Nouveau Retro: Big Daddy

Brief post today… Worked way later on writing-type stuff than I’d meant to. (So I guess that counts as an excuse, huh?) In any case, this one has decidedly nothing at all to do with writing.

Sometime back in 1991-92, I got a very curious gift from my brother. It was a cassette tape (I later upgraded to CD) of music by a group called “Big Daddy”; the title was Cutting Their Own Groove.

On the front, an antique-looking record player seemed to be playing, was it? yes! an old 45-rpm vinyl record. A rainbow of sparks was shooting from the needle at the end of the tone arm. I flipped the cassette over, curious to see what the playlist might be. As my brother knew, my preferred musical genre at the time was oldies, so maybe…

What was this?!? All the tracks were recent hits! Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” “Graceland,” by Paul Simon…

This was a stupid cover band! What was Mike thinking, sending me this crap?!?

Long story short: a cover band, all right. But a cover band with a difference. A difference which Mike knew would appeal to me.

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Seeing, Not Seeing

From whiskey river (originally published [PDF] in Beloit Poetry Journal, Fall/Winter 2004/2005):

It Wasn’t Death She Saw

But life:
skin dancing with flesh
like silk curtains that swirl in the wind
above her mother’s window

up up   now puff!   and in again

Or breath — is the wind breathing?
She’d been playing in the grass when it happened:
the snake flung
from the mower’s blade, rainbows
of ribbons in the air

rainbows rainbows everywhere, catch a ribbon for your hair

She wrapped the pretty pieces in willow leaves and grass.
When she told her mother what she’d seen —
the way life
leapt out of the snake
just like a ballerina —
her mother beat her,
scrubbed her tongue with salt

but Mama, it was beautiful, like fireflies at night

She learned to hold her body

very still.

(by Kirstin Hotelling Zona: editor, Poetry Radio podcasts)

Not from whiskey river:

The Stare’s Nest by My Window

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned,
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war;
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

(W.B. Yeats)

Finally, there’s “(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night,” by Tom Waits, performed by Madeleine Peyroux (lyrics below):

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Edit to add: And, what the heck, just for comparison here’s Shawn Colvin’s (live) very different but just as enchanting take on the same song — which I just found out about. (Thanks, Jules!)

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(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night

Well you gassed her up
Behind the wheel
With your arm around your sweet one
In your Oldsmobile
Barrelin’ down the boulevard
You’re looking for the heart of Saturday night

And you got paid on Friday
And your pockets are jingling
And you see the lights
You get all tinglin’ cause you’re cruising with a six
You’re looking for the heart of Saturday night

Then you comb your hair
Shave your face
Trying to wipe out every trace
All the other days
In the week you know that this’ll be the Saturday
You’re reachin’ your peak

Stopping on the red
You’re going on the green
Tonight’ll be like nothing
You’ve ever seen
You’re barreling down the boulevard
Looking for the heart of Saturday night

Tell me is the crack of the poolballs, neon buzzin
Telephone’s ringing; it’s your second cousin
Is it the barmaid that’s smiling from the corner of her eye
Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye

Makes it kind of quiver down in the core
You’re dreaming of them Saturdays that came before
Now you’re stumbling
You’re stumbling onto the heart of Saturday night
Now you’re stumbling
You’re stumbling onto the heart of Saturday night

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The World Has Not Ended, But the Day Is Still Young

Another brief, YouTube-salvaged entry today to work on a review for the Book Book site

Libba Bray (link to her site over there on the right, under the “Je Ne Sais Quoi…” category) is a funny YA author, and an all too infrequent blogger. In her most recent post, she mentions being a physics freak and takes the opportunity to draw our attention to news of the Large Hadron Collider:

Tomorrow [Editor’s Note: i.e., TODAY, Wednesday, 2008-09-10], on the border of France and Switzerland, way underground, The Hadron Super Collider will be turned on, and physicists will search for answers about the universe. What’s out there? What is dark energy? When the Big Bang happened, where did all that matter go, and would it have been such an imposition for it to have sent us a few postcards over the years? Is there a Higgs-Boson (aka “God Particle”) or is that just the name of some disaffected aristocratic particle who drinks too much and lives in a crumbling estate on the edge of the universe? (You know, next to the restaurant. Sigh. Douglas Adams. R.I.P. Did you know Douglas Adams and I share a birthday? You do now. Plenty of time to shop for it, too. Well, for me. Mr. Adams did not leave a forwarding address that I know of. But I digress.)

We were talking super colliders. And what the universe is made of. And why gravity is so weak in our world. And why we’re here. And whether there might be other dimensions and if they have malls and if those malls are more evolved or do they still have a Hot Topic right next to the Jamba Juice.

…There are naysayers who worry that the Hadron Super Collider will create a black hole that will swallow the earth and annihilate every single thing including the cockroaches and Paris Hilton. You know, there are always drawbacks, people. This is science.

To reassure us, though, she also directs our attention to this video, courtesy of the scientific community:

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Flying, Not Flying

From whiskey river:

To the Light of September

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

you
who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew

(by W. S. Merwin)

…and, from elsewhere:

Evolution in Indiana

I thought that species took ten thousand years
to gradually evolve new strategies
to deal with shifts in climate or environment,
but after two snow-free years in a row
the local robins all at once decided
to winter here instead of flying south.
I watched them pace my lawn in late November,
debating like small Hamlets with their instincts:
“It’s way past time to migrate; why haven’t I?”
Since, every fall, a few old feeble ones
decide they’d rather risk starvation here
than drop off dead of fatigue in Alabama,
at first I thought it was their kind I glimpsed
rummaging discarded Christmas trees
for grubs and squabbling with the greedy squirrels
stealing birdseed from my neighbor’s feeder.
But then, one drizzly January walk,
I spotted dozens, looking sleek and healthy,
plucking worms who’d washed up on my sidewalk.
Why here, where I was forced to grub for money
all winter long, when they could fly away,
I wondered as they hopped out of my path.
Does flying hurt so much they’d rather shiver
and see the sun once every other week
than perch in palms swayed by an ocean breeze?
If I had wings, I’d use them… and on and on
I muttered as I trudged around the block
in pointless circles, just for exercise,
hands thrust into my pockets, arms tight to sides,
like some huge flightless bird, while overhead
the most successful members of my species
winged effortlessly southward in high Boeings
invisible from our side of the clouds —
we well-fed and hard-working flock of Dodos.

(by Richard Cecil)

…and finally, the following. Downloading the original, alas, isn’t an option. Following right behind, though, at a very close second choice, is this unplugged version by one of the four original performers:

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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.

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