There are a lot of interesting compilations of rare 78s, 45s and LPs these days, and for music omnivores like ourselves they’re a lot of fun. On our shelves at home we have sets of obscure music in many genres, from cumbia to cosmic country, and while compilation albums like these are often hit-or-miss affairs, there’s always something to enjoy. Sometimes the best feature is the liner notes, and that’s the case with our favorite collection from this past year.
Native North America is a three album set by Light in the Attic, packaged with a sixty-six page book. It collects music recorded between the mid-60s and the mid-80s by Indigenous artists throughout Canada, most of which is in the sort of country and folk vein you might expect (although there are some solid rockers) and most of which come from albums and singles you’re unlikely to ever run across.
Some of the songs are about the social and political struggles faced by Native people, and others are simply about the setting where they lived — our favorite, for instance, is a simple love song set on the shore of James Bay.
The book inside Native North America has an extended biography for each of the artists and a reproduction of the original art, but we think one of the most impressive pages is this map, which shows the locations where the artists live, performed and recorded. Its a reminder that people have been making music — and putting their music on records — in just about every corner of the world.
Your friendly neighborhood record shop will be open 1-6pm today.
Everyone here at Hymie’s hopes you have a happy Labor Day! Even though Americans work more hours than nearly every other nation on Earth, we have celebrated the first Monday of September each year by resting for a hundred and thirty years.
If you have the opportunity to go out for breakfast, lunch or dinner today, please remember that people in the service industry don’t get a day off for Labor Day and tip them accordingly. We recommend one of the many awesome restaurants here on East Lake Street!
We’re going to be running re-runs on the Hymies blog for a few days because the internet is broken. Not the whole internet (you wouldn’t be reading this if it was!) but just the internet here at your friendly neighborhood record shop. Digging into the archives it’s impossible to miss our endless fascination with Beethoven, so that’s what we’re going to revisit until the internet tubes are repaired…
You really can’t live in Minnesota without accepting the ever-changing seasons — those folks complaining about the weather are wasting your time. If you don’t like it just wait ’til tomorrow. Spring is welcomed and just as soon gone, replaced by those over-hot afternoons and dry, dormant lawns. Summer in its August glory gives way all too quickly to the cool evenings of September. Soon enough you’re huddled inside, sipping Cider and watching the neighbor across the street shovel his walk.
My own feelings for the seasons seem delayed. Never do I long to walk in a snowstorm more than the second week of May, and at no other time of the year would I more enjoy chasing the ice cream man with the kids than right around Thanksgiving. And right about now? I’m thinking about summer storms.
You’re in the garden, doing a mid-summer chore like weeding (you haven’t given up yet) and there’s a sudden quickening of the breeze. You can hear it in the trees. Soon you can feel an energy in the air as the sky gets darker. It even smells different. And then a few drops, a few more, and then its storming so wildly you scarcely have time to gather your tools and close the shed door before you’re soaked. Or maybe you’re in bed and the rustling of the leaves wakes you. You look out in time to see branches bending, a flash of light and a sudden sheet of rain filling everything out your window.
So many records have songs about the rain it would be impossible to come up with a definitive playlist — we’d never agree. “Rain” was one of the last subjects of Theme Time at the Turf Club, hosted by Pocahontas County, and I had a lot of trouble picking the songs to spin between sets, simply because there were so many…
Songs about the rain offer so many different things — it is one of the most varied ‘themed’ playlists you could create out of any record collection. From ELO’s bombastic “Concerto for a Rainy Day” (side three of Out of the Blue, which happily concludes with “Mr. Blue Sky”) to Pinhead Gunpowder’s “Mpls Song” (posted some time ago here), there is an incredible range. John Coltrane’s evocative “After the Rain” (on Impressions) has always been a favorite of mine, as has Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.” Surely you have favorites, too.
None capture the majestic spectacle of a summer storm — how could something so majestic hold the same power over a single sense? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know where we turn at times like this…
A couple years ago we featured a post called “Too Much” (here) about artists who released multiple albums on a single day, including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and, of course, KISS — All of them are entirely surpassed by a single concert on December 22nd, 1808, when Ludwig van Beethoven debuted his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.
Many things distinguish Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony in F Major, although its premier was a disaster. It is one of only two given a title by its composer (The Pastoral Symphony) and it is a rare example of explicitly programmatic composition in his oeuvre. Another unique quality is that it is presented in five movements, the final three of which are a seamless program (the tracks run into one another, you know, like in The Wall).
The first movement’s richly developed theme is one of the most memorable in all of classical music, setting the scene for the countryside which the composer often visited while working in Vienna. In the second movement, set around a brook, Beethoven uses woodwinds to represent bird calls, much in the way the French composer and amateur ornithologist Oliver Messiaen would (he was recently featured here on the Hymie’s blog). Beethoven even identifies the birds in his score: the flute representing a nightingale, the clarinet a cuckoo and the oboe a quail.
The third, fourth and fifth movements are, as mentioned before, a continuous program. All three are in the symphony’s main key of F major. The third is often the subject depicted on album covers, such as this early 60s (date anyone?) recording by George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Beethoven titled it “Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute” (Merry gathering of country folk) — It is the symphony’s scherzo, or it’s light-hearted and fun passage, depicting a dance in the countryside. It grows and grows until a sudden interruption.
In one of the most sublime moments in all music, Beethoven interrupts the gathering with a summer storm. First a few drops from the strings, then with a striking intensity (especially from the double basses) comes the rain. It sounds as though the celebrants struggle to gather themselves and their things before they’re soaked, only to be inundated by the crashing thunder (tympani providing the only percussion) and waves of windy rain.
And in a stunning three minutes it’s passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.
(This track includes the coming of the storm, the storm, and its aftermath — the end of the third movement, the entire fourth, and the entire fifth — from an exceptional early 60s recording by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell)
And in a stunning three and a half minutes it is passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.
Other composers have created storms — Haydn ended his Symphony no. 8 in a similar fashion and Vivaldi naturally included one in his Four Seasons — But Beethoven’s cloudburst is the closest thing on record to the real thing. Now that the season has passed — September storms being simply cold and cruel — it’s all I have until I find myself wishing for a walk through fallen leaves by with Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.”
We’re going to be running re-runs on the Hymies blog for a few days because the internet is broken. Not the whole internet (you wouldn’t be reading this if it was!) but just the internet here at your friendly neighborhood record shop. Digging into the archives it’s impossible to miss Dave’s endless fascination with Beethoven, so that’s what we’re going to revisit until the internet tubes are repaired…
“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.
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.
For 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.”
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.
Karl 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.
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.”
If you’re old enough, you remember when the gym teacher would take out a big Califone turntable and a crate of albums, and the whole class would do activities along with the music. We can’t recall for certain if one of the records we imagined, moved or danced to was a Hap Palmer, but his albums on Educational Activities Records make us feel like kids again.
Movement: Children pretend to throw ingredients in cauldron
Line: “Stir them in my witches’ brew”
Movement: Children do stirring motion
Line: “I got magic, Alakazamakazoo”
Movement: Make any sudden, scary movement
Fill in the blanks: “If you were making a witches’ brew, what would you put in it?”
List on the board the pairs of things that go together from the lyric. Children read and sing each pair along with the record. The singing is simple, since the pairs are all sung on one note.
Fill in the blank: “Can you think of some other things that go together?”
Variation: Think of some body movements that go together, such as swing and sway, wiggle and jiggle, etc. Then use these to fill in the blanks. Movements are performed as they are sung. And two movements the children want to do are fine.
With all due respect to Kwick, we don’t think this song was the best way to get your video aired on MTV. It’s like not being invited to a party, and going to the house where the party is and standing in the yard and saying ‘hi’ to everyone.
If Kwick ever made a video, it may be lost to the ages until someone transfers the videocassette in their basement to MPEG and uploads it to Youtube. This reminds us that we know a guy who used to record 120 Minutes… we wonder where those tapes are now. Presumably, we could find all the videos online today, anyway.
“MTV” is the opening track, and the rest of Foreplay, Kwick’s final album, is pretty solid, somewhat derivative 80s funk (we always liked the phrase ‘modern soul boogie’). “I’ve Been Watching You (Watching Me)” was our favorite cut on the album, and the one we’d want to see as a video.
Crate diggers don’t come across this one very often, which suggests maybe Capitol Records didn’t put much behind it. Maybe that’s why they never got to be on MTV.
From the liner notes…
“FOREPLAY – Webster’s Dictionary says: ‘Sexual stimulation that normally tends to lead to sexual intercourse.'”