Sunday, January 24, 2016

Rediscovering 78s

Thanks to the Crosley Company, which has produced a three-speed record player for our time, and to the elves who delivered it, we have been rediscovering 78s.

"78s"--the term refers to records (once called "phonograph" or "gramophone" records) made to spin on a turntable at seventy-eight revolutions per minute; thus, 78 rpm.

"Turntable," "spin"--words that would have brought a blank stare from anyone under fifty until the resurgence of vinyl (records once referred to as LPs, for "long play," which turned at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute). A colleague of ours once had a program called "Spins and Needles." Later listeners would have said "Huh?"

The LP was developed for public use in 1948, but didn't really catch on until the early 1950s. Previously there had been 16-inch ETs (electrical transcriptions) that ran at 33 1/3, but these were produced only for use by radio stations. "ET" had an entirely different meaning then; there were some extraterrestrials in radio stations, but we called them disc jockeys.

Back to 78s: They were made of a hard shellac, easy to scratch, easy to break. They looked like flattened Frisbees. Most were ten inches in diameter, a few (Bunny Berigan's "I Can't Get Started," for instance) were twelve inches. This, of course, imposed time limits on recordings--a ten-inch 78 would contain only three minutes of music. The arrival of the LP opened room for extended works. Hello, Pink Floyd. But it was amazing how much Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie could achieve in three minutes.

Happily, much of the recorded work of past decades has been reproduced on compact discs; but there are still some treasures that can be found only on 78s--78s as aged as most of their collectors.

So, we have been rediscovering 78s.

Some are a little scratchy and a bit cracked.

But so are we.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Overdue Library Books

Overdue in the sense that they can no longer be found in a library, except possibly in some vast collection in New York or on some dusty shelf in Chase or Salmon Arm.

We have thought for a very long time that libraries should be the places to find out-of-print books, instead of this week's best-sellers, no matter how many people are crying for the latest Nora Roberts or James Patterson.

This concern was brought to mind by a note from a fellow digressionist (if that wasn't a word, it is now) lamenting the disappearance of books by H. Allen Smith and Richard Bissell, both authors once enormously popular, Smith for "Rhubarb" and "Low Man on a Totem Pole" and Bissell for "7 1/2 Cents," which became the musical "Pajama Game." (You say paa-jama, I say pah-jahma. I also spell it with a y.)

But that's beside the point, if, in fact, there is one. Many will remember the hit songs from "Pajama Game"--Hey, There," "Steam Heat," "Hernando's Hideaway"--but our favorite remains "Seven-and-a-half cents doesn't buy a hell of a lot."

Bissell wrote "7 1/2 Cents" after working in his family's pyjama factory, which is not the career choice you would think of for a Harvard graduate, but, happily, it led to his first novel and a number of other comedies.

We'll forgive him "Still Circling Moose Jaw."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sorry for the Inconvenience

Pointless Digressions temporarily closed for mental renovations.

Expected to continue thru January. If not all year.

Prop., P.D.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Twelfth Night

January 5 brings Twelfth Night, the end of the twelve days of Christmas, which means the twelve maids a-milking and the twelve lords a-leaping have to clear out of your living room.

Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night" (which opens with the famous line "If music be the food of love, play on") may or may not have been written and performed as a post-Christmas entertainment for the court of Queen Elizabeth I. But pleasant to think it was.

And immediately following Twelfth Night is Epiphany, traditionally believed to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men, or the Three Kings. Familiar to many is the T.S. Eliot poem--"A cold coming we had of it--just the worst time of the year"--and while it's good to read that again, two longer works worthy of attention are "The Four Wise Men" by Michel Tournier, a book full of surprises, beginning "I am black but I am a king," and "Journey of the Magi," by Paul William Roberts, his record of tracing the presumed path of the Magi, from Tehran to Bethlehem. It's often very funny, especially after Roberts finds himself tied to Reza, his profane Iranian driver.  A hot and dusty coming they had of it.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Foggy Day

"The fog comes in on little cat's feet," wrote Carl Sandburg."It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on."

Fog was a heavy presence in John Huston's film of "The Maltese Falcon," set in San Francisco, but the film that used the dense mist to greatest effect was "Footsteps in the Fog," an almost forgotten picture in which Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons prowled treacherously thru Victorian London's pea soup.

The Gershwins' song "A Foggy Day," written for the musical "Damsel in Distress," was sung first, and memorably, by Fred Astaire, but the recording we listen to most often is the duet by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald ("Ella and Lu-lee," as some sweet children once called them).

Last word to feline fancier Jurgen Gothe, who liked to turn Sandburg's line around, and say, "The cat comes in on little fog feet."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Hangover Special

Much has been written over the past two or three days on the subject of hangovers. We have learned, for example, that owls' eggs were a cure for ancient Romans, as Assyrians went for ground birds' beaks and myrrh. Chinese drank, and still drink, green tea, while coconut water is the panacea of choice in India. Probably the wisest were the Puerto Ricans, who rubbed their armpits with lemon slices to prevent hangovers occurring.

There was once a clever little sandwich and coffee shop on Broadway, just west of Granville Street in Vancouver, called the Salvador Deli. It offered a sandwich called "the hangover special." it was a combination of egg salad and tuna salad, and it was very tasty, whether one had a hangover or not. At Honey's, the once enormously popular space on Hornby Street, we would often order an egg salad and liverwurst sandwich, also excellent, even though the sandwich maker gave us a strange look.

Robert Benchley said, "The only cure for a real hangover is death." We will stick with the egg and tuna combo.