Monday, April 28, 2008

The Nearest Book

When the other Phil tagged me for this meme, I had just finished cleaning off the table upone which I dissertate. So I went for the first book to catch my eye when I looked over the nearest bookshelf.
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The result is a blast from the past: Michael Warner's anthology Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. The meme directs me to a passage from Steven Seidman's essay "Identity Politics in a 'Postmodern' Gay Culture: Some Historical and Conceptual Notes."
In these debates, the privileging of sexual object-choice for defining sexual identity and the notion of a unitary gay identity came under assault. These battles varied somewhat between the lesbian and gay male communities. In the lesbian context, protest was aimed at the ideological prominence of lesbian feminism and its cultural-feminist variant.

Tag, you're it! Yes, you.

This passage, and the essay from which it comes, is not particularly interesting. But I have a tremendous amount of affection for the Warner anthology. I've blogged before that 1990s queer theory is the theoretical repertoire that feels most authentic to my sensibility. I love the stuff, in all of its occasionally-problematic-but-always-passionate glory, and this collection perfectly encapsulates the moment. All the usual suspects are there: Eve Sedgwick ("How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay"), Cindy Patton ("Tremble, Hetero Swine"), Douglas Crimp, Philip Harper, Andrew Parker, and so on and so forth.

I think I bought my copy of Fear of a Queer Planet when I was a junior or so in college. After a year of experiencing the omnipresent rejection of the job market, it's both pleasant and poignant to remember that time, when I was choosing to embark upon this whole thing in the first place.

In other news, I just cannot handle Serena in Gossip Girl these days. I'm about ready to start wishing Dan would get together with Vanessa.

Henry Brant

One of the happiest moments in my life was in 2002, when Henry Brant was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Six years later, there is word that Brant has passed away. As Kyle Gann says, it's a little hard to know what to think exactly of Brant's music. He wrote enormous music, too big for most concert halls, and certainly too big for a CD. His music dealt with space, usually involving many musicians or ensembles positioned carefully around a particular environment. The work honored by the Pulitzer folk was Ice Field, which involved 100 musicians sprinkled around Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

I saw Brant once, in 1998, my first semester of college at Wesleyan. Neely Bruce had arranged for Brant to come to campus for a performance, and to pick up an honorary degree. The degree was awarded at the fall convocation, for which Brant did an outdoor performance of some piece (my recollections aren't more specific) that involved bits of gamelan scattered around the audience. Later that night, he did a more formal concert indoors that made considerable use of various world music ensembles at Wesleyan. It was noisy and chaotic, and lovely. He was this little wizened old man, constantly wearing a funny little sun visor, bobbing around the place with a big grin. I wish I could be more analytical about the music, and say something more concrete about the carefully attuned spacial dynamics. But you know, sometimes it is just fun to listen to a pile of noise, and be cheerful about it. The fact that he was awarded a Pulitzer before he died makes me think better of the world.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Music and Lyrics meme

I can't find an appropriate book/LP cover for Phil Sr.'s meme-- so here's a different one, as seen everywhere. I skipped instrumentals that came up, as well as incredibly obscure things, like my sister's high school a cappella group's CD. Oh, and if the track is from a Broadway musical, I give the first line of the song, not spoken dialogue. Fun!
Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Strike through when someone gets them right.

1. I can hear so much in your sighs.
2. When they poured across the border I was cautioned to surrender.
3. Johnny guitar, my restless lover.
4. shiny shiny shiny boots of leather.
5. Living is a dream, when you make it seem...
6. If a man gets personal, wants you to have your fun
7. I want to walk you home
8. Yesterdays, yesterdays, days I knew as happy sweet...
9. My lover's gone.
10. In the beginning you really loved me.
11. So okay, last night, we were supposed to be here last night, and you're late!
12. The wall is high, the black barn, the babe in my arms in her swaddling clothes...
13. Voodoo lady, shake-a-that stick and drivin' me crazy.
14. Havin' your brains out goin' with the other one. [can't guarantee the accuracy of that!]
15. "Honey I Ain't Got No Job" overlapping with "Where I was born everything was dull and dingy"
16. Return to me, oh my dear I'm so lonely.
17. I'm not wearing underwear today, no I'm not wearing underwear today.
18. With my eyes wide open, I'm dreaming...
19. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening...
20. Devil or angel, I can't make up my mind.
21. All my people in the crowd, grab a partner...
22. I don't know why this world keeps turning round and round...
23. "Do you love me?" "Do I what?"
24. There's an old friend that I once heard say...
25. Stop, slow down baby, slow down baby...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Electoral Hangover

So, not the greatest day for Obama yesterday. He certainly closed a big gap with Clinton, but at the risk of echoing her talking points, it's also true that he poured a lot of money and effort into the state, and it wasn't as successful as it should have been. Ultimately, it seems like the failure was in my newly adopted city. He won Philadelphia county, but only 65 to 35. And he won two of the adjoining counties, Delaware and Chester, but by smaller margins. And he lost Montgomery and Bucks. Montgomery especially surprised me, as it is pretty affluent and home to lots of colleges. The redoubtable Kos (who usually drives me nuts) has an analysis that explains the losses pretty well, I think.

One question: has anybody seen Ted Kennedy recently? In the lead-up to Super Tuesday back in February, Senator Kennedy was everywhere, and was being hailed as the saviour of the Obama campaign. Since then, it's been zip. Caroline Kennedy has certainly been on the trail a lot, but no Ted. Given that I imagine he still carries a certain weight with white working class Catholic men--the demographic everyone seemed to be worrying about here--I would have thought he would be deployed to Pennsylvania.

My guess is that Obama has long since started campaigning for the general election. And since one of the angles the Republicans seem to be taking on him is his status as the "most liberal senator" (whatever that means), I'm guessing that he is not going to publicly deploy Kennedy again unless it is absolutely necessary to win the nomination.

I suppose that's okay. But not okay is the fact that I suspect this explains why Obama did not campaign for the LGBT vote in Philly, as I wrote in my last post. Every Democratic candidate knows that the gays are going to vote for the Democrat, no matter what. So if Obama is confident in the nomination, he's going to avoid placing himself in situations that give ammunition to homophobic Republicans. Clinton, on the other hand, is in full-on pandering slash-and-burn mode, and so she's going to cheerfully do whatever she can to make the LGBT community forget about Don't Ask Don't Tell, DOMA, and the other niceties of the Clinton administration.

Let me tell you, it gets really old, election after election, to have your vote taken for granted. Of course I'm going to vote for the Democratic candidate, and of course the Clintons were much more pro-gay than George Bush Sr. or Bob Dole would have been. But in electoral politics, passive voters are only going to get you so far: what matters the most is having committed activists on your side, out there spreading the word.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Report from Pennsylvania

First of all, there were 35,000 people out for the Barack Obama rally last night in Philly. By way of comparison, the Pope gave a mass for 46,000 down in Washington, DC earlier this week. So that's pretty crazy.

It's hard to tell how this election is going to go on Tuesday. The polls are all over the place, and as a newcomer to the state, I don't have much of a feel for what the ground feels like. A few observations that might be of interest to my comrades elsewhere.

1. My immediate neighborhood could not be more demographically friendly to Obama. It is a mixture of middle-class African Americans, the particularly-liberal wing of white university folks, and then, if that wasn't enough, a sizable community of recent African immigrants (an Obama constituency if there ever was one). So that's what Obama is starting with here, and sure enough, judging from lawn signs and conversations, the neighborhood is mostly pro-Obama. But, and this is interesting, there is definitely a strong Clinton contingent as well. It's hard to speculate who they are; the neighborhood does have a smattering of white ethnic non-university-affiliated people left over from population trends of previous generations. There are also lots of party activists around here, and that is a demographic that tends towards Clinton-supporting in my experience. Obama really needs to max out his vote totals in Philadelphia, so it is not great that things are as split as they are.

2. That said, I know quite a few people in Philadelphia who have switched from Clinton to Obama just in the last few weeks. It seems mostly to be backlash from her negative campaigning, particularly Bittergate.

3. Obama made some bad mistakes in mobilizing the LGBT vote in Philadelphia. This is really too bad, because as I say, he really needs to win Philly by huge margins, and we queer folk are an important part of the city's political scene. And yet, when the local gay newspaper tried to interview the two candidates, only Clinton responded. Plus, my friend who is more involved in this stuff than I am tells me that when the Liberty City Democratic Club was meeting to decide on an endorsement, the Clinton campaign sent Chelsea to represent. The Obama campaign didn't send anyone. They did arrange to have Melissa Etheridge address the group on his behalf, but that's not the same as a high level representative in person. Both of these things are stupid moves. As the Obama campaign is not stupid, and is very well-organized, one gets the feeling that they are taking our vote for granted. Not cool, and a wasted opportunity. Sure enough, Liberty City endorsed Clinton.

4. Mayor Nutter, who has been a vocal Clinton supporter, is very popular in Philadelphia right now. That's too bad.

My prediction is Clinton will win in the five points realm. That's still great for Obama, as he was originally behind by almost twenty points just a few weeks ago. One other possibility is that Clinton will get a bunch of the undecideds and inflate that margin, as happened in Ohio. Or, on the other hand, the momentum will keep swinging to Obama, and there might be an upset. Hard to tell, especially for a newcomer like me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blog Blog Blog

Is it just me, or has the world of musicology blogs lately been a bit...well, humdrum? I certainly haven't been helping matters myself, but what's going on? Are we all bored with blogging all of a sudden? Is all of the energy of technically-adept musicologists going into maintaining the job wiki?

Oh well. But if you haven't been checking out our group blog Musicology/Matters recently (and you would be forgiven for not doing so, as Kariann and I have barely been posting anything as of late), amble over. Currently in the top spot is a very interesting post by the illustrious (and now-employed) CPO about everyone's favorite topic: the job market.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Little Failures

Gene Weingarten won the Pulitzer for feature writing? For that horrid Joshua Bell-terrorizes-hapless-commuters story? Gene Weingarten?!

And in the same week, Alan Rich is fired as the classical music critic of the LA Weekly.

I'll tell you this, folks. I'm going to guess that the distinguished judges of the Pulitzer went to college. And I suspect that the corporate types at New Times, the parent company of LA Weekly, also went to college. So in theory, the people that made the above decisions are well-educated.

This means that we, who are in the business of educating such people, completely failed.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Behold the Cadillacs

I present to you one of the greatest intros in the history of popular music: the Cadillacs' "Gloria," from 1954.

Listen to that reverb manipulation. Isn't it just fabulous? His voice goes from echoing in a church to echoing in your head in one beautiful descent. Glen Gould had nothing on these guys. And in 1953! And then the doo-wopping bass comes in, and as he descends down you have the thrill of recognizing the sonic world of R&B. And then maybe I'm imagining things, but when the groups comes in with that first "woo" in harmony, I hear such pure pleasure at creating such a perfect blend.

The Cadillacs are one of my favorite R&B vocal groups. Everything they touched was, in a word, awesome. They were almost single-handedly the conduit between pre-WWII pop quartets and Motown groups of the 60s, largely thanks to their stage shows. Sure, all of the early doo-woppers had good stage shows, but the Cadillacs introduced spectacular costumes, props, and most importantly, stage choreography courtesy of a legendary tap dancer named Cholly Atkins. Atkins, of course, would later go on to be the in-house choreographer for Motown, but it all began with the Cadillacs.

Gloria is actually a bit of anamoly for them; most of their songs were uptempo dance numbers like "Speedo." "Gloria" was released in the wake of the Orioles "Crying in the Chapel," which created a bit of a vogue for fake religious pop songs--you know, where the singer is just so sweet, and sentimental, and handsome, and when he talks about how much he loves the Lord, you might be forgiven for thinking that he might be talking about you too. And not in some ecstatic hard gospel way, but in a smooth romantic way that fits in nicely with the values of the new black bourgeoisie. Not that this is the argument of a chapter of my diss or anything. See also "Bells of St. Mary."

The best part? The Cadillacs are still going strong, with Earl "Speedo" Carroll singing up a storm and giving interviews to journalists and academics left and right. So use the nifty iTunes link below to buy a copy of "Gloria." I'm sure they don't get a dime of it, but it's the thought that counts.

The Cadillacs - Doo Wop Classics, Vol. 2

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Auden and the Future

How great is Auden? If this passage from The Age of Anxiety doesn't describe academic life, I don't know what does.
To be young means
To be all on edge, to be held waiting in
A packed lounged for a Personal Call
From Long Distance, for the low voice that
Defines one's future. The fears we know
Are of not knowing. Will nightfall bring us
Some awful order--Keep a hardware store
in a small town...Teach science for life to
Progressive girls--? It is getting late.
Shall we ever be asked for? Are we simply
Not wanted at all?

This poem is part of Auden's book-length "baroque ecologue" from 1947. It won the Pulitzer Prize the next year, and the year after that, Bernstein used it as the (loose) inspiration for his second symphony. And then, two years later, Jerome Robbins choreographed a ballet to it. And then, sixty years later, all these versions became the subject of a chapter in my dissertation.

Speaking of Auden, YouTube comes through once again, to give us the classic Night Mail collaboration between Auden and Benjamin Britten in 1936. Man, I could listen to his voice all day long. One of my formative moments as a musicologist was my junior year in college, when Philip Brett came to my school to give a talk about Auden and Britten. I had just read "Musicality, Essentialism, and the Closet" earlier that year, and it seemed like there was nothing more awesome than being a musicologist. Ah, youth.