Music

Bob Dylan: Young at Heart

Tuesday, 24 May, 2016 0 Comments

The greatest singer-songwriter of the past half century is 75 years old today. A generation ago, Bob Dylan sang that The Times They Are A-Changin, but he appears to be Forever Young after a lifetime in the music business. He’s just released a new album, Fallen Angels, and he’s planning an extensive summer tour which kicks off in June.

Back in 1953. Johnny Richards wrote the music and Carolyn Leigh penned the lyrics for the song that’s the opening track on Fallen Angels. Frank Sinatra was the first singer to record Young at Heart and it was such a hit that a film he was making at the time with Doris Day was renamed after the song. The sentiments are fitting today:

“And if you should survive to a hundred and five
Look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

Don’t you know that it’s worth
Every treasure on earth to be young at heart
For as rich as you are
It’s much better by far to be young at heart.”

Bob Dylan

Happy Birthday, Bob. Onward to “a hundred and five”!


Merle Haggard

Thursday, 7 April, 2016 1 Comment

The fiercely independent country music singer Merle Haggard died yesterday in California, surrounded by friends and family. He was 79 and yesterday was his birthday. When he was 21, Haggard was sent to San Quentin State Prison following a burglary attempt. While imprisoned, he saw Johnny Cash perform for the inmates and upon his release in 1960 he determined to turn his life around, which he did.

“Now, as far as my body development, I’m two different people. My right side is more developed than my left side. That’s an occupational hazard. My chiropractor said to me, ‘You look like you had a hard life. Like you lifted lots.’ Well, no, but I have played the fiddle some. Hell, if a fella could get good dope anymore, he’d learn to play the fiddle left-handed and build up the other one-half of his body.”

Ornery by Bryan diSalvatore, The New Yorker, 12 February 1990

Merle Haggard


LinkedIn: Dowland, Hamlet, Shakespeare

Sunday, 3 April, 2016 0 Comments

The early life of John Dowland is a mystery. It has been claimed that he was born in Dublin, but no evidence has ever been found either for this or for the assertion that he was born in Westminster. What is without dispute, however, is that he worked as a lutenist at the court of Christian IV of Denmark in 1598. Thus, the link between John Dowland, the greatest instrumentalist of the English Renaissance, Hamlet, the greatest English play, and William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright ever, was established.

Dowland wrote Tarleton’s Resurrection in homage to Richard Tarleton, a 16th-century actor, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite stand-up comedian, especially for his performance of impromptu doggerel, an early form of rap. It has been suggested that Tarleton is the inspiration for Shakespeare’s soliloquy in honour of Yorick, the deceased court jester, in Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.” (Act 5, Sc. 1).


The stars come out with Chris Stapleton

Saturday, 19 March, 2016 0 Comments

Brief bio: Chris Stapleton is a 38-year-old Kentucky singer-songwriter who has written a series of chart-topping hits for other artists — Adele recorded If It Hadn’t Been for Love — and is married to fellow country singer Morgane Hayes. His debut solo album, Traveller, was an instant hit and his musical alliance with Justin Timberlake has spread his fame far beyond Nashville. The voice contains the souls of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and the songs are filled with the longing and loss that hallmarked the work of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

“Everybody’s got a friend of a friend
Somebody that can get you in
Begging angels for a sin
In a game that we’re all playing
You and I, we’re gamblers holding cards that we can’t see
And I’m betting on you, you’re betting on me.”


For those who shall grow not old

Wednesday, 17 February, 2016 0 Comments

A great time was had by all in Paris last night when the Eagles of Death Metal resumed the concert that was so tragically interrupted by Islamists, who stormed the Bataclan venue and killed 90 people during November’s terrorist attacks. “The show must go on,” as Liberation put it.

And it will continue in Paris tomorrow night when Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats promise to deliver their very own Missouri-Colorado sound at La Maroquinerie. This will never get old.


Coffee cold, chess hot

Saturday, 13 February, 2016 0 Comments

Fact-crammed sentence coming up: In 1968, the Oscar for Best Original Song was awarded to the French composer Michel Legrand for The Windmills of Your Mind, which featured in The Thomas Crown Affair, starring the late Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, who was 75 last month.

The film also included a jazz tune, Coffee Cold, by Galt MacDermot, the Canadian composer who had just written the music for Hair, his greatest commercial success. The 88-year-old MacDermot enjoyed a moment a decade ago when his music became popular in the hip-hop scene: Busta Rhymes sampled Space from MacDermot’s 1969 album Woman Is Sweeter for the chart-topping Woo hah!!, rapper MF Doom sampled the MacDermot song Cathedral for his Pennyroyal, and Oh No released an entire album of MacDermot samples titled Exodus into Unheard Rhythms.

MacDermot’s music here is a perfect complement for two great actors in their prime.


Minsky and Mozart

Wednesday, 27 January, 2016 1 Comment

In a blog post tilted Farewell, Marvin Minsky (1927 – 2016), Stephen Wolfram, Founder & CEO of Wolfram Research, pays tribute to the American pioneer of artificial intelligence and co-founder of the AI Lab at MIT, who died on Sunday. Snippet:

“Marvin immediately launched into talking about how programming languages are the only ones that people are expected to learn to write before they can read. He said he’d been trying to convince Seymour Papert that the best way to teach programming was to start by showing people good code. He gave the example of teaching music by giving people Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and asking them to transpose it to a different rhythm and see what bugs occur. (Marvin was a long-time enthusiast of classical music.)”

RIP, Marvin Minsky, genius and trailblazer of advances in mathematics, computational linguistics, optics and robotics. Apropos Minsky’s genius and love of classical music, as the world knows, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major) is a famous chamber ensemble composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and today happens to be his birthday. Happy 260th, dear Mozart!


David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016)

Monday, 11 January, 2016 0 Comments

“And I’m floating / in a most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today.” — David Bowie, Space Oddity. With his command to “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,” and his request to “Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come,” W H Auden is appropriate for this dark day on which a great star has gone out. Rest In Peace.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W H Auden


1965 was a very good year for Frank Sinatra

Saturday, 12 December, 2015 0 Comments

Observing the 50th birthday of Frank Sinatra in 1965, Billboard magazine suggested that he might have reached the “peak of his eminence”. To confound those early obituarists, Sinatra proceeded to record the retrospective September of My Years, which went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year, and he topped the charts with Strangers in the Night and My Way. The same year, he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with Quincy Jones and they began a long, productive musical partnership.

Frank Sinatra was not short of flaws and he could be very harsh, even cruel, but in the 1940s, when it was neither popular nor profitable, he began to insist that the orchestras that backed him should be integrated. He gave work to musicians, regardless of race, and he helped open the door for many black entertainers. In an interview with Ebony Magazine in 1958, he said: “A friend to me has no race, no class and belongs to no minority. My friendships are formed out of affection, mutual respect and a feeling of having something in common. These are eternal values that cannot be classified.”

In June 1965, at the “peak of his eminence”, Frank Sinatra, along with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin, played in St. Louis to benefit Dismas House, a prisoner rehabilitation centre that helped African Americans in particular. It was a very good year for Frank Sinatra, and for lots of others who experienced his greatness and generosity.


Detroit and Buffalo and beyond

Saturday, 21 November, 2015 0 Comments

Her vocals have been compared to those of Dolly Parton; her songwriting to that of Tom Waits. David Menconi wrote in Spin that she sings “like an earthbound Emmylou Harris.” After her parents divorced, Amanda Shires divided her childhood between the Texas cities of Lubbock and Mineral Wells, and it was in a pawn shop in Mineral Wells that she got her first fiddle at the age of ten. From there on, there was no doubt about where she was going. Since then, she’s been to Detroit and Buffalo and beyond. Her husband, Jason Isbell, is scheduled to play at La Maroquinerie in Paris, France, on 18 January. Memories of the Bataclan will still be vivid, but the music must go on.


The gospel of Phil Cook

Saturday, 7 November, 2015 0 Comments

“To have is not necessarily to hold, and when possession is transient, belonging is all you have,” wrote Laura Snapes about the music of Phil Cook, whose second solo album, “Southland Mission,” was released on 11 September.

“When your youthful days are gone and old age is stealing on,
And your body bends beneath the weight of care;
He will never leave you then. He’ll go with you to the end —
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.”