Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chester French – "She Loves Everybody" (2009)

Well she craves affection
So I use protection

That's always a good idea, of course.  But it's an especially good idea given the title of today's featured song.

"She Loves Everybody" plays during the closing credits of the first episode of the fourth season of the HBO comedy, Entourage.

I've currently watching Entourage on DVD.  (Thank you, public library!)

The show, which ran for eight seasons, depicts the career of a young, up-and-coming movie star who grew up on the mean streets of Queens.

The boys of Entourage
The actor's entourage consists of an older half-brother (a lesser TV and movie actor) and two childhood friends – one is his driver and all-around gofer while the other one becomes his manager.

Entourage was inspired by the career of movie star Mark Wahlberg, who grew up in a tough part of Boston.  Wahlberg was a bad, bad boy who was arrested many times while still a teenager.  (We're not talking jaywalking or littering, boys and girls – once he was charged with attempted murder.)  

Wahlberg eventually cleaned up his act.  After fronting a hip-hop band (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch) and gaining fame as a Calvin Klein underwear model, he made his movie debut at age 22 and today is a successful leading man.

Mark Wahlberg in The Departed
Vincent Chase, the fictional star of Entourage, is Wahlberg without the rap sheet.  He and his buddies live the good life in L.A. – their life abounds with sex, drugs, and sex 'n' drugs.

There's not quite as much nudity as you might expect from an HBO show, but that's really my only complaint about Entourage.

Click here for a list of the 100 hottest women to appear on Entourage.

I'd call Entourage a guilty pleasure except that I don't feel the least bit guilty about watching it.

"She Loves Everybody" is a pretty good, but the backstory of the two-man band that recorded it is why I'm featuring it today.  

Chester French consists of D. A. Wallach and Maxwell Drummey, two friends who met as Harvard College freshmen in 2003.  

The group is named after sculptor Daniel Chester French, who is best-known for the iconic 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln that is the centerpiece of the Lincoln Memorial:

French's other works include the famous statue of a Minuteman in Concord, Massachusetts, and the seated statue of the founder of Harvard College, John Harvard, which stands in Harvard Yard:

By the way, the French statue of John Harvard is known as "the statue of three lies."

First, the statue isn't a likeness of Harvard – no one knows what John Harvard looked like, so the sculptor used a friend as the model for the statue.

Daniel Chester French
Second, John Harvard was not Harvard's founder, although he was the college's first major benefactor, leaving half of his estate and his library of some 400 volumes to Harvard.

Third, Harvard was founded in 1636 – not 1638, as the engraving on the statue says.

Wallach and Drummey learned how to record and produce music at Harvard's recording studio, and put together a demo album their senior year.  That demo ended up in the hands of Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, among others, and became the subject of a full-scale bidding war that was eventually won by Interscope Records (whose other artists include Eminem, Lady Gaga, and the Black Eyed Peas.)

Maxwell Drummey and D. A. Wallach:
a/k/a "Twee and Tweer"
Vocalist/songwriter Wallach has a very interesting biography.  It's so interesting that you have to wonder if it's really true.

Wallach was a two-time finalist in the Federal Reserve Bank's "Fed Challenge," a monetary policy competition for high-school students.

Here's the Wikipedia description of the "Fed Challenge":

The Fed Challenge begins with regional and district rounds of competition.  Each Fed Challenge team, consisting of three to five students, presents an analysis of the current state of the economy backed by current economic data and a monetary policy recommendation for the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).  Following the presentation, judges question each team about their presentation and their knowledge of macroeconomic theory.  Federal Reserve Bank economists and officers judge the district competitions.

(I did a lot of really nerdy stuff in high school, but I never did anything that was nearly that nerdy.)

At Harvard, Wallach won a prize as the outstanding African-American Studies major.  (He is white.)  He also studied the Gikuyu language, which is spoken primarily by Bantu tribesmen in Kenya.

Today, Wallach is not only a member of Chester French but also a solo recording artist.  He is the official artist-in-residence at Spotify and an investor in a number of technology companies (including a digital currency network and a telemedicine provider).

"She Loves Everybody" was the first single from Chester French's 2009 debut album, Love the Future.  The packaging for the single resembled a condom wrapper:

The "She Loves Everybody" video features a hot girl beating the crap out of Wallach and Drummey.

It goes without saying that a video that featured a guy doing one-tenth as much violence to a girl would likely result in the party responsible for it being drawn and quartered.  But I don't recall hearing any protests over this video's depiction a woman whaling away on a couple of males:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Alan Price – "O Lucky Man!" (1973)

If you've got the secret
Just try not to blow it
Stay a lucky man!

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post Magazine featured a short story by Alice McDermott titled "Gloria," which was about a Thanksgiving dinner that was similar in many ways to the one at my house earlier today.  Click here to read that story.

Alice McDermott
The host of the fictional dinner in "Gloria" was a successful man named Richard.  The dinner was attended by his adult children and grandchildren:

They were a happy family.  His children, and their children were thriving.

Before everyone began to eat, Richard rose to give a Thanksgiving toast, a "sentimental (and, yes, self-congratulatory) enumeration of their many talents, triumphs [and] joys."

Richard ended his toast by saying, "We are truly blessed" – which was not what he had planned to say:

He had intended to say "lucky," even to rap his knuckles on the table as he spoke.  But he said "blessed" instead.

Richard is seated next to his son Ryan's fiancée, a poised and beautiful young woman named Gloria whom he has only recently met.  Once everyone has had his or her fill of turkey, the grandchildren are allowed to leave the table and play in the family room while the dishes are cleared and dessert is prepared.  

During this interval between dinner and dessert, Richard learns that when Gloria was only 13, her mother began to show signs of early-onset Alzheimer's.  Her father eventually quit his job so he could care for her himself in their home.

When Gloria was a junior in college, her father died from a heart attack while making breakfast for her mother.  Most people attributed his heart attack to the stress of caring for his wife.  

After her father's death, Gloria dropped out of college temporarily so she could care for her mother: "I couldn't give her to strangers, either," she explains.

Gloria talks about what good, kind people her parents were – and explains why she is an only child:

They wanted to have a pack of kids, but things didn't work out.  My mother lost four babies before she had me.

Next, she questioned Richard's use of "blessed" in his pre-dinner toast:

I don't understand people who think they have been blessed.  That God somehow favors them because they're good people, or they worked hard.  My parents were good people who worked hard.  They deserved to grow old together, to see their grandchildren. . . . But I guess we weren't blessed the way you guys are, by whoever it is who does the blessing.

Ryan agrees with his future wife, opining that his family – in particular, his father – may be "too self-satisfied about their own good fortune, too oblivious to the troubles of others."  He tells his father, "You did sound kind of smug."

Later, as Richard's youngest granddaughter sits quietly in his lap, he sees Gloria watching the two of them.  She's smiling, "but with a certain arrogance":

As if her sorrow had made her prescient.  As if she saw the end of his luck somewhere, if not in his own fortunate life then in his children's, his children's children's.  As if she understood, but he did not, that it would take no more than a breath, a loosened blood clot, a bad gene – the cold work of some invisible hand, striking unexpectedly from out of darkness – to put an end to it all, his happiness, his complacency, his many blessings.

Owen Freeman's illustration for "Gloria"
Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday.  We host Thanksgiving dinner every year, and we always have a good-sized crowd.  Today, there were a total of 20 of us in attendance – three of my four kids (plus two of their spouses), assorted in-laws, and a half-dozen nieces and nephews.

I'm the Richard of the family, so it falls to me to make brief pre-dinner remarks every year.  Usually those remarks are sort of half-toast, half-prayer.

Like Richard, I've used the word "blessed" in my Thanksgiving remarks.  

I believed I'm blessed, but not because I've done something to deserve my blessings – to the contrary.  I suffer at times from arrogance, and complacency, and smugness.  But I'm not so arrogant and complacent and smug to think that I've earned the blessings I've been given.  

Humility may not be my strong suit, but I can't feel anything except humility when I think about the extraordinary gifts I've been given – above all else, my four children.  I fall so far short of deserving them that I would have to be the world's biggest fool to think otherwise.

In the story, Richard intended to say "lucky," but said "blessed" instead.  His choice of words matters because "it was a toast he had stood to offer, a Thanksgiving toast.  No one had asked him for a prayer."  

I agree that "blessed" implies that your good fortune has come from God, while "lucky" lacks any religious connotation.  

But other than that difference, I think the words are interchangeable.  I might describe myself as either "blessed" or "lucky" to express the same important truth – which is that I have been given much more than I deserve to have been given.  

I don't know why that is.  But I do know that I can't count on that good fortune to continue, because things can change in an instant.  

By the end of "Gloria," Richard is less complacent than he was at the beginning of the story.  After hearing the story of Gloria's life, he appreciates that all it takes is "a loosened blood clot, a bad gene . . . to put an end to it all."  

Gloria has already learned that lesson the hard way.  Richard will no doubt have a similar experience sooner or later.  

But for the time being, Richard and his family have been spared the kind of sadness that Gloria has experienced.  Perhaps as a result of his conversation with Gloria, his is more appreciative of his blessings – or his luck, if you prefer.  Perhaps I am more appreciative as well for having read the story.

"O Lucky Man!" plays during the opening credit sequence of the 1973 movie of the same name.  Alan Price, who is best-known for his extraordinary keyboard work on the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun," wrote and performed the score for the movie.  

Contrary to Price's lyrics, there's no "secret" that enables you to "stay a lucky man."  Luck comes and goes as it pleases, boys and girls.  

Here's "O Lucky Man!":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

April Wine -- "You Could Have Been a Lady" (1972)

They all love you
You're a good girl

Mae West was not very interested in being a good girl.

"When I'm good, I'm very, very good," she once said.  "But when I'm bad, I'm better."

She also said this:  "There are no good girls gone wrong – just bad girls found out."

And this: "I was once pure as snow . . . but I drifted."

Recently, I was talking to a friend who would like to be more like Mae West.  But I just don't think she has it in her to be a bad girl.

Mae West
We were in a bar in Washington that was so crowded that I wondered if President Obama had issued an executive order reinstating Prohibition the next day and nobody had told me.    

The bar was so crowded that I went across the street to another bar, but it was even more crowded than the first one.  So I returned to the first bar.

I was stunned by something that happened there later that night.  It was a Thursday, so there was an NFL game on the TV above the bar.  The sound was off, or at least turned down very low -- not a big deal because you could see the score any time you looked at the screen.

But near the end of the first quarter, the bartender changed channels so the customers could watch President Obama give a speech about immigration.  

I have never been in a bar where they switched from an NFL game to a Presidential speech.  Even in Washington, DC – where I've lived since 1977 – I've never seen that happen.

It's not like the Chinese Army had just invaded California.  The President's announcement that he was taking executive action to shield five million illegal aliens from being deported is hardly the kind of earth-shattering news that justified interrupting a professional football game, even though the Oakland Raiders were one of the teams playing.

The bartender's changing channels was shocking enough, but he also turned the volume up loud enough so the President's remarks could be heard above the roar of the crowd.  That was the biggest surprise – I've never seen that happen.  

I was at an Irish bar, but I couldn't think of any connection between the Irish and U.S. immigration policy.  Irish immigration peaked in the 1850s, when Ireland was devastated by the "Irish Potato Famine." 

Irish immigrants on the way to America
I don't think anyone's trying to keep the Irish out of the country any more – I'm afraid we've lost that battle already – so I'm not sure why people at an Irish bar would really care about what the President had to say about immigration.

Fortunately, President Obama stopped verbally flipping the bird to Congressional Republicans after only 15 minutes or so, so I didn't miss tonight's featured song when it came up on the bar's musical playlist.

The din in the bar was such that I couldn't hear the vocals to April Wine's hit, "You Could Have Been a Lady."

But I could hear the bass line, and that was enough for expert ears like mine to immediately recognize the song.

The pride of Nova Scotia: April Wine
I would have sworn that I had already written about this song, but I would have sworn wrong (and possibly been indicted by a grand jury for perjury).  I have a vivid memory of recently reading about April Wine, the best little rock-and-roll band ever to come out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.  But it appears that my interest did not result in my putting pen to paper (or fingers to computer keyboard) and posting the resulting hot mess to my wildly successful little blog.

"You Could Have Been a Lady" was a UK for the British funk band Hot Chocolate in 1971.  April Wine's cover was a big hit in Canada, and made it to #32 on the U.S. singles chart the following year.

Hot Chocolate's version is pretty good, but it doesn't hold a candle to April Wine's cover -- especially the part near the end where the guitars drop out and the band's members sing "nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah" over a hi-hat and tambourine accompaniment.

You'd best believe April Wine is tight, boys and girls – this song is silly.

Here's "You Could Have Been a Lady":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Outkast -- "Hey Ya!" (2003)

Y'all don't want to hear me
You just want to dance

"Hey Ya!" topped the Billboard "Hot 100" for nine weeks in the winter of 2003-2004, when my daughters Sarah and Caroline were juniors in high school.  

That may explain why it was on the playlist at Sarah's wedding reception last week, and why so many of her high-school and college friends sprinted to the dance floor when the DJ started playing it.  

As I watched my daughters' friends dancing to our featured song, I was reminded of the 2005 movie, Wedding Crashers

Have you seen Wedding Crashers?  It's a truly execrable movie about a couple of louts who crash wedding receptions in order to snarf up free food and drink and bag babes. 

It will come as no surprise that most of the babes the two louts bagged in the movie were drunk. 

It was a case of life imitating art Sarah's reception, where a number of the female guests were posilutely, absotively hammered by the end of the evening.  

There are at least two songs about drunk girls that would have been perfect choices for this post.  But 2 or 3 lines has already featured LCD Soundsystem's "Drunk Girls" and Kanye West's "Drunk and Hot Girls."  So I went with "Hey Ya" instead.

At Sarah's wedding reception
Oddly, none of the guys at the reception acted very drunk.  I'm sure some of them were quite inebriated, but none of them kicked off their shoes, raced on to the dance floor, and started writhing around like so many dogs in heat. 

I'm happy to say that my daughters were not out of control like some of their friends.  That's not to say they abstained.  Au contraire, I saw each of them down more than one bottle of beer.

But they limited their beer consumption.  So there was no risk they would end up like this girl:

Drunk girl
(My daughters are such classy broads.  You'd think they might go for a nice glass of wine, or at least pour those beers into glasses.  But no . . . when it comes to drinking, my girls usually choose beer right  out of the bottle.  I guess the redneck genes my daughters inherited from me were dominant.)

I don't want you to get the wrong impression of Sarah's wedding.  Up until the girls got bombed, it was a classy affair.  

The wedding itself was at the 200-year-old St. John's Church (Lafayette Square), which was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, who also designed the U.S. Capitol.  

St. John's is known as the "Church of the Presidents" because every sitting President since James Madison has attended services at the church.

Here's a picture of Sarah and her soon-to-be husband at the wedding rehearsal:

The weekend of the wedding was a bit chilly for mid-November.  Sarah must have been freezing when she posed for photographs in Lafayette Square before the ceremony.  But as Frank Zappa once said, "Beauty knows no pain"!

I took this picture of Sarah and her bridesmaids -- two high-school friends, two college friends, and her twin sister Caroline (who had been married only seven weeks earlier) as matron of honor -- just a couple of minutes before we walked down the aisle:

The reception was at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which was built as a Masonic temple in 1903:

The building was used as a movie theatre -- the Town Theatre -- between 1959 and 1972.  Washington author George Pelecanos remembers seeing The Dirty Dozen there with his father, and he later set a scene in one of his books there.

I have to share this photo of Sarah's chocolate Lab puppy, Remington:

Yes, that's Sarah's wedding dress.

"Hey Ya!" was written and produced by André 3000, one of the two principals of the very successful OutKast.  As my son Peter has noted in his blog, André 3000 is a dead ringer for Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III:

André 3000 and Robert Griffin III
Here's "Hey Ya!":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sugarcubes -- "Hit" (1992)

This wasn't supposed to happen
I was happy by myself
Accidentally you seduced me
I'm in love again

(If I only had a dollar for every woman who has said those words to me, you'd best believe I'd be living high on the hog on Easy Street instead of driving a 2008 Honda Accord with 64,000 miles on it.)

Happy November 21, boys and girls!

You're probably wondering what's the big deal about November 21.

For one thing, on that date in 164 B.C., Judas Maccabeus restored the Temple in Jerusalem, an event that is commemorated every year by the festival of Hannukah.  

On November 21, 1783, two crazy French daredevils made the first untethered hot-air balloon flight.  

Exactly 94 years after that, Thomas Edison announced that he had invented the phonograph.  

Sticking with music-related November 21 events, this date in 1959 was when famed DJ Alan Freed – the man who invented the term "rock and roll" – was fired from WABC-AM in New York City because he refused to certify in writing that he had never accepted payola to play particular records on his radio show.

November 21 is the birthdate of a long list of remarkable individuals, including the French author and philosopher Voltaire, the infamous Western hired gun Tom Horn, surrealist painter René Magritte, Hall of Fame baseball players Stan Musial and Ken Griffey, Jr., Hall of Fame basketballer Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, That Girl star Marlo Thomas, comedy writer-director (Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation, Groundhog Day) Harold Ramis, comedienne and actress Goldie Hawn, and "Call Me Maybe" chanteuse Carly Rae Jepsen.

Today 2 or 3 lines is featuring a song by another notable person born on November 21 – Icelandic singer-songwriter-producer Björk Guõmundsdóttir, who fortunately goes by plain old "Björk." 

Baby Björk
Björk was born in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1965.  Her mother was a political activist and her father was a union leader.  When they got divorced, she and her mother moved to a hippie commune.  

When Björk was six, she enrolled at a Reykjavík music school where she studied classical piano and flute.   After she sang Tina Charles's 1976 hit, "I Love to Love" at a school recital, her teachers sent a recording of her singing to Iceland's only radio station.  (I wonder what Icelanders back then did with all the other pushbuttons on their car radios?)

After hearing that recording, a record company offered Björk a recording contract.  Her self-titled debut, Björk, was recorded and released in Iceland in December 1977, when she was barely twelve years old.

During her teens, Björk formed an all-girl punk band called Spit and Snot.  In 1980, she formed a jazz fusion group called Exodus.  In 1982, when she was 16, Björk and bassist Jakob Magnússon formed yet another group, Tappi Tíkarrass, which means "Cork the Bitch's Ass" in Icelandic. 

(If you're wondering where Björk's mother was during all this, you're not alone. ) 

A couple of years later, while Björk was touring with a Goth band called Kukl, she published a hand-colored book of poems to make money so she could pay her rent.  She also got knocked up by the group's guitarist, whom she married in 1986, when she was 20 years old.

She and her husband then formed the arts collective Smekkleysa ("Bad Taste" in Icelandic).  They revamped their band and changed the name to the Sugarcubes, whose first single was released on Björk's 21st birthday.

In the meantime, Björk and her husband got divorced, although they remained in the band together.  (His new girlfriend became the Sugarcubes' keyboard player.)  

The group's first album sold a million copies, and they appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1988.  Björk eventually left the Sugarcubes after the band's third album, Stick Around for Joy, was released in 1992.

After I got my first CD player twenty-odd years ago, I promptly joined one of those "buy-one-get-twelve-free" CD clubs.  I chose Stick Around for Joy as one of my free albums on the strength of today's featured song, "Hit," which made it to #1 on the Billboard "Modern Rock Tracks" chart (now the "Alternative Tracks" chart) and got considerable radio play.

I still have that CD, which I don't think I ever listened to all the way through.    

In 1996, Björk was the intended victim of a truly bizarre plot.  From Wikipedia:

On 12 September 1996, obsessed fan Ricardo Lopéz mailed an acid-spraying letter bomb to Björk's London home and then killed himself, but the package was intercepted by the Metropolitan Police.  López filmed himself in the process of making the acid bomb which was intended to severely scar the singer's face and torso. The nearly 18 hours of videotape described López's obsession with Björk, the construction of the device, his thoughts on love and other subjects, including racial remarks against Björk's then-boyfriend Goldie.  The video footage continues after his mailing the bomb to Björk's London home and ends as López shaves his head, applies face paint, and commits suicide by shooting himself on camera.

Björk has released seven solo albums since leaving the Sugarcubes.  I have four of those albums on my iTunes, and I don't think I've played a single song from any of them.  

Björk is much beloved by critics, and she's sold more than 20 million albums as a solo artist.  But I just don't get it.

I don't have a problem with weird.  But Björk is a little weird even for me.

Here's "Hit":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Elvis Costello (ft. Burt Bacharach) -- "Toledo" (1998)

And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?

Toledo, Ohio was founded in 1833 when two existing towns – Port Lawrence and Vistula – merged.

Toledo, Ohio in 1945
It's not clear why the residents of the new city chose to name it after the ancient Spanish city of Toledo.  One story is that Washington Irving, who spent several years researching and writing in Spain, suggested the name to his brother, who was a resident of the Ohio Toledo.  

Another legend is that the name was suggested by Two Stickney, who caused the only casualty of the "Toledo War" – an otherwise bloodless border dispute between Ohio and Michigan – when he stabbed a Michigan deputy sheriff who was attempting to arrest One Stickney, Two's older brother.

Two Stickney, hero of the Toledo War
(The brothers' father, Benjamin Franklin Stickney – named after his famous great-uncle – said that he named his sons One and Two so they could pick their own names when they grew up, but they stuck with One and Two instead.  You can click here if you'd like to read more about the eccentric Benjamin Franklin Stickney.)  

Yet another story gives credit for the choice of Toledo to a local merchant who said the name "is easy to pronounce, is pleasant in sound, and there is no other city of that name on the American continent."

Toledo, Spain 
(photo by Tnarik Innael)
The original Toledo is an ancient Spanish city with a rich cultural and architectural heritage.  Our featured song accurately describes the Spanish Toledo as a "citadel" – the old part of the city is located on a mountaintop overlooking the Tagus River, the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula.  

One of Toledo's most famous residents was the artist Doménikos Theotokópoulos, who is better known by his nickname – El Greco ("the Greek").

A presumed self-portrait by El Greco
El Greco was born in 1541 on the Greek island of Crete, which then belonged to the Republic of Venice.  After learning to paint in Crete, he moved to Venice and then to Rome, where he opened a workshop.  In 1577, he moved to Madrid and then on to Toledo, where he lived until his death in 1614.  

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has seven paintings by El Greco.  I recently attended the press preview of a new NGA exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of El Greco's death that features his NGA paintings along with several others from other Washington and Baltimore museums.

Here's Saint Martin and the Beggar:

National Gallery of Art
And here's Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes:

National Gallery of Art
Those two paintings, both of which are in the NGA's permanent collection, once hung opposite one another, flanking the central altar in the Chapel of Saint Joseph in Toledo, Spain.

Perhaps the most interesting of the eleven works in the exhibition is Laocoön, the only surviving El Greco painting with a mythological subject:

National Gallery of Art
Laocoön was a Trojan priest who warned his countrymen to beware of the Trojan Horse.  In the Aeneid, Virgil has Laocoön say these words:

Do not trust the horse, Trojans
Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts

But Laocoön was punished by a Greek-friendly god -- Athena, Poseidon, or Apollo, depending on the teller of the story -- for his attempt to defeat the Greek subterfuge.  Giant sea serpents slithered up from the sea and strangled Laocoön and his two sons.  

According to one source, however, Laocoön was actually punished for having sex with his wife on holy ground sacred to the gods.

In any event, Laocoön's warning wasn't heeded and the Greeks' sneak attack on Troy was successful.  

Art historians believe that El Greco's painting was inspired by this ancient sculpture of Laocoön and his sons, which was excavated in Rome 1506 and is now on display in one of the Vatican museums:

El Greco's Laocoön sets the scene outside the gates of Toledo.  Toledo is featured in a number of El Greco's paintings, including several that depict Biblical scenes that took place far away from Spain.

El Greco's only two surviving landscapes both depict Toledo.  "View of Toledo," which is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is a dramatic painting that takes some liberties with the actual configuration of the city's buildings:

Metropolitan Museum of Art
The National Gallery of Art's El Greco exhibition can be viewed in the NGA's West Building through February 16, 2015.  Click here to learn more.

"Toledo" is from the 1998 album Painted from Memory, which features a dozen songs co-written by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach.

Here's a video of a live performance of "Toledo":

Click below to buy the version of the song that appeared on Bill Frisell's 1999 album, The Sweetest Punch, which consists of jazz arrangements of the Painted from Memory songs.  Most of the tracks on that album are instrumentals, but Costello did sing on "Toledo."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Frank Sinatra -- "The Way You Look Tonight" (1964)

There is nothing for me but to love you
And the way you look tonight

Seven weeks ago, 2 or 3 lines featured "Summer Wind," a Frank Sinatra classic that was the song that my daughter Caroline and I danced to at her September 28 wedding reception.

Today is my daughter Sarah's wedding, which will take place at St. John's Episcopal Church/Lafayette Square, in Washington, DC.  St. John's is often called "The Church of the Presidents" because every sitting president since James Madison has attended services there.

More important to me is the fact that St. John's is the church where Sarah and her siblings were baptized.  (Sarah's late grandfather was the rector there for 30-plus years.)

St. John's/Lafayette Square
Later tonight, Sarah and I will be dancing to "The Way You Look Tonight," an Academy Award-winning song song that was originally sung by Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers in Swing Time, the 1936 musical comedy that most critics believe is the best of the Astaire-Rogers movies.

Here's the scene where Fred sings "The Way You Look Tonight" to Ginger:

No one will mistake me for Fred Astaire when I take the dance floor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in downtown Washington, DC, for the traditional father-daughter dance.

National Museum of 
Women in the Arts
And to be honest, no one will mistake Sarah for Ginger Rogers.  But it goes without saying that there's no one I'd rather dance with tonight than her.

I settled on "The Way You Look Tonight" for our dance pretty quickly.  It would have been nice to dance to a song with her name in the title, of course, but none of the "Sarah" songs I'm familiar with really tempted me.

Inside the museum
They don't write songs like "The Way You Look Tonight" any more.  

The music for "The Way You Look Tonight" was composed by Jerome Kern, who is best remembered as the composer of the musical Show Boat and the oft-recorded song, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

The lyrics were written by Dorothy Fields, one of the first successful female Tin Pan Alley songwriters.  Her hits include "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love."

Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields
I almost began this post by quoting these lines from the first verse of "The Way You Look Tonight":

Some day, when I'm awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you

I think every father who is fortunate enough to have been blessed with one or more daughters would agree with that sentiment.  No matter how bad things get in my life, thinking of my daughters always brings me joy.

Sarah and Caroline (age 9)
But I couldn't resist leading with this line from the song's second verse: 

There is nothing for me but to love you  

Ever since Sarah was born, there was nothing for me but to love her.

Sarah (in 2009)
Sarah is and always has been beautiful.  But the way she looks is just the icing on the cake.

The way she looks tonight is so much less important than the way she is inside.  That's why there is nothing for me but to love her. 

We'll dance to Rod Stewart's recording of "The Way You Look Tonight":

I like the Sinatra version better, but its tempo is a little too fast for us to dance to:

Click below to buy that version of the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cowboy Junkies -- "Anniversary Song" (1993)

And I don't know how I survived those days
Before I held your hand

I first heard about the Cowboy Junkies years ago, but I've never actually listened to any of their music.

Their 1988 album, The Trinity Session, made a lot of "ten best albums of the year" lists.  It was recorded live, using only one microphone, at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto.  The Trinity Sessions was not mixed, overdubbed, or otherwise edited – what they played is what you get.

The Cowboy Junkies
The Cowboy Junkies' music has been described as alt-country, country rock, folk rock, blues rock, indie rock, and "Americana" (despite the fact that they are Canadian).  In other words, no one knows how the hell to describe them.

Suffice it to say that The Trinity Sessions includes covers of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline songs but also a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane."  None of those covers sound anything like the originals, mostly because the tempos on the album are (in the words of the Allmusic review of the album) "heroin-slow."

Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity
The Cowboy Junkies' guitarist, Michael Timmins, persuaded his sister Margo to become the group's lead vocalist despite the fact that she had never sung in public before.  (A third Timmins sibling is the group's drummer.)  Margo was so shy at first that she routinely stood with her back to the audience as she sang.  

According to Wikipedia, the refrigerator in the old farmhouse where Margo lives with her husband and son is covered with pictures of celebrities she has met over the years, including Sean Penn, Sylvester Stallone, Molly Ringwald, Meat Loaf, and Bruce Springsteen.    

Margo Timmons in 1990
Margo has quite the crush on Springsteen.  When she got married, she told her husband that if Bruce ever wanted her, she "would be his."  Margo once made People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list, so maybe she's got a shot. 

"Anniversary Song," which was released on the group's Pale Sun Crescent Moon album in 1993, is a little over top when it comes to lyrics.

Here are the song's first lines: 

Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
As that of the rain-soaked purple
Of the white birch in the spring?

Do white birches really turn purple when they get rained on?  

Here are the next lines:

Have you ever felt more fresh or wonderful
Than on a warm fall night under a mackerel sky
The smell of grapes on the wind?

In case you don't know, a mackerel sky refers to a sky mostly covered by altocumulus clouds because such a sky is said to resemble a mackerel's scales.  

I don't see that myself, but maybe you do:

A mackerel sky
A mackerel sky is a sign of an old, disintegrating weather front, and usually indicates dry weather.  Hence, the old saying "Mackerel in the sky, three days dry."  (I'm sure you've heard that old saying many, many times.)

But let's not get distracted and forget what follows the "mackerel sky" reference in the song: "The smell of grapes on the wind"?

Songwriter Michael Timmins eventually calmed down and wrote some nice, simple lines.  For example:

Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
As a face in a crowd of people
That lights up just for you?

Have you ever felt more fresh or wonderful
As when you wake by the side of that boy or girl
Who has pledged their love to you?

Much better than purple rain-soaked birches and mackerel skies, n'est-ce pas?

So why am I featuring "Anniversary Song" today?  After all, we just celebrated the 5th anniversary of 2 or 3 lines on November 1, didn't we?

Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson
of the Flamin' Groovies --
exactly one year ago today
Yes, we did.  But today is the anniversary of my attending the Flamin' Groovies show right here in Your Nation's Capital.  Of course, that wasn't as big a deal as the 5th anniversary of my wildly popular little blog, but it was still a very big deal.

"Anniversary Song" isn't a great song, but it seemed like a better choice than the alternatives.  

For example, there's "The Anniversary Song," which was first recorded by Al Jolson in 1947 and subsequently covered by everyone from Dinah Shore to Guy Lombardo to Rosemary Clooney to Frank Sinatra.

The music used for "The Anniversary Song" was a waltz originally composed by the Romanian Ion Ivanovici in 1880.  He gave it the name "Waves of the Danube," and it is sometimes confused with Johann Strauss's much more famous waltz, "The Blue Danube."  (To further complicate matters, "The Anniversary Song" – which is a waltz – is sometimes confused with "The Anniversary Waltz.")

Here are the first two lines of "The Anniversary Song":

Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed
We vowed our true love, though a word wasn't said

When I was a kid, I would occasionally accompany my parents on their Saturday-night excursions to Hidden Acres, a supper club in my hometown (Joplin, Missouri).

Hidden Acres had a two-man dance combo that would play requests, and every time they were asked to play a song for a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, the pianist would preface the request by singing a slightly modified snippet of "The Anniversary Song":

Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed
We danced and we danced, 'cause our folks had the bed

Here's "Anniversary Song":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: