Not an oxymoron—Scandinavians take Christmas seriously, as anyone who has been to any of the major cities at Christmas knows. In spite of Scandinavian Noir and those gripping television shows, Christmas in Stockholm or Helsinki or Oslo is quite joyful. We start off with a suggestion from Cat White, Mitt hjerte alltid vanker (My Heart Always Wanders), which I’m pretty sure you need to be Norwegian to understand, but is quite lovely anyway. That’s what’s great about Christmas songs—they often sound great even when you don’t get the literal meaning.
Or, as it has been known for 600 years, “Greensleeves.” This is a lovely version by Liz Story, pianist extraordinaire, from her Christmas album, The Gift. The lyrics to “What Child is This?” were written in the 19th century, but “Greensleeves” itself has been associated with Christmas since the 1660s. Continue reading
Another wonderful 20th century piece, one I was unfamiliar with before moving to England. The not-at-all-apocryphal story is that Peter Warlock (music) and Bruce Blunt (lyrics), broke and living in the country, decided to enter The Telegraph’s annual Christmas song competition. This was decided in the middle of a bender, following which the two staggered back to the cottage they were renting. Blunt wrote some lyrics and passed out. Warlock found them in the morning, wrote the music, and they sent it off to finance an “immortal carouse,” as Warlock later put it. And won. Beauty can appear anywhere. I refuse to listen to Sting’s version. This version is by Polyphony. This is a haunting, stunningly beautiful song. Continue reading
I’m a really big Dar Williams fan. And I’m a huge Christmas music fan. So it makes complete sense for this to show up here:
Mandela is dead.
We’re going to post something neat every day. It’s the season for fantastic music, and since we have impeccable taste, we’re going to be posting some impeccable stuff–lovely, but not your usual carol. Today, Morten Lauridsen’s lovely version of a Christmas Matins response, done by Polyphony. This is my favorite version. This theme has been addressed by composers from Gombert, Victoria and Palestrina right up to Poulenc and Lauridsen in the 20th century.
From screwball comedy to – well, screwball comedy
I’m in the midst of reading a detailed architectural history of my hometown, Eden, NC, a gift from my lovely and talented mate. While interesting (to me, anyway, since I’m from there), it is a tad on the dry side (though well done as such tomes go) and a slow read as a result. I’ll review that after Thanksgiving. To divert us in the meantime, I’ll do a little of what I’ve complained about academics doing (and which I did plenty of at earlier points in my career) and write a nice little popular culture analysis.
This past Friday (sad anniversary though it was) I watched TCM’s Friday Night Spotlight. This regular feature of the “old movies channel” as some think of them (I think of them as a national resource for learning about film history) has focused on screwball comedies of the 1930′s-early 1940′s. Continue reading
Courtesy of Upworthy and WGBH we get this audio of the moment when the audience learns that Kennedy has been assassinated.
What do Rammstein, The Dixie Chicks, Rick Springfield, The Beatles, U2, Uriah Heep, Toots & the Maytals, Talk Talk, Shiny Toy Guns, Primus, APC, the band that eventually turned into (shudder) Maroon 5, and a bunch of other bands, many of which you never heard of (445 in all) have in common? Continue reading
Here are my program notes for Orlando Chamber Choir’s triumphal concert last night, sightly edited, since, actually, you’re not at the concert.
If you could pick the time and place of your birth, you would probably not pick the last twenty years of the 16th century. This would be a particularly bad time to be living in Germany. Plague was rampant, even though there was relative peace for a period. Death surrounded everyone, and Schütz, growing up in this milieu, was no exception. 1585, the year of Schütz’s birth, saw a recurrence of the plague that had swept through Weissenfels (where Schütz grew up) in 1577, and which was to return several more times in Schütz’s lifetime. If anything, the first half of the 17th century was even worse, mainly on account of the 30 Years Wars (1618-1648). These conflicts, between bitterly divided catholic and protestant Central Europe, consumed much of Germany, and left much of the country devastated, both spiritually and physically, particularly in Saxony. Continue reading
Should writers care about readers?
This starts with a conversation I had in graduate school. I was trying to decide which author I would focus on for my master’s thesis. I knew it wouldn’t be a poet (I adore poetry and have a large number of poets whose work I admire and love to read and discuss, but I’m a prose writer myself and I felt I’d be more simpatico working with someone who did what I do), and I knew I wanted to choose someone who hadn’t been, in the words of my adviser, “done to death.” This was the early 1980′s and my school’s English department was actively discouraging students from writing any more theses on Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Kerouac, Ginsberg or any Beats – and you couldn’t even whisper that you wanted to write about a Romantic. We Boomers had worn out professors’ patience writing – and writing – and writing about these same authors. Continue reading
It’s Shelley – and ideas – that scare us…
Since I’ve been skylarking, having left the original 2013 reading list in the dust long ago (except for the Christmas selections) and now having left the extended reading list behind, too, it seemed like a good idea, given that Halloween was approaching, to choose a book that fit the holiday. So I pulled my copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from the book shelf. Couldn’t go wrong with the antecedent of all mad scientist stories as a choice for the spooky holiday, right?
As is the case with some other books on this list (Twain’s Innocents Abroad, the Austen novels Mansfield Park and Emma), I have read Frankenstein before – at least twice that I remember – and I think more times. I read the novel while in undergraduate school just because I wanted to and then read it in graduate school as part of a course on the Romantics. I believe I even taught it once in a freshman intro to lit sort of class – pretty sure I did, in fact. So there’s another time….
So I came to this reading with rather a healthy fund of knowledge about both the book and about its critical interpretations. To paraphrase my beloved Twain, however, I didn’t let my education get in the way of my learning this reading. So, on to the book… Continue reading
My man Sam Smith posted yesterday about the wide-ranging influence Lou Reed had—and continues to have—on popular music.
Alas, though, Sam was no doubt in the throes of grief and unable to think straight when he wrote: “The Beatles were the biggest thing in the history of popular music and it’s hard to imagine any band or solo artist ever surpassing the influence they exerted, both musical and cultural. But it’s entirely possible that the #2 position on that list belongs to Lou Reed.”
It’s also entirely possible that Justin Bieber is the reincarnation of Sam Cooke. Continue reading
Legendary battles with Lester Bangs in Creem revealed the depth of Reed’s ennui
For several years in the 1970s, I was a fan of Lou Reed, who died Sunday at age 71. When I learned he had died, the first thing I thought of was his 1974 album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal.
Animal was the antidote to the Floyd boys’ Dark Side of the Moon, and it was an album you wanted all of your friends to hear. My roommate and I would gather friends in our dorm room, get ourselves in the mood for some music, kill the lights and then start the turntable. Nobody would say anything until the turntable arm lifted at the end of the album side. Generally, the reaction of first-time listeners was “whoaaaah.”
Nearly forty years later, some of Animal holds up well (“Sweet Jane” and “White Light/White Heat” about the best, and maybe “Lady Day”), but “Heroin” is Lou shooting up with self-indulgence, and “Rock and Roll” is for the most part guitar wanking. Continue reading
When the iconic Velvet Underground & Nico album was released in 1967 I was all of six years old, so VU was never a part of my lived experience. I never became a fan of their music, exactly, although my inner rock historian grew into a deep respect for their place in the canon. This respect only grew as the magnitude of their influence became clearer and clearer over the past 20 years or so.
Lou Reed walked on the wild side
Lou Reed, legendary rock musician and friend and colleague of Andy Warhol, John Cale, and Delmore Schwartz, is dead at age 71. While his work with Velvet Underground was initially not widely popular (although more popular than one supposes), the group was undeniably influential. Reed’s later solo work included both mainstream successes such as his top 40 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” and avant garde precursors of noise rock such as Metal Machine Music. Continue reading
The age of Matthew Arnold is dead: “elitism” vs. popular culture…
In Part 1 of this discussion of contemporary reading habits, I sought to find some rationale for the domination of “fiction bestseller lists” (flawed as measurement of anything though those lists might be) by works that are, in one form or another, escapism. I discussed the decline of what the old “high culture/low culture” model called “literary experience” – the introduction, chiefly via the education system, of works/authors that could arguably be called classic to both those in elite private institutions and to those of us better classified as the hoi polloi through our public schools.
The genesis of this entire essay, as I mentioned earlier, was my anecdotal experience as a regular visitor (both as author and reader) to the popular social media site, Goodreads. The democratization of culture that the power of the Internet, and especially its most powerful weapon, social media, has been in some ways liberating, in some ways unfortunate. Continue reading
This started mainly as an idle exercise. Each time I go to Goodreads, I am apprised of someone’s latest book which is, I am assured, a triumph of – well, some sort. Many of the books are #’s 3-4-5 in a “series” of books about – this or that currently popular genre. If you are a reader, or play at being one as many seem to do, you know the drill by now: the most successful books are those which appeal to current reading interests. In the second decade of the 21st century, that means one should write something in at least one of the following veins: science fiction (or one of its variations like cyberpunk or steam punk); paranormal thrillers – or romances (zombies and vampires have been quite successful, and wizards have made billions); or apocalyptic/dystopian adventures/romances/thrillers. Preferably any/all of these should be aimed at a “young adult” audience – though the range of that age group seems to be a matter of concern both to those who would censor any thing that doesn’t meet their narrow minded world views as well as to some writers who, silly creatures they are, think adults should read adult books on adult topics – you know, stories that might not end with “something magical” happening.
Harrumph, said the cranky old professor/author…. Continue reading
Periodically I like to surf through YouTube for interesting song mashups, which are as pure a postmodern art form as exists. Today was one of those days, so here, for your listening pleasure, are some things that go together like peanut butter and basketball.
Up first, Ozzy vs. a-ha. Folks, this just ain’t right.
I picked up a fascinating book at my favorite used book store recently. It’s by Michael Ochs, arguably rock music’s preeminent archivist (and, in case you are wondering, yes, he’s the great Phil Ochs’ brother and was his manager for the last nine years of that brilliant, tragic folk singer/songwriter’s life). The book is called simply, Classic Rock Covers, and it covers rock music album covers – items now, I suppose, quickly becoming the province of antiquarians – and archivists like Michael Ochs.
As you’d guess, this book is primarily pictures. That’s understated: this book is overwhelmingly pictures of album covers covers from the 1950′s-90′s. Ochs offers a brief introduction, then brief (all too brief) overviews of each era of the Age of Rock. He occasionally offers a comment (and by that I mean a sentence or two) among the hundreds of album covers. One wishes for more. Continue reading