September in the Rain

The leaves of brown came tumbling down,
Remember, in September in the rain.
The sun went out just like a dying ember,
That September in the rain.

Rod Stewart, September in the Rain

It’s been a wet few days here in Tucson. But not even our Indian summer monsoons could compare to the tears that rained down from Congressional Democrats last night. At the end of an undoubtedly Bourbon-soaked evening, Democrats lost disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner’s solidly blue Congressional seat to Republican Robert Turner, 47% to 53%. The White House made an effort to put its spin on the results, but the point remains the same: if Brooklyn and Queens aren’t safe for the Dems, what districts are?

Unlike the unreasonable folks over at HotAir, I won’t read the results as anything other than what they are – an epic repudiation of President Obama’s failed policies that all but portends a historic GOP victory in 2012 and beyond. Objectivity aside, it strikes me that when there is a Republican Congressman from New York City (New York City!?), it’s either a sign of the apocalypse, or the sign of a burgeoning political tsunami. I’m hoping for the latter, but I think there’s some evidence that it may be the former.

First, the New York Times, ran a reflective piece musing about the travails of living the authentic life. Alas, given that no one at the New York Times is actually authentic about anything, the article does little more than state the obvious. For the curious, the essay sagely observes that the image we project to others is little more than our perspective of how we want others to see us. Startling, I know. According to the NYT, this indicates that no matter how much we change our looks, or how ardently we attempt to conform to social mores, at the end of the day, we’re all about as authentic as a James Frey autobiography. Somewhere in Hell, Michael Jackson is rolling over in his grave singing “Black or White.”

I suppose matters could be worse. At least many of us have, or will have, the comfort of a stable relationship/marriage to fall back on when times get tough. Unless, of course, you reside in the 2/3s of the country typified by the American South and the American West. These decidedly red states, where God’s faithful foot soldiers defend the citadel of marriage from the onslaughts of gay barbarians – these red states boast the highest divorce rates in the country. The hypocritical-evangelical-Christian meme is tired at this point, so I won’t go there. But I recognize that, with the exception of Kim Kardashian, people aren’t perfect. Still, maybe it’s time to give the gays a chance at being miserable too? Fair is fair.

With New York turning red, marriages yielding to divorce, and weeks passing without a post, one might think your humble blogger has become more jaded than ever. This simply isn’t true. I start my day with a cup of Joe (that’s coffee, not Biden), and look for the good in the world.

One source of inspiration for me is the performance of the Oklahoma Sooners football team. OU was recently ranked the No. 1 team in the land for a record-setting 100th time, besting Notre Dame, Ohio State, and USC, coming in lightyears ahead of Texas. Second, returning to the topic of marriage marriage, I was also encouraged to see that roughly 86% of all Americans now approve of interracial marriage, or as they say in Tennessee, miscegenation. Should my wife and I ever decide to have spawn, they’ll grow up in a much more tolerant society than the one Gary Coleman did, and that’s a good thing.

But then I learn about products for children such as the Thudguard Infant Safety Helmet, and my hope for humanity languishes once again.

The aim of the Thudguard is to soften the blow, so to speak, while children are learning to walk. This, of course, begs the question, how in 7 million years of human evolution did we ever get by without the Thudguard? God only knows what the poor kids will do once they’ve out-grown their helmet. Walk without one? I realize if you’re Rick Perry, the question may be a little different since the Earth is only slightly older than 5 thousand years. But even a creationist must consider how inexorably different history would have been. Imagine if Goliath was wearing a Thudguard when he fought lowly David? I’m not just saying, I’m just saying.

After reading about the Thudguard, I immediately recalled the poetics of former hip-hop sensation Aaliyah (RIP), and wondered how the lyrics of her song Try It Again might change given the advent of so ingenious a device. Perhaps we wouldn’t encourage folks to try it again, so much as we would encourage them to be extremely careful while trying it the first time. Naturally, I promptly horrified myself by wondering whether Thudguard made an adult version of the helmet, and how much it might cost. If there’s a moral to any of the above, it’s probably that less is more.

For all my hemming and hawing, I don’t think the apocalypse will be here any time soon. My Dallas Cowboys still haven’t won a football game, meaning that Hell hasn’t frozen over – unfortunately for the King of Pop. To celebrate the non-event, tonight, I will enjoy a quiet glass of wine with the wife who really is as close to perfect as anyone I actually know. I will be thankful that my marriage is well on the positive side of 50% of marriages in our great and blessed land. And I’ll probably block http://babysfirstheadgear.com/ in my bank account’s security settings.

But assuming my own happiness isn’t enough to chase away your blues, as always, let not your heat be troubled. Things could always be worse. We could be living in Beijing.

Song of the Week: Free the Toronto Nine

This latest song of the week is an unusual one, brought to you courtesy of the Sylvan Street jazz band, titled Free the Toronto Nine.

The song is unusual in that I really don’t know much about the Sylvan Street jazz band, and I honestly have no idea who the Toronto Nine are much less any idea as to why they need to be freed. I suppose the title could be a vague reference to the nine people who attended the Toronto Blue Jays’ last home game, in which case all nine need to be set free, indeed.

Obscure titles aside (is there really any other kind of title for the songs found in jazz albums), I’ll be damned if the music video of the song doesn’t make Tucson seem like a pretty hip place to live. The vid was shot in a number of locations around town, and does a striking job of making Tucson seem like, well, a real city.

Enjoy!

Song of the Week: Bella Notte

I’m only a bit embarrassed to select the following as my song of the week. Taken from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, and reincarnated this week by the mighty Fox Network’s Glee, our song of the week underscores the inner sappiness of yours truly.

Bella Notte first graced audiences ears in the 1955 animated classic Lady and the Tramp. The nostalgic among us may recall the music and the scene where Lady and the Tramp share their first kiss over spaghetti.

Immediately, the music and the image became iconic, setting unrealistic romantic expectations for generations.

Despite, it’s rather famous provenance, the song has not enjoyed great commercial success. A part of the song’s history is a protracted legal battle in which recording artist Peggy Lee sued Disney over the rights to the song when it began marketing VHS cassettes in the late 80s. It’s really a shame. A cover of the song by Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra would have been amazing.

As if to make up for is scant performance history, the song made an appearance recently on the hit show Glee as a part of the series season finale set in New York, New York. The scene in the program tries to capture a similar romantic vignette between the punctilious Rachel Berry and former star quarterback, now glee club member Finn Hudson. For those who care, Rollingstone has a summary of the episode here.

I’ve only seen two episodes of Glee, but the cast’s performance of the song was just terrific. The music is romantic just as a New York evening should be, while the lyrics typify a forthright ode to enchantment itself. Sung by a men’s quartet, everything from the harmony to the tempo is perfect about this song. When the performance concluded, I had cold chills. It’s just that stunning.

I’ve embedded the Glee performance of the song below. A music only version can be found here, and here. Lyrics follow after the jump. Enjoy!

http://www.hulu.com/embed/n8lL8T_JbRw1pRH77ntN4g/742/853

Bella Notte
As performed by the Cast of Glee

Oh, this is the night
It’s a beautiful night
And we call it bella notte

Look at the skies
They have stars in their eyes 
On this lovely bella notte

Side by side with your loved one
You’ll find enchantment here

The night will weave it’s magic spell
When the one you love is near

Oh this is the night and heavens are right 
On this lovely bella notte

This is the night
It’s a beautiful night
And they call it bella notte

Look at the skies
They have stars in their eyes 
On this lovely belle notte

Side by side with your loved one
You’ll find enchantment here

The night will weave it’s magic spell
When the one you love is near

Oh this is the night and heavens are right 
On this lovely bella notte

Song of the Week: My Song Is Love Unknown

Easter BloomsIt’s Good Friday here in Tucson. Outside my office window, the blue palo verde trees are alive with buds of yellow, their annual bloom timed almost in celebration of Easter weekend.

It’s always a bit difficult for me to write about Easter. Putting into words an expression of the Divine has been mankind’s great struggle for centuries, across a multitude of disparate fields ranging from art to law.

But as a recovering choir member, my favorite reflections on God have always been through music. I’ve only recently discovered the Pax Plena Song of the Week, but it has made a significant impact on the way I think about Jesus, and his death on this Good Friday, in particular.

My Song is Love Unknown is not a new hymn. Written in 1664 by Samuel Crossman, an influential Anglican minister and eventual Dean of Bristol Cathedral, the original music was set to a tune called “Wesley” from a much earlier era. But the most famous iteration of the hymn’s music was composed by John Ireland in 1918 – a tune aptly titled, “Love Unknown.”

Crossman’s words, in essence, are a collection of ruminations on Jesus’s death. As with most hymns, and much of aesthetics generally, the beauty of the lyrics is their simplicity.

Seven stanzas strong, the song begins with a meditation exploring one’s personal insignificance vis-à-vis Jesus’s timeless act of sacrifice. In the opening strains, Crossman wonders, O who am I, that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die? Although simply stated, Crossman’s question is really the mystery of the Gospels. Indeed, this ‘love unknown’ is exactly what humanity still hasn’t quite figured out, some two thousand years removed from the event.

Other stanzas of the song include refelctions about the trial of Jesus (stanza 3), and the freeing of Barabas instead of Jesus (stanza 6). But the most interesting aspect of the hymn is the theme of friendship that runs throughout the lyrics.

Toward the begining of the piece (stanza 2), Crossman acknowledges Jesus’s Divine origins, but rather than leaving the Son of God in abstraction, Crossman simply calls him “my friend.” But O, my friend, my friend indeed, who at my need his life did spend. In concluding the piece (stanza 7), Crossman again returns to the theme of friendship. After proclaiming the risen Christ, Crossman is not content to leave Jesus to the Heavens, but describes Jesus as simply a “friend” in whose company he longs to spend his days. This is my friend in whose sweet praise, I all my days could gladly spend.

The compelling thing about Crossman’s emphasis of friendship is that when two people are friends they bring no obligation into the relationship. Typically, a person considers another to be a friend because they want to, not because they have to.

When this dynamic is applied to a relationship with Jesus, and by extension God, the result is a beautiful expression of ‘love unknown.’ I suppose, in this way, Crossman actually gives definition to the abstract. The ‘love unknown’ in Crossman’s hymn becomes something that is quite familiar: the Love Unknown is the relationship of friendship itself – one between man and He who came to die for all mankind. And assuming one has free agency, one loves Christ because one wants to, not because one has to.

In all, the song is a perfect song of the week for this Good Friday, and Easter weekend. In keeping with Crossman’s theme, my Friends, please enjoy a beautiful performance of the hymn below by the Choir of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London.

My Song Is Love Unknown
By Samuel Crossman (1664)
Arr. by John Ireland (1918)

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

 

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

 

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

 

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

 

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

 

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

 

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.


Song of the Week: Swanee River

The Pax Plena Song of the Week will doubtless be a familiar one in the great American songbook. Written by composer Stephen C. Coster in 1851, (Old Folks at Home) or Swanee River has long been a staple of American music.

Though the melody itself has been criticized for its supposedly racist undertones, the lyrics actually tell the story of world traveller long displaced from his home. Such a tale would be fairly innocuous, but for the African-American vernacular incorporated into the lyrics, and the use of the word “darkie,” presumably in reference to other Blacks in the chorus. As an example of Foster’s use of the African-American vernacular, in the original score, Foster used the words “ribber,” “ebber,” and “mudder,” to refer to the words river, ever, and mother respectively. While the move is decidedly politically incorrect, there really isn’t anything inherently racist, or even offensive about the song. In fact, even the use of the word ‘darkie’ can arguably be interpreted as an paean to inclusiveness – particularly when Foster could have used much more loaded “N-word.” As the platitude goes, context is crucial.

Controversy aside, what makes the song interesting is the soaring story the lyrics tell through Foster’s music. The song follows the plight of a wanderer who has travelled far away from home, only to realize that the grass isn’t necessarily greener elsewhere. As the music swells, the bard yearns for home, and the old folks, and brighter days past.

In truth, I suppose I hear some of my own thoughts when I listen to the piece. In many ways, having been removed from Cotton County, Oklahoma nearly ten years come September, I too feel a bit as if I have been ‘up and down the whole creation’ sadly roaming, longing for home all the while. What Foster manages to do is capture these sentiments in pithy language, setting them against one of the most emotional scores in music history.

And really that’s what makes a musical selection great: the best renditions take our unspoken thoughts and put them to a melody that captures our feelings at a particular moment in time. Listening to the song, one can nigh feel tears welling up from the deep within as the singer longs for sunny days spent with siblings, and with a mother that departed this life long ago. Though the lyrics are the vehicle for delivery, the emotional punch is packed through foster’s arrangement.

With that, please enjoy, the Pax Plena Song of the Week, Swanee River. Lyrics and music appear below, and a series of performances of the piece follow.

8 Old Folks at Home

Bing Crosby is always the gold standard for any musical performance. Naturally, his rendition of Swanee River from the Kraft Music Hall Shows of the 1930s and 40s is stellar.

Aside from Crosby, the first notable performance of the song is actually an improvisational piece called the “Swanee River Boogie” performed by Albert Ammons. Ammons’s fingers tickle the ivories in a way that only a jazz musician can.

A second performance of the song is performed by Luca Sestak, a German teenager, and a certifiable, piano prodigy. Sestak’s performance is enough to make yours truly wish I were good at something – viz., anything.

One final, notable performance of Swanee River comes from the Alvin and the Chipmunks Show from the 1980s and 1990s. The trio perform a riff on the old minstrel performances of the 1850s, with Dave Seville playing the straight-laced interlocutor, and the Chipmunks playing a tripartite amalgam of Tambo and Bones.

This isn’t to say the clip is politically correct – in fact, it’s almost difficult to fathom any cartoon today producing similar programming – but the jokes are wonderfully terrible.

For example:

Dave: Good evening, Gentlemen. How are you feeling this evening?

Alvin: How am I feeling, Mr. Interlocutor?

Dave: That’s right, Alvin, how are you feeling?

Alvin: With my fingers, Mr. Interlocutor.

Chipmunks: Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck.