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The liner notes to this 1954 recording of L’Histoire du soldat describes the work as “a child of necessity.” Nearly any introduction to the work will likely describes Stravinsky’s despondent status at the time it was composed. He hand his family had settled in a small town near Lake Geneva a few years before the theatrical work was debuted in 1918. The outbreak of the First World War and the Russian Revolution prevented Stravinsky from returning to Russia — he would not see his homeland again for decades.
He was unable to collect royalties for some of his earlier works, so even though he had enjoyed enormous success with his works for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company (the celebrated tryptic of The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring) he was forced to ask for help to fund the production of L’Histoire du soldat. A Swiss musician and patron of the arts, Werner Reinhart, helped Stravinsky and received a dedication in return.
The form of The Soldier’s Tale is certainly set by the circumstances. Stravinsky wrote for a small ensemble, and this provided an opportunity to express his interest in jazz. The score calls for a seven piece group featuring violin, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, bass and percussion. There are three actors who read parts.
The story is based on a Russian folk tale, with text by a Swiss poet named C.F. Ramuz. It tells of a soldier who is tempted by the devil, only to lose everything he has. Using his ill-gotten knowledge the solider earns wealth and success only to encounter the devil again and lose.
There are many re-tellings of what we call a Faustian tale, in which a bargain is made with the devil in exchange for knowledge — this name comes from an alchemist and scholar, Johann Georg Faust, who became the subject of folk tales after his death.
Christoper Marlowe’s 16th century English play solidified the relationship between the historical figure and the prince of darkness, and an early 19th century play by Goethe is considered a monumental achievement of German literature. This inspired three operas — first Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust (1846) and second Charles Gonoud’s Faust (1859). A third, darker interpretation by Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele, was met with poor reviews at its debut in 1868.
There have been several symphonic tellings of the tale as well, and of course the story became entwined with the “Crossroads” legacy of the enigmatic blues guitarist Robert Johnson. A crossover country hit by the Charlie Daniels Band has been attributed by the fiddling bandleader to a poem by Stephen Vincent Benét, who also wrote a short story on the subject (“The Devil and Daniel Webster”) which has long been a favorite.
Unlike Johnny, the fiddling hero of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the soldier Joseph is eventually tricked by the Devil in the Stravinsky/Ramuz story. One of the last numbers contains the story’s moral:
No one can have it all, that is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.
A graphic in this month’s National Geographic traces the roots of several folk tales, and follows ones such as these to a 6,000 year old Mesopotamian story of a blacksmith who exchanges his soul for the power to weld any materials together. In this story the hero uses his power to stick the devil to the dirt on the ground until he is released from the bargain.
The Solider’s Tale was adapted into a feature length cartoon by R.O. Bleachman in 1984. It was also the subject of a controversial re-write by Kurt Vonnegut which focused on the violence of war. Vonnegut praised Stravinsky’s score and retained it, but felt in interviews the text by C.F. Ramuz lacked depth. Although Vonnegut’s version received harsh reviews, its certainly true that The Soldier’s Tale is largely remembered as one of Stravinsky’s most interesting works.
In one of his comedy records, Steve Martin uses his mock naïveté to explain to the audience that “it’s like those French have a different word for everything.” This joke came to mind yesterday when we were listening to this instructional record, on which Nazir Ali Jairabhoy delivers a lecture introducing his audience to Indian classical music. You could say that they have a different note for everything.
This post is a re-run of a post which originally appeared in 2014.
Our pal Craig is always bringing in odd finds from his thrift store trips, and he recently found this awesome tape of a 1988 radio documentary about Radio First Termer, a pirate station briefly broadcast in Vietnam.
Radio First Termer broadcast just over sixty hours, for three weeks in January 1971. Its host, Dave Rabbit, is now known to have been US Air Force Sargent Clyde David DeLay. You can hear one of the only surviving recordings of the original broadcasts here.
This is a 1972 promotional record on Fillmore Records, named for the San Francisco auditorium operated by promoter Bill Graham until about a year earlier. Although many acts were associated with Graham, few of them released recordings on his label, which folded altogether after the release of a box set, Fillmore – The Last Days, about four years later.
Graham is most known for his work as a promoter, including the organization of the largest outdoor concert of all time in Watkins Glen, New York in 1973, which entertained more than 800,000 paying ticket holders who came to see the Band, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band.
He was also one of the famous “One Thousand Children” — actually now known to be a number closer to 1,400, they are the Jewish children who were sent to the United States without their families between 1934 and 1945 to escape the Holocaust. Graham’s childhood name was Wulf Wolodia Grajonca. They came from many backgrounds, but one commonality between nearly all of them is that their parents would not have been able to obtain visas to leave the country, and nearly all subsequently perished in concentration camps.
Graham established monopolistic control over large music events in California, and was an early associate of BASS Tickets, which is now Ticketmaster. Still, after his death in a 1991 helicopter crash, Graham was remembered for the fairness with which he treated performers and also for his concern for the well-being and safety of attendees. He also has a history of assembling bills with diverse artists, giving fans the opportunity to hear things they might otherwise never experience.
Years ago when working at Al’s Breakfast here in Dinkytown, we heard a great story from a regular customer there, a guy so popular there that a dish on the menu was named for him. He said as a teenager he went to see the Who at the Fillmore West, and the opening act was Cannonball Adderley. Throughout their set, Cannonball and his brother Nat were smoking cigarettes and putting them out on the stage. Later, before the Who came out to perform, Roger Daltry went out and picked up a few of the butts, saying that back home in England nobody would believe that Cannonball Adderley had opened up for them. Who know if the stories are true. Another, in Miles Davis’ autobiography, shows another side of such a show:
I remember one time — it might have been a couple of times — I was opening up for this sorry-ass cat named Steve Miller. I think Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were on that program and they were a little better. Anyway, Steve Miller didn’t have shit going for him, so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfucker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So I would come late and he would have to go on first, and then when we got there we just smoked the motherfucking place and everybody dug it, even Bill!
This went on for a couple of nights and every time I would come late, Bill would be telling me about “it’s being disrespectful to the artist” and shit like that. On this last night, I do the same thing. When I get there I see that Bill is madder than a motherfucker because he’s not waiting for me inside like he normally does, but he’s standing outside the Fillmore. He starts to cut into me with this bullshit about “disrespecting Steve” and everything. So I just look at him, cool as a motherfucker, and say to him, “Hey baby, just like the other nights and you know they worked out just fine, right?” So he couldn’t say nothing to that because we had torn the place down.
We’re pretty excited to see the Yawpers at 7th Street Entry on Friday. Their 2015 album American Man didn’t live up to the praise we’d heard poured on the trio, but this year’s Boy in a Well has become the subject of fascination around here. Why do we love this album so much? The record ostensibly tells the story of an unwanted boy abandoned in a well and is set in France during the first World War, but its not the rock opera aspirations with which we have fallen in love. In fact, we haven’t really figured out the story — but then again can you really explain the plot of Tommy without sounding dumb (bam, pun intended) or do you just like what you hear?
Boy in a Well is an absolutely magical amalgam of Americana. Rockabilly roots run alongside all the things we secretly love about hair metal. Some of the songs start or end in standard American folk music but take surprising turns along the journey. One of the things that really knocks us out about Boy in a Well is the incredibly inventive performance of drummer Noah Shomberg, who shifts genres with grace and really drives the connections which establish the album’s concept. He’s so damn good you can almost forgive them for being one of those bands without a bass. Lead singer Nathanial Cook, who turns from Jimmie Rodgers to Axl Rose as a born storyteller, couldn’t have realized his vision without Shomberg and second guitarist Jesse Parmat.
Bloodshot is releasing a 7-inch single of “Mon Dieu” from the album backed with a live recording of the band covering “Ace of Spades” next month. There will also be a comic book adaptation of the album which was previewed by Paste Magazine here. Truthfully, the ten page sample reminded us that even though we have listened to this album fifty times, we have no idea what the plot of the story is — it looks like the love child of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Joe Sacco’s comic journalism and we love it.
The album was recorded by Alex Hall at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders. In the same studio Hall also captured what we think could justifiably be called one of the most beloved Minnesota records of the decade, the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming. In addition, local legend Tommy Stinson served as producer and also contributed a “piano freakout” to the recording. The point is that these guys aren’t from here, but they should be welcomed with open arms.
Boy in a Well is maybe about a half hour long but it moves with an epic sweep in spite of Shomberg’s barrelhouse performance. Cook’s performance is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe there are not a half dozen or more vocalists on this album, and Parmat captures a true sense of everything Americana from Scotty Moore to Poison Ivy. Memorable riffs and motifs blur pass like power poles through the window of a train, and we have been entranced by the album’s epic tour of everything we love about rock and roll and all its bastard cousins.
The song we’ve sampled here is “Mon Nom,” from the second side. We couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album — in fact it was the focus of debate around here. The achingly beautiful “A Visitor is Welcomed” just wasn’t representative, nor was the mad and driven “A Decision is Made,” which precedes it. It’s just a damn good record from beginning to end, which is surprisingly rare these days. You can also hear the sweeping closer “Reunion” in its official music video here. Presumably the Yawpers will be playing many of these songs on Friday night at the 7th Street Entry. Locals the Person and the People will open. Details on the First Avenue website here.