Fatboy, Skinny Man

Real post coming up later today.

In the meantime… Below is a screen capture (not an actual YouTube video — don’t (duh) bother clicking the Play button) of the amazing video of Christopher Walken dancing to Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice.”

For the actual video, well, the YouTube version (as sometimes happens) has had its “embedding disabled by request,” i.e., it can’t actually be pasted into a blog post. So just go here to see it.

I’d forgotten how much I liked this when it came out. The reminder today came from Kate Lord Brown’s What Kate Did Next blog.

'Weapon of Choice' video screen capture

P.S. Obviously, the planned four-day absence I mentioned last week didn’t materialize. I’ll keep the little stack of posts about figures of speech in a back pocket, to use as needed.

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Lightnin’ Pickin’

In the Writers to Be Read category over there on the right, you’ll see a link to something called Froogville. Its proprietor, one (presumably pseudonymous) Froog, runs a second blog as well: Round-the-World Barstool Blues whose mission, he says there, can be summed up as “Musings on life & love from the bars of the world.”

In a recent post, titled “Great Drinking Songs (9),” Froog includes a video of a group of Cornish fishermen singing the song “[Bound for] South Australia.” Which is entertaining, sort of — in the way any given film of any arbitrary group of non-professional semi-professional [thanks, Froog] singers, singing any given drinking song on a beach in a vaguely disorganized way, is entertaining.

Much much better, though, is the YouTube video below (a simple link to which Froog provided in his post), of an Australian guitarist named Tommy Emmanuel — playing the same song in a manner which frankly left me slack-jawed with amazement. I have NEVER seen or (I think) heard anyone play a guitar this fast.

See what I mean? I close my eyes and hear not a guitar but a banjo, or maybe a mandolin. But guitar…?

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The “Sing, Sing, Sing” Triptych

A couple of months ago here, I posted a long short story I wrote some years back, called “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Whatever else that post might have accomplished, it’s managed to get a certain amount of attention from Googlers. Among other variations, hits have come to the post from searching on these phrases:

  • sing sing sing
  • sing sing sing arrangement
  • carnegie goodman sing sing sing

and my favorite:

  • words of sing sing sing by benny goodman

(Hint: The Goodman version of “Sing, Sing, Sing” — despite its title — has no words. Straight instrumental.)

In the interest of serving those who might really be searching for information about or analyses of the piece (surely one of the most famous recordings in jazz history), I thought I’d elaborate some about it, using excerpts from my story.

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Story Starters: Shadows on a Wall

'Mystery of the Street' by Otto Umbehr (1928), collection of the Metropolitan Museum of ArtA number of things I’ve come across in the last week have reminded me — at a time (yes) when I really should be concerned with ending a story — just how little it takes to start one. In particular, they’ve reminded me of the way in which implied story lines radiate forwards and backwards, starting from a single moment captured in a painting or photograph.

First, there was my post of the other day, about Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus painting and the W.H. Auden poem which sprang from it. What makes this a “story” as opposed to a conventional landscape is the precise instant crystallized in that tiny little area of the bottom right corner. We can imagine what must have led to that moment: the construction of the wings, the warnings from Daedalus, the over-confident youth rising and rising and rising toward the sun. We can see some other things happening during it, of course, and imagine other things which we can’t actually see (such as Daedalus, watching horrified from a shoreline). And we can guess about the moments to follow, from the immediate (the long, panic-stricken but then silent sinking of a feathered figure to the bottom of the sea) to the more remote (the wasteland of Daedalus’s life to come).

Then along came some posts over the last few days on the writing in the water blog. The innkeeper there, marta, recently acquired a scanner; she’s begun to post old family photos, taking off from each to ruminate about the stories it tells, fails to tell, or tells incompletely — and the stories it might have told instead (if the world and the people in it were different).

So while I was thinking about these things, it occurred to me that visual “moments” aren’t the only ones from which stories might branch, forward and back. Musical ones can work that way, too.

I don’t mean obvious story songs — shaggy-dog stories or Broadway show tunes, for instance (the latter of which can be associated with specific points within the show’s plot). No, what I’m getting at is songs, especially short ones, whose lyrics suggest with a quick few brushstrokes more — sometimes much more — than the words themselves say.

Like marta’s (or anyone’s) snapshots, like Fall of Icarus-style paintings, these songs fall into a category we might call “shadows on the wall.” A shadow is not the thing it represents, of course; but our eyes have been trained to see in certain shadowy shapes, or portions of shapes, the corresponding fully-fleshed 3D objects projected, darkly, on the wall. In the same way, shadow-on-the-wall story starters — images and songs — mark the edges of a plotline or a relationship, and let our minds fill in the gaps.

At the time these (not exactly earth-shaking) revelations came to me, I was in the car; in the CD player was Carly Simon’s Torch album of old standard, reworked, and brand-new songs of blues, heartbreak, and wish fulfillment. Just starting up then, in fact, was a perfect shadow-on-the-wall song: “What Shall We Do with the Child?”

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Writing about Reading — and Not Blogging

I may — may — be posting a real entry later today. At the moment, though, I’m focused on preparing my first contribution to the BookBook blog: a review of Dean Koontz’s Odd Hours.

Until then, I offer you a YouTube “Thriller” extravaganza:

First, we have the original video (embedding this video has been disabled on YouTube, so you’ll just have to follow the link if you want to see it).

Here’s the same thing (1/3 the length of the original), re-created by 1500+ inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, Cebu, Philippines:

And one of at least a couple wedding-reception versions:

…and, finally, the definitive (or at least, the most painstakingly assembled) version: Legos!

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When Language, Pop Culture, and Politics Collide

'1776' film posterYou know what driver’s-ed classes don’t teach you? They don’t teach you how complicated it is to make your way through a busy intersection of more than two streets, especially when there are no traffic signals.

I thought about this failure today, in connection with the 1972 film of the musical 1776.

Until last night, I’d never seen the movie and never (truth be told) had wanted to. No objection to musicals per se, you understand. But I’ve always had a hard time with light and frothy musical treatments of truly momentous historical subjects.

(Yet I very much like Cabaret, and agree with Pauline Kael’s assessment at the time it was released: “A great movie musical, satirical and diamond-hard.” Satire with an edge: good. But perkiness? Eh, well…)

But last night my resolve was weak. The Missus and I were both wiped out by planning, preparing, and executing a July-4th cookout for […counting…] ten people. While she escaped to her office, collapsing into a fog of online gaming, I just sat, stretched out, on the sofa, TV remote close to hand. And clicked. And clicked. And clicked…

For some reason probably having to do with the previous day’s power failure, when I first turned it on the channel was set at 2: the Home Shopping Network. (click) PBS had David McCullough on Charlie Rose, talking about John Adams. (click) Wonder what’s on Turner Classic Movies…? Hmm. William Daniels in colonial garb. Singing. Singing? Did William Daniels sing? What was this, anyhow?

By the time I realized what it must be, I’d been sucked in.

[Read more…]

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The Boy Hears Himself (Part 1)

A Recordio reel-to-reel recorderDuring an… odd few years in my younger life, my friend Dean and I became absorbed in experiments involving a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The brand name which Dean and I both “owned,” in those days when electronics were still manufactured domestically, was “Recordio.” (And yes, all right: we didn’t own them; our fathers did.)

What “odd few years” would these have been? I am pretty sure we first started doing this at around age 12. And — because of some of the “work” we did, particularly our parodies of popular TV shows — I know we must have continued at least to around age 15 or 16.

These experiments revolved around a fictional radio station, call letters CBX. Most CBX productions were ad-libbed “newscasts,” frequently starring the same two people: anchorman “Don Gurky” (played by Dean) and roving reporter “Quentin Frammistan” (guess who). I don’t have any idea how Dean came up with his character’s name; I know where Quentin Frammistan came from, though. The first name came from Quentin Reynolds (author of a series of Landmark Books — history for kids — whom I frequently cited back then as “my favorite author”); the word “frammistan,” which meant God only knows what, often appeared in the text of MAD Magazine.

In addition, two other friends put in occasional appearances. Alan’s character, Harry Two-Seven, had been so named by Dean for (I’m sure) no particular reason. Like Quentin, Harry was (most often) a field reporter; unlike Quentin, Harry tended to get caught up in situations of an embarrassing nature — something like Biff, on the Letterman show.

The other friend came along some time after we’d first started the “station” — yes, CBX endured for more than a few weeks — when we met him later in high school. His name was Tom, and his character’s name was Colonel Tom. Quite independently of us — he lived in the next town, which until we got to high school might as well have been the next planet — Tom had had his own imaginary radio station for a while. During the waning months of both stations’ life cycles, we swapped personnel every now and then.

In addition to the newscasts, CBX occasionally produced Special Events, such as (again, ad-libbed) parodies of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. From the start, many of these Special Events featured a, umm, well, I guess you could call it a musical comedy troupe with the remarkably unembarrassed name “The Peenie Players.”

Hey, gimme a break: we had barely hit puberty yet. We certainly hadn’t heard of Dr. Freud. No, we chose the name strictly for its sound: nasal and plosive. And the reason this sound was important in the name was that it was important in the Peenie Players’ body of work, which consisted entirely of speeded-up versions (a la David Seville and The Chipmunks) of familiar songs and works of literature. (The latter ceased to be considered literature after the Peenies were through with them.)

Imagine my surprise and, well, delight (?) when a CD of some Peenie Players recordings came to me — delivered (I think) by my brother, from Dean.

More, including some samples, below.

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