Sunday, September 30, 2012

OutKast (feat. Killer Mike) -- "The Whole World" (2001)

My words are diamonds dug out of a mine
Spit 'em, polish, look how they shine
Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss
I catch a beat runnin' like Randy Moss

Summer vacation ha been over for weeks, boys and girls.  It's time to quit mooning around and start paying attention to your "Hip Hop 101" professor.

Duke Ellington said that jazz don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.   The equivalent of swing in the rap world -- its sine qua non -- is flow, which is the interaction between a song's rhymes and rhythms (or "beats").

If the rhyme scheme or the beats are too regular and simple, the track will sound sing-songy and the listener's interest will quickly pall.  But if the rhymes or beats are too free or so irregular that the audience isn't able to lock on to the underlying rhythmic pulse, the effect is like that of a vinyl record that skips unpredictably.

OutKast is a two-MC operation, featuring Georgians André "André 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton.  The two met in 1992, when they were both 16 and students at a suburban Atlanta high school, and were signed to a record deal later that same year.

André 3000 and Big Boi are very innovative, and the critics have always loved them.  At the same time, they've been commercial successes, selling over 25 million albums and winning six Grammy Awards.

Here's André 3000's Gillette shaver commercial:

André 3000 handles the first verse in "The Whole World," while Big Boi contributes the third and final verse.  Both men spit their rhymes so rapidly that they come very close to losing their flow.  The effect is like watching a great violinist play "Flight of the Bumblebee" as quickly as he or she can -- it's thrilling but nerve-wracking.  One slip-up and the whole thing falls apart.

Here's a very different performance of "Flight of the Bumblebee":

(Is YouTube the greatest invention is the history of the world or what?)

The lines quoted at the beginning of this post are from the second verse of "The Whole World," which was contributed by guest artist Killer Mike, who is another Atlanta rapper.  Killer Mike brags that his words are diamonds that he has polished until they shine.

Killer Mike
But flow requires both rhyme and rhythm, and Killer Mike can catch and ride a rap song's beats like a surfer catches and rides a big wave -- or like NFL great Randy Moss catches a long pass while running at full speed, never breaking stride until he crosses the goal line.

"The Whole World" was released in 2001.  (I remember hearing it during the warm-ups for my daughters' basketball games at the Academy of the Holy Cross a year or two later -- obviously the nuns weren't paying attention.)

In 2000, Randy Moss gained 1437 yards on pass receptions and scored an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns.  His best year was probably 2007, his first of four seasons with the New England Patriots, when he averaged 15.2 yards per reception and scored 23 touchdowns, which is the NFL record for receivers.  

In 2010, the 33-year-old Moss split the season among three teams, and didn't have much of an impact on any of them.  Last year he was out of football.  But the San Francisco 49'ers gave him another chance, and the results so far indicate that Moss -- he's now 35, and in his 14th NFL season -- isn't finished yet.

Here's "The Whole World" official music video:

Here's the explicit version of the song:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Andy Williams -- "Can't Get Used to Losing You" (1963)

Called up some girl I used to know
After I heard her say "Hello"
Couldn't think of anything to say
Since you're gone it happens every day

Andy Williams died of cancer on Tuesday, September 25.  He was 84 years old.

I had no thought of featuring one of his songs on 2 or 3 lines until one of my oldest and dearest friends paid tribute to him on Facebook.  Several other old friends chimed in, and I decided to take a closer look at his life and discography.

Andy Williams recorded 42 studio albums and a number of compilation and live albums.  A dozen of them made the Billboard pop album top ten, and 18 of them went gold -- that gave him more gold albums than any solo performer except Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Mathis.  His television variety show was a big hit in the sixties, and he headlined at Caesars Palace for years.  

In 1991, Andy's brother Don -- who managed Ray Stevens -- invited him to Branson, Missouri to see Stevens perform at his new theater there.  Williams opened his "Moon River Theater" in Branson the next year.  Almost all the other acts in Branson at that time were country-western entertainers, but Williams's success led pop stars like Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton, and the Osmonds to Branson.

Williams's theater was like nothing else in Branson (which has plenty of tacky architecture).  It was designed to blend in with the rugged Ozark Mountain landscape, and incorporates natural elements so successfully that it was featured in Architectural Digest.

Moon River Theatre grounds
Williams was a serious art collector, and his theater features artworks by modern-art icons like Claes Oldenburg, Jackson Pollock, Paul Klee, Henry Moore, and Andy Warhol. 

I can't resist embedding this brief excerpt from an episode of The Simpsons featuring a trip by Bart and his pals to Branson, where the brutish Nelson insists they take in the Andy Williams show.  The rest of the boys can barely stay awake, but Nelson sits transfixed as Williams sings "Moon River."  (The video quality is horrible, and the voiceover is in Spanish, which makes the whole thing even more surreal than usual.)

Andy Williams' signature song, of course, is "Moon River," the Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini song that was sung by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany's.  It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year, and Williams performed it live at the Academy Awards ceremonies in 1962.  

But his record company didn't think his recording would have any appeal to teenagers, so they never released it as a single! 

Williams recorded a host of other songs from movies -- including "Days of Wine and Roses," "On the Street Where You Live" (from My Fair Lady), "The Shadow of Your Smile" (The Sandpiper), "Somewhere My Love" (Dr. Zhivago), "Where Do I Begin" (Love Story), and "Speak Softly Love" (The Godfather).

Williams had hits with cover versions of several pop songs that are identified more with other performers -- like "Music to Watch Girls By" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."  (His version of the former song -- originally recorded by the Bob Crewe Generation -- made it to the top ten in the UK recently when it was in a Fiat television ad there.)

Williams performing in Branson
Any Williams only had one single that reached number one on the Billboard pop charts -- "Butterfly," from 1957.  I had never heard that song, and I'm betting that you haven't either.  He sings it in a very Presley-esque style, and it sounds nothing like his later recordings.

Given that we're gearing up for an election, I should note that Williams was a close friend of Bobby Kennedy.  He sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at his funeral at Ethel Kennedy's request.  

But Williams always considered himself a Republican, and has been quoted making scathing remarks about President Obama.

Williams married Folies Bergére dancer Claudine Longet in 1961 -- he was 32 and she was 18.  She enjoyed considerable success as an actress and singer until she shot and killed her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich, in Aspen in 1976.  (She and Williams had divorced the year before.)

Claudine Longet and Andy Williams
Williams escorted his ex-wife to the courthouse every day during her trial, which resulted in her being convicted of criminal negligence (a misdemeanor) and spending only 30 days in jail.  Many eyebrows were raised later when it became known that Longet was romantically involved with her defense attorney, who was married at the time.  The couple later married and still live in Aspen.

Williams loved golf, and was the celebrity host of the "Andy Williams San Diego Open" PGA Tour event from 1968 through 1988.

Golfer Tom Watson with Williams
I originally planned to feature -- what else -- "Moon River" in this post.  For one thing, that song is virtually synonymous with Andy Williams.  For another, I vividly remember singing it with either my junior high or high school chorus.  (I don't think I could forget the lyrics if I tried.) 

But I decided to feature Andy Williams's second-biggest single after "Butterfly" -- his #2 hit from 1963, "Can't Get Used to Losing You," which is the first song of his I remember hearing on the radio.  

"Can't Get Used to Losing You" was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, a famed Brill Building songwriting duo responsible for "A Teenager in Love," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "This Magic Moment," and many other hits.  

I think Andy Williams owned this song as much as he owned "Moon River."  The song and the arrangement fit his vocal style perfectly:

Click here if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Talking Heads -- "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town" (1977)

I been to college
I been to school

The founding members of the Talking Heads -- David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth -- met when they were students at the Rhode Island School of Design ("RISD") in Providence, RI, in the early 1970's. 

Byrne left RISD after a year, but Frantz and Weymouth (who were boyfriend/girlfriend) graduated before moving to New York City and forming the Talking Heads with Byrne in 1974.

Byrne, Frantz, and Weymouth at CBGB in 1976
Byrne (a singer and guitarist) and Frantz (a drummer) had been in other bands previously.  Weymouth was not a musician, but Frantz persuaded her to learn how to play the bass guitar when he and Byrne had trouble recruiting a bass player for their new band.  The trio's first appearance was at the legendary New York punk/new wave club, CBGB, where they opened for the Ramones on June 20, 1975.  

Keyboardist Jerry Harrison, a former Harvard student who played on Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers' debut album, joined the Talking Heads just in time to appear on their first album, Talking Heads '77.  "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town" was the first track of that album, which I bought and listened to zillions of times after graduating from law school and setting up housekeeping in our nation's capital in the fall of 1977.

While the Talking Heads are best known for their original songs (most of which were composed by Byrne), they also played some covers of sixties' hits when they were getting started.

They may have been the worst cover band in history.  Here they are performing "96 Tears" at CBGB.  

And here is a truly bizarre cover version of the 1910 Fruitgum Company's bubblegum hit, "1, 2, 3, Red Light."  (What were they thinking?)

RISD, which is one of the most highly regarded art and design colleges in the United States, is located in downtown Providence, very near Brown University.  It has a number of distinguished alumni, including actor and comedian Martin Mull (class of '65), fashion designer Nicole Miller ('73), film director Gus Van Sant ('75), New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast ('77), artist Shepard Fairey ('92) -- he's best known as the designer of the iconic "Hope" campaign poster for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign -- and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane ('95).

Roz Chast (RISD '77) knows blogs
About a mile from the RISD campus is the starting point of the East Bay Bike Path, a 14.5-mile-long paved rail trail that runs along Narragansett Bay from East Providence to Bristol, RI.  I stopped there on my drive back from Cape Cod last month for a ride.

Here's one of the oceangoing ships I saw in the harbor that day -- the Panagia Lady, a 600-foot long oil/chemical tanker that is owned by a Singapore shipping company.  

The Panagia Lady
There are several large windmills in the dock area:

The Pomham Rocks lighthouse was built in 1871.  Here's a picture of it from the bike trail.

Adolph Herman Aronson was the keeper of this lighthouse from 1908 until 1937.  His family owned a cat that would crouch on the edge of the island, waiting for fish to come within range, and would then dive into the water, grab the surprised fish, and bring it back to the island.  One newspaper story about the cat was headlined "Fish-Catching Cat is Self-Supporting."

Here's a photo of the Squantum Association's clubhouse, which was built in 1900.  It's a popular place for weddings, corporate meetings, and other special events.

Here's a picture from the water:

The rail trail follows the right-of-way of the Providence, Bristol, and Warren Railroad, which was completed in 1855.  In 1891, that railroad was leased by the Old Colony Railroad (the product of an earlier merger involving the Cape Cod Railroad).

Here's the former Riverside station, which now houses a tanning salon.

Here's Riverside's World War II memorial:

Riverside was also home to the Crescent Park Amusement Park (sometimes called the "Coney Island of New England"), which had a large midway, a famous ballroom, and "Shore Dinner Hall," which could seat 2000 diners.  

Crescent Park opened in 1886 and closed in 1979.  The spectacular Charles I. D. Looff Carousel (which features 61 horses, two coaches, two chariots, and a camel) has been restored and still operates every summer.

After I was done with my ride and my obsessive picture taking, I got back on I-95 and headed south.  My next stop was a big-ass outlet mall in Clinton, CT, where I spent a couple of hours replenishing my meager wardrobe.  I don't spare my readers very much, but I'll spare you from a listing of what I bought at the Nike, J. Crew, Ralph Lauren Polo, Levi's, and Kate Spade outlet stores.  (I will note that I wasn't shopping for myself at the Kate Spade store.)  

"Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town" is a love song of sorts.  The singer is well aware that love can be very distracting:

Jet pilot gone out of control
Ship captain run aground
Stockbroker make a bad investment 
When love has come to town

He decides that spending time with his babe is more important than his job:

I called in sick
I won't go to work today
I'd rather be
With the one I love

But later he has second thoughts:

Where is my common sense?
How did I get in a jam like this? . . .
The answer is obvious
Love has come to town

Here's "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town":

You can use this link to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Groove Armada (ft. Patti Page) -- "At the River" (1997)

If you're fond of sand dunes, and salty air
Quaint little villages, here and there
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

Those lines are from "Old Cape Cod," a song that was a top ten hit in 1957 for Patti Page.  It was subsequently covered by Bing Crosby, Jerry Vale, Anne Murray, Bette Midler, and many others.  If you're a fan of Mad Men, you heard it in the third episode of the fourth season of that show.

Groove Armada is an electronic music duo from London that has eight studio albums to its credit.  Its first single, "At the River," samples "Old Cape Cod."

Chatham is probably Cape Cod's most Cape Coddish town.  It has plenty of sand dunes and salty air, and it's as quaint as any Cape Cod village.  but it's usually full of tourists, too.  (It's not as full as tourists as Hyannis, and the tourists in Chatham are much more upper-crust than the proles in Hyannis.  But it's still much too busy for my tastes.)

Years ago, a spur line of the Old Colony Railroad's Cape Cod branched off from the main line (which ran from Boston to Provincetown) and terminated in Chatham.  That branch of the railroad has become a branch of the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  Because I always make a point of riding the entire Cape Cod Rail Trail, I ride my bike to Chatham each summer.  Otherwise, I stay clear of Chatham.

I took this picture of a flagpole surrounded by a handsome bed of black-eyed susans a few miles west of Chatham:

When the man who lived in the house approached me while I was taking this photograph, I was afraid he was going to go all Walter Matthau on me and tell me to get off his property.  Au contraire -- he was pleased that I wanted a picture of his Rudbeckia hirta.  

Here's a close-up of the black-eyed susans:

The rail trail ends north of downtown Chatham.  I turned south on Stage Harbor Road (which runs parallel to the beach but about half a mile inland) and then east on Bridge Street.  Here's a picture of Mill Pond from the Mitchell River Bridge:

The state transportation department wants to replace this deteriorating wooden drawbridge (which dates back to 1858 or 1871, depending on whom you believe) with a new one made mostly of steel and concrete.  They promise a "context-sensitive" bridge that would look like it was made of wood.  But local preservationists -- who say that the Mitchell River bridge is the last wooden drawbridge left in the United States -- want to rebuild the current bridge using only wood.

The debate has raged for several years, and if a final decision is delayed much longer, the town may lose $11 million in state and federal funding and have to pay for a new bridge itself.

Here's a picture of Stage Harbor and the "Not A Problem" from the approach to the drawbridge:

From the drawbridge, I continued east on Bridge Street until I came to the Chatham Beach & Tennis Club, which overlooks the Atlantic.  If you're a one-percenter and want your children to learn how to play tennis (preferably with other one-percenters), you could do worse than join the Chatham Beach & Tennis Club.

Where Bridge Street meets Main Street, is the Chatham Light, which was initially built in 1808.  (The current lighthouse structure dates to 1879.)

Across Main Street from the lighthouse is South Beach, which is open to the public.This is the view looking south from the beach parking lot:  

I then rode north on Main Street (which eventually bears northwest, away from the ocean, and takes you to Chatham's busy shopping district) and Shore Road (which continues due north along the harbor).

Here's the quarter-mile-long private beach of the fancy-schmancy Chatham Bars Inn, which caters to more one-percenters.  (They have a swimming pool and a restaurant here as well.)  I've never seen valet parking offered at the beach before:

A little further north is the Chatham Fish Pier.  Here's a picture of some of the Chatham fleet:

Here's a lobsterman loading lobster traps on to his boat:

The ride to Chatham and back was my longest Cape Cod ride -- it was a little over 22 miles all told.  

Here's the music video for Groove Armada's "At the River," featuring Patti Page and "Old Cape Cod":  

Here's Patti Page singing "Old Cape Cod."  The building shown at 1:11 of this video is the old Chatham train station, now a museum -- that's where the rail trail ends.

Click below if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Infected Mushroom -- "The Pretender" (2012)

I'm the voice inside your head
You refuse to hear
I'm the face that you have to face
Mirrored in your stare
I'm what's left, I'm what's right
I'm the enemy
I'm the hand that will take you down
Bring you to your knees

The 2012 election campaign has certainly brought me to my knees.  I don't want to hear Romney's and Obama's voices inside my head, and I don't want to see their faces staring out at me every time I turn on a television . . . but there they are.

One place where I could escape all the campaign nonsense for a few hours while on vacation last month was my favorite Cape Cod mountain-biking venue, the West Barnstable (MA) Conservation Area, otherwise known as the "Trail of Tears."

On one of my rides there, I suddenly saw big-ass mushrooms everywhere.  It hadn't been particularly rainy that week.  But the Trail of Tears goes through a fairly dense forest, and the floor of that forest doesn't get a lot of sunlight.  

The trusty ol' Mongoose
I did considerable research trying to identify some of the mushrooms I saw that day, but I eventually gave up.  I simply couldn't match up the fungi in my photos with those on the mushroom-identification websites I visited.  So I'm not going to speculate on which species I encountered.

Did you know that Buddha may have died from mushroom poisoning?  (Some people don't buy that story.)

The Roman emperor Claudius supposedly was murdered by being fed toxic mushrooms, as was Pope Clement VII.  (Some historians say that it's doubtful that either of these gentlemen was murdered, much less murdered with mushrooms.)  

However, the best-selling author, Nicholas Evans -- he wrote The Horse Whisperer -- was definitely a victim of bad 'shrooms.  (He had to have a kidney transplant after consuming deadly webcaps in 2008.) 

Here's one mushroom variety that I saw all over the place the day of my Trail of Tears ride.  I don't think it's a poisonous one -- there are relatively few poisonous mushroom species, and most fatal mushroom poisonings are attributable to a single type (the Amanita phalloides mushroom) -- but I wasn't tempted to test my mushroom-identification skills.  (Likewise, I've never been tempted to play Russian roulette.)

I saw quite a few specimens of this mushroom on my ride.  It was big and beautifully colored.  I don't think it's toxic, but I wasn't take any chances with it either.

Here's another shot of this mushroom:

Here's the most unusual mushroom I came across.  I only saw one example of this one.  Even if it was safe to eat, it was simply too beautiful to harvest.

I couldn't think of a suitable song to feature on this post off the top of my head, so I went online and searched for songs with "mushroom" in the lyrics.

That's how I discovered the Infected Mushroom, an Israeli electronica duo that's released eight albums since 1999.

No, I didn't make this group up.  Spend a little time with Uncle Google and you'll see that Infected Mushroom is one of the best-selling groups in Israel's history.  (The music video for their 2006 song, "Becoming Insane," has had over 17 million views on Youtube.)  They "play a manic breed of trance music unlike anything in the current dance arena," according to the Los Angeles Times, which praised their energetic live shows.

Infected Mushroom's newest album, Army of Mushrooms, was released earlier this year.  It includes a cover of the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender," which was previously featured on 2 or 3 linesClick here if you missed that post.

I would never say that Infected Mushroom's take on "The Pretender" is as good as the original -- which has a furious sincerity that makes it one of my all-time favorites -- but it's very interesting.  And beggars can't be choosers when looking for songs that provide an appropriate musical accompaniment to pictures of mushrooms.

Here's "The Pretender":

Click here if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jimi Hendrix Experience -- "Are You Experienced?" (1967)

Are you experienced? 
Have you ever been experienced? 

Jimi Hendrix was certainly experienced.  He experienced himself to death on this date in 1970.

You and I may disagree on a lot of things, but I hope we can agree that Keith Moon is the greatest rock and roll drummer of all time and Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist.  Both Moon and Hendrix were tremendously innovative and absolutely unique musicians -- neither sounded like anyone else.

Both lived excessive lives and died very young.  Moon died when he was 32 and Hendrix didn't live to see his 28th birthday.

Hendrix had a string of hit singles in the UK and elsewhere in 1966 and 1967, but was largely unknown in the United States until he appeared at the Monterey International Pop Festival in  June 1967.  D. A. Pennebaker filmed the concert and released a documentary titled Monterey Pop late the next year.  Hendrix's performance of the Troggs' hit, "Wild Thing," got a lot of attention -- Jimi set his guitar on fire and then smashed it to pieces.  

Hendrix first set a guitar on fire while on stage in London in March 1967.  Frank Zappa, who was a friend of Hendrix, ended up with the burned Fender Stratocaster and played it on at least one of his albums.

Zappa's son, Dweezil, found it in 1991 under the stairs in his father's recording studio, and restored it.  Here's a video in which he describes the guitar and its restoration in great detail:

Hendrix was left-handed, but played a right-handed guitar -- he simply turned it upside down and reversed the order of the strings.

The Are You Experienced? album -- his first -- had been released in the UK in May 1967, and it climbed to #2 on the UK album charts (behind only Sgt. Pepper).  After Hendrix's show-stealing Monterey Pop appearance, his record company released a version of the album in the U.S. in August.

Here's Hendrix performing "Hey Joe" at Monterey Pop.  Watch closely beginning at 1:33 -- that's where he plays his guitar with his teeth:

Here's the end of Hendrix's Monterey Pop appearance.  After performing "Wild Thing," he sets his guitar on fire, smashes it into pieces, and tosses the pieces into the crowd:

I think I bought his Smash Hits album shortly after Hendrix appeared at Woodstock in August 1969.  It had been released in the UK in 1968 -- only a few months after the group's second studio album had been issued.  Smash Hits wasn't released in the U.S. then because Hendrix hadn't yet had any hits in the U.S.   (Neither "Purple Haze" nor "Foxy Lady" had cracked the top 40.  "All Along the Watchtower" -- which peaked at #20 in September 1968 -- was the only Hendrix single to make the top 40.)

On September 17, 1970, Hendrix was at a party in London.  His German girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, drove him to her Notting Hill flat well after midnight.

Monika Dannemann with Jimi Hendrix
It's not clear what happened after that.  Hendrix apparently took nine of Dannemann's prescription sleeping pills, which were a lot more than he should have taken.  Dannemann tried to wake him around 11 AM, and called an ambulance when he was unresponsive.  

Dannemann (who committed suicide in 1996) always claimed that Hendrix was alive when the ambulance arrived, and that she rode in it to the hospital with him.  The ambulance crew denied that she was there when they arrived at the flat, and said that Hendrix was already dead and had been dead for some time.

A doctor who initially attended Hendrix said he asphyxiated on his own vomit, which consisted mostly of red wine.  It's not clear why he didn't perform a tracheotomy.   The autopsy report said nothing about red wine, and stated that there was relatively little alcohol in Hendrix's system.

To confuse matters even further, Eric Burdon (the former lead singer of the Animals) said that he believed Hendrix had committed suicide.  He based that conclusion on some song lyrics written by Hendrix that Burdon found in the flat.  Years later, a former Animals roadie wrote a book that said that Hendrix's manager had told him that he had the star killed because Hendrix wanted to end his management contract.  

About two weeks later, Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin.

Hendrix is buried in a suburb of Seattle
I was a freshman in college when Hendrix and Joplin died.  I bought Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland (his third studio album) from an upperclassman who was selling off his record collection  a year or two later.  I remember his comment when I said I wanted those two albums: "Isn't a little late for you to be getting into Hendrix?"  (I'm guessing paid 50 cents each for those LPs -- certainly no more than a dollar each.  I think I got one or two Spirit albums from him as well.)

Jimi Hendrix was unbelievably cool.  I wonder what it would feel like to be that cool -- even just for five minutes.

Here's "Are You Experienced?":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cole Porter -- "Too Darn Hot" (1948)

I'd like to stop for my baby tonight
And blow my top with my baby tonight
But I'd be a flop with baby tonight
'Cause it's too darn hot

Cole Porter’s musical, Kiss Me, Kate, opened on Broadway in 1948 – before most American homes had air conditioners.  

One of the reasons my in-laws bought a house on Cape Cod sixty-plus years ago was to escape the awful heat and humidity of summers in Washington, DC.  Now that we have air conditioning in our homes and cars, my family usually suffers more from the heat and humidity on Cape Cod than we do in Washington.  

Fortunately, the Cape Playhouse – where we recently enjoyed a revival of Kiss Me, Kate -- has excellent air-conditioning.

Here's a photo of the Cape Playhouse that I took as we were walking to the performance:

Here's a picture of the Playhouse in the daylight:

The Cape Playhouse, which claims to be the oldest professional summer theatre in America,  opened in 1927.  The star of the first production was Basil Rathbone, a famous British actor who was best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in fourteen movies that were filmed between 1939 and 1946.  

Other stars who have appeared at the Cape Playhouse include Bette Davis (who worked at the theatre as an usher first), Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Helen Hayes, and the 18-year-old Jane Fonda.

A very young (and very blonde) Bette Davis
Kiss Me, Kate is about the production of a modern-day play based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  The play within the play opens in Baltimore – where the weather is just “too darn hot.” 

The leading man and leading lady are a divorced couple who are still strongly attracted to one another, but the course of true love never did run smooth (to quote Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  Of course, there’s a happy ending – this is a Broadway musical, after all – but the two stars spend most of the play fighting like cats and dogs.

The Taming of the Shrew scores low when it comes to political correctness.  The plot revolves around the determination of a wealthy father to find a husband for his elder daughter, Katherina – a stubborn, man-hating shrew who wants no part of marital bliss.
When Petruchio, a suitor who is motivated by greed, shows up and begins to pitch woo, the shrew fights him tooth and nail.  But he uses reverse psychology to turn her into a very obedient wife.  

I remember seeing the 1967 Franco Zefferelli-directed movie of The Taming of the Shrew, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  Taylor's Kate defies Burton's Petruchio at the end of the movie, undercutting what appears to be Shakespeare's misogyny and making the movie more palatable to modern audiences. 

Taylor and Burton's romance began during the 1963 filming of Cleopatra (the most expensive film ever made if inflation is taken into account).  Both were married at the time, but they both managed to get divorced and married each other in 1964.  The infamously stormy marriage ended in 1974, but the couple remarried the next year, separating for good shortly thereafter.  (Their relationship somewhat mirrors that of the two main characters in Kiss Me, Kate.)

Kiss Me, Kate goes a step farther than Shakespeare's play did – Petruchio not only plays mind games with Kate, but eventually puts the shrew over his knee and gives her a good spanking to make her behave.  It’s not easy for a modern-day audience to accept Kate’s transformation from independent-minded woman to submissive wife – especially when that transformation is accomplished largely through assault and battery – but the Cape Playhouse production downplayed this aspect of the plot enough to make the outcome palatable.

Cole Porter was one of the greatest American songwriters of all time.  He learned the violin and piano when he was a child, and began to write songs at a young age.  When he attended Yale, he was a member of the original Whiffenpoofs, the oldest and most famous collegiate a cappella group.

But Porter’s wealthy and domineering grandfather wanted him to be a lawyer, not a musician, so he went to Harvard Law School after graduating from Yale.  (His first-year roommate was Dean Acheson, who was Secretary of State in the Truman Administration.)  Porter didn’t enjoy his legal studies, and with the dean of the law school’s encouragement, he enrolled in Harvard’s music school.  He and his mother kept the move secret from his grandfather.

Cole Porter was a lefty
Porter married a wealthy divorcee who was eight years his senior when he was 28.  His wife was well aware that he was a homosexual when they wed, but their marriage of convenience seems to have been satisfactory to both – they remained married until she died 35 years later, and were by all accounts quite devoted to one another.

It’s interesting that Porter’s greatest Broadway success was a play about a tempestuous but passionate heterosexual love affair.  The contrast between his characters’ relationship and his relationship with his wife – which was devoid of romance or sex, but always friendly and pleasant – could not be greater.

Porter had a way with words -- that might be the understatement of the century -- and he was never more clever than in "Too Darn Hot."  Here’s the original Broadway cast recording of “Too Darn Hot," which has more double entendres than you can shake a stick at:

Here's a video from the 2002 UK production.  The staging and choreography is very similar to what we saw at the Cape Playhouse:

Click below if you’d like to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mastodon -- "Crack the Skye" (2009)

Momma, don't let them take her!
Don't let them take her down!
Please tell Lucifer he can't have this one!
Her spirit's too strong!

The most significant event in the geologic history of Cape Cod was the advance and retreat of the last great North American ice sheet.

The glacier reached its southernmost point about 23,000 years ago, advancing as far as the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, which are south of Cape Cod.  It began to retreat a few thousand years later.  (As far as we know, the global warming that caused that great ice sheet to retreat was not caused by coal-fired power plant emissions, hydrocarbons from automobile exhaust, or methane gas from flatulent cows.  It just happened)

There are some 365 kettle ponds on Cape Cod.  Those ponds -- which are relatively small, shallow, and round -- were formed when large blocks of ice broke off from the retreating glacier and eventually melted.  Most of the kettle ponds are between 10,000 and 15,000 years old.

My rides on the Cape Cod Rail Trail take me past a number of kettle ponds.  Here's a picture of Long Pond, located in both Harwich and Brewster, which is the largest pond on Cape Cod.  It covers 743 acres (a little over one square mile) and has a maximum depth of 66 feet -- not to mention a real beach.

Long Pond (Harwich/Brewster, MA)
Less than half a mile from Long Pond is Hinckley Pond, which is about one-fourth as big.  It looks like some damned one-percenter was commuting to his Hinckley Pond house via float plane this summer.

Hinckley Pond (Harwich, MA)
Depot Pond in Eastham is much smaller than those two ponds -- it's only about 28 acres.  (A square piece of land that's about 1100 feet long and 1100 feet wide would cover roughly 28 acres.)  Here's a Sunfish sailboat I saw on Depot Pond while riding on the rail trail.

Depot Pond (Eastham, MA)
On the other side of the trail from Depot Pond is Herring Pond, which is slightly larger.  I saw a number of cormorants patiently waiting and watching from some power lines that ran along the edge of this pond.  (Cormorants are very accomplished fishers.)

Herring Pond (Eastham, MA)
White Pond in Chatham covers about 40 acres.  It has a small sandy beach and is a popular destination for local families.

White Pond (Chatham, MA)
The American mastodon became extinct roughly 12,000 years ago, which wasn't long after the kettle ponds on Cape Cod were formed.  

Mastodon in the wild
I'm not sure that mastodons ever stopped to drink from the kettle ponds of Cape Cod.  But it's certainly possible -- mastodon bones have been found on Cape Cod.

That's why I decided to feature a song by the Atlanta-based metal band, Mastodon, in this post.

Mastodon in concert
I've done a pretty good job getting myself up to speed with regard to hip-hop music, which I knew next to nothing about until a few years ago.

Now it's time for me to delve a little deeper into metal music.  I've been a Metallica fan for a long time, and I discovered System of a Down a few years ago -- but my knowledge of the metal genre is only about an inch deep.  

It's not going to be easy to become a metal expert.  There are a dizzying array of metal subgenres, including alternative metal, black metal, Christian metal, death metal, doom metal, extreme metal, folk metal, glam (or hair) metal, gothic metal, grind core, groove metal, industrial metal, metal core, nu metal, power metal, progressive metal, rap metal, speed metal, stoner metal, symphonic metal, and thrash metal.  (If you don't believe me, just Google any of those terms.) 

Critics have assigned Mastodon's music to a number of those subgenres -- including alternative metal, groove metal, progressive metal, sludge metal, stoner metal, and several others.

Here's what a BBC critic had to say about Mastodon in a recent review:  

They might be bonkers of lyric, full of fantasy mumbo-jumbo, but the band is unashamedly committed to its complex-of-composition craft, and the results have frequently stunned . . . . They are the most ambitious, most fearless, most fun heavy metal band to have breached the mainstream since the genre oozed its way out of the [English] Midlands in the 1970s.

And here's what Rolling Stone said about the group:

Mastodon are the greatest metal band of their generation -- no one else comes close.

I saw Mastodon's 2009 album, Crack the Skye, on some kind of "best albums" list recently, and my local library had a copy.  So I requested it, downloaded it, and listened to it a few times while riding my bike on Cape Cod.

Crack the Skye -- like the three Mastodon albums that preceded it -- was a concept album.  Here's how the author of most of the album's lyrics, drummer Brann Dailor, explained the album to an interviewer:

It's about a crippled young man who experiments with astral travel.  He goes up into outer space, goes too close to the sun, gets his golden umbilical cord burned off, flies into a wormhole, is thrust into the spirit realm, has conversations with spirits about the fact that he's not really dead, and they decide to help him.  They put him into a divination that's being performed by an early-20th-century Russian Orthodox sect called the Klisti, which Rasputin is part of.  Knowing Rasputin is about to be murdered, they put the young boy's spirit inside of Rasputin.  Rasputin goes to usurp the throne of the czar and is murdered by the Yusupovs, and the boy and Rasputin fly out of Rasputin's body up through the crack in the sky and head back.  Rasputin gets him safely back into his body. 

That's the basic story.  But it's all metaphors for personal sh*t.

The title track of the album is certainly very personal to Dailor.  It's about his sister, Skye, who committed suicide when she was 14.  Here's what he told MTV about the song:

My sister passed away when I was a teenager and it was awful, and there's no better way to pay tribute to a lost loved one than having an opportunity to be in a group with my friends and we make art together.  Her name was Skye, so "Crack the Skye" means a lot of different things.  For me personally, it means the moment of being told you lost someone dear to you, [that moment] is enough to crack the sky.

Brann Dailor
Scott Kelly, a member of the experimental metal band Neurosis, was asked to be the lead singer on "Crack the Skye."  Here's what he had to say about the experience:
That song was a really, really heavy song to do.  That song was about Brann’s sister and how she passed away, and it was a story that I was very familiar with from knowing Brann. . . . [H]e called me up . . . and said, “I really, really want you to sing the song,” and I said, "Sure, I will."  I took it really seriously and I emailed with Brann’s dad a couple of times and just talked to him about Skye, and then he sent me a photograph of her actually, and I sat there and looked at that photograph of her and just kind of meditated on her and on all of the situation, and the family and then actually set all that sh*t up in the studio and recorded the song with her picture there, and I just really tried to do it as real as I felt I could. 

Here's "Crack the Skye."  It took a few listenings for this song to grow on me, but I think it's a great song.

Click here to buy the song from Amazon: