Thursday, August 27, 2015

heart and soul

As I sometimes do, I'm thumbing through Alec Wilder's terrific book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. He mentions Hoagy Carmichael's song "Heart and Soul," which you'll recognize as the song Tom Hanks and his mentor play on the giant piano in the movie Big, but undoubtedly you knew it well before that. Wilder actually goes into this.

   What does fascinate me and has never been explained is how it came to be more popular with small children than "Chopsticks." I have never known a home with contained both children and a piano in which "Heart And Soul," without the release, was not the principal pianistic effort. And it was always for at least three hands. The rhythm was almost always a form of "shuffle" rhythm and more often than not the bass line was scalar and in dotted quarter and eighth notes.
   The copyright date is 1938, and I first found children experimenting with it around 1950. Even though it had been a great hit, it never did become much of a standard song. So where, oh where, did the children come across it a dozen years later? How did it manage to spread over the face of the nation? If there is an even faintly reasonable answer, I'd be very grateful for it.
I've often had the same question. What could possibly be the explanation?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

the bad "such"

From an article by someone named Edwin Lingar:
Like many self-identified American Christians, I grew up calling myself such while adhering to few of the precepts and never going to church. 
There it is! That use of the word "such," that always hits me as ... what? not quite wrong. Maybe "undergrad" is the word. That use will show up in an opinion piece in the local college paper (or in Salon, whose sloppy editors let in so many amateur-hour flubs that it's hard to believe there are editors at all).

But here's the deal: I've never seen it used by any writer that's really good, or in any publication that's at the top. It's a usage that seems to belong only to smart 10th-grade poets, but really should be out of their system by college. It's one of those things that the writer thinks sounds good but is really an indicator to the audience that the writer is trying to reach for a rose and getting a thorn.

There's one use that's even worse, and more pretentious: instead of "you're a rascal!" or "you're quite a rascal!" or (ramping up the lit-snob appeal just a bit) "you're quite the rascal!" or even "you're such a rascal!", you often see 10th-grade-poet-types going for "you're such the rascal!" In a just world, this would set off actual alarm bells and sirens.

Such things are often the subject of humor — think of the fun Jon Stewart had, and Jimmy Fallon still has, with the Jersey use of "classy" — but I've never seen the "such" poked fun at that way. Wouldn't it be just right in the mouth of some dowdily-dressed book-club prig in "Girls?" I would definitely chuckle at such.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

goodbye, red

NO!! I just found out Red Lane died about a month ago!! Great songwriter who wrote dozens of hits, mostly mid-charters, and always underrated.

I associate him with the hybridized pop country music of the Seventies and Eighties. Generally, the tangy swing of traditional country is more appealing to me, but Red wrote some great stuff. He wrote Waylon Jennings' "The Eagle" and BJ Thomas's "New Looks From An Old Lover," but here's my absolute favorite of his. It should go down as one of the great American standards.

Rest in peace, Red.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

ginger, mary ann, and the rest

Mary Ann: I don't see how you can exercise in that dress anyway, it's so tight. I'm surprised it doesn't cut off your circulation.
Ginger: Honey, in Hollywood, the tighter the dress, the more the girl circulates.

A friend, quoting that line, says, "I've recently rediscovered Gilligan's Island and I am finding it really funny now that I am old enough to appreciate the old-school writing and comic performances."

I think I remember having the same impression sometime in the late 90s when it was on somewhere: macroscopically it's incredibly stupid, but microscopically — the little funny lines and zingers — it's bubbly and clever.

Of course, for decades, sitcoms were seen as just that: a vehicle for microscopic hilarity — great comic actors doing their thing. (Think "Three's Company," which was never macroscopically worthy of the terrific John Ritter, but nonetheless gave him plenty of comic scope.)

Alas, poor Yorick.

We're re-watching the entire run of "Seinfeld," and recalling that this is exactly the show's great innovation — they carefully constructed plots that blew up at just the right moment, like in a great comic play or movie. And then they carried plot elements over from show to show, and even season to season, and you were expected to remember. (Of course, the most important feature there was probably the VCR, which allowed you to brush up on demand, so a show didn't simply evaporate after it was aired; and, crucially, you could arrange to never miss a show: if you had another engagement you could just tape it. Revolutionary, when you think about it!)

Maybe I'll go back and do the whole run of "Gilligan" sometime. All those actors were great pros with real credentials. I remember being impressed with especially the penumbral character actors in "Bewitched" for the same reason.

My bones aren't marrowless, if you know what I'm saying.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

whole tone spontaneity

We regularly sing instead of speaking. A life in arioso!

Greta just went into Cate's room with a balloon and sang, "Mayyy - youuu - pleeease - blowww - thiiiis - uuuup?"

The weird thing is that she sang it right up the notes of a whole-tone scale!! We all usually default to diatonic (think white keys on a piano); what on earth caused her to do something that unnatural, and, for the untrained, quite difficult?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

prostitution and covenant

Here's an article about a guy who auctions his virginity as documentarians film a movie about it. A girl was auctioning hers, too, but that's less surprising, as is the difference in starting bids. Yeeeesh! So much to say here. I guess one reason for the disparity is purely mechanical: a man could have a satisfying time with a completely inexperienced woman, but a woman almost certainly won't have a satisfying time with a completely inexperienced man.

Deeper, though, is the main issue in my opinion, and that is common sexual economics. Sex is, for many many people, something that women provide for men at some price: it's up to the woman, then, to decide what she's "worth," and it's either a hamburger and movie, or willingness to hold hands in public, or willingness to commit to being a boyfriend, or a fortune of several million dollars, or $70 an hour, or marriage and no less. All up and down the scale, though, this is a prostitutional model of sex — and it's one that I encountered in youth programs at my church! Naturally, at church, the prostitutes were encouraged to be as expensive as possible, not giving away their virginity when they could sell it for an ultimate price: a man's possessions and life in marriage. (This was invariably pitched to girls: guys were never seen as prostitutes, because, naturally, guys are the customer.)

Completely out of the blue, then, comes our model of marriage: the covenantal model — so different from the prostitutional model in every way. People just don't understand it. The other day Catherine and I were having dinner with a friend, and talking about marriage and cheating, and he just couldn't understand how hugging and kissing and having a candlelight dinner could be as worthy of fury/divorce/murder/complete dissolution of marriage as actually sleeping with someone. Catherine and I both feel that emotional cheating is just as much a betrayal as sexual cheating, and arguably more. But when your view of sex is the prostitutional model, and you're talking with someone who's on the covenantal model, it's like one person's playing chess and the other's playing checkers: same board, same talk of "pieces" and "moves," but there just can't be a game till the game itself is discussed openly.

The covenantal model is foreign even to most Christians, I've reluctantly and sadly concluded. But it calls, more and more insistently and gently to people all around us who are weary and heavy-laden.

Maybe the most disturbing thing in the article is what goes completely unsaid: [1] that sex might be worth something other than money; and [2] that in the brutal gladiatorial entertainments of reality TV, it's always and only the gladiators who are destroyed — if you don't count the incremental coarsening of conscience in every audience member.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

yyz isolated bass track

A friend alerted me to this cool recording of just the bass track from Rush's song "YYZ" from their album Moving Pictures.

The interesting thing about this is that the isolated track shows that they were recording it not only live but in the same space. They're miking the bass amp, and the mic picks up the drums and guitar.

Especially interesting is the cymbal bleed: usually you roll off some of the highest frequencies of a bass track but these are all there, or at least not rolled off completely — that's how you get the nice edge from hitting the string against the pickup, one of the signature bass timbres of this album.

Also, you realize that the bass amp is right in the room, picking up those guitar and drum sounds — not in an isolation closet somewhere. Back then, you often had the band in one room (if it was a rock-n-roll band), but they were listening through phones, and the guitar and bass amps were off somewhere stuffed into closets. Doing it this way, though, actually in the same room, gives you that indefinable open-air feeling. Nice!!

 (Also, notice that they cut out Alex's [still rather inexpert] 16th-note Van-Halen-ish fill when they punched him in. Hah!)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

end-of-a-movie-fy your statement

Here's how to End-Of-A-Movie-fy any statement. Say the thing, then say a person's name, then say the thing again. Does it work? You better believe it.

Viz: You better believe it, Barry; you better believe it.