Category Archives: Music

Don’t Worry Baby — It’ll be Fun Fun Fun

So, it’s in the high forties in the ‘Ville, I’m in a creative slump and I miss California. The Rx was lying there, unjacketed, slipping around on our tower of cds.

The Best of the Beach Boys. Oh man, I was fourteen again, frugging in the basement rec room of our house in Trois-Rivieres Quebec. I’d never heard of a girl named Rhonda — my friend’s names ran to Elizabeth, Joanne, Kathy and Debbie. I liked my school fine, but being true to it was an alien concept. I’d swum only in fresh water, never seen a surfboard except on a Beach Boys album cover, and “Tach it up, tach it up, Buddy gonna shut you down,” might as well have been Finnish.

It was mysterious sunshine, a teenager existence I couldn’t imagine. (I did realize they’d ripped off Chuck Berry, big time.) I totally got “In My Room.”

When I got to college the Beach Boys dropped acid  in quantities that made my two terrifying trips look like two grains of sand on Manhattan Beach. The upside: “Sloop John B” and “Good Vibrations,” and that’s a huge upside. The downside is that Brian Wilson went nuts.

When my daughter moved to Los Angeles I understood at last that blissed-out, sunny, surfy SoCal car-driven culture. I understood the close harmony singing. “Surfin Safari” made sense. So did “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”

And, oh yes, “Good Vibrations.”

So, the cold and grey has disappeared and I’m grooving to “Dance, Dance Dance” as I type this. The Beach Boys are the sonic equivalent to those bright lights that fight SAD in dark northern climes. So bright, so happy, so about dancing and surfing and driving fast. I’m not up to all of this stuff, especially the driving, but the sunshine, the surf, the heroes and villains are making me hear a V-8 purr and smell salt water and feel the clouds lift. The Beach Boys are aural Prozac, irresistible, the remedy for Celtic genes. Cheap sunshine.My new cure (and old cure) for the grim and grey. If only everything was so simple. Wouldn’t it be nice?


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Filed under Body, History, Into the Mystic, Music, Ten bucks or fewer, The 'Ville, Uncategorized

All I Want for Christmas is my Left Bicuspid and Other Stuff

Actually, I’m not totally kidding here. My mouth is a dental nightmare and I lost my upper left bicuspid a year or so ago. I could get by in public with a “flipper,” a tooth on a wire and plastic armature, but somehow someone stepped on it and broke it in half (probably me) during the Thanksgiving festivities. It can still fill in the gap when I don’t want to appear in public as a Dust Bowl matron, but the rough edge hurts. All of you with good teeth: know how lucky you are.

But that’s selfish stuff. What I really want for Christmas is my Daddy at home after his therapy for his hip replacement, as vital and optimistic as he was before the Fall. I believe he will be.

It’s funny, the Christmas List devolving. Even ten years ago I could write: “Silver bracelet from Tiffany’s, Vol de Nuit, ____________ novel, silk jammies, new Cuiz. Although I’d still love any of those items, the sheer desire isn’t there. I own the jammies, the bracelets and still have a few spritzes of Vol de Nuit.

What I’d love is miles. Because we don’t own any credit cards we don’t have any miles, but oh! to revisit Paris and Rome. To discover for the first time Athens and Istanbul, to sunbathe in Antibes or Antigua.

When we were newlyweds and broke, we had season tickets to the Lyric Opera. Monserrat Caballe, Jon Vickers, Joan Sutherland, Placido Domingo — but we were a cheap el ride from the Opera House. In my wildest dreams of avarice I’d take a season subscription and the moolah to spend a night in a boutique hotel, dining with my Chicago buddies and drinking lots of Henriot champagne.

I want to spend most of February in LA with my daughter and son-in-law. I might just swing half of that, unless my neighbors get annoyed at the cat-sitting calendar. (And I wouldn’t blame them.)

You might have noticed that World Peace isn’t on my Christmas list. Well, pierced ears were on my list for ten years and Santa never took my mother’s hand and led her to the Piecing Parlor. It wasn’t gonna happen with earrings and it’s never gonna happen with World Peace, because the world has never been at peace.

My list is shorter every year. But y’know, it’s cheaper and cheerier.


Filed under Born in Chicago, Collections, History, Holidays, Home, Into the Mystic, Music, Worth it anyway

The Old Vic

We’ve made a decision about what we’re getting each other for Christmas — a decent sound system. He’s impressed by Bose, so that’s where we’ll go, even if we have to make EZ payments. For music lovers with hundreds of CDs, we’ve almost given up on listening in the house because we’re living with a clunky mid- 70s system whose only redeeming feature is a turntable. We’ll try to salvage the turntable, but tossing the black monolith in the living room will free up three bookshelves and might propel me to match up those naked CDs with their empty jewel boxes. Maybe I’ll buy racks that will hold them, all organized, on those empty shelves! (Or not.)

The 1910 state of the art music system will stay, although we’ve considered putting it up on eBay during many the tough time. We never did, because Victrola collectors are thin in the ground during a recession, and the market would be limited to a day’s drive away, because crating and shipping this behemoth would cost as much as posting a pony. Here’s a snap of Nonno’s Victrola, top open.

I mean, this is a piece of cabinetmaking, and no lowly tabletop version. It stands four feet tall, has claw feet, a bellied front, and a covey of cornices. Lou’s grandfather’s Baldwin baby grand didn’t cost that much more than the Victrola and was easier to shift.  The two of us can’t budge it — I’ve waved a duster under it, capturing old cat toys and bills past due by twenty years, but I’ve never nosed a vacuum cleaner under it. It’s that heavy.

The gleaming interior. The original brush for dusting the discs is in the left hand corner. I should have brushed the record before I took the picture — it’s a single-side of Amelita Galli-Curci singing “Caro Nome” from Rigoletto. When we inherited the Victrola we inherited a hundred arias from the Golden Age: Caruso, Gigli, Melba. Those records were a dollar in 1910 money, for one song.

The tech is low, but it works. The record is a teeny scratchy? Early Dolby noise reduction: lower the lid — gone! You want to pump up the volume? Open the doors.

The inside of the lid sports the decal  doggie listening to His Master’s Voice. Until I inherited The Old Vic I thought it was just a cute piece of marketing. Then something eerie happened, as we spun Caruso singing “Celeste Aida.”

Cats can hear a vole at a hundred feet, a can of cat food opening at a mile — they can hear. But cats are never music lovers. Blast “Vampire Weekend” or” Mahler’s 5th” and they’ll sit oblivious on the windowsill, polishing their whiskers and jeering at passing dogs out for walkies. When the great Caruso launched into Verdi’s Top Tenor Hit they were electrified, and worried. Where was that person? Whence that voice? We had the doors open and they crawled in, looking for Enrico. Caruso’s indahouse!

That’s how live, how real  the Old Vic Sounds. The recordings were made by singers breathing the melody into a wax cylinder, ur-analogue. The cats are right: there’s a soul and a voice in there.


Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Free, History, Home, Music

Scriabin’s Spectrum — The Cheap Inside Scoop

The World, a terrific NPR show, had a segment tonight about the genius and whack job  Alexander Scriabin. If you’re a pianist, you know his fantastic (literally) passionate piano music, passionate and psychedelic. Almost literally — Scriabin had a rare condition that translated keys into colors. My two favorite pianists, Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould had almost nothing in common except their brilliant technique, mental illness and monk-like devotion to Scriabin. Scriabin wan’t monk-like — the mayors of both New York and Chicago wanted to deport him because he traveled with a lady who wasn’t his wife.

Scriabin thought keys had colors, and he wrote for the big spectrum, tonal and visual. (As The World emphasized, there is an actual condition where people do see keys as colors.) Here’s Alex’s spectrum:

By chromatic scale
Note Colour
C red (intense)
C# violet or purple
D yellow
D# flesh (glint of steel)
E sky blue (moonshine or frost)
F deep red
F# bright blue or violet
G orange
G# violet or lilac
A green
A# rose or steel
B blue or pearly blue

OK, here’s the fun part: I’m married to a pianist, a Scriabin devotee and someone who’s let’s say, artistic. He disagrees with his idol about the colors, almost without exception. He’s sitting next to me on the couch yelling:” C major is rhinestones! Then you go to C sharp and it’s hard, like steel grey. D major: Maybe brown. D flat E minor is  golden. E flat major is a lush green. E major is a steely green, except in Mendelsohn. Then you go to F, which is hard — it’s kind of blue. F sharp major is really hard — neutral and brilliant. G is calm and light yellow, A flat is rose. Alexander was wrong: the A keys are red. B flat major is sunshine. Now we have B — it’s not a color it’s a texture: it’s hard. E minor is black mourning — sad beyond belief. D minor is just explosive.”

He was getting a bit off topic, describing the power, not the color. But the fun of hearing a mortal so passionate about an abstruse topic is big fun. But as I write this, he’s yelling: “Bach did this! Don’t forget the Well-Tempered Clavier, and how he just moved the keys a smidge off-center so they worked. And tell everyone they have to listen to Scriabin’s Preludes!”

I would add that erotic, passionate, poetic “Vers la Flamme.”

Scriabin was a weird modern genius, but he’s not the reason I’m writing this. It’s all about the ravings of another musician and how, for nothing, for zilch,one can be transported by someone else’s passion.


Filed under Free, History, Into the Mystic, Music

Check that Box — The Pull of the Poll

I love taking online polls, and I suspect that most of us do. It’s anonymous, often silly and it’s like throwing the lever back in the days when polling places had levers. I have the Goddess-like ability to add polls to my blog and I’ve used it only once, way back in the day. For practice in using the poll feature I’ve decided to add one tonight — it’s not  Gallup, but it poses questions of pressing importance to me. If you check “Other” please use the Comments section to point out the error of my ways. In fact, natter on about anything.

I have many, many burning questions to put to you, Dear Readers. In fact, why not send me your own burning questions and I’ll include them in another post? In a few days, I’ll do the big reveal and tell you how I voted.


Filed under Free, Music, Polls

After the Ball

I was noodling around Amazon a few days ago, and my heart stopped. “After the Ball” the collaboration between the American pianist and composer William Bolcum, and his wife the  mezzo soprano Joan Morris is available on CD. It even includes some tracks from their second Nonesuch album “Vaudeville.” I clicked so fast on “Buy Now’ that I got whiplash. 14.99 isn’t chump change in my house, or yours, but go here and buy it. Now. The reason we haven’t ditched our crummy turntable years ago is that I can’t bear to think about being separated from Bolcum and Morris and American music. I think that Nonesuch should be tried for high crimes and misdemeanors for allowing “Wild About Eubie” to slip from their catalogue: Bolcum matches Eubie Blake stride for stride pianistically, and the memory of Morris’s version of ‘Good Night Angeline’ makes the fact that I bought “Wild About Eubie” on cassette tape brands me as FAIL. But, as I said, I’m gonna bug Nonesuch.

They’ve done Kern, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin — the whole songbook, but better than anyone. But let me return to “After the Ball”

It’s a four generation favorite. We took the album as a gift to Ottawa in the late 70s, while my parents were in Paris and my grandmothers were babysitting my sisters. When we staggered in the door after ten hours of a miserable drive we beheld two tiny ladies, literally wringing their hands and flinging themselves on our breasts. My sister Megan had been acting up in a bad way, and they were beside themselves. The cure: spinning ‘After the Ball.” Lor lummee, these were the songs of their youth and they sang along to “She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage” and “Waltz Me Around Again Willie” as I might to “Big Yellow Taxi.”

My parents arrived the next day , were entranced by “After the Ball” and bought every single output of Bolcum and Morris.

My daughter was entranced too. Her paternal grandfather was astounded that she Knew the introduction to “Shine on Harvest Moon.”

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness
So she said, “I guess I’ll go.”
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe

So that’s four generations who love this music. Bolcum somehow combines stride piano and Brahms in his accompanying. I wept when I heard “On the Banks of the Wabash” thirty years ago. I wept last night.


Filed under History, Home, Into the Mystic, Music, Twenty bucks

Dover Books

I can’t remember when I first discovered Dover Books, but it was way back when they published mainly facsimile editions of  books whose copyright had lapsed. That’s still true, but it’s just one part of the dazzling Dover catalogue. I’m writing this from my living room — one of five rooms with bookshelves — and lessee… This is what I gathered:

  1. 79 Decorative Alphabets for Designers and Craftspeople
  2. Italian Drawings from the 15th to the 19th Century
  3. Filet Crochet
  4. Drawings of Mucha
  5. Fun Faces — 15 Punch Out Masks
  6. 24 Outline Display Fonts  CD ROM and Book
  7. Alexander Scriabin:The Complete Preludes and Etudes for Pianoforte Solo
  8. Franz Liszt: Complete Hungarian Rhapsodies for Solo Piano.( Yes, we have a piano.)
  9. Full-Color Celtic Decorative Letters CD-ROM and book.
  10. Favorite Songs of the Nineties (The “After the Ball” “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” 90s)
  11. My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music — William Byrd
  12. Domenico Scarlatti:  Great Keyboard Sonatas Series II
  13. Antique French Jumping Jacks: 11 Easy to Assemble Toys That Move

My sister Julia and my daughter Honor in 1990, wearing those cool cardboard punch-out Victorian masks, from a book I can’t find any more.

Here’s the wiki on Dover:

Jeez, where to start? Well, maybe with the catalog: What a wonderworld! I had no idea of the scope of the science writing. I can get a copy of “The Principle of Relativity” for 6.97? Linus Pauling’s “General Chemistry” for 9.98? “Catastrophe Theory for Scientists and Engineers” — 26.95 . If I were castaway on a desert island with only this book to read, I guess I’d give it a stab — may the sailing gods help me: “The Finite Element Method:Linear Static and Dynamic Finite Element Analysis.”

I’ll leave those and the hundreds of other science titles to those who love or need them. You know my frippery ways: check out the paper dolls!

  1. Chanel
  2. Classic TV Moms: Peg Bundy, Laura Petrie ,Claire Huxtable,, June Cleaver,Carol Brady.
  3. The Obama Family (and every other First Family
  4. The Dalai  Lama and Family (!)
  5. Marie Antoinette
  6. — and all the rest, from Country Stars through Gothic costume

Harry Houdini will teach me magic. Boris Spassky will teach me chess. I don’t own a copy of “Leaves of Grass,” but for three bucks I can –a facsimile of the 1855 edition, — through the Thrift Line. Here’s my wish list after fifteen minutes of browsing: “Rufus Estes’ “Good Eats”The First African-American Cookbook,” “The Art of Perfume CD-ROM and Book,” “The First Jewish-American Cookbook,” “Write it Right:a Little Blacklist of Literary Faults,” by Ambrose Bierce.

Dear old Dover!


Filed under Art, How Cool is That?, Library Card, Music, Ten bucks or fewer, Yarn