Quotulatiousness

December 20, 2014

Repost – Induced aversion to a particular Christmas song

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media, Personal — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.

It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Mr. Gameways' ArkBack in the early 1980’s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameways’ Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. “Tape”.

An ad from the year of Trivial Pursuit (via OSRcon)

An ad from the year of Trivial Pursuit (via OSRcon)

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50’s stuff (“White Christmas” and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned “Drummer Boy” song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from trying to grab boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It’s been over 20 [now 30] years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

December 15, 2014

Sony games the copyright laws

Filed under: Business, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick explains why Sony released only a tiny number of pressed CDs of 1964 musical tracks:

Two years ago we wrote about the very odd release, by Sony, of just 100 copies of a set of previously unreleased Bob Dylan tracks. Why so few? Well, Sony sort of revealed the secret in the name of the title. See if you can spot it:

Bob Dylan - Copyright Extension

Yup. The release had absolutely nothing to do with actually getting the works out to fans, and absolutely everything to do with copyright. You see, back in 2011, despite having absolutely no economic rationale for doing so, the EU retroactively extended copyright on music from 50 years to 70 years. However, there was a tiny catch: there was a “use it or lose it” provision in the law, saying that the music had to have been “released” to qualify for that 20 year extension. Thus, Sony realized with Dylan that it had to “release” (and I use the term loosely) some of its old recordings that had never been officially released, or it would lose the copyright on them.

The other major labels have been doing the same. Last year, there was a series of releases of 1963 music, including more from Dylan, along with some previously unreleased Beatles tunes (at least those were somewhat more widely available). This year, we’re getting a new crop of barely released 1964 songs including (yet again) more from Dylan, along with some from the Beach Boys as well (and some expect more Beatles tunes as well).

November 30, 2014

QotD: A German “comic” song

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

We were a fashionable and highly cultured party. We had on our best clothes, and we talked pretty, and were very happy — all except two young fellows, students, just returned from Germany, commonplace young men, who seemed restless and uncomfortable, as if they found the proceedings slow. The truth was, we were too clever for them. Our brilliant but polished conversation, and our high-class tastes, were beyond them. They were out of place, among us. They never ought to have been there at all. Everybody agreed upon that, later on.

We played morceaux from the old German masters. We discussed philosophy and ethics. We flirted with graceful dignity. We were even humorous — in a high-class way.

Somebody recited a French poem after supper, and we said it was beautiful; and then a lady sang a sentimental ballad in Spanish, and it made one or two of us weep — it was so pathetic.

And then those two young men got up, and asked us if we had ever heard Herr Slossenn Boschen (who had just arrived, and was then down in the supper-room) sing his great German comic song.

None of us had heard it, that we could remember.

The young men said it was the funniest song that had ever been written, and that, if we liked, they would get Herr Slossenn Boschen, whom they knew very well, to sing it. They said it was so funny that, when Herr Slossenn Boschen had sung it once before the German Emperor, he (the German Emperor) had had to be carried off to bed.

They said nobody could sing it like Herr Slossenn Boschen; he was so intensely serious all through it that you might fancy he was reciting a tragedy, and that, of course, made it all the funnier. They said he never once suggested by his tone or manner that he was singing anything funny — that would spoil it. It was his air of seriousness, almost of pathos, that made it so irresistibly amusing.

We said we yearned to hear it, that we wanted a good laugh; and they went downstairs, and fetched Herr Slossenn Boschen.

He appeared to be quite pleased to sing it, for he came up at once, and sat down to the piano without another word.

“Oh, it will amuse you. You will laugh,” whispered the two young men, as they passed through the room, and took up an unobtrusive position behind the Professor’s back.

Herr Slossenn Boschen accompanied himself. The prelude did not suggest a comic song exactly. It was a weird, soulful air. It quite made one’s flesh creep; but we murmured to one another that it was the German method, and prepared to enjoy it.

I don’t understand German myself. I learned it at school, but forgot every word of it two years after I had left, and have felt much better ever since. Still, I did not want the people there to guess my ignorance; so I hit upon what I thought to be rather a good idea. I kept my eye on the two young students, and followed them. When they tittered, I tittered; when they roared, I roared; and I also threw in a little snigger all by myself now and then, as if I had seen a bit of humour that had escaped the others. I considered this particularly artful on my part.

I noticed, as the song progressed, that a good many other people seemed to have their eye fixed on the two young men, as well as myself. These other people also tittered when the young men tittered, and roared when the young men roared; and, as the two young men tittered and roared and exploded with laughter pretty continuously all through the song, it went exceedingly well.

And yet that German Professor did not seem happy. At first, when we began to laugh, the expression of his face was one of intense surprise, as if laughter were the very last thing he had expected to be greeted with. We thought this very funny: we said his earnest manner was half the humour. The slightest hint on his part that he knew how funny he was would have completely ruined it all. As we continued to laugh, his surprise gave way to an air of annoyance and indignation, and he scowled fiercely round upon us all (except upon the two young men who, being behind him, he could not see). That sent us into convulsions. We told each other that it would be the death of us, this thing. The words alone, we said, were enough to send us into fits, but added to his mock seriousness — oh, it was too much!

In the last verse, he surpassed himself. He glowered round upon us with a look of such concentrated ferocity that, but for our being forewarned as to the German method of comic singing, we should have been nervous; and he threw such a wailing note of agony into the weird music that, if we had not known it was a funny song, we might have wept.

He finished amid a perfect shriek of laughter. We said it was the funniest thing we had ever heard in all our lives. We said how strange it was that, in the face of things like these, there should be a popular notion that the Germans hadn’t any sense of humour. And we asked the Professor why he didn’t translate the song into English, so that the common people could understand it, and hear what a real comic song was like.

Then Herr Slossenn Boschen got up, and went on awful. He swore at us in German (which I should judge to be a singularly effective language for that purpose), and he danced, and shook his fists, and called us all the English he knew. He said he had never been so insulted in all his life.

It appeared that the song was not a comic song at all. It was about a young girl who lived in the Hartz Mountains, and who had given up her life to save her lover’s soul; and he died, and met her spirit in the air; and then, in the last verse, he jilted her spirit, and went on with another spirit — I’m not quite sure of the details, but it was something very sad, I know. Herr Boschen said he had sung it once before the German Emperor, and he (the German Emperor) had sobbed like a little child. He (Herr Boschen) said it was generally acknowledged to be one of the most tragic and pathetic songs in the German language.

It was a trying situation for us — very trying. There seemed to be no answer. We looked around for the two young men who had done this thing, but they had left the house in an unostentatious manner immediately after the end of the song.

That was the end of that party. I never saw a party break up so quietly, and with so little fuss. We never said good-night even to one another. We came downstairs one at a time, walking softly, and keeping the shady side. We asked the servant for our hats and coats in whispers, and opened the door for ourselves, and slipped out, and got round the corner quickly, avoiding each other as much as possible.

I have never taken much interest in German songs since then.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

November 29, 2014

What happens when an artform becomes “too refined” for its audience

Filed under: History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:36

Pretty much all forms of artistic expression above the tribal dance/folk art/cave painting level have had to depend on the patronage model to survive — well, not so much the art itself, but the artists. It must have been some kind of artistic revolution when a village was wealthy enough to have an artisan who had enough spare time to produce items of aesthetic value over and above the purely functional: there was now at least one worker who now depended on the taste (or greed) of others for the means of survival. With the development of larger communities, and the rise of a ruling class, the most skilled artisans would eventually drift into a patronage relationship with the rulers, where the artisan (and eventually the true artist) was dependent upon producing their work strictly for the consumption of the wealthy and powerful. Jewellers were probably exceptions to the rule, as they could produce items of interest to many more in the community and at prices that allowed a much wider base of custom (even slaves and freedmen in the Roman empire could own and wear small pieces of jewellery, for example).

This was the basic pattern of art that lasted from the early settled villages down to the late middle ages: artists were unable to produce their work (and survive on the proceeds) without wealthy patrons. There were a few isolated examples of artists with multiple patrons (but still not really customers in the modern sense, as the patron had a lot more control over the artist’s work than a customer would). The idea of a self-supporting artist only became “a thing” around the time that the industrial revolution was also starting to become “a thing”.

The change from the patronage model to the customer model transferred much of the artistic control from Duke Cosmo the Munificent and his ilk to the artists themselves: now rather than being told how to use their skills and talents, they were now able to decide what to make and also to learn what would or would not sell from their customers. Many failed the test — we don’t have the “starving artist” meme for nothing — but enough of them succeeded that it became a viable lifestyle to paint or sculpt or compose for the wider community rather than the aristocracy (who as a group were still very important, but now as customers rather than as patrons in the original sense).

A problem for artists in dealing with wider audiences is that pretty much by definition, the artistic tastes of a larger number of people will not be “as refined” as those of a smaller, somewhat self-selected group. This means rather than doing the kind of cutting-edge work you think you should be doing, you have an economic incentive to produce for those less-refined tastes of the wider group: the most avant-garde stuff gets you the appreciation (or hatred) of fellow artists and critics, but might not be salable to the average prospective client. With rising prosperity in the western world as the industrial revolution took off, so did the absolute number of self-supporting artists. I’m sure the individual artists would say that artistically speaking, things didn’t improve that much, but as a whole both artists and the community at large benefitted from the wider availability of art and related works.

But, as Jonah Goldberg explained in one of his Goldberg File newsletters back in 2011, at some point the various artistic endeavours tended to start catering more or less exclusively to the critics and to fellow artists rather than to the community. That is usually the point that the artform loses its relevance to the wider community:

I once read somewhere that architecture is the best example of an “artistic” school that has completely broken with popular tastes. Architects certainly seem to design buildings to please each other and the critics and not the public. The average intelligent person goes to the Louvre in France and marvels at the beauty of the 17th-century buildings. The average architecture critic yawns at the musty old antiques and gushes over I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid. I don’t hate the glass pyramid (okay, maybe I do a little). But I don’t go to Paris to see a structure that I could see at a relatively upscale suburban mall. The phenomenon is even more pronounced when you look at modern architecture in more conventional businesses and houses. What’s more appealing to the eye, stately Wayne Manor or the Hall of Justice?

Still, I don’t know if architecture is the best example of the phenomenon. Modern art caters to popular tastes just as little as architecture. A great deal of performance and installation art strikes most normal people as a colossal joke or a straight-up con. And please don’t tell me that my failure to appreciate three squares and a triangle or a blob of paint on a canvas is my shortcoming. If something isn’t aesthetically pleasing or interesting, doesn’t require skills I do not have, and makes a stupid point stupidly, I don’t appreciate it as art. That doesn’t make me a philistine. It makes me a non-rube.

Anyway, it seems to me that the more a relatively artistic field of endeavor caters to critics over consumers, the worse it gets. You can see this all over the place, from haute cuisine to music. Some of my best friends in college were music majors, and they would ramble on about how Philip Glass is a genius. Maybe he is. But I’ll take Beethoven or the Beatles over him any day. I don’t follow the literary world too closely these days, but my impression is that the same is true in the world of fiction. If you write for the critics, only the critics will read you.

Academia certainly suffers from this problem. Visit the history section of a bookstore and you’ll find a fascinating disconnect between history books written by popular historians and those written by academic historians. In fact, you won’t find that many histories written by academic historians or for academic audiences. Arguably the most popular form of history is military history, but the academic establishment shuns the field almost entirely, preferring far more relevant topics like lesbian mores in antebellum Delaware 1856-1861.

Now, obviously this is a generalization. There’s good academic history, good modern art, good high-end food, and good modern architecture. But there are some really interesting things to noodle here. Interesting to me, at least.

First, I think people underestimate the importance of mass markets. When you become wholly disconnected from the metric of commercial success, catering wholly to elite micro-markets — like the eccentric rich and unknown critics — you become untethered from your culture and from quality. Iconoclastic shock and newness for their own sake become the standard, because that’s what will please the a-holes bored with the canon.

Of course, there are problems if you go completely in the opposite direction as well. Designers of Happy Meal toys don’t exactly strive for beauty or excellence.

But there’s one area of performance — broadly defined — where the performers are driven by excellence, are hugely popular and successful, and haven’t been captured by either the market or the critics.

A more recent example of an artform that stopped creating for their wider audience and started concentrating only on the tastes and interests of a tiny minority would be Jazz music.

About twenty years ago, I became interested in learning more about Jazz. I picked up a number of Jazz collections and discovered that I really enjoyed the progression from the 1930s and 40s big band sound to the smaller groups of the 1950s and 60s. And then ran into a musical wall that I was unable to penetrate as Jazz went in odd and unusual musical directions in the early to mid 1960s. I would characterize it as the Jazz greats stopped producing music for mainstream fans and started creating music for fellow musicians. I don’t know enough musical terminology to explain why I was unable to enjoy the later compositions and performances except that they stopped being “musical” and became “sound”. The rise of rock music almost exactly coincided with the retreat of Jazz from being literally “popular music” to a niche interest of self-consciously aesthetic listeners.

November 10, 2014

Dead Can Dance – The Carnival Is Over

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

Published on 18 Oct 2013

Directed by Ondrej Rudavsky and taken from 1994’s Into The Labyrinth.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

November 9, 2014

A medieval cover of Metallica’s “One”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I’m not familiar with the original, but I love the cover:

H/T to Metal Injection:

Metallica is just rip for covering on unique instruments. Today, we hear what it would be like if it was covered in Medieval Times. Here is a band from Belarus doing just that.

November 8, 2014

The “Johnny Bravo” of American politics

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:48

From this week’s Goldberg File email newsletter [Update: it’s now online]:

In Men in Dark Times Hannah Arendt says, “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it … it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are.”

This, naturally, brings to mind that great episode of the Brady BunchAdios, Johnny Bravo.” This YouTube video summarizes the tale expertly, but since you might be at work and are reluctant to get caught watching Brady Bunch videos (again) at the office, I will summarize. Greg Brady, scion of House Brady, is offered a contract from a record label. At first he is reluctant to sign on because he’s a loyal member of his family band. But the record producers convince him that he owes it to himself to be all he can be. They want him to become the new smash-hit sensation “Johnny Bravo.”

The role of Johnny Bravo comes complete with a sensational matador-themed costume and a rented gaggle of winsome young ladies ready to tear it off on command (very much like the job of senior editor here at National Review). The producers promise that he won’t simply be in the Top 20, he’ll be the Top 20. “Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride,” they tell him. It would be a tempting offer for any young man.

After much soul-searching, Greg agrees to become Johnny Bravo. That is, until he finds out that the producers don’t much care about his musical talent. Through the wizardry of music production — long before the advent of AutoTune — they twist his vocal stylings to what the market wants, not what Greg’s muse has on offer. “That’s not the way I sound!” Greg protests.

The producer retorts, “You? Now c’mon baby, don’t get caught up on an ego trip. I mean who cares how you sound? We’re after the sound.”

If you don’t care about my sound, what do you need me for? Greg asks.

“Because you fit the suit,” another producer responds.

Putting the O in BravO

Forgive me for committing the error of defining my meaning. But Barack Obama fits the suit.

In my USA Today column this week, I argued that Barack Obama is indisputably good at one thing: Getting elected president of the United States.

That’s it. He’s not good at being president of the United States. He’s not good at being the head of his party. He’s not good at diplomacy or public policy or managing large bureaucracies. He has no new ideas. But man did he fit the suit, metaphorically speaking.

[…]

I realize this runs against the grain of a lot of right-wing thinking — that Obama is really a secret Muslim-Marxist radical biding his time to seize the means of production and impose sharia. Well, the clock is running out on that theory.

I have no doubt that Obama’s more left-wing in his heart than he is in his speeches and public priorities. But my basic point is that Obama doesn’t realize that his electoral success was a function of the media age we are in. He fit the part. He said the right words. He was an anti-George W. Bush when lots of people desperately wanted an anti-George W. Bush. He was black, cool, and eggheady in just the right way. Voting for Obama made lots of people feel good about themselves — which is a terrible reason to vote for anybody. Media elites and average Americans alike were seduced because they wanted to be seduced.

They — starting with Obama himself — believed the hype. And he still does.

He’s like modern-day Johnny Bravo lip-synching an auto-tuned song about “keeping it real” and he thinks he’s actually keeping it real. He goes around talking about how much he hates talking points and sound-bites, how much he loathes cynicism and ideology. And yet, he does all this in talking points and sound-bites packed like verbal clown cars with ideology and cynicism.

Rush – “I’ve Been Runnin'” – St. Catharines 1974

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:14

From the early days of Rush, with their original drummer (John Rutsey):

October 29, 2014

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Uploaded on 15 Jan 2011

Official music video for the single “Running Up That Hill” written and produced by British singer Kate Bush.

October 28, 2014

Scheherazade / Gergiev · Vienna Philharmonic · Salzburg Festival 2005

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

October 22, 2014

Playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a Gun

Filed under: USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Published on 3 Aug 2014

Welcome to Musical Targets! Your source for armory harmony. Please visit us at www.MusicalTargets.com, or like us on Facebook.

H/T to Adam Baldwin for the link. “The Star-Spangled Banner played with a gun is reason enough for 30 round mags.”

October 20, 2014

Kate Bush “Hounds Of Love”

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Uploaded on 31 May 2010

Kate Bush. Hounds Of Love – Gone To Earth version. 1985.

“It’s in the trees!
It’s coming!”

When I was a child:
Running in the night,
Afraid of what might be

Hiding in the dark,
Hiding in the street,
And of what was following me…

Now hounds of love are hunting.
I’ve always been a coward,
And I don’t know what’s good for me.

October 16, 2014

Prog Rock and the occult

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:33

Peter Bebergal discusses some of the occult influences of Progressive Rock at Boing Boing:

At a recent gallery show of his artwork, Roger Dean — best known for his lush and fantastical album covers for Yes in the 1970s — was enjoying the crowd when a man approached him and held out his hand to shake. “Mr. Dean, your work has changed my life,” he said, “I have gleaned so many amazing, mystical secrets from looking at your album covers, can you tell me sort of what you meant by it.” Dean, ever polite, tried to let the man down easily. “I didn’t mean anything at all. It was just a good — looking album cover.” His superfan, disillusioned, and possibly embarrassed, now turned nemesis, “Well, what do you know?” he angrily spat, “You’re just the artist!” Despite his protestations, Dean might have taken some responsibility for contributing to casting a wide mystical net over an entire subgenre of music, known sometimes derogatorily as progressive rock. You are unlikely to find a prog-rocker who refers to their own music in those terms, but the term serves as a way to describe a movement in rock, one steering a massive ship away from the siren call of blues-based rock that had so long dominated popular music, toward a more English tradition of what Greg Lake of the supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) described as “troubadour, medieval storytelling.” Rock would inherit this mantle proudly, looking toward the mythology of the past — often heavily informed by occult images — to construct the sound of the future.

Psychedelic rock bands set the course, but in the 1970s, a new wave of bands looked beyond the drugginess of psychedelia to classical music as the true guide. Coupled with the instruments of the future — particularly Moog synthesizers — progressive rock crafted rock suites, with some songs clocking twenty minutes or more. Dean’s paintings were otherworldly landscapes of floating islands and boulders, or stone structures rising up like trees. Largely unpopulated, save for the occasional butterfly/dragon hybrid, there were no aliens, elves, or wizards. His worlds might be long-dead civilizations, like the lifeless plains of Mars haunted by the once-thriving Martian societies in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, or future lands where people have taken to hibernating in the inexplicable constructions of their cities, endlessly waiting. Dean had perfected the merging of science fiction with mysticism, invoking the imagination of prog-rock listeners who were convinced there was some story or greater truth behind his art, and spent hours listening and poring over the album covers, meant to coexist in an ideological way.

October 12, 2014

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:12

September 24, 2014

Kate Bush – The Dreaming – Official Music Video

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Uploaded on 19 Jan 2011

Official music video for the single “The Dreaming” written and produced by British singer Kate Bush.

“The Dreaming” is the title song from Kate Bush’s fourth studio album of the same name and was released as a single on 26 July 1982. The song reached number 48 in the UK Singles Chart.

Bird impersonator Percy Edwards provided sheep noises.

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