God, this made me happy this morning:
God, this made me happy this morning:
Jonathan's post yesterday on l'affaire Zimerman contains one surreal detail -- how Zimerman's Steinway was destroyed by American officials after 9/11 because they thought the glue "smelled funny." Which tells us something about the hysteria of the times. As Jonathan wrote in a subsequent comment, "we have a
lot of ground to make up, as a nation. I feel good about the start
we've made, but my *God* was that a ridiculous, nightmarish period."
True indeed. What's funny to me is how passions that gripped us so strongly such a short time ago (only 6-7 years ago, really not that long a time) seem so distant, so much a historical thing -- funny wrong things we used to think, like believing in witches or trepanning or something. Jonathan's comment reminded me of this Mr. Show clip, which I discovered on a political blog under a heading something like "History of America, 2001-2003." It was a strange time to live here.
David Foster Wallace -- one of my favorite writers, one of the best modern American writers, someone who proved that there are still people around who want to write the great American novel and might even pull it off -- has died. I want to write something fitting about him and don't have time right now (sorry, posting has been a little light of late, but as Sidney Falco says, I've been up to here), so it'll have to wait. Until then, something funny and charming. By way of David Brent Johnson comes this Bob Clampett cartoon from 1959. It's something about a boy and his pet sea serpent trying to catch a "wild man" -- a beatnik voiced by Lord Buckley. I've never been the biggest Lord Buckley fan, but this is just wonderful. Craaaaaazy!
I was going through my files at the end of last week, looking for a LeRoi Jones article from the hipster little magazine Kulchur, when I found this advertisement for The Evergreen Review, another hipster little mag.
The accoutrements of the square -- Glen Miller, Edna Ferber, Walter Keane, a complete run of National Geographic -- are particularly choice. What would the modern-day equivalents be? Also interesting is the detail of the price of coffeehouse coffee. According to the inflation calculator, 75 cents in 1965 is worth $4.88 in 2007 dollars. The modern-day gripe about how a cup of coffee is too damn expensive turns out not to be so modern after all.
I love how reading Everygreen Review becomes like one of those "build muscle for fifteen minutes everyday -- the Charles Atlas way!" self-improvement regimes, only with culture. What this demonstrates is what Thomas Frank shows us in The Conquest of Cool -- the modern style of advertising (funny, self-deprecatory, low-key, wise to the minutiae of pop culture) was not a "co-optation" of hip culture, but one of its principal creations. Compare the style of this ad with another 1965 ad for the Chrysler Imperial. (Nice car!) Note the bombastic appeal to the highest of high technology and the finest of fine materials:
The claro Walnut used within an Imperial is found only in Northwestern United States, and Eastern Kashmir.
Flitches [huh?] of the walnut (thin slices to be used as inlays) [oh] are examined for color, consistency, and directional grain.
Out of every 52 1/2 pounds of harvested fine-grain claro walnut, only eight ounces are fit for the Imperial.
The 52 1/2 pounds was a nice touch. It's science! And I also like the idea that extravagant waste is a necessary part of making such a fine automobile. ("We then shoot the remaining 52 pounds of claro walnut into high earth orbit, where it will remain for 4426 years, finally being immolated as plunges back to earth, its fiery trajectory through the starry firmament a fitting memorial to the Imperial's custom styling.") The advertising pitch based on the rare and exotic qualities of the materials ("Northwestern United States, and Eastern Kashmir") is reminiscent of Smoove B's game:
For dessert, we will eat sorbet from France. To procure this sorbet, I will take a plane to France and inspect all of the finest ice-cream merchants that I can locate, and I will purchase only the sorbet that passes my very strict standard of quality. It must be firm and flavorful, yet melt in your mouth. I will fly back to you with the sorbet, and I will feed it to you on a spoon of the finest silver construction, polished for days on end. I will slave with rags and polishing cleansers in agony just for one moment of your pleasure.
Speaking of the 1960s (how's that for a transition?) I should mention that I'm doing a talk this Friday at the music library on the auditory imagination of the 1960s radical left. This announcement is of course for the benefit of Bloomingtonians, though if you wish to procure the very finest of ideas, presented in lecture form with no expense spared, in a classroom equipped with the latest in smart-screen technology as well as a CD player, then you will surely board the most luxurious of private jets and make you way here from the farthest reaches of the world, from the burning deserts to the frozen wastes, including such places as the Atacama Desert and the Ross Ice Shelf. Let Smoove give you a lecture that will transport you to the wildest heights of learning. Damn.
Composer, blogger, Dial M commenter, and patriot Galen Brown (of Sequenza 21 fame) contributed one of the best musical parodies ever last summer -- his great Dvorak "My Humps" remix. (Sadly, it appears to have been taken down.) He has another one up, inspired by Alanis Morrissette's moody cover of the same maddening song (which I wrote about here). It's a tragic, This Mortal Coil-style version of "I Kissed A Girl (And I Liked It)". The sex ed site Sex, etc. writes "Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard Katy Perry’s hit single “I Kissed a Girl,” a song about girls kissing girls and sexual experimentation." As a matter of fact, I have been living under a rock! So this song was a new one on me, which means I heard Galen's version first. And I thought, hey, that's a haunting and heartfelt song! Poor Galen, he looks so sad!
Original song here. What we learn here is
adolescent exuberance - 20 bpm = adolescent depression
Which is an interesting discovery. It gets me thinking about tempo. One of my teachers, Michel Block, made an essential observation about practicing. He said that most people practice slow, but almost everyone does it wrong. They assume that it's the same piece, only slower. But it sounds different, right? Only people tune out the difference, though, which means they're tuning out what they play, not really listening, which means they're not playing musically. Slow practice becomes a purely technical exercise, moving the fingers slowly to master the movements necessary to perform difficult passages at full tempo. But the problem with that is it assumes that technique and expression are different things -- that one could practice "just technique" and insert musical expression later. Block was one of the first teachers I had who had a radically non-dualistic way of looking at things. He was maybe the first person who got me seriously questioning the dualisms I had always assumed -- technique/musicianship, form/content, style/substance, surface/depth. Through example more than precept (which is to say, in his ravishing lyrical style of playing) he demonstrated the "substance of style" that I have prated about on several occasions.
The upshot of this is that when you play something slower than you usually play it (when you turn a merry rondo into a stately adagio, for example) you need to find the proper expression for it at its new tempo. It's a new piece at its new tempo, so do justice to it -- play it as if it was written at that tempo. Inhabit the imaginative space of the piece as it has become; find out what happens to the music when you slow it down. You sometimes make surprising discoveries. And, mysteriously, you play better when you play it back up to speed. There's some kind of Zen-and-the-art-of-archery thing going on, though, because to hit that target -- to play better up to speed -- you have to forget about the goal and focus on the musical challenge of playing slow, which is to say, you have to stop thinking that you're "playing slow." Whatever tempo you're playing is the right tempo.
I just found this cartoon at Quick Study when main dude Graham Larkin sent it to me. Clearly this is an idea that has found its moment. What scholarship needs now is the gangsta touch.
In response to a great comment by David Cavlovic, and as a way of (hopefully) lightening the atmosphere after my last post, here is my favorite Wagner-abridged. As David said, "Lorin Maazel has NOTHING on Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd for condensed Wagner!" Yes, we've all seen this before, but I don't think it ever grows old from repeated viewings.
I have recently been enjoying a book I had not read in probably thirty years, though I probably read it twenty times in the early-to-mid 1970s: The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. A simultaneous fantasy novel and self-satire of the genre, the book is rife with anachronisms and Yiddish-inflected humor (a main character’s name is Schmendrick (=“not bright”), and withal still packs some of the most achingly beautiful and deft prose I’ve ever read. This was one of the books in my Tolkien/fantasy literary mix (which I treated like a slow-motion playlist) in high school, read so often I wasn’t reading it anymore. Had anyone at that time asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I would have assured him or her (after perhaps an eye-roll and a suggestion that I be left alone) that 1) I didn’t know, 2) the one thing for CERTAIN was that I wasn’t going to be a professor like my Dad, which was a certain waste of time, and 3) perhaps I could sit and read Tolkien and play Billy Joel and Steeleye Span songs for my whole life. Now, will you please go away? My Dad has gotten much, and well deserved, mileage out of my eventual career path, and though I didn’t become an English prof as, for example, a revered English teacher in high school suggested (“Would you like to be an English prof like your Dad?” “GOD, NO”), my writing about music text probably demonstrates that the acorn fell about as close to the tree as possible. What I apparently completely missed in Beagle’s book, though, is the skewering of a certain kind of academic, a kind of free mix of folksong collector, historian, musicologist, and ethnomusicologist. One character, named Captain Cully, is a leader of adventuring rascals and incompetent legend-in-his-own-mind who keeps hopefully mistaking Schmendrick for the folksong collector Francis J. Child and trying to sing him merrie songes he wrote about himself. The episode ends with Schmendrick bound and forced to listen, against his will, while Cully sings this repertory—thirty-one songs in all—and offers commentary: “'Whoever you are, you know very well that Robin Hood is the fable and I am the reality. No ballads will accumulate around my name unless I write them myself; no children will read of my adventures in their schoolbooks and play at being me after school. And when the professors prowl through the old tales, and scholars sift the old songs to learn if Robin Hood ever truly lived, they will never, never find my name, not till they rack the world for the grain of its heart. But you know, and therefore I am going to sing you the songs of Captain Cully. He was a good, gay rascal who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. In their gratitude, the people made up these simple verses about him.' …Whereupon he sang them all, [and] paused often to comment on the varying rhythm patterns, the assonantal rhymes, and the modal melodies.” I am neither folksong collector nor ethnomusicologist, but that last sentence sounds painfully close to some work in musical archaism that I’ve done. Ouch! I both laughed aloud and blushed. That was a punchline it took me thirty-plus years to get.
A close friend relays the anecdote of an accomplished guitarist of his acquaintance who had done a lot of church music (I’m guessing of the Praise Music variety, probably among many other styles). This guitarist “jokingly said that some hyper-charismatic people he knows said the chord that the Holy Spirit anoints the most is "Gsus." His response was that “his favorites were ‘F n' A.’” Oddly, he hadn’t been invited back to church to play since… Merry Xmas to those who celebrate it, and warm, cozy day to all. Intense snow here, so it’s cocoon time.