Scenes from childhood

I worked at a music publishing company for a long time, and while it wasn’t much like this cartoon, there were a couple of similarities. We published a lot of pop songs that were based on classical pieces and folk tunes, but the difference was the writers didn’t try to hide the songs’ origins. If Krazy had just called his tune “Hot Daydream,” I don’t think the ghost of Schumann would have been so quick to torture him with the piano typewriter here. Art builds on the past, and as long as that general framework is acknowledged, I think we’re good. What do you think?

Inspiration date

I’m glad Fancy Notions’ ten-year anniversary is tomorrow (or maybe even Thursday) and not today because today I am pooped. Toby Rix and his toeterix are making me feel a little guilty about being exhausted when all I did was sit in a chair and type and go to the file room and then the copier and then back to the file room et cetera et cetera, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Maybe if I keep watching him I will get energized:

Nope. I might be a little more exhausted now, even. If I weren’t so close to expiration I’d call you an inspiration, Toby. I’ll try to get it together by tomorrow.

via Rare and Strange Instruments
Published in: on March 13, 2018 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A funny thing happened on the way to the Apocalypse

I recently realized that I didn’t make part two of my “I found this bit of information while searching for some other information” list that I started in July while on a research job. That research job is now complete, and I’d rather think about anything other than the news today, so let’s finish this thing up.

  • There is a photo of Captain Kangaroo at the summit of Mount Everest; his grandson Britton put it there
  • Gary Busey was the last person killed on the TV series Gunsmoke
  • Westinghouse made a clothes dryer in the ’50s that played the song “How Dry I Am” when the load was finished
  • Robert Ardrey and Ashley Montagu were well-respected 20th century anthropologists with conflicting theories about the nature of aggression in humans. Ardrey believed aggression was innate, and Montagu believed it was learned. Perhaps less well-known: Ardrey was also a Hollywood screenwriter (credits include The Three Musketeers and Madame Bovary), and Ashley Montagu’s real name was Israel Ehrenberg but as a young man he changed it to “Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu” for some reason
  • There is no music composed by Beethoven (the human) in any of the Beethoven (dog) movies
  • “Stars and Stripes Forever” is only ever played by a circus band as a signal to personnel that a life-threatening emergency is happening and they must evacuate the audience
  • Mark Twain’s childhood hometown of Hannibal, Missouri is also the hometown of the voice of Jiminy Cricket, Cliff Edwards. Edwards died a penniless drug addict three and a half miles away from where I am writing this now
  • Singing trio The Andrews Sisters became estranged from one another in the ’50s, and Patty Andrews’ husband Wally is frequently cited as the reason for the estrangement. After LaVerne died, Patty and Maxene briefly reunited but soon separated again for reasons unknown. Upon Maxene’s death, Patty reportedly became quite distraught and Wally fell down a flight of stairs, breaking both wrists
  • A new species of iguana was discovered on Fiji after herpetologist John Gibbons watched the Brooke Shields film The Blue Lagoon and noticed some unusual specimens lurking in the background
  • 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg was extremely superstitious and in particular suffered from triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). He died on a Friday the 13th shortly before midnight
  • There is a Scottish variant of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain” called “O Ye Cannae Shuive Yer Grannie Aff The Bus.” The song allows for you to shove your uncle Willie, your aunt Maggie, and even your paternal grandmother off the bus, but your maternal grandmother is not to be shoved off the bus
  • All-American kitsch favorite PEZ candy was invented in Austria; PEZ is a shortening of the word “pfefferminz
  • Watch this:

That ruthless but stylish pimp is none other than kindly Gordon from Sesame Street.


The Marks of maturity

I’m back at work on a research project, and somehow found myself looking at a lot of “Daisy Bell” videos on YouTube this morning. If you are asking, “What is ‘Daisy Bell’?” I’m not going to make fun of you, because it’s a rather obscure title for what I thought was a pretty well-known song.

If I tell you, “It’s ‘Bicycle Built For Two’,” and you still look at me uncomprehendingly, I still will not make fun of you. If I go on to tell you, “It’s the song HAL 9000 sings in ‘2001’,” and nothing yet registers, I still will not make fun of you.

I hope you are not a young person with a beard who is sitting there with that bewildered expression, however. Because if you have a beard, I will think you are older than you actually are, and when I show you this video and you ask me, “Why is that potato wearing that hat?” I will make fun of you. I know it’s not fair, but that’s what I’m going to do. You look old enough to know better.

Answer me

It’s not as prevalent as it used to be, but there’s a thing in pop culture called the answer song. An answer song, usually recorded by another artist, is a response to a previously recorded song. “Southern Man” is followed by “Sweet Home Alabama.” “Work With Me, Annie” is answered by “Roll With Me, Henry,” which is ultimately answered by “Annie Had A Baby.” If you want to get dark, there’s always the song “Little Blossom” (a song from the point of view of a neglected child who eventually gets killed by her drunken father) and the ensuing, if unimaginatively titled, “Answer to Little Blossom” (sung by the father who is now in prison and expecting to get the death sentence).

The song “Boy Named Sue” already has a kind of weird and terrible answer song (look it up; I’m not linking it here), but I think I found a better one, lost pet notice-style. Friends, meet a bitch named Richard:


“Bitch” using the classic definition, of course. I’m sure she’s a very sweet pup.

Cuba libre

While it is true that my current job preparing and correcting old film soundtrack spreadsheets has sapped a little of my energy of late, it is also true that I am finding my previously evaporating reservoir of pop culture minutiae to be refilling at a healthy rate. Interesting things keep popping up in the least likely locations.

Take, for example, the song “Rum and Coca-Cola.” I’ve heard this chirpy little song from the ’40s a billion times and hardly given it a second thought. I say “hardly” rather than “never” because I know I gave it a second thought the first time I realized that the lyrics had something to do with a mother-daughter prostitute team, but still:

Working for that yanqui dollar sounds so sunny and relaxed when sisters from Minnesota sing about it, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the other day I was looking this song up on the ASCAP website and saw Morey Amsterdam listed as a co-writer. Morey Amsterdam? Little sarcastic Buddy Sorrell from The Dick Van Dyke Show wrote “Rum and Coca-Cola”? Wow. Neat.

But it got better. Morey Amsterdam didn’t write “Rum and Coca-Cola,” but he did hear “Rum and Coca-Cola” when he was on a trip to Trinidad, and when he came back to the States he told some cute young girl singer that he wrote it and she could use it in her nightclub act.

The cute young girl singer did use it, and after it became quite successful for her, she started making arrangements for it to be published under her own name. Morey got mad, the girl probably said something like “I know you didn’t write this song, you dope, and I’ll tell everyone if you don’t split the copyright with me” and they eventually agreed to share the songwriting credit.

By the time the song hit the charts, the original songwriter in Trinidad found out about Morey and the girl taking credit, and he was mad. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would want this guy mad at me, because his name was Lord Invader. I am not making this up. Some of Lord Invader’s pals in Trinidad were named The Mighty Growler and Attila the Hun. Also Macbeth the Great and Lord Of Iron. Not a bunch of guys to fuck around with.

Lord Invader came to New York, and instead of raining hellfire and bees down upon Morey and the girl, he filed a lawsuit. Things got very complicated with a bunch of other side lawsuits, but eventually Lord Invader won. Unfortunately, he very quickly spent all the money from the settlement and died quietly while Morey and the girl bought the rights to the song, and today if you look up “Rum and Coca Cola” on the ASCAP website, you will see Morey Amsterdam, the girl singer, and some other random guy I’ve never heard of listed as the writers.

Now, this whole thing makes me mad, and I will never look at this bookmark


with the same amount of zesty zilliness I once might have, but at least now I know the truth. Lord Invader, I salute you.

Ain’t it time we said goodbye?

Benny has a much better David Bowie story than I do, but this is my blog and not his so I’ll tell you my dumb David Bowie story now. It’s not really a story and it’s not even about David Bowie.

My high school freshman year best friends Mona and Laura and I had been trying to figure out how to get to Santa Cruz without asking our parents to drive us. It was a bit of a long haul from Sunnyvale to Santa Cruz, and there was no way our parents would just drive us there without expecting to hang out with us, and that was simply not acceptable to us freshman year of high school. Mona’s mom, maybe. She was a “cool mom” and generally let us alone when we got there, but she still wasn’t too enthusiastic about driving us all of the time. It might have been her who found the solution to our problem, come to think of it. Greyhound.

Yes, Greyhound had a bus that took us straight from Sunnyvale to Santa Cruz, and it was cheap. The first time we took it, we could not believe our luck. Why didn’t we do this all the time? What a deal. Freedom. Fun. The bus. Anyway, the first time we did it the ride was uneventful, but the second time one of us wound up sitting next to a bleach-blonde woman in her mid-thirties. This lady started talking to us about music, and then she said, “Oh hey? Do you know David Bowie?” This was 1984. Yes, we knew David Bowie. “I’m his ex-wife.” Angie Bowie.

We all said our “wow, how cool”s and then there really wasn’t anything further to say. She made some vague comments about how she could probably get us backstage at his next show, but the whole thing just seemed a little off. I think Mona got her phone number out of some sense of politeness, but we never called her, and I don’t remember us taking the Greyhound to Santa Cruz after that. I’m not sure if it was really Angie Bowie on the bus or if it even matters. Mona is dead now and Laura doesn’t talk to me any more, so I have this dumb memory just kind of clattering around in my head without anybody to share it with. Like I said, it’s not really a story but I wanted this memory to stop clattering around so I wrote it down here.

Anyway, here’s a song not written or performed by David Bowie and not about Angie Bowie as far as I’ve been able to tell, but I couldn’t get it out of my head last night when I found out David Bowie died. Please enjoy, preferably not on a bus with someone who’s going to make you feel uncomfortable.

Published in: on January 11, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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IP, freely

Today’s my big brother’s big birthday. I was tempted to shoot a video of me singing “Happy Birthday To You” and post it to YouTube, but I was afraid that the copyright police would bust me. You think that’s a joke. It’s not a joke. Look how scared this kid is of the copyright police busting him for singing “Happy Birthday”:

That’s okay, kid. I understand. Navigating intellectual property rights can be kind of terrifying. The good news is that because of some recent evidence uncovered in the midst of a lawsuit, there’s a chance “Happy Birthday” is finally going to fall into the public domain sometime soon, and if that happens you’ll be able to sing your little heart out without having to pay a licensing fee.

Of course, if that copyright actually does get declared null and void, everybody and their mother is going to be running around singing “Happy Birthday,” so maybe you’ll want to stand out by perfecting one of the parody variants. I’m sure you know the looking like a monkey and smelling like one too version, but I recommend the popular German variant – “Happy birthday to you, Marmelade im Schuh, Aprikose in der Hose, und ein Bratwurst dazu,” which roughly translates to “marmalade in the shoe, apricot in the pants, and with those, a bratwurst.” Now that’s a crazy party. Let’s get to practicing.


Can’t wait for a cute girl to turnip

A couple of months ago I posted a video of some farm dance set to American jazz. Today I watched a farm dance set to Soviet-era Russian jazz. You know, I spent a fair amount of time in the music industry but somehow I missed this farm jazz subgenre. Should I explore this further? I can’t tell if I’m enjoying it or not.

So glad you’re back from China, madamjujujive


Squaring the unsquare

I’m having some geometry trouble, I guess. Or maybe it’s just simple arithmetic. It started out last night when I was watching a television show last night that used Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” very nicely in a scene. It’s a very catchy number in 7/8 time that starts out with a simple clapping rhythm before it progresses to something much more complex, ending with a little minor key “shave and a haircut, two bits” tail. Very smart song there.

I felt like listening to it again, so I went to YouTube. One of the most popular videos for the song was this:

Man, that was square. I know as soon as I post this somebody is going to tell me that those dancers were revolutionary in modern dance and so not square, but come on. That was just so square. Was that dancing not square back then? Some character in the YouTube comments is trying to convince everybody that this clip was from the Smothers Brothers Summer Show, which would make it automatically cool and not square, but it’s pretty clear from subsequent comments that the facts don’t match up.

Dave Brubeck is cool, but I think I can safely say that he’s also got more than a whiff of square about him. He smiled all the time, for one thing. His music is what my mom listened to while cleaning the house prepping for bridge parties, for another. Dave Brubeck is great, but so is See’s Candies Bridge Mix. Square.

What does it mean when a square person calls something they’re doing unsquare, and then it gets accompanied by something really square? Does that make it more square or is the whole thing flattened down into a line? It’s making my head hurt. I could use a good circle left and a do-si-do right about now.

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 10:02 am  Comments (2)  
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