Friday 18 November 2005

Where you bound on such a dark afternoon?

Greetings fellow Earwormers. I'm in a bit of a hurry again tonight, but before I dash off to man a phone on the Children in Need call centre, I've just about got time to introduce this week's Guest Editor....

Ladies and Gentleworms, direct from New York City, I am very pleased to be able to present for your earworming pleasure.....

Earworms of the Week - Guest Editor #26 - Hyde from the Annals of Mr.Hyde

(Sorry if this got a little long! I tend to write a lot…)

1. The River, Bruce Springsteen

Early in the week, I played this on the jukebox at my local bar. Melancholy suits Monday nights at the bar, don’t you think? I love the “blue collar” character of this song, with its wheezing harmonica, lonely whistle and fantastic lyrics like “Is a dream a lie that don’t come true, or is it something worse?” I played it because this song always makes me sad. It was playing when I broke up with my first true love-- a snowy January night in a dingy pub on 105th street. I can still remember how my arms felt around his neck that night. On top of that, having been born in Jersey, something in my blood reacts to Springsteen--Springsteen and Bon Jovi… (But don’t tell anyone I said that!)

2. Kentucky Rain, Elvis Presley

“The King” is always with me. I’m a huge fan. This was another jukebox choice this week. (I mean, really-- how could I ever get through a week without Elvis?) This is Elvis in my favorite Elvis “period”—1968-1973 (or roughly speaking, from the Comeback Special to the Aloha from Hawaii Special). Slightly over-orchestrated, slightly bombastic, I love the pacing of this song, its heart and of course that melody that just worms its way into my head. How can you beat the image of a high-collared, white-jumpsuit-ed Elvis searching for his sweetheart with the “rain in his shoes.” (Yes-- the cold, Kentucky rain!) I don’t care if Elvis singing about Kentucky isn’t typical New York City jukebox fare. It was another perfect Monday night tune that ended up stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

3. O Sink herneider, Nacht der Liebe, Richard Wagner

For me, this was the highlight of a concert I went to last Wednesday night—Deborah Voigt and Ben Heppner at Avery Fischer Hall. First of all, I adore Wagner; second of all, I am absolutely enamored with Tristan; and third of all, I am in love with the idea of love, as was Wagner. This music is orgasmic and invasive—seamless. It is sweet and sickening, eating away at you in a delicious way, forcing you to merge with it. (The theme of merging, the loss of boundaries, the blending of two, is one that I’ve been turning over in my mind a lot lately). This music comes in waves. It is poisonous—infectious, dare I say, degenerate! (That is, in the Max Nordau sense of the word). The two parts that got stuck in my head the most are the appearance of the Libestod melody, and Brangane’s Watch. I’ve been humming this stuff all week. Granted, it’s easy to go flat or sharp or to lose your place when singing Wagner unaccompanied, and I can’t help but be aware of the total inappropriateness of the venture—a capella Wagner? I think I just violated the sanctity of the Gesammtkunstwerk. Oh well…

4. Ti Amo, Laura Branigan

This song is incredibly cheesy, but I love Laura Branigan. There’s something about a singer who tears her cords out for her craft that I find irresistible and viscerally appealing. I delight in the ripping masochism of it all. (Maybe it’s because I spend so much time worrying that mine stay in good health). I pulled this CD out a month or two ago, when I was going through Narc-withdrawal and heartbreak, primarily to play and reply the equally cheesy “I’m Over You.” This song is a little catchier, and emotionally less “primitive,” but it’s the one that managed to get stuck in my head. Low, throaty and pained, I love the tangle of her anger—anger at her lover for leaving her, anger at herself for not seeing it coming, and anger at the sad fact that she’s still in love. I found myself singing it on the bus earlier in the week, and it’s been with me ever since.

5. A terra addio, Giuseppi Verdi

Ah, the beautiful conclusion to Aida! Aida and Radames, entombed alive in a vault below the Egyptian temple, bidding farewell to the Earth with sweet resignation. A few weeks ago, I went to see this opera with my mom. Shortly thereafter, I pulled out my sheet music and have been singing it at home ever since. Of course, as I don’t have a tenor on standby, I have to play the tenor-line extra loud on top of the piano accompaniment and imagine a Radames standing next to me. I’ve been singing more and more Verdi lately—the dramatic sopranos (not the coloraturas). My voice still hasn’t settled completely, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a dramatic or spinto/dramatic soprano, so I’ve been having a lot of fun with Aida, and this is my favorite scene. The melody here is just achingly beautiful, rising and falling from a gorgeous round G-flat before climaxing on the B-flat. (Incidentally, B and I used to do dramatic reenactments of this scene in which he would hurl himself against the wall, cursing the unmovable stone, crying: fatal pietra! One too many bruised shoulders ended that game).

6. Ne me quitte pas, Ute Lemper

This is one of my favorite songs of all time. Of course, I first knew the version by Jacques Brel, as I “discovered” Ute Lemper several years later. Lemper is a fabulous cabaret singer, although she lacks Brel’s growling throat-rolled “R’s.” Last November I was obsessed with the culture of the Weimar Republic (mostly because of a paper I was working on) and I got into listening to artists like Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich, and the songs of Weil, Hollaender, etc. And as last November marks some important anniversaries for me, I recently pulled my Lemper CD off the shelf again—the one on which she sings the songs of Dietrich and Piaf. This song is my favorite on the recording. She begins with a throaty whisper. I can just hear the drunkenness--a worn velveteen chair, fading golden lamplight, a bottle of wine clutched against her breast. It’s a lonely song-- a desperate song. Hers has a warmth and ebb to it that the starker Brel version lacks. The music swells. I listen to it after dark. (And I never can resist the sound of French).

7. Unchained, Johnny Cash

I love Johnny Cash. (And I’m so psyched to go see Walk the Line this Friday! I’ve been listening in preparation.) There is something so solid, so hard, so masculine about him. Yet, above all, he’s a man of soul, of prayer, one who feels deeply. (I love a man who can sing about love, God and murder in one breath!) My favorite Johnny Cash can be found on his more recent “American” label recordings. This song is one of his best. It’s a “square” song with hard quarter-note strumming. It’s brought to life by an unembellished voice that has known a hard life-- a man humbled. I first got obsessed with this album when I was in New Orleans for spring break, my junior year of college. In part, this song always brings me back to that moment. “It’s so hard to see the rainbow through glasses dark as these. Maybe, I’ll be able, from now on, on my knees… I am weak; I am vain. Take this weight from me. Let my spirit be unchained.” This song is a prayer-- a call for help. I don’t pray very often. I never quite learned how to. But I do listen to Johnny Cash. And it means something to me.

8. If I Can Dream, Elvis Presley

Yes, more Elvis! (He always puts me in a good mood!) And this time, it’s Elvis Presley at his finest. The 1968 Comeback Special. Last year I bought the three-DVD box set of that fine moment in television history—complete with seven additional hours of raw Elvis footage, including several outtakes on this song. He sounds amazing here. His voice is all grown up—manly, gritty and wrenching, but not yet as operatic and decadent as he would become. The year was one of revolution, and I can’t help but find myself affectionately amused by the commodified Elvis’ only attempt at a “political statement.” “There must be peace and understanding, sometime… If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers walk hand in hand, tell me why, oh why can’t that dream appear?” (Who could object to that?) I looped this song and listened to it over and over on Thursday afternoon as I commuted back and forth across the city. If you’ve seen the Special, you know there’s an endearing little dance he does at its conclusion in which he waves his arm up and down. (Also—a little bit of Elvis Comeback Special trivia— it has been said that every time Elvis says “Boy, my boy!” he’s making an inside joke to his friends to let them know he has an erection. And this next bit I learned at an academic conference about Elvis, (articulated by Camille Paglia but confirmed by Peter Guralnik, the famed Elvis biographer)—during the Comeback Special, Elvis was at one point so “excited” by his own performance that he ejaculated! Hammer and I have scoured the footage trying to find the spot. It remains a mystery).

9. Memory, Andrew Lloyd Webber
This song has been in my head for a few reasons. For one, although I can sight-read almost anything, this is one of the only pieces I can play on piano by-heart. (Thank god for pretty simple chord progressions). Last weekend my family and I were visiting family friends who had a new piano, although none of them play. They asked me to play something, and all I had to offer was this piece. On top of that, I’ve been listening to it lately, in part because I’ve been a little melancholy. I recorded myself singing this song in the summer of 2004. Then, this past summer, my hard-drive crashed causing me to lose almost all of my home-recordings except for this one (and a few others). It’s strange to hear myself singing and to think about all that has happened in the past year and a half to the girl whose voice is on the recording. It’s fun to listen to myself. Sometimes I’m hyper critical (too flat! too dark! need more resonance! too pushed!), and sometimes I just enjoy it. I have to admit, having grown up on musical theater, I have a soft spot for Andrew Lloyd Webber melodies, no matter how corny the music can get.

10. Tan’u, Tan’ushka, Valery Kalistratov

I’m pretty sure none of you know this piece, but nevertheless, it’s been haunting me in my dreams. I recently joined a Russian Chamber Choir, and we’re performing all Russian sacred and folk music for a Christmas concert in a few weeks. This isn’t my favorite piece on the program, but it’s the most relentless. It’s the second movement of a piece called Russian Concerto by a contemporary Moscow composer, Kalistratov. Kalistratov writes music based on folk melodies which should be sung in a declamatory style. In this particular number, the men and women of the village sing the praises of the local beauty, Tan’ushka. Much is made of her “black eyes, white skin and black hair.” Why is this particular song so catchy? Well, as the village folk weave their way through town to Tanya’s house, the girls flirt with the boys, singing “oh, le, la, li, le, ley, le, la, li, Da!” That line gets passed around the choir several times. It’s hard for me to explain, without actually singing you the melody, but trust me-- once stuck in your head, this one will never leave!

Johnny Cash? Classical stuff? The erections of Elvis Presley? That's what I call an Earworm list. Thanks Hyde - I think that's the most diverse list we've had yet, and it's all the better for that. At this point I'd like to extend a big SwissToni 'Hello!' to Richard Wagner as he makes his debut on this blog.


Anyway. I've not heard the Ute Lemper version of Ne Me Quitte Pas- my favourite version is the one that Dusty Springfield did - but I'll definitely be sure to check it out. I got into Brel via Scott Walker and through C's French upbringing. What a songwriter though. If you're not familiar with him, I do urge you to check his stuff out.

Next week's Guest Editor will be Adem from The Big Blog.

Right. I'm off to the call centre. If you call 0845 733 2233 between 9pm and 2am tonight, apparently you will have a 1 in 3500 chance of getting through to me. Good luck callers.

.... laters

oh... one more thing - SONG LYRICS PLEASE!

[previous guest editors: Flash, The Urban Fox, Lord Bargain, Retro-Boy, Statue John, Ben, OLS, Ka, Jenni, Aravis, Yoko, Bee, Charlie, Tom, Di, Spin, The Ultimate Olympian, Damo, Mike, RedOne, The NumNum, Leah, Le Moine Perdu, clm, Michael]

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