Saturday, January 31, 2015

song juxtapositions

There are different ways to sit around and think about one band doing another band's music: one is to find the common ground (on a Rush tribute project, "Limelight" should be done by the Dave Matthews Band); another is to come up with a loopy assignment and make it fit (Foreigner's "Cold as Ice" done by the Beach Boys? Perfect: piano riff now done by Wurlitzer organ, bass "ba-dump, ba-dump" doubled by loose toms; add some sleigh bells in there).

Just today I thought I'd like to hear Mumford and Sons do some 70s glam rock. First band to my mind was Queen, and then I immediately landed on "39," from their "Night At The Opera" album. Obviously! If Dar Williams's fans can get her to do "Major Tom," surely Mumford & Sons's fans could get them to do "39."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

an ironic fate

I just found out something absolutely shocking. (Shocking at least to me, a person of delicate sensibilities.)

What do you know about Mithridates? Many know the story of the king of Pontus who developed an immunity to various poisons and was an inspiration for the Dread Pirate Robert's greatest showdown.

If you're like me, you mainly know about him through A. E. Housman's poem "Terence, This is Stupid Stuff," in which the speaker defends his morose poetry as a way of inoculating himself against the evils of the world:

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

Hm. How did old Mithridates die? I actually never bothered to ask, nor, I'm ashamed to say, did I ever pay much attention to the actual plot of Mitridate, re di Ponto, the opera by the 14-year-old Mozart, instead just listening to the pleasant music the one time I heard it.

So, today, I just found out how he died, and I'm gobsmacked. No screenwriter (or opera composer) would dare to have come up with this fate. He was finally defeated by Pompey, and instead of being paraded around in defeat, in those death-before-dishonor days, he and his family protected themselves against rape/slavery/worse by entering a suicide pact, killing themselves ... by ... poison!

That's not all: wife and daughters keeled over as planned, but — as planned — the man himself didn't. He was last in line to drink, according to the morals of the time, and there wasn't enough left to overpower the immunity he'd spent his life building. Finally, he asked his friend to end it by sword so he could die with honor.

Like all of us, he'd protected himself against the wrong thing the whole time.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

bummers come in threes

Monday, January 12, 2015

black keys

Right this very minute, Greta is picking out tunes on the piano. She always tries to figure out her favorite songs — at the age of 3 she hammered away until she had "Ode to Joy" perfectly — and right now, on Monday, January 12th, she's picking out "O God You Are My God," starting on C, thus putting it in the key of F​. Black keys haven't been on her radar, so for a while she got stuck on the "I" of "I will ever praise You." But — one of my favorite sounds in the world, the rounding of a corner — a Bb! Haaaa!

She's now getting through the third line, through "learn to walk in Your ways," pretty perfectly, and stops, saying, "aaaah, this is impossible!!" I say, "you just did it!" And the painful and joyful job of joining civilization continues.