Category Archives: Music

Tom Lehrer — “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park”

Outside, it’s a beautiful Spring day. Inside, I’m a few hours away from the start of my third month of “social distancing”, wondering if the lack of direct sunlight will give me a Vitamin D deficiency, or scurvy, or something worse.

Ah! A Remembrance of Springs Past.* How I miss the simple joys of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the National Cathedral’s annual Flower Mart, the various “Taste of…” street fairs from Georgetown to Wheaton, and poisoning pigeons in the park.

That’s Tom Lehrer, performing a song from his 1959 record album. More of Tom Lehrer. Lehrer entered Havard College at 15, and at various times taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, and UC Santa Cruz. His courses ranged from mathematics to political science, to musical theater.

Many of his songs were the black-humoured musical equivalent of Gahan Wilson cartoons. A search of the net will take you to things like his nostalgic tribute to “The Old Dope Peddler” and to the somewhat twisted love song “I Hold Your Hand In Mine”.

He also wrote sharp musical commentary on the political issues of the day. His most productive musical period was in the late 1950s through the middle 1960s, and with the passage of ~60 years, a lot of his references have become obscure.  (Still, people smile at lines from Gilbert and Sullivan, more than a century after the subjects of their humour have turned to dust.)

Lehrer stopped performing and retired from teaching long ago, but is still with us. He celebrated his 92nd birthday in April 2020. As he wrote on the 1997 release of a collection called Songs & More Songs by Tom Lehrer, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

“We’ll murder them all amid laughter and merriment,
Except for the few we’ll take home to…experiment.”


*Yeah, I know we’re supposed to call Proust’s seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time nowadays, but I also still talk about dialing a phone and buying a record album [see above]. There’s a term for continuing to use an old word or phrase after it has been made obsolete by technology or the passage of time, but I’m too lazy to look it up on the computer google it.

Just in Time for Mothers’ Day

Colin O’Leary returns in yet another attempt to faze this unfazeable mother, with

More costumes! More Scenery! There’s even almost a plot, sort of!

This kind of creativity and over-the-top originality leaves me in awe.

Here’s the 2018 viral video that introduced the internet to Colin and his mom.

It’s 2020, and Billy Porter Is Covering Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 Song, “For What It’s Worth”

I have a mixed reaction to this.

Musically, I like what he did with the song, but the issues, the politics, and the culture of 2020 are so very different from those of the late 1960s that the original lyrics don’t really work anymore.

And while I love me my Buffalo Springfield, I’ve sort of come to dread hearing those two opening notes of “For What It’s Worth”, because every time some hack film director needs a soundtrack for their big 60s montage, there it is.


The Original

“For What It’s Worth” hit the US Top 10 in 1967, peaking at Number 7. The song became one of the key anthems of the sixties youth rebellion against the War in Vietnam, the draft, the Nixon administration, oppressive conformity, police violence, repressive education, and pretty much anything old.*

That’s heavy lifting for a song that was written about a clash between police and demonstrators protesting a curfew imposed on some popular clubs in Los Angeles, but the Riot on Sunset Strip became a symbol of the generational chasm of the day.

Here’s a 1967 performance of the song by the original members of Buffalo Springfield, all of them looking impossibly young and thin and pretty.


*I find it amusing that the Boomers, whose unofficial motto was “Don’t Trust Anyone over 30”, are now widely blamed for everything wrong in the world by the under-30 Millennials, and that most Boomers don’t really care all that much about what Millennials think of them or of anything else.

Plus ça change….

How One English Family Pwned the Quarantine

“A family from Kent who shared a video of their living room performance of a lockdown-themed adaptation of a Les Misérables song have become a sensation online. Ben and Danielle Marsh and their four children changed the lyrics of “One Day More” to reflect common complaints during the Covid-19 lockdown. They say the video, which has gone viral, was intended to give friends and family a laugh during this stressful time.”

—from The Guardian

God, I love the British, even when they do dumb things like voting for Brexit and paying any attention to Katie Hopkins.

The members of this family are probably descended from people who lived through the Blitz (7 September 1940 – 11 May 1941), Hitler’s attempt to cripple British war production and demoralize the country through air attacks on British cities. It didn’t work, even though more than 40,000 civilians were killed and more than a million houses were destroyed or damaged by the bombing.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” indeed.

Stjepan Hauser’s Wonderful “Alone, Together” Concert in Arena Pula

For anyone who missed it, and anyone who just wants to see and hear it again, here’s Stjepan Hauser’s beautiful “Alone, Together” performance in the 2000-year-old Arena Pula in Croatia.

The concert was “dedicated to the amazing efforts of all the frontline workers around the world and to pay tribute to all that is good in humanity.”

Track list:

00:10 Benedictus (Karl Jenkins)
08:06 Air on the G String (J. S. Bach)
12:55 Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni)
16:21 Caruso (Lucio Dalla)
21:51 Nessun Dorma (G. Puccini)

Half of 2Cellos Is Better Than None

I’ve posted many times about 2Cellos, the classically-trained Croatian cellist duo who perform brilliant cover versions of rock and pop songs.  After their exhausting 36-show tour last year, Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser decided to take a break and “pursue their individual careers”. They plan to reunite for a 10th-anniversary tour in 2021.

In the meantime, we have this:

Video No Longer Available

Stjepan Hauser is giving a special live performance TODAY, 27 April 2020, at the Arena Pula, in his hometown in Croatia. (Sorry for the late notice. Depending on when you’re reading this, you may already have missed the live version, but you’ll probably be able to find it on YouTube later.)

The performance, titled “Alone, Together” will begin at 7PM CET, which is 6PM in the UK, 1PM in the US East Coast, and 10AM on the US West Coast.


Bonus

Here’s 2Cellos’ performance of Bach’s “Air on the G String”. Beautifully done, but I must confess that one of the reasons I’m posting it is because  Dorothy Parker wanted it played at her funeral. She was amused by the title.

…And If Opera Isn’t Your Thing, How about High School Musicals?

The Metropolitan Opera isn’t the only great musical institution that has been shut down by this rotten virus. The pandemic hit the US just as high schools around the country were preparing to stage their Spring musicals. The resulting cancellations have broken the hearts of thousands of drama club kids who have worked for months on what should have been one of their happiest and most memorable high school experiences.

Tony Award-winning actress Laura Benanti* did something to make things a little better.

The response was huge. You can watch some of the videos and read encouraging tweets from dozens of theatre people on her Twitter feed. You’ll find even more snippets at #SunshineSongs.

Nicely done, Ms Benanti!


*She also won the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. Twice. Each.

If you haven’t seen her on stage, you probably know her from her spot-on imitation of Melania Trump on late-night TV.

A Gift from the Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitan Opera House

Metropolitan Opera House

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closure

Because of coronavirus concerns, the Metropolitan Opera has canceled all performances through 31 March 2020, but there’s a silver lining: Each night for the duration of the closure, starting Monday, 16 March 2020, the Met will stream encore presentations from the award-winning Live in HD series of cinema transmissions on the company website for free. Learn more here.

All “Nightly Met Opera Streams” will begin at 7:30pm and will remain available via the homepage of metopera.org for 20 hours. The homepage link will open the performance on the Met Opera on Demand streaming service. The performance will also be viewable on all Met Opera on Demand apps.”

Here’s this week’s schedule:

March 16: Bizet’s Carmen
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna. (Originally broadcast January 16, 2010.)

March 17: Puccini’s La Bohème
Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas. (Originally broadcast April 5, 2008.)

March 18: Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. (Originally broadcast October 3, 2015.)

March 19: Verdi’s La Traviata
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey. (Originally broadcast December 15, 2018.)

March 20: Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. (Originally broadcast April 26, 2008.)

March 21: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczała, and Mariusz Kwiecien. (Originally broadcast February 7, 2009.)

March 22: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
Conducted by Valery Gergiev, starring Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. (Originally broadcast February 24, 2007.)


With my goldfish-like attention span, I’ve never gotten into opera. I think I might give it a try this week.

Life on the Mississippi

Nobody dreams about air travel anymore. Nobody talks about the romance and adventure of flight. Travel by air has become almost indistinguishable from travel by bus, except, of course, that busses have more comfortable seats, more legroom, fewer restrictions on passenger movement, and no extra baggage charges. You don’t have to remove your belt and shoes before you’re allowed on a bus. I’ve heard you can even bring a bottle of Cherry Diet Pepsi onboard without being stopped by security.

But boats and ships! That’s where the magic lives. Talk about romance and adventure and intrigue! Just think about the many and varied classic films that have been set on boats:  Death on the Nile, Titanic, Lifeboat, The Poseidon Adventure, Mutiny on the Bounty, White Squall (ahem), and all those World War II Navy movies.

And riverboats—forever linked to the legacy of Mark Twain and to the ghosts of riverboat card sharks and mountebanks and lost souls like Spider John—might be the most captivating of them all.

So after lunch at Galatoire’s, I walked down to the Mississippi River to watch the boats go by.


Willis Alan Ramsey — “The Ballad of Spider John”

Lauv — “Modern Loneliness”

Really liking Lauv’s new release, “Modern Loneliness”, which is one of those songs that seems to be speaking directly to me. (And, it seems, directly to a lot of other people, as well.  The video was posted five days ago and already has more than two million views.)

“Modern Loneliness” is the final track on his first studio album, How I’m Feeling, which will be released on 6 March 2020. In early 2019, Lauv started to release singles that will appear on the album as they were completed, so 10 of the 21 cuts from How I’m Feeling are already out there online.

Lauv, after musical collaborations with everybody from Troye Sivan to BTS, is three months into a year-long world tour.


The image is the artwork for <i><b>How I'm Feeling</b></i>

The image is the artwork for How I’m Feeling