Friday, May 09, 2008

Strange are the ways of Google

My Sitemeter tells me that the fifteen thousandth visit to S-AB was from New Delhi, and came to the blog via a Google search for "play boomer 10 ben mania". For whatever reason, Google directed the visitor to this post, which must have seemed perplexing, to say the least.

Joe Martini was visitor number 14.999. I'm glad to see Joe reposting his screed on ethanol madness, which is an issue on which we agree. I'll also take this opportunity to thank Joe for his thoughtful comment on my Paul Simon post. I wish I had been able to attend the Simon/Philip Glass discussion.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cicely Nichols, 1937-2008

I can't remember when I first met her, except that it was some time in the late 1970s. I'm sure of where, though; the bar of the Lion's Head, a place that served mostly unmarried (in our instances, previously married) Villagers with a literary bent, as a sort of living room away from home. We may have been introduced by one of the many Head regulars we knew in common; just as likely, we may simply have found ourselves occupying adjacent stools and fallen into conversation.

Whatever was said that night, it was sufficient to establish a common desire to continue the conversation on other evenings. She was nine years my senior, and had been in the Village long enough to tell me about things that happened there when I was a college freshman in Florida thinking romantic thoughts about escaping to that fabled urban patch occupied by the likes of Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. I was thrilled to hear that she had worked for Grove Press, the avant garde house that published Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tropic of Cancer, as well as works by Beckett, Ferlenghetti, Fanon, LeRoi Jones and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. More surprising was that she had led a strike against Grove and its publisher, Barney Rosset, demanding better conditions for editorial employees. Because of the strike, she had to take on freelance work, which in turn led her to become one of the founders of the Editorial Freelancers Association. At the top of the home page of the EFA website, you will find a link to a tribute to Cicely and her work in establishing and determining the character of that organization.

As the years passed, we became confidantes. She endured many a night of my maunderings about failed and longed-for romances, and I listened to such troubles as she had in the same department, hers being of a more sane and mature nature. Although I hadn't thought of it this way until now, she came to occupy a space in my psychic organizational chart, previously unfilled, marked "older sister". The night when I first brought the woman who is now my wife to meet my friends at the Head, Cicely said, with a sly smile at me, "This woman looks like trouble." She was right, of course. The "trouble" has lasted eighteen years (almost seventeen of them as spouses), and produced a daughter about to enter high school.

Marriage, work responsibilities and fatherhood combined to limit my time at the Lion's Head, and consequently my socializing with Cicely; later, illness limited her time at the Head even more. Still, she would find the strength, with some help from her daughters and friends, to put on magnificent combination Christmas and birthday (hers was December 27) parties. I last saw her this past December, during what may have been her last period of remission, bright and smiling and cut-the-crap smart as ever. That's how I'll remember her.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

iPod Log 3 -- Xenophilia Edition

My iPod music library includes songs in eleven languages other than English.* The other morning, the iPod went on a xenophiliac binge, playing six foreign language songs in succession. These were:

E Inu Tatou E, the Kingston Trio. First, the bad stuff. These were white frat boys who named their group for the capital of Jamaica because they wanted to cash in on a craze for African-Caribbean calypso music. They affected fake Mexican accents on some of their songs; for example, "Coplas", "En el Agua" and, most famously, "Tijuana Jail" ("SEE-nyor come WEETH me, 'cause I want YOOOO!"). "Coplas Revisited", from their album College Concert, recorded live at UCLA in December, 1961, includes a line that I didn't understand for several years after first hearing it:
Show me a cowboy who rides sidesaddle,
And I'll show you a gay ranchero.
I guess that proves the old saw about California being a cultural bellwether. The good is that the Trio were all talented musicians who, over the course of a decade or so, and with one personnel change (John Stewart replacing Dave Guard in 1961), committed a lot of music to vinyl, much of which was quite good and some of which was superb. Folk purists derided them as inauthentic, middle-class, button-down shirt wearing squares. In truth, they were sometimes guilty of putting a bourgeois gloss on their material. I can't imagine a real working sailors' chantey including lines like "The ragged heavens open up / We sound the jubilation," as they put into their version of "Haul Away, Joe". Their eclecticism was remarkable: among the styles of music they interpreted and were influenced by were the aforementioned calypso, Hawaiian (Bob Shane was born and raised on the Big Island, and Dave Guard spent several years in a prep school in Honolulu), Appalachian and Celtic, Spanish and Mexican, African and blues. They have been credited with creating and nurturing a taste in American audiences for what is now called "world music". To top it all off, from my point of view, I learned from the Wikipedia article linked above that they even had a Mets connection. They learned what became their most-requested song, "Scotch and Soda", a blues-tinged lounge number, from Tom Seaver's parents, when one of them was dating Seaver's sister. "E Inu Tatou E" is an example of their Hawaiian repertoire. I couldn't find a translation of the lyrics, which are credited to George Archer. Some lyrics sources give it the subtitle "Drinking Song", and, on the Live at Newport album, Guard introduces the song and translates the title as "Let's Get Drunk".

Ebben, Ne Andro Lontana, East Village Opera Company. I've mentioned this group and this aria in an earlier iPod log. The aria is from Alfredo Catalini's seldom staged La Wally. At the first EVOC concert I attended, AnnMarie Milazzo introduced her nail-you-to-the-wall rendition by saying, "When you have to marry someone you don't want to, you get really, really mad."

El Preso Numero Nueve, Joan Baez. You also get really, really mad if you're a hard-working hombre who comes home to find his wife in the arms of un amigo desleal--mad enough to commit double murder, then tell the padre, just before you face the firing squad, that you have no fear, and will follow their footsteps through eternity. This is from Joan's auspicious first album, which, to the occasional dismay of my roommate, who called her "the screaming bitch", I listened to on many late evenings during my freshman year at USF.

Elama, Yasser Habeeb. I got this hypnotic, Indian-influenced song off Putumayo's Sahara Lounge. According to the album's notes, Habeeb is a Dubai native who started as a recording engineer and producer, then approached EMI with "Elama" ("Until When"), which became a hit throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. The notes give this translation of the lyrics:
Until when will this agony last? / Until when do I have to tolerate this torture when I have not harmed anyone? / The more you make me suffer, the more I am attracted to you / You keep hurting me, but I never complain / Just treat me fairly for once.
You can play a sample here.

Schlittenfahrt, Marlene Dietrich. If you've ever longed to hear the Blue Angel sing "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" from Oklahoma in German translation, this is it.

Usku Dara, Eartha Kitt. When I was about seven, and we were living in rural Hertfordshire, England, one afternoon my mother and I were listening to BBC radio when the disc jockey said, "And now, here's some Turkish music." What followed was a tune so hooky that it remained caught in my memory until some thirty or so years later when Mike McGovern, a New York Daily News writer who later became known as Kinky Friedman's sidekick in the Kinkster's detective novels, invited several of us who had closed down the Lion's Head to come to his place for a nightcap. He poured us each some whiskey, then put an Eartha Kitt album on his turntable. After a couple of cuts, I was amazed to hear the same exotic tune that had so captivated me as a child. Judge it for yourself (including the two deliciously non sequitur spoken English translations) here:

I'll close with a strong recommendation of another musically-oriented blog, Struts and Frets, by DJStan. His most recent post, on the late New York street musician and Whitmanesque genius Moondog, reminds me of a gaping hole in my music collection: I still don't have The Band's Moondog Matinee.

Erratum: Thanks to DJStan for pointing out an error. In listing the languages represented in my iPod library, I had assumed that "Kol Rina", by the Klezmer Conservatory Band, was sung in Hebrew. In fact, it's in Yiddish, and I've corrected the list accordingly.
*These are: Arabic, French, Gaelic, German, Hawaiian, Italian, Malagasy, Spanish, Turkish, Yiddish and Zulu. (Breton and Czech are soon to be added.)