Tuesday, June 15, 2004

more loose ends --

Walking in doctoral hooding ceremony Thursday. Not feeling markedly sentimental about how I've spent the last, oh, let's round up and call it a decade, I'm not certain I'd do this if not for my parents -- and please don't get me started about giving my father driving directions and parking instructions* -- but, again, I'm not certain I wouldn't. Ritual as chore. I think we get snacks.

*We are talking about a man who is actually issuing a book entitled "It's OK To Be Neurotic".

I kid because I love.


More than pleasant Erik Friedlander (gig? recital?) show at, oddly, Temple Bar in Santa Monica, the booking policy of which runs largely to nu-soul and chill-out DJs. (Noticed a sticker in the bathroom for that Sol Power band I've been playing.) Pieces by Arthur Blythe, Carlos Santana, and Zorn (the last more romantic than I'd have imagined, but my knowledge of his range is pretty shallow), plus a good bit of his Maldoror* disc (Brassland, run by Yalie/L.A. Weekly writer Alec Bemis) -- codified versions of originally improvised 'responses' to Lautreamont, I gather. (Was going to link to an online version of the book, but it seems to be dead.) Good bit of extended technique, and a lot of fast switching between I'm-going-to-saw-through-this-cello-dammit and plain-old prettiness -- which is what I'd have expected from a Zorn associate. One super-ugly piece, announced as "I Am Filthy," was too programmatic for me, but otherwise, glad I trucked out to the Westside. Too tired to stay for Mia, felt a little bad as I haven't seen her play for a couple years -- I think I've reviewed all of her records except her major-label debut/finale.


I never did explain that Bing Crosby song from last week's show, not that anyone's been waiting. "Tower of Babel" is the opening song from Three Billion Millionaires, a musical-on-record produced by? for? about? the United Nations in 1963. The 'plot' involves The Delegate from Goo, apparently a giant baby representing all the children of the world, appearing to the General Assembly and asking, essentially, "What d'ya got?" The rest of the songs, sung by various massive middlebrow entertainment figures of the time -- Carol Burnett, Sammy, Judy, Danny Kaye, and that underrated song-and-dance man Adlai E. Stevenson. Jack Benny, quite brilliantly, plays the American taxpayer, asking, essentially, "How much is all this peace supposed to cost?" It's essentially a TV-variety-show-era We Are the World.

Bing's "Tower Of Babel" precedes all this. Penned by Peter Farrow and Diane Lampert, about whom I know zip, though they apparently also wrote the Twyllyp series of children's books, which rings a distant bell, It's a straight-up Fidder On The Roof faux-hora, played by a heavy-guage studio orchestra in an arrangement that sounds something like Herb Alpert scoring a DeMille picture, concerning -- well, I'd better just transcribe the lyrics:

once I talked to my brother
once I talked to my brother
once I talked to my brother
and my brother talked to me

brick by brick build a tower
side by side build a tower
hand in hand reached for heaven
and my brothers worked with me

2000 Years B.C.!!

then the wrath of Jehovah
tipped that great tower over
and made of my brothers
as a foreigner to me

now I look at my brother
and I don't know my brother
I can't speak with my brother
and he cannot speak with me


he lives up the mountain
he lives down in the valley
I can't speak with my brother
though he lives next door to me

but I long for my brother
yes I long for my brother
and I know that my brother
in my heart must long for me


so we start to build a tower
side by side build a tower
hand in hand with my brother
and our work has just begun

'til that day I meet my brother
and I talk with my brother
and I know he's my brother
and we speak again as one

Babylon-a-Babylon-a-Babylon...(to fade)

And of course, the UN building is supposed to be this new tower, "gathering," as narrator/producer Arnold Michaelis says, "the fragments scattered by Babel's fall." Now, think what one will of the hyper-rationalized liberalism of the UN's project as presented here. (The record is also explicitly anti-nuke; Miss Burnett's song is called "The Newly Organized Brotherhood Of Marching Babies" -- you got it, N.O. B.O.M.B.) The crazy thing is that the song, while it's not exactly George Steiner, is pretty damn good, if you take out the chorus, on which Bing can't help but sound like a lunatic -- and maybe ignore the Hart-like "Jehovah/over." The limited use of rhyme, the tight stanzaic pattern, the switch to "begun"/"done" after the repeated "me"s, the overall narrative thrust -- I wouldn't be shocked to find it on Leonard Cohen's first three records. And Der Bingle, chorus aside, nails it to the wall. Wild.


I may get around to mentioning actual books soon; some of them contain poems.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?