Thursday, January 5, 2012

Boy in the Bubble



Of all the songs Paul Simon has done, this one has my favorite opening.

Not just musically.

But lyrically.

Simon was coming off of a major commercial disappointment at the time.

Hearts and Bones.

It also didn’t fare so well with critics, but it has undergone a reassessment.

So, one day, in his car, he was listening to a cassette given to him by a friend.

Struck by how much it reminded him of the music of his youth - 50’s pop and R&B, he began to explore it further.

And that led to the artistic and commercial triumph of Graceland.

Let’s set aside the discussions of cultural appropriation and the fact that Simon broke the UN ban on cultural contact, shall we?

Because the song is the thing.

Now, here’s why I love that opening.

Accordion.

Normally, I hate accordion.

But it plays this odd, off-kilter, loosey goosey rhythm unlike any I’ve heard.

It’s evocative of small villages.

Particularly the music of Newfoundland.

I’ve said before I don’t care for jigs and reels.

But this is not that.

It is, however, kind of universal.

You can hear Celtic and French elements in it.

At least until the band kicks in with a very distinctly African groove.

Again, kind of shaggy.

Like it’s held together by strands of chewing gum.

A bouncy, burbling thing that ambles along for a bit before Paul Simon drops a narrative that could easily launch a great novel or Hollywood thriller.

‘It was a slow day, and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road. There was a bright light. A shattering of shop windows. The bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio.’

That’s a lot of detail in just a few lines.

Any other artist would have explored the fallout.

But not Simon.

You get the sense of why as he goes along.

It’s a song about media overkill.

‘Staccato signals of constant information.’

Everything from a boy in a bubble to a baby with a baboon heart.

And this was 1986.

Imagine if you wrote a song about the media now.

Simon is not only trying to make sense of all this info, all this media, but also how we react to it.

How it reacts to us.

‘The way the camera follows us in slow motion. The way we look to us all.’

It takes everything in.

And has no answers.

The striking thing about it is, despite the hints of violence and death and privation, the words ‘these are the days of miracle and wonder’ never come off as ironic.

He doesn’t say how or why it is so.

Or how you encounter it.

But it is there.

The boy in the bubble?

The baby with the baboon heart?

Could be.

They’re science.

But they’re astonishing.

Or maybe it’s the ‘way we look to a distant constellation.’

It could even just be this song.

A magical meeting of cultures.

That happened because someone lent Simon a cassette.

A form of media.

One that brought a boy who thought he had spent his inspiration out of his bubble.

Sesame Street Song Challenge for January 5, 2012



I struggled a bit with this one.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do parodies.

Quite often, parodies become dated.

You have to know the source to truly appreciate how the parody mirrors and subverts it.

But then, we live in a culture of reference humor.

Most of the jokes on Family Guy nod to cultural landmarks from many years ago.

Like The Noid.

Though many of the jokes on the show pander, you get the feeling they don’t care if one of their references is lost on you.

It was the same with MST3K.

They would make quips that only someone from Minnesota would get.

Or even the team that produced the show.

Which brings us to this.

Maybe the best parody ever done.

Because it’s not entirely a parody.

It’s a kind of tribute.

The Beatles are a cultural reference point.

One that has endured for the better part of 50 years.

They had an almost incalculable influence on popular music.

Less so in recent decades.

But at the time, they were the it thing.

They spawned everything from concept albums to bands making films to…

Well, you get the picture.

They also inspired many parodies or winking nods.

The Monkees, for example.

Or Eric Idle’s The Ruttles.

You really can’t escape them in popular culture.

Not even on Sesame Street.

If I remember correctly, one of the aims of the show when it started was to be a kind of Laugh-in for kids.

Yes, the show was educational.

But the cartoons and Muppets and other elements of the show had a manic and satiric edge.

They commented on popular culture.

Kermit’s breaking news stories.

Game show host Guy Smiley.

Tortured musical genius Don Music.

And so on.

Speaking of Don Music.

Richard Hunt, who brought him to life, figures into today’s song.

Letter B.

This dates back to 1981.

And it is one of the finest takes ever on both the Beatles’ sound and influence.

You could practically sing the words of this whimsical confection to the original.

‘When I find I can’t remember what comes after A and before C, my mother always whispers Letter B.’

It’s so obvious, you wonder why no one had thought of it before.

Well, maybe they did.

Even so, Christopher Cerf, whose father co-founded Random House and whose mother co-founded that company’s Beginner Books for kids, was the one who made it happen.

He and Douglas Adams were great friends.

I don’t doubt that.

I mean, listen to this.

It has a very strong British sensibility about it.

Not just in capturing the sound of the Beatles.

But also that unique style of absurdist humor that Britain is known for.

Cerf had lost his voice when the segment was made.

So Richard Hunt - Don Music, Janis, Beaker… - took on the task.

And acquits himself rather well, even if he doesn’t quite sound like any Beatle.

Want to know how spot on this parody was?

Northern Songs, which handled the Beatles’ songs at the time, launched a $5.5 million lawsuit over it.

Fortunately, around the time Michael Jackson purchased the Beatles’ catalog, the suit was dropped.

Even so, the Children’s Television Workshop, which produced Sesame Street, received a fine of $50.

And Cerf paid that himself.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 3rd poem, repurposed from Tumblr

there is
a certain order
to everything
i suppose
and everything
you touch
has its place
however
i remind you
that the wind
has no home
it is everywhere
at once
and never able
to escape
itself.

MrWW's Sesame Street Song Challenge.



Sesame Street Song Challenge - Adjunct.

I started a Sesame Street Song Challenge on Tumblr.

I am continuing it here.

I didn't do a post on January 1 or 2 so I have to catch up.

This is part of that effort.

The song I have chosen to catch up is The Ladybugs' Picnic.

Like the 10 Turtles on the Telephone, this is kind of a country/jug band groove.

It tells a rather detailed story in under a minute.

A more compelling story than that which James Cameron would have taken three hours to do.

12 Ladybugs have a picnic.

And they have sack races.

And jump rope.

And they tell jokes.

And it all goes swimmingly.

Until the marshmallow roast.

When they discover that, dollar for dollar, no one protects you quite like Allstate.

Enjoy.

This is just to say

I will be posting more actively on this blog going forward, particularly if Tumblr continues to be a bunch of 'ignorant sluts.' If I do, it is not going to be strictly a poetry blog. It will be more than that. And I may be bringing Tumblr posts over here over the next little while.

Poem for January 4, 2012

i could not forget you

anymore than i could forget

the grammar and syntax it takes

to tell you i could not forget you

even now i am distracted

by thoughts of little things

that comprise you

that you would think mundane

like the way only certain hats

seem to compliment your eyes

or how you curl into yourself

at night on the couch

your nimble fingers transforming

a single thread into a pattern for life

i could not forget you

even if i were to lose you

which is not to suggest i could

or that you would leave

if that would be your will

i could not forget you

in the way that you could not forget

how to breathe or even

the beat of your own heart

even as i gather more things

to remember about you

they are never enough

that i could not add more

or confuse one with the other

whatever the days make take from me

they do not take you

even as they take other things

and change you slowly

you become more and near

until i forget the time without you

as if you have been here every day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Poem

in spite

of all

the danger

i am

inclined

to dream

and yet

i leave them

often

where they

discover me

they are

impossible

to carry

too long

without becoming

a burden

without becoming

anything

other than

dreams.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Poem from Tumblr - May 02, 2011

widowed
by the waning day
i fell into
the night garden
plunging my hands
deep into
the cool soil
as if they
were roots
but a season
passed like
a whim
and i
could not grow
no matter
how many stars
i swallowed
or dreams
i surrendered
to you.

Poem from Tumblr - May 01, 2011

few things
tie my soul
to this world
like dust
when it whispers
be still
the light
is approaching
uncovered
a restoration
begins
i am made
morning
i am made
for your
eyes forming
in mine

Poem from Tumblr - April 30, 2011

i made
a white hot
cauldron of
my heart
but i
could not burn
you out
i scrubbed
my hands
until the fingerprints
were gone
but i
could still
feel you
bit my tongue
until it bed
but i
could still
taste you
wrote your name
one thousand times
but even
this exorcism
could not
relieve me
you
have scarred
my soul