Music

Today We Have Peace

My first encounter with the Christmas truce of 1914 was this touching song performed by Will Hoppey.

Smithsonian Magazine has an article today on the true story of the World War I truce.

Their truce–the famous Christmas Truce–was unofficial and illicit. Many officers disapproved, and headquarters on both sides took strong steps to ensure that it could never happen again. While it lasted, though, the truce was magical, leading even the sober Wall Street Journal to observe: “What appears from the winter fog and misery is a Christmas story, a fine Christmas story that is, in truth, the most faded and tattered of adjectives: inspiring.”

Read the article, then listen to the song, and see if you can keep a dry eye.

Peace on earth. Goodwill to all.

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Yucky Framing: Music and ROI

image-349561-860_poster_16x9-xjkt-349561There are any number of ways you could think about a centuries-old violin created in the workshop of Antonio Stradivari.  You might wonder at the fact that this instrument could have been made only at that particular moment in history, as scientists believe a climate shift known as The Little Ice Age produced slow-growing trees with a distinctly dense, strong wood. These trees were the right age to be harvested just as Stradivari was mastering his craft.

No musical instrument produces a pure tone. Each note is accompanied by a series of overtones, which are multiples of the basic pitch and frequency. The number and volume of the overtones are what make a piano, tuba and violin sound so different even when they are playing the same note.

The properties of wood are integral to creating these overtones. There is the elasticity along and across the grain, the damping characteristics of the wood, density and the velocity of sound through the wood. All of these affect the way a violin reacts to the vibrations of the strings. The combination of this wood with a special varnish and expert craftsmanship produced something that cannot be recreated today. Of the 1,000-some instruments known to have been created by Stradivari, only half have survived. The most prized were created between the years 1700 and 1720.

Looking at such a creation, you might imagine all of the great musicians, known and unknown who might have held it. What music might have been composed on it? Who might have been moved to tears by its music? This object connects the person who plays it to all of those others going back through time. From here you might think about how music has always connected us, going back to the time our ancestors lived in caves. Music, argued Daniel J. Levitin “is not simply a distraction or a passtime, but a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Shared music binds us together.

Or you could think about a violin the way Bloomberg does: “A Stradivarius can contribute to the diversification of a portfolio due to the low correlation with other asset classes…”  Some bankers, it seems, are snapping up vintage violins because they can appreciate as much as 8 percent a year. Don’t worry, though. “They sometimes make their violins, violas or cellos available to certain exceptionally talented musicians on the basis of a long-term lending agreement.”

The Most Adorable Way to Call Someone A Slut

I used to sing along to the Monkees “Cuddly Toy” when I was a little girl. It was not until years later that I realized that this song has got to be the most charming and adorable bit of slut shaming ever set to music.

It’s joined in the Monkees canon by loose-woman anthems “She Hangs Out” and “Star Collector,” all of which were sung by cute-as-a-button Davy Jones.  Interestingly, it also fell to Jones to make a song about a lack of commitment sound like a love song.

I wanna be free
Don’t say you love me, say you like me
But when I need you beside me
Stay close enough to guide me
Confide in me, whoa-oh-oh

I wanna hold your hand
Walk along the sand
Laughing in the sun
Always having fun
Doing all those things
Without any strings to tie me down
I wanna be free

In other words, if I’m understanding this right, he wants her to be there for him whenever he needs her, but when he’s not in the mood for her, she should respect his space and not try to tie him down, man.

When you’re a kid you learn by rote in school. You recite the Pledge of Allegiance even though you don’t know what the word “allegiance” means. The idea is that the refrain will lodge in your brain and become part of your thoughts.

When I sang along to these tunes was I assimilating their messages? If you are too promiscuous you can’t expect to be loved and if you’re a serious person you will be there for a man when he needs you, but not pressure him too much to return the favor.

 

Adam Ant, Anthems and Oscar Wilde

“And even though you fool your soul your conscience will be mine, all mine.”-Adam Ant, Stand and Deliver.

This past Saturday I went to Cleveland to visit an old friend and see Adam Ant at the House of Blues. A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for Booklovers Boook Reviews about the role of curiosity in inspiring, and giving an author the momentum to write an entire book.

I was looking back at the perennially popular essay I wrote the last time I saw Adam Ant in concert, and I was surprised by the date stamp that said it was four years ago.  Adam seems to have gotten younger since I saw him last, which is a good trick. It made me think that maybe I could choose not to age as well.

What I did not realize at the time I wrote that last Ant essay was that the experience of going to the concert would spark my imagination to the degree it did. Had I not been gifted those Adam Ant tickets in 2013, I would probably not have written my second novel, Identity Theft. You never know what will jog that part of your brain. With literary curiosity on my mind, I’ve been thinking about my Oscar Wilde curiosity and my Adam Ant curiosity to see if they come from a common source.

Adam Ant’s current tour is “The Anthems Tour” and I think the anthems are key. Something occurred to me on Saturday as I was watching the opening act, an energetic, fun all-female band called the Glam Skanks. There was a time when I had my own dreams of fronting a rock band. Although I had a decent voice, I never took the steps. Maybe I was waiting for an invitation?

The truth is that I could never put myself out there enough as a performer to be a rock star. I needed to keep a foot in the world of good girl respectability. If I’d been in a band with a name like Glam Skanks what would my dad think?

Slut fear is survival fear. When you’ve been branded a slut, you’re outside of society’s protection. So that was something I was never going to risk. If there had been a real “insect nation” I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to “throw my safety overboard” and join it. Ridicule, at age 13 or 14, is the thing you are most afraid of, Prince Charming.

But the call appealed to me. The desire was there, and I could at least sing the anthem and take occasional vacations to the Insect Nation in the form of concerts.  I was an “antperson” in a consumer fashion. I owned the white vinyl and picture discs. I was not a culture warrior. (I did wear unmatched shoes to school once on purpose.) But Adam Ant made me want to be brave.

The fear of being shamed runs through Identity Theft. The vague sense that I missed out on some experiences because of fear finds its way into the novel in the form of the character Lydia. Lydia, a middle-aged friend of the protagonist, half-jokingly says she regrets not having been more of a slut when she was younger, and unwittingly encourages Candi down a path that turns out to be disastrous.

We are attracted to the idea of throwing off social constraints in proportion to our fear of it. Oscar Wilde played on that dynamic in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Readers could indulge the fantasy of throwing off social convention, giving in to every impulse and desire.  There is a fascination as well with the figure of Oscar Wilde the transgressor. But both Dorian and his author were destroyed by their transgressions, at least that is what the mythology about Wilde suggests. His is the story of the wrath society can bring down on those who transgress. The desire to conform, and the desire to be free of constraints do a constant dance, and we always question our own choreography.

Adam Ant has an Oscar Wilde quote tattooed on his arm. (I have never been close enough to read his arm myself, but Reuters tells me this is true.) It says, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”

 

Da diddly qua qua, da diddly qua qua…

 

 

 

 

 

Schadenberuhigung?

An old post of mine about the 80s pop band Milli Vanilli has suddenly gotten some unexpected traffic. I can only guess that this has something to do with Mariah Carey’s meltdown performance on New Year’s Eve in which pre-recorded high notes were a prominent feature.

Eight years ago I wrote a book called Schadenfreude, Baby! Schadenfreude is joy in the misfortune of others. I have to admit to enjoying the fiasco, but not quite in the “Schadenfreude” way.

It brought me back to the humiliating moment four years ago when I was contacted out of the blue by a booking agent for an NPR affiliate asking if I would be a guest on a regional program to talk about one of my old books. I wrote that book ten years ago now, and even then I did not have all of the facts at my immediate recall. I told the booking agent that my instinct was not to do the show, because it had been a long time, but he reassured me that it would be easy and sent me a list of some of the topics from the old book that the show planned to cover so I could cram. Unfortunately, I didn’t re-learn it all in time and the announcer did not stick to those subjects anyway. It was horrible. As I wrote at the time, “half way through the 1 hour interview, I fell silent after a question and had to admit I had no memory at all of the historical episode the host was asking me about.”

What I didn’t mention in the blog post about the interview was that there was another guest on the show in the studio. During the commercial the announcer, I assume not knowing that I could hear their conversation, complained to the other guest about my ignorance, and as I was trying to shake that off we came out of the commercial, the announcer cut back to me with yet another question about my own book which I could not answer. I got a fresh knot in the pit of my stomach for weeks whenever I thought about the interview. I still don’t like to contemplate it.

So when I saw everything falling apart for Mariah Carey I had a different species of Schadenfreude. It was not that I felt glee that she had been taken down a peg. I felt relief, “Well, it could have been worse. I could have been live on one of the most viewed five minutes of television the whole year.” The word that is the subject of this post, if my high school German has served me, (there is a good chance it hasn’t, as I have demonstrated, my memory of things decades old is sometimes questionable) should translate to “reassurance in the misfortunes of others.” It’s OK. Pop stars are screw ups too. Isn’t that just a little bit nice to know?