Two decades ago we discovered Man…Or Astroman? after seeing them perform at 7th Street Entry — for those of you unfamiliar with this mostly-instrumental band from Georgia, their catchy gimmick is embedding science fiction samples into surf rock jams. The songs are reliably good but sometimes its the timing of the samples that make them memorable.
Here’s one of my all-time favorites, from their first album Is It Man…Or Astroman? which came out in 1993. The song is called “Invasion of the Dragonmen.”
Man…Or Astroman? was very prolific in those days, issuing more 7″ singles and oddities (10″ and even 5″ records, etc) than one could count, let alone collect. More recently, when our kids had their first Fisher Price record player, we unpacked a box of story albums, including a Spider-Man book-and-record adventure. Suddenly, we recognized the voice of DRACO, KING OF THE DRAGONMEN!
(You can click on that image for a larger view of DRACO, if you dare!)
There is a recording of Johannes Brahms playing the piano. Nobody’s sure whether the spoken introduction is Brahms himself or Theo Wagenmann, who worked for Thomas Edison and made the recording. It was made in 1889, making it probably the earliest recording of a great composer.
We chose a different kind of song to post this year on Father’s Day, because Grandpas are father’s, too. John Prine first wrote “Grandpa Was a Carpenter” for his 1973 album Sweet Revenge, which is probably our favorite of his records. It’s a little less cynical than most of his records, and even (as on this song) downright sentimental.
He’s performing the song here some years later with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume II.
The series of three albums by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were all about connecting generations through music –probably inspiring Prine to chose this particular song when he was invited to join them.
Wishing you a happy Father’s Day with your family on this beautiful day here in Minneapolis!
There are so many songs about rainstorms big and small, it is probably one of the most common themes in pop music. Often times it’s used to set a sad mood, as in this playlist of tunes we posted in 2011. This morning’s gentle drizzle is just what our garden needed, so we’re thankful for it even if it’s going to keep us inside for much of a Saturday.
There are, in fact, many happy songs about rain — a favorite of everyone’s is the singin’ in the rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain.
Another, for anyone who has heard the album, is “Light Rain Blues.” It’s on De Ole Folks at Home, the second half of Taj Mahal’s 1971 electric/acoustic double LP.
Did you know NASA currently has two rovers and a science laboratory on the surface of Mars, as well as several satellites in its orbit? The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) satellite is expected to reach the red planet later this summer, providing new insight into its atmosphere and climate history. It is currently traveling at about 65,000 miles per hour. All of this could contribute one day to a manned mission to Mars, a journey that could take anywhere from 228 days as it did Mariner 4 in 1965 to a speedy 131 days, which is how long it took Mariner 7 just four years later.
Mars is currently about 225 million miles from our record shop here in Minneapolis. In 2003 it was closer than any time in the previous 50,000 years, at a distance of 56 million miles. During last month’s eclipse Mars was very close to the Moon in the night sky. If you’re looking for it tonight, just find the Big Dipper and follow its handle down to the stars Arcturus and Spica.
This obscure two-act opera by Karl-Birger Blomdahl chronicles a failed mission to Mars, launched in 2038 but derailed during the mid-summer celebrations. The Aniara‘s computer expresses itself through Mimaroben, who is heard in this performance by basso cantante Erik Saaden. He describes the failings of mankind to the crew as the Earth is destroyed. A new course to the constellation Lyra is plotted, although it was decades after this recording that evidence from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii suggested its largest star, Vega, may be host to terrestrial planets.
The mission was a success on Marscape, a 1976 record by Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley, essentially a follow-up to the debut album by jazz fusion band Brand X. Marscape follows the mission from it’s opening “Take-Off” through the long journey. We enter into Mars’ atmosphere with a pretty piano piece by Lumley, “Arrival.” Afterwards, the moons Phobos and Demos are introduced, and then the enormous volcano Olympus Mons.
Side two of Marscape includes a reflection on Earth (“Homelight”), which must be a tiny blue dot in the Martian sky, as well as an exciting romp on the Martian surface in a “Hopper,” a machine for negotiating the rough terrain. The Hopper is presumably like the two Rovers NASA currently has exploring the surface of Mars.
In “Blowholes (the Pipes of Mars)” we hear the winds blowing through the naturally-sculpted rock formations. It sounds similar to the beginning of Herbie Hancock’s fun re-make of “Watermelon Man” on Headhunters.
When Gustav Holst composed “Mars, the Bringer of War” for his orchestra suite The Planets in 1914, the world was on the edge of unprecedented war which would cost nearly forty million human lives. It is often noted how the quiet English composer captured the sense of impending
Holst enlisted but was found unfit for service. His brother Emil and his friend, and fellow composer, Vaughn Williams were sent to active duty in France. Holst volunteered for a time driving an ambulance. Towards the end of the war he spent a year in Greece, working with troops awaiting demobilization and performing. “It was great fun,” he later wrote, “But I fear I was not much help.”
title“Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets by Gustav Holst
War on an even greater scale appeared imminent to some radio listeners on October 30, 1938. Tuning away from NBC’s Chase and Sanborn Hour during the musical guest, listeners all over America happened upon a startling report from Grovers Mill, New Jersey where Martian crafts were emerging from a smouldering crater.
What they were hearing was not the news, but Orson Welles’ famous radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, an 1897 serialized story by H.G. Wells which details an invasion from the red planet. Those who didn’t hear the opening disclaimer took the realistic dramatization for the news — the following morning, Halloween, newspapers around the country reported on panicked citizens abandoning their homes, flooding highways, and demanding protection from local authorities.
The extent of the panic following Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast has since been questioned. Newspapers, smarting from the advertising revenue lost to radio, were eager to find fault, damning the drama as deceptive. One certainty is that its impact was not lost on Adolf Hitler, who cited the panic as proof of the decadence of democracy. Of course, the Fuhrer was no stranger to the power of the airwaves to manipulate.
titleAn excerpt from the October 30, 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds
Wells’ novel tapped into a common fear at the time of its original publication, although it took a different approach to the “invasion narrative.” An assault on Great Britain from overseas was a popular plot in adventure writing, although the invaders in the best-sellers were more often than not German. Listeners to the 1938 broadcast were filled with the very same fears, many believing that Germans and not Martians were laying siege to New Jersey. Only a month earlier the airwaves had been filled with news of the Munich Pact, in which Europe shamefully allowed Germany annexation of Czechoslovakia. In a biography of Orson Welles, Frank Brady describes the atmosphere of terror over the airwaves:
For the first time in history, the public could tune into their radios every night and hear, boot by boot, accusation by accusation, threat by threat, the rumblings that seemed inevitably leading to a world war.
Contrary to our nearest neighbor’s enduring presence in our nightmares, Mars is most unlikely to launch any such invasion. The red planet is hot, dry and barren — the search for life in our solar system has been extended to the mysterious moons of the Jovian system. “Nothing ever happens on Mars,” as lamented by a Martian himself, visiting the small town of Blaine, Missouri in this musical number from the 1997 film Waiting for Guffman.
This is a rerun of a post from last February, which was posted after the legendary conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who had a long relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra, passed away.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, the conductor rememebered in this morning’s Star Tribune, is all but synonymous with the Minnesota Orchestra. Skrowaczewski came to Minnesota from his native Poland to take over as musical director in 1960, and although he stepped down from that role after nineteen years, he never left. Last fall he conducted his last concert at Orchestra Hall, a praised performance of one of his favorites, Bruckner’s eighth symphony.
Skrowaczewski has remained the Orchestra’s conductor laureate after 1979, when Neville Marriner began the succession of new musical directors which has led us to the current, successful Osmo Vänskä era. He was always there through its transition from the Minneapolis Symphony to the Minnesota Orchestra and the building of Orchestra Hall in 1974.
The Skrowaczewski years are a challenge for record collectors, however. After their contract with Mercury Records expired, the Minnesota Orchestra released music on a variety of labels. Some were one-off recordings like the 1981 debut of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Violin Concerto for Columbia Masterworks, on which Skrowaczewski conducted its dedicatee, Isaac Stern. A number of records were part of contracts with smaller classical labels, like Candid and Turnabout, both Vox subsidiaries.
Skrowaczewski’s own Concerto for English Horn appeared on Desto Records, not exactly an industry powerhouse. The work, which he composed for a member of the Minnesota Orchestra, Tom Stacy, debuted in 1969. Skrowaczewski was to be conducting the Metropolitan Opera at the time, but its strike that year left him with several weeks to compose.
This is presumably not a very common record to find these days, although many others with Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra can certainly be found. We have a whole section just for them in our classical collection here at Hymie’s! One of our favorite covers for a Minneapolis Symphony recording from that period is this album of Schubert’s 9th Symphony, which has the composer behind the wheel of a psychedelic convertible.
Staniskaw Skrowaczewski will be remembered by many fans at a memorial at Orchestra Hall on March 28th. He was an extraordinary versatile conductor and he recorded a remarkably wide repertoire. The photographs in today’s obituary in the paper captures him in his 90s — one shows only his aged hands as he prepared to conduct that Bruckner symphony last fall.
We can’t criticize the Star Tribune for this because for reasons we can’t explain we find album art of Leopold Stokowski’s wild white hair hilarious — but we’d also like to remember Skrowaczewski, truly a Minnesota music legend, as he appeared on the back of an album years ago. He was so full of life and energy to the very end, and in this picture he looks proud to be conducting the Minnesota Orchestra.