Category Archives: music

The Dog Days Poetry Series

Because nothings says “It’s too hot to think” like bad poetry!

Long after those teenaged years when I thought Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was a work of great profundity, the Moody Blues remain a guilty pleasure. They forsook R&B to ride Sgt. Pepper’s coattails to wealth and fame, but they brought their songcraft along for the trip. “The Story in Your Eyes” is one of the great overlooked singles of the Seventies, and the poperatic “Nights in White Satin” was the perfect accompaniment to my Sorrows of Young Werther period. I can even listen to it now, as long as it doesn’t have that tacked-on album coda of purple poetry.

The poetry . . . oy.

I’ve always suspected Graeme Edge’s verses were a drummer’s revenge — a cry for help from a man who’d started with a harder-edged style and had to tone it down drastically for the sake of commercial appeal.

I think he definitely had an influence on the poetry of Spinal Tap.

   

Just remember — don’t try this at home. And if you do, don’t let it out of the house.

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From Steinbeck to Hane to Bach, by way of Ixtlan and Li Po

BACH

Culture is a slippery slope. One thing leads to another. A book leads to a poem, or a piece of music, or a painting, and suddenly you’re haring off after something else entirely.

We’re coming up on the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. Even if you don’t know him, you know his music. Even if you don’t like classical music and avoid it like the plague, you’ve heard something by Bach. One of the pleasures of getting to known the man’s immense body of work is the little epiphany you get every now and then, realizing something he wrote — Toccata and Fugue, anybody? — has been imitated and recycled so many times that it has permeated the cultural aquifer.

We’re coming up on Bach’s birthday, and at the top of the post is the cover of the first Bach album I ever bought — Book Two of The Well-Tempered Clavier, performed by Glenn Gould. If memory serves, I scored my copy at a long-vanished record store in the Moorestown Mall. The thing is, I wasn’t looking for The RickettsWell-Tempered Clavier, I was looking for The Art of Fugue. That’s because my favorite book at the time, the book I re-read at least three times that year, was John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which I still think is the best thing he ever wrote — second only to The Pastures of Heaven. And if you’ve read Cannery Row, you know the novel is, among other things, a song of devotion and admiration for Ed Ricketts, the Monterey-based marine biologist Steinbeck used as the basis for Doc, the novel’s scientist hero. Along with being a scientist, heavy drinker, and epic lover of women, Doc was also passionately fond of The Art of Fugue, and while the teenaged me could at the time only dream of indulging in the first three, I could damn well score myself a copy of Bach’s valedictory work.

Only I couldn’t find The Art of Fugue in any record store, and in the pre-Amazon landscape of the mid-Seventies it was a rare and lovely thing to find a record store willing to do special orders. Even so, I’d been wanting to take a crack at Bach — I approached album purchases as a form of self-improvement back then — so I thumbed through the bins in search of something that looked promising. That’s when I saw the angel-coiffed Bach staring back at me.

Another of my high school, fixations, along with Steinbeck, was the works of Carlos Castaneda and his (probably imaginary) encounters with the Yaqui Indian seer Don Juan Matus. The covers of A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan sported the magnificent cover art of Roger Hane, whose style was so instantly recognizable that I had to get that particular Bach album. There was even a full-sized wall poster of the cover illustration. Hane also painted the coversJourney_to_Ixtlan for the 1970 Collier paperback edition of The Chronicles of Narnia. (Hane was killed by muggers in 1974, and when the fourth Don Juan book, Tales of Power, came out I was pleased to see the cover artist had written “For Roger” over his own signature.) So I proceeded to work my way through the entire Well-Tempered Clavier, and when The Art of Fugue finally turned up, I found it to be every bit as good as Steinbeck (and Doc) had promised.    

Cannery Row, as well as the essay “About Ed Ricketts” from The Log from the Sea of Cortez, included paens to the work of Li Po, and in due course I found the collected works of that drunken Chinese poet. Another bell ringer. 

See what I mean? It’s a slippery slope, this culture business. One thing leads to another. And all this because we’re coming up on Bach’s birthday.


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Blue Monday

Maybe like me, you never heard of Adam Fulara. Now, like me, you can say you heard from him.

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Up where the air is fresh and clean

Tom Waits on the simpsons

Tom Waits will never be immortalized on Mount Rushmore or blessed with a platinum album — probably never — but as of tonight he can always say he was on The Simpsons, so there. I guess it’s only to be expected that he would meet Homer at Moe’s Tavern, but they’ll have to go a long way to beat this scene:

 

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Piety pimps

This morning, the twinkies on the Today show leavened their standard mix of blather — vapid analysis of the “fiscal cliff,” weight-loss advice, celebrity gossip — with a rundown of the movies opening today. Naming Texas Chainsaw 3D, one twinkie said “some are questioning its release so soon after the Newtown shootings.” I don’t know what’s worse: the weasel-word evasiveness of “some are questioning,” or the hypocrisy of someone tut-tutting the fictional violence in a horror movie from his perch at a TV network that spent weeks sucking every last tear off the face of anyone in the vicinity of Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

I get the same sense of exasperation while while listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Quentin Tarantino, in which the filmmaker gets audibly testy when Gross clumsily links the violence in his films to the real-life carnage in Newtown and too many other places where psychos did their bloody work. And while I’m no great fan of Tarantino’s work — Death Proof was dull as dirt, and Inglourious Basterds struck me as juvenile gamesmanship with history — I’m with him when he chides Gross for the offensiveness of her comparison, and describes the differences in the ways violence can be depicted on page and screen. The fact that he’s entirely correct won’t make a bit of difference in this discussion, but I salute him for the effort.

We are a species that searches for patterns and connections everywhere, and this leads to a propensity for magic thinking. In this case, it’s the notion that writing about bad things (or showing them on a screen) will make bad things happen. Piety pimps like Joe Lieberman (now gone from the Senate, praises be, but certain to return as a talking head on the cable shows) build whole careers on this kind of witch doctor talk. Taking away Quentin Tarantino’s fake blood squibs won’t keep real blood from being shed, any more than inflicting parental advisory labels on musicians keeps teenagers from learning cuss words, but it does create a semblance of action for people who are unable or unwilling to deal with the real sources of what’s ailing society. I would venture to say that’s part of what makes Tarantino so testy, and I know exactly how he feels. 

   

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Joltin’ Joel

One of the surprises of watching the benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy relief was seeing Billy Joel give a polished, thoroughly professional performance of songs that had obviously been chosen with some thought. I’ve never been the world’s biggest Billy Joel fan — not even a medium-sized one — but I thought his set put the wheezy sets by the Rolling Stones and The Who completely in the shade. Though I’d be deeply grateful never to hear “Piano Man”or “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” ever again, I nod along whenever a tune from An Innocent Man comes along on the radio, which happens often enough to keep me from feeling I actually need to buy one of the man’s discs. So what is it about the man’s work that inspires the level of venom in this piece and that piece? I’ve heard detractors call him pretentious and self-important — is there a building big enough to hold all the rock musicians guilty of those sins? He’s sometimes a Dylan manque? Who isn’t? The Tablet writer takes Joel to task for pretending to be a man of the people. Ooooh, snap. Next he’ll be telling us Mick Jagger isn’t a sharecropper’s son, or John Fogerty wasn’t actually born on a bayou. It all seems so out of proportion, So what gives? 

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Hobbitunes

Howard Shore’s extraordinary music was a big part of why I fell hard for all three Lord of the Rings films, so I was delighted to hear that Shire was on board to score all three installments of The Hobbit, due to hit the cineplexes  in about a month. His music for the first film is streaming here. Shore is still the perfect composer for Middle-earth. 

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