tom waits saturday night lp“Drunk on the Moon” is hardly one of the most memorable songs from those early Tom Waits albums, but it has always conjured some funny images for us. Of course, if you’re actually paying attention he’s not drunk on the moon, he’s enjoying the exuberance of a lovely evening lit by the waning moon. This, of course, is what we’d do if Irene would let us come to the moon with her, and maybe we’d just have a celebratory snifter.

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There are a handful of accounts of drunk astronauts, mostly dating from one of the darkest chapters in NASA’s recent history, the same summer US Navy Captain (and astronaut) Lisa Nowak drove nine hundred miles in space diapers to confront and kidnap the girlfriend of a former lover. Her story buried this one, about actual drunk astronauts: colleagues who were cleared for flight in spite of concerns over their intoxication. Nowak, incidentally, denies she was wearing space diapers.

Our interpretation of Tom Waits’ innocuous song has always been wrong. Turns out he is not one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, and that none of those twelve had the opportunity to get drunk while bouncing over its dusty surface. We often attribute inspired musical accomplishments to drunkenness, perhaps all the way back to Dionysian mythology. This is only sometimes an accurate depiction.

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First movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major, Poco sostenuto – Vivace

beethoven the 9 szellFor instance, the performers who debuted Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major on December 8th, 1813 are said to have thought he was drunk when he completed it. The orchestra, which included Louis Spohr, Antonio Salieri and several nineteenth-century virtuosos, was compelled to reprise the symphony’s Allegretto at the event, which was a charitable fundraiser for wounded veterans.

 

 

Regular folks like us, who rarely have enough in the piggy bank to attend the orchestra, can only imagine the fervor instilled by the coda of the symphony’s final movement, an Allegro con brio with a whirling, Dionysian delight. The seventh is one of the most unusual symphonies, not only of Beethoven’s but of the pen of any composer — second movement Allegretto is so popular as to be often performed on its own, and the manic energy of its fourth movement is entirely unique in the music of the romantic era.

Wagner was impelled to declare the seventh the “apotheosis of the dance,” praising its “blissful insolence” and “bacchanalian power” in an oft quoted essay. Klaus Roy’s notes in our copy of George Szell’s late 50s recording of the symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra add to the impression of drunken inspiration: “For drunk he surely was, drunk with a power that is granted to a few mortals: to sustain during the hard work of musical creation and notation a sense of motion so irresistible that he sets his listeners afire with him, every time, and all the time.”

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Fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major, Allegro con brio

Many believe Beethoven was an alcoholic. It would account for much of his behavior, including oppressive social anxiety and his inconsistent, often callous changes of heart. In spite of the enormous artistic achievements of his last decade (the late quartets and the ninth symphony representing some of the finest art any human being has created) his life’s story is characterized by a steady downward spiral. When he died at fifty-six in 1927, an autopsy revealed signs of cirrhosis, as well as strong traces of lead, which was commonly used (illegally) as a sweetener in cheap wine.

Whether the initial response to Beethoven’s seventh symphony was any more than an oft-repeated misunderstanding is lost to the ages. We’re not even certain who was performing that night. If his contemporaries thought of him as a drunk, this is likewise lost — perhaps no one had the courage to put their convictions in writing. Most were in awe of the maestro. Franz Schubert, after a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet no 14, lamented, “After this what is there left for us to write?”

History has recorded Beethoven’s father as an abusive alcoholic who beat his son and forced the boy to perform for his friends. Whether Beethoven would have continued the cycle will never be known because he never married or had children. After his brother’s death, Beethoven began a long and hostile battle with his sister-in-law for custody of Karl van Beethoven, the sole heir to the family name. Karl attempted suicide in 1826, and bid farewell to his mortally ill uncle the following year to serve the Austrian army in Jihlava.

urlKarl was pretty unsuccessful, but lived well off his inheritances. He died as young as his uncle, also likely from cirrhosis, so we could speculate he too was an alcoholic. There is only one picture of Karl, forever to live in the shadow of his uncle just as nearly every contemporary composer feared they would. His only son, named for Uncle Ludwig, emigrated to America and worked for a railroad company in Detroit. He and his wife, a concert pianist, had a son named Karl Julius van Beethoven, who died without having children and with him was extinguished the family name Beethoven.

 

Some of us do struggle with alcoholism. Others feel abandoned, or have never recovered from some rejection. You have no idea the kind of pain the person sitting next to you has survived. Some of us just wish we were appreciated — imagine being Beethoven and at the height of your accomplishment you have no one to make proud. No father, no mother, no children. People will never forget that Beethoven had to be told the audience was applauding the finale (or the scherzo, depending on the account) of his ninth symphony when he conducted its premiere. This was his first appearance before an audience in a dozen years. and he was, by most accounts several measures off at the end.

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Beethoven’s Sonata no. 14 “Moonlight” performed by Alfred Brendel

So was Beethoven drunk on the moon, perhaps when we composed his Sonata no. 14 at about the age of thirty? Maybe, but the common title “Moonlight” wasn’t applied to the popular work until several years after Beethoven’s death, more than twenty-five years after it was published as Sonata in C# Minor “Quasi una fantasia” — literally “almost a fantasy.” It’s Adagio sostenuto feels more like a funeral dirge than a fantasy. Hector Berlioz called its melody “a lamentation.”

All signs suggest alcoholism as a defining factor in Beethoven’s life, and likely in much of his art. The maestro is largely silent on the subject, although he did once write that the “world doesn’t know that music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out his glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunk.”

the moneys comingWe’ve been waiting a long while to hear from Wizards Are Real, the enigmatic instrumental quartet so dear to our hearts. Their last record, the 10″ EP I’m Your Free Lieutenant, was released nearly three and a half years ago. No surprise then that their latest, which snuck quietly into record shops last month, presents all sorts of advances in the band’s unique alchemy.

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“Bring on the Night, Sting”

Because the band is on a brief family leave, there’s no release show for The Money’s Coming, their third release. Wizards Are Real has never followed industry conventions as far as promotion and marketing are considered, anyways — this is one of the things we’ve always loved about them.

The Money’s Coming features the Wizards’ established combination of richly reverbed pedal steel and low-register saxophones, played by husband and wife Brian O’Neil and Melanie Bergstrom. Bassist Ted Held and drummer Jim Baumgart provide bedding for each tune which which transitions between jazz, post-punk and post-rock with fluidity. None of this is news — they have explored this terrain for years. What separates the new record is the confidence with which they collaborate.

More than on the previous records the instrumentals imply a representational program, although we’ve never forgotten that the Wizards once told us the reason their songs have no words is that they would be too creepy if they did. The cryptic titles certainly offer something to consider. The Money’s Coming could be the soundtrack to some surreal landscape or another, maybe deep sea diving or space exploration or cleaning the back of the fridge here in the record shop. A few of these nine new tracks have a slower, more narrative sense, like “In my Ironman,” which O’Neil opens slowly and evocatively, and “It’s A Wrench,” which treads forward as if on ethereal feet only to surprise is by disappearing.

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“Genesee”

The Money’s Coming plays at 45rpm, adding a sense of urgency to the songs, none of which pass the three minute mark on the first side. “Bring on the Night, Sting” opens the record with the intensity established by I’m Your Free Lieutenant, and it is followed by excellent, energetic bass and drums on the next two songs. You can, incidentally, hear the entire album on the Wizards’ Bandcamp page here. We chose these two tracks to present the wider range of this release, which takes more chances than the previous records (is that a slide whistle on “Genesee” or is it our imagination?). Money has all our favorite Wizards motifs, from the hard-edged rock to the sinister sinewiness of the title track from their 10″ EP — this new record was well worth the wait.

The last time we posted Wizards Are Real here on the Hymie’s blog was when we singled out “Good Goods” from their first album as one of our favorite closing time songs. This is still true, and its one reason why we have twice chosen them to close down our block party (the other is that we love these folks). The awesome UndercurrentMpls filmed them in 2013 if you want to take a look. Their last show before taking a little break was here this past Record Store Day — we only mention this because it seems like this might cause people to not notice the release of The Money’s Coming, at least until the Wizards begin haunting clubs around town again. Too bad — this is a record which merits some attention.

ken griffin anniversary songs

Laura and Dave are celebrating their eleventh anniversary today!

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“The Anniversary Waltz”

a cowboys work

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“A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done” by Sonny & Cher

Here at Hymie’s we are fascinated with the “Golden Records” aboard the Voyager probes for years, and have posted about them a few times in the past. Some, notably physicist Stephen Hawking, have pointed out that providing directions to Earth may lead to our eventual enslavement by superior beings. Fortunately, it will be another 40,000 years before Voyager 1 passes another star — a lovely little red dwarf known as Gliesse 445, or AC +79 3888, and who is about seventeen light-years or so from Earth at this point.

Voyager 1 is now in interstellar space, and its passage out of solar system has given us new insight into its outer boundaries. Solar rays are still reaching the probe, which will remain functional for about thirteen more years as it continues to drift away from us. Then it will be nothing more than a tiny, silent object in the vast openness of the interstellar expanse — so don’t worry too much about space creatures finding it.

Voyager 2 was launched first, but it’s different trajectory has it on a slower course. It is expected to enter interstellar space in a few years. By taking an alternate route out of the solar system Voyager 2 was able to take the stunning photographs of Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989. Voyager 2 will also pass near a star, Ross 248, in about 40,000 years. And in a mere 296,000 years it will come within a few lightyears of Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. Sirius is commonly known as the “dog star,” and has been watched and worshiped by humans around the world for centuries.

Last week, IFLScience, one of the most entertaining blogs on the internet, posted Soundcloud links which allow us to hear what it would be like to listen to the Golden Records here.

Here’s a tune from Marty Robbins’ first record, a 10″ album released in 1956. This was several years before his famous Gunfighters LP.

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“Mean Mama Blues”

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There are many songs where the talented multi-instrumentalist James Moody sings, but none has as big a place in our hearts as “Flying Saucer” from this LP by Milt Jackson.

Milt Jackson at the Museum of Modern Art was recorded in August, 1965 at the New York landmark, which in those days was, like our own Walker Museum, host to a wide variety of contemporary jazz performances. The album features a great group including Moody, pianist Cedar Walton, and a rhythm section of Ron Carter and Candy Finch, who even the quiet tunes swinging.

Jackson, Moody and Walton all contribute original numbers, and the band opened their set with “The Quota,” a lovely Jimmy Heath song.

James Moody — maybe best known to jazz aficionados for his signature tune, “Moody’s Mood for Love” and his many collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie — alternated between the saxophone and the flute throughout his career. His albums often featured vocal numbers as well, which were often light-hearted in a similar style to Gillespie’s singing.

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