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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Romeo and Juliet/Dire Straits

In honor of #Shakespeare400, here's our post from June 17, 2009 about songs inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo And Juliet, from Dire Straits' 1980 album Making Movies, translates the balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet into a modern setting and idiom (Juliet says hey its romeo you nearly give me a heart attack/he's underneath the window she's singing hey lay my boyfriend's back/you shouldn't come around here singing up at people like that/Anyway what you gonna do about it?). The song also includes a subtle allusion to another adaptation of Shakespeare's play with the line: there's a place for us you know the movie song--a reference to the song Somewhere from West Side Story, which was itself an updated version of the Romeo and Juliet story. The two lovers pop up in many other songs too--e.g., (Just Like) Romeo & Julietby the Reflections--and of course Blue Oyster Cult's (Don't Fear) The Reaper is always there to remind us that Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity.

Dire Straits submitted by Bob McLeod
The Reflections and Blue Oyster Cult submitted by Carrie Jennott

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dark Territory/Dave Douglas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBIcWi238Mk http://www.fredkaplan.info/dark-territory.htm

Jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas's new album Dark Territory comes out tomorrow, April 16th, as a special release for Record Store Day. It's a follow-up to his 2015 release, High Risk, which is described by Douglas's record label, Greenleaf Music, as "an album where avant-jazz and electronic music met in a spacey atmospheric middle ground, delivering something new in the world of genre. Melding traditional instrumentation and modern electronic music production challenges the ideals of both the traditional term 'jazz' as well as the modern term 'electronic music.'” 

Dark Territory follows up on this area of risk, going into new, as yet unexplored musical spaces," Douglas says. "The title was suggested by the writer Fred Kaplan, whose new book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, talks about the similarly mysterious, murky waters of underground activity. In a way, we’re playing through a similar territory without rules where the dangers and challenges of technology are much greater than normal."

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Kaplan is the "War Stories" columnist for Slate and the author of several books. He also blogs about jazz at Stereophile. Published last month, Dark Territory traces the history of cyber war from the earliest days of the internet half a century ago through the role that "information warfare" has played in tilting the outcomes of conflicts in Haiti, Serbia, Syria, the former Soviet republics, Iraq, and Iran.

The liner notes to Douglas's album include an extensive excerpt from Kaplan's book that explains the shared title Dark Territory. It is attributed to Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense in both the Bush and Obama administrations. In conversations with colleagues about cyber espionage and cyber war, Gates would say: "We're wandering in dark territory." In the book, Kaplan reveals the origin of the term:

It was a phrase from Gates's childhood in Kansas, where his grandfather worked for nearly fifty years as a stationmaster on the Santa Fe Railroad. "Dark territory" was the industry's term for a stretch of rail track that was uncontrolled by signals. To Gates, it was a perfect parallel to cyberspace, except that this new territory was much vaster and the danger greater, because the engineers were unknown, the trains invisible, and a crash could cause far more damage.

Full disclosure: We played an active role in promoting Kaplan's book (beyond this modest blog post). So we're wandering in some dark territory of our own.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

In Memory of Pat Conroy: The Prince of Tides/Jimmy Buffett, and more


Pat Conroy, the bestselling author of several novels and works of nonfiction, died yesterday at the age of 70 after a bout with pancreatic cancer. The New York Times reported that at the time of his death, Conroy was at work on a new novel and a memoir.

Conroy’s fiction was deeply autobiographical, drawing on his dysfunctional family and unhappy childhood growing up in coastal South Carolina to flesh out the characters and action in his novels. His 1986 novel The Prince of Tides is a good example, chronicling the travails of the Wingo family of Colleton County, South Carolina. Early in the story the narrator, Tom Wingo, travels to New York to meet Dr. Susan Lowenstein, a psychiatrist caring for Tom’s twin sister Savannah after her most recent suicide attempt. In Lowenstein’s waiting room, Tom scans the bookshelves and comes across a copy of Savannah’s second published collection of poetry, entitled The Prince of Tides. He is brought to tears by the dedication:

Man wonders but God decides
When to kill the Prince of Tides.

In the course of the novel, Tom and Lowenstein become romantically involved as they uncover the traumatic source of Savannah’s suicidal behavior and the secrets of the Wingos.

Conroy’s novel inspired a song called “The Prince of Tides” on Jimmy Buffett’s 1988 album Hot Water. Buffett’s dedication to the song says: “Pat Conroy, Doc Pomus and the people of Dafuskie Island have already said it all. I am thankful for such inspiration.” Dafuskie Island is located along the South Carolina coast and was home to a large population of Gullah—freed slaves and their descendants—who first arrived in the area at the end of the Civil War. As a young man, Conroy spent a year teaching at an impoverished schoolhouse on Dafuskie, an experience he turned into his 1972 book The Water is Wide.

Buffett’s song is largely a lament about the development and commercialization of Dafuskie Island. The recording opens and closes with Buffett reading passages directly from Conroy’s novel. The lyrics namecheck the Wingo family (African drums are silent and the Wingos are poets at last), and Buffett alludes to the dedication from Savannah’s poetry volume with the refrain: Now I realize who killed the Prince of Tides.

Near the end, the song segues into a version of "Save the Last Dance for Me," co-written by Doc Pomus, who along with Conroy is acknowledged in Buffet’s dedication. The last line of the song, before the concluding passage from The Prince of Tides, is: And beach music, beach music, beach music just plays on.

In 1996 Conroy told AOL’s The Book Report about the origin of the song:

He called me on the phone. He said "Hi, I'm Jimmy Buffett." I said "Hi, I'm Paul McCartney." He said: "May I write a song called Prince of Tides?" I said: "You do, and I will kiss your behind." He said: "How much will I have to pay you?" I said: "I will kiss your behind --- I told you." So he wrote the song.

Conroy also revealed that the song provided inspiration for his next novel. “At the end he sings ‘Beach music, beach music....’ And that gave me the title.” Conroy’s novel Beach Music was published in 1995.

In 1989 the Fayetteville Observer reported that Conroy loved Buffett’s song. "It gave me status with my children, for about eight hours," Conroy said.

A more cryptic allusion to Conroy can be found in “Pat Conroy Beach Music” by Preston Lovinggood, from his 2014 album Shadow Songs. Lovinggood described it to Ghettoblaster Magazine as “an instrumental spoken word interlude piece.” It consists of the sound of heavy rainfall (or waves on a beach?) with the actress Abbey Miller and Todd Fink, from the band The Faint, speaking indecipherably behind it. Lovinggood described the track to You Hear This as “sort of like waking up from a dream.” The connection to Pat Conroy and/or Beach Music is unclear, at least to us.

Monday, January 11, 2016

In Memory of David Bowie

Rock music innovator David Bowie died yesterday, just two days after his sixty-ninth birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar. Bowie inhabited many personas and experimented with many musical forms in the course of his decades-long career, but here we will touch on his musical connection to George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

References to George Orwell's classic Nineteen Eighty-Four abound in popular music, but David Bowie created a number of songs that relate to Orwell's book. In the early '70s, Bowie began working on a musical adaptation of the novel that never came to fruition. Instead Bowie featured much of that work on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs, including the songs 1984; We Are The Dead (a line from the novel spoken by the main character, Winston Smith); Big Brother, after the dictator of the totalitarian state depicted in the book (with the repeated line We want you Big Brother); and Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family, inspired by the novel's "Two-Minute Hate," a daily ritual required of those faithful to The Party (the ruling political class) in which they must express their hatred for the Party's enemies. The album ends with the first syllable of the word brother (as in Big Brother) heard over and over.

Bowie's final album, Blackstar, also features at least one literary reference: The track "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" (originally released as a single in 2014) takes its title from the play "'Tis a Pity She's a Whore" by British dramatist John Ford, first published in 1633.