Sunday, September 29, 2013

Beyoncé -- "Single Ladies" (2008)

If you liked it
Then you shoulda put a ring on it!

Three of my four children have gotten engaged this year.  Of course, 2013 isn't over yet, so there's still time for my youngest child to make it four for four.  But he's only 18, so I'm not anticipating any more betrothing activity in the near future.

I'm sure you're dying to know how I'm holding up against this engagement onslaught.  I appreciate your concern – but I'm doing pretty well, all things considered.

Sure, I occasionally feel an attack of the vapors coming on, and need to lie down with a cool washcloth on my forehead for a few minutes.  But most of the time I go about my business offering nary a hint to the outside world that my life has been turned upside down (not to mention inside out). 

The first of the three weddings will take place in just a few days.  It involves my oldest son, who just turned 30.  I was almost 30 when I got married, and like my son, had known my wife for a number of years before I succumbed to the inevitable and proposed.

Why did it take so long for the two of us to decide we liked it enough to put a ring on it?  I'll let my son speak for himself, but I'm pretty sure I know the answer, because the answer is pretty much the same for all men who put off getting married – they're hoping that something better will come along.  Or at least something different, which is the same thing (at least in the short term).  

Most men have absolutely no reason to believe that something better will come along.  We're lucky to have done as well as we have, given that we are clueless losers – not to mention clumsy, smelly, and hairy to boot.

Yet we still hope . . . dum spiro, spero.

The buildup to a current-day wedding is quite different than it was when I got married in 1980.

Back then, the prospective bride could expect a shower to be organized by her maid of honor and attended by female family members and a few close friends.  A bridal shower in those days was a relatively modest affair – it was usually held in the afternoon, with simple refreshments.

The groom's best man would be expected to organize a bachelor party, which commonly featured a lot of drinking and some mild debauchery – some stag films, perhaps, or a visit to a strip joint (where all the fellas would attempt to hide their nervousness and discomfort).    

That was about it when it came to pre-wedding festivities. 

Today, things are very different.  Even the invitations are complicated.  (Actual invitations are preceded with a "save the date" notification – which is sent out far enough in advance to preclude excuses for nonattendance at the wedding on the basis that one already had a previous engagement for that date.)

I wrote briefly about my son's Chicago bachelor party a few weeks ago.  Since then, his intended has enjoyed a bachelorette party, which was attended by 14 young women –  including my daughters (both of whom are now engaged themselves).

"Bachelorette" is a ridiculous word, isn't it?  I think it was first used on the old Dating Game television show.

It should really be "bacheloress" – after all, "-ette" is a French suffix, and usually indicates a smaller version of the word it is attached to.  (It's "lioness," for example, not "lionette.")

The traditional English term for an unmarried woman was "spinster," of course, which has come to have a negative connotation – it seems to be viewed nowadays as a synonym for "old maid."

But I'll follow current usage and stick with "bachelorette" – although I'm not really happy about it.    

The first big event on the bachelorette party agenda (which took place in Manhattan) was a Saturday morning visit to Trapeze School New York for an introductory trapeze class.

Here's a TV commercial for Trapeze School New York:

Here's an excerpt from the school's letter to first-time flyers:

You're finally standing on the platform 23 feet above the ground.  You have the safety lines securely fastened to your belt, the instructor is holding you, and you are holding the bar.

[And you are whimpering softly.]

Leaning out over the edge of the platform, you may be eager to go or wondering what the heck you're doing up there.  In any case, our instructors will treat you with patience and respect.

[They will politely ignore your loss of bladder control, having seen it many times before.]

The moment of truth!
We live the decision to jump completely up to you, though we give strong encouragement at the crucial moments. . . .

[Including a gentle push in the small of the back of the reluctant student.]

There may be one moment of fear just as you commit your body to the task.  Once you're off the platform, it's all bliss . . . a feeling like no other and one that you will expand upon in future jumps.

[Future jumps?  You mean  . . . do this again?]

Your second time at the bar you will have the option of attempting the knee hang. . . .You'll be instructed to swing out, put your knees through your hands and wrap them around the bar just like you did on the playground.  Then you will be asked to let go with your hands and swing upside down.

[Girls wore dresses when I was a kid, so I'm pretty sure I'd remember if they had done this on the playground at good ol' Irving School in Joplin, Missouri.]

One of the bachelorettes at trapeze school
If you are relaxed and open with your knee hang . . . the last 45 minutes of class will be your chance to take your new trick to the hands of the catcher.  You will be instructed to perform your knee hang as before.  This time though, when you reach the front of your 2nd swing, you may meet the catcher.  If your position is great, he will wrap his strong hands around your wrists.  You will quite naturally do the same to his.  At the same moment your legs will release the bar and you will fly with the catcher.

[And you will once again lose control of your bladder – which wasn't empty after all!]

Nothing could be more exhilarating or satisfying.  Because if you can go up there and swing on a flying trapeze, you can do anything!

After completing the trapeze lesson, those ladies who still had an appetite headed for Philip Marie, a West Village restaurant, for brunch -- including unlimited mimosas, bellinis, or bloody Marys.  (Bachelorette parties seem to involve just as much drinking as bachelor parties, which is a clear indicator of the healthy equality between the sexes that exists in our enlightened society.)

Next, our bachelorettes -- no doubt somewhat woozy after the trapeze stuff and all the drinking -- wobbled up to Le Parker Méridien, a fancy-schmancy hotel (slogan: "Uptown. Not Uptight") that is home to the TenOverTen salon (slogan: "The Destination Manicure") for their choice of four different manicures and pedicures.  (Eyebrow shaping and tinting and lash tinting are among the other service available at TenOverTen.)

Our now-sober party then took their fabulous-looking fingers and/or toes back to their Times Square hotel to relax, change into their fancy evening outfits, and dive into pre-dinner appetizers and more drinks.

One of the Beauty & Essex dining rooms
Dinner (which began at a very civilized 9:30 pm) was at Beauty & Essex, a "grand jewel box" of a restaurant on Manhattan's Lower East Side.  

Here's what the New York Times had to say about Beauty & Essex:

The front is set up as a pawn shop, with Flying V guitars and a Raymond Chandleresque blonde behind the register. . . . 

The pawn shop at Beauty & Essex
The ground floor is a sleek restaurant that serves lounge-friendly bites like lobster bisque dumplings.  Upstairs, past a staircase that spirals around a soaring chandelier, is a wood-paneled lounge with divans and another bar.  There is free Champagne in the ladies’ bathroom. Men aren’t so lucky.
Here's how the newspaper described the typical Beauty & Essex crowd:
On a recent Saturday night, the bars were cheek-by-jowl with single and commingling 30-somethings.  Men wore Bowery-chic ensembles (suspenders, thermals, fingerless gloves) or Murray Hill uniforms (khaki, polo, popped collar).  In the lounge, small groups of shimmery women clutched equally sparkly flutes of Champagne.
Look who came to the grand
opening of Beauty & Essex!
Our group of shimmery bachelorettes didn't leave Beauty & Essex until after midnight, but the party was just getting started -- we're talking Manhattan on a Saturday night, after all.

But it's probably best to pull a discreet (and hopefully opaque) veil across the ladies' late-night shenanigans.  What the husbands, fiancés, and male significant others don't know won't hurt them!

"Single Ladies" was released in October 2008 -- six months after Beyoncé's secret marriage to Jay-Z.  It was a huge hit that made it all the way to #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart, and it won three Grammys (including "Song of the Year").

The black-and-white music video features "J-Setting" dance choreography.  Here's the Saturday Night Live parody of it, featuring Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake:

Here's "Single Ladies":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Crosby, Stills & Nash -- "You Don't Have to Cry" (1969)

In the mornin', when you rise
Do you think of me
And how you left me cryin'?

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured "King Midas in Reverse," a great Graham Nash song that the Hollies released in September 1967.  Click here if you missed it.

The day after I wrote that post, I learned that Nash was coming to Washington in a few days to talk about his brand-new autobiography, Wild Tales, at the Library of Congress.  

I went to hear Nash speak and to buy a copy of the book, which described "King Midas in Reverse" as "an introspective song about how my life was in turmoil" at the time.  

My marriage with Rose was starting to come apart . . . . I was outgrowing the band I loved and had spent my youth with. . . . So the song was about a king who thinks everything he touches turns to gold, when it's really turning to shit.

In 1967, Nash was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the musical direction of the Hollies, who in only three years had released a dozen singles that had made it into the UK top ten.  ("Bus Stop," "Stop Stop Stop," and "Carrie Anne" were top ten hits in the U.S., while "On a Carousel" made it to #11.) 

Nash autographs his book
at the Library of Congress
That summer, Nash and his wife Rose vacationed in Morocco.  A train ride from Casablanca to Marrakesh inspired him to write "Marrakesh Express."  He thought it would be the song that enabled the Hollies to come of age as a rock band, but the rest of the group didn't want to record it.

We went around and around with it before they agreed to give it a try.  There was a session at Abbey Road that went absolutely nowhere.  The Hollies cut an awful track that I hope no one ever hears . . .

By contrast, Nash, his childhood friend Allan Clarke, and the rest of the Hollies had high hopes for "King Midas in Reverse."

The Hollies made a great record of "King Midas in Reverse."  They liked the song, liked what it had to say, and it made us stretch in the studio. . . . When I heard [the finished track], I was ecstatic, and so were the rest of the guys.  It was innovative a huge leap forward.  I thought it signaled a real transformation.  Once we put it out, the doors would be wide open, and the Hollies could do anything.

The Hollies in 1967
The new single "was greeted with a chorus of stunning reviews," Nash writes.  

But it wasn't the hit that we'd all expected.  It was a commercial failure.  In retrospect, I think "King Midas' was just too weird . . . It was more of a Graham Nash record with the Hollies on it, and that sound was still a few years off.

The song made it only to #18 on the UK singles chart -- which doesn't sound bad until you realize that 12 of their previous 13 singles had done better.  And it flopped in the U.S., where it peaked at #51.

The record's failure marked the beginning of the end for Nash and the Hollies.

The worst backlash from the record was what it did to my relationship with the Hollies.  Afterward, they no longer trusted my judgment.  I suggested any number of songs as a follow-up, but they backed away from all of them.  

The band went to North America to tour in January 1968, but Nash's heart wasn't in it.  He felt like he was just sleepwalking through life -- not only was his relationship with the Hollies on the rocks, but so was his marriage.  

Nash met Joni Mitchell on March 15, 1968, at a party thrown by the Hollies' record company after they had performed in Ottawa, Canada.

Nash and Mitchell
Mitchell invited Nash back to her hotel room and played fifteen of her songs for him.  (Many of those songs were released on her first album, Song to a Seagull, which was released later that month.)  

"I was awestruck," Nash writes in Wild Tales, "not only as a man but as a musician."

I thought I knew what songwriting was all about, but after listening to Joni's masterpieces . . . I realized how little I knew. . . . My heart opened up and I fell deeply in love with this woman on the spot.

We spent the night together.  I'll never forget it for the rest of my life.  It was magical on so many different levels.

Nash and the Hollies returned to England at the conclusion of the tour.  The band decided to do an album of Bob Dylan covers.  They did a version of "Blowin' in the Wind" that Nash describes as having a "slick, saccharine, Las Vegasy" -- it was "just awful."  

Nash recording the audiobook
version of Wild Tales
The unhappy musician moved out of his home at about the same time that he gave thumbs down to the Dylan (which the Hollies eventually completed after he had left the band).  His marriage was over -- his wife had met someone on a trip to Spain, and Nash was in love with Joni Mitchell.  

In August, Nash flew to Los Angeles to visit Mitchell.  When he arrived at Mitchell's modest Laurel Canyon house, she was having dinner with David Crosby (formerly of the Byrds) and Stephen Stills (formerly of Buffalo Springfield).  Nash and Crosby were good friends, and he and Stills were acquainted.

Joni Mitchell inside her
Laurel Canyon home
Shortly after Nash arrived, Crosby and Stills started singing "You Don't Have to Cry," a song that Stills had just written.  "Their harmonies were gorgeous [and] airtight," according to Nash, and he asked them to sing the song a second time.  The two were bemused when Nash asked them to sing the song one more time, but acceded to his request.

On that third run-through, Nash joined in.  

I had my breath down, the phrasing, the tuning.  I put my harmony above Stephen, and off we sailed.  What a sound!  We were so locked in, tight as a drum.  Flawless three-part harmony.  It sounded so soft and beautiful, so incredible that a minute or so into the song we collapsed in laughter.

The bands the three men had once been part of -- the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, and the Hollies -- were famous for their two-part vocal harmonies, but the three-part singing they did that night was something new.

It shocked David and Stephen.  I'm not sure they'd ever thought about the song in three parts.  But I'd heard it right away.

Nash, Stills, and Crosby
After an idyllic weekend with Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash flew back to England.  By the time the plane had landed, he had a plan -- he was moving to Los Angeles to be with Joni Mitchell, and he was going to say good-bye to the Hollies and forge a musical partnership with Crosby and Stills.

I had heard the future in the power of those voices.  And I knew my life would never be the same.

"You Don't Have to Cry" is the fourth track on side one of Crosby, Stills & Nash, which was released the day before my 17th birthday -- May 29, 1969.  

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hollies -- "King Midas in Reverse" (1967)

He's King Midas with a curse
He's King Midas in reverse

I'm not sure Graham Nash fully appreciates the implications of King Midas having a "golden touch."

"King Midas in Reverse" was released by the Hollies as a single in September 1967.  Like virtually all original Hollies songs, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash all got writing credits.  But it was really written by Nash.

Graham Nash
The song barely cracked the top 20 in the UK, and peaked at #51 on the U.S. charts.  (That doesn't sound so bad until you realize that 12 of the 13 previous Hollies singles had made it into the top ten in the UK, and nine of those singles cracked the top five.)  The song's failure to sell better led indirectly to Graham Nash's leaving the Hollies.

Nash had pushed the other Hollies to record more ambitious music, but the ho-hum reaction of the public to "King Midas in Reverse" and the album it appeared on led Clarke and Hicks to insist on going back to more pop-type material.  When the rest of the band refused to record Nash's "Marrakesh Express," he packed up and moved to Los Angeles, where he hooked up with Stephen Stills and David Crosby.

(We'll learn more about Nash's departure from the Hollies from Nash himself in the next 2 or 3 lines.)

The moral of the myth of King Midas is "Be careful what you ask for."  But a lot of people -- including Graham Nash -- seem to view King Midas's golden touch as a good thing when it was actually a terrible curse.

Midas, who ruled a kingdom in Asia Minor before the time of the Trojan War, was given his golden touch by Dionysius, the Greek god of the life force (i.e., the god of wine, sex, etc.).  When one of the satyrs who followed Dionysius got hammered and passed out in Midas's famous rose garden, the king treated him kindly, earning the gratitude of the god.

When Dionysius rewarded Midas by granting him a wish, Midas foolishly asked that everything he touch be turned into gold.

The first clue that this was not a wise decision came when Midas touched one of his beloved roses.  It was instantly transformed from a living thing of beauty into a lifeless, solid-gold rose -- lifeless, but worth a pretty penny.

But when Midas's lunch turned into indigestible precious metal when he started to partake of it, he began to realize that he might have made a serious mistake.

The light bulb really went on over his head when he touched his beloved daughter, instantly turning her into a statue.

King Midas with his daughter
I was thinking about the practical implications of having a golden touch today.  Let's say you eat some bad Chinese food and have to run to the bathroom to do #2 -- does the water in the toilet turn to solid gold when the you-know-what hits it?  That would be most inconvenient.

And what about having sex with Mrs. Midas?  You don't want to turn her to gold, obviously.  At first I was thinking King Midas could wear a condom to defeat the golden touch.  But the condom would turn to gold, and that would sort defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?

In any event, after turning his daughter into gold, a horrified Midas begged Dionysius to take his golden touch away.  The god took pity on the king, telling him to bathe himself in the Pactolus River.  The river washed away the golden touch, but the sands on the river bottom turned to gold and eventually washed down to Lydia.  According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, the Lydians invented gold coinage in the 7th century B.C.

Ancient Lydian gold coin
The man who is the subject of "King Midas in Reverse" is cursed because everything he touches turns to dust.  That's bad, of course, but Graham Nash is missing the point.  It's really no better when everything you touch turns to gold -- you're cursed either way.  

By the way, there's another myth about King Midas.  Once upon a time, the half-man, half-goat god Pan -- the god of forests and hunting and shepherd and their flocks -- challenged Apollo to a music contest.  Pan played his pipes, and Apollo his lyre, and the mountain-god Tmolus judged Apollo the winner.

Midas, who was a devotee of Pan, questioned the fairness of Apollo's victory.  Apollo punished him for his lack of musical taste by giving him big donkey ears.  Midas concealed his ears under a big hat, but eventually had to go to the barber, who saw the donkey ears.

Statue of King Midas with donkey ears
The barber just had to share the secret with someone.  There was no TMZ back in those days, so he dug a hole, whispered the secret into the hole, and then filled it up with dirt.  The reeds that later grew on that spot whispered "Midas has donkey ears!" every time the wind blew, and Midas was so embarrassed when word got out that he moved away from his kingdom, never to be seen again.

Now it's time to listen to our featured song.  Can you believe we got all the way to the end of this post without any narcissistic blathering from me?  How long has it been since you've read a 2 or 3 lines that was 100% about the song and 0% about me?  A long, l-o-n-g time, right? 

It wasn't easy, believe me.  I'm my favorite subject by far, but I rose to the challenge tonight.  And it felt good -- it felt so good, in fact, that I might try to do it again.  (Not right away, of course . . . but someday.)

Here's "King Midas in Reverse":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

English Beat -- "Mirror in the Bathroom" (1980)

Every Saturday you see me 
Window shopping
Find no interest 
In the racks and shelves
Just a thousand reflections
Of my own sweet self

(I understand TOTALLY!  You can call me Ishmael, but Narcissus is closer to the mark.)

My wife has been nagging me to redo our bathroom since 1962.

Actually, that's not true -- at least it's not literally true.  I wasn't even born in 1962!

Actually, that's not true either.  It's an example of what English majors call hyperbole ("hip-per-bowl") -- which is a deliberate exaggeration for comical, ironic, or dramatic effect.

In other words, hyperbole is lying, but it's acceptable lying because it is such obvious lying that it's unreasonable to take it seriously.  (Like when you tell a woman "No, those pants don't make your ass look big" even though her ass does look big because her ass IS big.)

So let me begin again.

My wife has been nagging me to redo our bathroom since 1982.

Actually, that's not literally true either because we didn't even buy our house until 1997.  But it's not really hyperbole because it honestly feels like she's been nagging me to redo our bathroom since at least 1982.

I finally gave in earlier this year, and we hired a contractor to redo our bathroom -- which admittedly needed redoing, since our house was built in the late sixties, and our bathroom had never been updated.

Here's what the shower used to look like:

The shower floor was a little bit grungy, I admit.  (It was getting to the point where the shower drained very slowly, despite regular feedings of Drano.  I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy showering in water up to my ankles.)   

The shower was lined with pink 4x4 ceramic tiles, which also covered the lower two-thirds or so of the bathroom walls:

Here's our old sink and vanity -- note the partial dividing wall between the vanity and the toilet, which didn't really do much good if two people were trying to use the bathroom at the same time:

It may surprise you to learn that I essentially designed the entire renovation -- I picked out the various tiles, the vanity, the countertop, the sink and shower faucets, towel bars, etc.

That's because about 30 minutes into our first visit to a tile store, my wife -- as you may recall, this was all her idea -- totally punted.

"This is boring.  You decide," she said to me as she headed out the front door to return to the quiet, soothing world of her minivan -- where the living is easy, and there are no difficult decisions to be made.

I didn't punt . . . because that's not how I roll.

Instead, I visited tile stores, and plumbing fixture showrooms, and countertop dealers, and I made the tough decisions that had to be made.  And I made them in plenty of time for everything to be delivered before our contractor was scheduled to begin work.

The first couple of days were spent doing demolition.  Demolition is one of the two essential renovation tasks that I have the skills to perform.  The other is writing checks.

Here's where the vanity and toilet used to be:

I'll admit that at this point I was thinking unhappy thoughts -- like "OMG! What if our contractor doesn't know what the hell he's doing?" 

The first step in restoring the shower was to line the walls with cement board:

Then it was waterproofed.  (Notice the handy little niche our contractor constructed for us.)

Next came 2x2 white tiles for the shower floor, and 12x12 textured gray tiles (set at a snappy 45-degree angle) for the rest of the floor:

Here's our new vanity, complete with a custom granite countertop, backsplash, and sidesplash.  We got rid of the partial wall between the vanity and the toilet.  (As the Hombres once sang, "Keep an open mind/Let it all hang out!")

Here's the pièce de résistance -- our new shower, which is roomier than the original, has handsome clear-glass sliding doors, and features white 3x6 subway tiles with blue and green highlight tiles sprinkled around randomly:

Actually, that's not true either.  It's not hyperbole because it's not an exaggerated falsehood . . . but it's a falsehood nonetheless.

You see, the colored tiles were placed in such a way as to send a coded message.

Take a look at this picture -- it was taken before the shower doors were installed, so you have a better view of the colored tiles:

The colored tiles on the back wall actually spell out the first and middle names of two of my children -- Sarah Carsten and Peter Franklin.  The colored tiles on the side wall (which is a foot or so wider, and so has room for more colored tiles than the back wall) spell out the first and middle names of my other two children, Nicholas Cooper and Caroline Rhodes (which names have more letters than Sarah's and Peter's names, and therefore require more colored tiles).

This is where it gets complicated.  Try to follow my explanation (assuming you haven't fallen asleep).

Look at the photo of the back wall once again.  The top tile is green (green for girls, blue for boys), and represents the first letter of my daughter Sarah's name.

It's a little hard to tell from these photos, but there are seven white tiles separating that first green tile and the first blue tile, which represents the first letter in Peter's name.  ("P" is the 16th letter of the alphabet, but having 16 white tiles in a row is too many, so I added the one and the six of 16 together to get seven -- hence, seven white tiles separate the "P" tile from the previous one.)

The second letter of Sarah's name is the first letter of the alphabet, so there is only one white tile between the first blue tile (for "P") and the second green one (for "A").  The second letter of Peter's name ("E") is the fifth letter, so there are five white tiles between the second green tile and the second blue tile.  

I started with a green tile for Sarah on the back wall because she is older than Peter.  I started with a blue tile on the side wall because Nick is older than Caroline.  (No detail was too small for me to consider.)

I love my new shower!  (Feel free
to visit anytime and try it out!)
Of course, I had to draw a diagram of each wall showing our contractor exactly where the colored tiles should go.  I made about 25 photocopies of a hand-drawn blank template, which is a good thing because I had to experiment with a lot of different formulas before coming up with one that fit the available space and didn't look unbalanced.  

(There are many other subtleties involved here, but I'm going to stop because I see some of you are nodding off, and the rest of you are making that gesture where you point your index finger at your ear and twirl it in a circle.)  

When I explained all this to my kids, they gave me that look that said, "We've known for a long time that you were weird, but we had no idea you were this weird."  (They are right, but THEY DON'T KNOW THE HALF OF IT.)

"Mirror in the Bathroom" was a 1980 hit for the British ska band, The Beat -- who were called The English Beat in North America.  That's because there was an existing American band called The Beat -- who were called Paul Collins' Beat (after its frontman) in the U.K.  (The English Beat were called The British Beat in Australia -- I have no idea why they needed a third name.)

Here's "Mirror in the Bathroom," which is a very interesting song with a delightfully quirky rhythm:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kay Starr -- "The Best Things in Life Are Free" (1948)

The moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life are free

A few weeks ago, I told you about Freegal, a free and legal (hence the name) music download service that is offered by many public libraries.

Freegal allows you to download three songs a week without charge.  That's roughly one album per month, which ain't a lot of music.

The Freegal logo
But I run a wildly successful blog, and the petty rules and regulations that apply to you and the other little people of the world do not apply to me.

Read the rest of this post carefully -- you may learn something.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland -- so I've had a library card from the Montgomery County library for years.  That enables me to three free songs a week from Freegal.

The MLK Jr. library in Washington, DC
I work in Washington, DC, which issues library cards to those who work in the city.  The DC library also offers Freegal, so that's another three free songs a week for me -- or a total of six free songs per week.

My wife, one of my sons, and one of my daughters have Montgomery County library cards, and they have chosen to give me their free allowance of music.  That's three times three on top of the six I already have -- for a total of 15 free songs per week.

There are a number of Virginia public libraries which have reciprocity arrangements with DC and/or the county where I live.  So I'm eligible for free library privileges from Arlington County, Fairfax County, and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church.  Unfortunately, only Falls Church offers Freegal.  

Fortunately, Falls Church allows patrons to register for a temporary library card online rather than demanding that you go to the library in person.

The Falls Church, VA library -- I've
never actually been there
So speaking hypothetically, I could register online for Falls Church library cards for not only just myself, but also for my wife and each of my four children.  You have to enter a street address and an e-mail address and a PIN number, but if I were hypothetically willing to invest a little time, I could control up to six Falls Church library cards, which would translate to 18 more free songs a week.  So -- hypothetically, of course -- I'm now up to 33 free songs a week.

Actually -- still speaking hypothetically -- there's nothing to prevent me from signing up any number of hypothetical people and giving hypothetical addresses for them if I was willing to spend the time required to do that.  (Are you beginning to understand why we Republicans want voters to have to do a little more than just show up at a polling place in order to get a ballot?)

It turns out that a resident of one of Maryland's 24 counties (actually, 23 counties and the city of Baltimore, which is not part of a county) can get a library card from any of the other counties.  Some of those other counties don't offer Freegal, but several do -- including our immediate neighbor to the west, Frederick County.

As was the case with Falls Church, Frederick County's thoroughly modern library also allows online registration.  If I signed up myself and all of my family members for Frederick County library accounts, that's another 18 free songs per week -- or a total of 51 free songs per week.

The main Frederick County (MD) library --
I've never been there neither
Now you may think it's a pain in the rear to have to type in a name, street address, e-mail address, etc., to open a new account just for three free songs a week.  And you would be right.

But I discovered a little hypothetical shortcut.

Frederick County issues six-digit temporary library card account numbers.  To access Freegal, all you do is type in that six-digit login.  

Let's say (hypothetically, bien sûr) that your Frederick County account number is 976227.  There's nothing to stop you from typing in 976226 or 976228 or any other adjacent six-digit number, which has probably been issued to a library patron who is clueless about Freegal, and who doesn't take advantage of his or her allowance of three free songs a week. 

So how many free songs a week are we up to now -- hypothetically?  Let's see . . . start with 51 . . . then add the product of three times many thousands (or tens of thousands) and you have . . . infinity (more or less).

Dennis Memorial Library (MA) --
I have been there many times
Oops -- I almost forgot.  Our family has a library card for the public library in the town on Cape Cod where we have a house.  So that means you could hypothetically download around infinity plus three free songs a week.

Not bad, eh?

There is one small problem with this sweet little hypothetical scam:  you have to find that many songs worth downloading.

That can take time because there is a lot of music that's not available through Freegal.  Freegal claims to offer millions of songs (many of them crap that no one in his or her right mind would pay cash money for), but Freegal doesn't offer songs by a lot of pop music's biggest names -- the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kanye West, etc., etc.  (I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I'm just sayin'.)

If you enter names like those in the Freegal search engine, you will get a number of hits.  But don't get all excited and soil your drawers.  On closer inspection, you will find out that those matches are for tribute albums ("The Nagodoches Strings Play Led Zeppelin's Greatest Hits") or karaoke albums or other filler.  

Given that, it can take a l-o-n-g time to use your allotted quota of free downloads, especially when you will have to log out of one account and log back in to a different account every three songs. 

The Apples in Stereo
But eventually you'll find stuff worth having.  For example, Freegal offers six albums and a couple of EPs by the Apples in Stereo -- one of my favorite indie groups.  (That's a total of 65 songs.)  It's got a bunch of music from the Archers of Loaf and Matthew Sweet and the Muffs and Mission of Burma and other lesser-known but worthwhile groups.

And there are a fair number of old favorites of mine.  Freegal has the first three Blue Öyster Cult albums, the first three Spirit albums, a great "Greatest Hits" compilation with all the Guess Who's singles, some choice Mott the Hoople and Moby Grape stuff, and so on.

(Mine . . . all mine . . . and for free!)
Finally, it does have a pretty good sampling of current pop hits -- Justin Timberlake, One Direction, Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, and the like.

But it takes a fair amount of time to identify and download 51 (hypothetical) songs each week.  You may search for five groups and strike out on the first four totally, while the fifth group is represented by a couple of albums that aren't exactly Pet Sounds or Abbey Road when it comes to quality.  

So you pull a song from that album, two songs from some other album (after five or six more fruitless searches) -- and since you only get three per account per week, it's then necessary to log out and log back in with a different account number to get your next three free songs.  (You now know why I'm starting to fall behind schedule when it comes to generating new content for 2 or 3 lines.) 

"The Best Things in Life Are Free" was written for the very successful Broadway musical, Good News, which opened September 6, 1927, and closed on January 5, 1929, after 557 performances.  

The song has been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Kate Smith to Dinah Shore to the Ink Spots to the Muppets.  

But we're featuring the recording of the song by Kay Starr, a very successful jazz, pop, and country singer who had over a dozen top ten hits in the fifties.

Kay Starr was born on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma in 1922.  (Her father was a full-blooded Iroquois.)  After the family moved to Dallas, she won a talent competition on a local radio station when she was seven, and had her own radio show by the time she was ten -- she was paid $3 a night, which wasn't bad for the Depression.

Kay Starr
At age 15, she was touring with the Joe Venuti Orchestra.  Her parents insisted on a midnight curfew for their daughter.

Kay Starr was married six times.  She is 91 years old, and still performs.

Here's "The Best Things in Life Are Free":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon: 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Steely Dan -- "Reelin' in the Years" (1972)

Your everlasting summer
You can see it fading fast

Summer will officially end on September 21 this year -- just a few days from now.

But let's face it: summer's already over.

I took my fourth (and last) child to college last month -- assuming I don't get a new young wife some day, of course.  (You'll see a number of pictures from "move-in" day at Gettysburg College below.)

For many of us, the first day of school marks the end of the summer and the first day of a new year.  It's a more important symbol of new beginnings and the passage of time than January 1.

The start of a new school year always involves adjusting to changes, but some transitions are more difficult than others.

Remember the year you moved from middle school to high school?  You had unfamiliar  teachers and an unfamiliar building to deal with.  On the other hand, most of the students you saw every day were familiar, and you still lived in the same house.

The most dramatic transition is the one from the final year of high school to the first year of college -- at least for every freshmen attending a college in a different city than the one where his or her high school was.  You not only have a different physical environment to get used to, but an entirely different educational environment as well.

And while you may know a few of your fellow freshmen, it's often the case that you arrive at your college not knowing a single other student.  You're thrown in with strangers at the same time you're taken away from your friends -- not to mention your parents, siblings, and pets.

Upperclassmen helping freshmen and their
families move into one of the Gettysburg dorms
Most significantly, you're expected to leave childhood behind and start acting like an adult.  The "everlasting summer" of childhood begins "fading fast" when you go to college, although you don't lose touch entirely with childhood until you become a parent yourself.

I took my youngest child to college last month.  It was the fourth time I'd gone through this peculiar little ritual.  So no big deal, right?

Chaos reigns in the bookstore on move-in day
But it was a big deal -- although that fact didn't hit me until some time later.

I didn't dread my oldest son going off to college for a number of reasons -- I was absolutely confident that he would be successful (he was), and I still had three kids living at home to distract me from his absence.

Three years later, I took my twin daughters to two different colleges on successive weekends.  That was harder -- I was not only losing two children instead of one, but I was losing two daughters.  (Any father who has daughters understands.)

But I took comfort from the fact that my youngest son was born eight years after his sisters, so he wasn't going anywhere for a long, long time -- that is, if you consider eight years a long, long time.  

It's not, boys and girls.  In fact, it's absolutely shocking what a short period of time it is.

The oldest building at Gettysburg
College: Pennsylvania Hall (1837)
My son's "everlasting summer" may be "fading fast" now that he's going to college. but mine's been gone for some time now.  I'm well into fall -- and that's a best-case scenario.  (It may be the last week of December for me -- hopefully not, but you never know.)

They say that having kids keeps you young.  So when your kids go off to college and aren't children any more, what does that make you?  (Here's a hint: it's three letters long, and the first letter is "O" and the last one is "D.")

The class of 2017 is officially
welcomed to Gettysburg College
"Reelin' in the Years" was released when I was a junior in college, and the song is about a college-age couple who aren't exactly seeing eye to eye:

The weekend at the college
Didn't turn out like you planned 
The things that pass for knowledge 
I don't understand

Steely Dan didn't write songs for high-schoolers -- their target demographic was the college-educated crowd.

"Reelin' in the Years" isn't the only Steely Dan song that references college.  The group's founders, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, met in 1967 while they were students at Bard College in upstate New York.  Their song "My Old School" is about an unpleasant incident that took place at Bard in 1969 (although the song mentions only William and Mary University by name).

Here's "Reelin' in the Years":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon: