Break out the Seegers (This life is for Squirrels)

29 January, 2014 at 4:21 pm (music, new hampshire)

Pete Seeger has died, and the New York Times article about his legacy is really quite amazing. I don’t have any particular relationship with the man or his music, but as an avid follower of the late-90s folk/pop revival, I’m a conceptual fan of the ’60s folk revival and therefore a transitive fan of the Guthrie/Seeger revival axis that made that possible twenty to thirty years beforehand.

blog_1401_pogo_seegerWhile I was duly impressed with the accounting of the songs he tweaked and rewrote and influenced that have become so much the foundation of the current American songbook, I was even more interested in how much the obituary leaned on the affect that his Communism (or communism, as he is oft-quoted as saying he was a “communist with a small ‘c.'”) affected his career. The Times spoke of it, to my ear, matter-of-factly and without judgement, which is what I’d hope for in what I consider to be a post-ideologue age. However, I’m aware that while my perspective on the perceived threat of Communism is a young man’s viewpoint — I take the view of Bob Hillman and Dan Bern — people who were alive and feel that labored under the scarlet shadow of the Red Menace feel very differently about it.

In fact, in 2001 when a plaque to memorialize the New Hampshire members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was to be installed in the State House, a wave of anti-Communist protesters spun and chittered their way out of the woodwork to prevent anything that might impugn the name of proper soldiers by dint of association or proximity. I was shocked that people cared so much, that they still needed to make sure anyone with Communist leanings would receive no proper American recognition.

With this startling impression lingering in my mind, I was therefore further surprised to just read so many mentions of Communism — or even communism — in Seeger’s obit without any accompanying outcry about his having performed in the “We Are One” inaugural celebration for President Obama. It seems like such obvious fodder for the NObama crowd: that the Socialist president had a card-carrying member of the Communist party — a man who was called before HUAC and held in contempt of Congress — play at his inauguration. I’m surprised some of the usual suspects over at You Are Dumb or The Colbert Report didn’t mouth off about how indicative of a booking that really was. (When Colbert had Seeger on as a guest I thought there would be some more talk about his Communist past, but the interview rambled on a different way. And Colbert is enough of a gentleman in real life that despite having tried to amp up the competition when he and Seeger were both nominated for the same Grammy, the post-mortem gloating or character assassination will likely be minimal.)

So did it not happen? Did I not notice? Or, being that it’s not the sort of content with which I populate my newsfeed, I simply wouldn’t have encountered it myself, I’d only have read about it via third-party commentary, and there wasn’t any of sufficient prominence. A brief search later, I found a small number of examples, and they seem both harmless and petulant. Which is, in it’s way, pleasing.
 

 
Related Links:
+ The post title is a reference to Lines Upon A Tranquil Brow from Songs of the Pogo
+ Download “Children of the Cold War” by Dan Bern at Archive.org

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BRIEFLY: Cage Match

20 December, 2012 at 3:42 pm (music)

Two years ago there was the surreal and wonderful attempt to make John Cage’s nigh-silent classic “4’33″” the chart-topping, most-played song on the radio of Christmas 2010. This did not come about, unfortunately. Despite this sad event, I shan’t ask for a moment of silence. Instead, here’s a quick collection of John Cage moments in popular culture:

iTunes: Discovery Download: John Cage
“4’33″” was released as weekly free download on iTunes… except it wasn’t. The piece has sections, and only the first movement, “Tacet” was available. So I have only one minute, forty-six seconds of “4’33″” on my computer. Amusingly enough, Stephen Fry has more. He once posted on Twitter that iTunes runtime on the “4’33″” was four minutes and forty-five seconds: “12 extra unauthorized seconds of silence.” One can only hope that iTunes doesn’t get in any legal trouble for this, having substantially changed the nature of the copyrighted work.

Twitter: Stephen Fry: 14 July 2011
And we know it’s copyrighted. Not only was the iTunes track downloaded with full DRM attached, in 2002 a composer cheekily credited Cage as a co-author of a track that was a minute of silence, and was sued by Cage’s estate for his homage.

YouTube: John Cage's 4m33s: Uploaded by AdamLore

Not only that, but YouTube video of the performance was challenged by the Warner Media Group (WMG), and therefore had it’s audio track disabled by Google. Which meant that when you watched the video, you heard four minutes and thirty-three seconds of a completely different silence than the one originally intended. Shocking. Or, as Fry put it in his tweet: “Scandal.”

Related Links:
     EDIT: Twitter: Matt Fraction and Dara O’Briain come up with the same punchline
     The Vulture: A lovely profile of and context for Cage on his 100th birthday
     GoComics: Frazz by Jef Mallett, 31 March 2004
     Comics Grand Database: “Indeterminacy” by R.Sikoryak
     The Millions: John Cage, Silence
     The Guardian: John Cage Christmas Single campaign
     Cage Against The Machine: Official website

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Teeny Tiny Letters

1 September, 2008 at 11:36 am (literary, music)

This Week’s Small-Print Round-Up:

“As a direct result of all the terror and bad things post 9/11 and as a mark of respect, it has been decided NOT to release this cd in Dolby 5.1 surround.”

—Trellis, Green Wing original television soundtrack, 2007

“SHIRT CLUB IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW SEXY, HANDSOME, DEBONAIR, FETCHING, LOVELY, SPORTY, BECOMING, SUAVE, CAREFREE, BREEZY, GLAMOROUS, PRETTY, ENTICING, ENCHANTING, BEWITCHING, ENGAGING, GORGEOUS, RAVISHING, STUNNING, BONNY, BEAUTEOUS, HOMELY, COMELY, FAIR, AFFECTED, PRECOCIOUS, LIBERAL, CONSERVATIVE, OLD-SCHOOL, OR NEW-SCHOOL YOU MAY OR MAY NOT APPEAR. PLEASE NOTE THAT YOUR SHIRT CLUB T-SHIRT SHOULD BE WASHED PRIOR TO ITS 11TH WEARING.”

—Astro-Base Go, The Amazing Shirt of the Week Club, 2008

“This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, swapped for food, placed in a canoe, flown in the manner of a kite, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent…”

—Julian Gough, Jude: Level 1, 2007

This was all prompted due to the four — four! — hidden jokes in the indicia of Julian Gough’s Jude. The indicia is all I’ve read so far, as I have such high expectations for this book, I’m reading all sorts of other things first to try and slake my anticipation, which would otherwise be bound to ruin a perfectly good read. I’ll write more about Jude later, perhaps in a time-shifted incomplete blog entry from earlier that I really need to finish up so I can write that follow-up e-mail to McLaren. Let me merely finish by saying that while David Mamet shamefully didn’t put his wife’s one-word review of his novel on the dust jacket (as mentioned earlier), I am inutterably pleased that Jude contains the following enigmatic pull-quote: “Julian Gough is not a novelist” —New York Times.

Brilliant! And, oddly, not in their comprehensive internet search archive

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Pop Consciousness

21 August, 2008 at 3:48 pm (film, music)

A couple of days ago I read an article on the BBC entertaiment feed that The Banana Splits show was being reinvigorated for a contemporary audience. I don’t have much of a particular connection with the Splits, and can’t really distinguish them in my memory from The Great Space Coaster, as they were all very occasional Saturday morning re-runs to me, despite being a decade apart in production. The only thing that really interested me was that the BBC website has undergone a streamline change of appearance recently (that I hadn’t previously registered), and had a nice embedded Flash player version of the “classic” Tra La La song which was their theme.

Kicking and Screaming: GroverAnd this is where my memory grabs hold of the whole retro shtick. Y’see, there’s a great scene in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking & Screaming (no, not that K&S) where Grover (no, not that Grover) is lounging awkwardly in a dorm room party, whilst in the background the Liz Phair cover of the Splits theme from the alternative band Saturday Morning compilation plays. Or so I thought, when I first watched the film. It turns out that they were actually listening to Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier“, something I would have caught, were I just a little more hip.

But that was okay. I still liked the subtext of the scene. It’s one of those odd pop culture connections that take place in one’s head out of almost sheer desperation when one is wallflowering at a party. “Buffalo Soldier” reminds Grover of the Banana Splits which in turn makes him wonder about the Josie and the Pussycats episode that he calls up Max about. It’s not delineated, step-by-step, but it makes sense. An audience member can fill in the blanks.

Or so I thought. Yesterday Mr. Wheeler linked to the Beeb’s follow-up article that analyzes the similarities between “Buffalo Soldier” and “The Tra La La song” and finds them lacking in key essential similarity. I think this is like the case of the Nokia ringtone and it’s origin from “Gran Vals“, by Francisco Tarrega… there is a key tonal difference between the two (fast forward two minutes in), but one would never dispute the obvious commonalities.

Related Links:
+ Kicking and Screaming: DVD by the Criterion Collection
+ Kicking and Screaming: Analysis by Chronological Snobbery
+ Liz Phair, “The Tra La La song“, Saturday Morning

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The Great Confluence

15 March, 2008 at 5:23 pm (music)

Emmy the Great in the New Yorker by Yuko ShimizuIs it wrong to be interested in a musician just because of the way s/he looks? I have frequently been flipping through the used/cheapo section of my local CD store and happened upon an album that looks interesting because the photography, design, and — above all — the singer looked interesting. I have yet to actually buy an album just because I like the looks of the chanteuse, but I have certainly contemplated doing so.

But now with the internet, it’s a wonderously no-harm, no-foul situation: a songstress catches my eye, and all I have to do is look her up on Last.fm or do a Bloglines search to see if anyone has posted some of her songs for sampling and consideration. So I was pleased to trip across the above illustration of Emmy the Great in the New Yorker and then have the Vulture point me in the direction of some of her songs a mere two days later. This is confluence of pleasing proportions. I am older than the protagonist in the mellifluously charming song “24”, but it is the one of the three that most struck me personally, and not just because of the references to the Jack Bauer Hour of Power Hour.

As EtG is the band, and more than simply the as-depicted Emma Moss, I shall now resist saying “she” when I refer to them. Give them a spin.

Additional Resources:
     + Official Website
     + MTV.uk video sessions
     + MySpace page, with one streaming song at present
     + Buy their 7″ vinyl single

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Phenomena (Doot Doo Do Doo Doo!)

12 January, 2008 at 9:39 pm (muppets, music, webjunk)

It’s 4:30pm, and the sun ain’t set yet. You winter people can complain about the rain and the fog and the fifty degree days and the other things that are melting and destroying your precious, precious snow. I got news for you: the days are getting noticeably longer again. The end is near.

Mahna Mahna and the Snowths on the Muppet ShowSure, not near enough that we won’t have to suffer through a frigid couple of weeks after this annual January thaw (read: “tease”) and the bleakness of February, the longest month of the year… but it’s acomin’. Be sure of that.

In other news, the ever popular Mahna Mahna phenomena is actually from the soundtrack to an Italian sex travelogue of Sweden. God love the Muppets. And god love the A.V. Club, who provided me with this particular fact.

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A Valid Opportunity

17 August, 2006 at 6:01 pm (benjamin, music)

Bencam: 17 August 2006

Actual card I had prepared to give out last Saturday in case anyone asked me why I’d shaved off the beard the previous Monday. Shaving was a mistake, despite the fact that I know my Van Dyke makes me look like the Evil Duke of Norfolk and slightly less approachable than I’d like to be when starting a new job. That said, I still have a pouchy, jowly face that won’t be interesting until I’m as old as Phillip Baker Hall. Until then, I’ll continue to rely on a sharply trimmed beard to provide my face with the illusion of an undercarriage.

In other news, despite repeated listenings to Vienna Teng’s “Daughter” from Waking Hour, I did not engage in any summer flings or romances. I have, however, fallen in love with the Righteous Babe label’s technique of releasing entire albums via streaming QuickTime. Not impossible to rip, but just annoying enough to prevent any but the most dedicated of freeloaders. In this manner I have been listening to Andrew Bird’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Ani DiFranco’s new release, Reprieve. The latter is a fun return to form, with an equivalent number of instruments and studio work as something like Little Plastic Castle, but with a greater idea of how to use them to good effect, instead of the effect of “Hey, look! Instruments!” I especially enjoyed the opening bass lick, the structure of which echoes “You Had Time“, and subsequently got me to put up with some rhythmic inconsistencies later.

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Waiting for Superman

24 June, 2006 at 4:00 pm (film, music)

I AM CONSUMED! I have allowed the spirit of Superman to ride me like the loa. This is necessary like breathing, because right now the only thing keeping me from curling up into a ball of impoverished, jobless depression is the expectant, bubbly pre-joy at the prospect of Superman Returns. I even researched where the closest 3-D IMAX cinema was (1 hour, twenty minutes away in Manchester, CT) in case I decided that I wanted to get not just consumed but utterly bloody immolated with Superman-anticipation.

It's Kryptonite... and it's KER-AY-ZEE!To aid me in this obsession, I have been logging on to the Quaker Oats ‘Win Superman Merchandise’ website every day and duly plugging in the little “no purchase necessary” code. And this morning, I won some Silly Putty! It’s not called Silly Putty, of course, because it’s not made by Binney & Smith. And despite the fact that it looks an awful lot like Gak or Gloop or something patented by Nickelodeon, consumer reports indicate that it’s essentially Silly Putty. No word yet on whether it can reproduce mirror images of the comics page from the Daily Planet. Anyway, that was nice, seeing as I had failed to win either free tickets or a laptop in various other Superman-related sweepstakes.

Until then, I rely on music to keep my eagerness on a quiet simmer. Chris McLaren, blog commenter extrordinaire, once pointed me towards a miscellany of Superman-related MP3s, which claimed to be the Top 20 Superman Songs. I was bemused by the fact that they named the post after a Sufjan Stevens song that they didn’t include, and noticed one or two other discrepancies in opinion. As they make sure that their links are no longer valid after a brief period of time, I have compiled my own list of top Super-tunes, which I will have on high rotation until Wednesday:

  1. Lazlo Bane, “Superman“, Scrubs soundtrack
  2. Crash Test Dummies, “Superman Song“, God Shuffled His Feet
  3. Iron and Wine, “Waiting for a Superman“, Yeti Compilation #2
  4. Sufjan Stevens, “The Man From Metropolis Steals Our Hearts“, Illinois
  5. John Williams, “Main Title March (alternate)“, Superman: The Movie soundtrack

Also of note is the ReFrederator cartoon podcast, which is going to be making a classic Max Fleischer Superman cartoon available to watch each day next week. The cartoons aren’t long on plot — or indeed, dialogue — but they are lovely to look at, and truly exemplary of the sort of three-dimensionality that hand-drawn animation can exhibit. As you count down to Wednesday, I hope you give ReFrederator some of your bandwidth.

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Ambrosia Parsley

9 October, 2005 at 5:05 am (music, performance)

“My parents weren’t really hippies. They were a cross between hippies… and bikers, and… and my father was a lineman for the county. And we lived in Reseda, me and my twin brother and my older brother, and my mother and father. And one day we heard that a CostCo was coming to the area. And this was a huge thing, this was like the Emerald City. And my father was able to get a get a card, and so he and my mom went to the store, and left my older brother to babysit me and my twin bother until they got back. And they were gone for, like, three hours. And we sat at home and, and we had all these visions of, you know, these huge packages that they might bring back, like a container with two hundred and eight Twinkies. And when they finally got back, all that they’d bought was an enormous bottle of NyQuil — and really, it was huge, it was like… this big — this huge bottle of NyQuil and a giant container of Flinstones Chewable Vitamins.

“So, the next time my parents went to CostCo, leaving my twin brother and I to be watched by my older brother, we really liked cowboy movies. We would always watch John Wayne movies and so we went out into the back yard and we stacked up six cinder blocks, three on one side, one on top of the other, and three on the other side. And then we put a piece of plywood across it, and this was our bar. Because in cowboy movies, all the important stuff happened at the bar. And we got out the bottle of NyQuil because it came with that little shot glass as part of the cap, and people were always doing shots in cowboy movies. Another thing we used to watch a lot was Three’s Company, and there was a bar in that too, the, uh, the Regal Beagle. Right, the Regal Beagle. And they were always eating little bar snacks out of a bowl at the bar of the Regal Beagle. And, well, we had a bowl… it was wooden, you know, parquet… and so, we poured a bunch of Flinstones vitamins into that for bar snacks and placed it down at the end of the piece of plywood.

“And so we took turns. One would be the bartender, and the other would have to go all the way to the other end of the yard. And you’d hook your thumbs in your belt loops and walk towards the bar. And we made the sound of spurs with out mouths as we walked. ‘Ching. Ching. Ching.’ And when you’d get to the bar, you’d pour out a NyQuil slammer and slide it across the bar and knock it back. And then you’d eat bar snacks. And then we’d switch, and then we’d switch again.

“I don’t know how long we did this, but I remember seeing my brother lying on the floor of the hallway… and then I remember blacking out.

“When I woke up my dad was there and there was a doctor in the house. I’d never seen a doctor make an actual house call, but there he was, and he had a black bag and everything. And out of the black bag he took some Ipecac and he gave it to us. And so we were sitting on the couch, and they brought in these saucepans, and we were throwing up and crying because no one likes throwing up. And my dad was trying to cheer us up, and he was pointing into the saucepans full of this green… and he was saying, Oh look, that’s a good one. Look you can still see Betty’s head. Oh, there’s Dino…

“So, this next song has nothing to do with that. This was written about my first crush. He was 15 and I was 12. And then he was killed. And I went to his funeral. He was my first dead boy. Yeah.”

Ambrosia ParsleyThe above is a approximate and reconstructed retelling of the introduction Ambrosia Parsley of Shivaree gave to a song tonight during a performance at MassMoCA. It was not only hilarious, and a fascinating combination of rambling and expertly-told, but it great fun to watch the other five members of the band settle and wait for the conclusion of the tale. Their reactions ranged from the totally impassive, to the entertained, to the deeply impatient.

Anyway, just to say that I always pay particular attention to a musician’s ability to create patter between herself and the audience, to establish rapport and to speak what is usually fairly canned material in a naturalistic way. In a concert that involved a minor amount of technical heckling from the audience (I rather feel that some people were not expecting the cacaphonic and occasionally dissonant phantasmagoric sound mix that is the predominant sound of the group), and some excellent return heckling from the frontwoman, perhaps ten to fiteen minutes were taken up with similar storytelling. Not seques, particularly, but clearly performances in their own right, even if they weren’t actually on the set list.

Shivaree’s excellent singles are available for MP3 download: “Goodnight Moon” is the potentially-familiar radio single from the 1999 album, I Oughta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump. The newest album, Who’s Got Trouble has a completely different line-up of collaborators and backing musicians, but the single “Close My Eyes” is catchy and fantastic.

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Beijing Bicycle

3 October, 2005 at 9:45 pm (doric, music)

The first musical artist I ever seriously listened to, eagerly awaiting the release of each new album, was Weird Al Yankovic. While other kids were discovering the Beastie Boys and Tiffany, my musical diet consisted of Weird Al and Tom Lehrer. So parody is practically my native tongue.

Which may be why this article particularly tickled me, much in the same way that Erica-Lynn Gambino‘s take on William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say” did. A new UK single by “identikit singer/songwriter” Katie Melua entitled “Nine Million Bicycles” has come under fire by cosmologist Simon Singh. Singh takes issue with Ms. Melua’s cavalier lyrical treatment of the scope of the measureable universe in a column in the Guardian United:

We are 12 billion light-years from the edge,
That’s a guess,
No one can ever say it’s true,
But I know that I will always be with you.

When Katie sings “We are 12 billion light-years from the edge”, she is suggesting that this is the distance to the edge of the observable universe, which in turn implies that the universe is only 12 billion years old. This is incredibly frustrating, because there are thousands of astronomers working day and (of course) night to measure the age of the universe, and the latest observations imply a universe that is almost 14 billion years old, not 12 billion.

…In short, Katie Melua has no right to call the age of the universe “a guess” or quote it as 12 billion years when we now know it to be 13.7 billion years old. You might think that I am being rather uptight, but the role of the scientist is slowly being undermined with a growing belief that scientific results are merely subjective guesses that go in and out of fashion. In fact, scientific results are a careful attempt to objectively measure reality, and although they may be refined over time, they are always our best hope of getting at the truth. In light of this, I propose that Miss Melua rewrite her opening verse so that it reads:

We are 13.7 billion light-years from
the edge of the observable universe,
That’s a good estimate with
well-defined error bars,
Scientists say it’s true, but
acknowledge that it may be refined,
And with the available information,
I predict that I will always be with you

Most hilarious, even if it doesn’t scan. I actually have to agree with Mr. Singh, particularly in light of the recent article in the New York Times about the decline in elementary scientific knowledge, including the jaw-dropping statistic that one in five Americans actually believes that the sun revolves around the earth. However, the song is criminal is other important ways: it’s dull, it contains a cheekily-Asian chord pattern in the intro, and comes complete with a bizarre music video that starts as if it’s going to be structured in an homage to the classic “Powers of Ten” video, and then just goes… silly.

Another bright spot in all this was the discovery of the Fixed-Gear Gallery, a series of photographs of bicycles as an art form.

Thanks to Andrew Hogg for the article and John Mazzeo for the epithet.

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