Monday, October 29, 2007

Nationalism? Music? You gotta own it!

I just learned that "Deutschland, Deutschland ├╝ber alles" IST not in fact the first words of the current German national anthem. Aparently some controversy over the words (which translate to "Germany, Germany above all/everything!"), cause some to beleive they were a tad too nationalistic.

German nationalism? What harm could that do?

In any case, West Germany opted to use only the milder, less offensive third verse in 1952, and in superficially researching this a little furher, I found this editorial from a German paper.

Germans Stop Humming, Start Singing National Anthem

As you will see if you follow the link, Joseph Haydn wrote the tune forty years before August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben stepped up the jingo lingo while exiled in England of all places and nearly ninety years before the Nazi's put it into practice.

Like the modern soccer hooligan Germans mentioned the article, I genuinely love the tune, but humbly suggest that anyone uncomfortable with the uncomfortable history attached to it give a listen to Noel Coward's London Pride or Elvis Costello's Little Atoms, which both make use of a melody similar to Hadyn's in interesting ways.

Coward's song, true to the sweepingly fey chariacature of British homo-masculinity that he so deftly mastered, re-writes the tune about a flower which can grow just about anywhere in the heart of London. Coward wrote it during the London Blitz, whilst huddled in the Underground amazed at the resiliance of the British public. According to Coward:

London Pride was written in the spring of 1941. I was standing on the platform of a London railway station on the morning after a bad blitz. Most of the glass in the station roof had been blown out and there was dust in the air and the smell of burning.

The train I was waiting to meet was running late and so I sat on a platform seat and watched the Londoners scurrying about in the spring sunshine. They all seemed to me to be gay and determined and wholly admirable, and for a moment or two I was overwhelmed by a wave of sentimental pride. The song started in my head then and there, and was finished in a couple of days.

The tune is based on the traditional lavender-seller’s song, "Won't You Buy My Sweet-Smelling Lavender, There Are Sixteen Bunches One Penny". This age-old melody was appropriated by the Germans and used as a foundation for "Deutschland Uber Alles", and I considered that the time had come for us to have it back in London where it belonged. I am proud of the words of this song. They express what I felt at the time, i.e. London Pride.

(Coward wartime stuff is amazingly complex for being so sentimental, listen also to his 1943 song Don't Let's Beastly to the Germans

Interestingly, Elvis Costello's song begins with similarily flowery allusions ("I arose and Marigold lay down with Curious Iris / Cherry gave to Victor her prudence and her virus...") only to turn further inward about how the first-person speaker of the song "betray with a kiss," "the particles of me that care for this."

Which bring me to my main point and the reason I'm putting this up: the author of the above article does not mention the myriad of permutations of the tune, which begs more pressing questions about ownership and property, which are the very systems of thought underlying the problem of nationalism in the first place. Which seems especially pertinent to music with the recent wave of legal action being undertaken in the name of copyrights against file sharing sites like Oink and Demonoid. Music is like the flowers, man--it belongs to everybody! Anyway.

Here's Little Atoms, maybe (they might pull it down)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The bands that aren't

I like naming bands, especially band that I'm not in... so here's a running list of the best of them--I'm just trying to get one of them on a flyer:

She-Hulk and the Time Friends

'Twixt & 'Tween

Death Woo

The Vienna Boys Saussage

Infinite Guest

Terminal Jest

Great Acoustics for Electronic Music

Fact Similie

Similie-time Station

Klondike, Keener & Skib

The Bashful Hitlers

John Deere & the Dear Johns

Foreign Conversation

Seltzer Pants Alloy

Syndrome of a Downs

Rigorous Mortis

Chuck Yeagermeister Stands Alone!

The Lawfirm of Kitchen, Pond & Mattress

Sex without Coercion

Cher and Cher Alike

Charismatic Frontman

Chomsky, We Had Explosives

Frankly, We Have Explosives

(more to come)...
80s-90s Movie-themed band names"

Inigo Montoya


Devlin MacGregor

There must be more....?

Just to clarify, these are not bands... yet!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

DAYS 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 & 21: An Imminent, Staggering Plastic Baggering Strait

It has been a bizarre but uneventful MASH-tober. The challenge persists, but yields little. Last night, it was warmer so I left the windows open and over the strains of "Boris"' mashing, I heard my downstairs neighbours living and boozing it up into the wee small horas. The alley often sports broken bottles hurled there by Westmount teens or poor recyclers. Perhaps, the lag and unHalloweenliness of the season owe to climate change? In which case, as I noted last time, Monster Masher Bobby Pickett may have hoped on a much more prescient bandwagon when he turned to the Mashing Climate Change with his swan song, the Climate Mash.

Which reminded me that as I was sitting here working at the computer in front the dark alleyway between mine and the building next door, a plastic bad fell straight down, parachute-like, from on high, perfectly in my line of vision. The sky was literally raining plastic bag. It was an American Beauty moment, but it made for a dirty alleyway.

The warm air, the plastic bag, broken bottles, and the mutant squirrel... all of this reminds me of something which leads to something else:

The Vortex of Garbage in the North Pacific Ocean.

I don't remember if Al Gore told me (and 20,000 other people) about this when he spoke in Montreal in March, but it is alternately known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex, but I'm partial to Vortex of Garbage. It forms around the North Pacific Gyre, which is apparently the system of currents tugging at the world's oceans. The currents in turn deposit vast amounts of garbage into the North Pacific, and this semi-buoyant trash heap is currently about the size of Texas.

What this means, I cannot be sure, but I have visions of a distopic future (there's seldom any other kind in the waking imagination) in which a Bering Straight is filled in again with trash, allowing a motley of Americans to walk back to Asia across a pile of dirty tennis shoes, Huey Lewis albums, computer monitors, discarded tubes of petroleum jelly, and other non-biodegradable remnants of human civilization. Eventually, humankind or whatever's left of it will settle the vortex, perhaps breeding Great Pacific Garbage Pale Kids and later, a system of government will evolve there after centuries of warfare for the heaps, but right now it's just a slowly swirling pile of garbage. That's terrible.

I'd like some suggestions for following up. Can anyone direct me towards:

- a cultural histories of plastic (chronicling varied cultural attitudes towards plastic from the fifties to present)
- Climate Mash, where can one hear it?
- Where the last 13 days went?


Ocean Secrets

North Pacific Gyre

Across the Pacific Ocean, plastics, plastics, everywhere

Greenpeace's piece on it

The Original Bering Strait


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Days 5, 6, 7 & 8: Mash fatigue

LISTENING CONTEXTS: varied, the most interesting being in Aunt's car

In the middle of nowhere, I was interupted by drums, and what turned out to be a re-recording of the Monster Mash. K-tel et al made the worst of these sort of things. As I mentioned, Bobby "Boris" Pickett made a career out of the Monster Mash. I remember hearing another record once on the radio about this time of year in which Boris basically sang the whole of the Monster Mash in the past tense, "still working at the lab, late that night... remember the Monster Mash?" Etc. The last thing he did is said to be the Climate Mash, having turned his attentions to the HORRORS OF GLOBAL WARMING... Haven't been able to find it anywhere. Have found Beach Boys with Bobby...

Friday, October 5, 2007

Day 4: duly noted

LISTENING CONTEXT: on a bus, people around, sadly mashing

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Day 3: Monster Sociality = Music Sociality

LISTENING CONTEXT: bus stop, starring up at the crest with an old Packard logo in it waiting for a bus

Okay, I know that yesterday I said that the Monster Mash was isolating, but here's a shocking fact: the monsters are having fun. Despite their monstrosity, and the implicit social stigma attached to that, they seem to be getting along, mashing.... At the same time, the musicians on the record genuinely seem to be having fun too--it's a party record, and it sounds like a party! There are few party records I can think of that don't--it was 1962, Lesley Gore's bad time party records came the following year, and synthesizers were several years away. Party records underline the role of sociality in pop music. The lyrics bring that home. Even if Leon Russell's piano sounds like its having it's own little party in a closet somewhere, away from the rhythm section, and everything is super compartmentalized on the recording--and parties often involved stuffing Leon Russell in a closet.

As I was listening to it, I thought about another great dance party record (and one I'd listened to a few minutes earlier): Quarter to Three by Gary US Bonds. The record sounds like a party was happening in the studio, and I think part of the genre's appeal is in conveying that sense of partiness. His New Orleans is another great example. Which, as I've been learning recently ties into the fun of actually playing music with other people. Which is a social phenomena. However, it also explains, going back to yesterday, why listening to other people's good time together can be so isolatin' when you're walking through Westmount.

Also, whatever became of Packard cars?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Day 2: Mash Indifference

LISTENING CONTEXT: walking along Ste Cath West, near Greene, random. slightly on purpose (ipodishly)

Today, twice, swimming through an afternoon crowd along a busy sidewalk. Face after unsmiling face passed me by unaware that the grin (I had, beaming myselfishly), which seemed to be making everyone uncomfortable began with the sound of science bubbles at the beginning of the Monster Mash. Nothing highlights the nakedly subjective nature of pop music listening in the 21st Century like the scorn of strangers at your enjoying it. Otherwises, I heard Lucretia MacEvil by Blood Sweat and Tears twice today, too. Equally silly, equally isolating.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Day 1: Mash Good!

So begins my immersion in Mash-dom as I enter the THIRTY-ONE DAY MONSTER MASH CHALLENGE, a self-imposed experiment in which I will listen to Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s the Monster Mash every day for the month of October, 2007, AD., and record whatever I am able to produce as a result of it.

Why do this?

Well, my experience has led me to believe that there is something compulsive built into the academic mindset—a mindset I am trying to feign. I’m partly trying to reconnect with that. I’m reminded of an older age of clerical pedagogy that required hand copying of canonical works. This led to such bizarre sentences as “there’s no Ecclesiastes like Gary’s Ecclesiastes.” (Evidentally, Gary had poise and remarcable penmanship).

I’ve even seen instructional manuals from as recent as the 1980s recommending that aspiring writers copy the great works of Western Literature (oddly all written by Great Men) out by hand so that one can get the feeling of having written a Great Work. I know Hunter S. Thompson claimed to have re-typed works by Fitzgerald and Hemmingway, and hand copying the works of Shakespeare was once quite common. (I heard comedian George Carlin explain that his maternal grandfather had done this.)

This old school self-publishing was about self-improvement and education by imitation. The subject is supposed internalize these external models. But I think there’s something more fundamental going on. I can remember hand writing the lyrics to all of the songs on the Beatles’ Red & Blue LPs when I was 11. I did it because I really liked the songs.

My ambition is to write one amazingly annoyingly catchy pop song and live off the resulting multimedia franchise until my great-grandchildren are all dead. That’s precisely what Bobby “Boris” Pickett did and there is something that has always fascinated me about the curious notion of being able to base an entire career on just one thing—the true one-trick pony. The Vaudeville stage was made up of act after act who would essentially hone a single five to ten minute routine into its perfect form over their entire careers.

The challenge is not about the Monster Mash. It doesn’t need commentary. As the Igor says, mash good! My important work is an exercise in purpose-driven purposelessness. It’s a spiritual journey through specific culturally-ubiquitous media to arrive at… well, we shall see…

Which is why, each day for the entire month of October, I will listen to the Monster Mash at least twice every day, and record my observations. I’ll try to get out and get into increasingly bizarre circumstances so that the Mash has the potential of altering my perception of the world. I’ll turn over lyrics in my mind and unpack, deconstruct, disenfranchise, and do violence to it, until I get somewhere. Bear with me!

This will be the first time I've ever attempted to do this when it is seasonally appropriate. Depending on how it goes, in December, I can begin my month long observance of the same basic experiment with Christmas Don't Be Late, I will expect to have learned a great deal about human endurance. January, I could do No Scrubs by TLC.

LISTENING CONTEXT: 3:00-3:15 PM EST, my apartment, on purpose

Peripheral. I put it on four times while I was doing mundane school work. It was not profound. I was struck by how tame it sounds-—how profoundly non-threatening, for a song about Monsters, mashing. It is kinda-goofy, and Leon Russell plays the piano.

I had intended to wake up to the Monster Mash this morning, but I forgot when I was setting my alarm that the first track on that Halloween CD is The Who’s version of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” That was loud.

Go FURTHER: for starters, take a look at the official webpage of the late Bobby “Boris” Pickett. He made a career out of the Monster Mash, and much of it is evident here.