Saturday, February 28, 2009

William Empson meets Little Richard -- or, Seven Types of All Rootie

Rhythm allows one, by playing off the possible prose rhythms against the super-imposed verse rhythms, to combine a variety of statements in one order. Its direct effect seems a matter for physiology; in particular, a rhythmic beat taken faster than the pulse seems controllable, exhilarating, and not to demand intimate sympathy; a rhythmic beat almost synchronous with the pulse seems sincere and to demand intimate sympathy; while a rhythmic beat slower than the pulse, like a funeral bell, seems portentous and uncontrollable.

-- William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity

I wonder how this might apply to music. Well, first, I wonder what it means. But I’m taking the pulse to mean the beat that the drummer – or more likely, for a singer, the bass player – lays down, and the rhythmic beat being the beat that the singer creates. And what does it mean to be exhilarating yet controllable, and not demanding of intimate sympathy? That seems a tricky concept – I wonder if Empson knew what it meant.

Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday famously sang behind the beat, and they did pull the listener in emotionally. Nobody created the illusion of a heart out of control better than Lady did, and Sinatra at his best, before the tough veneer enclosed him completely, projected allowed a glimpse into a core of emotional vulnerability. Rock and roll may be the music of orgiastic hedonism, but there’s more emotional nakedness in jazz.

Chuck Berry sang right on the beat, and he placed his lyrics right on the beat. And who sang ahead of the beat? Peter Jones reminds me that if you listen to Little Richard, you hear the great drummer Earl Palmer actually playing behind the beat, so that Richard is singing ahead of it. That’s part of what gives him that frantic urgency.

Does Little Richard demand less intimate sympathy than Chuck Berry? I wonder…but maybe he does. We don’t ever really care what Richard is singing about. Not even that he still loves Lucille, even though she’s run away and married. Not about the girl who says she loves him but she can’t come in. Not about Uncle John’s predicament at almost being caught by Aunt Mary. But exhilarated? Oh, my, yes.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Be Your Own Rock Star

1 - Go to "wikipedia." Hit “random”
or click
The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to "Random quotations"
or click
The last four or five words of the VERY LAST quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”
or click
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use photoshop or similar to put it all together.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Realist

The Realist Archive Project is, bit by bit, posting pdfs of every page of every issue of The Realist -- in no particular order, which is a good idea. Anyway, they've posted a couple of my contributions, most recently this one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to find out what you need

Here's an interesting game if you need to waste more time on the Internet. Google (your name) needs.

This is what I need, as it turns out:

Tad needs volume

Tad needs some good real estate professionals

Tad needs Contract or part-time work in the editing and proofreading arenas (how did they know?)

Tad needs help

Tad needs you

Tad needs modernizing

Tad needs and deserves someone wonderful! (Actually, I'm fine in that department)

Tad needs to find a new home which includes workshop, training and storage areas. A major fundraising drive is underway. ... (I like the last part)

Tad needs to do something to take the edge off those bad days.

Tad needs a date with the sweet and innocent Rosalee

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NY Writing Careers Examiner

New columns on getting started with a new project, learning from John Updike and John McPhee, lots more.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

NY Writing Careers Examiner: McPhee and grammar

Or, how to drive yourself crazy fact checking.

Battle of the Decades

A first...a double dead heat. Well, it has to be a first, since it's the first time we've had two competions. We also had a couple of guest participants which was all to the good. Percy Sledge and the 5 Satins each scored 7 votes, with 4 going to Shawn Colvin and one to the Four Seasons, And it was also a tie between the glass of wine and the fast embrace of Hernando's Hideaway vs. the fryers, broilers, and Detroit barbecue ribs of The House of Blue Lights. It's hard to beat a glass of wine and a fast embrace, but on the other hand, all you'd hear at Hernando's would be castanets, and at the HOBL they give you all those fine eight beats.

This time around:

Billy Eckstine
Cottage for Sale

The Mystics

The Mamas and the Papas
Monday, Monday

John Paul Young
Love is in the Air

The B52s

Quad City DJs
C'mon and Ride It

Can a song called "Love is in the Air" possibly be any good? Is John Paul Young gonna make it after all? As it turns And no, at least not on BOTD.

In the 70s, a school called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry gained some notoriety in American po-biz circles. It was distinguished by more or less divorcing words from meaning, and frequently divorcing letters from word-making. It had a political base - they were freeing language from the patriarchy and the hegemonistic control of the bourgeoisie, and making it equally available to all social classes, I guess by making it equally incomprehensible to all social classes. If you want to really digress, here's my take on one of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. My problem with it, and the question I could never get answered, was how can you tell good L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry from bad? What are the standards? I have sort of the same problem with hip-hop. I kinda like the Quad City DJs, even though they appear to be from Florida and not the Quad Cities I'm familiar with (Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline and Rock Island). But I don't know if they're better or worse than any other rappers, or what standard I should use to measure them.

Then, a closely bunched group.

It's interesting that virtually all the doowop that wasn't made by African-Americans was made by Italian-Americans, and the Mystics were one such aggregation. None of the Italian groups was as good as the great black groups (though they were generally better than non-Italian white groups).The Mystics fit right in that niche, and with "Hushabye" they had the best the Brill Building had to offer, The very best: Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. And here's a little bit of pop cultural history -- when the original lead singer of the Mystics left in 1960, he was replaced for a while by a non-Italian Brill Building kid named Jerry Landis. Well, Jerry Landis wasn't his real name, so he could have been Italian, but he wasn't, and he soon left the Mystics and returned to his real name: Paul Simon.

I don't have much to say about the B-52s. They were one of those really good groups who never resonated with my inner teenager, or any other inner part of me, for reasons that probably aren't their fault. This is a good song. Good lyrics, good harmonies, good energy. What more do you want?

The Mamas and the Papas had all those things too, and I liked them and was irritated by them in equal measure. They were maybe too quintessentially 60s, especially California 60s, Anyway, check out the video and see if you can explain to me how Denny Doherty keeps his balance.

Billy Eckstine is beloved of jazz fans for hiring Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and he had that big, rich voice that wasn't always as effective as you might think. Sometimes too lush, too in love with itself. But on this strange, wonderful song, Mr. B. finds his gifts perfectly suited for the material. "Cottage for Sale" for me.

OK, where would you least like to spend the evening?

(a) Heartbreak Hotel
(b) Hotel California
(c) Rose's Cantina
(d) The Golden Fingerbowl

Heartbreak Hotel would actually probably be bearable, if you could just stay away from that bellhop.

The Hotel California has that No Exit quality that wouldn't really get in the way of having a pleasant evening. It would just be the next morning, when you wanted to leave...

You could have a good time at Rose's, but you'd end up dead. Of course, there'd be that goodbye kiss from Falina.

But heartbreak and a soggy bellhop,,,no exit...a bullet deep in your chest...none of it could come close to the maddening, crashing boredom of constantly running into your Uncle Max and everyone you know.