Althouse | category: music | (page 149 of 150)



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

High-tech-problem-is-really-a-low-tech-problem... Soylent Green ... Cocteau. My dear return readers will know of my recent travails with my digital camera, which turned out to be one of those high-tech-problem-is-really-a-low-tech-problem problems (a wall switch was involved, a variation on is-it-plugged-in troubleshooting). Another high-tech-problem-is-really-a-low-tech-problem problem happened again today, when Charter Communications set up my cable modem, but the cable guy recoiled in horror at the sight of my wireless device (Airport): "I can't touch that!" He will only hook the cable directly into to the one desktop computer that doesn't have a wireless card and checks it all out and I'm supposed to do the Airport part of the setup myself after he leaves. But oh it's easy, he says, just reconnect the cable to the airport and then run a cable to the desktop. But, no, that in fact does not work, as I eventually figured out. The cable modem will have given an IP address to the desktop, so the Airport won't be able to "pull" an IP address of its own. Solution: unplug the cable modem box and turn it back on with Airport connected. How much time did I throw away before I discovered the old unplug-it-and-replug-it maneuver? Hours. And a life is only made up of hours....

Ah, but okay, I like the wireless, now that it's working, and all the digital cable that got attached seems pretty nice too. I like the "Music Choice" channels, as I sit here writing, using the wireless. I don't usually listen to music, but maybe now I will. One of the channels is called "Light Classical." I can't read that term without thinking of Edward G. Robinson in Soylent Green. Am I the only one? In the unforgettable scene in which Robinson requests Light Classical music in Soylent Green (why am I refraining from spoilers? isn't this the most spoiler-ruined movie in movie history?), what is played is Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.

Once, I drove to San Francisco, then to Las Vegas, then back to Madison. I was visiting family members in those two cities, but I also cared about driving through Death Valley, between SF and LV. Driving, I was listening to The Teaching Company lectures about Beethoven's symphonies along with the symphonies. What was so strange and beautiful was that Death Valley coincided with Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the un-Death-Valley-like Pastoral. In thinking about music not matching the visuals, I always think about Jean Cocteau's memoir about making Beauty and the Beast, which I could not more highly recommend. Cocteau favored film music that wasn't closely tied to the visuals. Put in the score, and let accident determine what sound went with what visual. The spirit of Cocteau was with me when I loaded up the CD player with Beethoven symphonies and drove across the vast wastelands of the American west.

"Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, thank you so much--you've been just lovely--a real knock out." That's Prince, at the Hall of Fame show. He gives a great performance--and changes the words to Kiss:
"You don't have to watch Sex and the City to have an attitude."
Oh, but good Lord, the intro is stilted and prolonged. Alicia Keys seems to be auditioning for a movie role, so earnestly emoting her way through the teleprompter script.
"He's the inspiration that generations will return to until the end of time."
I love Prince, but that's just stupid. Keys should have refused to say those idiotic lines. Ah, what the hell. There's always been something incoherent about the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. And good old Prince is still raving about freedom and spirituality, God bless him.

I hope Tonya TiVoed the adorable Dave Matthews intro for Traffic. ... There really is something wondrous about Mr. Fantasy. And Steve Winwood's voice is wondrously intact.

Art formulas. Should we shake our heads at the production of formulas for art, like "Hit Song Science"?
PolyphonicHMI says the software uses a proprietary algorithm to weigh and analyze more than 20 components of a recording (tempo, rhythm, cadence, etc.) and assign each song a value. The company used that algorithm to analyze 50 years of music released in the United States - album tracks and singles, pop, jazz and classical, totaling 3.5 million tracks - and graphed each song in multiple dimensions to create "the music universe." Plotted, it resembles a picture of a far-away galaxy, millions of song-specks floating in cosmic precision, presenting the illusion of randomness.
Some people do object, thinking art is all about individual imagination, but music is already based on some pretty constraining patterns. Artistic creativity always occurs within some kind of structure, and there is reason to think that a constricting structure enhances artistic creation. Think of the sonnet form or Dogme95. These limitations could be based on philosophical principles or scientific analysis of existing works, like Polti's Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, or it could be a game of limiting oneself, like the surrealist games. Obviously, these devices can produce bad art too, but so can a blank sheet of paper or an empty canvas. I love these efforts at constraint and limitation. Some of them are good and some aren't. Devising them is itself creative, even if it is also analytical and scientific. Art is not anarchy.

Punks for Bush. The Times notes a trend:
"Punks will tell me, `Punk and capitalism don't go together,' " [22-year-old Nick] Rizzuto said. "I don't understand where they're coming from. The biggest punk scenes are in capitalist countries like the U.S., Canada and Japan. I haven't heard of any new North Korean punk bands coming out. There's no scene in Iran."

That photograph by Richard Perry is the photo of the year for me. I don't even know how to say how much I love that photograph!

The article notes:
Johnny Ramone, the guitarist for the Ramones, has been an outspoken Republican for years, and some skinhead bands have blended the punk aesthetic with their extreme right-wing views.

(Just go ahead and lump Republicans and skinheads together!)

I like this quote from Ian MacKaye (of Fugazi) who "likened the punk aesthetic to furniture":
"Once it's built you can put it into any house," he said. "You can be a lefty and go to Ikea or you can be a right-winger and go to Ikea." Punk, he said, "is a free space where anything can go — a series of actions and reactions, and people rebelling and then rebelling against rebelling."

He's a smart guy.

Courtney Love ... Richard Perle ... Jessica Simpson. It was fun clicking from Letterman to Nightline to Leno and back again last night. Courtney was certainly energized. Simpson was funny, telling the story about meeting the Secretary of the Interior at the White House and saying to her, "You've done a nice job decorating the White House." Perle--I don't know--I just found it amusing that he was the meat in that sandwich.

Courtney Love performed in Madison some years ago (at the Paramount, which no longer exists). She didn't like the sound system and kept complaining about it, in elevating stages, ending with her taking off her top, and also throwing food from a deli tray at the audience. We kept some of the food wrapped up in the freezer for a while, thinking it somewhat historic, but it isn't there any more. Not that I think anyone ate it. In a sandwich.

Anyway, breast-baring is a very old routine for Courtney Love. I'm thinking she feels it's not fair that Janet Jackson got so much attention recently for baring a breast and that she's the one who's entitled to the publicity. Hence the Letterman antics. Personally, I think she knows what she's doing, as opposed to being out of her mind. When she had her on-stage freak out at the Paramount, there was a break in the middle, where supposedly people were trying to get her to come back out on stage, and later she did come back out. But during that break, we stepped outside for some air, and she was out there talking to the management, perfectly rationally, about how to deal with the sound problem. That was maybe a decade ago, so who knows? I still am going to guess that she has chosen a role and is playing a part.

UPDATE: Cka3n doesn't want to believe Courtney Love was just acting, but he perceptively realizes the reason he doesn't want to believe she was is that it's only funny if you think she's out of control. The material wasn't really that good. It wasn't as good as Jessica Simpson's Leno material quoted above, and I think that was scripted, by the way, because it's just too good. Simpson may be dumb, but she's not that dumb, and if she were that dumb, she just wouldn't get lucky enough to say the great lines she's famous for. Simpson has writers. Love is doing her own material, improvising, and she's a terrific actress and she's smart, so it works. She may seem a bit old for the crazy punk girl role, but like (Whatever Happened to) Baby Jane, she can entertainingly play crazy punk girl into extreme old age. And if she survives to extreme old age, that's how you'll know it's all been an act. And of course I hope it is. (Oh, and yeah, I TiVoed it. But here's a recap if you didn't. Recap link courtesy of Gawker.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me explain the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane reference. In that film, Bette Davis plays a character who had been a successful child star, and who, though quite old, continues to trounce about in baby dresses, acting all cute and coy. No longer the little girl, she's become a really interestingly deluded old lady. So Courtney Love can continue in her punk girl role and, as she ages, let it become wild and outrageous in new ways, like Bette Davis's character. And in fact, Love might do well generally to have Bette Davis as a role model. Just play a raving old hag and grow old in style. Nicole and Drew can't do that. Bette didn't have to be the prettiest or the cutest to be the best actress of them all, and neither do you. And, readers, if you haven't seen that film, you really must. And by the way, it's another one of the great things about one of my all time favorite years, 1962.

"Paisley Park Is in Your Heart." I usually don't write about music that isn't at least 25 years old. I will never get tired of the 1960s music and consider myself lucky to have been a teenager in those years, so that great music became part of my mind in a way no other music could be. To this day I'd rather listen to The Kinks "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" or The Zombies "She's Not There" than anything recorded after 1980. You just don't get excited about music the same way when you're older.

But there is one exception to the rule, the one music person I really fell in love with after I was 30 years old. He got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night, so I just wanted to pay my little tribute to the man whose music I listened to all the time in the 1980s.

"Big Girls Don't Cry." Am I the only one who noticed that, in the first episode of The Sopranos this season, AJ was attempting to play "Big Girls Don't Cry" on his new drums? (That song title was once used as an episode title, back in Season 2.) The drum intro to that song is so familiar to me, because I adored The Four Seasons from the moment I first heard "Sherry" on my little transistor radio, when I was in, I think, 6th grade. The radio was a cute white rectangle, an iPod forerunner of sorts, and I used to take it to school and hide it in my desk and attempt to listen to it through an earplug. No one I knew had headphones, or even stereo sound then, certainly not on the radio, so you used an earplug, which was pretty much like having one earbud. "Earbud" is a silly word, but "earplug" is a strange word for something used to send sound into your ear.

Anyway, I would listen and listen to that thing in the hope that they would play a song I loved--and there was a point in 1962 when I loved every song in the top 20. The release of The Four Seasons' second single, "Big Girls Don't Cry" was a huge deal to me, and the sound of the drum intro on the radio would have filled me with joy in those days. You can listen to the beginning of the song here.

If you'd like to see more pictures of old transistor radios, you could start here. There seems to be some passion for the old things out there. The image I'm displaying is the closest I could come to my treasured old radio. Mine was white where this one is red, but that silver, angled, TV-shaped speaker lingers in the mind: I'm sure I had a Realtone.

Solving the Jon Peter Lewis mystery. Prof. Yin wrote:
I actually kind of like Jon Peter Lewis' performance, but I don't think there's a chance he'll get through.

Then, it turned out we saw that the li'l guy outpolled even the clearly best person (Jennifer Hudson). Here's Shack's rebuke at Television Without Pity:
You voted spastic dork Jon Peter Lewis into the finals.
Well, I laughed through Lewis's performance and would never have voted for him, but (with hindsight) I understand why he won the vote of the people. The people in question, the ones who speed dial hundreds of times in the alloted two-hour period, are young girls. Personally, I'm not a young girl, but I once was, and I remember very well how I felt about idolizing singers. I was interested in male singers who seemed to be boys, not men. I wrote a few days ago that the group Them wasn't quite what I liked at the time. This was the reason: Van Morrison sounded like a man. For the same reason, I wanted nothing to do with something like, say, Percy Sledge singing When a Man Loves a Woman. Young girls are interested in a singer who is an idealized boyfriend. That's why they liked Clay Aiken so very much. That's why we loved The Monkees.

Drop City ... Gloria. I drove in to work this morning listening to an NPR interview with T.C. Boyle, who talked about being really a rock star at heart, forced to be a writer for lack of musical talent. (Hey, that's the way I feel about being a law professor! At least there's a live audience.)
[I]n Drop City, the Van Morrison song "Mystic Eyes" is used to underscore the novel's central conflict between a hippie commune in Alaska and the locals they incense.

I'm going to read that. Me, I liked the early Van Morrison, before his name was known, and he was just Them. I bought the first Them single when it came out ("Here Comes the Night"). It wasn't quite the sort of thing I liked at the time, but it was close enough, and it was clearly good. "Gloria" was even better.

So let me say something about "Gloria," which relates to the single best moment of musical performance I ever witnessed live. It was the mid-1970s, in Greenwich Village, in a small music club that was called The Metropolitan (or something close to that). We had gone to see the folk duo Happy and Artie Traum, whom we liked a lot at the time--this is a good folky album--and were dismayed to see that there was an opening act, and it was just some poet who was going to do a reading. That didn't seem right, and I came close to leaving and coming back later so I wouldn't have some idiot's poetry inflicted on me. Well, the poet was Patti Smith, and there was a guitarist sitting in a chair behind her, sort of aimlessly, quietly noodling, while she recited her poetry in the singsongish way typical of beatnik poets. At some point, it became more like singing, and then, somewhere down the line, with the participation of the guitarist, it became "Gloria." That was the coolest thing ever. A version of her Gloria, appears on the album pictured here. I have that album in a frame on my living room wall.

Celebrity with a handgun and a high, beautiful voice. I see Nina's blogging about the David Crosby arrest. I was going to blog about him yesterday, but then it just seemed too sad. How out of it must you be to abandon a bag with a gun and drugs in it so that the hotel employees feel compelled to open it to try to identify the owner? Is that a cry for help or just utter oblivion? I don't know, I lost a new Pelikan fountain pen a couple months ago and then a burnt velvet scarf, so I know how it is. You can lose things.

I love David Crosby though. Not Crosby-Stills-&-Nash Crosby, but The Byrds Crosby. The first concert I ever saw was The Byrds. Folks, it was their first tour! That's how old I am, though I was pretty young at the time. I've said before that the first group I ever loved was The Four Seasons. That made me a bit resentful of The Beatles at first, and the whole British Invasion set of characters, at least until I discovered one of the groups on my own, listening to a distant radio station late at night. (The song was "I Can't Explain." I loved the early Who, and in fact was a member of The Who fan club before they had even released an album in the United States, purely on the strength of "I Can't Explain.")

But The Byrds were part of America's answer to the British Invasion, folk rock, which took the British sound and made it better because they began with Dylan songs or songs with lyrics that tried to be like Dylan's. So Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds was truly sublime. Crosby's voice was supremely beautiful then, and he was a sweet kid who always had a little smile, back in the days when Roger McGuinn was Jim McGuinn and David always wore that green suede poncho with brown suede laces in the front. (Is that thing in a Hard Rock Café somewhere now?)(Want to see how they looked in action then? Get this.)

I hope for the best for David. Part of me wants to say, don't some celebrities need to carry a handgun to protect themselves and why waste any public resources on a guy with a small amount of marijuana? But I can't appreciate a guy with a handgun who leaves it lying around in luggage he doesn't keep track of. I see he got arrested not long after giving a concert in Wayne, New Jersey. That's where I was living in the 1960s when I went to see him that first time. There were no concert halls in Wayne then. Where did I see him? Newark? I don't remember. They played a short set and we all screamed through the entire thing. It couldn't have been more thrilling. Good luck, David.

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