Gone to the Movies: “Adelaide’s Lament”

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Let’s lighten things up around here a little bit, shall we?  Although from today’s perspective, this song perpetuates a lot of stereotypes about women.  I chose it mostly because my cold reminded me of it.  (I’ve moved into the congestion stage, which means I’m feeling better but I’m all stuffy nosed. Sudafed is my best friend right now.)

Vivian Blaine played Adelaide in the 1955 film version of the Broadway hit.  I’m not a particular fan of musicals, but I have a bit of a soft spot for Guys and Dolls.  It’s a favorite of my father’s–although I don’t know if that’s because he read the original Damon Runyon stories, or if he liked the connection to the Salvation Army (the only charity he gives to on a regular basis).  Either way, he loves Guys and Dolls; so needless to say, I’ve had to sit through it one or two times.  Luckily, the music pretty much makes up for the silliness of the plot.  My personal favorite is Marlon Brando singing “Luck Be a Lady.”  He’s not much a singer, but he puts so much of his marvelous acting behind it that I find myself riveted to the performance.  (I feel I should note here that Don Henley did a terrific reggae-tinged version of “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” for the soundtrack to the movie Leap of Faith.  I like that song a lot, too.)

“Adelaide’s Lament” is comic in intent.  The subplot of the romance between the cold-footed Nathan Detroit and his long-suffering girlfriend Miss Adelaide is the comic relief counterpoint to the main romance between Sky Masterson and Sgt. Sarah Brown.  You’re supposed to laugh at their antics.  Vivian Blaine is by turns sweet and fierce, a sexpot with her eyes on becoming an “honest woman.”   How she intended to become an honest woman by marrying a gangster is left unanswered.  But as charming and lovely as Blaine’s performance is, I can’t help but feel a little irked by the myths perpetuated by the “medical” book she reads from.  I understand that both the movie and the musical (not to mention the short stories) are from a different time.  The 1950s isn’t exactly known for being a feminist wonderland, but it’s hard to turn off what I know is the truth.

The fact is, while marriage is considered beneficial for both partners, studies have concluded that men gain far more physically and psychologically from being married than women do.  Married men live much longer and are healthier than their bachelor counterparts–whether because someone takes care of them, or they’re more motivated to take better care of themselves, I don’t know.  Women do still live longer, but marriage’s benefits are less pronounced for them.  So instead of developing a cold, women are almost as well off in terms of health if they stay single.  “Adelaide’s Lament” is funny, but wrong.

Wow.  So much for lightening things up.  This kind of went in a direction I didn’t expect.  It is a cute performance . . . as long as you ignore the sexist stereotypes.

For Jane Doe, Steubenville

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This is a little outside this week’s theme of sickness.  Except that this is something like an institutional sickness.  I don’t like the term “rape culture,” but I also can’t think of any other way to describe living in a world where it’s the woman’s fault if she gets raped.  It’s not.  Period.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the coverage of the verdicts in the Steubenville rape case.  I’m sure you’ve all seen how so much of the media is focusing on the reaction to those creeps getting far, far less than they actually deserved for their crimes.  It makes me sick with fury to see reporters discuss how those boys’ lives are ruined.  I’m sorry, but I don’t think a couple of years in juvie is going to ruin their lives.  Certainly, they’re going to be better off than the girl they violated, passed around, and photographed as though she were a piece of meat.  This young lady’s strength and courage astound me.  And my admiration grew when I read about this on Meizac’s blog.  Here’s a link to the original post on Tumblr

Jane Doe, Steubenville has requested that anyone who wants to help pay her legal costs instead donate the money to Madden House in Wheeling.  Madden House is there to protect women from violence.  The fact that these places are necessary is a huge black stain on the culture.  The fact that the only reason those creeps in Steubenville ever got charged with anything was because of the evidence on social media is another black stain.  There are so many stains on our culture right now, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to make it clean.  We are a society that still doubts a woman when she brings charges of rape or domestic violence against a man.  We are a society that still thinks women should be held responsible for each and every single moment of their lives and safety, but that men can do whatever they damn well please.  We as a society should be ashamed.  I know I am.

Tori Amos recounted her own rape in a song.  It’s a powerful document.  I’m proud of her for refusing to be silent.  I’m proud of any woman who stands up and demands to be counted, who makes it clear that she will not cower in shame.  Because of rape shield laws, the identity of Jane Doe, Steubenville is protected.  But she is not silent, and she is taking action.  So here’s to her, and the hope that someday this institutional sickness of rape culture will be cured.

 

“Nausea”

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I’m feeling a bit better, although I’m having a little trouble mustering up the energy to do, oh, pretty much anything.  But even though I’m improving, I’ve decided to make “being sick” a theme for this week.  Why?  Because I can.  And because I got a little curious about just how many songs about being sick there might be out there.

There’s actually a lot more than I thought.  There’s still not that many; feeling crappy usually doesn’t lend itself to creativity.  After a brief search, I decided to pull out this little gem from X.

X is one of the great underappreciated bands of all-time.  They’re not ignored enough to be Criminally Underrated, but I think a lot of people forget just how good they were.  X was an L.A. punk band, and L.A. punk was very different from New York or British punk.  British punk was all about anger.  (Yes, punk is an angry genre, in general, but the Brits really put some fury and bite into their anger; they made it a political statement.)  New York punk was more about art school experimentalism and riffing on 50s rock.  But L.A. punk had something neither of the others had: suburban malaise.  You might be inclined to think that nobody living in a nice, solidly middle class suburb in sunny Southern California would have anything to be unhappy about.  But that was what people here were unhappy about.  All the houses look the same, and there’s concrete everywhere.  The only thing anywhere near your house that’s even remotely interesting is usually a shopping mall.  The schools are insipid and uninspiring.  Girls should all be skinny and blonde; for that matter, so should the boys.  You’re only supposed to care about getting your own car and/or a date for the prom.  Your greatest ambition should be going to the beach and getting a tan.  God forbid you don’t fit into the mold somehow.  You can’t be too smart, or too dumb.  You can’t like books too much.  You shouldn’t be interested in wearing anything other than the latest styles.  That’s the picture postcard life, and that’s exactly what L.A. punks were rebelling against.

X does a damn fine job rebelling.  This isn’t one of my favorite X songs, but it’s a pretty good description of how the hollow, shallow suburban life makes some people feel.  (I suspect the lyrics have more to do with being drunk or stoned, but that’s also a symptom of suburban malaise.)  Frankly, even though I’ve only got a little cold right now, this song actually makes me feel a little nauseous.  There’s something about the driving beat that just pounds the feeling into you, like you just got sucker punched, or hit your head too hard on the sidewalk.  It’s visceral.  It’s also very effective.

Bleh!

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You know, there just aren’t enough songs about being sick.

I have a cold or something that leaves my throat scratchy and the rest of me feeling kinda crappy.  So this is the best you’re getting out of me for the next day or two.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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A number of years ago, I read a fine book titled How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (spoiler alert: it has something to do with their copying of classical and religious texts, thus helping to save a great deal of Western culture from Barbarian hordes).  This article over at Slate reminded me of that book.  One of the figures Cahill writes about is the legendary Saint Patrick, who was actually more famous for converting the Irish natives to Christianity than banishing snakes.  St. Patrick’s Day was for generations a quiet, serious, sober religious holiday in Ireland.  But then the Americans got a hold of it.

It’s a well-known rumor that there are more Irish people living in the United States than there are in Ireland.  I don’t know how true that actually is, but I do know there was a mass immigration from Ireland in the 1800s, mostly to escape the Great Potato Famine.  And the Irish brought with them their culture and habits.  Irish become synonymous with drinking in this country.  Now it’s a fact that folks on the other side of the pond generally consume more alcohol than we do over here, but that is something common to all of the U.K. and Europe, not just Ireland.  My father recalls that his Irish grandmother was opposed to drinking whiskey, but loved her chips and beer (which probably contributed to the untreated diabetes that led to her death).  But it’s probably unfair to lump all Irish people into one big, alcoholic mass.

But it was Irish-American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day that created the, um, festive attitude that surrounds the holiday today.  In this country, it just isn’t a holiday until there is: A) a parade, and B) a large quantity of alcohol consumed.  Although St. Patrick’s Day does have the benefit in my eyes of not being one of those holidays where people combine their booze with explosives.  I figured a good song to celebrate today would be any song from the Pogues, who are a notoriously boozy band.  I’ve grown quite fond of the Pogues over the years.  There’s something dignified in the way the carry the torch of their cultural history, blending it with punk and rock influences to bring it to new generations.  It’s damn fine music.  Of course, that might just be the Irish in me.

Sort of a Repost: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

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My original post about this song centered on Marvin Gaye, who was equally a brilliant artist and a haunted man.  But this time, I’d like to delve a little more into his singing partner, Tammi Terrell, who it seems was almost as troubled.  Today is the anniversary of her death from brain cancer in 1970; if she’d lived, she’d be 68 this year.

I looked up some information about Terrell on Wikipedia, because other than the fact that she sang some incredible duets with Marvin Gaye and that she collapsed on stage in his arms, I knew pretty much nothing about this beautiful woman.  Born in Philadelphia, she began singing as a teenager, signing with James Brown’s label among others.  Her career was a commercial failure in spite of her spectacular voice; she even left the music business and began studying pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania.  Lured back to professional singing by Jerry Butler, Terrell eventually signed with Motown and became a star.

She had a couple of Top Forty singles on her own before Berry Gordy paired her with Marvin Gaye.  They just exploded off the stage together; they were electric.  Watching them perform together, it’s hard to believe they weren’t romantically involved.  But Gaye was married to Gordy’s sister Anna, and Terrell was involved in a tumultuous relationship with Temptations singer David Ruffin (who was very married to someone else).  Even though the relationship would’ve been doomed by her illness, I can’t help but think both Terrell and Gaye would’ve been better off if they had been together.  There’s such an obvious love and friendship between them.

Terrell’s romantic life can only be termed “difficult.”  From an abusive relationships with James Brown to her affair with Ruffin, Terrell seemed to find only the wrong men.  (She was engaged at the time of her death–to someone who was not a singer or musician.)  She did have strong friendships, though, most notably with Gaye.  Those friendships and her family must have sustained her through her career and illness.  It’s so tragic that someone so young never got to fulfill her potential.  But for those musical moments we have, Tammi Terrell was at the top of the mountain.

Freaky Friday: 4′ 33″

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Went out to dinner with the family tonight, so I haven’t really prepared an extensive freak for today.  But a notion struck me today: Why not post one of the strangest compositions of all time?  So here it is, in all its glory.

No, the sound on your computer is not malfunctioning.  This is John Cage at his weirdest—and that’s saying something.  I’ve been thinking a lot more about experimental music since I read Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, since there is a great deal in it about composers like Meredith Monk, La Monte Young, and Phillip Glass.  Cage was a bit ahead of these artists, and probably influenced all of them to some degree.  In 4′ 33″, there is an artistry to the silence; the sound of the auditorium, the audience, the world, are all part of the composition.  I think the purpose of this piece is to get people to think about what music really is.  Just like Andy Warhol made people think about what could be considered Art.

Cage was very influenced by Eastern music and philosophy, so this Zen-like approach isn’t really surprising.  It’s just taking things a bit further than most composers would.  No.  This isn’t music in any real sense.  It’s the sound of possibility.  Everything is open in these four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  Anything is possible.

Got Live If You Want It: SXSW

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This year’s SXSW festival is in full swing.  My cousin the Roadie went to Austin to work it this year.  (He was disappointed not to be on the crew for this year’s Super Bowl, so this is a nice gig for him.)  For those of you not in the know, South by Southwest is the finest indie music festival in the country.  Actually, it’s probably the finest music festival at all, period.  Of course, like the Sundance Film Festival and San Diego’s Comic-Con, SXSW has gotten a little big for its britches, but I’m not gonna throw stones.  There just aren’t enough outlets for quality, independent music, so if the festival wants to expand to include established artists, technology, and film, I am not going to complain.

SXSW has been happening in Austin, TX since 1987, and it has gained not only a huge following, but the kind of cultural cache generally reserved for the Steven Spielbergs and George Clooneys of the world.  (I’m not criticizing those guys, just pointing out that their names automatically lend an air of seriousness and prestige to virtually anything.)  If your band plays SXSW, then either you’ve made it, or you’re about to hit really big.  And this isn’t just crappy Top Forty pop.  These are really good acts from just about every genre–although as I’m listening to NPR’s Austin 1oo playlist there seems to be a definite bias toward singer-songwriter types.  There’s rap and hardcore metal (there’s a group called Skeletonwitch, if you’re interested, Sandee).  There’s twee girl singers.  There’s art school synth bands.  It’s like Baskin Robbin’s 31 flavors, only cooler.

Here’s an example from last year.  The utterly awesome Alabama Shakes played a set, and they were quite predictably awesome.  And they’ve since gone on to play every other major festival, release their first full-length album, and get nominated for a handful of Grammys.

Since it’s pretty clear none of us have ended up at SXSW (unless Cousin Roadie is reading this, then I’d like to add, “Hey, Ferret Face!  Bring me some swag!”).  But we can still enjoy the music.  For free, even.  NPR’s Steven Thompson (from the Pop Culture Happy Hour) has curated a playlist called The Austin 100, which you can download as one massive file.  Did I mention it was free?  Let me repeat that:  It’s FREE!  At least until April 4th.  Then I guess you’re screwed.  Click the link; you can stream it if you’re not sure about making such a large commitment on your hard drive.

Sorry this is such a link heavy post, but I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry visiting any of these other sites.

“Ave Maria”

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So I’m gonna hold off on this week’s GLIYWI post for two reasons.  First, because I’m not quite prepared to opine about the event.  Second, because something that’s kind of a big deal to a lot of people happened today.

I’m not Catholic.  Heck, I’m not even a member of one of the Protestant Christian sects.  But my mother and her family were/are Catholic (although many of them have turned to Evangelical Christianity), and I was baptized in a Catholic church.  And I’ve always felt that if I were to turn to organized religion (of the Judeo-Christian variety), I would turn to the Catholic church.  I’ve always been a little in love with the ritual of the Church; that ritual has been on full display the last week or so as one Pope has resigned, and the Church’s leaders have gathered to choose a new one.  Today, white smoke came billowing out of that chimney on the Sistine Chapel, and Pope Francis I was introduced to the world.

Now we all know the Catholic church has had a few problems recently.  To be honest, corruption has long been a problem in the Church.  Popes used to be chosen according to who could bring in the most bucks, not who was holiest.  Occasionally, a Pope was selected because he was the guy who managed to knock off the largest number of his opponents.  Priests aren’t allowed to marry or have children because the Church was tired of losing wealth and property to inheritance laws.  And to be honest, I thought Pope Benedict XVI seemed kind of shifty.  This new guy seems okay, although he hasn’t even had a full day on the job yet.  Francis is the first Pope in 1,000 years from outside Europe, the first Pope from the Americas.  He’s also the first Jesuit to be chosen.  I’ve got a fairly high opinion of the Jesuits, since they’re kind of the intellectuals of the Catholic church.  (Before he became a priest, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a chemist.)  I’ve got hopes that Francis the First won’t be too repressive or regressive.  Catholicism could stand to move into the 21st century.  (Why not ordain a few women?  Statistically, they’re less likely to be pedophiles.)

Of course, the rituals and music of the Church can happily stay rooted in the past.  There is a majesty to the ceremonies and rituals that I think serve the Church well.  Religious artwork and music is some of the finest in history.  “Ave Maria” is from the Schubert opera Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See (Song Cycle on The Lady of the Lake).  It is a musical prayer to the Virgin Mary, and it was one of the best known and most beautiful pieces of music.  So, here is a song in the hope that Pope Francis I will honor his vow to lead the Church in love and friendship to all.

God bless the whole world.  No exceptions.

Repost: “If I Had a Boat”

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The warm California weather has me feeling kind of mellow and wistful.  This seems to be the perfect song for that feeling.

Lyle Lovett has always been an intelligent and quirky songwriter, sort of like Randy Newman for the country music set.  I think he’s as misunderstood the same way Newman is, too, since his most popular songs tend to be very funny on the surface, and most people don’t look past the surface.  Lovett is just considered something of a novelty act by anyone not really familiar with the depth of his music.

Lovett has always had a great range of emotions in his songs, from achingly sad (“Nobody Knows Me”) to bitingly sarcastic (“(That’s Right) You’re Not From Texas”).  “If I Had a Boat,” from Pontiac, is full of Lovett’s usual lyrical wit and a yearning for freedom.  It is a road song for the mind.  The guy in the song imagines what his life would be like if he had a boat: “I’d go out on the ocean.  And if I had a pony, I’d ride him on my boat.  And we could all together go out on the ocean.  I’ll sit me upon my pony on my boat.”  This clearly a fanciful daydream, possibly of a landlocked city slicker who harbors romantic fantasies about both the ocean and cowboys.  He is alternately Roy Rogers and Tonto and lightning, a strange combination until you realize what they stand for and what he wishes he could reject.  Roy Rogers stands in for conventional relationships and marriage, but if he were Roy, “I’d sure enough be single.  I couldn’t bring myself to marrying old Dale.”  Tonto becomes the working man under the Lone Ranger’s boss, “cause Tonto did the dirty work for free.”  But his Tonto would quit, saying “Kemo Sabe, well kiss my ass, I bought a boat, I’m going out to sea.”  Lightning stands in for the kind of freedom cowboys usually represent, “I wouldn’t need no sneakers.  Well I’d come and go whenever I would please.”  The only obligations he would have would be to himself and his pony, and they would be out on the ocean on a boat.

It sounds kind of nice really.  Might be a little smelly and crowded.  But to be beholden to only yourself and the companions you have chosen is the ultimate kind of freedom.  Not nothing left to lose, as Kris Kristofferson once imagined it.  This is freedom with everything to gain.  All directions are open and all you have to do is go whichever way the wind blows.