Great album, but…

June 13, 2009

This isn’t my kind of post. I’m not usually all up in arms about woman-y stuff. But a recently rediscovered (for me) album got me thinking.

I don’t think I ever listened to Weezer’s Blue Album, when it came out, all the way through. But it’s a really great record. The music’s catchy, the lyrics are interesting. I especially like “In The Garage”:

“I’ve got a Dungeon Master’s Guide
I’ve got a 12-sided die
I’ve got Kitty Pryde
And Nightcrawler too
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

I’ve got posters on the wall
My favorite rock group KISS
I’ve got Ace Frehley
I’ve got Peter Criss
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

I’ve got an electric guitar
I play my stupid songs
I write these stupid words
And I love every one
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

In the garage
I feel safe
No one cares about my ways
In the garage
Where I belong
No one hears me sing this song
In the garage.”

But listening to the album again for the first time (if there is such a thing…it’s a literary crit. formulation, I guess, like “always already”), I was taken aback by a few of the lyrics, like this from “No One Else”:

“I want a girl who will laugh for no one else
When I’m away she puts her makeup on the shelf
When I’m away she never leaves the house
I want a girl who laughs for no one else.”

Really? I mean, this was starting to sound a little weird, to me.

Then came “Buddy Holly”. I’ve always had a soft spot for that song, ’cause I love Buddy Holly but also because a guy I had a mutual crush with in high school told me once that if we had gotten together, it would have been our song. And I used to think that was kind of cool, because his friends didn’t really get me and it would have been all romantic. Then, this time around, I listened more closely:

“What’s with these homies, dissing my girl?
Why do they gotta front?
What did we ever do to these guys
That made them so violent?
Woo-hoo, but you know I’m yours
Woo-hoo, and I know you’re mine
Woo-hoo, and that’s for all time

Oo-ee-oo I look just like Buddy Holly
Oh-oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore
I don’t care what they say about us anyway
I don’t care bout that

Don’t you ever fear, I’m always near
I know that you need help
Your tongue is twisted, your eyes are slit
You need a guardian
Woo-hoo, but you know I’m yours
Woo-hoo, and I know you’re mine
Woo-hoo, and that’s for all time.”

No wonder this guy’s friends pick on her…he thinks she’s weak and weird, himself. Nice. I’ve got a few questions for that guy from high school, now…

And don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying Weezer are misogynist, or anything, and it’s still a great, rockin’ album. I just wonder, a little bit.



June 13, 2009

Recently I took on a project of listening to all of Beethoven’s symphonies. Growing up, I was always more interested in Bach, but a couple things that came up more recently had gotten me into the idea. First, I got a 120G iPod. This gave me the space to load on my dad’s 5 CD set of George Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra recordings of the symphonies.

The real spark was from a couple years ago. My brother was a roadie (if that’s what they’re called, for orchestras) for the Windsor orchestra while he was at school, and he told a story about some musicians discussing the best ever orchestral piece. Basically, they all agreed it was Beethoven. They just couldn’t decide whether it was the 5th or the 9th.

So I decided to figure it out for myself. And it was an amazing project! There’s such a range of themes and emotions, and yet they really provide a very unified listening experience. These particular recordings, too, are wonderful. Everyone’s heard at least some of these pieces over and over, and yet, Szell’s treatment of them is so sensitive and subtle that they’re exciting and brilliant again.

One of the things listening to the symphonies reinforced for me was how much I love…instruments. I mean, the different “voices” that make up the orchestra. Beethoven does a lot using the horn and the oboe, both of which I love. I played the horn, and, a couple times, the timpani, in high school, and so they make me particularly happy. And STRINGS! Most of my musical experiences (Shaw musicals, choral and instrumental concerts) aren’t on a scale that involves strings…but that’s what makes a really fascinating and active piece of music…

1 & 2 were wonderful, but not especially exciting. 3 has broad scope, a lot of variety, and a very good ending.

The 4th is somber…the most somber opening phrases of any…but wonderful modulation from minor to major and back, within phrases and within the movement. I love that in any music, from this to choral to pop music. 4.1 is “quoted” in lots of other pieces. 4.3 sounded like the end of a symphony, not a movement.

Listening to 4 got me thinking: why do we know the ones we know (5, 6, 9), and not know the others? They’re all great, but some of the lesser known ones are better!

5 made me think about how great these particular recordings are…even with the (perhaps) best known symphonic phrases of all time, Szell’s handling of them is so much more subtle that they’re new and interesting again…light strings, quick horns…

And that the opening of 5.2 would make sweet entrance music if you were a megalomaniac. Or 5.3…especially a megalomaniac who loved F Horns…hmmm….

Then I started thinking each one I listened to is the best…But I do think 5 best shows the composer’s and conductor’s understanding of those instrumental voices I was talking about.

6…more complex than it seems…but definitely the most pleasant…pastoral, indeed. Loved the way horns and strings play with each other.  6.3  is especially good.

7.1 could have been my favourite single movement of the whole oeuvre. The contrast between 7.1 and 7.2 is amazing! I had heard both of these movements a lot, but never known they went together. (7.2 is the piece from Mr. Holland’s Opus, where he cries at Beethoven and his son being deaf; but this recording is quicker, and much more effective/less drab). The interplay between the strings and the horns is wonderful.

7’s really, really good.

8. Meh. Comparatively.

9 is the most serious…but still has some lightness, especially in the 2nd movement (woodwinds up against timpani). The 2nd movement has a fantastic horn part, and I found it echoed 6, quite a bit. I love the quick endings, like 9.2. Not drawn-out, but still very effective.

9.4: Chorale! I love how this movement builds! Starting with the low strings, to trumpets and voices. This movement is almost twice as long as the other closing movements, and it’s worth every second. But I’m not sure that the rest of the 9th suits it…

So I think the 7th was my favourite…the others are brilliant pieces of music, but…somehow…less interesting?

Country Day

June 9, 2009

Hip AcousticLast Thursday we spent a beautiful summer night hearing a beautiful summer concert: The Tragically Hip at ArtPark, in Lewiston, NY.

No opening act – just an evening with the Hip. Mostly the new album, We Are the Same, which is excellent, but almost all of the old favourites, too. Just about 3 hours.

Which makes it a shame that, especially in the 1st half, the sound wasn’t very good. The vocals weren’t loud enough to balance with the rest, and so for a lot of it the lyrics couldn’t really be heard…not a problem for most of us who know them by heart, but it could have been lots better.

The second half started with an acoustic set, including an absolutely incredible “Bobcaygeon”. Wow. Then for the rest of the half we gave ourselves kleenex earplugs, which helped a lot with the balance (I’m guessing the sound guys had done some work, too).

Anyway, it was great venue for a great band touring a great new album. My favourites? “Love is a First”, obviously, and also the title track, “Now the Struggle Has a Name”, plus “Queen of the Furrows”, “The Depression Suite”, and “Country Day” (I really am a farm girl at heart).

Blackie Jackett Jr.

May 8, 2009

Okay, let’s talk for a minute about me and country music.  One of my best friends in elementary school loved country music. Like, bad 90s country music. Pam Tillis, Faith Hill with the bad, big hair and the twang. We had to listen to it all the time, and I think I OD’d. Can’t stand it. Even the pop-y stuff everyone’s making now. Last year in London when the music in the halls of my apartment building was always country was really hard. Something about “she loves my tractor”…?

Some exceptions, obviously. Well, one or two, and their names are Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. And now, Blackie Jackett Jr.

This is the side project of two members of one of my favourite bands, Finger Eleven. The amazingly talented guitarists (Scott Anderson is hot, but he only sings), James Black and Rick Jackett, have decided to explore a shared interest in good, oldschool (even bluegrassy) country. And, somehow, it works.

Sometimes it’s good to be a culture snob.

(To clarify: the concert was good, and the conductor actually often chooses things that are more obscure and difficult than the ensemble or audience might appreciate. But wow…Titanic…I mean, I had a revelation last concert when they played selections from The Phantom of the Opera – that’s what Lloyd-Webber writes his music for, is to be performed a community musical group. And now, I know the same thing about James Horner. ‘Cause it sure wasn’t interesting music in its own right.)

Books Bought / Read

January 18, 2009

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but a conversation this morning (that will hopefully continue over a hot drink this evening!) brought the idea to the fore.  I also realized I should do it here, instead of shamefully and privately.

This will be a list, in no particular order (mostly how my shelves are organized) of books that I have acquired and not yet read (or, perhaps, started but not finished).

  • I’m trying to learn French, so I’ve got French text / workbooks.
  • Still in the middle of Kay Ryan’s poetry collection The Niagara River. They really are little gems of poems. Smart.
  • David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I’m on p. 85 of 1035. One of the best things I’ve read in a long time.
  • Still partway through The 9/11 Commission Report. It’s very good, but other things keep catching my attention instead. Bright shiny things.

Now things that I make no pretense of “working” on, still in places on shelves…I got some of my library from my mother, so that explains some of the classics, because I honestly did read everything I was supposed to during undergrad except maybe one or two things. And I’m not mentioning big anthologies or reference books, because no one actually “reads” those.

  • The Gift of Death and The Work of Mourning by Derrida
  • James’ Portrait of a Lady
  • Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast
  • A Mordechai Richler collection
  • Dumas’ The Three Musketeers
  • Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Boswell’s Life of Johnson
  • A collection of poems by Elizabeth Daryush
  • The J. D. Salinger canon. I had some people working on this with me, *hint hint*.
  • I got 3/4 through Ulysses. (I really wish I hadn’t stopped. Now my momentum is gone, and I’d really like to have it back).
  • I have a Stoppard collection I’d like to read more from.
  • I have 4 LIS books – Reader’s Advisory for Public Libraries, Reading Matters, The Library as Place, and Canadian Copyright – that I need to get to.
  • Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • Kunitz’ Collected Poems
  • Arendt’s Responsibility and Judgment
  • Conrad’s Lord Jim
  • A bunch of Carlyle
  • A bunch of Arnold
  • Said, On Late Style
  • Eco, On Literature
  • Calvino, The Uses of Literature
  • Hardwick, American Fictions
  • Bloom, Shakespeare: Invention of the Human and How to Read and Why
  • Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London
  • Autobiographies by the two Stratfordians, Christopher Plummer and Richard Monette
  • Heller, Closing Time
  • Clapton, Clapton
  • Gladwell, Blink
  • Power, A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide
  • Philip Gourevitch’s book on Rwanda
  • Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
  • Newman, Here Be Dragons
  • Carr, Klee Wyck and The Book of Small
  • Heaney, Beowulf
  • Dorfman, Konfidenz
  • McCourt, Teacher Man
  • Naipaul, Letters Between Father and Son
  • McClung, The Second Chance
  • Hardy, Jude the Obscure
  • Plato, The Republic
  • D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and The Rainbow (which I also have started and loved and for some reason left)
  • Tolstoy, War and Peace
  • Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • Grimms’ Fairy Tales
  • Davies, A Voice From the Attic
  • Woolf, To The Lighthouse and an anthology of essays.

Long list…and that’s not including the hundreds and hundreds of things on my Chapters wish list, or a new influx of books that might be coming from someone else’s library soon…

I thought I was going to start catching up, sometime, but I don’t think so. And that’s kind of nice.


January 11, 2009

I was introduced (by some morning program, I think) to Jamie Cullum and his music 3 or 4 years ago. He’s a British jazz vocalist and pianist; his first album in wide international release was “Twentysomething” and more recently he’s made “Catching Tales”.

Anyway, I caught some of his appearance in Bravo’s “Live at the Rehearsal Hall” last night, and it reminded me of all the reasons why I immediately liked his music and personality.

First: his voice. I’m so sick of contemporary jazz vocalists who sound exactly like the old ones, or exactly the same all the time, so polished. Cullum’s voice is scratchy, energetic, and, thank god, just different. He sounds like a rock singer who’s decided to sing jazz, and it’s exciting.

Second: choice of material. Yeah, there’re the classics…but then he also covers Pharrell, Jimi Hendrix, and lots of others. And even to the classics he brings something new: “I Could Have Danced All Night” gets a latin beat. And his original songs are impressive lyrically and musically: “I’m an expert on Shakespeare, and that’s a hell of a lot / But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought” made me fall in love with him.

Finally, like the other things didn’t indicate this…his energy and inventiveness. And they were emphasized in the live performance. One moment, for example, was a transition between songs…He started strumming the strings on the piano and freestyling, vocally, and took off his shoes. What is this? Then the freestyle turned into his cover of “I Get A Kick Out of You”, and whenever the song paused before “kick”, he stomped the piano keyboard.

A lot of fun, and smart. That’s good music!

Overload Update

December 19, 2008

Oryx and Crake…done.

Vanity Fair…done.

Hobbit and Life of Pi for the Teen Reading Club book group…well, I’ve gone through them again.

Unfortunately, I took time I could have been reading The 9/11 Commission Report, Kay Ryan’s poetry, or anything else, to reread a Harry Potter Book. And now, Philip Gourevitch’s We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families and Edward Said’s On Late Style have arrived. And Plummer still waits in the wings. Well, his autobiography does. Lots of good reading to do…Merry Christmas to me!

(And I might skim the 9/11 Report).

Music and History

October 15, 2008

I just finished reading a book about the California folk / rock scene of the 60s and 70s, called Hotel California, by Barney Hoskyns.   For someone like me, who knows a lot of the context but doesn’t have encyclopaedic knowledge, it was a really good read.   For someone like me, who thinks she should have been born in about 1951 so she could have heard all this awesome music firsthand and driven a 1969 Corvette Stingray convertible, books like this are always great (the only problem with that whole 1951 thing would have been being a sentient adult in the 1980s).  If people are interested, they should also check out books by Greil Marcus (including Mystery Train), and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)’s Blues People.  I’ve got a few more on my to-read list, including Clapton’s autobiography and one about the ladies of the scene: Joni, Carole, Linda, Joan, etc.

But the end of this one got me thinking:

“In selling their souls for fame and riches, the stars of the 1960s and 1970s helped create a world where passive consumerism replaced emotional engagement and political commitment.  The apathy of twentysomethings over the environment and Iraq is shocking when one harks back to the civil rights and Vietnam war protests of the 1960s.” (272)

I have problems with most forms of absolutism, and this sort of historical assumption has been bothering me more over the last couple years.  People who spent the last year in school with me know of my issues with Michael Gorman, who asserted in an essay we read that people (and he makes the subject female) born in the 1980s do not have “rich interior lives” because of technology.

That’s an extreme case.  And I do appreciate that times were a lot different four decades or so ago.  I’ve listened to all the music, read all the books, know about the issues and the politics, and still know that I’ll never know what it was really like.

But on the other hand, nothing that I’ve read really convinces me that people were a whole lot different then than they are now.  Hoskyns’ book, to me, describes people who thought they had a lot figured out and going on but that never really did anything (socially or politically, I mean) or effected any change other than personal enrichment. And I get that he’s saying that was the beginning of the problem, but it’s hard to see how promises of revolution could be ‘betrayed’ when, if you really get down to it, the revolution never got started in the first place.

I’m not being critical of my parents’ generation.  I just think that, from a long time before the 1960s to a long time after any of us are around, each generation has had its own promise, its own coming of age, and its own tragedies.