Midweek Music Break: Linda Ronstadt, “Long, Long Time”

Ronstadt (from Rosenbaum's 'Melancholy Baby,' Esquire Magazine, October 1985)In an issue of Esquire Magazine, back in the 1980s, I read a piece by Ron Rosenbaum called “Melancholy Baby,” which opened by talking about the saddest songs ever: great heartbreak songs. (At left is, I believe, the photo which opened the article.)

Eventually, as it turned out, the article was a wonderful, more general report of an interview over dinner with Linda Ronstadt. (Be still, my then 30-something-years-old heart… another reason why I never forgot that article.) But it began with a discussion of this song in specific, as maybe the saddest-of-the-sad.

Ronstadt herself remembered the recording session:

I can remember the day I recorded “Long, Long Time”… It was 10:30 in the morning, but I was really into this kind of achy feeling, because the music — it’s in these chords. I think my phrasing was horrible, I think I kind of butchered it, but it is definitely in those chords. And it happened to the musicians, who are jaded session players. As soon as the fiddle player and Weldon Myrick, who’s the steel guitar, began to play those chords, they got real into that and became personally involved.

(It wasn’t in that article, as I thought I remembered, but I think I once read another detail of the session: that Ronstadt had a cold, or a respiratory infection — something like that, maybe with a fever — and just felt 100% incapable physically of recording anything.)

Here’s what Rosenbaum himself said of the song:

Do you remember “Long, Long Time”? If you haven’t heard it, you’re lucky. Because from the opening weeping steel-guitar hook, the song is paralyzingly sad. By the time she reaches the final refrain… it has managed to reopen every aching wound of romantic loss you’ve ever experienced, and some you haven’t yet. A legendary classic killer sad song.

There’s almost a kind of superstitious cult around the lethal tear-jerking power of this song. Like the one that grew up in previous generations around “Gloomy Sunday.” People would talk about that song in hushed and superstitious tones and refer to rumors that because it was the cause of so many suicides, it had been banned from the airwaves; it was just too lethally sad. I knew several women who swore they’d worn the grooves thin in “Long, Long Time” jags, playing it over and over again addictively to exorcise their hearts of sorrow.

I don’t have much to add to his comments. I will say, though, that if I ever wrote a book of Great Moments in Ronstadt History, “Long, Long Time” would have a chapter all its own.

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Crossings

'The Other Side,' by Gisela Giardino on Flickr

[Image: “The Other Side,” by Gisela Giardino on Flickr. (Click image to enlarge.)
Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

Happiness

A state you must dare not enter
with hopes of staying,
quicksand in the marshes, and all

the roads leading to a castle
that doesn’t exist.
But there it is, as promised,

with its perfect bridge above
the crocodiles,
and its doors forever open.

(Stephen Dunn [source])

and:

The fierce poet of the Middle Ages wrote, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” over the gates of the lower world. The emancipated poets of today have written it over the gates of this world. But if we are to understand the story which follows, we must erase that apocalyptic writing, if only for an hour. We must recreate the faith of our fathers, if only as an artistic atmosphere. If, then, you are a pessimist, in reading this story, forego for a little the pleasures of pessimism. Dream for one mad moment that the grass is green. Unlearn that sinister learning that you think is so clear, deny that deadly knowledge that you think you know. Surrender the very flower of your culture, give up the very jewel of your pride, abandon hopelessness, all ye who enter here.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Gone

It’s that, when I’m gone,
(and right off this is tricky)
I won’t be worried
about being gone.
I won’t be here
to miss anything.
I want now, sure,
all I’ve been gathering
since I was born,
but later
when I no longer have it,
(which might be
a state everlasting, who knows?)
this moment right now
(stand closer, love,
you can’t be too close),
is not a thing I’ll know to miss.
I doubt I’ll miss it.
I can’t get over this.

(Lia Purpura [source])

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Cut the Now, and Dance

[Video from the PBS Blank on Blank series of animated “vintage [and previously unheard] interviews” with various celebrities. Others currently include, e.g., Jim Morrison on “Why Fat is Beautiful” (1969) and Dave Brubeck on “Fighting Communism with Jazz” (2008)]

From whiskey river:

Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don’t fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.

(Annie Dillard [source])

…and:

But it is never over; nothing ends until we want it to.
Look, in shattered midnights,
On black ice under silver trees, we are still dancing, dancing.

(Gwendolyn MacEwen [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Stan Freberg’s Musical “Parodies”

Stan Freberg (with chair)Wikipedia’s got an interesting article on the musical parody genre: “borrowing” the lyrics or music of existing songs, and recasting them with different music or lyrics, respectively. Usually (as the ‘pedia points out) this is done with humorous intention — think Weird Al Yankovic — and that’s what this post is about. Apparently though, the intention isn’t always to induce laughter, especially when it comes to lifting music from old folk songs and like sources:

Bob Dylan took the tune of the old slave song “No more auction block for me” as the basis for “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

(Talk about a whiplash response when I read that little tidbit. I mean, I know Dylan has great respect for old music. Still…)

Anyhow, parody may be unique among the various forms of satire in that we can’t always tell what’s being made fun of. Is it the melody? the lyrics? a particular performer, or even a specific performance? The humor seems to rely strictly on the upending of expectations: we have to know the song to get the joke, and we have to know it well enough to recognize what’s been changed. (I guess from a certain perspective, even the work of this group — contemporary songs performed in old-fashioned styles — could be considered parody.)

Stan Freberg — the comedian, writer, all-around wizard of words and pop culture who flourished on radio and television in the 1950s-60s — seemed to specialize in a particular form of not-quite-parody: poking fun at the process by which recordings are made in the first place. It was almost as though he’d at some point heard Song X, Y, or Z, and thought: Wow. I bet THAT made for some interesting sessions in the studio…! The classic Stan Freberg musical piece featured a nearly note-for-note reproduction of some popular song… and a performer openly at explosive loggerheads with his accompanists or studio technicians. These little three(ish)-minute gems of artistic melodrama tended to conclude with hurt feelings, slammed doors, or worse.

Here’s an example. Around the time of Freberg’s heyday, Harry Belafonte contributed his “Day-O” (a/k/a “The Banana Boat Song”) to the library of pop-music earworms:

Freberg accepts the song’s virtues at face value; as I said, the guy really could perform. But he imagines the singer and his backup musicians having to deal with a producer or accompanist who perhaps woke up that day on the wrong side of the bed (if so, maybe with a soaring hangover):

[Below, click Play button to begin Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:30 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Freberg loved what instruments could bring to a piece. (One of his parodies took on “Dueling Banjos”: “Dueling Tubas.”) He could also imagine, though, that instrumentalists and vocalists didn’t always see eye-to-eye on how best to interpret a song. A classic example is his take on “The Yellow Rose of Texas”; by the time this fictional recording session ended, vocalist and assertive drummer were practically at each other’s throats:

[Below, click Play button to begin The Yellow Rose of Texas. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:26 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Finally: in late 1955, The Platters recorded one of their biggest hits, “The Great Pretender”:

Freberg apparently listened to this and wondered not about the obvious performers — the lead vocalist and ooo-ooo-oooh background singers — but about one member of the accompanying band. Like, jeez — the poor piano player: he had to play the same note, over and over and over and over… But what might the session have been like for real, given the “cool” of popular pianists at the time?

[Below, click Play button to begin The Great Pretender. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:22 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

That little twist at the end — the sudden re-introduction of a troublemaker from another parody — is one of my very favorite Stan Freberg moments.

By the way, although I’ve used the past tense above, Stan Freberg at age 86 still crops up from time to time, lending his voice (and no doubt writing) talents to videos, kids’ shows, and documentaries.

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Intersecting Panes

A reader where you'd expect a book

From whiskey river:

Indeterminacy means, literally: not fixed, not settled, uncertain, indefinite. It means that you don’t know where you are. How can it be otherwise, say the Buddhist teachings, since you have no fixed or inherent identity and are ceaselessly in process? Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to all of us. Each of us must take responsibility and make decisions. None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.

There’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That’s when the path appears.

(Kay Larson, on John Cage [source])

…and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book — not counting the lovely epigraph, which walks a line between mysterious and profound):

Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
— Michael Faraday

There is a hole in the universe.

It is not like a hole in a wall where a mouse slips through, solid and crisp and leading from somewhere to someplace. It is rather like a hole in the heart, an amorphous and edgeless void. It is a heartfelt absence, a blank space where something is missing, a large and obvious blind spot in our understanding of the universe.

That missing something, strange to say, is a grasp of nothing itself. Understanding nothing matters, because nothing is the all-important background upon which everything else happens.

(K. C. Cole [source])

and:

To the Reader

As you read, a white bear leisurely
pees, dyeing the snow
saffron,

and as you read, many gods
lie among lianas: eyes of obsidian
are watching the generations of leaves,

and as you read
the sea is turning its dark pages,
turning
its dark pages.

(Denise Levertov)

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When It’s Not Quite (Yet, Still) Light

[Image: “Zodiacal Light vs. Milky Way,” by Daniel López;
featured at
Astronomy Picture of the Day on March 20, 2010]

From whiskey river:

Incandescence at Dusk

(Homage to Dionysius the Areopagite)

There is fire in everything,
shining and hidden —

Or so the saint believed. And I believe the saint:
Nothing stays the same
in the shimmering heat
Of dusk during Indian summer in the country.

Out here it is possible to perceive
That those brilliant red welts
slashed into the horizon
Are like a drunken whip
whistling across a horse’s back,
And that round ball flaring in the trees
Is like a coal sizzling
in the mouth of a desert prophet.

Be careful.
Someone has called the orange leaves
sweeping off the branches
The colorful palmprints of God
brushing against our faces.
Someone has called the banked piles
of twigs and twisted veins
The handprints of the underworld
Gathering at our ankles and burning
through the soles of our feet.
We have to bear the sunset deep inside us.
I don’t believe in ultimate things.
I don’t believe in the inextinguishable light
of the other world.
I don’t believe that we will be lifted up
and transfixed by radiance.
One incandescent dusky world is all there is.

But I like this vigilant saint
Who stood by the river at nightfall
And saw the angels descending
as burnished mirrors and fiery wheels,
As living creatures of fire,
as streams of white flame….

1500 years in his wake,
I can almost imagine
his disappointment and joy
When the first cool wind
starts to rise on the prairie,
When the soothing blue rain begins
to fall out of the cerulean night.

(Edward Hirsch [source]; here‘s a good place to start learning about the mysterious figure whose name appears in the epigraph)

…and:

Do you wake up as I do, having forgotten what it is that hurts or where, until you move? There is a second of consciousness that is clean again. A second that is you, without memory or experience, the animal warm and waking into a brand new world. There is the sun dissolving the dark, and light as clear as music, filling the room where you sleep and the other rooms behind your eyes.

(Jeanette Winterson, from Gut Symmetries [source])

…and:

I have this strange feeling that I’m not myself anymore. It’s hard to put into words, but I guess it’s like I was fast asleep, and someone came, disassembled me, and hurriedly put me back together again. That sort of feeling.

(Haruki Murakami, from The Sputnik Sweetheart (translated by J. Philip Gabriel) [source])

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Unfinished Business

From whiskey river:

A Way to Look at Things

We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand
Nor clothes that fit like water
Nor thoughts that fit like air.
There is much to be done —
Works of nature are abstract.
They do not lean on other things for meanings.
The sea-gull is not like the sea
Nor the sun like the moon.
The sun draws water from the sea.
The clouds are not like either one —
They do not keep one form forever.
That the mountainside looks like a face is accidental.

(Arthur Dove [source])

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Sublime

From whiskey river (last two stanzas):

The American Sublime

How does one stand
To behold the sublime,
To confront the mockers,
The mickey mockers
And plated pairs?

When General Jackson
Posed for his statue
He knew how one feels.
Shall a man go barefoot
blinking and blank?

But how does one feel?
One grows used to the weather,
The landscape and that;
And the sublime comes down
To the spirit itself,

The spirit and space,
The empty spirit
In vacant space.
What wine does one drink?
What bread does one eat?

(Wallace Stevens)

Not from whiskey river, a reading of the above poem by Ken Worsley of Trans-Pacific Radio (over Ball and Biscuit by the White Stripes, as a background track):

[Below, click Play button to begin. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is about 1 minute long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(You might also be interested in reading Worsley’s account of how he came to read the poem this way, over this background music. That page is where I found the above podcast.)

Note: Audio player not working for you? See this little tidbit for an alternative.

Over the past week, whiskey river also cited a poem called, there, “Changing Places.” But, well, there isn’t any such poem in Rilke’s work*; it’s actually an excerpt from the start of his Ninth Elegy. In one translator’s version, from 1977 (and regardless of the title or the translation, yes, sublime):

Why, when this short span of being could be spent
like the laurel, a little darker than all
the other green, the edge of each leaf fluted
with small waves (like the wind’s smile) — why,
then, do we have to be human and, avoiding fate,
long for fate?

Oh, not because happiness,
that quick profit of impending loss, really exists.
Not out of curiosity, not just to exercise the heart
— that could be in the laurel, too…

But because being here means so much, and because all
that’s here, vanishing so quickly, seems to need us
and strangely concerns us. Us, to the first to vanish.
Once each, only once. Once and no more. And us too,
once. Never again. But to have been
once, even if only once,
to have been on earth just once — that’s irrevocable.

(Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by A. Poulin [source])

Now, something not from whiskey river

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4 or 5 Crazee Guys*

Album cover: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once...

I’ve resisted. Oh, how I’ve resisted.

Really — it’s been, like, Thou shalt not… and Stay thy hand… and all the rest of those Biblical-sounding injunctions. I’ve been strong. I’ve cared. Ultimately, alas, although I wrestled with the angel, s/he has overcome me. It was never easy.

And in the end, it was not even possible.

Yes. It’s time I mentioned The Firesign Theatre.

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What’s in a Song: I Get Along Without You Very Well
(Part 2)

Excerpt from Hoagy Carmichael's 1st draft of 'I Get Along Without You Very Well'[This is another in an occasional series on popular songs with long histories. Part 1 — on the song itself as finally recorded by numerous artists — appeared on Tuesday.]

Hoagy Carmichael published “I Get Along Without You Very Well” in 1938. (The copyright date was November 18.) But the song’s history stretched back over 15 years earlier, and the sheet music as published bore two signs of this past:

  1. The full title of the song included, at the end, “(Except Sometimes)” — a phrase which appears nowhere in the lyrics.
  2. Following Carmichael’s name as the songwriter appeared the note, “Words inspired by a poem by J.B. (?)”

Why “Except Sometimes”? Who was J.B.? And why that trailing question mark?

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