Tag Archives: Music

Prince the Artist Formerly

PrinceEverybody has something to say about Prince, RIP, the artist formerly known by a pseudo-hieroglyph. Of his own design, it was pseudo-silent and un-typeable so he became “Formerly Known as Prince.” Before that he was the single-named Madonna-esque “Prince”.
 
The media’s gushing last chance push of the Prince back catalog reminds me how completely the “independent” maverick was integrated in the pop crap industry.

I’m addressing Prince’s pioneer branding because up until today his musical legacy was illusory. An earlier hit gave Prince a comeback when “1999” became relevant to the turn of the millennium. The musician’s second act was to impersonate a Hendrix tribute icon. Tormented, gifted, undead.

WHAT PRINCE REALLY TAUGHT US was that you can forbid the media to speak your name and they will obey.

What a crock! You try it! I have a friend who goes by just “Lotus”. He has a hell of a time getting local journalists to report his name as only that. They usually write “Lotus, he doesn’t use his last name, etc.” Often they don’t quote him because one name is too weird. By royal purple edict apparently, Prince was even let to declare his hieroglyph was unpronouncible.

The real lesson was about everyone’s complicity in the manufacture of marketing campaigns.

You’d think that the music business or our corporate celebrity culture might be reported like news. It appears to be. It certainly makes up most of mainstream news. Its happenings are not irrelevant to a consumer economy. But no.

Instead, publicists dictate how their brands are sold, just as lawyers insure trademarks aren’t violated, and the media divisions of the same entertainment corporations comply. If the news tellers don’t play along, products like Prince wear no clothes.

ZOMBIE – Fela Kuti’s tribute to Military Zombies that make up our world

I love this song.
Zombie – by Fela Kuti
…Fela Kuti is Africa’s greatest musical legend and this is his greatest song!

 
 
 

ZOMBIE

Zombie o, zombie (Zombie o, zombie)
Zombie o, zombie (Zombie o, zombie)

Zombie no go go, unless you tell him to go. (Zombie)

Zombie no go stop, unless you tell him to stop. (Zombie)
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell him to turn. (Zombie)
Zombie no go think, unless you tell him to think. (Zombie)

Tell him to go straight. A joro, jara, joro.
No break, no job, no sense. A joro, jara, joro.
Tell him to go kill. A joro, jara, joro.
No break, no job, no sense. A joro, jara, joro.
Tell him to go quench. A joro, jara, joro.
No break, no job, no sense. A joro, jara, joro.

Go and kill! (Joro, jaro, joro)
Go and die! (Joro, jaro, joro)
Go and quench! (Joro, jaro, joro)
Put him for reverse! (Joro, jaro, joro)

Joro, jara, joro, zombie went a one way.
Joro, jara, joro, zombie went a one way.
Joro, jara, joro, zombie went a one way.
Joro, jara, joro.

Attention! (Zombie)
Quick march!
Slow march! (Zombie)
Left turn!
Right turn! (Zombie)
About turn!
Double up! (Zombie)
Salute!
Open your hat! (Zombie)
Stand at ease!
Fall in! (Zombie)
Fall out!
Fall down! (Zombie)
Get ready!

HALT!

ORDER!

Dismiss!

Here’s to the ladies who lunch – everybody laugh

“Ladies Who Lunch” used to mean the idle spouses of financially successful husbands, as one New Yorker cartoonist fondly dubbed them, his Grand Dames, until Broadway in the mid-seventies where Stephen Sondheim subverted the idiom for Elaine Stritch’s COMPANY showstopper which exploded the pretense of the ladies’ self-serving philanthropy. Forty years on, out in the provinces, the expression adorns a Colorado Springs radio show on what is an otherwise erudite classical music station, at lunchtime, for ladies. Cultural illiterates too, probably. Imagine thinking that Titanic means big like Titan, absent the hubris. My neighbors could happily move back to the farm after they’d seen Paree, wondering what idiot decreed “you can’t go home again.”

Here are the lyrics since you missed them.

Here’s to the ladies who lunch
By Stephen Sondheim

Here’s to the ladies who lunch–
Everybody laugh.
Lounging in their caftans
And planning a brunch
On their own behalf.
Off to the gym,
Then to a fitting,
Claiming they’re fat.
And looking grim,
‘Cause they’ve been sitting
Choosing a hat.
Does anyone still wear a hat?
I’ll drink to that.

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!

And here’s to the girls who play wife–
Aren’t they too much?
Keeping house but clutching
A copy of LIFE,
Just to keep in touch.
The ones who follow the rules,
And meet themselves at the schools,
Too busy to know that they’re fools.
Aren’t they a gem?
I’ll drink to them!
Let’s all drink to them!

And here’s to the girls who just watch–
Aren’t they the best?
When they get depressed,
It’s a bottle of Scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move,
Another vodka stinger.
Aaaahhhhhh!
I’ll drink to that.

So here’s to the girls on the go–
Everybody tries.
Look into their eyes,
And you’ll see what they know:
Everybody dies.
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
Let’s hear it for the ladies who lunch–
Everybody rise!
Rise!

A song about building the American Dream, railroads, towers, war, then being tossed aside to beg for change

Most Americans know the lyrics of this depression-era song. Now they know what it was about.
 
They used to tell me I was building a dream,
and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear,
I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream,
with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line,
just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al. It was Al all the time.
Say don’t you remember? I’m your pal. Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Coppelia and the Viennese Hesitation

If you are hardwired with a cultural affliction like mine, if you find yourself with a compulsive affinity for the waltz, I’ll wager you will also be a sucker for what’s called the Viennese Hesitation. It was just such a hook that led me to a Slav melody that immersed me into a ballet called Coppélia, two days ago, and I still haven’t surfaced.
 
Any fan of ballet, or parent whose child has studied dance, will know about this beguiling comic classic. To the rest of us unwashed, Coppélia or The Girl with Enamel Eyes, draws a blank, likewise even of its composer, Leo Delibes. Most of us outside the world of dance think ballet is all nutcrackers and swans, or the usual literary themes transposed to choreography. What are ballets but silent films to opera’s talkies? In today’s terms, ballet scores were the first soundtracks, and if you find new film scores overwrought, you might be delighted to alight on Delibes and his clever heroine, yes, Swanilda.

The title character Coppélia is actually a doll, the creation of aging Dr. Coppelius in his efforts to fashion his idealized bride. Seated in a window above the square, the mechanical beauty entrances the village boys, in particular Swanilda’s suitor Franz, so it falls to the assertive girl to break the spell. Hilarity ensues. Or, beyond the traditional lighthearted reading…

You may not recognize the name Delibes, but you know his Mazurka. And I’ll bet you can hum his Pizzicato (a divertissement from Silvia) in its entirety. Tchaikovsky said if he’d fully appreciated Delibes’ mastery of composing for the ballet, he would not have dared write Swan Lake.

If you’d like to share my Coppélia experience, I’d love to curate it for you. Start with the Royal Ballet production available on Youtube, mostly because the entire performance is there, and its intertitles explain the plot. There are more lauded productions, but Youtube has enough of their highlights to satiate without testing your patience with Netflix. That said, you’ll want to put the 1994 Lyon Ballet adaptation to the top of your queue now, because we want to save that for last.

The 2000 Royal Ballet production provides an ideal example of a classic interpretation of COPPÉLIA on a Disney budget. The comedy is writ large enough for opera glasses in the nosebleed seats. The choreography is traditional with a Sorcerers Apprentice perfection to it. The costumes are precisely Galician, where this adaptation of a Hoffman tale is set, an agrarian village in a region now part of the Ukraine, but in 1870 belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The red boots go to the Hungarian wine makers who dance the Csardas, and the black boots to the Mazurka dancers returning from the wheat harvest.

Unfortunately the Royal Ballet appeared satisfied to play to the popular misconception that the story of Coppélia is a trifle. I’ll suggest as a rebuttal the 2001 production staged by the National Ballet School of Paris, where the students were clearly able to imbue the lovers with emotion and spirit. This Swanilda is danced by a 16-year-old ballerina, by coincidence the same age as the Italian-Parisian who originated the part before she succumbed to disease after the 18th performance, during the Prussian siege of Paris.

The student production dispenses with Act III, which was all divertissements as you’ll have noted, beautiful musical scenes, but extraneous to the plot, although the love story looses the enchanting La Paix (Peace) variation and the Dance de Fete pas de deux. But they manage to sneak in Act III’s La Fileuse into a dance.

By the way, in my opinion this production makes the very best of the aforementioned hesitation, basically a hanging pause. There’s a suspended hesitation inherent in every waltz, Viennese or otherwise, but Delibes renders this one monumental. In the Theme Slav in question, the fickle Franz punctuates each break with an entreaty, and each time Swanilda resumes her dance. Other choreographies of the Them Slav don’t even slow for those moments, some notably expunge the hesitations from the score altogether.

(Note: If you are curious about the solo for Franz interposed into this variation, it’s a short Scena taken from Act II of Delibes’ 1866 ballet The Source.)

You can compare and contrast or not, but I will suggest checking on other Swanildas to flesh out the flirtations, coy games and lovers quarrels of Act I. For example, ?do not miss Lucia Lacarra of the Munich production, in particular this less coy prelude to the Ballade de L’epi.

For a heartier rendition of the first folk dance, check out the 1993 Kirov Ballet Mazurka.

You will want to see Lisa Parvane of the 1990 Melborne Ballet, in the denouement of Act II, made to dance for Coppelius’ amusement, the Boléro Spanish dancer, and Gigue referred to as the Scottish reel, (actually “Gigue” pronounced in French is Jig), but mostly for the cathartic finale, where the mad Coppelius does not merely mourn the broken mechanical doll, as Delibes’ score makes clear, his heart breaks.

Where the students of Paris may have glossed over the old man’s loss, they did grasp the sociological theme of this tale, natural versus unnatural love, nature versus industrial modernity. The violin Ballade de L’Epi, where a spear of wheat is shaken to reveal if you’ve found true love. We know it as plucking the daisy. But where we’ve come to leave the outcome to chance, in a farming community the answer is sought from nature. Green grains will remain silent until they’re ripe and ready for harvest. This concept is faithfully conveyed by the students, as was the sequence which preceded it, where the tinkerer’s labors to animate his lone world are derided while the villagers anticipate the next day’s social festivities.

If you’re still looking for what makes COPPÉLIA more than a silly tale, you’re ready for the absolutely mesmerizing modernized interpretation filmed by the Opera Ballet de Lyon.

Lyon is not coincidentally France’s industrial center, and here the Coppelius malaise is contemporary. Ballet purists appeared to be aghast, and isn’t that the surest sign of a heretical message? Extracts one and two are online and make obvious this production pulls COPPÉLIA right back from the purgatory of children’s repertory. And here it helps I think to know the tale they’re supposed to be telling, to see what they really have to say. The peasants of Lyon are today much the wiser to the false reality foisted upon them by industrial culture. Their Mazurka is a silent glare. Swanilda’s waltz is a childish mocking of the inanimate Deneuve clone.

While some have describe the Lyon staging as a new twist on the tale, I’d say it’s a brilliant reexamination that gets to the core of why Coppélia became an immediate classic in the first place.

An aside about the Theme Slav. Like Offenbach and other contemporaries composing for the ballet, Delibes borrowed from folk melodies to inform his dances. His partner Saint-Leon returned from travels in Eastern Europe praising this popular melody he had overheard. The Slavic theme turned out not to have folk origins at all, but was a piece by composer Stanislaw Moniuszko, actually Poland’s national composer, author of numerous ballets and operas. Delibes gave credit where it was due, and the Slav melody stands out from among the indigenous varieties. At seven minutes it is Coppélia’s longest sequence. But it was Delibes who lent it the memorable hesitation motif which permeates the score.

In the Lyon production the musical hesitation comes in an early variation, a dramatic leap that already feels like it will haunt me forever.

COPPÉLIA celebrates the strength and wisdom of women, and nature, to overcome a young man’s hesitation, where that of the old man may be doomed, and his technology damned.

John B. Spencer’s lost Christmas lyric for Will Your House Be Blessed?

Gathering songs for a Christmas compilation, I went looking through different versions of “Will This House be Blessed?” by John B. Spencer. While the forgiveness spirit is in keeping with the season, everyone else’s cover lacked whatever it was I remembered tied the song literally to Christmas. I finally found Spencer’s original recording and there it was, an Easter reference actually, but too much irreligious specificity apparently for subsequent renditions.

Everybody since Spencer omits his last verse, instead repeating the first, which they also alter to “Let it go, let it go” and not “Let him go.”

For the record, versions by Harry Manx, Richard Thompson, and Martin Simpson et al. go by the more assuring title, absent the question mark, ONLY THEN WILL YOUR HOUSE BE BLESSED.

But here’s how John B sang it:

Let him go, let him go, let him go, go, go
Let your sword of vengeance rest.
?Do the blind lead the blind??
Don’t be cruel to be kind.?
Only then will your house be blessed.

Turn your cheek, turn your cheek?
Turn your other cheek,?
Make your mercy manifest.?
When the hawk and the dove?
Fly in circles ’round your love,?
Only then will your house be blessed.

Offer prayer, offer prayer,?
Offer one small prayer?
To your uninvited guest.?
Don’t deny him his right,?
Make him welcome through the night.

?Only then will your house be blessed.

Pull the nails from the cross.
Pull the cross from the hill.
Lay the body and soul to rest.
May the blood that’s been spilt
–Drown your guilt.
Only then will your house be blessed.

Your father’s Lili Marlene, specifically

On the subject of historical misconceptions, you might say I’m hugely sentimental. So the tale of Lili Marlene catches me up like a honey trap. What does the name conjure for you? A Nazi Mata Hari? A fictional musical persona beloved by soldiers on both sides of the Good War? While even antiwar sentiments wax nostalgic about its universal love-conquers-all popularity, the WWII melody evokes romantic memories fueled by dueling propagandas. And when a victorious meme writes the history, it can erase its footprints, leading from what was effectively a literary rape.

A recent folk reference for example, an otherwise impeccably adroit Lili Marlene Walks Away, about Marlene the streetwalker, leaves me just sick in the heart.

The historical narrative has it that Lili Marlene was actually Lili and Marleen, two girlfriends for whom German soldier Hans Liep pined from the trenches of WWI. With unchivalrous poetic license Liep conflated the two and penned a love poem as it might have been written to him, “signed, Lili Marleen.” Two decades later a German composer set the words to music and then came the outbreak of the next war. The original recording by Lale Anderson was a flop until broadcasts to the front lines over Radio Belgrade captivated homesick Wehrmacht soldiers and eventually the lovelorn battling on both sides. Lili Marlene emerged the most popular song of all time, translated in as many languages as fought in the war. Was this owed to a universal empathy toward the pangs of love, or was it the appeal of a truly catchy melody and lyrics carefully crafted to suit the moment? And how did Lili’s character become redefined?

For the German audience, the character of Lili Marlene did not change. For some the song lost its sheen for having been co-opted by the Third Reich war machine. But even as the singer’s living embodiment of “Lili Marleen” became tarnished by her Faustian-won fame, the title role of “Lili” remained the non-fictional love interest with whom her soldier lover spent every furtive off-duty moment, revisited in memory and in anticipation. Concurrent translations across the European continent stuck to the same essential theme, owing no doubt to listeners being in the main multilingual. They understood enough of the original German not to be sold another Lili Marlene. English was another story, but the Allies didn’t start it.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels at first banned the song because he saw it as demoralizing to soldiers enduring the deprivations of war. He referred to Lili Marlene as “The tearjerker with the death-dance smell” until its popularity reached a critical mass even he couldn’t stop. When opposing forces seemed also to succumb to the song’s wiles, Goebbels sought to intensify the poison’s venom.

The original German lyric was written in an ambiguous voice, either that of the soldier or his faithful girl, revisiting their every last moment together and the promise of more. Even as the imagery may have been accepted as a soldier’s fantasies, the singer’s female gender was consistent with the voice of his lover’s reassurances. As a result, the original singer came to personify the character Lili Marleen. For soldiers of every side the voice they heard was that of “Lili Marlene.”

The popular account goes that when Allied soldiers were observed singing along to Radio Belgrade, an English lyric was ordered post haste lest American GIs and British Tommies be singing in German. Rarely mentioned is that the seduction interrupted had been in English.

A recent compilation of nearly 200 different renditions of Lili Marlene gives an unprecedented look into the WWII propaganda battle waged over control of the Lili Marlene narrative. Many of the key recordings have reached Youtube.

When the Germans surmised that Allied soldiers wanted to do more than whistle along, a lyric was devised for them which changed the ambiguity of the narrator to the first person. YOUR Lili Marleen became MY Lili Marlene. And oddly, but for reasons un-mysterious obviously, the vocalist remained a woman. The English version was supposed to be a translation after all, and no one was under any illusion that the song’s original appeal with soldiers was not owed to the enchantment of the chanteuse.

The plodding, dripping sentimentality of the melody also lent well to marches. Lili Marleen, in English, Marlene, was an ideal tonic for a war long on effort and deprivation.

An American GI today could still be forgiven for hearing Lili Marlene and saying: those aren’t the lyrics I remember. Late and post war USO tours effaced the earlier Nazi radio broadcasts. There was a German English version before the British and American after that, when Lili of the home front became the seductress became the whore.

If the song conjures an American image at all, it’s Marlene Dietrich, who subsequently claimed the song for her own, perhaps why it’s named Marlene and not Marleen, I don’t know. But her vampy rendition colors interpretations to this day. An American film star from the 30s, Dietrich is still mistakenly remembered as a reformed German double agent, possibly the Axis Sally propagandist who originated her namesake song. To my mind, familiarity would be the only reason to favor Dietrich’s rendition of Lili Marlene. The original 1938 German and its first English incarnation in 1942 were both by Lale Andersen, easily the most moving. But Marlene Dietrich wasn’t selling love, or was, to be more precise.

The lyric to the original German recording translates thus:

In front of the barracks, in front of the main gate,
Stood a lamppost, if it stands there still,
So will we see each other there again,
By the lamppost we’ll stand,
As before, Lili Marleen. As before, Lili Marleen.

Our two shadows looked like one.
That we were so much in love, at a glance anyone could see.
And everyone will see it,
When we stand by the lamppost,
As before, Lili Marleen. As before, Lili Marleen.

(The motif of female narrator was conceded by a 1943 BBC propaganda rerecording made for broadcast back to Germany. Instead of a love song, the lyric became a war-weary rant where a hoarse-throated middle-aged “Lili” calls for an uprising against Hitler. Loosely translated it went:

Maybe you’ll die in Russia, maybe you’ll die in Africa,
You will die somewhere, that’s what your Führer wants.
But if you see us again, where will this lamppost be?
In another Germany.
Your Lili Marleen.

The Führer is a oppressor, that’s what we all see,
Making every child an orphan, every woman a widow,
It’s all his fault, I want to see? him at the lamppost,
Hang him up at the lamppost.
Your Lili Marleen.

)

The German propagandists were more insidious with their subversion of Andersen’s 1942 recording, sticking closely to the original setting, shifting the narrator squarely to the male, relegating Lili not just to the third person but to the past, and interjecting heaping doses of sentimentality:

Underneath the lantern, by the barrack gate,
There I met Marleen every night at eight.
That was a time in early Spring,
When birds all sing, then love was king
Of my heart and Marleen’s, of my heart and Marleen’s.

The next verse begins with a cringe-worthy overstep of a military put-down, perhaps however to divert critical faculties from the real manipulation. Even though the song is now in English, the soldiers expect it serves German propaganda. Disarmed by the amateurish mocking of “retreat,” the listener is vulnerable as the rest of the lyric preys on a soldier’s insecurity about his sweetheart’s fidelity, the longer the war years become interminable. The subject is the usual propaganda leaflet fare, but animated with the potency of music. Faithful “as before” became “time would part” Marlene.

Waiting for the drumbeat, signaling retreat,
Walking in the shadows, where all lovers meet.
Yes those were days of long ago,
I loved her so, I couldn’t know
That time would part Marleen, that time would part Marleen.

The pace leadens to deliver the fatal pronouncement, again the anticipation of reunion becomes perseveration and lament:

When I heard the bugle, calling me away,
By the gate I kissed her, kissed her tears away.
And by the flick’ring lantern’s light,
I held her tight, t’was our last night,
My last night with Marleen, my last night with Marleen.

The last verse repeats the first, which I omitted earlier. It’s a call to action, obviously absent the original, “Now is the time-” meaning desertion into the aforementioned shadows, “to meet your-” and I must admit to be unsure of a transcription. From Andersen’s accent to the unclear recording quality of her backup chorus, it’s difficult to determine whom Lili wants the soldier to meet. “Your girl” and two other words which rhyme with girl, the first begins with P, the last with S.

Still I hear the bugle, hear its silv’ry call,
Carried by the night air, telling one and all:
Now is the time to meet your pearl,
To meet your girl, to meet your soul,
As once I met Marleen, my sweet Lili Marleen.

Your girl, not Lili Marleen. She’s gone, a love lost to regret. In their German-accented affected English, the male chorus appeared to provide a mocking echo “Now is the time to meet your death.”

Needless to say it was imperative that while Radio Belgrade reached the English and American soldiers in North Africa and Italy, the Allies had to record an antidote. A first version by a Brit kept with the romantic original:

In the dark of evening, where you stand and wait,
Hangs a lantern gleaming by the barrack gate.
We’ll meet again by lantern shine
As we did once upon a time.
We two Lili Marlene, we two Lili Marlene.

Our shadows once stood facing, a tall one and a small.
They mingled in embracing, upon the lighted wall.
And passers by could see and tell
Who kissed my shadow there so well:
My girl Lili Marlene, my girl Lili Marlene.

But that didn’t address the problem of demoralization, Goebbels’ original concern shared by military commanders no matter which side: soldiers overtaken by depression.

Plus the Allies needed less a song about the girl back home than one about the German lass awaiting the Yankee conqueror. Who are we kidding? Lili Marlene’s German voice did not invoke thoughts of home so much as a foreign woman taunting, however innocent, from behind enemy lines. Eventually those lands would be overrun, her lover to die in their defense, Lili to await the last man standing. How many soldiers listened to Radio Belgrade and did not fantasize about cuckolding their adversary with his beloved Lili Marlene? The Allied troops needed a Lili of not-unfaithful character, but one available to them. It was no big leap for an American lyricist to transform Fritz’s Lili, faithfully waiting for him under the lamppost, to “Lili of the Lamplight,” the only type of German woman with whom American GIs would be able to get near, a prostitute.

Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,
Darling I remember the way you used to wait.
Twas there that you whispered tenderly
That you loved me, you’d always be
My Lili of the lamplight, my own Lili Marlene.

You’ll always be mine? My love? No, my lover by the lamplight. In the new scheme, the mentions of love and tears become sublimated by kisses, caresses, whispers of tender nothings and feet waiting in the street. Sung to the Allied troops as they marched unto Berlin by a husky voiced vamp. That’s your Lili Marlene.

Rufus, Caccini, Kosma, French Chanson

Rufus Wainright’s GOING TO A TOWN (-THAT’S ALREADY BEEN BURNED DOWN in which he famously sings “I’m so tired of America”) replicates, it’s true, the jazz progression of AUTUMN LEAVES, and websmart-asses have pointed out the piano part is actually identical to the accompaniment of AVE MARIA by Baroque composer Giulio Caccini. At best reflecting Wainright’s unconscious classical pedigree. Fail.

I write at this late date because I looked it up once, and spent the equivalent effort retracing my steps when my curiosity outpaced my memory. This time I’m posting what I found for my own future reference. Just as the internet now substitutes for knowing, it serves as my backup for memory. Technicians no longer have to learn how, they have to know where to look it up online. You no longer have to remember it either, so long as the answers remain there.

Anyone who agrees with Earl Okin that French popular music has followed an endless downward spiral with the minor key fugues of Michel Legrand, has perhaps film composer Joseph Kosma to blame. The Hungarian born Kosma wrote the scores to the greatest French classics, among them RULES OF THE GAME, THE GRAND ILLUSION and CHILDREN OF PARADISE. It was from a 1946 Marcel Carne film that LES FEUILLES MORTE emerged, whose jazz chords perhaps doomed the melodic melancholy of the French to mordant sentimentality.

When Giulio Caccini’s “Ave Maria” was unearthed in 1970, anyone with an musical ear might have wondered how the exhausting blue chord progression found itself in the hands of a Baroque composer. The musical malaise was so distinctly contemporary to the 70s, coincidentally when the piece was supposedly rediscovered. Of course it turns out it hadn’t.

The Ave Maria appropriated by Rufus Wainright was written by Russian composer Vladimir Vavilov in 1970 attributed to “Anonymous” I’ll wager because he didn’t want to take credit for it either. Somebody else decided it would have more luster if thought to have come from a more pious age. Now it’s called “Ave Maria by Giulio Caccini” by Vavilov, although the association is absurd. This composition was a thoroughly natural denouement to Kosma’s French Blues. Ave Maria loses none of its divine beauty, though its provenance was a hoax. The joke is on the many prominent recording artists who thought they were channeling holy canon.

US health industry tells Vic to snuff it

vic chestnutVic Chesnutt took his own life on Christmas Day. By coincidence, he’d just given an upbeat interview to NPR’s Fresh Air in spite of an ongoing battle with his health care providers. The segment seemed to pierce the celebrity veil we imagine insulates our talent castes from the worries of everyman. When he died, I reflected on the interview. I was reluctant to mar a eulogy with the villainy of the US medical system — but then NPR re-aired the piece, en memoriam, minus the damning testimony. They added in its place a remembrance by three colleagues who concluded: “To say poor health care killed Vic Chesnutt would be very reductive.”

Reductive? These corporate musicians, at the behest of NPR, have to throw an artisan spin on Vic Chesnutt’s legacy because his art should transcend his mortality?! Vic’s art, real art, is about mortality. Vic’s death was real and the anxiety he expressed in his interview was real. He hadn’t chosen to keep his troubles to himself for the sake of the listeners’ seamless pleasurable enjoyment. Who are these commercial artists to mute Vic’s story? It made me sick.

Others wonder aloud why Vic’s rich musician friends couldn’t have offered to pay for the medical procedures he needed. Perhaps they did, who knows. And perhaps their concern not to be “reductive” was extracted from a much longer session where Vic Chesnutt’s struggles were discussed at length.

Vic’s talent may not have been lost on these would-be eulogists, but we can’t fault them for not being artist spirits enough themselves to know how to shepherd an honest narrative about Vic.

I point my finger at NPR for the rewrite, and I’ll take issue with one of the musicians. At a wake, there’s always someone who uses the opportunity for self-promotion, and at this one it was REM’s Michael Stipe. He discovered Vic Chesnutt, let’s get that out of the way. Michael’s remembrance of Vic was an anecdote about a lyric he thought he’d stolen from Vic. It was so good, he must have stolen it. Stipe was so honest, he called Vic to confess. Vic’s response was gracious, no it’s yours. Stipe insisted, and so did Vic. Such was Vic’s grace, and so elevated was Stipe’s regard for Vic, and evidently so great is Stipe’s humility and –in the end it turns out by Vic’s own lips– his genius. He transcended his master. Much of the draw of coattail opportunism at funerals is that dead men tell no tales.

NPR’s problem, and shall we imagine, the problem of its underwriters, the major health insurers, was that Vic Chesnutt killed himself right after telling an NPR audience he could succumb any day for lack of proper medical care. Chesnutt died from an overdose of pain killers, which raised the disquieting suggestion to listeners that he lived in a lot of pain. Sure Chesnutt had attempted suicide before. He’d written a love song to suicide. The trouble was, he declared in his interview that “Flirted with You All My Life” was a break-up song with death. “I don’t want to die” Chesnutt exclaimed most earnestly.

While our nation’s health insurers have been content to let the common sick extinguish themselves by attrition, their PR crews come to the rescue of high profile victims, usually the focus of mass protests, even if they come late. Vic Chesnutt had given them no time, between the airing of his interview, and his Christmas day demise.

To listeners who heard the first airing, especially ones who might never have heard of Vic, the tragedy of this internationally renown artists being unable to get health care was a climax. It was a moment when entertainment rang dissonant.

For the rewrite, Terry Gross removed the critical segment, leaving the focus on Chesnutt’s earlier suicide attempts. Gross sounded like an insurance interrogator the way she made Chesnutt clarify that his first attempted suicide was actually before his debilitating accident, before health issues would have been a motivation. I would like to see Gross dissect her guests’ responses with such scrutiny, I wonder why she began with Vic.

Thus the rewritten interview became an indictment of Vic Chesnutt’s propensity to self-destruct. Forget narrowing Vic to health care failure, Terry reduced him to habitual suicide. The character assassination continued by next highlighting his song “I’m a Coward.”

In place of the dramatic, redemptive climax, Gross interviewed Michael Stipe, Guy Picciotto and Jem Cohen. Just before wrapping up, Gross raised the issue of Vic’s health care. All agreed the system failed him, but their pre-discussion consensus was not to be “reductive.”

As if the songwriter’s legacy wasn’t going to speak for his whole. Here his colleagues were concerned that their characterization of his death would define him. If Vic had died mid-song, would there have been a need to say his life wasn’t just about that song?

Little did they suspect that NPR would “reduce” Chesnutt however they wanted. Once again where Vic Chesnutt’s sentiment connected with his audience, the industry hovered to intercept.

If you didn’t catch Chesnutt’s original interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, here’s how it ended:

GROSS: I read that you’re in debt like $50,000 because of health insurance issues.

Mr. CHESNUTT: That’s right.

GROSS: So – and this is because you had a series of surgeries and although you pay a lot for your health insurance, it didn’t cover all of it. Is that – do I have that right?

Mr. CHESNUTT: That’s exactly true, yeah.

GROSS: Uh-huh. So, what are your thoughts now as you watch the health care legislation controversy play out?

Mr. CHESNUTT: Well, I have been amazed and confused by the health care debate. We need health care reform. There is no doubt about it, we really need health care reform in this country. Because it’s absurd that somebody like me has to pay so much, it’s just too expensive in this country. It’s just ridiculously expensive. That they can take my house away for kidney stone operation is -that’s absurd.

GROSS: Is that what you’re facing the possibility of now?

Mr. CHESNUTT: Yeah. I mean, it could – I’m not sure exactly. I mean, I don’t have cash money to pay these people. I tried to pay them. I tried to make payments and then they finally ended up saying, no, you have to pay us in full now. And so, you know, I’m not sure what exactly my options are. I just – I really – you know, my feeling is that I think they’ve been paid, they’ve already been paid $100,000 from my insurance company. That seems like plenty. I mean, this would pay for like five or six of these operations in any other country in the world. You know, it affects – I mean, right now I need another surgery and I’ve putting it off for a year because I can’t afford it. And that’s absurd, I think.

I mean, I could actually lose a kidney. And, I mean, I could die only because I cannot afford to go in there again. I don’t want to die, especially just because of I don’t have enough money to go in the hospital. But that’s the reality of it. You know, I have a preexisting condition, my quadriplegia, and I can’t get health insurance.

GROSS: Is it true you can’t get good health insurance?

Mr. CHESNUTT: I can’t get – I’m uninsurable. The only reason I have any insurance now is because I was on Capitol Records for a while. And I had excellent health insurance there. And then when I got dropped from Capitol, I Cobra’d my insurance for as long as it was legally possible. And then – and which was insanely expensive to cobra this very nice insurance. And then, when that ran out, the insurance company said they could offer me one last thing and that is hospitalization. It only covers hospital bills. That’s all it covers. And it’s still $500 a month. So, it doesn’t pay for my drugs, my doctors or anything like that. All it pays for is hospitalization. And yet, I still owe all this money on top of that.

GROSS: Wow. Well, I wish you the best with your health and your music. And I really want to thank you–

Mr. CHESNUTT: Thank you.

GROSS: –a lot for talking with us.

Mr. CHESNUTT: Oh, I’m honored, honored beyond belief.

The Famous Oprah Video punks who?

Oprah famous video black eyed peas good day
You find it by searching for FAMOUS + OPRAH + VIDEO. Because hyperbole arcs the hyperlink. Allegedly, the viral clip is being removed as fast as websites are putting it up. I’ll bet the reason would have more to do with James Frey and Augusten Burroughs baldfaced disingenuity than copyright infringement or Oprah being embarrassed by pedestrian plagiarism. The performance by the Black Eyed Peas, taped live in downtown Chicago for the 24th season of Oprah’s talk show, purports to ignite a spontaneous dance, to Oprah’s joyful astonishment. While the video may be a crowd-pleaser, it certifies corporate music’s lack of originality, and the American TV tube’s despicable boobness.

The jubilant TODAY’S GONNA BE A GOOD DAY scenario borrows of course from the T-mobile commercial featuring a dance production taped at a Liverpool train station, set to a medley of powerhouse dance numbers. At first fellow commuters are surprised. By the end we realize the entirety has been choreographed. Youtube viewers would recognize the contrivance from the Belgian train station scene, where ordinary commuters begin dancing to a favorite song from The Sound of Music, until the whole crowd is participating.

Is dance so highly infectious? There’s something people really love about seeing that theme play out. It gives viewers warm fuzzy feelings having to do with belonging to community. There’s nothing wrong with the Black Eyed Peas wanting to reap that same enthusiasm for their pretend live video. Who holds it against pop to imitate from anything?

Their job of commercial entertainment is to popularize, and an Antwerp central station is hardly a setting familiar to Americans. Better a live concert audience, youthful, outside, wearing the usual panoply of Disney colors, living in the moment, attached to no context of exterior lives, a high school musical on a sunny day, reality TV on vivid.

Both predecessors feature onlookers who stare transfixed, some calling friends on their cellphones, others recording what they see. In both sequences, often those standing on the periphery turn out also to be participants, eventually joining in the dance.

In Oprah’s version, she is the lone spectator, watching incredulous from onstage. Like the train station commuters, she holds a cellphone aloft, eager to record the dance epidemic as it spreads throughout her “audience.” Apparently, it’s not enough today to drop your jaw to show surprise, you have to pull out your camera to show how you know when seeing defies believing. What, is Oprah going to Youtube it? Would her television audience worry that the impromptu dance was going to pass without someone recording it for posterity?

Oprah’s spontaneous wonder may have passed for genuine before a television audience who didn’t see the dance coming, but on the instant replay, how will Oprah’s act play? Are we to believe she didn’t know about the Christo scale choreographed event? If the stunt had been planned as a surprise, do you suppose Oprah wouldn’t have noticed her audience was suddenly uniformly younger and more fit, wearing uniformly bright colors evenly distributed across the monitor screens. Failing that, do you imagine someone as skilled as Oprah at communicating with peoples en masse, wouldn’t detect that this audience had something up its sleeve? It’s probably no false flattery to brag that Chicago is not big enough for Oprah and a surprise party of thousands, without invitations coming across her desk.

The Black Eyed Peas dance bomb may have made wonderful television, and it might have been even better if Oprah had winked instead of gasped. Because now the scene is simply contrived. To watch it in hindsight, as has become the norm for television in the Youtube age, there’s Oprah punking us all.

CNN did it with Balloon Boy, FOX does it for politics, and the rest do it for the war: false concern, contrived conclusions. American media nourishes with falsity. Musicians lip-sinc, Yo-Yo Ma faked his performance at the inauguration, as we learned all instrumentalists do in cold weather.

Owl City writes lyrics most foul, shitty

owl-city-adam-young-lyricsThat’s it, I’ve hit my generation gap with new music. Jonas Brothers I could abide, and Hannah, Britney, Hanson and the boy bands, because pop is fun. But holy mother of god Owl City’s lyrics are AWFUL.

Generations older than mine have taken issue with hair length, drugs, promiscuity, and noise. We’ve even hit insipid before, usually disguised by unintelligible enunciation and drowned in amplitude. But webroots Owl City takes stupid to a nails-on-chalkboard low, dubbing over loops of mechanical saccharine, with a prominent emo-sensitive vocal track.

OC’s Adam Young wines like James Blunt impersonated by a digital clone. The singer’s voice is not helped by being equalized to imitate the shrill tin of skype. But maybe he is. The vocal effects improve pitch, and perhaps producers know their tween audience these days hear their Romeos through the disembodied voices of computer chat. This is new territory. Imagine Leif Garrett trying to croon through a tracheostomy mike.

But the insanely awful lyrics are where Owl City really breaks ground. Neither David nor Shawn Cassidy’s songs were ever this embarrassing, and much of their sentimentalism was tongue in cheek. Adam Young’s Cave In, for example, could benefit with a laugh track.

Yeah, I’ll ride the range / and hide all my loose change
In my bedroom,
Cause riding a dirt bike / down a turn pike
Always takes its toll on me.

Fireflies suggests to me that someone’s developed a plugin for Garage Band which sorts random cliches according to rhyme. But the grammar’s still a rudimentary, this ’cause that.

It’s hard to say / that I’d rather stay
Awake when I’m asleep,
‘Cause everything / is never as it seems
Because my dreams / are bursting at the seams.

Vanilla Twilight throws metaphors into a mixer:

I’ll find repose in new ways / though I haven’t slept in two days,
‘Cause cold nostalgia chills me to the bone.
But drenched in Vanilla twilight, / I’ll sit on the front porch all night,
Waist deep in thought because
when I think of you I don’t feel so alone.

He had to have pulled “repose” out of the thesaurus. But “waist deep in thought” is too honest to be contrived. Obviously no thoughts here rise above the neck, except the stench of what we usually measure by increments of leg bones as we wade: ankle, knee…

My visceral gag reflex to these lyrics has everything to do with Owl City’s populist ascent through our idiot’s meritocracy. Our cultural figures, counting even our professional class of opinion shapers, are no dullards, but they will exploit any dim light for which there are moths. If pop music is candy, this treacle is pharmaceutical quality lithium. Young minds eager to stretch their realities on poetry, will have their spark of vitality mucked in industrial effluent.

To me, this dreck is worse horror than Kafka could devise. New world order, failed education, twilight of Democracy, now idiocracy for eternity. Vanilla’s Twilight streams past and future tenses in real time.

As many times as I blink / I’ll think / of you tonight.

When violet eyes get brighter, / and heavy wings grow lighter,
I’ll taste the sky / and feel alive, / again.
And I’ll forget the world that I knew, / but I swear I won’t forget you.
Oh if my voice could reach back through the past,
I’d whisper in your ear: / Oh darling I wish you were here.

Addict, pederast dies, much fanfare

But let’s look past the innuendo and unproven transgressions, to celebrate the man’s contribution to the cannon of Western popular music product. Please!

I hear celebrities dismiss the allegations of Michael Jackson’s pedophilia like too much water under the bridge, which would be true I suppose, if Jackson’s victims were more like John Wayne Gacy’s, buried under Neverland, instead of tucked into San Fernando Valley homes, divvying multimillion-dollar payoffs with their enterprising panderer parents. Will the confidentiality clauses stand between the public ever knowing which pederast was the more prolific? That innuended, I do concur those bottoms were small fry compared to Jackson’s true sick imprint on America.

The Michael Jackson TM projected a perversion of role models. Not even a cynical anti-hero, the self-crowned King of Pop was the nul-idol. Jackson rejected his skin color, his sexuality, even his place of belonging among mortals. Other than pathos for the sick dance-cyborg who never had a childhood, what humanity did Jackson share to communicate? To be fair, it wasn’t Jackson who kept the spotlight trained on his black/white Icarus act, foisting the unnatural deception that man can soar with a single glove.

Now dead, Jocko is heralded as among the greatest. But MJ was an internationally recognized poster child for enfeebled humanity, a glorified counter-renaissance man, resembling a human being like a drag queen pretends femininity. He may have channeled vinyl High Fructose Corn Syrup like no other, walking backward while dancing and such, but worth what legacy exactly? Jackson shares the ignobless of the Big Mac, the Lucky Strike cigarette, and DDT. Iconic and good riddance.

Michael Jackson did nothing for black emancipation, or acceptance of homosexuals, or the plight of the children of poverty. The vast majority of the world’s children are “robbed of their childhoods,” you narcissistic rich dumb-ass, and that didn’t stop you from amassing your vast fortune at their expense.

Jackson probably did more to amplify the phobia against pedophiles, the single minority he did incarnate, by denying the preponderance of indicators, by vilifying his accusers, instead of taking his riches to Dubai right from the start, to show the world into what true debauchers wet their willies.

He might even have championed sympathy for plastic surgery binge-purgers, but he lied about that worm-hole until his nose literally fell off. I remember when Jackson made public appearances in surgery masks, feeding the fiction that he was a germophobe. Meanwhile everyone in Hollywood knew from their own rhinoplasties about the actual face-saving purpose of those masks.

Perversely, it was Jackson’s least aberrant eccentricity that killed him. Drugs. Even as TV viewers watch Jackson’s body pass from helicopter to ambulance, over a red carpet no less, Big Pharma makes sure that the talking heads refer to Jackson’s narcotics as “pain-killers.” Jocko was in constant pain, apparently, like Rush Limbaugh and all overachievers etc, hence their susceptibility to addiction. You’d think the alibi would eventually defy credulity.

Prescription drugs circulate among the well-to-do, with the same ease with which the rich have access to good lawyers. The difference between street and medical drugs is that no one cares about the heroin or crack addict’s “pain.”

All the celebrities speaking in tribute to Michael Jackson want to minimize the ugliness Jacko paraded, even, and especially his drug habit. Some who profess to have been close friends express their utter shock at Jackson’s passing, at his frail condition and the magnitude of his drug use. How close could they have been?! Or how culpable are they still on Big Pharma’s not-yet-upped jig?

Jackson was the King of Sick Culture. His collaborator eulogizers are its second tier whores. What contemptible shills, who’ve got theirs, behind their Beverly Hills gates and their own golden narcotics tickets. Even at the premature passing of a unique creative soul, due without question to drug abuse, his peers don’t want to aggravate the corporate forces which continue to pervert the human social animal to beyond self-recognition.

Pianist Krystian Zimerman to boycott US

Krystian Zimerman“Get your hands off my country” said Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on April 26, announcing that he would not be returning to the US because he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the world. When several dozen audience members rose and walked out, Zimerman responded “some people, when they hear the word military, start marching.”

The beaten generation, defined in 1989

Twenty years ago, on The The’s MIND BOMB, Matt Johnson identified the systemic knee-capping of GEN X, and thence Y, Zero and O.

THE BEAT(EN) GENERATION

When you cast your eyes upon the skylines of this …
Once proud nation,
Can you sense the fear and the hatred
Growing in the hearts of its population?

And our youth, oh youth, are being seduced
By the greedy hands of politics and half truths.

The beaten generation, the beaten generation,
Reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation.
The beaten generation, the beaten generation
Open your eyes, open your imagination.

We’re being sedated by the gasoline fumes
And hypnotised by the satellites
Into believing what is good and what is right.

You may be worshipping the temples of Mammon
Or lost in the prisons of religion,
But can you still walk back to happiness
When you’ve nowhere left to run?

If they send in the special police
To deliver us from evil and keep us from peace.

Then won’t the words sit ill upon their tongues
When they tell us justice is being done
That freedom lives in the barrels of a warm gun?

The beaten generation, the beaten generation,
Reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation.
The beaten generation, the beaten generation,
Open your eyes, open your imagination.

Singing a song of angry men

Citizens of France rise against the will of the absolute monarchDo you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

If you search online for Les Miserables lyrics, strangely you find only the first stanza of DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING, repeated three times. The other refrains are in the Finale. Have a read.

Have Gandhi or Mandela or MLK or His Holiness the Dalai Lama, delivered anyone yet from impoverished misery, persecution, or captive servitude to the idle rich? When you want to put your fate into your own hands, maybe it’s going to take guts.

Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!

Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!

Will you give all you can give so that our banner may advance?
Some will fall and some will live, will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France!

Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.
Oer the wretched of the Earth there is a flame than never dies.
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plowshare, they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes.

Redneck Mother Fucker

The Thinker
Brownshirt, Blackshirt, Blimp-neck, Dittohead, Wingnut, Cracker –the term you’re looking for is REDNECK. Musically, Randy Newman gave it humanity, and Jerry Jeff Walker gave it love, and the Grateful Dead tweaked his lyric to capture what I think is the essence of the good ol’ boy: his thinking man self image.

M     is for the mud flaps you got me for my pickup truck
O     is for the oil I put on my hair
T     is for T-bird
H     is for hen
E     is for Einstein’s theory of relativity, and
R     is for YOU REDNECK MOTHER!

And for good measure, Newman’s Rednecks:

Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too.
Well he may be a fool but he’s our fool.
If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong.
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that’s where I made this song.

We talk real funny down here.
We drink too much and we laugh too loud.
We’re too dumb to make it in no Northern town
And we’re keepin’ the niggers down.

We got no-necked oilmen from Texas
And good ol’ boys from Tennessee
And colleges men from LSU.
Went in dumb. Come out dumb too.
Hustlin’ ’round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
Gettin’ drunk every weekend at the barbecues
And they’re keepin’ the niggers down.

We’re rednecks, rednecks
And we don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground.
We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks
And we’re keeping the niggers down.

Now your northern nigger’s a Negro.
You see he’s got his dignity.
Down here we’re too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free.

Yes he’s free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City.
And he’s free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago
And the West-Side.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston.
They’re gatherin’ ’em up from miles around,
Keepin’ the niggers down.

Scarborough blazing scarlet battalions

I didn’t remember Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair / Canticle being an antiwar refrain, even as the Canticle interwove its haunting soldier imagery. Apparently the Canticle was a retooling of Paul Simon’s The Side of a Hill, adding “Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground … War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions.”

On the side of a hill
In a land called somewhere
A little boy lies asleep in the earth
While down in the valley a cruel war rages
And people forget what a child’s life is worth

On the side of a hill a little cloud weeps
And waters the grave with its silent tears
While a soldier cleans and polishes a gun
That ended a life at the age of seven years

And the war rages on in a land called somewhere
And Generals order their men to kill
And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten
While a little cloud weeps on the side of a hill

Looking down on petty usefulness

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on this day in 1791 at the age of forty-five — allegedly at the hands of friend and fellow composer Antonio Salieri — while composing his final work, the Requiem. . .
Mozart-unfinished-Requiem 
If only everyone could feel the power
Of harmony like you! But no, for then
The world could not exist; no one would want
To spend time taking care of life’s low needs;
All would be given over to free art.
We are but few, we chosen, happy idlers
Who look disdainfully at petty usefulness
And form a priesthood serving only beauty.
Isn’t that so? But now I feel unwell. . . .

    -Mozart, moments before his death, in Aleksandr Pushkin’s play Mozart and Salieri.

Tom O’Boyle a local Broadmoor treasure

Tom O BoyleCOLORADO SPRINGS- Every Thursday at noon, over the summer, the City Auditorium hosts what they call a sack lunch concert. You can join several hundred mostly retired devotes to hear a concert performance on an old wind organ. Sometimes the keyboardist will improvise an accompaniment to an old single-reel comedy. Often the star of the show is none other than Tom O’Boyle.

In the interest of full disclosure, Tom O’Boyle was a classmate of my mother’s at the Cathedral School, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And he played my parents’ wedding in fact. Somehow when my parents retired to Colorado Springs in the late eighties, they discovered that Tom O’Boyle had come here as well. So my mother and father got to revisit the memory of their wedding every weekend. Tom had made a name for himself in Colorado, mostly from his performances at the various grand pianos at the Broadmoor. He counts many celebrities among his fans and impromptu duet partners.

A few years back, the Broadmoor sought a change of their entertainment and Tom O’Boyle is no longer there. It’s a shame. He still has a weekly gig at the Castaways in Manitou, and no disrespect meant to that Tiki-Deco throwback which still has plenty of charm, but O’Boyle is much too refined a talent to be buried behind their keyboard. Come see him on Saturday night, ignore the family dining. He’ll play anything between cigarettes, he does pop standards and classical, all like it’s jazz blues, with none of the lounge act. Think Cole Porter meets… Tom O’Boyle.

Back at the noon hour organ fest, Tom’s fingers are too agile for the antique organ. The organ offers more of a one-man-band performance that’s fun just for the grandiosity of the sound. But when there’s a piano handy, Tom will alternately switch his seat there. At the upright he’ll play Grieg, Mendelssohn and everything distinctly blue. You don’t want to miss it, no matter what time of day. Next week is the last sack lunch of the season.

Cindy Sheehan & Public Enemy at DNC

R68 Monday Press Conference
DENVER- DNC demonstration organizers Recreate 68 announced today that Cindy Sheehan will be speaking at its END THE OCCUPATION rally on Sunday. Sheehan will join Cynthia McKinney and other luminaries at the kick-off of R68’s antiwar activities surrounding the DNC. The bigger news today was that Public Enemy will be coming together for the cause with a free concert on Tuesday afternoon, August 26, at Denver’s Civic Center Park.

1. Public Enemy Free Concert
The Re-create 68 Alliance has announced that in addition to free shows by Dead Prez, Rebel Diaz and Blue Scholars, and 22 other influential bands, the historic and legendary political hip-hop band Public Enemy (The original line-up) will be playing a free concert at Civic Center Park on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 2pm which is expected to draw thousands (no tickets necessary).

2. Cindy Sheehan Joins Us in Denver
The Re-create 68 Alliance also announced that anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente will be joining their historic line-up of speakers who include Ida Audeh, Kathleen Cleaver, Ward Churchill, Mark Cohen, Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., Larry Hales, Larry Holmes, Ron Kovic, Glenn Spagnuolo, Pamela Africa, King Downing, Jenny Esquiveo, Mumia Abu Jamal – Current Political Prisoner (Recorded from Death Row for the DNC), Gloria Estela La Riva, Ricardo Romero, Natsu Saito, Ann Erika White Bird, and others.

3. March and Street Theater in the Freedom Cage
Monday August 25 at 9am, Re-create will be staging a street theater demo at the Freedom Cages. We need your assistants and can explain the details when you arrive. We will be starting at Skyline Park on the 16th Street Mall and head to the Freedom Cages at the Pepsi Center. If you cherish your civil liberties, than you should be apart of this event!

For more information on other speakers and bands, go to www.recreate68.org

Big Rock Candy Mountain unsafe for kids

big rock candy mountainHere was a true bit of American folk wisdom, Harry McClintock’s everyman philosophy whose context was whitewashed for the sake of children and the Protestant work ethic. The original lyrics of the hobo’s nirvana, Big Rock Candy Mountain, where omitted or reformed, are reprinted in bold here.

BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN
Harry McClintock, circa 1890

One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fires were burning,
Down the track came a hobo hiking,
And he said, “Boys, I’m not turning.
I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountains.
So come with me, we’ll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There’s a land that’s fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
And the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs.
The farmers’ trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay.

Oh I’m bound to go
Where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall
The winds don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks.
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind.

There’s a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around it
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin.
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in.
There ain’t no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws nor picks,
I’m bound to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the jerk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

….
I’ll see you all this coming fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

….
The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, “Sandy,
I’ve hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain’t seen any candy.
I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I’ll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

R68 Festival of Democracy band line-up

The R68 Festival of Democracy Music Schowcase fliers have hit the street. The 2-evening lineups includes Boulder bands BLACK SHEEP BRIGADE, DARIO ROSA, NIGHT KITCHEN and WHISKEY BLANKET.

Festival of Democracy MUSIC SHOWCASE
August 25
3pm SAVAGE FAMILY Illegally Occupied US
4pm DINIGUNIM San Diego
5pm DJ CAVEM/MOETAVATION Five Points
      DJ ASAR HERU Brooklyn
      KARMA Barbados
7pm WHISKEY BLANKET Boulder
8pm MIDSTATES MUSIC Chicago
9pm DARIO ROSA Boulder

August 26
3pm DEBAJO DEL AGUA Denver
4pm DKO-ELECTRIC HORNS Denver
5pm MELANIE SUSURAS BAND Denver
6pm REBEL DIAZ Bronx
7pm THE NIGHT KITCHEN Boulder
8pm FROM THE DEPTHS North Carolina
9pm BLACK SHEEP BRIGADE Boulder

With speakers and poets between acts.

CIVIC CENTER PARK, DOWNTOWN DENVER
Broadway/Bannock & Colfax/14th FREE!

Carla Bruni’s Chrysanthemum: Sarkozy

Carla Bruni or Jane Birkin?What’s left for Carla Bruni-Sarkozy? Heiress, supermodel, pop diva, Queen of France. Now everyone’s mind is on her chrysanthemum.
 
Follow Jane Birkin to Serge Gainsbourg to Citizen Kane to find it’s French for Rosebud.

In reprising her recording career, Mrs. France now wants Jane Birkin’s repute. Her album As If Nothing Happened is a Je T’aime Moi Non Plus remake for our Gattaca millennium, antiseptic, callous, Birkin’s expressive orgasm gone the way of pubic hair.

In her song Ta Tienne, Bruni pledges to her president husband “I give you my body, my soul and my chrysanthemum” encrypted for state security reasons perhaps. France-soir says: “I think we know exactly what she means by this. It is hardly appropriate imagery for a First Lady of France.” I think I do too, although I’m determined to imagine the allusion is literary and not botanical.

Coincidentally, the similarly named Euro-trash film Je T’aime Moi Non Plus which Birkin made for her husband, eminent enfant-terrible composer Serge Gainsbourg, also the song’s composer, centered around costar Joe Dallesandro’s incapacity to be aroused by anything but her delicate rosebud.

How does Bruni’s inability to sing compare to Birkin’s? Definitely comparable. But her artlessness soars. Birkin’s long career included showing herself to be a critically acclaimed film director. The French First Lady’s artifice is calculated like Faust.

I remember when Carla Bruni hit the public scene. The old Italian money heiress merited a topless photo blurb in Vanity Fair, no doubt arranged by PR reps because the caption credited the bohemian scion with no distinction besides reading Kant in her skivvies. From there it was fashion model, then groupie, then pop singer apparently, until she landed the ultra-right European Union enforcer hit-man Sarkozy for a husband. The press pretends her leftist circles don’t understand the attraction.

Wealthy Italians have been fascists since the Medici. Where did Carla get a leftist rep? That’s like expecting a physicist to emerge from shop class. In marrying Sarkozy I think the dilettante has shown her social-climber colors, and this lamentable recording puts a finer, and I’m sure it’s lovely, point on it.

We might argue the anatomical nomenclature, in any event the distinction’s a pun. Carla shows her man-eating reputation is undaunted by the French dictator. If she’s meant to be upstaged by an asshole, it’s going to hers, fragranced.