Wednesday, April 18, 2012

all night long

I just got back from hearing the San Antonio Symphony rehearse its first Brake arrangement. I'm already mentally editing, chalking up what ended up sounding good in real life and what didn't. (As an evocation of what was originally an electronic texture, my cool muted-multi-trumpet trill sounded great, just for the record.)

The song is "All Night Long," Lionel Richie's huge Caribbean-flavored hit from 1983. I remember when it came out. The first thing that struck me was that, for a song about partying, it starts calm. What a great idea. And Richie sells it so well. In the video, he looks terrific: not soap-commercial-studly but casually slick, and handsome — handsome in a way, importantly, that owed little to Anglo conventions of beauty. I always imagined that if I were an African-American kid I'd have looked to him as someone I could aspire to.

But his appearance in the video goes beyond that. The way the thing is staged, and the way he performs within it, have stuck with me all these years. A youtube viewing simply confirmed my 16-year-old impressions. As various lithe dancers and partiers, all bearing witness to the explosion of inventive (and often human-form-flattering) fashion in the early Eighties, enter and prepare to party in the streets, Richie moves simultaneously among and Above, giving his blessing to each of them, gesturing them into inspiration, the musician as life-giver. Look at the way he moves: it's as if everyone else is dancing and he's the one setting them in motion, like the shocking figure of God dancing out the creation in Michelangelo's less-famous but most inspired Sistine panel, The Separation of Light from Darkness.

Of course, music is mainly music, and his composition doesn't disappoint either. Pure pop perfection, but hardly formulaic. Rather than the tried-and-true concision of the A-A-B-A-B-B or A-B-A-B-B-C-B of most pop songs since the 60s, he has the audacity to write a song that (by my count) goes A-B-C-D-E-F-C. And it never flags or feels weird. I can't think of another top ten song that does that. Even Cole Porter's famously long forms relied on slight variation and repetition rather than a string of unrelated themes. Richie makes it work.

This weekend, the Symphony will be kicking off Fiesta with pops concerts on Friday and Saturday, and the opener is my arrangement of "All Night Long," with Tejano star Patsy Torres singing. (I stuck a couple of quotes from some of my favorite Torres hits in there, just for fun. Will anyone notice?) Today, I strolled into the rehearsal hall to check it out. They sound just great, and Torres is terrific. (I also got a sneak preview of Troy Peters's shimmering arrangement of "On Broadway.")

Well, my friends, the time has come. Great way to begin Fiesta.

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