Alright, back to the Bach. Guitarist Leo Kottke recorded a fine version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on his second album 6 and 12 String Guitar, released on John Fahey’s Takoma label in 1969. In Kottke’s odd liner notes for this album, he writes by this song, “Bach had twenty children because his organ didn’t have any stops.” While this is one of the most famous pieces of Bach’s vast output, the melody was actually written by violinist Johann Schop, which Bach then harmonized and orchestrated for the chorale of his cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”).
February 28, 2010
February 26, 2010
I’ve been trying to stick to 1-2 posts per week, but the work and school schedule doesn’t seem to be permitting it lately. Every day I think of ideas for posts, but I don’t think I can devote the energy to developing them. So I’ve decided to start a twitter account for the shorter things I’d like to say. For a couple of years I’ve toyed with the idea of writing aphorisms and short philosophical poems, in the tradition of Nietzsche, Lao Tzu, Heraclitus, Ambrose Bierce, E.M. Cioran, and so on, under a pseudonym. This isn’t quite that, but I’d like to get some practice in condensed communication as a trial run. If you’re on twitter, you can follow me @manraygun.
Sample tweet: “Thomas Paine was a corset-maker, a pirate, and a tax-collector before he became a revolutionary. Only the last job landed him in prison.”
P.S.- More posts on the way though, I promise.
February 14, 2010
This post is for Jane.
I’m putting my Bach series on hold for this week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, but there’s more great Bach stuff on the way. Instead, today’s tune is Honeysuckle Rose, Fats Waller’s great Jazz standard, performed by guitarist Dick McDonough. McDonough is fairly obscure now, but he was mighty prolific in the 1930’s, playing with Waller, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, the Dorsey Brothers, Glen Miller- pretty much the who’s who of 30’s Jazz. His guitar style is characterized by, as the Classic Jazz Guitar site puts it, “chordal melody, single string melody, double stops, bending strings, dissonant harmonies and syncopated rhythms.” McDonough unfortunately died at the young age of 34 in 1938. One wonders what his “dissonant harmonies” could have produced had he lived into the Bebop era.
Here are the lyrics, written by poet Andy Razaf, who also put the words to Waller’s other canonical tune, “Aint Misbehavin'”:
Every honey bee fills with jealousy
When they see you out with me
I don’t blame them
When you’re passin’ by,
Flowers droop and sigh
I know the reason why
You’re much sweeter
Well, don’t buy sugar
You just have to touch my cup
You’re my sugar
And it’s oh so sweet when you stir it up
When I’m takin’ sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
I was reminded of this song while studying the lais of 12th-century Anglo-Norman poet Marie de France, whose “Chevrefoil” is an addition to the Tristan and Iseult legend. In the lai, the honeysuckle and hazel are symbols of lovers who cannot be separated (“Chevrefoil” refers to the honeysuckle, though it literally translates as the more prosaic “goatleaf”).
He could not live away from her.
This was the way with them: they were
Like the honeysuckle which you see
Wrapped around a hazel tree;
When it takes hold there and has bound
The trunk with tendrils all around,
They will live, both vine and stem,
But should someone uncouple them,
Then the hazel quickly dies,
And the honeysuckle likewise.
“So we, fair friend, can never be-
I without you; you without me.”
February 9, 2010
My brother Joe, after a long dry spell, has abandoned his “Naked Time” blog. However, he has embarked on a new endeavor, “Sans Comics“, which is more strictly devoted to the development of his art. Hopefully there will be more of those music videos. Those were awesome. And maybe I can get him to do more cartoons for me, too.
February 7, 2010
This is part two in my Bach series. Classical music, like a lot of classical literature, is ignored by too many people by virtue of the fact that it is shoved down our throats by cultural authority figures who treat it like healthy food: Good for you, so it must taste terrible. Not so- in most cases classical works of art are not only not demonstrably good for you in a moral sense, but are often strange beyond description. Off the top of my head Macbeth, King Lear, Moby Dick, and Dante’s Inferno, most of Michelangelo’s work (despite ostensible intentions of spiritual didacticism in the latter two) all come to mind. So too with Bach, but at this stage in our culture it takes some work to bring out this aspect in his compositions. Nobody has done this better than modern composer Wendy Carlos (known as “Walter Carlos” before 1972), who worked mostly with the Moog synthesizer. You will certainly recognize the sound if you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which features Carlos’ versions of Beethoven as well as original compositions. Carlos actually had a hit with 1968’s Switched-On Bach.
Here is Prelude and Fugue #2 in C Minor. As you listen, contemplate this passage from Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West:
For it was the wish, intensified to the point of a longing, to fill a special infinity with sound which produced . . . the two great families of keyboard instruments (organ, pianoforte, etc.) and bow instruments. . . . it was principally in Germany that the organ was developed into the space-commanding giant that we know, an instrument the like of which does not exist in all musical history. The free organ playing of Bach and his time was nothing if not analysis- analysis of a strange and vast tone-world. . . . the history of the modern orchestra, with all its discoveries of new and modifications of old instruments, is in reality the self-contained history of one tone-world- a world, moreover, that is quite capable of being expressed in the forms of the higher analysis.
February 5, 2010
Party at the Fed! EconTalk’s Russ Roberts and Spike TV producer John Papola co-wrote this rap battle between Keynes and Hayek.
February 4, 2010
It’s been a rough year for me so far: starting school, looking for a new car, ignoring collection notices, battling my post-college football season depression, losing in chess to my brother, not drinking enough (I write best between two and four beers). And not wanting my dear dear opinions to dissipate into the blogospheric aether, I’ve set for myself a goal of two posts per week (one Song for Sunday and at least one other post during the week), but its been hard to stick to even that. So with that self-exculpatory preface noted, my apologies to anyone who cares. Now for a few brief updates:
Way overdue update on my bowl picks: I was just over 50 percent, with 17 right and 16 wrong. Good enough to try it again next year. I should note that some of my most confident picks (TCU, most notoriously) were the most wrong.
On two recent famous deaths: I read The Catcher in the Rye I think three times between ninth and tenth grade, and have not read it since. For some reason I was never impelled to read Salinger’s other published work, but my feeling is that he was really a one-hit wonder, like Ken Kesey, Chuck Palahniuk, and so many other American novelists. I’m not sure whether the book would hold up to a re-reading as an adult, either. A People’s History of the United States has long been on the top of my reading list, and since my live-in girlfriend (terrible phrase- sounds more like a job description rather than a relationship- but what am I going to call it since we have no state-sanctioned certificate?) owns a copy I have little excuse for not having read it. It always seems to happen that I discover an artist’s work right after they die, which has happened to me with John Fahey (2001) and William S. Burroughs (1997).
A few words on a book recently read: Crispin Sartwell’s Against the State has two main flaws as I that I can see. Its subtitle is An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory, which might lead one to think that it contains summaries and analysis of actual historical anarchist ideas, thinkers, schools, and controversies. Syndcalism, egoism, Christian pacifism; individualism versus social anarchism; whether anarcho-capitalism is genuine anarchism; how Proudhon was a sexist and Stirner was crazy- that sort of stuff. Instead Sartwell devotes the bulk of his book to a refutation of philosophic claims for state legitimacy, and a short section in the end giving an adumbration of the kind of anarchism he would like to see in the future (promising development of his ideas in a future book). Now this is a very minor flaw, since there are certainly other books devoted to historical and contemporary anarchism, but few that engage in academic political discourse in the way that this one does. This is a step toward anarchy being taken seriously. This leads to more serious flaw, which is that Sartwell admirably takes on the titans of political philosophy: Locke, Hume, Bentham, Hegel, Rousseau, Hobbes, Nozick, and Rawls, just for starters. Yet he devotes less than 100 pages to this task. Mystics and idolators of state power Rousseau and Hegel are dismissed as presenting no real argument for legitimacy, and rightly so, but surely as lasting and widespread a theory as Hobbes’ deserves to be refuted in greater detail. Perhaps Sartwell is just that efficient. It’s hard for me to tell, since I happen to agree with every word, but I think a skeptic would want more.
Some ideas for upcoming posts: Since I’m taking all English classes, I have more literature than politics on the brain right now. But I have some notions of exploring the overlap, including Argentinian writer Jorge-Luis Borges as a conservative anarchist, and Jonathan Swift as both a proto-anarchist and a proto-totalitarian (so he was accused by George Orwell, referring specifically to book IV of Gulliver’s Travels). Expect possibly also some thoughts on Beowulf, William Blake, the Enlightenment and/versus Romanticism, Jane Austen, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Thomas More’s Utopia, Oscar Wilde, J.M. Coetzee, and so on.
Or maybe you won’t hear from me again until after finals.