21 December 2007

Quick, quick!

I'm on my way out the door to see one of the final productions of The Drowsy Chaperone, which unfortunately stars Bob Saget at the moment. Has anyone seen that episode of Entourage where Bob Saget guest-stars? Ew. That's all I can think of. To think that this is the man who taught little Donna Jo, Stephanie, and Michelle Tanner valuable lessons while creepy music played in the background.
Another random thought-- last night my friend and I went to see The Sound of Music on the big screen and the Chelsea Clearview cinema. That film is so magnificent. I want to be (or at least meet) Julie Andrews. I adore her. And Captain Von Trapp...there's a certain regal appeal of Christopher Plummer in that movie. He's just so noble! And I defy anyone to find a better musical theatre love song than "Something Good." Did you know that it was written specifically for the movie and was not in the original stage production? However, I can't imagine the show without it. Everyone who has been in love knows that feeling, that "what did I do to deserve this amazing person" realization, which Richard Rodgers (sadly, Oscar Hammerstein died 9 months after the show opened on Broadway; the last song that he wrote was "Edelweiss") expressed so simply in his lyrics: "For here you are standing there loving me, whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good."
Also before the show they showed the trailer for the Mamma Mia movie that comes out in the summer. I am a little too excited. Not only are Pierce Brosnan (who is #1 on my freebie list) and Colin Firth two of the possible fathers, but Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, the bride-to-be. Amanda is famous for playing Karen Smith in Mean Girls, but I think of her fabulous portrayal of the murdered Lilly Kane on Veronica Mars. Plus, she can SING! I am always wary about musicals being turned into films because they tend to pick names rather than talent (case in point: Sweeney Todd. It looks great and is getting rave reviews, but there is no way that Johnny Depp's or Helena Bonham Carter's voice can stand up to Sondheims operatic score). But Mamma Mia looks like something special...
One last thing. Do yourself a favor and check out Dwight Garner's blog, Paper Cuts. My favorite feature is the playlists-- Garner asks an author to construct a mix tape and explain why the songs are significant. A past list included picks by Emma Brockes, who wrote the fabulous What Would Barbra Do? How Musicals Changed My Life. My favorite-- although an older list-- is by Joshua Ferris, author of the critically-acclaimed novel Then We Came to the End. He pairs his picks with books that match the mood. And here we go....
Joshua Ferris’s September 2007 Playlist:
1) King of Carrot Flowers Part 1, Neutral Milk Hotel. These perfect two minutes, no more, no less, begin the best album from the 90s. “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” moves on to tell the partial reimagining, fractured and imagistic, of Anne Frank’s grim fate, but in this song young love is brutally contrasted with a dysfunctional marriage, and it captures both euphoria and heartbreak in equal measure - somehow in two short minutes.
What to read: The Diary of Anne Frank.
2) Louisiana Saturday Night, Don Williams. The only song that manages to rhyme “bow” with “floor.” Also the only song to include the lyric, “Yonder come the kinfolks in the moonlight.” The happy family enjoying this Louisiana Saturday night have single-shot rifles and one-eyed dogs and bellies full of beer and a possum in the sack. Not unlike a Saturday night in Williamsburg. Mel McDaniel does
a fine cover.
What to read: Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road.
3) Into the Open, Heartless Bastards. Here is how it happened: one day I was not listening to this song by the Heartless Bastards, and the next I didn’t know how I could continue life without listening to it 24/7. Then I had to pace myself, knowing that the effect of a good song has a certain half-life, and not wanting that effect to end. And then one day it started to end because I had listened to the song too many times. And now I can listen to it again dispassionately, as if it never meant everything to me. But I have the memory of the day when I was in love with the song and the memory is why I listen to it now.
What to read: Experience by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

4) Little Darlin’, Benjamin Biolay. When I introduced my younger brother to this sing-songy French ode with the Jimmy Rodgers-Carter Family sample looping in the background, I could tell he was transported almost beyond anything he had listened to before. I’d felt the same way the first time I’d heard it. Was it the song, or our particular genetic disposition? Either way, he told me of putting it on a mix which he gave to a friend, and the friend said the mix was great except for this song, which the friend considered a kind of silly novelty. This made my brother, to his dismay, entirely reevaluate the friend’s appreciation for music and even his depth of character, as part of the good world had fairly been set before him. So good a song, it is dangerous to share with friends.
What to read: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.
5) Aguas De Marco, Antonio Carlos Jobim & Yeah! Oh, Yeah!, The Magnetic Fields. A duet of duets, one infectiously romantic, the other cynically murderous. Whatever Jobim and Elis Regina are singing about on “Aguas” is hardly the point. Jobim’s smitten playfulness and Regina’s erotic smile come straight through the speakers. Contrast that with this lyric from “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!” Claudia Gonson: “What a dark and dreary life / Are you reaching for a knife? / Could you really kill your wife?” Stephen Merritt: “Yeah! Oh, yeah!” The only proper way to listen to these two is back to back.
What to read: Love in the Time of Cholera & Othello.
6) Ahmad’s Blues, Ahmad Jamal. “Poinciana” is pretty, but “Ahmad’s Blues” is where Ahmad Jamal out-Monk’s Monk with his fingers like rose petals one second and cherrybombs the next. The bass and drums stay very, very cool, a pair of cats sipping Courvoisier at the bar, while the piano’s in a bathroom stall doing something much darker.
What to read: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll.
7) Sparring Partner, Paolo Conte. I first heard this soulful tune in the lesser Francois Ozon film “5×2.” Valeria Bruni Tedeschi dances along to its early strains in the movie’s finest scene. In fact the dance is the diamond that gives purpose to all the rough surrounding the film. Subsequently I listened to it over and over again in a ride out to California, and now I think that there must have been nothing else playing from the moment I left New York to the time I arrived in L.A..
What to watch: Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool.
8) The Dead Flag Blues, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This song scares me the way a barren road at dusk with its telephone poles bent over the blacktop might scare me. It’s apocalypse rock with train whistles and violins drenched in slide-guitar melancholia and it starts with some dead-earth narrator incanting, “I said kiss me, you’re beautiful, these are truly the last days.” Listen to it alone in complete darkness and try to convince yourself you’re not the last living person on earth.
What to read: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
9) Glow Worm, The Mills Brothers. This is the song my wife chose as the one she would dance to with her father after our bride-and-groom dance, and I remember them practicing before the wedding. I think it is a fox trot, although I’m probably wrong. My wife and her father can both fox trot. But when the time came, her father told her to scrap the practice and just be led by him. Maybe he had had too much to drink, or maybe he was simply overcome by the moment. Watching them, you would have thought they had been practicing for years.
What to read: Visitors, by Donald Barthelme.
10) While You Were Sleeping, Elvis Perkins. I may listen to a song a dozen times and find it perfectly fine but not particularly engaging. Then it happens one day that the lyrics stand up and say what they have come to say, and I am perhaps a better version of myself that day for my ability to listen, and the song deepens in a way I could not have expected. That’s how I discovered the deceptively simple artistry of “While You Were Sleeping.” It’s a sweet song with an undercurrent of sadness at how quickly time passes.
What to read: New and Selected Poems, by Michael Ryan.
11. Summertime, Part 1, Sam Cooke. I got “The Man Who Invented Soul” and didn’t care to find “Summertime” included. I was more interested in Sam Cooke originals and had never taken to the song when Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday or Chet Baker sang it and didn’t expect much more from Sam Cooke. But his interpretation is a revelation. His phrasing is exciting, his humming is gorgeous and the eerie operatic backup vocals evoke the morning fog of Catfish Row slowing burning off in the brightening sun.
What to read: Thomas and Beulah, by Rita Dove.
12) A Stone, Okkervil River. “A Stone” was a creeper, or what I have heard called a grower, which requires an untold number of listens before a period of appreciation sets in. The miracle of growers is that somehow you know enough to keep listening, the song is instructing you to be patient, and with only the vaguest intuition you are patient. And then, as it happened with me with all of Okkervil River’s “Black Sheep Boy” but especially with “A Stone,” I penetrated the scrim of inaccessibility and fell endlessly through the sound into deeper layers of understanding and appreciation, until it no longer made sense to remember my life without the song in it, almost so that I believe that I must have been born with this fairytale song of unrequited love and that it only had to be written and performed and that I only had to demonstrate nurture and patience to discover what was always there.
What to read: Joyce’s The Dead.
13) Yellow Ledbetter, Pearl Jam. It is hard to reconcile your very personal relationship with a song - private, intimate, inviolable - with the first time you hear it played from a car window. It must seem frighteningly out of vogue to choose this B-side from what became a populist album of radio hits, the ubiquity of which was inescapable in the early 90s, but I am convinced there was a time when only myself and a few other avid bootleg addicts knew of this perfect, now perfectly overexposed ballad, with its sub-Lear nonsense lyrics, and for that brief spell before the world took over, I was alone with a song that moved me unlike any before it.
What to read: No Logo, by Naomi Klein.
14) Cocktails, Robbie Fulks. Steve Albini produced Robbie’s first album, the cult-classic “Country Love Songs,” which included the great single “She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died),” a loose interpretation of the life of one of my step-mothers. On “Cocktails” Robbie sings, “One to wake me up every morning / One with a buddy at noon / One for the road every evening / Till I found out pretty soon / It took two to wake me up every morning …”
What to read: Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From.
15) Static on the Radio, Jim White (with Aimee Mann). Jim White reaches for the great beyond in this lovely ballad about ghost ships and words in the mouths of the dead. He ends up with more questions than answers, but the song itself is proof of something unspoken and unspeakable.
What to read: Ultima Thule, by Vladimir Nabokov.
16) San Tropez, Pink Floyd. There is a song that you pick up at some early age and carry with you through life the way you carry an old copy of a favorite book, with its outdated cover and cracked spine, and which sits idly for long stretches of life while you go about your business forgetting that it is there. When you come to it again you recover the thing itself and its magic but also those two or three memories, chunks of time-space that have been assigned to it to distinguish between periods of haze, and this is what is meant by adding it to the soundtrack of your life. This song off the “Meddle” LP, a very un-Pink Floyd ditty with a simple tune and playful lyrics, will always be a suburban house in winter, my parents gone, an empty fireplace, too many cigarettes, a girl who was kind to me.
What to read: Worshipful Company of Fletchers, by James Tate.
17) Don’t Worry About the Government, Talking Heads. Every playlist should end with a song by the Talking Heads. This one comes from their first LP. David Byrne’s persona here is a distant relative, a happy na├»ve cousin to the one found in the band’s later perfect paranoid pop number “Life During Wartime.”
What to read: 1984

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