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Music Depreciation at the DNC [Updated]

"We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school."
-- Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender"

I finished watching the John Kerry acceptance speech in Boston last night and my first reaction was . . .

Can we please Please Please call a truce on the use of The Popular Song to establish that a politician/political party is hip-hep-happening-relatin'-to-you-baby-and-ready-to-fulfill-your-every-hope-and-dream?

The Kerry speech concluded and what did the Official Party DJ launch into, presumably with the approval of or under instructions from the Kerry-Edwards campaign? U2's "Beautiful Day". "Arrrgh!" sez I to myself sez I. "Why is that?" sez you. Allow me, if you will, to elucidate:

Now, let it be stipulated that this is a Pretty Good Pop Song. I like U2. I've liked the band since their first album. I can say, for instance, that their "Achtung Baby" is an album that had All Sorts of Meaning for me during a Difficult Time (upon which, like Aeneas, I now look back and laugh - "ha!") when it first came out. And "Beautiful Day" is a song that is very good in the particular way that U2 songs can be very good.

But why, I wonder, other than the central phrase of the chorus -- "It's a beautiful day" -- would one play it following this speech by this candidate? After all of the promises, miracles and wonders that the good Senator offered up -- affordable health care, prescription drugs growing on trees, better pay and shorter hours, and the like [yes yes yes, this is something of an unfair exaggeration, but bear with me please] -- after assuring voters that he will give them things that they want and don't currently have, why oh why should the Senator feature a song whose secondary chorus is:

What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
You don't need it now, you don't need it now

If that's the message, the Kerry campaign might just as well have chosen "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

In its way, this use of "Beautiful Day" is as much a misappropriation as when the Reagan reelection campaign latched on to Bruce Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A., a song that sounds like an Up With America affirmation until you actually examine its lyrics, which are rather more jaundiced than any vision to which Mr. Reagan subscribed. The Clinton campaign, in contrast, was dead on with its selection of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop [Thinkin' About Tomorrow]," a song that has little of substance to it but that is exactly as upbeat and hopeful as it sounds. That is likely to stand as the best campaign song choice since FDR's "Happy Days are Here Again." Overall, Senator Kerry's musical choices were -- as some say of his approach to policy issues -- too nuanced for his own good. A further example:

Bruce Springsteen was also in the house for Senator Kerry's entrance to the podium, which was accompanied by "No Surrender". [Peter Jennings on ABC: "Mr. Kerry says it's his favorite song." (Emphasis Jennings'.)] The song is, to my way of thinking, a sort of second-string "Born to Run," and for all its talk of "blood brothers . . . with a vow to defend" and the seeming resolution of its chorus ("No retreat, no surrender"), it is ultimately a song about growing older and more weary and wanting to recapture the dreams of your youth by . . . playing in a rock 'n' roll band:

Now young faces grow sad and old and hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
I’m ready to grow young again
And hear your sister’s voice calling us home across the open yards
Well maybe we could cut someplace of our own
With these drums and these guitars

[repeat chorus omitted]

Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim
The walls of my room are closing in
There's a war outside still raging
you say it ain't ours anymore to win
I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover's bed
with a wide open country in my eyes
and these romantic dreams in my head

A large part of the purpose of the Democratic National Convention was to introduce us to "the real John Kerry." Given that he did play in a rock 'n' roll band in his prep school days, his choice of this song may actually tell us somewhat more about his hopes and dreams than we really want to know.

Update [8/2/04]:

I am not the only one annoyed by the Kerry campaign's tin ear for lyrical content. Also weighing in on the inappropriateness of "Beautiful Day" are popular kids like Andrea Harris and Matt Welch

The campaign is beginning to display evidence of Serial Springsteen Abuse: a clip of a smiling candidate Kerry on yesterday evening's network newscasts was backed by Springsteen's Glory Days, which is at least as much of a downer as "Born in the U.S.A." Are these the shapes of things to come for Kerry/Edwards?

Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye . . . .

* * *

Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

A Short Stack, Extra Syrup

No, friends, this Fool's silence these past few days is not the shameful consequence of the weekend jaunt to the north, nor of its associated excesses (of trail-breaking record-blazing heat, Native American gaming, hikes through basaltic canyons, encounters with friendly goats, a Murphy Bed in a top-drawer hotel, and the sampling of several dozen tasty wines). No, I say: this silence is enforced by the Demands of Practicing Law.

Rather than let the dust of 0s and 1s settle too thickly, however, the least that I can do is to offer these recommendations for reading and viewing elsewhere:

♣ Nearly everyone has linked at this point to the amusing, equal opportunity election-year parody of This Land is Your Land. I commend it to the three of you who haven't seen it yet. There is a legal angle as well: Kevin Roderick reports that the animation's creators "have gotten a demand from the current rights holder to stop 'damaging' the Woody Guthrie song." Some people, unlike Woodie himself, have no sense of humor.

♣ Peripatetic LA-based journalist (and swingin' Corvid) Matt Welch, covering the Democratic Convention for Reason, opens fire on the creepy self-importance of Big Time Politicos. This is an ailment that is no respecter of party lines: Matt should hold this piece in reserve for re-publication (Re-publicanation?) in a few weeks when he covers the GOP in NYC. QED? Excerpts:

If you are one of those people who are aglow after two days of Democrat rhetoric -- and I've actually met many humans like that, these past 48 hours -- you probably haven't noticed a subtle theme that crops up again and again, like a nervous and revealing tic. Namely, that being a professional six-figure politician should be confused with noble "service," while throwing them your hard-earned money amounts to a brave and selfless sacrifice.

[Excerpt from oration by Dr. Howard Dean omitted]

Not belonging to a political party, and believing fervently in Brian Doherty's excellent maxim that time well spent is usually time away from politics, it is possible that I'm jaundiced. That said, the vision of a disabled woman handing over her last quarters to another moneybags politico who dreams of taking more of the stuff by force strikes me as, at minimum, nausea-inducing.

So, too, is the confusion of normal campaign politics with profound revolutionary bravery. . . .

♣ P.S. The King Corvid himself, Ken Layne, has returned to regular weblogging.

♣ P.P.S. Personal note to B and H Hoch: Thanks! I know that at least one of you will appreciate this. Dig Infinity!

It is a Noir, Noir Better Thing I Do

"The First Duty of wine is to be red. The second is to be a Burgundy."

-- Harry Waugh, of whom more here, although the quotation may actually be from Alec Waugh, who also knew a thing or two about wine and who, unlike Harry, was one of those Waughs. But, be that as it may . . .

The red wines of Burgundy are made always and exclusively with the Pinot Noir grape. White Burgundy is always Chardonnay, and there is a decent argument to be made that Burgundy is the only place on Earth in which that unaccountably popular grape produces wine that is worth the time of day. The argument is persuasive to me, at least, but I am one who is bull-headedly convinced that Chardonnay is a fundamentally Boring Grape. Your results may vary. Back, now, to my actual point.

Mmmmmm . . . .  Pinot Noir . . . .While Pinot Noir also achieves its zenith, in both quality and price (quel dommage), in the best of the Burgundian vineyards, it is the very opposite of a Boring Grape. It is, to my taste, the most Interesting Grape there is, and the world outside of France has managed in the last decade or two to figure out where to grow it and what to do with it in order to produce wines that, while they will never be Burgundy, either do not embarass themselves by aspiring to Burgundiosity or else display tempting characters all their own. North America has been particularly well served, with portions of California (northern Santa Barbara County, a few choice spots around Paso Robles, Mendocino County's Anderson Valley) and Oregon producing stellar examples. In the southern hemisphere, the Australians (particularly the devilish Tasmanians) and New Zealandish Kiwis are also doing right by the grape.

All of which is simply an elaborate excuse for saying that there will be no further posting here until Monday, because we're off on a whirlwind trip to Portland, Oregon, and points north and southwest, to call on farflung family and friends and, oh yes, to spend Sunday afternoon sampling a plethora, a veritable plethora, of Pinot Noir wines from around the globe (including, it seems, wine from such unexpected sources as the Golan Heights). One suspects that salmon will also be involved at some point, and possibly hazelnuts. Yum.

Have yourselves a merry little weekend.

Them Crazy Poets Ought to Be Committed . . . to Memory [Updated]

Here's another argument Mike Snider may want to trot out in his continuing fight for rhyme and meter in poetry: the classical examples of English language poetry in form are Good For The Children. Writing in the summer issue of The Manhattan Institute's City Journal, Michael Knox Beran sets out to make the case In Defense of Memorization.

Beran writes: "If there’s one thing progressive educators don’t like it’s rote learning. As a result, we now have several generations of Americans who’ve never memorized much of anything." While the memorization of exemplary poetry -- be it Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake or the unduly maligned Longfellow -- and important prose -- the Declaration of Independence or Gettysburg Address, perhaps a Psalm or two -- was once a mainstay of public education, it was effectively blotted out by the 1970's. The result, Beran argues, was a loss to American youth:

From The Cat in the Hat on up, verse teaches children something about the patterns and relationships that bind together the words of which it is composed. Poetry sets up an abstract system of order and harmony; the rhythm and the rhyme scheme are logical structures that a child can comprehend even before he understands the words themselves, just as he can grasp the rhythmic and harmonic relations of a piece of music.

What the child discovers, in other words, is not only aesthetically pleasing, but important to cognitive development. Classic verse teaches children an enormous amount about order, measure, proportion, correspondence, balance, symmetry, agreement, temporal relation (tense), and contingent possibility (mood). Mastering these concepts involves the most fundamental kind of learning, for these are the basic categories of thought and the framework in which we organize sensory experience.

Invoking Bill Cosby's recent jeremiads, Beran suggests that it is underprivileged, inner-city students who have lost most from the disappearance of memorable and memorizable verse in the curriculum: "To kids who have never known anything but demotic English, literary English is bound to seem an alien, all but incomprehensible dialect. Kids who haven’t been exposed to the King’s English in primary school or at home will have a hard time, if they get to college, with works like Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick. In too many cases, they will give up entirely, unable to enter the community of literate citizens—and as a result will live in a world of constricted opportunity."

He concludes that educators who drove memorization out in the name of freeing students succeeded instead only in imposing a different set of chains:

[T]he progressives’ educational philosophy is only superficially a philosophy of liberty. The progressive exercises in 'guided fantasy' and 'sensitivity training' that have replaced memorization and recitation do little to free kids’ selves. The older techniques, by contrast, are genuinely liberating. They build up in the child a more powerful mental instrument, one that will allow him, in later life, to make good use of his freedom. They cultivate those critical powers that enable an educated adult to question authority intelligently. The older techniques also unlock doors in the interior world of the soul. Classic poetry and rhetoric give kids a language, at once subtle and copious, in which to articulate their own thoughts, perceptions, and inchoate feelings. They help awaken what was previously dormant, actualize what was before only potential, and so enable the young person to fulfill the injunction of Pindar: 'Become what you are.'

This kind of memorization does not impose upon young minds a single dogma, nor does it exalt, as the Islamic madrassa does, a single text above all others. If anything, it is the progressive liturgies—with their 'diversity' drills and cult of self-esteem—that embody a narrow and intolerant ideology, one that imprisons kids in the banal clichés of the present and puts much of the past off limits, as though the moral and spiritual inheritance of Western civilization were somehow taboo. The literary culture at the heart of these exercises in memorization, by contrast, is a record of how men and women have, in various times and places, struggled to understand themselves and make sense of their natures. Such culture does not repress or enslave: it enlarges and strengthens and frees.

Update: I hadn't noticed it yet when I linked him in my introductory sentence, but Mike Snider is offering scientific evidence for the salubrious health effects of accentual-syllabic verse.

Updated, again: At About Last Night Our Girl in Chicago jumped on this article right away. She's also showing off her feat in memorizing one of Theodore Roethke's tricksy poems, "Wish for a Young Wife," which looks at first like an innocent piece about a lizard -- especially if you have the poem without its title -- but is a bit more simmeringly erotic 'pon reflection. (With Roethke, one is always in the hothouse.)

I think my own best feat of poetic memorization -- other than than the dialogue for my roles in divers plays over the years -- was the side effect of nightly readings to our sons as they were growing. I am tolerably certain that I can still recite all or nearly all of Edward Lear's "The Dong With a Luminous Nose," praises of which I posted last September, here.

(Just Wanna Be) Misunderstood

Pete Townshend (Who?) on Michael Moore:

I have nothing against Michael Moore personally, and I know Roger Daltrey is a friend and fan of his, but I greatly resent being bullied and slurred by him in interviews just because he didn’t get what he wanted from me. It seems to me that this aspect of his nature is not unlike that of the powerful and wilful man at the centre of his new documentary. I wish him all the best with the movie, which I know is popular, and which I still haven’t seen. But he’ll have to work very, very hard to convince me that a man with a camera is going to change the world more effectively than a man with a guitar.

[Via Colby Cosh. Post title alludes to this semi-obscure gem.]

Jour de Gloire

Fig. 1 - Key to the Bastille

Jacques Chirac notwithstanding, we wish a Happy Bastille Day to French folk and Francophiles far and near.

In the period following the twin Revolutions -- American and French -- the Marquis de Lafayette seems to have cornered the market on keys to the old Bastille:

He famously sent one (pictured to the right) in 1790 as a gift to his friend, mentor and comrade in arms, George Washington, who thereafter displayed it in the entry hall at Mount Vernon. The key is still there, and you can view it in context via this Mount Vernon Virtual Tour. It hangs on the wall near the bottom of the stairs in the first room you will view on the tour. A charm or brooch replicating the key can be had in the Gift Shop, for those who crave a memento. (I can never recall the French word for souvenir . . . .)

Less well known is Lafayette's 1825 presentation of a second, larger key to a Masonic lodge in Alexandria, Virginia. Make of that what you will. That key is on display at the Museum of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria.

Should you wish to celebrate Bastille Day at home, I recommend obtaining a crusty baguette, some Brie or Camembert and a bottle of something red from Burgundy or the Rhone, and consuming them with élan and joie de vivre whilst viewing, say, The Triplets of Belleville. It's funnier than the Tour de France, and you can dance to it.

When Two or More Are Cathered Together

She rose, smiling, and paused with her hand on the door of her state-room. 'Anyhow, thank you for a pleasant evening. And, by the way, dream of me tonight, and not of either of those ladies who sat beside you. It does not matter much whom we live with in this world, but it matters a great deal whom we dream of.'

-- Willa Cather, "A Gold Slipper" (1917)

Continue reading "When Two or More Are Cathered Together" »

Bringing New Meaning to the Term, "Culture War"

This just in:

Faced with a mounting threat from insurgents and increasing apprehension from the public, the federal government took steps this week to make theaters safe from those who would seek to disrupt the American way of life.

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, announced a "War on Moronism" and authorized theaters throughout the United States to undertake a series of steps to rid themselves of what he called "that which blights live performance."

At a press conference Friday in Washington, Gioia unveiled a Moron Alert System, under which all concerts, plays and recitals would be color-coded to identify what the chairman referred to as "heightened and specific" threats to the integrity of a given performance.

* * *

The NEA/Homeland Security presence will be more visible at opening nights, expensive touring musicals and other high-profile events. Uniformed snipers armed with tranquilizer darts will be stationed throughout the theater, authorized to shoot-to-silence.

Sharpshooters will also have access to curare-tipped blow darts, Gioia said. This more lethal deterrent must be authorized by the theater's house manager, artistic director and an audience representative elected just prior to each performance.

Civil-rights groups immediately condemned the measures, which, inside the NEA, are referred to by the code-name, "Operation Get a Clue."

[Found via scribble, scribble, scribble...., which in turn was found via ::: wood s lot ::: (which also features at the moment some fine Jean Cocteau links), in context of acknowledging a link to this piece which in turn led to this lecture by Helen Vendler with rather a high Wallace Stevens content, all of which is only to show that it's a seamless Web indeed, don' cha know.]¹

¹ Through one of those links, you can learn the name of the band in which John Kerry played bass in 1961. Happy hunting.