“Bone of Song”

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Today was not so unbearably hot in my neighborhood, thanks to an influx of clouds early this afternoon accompanied by a fine breeze.  Which means I might be able to wear long pants tonight, and avoid adding to my new bug bite collection on my legs (eleven, at last count).

So instead of obsessing over the temperature all day, I watched two or three episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS (yes, I am that much of a geek; I also watch Antiques Roadshow sometimes . . . sue me).  I was an English major, and I studied a lot of Shakespeare, so this was a great way for me to spend an afternoon.  Anyway, one of the episodes was on Hamlet, with David Tennant doing the hosting duties (you can watch it here).  Hamlet is a favorite of mine, and Tennant was my favorite Doctor, so it was win-win all around for me.  But there was one scene which just stood out to me.

The program explores Shakespeare from a variety of angles–historical, biographical, literary, etc.  At one point, Tennant goes to the British Museum to view original copies of the three different existing versions of Hamlet.  The librarian tells him that the so-called “bad quarto” is one of only two existing copies, and Tennant gets this delighted, gleeful look on his face.  He seems genuinely overjoyed that he gets to lay hands on something so incredibly rare (I was vaguely horrified that they let him touch it without gloves, but that’s another story).  I found his reaction deeply affecting; I know I would’ve reacted much the same way.  To touch history like that, to be connected to one of the greatest writers of the English language, seems so glorious and overwhelming.  It made me think of all the ways there are to be a part of the world, of history, of culture.  Of the dreams I have of being remembered for my words.

Which led me to this quirky little song by Josh Ritter.  “Bone of Song” is a meditation on creativity and inspiration.  The character, let’s call him Josh, finds the bone of song, “a jawbone old and bruised, and worn out in the service of the muse.  And along its sides and teeth were written words.”  The bone tells Josh to share his song, and it will be recorded along with all the other music inscribed there.  It’s a magical object, meant to give the holder a place in the world of music, but no control or ownership over the muse:  “It said leave me here, I care not for wealth or fame.  I’ll remember your song, but I’ll forget your name.”

This is the experience of the artist.  It is the search for your spot in the larger world you enter, to find a way to honor your predecessors while carving out a niche where you can be remembered, too.  One of the themes that kept coming up in Tennant’s discussion of Hamlet was how an actor can find something new in a role and play that has become utterly ubiquitous.  How do you make a role like that your own?  How do you write words that stand up to those of Shakespeare or Joyce (or anyone, for that matter)?  How do you paint a picture or take a photo that shows the world anew?  There’s really no way to tell.  You just do your best, and hope someone cares after you’re gone.  That’s why the best artists and performers don’t create for an audience; they create for themselves.  What they see and hear and know to be true.  And they hope that one day, they will stumble on the great inspiration that will transform not only their own experience, but the world’s.

“Lucky are you, who finds me in the wilderness.  I am the only unquiet ghost who does not seek rest.”

Repost: “Summer in the City”

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I hate to do another repost so soon, but it’s the most appropriate song  I can think of right now.  I just checked the weather on the computer, and it’s still 90 degrees in my area–at not quite 6:30 PM.  Cripes, I can’t wait for the sun to go down.

One of the nice things about living in SoCal is that no matter how hot it is during the day, it gets a little more pleasant as soon as the sun goes down.  Now the sun has just disappeared behind the houses around me and nice sea breeze is coming up.  Of course, I still feel all hot and icky (cleaning litter boxes is more strenuous than it ought to be when one of the cats insists on digging all the way to the bottom).  It was hot here today; the local weather had the Long Beach area in the 90s.  I know we’re a lot better off than other people, but I get unhappy if the thermometer goes above 78 degrees.  (Hey, anyone know how to make the little circle indicating temperature?)

Hence, I’ve got The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” stuck in my head.  Sure, I could’ve gone with Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave,” but that’s a love song disguised as a complaint about the weather.  “Summer in the City” really is about the weather.  I don’t know much about the history, but I can just imagine John Sebastian sitting in his sweltering little walk-up in NYC, praying that an ice truck would fall through the ceiling, fanning himself with yesterday’s newspaper, when the inspiration for this hit.  Or maybe he was sitting on the fire escape planning what he was going to play at that night’s gig.  However it happened, it’s such a concise depiction of what a hot summer in a crowded place is like.  One thing for sure, that Hammond B-3 is seriously hot.

Just a little sidebar, John Sebastian is one of the few people who looks exactly the way he sounds.  He used to have a syndicated radio show I listened to in the late 80s–played blues, folk, and other assorted cool stuff–and his voice put the image of a guy with mousy brown hair and glasses into my head.

“Hot, Hot, Hot”

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I’m not quite living in hell; I think that’s being reserved for people in the desert.  But I live next door.

I’ve never really liked this song, but I admire David Johansen for being such a chameleon.  I can’t imagine anyone else going from the New York Dolls to Buster Poindexter and back again, with stops pretty much everywhere in between.

That’s all I’ve got; my brain is a little melted tonight (I made the mistake of walking home after some afternoon errands).  Expect the heat to be a theme this weekend.

Repost: “Music, Sex, and Cookies”

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I went to Trader Joe’s today, and picked myself up a box of their vanilla Joe Joe’s (like Oreos, only way better), which got me thinking about cookies and music.  Which led me straight back to this song.

 

Everybody has a theme song or two.  It’s part of being a human being in the age of (television/cinema/information/digital downloads/choose your poison).  Depending on your mood, it could be soaring and inspirational or the saddest emo ever known to humankind.  Or it could be amazingly silly, with just a hint of truth.

There really are a lot of songs that resonate with me on a very deep level.  I can “hear” myself in a lot of music; it’s part of what makes music such an important part of my life.  There’s even a few that I keep coming back to, over and over, as being representative of the person I am and the person I want to be.  But I find myself so oddly connected to this little ditty, that I’ve always considered it my theme.  I heard it on the Dr. Demento show many, many years ago.  (I think Dr. Demento must represent some sort of adolescent rite of passage.  Just about everyone I know started listening to him somewhere around puberty and quit right about the same time they started/ended college.)  I had no idea who performed it or when it was recorded.  For all I knew, it was a listener sending the good Doctor his homemade demo tape, a la Weird Al Yankovic.  I’ve got a little more information now, but this will always be the song I heard late one Sunday night and said, “My god, that’s me!” (except for the fact that I’ve never heard anything by the Pousette Dart Band).  As life philosophies go, it’s not bad.  A little hedonistic, but harmless.  The main purpose I think “Music, Sex, and Cookies” serves, and the one thing I think we all need to keep in mind, is that it reminds us not to take things too seriously.  Enjoy life.  Stop and have a cookie once in a while.  I’m partial to chocolate chip myself.

“Everybody’s Talkin'”

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Today has been a bit of a busy news day for me.  As a tennis and football fan, I was quite interested in the action at Wimbledon and the news concerning the arrest of Aaron Hernandez  I also know sports isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I’ll say no more about either.

Of course, the real action came from the Supreme Court rulings–one striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (ha! . . . defense, my ass), the other refusing to rule on California’s Proposition 8,  which took away the right of same-sex couples to marry after it was allowed by the state Courts.  These are both good rulings.  You can’t tell people they’re legally married, and then deny them the same Federal benefits other married couples enjoy; you also can’t tell people they have the right to get married, and then take it away.  There’s absolutely no question of morality; denying someone a legal right is just wrong.  That’s like saying black people can’t go to the same public schools as white people (which the Supreme Court ruled illegal in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education . . . effectively setting legal, Constitutional precedent for equal marriage rights).  But I can’t help feeling a little let down by the rulings, a little disappointed.  I’m hearing all these talking heads on the news talking about how huge both rulings are, but they seem kind of small to me.

Maybe I just had my hopes up a little too high.  I had daydreams about a sweeping ruling declaring all bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and nullifying all the legalized bigotry across the country.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen–well, my head knew that, anyway; my heart had other ideas.  And what with the Trayvon Martin case going to trial, and Texas about to pass a hideous anti-choice law, I know there’s so much work to still do to fight against the forces of ignorance and hate.  Everybody is indeed talking, but it’s not enough.  We’ve still got a long, long way to go.

“Season of the Witch”

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Okay, I’ll be honest.  The choice of song today doesn’t really matter; it just had to creepy.  I could’ve gone with the classic Mike Oldfield tune “Tubular Bells”, which was used as the theme for The Exorcist (and still gives me the chills every time I hear it).  I also thought about using “Haunted House Blues” by Bessie Smith.  But those didn’t have quite the same resonance as Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.”  This one builds up nicely to a sufficient level of uneasy paranoia.  It never used to freak me out, until it was used over the end cards and credits of Zodiac (a great film about the journalistic search for one of the most deeply unsettling serial killer cases ever).  Now I can barely listen to it.

But like I said, today’s song isn’t as important as the reason I wanted a creepy tune.  I want to pimp out a podcast to y’all.  If you have itunes (and, really, who doesn’t these days?), then you have easy access to hundreds of podcasts, which are fantastic free entertainment.  You don’t have to pay a penny to subscribe to most podcasts, and you can find something on virtually any subject you’re interested in.  While trying to catch up on Pop Culture Happy Hour* episodes (I’ve fallen behind again since Daddy died), Glen Weldon recommended a podcast that was making him happy a few weeks ago.  I’m glad I checked it out, because it’s making me very, very happy indeed.

Welcome to Night Vale is a weird little show that has bimonthly episodes that run between 20 and 30 minutes, on average.  Night Vale is a decidedly disturbing little place that makes Twin Peaks look like downtown Normal-ville.  There are hooded figures, creatures of indefinite shape and size, and glowing lights in the sky.  You hear all about Night Vale from the soothing voice of the local radio announcer.  (The conceit of each episode is that it’s a broadcast delivered on the local radio station; they seem to be losing a disturbing number of interns.)  It is by turns funny and creepy, and just perfect for a little late night listening.  The podcast seems to be based in part on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, picking up on themes and imagery that frequented his work.  I admit that I’ve only listened to about 5 of the 25 episodes available, but I am giving it an unequivocal thumbs up.  You can find Welcome to Night Vale through itunes, or visit the Commonplace Books site (where they also have t-shirts for sale).  I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Or maybe you will.  Goodnight, dear listeners.  Goodnight.

 

*Another fine podcast that everyone should be listening to.

 

Bobby “Blue” Bland

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We’ve lost one of the great voices in music.  Bobby “Blue” Bland died Sunday at 83.

I’m really not sure anything I can say will add all that much to what other writers have been saying; here’s a link to a good New York Times article about the man and his music.  Bland was one of the iconic voices in music.  He could break your heart with just a few well-sung lines.  There’s a reason so many Blues/R&B/Soul singers sound like him.