Sunday, June 30, 2013

Turn Up the Heat!

We once worked at a radio station that had a number of gifted music programmers, but had also, for a time, a sales manager who liked to drift back into the record library and offer suggestions. Like this: "Why don't you do a show all about rivers? Play all the great river songs--'Old Man...,' 'Cruising Down the...,' ''Up the Lazy...,' 'Cry Me a...'." The librarian rolled her eyes and the sales manager went back to his office.

He has long since departed for the Great Sales Meeting in the Sky ("Shall We Gather at the...") but in his memory, we offer a selection of songs suitable for this week's weather forecast, all best enjoyed while sipping gin and tonic in your hammock:

"We're Having a Heat Wave"(Irving Berlin)
"Too Darn Hot" (Cole Porter)
"Harlem Air Shaft" (Duke Ellington.)
"Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" (C. Tobias-H. Carste)
And our #1 choice: "Ain't It Awful, the Heat?" (Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson)

And when it gets too much, and heat hallucinations begin, switch to "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Frank Loesser).

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Rite of Igor

The Times Literary Supplement always arrives with at least one surprise, and the surprise this week is the cover artist: Igor Stravinsky. The illustration is a pencil sketch, done on a music sheet, in 1923, of the composer's first wife, Ekaterina.

The story that follows, written by Robert Craft, longtime chronicler of all things Igor, tells us that early on Stravinsky had not decided whether he would be a composer or a painter.  And there is a photograph--the only one extant--of Stravinsky with Nijinsky and Diaghilev, all wearing straw boaters.  

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," famous for, among other things, provoking a riot in Paris, causing the composer--it is said--to escape through a washroom window.

So we will spend the weekend listening to "The Rite," and also to "The Firebird," remembering Judith Jamison's brilliant performance in the title role with Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theatre. And perhaps watching again the film "Coco and Igor."

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 60-Words-a-Minute Man

Thanks to an item in "The Writer's Almanac," we learn that the typewriter was patented June 24, 1868, by Christopher Sholes of Milwaukee. There had been attempts at something like this since the early eighteenth century, but Sholes's typewriter was the first one to actually work. It was brought on the market in 1874 by Remington, and in 1875 Mark Twain wrote to his brother, "I am trying to get the hang of this newfangled writing machine."

Alas, no longer newfangled, the typewriter is now on its way to the Obsolescence Museum, to join hand-cranked telephones and nickel jukeboxes. Soon we may see people lugging their ancient Olivettis and Remingtons and Smith-Coronas to the Antiques Roadshow.

Many honors have been paid to the typewriter. Leroy Anderson even wrote a tune he called "The Typewriter Song," based on the cheery ping! of the bell at the end of a line. And more than one veteran reporter and PR man has insisted his typewriter be prominently displayed at his memorial service.

For this final note, we are again indebted to "The Writer's Almanac": Larry McMurtry, receiving a Golden Globe award for best screenplay, thanked his Hermes 3000--"a noble instrument of European genius."


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ghost Song Busters

We had a vision of Songwriters Heaven, and saw several illustrious ghosts, most of them registering complaints. First up was Johnny Mercer, who said, "What are women doing singing 'One For My Baby'? That's a guy song. Women aren't hanging around in bars at a quarter to three, when there's no one in the joint except Joe and me.  Come on!"

Steve Allen, somewhat more reserved, said, "I would like to have a word with Mark Murphy, whose first success, I might say, was with my song 'This Could Be the Start of Something.' But in a recent recording he has changed the lyrics from 'declining a Charlotte Russe, accepting a fig' to 'declining that rich French food.' Really, Mark. Come on."

Billie Holiday said, "I just want all those ofay females copyin' my style to give it up." "That's right, Lady Day." said the ghost of Elvis, "#$*&&%+! imitators."

"Listen, kid," said the ghost of Sinatra, "you know how many putzsters are out there tryin' to be me ?"

Bob Smith, legendary host of CBC's "Hot Air," might have had a word about the parlous state of current CBC jazz programming, but he was always too benign for that. Instead, he would say, as always, "God bless jazz fans everywhere."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sumer is icumen in

With the arrival of the new season, it's time to join in the chorus of the oldest known English song:

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Growth sed and bloweth med
And springs be wde nu.
Sing cuccu!
Murie sing cuccu!

Lovely! You handled the Middle English beautifully!

When December comes, we'll be ready for Ezra Pound's cold weather parody: "Winter is icumen in."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Noah's Flood

Or, as the early 15th century Chester mystery play spelled it, "Noye's Fludde," which was also the title taken by Benjamin Britten for his 1958 children's opera. Our friend Art Hives was pleased that he was drafted for a Vancouver Festival performance to play the voice of God.

Pelting rain caused us to begin thinking of Noah's flood, although not to the extent of building an ark out of Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors.

The story of Noah may date from the tenth century BCE, but there is an account in the Mesopotamian "Epic of Gilgamesh" that is 1500 years older.

We may all claim Noah as an ancestor, as all the people on earth are said to be his descendants, through his sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Noah's sons made the forty-day voyage, but maybe not Noah's wife. In the Chester mystery play, Mrs. Noah says, "Forget it. I'm not getting on that thing."

Noah is credited with planting grapevines on the slope of Mount Ararat, leading to the creation of wine. It is appropriate, then, that many pubs are called Noah's Ark.

We're going out to find one right now.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jolly Pops

Recently, in an odd recognition of Father's Day,  a writer published a list of "bad dads" in literature, ranging from Humbert Humbert in "Lolita" ("worst step-dad ever") to "Daddy" in the famously black Sylvia Plath poem (but, strangely, not including Huckleberry Finn's Pap). This corner decided it was time to balance the scale with a list of "good dads"" in literature. Here they come:

1. Nick Carraway's father in "The Great Gatsby," who does not appear in the story, but has given Nick some good advice, which opens the novel: "In my younger and more vulnerable years," Carraway remembers, "my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'"

2. Stanley Banks, stressed out hero of Edward Streeter's "Father of the Bride," portrayed on screen by Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin. Despite being hit by massive seismic tremors, emotional and financial, Banks comes through and plays his role in classic paternal style.

3. Bob Cratchit in Dickens's "A Christmas Carol."  Could there be anyone better natured than Scrooge's downtrodden clerk, cheerful and loving with Tiny Tim and the rest of his large brood?

4. The father in "My Old Man," Hemingway's story about an American jockey and his son scrambling for wins on the Paris tracks.

5. Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He's sicker than he knows, he has to put up with Big Mama and Goober and the little no-neck monsters, and he can't abide mendacity, but he does have Brick and Maggie the Cat.

A happy Father's Day to all!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Doonesbury and Mc LL

Followers of the comic strip "Doonesbury" may be wondering anxiously what happened to Alex.  Alex, daughter of central character Mike Doonesbury, had just received her doctoral degree at MIT when she went into labor--with twins! Classmates crowded around her, calling, "Is there a real doctor in the house?"

We won't know until September.  Garry (Garretson Beekman) Trudeau, author of "Doonesbury," is spending the summer working on another project.  Doonesbury fans--and Alex--hold your breath.

And today is the seventy-fifth birthday of Canada's premier jazz trombonist, Ian McDougall, longtime Boss Brass heavyweight, head of U-Vic's jazz program, and found most often in the company of guitarist Oliver Gannon and pianist Ron Johnston. To guide people in the spelling of his name, the trombonist wrote a number, available on the album "The Warmth of the Horn," titled "Mc, not Mac, and Two Ls."

As the great Bob Smith, of CBC's "Hot Air" used to say "God bless jazz fans everywhere."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Politics: The Art of the Incomprehensible

Newly elected and re-elected Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia were sworn in (and sometimes at) in Victoria today. Members of the NDP caucus arrived wearing orange boutonnieres. Black armbands would have been more appropriate.

The People's Radio Network, in its relentless effort to dumb down Canadian broadcasting, announced that Radio Canada, the French arm (or bras), would henceforth be known simply as "Ici." Massive protests followed, causing Hubert LaCroix's crew to back down. "I'm just glad," said the Chairman, "that we didn't go with 'Voila'."

A video now making the rounds shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper giving imitations of notable Conservatives, among them John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark and Preston Manning. He was taken off stage before he got to Kim Campbell.

Now in London, for a private audience with Queen Elizabeth, Harper was prepared to repeat his performance for Her Majesty. As a windup, he said, "Wanta hear me do G-G-G-George the Sixth?'

"Wanta hear me do Queen Victoria?" said the Monarch. "We are not amused. Take him to the Tower!"

"Wait!" cried Steve, as they dragged him away. "You haven't heard my Margaret Thatcher!"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Get Thee to the Church On Time!

The traditional month of weddings is upon us, and if June is not exactly bustin' out all over, it certainly will be exerting pressure on those for whom summer nuptials are in their schedules.

On behalf of readers who may be anticipating the chime of wedding bells, we have consulted the ultimate etiquette authority: "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior," by Judith (Miss Manners) Martin.

Several persons asked Miss Manners' advice on matters matrimonial. Here are their questions and her answers:

Q: Is it necessary to buy my fiancee an engagement ring?
A: No. Nowadays, it isn't even necessary to marry her.

Q: When a young man asks a woman to marry him, what should his parents do?
A: What the bridegroom's parents have to do is comparatively easy; it is what they have to refrain from doing that is difficult.

Q: I heard that I shouldn't put "and family" on my wedding invitations. How else do I let them know everybody is invited?
A: Using "and family" on an invitation is its own punishment. You cannot then complain if your sister-in-law's dog disturbs the ceremony and you don't know where to seat your bridegroom's best friend's stepgrandfather's new friend.

Q: June used to be the traditional time for weddings. Is there any preferred date for weddings in modern life?
A:  It is preferable to hold them after the divorce and before the birth of the baby.

Finally, Miss Manners confronts the tricky problem of calling off a wedding. What should one say when breaking an engagement? Miss Manners: "I don't know, I just don't feel like" it will do.