Changing Lyrics

As I prepared to take my walk this morning, I had to make my music selection.  I decided to go with my “UAHS Rock” playlist, featuring songs from my high school years.  The songs on it are old, obviously, but they are still great favorites.  Who doesn’t still relish the songs from their youth?

When I walked down the steps to the sidewalk, the first song on the playlist began:  Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run, which was a huge hit during my high school days.  For those who can’t remember them, the lyrics begin like this:

band-on-the-run-labelStuck inside these four walls,
Sent inside forever,
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you,
Mama you, mama you.
If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get outta here
If we ever get outta of here.

It’s safe to say that I reacted to  those lyrics in a different way this morning, squinting into the bright sunshine as I carefully maintained my “social distance” from everyone else who was walking and jogging outside,  than I did hanging out in the basement of the family home, with the cheap all-in-one stereo unit down there cranked up to intolerable levels, in 1975.  And a few songs later Stevie Wonder’s Superstition came on, and I had a similarly different reaction to this line:  “Very superstitious; wash your face and hands.”

One of the great things about music is that the listener always brings something to the experience, with songs reminding you of high school prom or hanging with your college chums or making you think about this or that.  I wonder how many other songs are going to be thought of differently, forever, as a result of the Shutdown March of 2020?

All Together Now

As I’ve taken walks around Schiller Park over the last few days, I’ve noticed that people are interested in publicly expressing their collective community spirit.  The above sign appeared in the window of the Hausfrau Haven, and I’ve seen similar messages chalked onto sidewalks — like “#RallyColumbus.”  It’s all part of an effort by the common folk to show some mutual support, and let their fellow citizens know that we’re all in this together, and that together we will get through our coronavirus trial.

I’m confined to the German Village area, of course, so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that the signs and sidewalk messages I’ve seen here are just the very small tip of a much larger iceberg that can be found across the country.  Americans have a way of coming together during difficult times, helping each other out, and working to lift each others’ spirits.  Our political representatives might fight like the gingham dog and the calico cat, but the people stand together during the tough times — and messages that express that sentiment in a tangible way, for all to see, really help.  And, of course, there’s a lot more that we can’t see publicly that also reflects a fighting, mutually supportive spirit, like texts among groups of friends and co-workers and e-mail chains and virtual get-togethers and Facebook memes.

The attitude of toughness and resiliency makes me think of one of my favorite Beatles’ songs and video snippets, which appeared at the end of the Yellow Submarine film — All Together Now.  Let’s hope that we can maintain that ‘tude, and it will carry us through. 

Schiller, The Poet

I walk around Schiller Park every day.  I’ve gazed in appreciation at the heroic statue in the middle of the park, and know that Schiller was a poet who was so admired by the German immigrants who initially settled in the German Village section of Columbus that they chose to erect a statue to him in the park.

But that’s about the extent of my knowledge, regrettably.  And since I think we should always be interested in broadening our horizons and learning a bit more about the places where we live and work, I set out to learn a bit more about Herr Schiller.  And with the aid of Google, it wasn’t difficult.

Friedrich von Schiller, who lived from 1759 to 1805, was a poet, playwright and philosopher who was a major figure in the European Romantic movement.  He was immensely popular during his life and has been described by a biographer as a “pop star of his time.”  He was passionate, apparently personally unkempt, and had a tumultuous love life that saw him fall in love with two sisters.

But here’s the most impressive thing I learned about Schiller:  he actually inspired Ludwig von Beethoven.  One of Schiller’s most famous poems was Ode to Joy, which Beethoven set to music, in modified form, in the final, chorale movement of his Ninth Symphony.  That’s a pretty impressive testament.  No wonder our predecessor German Village residents erected a statue to this guy!

You can read the entire, translated Ode to Joy here.  Here’s the first verse:

Joy! A spark of fire from heaven,
Daughter from Elysium,
Drunk with fire we dare to enter,
Holy One, inside your shrine.
Your magic power binds together,
What we by custom wrench apart,
All men will emerge as brothers,
Where you rest your gentle wings.

The Hip Headphone ‘Hood

My old iPhone headphones gave up the ghost this week.  Or, at least, one side of the headphones did.  First the sound out of the right earbud became intermittent and filled with static, and then it stopped producing any sound whatsoever.  That’s pretty annoying when you’re trying to listen to music in the morning and you can only hear one part of the total effort.  Mozart orchestral works just don’t sound the same with only left ear input.

I attempted the tried-and-true method of repairing a broken, self-contained electronic device:  banging it several times on a hard surface in hopes that something on the interior had become dislodged somehow and would be restored to its former working status with a few hard jolts.  (Plus, giving the broken electronic gizmo a few brisk knocks makes me feel better and exacts a kind of revenge against the device for breaking down in the first place.) Unfortunately, that method didn’t work — although it was enjoyable, admittedly — so the only option was to go out and buy new headphones.  

Surprisingly, the local cellphone store doesn’t sell earbuds that are connected to your phone by a wire anymore.  As a society, we’ve moved beyond that benighted technology!  The only options it offers are those little wireless ear fittings that look like shunts for a kid’s ear infection.  I’ve got to have my music in the morning, so there really was no choice but to buy them. 

I was a bit resistant to it, because I associate those wireless ear buds with consciously hip posers who strut around airports and other public places talking in  overly loud tones, and I don’t particularly want to be associated with that ilk.  This was an understandable reaction, but an odd one, because the ear bud cord could be a pain, such as when it gets  snagged on something like an unexpectedly leaping dog’s paw, and yanks the ear buds out of my ears.  At least I won’t have to worry about that any more.

No dog cord snags, in exchange for association with the consciously hip crowd.  Life has a way of presenting choices like that. 

The College Of Musical Knowledge: Self-Edited Genius

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the most recognized pieces of music in the world.  The first few notes — da-da-da DUM, da-da-da-DUM, supposedly reflecting “fate knocking at the door” — are known to pretty much everyone.

45270796_303Recently I heard an interesting broadcast on how hard Beethoven worked at the Fifth Symphony.  (You can read about the creation, and the critical reception, of this ground-breaking symphony here.)  Beethoven wrote it over the course of four years, from 1804 to 1808, and during that time he experimented with a series of different approaches to the different parts of the composition.  His notebooks and papers include “sketches” of some of those efforts that Beethoven tried, tinkered with, and ultimately rejected. 

In the broadcast, the host and a small orchestra played some of the efforts that ended up on Beethoven’s cutting room floor.  Many of those efforts were beautiful, and would have satisfied, if not delighted, most composers — but Beethoven wasn’t just any composer.  He was constantly searching for improvement, and when you hear the first drafts and failed forays compared to the finished product, you’re glad that the man was a perfectionist who was always driven to come up with something even better.  

Those of us who aren’t musically talented tend to believe that talents like Beethoven’s genius for composing are just a gift that comes naturally and without much effort — like Mozart’s character in Amadeus jotting down finished music, without edits, as he bounces a ball around a billiards table.  Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony sounds pure and seamless, like something that came to him as a package in an inspired dream.  But the reality for most prodigious talents, like Beethoven, is different:  they had to work hard to bring their talents to full flower.  And that’s where there’s a lesson lurking for the rest of us.  We obviously aren’t as gifted as Beethoven, but we can still apply ourselves and self-edit our work to come up with something better.

Thomas Edison is supposed to have observed that “genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”  Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is an example of that.  The next time you hear those familiar opening notes, think about the sweat that went into their creation, and I think you’ll appreciate that wondrous piece of work all the more.

What’s In A Bad Review?

Creative people who put their creativity out before the public have to deal with one thing that the rest of us don’t:  reviews of their work.  Whether it’s an artist overhearing comments about their paintings at a gallery, or a novelist, playwright, movie director, or musician reading newspaper reviews of their efforts, creative people have to get used to the idea that some people, at least, won’t like what they are doing.  And if the creative people can’t get past that issue, they probably aren’t in the right line of work.

Part of developing an artistic thick skin about bad reviews is realizing that the opinions of a critic are just that — one person’s opinion — and that critics are often just wrong.  In fact, sometimes a critic is so wrong about a particular piece of work that their opinions, read years later, seem comically and historically misguided.

beatles-abbey-road-album-label-appleI thought about this when I read about the New York Times review of the Beatles’ album Abbey Road, published right after it was released in 1969.  To his credit, the reviewer, Nik Cohn, found that the nine-song medley on side two was the most impressive music the Beatles had recorded since Rubber Soul — even though he thought the individual songs within the medley were “nothing special” and, for the most part, “pretty average stuff.”  In fact, he thought “some of the lyrics are quite painful,” and “most of the lines here are steals.”

Continuing his critique of the lyrics on side two, Cohn wrote:

“The great drawback is the words. There was a time when the Beatles’s lyrics were one of their greatest attractions. Not any more. On “Abbey Road,” you get only marshmallow.  * * *  On “Abbey Road” the words are limp-wristed, pompous and fake. Clearly, the Beatles have now heard so many tales of their own genius that they’ve come to believe them, and everything here is swamped in Instant Art. ”

And remember that side two of Abbey Road is the side Cohn sort of liked.  The rest of the album, he wrote, was an “unmitigated disaster.”  Come Together, he concluded, “is intriguing only as a sign of just how low Lennon can sink these days.”  Cohn also got it wrong that John Lennon, and not Paul McCartney, sang Oh! Darling.  Cohn thought the two songs by George Harrison — those would be Something and Here Comes the Sun — were “mediocrity incarnate.”  Cohn opined that “[t]he badness ranges from mere gentle tedium to cringing embarrassment.”

I doubt that the Beatles, firmly atop the rock god firmament at the time, paid much attention to Nik Cohn’s views, and of course his opinions have been disproved by the test of time.  Abbey Road is generally regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and songs like Something, Here Comes the Sun, and Come Together are viewed as all-time classics beloved by millions for more than 50 years.

I guess I would say that Nik Cohn got it wrong.  When creative people are putting themselves out there for critics to chew on, it’s something they should keep in mind.

Weather (App) Envy

In Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan wrote:  “You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.”

65a72fb0c878e2aa7a8bf93b385b6a9aIf The Voice of His Generation were writing that song in today’s smartphone era, he would have said you don’t need a weather app, either.  You can always stick your hand out the window to see if its raining, or open the door and receive an arctic blast to assess just how freaking cold it is.  And if you live in Columbus, Ohio in the winter months, you don’t really need to check the weather at all — you can just presume that it’s in the 30s, totally overcast, and drizzling a “wintry mix,” and you’ll be right more than 90 percent of the time.

I’m convinced that the real use of weather apps isn’t checking the weather or getting the forecast for your present location.  If that were the case, the apps would just trigger a GPS function, determine where you are, and then tell you the weather . . . but that’s not how they work.  Instead, you can input lots of different locations.  And therein lies the true purpose of weather apps.  They’re not an electronic Wally Kinnan the Weather Man, they’re designed to allow you to provoke your sense of weather envy and then adjust your reaction to the weather in your area by comparing it to other locations.

Check your phone’s weather app, and see how many locations are currently shown on it.  My app has about eight, so if I go to the app home page I immediately get a smorgasbord of different weather realities.  I can see that it’s a lot warmer in Florida, Texas and Arizona, and if I really want to torture myself I can click on one of the locations and get appalling details about just how bright and sunny and warm it is in comparison to damp, cold, gray Columbus.  And then I’ll inevitably go in the opposite direction and see just how cold it is up in Stonington, with maybe a brisk wind blowing in off the bay and some leaden, snow-laden fog to chill the bones even more, which helps to get me back to a state of reluctant Columbus weather acceptance.  And once I’ve achieved an acceptable weather equilibrium, I’m ready to bundle up and face the music.

It works in the opposite direction in the summer, of course.  If it’s hot and sticky and miserable here, it’s always going to be hotter and even more miserable in Florida or Texas — while in Stonington the weather is a delightful 76 degrees with lots of sunshine.

The real purpose of weather apps is to tell you that the weather is always better somewhere else.