on my favorite album. I would often put an lp on the stereo and focus entirely on it for 45 minutes or so, performing it, concocting stories that connected the songs, catching the way that the singer hesitates a beat before the line on the third time through the chorus. We had a lip-synch/air guitar contest in my high school, to which my buddies and I performed Dire Straits’ “Twisting by the Pool”; we didn’t win, but my fidelity to the soundtrack was commented on. I assume that was in part a function of having too much spare time and not enough internet; while I still enjoy listening to music, I don’t know that there is any song I have picked up in the last ten years that I know that well. Still, I do enjoy singing along with whatever I am listening to.
Which is something different from Karaoke. While I was looking through the list of available tunes, I realized that while I felt perfectly confident that I could produce the vocals for, say, “Gloria” or “Love Shack”, I didn’t feel any particular interest in doing so. I mean, I would enjoy singing along with the track, but if I am going to be actually performing them, with people compelled to take a turn listening and watching, I have to say, not so much. I don’t have any ideas for performing those songs at all, other than attempting to imitate the original, which is only amusing if I fail (which I probably would, but that entertainment doesn’t appeal to me much).
So as I was looking through the list, I was wondering what was missing from the list that would really appeal to me. I have come up with five:
“Jack, You’re Dead”, by Louis Jordan. Most likely in Joe Jackson’s arrangement off Jumpin’ Jive, although there are other versions. It’s a funny song, and one I think I could sell. And it can be done with some interaction with my buddies, while not being a dire call-and-response number.
“Chantilly Lace”, the Big Bopper. This one really should be on those packages of fifties tunes, shouldn’t it? Although you have to not only know the lyrics but have something to do during the telephone call bits—I feel pretty sure I could come up with something.
“Don't You Feel My Leg”, recorded by everyone from Blue Lu Barker to the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. I saw it done at Preservation Hall to perfection, which may be why I think it’s better done by a male singer than a female.
“Soldier’s Things”, by Tom Waits. I know, I know, nobody’s going to put a Tom Waits song on karaoke (except possibly “Temptation”, but I have thought for years that other people should try singing his songs, to see what would happen.
“Watching the Detectives”, by Elvis Costello. Mostly because when I sing this one whilst washing dishes, I mess around with the rhythm, and I am curious to know how it would sound to people.
I’ll give two bonus tracks: the “St. James Infirmary”, off of which to riff and scat, and “Titwillow”, to load up with physical comedy. Although that latter would be better with lip-synching, now that I think of it.
It’s hard not to feel personally bereft, at the moment, although of course I am not really basing my Buckingham on Mr. McLaren so much as on a kind of stereotype (or archetype, if you will) that Mr. McLaren himself used and subverted and ultimately fed into. I admit that I thought, briefly, that it would be great to have his curly mop of hair atop the Duke of Buckingham’s head, but (a) my hair is not curly, and (2) no, it wouldn’t be great. Still.
As it happens, I don’t really have much good to say about Mr. McLaren on the occasion of his demise. It’s an odd thing—I don’t particularly like his music, or his fashion design, or the staged outrages and Situationist stuff that he perpetrated so effectively, but I am glad that they exist. I think his attitude (Turn left, if you're supposed to turn right; go through any door that you're not supposed to as quoted in the Observer recently) is self-indulgent and self-defeating, and that it is far likelier to lead to bad art as good, and that even more the dissemination of that idea is far likelier to lead to a docile and easily-manipulated crowd than an independent and progressive one. On the other hand, I would hate to live in a world without punks. I want my daughter to grow up, as I grew up, in a world where people are trying to sell previously-ripped jeans and t-shirts. I want her to do what I did: experience the thrill and energy of contrarianism, and then find some deeper and more satisfying joy.
I want the establishment, and I am specifically referring to myself and the things I like and support, to be faced with the sort of aggressive and frankly stupid disrespect that typified the punk movement. I want taboos (and calling a shop 'SEX' and putting bondage gear in the window was very very taboo when they did it) to be smashed—I don't want to smash them myself, thank you, but I want to be making the choice to follow the traditions I value, not just following along without thinking.
I asked a few college kids today if they had heard of Malcolm McLaren; they hadn't. That's too bad. If you are eighteen or nineteen, and you think of punk as being your parent's generation, you're right—but you are also wrong. Punk is for all time, but not for everybody; punk is about looking for something to smash, and discovering, with any luck for the first time, that a lot of our assumptions and our traditions and our taboos and our social structures really are fragile. Yelling boo! at the right time, in the right voice, loud enough, really does work. And it's a great thing for people who want to take those traditions and social structures and assumptions and taboos seriously to know that, too.
So, I have decided, unless I change my mind, to go with the easiest idea for a Richard III mix: songs about kings and queens. What the heck. I have a lot of such songs, and it looks to be a good mix, so why make trouble for myself?
Here’s an initial list, with some notes and possibilities, and then I’m throwing the floor open for comments and GR help. My restrictions on this were (a) no instrumentals, (2) no jazz numbers this time, and (iii) um, I had to kinda like the stuff. I am tempted to break the no-instrumentals rule to end the Mix with Queen’s recording of “ God Save The Queen ”, but then, they are my rules and I can break them if I want to, right? Your advice is, as always, gratefully appreciated, both on more tunes to add and what to leave off (as well as what must stay).
“I’m King”, B.B. King: I’m stuck between this slow sexy blues and “Riding With The King”, a duet with Eric Clapton.
“The King Of Bedside Manor”, Barenaked Ladies: A fun song, with some relevance to the Boar
“Kings Of The Highway”, Chris Isaak: a ballad, which could either provide a nice variation with a mostly uptempo mix or be a stone cold drag.
“Rock’N’Roll is King”, Electric Light Orchestra: Rama-lama-lama-lama!
“King Of Confidence” or “King Horse”, Elvis Costello: or, I suppose, “Brilliant Mistake”, which begins he thought he was the King of America; another ballad, though
“The King & Queen Of America”, Eurythmics: I had forgotten this song entirely until I did a search in my library for the words, but it’s a good song.
“Duke Of Earl”, Gene Chandler: This is the only song left on my list with duke rather than king or queen, but it does seem to belong.
“Wanderlust King”, Gogol Bordello: Gotta have some of that gypsy shit.
“The King Is Gone”, Heads: This is from that odd and inconsistent album that the rest of Talking Heads did without David Byrne; it’s a good song, in its way, and has a bit of that punk sound to it.
“New Crawlin’ King Snake”, Howlin’ Wolf: This is not about a king, actually, but a king snake. Well, it isn’t actually about a king snake, either…
“Babydoll, The Beauty Queen”, Jabbering Trout: One thing about a Mix Tape is the right combination of familiarity and novelty. I like to have a couple of obscure things like this one.
“King of the World”, Joe Jackson: a live cover of the Steely Dan song.
“King Of Spain”, Moxy Früvous: Gotta have this.
“King of the Dogs”, Iggy Pop: this sounds nothing like Iggy Pop to me, but I like it
“La Femme duDoight”, Queen Ida: The chorus goes Queen Ida/Is her name
“King Of Comedy”, R.E.M.: Off my least favorite album, one of those grungy songs, seems to suit the mood of our show
“King Of Bohemia”, Richard Thompson: Another somewhat obscure track, and, alas, another down-tempo one
“King Of The Hill”, Roger McGuinn: The former Byrd, the side is pretty much indistinguishable from Tom Petty, which isn’t a bad thing
“Sun King”, The Beatles: Hard to leave the Beatles of a list if there’s an excuse for including them
“The Rascal King”, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Love, love, love this one, which is of course about Mayor Curley
“King Dork”, The Mr. T Experience: The chance to include this track is what made up my mind about using the K&Q theme.
“King Of The Hill”, The Nields: another obscurity, alas, but one that begins Gimme my bomb back, yeah
“King of Pain”, the Police: this Mix? Needs Moar Eighteez.
“King For A Day”, XTC: one of their cheerful Colin Moulding numbers
With the use of the London Punk scene of the late 70s as a kind of artistic overlay to our R3, YHB has been thinking about and reading and listening to stuff from that period. Whilst driving back and forth to rehearsal, I’ve been focusing on one of my favorite artifacts, Live Stiffs Live, a concert album from the famous or perhaps infamous or even more perhaps obscure 1977 Live Stiffs tour.
Not that the boys are punks. They are already post-punk at this point, New Wave, pub rockers, whatever they are. Not punks. But still. That’s what I’m listening to in the car.
I found the album in the first place, on pirated cassette in the mid-80s, because of my once-obsessive love of Elvis Costello, who has two tracks on the album. The other name I’d heard of at the time was Nick Lowe, who had a minor hit in 1985 with “I Knew the Bride (when she used to rock’n’roll)”, which, as it happens, is the song that leads off Live Stiffs. Of the others, I pretty quickly found Ian Dury (and played his stuff on the radio during my short stint as a college DJ), but have still never heard anything else by either Larry Wallis (whose “Police Car” is a fantastic song) or Wreckless Eric.
Wreckless Eric has two songs on the album. One is a number called “Semaphore Signals” which I quite like as a song, although Mr. Eric is in such a state of inebriation (and Davey Payne on saxophone is worse) that they pretty much fail to sell it, as far as I’m concerned. And the other is my least favorite song on the album, “Reconnez Cherie”. In addition to some seriously raggedy-ass saxophone and a general state of chaos (not altogether un-punk, actually), the vocals are utterly, utterly, utterly awful.
So, anyway, there I am, in my Prius, driving back to my suburban house, listening to Wreckless Eric bawling something in French, or probably in French. And I think to myself, self think I, I bet could get on-line and find out what the hell he’s supposed to be saying. And, in truth, the lyrics to “Reconnez Cheri” are on-line.
Gentle Readers will be asking themselves, what about the Mix? Well, some of y’all might be, anyway. Maybe. Others, particularly if you are new-ish here, may not know what I am talking about. Well, Your Humble Blogger has started a tradition, of sorts, where I make a playlist of an hours worth of music for my castmates for Opening Night. As the first rehearsal for Richard III (or Gd Save the King and His Fascist Regime) is tonight, it is not too soon for YHB to start thinking about the Mix.
But what sort of a Mix shall it be? One way is clearly to do a mix of the 70s punk sides that are the artistic overlay to the show. On the other hand, I’m guessing we will be listening to that stuff in the theater itself. If it isn’t piped in as scene-change music (and I’m thinking it will be), the director is bound to be playing it just for us to get us in the mood. So there isn’t really any necessity to do up a playlist of it. Besides, I’m afraid that the pre-1980 punk stuff isn’t really my strong suit; I’m more of a post-punk guy. Oh, I like that punk stuff all right, but I don’t think I’m going to come up with anything that would go on the mix that I’ll be introducing to anybody.
The other idea that occurred to me, naturally enough, is to do a mix of Elizabethan music, or even music from the late fifteenth century (when Richard was King and everybody was nervous). The advantage to that is that I like that music, and I probably know more about it that my castmates, just because most of them probably don’t know anything about it at all. So that’s a possibility.
Another thing that comes to mind is an hour of songs with the word king in the title. Everything from “The King Porter Stomp̶ to “King Dork”. Or add in some songs with queen and duke; that has the advantage of allowing me to call the mix Duke’s Place, because, you know, Duke of Buckingham. That would be pretty easy to do, and I would have a lot of choices, so I wouldn’t wind up throwing in lousy songs to fill an hour.
What else… songs about killing people, of course. Songs about ghosts? War songs? A whole hour’s worth of songs by people named Richard? That would be funny, actually.
Anyway, Your Humble Blogger has a little time to think about it, so now would be a perfect time for a Gentle Reader to provide inspiration. Come on now, inspire!
One of the advantages of the Holiday Season being over and done is that I am less tempted to actually write the Christmas Carol filks that come into my head during the four or five weeks that the Christmas Carols are playing. I mean, you get to the point where everything sounds like a carol, don’t you? Or is it just me?
On the other hand, I really wanted to find a way to work in a reference to “Frosty the Shadchan”, which I still think is a very funny thing. Not funny enough to actually write it out (something with a bride made out of snow, and a dowry of tinsel, and maybe something about the groom breaking an icicle goblet) but definitely funny enough to work into a list of Chanukah songs or something.
Another one I wanted to pass along (but not write verses for) is just a sentence my Perfect Non-Reader said when reporting on her schoolfriends’ winter vacations, and the sentence just sounded like a song title: “Mohammed got a Wii for Christmas”
Mohammed got a Wii for Christmas Mohammed got a Wii for Christmas Mohammed got a Wii for Christma-as I wish I were just like him
It having been almost a month since anyone chimed in on my Encore Game, I think it is time for the answers. OK? Here we go.
Arapaho: In the wilds of Borneo/and the vineyards of Bordeax/Eskimo, Arapaho/Move their body to and fro “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”,, Ian Dury. No responses; two points for YHB. This was a hard one.
Bullhorn: And then the bullhorn crackles/and the captain tackles/with the problems and the hows and whys “I Don’t Like Mondays”, Boomtown Rats. Jacob got a BU for the GRs about half an hour after post time.
Clerical: Now a clerical collar chokes at your convictions/You strangle slowly for the old addiction/It’s Heaven’s army and you’re so professional/But listen closely to this closed confessional “Nice n Neat”, Boomtown Rats. No responses; two points for YHB. Is it fair to have two Boomtown Rats songs in a row like that? Sure it is.
Duplicitous: Brooding, duplicitous, wicked and able/media-ready, heartless and labeled/Super U.S. citizen, super-achiever/mega-ultra power dosing/Relax: defense, defense, defense, defense “Ignoreland”, REM. No responses; two points for YHB. Is it fair to use REM songs at all? No. No, it isn’t. I keep the points anyway.
Well he packed up all his expectations he lit out for California/With a flyswatter banjo on his knee/With a lucky tiger in his angel hair and benzedrine for getting there/They found him in a eucalyptus tree. “Swordfishtrombone”, Tom Waits. No responses; two points for YHB.
Furrows: They laid him in three furrows deep/laid clods upon his head/then those three men took a solemn vow/John Barleycorn was dead “John Barleycorn”, as recorded by Steeleye Span. Stephen gets another one for the GRs. Note that not all versions have this line, what with it being folk music and all. This wonderful John Renbourn Group version does not have the word at all, for instance.
Gelignite: I hope you remember to treat the gelignite tenderly/Ah, me, I'm having dreams about things not going right/Let's leave in plenty of time tonight, “There Goes a Tenner” Kate Bush. Fran picks up another BU for y'all.
Hindsight: The island of doubt/It's like the taste of medicine/Working by hindsight/Got the message from the oxygen “Crosseyed and Painless”, Talking Heads. No responses; two more BUs for me.
Innuendos: Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do? Subtle innuendos follow: must be something inside “Goody Two Shoes”, Adam Ant. Jacob again for a BU.
Jumper: She hooks up her cupcakes and puts on her jumper/explains that she'll be late to her worrying mother/she meets me in Picadilly “Picadilly”, Squeeze. Nao got two BUs and Stephen two more.
Kneel: And I will pray to a big god/As I kneel in a big church “Big Time”, Peter Gabriel. Jacob got two BUs.
Lagers: We hitch-hiked here in the pouring rain/Now we've missed the flaming train/Hey, can I have one of them lagers?/Thanks very much. “Badges, Posters, Stickers and T-Shirts”, Dire Straits. This was the one I felt the worst about—I can defend it, but it isn't altogether cricket.
Motorcar: On the corner is a banker with a motorcar/The little children laugh at him behind his back/And the banker never wears a mac/In the pouring rain/Very strange. “Penny Lane”, The Beatles. Chaos got a BU for that one.
Nuclei: So the warm blood flows/with the red blood cells lacking nuclei/through the large four-chambered heart. “Mammal”, They Might Be Giants. Stephen picked up a BU for this one.
Observing: Say, I remember when we used to sit/In the government yard at Trenchtown/Observing the hypocrites/as they mingle with the good people we meet. “No Woman, No Cry”, Bob Marley and the Wailers. Jacob got this one, which was one I actually expected people to get other songs with the word but not my song. Hm.
Pettiness: My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards/False gods, I scuff/At pettiness which plays so rough/Walk upside-down inside handcuffs/Kick my legs to crash it off/Say okay, I have had enough/What else can you show me? “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”, Bob Dylan. No responses; two points for YHB.
Quickest: if you/miss the A-Train/you'll find/you've missed the quickest way to get to Harlem“A-Train”, Billy Strayhorn, words later added by Joya Sherrill, probably. Chaos earned two plus an extra BU to make up for my initial skepticism about her song.
Reassuringly: And I dreamed I was dying/And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly/And looking back down at me/Smiled reassuringly “American Tune”, Paul Simon. BDan got a BU for getting this one.
Sugar-daddies: Soon your sugar-daddies will all be gone.
You'll wake up some cold day and find you're alone. “Cry, Cry, Cry”, Johnny Cash. No big fans of the Man in Black here? Two points for YHB.
Tantric: Like Harrison Ford I'm getting Frantic/Like Sting, I'm tantric/Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy “One Week”, Barenaked Ladies. Dan P. got the BU for y'all, with Jacob backing him up.
Undefended: When I grew up, well it felt great/I watched how others took their fate/Some felt afraid and undefended/so they got mean and they pretended/what they knew made them belong more than you “Teenagers, Kick Our Butts”, Dar Williams. No responses; YHB gets two more BUs.
Vacant: Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from/Don't even hear a murmur of a prayer/It's not dark yet, but it's getting there. “Not Dark Yet”, Bob Dylan. No responses on another one I thought would be a fairly common word. Vacant lot, vacant… um, somethin'.
Warmer: The language of love/slips from my lover's tongue/cooler than ice cream/and warmer than the sun “Who's that Girl”, Eurythmics. I think I'm going to grant the two BUs for Jacob and Nao and South Pacific, but nobody got Annie Lennox.
Xavier: Now I could tell you Rafaella Gabriela and Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla and Albert Andreas Armadillo found an aardvark, a kangaroo, and a rhinoceros. And now that aardvark and that kangaroo and that rhinoceros belong respectively to Rafaella Gabriela Sarsaparilla and Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla and Albert Andreas Armadillo! “Pronouns”, Schoolhouse Rock. Fran and Laura earn the GRs another unit.
Zucchini: Oh! Wha' a beauty! I've never seen one as big as that befowah,/Oh Oh! What a beauty, it must be two foot long—or even mowah/And it's such a lovely color, so big, and round, and fat,/I've never seen a zucchini grow quite as big as that! “The Zucchini Song”, Tim Curry. Do y'all not know the Zucchini Song? I adore the Zucchini Song. I mean. How could you not?
Did y'all have fun on this? I surely did. Thank you Jacob, Nao, Stephen, Chris, Laura, Fran, Dan P, Chaos and BDan for playing; by my count you totaled 25 Bragging Units. I keep 24 units for the twelve words nobody got any songs on at all, plus another eight for the four words that nobody got that particular song I was thinking of. Plus all the extra BUs I get because it's my blog and I did a lot of work on this. So there. I win! Ha, ha.
Your Humble Blogger has come up with another Encore Alphabet, so get your thinking caps on. Or, rather, your remembering caps, I suppose. Whatever cap you think best.
Y'all remember the rules?
Score: For each word on the list, YHB has in mind one and only one song that contains the word. Gentle Readers (as a team) get one Bragging Unit for each time y’all come up with the song I thought of, but you get two Bragging Units each time you come up with a song I didn’t think of. Up to a maximum of five Bragging Units per word. YHB gets two Bragging Units for having come up with the list. For every word on the list that y’all blank on, I get two more Bragging Units. For any word that y’all can’t come up with any other song than the one I had in mind, I get one Bragging Unit. Any Gentle Reader who posts his or her own list gets two Bragging Units. Jed gets two Bragging Units for having come up with the game. Any Gentle Reader who has never posted before and posts a guess gets one extra Bragging Unit. Any Gentle Reader who is able to identify an instance where YHB has screwed up the lyrics again gets one Bragging Unit.
MFQ Rules: You don’t have to know the name of the song, but you have to be able to sing (or in this case type) a chunk of the lyric containing the word. It’s better if you sing that chunk of lyric out loud, though, whilst typing. Eight words is the canonical minimum chunk for the Encore parlor game. If you get the lyrics wrong from memory (as I did four of my guesses over yonder), there will be Scorn and Derision, but you will still get your Bragging Units. Don’t just make up shit up, please, and if you do, make it worthwhile. Within that construct, I’m going to rule that songs written by Gentle Readers are not eligible, even if you realio trulio wrote a song with that word in the lyric five years ago. I mean, if you did, let me know, because that’s a whole separate set of Bragging Units. All the songs are primarily in the English Language; no score for translations and multilingual puns, except, you know, anyone who does something really clever gets one Bragging Unit and one S&D unit.
The List: I'll try to keep this up-to-date. If a word is in bold, nobody has come up with nothing. If a word is in italics, at least one Gentle Reader has come up with at least one song containing it. If a word is struck through, some Gentle Reader has come up with the song that YHB was thinking of. If a word is both italicized and struck through, then y'all have maxed out the five BUs available.
One more thing: Last time y'all beat me by one point, 33 to 32. So I tried to make it a little more difficult this time. Remember, though, that there are 5 BUs available to GRs for each letter; if y'all get the word I was thinking of and stop, we each get one point, but if you come up with different songs, you get 2 points for each of two songs, and I get zippo. I think you guys can beat fifty easily, even on this harder alphabet, so I'm giving myself a 10BU bonus for having come up with a second list. And this time, I'm going to see if keeping track of the points improves the MFQ.
Current Score: YHB 47, GR 20.
Oh, and please note that plurals count—no points for lager instead of lagers or yachts for yacht.
Well, and Gentle Readers may have been figuring that if they held out during all the whining and noodling about the show, YHB would eventually come across with the Opening Night Mix. Others may have forgotten all about my tradition of giving the cast a Mix CD on Opening Night, chock full of music appropriate to the show. Or not, if I feel like that about it. The Trip to Bountiful is set in Texas in 1950; I took the Texas part more than the 1950 part, and wound up with an album of country and bluegrass tunes, mostly. This is heavily tilted to the religious music that Mother Watts would have enjoyed (she sings hymns to calm herself when she is angry or nervous), but I have thrown in some stuff relating to some other themes of the show, the collapse of small towns, the rocky marriage of Jessie Mae and Ludie, and the hopefulness of journeying.
Here's a tentative track list:
Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Doc Watson & Clarence Ashley)
Momma Cried (Alison Krauss & Union Station)
Calling My Children Home (Ralph Stanley)
Down To The River To Pray (Alison Krauss)
Cotton Eyed Joe (Bob Wills)
The Devil Made Texas (Hermes Nye)
I Saw The Light (Hank Williams)
Man Of Constant Sorrow (Bob Dylan)
Peace In The Valley (Johnny Cash)
I'm Workin' On A Road To Glory Land (Flatt & Scruggs)
Wreck On The Highway (The Louvin Brothers)
Looking t'ward Heaven (Doc Watson & Clarence Ashley)
Angel Band (Ralph Stanley)
Keys To The Kingdom (The Nields)
Laying My Burdens Down (Willie Nelson)
Travelin' Prayer (Dolly Parton)
Run Come See (The X-Seamen's Institute)
When I Grow Up (Michelle Shocked)
This My Town (Eddie From Ohio)
She's No Lady (Lyle Lovett)
I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Living (Hank Williams)
The Old Woman's Hornpipe (Baltimore Consort)
Now, Your Humble Blogger doesn't know a great deal about country music or bluegrass; I did a fair amount of research and listening, mostly to find things for the album but also to give myself mood music to play in the car whilst driving to rehearsals. So, while there's still time to fix it—what am I missing?
I don’t know if any of y’all Gentle Readers are interested in Early Music, but I’ve just come across a disc of John Cooper’s Consort Music (actually Consort Musicke, published by Astrée NaÏve, with Jordi Savall, Christophe Coin, and Sergi Casademunt doing the viol work) that absolutely knocked me out. Well, I may have come across the fellow before under a different name, he seems to have had a few. He started out as John Cooper or possibly Cowper, and at some point became Giovanni Coperario. Or Coprario. Or John Coprario. All the same guy.
And magnificent stuff. Very Marin Marais, if you know what I mean. And if you don’t, this is probably not the stuff you’re looking for. But if you have found yourself at some point thinking what about some music that is like Marais, but with a little more back-and-forth between the viols, I would advise finding this album.
And, even better, it seems to pacify Il Ragazzo Furioso, aka The Youngest Member. I’m not sure how or why; I can’t imagine his breath is taken away by the dizzying complexity of it all, but it seems to work, and it’s a hell of a lot better than Raffi.
So. What came to my mind, hearing the news, was this important question for discussion: Is Quincy Jones the most influential individual in American music of the last fifty years, or is he the most influential individual in 20th Century American music?
I suppose that boils down to whether Jelly Roll Morton really gets all the credit he claimed. But I’m willing to listen to other nominees.
Your Humble Blogger is back from traveling, and perhaps ready to blog again. Wouldn’t that be nice? It was a lovely trip, and I have much to say about it, but before I get to any of that, I thought I’d ask how people feel about John Henry.
Y’all know about John Henry, right? He was a steel driver for the railroad, tried to race a steam drill, and his heart burst in his chest and he died with the hammer in his hand, Lord, Lord, he died with the hammer in his hand.
And John Henry is, in a substantial sense, a hero of American Folklore. He stands for the hard working Early American, screwed by Big Business, kept poor and then worked to death. And I to believe in the dignity of Labor, and I like the idea of transmitting that via song and story, along with a healthy distrust of Big Business. And he’s one of very few dark-skinned American Heroes, so there’s that.
On the other hand, the main John Henry story is about the race with a steam drill (or steam hammer, depending), and as far as I can tell, replacing back-breaking labor in hazardous conditions with mechanized equipment is a Good Thing. Right?
The reason it comes up, other than hearing the song nearly every day (the Youngest Member is going to grow up Red, I swear he is, if he grows up at all), is that this week St. Martin’s is pushing Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs, which begins with the author’s description of throwing rocks at a construction site.
Scalese is in the concrete construction business. What we construct are mostly curbs and gutters. But before the new ones can be put in, the old ones have to be broken out. That’s where the breakout gang comes in. The gun runner breaks the old gutters into jagged, hundred-pound hunks of concrete. Then the rock thrower bends down, his face inches from the pounding jack hammer, lifts the piece, or “rock,” and throws it onto the back of a truck—rock after rock, hour after hour, day after day. Throwing rocks: the toughest job at the toughest construction company in Chicago. When people ask me what I’m doing with my Notre Dame education, and I tell them I throw rocks, they say, “Your parents must be very proud.”
The book sounds quite good, actually, but the point is that it reminded me of John Henry. Not only in that the gang take (justifiable) pride in their strength and stamina (and that they could probably work better if they were singing a work song such as, oh, “John Henry”), but in that sooner or later, it will be more efficient to have a machine do it. Well, or not; it’s plausible to me that labor will be cheaper than power again in a generation, even in America, but I don’t like to think about that.
Anyway, there was also a conversation or three over the weekend that reminded me of a conversation I had a hundred years ago or so, where I was hocking on about Labor, and somebody said that it was crazy to prevent the auto factories from using robots on the assembly lines, to force them to hire humans to work in terrible conditions when the machines were cheaper and more efficient. And I responded at the time that the problem was that if they sacked all those workers, there wasn’t anywhere for them to go, and that was worse than inefficiency on the line.
Those people died with the hammers in their hands.
Oh, they didn’t, really. They made very good money, and although their working conditions weren’t like mine, they weren’t so bad, either. And their pensions were stolen and all, which sucks, but isn’t really connected. When I say they died with their hammers in their hands, what I mean is that they, like John Henry, stuck to a job that was doomed and outmoded, and that wasn’t inherently noble (I mean, in the product, not the men), and that their battle to save their jobs did not save their jobs. That isn’t to say it was misguided. Just to say it wasn’t enough.
So I am ambivalent about celebrating John Henry at this point. I think a lot of us are, essentially, hand-driving steel at this point; we’re doing things the slow and inefficient way, and the dangerous way, too, even if it’s not going to break our hearts this week but our grandchildren’s hearts in fifty years. And we are, again, presented with Big Business saying that the way to progress is kicking labor to the gutter. And let me make that clear: I still find that unacceptable. But in John Henry’s day, they could have found other jobs for him and his brothers, so they and their wives wouldn’t work themselves to death to put dinner on the table. The choice should not have been starving themselves to death and working themselves to death. The choice in the eighties should not have been between high unemployment and beginning the death spiral of the American Auto industry.
So I want to tell the Youngest Member that if he becomes a steel-driving man, Lord, Lord, that’s fine, and all that, but John Henry didn’t have a lot of choices, and a better thing, if you can do it, is to give both John Henry and his Captain another choice.
Do you know that depressing thing where you come across a recent book or album (or movie or blog or whatever) and you think this really has something, I need to check out what else this person is doing, and you do a little searching and discover that the artist is dead? In the case of She’koyokh and Jim Marcovitch, it was particularly depressing because the fellow was 34 when he died last fall.
In the midst of whatnot, we are in proverbial, aren’t we.
Anyway, what I was going to write about was that the last song on the album was a Wedding Song, called Wedding Song, about the awful and calamitous experience of being a band at a wedding, or really about the awful and calamitous experience of being a band at a hundred weddings. It’s funny, and a little crazy, and I was reminded of Gogol Bordello’s song American Wedding.
Which, it turns out, is not so much about the experience of being the wedding band, although I certainly had the impression, in listening to it, that that was the reason for the Gypsy shit to be there, rather than any personal connection to the bride or the groom. The She’koyokh song is explicitly about being in the band (including when the band members get cranky with each other), but the Gogol Bordello song isn’t. Still, there’s a connection there, musically and thematically.
And then I started to think didn’t Mickey Katz have a song about being in a wedding band? And yes, he did, or at least he had a Wedding Song of his own. Well, two. At least. I couldn’t find the lyrics, and I don’t for some reason have the album (which I think I recall is It’s Simcha Time!), but it was there, in the back of my head, all the time.
So. Three data points make a trendline, yes? I suspect there’s a tradition of songs about being the wedding band, stretching back to the Old Country.
And I wonder—is it a klezmer tradition? Or is it just a musician’s tradition? It seems likely that eighty-seven percent of people who have become professional musicians have played weddings enough to get sick of playing weddings, and to amuse themselves with writing songs about it. I don’t know enough about the other genres to know if there is a series of, say, C&W songs about being in a wedding band. Wedding Band Polkas. Wedding Band ragas. I know there are ceilidh songs, that is, songs about being in a ceilidh (or even a funky ceilidh), but I don’t know any Celtic songs about being in a wedding band. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t a thousand of them, of course.
Your Humble Blogger likes to grab a handful of CDs at the library, figuring it’s free and what the hell, anyway. By an odd coincidence, two of the ones I picked up last week were Blue Rose, with Rosemary Clooney and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Ray Sings, Basie Swings. The odd coincidence is not that they are both singers I like performing with bands I like. There wouldn’t be anything coincidental about that; I picked the albums off the shelves, after all. No, the coincidence actually is that they are both billed as singers I like performing with bands I like, but the singers and the bands were not in the same place.
In 1956, Rosemary Clooney was pregnant and unwell, and under Doctor’s orders not to travel. The Duke Ellington Orchestra, on the other hand, was neither pregnant nor unwell (depending on one’s definition of unwell, I suppose), and was traveling unceasingly. They were both new to Columbia Records, and the genius marketing idea of pairing them was too good to pass up, so the Duke recorded some backing arrangements in New York (or Chicago, the stories differ) and sent them to California along with Billy Strayhorn, and Ms. Clooney recorded the vocals there.
The album is pretty good; it’s late for the Duke, his soloists are not his top soloists (Ray Nance is not Bubber Miley), and when they are his top soloists they are not at the tops of their games, but the band works together like the well-oiled proverbial, and they still swing. This is after the Nelson Riddle sound became famous and successful (for Ms. Clooney, among other people), and the pace is much slower than I like, but it’s not otherwise Nelson-Riddle-ish, which is a Good Thing. And I don’t hear any problem with the transcontinental recording process; she doesn’t sound like she’s in another room, nor is it obvious that the band isn’t responding to her vocals. It seems like the album was not the big success Columbia Records was looking for (and Duke Ellington never did produce a #1 record again), but it’s one of those albums that Jazz People like.
Ray Sings, Basie Swings is a different story; first of all, the vocals tracks came first, which is less the usual thing, as I understand it. And although it is fundamentally true that Count Basie swings, I don’t know that the fact has anything to do with this album, other than that the big band arrangements to back the vocals were put together in a Basie-esque style. Count Basie had nothing to do with the recording; the thing was put together as a sort of wish-fulfillment on the part of the record company, when they found some Ray Charles vocal tracks from a show in Germany in the 70s and decided they were too good to let lie, despite the band’s sound being muddy and indistinct. If only there were a good band track to go along with this, they thought, and the rest is whatnot.
And, oddly enough, the album smokes. It’s not Basie, by any means, and that’s a shame, because the execs were right; Ray Charles backed by Count Basie would be awesome. But even though it’s not Basie, it’s a good band (the current band with the Count Basie name) and good arrangements, and Mr. Charles does some incredible vocals, particularly on “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Every Saturday Night”. And I totally wouldn’t have known or noticed that it’s a zombie vocal track.
In theory, I find these things deceptive and dishonest, but in practice, the albums are fine. Of course, I’m just listening to them for free; I might come to a different opinion if I had money at stake.
Y’all know Jim’s Big Ego? Jim Infantino’s band? Jim has written a new song, inspired by the Internationale, called of all things, International. It’s the first song on the album Free*, which is currently residing in our dashboard. I had been listening to a bunch of seasonal music, because oddly I felt like listening to a bunch of seasonal music, and then switched back to Jim, and played International, really quite loudly, for me.
The Youngest Member loved it. He likes when I sing along, sometimes, and seemed to particularly enjoy my singing along with the repeated lines rise up and claim your freedom and arise, arise, arise! So, because it’s better than singing the mitten song again, I played it again. This time my Perfect Non-Reader was in the car, and she seemed to like it too, and then we got out of the car and did an errand, and got back in the car, and the Youngest Member demanded another repetition (like he does), and my Perfect Non-Reader seemed OK with that, so we listened to it again! And then we picked up my Best Reader from her work, and as she hadn’t heard it yet that day, we listened to it again! Arise, arise, ARISE!
It’s a terrific song.
And then, over the rest of the day, in bits and pieces, we explained to the Perfect Non-Reader about the Internationale, and the sleeping giant, and Bread and Roses, and the international proletarian revolution, and all of that. Well, not all of it. More than she wanted actually.
They call it Music Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
Because YHB is lazy and uninspired, there will be no Music Monday today. Or yesterday, for that matter. However, to occupy the same space as Music Monday in the attention spans of Gentle Readers, here are Ten Songs I listened to on Monday that are interesting enough to have a Music Monday note written about them, if I felt like writing.
“We're All Light”, XTC: an inspiring and terrific song, and one of my Best Reader's favorites.
“Private Idaho”, the B-52s: a very odd song indeed.
“Prisoner of Funk”, the Bobs: a capella surrealist R&B.
“Blues I Love to Sing”, Adelaide Hall with the Duke Ellington Orchestra: oh, but you're killin' me!
“A Porter's Love Song”, The Commonwealth Jazz Quartet: the banjo player I used to listen to at T stations.
“Walkin' in Jerusalem”, Eddie from Ohio: Are you ready, boots?
“Miss Pitiful”, Etta James: so Beyonce Knowles is playing Etta James in this Chess Records movie. That can't be good, can it?
“Pink Shoe Laces”, Dodie Stevens: mackin'.
“Tutti Frutti”, Elvis Presley: What's the best cover of this song?
“Can't Stop the Rain”, Los Lobos: actually, the sun's come out at last, but baby, it's cold outside.
Music Monday on Wednesday: Kiko and the Lavender Moon
Did I not do a Music Monday last week? OK, Music Monday for this week is Lea DeLaria’s cover of “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”.
I think I saw Lea DeLaria as a stand-up comic, opening for the Flirtations, back in the twentieth century. I think I may have seen her at the Castro Street Fair a few years previous to that, but it was outside, I was shopping around, and it could well have been some other comic doing a bull-dyke persona. For that matter, it may not have been her I saw with the Flirtations. I’m pretty sure they were the Flirtations, though.
Anyway. I had heard that she was becoming successful in musical theater and even legit theater, and that she had a couple of albums, but frankly (or do I mean phrankly?), it never occurred to me that she might be any good. I had picked up the cast album for the Rocky Horror Show revival in which she played Eddie and Dr. Scott; I wasn’t really happy with the whole album, and I didn’t like her Dr. Scott at all. But, you know, with that sort of thing, maybe you had to be there.
Well, and I was with the Youngest Member and my Perfect Non-Reader at the library, and the PN-R was sitting with a stack of books downstairs in the Children’s Section, and I risked the wrath of the librarian by leaving her there All By Herself while I went upstairs with the Youngest Member to try to get something for my own good self. And that didn’t work out real well. You know how that is? But I did grab Ms. DeLaria’s Double Standards, because, you know, free, and I don’t have to like it.
And then I stuck it in the car, in that spot with the other CDs, and I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions all week, because damn. This isn’t a Music Monday about that album, but damn. That shit is boss. And then I thought I would just put Double Standards in and give it a quick listen to a track or two before giving it back to the library.
The first track is “Dancing Barefoot”, the Patti Smith song, and it was pretty darned good. Ms. DeLaria has a bit of a Betty Roche sound, bebop rather than swing, and she scats with a terrific rhythmic sense. And her band is fantastic. She’s got Christian McBride playing bass for her! I mean, seriously. Gil Goldstein is on the piano and Bill Stewart is on drums. So we’re talking major-league rhythm section, heavily steeped in bebop, and capable of swinging hard or stretching out. The song went on perhaps a trifle too long, right on the edge of noodling rather than going anywhere, but it still had a good sound.
And the second track is a cover of Los Lobos. Now, “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” is an awesome song to begin with, and the idea of covering it with a jazz combo doesn’t necessarily strike me as a good idea to begin with. On the other hand, Ms. DeLaria isn’t altogether in the good idea business; her earlier album has a jazz combo cover of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” which you can listen to on her MySpace page, and it is a very bad idea indeed, but a lot of fun to listen to. And the whole album is covers of songs that don’t cry out for jazz combo covers (“Tattooed Love Boys”?), so that’s the point,really. And some of them work, and some, not so much.
This one works. This one is dance around the living room good. You’ve got to hear this good. Which is what Music Monday is for, right?
Perhaps we’ve had enough lyrics for now. “Ot Azoy” does have a couple of lines of lyric, although mostly it’s just the title, which depending on how you say it can mean either that’s the way! (uh-hunh,uh-hunh) or what a world!. I was listening to Bagels and Fraylox, a Williamsburg (VA) band. We heard them perform this song at a local coffeehouse (damn, I can’t think of its name, and I spent a ton of time there. Enormous clock. Aromas, that was it), when there were perhaps a dozen people there, and by Best Reader and I were the only ones chiming in on the chorus. And banging on the table. If any Gentle Readers are in Wmsbg (and why not?), the Fraylox are back at the library next week. The CD I have is a recording of a performance at the library a few years ago, and they give good show.
The song is one of those traditional numbers, so although there’s only a little clip on-line from the recording I have, you can go to Tapuach b’Dvash’s version, very different instrumentally what with the enormous balalaika (what the hell is that, a subcontrabass?) and the drum, but recognizably the same song. Which, by the way, is a different song than the tailor one, also sometimes called “Ot Azoy”, or Ot Azoy Neyt A Shnayder or (as recorded by Cab Calloway) “Utt-Da-Zay”.
OK, despite Dan P coming through with last-minute Bragging Units, it’s time to end this thing. I’m putting this full and final list in a new entry, because (a) it’s easier than coming up with a new idea for an entry, and (2) the old one is now old enough to require moderation, and I’d like GRs pile on more comments, either whinging about how all those other songs are far too obscure to be fair or how you thought the lyric was something else altogether.
astonished: If were not a little mad and generally silly/I should give you my advice upon the subject, willy-nilly;/I should show you in a moment how to grapple with the question,/And you’d really be astonished at the force of my suggestion. from Ruddigore, Gilbert and Sullivan. No responses.
bathing: Beauty sat bathing by a spring where fairest shades did hide her/the winds blew calm the birds did sing the cool streams ran beside her “Hey Nonny Nonny”, Violent Femmes. Jacob and Shmuel both get BUs for different songs.
captivate: And I pray our child will never see/A little Corporal again/Point toward a foreign shore/Captivate the hearts of men “Done with Bonaparte”, Mark Knopfler. No responses.
distributor: Down the line, comin’ down the line, a V6 Merc in blue’Without the sparks or distributor cap, I’ll slap them on as it rides through “Darlington Darling”, Moxie Fruvous. Chaos nailed it.
elevation: And she was looking at herself/And things were looking like a movie/She had a pleasant elevation/She’s moving out in all directions “And She Was”, Talking Heads. Ruth nailed it.
flatulent: Frankly, Mr. Shankly, since you ask/You are a flatulent pain in the arse/I do not mean to be so rude/Still, I must speak frankly, Mr. Shankly “Frankly, Mr. Shankly”, the Smiths. Dan P at the buzzer.
ghettology: This sound does not subscribe to the international plan/In the psycho shadow of the white right hand/Them that see ghettology as an urban Vietnam/Giving deadly exhibitions of murder by napalm, “This is Radio Clash” the Clash. No responses. Could be ghetto-ology, but that’s no excuse.
housewife: Leroy got a better job so we moved/Kevin lost a tooth now he’s started school/I got a brand new eight month old baby girl/I sound like a housewife/Hey ’Chell, I think I’m a housewife “Anchorage”, Michelle Shocked. Jacob nailed it.
ichthyosaur: Please can I have one Mr. Ichthyosaur?/No, you can’t, I’m saving them for friends/But you don’t have any friends/Yes, I do/No, you don’t/Yes, I do. Now be quiet/I’m trying to concentrate “Nine Bowls of Soup”, They Might Be Giants. Fran named the song but didn’t bother putting in the Chunk O Lyrics for full BUs.
Jeddah: A jet to Mecca/Tibet or Jeddah/To Salisbury/a monastery/the longest journey “Sat in Your Lap”, Kate Bush. Melissa R. gets some credit for that one. YHB probably gets scorn and derision, because it’s not really intelligible from the song, but it’s kinda cool anyway.
kindling: I’m gonna whittle you into kindling/Black Crow/16 shells from a thirty-ought-six/whittle you into kindling/Black Crow/16 shells from a thirty-ought-six “16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six”, Tom Waits. Jed got a different song.
laceration: They have me under observation/A life out on the farm/proctecting me from harm/protecting me from laceration/brush it under a rug/one day, it’ll all go away “Observation”, Eddie from Ohio. YHB doesn’t even like beets.
monkish: The monkish monsignor/With a head full of plaster/Said: ‘My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned!’ “Vicar in a Tutu”, The Smiths. Miriam nailed it.
narwhal: There goes a dog-fish/chased by a cat-fish/in flew a sea robin/watch out for that piranha/there goes a narwhal/here comes a bikini whale! “Rock Lobster”, the B-52s. Ruth nailed it.
Occidental: They sounded the all-clear in the Occidental Bazaar/They used to call Oxford Street/Now the bankrupt souls in the City/Are finally tasting defeat “London’s Brilliant Parade”, Elvis Costello. Juliet nailed it.
parquet: While the crowds at El Morocco punish the parquet/And at 21 the couples clamor for more/I’m deserted and depressed/In my regal eagle’s nest/Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor. “Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor)”, Cole Porter. Miriam got this one, based on the Cats&Jammers recording.
quintessence: A 15-year-old’s browse through life/is fine with his quintessence safe and sound in mind/Life’s an adolescence from time to time/With us all/in quintessence. “ In Quintessence”, Squeeze. Fran nailed it, with an assist from YHB’s playlist.
revenue: He’s a one-trick pony/one trick is all that horse can do/he does one trick only/it’s the principal source of his revenue “One Trick Pony”, Paul Simon. No responses, which surprised me, since I figured the word would be big in either gangsta rap or bluegrass, or gangsta bluegrass.
Sorbonne: You can tell I’m educated/I studied at the Sorbonne/Doctored in mathematics/I could have been a don “Opportunity (Lots of Money)”, Pet Shop Boys. No responses. YHB has the brains, you’ve got the brawn.
tax-deductible: But nobody has any respect/Anyway they already expect you/To all give a check/To tax-deductible charity organizations “Ballad of a Thin Man”, Bob Dylan. Juliet gets partial credit.
unemployment: While they’re standing in the welfare lines/Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation/Wasting time in the unemployment lines/Sitting around waiting for a promotion “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution”, Tracy Chapman. Jacob led off with this one.
vichyssoise: Jealous winter sun/Cold as vichysoisse/Steals your smile for fuel/They’ll ignite with braziers/Of warming stars “Knights in Shining Karma”, XTC. Jed had a different song in mind.
wheelchair: Just put me in a wheelchair, get me on a plane/Hurry hurry hurry, before I go insane/I can’t control my fingers, I can’t control my brain/Oh no “I Wanna Be Sedated”, The Ramones. Jed got a different song, and Miriam got this one.
X-Files: Watchin’ X-Files with no lights on/We’re dans la maison/I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one “One Week”, Barenaked Ladies. Ruth nailed it.
yardstick: You want some lovely, I got some lovely/In my yard, in my yard/There be inchworm, there be football/Take my yardstick, stir some lovely “Brown Guitar”, XTC. No responses.
zooming: The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in/Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin. “London Calling”, The Clash. Miriam came through.
YHB had a lot of fun with this one, both here and at the other three sites. I’ve used lyricwiki for most of the lyrics here, to save myself typing, so credit to them. Thanks for playing, and since I don’t want anyone to leave empty-handed, the doors are all locked.
Music Monday on Tuesday: If You Hadn't, But You Did
The lyrics are Comden and Green, the music is Jule Styne. The song was originally written for Dolores Gray for a review called Two on the Aisle. The song is “If You Hadn’t, But You Did”, magnificently performed by Kristin Chenoweth.
It’s just about a perfect example of a particular kind of Tin Pan Alley song, mostly an excuse to show off (1) the talent of the singer and (b) the cleverness of the lyricist. Mostly the latter. The singer is a Woman Betrayed, but really it’s all about about finding lines to rhyme with the word if. Tiff, cliff, stiff, whiff, handkerchief. Flat-bottomed skiff, bare midriff. Comden and Green also makes use of the fashion for dropping the last syllables of words to make a cutesy slang: teriff, specif, what’s the diff, marriage certif, no signif, South Pacif, smile beautif. There are also internal rhymes: If/I had not seen you pen/sexy letters to Gwen/in your own heiroglyph, if/you had not had the cheek/to be gone for a week/saying ‘back in a jiff’.
The music lopes along cheerily, countering the potential bitterness of the lyrics, although of course the lyrics themselves counter their subject by being so wonderfully silly. Ms. Chenoweth uses her party trick of switching back and forth between her opera voice and her broadway belter to great effect, and she swings hard when she needs to.
Oh, and part of the gag when it’s staged (I assume going back to the original revue) is that at the end of the intro, the singer shoots her wayward lover, and sings the rest of it to his dead body. In the video I’ve attempted to embed below is some of the best dead-guy dancing I’ve seen.
I was going to write about something different for Music Monday—a terrific song came up yesterday that I suspect most of y’all haven’t heard of—but then I found out something truly shocking: the lyrics in “Alley Oop” call the titular caveman a mean motor-scooter. I mean, really? This would have been in something like 1960. OK, I looked it up, it was written in 1957. I suppose (actually, I’ve just spent, like, twenty minutes doing internet research) that B.B. King’s “Mother Fuyer” was contemporary (it was actually an older song, recorded by “Dirty” Red Nelson in 1947), but still, this was a popular song about a popular comic strip. And, you know, popular with white people.
So the Beach Boys and all of those other bands that covered this novelty song called Alley Oop a mean motherfucker (at least notionally) on commercial radio? Alley Oop? The Beach Boys?
Sometimes I wonder about that whole parallel universe thing that sometimes leaks through.
Oh, and yes, I discovered this whilst listening to a collection of 50s novelty tunes that was packaged specifically for youngsters.
My college roommate was totally into Laurie Anderson. Not my freshman year roommate, but the fellow I roomed with sophomore and junior years; a vaguely remember that my freshman year roommate had decent taste in music but I can’t for the life of me remember any specific bands or even genres he liked.
Anyway, Strange Angels came out in 1989, when I was a sophomore, and my roommate bought it (on CD!) and we listened to it a lot. I mean, a lot. It’s a terrific album, just taken as a pop album. I mean, for a pop album it’s a bit arty, but it’s no artier than, say, Remain in Light. There are melodies, and the songs are more or less the length of songs, at least within the college alternative music sense of songs, where four or five minutes seems like a perfectly reasonable song length.
“Monkey’s Paw” is a fantastic song riffing off the old story and plastic surgery. “The Day the Devil” is a fantastic song about, well, the day the Devil comes to get you. “Beautiful Red Dress” is probably the best pop song there is about menstruation, and “Hiawatha” is probably the best pop song there is about Longfellow poetry. But my favorite, for some reason, is “Baby Doll”, which is about the relationships between people and their brains.
I don’t know about your brain, she says, but mine is really… bossy. It’s bossy, but also condescending, and definitely male. Baby Doll, he calls her, and he interested in what he wants, and not particularly interested in what she wants. The offhand manner in which he comes to her assistance in the letter-writing. The wrinkled little scraps of paper with insulting comments. And striking closest for me is the way that her brain goes away and comes back, without warning, without sticking to a schedule.
And it’s danceable. Well, funkable. The beat is driving, with just a tad of swing and odd sounding percussion like synapses snapping. Yes, eighties synthesizer.
Oh, one more thing: When she says Do you mean… George?, she’s referring to Our Only President’s father. At some point in 2001, I must have heard the song and griped about how it came back. Nice to think that soon we will have a President with a different name.
My Gracious Host has posted an enjoyable game he calls Online Encore. In the Encore parlor game, there is a target word and people are trying to come up with lots and lots of lyrics that contain that word. That game works best with words that are moderately common; ideally, the first half-dozen songs shouldn’t take much memory at all, and then the competition really starts. In Jed’s Online Encore, the point is for the Blogger to come up with a list of really hard words, and for the Readers (working as a team) to come up with lyrics that include them. He has listed an atoz, and there are still quite a few targets unhit. YHB has come up with an atoz of target words for Gentle Readers to aim at.
Score: For each word on the list, YHB has in mind one and only one song that contains the word. Gentle Readers (as a team) get one Bragging Unit for each time y’all come up with the song I thought of, but you get two Bragging Units each time you come up with a song I didn’t think of. Up to a maximum of five Bragging Units per word. YHB gets two Bragging Units for having come up with the list. For every word on the list that y’all blank on, I get two more Bragging Units. For any word that y’all can’t come up with any other song than the one I had in mind, I get one Braggin Unit. Any Gentle Reader who posts his or her own list gets two Bragging Units. Jed gets two Bragging Units for having come up with the game. Any Gentle Reader who posts for the first time with a guess gets one extra Bragging Unit. Any Gentle Reader who is able to identify an instance where YHB has screwed up the lyrics again gets one Bragging Unit.
MFQ Rules: Don’t look stuff up and then post it. You don’t have to know the name of the song, but you have to be able to sing (or in this case type) a chunk of the lyric containing the word. It’s better if you sing that chunk of lyric out loud, though, whilst typing. Eight words is the canonical minimum chunk for the Encore parlor game. If you get the lyrics wrong from memory (as I did four of my guesses over yonder), there will be Scorn and Derision, but not so bad as if you looked the lyric up before posting. Don’t just make up shit up, please, and if you do, make it worthwhile. Within that construct, I’m going to rule that songs written by Gentle Readers are not eligible, even if you realio trulio wrote a song with that word in the lyric five years ago. I mean, if you did, let me know, because that’s a whole separate set of Bragging Units. All the songs are primarily in the English Language; no score for translations and multilingual puns, except, you know, anyone who does something really clever gets one Bragging Unit and one S&D unit.
The List: I'll try to keep this up-to-date. If a word is in bold, nobody has come up with nothing. If a word is in italics, at least one Gentle Reader has come up with at least one song containing it. If a word is struck through, some Gentle Reader has come up with the song that YHB was thinking of. If a word is both italicized and struck through, then y'all have maxed out the five BUs available.
At the end of the game, we can all take our Bragging Units and exchange them for valuable… er… Look! Isn’t that John McCain over there?
So, here’s the thing: it’s 1980, Squeeze (aka Squeeze UK) has put out three albums, and is really hitting its stride. They are beyond any doubt cool for cats. They’ve broken loose from the producer thing, and started to have a really distinctive sound, based in large part on the keyboard work of the incomparable Jools Holland. Who leaves the band.
Chris Difford writes some lyrics about being married and on tour with zillions of available groupies. It’s a melancholy song, full of lists, the narrator seeming to focus on listing whatever he sees in an attempt to fill his mind with banal images so that he doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions. Not very pop. Glenn Tillbrook likes the lyrics but can’t come up with a melody. Eventually he gets something, but isn’t happy with the sound of it.
The recording for the new album isn’t going well. They’ve got a new keyboardist, Paul Carrack, and they’ve got Dave Edmunds producing, and it is going very badly. So they ditch him and get Elvis Costello to produce. He takes over, rearranges the song to sound more R&B, and not only demands that Mr. Carrack take the lead vocals (pissing off Mr. Tillbrook), but takes a good chunk of the vocals himself.
And, somehow, it works.
Although the video is one of the great examples of bad 80s music videos in the category band pretends to be performing in concert whilst lip-synching to the studio recording. It’s particularly egregious due to (a) the sulkiness of the band members as they lip-synch to Mr. Costello’s vocals, and (2) the inexplicable presence of three shimmying women who at first appear to be backup singers, but do not actually sing (or lip-synch) the backup vocals at all. At one point, they appear to be sitting down and having a rest. Well, all that shimmying must take it out of a girl.
As it’s Music Monday again, I’ll talk a bit about Naive Melody, “This Must Be the Place”. I love this song. The version I was listening to is off the first CD version of the Stop Making Sense soundtrack; the live version, but remixed, I believe, with the live drumming taken off and a drum machine put in, among other things. Not sure about that, now that I think about it. When did I buy the CD? I suppose I could dig around and find it. I almost never use any of the CDs I’ve purchased over the years. At home I listen to music on my computer, and in the car I listen mostly to library discs or mix CDs I’ve made for myself. Some CDs from my collection, but not a lot.
Anyway, I love the song. I have a terrific cover version by Gunnar (“Bob”) Madsen off The Power of a Hat, and I’ve heard a handful of other great covers, but this is my favorite. There’s something about the affectless voice of David Byrne over the “naive” and endles repetition of the hook together with the slight funk that creeps in. And the backing vocals are just wonderful.
One of the things that I love about the Speaking in Tongues album is the way the lyrics are relentlessly abstract, intended to evoke emotions rather than tell stories. Yes, YHB is a freak for narrative, but that means I am substantially less likely to love a song lyric or story or movie that isn’t narrative, but if I do like it, I like it a lot. Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps I can draw a connection to painting styles: I have little interest in still life or landscape, but I love a lot of truly abstract stuff: Malevich and Still and LeWitt. Perhaps the lyrics of Speaking in Tongues are like Sol LeWitt’s wall paintings: rigorous, abstract and beautiful.
And just a trifle unsettling. I mean, just a bit. It sort of has to be unsettling, just because the concatenation of phrases is unconnected, not only to each other but to the music, and to the expression of the vocals. The bits of phrases evoke home, mostly, both from a sense of longing for the heimishkeit and from a sense of dislocation or disorientation, from which home is a refuge. And of course, home is identified with the you in the song, rather than with an actual place or house.
And then the ending… the idea that somebody will “love me till my heart stops” is both comforting and discomfiting at once, isn’t it, particularly when repeated as “love me till I’m dead”. The eyes in the next line, the “eyes that light up” refer back to the line about having “light in your eyes”, right? But hear at the end of the song the “eyes look through you”; are they the singers eyes, then? Looking through the song’s second-person as in seeing into the soul, or looking through you in the sense of discovering their pretenses? Because the next line is “cover up the blank spots/hit me on the head”, which it’s tricky to force into the mosaic of comfort and love, particularly with the talk about death earlier in the verse. It would be possible to construct out of these disconnected phrases a frightening narrative—but it wouldn’t be consistent with the music. Nor would it be consistent with the clear intent of the lyric, which is to keep the images fragmented, rather than connecting them.
Because it is a beautiful song. For me, the cumulative effect of the whole thing, the lyric and the sound, is one of aching longing for the deep connection between people that constitutes a home, and of the surprised dawning of realization that it exists already.
Your Humble Blogger has been, as Gentle Readers are aware, scratching about in the dirt for some blog worms. Er, not such a good metaphor. Anyway, I’ve been having a bit of difficulty being inspired to write much of anything for the blog, partially because I lose my temper over the political stuff, and partially because I got into the habit of relying on Pyggie to supply me with topics. So. I’m going to attempt to start a habit of Music Monday! Boy, I should come up with a graphic for that, hunh? Well, the idea is that every Monday (that I actually get off my bottom and do it) I will look at some song I listened to the day before (perhaps I should say over the last 60 hours or so, covering the weekend) and write something about it.
Looking at the songs I listened to yesterday, what floats to the top is the new Jim’s Big Ego album, which is free*, and which I’m not ready to write about yet, having only listened to it the once. For individual sides, it’s “Maman Rosin Au Zydeco Bal” off the BeauSoleil album Live! From the Left Coast. For those of you unfamiliar with BeauSoleil, and were somehow unable to guess from the title of the song, they are a cajun band playing two-step music. Gentle Reader, if you know nothing about cajun music, listen to a taste of some to see if you like it. Gentle Reader, if you like cajun music, or fiddling of any kind, and are unfamiliar with BeauSoleil, go listen to a taste.
I’ve only seen the band once, on a very very odd triple bill. The opening band was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, BeauSoleil came on second, and the headliner was Geno Delafose, le cowboy creole. Which meant that we could slip out partway through the set, because although he was very good, we were very old, and it was very late, and we’d seen both the bands we had come to see. And we danced to the Dirty Dozen, when the dance floor was almost empty and people were milling around, treating them like the opening act. Which, you know, they were. More people danced to BeauSoleil, and the floor was packed when Mr. Delafose started with his French-rocking boogie; it was during that brief craze for New Jump music and there were young swing dancers just aching to show off their two-step moves.
I don’t know if BeauSoleil played this song during their set. I neither speak nor understand the French language, which hasn’t ever been a problem in my life, but does mean that I don’t associate songs in that language with their titles, nor do I know the songs with the kind of familiarity I do songs in English. My favorite BeauSoleil song is their cover of Fats Domino’s “It’s You I Love”, which they sing in both English and French. Or I assume they are singing a French translation. For all I really know, they are singing about almonds and raisins, or the anti-inflammatory qualities of cod liver oil, or just scatting nonsense syllables.
That total lack of French is part of the reason I love this song so much, I’m afraid. I mean, in addition to the way the band smokes through what is evidently a traditional Acadian tune, in Michael Doucet’s lyric there’s what is either an actual pun or just what sounds like a wonderful pun to my monolingual ears. The chorus, you see, is
O, yaie, donnez-moi des haricots. He, maman, les haricots sont pas sales.
which by the translation in the liner notes and my own recollection and interpretation means something like Oy, Oy, pass me them there beans/Oh Mama, them beans sure ain’t salty! I’m just assuming they aren’t talking about beans, there. If the song were in Yiddish, they wouldn’t be talking about bupkes.
Anyway, the point is that Mr. Doucet’s accent and my unfamiliarity with that accent and the language makes his hard r sound a trifle like a d, that is, it’s made with the tip of the tongue hitting the palate rather than being curled. There are people who can describe this more clearly than I can, using proper tools and the International Phonetic Alphabet; there are more languages than French Your Humble Blogger doesn’t know. Anyway, with the z sound at the end of the article, and the silent t at the end, les haricots sounds to me exactly like l’zydeco; the song, then, is proclaiming that it’s the zydeco music at the ball that ain’t salty.
Again, I have no idea if this is a deliberate pun, a pleasant accident, or a sort of mondegreen. I suspect it’s a deliberate pun, because I like it better that way.
Notes on some recordings of popular music from the Higgins Archive
Gentle Readers will recall that YHB asked for help in mixing a CD for Opening Night presents, and just possibly have been waiting to find out the final score. Herewith the opening of the liner notes:
Notes on some recordings of popular music from the Higgins Archive
By W.G. Neppomuck
While it is well-known among scholars of historical linguistics that the Higgins Archive of recordings on wax cylinders includes many fine examples of early-twentieth-century dialects, a complete index of the Archive has only recently been completed. Even many researchers who have used the recordings by courtesy of the Royal Archive are unaware that in addition to the hundreds of recordings of London dialects and scores of recordings of dialects from elsewhere in England, Europe and Asia, there are a handful of cylinders of popular music. Whether Henry Higgins instructed the vocalists in phonetics, recorded them for study, or simply kept them for his own amusement, it is not now possible to know1.
The purpose of this note is to sketch out the variety of styles, accents and dialects and other matters of phonological interest found in these recordings. The accompanying CD provides scholars an opportunity for close study. It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that some of the recordings lack a modern sense of cultural sensitivity. Higgins himself was, as was typical for his time, profoundly chauvinistic and insensitive2; however, the modern scholar might also keep in mind that he collected many recordings of which he did not approve. We must reserve judgement. However, for the modern listener, this author apologizes in advance for any offense, but persists in hopes that doing so will advance the cause of phonetic science.
1 The notes kept with the cylinders are in Higgins’ own hand, and are incomplete, illegible and incoherent. Fortunately, the labels are in another hand, meticulous and feminine. The identity of this assistant is another mystery of the Higgins Archive, however, we are grateful to her for the names of the songs and of the vocalists.
2 see Higgins 1908, Higgins 1909a, Higgins 1909b, Higgins and Pickering 1913, Higgins and Pickering 1914, Higgins 1915 and Higgins 1919.
The song list is below. There were some good things I had to leave off, and a few lousy things I had to leave off, and there were a few things I couldn’t track down in time. After the fact, a cast member suggested Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman, which would have been perfect and probably would have opened the CD, but I had never heard of it before, and although I’m sure I had heard of Lonnie Donegan (as he is a Big Deal influence on a bunch of musicians I like so much that I’ve bothered to read articles about them and their musical influences) I can’t say as I could have pulled his name out of my memory. With that sort of thing in mind, Gentle Reader, please chip in with other stuff that seems missing, as it may be a Learning Experience for YHB, and I can always use one of those.
“Mother’s Lament”, performed by Cream “ I’m Henery The Eighth”, performed by Harry Champion “ It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”, performed by Albert Farrington “ Yes, We Have No Bananas”, performed by Billy Jones “ I Love Louisa”, performed by Fred Astaire “ Slow Down Krishna”, performed by The Bobs “ In the Desert”, performed by Flanders & Swann “ Rum And Coca Cola”, performed by Andrews Sisters “ Me Pants Fall Down”, performed by Da Vinci’s Notebook “ Run Joe”, performed by Louis Jordan “ Road Man”, performed by Smash Mouth “ Flat Foot Floogie”, performed by Mills Brothers “ Angelina - Zooma Zooma (Medley)”, performed by Louis Prima “ Mambo Italiano”, performed by Rosemary Clooney “ Thou Swell”, performed by Count Basie & Joe Williams “ Burlington Bertie”, performed by Julie Andrews “ Bruces’ Philosophers Song”, performed by Monty Python “ It’s You I Love”, performed by Beausoleil “ Dos Geshrey Fun Der Vilder Katshke (The Cry Of The Wild Duck)”, performed by Klezmer Conservatory Band “ What I Want Is A Proper Cup Of Coffee”, performed by Trout Fishing In America “ Another Irish Drinking Song”, performed by Da Vinci’s Notebook “ Autumn Leaves”, performed by Mel Torme
Gentle Readers, a little assistance, if you please.
Your Humble Blogger has started for himself a little tradition (if you do something twice, it’s a tradition, right?) of making a mix CD as opening-night gifts for the cast and crew. For The Man who Came to Dinner, I did a mix of songs from the 1930s, the era the show was set, although I did mix in some other songs that fit the mood, even if they were recorded later. For Les Liaisons Dangereuses, I made an Early Music mix (explaining that after a fair amount of research, I decided that I just don’t like music from the 1780s). For Pygmalion, my idea is a mix of songs where the singers put on funny accents. Or songs about people with funny accents. Probably supplemented by songs where the singers actually have funny accents, to fill up an hour.
Off the top of my head, there’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, and probably Noel Coward’s “Has Anybody Seen My Ship”, and either Mel Tormé singing “Autumn Leaves” in a Faux French Accent or Trout Fishing in America singing “Proper Cup of Coffee” in Faux French. There’s Bing Crosby and Bob Hope singing “Hoots, Mon” from the Road to Bali.
I could find “Yes, We Have No Bananas”, either the Irving Kaufman hit or the Spike Jones travesty. Louis Prima, of course, does it in Mock Italian rather than Mock Greek, but I could come up with some other Louis Prima Mock Italian, like “Angelina” or “Felicia No Capicia”.
One problem, of course, is that many of the possibilities are racist, or at least smell of racism, to the point where I’d rather not include them. Is Harry Belafonte putting on the Jamaican accent he lost as a child to sing Calypso racist? No, not really. I could put the Banana Boat song on, or even “Matilda”. What about Nat King Cole singing “Calypso Blues”? I mean, somewhere along the line you get to Al Jolson, yes? Not that “Yes, We Have No Bananas” is not racist. It is. But somehow, now that Southern European isn’t a race anymore, I don’t mind it too much. Of course, there’s the anti-immigrant thing, but isn’t that the whole point of funny-accent music? Perhaps I could put that in the liner notes.
Anyway, I’m looking for suggestions. My own taste leans to mid-century stuff (er, the 20th century, you remember), but I’d be happy to have a ton of rock-and-roll, if we can come up with enough. I find that a mix that is mostly in one (broadly defined) style but has one or two songs from a different style doesn’t work very well, but a mix that swings from style to style can work very well indeed. I am aware that the lead singer of Green Day affects an accent, but I don’t know their stuff, and I would have to put on, I don’t know, Ian Dury’s “Billericay Dickie” to cushion it. Does that count as a fake accent? Mr. Dury wasn’t really from Essex, you know.
Anyway, I’m—did I mention this?—looking for suggestions. Criteria: Song must have at least one verse in accented English, preferably fake, ideally outrageously obviously fake. Song must be reasonably pleasant to listen to anyway. Song should ideally avoid outright racism. It would be nice to avoid vicious mean-spirited mockery, although affectionate mockery would be acceptable. Obscenities are a strike against, although I could presumably make a different disc for the children in the cast. Songs from stage musicals are also a strike against, although later recordings by different singers may well be fine. Sock it to me, Gentle Readers.
One of the good things about doing an interview the way I’m doing it is that I can interpret the questions however I like. F’r’ex, when Matt Hulan asks What is it about Elvis Costello?, rather than answering What is it about Elvis Costello that makes him such an asshole?, I can answer What is it about Elvis Costello that makes him so important to YHB personally? If you would like to try such interpretations for your own set of five questions, simply leave a twenty-pound note between the end of chapter two (The Detection of Leaks) and the beginning of chapter three (Checking the Thoroughness of Mixing) of any nearby copy of Radio Isotopes: A New Tool for Industry, by Sidney Jefferson. Or type a note in the comments, if that’s easier for you. Now, on to Elvis Costello.
Gentle Readers will no doubt be shocked to learn that Your Humble Blogger was a nerdy kid. Glasses, asthma, bad skin, special classes for the gifted, social ineptness, poor hand-eye co-ordination, ostracization, the whole bang shoot. And, of course, the rage, envy and self-loathing that is the birthright of the nerd, or at least of the male nerd (I suspect the female feels much the same, only worse). By the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, Elvis Costello was the outlet for those emotions. I listened to My Aim Is True over and over. A big old platter, on an enormous Hi-Fi system, usually alone in the house in the afternoon, or, if my mother were home, perhaps in my sister’s room on her more modern turntable. “Allison”, “Watching the Detectives” and “Mystery Dance” expressed the adolescent inferiority/superiority complex with an eloquence I could not, and with a frankness I could not reach, either. Particularly, this was a rock star who not only had glasses and pigeon toes but sang about a sexual life that existed primarily in twisted fantasies, where fulfillment wasn’t as easily imagined as revenge.
It’s cool now, I promise.
You know what? I’m going to go through the album song-by-song, just to bring back the ugly past:
Welcome to the Working Week: in my teens, this was a song about a boy whose girlfriend becomes famous, for some reason, and inadequate to the glossy life of a starlet’s boyfriend, and demoted to a sort of assistant/dogsbody. I don’t exactly know where all this came from, but that’s what I got.
Miracle Man: This, for me, was the song of a man who is losing his struggle with his urges. He’s got a crazy crush on a girl who sees him as just a friend; she teases him casually and he usually pretends not to care, but he’s reaching the breaking point.
No Dancing: This is a fellow who finally makes it to his girlfriend’s house, expecting to get lucky, but his clumsy advances are such a turn-off that she dumps him. Shudder.
Blame It On Cain: Just a crazy outsider rant. But fun.
Alison: Classic dark, jealous threat.
Sneaky Feelings: The boy in this one prefers his fantasies to the possible realities.
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes: Another unrequited love story, but with perhaps the Best Ever line: I said “I’m so happy I could die”/She said “Drop dead” then left with another guy. This is the inevitable result of transitory happiness for this frame of mind. Or, perhaps, when anyone is fourteen.
Less Than Zero: Er, about fascism. Worth bringing up the other point, which is that Elvis Costello songs were not just about sexual longing and inferiority, they were about sexual longing and inferiory expressed in erudite terms. You know, for nerds.
Mystery Dance: In this song, the boy is not only clumsy, but actually ignorant of the mechanics of sex, for extra humiliation.
Pay It Back: Here, the boy is putting up a hard front, until the line Until the lights went out, I didn’t know what to do/If I could fool myself, then maybe I’d fool you too, which brings us back to the previous song’s humiliation.
I’m Not Angry: Oh, yes he is. And jealous. Another is-she-really-going-out-with-him song.
Waiting for the End of the World: This song is more the aloof nerd, the one who is just better than the circumjacent yahoos, and a little bit afraid of them, too.
Watching the Detectives: Although it isn’t clear whether the boy in this song is only fantasizing about kidnapping the object of his pathetic crush or whether he has done it, it’s still creepy. Wonderfully creepy.
I think that’s the whole album that I had on vinyl. I could probably sing the whole thing through, word for word, right now (except for the mondegreens, since the album came without a lyrics sheet, and I learned the words off the Singing Dictionary much later and the intellectual knowledge hasn’t replaced the muscle memory of singing the wrong words), and—and this is really important—hum most of the bass lines and guitar solos and tap out the drum parts on a table top. Because in addition to the whole emotional thing, these are really good songs. The lyrics are witty, and funny in places, and powerful, and the tunes are catchy, memorable and enjoyable.
And then there are the other nineteen albums. Mr. Costello (or Mr. MacManus, to use his proper name) has put out a lot of great music, over my entire adult life. He was the first recording artist that I ever sought out information on when a new album was coming out to go and buy it as soon as it was available. Back when they were on big black plates, you know. Actually, the first album I bought on CD I bought was Imperial Bedroom, to replace the cassette that was worn out, and besides cut off partway through “Town Cryer”. That was, coincidentally or not, the first CD I damaged and had to replace. Ah, well. I walked four miles to buy Spike on the first day it was out. Well, it’s more accurate to say that I wandered around Philadelphia lost for an hour until I blundered my way to the Tower Records on South Street, but I was headed there to buy Spike. I have grown less obsessed over time (as I have grown more complacent with my own life), and I haven’t got around to getting the new album, yet. Plus, over the last ten years or so, I’ve started to resent him for being an asshole. But whenever I hear a new album, I want to like it, because that first one was so important to me, way back when.
I think a lot of people think of Bo Diddley as a joke, which makes sense, as he was a comic figure. He played a square guitar, for crying out loud. Lots of musicians, lots of performers, lots of people critical in the development of art forms have been comic figures. That doesn’t make them unimportant. The art can still be good.
For me, it doesn’t get much better than that early Bo Diddley, the Chess Records stuff. If I get a choice between listening to Muddy Waters or Bo Diddley, I’ll take Bo Diddley. If I get a choice between listening to Howlin’ Wolf or Bo Diddley, I’ll take Bo Diddley. If I get a choice between listening to B.B. King or Bo Diddley, I’ll take Bo Diddley. If I get a choice between listening to Eric Clapton or Bo Diddley, I’ll take Bo Diddley. If I get a choice between listening to The Rolling Stones or Bo Diddley, I’ll take Bo Diddley.
But that’s a matter of taste, and people, being different one to another, have different tastes, and that’s what makes the world interesting and fun. What is not a matter of taste is how influential his Bo Diddley persona remains, both directly and indirectly. The character of the boisterous, comically arrogant and egotistical (black) man is common, and his technique of making risibly overstated boasts about his sexual prowess and rebelliousness should be instantly recognizable to anyone with a level of cultural literacy above zero, that is, around the level of Your Humble Blogger.
I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra-snake for a necktie, I got a brand new house on the roadside, Made from rattlesnake hide, I got a brand new chimney made on top, Made out of a human skull, Now come on take a walk with me, child, And tell me, who do you love?
By the way, if anybody wearing a cobra-snake necktie asks you do take a walk with him and tell him who you love, do not walk with this man. This has been your good advice for the day.
Now when I was a little boy, At the age of five, I had somethin’ in my pocket, Keep a lot of folks alive. Now I’m a man, Made twenty-one, You know baby, We can have a lot of fun.
The lyrics, of course, don’t do justice to the sound. You may see obituaries talking about the shave-and-a-haircut rhythm, or bomp-chicka-bomp-chicka-bomp-bomp rhythm. Writing about music is, notoriously, like dancing about architecture; if you’re inspired to do it, terrific, but don’t expect the audience to learn a lot. I’ll say that once I’d heard that rhythm, the one he didn’t invent but which he popularized, I started hearing in a lot of rock-and-roll, and more to the point, a lot of good rock-and-roll.
I saw Bo Diddley perform in 1994, I think, at the reception of a non-profit/NGO conference. He would have been 66 years old, I guess, or thereabouts. I think the median age of the people in the room was about the same. A handful of young ’uns like myself and my Best Reader, a handful of extremely elderly people, but the bulk of them were in their late fifties, sixties and early seventies. Bo Diddley rocked. He also insisted on being paid in cash, which was a pain in the ass of the conference organizers, but I have come to understand why the man didn’t trust people. Not that the organization’s check would have bounced, but he was sure the cash wouldn’t bounce.
A last note: some of us, I’m afraid, when we sing our children to sleep, can’t help singing it like this:
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird if that mockingbird don’t sing Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring if that diamond ring don’t shine Papa’s gonna take it to a private eye If that private eye can’t see dontcha take no ring from me bomp-chicka-bomp-chicka-bomp-bomp
This is a kind of reverse lyrics meme, picked up from Not Really A Link: shuffle all the one-star songs in your library, and list the first lyric for each of the first ten songs. As usual, I left off the instrumentals and the foreign lyrics. Points for song title, lyricist and singer.
April Fool, April Fool/This isn't going to fool anyone/not that I like fooling people anyway/or being fooled for that matter
He's a two-trick pony/Two tricks are all that horse can do/He does one trick mostly/but the secondary trick is pretty good, too
Hip, hip hooray/three cheers for my baby/hip, hip hooray/baby's got three hips
Cory loves me/This I know/Cos the Internet tells me so
There are lots of things on Moshe Dayan/There are lots of things on Moshe Dayan/There's a spot on Moshe Dayan's tie/There's a patch on Moshe Dayan's eye/Moshe Dayan walks like a chicken
Yes, we have no bananas/we have no bananas/but we have half-a-dozen plantains, which are a lot like bananas
Fuck fuck fuck fuck/Ow that hurts/Fuck fuck fuck fuck/You little shit/Don't ever do that again/It isn't funny/How would you like it/If it happened to you/Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck
I'm Talkin' Baseball/Ort and Raj and Benji/Giants baseball/Barry Z and Brian Hennesey/Aurilia, Durham Omar and Velez/We're still fans no matter what anyone sez/Talkin' Baseball/The Giants sure suck, don't they?
Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination/And when he's tall/He's what we call a dinosaur sensation
Farewell, lovely Nancy/Farewell, my own true love/For it's now I must go away and leave ye/Never to see you any more/I'm gonna sail upon that ferry boat/Never to return again/So farewell, lovely Nancy/But you must be safe, and be loyal and constant/Like a sucker
The following is a list of songs Your Humble Blogger listened to whilst shoveling snow in the last day and a half:
“Life During Wartime”, Talking Heads “Through Being Cool”, Devo “We’re All Light”, XTC “At Long Last Love”, Lena Horne “Oh, Lady, Be Good (Symphony In Swing)”, Artie Shaw “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand)”, Andrews Sisters “ver es hot (One Has Got)”, The Klezmatics “Jackie Wilson Said”, Van Morrison “Summer”, Jabbering Trout “Manteca”, Dizzy Gillespie “Blue Heaven”, The Pogues “How’s Your Romance?”, Bobby Short “Dr. Jazz”, Jools Holland and The Rhythm & Blues Orchestra “Ev’ry Time We Say Good-Bye”, Ella Fitzgerald “I Prefer You”, Etta James “Monkey To Man”, Elvis Costello “I Can’t Explain”, The Who “Man In a Hat”, The Klezmatics “Wave a White Flag”, Elvis Costello “Funk Pop A Roll”, XTC “Road to Morocco”, Bing Crosby “I Need a Doctor”, The Nields “Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?”, Noel Coward “Ghost of Stephen Foster”, Squirrel Nut Zippers “1-2-8”, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Mama, I Wanna Make Rhythm”, Cats & Jammers “Make a Circuit with Me”, The Polecats “One Week”, Barenaked Ladies “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay”, Otis Redding “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, Nat King Cole “Slippery People”, Talking Heads “My Best Friend’s Girl”, The Cars “Ring Dem Bells”, Duke Ellington “Manny’s Bones”, Los Lobos “Top Hat, White Tie And Tails”, Louis Armstrong “For Your Love”, The Yardbirds “I Wanna Be Sedated”, Ramones “Jumpin’ Jack”, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy “Black Coffee in Bed”, Squeeze “It’s You I Love”, Beausoleil “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar”, Andrews Sisters “Girlfriend Is Better”, Talking Heads “Tempted”, Squeeze “Rock the Casbah”, The Clash “Ring of Fire”, Johnny Cash “Industrial Disease”, Dire Straits “Caldonia (Live)”, B.B. King “Gonna Get Through This World”, The Klezmatics “Verdi Cries”, 10,000 Maniacs “Roam”, The B-52’s “Lullaby of Birdland”, Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington “I’m the Man Who Murdered Love”, XTC “Not Fade Away”, The Rolling Stones “Headdy Down”, The Klezmatics
There isn’t much to be said for shoveling, other than that it needs to be done, but here are some of the thoughts that were running through my head:
I like living in the early 21st century. Sure, there are problems, but there are mp3 players, too, which makes up for a lot.
The French Toast Alert System is clearly the best if not only way to discuss New England Weather. Tomorrow it will be again time to panic buy eggs and bread and milk and cinnamon and sugar and tasty maple-flavored sausages. Mmmmmmmm, storm.
As long as it is a personal decision, the fact that snowblowers are noisy, inefficient, expensive and polluting will not prevent people from buying them and using them. In fact, the snowblower serves as an excellent illustration of the need for public policy, as well as a problem of rhetoric and suasion. People are reluctant to believe in an oncoming disaster, because believing in it will (in their minds) require them to drastically reduce their standard of living. Bicycling to work, paying more money for less food (local, healthy, and so on, but less in quantity), wearing bulky and itchy sweaters indoors, eating lentil soup, smelling of patchouli oil, and spending hours clearing the damn driveway with a shovel like some sort of wild animal in the wilderness. Not going to happen. And, in fact, for individuals, drastically reducing carbon footprint is tricky without making substantial lifestyle changes or investing some serious money. On the other hand, if we converted our electricity grid to be much, much cleaner, and put some effort into making snowblowers and lawnmowers and chainsaws and cars work off that grid, we could slash co/2 whilst sipping hot cocoa by the fire. Yes, higher taxes for a while, but you get to keep your snowblower. Or a snowblower, anyway.
Klezmer music is terrific for shoveling, but you know what would be awesome shoveling music? Sea shanties. Wouldn’t that be great? Heave away, haul away.
OK, how about this for a gadget in one of those gadgetty catalogues: the town’s plows get hooked into a city-wide system with GPS and all, and you get an alert when they are coming to your block. It wouldn’t be in time to move your car (in my imaginary system), but it would be in time to put on your boots and deal with the ridge before it ices in place. Alternately, very small shaped explosive devices for clearing the ridge after it ices. You drill a hole, slip the thing in, go back inside and set it off. You would have to clear the ice rubble, afterward, but wouldn’t it be worth it?
The angels may be taken metaphorically, or, you know, not, just as you please
As a postscript to the earlier conversation—we were looking for rock/pop songs, etc, and I think it’s a good idea to keep Children’s Music out of that whole discussion. There is a lot of good Children’ s Music out there, and it’s a different discussion. So perhaps to start that discussion, and perhaps for other, better reasons, here’s a song I know from a Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer album, but I think it's by Red Grammer:
On the day that Jamey was born
On the day that Jamey was born
On the day that Jamey was born
The angels sang and they blew on their horns
And they smiled, and they danced
And they raised up their hands
On the day, on the day the Jamey was born!
The song can be sung with any name, of course, and should be sung with everybody’s name. And, in fact, in the version I was talking about above (from All Wound Up!), they end with a verse like this:
Today, someone’s being born.
Today, someone’s being born.
Today, someone’s being born.
The angels sing and they blow on their horns
And they smile, and they dance
And they raise up their hands
’cos today, ’cos today, someone’s being born!
A Gentle Reader has asked me to pose the following question to the rest of y’all: what are the best rock/pop/soul/etc. songs about parenthood?
It’s a tough one. I thought I would just open up the music player and easily come up with ten songs for a Parenthood Mix, and then I’d open it up for y’all to fill in the last few tracks. The problem is ... rock songwriters don’t write about raising children. They write about cars, they write about girls, they write about girls in cars, but they don’t write about raising children.
All right, let’s get to it. There are three main categories of Songs About Parenthood that come up in these discussions. First, there’s the category typified by Stevie Wonder’s song for his daughter, “Isn’t She Lovely?” These are songs to celebrate the birth of a baby. Miracle songs, songs of love and awe, songs of near-generic happiness and, occasionally, terror. Songs that come to mind include the Barenaked Ladies’ “When You Dream” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”. Sometimes the child isn’t a baby, like in the Eurythmics’ “Beautiful Child”, but it goes in this category because it’s essentially just an expression of love coupled with a somewhat frustrated urge to protect, that is, a celebration of the existence of the child, not a song about actually raising the child.
The second category is a song of advice, given from a parent to a child, often one who is explicitly too young to yet understand such advice. My favorite of these is the XTC song “Garden of Earthly Delights”, but I’m also fond of a Fred Small song called “Everything Possible” (this may be outside the genre restrictions, being essentially folk, in which genre you will find more such songs). “Sean” by The Proclaimers could be in this category, too, but I’m pretty sure it’s an older sibling giving advice (Sean, I’d say the best one came from Tupelo, Mississippi/I’ll tell you know that grown men cry, and Irish girls are pretty/Though fear and hurt and care can lead me to despair/I saw why I’m here the morning you appeared), not a father.
The third category is songs by Paul Simon.
You’ll notice that the first two categories do not involve any actual parenting. Mr. Simon writes about, oh, taking his nine-year-old son to Graceland, or telling his kids about the first time he met their mother. Or tucking his boy in to bed, or about his hopes for his child’s future. Like that. As my Gentle Reader put it, good songs about being a good parent, or trying to be a good parent and missing the mark occasionally, or what have you. I’d like to have more songs in this category, the Paul Simon category. Not by Paul Simon, but songs about being a good parent, or trying to be.
Well, I’ll mention a few songs that came up in my musing. The first thing that came to mind was “Stay Up Late” by the Talking Heads. It’s from the sibling’s point of view, actually: “Mommy had/a little baby/There he is/fast asleep/He’s just/a little plaything/Why not/wake him up?” It’s not really about parenting, except that it’s really (I think) a parent singing from the pretended point of view of the older siblings. David Byrne also wrote a very odd song called “Now I’m Your Mom” about transgender parenting (“Oh little girl/Please understand/And listen to the words I say/I was your dad/Now I'm your mom/I hope you'll comprehend someday”) but it’s much more about the gender thing than the parenting thing.
Ken Batts (Has anybody heard of this guy? Why do I have his CD?) has a quite lovely song called “Lobster Keychains” about buying his kids, well, lobster keychains, which is absolutely about parenting, but is, you know, folk. Like that. As I mentioned, that does open it up.
Squeeze “Up the Junction” is a wonderful song, and there is just a trifle of parenting in it, enough to have it come to mind, but seriously, no.
Uncle Bonsai has a very depressing song called “In it for the Children”, which is from the point of view of the parents, but has no actual parenting. A powerful song. No. Possible to include “Don’t Put It in your Mouth” in the list, though, but that’s stretching it.
Googling turns out a bunch of songs I don’t know. David Bowie, Kooks? Dar Williams, The One who Knows? Cocteau Twins, Pur? Jimmy Buffett, Delaney Talks to Statues? Do y’all know these tunes? Are they good?
Let’s exclude from consideration (for the purposes of the discussion) songs about parents, but told from the child’s point of view. If we have to include “Cat’s in the Cradle”, we will, but I’d rather not, because the narrator doesn’t actually talk about his experience of parenting (at the end, sort of). But no you were wonderful, mother or what a dad I had songs—they can be great, and when it comes to making an actual mix, my Gentle Reader may be well advised to include one or two, but I’m really looking for songs from the parent’s point of view, about having a kid (or kids) and ... whatever the song is about. Taking a kid to a ballgame. Going shopping with the girl. First day of school. Jamming with your kid’s band. Somethin’.
OK, for the last day of April, since I haven’t any ideas, let’s go back to an old standard, the lyrics game. I print the opening lyric to twenty songs randomly selected from the top of my shuffle, and Gentle Readers tell me that they recognize the song. This really was the first twenty tracks, too; I didn’t have to toss out any foreign-language, and since there was just one instrumental, I left it in. Just for kicks, try to guess the lead singer or the band, on all the others. No Googling, now, we’re maximizing fun.
The sergeant-major said to me/this is a true story/It happened once upon a time
[title]/falling on my head like a memory/falling on my head like a new emotion
Come in, sister/Papa’s in the swing/ain’t too hip/’bout that breed, babe
[indistinct shouting]... let me see that permit! You ain’t got no permit!/You know this isn’t even funny, you guys are testing my patience like crazy/First of all, you have to have a permit for all six of youse! [note: all spoken]
Toe to toe/Dancing very slow/Barely breathing/Almost comatose
Oh baby, look how you got me [title]/Oh baby, look how you got me [title]/Lord I love you little girl, you're always resting on my mind
In the evening, when the kettle’s on for tea/an old familiar feeling settles over me/and it’s your face I see/and I believe that [title]
Macneal, Macneal, don’t steal my automobile/I’ll take you to a café and buy you a real fine meal/Jack I got to do some ridin’/Soon we got to come to a dividin’/I don’t want to continue ’cos the sign says [title]
Hot ginger bread and dynamite/There's nothing, folks, but that at night/Back in [title]/Where the fellers chew tobaccy/And the women wicky-wacky/Woo
The advantage of being in [title]/Is that you never have to look up
It was Christmas Eve babe/In the drunk tank
She got to take sick and die one of these days/She got to take sick and die one of these days/All the medicine I can buy, and all the doctors she can hire/She got to take sick and die one of these days
No cares for me/I'm happy as I can be/I learn to love and to live/[title]
Well, now, it takes more than a robin to make the winter go/And it takes two lips of fire to melt away the snow
I'm gonna be a [title]/I got an awful lot to learn/But if you tell me that my heart's on fire/I'm gonna let it burn
[instrumental] [go ahead and guess, though] [all right, it’s a dance medley] [I mean, it’s called Dance Medley] [so I’ll give full credit for anybody that guesses the performing group]
While in these days of quiet desperation/As I wander through the world in which I live/I search everywhere for some new inspiration/But it's more than cold reality can give
She throws back her hands and she shows you her mouth/The breath that I waste trying to ruin your life/Beauty's on a budget but you take it on the chin/'Cause you have to do your duty taking orders from the kingpin
Hey, there was something wild about that girl/You know I felt it when we touched/We didn't say a word/I didn't know her name/But still it meant so much
The leaves of brown came falling through the view/In [title], I first met you/I staggered through your chilly dining room/In [title], I first met you
There are quite a few easy ones in there (I think), and at least two that I would be surprised if anybody got at all.
Your Humble Blogger was lucky enough to get to see The Klezmatics in concert last weekend. Well, I was lucky enough to get a babysitter. The tickets we bought, so I’m not sure that luck played a large part in that. It was good fortune, though.
The concert was in the sanctuary of a large conservative shul that looked much like most other large conservative shuls I’ve been in, that is, not quite entirely like a high school auditorium, but with pews and a few panels of very bad stained glass. The sound was muddy, unfortunately, which may have been the mixing but was more likely just the acoustics of the hall. The band was set up on the bimah itself, but the ark was covered by a drape, so it wasn’t quite as odd as it might have been, although the band members occasionally sat down on the big ugly chairs normally occupied by whichever of the rabbi, chazzan, shul president or ritual committee happen to be on the bimah and not active.
The audience was mostly, it seemed, from the host congregation. Mostly middle-aged and elderly people, with a fair sprinkling of thirtyish Hartford hipsters and some teenagers with their parents. On the whole, though, this was not a crowd that had come out to dance in the aisles. This was a crowd who, went they went to hear some klezmorim, wanted to her Di Grine Kusine and Rojinkes mit Mandlen. Or, more likely, didn’t go out to hear klezmorim very often, but felt they should support Jewish Music. The Klezmatics came out and went right into Wheel of Life from the Wonder Wheel album, which had an incredibly heavy, layered sound, very Asian/North African, and was greeted with, shall we say, muted enthusiasm. After that, they went right into Man in a Hat, which is one of my favorite Klezmatics songs, and they freakin’ ripped through it. I mean, they freakin’ ripped through it. Whew. I was completely exhilarated, but I think a lot of the crowd were kinda sitting there with their mouths open.
Then they went into three songs from “Davenen”, their Pilobolus collaboration, which were nice, but not really astonishing. The second of them featured a solo by Richie Barshay, a local boy who is sitting in on drums with them these days. In fact, we were in his home shul, which led to a few jokes about him substituting a drum solo for a d’var torah at his bar mitvah, which would have been, like, six months ago. Seriously, he’s a kid. But he’s (a) terrific, and (2) a local kid, so they gave him lots to do, and it was a Good Thing. They did a number called Spin, Dreidel, Spin from the Happy Joyous Hanukkah album, which was just Mr. Barshay on the drums, Lisa Gutkin on violin, and Matt Darriau on the Jew’s Harp, and it was fascinating and lovely. Ms. Gutkin claimed to have written it from a recording of a six-buttoned shirt tumbling in a clothesdryer, and it had some of that sense to it. The Jew’s Harp actually worked quite well as a sort of drone underneath, surprisingly enough.
After Spin, they did Headdy Down, which is heartbreakingly lovely, and was heartbreakingly lovely in concert. They didn’t attempt to recreate he end of the studio version, with the magnificent layered vocals, but finished with a quiet a cappela chorus that worked well enough. I have been singing the song to the Youngest Member (and to the Perfect Non-Reader, too, sometimes) as a lullaby, so it could be argued that I am bringing more to the song than is there, but I think in truth it’s the song (and the recording) that brought more to my lullaby-singing than was there. They went from that to Happy, Joyous Hanukkah, also with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, and it instantly became my favorite Hanukkah song ever, if only because all other Hanukkah songs stink on ice. Then an instrumental freilich, and then back to Woody for a truly inspirational rendition of Gonna Get through this World, with Ms. Gutkin on vocals.
They decided not to do any more Hanukkah songs (they admitted to a tradition, or more accurately a habit, of doing holiday songs at inappropriate seasons, but sadly they did not do my favorite Simchas Torah song), but did an actual Passover song called Ki Ley Nue, which was a bit repetitive, but like good repetitive songs, went through the bit where it seemed too long to the bit where it seemed like it had built up a lot of steam. This is evidently on their live album with Joshua Nelson, which I don’t have but which clearly Must Be Mine. After another instrumental (which struck me as very SonnyRollinsesque) and then we were heading home with a mellow, almost reggae version of Mermaid Avenue and then a long, slow Shnirele Perele. It wasn’t a great Shnirele Perele, unfortunately; it was very good, but both times I had seem them do it live, it wasn’t just good, it was inspirational. To some extent, I blame the band and their current arrangement, which is long on Lorin Sklamberg’s vocals and low on roof-raising instrumental hysteria. I’m not knocking Mr. Sklamberg, who is freakin’ awesome. To a large extent, his voice defines the band’s sound for me; if he were to leave for a new band, I would certainly buy his new band’s stuff, and only very probably continue buying The Klezmatics albums. But the arrangement of Shnirele Perele that was so mind-blowing balanced his impassioned vocals with the band better, built more gradually, and topped out much higher.
On the other hand, the crowd wasn’t as into it as they were at the other shows I’d been to, and that probably makes it impossible for the band to get quite as high. No dancing, not during this song, and not during any of the others. The applause was appreciative but not rowdy. Rhythmic hand-clapping during the songs was led by Mr. London, rather than emerging from the crowd’s enthusiasm. People were for the most part content to sit and listen. Which is fine, particularly because some of the attendees likely had multiple artificial joints, but still. When Shnirele Perele ended, the audience rose and applauded, and about a third of the crowd headed for the exits. “No,” says I to my Best Reader. “If everybody leaves, they won’t come back and play Ale Brider!” But the rabbi stood up at the front and encouraged loud clapping, and we eventually settled into that demanding rhythm that leads to an encore, and they came back and played Ale Brider. I love that song. Some of us sang along on the chorus (“ai yi yi yi yi/ai yi yi yi yi/ai yi yi yi yi/ai yi yi yi yi”) and there was even one fellow out in the aisle shaking his tzitzis.
A couple of other notes: slightly more than half the men had their heads covered, by my estimation. Some were wearing the lovely embroidered full-head Sephardic-style head-coverings that are more like hats than skullcaps, some had what I think of as the observant Jew’s three-inch tightly-crocheted circle, but most of those who opted to cover their heads seemed to have just picked up a yarmulke from the bin outside the sanctuary, and were wearing the standard-issue purple shiny can’t-keep-it-on-your-head kippah. I left my head uncovered, as I usually do if I’m not davening or studying Torah; the sanctuary isn’t Holy Ground or anything, and I’m going to a concert. At my own Temple Beth Bolshoi, a Reform shul, only about half the men keep their head covered even for services, but the Reform movement is in large measure about getting rid of all that superstitious medieval nonsense. This was a Conservative shul, one that calls itself egalitarian, although I only saw one woman with a head covering, and that might well have been decorative rather than ritual.
Up on the bimah, the band also varied in their approach to head covering. The only woman in the band, Lisa Gutkin, had her head uncovered and her hair loose (unless, of course, that wasn’t really her hair). Richie Barshay had his head bare. Paul Morrissett appeared to have a bare head, although he has dark wavy hair, and might have been wearing one of those small yarmulkes on the back of his head. Frank London had a lovely full Sephardic job, with straggly hair loose behind (Unrelated note: the first time I saw Mr. London on stage, I thought “didn’t I go to summer camp with him?” I didn’t, but the feeling only grows stronger every time I look at him). Lorin Sklamberg was wearing a ratty old Panama hat. He looked good in it, though.
One thing that is fun about the band is that most of the players play more than one instrument. Frank London plays trumpet and keyboards, sometimes simultaneously. Paul Morrissett plays bass guitar and tsimbl (or cimbalom, a sort of hammered dulcimer). Matt Darriau plays saxophone, clarinet and kaval (a sort of wooden flute), Jew’s Harp for one song, and brought out what must have been a bass saxophone at one point. Big sucker. Mr. Sklamberg sings, of course, and plays the accordion, guitar and keyboard. Ms. Gutkin just plays the violin and sings. Mr. Barshay, as the drummer, sat in his kit and mostly played the pieces of that, including heavy use of the cymbals, wooden blocks and some rattly things. The klezmorim move around the stage a lot (except Mr. Barshay), sometimes forming a rhythm section on one side, sometimes lining up across the front. Mr. London and Mr. Morrissett occasionally did the thing that horn players do where they share a microphone, which I assume has some effect on the sound but is certainly fun to watch. Also, Mr. London often plays with the technique of moving the end of the trumpet to different distances from the microphone, sometimes swinging his head back and forth and making a sort of Doppler effect. Sometimes one or another player will walk over to the side during a bit they aren’t playing, coming back to get to the microphone just when the band kicks in. Mr. Sklamberg and Ms. Gutkin appeared to be carrying on a conversation (or a running joke) in snatches in the middle of songs. They don’t choreograph, really, but they are fun to watch.
Wow, that’s a long note. One more observation, though: it’s now been a week since I saw the show, and I’m still humming the tunes to myself.
My point, you have probably guessed. The Klezmatics are playing a concert on Sunday night at the MFA, which is a nice enough place to see a show. It’s in the Remis, not the courtyard (I hope that’s obvious, considering), so not so much dancing likely, what with the relative paucity of aisles. Still, recommended.
They will also be in Philadelphia tonight, West Hartford at the end of the month, and in DC in early June, for Gentle Readers in those locations or near them. I won’t keep plugging away, but what’s the use of having a blog if I can’t push a fave rave now and then?
Your Humble Blogger has written before about campaign songs, but it appears that Have You Had Enough has not made an appearance on this Tohu Bohu. So y’all may not know anything about it. Which would be bad. So.
It seems that Tom Maxwell, formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and currently of NC-08, was looking for a way to help out his candidate of choice, a fellow named Larry Kissell. He had donated money, and all, but he was a musician, and wanted a way to help, you know, musically. So, what to do. Well, why not take the tune from “Put a Lid On It”, write new lyrics (with Ken Mosher), record it and make it available for candidates he liked to use. Not just Mr. Kissell, either, because through the magic of technology’n’stuff, it’s easy to just slip another name in there. Thus the scalability of nationalizing the campaign. N’stuff. Oh, and they needed a woman to do the lead vocals, so Ricky Lee Jones chipped in. Eventually,a fellow named Mike McIntee did a video, also suitable for localizationage as well as for Teh Utoob.
Now, it may possibly have been mentioned, here and there, that Connecticut is having an odd senatorial election. Historically odd. Not “Hunh, that’s odd” odd, but “some even say that in the last decades of the species called man” odd. Now, it seems, the Had Enough Swing Band is going to be Swingin’ throo CeeTee with Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Mosher, Ms. Jones and friends. I might even get out of the house and go dance on the metaphorical grave of the Connecticut Republican Party.
It appears that YHB hasn’t blogged anything nice for a while, and just in case somebody was looking for something other than a gripe, here goes. I’ve listened to the Klezmatics’ Wonder Wheel perhaps ten times in the last couple of weeks, and it is wonderful.
I know some of my Gentle Readers are already familiar with The Klezmatics, and maybe y’all already ran out and bought this album. Or maybe you like the Klezmatics but didn’t know they had a new album, or knew they had one but weren’t sure if it was worth running out and getting. It is.
Some of my Gentle Readers are not (yet) big fans of The Klezmatics or klezmer music, but are fans of Woodie Guthrie. And maybe y’all already ran out and bought this album. Or maybe you like Woodie Guthrie but didn’t know he had a new album, or knew he had one but weren’t sure if it was worth running out and getting. It is.
This is (as GRs may have guessed) another one of those albums where Nora Guthrie lets people into the archive of thousands of Woody Guthrie lyrics to write new music and record the resulting collaboration. I haven’t heard the Billy Bragg/Wilco albums, and I was a little skeptical of the whole process, frankly. But it works. The Klezmatics choose songs from the period Mr. Guthrie was living in Coney Island with his yiddishe in-laws, and some of the lyrics have little yiddishisms, but I think a different band would have heard something very different in the written word. As it turns out, though, the thing is seamless—the album sounds like a Klezmatics album (and, you know, it is a Klezmatics album, and it’s a Woody Guthrie album, too.
Well, mostly. One of the songs, Goin' Away To Sea, was in the archive, and after Matt Darriau had picked out of the thousands and written a rollicking melody for it, and after the band had recorded it and it was finished and through, babe of mine, they were looking through the archive for manuscripts to photograph for the liner notes and came across another copy with a handwritten note on it from Butch Hawes saying “I composed this song you sonofagun.” It’s the folk process.
That song, by the way, is one of a few on this album that on first listen seem to be upbeat, cheerful tunes, but on second listen are kinda scary. This one is pretty straightforward, actually, a song from a soldier to his family, promising to return after he sets this old world free, putting “them fascists in their place/In their long and narrow grave, babe of mine.” On the other hand, his admonitions seem a little scary in themselves:
Don’t you go and leave a light, babe of mine,
Don’t you go and leave a light, babe of mine,
Don’t you go and leave a light
In your window, babe, tonight,
For the enemy to sight, babe of mine.
Don’t go talkin’ out of turn, babe of mine,
Don’t go talkin’ out of turn, babe of mine,
Don’t go talkin’ out of turn,
Don’t let Mister Hitler learn,
‘Cause I never would return, babe of mine.
I don’t think that Mr. Hawes meant the ominous shadow of the police state to be any nearer than Nazi Germany, but I have to think that Mr. Darriau knew that it would sound a little ... well, the context is different, now. Or is it? Should the CD come with a sticker reading This Machine Kills Islamofascists?
Even more startling is Come When I Call You, which starts with one for the pretty little baby, two for the love of me and you, and three for the warships at sea. And Pass Away declares that “Heaven and earth they'll pass away” but “ Not a word of mine/Will ever pass away”. That’s a little troubling, isn’t it?
Some of the songs are more straightforward. Headdy Down is a lullaby, and a heartbreakingly beautiful one. Not heartbreaking because of anything except the gorgeousness of the singing. Seriously, even if you don’t shell out for the whole thing, this song is worth a buck at your friendly local internet download establishment. Gonna Get Through This World is what I think of as Guthrie-esqe, anthemic and inspirational. Mermaid Avenue is a wonderful celebration of “the isle called Coney”. There’s also Holy Ground, a sort of answer to the way This Land is Your Land has been taken over the years, and Heaven, which is mostly startling in the way it reveals the lost optimism of America—it’s a song I can’t imagine even Mr. Guthrie writing these days.
As for the music, if you haven’t already decided to purchase the thing, you can hear some tracks and clips on-line various places, and you can hear an interview at World Café with a partial band doing lovely version of three of the best songs on the album. Yes, there are some duds on the album, but we may disagree about which ones they are. But albums have duds, that’s why the whole album thing died, right? My advice is to buy this one anyway.
So. Your Humble Blogger has a friend who is at the right moment in life to really enjoy a Mix Tape on the theme “Men are all Jerks”. At least so I judge. I could well be wrong. Also, I don’t think this friend is a Gentle Reader of this blog, but I could be wrong about that, too. So, I ask your assistance, Gentle Reader, in two areas. First, recommendations for the mix, and second, if you are at the right moment in life to really enjoy a Mix Tape on the theme “Men are all Jerks”, let me know.
OK, the criteria. First, I think, is to just accumulate a list of songs, and then we can rank them keep an hours’ worth. Ideally, what we’re looking for are not songs that vilify a particular man (see the Kiss Off mix for some of those), but songs that discuss the generally unsatisfactory nature of the male animal, taken individually or en mass. The quintessential “Men are all Jerks” song is, of course, “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”, by the great Cole Porter: As madam Sappho in some sonnet said, / A slap and a tickle / Is all that the fickle / Male / Ever has in his head. I’m also fond of Uncle Bonsai’s “Boys want Sex in the Morning”: Boys want/Someone who's winsome/Someone to pin some-/-One to undertake/Boys want/Someone to fall on/Someone to crawl on/Someone half awake. I would have to include Johnny Mercer’s “Blues in the Night”:
My momma done told me
When I was in pigtails
My momma done told me, Hon
A man gonna sweet talk
and give you the big eye,
But when the sweet talkin's done
A man is a two face,
A worrisome thing,
Who'll leave you to sing
The blues in the night.
Any more like that, Gentle Readers?
The next category, I think a step down from that, to put on the mix, are songs typifying male jerkosity. The “Hymn to Him” from My Fair Lady (Why can’t a woman/be more like a man) comes to mind, as does “In Praise of Women” from A Little Night Music (Capable, pliable/Women, women.../Understanding and reliable/Knowing their place/Insufferable, yes, but gentle/Their weaknesses are incidental/A functional but ornamental/Race.). Off of Broadway, there’s Louis Jordan’s “Beware, Brother, Beware”: Now listen, if she calls you up on the phone/and says,"Darling, are you all alone?/Tell her, "No, I've got five women with me!" Ideally, Gentle Reader, these would be, you know, jokes, rather than guys talking about manliness in all seriousness. But, hey, whatever you’ve got.
Then there are songs about a particular guy. These can be ok, as long as they’re not too specific. Remember, the point of the mix is not “Your Boyfriend’s a Dick”, but that Men are all Jerks. I might include “Annie doesn’t live here anymore”: That gal was so faithful/She was a pitiful sight/She waited and watched and waited and watched/but you didn’t write. Or Dave’s True Story’s “I’ll Never Read Trollope Again”: I was sitting in a quaint café/With a favorite tome and some cafe au lait/But my luck ran out when you came my way/Now I'll never read Trollope again. Or even a “Frankie and Johnny”, maybe. But these would have to fill up a mix, rather than being the core of the thing.
Ridiculous meme, but it seems to be enjoyable, yoinked from The Burgess Shale:
Whip out your music program, click the random button, and pick out 10 songs. Alter the name by turning it into a convoluted, wordy synonym. For example: Silent Night = Nocturnal Time Completely Lacking Noise. When someone guesses the title correctly, italicize the convoluted one and put the real title and the person who figured it out.
Hazard an inquiry into the identity of the person who has arrived in the metropolitan area: Guess Who’s in Town (recorded by Bobby Short), Kendra/Nao (close enough)
This infant of mine has no emotional attachment to persons other than myself: My Baby Only Cares for Me (recorded by Katherine Whalen), Kendra (who missed the possessive, but got the song right)
Depart with me: Let’s Go (recorded by the Cars), Michael
All terrestrial substances
Atop a brume of CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8�4H2O: On a Turquoise Cloud (recorded by Duke Ellington), Stephen
Half a fortnight: One Week (recorded by Barenaked Ladies), Melissa R
Infused Camellia, T�te à T�te (or, alternately, Don’t bogart that joint, it’s just you and me): Tea for Two (recorded by Duke Ellington), Stephen
Hatchway leading down to a subterranean room: Cellar Door (recorded by Laura Cantrell), Melissa R.
Withdraw a bit: Get Back (recorded by The Beatles), Michael
Impregnable Terpsichore: The Safety Dance, Stephen
As a bonus, because it’s actually quite hard to stop, there’s Mortified Stramineousness, The Sunny Season under Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, and One Has Got.
One nice thing about memes (ooh! that word!) is that when one is feeling blogblocked, one can blog a meme without much creativity, that is, without deciding what to post about, or what to say about it. It’s blog-by-numbers time, providing momentum to YHB and (I hope) at least a trifle of enjoyment to Gentle Readers all.
Jim’s Big Ego
Eddie from Ohio
We begin with a numbered list of ten, er, “singers or musical groups” that YHB likes. For those of you playing along at home (or, you know, on your portable device), this list is to be made entirely independent of the questions. I made it by taking the ten who have the most sides rated four or five, that is, the singers (or musical groups) who have put out the songs I am least likely to get sick of on repeated hearings. This was an interesting if oddly time-consuming task, since iTunes is not a real database. I suspect that the meme would be more interesting should you take your “artists” randomly from some list of listenables; if you need to, you can always throw out some. Now that I look at the questions, there are quite a few that would be more interesting to answer for groups and singers that you like but about whom you are not stone cold crazy about. whom. about.
And now the questions:
What was the first song you ever heard by 6? I believe this was “If I should fall from Grace with Gd”, on MTV, but then the timing doesn’t actually work out for this very well. I would have guessed that I first heard the Pogues in 1986 or possibly very early 1987, which was before that album came out. At any rate, if I remember correctly (and clearly I do not), I saw a video, noted the name and that the band was completely crazy, and then didn’t think about it much again for years and years and years, until finally purchasing “Peace and Love” in or around 1992.
What is your favorite album of 8? This XTC, which in one way makes it a really good question, as their albums tend to have an identity more than as collections of songs. In fact, their heyday covers, pretty much, the heyday of the album; for anyone much earlier or (I’m predicting) much later, the question makes little sense. What’s your favorite Elvis Presley album? Which one has the singles arranged in the best order? Anyway, as much as I absolutely adore Apple Venus Volume 1, I’m going to name Black Sea, which came along at the right time for me to listen to it again and again and again as an album, and which in addition to working very well as an album, has “Respectable Street” and “Generals and Majors” and “Sgt. Rock” and “Rocket from a Bottle” and other songs that work very nicely on the shuffle.
What is your favorite lyric that 5 has sung? Oh, dear, well, an admission, then, that as much as I like the sound of Eddie from Ohio, I think the lyrics tend to be just good, rather than great. Still, it’s tough to pick a favorite. I’ll lay out a verse or two from “Very Fine Funeral”:
Wednesday morning/my Aunt Sarah died
not many had known her/not many had tried
and there at the funeral/we all sat and lied
and said how much we missed her
you wanna know about Sarah/where do I begin
she had this growth/to the left of her chin
let's all be honest she was ugly as sin
no one recalled having kissed her
How many times have you seen 4 live? I saw Jim’s Big Ego open for the Nields, the day or perhaps the day after I heard them on live on Emerson College radio. They were great. Since them I have seen them, let’s see, twice at Johnny D’s, twice at Passim (the Hallowe’en show), once at the Lizard Lounge, I think, and then there was the time we went to the CD release party at TT’s, if that’s where it was, and bought the discs and left before they went on. Strangely enough, and this did in fact come about totally randomly, Jim’s Big Ego is the band I have seen most often, at least not counting street performances. I don’t go out to shows that much.
What's your favorite song of 7? Oh, well, how do you pick a Louis Armstrong song? I mean, hard not to go with “Wild Man Blues”, right? Or the “St. Louis Blues”, just because, well, it’s the “St. Louis Blues” and one of the best songs ever written. If written is the word I mean. On the other hand, his versions of “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” and “Solitude” both are just marvelous. I think, for the purposes of moving on to the next question, I’ll pick “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues”, just because.
What is a good memory you have considering the music of 10? My Best Reader and I saw the Escape from New York tour, with Debbie Harry opening, Jerry Harrison and the Tom Tom Club hitting second, and then the Ramones coming in and kicking ass. The crowd was filled with punk kids who had no idea who these old guys were, and were just waiting around for the Ramones. They were great, just exactly what I’d expected, with the three guys just standing stock still in their spots and slamming out their noise, and Dee Dee occasionally taking a step or two forward and shouting “Marhah arghah hargle margle ONE TWO THREE FOUR!” We’d get to the second chorus before we could figure out which song they were playing. It was brilliant.
Is there a song of 3 that makes you sad?A sad Beatles song? Well, there’s “For No One”, which I listened to again recently for the first time since becoming a parent and found terribly sad. There will be a time, I know, when my Best Reader will be convinced that we are trying to give her only what money can buy, and not, you know, fun. This was the first time I’d listened to it and thought that the parents were totally misrepresented, and that it is inevitable that they will be represented, and that their bewildered hurt at the end is not because they were bad parents, really, but because they were good parents, and that wasn’t enough.
What is your favorite lyric that 2 has sung?Duke Ellington, of course, doesn’t so much sing. But let’s go to my favorite lyric sung by a vocalist with his orchestra, which would be “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. Well, I’m sure at some point he must have played that; it was a big hit, and he played all the big hits. But since I don’t actually have a recording of it, let’s go with the Beale Street Blues:
If Beale Street could talk
If Beale Streak could talk,
Married men would have to take their beds and walk
Except one or two, who never drink booze
And the blind man on the corner says I got my eye on you.
What is your favorite song by 9?By meaning written by? I mean if by means something like associated with or even recorded by then my favorite Ella (today) is “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. If by means written by, then, well, I don’t know that she actually wrote any. Although this may be a good spot to tell the story about how Irving Berlin would complain about jazz singers improvising when they sang his songs, and how they would change his melodies. When asked about Ella’s recording of the Berlin songbook, though, he said, more or less, “It’s different when the singer is a better composer than I am.”
How did you get into 3? How do people my age get into the Beatles? Older siblings, of course. Playing the Red and the Blue collections over and over on an old hi-fi. I mean over and over. Wearing out needles. Do you remember needles?
What was the first song you heard by 1? I have no idea. Seriously, I can’t remember a time before I knew Elvis Costello. I would guess, and this is strictly a guess, that I heard “Allison” first, but then it’s equally likely—more likely, now I think about it—that I heard the album before I heard any tracks on the radio, so it would be the first song on that album, “Welcome to the Working Week”.
What is your favorite song by 4? Well, and I think I’ll go with “Cat Named Boogers”, although I would really really really like to have a copy of “Little Miss Communication”, which I think might be my favorite if I could listen to it enough to know whether I was sick of it. “Boogers”, though, has a great bit where the unrelated verses each wind up contributing a line to the expanding chorus. By the end, the chorus makes no sense at all:
Bomb in the back seat
boogers hanging from you nose
hit the pigeon with the tennis racquet
he gave me a whole ten dollars
bomb in the back seat
veins running underground
on the steps of the art museum
she only gave me two kisses
And yet it makes an odd kind of kaleidoscopic sense anyway.
How many times have you seen 9 live?Oh, never not ever. Not in the prime of Ella, before I was born, not in her later years, when it still would have been a hell of a thing. Missed it. Gone now.
What is a good memory you have concerning 2?A good memory of the Duke? Well ... Jazz History class was where I wound up getting the Duke, and Jazz, and it was kinda revelatory, but I don’t think that’s a specific enough memory. Hm. How about this ... it’s isn’t my memory, really, but my mother saw the Duke at a college dance in, let’s see, it would have been 1957 or so, and at one point when I was home from college, or maybe shortly after, she told me about seeing him, and his enormous hands, and the carpet slippers he was wearing, and it was one of the first times my mother and I had a conversation as two adults.
Is there a song of 8 that makes you sad? Like the Beatles, from the earlier version of this question, sad is not what XTC is best at. They’re, you know, burning with optimism’s flame. I mean, they sing lots of songs on depressing topics, particularly political, but mostly those songs are upbeat sounding and don’t make me sad to listen to. The last time I heard “Dear Gd”, though, I was, briefly, sad about how many people view religion as essentially being about, well, about what the song thinks it’s about, about fooling people into believing things that aren’t true in order to manipulate them.
What is your favorite lyric that 3 has sung?A fave Beatles lyric. Can’t be done, can it? I mean, how do you choose between the magniloquent “Mr. Kite” and the earthshaking “I Saw You Standing There”? I’m afraid I’ll pick the latter. I read an essay once that claimed the moment they changed the line from “a real beauty queen” to “you know what I mean” was when rock and roll really began.
What is your favorite song of 1? Aw, come on. That’s just silly. See, this is why I think it would be more fun to do this with random artists you happen to like rather than with artists that you are completely and inappropriately obsessed with. I couldn’t even do a Top Five Elvis Costello songs. Let me put it this way: I have 463 rock songs rated to let me listen to them at least once a week. Of those, thirty are EC songs. That’s one out of fifteen, right? Here’s another way: I have three hundred and seven Elvis Costello sides. I am not going to pick one of them and call it my favorite. Even if we were to change the criterion and say ‘which song (of 1) would you like to listen to next?’ it would be a difficult choice, and one which I would be happier solving by random chance. Which is how I will choose this one. And the winner is ...Hm. It’s the cover of “Hidden Charms”. Not what I would have picked, but, when you think about it, it’s a hell of a recording.
tohu bohu note written whilst not sleeping, unless I dozed off and dreamed part of it
A recent article in the New York Times (When All the 'Greatest Hits' Are Too Many to Download, by Jeff Leeds) brought to mind the whole music business mess. It seems that, in an utterly unprecedented way, people are now purchasing recordings of single songs, or what I call singles. Clearly there is no way civilization can withstand this.
The article does, however, dance around the true heart of the issue, which is that the music industry and its customers have different and not entirely complementary sets of interests. That is, unlike in the pants business, where customers want to overpay for crappy ugly shoddy grotty merchandise, and producers want to make customers’ lives easy, comfortable, stylish and convenient, there are aspects to the music business that can’t be so easily resolved. The recording industry wants, as a natural part of being the recording industry, to have full and total control over every bit of recorded data in existence, particularly the data on privately owned hard drives, flash drives and neuron networks, and to prevent anyone anywhere from ever listening to any recorded or live music. The customer, on the other hand, simply by virtue of being a music customer, wants to be able to listen to any music he or she wants, at any time, without paying anything, with the ability to alter it in any way, while having sex with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. There is no way to make these two interests compatible. Believe me, I’ve tried. Nick gets all cross and clingy, and then sulks and won’t wear the ears.
How, then, to break the stalemate? Well, why not look at other cases where supposedly antithetical forces were able to mediate their differences by using some Third Way, some perhaps technological solution that allowed everybody to be beaten, robbed, and left in a pool of their own filth while the residents of Samaria walked by, snickering? For instance, in the case of copyright infringement with photocopiers, rather than a futile attempt to restrict what body parts could or could not be legally copied, legislation was enacted to set aside two cents out of every xerographic copy made anywhere in the world to fund a secret race of otter-ninjas, trained to thwart the evil plans of the Rosicrucians. I’m not saying that otter-ninjas are the answer to the problems of the recording industry. I’m not saying that otter-ninjas are not the answer. I’m just saying sometimes you have to think outside the brain pan.
My proposal is a sort of audio-sonic vibratory molecular transmutational device (of my own invention) that will actually block out all audio waves of every kind, thus releasing us from this tedious quarrel over who owns what bits of noise. Sure, the recording industry will still claim control over silent video files, but who makes any money from movies? I mean, be serious. Furthermore, when you are dragged into court by large green-jacketed attornions with bees in their mouths, you will not need to respond to charges that you will be unable to hear.
What’s that, Your Honor? I’m sorry? No, I can’t hear you, you’ll have to speak up. Charges dismissed, you say?
Then, with the triumvirate of Your Humble Blogger, Dr. Science and Giblets at the controls, um, well, it would be a mistake to plan out the details too far in advance, as it would inhibit us from flexibly applying principles to circumstances as they arise. Besides, a triumvirate is clearly the most stable form of government known to man, so there’s no need to worry. It's not rocket psychiatry, you know.
OK, Gentle Readers, here is The Horn Book, as actually burnt to a disc by Your Humble Blogger:
Ring Of Fire
I Can't Turn You Loose
Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding (Disc 2)
I Prefer You
The Chess Box 2
Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, Pt. 1
20 All-Time Greatest Hits
Sam & Dave
Atlantic Records 50 Years: The Gold Anniversary Collection (Disc 1)
Cherry Poppin' Daddies
25 Or 6 To 4
Greatest Hits Vol 1
Got To Get You Into My Life
You Can Call Me Al
Jackie Wilson Said
Best Of Van Morrison
Would I Lie To You
Be Yourself Tonight
House of Fun
Eddie From Ohio
Three Rooms (Disc 2)
The Special A.K.A.
Too Much Two Tone - Ska Classics
Up for the Down Stroke
Greatest Hits (The Bomb)
Hell Of A Hat
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Question The Answers
Dead Man's Party
Dead Man's Party
It's Margaret Cho
Sing Along With Skankin' Pickle
Squirrel Nut Zippers
A few comments: Of course, this list reflects more than anything my own taste, and even then there were a lot of songs I like that I finally left out (and I still overshot the 60 minutes I was aiming for). So songs that would fit into the category nicely and would be all informative’n’stuff about the history of the horn line in rock were left out if I thought they would make me enjoy the disc less. The primary ones in this category were NWA’s “Express Yourself”, built around a sampled horn line, and interesting if not, to my ears, enjoyable and Gladys Knight and the Pips “Midnight Train to Georgia”, which was illustrative of how horns mixed with strings in early disco. Honestly, would it have been worth it to put Dexys Midnight Runners on the disc? I think not. There were also a lot of songs that I like a lot that didn’t quite make it onto the list: The English Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret”, Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”, either version of “Tears of a Clown”, the Pogues “Blue Heaven”, Elvis Costello’s “Only Flame in Town” or “Chewing Gum” and Dire Straits “Two Young Lovers” among others I can’t recall at the moment. Oh, and I couldn’t find the Elvis Costello live with the TKO horns cover of “Stand Down Margaret”, which would have really been lovely. I also left off Laurie Anderson’s “Baby Doll”, which isn’t really rock music, at least, not within the meaning of the act.
A few more comments: Clearly, the list did wind up being overloaded with 60s R&B/70s Soul and their immediate influences, and 80s Ska and their immediate influences. I pretty much left off the New Jump bands of the 90s; their only representative is the Cherry Popping Daddies, with “Soul Cadillac”, which is more clearly rock than jazz. Taking off the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s “Rock this Town” was tough, though. For Skankin’ Pickle I chose their theme to Margaret Cho’s sitcom, although I am likely the only person in the whole wide world with fond memories of that show. If I were making the disc for someone else, I might replace that with their cover of “Turning Japanese”, which really shows how much better a song can be with a horn line. Similarly, if I were making this disc for somebody born after 1980, I would hesitate about “Nelson Mandela”, which has for me a powerful and visceral memorial function that, you know, you had to be there.
Yet more comments: For some reason, I totally forgot about Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”, which has very nice horn line, but hey, I’m not going back. At least, not unless there’s some other reason to. I did choose to leave off Jim’s Big Ego doing the version of “Stress” with the talking trombone, but I had meant to listen to it again. It turns out that I don’t own Elvis Costello’s Punch the Clock album, and it isn’t on either of my download stores, so I couldn’t put on “TKO (Boxing Day)” or “Let Them All Talk”, and I can’t remember them well enough to know if it’s a travesty to leave them off.
OK, last comments, and then I’m posting this: I did not do the work to tell you which tracks have Wayne Jackson, and which trombone player studied with which other trombone player. That would be interesting, but sadly, I’m too lazy to do the work on it. Sorry about that.
Gentle Readers, Your Humble Blogger needs your help. I’m making a mix, and I know I’m missing some songs, and I can’t come up with what’s missing.
It began, as my mixes often do, when the Shuffle played two songs in a row that had a thing in common, and I noticed the thing, and then thought what other songs shared that aspect. In this case, the two songs were “Ring of Fire” and “Soul Man”, and what they both had was a great horn line. In fact, the horn line really makes the song. Well, no, they are both great songs anyway, but they are both really great horn lines. They are so great that when you hear the horn line from “Ring of Fire” (dee de-dee de-dee dee dah dee), it not only immediately tells you what song it is, but it acts like, oh, like seeing an old friend in the airport. It makes you feel good, even before you get to the rest of the song.
So I started thinking about making a mix of great horn lines. I picked “You Can Call Me Al”, which may not be a great song but has a magnificent horn line, over the version of “Late in the Evening” with horns, which is great, too. I picked the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Hell of a Hat” and Madness’s “House of Fun”. From the many Otis Redding options, I picked “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, which isn’t the best song, but has the best horn line. I would put on Aretha singing “Respect”, but they really replace the horn line with the backup singers, so all you have left is the beginning. The horns are OK (barroom ... bedup), but they aren’t great. In fact, on her great songs, they really do use the backup singers in the place of the traditional horn line—which works just fine, unless you are making a mix tape of great horn lines. I’m not just looking for a mix of great songs that have a horn section somewhere in the mix; “You Can’t Hurry Love” is a great song, and it has a horn line, but it isn’t a great horn line.
I’m not sure how to define a horn line. Strictly speaking, it should require three horns, often a sax, a trumpet and a trombone, or an alto sax, a tenor sax and a trumpet. It is just barely possible to include a flute in the horn line without ruining the song, as proved in “Moondance”, but, you know, don’t try this at home. Or in the studio, either. A horn line isn’t a saxophone solo; there are great rock sides with great sax solos, but that’s not a horn line. I am willing, just, to include “Two Young Lovers” in the mix, even though it’s only one saxophonist playing the line, but it really shouldn’t make the cut. Or does the studio version from the EP have a real horn line? Does anybody have that? Anyway, the horn line is a repeated phrase, usually repeated antiphonally with the vocalist or a guitar. It’s not the melody of the song, or a bridge (usually). It’s a horn line.
Now, I could make a mix of just great soul music (I’m only just now getting into the Stax catalogue, thanks to my nearly-local library), but that’s not what I’m after. I’m not even after half an hour of soul and half an hour of ska. I’d like, ideally, to include a bunch of different stuff all within the greater rock genre. Of course, all of it would be influenced by soul, but that’s fine; I want to see how that plays out in different ways. I mean, the Eurythmics are clearly influenced by soul, but they are not a soul group. I think I would put “Would I Lie to You” on the list; the one-note ‘bah-ta-dah-ta-dah-ta-da-daddah’ line isn’t great, but it’s pretty good.
So my point is that I know there are tons of songs with great horn lines, and I know I’m just forgetting a bunch of them. Can you help me, Gentle Readers? When did your favorite pop stars join up with a horn section, and how did it turn out?
So. It seems to Your Humble Blogger that there are four categories of Christmas music.
First, there’s the category I’ll call Lessons and Carols. Sacred music, Church music. I tend to call this stuff “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for some reason, mostly because I like saying it, I suppose, although there isn’t anything particularly Christmassy about it. But that’s the general gist of the thing. Songs about the birth and divinity of Jesus, and about his transformative power. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, . The winner in this category is “Silent Night”, with the good “Gloria in excelsis deo” tune running a close second. Worst is, of course, “The Little Drummer Boy”.
Second category: Genuine Old-Fashioned Pre-War British and American secular hymns. These are songs that are about the experience of celebrating Christmas, but make no reference to Jesus or churchin’. Wassail songs, of course, and “I’ll be Home for Christmas (if only in my dreams)”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” sort of thing. The best is ... well, I’ll pick “The Christmas Song”, the one that starts ‘Chestnuts roasting...’ over the obvious “White Christmas”. The worst is “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”, although of course “Feliz Navidad” has a pretty good claim.
Third are solstice songs. Well, winter songs that have nothing specifically to do with either Jesus or the Red Suit. “Frosty the Snowman”, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”, “Let it Snow”. The best of these is probably “Jingle Bells”, although I do like “Winter Wonderland”.
Last there are new songs, which I give no examples of and want none. I know there are some, I hear them in stores, and I ignore them there and will ignore them here, other than acknowledging their existence. Some are probably explicitly religious; I wouldn’t know. Well, and without actually suggesting that I have done any adjudicating, I’ll declare that “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is the best of these. The worst? Look, if there are any worse than “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, I for one do not care to know about it.
The point to all this is that I hear a good deal of each of these sorts of songs in malls and such. I might expect that stores which choose to downplay the, ahem, reason for the season, would also choose to avoid music in the first category, or at least avoid those with lyrics in the English language. Not so. Let me point out that I have no objection to these religious songs being played in private establishments, nor even semi-public establishments such as malls and sidewalks outside stores. I’m just observing.
The question for Gentle Readers is this: Do you observe the same thing? I wonder whether there are regional differences, whether the Barnes & Noble down the block from Zabar’s avoids mention of the Birth of the Babe, while the Books-a-Billion in Tulsa plays sacred music all month. I think, based on a year in Virginia, that there are differences, but the thing I noticed was a greater proportion of that dreaded fourth category in the Old Dominion, rather than a greater proportion of the first. And while I’m at it, what are your favorites in the categories? Have I missed a worst?
Well, and time for some frivolity here in this Tohu Bohu. Your Humble Blogger noticed that the number of “artists” listed in his computerized music player topped 750 on the same week that he alphabetized the old CD collection, which led to the following picks. The difference is that when I was working with CDs (or cassette tapes), I generally had an album (or several) by a performer. Oh, I may have had a few Various Artists compilations, but not many, and you couldn’t do those alphabetically, anyway. Now my collection includes a lot of “artists” whose entire ouvre is represented on my hard drive by one song, and who show up in the list along with everyone else. I’m not getting into a rant (at the moment) about how briefly the album ruled, and how we’re getting back to the side as the economic and artistic unit. No, I’m just complementing my alphabetical leaders with a garnish of one-hit wonders, compilation cullings, and other solitaires.
A: Louis Armstrong (168 sides), and no real competition. Well, I’m fond of Laurie Anderson (33 sides), but come on. I do have one song from A Flock of Seagulls (no points for guessing which one).
B: The Beatles (90 sides). An easy choice, even if I’m not such a big Beatles fan as I might be. I’m tempted to go all contrary and pick the B-52s (29 sides), but really the only competition here is a sentimental favorite, the Baltimore Consort (97 sides). Lots of good Bs, though. The Band (12 sides), the Barenaked Ladies (55 sides), the Bare Necessities (22 sides), the Beach Boys (20 sides), Beausoleil (28 sides), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (44 sides), the Bobs (44 sides), the Brian Setzer Orchestra (39 sides), David Byrne (77 sides). Let’s see, for my odd single, I’ll go with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, from whom I have the “Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle”.
C: Bing Crosby (59 sides). No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Elvis Costello (306 sides). And for my one, I must go with Chic and once again, no points for guessing which one.
D: Tough competition from Dave’s True Story (37 sides), Dire Straights (62 sides), Bob Dylan (59 sides), Devo (51 sides) and Dr. John (27 sides) who I will stick in with the Ds notwithstanding, and most of all from the amazing Bo Diddley (19 scorching sides) but it’s the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (81 sides). I think I’ll have to go with the Dead Milkmen for the single, since I only have “Punk Rock Girl”.
E: Duke Ellington (240 sides) is the clear winner, although a very respectable second place is Eddie from Ohio (109 sides). I should give props to the Eurythmics (38 sides), and to Ensemble Unicorn (31 sides), who are insanely great. Somehow, I only have one English Beat song, “Save it for Later”, so that’s my single.
F: Ella Fitzgerald (83 sides). No competition. No, Aretha (14 sides), no. No real competition for one-off, either, as I happen to have Falco’s contribution to musical history on the hard drive. Rock me!
G: Benny Goodman (170 sides). Fond as I am of the Go-Go’s (11 sides), they can’t really compete, can they? My single, I think, is the Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band with “E Nihi Ka Hele”. No, I just wanted to type that out. My single is George Guetary singing “Stairway to Paradise”. I’ll build a zhtairway to paghrrahhdeyyyyyyyyyyyse...
H: I think this is where Your Humble Blogger gets contrary and picks Hesperion XX (and XXI), even though there are only 22 sides on the hard drive (their stuff doesn’t show up used a hell of a lot). Sorry about that Billie Holliday (95 sides). Sorry, Jools Holland (13 sides). My all-alone, believe it or not, Gentle Readers, is John Wesley Harding, whose “When the Beatles Hit America” is all alone.
I: This was always a weak letter for Your Humble Blogger. I’ll go ahead and fill it with Imperial Teen (11 sides), even though I’m not a big fan. The single will be ... um ... the Ink Spots’ “We Three”. Just to avoid the obvious Billy Idol one.
J: Jim’s Big Ego (85 sides). No, wait, I’ll change to Joe Jackson (62 sides), who I’ve liked for longer. J is tough, you know. I think Etta James (92 sides) has a legit complaint, as does Louis Jordan (36 sides). For my only, I think I’ll pick Jimmy Johnson with the “Harlem Woogie”.
K: A surprisingly difficult choice. For years, my K was the Kinks (19 sides), but that was before Mark Knopfler (39 sides) had a solo career, and before I got into early music and the King’s Noyse (20 sides) or into Klezmer and my choice here, the Klezmatics (93 sides). Now, for a one-shot, I have another difficult choice. Katrina and the Waves, or the Knack? I’ll pick the Knack, but it’s a tough call.
L: Los Lobos (36 sides), easy. And for my single, it must be Lust Pollution’s rather terrible, magnificent, disgusting “Kubla Khan”.
M: The Bosstones are both Mighty and Mighty (53 sides), the Mills Brothers (24 sides) swing sweetly, but it would be Madness (28 sides) to pick anyone other than the Jelly Roll (38 sides). There can be no choice whatsoever about the single, in which M talk about (talk about) “Pop Muzik”.
N: The Nields (46 sides), if only on the basis of a wonderful concert. Well, several wonderful concerts, but one in particular. Ray Noble “The Very Thought of You” or Stevie Nicks “Stop Draggin’ my Heart Around”? Ms. Nicks.
O: Operation Ivy (27 sides) over Paul O’Dette (70 sides) and Roy Orbison (20 sides). Gotta get some punk in here, child of the 80s. Single is Sinead O’Connor singing “Someday My Prince Will Come”. Yes, the Disney.
P: Piffaro (36 sides), the Renaissance Band. Yes, over The Pogues (68 sides). Oh, yes, there’s that Presley fellow (24 sides), but I’m honestly not crazy enough about him to award him the letter. And no question about the single, which is the Polecats “Make a Circuit with Me”. Brilliant, and after all these years, one my hard drive!
Q: Queen (17 sides), mostly by default, although I do like them. No single, I think. Although it’s possible I missed someone, since the stupid underlying database doesn’t separate first and last names of individuals (or distinguish individuals from groups), so Fatha’ Hines is under E (for Earl), not under H. I mean, I could go and change them all to the form Telemann, Georg Philipp but I’m not going to. Of course, none of that changes the old alphabet problem of whether Queen Latifah is a Q or an L.
R: It’s the obvious here, R.E.M. (60 sides). It’s not obvious that they edge the Rolling Stones (51 sides)? Oh, well, they do. Actually, their competition is from Django Reinhardt (40 sides), but they win that, too. My single is the Romantics, and perhaps you can get a point for guessing which one.
S: Wow, this is not easy. Paul Simon (53 sides) combines with Simon & Garfunkel (31 sides) to top out the frequency, so I’ll give him the letter. Bessie Smith (37 sides) is tough to pass over. For my single, Kate Smith, and no points for guessing this one.
T: Talking Heads (75 sides), if only because They Might Be Giants (139 sides) inflates their quantity with the Fingertips. Mel Torme (75 sides) suffers from the low quality of some of the crappy stuff, although his peak is amazing. My single is home-town fellahs The Tubes, and no points for guessing, and if you don’t remember, well, don’t try too hard.
U: U2 (21 sides). Single is Michael Urbaniak’s “Butterfly”, although I haven’t listened to it in more than a year. I think that’s all the Us I have.
V: Violent Femmes (37 sides). Single is Van Halen’s “Ice Cream Man”. Just as a matter of curiosity, is Los Van Van a V?
W: The Who (47 sides), no surprise here. Much as I love Cootie Williams (19 sides as front man), if I give him credit for his stuff with Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, I’m opening up way too much work, and if I don’t, he can’t win the letter. Dinah Washington (48 sides) edges the Who on quantity, but not on quality. For my single, I’ll pick Larry Wallis and “Police Car” from Live Stiffs Live.
X: No points for guessing, unless you also guess how many sides are on the hard drive. No single, either.
Y: The Yardbirds (14 sides). I know there are a fair number of Ys, but I never got into any of them. When I was sorting the CDs, I was tempted to file this one under C, anyway. Since I never bothered getting any of his other stuff for the hard drive, Weird “Al” Yankovic’s “Lasagna” makes an appearance.
Z: Buckwheat Zydeco (10 sides). Somehow, most of my Zap Mama never got onto the hard drive, so I can list their “Iko-Iko” as a single, but that would be cheating. The only Frank Zappa I own is “Tengo Na Minchia Tanta”, but then the only Dweezil Zappa I own is “Electric Hoedown”.
That took a lot longer than I meant it to. Ah, well, I had fun.
Your Humble Blogger’s Perfect Non-Reader has finally developed a taste for Trout Fishing in America, the children’s music band for people who take fun seriously. That’s just a gratuitous endorsement, as YHB could talk about threw it out the window without mentioning TfiA, but it’s an opportunity, and I’ll take it.
The song itself is an old scout song, or campfire song, or what have you, and consists simply of taking a nursery rhyme and finding an appropriate place to swerve from the usual text to throwing something out the window, the window, the second story window. F’r’ex:
Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone
When she got there, the cupboard was bare
So she threw it out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
When she got there, the cupboard was bare
So she threw it out the window
Simple, eh? Here’s another:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Threw him out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Threw him out the window
Or how about
I see the moon
And the moon sees me
Gd bless the moon
And throw it out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
Gd bless the moon
And throw it out the window
The odd thing is how well it works
Ladybug Ladybug fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children may burn
All except one, whose name is Ann
They threw her out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
All except one, whose name is Ann
They threw her out the window
Of course, nursery rhymes are pretty brutal, which may account for it.
Ding dong dell, Pussy’s in the well
Who put her in? Little Johnny Flynn
Who pulled her out? Little Tommy Stout
What a naughty boy was that
He threw her out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
What a naughty boy was that
He threw her out the window
The thing is, that once you start, it’s hard to stop
Leave ’em alone, and they’ll come home
And throw you out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
Leave ’em alone, and they’ll come home
And throw you out the window
It works with some that are now fairly obscure
Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea
Silver buckles at his knee
He’ll come home and marry me
And throw me out the window
The window, the window, the second story window
He’ll come home and marry me
And throw me out the window
And if you want to get all the way through the four verses of “I saw a ship a-sailing” they can throw the captain out the window, the window, the second story window, when the ship began to move, they threw him out the window. Some gave them plum cake and threw them out the window. To market, to market to buy a fat hog, and throw it out the window. Sukey take it off again, we’ve thrown them out the window. I chanced to meet an old man and threw him out the window. When they were only halfway up, he threw them out the window. Kits, cats, sacks and wives, let’s throw them out the window. This little piggy cried wee, wee, wee and jumped right out the window. One for the little boy, who threw it out the window. You used to come at ten o’clock and throw me out the window. She lies in bed ’til eight or nine—let’s throw her out the window. Here comes a Chopper to throw you out the window. I took him by the left leg and threw him out the window. OK, that last one is kind of cheating.
It’s also cheating, I think, to let Jack’s crown be headgear, and thus able to be thrown out the window. On the other hand, if you have patience, Old Dame Dob can throw him out the window. Actually, I think it’s harder to come up with nursery rhymes that can’t be thrown out the window.
OK, fine. So it’s a fun game. But ... how come nursery rhymes and not, say, pop tunes? Let’s keep it pre-Dylan, as it’s understandable that the current-day modern songwriters will not fall naturally into the ABAB sort of thing that suits the game. But what about the thirties? Let’s see ...
She hung around with a bloke named Smokey
She loved him, tho’ he was cokey
He took her down to Chinatown
And threw her out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
He took her down to Chinatown
And threw her out the window
Gee, it's great after being out late
Walking my baby back home!
Arm in arm, over meadow and farm,
I throw her out zhe window
Zhe window, zhe window, zhe second-story window
Arm in arm, over meadow and farm,
I throw her out zhe window
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
And throw it out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
Latch on to the affirmative
And throw it out the window
Button up your overcoat
When the wind is free
Take good care of yourself
Or I’ll throw you out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
Take good care of yourself
Or I’ll throw you out the window
No, no, no.
Summertime, and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich, and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush, little baby
Or I’ll throw you out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
Hush, little baby
Or I’ll throw you out the window
it's gonna be just dandy
the day I take my Candy
And throw her out the window...
Well, I should probably add that when Keith and Ezra sing the thing, they tend to finish with ...
There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
And when she gets there she knows if the stores are all closed
They’ll throw her out the window!
Mr. Thompson finds this a confirmation of his idea that iPods are essentially presentational, that is, that people don’t need iPods for their function, but for what having an iPod says about you. I don’t necessarily agree, but it is clearly true that a lot of people—probably most people—are willing to pay extra for more memory and then leave that memory empty. Apple takes advantage of that. I don’t know that the extra memory necessarily has to do with showing the white earbuds, or hanging the Shuffle around your neck outside your overclothes whilst jogging. But there it is. I would point out that iPods, according to the survey, tend to have more music on them than their competitors do, but only to an average of 500 songs or so. The numbers that SRG made available on the web are pretty minimal, and don’t tell me anything about outliers at all. That is, of the people who want to put 2,000 songs on their portable digital music players, how many have iPods? Of the people who put less than 50 songs, how many chose some cheaper, smaller alternative? Are there more iPods with more than 5,000 songs than there are with 1,000 to 4,999? That is, are most people small-numbers, with another large group of big-numbers, but very few in-betweens? I have no idea.
Anyway, I don’t own a portable digital music player, myself. I made the switch from CDs to the hard drive a few years ago, and I really like it. My current library is 8,800 songs. My usual listening is a shuffle that draws from 5,772 songs (at the moment) out of 7,268 that I’ve called Rock, Jazz or Klezmer, but various restrictions trim that list down to a trifle over 1,000 (but that changes frequently, depending mostly on how much I’ve been listening lately). I suspect that if I had an iPod or its near equivalent, I would just port those thousand tunes, but I might well decide to move the whole 5,772, if it didn’t interfere with the thing working properly.
But then, I can’t quite figure out why I want an iPod (or something like it). I spend most of my time either at a computer, in which case an iPod is clearly second-best, or with friends or family or acquaintances, in which case I wouldn’t have the earphones in anyway. The times I use my portable CD player are when I am going for a Walk for Exercise, which doesn’t happen as much as it might, and which takes about an hour anyway. I don’t come up against the limitations of the CD player, except I suppose if I bump it around too much. If I want to, I can make myself a mix CD, very nearly as easily as I can make myself a playlist, or I can listen to one of the hundreds of discs I have in the rack.
There is the car. If I had to drive a lot (and thank the Lord and my Best Reader that I haven’t had to drive a lot), I could imagine the benefit of having an iPod-like-device in my dashboard. I understand that there are devices which allow you to play the iPod through the car, and I suppose I could just leave it hooked up like that, but it seems gimmicky. I’d rather just have a little USB connecting device for my external hard drive or my laptop or some such. Anyway, something like that would work just fine. But, as I said, I don’t need it at present, and with any luck, by the time I do need it, they will have invented something better.
I listen to music a lot. I mean, a lot. I hate silence; silence makes me tetchy. So I almost always have music on in the house. If I’m in the house a lot (and I am these days), I have music playing all day, and I like that. But as far as the portable digital music player goes, the question isn’t when I listen to music, or how many songs I listen to, but where I listen to music, and who I’m with when I listen. What I imagine a portable would be really good for would be gardening, if one liked to garden. Or a longish commute on public transportation, although I did that once upon a time, and didn’t really like to have the earphones in.
Just to ramble for a moment longer, my current playlist is a party shuffle out of (1) those songs I have rated 3, haven’t listened to in the last four weeks, and haven’t listened to more than a total of n times (through the player), where is currently equal to 2; (III) those songs I have rated 4 and haven’t listened to in the last week; and (3) those songs I have rated 5, haven’t listened to in the last day, and haven’t listened to more than n times, where n is currently 8. The reason for the variable n is that it assures me that I will listen to pretty much all my 3s eventually and won’t go more than a month or so without hearing each and every one of my ninety-six 5s. Of course, getting a portable device would screw this up, unless I bothered to calibrate the last-played and playcounts every day or two (which I assume one can do).
My Perfect Non-Reader is listening to a Long Playing record, which plays for more or less twenty minutes before YHB has to go and flip the disc. I don't remember eight-tracks very well, but of course cassettes played for 45 minutes on a side, doubling the time between having to flip. Then CDs made it an hour or even an hour and a quarter before changing discs, and now digital music players can play for—what—four or five hours? And when I'm home in front of the computer, I can put on a playlist and have it play for twelve hours, or for twelve weeks without human intervention.
But that's not what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about the actual album to which my Perfect Non-Reader is listening. Any guesses? It's the 1983 reissue, although we also have in the stack the original 1972 release, complete with lyrics booklet. And what I was going to say is that I had totally forgotten it, but it turns out that this is the album (and it was totally, completely, utterly influential on my character, for good or ill) that impressed on my the voice of Edward Everett Horton. Well, and I suspect it was at more or less the same time that I heard Mr. Everett Horton as the voice of Fractured Fairy Tales. I wonder when I first got a look at him. Anyway, as a grown-up I associate him with, you know, the sexually ambiguous best friend of the protagonist. OK, not very ambiguous. But the point is, I don't think of him as the older voice, a bit forbidding but gentle, with a hint of malice, and some unidentifiable but very clear sense of wit and intelligence that was really strong in my formative years.
chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek, -Vardibidian.
Top Five Musical Heroes
Before I begin: Your Humble Blogger will quote from a Tohu Bohu note:
Your Humble Blogger uses the term ‘hero’ for a bunch of people who are really really good at what they do, who in some way do what I would do if I wanted to be in their field and had hella talent and dedication. It’s not a great use of the word ‘hero’, since many of these people have performed no acts of heroism. They’re not exactly role models, either. Some of ’em are assholes, and many of them are doing things I wouldn’t ever want to do. But they’re my people, and the emergence of, say, a new column by Jon Carroll or Molly Ivins, or a new Elvis Costello or Klezmatics album or a new Terry Gilliam movie is an Event for me.
Benny Goodman gets a boost, actually, because I think of him as admirable, particularly in integrating his band in the late thirties, when doing so was a risk, just because Teddy Wilson was so damned good. Just left off were, um ... David Byrne, I suppose. Mark Knopfler. Cole Porter. XTC. Shane McGowan and the Pogues. Billie Holliday. Mel Torme. But now I’m well past the hero stage, and into the like-a-lot stage.
That’s the last of them, and it was a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll do a wrap-up, but I’m three book reports behind, now, and there’s always the possibility I will rouse myself to comment on the world outside of the arts as well.
Top Five Albums You Must Hear From Start to Finish
Before I begin: I assume that this is specifically those albums which work best as albums. Those albums which derive power from their construction, and work best if you listen to the whole thing. The stuff left off the shuffle, but which I like anyway. Which means, mostly, cast recordings.
Evita. By the time we get to “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”, it’s actually moving. Really. No, not when Madonna sings it, obviously.
The Rocky Horror Show. Not the Picture Show, which is fine, and all, but the original NY stage recording, which hits the musical parodies perfectly. It’s easy to forget, with all the ridiculousness around it, that the show itself is really very clever and funny, and the cleverest and funniest thing about it is the way it lampoons song styles.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In particular, I have to hear this from start to finish, because if I listen to the one-disc ‘highlights’ version, I get all cross.
Quadrophenia. Oh, I actually have this on shuffle, along with everything else, but it is so much better to listen to the whole story. In fact, I used to get annoyed at having to switch CDs, back in the days when actual physical CDs were required to listen.
Little Shop of Horrors: This is mostly a start-to-finish album for me because if I only listen to one or two songs, I’ll have strains of all the others stuck in my head all the next day.
Your Humble Blogger is, as you surmise, not a big fan of concept albums. That is, I have nothing against the idea of the concept album, which I like a lot, but there aren’t very many actual concept albums I like a lot. I’ve been shuffling my music for three years, more or less, and in that time, I haven’t felt the need to listen to very many albums from start to finish.
Top Five Artists To Whom More People Should Listen To
Top Five Artists You Think More People Should Listen To
Before I begin: I used to collar people and demand that they listen to some particular track. It wasn’t generally successful. I did manage to ‘give’ a musician to a particular friend once or twice, but on the whole, people weren’t impressed by what I was spinning, and honestly I can’t imagine that I would have enjoyed the tracks while under the gun like that. Since that time, I’ve grown to understand that people are different, one to another, and that different people like different things, and that’s what makes the world interesting and fun. I have no way of knowing whether people will like a particular band, and I certainly don’t want people to have to listen to stuff they don’t like. That’s what radio’s for.
So, what criteria are left for me? First of all, there are artists who I think might not continue recording unless more people start listening to them. Then, I suppose, there are the artists whose work I would like to have in the referrosphere, just so my references to them would actually communicate something other than my own pretentiousness. That said, here are my Top Five.
The Klezmatics: I happen to like the lineup of this group, and would like to see the members rewarded for their stuff together, rather than for their other projects.
Jim’s Big Ego: I doubt he’d actually give up, and in these internetty days I don’t actually have to go to the CD release party to get any new stuff he puts out, but it would be nice to see him make a little money doing what he does.
Gilbert & Sullivan: Actually, now that my filking days are done, I would be happy if people just committed the libretti to memory. Being witty isn’t much fun if nobody knows I’m being witty.
Ben Thomas: By ‘more people’ here, I actually mean Your Humble Blogger. I special-ordered my old college buddy’s first album at Tower Records, and five years later they closed the store. Without coming up with the disc. I’ve been too lazy to get the thing since. He’s the only person I know in the music business, and I would like to see him become rich and famous, so he could lend me money. Hey, wait, he owes me money!
Woody Guthrie: It probably wouldn’t work, but it’s possible that if more people listened to Woody Guthrie, the current administration and its cronies would be tossed out on their collective ear, come the election. And, I suppose, it would annoy the right to listen, so there’s that petty benefit as well.
Sadly, I don’t think that any family members or close friends are in a band, so there’s no cash incentive in it for me. This is a tragic oversight.
Before I begin: I am not counting experiences I actually participated in, which for Your Humble Blogger would date back to high school. Well, or singing to my Perfect Non-Reader. That sort of thing. Not what the question is about, as I understand it.
It will become obvious that I don’t go out to see music very often. Well, I don’t go out at all very often these parental days, but even before the little alibi, I was too (1) lazy and (b) cheap to go to concerts very often. Actually, a fairly high percentage of my experience listening to live music has been in and around the Harvard Square T station, and a fairly high percentage of that has been lousy. Banjo Bob Sundstrom was always a treat, of course, and I may be the only person in the whole world who still listens to that Katie & Arina demo cd. Oh, and I saw John Kiehne in front of the CVS, and recognized him. How cool am I?
...anyway, I doubt this Top Five will be chock full of gosh-I-wish-I-had-been-there moments.
The Klezmatics, at the Somerville Theater. I think it was the Somerville that was the great concert, and the Newton JCC that was the pretty good concert. Anyway, they were amazing, and when they played Shnirele Perele, I was afraid they really would bring the Messiah.
Escape from New York tour, the Tower (Philadelphia). Debbie Harry opened, and people treated her like an opening act, walking around, chatting. The Heads (Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison) came next, and were better than I had expected, playing mostly non-TH stuff. The headline act was the Ramones, and they were ... the Ramones.
David Byrne, the Tower (Philadelphia). This was the Rei Momo tour, and he didn’t play much TH stuff, either. Still, damn it was funky.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Great American Music Hall (San Francisco). I’m pretty sure that this was the first show of the too-old-to-dance-all-concert days. I was exhausted by halfway through. It was the Jelly’s Jazz tour, and they kicked ass.
Dave Frishberg, some church basement on Noe in San Francisco. Just him at the piano. It was hella funny, and afterwards I just went up and said hi.
On a different day, I might have mentioned the final exam of the Berklee College of Music Big Band (seeing an undergraduate conduct with his ass while playing the tuba is not easily forgotten), either the Philip Glass solo piano concert (in a high school cafeteria) or the Philip Glass Ensemble live Koyaanisqatsi show (very loud indeed), Jim’s Big Ego opening for The Nields at the Somerville, Zap Mama at the Somerville, Arturo Sandoval in Copley Square when the power went out, Sweet Honey in the Rock at the college theater, or the time Richard Bob wore my hat.
Top Five Lyrics that Move Your Humble Blogger's Heart
Top Five Lyrics that Move Your Heart
Before I begin: This one was difficult even to decide what the criteria are. The big problem is that (as with all Top Fives in whatever fields) so much of my attachment to a piece has to do with the initial circumstances in which I heard it, and with how much I later heard it, and when, and with whom. It’s not easy to tell whether it’s the lyric moving me, or my own memories, particularly as the way a good lyric moves me is to evoke my own memories.
But here: an example. “My Funny Valentine” is a terrific song and a terrific lyric. I love the song, and find it moving, and so does my Best Reader. Because of that, we chose it as “our song”; in the course of preparing a musical soundtrack to our wedding reception YHB sought the best possible version, gathering ten or more versions before settling on Frank Sinatra’s Paris recording with the Septet. Of course, all that listening in that context heightened the association of the song with my Best Reader and our wedding, not to mention our marriage. In the event, although I’m sure the song was played, I have no recollection of it, or indeed of much of the events of that day. Still, every time I hear the song or even come across the lyrics, I am moved to the point of goofiness. Which is nice and all, but in considering the Top Five, I wound up deciding that what was moving me was not the lyric, but the marriage that we deliberately chose to associate with it. So I left it off. Maybe that’s wrong, but that’s my decision. At least today.
I also, after much struggle, ruled out liturgical songs. My heart is much moved when we sing v’zot ha-torah (that is the torah) or col hanshamah t’hallel’yah, hall’lu yah (let all creatures that have breath sing praise to the Lord), but I think that’s all beyond the scope of the question. On the other hand, what I’ve done is to leave out precisely those lyrics that move me the most: those that I have invested the most in, and those that have had the most invested in them by my community. Perhaps this is pointing out the silliness of trying to separate the lyric from those that listen to it, when our criterion is emotional anyway. Still, I tried. The following are lyrics that I find incredibly moving, trying as best I can to judge that it is the lyric that moves me, and not my own investment in it (or the melody or whatnot).
Every Time We Say Goodbye, Cole Porter: “There’s no love song finer/but how strange/the change/from major to minor/every time we say goodbye” This is simply one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking songs YHB has ever heard. The combination of resignation and hope. The pretense at near-indifference, as ‘a little’ is tacked on to the end of the real feeling. I’m inclined to the Ella Fitzgerald version, myself, but really, it’s a terrific song no matter who sings it.
I Want You, Elvis Costello: “It’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing/It’s the thought of him undressing you, or you undressing” I know Mr. McManus is Mr. Revenge-and-Guilt, but he really outdoes himself on this descent into jealousy and obsession. The scary thing, the thing that really moves me, is the way he makes it almost attractive, almost as if what he’s describing is true love, and if you aren’t making mad threats, you aren’t really in love. It’s not played for that effect, though; that’s just the background to the sympathetic and scary portrait.
I’ll Be Seeing You, Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain: “In that small café, the park across the way/The children's carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well”
I can’t really defend this one. It’s mawkish and sentimental, and all that stuff. Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.
Ver Es Hot, Abraham Reisen and Chava Alberstein: Ver es hot a templ, Ver es hot a klayzl/Ver s'bazukht a shenkl, Ver a freylekh hayzl/Epes muz men hobn, Eynem muz men gloybn/Tsi a tayvl untn, Tsi a got dort oybn. In English, more or less: “One man goes to shul, one to a library, one to a bar, one to a brothel. You’ve got to pick one, you’ve got to believe something. There’s a devil under there, there’s the Lord up there”
Yes, Your Humble Blogger is aware of how unutterably pretentious it is to include a lyric in another language. Particularly as I don’t speak it myself. Still, I know enough German and enough Hebrew to catch a sense of the original, I think. And it’s wonderful, isn’t it? The second verse says, more or less, ‘otherwise, you will walk the earth like Cain, and people will cross the street to get out of your way, and the whole world will be a cemetery.’ But it’s so much better in Yiddish.
Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim: “And when the woman that you wanted goes/You say to yourself, "Well, I give what I give."/But the woman who won't wait for you knows/That however you live/There's a part of you always standing by/Mapping out the sky/Finishing a hat/Starting on a hat/Finishing a hat/Look, I made a hat/Where there never was a hat”
I surprised myself by including this one, after all. I mean, I love the song, and I used to love it even more, back when I considered myself ambitious and George-like. Now, Lord knows, I can leave the hat unfinished. Still, even when the memory of that drive to that hollow victory is dim in my own self, Mr. Sondheim makes it powerful again.
The temptation, of course, was to include “Oop-Pop-A-Da” or even “De Doo Doo Doo De Da Da Da”. The other issue was that the question specifies lyrics that move my heart, rather than my brain or whatnot, so I left out many of my favorites, and wound up picking sadder songs, rather than joyful ones (despite being aware that joy moves my heart as well). My just-left-off list includes Mark Knopfler’s “Romeo and Juliet”, about half-a-dozen songs by Mr. Costello, Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit”, Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, Paul Simon’s “Born at the Right Time”, Tom Waits’ “Soldier’s Things”, Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, and dozens and dozens more, I’m sure. If I did the list on a different day, I’d have come up with a different list.
A while ago, Amanda Marcotte, the ultimate maximum over at Pandagon, wrote a response to a music meme which led me to spend way too much time thinking about my answers. And, since I really am a verbose and prolix sonofagun, I wound up writing answers, and comments on the answers, and comments on the questions, and generally wasting my time. And since it’s a blog, I’ll try to waste yours, too, Gentle Reader. And on the off chance that it’s less annoying this way, rather than more, I’m going to split the six questions into six posts, plus, you know, this one.
First of all, the six questions are all Top Fives, in honor of High Fidelity. That makes it more difficult for YHB than the One Absolute Fave. For one thing, if they were One Absolute Fave questions, I’d probably never have thought enough about them to bother writing the thing up. I mean, One Absolute Fave is patently absurd, but surely I should be able to come up with a Top Five. The problem, of course, is that the Top Five is just as absurd as the One Absolute Fave. Surely I am absent-mindedly just blanking on one or two songs I would want to have included. The good part, though, is that I don’t have to number the list, and declare which fits the number one slot and which the number five. On the other hand, once I have five, if I come up with another, I have to decide which of the five to turf, and that’s just impossible. I know, as it’s come up already more than once.
And, of course, even if I were happy with the Top Fives I’ll be putting on pixels, and even if I didn’t forget to consider any, it’ll surely be the case that tomorrow or next week I’ll find myself perplexed that I made the stupid-ass choices I did. Because, you know, my tastes have changed. Ten years ago, I didn’t like Klezmer, and couldn’t tell you any working klezmorim. Twenty years ago, I had no particular interest in jazz. Five years ago, I didn’t know what early music was (OK, seven years, and I still don’t really know). At the moment, I don’t much like country and western, or hip-hop, or orchestral music, or salsa, or a billion other styles. I sure hope I add something to the collection of kind-of-music-I-like over the next five years, but who knows what it will be.
OK, enough blather for the moment. Time for the questions:
Top Five Lyrics that Move Your Heart
Top Five Instrumentals
Top Five Live Musical Experiences
Top Five Artists You Think More People Should Listen To
Top Five Musical Heroes
Top Five Albums You Must Hear From Start to Finish
That’s them. I think they’re well chosen, as they are narrow enough to make me perhaps think about them in a different way than I have done in the past, but broad enough that they apply to a variety of different tastes. I don’t like each of them the same; the Instrumentals was surprisingly hard, and therefore interesting, and the Live Experiences was just a matter of choosing, more or less randomly, five out of ten or so great ones, with no real criteria. But looking at them, it’s pretty clear that the ones I find less interesting will be more interesting for some people, and the ones I find more interesting will be less interesting for some people. Which is a good thing in one of these memes, right?
OK, one more thing... I’ve split these up into different posts not only to indulge myself in talking about the selections, and the criteria for selecting, but to encourage you, Gentle Reader, to participate. This should (a) make it easier for a fellah to just put down one Top Five, without committing to the whole shebang, and (2) give a fellah space for including songs that nearly made the cut, pointing why my criteria are all wrong, suggesting songs I might like, or whatever. The whole thing is preposterous, so don’t worry about getting any of it right, right?
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got a gal at the 40th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Well, and after talking about Your Hit Parade and great or lousy songs, it occurred to YHB that one distinction some would make (and I failed to) is between melodic and lyric stupidity. When I presented my case that there was bad and stupid music a-plenty before 1957, I’m afraid I was thinking pretty solidly about lyrics. “Elmer’s Tune” is a stupid song, but it’s pretty catchy despite the Tin Pan Alley lyrics, and although I still can’t make the case for it being any more impressive than “Blue Suede Shoes”, I’m afraid I was probably too harsh on it. The problem is that I know nothing whatever about music (much as I like it), and my excessive fondness for lyrics overwhelms my judgment.
Take, for instance, Harry Warren. Harry Warren (born Salvatore Guaragna) had 42 songs on Your Hit Parade, the closest competitor was Irving Berlin, with only 33. So why don’t I know his name, and why don’t I immediately associate it with the big hits? It’s because he wrote the music. He teamed with various lyricists over the years; I know those names. Johnny Mercer wrote “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”, “Jeepers Creepers”, and of course “Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe”. Al Dubin wrote “You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me”, “We're In The Money” and “Lullaby of Broadway”. Mack Gordon wrote “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. Jack Brooks wrote “That’s Amore” (OK, I didn’t know that). But I forget that Harry Warren wrote the music to all of those.
And, of course, if I like those songs (and I do, even “Jeepers Creepers”), I have to give a good deal of credit for it to Mr. Warren. P.G. Wodehouse said, more or less, that if it were up to him, he’d wind up writing all his lyrics with eight beats to the line, with rhymes at the end, four lines to a verse. All the songs would sound exactly the same, and they would all be incredibly dull. With somebody writing the music, though, he would use internal rhymes, lines and verses of different lengths, and generally be more interesting. With that in mind, try to imagine these lyrics (by Mack Gordon) being somehow separate from the melody and rhythm.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H
I got a gal in Kalamazoo
Don’t want to boast but I know she’s the toast of Kalamazoo
(Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo)
Years have gone by, my my how she grew
I liked her looks when I carried her books in Kalamazoo
(Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo)
I’m gonna send away, hoppin’ on a plane, leavin’ today
Am I dreamin’? I can hear her screamin’
"Hiya, Mr. Jackson Everything’s OK”-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O-
Oh, what a gal, a real pipperoo
I’ll make my bid for that freckle-faced kid I’m hurryin’ to
I’m goin’ to Michigan to see the sweetest gal in Kalamazoo
(Zoo, zoo, zoo, Kalamazoo)
(Oh, oh, oh, oh what a gal, a real pipperoo)
(We’re goin’ to Michigan to see the sweetest gal in Kalamazoo)
(Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo)
Your Humble Blogger happened to be listening to All Things Considered t’other day, and I heard a twelve-minute piece by John McDonough called “A Look Back at ‘Your Hit Parade’”. The piece focused on what killed the show, rather than (as you might expect) on what kept the show alive for more than twenty years. Mr. McDonough identifies two trends which he seems to muddle with each other, both of which are highly dubious, and he misses two things which seem obvious to me and which seem to have been far more likely to bring about the ultimate demise of Your Hit Parade.
I should start, as Mr. McDonough appropriately did, by pointing out the distinction of Your Hit Parade, which is that the songs were performed anew each week by the Hit Parade orchestra and singers, unlike Casey Kasem’s later countdown show America’s Top 40, which played popular recordings. There is a big difference between a show that highlights songs and one that highlights recordings. Another way of looking at it is that the cast of Your Hit Parade was simply not as successful as the cast of America’s Top 40, the latter of which was by definition the most successful recording artists of the time. So if we’re looking at what killed Your Hit Parade, the answer has got to answer the question of why Your Hit Parade died, but ten years later, America’s Top Forty flourished.
The first killer that Mr. McDonough identifies is the stylistic change from jazz and theater based songs to blues and rock, which he claims was a shift from writing to performance. “The blues was either a performance or it was nothing at all.” Unlike the previous two decades, he claims, the songs that became popular were associated with their writers, and with a particular performance. “It [rock and roll] was a place where authenticity was valued over artifice, where singers would become their own songwriters and vice versa, where only the author would have the authority to render the authentic version, where the performance would become the central product and the song, accessory or worse [a statement?].” I have no idea what he’s talking about, and it’s not just that I can’t make out the last word in the sentence. In 1959, when Your Hit Parade was cancelled for the last time, Bob Dylan was a Minnesotan nobody named Zimmerman; in 1959, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had recorded nothing. Yes, Chuck Berry had a hit with his self-written “Maybelline”, and Buddy Holly had recorded “Peggy Sue” and “Rave On”, but the singer-songwriter was scarcely common. In 1958, the Everly Brothers had two massive hits: “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and “Bird Dog”. These were added to their two hits of the previous year: “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie”. All four of those songs were written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. I’m not convinced that the success of Buddy Holly clearly signaled the rise of the singer-songwriter more than Johnny Mercer’s or Hoagy Carmichael’s hit recordings of their own songs. That rise happened, and would clearly have signaled the end of a house-band style of countdown, but it hadn’t happened by 1959.
It’s also, by the way, possible to say that while the ‘authenticity’ of the singer-songwriter hadn’t been a big deal, songs were associated with stars in a way they hadn’t been earlier, and that the house-band style worked against that. The problem there is that it doesn’t seem to be true. In 1938 the house band played “Ti-Pi-Tin” 12 times on its way up to and down from the number one position. The Andrews Sisters had recorded it in March, and although there were several recordings both before and after, it’s hard to escape the fact that “Ti-Pi-Tin” was on Your Hit Parade pretty much because of the Andrews Sisters. Ella Fitzgerald recorded “A-Tisket A-Tasket” in 1938; it was on Your Hit Parade for eleven weeks. “Whistle While You Work” never got to the top place, peaking at # 2 in 1938, but as it climbed up and down it was broadcast eleven times, all shortly after 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Again, none of these were singer-songwriters, but all of them were stars, or from a blockbuster movie, just as they are now, and the house band version was clearly a reference to those recordings. And yet, Your Hit Parade survived. Anyway, Mr. McDonough doesn’t mention the issue of the star or of the star recording outside of the context of the singer-songwriter.
(The information about what was played when comes via The BigBands Database, by the way, and although it seems plausible enough, I have no way of verifying it.)
The second killer, according to Mr. McDonough, was simply that popular music after 1955 or so sucked. “The Hit Parade might have survived if enough good tunes had come along, but in 1955, the American Songbook was about to be challenged from below by a rudimentary folk form called the blues.” He then says that the 12-bar blues of hits such as “Dance with me, Henry” was, you know, boring. He quotes Russell Arms, who was on the show from 1952 until 1957, calling the last years “kind of a tug of war between rock and good songs”. Now, I happen to like the popular music of the thirties and the popular music of the fifties. And I can’t deny that a fair amount of the popular tunes of the fifties are stupid songs that, divorced from blistering performances, have little to recommend them. But how is that different from “A-Tisket A-Tasket”? And then there’s “Elmer’s Tune” (fifteen weeks in 1943), and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” (twelve weeks in 1953), and “Jeepers Creepers” (eleven weeks in 1938), and “Mairzy Doats” (eleven weeks in 1940), and “Sam’s Song” (twelve weeks in 1950), and “The Umbrella Man” (eleven weeks in 1939), and “Woody Woodpecker” (only nine weeks in 1948).
Mr. Arms asks “How many weeks in a row can you do ‘Blue Suede Shoes’?” How many weeks in a row can you do “Peg o’my Heart”? They did it for twenty weeks in 1947, without killing the show. In 1953, Mr. Arms and his colleagues performed “Vaya con Dios” twenty-three times without killing the show. In 1954, Mr. Arms and his colleagues performed “Mister Sandman” eighteen times without killing the show. And the problem was a tug of war between rock and good songs? In 1955, Mr. Arms and his colleagues performed “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” fifteen times without killing the show. The problem was neither the prevalence of lousy songs nor the dearth of good ones, or the show would not have lasted twenty years. There’s got to be some other reason.
By the way, one of the legends of the Great American Songbook that Mr. McDonough is that Frank Sinatra pretty much invented it out of the frustration of being the boy singer for Your Hit Parade. The format of the show meant that even as the star, he got only very limited choices. Sure, he got to sing such magnificent songs as “Don’t Fence Me In” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Paper Doll” and also such ... other ... songs as “The Trolley Song” and “Shoo Shoo Baby”, not to mention “Swinging on a Star”. He sang “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “Besame Mucho”. He sang “Milkman Keep Those Bottles Quiet”. He evidently sang “No Love No Nothin'” four times in January and February of 1944 in addition to the six other performances the band did with other singers that year. Later, after his career died and he had his first great comeback, he decided to have his own damn’ record company and not record any more crappy songs just because they were popular. As a result, he wound up selecting the basis for what became known as the Great American Songbook, and defining what was a standard and what was not. This isn’t true, in any significant sense, but it is illustrative. It also points out one reason the show lasted as long as it did: Frank Sinatra.
Anyway, Mr. McDonough does not notice a couple of things that I think are much more likely to have killed the show. The most important, I think, is simply the generation gap. The baby boom started in 1946 (more or less); by the late fifties, the baby boomers were entering their teens, and starting to have a significant impact on popular music. They pull the ratings (particularly of television shows, but also of music), because there are so damn many of them. So unlike the situation from 1935 to 1955, when the radio-listening population changes only gradually, from 1955-1959 the television-watching population changes quickly and drastically. Things become old-fashioned much quicker. And old-fashioned things get cancelled quicker. Meanwhile, there is suddenly a ton of competition. By 1957, ABC is broadcasting American Bandstand. As Rodney Buxton writes for the Museum of Broadcasting, “the increased spending power of American teenagers in the 1950s attracted advertisers and companies marketing products specifically targeting that social group.” Their parents were, perhaps, watching the Lawrence Welk show, which premiered in 1955. These two shows were hugely successful for a long time, in part (I suspect) by carving up the audience, and sharpening their appeal. This was something Your Hit Parade couldn’t do. The problem wasn’t that people wouldn’t tune in for “Blue Suede Shoes” every week, it was that the people who tuned in for “At the Hop” or “Hard Headed Woman” weren’t tuning in to hear “Volare” or “It’s Only Make Believe”. No music show was ever going to bring parents and children together to enjoy the same music. Ten years later, when the boomers could fully dominate the music scene, the countdown came back.
The other thing that I think killed Your Hit Parade is that it just wasn’t very good. Really, why would you think it would be a good television show? What about the thing makes for good TV? Honestly, it’s much harder to understand why Lawrence Welk stayed on television than to understand why Your Hit Parade got cancelled. Lawrence Welk was, however inexplicably, a star; Your Hit Parade had, um, Gisele MacKenzie. And Russell Arms. And Snooky Lanson. Seriously, Ms. MacKenzie was the closest thing to a star they had during the TV years, and she left in 1957, shortly before the show was axed for the first time. Coincidence? You be the judge.
I suspect that even if Your Hit Parade had stayed on the radio, it would have died in the sixties, when Elvis, Dylan and the Beatles completed the shift from song to recording. But it would have had a chance. On TV, it had no chance. And it didn’t have much to do with the rise of the singer-songwriter or the death of the popular song.